Monday, 14 May 2018

Aberdeen Yarnfest Part One - Anticipation

So I decided to make a bag.  Out of these leftovers.  All treasured bits from previous projects hand dyed by my friend, Helen, of Ripples Crafts.

When I learned that Aberdeen was to host its first yarn festival, and that Helen would be attending as a vendor with her wonderful wares, I offered to help her at her stand.

She said yes.  I'd need a bag and what could be more appropriate than a bag made from my precious Ripples Crafts stash.  So, with only a vague plan in mind, and less than a fortnight to go, I started crocheting wee squares.  I already had some bright pink lining fabric to match the main colour.

I'm not the only one to keep all my precious Ripples Crafts leftovers.  My yarn enthusiast friend, Ethmay, is a champion sock knitter and kindly lent me her spare yarn dyed by Helen to add to my colourful collection.

The squares each got a pink edging...

... then I joined them all together.

During a car journey to visit friends and back again, when I wasn't driving(!), I crocheted a plain rectangle to be the back of the bag.  I was going to need every scrap of Helen's wonderfully named pink 'A Cerise Which Demands Attention' so a pussy hat I'd made some time ago which was too big was unravelled for the greater good.

Pinning out the fabric whilst damp helped iron out the rumples.

I crocheted a long strip to add width and attached it along three sides.

The sewing machine and I are not best friends -  however I managed to make a cotton lining with my vibrant pink fabric and insert a zip.  Please don't look too closely.  I then hand-sewed the lining into the bag.

All that was left was to crochet a strap and attach it.  Not cutting it fine but I was sewing in the handle whilst having coffee with Mum the day before the festival and just hours before Helen was due to arrive!

So I filled my bag with festival essentials and pinned on my favourite badges.  My 'Adventures in Yarn' notebook is made by Popcorn and Crocodiles and my wool girl brooch is made by Gabrielle Reith.

I wore my bag all day and it worked really well, even if the strap got a little longer as the day went on!

Were you at Aberdeen Yarn Fest?  Did you visit the Ripples Crafts stand and see me and my colourful bag?  I'll be writing more about the great event the yarn fest turned out to be in my next post.


Wednesday, 11 April 2018

A Timely Reminder

When I was a fledgling knitter, a new project began with a trip to the local wool shop.  This was not a joyous occasion for a wee girl.  The formidable shop assistant in the now long-gone Hosiery Shop in Ayr (shown in the vintage postcard below with the awning) guarded the wool behind her counter and appeared to sell it only grudgingly, and certainly not to unaccompanied children.

A trip to nearby Templeton's Woollen Mill wasn't much better as it was situated beside the abattoir and the smell made me cowk! (cowk : verb. Northeast Scotland dialect. to retch or feel nauseated)

I'm pleased to report that in the intervening fifty years (have I really been knitting that long?) wool shops have undergone a metamorphosis.  Here I am during last month's trip to London enjoying a mosey around Knit With Attitude in Stoke Newington.

Independent yarn stores are havens for crafters like me and sell beautiful wares, often artistically displayed in an atmosphere designed to stimulate creativity and are staffed by welcoming and knowledgeable owners and employees.  Wool shops are now high on my list of must-see attractions when I visit somewhere new.

It's not surprising then that, during a wee trip to Lisbon last October, I sought out Retrosaria Rosa Pomar in Rue do Loreto.  The store's website helpfully told me to look out for the colourful mailboxes to locate the stairs up to the shop.  (My husband found a sunny cafe-bar in which to enjoy a beer and watch the world go by!)

Inside Retrosaria Rosa Pomar I found a wonderful selection of yarns, many sourced and spun in Portugal, as well as fabrics and other locally produced goods.  Retrosaria means haberdashery in Portuguese.

The staff were friendly and allowed me to browse at leisure before I settled on my purchases.  But what to buy?  With so much yarn on display in a tempting array of colours it's easy to get carried away!  However I'd done a wee bit of research prior to my visit.  I'd already looked out a pattern which would suit the Portuguese wool.

I chose the Timely Cardigan by New Zealand designer Libby Jonson, who is known around the internet as Truly Myrtle.  Knitters and crocheters are blessed with a fantastic on-line community called Ravelry which is SO much more than a fibre database.  By searching Ravelry for yarns by Rosa Pomar I was able to see that Tracey in Germany had already knitted a Timely cardigan using Rosa's Mondim wool.  So, in the photos above, you can see Libby wearing her design and the same  cardigan pictured in two shades of Mondim which Tracey kindly gave me permission to use. 

