Christmas gifts – and wintry weather!

December knocked me flat.  I feel quite ashamed to admit this because in retirement we enjoy a leisurely and simple Christmas.  No longer are there small children to delight and exhaust, no longer are we heavily involved with parish church festivities, and no longer do we have working schedules that get more and more chaotic as Christmas approaches.  I look back on those times with amazement – and wonder how we did it all?

This year, it is only now – as Twelfth Night, Epiphany, the end of the Christmas festival, approaches – that I have recovered sufficient mojo to look back on December reflectively.

Of course lots happened.  But for the purposes of this blogpost, I’m going to concentrate on homemade Christmas gifts.  These made me very happy – and I hope they gave the recipients pleasure too.

I just love the small furry animals devised by Kerry Lord, the talented brains behind the Toft alpaca story. They are so cute – so quirky – with so much character – surely, I thought,  they would be acceptable gifts to our very grown-up children?

The first Toft creature I made – a bunny – was crocheted using Toft’s own alpaca yarn.  I’m not a crocheter and found the pattern very hard to master so I was just pleased as punch when I finished her.  Isn’t she a sweetie-pie?Toft BunnyA wintry day in December found me up in my woolly workroom, with Poe, our cat, putting together some more Toft creatures.  I didn’t have enough of the Toft yarn to crochet more creatures, so dug into my stash for some hand-dyed homespun. A single strand of Rowan Kidsilk Haze added to homespun  gave the Toft creatures a soft furry finish.

The trickiest part to making these Toft creatures is the stuffing – they need to be tactically understuffed. I’m getting better at this – not easy.   But it is the sagginess that adds to the character. Each creature also has a little bag of “ballast” sewn into their belly to help provide core stability.working on Toft animalsThese two were meant to be Siamese cats but they do not look at all feline to me. No, they are foxes, surely – little Fennec Foxes, I think!Toft Fennec FoxesHere’s my Toft gang before they set off bearing Christmas love and good wishes. Most of them went to new homes, but three little ones (the darker ones – my earlier attempts) keep me company and stay here.  As it is cold and wintry, they all got stripey scarves to keep them warm on their travels.Toft animal collectionSome Toft creatures found themselves making new furry friends in their new homes … Others got Christmas cuddles when they arrived …Hats were my other focus this Christmas.  Browsing through old Designer Knitting magazines, I found this two-colour cabled hat designed by Cully Swansen in the Winter 2009/10 issue.   Just a great pattern – and excellent for using up smaller amounts of yarn.  I changed the pattern slightly, adding a wide-ribbed headband in place of the garter stitch of the original pattern.  All the pompoms are alpaca and were purchased from the Toft alpaca shop – I can’t tell you how lovely they are: soft and furry and very fluffy.Cully Swansen's hat patternMy first attempt was this green and white hat. The white is the leftover yarn from the Toft bunny above, and the green is homespun mixed fibres yarn (wool, silk, and mohair).  I picked up a small ball of what I think is Noro Silk Garden in a charity shop and put a strand of that with my homespun.  This added to the variegated effect and the softness.Hat for BarbaraI was really pleased with the green and white hat – so made another. It took me a long time to work out the colours. I knew I wanted grey – but what to put with it. I tried red – no, too obvious. But khaki golden yellow? Hmm – yes, that looks very promising.  I think its what is called Grellow in knitting circles these days.  The yellow is left over Rowan alpaca colour (a gorgeous soft silky yarn) and the grey is two strands made up of Lang Donegal and another grey yarn (name and details lost – oh dear, system slipping).Jam's Christmas hatWe had perfect weather over the Christmas period for the wearing – and modelling – of the new hats.Jam & Barbara in hatsI made three of these hats as Christmas presents. This last is more a beanie because that’s what my husband wanted.  He didn’t think a pompom was for him …   (The black is Debbie Bliss Fine Donegal combined with my own homespun, and the name and origins of the red scrap is lost in history – but it is a lovely thick flecked yarn.)Stephen's cabled beanieAnd now I’m making one for myself. I found it very difficult to restrict myself to two colours so with my own hat, I’ve allowed myself to use three colours. I know it doesn’t show off the clean lines of the cabling, but the colours work well together. One of the yarns is a beautiful hand spun merino yarn my husband brought back from South Uist.  It’s red and orange and brown and yellow – Uist Landscapes – Peat Stack is the name the spinner, Denise Bridge, has given it.  So evocative.  The variegation confuses the cable pattern further, of course, but I don’t think that matters.  The homespun merino is like little flames in the green and brown, isn’t it?  (The green is a Rowan Tweed, and the brown is my own homespun combined with a strand of dark purple Rowan Kidsilk Haze.)Katherine's cabled hatMy son asked for the present we all want – more time.   And this is what my clever Stephen gave him – why, of course, let’s up the hours in a day from twelve to thirteen!  That’s 8.3% more time a day … Look how pleased my Jammy is!  The secret of this time cook-up lies with Stephen, but I can let you know that there were cheap Homebase clocks and Excel broadsheets involved …13 hour clockThere were a couple of new GiveWraps for these presents.  Both went to cat-loving ladies. I think these Japanese ladies work very well with the cats – for some reason …Japanese ladies and cats GiveWrapAnd this GiveWrap went to a lady who loves cats and Mexican Day of the Dead images  and Moomins – and those scratchy cats of Alexander Henry’s keep up on cropping up everywhere …Even an old child’s pillowcase has started a new life as a GiveWrap … happy memories …  Mr men GiveWrapI was given the most generous of gifts – gifts to feed inspiration.  There were books and fabrics and yarns ….

