Ten Reasons to Visit a Gallery

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Why visit an art show? On the drive home from a gallery yesterday, that was what I was asking myself. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I thought I would reflect on my own reasons. Turns out, it’s not all about the art!

Reason one was pretty straightforward. They are excellent meeting places. I have kept in touch with students from the OCA where I took a home study course in textiles and yesterday I met up with two of them. Home study can be pretty isolating and every few months a few of us would gather to talk about our current work and share worries about deadlines and assessments. The face-to-face contact and support was important to me and I would always go home feeling encouraged and enthused. Regarding the art itself, I found that our conversations and often differing viewpoints often gave me a deeper appreciation and understanding of work I may have originally overlooked.

Galleries in my experience also tend to have particularly good eateries with a laid back comfortable feel, ideal for conversation.  They are often in very beautiful buildings which are inspiring themselves in their history and architecture. Leeds Art Gallery where we were yesterday, has its cafe in this magnificent Victorian tiled hall.

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Thirdly, galleries are somewhere you can enjoy silence.  It’s rare in a city to find a haven where the sounds are switched off so you can really focus on enjoying the visual. Mobile phones are present of course but generally being used for research and recording rather than for distracting, noisy conversation.

They are also safe places to draw in public Many of us are shy and uncomfortable about this but in a gallery there’s likely to be plenty of other people drawing and making notes too, particularly during the week when there are students about. They are a good place to begin overcoming that nervousness – with the added benefit of being warm and dry. Usually admission is free too, at least to the permanent exhibits.

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Caroline Achaintre’s Hand Tufted Wool ‘paintings’ 2015

Of course the art itself deserves a mention! I wrote in a recent post how privileged I felt to see the true colours, brushstrokes and proficiency in masterpieces by the likes of Van Gogh and Jacques-Louis David on my visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. On that visit, the pleasure was simply to admire the beauty of the work and the skill behind it.

Yesterday’s exhibition was something different though. The exhibition guide for the British Art Show explains that it ‘features work by artists who have made a significant contribution to art in this country over the past five years’. Contemporary art is not always conventionally beautiful and the narrative can seem difficult to comprehend. I pondered just how accessible it is to the interested general public, like me. As I read for the second and third time some of the artists statements and attempted to deduce which work belonged to which statement, I grumbled about why these are never written in simple language. Why does it have to be such hard work?

We observed that the exhibits in the show generally fell into two categories – craft and digital. Though the films were considered high quality, some of the craft-based skills seemed rather lacking, so what does make a work of art stand up in its own right? Maybe noticing some interesting detail, a clue to deciphering what the artist has responded to is part of the appeal?

When I see a piece of work I am drawn to, I enjoy the process of considering what caused that personal response. Am I reacting to an expression or posture, a shape or colour perhaps? Perhaps this is linked to an experience or memory?

Being interested in textiles generally, I was drawn to the tactile qualities of some of the work. It was extremely difficult not to touch! (Later when we crossed the walkway to the Henry Moore Institute and looked around the current Paul Neagu exhibition, my friend pointed out the ironic placement of the ‘Please do not touch the exhibits’ sign. It was right next to a piece of work called ‘Object Tactile 1970’!)

In the case of ‘Kentucky 2010’ (below), by Alexandre da Cuhna, we did admire the craftmanship and I recognised the material as that squeaky thick cotton string from the mop head at work. The pattern also evoked long-buried memories of a little woven string stool I vaguely remember from childhood.

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When you work with textiles it can be a bit of a headache working out how to mount them. When I sent work for assessment, sometimes it took almost as long to display a piece as it did to create it.   Therefore from a practical point of view, it’s useful to notice how exhibits are displayed and sympathetically lit. I thought these metal hangers worked particularly well and also enjoyed the shadows created by da Cuhna’s Fatigue (diagram 1) 2014.

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Caroline Achaintre‘s work also attracted me. This ceramic mask ‘Skwash 2014’ appeared to me like folded, discarded reptile skin and made me chuckle because it’s expression kind of reminded me of ‘Oscar the Grouch’ from Sesame Street!
IMG_3911Sometimes images, drawings or notes recorded at an exhibition will be inspiration for a future project. If I go on a workshop, I find it useful to have images with me as a starting point. Often it is the colour or texture that interests me, but this time I found potential in the shapes on Simon Fugiwara’s ‘Fabulous Beasts 2015’ series.  What these thick black lines are, I don’t know, but they made me think of the hieroglyphics I saw in the Ancient Egyptian collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.IMG_3897

Choosing interesting areas to repeat and rotate I am beginning to create a series of patterns like this one below. Maybe this is something I will develop, maybe not, but ideas always come from somewhere and these will be added to my bank of source material.

