Three Things Thursday: 1 June 2017

*three things that make me smile: an exercise in gratitude – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog [or Twitter account or Facebook page or diary or life in general] with the happy*

Emily of Nerd in the Brain originally created Three Things Thursday, but it’s now being hosted by Natalie of There She Goes. Anyway, here are my three things this week…

First, although I’ve written lots about going to Manchester already (here, here and here), I have to include it as one of the things that made me happy this week.

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me at the decorated community garden

Second, a souvenir. The plan with the kindness tree was that people would both put something on it and take something away. I chose a little button heart to bring home, and imagine my delight when Danielle said “oh, I made that”.

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a button heart made by Danielle

 

Third, this book, which arrived in the post today:

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Maya

In fact, this is a double smile – the book itself and knowing that it’s also going to bring a smile to the face of Laurie.

 

So, those are three things making me smile and that I am grateful for this week. What is making you happy?

High-tech – Low-tech

I like the juxtapositioning of old and new, of modern and traditional. When we visited China, I loved the sight of bamboo scaffolding being used in modern construction and in combination with high-tech building materials. And so, whenever we buy a portable piece of technology these days, I feel obliged to make a case for it using some traditional skill: Mr Snail’s tablet has a felted case, and his laptop has a crochet case, as does the satnav (the latter made of scraps). So when I bought a portable hard drive for backing-up my new computer, I just had to make it a little case:

Since it has a USB3 connection and, therefore, has a cable unlike any others Chez Snail, I worked an integral pocket (no sewing together was required) into the case to keep the drive and the cable together. The yarn is a chunky lambswool from the now defunct Texere, with antique mother of pearl buttons from my collection.

Mabel

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 I have no idea what this embroidered panel was made for or who made it

From almost as early as I can remember there was a very interesting lady in my life. She lived a couple of streets away from us, in what appeared from the outside to be a normal house, although there was an old caravan parked beside it. It looked rather old-fashioned and, indeed, when Mabel came to the door she looked like an old lady…. although when I first knew her she can’t have been more than a decade older than I am now. However, behind her front door was a sight that had to be seen to be believed. Mabel’s house was absolutely FULL of stuff – as was the caravan. The hallway was piled high with boxes and bags, the caravan was full of fabric and linens, the living room contained stacks and stacks of tins… It’s not that Mabel was a hoarder, far from it, she was in fact the ultimate upcycler – she could see potential in everything and was often able to find new homes for the items that passed through her hands.

For example she collected yarn and made blankets for Save the Children – knitting and stitching together hundreds of squares over the years. She also accepted knitted squares from other people and made these into blankets and acted as a collection point for blankets made by other people, Some of my first knitting was for these blankets. Many, many people must have benefited from this ceaseless activity, but she did it very quietly and I have no recollection of her being publicly acknowledged..

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What’s in the box?

She never threw away items that might be of use. Clothes that were worn out would have their buttons removed and any other potentially useful bits. I guess the remnants were used as dusters or cleaning cloths or went to the rag and bone man (we still had them then) but I’m not sure about this. It is from Mabel that my collection of mother-of-pearl buttons originates. She was particularly interested in sewing supplies and had tins full of threads, fasteners, zips and so on. I’m not sure where all the items she processed came from, but lots of people must have given her old clothes, linens and blankets to pass on to charity or process into their component parts.

When I was in my teens I received a large plastic tool box in which to keep my sewing bits (I still use it today) and Mabel gave me lots of bits and bobs to put in it- needles, thimbles, press-studs, hooks and eyes, scissors and more. I very clearly remember taking it round to show her and opening it up on her dining table to the admiration of her and her husband, Wilfred.

Wilfred was much older than Mabel – she knew him because she had nursed his first wife through a terminal illness – and they married having both lost loved ones. Mabel, you see, had been betrothed to a Polish airman who was killed in WW2, and the sadness of this loss never seemed to leave her. The had a son, of whom she was extremely proud, but I think she would have liked a daughter too. She had been a needlework teacher and loved passing her skills on. She was, I recall, particularly delighted that I was ambidextrous and could sew with either hand… and appalled when she heard that my own sewing teacher at school had slapped me when I told her this. I know that she kept all the handmade Christmas cards I had ever sent her and until her eyesight deteriorated too much she still managed to to write me the occasional letter – several of which I still have.

