Shell pattern shawl

As the mother of three and grandmother of four lively kids, my daughter is never at a loss to find some kind of absorbing activity to distract a bored and wandering mind. That ability she also applies to me, so when I was casting around for something to occupy me while listening to podcasts in the evening during our recent holiday, she generously presented me with several skeins of a beautiful soft yarn, Drops Lace. A light, very fine mixture of baby alpaca and mulberry silk, in pale pink and violet, it felt like gossamer. I caressed and cuddled it for a while, wondering what it wanted to become, then took a small sized crochet needle and began to cast on.

I wasn’t sure what I was making, and after several rows of mesh it was clear it wasn’t working. I unravelled it and started again with the yarn doubled, one of each colour. I liked the colour effect but the small-sized crochet hook made the stitch fiddly and the mesh pattern was not at all satisfying. It kept me busy for a few hours, though, and unravelling the fine yarn was even more absorbing than the crocheting so my daughter was able to get on with her knitting in peace.

When I got back home again after the holiday, I fished out my unsatisfactory work and carefully undid it all yet again. The Internet (Jonna Martinez’s youtube tutorial at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vI4U53yFjuo) had revealed a stitch I thought might suit this delicate yarn, a variation on a shell stitch, softer and more feminine than the fishnet pattern, and as I had several kilometres of yarn I was hopeful that there might be enough to make a small shawl.  There was. And even some left over.

Another ingenious idea popped up here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i72FFsQyy74 on youtube. I love Kristin’s facial expressions as she demonstrates her method, she’s having such fun. I wish I had seen that before I spent so many hours winding up my little balls of yarn, as fine yarn tends to stick to itself and tie itself in knots. But maybe next time.

This time I used a size 4 hook instead of a size 2, which made the work easier. I had three skeins of pink and two of violet, so I used two pink threads to one violet for the main body of the work, then worked four rows of double-thread pink, followed by two pink threads and one violet. I realised I was now running out of pink so swapped to two of violet and one pink, then finally finished off with double-thread violet, which gave a nice shaded effect towards the edge.

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The pattern needs a bit of concentration at first, but isn’t really difficult and of course repetition makes it automatic after a while. For me, that’s dangerous as I then lose count and make silly mistakes, but I caught and remedied most of them. I console myself that in Islamic art, there’s always a deliberate mistake because only God can create perfection. Who’s going to notice, anyway? My shawl is far from perfect, but I think the yarn is happy in this form.

Kenavo, Breizh!

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It’s our last day here in Brittany. Tomorrow morning, we’ll close up the house, have a last look at the view, and wave goodbye till next time. Kenavo, Breizh! (which is Breton for au revoir, Bretagne!)

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The summer is officially over. The air was filled with shrill tweetings and twitterings as the swallows began assembling on the cables on Saturday, 1 September, having received the annual signal by whatever mysterious manner it’s conveyed to them, and are now clearly well on their way south.

Children, presumably also tweeting and twittering, returned to school this week, so the still sunny beaches are also now much quieter and calmer, as families are replaced by middle-aged ramblers, some of whom are following a section of St James’ Way to Santiago di Compostela which passes through here. IMG_2879.jpg

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The sky is still blue, the air mild, the sun bright. This is one region of Europe that has remained green during this year’s scorching summer, and although the hydrangea flowers are now fading and turning brown, they have been magnificent.

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Unable to resist the desire to record the ineffable beauty of the sun sinking into the sea, I have added many more photos to my already vast collection of marine sunsets (I bored you with some of these last October in my posts La Mer … Ar Mor and More of Ar Mor).

We’ve been busy, but have also had time to visit a very nice little Wool Fair in an inland village, that was worth the trip in itself,

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and my daughter has stripped the armchairs belonging to my father and mother down to their wooden skeletons, all ready to re-upholster sometime during her next visit,

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And I also managed to crochet a lap rug/shawl in soft blue wool that is perfect when the evenings grow chill. That is, of course, nothing in comparison with my daughter’s enormous pile of cardigans and sweaters that seems to increase overnight!

