Monday, 3 May 2021

Special K

I'm talking about the 11th letter of our alphabet and not the breakfast cereal aimed at skinny-Minis!

At the end of March last year, we began clapping for carers and the enormity of the work undertaken by all NHS staff, in the face of the Coronavirus pandemic, was beginning to become apparent.  Three yarn shop owners in East London decided to make a big banner of thanks to NHS workers.  Anna from Wild And Woolly, Maya from Knit With Attitude and Barley of creative hub Fabrications used social media to generate support.  These ladies know there's strength in unity and operate as the East London Yarn Triangle.  It's not their first banner either so makers from near and far answered their call.  Knitters, crocheters and weavers got in touch to contribute a letter from a pre-planned grid of words reading:

East London Knitters Say Thank You To All The NHS Workers

Now I'm not an East London Knitter but like to think of myself as an honorary one!  

Both my daughters live in London and Google maps helpfully informs me that Eilidh's flat is 10 minutes from Knit With Attitude in Stoke Newington, 15 minutes from Wild And Woolly in Hackney and 20 minutes from Fabrications in Broadway Market!  With my self-proclaimed East London Knitter credentials in place, I asked to contribute to the banner and was allocated letter 'K'.

Homemade rainbows were beginning to appear everywhere in the first weeks of lockdown as a symbol of hope and to cheer people up.  This pebble appeared on my elderly Mum's doorstep in our village, left by a thoughtful local child.

I knew I wanted to create my own knitted rainbow as my contribution to the banner.

The advantage of an extensive yarn stash is that there's no shortage of materials when an idea strikes.

Stipulations were few - a light letter on a dark background and some guidance on dimensions.  Measuring bunny was on hand to ensure the guidelines were met.

Our own creativity could then take over.  The upright leg of the 'K' was a straightforward column of stocking stitch stripes.  Mirroring the stripy rainbow, I increased and decreased my row count to create the letter shape.
After sewing the rainbow letter onto the blue background, I crocheted a wee sun in sparkly, golden yellow and knitted a cloud of fluffy, boucle alpaca.  I'm generally an optimistic kind of person so I gave my cloud a silver lining after delving into my slightly fankled collection of embroidery threads.  I'm not afraid to admit that the early months of the first lockdown had made me feel quite anxious.  With my husband, Geoff, still working offshore, and both girls in London, I spent a lot of this time home alone and was grateful to immerse myself in knitting and other creative pursuits.
The iridescent thread was another surprise find in the embroidery stash tangle.  I've no memory of when I bought it or what I bought it for, but it was ideal for a raindrop shower falling from my silver-lined cloud.

All that remained was for me to package up my knitted contribution and post it off.  I sent Wild And Woolly's Anna, Knit with Attitude's Maya and Fabrication's Barley my yarn lovers correspondence card designed by my daughter, Eilidh, to say thanks for organising this fun, but meaningful, collaborative project. 

By November the work of hand sewing the letters together had been completed and the finished banner was proudly hanging from two giant knitting needles in the window of Fabrications in Broadway Market.  I saw photos on Instagram and felt very proud of my special 'K' in the second last line.

Photos used with kind permission of Barley Massey of Fabrications

The banner gracing the window of Wild And Woolly in Clapton

I can't get to London just now to see the banner for myself so I asked Anna of Wild and Woolly if I could share her words from her latest newsletter.  Happily, she agreed.

"The passers by look and see the message knitted into the banner.  They don't know about the dozens of knitters or the sewer-togetherers or Barley's beautiful finishing, but I think they almost do.  I see them look again and see a knitted version of the clapping, saucepan banging, ululating and cheering that we used to do on our doorsteps on Thursday evenings. The thoughts, fears, losses and rages of the knitters who made them are all there in the stitches of the rectangles that carry the letters that hold the message from us all that says thank you and I think the passers by see that too.  I hope that one day soon the nurses and cleaners and junior doctors and receptionists and consultants and radiographers and porters and cooks and sisters and midwives will see it too, as the banner moves onto its final home at the hospital*."

So it's not just the 'K' that's special, 
it's all the letters,
and the banner,
and the makers,
and especially the meaning 
and the heartfelt sentiment behind it.

* At the time of writing it is hoped the banner will find its forever home at the
Homerton University Hospital in the London Borough of Hackney. 


Thursday, 8 April 2021

Making a Difference (Part 3) - The Yellow Edition

My recent charity makes have one thing in common - they all feature the colour yellow!

