Thursday, 17 October 2019

And Breathe

And breathe. And relax. And just enjoy being in the moment. Enjoy looking at this quilt I made several years ago, must be about 15 years ago,  for my daughter.

For me the moment is writing this blog, or maybe it is just the tranquil music my husband is listening to, Glen Hansard, if you are interested. No, definitely the blog. We have been on our travels again, nearly 3 weeks in Japan. Loads to come about that. We came home, and my feeling of unwell came back again. Never mind the carbon footprint thing, airplanes and I just have to agree to differ. I actually enjoy long haul flights, "free" wine, movies to watch, back to back episodes of The Big Bang Theory, and food handed to me. I am short enough to stretch out and have a doze. But, I seem to come home these days with head and chest viruses and take to my bed for a week. This time followed the pattern. Then I had to get a new phone, when an elderly man in Tokyo, home of technology and communications laughs at your phone, it is time to upgrade. So I did. Reset all the passwords, went back to bed again, and promptly forgot all the passwords. Hence, having changed all my passwords, again, I am breathing a sigh of relief just to be in the blog zone. And relax.

As I said we went to Japan for nearly 3 weeks. Ostensibly to watch the Rugby World Cup, but really to see the country and experience it. It also led to some secret sewing before hand. We travelled with another couple and my friend and I decided to make ourselves a Japanese jacket, Irish style. What we made is technically a Haori, but is commonly referred to as kimono. A kimono is actually a traditional Japanese item of clothing, normally worn on formal occasions. A Haori is a casual hip length jacket, worn loosely. My friend bought Simplicity pattern no 1318 in the easy to sew range and the fun began.

My friend is a proper sewist, she can dress make, I tend to fudge these things and it is all a matter of luck. She taught me why it is important to tailor tack, and match up the dots. All these things I tended to ignore. And yes, it is important. The making of these jackets took several mornings and lunches! Then came the decorative part.

 We had gathered up the flags of the "4 proud provinces of Ireland". Ireland rugby is comprised of the 4 provincial teams, Ulster, Munster, Connaught and Leinster. We then cut up the flags, and attached them to the back. My friend bonda webbed and over sewed them with a zig zag stitch. Me being  a quilter, I needle turned appliqued them and then quilted them with a running stitch to attach them to the jacket. We also cut out the IRFU (Irish Ruby Football Union) symbols and attached them to the sleeves and the front. My friend ingeniously made us each a patch of the Rugby World Cup symbol for 2019, Mount Fuji with the sun rising over it. This was the icing on the cake. And off we set.

It was a great hoot. We went to 4 matches, and by the second and third match, we were getting used to people saying, we saw you at a previous match. Can we take your photo? Did you buy these? How long did it take it you to make them. Except for one lovely Japanese lady, who said to me, I do like your Haori, your interpretation of our Japanese kimono. You made it yourself? It was easy and quick to make? Yes?

  The thing about international rugby matches is, it is always very good natured and people dress up in approximations of their national dress. A sort of spoof of themselves. There was the group of Frenchmen dressed as Napoleons, singing Le Marseillaise. The Scots in their kilts, well, they love any chance to wear their kilts. The Irishmen dressed as men hitching a ride on the back of a leprechaun, clever that one. Some of the Japanese were dressed as samurais. The Irish were out in force, at every match there was a sea of green jerseys. . . This leads to the old joke, I am lost, have you seen my husband? He is wearing a green jersey. Don't laugh, I got lost in the stadium of 60 000 coming back from the bathroom. And all I could see was a sea of  green jerseys. I was just wondering was there a "lost child" centre I could hand myself into when I spotted my friend. In her green flag decorated jacket! Was I glad to spot her and her jacket!

Excuse me, have you seen my husband?
He's wearing a green jersey.

Anyhow, I am rambling on as I am wont to do. Japan is a beautiful country, both the physical country and the people. The scenery is breath taking, even though Mount Fuji was shrouded in mist!

Mount Fuji as it should be seen

behind thon mist, is thon volcano known as Mount Fuji

The countryside and mountains are spectacular. The people have a reputation for being reserved and formal. Formal and reserved yes but also friendly and helpful and very polite. Everybody was welcoming and helpful. The real star though was the food. Again, everybody in the restaurants was anxious to please and give us a good experience. The food was amazing, the fish was so fresh. The tofu, not something I previously particularly enjoyed was very tasty. The rice was just perfect. If I lived in Japan I would be oh so healthy. The kobe beef was to die for, I have never tasted beef like it. Life with potatoes and two veg seemed very bland when we came home!

