Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The snow report: day 2

No snow.

It did snow in Birmingham last night after we'd all gone home. Aston Villa were playing at home and we could see the flakes whirling down, chilling the players and dressing the managers and team staff with American football style shoulder pads, but despite several trips to open the front door and check, we had nothing save for a brief flurry of sleet at about 10 which clung desperately to the cracks in the paving stones before melting into obliteration when the rain returned.

Birmingham seem to have made the most of it though, from our upstairs window at work we could see the outlines of last night's snow angels in the churchyard, gently fading away throughout the day until only the fragile ghostly skeleton of each wing was left.

It is raining now. Were it not for the fact that (a) we won the cricket (b) we're having supper with great friends later and (c) I have a new pair of toasty warm socks on my feet I might almost be downhearted.

The socks in question are my Christmas socks, alternatively known as my Twilight socks. Started when we went to see New Moon and I needed some cinema knitting and then put to the bottom of the knitting basket while I knit Christmas sock after Christmas sock.
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I started the second sock on Sunday when I wanted some easy knitting to accompany Coco avant Chanel (subtitles being a tad of a challenge with anything complicated) and picked it up again on the train rides to and from work this week and finally finished it at home last night.
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I love the colours in these socks and the simplicity of such a basic pattern (plain 64 stitch sock with an afterthought heel) lets the yarn shine through without any competition. Perfect.
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The yarn is Blue Moon Fibre Arts STR lightweight in Knitters without Borders. You should go and buy some, it's pretty and it's for a good cause - what's not to like!

The Cath Kidston in the background by the way is courtesy of a very dear friend who gave me a length of each for Christmas with the note: "it's a bit DIY this year" - he knows me well.

H has also been sporting new socks this week after it appeared that Father Christmas thought that he deserved more than a lump of coal;
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and his wife decided that he needed some handspun socks as the icing on the cake.
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The first pair are Regia Suprise in Ocean 1268, knit over 72 stitches, also with an afterthought heel to keep the spiral going.

The second are special. The yarn is my handspun 3ply from fibre from Artists Palette Yarns which H picked out at Wonderwool.

I spun it up a while ago and then hid it so that he would forget and then knit it up for Christmas.
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The pattern is Sam's socks from Cookie A's Sock Innovation book. It's a great pattern and sized up quite easily (I added an extra repeat width ways) to make it boy sized. The only place it gets a bit tricky is the heel flap - which I fudged a bit and you can't tell.

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I think I might be developing a serious weakness for socks knit out of my own handspun, which given the fibre stash is probably no bad thing. I just love the way the colours blur and meld together as they shift through the different colours.

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And as I had to rescue them from the boy's feet to take the pictures I think they were a hit!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Empty skies

I'm sat here, in Birmingham, in my lunch break (which sadly verifies that I am back at work). According to the BBC weather forecast, it should have started lightly snowing at 9am this morning and it should have started snowing heavily 37 minutes ago, supposedly to continue all afternoon.

It has done neither. Nor does it even look like snow; we lack both the requisite chill and the possibility of precipitation. I am considering a strongly worded letter of complaint to the director-general. I live near a Regency spa town so I think I can carry off the 'disgusted of Tunbridge Wells' tone adequately. If the BBC promised me snow, and heavy snow at that then I think it's not unrealistic to expect at the very least, some form of falling wateryness. Hummph.

On the plus side we can compensate with some lingering Christmassy sparkliness. We really hunkered down for Christmas this year; delicious food, pretty decorations, and piles of lovely crafty things for both of us. For the last few days we've spent the majority of our days at each end of the dining room table, with the test match clipping away in the background, he sketching in chalk pastel (and inadvertently shading our best tablecloth in delicate hues), and me supplementing the Christmas tree ornament collection.

My first was a cross stitch kit which we bought in Florida last winter. I finished it, rather appropriately, on Boxing Day, and while the kit called it 'The Holly and the Ivy', to me this

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is Good King Wenceslas. It is mostly counted cross stitch on gold card with a good smattering of beads and the fun of making a Father Christmas beard out of thread.

As it's only single sided the pattern suggested either leaving it plain or backing with card or fabric. Fresh from my Christmas tree skirt adventures with the steam-a-seam I went for some leftovers from Mum's tree skirt, and for posterity I added the creation details.
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My freehand embroidery clearly needs work but I like that I'll be able to tell which year I made this particular ornament. I'm thinking about making some sort of record of all of our ornaments so that I know when we bought them or made them - that idea needs a little more thought and isn't something for this year anyway.