I haven't written a Making A Difference post since 2018 (here's the links to Part 1 and Part 2) but I'm always on the lookout for ways my knitting needles or crochet hook can help me to contribute to good causes.

Back in September I saw on social media that the Highland Hospice in Inverness intended to create a cascade of sunflowers in their reception for Wear Yellow Day 2021. That's on May 28th in the Highland Hospice.  The sunflower features on the Hospice's logo, and knitting and crochet patterns for sunflowers were available on the Hospice website thanks to Marjory aka @barraandcarly.  

I was happier with my crocheted sunflower than my knitted one, though I appear to have had scant regard for the pattern after crocheting my first sunflower.  The next two I made are a little more 'free form'! 

I'm not worried that they're not all the same.  The profusion of woolly blooms will be incredibly eye-catching I've no doubt, and the aim of fundraising and raising awareness for the Highland Hospice will be achieved in a glorious curtain of gold and yellow sunflowers!

I had my crochet hook out again in February after seeing an Instagram post appealing for squares to be made into two blankets to be raffled in aid of Mind UK

Helen, aka @florahoneypot,  requested two squares per participant and was specific about size and pattern.  Colour choice was up to us.  I'm not sure why I chose this sparkly yellow wool, hand-dyed by Erin of HennyPennyMakes, other than it's gorgeous, and it was an unusually sunny February day when I decided to start my wee squares!

So great was the uptake of crocheters who wanted be part of this worthwhile venture that Helen had to limit the number of willing crocheters to 180.  Luckily I applied straight away and was able to join in.  I was only too happy to comply with Helen's requirements as she is single-handedly edging all the squares and joining them together into two big blankets  A mammoth task!  She keeps us all up to date on Instagram with her progress and I shall publicise the raffle on Facebook and Instagram when the blankets are complete as they are already looking very beautiful as well as soft and cosy.  

See more of this collaborative fundraiser here  #communitycomfortblanket/

There was no question what colour I'd be using when I decided to take part in the Marie Curie crafting challenge to help support their Great Daffodil Appeal.  Though the charity has both knitted and crochet daffodil patterns on its website, I was keen to use this book which I received from my Secret Santa at work.

If I'm honest, I didn't get on all that well with the daffodil pattern in the book.  My flowers just didn't look like like the ones pictured.  I made two daffodils, one of which required surgery, and also tried a narcissus.  Feeling despondent that I was not going to manage to make the ten flowers encouraged for the Marie Curie Challenge, I remembered a great on-line source of crochet inspiration with clear photo tutorials, the blog by Lucy at Attic24.  

Lucy's daffodil pattern uses 4ply merino wool, rather than the cotton specified in the flower book, and I had two perfect skeins in my stash I'd picked up from Hennypennymakes at the Portsoy Wool Festival in 2019.  My memory may have been jogged by these mini eggs as much as by these daffies in the field next to us!  
Over the Easter weekend I was able to make seven more daffodils following Lucy's straightforward crochet instructions

Most knitting and crochet benefits from blocking - which means dampening then pinning into shape.  Even the wonky cotton daffies look a bit better.

The Marie Curie Challenge suggested we make our ten handmade daffodils into badges then raise funds by selling them onto friends, or sending them to a Marie Curie shop to be sold in aid of funds.  As I'm still not seeing many friends, and did not consider my flowers to be worthy of onward sale, I made a donation to Marie Curie instead then created this spring wreath to brighten up our home.

Just as I'd completed these three yellow projects for charity, my latest yarn purchase arrived from Rosies Moments for the next charity knitting initiative I'm joining 
you've guessed it, 
it's yellow!


Monday, 22 February 2021

The Beautiful Basket

I'm not being big headed - just honest.

In an effort to find a crochet project to use up some of the aran weight yarn that's been with me for a while, I found this blog post by Australian blogger Cintia.  Her blog, My Poppet Makes, is crammed with colourful inspiration, and not just crochet but sewing, knitting and papercraft too.

When Cintia uses what she terms 'ugly yarn' I do know what she means - squeaky, neon acrylic / anything dung coloured / once fashionable tinsel or pompom yarn / questionably, flashy eyelash.  I'm personally of the opinion that one woman's woolly trash is another woman's treasure and, if you're asked to create the angel for the church knitted nativity, that silver tinsel eyelash yarn you've hidden at the very bottom of your stash, becomes the stuff of dreams and fits the bill perfectly.

