Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Skipton, Oxford...

'Office politics' at the charity shop have been getting to me lately. I can't believe so much bad behaviour goes on over a pile of tatty junk! The problem seems to be the equal status managers. Neither has the final say on matters so they just do what they like regardless of the need for teamwork. I'm very often in the middle of their spats being the only volunteer who goes in for more than one afternoon a week. After yet more stress and moaning and having to be a party to undoing one manager's work in favour of another's I decided the time was right to reduce my volunteer contribution and also have a few days off.

In the last week I've been able to leave the confines of our locality and join M on some work excursions. His work is spread far and wide and in the space of seven days he's been as far North as Skipton and as far South as Oxford. Both were lovely days out for me despite the long journeys.

Court work is often quicker than the amount of time M is booked for so I tend to prioritise my time when I arrive in a strange town. I was last in Skipton about 15 years ago so naturally I googled wool shops and headed straight for Purl and Jane. It was wonderful, right up my street. I fell in love with the gorgeous display of natural baby garments all designed by Jane. The pattern book was an 'investment' shall we say. All are knitting patterns rather than crochet but from baby up to ten years old in simple stitches so nothing too large and difficult. I figured my new nephew or niece will be well catered for with this collection. Jane was lovely and helped with a couple of wool requests. I could have spent the day in there choosing and a small fortune but I came away with wool for two projects that will be fairly quick and easy and needed sooner rather than later.

Oxford is a different kettle of fish. I know it like the back of my hand and it always brings back happy memories of living there when E was small. I visited all my favourite little corners and still had time to pop into MOMA, now renamed Modern Art Oxford. I wasn't that taken with the Andy Warhol/William Morris exhibition nor the relocation of the cafe from basement to ground floor but hey, I'm a visitor now, so I will shut up! E saw dozens of exhibitions there when she was small whilst being snug as a bug in a rug in a back carrier I had until she got too big for it. It enabled her to see everything at adult eye level and point and chatter (gobbledygook) about everything. I like to think I introduced her to art from an early age (I gave her a crayon as soon as she could grip for heaven's sake!)

There's evidence that I encouraged J's fine motor skills from an early age too. A home video of him casually cutting shapes from paper at the age of two. My Dad says, 'you haven't got those sharp scissors have you Jake?' to which a wide eyed innocent J says, 'No Grangrad' (I spelled that how he used to say it). The scissors meanwhile have been deftly moved from table level to lap but move back again when Dad turns away to help Ella (five years old by now) with paint. Little rascal.

I'm proud to be the chief craft person when it comes to friends with primary school age children. I get invited for coffee and end up helping them with homework collages. 'Help I don't even know what a collage is, but I suspect it involves glue, aaaargh!' Really? Where were they when Blue Peter was on?

Oh well, see what a trip down memory lane sets off? Back to crochet talk. I've been going round and round the edges of this pale grey and very soft baby blanket. It looks plain so far but I can't wait to add the splash of contrast colour to the border. I've hit a slight snag with the driftwood shawl and the yarn won't hold up to being frogged so I need to pick up a few clusters somewhere and keep going. It's so rustic I don't think it will particularly show in the final thing. Of course, I will know the error is there but it's not the end of the world. I should have counted between sections.

With all these wips getting daily attention there should be some finished projects soon!

Saturday, 28 February 2015


I've got a bad case of 'startitis'. As you can see I've started another little project (I say 'little' to assuage the guilt). It is indeed working up quickly thanks to the lacy nature of the stitch patterns. I've done three times as much as these photographs show.

The pattern is from the book 'Rustic Crochet' by Yumiko Alexander. I treated myself to the kindle version knowing full well that only a portion of the patterns would be items I'd want to make. I know that I will be making several of these 'Driftwood' shawls. They are versatile wraps/shawls/scarves that will work in all sorts of yarn types.

