Sprucing things up

Looking around our house the other day I realised that you would never know about my obsession with fibre… other than all the work bags and baskets. You may be surprised to know that the place is not awash with afghans, covered with crochet cushions nor festooned with felt. There are a few things around… felt tea cosy and camera case, lots of knitted socks and a variety of hats and gloves, but not much that’s showy or obvious. Around my office, you can see a knitted Nessie, crochet snail, mushrooms and bacteria, but they are quite discreet. Much of my work has been given away, swapped or sold. Soon, however, the masterpiece will adorn our bed and I will start on my Bavarian crochet afghan.

It's all too easy to lose a dog in our sofa

It’s all too easy to lose a dog in our sofa…

But right now I have embarked on a big new project. Our sofa is nearly 14 years old. It’s still comfy and we don’t want to get rid of it (despite the fact that it eats hair grips, crochet hooks, scissors and, occasionally, dogs), but it is looking rather tired and Sam has decided in recent years that all the zippers on the cushions are especially yummy and should be eaten. We have a spare set of covers, but we are fast running out of covers that have functioning zippers for the big square cushions (five of them) that go along the back. Fortunately, Sam has not noticed the large zipper up one side at the back of the sofa, so the two big covers are ok. In theory, I could replace the zippers, but I don’t want to for two reasons: (1) I hate putting in new zippers, and these are right along the top of each cushion, so are fiddly to replace, and (2) Sam would probably just eat them again (sigh). Anyway, it seems like a great excuse to yarnstorm my own home.

... but it's still comfy

… but it’s still comfy

And so, blue yarn has arrived and crochet fun has commenced. I’m making the first cushion cover with Attic24’s Neat Ripple pattern as this was so successful for the cushion I made for my sis. Originally my intention was to make them all the same, but I’m tempted to use the same palette for them all, but different designs (would this be too much?) I have chosen five colours from the New Lanark range of double knitting wool: sky haze, iris, limestone, navy and denim. It’s going to require rather a lot of yarn and many hours of work, but I think that it will look great when it’s done. So often people throw away perfectly good furniture because it’s got a bit worn, so it feels good to put some work into reinvigorating  this sofa.

The first cover is progressing

The first cover is progressing

Getting organised

As well as getting rid of extraneous ‘stuff’ from around the house, I’m also trying to be more organised with the stuff that I do want to keep. This is a real challenge for me because I am just naturally untidy (I wish I wasn’t). Since I always have numerous craft projects on the go, I decided to start making project bags in which to keep them – each one neat and tidy and separate from the others. This also gives me an excuse to make yet more things! Here is my first completed one, containing the, as yet unfinished, hoodie in Jacobs wool (I’ve sort of lost the incentive to finish it quickly now the weather is warmer):

I adapted Lucy’s Jolly Chunky Bag pattern (Attic24) to make it the size I wanted and used New Lankark aran weight wool.

I photographed the bag last night with a chair as a backdrop and I was surprised to find Max underneath. I wonder if he felt he’d had a hard day:

In case you are wondering the wine is Cheverny – it’s French and very good.

British wool

I’ve been very busy over the past couple of weeks, mostly working with British wool. In my efforts to buy local, I have become interested in using Welsh wool, but this is easier said than done. You see, here in Britain, we have the Wool Marketing Board and, except in particular circumstances, all wool producers must channel their wool through this organisation. This means that wool produced locally gets muddled up with wool from other parts of the country. It even means that Falkland Islands wool (which has travelled a very long way around the world) is  part of the picture. The only way that you can guarantee exactly where the wool has come from is to buy yarn made from the fleece of a rare breed, because this is kept separate and can be marketed individually.* The problem with rare breed wool is the expense.

I have just had to accept that, in most cases, the best I can do is to look for ‘British Wool’. I don’t have any issues with this when I am making things for myself, but it is more of a problem when I’m working on a commission. First, I have customers who specify a particular colour. It’s really easy to get any colour in acrylic yarn and this is what customers have often seen – getting a match in pure wool can be more challenging. Second is the price – acrylic yarn is cheap (for your pocket if not for the environment) and this is a consideration in many cases. And third, lots of people actually don’t like wool – because of the texture, the washing or the fact that it’s from an animal (I have lots of vegan friends who won’t use animal fibres).

