Monthly Archives

January 2018

Handmade

Woodland Blanket, Part 1 {handmade}

26/01/2018

Under the Christmas tree one parcel loomed larger than the rest; enticingly squishy, like a cloud dressed up in reindeer wrapping paper.  I had a pretty good idea what it was; after all, it’s hard to disguise 15 balls of yarn neatly tied up in a pretty bag that’s exactly the same size and shape as the big squishy birthday present the childen gave me last summer, and the big squishy Christmas present they gave me a couple of years ago.  Those presents are now part of a blanket and a blanket respectively, and every inch of puritanical work ethic in me had screamed that there should only be one crochet blanket kit on the go at any one time and that I should absolutely definitely finish Hydrangea before I started unsubtly leaving Wool Warehouse pages open on the computer.  There are times when my inner puritan is right, but happily for all of us the colour magpie running through my soul won out.  The page was left open, the family are well trained in the taking of hints when it comes to yarn, and my soft and squishy parcel was the yarn for this year’s Attic 24 Crochet-a-long.

 

Lucy of Attic 24 needs no introduction to anyone who has ever encountered the tiniest longing towards making a crochet blanket or immersed themselves in Yarndale; she has a joyfully whimsical colour sense that takes inspiration from the brightest and best of nature all around her, and I’ve yet to see one of her blanket designs that doesn’t just cheer up a morning.  My one finished blanket, the Cottage Ripple, is a firm family favourite, and though I may have temporarily abandoned it in favour of the Christmas knitting, Hydrangea is a walk back into the summers of my childhood where they grow quite enormous in the sandy soil and soft salty air.

The 2018 CAL theme is Woodland; all the shades of Hembury Woods in the Autumn half term holidays; where greens and golds cling to the trees and every delicious shade of russet orange crunches under foot, and while to open up this yarny paintbox under the shade of the Christmas tree felt a little bit like doing the seasons in reverse, it’s enough that there is not a single colour in this pack that I didn’t love on sight.

 

The pattern is a return to the ripple, though not the same gentle ripple as my Cottage blanket, it’s more similar to an old shale or feather and fan knitting pattern, with narrower rows that curve through the pattern like vines up a tree trunk.

The CAL started on 5 January and I cleared my evening of all plans to sit down and get stuck into the swatch and the interminable cast on.  I’ll admit when I saw the plans for each week my eyes popped out on stalks a little bit; 18 colours a week (so 36 rows in total) is a lot of crocheting at my speed, and I always knew I’d never keep up with the pace.  I did try, I really really tried, and I finished week 1 on the day after Week 2 was posted, which I thought was pretty good going.

My wrist disagreed.  Ever since my left wrist and elbow were jarred in a car crash two summers ago they’ve just not been as strong as they once were.  That initial bout of tendonitis took an age to recover from and I’ve been lucky to avoid more than the occasional flare up since.  If I look after myself I can knit and sew and quilt and write without any problems, and I’d never had problems with crochet before but the issues with my wrist, the way I crochet and a week of marathon crocheting was clearly a perfect storm.

 

It took a considerable amount of effort to put down my blanket and walk away for a couple of weeks and I’ve spent the time watching videos of crochet, collecting an array of different and hopefully more ergonomic crochet hooks and trying to rest and strengthen my wrist and I think I’m just about ready to pick it back up again. Slowly. very slowly.

I’m not sure whether that means that I’m still technically joining in the CAL (I’m on week 2, the super speedy crocheters are just starting week 4!); if I’m lucky my Woodland blanket will be finished in the autumn, which is probably just as it should be.

In the meantime if you have any top tips for keeping hands and wrists happy while crocheting, please do let me know.

Joining Crazy Mom Quilts for Finish it up Friday and Frontier Dreams for Keep Calm, Craft On

 

 

Family Handmade

Red hats {handmade}

19/01/2018

It started, as the best things often do, with Swallows and Amazons.  All three of my children are audiobookworms and while I’m determined that a good many of my childhood favourites will remain tucked away, ready for the three of them to discover for themselves when they’re older, I wanted to dip their toes into the water, to establish the places and characters as woven tightly into the fabric of their childhoods, just as they were with mine.  Years ago, before even Kitty had arrived, I looked for Swallows and Amazons on Audible but the reader at the time was just so terrible (the only word she emphasised was “and” and the rest of it was delivered in a half asleep monotone) that it wasn’t worth parting with a credit even to re-live fond memories.  But while I will never quite be able to forgive the recent film for over-embellishing a beautiful story with some utterly unnecessary plot changes, it does seem to have renewed enough interest in the (infinitely superior) source material that the books have all been re-recorded, this time read by Gareth Armstrong, who has exactly the sort of grandfatherly tones to make listening to it like snuggling down under your favourite blanket.

