Procrastination Station

Today I have been so good at procrastinating.  If you knew how good, you would be proud.  Or disgusted.

I am putting off something big.  I will tell you about it if I ever get it done.  I am also putting off all sorts of little things, as usual.

Things I have done to procrastinate today include:

  • Sorted out all my paperwork and filing for the past three months.
  • Made not-very-good chocolate chip cookies (butter too cold, mixture over-beaten).
  • Started an argument with E.
  • Painted a picture frame.
  • Hung a picture above our bed.
  • Taken delivery of a new chair for our bedroom (guess where I am sitting).
  • Finished an argument with E and apologised.
  • Watched an episode of ER.
  • Folded all my clean clothes.
  • Sorted out my bedside cabinet and thrown away hoarded tickets/yarn labels/receipts.
  • Cast-on a baby blanket for a friend who has her own W.I.P.
  • Sang songs with the word Texas in the title.

I procrastinated so well that I buggered up my evening.  C was supposed to be coming for dinner but when she heard that food was forthcoming but that post dinner chat and giggles would be time-limited she politely (sensibly) declined.  Rain check – Thursday?

Anyway.  I am in the knitting chair (E says it is a reading chair, but he doesn’t really know how much I am going to be sitting in it) and feeling a lot less perturbed by all the things there are to do than I should be.  I think that means it is a good chair.IMG_1847

Oh.  Also:

  • Written a blog post about procrastinating.

Here’s to a weekend frittered away.  Lovely.

All wrapped up

My Granny was Granny Maggie; ‘Margaret’ to some, ‘Margot’ to Granddad  ‘Mum’ to my Mum, ‘Old Sarge’ to most of us.

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A Ward Sister, and a fairly stern one at times I should think, a knitter, quilter, cross-stitcher and cook, she has left rather an impression on me.  There is so much I could write about her, and one day maybe I will, but this post is really about the particular practical things I do because of her.

Between Granny and Mum I was taught to knit when I was a mere slip of a girl, but I never finished (or really even started) a project.  I knew it meant a lot to Granny for her Granddaughters (I don’t remember my brother picking up the needles – but I am happy to be corrected on this point) to have a go at it, but she didn’t push it; maybe just a gentle cajoling every now and again.

One vivid memory is of sitting in her living room, her arms wrapped around mine, as she helped me to make a knit stich (“in, over, under, off”).  As my uneven rows built on one another and my movements became a little more dextrous I remember her whispering conspiratorially in my ear: “this is fun, isn’t it?”

I was in agreement.  It was always great to spend a bit of time just-me-and-her and, quite frankly, I liked a bit of a cuddle and a curl up on the sofa.   I’ll admit though, that I wasn’t really in on the secret.  What spurred her whispered exclamation was that mysterious thing that I have only been unravelling for the past two years – how good it feels to make something, to see it emerge and develop from a cast-on row up (or down) into a real thing that you can keep or give to someone you love.

Granny, I get it now.

When she died three years ago she left five beautiful baby cardigans.  There aren’t yet any babies in our family, but one day, one of us Grandchildren might have a child of our own. Because of this bequest, each of us will have something of Granny to share with that child, a real, tangible thing.  When Mum showed the tiny white jackets to me, after a few private tears, I began to think about how important the act of making something is.  It was this that made me start to consider picking up the needles and trying to remember what Granny Maggie taught me.

Like finding a needle in a...In sorting out Granny’s things Mum found hundreds of needles in a holdall.  It seemed only right to use something that had been Granny’s to make my first ‘remember how to knit’ project.  I picked some lovely chunky, wooden needles from the confusion of steel in the bag and popped to Twist in Woodbridge with Mum to find a soft, draping yarn.  Tools at the ready, I planned a cowl.

