Thursday, 30 January 2014

The Colour Collaborative: January - Woolly

"Woolly" is a good theme for January, that time of year when I want to feel warm and cosy, to be distracted by colour and pattern, to feel the comfort of a work in progress and the satisfaction of completing a project. When I think of all things woolly I think of yarn, not sheep, and thinking about yarn in terms of colour is a bit like looking at a colour chart. 

A trip to my wonderful local yarn and fabric store last week reminded me just how much choice there is, whatever your preferences or budget. From the cheapest, brightest acrylics to the muted, organic colours of the hand-spun, naturally dyed wool - the yarn world is your oyster, or your rainbow.

But lately my colour choices have been strongly influenced by winter.

I've had an idea for a cushion simmering away in the back of my mind since Christmas. We were driving down to my parents' house on one of the few sunny days we had in December and it was one of those perfectly clear, very cold wintry afternoons. As the sun set the sky changed from deep blue to a pale grey-blue, and then was filled with the most utterly gorgeous icy tones of rosy pink, peachy-orange and a smokey lilac. I watched the horizon and thought how lucky I was to see it and how much I adore winter skies, in particular the dark brown and grey silhouettes of trees against a sunset. The shorter days of winter mean that we are able to enjoy the sunrises and sunsets - this is surely our reward for the gloom and reduced hours of daylight. And, since then, I look at my local winter landscape in a more creative way, in terms of yarn brands and colour charts, crochet hooks and cushions. 

The decisions about which colours to use made themselves really. Dark brown and grey provide the anchor tones, dominant and stark as the trees against the sky.

Paler grey and blue for the ever-changing weather, reminding me that there are as many grey-skied days as there are blue ones in this country, and they are no less beautiful.

Shade of muted lilac and peach add warmth, and the raspberry pink colour is for the really dramatic, fiery sunsets and sunrises we see at this time of year, and also rather helpfully goes beautifully with the brown and grey. 

These are harmonious colours which compliment each other and I think it's no accident that the colours which appear together in nature work so well together in other forms. I used some money I was given for Christmas to buy this yarn. At £5 a ball it's not cheap but it's become a favourite as the range of colours is excellent, it's soft to the touch and doesn't pill - actually it wears beautifully I think. (I have a lot left over and am planning a ripple-stitch striped cowl - think Missoni.)

I've shared my progress with you over the last few weeks and it's been satisfying turning those little rounds into bigger ones, then into squares.

Thirty two squares in total, sixteen on each side. And here they are, in a finished cushion. 

The pattern came from my head, a combination of two or three patterns I'd seen here and there, and some experiments on my part, all pulled together. 

I used three delicate mother of pearl buttons to fasten one edge together. The frosty, fragile feel of mother of pearl felt right for this cushion.

Instead of sewing the two sides together, I used grey yarn to double crochet a sort of border, crocheting them together as I went. 

I really like it. The colours and pattern work for me and it felt good to celebrate winter with this project throughout January. While I'm not a very matchy-matchy decorator, I like the way the cushion picks out our grey walls and the splashes of pink we have around the room.

Tell me - what colours appeal to you when you choose yarn? Are you often drawn to the same tones and shades, or does it vary from time to time? 


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.


This month we are also joined by Andi at My Sister's Knitter and Ada Bea from Vintage Sheet Addict. Welcome both of you! Please do go and say hello.


Edited to add: 

These are the colours I used for the cushion, all by Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino:

340011 - Dark Brown
340049 - Taupe/Pale Grey
340054 - Rose 
340100 - White
340204 - Baby Blue
340600 - Pale Pink
340607 - Pale Lilac

I bought these from my local yarn store about one month ago. I can't see all these colours on the Debbie Bliss website, but it looks as though they are still available online from a variety of different places. 

Monday, 27 January 2014

Marmalade. Again.

Wow. Marmalade. It's a lot of work. This time last year - almost to the day, in fact - I made marmalade. It was a disaster. I couldn't get Seville oranges so used Navel, which made a syrupy-sweet preserve; it didn't set, and I cut the peel too thickly so it was basically chunks of orange skin floating in a sweet orange liquid. We've almost used up the six jars I made by eating a lot of marmalade bread and butter pudding and as a topping for orange almond cake, so it wasn't wasted, but still. I felt I needed to try again.

