Archive | Travels RSS feed for this section

Crochet Winter Warmers

13 Feb

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Anyone residing in the UK for the past few months would be aware that it’s been, well, rather parky out. I won’t be the only one who should have spent much all of January and much of February, shrouded in blankets and refusing to leave the warm environs of my flat for any non-essential reason.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

However, the course of my life has never been sedentary. I was back in my seaside hometown of Southport during the cold snap, so I decided to hibernate at my Grandparents house – until cabin fever struck. I decided to take a stroll along the deserted beach, which gave me the perfect opportunity to play with the settings on my new camera.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

For those of you who know anything about the North West coast, you won’t be surprised to hear that the wind was whipping up in every direction which made the chilly temperatures feel even colder! Eventually, I retreated back into the town to seek retail therapy and hot chocolate. It was then that I discovered a gem of a place: the Yarn Fairy on Wesley Street.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA It was inevitable of course, that an addicted crafter such as myself would succumb to the lure of independent boutique yarn shops and the prospect of lovely new crochet projects. As I was wearing my deliciously warm new winter coat, I decided to try and pick out some colours to create some cozy accessories.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Unwittingly, I selected some yarns which perfectly matched the shades of the seaside, where I had taken my stroll and where my mind must have still been wandering. The yarn was from Rico studio, and was 50% acrylic, 50% wool, so I thought that would be a good choice. Both the blue and the cream yarns were variegated, and contained all sorts of different shades from my coat. Perfect!
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’m not really a fan of crochet patterns – I’m much happier just setting off and discovering where the stitches take me. However, I had recently seen a tutorial for making a hat from brim to top, rather than the other way round – I decided to give that a go.

I began by making a loop in the pretty, blue yarn, which fitted snugly around my head, and then hooking a row of double crochets to get the hat started. Onto row 2, I began a row of treble crochets, doing a hooked treble stitch every 4 stitches. A hooked treble is where you push your crochet hook crosswise, around the post of the stitch below, rather than putting it through the top of the stitch below. I hope that makes sense! It is the same technique used when doing the basketweave stitch.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After a few lines, I switched colours to the cream, but continued doing 3 trebles, 1 hooked treble for the first few rows -then as I wanted to reduce the stitches, I began doing a hooked stitch for every three, then for every 2 and so on, so that the raised columns were preserved, and the hat began to form into the correct shape. For every two rows I completed, I probably unravelled another, as I worked out how the hat should fit me.

I wanted slouchy, beret style to the hat, so I tried it on after every row or so, checking that I was progressing how I wanted. As I reached the top  of the hat, I got to a stage where each stitch was a hooked treble, and then for the next row, I began hooking two raised ridges together, to close up the hat at the top. Finally, once the hat was completed, I used a spare strand of blue yarn to make a simple bow at the top.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Next, it was time to get started on the hand warmers. I have a track record with handwarmers, and have made a whole series of them for myself and others over the years (a few examples are below). They are a quick and easy make, which doesn’ use up too much yarn, and can be embellished in countless ways.

DSCN1015 IMG00371-20110122-1315

IMG00373-20110122-1316 IMG00380-20110125-1944

Again, the easiest way to get a good fit for your handwarmers is to begin with a chain of around 34 stitches (depending on the dimensions of your hands and wrists), and to try on the glove after completing every row, to check they are fitting well. This time, I began with the cream yarn, and instead of producing ridges around all of the handwarmer, I just created two ridges, 3 stitches apart, which would run along the top of the item.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When I reached the bottom of the thumb, I began to alternate rows backwards and forwards, leaving a gap. Once the gap was sufficient, I added a chain of 3 and then began doing circular rows again – this technique gave my glove a thumb hole.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

To match the design of the hat, I switched to blue yarn when I reached my knuckles, to give a blue border to the tops of the handwarmers. Once I had completed the glove to a desirable height, I then began building the rows around the thumb joint, using a selection of slip stitches, double crochets and treble crochets, to mould the shape. This is a little fiddly in explanation, but is very quick in reality!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The big task then was to make an identical twin for the gloves! This is always easier said than done, but it’s manageable as long as you continue to check and compare the work as you go along.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I”m really happy with my new creations, and especially like the silver flecks in the yarn that makes the items sparkle. My new makes came in handy last month, when I spent the weekend in Cologne, Germany. My trip coincided with a giant snowstorm, and I was grateful for my warm accessories whilst sightseeing in a blizzard!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Advertisements

Road Trip to Royal Worcester

20 Jan

I’ve been spending quite alot of my time travelling up and down motorways for work recently – I usually work in Yorkshire, but in the past few months I have also had a few projects in the South West of England. Although the long drives on congested motorways have left much to be desired, it’s been great to have time to explore a different part of the country.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have been taking pottery classes for the past few months. A tiny proportion of readers may actually think I am slowly improving at pottery…but the jury is still out on that one!