Mum helped.  I sat on her sofa this time, with her leaning over behind me, showing me how to pick up dropped stitches and working out why I had started with 68 and now had 71.  I called her out of the kitchen while she was trying to listen to The Archers and make dinner for 8 people because I couldn’t work out why there was a big, gaping hole in my project four rows back and it just couldn’t wait.  I left it for weeks until the next time I was going home to Ma and Pa’s, ostensibly because I was too busy, but really because I had picked up a dropped purl, twisted it into a knit and couldn’t see what was wrong.

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I was a needy novice knitter.  In the end though, on Granny’s needles and with Mum’s guidance, I had it – my first real knitted thing.

It really was the start of something.   I’d like to say I haven’t stopped since, but I have stalled a few times, normally due to wanting to run before I could walk (read: do complex lace knitting before I could do simple increase and decrease stitches). I am insatiable when it comes to yarn and patterns and planning the next project now though.

I tried to pay Mum’s kindness back with a cowl of her own.  It took me a while (it was initially given to her for her birthday still on the needles!) but I got there in the end.  I love that she actually wears it and even more, that she sometimes sends me amusing on-the-train-surreptitiously-taken photos of herself wearing it.  Not to worry, I won’t post those Mum.

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Since then, Mum has given me Granny’s needle holdall, initially to sort out, and then to pick and choose from.  I spent a glorious afternoon organising them with a friend and then immediately put my chosen selection in a drawer, along with the ones I have bought over the past year (I have a penchant for these), to get all jumbled up again.

I needed a solution.

I asked A, my Brother, for one of Sarah Kincheloe’s cute-and-functional hand-made knitting needle organisers for Christmas and it arrived from Texas this week.  Of course it was an excuse for another afternoon of organising Granny’s needles.  Brilliant.

Now I’m all organised I can’t wait to sink my teeth into my next project, but I suppose before I do, I ought to get to the point.  This post isn’t just ‘wrapped up’ because of my oh-so-satisfying knitting needle roll (thanks A!).  It is ‘all wrapped up’ because of Granny.

She was a woman who showed her love to you in everything she did, the things she made you, the food she provided, her jokes about leaving you some monstrosity in her will.  She rarely told you about it though, not in the way my immediate family do, with a “love you” at the end of every conversation and a freeness with expressing emotion through words, poetry, conversation.  So I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised that she showed her pleasure that I was going off to University by doing something for me.

She made me the quilt you can see in the background of the first image above.  It is hand sewn, made of pieces of fabric from curtains and dresses that had been around me all my life and based on a pattern called Grandmother’s Garden.  The ‘path’ is made from a sheet which was given to my Great-Grandmother, Daisy, as a wedding present, while the border is made up of a maternity dress my Mum wore.  Granny said that this was because “Mother draws it all together”.  Spot-on Granny.

It is utterly beautiful.  This picture does not do it justice.  It has been with me for all of the eleven years since she made it.  It has been carted to each university house, rented place with friends and now my very own flat.

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I look at it every day, and when I do, I remember the day that Granny gave me this gift.  We went upstairs to my room and laid it on the bed.  We stood and gazed at it for a while.  I gave her hug in thanks and, as I did, she whispered conspiratorially in my ear that now I had my quilt I would always be “wrapped up in love”.

So there it is.  Now, I have a project to cast on and a cuppa to drink as I look out on snowy scenes.  You should stay wrapped up too, it’s chilly.

Fightin’ Words

When I decided to start knitting again (after an 18 year hiatus) I decided to search the local area for a knitting group. It had been two years or so since I moved to St Albans from the Midlands, and I seemed to have spent most of my hours at work during that time, so it promised a way to meet a few people and start to feel like I really live here, no longer just resting my head.

A quick internet search later and I had found a group that meets on Tuesdays (the first and third of the month to be precise) and here was the real boon; THEY MEET IN A PUB. Brilliant. It turns out to have been a great move. I’ve made some lovely friends, learned zillions of things about yarn and knitting and crochet and how many glasses of wine I can drink before my knitting becomes one pattern repeat forward and two back because I was just-not-paying-attention. At all.

