Thursday 12 October 2023

...making season

We're rapidly approaching that time of year when all the things on my "Ooh! I want to make that!" List and my "Finish this before you start anything else!" List should start to give way to my Christmas "Make these to give as presents!" List. I'd love to think that this year I might be a little more organised, but based on the hodge-podge of my recent makes it seems unlikely...
  • I saw (and instantly coveted) someone else's version of the Nuuk pullover waaaaay back in August, and it shot like a rocket to Number One on my "Ooh! I want to make that!" List. Knitted top down, seamless, and practically sleeveless, in aran/worsted weight yarn, I recognised it as the kind of project that I - a knitter with a long and harrowing history of failure-to-complete when it comes to adult-sized garments - could possibly maybe almost certainly commit to. So I committed. I bought the yarn, I cast on, and I started knitting. At the beginning of September (just as the belated heat-wave hit) I actually finished it!
There were some wobbles along the way. I ended up completing the collar ribbing before the body was done, because the task of picking up stitches neatly and evenly around a neckline is my knitting Nemesis (although picking up stitches for button-bands would come a very close second). I know, from bitter experience, that if the collar isn't perfect then I will never be happy with the finished garment, so I figured it was better to know at an early stage whether my Nuuk was going to be "wearable" or not. It took me forever to arrive at the required number of evenly spaced stitches on my needles, and I actually got all the way to the point of casting off the collar and weaving in the ends before deciding that I needed to unravel it all and try again, because the right hand side didn't quite match the left! Perfectionism is such a curse!

I also struggled a bit with the problem of joining in new balls of yarn - the downside of seamless knitting is that there are no seams to hide the ends in. I decided to just make all the joins at the sides, where the seams would have been, reasoning that this was the least obvious place for the weaving in of ends to happen. I was quite proud of myself for seeing my Nuuk through to completion (mostly because it had also gone straight to Number One on my "Finish this before you start anything else!" List), but I had to wait for cooler October weather to actually wear it, because it is very cosy and warm - like a knitted full body hug! 

  • Then (in a gratuitous departure from the official List system) came yet another upcycled-duvet-cover Wiksten Top. I had quite a lot of jolly floral fabric left over after making my Elizabeth Shannon Apron earlier this year, and I wanted something "new" for my birthday weekend away, so it was a no-brainer to re-purpose the remnants to expand my Wiksten Top collection. I used some blue chambray scraps to line the contrasting fold-back cuffs, and made the patch pockets from a fat quarter of similarly coloured, ditsy patterned fabric. I don't think I will ever grow tired of this simple, comfortable, utilitarian design!

  • Next, the "Make these to give as presents!" List grew ever so slightly longer, when my daughter 'commissioned' me to make a pumpkin hat for her best friend J's baby, "in plenty of time before Halloween" - i.e. ready for early October. After a lot of deliberation and intensive trawling through the free patterns on Ravelry, I settled on this pattern by Drops Design, modified slightly by the inclusion of some crocheted 'tendrils' around the base of the stem. I naturally had to make a second (smaller) one for my grandson too - because who can resist a tiny person in a pumpkin hat?! 
Here is J's little boy in the pumpkin patch - effortlessly demonstrating his commitment to knitworthiness by posing on the blanket I made for him when he was born! 
  • Once the hats were completed I really should have turned my attention to the official (Christmas) "Make these to give as presents!" List, but my head was turned by this pattern from the "Ooh! I want to make that!" List instead. I have to confess that I didn't actually purchase Leah's pattern for this scarf, because I figured I could improvise something similar all by myself. So I just cast on 32 stitches and made it up as I went along. I got about this far into the project...
...before the constant stopping every few rows to weave in dozens of ends started driving me ever so slightly crazy. Rather than abandoning the project altogether, I chose to accept my limitations, and turn the scarf into a neck-warmer/cowl, instead. I persevered with the stop-knitting-start-weaving process until it reached the appropriate length, and then grafted the ends together. At this point I realised that the knitted 'fabric' had a tendency to flop and fold in on itself, so I decided to add a scrappy garter stitch lining, for extra warmth and structure. Once it was the right size I crocheted the two pieces together along the top and bottom edges, and my new 'go-to' Winter accessory was born! It's possibly a little ruff-like in effect (the lining actually provides a little too much structure), but I'm sure it will get softer and  squishier over time...
...now, back to that "Make these to give as presents!" List.

