Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Mum's Birthday Blanket

When Mum moved from SW Scotland to Aberdeenshire to live near me four years ago, I made her this shawl as a moving in gift. It's the Half Hansel Hap by Gudrun Johnston, knitted in light, but snuggly, alpaca.
Looks like Mum and I are in a contest to see who's wearing most of my knitting! She's winning with both a neck warmer and cardy made by me, as well as the hap.  I'm merely sporting one of my favourite shawls.  After Mum broke her hip in March, I came in one spring day to find her with the shawl over her knees for extra warmth - but a triangle, which is perfect around your shoulders, is a poor shape to wrap your legs in!  The seed for a lap blanket was sown - and I'd complete it in time for her Boxing Day birthday. 

I'd recently attended a mosaic crochet class taught by lovely, patient Fiona Meade at  Baa wool shop in Stonehaven and made this pencil case.  I even sewed in a lining (gasp!)
Pattern is Mosaic Purse by Tinna Thorudottir Thorvaldsdottir
So I was hopeful that the pattern for the Stained Glass Lantern by Tatsiana Kupryianchyk wasn't beyond my capabilities.  First I'd a practise with scrap yarn to master the stitches with help from the  pattern's clear photos.  I discovered that black was too dominant an edging for me, preferring to outline the colours with Stormy Grey from West Yorkshire Spinners instead.
The crocheted square really does resemble a stained glass window!  Stained glass also gave me inspiration for my colour choices.  I'd remembered taking a photo of this lovely panel at Blairs College Museum on a visit with Mum in 2018.

And I see this beautiful window at Meldrum Church each Sunday sitting beside Mum.  
Vivid emerald greens, rich royal blues, purplish pinks and vibrant lime and gold outlined in a dark neutral were in my mind.  Now to source those colours.
I had some treasured single skeins of double knit merino purchased at various yarn shows and pop-up events.  This golden lime from Nic of  Cheshire based Yarns From The Plain is right up my street as you can probably tell by my outfit!  So are the greens from Claire at Cookston Crafts and Naomi of Knit Me Sane, both skilled Scottish hand dyers whose yarns I know and love.

Previous blog posts feature my friend Helen of Ripples Crafts.  I'd leftover yarn of Helen's from a wine coloured cardigan I made in 2016 and the blue Channa sweater I made last spring, probably my favourite knitted jumper.
The pink lace is also yarn dyed by Helen which I made into this cowl, together with some luscious variegated Hedgehog Fibres I bought at Knit With Attitude on a trip to London a while back.  But the cowl wasn't really me, I never wore it so I ripped it out and freed up two more beautiful skeins to use in Mum's blanket.
Armed with the seven colours I needed for the different rounds, I started to crochet in July last year.  Recognising my crafting strengths (and weaknesses!) was going to be key to the squares becoming a finished blanket by Mum's birthday or an ignored pile of reproachful pieces.  I admire crocheters and knitters who complete gargantuan afghans where the pattern states after square one 'now complete 127 more' or suchlike.  I know this isn't me.  I'd make a few and lose interest at the distance I'd feel away from the finished blanket, no matter how much I loved it in the first place.  I needed to set myself an achievable goal - and that was to make two squares every month.  
So I stuck with my plan and crocheted two squares each month in July, August and September.  I even managed three the following month.  I varied the order in which I used the colours making each square different from its neighbour.  This progress shot, featuring my matchy-matchy slippers, is from the end of October by which time I'd just three squares to go, feeling a 3 x 4 blanket would be large enough to cover Mum's knees without being too heavy.
To maintain my crochet motivation, I also joined a CAL.  What?  A CAL.  Short for Crochet A-Long.  The wider world of crochet, and making of all kinds, accessible through social media, is largely a welcoming, sharing space.  Marta, of the Martushka Knits Podcast, established a make-a-long for crocheted blankets last April.  In her words 'Crocheting a blanket can be a long, lonely journey but it doesn’t need to be' so she established Crochet From Your Heart online through Instagram and Ravelry (a web based community for those of us who enjoy fibre crafts).  I enjoyed sharing my progress and seeing everyone else's blankets, cheering others on and being cheered on myself.  I was even lucky enough to win this prize in a 'Crochet From Your Heart 'giveaway!
By mid December, all the squares were complete and I was crocheting them together and finishing off the border.  I added a few more rounds than the pattern stated as I liked the effect the edge stitch created, especially in the multicoloured Hedgehog Fibres Dragonfly yarn.
And it was all wrapped and ready, in good time for Boxing Day.

Makes me so happy to see the blanket in use, along with the shawl, keeping Mum cosy, wrapped up in my hand made presents.


Friday, 3 January 2020

It's Better To Give...

