Tag Archives: Creativity

Shifting Sands

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Shifting Sands

Life has seemed turbulent lately. Many of you will know that 2016 was a phenomenally tough year for me, for so many reasons. 2017 started with moving house, so more upheaval. By February I was planning everything I needed to do to get back to my usual crafting and studying activities. And then the big one hit … my mum was very suddenly diagnosed with a brain tumour.

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My view, as I took in the news.

It was soon clear that this was not going to be a long illness. There was no prospect of treatment, other than palliative care. For one who likes to navigate by festivals, I find it extraordinary to think that mum was diagnosed on Shrove Tuesday, died on Passion Sunday, and the last time I spent with her on Earth was on Mothering Sunday (which, coincidentally, was also my birthday). We will gather to celebrate her life during Holy Week. By the time Maundy Thursday dawns, the end of life rituals will be done. The grieving will continue, and will mellow over time.

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Mothering Sunday flowers from our last day together. When I turned for a last look before leaving, I saw that my daughter had laid one of the daffodils on mum’s bed.

It’s hard to know what I could say about my mum that would do her justice. She was my my first and most important teacher. She’s the one who taught me to knit, who brought the enduring love of yarn and the simple pleasure of handwork into my life. She’s mentioned in the first paragraph I ever wrote on this site, and how could it have been otherwise? It couldn’t. So profound is her spirit within me that she is here in every word. She was the recipient of my first every story skeins: Sunset Forest and A Quarter of Sherbet. Clearly, her influence stretches far beyond me and my little niche of creativity, but I start there because it’s what I come here to write about.

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A rainbow over the hospice.

It was my mum who bought me the Hook to Heal book for my last birthday. I have made so much of the healing power of crafting over this short and difficult journey. I have stitched, and hooked, and sewn by her bed. I could be with her, in ways we had been together hundreds of times before. We didn’t need to talk if there was nothing to say or mum needed a rest. But we had easy companionship and the joy of watching a creation take shape. She asked my daughter to make her a bag to hold her prayer stones. We stitched it together on the journey to see mum. I finished my Elise shawl when mum was ill. I had worked on it beside her, and shown her the beautiful colours in the yarn, and the patterns I was creating. I’ll wear it to her funeral next week.

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Beautiful stained glass windows in the hospital.

Before mum’s diagnosis I had started Scheepjes’ Hygge crochet along. I treated myself to the kit as a post-moving house present to myself. I didn’t know it would take on a much greater significance. I stitched so much of that piece by her bedside. Although I worked on other projects too, Hygge was immediately special. It was calming and beautiful, and really engaged my mum who admired it and insisted on showing it off to staff and patients alike!

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Hygge to week 7. This project was and continues to be a blessing for me and my mum.

When her prognosis came through I knew she would not see it completed. And I knew it was by now far too special to be anything other than a tribute piece to her. When she died, as I was stitching week 7, I embroidered her initials and dates into the piece.

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JAB 1947 – 2017

Mum touched so many people’s lives in so many different ways. I could not possibly list them all here. But I think the common theme through her life is a true understanding of what it means to serve people, and a clarity about why our service to others is important; about why people – and how we treat them – are important. The way she lived taught me formative lessons about living the life you want in the way you want: enjoying and embracing the things that are important to you, under the guidance of a strong and generous moral centre.

My mum went to University in Hull and used to tell me about the librarian: Philip Larkin. When I came to study for my GCSEs, one of his poems was in our anthology. I’ve always liked the last line, and though I am taking it out of context, I’d still like to think about it here. Larkin talks of his Schoolmaster, who “Dissolved. (Like sugar in a cup of tea.)” Now, my mum was far too much of a strong woman to dissolve in life. She wasn’t one to stay in the background. But when I think of her influence I see that although she is no longer here, everything she’s done for the last nearly-70 years leaves the world a sweeter place. Although we have a journey of grief to navigate, eventually those rough granules will dissolve too, and what we’ll be left with are the sweet memories, and the knowledge that we have been the luckiest of families, to have such a person in our lives.

Goodbye mum. Love you always. xxx

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September Rolag Club: Michaelmas

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September Rolag Club: Michaelmas

Welcome to Forgotten Festivals Rolag Club!

This month we are celebrating Michaelmas on the 29th of September.

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Michaelmas is named for St. Michael, the biblical archangel, and the feast of Michaelmas was important as one of the old quarter days which neatly divided the year into four. (The other quarter days were Christmas, on the 25th of December, Lady Day on the 25th of March, and Midsummer, taken as the 24th of June.) Michaelmas was the traditional day to settle debts and to change one’s employment. Hiring Fairs allowed employers and workers to make new arrangements. Workers for hire would advertise their skills by wearing an emblem of their trade: a crook for a shepherd, or a mop for a maid, etc. If a new employer was found, this token would be swapped for a ribbon and a shilling to spend at the fair.

