Friday, 17 April 2020

On My Table

For someone who normally works at home, being out all day, every day for months is proving very challenging. During the few hours I have in the house I have a constant 'to do' list running in my head but it never seems to get any shorter. Being me, there's a creative list as well as the washing, cooking and cleaning one - well, more of a creative pile really ...

This is the coffee table in the front room. The coloured bricks and crochet mandalas are normally there but the rest is stuff I'm working on. Apart from the lamb obviously. She was balanced on a table by the window to entertain passing children but the cats had other ideas. Apparently, any table in the window is solely for the use of Linnet and Tolly so I kept coming home to find them sunning themselves there and the lamb on the floor.

What shall we start with? My comfort knitting I think.

I'm knitting several of these squares a day. They're not a new design (the stitch pattern is one of those I used in Frankie's Blankie) but they are very soothing to work on and the yarn is beautiful. I'm using the Scheepjes Stone and River Washed Colour Pack of 58 little 10g balls of yarn.

Each of my squares uses the best part of one ball of yarn, leaving just enough to make a colour peg for future reference. When they're all finished, I'm going to photograph each square so that I can use them as a digital colour tool for planning blankets. Then I'll probably sew them together into two separate blankets, or a blanket and a scarf. There are 58 colours all together which is an awkward number so I'll probably divide them up into the 36 stone and 22 river shades.

This particular colour pack is good value I think. It costs about £36 but you could use it to make two yarn advent calendars, something I may well do.

There's nearly always a little collection of my Stylecraft Special colour pegs on the table as I play around with ideas.

I'd like to do something with really bright colours contrasted with either black or white but, as you can see, I haven't got much further than that thought yet. It would be nice to use some of those neon shades that I normally reject as too bright even for my taste. 

On the other end of the table is a pile of fabrics waiting to be a quilt.

It took me over a week just to get these washed and ironed and then a late night to get the first pieces cut out. I'm going to be hand piecing this one as that means I can get some done up at my stepfather's house during the day.

I have another little hand sewing patchwork project on the go (this one's on a tray on top of the piano) but it's a different sort of piecing.

I'm using traditional English paper piecing to make these tiny hexagons - the finished sides are only 2 cm long. I cut the paper shapes and the fabric with my trusty Sizzix cutting machine which makes the whole process so much easier. The card shape underneath the patchwork is the pattern for what I'm making, a bigger version of this ...

Here's one I made earlier, as they used to say on Blue Peter. This little wallet is just the right size for a mini cross stitch kit like the Mouseloft Stitchlets, making it easy to take some sewing out with me. Lately though, I've felt the need for a bigger version, especially for some of the cover kits from Cross Stitch Crazy magazine so this new one should fit the bill.

Too big to fit on the table is my Primrose Garden blanket which is nearly finished now. I'm working on the border; once that's done, I can block it and it'll be ready for a photo shoot. 

It's too big to take out with me now so I can only work on it at home. During the day I need things to work on that are quite mindless and take up very little room in my bag. This is the little bag for the Scheepjes squares ...

I came across this bag in one of my big boxes of old designs and decided it was just the right size for a couple of pairs of needles and some tiny balls of yarn. It's one of a set of little baskets I crocheted about four years ago. There are three different sizes in the pattern; this one is the middle one.

Flower Baskets

I've also got this drawstring bag with the doings for the mini stockings I knit to go on my Christmas presents each year. So far, four people will be getting stockings on their presents in 2020.

I decided I really ought to turn out the folded flower squares that I started knitting with yarn from an advent calendar in (I think) 2017 ... only to find evidence of the dreaded moth. So, they spent a night in the freezer and then had a good wash and are presently drying on top of the fruit cupboard. So called because the fruit bowls go on top of it, not because I have a cupboard full of fruit you understand.

Why do I start so many projects involving lots of little pieces in thin yarn? Who knows?

So, that's some of the things I'm trying to work on at the moment. How about you?

Before I go, I want to thank all the people who are continuing to donate to the Children's Liver Disease Foundation, the charity that I support, during these difficult times. They have had to furlough half their staff due to a sharp drop in donations so, to those who are still able to support them, a very big thank-you.

