Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Chocolate and Mittens

Christmas seems to have practically flown by this year. M and I did a lot of cooking on Christmas Eve, making chocolate truffles, shortbread festive biscuits, mince pies and jam tarts (for M, who doesn't like mince pies).

I cheated on the pastry, buying pre-made as while M loves making it, she also enjoys handling it and working it a lot, sadly to the point that the pastry becomes impossible to work. I managed to roll the pastry myself, prepared the mincemeat by adding chopped apple to shop bought and M filled the pies and decorated them.

It was a successful compromise, with both pies and jam tarts turning out well. No photo's I'm afraid, as I forgot!

We made chocolate truffles using this recipe and they turned out very yummy. M enjoyed making these, the ganache was easy enough to do but I left it in the fridge for a few hours and it came out very hard, which made rolling it into balls a bit difficult. For this reason our truffles look a bit rough, but this didn't detract from the taste.
Chocolate truffles - surprisingly easy to make.
M and I also made a few Christmas decorations:-

A ballerina, a queen and a king (rather than three kings)

A Christmas wreath

M tackles the problem of how exactly do you glue tinsel?
I tried my hand at making two tutu's; one for M and another for my niece.

A tutu for M
And finally, I managed to finish the mittens I'd been working on for M. Both M and I have long fingers which means that shop bought gloves and mittens are often too small. One of the benefits of making your own is you can make them roomier.

Mittens - colour chosen by M
Based on the child version of the mittens in Pauline Turner's How To Crochet, these mittens are worked flat on a 4mm hook. The cuff is worked into the back loop on a 3.5mm hook and the thumb is made separately. I had problems with the thumb as the numbers in the book didn't work so I did my own. I also enlarged the hand, starting with 16 stitches and increasing as described in the pattern until I had 28 stitches. I worked a deeper cuff too (10 stitches) as I find that means they stay on, even when worn by someone with flappy arms and wiggly fingers.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, 22 December 2013

A tiny snowman

Life and general business does seem to have caught up with me of late, hence the lack of updates here. Christmas preparations have taken central stage over the past few weeks and finally, with only one present still to wrap I'm about ready to settle back and enjoy the holiday.

While browsing the internet with M, we came across these little fellows and so, with encouragement from M I made my version.

One tiny snowman having fun at the park.
M has yet to name her, but while technically this snowman (snowgirl) is intended for the Christmas tree, I doubt she'll make it there. M claimed her as soon as the last stitch was in place and yesterday she took her first visit to the park, where she played on the swings, roundabout and climbing frame.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

L is for Leaf

The seasons are changing and as the leaves fall from the trees, I thought I'd take advantage when it comes to thinking up craft activities for M. With this in mind, we collected a bag of leaves while we were wondering around Mary Arden's Farm at the weekend enjoying their Apple Weekend celebrations.

We also bought two apple trees from someone selling heritage trees. Dave spent a good half an hour talking to the man before making his choice, following my request for more productive plants in the garden. Unfortunately Dave has forgotten the name of the apple trees he (or technically we) bought and all I can say is the sample apples were tasty! The challenge now is to remind Dave to water them whilst they are still in their pots and make sure they are planted before November.

Back to leaves, I'm keen this year to do more seasonal crafts to try to instill in her a sense of change as the year moves on.

We started on Sunday with a little leaf rubbing, M's first attempt and it's more difficult than you might think. I helped by putting the leaf upside down under the paper and holding everything still, so M didn't keep trying to reposition it above the leaf. M was very enthused and managed to get a fair print of the leaves, even though she was rubbing a little too hard. After that M practised her cutting skills cutting the leaf out, highlighting to me just how complicated a shape a real leaf is!

M's attempt at leaf rubbing and cutting out...

M did the rubbing, I added an outline and cut this one out.
This was certainly one the more difficult craft tasks M has attempted and I don't think she did too badly, considering she's still learning how to use scissors.
I did a rubbing too!
The surviving paper leaves are now adorning my kitchen door, where they keep unsticking themselves and floating gently to the floor, nicely emulating the real thing! I suspect we'll add more to the door before the season is done.

After the success of leaf rubbing, I decided to do some simple collage, starting with L is for Leaf.
L is for Leaf
As M (who is a stickler for detail) pointed out to Dave, the L is made of cardboard, not leaves, the leaves are glued on. I decided to use PVA for the glue this time and was disappointed by its lack of stickiness. We put the leaves on, but being irregularly shaped, they just wouldn't stick immediately until the glue dried a little. I solved this by putting heavy 'small things' on the leaves while the glue dried to a tacky consistency. I really am going to need to look into good 'craft' glues, since this is bound to come up again.

M thoroughly enjoyed sticking leaves to the L and asked if she could make an M, so I cut one out for her and asked what she'd like to stick to it. M chose glitter and sequins, which she loves and generally never misses an opportunity to play with.

Here is her M, not as polished or specific as the L, but she enjoyed herself, spending over two hours in all on those two letters, sticking, playing, sorting and telling stories involving glitter, glue and sequins.

M says - M is for M and Mummy and Moon and Mask... Also Mountain fits perfectly
Now, I just need to think up more things I can do with leaves!

Monday, 23 September 2013

Pink Surprise!

Spurred on by our visit to The Weaver's House as part of Heritage weekend, I finished my first attempt at weaving on a peg loom, hereby dubbed 'Pink Surprise!'
Finished first effort on the peg loom.
This was a collaborative effort with my three year old daughter M, who helped thread the warp, chose the weft threads and helped pull the warp through the weave when the pegs were full. M tried to weave, but didn't have the dexterity to do it just yet, although she had a lot of fun trying.

I used string for the warp, double threaded and three acrylic DK yarns woven as one for the weft.