I did of course do some shopping. The design shops were lovely, I wanted to throw out all my furniture and crockery and start again. So what I did was, I bought some fabric. In Tokyo I bought this fq of scenic views, I thought it would make a great traditional Japanese rice bag.

 In the morning market in Takayama I bought a  bundle of Japanese quilting cotton ends and scraps of kimono fabric. How could I resist this?

 In the same shop,  I bought 1 metre of quilting cotton, pre cut. I have a hankering to make many Japanese bags, maybe rice bags, or denim bags incorporating the fabrics.

A couple of days later we were in Kyoto (or was it Kobe?)  and came across a fabulous hand craft shop. Fabric to die for. There was a great selection of both Japanese fabrics and also Liberty fabrics from England! Some wonderful patterns as well for dress making. I couldn't chose. In the end I allowed my hand to pick a bolt at random, much to the assistant's amusement. I bought 3 meters of this Japanese maple fabric. I think I may make myself a wrap around dressing gown. There are free tutorials online. Seems easy?

The hotels had what they called "room clothes". Basically either a kimono style robe for relaxing in your room. I know I have the

 Some hotels had provided a yukata. A yukata was a wrap around jacket and trousers, with traditional wooden slippers. These were wonderful. I was actually going to buy a set from the hotel. I wish now I had. Very comfortable, and these could be worn in the public areas of the hotel too. All remarkably civilised and very sensible.

Lastly I bought two skeins of sashiko embroidery thread. The traditional colour is white, though blue is common too. Textiles in Japan were made to last. If they wore out they were darned, and the darning became a decorative part of the garment in itself. Again a great idea, lost in the West. Last year my daughter in law asked for a book on Japanese mending. I was surprised, but bought it for her. I knew vaguely what it was, but you know, just buy a new pair of jeans. A year on, and I have bought into the sustainability of the darn. Be proud to wear your darns, and show them off. If the daughter in law is happy to wind these skeins for me, I will share them with her!

And today back in reality, I have a fq pack picked up today from my local fabric shop. I spotted this on their FB page and messaged them to keep one for me. When I went to collect it today, its all a bit insipid and sweet but its mine now. I will probably make gift bags from these.

I also bought some Christmas fabric to make my newest grandchild a Christmas stocking. I let slip that the fabric for my other grandchild was bought online a few years ago. Cue the lecture from the owner's wife on using local shops and protecting jobs. Excuse me, I do use my local shop. The other staff all know me! Of course, I was polite and just smiled and nodded. Preaching to the converted love, though I always have room for improvement ..... if they sold quilting thread there I would buy it too!

With that, I will finish off now. Time to go. Saranayo as we say in Japan.

Helen x

Friday, 4 October 2019

Clickity Clack, Wheels On The Track

Clickity clack, lickity spit, I love words that are onomata    onomato  words that mean what they sound. Onomatopoeic. You know what I mean. I love clickity clack, wheels on the track. Not only does it sound like a train  but it sounds like my knitting needles as I knit. Eh! Who am I kidding! I can knit quickly but not that quickly. It has been a while since I have done a knitting post. If knitting is not your ball, (pun) that's ok. Just scroll on by this time.

Now, what has been on my needles? I may have mentioned we just got a new little granddaughter. She is absolutely and lives in USA, but the world is a smaller place. We know we will see lots of her over the coming years. With her and my grandson living in different countries, I now can safely fall into the granny knitting trap. I can knit them matching sweaters,
safe in the knowledge they will not look like the Von Trapp family,  in matching outfits.


 This makes sense, grannies like to do this, primarily. My mother in law did. When knitting one garment, it is as easy to knit 2. These days you don't go into the wool shop and flick through the big folders of patterns all in their plastic sleeves. These days, you go on to the computer, ravelry is my site of choice. There you flick through the big online folders of patterns and make your choice. Patterns are much more designed these days, creative and inventive and that is reflected in the cost rightly charged by their designers. If a pattern is costing lots of £s, you want to get your money's worth. With that in mind I knit two "wee wowligans" designed by Kate Davies Studio Designs.

  I had knit one of these previously for my grandson and much as the alpaca grew and stretched with him, my son eventually boil washed it. It now fits on his teddy. Time for a new one. 