Sunday, 5 April 2020

Warmer World Scarves

What do you do when your days are already full of caring duties and it's a major achievement if you can keep on top of the washing and manage to eat each day? You knit two scarves, each using fifteen colours of course. Welcome to my Warmer World Scarves.

As I told you recently, I've become fascinated by the idea of illustrating Climate Change with coloured stripes. If you do an image search for Show your Stripes and add the word 'climate', you'll see what I mean. 

Now I struggled a bit with the maths for this one. I found the data on this page, Climate at a Glance and I understood that all right. I generated a table of the average annual global temperature for each of the 140 years, from 1880 to 2019. The numbers on my table aren't actual temperatures; what they represent is how far the temperature for each year deviated from the average annual global temperature for the whole of the twentieth century. 

So, if the average temperature for any year was the same as that for the years 1901 - 2000, it would appear as 0º Celsius. The range of numbers on my chart is from -0.46º to 0.99º so I divided them up into fifteen bands, each covering 0.1º ... she says, casually. This is where I got hopelessly confused and had to call in an expert (that would be my mathematician son). I'm fine with positive decimal numbers but when we get to negative numbers I just can't cope. I'd like to blame it on the fact that we didn't go decimal here in the UK until I was ten years old but, in reality, I think it's just me. After all, I had no problems with changing to 'new money' and I happily work with both imperial and metric weight measurements - metric for knitting, imperial for cooking and weighing babies.

Anyway, once I'd wrestled my data into fifteen numbered bands, then came the fun part of assigning them each a colour. Back into my comfort zone again. I used my trusty Stylecraft Special DK and the colour pegs I use to plan my designs. I wanted the negative numbers to be shades of blue and the positive ones to be red but there were five bands below zero and ten above and there just weren't that many reds. So I settled for pinks and reds for the warmer colours.

The original scarf was going to be for my son who started me off on this project and he wanted a really long one (think Tom Baker's Doctor Who). I decided to keep it simple and knit it in garter stitch. To avoid a regular colour blip on one side when changing colours, I worked seven rows for each year stripe so that those blips would appear on both sides. This also had the advantage of sharing the tails of yarn between both edges of the scarf. Because I like number patterns within my designs, I worked on a multiple of seven too - 49 stitches.

The disadvantage of having an odd number of rows is that it's harder to keep track of where you are, so I needed a row counter so I didn't get lost. I ticked off each year as I knitted it and made myself darn in the yarn tails after finishing each decade. 

I absolutely loved knitting this scarf. Despite it's size, I didn't get bored once. Instead, I found it quite meditative as I thought about each year as I knitted it and remembered things that happened, either personally or on a global scale. There was a sort of shiver when I got to World War Two and suddenly switched to warmer colours and as for all those family birthdays ...  Here's the finished scarf.

My son was pleased with his scarf. He wears it wrapped twice round his neck and it looks great. I wanted to include a photo of it being worn but, as I only see him occasionally at a distance of two metres when he drops off shopping ... 

Having finished the scarf, I then set about knitting another one, this time on a smaller scale. I went for multiples of four this time - so four rows per year and 40 stitches on the needle. Having an even number of rows in each stripe would make the colour blips appear all on one side so I made the first row of each stripe a K1. P1 row to hide this. I do like my scarves to look good on both sides. This resulted in a very pleasing stitch pattern with one ridge per year on one side and two on the other. Entirely unplanned but I wasn't complaining.

That band of pink is the seven years of the war, 1939-1945.

I enjoyed the knitting just as much the second time round. If you look closely, you can see that I've added a ruler to the side of the scarf to make it easier to count off the years. It might look more balanced to have this on both edges of the scarves but I couldn't be bothered.

I'm hoping that lots of people will knit their own Warmer World Scarves, using my pattern as a starting point. I'd love to see them at the next Climate Change school strike protests - once it's safe to take to the streets again, obviously. In the meantime, get knitting!