A close up...
I've never woven on a peg loom or any kind of loom, so this project was a learning experience for me. I had a quick look at the instructions, then decided to just have a go to see how it turned out. I don't think the piece turned out too badly and I did learn a few things.

First up, the weave grows very quickly, much quicker than a comparative size piece of knitting or crochet but is very yarn hungry. This first test piece measures only 20in/51cm but used nearly 300g of yarn. The weft had to be bunched up fairly snug to conceal the warp, which will have contributed to the amount of yarn used and also how thick the finished piece is. While it does drape, the fabric is rug or heavy blanket weight.

It was difficult to keep the starting edge neat and from fraying or unravelling. In the end I used hair clips to hold it in place as I worked, removing the clips when it was time to pull the warp into the weave.

Keeping an even tension was harder than I expected it to be, with a natural tendency for the yarn to be very tight on the end pegs. I don't know if this improves with practice, but the result was the weave 'springing in' a couple of inches once released from the loom giving a finished width of 14.5in/36cm.

Taking the piece off the peg loom and tying off, revealed there must be an art or a hit of experience involved in keeping the tension even along the length of the warp too. Even though I tried to keep it level and Dave read to M so I had minimal help, it still came off with a definite curve at each end, with it very obvious at the starting end.

Once the piece was completely free and tied off, I discovered a snagged yarn on the underside near the beginning. I think it must have been caught when pulling the pegs or possibly when putting them back into the loom once the warp had been pulled through. It only happened once, but this will be something to look out for in future.

Finally an observation about my choice of warp. While I'm happy with string in this instance it isn't very pretty, so unless I intend to tuck it in, I might need to use something else in future projects.
I'm very happy with how the colours worked together.
Overall though, given that this was a first attempt I'm happy with the result and the colours chosen by M compliment each other giving a pleasing pink. We enjoyed making this piece, although I confess I have no idea what to do with it now!

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Heritage weekend

We took advantage of the Heritage Open Days at the weekend, although we weren't as ambitious last year when we did a grand tour of Coventry's Priory, Guild Hall, Blue Coats School and the old Cathedral. This year, we reined ourselves in, partially out of consideration for M's interest levels and secondly because of the weather, which was cold, cold, cold.

After some thought, we decided to keep it local this year and by that I mean a twenty minute walk to The Weavers House.

I've been aware of this building for a few years, but have never actually visited it. The Weavers Workshop, who are based at The Weavers House, were at The Herbert's craft fair last December, which is where Dave picked up my peg loom. It was a flying visit for us as I was feeling rough and M was poorly too, so I only chatted to them briefly at the time but they seemed friendly enough.

In short, we had an enjoyable hour and half in The Weavers House, which comprises a terrace of houses which were originally built in the 1500s and have been continuously updated since then. I believe they were occupied until the 1940s, indeed the gentleman working the front door said there used to be pub opposite which exploded due to WW2 bombing, but the terrace was left mostly unscathed.

The terrace had the feel of a work in progress, with one house restored to represent how a working class weaver might have lived in the 1500s, with a few additions for modern convenience (such as glass in the windows, a chimney breast and a tiled floor). Sadly, I didn't get to see past the hall (main living room) as M wasn't too keen on the dark, gloomy room or listening to the tour guide's (very interesting) talk. Dave stayed though and reported back that he had enjoyed it immensely.

We didn't pay too much attention to the garden, but M and I were drawn to the weavers themselves who had set up under a shelter. M played with the stick weaving samples and I had a long chat with one of the weavers about using a peg loom, getting a few tips about choice of warp as well as a few ideas in terms of projects. M was very taken with a giraffe woven onto a wire warp and a woven doll, both made with weaving sticks. I meanwhile was very intrigued by the idea of circular weaving on a normal peg loom.

I didn't get a chance to talk to lady who was spinning next to the hearth in the main reception room, but her presence, along with the whole visit has made an impression on M who has talked about it a lot since the weekend. The lady at the wheel was the only one in costume, which as someone with an interest in costume I found a bit disappointing but that's just me, I like costume. M does too apparently and was particularly taken by her hat (bonnet or cap) which M thinks was very pretty.

M came away with a few colouring sheets that she has put on her easel and has been working on for the past couple of days. Meanwhile, I picked up another set of weaving sticks and a small weaving disk. Following on from the inspiration of our visit and M's enthusiasm, we've started another braid, finished the piece on the peg loom (I'll post about that later) and started a project on the weaving sticks.
Weaving on two sticks
I really can't fault the place or the people there who were all very friendly and I certainly hope to visit again. 

Sunday the weather took a turn for the worse, adding a cold wind and rain to the mix. We had already decided to visit the Walled Garden in Allesley Park just as we did last year, but gosh it was cold.

The cold and rain kept a lot of the traders at their market away and forced the organisers to close early, but we made the best of it. M taught us how to play Hoopla, we did a bug hunt, I bought some veg grown on the site and M ran around a lot. We huddled in a tent for while, enjoying a very welcome pancake (and coffee for us adults) before heading briefly to the playground for a swing before coming home, but by then the drizzle had turned into heavy, cold rain, so we called it a day. Rain and cold weather however did not stop us from having fun, M certainly had a whale of a time.

And that was our Heritage Weekend.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Planning ahead

Today has been decidedly on the soggy side, leaves are starting to fall and I'm stalking M sized snow or ski suits in readiness for this year's Snowmaggedon.

In the meantime, I have started the lace project intended to be a summer shawl for next year as swatched for a few weeks back. I decided to use a 2mm hook, opened a new ball of Clea and made a start.

