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?A 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.These 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!Here’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.Some 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.My 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.I 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).We had perfect weather over the Christmas period for the wearing – and modelling – of the new hats.I 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.)And 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.)My 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 …There 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 …And 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 … I 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!These 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 …More 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.From 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.Lots 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 … and wild seas …Only the seagulls seem not to care …Our lane is eroding as water forces new pathways …Time 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.)