Details on my Ravelry page
Details on my Ravelry page
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.
My husband (bless his cotton or otherwise socks) has precious little imagination. Or so it seems. I don’t get it. How can you not have imagination? It’s as strange to me as people who do know how to count. Without calculators, without fingers. Surely it’s something that every human being is just born with? What is life without imagination?
Admittedly, mine is perhaps a little overenthusiastic, especially when it comes to disastrous consequences. I am a champion worrier.
My husband looks at things the way most well-meaning adults squint at a three-year old’s masterpiece. Oh so that’s a tree? Oh no, of course, it’s a butterfly, silly me! He can’t see things in clouds and looks at me crazy when I point out a passing dinosaur. Especially when I add that it has now morphed into a shark. Is it possible to pass your life without seeing pictures in the sky or words in number plates? I find it hard to believe, it’s an alien world to me.
He didn’t know that there was a man in the moon. And that everyone knows that. It’s not just me being crazy. Fortunately, he did know that it was made of cheese otherwise I would have really worried about his childhood education. Probably because it was on the telly; they had to take a rocket up there when they ran out of Wensleydale. Everyone knows that the moon is made of cheese. Just don’t forget the crackers.
The lack of imagination means that make-believe, something that I passionately see as both essential and normal in child development, is somewhat challenging. It’s hard to teach a twenty-something year old these life skills. For him, it has to be exactly the same or it just isn’t anything like.
Maybe it is a ‘bloke’ thing, being very literal. He follows instructions religiously. I think out of the box and several solar systems away. He has to have the right tool for the job otherwise it can’t be done. I improvise. He stirs the pan with dedication as directed on the packet. I abandon it to its own devices except for a few intermittent pokes so that I can get on with other things. To him, recipes are Law. Well, you know what I’m like with them.
I nearly passed out the other day when he suggested substituting an ingredient in a recipe that he fancied for something that we did have. I’m a convicted heretic on that score. (Which rather does suggest that bad habits do rub off).
His make-believe tolerance is severely tested when it comes to yarn made toys especially the food that I knit up on a regular basis.
Knitted food does of course have certain limitations. Chiefly, the colour variation or lack thereof. There just isn’t the tonal range of nature in a ball of acrylic. (And yes, I do knit with acrylic, so hang me). Or any other fibre either. Variegated and self-striping, although inherently varied, are a little too regular and uniform for a natural effect. I know that some folk paint shading on afterwards but that’s not really something I want to get into. For lots of reasons.
However, if you went out and bought a set of that much coveted (it was the object of my desires as a child, the closest we ever came was a pizza-shaped pencil sharpener which we adored) plastic fruit it would face the same issues: colour, tone, texture. But then I guess that plastic is just always going to be an acceptable alternative to reality. There’s a more collective understanding of what the shorthand of plastic toys is. Handmade yarn creations, well that’s entirely dependent on your imaginative translation.
If you give a child a box, is it just a box or something else, something more? Perhaps, sadly, to my husband, it is just a box. I see potential. I see beyond the one-time, one-use labels that modern society imposes on objects. A box is always something more to me even now that I’m too big to climb inside aeroplanes or to build myself a house. Or maybe I’m not. It just depends on how big the box is.
What is a world without imagination? I would be more scared if I could better comprehend it. I guess it’s a world where children are tethered to electronic entertainment and ‘play’ with ready formed plastic toys that come with their role, their use clearly predefined.
Sometimes I come crashing up against that modern life, that modern generation in my husband. It is, thankfully perhaps, alien to me. So I will continue to knit strange shapes that claim some semblance to reality and muse at cloud forms. In the meantime, my husband will read how we should properly do something and stop the dinner from sticking. Maybe it’s the best of both worlds.
I’ve been very whingy of late, talking all about myself (although admittedly that is rather the concept of a blog, I guess!) and not sharing any words of wisdom (if I ever have had any) nor entertaining you with my highly random musings nor keeping you up to date with my crafting progress. So here are a few knitted things to change the scene (and a plea for further patience from the non-knitters amongst you!).
