Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Deadlines

In all the years I've been designing I've never had trouble coming up with new ideas ... until now. In the last few weeks I've got stuck on several new designs and all the new things I've tried to work on have failed. This was bothering me until I realised what was causing it - deadlines.

As many of you know I design a big series of Christmas patterns for December each year so I'm used to that hanging over me but this year I've added to the pressure with the mini quilts. I was coping with that all right - after all it's only one small pattern each month - but then I had an idea for an even bigger series to run throughout 2018. So I'm now working to three lots of deadlines which is getting in the way of designing new stuff.

It's a difficult balance to strike. The big patterns like these are very popular and therefore bring in more donations but ... they do make the whole exercise feel more like a proper job. I prefer working on designs that come to me out of the blue, just because they seem fun - drifting from one to another as the fancy takes me.

I think next year I shall go back to just doing the Christmas series. I like all the big stuff I'm doing this year but it's just too much work!

As I can't show you a picture of any of these things I'll leave you with another favourite picture book.

This is one of the Frances books written by Russell and Lillian Hoban all of which are wonderful. Frances has a witty and mature style of language for a small child / badger; in this one she's put out at the arrival of a new baby and so runs away to live under the table (as you do). I also love Bread and Jam for Frances which includes the best school packed lunch ever, complete with a little vase of flowers. Any other fans of these books out there?

Monday, 8 May 2017

Cat Meets Dog


Poor Linnet had her first run in with a dog yesterday. My neighbour came round to explain that a visiting dog had gone for her and that she was now at the top of the tree in my garden, hissing and growling.  So, after standing on top of a wobbly ladder for about twenty minutes talking to her, I managed to get her out of the tree. The concerned neighbours had to pretend not to watch as she's frightened of people so that of course made it worse.

I then tracked her down to the top floor of the house and added insult to injury by sponging her with warm water. She had blood on her fur and I was trying to work out how badly she was hurt. In the middle of this tricky procedure the kitten arrived and started hissing at her. I think he could smell how frightened she was but it didn't help! I couldn't find any obvious wound so I left her in peace to calm down.

She spent the evening in the hospital wing (my daughter's bed) and this morning seems fine. She ate her breakfast and then finished off the kitten's too so there can't be much wrong with her. As yet, she hasn't ventured outside again. At least she will now know to treat dogs with caution which isn't a bad thing.

Friday, 5 May 2017

I don't get out much ...

... but when I do, I go to the RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company) at Stratford-upon-Avon. It's only about half an hour's drive from here and my son and I go to all the Shakespeare plays.

Absolutely every play they put on is brilliant. The acting is wonderful, as is the music, the lighting ... you get the idea. I've particularly enjoyed Paapa Essiedu as Hamlet and Michelle Terry as Beatrice  but there are so many outstanding performances it's hard to choose. 

Last week we went to see Antony and Cleopatra and then we're going to Julius Caesar in a few weeks' time (wrong order, I know). The first Shakespeare play I ever saw was 'Antony and Cleopatra'. I was studying it for A Level and came on a trip up from Hampshire to Stratford to see it. It was 1978 and Glenda Jackson was playing Cleopatra - not a bad introduction to Shakespeare on stage!

If anyone is thinking that Shakespeare sounds like hard work, I recommend going to see one of the plays; they're easy to follow when acted. If you can't get to the theatre, the RSC is bringing out DVDs of their productions. I would recommend the two DVDs of Love's Labour's Lost and Love's Labour's Won as an excellent starting point. They're dramatic, funny and full of brilliant songs.

The Shakespeare films made by Kenneth Branagh are also really good. There's an excellent Much Ado About Nothing (my favourite play) or how about Love's Labour's Lost staged as a Thirties Musical? A couple of year's ago I was lucky enough to see Kenneth Branagh in The Winter's Tale at The Garrick.  It was wonderful.

I shall leave you with one of my favourite speechs from Much Ado - not Benedick or Beatrice but Don John, railing against his brother whom he is forced to follow after an unsuccessful rebellion.