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Two Georges

My seventh birthday, over fifty years ago, is one that I remember particularly clearly. Partly because it was the first one I'd had to go to school on. My birthday is at the end of October which means that it often falls at half term. I don't think I normally had a party for my birthday but, that year, I had two. 

There was one at the weekend for my friends ...

That's me at the back in the blue dress and alice band, next to my best friend Heather (also wearing an alice band, that's how you know we were best friends). Heather emigrated to Australia about five years later and I haven't seen her since. If you look closely you can see the yellow Harlequin plates that were part of my Mum and Dad's wedding china. I still have some of that left and use it regularly.

Anyway, I also had a very special party on my actual birthday although, sadly, there are no photographs. I got off the school bus to find all my favourite dolls (including Hoppity the Space Hopper) grouped round a table full of miniature party food for me to share with them - tiny sandwiches, baby cakes ... I can still picture it and remember how excited I was when I saw it. My Mum was good at that sort of thing; I can also see her on another day, holding up my Tiny Tears doll to show me that she'd made her a new dress during the day.

I still treasure my Tiny Tears who now has to rely on me for new dresses.

You may be wondering where the Georges come in to this story. Well, the first was actually Georgie and he's a nightdress case. He was my seventh birthday present from Mum and Dad so he was an honoured guest at my dolls' birthday party. Here I am with him ...

You can just about see my 'I am 7' badge.

And the second George? He arrived in the post last weekend as a Mother's Day present from my daughter. I didn't know that Merrythought made other hedgehogs in the same family but meet small George ...

Isn't he lovely? He seems to have made friends with my original Georgie and he makes me smile every time I see him.

As you can tell, I was one of those children who really love their dolls - they were (and possibly still are) real to me. I might show you some of the others that I've kept one day.

Tuesday, 17 March 2020


No, not that sort of juggling. My son taught himself to juggle years ago (a very useful skill now he's a primary school teacher I always think) but I've never mastered it.

The juggling I'm talking about will be familiar to you all - the sort that involves juggling work, family and all sorts of other commitments. In my case, I'm trying to combine looking after my stepfather (who is getting much stronger now) with designing, housework and music. Oh, and the cats would like me to tell you that I've been neglecting them for months too.

Over the last couple of months, I've had precisely one day off from caring. My daughter had planned to come up and take over for a couple of days recently but then she came down with That Virus so, obviously, couldn't go anywhere. She's better now and my son and I are managing, together with the support of some wonderful professional carers. That would be some of the carers who the government classes as unskilled workers and who are now working as normal to help the most vulnerable people during this crisis. Enough said.

Anyway, the house is a mess and I still haven't had time to pick up my violin but I am managing to get some work done on several designs, swapping them round as the occasion demands. Want to see what I'm doing?

Do you remember me telling you last year about my search for the right colour scheme for a crochet blanket? You can read about it here. Well, I ended up settling for shades of yellow and green, reminiscent of Spring primroses.

I've been making quite a lot of progress with this one lately. I've decided that it needs to be biggish to show off the 3D effect so I'm making 25 of the squares and filling in with lots and lots of long hexagons. So far I've done three out of the five 'rows' and I even know how I'm going to finish off the edge.

Those squares are flush with the rest of the blanket, not laid on top.

I've got another textured crochet design on the go too. This one is, at the  moment, called 'Blooming Flowers'.

Again, I experimented with lots of really quite ugly colour combinations before settling on shades of pink. Not to mention making a lot of lumpy squares; that green border was harder to work out than you might think. Then, when I put the squares together, all that texture was just a bit too much. The yellow sashing is crocheted on to avoid lots of sewing and (hopefully) tones the whole thing down a bit.

I bought some old wooden workbag handles in a charity shop a few years ago - you can read about that particular treasure hunt here - so I'm going to turn my flower squares into a pretty workbag. That panel of twelve squares will be one side of the bag, the other side will be the same and then I'll probably make up the rest with simple stripes.

I'm enjoying working on both of these projects but the thing that's really grabbed me lately is my Climate Change scarf. My son was telling me about Ed Hawkins' Warming Stripes which represent the earth's rising temperature in coloured stripes and I immediately wanted to turn the data into a scarf.