Anyway, on a recent trip to Bristol, I had the chance to visit the Royal Worcester museum on my way back to sunny Doncaster. Royal Worcester ceased production after nearly 260 years in 2009, but some of the finest works have been put on display at the Royal Worcester Museum, which stands on the site of the original factory.  I thought a visit might give me some pottery inspiration, and I would learn a little bit about design trends and production methods.

DSC_0221

Whilst I was there, there was a presentation by one of Royal Worcester’s professional ceramic painters. Ken Russell. As I visited on a quiet afernoon, I took my opportunity to ask Ken lots of questions, and he did his best to answer all of them!

DSC_0224

Ken was working on some very intricate painting on teacups and saucers. He explained that the plate was fired then gilded, and then he needed to use a resin to painstakingly build up dots across the piece, which could then be painted when they reached the desired height.

DSC_0222

Ken explained that the glaze used would sit proud on the resin, giving the exquisite texture on the piece, but without the resin, the colours would not have any height. There were so many stages in completing a plate, and Ken explained how the process needed huge amounts of focus and concentration, as one mistake could mean starting the whole plate from scratch again.

DSC_0255

The pattern that Ken was imitating was from a famous Royal Worcester collection called the Dudley Service, which was made for the Countess of Dudley in the 1860s. The original set was so admired that a replica was made soon after, for the public to view. This replica set was on display at the museum, and I was amazed to see how fine the porcelain work was – when a cup was held to the light, the porcelain was so thin that the portrait painted on the outside was illuminated!

DSC_0257

Given the concentration needed, I decided to leave Ken in peace and have a look at some of the other exhibits. The items on display were beautiful, intricate, and faultless. Although I have no realistic hopes of ever being able to produce a pottery item like those on display, I was at least able to get a few ideas for techniques I could use in my evening classes.

I especially liked the neat beading around the top edge of this pot (above) – this would certainly be something I could incorporate into an item. I also thought the Japanesque tea service was interesting, with its lozenge-shaped cups and saucers and raised flowers on the surface.

However, my favourite item of the day was a small, novelty tea pot, which Ken suggested I check out. This little teapot was produced by James Hadley in 1882, and is based on the characters from a Gilbert and Sullivan comedy opera. It is called the ‘aesthetic teapot’, and one side depicts a foppish man, eaching a green jacket ornamented wiwth a sunflower. On the reverse, you can see his female counterpart, also wearing green, but this time it’s a smocked blouse, decorated with an arum lily.

The Gilbert and Sullivan opera on which this item was based was apparently a satire of Oscar Wilde and the aesthetic movement – art for art’s sake. Despite the obvious stylisation of this item, it is still a fully functioning teapot, fusing art and function. However, I’m sure if James Hadley were alive today he would be horrified to learn that his satirical teapot had become the very thing it once mocked – art for art’s sake, as its sole purpose now is for visitors to view it and marvel at its design.

Despite what Hadley would have thought, I still loved it, and am glad I had the opportunity to view the beautiful creations at Royal Worcester. If you happen to be in the vicinity of the visitor centre, I would highly recommend a visit!

 

Scandimania Pt 4: Gothenburg

14 Jan

DSC_5410

After a few busy days in Oslo, I arrived in Gothenburg in need of some rest and relaxation. Fortunately, the next 48 hours were not going to be another bustling city break – after a quick sightseeing tour of the city, I would be taking a ferry out to the Southern Gothenburg archipelago for some much needed peace and quiet.

DSC_5350

Gothenburg is fast becoming one of the hottest places to visit in Northern Europe. It’s cuisine, music, art and nightlife is attracting visitors from across the world, and after spending the afternoon there, I could see why. Despite the weather being overcast at best during my time there, the city felt buzzing, with lots of amazing independent boutiques, record stores, coffee shops and bars.

DSC_5366

In order to escape the inclement weather, I retreated into a wonderful coffee shop in the traditional Haga district, where I sampled a mouthwatering apple and almond cake, topped with pumpkin seeds and candied walnuts. It was absolutely delicious, and gave me the energy I needed to make the next stage of my journey, to the island of Hono, about an hour away from the centre of Gothenburg.

DSC_5372

I arrived by ferry, late at night, at the home of Sarah and Graham, which I found via AirBNB. The home was previously Sarah’s grandparents, and her grandfather had built the home himself. I had a beautiful, peaceful apartment on the top floor of the house, and Graham thoughtfully provided me with home-made bread and freshly-laid eggs. My R&R was off to a good start!

