Tuesday, 29 December 2015

A Christmas Star...

The star of our Christmas was undoubtedly baby E. I'm unbelievably excited and proud to have a niece. She was so happy to be passed around for cuddles, she smiled at everyone from the word go. J wishes she had been born ten years earlier so that he and E could have been closer in age to her which he says would have been fun at Christmas, but I just believe in fate and think it will be nice for baby E to have big cousins looking out for her.

In between eating, drinking and playing games like Scattegories, Balderdash and Charades I managed to get a crochet fix using supplies in Mum's small crochet basket (she really needs to retire and accumulate a bigger stash!). The headbands took no time at all and baby E was happy to pose for photographs in them! Yes the butterfly is a bit on the large side but as cousin E said, 'go large or go home!'

Both the flower and the butterfly were in my new crochet book, one of two books M bought for my tree present. I can't believe he managed to find crochet books I don't already own! 100 Flowers to Knit and Crochet is a really useful addition to my crochet library, especially now that there's a baby girl in the family. The other book was Wild Animals to Crochet by Vanessa Mooncie which has some lovely designs in, including an amazing chameleon that turns inside out and therefore changes colour. I'll probably be tackling something simpler to start with!

I was chuffed to bits that all three baby Pom Pom hats fitted E nicely. I'll have to wait until some photos get passed around via Facebook or email so I can share some with you. All grown up hats fitted too and there is, somewhere, on someone's phone or camera a whole group photo of us wearing them! Mostly it wasn't really cold enough to need them this Christmas. I walked the dogs on Boxing Day which was 15 degrees. After a mile or so I didn't feel the need for a coat at all, let alone the hat and gloves I'd brought along too. Not that the dogs are complaining, they have a prolonged season for wild swimming in the lake!

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Happy Birthday...

Happy 15th Birthday J.

You're smart, you're sensitive and you're extremely stubborn (you probably get that from me).

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Happy Christmas...

The last of the wrapping is done. Breakfast ham is cooking. A glass of wine by my side. Christmas films on TV. A dog on my lap. A house as tidy and festive as its ever going to be. Quite a cosy Christmas Eve.

Happy Christmas Wishes to everyone. J x

Monday, 21 December 2015

Finishing off...

I can thoroughly recommend a good pre-Christmas sort out. We've done some drastic sorting, chucking and rearranging this last month. I've come to the conclusion that Feng Shui makes a lot of sense. There's much more positive energy flowing now! At least my creative side is not so stifled through lack of space to get everything out and see what's what.

Paul resurfaced during the clear out and I set myself the target of trying to get him finished for Ella's birthday. I just about pulled that off but it was a lot of hard work. I utilised the best of the daylight each morning by sitting right up to a window. I don't think I will rush into another 2.5mm hook project. It took all of my dexterity and patience.

After the marathon that was finishing Paul I returned to hats. Just one more for my little niece. A soft red version with a white Pom Pom, for Christmas. In a few days time I shall find out whether any of these hats actually fit!

Ella has also gained a cheerful cushion using the sunflower squares I made a gazillion years ago. She really would have liked a blanket but I don't have the stamina for that many sunflowers. It's good to see the back of them and not by dumping them in the bin. Elf and Mr Ginger are posing in the photo, fun gifts that made her smile. She works at a brilliant children's farm near here and at this time of year she can be found dressed as a very convincing elf working alongside Santa dishing out chocolate coins as 'change' for the magic coin that Santa handed out. She then takes the children through a hidden bookcase door way and into the 'toy workshop' where they can choose a toy. For some this is all too much and Ella has handed out tissues to children and parents overcome with emotion! Not to mention she's had her photo taken with hundreds of children who totally bought into the whole elf thing, including the little boy who spied her birthday badge on Saturday and said, 'It can't really be your birthday because Elves don't have birthdays in real life!' Luckily Ella is witty enough to have answers to this kind of thing, though sometimes she admits there are different answers she'd like to say when kids ask, 'is it just one toy we can choose?'

There are also real reindeer at the farm along with all the other animals there. The kids also get to do a craft activity with Mrs Claus, decorate a gingerbread man and take it home and they receive a small bag of magic reindeer food which they must take home and sprinkle on their lawn. Ella is part of the team that make thousands of gingerbread men (hence the cuddly reminder!). Secretly she can't wait until her new cousin is old enough to experience Christmas at the farm. She will definitely have a VIP tour!

