Monday, December 31, 2012

Brioche anyone?

No, not the scrummy bread, brioche stitch!  I've decided to take myself out of my comfort zone and try lots of new things so brioche stitch is the start of my adventure.  I'm using instructions from Nancy Marchant and she is very thorough and easy to understand.  This is my first little sampler and I really enjoyed making it.  

The knitting is so warm that Mike has requested a scarf already.  I think I'll need to concentrate really hard on the pattern he's chosen as it has lots of brioche increases and decreases but it will be a good challenge to start the new year.  

He's chosen a lovely deep teal colour of Artesano alpaca chunky which will pick out a colour in his tweedy gloves (yet to be made from yarn in my stash) and his tweedy cap so he's going to be very co-ordinated!

Brioche sampler

Speaking of bread, here are the loaves I made earlier today to freeze for the next week.  Just plain white loaves, good for sandwiches and for toasting.  Below them is my leaven, bubbling away nicely, which I'll be using tomorrow to make a sourdough bread to go with soup.  It really is soup weather at the moment; all dark, rainy, dreary and very windy.

2 little loaves to freeze for future use

Leaven bubbling nicely

Strange skies

Which brings me round to the strange skies we've had in the last day or so.  This was taken at first light; a pretty peachy glow amidst grey clouds.

About 15 minutes later it all changed - the clouds came lower and filled the valley and everywhere took on an odd glow.  I don't seem to have captured it very well though.

As I watched the horses this beautiful fox cut across.  He was a fine specimen with a lovely bushy tail.

A Christmas holiday project

I had intended to decorate my pottery swan with shells.  Well I am easily distracted and so that changed completely when I found some handmade paper in a shop when we went into Hastings just before Christmas.  We bought 2 sheets so Mike had a painting project and I had my own piece to play with.  Mike did his painting on part of his piece and didn't like the texture it gave him so gave me the remainder.

Excellent; more for me to play with!  At first I thought I might draw on it and so I searched through my sketchbook to see if I had any doodles that caught my eye.  As always there were lots of heart motifs that drew my attention, but also many different birds.  I love folk art and am always drawn to this sort of image.

As I searched I heard a robin singing outside and that was it, I started doodling birds singing.  Then I drew a heart around one and I found my theme - "with a song in my heart"

I couldn't find just the right image until I remembered a traycloth that mum had embroidered when I was a child.  I rummaged around until I found it but he was a bit to fancy for what I had in mind so I played around with it until it was just right.  The original had a much fancier tail and lots of decoration on his body.  It came from a magazine called 'Needlewoman and Needlecraft' which was a wonderful publication from the 1960s and 70s.

I had thought that the paper would just be a mount for the finished embroidery.  That was, until I discovered that I could embroider it direct onto the paper.  I spent ages trying out different cottons/silks and stitches.

What fun!

Then it was time to cut out the heart shape from the paper and start embroidering.

I had a plain little round wooden frame that was just the right size.  I mounted the heart on a background of dark blue pastel paper then all I had to do was decorate the frame.

Plain frame
First, I painted different layers of paint onto the frame.  I tried positioning the lettering in many different places and finally settled upon the inner circle of them frame itself rather than around the heart.  I used pen and ink to write it.

Then I distressed the paintwork and added some highlights here and there.

But it still needed a little something extra.  I considered adding some folk art motifs around the edge but then it occurred to me that the music should come out of the heart and settle on the frame.

So here he is, singing his little heart out and brightening a little space between 2 of Mike's paintings in the hallway.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Happy Christmas everyone (now with added Den!)

Christmas morning started well with us watching the animated version of Father Christmas, released in 1991 with music by someone very special - my husband, Mike Hewer!  Now I'm off out for a run before the day gets into full swing (wearing red and white stripey tights and a sparkly Santa hat to keep up my tradition of looking very silly at this time of year).

Our Christmas tree 2012
Here's our Christmas tree bedecked with an eclectic mix of some of our favourite ornaments collected over many years.  Lots of them are handmade by me and or mum.  All of them have memories attached.  Although I put up the majority of the decorations around the house by myself, it's always been a tradition that Mike and I dress the tree together which makes it extra special.