After the miserable, drizzly weather the day before, I was amazed to wake up the next day to sunlight streaming through the windows. Somehow, the fates had decided to grace my island stay with glorious, uninterrupted sunshine. I decided to make the most of it, and borrowed a bike from my lovely host Sarah, so that I could explore the island of Hono, and the neighbouring islands of Foto, Ockero and Halso, which were reachable by bridge.

The weather was perfect for cycling. Equipped with some bread and cheese in my rucksack, I set off on my adventure. The entire day was so peaceful – the island itself is home to breathtaking, unspoilt scenery and surrounded by deep blue waters.

The islands seemed almost deserted, with the exception of the areas around each harbour. At the first harbour I passed, I noticed a small shop was selling delicious local preserves, which I felt obligated to sample! The fig and hazelnut was to die for, and became a perfect accompaniment to my picnic on Hono beach.

DSCN5543

Being on the islands allowed my thoughts to easily unwind and settle, leaving me with space and energy to appreciate the simple things in life – sun reflecting off the water, the sound of the breeze filtering through the trees.  Life doesn’t get much better than this!

Soon enough, as with all the other stages of my trip, it was time to move onwards to a new destination. I felt so relaxed that I was actually ready to head home, but this would have to wait for just a few more days. It was time to travel towards my final stop – Copenhagen. This little creature did his best to accompany me on my journey, but sadly I had to leave him behind! Until next time, little kitty.

 

Christmas Confectionery Cavalcade!

9 Jan

Some days at work are better than others…

A few weeks ago, I was informed by my manager that I would be taking the Eurostar to Brussels for the day, for a Conference. As I have never been on the Eurostar before, I was delighted at the prospect, and spent the preceding week before the trip, bouncing around the office like a kid at Christmas.

I have visited Brussels briefly, once before, when my lovely friend Charlotte and I were stranded there overnight after a disastrous Belgian music festival. We were tired and had tents and sleeping bags to carry, so had been in no mood for sightseeing – perhaps this trip would give me a chance to see the city in a different light!

DSC_0033

My excitement slightly wore off when I discovered how much of a flying visit my time in Brussels was going to be – we would have around an hour an a half to sightsee, and the rest of the time would be spent in meetings. Oh well, ninety minutes was better than nothing! I certainly didn’t waste my time, and used it to visit Brussels Old Town. The two things that the city is famed for (besides sprouts, of course) are chocolate and waffles, so I thought it was only right and proper that I sampled as many of these tasty treats as I could in the time I had.

DSC_0031

Delectable liqueur truffles and chocolate-covered cakes, biscuits and waffles…

DSC_0032

…adorable solid chocolate characters and exquisite fudges and caramels…

DSC_0042

….every imaginable chocolate-based spread, sauce and dip. I was in heaven!

Although my trip was short, my chocolate tasting inspired me to have a go at making some confectionery as gifts for Christmas this year. My creations may not be quite as classy as those I tried in the artisan confectionery boutiques of Brussels, but it’s the thought that counts!

I had been lucky enough to receive a book on making confectionery from my brother and sister-in-law for my birthday – Sweets Made Simple by Hope & Greenwood. Some of their recipes looked so mouthwatering that I nearly ate the pages! I decided to give some of their truffle and fudge recipes a try.

DSC_0169

Firstly, I tried making delicious, refreshing Gin and Lime truffles. The recipe was really easy to follow, and recommended chilling the mix, and then rolling into small balls and coating in cocoa powder. However, I found that the mix was a little too soft, so I opted to coat the balls of truffle mix in milk chocolate to make the truffles a bit more stable. This obviously involved melting large quantities of chocolate in a bain marie, and generally making a chocolatey mess. It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta go it! to decorate the truffles, I finely grated a small amount of lime zest, and used it to garnish the top of each truffle before the chocolate set.

DSC_0168

After the success of the gin and lime treats, I attempted a second truffle recipe from the book. I tried the recipe for white chocolate and limoncello truffles, which I thought would be perfect as my brother Alex and his new wife Kate brought me some limoncello back from their honeymoon in Italy earlier in the year.

Again, I found the ganache a little too soft, so I painted tempered white chocolate into a confectionery mould, and painstakingly filled each chocolate cup and left it to cool, before sealing with a layer of white chocolate and popping out of the silicon tray.

The finished result was glossy, pyramid-shaped truffles, with a pleasing snap as you bit through the chocolate, to reveal a creamy, citrusy centre. Divine. Painting the moulds took a fair bit of time, but the finished confection was certainly worth it.

