Regular readers will know that I rarely buy Christmas presents. Most of the people to whom I give at Christmas have more than enough ‘stuff’ and if there is something they particularly want or need they can ask me for it. Instead I try to give ‘experiences’ and ‘memories’ as the opportunity arises and mark Christmas and Birthdays with small hand made gifts. This means that December is a flurry of scrap happiness! However since some of the recipients read my blog not everything I have made recently can be revealed until January!
However my neighbour told me last year that she would like some knitted Christmas stockings to hang over her fireplace and wondered if I had a pattern. I can take a hint! After some searching I decided to use my usual sock pattern designed for 4 ply but knit it in DK on larger needles and decorate it with some cross stitch designs from books on my shelves.
And just for fun Laura and I spent yesterday, when it was too wet to work outside, playing in the workshop. There were some logs on the stack which were too fat for either of our fires and I find splitting with an axe very difficult so…
Scrap Happy is hosted by Kate and Gun on the 15th of each month. The contributors listed below are all amazingly creative users of scraps. Not all of us post every month but do click on the links for inspiration.
Some of you may recall that ages ago I started following 2 courses on embroidery – Pintangle’s Take a stitch Tuesday and Anne Brooke’s 52 tags. My aim was to increase the range of stitches I could use and also to get away from simply filling in someone else’s design. I have been lamentably lax about keeping up with either challenge but last week I decided to ‘have a go’ at doing some embroidery from scratch. And the result was…
I am under no illusions. This is not high art. It isn’t even particularly fine embroidery. But it was an achievement. I did it all myself from the first drawing to the finished piece. And I experimented. I used stranded cotton (mainly because I had a better range of colours in that) and tried mixing strands of different shades or colours.
I also mentioned previously experimenting with the way I knit and finding that it was easier if I controlled the yarn with my left hand. Well, quite by chance, I discovered how to do that flicky thing with the right hand so that I don’t have to let go of the right needle – or at least not so completely hands off. Months ago my neighbour, who did all my laundry for weeks when my machine broke down during lockdown, mentioned that she fancied having a row of Christmas stockings to hang over the fireplace and I offered to make some. Now that I can have yarn in either hand two colour knitting is so much easier! One colour on the left hand and one on the right! I used my usual sock pattern but in DK not 4 ply and motifs from various cross stitch pattern books I had on the shelves.
Some of you may remember that at the beginning of the year I embarked on two embroidery challenges / courses online – Sharon B’s Pintangle (http://www.pintangle.com) and Anne Brooke’s 52 Tags (http://www.annebrooke.co.uk). I have to confess that I am way behind on both having got, I think, about as far as February! However they are purely for my own pleasure and to learn more of the skills so I am doing them only when in the mood. Summer never is good time for me to do much crafting as the evenings are short and the garden demanding. Maybe over the winter I will feel like doing more.
However two things became glaringly obvious very quickly.
Firstly I had no idea there were so many embroidery stitches with so many variations on each – why did it never occur to me that if I could whip running stitch I could try the same thing on others? Or that blanket stitch could go both up and down in the same row? Doh!
Secondly that I had never used an embroidery hoop and could see no purpose to one. I did try once, years ago, and the fabric just slipped all over the place so I gave up. A link from one of the stitches in Pintangle explained that I needed to wrap the inner ring in tape to give grip and that a small hoop is easier to manage than a big one. I bought 2 small hoops and several meters of narrow cotton tape in Cardigan Market, did the wrapping as instructed and now it all made sense! I still find it a bit unnatural but I am getting there.
Those experiences set me thinking. Every woman in my family could do embroidery. I was told that my paternal Grandmother won prizes for her needlework but she died before I was born. Her daughter and niece had tablecloths they had embroidered, some of which I inherited. But I don’t remember actually seeing any of them doing it. I have no recollection of being taught to embroider. I made a mat with blanket stitch and cross stitch on Aida fabric at school and somewhere along the line I picked up stem stitch and satin stitch. Did I glean it from a book? Was I given a kit for Christmas? Did I start to make something and ask Mum to show me how to do the next bit? I will never know. I am just glad that I have started at the beginning, learning in a structured way to do it properly.
But that linked to another problem I was having – knitting. I had realised that whilst I could knit, did knit, made perfectly acceptable things when I knitted, it felt very clumsy and seemed to involve a lot of letting go and picking up movements. I was sure my Mum did it in a much smoother way but of course she died nearly 30 years ago so I can’t ask her. The embroidery revelations made me recognise that I similarly have no recollection of being taught to knit or of watching her closely to see how she did it. I identified the main problem as being that I was having to take my right hand off the needle to hook the yarn round it, then grasp the needle again to make the stitch. I knew Mum had a way of flicking her right index finger to make the same move. So I have been experimenting and have discovered that managing the yarn with my left hand in exactly the same way as I do when crocheting works for me. It also makes ribbing and any other pattern which involves switching from knit to purl and back a doddle. I have no idea if this is an orthodox technique but it works!