We are fairly good at keeping our projects up to date on Ravelry, and one member of the group had shared a recent finished project which caught my eye. Once I had seen these mittens, with their comic-book-geek-chic, I knew they had to be E’s Christmas present. The man spends much of his time (when he is not working or watching NFL or Baseball) reading comics and graphic novels, and encouraging others to read them.

I was a little intimidated by the idea of colour work, despite the chart and pattern being so clear. I put off starting for a while and wasn’t really sure where to begin. So I ruined the surprise. It was the only way. Once I had told E this was what he was getting for Christmas I HAD to make it.

We went on an amazing trip to Amsterdam in October.

While we were there I took us on a little diversion to a yarn store, De Afstap, and enforced some colour choices. E picked out a couple of brilliantly contrasting yarns for his Fightin’ Words in Rowan Cashsoft 4ply, and I no longer had any excuse for not giving them a go.

I used the cast-on recommended in the pattern which is from Ysolde Teague’s blog. It was challenging at first, but totally worth it, and I have used it in other projects since. Once you get your head around it it’s a lovely cast on for one by one rib, you just have to make sure you keep your finger on your last few cast on stitches, and orientate them correctly so they stay nice and neat.

I took my completed cuff for the ‘Bam’ glove to group one Tuesday early in November and asked for advice as to how to proceed. I was scared about adding in the contrasting colour and not really sure how it would work in practice with four needles, two balls of yarn and a knitter who is all thumbs at the best of times. A lovely group member, D, showed me how to hold the second yarn continental style so that my yarns didn’t get in a twist and I was surprised how much simpler it was than I had imagined.

I did have trouble with my tension; ‘Bam’ has got some areas where the green almost doesn’t show through the grey, but as I relaxed and allowed myself to enjoy the project, so my stitches became more even and the pattern more uniform.

Bam!

Then… Second glove syndrome hit, and hit bad. It was November and there seemed like all the time in the world to finish the pair. I had loads of other gifts to make and E had already got half a present… so it was only fair to get on with something else.

This was a philosophy which led to the most difficult of Christmas Eves. At home, in the bosom of my family (which includes three teenage Bonus*-siblings), I had to lock myself away from the fun all day to knit the bloomin’ glove.

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After much ribbing from my younger brother, A, approximately ten mince pies (they were small ones) and a few minor grumps I finally finished the ‘Pow!” glove. Just before midnight. I hadn’t woven in the ends, but at that point wrapping all the other presents for my family seemed to be a higher priority.

In the end it wasn’t a surprise present, but I know it was one of E’s favourites (he has been wearing them on his Boris Bike to work) and it’s certainly one I’ll never forget giving. I don’t even mind the flaws or the dodgy tension. I’m just pretty proud of them really.

Bam! Pow!

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*Read ‘foster’, but they really are a bonus, so it’s only right.

A couple of hats

It’s been a while.  I know.  I have realised that as things drew towards Christmas, and term became more and more of a whirlwind, I began to procrastinate in different ways; ways mostly involving mindless TV shows and wine.  I have missed jotting things down, that little bit of time afforded to considering words and how best to express my joys or frustrations in whatever project has been keeping my thumbs particularly busy.

WIP

Just before the holidays began it was this WIP which was on a Christmas deadline.  A friend at work has recently had some bad news; a very good friend of hers who has been in remission from cancer has unfortunately discovered that more treatment is now needed.  She is expecting to lose her hair again, so some hats were requested.  I was thinking about the softest yarns I had worked with this year and thought of this.  I have loads of the Mustard and Teal stashed because I have been promising E a scarf for more than a year (bored, bored, bored), but thought that the deep reddish-purple of the Cyclamen was suitably feminine.  I suggested a range of patterns and my colleague chose this little number.

I find reading even the simplest of lace patterns quite difficult – I know what every abbreviation means, but can’t seem to see the symmetry or understand how it will eventually lead to the intended outcome without seeing a chart.  The k2togs, yos and ssks swim around on the page entirely unpredictably and I find myself craning forward and pointing and losing my place so often that I may as well not bother.

