Monday, 5 October 2015

Blanket Season

As craft bloggers go - and one who crochets at that - I don't think I'm a very prolific maker of blankets. Since I learnt to crochet three years ago I have made two very small baby blankets which were both given away as gifts, a lightweight cotton throw, and one huge, heavy wool granny squares blanket. That doesn't seem much to me, given all the hours of crochet I must have done over the last three years and so it's with some surprise that I find myself with three blankets on the go at the moment. 

I think I have a bit of a love hate relationship with blankets. They just take so long to make, and I get bored and ignore them in favour of quicker projects like stool covers and wall hangings and scarves, and then of course that makes the blankets take even longer.

I have been working on Bella's zigzag rainbow blanket since Easter, with a long hiatus over the summer when it was too warm to have it on my lap. It is now absolutely enormous. I wanted it to be about the size of a single duvet cover, which it will be, so it can properly cover a single bed. (I can't be doing with too small blankets - more on that later.)

I don't especially love this blanket, but Bella does and that is more important because she chose the colours and pattern and it's for her room. But I'm near the end now, with only four more colours to go, and I have a renewed enthusiasm for the project.

I suspect that when it's finished, blocked, edged and laid out on her bed, I'll really like it.

Also in progress is my Cedar River blanket. Well, I say in progress, it's more like it's on pause at the moment. I haven't touched it in about a month, but I'll get back to it soon, I know I will, because I just adore it.

Everything about those colours and that pattern delights me. I already know that wherever it goes in our house it will look good. But for now it sits tucked up in it's basket, waiting patiently.

And then there is my granny squares blanket, which I kind of think of as my nemesis. Oh, I spent hours on this, and quite a lot of money, but there's no getting away from it: it's just not big enough for our bed.

It looks like a handkerchief, just perched there like that. It makes me so annoyed! I invested all that time and money in the creation of a beautiful thing, and I look at it and all I can think is: It's too small. 

It's been draped over the back of a chair in the living room for months where it looks nice but I feel that it's wasted there, it's not serving it's intended purpose. I made it for a bed, and for a bed it will be. I just need to increase the border by six or eight rows, then I think it might just be big enough. 

I've bought eight more balls of the off-white and two of the black. I had such trouble finding the exact yarn (Rowan Pure Wool DK) as I think it's perhaps being discontinued and replaced with the Pure Wool Superwash DK, but I managed to get some from eBay. Good old eBay.

And with all this blanket activity, my yarny corner of the living room is starting to get out of hand. Even John - who rarely moans about things like this, lovely man that he is - suggested that it might be taking over the floor slightly, not to mention blocking any heat from that radiator.

What started off as a stylish basket of yarn next to an armchair has morphed into a big pile of half finished woolly projects. But it's ok. In fact, it actually makes me happy. It doesn't matter when the blankets get finished because, as with so many crafty pursuits, it's as much about the process and the journey as the finished item. 

I'm joining in with my friend Jennifer's Winter Project Link Party, an opportunity for bloggers to share our crafting, our makes and our WIPs during the colder months. Do go and look at her beautiful blog if you don't already know it.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

How to make your bathroom look less like a cave.

Warning - the tiles in these photos may cause offence. 

It's not lost on me - get shorlisted for an interior design blog award and then post about how to make a horrible room slightly less horrible. But this is our family bathroom, small and dark and sad like a little tiled cave. Not exactly the best room in the house. At first glance it doesn't look too bad but after a while the dodgy plumbing, floor that doesn't fit properly, terrible DIY, wobbly bath panel and lack of daylight will grind you down. It doesn't look any better when it's clean. The tiles are the worst shade of beige/grey (greige?) and suck all the light out of the room and no amount of scrubbing will get rid of the limescale on the taps. I know, I've tried.

Next year we will gut it and make it light and lovely, but for now it's what we have and I had to make some changes. Mostly very little ones, but together they all made a difference.

1. De-clutter

It's hard to clean a sink when it's covered in, well, everything. Find somewhere to put stuff - a shelf, a cabinet, a wash bag - anywhere but on the edge of the sink. (This is blindingly obvious, so why did it take me four months to do this...?)

I know, that chrome towel storage thing on the left of the sink looks just the ticket, right? No! It's useless and a pain in the neck. The towels all have to be folded just so or they don't fit on and if you take off one, four more fall off with it. I don't need that many folded hand towels next to my sink, I'm not running a hair salon.

Ok, stuff has been moved. Much better.

And that leads me on to the next important thing:

2. Storage

These plastic boxes weren't really doing it for me, too untidy and hard to clean around.

This is where you need to get your drill out. (Or badger someone else to do it. Who am I kidding, I've never drilled anything in my life.)

A mirrored bathroom cabinet holds the toothpaste, hair products, contact lens solution, plasters and Calpol that we use on a regular basis.

And the little shelf underneath is where I put my contact lens pot while I put in or take out my lenses. It's so convenient, right under the mirror. Such a small thing but so important. No more dropped lenses on the floor while I lean over the little cracked mirror!

3. Light

If you cover the one, small, high, north facing window sill with boxes, it will appear darker. I know, incredible!

