Even if I do say so myself

I can’t be the only mother who secretly likes their child receiving invitations to parties, at the same time as cursing (inwardly) when the parties turn out to be fancy dress and ‘wear a costume if you want’. If it’s a pirate party or a fireman party it’s no problem because we have those costumes to hand, but for anything else there’s inward cursing.

I think that part of the problem is that my own mother is so darn handy with a needle and a sewing machine. Any costumes we needed as children for school and drama group productions were whipped up with minimal apparent effort and fuss. They just appeared when they were required. And so my schema of a good mother includes the ability make costumes. I can use a sewing machine and have some experience of dress-making, but my skill in both areas could only be described as basic.

Recently Little Woollydaze was invited to a party (whoop) and it was a knights theme and there were the dreaded words… ‘wear a costume if you wish’ (*&%$”@). I have no problem with children having themed parties, I really don’t, I just wish the themes stayed within the confine of the time and setting of the party!

I had a quick look online and decided that paying £15 or more for a costume was a little ridiculous so, heart in mouth, I decided the time had come. Time to step out of my comfort zone. Time to make a costume. I decided to base the costume on the knight on the invite. Well, it amused me.

Friends, I wish you had seen me with some sheets of newspaper, a pair of scissors and a roll of masking tape trying to work out a basic pattern. Little Woollydaze was initially cooperative but quickly got bored, so in the end I had to figure out how the pattern didn’t fit, cross my fingers and hope and cut the fabric out free-form. It was a simple tabard but this is where my knitting skills came in handy because I had some idea of the shape that it should be when flat.

I dug out my sewing machine, which was last used when I was pregnant with Littlest Woollydaze, and started to search for the box of spools that *should* have been with it. A day later I was still searching, and after yet another exasperated hunt in all of the possible places Little Woollydaze came and told me he didn’t want to go to the party anyway. Which was a surprisingly astute and kind comment for a three-nearly-four-year-old, I feel. I assured him that finding the spools was my problem and he would have a costume.

I found the spools. I sewed together the tabard, I tried it on Little Woollydaze. It fitted! I used the scanner and printer to blow up the heraldic lion emblem, cut it out, traced it onto felt and cut that out, then hand stitched it to the front of the tabard. I then added a belt that I intended to put elastic through, but I couldn’t find the elastic and I didn’t want to shout about that too loudly so I just let that one go.

Concurrently, Little Woollydaze and I had made him a helmet out of papier mache which, thanks to the power of the Aga, was dry overnight. We painted it, I added some details in black pen.

I thought at this point that my part was done, so I delegated the making of the shield and sword to Mr Woollydaze. I was imaging cardboard covered in silver foil, but he opted for wood. Made pointy. For a birthday party with excitable three- and four-year-olds. Sometimes we’re on very different wavelengths.

Here is the result of all of this activity, a great joint effort by the Woollydaze household. At the end of the day, this is what costumes for children should be all about; time and togetherness rather than money.

And, do you know what, not one single person noticed/mentioned to me that he was the knight from the invite. Humph.

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Hello, Woollydaze here…

It’s always busy here on the farm, but the last few months have been particularly, crazily busy. This was prompted by me being made redundant two-thirds of the way through my maternity leave. There’s nothing quite like a series of meetings where you are read at from a piece of paper ‘in order to keep the message consistent’ to demonstrate exactly how little you mean as an individual, even after five years working somewhere. And when you work for the only big company of that type in your town and they don’t want you any more, the prospects of finding a similar job are remote. I’m the ‘foundation parent’ (i.e. the one who does all the running around after) for two pre-school children so I do not have the time available for a long commute, and I can’t relocate because the 500 sheep and Mr Woollydaze don’t want to move. In short, whilst it was me who was made redundant, the possibilities for my future job are about a whole lot more than just me at this moment in time. I’ve also got a bit cynical about the idea of a ‘career’ – I’d worked my way through three different companies and four different jobs in the same area, and just like that it’s over.

