Saturday, 20 May 2023

...birds, bees, flowers, trees...and a dog

  • It took a while to happen this year, but the arrival of the bluebells and the Accidental Poppy in my front garden a week or two ago made it official - Spring has properly sprung! This poppy, with its gorgeous orange flowers, has appeared in the same spot for three years now, so it's technically no longer Accidental, but a Regular Feature - and I couldn't be happier to see it return. I also cannot imagine more perfect companions for it than the bluebells, which seem to be growing thicker and  spreading  further every year. They  complement each other perfectly, and have been making my heart sing every time I open my front door. 
  • Further afield, I was walking the XXSCat dog through the woods last week, enjoying more bluebells, plus wild garlic and wood anemones, when I was struck by the Deep Thought that, "Wood Anemones look really similar to Clematis". This led me to wonder to myself if they were related. So when I got home I Googled it...
...and it turns out that they actually are! As far as I can see, the main difference between my Clematis (on the left), and the Wood Anemone (on the right), is the size of the flowers and the number of sepals...and the fact that the Clematis is wallpaper-ish by inclination, whereas the Wood Anemone is more carpet-like. I was so pleased with myself for spotting the family resemblance and learning something new. I really hope that the Clematis/Wood Anemone connection isn't actually Common Knowledge!
  • I have to admit I'd never have spotted the familial likeness to a buttercup, though. If you know what you're looking for then, yes, the features are there, but that bright sunny yellow is so different to the muted cream, pink and pale green of its cousins. I spied this one on a Magical Mystery Tour at the park with the XXCat dog this week. Rather than me telling her which way to go, I let her be Pack Leader and followed obediently in her wake. We paused for a few minutes to check out a big patch of broom, absolutely covered in bees. You could hear the humming from several feet away.
Then on past my favourite whitebeam tree, across the field (carpeted with daisies and edged with speedwell)... 
...a brief detour into the woods,  past the lake, around the playground, and up the hill towards home. Such a funny, bossy, determined little dog, and a very conscientious Pack Leader, setting a steady pace, checking over her shoulder to make sure I was keeping up, and waiting patiently for me when I fell behind. 
  • Girlie, the very tame blackbird, is a daily source of  delight at the moment. 
I stand just a few feet away from her when she comes for her mealworms, and tell her how lovely it is to see her, how beautiful she is looking, and what a clever bird she is. She is sometimes accompanied by a very handsome, but timid, male blackbird ('Sonny') who watches nervously from the safety of the hedge while the two of us catch up. Yesterday he perched on the corner of next door's garage roof and sang to me for a while, so I'm hoping our friendship will deepen over time.
Both have taken to having gloriously splashy baths in the rainwater bowl provided for their enjoyment. Here is Girlie, flapping her wings and fanning her tailfeathers. Just after she flies away there is the briefest glimpse of Sonny (following from the right).

Friday, 28 April 2023


When my daughter moved out in January, she left behind her old bed - the remaining bottom half of a Ikea bunk-bed, circa 2000. As it was an odd size (a bit narrower and longer than 'standard' single mattresses nowadays) we didn't think anyone else would want it, but I couldn't bear the thought of taking perfectly good wood to the dump either. Fortunately, my husband and I both arrived at the same bright idea for how to repurpose it - I'd claim that we did this independently of one another, were it not for the suspicion that, after many years living with me and my 'keep it, it might come in handy' ways, the poor man has been thoroughly brainwashed. Either way, the decision to incorporate the old bed into the Back Hallway Shelving Project ended up being totally unanimous! 

The Back Hallway Shelving Project Back Story

At some point in our house's history, one of the former owners built an extension onto the back of the house. This was originally just a big room with big windows, known as 'The Sun Room' (according to the label on the main fuseboard). The Sun Room was accessed via the old back door, and a new back door exit was added on the right hand side. Subsequently someone decided to carve out a downstairs toilet/shower room, in the corner of the Sun Room next to the back door, thereby creating a little Back Hallway with three doors off it (the back door, the toilet/shower room door, and the 'What Was Left of The Sun Room' room door. 

