I’ve got it pegged

The original felted peg bag

The original felted peg bag

Ages and ages ago I bought a felting kit for a peg bag. It seemed like a great idea and having a kit would give me a chance to practice my (then) recently acquired felting skills but with a safety net, so the speak. I made it up following the instructions and produced a lovely, fancy little felted bag… much more beautiful than I would have designed if left to my own devices. The problem was that the main way to describe it was ‘little’: it held about 12 pegs. I simply couldn’t fit all my pegs into it and so, however beautiful, it really wasn’t much use. Since I  completed it, it has been sitting on top of the washing machine, unused.

The new felted peg bag

The new felted peg bag

Last week, I decided that the time had come to make a more functional peg bag – one that would hold all my pegs and that would be good for years of use. I didn’t want to spend a huge amount of time on it, so I chose a single colour for the interior and three for the exterior, with no embellishments. All but the  purple wool, which is Merino, is British Blue-faced Leicester. I used a wire coat hanger for the hook and to help it to hold its shape inside and edged the hole with embroidery silk that I’ve had for about 35 years! It’s a bit more square than I would have liked – the pod-shape of the original appeals to me – but I’m quite pleased with it.

... and together for comparison

… and together for comparison

I may have gone to the other extreme in terms of size and it’s certainly not as fancy as the first one, but I’m really pleased with it and, other than the stitching, it only took a couple of hours to make. The tiny original, I’m going to hang up in my office and use if to keep little USB cables in because I’m always putting them down and forgetting where… I knew it wouldn’t go to waste.

Crafting my way to happiness

Alpha wave generator

Alpha wave generator

Regular readers of this blog will know that I dedicate quite a lot of time to craft projects – crochet, knitting and felting in particular, but I also do needlepoint, embroidery, paper-making, and more. Some of my creations are useful things (socks, gloves, bath puffs), but some are quite frivolous… the collection of knitted slugs probably have little practical use! However, there are more reasons for craft activities than just the finished item.

Knitting and crochet are portable and I take my projects with me to all sorts of situations. For example I often knit socks whilst travelling, attending courses and conferences, teaching  and when participating in meetings. I do often have to explain to people that my knitting does not mean that I’m not paying attention nor should they consider it disrespectful – it’s just something I do with my hands and that helps me to think. Don’t believe me? Well, I have been knitting for more than 35 years, so it does come quite naturally and  there is sound evidence showing that knitting is associated with the production of alpha waves by the brain. According to the Bicybernaut Institute

Alpha brain waves are seen in wakefulness where there is a relaxed and effortless alertness

Production of these brainwaves reduces stress and is associated with creativity. They are also linked to heightened imagination, visualisation, memory, learning and concentration. And knitting (along with other craft activities) encourages their production. The Circles website, for example, states that

The act of knitting has some inherent and intriguing qualities to it. It has been shown that when we knit, our brains produce the alpha waves of a relaxed meditative state… Clinical studies have found that the repetitive action of knitting creates a calming effect. Yes, more alpha waves than when meditating or doing yoga. Due to this, it is quite effective to use knitting as a mechanism for opening up to self-exploration, growth and healing. From simply adding knitting to a traditional therapy model of talking and processing with a guide, to knitting a specific project chosen or designed to evoke specific paths of exploration, knitting is one of the most relaxed and enjoyable, while highly effective, modes of growing your self-awareness that you can experience.

Last week I attended the latest in a series of meetings that have all been rather stressful. However, for the first time, I took some knitting with me and was delighted to find that I came away much less tense than usual and, along with the progress made in the meeting itself, with about a quarter of a sock more than when I started. I also didn’t feel the need for a large glass of wine as soon as I got home!

Alpha brainwaves are produced when we do all sorts of craft activities… things that are gentle and repetitive and that allow us to relax, thus freeing our minds. We can combine creativity with our hands with mental creativity. I have never been comfortable with sitting thinking about my breathing in order to relax and mediate, but give me some wool, water and soap and I will happily felt my way into a meditative state! So that’s what I’m off to do now, I have a felted peg bag to finish and some ideas about a chapter for a research handbook I’m writing to get sorted out in my mind, so excuse me whilst I go and get soapy… and thoughtful!

Bowled over

Fairly recently I came across the concept of a yarn bowl – a heavy bowl with a curved slot in it. You put your ball of yarn in the bowl, slip the strand you are using into the slot, place the bowl on the floor and the yarn is fed out without the ball rolling around all over the place getting dirty and entangled in the furniture/shoes/dog. The first one of these I saw was on a German website, making it prohibitively expensive when the shipping was taken into account… and anyway, there would have been loads of yarn-bowl-miles associated with it.

The happy snail yarn bowl

The happy snail yarn bowl

I’ve never seen one made by a local potter, so a little Googling was required. As I should have expected, etsy listed a number of sources. But I was absolutely astonished to see that the Little Wren Pottery sells a happy snail yarn bowl! There really aren’t many happy snails in the world so I just had to have one. I was made to order for me by hand and arrived yesterday.

