Sunday, 2 December 2018

Making A Difference (Part 2)

The Creative Community Project at Yarndale, the annual festival of woolly wonderfulness that's held each September in Skipton, Yorkshire, raises money each year for charity with its worldwide themed appeal.  Two years ago I sent a sheep (I blogged about here) to join the flock on display which raised over £3000 for Martin House Children's Hospice, and last year I crocheted a heart to raise awareness for Mind, the mental health charity.
This year's appeal was for a kaleidoscope of butterflies with funds from sales going to Pioneer Projects which uses the creative arts to help those living with dementia.  Over £2300 was raised.  The butterflies were very quick to make and I used tiny amounts of my favourite yarns to make them.
It's fun scouring the Yarndale Facebook photos as the festival commences to see if you can spot any of your own ones amongst the 100's donated - I did!

Whilst some of the butterflies from Yarndale 2018 will be part of a permanent display at the Pioneer Project, others will go to Manchester University Hospital.  I followed this crochet pattern devised by Sharon who runs online yarn business Cottonpod and who supports the Comfort Bag initiative in the hospital to provide essentials for those staying with relatives nearing the end of their lives.  The butterflies are included as a keepsake and have special significance in many cultures.

So I crocheted some more butterflies and sent them off to Sharon at Cottonpod.

With thoughts of marking the end of life with meaningful crafts, there can hardly be a knitter or crocheter in Britain who didn't make a poppy for Remembrance Sunday this year.

As plans to commemorate the centenary of the end of The Great War took shape across the country, the nation's knitters were urged to make poppies in tribute.  The first appeal for knitted poppies I saw was way back in the spring when I spotted a poster in my village craft shop.  A Peterhead lady called Nancy Duncan was planning a large scale display outside the Baptist Church in the town's King Street.  I knitted up the simple pattern in spare moments between other projects and whilst waiting in the car on taxi duty.
After taking my sample poppy to Knitting Club at the school where I work, one of the pupils said she'd like to knit some poppies too.  On our return from the summer break, I was delighted to find the Emma had knitted six poppies so I parcelled them up with the ones I'd made and posted them off to Nancy.  We weren't alone - Nancy (pictured below and known locally as 'Mrs Poppy') received an astounding 24,000 handmade commemorative flowers enabling her to create this remarkable memorial.

As Remembrance Sunday approached, my own church, Meldrum & Bourtie Parish Church, in Oldmeldrum, Aberdeenshire, was planning its own display of poppies made by the congregation.  The focal point in our church was the poppies in front of the communion table with one for each of the names on the war memorial which stands in the church grounds.

I volunteered to take the purple poppies and create a display in one of the church windows in memory of all the animals who lost their lives in battle.  It's estimated eight million horses died in World War 1, along with countless mules and donkeys, dogs and carrier pigeons.

It takes many hands to create displays like these but, as the Peterhead poppy project shows, it may only take one person to see that it happens in the first place.

Liz is another visionary lady using the clever hands of kindly crafters on Instagram to make her dream for others a reality.  Back in late October, Liz asked on this Instagram post for help from knitters.  She is working with a podiatrist local to her in the Borders and together they hope to give a foot treatment and a pair of socks to some homeless people this winter.  I've enjoyed following Liz's photos in the intervening weeks as cosy socks, hats and scarves have arrived at her home and the basket she hoped to fill has overflowed.
I knitted these socks on holiday back in 2014 as a shop sample when I was working occasionally as an extra pair of hands in my local yarn shop - a job I really loved.  When the store sadly closed, the socks were returned to me and never quite found feet to love them.  Now I've been able to pass them onto Liz for her heartwarming (and foot-warming) project #operationchristmasstocking

Finally, in this mammoth blogpost, I've also been needle felting for a good cause.  Last Saturday I facilitated two workshops enabling eleven ladies to make their own needle felted robin brooch as a fundraiser for Meldrum Church.  Though I've taught this before I needed a wee practice beforehand. 
It was a new craft to some of the ladies but they quickly picked up the necessary skills without injury!
Everyone produced a birdie to be proud of...
and I was delighted that so many of the ladies went home wearing their brooches - with over £200 being raised for church funds.

It's a joy to be able to share the hobbies I love with others.

It's also a pleasure to contribute my talents in small ways to craft initiatives creating a big impact - and I'll continue to seek out ways in which I can make a difference . 


Sunday, 18 November 2018

Through the square window...

The architect who designed the home extension we completed ten years ago,  was a big fan of the square window.  He may not have been such a fan of the preschoolers' staple TV programmes Play School or Tikkabilla, as we don't have any round or arched windows, but triangles do feature - which is quite a challenge when it comes to curtains!

This is the window he created between our hallway and kitchen so we can see who's at the front door.  It's also where I've chosen to display the fused glass seascape I made in the summer at Shelagh Swanson's studio in Aberdeen which features a wee oyster catcher.