We have two of the twelve; Swallows and Amazons and Swallowdale; the next books Kitty has to read for herself and then when she and Elma and Pip have all finished the entire series, we’ll add the rest to our long car journey selection.

For those not in the know, (a) get you to a bookshop at once and (b) when you’ve read it you’ll see why my girls adopted the Amazon Pirates, Nancy and Peggy Blackett as their own personal role models.  For several weeks Kitty took to saying “aye aye” in response to any request and “shiver me timbers” in response to any request that she didn’t like, and she and Elma play extensive “Swallie-Ammy” games, with Pip along as a sort of additional ships’ boy that seems to have stumbled into the story.

When her most recent tooth fell out she wrote a letter to the tooth fairy asking for a red knitted cap just like Nancy, and the tooth fairy, who had not received any notice whatsoever of this request, wrote back to suggest that she ask her Mama to knit her one.  At Yarndale I had my eyes peeled for just the right colour red yarn and found it, I think at Laxations, who were selling off some of their test dyed aran-weight.  Two skeins, at the bargain price of £4 each, was more than enough to knit up three red hats for my three Amazon pirates.

To keep the knitting interesting, and to be able to tell whose was whose amid the Christmas chaos, I decided to knit a different pattern for each and spent several happy lunchtimes browsing Ravelry on my phone and favouriting the nicest hat patterns.  And this is what we came up with:

Kitty’s hat is the Clever Cables by Stitchnerd Designs and it was a joy to knit.  The pattern is very logical and it swoops to a beautiful point at the top where the diamonds all meet so that it looks as good from the top as from the front.  It’s the only one with a fold up brim, but as Kitty is the most prone to extraordinary growth spurts that end up with nothing in the house actually fitting her, I’m hoping that it gives me a little bit more longevity.  It’s a one size fits all adult hat which would just about fit me, but my head is on the larger size of average anyway, and should keep her going for a while.

For Elma I needed something smaller, and chose Magnolia, partly because it’s pretty and partly because the small size turned out to be a perfect fit for my dinky little girl.

And last but by no means least, I knit a Declan’s hat for Pip; it’s a free pattern that’s sized from baby to grown up and basically it’s the same pattern every time, just using more or fewer segments depending on the size of head in question.  Pip has a fairly substantial head, or at least it feels that way when it crashes into you, so a small fits him perfectly even though he’s only three.

The girls knew I had the yarn to make red hats for them, but hats are small enough to be knit stealthily on the train to work and, unlike when I make them jumpers, they hadn’t a clue until we handed them a round of very squishy soft little parcels on Christmas morning.

Because they are 7, 5 and 3 the chances of them all wearing them at the same time are relatively slim, but Kitty has taken hers as her school hat almost every morning this term, and as I write this she’s snuggled up in bed upstairs, hat firmly pulled down around her ears, just to feel that little bit extra snuggly.

And with that, this year’s minimalist Christmas knitting was finished.  I’d love to be able to give them all a Christmas jumper every year but I think I’ve finally (see ages of children) realised that it’s just not going to happen.  They love their hats, I loved knitting them, especially keeping them secret, and even better, because by next Christmas they’ll be 8, 6, and 4 (seriously, how!) they’ll still be abandoning hats in all sorts of strange places, which is the perfect excuse for knitting more.

Joining Crazy Mom Quilts for Finish it up Friday and Frontier Dreams for Keep Calm, Craft On

 

Photography Siblings

Siblings 2018: January

15/01/2018

Fortified by sausage sandwiches, three intrepid explorers, bobble-hat and welly booted, set forth up the hill.  We’d been dropped off abandoned into the wilderness by John on his way to hockey, with a plan to fuel up and head out on a long walk.  Hill walking has always been one of my great loves, and I know that if I’m ever going to be able to take the children to do some serious exploring of all of my favourite bits of the UK, we need to build up the mileage gently.  We planned a walk that I’ve been wanting to try since we first moved here, we promised them sandwiches and “em-rats” (chocolate buttons doled out two at a time at key points or when morale seems low), that it was downhill all the way (nearly true), and that it would be good practice for climbing Kanchenjunga (the one that looks remarkably like the Old Man of Coniston – Arthur Ransome fans will know why) and off we set.

That the three miles took just shy of two hours is no surprise, particularly given the need to hoick Pip out of the squelchiest of squashy mud at regular intervals, but what was lovely to see was how much they supported each other and looked out for each other all along the path.  With the Christmas hibernation and just daily life in the winter, it’s all so easy to find that we’ve spent too much time indoors and they’ve spent more time in close quarters than is really a good idea for any of them, and I’ll admit that when there are weeks where they’re really pushing each other’s buttons, it’s just so lovely to be reminded that it isn’t really them; it’s more of a situational overlay, and nothing that big skies, pink cheeks and a handful of chocolate buttons can’t blow away.

