Sunday, 10 December 2017

Swaps, surprises and the joy of giving

 Everyone loves getting a parcel!

But a lot of the post I receive on a daily basis is pretty boring - bills, glossy ads from companies I once patronised, lenders pressing me to sign up for yet another credit card and unsolicited charity mailshots.  Most goes directly into the recycling bin.  I love getting packages in the post and that's what first made me curious about swaps. 

I signed up to the Perfect Strangers swap when it began in 2013.  Throwback to a younger me!  At the time I was subscribing to Oh Comely magazine which organises this on-line event. 
Here's some of  the goodies my American swap partner sent me.  I never took a photo of the contents of the parcel I posted to the States - I only know I enjoyed assembling the contents and wrapping them up in the knowledge they'd make someone, somewhere smile.  The downside was that the postage cost me more than the contents were worth!  Hey, ho - you live and learn.

The following year I signed up again and you could tell your partner a little bit about yourself and what you liked.  You could also choose to have a partner in the same country as yourself so postage costs were more manageable.  I knew my swap partner was a young woman with a sweet tooth who liked Disney.  Here's what I sent to her.
I crocheted her a scarf...
... and must have mentioned that I was a knitter as here's what I received.

Two years ago I took part in two swaps for knitters.  I'd started listening to knitting podcasts around that time and was enjoying being part of the crafting community on Ravelry, the world-wide on-line go-to site for knitters, crocheters, spinners and dyers. I joined the groups associated with the podcasts I liked and followed the discussion threads.  

The Caithness Craft Collective podcast is hosted by lovely Louise Hunt, who I've been lucky enough to meet, and she organised a swap where you had to make a decoration and include something for the other person to make or do.  Here's my parcel contents, destined for Oregon, including the crocheted Christmas tree I made, one I bought and some Scottish bits and bobs - a calendar and National Trust tea towel.  I also included a wee kit to sew a felt gingerbread man and some stickers.
Caroline, my swap partner, blew me away with her thoughtfulness, even including some treats for our pets.  I got a Christmas themed project bag, handy snips, glitzy tape, a pad of postcards to colour in and a multi-tip gel pen.
But it was her handmade item which nearly made me cry - hand knitted bobble hat bunting!  How cute is this?

Another Christmas swap  from 2015 was coordinated by the Shinybees Podcast, hosted by the inimitable Jo Milmine for her listeners.  This time the swap was yarn related and all participants had to upload a photo to reflect the colours they liked.  

Unfortunately, I didn't keep note of what I sent to Katy from London but she saw my inspiration photo of a vibrant tree in spring and sent me this gorgeous zingy hand-dyed yarn from one of my favourite indie dyers, Jess from Ginger Twist Studios.  Katy also included a Christmas tree decoration and family favourite Lindor chocolates. They didn't last long as I remember!

These swaps were such fun that this year I decided to take part in the Caithness Craft Collective Podcast swap once again.  My partner this time is Laila from Denmark and we had to make, or buy, a decoration to fit with our partner's holiday traditions and tell them about where we live.  

A few days ago my parcel arrived from Laila containing the most beautiful natural Christmas tree decoration, a handwritten note about Laila's home and some delicious mint chocolates.
I had real fun making my decoration for Laila.  Following this cute pattern by Sarah at Imagined Landscapes, I followed her pattern modifications to knit Santa-esque Gnicholas Gnome.  In fact, I may have made more than one...
Gnicholas was accompanied on his journey to Denmark by some Scottish soap, tablet, biscuits and a key ring.  I also enclosed a tourist map of my village and a personal letter.
Swapping with a stranger I have found over the years to be a heart warming experience and there's as much to be gained from the act of giving as there is in receiving.  Making something personal for my swap partner is something I enjoy, as is finding appropriate little gifts for their parcel.  I love wrapping the items carefully so the package is pretty.

I will treasure my new Danish tree decoration from Laila and hope she likes her knitted Scottish gnome.  They say 'it's better to give than to receive' and I couldn't agree more.  (but getting stuff rocks too!)