It all sounds very exhausting, especially as E is half way through a 9-5, six consecutive day stint. I'm glad I'm just left with crochet, the type I enjoy most. No deadlines, just fun and relaxation. More crochet baubles for the tree, maybe some mini Pom Pom hats too. A crochet gift pouch. Some crochet storage baskets...a glass of something by my side, a mince pie or two, cheesy Christmas movies....how many days 'til Christmas?

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Mixed feelings...

Christmas is always a time for mixed feelings. Looking back and remembering happy times, remembering those not with us anymore. Exciting times with a new addition to the family, and her first Christmas. Knowing that my baby girl is turning eighteen a few days before Christmas. Looking forward to future Christmases too. A blend of happy and sad.

Apart from childhood gatherings at Christmas I've got lovely memories of several years spent as an adult but before children when my priorities were very different. I thought it was a bit of an adventure living in a stone cottage with no central heating and just my two Springers for company. One Christmas I decided to paint small white stars all over the middle room walls, over the top of the stone colour paint; with my sparse and rustic pine furniture, the ever glowing range, candle light, a real Christmas tree and pine foliage it created an atmosphere I haven't quite been able to capture since. I think the character of the cottage helped a lot too!

It's funny how smells form such a major part of those memories. I have only to cast my mind back and I can smell the coal and log fires, the smell of damp dogs by the fire, pine needles and the wax of my jacket that hung on the back door.

Well, it's no longer Algernon and Bertie. It's now Harvey and Riley, and as you can see it's still mild enough for them to have a swim in the lake every day. Riley will only paddle on the edges if it's below freezing. Harvey will swim no matter how cold, and M calls Harvey the intelligent one! They now get very excited about a warm bubbly foot bath in the butler sink of an afternoon. I'm not sure if it's just a nice feeling or whether they have worked out that it means they can come through to the living room.

There have been several last minute hats flying off the needles. Some secret crochet going on too. I was rather pleased when I found this large (approx 12mm) vintage crochet hook at a nearby antique centre. It's not what Mum and I were looking for at all but you can't help but see interesting things in amongst three huge two-storey buildings of junk, vintage, antique and collectibles! I imagine it was used for rug making. It might be just what I need to make the chunky cushion fronts I have in mind.

My home made disposable decorations haven't progressed beyond the woolly type yet. Apart from a bowl of crochet pine cones, I've made two of these crochet baubles so far and they are nestled in amongst the crocheted and knitted mini stockings on the tree. It's a clever pattern, slightly fiddly but easier after the first one. It's just six crochet disks joined together as you go and then a gathering and fastening top and bottom to create the ball shape.

So, if you're ultra organised, the decorations are up, all the Christmas food and present shopping is done, the house all ready, the cards all posted, and you've nothing better to do than sit and watch back to back Christmas movies with a bowl of nuts and a glass of wine (I wish!) then here's the link...


Tuesday, 1 December 2015

A final flurry of hat making...

I'm coming to the end of my gift subscription to Inside Crochet. It's been equal to having a gift every month, especially as I choose a quiet spell, make a large mug of tea and indulge in some crochet heaven. I really wanted to make at least one of the projects per issue, even if it was only a small one but somehow life gets in the way. I have made quite a few, and some are bookmarked and 'in the queue' so to speak.

Now that things are mainly all in one place in my new little craft space I can finally get my magazines filed in issue order and begin to enjoy going through these back copies again and work through my 'to make' list. That's my plan for 2016 anyway.

I try to resist buying other magazines, though lately it's been my reading matter of choice when I'm comfortably detained in a warm coffee shop in some strange town, where I've browsed all the charity shops and I'm waiting for M to finish a job. It's hard to resist all those Christmassy covers.

I picked up Mollie Makes last week. It has a simple knitted hat pattern inside and I thought that knitting hats might make a nice change. Funnily enough I didn't have the £18.50 ball of yarn that the pattern calls for in my stash so I thought I'd just make a start using something of a similar weight. Wrong! Turns out that very few yarns have a similar gauge. I managed to get a result by switching from 15mm needles to 12mm and adding six stitches to the cast on and a few extra rows to the body.

When I proudly modelled the inky blue hat (pictured third down) the other day Ella asked, 'how many hats does one house need?' This is teenage code for, 'I hope one of those hats is for me.' (I'm pretty good at deciphering teenage code). So we discussed colours, levels of slouch, to pom or not to pom, and finally I ended up making this VIP red carpet version, complete with extra rows for 'level one' slouch, and a giant pom pom.

My favourite so far though, has to be the two strand navy and grey tweed version. Love those little white flecks from the grey yarn, reminds me of snow! Two strands of chunky on 12mm needles with a few pattern adjustments seems to be a good combination for warmth without too much bulk. Now finally I think I might make myself one, then it's back to good old crochet which doesn't cause any wrist pain no matter how long I crochet for. Thank Crunchie for crochet!

