Sunday, 27 January 2013

vintage baby knits


I love the way my mother doesn't think of her things as "vintage" - it's just what she has! One day our own collections of craft books, notions and fabric stashes will be "vintage" too. For now though, I'm enjoying leafing through my mum's wonderful knitting pattern collection (I adore the little outfit above!)

In her enthusiasm at my taking up knitting, she gave me all her patterns. I did notice though, how she kept ringing up to offer to contribute squares to the blanket I'm making. "No thanks," I said, "your tension is different!" (which is true) - and I realised she was disappointed. She had caught the knitting bug again!

Not long afterwards she phoned me up to say she'd found an amazing bargain stash of wool (yarn) in a Charity Shop near where she lives, and just had to buy it. Now she was thinking of making something for the baby I'm expecting - but she didn't have any patterns! Could I choose a few and post them back to her? These are the ones I chose.

The funny thing is babies and knitting go together for my mum. Apparently, when she was expecting me the midwife felt she hadn't really accepted the fact that she was pregnant, and advised her to knit to help bring out the broodiness! My mum became addicted to knitting then. There's something satisfyingly circular about her teaching me knitting now, and indeed making something cute and "vintage" for my little one on the way! I can't wait to see (and share) what she makes...


Tuesday, 22 January 2013

the examined life


You might have come across the saying, "the unexamined life is not worth living", a statement Plato attributes to Socrates in his Apology. It is a pretty bold claim. Must we really examine our lives - investigate them critically - in order to give them any value? I'm not so sure about the self-interrogation and introspection this implies. What about just being present in the moment? That sounds great, and yet I have to admit that in my own life, I've needed to examine, indeed have been compelled to in order to find ways of living and being that, put simply, I could live with.

{mixed media artwork by Liza Pozer on Cloth Paper Scissors}
 
So naturally I was intrigued by the title of psychoanalyst Stephen Grosz's new book. I heard him give a talk once and he was a charismatic speaker. Also I must confess that I love psychoanalysts' books about their work because I'm such a nosy parker and love the glimpses into other people's lives that they afford.

Turns out I was right to trust my instincts and get myself a copy straightaway. Before I get started on what is great about it, I must confess to a couple of small disappointments. The first (and most flattering for the book) is that it was all over too soon! I started it on the bus on the way home from work one evening and finished it on the way in the next morning! This is seriously easy reading: simple in style, moreish in content, and above all really quite short in length!

The second, more subtle disappointment is related: the stories and clever insights of the book are kept simple and sweet, leaving me craving more detail and depth - and wishing I could ask questions. I suppose the point is partly to keep its mass appeal, but also to leave thoughts hanging, demanding reflection from the reader. Typical of a psychoanalyst: he is not going to answer all your questions, you have to do half the work!

What I loved about the book is simple too: like some of the greatest novels it is all about other people in ways that also lead to reflection upon one's own life, in a kind of counterpoint or dialogue. It had me thinking about mothering, relationships, lying and truth-telling, memories, bereavement and childhood sadness. And then there are all the stories: the man who fakes his suicide, the one who starts to fall asleep in every session, the mother who realises how much she misses her baby now he's all grown up, the damaged 9 year-old who teaches his analyst a lesson in sadness. With each tale, we glimpse something of how the patient changed during his or her analysis, and what Grosz himself learned about life.

Sometimes the insights are a little obvious (see my second disappointment, above), but the process that leads to them is always intriguing. Whatever you think of psychoanalysis, you can't deny that it trains people to think in incredibly creative and lateral ways. I love seeing how Grosz has to look beyond the content of what people say and think about how it is expressed and what kind of a performance it is, what response is needed and why. In writing about all this so simply and clearly, Grosz makes the processes of analysis accessible.

I'll leave you with one of my favourite moments in the book: something so simple and yet so right. Typically, just to make sure we're still doing some work, it is phrased as a question:

"Being present, whether with children, with friends, or even with oneself, is always hard work. But isn't this attentiveness - the feeling that someone is trying to think about us - something we want more than praise?"

Ah-ha! So it's not just about examining our own lives, but paying attention to others, making their life worth living by taking an interest - even if we're not psychoanalysts.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

letter writing inspiration


Remember this post, where I wrote about taking part in the "craft it forward" movement, inspired by Kaitlyn of isavirtue? Well, here's the beautiful handmade surprise I received from her in the post!

It is a lovingly handmade booklet/kit full of inspiration and bits and pieces to nurture the art of letter writing. I've often written about my love of snail mail, so it was the perfect gift to receive. Thanks Kaitlyn!

Although I always try to consider the outside of the envelopes and parcels I send off, I've rarely created mail art (my circular package for Miki might be an exception), and I feel excited about trying this more often.

And I really love this quotation on the back...

