Thursday 25 April 2013

Crochet Bath Mat # 1

My little crochet bath mat production line has been busy and Bath Mat # 1 is ready to roll out and receive any wet feet coming its way! I love it!

And what I particularly love is the fact that it has turned so happily into this, instead of the Granny Square Sampler Afghan, which the squares were originally intended for. Sadly abandoned last summer, because I found the pattern just too complicated to keep going with, they lay dormant, useless and nearly forgotten for almost a whole year. But their time has come and I am so glad I couldn't bring myself to unravel them when I realised the blanket idea had stalled last autumn.

Note to self: Stay the unravelling hand of care until time has hooked it up again! No, that's not quite right but you get the gist!

The lovely thing about this use for such squares is that it raises all manner of possibilities for similar patchwork mats. You could use new patterns for blocks you fancy experimenting with, brush up your hooky skills and make a skill-challenging combination of different blocks - some of my squares, notably the ones with stars and circles in them, certainly challenged my skills - or you could use the simplest Granny Square scheme in varying colours and rustle a whole mat up without a pattern in sight.

For a bath mat, cotton yarn is perfect - washable, soft and absorbent. The bath mats in Sue's book are made using a mixture of cotton and acrylic yarn which obviously also works fine. But acrylic on its own would not be absorbent enough, I think, and I am not sure about wool for a bath mat. I used a 4.5mm hook and Rico Creative Cotton for this, which I really like, although the Creative Cotton can be a little bit splitty on the hook, if you aren't careful. But it's a good weight (Aran), it's cheap and the colours are so bright and cheerful. Some of the colours I've used, which were in my post-blanket stash, have now been discontinued, which is a shame, but it's a fantastic way of using up lots of ends of skeins - you don't need much of any particular colour apart from in the border.

The mat did need a border, I felt, once I had sewn the squares together. Something just to hold the squares together, visually and literally. I added five rows of single crochet in different colours to make a simple but satisfying edge and it gives the mat a nice cohesion, I think.

If you prefer, you can of course use the join-as-you-go method to join the squares but I like to play around with the design once all the component parts are completed so sewing them suits me better and I actually find it easier.

In the above pic, the water looks almost jacuzzi-esque. This is not because I have a jacuzzi but because H who put his head round the door to offer creative photographic advice told me it was no good taking photographs of a bath mat without water in the bath. After I had precariously balanced across said bath, now filled with cold water, to repair the omission, my critic felt that the still water was not definite enough in the resulting images and churned the surface vigorously, instructing me when to press the shutter and the pic above is the result! The bath mat remained dry, although that cannot be said of all in the vicinity!!

Another note to self: If perching across a filled bath to take photographs, make sure the water is warm, not cold, or wear a wet suit!

The bath mat is not a geometric rectangle as you can see! Something a bit "wee-wowy" has happened at the corners!

But I like the slightly quirky corners, which come, I suspect, from putting together squares that are not absolutely identical in size or may be my border edging was a bit creative in places, I'm not sure! I did my best to add a round or two here or there to the smaller squares to achieve compatibility, but the original afghan design was meant to come out a bit asymmetrical so perhaps it was never going to be perfect. If you prefer a more geometrically perfect rectangle on which to plant your post-bath or post-shower feet, it would probably make sense to choose patterns for blocks that promise identical measurements.

Bath Mat # 2 is nearly finished too. My little carpet of hexagons has grown nicely and they just need sewing together now. A job for a happy half hour in the Spring sun perhaps!

Sunday 21 April 2013

The "We Have All The Time In The World" Blouse

Although my childhood was largely in the 1970s I wouldn't exactly describe myself as a Sixties / Seventies flower-child. I lacked the requisite length of hair for a start, in which to insert a strategic flower, when an appropriate opportunity presented itself, and to wear loose and long, like Françoise Hardy or Carly Simon. My mother, for some unknown reason, didn't approve of jeans and we were never allowed any as children so I never wore frayed bell-bottoms, topped with a cheesecloth blouse, with puffy sleeves and broderie anglaise lace panels.

Bare feet were also a no-no for wandering about in and flip-flops were regarded as "silly and dangerous" - "no proper support for the feet and liable to cause you to trip", according to my mother. I can't tell you how much I longed for a pair of plastic, flowery flip-flops, aged nine or ten, but there was nothing doing! My mother much preferred to spend her money on sensible sandals for my sister and myself, to be worn with ankle socks. I have taken against ankle socks ever since.

