Tuesday 26 December 2017

...festive moments

The days leading up to Christmas have been mild, so we've been making the most of the mornings by getting to the park early, while the sun is still low in the sky. I love the way the sunlight catches on the leaves, bringing the last glowing embers of autumn back to life.

There's been a last ditch flurry of present-making: 
  • Some Partridge and Pear ornaments I made using Larissa Holland's beautiful patterns. I originally planned to make at least five pairs, but in the end only managed two before the Big Day - although I do have a third pair cut out and ready to be stitched for a family member we won't be seeing until 29th December, so all is not lost. With the recommended materials (printable soluble stabiliser is the magic key) these are very simple to make, but still take a fair bit of time and concentration to assemble. Sitting hunched over embroidery for hours has not done my aching hips and shoulders any favours, but I think the effort was worthwhile.
  • Winter snowflake painted pebbles, given a little extra sparkle with irridescent acrylic medium and a gloss varnish to finish. I liked them so much I found it hard to give them away!
  • I finished the Mini Mania Scarf the day before Christmas Eve. I love how it turned out, but it's certainly not the best candidate for a quick gift. The more time I spent on it the more it seemed to shrink before my very eyes!

But in the end it turned out just right, and I enjoyed the time spent reminiscing to myself about the little boy whose grey school jumpers provided the left-over yarn for the scarf he now wears as a nearly 30 year old man!

Merry Christmas!

Saturday 16 December 2017

...a little bit of everything

It has been more than a few weeks since I've had time to sit down and write anything. I've been doing and making rather than pausing to take stock, but I have tried to capture moments along the way on my trusty cameraphone.
  • First up is a jolly stocking cap I made for a friend at work. I realised when I was sifting through photos that the yarn rather beautifully matched the colours of my mystery shrub* in the front garden, so I collaged them together. (*'Mystery shrub' because I rescued it from a neighbour who was making-over his garden and had dug it up to throw away. I haven't the faintest idea what it is, and most of the time I don't even like it very much - except that in autumn it produces these rather lovely magenta flower heads on disproportionately long stems (completely out of keeping with its otherwise nondescript shrubby appearance) and thereby earns itself another reprieve.)
  • A colleague and I had to do a presentation at Sheffield University one afternoon, and this statue caught my eye as we were hurrying through a park to get there. On the way back to the car, as the light was beginning to fade, I paused for a second to take a picture. It wasn't until I got home and had a chance to look at it properly that I noticed the beautiful stained glass effect of the sunset reflected in the windows of the building in the background.
  • I've been ever so slightly obsessed with this hydrangea, which I pass every day when I'm walking the XXSCat dog. The flowers were a warm magenta colour at their peak, but as they started to die back they turned a lovely, soft, charcoal grey before fading to a pale beige. The photos don't really do justice to the colours - I felt a bit odd about taking photos over someone else's garden fence so I didn't catch it at its dramatic best. 

  • A weekend walk in the park, light catching on the vivid yellow leaves.

  • I set the Service User group at work the task of making/decorating a festive robin for the annual Christmas card we send out. They each started with a pre-cut basic robin shape in either plain or glittery brown card and were given feathers, tissue paper, card, "googly eyes", foil, decorative tape and other crafty collage materials, and told to let their imaginations run wild. I came back at the end of the session to find this fabulous array of quirky little birds. I drew a simple tree on some flip-chart paper, arranged the robins along the brances, stuck them down, added their little legs, and took a photo. Hey presto! A fun, original design!

  • Another weekend walk on an overcast day. Dramatic black branches against blue/grey skies.

  • A super-cute felt mouse I made for a Secret Santa gift. Ann Wood makes the dearest, quirkiest, little creatures and dolls, and I used her "very nice mice" pattern as the basis for this wee one. I changed the design of the arms and feet (wrapped and stitched felt around pieces of a plastic coated wire twist-tie to create poseable arms and a more stable base) but the dear little face, body and ears are Ann's design. I added a woolly scarf with tiny tassels just to consolidate the cuteness.

Adapted from Ann Wood's FREE 'very nice mice' pattern

  • Last weekend's walk, after a light snow had fallen - the contrast between the warm russets and silver greys in the landscape was just gorgeous. 