This year we had to buy a new stand as the old one had rusted away.  It has a large reservoir for water to keep the tree fresh for longer.  It didn't take Tinker long to suss it out as a new drinking bowl!

Tinky drinkies!

The weather may not be very festive (ie blowing a gale and raining) but I managed to dodge the showers when we first got up to take a few photos of plants and shrubs in flower so here they are:

This little Parahebe has been flowering for months
Bergenia (aka Elephant's ears)
Primula vulgaris
Helleborus foetidus
Vinca major 
Viburnum grandiflorum (smells divine!)
Last but by no means least we have the beautiful Helleborus niger, aka the Christmas Rose partly because of the time it comes into flower and partly because of a folk story.  The legend was that a young girl had no gift to give baby Jesus and when her tears hit the snow, the flowers sprouted where they fell.  It isn't actually a member of the rose family and belongs to Ranunculaceae so is related to the buttercup!

The pure white flowers are so uplifting on dark days.

A very Happy Christmas to everyone who reads my blog and extra big hugs to those of you who find this time of year challenging for whatever reason. 

I'll leave you with this photo of Den sporting her new hat/scarf.

A festive Everton supporter

Monday, December 24, 2012

She shoots......she scores!

My thought process started with Jean Moss's book, Sweet Shawlettes which I won back in May;  more specifically, this pattern for a joined hat and scarf:

Empty Circle hat/scarf (photo courtesy Jean Moss)
I thought it looked so warm and toasty and ideal for winter walks or standing outside in the cold somewhere.  I just couldn't think of the right application for it at that time.

Then my lovely friend Denny went to Vienna with the equally lovely Russell, her partner.  She sent me some photos via Facebook whilst they were there - beautiful buildings and market scenes.  In one of the photos it was obviously cold and she commented that she was wearing her 'football gloves'.

That's when I knew where it would be very useful; standing on the terraces watching a football match on a cold evening!  You see Denny is an avid supporter of Everton Football club (I don't hold hold it against her though!!!).  In Liverpool, families are divided between supporters of Liverpool FC and Everton and there is a fierce rivalry.

So the cogs started turning and I searched for some yarn in Everton's colours; a bright royal blue and creamy white.  The yarn had to be easy-care too so the 50% wool/50% acrylic Wendy Mode Chunky fitted the bill nicely.  

I just needed confirmation of 2 things - was the colour more or less OK? Do they actually stand outside when they go to the match?  So I emailed Russell to check it looked OK and told him not to let Den know what I was up too.  The colour was OK and they do stand outside so it was go, go, GO; except that I still had to finish the snowflakes and finding enough of the yarn with the same batch number proved difficult.

They sent us these scrummy chocolates in pretty packaging when they got home - thanks guys, they didn't last long.

As soon as I'd finished the snowflakes it was action-stations on Denny's project.

Tinker supervising
Close-up of the circles across the front of the hat
To get gauge I used the yarn double with 9mm and 8mm needles.  It's actually a lovely yarn to work with; very soft and easy to handle and I can thoroughly recommend it.

You make the 2 scarf sections first but without casting off and then pick up the remaining live stitches as you start the hat section.  The hat is knitted flat and then seamed at the back.

The scarf sections are in moss stitch (one row knit, purl to the end, the next purl, knit to the end) so were really simple and as it was knitted on large needles they grew quickly.  The holes are made by simply casting off stitches on one row and then casting on the same number of stitches on the next row (using the backwards loop method).  I added an extra repeat to the scarf as I felt the ends were just a bit too short with the given length of 32".

The holes are then outlined in the contrast colour using a crochet hook and double crochet stitch.  Each end of the scarf is gathered slightly and then knitted pompoms, stuffed with fibrefill, attached to finish it off nicely.

With all the circles and the lovely football-like pompoms I really can't think of a more appropriate scarf and hat to wear to a football match!

