Thursday, 22 January 2015

Blanket Alchemy

There are some things that seem relatively commonplace to make at home and some things that seem faintly exotic, unexpected or even downright daring, if you know what I mean. What is homemade around you as you grow up, has a lot to do with what falls into which category, I think. Different for each person, by definition. My mother always baked cakes and biscuits, made her own pastry and preserves, wove baskets and sewed most of her own summer clothes so I take it pretty much for granted that these things can come via the homemade route. There's nothing exactly ground-breaking to me about making them yourself. She didn't bake her own bread, (or only very rarely as a kind of scientific experiment); we never made yoghurt or churned ice cream. She never sewed a pair of trousers and there are sundry other things that never made it on to the "make it yourself" agenda when I was a child. So these things, which in other households might well seem run of the mill to make yourself, seem very much not-run-of-the-mill to me, but instead, quite adventurous.

Blankets are one of these items, although in many ways they are an obvious and straightforward thing to make. But to start to make a blanket from nothing more than a ball of yarn and a hook (or a pair of knitting needles) has always felt to me slightly like a daring venture into strange and exotic territory.

Uncharted waters where magical creatures might lurk or an iridescent mermaid might pop up. I can't explain it quite. Especially when having made a handful of blankets, the mystique really ought to have gone by now. But it hasn't.

Of the two types of homemade woolly blankets, the modular sort, (made from lots of small, repetitive motifs that get joined together, either as-you-go, or at the end), and the incremental sort, (made by adding rows continuously to a single piece of ever-growing fabric), I slightly prefer the incremental kind, as I find it harder to keep going with the modular sort, on anything of any significant size. I get bored and lose momentum. Mrs T has the attention span of a gnat, clearly!

Being January, a cold, bleak and rather colour-drained month at the best of times, despite the odd, beautiful icy sunrise - these pics are all taken around 7.30 in the morning on my cold, early morning forays into a dark and bracing countryside when I walk, think, and breathe great lungfuls of icy air, to fuel the day ahead -

it seemed like a good idea to begin a new chapter of adventurous blanket-making and so I've started two. One of each type. The first is Sandra's utterly gorgeous "Painted Roses Blanket" - the link will take you to her post about it with a link to how to access the pattern. I've changed the colours of the flowers slightly -  mine aren't pink and red, some with gold and some with black centres, but all have black centres and dark red and deep magenta petals. You would think that these two colours would do nothing very exciting when placed together, other than fight, perhaps, but somehow the opposite is true and in a strange and wonderful, hooky alchemy the two colours glow and sing with one another and lend the flowers even more of a three dimensional sense than the pattern already gives them.

They look like those deep-red, old-fashioned, velvety roses, that grow in forgotten corners of old gardens, where not too much tidy gardening has happened; the kind you find tumbling against crumbling stone in a tangle of briars with a heady wall of fragrance coming off them that would be oppressive, if it were not so subtle. My grandmother had such a rose. I can't remember what it was called but it was a monumental plant that grew round the back of the house from where my grandmother would pick the flowers and put them in a Victorian rose-bowl in the sitting room or on the old Welsh dresser, whose cupboard I loved to bury my head in, as a small child, inhaling deeply the heady smell of old wood, fine linen, green baize and bone-handled cutlery that resided behind its latch.

I've developed a cunning strategy to outwit my dwindling attention span and have allotted myself a fixed target of squares for each week - not too many, but not too few either, and am joining them in rows of eight as I accumulate them. (The finished blanket will contain 80.)

The pattern is a lovely one - complicated enough to be interesting but not so complicated that you can't commit it to memory. It's got enough variation of colour for interest but doesn't require so many colours that you have to cart a hundredweight of yarn around with you, on the move.

So far, so good! I'm half-way and just need to keep going to get over the awkward two-thirds point when the end is not quite in sight but one feels one has been going at this for quite some time and is getting a bit tired. It's a bit like playing the board game "Ludo" or "Sorry"* when you have four counters to "get home" and it's tempting to focus on just one or two, abandoning the others to their fate. Which, as we all know, is not the way to win!