So, what next? This is where it all got a bit silly. Unwilling to let any future possibilities escape, I tried to do four different jobs/roles at once. Now officially a stay at home mum, I also continued with a childcare course, did freelance work in my previous profession and thought long and hard about a small craft-based business I could run for a few extra pennies. This translated as not earning a lot of money, because staying at home looking after your own children doesn’t pay well, whilst spending a lot of hours working. All day was being a mother, all evening was everything else and occasionally, when I had to, sleep was optional. This is not a way of living life that can continue for long.

So the time has come to sit back, relax, sigh deeply and, for now, drop a couple of the balls I’m juggling. The childcare idea continues because that’s something I can do whilst looking after my own children and earning a little bit of money. I have to trust that in the future I will be employable in whatever field I choose to work in, once the children are a little older and more independent and don’t need me so much. It’s not a decision I ever imagined I’d have to take but then life isn’t predictable and ‘being resilient’ is one of the greatest skills we can teach our children. So I hope I’ll have a bit more time to do the things I want to do – like writing this blog – rather than only doing things I have to do. I think it will make me a happier mummy and a happier Woollydaze and, darn it, I have a Very Special Project that I’ve been working on since February that urgently needs to be finished. There’s a lovely little story attached, but it’s not my story to tell…

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From sheep to needles

Well, hello there. Woollydaze here. Nice of you to pop by. This post is sponsored by the British Wool Marketing Board, because it’s thanks to them that I managed a whole night away from Little Woollydaze and Littlest Woollydaze. Yes, the first child-free night in eight months was spent in…. wait for it… Bradford. I can’t claim that we got more sleep than we do when listening out for two little ones because we were sleeping right next to the M62, but hey, we were officially Child Free. (Despite the fact that both children had chicken pox, and for that I owe my parents-in-law a huge THANK YOU.)

So, to backtrack slightly, a few weeks ago Mr Woollydaze suggested that we might have a day away from home that involved wool. As you can imagine, I was completely up for it. He’s a member of the Cotswold Sheep Group, a marketing group through which we sell our lambs, and they were arranging a trip to visit the BWMB. I wasn’t expecting to be the token female in a group of Gloucestershire farmers, but that’s how it was.  But it was just fine, because they were all charming, and passionate about what they do. Great company for a fascinating day out.

We started at ‘Wool House’, the aptly named headquarters of the BWMB. In the next few weeks they’re moving to office space at their depot on the other side of the city so sadly this quirky building will no longer be part of the story. We watched a wool auction in progress, which was a completely different experience to what I expected. A typical farming auction would involve mud, wax jackets, flat caps, incomprehensible speech, and the twitching of a finger to decide it all. A wool auction is much cleaner, although just as fast. Imagine a modern classroom with a computer on each desk and an interactive whiteboard at the front of the room. Each number of each lot was displayed on the screen in turn and the buyers put in bids within the two second time limit, with the auctioneers at the front of the room indicating when the reserve had been met and therefore the bids were being accepted. It was like watching the last few seconds of a bid on eBay over and over again.

From there we went to the grading depot, where the scale of what the BWMB achieves became apparent. As farmers who produce wool, we knew that each fleece was individually graded. But you don’t really understand that that actually means until you see a wool sack just like the ones you sew up on shearing day being opened and each fleece being inspected. Apparently it takes five years to complete an apprenticeship as a grader. There are over 70 different grades depending the characteristics of the wool like staple length and strength. At this point the fleeces are packaged according to grade and the packages have a sample taken from the centre to be sent for testing. This gives information like the microns (how fine the wool is), the sundry dry yield (how much wool will be left after processing) and the colour, and this is the published in the auction catalogue before a sale.

Our next stop was the Haworth Scouring Company plant, where the raw fleeces are transformed into wool. The fleeces are put through eight big baths to clean them. It’s at this stage that the wool is blended if a blend is required, e.g. adding merino. By the end of the baths the wool is noticeably whiter; the fleeces are then put through a big dryer. At this point, most of the wool is packaged to be further processed elsewhere. Some, however, is carded and combed on-site, and by the time this is complete the wool is recognisable as something a spinner would use.

The management at this scouring plant work hard to ensure their operation is as environmentally friendly as possible. As wool producers, it was interesting to discuss how the drugs we use on the sheep can affect the processing of the fleece.

