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Category Archives: Making

A Little Distraction Needed

Just thought I’d do a little post with one of my previous finished objects since I’m in need of some distraction from my worry and guilt.  My youngest cat Lilly, a ‘petite’, as the vet put it, black and white cat with the sweetest nature had to be left at the vet this morning for possible spaying.  We’re not sure if she’s neutered or not since we know nothing of her history and sometimes even if a cat has been neutered, the scar is not visible so they have to go in and look.  I love most animals but cats occupy a special place in the hearts of Mr & Mrs Lauren.  Lilly turned up in the garden last spring and decided that she liked the lay of the land and just never left.  We weren’t looking for another cat as the one we adopted, Poppy (grey, claims my unfinished projects for herself) was very much an ‘only child’.  Hostile to other cats and sometimes us, not overtly affectionate and very much full of cupboard love, we had come to love and accept Poppy as the Grumbliest Cat in all of Grumble Town.  Lilly is the polar opposite of Poppy and when she arrived, although  we knew she probably had owners, try as we might, she just wouldn’t leave.  She camped outside our kitchen door mewling for days, never moving anywhere where she couldn’t see the door.  So we caved in and let her adopt us.  A year later and here we are.

Anyway, I feel like I’ve betrayed her sweet, trusting nature.  I know the operation is utterly routine and she will most likely be absolutely fine, but I still feel so anxious and guilty for putting her through it.  I have to phone in this afternoon and she should hopefully be home by tonight.  Fingers crossed that all is well, and that she will forgive me.

Meanwhile, in more crochet related matters; I made a little bear around Easter as my friend had a baby boy in November last year and she and her little family came up to Norwich to visit us on the Easter weekend.  I wanted to make him something but not clothes as I was sure he had enough of those and I saw the pattern for the bear in a crochet magazine I had bought that month using the very same Rooster Almerino DK yarn, so I didn’t even need to buy yarn, which was good because I was of course skint.  I love that the instructions for stuffing the arms and legs was not to overstuff them to make them a little squishy so they’re highly grabbable (it is so a word!) for little hands.  As the first toy I’d ever made, I was rather pleased with the results.  Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture myself, my friend sent me this one that she took when I presented him in the restaurant we were meeting in.  Don’t be alarmed – those are my hands emerging from the gloom, looking a little like a face crab from Alien.

crochetbear

My friend kindly sent along with the photo an update on Mr Bear’s and Baby Boy’s relationship.  Apparently baby finds him very soothing and especially holds on to him when he’s in his pram and falling asleep and the arms and legs are indeed very easy for him to hold on to.  This was lovely to know and I discovered just how much I love the feeling of making for others.  I have another gift in mind, but it will have to wait until payday before I can start on that.  As for the bear, I think the crocheted ears were my absolute favourite part.  I tried to embroider a traditional looking face on him as they’re always the sweetest in my opinion.  I look forward to making one for my own baby one day.

In the meantime, I have my cats to unload my maternal feelings on.  I feel awful when I have to take the cats in just to be vaccinated and today had been very tough with Lilly and her operation and it’s only 10:30am!  I dread to think how much of a worrier I’ll be as a mother.  Lord help my future children!

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Saturday Stitching – Dala Horse Cushion

I suspect that like many crafters, I go into, or at least I’d like to go into, a crafting overdrive at Christmas.  Craft magazines are filled with various beautiful, festive related creations that just make me want to lock myself up and create for days on end.  But as many of us know Christmas, or at least the run up to it, can be one of the most stressful and busiest times of the year with far less time for creating than usual.  This is doubly so if you happen, like myself, to work in retail.  I haven’t had Christmas eve off for 8 years: when I do make it home, usually at about 5pm after having been up since 5am and at work since 6 or 7am, all I can manage is to cook an easy but relatively special christmas eve dinner for my partner and his mum who joins us, finish wrapping any presents, prepare whatever I can for the impending feast on the morrow and conclude the day by flopping down into a sofa coma to nurse a strong drink and gaze at the bejewelled tree in the twilight glow of dozens of fairy lights.    I can’t help but glare in envy of office workers who, coming to buy their christmas food on the 23rd/24th have had, compared to me, a relaxed run up of parties, get-togethers, and shopping outings.  Thank goodness I don’t have any friends who expect me to throw parties because they’d be disappointed every year.