Mabel never travelled, although the world fascinated her. She always said, though, how lucky she was to have the television because of the way it could transport her to different countries and times. She loved heraldry and history and natural history and never failed to be entranced by programmes like Life on Earth – telling me that she never needed to leave her living room to experience the wonders of the world.

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Washed and ready for ironing

Much of the stuff she collected she passed on to charities or to local schools for use in craft projects; she also donated to museums any items that she thought had particular significance.. Anything that she thought her friends might like or find useful she would give to them gladly… sometimes too enthusiastically. In fact this passing on of stuff explains why I am currently working my way through a couple of boxes of vintage handkerchiefs, lace and broderie anglais that my mother has had in a cupboard for the past 20-odd years. My mum, you see, used to make and dress dolls to sell. Mabel thought that all this lace would be very useful… some was, but lots wasn’t and so it’s been sitting in a box untouched for a couple of decades. I know how much Mabel wanted these things to be used and valued, so I’m currently busy revitalising as much of it as I can in the hope that I can make it desirable. I’m planning to sell at least some of it as the time and resources (soaker, washing liquid, starch etc) required to launder it are quite considerable, but any that’s too scrappy I will give away. I’m intrigued by some of the bits and bobs (including the embroidery pictured at the top) that I’ve found  – trying to work out what sort of garment they originated from or what they were made for, this for example…

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From a dress, perhaps… or some sort of lingerie?

Anyway, going through all this has brought back many memories of a very dear and generous lady. Sadly she died about three years ago and I was unable to get to the funeral. However, she still feels like part of my life and I think of her whenever I’m rummaging through my button box, sewing with some of her embroidery thread or, as now, ironing yards and yards of broderie anglais. She was a woman of vision.

Goings and Comings

Goings

Gradually filling the raised bed... a layer of greenery next

Gradually filling the raised bed… a layer of greenery is required next

I think that I have finally worked my way through most of the old paperwork in my work room and banished it to form the lovely absorbent base layer in our new raised bed. In a fit of enthusiasm I also went through a couple of large plastic crates that were lurking in the bottom of the wardrobe and that also contained long-neglected teaching materials. Go Me! Now, I’m moving on to craft materials…

Over the years I’ve tried my hand at lots of crafts… some have become firm favourites, whilst my interest in others has waned. Years ago, for example, I used to enjoy Brazilian three-dimensional flower embroidery, but these days it does not pique my interest. Similarly, I have done no encaustic wax painting for years, nor have I made paper. And, I have finally admitted to myself that I really don’t enjoy dressmaking. And so, the next task is to find good homes for my unwanted craft items. To this end I have joined a swap/sell pre-loved craft stuff group on Facebook. I’ve tried selling via ebay with mixed success, so I thought a targeted group like this one might be a good alternative. And so it is proving… I have takers for a pile of t-shirt fabric, another piece of fabric and a bundle of zips – and this is only after one day. I know that I won’t be able to get rid of everything this way (the shoulder pads remain unclaimed, despite offering them free, just for the cost of the postage), but at least some of my unwanted crafting supplies will be welcomed into new homes, where they may actually be used thus freeing up space for me.

What I do have to be cautious of is too much flowing in the opposite direction… I must not be tempted. Having said that, though, there have been a couple of arrivals this week, which leads us to the

Comings

Last week I had a lovely email from a participant on a course I taught a few years ago, with the offer of a set of purple glass snails. How could I refuse? And so yesterday morning I received these:

Glass snails

Glass snails

I’m not sure what I’m going to do with them yet… I could use them as buttons or embellishments and I think I need to have a good think about them for a while before I make a decision. Anyway, if you want to see more of Charli’s work, do take a look at Ugly Teapot.