So here I am modelling the finished item (please ignore my favourite comfy, slouchy, old-as-the-hills mohair-mix jumper!)  It is so warm I think I might have to make one for myself for tending the horses on cold days when the wind is gusting.

It is especially warm and toasty around your neck and throat if you wrap it as I have done here - across  the front, round the back with both lengths and then pass one end through one of the holes to secure it.

Happy Christmas Denny (and Russell too of course)  xxx

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Crocheted memories, supporting ARUK (updated 16/12)

Friday saw the results of my frantic crocheting of snowflakes, knitted i-cord and other assorted bits and bobs.

But first I need to step right back to the beginning of this idea.  It all started when I spotted 2 balls of this pretty purple and white variegated cotton earlier this year.  As purple is my favourite colour it was no surprise that they came home with me!  I didn't have a project in mind at the time and so they went and sat, waiting patiently, with my other crochet cottons.

Then I saw some patterns for crocheted snowflakes and the germ of an idea started swooshing around in my head.  I started crocheting white snowflakes to decorate our tree at home.  Then I remembered the purple and white cotton and that purple is the colour of Alzheimer's Research UK so I thought I'd crochet little snowflakes and put them in the Christmas cards of everyone who sponsored me this year as a thank you for their support (sadly, I don't have the addresses of everyone who sponsored me on-line).

The idea percolated away on the backburner and I remembered that there would be a Christmas tree festival in our beautiful village church in which local clubs and societies bought and decorated a tree.  The trees were then displayed and used as the basis for raising money for church repairs etc.

Out running one morning, I was wondering if I would be allowed to do a tree in memory of people suffering from dementia when I ran past Jo, one of the lovely ladies who works tirelessly to keep the church finances in good shape.  So I asked, tentatively, if it would be possible.  She said that of course I could and so, 2 weeks before the actual date of the festival, I began planning my tree.

My plan was to illustrate, using a colour theme of purple and white, how memory fades when dementia takes over the brain.  I started crocheting white snowflakes of all shapes and sizes and decided that people from our village who'd sponsored me would get the purple and white snowflakes, to link in with the theme of my tree, and everyone else would get white snowflakes.

The top of the tree would be white, the middle section purple and white mixed and then finally dark purple at the bottom.  I started gathering together anything that would add to my theme.

I made pompoms using plain white yarn, fluffy yarn and those same yarns mixed with a glittery purple yarn.  I added glitter glue to some so they sparkled.

(I must write up a tutorial for making pompoms using the simple little gadget you can see in the photo).

I knitted lengths of i-cord, which you can see in my previous post, with white graduating through to purple.  I found some purple string which I wrapped with thin purple tinsel and sparkly red yarn (I just twisted it all on the door handle and then let it wrap around itself).

I gathered together anything white or purple that I might be able to use, just so that I had a choice on the day when I started decorating as although I had a rough outline in my mind it wasn't set in stone.

These little snowflakes are actually confetti.  They're made of foil and are so useful - you can pop some in birthday cards or presents and there are lots of different designs (I've got horses, musical notes and flowers).  You can find them in most card shops or craft stores.

I crocheted chains in white, white and purple and deep purple in many different yarns to give extra texture.  I managed to find a fine white ribbon printed with little snowflakes so I bought a few metres to embellish the upper section of the tree.

When I had crocheted enough snowflakes for the tree and my sponsors it was time to make them firm and I used good old-fashioned starch, the sort you mix and soak, not the spray sort which isn't much use in this instance.  In the UK you can buy it from Lakeland either in-store if there's one near you or on-line.  If you can't get hold of it then there are other methods to try if you search the internet.  

One thing to remember if using starch is that you should mix the powder with just a small amount of cold water first and then add boiling water which cooks the mixture.  Then you add cold water according to the firmness you require.  I spoke to a lady in the church who said that starch hadn't worked when she'd tried it but it turned out she had just used cold water.