'I had rather be a canker in a hedge than a rose in his grace, and it better fits my blood to be disdained of all than to fashion a carriage to rob love from any: in this, though I cannot be said to be a flattering honest man, it must not be denied but I am a plain-dealing villain. I am trusted with a muzzle and enfranchised with a clog; therefore I have decreed not to sing in my cage. If I had my mouth, I would bite; if I had my liberty, I would do my liking: in the meantime let me be that I am and seek not to alter me.'

Act I, Scene III.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

This and That

Yesterday I published the fifth pattern in my series of mini knitted quilts; each one is about the size of a postcard and together they make a lovely woolly calendar. So, here's the May Quilt ...


As you can see, I went for lots of saturated colours with this one. England is very green at this time of year - the grass is a wonderful luscious colour and all the trees are coming into leaf - so I thought I'd reflect that in this little quilt. Mind you, it's hailing at the moment but we'll gloss over that. The tiny butterflies are very quick to knit but they took a-g-e-s to design. The smaller something is, the harder it is to make it look like anything other than a blob.

I haven't make the matching fabric quilt for my daughter yet (sorry about that Rose) but I'm hoping to get it done this week. I'm also behind on the big Christmas pattern and next year's KAL but never mind. There are baroque trills to be wrestled with on the violin and other crafts to do.

Speaking of which ...


... I've finished my Double Ended Crochet Scarf. Isn't it lovely? I really like the way the two sides are so different; even the edges are pretty. I really enjoyed making this and am resisting the temptation to start another project until I've got a bit more time.

I spent the evening yesterday rooting through lots of old picture books to find some of my favourites. The Federation of Children's Book Groups is celebrating National Share-a-Story Month in May and are asking people to tweet about some of their favourite children's illustrators, working through the alphabet one day at a time. Today is 'B' and I've found these three:

Jan Brett, this is one of our favourite Christmas books
Nicola Bayley
Raymond Briggs

There are so many wonderful books illustrated by Raymond Briggs but this is one of the best. I've got a big pile of books ready to photograph for the rest of the alphabet, although some letters are harder than others. I have yet to find a book illustrated by anyone whose last name begins with a 'Q' or an 'X' ...

Friday, 28 April 2017

Who Was Richard Haka?

I'm sure you're all on the edge of your seats wondering just that so I'll put  you out of your misery. Richard Haka was born in England in 1645 but moved with his parents to Amsterdam as a child. He went on to become a renowned maker of recorders and other woodwind instruments. Which leads me to this ...

Aulos 709 BW 'Haka' Alto Recorder

... my new recorder. This is a plastic Alto or Treble recorder, inspired by one of Haka's designs and I love it. It has a lovely tone and the matt finish makes it less slippery to hold. It also clogs up less than my old recorder (one of the less refined aspects of recorder playing).

I bought my recorder in Leamington Spa from Presto Classical, a wonderful music shop that I've only just discovered. The staff are all musicians which is great and, as well as instruments, they also have a huge stock of sheet music and CDs. After choosing my recorder, I had a lovely time looking through their music - they actually stock recorder repertoire as well as tutors which is unusual. These are the two books I bought.


I love baroque music so the first one, Baroque Recorder Anthology Volume 3, was an obvious choice. The other book, English Folk Tunes for Recorder, is for my other recorder which you might say is the new one's big brother.

Alto and Tenor Recorders

My tenor is a Yamaha and was a birthday present from my Mum some years ago. I struggle a bit with the stretch on this one but tenors have a lovely deep sound. If you're not familiar with the recorder as a serious instrument, I can recommend The Flautadors. Here they are, playing a medley of the tracks on their CD Cynthia's Revels - more lovely baroque music.


Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Tunisian Crochet

I have been having such fun experimenting with my new double ended crochet hooks from Purplelinda. Before I launch into blanket making with the Circular Hook, I've been having a little play with a standard Double Ended Tunisian Hook. Look what you can do!