Of course in the process I went back to ‘stick your tongue out and hang onto the yarn as if there’s an overexcited St Bernard on the other end’ stage! Very salutary. I will have more patience with novices now!
By chance I had got a book from the Library on knitting blocks and decided to practice my new method by knitting some of those. I had a box of balls of Aran yarn which I had knitted into a jumper, worn a couple of times, decided I didn’t like, and unravelled so if I made a hash of it I wasn’t worried. The first block I tried was knitted in the round on 4 needles – big mistake! I have knitted loads of socks on three or four needles but there the work drops down and the needles are short. Here the fabric got wider and on the long needles contrived to keep stabbing me with at least one of the needles that was not being used at the time. So then I tried one which was mainly stocking stitch with a simple diamond of lace stitches. Better. Now I am doing what it describes as ‘diagonal pattern’. Fiendish! If I make a mistake (and there have been plenty) it is a devil to take back. I have pulled the whole thing off the needles and started again twice. It is only stubbornness which will get it finished! However I am getting the hang of the technique much better with so much practice.
I wonder what else I will discover I have only half learned?
A bumper bundle of very varied scrappy happy projects this month.
First, and simplest, I needed a mat next to the hob to put hot pans on. This is half a slate left over from when our roof was replaced many years ago. There were several – some full size and some half – stacked in a shed. A run through the dishwasher to ensure it was clean and a rub over with Olive Oil and it works a treat.
Second is a new sawhorse made by Laura with my help. It was made entirely by hand from wood cut for the fire. Because her cabin is heated entirely by the woodstove and I have a fire in my sitting room we get through a lot of firewood. All of it is cut up on these simple horses which eventually start to fall apart. At that point a new one is made and the old one returned to the firewood pile!
The third is a complete contrast – much finer, more delicate and girly! Inspired by Sandra who blogs as Wild Daffodil (https://daffodilwild.wordpress.com/2021/08/12/marquee-mandalas/) I made some crochet mandalas / doilies out of part balls of crochet cotton. Sandra mounted hers on plastic coated wire rings in order to hang them up but I am following a suggestion on one of the patterns and have soaked them in wood glue which should both stiffen them and make them water resistant. I have some crocheted snowflakes which I stiffened with strong starch and which I have used for many Christmases so here’s hoping the glue works
And finally I wanted a padded board to pin knitted or crocheted pieces out to shape and to use as a small temporary ironing table when sewing. I wrapped my father’s old drawing board in a used-but-nearly-new towel given to me by a friend when her Mum went into a home and secured it on the back with duct tape. To avoid the glue sticking the circles to the towel I put a bin liner between them but that is a ‘one off’ extra!
Curated by Kate and Gun Scrap Happy is a collection of posts on the 15th of each month featuring things made entirely from scrap by the contributors listed below. Follow the links to get inspired to use up your left over fabric, yarn or other stuff! Not everyone posts every month but all the blogs are well worth looking at.
There were some lovely comments on my last post about the blanket I was making to use up those little balls of wool that every knitter accumulates. The ‘granny squares’ are not all the same size necessitating strips and stripes and extra rounds to make them fit together and the colours are multiple and varied – yet the effect is cheerful and lively and most of you loved it as do I. Why?
Looking around my home and at the assorted handmade blankets in my cupboard I realised that the pieces I like best are the scrappy ones – the patchworks (usually fairly random) and the multicoloured. Partly this is because they will fit in with any colour scheme, adding both pattern and a hit of colour to the space. So in that sense they are very practical – change the decor? No problem!
Musing during a dog walk (as you do!) two memories from childhood came into my head.
The first concerned my childhood heroine; the woman I wanted to be like when I grew up. My Mum’s eldest, and much older, sister Aunty Nan. Nan and her husband Francis were childless (not by choice – as she said ‘In our day if it didn’t happen it didn’t happen and there was nothing you could do about it’) which meant that she had not given up work to raise her family. By the time I was old enough to remember them they were both lecturers at Alsager Teacher Training College near Newcastle-under-Lyme and lived in half a very long Nissen hut on the campus left over from World War 2. Francis headed up Rural Studies and Nan taught Craft. I found Francis slightly intimidating and when we visited he and my Dad would talk bees which they both kept. Nan would always find something crafty for me to do so that she and Mum could cook and talk. Later they bought 3 adjoining building plots where a new estate was being developed and had a bungalow built. Nan was furious that the architect would only talk to Francis even though she was the more artistic and better at design! She was even sidelined during the discussion of the kitchen! It was a beautiful home, very up to date in its furnishings and, of course, with Francis being an expert gardener, set in a fabulous garden. But what I really loved was their very early VW Dormobile.