Here it is after three weeks of sneaking in a row here and there.
Main panel after three weeks...
Trellis with shell pattern, currently relaxed and straight off the hook
I'm still undecided on the final form this shawl is going to take. I'm thinking a big rectangle of trellis with shell, but don't know whether to add a border or two end panels. Currently I think I'll let it get a bit bigger and see how quickly it uses the available stash Clea, then decide dependent on appearance and whether I think I'm going to run out of thread. If I do need to buy more, I'll want to use the new thread for the border or end panels rather than risking a change in dye lot on the main panel.

Happily, M is finally accepting that Mummy might crochet because now the piece is started, I can work it while giving her a cuddle. Slowly. Very, very slowly, while M holds my hands and fingers, which she says is fun. M also tells me this scarf is for her Daddy, who needs it to be a bit bigger first.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Tied off

I am happy to report that we finally finished the kumihimo braid we started in July. I've worked on this one with M, only weaving when M was in the mood and for as long as it held her attention which is why it has taken a while.
Braid taken off the kumihimo disk
We ended up with 20 inches or 50cm of braid for our efforts and only stopped because we ran out of threads to work.

The cardboard 'disk' held up fairly well, but was beginning to separate and split towards the end of the project. M was very enthusiastic, which in three year old terms translates into heavy handed when it came to moving the threads so nearly (accidentally) pulled the whole thing off the disk several times. It was easily fixed though; I just re-centred the braid, tightened up the tension and we were off once more.

M was very dismayed to see the braid off the disk so undoubtedly were going to have to make more in the near future.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Introducing a peg loom

Following on from our initial experiment with weaving sticks, M and I got out the peg loom this morning. This was its first time out of the box since Dave gave it to me last Christmas, so today was a learning experience for both of us.

I had a quick scan of the instructions and then we got on with it. For this first attempt I decided to use string for the warp threads and three acrylics worked as one for the weft.

String because I wanted something durable for what is bound to be our first clumsy efforts - I don't want the warp threads to snap at the wrong moment. For the weft, three acrylic yarns worked together should give a fairly substantial fabric when we're done. Of course, both string and acrylics are cheap and are easily to hand in my stash, a definite bonus allowing us to just give it a go.

M and I took a long time to thread all 22 pegs, helped as we were by a mischievous balloon! To explain, M often involves her toys in our activities as if they were doing it themselves. This allows her to narrate their activities, scold them when they get too boisterous and generally increase her fun in whatever it is we're doing.

This morning M and her balloon were responsible for cutting the string after I had measured it out. M and the balloon then passed me a peg to thread before returning it to its respective peg.

An hour later the loom was ready to go, so I handed M a bag full of various acrylic yarns in DK weight to choose from. Initially M wanted to weave with all of them but I persuaded her to chose just three of them. After much consideration, M made her choice put all the yarns back in the bag and asked us to sing the choosing song. She then drew out three pink yarns and we sang a song for each of them (we sing a lot in our house).

And here they are on the loom.
My peg loom, finally set up and ready to go!
By this point we had been working on setting up the loom for nearly an hour and a half, which is a long, long time when you are only three. The balloon was tired after a lot of bouncing and needed a sleep. M decided she needed to do jigsaws - so this was as far as we got today.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Jesters, wheels and sticks

We headed off to Mary Arden's Farm again this weekend which was hosting a folk festival. We didn't really stop to enjoy the music but did hear a kids open mic from a distance which sounded fun.

We (naturally) made a beeline for the cows, so M could check on the calves. We fed some sheep and then checked on the (very big) piglets and the goats.

Then we found the jester and that's where we stayed for a while. M tried out a Pedal Go, with a lot of help from me. This is a simple toy described by the jester as the first step on the way to learning how to ride a unicycle. It had two foot plates or pedals set directly onto wheels which you had to stand on, pedal and go. M didn't quite have the weight or oomph to make it go by herself, but she gave it a good go.

Dave meanwhile showed us how to walk on stilts, did tricks with a peacock feather and tried his hand at plate spinning.
Dave has a go at plate spinning while at Mary Arden's Farm
M also had a go on  the stilts, with me holding her on and moving the stilts for her. She also tried plate spinning with help from Mummy. Sorry no photo's though, my hands were busy helping M so I didn't get a chance to whip out the phone!

A while later we headed to Mary Arden's house to check on the wells and garden. After that we stopped by the spinners and weavers again and this time M was fascinated by what they were doing. She was very taken with the spinning wheels and the peg looms. M had a go at the latter but the table was too high for her to reach properly and as a just turned three year old she lacked the manual dexterity to weave the yarn between the pegs.

M was very excited when I revealed that we do have both a spinning wheel and peg loom in the house, saying she would have another go when we got home.

Ahem... I think only a spinner would understand how nervous I felt at the idea of letting a three year old loose on my wheel. I did my best to be non-committal and changed the subject, hoping M would forget the whole thing.

M has a very good memory and reminded me about the wheel that evening. Rather reluctantly, I pointed it out where other sat under a dust sheet behind the television (well away from little fingers) and brought it out to little cries of "Oooh!" from M.

I spent about half an hour talking about the different parts of the wheel, bobbins and demonstrating treadling. M insisted on having a go, sitting at the wheel with her foot riding the treadle as I spun the wheel slowly. After that M helped change a bobbin and we sang Wind The Bobbin Up. M was satisfied. I put the wheel away and sighed inwardly with relief. All things considered, M meeting my wheel for the first time went very well.

The next day, M reminded me that I have a peg loom. Actually I have both a loom and weaving sticks, so I got the latter out and we made this...
Our first attempt at weaving on the weaving sticks.
I chose the weaving sticks over the loom for this first go because there are only five sticks in the set which made it a lot quicker to set up than the peg loom. M was very interested and had a go at the weaving as I guided her hand around the sticks, before allowing me to take a turn. M took charge of pulling the sticks up when they were about 2/3 full and a short while later we had our sample swatch. M put her scissor skills to good use and cut the warp threads for me so I could tie them off.