The tour of what happens to the sheep fleeces post producer was fascinating, but one element of the day that I particularly enjoyed was the language that is used. The words seem weighed down with history: staple; sliver; tops; noil; worsted; roving. Some of the words I use when talking about wool, but it’s not always used in quite the same way. In this instance wool that had been carded was called roving, and this is what’s called the ‘woollen spun’ – or what will be used for making carpets. British wool has a reputation for being durable and a large percentage goes into making carpets. The wool is noticeable rougher because the fibres haven’t been aligned. The ‘worsted spun’ wool that is used for knitwear is also put through the combing process, which smoothes it out further. This is what I would call a roving, but in this context was called a top.

From a producer’s point of view, the visit was good PR for the BWMB. A few short years ago wool was making 34p per fleece, far below the cost of shearing the sheep. The predicted prices for this year are an average of £3 per fleece, which means that a farmer might make a profit on his wool. This increase is due mainly to an increase in demand for wool from China. The labour-intensive processing by the BWMB is designed to add value so that wool buyers can get exactly what they want at auction. Whilst at times the system can feel clunky and that the producers are not in control, the efforts of the BWMB add a huge amount of value to a niche product that the individual farmers would not be able to market effectively on their own.

There is so much more I could say about the visit, but I’ll stop there for now. No doubt what I saw and learned will inform future blog posts. I can feel the next topic brewing already so, with luck, you won’t have to wait so long for the following instalment.

The visit has already been reported in a couple of places on the internet, so if you want more information or to see more photos you can check out:

The British Wool Marketing Board website

The Cotswold Sheep Group website blog

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Knitted love

Hello, Woollydaze here… with Littlest Woolly, meaning this blog post is being written one handed…

The first few weeks as a family of four have passed relatively peacefully; so far Littlest Woolly is fulfilling the ‘placid second baby’ stereotype. Her big brother is still being kind to her, showering her with kisses and bringing her toys to play with. We’re trying to keep his life as normal as possible which means lots of out and about for the newborn; in three weeks she’s been to one barbecue, one dinner party, two play dates, two parties, two official appointments, work twice and the farm park three times. Next week she has two social commitments and her first holiday.

All of this touting a baby around has meant I’ve been gathering compliments, but not all have been for my daughter. She has been wrapped in knitted love for many of her
trips, but none of it was made by me. I’ve been too busy making for other people’s babies. If you’re an artist or a crafter, you’ll understand how this happens.

I haven’t actually been keeping a tally, but my feeling is that the this blanket has had more compliments than the accompanying baby.

Woollydaze Too, you have managed to upstage your cute newborn niece. Ravelry link to the project here. The cute kimono-style jacket that Littlest Woolly is wearing was also made by Woollydaze Too, not for Little Woolly but for a friend’s baby. It’s been  passed on and reused a number of times, which is only right a proper with baby clothes that get so little wear. Ravelry link for this project here.

Over that past few days, a couple of presents have arrived in the post which have delighted me because the people who have made them are learning to knit (aren’t we all, really, but what I mean is that they are mastering the basics). This was sent, with apologies for it being out of season, by one of the vet students who stayed with us during lambing:

Isn’t it great? I can’t wait for the weather to be cold enough to be able to package Littlest Woolly up in this for a trip outdoors. And this little fellow arrived courtesy of a university friend who wrote in the accompanying card ‘Enclosed is my first and last attempt at a teddy’.

I hope not. I’m impressed by the amount of increasing and decreasing that has been done to give this bear his shape, and I love the little buttons on the scarf which are a stylish finishing touch.

We are, of course, grateful for all of the cards and presents and good wishes that we’ve received over the past few weeks. The clothes that have been given will all be useful and Littlest Woolly, could she talk, would be thanking the givers for saving her from wearing her brother’s hand-me-downs and constantly being mistaken for a boy. We’ve been given clothes in a good range of sizes so she’ll be appropriately dressed for her first year.