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Random goings on...

There's a whole lot of 'whitening' going on here. I had a burst of energy with a large tin of white paint yesterday and today, faced with the same all over again (the second coat) I'm feeling less than energetic!

It's the dining room floor to ceiling row of cupboards getting the white paint make over. When I opened up the doors to paint I discovered a can of white spray paint (one of the sections is art and craft materials, that's what everyone has in their dining room cupboards right?). The little straw decorations had a quick spray on both sides and now I like them a whole lot better. They were originally for the children's miniature trees when they were small (they might become a garland now). They are too old for miniature trees now but woe betide anyone who suggets they are too old for chocolate advent calenders!

I seem to be getting more spring cleaning done in the run up to Christmas, even though no-one is coming to stay, and I think it's because I'm trying to create just a little piece of the magic that we had as children, and beyond. Real trees were a must and always Dad's job, with our help;

Us: This one Dad, this one
Dad: No, it's too big
Us: No, it's peeerrrrrfect Dad!
Dad: No, it's too big, I'll have to put it on the roof of the car
Us: Yes, good idea, just like the movies!
Dad: Your Mother won't be happy if it's too big
Us: We'll say you chose it!

Later: Dad chopping a foot off the top to get it into the living room...ah, happy days.

M and I went hunting for battered old wall light fittings last week. We need replacements for the awful ones M chose before I met him in our conservatory (even he admits they are awful) and some for our bedroom. Despite several huge junk shops to search through we didn't find a single light fitting but we did find my new potato basket (very handy for storing pineapples in). M wasn't impressed that it cost ten whole pounds, whereas I was over the moon that it only cost £10. It's huge for a start (that clock is huge too). A brand new one, much less sturdily made would no doubt have cost much more.

Meanwhile, there are more hats! I'm really pleased with this grey hat, just off the hook. I used Rowan cocoon which is a chunky yarn with quite a dense feel to it. A little hairy too which was a bit of a pain but well worth it because it's made a hat suitable for freezing conditions, yes this is definitely the warmest of all the hats I've made. Two more have rolled off the production line since this one but more about those next time. (Psst, they're knitted!)

Friday, 27 November 2015

Crochet pine cones...

We took the dogs to a woodland near us last week, with pine cone collecting in mind. It's a quiet patch of woodland with wonderful earthy, mossy smells, not well managed by the looks of things but used for pheasant rearing. Harvey was in his element, being the closer of the two to his gun dog heritage. Riley, looks like a Springer, is a Springer but doesn't seem to have quite what it takes to flush out game, bless him. He's pretty good at locating plastic rubbish though, mainly bottles, he found one within seconds and carried it in his mouth for the entire duration of the hour long walk. Whatever keeps him happy I guess! We always take the bottles home, where they are casually popped in the bin. I tell M that Riley is not as daft as he looks, he's environmentally aware... but M isn't buying that.

I was gutted to discover that there was not a single solitary pine tree in the whole woodland. We will just have to go a little further afield next time. It's typical that after several years of hoarding a basket of assorted pine cones, I decided to chuck them all on the chiminea one chilly summer's evening, on the basis that they were just clutter. This year, because we are spending a little more time at home over Christmas I've decided to finally implement my cunning recycled Christmas decorating plan...

I say cunning because it's usually me who climbs up into the attic, climbs over mountains of junk and locates the various Christmas lights and boxes of decorations. It's me who untangles the lights, decorates the tree, throws a wreath on the front door, and then dismantles everything, packs it all back up and lugs it back up into the attic. I know that's not quite showing my Christmas spirit but I think that departed when the children got older and no longer wanted to string popcorn garlands together or smudge paint onto cardboard shapes for the tree. I need to reintroduce that creative approach even if it's just me!

So this year it's all staying up in the attic (except for the lights) while I try a little experiment. I'm going to make all the decorations using recycled stuff, nature finds and wool. I may allow the odd charity shop find too. The plan is to chuck, donate or compost most of it after Christmas.

