Saturday, 25 January 2014

A Poncho For All Seasons?

Thank you so much for all your kind comments on my roll-neck winter poncho.

This post is really a PS to my last one with some pics of the second poncho that I made for a friend and finished in time to give her this week.

It's in a rather different palette of colours but still a palette that carries a certain seasonality.

This version is warmer in tone and has some more autumn echoes with its reds, burgundies, russets and golds as well as the dark evergreen, vivid New Year's green, winter white and winter blues so perhaps this one should be an autumn poncho. As I said in my last post, I made it for a recently bereaved friend and the colours were chosen in part seasonally and in part because they have personal significance for her. This one I made using a 5mm hook rather than a 4mm one, using the same weight of yarn - mostly Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Aran, but there's some Rooster Aran in there too. I think that, with the bigger hook size, possibly the drape is slightly better than in my first but it's marginal.

It has the same border as the first one and the same style of roll-neck. All that is different is the addition of the ruffled rose which I made to pin on the roll-neck collar. Just because. This is a lovely pattern, courtesy again of Sue Pinner's Granny Square Pattern Club. (Details on Sue's sidebar here) I tweaked it, just a little, with an extra round in the outermost petal layer to make it a little more showy and ruffly. The leaves I made up myself. I like it pinned onto the neck of the poncho like this but it's stitched onto a brooch pin so it's removable or re-positionable depending on the wearer's whim.

When someone loses the love of their life, there is so little one can say. Words, in fact, are often not much good on such occasions. But being there; offering an empathetic hug both literally in person and metaphorically through a piece of soft and warm, handmade hooky that can be worn in the lonely moments of the night, the wakeful small hours of seemingly endless days, or other corners of time when sadness presses in, unbidden, seems to me to have some mileage. I hope so anyway.

Of course a piece of soft and warm, handmade hooky is also welcome at other seasons of life - celebratory as well as sad ones. It occurs to me a hooky poncho would make a fantastic going-to-uni-present or leaving-home-gift, for a girl anyway. Not sure H would thank me for one! But lovely for a new mother or for a friend moving abroad too, perhaps. Hmm, food for thought!

Anyway, for the first time in weeks, I have no poncho on my hook so there is a little space to dip it into some small projects. Snowflakes, doilies, hearts, a few more hyperbolic flowers, that sort of thing! Space, that is, before I get the urge to start a Spring / Summer poncho in lighter yarn and Spring / Summer colours. Before I know it, I will have made a poncho for all seasons - of the year, if not of the heart.

Happy Weekend everyone!

E x

Monday, 20 January 2014

Roll-Neck Winter Poncho

I've had a bee in my bonnet about making a crochet poncho for over a year now. Ever since I first saw Angie's colourful ponchos on Le Monde de Sucrette. You can see her beautiful versions and find her pattern here.

I skirted round the idea of making one, partly because I seemed always to have other projects on the go and I wondered whether it would work as well for an adult as a child. The other factor that stayed my hook was the classic, poncho-V-neck - sometimes I like V-necks on me, sometimes I don't.

Anyway, after delicious-looking crochet ponchos-in-the-making kept popping up here, here and here I thought I really ought to get my act together and give it a whirl. So my post-Christmas hooky project that started life, first as a tea cosy, then a scarf, then migrated to being a cowl, finally became a roll-necked winter poncho. I hasten to add that the false starts are not all incorporated into the final item!

The pattern is basically Angie's Granny stripe one that I've linked to above and it's a joy - beautifully, heart-warmingly, simple. I used a starting chain of 112 on a 6.5 mm hook and switched to a 4.5 mm hook for the body of the crochet.

The pattern was easy to commit to memory and all that I had to think about was what colour to choose for the next stripe. The sequence of colours are random choices from the palette I assembled before Christmas of Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Aran that you can see in the basket in the pic. I used all these colours apart from the pale beige which didn't seem to fit and I added in the bright, kingfisher, turquoise which I ordered, thinking it was a repeat of the dark teal colour, found it wasn't, but used it anyway!

I was tempted by a bolder, brighter palette, which, using a different yarn, say a cotton, or an acrylic one, would have given me but I wanted the finished article to be light and practical and long-lasting to wear and cotton tends to be a bit heavy in anything large, while I find acrylic yarn tends to pill on me.

