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Handmade

Winter blooms {handmade}

06/04/2018

It had snowed on the motorway.  As we drove west the rain that had fallen for a solid three days straight, thick, dark and heavy, finally petered out into a dreary mist that moved across us like a thick stage curtain, only occasionally allowing us to peek across the fields to see the dusting of white on the verges of the road build into a flawless winterscape away from the heat and dirt of a bank holiday’s traffic.  Winter returned to us once more.

But then we turned the corner to head south and although there was not a single break in the grey sky above us, the sky perceptibly lightened, the fields turned up their saturation as if in proclamation, and the thermometer on the car jumped six degrees in as many miles.

We stand on the cusp of our seasons, a late cusp I grant you, and even I was a little disappointed to see that Spring had only turned up for a settling in session and not to stay for the whole season, and I adore snow, but the warmth is unmistakably returning; those flowers in my garden that survived the repeated plunges into arctic conditions are slowly unfurling their petals and the blossom is peeking out from behind the blankets of its buds to see whether the coast is clear.

And with Spring has come a veritable burst of creative energy, largely channelled into knitting on a cardigan which I’m making for myself out of Jamieson’s Spindrift.  It’s a 4ply yarn, with side 3.25mm needles and there’s quite a lot of me so it’s taking a little while but I’m enjoying every stitch.  I also squeezed in a little sock knitting, and just as soon as I can get them off their owners’ feet I shall have to take some photos and show them to you all.

I’ve started to pull fabric for a block of the month quilt from the Quilter’s Planner, which I think will be all pinks, purples, peaches and mint, and probably for my littlest girl to match the colours of their bedroom.  I don’t really have too many pinks and purples in my fabric stash so I might have to add a few colours as we go through the blocks as I’d love to be able to sew it all without having to buy any more fabric; a true stash busting quilt. In the meantime I shall simply stalk the Instagram hashtag to see what other colour combinations are popping up.

And in between all of that, I’ve been embroidering.  One little stitch-painted snapshot of winter, finished before the last snow melted and now sat happily on my mantlepiece, next to my Flowers that Bloom in the Spring hoop just to remind myself of the order we’re trying to go in.

This is December’s Craftpod kit which plopped through the letterbox all the way back before Christmas but which I saved for many a wintery Saturday afternoon at the start of this year.  The box came with a kit for cutting rubber stamps which we all loved, as my planner pages, covered with prints of pine cones, kettles and tall trees will testify, some beautiful cards and stickers, which are almost too lovely to use (I’m currently saving them until inspiration strikes), a tiny bar of chocolate, a chai tea bag (which was surprisingly delicious, and I’m not a tea drinker), and this beautiful little hoop.

Almost all of my embroidery to date has been cross stitch; I’ve delved into a few different styles and I’ve taken a few sample classes with the Royal School of Needlework but I’ve always fallen back on cross stitch, so to be stitching virtually freehand was both new and exciting and very relaxing; there’s no such thing as a wrong stitch, it’s just what my tree looks like.  That is largely the reason why my branch is slightly sturdier than the original; I was just having too much fun to want to stop.

For a relatively simple design, there’s complexity in the pattern, and I loved learning the padded satin stitch, and choosing the direction of the berries to give the whole piece a 3D effect and a sense of movement.

And perhaps the most telling indication of just how much I loved this stitching is the fact that the Spring Craftpod is currently sat on my chair.  I’ve got one more sewing project to finish first and then I’m diving into some very Spring-like botanical stitching and I can’t wait.

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

Handmade

Summer Rain {handmade}

16/03/2018

If ever there was a project named for the very opposite end of the season to the one in which it was finished it would be this shawl.  The final stitches were cast off as snowflakes peppered down against the windowpane in what should have been Spring and has in fact been deepest darkest winter. Again.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved every single flake of snow, celebrated and cherished each new weather forecast, and revelled in fully smothering every member of my family in handknits, but it was a funny old finale to a summer shawl.

This shawl is the smell of hot tarmac drenched in a thunderstorm, it’s rivulets of water droplets caught running down the windows by a light that promises that the squall will soon be over, and the silky feeling of damp grass around bare ankles.

The yarn is Fyberspates Scrumptious, a delicious merino/silk blend that once upon a time I bought to knit one of my little ones, Elma I think, a pair of adorable knitted dungarees.  She grew, Pip never stayed the same size for more than a moment and as I sat in my deckchair in our camp away from home last summer reading my Taproot magazine I knew that when we eventually moved into our new house and the boxes came back out of storage I already had the perfect excuse to cast on a real treat of a project.

