Tagged: Christmas decoration

Jan 03

Christmas leftovers

 

How to knit your own dishcloths

 

Christmas is over, bar a few lords a-leaping and the waft of pine needles from the vacuum cleaner. I usually hang on until 5th January, just ahead of Twelfth Night, before taking down the decs, but this year I’m itching to move on and put the last vestiges of 2013 well behind me. My goodness, I even feel drawn to a spot of spring cleaning! Which is why I started eyeing my large cone of Christmas baker’s twine* with intent. Here’s an idea, I thought. Why not try creating baker’s twine dishcloths?

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Knitting with Christmas leftovers

 

Perhaps not the obvious conclusion to draw, but if necessity’s the mother of invention then post-Christmas boredom is her efficient midwife.

In case it’s new to you, baker’s twine is a twirling barber’s pole of a string which has become incredibly popular in recent years, thanks largely to the efforts of Martha Stewart and others. It gets used for anything, it seems, except its original purpose of crisply tying up boxes of baked goods. The classic red-and-white combination has a jaunty Scandinavian cheerfulness, but you’ll find the string in an array of other colours now too. Hard to beat it for jazzing up simple brown paper or white tissue gift-wrapping.

I bought in a huge reel from the US a few years ago, but when it arrived I was disappointed to discover that it was  a lot thinner than I’d hoped. A good baker’s twine needs to be a certain bulk and preferably all cotton. This was puny and an inferior poly-cotton blend – not what I’d hoped for at all. So, I had a lot of thin twine on my hands. What to do with it? Well, I’ve wrapped endless gifts and parcels with it, and tied up lots of packets of cookies. But this was a big reel and I’d barely made a dent. I needed a bigger project.

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Red and white twine makes a cheery Scandi-style dishcloth

 

Sitting down this New Year’s Eve, I cast on 40 stitches on size 3.5 mm needles, started knitting and just kept going. Turns out that working baker’s twine in garter stitch is relatively easy, and I really like the marled effect.

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Knitting with baker’s twine

 

You can, of course try other materials to make dishcloths: linen yarn, or dedicated dishcloth cotton yarn (yes, it really does exist) which looks great in ecru or white with occasional alternating stripes of red or other contrast colour in the same weight/fibre yarn, as shown here in this charming Purl Bee tutorial. But you don’t really need a tutorial: just cast on a few dozen stitches as the mood takes you. Knit until you have a square. Or a rectangle. Or knit a square from corner to corner, increasing then decreasing. Dishcloths are a really great vehicle for sampling new stitches: border details can be included, and all kinds of fancy stitches will add a functional texture:  But plain old garter stitch is all you need if you’re working with a patterned yarn such as baker’s twine. And, whatever the stitch, dishcloths make very portable projects to carry around with you for that inevitable idle moment. I’m admittedly not much of a knitter, but even I find 5 minutes of knitting surprisingly relaxing.

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Baker’s twine dishcloth

 

I tested this square in the washing-up bowl to see if my Christmas occupation-creation scheme really had any point, other than reducing my towering twine-mountain and proving a mindlessly relaxing pass-time. Could laboriously knitting these babies really offer any noticeable improvement on the shop-bought machine-produced-dishcloth experience?

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Putting it through its paces

 

Well, the answer’s yes. It was definitely pleasanter scrubbing my plates with this highly textured, nubbly, stretchy textile. And, as a considerable quantity of one’s day is taken up with mundane domestic tasks such as washing up, why not make this inevitable chore as pleasurable as possible? My heart gladdens a little just seeing this dishcloth hanging up to dry.

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Handmade dishcloths drying

 

It stands to reason that if you knit your own dishcloths, you’ll be motivated to take slightly better care of them, hanging them up to dry rather than maybe leaving them to their fate in the washing-up water. Other than that, you can just throw these in the washing machine when it’s time to hotwash your tea-towels. I have a dedicated cloth saucepan in which I boil out dishcloths with a certain brand of ecologically sound oxygen bleach, though I remember my mother-in-law using just a spoonful of salt.

I’ll certainly be looking at string and twine a little differently from now on, sizing up its dishcloth potential. By the way, the other cloth there on my drying rack is knitted with much thicker cotton dishcloth yarn (a DK to the red-and-white twine’s 4-ply) edged in a chunkier blue/aqua baker’s twine which came from an Anthropologie sale a couple of years ago. It makes a much thicker, spongier textile and is a lot quicker to work up into a good-sized cloth.

 

Q. Do you already knit your own dishcloths? If so, I’d love to hear how and with what. If not, would you be tempted now to give it a go? Have a healthy, happy and well scrubbed 2014!

 

 

*baker’s twine, or should it be bakers twine? I am never quite sure. Today I’ve gone with an instinctive possessive apostrophe. Just a hunch. But if you know otherwise, please leave me a comment to set me straight. Thanks.