Isn't that clever? You get two different patterns and colours, one on each side. I'm using some neutral coloured aran yarn and odd balls of Sirdar Folksong Chunky to make a scarf. I've got three different shades of the Folksong so I'm swapping them every now and then so that they blend together. This is really compulsive to work on; another bonus is that the crochet doesn't curl as if often does with Tunisian. This is because you're turning the work to use the different yarns.

I started doing Tunisian crochet last year. This is the first thing I made - a cover for my mini iPad.


For this I used three shades of hand dyed yarn from 21st Century Yarn; I love the way the colours blend together, more like weaving than knitting or crochet.

Then of course I'm still working on this ...

Tunisian Entrelac, worked with a normal crochet hook.

At the other end of the scale, I'm enjoying practising my tatting too. It's getting better, although it's best if you don't look too closely. I'm attempting the Hydrangea Doily from New Tatting which is made up of seven little flowers.


Three more to go and then I've got to master adding the edging. I'm using Finca Perle 8 for the coloured centres and some anonymous white thread that I found lying around for the outsides. I'd like to get some thinner thread to try after this.

Any other fans of Tunisian crochet or tatting out there? Tell me I'm not the only one.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Bicester Wools

I thought you might like a look round one of my favourite shops. Bicester Wools - 'the little shop that holds a lot'- is an absolute must if you're ever in this part of the world. It's a family run business and is crammed full of yarn, fabric, haberdashery ... I just love it.

So, let's start with some yarn ...

 

See that crochet blanket? That's what made me buy one of every colour of Stylecraft Batik a few months ago. I'd seen the yarn before but didn't think it looked very exciting 'in the ball'; seeing this lovely blanket (I think it's the Carousel Blanket) changed my mind. 

You can also see some of the new Sirdar Colour Wheels at the front of the display. These are 150 g cakes of DK weight yarn, in some lovely colourways. I decided for once that I wouldn't go for the rainbow option, opting instead for shade 201, Colourama. That's the one with the knitting stuck in it - the colours blend into each other beautifully.

I didn't take a picture of the wall of Stylecraft Special DK, I was too busy raiding it for colours.

I'm still stuck on choosing the colours for this pattern

There's also  Sirdar yarn, Rico yarn, James C Brett yarn ... you get the idea. Here's part of the Rowan display.


Lovely knitting bags too - I especially like those ones with the sheep on. One of the most exciting things though is this ...


Sock yarn! This is the only bricks and mortar shop I know that always has a good selection of sock yarn (sorry about the blurry photo, I get excited around sock yarn). I bought three balls from here, two glittery and one plain which I shall probably weave with. There's more sock yarn in these drawers, including some DK weight.


They've got a good selection of books too. As with all their ranges, you can tell that they've been chosen personally. This means that you find things here that you don't see in other shops.


As if that wasn't enough, the shop also has a huge range of quilting fabric, both on the bolt and in terribly enticing bundles and charm packs. If you can't resist the fabric but don't know what to do with it, they also run Patchwork Classes.


What else? Well, there's the cross stitch and other embroidery kits ...

Again, the personal selection shows - some lovely things here.

Or you might want some of these ...


... or these ...


Perhaps some buttons or other haberdashery? Haberdashery - one of my favourite words.


And then, of course, you might need a basket to keep it all in ...


Can you see why I love this shop so much? Needless to say, the owners are very friendly and knowledgeable about everything to do with yarn and fabric; a visit is always fun (even if I do come out considerably poorer).

There's so much to see, these few photos don't do it justice - you'll just have to visit for yourselves. A good day to go would be Saturday, 29th April as that's the day of their fabric sale - like you needed any more persuasion! One more picture ...

Beautiful Batiks

I hope you've enjoyed this little tour. Do let me know what you think if you visit.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Music Bag

I felt like doing some sewing today so I set about making this ...


