Monday, 26 January 2015

A Necklace of Raindrops

Sheesh, my blogging is horribly sporadic just now and has been for so many months that I wouldn't blame regular visitors for scarpering altogether. Tumbleweeds don't make for very entertaining reading. Assuming there are a few remaining stoic readers who still visit here I'm waving guiltily and offering a chocolatey sorry biscuit. 

An article I wrote about Joan Aiken's collection of magical children's stories 'A Necklace of Raindrops' has been published over on the brilliant women's magazine Standard Issue. This is a very significant book for me. The necklace in question influences the weather, saves a country from drought and I wanted one like it so very badly that it inspired me to begin making jewellery at a young age. That overwhelming urge to recreate the necklace in Aiken's story would eventually transform into my day job and I write about what happened when I introduced the book to my daughters.

You can read about it here. If you like what you read on Standard Issue a quick click of the recommend button at the bottom of our articles would help the team who make this very new online magazine to know whether we're producing material that people enjoy reading. It would help so much. Thankyou.

Tomorrow I'll be back to explain what has stolen my time away from blogging. It will be appearing on the shelves of Sainsbury's (!) this very Thursday. It has been thrilling and exhausting and there's a link to it in my sidebar....

Thursday, 8 January 2015

In search of flowers

I'd popped over to read Sue's latest post at The Quince Tree a day or two ago to read about her strategies for surviving January. It's not surprising that many of us need a plan of action. It's often the month that has the lowest levels of illuminance/sunlight (measured in lux). The sun's rays are obscured by thick cloud for much of the coming weeks which has a direct effect on seratonin levels. This is why I ran the Making Winter project in the winter of 2011/2012.

Despite this I find that I feel hopeful at this time of year. I have to confess that I'm not Christmas's number one fan and when January arrives I feel refreshed and immediately begin to look forward to Spring. There's no doubt that it's a dreary month, weather-wise. In fact for much of today the cloud was so thick that there was little more than twilight here on the edge of the Fens, but mentally I'm looking beyond winter towards the lighter days. 

Yesterday I had a strong urge to find some flowers. I'd spotted that my winter sweet was in bloom. This is a waxy, almost unearthly flower with a heady smell that seems to combine jasmine and hyacinth. It's a welcome treat just after Christmas and I often forget about it until it opens its strange buds. I'd also spotted a kind of cherry/prunus flowering next to a scout hut in Fordham. I decided to go on a flower hunt. I was prepared to cheat if neccessary (there are two garden centres in Fordham).

Things began well. I found a self-seeded viola in a pot outside the front door, saw that my white viburnum was sporting some very Spring-like white blossom and my winter flowering jasmine was studded with tiny yellow flowers. I now have to confess that I snipped one or two small twigs of a scented pink viburnum that was covered in blossom but looking straggly and unwanted on some wasteground near here. I also burgled a little of the prunus from near the scout hut. I now feel slightly guilty about this. My violas, tete-a-tete and cyclamen came from the garden centre. 

Together these tiny flowers satisfied my floral craving and once I'd bunged them in jars it looked for all the world like Spring on our dining room table. I highly recommend it.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Damson jam crochet wristwarmers (free pattern)

My resolve to blog between Autumn and Christmas was impossible to fulfil sadly. Commissions, poorly daughters (seven weeks' worth of poorly!), writing for the wonderful Standard Issue Magazine and the Big Comic Relief Project meant it was perpetually shunted to the bottom of the priority list. Evening would come and we were mopping brows or staring exhaustedly into the middle distance.

I can't reveal the full story about the Comic Relief plan. It's hugely exciting and I can tell all on the 9th January but essentially I have been working with a truly fantastic and kind group of people to make a craft magazine filled with tutorials and patterns from hugely talented designers and bloggers. I'm bursting with the details but I have to keep a crafty lid on it for secret squirrel-ish reasons. If you're on Facebook it's here. Above is a picture of Ron and Audrey the felt guinea pigs, the patterns for whom will be in the magazine. You may be able to guess who designed them.

I wrote about an alternative handmade Christmas in Standard Issue several weeks ago along with a tale of a pair of wristwarmers I'd crocheted using Mrs Moon 'Plump' yarn. I made up the pattern (I'm fairly gobsmacked about this development). It's only the second crochet pattern I've written -more about the first very soon- and I promised readers I'd send it to them. Failure number 2. I'd half written it and then another cough reared its head, requiring Florence Nightingale action. The pattern was a shameful UFO until today. 

