Tuesday, July 17, 2007


I thought I'd mention what got me back into a crafty mode, after what is uncomfortably close to 20 years.

In 2003, my last academic research contract came to an end. Having been in the game for 10 years, I decided to focus my job-seeking on the lecturing market. I got lucky on one of my first applications, a junior lectureship at a former FE college turned uni. I started the induction process, which had to be done before an official offer of employment was made (yes, I know it's daft, but the college had been run by the council, council rules apply).

Then, everything went quiet - no response to my emails or phonecalls.
Three months later, I was still waiting for the official offer. By which time I was on the dole, and Tiny Husband had been forced to propose marriage. Finally, I threw a hissy fit over the phone, demanding to talk to the Head of Personnel. Complained loud and long until she promised to look into it.

And two weeks later - after another few phone calls - I got a standard letter of rejection in the post. The type of letter sent to applicants who aren't even getting an interview, not to someone who's gone through almost nine months' worth of interviews, shortlisting, visits AND an induction process, to work in a department that's already badly short-staffed. No explanations, no apologies.

And a wedding to pay for in less than 2 months*.

Now, I should have chased it up, but I didn't. 9 months - more, if we go back to the application closing date. Paying for travel to the 2 interviews, tour of facilities and 2 or was it 3 induction meetings. A substantial phone bill from ringing and emailing (I was still on dial-up back then). ARRANGING MY WEDDING IN P**SING APRIL TO SUIT THEM!!!! It had all been too much and I was sick of it. **A pox on all their courses**. So I decided to forget it. They never
re-advertised, so I assume the uni refused to release funds to cover my first year's salary - it happens. The experience did coalesce my feelings about research as a career - less secure than acting, less pay than a binman... So now I'm in school-teaching. Better pay, better prospects, better pension, more security, better hols. Or should I say holidays, full stop - never took any as an academic.

So... paying for a wedding. I looked at my finances and reckoned I could squeeze another £2,000 out of the equity on the house without crippling us. I'd already - foolishly - ordered the wedding dress (that's it in the side bar pic), at a head-spinning cost of £650. Though for a one-off designer made-to-measure, that's not too bad. My sis offered to cater and pay for the food, a friend offered to make the cake, another did the photography, I cashed in my Airmiles for the honeymoon - the total cost to us of the wedding, including honeymoon and a new digital camcorder for the ceremony, was around £1,300. And I could have done it for £6-800 less, if I'd gone for a cheap dress and borrowed a camcorder.

A major saving was on invitations. I didn't see any I liked, and they were all ridiculously expensive, so I thought I'd try making them. I got gold-coloured cards and envelopes, printed off the inserts, and made bows for the front. They didn't look 'special' enough, so I got some gold wire and gold and red beads, and crocheted daisy-like flowers to stick on the front. Fooled everyone - no one believed they were home-made!

Having a few left over after the invitations were sent out, I hit on the idea of making my own jewellery. I made a necklace and earrings using the daisies, with 'springs' and hand-wound metal beads - they're just visible in the userpic on the side. I also made some hairpins which aren't visible in the userpic, using spring-bound beads to attach the daisies to bamboo chopsticks - red and gold for me, plum and gold for my bridesmaids. Tip for bridesmaids - give them the material and let them make up an outfit that they know they'll wear again. One of mine, who's Asian, made up hers as a traditional embroidered salwar kameez; the uber-goth bridesmaid did a goth thang with hers; and my sis made a loose jacket and skirt, which she's worn to work dos and weddings since. Unlike most BMs, they all looked fantastic, because they'd all chosen designs that suited them, rather than me forcing them into something I wanted - luckily the colour worked for all of them!

So there you have it - how I got back into crafting. I'm currently making wire crochet flowers for a friend to put on a bag she's felting - they're silver, and more chrysanth-y than these. Wish I could do more jewellery but Ickle Baby Cthulhu is too interested in all the sharp little tools... He barely leaves my knitting alone as it is!

Tra fn

* - Yes, the bride's father is supposed to pay for the wedding. However, while my father was possessed of many fine qualities, they did not include fiscal generosity.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Aran Cardi

I learned Aran knitting at primary school from the redoubtable Mrs Anderson (just retired last year, and replaced by my cousin's daughter, Miss Anderson, no relation!). It was a bag, satin lined, quite nice as I remember. No idea what happened to it, probably a victim of fashion's tide, Aran being considered a bit naff, what with the island itself being just off the coast. Oh the cruelty and folly of youth! When I think of the dosh I could have made, as a 'native Donegal craftswoman working in the traditional oeuvre' I could weep. I haven't gone near Aran knitting since, until I realised how gorgeous it would look on a certain little fat blonde princeling...

Knitted up over Christmas, using for the first time a pair of bamboo needles from a set purchased from China via eBay, and some lovely Aran-weight undyed Blue-faced Leicester wool. I cannot for the life of me remember where the pattern is from - probably one I downloaded via Knitting Pattern Central - but the skills learnt in St Anne's all those years ago came flooding back. Before the first repeat, I was able to abandon the paper pattern and continue from memory and feel - okay it isn't the most demanding pattern, but even so. I was chuffed to find something I could do really well. I'm a good knitter, better crocheter, but this was so... automatic, instinctive.