*"Sorry", if you don't know it, is a 1930s English board game, similar, but not identical, to Ludo. You turn up cards that tell you how many squares to move along a board, rather than roll dice, and if you turn up a "Sorry" card you get to take one of your counters that hasn't started yet and put it in place of someone else's which is hopefully at least half-way round the board, sending your opponent back to the beginning again, with a polite "Sorry".

In my childhood this was a quiet and refined game played at my grandparents' house with courtesy and gentleness. Inherited from them, it now resides with us and has been nicknamed "Killer Sorry" by an innocent bystander who, on an occasion of happening upon a round under way between H and me a few years ago, was slightly taken aback to find that what appeared, at first sight, to be a quaintly old-fashioned, harmless parlour game could be played at a speed and with a level of competitive aggression and strategic thinking, more at home on a professional rugby field than a children's board game. Mrs T hangs her head in shame and blames H! Hope he doesn't read this or that will come back straight over the net at me! Probably with good reason!

In our defence, I have to say, that played like this, it has a pace and absorption it never had when I played it as a child and on the sundry occasions when the electric power supply has failed here, like it did last winter, it has proved a valuable replacement for more sophisticated forms of electronic entertainment!

But I digress! My other blanket adventure is the stripy incremental affair in my first pic above. Here it is again in a slightly wider shot.

It's one of those sampler-style blankets that use different stitches in different rows and lots of different colours. I've seen a number of these around - Little Woollie's amazing Mixed Stripy blanket is perhaps the most splendid - huge, colourful and extravagantly generous in every regard. (Julie's pattern for her wonderful blanket is published in Edition 18 of Simply Crochet if you want to have a go.) But I didn't want to make anything quite as big or complex as this - I know my limitations! So instead I've gone for the Seaside Blanket design in Handmade Glamping which is a simpler, but still sampler-style, affair. I wanted to make it slightly smaller than the original pattern so I've reduced the basic stitch count to 187 from 204 after a lot of pencil scribblings and painfully tortuous efforts to get my head around the arithmetic. Miraculously it seems to have worked out OK for the different stitch patterns, although I strongly suspect that that's more by luck than judgement. No matter! Who cares, if it works?

I love the different stitches - simple half-treble-crochet rows, mixed with granny stripes and popcorn bobbles. I particularly like the pale turquoise bobbles that pop up from the cream rows, which is an idea I've borrowed from Julie's Little Woollie design and inserted into the pattern run of the Handmade Glamping blanket.

And that faint sense of adventure and daring exploration persists. Both blankets are some considerable way off finishing but they have grown and are growing each week, slowly but surely - magically somehow. Sometimes I look at my basket of yarn and feel like the miller's daughter in the Tale of Rumpelstiltskin who faces spinning all those bags of straw into gold by dawn and knows that the task is too big for her.

More often than not though, I feel more like Rumpelstiltskin himself, happily absorbed in the twist and twine and colour of each strand and with each stitch, feel that I am gradually turning, not straw into gold exactly, but those balls of yarn into magical, cosy layers of warmth and brightness and some strange but happy alchemy is at work.

No mermaids have popped up from among my stitches nor any strange sea-creatures although every now and again, to begin with, a gremlin crept in on the act of the stripy one and the sequence of colours did not flow easily but jarred and grated and had to be ripped back and rethought. Now though, the pattern and colours repeat evenly and smoothly and, like a Medieval alchemist turning base metal into gold, I am steadily turning a pile of yarn into a wealth of blanket-coverage to keep the bitter cold at bay. Straw into gold, or yarn into blankets? Not sure which is more magical but I think the blankets might just have the edge. Sorry, Rumpelstiltskin!