This year I was prepared. Seville oranges were finally located in Marks and Spencer's at £4 for 2 kilos or 4.4 lbs. I used this excellent Delia recipe and I followed it religiously, even hand cutting all the peel. So much peel! It took me an hour. Next time I'm putting it in the food processor. Even with my sharpest knife, an hour of finely slicing orange peel left me with back ache, a numb index finger and a sore wrist. And Seville oranges taste really sharp! Lemony sharp. I didn't realise that and that explains why they make such delicious marmalade, as they give that citrusy bitterness which offsets the huge amount of sugar you need. Anyway, it set nicely without me needing to add any additional pectin which pleased me, and I had some this morning for breakfast and it was very good. Next time I might use a darker brown sugar to give a darker colour and depth of flavour (I used white granulated) but otherwise it's all good. I made proper marmalade! I am happy. The recipe yielded seven jars, which including sugar, works out at around 50p a jar, which is excellent value as a really good jar of shop-bought marmalade might cost £2. It did take all day, but luckily I think it's a good way to spend a wet Sunday.

With the last jar of last year's batch, I made Nigel Slater's Frosted Marmalade Cake. It's the first time I'd tried this recipe and it's going to be a keeper, definitely one to make again. 

Ok, it's not going to win any presentation awards, but trust me, it's wonderful. The sharp icing is more like a glaze, and cracks when you bite into it like a glazed doughnut would.

The weather has been so cold and wet, with sleety showers and high winds, and we've not been out much. It was a weekend of pottering indoors. We gave the Hama beads a rest and played with modelling clay instead. I used to spend hours with this when I was little, making accessories for my Sindy house and food for my Sindy dolls to eat.

Bella made snowmen.

And I made a necklace, inspired by Christina Lowry's beautiful work. It looks nice with a plain black t-shirt, or a Breton striped top. Luckily I've got about ten of those.

And of course there was tea and crochet. I've almost finished this project - I hope to be able to show you it soon. I am in love with the colours and it's been a joy to work up.

Wishing you all a wonderful week.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Hama Bead Coasters And Other Crafty Fun

We've had some Hama beads in the house for a while now but it's only in the last few weeks that I've discovered the addictive fun and endless creative possibilities they offer. I'm addicted. Hama beads, for those who haven't heard of them, are small plastic beads which you place on a board covered in tiny pegs then, once you've created your pattern or image, you use heat to fuse the beads together by placing a piece of greaseproof paper between the beads and a hot iron. I think other brands are available - I believe Perler beads are similar, and I've heard of aqua beads which I'm told work the same way but with water.

It all started when, a few weeks ago, Bella decided to make a small mat with her beads using different colours in a concentric squares pattern.

She was really proud of it and it sits on the windowsill in her bedroom, underneath a pot containing a plant she brought back from some Rainbows activity.

We have no idea what kind of plant it is. She planted a bulb.

So far, there's not a lot going on! It will be a surprise to see what it grows into.

Up until that point I'd been pretty indifferent to the beads, but there was something granny-square-ish about that mat. And then, when she made this smaller mat, I thought "Coasters!" And since then I've spent a lot time this week playing with Hama beads.

This is a pleasing activity because I can do something very indulgent, just for me, while feeling virtuous. I can tell myself that I'm being a good parent while the children join in the crafting activity with me. It's win-win.

And so I started to play around with colour and pattern and, without really intending to, I seem to have created four crochet-inspired coasters. Rainbow stripes, granny square patchwork, a ripple pattern and one large granny square. The patchwork one is my favourite.

They make good coasters as they withstand heat and can be wiped clean. We are a messy household and my crocheted yarn coasters got absolutely ruined with tea stains. 

Now, while Bella was happy to help me with these, Angus was soon bored. Until I went onto Pinterest and looked for Star Wars designs...then he was very keen indeed.* 

Wow, there is a lot of Star Wars-related fun to be had with Hama beads! I may have opened a can of worms there. (Angus's creation is larger than a coaster, measuring 13 x 13 cm. My coasters measure 9.5 x 9.5 cm.) Also, if you search for "Hama Bead Coasters" in Pinterest you'll find so many fun and inspiring ideas. I like the retro, pixelated quality they give, like old computer games. Also there is something about them that reminds me of cross-stitch, with the rows and the counting. We have plans for more, something less girly - a skull would be fun, or a lightening bolt. Or a really overly-pixelated old fashioned rose design, the sort you'd see on an embroidered table cloth. See, I told you it was inspiring! Enjoy your weekends everyone - I'm off to play with my Hama beads...

* I looked at about six identical Darth Vader images on Pinterest and based my creation on the ones I saw, changing details and adding a red background.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

On The Creative Front

Hello! I promised you an update on recent creative activities, and here we are. First, I wanted to show you two Christmas gifts I made back in December which I couldn't post about before. My mum has recently discovered crochet and I think it's safe to say she's found it as addictive, rewarding and enjoyable as I have. She asked me to make her a tool roll in which to store her crochet hooks and we chose the fabric together when she came to stay back in the autumn. I followed a very good pattern written by Jooles of Sew Sweet Violet, published in Mollie Makes issue 28. The pattern is really for a brush roll, but can easily be used for other implements. Anyway, it's really a very good pattern, and my mum was very happy with her gift, and I was even happier to be able to give it to her. Apologies for the electric light photos - I didn't remember to photograph it until we were about to leave and return to Leeds.