Ever since we moved in (circa 2000), the little nook by the back door has been occupied by a very tall, narrow chest of  drawers, originally designed to hold CDs. It belonged to my husband long before we met, and he is (for some unknown reason) very fond of it. I've always hated it (shiny, royal blue, with fiddly brass knobs, what on earth were the designers thinking), but its one saving grace was that it fitted the nook perfectly, and did a sterling job of keeping quite a lot of Stuff and Clutter at bay. Namely, gardening gloves, string, bird food, seed packets, clothes pegs, secateurs (top two drawers); old CDS belonging to no-one, that no-one ever played but no-one wanted to part with (middle two drawers); and old mobile phones, similarly un-part-able-with (bottom two drawers). It was also the main storage point for spare shower curtain rings (just outside the shower room, you know it makes sense). 

In addition to the Hideous Blue Drawers, the Back Hallway has always been home to the Back Hallway Shoe Collection, in recent years consisting of (but not limited to), my husband's cycling shoes (he comes and goes to work on his bike via the back door), his old trainers for bad weather trips to the bin and messy outdoor jobs, his old Crocs for good weather trips to the bin and non-messy outdoor jobs, and my gardening clogs. No matter how many times I put these shoes neatly to one side, they would revert back to a footwear obstacle course format within minutes - becoming one of those chronic domestic issues that irritate you every time you encounter them, but that don't quite meet the threshold for actually doing something about them. At some point last year something finally snapped in my husband, and he started saying, "I think we need a better storage solution for the Back Hallway Shoes. I think we should build some shelves to fit the nook where the blue drawers are". I was happy to (a) solve the shoe problem, and (b) get rid of the Hideous Blue Drawers, but did not want to take on the role of Project Leader. Pointing out that we would first need to sort through the contents of the HBDs brought the project to a screeching halt for many months, until the bunk-bed wood presented itself, like a gift from the Gods.

A Storage Solution is Born

We quickly realised that the four long pieces of wood from the bed base and and side rails could be used to form the uprights for the shelving unit, and that the slats could be used to make the tops of the shelves. After a lot of head scratching and measuring and doodling we decided we had enough room for eight evenly spaced shelves, with a slightly bigger space mid-way to allow easy access to the light switch. A further stint of head-scratching, measuring and doodling led us to the happy conclusion that we had enough shorter pieces from the ends of the bed to make all sixteen shelf supports if we cut them in half lengthwise. A prolonged period of sawing, sanding, drilling and nailing-together ensued...
...until we had eight made-to measure shelves stacked up by the back door. All that remained was to screw the shelves to the uprights, nail some hardboard panels to the back, to give the whole structure more stability, and move it into position in the Back Hallway...
...where it fits perfectly! Here is the side view, seen from the old Sun Room... 
...this is the view from the toilet/shower room...
...and this is the view from the other direction. Did I mention it fits perfectly?!
And just to prove that no husbands were harmed in the making of this project, here are the Hideous Blue Drawers, tucked neatly into the space between the door and the wardrobe in the newly appointed Man Cave (in the little 'spare' bedroom upstairs). He even got to keep quite a few of the CDS that no-one ever plays, and the mobile phones that no-one ever uses. His Man Cave, his Rules!

Sunday, 23 April 2023

Seahouses X

A (belated) eye-candy post from our trip to Seahouses at the end of March.
Rockpools at the end of St Aiden's beach.
'Found Art' timber block boat stands at Seahouses harbour.
Beach monsters fossil/shell collection.
'Painted' rock formations at Cocklawburn beach, near Berwick on Tweed.

Infinite reflective blue space, Bamburgh beach.

