Dame Hilary, in the Library, with the Knitting Needles

In the United States of America there is a network of Presidential libraries and a library has been established for every president since Herbert Hoover, each located in their home state. In the UK we don’t have such a network, so there is only a single Prime Ministerial library: Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden in Wales.

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Gladstone’s Library

Being the only Prime Ministerial library is not the only thing that makes this place unusual, it is also the largest (some sources say only) residential library in the country. It’s a place that has fascinated me ever since I first heard of it and so, when I saw that Knit for Peace were running a short knitting holiday there, I couldn’t resist.

Last Saturday, therefore, saw me arriving at this amazing building, ready to enjoy meeting other knitters in some impressive surroundings. Outside, there are gardens and an area of woodland, but it is the building that is really impressive, both outside:

and inside

The books are mainly history and theology, so no light reading, but they are accessible on the shelves and you can even sign them out if you are staying and take them back to your room to read. However, I wasn’t really there to read, I was there to knit, socialise and visit some woolly places… which is just what we did.

Upon arrival, we congregated in the sitting room, where I was surprised to be introduced to the founder of the Charities Advisory Trust (the parent organisation of Knit for Peace) Dame Hillary Blume. Two other members of staff also attended the weekend as well as a number of their regular volunteers, meaning that I got to hear lots about their work, from who curates the wool collections for the monthly raffle (which I won last autumn)to the compilation of the Good Gifts Catalogue and what day of the week they have cake in the office.

Each day we went out and about, visiting local wool producers/ retailers, making trips to Abakhan, Black Sheep Wools, The Lost Sheep Company and the Chester Wool Company/Fibrespates, returning to the library to knit and chat. To be honest there was rather more chatting than knitting, and indeed so much chatting that at least two of us (me being one) had to frog some of our work because we made mistakes whilst getting distracted by the conversations!

So, the weekend was a great success – money was raised for the charity, lovely places were visited, knitting was knitted, crochet was crocheted, conversations were had and I made a hat from some of my raffle winnings (it will be returned to Knit for Peace, who will find it a good home).

A million ends later

The play mat is out…IMGP6712

… which can only mean one thing: I have a finished item to block:

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a bit wrinkly 

You may have been wondering why you haven’t seen the optical illusion blanket until now…

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a mitred square

Well, first it took ages to join the squares together invisibly, including running out of blue wool and having to search my stash for some that was close enough not to show. Joining the squares involved putting together one edge that was a single colour against another edge comprising different lengths of the two other colours. The pattern suggested crocheting the join using the colour that formed to one long edge. I tried this, but it meant that the join was visible, because this colour was on the square that had a nice even edge, whilst the  adjacent edge in two colours was made up of the side of the stitches, which are much more difficult to join neatly and invisibly. This problem of joining two edges that don’t have stitches oriented the same way is because each square is mitred, working outwards from one corner, making ever-bigger squares. Anyway, the neatest way turned out to be to use two colours to join every pair of edges – resulting in many, many, many ends to weave in.

Once all the squares were in one piece I added a border of a few rounds using yarn that I already had in my stash, thus limiting my colour choice. Finally, I was able to embark on weaving in all those ends. I went at it evening after evening, only finally finishing yesterday… just in time for the wet weather to arrive and scupper my plans to block this blanket outdoors. So, the mat is laid out in the limery; I pinned the blanket out under the watchful gaze of Daisy – who thoroughly approves of this creation (she doesn’t realise it’s destined to go to Reading with Mr Snail).

 

ScrapHappy April 2019

Last month I was really inspired by Alys’ ScrapHappy greetings cards, so this month I decided to have a go myself. I have loads of card blanks and piles of scrap paper and fabric. I’d also got a 2018 calendar that I couldn’t bring myself to throw out, some old greetings cards and some bits and pieces left over from the days when I used to make a hundred or so Christmas cards to send every year.

I started simple with some glue, paper scraps and the old calendar. The first one I made was a bit messy and I applied  my glue unevenly, so it came out a bit wrinkled. Never mind, it’s a learning process and I was very pleased with my final attempt on the yellow card.

I made several just with paper and then moved on to some including paper, fabric (some swatches from when I was choosing curtains some time ago) and some leaf skeletons that have been hanging around for ages:

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Fabric and leaves on paper

And then I decided to add some stitching, using my sewing machine. I made three cards from scraps of fabric, including some leaf motifs from an old net curtain, having become rather taken with leaves by this point. These are fabric on fabric, plus one leaf skeleton, mounted on card. The one on the left incorporates lots of the tiny trimmings from all the other cards, thus using scraps from scraps.

Finally, I had a little play around with sewing a leaf skeleton onto paper. This was an experiment and I haven’t actually made this into a card, but here it is anyway:

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leaf stitched onto paper

So, here’s the complete set of scrappy cards (except one, which has already been sent):

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scrappy cards

So, thank you Alys for the inspiration, I’m sure I’ll be making many more.

-oOo-

I’ve been inspired to write this (and future) ScrapHappy posts by Kate,  Tall Tales from Chiconia. On the fifteenth of every month lots of other folks often publish a ScrapHappy post, do check them out:

KateGun, TittiHeléneEvaSue, Nanette, Lynn, Lynda,
Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy, Debbierose, Tracy, Jill, Claire, Jan (me)Karen,
Moira, SandraLindaChrisNancy, Alys, Kerry, Claire, Jean, Johanna,
Joanne, Jon, HayleyDawn, Gwen, Connie and Bekki

If you fancy joining, contact Kate and she’ll add you to the list. It would be lovely to see more non-sewing posts, but any use of scraps is welcome.

And another (scrappy) thing

I can’t resist sharing this latest scrappy creation – a third twiddlemuff, this time made from a piece of abandoned crochet.

Ages ago, my friend Danielle gave me a piece of crochet she’d been working on, but which had gone rather wonky along the edges. Originally, I was going to frog it and use the yarn for some charity knitting or crochet, but I was reluctant to pull it apart when the only issue was the edges. Having finished my last twiddlemuff, it dawned on me that this lovely bright, stripy creation would be an ideal outer and that all I needed to do was stitch it into a tube to hide the edges and then make an inner layer.

Tucked away with in the same place, I found a crochet heart that I’d made when I was experimenting with a pattern and that came out too big for the project I was working on at the time, but was perfect for a little pocket now. So, a bit of blanket stitch, some crochet embellishment, a few more buttons from my box, a bit of unwanted ribbon and a piece of cord, some more scrappy yarn either donated or left over from old projects, and Danielle’s abandoned colourful stripes are transformed into another twiddlemuff:

That’s my last one for the time being, but I’m really pleased to have made use of some more “scrap”.

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…

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.

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.

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