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.

The winter blues

It's not just me that's blue!

It’s not just me that’s blue!

I always feel rather glum at this time of year as the days get shorter and shorter and my general ‘bah-humbug’ attitude towards the festival of greed commonly referred to as Christmas grows. This year feels particularly miserable with Mr Snail being away during the week… in  fact he’s just driven off down the road and left me here at home until Friday. So, I’m trying to fill my evenings with creativity.

Gloom, however, is not conducive to starting new projects, so it’s lovely to have the sofa covers to work on, because the colours are already chosen (the sort of winter blues I can welcome) and I already know which designs I’m going to use. The latest cushion is 50% done and makes use of a shell pattern that’s like a half  Bavarian crochet; I’ve just started on the second side of it and am enjoying the look very much (it’s from the book I wrote about in this post). I can’t wait until the handmade buttons are ready so I can complete at least a few of the pieces.

The other project that is keeping me busy is a final blanket for the charity raffle we are running to keep our lovely nature reserve at Denmark Farm properly managed and maintained. Many thanks to those of you who have already bought or offered to buy raffle tickets… you never know, if you win the first prize of a stay in the sustainable lodge on the site, we may get to meet up! And if not, when it’s finished, you might be snuggling up under this (Nia and Ann, you might see something familiar here):

The third creative project to make me smile is also one for charity, but you’ll have to wait a while before I can reveal it… ooh – suspense!

One other thing that helps to brighten my days is knowing that all of you bloggers on the other side of the world are enjoying your growing season… so do keep posting pictures of your gardens and I will be able to dream of what’s round the corner. Which reminds me… time to order some seeds – one of my favorite winter jobs. Perhaps I’m not quite as blue as I thought!

It’s all for charity..

I felt compelled to make some bunting to decorate the cake table with

I felt compelled to make some bunting to decorate the cake table with

I did mention a little while ago that once the Masterpiece was finished, I would be moving on to another community craft project and you may have read my earlier post describing it. Basically, in order to raise funds for Denmark Farm, the educational charity that I am a trustee for, we have organised a series of ‘Cake and Craft’ events, at which we eat cake, knit and crochet. The plan is that our creations will be raffled off later in the year to raise funds. In the mean time, every few weeks, we have a wonderful, sociable get-together.

The first project is about making squares (like the ones for the masterpiece) with the intention of turning these into one or more blankets. As you can see, we are getting a good collection:

We have decided to make a traditional granny squares blanket with some of them and these are being edged in black to be stitched together soon. After that we’ll put together a more eclectic mix (more like the masterpiece) for a second blanket. We also plan to needle felt a large tree onto a cream-coloured wool blanket to make a tree of life, with appliquéd leaves, flowers, birds, bugs that have been sewn, knitted or crocheted.

Katy's hexagons

Katy’s hexagons

Then the other day I went to visit Katy the Night Owl and she donated a big pile of crochet hexagons to the project… I think these are going to be made into a baby blanket  or a lap blanket. Obviously, for a raffle, the more prizes we have the better, so I’m really hoping that there will be even more creations. in fact, I have noticed that we some squares that are bigger than 15cm/6 inches, and I’d love to use these (with additions) to produce a much more random blanket, with squares of all sorts of sizes.

If you are in the area, we’d be delighted to welcome you to any of the sessions (you can check details on our Facebook Page) and if not, we’d love donations of squares, additions to the tree of life or completed crafted items that we could include in the raffle. Is anyone up for it… I know you are all so generous!

If you come along, I can promise deliciousness!

If you come along, I can promise deliciousness!

What’s in it for me?

Fallen trees and storm damage kept me busy for half a day this week

Fallen trees and storm damage kept me busy for half a day this week

I’ve had a busy time this week… as well as earning a living by editing scientific papers, I have been to a charity trustees’ meeting, photographed and cordoned off fallen trees, written several blog posts (here and elsewhere) and some begging letters, walked the dogs every day and done all those domestic things like cooking and washing. In total, about a day and a half (in work terms) has been dedicated to charity work. As I’m feeling rather pressured at the moment because I’m away teaching for three days next week, I have been asking myself why I’m doing all these things that I don’t NEED to.

