30 May 2011

Knitting Pretty

One day a very talented woman posted a picture of her latest quilt on her blog.  I commented that I liked the backing fabric and even though I'd never met her and she didn't know me from adam, she quick as a flash emailed me and offered to send me the remaining fabric, just like that, for nothing!  I was extremely touched.
It arrived whilst I was re-establishing my intermittent knitting identity.  Though I've not knit a great deal I have managed to acquire quite a number of needles, which loll about in an old plastic nappy bucket filled with yarns and stitch holders and such.  They get tangled up in wool, one of a set of double pointed needles invariably goes missing, and they are far too accessible to small hands in which they become eye gougers and tongue pokers.

A solution was required and this piece of groovy fabric, once a doona cover, then an op-shop find, then a cast off from a quilt, now became a needle roll.

Whilst I do not consider myself a stupid person, I have an infinite capacity to fail to learn particular lessons. One of those lessons is about handwashing knits, and another is that taking short cuts in sewing is very rarely time saving. The particular short cuts I am always tempted by are: failing to measure things properly (or at all); and trying to get away without changing the colour of thread in my machine.

I decided I'd use one of the (many) nifty functions on my machine and stitch numbers corresponding to the knitting needle sizes. Because I couldn't be bothered changing the thread and was using white, I decided to sew the numbers on a bit of old red bias binding so they would show up. This worked okay, except that, because I had failed to measure the thing very well, the ribbon ended up longer than the internal dimensions of the roll, necessitating a number of nips and tucks in the ribbon, to decrease the size between the numbers, all of which took about 400% longer than changing the thread would have.

And my failure to measure the thing meant that the space left for the 12mm needles is too tight a squeeze and I have to store one in the 11mm space. Luckily I don't have any 11mm needles.

I reckon what would have been a very quick project if I'd sat down, thought it through, taken some measurements and done it properly, ended up being a night's work, with a reasonable amount of frustration along the way, and a not particularly professional result. Still, the fabric is so cool it makes up for the sewing deficiencies. I'm not giving it to anyone as a gift (though I frankly hang my head in shame at the thought of some of my early sewing efforts that did end up as gifts - sorry about the lining on that proto-type bag, Nik). And afterall it is just something practical thing to keep my needles in.

There is something about the satisfying heft of the thing, full of needles, rolled up and tied with that sturdy black banding (and yes, I sewed it on with the white thread...) that pleases me rather a lot.

29 May 2011

All by herself

autumn light

Grace dancing
It is rare to get a moment alone when you have three sisters. Rarer still is a moment with both parents. I resolve to have time alone with each of the girls but it hardly ever happens. When it does I am always struck by what different people they can be, away from the identity-shaping presence of their sisters and the consequent impost of birth order. Freed from rivalry and petty jealousy, and without the strength in numbers, the bantering and playing to an audience they get from each other, they become at once more resolutely themselves and strangely more vulnerable.

23 May 2011

These are a few of my (recent) favourite things

Nina's Post-it Note world

There is a story which I cannot now recall involving the ants building a house near a sunflower.  They are also holding signs but I forget why.  The girls have baskets because they are going to pick apples from the apple tree.

'Ahh Shelly, your curls are very floncy today"
"Oh Mrs BusyBody!  It wasn't very kind of you to burst in like that"

A recent Ruby drawing  -  I wish I could recall the story.  It was delivered with full theatrical flourishes and appropriate voices.

Ruby -  close up of Shelly

I cannot explain why this appeals to me so much.

Nina's City at Night - collage

Grace's Christmas Tree

I especially like the little gingerbread man decoration at the bottom of the tree.

Nina's mini Egypt

Like nearly every Victorian primary school child. Nina went to the Tutankhamun Exhibition with her class.  They made model pyramids.  Nina's, inevitably, was miniature.  She added a camel.  Ruby's comment: "That must be a giant camel if it's as tall as the pyramid".

21 May 2011

I'd like to think...

...I taught her well, but here is my hand stitching:
My Doxie dog

And here is hers:

Nina's Doxie dog

Nina's finished Doxie dog

I made a litter of these puppies from this truly lovely book, just because they were unbearably cute. I did them as a bit of instant craft gratification and gave most of them away.

Runts of the litter

Nina started one with me and, as tends to be the way with kids and sewing, picked it up every now and then.  I've found that too much encouragement from me to finish a project is counter productive.  In her own time, at her own pace, every now and then, she'd pick it up, do five stitches, or twenty, ask me to re-thread her needle once, or ten times.
Every now and then, without any sense of urgency, without hurrying just to get it done. And eventually it was done. I've something to learn here I think.

19 May 2011

Thoughts on Children's Birthday Party Activities

Grace's 4th birthday Japanese Doll Tea Party

If you decide to avoid traditional party games, you might decide that an activity for the kids would fill the time in nicely.
Activities Shmactivities
Ikebana - yes really....
And you might decide that that activity could be flower arranging, because your birthday child does love flowers and it is a 'Japanese Tea Party' as requested by said child after all, and flower arranging is Japanese and you found those awesome green blocks that florists use for arrangements in the $2 shop and you got a load of cheap flowers at the market, supplemented by some lovely ornamental grasses and such from your own garden, and all the kids will have a flower arrangement to take home and won't that be better than plastic crap from the $2 shop?

