Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Spring Finishing

I think Spring Finishing is a much better idea than Spring Cleaning. Actually, I've been doing some of that too but didn't think you'd appreciate photos of my scruffy house (and that's after the cleaning).

My first finish is the Tunisian Crochet scarf I told you about a few weeks ago. This was from the pattern in the book Tunisian Crochet Workshop and it was a fun, quick project. Here it is being modelled by the ever patient Mr Bennet.

What do you mean, you don't have a life size cuddly sheep in your house? What do you do when you want to photograph a scarf or shawl then? My sheep is named after Mr Bennet in Pride and Prejudice whose patience is also sorely tried.

I was going to add pompoms to the ends of the scarf but, in the end, just sewed on some bright coloured buttons instead. Which reminds me, I've started my own button Charmstring. Victorian ladies used to collect buttons on a string like this; they all had to be different and the buttons had to be given, not bought. The idea was to collect 999 buttons, at which point the love of your life would appear and give you button number 1,000.

I've got about a dozen buttons so far so I've got quite a way to go. As you can see, these are all metal buttons; I'm tempted to start another one with bright coloured plastics. It's probably as well to hedge your bets; it would be a bit sad if Prince Charming turned up with the wrong sort of button and I had to send him away.

I've also finished the crochet blanket that I started making out of some old Noro crochet squares I found in a box. I crocheted round each one, crocheted them together and then added a border. The border took a while as I kept thinking "just one more round". Anyway, it's been washed, blocked (and had the cat hairs it acquired during blocking removed) and I'm pleased with it.

I've been putting up a few decorations for Easter too, well ... the odd bunny anyway.

I'll put vases of daffodils everywhere tomorrow and then it will look more Spring - like. I do like my Springtime Wreath. You don't need much else when you've got one of these to hang up.

See that mottled effect in the top right corner of the picture? That's what you get when the sun shines through old, Victorian wobbly glass.

With Easter in mind, I knitted up some little flower brooches the other day. I've got a small collection of old china posy brooches and my knitted flowers match them nicely.

You can get the free pattern for my Spring Posies from ravelry as normal. They can be made as normal brooches or you can use a paper clip to turn them into buttonholes.

I think I'll go and do some quality control on those little chocolate eggs I bought now ...

Friday, 16 March 2018

Back on my Needles

Back in October 2015 my daughter gave me a very exciting birthday present - a yarn advent calendar.

There were 24 doors to open and behind each was a mini ball of Opal sock yarn. Each one weighed about 15 g and they all had suitably festive tiny ball bands.

I really enjoyed finding the new yarn each day and knitted one square with each colour during advent.

Then, in the New Year, I knitted two more squares from each little ball. The three above all came from one colourway. As you can see, I added some plain cream yarn to break up all that colour (as well as making the yarn go further). And this is what I turned all those little squares into ...

This is my Patchwork Pelerine, a cross between a shawl and a poncho. It buttons up down the front and has a straight hem on one side and a pointed one on the other. This is one of my favourite things to wear, I really love it.

This of course left me with about 4 or 5 g each of 24 different variegated yarns which I was determined to use up. So, later in 2016, I turned them into 24 little Advent Stars, each with their own number.

I was so pleased to have used up every scrap of yarn that I decided to repeat the whole project and treated myself to the next Opal Advent Calendar in Winter 2016.

And this is where I got stuck. 
It didn't take me long to decide what to knit - folded flowers that I would turn into a quilt. So, off I went ...

So far, so good. Easy to knit and pretty on both sides. Now I knew I was going to need to add some other yarn to be able to make something big enough to justify being called a blanket. Having used cream as my contrast colour for the Pelerine, I decided to use a dark colour this time and found a nice dark grey Opal yarn.

Yes, I know they're different sizes - my tension may not always be spot on.

The plan was to alternate the coloured flowers with the grey ones ... the only problem was, when I laid the first few out, I didn't like how it looked.

Too heavy looking and the coloured flowers look a bit odd in amongst the grey. Now, having hit this problem, you might think that I'd have tried a different contrast colour or played around with the arrangement. But no, what I actually did was put the flowers away in a basket and forget about them for a year. I didn't seem to be able to get past my original plan.

Anyway, last week I got them all out again (feeling rather guilty at having neglected them for so long) and, straight away, it dawned on me that I could just space the grey flowers out a bit.

Already it looks better and there are other arrnagements I could try. Perhaps a grey flower in the centre surrounded by coloured flowers and then the occasional ring of grey? Why didn't I think of that a year ago?

So I'm now steaming ahead, knitting lots more flowers so that I can play with other ways of arranging them.

The eagle-eyed among you will spot that I've knitted just a few more of the coloured ones than the grey. In fact there are 31 coloured flowers and 9 grey ones (I had to count them three times, I was sure I'd done more than that). This is because the grey ones are boring to knit! I'm now making myself knit two grey flowers for every coloured one in an effort to even them up a bit.

Maybe I'll actually get this quilt finished and turned into a pattern this year. I wonder if Opal are planning an Advent Calendar for 2018?

This isn't the only old project I've resurrected recently. When sorting out boxes of beads the other day I came across a box full of crochet squares. Don't ask me why they were in a box with the beads, I have no idea. I remember making them with odd balls of Noro Silk Garden Lite more than ten years ago.

