Fiddling with texture

My second twiddlemuff is complete. Again I used quite a lot of Scheepjes Softfun yarn, but I also included oddments of three pure cotton yarns (sunshine yellow, purple and an odd sort of pink/beige) and some cotton-rich bits that came, I think, originally from Jenny (Simply Hooked) a long, long time ago. Anyway, it’s nice and soft and easily washable and, yet again, I added some eyelash yarn so there was something fluffy to stroke and a pocket with a pompom on a string, plus a couple of crochet flowers, a crochet bobble that I found in my bag of scraps (I think it was originally a dragon nostril!), another pompom with sparkly bits and two firmly tied pieces of cotton tape that had once fastened a box of French chocolates.

Finally I rummaged through my button box. I focused this time specifically on finding different textures and selected:

  • a mother of pearl button with 4 holes, stitched on with a cross, for extra texture
  • a shiny, smooth button with a shank… one of the last buttons left from the first cardigan I ever knitted (about 40 years ago)
  • a black ridged button with a shank
  • a classic plastic button with a star indent
  • a green wooden heart

I actually pulled out more buttons than this originally, but the suggestion is that there are only about five items on the inside and five items on the outside, so I whittled my selection down a bit.

I really like this sort of scrappy project – it gives me the opportunity to work with bits and bobs that would otherwise probably remain languishing in a box or bag, plus it’s actually useful. I’m on a bit of a downer about how many scrap projects I see in various places that just convert one useless thing into a different useless, ugly thing…. and even worse, things that potentially spread problems further (plastic bag bunting, for example). I want to find ways to use scraps to make beautiful things, or useful things and that’s one of the reasons I’m always so inspired by the monthly ScrapHappy posts from everyone who joins in – long may you all continue to be so creative.

 

What a bind

Back in January one of my birthday presents from Mr Snail was a course at Make it in Wales – a café and craft space in Cardigan. Naturally there were no courses that I wanted to do near to my birthday, so it wasn’t until 10 days ago that I actually got my present. To make it even better, my friend Sue (Going Batty in Wales) also booked to come along, so we had a lovely day together being creative. The course I chose was Coptic bookbinding.

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Sue’s cover under construction (c) Sue Laverack

I did do a little bit of bookbinding at primary school, but it’s a long, long time ago and I have no real recollection of it, apart from knowing that we made stitched books with a covered spine (no idea what the technical term is… is that case bound?). Coptic binding, in contrast, has exposed decorative stitching and the course involved making a keepsake book, with both pages and envelopes bound in. Because there is room for expansion, Coptic binding lends itself to a book that you might want to stick things in or with envelopes that might end up fatter than when originally inserted. The open spine shows off the pages inside, so using coloured paper around the bundles of white pages (the signatures) and for the envelopes allowed us to make attractive finished books.

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Making an envelope (c) Sue Laverack

Our tutor, Carole King, provided hand-printed paper of her own design for the covers and keepsake envelopes, along with lovely plain colours to choose from. We started by making the covers for our books, pasting printed paper onto the boards and then adding a colour to cover the inside of each cover. I chose a black on white print of little houses and Sue chose a fishy design on green. After that we cut out three envelopes to go inside (one in the print and two coloured ones) added any extra colour we wanted and arranged our pages into a pleasing order.

After a delicious lunch in the café (thank you Sue for treating me), the afternoon was spent learning to stitch our books together and finally finishing off by gluing the envelopes closed (you have to leave them open to allow access for stitching) and trimming the pages.

It’s an ancient technique, but still being practiced and valued today. I’m pretty certain this won’t be the last book I make and I already have my eye on future courses to learn different techniques.