Also - mirrors help bounce light around a small room. I'd completely forgotten about this trick until the cabinet went up. Instantly there was more light in the room. 

4. Colour

Those two screws above the toilet were from a cabinet that was once there. They annoyed me. That whole wall annoyed me.

Thinking about how much we needed storage in that room, I decided to hang something from them. I crocheted two net bags using cotton and a 2 mm hook, one for flannels and the other for bath toys. The pattern is from Modern Crochet.

Instant colour and storage. 

The print makes such a difference too, just having something pretty and colourful on the wall too look at instead of endless beige tiles. 

5. Scent

Bathrooms are much nicer to be in when they smell nice. One of these room diffusers by an almost permanently open window makes a huge difference.

So, there you have it. It's far from perfect but it's an improvement on what we had before. And a reminder as well that, in a small room, every little inch of storage or daylight can make such a difference to how the space feels.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Make Bake Sew Grow

Hello you lovely lot! I hope you've all had good weekends? I received a rather surprising and delightful email a couple of days ago, telling me I'd been shortlisted for the Amara Interior Blog Awards! Well blow me down, I am completely and genuinely flabbergasted. And I have you to thank, for voting for me. Thank you. Thank you very much. 

{ Make }

Right then, on with the normal order of things. We are making plans to decorate the hall, stairs and landing this autumn and will wallpaper one small wall at the end of the hallway, so it's the first thing you see when you open the front door. It's a small, gloomy corner which only gets light from other open doors, so it needs to be fairly colourful and cheery, with a nod to retro pattern in keeping with the style of the house and era in which it was built.

Top row: Orla Kiely, middle row: Marimekko, bottom row: Mini Moderns, all samples ordered from John Lewis.
I usually love that John is so interested in interior design and that all our decisions are mutual, but sometimes I just really wish he'd let me have my own way. We can't agree. More samples will be ordered. 

We've been making improvements to the house, just small ones but exciting none the less. Our 4 metre wide living room window had a kind of UPVc bottom half which we never liked as it looks so white and plasticky. This is the best photo I could find, annoyingly, taken just after we'd decorated.

We had it boxed in with plasterboard and it looks a million times better already, more like the rest of the room, more substantial and more like a proper wall not a sheet of plastic.

Most excitingly, it gives me a long, long windowsill! I never thought this would matter so much, but hurrah, a big surface to display stuff on. It doesn't make for very exciting photos, though, does it. Sorry.

I have been making purchases and plans for Christmas. (I think it's ok to say the word Christmas now that we're officially in autumn - people get really funny about early references to that festive holiday, don't they?) A colleague recommended Edward's Menagerie to me and I bought a copy. It's great, really fun with little descriptions of each animal's character that tickled me no end. Bella and Angus have already picked out which animal I am to make for their Christmas presents. No pressure then...

{ Bake}

My shopping lists lately have included a lot of dried fruit and spice. Cranberries, dates, and sultanas, ground ginger, cinnamon and cloves - the flavours and smells of autumn cooking. I made tea loaf, an old favourite and one which I turn to when busy as it's so easy, and like to eat so heavily buttered that you can see teeth marks.

I also made a batch of cranberry chutney yesterday. It made the house absolutely stink of vinegar though - and I'm glad the weather was good today because I had the doors and windows opened wide - but it's worth it because it is so delicious, and almost more fun to make than jam. You don't have to watch it and fret about it setting, you just stir it all together and leave it to simmer for an hour then go off and do something else. Like open the windows. 

{ Sew }

I appear to have downloaded a pattern for a poncho, bought the yarn, and am in the process of teaching myself how to do front and back post trebles to make the rib stitch. I did not see this one coming at all! But I'm just desperate to make this right now so that I can wear it while it's still autumnal and not freezing cold.

{ Grow }

Wow, it's all go in the garden! I've bought bulbs. I've planted wallflowers all over the border in the back garden. These scrappy little things will apparently bring colour to my border throughout the spring. Hard to believe, I know.

This hydrangea was a gift from my mum. My parents have a huge one in their front garden and every year the blooms are magnificent. I've planted this in a sunny, roomy spot and I have high hopes. I also deliberately planted it right by the front door so it greets me every time I enter the house. 

Also, this is the kind of area where front gardens are immaculate and I feel the pressure, frankly. 

The sedum is flowering. I don't really know a lot about sedum (or any plant, let's be honest) but I really like it. It's shape and slightly faded pinks and greens remind me of the kinds of plants that grow wild by the beach, like sea cabbage. I have no idea why. This one was from my sister's garden and it's growing well in it's new home. 

So another weekend of pottering draws to a close. I wish weekends were longer. My hours at work have increased to the point where I am almost working full time and I'm feeling  the difference. Everything it rushed and time snatched in an hour here, half an hour there. I will be glad when things eventually settle back down to how they were before.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

The Colour Collaborative: September: Market

Markets make me think of France. I remember childhood holidays and visits to local towns that were planned to coincide with market day. I remember the way a sleepy rural village could be transformed into something bustling and vibrant by the collection of a few stalls. 