If I had a bottomless purse, I'd have liked to commission a stained glass panel for the other square window in the hall.  So when an ad for fine art, craft and design workshops with Creative Learning Aberdeen popped up recently on Facebook I was keen to know more.  The online brochure entitled "Make Your Mark" included a two day stained glass mosaic course amongst many others, so I contacted my craft buddy, Carol, and we both signed up straight away.

Make Your Mark is a programme of short courses delivered by The Creative Learning Team at Aberdeen City Council who say: these workshops are designed for participants to progress their skills in the arts and receive excellent technical support and teaching from our experienced tutors.  

And they're not wrong!  Our tutor was Cowan Watson and he gently guided all nine ladies on his course at Rosemount Community Centre through the basics of glass cutting, design and mosaic creation in a lovely calm, encouraging way.  Some of the participants had attended previous classes with Cowan, including my friend, Carol.  He let those with previous experience work at their own pace but was on hand with help and advice when needed.  He'd a canny knack of being just at my elbow when I required confirmation that I was on the right track.

I sought out inspiration for my design from one of Cowan's many stained glass art books then drew out my own version with paper and pencil, thickening up the cut lines in felt pen.

Large tubs of stained glass pieces provided plenty of choice for colour and texture.

After a bit of glass cutting practice, I soon got back into the swing of things and began to build up my picture.

By the end of the first day, I'd cut all my orange sun rays and had started picking out greens.  The other class participants were generous with supplies of their own that they'd brought with them and June kindly gave me some of her glass pebbles.

I felt more confident in my glass cutting skills on day two and consequently cut better and faster as I shaped the tree trunk and branches as well as the grass.  Round pieces take longer to fashion so I opted to create my tree canopy from glass pebbles as I found I had some more of these at home.

Carefully lifting all the bits off my sketch, I prepared to start sticking the pieces onto the plain glass background.

Essentially the mosaic is a glass sandwich adhered with strong clear glue .  I raided June's tub of jewel coloured glass nuggets to add 'fruit' to my tree.

Cowan suggested I wait until all elements were in place before cutting out my sun.  I scoured the workshop for a suitable object to draw round that would fit the round space and my eyes hit on a rainbow roll of washi tape.  I cut a rough circle of textured yellow glass and ground the edges smooth.  With the picture finally complete I could putty the spaces.

Helen who was sitting opposite me had finished her floral panel and had some glittery putty to spare which she offered me.  She then showed me how to apply it with my hands, smooth it in and wipe away the excess.  She also gave me some beads to stick into the putty round my sun for added sparkle.

The friendly atmosphere in the class ensured there was plenty of chat as well as sharing of ideas and materials.  Here are some of the beautiful mosaics the other ladies created.

I brought my piece home and allowed the putty to dry whilst contemplating where to display it.

You see, I'd attended the two day course with no clear idea of what I was going to make or where it would ultimately hang .  The dimensions of my square shaped panel were defined by the piece of A4 paper I was using and were entirely arbitrary.  As the putty dried, and I walked past my picture as it lay in the kitchen, I mused about where in the house it should go.  I was probably mindlessly doing housework when the eureka moment struck and I took my stained glass mosaic picture into the hall - and the square window....

I caught my breath as it fitted into place, definitely more by accident than design!

Now I'm enjoying my very own view through the square window from inside the house during the day, and from outside when it's dark.


Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Fluph Fluff Fluff

Back when my daughter, Eilidh, was still a graphic design student in Dundee, she asked me what I wanted for my birthday.  Well, a knitter will always ask for wool and I knew there was a local yarn shop called Fluph near her hall of residence so I directed her there, with instructions to buy something 'to take me out of my comfort zone'.

Accompanying the quirky Donna Wilson bear journal and foxy card Eilidh sent, I also received this skein of Rusty Ferret yarn.  It's hand dyed by the very talented Leona-Jayne, who not only curates the Rusty Ferret brand but also owns the yarn shop, Fluph.  My Rusty Ferret merino/nylon mix rejoices in the colourway name 'The Dark Beyond' and is a blend of rusty orange and greys on a barely black background - far away from the magenta, purple and turquoise brights usually filling my yarn stash!

To enable the subtle shades of my birthday wool to shine, I chose to knit The Winter Wander Shawl by Helen Stewart whose Curious Handmade podcast I listen to every week.  Helen designs beautiful shawls and her patterns are very easy to follow.  She includes a tick list for each row which keeps my knitting on track and also aids motivation as I race to the finish! 

For my second contrasting yarn I chose a black kid silk mohair by Rowan I'd picked up in a bargain bin to add airy texture, yet lightness and warmth - increased fluff in fact.  These amber beads would add jewelled accents.  

So, in the run up to Christmas 2015, I knitted what I hoped was going to be a very beautiful shawl for me.

Until I realised I'd made a rookie mistake.  I'd fluffed it.  The second yarn I'd chosen was the wrong thickness - an aran weight instead of the lacy two-ply Kidsilk Haze everyone else had chosen for their Winter Wander Shawl.  My ball had 75 metres of fluff instead of the 200 plus metres everyone else had - and I was running out fast!  To add insult to injury, the Kidsilk Aura I was using was discontinued in 2011 and not even a trawl of Ebay could procure another ball.  I couldn't even find it in another colour.