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Emblems of the spinner’s trade.

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A shilling to spend!

The themes of this rolag box are the angel, the michaelmas daisy, and the tools of the trade. I hope you enjoy it.

In this box you should find:

  • The story of Michaelmas.
  • 10g of rolags in “Michaelmas Daisies” – 63% Merino, 30% Hemp, 7% Tussah Silk.
  • 20g of rolags in “Archangel” – 50% Merino, 25% Bamboo, 25% Faux Cashmere and a hint of Angelina.
  • A handspun mini skein in “Halo”.
  • Tea in Turmeric Gold and Three Chamomile blends.
  • Stitch markers: Spinners’ emblems of a spinning wheel & a skein of yarn.
  • A shilling – don’t spend it all at once!
  • A hand-woven Wrist Distaff.
  • 3 Michaelmas Daisy buttons from Forest Valley Designs.

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A mini skein of ‘Halo’.

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Michaelmas Daisy buttons by Forest Valley Designs.

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A notions pouch from Forest Valley Designs.

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A wrist distaff for handspinners (especially spindle spinners).

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Wrist distaff in detail: Tablet-woven band by Story Skeins.

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Tea in Turmeric Gold for the angel’s halo, and Three Chamomile for the daisy family.

 

 

Wrapping Up 2016

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Wrapping Up 2016

Twelfth night has passed, Epiphany arrived and the morning brings St. Distaff’s Day. And yet, 2016 still plays on my mind and I feel it won’t let me rest until I’ve put it to bed. So here is my debrief, liberally scattered with my favourite images of the last twelve months as a reminder that there was plenty of good amongst the difficulties.

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January: I finished The Doodler, my first Westknits MKAL.

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January: Study and stitching played a big part in the year.

I started 2016 in good form and with clear plans for the year. It was to be a quiet year for Story Skeins whilst I concentrated on finishing my training course.

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February: Buttons and yarn, gifted from fellow crafters, came together beautifully.

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February: Handspun Valentine’s yarn.

The year started well. Life, work, creativity and health were all good. Things were progressing as I planned. I enjoyed my 38th birthday in March.

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March: Birthday gifts from my family.

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March: A birthday note from a fellow spinner!

But that was the point when the year began to turn. Things started to get more difficult. Imperceptibly so at first, but soon becoming a relentless pattern.

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April: My first Fibreshare – what I sent.

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April: My first Fibreshare – what I received.

There were many reasons. I don’t really want to dwell on them, but briefly: several of us live with difficult health conditions and these gave us trouble, not least in that the mental and physical effort required each day leaves us with few reserves to draw on when life throws up a sudden plot twist. We had external pressures on us too: difficulties at work, strained finances,  threats to the roof over our heads, and more.

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May: The Orange Is The New Black yarn from The Captain and Lovely made me very happy.

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May: My very own custom blend of handspun, handdyed sock yarn.

I know many people have found this year difficult due to world events. In the face of what we were dealing with personally, it was hard to draw strength from those around us when they also seemed so distressed.

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June: Stone that flows like waves at the On Form stone sculpture festival.

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June: More inspiration in stone at On Form.

But I don’t want to go down the route of cursing 2016. There was plenty of good in it. Although it was personally difficult for us, it also forced us to find ways to make the future better. We set plans in motion, we acted upon them, we followed them through and we are optimistic that they will mean a more positive future.

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July: A little mother-daughters treat.

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July: A day I look forward to every year – Fibre East with good friends.

The year for Story Skeins was quiet, as planned, and successful in that it achieved its own modest goals. Despite cutting down on commissioned spinning work I wished to continue with my monthly rolag boxes, and I am so happy with how that club went. I also hosted my first read along and gained so much inspiration and more tools for my mental toolbox from our chosen text. It’s an exercise I will be repeating in the future.

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August: It was all about the chicks.

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August: Games with friends.

I had many firsts this year, including my first solo dyeing adventures, my first handspun sock yarn (not just sockweight, but designed in the fibre blend and the spinning to function well for socks), my first start-to-finish processing of a whole fleece into yarn, my first experience of finishing a mystery KAL on time, my first piece of brioche knitting, and my first Fibreshare (which prompted me to learn a new language, so I also made my first instagram post that was written entirely in Swedish!)

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September: I dusted off my weaving skills.