Saturday, 15 April 2023

...Making time

It's been a while since I've been able to make time for Making, mostly because Life, the Universe and Everything has been getting in my way! Prior to my daughter moving out in January we reached Off-the-Scale-Stuff-and-Clutter territory - a state of existence where it seems perfectly reasonable to consider "somehow" propping a three-seater settee on its end "somewhere" in a house already piled high with moving-out-boxes (because my daughter set her heart on it over a year ago, before her first house sale fell through, and it was being discontinued in December). Even if I had had the head-space for Making, I certainly didn't have the physical space for it - just a pop-up work-station in a corner of the kitchen for adding the glue and glitter to my crocheted snowflake decorations, because my actual work-station was buried under presents and wrapping paper and other Yuletide-related paraphernalia. 

No sooner had my daughter left, than work on Jackanory Corner commenced, bringing with it a different kind of Stuff-and-Clutter. Buckets and trowels and rolls of wall-paper and pasting tables and step ladders and paint-brushes and rollers and a whole lot of dusty Mess! Although I think that DIY counts as a creative activity, it's not the kind of creative activity that truly fills my heart with joy. Fortunately, my daughter's friend's new baby proved to be exceptionally knit-worthy, so in between all the plastering and wall-papering and painting and cleaning, I did find time to whip up a couple of pairs of woolly bootees (pattern from Zoe Mellor's "Head to Toe Knits"), which helped to scratch my creative itch. I love this pattern - it's perfect for new/knit-worthy babies. Not only are the bootees super-cute, but with the fold-over ribbing keeping them snugly in place, and the stretchy garter stitch providing plenty of growing room, they don't get lost, and they last for months!

In February my Dad had his long-awaited hernia operation, which (literally) removed some of the pressure he'd been under, health-wise, and my Mum had an initial dementia assessment at the beginning of March, to be followed by a CT scan later this week. We haven't had a formal diagnosis yet, but if you think it's Autumn when it's actually Spring, and you think that Jeremy Thorpe is the current Prime Minister, then it's safe to assume there's something going awry with the 'little grey cells'. It wasn't 'til half-way through March that I felt able to carve out some quality Making time, and finally put Jackanory Corner through its paces. It felt so good to be able to work on something, uninterrupted, in a calm, organised, tidy space. 
The 'something' was my twelfth Wiksten top* (if you include the one I made for my Mum). I now have enough of these versatile smocks to live in them all year round, and that's pretty much what I do! I ended up giving the very first one I made to my Mum, as the sleeves were a little too short for my liking. She wore it so much that I made her another one for her birthday. One got downgraded to a kind of cover-all for messy jobs after I accidentally got paint all over it, but the rest remain in constant use. There are two sleeveless ones that can be worn over anything, a couple of thick cold weather ones and several thinner warm weather ones (although they are roomy enough to layer in cold weather too). Most have pockets, a couple don't. I've made them from all sorts of different fabrics - chambray, flannel, double gauze, cotton, even curtain fabric - and the pattern works brilliantly with all of them. This latest one is made from a heavy-duty black denim throw that I found in a charity shop, and I'm so pleased with how it turned out. It has a really utilitarian feel, and just like a favourite pair of jeans, the longer you wear it, the comfier it gets. I know this because I've been wearing it almost constantly since I snipped the last thread on the final seam! 

The main item on my current to-do list is my 'Homage to the (Granny) Square' blanket. I was doing ok with it before Christmas, mostly keeping pace with others in the online course's Facebook group, but now it's April, and I'm still plodding through February's tutorials, while more and more of the group are reaching the finishing line. It hasn't helped that I'm currently working on a more fiddly set of squares, which I can't easily set aside and then pick up where I left off a few hours/days later. So I really needed the confidence boost that completing the Wiksten top gave me...
...and Jackanory Corner is helping too. One of the first things I did when it was properly clean and tidy, was to lay out all the squares I'd completed on the floor, in a rough approximation of how they might appear in the finished blanket. The interplay of colours is central to the design, and the choice of which ones to use in each square, and how to arrange them within the blank blanket template is left up to the maker - there is no 'set' sequence to follow, and no two projects are ever the same. Having the space to see how the squares are working together and being able to visualise the blanket more as a whole has made the task of choosing which colours to use more/less/next a lot easier. I just need to keep making time for Making it!
*I would have put a link to the pattern, but it seems that Wiksten have recently ceased trading 😞. A massive loss to dress-makers everywhere, in my humble opinion!