 

 

 

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Dec 27

Trees and stars

 

My unscheduled absence has been necessary. I’ve had stuff to do.

There have been pies to make.

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Trees to cut.

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Mountains to move. Well, some peaks to scale, at least.

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And stars to wish upon.

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I’m still busy with those stars.

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Hope your Christmas has been full of good things. See you in 2014!

 

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Dec 29

For the love of gingerbread

 

“Maybe my passion is nothing special, but at least it’s mine.”

― Tove JanssonTravelling Light

 

I’m guessing I’m not alone in adoring gingerbread. Spicy, warming and irresistible, it also comes with a raft of great stories, often intertwining themes of love and death. Fine medieval ladies offered their jousting knights gingerbread favours, sometimes pressed into heart shapes. In German fairytale, Hansel & Gretel were lured by the cannibalistic witch’s gingerbread house. And America gave us the Gingerbread Boy who ran away from the old couple who’d made him, but who would also eat him. Why the link between gingerbread and cannibalism? If there’s a psychoanalyst in the house, please make yourself known.

As befits a foodstuff that’s been with us since the middle ages, there’s quite a range of recipes. We have gingerbread: the cake and gingerbread: the biscuit. And before that we had gingerbread: the pressed mix of ground almonds, breadcrumbs, honey and spices (or just some of the above), from which the pre-impalement knightly nibbles would have been constructed. Here’s a nice article about some of the oldest gingerbread, complete with recipes. Different nations and regions have boasted gingerbread superiority. It’s a wonder we don’t need a dedicated Gingerbread Council at the United Nations.

For the past decade or so I’ve been making the biscuit kind of gingerbread for my own family at Christmas time. I may be in denial, but it’s my observation that it engenders a simple pleasure response from my nearest and dearest and very little, if any, conflict. Sometimes I go to town and ice the gingerbread to hang from the Christmas tree. Sometimes I just leave it plain for eating right away, warm from the oven. It’s got to the point where Christmas doesn’t feel quite right without a batch, the scent of the spiced baking suffusing the house. Mince pies I could do without, but I would really miss gingerbread. This is a little curious because it wasn’t something my own mother made.

Gingerbread hearts

Gingerbread cooling

This year’s batch was plain and simple, and my youngest helped stamp out the shapes.

Another thing that I’ve fallen for over the past decade or so is the Moomin books of Tove Jansson. I didn’t encounter them as a child, but my own kids have loved having them read to them. Besides a pleasing blend of cosiness and adventure, and a variety of quirky characters, there is an extraordinary emotional honesty within those books which is rare in children’s literature. If you’d like to know more, there’s a wonderful documentary about Tove Jansson currently viewable on BBC iPlayer. I’ve only recently discovered that she wrote books for adults too; reading them is one of my least onerous new year’s resolutions.

 

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Dec 27

Stitcher’s Christmas wreath

 

I hope you’re surviving the festive season intact. Isn’t it a relief when all the busy-ness slows down and you can sense a wonderful stillness?

I can finally show you a vintage haberdashery stitcher’s Christmas wreath which is currently gracing my front door.

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A few years ago I put together a wreath on a chef’s theme, but I thought it was about time I created a stitcher’s version. The basic wicker structure was bought years ago and is one of those things which I pull out every year along with the Christmas tree decorations and wonder when I’m finally going to do something with it.

I’ve tied on some of my old mother-of-pearl buttons with tough linen upholstery thread.

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And added a frayed old Dean fabric tape measure as a bow; it was once housed in a small round plastic case, but that broke irrevocably a long time ago.

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I also wrapped 5 wooden reels with deep red velvet ribbon and tied them on with invisible thread.

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Our door is under a slight porch so the wreath doesn’t take the full brunt of the weather (currently driving rain, mostly); I probably wouldn’t hang it outside otherwise as it isn’t really an all-weather creation. It will hopefully be hanging (as all my decorations do) right up to Twelfth Night. Then I will store it as is and haul it out again next year.

Did you make your own wreath this year? Did you use unusual materials? Or upcycled items? Please take a moment and tell me about it.

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Dec 15

Christmas at War

I’m going to be making-do-and-mending with the Museum of Bath at Work this Saturday, helping them to celebrate a World War II-style Christmas. Pop by between 10am and 4pm on Saturday 17th and you’ll likely find me wreathed in brown-paper chains with a ton of darning mushrooms and other selected vintage notions, including some gorgeous Fair-Isle knitting patterns. The museum’s usual entrance fee applies, but you’re guaranteed to really get in the mood; re-enactment group the Blitz Buddies will be there, and I hear there will be music and dancing to make the experience come alive. Incidentally, this event kicks off the 70th anniversary commemorations of the Bath Blitz next year. Bath was bombed as part of the retaliatory Baedeker raids on 25th and 26th April 1942. You can find out more at the Bath Blitz Memorial Project. If you have memories of Bath during the war, the museum would be delighted if you’d come along on Saturday and share them.

