The knitting bug really has me smote at the moment. My physical health is a little better at the moment and I’m just so enjoying being able to do creative things again. It’s one of the things that I really miss when I’m ill, not being able to express myself or entertain myself. Being ill gets very boring and frustrating rather too quickly for comfort. Even when I have the strength to pick up my needles, I end up knitting so slowly and painfully (physically and figuratively) that it just isn’t enjoyable or pleasant. This time I’ve so ill that I could barely read and when I did get the strength together to finally read a book, it took me hours and hours of very slow reading. I’m a fast reader and it sucks most when illness takes away the things that identify you most and that you enjoy most.
I’ve been knitting again. It’s another gift. Starting school is always an important occasion to mark but it can be hard to do when your little friend lives on the other side of the world. I often make cakes for local school starters but that doesn’t survive posting very well.
Starting school is all about shoes and new clothes (uniform here, traditionally bought several sizes too big for growing into), sometimes new stationery and books (but not normally for junior school) and the all-important lunchbox.
There’s a lot of choice on the market these days for lunchboxes, even in this country. When I was little in a small town (English small town not American village) there was pretty much the choice of two lunchboxes. Only that it wasn’t actually a choice because one was blue and had that famous steam engine on it and the other was pink with those ponies on it. Funny enough, I had a pink lunchbox. So did pretty much everyone else. With names emblazoned in permanent marker, or for the inventive parent, a scraggy strip of masking tape and biro. Occasionally someone got hold of a lunchbox in a different colour or design. Those boxes stood out on the lunch table. But I don’t think that there was any jealousy. They were made of super tough plastic (and subsequently lasted years), a box with two halves, a slightly suspicious hinge (which is probably why they never lasted longer) and a contrasting colour square handle. Inside was a matching flask of a density of plastic that was remarkable and best suited for time capsules rather than being lugged around by an infant. That was lunchboxes back then.
Now they come in a plethora of designs and shapes and colours. I imagine that even for a four-year old that there are all sorts of subconscious fashion minefields to negotiate when choosing one. I suppose that is one reason to be grateful for school uniforms. Non-uniform days were always a nightmare dreaded for weeks in advance by the completely fashion-oblivious overweight frump of myself. It was easier in Sixth Form, I had developed a little more deliberate awareness of what I wore (having long been the victim of five years out of date pass-ons from cousins who were always three foot taller and skinnier) and for non-uniform days, we wore pigtails or bunches and remnants of our previous uniforms with the loosely knotted ties somewhere by our stomachs. It was the fashion, one created within the confines of one small school.
But lunchboxes are important. Well, food is. Armies, school children and me all march on their stomachs.
So I knew what I’d be making up for this particular school start.
Knitted, of course.
But life and me being who we are, things had got a little bit behind so I had to get a rush on. It seems some countries actually start school halfway through the summer holidays which, first of all, is both confusing and weird and second, not convenient when you’re trying to work out your deadline.
How Do You Make a Swiss Roll?
Push him down a mountain.
(Yes, highly PC in this day and age).
I decided to start with something easy to get me started. This pattern was deliciously simple but so effective. If you’re just learning to knit, I recommend making one of these up.
There are probably all sorts of rules in place as regards the healthy contents of a child’s lunchbox these days but what is the first day of school without cake? You have to have cake in a lunchbox. Just a little one. Sometimes. It’s got to better than crisps, surely? (Besides, I can’t knit crisps).
I Can’t Make Sandwiches
It’s true, I can’t. It’s one of those truly English concepts that have just bypassed me, I’m game to cook from exotic cultures the world over but I cannot master English. My cooked breakfast (other than being vegetarian) usually features non-English staples such as halloumi, roasted peppers and waffles. My husband’s mini-roast may have meat and potatoes on the plate but also grilled Mediterranean vegetables. I’m a fusion specialist, clearly.
I don’t get sandwiches, not English sandwiches. There’s the sliced bread which the Iberians have appropriately branded ‘bimbo’ and that my father called ‘blotting paper’, it’s great for toast but it’s not great stuff. Then you need a wafer of cheese or ham or both. For someone brave and daring, there may also be some pickle (not a gherkin if you’re American) but probably just mayonnaise. There will be no salad, not even a leaf of iceberg. But do you know what the worst thing is? They butter the bread! I’m serious. No, English sandwich is complete without a foot deep smearing of margarine. They don’t even use real butter. An English sandwich has no depth and has a tell-tale ooze of yellow slime squishing from between the slices. I don’t get it.