And you'd be right about all of that.  

And you might also think that such an activity would take, perhaps, fifteen or even twenty minutes, whilst the children carefully arrange their flowers according to the ikebana principles you've explained to them.

And you'd be wrong about that.  

Five minutes, I have discovered, is the length of time flower arranging holds the interest of the average 4-12 year old. 

As one of the Dads said "I bet you were wishing that took a bit longer".

To fill in the time not taken up by the activity, if you have some blokes available who are willing to be chased or have ice put down their shirts, it will give you a chance to heat up the food you've forgotten to put in the oven. This 'fill in' activity will be the absolute highlight of the party.  All the kids will talk about for days after was how awesome your child's father was when he chased them and made them nearly vomit from laughing so hard.  And none of them will notice the individually hand sewn party bags made from old flour sacks you saved after home baking all your bread for all those years...

18 May 2011

Thoughts on making things for children's birthday parties

In theory I love children's parties.  They are crafty mother nirvana, full, as they are, of making and baking, collaborating with children on decorations and invitations, sewing costumes and devising games.  And, best of all, a public  forum in which to show off, because us crafty types, we do like an audience. 

But in reality I have often enjoyed them rather less than I expected.  And  I've noticed my children usually have the most fun when nearly everyone has gone and they are playing hide and seek with their cousins.

Invitations to 'Magic Party'

Jelly fish decorations 'Under the Sea' party

So, my thoughts on this subject have evolved over time.  If you go to a lot of trouble to handmake decorations and invitations and all the food and a spectacular cake and costumes and party bags, do it only because you love to.  Do not expect that the attendees will notice your attention to detail . They will be just as happy with shop bought stuff, as will your own children.

Paper Plate Turtles - Under the sea

'Bugs and Butterflies' party
And if you decide to make cupcakes, make them very very small, because, as the beautiful Bridget pointed out to me, most kids will lick the icing off and leave the cake and you will be annoyed at the waste. 
Magic birthday party

Spectacular cakes from the Women's Weekly Cookbook will get you massive 'effort' credits from other parents, and kids will think it looks amazing and will be thrilled.  But all the icing required to cover it makes for a not particularly delicious tasting cake.  You will inevitably have to make more icing than the recipe suggests, or alternatively you will have a large bowl full left over and no purpose for it.  The decorating will take way longer than you think.  You won't be able to get the icing to be red, because the icing sugar is white and everyone knows it'll go pink.  Similarly you wont be able to get black - it will be grey.  And this will be pointed out to you by several small children.  And because it takes so damn long to decorate you'll have to bake it at least the day before so it won't be fresh.   And don't decorate it with lollipops!

Ruby's 8th birthday icecream cake

On the other hand, if you decant  a tub of Sara Lee 'Mango and Passionfruit Swirl" icecream, cut it in half, put the pieces side by side* and decorate with smarties and maltesers,
it will take you about 10 minutes, it will be met with universal delight, it will be eaten by children and adults with equal relish, you'll have no left overs and you'll wish you did. 

*works best if your child is turning 8

17 May 2011

Thoughts on cake decorating

If you invite the whole class and decorate the cake with three lollipops, every child is going to ask you for a lollipop on their piece of cake and after the third child has asked you will wish you had not decorated the cake with any lollipops at all.

Nina's 5th birthday cake decorated with three lollipops

15 May 2011

Thoughts on Pass the Parcel

Despite everything we still play it every year
In nearly eight years of hosting and attending children's birthday parties, I've observed many a game of pass the parcel.  I'm not sure why this is such a favourite - perhaps it's just the nostalgia value for all the adults present.  My observations about this most treasured of childhood games:
If the party goers are under five, it may be very hard for them to understand, during pass-the-parcel, that this brightly wrapped present they have been handed must be passed on.  And they might be quite reluctant to pass it on.  And they might cry.  And when the parcel is passed to them again and they have to pass it on again, they might scream.  And if the parcel comes around yet again you might have to take them away to a quiet room.  

The over fives
On the other hand, if you play pass the parcel with the over fives, they have had five years of birthday parties to figure it all out.  And what they have figured out is that the odds of being in possession of the parcel at the moment the music stops increase according to the length of time they hold the parcel.  So you might find that the game moves v.e.r.y s.l.o.w.l.y indeed. 