With the end of the school holidays, and the start of a bit of time and space for all three of them, they’ve started playing together more and more when they are home.  The current game seems to involve Pip being a puppy – admittedly an upgrade for the girls on their previous version, a remote control car of John’s, although the remote control car never woke me up in the morning by licking my cheek so I’m in two minds as to whether all this make believe is entirely a good thing; maybe if he’d just stop licking me!!

Up at the top of the hill all of our views had disappeared behind low grey cloud that sucked the light out of the end of the afternoon, and when we headed down into the trees and lost sight of any other people it felt as if we were truly out in the wilderness and when we made it back into the land of traffic and street lights, our backpacks and muddier then muddy boots felt very oddly out of place.

 

At last four tired pairs of feet finally made it back home, abandoning great clods of the hills all the way down the hall, and we tucked around the table for hot squash and biscuits; three little rosy tired faces curling up around their mugs, and I thought back to last January and how our afternoon would have felt so out of reach as to be laughable and yet here we are; two little sisters and their brother too, in January.

There’s been a little bit of a switch up to Siblings this year and now the linky is just going to be over with Lucy at Dear Beautiful, so do go and see what her little three have been up to and link up and I’ll see you there!

Handmade

The Christmas Socks {handmade}

12/01/2018

John picked up the parcel from the top of his bag-pretending-to-be-a-stocking.  The silver wrapping paper twinkled under the lights from the Christmas tree and he looked around at the three tiny faces between us, all of them as much wanting to see what it was, as to have him open it so that they could dip into their own stockings once again.

“It feels squishy,” he said, giving it a careful squeeze, “and it’s a good shape.”  He held it out to the kids; “socks or pants, what do you think?”

“SOCKS!” said the girls. “Um, Mummy, how do you make pants?” asked Pip.

John carefully peeled back the tape to reveal:

A bag of Christmas coffee.  Well if I’m going to go to all the trouble of knitting him a pair of socks for Christmas, I’m not letting Father Christmas take the credit for them – he’s got his own elves for that.

The socks, for socks there were, came later, after church and after breakfast, amid a sea of unwrapping that launched the occasional tidal wave of paper and ribbon from where we had tried to corral it into the corner.  This time he eyed me more suspiciously,

“Is it coffee?”

The yarn is part of my Yarndale haul, and one of only two skeins of sock yarn that I bought that day, despite immense temptation.  I’m not into computer games at all, and never really have been, so many of the puns at Gamer Crafting’s stand were entirely lost on me, but the colours were not.  Brilliantly vibrant and with some awesome contrasts, I was very very tempted by a brilliant blue that edged into turquoise striped through with my favourite orange.  John’s motto when it comes to handknitted socks is “the brighter the better” and that very nearly came home as the most vivid skein I could find in the entire show.  Except that my eye just kept being drawn up and across to a small pile of skeins, soft and cosy, black for the most part but alive with silver sparkle and striped through with a rainbow.  Reverse Rainicorn it was.

As sock knitting goes they are delightful in their ordinariness; they’re the same socks I always knit for John, a 72st cast on, 20 rounds of 2×2 ribbing, heel flap and a wedge toe, but I’ve found in recent years that I need my sock knitting to be nice and plain and simple, it’s something for my fingers to fidget into existence, so that I don’t have to think too much about what I’m doing, but I can read or talk or watch a film, while the yarn soothes my busy soul, and then, almost without my noticing, there’s a sock.  It’s a special kind of magic.

While they hid in the bottom of my knitting basket, venturing out only when John was at hockey matches or I was on the train, a second pair of socks had very much not got the memo.

I thought that the whole point of making a deal with the Christmas Knitting Elves, of getting to a point where your adult self actually looks at what is achievable and seriously reigns it in, without even buying the yarn for the fantastical never-going-to-be-finished project, was that in return, it would behave itself.  No pixies would come to mess up my stitch count in the middle of the night, my yarn would travel obediently from skein to ball without even a hint of a tangle, and there would not, under any possible circumstances, be knots in my yarn.

Two inches into the first of Dad’s socks, I hit a knot.  If it had been a variegated sock yarn I would just have carried on without a care in the world.  If it had been the second sock of a pair of self striping I would have known where to wind to to match the pattern. On the first sock you do the only thing you can do, and knit on, and know that somewhere in the middle of the foot you’re going to work out what the stripe repeat looks like, and you hope against hope that the knot has simply cut a couple of rows out of the stripe sequence and all you’ll need to do is take a couple of lengths out as a loop and carry on.