I used drops merino for both. A bright turquoise blue for my grandson, and mustard for my granddaughter. He got real buttons for the owls' eyes, sign of being a big boy now. And boy did it take a lot of buttons. She got embroidered eyes, which to be honest, were also much quicker and easier to do.

I have been knitting a striped sweater for myself. Plain red and red fleck alternatively. This is a sweater called Confetti by Veera Valimaki, accessible on Ravelry. My online friend Sue and I are going on a knitting retreat in November and we are knitting one each. That's right, a knitting retreat. It is in a convent on our north coast, 20 like minded knitters all knitting and knattering. I am so looking forward to this, not least to meeting Sue "in real life". As you can see, on a Saturday night I match my knitting to my clothes, my surroundings, and my wine! Oh, that's the white wine.

The red wine followed the next night.

What else? I have finished my Amos sweater, knitted in Shibui knits yarn bought in Philadelphia. This was knit holding two yarns together. The yarns are made from washed paper, I kid you not, silk and cotton. I have worn it and its very comfortable.

I am nearly finished a shawl. Yes, another shawl. This one is called Floating and is shawl no 2 in the Shawl Society designed by Curious Handmade. I only have about 14 rows to finish. When I say 14 rows, there are about 500 stitches in each row, so 14 rows is actually about 20%. Even so, the knitting is relaxing. I am looking forward to finishing this.

 I chose my yarn to remind me of the seaside at Newcastle, Co Down, where I first learned to float in the sea. No doubt screaming and splashing a lot as I did.

I have my yarn all set up for my next shawl. This is called Rockpool, again from this series. This time I have gone for greens and greys.

 Not all rockpools are idyllic. I thought of the green slimy murky rock pools in Groomsport, again in Co Down.

This was my husband's family destination of choice, all on a bus ride from home. Our kids loved day trips there too. I am looking forward to knitting this one.

Anything else? Yes. I am nearly finished a grey sweater for me. Only the neckline to finish and I can add it to the wardrobe. I have the sweetest buttons for this, need to get cracking on.

At least it has moved on from its project bag. Oh no, its still in there.

Another? Yes. I have been knitting a 30 year old sweater for my husband. Not that the sweater has taken 30 years, more that 30 years ago I knit him a sweater he loved. It was cream and a Guernsey style. He loved it.

 This year he asked me if I would knit him another, just the same only blue. I searched out the same pattern book on ebay and ordered it. I ordered the same Shetland yarn as before, only blue, and started knitting. Sez he, Helen, I don't think that's the same jumper. Of course it is I said. No its not. Yes it is. No its not. Eventually the photo album was produced. and its not the same jumper at all. Ooops. The jumper I am knitting now is one I intended to knit him, but never got around to.

Same yarn. Yes
Same pattern. No
Same colour. No
Well, one out of 3 isn't bad for a repeat sweater!

And lastly, some Christmas socks just to get you in the mood. The mood for sitting on the sofa on a cold night, the fire lit,  watching a move, with your loved ones, and drinking hot chocolate. I have this idea that there is a box of Christmas socks on the hearth for all the family. I don't know how my ever growing family feels about communal festive socks, but I love the idea. We did it last year, worked well with just me, him and the daughter with different size feet.

The socks were knit with these funny trapezoid needles, addicrasytrio needles. Three of them, and they have re invented the wheel. I love them.

Now, have I encouraged you to pick up your needles? Or have you left thinking, that girl needs a hobby!

Helen x

Wednesday, 18 September 2019


Is it spring? For the purposes of this blog post it is, or maybe I am getting ahead for Christmas. I have had this charm pack of fabric for quite a while. It is Ambleside by Moda fabrics. A nice light spring time fabric, little ditsy gentle flowers. Don't be misled by that. Spring flowers look teeny tiny and fragile but when you think of it  ..... they survive the cold, the wet, the freezing. These little flowers aren't cutsey at all, they are really little feisty characters, battening down the hatches.

Ambleside is a village in the Lake District, England. I love the Lake District, we used to drop off there for a few days on our way to Oxford. The scenery is spectacular, mountains, fells (small mountains) and lakes. It is the sort of place that makes you come over all poetic and creative, which is funny enough, as lots of poets hailed from those parts. William Wordsworth didn't live in Ambleside, but near enough. It is impossible to drive through the area and not find yourself dredging up long forgotten snatches of poetry from The Prelude.

