Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Elephant buddies...

Thanks to a day of non stop rain I've finished a second elephant. She distinctly feels like a 'she' because she's a fraction smaller. I've cheated on the tassels this time and looped several strands through the 'rug'. Boy was that quicker and less fiddly! I tried a different colour scheme for the blanket edging and tassels and didn't like it so it was back to safe greys!

In fact it was actually two days of non stop rain. The dogs take themselves off round the fields at the end of the garden on rainy days but it isn't the same as a nice long supervised walk! I made up for it today with a long and leisurely ramble through our favourite meadows and nature reserve. For months I really didn't think my knee would ever recover by itself. It's still problematic and doesn't take very much to knock it into bad shape for a few days. Bizarrely it is still tender to touch, I can't kneel on it, bend down, sit with my feet tucked under my chair, I can't land on it, stairs are painful, slight inclines are painful nevermind hills but... I can walk on the flat and I'm absolutely over the moon about that. If I tread carefully I can do my usual dog walking route albeit with a nagging pain. Never again will I take walking for granted.

Harvey still suffers from a deck slipping injury he acquired some years ago. He bounded outside on an icy day and yelped loudly as he slid across a small portion of decking. It must have done some quite severe muscular damage because he's never been the same since. He thinks in much the same way as I do and scorns 'rest'. After a lengthy tennis ball fetching session he limps home triumphantly with soggy tennis ball in mouth. There's no telling how much pain he's in.

I don't think I'm quite done with crochet elephants yet. I was aiming for two for my craft stall which has meant making three so that the nearly 19 year old in the house who should have grown out of cuddly toys but hasn't, can have one on her bed! Then there's the fourth one that I will make with my niece in mind but that will have to wait as I have a particular colour scheme in mind. Little E visited last weekend which was just fabulous. She really is such a star. It's pretty much the rule that small children are happy, sociable and easily entertained when you take them places and then save their crabby moods for home! I'm sure a certain someone was just like that.

As adorable as Little E is I am pretty happy that my two are older now. They are still demanding but in a different way. J for instance, who has been largely anti social until now (partly due to Xbox and partly due to shyness) has started meeting friends in town or at the football ground two villages away. So just when E is suddenly out and about in her little car and freeing my time up hugely, J is suddenly asking for lifts. Unfortunately it's not always practical cost and location wise to tell him to catch a bus, though he does when he can and always with his passport as ID. It makes me quite cross that they don't believe that he's 15 and therefore a half fare, OK so he's almost 6'3 but surely anyone can tell he's not got the worldly manner of an older boy? For now I'm happy to be the taxi for his new found social life. One new driver at a time is plenty thank you.

I solved the mystery of the second elephant turning out a little bit smaller... both my 4.5mm and 5mm hooks are blue, with only a subtle shade of difference between them. I must have picked up the 4.5mm for the second one. A happy mistake as it turns out because the stitches are a bit tighter.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Off the hook... Big yellow elephant

Well that was an enjoyable make! Rather than finish all the extra pieces I decided to sew up the elephant part first. He stood naked for a while until I'd finished the blanket. This is one of those designs that is more 'knitterly' in construction; flat parts, a gusset and then sewing. Not my favourite way of producing an animal but since he's so cheerful I can forgive it just this once.

So this fine chap might not make it to market to be sold (at a craft fair) but he will be sticking around as a useful prototype for future reference. Number two is already underway, although he may be made in slightly different colours. I think the two shades of grey were playing it a bit safe, and also those tassels were a bit of a faff, I'm sure there is an easier way to make neater tassels. Maybe I just need practice.

My favourite part is the blanket which is done in linen stitch, which doesn't really show up in these photos, but looks satisfyingly 'woven' close up. He's a nice size too at about 12" wide and 8" tall. I scaled him up from DK to Aran. He's very squidgy. The bright yellow is a very welcome colour to be working with today while we have grey overcast skies and constant rain. The dogs looked like drowned rats and since they harvested the wheat in our fields they also look like dog scarecrows with straw bits sticking out of their curly ears.