Twiddling

Patricia’s post about knitting for good causes resulted in many suggestions (here on the blog and on Twitter and Facebook) of worthy recipients for our work. One, in particular, caught my eye because it was so local and covered two good causes: Incredible Edible Carmarthenshire (a group who promote community growing in public spaces) were asking for twiddlemuffs, apparently they keep a stock of them to hand out at events and they are running low. For those of you who are not familiar with twiddlemuffs, they are knitted or crocheted tubes, incorporating various textures and items that can be given to people with dementia so that they have something to occupy their restless hands, plus they can simply keep hands warm. I’ve made a few in the past, so I decided this would be a good way to use up some scraps and stash yarns.
Periodically I acquire yarn that I probably wouldn’t actually go out and buy, and projects like the twiddlemuffs can be a great way to use some of this up. My Crochet Sanctuary weekend resulted in me coming home with some lovely blue Scheepjes Softfun yarn, intended to be used for a hot water bottle cover that we started during the retreat. However, on reflection I decided I didn’t really want another hot water bottle cover and so I frogged my work and put the yarn to one side. Rummaging through my stash, though, I came across it and knew that it would be an ideal base for a twiddlemuff – washable and soft.
I started by crocheting a tube, with a few added stripes of yarn with different textures – a bobbly one, a couple of wooly ones, a bit of rough silk/cotton and some eyelash yarn, all left over from past projects.

Double the length, so it can be folded in on itself

I added a little pocket, found a couple of crochet flowers that I made when I was teaching a workshop and stitched these on and made two pompoms – one for the inside and one attached by a crochet chain to take in and out of the pocket. To add some texture, I tied on a piece of cotton tape and a length of silky cord. Finally I attached a few buttons – nothing too weighty, because twiddlemuffs shouldn’t be able to cause harm!

I photographed it right way round and inside out so you could see what treasures lie hidden. The orange bits are on the inside.

Back to the stash now to find the next lot of yarn that needs using up for a good cause…

Truth

2019-03-28I love the internet.

I hate the internet.

And… I remember the days before the internet. Do you? You know, when information was relatively difficult to find and we used to toddle off to the library to look things up.

Now, I’m not saying that those were better days, and buying a knitting pattern certainly took much longer, but there were benefits. First, information in books tended, whilst biased by the author’s opinions/agenda, not to be enormously swayed by the demands of advertisers. And, second, some degree of filtering happened before a book was published – acceptance by a publisher and subsequent editing, for example. I know that there was still plenty of misinformation, not to mention downright lies, but we were exposed to less of it because all information (true or false) was harder to access.

Now, we are bombarded by information and it can be overwhelming. How often do we look for something and get a million or more hits from our internet search, so only look at the first couple of suggested sites? How often do we see some figures on social media and think that they must be correct because they are quoted by a friend or a “trusted” source? Apart from anything else, what I consider to be a trustworthy source may not be the same as what you think is a trustworthy source.

However, the fact that we can access all this vast store of information is marvellous because, unlike in days gone by, we can follow up on it, we can check it, we can examine sources, we can find out more about the view of the author or publisher and, therefore, we have the opportunity to be more discerning than ever before. But often, we don’t… because it takes time, or because the information that we see supports our existing view of the world or makes us feel good. I know that I am much more likely to fact-check something that I disagree with or that makes me uncomfortable than something that confirms my existing opinion.

I am not someone who clicks the “share” button very often on my social media accounts and, you may have noticed, that here on the blog I try to research my information-sharing posts thoroughly and provide links to the sources. I generally don’t entirely believe the attention-grabbing headline statistics I see, but recently I find myself becoming more and more cynical and wondering what agenda is being served by the numbers and “facts” that appear before me. So, I’ve started looking a bit more closely – even at the numbers I like. I recently came across a useful fact checking charity called Full Fact, which seems to be impartial and I have used Snopes for many years. What I’d really like, though, is for people to check before they post. We are all responsible for “fake news” if we keep spreading it around.

So… are you a sharer or a cynic? Do you have a preferred fact-checking website? Do you reference the information that you put on your blog?

 

It’s a boy!

Well, there was a 70% chance that it would be, but it’s interesting to know for sure…

Yes, the first flowers on my monkey cup have finally opened and revealed themselves to be male. Only having one plant I knew I would never be able to have babies, but the flowers are interesting to see.

I noticed this morning that one of the best places to see this plant from is in the shower, so I climbed back in the shower once it was dry and you can see how many lovely new leaves are appearing.

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growing some new leaves

It’s currently not forming new pitchers, but hopefully we’ll have lots more later in the year once the flower is done.