"And as I rose upon the stroke, my boat
went heaving through the water like a swan
when, from behind that craggy steep till then
the horizon's bound, a huge peak, black and huge,
as if with voluntary power instinct,
upreared his head"

I can't claim to have remembered it all, but Miss Lester, my old English teacher should be proud of me. When I am old, sitting in my armchair, I shall be able to recite reams of poetry but not know what I had for breakfast!

Anyhows,  I have had this charm pack for a while. In fact, I was sure I had two of them. After I pulled the house apart, a few times, I remember giving it away. Somebody was short some squares, and what goes around comes around, so I sent them mine. Always the way! My scrapbooking tutor always says, its never lost what a friend gains. I just wish I had held on to a few!

I needed something easy to get back into the quilting after the last few finishes. This fits the bill. I pulled out a few similar fabrics and we managed ok. The blocks are 5" and I am aiming for about a  40" width quilt. A small lap quilt.

I thought this spot would make a gentle border. I measured and it was all A ok. We went to Philadelphia for a week, and on return, I headed for the border, and cut it evenly in 4 straight lines. A nagging feeling was nudging me in the back. Yes, the fabric was double length. I had needed to cut it in 2 straight lines. Grrrr. I am now on the hunt for a contrasting or toning fabric to unite the two matching strips of border. Measure twice. Cut once.

I have some nice peach kona, but it is not a length cut, much of my kona fabric is fq rather than width of fabric. I am going to leave it for a little and see what springs to mind. Apologies, I don't seem to have taken any photos of the flimsy to this point! That shows I have been below par and muddleheaded. I can substitute the black and white photo I took to check the balance.

now, wasn't that exciting!

I was having such a good hoke, looking for fabric in the deep depths of stash, and I found a similar charm pack of Christmas fabrics.

 This was a gift, I am sorry I can't remember who from, but thank you. It is not quite a full pack, so again a little additional fabric is needed. I have a William Morris tonal charm pack which actually tones. But ... if I borrow from it, the whole cycle starts again. I think these cheeky gnomes work with the soft colours too. It was fun pairing these off completely at random. For not it will sit too, and hopefully I'll have a Christmas quilt too.

I apologise if I didn't reply to your comment on my last blog post, or indeed haven't been to visit you recently. I have been a bit under the weather the last couple of weeks. The old breathing has been a bit erratic the last few weeks, and as we all know, breathing is pretty essential. A lot of sleeping, a lot of sleeping, a fair bit of tv and a course of steroids and I am well on the mend. That's why this charm pack sewing just fit the bill.

Whatever you are doing these days, I hope you are well, and enjoying your crafting.

Helen x

Sunday, 25 August 2019

Bags and Baskets

I realised today I had forgotten to blog about some recent makes, my baskets and bags. Away back in July I took a quilt to photo at my sister's caravan. Sorry rephrase that, I went to visit my sister and took a quilt with me, or so she thinks! I had been promising her some 1 hour baskets for her caravan for an age, maybe about 3 years or so. Creativity and genius move slowly in this house. I had some VW campervan fabric I thought would be perfect. I couldn't find it, quelle surprise. I found a couple of meters of 1950s bathing belles and gave her the choice, via FB of the belles or some cute pigs. We have an affinity with pigs, our father managed a pig factory and so we have a weird fondness. Weird because it was a pig processing factory, not a cute piggy farm. Anyhows, I didn't hear back within 5 minutes, so I started the bathing belles.

I made these two baskets and a drawstring bag. The baskets and bag are lined with a bright yellow self spot. Bright and jolly as is my sister.

I had originally pulled out this blue flower to use. I have had this blue flower for literally 20 years, it was a sale purchase. It goes with nothing though, and it didn't do anything here either. The yellow makes my heart sing it was the right choice.

Of course you know what is coming next. I had a look at my FB page. How many times a day are adults reckoned to check their social media? A gross underestimate I think! Of course, I saw she would prefer the pigs. It was tempting to say, well you have got the bathing belles, but I have oldest child syndrome. A syndrome (invented by me) that means you always feel responsible for your siblings. The girl wants a pig basket, a pig basket she will get. A pig basket and a pig drawstring bag.

At this stage my husband arrived home, and suggested I keep the bathing belles. They are so appropriate to a seaside caravan I couldn't keep them. I still have another meter or so I think if I feel the need. She was delighted with them, and needless to say, the other day I found the camper van fabric. How many project bags do you think she needs?

