Friday, October 24, 2014

The joy of the home is love

I've been off-grid for a little while, visiting my grandmother, having a lovely time and collecting new stories and pictures.

Here's a little something I've been wanting to show you for a while. It is a small picture which has hung in my grandparents' house my whole life, and which reads 'The joy of the home is love'. That pretty much sums it up for my grandparents, who were always very loving towards each other. My grandfather would often ask my grandmother, "Are you in love today?" with a grin, sometimes followed by a little pat on the behind. That's how I want to grow old!

 My grandmother tells me that the picture must be at least a hundred years old. She remembers it hanging in her grandparents' house, and later in her parents' home, after which her mother passed it on to her.

It is made of glass, with the negative space painted black. The lettering and the flower were left clear, and edged with a thin gold line before tha black was added. Behind the glass is aluminum foil, slightly scrunched, which gives a more interesting result. I really love it - the message as well as the technique, which I must try sometime soon. I've been pondering some sort of modern take on the message, something like a tribute to the original, but I'm not yet sure how I want to do it.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Nalbinding with plant-dyed wool

This Saturday, we went to visit some friends who had a stall (and a real viking tent!) at a viking market, selling home-made nettle-cream, among other things. As we sat there on wooden stools outside their tent, drinking beer from drinking horns in the October sun, something caught my eye. Across the way, one of the stalls had many colors of yarn on display, so I went over to investigate. The yarn was plant-dyed, and the women who owned the stall were both doing nalbinding, or needlebinding, a technique which was used in the Viking age, before knitting and crochet. I've seen it a lot at Viking markets, and I had been wanting to try it for a while, so I bought four skeins of yarn and a wooden needle and was given a few words of advice, as well.

The red wool is dyed with madder, the pale green with birch leaves, the yellow with tansy and the purple with logwood.

When I got home, I found this great video by a nice Finnish woman explaining exactly how the technique works. This particular stitch is called the Mammen stitch, and was recommended to me by the women at the market for its strength and density. I've been trying it out, and this is what it's looking like so far, the first two rounds of a wristwarmer:

Friday, October 3, 2014


What I really wanted to show you, though, was this 'new' blanket, which now lives in my aunt's couch, and which my cousins were so good as to photograph for me.

My mother and grandmother made it together when my mother was around 20 and still living at home. This was yet another blanket made from scraps left over by my grandmother, which, as my mother says, gives you an idea of how many things my grandmother actually knitted, producing scraps for at least three rather large blankets with many different colors!

The pattern is called waffle crochet, and as soon as my mother saw the pictures of the blanket, she remembered how it goes. That was lucky, because I was having a bit of trouble deciphering it, especially with all the color changes! But it's quite simple, really. Each row is made up entirely of double crochet (or treble) stitches. For the first two stitches in the pattern, you insert your hook into the top of the two double crochet stitches in the row below. These will be the ones that stick out towards the back. For the next two double crochet stitches, though, instead of inserting the hook into the tops of the stitches below, you go behind the column, if you will, of the double crochet stitch in the row below. These stitches will be the ones sticking out towards you.

Because of the color changes (two rows of each color), the waffle pattern really doesn't come out so clearly, but have a look at Suburban Jubilee: Waffle Crochet Tutorial - From Blankets to Dishcloths for a gorgeous example of the real waffle look!

The color changes make quite a nice look on the wrong side, as well, although the effect is somewhat less calming than on the right side. And again, I am loving the freshness of the color 'choices'. Since these scraps are all from projects of my grandmother's, you can imagine that future pics of her work won't be dull, either!

One more thing on texture

As I was taking notes for a new post, I looked at my mother's blanket on the couch beside me and
realized that two neighboring squares looked quite different. Somehow it doesn't come out so clearly in the picture, but in real life, they have different textures (which I only just noticed!). The blue square is made up of many small units with many relatively large holes, whereas the rust-colored square is more solid, and the holes make up a smaller part of the surface area. Because the yarn scraps she used were of different weight, they obviously resulted in different gauges. Instead of for example doubling the thin yarn so that it was more like the thick yarn, she repeated the pattern once or twice extra both in height and widht so that the size of the different squares were the same.

The effect is not very pronounced in this piece, and certainly wasn't meant to, but it made me think that this might also be a nice way to think up a scrap-blanket. It might give a very nice effect to specifically use yarns of different weight and accentuate the difference by crocheting squares of the exact same pattern, but with very different textures. In this picture, the pattern is repeated 6 times across, in 11 rows on the rust-colored square, whereas the blue has the pattern 7 times across, with 13 rows. This is quite a small difference, so it would be easy to make a more pronounced version.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

A clock-string purse

I would like to share a little bit of inspiration on re-using or incorporating old handmade items in new projects. I wouldn't really call it upcycling, as many of these things are pretty amazing in and of themselves, but often, they don't quite fit into our aesthetics or ideas of functionality.