Making, but not excessively

By Patricia Collins

Dorothy was 89 when I asked her how she spent the long dark evenings of winter. “Jigsaws’ was her answer. “Do you knit?” “I love knitting, but I’ve no one left to knit for”.  Her family of children and grandchildren were grown up and fending for themselves and her great-grandchildren had reached the age when they would not be seen in hand made clothes. Now there’s a topic for discussion!

Dot’s rather plaintive cry was something that I could relate to though in s slightly different way. I love making things, sewing in particular, but I’ve reached the stage where I have everything I need – sufficient clothes, accessories, curtains, aprons and the rest.  From now on my sewing life could easily be confined to repairs and the making of an occasional pot holder.  Any more would be surplus, excess.  But I still love sewing and have a box of material just waiting to be used.  How do we make stuff without making more stuff?

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Dot, at her knitting group, models a fleece hat!

There was a simple solution for Dot. A few of us started to meet regularly in our village tea shop and exchange news about local projects needing hand knitted items. Now well into her 90s, Dot is keeping the local premature baby unit in exquisite tiny clothes. Others in the knitting group have produced hedgehogs for the local rescue, blankets for homeless people, warm bed socks to welcome refugees to the county.

There was a solution for me too and a chance to get back to that stash of fabrics and enjoy my sewing again. Shoe bags for the women’s rescue, incubator quilts for the hospital, Little Dresses for Africa and my easy favourite Morsbags for the food bank. There are projects galore on the web wanting and needing our sewing skills.  We can make more without making excess. Any favourite sites anyone?

All an illusion

Somehow there has been much more doing than writing going on at Chez Snail in recent weeks Having completely failed to manage a scrappy project in time for the March ScrapHappy, I am determined now to do better in the coming month. I’ve been busy with some scrap-based things, but I’m saving posting about those so I don’t miss another SH on the 15th. I have completed the crochet for the sofa seat covers, but I’m dithering slightly about the finishing as I have a choice to make about the backing… I think I know what I’m going to do, but I don’t want to post about that until it’s complete.

Much of my time, however, has been taken up with a blanket that I’ve had the pattern for since last summer, but hadn’t quite got round to doing anything with. Originally I was going to make this for Mr Snail to take to Reading whilst he’s working away, but then I decided to make him a snuggly hexie blanket from scraps first. However, having discovered that he’s got two sofas in his rented flat, it seemed appropriate to make him a second blanket. The squares are now all finished, and probably don’t look very promising at first glance:

Dull squares

However, when laid out, look a bit more interesting:

some depth

I rather like how different this design is from most crochet patterns – the simplicity and the optical illusion were very appealing to me, and it will look even better once the squares are joined and edged. The Pattern is Cubine by Magdalene Lee and you can find it on Ravelry. The wool is aran weight and all British: the brown is natural Zwartbles produced by my friend Val; the blue is from Woolyknit; and the cream is from New Lanark.

In the limelight

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Excellent books – especially if you don’t want to make huge quantities.

Since Friday I’ve been very busy, on and off, with lime-related activities – zesting, juicing and freezing quite a lot of them. I loved the suggestion (from several of you) about making lime curd, but then dithered over which recipe to use. Finally, I settled on one from Marisa McClellan’s book Food in Jars (which I’m pretty sure was recommended to me by one of you two or three years ago). I chose this recipe because it suggests using a boiling water bath after putting the curd into the jars to extend the life to as long as four months, compared to the usual week or two (not that it’s likely to last four months in this house). Whilst looking for the recipe I browsed through Marisa’s other book Preserving by the Pint and discovered an interesting recipe for something called Caramelized Meyer Lemon Syrup – a sauce that she suggests drizzling over yoghurt or waffles. Basically you caramelize some sugar and then stir in lemon juice and zest – I decided to have a go at a lime version.

So, this morning I set to and zested, juiced, stirred, boiled and bottled and produced two small jars of Caramelized Lime Syrup and two of Zesty Lime Curd:

I was devastated to realize that I’d got slightly too much lime curd for the jars, so I was forced to consume the left-over bit on some toast for my lunch.