This is my 'first draft' - a long, garter stitch scarf, representing global warming from 1880 to 2019. The data I used takes the global average temperature for the period 1901 - 2000 and then sees how each year's average temperature deviates from this base temperature. There are fifteen colour bands, each one representing  0.1º Celsius; those bands below 0º are shades of blue and those above are pinks and reds. 

As you can see, the scarf illustrates the way our world's temperature has risen over the past 140 years but this has turned out to be a much more exciting project than just that. As I knitted, I found myself thinking about each year as I got to it, remembering global events and also family birthdays. It turned out to be very calming and therapeutic. There were also some interesting surprises along the way. 

There are only five shades of blue and ten of pink / red but for nearly sixty years the scarf is completely blue. Warmer colours start to appear by the 1940s but it's only from the late 1970s onwards that the blues disappear and the rest of the scarf becomes a race through all the pinks and reds.

The first block of pinks in the scarf represents the years 1939 - 1945, the Second World War. This shook me. You can also spot particularly hard winters, like that of 1963-4, when a long patch of pink is followed by a bright blue stripe. I've promised this scarf to my son but he can''t have it until I've taken all the photos I might want for the pattern.

I've now started a shorter version of the scarf, using a slightly different stitch pattern so that you can count the years more easily to read the information in it. I may or may not add ruler-like lines to one edge to mark the years too. Once I've knitted this one, I think I'll work out a pattern for a crochet version too. At the moment I'm calling them 'Warmer World' scarves. What do you think?

Saturday, 7 March 2020

2020 is Postponed

2020 started off so well. I made three New Year's Resolutions this year:

1. To practise my clarinet regularly. I had it repaired last year and am now re-learning how to play it after a gap of about thirty years.

2. To teach myself shorthand. No idea why, it's just something that I thought would be fun to do. Inspired by Long Live Pitman's Shorthand which is a treasure trove of information and advice, I assembled a few supplies ...

3. To fit work round the rest of my life rather than the other way round. This is something I've been working on for the last few years. I enjoy designing but that means that it's very easy to end up spending all your waking hours doing it. Especially when, if I don't publish a pattern for a few weeks, people start to ask if I'm all right. One day, I'm going to do a breakdown of the amount of hours it takes to design and publish a pattern. Just because something is quick and easy to knit doesn't mean it's quick to design. End of rant.

Anyway, for the first two weeks of January things were going quite smoothly. I was managing a short clarinet practice most days as well as keeping up with my longer violin practices. I hadn't actually started on the shorthand but, as you can see, I'd printed out the first lesson, all ready to go.

The work / life balance wasn't too bad either. I find that making time to actually leave the house and do something different occasionally makes the work go better too. I had a lovely trip to Bramble Patch, my local quilt shop. My rotary cutter has been slowly dying for ages. I replaced the blade before realising that something was out of alignment and it was high time to buy a new one. This one has a button lock which I like and it cuts through the fabric so easily.

The fabric and webbing is for a bag. I've been making my reversible tote bags for ages and thought it was about time I designed a new basic bag. The plan is to try making a roomy shoulder bag, this time lined with wadding. Not sure if it will be reversible or not as that may make it too complicated to do.

Anyway, this is all academic as that pile of fabric is still sitting on my work table, waiting to be unfolded. 

In the middle of January my eighty year old Stepfather had a fall and ended up in hospital for two weeks. He wasn't badly hurt and recovered well but was finally persuaded that he needed some help at home from regular carers. He has very bad arthritis in his knees, arms and hands so everyday tasks are difficult and take ages. While we were waiting for everything to be set up, we had a good sort out at his house, making it ready for him to come home.

Things went well for the first three weeks after hospital; I started off being there all day but, gradually, he was able to do more and we were getting into a routine which meant I could eat a hot meal at my house every day and do some work. I even got back to practising my violin and was thinking I might be nearly ready to start my lessons again.

Then he had another fall, this time putting his head through the glass back door. Carers were with him at the time so they called me and the ambulance and then we all waited an hour and a half for it to arrive. He had two deep cuts on his head which they glued back together in A & E before sending him home. 