Of all the things I have made with my own two hands, this purse is definitely the one that I have used the most. Every time I go out my door, I have to remember my wallet, keys and phone, so I really wanted a purse for all of it that I could just throw into my bag. I wasn't having any luck finding one to my taste in the shops, and started thinking about making something myself.

Then one day, my grandmother asked if I could find use for some unfinished embroidery pieces she had lying in a closet. They had been made by my great-grandmother, so she didn't have the heart to throw them out, but they were really just collecting dust. My favorite piece was a clock-string, as we call them, like this one that my grandparents have had hanging in the hallway for as long as I can remember, and which was also made by my great-grandmother. She embroidered it using woollen thread on a coarse kind of aida canvas and had it mounted professionally, but she never got around to doing the finishes on this one. My grandmother thinks it may actually have been the last project she worked on before she died.

Luckily, my grandmother had some bright green fabric with white polkadots in her stash, plus an olive green zipper in just the right length, so I set to work immediately, making a simple rectangular purse with a polkadot lining. I only used half the length of the clock-string, but I think I'll just save the rest, in case anything ever happens to my great-granny purse. I love the coral-colored flower motif with the mint-green details in the corners and the special texture this kind of embroidery creates. In fact, I'm becoming more and more interested in texture as well as color.

My great-grandmother was a pretty cool woman, so I'm proud to carry her handiwork around with me everywhere. She had a tough life as a fisherman's wife, but had a great sense of humor, something which she passed on to her three children, of whom my grandfather was the second, and the only boy. She was a small woman, and she is smiling in all of the old pictures of her, unlike many other people at that time. When I was a child, I used to tell people that I was named after my grandfather's little fishing boat, but really, we were both named after his sweet mother Marie.

The universal appeal of the handmade

Yesterday, I met up with most of my old classmates from uni. We talked about many things, but particularly about life AFTER uni and how, for some of us, it has taken a while to 're-surface' and take back our lives. One of my friends remarked that she had only recently started knitting again, and I can relate to that feeling completely. Sometimes I don't notice it, but when I feel stressed or under pressure in some way, I quietly, without noticing, stop doing the things that actually energize me and make me happy. It becomes a circle that is difficult to break out of, because when I do realize that I've stopped, it can seem almost impossible to start again. Sometimes, it is simply because I lack the time and energy, but sometimes, I just can't find inspiration and even begin to doubt my own creative talent.

But as I've written in my 'The point of all this'-section, that is precisely what this blog can help prevent. It almost forces me to think, read and write about creating, and that is just what I need. It is something that makes me happy and inspires me to start up new knitting, crocheting and whatever else.

The blog was also a fun thing to talk about yesterday. Of course, it was nice to hear that some of my friends have been reading along and find my stories interesting, but some also had their own stories to tell. One of the guys, for example, has a woollen sweater that he always wears when he goes fishing, and which was knitted by his grandmother. Apparently, it is quite a big sweater, with a slightly large neck opening, but there is a sort of cowl that he wears and which makes up for that. He was a bit worried that the sweater might start to wear out, so we talked a bit about how the knitting could be reinforced invisibly in the most vulnerable places.

So it seems that these handmade things and their stories don't only appeal to people who actually make this sort of thing themselves. We all love a good story, and we like to have things in our lives that are worth more to us than the sum of their components.

Oh, and to my friend Lilo who has re-discovered the joy of knitting AND taken up the challenge of crochet, you may find some inspiration in Prudence Mapstone's freeform knitting, or scrumbles, as she calls them!

Friday, September 19, 2014


So yeah, socks! Most of my woollen socks have been knitted for me by my grandmother, and I'm starting to wear them again, after a little summer break. I wear them with pants, skirts, ankle boots, ballerinas, nothing else, and occasionally high heels, which I actually prefer to wear with stripey socks. I feel like it makes them seem less pretentious.

I know you think I despise acrylic or polyamide yarn, but in socks, I have to admit it makes sense. Wonderful as it is, wool wears out fairly quickly when rubbed against a warm foot and the inside of a shoe. So my grandmother always buys special 'sock-yarn' with 20% polyamide to go along with the wool. I had a pair of 100% wool socks which were worn out after one winter, so I'm grateful for the synthetic element - otherwise, I would have to do a whole lot more darning than I'd like!

My grandmother used to take us shopping for yarn in the colors that we would like, but one day, I thought, 'Wait a minute, what does she do with all the leftover yarn?' It turned out that she used it for darning socks and didn't think any of us would want a pair of socks made from yarn scraps. But I really wanted a pair like that, and so she made them for me. The funny thing is, I had expected a pair of socks with completely random colors, but being the neat and orderly woman that she is, of course she had coordinated the scraps so that the two socks had precisely the same types of stripes in exactly the same pattern! I loved them, but I did mention to her that she needn't bother with being systematic the next time - she could just use up the scraps that she had. So now we have sort of a deal that when she has enough scraps for a pair of socks, she makes some for me.

Anyway, my sister and I dug out some socks to show off how we wear them. Don't be afraid to show your pride in a pair of home-knitted socks, wear them for the world to see! - And please share some pictures with the rest of us!