So I bought a cute project bag and chose some of the Mondim. The yarn is fine Portuguese wool suitable for making socks and Mondim was a Portuguese village once famous for its sock knitting cottage industry.  I also had a plan to team my souvenir holiday wool up with some alpaca yarn.

The Lisbon mini-break was a treat to us for driving all the way to London from Aberdeenshire so we could help our two daughters get settled into their respective flats there.  The country-long drive enabled us to stop in County Durham and visit our friends, Lorna and Ian, and their flock of re-homed alpacas.  They're all boys of varying ages who've been cared for by Lorna and Ian, some for as long as eight years.

Lorna kindly let me choose some of the yarn she'd had spun from their fleece a few years ago by The Border Mill at Duns, in the Scottish Borders.

I thought the two yarns - the Mondim sock wool from Lisbon and the alpaca from Lorna's Mainsforth flock - would work well together.

So I started knitting my Timely Cardigan on February 12th.

And I completed it on April 5th.

I'm really pleased with how it turned out.  It's very light but also warm and will be perfect for Spring.

My Timely Cardigan will always be a lovely reminder of our trip to Lisbon (and to see Lorna and Ian and their alpacas en route) - a 'timely reminder' indeed!


Saturday, 31 March 2018

Making A Difference (Part One)

I was intrigued by this photo of the Finnish snowboard coach, Antti Koskinen, knitting at the start of his event at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang last month.

 Social media reported that his team mates were also knitting - but what were they making?

Well, the team's knitted pieces were all stitched together to make a baby blanket.  Here it is being presented to the Finnish president whose wife had recently given birth to a baby boy.

This lovely gesture got me thinking about collaborative projects.  In general, the individual pieces are small and on their own they don't have much significance.  Put together, however, they have the Wow Factor.  A wonderful finished project   Altogether, they really make a difference!

So I decided this year I would make a difference too.  Each month I'd make something to contribute to a creative project comprising small pieces from lots of makers.  They'd each have a big impact when complete.

So in early January, I knitted a tiny jumper (from this charity pattern) as part of the celebratory bunting being created to mark the 100th episode of the Knit British podcast.  I love listening to Louise Scollay's regular podcasts as she enthuses the crafting community about the virtues of British yarn.  I know my wee jumper arrived safely as it featured on Louise's Instagram feed a few days after I posted it along with others she'd received.  Not only was the bunting displayed at the Knit British 100th episode party in Edinburgh in mid January, the bunting had another outing at Edinburgh Yarn Festival in February where it featured in the Podcaster's Lounge.  Photos below are by @knit_british and @mariette694

It had to be hearts for February!

I knitted five hearts and sent them off to be part of the Work of Heart Garden.  The pattern can be accessed through this website.

The Work of Heart Garden is the brainchild of Clare Young who is creating a full size knitted show garden installation in memory of her husband.  It will be on display at the RHS Malvern Spring Festival at the Three Counties Showground in Worcestershire from 10th to 13th May 2018.

The 4 metre square garden will include a hospice bedroom overgrown with knitted plants known for their healing properties.  As part of the installation Clare wants to include 10,000 'works of heart' - small knitted or crocheted hearts which will be made available to visitors to place on trees around the Work of Heart garden in return for a donation to the Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice which cared for her husband.  Clare hopes to raise £50,000. Let's hope my wee hearts help her on her way!


No, my project for March was knitted squares.  (It just so happens that a mitred square starts off looking a bit like a pair of pants!)

Through Facebook, I learned that two enterprising ladies (known as Grans On The Make) were appealing for knitted squares to create a 13 foot commemorative poppy to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War.  When complete the poppy will be made up of 1568 squares, representing the number of days of the war.  The picture below shows the middle section of 992 squares.

As well as the giant poppy, they are also creating a panel on the reverse to commemorate the Votes for Women centenary.

When I contacted Pat, who's organising this mammoth project, she said they had enough red and green squares for the poppy but still required black and also squares in shades of purple, green and cream or white so that's what I made.  I recently learned the meaning of the British suffragette colours designed in 1908 - purple for loyalty, green for hope and white for purity.

The finished project will be revealed at The Creative Craft Show in Birmingham in November 2018.