Speaking of my sister and project bags. Do you remember a while ago I had made some Alice in Wonder bags and baskets for myself and my daughter, my sister and my niece? Well, I made us another bag each. This was back the end of June. I forgot to blog these too. This time I got smart. I waited until she visited me, and got her to do the threading for me. My niece tells me proudly she uses hers all the time.

Something else I made, back the end of June, were two bread bags. I have been trying hard to live a more sustainable lifestyle and cut down on plastics. My husband is on board too now and we have been making good headway. My dad would say, there she goes, another bandwagon to jump on. Give her a crusade and she'll follow it. Well, dad, yes and yes, but I always did feel this way. Even in my teens I wanted to join Greenpeace but they were a little too political for quiet timid me. We use the supermarket very little now. We have made a real effort with a bit of time find we use the butcher (Allister), the baker (Alan) and if we had a need of a candlestick maker, we would use him too. We do have fruit and veg men, Kieran and his brother. And of course, Andy the vinyl man. How could we forget Andy the vinyl man. I have been using gauze knitting yarn bags from (they post the yarn out in these) for the fruit and veg. I thought the bread needed sole purpose bags, and made these two drawstring bags.

I have lots of friends. Like most women, I have life long friends, work friends, real friends and imaginary friends. Don't knock the imaginary friends. Most little girls have them, or was it just me? A number of years ago I was warning my daughter about friends in her computer, now I have friends in my phone. Life come full circle. My friends Sandra from was meeting our friend Sue from instagram in England during Sandra's holiday there. I would have loved to have joined them but sent them a little something instead. I had bought a vintage Ulster linen tablecloth in a charity shop a while back. I hate to think of these things going to landfill, so I rescued it. I was on a scrapbooking weekend and one of them told me it was a sin to cut it up, but it is not. It is repurposing and recycling, giving it a new lease of life. I have no idea if this was hand done or not, it is certainly very neat.

 I made Sandra and Sue a drawstring project bag each, again using Sotak's pattern which explains it so simply. The embroidery could look old fashioned. Let's be frank, it is brown embroidered flowers. I went back to a yellow lining, this lifted the colours.

 I backed both bags in some Liberty print. Both were quite traditional prints and colours, but they just went with the front. I used some vintage yellow ribbon for the drawstring. I will make myself one as well.

Before I had the chance to make myself one I won a drawstring bag in an instagram competition from Sherry Iris. Sherry makes the most exquisite linen drawstring bags, with her own embroidery designs on the front. I have always loved them. Sherry said she enjoyed this online community so much, she wanted to share the joy.

 And full of joy I was, she included an embroidery hoop for working, and lots of embroidery bits and pieces.

I have a wont to do some embroidery, to have a footer at something. A new thing to start? No, not really, just a revival of an old hobby.  Speaking of old, I dug out my mother's embroidery book. It has such exciting things as embroidery for the bachelor girl, knitted knickers, I kid you not. And of course embroidered knickers for the girl who is presumably not a bachelor girl. I always assumed this book to be my mother's from new, she was gifted by her mother or an aunt, I am sorry I can't remember. The book turns out to be printed in 1935, my mother was born in 1931, do I presume it was a loved book which was passed to her. It always lived in a presentation box from the publisher, in our glass fronted bookcase. The smell of smoke was so intense on the box, it went out pretty quickly in arrival in my house, but it lives in my glass fronted dresser. I doubt I will ever make something from it, a knitted swimsuit anybody? But, I will pass it to my daughter.

And the party in the mail box continued, there was a reassuring plop in the hall a few days later, and there was another surprise. Sue had sent me a beautiful project bag. I love this, it is zipped and big enough to hold a small sweater or shawl. At the minute it is holding my red and red striped sweater. I love it when my knitting coordinates with my project bag! The bag has a really cool cork fabric base.
Sue very generously shared some of her stash of  Liberty fabric with me. Some was fabric she had and some was fabric she won in a recent giveaway. This is like gold dust, these pieces of Liberty. I will in due course cut them all up in little pieces then sew them together again. I am indeed a pig in clover.
I don't think I need to make own bag from my table cloth but I think I will anyway. It is fun to have bags to chose from. Happy or sad, thoughtful or full of the joys, there is a bag for every occasion. So much more pleasurable than an old supermarket bag. Now its time to get back to quilt making.
Helen x