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IMG_2885Already subdued by the thought of departure, our mood is made more sombre by the sad news of the death of one of our neighbours, a kind and gentle lady who has struggled with ill health for a number of years, and recently seemed to be winning. Alas, she lost. And will be greatly missed. She and her husband have lived here for a very long time, and are very much a part of the fabric of the place. It’s a devastating blow for him; they have been a truly devoted couple.

Almost three decades ago, when we first came here, most of the houses in our little cul-de-sac were occupied by couples, some with children, others with grandchildren of much the same age, who banded together during the long French summer vacations for games on the beach or gatherings in each other’s houses. These children are now all adults, with their own families, and rarely meet up nowadays, taking their vacations elsewhere.

Those of us left, one by one, are all being defeated by advancing age. Widows and widowers where there were once happy marriages, their children or strangers taking over houses left empty. Our house, too, is following this trend, but in a cheerful, positive way: it now belongs to my daughter and continues to resound to the laughter and cries of my grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who are all equally attached to their Breton holiday home. Some of them will be here in the October half-tem break, as they were last year.

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But for my daughter and me, our summer holiday is over. The last load of washing is dry, rooms vacuumed, dusted and tidied, the outdoor furniture put away in the garage, and the car packed. Tomorrow, like the swallows, we will “fly” south. And hopefully return in the spring.

Keep calm and carry on …

“Are you looking forward to your holiday in Florida?”

I ought to be. The prospect of sunshine and sea should be filling me with bright expectation. But no. I’m spending too much time and energy trying on summer clothes, checking what still fits and looks reasonable, horrified at my stubby white legs and rolls of fat around my midriff that have been insulating me during the winter months but now just look plain unsightly. The snow has gone at last, and spring is starting to spread its blossoms around, but trying on shorts and sun tops still feels surreal and vaguely indecent.

My suitcase is bulging already, not only with clothes but also sun creams, packets of coffee and … cheese fondue by special request. I can’t lift it. Something will have to come out. My skinny friend – my hostess and travelling companion – manages with a rucksack: tiny bikinis, shorts and tops occupy a fraction of the space my XXL swimsuits take up. Admittedly, she also has a wardrobe full of apparel in her Floridian home.

I hate the run-up to travelling. It seems so much more of a hassle nowadays than it used to be. Yes, I have my passport, ticket, API, ESTA, and US dollars. Make sure they are in my hand luggage and not in the suitcase. The boarding pass now comes magically onto my phone, supposedly simplifying check-in at the airport. My suitcase  – contents halved – still seems to weigh almost as much as I do. Luckily, it’s on wheels – but I long for the day when I’ll say, “Beam me up, Scotty!” and that will include whatever luggage I need. For now, there’s a walk to the station, the train, a car ride, the plane and another car at the other end before I can relax and say, “I’ve arrived!”

This time, though, in addition to my usual pre-travelling nerves, I also have concerns related to my still unsold house. The mills are grinding, but very slowly. Various experts have looked at it, including (at last!) the insurance company representative. Bless him, he has written today offering me a lump sum covering all the work, to be offset against any diminution in the value of the house. Well, at least the sale can now go ahead and it will be the new owners who inherit all the headaches. The house will, hopefully, arise like a phoenix (from water, not fire!) – aptly enough, given that it’s Easter. I am happy to relinquish it. “All things work for good for those who believe.”

What has helped me keep my sanity through all this? Well, “Keep calm and carry on crocheting” could be my devise. Whenever I felt my blood pressure rising, I picked up my Afghan blanket, which is growing apace. Something positive comes from any negative experience …

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I’m calling this Pythagoras – the square on the hypotenuse …

 

Of Beanies, Cowls and Blankets

Time for an update on my crochet, as my hook has been pretty busy over the last few months. Beanies were on my brain, and I had plenty of lovely colours from the rainbow box my granddaughter sent me. What better then, than to supply her little girls with hats? They already have enough, of course, but I happened to come across a pattern for a unicorn beanie, and as Carnival was approaching and little girls all seem to be into unicorns, that’s what they got. One each, a little horn for the baby and a large one for her big sister.

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IMG_2052No, they didn’t actually go to Carnival as unicorns – Wonder Woman was more appropriate!

