Tuesday, 27 December 2011

I know Christmas was two days ago... but

At Christmas time, one other thing comes down out of the cupboard for its yearly visit - The Christmas crib. Of course my Christmas crib is hand knitted.

The pattern is from Jean Greenhowe's Christmas Special pictured below. The yarn is a variety of 8ply acrylic and wool from my stash and 3mm needles were used.

The Christmas crib figures as shown in the Jean Greenhowe knitting booklet

I made the first set of Christmas crib figures not long after I got married twenty something years ago. They are getting a little bit battered up now. I was mending a few figures today: just standard wear and tear, the veils come loose and arms tend to fall off. However Mary required a more substantial repair with a large hole having appeared in the middle of her skirt. I personally suspect the cat had a major disagreement with her behind my back. Oh well, just as well I can darn. While I was at it I had them pose for photos.
The whole gang

Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. (Mary looks surly and has a dodgy neck).
"We three kings of Orient are....."
A few cute little sheep

The shepherds' staffs are the one thing I am not really happy with. They are made of drinking straws. tightly wrapped with wool which is glued to the straw. However I used bendy straws and over the years the bendy bit has gone weird and now there are visible gaps in the wrapping. I think the pieces of twig I used on my sister's set (see below) look much more authentic and will be more durable.

Close up of one of the King's faces. The eyes are just french knots.
When my youngest sister, Naomi, moved out and built her own home, I rashly promised her that I would make her her own set of Christmas crib figures. This has been a three year work in progress. I knitted the basics of most of the figures during a week or so whilst on holidays down at the caravan a couple of years ago. However, knitting the bits is the easy part. Sewing up is tedious. So I got most of the figures finished ready to move in for Naomi's first Christmas in her house last year except that baby Jesus did not have a manger to lie in. I finally finished that this week. And the sheep are still coming. Maybe next year....

I did make one other modification when I making the second set. The original figures have bases which are made of two layers of cardboard. The years have not been kind to these. They have softened and warped over the years and I can't replace them as they go into the figures before you stuff them. Consequently a few of my figures stand a little drunkenly at times. So the new ones have bases made out of the lids of ice-cream containers. Hopefully the plastic will stand up to things much better.

This year Naomi's crib is set up on the top of the wall unit as her dog thinks all stuffed animals exist solely to be chewed on.
Naomi's Christmas crib figures
This baby Jesus has a mouth (and Mary is smiling)
The completed baby Jesus in his manger.
I much prefer the twigs as staffs. They are glued on with hot glue.
This one is fondly referred to as the gay shepherd. He is overly fond of pink.
There is a Christmas crib which goes with both of these. Mine is beautifully made, scale model of our gazebo completely made from a gorgeous red pine. However, one of the supporting pillars is loose and it is in the shed waiting for repairs. The boys made Naomi a little wooden shed for hers. However, the figures are taller than the overhanging porch and they don't really fit. So back to the drawing board.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

I went Christmas shopping today and was fairly rudely reminded that there is only one more shopping weekend till Christmas. The car parks were full. I had to weave my way around a queue of small wriggly children and ridiculously large prams waiting to sit on the fake Santa's knee. There was a random elf waiting in the queue at the coffee shop. There were obnoxious Christmas carols playing over the sound systems of the shops. There were however the pre-Christmas bargains. I love lots of things about Christmas but the squash of frantic last minute Christmas shopping is not one of them.

One thing I really do love is a handmade Christmas ornament. The kids put up the Christmas tree early this week; the eldest daughter have made us all solemnly promise not to do it until she was home from University. Our Christmas tree is on the small side and is getting to the end of its useful life, and the kids have been nagging me to get a new one of a more reasonable size. The son who is heading towards six foot claims it is sacrilege if Christmas tree is not taller than you. This years Christmas tree has been said to look like "Santa threw up on it".

The decorated tree may not look like the designer Christmas trees you see in the shops and magazines with their colour themed matching ornaments and minimalist decorations but I still love it. I think of it as a mini time capsule, a story tapestry of the last 20 something years of our family life told in handmade decorations: some made by me, some by the children and some by deceased family members. (There are also an inordinate number of ornaments from various fast food restaurants' kids meals)!