One summer I was so desperate for the forbidden flip-flop that, while my mother's back was conveniently turned, I cut up a pair of old slippers (my childhood "happy snipper" tendencies clearly to the fore again!) and glued a strap made out of an old mackintosh belt in place, to produce a makeshift homemade pair. I thought they were marvellous and click-clacked around the garden all day in them until the glue gave way and my glamorous flip-flops were no more!

Perhaps because all this left an element of unfulfilled longing for the accoutrements of hippiness, as an adult, I have indulged my longing for some of these things, certainly for flip-flops and longer hair, although I never wear it loose because of its deeply regrettable tendency to curl on me. I have been known to stick the odd flower in it, however, and I like to walk barefoot. I live whenever possible in jeans and more recently I have discovered in myself a longing for a flower-child-blouse with hippy notes to it. Not cheesecloth, but not far off it and with the requisite broderie anglaise lace trimming.

I actually completed most of it about six months ago but then, over the winter, it lingered, unfinished, with the odd pin dropping out of it periodically while it drooped slightly sadly, on a hanger, on the back of a door. With the arrival of Spring and sun in the last few days, I suddenly had an imperative urge to finish it and here it is.

It's a genuine vintage pattern from the late Seventies, or early Eighties perhaps - McCalls 4031

(found on Ebay in the course of a flower-child-blouse-hunt) - which I chopped up to create patchwork panels out of three odd half metres of fabric I'd bought in a mix-and-match set of prints just because I loved them.

Not enough to make the whole blouse on their own, I added a metre of a contrasting dark blue print to eke them out. The bottom hem is edged with some genuine seventies lace hoarded in my sewing basket since I was about ten - does this make it genuine vintage lace? I think it might, if not antique!

There wasn't quite enough to edge the entire hem as well as fill in the gap below the neckline which I had inadvertently slashed too far. (Eek! Why don't you read the instructions more carefully, Mrs T?!) But I managed to stretch it with a small amount of a different (also vintage 1970s) lace, inserted unobtrusively at the side of the hem where it doesn't show very much.

I've called it after Louis Armstrong's famous number "We Have All The Time In The World". We don't have all the time in the world, of course; as James Bond and his girl didn't at the end of "On Her Majesty's Secret Service", where the song made its 1969 début, but it reminds me that sometimes "having time" is not about having unlimited hours but about choosing it and revelling in it for the moments it lasts and wearing this blouse in the sudden April sunshine makes me feel that.

I know it's just a bit of clothing but sometimes wearing something that speaks strongly to oneself can make a big difference to how one feels and this does it for me. It's a little bit hippyish and flower-child-like and gives me the feeling, possibly illusory I grant you, of time spent, without one eye on the clock, and dreamily drifting, barefoot (or flip-flopped, of course!), among flowers and by still waters with time just to be.

You can subject any straightforward shirt pattern to the chop-and-patchwork principle - just remember that each time you cut a section, you need to add on an additional seam allowance to both sides of the cut pattern pieces. A pattern using essentially simple linear shapes is easiest and personally I'd eschew anything cut on the bias to divvy up in this way but it's a fantastic way to use bits of fabric you love, even if you haven't got enough of any one fabric to make a whole garment. It's also a good way to use a fabric that is too expensive to buy in large quantity, but affordable when in small amounts and mixed with other cheaper fabric.

A couple of further tips if you think you might give something similar a go. Think about how the panels will work together when made up, when you choose where to place your fabrics, ie don't cut your best showcase fabric into panels that will end up hidden round the back of the garment and don't make the patches too small or it will become very fiddly and also fabric-hungry because of all the extra seam allowances.

Might chop up a skirt pattern next and acquire some cheesecloth! 

Saturday 13 April 2013

Sparky Grannies

A new hooky book came through my letterbox last weekend and has had me absorbed in every spare moment I've had since.

It's Sue Pinner's new book, "Granny Squares" and it's a cracker.

