Sunday, 7 July 2019

Bee Inspired and Bee Creative

"Hobbies are the backbone of this country
and what starts as a hobby can end up changing a neighbourhood."

So said comedienne and columnist, Jenny Eclair, earlier this month in The Independent newspaper.  

One such group who epitomise this for me are Grans On The Make.  This trio of crafting friends based in Kent, in collaboration with The Creative Craft Show, have taken their skills around the country, bringing people together, hand making items together for a cause, and raising thousands of pounds for charity in the process.*


This year's initiative by the Grans is Make A Beeline which highlights the plight of our bees and encourages the development of new habitats through partnerships with communities and agencies.  There's a great flyer on their website to tell you all about it.  I was buzzing to join in!

Their first request at the start of the year was for crocheted hexagons to make a map of Britain so I made a few last February and sent them off.  I was a bit worried mine might have arrived too late for the first show in Birmingham in March but I was told my hexagons were incorporated into Scotland appropriately enough!  (Two became Orkney I believe.)



The closest Creative Craft Show to me is the one in Glasgow in October but I spotted that the Make A Beeline Team were going to be at the Weald of Kent County Craft Show in May.  My sister-in-law lives nearby and loves crafts so I asked if she was going along.  Not only did she attend, she sent me some photos of Grans Pat and Avril at their bee-autiful stand.



AND - she also sent me a picture of the finished hexagon map!  Hello Orkney!!


I've been following the Make A Bee Line project through Instagram and Facebook and there's currently a shout-out for hand-made bees to be made into a special display at the final ICHF show of the year in Birmingham in November.  (ICHF is the International Craft and Hobby Fair)

So I had a look at the patterns on the Make A Bee Line website and tried them all out.  Each bee only requires small oddments of wool to make the body and wings and there's patterns to crochet and knit.


Here's how I got on.  First up, this is my Little Crochet Bee


And here's my knitted Queen Bee and Baby Bee which are two variations of the same pattern.


I then tried the sweet little Easy-Beesy and the Easy Knitted Bumble Bee


I especially liked making the Honey Bee with its organza ribbon wings and antennae.


More knitted critters -  the Super Quick Little Bee and the Small Knitted Bumble Bee.  The super quick one really lives up to its name!


Finally I had a shot a needle felting following the clear video instructions on the Make A Bee Line website and stabbed my way into making another two bees to send away!


Here they are altogether for a group shot...


...prior to posting off to Grans On The Make at the address on the Make A Bee Line flyer.  I can't wait to see the bee feature at the entrance to the NEC in November!

I'm happy that my hobbies of knitting, crochet and needle felting can contribute, even in a small way, to help change neighbourhoods (as Jenny Eclair suggests) but there are lots of ways to join in even if you don't craft.


  • Scatter some Beebombs (I got these for Christmas!)
  • Plant flowers that bees like - here's some cone flowers from the garden and wild roses from our daily dog walk
  • Encourage community planting - this wildflower meadow was sown in a corner of nearby Tarves village last year and was buzzing 
  • Attend ICHF shows and support the Make A Bee Line UK stand - find them here:
    • Henley-on-Thames 23-26 August 2019
    • Exeter 26-29 Septemeber 2019
    • Glasgow 24-27 October 2019
    • Birmingham 31 October - 3 November 2019

* Those inspiring ladies, Grans On The Make, have recently been awarded a Royal British Legion Community Award for the Poppy Project in recognition of fundraising over £5000 last year. 
I contributed some knitted squares and blogged about it here.



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Monday, 17 June 2019

(Re)Treat Yourself

Eyes are said to be the windows to the soul but in my experience they can also express exactly what's going on in our brains sometimes.  If my husband says he's going on a golfing holiday, no one bats an eyelid.  I say I'm going on a knitting retreat and eyeballs roll, eyebrows arch and questions are asked.  What exactly do you do on a knitting retreat? being one of the most common.

JOG - a place or an activity?
Lets's consider a retreat holiday - any retreat, not specifically knitting.  Such holidays are often set in beautiful locations, attendees share a common interest, meals my be provided and activities and excursions are part of the deal.  There's a chance to be with others or be by yourself.  It's an opportunity to re-balance, away from day to day life, and treat yourself to the holiday you really want.  It's a time to indulge yourself without being selfish, connect with like-minded souls and participate in something you truly enjoy.  What's not to like?

So here's what happened on the recent three night knitting retreat I attended in John O'Groats, at the most northerly tip of the Scottish mainland, in the company of other listeners to The Caithness Craft Collective podcast.  This is podcast host and retreat organiser, the lovely Louise Hunt.


