Thursday 2 December 2021

...crochet hooked

Over the past 4 or 5 weeks (basically since 23rd October) every spare waking moment has been spent making granny squares for my Attic24 Harmony blanket, which arrived at the "join as you go" lap-warmer stage just in time for Storm Arwen and the first snow of winter, last weekend. 

To say I've been obsessed is putting it mildly. Granny squares are simply too moreish. If I hadn't had the structure of someone else's pattern to follow (14 sets of 9 identical squares) I think I could easily have vanished down a rabbit-hole of infinite colour combinations, and been lost to everyday life forever. 
Not surprsingly, the impact on my Home-made Christmas Presents (HCP) Plan for 2021 has been disastrous (zero progress made). Eventually I had to take myself to one side and have a stern word in my ear: "After November no more crochet allowed unless progress has been made with the HCP List during the day!"  

This rule came into force yesterday (December 1st) and so far I've definitely been testing my own boundaries. Yesterday I made 5 masks (3 people had been in touch asking for new ones after the latest Covid mandates) and then crocheted like mad for the rest of the day, reasoning that a "job" had been completed...maybe not a job from the HCP List, but a non-crochet job, nevertheless. So now I only have 9 more squares to join before I'm on to the border! 

This morning I discovered a new daily creative challenge on Instagram (#carvedecember2021 - carve a stamp, using a one word prompt, each day throughout December) and (naturally) spent the morning making two little lino-cuts in order to catch up with everyone else...

...again, not a job from the HCP List (or any other list come to that) but definitely non-crochet. I reckon I can get back in my good books this afternoon, though, by finally making a start on an official HCP List job - knitting a Miss Marple scarf for my Mum. This is intended to ease me in gently - it's not crochet, but it does involve yarn. Nice, purply-pink, chunky yarn, which will knit up quickly...

...leaving time for a bit of guilt-free crochet tonight! 

Thursday 4 November 2021

...year, month, day

Year: 2021 is shaping up to be The Year of the Mushroom. Ever since I spotted the hare's foot ink cap mushrooms at the park in October I seem to find little fun guys wherever I go. These four photos were taken in just the last week. It reminds me of 2017...
...The Year of Butterflies and Moths, when wonderful winged creatures appeared at every turn.
Month: November will be The Month of Crochet. Having hoarded my Harmony Blanket yarn for around four and a half years, last week I picked up a crochet hook (for the first time in nearly fifty years) and now I can't stop with these pesky granny squares. "Just one more row!" has been replaced with"Just one more round!" I'm even managing to be patient with the constant darning in of ends that this entails. At the rate I'm going I should be on target to get all 126 squares finished by the end of the month...
Day: I'm officially reinstating The Leaf of the Day hunt during my (almost) daily park walks. It's a tough job (I couldn't decide which of these three zingers should be awarded the title yesterday) but someone has to do it.

Tuesday 26 October 2021

...Seahouses VIII

Day 1: An hour's walk (there and back) along the beach at Beadnell, taking advantage of the 'first hour is free' parking before checking in to the cottage. Kite surfers, in the distance, were making the most of the wind and waves just after high tide.
Day 2: Back at my beloved St. Aiden's beach, with such joy in my heart. We walked almost to Bamburgh and back, whilst I collected photos of lapis-and-turquoise-lined crab shells. This beach is truly a magical place. I took the bottom left crab shell back to the cottage and by the time it had dried, the intense blue lining had faded to a pale whitish-grey...

Day 3: We drove to Craster and walked along the coast to Dunstanburgh Castle, then spent a happy hour amongst the rockpools and seaweed on the shoreline. 

Day 4: Back at Beadnell beach for a 'proper' walk (to the rockpools at the end and back). This ticked all my beach boxes - mother of pearl reflections of sky on the sand, seaweed hieroglyphics, colour, texture, and fairy-tale forest sandscapes. Pure bliss. 
Afterwards, a visit to the harbour in Seahouses at high tide - huge rainbow-tinged waves crashing over the breakwater...
...and an accidental Rothko on the hull of a boat.
Day 5: We had to be up and out of the cottage by 9am (Covid rules) and it was pouring with rain. Rather than risk a 3 hour drive in soaking wet clothes we opted to cut our losses and set off for home, knowing that we will be back again next year.

Au revoir Seahouses!