There are lots of appealing, hooky project-books out there and I find they fall into one of two categories. The first category is books that are visually appealing and make for happy browsing over a cup of tea (or three) and probably contain at least one project that will make it from the page to my hook in due course. The second category is books that are equally visually appealing and also make for happy browsing over a cup of tea (or three) but have more to them. A book in the second category will undoubtedly contain quite a number of projects that will make it from the page to my hook and in addition has the capacity to spark all sorts of avenues of creative thinking, emerging from, but not necessarily contained in the originating pages. "Granny Squares" falls fairly and squarely (sorry!) in this second category. Of the twenty projects it contains, I've counted up well over half that I can see realistically translating into my own hook and yarn activities and in addition it's set my mind in new directions and sparked a number of related but slightly different ideas.

If you follow any of Sue's blogs - she has three! - Suz Place, The 8th Gem and The Flowerbed - you won't be surprised at any of this. Ideas and happy patterns seem to fall off her hook like leaves from the trees in autumn. Granny squares but not necessarily grannies as you know them; Sparky Grannies - grannies that might or might not be squares; grannies with four sides, six sides or eight; grannies with attitude; grannies with style; grannies that become flowers and stars and anything else in between as well as patterns that aren't grannies at all!

A couple of Sue's octagon "grannies" just made to see how they turned out!
I've been wondering what it is that makes a book fall into the second rather than the first of my two categories and I think part of it is the usefulness or lack of usefulness of the projects. Generally, I like to make things that, however decorative, do have at least a partially useful function as well. Not always, but often. Sue's projects are all useful as well as decorative and actually it's her ideas about innovative uses to which crochet can be put that give the book the sparkiness that sets alight the tinder of other ideas and possibilities beyond the book itself.

I've seen crocheted lampshades in blogland and elsewhere but never a bath mat, nor a deck chair cover, I've seen pillow-slips with crocheted edging but not a completely crocheted pillow-slip for a pillow to sit up in bed against, when reading or hooking - a clever twist on the simple idea of a cushion-cover but not one I'd thought of.

Whether a book falls into the second category or not is also something, I think, to do with the clarity and flexibility of the pattern instructions. Directions for a motif, used in one way, suggesting somehow all manner of other ways in which it could be used. The same thing is true of colours and yarns - the way they are written about or photographed, sometimes seems as full of creative potential as of actual creative history, while sometimes it doesn't.

Of the projects in "Granny Squares" it was the bath mat that grabbed me first. Why didn't I think of this before? It's a perfect crochet project - essentially straightforward, not too big, ambitious, or expensive, an open canvas for playing with colour and pattern, either in blocks or in a continuous piece, a fantastic way to use up oddments of cotton yarn and useful to boot. What household does not need another bath mat? The book's tantalising hexagon design sent me straight to my multi-coloured stash of Rico Creative Cotton, left over from blankets past.

And armed with a 4.5 mm hook, a little carpet of hexagons has crept forth this week in jolly Spring-like colours.

The hexagons have a lovely daisy-shaped flower in the centre, the perfected shape of which only emerges as you hook up the final edging round. I can't tell you how addictive I find it to watch the petals emerge, defined and flowery under my hook, in that final round!

The end of round two. The petals are made but you can't see them properly yet.

Here they are emerging, as the final edging round is made, separating and defining each one.

One finished Hexagon daisy with all her petals showing!
Seeing these appear, my best friend commented that some in softer, more muted shades would be lovely too. Nothing loth, and because I have been flirting recently with the idea of grey as a neutral to set off other colours, I tried some with soft-coloured flower centres and grey edging.

Not sure I liked them to begin with but as one grey-edged hexagon became two and then three and then four etc, love blossomed! Not sure now which I prefer, the vivid brights or the muted pastels-and-grey!

A third bath mat, would you believe, is also in production because Sue's suggestion made me recall the sampler squares I started making last year from the Better Homes And Gardens Knitting and Crochet book's pattern for a "Granny Square Sampler Afghan". These too were made from my stash of Rico Creative Cotton and were intended to make a picnic blanket. The idea stalled, principally because the squares were so darned complicated to hook and the instructions so tricksy to follow that I couldn't face making enough squares for a whole blanket and partly, of course, the weather last summer was so unconducive to picnics as to water down the incentive anyway. But brought out from the basket where they had slept undisturbed for almost a year, and set out on an existing bath mat, I realised that they were only a square or two away from a new destiny.