I'm now wondering what I could make with two inch strips of stick woven fabric!

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Today's spaceship

Space, the moon and aliens have been a hot topic of conversation in our house for a while now, inspired of course by children's books.

We regularly build spaceships or convert household objects for the purpose of trips to the moon. I thought I'd share today's spaceship.
Today's spaceship ready for take off
Built with lots of help from Daddy.
A spaceship being constructed in our garden
Books that M has particularly enjoyed exploring the theme of space are:-


Monday, 5 August 2013

Maybe lace

Just lately I've recognised a need for lace in my life and my day to day life.

A few years ago I'd have scoffed at the idea, but back then I enjoyed summers in multiple layers of linen, cotton, silk and woollen semi historical costume which was great in terms of insulating against the summer sun. These days I go out in the modern equivalent of a single full length skirt with one shirt and I wilt in the tiniest bit of heat. What is worse, I've rediscovered the joy of potential sunburn.

This summer is the first with M where I've ventured out without a sling (which can double as a cover up) and I've resorted to wrapping a woven cashmere shawl around my neck and shoulders to keep the sun off. It looks garish and unorthodox but it works. I'm snug under my shawl but I'm not burnt and the layers work to provide a little much needed insulation.

M & I walking at Brandon Marsh, note the scarf/shawl...
The shawl has been such a success that I've been wondering if I should add suitable lace shawls to my summer wardrobe.

Of course this means I immediately decided I should make myself one. I do have a knitted WIP shawl sitting around somewhere but that required me to concentrate a LOT. Dave speaking was enough to distract me and the cobweb weight yarn was just so very slippery. Somehow I think knitted lace that delicate would be asking for stress right now.

So it was that I decided to start with very simple crochet lace. Initially I thought I'd just do some trellis work then later add a fancy border, but I feared boredom would be fatal and so I decided to add a shell.

And here are swatches.

Lace swatches, illustrating the difference between 3, 2.5 and 2mm hook (reading top, bottom left, bottom right)
The stitch pattern is taken from the Harmony Guide - Basic Crochet Stitches, worked in a size 10 thread in 3mm, 2.5mm and 2mm hook.

The thread is a cotton called Clea (Ravelry link) from my stash, left over from the humungous doily and gentleman's sleeping hat. I have over 1200m of this in white sitting in my stash and Clea is a soft thread suitable for clothing, so I'm hoping it would make a nice summer shawl. I just need to decide which hook gives the best effect.

M has decided to help with the decision and has informed me she likes all three swatches. M got to work immediately testing the swatches for comfort and drape.
Stripy Horse snuggles down with a bit of crochet lace
Meanwhile a bit of crochet lace makes an excellent blanket for a sleeping car
I'm currently leaning towards the 2mm for stitch definition, but I'm still mulling over the decision.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

If at first

A long, long time ago in the distant past when M was not yet in our lives I picked up a very pretty book called Vintage Crochet by Susan Cropper. This really is pretty book full of pretty things all beautifully photographed and would grace any well placed coffee table. As with many craft books I own, I admired this book but had so many other projects on the go that it sat waiting patiently on the shelf for quite some time.

When I finally did start a project from this book, it was an ill fated attempt to make a toy rabbit named Syd. This was way back when I had plenty of crochet experience but little practice reading patterns coming as I do from the background of just 'wrap the yarn, stick it through a hole, wrap it again and pull it through' school of crochet as (very effectively) taught by my nan. So it was that Syd was one of my early attempts to follow a pattern.

It all went horribly wrong. I couldn't make the pattern work. The instructions just seemed bizarre and no matter how I tried my rabbit looked wrong. Syd was the first project I cast into the frog pond and vowed never to go near the pattern (or book) again.

Time passed.

M came along and in the fullness of time I started looking for a cute toy to make for my wonderful little girl. I remembered Syd and time dimmed my memories of the frustration of trying to follow that particular pattern. Syd the Rabbit was a lovely toy with a sort of timeless quality about it and so I decided to give the rabbit another go.

Of course now things were a little different. I had followed other patterns and no longer felt the need to slavishly follow instructions which made no sense. The other big plus was other people had made the rabbit and I had the benefit of their notes via Ravelry. I read what other crocheters had to say and found I was not the only one to find this particular pattern difficult to follow, which really is a shame because Syd is not a complicated toy.

I read the pattern again and came to two conclusions:-

The designer has her own way of writing out her pattern which I personally can't follow.

This toy was never intended to be played with by a real toddler who is very hands on, in a pull or poke it to see what happens next kind of way.

I decided the only sensible thing to do was to use the pattern as a guide and the inspiration, but to do my own thing.

Six months later, the last two months of which the rabbit sat waiting for me to sew its face on, I can finally reveal my version of Syd, or Hop the Rabbit as M named her a few moments after the last stitch was placed.
Hop The Rabbit
I didn't really keep track but was winging it the whole way. Worked in cheap acrylic on a 4mm hook, Hop is significantly bigger than Syd, achieved by adding in a few rows between decreases to give a longer body. I had to scale up the head, arms, legs and ears to match. The feet I completely changed because I didn't want to use triple triples because they would leave big holes my toddler could poke her fingers though. I decided against a pompom tail for similar reasons as M likes to pull things apart so I could see a pompom being very short lived.
Hop's bunny tail
For the face I tacked in the rough position of the features then just did a tight satin stitch over the top in buttonhole (or top-stitch) thread. On reflection, were I to do it again (or for another toy) I'd use a contrasting yarn instead of thread as I think the effect would be neater as well as quicker to sew in place.