An aside: In my last post that I mentioned that knitters pop up everywhere; further evidence for this was gathered when Littlest Woolly and I went to register her birth. The registrar was a knitter, and several people in the same office also knit. Together they’d produced a knitted version of the recent Royal Wedding that was tucked into the corner of an office. Sadly I didn’t have my camera with me, but trust me it was amusingly amazing. The Queen was resplendent in a purple dress, and  I wonder who got to knit the corgis? I picked up on the media furore (well, it was a furore in terms of a story about knitting) surrounding this book, but I didn’t expect to ever see a finished version. Is it terribly geeky of me find this funny? No, you don’t need to reply, I already know the answer. I would say that I need to get out more, but we haven’t really been stuck at home.

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FO: Littlest Woolly

Hello, Woollydaze here…

This project took just under nine months to complete. No, I didn’t do a gauge swatch and the finished result is a little bit larger than expected. Although not as large as I was led to believe she could have been if she had taken a little longer to finish. We didn’t want to know the colour until we met our little person, but this didn’t work out quite as planned.

The last few days have been busy, exciting, scary, painful, happy, exhausting and filled with love. The newest member of the Woollydaze household made her appearance on Thursday, officially nine days early but a well cooked 8lb 7oz.

She had been specifically instructed by her daddy not to arrive on Thursday since it was sheep shearing day on the farm. Mr Woollydaze had quite enough to do shuffling 500 ewes and their lambs from field to field, plus the rams and some sheep from a neighbour. There was absolutely no time for the arrival of a baby. However, Littlest Woolly chose not to listen. This does not bode well for the future.

I had arranged a crafty day with a friend and we were supposed to be doing a show-and-tell of our projects, discussing ideas and inspiration and generally having a jolly good natter. She wasn’t expecting to be the labour partner, but she did a fabulous job of keeping chatting to me in the early stages and of packing me off to hospital when it became apparent that this actually was ‘it’. Poor Mr Woollydaze wasn’t aware there was anything going on until he got called inside to drive. Mind you, I wasn’t really aware until shortly before this point that the pains weren’t going to fade away. Thankfully I had arranged for my parents to visit to cover looking after Little Woolly ‘just in case’. I will be eternally grateful to my mum for saying she thought it was time to go; I would have waited just a little bit longer. That would not have been a good idea.

We arrived at the hospital with ten minutes to go before the birth. No thanks to the white van man who smugly drove in the outside lane of the dual carriageway next to another car and blocked our way. I hate being a cliche, but I hope he realised quite why a 1.4 diesel car was driving at such a ridiculous speed and what a *&^%$£! he had been. I stand by every single swear word I threw at him at the time. I wasn’t the most dramatic entrance of the day; apparently somebody else gave birth in the lift on the way to the delivery suite, which makes it seem like I had plenty of time.

The biggest surprise of the day for me was the sex. I had a late scan where I was knitting when the sonographer called me in, and it turned out she was a knitting fan too. They turn up everywhere, you know. The sonographer referred to the baby as ‘he’ and asked me if I was going to teach both of my boys to knit. Despite knowing that I thought I knew the colour, Mr Woollydaze resolutely didn’t ask; I’m impressed by his self control on this issue. A boy or a girl would have been equally welcome so I’m not at all disappointed, just happy to see her and pleased that she and I are healthy and now at home.

So if the next few months contain fewer blogs from the Woollydaze household, I’m sure you’ll understand why. It’s not because I don’t want to, it’s because I’m a little busy right now. But I will try to check in regularly and I do have things planned, and we’ll just see how it all goes.

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The gentle art of letting go

There has, this weekend, been some tinking in the Woollydaze Too household. No, not thinking, I mean wholesale unravelling to the point where ‘knitting’ is an overly complex description. Let me elaborate.

Folded cardiagn pieces with two balls of wool on topI have/had a cardigan that I have/had been knitting Since Time Began, or ‘for the last 5 years’ [I remember buying the yarn from Knitwell Online, shortly after discovering that one could buy knitting stuff online (thanks, Woollydaze): that was the beginning of what I can only describe as an epiphany in my life]. Unusually, I bought the yarn recommended for the pattern, and not unusually I didn’t swatch (I’m not sure I really knew that one was supposed to swatch for gauge before starting a garment (I know, the naivety of youth/inexperience). And I merrily knitted the back and two fronts, finishing the second front with a flourish and the decreases in the wrong direction (it sloped inwards from outside edge to button band). What followed was at least five attempts to knit the sleeves, foiled by:

1)      This being my first ever go at lace knitting.