I therefore decided that the only thing to do was to learn to chart patterns myself and spend some time to save it later.  I used this guide to help me and thoroughly recommend it.  It was simple to follow and I ended up with an entirely useable document – which surprised me somewhat.  The only thing I altered is that instead of using a screenshot to save my finished chart I selected the relevant section of my document and saved it as a PDF.  Anyway, this is the chart I created.  The project pootled along quite nicely after that.

Finished Beanie
It sells itself as a ‘slouchy’ beanie, which I’m sure it would have been if I had used the correct needle size.  I like the dense feel this chunky yarn gives when knitted up on smaller needles, so used 4.5mm circulars and ended up with a snug fit.  I would probably go bigger next time, or simply repeat the lace pattern once or twice more.  I was right about the yarn though, it is beautifully soft, and I feel really pleased that this little gesture might help to cheer someone through a tough time.

A day or two later and I was sprinting towards the finish line on another project; this time a tinier one.  A friend of E’s from university, a really great friend in fact, has had her first baby.  On a particularly horrible Monday evening we were invited over to H and D’s particularly welcoming East London flat to meet their baby girl, Scout and eat the most hearty of lamb stews. I was determined to make her something for her first Christmas but as our plans (as they often are) were rather last minute I was in need of a quick knit.  I decided this was just the ticket.

It was truly an overnight project – I started it in the evening, knitted until late and got up early to carry out my pom-pom duties.  I was tickled with how it turned out – particularly the way the cables alternate and diminish, leading your eye up to the jaunty little bobble.

Scout's Cabled Bobble Hat

I think if I were to make another I might try a two-by-two rib and extend the rim a few more rows, just to stabilise it a little.

Well.  That’s one post-Christmas post dealing only with things that occurred pre-Christmas.  I fear there may be a few more of these to come in the great blog catch-up of early 2013.

I can only apologise.

Monday, Monday and a Lyla complete

It’s 6.03am.  I’ve been up for an hour while E pottered around with ties and shaving and matching shirts to trousers (who would be a man? It seems like such an effort).  He had enough time to bring me a coffee though.  My hero.

I got up because there was work I absolutely had to do before leaving at 7.20 for another day of sorting out 12 year-old girls’ spats and picking up email tasks to add to the to-do list.  Of course this blog was supposed to be about all the ‘making-things’ I do to put off the list.  Now it seems it has become part of the procrastination in itself.

Autumn is really with us.  Summer did seem to wilfully depart all of a sudden this year.  As far as I am concerned though, this means time to rock out the cowl and gloves that I finished in September.  If you read my first post you will know I had some trouble making my first attempt at Lyla.  My yarn was to soft and droopy (not an attractive word… maybe I meen ‘drapey’) and my tension was all over the bloomin’ shop.  However, persistence is never futile.

After a cheeky matinee at the National during the last legs of the Summer break I made a quick stop (I was there drooling for an hour or more) at iKnit in Waterloo.  There I picked up a couple of skeins (determined not to run out this time) of Artesano Aran Calder and some leftover buttons to add a splash of pink to my project.  Once I had this yarn It was difficult to stop me.  I had barely unpacked my other treats (I was in a bookshop for an hour too – good day all round) before I was away.  Suddenly crochet made utter sense.  With no need to really keep both eyes on the project I was able to sit happily with a glass of wine, an episode of something – it was probably The West Wing for the millionth time – and still it all came together.

Of course, as soon as I was done (and it was super, super quick) I was longing for some co-ordinating gloves to balance out the look.  I found this pattern which seemed satisfyingly easy to follow and open to a little tweaking along the way.  I wanted to add a little puff stitch to tie them in with Lyla and decided to throw in a couple to rows just after separating for the thumb.  Sitting where they do when you have them on, I think of these cheeky additions rather as puff-stitch-knuckle-dusters.

I’ve just put them on actually.  The heating doesn’t kick in ’til 6.45.

 

Anyway… time to crack on with the rest of the day.  I might just have another coffee before I really get up though.