DSC_0267

For my last sweet treat, I decided to make a non-boozy option, for a change. A recipe in the Hope and Greenwood book had caught my eye – Black Forest Fudge. Well, with dark and white chocolate and the addition of morello cherries, what’s not to love?

It was my first time at making fudge, and I’m pleased to say, the result was really successful. I followed the instructions very carefully, using a sugar thermometer to remove the fudge mix from the boil when it hit 113 degrees exactly. I then combined the grated chocolate, poured into a silicon case, and liberally topped with halved morello cherries.

DSC_0209

I found that the first attempt was absolutely delicious, but a little too crumbly. However, on successive batches I got better at mixing the chocolate through thoroughly, easing the melted mix into the corners of the tray before it sets, and using a hot knife to cut the squares more neatly.

Ever reluctant to waste anything I have produced, I collected up the crumbs from the crumbly fudge and refrigerated them – perhaps I could use these as an ice cream topping, or better yet, maybe they could be churned into an ice cream of their own? I will make a note to try this as the weather warms up!

In sucessive batches, I also increased the quantity of cherries, as they were simply too delicious. My favourite thing about the fudge is that it’s sweet and creamy, but not too sickly – once you’ve had one square, it’s hard to resist another! So, next time you see me and I’ve gained a stone, blame the fudge.

DSC_0210

To complete the repertoire of Christmas edible treats, I bottled up some sloe gin (reprised from last year’s success) and also baked a few more batches of the Swedish sugar and spice cookies. Never let it be said that I would let friends and family go hungry (or sober) at Christmastime.

 

Scandimania Pt 3: Oslo

3 Jan

After the tradition and tranquility of Trondheim, my arrival in Oslo was a jolt to the senses – as soon as I stepped off the train, I felt like I was in an entirely different and exciting city. I arrived after dark, and was dazzled by an impressive display of lights from every building. This is a beautiful city by night! I strolled along the waterfront, and simply tried to take it all in.

I’m warning you in advance – I didn’t have time to do any crafting whilst in Oslo, I was too busy immersing myself in everything the city had to offer. To be honest, I feel like I fitted so much in to 4 days there, I barely know where to start…

DSC_0268

Taking my cues from the bronze tiger at Oslo Centralstasjon, I decided to spend my first morning prowling around the city, getting lost and finding treasures. I started my day at the Akerhus fortress, which, from its imposing position on the waterfront, has defended Oslo for hundreds of years.

DSCN5113

I was really lucky with the weather – every day was cold, crisp and sunny. Many of the locals I spoke to asked me why I had chosen to visit Norway in November – most tourists either come in the warm Summer months, or during Christmas. At this time of year, the city is relatively uncrowded, and the colours of the leaves turning added to the gorgeous surroundings.  From the walls of the fortress, you could get a fantastic view of the city, and a great perspective on the Radhus, Oslo City Hall (below).

DSCN5098

It’s free to visit the Radhus (a welcome fact when you’re staying in one of the most expensive cities in the world), and the building is simply magnificent. As this is the City Hall, it’s a focal point for the city, and I learned that the Nobel Prize ceremony takes place here every year.

I was really impressed by the amount of decoration on every surface within the hall. As well as the enormous murals that make up many of the walls, there are also huge friezes of geometric patterns, whose colours shift as they travel across the walls. I visited the City Hall in the late afternoon sun, so light was illuminating different parts of the artwork as I looked around. Amazing!

In particular, I loved the stylised birds in the staircase, and and the sheer scale of the murals. I learned that Henrik Sorensen was responsible for the beautiful images on the wall of the main hall, with othern Norwegian artists contributing to the works in other parts of the building, such as the one below, taken from the Festival Gallery, designed and painted by Axel Revold.

I could have spent hours looking at the art and the murals here, but sadly I arrived only 40 minutes before closing. I would definitely visit here again, especially as I didn’t get a chance to look at some of the tapestries on the walls, which were also made specially for the City Hall. 

DSCN5321

As I had just seen the home of the Nobel prize ceremony, I thought it would be a good idea to have a look round the Nobel Peace Centre next, before continuing my exploration of the city. It was really informative, giving lots of information on who has won the peace prize each year, and even walking you through how a candidate is nominated and selected for the prize.

There is art everywhere you look in Oslo, which adds to the feeling that it is a vibrant city. Despite the fact Norway is much colder than the UK, all the outdoor artworks encouraged me to spend more time outside, rather than cozy and warm inside.

With this in mind, on the second day I decided to hire a bike and cycle up to Vigelandsparken, one of the main tourist attractions in Oslo. The park is home to the sculptures of Gustav Vigeland. It is is the world’s largest sculpture park by a single artist, and it contains 212 sculptures of men, women and children, all produced by Vigeland himself during the 1930s and 40s.