I'm planning on making just two elephants for my craft stall as colourful eye catching items alongside the hats and some jewellery. It's tricky to decide on prices. By the time you've factored in yarn (about 150g), toy stuffing, buttons and safety eyes it doesn't leave a lot of room to take into account the time spent making this toy, so really it's just about the enjoyment of making something and selling it to someone who will enjoy it too.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Hot dogs and yellow elephants...

A week or so ago I heard that I'd been allocated a table at a local craft fayre. It's a well attended one, held just once a year. Nothing fancy, just a complete mixture of crafts. Of course I'm terrified. I love making things but I do hate selling face to face. It's partly worry that nothing will sell, partly that I will make a giant prat of myself by not being able to converse in a noisy village hall which echoes thanks to the lack of carpet or curtains. Actually that last worry is guaranteed to be the case. M will be my back up ears at least. Let's face it he will make a charming salesperson too.

Anyway, I have a month to focus on supplementing the stock I've already made by way of leather/wood/metal jewellery. It would be mad not to try a few crochet items right? Something simple like hats maybe? Ugh! Not simple at all given that hat size charts vary wildly across the Internet. Oh well. I've stuck to one and that's all I can do. I've allowed for a bit of give too so they will get a bit of extra time out of it if it's for a growing child.

It was a good opportunity to dive into my Aran and chunky supplies and see what could be used up. I picked out all the machine washable yarns and used my wool winder to make neat 'cakes' of what wasn't already wound that way. It wasn't a very inspiring colour palette but after a frenzy of woolly hat making I now have a basket tray of each weight leftover. This is superb news! I've been working really hard over the last few years to whittle down my stash. The tiny amounts will probably get made into random pom poms (always useful!). This just leaves me with pure wool and wool blend yarns in more useful quantities which I prefer to work with these days.

Fun as they are, my random striped, side to side constructed baby and toddler woolly hats, there comes a time when you can't face making another. So in complete contrast I decided to make a big yellow elephant! Well biggish, not that big. The pattern calls for DK but I find Aran easier to work with so instead of roughly 8x6 inches he's coming out at 12x8 inches. Ella has a weakness for both elephants and the colour yellow so I need to be very firm about his destination ie. as an eye catching craft stall item!

I have Mansfield to thank for the elephant inspiration. M had some legal work to do there this week and said he thought it might be charity shop heaven if I wanted to tag along. There were plenty of charity shops but there was also a haberdashery closing down sale within their department store. I don't usually buy a lot of Rowan yarn, especially if garments are involved but the sale prices meant that I could at long last knit up a cardigan/jacket pattern that I've had for a while but hadn't found a substitute yarn for. It would normally have cost £98 just for the yarn (who buys that stuff?) but I managed to get the required number of balls plus a bit extra just in case for £32. It won't be as enjoyable as crochet but it's the end result that I will enjoy; a chunky, throw it on over anything kind of cardigan. It's also good to refresh my memory where knitting is concerned too! I also picked up the book with the elephant pattern in it for less than half price. It has been out for years and caught my eye long before I knew how to crochet!

So, it's back to my big yellow elephant now in the dappled shade under our trees, while a certain four legged friend looks at me and sighs every now and then as if to say, 'is it cool enough to go for a walk now?'. We had a heat wave kind of day yesterday and I waited until the temperature had dropped to a milder 24 degrees (from 30!) before attempting to load them up in my car and take them off to the river for a swim. I so wanted to have a paddle too but I'm not so keen after watching a very large grass snake slither into the water a few weeks back. I've been managing to walk a bit further with my dodgy knee and hoping to see my Heron. Finally the other day I saw not one but two!

Monday, 5 September 2016

crochet honeycomb hat pattern...

Shout if there's a mistake! I'm no pattern writer but I've given it a go. The beauty of this style of constructing a hat is that you can choose any yarn weight you have to hand along with these guide measurements. I like working with Aran or worsted weight which is how I made the oatmeal coloured honeycomb hat. The baby/toddler sized red hat (see previous post) was made using chunky yarn.

As a very approximate guide I use a starting chain which measures 11" or 12" for an adult hat with a turn up brim. For a child's hat I would use a chain of 7" or 8". If you increase these dimensions you get a bit more of a slouchy hat or a deeper turn up.