Now you'd think that would have left him with a serious headache but no, he said it just felt a bit sore. They obviously made them tough in 1939. The fall knocked him for six in other ways though and we had a rough few weeks before he started to get better again. My son and I have been sharing the care - I do the days and he does evenings and nights. I think he's really tuned the corner now so that's a big relief.

So, if you've been wondering why I've been so quiet since January and haven't been publishing much, now you know. I have been doing bits of work as and when I can but it's very slow. I had nearly finished this reversible scarf in early January and finally managed to get it done and published.

Double Up Scarf

This is much more complicated than most of my patterns. I normally aim for simple designs that most people can have a go at but I was fascinated by Nancy Marchant's book Knitting Brioche and used one of the simpler stitch patterns to knit a double sided scarf. It took me about half the scarf before I finally got the hang of it and stopped making mistakes.

I then looked round for some portable knitting to work on in odd moments and unearthed my pile of triangles.

Looking back through my pattern notebooks (there are fifteen of them so far), I found that I'd started this project in February 2018 and had been working on it off and on ever since. Definitely time to get it done. Anyway, several weeks later I had all 150 little triangles done and was ready to assemble them. 

This would have normally taken me a day or so, taking photos as I went but, as I had to wait to be at my house in daylight (and where my big photography lights live), I could only photograph one stage per day - sometimes every few days. It was like building a kaleidoscope ...

And here is the finished thing ...

I've called it Seven Sisters after the traditional quilt pattern which was presumably named for The Pleiades. My finished hexagon is about 96 cm across at its widest, big enough to do duty as a table covering but you could easily use it as a blanket pattern. Either knit more stars or use thicker yarn to make it bigger.

The yarn I used is Schoppel-Wolle Edition 3, a DK weight yarn which comes in some beautiful, subtly shaded colourways. These are the two that I used ...

The star colour is shade 2296, English Garden and I used shade 2298 Wash Day for the background triangles. This yarn is one of my favourites ever; I shall definitely be using it again.

With such a geometric project the normal 'drape it here and there in a vaguely artistic way' approach to photography wasn't going to work. Instead, I had a lovely time folding the knitting into all sorts of shapes.

Much to my delight, I got home yesterday evening to find that this pattern had reached Number One on the ravlery 'hot right now' list. It was number seven first thing in the morning but I  don't have access to the internet at my Stepfather's house so I asked my friends on my ravelry group to keep an eye on the list for me. As normal, they rose to the challenge so a big thank-you to them all, especially Isolde. And thank-you to everyone who looked at the pattern page and thereby pushed it up the list. There was a bit of happy dancing going on here last night.

I'm now concentrating on two crochet designs - both heavily textured - and yesterday I started knitting a climate change scarf. This last one is going to be quite quick to do I think now that I've worked out all the maths behind it. Mind you, when I say I've worked it out, what I actually mean is that my son has patiently explained it to me several times and I've made notes. I've never been comfortable with negative decimal numbers so I have to keep checking them with him. So far I've knitted to the end of the nineteenth century - only 120 years to go. I'll take some photos to show you when I get time ...

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Starting and Finishing

Hello everybody and I hope that the new year is treating you well. I thought I'd start my first blog post of 2020 by showing you one of my favourite Christmas presents.

My daughter made me these felt ornaments of Oliver and Amanda Pig from the much loved children's books. Written by Jean Van Leeuwen and illustrated by Ann Schweninger, you can read about the origins of the stories here. I hadn't realised that Oliver and Amanda were inspired by the author's children, David and Elizabeth.

We have two big baskets of treasured Christmas picture books that we bring out every year and 'Oliver and Amanda's Christmas' is one of our favourites.

In the five stories in this book, Oliver and Amanda make presents, help choose a Christmas tree and bake some fat biscuits. Oliver gets carried away with how many presents he thinks he needs, at one point deciding he'll need to hang up a big tablecloth rather than a stocking, but the arrival of Grandma with new hand knitted stockings calms him down. In the last story they celebrate Christmas and the little pigs play with their new toys, including a doll and a fire truck. 'Amanda rocked Patsy Ann in her arms. Oliver put out a fire under the piano.' As you do.