The sculptures are all made of either stone or bronze, and some are life size, whilst others are absolutely enormous! My favourite work was a fountain, with bronze trees around the perimeter, which each had a person sitting inside the branches. Around the walls of the huge fountain were bronze tiles depicting all sorts of relationships – parents and children, siblings, friends and lovers.

It’s inspiring to see one artist’s vision in its complete form – the whole park is a testament to Vigeland’s work.

The next stop on my Oslo expedition was the place that kickstarted the whole Scandinavian journey: ever since learning about the Oseberg viking burial ship on a BBC documentary a few years ago, I have become fascinated by Viking culture, and have been reading Viking sagas and learning as much as I can. It was this interest in Vikings that inspired my Orkney adventure earlier in 2014, and it was a desire to see the Oseberg ship which got me thinking about planning a trip to Norway. Words cannot describe how excited I was to be here!

One of the greatest joys of visiting Oslo out of season, was that I had the Viking Ship museum almost entirely to myself! It was just me, three Viking ships, and a handful of other stunned visitors, for the few hours that I was there. As soon as I walked in, I was brought face to face with the elegant bow of the Oseberg ship, the most preseved Viking ship to have ever been found. It is a myth that Viking burial customs meant that the dead were deposited in boats, which were then set on fire as they sailed into open waters. In fact, many boats were buried beneath the ground, containing the dead and any objects that they might need in the afterlife.

The Oseberg ship was found in a field around 100km south of Oslo in 1904, and the fascinating thing about its discovery was that it did not contain a King or Warrior, but a wealthy woman and her younger servant. Little is known about the pair, but aboard the boat with them were slaughtered farm animals, chariots, caskets and valuables. Considering the ship is over 1200 years old, the quality of the carvings is exceptional. I learned that these originally would have been brightly painted, and when the boat was originally unearthed, the colours were still visible. However, in order to preserve the ship, scientists had to use chemicals that did not save the paint.

DSCN5207 (2)
This was absolutely a bucket list activity for me – I’m so glad I got to see it!

I needed to come back down to Earth after my Viking ship adventure, so I spent the afternoon strolling around the Norsk Folkemuseum, which is five minutes’ walk from the Viking ships. At the Folkemuseum, you will find buildings from different eras from across Norway – a sort of medieval theme park! It was really relaxing wandering through the various farmsteads and traditional villages.

 

Just as the sun was fading, I found myself walking towards a genuine Norwegian stave church, on the top of a hill. It had been transported from a town called Gol, an hour North of Oslo. The church was built in the 1200s, but was transported to the Folkemuseum in the late 1800s when the people of Gol proposed demolishing it to make way for a new church. It was mind blowing to be standing in the doorway of a building that was over 900 years old! I nabbed a passing tourist to take a quick snap of me, but I realise the pictures don’t do it justice. Fortunately, for this one, I don’t really need pictures – every time I think of the stave church, I can still smell the incredible scent of 1000 year-old, smoky, pine sap coming from the walls of the building.

I can’t believe one city held so much excitement! I wanted to get every last drop of experience out of Oslo before I had to leave, so on my final afternoon, I had time to quickly take the train North, out of the city, to Holmenkollen,  the famous ski jump used in the Lillehammer winter Olympics in the 1990s. Despite my fear of heights, I bravely made it right to the top – the views were totally worth it.

DSCN5447

After a thrilling week in Norway, it was time to wave Ha det! to Oslo, and return to Sweden. However, I wasn’t sad to be leaving, because I know I will definitely return to this amazing country.

Scandimania Pt 2: Trondheim

28 Dec

Right, I know I’m taking my time in posting blogs at the moment – life has been frantic and I’ve hardly known whether I was coming or going. I’ve really been looking forward to spending an hour or so, casting my mind back to my amazing Scandinavian adventure, and sharing my memories here on the blog. Here goes!

So, after waving a fond farewell to Stockholm, I took a flight North West, to begin 6 blissful days in Norway. It was my first visit to this beautiful country, and I divided my time between two places which couldn’t be more different – firstly, the historic city of Trondheim, in Central Norway, and then onto the capital city, Oslo, in the South. It truly  was a tale of two cities.

DSCN4932

I am lucky enough to have friends that live in central Norway – Emily is originally from England, but teaches at an international school in the historical city of Trondheim, and lives there with her Norwegian boyfriend Magnus. When they heard I was visiting Scandinavia, they kindly said I could stay a few night with them, and see what Trondheim has to offer!

It’s a beautiful, traditional city, which actually used to be the capital of Norway until 1217. It was founded by the Viking Olaf Tryggvason, and there is a tall monument to the man himself in the centre of the city square.