Perhaps you read my blogpost about dyeing fleece, and my undisciplined methods?  This year I am going to learn how to dye properly – thank you, Gail Callahan!Hand dyeing bookThese wonderful Japanese fabrics were a gift from my daughter.  They are such an amazing vibrant colour – and the patterns!  I sort of have the seeds of an idea for another quilt – and perhaps these would be part of that …Christmas fabrics from HelenMore fabrics from Stephen. This is an entire sari – silk, of course.  It is vintage – I guess that means somebody threw it out?  It is very soft, both in texture and in colour, and I will not be throwing it out any time soon.  There is enough material to make a full length dress, but my seventies days are over, and I’ll probably be making a tunic to wear over leggings.  Gorgeous to wear in the summer.recycled sariFrom another Ebay website, Stephen got these silk sari scraps.  These are the good parts from old, damaged and worn-out saris.  They will make some beautiful GiveWraps.recycled sari piecesLots and lots of inspiration there.  Now the days are grey and dark, windy (very) and miserable.  I learn from a Brittany instagrammer that the Celts call this time Les Mois Noirs.  Apt description indeed.  We look out on wet puddled fields …view from window and wild seas …Spittal beach promenadeOnly the seagulls seem not to care …Seagull soaring over wavesOur lane is eroding as water forces new pathways …View down our laneTime to put all the lights on so that I can actually see some colour, and get playing with all this gorgeous new stuff!

(I must add that although the weather here is very wet and windy and generally horrible, we have not been flooded.  Many homes in the UK have experienced awful flooding troubles over the last few weeks.  There are some poor souls watching and waiting as I write, fearing they will be flooded soon with this continuing rain. It’s been a heartbreaking Christmas for many.)

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kaydeerouge

Lost - and found.

8 thoughts on “Christmas gifts – and wintry weather!”

  1. Oh wow! Again so much to say! Firstly, yes, December is insane, the frenetic culmination of the year and then Christmas to prepare. I always feel like I am about to have a breakdown just before Christmas but somehow, we get through, just, every year. What kind of crazy tempo have we created around this introspective and hopeful celebration? Those Toft creatures are lovely, they have a rare personhood quality about them. The handspun ones are particularly appealing and yes, I agree Fennec foxes. The Cully hats are beautiful, how delightfully daggy to have family hats! And to express the personality of each person in each hat. The variegated yarn in yours just glows and glows. Your own gifts bode well for a creative year ahead. The picture of the Spittal esplanade took me back to a bright blue day and a calm sea in October, so different to that violent stormy image. Glad you are high and dry. Best wishes for the new year.

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    1. It is weird what we do to Christmas, Rebecca – a bit like the craziness involved in modern expensive marriages. But somehow, even tho’ we completely overdo things, the kernel of hope and happiness are there, aren’t they? I do love making things for presents – as I know you do – that is a very important part of the festival for me, but of course, it adds an extra layer of hard work! Ah well – all over for another year – and who knows what’s round the corner this year …. thank you for your good wishes.

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  2. So much good stuff in this post. I think I like your hat best, sure you can’t see the lines of the cables in the same way, but the different coloured ‘bumps’ have a fabulous effect overall.

    Hasn’t the weather been vile … no houses flooded here but the village has practically been an island for weeks, sitting in a bend of the river as it does, although luckily it’s all built on a 50ft high outcrop of rock.

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    1. Thank you, Annie! I was very pleased – but a little bit surprised – with the hat – just worked a treat, but not really what I’d envisaged. Well, truth is I don’t really “envisage” things – so it’s just delightful when they work out well.
      And ah – the weather – sounds like you’re worse off than we are, but at least not flooded. In the midst of all the grey and gloom I hold on to gratitude that we are not flooded. such lasting and foul damage caused by flooding. Stay dry!

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  3. Those hats … oh my!! I’d have entirely overlooked that pattern, but you have turned this into something far more attractive in my eyes. The three colour version reminds me of a fierce sunset.

    I love the gift of sari fabric from your husband. I have family in Birmingham and as a child used to long for a sari. As the bus travelled from Solihull into the city we’d go past large communities of Indian shops. I was so taken with all those beautiful and exotic looking outfits. Your gift is unique and precious and so lovely that you can give it a new lease of life.

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    1. Thank you for your kind words on the hats! I was looking for a cable hat knitting pattern, which is why that pattern spoke to me. I loved hearing about your youthful sari dreams! I had family in Leicester and also saw lots of beautiful saris – and dreamed of getting one! The sari fabric I’ve been given is so soft (I guess because it’s been pre-loved). I have been sort of dreaming of how I might re-use it – even wondered about learning to wear a sari properly…..but I think that might be a bit of a challenge on the North Northumbrian coast 🙂 One day I might be posting a pic of what I do with it!

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