The goods on sale and the way people shopped seemed so different to how we shopped at home (in a supermarket). People called out and shouted to each other, touched and squeezed everything on sale, and carried big wicker baskets, both men and women. On a recent holiday to rural South-West France I noticed that not much had changed. Market day is still a weekly anchor in the local calendar, and those markets still seemed suffused with the same warmth, light and colour that I remembered. 

Look at the pink and white radishes with their green leaves - such a crisp, summery colour combination, light and fresh. This is slightly off topic, but if you ever get the chance to eat a Boursin and sliced radish sandwich, do. It's amazing. 

The jars of honey glow in the sun like all the shades of amber lined up in a row.

Even the everyday, household items seem more colourful and enticing. 

I find that markets aren't quite the same event here in the UK. Does your local town or village have a market and do you know when it is? I'm not talking about Farmers' Markets, with their carrots with the tops still on, heritage tomatoes and artisan breads; they are lovely (and I love buying from them) but they seem to me like the outdoor equivalent of shopping in Waitrose. I'm talking about your normal, workaday gathering with fruit and vegetables, clothes, hardware and that stall that always sells mobile phone cases. I had to look mine up. It's on a Friday. I went for a look around and it was ok, a bit grey, but that was the fault of the drab 1960's shopping precinct as much as the merchandise. But two stalls really leaped out; the fruit and vegetable stall, and the flowers. So much choice and abundance, and really good value, and so much more colourful when everything isn't wrapped in plastic and lined up in grey boxes. 

I bought cyclamen, lots of cyclamen.

I love their wobbly pink flowers, the way they bob about on such spindly stems, and they seem like an autumn/winter plant to me. Potting them up is a seasonal tradition of mine. 

Look at those hues, from violet to flamingo to rose. All the pinks, in a pot.

Don't forget to visit the other Colour Collaborative blogs for more of this month's posts, just click on the links below:

Annie at Annie Cholewa
Sandra at Cherry Heart
Jennifer at Thistlebear
Claire at Above The River
Sarah at Mitenska

What is The Colour Collaborative? 

All creative bloggers make stuff, gather stuff, shape stuff, and share stuff. Mostly they work on their own, but what happens when a group of them work together? Is a creative collaboration greater than the sum of its parts? We think so and we hope you will too. We'll each be offering our own monthly take on a colour related theme, and hoping that in combination our ideas will encourage us, and perhaps you, to think about colour in new ways.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

First World Problems

1. I shrunk one of my favourite tops today. I've actually felted it, it's completely ruined. It's the one in the middle above, hanging between Angus's school jumper and one of my tops, just to give you a sense of scale. I've got no-one to blame but myself. It wasn't new but it was a good one, pure wool from Boden and not cheap, and it was an old favourite for going out in the evening or work.

2. Talking of work clothes, I don't appear to have anything to wear to work for autumn. I wear cropped trousers and ballet pumps and I shiver, a skirt and tights and I boil. I need to buy some trousers but I'm already dreading that as I know they'll all be too short and it'll be a nightmare getting some that fit. Gah! 

3. I can never get all my shopping in Aldi. Why don't they sell maple syrup? I asked someone who worked there where the suet was. She looked at me blankly. "Suet?" "Yes, for dumplings", I offered helpfully. She shook her head and actually laughed at me. 

4. I've started work in earnest on Bella's zigzag blanket since she nags me about it daily. "When is my blanket going to be ready?" "Why is is not ready yet?" "You said it would be ready for autumn." I stopped working on it over the summer as it was too warm to have it on my lap, and I left it so long I forgot what size hook I was using. I knew it was either 6 mm or 7 mm. I tried 7 mm. Four rows later I pulled it back and started again with the right one, the 6 mm. 

5. There are wasps everywhere. Bella was stung on the finger this week. I was almost stung at the bottle bank at the tip. They really like the bottle bank, those boozy wasps. That's probably why they're so sleepy.

6. We now have swimming lessons on two weeknights instead of one, and I have to endure the wet-tissue-changing-room-floor-horror twice a week now. 

7. The boiler is on the blink, very possibly broken. The pipes make the most horrendous clanking sound and whether or not there is any hot water is a lottery. There is no heating, but thankfully we don't need the heating on yet, and there is the stove. I love the stove. 

8. Weekends are too short. I'm only now just relaxing and settling down into it. I've gardened, been to the tip, given the wood store two coats of wood stain, shopped, assisted in lengthy homework and reading sessions and just ironed the school uniform ready for tomorrow. I'm ready for my weekend to start now! 


Whingeing aside, it's been a really nice weekend. Homely and pottering, centered around the kitchen and garden, just how I like it. The weather has been lovely, all misty mornings and warm sun but with a nip in the air in the evening, to remind us that summer is truly over. The leaves are starting to change colour here and there. John cooked beef and ale stew with dumplings for dinner today, with sticky toffee pudding and custard for pudding. It was amazing. I love it when he gets the urge to cook at the weekend. And I am, of course, very happy to have my first world problems, such as they are. Mere inconveniences in an otherwise comfortable life and I know that things could be so much worse, and are for so many. But a little whinge feels good, no? I feel loads better. Got any first world problems you want to share?