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One very pretty variegated skein of brown, beige and orange shades seemed exactly right for a cowl for my friend K, and she would have been very pleased with it, except that she says she can’t wear wool next to her skin, and politely gave it back to me.

 

 

 

 

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And a burnt orange skein was also just long enough to make a cowl for another friend –  if she also informs me that she doesn’t like wool next to her skin, I think I shall have to open an Etsy shop! My button jar turned out five buttons in exactly the same shade, so this one is a slightly different finish to the brown one.

This friend is also getting a tea-cosy. She likes pansies, so I had fun using up scraps to make different coloured flowers to decorate this. I have a feeling this may also be politely refused, but I hope not. Being English, she’s a tea drinker – but does she use a teapot or make the tea straight in the cup?  I’ll soon find out!

 

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My current more ambitious project, for which I forked out money for the wool myself, is a granny square blanket for my bed. It’s called a Kaleidoscope blanket, and gives the illusion of being several squares superimposed on one another.
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I’m calling it a Penelope blanket – you may recall that in the Odyssey, Odysseus’ wife Penelope spent her days weaving a tapestry which she undid at night. Mine has been undone countless times because it refused to lie flat. It would have been fine as a hammock, but that wasn’t my intention.

Eventually, I discovered a YouTube tutorial which explained what I was doing wrong, so I took it back to square one (literally!) and this time it’s behaving itself. The only snag now is that I seem to be running out of wool, so this project may turn out to be more expensive than intended.

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I still have plenty of odd skeins in my rainbow box, so there may be more beanies, cowls and even amigurumi on the way.

 

Rainbow in a Box

Pink cable cowlRemember my pink cable strip?
I didn’t need to buy extra wool to finish it off, as my Darling Daughter (who supplied the first skeins) informed me that she still had another skein of it, which she posted to me. So I now have a cowl or headband, depending on need and fancy, that looks quite pretty.

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Around the same time, my Dear Granddaughter also sent me a large cardboard box filled with a rainbow of yarns to play with. I spent the first day just admiring the colours and squeezing the skeins, enjoying the feel.

I’m not alone in this: my second Dear Granddaughter, who has the nose of a parfumier, also revels in the scent of her newly purchased wools, caressing and nuzzling them.

Browsing cable patterns and Celtic knots – which are still beyond me but I live in hope of deciphering the charts one day – I came across a cushion with a tree pattern in relief.

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What it should look like ….

Now I know how to make relief stitches so I bought the pattern, selected a light green cotton yarn from my new stash, and set to work. Alas, I got tangled in the branches so my version isn’t quite what it was supposed to be; but I’m reasonably pleased with the result and will persevere with this pattern, since it cost me $5.10, and submit faithfully to its discipline the second time around.

The cable edging and the back of the cushion will be child’s play after this. Thank you to DG for supplying me with so much yarn that I can keep practising.

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The story so far …

 

 

 

I delight in the arcane vernacular of handicrafts. This particular pattern uses not only single and double crochet, but also half-double, front post double and treble, and a high falutin’ “modified tr3tog” which is a modified treble crochet 3 together. I’m patting myself on the back for understanding what these are, and am even more proud that I can actually execute them.

It reminds me of a rhyme I learnt as a child in the late nineteen-forties, when my mother was taking classes in basketry and kindly (optimistically) trying to pass on her skills to me:

I can rand
At your command,
Put on a decent border;
Upset tight,
Wale all right,
And keep my stakes in order.

At the time, she showed me how to rand, upset and wale, as well as how to secure the border and manage the stakes. I understood the theory, and knew how each kind of weave should look. I also remember lengths of cane soaking in the bath tub to make it pliable, and fighting with it as it refused to wind itself neatly around my stakes, which were also out of control and leaned in all directions. In my case, “wale” should have been spelled “wail”.

My mother on the other hand was gifted for any kind of handicraft, and we still have a few of her baskets (rescued during our house clearance) that must be getting on for seventy years old. Neat randing, upsetting and waling around perfectly spaced stakes, and borders that are only now beginning to come loose here and there as the cane becomes brittle and snaps. Cherished mementoes. I wonder if, sixty years from now, any of my descendants will be holding my handiwork and feeling as sentimental about it?

