Tuesday, 22 April 2008

The joy of socks

I am getting totally obsessed with knitting socks. That is probably a very sad admission! I have almost finished knitting a pair of socks for my Other Half. They are my first pair and I can understand how people become addicted to making them. They are little miracles of engineering yet you can make a pair in a matter of days once you master the technique. My Mum, who is a skilled needlewoman, taught me to knit as soon as I was old enough to hold knitting needles. She showed me how to knit in the round using 4 double pointed needles so I already had that skill under my belt - thanks again Mum! Now I simply had to master turning a heel. The first sock was a bit of a struggle. I couldn't get my head around the different parts of the heel and how they fitted together. I took a deep breath, forged ahead and I did it - a sock started to take shape before my eyes! I have now discovered that there are lots of different ways to turn a heel and shape the toes. You can knit a sock from the top down, or the toe up, or even two socks at once on a circular knitting needle. I can't wait to explore. I will upload some pictures of my progress as soon as I get my camera back from being repaired.

I want to take a moment to pay tribute to my wonderful Mum. I owe her a huge 'Thank You' for teaching me how to knit and sew. My Mum was a dressmaker when I was a small child and one of my earliest memories is sitting on the bedroom floor playing with cotton reels while she worked on her beloved Singer treadle sewing machine nearby. When I was old enough she taught me to sew on that machine. I can still remember the joy of finishing my first sewing project, a brightly coloured wrap skirt trimmed with white rick-rack braid (well it was the 1970s!). Who cared if the hem was a bit wonky and the stitching was far from perfect - not me. Over the years I have sewn a host of things, curtains, clothes, patchwork quilts, bags, scarves, cushions, slip covers for my sofa, the list goes on. I owe all that to my lovely Mum. Thank you for your patience and encouragement.
I attended my City & Guilds beading class last Thursday. It is held in Christchurch and I sometimes go to the Quay and watch the swans after my class finishes. It clears my mind and lets me think about what I have done during the day. I always look forward to seeing the others on the course. They are all very talented beaders and it is fascinating to see how their work is progressing and to bounce ideas off them. I really look forward to our monthly meetings.

Swans squabbling over bits of bread on Christchurch Quay

Monument in the grounds of Christchurch Priory

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Life, knitting and other mysteries...

My Father died nearly twenty years ago and I still miss him and think about him every day. A recent incident started me thinking about him and the influence he still continues to have on my life. He was very down to earth and practical and a good person to turn to in times of trouble. Diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis while still only in his mid twenties his adult life was a constant battle with ill health. He rarely complained, although he must have suffered a great deal. Whenever I told him of my troubles he would listen very carefully and give me some really good advice but would invariably end by saying. "No one ever said that life is easy or fair - you just have to make the best of it". When he died at a relatively young age from cancer I was devastated. I still feel that he is with me, guiding me, so I am trying to take his advice and I am feeling much more positive this week. As always, a friend was also a great help. After meeting her for coffee at the end of last week she suggested that I go home and spend the afternoon doing something I really enjoyed. I did just that and took up my knitting needles again. I started knitting a pair of socks for my Other Half! I have been promising to do this for over a year. So far I have been really enjoying it. The process is challenging enough to keep me engrossed but as socks are fairly small I should finish them in a day or two. Sitting in my living room knitting away I felt a sense of peace come over me. Not only was the knitting soothing but I get to keep a promise to my Other Half.

I feel bereft. My camera has been sent away for repair. I bought a digital camera in December, using some of my Birthday money. I have never been one for gadgets and the latest phone but I love my camera. It is so small that it fits easily into my pocket and it takes great pictures. Apparently it is only a minor fault with the mechanism that holds the SD Card in place so it shouldn't take long to repair. I can't wait to get it back. I use it to record the things around me and use it for inspiration for my beadwork.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

We woke up on Sunday morning to discover that it was snowing. It wasn't settling on the ground but large flakes of snow were falling none the less! It doesn't snow very often on the South Coast of England so you can imagine it caused quite a stir. Inland parts of Dorset and Hampshire had a 10 cm covering by lunchtime. Thankfully the weather has warmed up a little bit although it is still bitterly cold. I love the changing seasons but snow in April is pushing it a bit!

I am on leave this week and I am spending quiet time at home. Last year was not a good one for me and my family. Two family members were taken seriously ill. One has completely recovered but unfortunately the other one died after a brave struggle with lung cancer. It was a hectic year, coping with full-time jobs and travelling to and from Devon and Somerset to see various family members and then, sadly, a trip to Somerset to attend a funeral. Then on top of that I had some health problems myself including a bout of shingles, no doubt brought on by the stress. So when I requested my Easter leave I thought that it would be good to have a quiet week at home getting on with my beading and relaxing. However, I find myself feeling a bit down and struggling to concentrate on my beadwork. It is probably a reaction to the last 18 months. My Other Half and friends as usual have been a great help. Creativity also helps.