I discovered Mrs Moon Plump at Yarndale. Yes, I visited Yarndale as part of a craft retreat weekend organised by The Coffee Lady, and accompanied by Monica, Tess and Ali. We met Lucy. I have blogged none of this. For shame. 

Each skein in this yarn range* is like a jewel-like, baby rabbit-soft long sausage of woolly joy. It's chunky. I love chunky yarn-crocheted things grow so quickly that it makes me feel yarnily accomplished (far from true). The wristwarmers are crocheted in 'damson jam' -  a perfect name for such a rich, delicious colour. They also make me think of damson gin. Ahem. 

The pattern is below. It's an apology and a thankyou to those who still read my blog. Massive thanks to Monica who has helped me to translate my hooky doings into readable patterns recently, with her astonishing knowledge, skill and patience.

Hello and Happy New Year! 

Thankyou for clicking over here despite my erratic and infrequent posts. x

Damson gin crocheted wristwarmers

You will need:

1 skein of Mrs Moon 'Plump' yarn in damson jam.
10 mm crochet hook
Yarn needle

With 10mm hook: 16 foundation ch, join to work in the round making sure you don’t twist the chain. 

Row 1 1ch (count as a dc), *tr in 1st st, dc in next st* repeat to the end, sl st to top of initial chain to join

Row 2 2 ch (count as a tr) *dc in 1st st, tr in next st*, repeat to the end, sl st to top of 2 chain to join

Rows 3-10 Repeat rows 1 and 2 (8 more times)

Row 11, 1ch, 2tr in first stitch, continue with pattern (alternating tr and dc) for 3st, 2 tr in the next st, continue with pattern for 3st, 2tr in the next st, continue with pattern for 3st, 2tr in the next st, continue with pattern for 3st,  sl st to top of chain to join – 20sts (4st increased)

Row 12 2ch, beginning with a dc work in pattern (alternating dc and tr) to end, sl st to top of 2 chain to join

Row 13 1ch , beginning with a tr work in pattern (alternating dc and tr) to end, sl st to top of chain to join

Row 14 2ch, work in pattern for 3st, 2ch, skip 6sts, tr st on 10th st, continue to work in pattern to end, join with sl st to top of 2 chain to join. (16 working sts)

Row 15 1ch, beginning with a dc work in pattern (alternating dc and tr) to end, sl st to top of chain to join (treat the 4ch that have created the thumb hole as regular st to work into)

Row 16 2ch, beginning with a tr work in pattern (alternating dc and tr) to end, sl st to top of 2 chain to join

Row 17 Repeat row 15, sl st to top of  chain to join 

Weave in ends

Revel in the floofy hand joy.

*This is not a sponsored post, I haven't even received any free yarn, I'm simply very excited about Plump as it's truly gorgeous.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Baby it's cold outside

I've written about my experience of baby groups over on Standard Issue magazine. So many postnatal groups are wonderful - nurturing, helpful and a source of friends. I didn't quite find that though. In the two groups I attended there was a peculiar atmosphere of oneupmumship. Pop over for a read here if you fancy it.

If you like my article it would be super lovely if you could click 'recommend' at the bottom. Thankyou

I'll be back next week to announce the details of my crafty plan for Comic Relief 2015.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Making Winter revisited

The Comic Relief project I'm hatching for 2015 has taken over my waking and rather a lot of my sleeping hours too. It's eaten my blogging time entirely. I've been dreaming about it for three or four months. It's quite big and ambitious but everything is in place for it to build on the thrilling success of the Red Nose Day Dolls.You can have a sneak preview of it if you click here and I'll be back soon to tell all. 

Meanwhile I've been writing about crafting as an antidote to winter's grey skies over at Standard Issue Magazine. You may remember the Making Winter project hosted by Mrs Thriftyhousehold and I three years ago. In this new series of articles I'll be encouraging those who don't necessarily turn to their knitting needles for solace to give it a go. Here's this month's Making Winter

If you like it it would be ace if you could click the 'recommend' button at the bottom of the article. As Standard Issue is rather new it will really help to show whether our content is being enjoyed.

Next month I'll be sharing a crochet wristwarmer pattern. As a woman who fairly recently could only make a tragic birds' nest out of hook and wool this is quite a turn up.

