Sunday, 26 February 2017

Woolly Hat Week

It's just been Woolly Hat Week here in the UK.  
The Sailor's Society asked everyone to 'Be A Hat Hero' and to wear a woolly hat to raise money to help seafarers in need.

The Society helps those who brave cold and dangerous seas to make world trade possible.  It's an international Christian charity which works in ports around the world and helps seafarers in practical ways.  Enabling contact with home which is so important for those away at sea for many months.  They also help with access to medical treatment and, in less developed countries, they build homes and schools and provide grants to bring hope and security to seafaring communities.

So, in support of The Sailor's Society, here's me and Geoff in our woolly hats!

You may know that my husband, Geoff, works in data management on board a hydrographic survey vessel on a four week work rotation (meaning he spends four weeks at sea followed by four weeks at home),  a job he has done since 1992.  You my not know that I also worked on a hydrographic survey vessel as a data processor over a three year period in the mid 1980's.

Here I am in July 1986 on board the MV Seaway Labrador with the DSV Seaway Harrier in the background at Ekofisk (probably contravening all health and safety rules nowadays!)

Though the vessels we've both worked on were mainly crewed by Norwegian sailors, as we've both worked mainly for Norwegian companies, it would be usual for some crew to hail from far more distant places such as the Cape Verde islands off Senegal or The Philippines or India.  Docking in ports such as Aberdeen and Peterhead, or Stavanger and Bergen could be a very chilly experience for those whose home ports were considerably warmer.  No wonder The Sailor's Society has an army of knitters making more than 10,000 woolly hats a year to give out to seafarers.

So I've decided to knit some hats for them.  Simple styles and serviceable colours - here's a couple I've made so far:

The Sailor's Society says "not only do the hats help keep seafarers warm, but it's a great feeling to know someone they have never met has spent time making them."

Well, that's giving me a warm glow - even when I'm not wearing my favourite handknit woolly hat!


Friday, 10 February 2017

Lovely Leftovers

Keeping my 2017 word 'purpose' in mind, I decided at the start of the year to knit with some of the beautiful wool I have leftover.

I wanted to give the wool a purpose, rather than have it languishing in storage.  I remembered the previous projects, and their recipients, and all the joy I had making these gifts for them.
Three hats - one for Sophie, one for Eilidh and one for Mae - all made from Ripples Crafts Na Dannsairean Aran which is a squishy mix of merino and Donegal nep in gorgeous colours.
Two pairs of mitts - a pair for Frances in Rowan Colourscape and a pair for me in Noro Kochoran, now both sadly discontinued yarns.
A cowl for Sophie in Manos Silk Blend and a jumper for me in Rowan Renew.  

There's also wool leftover from a neck-warmer in some pale blue Rowan Tapestry knitted before I started documenting everything I make!

I really liked the pattern for the Baa-ble-hat by Shetland designer Donna Smith which features cute sheep in a snowy landscape.  As I've blogged about here, I knitted this hat for my sister-in-law, Fiona, for Christmas.  The baa-ble hat is really popular with knitters and was the official pattern for Shetland Wool Week 2015 - to date nearly 7000 have been created in a variety of colours and textures. Look!!!
But I didn't want to make myself a hat - instead I decided I'd use the sheep design and incorporate it into a cushion and use all the lovely soft and colourful leftovers for the background.
I added the sheep to the cushion front.
I kept the same stripes of colour for the back but didn't add the sheep this time.
After the back and front were finished, there were lots of ends to be sewn in.
To make the knitted fabric a bit more sturdy, I decided to felt it lightly by washing my knitting in the machine at 60 degrees. This is a bit of a leap of faith as pure wool and the washing machine are not usually best friends!

I measured the fabric first as I expected some shrinkage and I wasn't sure if all the woolly stripes would react the same way to being felted.  Pinning out the damp fabric afterwards allowed me to stretch it back into the desired rectangular shape.
I embroidered a tree onto the front, thought about adding a second smaller one, realised I didn't like it and ended up taking it off!
Lastly, I stitched on some small details like rocks and copses of trees in the background.
I attached the zip to the base following this useful tutorial by Purl Soho, sewed up the other three sides, popped in the cushion pad and, voila, one finished cushion!
It looks right at home in the lounge.


Tuesday, 24 January 2017

All At Sea

I've been indulging in a little creative embroidery lately as our church embroidery group is due to meet tomorrow.  Embroidery isn't a skill I've been formally taught, yet, in the company of the church ladies, I really enjoy a bit of stitching and find being in the group increases my confidence in my own abilities.

Alison, hiding behind the flowers on the left, is our leader.  As well as being a very talented textile artist and patient teacher, she's also our minister.  It's a few years since the group made these pulpit falls - the burning bush for Pentecost, an autumn wreath and one to celebrate a past flower festival.

These were collaborative projects where we all worked together on the same piece but Alison now has in mind a much bigger project - one in which each of us will work on separate scenes from the same story.

We will be depicting the life of St Nathalan, thought to be the founder of our own church, here in North East Scotland at Bethelnie, near the village of Oldmeldrum.