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Yarndale 2015 – Hooky Heaven and Woolly Wonders

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The third annual Yarndale festival has just been celebrated. Founded and superbly organised by a small team that includes Lucy of Attic 24 blog fame, Yarndale is a wonderful, colourful fusion of all things woolly and creative in the world of textile art and craft.  Appropriately, the festival is held in Skipton’s auction mart where pens are taken over by exhibitors tempting us with all sorts of inspirational yarns and related goodies.

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Visitors could also choose spend an hour or two learning new skills on a workshop. This year I signed up for ‘Slow Stitching’ with Jaki Bogg. This was loosely based on the Japanese boro and sashiko mending techniques. Simple running stitches are used to decoratively re-inforce or attach worn and patched fabrics often in geometric patterns.

We were each given scraps of hand-dyed fabric and thread and the idea was to relax and get into an almost meditative state. As you get into a rhythm and with practise, your stitches become increasingly regular and even.

I didn’t get very far as it is, well slow. But I enjoyed letting my needle meander while I chatted to like-minded coursemates. This would be a great technique I thought, for attaching fragments of delicate fabric from my various rust print experiments and to highlight the interesting marks. The piece of fabric I took home from the workshop will be made into a purse with a clasp I later bought at the Bag Clasps Ltd stall, along with some lovely yellow leather bag handles for a project yet-to-be-decided.

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Next stop was to meet up with a friend at the Yarndale hub to admire the collaborative community exhibitions. Anyone is welcome to contribute to these and this year’s was made up of knitted and crocheted contributions from all over the world. ‘Flowers for Memories’ was the theme and the spectacular display has been raising awareness and funds for the Alzheimer’s Society – over £1800 so far!

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Both my grandmothers and an aunt died from this cruel disease and I have been a volunteer at our local memory cafe for dementia sufferers and their carers, so this charity is close to my heart. I was only too happy to contribute the flowers I made in their memory. We had great fun trying to spot our own creations amongst the rainbow of flowers. There’s definitely at least two of them in this first photo!

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How fortunate we were, just like last year, to have a beautiful warm and sunny autumn day. Out came the picnic table and chairs, the Thermos and the buns as I met up with friends from our knit and natter group for lunch. The level of excitement about Yarndale when we had met earlier in the week had been off the scale and we were all still giddy as kippers as we had a show-and-tell of our purchases so far. Lots of oohs and aahs and stroking of beautiful yarns followed.

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My first purchase wasn’t actually wool at all but some Rico Essentials 2ply crochet cotton. I’ve never used anything so fine before but it was very good value so good for experimenting with and it won’t be the end of the world if my plan to make a lampshade with it doesn’t come off.  I also bought the glitzy version to have a go at crocheting around Christmas baubles.

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At the other end of the scale I treated myself to two balls of incredibly soft and light angora/merino yarn from Bigwigs Angora (do check out their website, even if just to see photos of gorgeous rabbits!). Yes it’s expensive, but totally worth it for a luxury project and the reassurance that the animals are well cared for. I plan to design and make myself a luxury scarf with this – lacy to make the yarn go further.  I’ve never got on well with lacy patterns before so will definitely be trying out some samples with something cheaper first.

Along with the bunnies, these handsome alpacas from Why Not Alpacas were attracting an adoring crowd with their big brown eyes, and helping to educate visitors on the benefits of alpaca farming in the UK.

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Other highlights from the day were returning to Jenny Barnett‘s stall. Last year I bought one of her kits to make a needlefelted hare. The instructions were really clear and it turned out very well. This year I couldn’t decide which to make so came home with her inspirational book instead.  I just love how she stages her stall and the characterful poses and expressions she gives to her creatures.

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Marmalade Rose also works with felt and features animals and nature, but in a 2-dimensional way using the wet felting technique. This year she has added printed cushions to her range. I wish you could feel their lovely velvety flock texture.

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Earlier this year I posted about going on Anne Brooke’s ‘Print, Collage, Stitch‘ workshop so it was good to see some of her new work and say hello.

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Amanda Perkins Crochet Design has gorgeous and uplifting patterned blankets. As a fan of Kaffe Fassett’s work and abundant colour in general, these really appeal to me. In fact a photo I took last year of one of them has been my phone screensaver for the last year! I felt I definitely owed her a purchase after that and bought a couple of her patterns. (You can also find these in her Etsy shop). Realistically I can’t imagine ever having time to complete one myself – but you never know!

