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?


  1. I always wanted to play an instrument but was told that I was too old - at the age of 16. Finally a hitchhiker who ended up staying with us for a few days pulled a recorder out of his backpack and with little book of baroque music. We had been without any radio or such for a few years so this was particularly sweet. A year later, when I was thirty-something, I bought a $10 Yamaha recorder and the Trapp Family book, and with fifteen to twenty minutes a day, in three months, I had learned where all the notes were and I could play most music I found. I have gone on to classical guitar, a cello was my companion for ten years, and now I am still with the flute to which I graduated from recorder, and I am enjoying a Yamaha electric piano. And, being an avid knitter, I enjoy perusing your patterns. You seem to have a very rich life. Thank you for sharing it with us. God bless you, Frankie Brown!

  2. I'm so glad you found your way to music. Fancy being told you were too old at 16! I love playing lots of instruments too. I got out my electric keyboard again yesterday (which I bought for the harpsichord sound) so am looking forward to lots of good, early music. I'm not sure if my life is rich or just busy!