By the time I get around to making anything, it’s usually January:  such is the case with the Dala Horse.  The reason for the scenic route into this post is that I only bought the christmas edition of the Cross Stitcher magazine, which contained the pattern for the dala horse, because it came with a free kit to stitch a robin ornament for the christmas tree.  I did stitch this kit in time for christmas but alas I didn’t have time to put it together in order to hang so it’s been stuffed into my sewing box until I remember to buy some fabric glue and finish it.

Embroidery and cross stitching is another craft I did quite a bit as a child but never touched it again until late last year.  Even so, as I child I never stitched anything complicated.  My mum would buy big bits of aida (which she pronounced eye-ee-dah, I’m still unsure of the pronunciation), cut me squares or rectangles of it and I would stitch freestyle borders or my name, or sister’s name or ‘mum’, using lengths of unsplit, ie. 6 strands, embroidery silks.  We’d occasionally go into Canterbury on the weekends where there was a large fabrics shop called C&H Fabrics (which a quick search reveals is still standing, I’m pleased to say).  My mum would peruse fabrics to makes curtains and I’d head straight down to the haberdashery section to pick colourful silks off the towering display wheels adorned with its rainbow colours.

I was so happy to partly recreate this part of my childhood when I came to stitching to the dala horse.  The suggested fabric was 20 count linen which I had to buy online as I couldn’t find anywhere local that stocked it despite living 5 minutes from 2 fabric shops and a knitting shop that sells embroidery silks to boot.  Progress was immensely slow as I have never in my life stitched on linen, which is much finer than aida.  Indeed the pattern suggested aida for a faster finish, but I don’t mind spending the time when I know it’s something that I’m going to keep forever.  Having never stitched on linen, or with split thread, or read a cross stitching pattern for that matter I made a fair few mistakes in my counting which then I dutifully unpicked, determined to make the dala horse perfect.  Three months of stitching solidly in my free time gave me everything that I wanted and I was awash with pride at my creation.  I bought a cushion pad and some red striped cotton fabric and quickly machine stitched an enveloped cushion for the dala horse to reside on.

Dalahorse 002

Unfortunately, with there only being two of us in our house, and our house being very little, I don’t have a charming, cosy armchair for him to reside on.  There simply isn’t the space or need for a third chair, as much as I would love one, so the cushion tends to reside on one of the dining chairs.  However, as we’ve got a nice sunny day, I took it into the garden to photograph, coincidentally enough next to a miniature christmas tree that I bought in December that is still going strong despite my neglect.

Dalahorse 006

I have since cross stitched a couple more things, but again, mainly due to monetary constraints they are, like poor christmas robin, awaiting finishing.

The Knitty Kitty

Well WIP Wednesday may have to wait until a) I’m paid and can afford materials for a new project and b) my camera resurfaces from the depths of its hiding place.  Fortunately, I have outsmarted my camera’s intentions for I have pictures of my first ever knitting project.  Let me explain: knitting has always been a big bug bear for me.  Although I never had any parental tuition in crochet despite both my parents apparently being able to, although I never saw either of them crocheting, when I started teaching myself it just seemed to come naturally. I understood fairly quickly how to read patterns, but more than this I quickly and easily found my own way of controlling the yarn, holding the needle.  I still made mistakes, but more often than (k)not, I could seem where I had gone wrong and correct it.  Knitting, however, is an entirely different matter.  My mum tried to teach me on several occasions, but I never got beyond knitting scarves that were far too small for even the smallest human being and they were too big even for my dolls, essentially straggly, holey swatches.  I couldn’t find a comfortable way to hold the needles or control the yarn, and mistakes appeared out of the blue and it just took so bloody long to produce anything.  I never tried to knit again for another 20 years and then I discovered crochet.