Friday 1 September 2023

...tempus fugit (August)

  • At the start of the month we "discovered" a little gem of a place less than twenty minutes up the road from where we live - Oakwell Hall & Country Park. Having lived in the same area for 35 years, it's crazy to think that we could have a 110 acre public space complete with woodland walks, nature trails, cafes, a walled garden and a gift shop, practically on our doorstep and not be aware of its existence...but it turns out that truth really is stranger than fiction. We had a lovely ramble through the woods and fields just to get our bearings and figure out the lie of the land for future visits...  
...and then called at the cafe for a cup of coffee and a cheeky KitKat. Although I'd have to vacate the premises, never to return, if I ever saw a rat in my house, I quite enjoyed watching this sleek-looking youngster vying with the sparrows for some fallen cake crumbs by a neighbouring bench (wisely giving the rat bait station next to the cafe a very wide berth). My husband was not at all impressed by my reasoning that in a rural, outdoor setting (i.e. not inside my house) it's basically just a squirrel without the floofy tail, isn't it?!

  • On the home front, August was a great month for daily mini-harvests of carrots, tomatoes, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries from the garden. There's nothing I like more than a little handful of home-grown goodness to start the day - most of it gathered from pots and containers just outside the back door - fast food at its finest! 
  • In my ongoing personal quest to find the best pinafore/tunic/apron pattern for layering over and under things all year round, I made myself a Sew Liberated Studio Tunic from charity-shop-bought curtain fabric. This is a really well-designed pattern, very enjoyable to sew, and very comfortable to wear. I absolutely LOVE the massive pockets - they're a complete game-changer in those moments where you have something to take upstairs, or put away, or 'deal with in a minute', because you can just slip whatever it is (phone, 'to-do' list, book, secateurs, wool, empty cup etc.) into your pocket rather than putting it down, forgetting about it and/or having to hunt for it later.
From a purely perfectionist point of view I think I 'messed up' with the right hand pocket by (a) cutting the first one from an area of fabric with a big stain in the middle, then (b) absent-mindedly cutting a left hand pocket to replace it, thus leaving myself (c) just enough fabric for a third and final attempt, which resulted in a rather obvious (to me) pattern repetition front and centre (the cluster of orange berries). I also think I need to come down a size or two when (not if) I make another. I like my clothes to be loose fitting/comfortable, and it's designed to be very 'roomy', but when you could probably slip a padded jacket underneath it and still have wriggle room you know you've gone too far!

  • In mid-August I discovered that a dozen or more spiders had set up a crèche around the inside rim of my garden-waste wheelie-bin. I lifted the lid to put some grass cuttings and ivy trimmings in, and they all clasped their little blue egg-sacs to their bosoms in horror, and clung on for dear life. I really agonised about whether to put the bin out for collection that week, but I wasn't sure how long the incubation stage would be, and the bin was pretty full. I did a few emergency practice drills with them over the next few days, opening and closing the lid from time to time, and in the end most of them lived to tell the tale of the Great Rumbling and Tumbling Upside-Down Earthquake Adventure on the day the bin lorry came...