Sadly, this is the only pic I have of His Nibs in the cardi (Note to self: do not send colourblind husband to buy buttons). Not only had he outgrown it, but foolish Tiny Husband put it in a cottons wash (Note to self: stern laundry lecture to Tiny Husband). It hasn't shrunk too badly, but has felted a bit - not that this is a disaster in traditional all-weather fishermen's wear, of course. I should dig it out and palm it off on my niece, I think. Nephew's mum would not be impressed at being given an oul secondhand shrunk thing!


The cuteness...

As mentioned in the last post, I also have a new niece, born at Easter. I was in Ireland at the time, and made sure to be the first person to see her apart from her parents, even though this meant getting involved an undignified race with my 65-year-old mother. Remarkable turn of speed for her age - I was impressed by the way she skipped over the bin and vaulted the pill-trolley I threw in her way. I foiled her at the end, thanks to her Luddism - the hi-tech security door to the maternity unit posed no difficulties for me. But it was worth it - living in Birmingham, I never get to see these babes till they're acne-riddled strop-monsters.

There was a certain bittersweetness to the occasion too. My reason for being 'home' at all was that my father died suddenly a week earlier, at the incredibly young age of 69. He was a huge, powerful man, apparently glowingly healthy all his life. In his later years, he developed diabetes which did not respond to treatment, and had heart problems of a fairly non-specific nature. Through it all, though, he had never let up. My mother and brother could not convince him that he could not still do the work of a 20-year-old. At every opportunity he would be out on the farm, checking 'his' cattle, making sure my 35-year-old brother knew what was what and generally driving everyone scatty. Not that he wasn't useful - when my brother had an accident that almost lost him a leg last year, my father stepped into the breach (with a little insignificant assistance from other brother) and kept things going - but he did not need to push himself anymore.

Ultimately, it was that attitude that killed him. Some cattle got into difficulties due to methane escaping from a slurry tank in one of the cattle houses and my brother called for help to move them. Dad basically got too worked up, trying to move these 2-ton brutes practically by hand, and collapsed. He was dead before he hit the ground. Mum, my brother and other brother's wife did CPR until the ambulance arrived, but there was never the slightest indication of life.

The last day had been a good one. All his grandchildren - except my little boy - had been down on the farm with him, and they'd spent the morning following him round like little ducklings after a mother duck. Then after lunch they all tumbled into my parents' big bed for a nap together. All of them adored their big Ganda, and he was daft about them. He was so looking forward to seeing his two new grandchildren, unable to decide if he wanted girls or boys. It's one of my big regrets that my son will never get to know his Ganda. He is the most like Dad of all the grandchildren. We thought we had plenty of time to move back, but there's never any time.

So I made this little matinee outfit for my niece. I'd brought needles (of course) but no yarn, and despite the importance of the sheep industry on our door step, there's darn few woolshops about. So I settled for 100% acrylic Robin Bonny Babe Aran in pink and white. The pattern, which I stuck to quite religiously - go me! - was one from an unknown magazine, which I'd bought on eBay: two outfits, the coat and bonnet I made up, and a sweater and Inca-style hat which I thought I'd make up for my soon-to-be nephew as and when, though I've changed my mind about it, as that sister-in-law is a bit odd and probably would not see the cuteness, so he's getting the teddy from the last post and a rather ordinary Norwegian jumper instead. And maybe a hat, I haven't decided.

The reason I was so rigid about the pattern this time is that I really really wanted to figure out the mechanics of making the beret. The coat is no biggie, bored the tits off me tbh, but having got a copy of Alice Starmore's Celtic Collection, I was keen to try some Aran-y stitchery on a beret for my son*, and I thought I could see how to adapt her designs. But this depended on getting the pinwheel technique into my head first, so I could do it in my sleep like my balaclava pattern*.

It's quite straightforward though, starting with the rib for the brim, increasing to a multiple of 8 stitches for the under-band, then in a reverse of the Pinwheel Sweater pattern, decrease every one-eighth of the total stitches on odd rows, working a plain-knit row on even rows - i.e., if you have 120 stitches total, decrease 1st every 15 stitches on Row1, plain knit Row 2, decrease 1st every 14sts on row 3, etc.

So here's the finished product, modelled by my vintage Ideal Giggles (who still wriggles AND giggles, in original orange-and-pink hotpants and shoes, for those who are interested in such-like)

Tra fn

* - to appear later!

Yet another teddy....

Having become an auntie again twice, I've been knitting like crazy. My big baby brother and his bride presented me with a dark-haired niece at Easter, and my baby-baby brother and his had a (second) son 10 days ago, also dark-haired - I mention hair as we're all blondes who've married dark-haired people, but the first 4 babes are all blonde, and number 5's initially-black hair has faded to dark blonde at age 2. What happens with #6 and #7 is anyone's guess right now.