But I digress - the wee balls of wool I wanted to use aren't categorised in my mind in derogatory terms such as 'leftovers', 'remnants' or 'scraps'.  To me they are beloved bits from projects I'd created with joy and care, in colours that made my heart sing once upon a time and still do.  

I laid them out to have a look and separated them vaguely into 'lights' and 'darks'.  Meanwhile, I also unearthed some rainbow sock wool I'd been given a while back, with insufficient length to knit socks.

Some of these beautiful bits still remained after I'd created previous multi-yarn projects - like this cushion I knitted for my friend, Lorna, seven years ago.

The sheepy cushion I blogged about here is also knitted from yarn from other projects and still didn't use them all up.
Both cushions incorporated extra wool I'd bought in 2013, but didn't need, to make this incredibly cosy jumper from Elizabeth Zimmermann's Knitting Workshop.

Many wee pretty bits remained after I'd knitted these hats for family and friends over the past few years.
This gorgeous silk blend wasn't all used up after I knitted these cowls as gifts in 2013.
The purse I made for Mum's birthday a year later from New Lanark heritage wool yielded bonnie bits of bramble and gritstone.
I'd wool left after I knitted this hot water bottle for a charity initiative in 2016.  What didn't get used for the hottie went on to make these mittens I gave to a lady at church last year after she'd admired mine.  And there was still some left!
These tiny wee balls were all that remained after I made this pair of socks in 2019 for Operation Christmas Stocking organised by a friend who supports a homeless charity at Christmas and gifts warm woollies and toiletries to those with very little.

The most recent wool to make it into my basket of beautiful bits joined some other Jamieson & Smith that's been there since 2016 when I knitted my sister in law a Baa-ble Hat.  I knitted the Rose Thorn Mitts by Maddie Harvey Designs for my niece last December in time for Xmas and, you've guessed it, there was a wee bit left.

Now imagine that my mental trawl down memory lane through these woolly projects of yore lasted just as long as it took to wind these yarns into a magic knot ball.
Following this tutorial by Ellie of Craft House Magic ensured I'd both a light and a dark magic knot ball in no time, as well as this pile of wee knots leftover after joining the wool.  

So, back to Cintia's blog - where this yarny yarn began - where I found her pattern for a crochet scrap yarn basket.  Using a chunky 9mm hook and both strands of my knot balls, held together with the unwanted rainbow sock yarn, I began to crochet my own basket.
Who knew this random selection of bits and bobs would make such beautiful fabric?
By the time one ball was completely finished, I'd only a few inches left of the second and all the extra sock wool was gone.  I incorporated handy handles too as instructed in the pattern.  

It's not a rigid basket, and collapses like a failed pottery project on The Great Pottery Throw Down when it's empty, but I love it - and it holds a lot of wool (well, 32 balls in this case).  Enough for an entire blanket project - or a very, very big jumper!

Cintia calls hers The Ugly Basket in her blog post tutorial but mine is beautiful - in my eyes at least.

Find out more about Cintia's super craft ideas and tutorials here


Sunday, 24 January 2021

A Slate Mosaic

It was through the Light of the North Art Trail that I discovered Dunblane-based mosaic artist Rachel Davies.  Postponed 'til this coming spring, over forty decorated lighthouses located throughout Aberdeen city, Aberdeenshire, Moray and the Northern Isles will shine a light on local cancer support for CLAN.  I'd seen one of these lighthouse sculptures as a work in progress at the studio of my friend and art mentor, Fiona of Create With Us. They are huge, and the finished designs are still under wraps until the trail begins.  

Unless, that is, you follow the artists' social media accounts where you might get a sneaky peek.  That's how I found Rachel's online mosaic workshops offering the chance to make my own slate creation.  I immediately sent for a kit.

Arriving in good time for yesterday's Zoom class, the kit contained everything needed for the explosion design which first drew me to Rachel's work.

I received a prepared base, a bag of slate pieces, adhesive cement powder ready to mix, and tiles in the colour of my choice.  A timely email also suggested some materials from around the house I should assemble before the class.

After introductions, the two hour workshop began with Rachel explaining how the base is prepared.  Lightweight compressed foam, used by plumbers to line walls for tiling, is edged then painted by Rachel, ready for our mosaics.  She suggested we started to lay out the main elements of the design whilst she described the slate and how it's cut by a special saw or bashed with a hammer, depending on the desired effect.