The preparation
If, however, you have a group of children who hold the parcel for the appropriate amount of time, and do not cry when required to pass it on, you still might find that wrapping a prize in twenty layers of paper, and using up your last piece of sticky tape, and having to go to masking tape, and then maybe even glue, and forgetting part way through the wrapping how many layers you've done and how many children are coming, so wrapping a few more layers, and discovering that now the parcel is so damn big you're having to pull out all the butchers paper art work your children have brought home from kinder just to cover that thing, and it's midnight on the night before the party and you really wish you'd done this earlier and even the middle section of The Age no longer gets around that whopping parcel and you've agonised over the modern parenting dilemma of whether a prize in each layer is too indulgent and pandering to the 'everyone's a winner' culture you  suspect might be ruining kids today, but you also don't want all the party-goers to be in tears when they realise that everyone isn't a winner in this particular game of pass the parcel, and will your child be really upset with you if you reduce all their friends to tears, or will the other parents think you're making a point because they had a prize in every layer at their party, so maybe you'll put a prize in every other layer, or just random layers, but you've already done the first ten layers so maybe you'll just have a bag of freddo frogs on hand you can toss into the melee so it looks like they've come out of the parcel when the layer was removed.....
well, after that you just might decide not to do pass the parcel again.

14 May 2011

Crossing Over?

I've written before about walking the line.

Big Elf, Little Elf, Pug

These elf hats from this book were all over the internet last Christmas, but the middle of summer didn't seem quite the right time to knit them.
In autumn , by the fire, watching the rain and wind, that seemed about right.  I knit the first for a one year old but it was way too big and Grace immediately adopted it.  Now all the girls want one.

Big Elf - puffin 'chantarelle' from Quince & Co.

Grace Elf

Grace Elf and Lily Elf

I think they are adorable.  But be honest, have I crossed the line?

11 May 2011

Yikes! - and an apology

I'm very new to this blogging thing.  When I compose a post on my rather old laptop, and up load a photo, I check it all out in the "Preview" screen and, if it seems okay, I hit 'publish'.  Sometimes when I upload a photo it doesn't seem to appear, so I upload it again, and even again, until finally I can view it on my screen.  The only computer I've ever viewed this blog on was the same one I published it from and, formatting-wise, all seemed well. 
Well today I viewed the blog from someone else's computer and discovered that all was not, in fact, quite so well.  So if you have been reading this blog and have been assaulted by GIANT pictures, and multiple pictures of the same thing, my sincere apologies.  I had (and have) no idea.
Luckily for me I have an extraordinary friend and colleague who, as well as being a general genius, extraordinary musician, and a lovely person, is a computer programmer in his spare time (seriously).  He explained, as best he could to someone like me, a few things and so I am going to try to rectify (and not repeat) the errors.  So my apologies, bear with me while I learn.  And thanks for stopping by.

10 May 2011

Swings and roundabouts

In the world of non-knitters, I can knit, but, in the world of knitters I am a novice. Maybe this year is the year I branch out from baby blankets in stockinette and garter stitch.  Craig gave me this book several years ago but I found many of the yarns and colours used off-putting.  The patterns that I liked used circular needles and that seemed daunting.
Having decided to jump in I am delighted. The joy of not having to sew up a garment at the end, the avoidance of mattress stitch and bulky seams, having to weave in only the first and last threads, as well as the inordinate satisfaction of watching 'knit one front and back' become a raglan sleeve, and 'knit one make one' become a pattern - well, I'm not sure I'll ever go back to straight needles.

I just love this little swing jacket (in malabrigo bergamota).  The pattern calls for an i-cord tie at the neck which I did away with, preferring a press stud and button.  I also discovered about halfway through the knitting that I had inadvertently used 5.5mm needles instead of the 5mm called for, which means it is rather more 'swingy' than perhaps intended.  Ah well, it's a learning year.

05 May 2011

Oh My Darling

Every morning Lily comes into bed for a feed, then rappels down the side of the bed.  She gets her shoes, brings them to me to put on and makes one of her pirate noises of satisfaction - 'arrggh'.  And thus the day begins.
About seven years ago, Craig took one year old Ruby out to buy her first pair of proper shoes.  He came back with these ridiculously adorable and ridiculously expensive shoes.  Four girls later, they are still just as adorable, the price, divided by four, seems most reasonable, and I find my (mostly) unsentimental heart can hardly bear the idea that soon they won't fit any of my babies.

04 May 2011

Apartment Therapy

Ruby has an idea of how it would be living in an apartment block.

They'd be things going on all the time.  People leaning out of windows to chat, running into each other, kissing to the embarrassment of their children  'awwww mum and dad'.

Conversations between grown ups go like this apparently:
Hi Hows Nick?
Good, hows Max?
Want to come to my flat porch for lunch?
Yer, what time soots?
2.30's okay what soots you?
2.30's fine, what shall we bring?
Mmm maybe some potato salad?
Cool.  Anything else?
(actually that is disturbingly accurate...)

Passersby are delighted by the fauna thereabouts:

And even the birds are rather chatty:
Mama Bird "Now watch out for cats, foxes (there will not be foxes thogh) egales, vultures, people, almost anything"
Three baby birds "Yes mama bird"
One baby bird "Thats a lot"

03 May 2011

Is it a bird

This evening when I got home from work Nina had made this twig Superman.  He stands about 10cm high.

The "S" badge on his cape conceals two buttons.  When the green light is on, everything is calm, but when the red light flashes he needs to get into gear and do some rescuing.

His fragile twig body and gentle expression made me wish for more Supermen of this type, and fewer Men of Steel.