...and then just two weeks later, by the time the next bin collection was due, the spiderlings emerged from their sacs, and scampered away, leaving their poor dehydrated and exhausted mothers to finally rest, in peace...or rather to rest in peace, finally. 
Towards the end of the month we went to a little weekend craft market at Kirkstall Abbey. Some of the normally locked-off areas were open, so we had a wander through, admiring the skill and artistry that had gone into the ancient stonework...
...and I bought a clever little beaded spider at the fair. Goodness knows I love a recurring theme!
So to finish as I started, with a rodent sighting, I looked out of the kitchen window yesterday and spotted a parent mouse teaching a baby mouse how to access the coconut shell bird feeder in the hedge. My reaction to this was another example of my complete double standards when it comes to little furry creatures. Outside my house = 'delightful Beatrix Potter idyll', inside my house = 'waking nightmare, Lord of the Rings "You shall not pass!" scenario'. I know this is completely irrational, contradictory and capricious of me, but we are where we are. As long as they play along with my fantasy that they are 'outdoors mice, who live in the ivy on the garage', and as long as I don't find any droppings in the cupboard under the sink (or worse still catch sight of one scurrying across my kitchen floor late in the evening) then we can coexist in perfect harmony...but once that fragile illusion is shattered, as it occasionally is when the colder, darker, Autumn nights start drawing in, then the traps come out, battle lines are drawn, and the XXS Cat dog runs and hides in her bed upstairs, praying for Spring to come soon.

Thursday 3 August 2023

July

The month started with my nephew's wedding. I managed to complete the 72 wedding favour pebbles with time to spare, and (better still) also remembered to take them with us when we travelled down to Bristol - my biggest fear was that after all that effort I'd forget to pack them in the car boot! It was a lovely day, full of laughter and family reminiscing. My nephew was a human tornado as a small child, and we all struggled to keep up with him sometimes, but he now channels his energy into teaching Primary School children, and has ended up marrying the childhood sweetheart he met 11 years ago when they were only 16! I'm so proud of the man he's become, and was so happy to share in his most special day.
Pebble-painting is an addictive hobby. When we got back from Bristol I didn't really want to stop, so I painted a couple more. One for the windowsill...
...and one to give away to my daughter-in-law on her birthday, with a little handmade card.
I also hooked away madly at a crocheted version of this blanket for my impending grandson. I've had the original knitting pattern for years and always wanted to make it for a special someone, but when the opportunity finally arose I just couldn't get the short row construction to work to my satisfaction. After repeated attempts I decided to retain the colour scheme and the 'circle in a square' design, but swap to crochet, having mastered circles in squares during my 100 Day Project last year. 
I was really pleased with the result.
The week before the baby was due to be delivered (by planned Caesarian), my daughter-in-law sent me the image in the top left hand corner below, and asked how cross I thought my son would be if we crafted a version of it? Not enough to stop me from immediately digging out some yellow yarn from the stash and setting to work, was my response. I used this bonnet pattern, and this nappy cover pattern, and then improvised some furry ears, a mane and a button-on tail. The boy arrived safely in mid July, weighing a chunky 9lbs 4 oz, and he is the brand new love of my life! I won't share the photos of him wearing the costume, for (his) privacy reasons, but he looked completely 'roarsome' in it, and I'd be 'lion' if I said otherwise!
There were some beautiful things to feast my eyes on in July...
...but none of them came remotely close to the first meeting with my son's baby boy!

Wednesday 14 June 2023

...Summer aprons, a Summer wedding and a Summer baby

  • I've been meaning to make myself an Elizabeth Shannon Apron, designed by Ellen Mason/'Odacier', for absolutely ages. I love her sewing and knitting patterns, which can be purchased here and here, because they're so comfy, practical and well-designed. I actually bought the pdf pattern for this apron a couple of years ago and it's been hovering near the top of my 'To Do' list ever since. I even got as far as printing it off and taping the paper pattern pieces together, but never progressed any further. Mainly because, before Jackanory Corner was created, dress-making used to take such a lot of effort! Any project requiring a layout/cutting area larger than the top of my (large) ironing board meant that the folding wallpaper-pasting table had to be dragged out of the cupboard under the stairs, set up in the middle of the living room floor, and then put away again immediately afterwards. First class, Grade A, dyed-in-the-wool procrastinators like myself do not fare well with such obstacles being put in their way - no matter how badly they might want an Elizabeth Shannon Apron in their life. 