I transferred my fledgling design away from the computer to my nearby wipeable work surface and mixed up my adhesive.  Rachel checked that we'd all achieved the correct gluey consistency and advocated wearing a mask whilst mixing due to the cement dust, something we all have to hand nowadays!  Though nearly everyone in the twelve-strong class had made mosaics previously, there was nothing to daunt the beginner.  With pre-cut pieces, no special tools were required either.

We were encouraged to incorporate any found or foraged natural materials we wanted into our mosaics.  I toyed with the idea of including shells but preferred the raw jaggedness of the slate for my explosion.  Material is bedded into the soft adhesive spread thickly over the base.  There's no grouting afterwards - once the assembly is complete, the mosaic is finished and there's something very satisfying about this one-step method.

Rachel carefully positions each mosaic piece with tweezers but I enjoyed pressing the slate and tile fragments into the squidgy base by hand, allowing my design to appear organically.  I'm usually a careful planner so I enjoyed the freedom encouraged by this form of mosaic art.
Rachel chatted away while we worked, checking in with everyone individually to make sure we were on the right track.  There was plenty of opportunity to ask questions and learn more about this technique and Rachel's artworks.  A comprehensive handout detailing the facts we might easily have forgotten, being so immersed in mosaic making, was also emailed out after the class.

In the two hour window, everyone's slate mosaic was complete, including mine.  We were encouraged to showed them to the camera to see each other's work.  I'm always awed by the unique designs created even though we all start with the same materials.  Now there are slate explosions in Norway, Cyprus, Belgium and the US as well as around the UK thanks to Rachel's workshop yesterday.  For that is the up-side of an on-line class, you can join from just about anywhere in the world.
My explosion is most likely to reside in my Aberdeenshire garden near the blue plant pots.

Or maybe near the front door to welcome you in - when you can come to visit, that is.

Details of all Rachel Davies Mosaic Art workshops can be found here: 


Tuesday, 12 January 2021

A Year In The Making

In January 2020, the world's attention was focussed on the devastating wildfires in Australia.  Our TV screens were filled with newsreel featuring widespread destruction of people's property and precious wildlife habitat.  It made my heart sad.

For eight months in 1991, Geoff and I had travelled extensively through Western Australia, Northern Territories, Queensland and New South Wales, driving, camping and bushwalking through Australia's vast interior.  I've more chance of pointing to the Hamersley Range on a map than distinguishing Gairloch from Garelochhead.  I'm a little shamefaced to admit there are parts of Australia I know better than the West Coast of Scotland.  

The craft community was quick to step up with fundraising initiatives to help the firefighting effort.  Australian knitwear designer Ambah O'Brien donated 100% of the sales of her Sunshower Shawl for 10 days last January and raised a whopping AUS$33,970.22 (£19,412.45) for three bush fire relief charities.  Red Cross AustraliaWildlife Victoria and the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation benefitted equally from this incredible fundraiser.  

I was one of the very many knitters who purchased Ambah's Sunshower Shawl Pattern this time last year.  Here's Ambah's description:  Sunshower shawl was created with the 4 seasons in mind; moving though Winter, Spring, Summer and finally Autumn with the original colour scheme. Worked from the top down, with short row shaping, gorgeous lace edging and neatly finished off with i-cord and the lovely eyelet pattern evoking the gentle drops of a Sunshower.

Looking through my stash of woolly leftovers, I realised I could create my own version of the four season effect described in the pattern blurb as I'd plenty of part-used skeins stored up from previous knitting projects. There are twelve sections in the pattern and  I chose to knit one section each month in 2020.  

As I was choosing my yarn, I felt nostalgic for these past knits.  There are so many memories imbued into crafts which pass through our hands over the course of many hours. 

The gorgeous grey Ripples Crafts yarn for the start of the Sunshower Shawl last January, for example,  had been part of two other shawls I'd made previously.  Firstly, the Therapy Shawl I knit in 2017 from this pattern by Laura Aylor.
Paired with equally soft yarn from The Fabulous Mr G (who no longer dyes yarn but makes beautiful project bags) and a glorious pink from The Border Tart, it's still a wardrobe staple of mine.  

