Thursday, 3 November 2011

...and you win some

Right now, one of my cousins is on a trek through the Himalayas to Everest base camp - a 21st birthday present from his parents. I seem to remember that for his actual birthday, earlier this year, I gave him a bag of chocolate buttons. Oh dear... (My sister says that cousins are like low-maintenance siblings, but I'm not sure she means that low.) Happily, the preparations for the big adventure gave me a chance to atone for my cousinly misdemeanour, with some trekking socks* and a handmade card.

I made the card within in a day or two of those failure mittens. So, you feel like you're always doing your best, but you lose some and then you win others. And sometimes it's a draw. It's a bit like Arsenal, but without a fickle crowd of thousands alternately booing and cheering. (Maybe the problem is that there's a bit of me that's kind of like Andrey Arshavin - not really giving 110% all the time it's on the pitch, but somehow escaping the boss's attention. It could be that my mental Robin Van Persie was rested on mitten day. Or perhaps the part of my creative brain that's meant to stop things going wrong sometimes inexplicably runs off in the wrong direction and/or falls over at crucial moments... I won't name names for that last bit of the analogy...) Having said that, I did get some cheers for this card: my aunty sent me a text message saying it had made her cry with joy (!), and my cousin himself - usually about as communicative as, well, a 21-year-old boy man - sent an appreciative Facebook message calling me "annoyingly creative".

I think what made it a success was mainly the starry background, cut from an obsolete Stargazer's Almanac. I like to think of this as conclusive vindication of my policy of Not Throwing Anything Away (or at least Anything With Pretty Pictures). Then there's the curious appeal of even the simplest pop-up picture. It's a picture but it's not flat! Somehow exciting to people of all ages, and very easy to make. I just Googled "how to make a pop up card" and then used this tutorial as a starting point - basically you can stick any flat shape to the little boxy thing, and it'll stand up when the card's opened. (You do need to make sure the shape isn't taller than the distance between the front of the boxy thing and the edge of the card, or it'll stick out beyond the edge of the card when it's closed.)

I sketched a rough picture of Everest (image search - I must do something about Google running my life) on some white card, glued it to the boxy thing, and then added a second pop-up layer of foothills using a similar boxy principle with little bits of card glued to the mountain.

On the front of the card I drew some Buddhist prayer flags, which I'm told you see everywhere in the Himalayas. I wrote the message here and on the back using my much-loved alphabet stamps.

Boyfriend, who likes to avoid the extremes of praise and criticism that he so dislikes in football commentary any situation by maintaining a very consistent moderate(ish) questioning scepticism towards most things I do, wanted to know why there were stars on the ground as well as in the sky. In my stash of pretty pictures I did have an old National Geographic diary that included a photograph of a glacier (you see? Not Throwing Anything Away really pays!), and I thought about using that for the ground, but it just didn't look so good. I think the stars look sort of magical, and I wanted the card to reflect what I hope will be my cousin's experience on his trip: awe and wonder (and stunning starry skies). Maybe when you're out there in the mountains you do feel like you're on a path through the stars.
I can't wait to hear all about it when he gets home, although I think most of it will be too amazing to tell in words or show in photos.

*: The socks, by the way, were so nice when they showed up that my boyfriend and I immediately ordered some more for ourselves. You can find 100% organic wool socks, but they're no cheaper than these and they don't seem to last very long. I'm a novice darner and, as Elizabeth Zimmermann said, it's demoralising to have socks wear through right next to the patch you've painstakingly darned - in fact, it puts you off darning any more. So these are a compromise - organic merino, plus nylon for longevity, from a company that seems serious about sustainability. I hope they won't appear on my out-of-control mending pile for quite some time...

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

You lose some...

Old jumpers are one of my favourite crafting materials. In fact, I find it takes some discipline to keep wearing (and repairing) a jumper until its time to be felted and cut up has really come. A rather desperate moth problem in our old house hastened the demise of a few poor specimens, and I've sometimes found ready-to-craft second-hand cashmere jumpers on Ebay (there's also a lot of very wearable second-hand cashmere on there). Cashmere hot water bottle covers are easy and seriously luxurious - £89 from Brora, or about £5 if you make your own from an old jumper (and you'll have plenty left over for other projects). Pure wool knitted felt is also luxurious and nothing like the little synthetic felt sheets you get in craft shops. You can easily felt any 100% wool jumper in the machine, provided it's not the "machine washable" type - goodness only knows what they do to that stuff, but it absolutely will not submit. I find a 60C wash hot enough, with my normal eco laundry liquid and usually some towels to fill up the machine and provide a bit of friction.
This bright red pure wool cardigan, bought second-hand on Ebay for wearing rather than crafting, shrank every time I carefully hand-washed it, so eventually I gave in and felted it once and for all in the machine. It made lovely smooth, soft felt, not too thick and still with a little bit of stretch. Perfect for mittens, I thought...

Alas, the mittens are a bit of a failure. I cut them from the sleeves of the cardigan, keeping the cuffs intact. This was probably a mistake because it forced me to make them too narrow (particularly the thumbs). Elizabeth Zimmermann suggests knitting children's mittens with the thumbs right on the sides, rather than putting them towards the palm, so that they'll fit either hand. I did the same for simplicity's sake - it meant I could make each mitten in one piece and have minimal sewing to do. But it makes the mittens twist round in an annoying way when you wear them. I thought the felted seams of the cardigan would make a nice feature on the back of the mitten, but try as I might I couldn't get both sleeves to behave the same so the seam is at a different angle on each mitten.

I think the main problem, though, might be the colour. They're very bright red. Perfect for semaphore, I would imagine. I like red and I enjoyed wearing the cardigan, but somehow the glowing gloves seem to make my arms look even longer than they are (in fact, the colour also appears to have been too much for my camera - sorry about the pictures). Hmph. These will either be cut up and turned into little Christmas decorations, or stashed away for mitten emergencies. On the plus side, there's plenty more of that red felt for other uses; also, on this project I used my sewing machine's stretch overlocking stitch for the first time and it seems quite promising.

And at the opposite end of the creative success/failure spectrum, another thing I made recently moved someone to tears of joy, apparently! Details in my next post...