Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Pineapple Lanterns

Now it's the end of May, one can almost spend evenings outside without freezing to bits in this country. It's one of our national characteristics to maintain a valiant front that outdoor-living is well within our grasp, even when it's pouring with rain and when a wind, that cuts like a knife, is blowing in unfriendly gusts. And we espouse a touching, (if often misplaced,) optimism every year, that it will be a "barbecue summer", so we've reached that time of year, (that we reach every year), where shops and catalogues are full of "must-have" delightful, outdoor-living accessories to make the perfect mise-en-scène for those long, dreamy, summer nights - barbecue equipment; picnic-ware; bunting to string across your al fresco dining area; candle-holders to nestle among summery salads and jugs of Pimms; lanterns to hang from strategic branches and light the way from kitchen to table; all the accoutrements that make for enchanting evenings, wiled away on the terrace, on a balmy, summer night. Never mind the fact that, generally, we only get a tiny handful of evenings in the UK, where this is really viable without wearing a whole load of extra jumpers and huddling under blankets alongside a barbecue, ostensibly there for cooking sausages, but really for preventing hypothermia among the assembled throng. I may yet be surprised this year - I shall be very happy to be. So far however, I have not seen much evidence that this is likely. But it's early days.

But I love the idea of the whole outside-living thing though, and every year I have to fight down the temptation to give in to the purveyors of aforementioned, delightful, outdoor-living accessories. I remind myself that, "I am not my mother", who is a much hardier soul than I am and who picnics more or less, at any time of year, without a second thought, and regards swimming off one of our cold, English beaches as the crown of any holiday spent in this country. Last time I swam off an English beach, a few years ago, I went an interesting blue colour that took an alarming length of time to dispel. And gritting my teeth (to prevent them chattering) and trying not to shiver too obviously is not my idea of a fun summer evening.

But just as my sister and I - we were hardier as children, clearly - used to argue no end with my mother about wearing our lightweight, cotton, school, summer-dresses from the beginning of the summer term in April "because it's the summer term and everyone is wearing summer dresses, except us", I am not quite ready to give up on the idea of the outdoor-living vibe. It's summer after all! But I don't want to waste money on a lot of stuff that will only see the light of day (or night) very occasionally, if that. Enter a little homemade solution or two.

Resisting the temptation to spend multiples of £15 or £20 on charmingly atmospheric, outdoor lanterns, I've made some for next to nothing and best of all they work beautifully and atmospherically inside, as well as outside. In fact, I haven't  deployed them outside yet - it hasn't been warm enough. They also get round that irritating thing of using real candles outside, where the slightest gust of that balmy (or otherwise) summer breeze extinguishes their flames, almost as soon as they're lit.

Like a peek?

They are very simple to make and thrifty too. Here is a kind of broad-brush guide to how to do it if you want to have a go but it's not an exact pattern as the shape and size of your chosen bottle as well as your choice of pattern and yarn will affect the way it makes up.

What you need:

a clear, uncoloured plastic drinks bottle rescued from the recycling pile and washed out.

I used an Innocent Orange Juice bottle because I liked the cuboid, lanterny shape of the base but any clear, uncoloured plastic bottle will do.

a craft knife or sharp pair of heavy scissors

fine-grade sandpaper

a set of battery-operated LED fairy lights per lantern - available inexpensively from Amazon here

a lacy pattern for a crochet square whose finished dimensions will fit within the width of one side of your bottle - I used the pineapple design from Priscilla Hewitt's delightful, pineapple afghan pattern which you can get here but any lacy or filet design will work well - flowers, hearts, geometric patterns, whatever takes your fancy.

stitch markers

DK weight washable yarn in a colour of your choosing - 50 g will be more than adequate - and a crochet hook in the appropriate hook size for your chosen yarn. I used Cascade Ultra Pima Cotton from my stash in "waterlily", "mint" and "sage" with a  4mm hook for mine.

optional: a hole-punch and string or raffia

What you do:

Remove the label from your plastic bottle and clean off any residual stickiness with white spirit or "Sticky Stuff remover". We seem to spend a disconcerting amount of time in this house, de-sticking packaging of various sorts. It would make recycling at home much easier, if manufacturers used a nice, easily-dissolved glue for their labels, that would soak off cleanly in plain, hot water. Annoyingly, most labels seem to be stuck on with industrial-strength adhesive, requiring chemical warfare to remove it. Marmite jars are the worst, I find, which is a shame because the chunky, dark brown, 500 g size glass jars with their sturdy, yellow, non-corrodible, plastic lids are perfect for homemade chutney, but I digress!