Did I mention the yarn hadn’t got the memo.  It’s Trekking XXL, which comes with really long self striping repeats, and with a sinking feeling I eyed up my sock and realised that the yarn after the knot had restarted about four rows up.  Almost an entire pattern repeat missing.

And so while these look like any other self striping socks I am actually ridiculously proud of the stripe matching on them.  I have my tried and tested techniques for pattern matching; start the cast on and heel flaps at a colour change even if the latter isn’t technically the end of a round, but this took pattern matching to the next level.

I had to cut in a new section of yarn in the cuff to match the original knot, and then when I ran out of yarn near the toe I used some of the yarn that I’d pulled out to continue the pattern all the way to the end.

It’s a yarn miracle. Perhaps, after all, the knitting fates were smiling.

Joining Crazy Mom Quilts for Finish it up Friday and Frontier Dreams for Keep Calm, Craft On

Writing

Following my dreams; slowly

10/01/2018

My biggest ambition for 2018 is to write.  More specifically, it’s to finish the novel I’m writing.  And by finish we really mean finish the start, start the middle and finish the end. Then it’s going in a virtual reality drawer for several months before I even start to think about editing it. I know roughly where I’m going with it, even if over the course of December the prologue got itself tangled up in knots, and it’s a story I’m enjoying, a daydream I’m writing down, 500 words at a time. On week days I write for as long as I can in the morning before the children wake up or it’s time to go to work, and then I write in the evening for as long as it takes for the word count to tick over. And then I stop.

It isn’t the traditional picture of someone following their dreams is it?  If you read any newspaper article on keeping your New Year’s resolutions, or pick up the vast majority of personal development books they all seem to subscribe to one model, one construct of a success.  Scrolling through Pinterest the other day I saw a quote that summed it up:

“Entrepreneurs work 80 hours a week to avoid a 40 hour work week!”

Conventional wisdom would tell you that if you are really serious, if you have the drive and the passion and the tenacity that will see you reach your goals, climb your mountain and push past every obstacle, then you’ll throw everything you have at it.  You will not stop, you will not rest, you will not let go until the prize is within your grasp.  You will sacrifice everything possible to follow your dreams and to live your best life.  And if you say “but I can’t” then you’re obviously letting the fear of failure block your path, not opening up yourself to the life you could be having.

I know there is truth in there, and I know that for some people the only way to get to where they want to be is to take an enormous crash-or-burn leap, but when you look at it all written down in little black and white letters it strikes me that it’s actually a very linear approach and, dare I say it, an inherently masculine approach; “me see big stag! me take!”.

Don’t get me wrong, I think there is absolutely a time and a place for selfishness and singular focus, particularly as it pertains to your life’s best work, but I don’t think it’s the only way; just the one that gets the most noise.

If I were writing a book with that level of wholehearted breathtaking whirlwind intensity, I should be writing every moment I get; I should write before dawn, head out to do the day job and write on the train, write at lunchtime and on the way home, and then I should write on into the wee small hours of the morning before it all starts again.  Better yet, I should give up the day job and ‘take a chance’ on myself to be discovered as the next JK Rowling.

Believe me there are times when holing myself up in a hermitage to simply create sounds incredibly tempting, but I’m a 37-year old working mother of three, and that’s just not an option for me.  I can’t throw in the day job, because we have bills to pay.  I can’t spend my every waking moment writing because I want my children to remember me as more than a big pile of paper.  I can’t entirely neglect my husband and expect my marriage to thrive.

And yet my biggest fear is that this tiptoeing towards a goal in tiny increments, somehow means that I’m lazy, or that I don’t want this or any other goal ‘enough’, or that I’m not as driven as I think I am.  My head whispers it to me in the middle of the afternoon when all of my get up and go has got up and gone, an invidious thought, curling softly through my thoughts like smoke from a blown candle.

But my life is not made up of one single thread that runs through me that says “Writer” down the middle like a stick of rock. My life has so many threads I lose count, all tangled tightly together so that to pull on one snarls up the rest.

I am a Writer, and a Writer with goals and dreams and ambition and drive, and I am also a lawyer who wants to advance in her career as far as possible and help to shift a few preconceptions about working mothers along the way.  I am a Wife, a Mother, a Daughter, a Sister, and Aunt and a Niece, a Knitter, a Crocheter, a Quilter, a Reader, a Singer and a follower of Jesus, and every one of those is precious to me.

I know that I will finish this novel.  I know that I will write more short stories, and I have faith in myself that one day I will finish a novel that I think is good enough for proper publication.  But I’m not prepared to miss out on my life in the meantime.

So I think there needs to be another model; one that doesn’t require sacrifices that are too high a price to pay, and one that doesn’t involve boiling back our lives to the bare minimum either. One that says that we can live our best lives now, and be chasing down our goals. One that recognises that I’m following my dreams; slowly.