Saturday, 28 April 2018

Making the Seasons: April

Hello! First of all, thank you so much for your lovely and encouraging comments on my knitted jumper. I am glad you all liked it and, given how chilly and grey the weather has been this week, I've appreciated it's warmth on more than one occasion. 

Welcome to my Making the Seasons post for April. In this monthly project, my friend Lucy of Attic24 and I are consciously trying to make time in our busy lives to focus on small and seasonal creative projects - activities which are achievable yet fulfilling, and in tune with the months of the year. I really hope it might inspire you to have a go at doing something creative yourself. 

My project this month was to renovate an unloved wooden box and turn it into a small herb planter for the back garden. This might at first glance seem ambitious but please believe me when I tell you that it only took a couple of hours, snatched here and there over the Easter holidays. 

The box, found in my Grandpa's garage, was in reasonably good shape and just needed a bit of TLC and as soon as I clapped eyes on it I thought "planter!" I gave it a quick sand and two coats of outdoor wood paint in a lovely soft grey, then drilled a few holes in the bottom for drainage. I lined it with a couple of heavy duty plastic bin liners staple-gunned to the inside of the box, trying to roughly match up the holes in the plastic with the holes I'd drilled in the box - I have no idea is this method is correct but it has worked for me on previous projects, allowing drainage but reducing the effects of water on the wood over time.

I bought a selection of herbs from the garden centre, choosing rosemary, chives, flat leaf parsley, thyme, oregano, mint and lemon balm. I am a bit nutty about fresh herbs. The olfactory power of them just sends me into such a spin; the memories, the recipes; the  meals - it makes my mouth water. Fragrant rosemary reminds me of lamb and little roasted potatoes, while savoury thyme makes me think of roast chicken every time. Oregano I associate with pasta dishes and the oniony chives with cheese and salad. But the herb that really moves me is mint. The associations and memories are so powerful, just a whiff of that plant takes me back to my grandparent's beautiful garden on a summer's day. My late maternal Grandma - who would lunch "casually" in the garden with a table that was laid for state occasions including, tablecloth, china, crystal glasses, silver cutlery, the works - would send my sisters and I down to the "herb garden" (rockery) to cut mint or chives for various salads and other dishes. Mint would be chopped and sprinkled liberally over butter-drenched Jersey Royal new potatoes which would be eaten as we sat under a tree in their garden. I'm sure the filter of time and love has skewed these memories slightly, but they remain. Also, in recent years, I've come to associate the smell of mint with mojitos, and the memories around those are no less warmly remembered, although they may be at times fuzzy. Goodness I love a mojito: white rum, mint, lime, ice - summery heaven in a drink. 

I aimed for herbs that I knew we would use a lot in cooking (although sadly I don't think I'll ever be able to grow my most-used basil or coriander successfully without a cold frame) and that were hardy for the British climate. I deliberately planted the mint and lemon balm separately in pots as they will spread quickly and need to be contained. I have to admit here that I have no idea what I will do with the lemon balm, I just liked how it smelled. Any ideas most welcome! 

I realised once I'd planted them that, while I knew which was which, the children (and very possibly John) might not. How could I ask the kids to go and cut me some rosemary if they didn't know which plant it was? 

And so I decided to make some herb markers from Fimo modelling clay, simply because I had some in the house and had seen something similar on Pinterest, and I thought I could use my little stamp set with it. (Incidentally, this is the stamp set - I've had it for some years and use it absolutely loads, I'd really recommend it.)

Stamping the Fimo took a little practise (and I had to give the stamps a good clean!) but was fun to do and they have the desired effect.

I've since moved the herb planter to right outside the kitchen door, so that they can be easily cut in all weathers (so important in April!) without trekking down to the bottom of the garden.

Ziggy hasn't eaten the herbs yet, but has had a little nibble at the corner of the planter. 

That last photo reminds me that I really must jet wash and treat the decking soon, it's looking awful. That job is one of the many things on my garden to-do list this spring, one of many ideas that's always simmering away at the back of my mind, as I try to think of ways to improve our outdoor space on the smallest of budgets, so that hopefully we can sit out in the warm sun in a few months and enjoy all our hard work. With a mojito perhaps? :-)

Please do pop over to Lucy's blog and read all about her creative adventures this month. I hope you're all enjoying your weekends. Happy crafting! 

Monday, 23 April 2018

I Knitted A Jumper

This post comes under the category of Posts I Never Thought I'd Write, including "I sewed a wearable item of clothing", "I successfully made macarons" and "I finally baked that sourdough loaf". My knitted jumper dreams are mainly centred around Sarah Lund style Faroese patterns and complicated Fair Isle colour work - beautiful but incredibly complicated and time consuming - but what do you know, I actually knitted a jumper, and just in time for a heat wave too! I try for seasonal crafting, I really do, but I'm a bit slow with the old needles. 

The pattern is the Dreaming Jumper by Wool and the Gang (you know I'm a big fan of them) which was very kindly - and patiently - gifted to me last November. I didn't really get going on it until the end of the year and then have been working on it off and on for about four months. I know, that's slow. Quicker or more experienced knitters would be able to knit this in a week or two, easily, as it's just four large garter stitch squares sewn together. 

And that's the beauty of it: it is the ultimate beginner's pattern for a knitted sweater. No increases or decreases, no purls, just cast on, knit, cast off. You might say dull. I say relaxing. Wool and the Gang kits are fab and come with everything you need including pattern, yarn, needles, darning needle and even a cute label to sew in, a nice touch.