Sunday 17 October 2021

...eye candies

Last month I broke my self-imposed rule of 'Trying Not To Buy More Yarn' and bought two skeins of Lana Grossa self striping 'Gioia' - partly because they were reduced and I had birthday money to spend, but mostly because (like Alison Moyet) I go weak in the presence of beauty. One skein in vivid rainbow brights, and one in all the blues, just begging to be made into a ZickZack scarf, full of random/serendipitous stripey juxtapositions. This was a joyous thing to knit - with a visual symphony of colour flowing from my needles, and an easily memorised pattern making it perfect for 'TV knitting'. A bad case of 'One More Row' Syndrome soon set in, and it was finished in a matter of days. It's turned out to be a joyous thing to wear too - cosy and warm around my neck in the chilly Autumn weather. The joyousness of this scarf has even been independently verified by a young lad with learning disabilities, who  approached me out of the blue in the chemist's to ask for a hug (we settled for an elbow bump, what with Covid and all). Having thus introduced himself, he then gestured enthusiatically at the scarf, and exclaimed "You look so smart!". His Mum came rushing over to retrieve him, a bit flustered and apologetic, but I thought it was a lovely moment. It's always nice to meet a kindred spirit from the Scarf Appreciation community.
The only fly in the ointment of my joy is that I really don't 'need' another scarf...especially not another rainbow/blue stripey scarf...
...or even another ZickZack scarf, come to that.
I can tell myself they're all (ever so slightly) different, and that I do 'need' plenty of scarves now that my hair is so short and my neck is always so cold, but the truth is that some of them are going to have to be rehomed in the very near future, because not knitting is not an option, and neither is ignoring the problem. Fortunately I do have Christmas-present-knitting to keep me occupied for the next month or two, and I'm also pondering a make-it-up-as-I-go-along-crazy-stripey-jumper to use up a chunk of my stash, so the cull doesn't have to happen immediately. I just have to stick to the 
'Trying Not To Buy More Yarn' rule and introduce a very strict 'One Out One In' scarf rule in the meantime. 

In other news, they mowed all the long meadow grass at the park a few weeks ago and turned it into two big hay bales, which have been left at the bottom of one of the fields. The XXSCat dog was very grumpy about this to begin with, as she hates to see anything out of the ordinary on her daily perambulations (this includes workmen on ladders, fallen trees, anything blocking the pavement, and (obviously) postmen). She barked her head off the first time she encountered them, and gave them an extremely wide berth. 

The following day, after a lot of chuntering and swearing under her breath, she got close enough for a cautious sniff, and reluctantly conceded that they were "probably harmless". Now she just ignores them. I, on the other hand, am obsessed by them, because beautiful little hare's foot inkcap mushrooms (according to Google Lens) have started pushing through the surface of the wet hay. 

They have a very short life-span, going from fluffy hare's foot... inky black cap...
...gently liquifying...
...until they melt away, within the space of 24 hours...
...but if you happen to be there at just the right moment...
...they are stunningly beautiful, like miniature spun glass sculptures, when the sun shines through them.

Sunday 26 September 2021

...tiny girls

  • One of my former colleagues gave birth to a tiny baby girl three months ago, after enduring several heart-breaking years of IVF treatment. This week I'm going to be meeting the 'miracle baby' for the first time, and I wanted to take a little gift along with me. I'm a knitting pattern magpie at the best of times, so when I saw this knitted top over on the 'Three Stories High' blog a couple of weeks ago, I had the perfect excuse to add it to my library. "Like Sleeves" is a cosy pullover tunic, very simple to knit - which can be made in two pieces and seamed together or knitted in the round. I followed the advice of other knitters on Ravelry, who had changed the neckband to plain stocking stitch, which creates a rolled edge to hide the  loose cast off (needed to ensure the top will fit over the baby's head). I think if/when I make it again I'll do a garter stitch border at the bottom to match the 'sleeves'.
  • This week I finally assembled the remaining bits and pieces (wooden beads and skewers, sand) I needed to be able to make this adorable pin cushion, designed by the fabulous Ann Wood. I'm a huge fan of Ann's work - she is incredibly generous with her creativity, offering many free patterns on her website, always accompanied with clear step-by-step instructions and photos. The only tricky bit of the assembly (for me) was joining the circular base to the body. I stitched the seam by hand to begin with, but was worried that the sand 'stuffing' might leak out, so I carefully overstitched it on the sewing machine afterwards. I also used iron-on interfacing to line the body and protect against sand leakage. Ann recommends using crushed walnut shells for stuffing, but this is difficult to source/extortionately priced in the UK! My little pin girl is going to be a birthday present for a friend. I wanted her to have a 'vintage' cottage-garden feel, so I added some little felt flowers to a couple of pins for extra decoration. She looks perfect sitting next to the Alfred Meakin tea-cup on my shelf, and I will be rather sad to see her go!
  • In other news, we have passed the Autumn Equinox, the leaves are falling and dusk comes earlier every day. This year I'm going to try to make the most of the darker, colder months by focussing on enjoying time spent indoors rather than dwelling on the absence of light...and I'm going to take my Vitamin D supplements too!


Thursday 16 September 2021

...waste not, want not

Just before I retired one of my friends at work asked if I had any use for an old pair of worn out  jeans - e.g. for patching/repairing other denim items. She is a keen recyclist, and she was reluctant to just throw them away. So I said I would take them off her hands, along with some linen ties she had cut off a set of cushion pads.

I'd originally thought I would get rid of the cushion ties when I got home, but it turns out I find it almost as hard to dispose of other people's unwanted belongings as I do my own. ["Hello, friend's Mum's embroidered linen tablecloths/friend's woven throw/friend's bag of fabric remnants, I'm talking about you!"] So they stayed in the bag with the jeans and were added to the little pile of denim remnants on the sewing shelf.

Fast forward five months and the same friend's 50th birthday was approaching. I thought I'd take a look at the jeans and see if they really were beyond repair, as she had mentioned that they'd been favourites. Both knees had gone, and the inner leg seams and hems were also thin and frayed. It would have been a mammoth job to patch them up, and I wasn't sure if she would wear crazy patched-up jeans, so I decided to repurpose them into the next best thing - an Extra Pocket Bag.
I used the rear pocket area for the back of the bag, with a tiny bit of patching in the top corner where the belt loop had been. Even though the fabric was quite worn and thin, the new cotton lining gave it plenty of reinforcement. I added a little applique and embroidery to the front of the bag (because more is always more in my world), and then carefully unpicked and joined the ends of five of the cushion ties to make the handle. Although it was a little fiddly and time-consuming, I thought my friend would appreciate the fact that they had been put to use and it certainly pleased me to return them to her in an upcycled form! 

So here it is - Extra Pocket Bag Version 8!

Sunday 12 September 2021

...fairy fingerprints

A few months ago, not long after I retired, a friend asked me if I could do something to brighten up some special wall-mounted plant frames she had bought, second-hand. Although they were rather expensive (even second-hand) she didn't like the shiny white plastic finish. She wondered if I could think of way to make them "not shiny, maybe even with a pattern or some colour". I said I'd be happy to have a look, so she brought one round and we discussed ideas over a couple of weeks. At first I wondered if it might be possible to sew fabric covers for the frames (like a sofa slip cover), but I wasn't sure I could tailor them to be 'off-and-on-able" without being too loose. Then we discussed using wall-paper, but I wasn't sure if wall-paper paste would adhere well to the plastic surface, and I was quite keen to come up with something potentially reversible, given the cost of the frames. Eventually, after some tentative experimentation, I suggested painting them with acrylic paint. This would be water resistant and tough enough to withstand dusting/gentle wiping with a damp cloth, but could be removed (if needed) by soaking in hot water.

The next decision was what colour to paint the frames. When we were considering fabric slip-covers my friend had seen this fabric she quite liked... 
...but the only design brief I had to go on for painting the frames was "duck egg blue, maybe with some darker blue bits, not just a flat colour".

This was just enough information to cause me to procrastinate for weeks, as I really didn't know where to begin! Eventually I decided to "pick up a brush and see what happens", and over the ensuing weeks months a kind of visual 'language' developed. I had to work in short bursts of an hour or so at a time because I was mostly standing/leaning slightly forward over the frames while painting and my hip/back really didn't enjoy prolonged periods in this position. So I would give myself a little blob of cadmium yellow/pithalo blue/titanium white (and after a while, permanent rose) each time, and then paint until I'd used it all up. I'd stick mainly to shades of greeny/blue, venturing slightly into creamy yellow, mauve territory from time to time, and then allow the "darker blue  bits" to scatter across at will. For some reason these ended up with an accompanying dash of bright cadmium yellow - as I was painting I couldn't decide if they reminded me of petals or leaves or flames, but afterwards my friend's 5 year old daughter said that they were "fairy fingerprints" and that seemed like a perfectly reasonable idea to me!
I'm not sure I'd have ever reached a point where I could have declared them "finished", had it not been for my friend putting her foot down and saying that she loved them as they were and wanted to get them home and up on the wall! She sent me the pictures below once they were back in situ. Some of the plants have perished during their long months of framelessness, but new plants (some with red leaves, apparently) will be coming soon to fill the gaps. Watch this space...