In this instance I'm using some unidentified yarn that I picked up for 50p in a charity shop. It was wound in skeins and I have to be honest, it looked like more yarn than it actually was. It's light and airy and extremely fine. It's also very rustic; hairy and more than likely 100% wool. I wound five balls from the skeins and it comes to a paltry 150gm but with a lot of yardage, so I'm working blind and hoping that it will at least make a useful length of the pattern and then it will be time to be creative with my small supply of tweedy four ply yarns by way of tassels or different coloured sections. Worst case scenario is having to buy something that's a good match and adding panels either side of the work. I say worst case scenario because this was supposed to be an attempt at using up random wool finds!

I'm pretty sure this will need blocking when I've finished it. The yarn is quite crinkly to start with. Maybe just a steam whilst hanging vertically if I can get away with it. It has required a little concentration and counting so I had to put it to one side recently whilst I watched, for the first time ever, Beaches with Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey. It really should have come with a Kleenex Tissue Warning!! Though to be fair the song Wind Beneath My Wings gets me every time I hear it.

M's favourite Bette Midler sing is The Rose. I'd never heard it before and never will if I'm honest. I tried to listen to it very loudly through headphones but I just cannot do what I call 'new music' which means music I don't already know from years ago when I could hear a few percent better. The sounds don't make sense to me. It's a bit like phantom limb syndrome. I can really only listen to music I know already because my brain fills in the gaps that my ears can't pick up anymore. It's difficult to explain. I'd probably do better if I heard a man with a deep voice sing it. I can hear deep sounds a bit better. Hence why I like all the old fashioned male singers from the days when you could actually tell the voice apart from the backing music. Well that and happy memories of playing 40s and 50s singles on my Grandparent's record player.

Talking of which I don't think Jake is at all impressed with my taste in music. I 'borrowed' Ella's record player last weekend and set it up in the conservatory next to my crochet (mountain of) supplies and put on an album I'd bought from my charity shop. The first track was Born Free by Matt Monroe and that was belting out just as J and M arrived home unexpectedly early. Thank goodness I wasn't attempting to sing but I was caught red handed and the look on Jake's face was pure bewilderment. He said, 'what      is     this?' I told him it was proper music and he pulled a face equivalent to abject horror. So hurtful! You can see why I very rarely play music in this house.

It's a miserable, overcast morning here in Lincoln. Housework, dog walk, charity shop shift and crochet is the order of the day. I'm looking forward to the crochet at least!

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Back to the drawing board...

It's back to the drawing board with this little crochet waistcoat. I'm not sure that Snuggly DK actually lives up to it's name. It feels soft and squishy on the ball but made up it feels more like a cool cotton bamboo mix, which happens to be fine in this case because the baby will be born in summer.

The buttons are all wrong and I'm going to take them off. I used fairly large buttons so that they would work with the treble stitches but there are only a limited number of treble rows which meant they would have had to be very close together or very far apart. I can see why they designed it with a tie fastening, which is what I will do to rescue this little garment. It's the most unexciting thing. I will be trying out the simple tank top in the same booklet and hope that comes out a bit better.

So I'm pleased that the baby blanket is coming along nicely at least. No pattern this time, I'm using a baby blanket stitch which looks gorgeous in the softest shade of grey. I've chosen a baby aran which is also very soft. I'm planning on a solid block of colour for the main part and then a border using a contrast colour. So much better not having to follow a pattern. Pics coming soon.

I have Mondays and Tuesdays off work and despite spending a portion of the day catching up on housework I am having a ball. In fact, the dogs and I are having a ball. I walk miles and miles and bring them back totally wet and laden with mud. They each have a foot/leg bath standing in the butler sink. Harvey gets wrapped in a warm towel because he shivers after a swim in a freezing lake (I can't really keep him out). Riley, although thinner and with less of a fur coat, doesn't seem to feel the cold so badly and doesn't like being wrapped up either.

After all that activity it's time for either a cheesy British film or a soppy American film. It can be the other way round but there always seems to be tissues involved with the latter. This is when I choose a mundane crochet stitch that requires no concentration, and lately this is the time I make a pot of tea and pop some corn.

Sunday, 22 February 2015


It's been a stressful weekend in more ways than one.

In the midst of chaos, stress and worrying news I found a moment to make some bread. Wholemeal bread. The stuff of our childhood complaints. I love it now of course. This recipe does come out rather dense but it tastes so good warm that it's worth making just for the first few slices. A little bit of honey was a nice sweet treat too.