I'm calling it a music bag but it would work just as well as a school book bag. it measures about 14" wide and 11" tall and the clever bit is the closure. The handle threads through a gap in the flap to hold it shut. It took me quite a lot of measuring and thinking (and measuring again!) to work out how to do that.

The pattern for the Music Bag is free to download but, if you enjoy making it, do click on the fundraising tap on the sidebar to donate to my chosen charity.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Happy Easter

Springtime Wreath

The sun is shining, the Spring flowers are out and there's chocolate to be eaten. If all else fails, you could always knit yourselves an egg or two.

Friday, 14 April 2017

This Week ...

... I've re-learnt how to tat. Tatting is a way of making lace with a series of knots, using a shuttle and your fingers. I taught myself how to tat years ago, using this little booklet by Rosemarie Peel. I see you can still buy it for £1; with that, a ball of thread and a shuttle you're all ready to go. I was inspired to have another go at tatting by this book.


New Tatting by Tomoko Morimoto is full of lovely colour pictures and the instructions for each technique are well illustrated and explained. So far, all I've made are some little flowers like those on the cover - mine are the two at the top of the picture - but I'm going to try the Christmas Rose design next.

This week ...

... I've been working on my Tunisian Crochet blanket.


This is worked round and round, one colour at a time and, as you only have six or seven stitches on your hook, you can use an ordinary crochet hook. Shades of my Ten Stitch Blankets here. I found the instructions for this technique online (it's called Tunisian Entrelac in the round by the way). It was ages ago and I can't remember the site I used but there's a good Free Craftsy Tutorial by Kathryn Vercillo.

While I'm on the subject of Tunisian Crochet, I've just ordered a Double Ended Crochet Hook from Purplelinda Crafts. I've got a digital copy of 101 Double-Ended Hook Stitches by Deborah Levyhamburg and I've been wanting to play with this technique for ages. I was given some money for Easter and this is what I've bought with it (thank-you Janet). According to my daughter, choosing a crochet hook over all the chocolate available at the moment is very sad.

This week ...

... I've been knitting lots more little squares for my rug.

Only 40 to go - whatever possessed me to start knitting a rug?

This week ...

... I've been working on two big pattern collections, one for Christmas and the other for 2018. This is the Christmas one ...


... well, you didn't really expect me to show you any more than that, did you? I've also been planning a new knitted blanket using Stylecraft Special DK.


I have knitted so many samples, trying out different colour combinations and I'm still not sure which ones to use. I spent hours this morning, laying them all out and squinting at them. There are times when being very short sighted is useful and judging colours is one of those times. For those of you with better sight than mine I can recommend looking backwards through binoculars - jarring colours will jump out at you.

And finally this week ...

... I've been enjoying wrestling with my first Bach piece on the violin.


It looks simple but there's so much to it I keep losing track of the time when I'm practising. I love Bach. This naturally led me to search out some more Bach to play on the piano.


This one's not so simple but oh, so beautiful. Here is someone playing it much better than I can ...


This is Tzvi Erez playing the Adagio from Bach's Piano Concerto in F Minor. I hope you enjoy it.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Knitting Notebooks


I've just started a new knitting notebook (the one with the big spots) and I thought you might like a glimpse inside some of the old ones. As you can see, there are quite a few of them. These are where I work out all my designs. I always start a new notebook very neatly - best handwriting and all that - but it soon degenerates into this sort of thing ...

This was one of those ideas that never saw the light of day.
You might recognise the next one as the start of my big Christmas pattern a few years ago. It took me ages to come up with a name for this one. I do hate it when that happens.

Needle Tree

Anyone remember this pattern?


This one is called Which Came First? (obviously) and one knitter has made twenty of these.  This is how it started out ...


That's enough of my scribbles.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Peanut Butter Cookies


Today I thought I'd share with you an old family recipe for Peanut Butter Cookies. My Mum used to bake these for us and my brother and I both remember them well. A few years ago I tried to re-create them using modern recipes but they all had a lot more sugar and a lot less peanut butter than I remembered. Then I came across this old exercise book of my Grandmother's. 