Essentially I cut roughly around the cross stitch shape, cut a slightly larger shape out of fabric and steam-a-seam and, once I'd embroidered the backing, bonded the two. I then bonded the backing fabric to the back of the cross stitch with a fairly cool iron, and cut out the outline neatly.

Next on the list of kits-I-have-bought-but-not-made-yet were two beading kits, both from Spellbound beads, that I think we bought at the artists materials show at the NEC in 2008. They've been in the drawer for a while.
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This is one of three Mini Aurora stars, which I can't help but think look a little like something out of a Doctor Who Christmas special. They are satisfyingly easy to make and twinkle in the lights on our tree.

And if the BBC fails to deliver your snow,
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you can always make little christmas trees covered in snow.

They are rather cleverly jointed so that the tree ripples in a breeze or passing nudge of the Christmas tree, which you can see a little better in this picture.
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From a glance out the window, this is all the glittery dusting of icicles that I'm going to get for this year - but on the plus side they don't melt!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A tail of three little elephants

Or to be more accurate, a tale of three little girls.

Our story starts in a place to the north of here, where H's cousin and his wife live in (currently) snowy Scotland. It's a big family and these are technically second cousins and it happens that they are several years older than us.

P and C have three sons, now in their very late teens and early twenties and it seemed to all around that they had survived stage one of parenting; their children had reached adulthood. Time to kick back and worry about the next stage of these boys' lives.

But P and C are very special people and they felt that there was room around their table for another little one in need of a family, and so they have spent many years looking into adoption, domestic and international, but with no joy.

Until, this year, they got a call from their adoption agency in the UK to tell them that they had a little one year old baby girl. They asked a little bit about her background and learned that she was the youngest of five children, all put up for adoption; two boys and three girls. The boys had already been adopted but the three girls were looking for families and their new daughter was the first to be adopted.

P and C didn't want to see this family split up any more than it had to be, and so told the adoption agency that if it was OK with them, they would happily take all three.

And so these lovely people went from three grown sons, to three grown sons and the expectation of a daughter, to being parents of six; the three boys and Miss N (age 1), Miss K (aged 2) and Miss L (aged 4).

My sister in law has been to meet them, and says they are blond, cute and having a whale of a time. And as I respond to all new family arrivals by pulling out the knitting needles, I went in search of yarn and started the great Christmas/welcome to the family present endeavour.

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Three small Elijah elephants from the Ysolda pattern. Last known to be called Little Pink, Little Green and Little Yellow; real names currently unknown. The yarn is Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino which has got to be my favourite yarn for these little toys - it knits up into a velvety fabric that is incredibly soft and cuddly and, if necessary, it will go in the washing machine.

And as it's Christmas, and cold and snowy where these little elephants are going to live, they needed Christmas outfits:
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Little Christmas jackets (made out of some Patons Diploma Gold), to this pattern, with some made up fairisle for festive cheer.

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And pretty Christmassy skirts.
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Little Pink has dark green with gold stars so she will match my Christmas tree skirt,
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Little Green and Little Yellow have the same pattern skirt - red with white drawings of cookies and gingerbread houses and candy canes - which came from a fat quarter bundle that I bought in New England years ago.

But it isn't Christmas all the time, and the feedback from my little cousin Peggy (age 3) is that she really enjoys playing dressing up with her Bella elephant, so clearly these three little ones need a change of clothes.

Et voila, perfect for a tea party:
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Little Yellow (now loved by little Miss L) ...

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... sports a jacket in green baby cashmerino, and a skirt covered with pictures of cakes, and biscuits and all good things.
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Little Green (now with little Miss K), stylishly models a jacket in palest pink Rowan Wool Cotton, and a skirt patterned with giant cakes and glasses of champagne.
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And little Pink, who may not get so many changes of clothes if N is only one, is attired in a pale blue Wool Cotton jacket, and a pastel polka dot skirt.

Their jackets did all get buttons, but it wasn't sunny that day!