The other item was my Christmas present to John, a scarf. I finished this at about ten pm on Christmas Eve while sat next to him on the sofa, so it was not exactly a surprise for him. But I wrapped it and put it under the tree all the same and he looked happy when he unwrapped it and tried it on. The colours are his choice and he was VERY specific about them. Oh my goodness. No deviation was allowed as, you see, John is a Leeds United fan and wanted the colours to be club colours - they had to be just so. He hasn't been to a live match in about ten years, he isn't a season ticket holder, but that man loves his football, and his local football club in particular. He insisted on nice yarn (I used Debbie Bliss Cashmerino) and he didn't want it too wide...on and on he went. But he loves it and wears it every day, and the blue and white suit his colouring so I suppose it could be worse. 

Angus noticed John's scarf and John, not one to miss an opportunity to encourage a passion for Leeds United in his otherwise football-indifferent son, suggested I make one for Angus too, which I've started but not got very far with. And then of course the dog had to have one and it's all getting a bit out of hand and I am sick to death of the sight of that bright yellow and blue. Have you had to create any particular woolen items for sports mad family members? 

Here are some much prettier photos.

I spent a happy Sunday afternoon on the sewing machine a few weeks ago making some more clothes for Bella's rabbit

She already had the dress, boots and cape she came with and we added a green scarf to her winter outfit. 

In addition, she now has a short sleeved dress for spring with matching pink boots...

...and a nightdress in some floral print fabric with a lace trim. I used the patterns that came with the dress and adapted them slightly. I noticed that Rosie Rabbit is starting to look a tiny bit bobbly, slightly less smooth than she was before. But since this is the result of much playing, changing of outfits and cuddling, I am not complaining.

Now on to something for me: my lovely knitted cowl, made from a pattern and some gorgeous alpaca yarn which were purchased at Yarndale back in September last year. Oh my goodness, this cowl. I was on the last row and realised (duh) that I'd knitted the final third of the cowl completely back to front. I kept thinking to myself "It looks different" but put it down to changing the ball of yarn (maybe it was fluffier!) but no, it was my extreme incompetence. You can see the change clear as day where the arrow is. It was already full of dropped stitiches and you can see where my tension changed when I swapped needles (brands, not sizes) and also it's all bunched in the middle from spending two months squashed in the bottom of my craft basket. But still. All those hours. I will have to unravel it because I'll never cast it off, let alone wear it, in it's current state. 

What I'll do with the yarn remains to be seen. I'm not sure whether I can face re-knitting the same pattern again, I might look for something else. 

And finally, some crochet. I've shown you the colours already but these circles will become squares, and will end up in a cushion. It's working up quite quickly and I hope to finish it this week.

So there we have it, this is what I do during the dark January evenings while watching television. Unless it's The Bridge or Borgen, where I need to read the subtitles, of course. 

Monday, 20 January 2014

Winter Woods

This morning was cold, frosty and sunny, my favourite kind of weather. I love a nice hard ground frost, dry and crunchy underfoot, it feels properly wintry. When John got back from dropping the kids off at school he said "Shall we go out for a walk?" and I looked at the piles of washing around me, the beds waiting to be stripped, the vacuum cleaner standing there idle, and said "Yes, let's." We drove up to Otley Chevin* which is about 25 minutes away and has become a favourite place as you feel you are much further away from the city than you actually are. We walked a shortish, circular route for maybe an hour or so. Oh, it was just breathtaking. The path takes you through woodland then up along an open rocky area (escarpment?) which offers amazing views north to the town of Otley, then back through more trees. I love to be in the woods in the winter and see the bare trees silhouetted against the sky, like blood vessels, arteries and capillaries.

My apologies if some of these photos look familiar - we visited this place with the kids a few weeks ago, on an even colder morning, and I used images from that walk in my last two posts. But I think that today's views of the misty Wharfe Valley and that light (that light!) between those trees earn their place here and deserve another look. There are sometimes perks to the strange, temporary situation John and I find ourselves in, where we are both at home during the day, and this walk was one of them.


Thank you so very much for your lovely feedback on my new header, and for your words of support and encouragement. I am lucky to have you as readers! I fully intended to show you some works in progress today as I have been busy stitching and crocheting, but I got sidetracked. Tomorrow - tomorrow I will!


* Otley is so named for the nearby town, and Chevin is an old British Celtic, or Brythonic word for a ridge of high land.