  • These are some of the things that have kept my fingers too busy for typing: four more Wolkig cowls (pattern by Martina Behm) to give as Christmas gifts for family members - gorgeous Debbie Bliss Rialto sock yarn made these an absolute joy to knit. The colour combinations are fabulous!

  • Current project - another Christmas present - a Mini Mania Scarf (pattern by Sarah Core) for my son, from stash remnants and assorted leftover balls of grey wool (used to make his school jumpers when he was a little boy). I love the tweedy effect but linen stitch is very very VERY slow-growing, especially when there are 350 stitches per row and I'm up against a deadline. I'm using DK yarn and it's still progressing at a snail's pace - the 4ply yarn the pattern actually calls for would make this a real labour of Hercules. On the other hand, the wonderful thing about this design is the "no finishing required" aspect - just pick a colour, knit a RS row, slide the stitches back for another colour and another RS row, and then simply knot all those pesky loose ends into tassels!
  • Finally, this morning's sunrise brings me back up to date. Getting to enjoy sunrises and sunsets is the best thing about the short, dark days of winter. Now there are only five more days until we reach the Solstice and the days will start getting longer again - hooray! 

Sunday 19 November 2017

...autumn sunlight

I was working yesterday (Saturday) so had to wait until today for a weekend walk at the park. It was another dry, frosty autumn morning, and the sun was still quite low in the sky as we set off, illuminating just the topmost branches of the trees. I loved the combination of the stark black silhouettes tipped with warm, delicate peach against the clear blue sky.

These images remind me of traditional Chinese watercolours of cherry blossom, with their bold lines and pastel shades.

Of course gazing upwards through the leaves becomes quite addictive...

 ...and the view is equally beautiful in black and white.
Whenever I'm looking at the big picture I always like to zoom in on the finer details too. Like this lightly frosted pastel yellow  leaf nestled in the grass at the side of the path. My 'leaf of the day' collection is growing all the time. I'm pondering some leaf paintings on the mdf offcuts I unearthed during Carpetgate. I only allowed myself to keep them on condition they got used, and the idea really appeals to me. But first I need to sew up the seam and make a bobble for my friend's Wee Willy Winkie stocking hat, and finish the cowl I've been making for my sister for Christmas!

Friday 17 November 2017

...shepherd's delight

The carpet-fitting marathon has ended! Last weekend (a.k.a. Phase 3) the last two rooms were carpeted and had their contents replaced (why is is so much easier to refill a room than it is to empty it?). Other than a few bits and pieces and a dozen boxes of books from the hallway bookshelf which we stored with the in-laws for the duration and haven't yet collected, everything is back where it belongs and order has been restored. It has been a challenging experience for both of us, but even though there were times I wanted to kill my husband for bullying chivvying me into moving faster when I wanted to sift carefully through every last drawer before emptying it, it also made me appreciate him more. After all (as he never tired of telling me) new carpets were not his idea, but he stuck with the process anyway - even when that process involved the pair of us shifting an enormous double wardrobe (on it's side) along a narrow hallway with a tight 90 degree turn at the end. It's a strangely satisfying thought to know that I have moved and/or handled almost every single thing in our house at some point in the past four weeks! We've had numerous trips to the dump and the charity shop, we've rearranged furniture to give ourselves more space, and I can no longer live in denial about the full extent of my craft materials hoard. I'm hoping that this will inspire me to make and do more, now that all those potential projects and ideas are at the forefront of my brain again.

Although nearly every waking minute outside of work was consumed by carpet-related activities, there were a few unmissable  moments along the way which made me pause to draw breath:

An awesome "red sky at night" sunset - the photo doesn't really do justice to the dramatic volcanic red and grey clouds over the car-park as I left work late one afternoon. 

This beautiful autumn  leaf my friend brought into work for me.

Yellow leaves and crimson berries in the autumn sunshine - the car-park at work again!

