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?


Sunday, 13 November 2016

Past Presents - Future?

The calendar indicates that I'm about to become another year older and that Christmas is only six weeks away.  In the last 12 months, I've been the grateful recipient of several gifts for both my birthday and at Christmas that would quicken the heart of any yarn lover.

I wanted to share what had become of these presents, not least because I hope that my generous family and friends will see that gifting yarn gives great pleasure to me, the maker - and perhaps also to others.

My friend, Caroline, gave me a knitting kit for my birthday from her local flock, Strathearn Fleece and Fibre, which comprised their own yarn dyed in this vibrant pink, chunky wooden circular needles and the pattern to make this hat.  Some chilly days here lately were just right for a cosy knitting session.

The hat was a quick, fun knit but not in a style which suited me - so I gifted it by placing it in my Christmas shoe box bound for Romania.  There's still half a ball of lovely pink woolliness left for me to incorporate into another project too.

I've never joined a yarn club before so was delighted when my husband gave me a three month subscription to the Ripplescrafts "Yarn Notes from Assynt" yarn club as a surprise last Christmas.  Independent yarn dyer, Helen Lockhart, is based in Lochinver in Assynt, a beautiful and remote part of the North West Highlands of Scotland.  I was fortunate to meet Helen and attend one of her knitting retreats there in 2015.

I received a skein of yarn in January, February and March.  I really enjoyed finding a surprise package each month in my mail box.  The colours in each skein were inspired by a photo taken by yarn dyer extraordinaire, Helen, and each was accompanied by an essay written about the inspirational location by her husband, Stevan, a knowledgeable local historian.

I completed a pair of plain socks from January's turquoise wool inspired by the picture of "winter on the road to Assynt".  My second pair, the Evergreen Socks are in progress with February's inspired skein "scots pines by moonlight" and the pattern features a tree design along the cuff.  The final very colourful yarn, inspired by "Loch Borralan", is just waiting for the right pattern to pop up on the internet!

Prior to Christmas last year I signed up for a yarn swap organised by The Golden Skein.  We had to send 100g of hand dyed sock wool, a decoration and a treat.  Here's what I received  from my swap partner - the vibrant sock wool she chose for me by Edinburgh's Ginger Twist Studio rejoices in the name "Gorblimey".

I was able to team this with yet another Christmas present, this time from my sister-in-law.  She and my brother visited Orkney on holiday and she bought me some jolly North Ronaldsay wool from The Little Orkney Dyeshed.  Together they made a great combination for Fair Isle fingerless mitts which I just love and wear a lot!

Also in my stocking last year was some beautiful Canadian Koigu merino-silk yarn, a present from my knitting buddy, Alison.  As I've travelled up and down to London a couple of times lately, I chose to knit these ankle socks on the seven hour train journey.

So far I've shared all shared my knitting triumphs with you from these recent gifts - successfully completed projects and works in progress with realistic possibilities of becoming finished objects.  In the interests of balance, I feel it's only right to acknowledge that not everything goes according to plan every time.

Last birthday my daughter, Eilidh, chose this moody Rusty Ferret skein named 'Dark Beyond' at her local independent yarn store "Fluph" in Dundee.  Rusty Ferret is hand dyed by the shop owner who's renowned for her quirky style.

Though I started my chosen project, the Winter Wander Shawl by Helen of Curious Handmade with great gusto, and managed to insert beads as instructed with the tiny crochet hook, I'm going to have to liberate my beautiful wool and rip the whole thing out!  I made a basic rookie mistake and ran out of the contrasting yarn which has since been discontinued, ironically the only wool in this blog post I actually bought myself!

On the plus side, I'll have even more fun crafting another project from this lovely wool in 2017.


Sunday, 30 October 2016

Nostalgic Knits

Today is my daughter, Eilidh's, 21st birthday.

Birthdays inevitably make me nostalgic as I think back over the years and the happy memories of birthdays gone by.  Recently my eyes hit upon a box marked 'baby memories' whilst I was in the loft looking for something completely unrelated.  Well, I sat down there and then and took every item out of the box - annotated baby books full of mementos, precious china given as gifts, first shoes, a baby-grow.

Then I found a set of baby clothes I'd knitted.  A layette - or first set for a newborn.

But I didn't knit this set for my own baby.  In fact I'd made this set quite a few times for friends having babies, long before I had one myself.  This set was made specially for my nephew Calum, who's now a strapping 25 year old, and it became a bit of a family tradition that my newborn nieces and nephews would be brought home from hospital wearing it.  I still have the pattern, though it's a bit creased nowadays.