There were 25 squares all together and it seemed a shame to leave them in that box (also, I needed it for beading supplies) so I decided to turn them into a quick blanket. I'm crocheting round them with some Stylecraft Special DK in Parchment that I bought by mistake (please tell me that happens to you too) and then I'll crochet them together.

I'm having to resist the temptation to abandon my proper woolly work and just do these at the moment. I'm trying only to do one after I've done some proper work. This morning I spent several hours cutting and sticking bits of card to make a prototype for this year's big Christmas pattern so that definitely earned me a bit of crochet. I wonder if writing a blog post counts too?

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Learning New Stuff

There's something about learning how to do new things that's exciting and very satisfying. This is why I try to fit too many crafts into the time available. Recently I've been expanding my Tunisian Crochet skills with the help of a very good book by Michelle Robinson, the Australian designer behind the Poppy & Bliss blog. It's called Tunisian Crochet Workshop and it certainly lives up to its name. There's lots of helpful advice, a good selection of stitch patterns and some really nice patterns.

I'm often disappointed by the projects in craft books; they can be a bit basic. That's definitely not the case with this one. There are several scarves, yes, but they're interesting and focus on different skills. You could learn entrelac by working that beautiful rainbow project bag and there's a fantastic sampler blanket - I think it's worth buying the book just for those two projects.

So, what have I made? Well, I started off with the first project in the book, these Tassel Pouches.

These are worked in the round ... on one straight hook. I know, it doesn't sound possible, does it? Once I grasped the technique, I loved making my little purse. You work the round in sections, back and forth ... which seems to make no sense at all. The author explains it much better than I can.

I used a different weight yarn and adjusted the number of rounds but I was quite pleased with my finished purse.

It took me ages deciding how to decorate it. In the end I settled on some nice old buttons on one side and a bit of weaving on the other. That was another tip from the book - I'd never thought of adding weaving to the finished crochet. As the basic Tunisian simple stitch is square you could also use cross stitch.

Now I'm making this scarf.

This uses one ball of variegated sock yarn and teaches you how to shape your crochet and add eyelets. Michelle recommends blocking the finished scarf to open up the eyelets but I think I'll leave mine as it is; I like the ripply look.

This is mine so far. The yarn is Stylecraft Head Over Heels and the shade is called Matterhorn. I love the way the stripes are working out. The pattern tells you to increase until you've used half your yarn and then decrease - nice and simple - but I stopped at 40 stitches and then worked straight for a while. I'm ready to start the decrease section now. If I have enough yarn left over, I think I'll add some pompoms to the ends.

The other craft I've been playing with lately isn't exactly new. I've made jewellery for many years but it's been a while since I got my beads and stuff out. Anyway, I had a play with some chain, jump rings and buttons the other day and made two bracelets with matching earrings.

For the first set I used various brightly coloured plastic buttons; I think these will look nice in the summer. The second set is made with antique looking chain and rings that I bought intending to venture into Steampunk jewellery. The buttons are all old ones with shanks. I had a lovely time choosing these. It reminded me that I've been collecting special buttons, intending to make a Charmstring; I really must get started on threading them.

The third thing I've been learning recently isn't completely new either. I've had my Tenor recorder for some years but have never got very far with it because of the stretch for the fingers of my right hand. So, I've been concentrating on the Alto instead. I've found Sarah Jeffery's videos on her Team Recorder channel really helpful. She's full of energy and the videos are always entertaining as well as packed with useful information and tips. She talks about Baroque music, modern music, all the different recorders, how to breathe properly, hand position ... oh, and there's also a video on how to make a recorder out of a carrot. 

Anyway, recently Sarah made a video just about the Tenor recorder, Getting Started on the Tenor Recorder and this has made me get my Tenor out again and have another go. Not that I'm easily influenced, but the fact that one of the recorders she plays in the video is the same as mine really encouraged me. Then it occurred to me that if I can stretch the fingers on my left hand for the violin as I have over the last year, then I can do the same for the recorder.

And, so far, it seems to be working. I can't say that I can suddenly get those bottom notes easily but I am improving. I think half the battle is having the confidence that you will get there eventually with practice. The music I've been playing is a collection of English Folk Tunes which is great. I particularly like the tunes from John Playford's 17th Century dance book. The ones on the pages in the picture are 'Jack's Maggot', 'Portsmouth' and 'Old Noll's Jig' - wonderful names.

In case you're wondering about the different recorders, there are many sizes ranging from the tiny Garkleins which are about 6" long to the Contrabasses which are as tall as a person. The most commonly played sizes however are the Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Bass. These are in the keys of C, F, C and F respectively, which means that any music in C written for the Soprano recorder can also be played on the Tenor. Here are my Soprano, Alto and Tenor recorders together to give you an idea of the sizes.

The Soprano is also known as the Descant recorder and is the one most children start with. I've had mine for many years and, although it was good at the time, there are much better plastic recorders available now. I'm thinking of buying one to match my Alto which is an Aulos 709W and has a lovely tone. My Tenor is a Yamaha YRT304B. Obviously, good wooden recorders are much better than plastic ones but they're also much more expensive so I'm happy with these.

I'll leave you with a video of the Royal Wind Recorder Consort playing a short piece by the wonderful John Dowland. Isn't the recorder a beautiful instrument?