M was delighted that the rabbit finally had a face, hovering close as I worked on the embroidery and even helping to pull a few stitches through. She decided this is a girl rabbit and named her Hop. Hop was immediately put through her paces and prepared for her first scooter ride.
Hop puts on her helmet
Here she is riding on her 'scooter'.
Hop on her 'scooter'
Now the project is complete I'm happy with the resulting toy. I do think the pattern is poorly written and if making this toy you need the errata (found here - including full pattern) before attempting to make Syd. Or just use the pictures in the book as your guide and have fun doing your own thing.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

It never gets old

Mary Arden's Farm near Stratford is proving to be one of our favourite haunts this year. On Saturday we headed back for our fifth visit since Easter, drawn by the Crafty Beast event. Not that we really took part in any of the organised entertainment as M just wanted to explore (as always).

What I particularly like about the site is how something new seems to capture M's attention every time we visit. This time was no exception. While M wasn't interested in the arena (other than liking the bunting and wanting to try out the obstacle course intended for ducks) she did enjoy playing hook a duck while we chatted to the people from Transition Stratford. The ducks were there to illustrate a report about some plastic ducks that were part of cargo lost overboard in the Pacific and were then tracked around the world as they were carried by ocean tides. Apparently at least one duck made it as far as The Arctic!

M naturally said hello to the cows, one of whom was very appreciative of a bit of fuss from Dave attempting to engage in a spot of mutual grooming and thoroughly sliming him in the process. Naturally M found this very funny. We were also very taken with the ferrets which M had never seen before.

We rediscovered the two wells outside Mary Arden's House and M was particularly happy to see one of them still had a pail attached. M has been fascinated by the concept of wells and what they were used for since our last visit. There were two wells at Astley Castle which equally captured her interest and seeing the wells was something she'd been looking forward to. We looked at the pail, talked about the winch and its use, looked at the water and sang Jack and Jill before M pointed out the pail was big and would be heavy which was probably why Jack fell down, so perhaps he should ask a horse to help him. I just love the way M's mind works and is making links all the time.

Next Dave distracted M with a trip around the garden and feeding the goats while I talked to the Stratford Spinners and Weavers (more about this later).

We ate our picnic lunch in the playground and for the first time ever M didn't immediately head for the swings but was more interested in the small obstacle course. After lunch Dave and M watched some goat races but the goats got confused and ran back the other way, causing M to declare them not very good at racing.

Goat racing done, we went for a wander to check out the wild flower meadow but didn't get that far due to distractions. M discovered that thistles are prickly and apples grow on trees. We inspected some impressive cracks in the very dry ground and then we found a willow tunnel complex or bower which M loved. The tunnels were sized to allow easy passage for a small person but were a bit tight with low ceilings for those of more adult proportions. M found this very exciting and ran though the tunnels repeatedly, shrieking with glee and giggling the whole while.

M running amock in the bower
M running amock in the bower
M finds a gap to peer through
We eventually trapped the small person and carried her back to the car. Home we went and after a short nap we carried on with this...
Cardboard braiding disk with braid
This is a small braiding 'disk' made from cardboard which I was given by the Spinners and Weavers. It was one of many that they had prepared to demonstrate weaving or braiding cords. It is a fantastic idea as the cardboard grips the threads holding them firmly in place as you braid. This is based on a Japanese method of making braids called kumihimo but The Tudors would have been able to make similar braids using finger loop braiding.

The pattern is easy enough to follow. Make an eight sided disk, roughly octagon shaped and poke a hole in it using a pencil then cut a slot in each of the sides.
  1. Take seven pieces of yarn or thread of your choice and cut them so they are of approximate equal length. 
  2. Knot them together at one end then poke the knot through the hole in your disk.
  3. Arrange the threads through seven of the eight slots and tighten then up to tension the braid.
  4. Hold the disk with the empty slot nearest to you then count three threads to the right.
  5. Pick up the third thread and move it to the empty slot, tightening it as you do so to maintain tension.
  6. Rotate the disk to the left until the newly empty slot is in front of you.
  7. Repeat from 5
And that's it. Keep going and you will make a braid.

This has become a joint project with M. We count off the threads together and name the colour, then M picks up the chosen thread and moves it to its new slot. M has decided she likes the burgundy thread the best. This project is great for practising counting, talking about colours, patterns and working on those all important fine motor skills as well as lots of fun. We're both very impressed with the resulting braid which is working up quite quickly.

Friday, 19 July 2013

And we have bread

The recent unexpected spell of overly warm weather (AKA summer) has meant that I have actually managed to get bread dough to prove in a timely fashion.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Teeny, tiny

I am on the hunt for teeny, tiny crochet projects that I can do in the few moments I have my hands free and I'm not busy doing something else. Since becoming a parent, these moments have been rare and I find I need something I can pick up then put down again at a moments notice with little impact on the project in hand. It must be something that doesn't care about consistent tension and will tolerate extensive ripping back because I got distracted at the wrong moment. To minimise frustration, any pattern must be foolproof and not assume I can count or remember what I was doing the last time I picked the piece up. Avoiding the tiniest hooks is also a must as is over reliance on stitch markers. Meanwhile the yarn must be hardy stuff which is easy to untangle and reuse. Minimal sewing or making up and no pins beyond those needed for blocking are also essential. If it can get away without being blocked, even better.

Any (sensible) suggestions happily accepted!

In the meantime, I had a go at making a teeny, tiny bracelet.

Millefiore flowers
Here we have four 'Millefiore' from 201 Crochet Motifs, Blocks, Projects and Ideas by Melody Griffiths, worked in stash crochet cotton thread about No. 10 weight. I'm afraid the ball bands are long gone, so I can't tell you the brand. I used a 3mm hook and they came out fine, but I would have used a 2.5mm hook had I been able to find one!

