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'!


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.


Sunday, 24 March 2019

Make me whole again

You might very well ask why this wee dog is looking a trifle worried about my sewing.

Last month I read this inspirational blog post by UK crochet designer Tracey Todhunter entitled 'Make It and Mend It'.  Tracey advocates making crochet flowers to revitalise holey woollens.

I immediately thought of a much loved and well worn White Stuff  jumper I've owned for several years.  I haven't been wearing it at all recently as it has two holes in the front - possibly caused by a close encounter with my belt buckle.

Yet I hadn't thrown the jumper away or consigned it to a textile recycling bin.  Why?  Because I really like it and, deep down, I think I knew I could make it wearable again.

Tracey's article about making a 'crochet plaster' made me look at the yarn I had available to match my jumper, both in colour and fabric composition.  This Drops Baby Merino fitted the bill.

These yarnlings are leftovers from the crochet Babette Blanket I made in 2013.

So I crocheted some flowers in coordinating colours,

sewed in all the ends,

placed the flowers over the holes and around the design on the sweater front and sewed them on.  

I gave the dogs some Frida Kahlo-esque headwear - I'm not sure they approve.  

Perhaps Star thinks I'm going to do the same for her!

Despite the dog's misgivings, I'm very pleased that a favourite sweater is back in my wardrobe instead of landfill, and I've got a new technique in my mending armoury.  Thanks, Tracey!


Monday, 11 February 2019

Winning with Wool

I've been lucky enough to win wool not once, not twice, but three times!

The first time was an Instagram giveaway.  Wool shop owner and dyer, Jess, of Edinburgh's Ginger Twist Studio, teamed up with Australian pattern designer Clare from Knit Share Love.  They organised the giveaway to celebrate the launch of Clare's hat and cowl pattern book entitled The Tea Collection.  I've knitted this hatthese mitts, and these socks  from Clare's patterns previously so was already a fan!

The lovely prize included a Ginger Twist Studio mug, a selection of tea from Edinburgh purveyors Pekoe Tea, a wee box of beaded stitch markers, a selection of patterns of my choice from Clare and a beautifully soft skein of Ginger Twist Studio Aran Yarn.  I was overjoyed to win and knitted one of the patterns I chose, the Castlelaw Hat, out of the glorious plump British Blue Faced Leicester wool dyed by Jess.

My second prize bundle came from a charity raffle to celebrate the first birthday of Lucy Locket Land's yarn shop which is near Sunderland.  I've been following Lucy's adventures in wool on Instagram since her shop opened a couple of years ago and really hope to visit one day.  You can read Lucy's blog post about the causes she was supporting here.  

Amongst other prizes, I won a ball of the softest cream yarn which even had a photo of the alpaca from whence it came on the label!  I've knitted it into these fingerless mitts for myself, combined with the green and brown naturally dyed Colonsay Wool and I also made a charcoal and cream pair as a gift.

The third prize I was lucky enough to win was also through Instagram.  Another Edinburgh based fibre company, New Leaf Yarns, was celebrating a successful first year of trading last May and I won the lovely prize in their birthday giveaway - two skeins of their very own alpaca grey Shetland blend and a tote bag.

After much pleasurable pattern perusing, I decided to purchase two more skeins from Jane at New Leaf and make a Korat Sweater by Irish designer Carol Feller.  I needed three additional colours to team up with the silvery grey alpaca / wool blend and found just what I was after at the J C Rennie stand at Perth Festival of Yarn last September.  You can see I was spoiled for choice!

I chose three shades from the J C Rennie Supersoft Lambswool 4ply range - Cumin, Azure and Amaranth.  The sweater begins with a turned hem in Azure which is more straightforward to knit than my plethora of knitting needles might suggest!  There's a stranded colour-work section that required my focus but it's followed by some telly watching stocking stitch as the body progresses from the hem to the underarms.  My knitting was light and airy but so cosy on my knees!

All was progressing well - or so I thought - as I neared completion of the shoulder shaping for the back.  It hadn't occurred to me that there might be a variation in the colour of the grey skeins, as they'd all looked the same, but the difference as I changed from the first ball to the second was so marked that I had a clear line across my knitting and had to put this project to one side for a wee while until I could bring myself to rip it out!

Thankfully over the Christmas holidays, we watched a fair few movies at home as a family and I was able to take a big breath, pull out my stitches and re-knit the whole of the back from the colour-work section to the neck in the company of Pixar!  I knitted two rows from one ball, then two rows from the other, ensuring the difference in the greys isn't too noticeable and a gently marled effect is achieved instead of a harsh line.  