Strangely, though, I can’t bring myself to put the charity work aside. I wonder whether I should just earn more money and pass that on, but to me it feels better to give a bit of myself… my time, my skills. And maybe, one of those letters that I have written this week will result in a lovely big donation that would make such a difference to the little charity that I support.

And now, I need to draft a blog post for the Cambrian Mountain Initiative, who have promised to feature Denmark Farm in their March spotlight… getting more guests in our accommodation adds to our income and supports our environmental work, so it’s a worthwhile investment of time.

Perhaps I just need to find a few more hours in the day!

All present and correct

As you may know, we do not give presents at Christmas and, as far as possible, we try not to receive them either. It’s all part of the trying to be sustainable and avoid waste. But that is not to say that we don’t give presents… we just give them at random times and only when we know the gift is ‘right’ for the recipient. Rather than hundreds of cards and piles of presents at this time of year, we make a donation to Practical Presents… something for people who really need our assistance.

In the past few weeks the only presents I have given have been two calendars and a box of dark chocolate Brazil nuts, the latter being a birthday present. However, a visit to High Bank on Saturday inspired me to make a little gift for Sissie:

Some tiny mittens for Sissie

Some tiny mittens for Sissie

I’ll be posting them later, so if you are reading this, Perkin, don’t tell her!

Making the world a better place

I have recently added a new word to my lexicon: CRAFTIVISM. It’s quite nice, isn’t it? A combination of craft and activism, meaning:

a way of looking at life where voicing opinions through creativity makes your voice stronger, your compassion deeper & your quest for justice more infinite (Betsy Greer)

It’s not just about beautifying your surroundings, like yarnstorming (yarn bombing), nor is it simply about using your craft skills to create an object that delivers a direct political statement, such as a strand of bunting with words on it; it’s about any craft activity that makes the world a better place.

A charitable donation: coats I knitted to support a dog rescue centre

A charitable donation: dog coats I knitted to support an animal rescue centre

Through activities such as teaching knitting lessons, crocheting hats for the less fortunate, and sewing blankets for abandoned animals, craftivism allows for creativity to expand previous boundaries and enter the arena of activism… instead of using solely one’s voice to advocate political viewpoints, one could use their creativity.

How fantastic is that? The craftivism.com web site goes on to say:

In a world that was growing increasingly large and unfamiliar, craftivism fought to bring back the personal into our daily lives to replace some of the mass produced. In promoting the idea that people can use their own creativity to improve the world, craftivism allows those who wish to voice their opinions and support their causes the chance to do just that…but without chanting or banner waving and at their own pace.

Building community by crafting together

Building community by crafting together

I’m smitten by the fact that what I do (what lots of us do) has a name. I don’t think that this makes it any more valid, but it does feel like an acknowledgement and delivers a sense of community. I’ve written before about civil disobedience through creativity and the small actions we can take to make a big difference, and now I discover it has a name. I’m delighted that some many things, from my green bath puffs to writing about the ethics of knitting yarns are part of this bigger movement and that others too think we are making a difference.

So, what are you going to do this week that could be considered ‘craftivism’?

All I want for Christmas…

It’s that time of year again in Britain… TV adverts for toys and perfume, shops full of chocolate, shiny things and ‘gift packs’, people getting harassed and the implied pressure that we should all be having ‘fun’. Yes, Christmas is coming.

Christmas is coming for most of the UK, but not for us snails! And why not? Well, here chez Snail we do not celebrate it… really, we don’t. We don’t give presents; we try, as far as possible, not to receive presents; we don’t have a decorated tree; and we don’t eat turkey. It may sound like a gloomy way to spend mid-winter but really, it’s not  – you should try it one year.

It all started one Christmas morning about 10 years ago. We had got up and had breakfast before settling down to open the array of presents that we had received. By this stage we had pretty much given up on giving each other many presents, opting instead for choosing some things together that we would enjoy – some films on dvd, for example, or a few cds. Most of the gifts that we had received were addressed to both of us, so we took it in turn to unwrap the parcels. I can’t remember now exactly what they contained, except they did include three jars of chutney (neither of us like chutney) and that amongst all the other things there was nothing that I really wanted.