Sunday, 12 November 2017

Lead, Solder and Putty (a first go at Stained Glass)

The range of posts which pop up in my Facebook feed is diverse to say the least and I usually skim read most of it rapidly, if I look at it at all.  When a local shop which reupholsters unloved furniture to make it lovely again advertised a stained glass course being held nearby, I read the page fully and signed up on the spot.
That's how I came to be in the picturesque North East village of Collieston yesterday (where we usually go for a dog walk) with four other stained glass students and our inspiring tutor, Anne Ferguson.  In the same venue, preparations were underway for a lino cut course which was also running.  There'd been a social event in the hall the evening before so there was a colourful array of beautifully crafted items for sale made by both tutors.
We got straight down to business as the focus of our day was to leave with a finished object.  Anne started by showing us pieces from previous classes she'd run so we could see what we might manage to achieve in the time we had.  A wonderful selection of stained glass was all laid out for us to choose as we planned our designs.
There's some similarities with mosaic making too which helped me feel more confident.  Glass cutting tools and nippers, and the electric grinder which I'd used before, were demonstrated and we all had a go.  Designing again starts with a pencil sketch...
...then the enjoyable, creative task of choosing and combining colours.
Precision cutting and grinding followed to make all the pieces fit the template.
Then lead is carefully cut and fitted round each piece of glass.
The edges all get a coating of flux to help the solder join the lead together.
I didn't get a photo of me with the soldering iron - which is probably just as well!  
Time to putty all the little windows...
...then clean off the grease from the putty which has adhered to the glass using plaster of Paris.  
Hanging hooks are added then the lead and solder get buffed up with stove blackening to dull the solder and make the colours in the glass sing!  As my fellow students finished their pieces they placed them at the window to enjoy the first sight of the coloured glass in all its glory.
And today I was able to prop my wee piece up against a window at home on this dull, cold and rainy November day to finally see how it looks with daylight behind it.  I love the Northern Lights sky! 


Thursday, 19 October 2017

Remake the Fake Mosaic

I love to sit outside the front door of our house when it's sunny.  In this wee spot you can catch the sun and are shielded from the breeze.  It's the place in the garden where I steal a few moments to relax with some knitting or crochet - and a cup of tea or a gin and tonic.  The table top, though, used to irritate me slightly.  Made to look like a mosaic...'s actually painted glass! 

I really enjoyed the mosaic weekend I attended last year at Blue Sky Mosaics near Kintore in Aberdeenshire, just half an hour from where I live.  I blogged about it here.  Ann's studio is a creative haven with her beautiful work all around lending inspiration to students and visitors alike.

When the opportunity arose recently to enjoy another weekend of mosaic making with Ann at Blue Sky, I knew it was time to remake the fake mosaic!

As I call it my G&T table, I decided to use my favourite tipple as the basis of my design.

There are lots of materials at hand to choose from to create the colours, shapes and textures desired.

Working on a substrate of plumbers board, which will make my mosaic suitable for outdoor use, I began to look for suitable pieces.  It wasn't long before I had selected the glass for the sunset.  The glass is backed with foil so it shines - and you can't see the adhesive.

The process is both absorbing and therapeutic.  Sometimes I had to be reminded to stop and have a cup of tea!

The picture builds piece by piece til the surface is completely covered.

Once everything is stuck in place, it's time to go home and leave the adhesive to dry.  Grouting has to take place another day but a further opportunity to visit Ann, and meet fellow mosaic-makers, is no hardship - especially as this time there were homemade pancakes!

The grout only takes a short time to dry and then the mosaic can be buffed up with a soft cloth - it's very satisfying to see the colourful pieces emerge.

All that remains is to take the finished table home and see how it looks in situ.  Sadly, the sunshine was missing today so I didn't actually sit outside to enjoy this...

...but so much to look forward to next year when the sun shines (and not a fake mosaic in sight!)


Monday, 25 September 2017

Climate Week Crochet

Last week was Climate Week, a Scottish government campaign to raise awareness, and inspire action on, climate change.  A series of events was organised by Aberdeenshire Council at nearby Haddo Country Park which is owned and managed by the council and the National Trust for Scotland.

I signed up for a tee-shirt yarn crochet workshop to learn how to reduce textile waste.  Events for Climate Change Week highlight the importance of reducing emissions and adapting to a changing climate. Instead of being thrown away into landfill I was going to learn how to reuse the old tee-shirt I had to take along. My husband's discarded offshore wardrobe yielded a suitable sacrificial offering.

