Hooked on a feeling

Ten days ago, I finally got the chance to have crochet lesson number two and discovered that my brain had retained a surprising amount of stitching knowledge – a length of chain stitch was quickly accomplished and it was straight on to some single stitching. By church time an hour later I had a semi-decent piece of work and the generous gift of wool and a hook for a week in order to practice. 

Where I’d got to at the end of lesson two and the progress by the time I got home – note how much better the stitching is at the top than at the bottom. 

Practice is what I did – almost straight away. It was as though my fingers couldn’t bear to be without something to do. Nervously, I reached for the wool as the sermon began and hooked away throughout it. [I was paying attention and ensured that I looked up from time to time and laughed at the jokes.] Out it came again after dinner and in the pub and on the tube home, I was totally erm…hooked.

The next day it continued. While in the pub the night before I’d started my first ‘project’ – a headband – and this proved to be addictive. Out it came on my morning commute; over lunch at my desk [an excellent method of indicating “do not disturb me, I am not currently working and am taking my lunch break”]; and on my way home. It was at some point that afternoon or evening that I had something of a crochet epiphany: I worked out that the flat bit on the hook was for measuring your stitches (i.e. that a 4.0mm hook creates stitches of 4.0mm). With this discovery, I started my project over and found myself truly crocheting with confidence.

Maybe it was because I was slightly on edge last week, but I could not get enough time spent lost in hooking. The weather became miraculously beautiful and for two lunch times I sat in a sunny church yard stitching with a passion, setting an alarm so that I made it back to work in time. The passion was cemented when I made a trip to John Lewis’ haberdashery department to buy my own hook and some more wool. [Crafty tip: if you don’t need a specific type of wool for a project, check out their bargain bucket – I found some gorgeous multi-coloured balls.]

Over the last week I’ve discovered a few things about crochet (and its sister, knitting)…

  • It’s immensely therapeutic and can quickly become an addiction. (Or is this just because I have something of an addictive personality?) 
  • Doing it on public transport creates something of a sensation – people will stare at you, but it’s not because they thing you’re odd, it’s because they’re entranced by the movement of your fingers. 
  • It does strange things to people – a colleague confessed that she now takes a slightly longer commute purely so that she has more chance of a seat and a longer continuous chunk of time in which to get on with her knitting. (The same colleague apparently also likes to hang out in Soho’s bars knitting hats and making conversation with drunk people – whatever floats your boat, I guess.) 
  • The oddest people have, at some point in their past, stitched with wool. 
  • Carrying my wool in the (bright pink) bag I was given at the Olympia Horse of the Year show adds somewhat to the air of eccentricity this hobby gives me.

We’re now looking into organising a stitch & bitch group at work (I’d always been very good at the bitching element, but ‘bitching sessions’ are generally frowned upon) and I have – as of Monday morning – completed my first project. Voila: 

Well, it had to be seen in context, didn’t it?

The finishing off was a little amateur as I improvised, not actually knowing how to do it, but I’m pleased with the results. Now I can’t wait to learn a few more stitches so I can make something even more useful – like a tea-cosy for my mother. I know for a fact that she can’t wait to get some piece of crocheted tat from her darling daughter…

Now do excuse me, I’m currently in the quaint town (ok, city – there’s a cathedral) of Ely and yesterday I discovered a super-cheap wool stall, so I’m off to make some purchases. 

Oh Christmas twigs, oh Christmas twigs…

Remember my foraging adventure? Well, I am now able to explain its purpose in full, technicolour glory…

I have a big mouth and a tendency towards sarcasm – the combination of these two things often lands me in trouble, especially at work. Add to the mix a propensity for sporadic creative ideas and it results in my occasionally finding myself in odd situations.

A classic recent example would be a conversation I had with our administrator about our cluster’s Christmas Tree. For the last two years we’ve had a real one, which though nice and smelly, I’ve seen as just a little pointless – especially as someone who finishes work as early as possible before the festivities owing to travelling obligations. I shared this thought and then (flippantly) remarked that “a bucket full of twigs would be just as good  to hang decorations on”. Fast forward to our next cluster meeting and under agenda item ‘Christmas Tree’, the administrator said that she wasn’t bothered about a real tree, but really liked the sound of the twigs. The cluster then decided that I should be given the task of creating such an installation and that I should spend Thursday lunchtime foraging for suitable bits of tree.

To be fair, this idea has been in the back of my mind for some years – I just don’t live near enough a decent source of twigs to make it possible at home. But I do have a track record of coming up with ridiculous creative ideas in the middle of meetings, that then land me with a whole heap of unexpected work. Like the time I suggested a ‘mugshots’ photography project in order to identify which colleague owned which mug and how they liked their beverages served – I never actually completed it and it still gets brought up from time to time (much to my annoyance).

Thus, I found myself facing the prospect of foraging under a foot of snow for twigs on one of the coldest days of the year. (C was also meant to be helping with the project, but he declined to join me, citing the bad weather as his excuse – hmph.) After initial sceptism that I’d find enough of the right type of twig, I ended up with a huge armful, including some that could be better termed as branches – and over 4 feet long. This is me, half-way through my collection, but gives you an idea of what I looked like crossing one of London’s busiest roads on my way back to the office:

This is what I ended up with:

That’s practically half a tree! Thankfully, the colleagues were impressed.

Left to dry overnight, Friday’s lunch time project was to assemble the other necessary ingredients – silver spray paint, oasis (in which to arrange the branches within the bucket) and silver paper to decorate the bucket – and then get on with the creative process.

Step 1 was to spray the twigs. It would have worked if I’d left them au naturel, but who doesn’t want a bit of extra Christmas sparkle? One can of paint was just about enough – possibly would have been fine if I’d been less over-enthusiastic with the first few.