For example, I love the wonky pink pipe-cleaner angel on the top tree, testimony to the eldest daughter's first efforts with a glue gun. There is nothing angelic about its facial expression and it brings back memories of both scorched finger tips and its extremely proud creator.
This is my first knitted Christmas ornament photographed on my mother's tree where it still hangs. In my early teenage years, I made a number of these for my sisters and cousins filled with lollies and new school pens. I think this is the last one still on one of family Christmas trees. It evokes memories of Christmas dinner for 30+ with my Aunty and Uncle and assorted cousins, followed by afternoon naps to sleep off the excess by the males of the family and then crazy theatricals. I remember being an Angel one year in the Christmas play with a broken arm, a very fetching sheet robe and a tinsel halo. Here's a photo of the pattern from one of my early scrapbooks of magazine clippings.
I made a few more in  recent years for our tree but stuffed them to make them ornaments.
Stockings are a bit of a theme. This one for example is made of thin foam shapes stuck on a backing from a kit. (More burnt finger tips. Hot glue is hazardous).
These stockings I knit one year for the ballet Christmas hamper raffle. I love the little pine-cones.
A knitted Christmas angel from Jean Greenhowe's Christmas Special.
I think this is the last remaining kindergarten decoration. The misshapen blue thing splattered in glitter is a reindeer made by my little boy (now a tall, deep voiced, walking eating machine). You can also see a gold glitter ballerina in this picture. There are lots ballerinas on our tree.
The first ballerina is the one to right of the photo below with a slight rainbow iridescence and a double layer skirt. We bought this one Christmas at the Arts Centre as a memento of the first professional musical my eldest daughter had ever seen - Fame which was her 12th birthday present. Ever since, we add a new ballerina to the tree whenever we find one in our pre-Christmas shopping. The 2011 model is the silver glitter one to the extreme right of the photo. When the daughter leaves home and gets her own Christmas tree she will get a veritable corps de ballet of ballerinas to start her decoration collection.
There are beaded ornaments mainly made from kits. Making the Christmas tree here kept the boy occupied for a whole afternoon a few years ago. There are also a few beaded stars and different Christmas tree hanging on the back of the Christmas tree. The little Christmas tree in the background is actually a handmade pencil eraser.

The silver star you can see in the background here has to have been made in the weirdest place: as part of a children's church service as the children were all completing their individual part of the ceremony. The organizer had provided a basket of pre-formed metal stars and silver thread to wind around them. One of these stars graced the inside of one of my daughters' school locker for a few years sort of like the silver star on a actor's dressing room door.
The husband's grandmother made the macaroni angel. Its amazing what you can do with assorted pasta and a spray can of gold paint. She is no longer with us but the angel lives on (with the occasional running repair. Pasta is not exactly the most robust construction material).
There are cross stitched ornaments. These bells for example. I couldn't get a good shot of the finished version as they are near the bottom of the tree.
A sequined ball. I kept wondering why there were no sewing pins in my pin tin after the kids made this. It did use up a whole packet of leftover sequins from some ballet costume though. Oscar the Grouch is destined to go off to live with the ballerinas at some later stage.

Just to finish up on:
On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me:
A cat about to destroy a Christmas tree!

Sunday, 20 November 2011

A present for Louise

 This is for Louise of Raspberries in Winter. Louise is really the person who got me into blogging. I've loved reading Louise's various blogs over the last few years. Louise is a gifted photographer, a fellow crafts-person and a great procrasti-baker (Procrasti-baking, a term coined by my eldest daughter, is the art of baking to avoid studying). Louise just has a way of chronicling life in our part of the world that is sometimes quirky, beautifully illustrated with cool photos and always interesting. She also did good tutoring via proxy for a novice blogger. So thank you Louise for lots of things and congratulations on your recently celebrated Blogiversary.

So a present for Louise? I think today I might tease you a little before I reveal the finished item and its story. Obviously it's a knitted item because that's pretty much what I do. Lets see if you can guess what it is from the following work in progress clues...

Knitted fuzzy bits and pieces
Is it a bird?
Is it a plane? Only joking? Looks like penguin.
Alright the next one will give it away...
It's a cat!