Finally - the Sunday morning after Phase 3 Saturday when we allowed ourselves 'time off' for a leisurely morning walk through the park in the Autumn sunshine. Sheer bliss

Friday 27 October 2017

...time away

Last week we had 6 nights away, staying in a cosy little cottage nestled into a hillside in the North Pennines, near Alston. The moorland setting, the tranquil atmosphere and the freedom from our normal routines really helped me to relax and unwind (something I only fully appreciated when we got back to Leeds, and everything suddenly seemed incredibly loud and fast-paced and stressful!).
Husband got up early every morning to take the XXSCat dog for a walk and watch the sun rise. I managed to join them one morning but, with aching joints stiff from all the extra walking, found it easier to start the days at a slightly more leisurely pace for the rest of the week.
The first day after we arrived we drove into Alston, arriving just in time to take a trip back in time on the South Tynedale Railway. The 3.5 mile line runs from Alston to Lintley, with vintage coaches being pulled by a smart green steam engineOne can choose to return by train or (as we did) on foot along the trackside path. The pretty little station at Alston with its smartly painted signal box reminded us of Oakworth Station from one of my favourite childhood films, The Railway Children.

The following day we drove over  Hartside Summit, navigating miles of road which snaked up one side and down the other, to take a circular walk around Dufton Pike (centre picture below). The vistas and views we encountered were just breath-taking. It was lovely to spend time with Husband, talking about anything and everything as we meandered along together. The XXSCat dog just added a little more joy to the mix - she loved being out and about exploring the world, and didn't mind a bit being thigh deep in mud and cow dung on the final stretch!
Another day took us to the Birdoswald Roman Fort and a 'there and back' walk along part of Hadrian's Wall, marvelling at the amount of effort and hard work that must have gone into its construction.
Our final outing was to the High Force waterfall, following a path through the woods to the base of the waterfall, and then retracing our steps, crossing over a bridge half a mile downstream, and following the bank along the opposite side to view it from above. The mossy green and gold of the woods on one side was perfectly complemented by the rusty tones of the moorland bracken on the other.
Interspersed with all this walking and enjoyment of the Great Outdoors was a lot of relaxation - long, hot, post-walk baths, films, jig-saw puzzles, reading and knitting. I made a Debbie Bliss rabbit to go with the turquoise colour-pop baby blanket knitted earlier this year, as my friend's maternity leave was due to start this week. The new baby's older brother has a well-loved Debbie Bliss bunny made for him by his grandma, who has sadly now passed away. I thought it would be nice for his new little sister to have one of her own. 

The XXSCat dog was more than happy to chill out too, once the accumulated mud from the day's walking had been washed away.

Thursday 12 October 2017


The joy of line and colour in nature. The joy of finding the "leaf of the day". The joy of spotting a serendipitous heart-shaped gathering of leaves in a pond, set against a dreamy reflected sky.

The joy of knitting.
Wolkig cowl, in Cascade Heritage Wave (Tropical)

Saturday 7 October 2017

...giving and receiving gifts

It was my neice's 11th birthday last weekend. Her mum is teaching her to cook and bake, so I got her a well-illustrated cook-book with step-by-step instructions for a whole range of recipes, and 'pimped' a jolly pink apron bought (cheaply) off the internet with an appliqued, hand-embroidered initial. If ever I need justification for keeping all the stuff I keep 'because it might come in handy' this is one of the little projects that will be produced as evidence in my defence! Iron-on interfacing? Tick. Fabric remnant? Tick. Embroidery silk? Tick. Happy hour spent chain-stitching and reminiscing to myself about 'O'-level Needlework classes? Tick!

Later in the week I completed the Rose Smiles scarf I have been working on as a surprise present for a friend at work. This proved to be a really easy pattern for a simple (but still very pretty) little scarf. She was so pleased to receive it and has been wearing it every day since! I had intended to make it for her birthday next year after she mentioned she would love me to make something for her, but when I discovered that her birthday was not until next spring it seemed like a better plan to make it and give it to her now, to keep her warm all winter!

Yesterday evening we went into Leeds City Centre to catch a quick glimpse of the annual Light Night celebrations. Last year my favourite part of the event was an amazing animated light show projected onto the main facade of the Civic Hall  -  this year it was the Town Hall, another iconic city centre building, that provided the 'blank canvas' for the display.

A group of other-worldly-looking mannequins posed on the front steps where wedding parties frequently assemble for photos. Images were projected onto their blank, screen-like faces while coloured lights and patterns and a sound-track of music overlaid with spoken vocals provided a haunting, evocative backdrop. The effect was absolutely awesome.

Events like this - provided free for everyone in the city to access and enjoy  - make me feel so proud to live in Leeds!