E x


  1. I love both your blankets but that first one is truly scrummy - the colours are amazing.... Had wondered where you'd got to but now I know - you've been a-blanket-making in a major way! Happy New Year... xxx

  2. Wow, both blankets are impressive, a real delight. Stunning work.

  3. I love both your blankets ~ they are both beautiful in their own way :O)x

  4. What gorgeous blankets. I tried to make a blanket from crochet granny squares but it turned into a hot water bottle cover because I lost enthusiasm. You keep tempting me to crochet but I'm much happier knitting. The colours of the stripy blanket mirror the sunrise and the squares remind me of the tablecloth you often photograph - both very you. I love the bobbles - I'm just knitting a blanket with bobbles but all one colour. Now I wish I'd used a colour scheme like yours.

  5. Your blankets are beautiful, I can see them draped over the back of the sofa beckoning to be used. I am one third into a blanket for my daughter and bored stiff.... it is an incremental kind of blanket, my first of that kind. I prefer the other type I think. Happy hooking!

  6. They are beautiful blankets! I think the flowery squares are brilliant.

  7. Your blankets are gorgeous

  8. I'm so impressed - 2 blankets at once and both so gorgeous. Woolly alchemy indeed. x

  9. dear elisabeth, the 2 blanquets are gorgeous.... and the way you write is should go into writing now that you have another half of your life ready to start again...... me i am like you, thinking where i want to build and start brand new..... happy new year for you 2015, for me 5775!!!!!!

  10. I love, love the colors in both blankets but I admit the granny squares are just my favorites, they are just vibrant, and fun. I have to have little projects between the large ones as well to keep me interested, or it will become something I 'have' to do rather than 'want' to do. I like the stripes but they do look difficult and it takes me forever to count a 'chain 200 something' as I keep having to go back and recount! Thank you for sharing your lovely work!

  11. Superbes toutes ces couvertures ! Impressionnant travil ! Je ne connaissais pas ce jeu ... merci pour cette découverte ! Bonne journée, amicalement, Géraldine

  12. I love the way that you wove the words around this post so beautifully and told the story so well! Both blankets are beautiful, I love the designs and colours of them both! Blanket making was never one of the things "in my house" either, but I love love love making them. Probably because I am somewhat the opposite of you and tend to do the opposite of things "in my house"! I love the dark centres of your painted roses, they really set the petals off beautifully and the stripes and different stitches are beautiful too! xx

  13. Your blankets are just so amazing, I love them, the colors the textures, the patterns. I play Sorry with the two little girls I work with, one is a beast and tries to get us put back to home all the time,the other is less competitive and I try to make her see how to advance herself and not just move any old way.
    Hugs to you,

  14. You have an excellent sense of color and far greater skills than most to accomplish these blankets. Both are works of art. They will be heirlooms handed down.

    The pictures, as always, make me feel I could touch the happiness stitched in each blanket.

    And the sunrises are gorgeous. You captured God's beauty in a breath of wonderment.

  15. Dear E,
    Thank you so much for posting. I have followed your blog for a while and really enjoy your writing. I am a fellow crocheter but if there is a creature out there with a smaller attention span than a gnat, I'm afraid that would be the critter I should be compared to. I'm happy to look at your beautiful blankets in the making and dream of making something like that myself. But if history is to repeat itself, I will look at yours and I'll go back to making another scarf as that is about all I can handle! Thanks again for sharing.


    Mary Lynne

  16. Both your blankets are beautiful! I agree that the random blankets are more fun to work on, even though often I love the finished looks of the less random ones. We play Sorry! at our house, too. Other games we like: Scrabble, Boggle, and Rummikub, although it's hard to beat a deck of cards for variety:)

  17. Dear Elizabeth, thanks so much for your beautiful card, I got it and I will write to you later, promised. Your German is not that bad, really! Your blankets are both so beautiful, I wonder how you manage to crochet two in a time. Your post is written in such fine words, I really enjoyed reading it. I am quite the opposite of you concerning things that were common at my parents home. I do a lot of things because my mom didn't do it, baking, sewing (rudimentary, but nontheless), crocheting or playing board games. We do love to play games with the children, especially in winter, "The settlers of Catan" is our favourite at the moment. Have a nice evening, Viola


Thank you so much for taking the time to visit me at Mrs TT's and comment. I love to read what you write.