Louise's dad is a notorious cat hater. (See Louise's post Cat Cat Kitty Cat from July this year). As a real one was out of the question (although Mel did offer to lend ours to her for a short term visit), I decided I finally had reason to knit a particularly cute cat pattern from my To be knitted list. So here is an unobjectionable cat that Louise's Dad can live with. No allergy problems, no sleeping on his favorite chair, no fur everywhere and no scratching the furniture. No need to feed it. Just cute and cuddly.

The pattern is from The English Woman's Weekly. I though this was cute from the first time I saw it but it is knitted from a specialty yarn. The pattern calls for Sirdar Snowflake Chunky which was really only available in Australia for a while about 10 years ago and so it took a while to find a suitable substitute. I've knitted this in Bella Baby Sooky. It was knitted on 4mm (UK 8) and 3mm (UK 11) needles.

The cat joined the exodus to the park and had its photo taken along with the Little Poppets. I also thought it was a great way to showcase the absolutely gorgeous display of gladioli in my front garden at the moment. Enjoy the cat and the flowers.

(P.S. If you want to see how the cat is settling in at Louise's see her post here).
Cat rides horse

These are species gladioli rather than the cut flower variety

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Little Poppets in the park

This post is a little different. Today I'm going to post about a photographic excursion I took with some of my knitted creations, the Little Poppets last Sunday afternoon. Now these girls have been clamouring to be blogged about for a while, hanging out underfoot, in the lounge room, on my ironing board and at one stage on my computer desk. (As I write this, they are imprisoned in a orange Kung Fu Panda shopping bag on the ironing board). 'Yes' I said, looking at them. 'You'll get your go. You just deserve to be photographed in a way more in keeping with your character. Something groovy and funky and frivolous'. However, inspiration refused to strike except to rule out photographing them sitting on the couch or in the garden.

Then a couple of weeks ago, I  read an article in the Fall 2011 Issue of Petite Purls by their resident photographer and co-editor, Brandy Fortune,  called How to Stage a Cute and Timeless Photoshoot. And the germ of an idea on how to most properly photograph the Little Poppets took root.

Then I had to wait for the weather gods to smile on me sufficiently at a time when I could actually do something about it. So last Sunday afternoon, we gathered up the models (a herd of stuffed cats also joined in, but they get their own post later), stuffed them ignominiously head first into a shopping bag, grabbed the 'good' camera and strolled off to the park (children's playground) around the corner. I really wanted to go to the big all-access playground next to the racecourse in our town as it has the most beautiful hand carved sitting ponies but I figured I'd get less weird looks carrying around a camera and a bag of stuffed toys in my own neighbourhood. I have found that the 'good' camera, a fully auto Pentax SLR tends to convince people that you actually know what you are doing anyway.
The little poppets on the slide
So here are the Little Poppets on the slide. The one on the left is an angel, complete with knitted wings which I knitted for Mel. The one on the right has stepped right out of the Swinging sixties in London and belongs to my eldest daughter. I knitted these about 6 or 7 years ago when the girls were in their early teens. In some ways, these dolls are a little bit of a failure. I was experimenting with hair so the brown doll has a million braids. The angel one has long blond hair using about six or seven different shades of yellow wool. It's not that I don't like their hair; it's just that I didn't know when to stop so their heads are so heavy they can't hold them up!

Next on the agenda was a pony ride.

No, you're supposed to face the other way!
Then a go on the swing and some climbing and hanging on the monkey bars.

These dolls are made from the Little Poppets pattern originally published in the English Women's Weekly. They are knitted in a mix of 8 ply (Double Knitting) acrylic yarns from the stash. I modified the eyes as I didn't like the originals (see here for more about how to do these embroidered doll eyes). These dolls are stuffed with a combination of stuffing (the heads and limbs and the upper part of the body) and pellets (the rest of the body) which allows them to sit on the edge of shelves, etc... However, the angel's pellets tend to congregate at the bottom of her body as so she looks a bit fat (or pregnant as one unkind person in the family commented when checking out the photos).

The Poppets and I (and the photographer's assistant - more about him in a future blog post - the one about the herd of cats) had fun hanging out in the park on a Sunday afternoon.
She IS looking a little fat here

I have had a really productive last couple of weeks finishing off about 6 projects, but most of them are gifts and so I have to hold off blogging about them until they've gone to their new homes. Just keep your eyes open for a smorgasbord of cute over the next few months.