Ker-ching! A Penny drops!

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.

My Dad when he was young with his bees

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!

One huge granny square!

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!

Scrap Happy December

A few years ago I decided that what I needed in the sitting room was a low coffee table that would double as a footstool and was not too high so that it didn’t stop the eye-line across the room which is small. I found a small pallet that part of the heating system was delivered on which I painted and added a set of castors which I found in the workshop so that it can be moved around. I debated making a cushion for the top but in the end decided tht a slab of foam would be better for it’s coffee table function.

I embroidered a cover for it using a piece of calico left over from making curtains and embroidery threads I have had for ages – I think some inherited from aunts who died!

My cats think it is a lovely spot for a snooze! Unfortunately in this weather they are usually damp and muddy and you can perhaps see that the cover is grubby with pawprints. I realised that what I need is a second cover so that I can wash them more frequently – like every time a visitor is coming and I want the place to look nice!

I didn’t want a plain piece of fabric, haven’t time or inclination to embroider another one, hadn’t got a piece of patterned stuff that was the right size or colour so chose to do some simple patchwork. Those of you who do precision patchwork please stop reading NOW! If I want precision I do hand stitched hexies. This is high speed ‘it’ll do’ patchwork!

I have lots of sheeting and similar weight fabric in my collection, most of it from old duvet covers and sheets which my neighbour gave me. I tore 4 inch strips, cut them to random lengths and joined them, again randomly, into one long snake. Then cut that into the width of the top plus an inch for seams and joined them side by side. It turned out I had been a bit over enthusiastic and had enough to make a pair of fronts for cushions too. The piece for the stool top is applied to another piece of calico and the cushions are backed by more sheeting. Quick to make, cheerful. goes with anything and easy to remove and wash – What’s not to like?

Scrap Happy is curated by Kate and Gun on the 15th of each month – a collection of posts about things made from scrap. Not everyone posts every month but follow the links below for lots of inspiring ideas.

Kate, Gun, Titty, Heléne, Eva, Sue, Lynn, Lynda,
Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy, Tracy, Jill, Claire, Jan,
Moira, Sandra, Linda, Chris, Nancy, Alys, Kerry, Claire, Jean,
Joanne, Jon, Hayley, Dawn, Gwen, Connie, Bekki, Pauline,
Sunny and Kjerstin

Scrap Happy January

I mentioned in my previous post that a number of patchwork cushion covers were disintegrating and I wanted to replace them. When I thought about it I realised that I had made them when we were living in North Devon so that must have been the early 80’s. Most of the fabric I used was part of a large bale I bought when my daughter was a baby (she will be 45 in a couple of months!) which was ends, offcuts, pieces that had torn or been roughly joined during processing and printed peieces which had got folded going through the printing rollers so had white streaks down them. It was all very cheap because only someone happy to cut out and use the good bits would be able to make use of it. In those days patchwork was unfashionable and I had never heard of a fat quarter so I think the firm was just happy to get rid of it all.

Having done quite a bit of knitting recently I decided to have a change and do some patchwork instead and since it was for the evenings in front of the fire I opted for hand stitched hexagons. Looking for my templates which proved to be hidden in plain sight (memo to self – tidy the studio and stop wasting time hunting for things) I found this collection of hexies already cut and basted. The yellow broiderie anglais one bottom right is an offcut from the dresses my bridesmaids wore when I got married in 1971! The plaid is from an old work shirt and the plains were pieces of sheeting I picked up as remnants aeons ago.

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In the same basket I found this piece which used to be on a cushion cover. Presumably the backing got stained or damaged and I salvaged the applique.

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I have started to stitch some of the pieces together. The central printed blue is from that original bale – only a few small bits remain but it has done me proud. I never thought when I bought it that it would last me this long!

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For some reason copying and pasting the links to the other happy scrappers isn’t working but you can find them all by going to Kate’s post They are all well worth a visit!