The saying goes that you're more blessed by giving than receiving, so I was left feeling very content this festive season.  It's really rewarding to be able to make gifts for those you care about and witness their reaction when the wrapping is removed.

Here's a round-up of the presents I made in 2019 and gifted around Christmas time.

There's two lovely Carol's in my life who are both knit-worthy (meaning I know they appreciate the time it takes to knit stuff) and both have birthdays just before Christmas.  December birthdays are frequently overlooked so I decided earlier in the year to make them both a shawl.  I knitted Carol F's shawl from a great pattern called Therapy by designer Laura Aylor in three different merino yarns.  'Summer Skies' is the light blue from Ripples Crafts, the salmon pink was dyed by The Border Tart and the variegated colourway which ties these two together is the minty/blue/pink/dark-speckled combo 'Curiouser' by Twisted Fintch.
I already blogged about Carol B's hand knit shawl here and was pleased when she sent me a photo of herself swathed cosily in it.
When Mum broke a wee bone china mug she was fond of, I collected the bits and determined to make something else with it for her.  Over the summer, Ann at Blue Sky Mosaics ran regular Tuesday sessions which I dipped into.  Ann's partner, Will, has DIY super-powers and was able to cut the mug cleanly in half so I could mount it onto slate and use the forget-me-not design pieces for decoration.  To be honest, it looked a bit plain on its own so I delved into Ann's trove of broken china and availed myself of lots of pretty floral treasure.  I love the way the china fragments are exploding out of the mug!
Grouted to be suitable for outdoor use, the broken mug is now a planter which can be wall mounted so Mum can enjoy it hanging in her tiny garden in sheltered housing.

Edible presents also featured heavily in my gift repertoire this season.

I've been making a Christmas cake for my Father-in-law for many years.  The one pictured with him in 2016 is Katy Stewart's recipe for Golden Christmas Cake from the battered copy of The Times Cookery Book I've owned since the 1980's but we now all favour Delia Smith's Creole Christmas Cake which is this year's holly sprigged offering.
Our garden produced a bumper crop of blackcurrants this summer and, after making the berries into all our favourites - jam, puree for fool and Fantasy Cake - I made cassis, a liqueur that tastes rather like an alcoholic Ribena!  I gave a bottle to my neighbour, Donna, who sent me this picture of the Kir Royale she and her husband were enjoying at their child-free hotel getaway on Hogmanay.
I included a needle felted robin brooch I'd made in the package I sent to Susan in Oregon as part of a Christmas decoration swap organised by Louise of the Caithness Craft Collective Podcast.  I love putting together a parcel for someone I've been matched with, hoping they'll enjoy opening it as much as I've enjoyed assembling the contents.  I chose to send a small wooden tree hanging made locally by Gabrielle Reith of Small Stories Scotland - it looks like the boy is wearing woolly mittens!  There's also a selection of Scottish sweeties as well as a lip balm produced here in Aberdeenshire.
Each year I take a tin of home baked shortbread to the aforementioned Carol F's Christmas Eve party - and each year she gives me back last year's empty tin to refill!  My contribution is a very small part of the delicious spread Carol herself produces and the occasion has come to mark a happy start to our family's festive celebrations.

Finally, for gifts I made this year, I crocheted something for my Mum's Boxing Day birthday... 

...but that requires a blog post all of its own so keep a look out!

Sunday, 22 December 2019

Collage and Collograph at Collieston

"A Weekend of Colour in Colliestonread the email, an invitation to: "Produce a range of your own individually designed paper products using ink washes and printing with your own handmade collograph blocks."  I've wanted to try printmaking for a long time, and was familiar with the terms lino-cut and wood-block, but 'collograph' had me puzzled. 

Alexa - what's a collograph?

This print technique is a relatively new kid on the block, developed in the mid 1950's by US art professor, Glen Alps.  He coined the term 'collograph' by combining the Greek words for glue (koll) and drawing (graph) as a variety of materials are stuck to a rigid board to make a printing plate.

I used string, corrugated card,  embossed wallpaper, polystyrene and some bits of a felt coaster glued onto off-cuts of mounting card to make my collographs.  Earlier, workshop tutor, Morag Tweedie, had shown us how it's done, making three simple examples and demonstrating how to ink them up and create prints with them.  It's an accessible technique requiring readily available, low cost materials and it's quick and easy to make another.

