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.


Monday, 7 January 2019

A little light reading

Lesley assured me that making a lampshade was easy.

Lesley makes beautiful bottle lamps at her garden studio in Peebles (which I blogged about here) and creates the shades from prints of her paintings and textile artworks.

Despite her assurances, I still felt a bit hesitant even though there's good online instructions for the lampshade kit with accompanying Youtube videos.

When I discovered that Catriona at OTM Designs in nearby Durno was running a class to make a lampshade from the same Need Craft kits as Lesley uses, I jumped at the chance to learn from a local expert.  We had the option to create a lamp from vintage teacups or from an up-cycled bottle and I really fancied making a bottle lamp of my own.  There are so many pretty bottles around at the moment.

Durno is a tiny wee place but is a hub of creativity.  Located next to Louis Little Haven, with its tempting array of vintage furniture and homewares, is the workshop space Catriona of OTM Design shares with Fiona of Create With Us.  

Recent workshops had included lino cutting, ink canvas painting and corn dollies demonstrated by Elaine of Something Corny.  Lino cut is definitely on my wish-list to learn in 2019 .

But we were here to learn about lampshades and Catriona patiently talked us through the process of making a fabric lamp shade and demonstrated what to do at each stage.

I'd taken along my own fabric and an empty bottle of Glen Garioch whisky, delighted that the local Oldmeldrum distillery colours coordinated so well with our lounge curtains!  Here are the three lamps produced that day on the course.

Here's my lamp in our lounge.

Being creative in one craft fosters creativity in others I have found.  In the same month I learned to make my first lampshade, I was attending a series of four weekly workshops at Blue Sky Mosaics near Kintore.  

There's a category for mosaic on the top bar of my blog if you want to read about  the other mosaic artworks I've made with Ann at Blue Sky.

I remembered a really plain beige lamp in our spare room, bought hastily and inexpensively years ago when unexpected visitors were due.  Had its time come for a transformation?

I took the lamp base along to my next workshop day at Blue Sky Mosaics and was soon adorning it with pretty tiles, beads and glass nuggets.  It's an extremely therapeutic process.

As I'd delved into my box of spare fabric to find the lounge curtain leftovers, my hand had happened upon a remnant that seemed ideal for this project.

And I was now armed with the skills to make another lampshade.

The lamp base was almost finished.  Grouting is the last stage in the mosaic process - a messy but rewarding task as the end is in sight and the full beauty of the mosaic is revealed when the excess grout is removed.

I'm not sure yet if the completed lamp looks most at home here...

...or here?

But I do expect there to be more lamp shades in my future (and more mosaics!)


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 . 

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