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Homemade bread and homemade lime curd, using eggs laid by our own hens.

I still have a dozen limes unprocessed and I think a lime drizzle cake is on the cards for the weekend.

ScrapHappy Update

I simply can’t wait until next month to share my completed February ScrapHappy project with you. I used a pattern from etsy called the Carina Satchel and, apart from a few places where I scratched my head a bit, it all went quite smoothly. I took Kate‘s advice and used a denim/jeans needle and didn’t break a single one – thank you for that tip. In addition, I worked almost entirely using the walking foot on my sewing machine, which coped well with multiple layers and ‘sticky’ vinyl.

In the end I used a few new things: the hardware (a magnetic clasp, two D-rings, a slider and two swivel clips), some waistband interfacing (to make sure the strap was nice and tidy) and a small amount of ready-made piping (which I could have made myself, but decided to buy). Working with vinyl meant that the bag mostly couldn’t be pinned, because pins leave holes in the plastic, so I used the sewing clips that I’d bought specifically to use for bag-making. Of course these are going to be used time and again. All the fabric and most of the interfacing as well as the fleece, which helps to give structure, were scraps.

And here it is completed:

Now, I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t look at that and think ‘scrap’. I’m now on the look out for other old vinyl tablecloths, although I have lots more of that one to play with still.

You can’t always get what you want

… or even what you expect.

For several weeks now I have been planning a Friday market trip, with the intention of buying winter vegetables to make some soup for the freezer. Two weeks ago we had torrential rain, so I decided to give it a miss; last week I had so much editing work on tight deadlines that I didn’t have time; but this week the weather was good and there weren’t too many piles of work to get through. So, I set my alarm clock and was leaving the house just after 7:30… before arriving back three minutes later because I’d forgotten to pick up the insulated cup of tea that I’d made to take with me in lieu of breakfast.

When I got down to Newcastle Emlyn, I was a little disappointed to discover no nets of leeks or parsnips. I could have bought a huge sack of swedes, but I really could not think of anything I might want to make with 20 of the things. So, I browsed around and discovered lots of nice veg in smaller quantities (they sell both big boxes and small amounts), so I selected some sweet potatoes and squashes (both always good for soup), some onions, six big fat red peppers and a couple of cauliflowers (Mr Snail loves cauliflowers and I’m rubbish at growing them)… and then my eye was caught by some boxes of tomatoes. Since, in my experience, it’s not possible to have too many jars of passata in the cupboard and it’s nearly six months since I last made any, I though I couldn’t go wrong at £2.50 a box, and bought two. And throughout my visit, I kept being drawn back to the boxes of limes (another thing that Mr Snail loves). What could I possibly do with a box of limes? We don’t like marmalade and even I can only drink so much gin. But I simply couldn’t resist – and for the same price as a box of tomatoes.

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My haul of not exactly winter vegetables

When I got home the tomatoes were quickly sorted (there’s always a few bad ones, which is why they are so cheap), washed, halved and the first batch put in the oven to roast. I made a big pot of soup – spicy squash and sweet potato (eight portions) – and I counted the limes – 59. And then I had to do some paid work.

On Saturday I got the passata mill out and processed all the roasted tomatoes, then bottled them: 11 half-litre jars and five quarter-litre jars. I made a second batch of soup: roasted red pepper, sweet potato and squash, with chilli, ginger and garlic. And I finally decided what to do with four of the limes: a lemon surprise pudding; the surprise is supposed to be the sauce that forms in the bottom, but I provided a second surprise by making it with lime not lemon.

So, today I’m going to zest and juice some of the limes and store the results in the freezer for subsequent cooking. I’m also going to quarter some of them and freeze then for use in g&t and other drinks and for (defrosted) squeezing over Mexican food, plus I’ll keep some in the fridge to use for cooking over the next couple of weeks. None of them will go to waste.

So, my winter veg shopping trip turned into something completely different, plus when my alarm clock went off on Friday morning I woke to a bedroom filled with orange light, and when I looked out I was greeted by the most glorious sunrise:

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good morning sunrise

So, it’s quite true – you can’t always get what you want, but sometimes, instead, you get sunshine and limes.

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