The Christmas at War organisers have broken it to me gently that I’m expected to dress the part. I’ve decided to go land-girl style, sporting a Fair-Isle tank top. Fair-Isle knitting was a great way to use up stray odds and ends of yarn (one had to unpick worn-out knitted garments and re-knit) but its popularity during World War II possibly owes as much to an interesting rationing loophole: whereas knitting wool was rationed (two ounces of knitting yarn took one precious clothing coupon), mending cards not exceeding one ounce were exempt. Yarn producers cottoned on to this and duly produced mending cards in an array of colours to meet the demand. Cunning, eh?

Mrs. Sew-and-Sew darns

There were, of course, five Christmases celebrated while the nation was at war. The festivities of 1939 weren’t so different from those pre-war, though new blackout restrictions ended the sight of lit Christmas trees in front windows. Rationing hadn’t kicked in yet, and people spent quite freely on gifts, in spite of the Chancellor’s injunction not to be wasteful.

1940 was the first real wartime Christmas. Britain was under siege. The Blitz had kicked off in London in September, and November had seen the devastating bombing of Coventry. Food rationing had begun in January. Practical Christmas gifts were in: gardening tools, books, bottling jars and seeds, with the most popular gift that year being soap.

Clothing and textiles were rationed from June 1941, and food rationing increased to its peak by Christmas. Petrol and manpower shortages prevented home-delivery of shop goods, so people now had to carry their purchases. Wrapping paper was very scarce, and toys were in short supply and (when they could be found) shoddily made and expensive. Home-made or renovated gifts were the thing. Yet this was an optimistic time because, with the Allies now in the war, Brits felt they would definitely beat Hitler.

By Christmas 1942, two popular gifts had succumbed to the ration: soap and sweets. In order to prepare for the festive season, food coupons had to be saved for months ahead. Homemade decorations were the order of the day; the Ministry of Food made the helpful suggestion that, though there were ‘no gay bowls of fruit’, vegetables could be used instead for their jolly colours: ‘The cheerful glow of carrots, the rich crimson of beetroot, the emerald of parsley – it looks as delightful as it tastes.’

Christmas 1943 saw shortages at their height. There was little chance of turkey, chicken or goose, or even rabbit. Much Christmas food was ‘mock’ (i.e. false): mock ‘turkey’ (made from lamb) and mock ‘cream’ and ‘marzipan’.  Make-do-and-mend presents were the order of the day; magazines printed instructions for knitted slippers and gloves, brooches made from scraps of wool, felt or plastic, and embroidered bookmarks and calendars.

Mending threads

Vintage mending threads

Christmas 1944 was probably the least joyful of the entire war. People had hoped it might be all over by Christmas, after the Allied Normandy invasion of June,  but mid-December saw the Ardennes Offensive with thousands killed on both sides. German air attacks (now V1 and V2 rockets) began in June, with 30 hitting England on Christmas Eve. One surprise benefit of the pilot-less doodlebugs was that blackout restrictions could be lifted, so churches lit their their stained glass windows for the first time in 4 years. DIY gifts were once again a necessity; the book Rag-Bag Toys gave instructions for making a cuddly pig from an old vest, and a doll from old stockings.

The unconfined joy of VE Day 1945 suddenly makes a lot more sense to me. I think I will be relishing my Christmas turkey and tree lights as never before this year!

The Museum of Bath at Work can be found on Julian Road (the Lansdown Hill end), tucked behind Christ Church.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dec 17

Chef’s make-do wreath

Thought I’d show you this wreath which I made for my front door last year. I had the chili wreath in my kitchen already, plus all the other bits and pieces. I just tied them on with thin wire. The thick “ribbon” was cut from a tea-towel which was too stained to keep, so I rescued the interesting detail with the help of my trusty pinking shears.

Now, every Christmas I make scads of gingerbread. I haven’t done so yet this year because I’ve been under the weather, but the gingerbread-man shape is on there as a nod to those baking habits; he’s a Christmas decoration bought from the American Museum a few years ago. I was hoping to do a haberdashery-inspired one this year, rather like the wonderful Vintage Violet (aka Maximum Rabbit Designs), but haven’t got around to it yet. And today, I’ve had to bake a birthday cake for a certain very special little person in my life: it’s Jamie’s party cake with the blueberries & whipped cream sandwiched between flaked-almond chocolate discs, topped with melted chocolate, with yet more grated on top. Hope it’ll taste good.

Anyway, if you’ve made a wreath with stuff that’s just lying around at home, I’d love to hear about it!