It is not a new idea that creating something can be a help in sad and stressful times. It does really seem to help me so I will persevere with the beadwork. I am also doing some knitting in the evenings so that should help too. I have always liked the Amish idea of 'sunshine and shadows'. You can only really appreciate true happiness if you have experienced true sadness. I have a great life - a loving family, great partner, a job that I love and a wonderful set of colleagues. I have nothing to really complain about. I also find that taking a moment to really appreciate your surroundings can put things back into perspective. I am extremely fortunate to live in a beautiful part of the UK so I am going for a walk with my camera this afternoon in search of inspiration. I love architecture and often spend time looking at the buildings above street level. Many people don't look up from the every day hustle and bustle and really appreciate the beauty around them, even in a humble urban street. So next time you are shopping take a few minutes and look up you might be surprised at what you can see.

This gorgeous Art Deco roof is almost hidden by modern shop fronts.

Friday, 4 April 2008

Hunting for treasure

I love charity shops. A favourite pastime is to browse through the jewellery and book sections. I have made a few pieces of jewellery over the past few years using recycled beads and buttons found in flea markets, antiques fairs and charity shops. Currently languishing in in my bead storage boxes are a handful of Victorian carved jet beads and a venetian glass pendant bought at a recent antiques fair plus a range of vintage glass and mother of pearl buttons. All were bought for only a few pounds. One of the great things about scouring the shops fairs and markets is you never know what you will find next. Two years ago I was in Lymington when I spotted a piece of beadwork in the window of a charity shop. On further investigation it turned out to be an amulet purse. Intrigued I asked the elderly lady behind the counter about it. She was not sure where it had come from and I bought it, thinking that I could probably reuse the beads if nothing else. I have not been able to bring myself to cut it up. When I arrived home I examined it closely and realised how beautifully made it was. I have used it for inspiration rather than the beads themselves. Another great thing for me about buying from such places is that you can't help but wonder who the objects belonged to and what their lives were like. Another lucky recent find was the vase that I am using as the base for my current beading project.

My lucky charity shop find in Lymington.

This strap detail shows how beautifully it has been made.

My first piece of completed beadwork made over 8 years ago. The strap and fringe contain beads from a broken necklace found in a charity shop. I keep it to remind myself how far I have come.

Well, I am struggling on with my passionflower beading project. I have covered most of the vase with netting and I am now making passionflowers. My current struggle is with how to deal with the base and rim of my vase. I bought the vase because I liked the shape but did not really think about how I was going to bead around it. I think I have worked out how to cover the base but the rim eludes me. Perhaps I could use wire to keep the netting in place. It will need some more thought.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Pretty in Pink?

I have never thought of myself as particularly feminine. As a child my idea of fun was climbing trees and playing with my brother's Mechano set. I hated my teenage years. I was very thin and gawky and I never seemed to fit in. I went to an old fashioned, all girls, grammar school and felt like a real outsider. While other girls were gossiping about makeup, clothes and boys I was sitting in the corner with my nose stuck in a book or working out my next sewing/knitting project. Sewing with my Mum or helping my Dad with his woodwork was far more appealing than shopping for clothes or worrying about the latest shade of eyeshadow. By now you will have realised that I am not a 'girly' girl! It has taken me a long time to come to terms with who I am and how I look. I now realise that I am not going to wake up one day to find that I have grown 5 inches and become tall and elegant. Nor am I going to look in the mirror and discover that my face has miraculously changed overnight. In my experience increasing age brings acceptance - this is me - take me or leave me. Luckily for me my friends, family and Other Half seem to like me as I am.

Where is this leading I hear you ask and what has it got to do with beading? Well, I am coming to that. I was sorting through my beads the other day and came across some of the necklaces I made for my previous City & Guilds beadwork course. I was looking at one particular necklace, based on flowers. By now you will have gathered that I love flowers. Well, this particular piece of jewellery is a bit different from my normal style. For one thing it is pink. Trust me, I don't do pink. Or so I thought! My tutor Jane had discussed the project with me when it was still at the planning stage. She wanted me to try something different instead of reaching for my usual blue, green and purple beads. "Why not try using pink?" she said and I looked at her as if she was mad! But then I started thinking. Hadn't I come on this course to stretch and challenge myself? So, I gritted my teeth, bought some pink beads and started beading. You can see the results for yourself below. I can still never see myself wearing pink clothes but the occasional piece of pink jewellery might be quite nice. (I never thought that I would ever say that!) The jury is still out on whether I actually like this necklace. However it did teach me an important lesson - it does you good to try something different from time to time. Who knows, you might even like it!