Knitting and crochet seem to be inextricably intertwined.  As I got more into crochet, the more I saw about knitting.  I’d be searching out patterns for crochet and find knitting patterns that I prefered.  Not being able to knit had me feeling left out: all those beautiful thing that I could make if only I could knit!   I even owned knitting needles, after expressing my desire to learn I was given some for Christmas presents.  So a couple of months ago, mired in the frustration of the poverty portion of the month where there is not enough month to buy lovely yarns, I decided to have a look through my stash and found a pair of still packaged 5mm needles.  “Enough is enough” said the inner voice, so I grabbed some needles, some aran yarn and a knitting tuition book (also a gift), marched downstairs and began, once again, to teach myself to knit.  Within a couple of hours, somehow, I had picked it up.  I had to work at it much more than I did crochet and mistakes were frequent, but the tuition book really helped me to see what I’d done wrong, and came with a the sage advice ‘never be afraid to undo your work and start again’.  I discovered that I knit tightly, a problem I had when I was 8.  I just couldn’t get the needle through the stitches after my first row so I had to force myself to knit loosely.   After a couple of holey, and subsequently unpicked, swatches later a perfect one emerged.  Oh the pride, the joy!

In a flurry of excitement, I bought my first knitting magazine.  After flicking through various patterns for sweet little baby clothes, a beautiful fair isle type red dress for a little girl (that I will make one day!) I realised I still didn’t really know how to follow a complex knitting pattern.  Tucked in the last pages through was a pattern for a toy,  a sweet little cat.  All stocking stitch with a few increases and decreases.  The yarn was Drops Baby Merino which is so soft and quite fine so I bought new needles, and set about the pattern.  The magazine had conveniently come with a free row counter, a piece of kit I’ve never had cause to use before.  It was like it was meant to be!  I discovered that I enjoyed knitting with finer needles and yarn.  I can understand why chunky needles and yarn are recommended for beginners, so that mistakes can be seen and whatever you’re knitting knits up quickly, but I found I much preferred the opposite.  Little knitted stripey legs and arms appeared on the side of the sofa and not long after I started I was ready to assemble and stuff the knitty kitty, as he came to be known in my home.

knittykitty

Here he is.  I’m so pleased with him.  After not being able to knit for so long, and feeling almost left out, I’ve begun to make inroads into knitting.  I’m also quite pleased with my fairly ropey embroidery skills as the mice, claws and facial features, apart from the eyes are all embroidered.  I’m desperate to improve my skills though, and I’m not particularly a scarf person, but I think I’ll have a go at some mittens and a blanket, and then hopefully progress on to knitting some clothes.  I’ve read that local knitting groups can be a good place to learn new skills, but I feel a bit bad just turning up to mooch instruction, so I’m going to try working on it by myself for a while.  I love cardigans and I’m rarely spotted not wearing one so would love to knit my own selection of cardis.  I also love knowing that when I eventually get round to having children, I’m sure I’ll be able to knit them something.  Indeed my first child will be the one to have the Knitty Kitty.

A Milestone in Making.

I thought it time I really update this blog on one of my completed works, mainly my first ever big project that I completed after learning how to crochet.  A good ol’ granny square blanket in beautiful spring time colours.  the yarn is Rooster Almerino DK and is wonderfully soft.  It doesn’t normally live on the bed, it is at the moment for display purposes, but it’s usually thrown over the back of the sofa ready to wrap us up when there’s a draft or a sudden case of napping.  The cats are rather fond of it too.

Crochet Blanket

I must say, I’m rather proud of it.  18 months ago, I couldn’t crochet at all and knew nothing of yarn and now I created and own this wonderful blanket.

Crochetpics

Making for yourself.

“Why is yarn so expensive?” I ask my mum rhetorically over the phone.  “Oh I know” comes the response.  Debbie Bliss yarn is mentioned.  I needed DB Como for a crochet blanket I’m making -£10 a ball , my mum had bought DB Cashmerino, I’m guessing £5-£7 a ball, for a hooded jacket she knitted for my nephew when he was a toddler.  Mum: “I don’t think they ever put him in the jacket.  I wish I’d kept the yarn for myself”.