DSCN4935

I only had 2 days to spend in Trondheim, so I tried my best to fit as many sights as possible. The city itself is peaceful and picturesque, especially the idyllic Old Town area, with its brightly coloured buildings.  I had the opportunity to visit the spectacular Nidaros Cathedral,  as well as walking all the way up to the Kristiansen fortress overlooking the city.
DSCN4954

I was happy to see that the city was not immune to guerilla crafters! Many of the statues had been adorned with handmade orange scarves, which I’m sure the statues were grateful for, given that it was just above freezing!

Of course, no holiday would be complete without some crafty purchases, so it will not surprise you to discover that I found a wonderful craft supplier in Trondheim. In the evening, I met up with Emily to stroll around the town. Down a quiet cobbled street, I spotted M. Sommer, which supplied an abundance of ribbons, buttons, trimmings and fabrics. The shop is something of a Trondheim institution, and has been in the same place for 125 years!

It was difficult to know what to pick, when there was so much to choose from! Finally I found the perfect souvenir – some ribbon in the colours of the Norwegian flag. This will be perfect for decorating an item for my flat. I also picked up some lovely blue and green glass beads, as I thought I could probably make a necklace that would remind me of the light sparkling on the waters of the Norwegian coastline.

On my final evening, Emily and Magnus took me to a traditional Norwegian diner in the Old Town. It was called Baklandet Skydsstation and served wonderful, hearty Norwegian food. The diner itself was beautifully decorated with handmade cushions and old portraits and embroideries. I had the most delicious meal of poached salmon in a broth, and I even had a little taste of Magnus’s wild reindeer stew!

I felt refreshed and relaxed after my brief break in Trondheim – the next stage I had to look forward to was a scenic, six-hour train journey through the mountainous Norwegian landscape, towards Oslo.

DSCN5015

Thank you to Emily and Magnus for making me so welcome in your beautiful home city! Onward to Oslo…..

DSCN5000

Scandimania Pt 1 – Stockholm

29 Nov

I am back from my adventure to Scandinavia, and I had an amazing time. I saw so many beautiful places, visited eye-opening galleries and museums, tasted various Scandinavian cuisines, and met so many inspiring people that I barely know where to start!

I guess, in that case, the only logical place to start would be at the beginning. I began my trip by flying into beautiful, crisp, Autumnal Stockholm in Sweden. I had a fantastic few days here, filled with museums, galleries, river cruises, history, art, amazing food and new experiences.

My first stop in Stockholm was Djurgarden, an island midway between Norrmalm and Sodermalm, where many of the main museums are situated. There was one that I had been waiting patiently to visit for ages: Skansen. Skansen was the world’s first ever open-air museum when it opened in 1891, and contains reproductions of Swedish villages and communities from different eras.

 

You are able to visit a 19th Century High Street, replete with a smithy, a potter’s, a bakery and a glassworks. Guides kitted out in historical dress are on hand to answer questions and demonstrate the skills. I was able to watch the glassblower creating beautiful Christmas baubles in her workshop, and also spent some time watching a pair of silversmiths creating bowls.

There are also houses and farm buildings which have been transported from across Sweden for preservation at the museum. It was a bit surreal to be walking between virtually deserted villages, occasionally catching a glimpse of someone in period dress. As you can see, the souvenir headband from my Scottish adventure was getting well worn!

DSC_0066

If you are visiting Stockholm and want some tips for what to see, I would definitely recommend checking out the Vasamuseet, which is also on Djurgarden. It was completely amazing! The museum houses the Vasa ship, which sank in Stockholm harbour on its maiden voyage in 1628 and was refloated and preserved in the 1960s. It’s absolutely enourmous, and the salvagers were able to preserve the ship almost in its entirety. My completely rubbish photo does not do it justice. Maritime history is a huge part of Stockholm culture, and the Vasa really felt like the jewel in the crown of all of the city’s exhibits.

Even when I wasn’t visiting museums, I thought Stockholm was a really cool city to walk around and get lost in. I spent hours strolling around in the old town of Gamla Stan, which is full of gift shops and boutiques, and round the suburb of Sodermalm, where much of the action of Steig Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is set.

One fact that I learned whilst in Stockholm is that The Moomins are some of Sweden’s national treasures! The original stories were actually written by a Finn called Tove Jansson, but were originally published in Swedish – they seem to have an enduring appeal here.

DSC_0072

I spotted some gorgeous Moomin cookie cutters during my wanderings around Gamla Stan, and I can’t wait to use them to produce some delicious Swedish cookies. I also couldn’t possibly leave Sweden without a souvenir of the iconic Dalecarlian, or Dala horse.