As for me, I have almost finished all my little handmade gifts for the fun 5 who signed up for craft it forward. Frustratingly I'm waiting for something to arrive by mail to finish them off! Don't worry ladies: I'm sure some snail mail smiles will reach you soon!

p.s. If like me you fell in love with this letter writing kit, you can buy one for yourself from the isavirtue Etsy shop!

Sunday, 13 January 2013

craft-a-day - book review


I love the crafty project/tutorial-sharing website Cut Out and Keep. They have loads of giveaways and contests, and recently I won this book, Craft-A-Day: 365 Simple Handmade Projects by Sarah Goldschadt. Soon I will be sharing some amazing 1970s craft books I found, and this makes a perfect contrast: it is very "right now"!

The book offers, as promised, a craft project for every single day of the year. Don't be fooled though: many of these projects are essentially the same one in a different form. Cupcake toppers, cards, felt plushies and ornaments, felt bobby pins and card garlands - all of these things and more recur many, many times.
But to get too hung up on that would miss the point of the book: it's all about super-simple projects you can genuinely fit in to your everyday, and that simplicity is brilliantly appropriate for the complete craft novice.

I love the way the year is organised into weekly themes (examples above). This Toadstool ornament (which appears as a sample project freely available on Cut Out and Keep) comes from this week's theme: Gnome Week. There is also a rather cute Owl Week...

You don't need any special skills or fancy materials to make anything in the book, and there are easy-to-reproduce templates available for every single one (if nothing else the book is a great resource of cute templates - including hearts, numbers and the alphabet!) There are also helpful instructions at the back showing quite clearly how to do simple-but-useful things like stencil-print a t-shirt or tote. Now that's something I've never tried and would like to...

There is also a Pinterest board where readers can share their creations, and you can download templates and some bonus projects on the Craft-A-Day website.

The verdict? Although I can't see this as a bookshelf essential, I'd certainly be tempted to buy it at at the current amazon.co.uk discounted price. Although it seems to be aimed at complete craft beginners, the cute, simple style is appealing and there is a lot of inspiration to be found in its pages.
I can see heaps of ways of using the templates for other things and adapting the projects, using different materials, adding more details and personalising the simple, basic shapes. It would be great to use with kids.
Seen as a starting point to get you going, rather than taking it too literally, it could be a great source of inspiration, and its breath-of-fresh-air simplicity might be just what's needed to lift you out of a creative rut.

Friday, 11 January 2013

collage man - toddler made


My little boy is 2-and-a-half now and I'm so excited that he's reached an age where his motor skills make arts/crafts easier and more fun! He loved making this little collage man, with his wool hair, painted hat, and fabric-scrap collage trousers/shirt.

It definitely still needs to be a joint activity at this age, and I'm relishing doing things like this with him while I don't yet have a newborn baby to attend to constantly! He especially loved painting the hat, and drawing the mouth and nose by himself (as you can see he tried to paint these on with glue initially). I found that he got a little bored with sticking the tiny pieces of fabric onto the trousers, so I would do bigger pieces another time. I was amazed that he chose such symmetrical pieces though - I assure you that was entirely his choice!

I really love our little display for his artwork. I found this handmade wooden train hanger by Shellyka on Etsy last Spring and it is perfect for showing off his latest creations - plus each picture becomes a carriage on the train! (P.s. she does them in rainbows, cars and even owls too!)

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

it's hip to make one...


In yesterday's post, I mentioned that I'd learnt some knitting basics from my mother at Christmas but had been putting off getting started. Fortunately I saw my mum again this weekend and in her presence I felt braver about making that first stitch. I knew I needed a baby steps project, and with a baby on the way, a blanket made of simple squares seemed the perfect choice.

So here it is, folks, my first ever knitted square! It's imperfect, squiggly, a little loopy, and boy am I proud of it anyway! I think I'll embroider a little star on it or something to remind me that it's the first thing I ever knitted. I've decided to do the whole thing in simple garter stitch (even though I do know how to purl!) By the time I've made 36 squares, I should be a dab hand!

And now I'm launched, I can't stop! I'm finding it totally addictive and meditative. I keep saying, "just one more row, and then I'll stop!" Mind you, with all these squares to knit over the next couple of months, and given how incredibly slow I am, it's a good thing I'm hooked!
P.s. something knitted is on my (re-created) list of 34 things to make - just click the button to see it.

Monday, 7 January 2013

sewing for knitting


My favourite gift to ask for from my mum is for her to teach me one of her many skills. For my birthday in 2010 I asked for sewing - if you read this blog you'll know that turned into a proper obsession! This Christmas, I asked for knitting. She's a great teacher and over Christmas she showed me all the basics.