Tuesday, 7 March 2023

...'Jackanory Corner'

Warning: Contains scenes of amateur DIY which some viewers may find distressing. Professional plasterers and decorators may wish to look away now. 

At the end of January, when my daughter's Tardis bedroom had finally been emptied of it's 'enough to fill a small terraced house' contents, I started work on Project Sewing Room - quite a daunting task for a cautious DIYer. The outside wall of this room has been 'problematical' ever since we moved in 23 years ago. We always suspected that the thick, textured wallpaper covering it was hiding a multitude of sins, but with three children in the family the room always had at least one or more occupants, and the opportunity to tackle what lay beneath never really arose. So we just kept painting over it and hoping for the best. Even when we had our windows replaced seven years ago, and the installers did an absolute botch job of plastering the window surrounds (rough lumpy plaster literally smeared on top of the wallpaper), my daughter just hung fairy lights everywhere, and after a while we almost stopped noticing what a mess it actually was.

I was right to feel apprehensive, though, because once we started to peel back the wallpaper it practically fell off the wall, along with scary amounts of ancient plaster, leaving large holes around the window which went all the way through to the brick. Above the window we even found the remnants of some Rupert the Bear wallpaper that had probably been there since the house was built in the 1930s. It was obvious that previous owners had never done much more than skim over the original plaster, and at some point someone had applied horizontal strips of black tar-paper, most of which was still tightly bonded to the wall. In an ideal world we should have taken the whole wall back to the brick and had it properly re-plastered, but we don't know any plasterers and were worried that we wouldn't find anyone interested in doing such a small job. We also knew we didn't have the skill or know-how to tackle this task ourselves. So we decided to follow in the footsteps of past inhabitants and do a 'patch' job instead - leaving anything that still seemed relatively sound in situ, repairing the damaged areas, and then literally papering over the cracks! 
It took me nearly two weeks to prepare the wall for decorating - scraping off the loose tar-paper, filling and sanding all the smaller holes, and building up incremental layers in the large damaged areas each day, until they were finally flush with the surrounding plaster. I levelled out the obvious 'step' in the plasterwork left by the window installers as best I could - reducing it to more of a gentle slope. Not exactly a perfect finish, but still a big improvement on how things were before.
Once I'd reached the 'it's as good as I can get it' stage with the patch job, we covered the entire wall with Wallrock Dampstop Thermic wallpaper - the modern version of the tar-paper previously used to combat damp/condensation. This went up surprisingly easily considering those 'gentle slopes' around the window and all the other lumps and bumps it had to cover - clearly visible in the photo below!. 
I papered over the top of this with a slightly textured vinyl wallpaper chosen to loosely (very loosely) 'match' the wallpaper on the other three walls, and then the whole room got a new coat of paint to tie it all together. The papering and painting stage took another couple of weeks - even working at a snail's pace every osteoarthritic joint in my body was howling in protest by the end of each day.
Once the alcove at the end of the room had been papered and painted we moved my daughter's old wardrobe into position and I took a day off from the decorating to have a clothing declutter. Even though not having to share a wardrobe with my husband any more technically gives me extra storage space, I wanted to take the opportunity to get rid of all the clothes that no longer fit me and/or never get worn. So I sorted them into keepers, hand-me-downs for my sister, hand-me-ups for my Mum, a couple of hardly-worn things for my daughter to sell on Vinted, a few sentimental things saved for upcycling, a big bag for the charity shop, a very small bag for the bin, and 'Hey Presto!' a tidy wardrobe containing only things that fit me and will get worn. I love it!
We also decided to splash out on a new spare bed - the Hemnes day-bed from Ikea, which pulls out to convert from a single to a double and has 3 big storage drawers underneath. Once the bed was made up with some of my daughter's old discarded cushions, a cosy blanket and a couple of rescued charity shop friends, my husband christened it 'Jackanory Corner'. I think he really hit the nail on the head. It's the perfect place to curl up with a book for a while, and makes me wish I was the sort of person who felt refreshed (rather than hungover) after a nap, because if I was, I'd definitely be using it for that too! 
One of my main aims for Project Sewing Room was to have enough storage space for all the fabric and sewing paraphernalia I've squirreled away in various nooks and crannies around the house over the years. My friend gave me a set of three 'vintage' Ikea cupboards when she was clearing out her Mum's house after she died - unlike their modern equivalents they're constructed from solid pine, rather than particle board or veneer, so they're really sturdy, with plenty of drawers, shelves and cupboard space for a sewing hoarder to fill. They've been stacked up against the wall in our bedroom for nearly a year - we thought we'd only be storing them there for a few weeks, but then my daughter's first house purchase fell through. It's lovely to see them finally installed in the space they were intended for, rather than having to squeeze past them at bedtime every night!
I had another sorting and decluttering session before filling the cupboards - gathered all the sewing-related "stuff" I could lay my hands on, and went through it all very methodically. Now I have designated drawers for ribbons, tools, threads, fasteners, buttons, and more. I even have a little drawer for pins and needles! It will be so nice to be able to put my hands on anything I need, without having to think where to find it first...
...and on the other side of the room my little sewing table tucks in perfectly next to the wardrobe. 
I feel so very lucky to have this room of my own. It was worth all the hard work and plaster dust in my hair to get it to this point, and I can't wait to start on some new projects soon. Happy times await me in this cosy little space.