The most recent CP is a teddy for my nephew. It started out as Lion Brand's free Scott the Bear, but, urm. Due to a combination of a printer out of ink, a 21-month old who likes pressing buttons (especially off-buttons on computers), and deciding I wanted some things to be different anyway, Sprot the Beer is not entirely as indicated. Who needs a stinkin pattern anyway?!

He is made with a TINY amount of multi-coloured yarn of unknown composition for the head and body. I think it is self-patterning sock yarn, though I have no idea how it came to be in my stash, it just was, being offensive and vile*. The black yarn is almost certainly wool, of a strange, ply-less, slubby nature, which I bought unbanded to make a sweater for Tiny Husband, as he has had nothing since his lovely purple pirate fingerless gloves (which reminds me, I really ought to get another pair on the needles for winter, possibly with a mittenly 'hood' for his fingers), and the white is some acrylic left over from my new niece's matinee outfit (of which cuteness, later).

The idea for the stripes is that newborns can only see light and shade - a lot of newborn toys are only black and white as a result. But as colour vision develops randomly, through accidental firing of the retinal photoreceptors which eventually - and amazingly quickly - tune in to specific colours, I always think it's best to combine colour and stripes to a) help the process along and b) prolong the interestingness of the toy.

I don't think he's suitable for munching on, but as a slappy toy he'll be fine. The head and body more or less follow the pattern, but I made the legs and arms longer so they would flop about more as nephew bats it. There's no tail, but I chain-stitched a length to tie him to an arch. Also finished off with my new craft labels from GB Nametapes, very reasonable and a quick turnaround. They read "hand made by Subh Milis" in olive green on a cream background, with a teddy symbol to one side.

Subh Milis (sue milish) is the title of a poem by Séamus Ó Néill, an Irish (not Gaelic, please!) writer from (now) Northern Ireland. At 8 lines, it's practically a haiku in Irish literary terms. I learned it in primary school and it's stayed with me since. Even as a child myself, I recognised the evanescence of youth expressed so sparsely in the poem - I suppose it's why I've spent so much time refusing to grow up... Here it is in full - the translation just doesn't do justice...

Bhí subh milis
Ar bhas-crann an dorais
Ach mhúch mé an chorraí
Ionam d'éirigh,
Mar smaoinigh mé ar an lá
A bheas an bhas-crann glan,
Agus an lámh bheag
Ar iarraidh.

There was jam
On the doorhandle
But I smothered the vexation
That rose up in me,
Because I thought of the day
That the doorhandle would be clean
And the little hand


* - I don't even like flecked/tweed yarn. If I want colourful, I'll do Fair Isle, intarsia, etc. Liking sploodgey colours on the same yarn evidences an advanced dementia at best, or hopeless sociopathy in the case of hand-dyeing afficionados. The stuff looks like a migraine made string-like.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

About time I put something on here....


This is an heirloom teddy I made for my niece.

I took a basic pattern I found in a craft shop and added a skirt with a pocket and hanky, socks, shoes, a flower and hair. The pattern was in dc throughout, starting with 6 or 8 dc in a looped chain, then increasing one dc every 1 stitch in row 1, every 2 st in row 2, etc, until you get the right width, then continuing straight until the length is right and decreasing in reverse to the increase. Before it closes, stuff the part with a suitable foam (I've used old stockings/tights before but these might not be so good for kid's toys) and then finish. The ears are just a body shape, done up to the end of the increases, then folded and shaped before attaching.

I used a chenille yarn for the furry bits, and thickish crochet thread for the clothing. I did a bit of shaping on the arms to suggest paws by decreasing on the row after the main increases ended. The eyes and nose came from another craft shop, and the mouth detail was satin stitch - about the only embroidery stitch I can do.

To do the skirt I crocheted a chain into the body, then crocheted off that in rounds. I increased slightly at the bottom to get the flare, then did a scallop edge by crocheting 5tr into every third stitch at the bottom.

The hair was sewn onto the shaft of the dcs along about a quarter on the head, then knotted to form 2 'hairs'. Once it was all in, I combed it into shape with a wide-tooth comb, trimmed the ends and tied it with the bows.

The flower was a simple loop chain with 10dc in yellow, the petals in red by *slst into dc, 4ch, ttr into same dc, 4ch and slst in same loop, 2ch, skip a dc, repeat from *. It was sewn into the paw using the tails of the cotton. The shoe laces are just chains tied into bows.

I called her Goldilocks when I was making her. I always felt uncomfortable about the Goldilocks story, because there was no comeback on her for breaking and entering, willful damage and theft. Getting turned into a bear seemed fair! However my niece has decided she's a princess bear so she's now called Lady Di...

The project got me interested in amigurumi. I've been looking around for free patterns - don't want to buy unless I'm sure I want to do it - but haven't found anything inspirational. Most of them seem to be globular things, with no detail except what you can add with different coloured yarns and embellishments like eyes. Not enough challenge there! And I just don't see the cuteness value they're supposed to have.

I'm quite pleased with the way the shaping worked out. I'd love to try it again, if I ever get time. I have an idea for a very sultry Jessica Rabbit type bear for a friend,where I could really put shaping to work - maybe try shaping joints using a technique not unlike turning heels on socks. Needs some thinking about though.

Tra fn