Louise arranged accommodation for us at Natural Retreats.  Here's The Inn at Natural Retreats with its eye catching scandi-style extension.


We were staying in the lodges, situated just behind The Inn.  According to the blurb they are luxurious three bed lodges with stunning open plan living and extensive glass frontage showcasing the spectacular views. Well, that describes them to a tee, so comfy, so cosy, so chic - oh, is that knitting on the table?



Louise's theme for the retreat was 'sharing is caring' and she kindly provided a goody bag for everyone which included a handmade notions pouch she'd sewn for each of us, a hand-stitched name badge and contributions from other attendees including lip balm, sheepy brooch, local greetings card, hat pattern and shells collected by her children from the local beach.  I've hung my beachy bauble on the tree of hearts in my craft room.


My own contribution to the goody bag was a print I commissioned my daughter, Eilidh, to draw.  The brief I gave her was all wool is yarn, but not all yarn is wool.  I love her illustration with a yak, an alpaca, a mohair goat, and an angora rabbit, as well as a sheep, all sporting their knitwear!


We assembled for a group meal on our first evening for delicious lasagnes cooked by Ella.  Her shortbread too is legendary amongst yarn festival goers.  Retreat attendees were not only treated to shortbread, she also kindly shared her recipe with us.



In return for this generosity, Ella suggested attendees might knit some hats for premature babies for her to donate to the Neonatal Unit at Aberdeen Maternity Hospital.  More than 100 hats were collected, some kindly donated by those unable to come to the retreat this year.  I love the cheery ones made with stripey sock yarn.


The table of unrequirement was another treat at the retreat.


Attendees were encouraged to bring along yarn and craft items they no longer needed and we were equally encouraged to help ourselves to anything on the table that we wanted!  What remained at the end of the retreat was donated to a local charity.  More caring, more sharing.

Throughout the retreat we were encouraged to share.  We shared stories of our knitted garments in a show and tell session and we shared our skills.  Everyone was generous with her talents - I joined in when Kim showed us gyrokinesis one morning to open up our energy pathways, a bit like yoga.  Hannah taught me about Instagram stories and Rhiannon showed me how to enhance photos for the blog.  Suzanne showed me how use the Addi Crazy Trio knitting needles I'd never had out of the packet.  In turn, I offered to teach a little needle felting and six of the attendees joined me for a gentle hour of creativity and laughter.  From this emerged six wee needle felted robin brooches!


Of course we did do lots of knitting, all the while chatting and enjoying each others company.


Oh, and did I mention cake?  We shared lots of cake and sweet treats, baked and brought by the retreaters.  Since I was the only attendee from Aberdeenshire, I took along some butteries so everyone could taste these regional breakfast delicacies which look a bit like dense, squashed croissants.  The Americans particularly loved them, warm from the oven and smothered in my homemade blackcurrant jam!


Louise organised a sewing workshop one morning and we made lavender pouches from this gorgeous bird fabric.



Nic, who has her own one-woman business in Cheshire, Yarns From The Plain, brought her beautiful hand-dyed yarns, fleece and kits and set up a wonderfully colourful mini market.  Some purchasing may have occurred - no idea why I was drawn to this gorgeous yarn!



The weather was predictably unpredictable...



... and in between showers on one of the days, I took myself off for a walk along the beach.


All too soon it was time for our final meal together, at Stacks Bistro, a short stroll from the Natural Retreat chalets, with its interesting menu and quirky decor.


And bid farewell to new-found friends, including Buchaille, Louise's lovely doggy.


So, eye rollers, has this opened your eyes to what goes on at a knitting retreat and let you see just what a thoroughly enjoyable experience a knitting retreat can be?  Here's my original premise:

Such holidays are often set in beautiful locations, attendees share a common interest, 
meals my be provided and activities and excursions are part of the deal.  
There's a chance to be with others or be by yourself.  
It's an opportunity to re-balance, away from day to day life, 
and treat yourself to the holiday you really want.  
It's a time to indulge yourself without being selfish, connect with like-minded souls 
and participate in something you truly enjoy.

Caithness Craft Retreat 2019 fits that bill pretty perfectly I'd say :)






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Saturday, 25 May 2019

The SWI Tapestry at Castle Fraser

I'm no stranger to a make-along, especially it seems when it comes to crochet.

Back in 2015, I made the Spice of Life Crochet Along Blanket as a way to learn new stitches and keep to a schedule as the pattern was released in six weekly instalments.  It was being made by hundreds of crocheters at the same time around the world, supporting each other, sharing progress pictures and cheering each other on.  A real motivator!