I’ve little but effusive praise for the yarn; it’s soft, silky without being too cold, and has a beautiful drape to it.  The colour is called Water but it’s more than mere water, it’s the colour of a wet slate roof in the evening sunshine, or the sea under baffled grey clouds, sometimes a faded hydrangea, sometimes steely grey depending on the light.  To knit with it was a joy and to wrap it around me is a pleasure.

The pattern is trickier.  I’m glad I knit it, I enjoy the finished object, but I’m not sure I’d recommend it to anyone else.  The first hitch is that it is not written particularly well; there were errors in the cast on and the chart pattern lacked any key, relying on the knitter to figure it out by process of elimination along the way.

I fudged the cast on count, fudged a few rows until the stitch count came good and figured it out.  Even then, the shape is a shawl that is very deep but not very wide.  I’m 6’0″ and it runs all the way down my back, but I feel I’m snatching at ends when I try to wrap it around my neck to be a scarf.  It works best as a sitting up in bed sort of shawl, the sort where you don’t exactly need anything around your neck but something across the shoulders just helps everything feel cosy, and so I’ve largely kept it on my bedside table as an extra layer on the coldest nights, and if summer does ever turn up it’ll be just the thing for evenings spent sat out in the garden.

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

Handmade

Start Bay from Craigallian {handmade}

02/03/2018

It’s snowing outside. Tiny iridescent drops of snow, no bigger than a moment, flung violently through the air as they surf the storm that surrounds us.  This isn’t the Christmas card version of snow, all gentle floaty flakes that fall almost as if they might be in slow motion, but a driving winter fury that hurls its way into the gaps in our window frames, invidiously burrowing into the folds of my scarf and mittens as I walk through our village, marching its way in through the open carriage doors to land on heads and boots and books as we huddle into the train. It’s icy cold but it’s glorious too, there’s a rawness about it that reminds me of the winters of my childhood, when the gales would come racing in over the sea and set the chimney howling in sympathy.

I wore two jumpers today, one of which was hand knitted, and mittens, a scarf and a wooly hat pulled down low over my ears, and though my cheeks were snow blasted until they stung a bright rosy red, it’s felt a cosy sort of day; the perfect day to tell you about a hat.

It isn’t my hat, and far from being a new finish, it was actually off the needles and in the birthday post a month ago, but I have a little catching up to do so with a hat we shall start.

Craigallan is the first pattern of Kate Davies’ West Highland Way club, inspired by the path that runs near her home in Western Scotland.  It’s one of the ‘long walks’ like the Coast-to-Coast that stand as a challenge to a long distance walker, and, along with the Coast-to-Coast, something that is definitely on my list of “one day” adventures, which generally means when the children are big enough to walk it with us, any for now, thanks to their Christmas present to me, I’m more than happy to daydream my way along the route accompanied by gorgeous patterns, and Kate’s essays about the spots we’re passing.  They are all, without exception, absolutely gorgeous, and the biggest challenge to date has been trying to decide in what order I should be knitting them, but I started, at the beginning, with Craigallian.

Kate suggests four seasonal colour ways to show off her gorgeous new Milrocchy Tweed yarn, but as soon as she started to talk about the landscape that inspired the pattern, I knew that I needed to use the colours of the landscape that inspires me, and so the West Highland Way came to meet the South West Coast Path, large chunks of which I could all but walk in my sleep, and in particular, the colours of Start Bay.

Space for the Butterflies - Siblings

Right now I’m reliably informed that it has been buried in an unusual but fetching cloak of white, and the blown spray that makes white horses across the sea is matched by the plumes of powder that dance and swirl from the hilltops, but I choose the colours of warmer times, colours from long summer days when the pebbles grew almost too hot for your feet, and the most comfortable place was to be found lying in the shallows, letting each wave gently roll you ashore and tumble you back into the sea again.

The sea is there in sunshine and in shadow in Lochan (dark blue) and Ardlui (teal), and Smirr (pale grey-blue) is the crash of a wave as it bites into the beach, and the whipped wave caps of a summer storm.

For the shore, Buckthorn (burnt orange) is our tin-rich ‘pink mud’ flecked with slatey pebbles and Garth (green) is the deep green of a bracken frond fully unfurled and basking in the sunshine. The Milrocchy Tweed is a singles yarn, equivalent to a 4ply, so it makes for a lovely light hat, that is also incredibly snuggly and warm.

I love it, and I’m making a cardigan with echoes of the same colours because this one has gone south, all the way home as a birthday present for my Dad; we’re going walking in Pembrokeshire later in the year so it seemed an appropriate present, and I know that it will have been doing good service in the last few days.

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

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