PS: I’m sorry, I forgot to say that the pattern is the Tree of Life Cabled Pillow by http://www.lillabjorncrochet.com (I found it on http://www.revelry.com) and I am using Gedifra Mayra 90% cotton and 10& polyamide, colour 2067. Not the recommended yarn, which should be Aran weight. 

Beanies, Minnie Mouse And Pompoms

My newest great-granddaughter was one year old last Monday: so what should I give her as a present? She’s the second little girl in the family and the youngest of four, so has more than enough toys and clothes. I want my gift to be something useful, something she needs. What doesn’t she have?

IMG_2788I look at her, and know immediately; the only thing she lacks is hair. This pretty blue-eyed baby is perfect in every way, but she has only the finest covering of down on her head, not a single little curl! No, no, I didn’t give her a wig – but the next best thing. I crocheted her three hats.

First, these two simple beanies from wool I had in my bag – I can’t call it a stash. You should see what my daughter has tucked away in drawers and cupboards! That’s a stash. You may recognise the wool in the white/grey hat as it’s the remnant from my cardigan and cobweb shawl. Perfect for a bald baby, very soft and light but warm. The blue one matches her eyes and has flaps to keep her ears warm.

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I was inspired to find a pattern for a Minnie Mouse bonnet with pompoms (two black ones on top for ears, and pink ones at the end of each braid) and a big pink bow on top. The bow looks rather sausagy on this photo, because of the angle – the hat is a shade too big – but in real life it looks cute.

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Thank you to my Dear Daughter for her invaluable assistance here. We have a knitting shop in my village, but I had only ever walked past it and never gone in. I decided about a fortnight before the Birthday that I’d support local trade, and get my wool there but unfortunately it was closed. The sign in the window said “On vacation till 25 November”. That was annoying, but it still left me a week for my project.

However, when I struggled through the rain and wind to the shop on Saturday, 25 November, it was still closed. At this point DD stepped in and offered me wool from her stash, so I was saved. I managed to make the little hat in the couple of days still available to me while I was staying at her house, and once again it was DD to the rescue when it came to making the pompoms, as we went out together and bought pompom makers (that’s a new invention since my youth: we just used cardboard cut into circles). That inspired me afresh. I have a few beanies I made last year that would benefit from being crowned with a pompom.

After I got home, I ventured out once again to the knitting shop in my village. This time, it was open. It’s very tiny, with some flashy hand knits on sale, a limited selection of extremely expensive wool, and an intimidating lady running it. I poked around a bit, but didn’t find anything that appealed to me so when SHE challenged me (I can think of no better word for the tone in which she asked me if I was looking for something special) I just stuttered that I was looking for white wool to make pompoms.

With that withering look sales assistants in boutiques cast at anyone over a size 0, she produced a plastic bag with several small balls of yarn, obviously leftovers. Yes, there were two skeins of white virgin wool. Fifty cents each. I paid and crept out.

To cheer myself up, I decided to learn some new crocheting skills from YouTube tutorials, and am now proficient in making fancy cables. However, cables use up a lot of wool so a whole 50g has gone into this little piece. That’s 100 metres of wool. What will it become? I’ll let you know when it’s finished. One thing is sure: though I shall need more wool to complete this project, I won’t be buying any from the village shop.

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Figuring Out: Keto And Cobwebs

At my last visit to the doctor in September, I was horrified to see the number of kilos that flashed up on the scale. “That’s about 30 kg overweight,” I muttered dejectedly. My lovely GP, a wise, white-haired gentleman, shook his head. “No, no,” he said decidedly. “If you want to lose weight, then aim for 2 or 3 kg. That’s doable.”

All the women of my family have a tendency towards getting plump. “Traditionally built women,” says Alexander McCall Smith. “Good doers,” said my mother, who had learned to keep her weight in check over many years by physical hard work and cutting down on her calorie intake whenever her waistband began to feel tight. “We convert every ounce we eat into flesh and fat!”