If you are a knitter or crafter or ever wish to be then I have some very sage advice for you. When knitting for specific occasions (those that create the dreaded deadlines) it is best not to the start the week of. It’s really not good for your nerves. I know this, probably have done this to myself before, but still found myself doing it again. And wondering why. If not cursing myself. The problem is that sometimes things can seem an awful long way away and sometimes it can be that there’s plenty of other things to worry about. In either case you suddenly find yourself with a week to go and nothing but a to make list between your hands. Now please take my advice, just don’t do it to yourself.
Personally, I do not do being under pressure at all so this wasn’t exactly the most pleasant situation and although I knitted like crazy, Murphy’s Law always kicks in and it seems like you’re knitting slower than you even thought was possible. I just kept on knitting though, determined to see my projects done, focused on the barely growing fabric and abandoning any other tasks, just keep knitting I told myself, the housework will still be there later. Whilst mentally resolving to never leave things so late again. (Time will tell whether that resolution is upheld so I will keep you posted!)
I made my deadline. I did! Surprisingly. I finished at the hideously unearthly hour of half past one the night before, or more technically the morning of. I don’t think I’ve ever made anything up so fast, my projects tend to have little rest periods between stages of activity and there was definitely no time for that this time.
So here they, done and finished.
Do you remember the blue hot water bottle cover I showed you? (Oh, alright, I did start at least one thing in advance, fortunately). It still needed a twisted cord to draw its opening so here is the finished article:
It wasn’t too difficult a pattern to follow because the basic bodies are similar for most of the animals from the book however as I usually try to get help with the making up (especially for embroidering the details) this is the first one that I’ve made completely on my own. Big girl that I am now!
I find the most useful needle for attaching stuffed toy parts is a curved needle, a type of needle which is commonly used for upholstery. As they’re not intended to be used with yarn you do have to use a quite a big size in order to have a large enough eye to thread with DK-weight yarn, the downside with the bigger needle is that it means working with a bigger curve which can make it a little more challenging to fit around the tighter corners but it’s definitely a lot easier than using a straight needle. A curved needle can also be a little unwieldy and prick you from the most unexpected angles, I have noticed. But that’s probably user-related.
Here’s a shot of the curved needle in operation although I’m not entirely sure whether a closeup of a moose’s armpit is a pleasant sight to share:
I particularly loved the little hooves on the moose’s legs and arms and well, tassels are always cute:
And I thought the antlers were very cunningly designed, you start with something that looks like a stereotypical pine tree and fold it around a pipe cleaner, et voilà! antler!
And here is the finished moose:
The next project was something that could be best described as ‘random’, mooses aren’t in comparison, trust me. The recipient in question had taken a shine to a soft toy online, something the Americans call a plush toy, and I wasn’t prepared to fork out the money for it and order it from America, this last especially not within a week’s deadline. This isn’t laziness per se but the realisation that comes to all knitters that they could make the thing for an awful lot cheaper. Easier is often included in that realisation however that probably isn’t accurate in this case because I had to ‘design’ the thing myself. ‘Design’ in my limited knitted experience means cobbling parts from other things mainly and hoping for the best. Amazingly it did pass muster and was gratefully received.
The toy in question? Yes, I had found myself knitting e-coli. As you do really. This is the finished ‘bug’:
His body is technically a zebra’s proverbial from the above book, his ‘legs’ or ‘tentacles’, (does anyone know the correct word?!) were made from three colours (beige, brown and white) of yarn held as one very chunky strand and knit into a three stitch i-cord (I ran out of time to make more but also explained it by saying that anymore would have been too heavy on this guy!) and the buttons were discovered in the button box in the wee small hours:
If I made another one (I don’t really know how often I’ll be called upon to make bacteria and other germies in my knitting life!) there are of course tweaks that I would make the second time around, maybe add more of a base between the two ‘face’ sections and weight that maybe with sponge. If I could get a variegated or self striping yarn with the right colourways then that would also reduce the weight of the ‘legs’, ‘tentacles’, ‘whatevers’. Maybe some proper soft toy-style eyes too, more like the one on the plushy. But hey, I made it in a day and I’m glad that the recipient hadn’t taken the commercial version as gospel-truth (fortunately) so that gave me some free play.
So I knitted and I conquered. And yes, my knitting is as random as I am.