That second photo’s from after the newspaper was cleared away.
 I possibly could’ve done with more newspaper – oops. Still, nice for the back stairs to shine…

Step 2 was to prepare the bucket – firstly covering it in silver wrapping paper (to disguise the fact that it was a generic under the desk bin) and then making it ready for the sticks. It needed weight to stabilise it (I found a couple of old Minutes that finally came in handy), some plastic bags for added height, a plate for the oasis to rest on and finally the insertion of the oasis. 

Finally, it was time to arrange the twigs and then to decorate it. Somehow I ended up without photos of the pre-decoration phase, but you get the idea…

Who says you need an expensive tree to make things feel Christmassy? 

How to felt – and countless other tutorials

I have a blogging friend (in this case, an actual friend who later began blogging, rather than a ‘virtual’ friend, or worse – someone I stalk via their blog), known as Mrs Wibblyfish, with whom I like to do crafty things. She introduced me to the concept of giveaway days and I introduced her to Homemade By Jill.

Not as often as we’d like, we meet up to craft – because that’s the kind of wholesome individuals we are. This weekend was one such opportunity, made all the better by her parents appearing for a couple of hours, taking Scrap (her baby – not a pet dog) off her hands, enabling us to get on almost uninterruptedly.

Our craft of choice was needle felting. Not something I’ve considered before, but it was immensely pleasing. It basically involves a great deal of stabbing wool with a barbed needle which is incredibly therapeutic. The fact that we created pretty things out of this violent action was a bonus. For a detailed explanation of how to do this, check out this tutorial – it is actually just as simple as it looks. In case you can’t tell what the pretty things are, that would be a flower corsage (which will probably be fashioned into some form of hair adornment) and a pink heart (I made a white one too) which may become either hair clips or brooches…

In the above collage, you’ll spot Mrs WF watching another tutorial. Were her face not mostly out of the photo, you’d also see that she was rather amused. Searching for needle felting guidance led us into the surreal world of the YouTube tutorial – home to many batty ladies passionate about obscure crafting techniques and keen to share them with others.

It would be mean to highlight some of the dodgier examples we found, but our favourite discovery does need to be shared – luckily the quality was also excellent, so this is an honest recommendation. By and large, craft tutorials are dominated by the female gender, so it was refreshing to find one by a man. The fact that this man is associated with a whole craft website and was rather cute made it all the more wonderful. We were entranced – and that was even before we discovered his ‘how to make a handbag out of a recycled book’ video. [Those of you who know my intense feelings towards the care of books will understand that this video had the potential of being deeply traumatic, fortunately, his charm and good looks enabled me to overcome these feelings.] Bless you, Chris of curbly.com.

I think we’ve now decided that come our next craft date, we may have to make our own tutorial – just to show the world how it should be done. All we need is an appropriate craft to share…

Cambridge Crafting

Yesterday was almost a frenzy of crafting activity. Originally, the purpose of our weekend was simply to get together and make things (because we both like doing that, rarely get to see each other and crafting in company is better than crafting alone). Then there was the additional purpose of needing to prove that you can make cute lovely things for baby boys.

Mrs Wibblyfish is certainly a master of productivity! In the space of just over 5 hours she managed to produce a batch of peppermint creams, 4 appliqued babygrows, do some knitting and bake a round of scones. Genius.

Our major project was the babygrows. Drawing inspiration from the wonderful Jill’s blog, we had a stack of plain white ‘onesies’ (love the American name) and various means of decorating them. Mrs WF is going for a monkey theme in her nursery, and had some adorable fabric that provided inspiration for three creations.

Then there was some exploration with iron-on t-shirt transfer paper – genius stuff. The ‘new’ design was a direct inspiration from Jill, as was the sock monkey – which is her design. I particularly like the noughts & crosses (my idea & a bit of experimentation) along with our very own ‘made by’ label.

Whilst Mrs WF knitted & baked (and her mother & grandmother played scrabble), I got to work on some jewellery making, ready for tomorrow’s giveaway day. The giveaway pair will stay hidden for now, but I’m quite proud of these two creations. The blue ones are a design I’ve been making and evolving for a while now – but I’ve never had a pair for myself, so these are mine! The snowflakes were the most finickity thing I’ve worked on for a while, but I think I’ll do them again.

All in all a very productive day. I have some inspiration for some further projects and if they come to fruition I’ll share the results.

Autumn craft project #2

As promised at the weekend, here’s the second of my autumn art creations. The first project was only autumnal in the sense that I created it during the autumn. This one actually involves the fruit of the season…

Again, the inspiration is from Better Homes & Gardens, but this time I’ve tweaked the original idea quite a bit, it used circles in contrasting colours on a canvas, I instead decided to go for a bit of autumn inspiration…

Instead of circles, I used leaves. It was a bit of risk and had the potential to look like some 6 year old’s creation that would last about 2 weeks on even the most devoted mother’s fridge. A walk through Regent’s Park provided me with a variety of leaves, and I was ready to get going.

I painted a large canvas navy blue, using turquoise acrylic paint for the first layer of leaves and silver for some contrasting ones. Here’s how it went:

I guess it detracts from the yellow a little bit!

A few tips in case you’re trying it out:

Crispy leaves don’t print as well as ones that are a little bit ‘newer’, if you know what I mean. They tend to break up a bit, whereas newer ones take the paint better and are easier to peel off.

The underlying colour will need a couple of coats to cover the canvas effectively, but let it dry between coats. Similarly, allow time for each stage to dry before you move on. I did each stage on a different day. It’s hard when you’re so excited about a project – but control yourself.

It’s a great stress-relieving project. I got incredibly into it and enjoyed getting covered in paint day after day.