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September: A perfect leaf, found on my first study weekend of the new academic year.

I was less successful in my study goals. Mental fatigue amongst other issues really put a break on things. I was pleased with the progress I did manage to make, but I didn’t complete all the work I that wanted to. No matter, it just means a new timescale before I can pursue those plans.

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October: The last in my series of Forgotten Festivals rolag boxes saw the end of a successful fibre club.

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October: My second Westknits MKAL, and my first brioche knitting!

Finding ways to work around obstacles has brought into focus my ideas about how I want Story Skeins to work, so 2017 may look quite different as I transition to a new working  pattern (more details to come in a future post). Given the things I have to juggle – even in a good year – in the rest of my life, I never expected an easy ride in this adventure. But part of the point is to use this creative process in a way that is beneficial to life. Stretching myself to breaking point in order to keep up business, or the appearance of it, would not only defeat the purpose of what I’m trying to do here, but it would not be an authentic way for me to work. The heart of Story Skeins is nothing to do with the final products that I make and you may buy. It is entirely rooted in the process: in the how and the why. It is about bringing meaning into the things I create, and embracing the creative process as a balm and a blessing.

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November: Back in the spinning saddle with a bit of art yarn.

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November: Some fun with the rainbow trilobal blend.

The last two months of the year were acutely, painfully difficult. It was one of those times when a fact of life that we all know to be true, but manage to put out of our minds suddenly reveals itself as a clear, undeniable and awful reality. The knowledge that our future is fundamentally uncertain suddenly became paralysingly real. (I do not mean to concern you. Rest assured that I and my family are fundamentally OK.) I have been fortunate in life to have the luxury of ignoring this fact, unlike many people in the world today, and most throughout history. Our comfortable lives protect us from harsh truths. But I don’t think it’s unchallenging comfort that leads to wisdom. The struggle with hard times and hard truths can bear fruit, in that I have a new understanding of simple ideas. Two main ideas have come into focus at a deeper level and helped me over the finish line: Counting my blessings, and Living in the moment. It is as easy, and as hard, as that.

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December: Making rolags for Christmas.

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December: A welcome reminder in my Christmas stocking.

Happy the man, and happy he alone,

He who can call today his own:

He who, secure within, can say,

Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today.

                                                     –  Horace

Life on the Outside

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Life on the Outside

Background:

These skeins were commissioned as a gift. They are what I call a Companion Set: two different, but harmonious, skeins with one deliberately simple in design, and one towards the art yarn end of the spectrum.

Here the plainer skein is inspired by dew drops on grass. It is spun from a mixture of mallard-green merino fibre blended with rainbow-dyed trilobal nylon. It was spun as a slim single and plied with a green glitter-thread. The companion skein is an art yarn. The blended fibre was spun as a gently-textured thick-and-thin single. I spun the butterfly charms straight into the fibre for stability, and the colourful flower buttons were threaded onto the same green glitter-thread before plying.

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Story:

A cosmos in every sphere. Whole worlds, as far as the eye can see. Dew drops cling to every blade, flexing in the breeze, splitting the light that crosses its path, capturing its colour. Looking further afield, there the colours come into view. Less ephemeral there, though hardly permanent. The borders are home to delicate hues, flashes of bold colours. Life in many forms. Garden creatures flash by: circling, darting, diving through air. The fauna visits the flora, life cycles uniting to allow each to continue. Today’s dance promises the future.

Information:

1. Title: Dew Drops

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Composition: Fibre: 70% merino 30% rainbow trilobal with a synthetic glitter-thread ply.

Weight: 104g / 20 WPI / sockweight

Length: 463m / 506yd

Care: Hand wash only. Dry flat.

Details:

Date:  November 2016

Skein code: 0094a

Fibre: Merino, trilobal nylon

Source: World of Wool

 

2. Title: Flora and Fauna

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Composition: Carded blend of cashmere, tussah silk, merino and trilobal nylon with a synthetic glitter-thread ply, metal charms and plastic buttons.

Weight: 133g /11 WPI / Irregular, worsted weight to DK average.

Length: 320m / 350yd

Care: Hand wash only. Dry flat. Hand wind only.

Details:

Date: November 2016

Skein code: 0094b

Fibre: Cashmere, Tussah silk, Merino and Trilobal nylon

Source: The Rainbow Fibre Fairy

Status: Sold

October Rolag Club: Punkie Night

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October Rolag Club: Punkie Night

Welcome to Forgotten Festivals Rolag Club!

This month we are celebrating Punkie Night on the 27th of October.