I joined each of the flowers as I made them up, then added a Base-ch/dc band approx 15cm long to each side, which I think should be long enough to tie them to a child's wrist.

Bracelet after light blocking... Photographed in the sun, just look at the white!
A teeny, tiny project that was done just for fun.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

A Sunday trip to the park

It has been another scorcher of a day here in Coventry so we decided to make the most of it and headed to a local park. Sadly we don't have any nice parks within easy walking distance, the few we have tried are small, prone to dog poo, vandalism (sometimes involving dog poo), have poor play equipment or attract the wrong kind of visitor. This means that to find what we consider a nice park we have to get in the car so when I say local, I mean in or near Coventry.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

This Old Man

Very proud mummy moment. Today M made her first mostly solo craft project, This Old Man.

This Old Man, made by M (July 2013).
M has been practising with scissors for a couple of months now, but mostly cuts for the sake of cutting rather than making something. Such is her drive to cut things that scissors have become a bit of a hazard to any other craft or art project. Today's cutting and sticking session started out with the usual stickers, sequins and random cutting. We took a short break to pick up all the sequins which M had liberally scattered on the floor then M got her second wind and This Old Man was created.

M explained that This Old Man is a hairy man with hairy boobies and hairy legs. He has two eyes, one on each side of the paper and rainbow hair. This Old Man also has a loop of tape on the back because he is a 'man mask'. M did all the cutting, shaping and sticking for this project. The inspiration is also hers and we repeatedly sang This Old Man as she worked.

After a brief interlude, This Old Man had a makeover as he prepared to do ballet and go to the moon. M has deliberately added some notches for his helmet, ruffles and moved one hairy booby (to his knee) to make room for some stars.

This Old Man dressed for ballet and a trip to the moon.
I am very impressed. We do a fair bit of crafts, some directed by me with M's own unique spin included and some where M has a free hand to do whatever she wants. Today, my only input was to supply the materials requested, to advise on glue application and to break off a bit of tape when asked to do so.

M reports that This Old Man is not very good at ballet and needs lots of practice. He enjoyed his trip to the moon and naturally took a (soft toy) dog with him, but his landing was a bit rough caused his hair to fall off!

Monday, 1 July 2013

Fathers Day came a little late

Father's Day coincided with M's birthday this year and sadly for Dave, M's birthday celebrations took precedent. Not that we forgot him and M did work hard to make suitable gifts for her Daddy, but we held them back for a week as M was rather focused on her own special day, after all it's not every day you turn three!

A little cannibalism

We had this year's first sighting of ladybird larvae yesterday morning as we were preparing to head out to Astley Castle with a picnic. The forsythia next to our front door was quite literally crawling with them in varying sizes and stages of development.

M was very excited, declaring them caterpillars... Which had us explaining they were indeed similar but were baby ladybirds not baby butterflies. M wasn't to be deterred though and insisted they were caterpillars. M likes caterpillars.

She was particularly excited to see this pair...

One ladybird larva eating another one that had started to pupate
You are looking at a photo of one very large larva, actively engaged in eating one of its fellows that had started to pupate and was therefore defenceless.

Lovely. We're very tempted to move a few of them round the back where they might find more aphids to chomp on!

Thursday, 27 June 2013

A mercy mission

Next door's cat has taken to stalking birds. Dave intervened to get him to drop a young thrush on Saturday. Once the cat had been forced to retreat, we stepped in to see what we could do for the poor bird, but alas it was very young, in severe shock and sadly, it died.

Imagine our surprise on Sunday when our neighbours knocked on the door to report their cat had done it again. There was a bird in their kitchen and they expected Dave to do something about it!

Dave (bless him), tried to pass the responsibility back to them by handing them a shoe box.

A few minutes later, they knocked again and gave the shoe box back, complete with a bird inside.

I'm not sure when it became our responsibility to take care of baby birds brought in by their cat, but when faced with someone thrusting a hurt bird at you, it is hard to know how to react. So it was, we acquired our second bird in less than 24 hours courtesy of the neighbour's cat.

This one looked ruffled, missing a few feathers and appeared to be a bit stunned, but was older so we hoped it might be OK. We made a tentative identification as a chiffchaff and then put it in a covered cat carrier with some drinking water and waited to see if it would perk up.

A couple of hours later, it looked considerably brighter, was responding to our presence and trying to perch. Heartened that it might survive, we checked again, posted a pic on a Facebook wildlife page and discovered this was a blackcap.

Young blackcap, found in our neighbour's kitchen

We added some twigs and blueberries, then had the dilemma of what to do with it. Wild birds are just that, wild... And we had no desire to keep one captive, not to mention that having two cats of our own, our house would undoubtedly be a stressful environment for our unexpected guest.

We've taken wild animals to the PDSA and RSPCA before, but not been happy as we're fairly sure they've been euthanased, so we decided to look for a local wildlife sanctuary. Our first thought was to call Brandon Marsh to ask for advice, but it being Sunday, no one answered the phone, hence we took to the internet and found the Nuneaton and Warwickshire Wildlife Sanctuary.

We sent them an email, then Dave tried the phone and was surprised when someone answered. Even better, yes they were happy to take the suspected Blackcap. Cue a Sunday evening dash to Nuneaton, with M in tow because she insisted she wanted to come too.

We got lost. Horribly lost in that I knew exactly where we were and where we wanted to go, but had no idea how to get there as we were trapped inside Nuneaton's one way system! M was being very patient and singing to the bird (after I explained that I wouldn't put a CD on in case it frightened the bird), her song of choice being Soldier, Soldier. M kept asking if we'd reached Nuneaton yet so I said we were there, but I was a bit lost and I was trying to get us to the wildlife sanctuary. M offered the eminently sensible suggestion that we should go home.