The roll-neck is my own design. You can't really see the stripes in it much when the top part is rolled over but it made it more interesting to hook and used up the yarn leftovers nicely.

Basically it comprises some decreasing rows of single crochet (UK double crochet) worked into the back of the starting chain and then some more single crochet (UK double crochet) rows without increases and then a raft of rows of double crochet (UK treble crochet) on top which turn down over the single crochet to make a roll-neck collar. I like it very much. It's filled in the slightly chilly, V-neck gap nicely, without being too close-fitting. Cosy.

The palette of colours says winter to me - the cool blues of a December sky, the twilighty violets of a misty morning or evening in January, the deep teal and gun-metal green of a wintry pond, the white and silver pales of ice on grass and leaves, the vivd New Year's green of damp moss that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago and a flash of turquoise and pink that reminds me of shiny, glass, Christmas-tree baubles glinting in fire-light and the odd, maverick rose that refuses to cease flowering, even in the depths of winter.

The border is border number 102 from Edie Eckman's "Around The Corner Crochet Borders" and just finishes the edge off nicely, I think.

I had some trouble with the maths working out the stitch count for this - the instructions for the stitch count you need are given in the format of multiples of "x + y + corners, where y = x - 1" and, predictably, Mrs T got in a muddle with it, so there is a Chinese-style, deliberate flaw in one place to make it come right! No one will know though, apart from you and me and I just couldn't face frogging the whole border to correct the count earlier.

What do you think?

If you fancy making something similar, it was a complete joy to hook and worked up pretty quickly with the Aran weight yarn. If anyone wants more precise instructions for the roll-neck than I've given here, let me know and I'll be happy to let you have them.

Having made one poncho, I am now making another to give to a recently bereaved friend. This one is also in a winter palette of colours, but one of greens, reds and russets, whites and golds with an occasional soft blue. I fancy tackling a third, a lighter one in DK weight yarn for the summer in pastels, perhaps this time leaving the V-neck as it is. Making them in stripes is a fantastic way to use up left-over yarn.
Happy Poncho-Hooking!

... and Happy Poncho-Wearing, of course! 

I love the fact that, unlike a shawl, this stays cosily in place, without me having to keep a retaining hand on it, leaving my hands free to do important things, such as making frothy chai latte with H (whose pics these last ones are - thank you, H!) at the end of a winter's day.

Although Anne says her recipe isn't a chai latte, I can't tell the difference; whatever it is, it's very good!

E x

Thursday, 16 January 2014

January Blues

This is often the time of year when January blues hit me. I feel "stuck in a rut". Normal routines seem heavy-going and irksome rather than familiar and soothing. The daily round drags rather than sings. I gather it's also the time of year when people most commonly evaluate their professional life and ask themselves whether they wouldn't rather be doing something else, so it seems to be a bit of a universal phenomenon.

In the northern hemisphere I am sure it has something to do with the lack of light and although the days are getting longer, the mornings lighten painfully slowly. I thought, may be, it was just my impatient perception so I looked up the times of sunrise and sunset in January in the UK and found that it wasn't just my impatient perception at all. The shortest day is 21st December but in fact it goes on getting darker, in the mornings, through to the end of the first week of January. It then sits broodingly static until slowly, minute by minute, the sun reluctantly rises, a bit earlier, each day. This pic was taken this morning about 7.45 am - the sky is lightening but it's still not properly light yet and it's already more than two weeks into January.

In the afternoons it's easier going and the sun sets noticeably later each day, but the lack of light in the mornings, I find, sits like a dead weight on everything, especially now we are back to the ordinary early morning timetable of work and school.

This year, that timetable seems to have hit us amidships, with GCSE mock exams for H and I have been trying to carve out time to support him with testing him on his revision as well as juggling all the normal stuff. This means if you ask me what is for supper this evening, you may well get a strange answer from a muddled mind that is full of trying to recall the vagaries of irregular Greek verbs and the properties of sundry metals in the periodic table. Physics revision testing is safer (for me anyway) - I never understood a word of physics while at school and I don't now so all I can do is follow the text book, word for word, which leads to some exasperation from H when I say, "No, that's wrong." to an explanation he gives, because it isn't word for word what is in front of me but is (apparently) another way of saying the same thing. You could fool me.

Anyway, the January blues which always affect me, have been bad this year. I usually combat them with various strategies, some of which are more successful than others.