Note: the blanket in the top picture is a granny square of Misti Alpaca handpaint chunky that I decided to keep adding to. It's my current winter go-to comfort project, although the price of the Misti alpaca means that it's sheer indulgence and I ration myself to two skeins every couple of months. This colour way is called 'sky grey' and reminds me of a Norfolk beach. The blanket is one large baby rabbit-soft granny square. Nestling underneath it whilst I add stitches is a joy.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Standard Issue - a new magazine

Back in May I was adjusting to being newly 42. I was gobsmacked that I'd just had my first exhibition and was reeling slightly that the youngest Pebble, whose birth I wrote about on the former incarnation of this blog, was about to turn six. I was also trying to adjust to the horrifying possibility of chin hair. 

Youngest daughter, aged 11 months

In that same month I received an email asking me to write for a new online magazine for women. I was astonished and thrilled. Apart from craft and interior titles I had abandoned all newsstand publications aimed at women long ago. I wasn't interested in celebrity beach bodies or the latest diet fad. I didn't care much for this season's must-have trouser or who had dumped who for who(m) and was now stepping out with such-and-such and wearing a particular boot whilst she did so. 

Two or three times a year I would buy this kind of magazine. Afterwards I felt a little like I did when I ate pickled onion Monster Munch or doughnuts. For a little while it was delicious, but eventually I felt queasy and in need of a satsuma or a carrot. There was little or no intelligent, incisive content. They seemed to be about frocks, mostly.

Fimo pendants including doughnut, made by eldest daughter

On the 30th of September Standard Issue Magazine came into existence. It's an online publication by women for women. In its short life Jenni Murray has written about the ways in which we think and speak about cancer and Phillipa Perry has given tips on overcoming anxiety and Sian Harries writes in praise of Malala Yousafzai. 

There have been articles about parenthood, reality TV and arachnophobia and the writers include Clare Balding and Sarah Millican.

Pippa Evans is documenting her experiences of being make-up free for 100 days and Helen Linehan is sharing her car boot sale finds (including a covetable wooden puffin).

Pudding the frog made by me in 1981 and stuffed with pudding rice.

I will be writing about craft and creativity for Standard Issue and my first piece was published yesterdayMy article is about the handmade revival that we are all part of, about my earliest experiences of craft and about knitted beards and crocheted turnips. 

I'm incredibly honoured to be writing alongside this group of women and to be part of this launch. I believe Standard Issue magazine is something new and is an excellent destination for those who crave thought-provoking as well as cackle-inducing articles. 

Crochet turnip pattern by Little Conkers

Do pop over and have a read if you have a moment to spare, and if you have a few maybe stay awhile. 

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Silver cotton reels and a lost summer

It has been a busy summer. Open Studios was as lovely as ever. In fact the Saturday afternoon of my final open weekend turned into a sort of woolly garden party to which Celia, Val and Deborah brought their respective yarn projects and crocheted in the sun whilst I brought them pots of tea and homemade biscuits. I was on Radio Cambridgeshire for five minutes on Friday 25th July talking about Open Studios. New friends were made, necklaces found new homes and, as ever, the phenomenon of Open Studios and its power to bring like-minded people together surprised me and introduced me to creative folk with whom I will stay in touch. 

The summer also brought new plans for Comic Relief 2015. There'll be more news on this soon, but I'm working on something potentially very exciting with Jane Toft, ex-editor of Mollie Makes magazine. We hope that the project will build on the success of the Red Nose Day Dolls and the £4300 of handmade cash that we raised thanks to the wonderful support of bloggers and the talent of the 22 designers who contributed, amongst other handmade wonder, diminutive blankets (above) perfect tiny dresses, needle felted dogs and miniscule handmade books

In the last few months I have been writing articles for an exciting new online magazine that will launch in the next week or two. I'll be able to reveal more once the first edition is out.

All these offline adventures alongside the school holidays have meant that there have been tumbleweeds blowing around my blog, but now that the girls have returned to school there will be more time for sharing the news here.

I have been working on commissions as busily as ever, including this moon gazing hare pendant which was an honour to make. Every week or two I receive a request to make one of these fine silver cotton spool necklaces. It hs become such as regular design for me that I decided to make a small batch of them to list on Etsy. This allowed me to imagine that I had my own very small haberdasher's shop in manner of Sylvanian families. Click here if you'd like to have a peep at them. You can choose your own thread colour.

Meanwhile my sweetpeas continue to flower and it's still sandal weather. Unlike most months, September's sunshine seems to be reliable.