Using a craft knife, or your scissors, carefully cut off the neck of the bottle just after where it starts to narrow and discard the top section you've removed. Sand off any roughness on the cut edge of the bottle with your sandpaper.

Measure the circumference of the base of your bottle and work out how many repeats of your pattern you want to have. I opted for two pattern repeats, so that there is one pineapple on the front and one on the back. Work out how many stitches you need for each pattern repeat and then add on enough to make a ring big enough to fit around your bottle base. Make a note of the number of extra stitches you are adding and mark where you will begin your pattern repeat with stitch markers as you go. Chain the appropriate number of stitches and join with a slip-stitch to make a snug fit around your bottle. Try it on for fit.

Now crochet up a tube or "sleeve" for the bottle, following your chosen pattern for the patterned sections and filling in with simple double crochet (UK treble crochet) stitches in between. Join each row with a slip stitch before carrying on. Begin each new row with a chain of three to get yourself up to the right height.*

*These instructions assume your pattern is basically in double crochet (UK treble). If your pattern uses half-doubles or singles, you'll need to make the fill-in sections in the same stitches or you'll get into a war of stitch-height difference!

The pattern sections should finish before the bottle starts to begin to taper at all. Once you've got to that point, carry on using your plain double (UK treble) crochet stitches (or whatever stitches you are using) and decreasing a few stitches in each row to keep the fit snug. You have to do this by trial and error, so keep trying the fit of the cover over the bottle to check. Begin by decreasing two to three stitches per row and seeing how it goes. The rows are quite short so it's not a big deal to undo a row and redo, with more, or fewer, decreases. Once you are nearly up to the top, you might like to end with a row of single crochet (UK double) just to make a neat finish. Or you might not - up to you. When you're finished, simply fasten off your yarn and sew in the end.

Bingo! Now fit a couple of  AA batteries to your fairy lights' battery box, shove the string of lights inside and switch on. You can either hide the whole battery box inside the bottle or you can leave it outside and tuck it behind. It's unobtrusive either way. If you're going to hang the lantern up, the box would be better tucked inside completely.

You can punch a couple of holes in the thin plastic at the top of the bottle and thread some string or raffia through, if you want to hang them up. You can even crochet a simple granny square in the same yarn to insert inside the bottle, underneath the lights, to avoid too much light shining through the bottom when it's swinging aloft in that balmy, summer-evening breeze! The beauty of these lanterns is that they're very lightweight - you don't need a cast-iron bracket or anything similarly robust to support them and there is no molten wax to worry about, once they're lit, so you don't even have to keep them level.

They look nice in the daytime, unlit ...

but they really come into their own once it's twilight or dark and you can light them up ...

And if like me, you are leery about sitting outside, before it's a respectable temperature, (by which I mean over 20C), worry not! Pop your lanterns on a table, or shelf, inside and enjoy them there.

Or hang them in a window. They feel very summery indeed to look at and you can enjoy them whatever the weather, even in the UK's "barbecue summer" that never seems to materialise.

Of course if you are lucky enough to live somewhere with real "barbecue summers", go for it and enjoy them "à la terrasse"!

I've got another little cheap-and-cheerful, homemade "summer-living-accessory" on my hook too. Here's my progress so far. Any guesses as to what it will be? (It's not a blanket.)

I expect it will be a couple of months before I actually need to deploy it, so it's quite a relaxed project. Something to be said for the slow-to-appear English summer after all!

E x