Last summer I took on the challenge of my first mystery crochet along run by The Crochet Project and made The Skimming Stones Shawl for similar reasons : a desire to further my skills in a supportive crafting environment but this time with the added fun challenge that I didn't know what the finished design would look like!   I subsequently gifted my shawl to my friend Helen of Ripples Crafts (above) as a booth sample as it's crocheted entirely from her hand dyed yarns.

So when I heard that a collaborative craft project by local branches of the Scottish Women's Institute for the National Trust for Scotland was looking for volunteers, I put my hand up straight away.  I couldn't attend the inaugural meeting at Castle Fraser last May but I popped along soon afterwards to pick up my supplies.


I was given a picture of the bell tower at Castle Fraser, a printed canvas and some tapestry wool.  I didn't see any of the other designs, meet any of the people behind the concept or any of the other participants or even  know what the finished piece was going to look like.  This was a going to be a make-along for one!


The castle itself is an impressive tower house, situated near Kemnay in Aberdeenshire only a dozen or so miles from where I live.  It's a wonderful place to visit, both inside and out, as there are beautiful gardens and woodland walks, as well as a wonderful tearoom.  Parts of the castle date back to the 1450's and I've highlighted the bell tower above.

Anyway - back to the tapestry canvas and wool -  maybe I should mention I've never done this before?


I made a long stitch picture from a kit of Lake Hayes as my husband and I travelled round New Zealand - but that was in 1992 (and he was still my boyfriend).

Undaunted by my rookie level ability, and bolstered by tips from experienced tapestry makers at my local weekly knit group, I worked steadily away and gradually filled the canvas with colour, managing to complete it by the September deadline.  I've turned my progress photos into a wee movie - do listen with the sound on as the accompanying track I randomly chose speeds up towards the end, rather like my stitching itself!  (you might have to click the play icon twice)


If the movie won't play for you for any reason, I've included a progress collage below.



Tah dah!  Here's my finished panel, just before I sent it back to Castle Fraser last autumn.


Asking how the project arose, I learned that the SWI was invited to make a wall hanging for the National Trust after a successful exhibition to mark the SWI centenary in 2017 was staged at Castle Fraser.  There are already two other community tapestries at the castle, the concept of Catriona Skene.  The first was completed by National Trust colleagues and local friends and depicts points of interest from the gardens, the estate and the castle over a series of four panels, two of which are pictured below.  The following year, local schools participated in the stained glass window design (shown on the right) featuring flora and fauna on the estate.  It's hoped these might be displayed permanently in The Gatehouse in future.

Earlier this month I received an invitation to Castle Fraser to see the finished SWI tapestry along with others from the Aberdeenshire Federation of SWI who'd been involved with the project.  Ladies from the following Aberdeenshire Scottish Women's Institutes took part : Logie Durno, Balgownie, Esslemont,  Auchnagatt, Glass, Daviot, Monymusk and  Kildrummy as well as myself from Oldmeldrum SWI.  Other groups expressed an interest too including Tullynessle & Forbes SWI.

Designed for the National Trust by Katy Gordon, and put together by seamstress Jane Balme, the SWI panel celebrates the completion of exterior works to the castle 400 years ago.

Here I am, all smiles, as I get to see the finished design for the first time.


Two similar panels of each of the four corner designs had been made by SWI ladies, one for the wall hanging and one framed and placed on a window ledge in the room.   Here's my piece in its frame.


I'm pleased that my contribution fits into its new home and can be enjoyed there for years to come.

And as far as make-alongs go, I'm sure it won't be long til I'm embarking on another - though I might try to find out what I'm letting myself in for first next time!


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Thursday, 16 May 2019

Foo's yer doos?

I do love a collaborative craft project, enjoying the gratifying feeling that a small effort on my part can create an impressive result once all the individual contributions come together.  When I read about the Birds By Hand Project organised by The Net Loft, a yarn and craft shop in Cordova, Alaska, I knew I wanted to make a bird for them.

But why on earth did I choose a pigeon?


Pigeons hold a special place in one of the everyday phrases common in the North East of Scotland where I live.   When you meet a friend, you might ask 'Foos yer doos?'  A 'doo' is Scots for a pigeon, its home being a dovecote or 'doocot' hereabouts.  So the enquirer is asking after the health of your pigeons.  The reply, supposing all is well, is 'aye peckin' meaning they're eating fine thanks.

None of this presupposes anyone actually owns pigeons, or knows anything of their eating habits.  It's just one of those quirks of the Doric dialect which means that, even after living in rural Aberdeenshire for more than a quarter of a century, I can still have no idea what locals like my husband are actually saying!


When I saw the rather cute 'cushie doo' on the front cover of Sue Stratford's Knitted Aviary book, which I'd borrowed from my local library, I knew that was the pattern I wanted to knit.  A rifle through the yarn cupboard revealed suitable colours, all in Scottish yarns, which seemed appropriate for a birdie travelling overseas to be part of a global gathering.