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Punkie Night is a festival local to the village of Hinton St. George in Somerset. The celebrations echo similar customs associated with Halloween, and Mischief Night, as celebrated elsewhere in the country. The festival centres around the Punkie Lanterns, each elaborately carved from a mangelwurzel. The story of Punkie Night’s origin tells of the men of the village, who had visited a local fair. When the time came to return home, they were too drunk to find their way. Needless to say, the women had to go and round up their husbands, and took Punkie Lanterns to light their way.

Nowadays the village children spend the week preceding Punkie Night making their lanterns. On the last Thursday in October they parade through the village with their lanterns and sing the Punkie Night song. They go from door to door, and where once they collected candles from their neighbours, they now collect money.

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It’s Punkie Night tonight,

It’s Punkie Night tonight.

Give us a candle, give us a light,

If you don’t you’ll get a fright.

This box is based on the warming winter traditions as autumn sets in. Your rolags and mini skein are based on the idea of a pumpkin spice latte, and the spice theme carries on to your star anise tea. Bedtime tea reminds me of the nights drawing in, and I came across a set of wonderful autumn recipes, so you will find a link to these too. I have gone totally OTT on our guest makers for our last box, so we start where we began, with Hooklicious stitch markers (I’m pretty sure no one’s ever asked Hayley to make mini mangelwurzels before!), we have fabulous soap from Magpie and Goblin (Sarra told me so many times not to eat it, because it really does look and smell good enough to eat. But don’t.), and we have some gorgeous mini wax melts from Madame Tartlet to keep your rooms warm and cozy. Lastly, in deference to the modern Punkie Night, I’ve scattered a few gold coins amongst your treats.

I’d like to say an enormous thank you to you for joining me on my first rolag club adventure. I have thoroughly enjoyed exploring our season of festivals and creating these boxes of fibre and treats for you. I have fresh, new ideas for 2017 and hope you will join me for more fibre exploration next year.

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In this box you should find:

  • The story of Punkie Night
  • 10g of rolags in “Pumpkin” – 67% Merino, 33% Banana
  • 20g of rolags in “Spice” – 55% Merino, 15% Black Diamond Bamboo, 15% Faux Mohair, 15% Mulberry Silk and a hint of angelina.
  • A handspun mini skein in “Latte”
  • Tea in “Bedtime” and “Star Anise and Cinnamon” blends
  • Stitch markers by Hooklicious in candle and mangelwurzel designs.
  • Autumn squash recipes at: tinyurl.com/RolagRecipes
  • Wax melts from Madame Tartlet’s Wax Emporium
  • Handmade soap from Magpie and Goblin
  • And finally, some celebratory chocolate coins.

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A plethora of makers.

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Candles and Mangelwurzels from Hooklicious.

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Spicy, nutty handmade soap from Magpie & Goblin.

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Mini wax melts from Madame Tartlet’s Wax Emporium

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And to all, a goodnight!

August Rolag Club: August Wakes

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August Rolag Club: August Wakes

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Welcome to Forgotten Festivals Rolag Club!

This month we are celebrating August Wakes.

Wakes celebrations began as feast days in honour of the patron saint of the parish church, and gained their name from the medieval tradition of staying awake in the church all night in order to hear the dawn mass on the saint’s day. Initially these festivals were quite sombre, involving penance and fasting. Following the reformation, however, the emphasis shifted to revelry, eventually becoming rowdy enough that the celebrations were shifted away from the saint’s day.

In northern towns, wakes became a secular, industrial holiday. Each town chose its own wakes week, and the workers were given unpaid holiday whilst the mills were closed for maintenance. Although wakes could occur at any time of year, summer was most often chosen for wakes weeks, and many occurred during August. In fact, wakes became synonymous with the town’s annual holiday, which often meant a mass exodus to the seaside!

The observance of wakes weeks has become almost obsolete due to the decline of local industries and the standardisation of school holidays, but as a child growing up in the Lancashire mill town of Oldham, I still remember the annual Oldham wakes holidays.

This month’s club represents the two sides to August wakes: the original religious observance, represented by ‘Vigil’ rolags, green tea and a meditation stone, and the later summer-holiday feel, represented by ‘Coast’ rolags and some seaside treats.

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Rolags in “Vigil” and “Coast” colourways. The flax component in the Vigil rolags should give an interesting texture, whilst the tencel adds a translucent sheen.

I hope you’ve enjoyed your summer, however you chose to spend it!

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A coastal scene.