IMG_3770 IMG_3771IMG_3774IMG_3773All in all, a wonderful day out for anyone interested in textiles. Next year’s festival dates are already confirmed as 24th and 25th September. I can’t recommend it enough.

Twenty Minute Makes

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Remember the ‘Ninety Minute Makes’ post? Well, while I was in New York, I had an e-mail asking me to come up with another activity for the autumn craft night just a week later. As before, it would have to be inexpensive and achievable for both beginner adults and older children, with fairly foolproof results. Also, someone else would be demonstrating how to recycle a man’s tie into a mobile phone pouch and if the crafters wanted to have a go at both activities, mine would need to be super quick.

Back in July, a friend and I went to the CreateandCraft TV Summer Crafting event.  This was one of the best value shows I have ever been to, just £5 entry with lots of goody-bags and free ‘make-and-takes’. Here she is with Jenny from the Great British Sewing Bee making a fabric corsage.

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The point is, these were all quick makes, suitable for a mixed crowd, so perfect ideas for our craft night. One of my favourite demonstrations had been by the extremely enthusiastic MDFMan who showed us how to cover blank shapes with scrapbooking papers. Here’s how mine turned out.

IMG_2640They are so easy and effective with no special kit required. Pick the right paper and it does all the work for you. MDF blanks come in all sorts of shapes and sizes so you could develop the idea for clocks, boxes, letter racks etc. I paid well under £4 for a bag of 10 large shapes with pre-drilled hanging holes. The MDF Man is demonstrating at shows throughout the UK at the so do check his website or Facebook page for where to see him in action and have a rummage through the shapes on his stall.

I tested the instructions for the technique as far as I could remember on my nine-year old ‘volunteer’ before going live at craft night. First she chose her favourite paper. We used good quality thick scrapbooking paper but wallpaper off-cuts might be worth a try too if you wanted to co-ordinate a colour scheme.

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Squeeze on a dollop of PVA glue (I like Anita’s Tacky Glue) and spread it evenly around. The MDFMan swears that fingers alone work best for this! Just have a pack of baby wipes handy to keep your work clean.

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Put the MDF shape face-down on the paper making sure there’s no creases. Make sure your paper is on a clean flat surface and of course the right way up! (If you are more discerning than us, you might want to consider where your areas of pattern will fall, or how you can arrange shapes for minimal paper waste). Give the shape a little wiggle to help it stick.

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Next cut roughly around the shape. No need to be neat about this at all.

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The paper edges get their neat finish by sanding. We wrapped a 6 inch ruler with some sandpaper. Fine or medium grade seemed to work well.

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Hold the ruler at 45 degrees to the top surface and sand the paper off in a downwards motion. Don’t see-saw or this will lift the paper up. You can be pretty rough with it and the paper will drop of itself leaving an impressively neat edge. (Apparently it’s impossible to complete this stage with your mouth closed!) If you have any awkward angles on your shape, then a nail file might be helpful to get into the grooves.
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While the glue is still wet, poke a blunt stick gently through the hole from the back to the front. A thick darning needle worked well. Then turn it over and wiggle from front to back (the needle that is, not you!) IMG_3721

You might decide to cover both sides of the shape. My volunteer decided she wanted to and repeated the steps above.

If you want to give the surface a more distressed look, you can give it a gentle rub with a sanding sponge. This tends to look more effective if you concentrate around the edges and particularly when you use darker papers. Do be careful that the paper is not still wet though, especially if you overdid the glue or you could drag chunks of the surface off.
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That darning needle will come in useful again once you have chosen your hanging thread. IMG_3724

Then you can embellish the surfaces however you like. You could sponge colour around the edges if you don’t like the edge of the MDF or want a more antique effect. We kept ours simple this time, just with little ribbon bows stuck or tied on. At the show I also bought some Christmas bauble shaped blanks. They will definitely be getting some extra sparkle and bling when we have a go at them in a month or so and I like the idea of stringing them up together like bunting.