My husband has banned me from making him sandwiches. My idea of a sandwich is to grab whatever happens to be in the fridge and stick it in. With no butter. And plenty of salad. And plenty of flavour. I had jalapeño and cream cheese sandwiches at school which is the closest I came to being bland. In America, I found out that bagel shops think that this is fine and will add avocado too. Mm. But apparently pesto is not an acceptable alternative to pickle.
So knitting an English sandwich was something of a challenge. The husband, who has limited tolerance thresholds when it comes to make-believe, is convinced that my bread is way too thick and plump. But then he reckoned that the crust round the outside of the bread was the filling. It got very confusing. Chocolate spread or fish paste?
The bread is made in the pattern from two white sections and then knitting a huge long strip of crust. I knew that I didn’t have the patience to knit a four stitch scarf and then do all that fiddly sewing. I hate sewing, have I mentioned?
Instead, I knitted the bread as one section with a strip of crust between then picked up stitches all the way around with a circular needle and knitted the crust from that. An awful lot less sewing, thank you very much.
Even though it used a lot more yarn, I found that having the ‘crust’ on both edges and therefore folding in double actually made it easier to sew up. If you get what I mean!
As this was a pattern for an English sandwich there was no salad in it. I didn’t approve. I had to make at least some lettuce! The lettuce is a modified version of the lettuce made for the burger pattern at the beginning of the same pattern book. The sharp-eyed amongst you will have noticed that the lettuce is technically made from crocodile. So whilst the ham is probably technically vegetarian, the lettuce isn’t. Only in my world.
It’s definitely a high fibre sandwich and is about as synthetic as an English sandwich. Although the ham probably has a higher protein content than that found in the supermarket.
Oranges and Lemons
Or just a satsuma. A classic piece of fruit for a child’s lunchbox. I’ve made an orange before from a different pattern set and borrowed a technique from that to give the satsuma appropriate texture, simply turn the knitting inside out and use the reverse (or ‘wrong’) side!
Bananas in Pyjamas
Well, if not pyjamas, then a very natty peel-able skin. I just love that! Isn’t that cool? I had to master sewing (ugh!) in a zip which I’ve never done before in my knitting but it was definitely worth it.
Like the orange, I have knitted bananas before. There was one from the fruit set I knitted a while back and the really fiddly silly little bits one for the monkey. The banana from the fruit set had a few stitches put in it to give it the curve and this was the only downside with this particular pattern, the banana was totally straight! I don’t eat bananas (husband says that (apparently) I have put the zip at the wrong end and that you open them from the other end to mine, but how am I meant to know?!) but I do know that they curve. I had a little light bulb moment.
Do you remember that moose I made? Well his antlers were held up and shaped by pipe cleaners. (Technically, one, cut in half). I still had some. They’re the modern type of pipe cleaner, slightly floppy and furry but not as reliable as the old white cotton caterpillar ones that I remember. I had to twist two together to get enough rigidity for the banana. I put them in the middle of the fruit and stuffed around them. The banana curves.
For the items above I was working from patterns which is a lot easier. However, there is something very important that you need in a lunchbox that I didn’t have a pattern for. A drink. You’ve got to have a drink. Even camels like me take one in our lunchboxes.
I had to improvise. I made up a piece of knitting that when folded made a carton shape the same size as a sponge scrubber (clean but the same was what I use for washing up, stripped of the scratchy pad). I then made up a wee circle of garter stitch (remember what I said about orange texture?) which I borrowed from a flower pattern to sew on and then it was all downhill after that, I had to sew. I cannot sew. I had to embroider. I really cannot embroider.
I robbed a straw from a real wee drinks carton and sewed it on the back.
But there was still something missing from the lunchbox, it felt like I’d missed out on something important.
All children have a yoghurt in their lunchbox. I don’t why, maybe it’s some unwritten Law. I don’t like fruit yoghurt. And I have never seen a pattern for a yoghurt pot.
It was time to improvise. Again.
The pot was knitted in the round on DPNs. (That’s the good thing about learning a new skill, you will always end up using it again). I knitted a strawberry to sew on, I’m sure what I based it on, perhaps the same flower centre but misshaped.
Then I had a snag. How do you knit a yoghurt pot lid?
I did my best. I went for seed stitch. (Or moss?) I remembered to work a line of decreases for that little snap corner. But it came out a little bit big. I didn’t mind. It was just about big enough for me to embroider the word ‘yoghurt’ wonkily across it. But it was rather big on the pot. Way beyond the husband’s imagination threshold. I didn’t have plan B so it was going to have to do.
I will never be a designer. Nor should I be allowed to be.
But I finished the lunchbox up, adding some cute little hair ties and posted it off.
I wonder what little one will make of it.