According to legend one very rainy summer, the saint, in a moment's weakeness, cursed the rain which was hindering the harvest.  In penitence, Nathalan padlocked his right arm to his right leg, tossed the key into the River Dee and set off to walk to Rome to seek forgiveness.  Upon reaching Rome, he bought a fish at a market for his supper but when the fish was cut open, he found the very key he'd thrown into the Dee many months earlier.  It is also believed that Nathalan saved the village people of Oldmeldrum from a plague later in his life by praying on his knees all round the settlement boundary.  He perished at the end of his traverse and where his staff was struck into the ground, it is said an ash tree grew.  A tree has grown on this site ever since and is known locally as The Parcock Tree.

Scenes from Nathalan's eventful life will be portrayed in our textile artworks using this gorgeous hand dyed felt and these beautiful silk threads produced by 21st Century Yarns.

We spent some time last year practising so we could all become familiar with these materials and the stitches we're going to use.  Here are the practice pieces I made.

First of all we created a tree and then we had a go at a landscape featuring another tree.  Finally we stitched a person.

The last time the group met was November and we decided who would create each scene.  Hence the reason I'm all at sea!  I opted for the stormy seascape as Nathalan returns to Britain following his pilgrimage and is almost shipwrecked in sight of the White Cliffs.  No trees - a tiny bit of cliff landscape and maybe some distant figures in a boat.  I needed more practise!

So I've been trying to create a turbulent sea in felt and thread, taking inspiration from this lovely book - Life Journey by Mary Fleeson, a writer and artist who lives on Holy Island (Lindisfarne).  I'm not sure what the group will think - but I'm going to find out soon!


Tuesday, 10 January 2017


It's my first post of 2017 and my word of the year for 2017 is 'purpose'.

I chose a word for 2016 and that was 'kindness' - you can read about my word choice here. 

As I wrote when I chose my word last year, New Year resolutions are often broken a few days into January but a word is just a word.  I'm not making a promise to anyone or saying I'll do anything spectacular.  I'm just creating a focus for the things I choose to make and, who knows, perhaps for my life in a wider sense.

So, what about my word for 2016?  How did I incorporate kindness into my crafting and what happened as a result?

I contributed two crocheted squares to this Kindness Blanket Project I saw on Instagram.  The predominantly blue blanket was being created by Sarah-Louise Roberts to raffle in aid of Mind, the mental health charity, and her colour choice reflected the charity's logo.  Sarah-Louise received enough squares following her Instagram appeal to make two blankets, one of which is pictured above, and the raffle raised an excellent £604 for Mind when it was drawn in May.

I knitted a few hats to give away to different causes.  Two premature baby hats went to the Special Care Baby Unit at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness following an appeal by Louise on her Caithness Craft Collective Podcast and which I handed in at Edinburgh Yarn Festival in March.  The pink hat went into my Christmas gift shoebox for Romania, an initiative undertaken every year by my local church.  I made a couple of hats for fishermen, the black and maroon ones pictured above, to send to The Mission to Seafarers but will wait til I've made a few more before I send them off.

I crocheted a sheep for the Yarndale Wooly Sheep Project after reading about it on Lucy's Attic24 blog. Yarndale is an annual fibre festival held in Yorkshire each September.  This creative community project in 2016 saw all 700 of the donated knitted and crocheted sheep from 32 countries being sold in aid of Martin House Children's Hospice and raising over £3100.  Each sheep received was documented and recorded on a set of Pinterest boards here and I was able to find my wee sheep amongst them in the top row of this board.  Hope someone is loving owning her!

I donated these knitted mice to Battersea Dogs and Cats Home as toys for cats awaiting rehoming and received a lovely letter of thanks from Joe at Supporter Services.

My final make for charity in 2016 was a hot water bottle cover for Knitaid following an appeal by Helen of the Curious Handmade podcast.  She released a free pattern so that covers and bottles could be sent to Knitaid as part of their consignment of warm knitted goods to help refugees in Greece.

I'm also counting gifts I made for others as part of my 2016 personal kindness project.  I made and gifted these three crocheted shawls.  I wrote about the Thousand Kisses Shawl (pictured left) here and the Fortune's Shawlette in the middle, here.

And here's a round-up of all the other knitted items I made and gave as gifts this year.  A few of the hats and neck cosies appeared here in my previous blog post as I knitted them for Christmas.

The big picture shows a hat I knitted for my friend Vicki and she's wearing it in the wee black and white photo.  Her hat is made from Wool/silk from the Dye Ninja that I purchased at Edinburgh Yarn Festival and is gloriously soft.  I also love the pattern Koru by Truly Myrtle who, like Vicki, is from New Zealand.  Designer Libby (aka Truly Myrtle) says 'The lace and cable panel is reminiscent of New Zealand’s baby ferns, delicate and gently uncurling.' 

Finally, I made a wee hedgehog for my brother-in-law... because... he likes hedgehogs.

And if that isn't a kind thing to do, then what is?


Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Christmas is coming - knit faster!

I know I'm not the only one who cannot resist the compulsion to knit gifts for Christmas.  It's so satisfying to think of the ones we love wrapped up in the woollies we've made.