We’re both on tight budgets.  Indeed, I write this now mainly because I’m putting off paying the council tax for another hour or so.  I was paid yesterday and I want my hard-earned money to rest in my bank account for just a short while before I send it to be spent on councillors’ biscuit supply or to fill a pothole.  As a fairly recent newcomer to crocheting and buying yarn, I took off my training wheels and decided on a project from a book, that being the blanket mentioned in the previous post.  Excitedly I head to the website with the intention of buying all the yarn I need to make it.  Add it all to the basket, and £200 is the total.  A whole third of a month’s wages for me.  I’ll have to do it in stages.  How many squares can one person crochet in a month anyway? I reassuringly ask myself.  Still, this is my first big project for my new-found hobby, I will bite the bullet and buy the suggested yarn because I want it to be just how it looks in the book.  I buy 5 balls of Rooster Almerino DK per month for a few months and eventually I got there.  I made it for my family, for my home, but ultimatelyl I made it for myself and not being one for expensive clothes or shoes and seeing as I don’t wear jewellery, I don’t own a car, drink or eat out, I do have my hobby and I wanted nice yarn to make a beautiful blanket that I hope will be in the hands of my grandchildren one day.  If I were making for someone else, I don’t think I’d have been as finikity about it.

The thing is, when you’re new to the world of yarn buying, you haven’t the confidence to break rank, trust your knowledge of weight and colour in order to break rank and buy a cheaper option.  You want it to look just like the pictures, to feel as soft as you imagine and last forever.  All are qualities you’re not entirely sure cheaper, usually synthetic, varieties of yarn will supply.  Then comes the day when your hand is forced.  The Debbie Bliss Como mentioned above is discontinued  the peril of owning pattern books.  I research it and find it to be a superchunky, blissfully soft blend which also has a tendency to disintegrate over time.  Whether that last part is true or not, I feel rewarded for not desperately searching for stash sales.  I need 22 balls of the stuff! My knowledge is limited, but as with most things in life, when you’re limited, start with what you do know.

The DB Como is 50g a ball and superchunky.  Online shopping, for all it’s great points, has its limitations.  Pictures can’t tell me how it feels.  So I search  out local yarn shops and find one I never would have discovered otherwise.  In it I find a yarn that I think will make a fine substitute.  It’s not the same, and is what I would call ‘hairy’ yarn.  I buy one ball for £3.15 as a tester, go home make the first bit of the pattern and while it doesn’t of course look exactly like the pictures, it looks close enough for my liking, and I even prefer it.  It looks more rustic (translation; messy, far from perfect).  In the book the DB Como blanket is draped over a huge pristine cushioned coffee table/giant footstool in equally immaculate neutral surrounding.   If I were photographing my version for a book it would look more at home in a little room with mismatched, tea stained furniture, sagging misshapen cushions, scuffed coffee table and with cat fur on every possible surface.  Which is just as well because that is exactly where this blanket is going to find itself.

I guess I’ll go pay the council tax now.  I know I can’t get through the day without a chocolate digestive.  Oh wait. Yes, I can.

I hate you local council.

Colours of Spring

A few weeks ago I was chatting to an italian co-worker and we were indulging in some altogether very british complaining about the weather.  “Typical England.  Only one day of sun and then always raining.” came the complaint in her very thick italian accent, utter exasperation latent in her tone of voice.  I smiled and nodded in agreement as I tried to think back to the last time it had rained for any sustained period of time.  Internally I was puzzled as to why, despite her perception of british weather, I’ve never seen her without a pair of sunglasses balanced hopefully on her head.  Perhaps it’s some type of charm to plead with the sky and that’s why she wears them on her hair rather than her eyes.  She sells store cards in the shop I work in so perhaps it’s part of the get up to sell more credit cards; by imparting a sense of sunny holidays and the good life.  Wealthy people and big shots wear sunglasses, yes?

Musings on my impression of her appearance aside, my quest for an easy life meant that I chose not to point out to her that our part of the country has had so little rainfall in the past two years that the whole area is in drought and currently under a hosepipe ban, an enforcement which if broken can land you a hefty fine.  That’s more typical England, the fining I mean.  More recently however, we’ve had some April showers.  Alternating blasts of bright sunshine followed by drenching downpours of rain and/or hail, the sky alternating between pale blue and deep, brooding dark purplish grey.  During one such sunny break yesterday I ventured out into the garden.  As it was sunday the noise of the traffic was barely audible and all I could clearly hear was the dripping of the fallen rain off the plants in the garden.  The sky in the east was purple-grey and in the west is was pink and blue.  Everything in the garden seemed so refreshed and vibrant and I couldn’t resist grabbing my camera to capture some of the colours of spring.  I have a row of raspberry canes lining one side of my garden path and the leaves change colour gradually through the seasons but they are never as green as they are during the spring and after rainfall.