Here I am as a new mum, preparing to leave the maternity hospital in 1995 with Eilidh wearing the special hat, matinee jacket but possibly not the bootees.

And here we are together last weekend, celebrating her forthcoming 21st birthday in London and creating more lovely memories for the future.  


Monday, 10 October 2016

Bits and Pieces

It's nearly a year since my husband, Geoff, gave me a two day course at Blue Sky Mosaics for my birthday.  Though courses run throughout the spring and summer, it wasn't until the first weekend of October that I was able to try my hand at mosaicing for the very first time.

Not only did I find creating a mosaic to be a therapeutic pursuit, I was impressed with what I was able to make in (just over) two days with the help of course tutor and mosaic expert, Ann Stephen.
Ann Stephen is the creative force behind Blue Sky Mosaics and this is a small selection of the materials in Ann's studio available to students like me.  Ann's studio is in her garden and the surroundings where the course takes place are full of mosaic treasures.  Though it was October, it was sunny enough to sit outside for morning coffee and warm croissants with Ann and Bill and my fellow course attendees.
I'd only a pretty vague notion of what I wanted to make - a rectangular plaque to be situated outside our front door but Ann lent me some mosaic books for inspiration and her husband, Bill, made me a suitable substrate.  All I needed now was a design!
Here you can see my picture evolving from a mosaic I liked in the book (top left) to my own interpretation.  It won't surprise anyone who knows me that my design features a chicken!  She's pecking at 'corn' in a flowery garden with 'grass' made from a broken Spode teacup which belonged to my Grandma.  Much of the mosaic is made from coloured glass with the inclusion of glass pebbles, beads, ball bearing chain and small ceramic tiles in the border.
The glass was all shaped, cut and ground into the desired pieces using specialist tools.
All the flower petals and leaves were made individually.
Transparent glass is backed so the adhesive does not show through and its vibrancy is not lost.

As the design comes together, all the small pieces can be stuck into place...
...then grouted - the messy bit!  Grout has to be worked into all the crevasses and that's best done by hand.
Next comes polishing with a soft cloth - and the mosaic is revealed with its bright colours and detail.
I can't wait to see it hung up at home.
A truly inspiring weekend spent in affable company, an encouraging atmosphere and beautiful surroundings.  Many thanks to Ann who is generous with her both her time and her talent.

Like to have a go?  I thoroughly recommend you do - here's the link again :
Blue Sky Mosaics, Kintore, Aberdeenshire


Monday, 26 September 2016

In Between The Lines

As a geography student back in the 1980's, my assignments regularly called for the use of coloured pencils.  When I took my studies a stage further, and achieved a postgraduate diploma in cartography, I used to quip that I was trained to colour in without going over the edges!

Now I am enjoying colouring once more but this time it's just for fun  I coloured this birthday card for my Mum from the cute postcard book Don't Quit Your Daydream by Bethany Robertson
I received it in a mystery swap parcel from a knitter in America last Christmas along with these other lovely goodies.
I love the gel pen as it's one of my favourites to accentuate colours.
I restricted the colour palette to pink and red with gold highlights for this card from the same book and gave it to my husband on Valentine's Day.

Colouring is a bit like knitting and crochet - you don't expect a quick result but there's no rush either.  You become absorbed in the task of colouring and working towards a finished picture which you're happy with.  You don't need to spend a lot on materials and you don't need to learn a new skill.  Everyone can colour in!
I particularly love the work of Johanna Basford.  Her illustrated colouring books are beautifully detailed and are really fun to colour in.  I see amazing completed pictures on social media of Johanna's illustrations by talented colourists.  I'm in awe of what others can produce with the humble coloured pencil.
So even though I've owned this book since it was published in 2013, I'd never actually coloured in a single page of it until very recently.  Maybe it's because the images are printed on both sides of each page and I couldn't quite bring myself to colour in one side in favour of the other.  (I was delighted when I found that it was also produced as a book of postcards and I've completed several of those.)  Here, then, is my very first coloured page from Secret Garden.
My picture's now on display in the National Trust for Scotland shop at Pitmedden Gardens where I volunteer, hopefully inspiring others to try their hand at the relaxing art of colouring in.
Have you had a go at this absorbing, relaxing and creative hobby?

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