Here's the illustration of Amanda Pig carrying home the little nest that they find in their Christmas tree.

You can see how well my felt decoration matches the original. My daughter tells me that there will be more felt ornaments of children's book characters to come in future years so I'm going to get a mini tree to put them all on. Apparently, I'm not allowed to make requests but, if you're reading this Rose, Alpaca!

Anyway, this lovely present reminded me of my plan, many years ago when the children were small, to embroider pictures of characters from children's books. I started off bravely with this patchwork Elmer. I drew the elephant and then worked each square in different needlepoint stitches. The whole thing is quite small - my eyesight was a lot better then.

I then rashly decided to fill in the background with tiny green stitches ... which is why it never got finished. It took me quite a while to find it in the bottom of a basket of half-finished projects and I'm pleased to see that there's not actually that much more to do. Now that I've got my wonderful magnifying craft light, I should be able to finish the background and then outline Elmer with a bit of backstitch.

Maybe I'll start on another one once Elmer's finished. I though a blackwork picture of Rosie from Rosie's Walk would be good (although using the colours of the illustrations) so that's next on my list.

I have an awful lot of things that I started and never got round to finishing so, this year, I'm going to try to get some of them done. I have quite a few cross stitch pictures ready to frame, for example. I've even bought some of the frames so there's no excuse for not doing them.

This little 3D gingerbread house was a project in an issue of 'World of Cross Stitching' from 2016.

I finished the stitching that year but, two Christmases later, I still hadn't put the house together. So, earlier this month, I spent an evening doing that and, apart from attaching the roof which was tricky, it went together quite easily. Doesn't it look nice?

I finished it just in time to put it away with the rest of the Christmas decorations but I shall enjoy getting it out next year.

Here's another project that's been waiting to be finished for a while, this time a needlepoint decoration.

This is one of a series of six decorations that I bought together as a kit.

I'd only managed to actually finish one, the Christmas tree, but now I have two to hang on my tree.

I also managed to finish my weaving advent calendar that I showed you last month. I wove 24 squares and sewed them together to make a small blanket. Determined to use up all the odd lengths of yarn, I crocheted a random border all round it (Oh, all those ends to sew in) and then gave it a good blocking. This transformed it from an uneven hotchpotch into something quite respectable.

Its the right size to go on my coffee table but, at the moment, its draped over the back of one of my chairs like a modern day antimacasser.

I still have some more squares to weave for the border of my temperature blanket from last year too. They're not very exciting so I keep putting them off but it will be nice to finish it. Im looking forward to showing it to you all once it's done.

I've started a UFO (unfinished objects) group on ravelry for mutual support and encouragement. It turns out that I'm not the only one who doesn't finish stuff. If you'd like to deal with some of your lurking UFOs this year - any craft welcome - then do come and join us. Unfinished Objects 2020

Wednesday, 25 December 2019

Merry Christmas

Hello everyone and a very Merry Christmas to you all.

I'm just popping in to introduce my new pattern, published today as an extra gift to all the knitters who like my weird ideas.

Tetrahedrons is one of my oddities - patterns that are difficult to classify. Basically, these are tiny knitted shapes which can be sewn together to make decorations or anything else you can think of.

Personally, I started off by putting them in a bowl and playing with them from time to time. Then I took six and sewed them together to make a flexagon. You can fiddle with this endlessly, making it into different shapes.

And then I discovered - oh, joy of joys - that it fitted on my wrist too. 

I had a lot of trouble taking this photo. Trying to position one arm so that the knitting shows up properly while holding the camera steady with the other hand ...

The clever part about this pattern is that the shapes are knitted as double layers so they don't turn into shapeless lumps when they're stuffed. I was rather pleased with that idea. If you've never tried the double knitting technique - slip stitches, two separate layers knitted at once - then this pattern would be a good place to start.

Anyway, have fun with it and enjoy your Christmas.