I've had fun knitting all these meaningful makes.   Now I need to head off and see what I'm going to create in April to make a difference!


Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Felted soap - what's that all about?

I tend to find I don't use bars of soap nowadays.  Liquid soap sits at each sink and a rainbow of shower gel bottles inhabit our bathroom.  The soap bar in a gratefully received toiletry set frequently becomes an orphan.
I love Arran Aromatics, or Arran - Sense of Scotland as they're now known, but the Eydis soap I received in this set was languishing in our bathroom cupboard so I decided to liberate it and create a felted soap bar. 

But why would you? 

Felted soap isn't a modern idea.  In the past, soap was encased in a fabric pouch to make it last longer.  By felting the soap into a wee woolly parcel, you get soap and cloth in one.  The wool helps exfoliate the skin and the soapy suds don't go to waste.  It's also easier to hang onto when you're washing as it's less slippery than a naked bar of soap.  You can still enjoy the lovely fragrance.

All pluses so far - but isn't it unhygienic?  Well, I learned that bacteria prefer smooth surfaces so the natural antibacterial properties of the uneven wool coating deter unwanted adherents apparently.

So I proceeded to make a felted soap of my own.  There are lots of really great tutorials online showing in detail what to do - I probably followed this one most closely.

It seemed like a soap bar with rounded edges might be easier to work with so I used the potato peeler on my soap bar's straight edges and kept the shavings to use when I need soap flakes.

I looked out some merino wool roving which I've used in other projects and a pair of old clean tights.

I wrapped the soap bar in the wool roving and popped the woolly soap 'parcel' into the toe of the tights to help it all stay together.

Then I put on some music that I knew would last for at least half an hour because that's how long you need to rub the soap in warm water to make the fibres stick together.

No loose fibres should come away during the 'pinch test' ensuring the wool has felted successfully.  I then left my soap bar to dry overnight.  (I also had the cleanest hands in the world!)

Here's the dry soap the following day.  I chose to decorated mine with a bit of needle felting, adding a wee pink star.

My intention with this blog post had been to show what happened once the soap was used up but here's the soap on it's first day in use and the same soap one month later.  The wool shrinks as it gets wet and dries again so it continues to fit snugly around the soap.  I've been using it every day and try to use it every time I wash my hands at home.  It's clearly going to last a very long time!

So here's a decorative and practical way I've put a bar of soap to use - and I'm liking the result!

Sunday, 4 February 2018

A Secret Mosaic Revealed

Three years ago, my elderly Mum came to live near me.  She moved 200 miles away from the town she'd lived in since the 1950's.  The sheltered house quickly became her cozy home as she surrounded herself with her own comfortable furniture, familiar pictures and treasured objects.

We couldn't have known then just how much joy her new garden would also bring.

I use the word 'garden' advisedly.  In reality this is two flower beds, one either side of the front door and when Mum arrived it was largely a rose garden with a few shrubs.  She has transformed this tiny plot by packing in lots of new plants, much to the delight of her neighbours and those who pass by and stop to chat.

Last October I attended a weekend mosaic workshop at Blue Sky Mosaics near Kintore in Aberdeenshire.  I shared the project I made in a previous blog post about my mosaic gin-and-tonic-table-top.  What I didn't mention at the time was that I made the table-top on day two and I kept the project I made on day one a secret!  

It was a birthday surprise for Mum - for her beloved garden.

I made her a mosaic stepping stone.

As usual, the process began with a pencil sketch and inspiration from the wondrous array of materials available in Ann's studio at Blue Sky and a browse through her library of mosaic art books.

The process I followed differs from previous mosaics I've made where the pieces were glued onto a pre-cut base then grouted.  Using the reverse method for the stepping stone involved sticking the pieces onto a clear adhesive film.

You can see the design taking shape.

I'm laying the pieces face down on the film which is on top of a clear glass plate as this allows me to pick it up and see how it will actually look.  Carefully does it....

The finished design, still on its film base, is slipped into an oiled silicone cake mould and cement is gently smoothed over, taking care not to dislodge any pieces.

Once the cement is dry, the stepping stone is extracted from the mould like an upside-down cake.  Some cleaning up reveals all the details of the design.

Then the piece had to wait in our garden shed until Mum's birthday which was in December!  

I'm glad to say she was delighted with this new addition to her garden.

 I can't wait to see it bedded in properly once the frost is past.

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