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The yarn is fed through the spiral slot in the snail’s shell – brilliant

OK, it’s from North Yorkshire, so does have a few miles associated with it, but I’m really delighted to have supported a small business and to have added to my small collection of happy snails – thank you Victoria.

“Flat-pack” crafting

As is clear from many of my posts, I love making things: from bottling a surplus of apples, to knitting socks, to crocheting bath puffs (yet more on that in a later post… I have a new yarn to try out: a recycled cotton and acrylic blend). I accumulate scraps of ‘stuff’ – fabric, yarn, old packing material, envelopes, buttons, shiny things – and enjoy turning these into something useful or lovely or just fun. I do buy materials, particularly knitting yarn and wool for felting, but one of the enjoyable aspects of crafting and cooking for me is using things that would otherwise go to waste or have a very short useful life.

A few of my homemade cards... made with this and that!

A few of my homemade cards… made with this and that!

So, I’m not keen on packs containing everything you need for a particular project… partly because I want to make use of things I already have and partly because I like to make something that is unique. If I go out and buy a pack of “everything you need to make this lovely birthday card”, then I’ll just end up with something like everyone else has made, and I might as well have gone to Hallmark. I want to be individual and express my own creativity – even if it is a bit wonky sometimes! I know that things like knitting patterns should result in end products that are standardized, but there’s always room for creativity whether in using a yarn from your ‘stash’, choosing a new yarn, or just doing things a little bit different (for which there are endless opportunities when knitting!). I do buy nice ‘bits’ to use in my crafting, but I don’t want the whole thing handed to be in a pack.

But my current bug-bear is something pretending to be a craft when it isn’t – things that are pseudo-homemade. Just like a cake mix isn’t, to me, really homemade – a pair of slippers that come as two single flat pieces and are each fastened together with a lace (the colour of which you can choose) are not homemade. I don’t think I am a carpenter because I can build an Ikea bookcase, so constructing a pair of ‘flat pack slippers’ isn’t craft!

I guess that the issue is that craft is now ‘big business’. You only need to visit Pintrest and Etsy to see the massive interest in handmade items. And, of course, as part of the increasing drive towards consumerism, there are ample opportunities for big companies to take advantage. So, in another act of civil disobedience… cast off your desire to make the perfect card/cake/dishcloth/whatever and use up some of the things you have around the place to express your creativity. You never know, you might create a masterpiece… and you will certainly end up with something unique!

-oOo-

Many thanks to my friend Tracey for inspiring me to write this post… she blogs about her permaculture diploma at What Grows from a Seed

Never felt better

I decided this weekend to take some time off from paid work and do some activities that I would enjoy just for myself. I did get slightly distracted yesterday and spent rather a long time on the phone arranging a trip away (which will be great when it happens, but required quite a bit of organisation) and writing a piece of text for the Permaculture Association, but today has more or less been just about me… a lie in with an audiobook, a walk on the beach with the dogs and my sweetie in the sunshine (yes, sunshine in west Wales in November), tea and cake when we got home and then an afternoon of felting.

My first ever attempt at wet felting

Making felt is an activity that I had been interested in doing for ages, but it wasn’t until two years ago that an opportunity finally presented itself to go and learn how. I know that I could have bought a book and just got on with it, but wet felting is such a tactile activity that I really wanted to learn from a real person. And the autumn before last the wonderful Lorraine Pocklington of Greenweeds ran a beginners felt-making workshop at Denmark Farm. And from that moment on I was hooked. I started off, at the workshop, making a case for a passport… a simple thing, but it introduced me to the idea of being able to create three-dimensional objects without the need for seams. I knew that this was possible in knitting, through the use of double-pointed needles, but the fact that felt can be thick enough to hold its own shape and can be sculpted opens up a whole range of possibilities.

Slippers from the recent course – mine are the front middle, awaiting decoration

Last year I went on another course to learn to make felt hats and last month, another for felt slippers, both again at Denmark Farm, which is less than 15 miles away from home. The slippers are not yet finished as I want to decorate them with some needle felting and I haven’t got round to it … I just need more hours in the day, or fewer projects on the go! Next spring it looks like there will be a course on nuno felting (that’s where you felt onto fine fabric)… I can’t wait.

The camera case under construction

However, this afternoon’s project was to make a case for my new digital camera. Because felt can be thick, it can be used to make covers for electronic equipment to provide protection. A couple of months ago I made a case for Mr Snail-of-happiness’ new tablet computer. This did not come out quite as I had intended because I was using a new fibre that shrank more than I expected, but it is still serviceable. Today, however, I used I wool that I have worked with before and the properties of which I know reasonably well. I wanted to experiment with a sort of flame effect with the colours, and I’m quite please with the result. It’s drying now and I will finish it off with a couple of buttons to close it and possibly a wrist strap.

After cutting – felting needed around the edges

Felting is a particularly enjoyable activity for me… it’s very tactile, involving repetitive physical activity that isn’t too strenuous. Your mind can wander whist you are being creative and for me it beats meditating. In fact, this afternoon, I listened to part of an audio book whilst I felted… my mind has been busy enough recently as it is! My next project will be a peg bag…

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