My time in Stockholm seemed too short, but soon enough it was time to move on to my next destination – an excursion into Norway for a few days before returning to Sweden. Next stop, Trondheim!

 

Four Go Glamping – update

23 Nov

You may remember that, earlier in the year, during the blissful, balmy Summer, my friends and I went glamping in Oxfordshire, and had time to visit a pottery studio during our stay. We painted mugs and jugs at Aston Pottery, using stencils and a stippling effect, and left our masterpieces here to be glazed and fired.

 

After a long wait, our items have finally arrived! Hannah, Kat and I met up recently, and opened the parcel to reveal our works of art. The patterns have come out really well and the colours have deepened during the firing. The glaze is smooth and even across the mug, and the finishe piece feels really professional! Katie painted a jug during the weekend, which has also come out really well.

It was wonderful to finally receive our items and remember our fantastic weekend. Katie wasn’t able to join us, but hopefully she will feel the same when she sees her creation!

DSC_0102

My mug is now bringing sunshine to my morning coffee and desert heat to an evening cocoa on these long winter nights. I’m really happy with how the design turned out, and would defnitely try stencilling on pottery again – perhaps I may try this effect on something at my pottery class!

Souvenir Makes No. 2 – Travel Essentials

5 Nov

I really enjoyed using my Scottish souvenir materials to make cushions for my living room sofa. Every time I sit down, I’m reminded of my lovely adventure North.

As my lovely blog readers will know, I am about to go adventuring again, this time even further North, to Denmark, Sweden and Norway.

This gives me the opportunity to make some travel essentials for my Nordic trip, using the materials from Scotland. How wonderfully well-travelled!

I don’t believe in doing holidays by halves – my trips are usually less than relaxing! On my Nordic adventure, I will be travelling to 6 cities in three countries over 12 days. Therefore, I expect that much of the trip will consist of flights, train journeys and bus rides across the beautiful Scandinavian countryside.

DSC_0043

With that in mind, I have decided to make my very own travel pillow, to allow me to snooze comfortably between locations. After scouring the market for a good travel pillow, I became perplexed by the sheer variety of products on the market: microbeads, memory foam, heated pillows – even pillows that look like exotic animals! In the end, I went back to basics and bought a very cheap, unbranded inflatable pillow, for which I would make a deluxe cover for. This meant I would be able to deflate the pillow to pack away between journeys.

DSC_0041

I still had a stash of gorgeous woven remnants, which I had picked up from Kingcraig fabrics in Dornoch. I love all of the colours and patterns, so I decided to piece together a patchwork design for my cushion. Cue the usual chaotic explosion of materials in my living room!

DSC_0044 (2)

I made a rough pattern from a piece of paper by tracing around the deflated pillow, then simply cut out my fabric and stitched it together. I also flat felled the seams, to make the pillow look a bit more finished, and to strengthen the seams.

Either my pattern was too wide, or I stitched my seam allowances too narrow, as the finished pillow cover ended up too wide after stitching together. I stitched a new hem down the centre of the sandy material, to improve the fit.

DSCN4627

I stitched around the outer edge, but left the inner curve unstitched, in order to insert the pillow.

I then measured where the air valve was, and carefully snipped a hole in the material – I tacked it by hand and then used a button hole stitch to create the edging for the valve. I appreciate this is not my neatest stitching! The woven fabric was lovely to use but was fraying really easily, so I found it difficult to get a smooth, even finish.

DSCN4625

Finally, when I was happy with the fit of the cover, I tacked the inner curve closed, and inflated the pillow to admire my handiwork

DSCN4631

I enjoyed using the fabrics so much that I used the final scraps to produce a little bag to store the pillow in.

DSCN4632

I’m naturally quite a clumsy person, so at least with this design, if I manage to puncture the pillow, I can easily untack the cover and replace the inflatable. The only risk I have now is losing it! Air pillows can often feel quite cold against your face, but the cover makes the item feel much warmer and more snuggly. I can’t wait to use it on my adventure.

DSCN4623

My final make before my trip started life as a crochet experiment. One day, whilst timewasting on Pinterest, I found a website by two fabulous crochet designers called Shibaguyz. One of their patterns is for an afghan square which shows a sort of diagonal basket weave design, which really appealed to me. I thought I would have a go at producing the square, and was doing really well until around line 4, at which point I came a little unstuck!

DSCN4637

I loved the idea of cabling, and the effect I was producing, but I seemed to have no success in continuing the pattern, no matter how I tried. I was loath to unravel the strip I had made, and so it sat, neglected, in the bag of yarns for a few weeks, until I started prepping for the holiday.