The yarn is very soft, very chunky and a delight to knit with. It glides over the needles and has great stitch definition while still being a little fluffy. The kit came with six balls of my chosen colour Rocky Grey, but paranoid as I am about jumpers and coats never being long enough in the sleeve for me (I'm 5'11") I bought myself another ball of yarn in Bronzed Olive to edge the cuffs with. I love this block of colour at the end of each sleeve, and they are really, really long now.

The jumper is cloud-like. If I was ever to take it on holiday I would either have to wear it or give it it's own separate bag, as it is voluminous. Folding it is almost impossible.

It's a dream to wear, although perhaps not the most slimming item of clothing in my wardrobe, but if you're cosy who cares.

Angus, who was a little under the weather over the weekend, kept wearing it. He wants a blanket knitted in the same yarn as it it so soft and warm. I would also quite like to knit a blanket in this yarn, I just need to seriously save my pennies first. (Actually, the thought of a one colour blanket in this kind of yarn, with the emphasis on texture more than colour or pattern, is very appealing indeed. Very calming.)

Knitting this jumper has definitely brought back some of my knitting mojo, but also my desire to make more things to wear. I've crocheted and sewn so much for the house, and I will always want to do that, but it's fun to make things to wear too. I want to try my hand at a crochet cotton summer sweater next. 

But overall, a success. I knitted a jumper and I like it a lot. I just need winter to come back now so that I can wear it. 

Monday, 16 April 2018

Spring Energy

All photos above taken at Mottisfont House, a National Trust property.
I've been thinking a lot about spring lately, about how it makes me feel. It's such an optimistic season and I have come to recognise, even look forward to, the burst of energy I always get at this time of year. I think it's a combination of the lighter evenings - which, like the sunshine, make a huge difference to my mood and energy levels - and the slow waking up of everything outside the four walls of our house.

I scrutinise everything, cast a critical eye over scuffed paintwork or neglected corners, find that I urgently need to do a job I was able to ignore for months. I have an urge to refresh and rearrange, plan and write lists.

First on the list was a new peg bag when my very old one finally fell to pieces. Years ago  - when I had a lot more time, to blog and to sew - I wrote a tutorial on how to make one. I'm glad I did because it reminded me that it's really easy, and so I dragged my sewing machine out from the dusty cupboard under the stairs and Bella and I spent a very happy rainy afternoon using it. 

A peg bag is an ideal way to use up scraps of fabric and that's what I did. Both of these fabrics were cushions in a previous life. I'm really happy that I was able to get out my sewing machine and make something useful and pretty with it. Simple things. 

Another job I'd been meaning to do for months was repair some of the damage to our furniture caused by Ziggy when he was teething. I knew that "puppies chew" in that abstract way that you know that "babies don't sleep" but I don't think I really grasped just what that would look like until he came along and decided that he quite liked gnawing, well, everything. 

The (delicious, clearly) legs of our beautiful coffee table (the one we think is Ercol although we're not sure) took a battering. 

Over the course of a few days I sanded and filled them with wood filler, sanded again and filled again, until they were not perfect but not bad looking at all. Then I gave the legs a few coats of white eggshell, again sanding between coats.

I could not be happier with the results. I think the legs look a million times better in white, and they really stand out against the rug. Sorry about the terrible grainy photo. What can I say - it was raining. 

 Angus's bookcase was another job which had been bugging me for a while. His cheap IKEA bookcase simply wasn't big enough for his books and so they were piling up on the floor. I do encourage Angus to regularly clear out old books but that child is the biggest bookworm you will ever meet. He devours books, fact and fiction, and reads them over and over again. I never begrudge buying him a book because he really does get so much from them. 

Anyway, my parents mentioned that there was a bookcase still at my Grandad's house and did I want it before it was taken to the charity shop? It was quite water damaged and I thought I might paint it. Well, it just so happened that not only did the bookcase turn out to be a beautiful piece of mid-century teak furniture, it was also a perfect fit.

There was no way I was ever going to paint something so lovely, but I did sand the top and give it a few coats of oil, just to remove the worst of the marks.

I love the way it looks under his big wall map, and it really adds some warmth to his bedroom.

I finally got around to framing a couple more prints and adding them to our family gallery wall too. 

Everything on that wall tells a story of some kind, whether it's something the children painted or drew, or a holiday souvenir, or gift from a friend. It's my favourite wall. Don't tell John but I plan to add to it until the entire wall is filled..

Crafting projects have been moving slowly and pleasurably onwards over the holidays. 

I've made great progress on my sampler and have I think only five or six motifs left to stitch. And my Wool and the Gang Dreaming Jumper is almost finished with the back and front sewn together.

Outside, the garden is slowly emerging from it's muddy winter slumber and I'm full of plans and ideas. 

My big planter is just bursting with daffodils at the moment, and bright pink and red tulips fill the pots on the front door step, lifting my spirits whenever I come home. 

I also have lots happening on the kitchen windowsill, including a tomato plant that I have just moved outside and a tray of baby plants that were a gift from a friend only I've forgotten what they were. Courgettes I think and maybe chillies? Oh dear. And it was all going so well.

Well, the Easter holidays are over and we are straight back into our usual routines. Despite the really awful weather I did enjoy the two week break from school and work; it seemed to both last a long time and go in a flash. Two weeks feels like forever until it's over, then it doesn't feel like long at all. We didn't do anything particularly exciting, just a mixture of days at home and days out, catching up with family and friends, lots of walking and, as you can see, lots of pottering and DIY. It was bliss. I also watched a lot more TV than I usually would (free time, what is this crazy thing?!) and have become completely obsessed with the Channel 4 series Escape to the Chateau. I am late to the party with this one, but am nonetheless charmed by Dick and Angel's life and sweet family, and would quite like them to adopt me so that I can go and live there too. Anyone else a fan?