Saturday 4 September 2021


It was my good friend C's 50th birthday last Sunday. When I met her for lunch the week before she told me she was hoping her kids might get her a Steven Brown print - of a pair of rainbow-coloured giraffes, or a jolly Highland cow, perhaps - "And maybe one day you'll do me a painting too!" 

I know the sound of a gauntlet hitting the ground when I hear it, and funnily enough I'd already been pondering the idea of doing a birthday painting for her - I'd just felt uncertain as to what she might like. So this conversation gave me a bit of a steer (if not a McCoo, if you'll pardon the pun) in the right direction: rainbow bright colours (see also Elmer the Elephant), simple/bold design, cheerful subject-matter. 

Since painting animals isn't really my forte I decided to go for her favourite flowers instead - after all, there's nothing cheerier than a sunflower in full bloom! At this stage I'd normally start fretting about getting things "right" - searching for reference material and generally tying myself in knots before even starting - but the 100 Day Project really seems to have lessened my anxiety about simply putting brush to canvas and seeing what happens. So I put brush to canvas and this is what happened:

I'm not claiming it's a masterpiece (the market in sunflower-based masterpieces was cornered over 130 years ago) but there was something so liberating about just using my imagination and making things up as I went along. I liked the jolly little still life I ended up with, and so did its intended recipient, which really was the icing on the (birthday) cake.

In the past, the harsh voice of my inner (perfectionist) critic and the judgements of others have often reduced me to a state of creative near-paralysis. Now I think I'm starting to edge a little closer to a mindset where I worry less about the opinions of others, and where I'm free to be my imperfect self and feel that that is "good enough" - in a "feel the fear and do it anyway" kind of way. 

I'm applying the same principles in other areas of my life too - this week I went to the hairdressers and had eight inches of hair cut off, leaving me with little more than an inch or so all over. I basically "went the full Judi", as I've been wanting (but too scared) to do for years, and the unexpected bonus (suggested by the hairdresser) was that the off-cuts were long enough to send to the Little Princess Trust to be used to make wigs for children with cancer! (I'm assured that they can be dyed to more-age-appropriate colours than greyish-brown!)
Three days later, after the initial shock of seeing my face, neck and ears emerging from the wilderness,  I am loving the fuss-free lightness and freedom of having next-to-no hair. I am also realising that it is co-o-o-ld and draughty without it... which is where all those knitted hats and scarves have finally come into their own! It's almost like 'Past Me' knew what she was doing after all... 

Monday 23 August 2021

...playing catch-up

  • Here is the completed Lintilla shawlette. I'm so happy with how it turned out. I used all but 28g of two skeins of Schoppel-Wolle Wunderkleckse yarn so it's quite a substantial shawlette - long enough to go twice around the neck and tie in a twirly knot, or to drape around the shoulders in all its ruffled glory! I think the yarn complements the pattern beautifully, as it really highlights the short row construction of the borders.
  • An afternoon mooch around the garden with my camera, capturing the latest summer blooms......provided the inspiration for a little wedding gift for Lucy and Sam. A friend gave me a set of acrylic gouache paints as a retirement present and I tried them for the first time in this painting - they have a chalkier, more matt finish than ordinary acrylics, but are just as easy to use. 
  • I'm feeling pretty pleased with myself this week after rescuing a knitted cowl that was destined for the bin (I've started another de-cluttering cycle, and it hadn't been worn for ages). I originally bought it in the 'Accessorize' Winter Sale many years ago - it had been love at first sight when I originally spotted it on the scarf rack in the shop, but I'd been unable to afford/justify the hefty full-price tag, so I just kept going back, and coveting it, and kept my fingers crossed that I might eventually find it with an end-of-season discount applied. I was thrilled to bits when I did.
Sadly, it didn't really live up to my expectations. It was so big and floppy, and so loosely knitted that it was constantly getting snagged on things. The chenille stripes (olive green/turquoise) kept developing big untidy loops and it was even starting to unravel. So it ended up languishing at the bottom of the scarf pile, sparking guilt and regret rather than joy every time I unearthed it. I was on the verge of finally letting it go (let's face it, I already have enough stripey scarves to keep several Hydra warm in Winter) when my hoarding 'make do and mend' instinct kicked in. I decided to see if I could unpick and re-knit it instead, using the same stitch pattern/colour sequence and a tighter gauge.

The picture below shows 'before' on the left and 'after' on the right - an absolute triumph, I think we can all agree? As good as new - only better!