DSCN4639

It occurred to me that it would make a perfect head band to keep my ears warm, so I evened out the final row of stitches, and tacked the two ends together.

The most stylish traveller on the Swedish and Norwegian highways! Until my return, adjo!

 

Souvenir Makes no. 1: Cushion Covers

31 Oct

Happy Halloween readers!

Now that Autumn is well and truly here, there is nothing better than spending a day off, cozily crocheting whilst watching black and white movies. I know that there are lots of people out there that lament the end of Summer and the shortening of days, but this is the start of the best part of the year, as far as I’m concerned! I start looking forward to the rustling of crunchy Autumn leaves, hot chocolates and wooly jumpers from the beginning of July!

DSCN4598

I love travelling and try to visit new places as much as possible, but I have a habit of treating foreign currency like Monopoly money, and spending too much of it. Therefore, in order to curb the impulse purchasing, I made a promise to myself  a few years ago that I would only ever buy holiday souvenirs that I could actually use – no more fibre optic Eiffel towers and personalised sticks of Blackpool rock. It’s a rule I managed to stick to in Venice, Berlin and Reykjavik! When I visited the Highlands and Islands of Scotland earlier in the year, I brought back all sorts of yarns, textiles and hand made items, with the plan of making them into new, unique things for my home. Now that the evenings are getting darker, I’ve finally got round to unwrapping all of the items from the Scottish road trip at Easter, and planning some crafty projects. My first make was the result of an afternoon’s idle crocheting, which is certainly one of the most enjoyable pastimes for a lazy Sunday.

 

I have recently acquired a new (well, second hand) sofa, which needed some cushions, so I have turned my crochet experimentation into a cushion cover. The sofa itself is a reupholstery project-in-waiting, but after the trials and tribulations of my last upholstering attempt, I’m still psyching myself up for the challenge!  The natural, undyed yarn is some North Ronaldsay wool, which I bought whilst in Orkney, and the rest are all from Kingcraig. I also tried slipping some fabric remnants behind the central motif of the cushion, but I’m not sure it really adds anything to the overall look – what do you think?

DSCN4426

The central flower has 9 petals instead of 8 – this is the result of absent-minded crafting whilst watching TV! It took some manipulating to get the motif lying flat in the central section, but I think it looks ok now. I kept the main colour design the same for the back of the cushion, but I simply crocheted a simple granny square for the central motif. The edges have been formed into a scallop shape, by joining together the two shells.

DSCN4427

I was really happy with how the cushion cover had turned out, so almost immediately began work on a second one, using the fabric remnants rather than the yarns. When I visited Edinburgh earlier in the year, I picked up a few remnants of different tartans – in the picture below you can see 3 tartans in similar shades but different designs – I wish I’d made a note of the names! I know that the one in the bottom left corner is ‘Flower of Scotland’, and the one on the right is ‘Davidson’, but I can’t remember the name of the one in the top left – apologies.

I wanted to experiment with pleating the materials, to match up the different lines in the patterns. After much pinning, stitching and seam ripping, I was on the verge of giving up! I liked how the different patterns merged into each other on the seams, but the overall effect was too frilly and twee. Time to start again!

I decided to simplify the design, by just using two pieces of material, rather than 3. I also reduced the number of line matches across the seam, which still gave the effect I was looking for, without appearing too fussy overall. It began to look much more appealing to me when I moved the seam from the middle , to just right of centre.

I was much happier with how the project was turning out, so I stitched the pieces together, matching the patterns as neatly as possible on the back of the cushion. Et voila! Two cushion covers to remind me of my Scottish adventure! These will be perfect for snuggling up on the sofa during the cold, blustery Autumn evenings.

I realise that I am a bit daft making the cushions before reupholstering the sofa, but I suppose this project has decided my upholstery fabrics for me – I am now on the hunt for some material that will pick out the blue and green tones from my project.

PHMMcr

Goings on at the People's History Museum, Manchester

Never Too Experienced

The lifestyle scrapbook of an honest lady who will always have something to learn.

Rockstar Dinosaur Pirate Princess

Tea, Dinosaurs and Feminism.

NUT in SPTA and Delta Academies

A site for NUT members in SPTA/Delta schools

NUT Area 3

Organising & campaigning news & casework updates from the NUT Yorkshire Midland Region (Area 3)

ginjointjen

This WordPress.com site is the cat’s pajamas

Funky Air Bear

Traditional & Modern Knits

PEEKO CRAFTS

Ramblings of an Irish knitter and yarn addict

My OBT

My daily quest for One Beautiful Thing (OBT)

Lattes & Llamas

we live for wool and bleed espresso

%d bloggers like this: