At the start of lockdown I looked at what materials I had and discovered a box of very small balls of knitting yarn. In some cases I had more than one ball of the same and some were bigger than others but none were big enough for even a small project on their own. So I started making granny squares using multiple colours in each. I tried various small patterns just to see how they came out. Then I started to join them together adding extra rounds or just rows to get them to fit. Thankfully I have been dealing with the ends as I go. As you can see I still have some squares to attach and the box is not empty yet so I will go on adding more. I have no idea what size it will end up but at least those scraps are now being used up and turned into something useful!
ScrapHappy is open to anyone using up scraps of anything – no new materials. It can be a quilt block, pincushion, bag or hat, socks or a sculpture. Anything made of genuine scraps is eligible. If your scrap collection is out of control and you’d like to turn them into something beautiful or useful instead of leaving them to collect dust in the cupboard, why not join us on the 15th of each month? Contact Kate or Gun via their blogs using the links below. .
Here are the links for everyone who joins ScrapHappy from time to time (they may not post every time, but their blogs are still worth looking at).
A fairly disastrous start to my garden had me feeling rather dejected but at last the sunny days/ frosty nights weather has given way to the usual ‘chilly with varying amounts of rain’ variety. Not nearly as nice for working in but better for growing.
I brought the trays of tender seeds indoors and put them on the living room windowsill. The window faces due South and there is a radiator underneath. At last some have germinated.
I planted a net of first early potatoes – some outdoors and some in large pots in the lean-to greenhouse on the South wall of the house. The outside ones have kept trying to send up shoots and been nipped by frost despite a heavy mulch of paper so none have shoots more than 2 inches tall. In the greenhouse they are almost ready to flower!
Last year I ordered some plants and when they arrived a free gift of a few dahlia tubers had been included. I was hesitant because in the past slugs have munched every dahlia that put a shoot above the soil. But they were free so I put them out in pots and they came up well. In the Autumn I brought the pots into the lean-to greenhouse, stood them on bubble wrap and tied more round the pots then added a layer of shredded paper to the top. They have come back well.
Everything will be late but there should be some things to eat from the garden!
Indoors I have been decorating my bedroom. In this slightly weird old cottage that meant doing the stairs as well – we knocked 3 small bedrooms and the landing into one generous room so the door is at the bottom of the stairs. I didn’t realise that DIY stores were fully open (in my world they are useful but not essential) so I ordered paint online for collection. I knew that the colour I saw on my screen was not accurate – would I like it when I saw it on the walls? Should I order tester pots first? Since Carmarthen is 20 miles away I decided to risk it. It is paint. If I didn’t like it I could buy another can in a different colour and go over it again. I did however invest in some good quality paint that promised to cover any previous colour in one coat. So
One friend’s reaction was ‘Oooh! You’ll have to be properly grown up now!’
I thought the pale colour would be a lilac grey and it is bluer than I expected but actually I am happy with it.
On the rut jumping front I have continued trying to expand the range of foods I eat. Yesterday I picked a large handful of ‘greens’ which included old favourites chard and wild garlic, shoots of asparagus kale which I grew for the first time last year and have been picking leaves from all winter, but also dandelion leaves and vine leaves. I had thought that dandelions had to be blanched under a flowerpot but Carolee (https://herbalblessingsblog.wordpress.com ) assured me they didn’t. I chopped all the leaves and sauteed the whole lot in a little olive oil, sprinkled with salt and they were delicious. Today I have made Soda Bread (from Darina Allen’s Forgotten Skills of Cooking), Blinis (from Michael Mosley’s The Clever Guts Diet) and Oatcakes (from The River Cottage Handbook No 3 – Bread by Daniel Stevens).
On the crafting front – wait for Scrap Happy!
At long last we are able to start meeting up with friends, have workdays and non-essential shops are open. Yesterday I met friends in Cardigan to have coffee. As it was fine there were more people out and about than usual. We cannot yet go inside but the Council has reduced the High Street to one lane allowing cafes to put chairs and tables out on the pavements and spill onto the side of the road. It wasn’t ideal with delivery lorries trundling past but a big step towards normality!
The other thing that has lifted my spirits is that my son plans to move nearer to me. He no longer needs to be able to commute to London every day but instead will be working from home most of the time. His job in IT is stressful and his health is suffering. Moving out of an urban environment should help him relax. His wife, who has very little experience of living in the country, prefers to stay put so for now he will buy somewhere small, but big enough for her and their adult children to visit, and split his time between here and there. That way she can try living down here (very different from staying with your M-I-L!) and see if she likes it after all. I have been helping him house hunt and he has made an offer on a place he saw the other side of Carmarthen from me. Of course there are many things that can go wrong between offer and moving in but knowing that he will buy that or another place soon and I will be able to see more of him is lovely.
I have realised that it is quite some time since I posted anything – not because I haven’t done anything worth mentioning but because I have been too busy doing things to have time to write about them! This easing of restrictions is lovely but now I have to fit more things into my days!
In particular I haven’t posted about the garden for ages. Mainly because it started disastrously! Laura and I sowed tender things on the heated bench in mid March and waited… and waited… until eventually I realised that the bench wasn’t working. The power light is on so it must be either the thermostat or the soil warming cable. When Mr and Mrs Snail visited Mr Snail offered to come with his meter and work out which. But it is too late for those early seeds so we we tried again – this time putting them on the house windowsills. Some are coming up but not as many or as quickly as I had hoped.
In the greenhouse we diligently fertilised the apricot and peach trees with a little brush every day. Loads of fruit set. Then we had a sharp frost which I hadn’t expected and all the little apricots shrivelled and fell off – every one! The peach seemed to fare better but still has dropped quite a few. I am hoping the remaining ones will swell.
That frost was the first of several the most recent being Sunday night. So seeds we sowed outside are still hunkered down – at least I hope they are and that they will germinate when the weather improves. The days, of course, have been glorious which has meant a lot of watering!
I was beginning to feel pretty despondent but Jono gave me some parsley seedlings, I spotted some sweet pepper and chilli seedlings in the supermarket, Rachel gave me a couple of cucumber plants and I found tomato plants in the zero waste shop in Cardigan. Michelle was offered some surplus onions sets and there were more than they needed so I had a kilo. Now some of the perennials and some of the greenhouse plants are braving the temperature extremes and coming up so maybe it will come right in the end.
I have had one rhubarb crumble already. The buckler leaf sorrel is popping up in several places. Jerusalem artichokes are pretty indestructible!
The garlic went in last autumn and isn’t growing at present but is hanging on. Early potatoes in the greenhouse are doing OK. The crab apple trees between the house and the workshop were overgrown with weeds and brambles but we did a lot of work on that area over winter and they are flowering – Hurray!
Somewhat erratic germination of carrots in the greenhouse – I’m sure I sprinkled the seed more evenly than that! I managed to root some watercress from a supermarket pack and now it is growing outside in a sheltered spot. The beetroot were sown in the lower greenhouse last year and did nothing but have now come up!
I helped prune a circle of willows at Dyfed Permaculture Farm and brought some of the rods home to take cuttings. They have done very well! The plant on the right is Asparagus Kale which I tried for the first time last year. I have been picking leaves all winter and now they are producing lots of flower shoots which are just like purple sprouting broccoli. The plants being shorter than PSB fit better in my garden so the buds which flower before I can eat them I will allow to set seed for future sowings.
So a slow start but not all is lost.
And because there is no such thing as too much cuteness pictures of me with a bottle fed lamb at Dyfed Permaculture Farm and 3 baby goats born whilst I was visiting my friends Rachel and Ian.
The red light on the baby goats is from a heat lamp. They were born in the field, their Mum having refused to go into the maternity pen, but as dusk fell the family was moved there willy nilly in a wheelbarrow! By the way I have had my hair cut since the lamb photo you will be pleased to hear!
A while ago I posted that I had decided to use the Take a Stitch Tuesday posts by Sharon at Pintangle to learn a wider range of embroidery stitches. Cathy commented that she was following Anne Brookes 52 tags series for a similar reason. So I investigated that and it seemed more about creatively using stitches rather than learning them so it seemed that doing both would be helpful
I duly went online and bought a pack of tags and once they arrived tried the first challenge even though I was now a few weeks behind! It was to be all white. I watched her video tutorial and set to work. By the end of the evening I had a tag but was simply frustrated!
As it is ages since I did much dressmaking I have very limited supplies of trimmings and my buttons are quite large. Everything felt out of proportion to the size of the tag. Meanwhile the small piece of fabric was very fiddly to handle. It probably didn’t help that I chose a scrap of an old loosely woven damask tablecloth as the base fabric. I liked the white on white design of the weave but it stretched and wobbled far too much. I was tempted to give up on the whole thing but remembered seeing on other blogs cards and postcards made with embroidery so decided to have a go with a larger ‘tag’.
I also found the video unhelpful – once I had seen what Anne had done I found it hard to get that out of my head and invent my own design. So I watched just the first few seconds of the next few and wrote down the theme as my starting point. That probably means I have gone totally off piste but the whole idea was that this is for me so I am modifying it to suit myself.
Week 2 was a heart. I cut an A4 sheet of card (I have nearly a ream of the stuff so can afford to muck about) into 4 ‘postcards’ and had a lovely evening playing. I found a ball of narrow ribbon which someone gave me and tried using that for embroidery. I used stitches I had learned on the Pintangle challenge so combining the 2 ‘courses’. It came out with a slightly ‘vintage’ feel which wasn’t intentional!
Week 3 was sewing ruffles – not inspiring for me! So I didn’t do it! On to week 4 which was to play with fly stitch.
Luckily at that point a friend who has been clearing out her Mother’s house (Mum has chosen to go into a home after a fall) brought me a bag of embroidery and tapestry threads she had found in a drawer so I had more choice.
The last few weeks have been particularly busy and these challenges are supposed to be fun so I am trying very hard to shut out the ‘ought’ voice and do them only when I have time and energy rather than allowing myself to be driven to do one of each every week. This probably means it will take me well over a year to complete them and I will almost certainly continue to ignore any that do not appeal. However I think the tags one will certainly help free me up to be more creative.
All I need to do now is find a use for the other 99 luggage tags!
Scrap Happy is curated by Kate and Gun on the 15th of each month. The links below are to the amazingly creative contributors who make interesting things out of scraps that most people would throw away.
Regular readers will know that over Christmas I realised that I had shrunk. Sadly not physically but in terms of my sense of self, my confidence and my comfort zone. To reverse this I have been pushing myself to clamber out of my rut. As part of that I decided to expand my repertoire of meals and baking. I had, as most of us do, a collection of recipes which I made over and over again. Sometimes I varied them a bit but basically I was sticking to tried and tested, fail-safe, do them without reference to a book, ones. I mentioned in a previous post that finding books by Jack Munroe in the library started the process and encouraged me to be more experimental with meals but I was still making the same bread, cakes and biscuits.
I got out my favourite bread book (The River Cottage Handbook No 3 – Bread) and looked for something to try. I love crumpets so thought I would begin with those. Disaster! Even though I oiled the rings well the dough stuck to them. I tried adjusting the wetness both to drier and to wetter but they still stuck. Thinking about it later I have used those same rings many times for poaching eggs and I think I have scoured them too often so that they are scratched. When I chucked the last batch of glued up rings into a bowl of washing-up water to soak the dough off I looked again at the recipe and it said that pikelets could be made from the same dough without rings – just spoonfuls of batter on the pan. I was reluctant to waste the last bit of batter so I gave it a go and – success!
Then I tried Focaccia from the same book. That worked first time.
Last week the lockdown restrictions on us here in Wales were eased a little so we can visit each other. Only 4 adults from no more than 2 households can meet out of doors. The Snails and I decided that if it rained their limery with the doors and windows open was as good as outdoors so I went to visit them. Jan had made some bread and some small cookies which were more like little cakes. Both recipes were from a book she posted about a while ago – Artisan Sourdough Made Simple by Emilie Raffa. One of the reasons I have not explored sourdough much is that living alone I only need to bake bread every few days and throwing away half the starter to feed it grieves me. On the other hand chilling it would mean re-activating it before using it and in turn that means being more organised than I can usually manage! Jan assures me that the starter only needs feeding every few days and this book has recipes to use up any discarded starter. So I bought a copy and now have a starter culture brewing.
All this experimenting and learning new techniques is quite exciting! And the higher I climb out of the rut the more possibilities I can see. Thank goodness the easing of our lockdown looks like continuing – I am going to need visitors to help me eat all things I want to bake!
Only a few weeks ago Laura and I were finishing the main tree work for this year tackling the trickiest jobs which I had left until last so that we built up our skills on the easiest first. We cut some trees growing right on the edge of the high, vertical bank behind the greenhouses just before snow came.
The two which are still growing out of the bank are too far down to be reached from above and as I do not want them to regrow we will cut them from stepladders behind the greenhouses later.
Then we laid a hedge in an almost equally awkward place!
By the time we had done that we were joking that we were fully qualified as Mountain Goats!
But now spring has started to appear. The snowdrops and daffodils are out in several parts of the garden.
The wild garlic is reappearing on the path by the stream
The crown of early rhubarb is leafing.
I made a bird box over winter and hung it opposite the end of the deck so I can watch it from the house. I have seen blue tits investigating it – will they move in?
The black elder near it is breaking bud and living up to its name.
And in the greenhouses the 2 apricot trees and the peach are in full bloom.
It is too early for many insects to be flying so to ensure a good set of fruit one of us must tickle each of these flowers with a soft brush every day. So now we are no longer Mountain Goats but Busy Bees!
Embroidery? Well, yes, I learned to do it as a child. I had no choice. My Paternal Grandmother won prizes for her needlework. Her daughter, Aunty Megan, embroidered tablecloths and tray cloths and such like. On my Mother’s side of the family it was more utility sewing. Her Eldest sister, Nan taught crafts at a Teacher Training College but was more into weaving and bookbinding than sewing. However the next eldest, Buff, had trained as a Tailoress and by the time I was a child was teaching dressmaking at evening classes and looking after their father who was bedridden (by choice – but that is another story) and Peggy, the third daughter, who also still lived at home, made soft toys for the Sale of Work at the Church. So yes. I learned to sew and do embroidery.
There were three types of embroidery in my world. The one everyone did most of was to buy a pre-printed cloth, with or without the threads supplied as a kit, and follow the instructions. Painting by numbers with stranded cotton. A slight variant, mainly used for hankies, was to use iron on transfers to provide the outlines. The only creativity involved was choosing whether the flowers would be pink, blue or yellow.
The second was drawn thread work. Mum had done that at least once but the cloth was so precious it was never used. The third was cross stitch using either painted canvas (Does anyone else remember getting a Penelope kit for Christmas?) or working from a chart on Aida fabric. Painting by numbers again.
Mum had a set of books of traditional embroidery designs from various parts of Europe complete with traceable patterns but I never remember her using them. I have them still and I have never used them either!
I inherited more than enough embroidered cloths to have no incentive to make any more. And although I admired the skill that had gone into them and understood how many hours of work they represented I was never all that keen on them. I have, from time to time embroidered small items but again it has been ‘trace a pattern and colour it in’
In my teens I had an idea to create a picture with embroidery but it stayed as an idea and never got made. I just did not have the confidence to have a go and had a sneaky suspicion that asking for help would just cause problems. Then life got busy!
Over the last few years I have become aware that creating things from a pattern or kit is not the same as ‘being creative’. Not that there is anything wrong with following a pattern – the skill required can be considerable and the effect lovely. But I am ready to spread my wings and move up to ‘being creative’. I am exploring several ways to do that and one of them is to resurrect that idea of making pictures out of fabric and threads using techniques that come under the general heading of ’embroidery’. I want to have a go! Now I have cleared some wall space and am really enjoying having John’s pictures (and some of mine) up I want to create more but in different ways.
I started sketching some ideas but realised that my stitching skills are rusty and my repertoire of stitches limited. Then I came across the site Pintangle (www.pintangle.com) and Sharon’s Take a Stitch Tuesday series. So I went back to the beginning and am re-learning stitches I have known for years and lots of ways to elaborate them plus some which I have never tried before. Each ‘lesson’ I do on a square of fabric then glue it to a piece of file paper so I can write on what each stitch is called. Her instructions and pictures are wonderfully clear and her stitch dictionary is a revelation to me! From time to time she also posts about a stitch which is not part of the ‘course’ and I try those as well.
As with the boro bag and mat (read about them here https://goingbattyinwales.wordpress.com/2021/02/15/scrap-happy-february-2/) I have learned that my straight lines are not very straight and my stitches not always as even as I would like! I have bought some of those pens which have ink that disappears with water and some fine Aida to practice with. I also now know that whilst I have stranded cotton in a range of colours and one hank of perle I need to buy some more interesting threads! Meanwhile I am learning, stretching myself and enjoying the different effects I can create. I can already see some possibilities for elements of the designs I have in mind. Watch this space – but please don’t hold your breath – these have been incubating for 55 years and don’t look like hatching just yet!
When I gave myself that ‘good talking to’ back in early January I decided I needed to try some new craft things. The limitation was that anything I did had to use materials I already had. Partly this was because my collection of ‘stuff’ has reached unmanageable proportions and partly because I can’t go out and buy new. I could order online but I want to support my local businesses who have had a terrible year and that means waiting until they open again and then restocking.
Two things snagged my attention over the following few days. One was an embroidery course run by Sharon B at Pintangle. I had been thinking of having another go at embroidery so decided to increase my range of stitches. That is using scrap fabric and thread from my stash but will be another post.
The second was inspired by a post from Jean at ‘One Small Stitch’ (http://www.onesmallstitch.wordpress.com) showing pictures of a teddy bear she was making using the Japanese technique of boro. She had mentioned boro before and I am sure I looked it up at the time but had forgotten so I googled it again. Near the top of the results page was a piece from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London ‘How to make your own boro bag’ with a pdf of instructions to download. Boro, it turns out, was how Japanese peasants kept clothed. Only posh people were allowed to wear cotton so peasants wore cloth that was less robust. And peasants (as I know only too well!) are hard on their clothes. When a kimono got torn or holed a patch was sewn on but since the patch was probably also thin and weak it was reinforced with stitching. Over time the whole garment became patched patches with none of the original fabric visible. The result was a beautiful piece of art!
As it happened I needed some new shopping bags. I had just made one from two layers of plain sheeting and decorated it with a hexie flower I had made ages ago for I can’t remember what project. Nice, quick but involved getting the sewing machine out.
A second bag to experiment with boro seemed a good way to use up small scraps and learn a new skill. If the result was not great it didn’t matter – it would still hold shopping! I followed the instructions given and did all the stitching horizontal and vertical to create a sort of loose darn overall.
I rather like it but I also learned a lot!
I did the stitching with some crochet cotton which was rather too thick and made it hard to pull the needle and thread through where there were 3 layers of fabric. It does stand out well though.
My stitching is not as even as I thought it would be. Partly because different fabrics offered different resistance as did varying numbers of layers and partly because I thought I was better at stitching neatly than I am!
And my lines wander! Should I mark them with a ruler or accept that peasants wouldn’t bother? Hope that I get better at keeping them straight? Is the irregularity charming or untidy?
Other articles I found online said that the lines could be diagonal or arranged to give a pattern of crosses. And that the patches didn’t have to be rectangular.
I decided to have another go and this time make a padded mat for the table, I included some circular patches which I stitched in concentric circles and varied the direction of the lines on the rest. (with uneven stitch length and wobbly lines crosses were not an option!) I also used finer crochet cotton. The mostly single lines and thinner thread would give less strength on a shopping bag but on a mat I rather liked the freedom it gave me. I layered it with some left over batting and made a back from an old pillowcase folding it over to the front to bind the edges and stitching it with more boro lines.
It is proving rather addictive! It uses small scraps which could be colour co-ordinated but needn’t be. The stitching is a rhythmic movement that takes very little brain space so is perfect for keeping my hands busy while I listen to a podcast or when I am too tired to manage a complex pattern. Now what shall I make next?
On the 15th of each month Kate and Gun (links below) curate posts where we write about things made entirely from scrap. For inspiration on what to do with all those bits that are ‘too good to throw away’ look here. Most are using textiles but not all – there are things to make from wood and clever repairs here too.
My late husband, John, loved photography. He had a good camera in the days when the newest phones were cordless but on a landline and cameras needed to be loaded with film. When we moved here he set up a darkroom in the loft to develop black and white images but sent colour ones off for processing. I was happy to help, happy to go out with him and stand around while he set everything up, happy to let him spend on equipment but I never really understood the fascination of ‘f stops’ and ‘exposures’.
