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...