I suppose that for my ancestors – a very long line of agricultural labourers, miners, blacksmiths, domestic servants and good old-fashioned housewives – that was a necessity for survival. They needed to derive every bit of energy they could from their meagre diets. Centuries of genetic selection have defined my metabolism. I instinctively go for cheese, crusty brown bread with half an inch of butter, fried crispy bacon and eggs. Carbohydrates and fat. I don’t really have a sweet tooth, probably the result of sugar being rationed until I was twelve, and my tastes had been formed. I can live without chocolate and puddings, though I enjoy them if they are available. And thereby lies the answer: if it’s in my fridge or food cupboard, I eat it.

When I was younger I got enough exercise to keep myself fit and within the acceptable BMI range. Now, I know I don’t move enough. And back in April and May, when I was swimming and riding my tricycle every day for miles in Sanibel, I proved it by getting much fitter (though my weight remained the same – muscle weighs heavier than fat!). However, I’m lazy and need someone to crack the whip – and for lack of another person to do that, I need to concentrate on finding my inner slave-driver.

A couple of years ago in England, I followed Slimming World for a few months and was delighted with the result: a whole stone gone! (That’s 14 lbs or about 6 kg.) But stress has always driven me to comfort eating, and that’s my excuse for putting on double what I’d lost, in the intervening period.

As happens so frequently, my clever daughter came to my rescue. She had been doing a lot of research into the LCHF regime – low carbs, high fat – and the results were impressive. My daughter, my son-in-law and my granddaughter (who had gained weight after her fourth baby) had fulfilled Hamlet’s wish: Oh that this too, too solid flesh would melt! And they all reported increased energy levels, and a general feeling of well-being.

Now in the last two months I have spent quite a lot of time with my daughter in England and Brittany, so was able to share her meals and snacks as well as learn the theory of this way of eating. Oh yes, I admit I strayed from the path: I was in the company of family and old friends, too, and we were often invited for meals, so my diet in England was definitely High Fat, High Carbs, High Protein, with the expected result. But it was delicious.

In France, I exercised slightly more self-control and resisted the temptation to add a crusty baguette to my camembert, chèvre and époisses cheeses. It was such a joy to be eating those creamy cheeses, as well as Greek yoghourt, crème fraiche, avocado, bacon and eggs, with no guilty conscience! And, of course, seafood. An unpleasant side-effect was a certain degree of constipation, something that, with my intestinal history, is best avoided. I tried a fibrous cereal for breakfast, but much more effective is the fibre from plenty of fruit and vegetables. And prunes! I am also aiming not to eat unless I feel hungry.

I hopped on the scale once or twice in Brittany, but there was little variation in the swing of the needle. However, now I’ve been back for over a week, sticking to my eggs, cheese, cream, fish, fruit and vegetable diet, as well as keeping myself busy with domestic tasks. So I smiled to discover this morning that two of those superfluous kilos have gone. I still can’t fasten the jeans I was wearing two years ago, but the ones I’ve been wearing all summer are getting a bit loose!

While we were in Brittany, my daughter also led me astray – to a wool shop tucked away in a dingy part of town like a jewel in a mud pie. Here I couldn’t resist some very soft lightweight yarn by Katia called Lucy Lace, 40% wool, 40% acrylic and 20% alpaca. The balls looked and felt like fluffy kittens, and I bought a litter of five, plus one skein of very dark grey, also by Katia, called Sweet Lace, which is 80% acrylic, 10% wool and 10% mohair. I chose the chevron lace pattern again, and produced a striking cardigan using less than three skeins: featherweight but very warm, in fact almost weightless. A 50 g skein is 315 m in length, so goes a very long way.

Chevron cardigan

The chevron pattern fascinates me, and I wondered how it would look in the round, so with the remaining half ball and and one more skein, I made this cobweb shawl – very appropriately completed on Hallowe’en. Would it be overkill to wear them together?

Cobweb shawl

I have an entire skein of the variegated grey and about a quarter of a skein of the dark yarn, so perhaps I’ll just keep going round and round the perimeter of the shawl until it’s all used up and the shawl is about three metres in diameter – or wait for further inspiration.