Then 10 years ago he died and left hundreds – literally hundreds!, probably thousands – of his photos – all in the form of slides. What can you do with slides? Would I really put up the folding screen which was torn and would have to be replaced, then set up the projector and fiddle about stacking books under its feet to get the picture on the screen and twiddle the focus….? I piled the whole lot into a blanket chest and got on with more urgent things.
Then about 3 years ago I asked my daughter to help me sort through them. We turfed all the boxes out on the bedroom floor and agreed it was time to be ruthless. If we liked the picture or it was of someone we knew it would stay. Everything else would go. If there were two of the same scene or very similar we would keep only the best one. Even with two of us and no messing about it took all afternoon. We got it down to 30 or so. We put those back in the chest. Neither of us could face doing any more with them!
Time passed. Obviously slides were useless to me. If I was going to keep the photos they had to be turned into some more accessible form.
The resulting blank white wall looked rather bare! What it needed were some pictures. All I had to do was get the slides turned into something I could hang up. I discovered that the Camera Center in Carmarthen could do the job. After tracking them down to a redundant chapel behind the market I took my slides in and asked them to digitise them and store them on a disc so I could see them on the laptop and decide what I wanted to do with them next. That was a few days before lockdown last March and it was only when my hairdressers reopened that I ventured into town and collected them.
More time passed while I looked at them, thought about which ones I wanted printed and what size each should be. I was concerned that the wall would become a shrine to John so I added a few of my own photos to the disc. I went back into the Camera Center with the disc and a list. And we locked down again! Eventually I was able to collect the prints. Now all I needed were frames.
The wall, like almost all the ones in this house is wonky not flat and the ceiling slopes and swoops and bows. A regular array of identical frames would look drunk! So I needed a variety of styles in 2 sizes. Bargain Box in Newcastle Emlyn has a good selection of inexpensive ones. The lady on the till was a bit surprised when I bought 20!
Then it was Christmas and I had decorations up. And then, as I have told you I lost my nerve. Deciding how to arrange them felt too much of a challenge. Getting the drill out and making holes in the wall felt scary. What if I didn’t like the result? What if I made holes in the wrong places? What if it was all a big mistake and I had wasted my money?
The afternoon before I took all the decorations down, knowing the place would look bare and unloved without them, I gave myself another good telling off and fetched the drill from the workshop. I measured the wall, marked the space on the bedroom carpet and laid out the frames. Then started putting pictures in the smaller ones. When I got to the bigger ones I discovered that my occasional numerical dyslexia had struck again – they were a size too big for the photos!
I very nearly panicked and put everything back in the blanket chest! However a visit to Amazon found me a box of mounts which would solve the problem and they were delivered next day. Everything was laid out on the floor again, the pictures framed and photos of the layout taken so I could follow it to drill my holes.
By the end of the afternoon they were up. The art world will not be in raptures. They are competent photos of nice scenes which I recognise.
I tried to write this post yesterday but WordPress would not upload my photos for some reason. However today I woke to snow so you get pictures of that as well!
I was listening to a podcast of BBC Radio 4’s Open Country in which an enthusiast for snowdrops – a galanthophile if we are being posh! – explained that in the Victorian language of flowers they stood for Hope and were therefore often planted in Churchyards. More mundanely they were also frequently planted alomng the edge of the path to the privy to help find the way in the dark!
The first ones are just coming into bloom in my garden. I don’t know how long they have been here but they were well established when we arrived in 1994. Despite all the work we have done shifting things around they survive. These are on the steep bank behind the Metasequoia at the entrance.
Daffodils will not be far behind. There are some very old ones from before our time here but these are ones I planted so a modern variety and an early one. I bought a mixed sack so I have no idea what variety any particular plant is!
As I was walking round taking these photos with the dogs I spotted an icicle on the old Oak tree in the wild part of the garden
Then yesterday afternoon we had a sprinkling of snow and overnight a good fall. It made this morning’s walk magical.
This board was propped against one of the compost bins and the snow formed an amazing texture which I just had to capture as inspiration for a future project
I now consider myself snowed in as the road was still icy yesterday afternoon and now with snow on top I won’t be able to see where I might slip. I don’t want another broken wrist! Or to crash the car. I actually like being snowed in! I always keep good stocks of food in the pantry and freezer and the woodshed is well filled so I can sit it out.