P.S. Best of all, the slopes, lumps and bumps are barely noticeable now - if you ask me, they're all just part of Jackanory Corner's rustic charm!

Monday, 23 January 2023

...staying frosty

December and most of January seem to have passed in a blur -  a hectic, tiring blur - with  very little to show for themselves blog-wise! My daughter finally (FINALLY) completed the purchase of her new home on December 16th, around 18 months after she first started the house-buying ordeal process, and just 6 weeks before her self-imposed target of "moving out before the age of 30". All the heavy lifting is done but we are still packing up belongings from her childhood bedroom. I think she may actually be a Time Lord because that bedroom is literally a TARDIS - she is already running out of storage space in a six roomed house - and we still have at least two car-boot-loads to go!

Christmas came and went fairly unremarkably, and in the New Year my Dad was given a date for his hernia operation (at the beginning of February). We are keeping everything crossed that the operation doesn't get postponed, as he's in near-constant pain with the hernia now. My Mum has her "memory" assessment at the end of January too. She has been losing quite a few of her marbles and it feels like I've mislaid a couple of mine recently too - keeping track of two 80+ year olds' prescriptions and appointments is turning into a full time job. Thank goodness I took early retirement!

So there are just a few bits and pieces to "report" on here...

Remember when I swore I'd never make a Claire Garland knitted rabbit again? Well, all I can say is "Never say never". My Mother-in-Law's friend loved the Teeny Tiny Bunny I made for my M-i-L so much that my M-i-L asked me to make another, for her to give her friend for Christmas. Words cannot express my utter despair upon receipt of this flattering request! I ended up having to confess how much I'd hated making the first one (despite it being oh-so-very, very cute), but then (being of a masochistic saintly disposition) I said I'd be willing to give the Little Baby Bunny pattern a try instead, if this would be acceptable. The Little Baby Bunny is slightly bigger than the Teeny Tiny Bunny (the clue's in the name), and better still, legs are optional. My M-i-L decided that she actually preferred the legless paws-tucked-in version, so a deal was struck...

...and three soul-destroying weeks of procrastination (and whining) later this was the result. It's oh-so-very, very cute, I agree. Claire Garland is an absolute genius - 100% agree. Now disregard what I said before. Sometimes "Never again!" really does mean "Never again!"  