2)     An inability to follow the pattern despite having (mostly) knitted the arrowhead lace back and fronts.

3)     A complete lack of understanding of how to increase in a lace pattern, resulting in any increases being swallowed up in the follwing row of lace and one puzzled and frustrated knitter. Now I know that I should have increased in stocking stitch until I had enough stitches for the lace repeat.

4)     Starting a new job that rendered me unable to think, or at least knit lace patiently, for the first 6 months of employment.

The weekend just gone was a rainy bank holiday here in the UK, and I’d weeded the garden before the rain came so had accrued some knitting time. Having just finished a wee jacket for some newly parented friends, there was space to think about how to fix this cardigan. And I realised that I didn’t want to.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a pretty pattern and a good quality yarn and (despite not swatching) I was producing a garment that would (probably) fit me. Despite this, I couldn’t picture myself sitting down and knitting those sleeves, and having knitted and finished it, I couldn’t see myself wearing the cardigan. While this was the right pattern to knit 5 years ago, I’ve learned more about what suits me and how to knit items to fit, and I couldn’t get excited about finishing this one off.

So I didn’t. Oh, I love that when you frog a project and tag it as such, Ravelry moves it right down to the bottom of your profile. Out of sight, out of mind…

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FO: Secrets cross stitch and tractor rug

Hello, Woollydaze here…

Like many crafters, I suspect, I’m happy when people admire what I’m making. For me, this is one of the big attractions of Ravelry. I like listing the projects that I’ve finished, the story behind them and the trials they’ve caused me. Writing up an entry provides a tidy finish, otherwise it can feel like the item is gifted and disappears from my life without a proper send-off. Of course, there are many other great benefits of Ravelry, including the ability to search for hours for the ‘perfect’ pattern or the ‘perfect’ wool to use for a pattern. But collecting ‘favourite’ hearts on projects is definitely one of my hobbies.

However, I do make things that don’t fit into the knitting/crotcheting sphere of Ravelry, and this is where the Woollydaze blog allows me to show them off. Whilst the name of the blog and the strapline suggest the subject is wool, regular readers will notice that we (or rather, I) often veer away from this topic depending on what else is being made at the time.

So here we have a post about cross stitch and latch hooking. I was slightly embarrassed *ahem* by my admission a few weeks ago that I had so many unfinished projects littering the house, and so dug out a couple of them to finish off.

This cross stitch, done approximately fifteen years ago and tucked away in my sewing box since, is a kit from DMC kit from the Lanarte Life Style Collection, and is called ‘Secrets’. It would probably be classed as a vintage item now. My father-in-law tells me that he’s seen the image as a print, but I’ve not. I still like it but it’s not something I would put up on my wall, so I thought it would make a heritage gift for a friend who has recently had a baby girl. Framing it in blue has brought out the colours in the picture and I like the simple limewashed style of the frame. I hope it will be treasured.

Then – happy first Christmas Little Woolly (oops, only two and a bit years late) – I’ve finished the tractor rug. I only had the edging to do, and it did take longer than I thought it would. Lots of hand stitching around corners. However, Little Woolly came to look as I was sewing it and declared it was ‘nice and soft’, and it’s now next to his bed so he can scrunch it underneath his feet in the morning and the evening. Apparently it’s ‘tickly’. That’s the sort of positive feedback that I wouldn’t have got had it been finished on schedule. Ironically, the latest tractor we have on the farm is actually red rather than green, but we’ll skate quickly over that fact. Little Woolly was running down the hallway with his nursery bag on his back last week pretending to be a tractor with a trailer, and I asked him if he was John Deere or Massey Ferguson. He said John Deere (green tractors), so I think I’ve got away with it.

There are a few other FOs (wool based this time) hanging around but they’re all for babies who are not yet born and so haven’t yet been gifted. So I’ll leave you with that tantalising tidbit of information, and the promise that you will see them as soon as possible.

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