Jackanory Corner has been a game-changer. Now I just lift the light-weight desk top my daughter left behind onto my ironing board and, hey presto, I have an instant cutting table. So a couple of weeks ago I finally made my first Elizabeth Shannon, out of a charity-shop duvet cover I bought for £2.99. Bearing in mind that I only used half of one side of the cover, the fabric for this project cost me just 75p. What a bargain! What a useful garment, too, with big, easy-to-get-at pockets and a loose, easy-to-wear fit. There was only one thing for it...
...to make another one as quickly as possible! As luck would have it, there was a barely-used tablecloth (100% cotton, with a rough linen-like texture) waiting for me in the charity shop next to the library when I called by on the off-chance. Just enough fabric to make a rustic plaid Elizabeth Shannon with pattern-matched pockets, for the bargain price of £2.99. Now I can live in Elizabeth Shannons all Summer long.
  • Just over a week ago I got a text message from my nephew, who is getting married at the beginning of July. "Hey. I know I am probably very unorganised in asking you, but would it be possible to have some little painted patterned stones for my wedding? Any colour or pattern would be great and I'd need 72. If my maths is correct it would be about 3 a day up until the day you come down. I completely get it if it's too late now so no pressure at all :) x"  After shaking my head in disbelief (there's no "probably" about his being "very unorganised"), laughing, scolding him, laughing some more, and thanking him for doing the maths for me (he's a primary school teacher, so it's good to know he's numerate), I accepted the challenge. 
I'm now 48 pebbles in to the project (well ahead of schedule) and actually really loving it. Basically, I get to paint and doodle for an hour or two a day, without having to worry about what I'm going to do with the finished product. I also get to justify my hoarding tendencies - keeping that big tub of pebbles in the garage (left over from  a previous wedding pebble project) was totally worth it! You just never know when you're going to need 72 smallish, roundish pebbles at very short notice!

  • The other projects occupying my time recently have been baby related. My first grandchild (a boy) is due in July, and the whole family is getting very excited to meet him. It hasn't been an easy journey to get to this point (where we allow ourselves to get excited) because my poor son and daughter-in-law sadly experienced three miscarriages before finally accessing the specialist treatment that enabled this pregnancy to continue beyond the first trimester. So it's only been in the past few weeks (the start of the third trimester) that preparations have truly got underway. 

First came a group project, where my D-i-L, her sister and her Mum, plus me, my daughter, and my other D-i-L all got together to create a "Macrame Rainbow" wall hanging. The idea came about when my D-i-L saw and liked this wall hanging on Etsy, and my son said, "I bet my Mum could make you one of those". My first thoughts were, "1. That's not Macrame - that's just wool-wrapped rope... 2. I could definitely do that... and 3. It's not really a rainbow if it's just grey, green, and cream, but who am I to question someone else's choice of colour scheme?!" My next thought was, "Wouldn't it be nice to make the act of creating this rainbow a kind of bonding activity, bringing together all the women from both sides of the family?" So the "crafternoon" plan was born, and a few weeks later we all got together to wrap rope, drink tea, eat cake and discuss baby boy names (the bump has been nicknamed "Sid", my D-i-L likes "Hugo", my son favours "Ted", and I plan to call him "Sweet-pea" no matter what). 

It turns out that wrapping wool round rope is trickier than you'd think - at least for a 'mixed ability' group of crafters - so there was quite a variation in the evenness of the wrapped lengths, and the end result is a little wonky in places...but it was created with so much hope and love (even the Daddy-to-be got 'roped in' on the day), and if you ask me, it's these imperfections that make it so special.
My next project was a little lace blanket to take as a gift to the baby shower, last weekend. I wanted it to be really light and airy, just big enough to cover the baby in his pram, or a car seat during the warm Summer months. I used this 'Lace Sampler Baby Blanket' pattern by Amy Gunderson, in a soft, machine-washable acrylic 4-ply. It was nowhere near the gauge specified, so I added a couple of  lace pattern repeats in the first two sections to make a 27" square. Hopefully it will be one of those things that gets well-loved and well-used while he's tiny, and then turned into a blanket for his dolls and teddies when he gets a bit older!


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

...repurposing

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.