Happy Monday.

New job, new display

This year I have become a HoY.  That’s a Head of Year to you.

Actually I am Acting Joint Head of Year 8.  The other part of my joint is M, or Irish Nana, as we are wont to call her.  ‘Nana’ may seem a strong term (she is all of 25 years old) but it refers to her ability to keep us all in check… with a little Irish twang.  Nana is a history teacher, school eco-council founder and general good egg.  Between the two of us we are learning how to do this new job and relying on each other when we aren’t sure if we are being too strict or not at all strict enough.

I am still Head of Drama, so my colleagues have come to refer to me as a HoD/HoY, which sounds pleasingly exotic when said at pace.

Taking on this new role has made me so busy that I have left my first lonely blog post out there for a long time without any sense of follow-through.  I should be very grateful that anyone has bothered checking in at all, but it seems that they have been.  To those kind few, thank you.  Also, don’t fear.  While I have been super busy I have, of course, found ways to procrastinate.

In our first few days in post both M and I felt we were somehow floundering.  We were back in the school building but our year group (180 girls) were still on holiday and blissfully unaware of how emotionally unprepared their new Heads of Year were.  We kept ourselves sane by labelling folders, filing documents and planning our display board… successfully putting off the business of worrying about whether we were in anyway qualified to be responsible for the behaviour and attainment of so many children.

I was pretty happy to throw myself in to something which had tangible outcomes.  Cutting up card, laminating, stapling backing paper; it all came together to make me feel like I was really achieving something.  In actual fact it was just another way to keep those thumbs busy before the onslaught of the new term, and put off the huge to-do list which was hanging over from the last one.

Anyway… here is the Year 8 ‘space’ themed display.  Now our ‘shooting star’ is full of pictures of the girls and their achievements so far this term: speech and drama exams; Paralympic trips; Tennis trials (meeting Andy Murray!) etc.  The ‘rocket race’ and ‘fuel cells’ are underway to promote attendance and I actually catch the girls checking it sometimes.

Perhaps most impressive is that we are 5 weeks into the term and nobody has nicked one of my rocket laminates.

Rather blurry… Apologies.

Anyway.  So far, so good with the job.  Double job.  As ever I love being in school, teaching and a new challenge.  Managing at team of 10 or so teachers also gives rise to plenty of opportunities to bake for the meetings.  Of course really this is just putting off the (still growing) to-do list.

Nutella Cupcakes… got us through the September meeting.

Gingerbread cupcakes with salted caramel buttercream and sugar shards.  The recipe is here.  October meeting fodder.  But really, who needs an excuse?

Half a Lyla

I’ve run out of yarn.

This is what I get for falling in love with a beautiful ball in beautiful Boston and only buying one.  Because I feel I can justify the expense if I’m only buying one.  Because, of course, I only need one.  Because I am buying it for the blanket that I am definitely going to make for our bedroom.  Just like all the blue balls of yarn I have bought this year (one is already a baby cardigan – must buy a replacement).

Today I re-learned to crochet.  In this, my year of born-again knitting, I have repeatedly told myself and others that while I am a novice knitter, I can (of course) crochet.  In an entirely unrelated matter, I have avoided using a crochet hook for anything other than picking up the ten thousand dropped stitches (nine thousand of which were dropped in this project alone) which I have let slip this year.

But.

I really love this pattern and have decided that the designer is going to be my bosom friend one day, so I braved the hook and picked up an oh-so-soft skein of Adrienne Vittadini Trina and gave it a go.  The muscle memory did not do its thing.  I got my base chain done and then bowed to the all-knowing YouTube for advice on puff stitch.  The best thing though, is that while I am rusty (It is messy and my tension is all over the shop) within minutes you have an actual ‘thing’, a real handmade thing.  Crochet is so quick.

Until I ran out of yarn.  I am loathe to frog it back, but I want the cute little Lyla button cowl all for myself, so I am going to have to.  The Trina will have to go back in to the blanket stash.

It seems that I just don’t have enough yarn.