The evening class was run by Claire from Cookston Crafts and was held in the Haddo House tearoom.  Claire created a welcoming environment for the eight participants and Suzanna, from Haddo, was on hand with hot drinks, scones and traybakes.  Under Claire's friendly tutelage, we were soon busy creating our own yarn from the cleverly cut up tee shirts.

Following Claire's pattern we began to crochet the cotton strips into a wee bowl.  I found it quite hard work physically and Claire explained that the cotton I was using had very little stretch.  My arms and my fingers certainly got a bit of a work out!  Some of the others who were using tee-shirts containing Lycra were finding their yarn a bit easier to crochet.  Soon, though, my bowl was beginning to take shape.

One of the aspects I like best about attending any craft class is that we all start out to make the same thing but the final 'show-and-tell' displays everyone's individual creativity and no two pieces are the same.  After two hours of cutting and crochet, here's what we'd made.

I was able to finish crocheting my bowl at home the next day and found an empty glass jar to insert into it for added structure.  The fabric created is tough and durable and I'd definitely try this again.

I've certainly learned that old clothes unsuitable for donation to charity can still have a purpose with a little ingenuity and creative input - oh, and muscle power!


Monday, 11 September 2017

A Perfect Day At Perth

I had  a wonderful day out yesterday at Perth Festival of Yarn.  Here I am ready to go in my newly finished hand-knit jumper adorned with my wool girl brooch by local maker, Gabrielle Reith.

It's only the second time this event has been held and the team behind the festival, headed by Eva Christie, organised an excellent day out for fibre lovers.

I was accompanied by two knitting pals from the village and had also arranged to meet two more Perthshire friends once I was there. Here's my friend Alison enjoying the Midwinter Yarns stand.  She was really easy to spot in her beautiful hand-knitted Noro coat!

So - what makes a good yarn festival?  Well, the release of event information on Facebook and Instagram in the weeks beforehand certainly helped build anticipation for me.  Receiving the event guide by e-mail a few days prior to travelling also helped us plan our trip and, more importantly, our purchases!

The Dewars Centre venue was easy to find, parking was free and entry registration well streamlined. The food was good and service was efficient in the cafeteria.  There was lots of space to move around amongst the vendors so no jostling!  The provision of plenty of places to sit meant you could knit and chat, or just have a breather whilst perusing the festival guide and consider where to visit next.  

There were classes and talks for those interested but we'd come to shop and enjoy a chat with the traders.  I caught up with my friend, Lindsay aka The Border Tart.

There was a mouth watering selection of yarns on display ranging from the vibrant skeins of Glasgow based Mothy And The Squid on the left and, on the right,  Ovis Yarns who'd travelled from Merseyside... the delicate shades of naturally dyed vegan yarns by Flora Fibres from Fife.

With all these pretties on display - and many, many more - it  would be easy to become overwhelmed and just want to buy everything.  From past experience, this has lead to me going home from a festival with single skeins of lovely wool and not a clue what to do with them or, as has also happened, seeing what my friends have bought and wishing I'd bought some too!  So this time I did a little forward planning, scouting out the websites of those vendors I follow on Instagram to see in advance what I might like as well as thinking about the patterns I know I want to knit.  Here's my more considered purchases, though impulse still may have played a small part!

I'm going to knit another jumper like my green one using this huge ball of Eclipse 100% wool indigo dyed by Lindsay.  The pattern is the Peppered Top by Katya Frankel.

This beautiful turquoise BFL from Edinburgh boutique Kingfishersblue is destined to be made into the shawl to replace the one I knitted for my sister which got lost in the post.  Want to read more of my sob story? - you can here. 

My final yarny purchase was this set of mini skeins from My Mama Knits to make another On the edge shawl (and you already know how much I love this one because I keep going on and on about it!)

I love listening to Tania talk about Skye and her Dorset button business on the TJFrog podcast so I treated myself to one of her kits to make a Dorset button decoration.  This pretty silver shawl pin from Linda at Couthie Designs will help secure my Therapy shawl amongst others.

Finally, I enjoyed a chat with quite a few stall holders but especially the ladies at Wool 'n' Wood as I'd bought a set of their Malawi-produced knitting needles at the shop in the Scottish Parliament last year. Yesterday I bought this wee handcrafted bowl to use for my notions whilst I'm crafting.  So cheery!

Such a fun outing - enjoying the company of like-minded friends, meeting new people and purchasing lovely things.

Well done Perth Festival of Yarn 2017 - see you next year!

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