Then I got home and found myself feeling really unsure of what I'd learnt. It's such a new skill for me - and knitting is so mysterious! I mean, you just have this one thread and you're turning into something dimensional, into a shape! Instead of getting on with my knitting I found myself sewing instead: making knitting accessories, of course!

After all, everyone needs a hoop-handled bag, made from vintage fabrics, to keep their wool/yarn in, right? (P.s. I got the gorgeous, bright outer fabric from this addictive Etsy shop: FrauSvensson; the lining was an old curtain).

And I couldn't just keep the huge pile of knitting needles my mum passed on to me in a plastic bag, could I? So I just had to use my recently-acquired zip-sewing skills to make a pretty matching pouch for them.

Tangled in amongst all the knitting needles my mum gave me was a length of this jewel-green trim, so I used it to decorate the needle pouch with a bow.

And I love seeing all these old needles (some of them came from my mother's mother and are made of bakelite!) nestled in the pretty lining of my new pouch. I definitely felt much more ready to start knitting once all my kit had a nice handmade home. The only problem was remembering how on earth to cast on?!! More on that in tomorrow's post...

Saturday, 5 January 2013

34 things to make - again

Back in March 2012, right after my birthday, I decided to make a list of craft projects I wanted to try before my next birthday, in a bid to keep track of what I was making and actually get around to doing a lot of things that caught my imagination while reading blogs etc.

It was going OK, even in spite of my creative hiatus this Summer (bad 1st trimester of pregnancy). I had made a number of my "things" and was crossing them off on the original post and linking to the result as I went along. Then, yesterday, I managed to delete all the content of that post! Merde! (That's a word I can't use anymore because my son started copying me - but I'm assuming there are no little kids reading this blog!)

{image from this lovely blog post}
All I can think to do is to try to recreate my list, just like the character Toad from one of my favourite childhood storybooks Frog and Toad Together, when Toad's to-do list blows away in the wind. Like Toad, I can't let go of my list altogether - and hopefully, like him, I'll remember the most important things!

And if some things get swapped in for other things I'm currently longing to make, well that's okay too, right?

Things I've already made:
n.b. just from the 34 things list - I made a whole bunch of other stuff too, of course!
- Easter wreath
- Easter rabbit, and blanket stitch
- Toddler trousers
- Bunting (also here)
- Owl toy for G's baby
- Magnets, and Fimo millefiori
- Tote bag
- Quilted pencil case
- Quick baby quilt
- little owl

Things still on the list:

- This simple Summer top from A Beautiful Mess.
- Yo-yo & button bobby pins  [Love these! See them here]
- something knitted - I am learning! [My baby blanket is progressing well][And here's the finished baby blanket!]
- a cuddly cat (originally just "creature") [See my vintage fabric/old sweater cat here!]

- something in hexagon patchwork (allowed to be a small project!)
- a play mat for the new baby (okay, yes, that's a new one since I wasn't pregnant the first time I put this list together!) [here's the bright patchwork playmat I made]
- decorate a crochet owl (I've been mulling this over for more than a year - finally getting there, I think...!)
- bright cushions for the new children's room we're building (an adaptation of something on the previous list) [see my bright cushions from vintage fabric here]
- fabric bow hair clips
- make something from Ashlie's gorgeous sea creatures fabric [have a look at this birthday mini tote]
- make something from my own triangle fabric!

{image from Closet Cooking}
- the gorgeous chocolate-dipped crystallised orange peel sweets from this book
- mini seat pads for kiddo chairs
- burp cloths [done and what pretty things they are!] & nappy cases for the new baby boy (erm, yes, I added these too!)
- a sunhat - can't remember if it was supposed to be for me or for a little one; let's say it could be either.

- small reversible patchwork bag
- scented sugar scrub (this is a new one - but I know there were more non-sewing projects on the list and I really want to make this!)
- doodle brooches inspired by this book [see my doodle heart brooches here]
- owl cushion (can't remember if this was on the list, but it's been on the cards for ages)

- something from my mother's half-finished lavender sachets (I'm thinking something different... maybe a baby mobile?)
- a charm necklace

Phew! Who knows if I'll manage it all before my next birthday, but at least I get to have the satisfaction of crossing things off the list.

Friday, 4 January 2013

craft it forward

There's nothing like a new project for the new year. This morning I came across Kaitlyn's Craft It Forward post and was lucky enough to be one of the first 5 people to comment - meaning I will receive something handmade from her in the post! If you don't already know Kaitlyn's work, you have to discover it: see her beautiful Etsy shop isavirtue, a stationery addict's delight!

Now it's my turn to craft it forward: I will send a handmade mystery item to the first five people to comment on this post. Anyone at all can join in. If you are one of the first five, please email your full mailing address to: theowlclub {at} rocketmail {dot} com. If you like, after you comment you can post this on your own blog and create something for others!

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