To start the day, however, we were encouraged to unleash our creativity by painting papers with Procion dyes, normally used to stain fabric.  I used a range of brushes and  tools, including a plastic fork, and particularly liked the splodgy effect of the dye on the damp paper when salt crystals were sprinkled on top.
Setting aside our painted sheets to dry, we began printing with the collograph blocks onto a variety of papers.  The paint is squeezed onto to a glass plate then applied to the collagraph with a small hand roller called a brayer. Longevity is never intended for these printing plates and part of the charm of the collograph technique is that the number of prints that can be produced is relatively limited.  It's an accessible art-form requiring low cost, readily available materials so you can always make more.

No implement in the studio was off-limits - the end of this pencil dipped in yellow paint made the perfect centre for my collograph flower!

I really found it satisfying to print my collograph on my own painted paper (far right).

The clothes airer provided served as a colourful drying rack for all our prints.

Morag then demonstrated how we could use our painted papers for collage.  A vibrant selection of sample papers was provided as well and I used some of it to make a cheese plant leaf.

I then used my own designs to create a seascape, tearing rather than cutting the delicate paper before wielding the Pritt stick and gluing it in place. Also - best not to sneeze at this point and dislodge your carefully arranged precious fragments.

When it's all stuck down, applying a mount really completes the picture.

I signed up to the print workshop at Collieston with my talented friend Carol (left) who has accompanied me before to crafty classes.  I only know one person who actually lives in the tiny North East fishing hamlet and that's Susan, who coincidentally turned out to be the third member of the day's class!  Look how happy we are with our finished collages.  It was a very productive day!

Once home I set about making my collographs into finished items.  The flower prints were mounted onto marbled card and made into thank you notes as it had recently been my birthday.

I cut up all the prints of presents and made them into Christmas gift tags.  Never throwing away those wee bits of ribbon finally paid off!

I also found when I got home that I'd enough paper to make a second beach scene collage, similar but not quite the same as the first.

All they need is the right sized frames and they'll be up on the wall - well, in my craft room at least.

I do hope the tutors, Morag and Anne, come back to Collieston next year for another weekend of colour and creativity.


Sunday, 17 November 2019

Colourful Craft Classes (ft Beading for Beginners)

My nearest village is a very colourful place.

Summer 2019 displays thanks to Meldrum Amenities Improvement Group
One of my favourite shops in the village is pretty colourful too - as you would expect with a name like Rainbow Fabrics!

For a maker like me, having this cornucopia of yarn, fabric, thread, needles and notions on my doorstep is a craft lover's dream.  Forget your Amazon Prime, just about everything you might need for your textile project is available same day!  Not only does shop owner, Pat, curate an amazing array of supplies, she also produces a regular and varied programme of classes.  Over the last decade, I've attended quite a few.

I've learned to felt and this wee bag was created using the wet felted technique over a number of sessions in 2010.

I've learned to needle felt as well, making this Italian landscape at a class where we took our inspiration from a holiday memory.  It still reminds me of two happy weeks in Tuscany in 2011.

I've also tried felting with silk threads - these felted hearts, made at a class in 2016, became the front of the cushion I blogged about here and the backing fabric also came from the shop.

I'd never crocheted until I attended a course at Rainbow and I'm so grateful to have the skills for a craft I now love.  These pieces of textile wall art were also made by me at a variety of machine and hand-embroidery day classes I attended at the shop.

I even made this quilt which hangs above our bed (and I say 'even' as the sewing machine and I are not always best friends!)

So I've tried quite a lot of fabric, thread and yarn based classes but I'd never tried beading, though beaded projects crop up regularly in the class programme.  Assured that the snowflake dream catcher class at the start of November was suitable for a beginner like me, I decided to give it a go.  Clearly it's quite a serious business...

I chose all my beads at Rainbow ahead of the class, opting for a cool palette of wintry colours from the large selection available.  Following a pattern, the super-duos and faceted beads were threaded onto strong fused line favoured by anglers, using a slender beading needle characterised by its sometimes frustratingly tiny eye.  The central motif was attached to a fine silvery hoop and edged with more seed beads making a pretty picot design.

Classes at Pat's are always sociable events and her kettle certainly earns its keep!  My fellow beaders were a friendly group of ladies, generous with their supplies and experience, tolerant of a newbie like me, and helping me when I got stuck.  It's always a pleasure to see what each person makes.  Though we started with the same instructions, our choice of beads made the results spectacularly different.  Mary, our approachable and patient tutor, had prepared several snowflake samples before the class for us to follow - they're pictured in the centre and are surrounded by the ones we made on the day.

It's testament to Mary's clear written instructions that I was able to make a second snowflake dream catcher at home the next day, with the beads on the edge the right way round this time!

I'm going to enjoy hanging these with our Christmas decorations this year, and for years to come.

I wonder what the 2020 programme of classes will have in store and what colourful creations might adorn our home in future thanks to the kaleidoscope of crafty treasure in Rainbow?
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