Once they'd all been soaked, squeezed and stretched to shape I left them to be almost dry but with a slight dampness to them.  Then I pressed them all with the iron on the cotton setting and using steam so the starch didn't burn.  They were really nice and firm when I'd finished so the next step was to add some sparkle.

I used an irridescent white glitter glue and applied it using a paint brush, first to one side and then the other of all the white ones.  On the purple and white ones I just painted it on the white bits to help reinforce my message (which I've included later so it will all make sense, hopefully).  The pompoms and i-cord were also painted with it and they really caught the light beautifully.

I should add here that when I started crocheting the snowflakes I'd followed the instructions to make a hanger using crochet chain but I found the effect too heavy and so I added the hangers after starching.  I used just a length of thread, made a small hole through each snowflake with a needle then thread the yarn through, knotting it in place but leaving the ends free so I could tie them to the length required in-situ .  They hung really nicely this way and didn't detract from the snowflake itself. 

The other decorations I used were 3 large snowflakes made out of old metal coathangers which mum and I bound together and decorated many years ago and usually hang on our tree at home.  They just needed to be wrapped in some nice fresh tinsel as they were made about 45 years ago!  It was extra special too as it meant that mum was involved in what I was doing.

So at 9:30am on Friday I loaded the car and headed off to the church.  It was pouring with rain and blowing a gale and I got absolutely soaked taking things from the car into church.  I was the first one there and so I was allowed to choose my spot and I picked one raised off the ground and next to a wall - you'll understand why later.

The trees were all lined up outside and were drenched!  I chose mine and brought it in.  Thankfully Jo had brought some loppers to chop of any wayward branches so I chopped off all the bottom layer so I could get it into my base. 

The eagle-eyed amongst you will spot it's an old horse feed container named 'Formula 4 feet'!  Don't worry, it gets hidden in the end.  I wedged the tree stump into it using bricks and the stuffed the branches I'd cut off back in so they stuck outwards rather than upwards.

Next it was the lights.  I'd bought 2 sets of battery-operated lights.  One set a warm white and the other mauve.  The white ones started a the top and went halfway down where they were joined by the mauve ones.  The idea was that the white and mauve would intermingle then the mauve ones would complete the bottom section.

I wrapped some narrow white ric-rac braid I used the step and then used glitterglue to attach some of the white snowflakes to the very top of the tree and to the outer branches and stem.  One of my special coathanger snowflakes took pride of place at the top.  The tinsel I'd used to wrap round it was a sort of opaque white plastic and it really caught the light nicely.   In this photo you can just make out the pretty snowflake ribbon.  I tried using big fluffy tinsel and i-cord but they overwhelmed the lightness of the snowflakes.

Ordinarily I would added my garlands and ribbons first but I wanted to get all the crocheted snowflakes on first to see how they looked and I'm glad I did because lots of garlands would have taken attention away from them.  It's not ideal that it's against a cream background but it does show up well in real life.

So then it was a case of added things, taking them off, moving them around, standing back and looking, doing it all again, lights on, lights off, viewing from different angles.  I used a plastic chair as my step ladder and it was like a work-out in the gym with all the climbing up and down.

Other people came, decorated their trees and then went away but I was mostly oblivious to them as I was completely engrossed in what I was doing.  It had to be just right.  It was very important to me for so many reasons - I hoped to show how dementia takes away memory, I wanted to honour my mum, I wanted to thank the villagers of our Parish for their amazing support over the years and I also wanted the tree to look beautiful.  When I kind lady came over and said that my mum would be really proud I nearly blubbed but I had to keep going to get it right.

At last it was time for the finishing touches.  I added purple glitter glue to the lower and middle sections and stuck on the purple confetti snowflakes.

Then I used the white glitter glue to attach the white confetti snowflakes.  They looked so pretty when I turned the lights on that I got a lump in my throat and I wished mum could have seen them.

Here are some close-ups:

The last thing to do to the tree was to wrap the feed bucket in purple crepe paper.  In the process I got covered in glitter but I didn't  care as I love being sparkly!  On the bottom layer just to the left of the centre you might be able to make out the only pure purple snowflake I made.  There is a thick, fuzzy purple garland together with this lone snowflake, without any trace of the pure white it had at the start to show that the brain is no longer functioning normally.