Francis’s passion for bees meant he was not content with keeping a few hives of honey bees. He was really a thwarted academic and one of his good friends was Alan Gemmell (If you are old enough and live in the UK you may remember Professor Alan Gemmell of Keele University from Gardener’s Question Time. Prof’s passion was potatoes). So every summer he and Nan would spend the long vacation travelling Europe so he could collect wild bees and identify them. He had a cabinet of shallow drawers in his study with serried ranks of bees filed according to their latin name.
To make these expeditions easier, especially when he had exhausted Western Europe and started exploring behind the Iron Curtain, they got the Dormobile. To me it was a playhouse on wheels! And in it were blankets made by Nan on those journeys. She would take a pair of double pointed knitting needles – the short ones used for socks – and odd balls of wool so that she had some knitting to do in the evenings or while she was sitting in a field somewhere half watching Francis stalk his prey. Squares were easy to carry around or store in the van. Some were plain but lots were stripey or half and half. Sometimes the wool was thinner than she would have liked so she would use 2 colours together making a tweedy effect. Those blankets were part of the magic of the van for me. So very different from the contents of her house or of any of the other houses I knew.
The second memory was of a couple whose names I cannot remember but they were members of the Manchester and District Beekeepers Association, of which my Dad was Treasurer. The Association met once a month for most of the year. In the winter they rented a room somewhere for an evening and had ‘talks’ about bees and related subjects. But in the summer there were ‘Apiary visits’. One member would host the rest for an afternoon wherever they kept their bees. One of the more experienced members, often my father, would go through the hives explaining what they were doing, what they were looking for and why. If the bees needed extra space or a super full of honey needed to be taken away then that would be done. So winter was for theory and summer for practical. And on Apiary visits families were invited along too. There were a couple of single women who kept bees, a couple who did it jointly but most of the keepers were men. So the families consisted of wives and a few children who would sit around on deckchairs as far away from the hives as possible and chat. Everyone would take a picnic tea and once the hives were safely put back together again the beekeepers would join us and the host (or more usually the host’s wife!) would make cups of tea. It was a nice way to spend a summer afternoon and most of the gardens were delightful.
The couple I am thinking of hosted a visit every year but not in their garden – I never knew where they lived in winter. Every summer they would decamp to a field where he kept his bees and where they had 2 old railway wagons. One was where he stored all his bee equipment and extracted his honey – a dim space which I always tried to get into at some point to enjoy its scent of wood, wax and honey. The other was where they lived with two single beds arranged in an L shape at the end furthest from the door, each covered with a multicoloured, home made blanket, a small table and 2 hard chairs and a rudimentary kitchen with a camping stove. Outside was a compost toilet and another table with a washing up bowl on it and a tap on a post behind it. The field was on a hill and there was an amazing view over the valley. I knew of no-one else who lived like that – it was like being in a story!
I suppose that from those 2 experiences I came to associate blankets like the one I am working on with a simple life, being unconventional, having adventures but also with being cosy and self-sufficient. No wonder I like them so much – by making them I am constructing my very own magic carpet of the imagination, opening up possibilities of adventures and new ways of living!
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 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.
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.
Actually these are things I made last year but were Christmas presents so had to stay secret until now!
John’s immune system had been very damaged by all the chemotherapy so we hardly ever saw our grandchildren and in consequence struggled to know what they might like for Christmas or Birthdays and what they already had We got into the habit of sending a small token gift and putting what we would have expected to spend into a bank account so that we could help fund things like school trips that their parents might struggle to afford. I still send them either just a card or a small handmade something. This year, for grandson number 2, who is 19 and currently has a small motorbike, I will top up what his Mum can afford for driving lessons for him to ensure he is able to pass his test.
Anyway, this years gift to all the grandchildren, including the fostered ones, was based on a free pdf download pattern from Ann Wood handmade. I chose to do more embroidery on mine than she specifies and used beads not small buttons for the eyes. It used very small scraps, part of a reel of ribbon I had been given, left over embroidery thread, stuffing from stock and a lot of love.
Scrap Happy is curated by Kate and Gun (see links below) on the 15th of the month. Not everyone posts every time but if you want inspiration for using up scrap this is the place to look!