Look how ridiculously happy I am as I try it on even though I've only got one sleeve!

I put my own stamp on the design by incorporating all three of the contrasting colours of my J C Rennie lambswool into the sleeve design.  The i-cord cast off was a new technique for me and gives the cuffs a really neat finish.

I finished the neckband in the same fashion, picking up with the Cumin shade and casting off in Azure.

Here's a peek at the inside of my jumper with its turned hem as I wove in my ends and a glimpse of what stranded colour-work looks like on the wrong side.

This is the tah-dah moment when I tried on my new jumper for the first time!  I really love it -especially with my one of my wardrobe staple White Stuff skirts.

If you're ever in doubt about entering a woolly giveaway or a yarny raffle - go for it - you never know what you might be lucky enough to win and make with your prize!

Oh, and just so you know, I'll be alternating skeins in future projects from now on.  Lesson learnt!


Sunday, 27 January 2019

A Bright Afternoon at Banff

You can't use up creativity.  The more you use, the more you have.  Maya Angelou

I think I've established on my blog that I love to be creative - so I get pretty excited when I hear about new creative spaces.  Glasgow based Vanilla Ink Studios expanded to open the doors to The Smiddy, last Autumn in the coastal town of Banff, re-establishing a link with Scottish silver dating back to the 14th Century.  Here's a silver teapot made in Banff in 1715.  

Not only will Vanilla Ink The Smiddy create beautiful new pieces, but the studio, in a previously derelict blacksmiths, will educate a new generation in silversmithing and provide workshop space for new graduates and local jewellery makers alike.  Their mission is to educate, inspire and empower.

I was highly delighted when my husband gave me a taster session at Vanilla Ink for Christmas.  Banff is only 40 minutes drive north and the session allowed me to make a silver ring.

The studio walls are inscribed with inspiring quotes about making, and the rafters are hung with nets of fairy lights to soften the industrial appearance of the workshop's interior.  Authors Maya Angelou and Neil Gaiman sit comfortably together on the library bookshelves where I work but at Vanilla Ink their quotes sit equally comfortably together on the walls.  

There are individual work stations down one side and a large central workbench where I met my fellow ring makers and enjoyed a welcoming coffee provided by Megan, our tutor for the day.  There was a vast array of equipment and tools around the studio - an eclectic mix of traditional leather and wood with high-tech precision metals.

The first task was to find the size of ring I was going to make.  Megan then calculated in millimetres how much silver I'd need to cut.  She demonstrated the saw with its tiny toothed blade and ensured we all worked safely.

After measuring and cutting, the ends of my ring-to-be are filed to make sure they're smooth.  My silver band was then shaped around a mandrel and the circle closed as near as possible using special pliers.

The piece of solder needed to fix the join is so small it has its own name - a pallion, so called as the tiny pieces might flutter away as they're cut and the derivative word papillon is French for butterfly!  Mine is hard to see but it's sitting on top of the join in my ring   You can see them in the dish below prior to some soldering action with the hand torch.

The ring then goes into the pickling pot.  No fruit, sugar and vinegar here!  The pickling process removes the oxidised surfaces and flux after soldering.

Whilst the ring was being pickled, I had time to look at the textures obtained by using the different hammers.

And to try them out on a piece of scrap copper.

After a wee rinse to get rid of the pickling solution, my ring was filed again to smooth the soldered join, hammered into shape using a soft mallet and then textured using my chosen hammer.

I love the textured surface achieved.

I was also keen for my ring to look frosted so I chose to use the right hand side of the polisher.

After a quick polish to shine up the inside, my ring was ready to show off to my fellow students - a lovely, supportive group who kindly allowed me to share these pictures.

Top left is Bob's pinkie ring which he thoughtfully sized so it would fit his wife as well.  Beside Bob's is the bespoke ring Susan created as a surprise gift for her husband, made even more special as he's a native of Banff.  Bottom left is Franzie's beautiful ring which has both a shiny and a frosted half specially designed to replace a much loved piece of jewellery she'd lost - and then all four of our rings are pictured together.

Huge thanks to Megan Falconer, the studio's guiding presence who knowledgeably and patiently helped me to make my first ever piece of silver jewellery.  I'm proud of my ring and I love it.

The last word goes to Neil Gaiman whose words resonated throughout  my afternoon at Vanilla Ink:

The world always seems brighter when you've just made something that wasn't there before.

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