Finally I needed to put up my explanation of the meaning of the tree and a 'thank you' letter from Rebecca Wood, Chief Executive of ARUK, to all the people of our Parish.  You see, everyone helps me in some way be it by sponsoring me or smiling and waving when I'm out on my training runs, or just stopping to ask how it's all going.

So even though I'd been really well prepared there was always going to be something I hadn't remembered and it was blutak!  Thankfully Sylvie came to my rescue and so I put both letters on the wall.  It had taken me 4.5 hours from start to finish.

Here's what I wrote about the message of the tree (although it isn't entirely accurate as I didn't use any of my knitted decorations in the end!):


Remembering those suffering from Alzheimers and other Dementias

I have dressed the tree to show how dementia takes over the brain, gradually breaking the connections until the brain is unable to function.

Using 2 of my favourite hobbies, crochet and knitting, I chose a snowflake motif to represent the brain.  The chains formed in crochet link each part together, allowing thoughts to flow freely to each connected section.  In the white section at the top of the tree,  everything is normal.  In the next section the purple patches in the snowflakes represent how some areas have started to deteriorate and have stopped thoughts flowing freely .  The purple section represents the final stages of dementia when the functionality of the brain has been overwhelmed and nothing makes sense.

Thank you to everyone in Ewhurst Parish for the wonderful support you have given me over the past 7 years.  With your continued support I shall keep trying to help defeat this devastating disease, one step at a time.

Susie Hewer

This was the message from Rebecca:

Alzheimer’s Research UK would like to thank everyone in Ewhurst Parish for the tremendous support they have given to our Champion, Susie Hewer, in raising money for our pioneering research.

With your help, Susie has raised nearly £30,000 during the past 7 years - enough to fund over 1,000 hours of world-class research and vital equipment for our scientists.  This tremendous contribution is bringing us closer to finding ways to diagnose, prevent, treat and cure Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. 

With sincere thanks and best wishes for Christmas and the New Year.

Rebecca Wood
Chief Executive
Alzheimer’s Research UK

Everyone worked hard decorating their respective trees.  There were trees decorated by the local schools (4 in total I think), the bell-ringers, the Garden Society. the Womens Institute, the Church Warden, The Cross Inn, the Art Group, the Parish News. The Herdman Trust, Ewhurst United football team and I'm sure there were others but my mind has gone blank!  Apologies to anyone I've omitted. 

Here's the lovely Glenys scaling the heights to finish her tree in aid of The Herdman Pavillion fund.  They've been working hard to raise money for a fabulous new building for villagers to use.  Hopefully next year we'll be able to use it for our Knit and Knatter sessions.

Isn't the stained glass window behind Glenys pretty?  It's such a lovely old church.

Here are Dave and Sylvie with their tree for Ewhurst United football team.  Dave's been coaching the local youngsters for over 30 years, supported by Sylvie who deals with the less glamorous job of washing the kit!  Glenys knitted the little green and white football scarves for them.

I can't miss off Heather and Jo who braved the cold all day and put such a lot of effort into organsing this event.

In the evening the church was open to display all the trees.  We had a glass of mulled wine and scrummy mincepies.  Everyone who came voted for their favourite tree and then the next morning there was another viewing plus sales of Christmas goodies and a raffle in aid of the church fund.

We were treated to a session of bell-ringing that evening.  Look at the concentration on Jo's face!

This sweet doggie sat patiently whilst his mistress rang the bells.

On Saturday evening there was a candlelit carol service which was very well attended and the winner of the Christmas tree display was announced.  It was me and I was humbled that people had voted for my little tree.  Having said that I think we are all winners as everyone who decorated a tree worked hard and they all looked so beautiful. 

There was a little prize of sweeties which I asked to be donated to the Surviving Christmas campaign which provides food vouchers, hampers and Christmas meals for those in need over the festive season.