I've posted the jacket pattern before here (scroll down to the bottom). The skirts are made with a rectangle about 6 or 7" by the width of a fat quarter and some 1/4" elastic (or whatever you have in your workbox).
  • With the bottom long edge, fold up 1/4" wrong sides together and press. Then fold that strip up again on itself (to enclose the bottom raw edge), and sew along that edge.
  • On the top long edge, fold down 1/4" wrong sides together and press. Then fold that strip down again 1/2" on itself (to make the casing for the elastic and enclose the raw edge) and sew from the back, as close to the edge as you can manage.
  • Wrap the elastic around the waist of your elephant, pulling a little to put some tension in, and cut with a 1/2" overlap.
  • Thread the elastic through the top casing.
  • Fold the skirt, right sides together and sew the side seam with 1/4" seam allowance. I tend to start about an inch down from the top and reverse stitch to the top before sewing down and then reversing up an inch from the bottom to make the seam secure.
  • If I had pinking shears this is where I would pink the raw edges of the seam to make them pretty, but I don't so I just tidied away all the loose ends.

Despite a little bit of crazy in getting everything done in time to get to the post well in advance of Christmas, I had fun making these little ones, and great fun designing their outfits from the available fabric stash.

I hope that the little girls like them. But even if they get stashed at the back of the toy box, their parents know that we cared enough to make something for the newest part of the family, and to spend that time thinking of them, and the girls and all of our hopes and dreams for the girls' future as part of a frankly giant extended family.
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Merry Christmas little ones!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The stars in the bright sky

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A picture speaks a thousand words. With this, our 'cake', we are ready for Christmas and as Father Christmas has already reached St Petersburg it's time for a deep bath, pyjamas and some hot chocolate with Baileys and cream.

May the joy of the angels
the eagerness of the shepherds
the perserverance of the wise men
the obedience of Joseph and Mary
and the peace of the Christ child
be yours this Christmas

The Holly and the Mistletoe

Happy Christmas Eve - I hope you're all excited and organised because tomorrow is going to be a wonderful day - regardless of whether or not any of us finish the Christmas knitting! As the final pair of socks are now wrapped and under the tree I am feeling very Christmas-blissed out.

I've also now done the veg prep for the morning and stuffed both ends of the chicken; and, in a moment of perfect symmetry, talked to my Mum on the phone while we both had a hand in the sausagemeat stuffing.

From the looks, and colours of my fingers, it also appears that my inner icing queen has been set loose:
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Stars. Lots of stars - it's going to be good.

I promised to show pictures of a few pre-christmas presents. I don't have a picture of my favourite surprise to me - a new set of computer speakers which H gave me and did the techie thing that makes them make noise. My old speakers had been bust for a while so it's a really treat to be able to listen to music again.

My favourite surprise to someone else was delivered last weekend when H and I popped down an almost deserted M5 (thank you snow in London) to visit my parents for the weekend.

When I finished my Christmas tree skirt and posted pictures, a little mamma sent and e-mail wondering whether the pattern would be too complicated for her, and what would she need. I promised that it was completely do-able; and then hatched my cunning plan.
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Well you knew I wasn't just going to hand over the pattern didn't you!

It turns out that you can make a tree skirt start to finish on a wintery Sunday if you completely abandon the housework and buy ready made pie for supper which you then delegate your husband to cook.

And here it is in all it's glory.
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The trees are made from leftovers of the mistletoe fabric that made the plain panels on my skirt and the background is the same for two of the three cream and stars panels.

The holly fabric I think is gorgeous - it's a very strong fabric with the black but it works well in the tree skirt and it was chosen for my father who loves holly. The binding is more red, picking up the colours in the berries and adding a few gold swirls. All of the fabric came from Quilter's Den in Warwick but I managed to find enough wadding in my stash, so technically it's stash busting (oh yes!).

I know I could have waited until Christmas for them to open this parcel, but I wanted to be there, so this was a Friday night present. The best part was the complete surprise - I think Mum had half hoped for one for next year or had shelved the idea as something she ought to try to make some day - but they had no idea, even with a big triangular parcel on their knees, what it could possibly be - as Mastercard would have it: Priceless.

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It looks pretty good underneath their tree too.
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We continued the crafty theme over the weekend:

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I made this wreath for our front door - with quite a lot of help from Mum; floristry is not really one of my skills - yet! It does seem to be getting more oval every time I look at it but it's Christmassy, fabulous, and completely screens the letterbox - I'm thinking of adopting it as a permanent solution to junk mail.