Here’s the finished heart below, along with a couple of others I used to demonstrate on the night. I’m pleased to report everyone who had time wanted to make a second after they had finished their first one.IMG_3726 IMG_3727 IMG_3728

What I did last Summer

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Summer has flown and I’ve been lucky enough to get about a bit this year. First stop was a relaxing fortnight in Portugal. Without the distractions of technology, we got engrossed in paperbacks, discovered beautiful beaches and reconnected with family and friends the old-fashioned way, face-to-face. My 12 year-old cracked crochet, which is the ideal portable craft for holidays. Before long she could churn out granny squares in her sleep. (I was slightly miffed as it took me so much longer to learn!)  We progressed onto flowers and made these below for the community display at next weekend’s Yarndale festival. (The background is my ripple blanket that’s been steadily growing over the summer.) There was no need to worry about mixing yarns, getting the right tension or making the odd mistake, we just needed to make them as colourful as possible. More about this project to follow after my Yarndale trip next weekend…

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Being on the Atlantic coast we experienced spectacular sunsets and I loved how the same walk on the beach would look quite different every time depending on the tides and the weather. Even the stormy skies at the beach were quite beautiful.

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Back to work for a few days then Mum and I flew to New York for a week to celebrate her big birthday. We had plenty of adventures and memorable moments.  Meeting Judy Murray at the US Open Tennis after watching Jamie win an excellent doubles match was definitely one of them. The folks back home saw us on TV waving our flags and celebrating!

Last time I was on Manhattan was 9/11. Two days before the twin towers fell, I was sitting at the top enjoying a meal, oblivious to how the next few days would terrifyingly unfold. Looking out now at this new skyline and reflecting, I was encouraged by how well the city has recovered and remembered.

IMG_3459There is such much inspiration and creativity to be found in this city. Walking the High Line, an urban park built on an abandoned rail track we were surprised and delighted by the elevated street views and artwork amongst the colours and textures of the planting.

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This ‘graffiti’ is actually found steel formed into 3ft high suspended words by the artist Damian Ortega.

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Turning another corner we saw this thought-provoking street art by Banksy.

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I was so pleased that we fitted in a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the morning before flying home.  The museum is vast and I had wondered whether we could do it any justice in just a few hours and get over the guilt of racing past and ignoring great and important works of art. Our strategy was to take an hour-long museum highlights tour (excellent) to get our bearings, then re-visit just a few of the galleries, and focus on a few paintings there that had captured our imagination.

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The space and light in the galleries was wonderful, especially being able to get up close to the paintings without peering through crowds of people. Amongst my highlights was seeing one of Van Gogh’s original ‘Sunflower’ series. It felt a real privilege to see the true colours and the textures of his brush strokes.  Also a painting that was brought to our attention by the tour guide. It portrays the chemist Antoine Lavoisier and his wife. They are both extremely interesting characters in their own right who lived through the height of the French Revolution and had an endearing relationship that is recognisable in the composition. How the drapes and textures of the various fabrics are captured in oil paint by the artist Jacques-Louis David is incredible. Notice how realistically thin the glass of the flask appears with the light source reflected in it.

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So two contrasting holiday experiences, one relaxing, the other fast-paced and energising.  I’ve returned to my day-to-day routines this month feeling rejuvenated, inspired and itching to get back to making of course!

Bad Stitcher Blames Her Tools

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Although I was taught sewing by my Grandma when I was small, everything I made was by hand. When I decided, aged 21, to treat myself to a machine, I remembered how straightforward the Bernina machines were at school. Despite the battering they had, nothing ever seemed to go wrong and the girls in the know would make a beeline for them. For my budget, a second-hand basic Bernina was just what I wanted. However, at the shop, presumably someone was on commission and I was seduced into buying a new machine of a different brand with more features than I could ever want.

My relationship with that machine was very damaging.  We never got on right from the start. I assumed it was my fault and possibly a hereditary thing? My Mum appeared to require therapy after a session with her machine also.

So for almost twenty years, my machine only came out sporadically. Armed with my Quick Unpick, I cursed my way through a few home furnishing projects. Even when I studied textiles I shied away from it and it was only when I got to an exercise on machine embroidery that I dusted it off. That was the day the relationship ended permanently. Shortly after I took it for trade in. Though I kept silent about my experiences, the shop owner wasn’t keen to take my old machine. Sniffing my desperation and a potential sale, he eventually agreed to swap it for an embroidery foot to go with the entry-level Bernina 330 I’d coveted for so long. What a relief to be rid of the bedevilled thing – and my new machine has been an absolute joy!

IMG_2711 My dilemma was that the kids, seeing how much fun I was having, wanted to be in on the act. I wanted them to have machine confidence that I never had, but I wasn’t prepared to let them loose on my baby just yet. I found a mini machine from John Lewis with decent reviews, and decided it would be fine for them to learn some skills on before I could trust them on mine.  Though it can’t cope with thick layers, it’s been ideal for making little items like purses and lavender bags and it does look pretty cute!