An inveterate pattern hoarder, this is the time of year when I scour bookshops, magazines, Amazon and the Internet for new crochet and sewing patterns to add to my collection. I try not to remind myself too sternly that I will probably never make half these things. The possibility hovers that I might and that adds a glimmer to a dark morning over breakfast. A glimmer that can be extinguished by feeling guilty that perhaps I shouldn't be spending the money on yet more books and knowing that anyway I have plenty of patterns I haven't made, already in the bookcase.

I click on emails that promise sale yarns or fabrics at fantastic prices and wonder whether just a teensy weensy pile of yarn or two might not lift a grey and rainy day somewhat. Annoyingly, half the colours I want often seem to be out of stock or worse, permanently discontinued. Good for my bank account; not so good for my mood.

I try to look at my day to day routines in a kindly and positive light. Sometimes it works, sometimes it so doesn't! If anyone, for example, knows a kindly and positive light they can throw on putting in order, what seem to be unending piles, of apparently identical, black socks or sorting the rubbish for the recycling bin that is overflowing yet again or washing muddy footprints off the floor for the umpteenth time, I'd be glad to hear it!

Last Saturday I read an article in The Guardian here about the importance of mixing routine things with new variants which added some welcome grist to my mill and made me feel better about my acquisitive pattern habit and one or two of my other strategies. In fact the more I think about it, the more I think this article is onto something.

We need routine - it gives a stable structure to life and routine actually smooths the path of daily living, often, more than we realise - but we also need the motivation and energy awakened by curiosity about the new and untried. I feel guilty about being a butterfly sometimes who flits from one enthusiasm to another but I'm coming to realise that being a butterfly does not necessarily mean, (or at least does not just mean!,) I have the attention span of a gnat - it's a source of energy and interest that keeps me buoyant in life's flotsam and jetsam. And that butterfly needs feeding to stay alive and well.

It doesn't matter that some of the things I dip a toe into may not end up being permanent fixtures or a life passion. What matters is lightening the mix of daily grind with things to explore and be inquisitive about. New patterns, even if I don't make them all? Yay! New ideas? Bring 'em on! New skills? Why not? New challenges? Give them a whirl! New projects? Start planning!

So ...

... I'm feeling chilled about acquiring a couple of new crochet pattern books. These to be precise: 100  Snowflakes To Crochet - Make Your Own Snowdrift  and 100 Lace Flowers To Crochet. More on these when I've had a chance to digest them.

... I am toying with the idea of taking up horse-riding again. I rode a lot as a child but it's one of those things that's fallen by the wayside.

... I am determinedly exploring lovely non-English blogs like Haken en Meer, even when they are in languages I can't speak. I don't know a word of Dutch but, much to my satisfaction, I've even managed to order the book co-written by this blog's author, Claire and and her friend Saskia, "Haken en Kleur" from a Dutch website. Once I'd worked out that "bestelling plaatsen" meant "place your order" not "other bestsellers you might be interested in", that is! It hasn't actually arrived yet but checking the post for its arrival, is, for the time being, proving cheering.

... I am sitting light to feeling guilty - about the cost of a few books, spending time hooking or sewing, eating cake, that sort of thing.

Life is too short and too sweet not to live it as enjoyably as possible, within reason.

... I am wondering, (you may feel, slightly against better judgement!), about joining in with Sonia of Fabricandflowers who is running a homemade knicker swap here. I had no idea you could even try making your own homemade knickers. I know, I know, I may be a bit old for this kind of frivolity but then, who says? I am going to make a trial pair first before I commit to making any for a swap. According to the Trixie Lixie website video, it's a doddle, but we'll see! I do not anticipate giving M&S's underwear department a run for their money!

... I am thinking of braving the challenge of sewing clothing in jersey fabrics or crocheting those beautiful doilies I see everywhere in blogland, in very fine thread and with a crochet hook with the diameter of a hypodermic needle, both of which have I have felt, hitherto, have been beyond my powers. But I repeat, "Sez who, Mrs Tittlemouse"?!

Life seems brighter all of a sudden! Now where are those piles of socks? I may be ready for you! Even cleaning the kitchen floor no longer seems such a miserably repetitive chore. In common with the rest of the world, I am still asking questions of myself about my job, but that too is weighing less heavy. There are all manner of frivolous novelties in my head from making homemade knickers to crocheted snowflakes, to hang on a winter twig, to walking in my new pink flowery Hunter wellingtons along the flooded paths and fields in the mornings. A few metaphorical rainbows in the January skies, like this real one, this afternoon.