And H would love to claim that he made this all by himself:
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He did the greenery and Mum did the pretty bits - a perfect combination.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The light on the front of the sleigh

Reports of the struggles of a Warwickshire crafter discovered after several weeks pinned to the floor by balls of yarn, tinsel, two tubes of wrapping paper, her spinning wheel, niddy noddy and the kitchen scales, with a floury smudge on her right cheek, scotch tape inextricably bonded to her hair and yet still trying to stir the mincemeat with her toes and knit just one more row, are largely unfounded. At least, it's probably happened to someone but so far that someone isn't me and I've finished the mincemeat so I think I may be safe.
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Sorry for the silence. I think that's just been the longest that I've ever left the blog without there being any more reason than sheer crafty panic. Because we were seeing my family before Christmas, my cut off date was suddenly sooner than expected but it means that I've now just got a foot of a sock to knit before New Year's Eve and that's the Christmas crafting done - phew. I'm now off work until next Tuesday which is wonderful, and gives me a little time for crafting something Christmassy for me - yippee.

With a few things now safely in the post to people who don't read the blog (too little) and a rather special something opened early for Christmas over the weekend I've even got a few pictures to share, although each might deserve a post of its own.

I have also been baking - over 8 dozen mince pies so far (and by 'so far', I mean 'I've finished the pastry, I've got enough for us for Christmas and I have no intention of making any more until next year!'). Lest you think that I am now entirely mince pie shaped I should explain that our church has an annual turning on the village lights with carol singing followed by mulled wine and mince pies in the church - and that accounted for 3 dozen alone.

My best idea this year was to make edible Christmas cards for my colleagues - OK, I know, I just wanted an excuse to use my giant copper Christmas cookie cutters - and I'm always in favour of icing - but I do think that they turned out well:

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Each of them has a name on them but I've blurred it out hence the odd smudgy look to the middle of each cookie. I need to work a little harder on my icing techniques but I had great fun making them and the team seemed to be having great fun eating them (and, in a halo-polishing moment of glory, a colleague from another team thought I'd bought them).

If you fancy trying something similar the decorated cookies are put into freezer bags, sealed and rolled down, and the toppers I made on the computer and printed out onto card, folded horizontally and stapled together. As the meercats say: "simples!"

The most exciting thing around here though has been the SNOW!! SNOW!! SNOW!! - the mittens worked, and if it can hang around until Friday I'm totally counting it as a white Christmas.

I was in London last Wednesday and as a colleague and I headed out of his office mid-morning from the corner of my eye I caught the tiniest little flake falling. The inner me instantly screamed SNOOOOOOOOWWWWWWWW!! and started to do the happy dance. The outer, professional business me, was calm, collected, mentally noted that a drop of frozen water had descended from the skies, and (showing huge restraint) made no comment at all.

Happily for me, I had forgotten that this particular colleague spent much of his youth in the Channel Islands, has seen just as little snow in England as I have, and gets almost as excited. We discussed snow in depth all the way too the court; both desperately wishing for the inches and inches currently landing on Aberdeen.

The next day was even better, when a blizzard blew in across Birmingham during lunchtime; just after I'd got back with my sandwich, enabling me to spend the whole lunch hour staring out the window and the pretty white swirly stuff.

The current weather forecast doesn't suggest any more snow soon - but I've got my fingers crossed!

In the meantime, may all your Christmas crafting be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be white!

Saturday, December 05, 2009

The season

All around the blogesphere knitters are falling electronically silent as they turn away from their cameras, hunched over their flying fingers, back protectively turned against the computer screen and the window through which the virtual world takes a peek.

At the sound of the key in the door their ears prick and their heads fly up, craning to see which member of the family might just have made an unexpected return, one hand already reaching to stuff the needles and yarn under the nearest cushion.

To every thing its season, and with the first frost comes the season of Christmas knitting and another bond tightens its grip on my already unnatural attachment to serious scheduling and Excel spreadsheets.

As things stand, I am on course to have finished all of the Christmas crafting by my cut off date of 20 December. Some gifts are due by then, some have to be in the post before hand, but mostly I want to have some time to do crafty things of my own in the run up to Christmas - several kits for Christmas ornaments and a Christmas quilt, to name but a few.

I realise that by saying this I am inviting the Knitting Furies to smote me down, probably in the form of something felting, melting to my iron or involving a country-wide run on soft brown sugar but that's a risk I'm going to take. What I am absolutely not going to say is that at the moment I am a little bit ahead. Nope, definitely not!