Some of the smaller squares need another round or two of edging to make all the squares the same size  and we will be in business! And it doesn't matter what the British summer does - my bath mat will be used whether it rains all summer again or not!

After the bath mats, I have my eye on the hooky pillowcase and then perhaps the kitchen stool cover but who knows what else will get sparked off in the meantime?

Happy Hooking of Sparky Grannies!

E x

Tuesday 9 April 2013

"The Best Laid Plans O' Mice And Men ..."

"The best laid plans o'mice and men gang aft a-gley." You are so right, Robbie Burns!

Mrs Tittlemouse's Easter plans went seriously "a-gley" this year, scuppered by the arrival of a nasty 'flu virus that put paid to all manner of happy, homely activities for all of last week. The simnel cake that was to be baked, never made it; the Easter cheesecake never got eaten when it was supposed to be; chocolate eggs went untouched; Easter cards and gifts were undelivered; visits were unmade and what was supposed to be a week of recreative time away from the pressure of work was spent uncreatively mostly in bed, doing nothing at all. Sic vita.

But this week, life is looking up and over the last few days I have been making up for lost time. Chocolate mini-eggs anyone?

You've all probably had enough of them by now but I haven't and am happily scoffing them ten days late! So if you are mini-egged-out, I'll have yours on your behalf!

Baby simnel cakes, made very late in the day, have taken the place of the big one that was intended. I cut corners by using an easy boil-and-bake fruit cake recipe and retrieving some homemade marzipan out of the freezer, not as easy to roll out and use as freshly-made stuff, but zapped to a passingly malleable softness in the microwave, it served and I am not sure I don't prefer these baby simnel cupcakes to the big one I usually faff about making. The ratio of marzipan and mini-egg to cake is much better in these little ones. It's an ill wind that blows no good as they say.

And while unable to do or think much, all last week, Mrs T's fingers did manage to hook up a little Tunisian crochet cover for the cardboard tub that holds make-up brushes, tubes of sewing machine oil, crochet hooks and other life essentials on my chest of drawers.

The tub, originally a lid for a box containing handcream and redeployed, upside down, is quite squat and was a good shape and size but it had faded in the sunlight and needed a makeover.

A perfect project to do while being stuck in bed as the pattern is very basic and straightforward - just strips of Tunisian crochet in Tunisian simple stitch to line the inside and outside walls of the tub and two discs in the same stitch to cover the inside and outside of the base. Even if I went wrong, it didn't really bother me to unravel and redo it, I was just happy to have something in my hooky fingers. I like Tunisian crochet for this sort of thing - it makes a lovely dense, neat fabric with an appealing basket-work effect.

I made it in plain Casacade Ultra Pima cotton in the beautiful pale blue called "Alaska Sky". I am foolishly influenced by what yarn colours are called and am drawn to some in particular, just because the names they have are either beautiful, or evocative, or both. This is ridiculous, I know, but there it is and "Alaska Sky" does it for me. I am afraid this extends to buying bottles of particular wines because they have nice labels! And conversely I do not shop at a particular supermarket because I find the logo too ugly for words. Illogical, frivolous and shallow - I know!

To revert to hooky matters, the plain cover, even in the beautiful "Alaska Sky" blue, was very plain and needed a little jollying up, so once recovered from the worst of the 'flu, I embarked on making a collection of golden yellow and white Spring daisies to sew onto the sides.

The whole enterprise is perhaps not very practical as it will be difficult to wash with the cardboard tub sealed inside and the happy Spring daisies will probably collect the dust but I love it anyway.

The pattern for the daisies is from the book "Twenty To Make: Crocheted Flowers" by Jan Ollis. They are made using fine No 3 crochet cotton and a tiny 2.5 mm hook. They were rather fiddly to hook up, especially the double-petalled ones, and I was glad when I reached the end of the thirteen that I felt were enough but they do add a lovely Spring touch to my efforts.

The method for making the tub cover is adapted from the pattern in Gina Alton's book, "Pots To Knit And Crochet", which I used last year to cover my kitchen pencil pot. Have a look at my post here if you're interested.

In the meantime and rather belatedly, a very Happy Eastertide to you all!

I must now return to the pile of work awaiting, fuelled by another mini-egg or two, 
OK three, if you insist!

E x