If you too are finding yourself assailed by January blues and the going feels heavy, I recommend some inspirational dabbling and trying of new things to change things up.

(As well as tea and cake of course! With which one can't go wrong!)

E x

Sunday, 5 January 2014

New Year's Green

Not far from where I grew up, in a leafy suburb on the edge of north-west London, is a village that is definitely not suburbia, despite being only a few miles away from it. I'm not quite sure why it feels different - perhaps it's the duck pond, cricket pitch and the old-fashioned, independent ironmongery that seems to belong to a previous, simpler and more rural era. The houses are not all picturesque cottages, by any means and, in some ways, even if it's a village as opposed to suburban sprawl, it's not especially attractive. One of its roads is called "New Year's Green Lane" - a typically quaint, English road-name, derived from goodness knows where. But it is a proper country lane - very narrow, muddy, steep-banked and bordered with hedgerows that are thick with holly and typical English trees - oak and ash mostly. You can't see round the bends or over the top of the hedge so you get that slight mysteriousness that traditional, secret, English lanes have. Of course you'll find many better examples of secret English lanery in remoter parts of the country, especially in the south-west, but nevertheless, this one was near to home and perhaps because of its curious name, it's stuck in my memory.

New Year's Day brought it into my mind again and it occurred to me that, whatever the derivation, that little green lane has a certain metaphorical resonance about it for the New Year.  It seems to me that standing at the brink of the New Year is rather like looking up a secret, green lane in winter. This pic here is not the eponymous New Year's Green Lane I refer to above, but a little lane round the corner from where I live now. It has the same feel though - steep banks dotted austerely in winter just with moss, ivy, holly and bare-branched alder. Even though I know what it looks like past the bend, it still has a mysterious hiddenness to it as it crosses the brook, currently full of the flood water of recent weeks.

At this time of year one looks ahead at the winding ribbon of road, empty of traffic and pedestrians (because who is out on a dark January afternoon in the driving rain and cold?) and, in winter's austerity when there are no distractions to catch the eye, one's focus is just on the curve and incline of the path and the intense green that persists here and there in the patches of moss, ivy and holly that populate the otherwise deserted banks.

As with the ribbon of road, one cannot see round the corner of a new year, but one peers into it nonetheless, as it begins, well, I do anyway. Later, it won't bother me so much, that hidden curve and the unknown that awaits past the bend - I shall be distracted by the scent of wild garlic and its starry, white flowers, the sudden blue of violets in the bank and later still the warm, sweet smell of wild roses and then the lure of purple blackberries and shiny elderberries, glinting in the September sun, which will call to me from the hedges that border the lane, before I can begin to look past them. Similarly, as the weeks go by I will cease to look too far ahead into the year and will be distracted and absorbed by today, this week or next and what it contains - the ephemeral, and the less ephemeral, bits and pieces that make up my days.

I find the "looking up the lane" phenomenon of the New Year disturbing. Unsettling; increasingly disconcerting, as I get older. But the green that persists in the banks of the lane reminds me that life is always dynamic and, whatever lies around the corner, the sap of growing and living is quickening and nurturing both what lies hidden and what is already obvious. I never used particularly to like green as a colour, especially lime green with its high percentage of yellow and red, but I've found myself more and more drawn to it recently and as the New Year has nosed its way in, it's made its presence felt big time and I've welcomed it.

The colour has infused my dye vat

and made its way into my decorative borders of little coat squares inspired by Lucy of Attic 24's wonderful coat revamping project which you can read about here and which inspired me to do likewise with an old jacket. The dye on the packet may have been called "Tropical Green" but as far as I am concerned it's "New Year's Green"! It's as vivid as any January moss or wet-bright ivy for sure!

It's crept into my post-Christmas hooky project and wound its way across the granny clusters of more muted shades of blackberry, teal and soft rose, a little like a winding lane itself.

It's infiltrated the new additions to my little collection of hopeful Epiphany stars

And as a result, somehow it's been turning my annual New Year feelings of unsettled disturbance into happier ones of green promise.

Happy New Year to you and yours - I hope that for you too it will be a green one, if not literally then metaphorically - full of promise, hope and life.

E x