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 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!)

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Gloomy British Weather...

I took photos of my woolly souvenirs today but they came out very grainy due to lack of suitable daylight! It's no wonder some people get a little blue in the winters here.

I'm finally on top of the post holiday laundry mountain. We've been having fun with our own take on Spanish food. I've been chalking up a Casa Juanita menu every day. Well ok, just the one day, the kitchen is mainly Casa M, he does a wonderful patatas bravas.

It's been full speed ahead with the Cedar River Blanket since we got back. Having chosen and purchased E's 18th birthday gifts (jewellery) in Barcelona and allowed her to have them early I'd like at least the blanket for something to unwrap on the day. (I've got a few small things squirelled away too).

I'm really not enjoying the blanket but I am finding the birthday is suitable motivation thank goodness. I don't like the way that the ends clutter up the edges where you need to do a dc border and then join with dc on the back. It's just very annoying! I've tried both running the main colour up the side and cutting off at each colour change. They both produce the same result but running the main colour up the side is slightly less time consuming. I've done eight squares and I'm joining each one to the growing blanket once I've made them with the idea that seeing it grow will provide even more motivation!

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Biking Barcelona...

I won't lie. It's not easy leaving 21, 22 degree warmth and sunshine and arriving home to 10, 11 degree cold, fog and rain! The mountain of laundry wasn't a pleasant sight this morning either.

On the plus side I now know I have a higher cycling (and saddle pain) threshold than I previously thought. The trick was to get back on the saddle the next day and keep going! Although it feels as though we did every square inch of Barcelona I am pretty sure we've left plenty for a return visit.

As usual, holidays teach you a lot about your family; not least of all how they handle being stuck in an extremely small, extremely hot lift. One with panic (it's E's worst nightmare come true), one with humour (J wrote a naughty word in the condensation of the mirror), one with slightly uncharacteristic British manners, M said, very politely, in response to the silly man's request to be patient; 'I don't wish to be patient, it's too hot to be patient, please hurry up!' And finally, ever practical, all I could think of was that my damn shoes weren't going to be suitable for breaking the tiny window for some air, but I was happy to break my elbow if it came to it.

Thankfully we escaped before window breaking was necessary and were able to laugh about it. As it happens we then discovered, and not for the first time, that photographs of hotels and rooms in Barcelona can be particularly misleading. We found ourselves in the unfortunate position of being without a hotel at all at 11pm at night. Luckily we found a cafe with wifi and were able to book something a taxi ride away with one minute to spare before the websites would only have taken bookings for the following night. The following morning we found a gem of a hotel back in the area that we wanted to be and booked it for the rest of the holiday.

We were next to a wonderful cafe for coffee and croissants each morning. Bike hire was very close too. The best find, however, was a vegetarian restaurant with plenty of gluten free options, lots of choices that the children loved, beautifully presented and all health conscious dishes. Jake would live on smoothies and fresh fruit platters if he could.

I may have bought a few woolly souvenirs! I need the gloom to lift a little before I can photograph them!