IMG_2710 Today was the first day of the school holidays and the younger girls were at a sports camp, so unusually it was just the eldest at home with me. We decided to flick through my magazines to find something new she could make on her machine and found a reversible headband in Issue Four of Simply Sewing magazine. She made a great fabric choice from my stash (two cotton prints from the Sherwood collection by Henley Studio for Makower UK), learned how to use a rotary cutter and did so well controlling the lines of stitching. A very successful project I reckon and hopefully the family curse has been well and truly broken!

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Feeling a Little Rusty

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For my final project on my textile course last year, I chose rust as my theme. I was inspired by the artist Alice Fox whose exhibition I had seen and I learned how to make rust prints and develop ideas to incorporate into my final piece of work.

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Recording patterns on rusty manhole covers on holiday, to the acute embarrassment of my family!

Reflecting on the experience, I decided it wasn’t something I’d pursue in the future. Though I found the process exciting and some of the marks and colours very beautiful indeed, (if you are instinctive about colour you will understand this) I knew the colours just weren’t mine. Secondly, as someone who loves comfort and the feel of things, I was uncomfortable with the grainy, crusty textures, the sharp smells and the ‘rust dust’ on the fabric that seemed to affect my chest.

However…..

At the back of our garden stands an ancient dolly tub. It was there when we moved in and I grew potatoes in it.  We’ve also used it for bonfires and when I picked it up to move it the other day, because of the rust and weight of ash in the bottom, the rim came off in my hands.

Before I sent Dolly off to the recycling centre, I started to really look at her ridges and edges, and the anticipation of revealing a print from them was irresistible!  There was also the top of a decorative plant stake I’d found when I weeded the borders so I wrapped them both in an old cotton sheet that I’d soaked in Yorkshire tea.  Then I  sprayed some areas with white vinegar. And waited.

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By the following day, marks had begun appearing on the fabric.  I dampened the fabric again over the next few days and waited some more.

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Around a week later, I reckoned it was time for the Big Reveal. I wanted good strong marks while stopping the process before the fabric became too fragile and holey.

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The whole purpose of this was to enjoy of the process and anticipation of seeing interesting marks develop. I’ve created a gallery of some of the areas I particularly like.

Although I’ve no plans for the fabric (it will be stashed away till an idea comes), I have made use of the binding string straight away. It had taken on a weathered look and was just what I’d been looking for to attach the shells my girls brought home from holiday and create a little garden bunting as a memory of our trip.

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Boris Pecker

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There’s been some raised eyebrows in the last couple of weeks when I’ve been asked what I’m doing. ‘Knitting a pigeon’, is evidently not a standard response. Sometimes I like to do something pointless for no better reason than to make myself smile, and when I saw the pattern for Boris on the front of the latest issue (July 2015) of Knit Today, I just couldn’t resist and ordered the yarn from the Wool Warehouse.

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When I twigged I’d only be using using a small amount from each 100g ball and that this Stylecraft Special DK yarn is the same yarn that Lucy from Attic 24 (great crochet blog, especially for beginners) often uses, I ordered some more shades.  Since I mastered basic crochet, I’ve wanted to have a go at one of Lucy’s ripple blanket patterns. I needed something soft and washable to take on picnics, also inexpensive, so if it all goes wrong I won’t be living with financial guilt!

Wool Warehouse delivered the beautifully packaged yarn the very next day, along with accessories – eyeballs for Boris and a couple of crochet hooks with flat handles that I’ve realised suit me better than the rounded type. I was pleased to find the yarn wasn’t scratchy or prone to splitting and got to work.

Fiddly, I think is the word to describe the making of Boris. For toy making the needles tend to be a size smaller than recommended for the yarn, so that the fabric will be dense enough for construction and stuffing.  This makes the tension tighter than normal knitting and it’s hard work. Then there is the making up of all the separate pieces, right down to individual toes.

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My target was to have Boris finished for the start of Wimbledon and here he is, enjoying the coverage from the BBC (I changed the colours slightly so he is acceptable at the All England Club).

The ripple blanket is now in progress after a frustrating start.  As recommended I made a small sample to get the hang of the pattern before starting the real thing.  Turned out to be excellent advice from Lucy, as I went wrong four times and almost gave up before I finally cracked it. Fortunately the first row is by far the trickiest bit and now I’m into a rhythm I think I can just about watch the tennis as I hook away.

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