In this box you should find:

  • The story of August Wakes
  • 20g of rolags in “Vigil” – 67% Merino, 16.5% Flax/Linen, 16.5% Tencel.
  • 10g of rolags in “Coast” – 67% Merino, 33% Llama
  • A handspun mini skein in “Deckchair”
  • Tea in Serene Jasmine and Moroccan Mint green blends
  • Stitch markers
  • A meditation stone from Buttons Be Good
  • A recipe for Feasten Cakes
  • A stick of seaside rock.
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A mini skein in “Deckchair” inspired by the seaside classic.

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A fistful of minis.

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Tactile meditation stones from Buttons Be Good.

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Kirsty used the rolag colours to inspire her design.

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Seaside treats!

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Stitch markers: A bucket and spade, and a scallop shell. Made by Imogen.

Recipe: Feasten Cakes

A tradition from the Cornish celebration of wakes, these saffron-coloured cakes are delicious served with a little cream.

Ingredients:

  • 450g plain flour
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 100g unsalted butter, softened
  • 20g/2 tsp dried yeast
  • 50g sugar
  • Large pinch of saffron, infused for ~20 mins in 150ml hot milk
  • 175ml clotted cream
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 100g currants,
  • Milk to glaze
  • Clotted cream, to serve.

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/Gas mark 5.
  2. Sift the flour and cinnamon into a bowl. Rub in the butter.
  3. Cream the yeast with 2 teaspoons of the sugar. Strain the saffron milk and beat in the cream, then mix with the yeast. Leave in a warm place for 20 minutes until bubbles form on the surface.
  4. Pour the yeast mixture into the flour with the beaten eggs. Add the currants and the remaining sugar and knead well. Cover and leave in a cool place for the dough to rise slowly until double in size. Knead again briefly then knock back and shape into 8 small buns or cakes and flatten slightly. Cover with a damp cloth and leave to prove so that the dough springs back when pressed, 20-30 minutes.
  5. Arrange on a lightly greased baking sheet. Brush the tops of the buns lightly with milk and sprinkle with a little sugar.
  6. Bake for 25 minutes.
  7. Take out and cool on a wire rack.

Reference: Cattern Cakes and Lace by Julia Jones and Barbara Deer, Dorling Kindersley 1987

Using Art Yarn. Part 1: The Easter Chicks

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Using Art Yarn. Part 1: The Easter Chicks

The possibilities for art yarn, both creating it and using it, are limitless. However sometimes people struggle to know what to do with this yarn that may be bulky, irregular, highly textured, short of yardage and, above all, fun.

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“Easter Chick” art yarn by Taylor Made Yarns. Photo courtesy of Taylor Made Yarns.

I bought this amazing art yarn from Taylor Made Yarns, one of my favourite fibre artists, at Fibre East. It is an irregular bulky spiral-plied yarn with little chick charms plied into it. Like many special skeins, I needed to wait for the right project to emerge. As it happened, I won a skein from Cuddlebums: beautiful, subtly-speckled handdyed skinny singles. As soon as I saw it, I knew I had found the companion yarn for the Easter Chicks.

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I set about making a hyperbolic spiral scarf. I planned for gentle spiral ruffles, edged in wild art yarn. I used a 4mm hook to crochet a chain to my desired length, made a dc in each chain to form the foundation of my scarf and then started my increase rows. To create the spiral effect you need to increase stitches on each row in the following way:

  • 1st increase row: work 2 tr into each dc.
  • 2nd increase row: *work 2 tr into the first tr, tr 1. Repeat from *.
  • 3rd increase row: *work 2 tr into the first tr, tr 2. Repeat from *.
  • 4th increase row: *work 2 tr into the first tr, tr 3. Repeat from *.
  • Etc.

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The two yarns I used in this project were very different and I needed to find a way to integrate them. In order to work the thick art yarn into the edge I created an eyelet row using the finer yarn. My final increase row would have been a pattern of *2tr into first tr, tr 5, repeat from *. I altered this to *2tr into first tr, ch2, sk 2 tr, tr 1, ch2, sk 2 tr, repeat from *.

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These eyelets made an attractive edge and provided holes big enough to work a crocheted art yarn edging.

I was not sure that I would have enough of the art yarn to cover the whole edge of the scarf. I decided to split the art yarn into two equal parts and work from each end. I reskeined the yarn and counted 24 wraps of my niddy noddy. I wound off 12 wraps, cut the yarn and then wound off the 2nd half.

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I switched to a 10mm hook and started adding a border in a pattern of *dc into eyelet, ch 1, repeat from *. Here is the scarf with half of the edging worked:

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And here is the finished piece:

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There is so much glorious variety in this yarn, each ruffle is like its own vignette:

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And I couldn’t end this post without a close-up of the chicks!

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This was such a fun project to work on. I hope it’s given you some art-yarn inspiration.