It was at this moment that the penny dropped with me that Christmas was simply a big disappointment… it was never going to be that magical event I remembered from my childhood. We used to put the Christmas tree up and decorate it soon before Christmas day, and then on Christmas eve, we disappeared into our rooms to wrap presents before placing them under the tree. I never believed in Father Christmas – I knew that presents came from my parents, family and friends; I knew that they were special because someone had chosen them for me (and spent money on  me). I also knew the joy of giving… in my younger days I loved buying gifts for other people; in fact, I still do.

But suddenly on that morning 10 years ago I realised that present-giving had become an obligation… that at Christmas it had become essential to give gifts simply because it was Christmas. And so we stopped. The following September, we wrote to all our friends and family telling them that, henceforth, we would not be sending them a gift at Christmas and asking them not to send us anything. We explained that we would be giving a donation to charity from now on, and if they wanted to reciprocate, they could do the same. We suggested that, alternatively, they could use any money they would have spent on us on themselves – to a buy something they would really enjoy and that they really wanted. And, everybody entered into the spirit of it… we gave money to Practical Action and our friends gave to Help the Aged, Oxfam and various other good causes.

Subsequent Christmases have been very peaceful – no mad rush to ‘prepare’, no stress, just a quiet time at home enjoying mid-winter, ordering next year’s seeds and being thankful that the shortest day is past. A couple of Christmas days we went to a local dog rescue and walked the poor unwanted dogs… enjoying sandwiches and hot coffee for Christmas lunch, before returning home to watch Doctor Who on the TV. In recent years the weather has kept us at home, but either way we have had good days.

Gift-giving has not ceased, it’s just that these days we buy gifts when we see something we think our friends might like… this means that sometimes someone gets several gifts in quick succession, then nothing for ages. We always, however, send any gifts immediately, so that they arrive at random times throughout the year. And this too is reciprocated by some… my sister is especially enthusiastic about the idea and will often send something lovely through the post because she thought one of us might like it.

I am delighted to have removed myself from the current commercialism and greed that seems to have pervaded this time of year; to contribute no longer to the heaps of plastic paraphernalia that seem to have become an essential feature; to buy simply for the sake of it.

All that said, I do have a lovely day with my sweetie!

Just say ‘no’

According to Elton John ‘sorry seems to be the hardest word’, but for me, it seems, in fact, to be ‘no’.

I may need to take some lessons from Max!

They say that if you want something doing, you should ask a busy person. So I’m beginning to wonder if there isn’t some noticeboard out there listing busy people that has my name on. Now, don’t get me wrong…I love being involved with the various organisations that I do voluntary work for, and I’m happy with the paid work that I do, and I want to continue growing some of my own food, and making items for the house, and keeping chickens, and cooking pretty much everything from scratch, and studying for my diploma, and teaching adults, and… well, perhaps you get the idea. However, I also want to feel a bit less overwhelmed with things to do!

So, this week I have said ‘no’ twice. Once in relation to charity work and once in relation to paid work. I should be feeling relieved – I already do lots of charitable work and this was in addition to an extra role that I have already taken on recently; and I will only be unavailable for 10 days of paid freelance work – but I seem, instead, to be feeling guilty.

I normally always agree to help out with whatever I’m asked to, but recently when I mentioned this to a friend, she reminded me of the three permaculture ethics: earth care; people care; and what I have always referred to as ‘fair share’ (because they rhyme). The friend described the third ethic as ‘sharing surplus’ and suggested that I should be sharing my ‘surplus’ energy rather than all of my energy… and that I should consider myself as well as other when I think of ‘people care’. It’s true – and I guess also that ‘people care’ should begin at home, but I still can’t help feeling that perhaps I shouldn’t have said ‘no’! Perhaps I just need something to fret about, or perhaps it’s just that it’s a new experience for me…

Anyway, I’m off now to get on with a bit of work for the Permaculture Association and then I might get round to making a felt case for my camera that I have, so far, not found time for!

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