In the end, by pure cunning and stubborn determination I ended up on the correct bit of one way street heading towards the wildlife sanctuary which is based in an unassuming bungalow. Once there, we got the bird out of the car, still in its improvised cage and headed inside (with me hoping they hadn't had a call out in the time it had taken us to get there).

Fortunately, someone came when I rang the bell and in we went to immediately encounter a young deer blocking our path. It was quite literally standing there, being nosy and forcing us to walk around it so it could get a good look at us. M was shorter than the fawn so asked (not unreasonably) if it was a horse. We were shown into a shed where a young fox sat watching in a puppy cage where it apparently sleeps. The shed floor was very springy, so bouncing expert that she is, M started vigorously jumping up and down.

I scooped the excited small person up before she frightened the fox and showed her 'our' bird which was briefly examined before being whisked away to the reptile shed where it is nice and warm. Apparently they had several fledglings there so it would have company while it recovered. M was very concerned that the bird had been taken, but was finally reassured that it was in the best place and that this was an animal hospital. I carefully explained that normally, if we found a baby bird we'd take it back to its mummy and daddy, but since the cat didn't tell us where he found the bird we couldn't do this. That was why we'd brought the bird to a animal hospital and they'd look after it now.

Satisfied M nodded and said she'd like to play. There was a bit of consternation when M asked where the swings were but I pointed out the garden was full of sheds so had no room for a swing, plus it was very late, Daddy would wonder where we were and we had to go home. Which is exactly what we did...

Mission accomplished and I now know where the Nuneaton wildlife sanctuary is although I can't guarantee I wouldn't have similar problems navigating my way there again. Personally though, next time the neighbour's cat brings in a live bird, I intend to hand over their contact details along with a shoebox!

Friday, 14 June 2013

What shall we sing?

We made a song or story board.

For those who do not know what a song board is, it is a felt board to which you attach pictures to help lead you in a song or story session. It can be a useful tool with small children for focusing attention or choosing which songs to sing, particularly if you have several children to engage with.

In our house of course, we only have one small person, but M does love singing and always has. We sing a lot in our house as will as when out and about -- yes, I am the mother who will walk down the street hand in hand with my daughter belting out some nursery rhyme or other. M loves making up songs about her favourite books/toys/what she is up to (or getting us to), which can make keeping up with her musical needs challenging, but we do our best. Not too surprisingly, M also enjoys the singing aspect of Rhyme Time at the library or various parent/toddler groups we've tried and so we thought we'd bring that into our home.

The first thing I needed was a board.

We used an off cut piece of mounting card,which is usually used for framing photographs. It was fairly heavy weight cardboard so unlikely to bend accidentally, but being approx A3 sized wasn't too big for M (who is nearly three) to carry.

I covered the board in felt, blue on one side and green on the other.

Having never worked with crafting felt before, I'd assumed it was pretty much all the same. I was wrong. Felt can vary a lot in thickness and 'hand' or how it feels when you touch it.

The first lot of felt I bought on the internet was quite frankly rubbish. It was stiff, not very fluffy and thin. It was described as being suitable for craft and board covering, which to me meant it should be ideal for what I had in mind, but apparently not. I ended up using it as a base layer and then covering it with more expensive felt I'd bought from our local market. The advantage of the market was I could feel the felt, assess it for fluff and thickness and check it wasn't going to crease like paper if M picked it up or tear on its first contact with velcro!

This was very much a joint project with M, so we used PVA to glue the felt to the board, I trimmed it and then we added a second layer of felt to the first. We used pegs to hold the felt in place whilst it dried, then once it was done I trimmed it again and we stuck down the edges with heavy duty double sided sticky tape.

M applies PVA for a second layer of felt.

All pegged down and left to dry...

To finish, I added some fabric tape to cover up the rough edges.

It is not as neat as it could be, but I was making it up as I went along and acting in a fast, decisive fashion is essential when you're being assisted by a nearly three year old who might otherwise take matters into her own hands!

Once the board was complete M and I compiled a list of songs we'd like to sing. Once we had a few, I drew pictures which might represent those songs with the exception of a suitable guardsman for 'The Grand Old Duke of York' or 'Soldier, Soldier' where I faced a mental blank so Dave stepped in.

I cut the pictures out and stuck them onto cardboard. In our case, I reused empty cereal boxes and for my first batch used PVA to glue them down.

PVA turned out to be a mistake, water based glue and non-permanent marker just don't mix well with the ink on the paper running quite badly, hence for my second batch I used good old glue stick. Ideally, I think I'd laminate the pictures to make them wipe clean and durable, but I do not have a laminator and to be honest, when the pictures wear out we'll just make some more which will be fun.

Pictures glued to cardboard - PVA is a bad choice!

I re-inked the pictures then cut them out before passing them to M who coloured them in. Once she was done, M stuck the hook part of velcro dots to the back of each picture and stuck it on the board.

Finished song board, complete with first batch of pictures to choose from.
At last - a song board or as M says, a choosing board.

What shall we sing when we sing together?
What shall we sing when we sing together?
What shall we sing when we sing together?
Would you like to choose?

For the uninitiated, the idea is to take turns in choosing a song. Everyone sings the choosing song and then one person (or toy in our case) chooses a picture from the board. The board is turned over and the picture is stuck on the back. The person who chose then tells everyone what song they'd like to sing as represented by the picture. There are no hard and fast rules tying picture to song, providing the chooser knows the song and can loosely associate it with the picture, all is good.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

A tiny bit of crochet

There is actual crochet happening here. Or rather it did, briefly...

Motif for Betty shrug

This is the first motif for Betty (Ravelry Link) from Vintage Crochet, which I bought a few years back when I was easily won over by the pretty pictures and it sure is a pretty book.