Chunky slippers made from 'Big Brit Woolyknit' yarn

Chunky slippers made from ‘Big Brit Woolyknit’ yarn

So, I’m trying to strike a balance – using British Wool where possible and trying to minimise the amount of acrylic I do use. Sometimes some man made fibre is essential: the most robust sock yarn that is also soft is generally 75% wool and 25% man made fibre. In many cases, however, wool is a good choice. For example, all the crochet slippers I have made recently have made use of hard-wearing, chunky British wool. Plus I’ve been using lovely New Lanark wool for the masterpiece edging and for the cushion cover for my sister. With the leftovers from the latter I have started making an Attic24 stripy bag (the original is in chunky acrylic, but I am using aran wool and adapting the pattern a bit).

In addition to the wool I choose, I have realised that when I need buttons, I can avoid plastic and buy ones made from natural materials, or at least use up some from my button box so I’m not buying new plastic ones. And, indeed, I was able to find four lovely buttons in my button box for my sister’s cushion cover… in fact they are antique mother of pearl and much nicer than any I could buy. Perhaps it’s just too easy to toddle of and buy new things when, with a little thought and effort, we can discover exactly what we need at home.


* Many thanks to Jude at Red Apple Yarn in Lampeter for explaining all this to me

Making waves

Another pair of socks

Another pair of socks

It’s always nice to have a project on the go that does not require much thought. Currently I have a couple of these: a nearly completed pair of socks for Mr Snail-of-Happiness and a cushion cover for my sister. The latter was requested, but the specification was simply that it had to be in greys and purples to match her newly decorated living room. I really like this sort of commission – no exact colour-matches required, no compulsion to follow a pattern I don’t enjoy making, plus a great excuse to toddle off to Red Apple Yarn. And in this case, it has given me an excuse to have a go at a design that I’ve been itching to try out for a while now, namely Attic24’s Neat Ripple pattern. If you have never visited Attic24, do go and have a look at Lucy’s wonderful patterns and creations… just bear in mind you may be some time!

Testing out the colours of the cushion in situ at an early stage of creation

Testing out the colours of the cushion in situ at an early stage of creation

These sort of projects are important to me because they give my hands something to do whilst my brain is elsewhere. Admittedly, the elsewhere may be watching the TV or listening to an audiobook, but it might also be thinking about the garden, planning a new blog post, mulling over a course that I’m going to be teaching or simply letting my mind wander, nevertheless it means that I am being physically creative. One of the reasons that we have so many pairs of hand knitted socks is my commitment to keeping my hands busy. Many of the socks have been knitted whilst I have been teaching. I often set learners tasks to do and need to be available to answer questions; reading a book whilst being on hand is impossible, but I can knit, keep an eye on activities and chat all at the same time… and at the end of the day there are socks. I also work on such projects in meetings. Colleagues have finally got used to me doing this and know that it doesn’t mean I’m bored or not paying attention – quite the contrary: it keeps me focused and enhances my creativity.

Of course, I also create things that are much more of a challenge – you need to focus when knitting a snail or crocheting a mushroom – but there’s a time and a place. All this goes to explain, at least in part, why I have so many projects on the go simultaneously… well, that and my short attention span!

Neat ripple pattern

Neat ripple pattern

Neptune’s shawl

Texere Olympia yarn: Zeus

Texere Olympia yarn: Zeus

A few weeks ago I bought some beautiful British wool from Texere yarns, planning to make a triangular shawl – the grey Suffolk wool one I knitted previously is rectangular and, whilst good for some functions, doesn’t keep the small of my back warm. I had a real desire to make a huge half ‘granny square’, but wasn’t certain how to do this. Fortunately, Renate Kirkpatrick’s crochet blog provided a really simple explanation including charts.

So, this has been the project that has been amusing me for the past 10 days. It’s big, but it’s not finished yet. However, as I come to the end of it, I realise that I want a slightly fancier edging than just a row of treble crochets. I am planning, therefore, to use a scalloped edging described by the wonderful ‘Attic24’ here. She notes that it is a ‘yarn guzzler’. so I’m going to keep most of a 100g skein for this part of the shawl.

I love the colours in this yarn

I love the colours in this yarn

The yarn colour is ‘Zeus’, but all those blues make me think of the sea, hence my reference to Neptune in the title. I’m really looking forward to snuggling up in this creation… it has already been keeping my legs warm as I make it, a really important feature since we ran out of bottled gas on Friday night and we can’t order any more until Monday (ah, the joys of rural living… I knew I should have got round to having a wood-burner installed).

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