Waiting around

In recent weeks I’ve spent a lot of time sitting in waiting rooms and it’s an activity that looks likely to be part of my life for a while yet…. next up is another trip to see a dentist (my fourth in the past month and not my last). I started off taking my Leftie shawl, but there are various colours to contend with and I took the wrong balls the week before last and so was unable to knit whilst waiting for the car to have its MOT, plus it’s getting a bit big. I, therefore, decided to start work on some simple granny squares to make into a blanket for charity… these have the added benefit that, even when you have toothache, you have the mental capacity to make them.

I had a big cone of dark green yarn that was given to me a few years ago specifically to make items for charity and this seemed ideal for my purpose. In fact, I’m enjoying making simple squares so much, that I’ve done very little work on anything else for the past couple of weeks. Indeed, I have so many now, I’ve started to join them together, using some other donated yarn:

I’m planning to make this into a good big blanket to keep someone really warm – the wool is a bit rough at the moment, but its softening as I work it and I’ll give it a wash once its finished.

So, what projects do you take with you when you have a lot of waiting to do?

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).

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.

 

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?

Three Things Thursday: 21 December 2017

My weekly exercise in gratitude – three things that are making me smile – 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 happiness.

First, the solstice. It’s been lovely to get ‘happy solstice’ greetings from so many friends. Now we can look forward to longer days, even if it is just a smidge more light each day, it is very welcome.

looking forward to more evenings like this

Second, shelter not presents. As you may know, we don’t send cards or give presents at this time of year, instead we donate to charity. This year I decided to focus my donations on people who do not have a roof over their heads, so I donated to Crisis, St Mungo’s and Moas. It seems wrong for us to accumulate more when there are people with nothing; I hope my donations will go a little way to providing some warmth, shelter and safety for those who are without it. I am grateful for the roof over my head and this is one way to share my good fortune.

Third, looking on the bright side. A few weeks ago, in a fit of enthusiasm/madness/mid-life crisis I applied for a job… in London. Yesterday I heard that, despite being very well qualified, I hadn’t even been short-listed. I am devastated – not because I was certain that I wanted the job, but because the response made me feel completely unwanted and unvalued. It was a job in which I could have had a big positive impact on people’s lives, but now I’ll never know what might have been possible. However, it’s over and there’s no use ‘what-iffing’. So now I’m doing my best to look on the bright side… I didn’t really want to have to find somewhere to live in London, and I didn’t want to have to be away from Mr Snail during the week; I wouldn’t have had time to do as much creative stuff if I had got the job, nor to write the books I’m planning, nor to develop my creative business. Even so, I’m still finding it hard not to be glum – no one likes rejection. Cheery comments would be most welcome today… I’m always grateful when I hear from my readers.

So, that’s some of what’s making me happy (and sad) this week. How about you?

-oOo-

Emily of Nerd in the Brain originally created Three Things Thursday, but it’s now being hosted by Natalie of There She Goes.

Did we do it?

Yesterday I was in Birmingham, celebrating the end of the 60 Million Trebles Project. Although all the folks involved are likely to carry on clicking and hooking for charity, this project has come to an end.

The aim was to make a world record breaking blanket, with each stitch representing one displaced person in the world. At the time the project started, 13 months ago, the figure was 60 million people; by the end of 2016, this figure had risen to 65 million.

Earlier this year, Ellen Roche, who started the project, realised that if we were going to go for the world record, the blankets would not be out to the charities for many extra months. And so everyone agreed that we’d give up on this idea (sad though we all were, because it would have been great publicity) and just get the blankets done and distributed.

So, the big question yesterday was had we reached the target of sixty million trebles (stitches)? And the answer was…

we completed 7940 blankets,
using the equivalent of 27,083 balls of double knitting yarn,
totalling 271kg of yarn
equivalent to 8125km of yarn (enough to go from London to Beijing)
with an average of 7951 trebles per blanket, making…


67,707,940 trebles

smt complete

So a big thank-you to everyone who donated yarn or squares to the blankets I made, and especially to Sandra, Wild Daffodil for the autumnal squares – the blanket that contained these  received an honourable mention as one of Ellen’s favourite blankets.

Many of the blankets have gone to Hand in Hand for Syria, others to St Mungos, Help for the Homeless and Let’s Feed Brum. I’m very proud to have been involved, plus I’ve made lots of new friends – what a result.

Three Things Thursday: 4 May 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*

Inspired by Emily of Nerd in the Brain here are my Three Things Thursday.

First, apple blossom. We returned from our holiday to find our tiny apple tree laden with blossom. The cold north winds in our absence had not damaged it and there is the promise of a good crop again this year.

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in the pink

Second, making vaarks. The Sixty Million Trebles group is currently raising funds for the charity Hand in Hand for Syria. Lots of the ladies have admired the little sock creatures designed by Danielle (pattern available here) and so I have made a few that have been snapped up very quickly in exchange for a donation to the charity. Not only is this raising money, it’s also helping me deplete my stash of old socks! I’m going to have a break from making them for now, as I don’t want it to be a chore, but these were fun to do.

Third, (more) stash-busting. I had a big bag of cotton yarn that I bought a couple of years ago for making Knitted Knockers (at the time the knitters bought all the yarn; now they have the funds to purchase yarn to supply their knitters). For logistical reasons I’ve stopped knitting for this particular charity, but still had lots of yarn. I sent KK some whole balls of yarn a little while ago, but I still had many part-balls and a couple of full balls left in my stash. So, I decided to use this for a charity blanket. I’ve made a dent, but there’s probably going to be enough for a second blanket!

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stripy charity blanket

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

New technique, old yarn

I find it very easy to get set in my ways and never more so than when I’m knitting or crocheting. It’s so easy to pick up yarn and needles/hook and embark on a familiar pattern or stitch without really thinking, so I’m always pleased when something comes along that gives me a bit of a shove. One such thing was the Sixty Million Trebles (SMT) project, for which lots of the participants are making ‘corner to corner’ blankets. These blankets are made using a technique I hadn’t encountered before, but I noticed that it was described in my new crochet squares book, so I decided to give it a go. It turns out that it’s very easy and really fun to do, and it looks rather nice when done:

I have been working on projects recently all aimed at using up yarn that I have left over from past work or that has been given to me, but I still have quite a lot of that I want to get through, so I’m planning a corner-to-corner square for SMT using random yarn… I’ll start a ball and carry on with it until it’s done (or I get bored with the colour), then join another and do the same. There will be no planning, no worrying about what goes, just randomness. If nothing else it will result in a warm blanket, and it may even look good too!

 -oOo-

If you can knit or crochet or stitch squares together (or raise funds), SMT is looking for more volunteers, here’s what it’s all about:

The UN at the end of 2015 estimated that there are approximately 60 million refugees Worldwide
Just think about that for a moment. That’s like the population of the UK being without a home
The objective of this group is huge and it’s two fold
We want to create a yarn blanket containing 60 million trebles to represent the 60 million refugees. #onestitchonelife
Then because we have gone that far we want to continue and create the largest yarn blanket the world has ever seen.
To create a yarn blanket with 60 million trebles or equivalent we need around 8,000 36 inch squares, to take it on to become the largest blanket in the world we need around 13,000…
This will be a blanket to represent everyone who cares about the millions who are homeless, stateless and on the move
Running alongside this we are going to be raising funds #onetreble1p. If we raised just 1p for every stitch that would be a massive amount of money.

There’s a Facebook group and an Instagram account and a web site with all the details. This is my little pile of SMT blankets so far:

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Five blankets so far, no yarn bought specially for them

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.

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