It didn't help that what I really wanted to be doing was working on my "Homage to the (Granny) Square" project. But by the time I'd procrastinated and whined my way through self-inflicted Bunny Hell it was the week before Christmas and I had to focus on mass producing crocheted snowflake Christmas tree ornaments (this year's handmade stocking filler) instead. I used this pattern, but there are loads of different variations on You Tube. They are very quick and easy to make, especially once you memorise the pattern. To stiffen them up and add some sparkle I drew a circle on a piece of cardboard and pinned the points evenly around the edge, then used diluted Mod Podge and a generous sprinkle of biodegradable white glitter (both sides) to add a delicate, crystalline shimmer.
At the beginning of January my daughter's best friend had her first baby, five weeks early. So I abandoned my plans to make matching booties, hat and cardigan and made an aran-weight version of this lovely pattern instead. If you want to enjoy a brand new baby cuddle at the earliest opportunity you have to be adaptable!
Other than these modest creative efforts, all I have left to share are a few photos of the frosty park, lit by low winter sunshine. Lovely!

Friday, 18 November 2022

...colour crochet mania

For my birthday this year I was treated to membership of an online crochet course I've been coveting for months - 'Homage to the (Granny) Square', by Sue Maton at The Mercerie. The course runs over 6 months, with permanent access to the online material once the 'live' course is over. The start date was 1st November, and for the past few weeks we have been focussing on colour theory, making colour wheels...
...experimenting with tone and colour harmonies...
...exploring the Rowan Felted Tweed colour range (the recommended yarn)...
...playing with possible colour combinations - I used an online app for this...
...until finally arriving at our own individual colour schemes after (in my case) hours of careful deliberation. 
I was thinking about the beach at Seahouses (never far from my mind's eye) when I made my choices. The centre of my blanket will predominantly consist of the first five colours, which remind me of the sand dunes and sky at sunrise/sunset. The border will utilise the four blues, representing sea and sky. The vibrant red is my "wild" colour - inspired by the huge red poppies we saw growing wild amongst the dunes last summer. 

This is probably the most ambitious (and expensive) project I have ever embarked upon. I never usually buy expensive yarn - my "stash" consists of odd balls bought in sales, charity shop finds and cast-offs from friends. I still have oddments of yarn from when my children were little (30+ years old!). Those same lovely children clubbed together to give me a voucher for my local wool shop for my birthday, to help with the cost of the yarn, and I found an online shop offering a 25% discount for the rest. Even so, it feels a bit 'wrong' to be spending so much money on myself, especially during a global recession...but I'm itching to make a start with these gorgeous colours, and I know I'll love every second of the making process. Hopefully the finished blanket will be both beautiful and useful, and enjoyed by all of us for a very long time.

Hot off my hook - keeping my hands busy while I wait to embark on 'The Blanket of Joy' - is this wondrous creation, made of cheap and cheerful Stylecraft yarn - leftovers from this year's 100 day project, my daughter's Rose Cottage blanket and the Attic24 Harmony blanket that got me back into crochet just 12 short months ago. 
I made it up as I went along, starting with two large, identical hexagons, which each formed an 'L' shape (for the sleeves and body) when folded in half. I widened the back and lengthened the body with some big granny squares, and then added more length, and breadth at the front, with another ten rounds (starting centre back, going up the front, round the neck and down the other side). I added smaller granny squares to the sleeves, to make them 3/4 length, and then did a few decreasing rounds to gather them in slightly.
Sticking to traditional granny square rules I gave almost zero thought to colour combinations - mostly just grabbed the nearest ball to hand at the start of each round. I fully accept that it's at the loud and garish end of the colour scheme spectrum, and probably not to most/many people's tastes! My daughter has already named it 'Joseph' and I suspect my husband is refraining from comment on the grounds of 'If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all'...but it's a really warm, substantial garment (like a blanket in clothing form), and I will probably live in it all winter. It also fits beautifully with my 'Pushing 60 and Past Caring' style aesthetic!