Prompted by my recent reading of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, I pondered, should any extra terrestrial ask us (humanity that is), which colours represent the seasons best, presuming they’re asking those of us who live far away enough from the equator to experience seasons, what would we tell them.  I’m sure if such an event ever occurred a suitably well equipped and academic committee would be formed to provide the answers.  But in the meantime, I make my own personal preparations.  Spring is pale blue, light and vivid green, muddy brown  and purplish-grey.  Have your own suggestions?  Answers on a postcard please (or in the comments, whatever’s easiest for you).  I think I’ll postpone mulling over the colours of other seasons until I experience them as they come this year.  The visible spectrum of light is such a wondrous thing and yet we’re burdened by the knowledge that there is so much our eyes fail to see.  Good ol’ Carl Sagan, making me feel both amazed and annoyed at being human. 

In a roundabout way, I’m linking this to one of my current crochet projects which is a so-called ‘Springtime Throw’.  The pattern was reproduced in an issue of Mollie Makes magazine and I have since purchased the original book, Cute and Easy Crochet by Nicki Trench.  When I first saw the picture of the throw I fell in love with it and despite being strapped for cash most of the time, set about buying a few balls of the expensive yarn to make it.  It’s 432 squares of 30 different colour combinations.  But now after pondering the colours of spring, I can’t really say that the throw is made up of the colours of spring.  Perhaps it’s a spring throw in terms of tog, like a duvet.  Still incredibly beautiful though and I look forward so much to payday so I can buy a few more balls of yarn and finish a few more squares.  I’ve completed about 250 squares and this is what that looks like.

Perhaps it’s a spring throw in the sense of happiness and joy it evokes.  Just how I felt when I was walking to work one day and noticed the quintessentially english willow trees that bow over the river were just beginning to bud after a cold and dry winter.

Homemade Candles-Part Two: The Method

There are three stages to make candles in moulds; first, second and final pour.  But first of all you need to set up your moulds and wicks.

Cut a length of wick about 3-4cm longer than the length of your mould, be it candle mould, jam jar, tea-cup etc.  Thread it through your metal wick holder and lower into the mould, so that the wick is roughly centred.  Place a toothpick, straw, pencil or something similar across the top of the mould and drape the excess wick over the top and fasten to the sie of the mould using a little blutack or a small piece of tape.

Place the wax in a pan, one preferably with a pouring lip and one that you don’t mind giving over to candle making as you’re unlikely to ver get all the wax out and make it a suitable cooking pan ever again, and very gently heat the wax until liquid (do not overheat wax or it will catch light and similarly do not use naked flames around liquid wax.  If you’re worried, do buy a small starter kit and follow the instructions carefully.  This is what I did and I’ve never had any problems), adding any colour or fragrance once the wax is just liquid.  Carefully pour a small amount, enough to fill the mould be about 0.5cm and cover the metal wick holder.  This is the first pour.  Now you need to allow time for the wax in your mould to set so it can hold the wick in place for the further pours.  You can either leave it to cool down and set eventually, or preferably, you can transfer the mould into the fridge, taking care not to move the wick position, and let it set for ten minutes.  While you’re doing this, do of course remember to take your pan of wax off the heat.

For the second pour, remove the mould from the fridge and reheat the wax if it has begun to set.  This time, pour enough wax to almost completely fill the mould, leaving about a 1cm space between the level of the wax and the top of the mould, or your desired height of the candle.  Remove the wax from the heat and set aside your mould in a cool place and now leave for 24 hours.  When you return to your candles, you will find that the wax has set but has sunken in the centre around the wick.  For the final pour, again reheat your pan of wax.  You will not need much so no need to pour lots of pellets in, you are essentially just topping up your candles to make them level.  Top up the candle with the liquid wax to the top of the mould or desired height.  Leave to set and then trim the wick.  And that’s it, a lovely homemade and handmade candle for the fraction of the cost of a shop one with the added extra gratification that comes from utilising something you yourself have crafted.  You can of course go all out and make fancy colour combinations and trying even carving them if you wish.  But that’s not what I’m personally about.  I just enjoy the warm fuzzy glow.