An adult sized hat can be made using less than 100g of Aran weight yarn. The child sized one in chunky, I have found, uses slightly over 50g.

The best way to get to grips with how this honeycomb pattern works is to make a small baby/toddler hat with a starting chain of 25 using chunky yarn and a 7mm hook. This should produce a chain of approximately 8" long.

Work through the back loop (tbl) throughout.

Ch1 and Ch2 at beginning of rows are turning chains and do not count as stitches throughout.

Row 1: ch25

Row 2: (rs) ch1. (5 sl st, 5 htr) twice. 5 sl st. Turn.

Row 3: (ws) ch1. (5 sl st, 5 htr) twice, 5 sl st. Turn.

Row 4: ch1, 10 sl st, 5 htr, 5 sl st, 5 htr. Turn

Row 5 ch2, (5 htr, 5 sl st) twice. 5 sl st. Turn.

Repeat rows 2-5 until piece measures approximately 16" at widest part. Sew seam with wrong sides together. Gather stitches at top and secure on wrong side.

For adult hat: chain 40 or 45 using Aran weight yarn and 5.5mm hook. The chain should be roughly 11" or 12" long if you want either a slouchy beanie or a beanie with a turn up brim. Adjust accordingly if you just require a well fitted beanie with no turn up! If you've made the small hat as a trial run you'll know how the pattern works, just remember to sl st five stitches at the crown of the hat which makes it taper nicely and a little easier to gather. For an adult hat you'll need to repeat the pattern until the width, at the widest part, measures approx 18-20" depending on head size. As a guide my oatmeal honeycomb hat measured 18" before sewing up and my head is roughly 22" in diameter. With the give in the yarn this is an ideal fit.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

O'er yonder...

Sadly, no, I haven't disappeared on a round the world trip. I'm still here. M and I managed to fit in a few nights away last week. There are still great big pockets of ignorance when it comes to my knowledge of all things Northern. When M mentioned Bradford I must admit I wasn't exactly filled with joy, it conjured up rather a different picture to that of camping bliss.

However, Bradford was where M needed to be for a couple of days so we eventually found a site that had space (should have taken that as a sign!). We arrived in a picture box village with beautiful window boxes everywhere, a lovely pub, a babbling brook... and a dreadful camp site with communal showers! The least said about the rest of it the better! Thank goodness we bumped into another couple who were also just leaving who recommended a nicer site five miles away. M made a phone call and phew, they had a space if we were quick. We were quick.

The site was terraced and it was a devil to get a long caravan pitched but it was well worth the effort because it looked out over hills and dales and the most amazing sunset every evening. My head was obviously not in blog mode because I didn't take a photograph! Argh! We were somewhere between Otley and Ilkley and the countryside was wonderful. Despite work in Bradford we managed a nice morning in Ilkley just browsing book shops and drinking coffee and chatting to small children... we concluded that M must have a friendly face because, on two separate occasions, a small child decided to strike up a conversation with him. In a cafe, a three year old, clearly bored with her mother and grandmother's conversation turned around in her chair and said, 'Hi, I'm Lucy'. When M cheerfully replied, 'Well it's very nice to meet you Lucy' she had an attack of shyness but recovered enough after a minute or two to have another go.

The other small child introduced herself as Bella. M agreed with her opinion that it was a very nice name. He explained that we had a daughter called Ella which sounded a bit similar (she disagreed) but that we sometimes call her, EllaBella. This was clearly the funniest thing she had ever heard and she went off chuckling heartily.

Indeed, EllaBella is doing the festival thing as I write. On the one hand it fills me with worry and on the other I am secretly glad that she is spending five nights in a tent and experiencing the delights of a single camping stove with no refrigeration facilities. This is a girl who would choose a hotel over wild camping any day of the week, unlike her Mother.

I dug out my Trangia cook set complete with meths burner. A visit to a camp shop for a new bottle of meths informed me that wow, these sets have gone drastically up in price since I bought mine, oops, that must have been at least 15-20 years ago. Jeez, time flies. I held out the set in front of E and asked her to guess how many cooking things it might contain (bear in mind the whole thing is about the size of a medium saucepan). She was miles off. I unpacked the three saucepans, the frying pan, the kettle and the windbreak/pan stand/burner unit, the meths burner and the handle for the pans and she did concede that it was pretty amazing.

Still not convinced that this tiny gold pot would heat enough water for an espresso let alone a pot noodle I had to do a demonstration on the patio. If this failed then she'd be paying £5 for a small frankfurter in a roll for her main meal every day (apparently this was the cheapest food at last year's festival). Not only was she surprised that it boiled a kettle of water, she was surprised that it was quick.

So last night I received the above pic, including boyfriends feet, of the stove boiling water for their packet pasta with the message, 'this thing is actually working!' Thank goodness these kids will never need real survival skills! I don't fancy their chances of making a shelter or starting a fire without matches.

All the river pictures were taken on a warm evening in Ilkley. I had to try and walk off a pint of cider (I'm such a lightweight these days). Unfortunately I kept pointing out that everything was 'lovely' but with a dodgy Northern accent, it wasn't my finest moment. Thankfully I kept quiet when a friendly older couple walked by and M had the most interesting conversation with them about the area. They were both Ilkley born and bred and still taking romantic, hand in hand, riverside walks after goodness knows how many years together (I think they were at least eighty). Their accents were almost indecipherable for me so M had to translate so that I didn't look like a complete idiot. Apparently the Heron was often at the same spot. They were also keen to let us know that if we came back in May then the woods 'o'er yonder' would be a carpet of bluebells. Oo, I bet those two had plenty of tales to tell!

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

A simple break...

It's very good advice to have something in your diary or on your calendar to look forward to. It's a shame I don't take that advice more often! When it comes to short breaks and holidays we are definitely more likely to be and although I love spontaneity I've also come to need that little box on the calendar to count down to.

The children had their own adventure this year and visited Cornwall for the first time. It wasn't so much of a trek along the south coast when I was growing up but it's now a major north to south expedition. However, they made it (with Mum clocking up a silly amount of driving miles) and loved it. J in particular enjoyed surfing lessons. E liked the laid back vibe (I knew she would). They visited the Eden project and Lost Gardens of Heligan amongst other places and generally made the most of it despite the lack of reliable sunshine.

Meanwhile M and I didn't want to waste a whole week to ourselves despite the fact that M still had work assignments in Wolverhampton, Derby, Liverpool and Sheffield. It made it rather challenging to figure out how to get a few days away in the caravan. I got the old fashioned road atlas out (I hate satnavs!) and figured out that Derbyshire would be an acceptable location for M to use as a base for work. From discussion and hasty booking of a site to leaving was approximately 24 hours!

We found a site near Ashbourne in Derbyshire which is an area neither of us knew very well. It was extremely popular with walkers and cyclists. I'd have preferred a less busy site with fewer amenities but you can't beat having everything to hand especially when you're in a caravan that hasn't been used for over a year. There were quite a few children running about which made Riley nervous so he barked at them which in turn made him seem quite unfriendly. One brother and sister weren't put off though and came and made friends with him which was really nice. He settled down after he'd made a few friends, he's a dog that doesn't like new places. Harvey is a dog who is clearly old before his time. He's like an old man who likes an uninterrupted afternoon nap so he'll snooze through anything.

We liked Ashbourne, although it's small it has a few nice coffee places and everything you need. Tissington is a chocolate box tourist village but it was a nice spot for (more) coffee and to buy some homegrown rhubarb. I like picking up eggs, honey and whatever people have in a little makeshift shops by their garden gate. The large bunch of rhubarb was only £1 and enough to last the whole week!

The week was spent in a very simple and relaxing way. We picked up food day by day, we read books, we took the dogs to nearby streams for walks and swims, we threw a few things in a basket for simple picnics, we visited a few places, not many, we fixed a few things in the caravan with the help of a parts shop nearby. We had Coca Cola in glass bottles with straws in a pub garden; a trip down memory lane! M was lucky and had two cancellations which meant more time to put his feet up.

I did take some crochet but after buying some groceries in Ashbourne on day one I spotted some unbleached cotton and decided to make myself a decent sized face cloth. I'd forgotten to bring one and M uses his all the time (a face cloth is so much easier with a tiny sink). The face cloth went well and it was nice working with cotton in the summer so I challenged myself to use up the rest of the ball. I ended up making a sunglasses pouch since mine were getting chucked in my basket or bag every day. With the tiny amount left I made a cotton bracelet. We have a man drawer in the caravan which happened to yield the perfect button for a fastening. 100g of cotton turned into three nice things and not a pattern in sight!

We both agreed how relaxing and therapeutic the week had been. We were even able to calmly discuss the problems that need addressing with our property at the moment and how M blames work for not being able to deal with them and equally how he won't part with his hard earned cash to pay someone else to deal with them. A kind of stalemate I think. When we got home several of the tasks we had discussed miraculously got done! Happy days.

From our pitch round the corner from the little camper pictured above I spent some time being discretely nosey observing the couple who had come to England with it. M obliged and took a crafty snap so that I could share it with you. I'm not sure if the photo gives a sense of scale, perhaps the bicycles help show how tiny it is. They towed it with a hatchback which also held the bikes on a cycle rack. Isn't it just amazing!? I love it. It's clearly a well thought out little unit with its pop up top for standing room inside and even a mesh fly screen for the door. I'd have loved to have had a peep inside. Can you see the clever clothes line with the two dangling socks?

This little Dutch caravan got me thinking about how nice it would be to have a much smaller caravan that I could manage to tow myself. I'm sure there are women out there who are happy and qualified to tow a twin axle whopper of a caravan but I'm not one of them! I'd have a go of course but I'm sure it would be stressful. M is an absolute genius at towing, I've held my breath and clenched my knuckles at some very tight entrances and along narrow country lanes and he's handled everything that comes his way. He does get annoyed if I grab the door handle in fear but that's fair enough.

A quick browse for little caravans old or new revealed that it's just another idea along with one day owning a campervan that isn't going to happen any time soon! Small doesn't equal cheap! Not only that but even the small ones would have issues with windy days which is a whole scenario I could live without. This led me to discover teardrop trailers (google it!). The benefits of a caravan/campervan type thing but without too much of a towing hassle. Think 5'x8' a single axle trailer... as Catherine Tate would say, 'I can do that!'

So, I've given M his next DIY challenge despite the fact the kitchen needs finishing off and his workshop still needs a roof. He's downloaded a template and cut it out of wood just so that we can see exactly what we are dealing with. It looks pretty darn small to me. We're pulling in favours and quotes from people M knows who can weld for a purpose built trailer. It's a pay as you go project and there's nothing hugely expensive to buy for it after the base itself so I think we might just have a tiny caravan by next April. That's the deadline I'm giving M; it's the start of the cricket season and I'd like it finished by then so I can at least remove myself from these four walls while every weekend is taken up with matches.

Without electrical hook up you can usually camp for a tenner or less per night. Although this camper will have the ability to hook up it would only be for charging phones and iPads and maybe switching the fridge/cooler from battery to mains like our caravan one does. For a short stay though everything can run from a leisure battery that recharges from the car on the way home. Unlike the caravan there will be virtually no setting up tasks. It will be a case of pitching up, unhitching and getting the chairs out. Ella already has her eye on it for next year's music festival!

Monday, 18 July 2016


When your child passes her driving test it is both exciting and terrifying in equal measures. On the one hand you join in with the jumps for joy (metaphorically, this knee isn't jumping anywhere for a while) and on the other it hits you like a tonne of bricks that she'll be hurtling down dual carriageways all on her own. Eek.

Another thing that hits you square on is the hike in insurance from having a learner driver on your policy to having a new driver. An additional payment of £625 thank you very much.

Then, round about day three when she's exhausted all the local places she can go to just because she can, and even picked up her brother from school, she comes to you and asks for ideas for a day out. Oh boy. I come up with anything within half an hour's drive while she rolls her eyeballs and says things like 'I can drive you know' and 'it won't be an adventure if it's only up the road'. Eventually one of my forty minutes away suggestions goes down well and craftily that makes sure she is only 15 minutes away from my parents.

All this and she knows the story well that I jumped in my car the day after I passed my test and toured the West Country and Cornwall with a friend for two weeks. Thankfully she has no such ambitions...yet.