Naturally I've made a start on the woolly contributions first. I did careful research to find a good pattern for pine cones. There are some free ones out there but I liked this one from PlanetJune. The pattern includes six sizes of cone. It was a bit fiddly at first but after the first one it becomes easier. They obviously look quite convincing in cosy evening lighting because both E and M thought they were real. Now that I have tried a few sizes I'm planning on making a set for the tree, perhaps with rustic ribbon and then some small ones to add to gift tags.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Off the hook... baby pom pom hat

It's like Santa's little woolly hat workshop in my craft room! Actually I need to put the record straight and call it a slither of a room. It's only six foot by twelve and it'll end up packed to the rafters but at least it's a space I can keep all my stuff together. It's impossible to leave much lying around the house with two bouncy dogs and a nervous cat. Touch wood the cat seems to be getting the hang of going outside daily now and there hasn't been an indoor sparrow lunch for over a week! Progress indeed.

The photos show that I was considering another baby sized pom pom for the little grey hat but when I held up two sizes of pom pom for the 'panel's' opinion they all preferred the larger one. I totally agree, I think it looks more Christmassy. Talking of which, it's pretty tempting to make this a trio of baby hats and do a red one with a white Pom Pom, because a girl can never have too many pom pom hats, right?

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Another Pom Pom hat and a pattern...

I'm having a ball with hats again so I may need to talk myself into doing some more Cedar River Blanket squares pretty soon.

On the home front improvements are slowly emerging. It's been a long standing problem since we merged the contents of a four bedroom house into a much smaller bungalow. I'm not sorry we chose M's house to live in but it's been a long slog trying to knock it into something suitable for four people. Just don't ask me what is in the attic!

The very last room in the house to get some attention is the master bedroom. It was quite large but problematic in the sense that the windows are also large and take up most of two walls. To cut a long story short we decided to carve it up into two rooms with a large window in each, one of which will become my very own craft room! Never mind Christmas, this is like having all my Christmas presents in one go!

Much sorting has been done in order not to fill up the new room with clutter. The wool cupboard received a major overhaul. It now contains ten clear boxes labelled as follows:

Plain DK x2
Variegated DK
Super Chunky
Knitting needles and misc equipment
Work in progress x2
Misc Yarn

It feels amazing to have sorted it all out so thoroughly. My wool winder came in very handy for winding the messy balls into neat yarn cakes. Obviously I have come across a few treasures. The yarn above is a lovely merino wool mix which I've only got a small quantity of. It said 'hat' to me so I'm tried the htr blo version of the grey hat I did the other day. This one has dc's to narrow the top. I sewed the grey one up a bit on the big side so this time I sewed it up roughly with a bright red yarn to make sure it was a sensible size before sewing it up properly. With this amazing yarn I just had to add a Pom Pom!

I think there a few tweaks I'd like to try over the next few hats but here is how I did this one...
In UK terms:

Using a 5mm hook and DK yarn chain as many as it takes to measure 12".
(10" if you don't want a turn up brim).
Chain 2 for turning and htr in all stitches until there are five stitches left. Dc in remaining 5. Turn.
Ch 1, dc in first 5 st, then htr to end.
Carry on this way until piece measures 18-20" wide depending on head circumference required. (I found that 18" was plenty even for the biggest head in the family which was J at 23", this is because an all rib crochet fabric has plenty of stretch in it, but it will vary according to yarn used).
Starting at bottom (widest part) of hat sew up the seam and then sew a gathering stitch round the narrower part. Weave all ends in.
Add a Pom Pom for fun!

Friday, 20 November 2015

A certain crochet hat in mind...

It's been a busy week. I've travelled as far North as Chester and as far South as Cheltenham. I did a fair bit of walking round both. I'm not much of a shopper these days, I prefer to shop like the men in my family do... only when they really need something. In Chester and Cheltenham I window shopped with Christmas in mind, gathering a few ideas. I found cooperative crafts shops in both of these towns which was surprising. It's a great idea; each crafts person works in the shop on a rota system as part of the deal for renting space in the shop. The Chester version was a bit wacky but I did buy some unusual beads for jewellery making.

Mostly though, I walked, looking up a lot, observing the architecture of each place, spotting statues I'd not seen before, the small details too. I haven't been to Cheltenham in a very long time. When I lived in Oxford I used to pop over quite a bit, for a change of scene. Unfortunately it rained all day this time which made hot coffee taste so much better when I finally did get out of the rain. Ladies who lunch seemed to be a common sight. That all seemed like too much hard work to me. I was happy with my coffee, watching the world go by.

The rain in Lincolnshire has been pretty persistent. Today we had two spectacular hail storms. It's been so chilly too and my creative thoughts have turned to woolly hats. I've made three and I've started a fourth. I'm on a mission to create a sturdy but modern crochet hat. The grey hat in the foreground of the photo is an attempt at constructing an all rib hat using dc through the back loops. It makes a nice thick fabric but now that I've finished it there are a few improvements I want to make to the next one. A longer body, htr's instead of dc's (for speed and a thicker rib pattern) and a neater way of reducing the top so that it gathers nicely when it's closed up. If I manage to achieve all of those I will let you know and share the pattern. I've got a certain look and feel that I'm aiming for... you know how it is when you've got something in mind and none of the existing patterns are quite right?