The second arrival was, coincidentally, also in the form of buttons, these from the very talented Joanna Bond:

Ceramic buttons... with a tiny leaf motif in the middle of each

Ceramic buttons… with a tiny leaf motif in the middle of each

I commissioned these buttons for my sofa cushions, but I don’t think that I really want them to be tucked away out of sight (the shell ones that are currently on the cushions are good enough for that), so I think that I will use these to hold the main pieces of the cover together – making the joins a decorative feature and effectively creating a set of loose covers. I went to collect these buttons from Joanna’s studio where we discussed the possibility of an artistic collaboration – yarn and ceramics. If it works out, you’ll be the first to know!

So, the goings have far exceeded the comings, plus I’ve made a bit of money selling things that, to me, have become clutter. I think that counts as a successful few days!

Details, details

Looking at recent posts, I realise that it’s a while since I wrote about anything yarn related. There are two reasons for this. First, I was making something that I didn’t want to reveal until it reached the recipient and since I only posted it on Saturday, it’s going to be a while before it gets to the other side of the world. However, it was a playful project and so I will just tease you with a sneak preview:

I've been using some beads

I’ve been using some beads

And, second, I didn’t want to bore you with more of the same, as I’ve been making more scrunchies and dishcloths to add to my stock for sale. However, I have also crocheted a jumper for Mr Snail’s friend Auguste (more on this in a future post… possibly from him not me) and I have finally come to terms with my button needs.

For some time now I have been waiting for some buttons to be made for me. I’ve waited and waited, but they have not been forthcoming. So, last week I bit the bullet and looked for an alternative source. I had a few requirements: they couldn’t be too heavy, and I didn’t want plastic, metal (Sam chews metal) or wood. So, finally, I settled for some beautiful shell ones. These have arrived and so I’m now completing my sofa cushions (the first phase of covering my sofa). I’m not ready for the grand reveal on this project either because there’s quite a bit of construction yet to do, but here are a few details:

Much of my time has been taken up recently preparing teaching materials, but I’m hoping that I will have a bit more opportunity for creativity in coming weeks.

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.

-oOo-

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

WIPs and FOs

Whats and whats?

I’m guessing that any knitters or crocheters reading this will know what the title means, but no one else. Starting any new craft seems to result in exposure to all sorts of new jargon and yarn crafts do seem particularly prone to this (I blame Ravelry). However, I thought you might all like to learn a bit of knit-speak (if you are really interested, you can learn what frogging is here).

There are buttons to sew on - these had been in my collection for a couple of decades!

There are buttons to sew on – these had been in my collection for a couple of decades!

First, however, I have a confession… like many knitters I’m not very enthusiastic about sewing my knitting together. I love the knitting bit, but the finishing is generally quite tedious, This is why I like knitting socks with self-patterning yarn – you cast on, knit the sock like a tube and graft the toe to finish off, leaving just two tails of wool (one at the beginning and one at the end) to weave in before the whole thing is complete. Bigger garments are more challenging to complete – there are often seams to sew together, buttons to stitch on and lots and lots of ends to weave in. And so, it is often the case that, because I am unenthused, I end up with a long-standing WIP (Work in Progress).

All laid out, in no particular order

Hexipuffs for my beekeepers quilt – this is going to be a WIP for a very long time

Some projects were always intended to be a long-term WIP. My beekeepers quilt, for example, should take me several years to complete, especially since I only intend to use oddments… mainly of sock yarn. But mostly I intend a relatively quick turn-around. So, it is with great shame that I have to confess I have had one WIP hanging around for several months now, with the knitting completed and only the sewing left to do. This is the beautiful Debbie Bliss Sophia Cable Vent Jacket. So, finally, this week I decided to bite the bullet and get it finished. I set aside a whole evening, but that wasn’t enough, so another session was required, but finally I have a FO (Finished Object). I was really pleased to discover some buttons in my collection that were suitable to use – I remember buying them for a long black velvet dress I planned to make years ago that somehow never got made.

FO... finally

FO… finally

I think the lesson here, as with many things in life, is to maintain momentum. Once you stop working on a project, it can be remarkably difficult to get back to it and resume work. This is the case even with a FO that you really want – like this cardigan. However, I did manage to overcome that hurdle in this case, and am delighted with the result. Perhaps now I should make a start on that dragon I keep hankering after… although I do have half a pair of socks in my knitting bag and it would probably be good to knit the second one…

Back detail

Back detail

The back of the finished jacket

The back of the finished jacket

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