February's yarn was hand dyed Rusty Ferret left over after I knit my Nurmilintu Shawl from Heidi Alander's free pattern, another much-worn make.
I loved the pops of neon colour so much I determined to use every last scrap so, as well as creating February's stripe in the Sunshower Shawl, the remainder was crocheted into my spring lockdown cushion cover!
In March and May, I used yarn remaining after I knitted another Therapy Shawl.  I gave this one to my friend Carol as a birthday gift in 2019. I've happy memories of knitting it in the sunshine in Caroline's Perthshire garden that summer.

April, May, July and January's input to the Sunshower Shawl were leftover after I took part in my first mystery crochet along to create the Skimming Stones Shawl by The Crochet Project in 2018.  All the yarns I used were dyed by my friend Helen of Ripples Crafts so I gave it to her as a stall sample to take to yarn events and show off her beautiful colours.

The sunny section I knitted in June from Henny Penny Makes hand dyed yarn had formed the moons and stars in the Ixchel sweater I knitted for my daughter Eilidh.  She was wowed by the design on the cover of Pompom Magazine.
It's a wonderful pattern by Catherine Clark but I gave myself a headache by combining Erin's sparkly gold  merino wool with skin-soft but non-stretchy cotton.  The neck was a challenge to say the least which I re-knitted three times.  Time one and time two didn't go so well... 

but three, they say, is a charm and my daughter wears her jumper, despite the slightly wonky neck  (which is all that really matters, right?)

July's turquoise addition to the Sunshower Shawl was left over after I knit these socks for myself in 2016.  Geoff gave me a three month subscription of sock wool from Helen at Ripples Crafts as a Christmas present.  The colours are all inspired by Assynt where Helen lives and dyes.
The same yarn gift subscription provided August's start to the lacey border of the Sunshower Shawl.  I used more beautiful Ripples Crafts yarn to knit these socks earlier this year and had some left.  The socks became a Christmas present for sister-in-law, Carol.  I remember knitting them whilst waiting for Mum at the eye clinic during lockdown and noted how they matched the hospital decor!
In September I added Shilasdair leftovers I've had for the longest time.  I made these fingerless mitts for my sister-in-law, Fiona, in 2015, but forgot to photograph the finished hummel doddies, as we call them hereabouts.  Here they are as a work in progress.

October's addition to the Sunshower Shawl is the only skein which had not been made into something else previously.  It was a prize from independent yarn store Lucylocketland a few years ago and I've yet to find the perfect project for it.  I still have plenty left and it's too beautiful to languish.  The pattern search continues...

November's lacey edging yarn has the joyous colour name 'Tomato Hibiscus Pumpkin' dyed by Coastal Colours.  I crocheted Fortunes Shawlette by Tamara Kelly as a gift for a treasured work colleague in 2016.  This yarn was chosen by me but was a gift from another friend in 2014 - high time it was used and loved.
Finally, the Sunshower Shawl has an edge which goes all the way round.  Like piping round a cushion, the sumptuous alpaca blend from Cookston Crafts surrounds all the other colours.  I'd used this very beautiful yarn originaly to make the Winter Wander Shawl  by Helen Stewart which I sent to a dear friend last year for her 60th birthday.
So many memories of knitting for myself, and creating handmade gifts for others, throughout the months of 2020.  
So much time spent at home, with time to knit, resulted in a completed shawl by the turn of the year.
I started knitting on January 14th 2020 and finished casting off the i-cord edge on January 1st 2021. 

Blocking is the finishing touch.  Pinning out the lace whilst damp enables the design to be fully appreciated at last.
Here's a list of all the beautiful hand dyed yarns I used (with yarn mix in brackets) and colours in italics:
January: Ripples Crafts Suilven (Merino Silk Yak) Lewisian Gneiss
February: Rusty Ferret Doll (Merino Nylon) Tits Out
March: Twisted Fintch (Merino Nylon) Curiouser
April : Ripples Crafts (Reliable Sock) Assynt Storms RS808
May : Ripples Crafts (100% BFL) Summer Skies
June : Henny Penny Makes (Merino/ Nylon/Stellina) Golden Glow
July : Ripples Crafts (BFL Sock) Winter on the road to Assynt
August : Ripples Crafts (BFL Sock) Loch Boralan
September : Shilasdair (Sock) Spring Forest
October : The leaves are turning by Lucy Locketland
November : Coastal Colours (BFL Donegal) Hibiscus Tomato Pumpkin
December : Cookston Crafts (Merino Alpaca Nylon) colourway with no name!

In the garden today - during a sunshower!

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