The little hat to the right now has the cutest soft grey bobble on it. I had some left over yarn from the adult hat and just crocheted a random sized small hat. I'm hoping it will fit my niece but I'm not very good at guessing sizes. She may well end up with lots of teddy clothes at this rate!

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Cedar River Blanket progress...

Here's how it's looking after ten and a half squares! You can see I've yet to join three whole squares. My plan was to join each one to the main blanket as soon as I've completed them. However, Ella and I have an odd arrangement whereby she's chosen the colours for this blanket, she's seen one square worked up (I wanted to double check she liked it because it's hard work!) and she's happy to see future squares on their own but she doesn't want to see it as a blanket until it's finished. So last night, during unexpected tv time together, I managed to produce three and a half squares. It's speedier now that I know what I'm doing!

I'd still rather be doing this in subtle earthy and neutral tones with maybe a denim blue in there somewhere but hey ho, E is not afraid of colour. My only worry at this stage is trusting that the given wool amounts will actually be enough. The balls seem to be dwindling fast.

One thing I've noticed is that it's a very tactile blanket. It's a texture you just want to touch. So, ten down and 14 to go, and a deadline of five days before Christmas. No sweat!

Monday, 9 November 2015

Woolly souvenirs...

I've pretty much given up waiting for a brighter day to take photos. These are the best I can do for now. I think there was a second wool shop in Barcelona somewhere but I was pushing my luck making M and the kids wait as long as they did while I chose some yarn. In fact we have a funny photo on someone's phone of Jake sitting amongst baskets and piles of wool in the middle of the shop looking suitably unimpressed.

All You Knit is Love is the place to go in Barcelona for yarn. It's true that they are very friendly and helpful. Only Miguel was there on the evening that we visited and he was having to cope with a gaggle of what looked like school age girls wanting a selfie with him. He seemed happy to oblige. Needless to say I did not feel the need for a selfie!

All my yarn purchases were hand dyed and spun in Barcelona. The brick red skein is 100% Alpaca and much cheaper (roughly £7) than it would have been in the UK. Although we didn't pass a workshop of this type there were many varied skills on display until late at night. Bookbinders, carpenters, dressmakers, jewellers, to name but a few. It all looked rather idyllic but I suppose the reality is that all these craftsmen and women have to compete in a large city to make a living.

We had one afternoon of rain in Barcelona and stumbled upon the most friendly cafe (it was our experience that not all cafes are run by friendly people). They were so welcoming and helpful despite the fact that we dripped copious amounts of water all over their beautiful wooden floors. Hot soup, filled rolls and quiche were the main choices. It was superb, such a simple operation but perfect. Out of 7000 cafes in Barcelona they had reached number 32 on Trip Advisor after five months. Proof that keeping it simple really does work. Foreign menus can be so overwhelming when you're trying to choose both food and value for money, not to mention keep four people happy.

I must tell you about the wonderful felt shop. It was in the El Born area not far from where we were staying. This turned out to be one of our favourite parts of the city. It was Halloween night and all the children were dressed up and traipsing round with their buckets. It was warm enough to eat outside and there were fireworks going off too. Then to top it all off I spotted a shop that looked like something Santa would have subcontracted! A little old man in a small shop stuffed to the rafters with wool felt! Heavenly. I did make a few random purchases. I think my jewellery making is about to branch out into felt brooches! I couldn't resist the sheep. They were only €1 each. E decided to have two for her room too; Miguel and Ricardo, named after two of our taxi drivers. Don't ask.

The little wooden earrings were from a small craft event we stumbled upon in El Ravel. The seller/maker was lovely. E bought some Frida Kahlo earrings and she's done the whole 'like' on Facebook thing and she's chatted to her since we got back to the uk. I haven't a clue how that works.

Then finally I've added to my foreign crochet magazine collection. They all have diagrams so I'm never too worried about the language. From my Italian magazines I've made quite a few random motifs which I'm sure one day I will make up into a shawl pattern. These latest ones are German and French. The latter is particularly gorgeous. I love those little capelets (maybe not with the ears though). I clearly need more hours in a day!

(The wool shop has a website http://blog.allyouknitislove.com with a number of free knitting patterns in the right hand sidebar. The alpaca skein I purchased will make the Jovana hat if my knitting skills are up to it!)