For the chef who already has everything

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Dec 14

Its Darling! Christmas Fair

Wow! What a weekend! I had an amazing time at the fair, despite the best sabotaging efforts of my cold virus. The Guildhall makes a wonderfully sedate, genteel, rather wedding-cakey backdrop (I’ve attended a wedding in that very room, now I come to think of it), and Becky and Catherine did a great job organising everything – as well as their own stalls. I tip my imaginary bonnet to them both. My experience of fairs isn’t vast, but this seems to be an extremely good-natured and genial one.

The view from my stall

I had the same spot as in July, which was somehow reassuring, and found myself next to Faith Barber of Something Fabulous again, and her luscious display of jewel-coloured capelets, purses, corsages and slips.

I was trying to get some height into my display and also leave some air between my items (I have the same problem when I put together a publication – the urge to inform tends to crowd every corner) . The fake goose-feather trees were perfect for that. Something possessed me to obtain two sets – a green one and a white one, so I decided (rashly) that a change of colour between the Saturday and the Sunday would be a good idea. I went from trad Christmas green/red Saturday to more girly pink/pearly white on the Sunday. You’re obviously looking at my pinky-white Sunday garb above.

I wanted a banner, and possibly something bunting-ish. I didn’t have time to make the latter, but did my Make Do & Mend version of the former with plain printed letters on thin card pegged to an impromptu laundry line slung from some old wooden stepladders (handy for displaying vintage scarves and eiderdowns). A friend laughed like a drain when I pointed out what might have happened if the S and final four letters (i, a, na) had slipped from their pegs… Happily, I was spared such a Ratner moment. It was possibly just a bit too Steptoe & Son, or Open All Hours (especially the paint-spattered platform of my taller ladder), but no matter. I even had a Granville turning up periodically (i.e. my ten-year-old son) to “help” me (i.e. look bored and pester me for money to buy vintage garb from the other stallholders).

Lots of friendly faces turned up to grace me with their custom (you know who you are – thank you heartily!), and virtual friends came too – I was surprised how many times the phrase “I follow you on Twitter!” was uttered. One of the most gratifying compliments was the blog-reader who said: “Your stuff looks just like it does in the pictures!” – i.e. just as good. I do love to meet new people and natter, usually about the current state of darning, or what was in their grandma’s button box, or the beauty and tactile pleasure of wooden cotton reels, or almost anything else, really. So I was in my element.

I’m having trouble loading pictures onto my blog today – perhaps my server has a cold too – but more pictures of my stall (and Faith’s adorable capelets) can be found amongst my Flickr pics here. Becky’s Flickr photos have quite a few shots of my stall too.

PS To the gentleman who, I think, bought a packet of buffalo buttons but left them behind, do get in touch and I’ll mail them to you.

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Dec 01

Wool hearts

Just a few more pictures of those scrap blanket-wool hearts, red-edged with green twine this time, as befits the season.

Blanket hearts (red & green)

Red & green scrap wool hearts

Heart tops

Red blanket-stitched edge

Blanket heart (red stitching)

Red-stitched heart

Blanket-stitch edges

Blanket stitch

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Nov 29

Scrap of the Week #7

It’s the final countdown to Little Scraplet’s school Christmas fair this weekend, and I’m making as many blanket hearts as I can. The blanket in question was an old family one which was too far gone to be mended, so I decided its time was up: it was curtains for the blanket.

Blanket heart construction

Heart-making in progress

I gave it a good boil-wash before starting, then steam-pressed it. My template is a cookie cutter: no point reinventing the wheel.

I’ve been experimenting with different threads (embroidery floss, mohair, crochet cotton) with pleasing results; I really like the way pink mohair looks – it lifts the rather spartan blanket-weave – but haven’t taken shots of those hearts yet. The ones pictured use half a length of 6-strand embroidery cotton (so three strands) just out of habit; that’s how I was shown to used embroidery floss as a girl. The needle I used is a tapestry one, partly because it’s blunt (I may be showing kids how to make these), partly because it has a large eye to accommodate thick yarn. It gets through the rather loose weave of the blanket pretty well, though I think I’d prefer a chenille needle, with a large eye (like a tapestry) and with a pointed end.

Lavender stuffing

Stuffing with lavender

The loop is old linen upholstery string I had lying around. I knot the length of string and sandwich it between the two blanket hearts, cinching it in place with my first blanket stitch. Once I’ve blanket-stitched most of the way round, I teaspoon in the lavender stuffing before finishing off. There’s probably an easier and more efficient way, but this is mine.

Completed scrap heart

All done

A little rough and ready, though not without charm. They can decorate the Christmas tree, or go over a hanger to keep clothes fresh and moth-free. I hope the kids (and their parents) like them.

Before I go, I must tip my hat to the hugely talented Lisa who creates the most beautiful upcycled woollen hearts and who inspired me to have a go too, even if mine are a far cry from the perfection she manages to achieve.

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