It had been kept because of the family addresses in it but, at the back, there were a few recipes. Some of these were in my Granny's handwriting and some were written by her Mother, my Great-Grandmother, Annie. That's Annie in the photograph, taken when she was 18 in 1894. And here is her cookie recipe; it's a bit hard to see as it was written in pencil.


I'm pretty sure that this is the recipe my Mum used - they taste just right. 

Peanut Butter Cookies

3 oz butter, softened
3 oz sugar
5 heaped tbsp peanut butter
1 egg
6 oz SR flour

Heat the oven to Gas Mark 6 / 200°C / 400°F.
Cream the butter, sugar and peanut butter together.
Add the beaten egg and flour.
Divide the mixture into 16 and roll into balls.
Put the balls on two greased baking sheets and flatten each with a fork.
Bake for about 20 minutes (I swap the trays every five minutes) or until golden brown.
Leave to cool on the trays.

Since I started baking these I've had to resort to buying my peanut butter in big tubs rather than jars, 5 tablespoons is a lot! The one I buy is made by  Whole Earth. I hope you enjoy this recipe - let me know if you try it.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Craft Sunday

I enjoyed last week's Craft Day so much that I decided to make it a regular thing. It really does me good to have a day off from the 'knitting empire' to do other creative stuff. It's made me realise how many unfinished projects I have lying around the house. Do you remember the snowball blocks that I finished hand piecing last week? Well, with the help of my Singer Featherweight Betty (she was made in Coronation year), they're now a fully fledged quilt top.

I only make small quilts, this one's about 25 x 20" 

A Featherweight machine is ideal for machine piecing as it sews a very accurate straight seam. Also, it's small (about half the size of a normal machine) and looks beautiful. Mine is about 65 years old and still going strong. Replacement parts can be bought if anything does wear out (the rubber feet deteriorate over the years); I've found this shop to be very good.



The next project I worked on was a small needlepoint sampler that I don't think I've touched for nearly a year. Things have come to a pretty pass when you have to dust your sewing! I bought some lovely variegated Caron threads at the Crown Needlework shop in Hungerford, added a few plain colours and am just making it up as I go along, trying lots of different textured stitches.


I was inspired to do this after enjoying working several kits by Sue Hawkins. The scissor keeper in the picture is one of hers; I bought the scissors from her too. Sue is often to be seen at needlework shows; do try her designs, she has a great eye for colour and her kits are fun to sew.

In the evening I did some wool needlepoint. This is a kit for a purse designed by Rico which I bought several years ago from Abakhan in Liverpool. My daughter was living just down the road from the shop at the time so, every time I visited her, we would spend ages looking round the shop. Sadly, there isn't an Abakhan near here and, somehow, online shopping isn't quite so exciting.


As you can see, this is an easy design to work, much like colouring in really. I suspect that putting it together will be trickier though; I'm not looking forward to attaching that clasp.

I did think of doing some more work on the teddy bear that's been sitting in a bag in pieces for years but by the time I'd sorted through the pieces and worked out what to do next, I didn't feel like it. 


I've actually only got the arms and ears to sew before it starts looking like a bear. I sew my bears by hand, using backstitch and quilting thread for strength. Here are a few I made earlier ...


Just to show that I do actually finish things sometimes, here's the scarf that I started weaving last Sunday.


That's Mr Bennet modelling it; he's very patient when I want to take his photo. I used a ball of glittery sock yarn for the scarf; I've lost the ball band so I can't remember which one. It was really an excuse to try out my new Ashford Fringe Twister which I bought from Scottish Fibres. It makes twisting cords so much easier and also served to entertain Tolly the kitten. I tried to get photos of him 'helping' but he's nowhere near as patient as Mr Bennet.

I wonder what I can find for next week. Does anyone else have craft days like this?