This situation was all the more galling as I was working part time in my local yarn store at that point, ensuring I gave customers good advice so they didn't end up running out of yarn - like I was doing!

At that point I fell out of love with my Winter Wander Shawl.

Days, weeks, months and even years passed with my unfinished project languishing fluffy and unloved in its bag whilst I knitted and crocheted happily on other garments and accessories, giving it little thought.

In the back of my mind though, I knew if I didn't knit the wool Eilidh had given me as a gift, she'd challenge me if I asked her for more at my next birthday.  During a spring clean of my craft room earlier this year, I made the tough decision to rip out the half knitted shawl and return the lovely yarn to a state where it could be re-made into something else.

Again I turned to Helen Stewart and another of her designs, this time her Spindrift Shawl which is knitted from one skein of precious stash, so no risk of me running out of wool.  Helen generously offers The Spindrift Shawl as a free pattern with lots of support.  Beads were again an option and this time I chose these iridescent black beauties to add a little weight to the picot edging.

Around this time we decided to travel to Belfast in the autumn to attend a family wedding, viewing the occasion as a chance to celebrate with the happy couple as well as enjoy the company of relations we don't often see.  It occurred to me that the wool Eilidh chose for me was an excellent match for the dress I intended to wear to the wedding.

 I loved how my shawl looked when it was finished.

And I loved wearing it on the day, styled around the neck of my vintage velvet jacket before the ceremony and around my shoulders during the dance.  I'm glad that Eilidh's precious gift yarn has been knitted into something I shall treasure and enjoy wearing, not just for special occasions.

There's no right and wrong in knitting.  Some projects which stall just need to be set aside and viewed afresh.  I'm glad I didn't carry on and fluff my way through the original knit.  I'm so much happier with the finished item.  

And that black fluffy stuff will go on to become something beautiful in my knitting future I'm sure.

Oh and if you, or anyone close to you, has a stash of Rowan Kidsilk Aura in Black, please never let me know!


Sunday, 7 October 2018

All welcome (well, nearly all)

I've probably sat outside our front door more this summer than in the last ten years.  It's the most sheltered and sunny spot in our windy garden in rural Aberdeenshire - perfect for a little knitting, crochet or an aperitif - or just a cuddle with the dog!  It's also where we welcome all our visitors.
Not all visitors are welcome, though.  A few years ago, these swallow chicks hatched in this nest under the eaves right beside the front door.  I think nest building occurred whilst we were away on holiday.  We were frightened our comings and goings might cause the parents to abandon their babies and were relieved when they all finally fledged.  Let's just not talk about all that birdie poop getting trampled into the house!  In subsequent years we've actively discouraged the swallows from nesting here - though it never stops them from trying...
Some years ago, my father in law gave us this bell.  It's a shop bell he salvaged from a business which was closing in a nearby village.  We don't have a doorbell but had never quite got around to installing this one.
So an idea began to crystallise in my mind for my next workshop with Ann at Blue Sky Mosaics.  I've been on  a couple of courses now and have made an outdoor wall panel, a garden table and a stepping stone.  My plan was to incorporate the bell into another decorative panel - and locate it at the front door to alert us of visitors and deter the swallows!

Since my last visit to Blue Sky Mosaics near Kintore, Ann's partner Will has created a wonderful new indoor work space and deck in their garden enlivened with Ann's beautiful mosaic artworks.
I was warmly welcomed by Ann and Will, and Will had cut a substrate for me to work on with an arched top as I'd requested.  I took some pictures with me I'd found inspiring and set to work creating paper shapes for my swallows.
Choosing colours is always fun and my stylised swallows began to take shape as I cut the stained glass.
By the end of day one, I had my main design feature in place and adhered to the treated board.
On my return the following day, Ann suggested some mirror pieces to convey flight and I enjoyed sifting through the tiles for the border to find just the colours and textures I wanted.
Some little dragonflies also made an iridescent appearance.  So much 'treasure' to choose from!
Fitting the background pieces of coloured glass is a therapeutic process.  They're all cut into strips from a single sheet then snipped into random shapes and placed individually into a pleasing pattern.
Here's Ann and I at the end of my second day with all the mosaic shapes in place.  She's such an enabling tutor, gently guiding, patiently prompting and endlessly inspiring.  I've never seen a pupil unhappy with the mosaic they've created under her tutelage.
Ann is also a very trusting person as she gave me my grouting materials to take home and helped me believe I could complete this step by myself.  Look at me in my full PPE - throwback to my offshore days when we all had to wear our Personal Protective Equipment.
A clear case of rags to riches as the drying grout is removed with a soft cloth revealing the beauty of the finished mosaic.
My board already had drilled holes in it for screws and to hold the bell.  I managed to remember not to fill these with grout!

So here is the finished piece in situ, beside the front door and right underneath the swallows favoured nesting site.  You can even glimpse my first mosaic panel on the other side of the door.
I love how the iridescent glass catches the sun.
Now visitors can ring the bell to let us know they are here - and deter 'unwanted' visitors at the same time!

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