I also know I'm not alone in making this decision way too late in the year, often as December is well underway, thereby putting myself under yet more pressure.  There's cards to write and post, presents to buy and wrap, food to procure and prepare and a myriad of other tasks demanding attention in order that Christmas will be all ready come 25th December!

Still doesn't stop me from thinking I can knit more than I can...

The answer to the shrinking knitting time available to me was to tackle small projects.

I made my Mum a Neck Warmer to tuck inside her sweater.  I made it for her birthday on Boxing Day (which I still count as Christmas knitting).  To be finished in time I even had to knit anytime I was waiting in the car.  Here I'm parked up waiting to collect my husband from the airport.

I kept seeing this slogan on Facebook and Instagram "Christmas is coming - knit faster!"

This is the second neck warmer  I've made for my Mum as she really found the first one so cosy.  I used Rico Design Baby Classic DK so it won't irritate her neck and it can be easily washed.

Hats were my favoured project for Christmas gift knitting this year.  I managed to knit three hats as gifts, including one for my Secret Santa.

I got my sister-in-law, Fiona, in our family Secret Santa draw.  I decided to make my gift and chose to make her a Baa-ble Hat.  The pattern, designed by Donna Smith, was the official pattern for Shetland Wool Week in 2015 and this event is held every year in Shetland to celebrate Shetland wool and its associated crafts.  To date, over six and a half thousand Baa-ble Hats have been knitted!

I used one of the recommended yarns, Jamieson and Smith Shetland Aran in the wonderfully named colours Snaa White, Peat and Silver Grey.  The sheep are knitted in Drops Alpaca Boucle which gives them fleecy wee bodies.  Wool is stranded across the back of the colour work sections making this one of the cosiest hats I've ever knitted!

I made my husband, Geoff a hat last year for his birthday.  Gorgeous Birlinn yarn the Hebridean Isle of Berneray.  Here's the last recorded siting of it before it got lost!

So I made him a new hat for Christmas.  This time I used New Lanark Aran in Limestone and liked the texture created by the Bankhead pattern from Knit Natural.

I also made a hat for my daughter, Eilidh, last birthday.  Soft Na Dannsairean Aran from Ripplescrafts in the North West Highlands of Scotland and the popular Acai pattern by Clare Devine. It's not lost but has got a bit stretched...

... so I made her a new one for Christmas.  It's squishy and soft in Rowan Wool/Cotton and I repeated the Bankhead pattern .  Eilidh wasn't sure about the fake fur pompom though - so it had to go!

Finally, here are the hats on happy heads!


Saturday, 3 December 2016

Work, work, workshop

This is the third year in a row I've been asked by Community Education at my local secondary school to organise a craft workshop for a group of mums in the village.  The group meets monthly to support mums who have children with additional needs.  There's a brief two hour child-free window to make something, accompanied of course by chat, coffee and cake.  Susan brought these delicious homebakes to yesterday's workshop.

Each year I've chosen the craft of needle felting for the workshop as it's a craft which requires no prior knowledge on the part of the mums but everyone is able to complete a project to take home, even in the short time we have together.

In 2014, we made a winter picture.  I used the video tutorials at to form the basis of what we were going to make.

Last year, we made these brooches featuring a robin.

At this year's workshop, which was held yesterday, the aim was to make a needle felted bauble featuring Santa.

But reaching the decision about what to make can take more time than the making itself!

I'd never tried this before myself so I started off with the only polystyrene shape I had in the house - an egg - possibly left over from when the church craft group made these fabric covered eggs for the Easter display in 2012  (throughback to a much younger me!)

I tried needle felting the polystyrene shape with merino roving wool and a felting tool.

That worked - so I tried some more eggs and added a bit of decoration.  I bought some polystyrene spheres and had a shot with them, adding some sparkle this time.  I felted a spiral tree onto the red bauble and topped it with a sequin star.  I decorated the green sparkly bauble with a reindeer but it looked terrible - more like an angry fox - so I removed it without even taking a photo!  I spent far too long seeking inspiration from Google images of needle felted Christmas decorations when I should have been doing housework.  Finally, I had a light bulb moment and covered the egg with red roving, fashioned a hat, added pompoms, eyes and a beard and Santa materialised.  Even then, the eyes didn't look right - they reminded me of a bird...

... so I tried making a robin - but it looked liked the scary penguin from Wallace and Gromit!  Besides, we made robins last year.  Then I found smaller beads to make eyes and refashioned the robin into this Santa with which I was finally happy.

Then I had to see how long it would take to make one - by making lots more of them.

Only then could I write up an instruction sheet, gather all my craft supplies together and feel prepared for the workshop.

The reward for my 'work', and I use this word loosely because it was mostly a lot of fun, is seeing the finished decorations at the end of the workshop and feeling that the participants have had a good time.  I'm delighted that the ladies have agreed to let me share their decorations here. 
Here's the handiwork of Elizabeth, Susan, Karen, Gina, Gillian, Rebecca, Lisa and Biff.  They all did a fantastic job yesterday and made wonderfully unique Santas!  I hope they'll be part of their Christmas decorating traditions for some years to come.  

I wonder if they'll ask me back next year?

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