I've resisted chocolate for four weeks now but I keep reading that a little dark chocolate now and then is a good thing, so I had two squares of that yesterday and immediately got a whopping headache. Still, in the interests of health I shall persevere and have another square in a couple of days time.

I haven't talked as much about the charity shop volunteering as I expected. It's partly because there has been a lot of 'office politics' but also because it's hard to talk about the customers without sounding, well, rude. Mind you, when we get plainly rude customers in, then it's no holds barred. This Friday and Saturday we had plenty.

A woman held up a pair of John Rocha jeans and asked me how much jeans are. I tell her they are £3. She shouts across the shop, 'Three pounds, are you joking me? That's so expensive! Charity shops are such a rip off these days!' Yes the bad grammar grates on my nerves but I smiled and said that if she shopped in any of the town centre charity shops, or outlying towns she would find that £3 for jeans was actually the cheapest anywhere. She huffed and puffed and left the shop. Good luck finding jeans for less than £3!

Then there's the stuff we find in the pockets. I always wear latex gloves for pockets... condoms (thankfully still in the packet), coins, dirty tissues, sticky half sucked sweets, chewing gum, apple cores... you get the idea.

One woman came in yesterday and with no please's or thank you's, let alone a smile, she wanted me to check all the bags to see if any of them had a long strap as well as a shorter one. She mumbled so it took two goes to ascertain what she actually wanted, by which time she was in an even more foul mood. I did as asked and she huffed and tutted and sighed angrily when I said that none had a longer strap but I would ask the staff out back if they could check the stock out there. She just grunted so I took that as a 'yes please, that would be splendid, thank you'. The answer from the back room was no so she tutted and grunted some more. Honestly, people seem to think we are some kind of department store who can magically produce everything they ask for right down to the last detail.

I've had people come in and ask for 'forks with green handles'. Er no, sorry, not at the moment. Purple candles? No sorry, we did have some last week but we've sold out! (a total lie just for the fun of it). Do you have any spare parts for my Black and Decker lawn mower? Funnily enough, no we haven't. Do you have any crystal chandeliers? Yes, we have four, they came from Buckingham Palace when they were having a clear out! Have you got any socks with 18 written on them? Just go away please.

What breaks my heart is when a lovely old lady with the best of intentions has lugged three carrier bags of modern, desirable novels, all the way to the shop in her shopping trolley and we have to dump the lot because she smokes 100 cigarettes a day. Well, they smell like she smokes 100 a day. It's just not fair to sell them to unsuspecting people who might not think to pass them under their nose. I once bought a second hand book through amazon and left a comment that I was disappointed it and arrived smelling of cigarettes and the seller said, so what?

I've finished the little baby waistcoat. The pattern was a bit tricky so I winged the edging. It swapped between 3mm and 4mm hooks which was a bit of a pain and for little gain I thought. I just need to sew on a couple of buttons and take a quick pic.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Auntie me...

I feel like a recovering addict... in fact that's an accurate description. It wasn't drugs or alcohol or even chocolate, it was wool, and baskets. This week, wait for it, I resisted both 3 balls of wool and a basket. They were both priced at a very reasonable £3 each. The basket would have been a nice project basket, but did I need it? No. The wool would have come in handy one day, but have I got other wool for that very reason? Yes. Eek. I can't believe I left them behind.

So what's that photo of some very scrumptious oatmeal with flecks wool? Oh yes, ahem, I did pick that up from a charity shop the day after I resisted the wool and the basket. Well how could I resist at £1 for 325g? It's DK and smells like proper wool. I already know what it's going to be (a triangular scarf/shawl thing). It'll go nicely with the oatmeal pure wool cardigan I picked up for £1.99.

I must confess that I popped out to browse a few charity shops to avoid being in the house with three 14 year old boys. There aren't many places to hide. Just when I wanted to sit down on the sofa they wanted to play indoor cricket. So I placed three packets of chicken noodles on the kitchen bench and said I was off out for a couple of hours. J asked how to cook them and I said 'instructions are on the back'. They managed just fine. So that's jelly and noodles in his repertoire! Yes I'm aware that noodles are not representative of a nutritious lunch but it's half term and the sleepover with two friends was sprung on me at the last minute.

I think we are somewhere in the middle when it comes to parental styles when I compare Jake to his friends. One seems to do a lot of household chores. The other still has his breakfast made for him. I tend to ask E and J for help when I need it and firmly believe that at 14 years old J should be able to rustle up beans on toast at the very least.

All this talk of noodles when I have much more exciting news. I'm going to be an Auntie! Woohoo! Hence the purchase, from a proper wool shop, of a pattern book and gorgeous Sirdar Snuggly DK in a colour that the shop owner called 'rice pudding'. It was somewhere between cream and beige; a really lovely colour. I've got plenty of time to make a little range of dinky clothes and definitely a little crochet animal of some description, and a blanket... I can see the time going very quickly!

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Pssst! happy valentines day!

After one or two awkward Valentines Days, way back then, I managed to gently let M know that actually, I don't really rate the whole flowers and chocolate thing. For a start flowers only last a week at best and then decay into a soggy mess, I'd rather have a house plant that I can kill slowly over a period of time ;-)

We established that he likes making things out of wood just as much as I like receiving them. On seeing M's efforts this year Ella declared that it was a good job we found each other because no-one else would want to exchange the things we do. Simple, natural, handmade. Why spend silly money when handmade floats your boat?

I was over the moon with this year's woodwork project but will photograph that at a later date when it is completely finished (it needs a component that M hasn't been able to locate).

Meanwhile, it's always woolly items from me to him. I left things rather late this year and have just rustled up this manly chunky neck warmer cowl thing in two hours flat including finding and sewing on the buttons. It was lucky M had a job in Leeds this morning. Phew.

I based the dimensions on his shirt collar size (hope that works out!) and made it nice and deep so it could have a turnover bit. It's all in trebles so there was no need for button holes. It buttons up through two layers with no problems at all. I used two strands of chunky wool held together to get the tweedy effect; charcoal grey and oatmeal. I tried it on just to make sure it functioned properly and I will definitely be making one for myself! (Perfect for dog walking!)

Monday, 9 February 2015

With a little help from my friend...

With normal levels of concentration restored and with a little help from my friend it's full steam ahead with this zipped cowl from Inside Crochet (Toffee Apple Cowl). Without the technology that allows you to take a photograph and email it all in a few seconds I doubt I'd have got past that tricky row 3. I must have done it half a dozen times before concluding that cables would have to wait.

Clearly there is still room for me to totally stuff it up between now and row 99, but I am hopeful. This is what I like about crochet. If it goes wrong it's usually only a row you have to rip out, and it's easy to pick it back up and try again. Whether or not the garment is actually functional and useful at the end of all this remains to be seen.

You may have noticed that I don't really like to join in with the many 'challenges' in blogland that require some level of commitment, usually on a monthly basis. Sometimes photographic, sometimes creative, all good challenges. However, I have decided to set myself a challenge and I'm sure others have done this before me. At Christmas I received a subscription to my favourite crochet magazine; Inside Crochet. I have to confess to liking the designs a bit more than Simply Crochet. Sometimes the riot of colours in SC make me gag. I'm going to attempt to make one item from each issue and complete it before the next one lands on my doormat. If successful it means I will have 11 or 12 completed projects to show for the year. There may be one or two extra projects I have to find time for too, particularly gifts, but I think this can be done.

So, the Toffee Apple Cowl is the first project and it's from Issue 62, which is where my subscription started. The recommended yarn is Stylecraft Alpaca DK. It's the same yarn I used for the Sunday Shawl I made last year. It's hairy but not too difficult to work with and it's lovely and soft.

It's the sort of project that requires peace and quiet, not two demanding dogs, an annoying senile cat, not to mention teenagers in and out so often we need a revolving front door, and then there's a husband who likes the sound of his own voice a little too much (he narrates films whether you want it or not and if you've chosen not to watch a programme but remain in the room he will tell you all about it anyway). If I get to the end it will be nothing short of a miracle!