So, to the knitting itself - this was a quick and easy project thanks to Sue's clear knitting instructions.  I knitted all the pieces, seamed and stuffed the body, sewed on the tail, wings, beak and feet before adding eyes made from white felt and black beads which really brought my pigeon to life!


I've placed all my chosen wool onto the map of Scotland to show that the yarns come from all over the country.


The body is knitted from New Leaf Yarns where the alpacas graze near Edinburgh and the light grey silky wings are Dye Ninja from nearby Livingstone, striped with darker Gongcrafts my most northerly choice dyed in Caithness.  Gorgeous green dyed by Cookston Crafts near me in Aberdeenshire adorns the neck together with soft naturally coloured purple from Skye based Shilasdair Yarns.  The cream stitches which join the beak to the head is from Kincraig Fabrics in Dornoch and The Border Tart beautifully dyed the salmon mini skein I used to knit the feet about as far south in Scotland as you can go!

I also needed a bit of sparkle for the pigeon's iridescent neck which I found in my embroidery box in this cheerfully named Happy Bag.



I was certainly happy with how my pigeon turned out!  

Pigeons travelling a distance are usually carrier pigeons so I knitted him a wee bag from a precious scrap of Ripples Crafts yarn, another favourite Scottish hand dyer of mine. 


 After completing the comprehensive registration form, I was ready to pop him in the post.  Yes - him - the registration form required my bird to have a name (and I don't think they meant the scientific pigeon family name Columbidae).  As I was gazing at my knitted birdie in the same way as a mum gazes at her as yet unnamed newborn, my husband suggested Doogal and I thought it was perfect!


Doogal arrived in Alaska by airmail in just a few days and in time for the 2019 Copper River Delta Shorebird Festival.  The extensive programme of events to celebrate the annual migration includes a wonderful display at the Copper River Gallery of birds made by hand - and now it includes a Doric inspired pigeon from Aberdeenshire knitted entirely from Scottish wool.

Foo's yer doos, people of Cordova?  I hope they're aye peckin'!


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Saturday, 27 April 2019

Lace and Listening

I am not a lace knitter and generally avoid fibres which look more like thread than wool.  I do admit, though, to being in awe when I see intricate lace shawls - complex arcs of the finest yarn, crafted by skilled hands into intricate gossamer cobwebs.


My most recent skirmish with a lace panel resulted in a lot of ripping out.  I did get to the end of my Nurmilintu Shawl but it wasn't without its frustrations!

Nurmilintu Shawl by Heidi Alander knitted in Rusty Ferret yarn 
When I watched Episode 59 of the Fruity Knitting podcast, I was mesmerised by the beautiful shawl immediately behind the interviewee.  Louisa Harding is not only the designer of the ethereal Zephine Shawl, but the luxurious cashmere yarn it's knitted from is produced by her company Yarntelier.


It was so lovely - I just couldn't get it out of my head.

When my birthday rolled round last November, I used money from my generous mother to order the pattern for the Zephine Shawl and cashmere yarn from Tribe Yarns in Richmond. "Life's too short for crappy yarn" say Tribe and I couldn't agree more.


But in order to avoid mistakes and re-knitting, I knew I'd have to CONCENTRATE!  No watching tense police dramas on TV or my favourite knitting video podcasts on the PC.  What I needed was some serious listening to allow me to follow the complex charts.

Wooden Pattern Holder beautifully handmade by Bunloit Woolery
As I work for Aberdeenshire Libraries I knew I could borrow audiobooks free of charge and the clever app Libby allowed me to listen to them wherever I was knitting using my phone.

Here's how far I got knitting my Zephine shawl listening to the harrowing, but ultimately rewarding true story, The Choice by Edith Eger.


Preferring something lighter for my next book, I then listened to an enjoyable fictional tale of familial love The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender and got some more pattern repeats completed.


Accompanying me all the way to cast off was Stephen Fry's autobiography Moab Is My Washpot in which he tells of the first 20 years of his life with humour, shocking candour and a painful honesty which made me cry.

Keeping track of my rows using my Knitting Notebook by Popcorn and Crocodiles
These three stories are woven into my stitches.  I've created a lacey shawl which is light and warm, can be worn buttoned or unbuttoned, and in my head is imbued with the wonderful words I listened to whilst knitting.  Finished in time for our silver wedding walking trip to Madeira, I loved wearing my Zephine shawl.


I can wear this when I'm all dressed up for cocktails at Reid's Palace or for a casual dinner with my siblings!


I think this will be my go-to shawl for night's out from now on.

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