The secret to making this motif was to go to a park with a picnic, then to hand over toddler chasing duty to Dave for half an hour whilst I grappled with the pattern.

As it happened, once I got the thing made I decided I didn't like it.

If you look at the joins between rounds in the bottom left corner, you may be able to see they are a bit 'clumsy' and look crowded. Blocking may sort this out, but if I manage to finish this garment it and if I intend to wear it, I'll not be blocking every time I wash it!

So... I reworked the troublesome join on the 4th round, replacing the 2ch tr into the first dc with a single ch and a dtr.

Corrected join on round 4

Much better!

OK, it may not look that much different, but I  can see the difference and if I'd left it, it would have annoyed me every time I looked at the piece.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Easter outings in the cold

We’ve had an enjoyable and somewhat packed Easter this year, as we endeavoured to do something despite the freezing weather... For us, as always the challenge was to find suitable days out which held something for us adults and M alike, preferably not too exposed to the elements given that the temperatures have struggled to get more than a degree or two above freezing!

Being Coventry based, we headed to the Transport Museum on Saturday bundled up against persistent snow flurries that swirled around us as we walked along. M isn’t a huge fan of Coventry’s Transport Museum, since the exhibits tend to be for looking at only with no touching. M is more of a hands on kind of a girl, so finds it inexplicable that you should have all these interesting vehicles behind rope barriers and she (nor us) are allowed to climb aboard, sit in them or fiddle with them to our collective hearts content.

The 999 exhibition was on and fortunately they’d had the foresight to include a children’s play area with Little Tikes push along cars and bikes. M decided against the fire engine but was rather taken with the police car which looked a lot like her own Cozy Coupe:-

Little Tikes Police Car
I saw the exhibition in passing as I pushed M around and around and around in this little car, stopping regularly to crouch down to describe or talk about what we were seeing. M still wanted to get on board the exhibits, but accepted my explanation that we were not allowed to do so in good humour even if it made no sense to her at all.

M also tried out a LittleTikes police bike, but the police car was her decided favourite.

The Transport Museum was also playing host to a craft fair but it didn’t have any handy push along toys so while we did drop in it was something of a whistle stop tour as M whisked us around very quickly. I did spot several people selling crochet bags, a few hand knitted baby clothes and simple sewn dolls. I think there might have been jewellery and even cake, but I didn’t get a close enough look to even consider parting with money.

Sunday was a bright but bitterly cold day, so we decided to try to find something with a little bit of shelter. In the end we opted to combine history with baby animals, the latter being a big draw with M. With this in mind, our destination was Mary Arden’s Farm near Stratford. M was a bit reluctant when we first walked in but when she saw her first free ranging chicken she warmed to the idea, following it to a cow shed.

Cow (AKA Ruby)

Now, M has a soft spot for cows and her long standing companion has been Cow (AKA Ruby) who is something of an eccentric bovine, liking swings, climbing, wrapping up against the cold and being pushed around in a pushchair.

Mummy and M crouch down to get a better look at cows (at Mary Arden's Farm)

This was the first time M had ever seen a real cow and she was fascinated although not quite prepared for how large cows are in real life. We crouched down together and talked to the cows, saying hello to each cow in turn just like in Melrose and Croc.

The cows were friendly, sleepy and a bit bemused. One also looked like she was wondering why her obvious attempts to get her nose scritched were failing (M wasn’t up to touching). We visited the cows several times and M was delighted to witness a calf feeding. She stared at it for a few minutes, a huge smile of understanding creeping across her face as she loudly declared:-

What’s that baby cow doing? He’s having booby!

M meets ducks (at Mary Arden's Farm)
A bit unsure of what to make of the horse
Mummy explains the importance of sheep and wool
The pigs are curious about Stripy Horse
In addition to the cows, M met ducks, goats, pigs, more chickens, geese (including a feisty trouble maker called Reg) and sheep. All were greeted with a wide grin and much chatter on M’s part. Her companion for the outing was Stripy Horse, who met a real horse who M was a bit uncertain about, possibly because its head was almost as big as she was. Despite her natural cautious inclinations, the horse was the only animal M wanted to touch and she stroked its mane very gently. The horse in turn tried to sniff Stripy Horse which M found funny if a bit disconcerting. The pigs also tried to sniff Stripy Horse, but M had learnt from her experience with the horse and kept Stripy Horse well out of reach.

We went into the main house where there was a cooking demonstration and M noted that the lady was cooking on a fire. She also helpfully pointed out that the lady might need some more sticks.
Exploring the main house at Mary Arden's Farm
We explored upstairs where the solid timber floors sloped in many different directions and the doorways were very low. There were some beds made up including a pullout cot complete with a rag doll tucked under the covers. Stripy Horse saw the doll and wasn’t to be left out, trying out one of the beds himself and a couple of bed rolls.
Stripy Horse tries out a bed
Stripy Horse tries out a bed roll on the floor
He was a very cheeky Stripy Horse.

There was even an adventure playground, complete with a swing which a very cold M thoroughly appreciated. The slide was a bit steeper than anticipated though and a surprised M was launched through the air at the bottom, landing a few feet away! Fortunately, M took this unexpected flight in good spirits, scrambling to her feet and ran off chortling but did say she’d do something else now.

Easter Bank Holiday Monday I was very tempted by the open day at Toft Alpaca Farm, the yarny in me wanted to touch fibre and there was cake, need I say more?

M had a prior engagement and it is still early days for my plan to corrupt her to love all things textile related, so no alpacas for me. Instead I escorted M to a birthday party, where she was introduced to the idea of a bouncy castle.
Bouncy castle!
Bouncy castles and balloons... A good combination which even topped ice cream!