Spinning a yarn

I love a good bedtime story. With my girls I have enjoyed rediscovering stories from my childhood as well as uncovering new delights. Of course, I have particularly delighted in stories which manage to weave in the creative use of wool!

Some are quite subtle: a favourite at the moment is the Mice and the Clockwork Bus. Here the brave little mice thwart the greedy intentions of D.Rat and his junk bus which always get makes them late to work. By their imaginative cobbling together of a new clockwork bus, the mice set up a new bus service with cheap seats for all. As a result of his misbehaviour, D.Rat ends up as chief winder of the clock mechanism… for four years!

Throughout the book are great cartoon characters, one of which is a lovely lady mouse who’s busily knitting throughout the story – and, no, those needles can’t be used to fix the bus!

The story of Brave Bitsy and the Bear is heart-warming. Little Bitsy bunny falls our of her girl’s pocket on a walk in the woods and a kind brown bear carries her home again. But will bear make it back to his hibernation spot before he falls asleep and winter closes in? With the help of a ball of wool and an unravelled jumper can brave Bitsy save the Bear?

But my favourite has to be Milo Armadillo!

All Tallulah wants for her birthday is a pink bunny, of course! But as no pink bunnies can be found,  Granny comes to the rescue with her needles and in no time has knitted up… an armadillo. Oh, Tallulah likes Milo, but Milo isn’t a pink bunny – however hard he tries to disguise and change himself.  All Tallulah wants is a pink bunny.

So one sad day he decides there is nothing for it but to go back to Granny to be unravelled, row by row, and be remade into a pink bunny. On hearing the news when she arrives home from school, Tallulah is horrified and rushes off to save him, as she does love him really, just as he is. But will she get to Granny in time? (I won’t spoil the ending for you!)

The best bit about the book is not only that the starring character, Milo, is knitted with so much love, but that there is a knitting pattern for him in the back. Oh joy! He is easy to knit and great fun. Do you like him?

Milo Armadillo

Hello Milo!

Milo back view

“Is this my best side?”

The link to the pattern is here – and I’d definitely recommend the book, as the story gives him so much life and character.

I’m keen to uncover more good knits, I mean, reads! Which stories do you and your children love?

Night Night!

Mice and the Clockwork Bus The Mice and the Clockwork Bus Rodney Peppé  (Puffin Books)

Brave Bitsy and the Bear Angela McAllister (Author) Tiphanie Beeke (Illustrator) MacMillan Children’s Books, 2005

Milo Armadillo By Jan Fearnley. Walker Books, 2010 

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Transform your Christmas shopping

Beautiful handmade knitted hats

Beautiful handmade knitted hats

One of the things I love about crafts is their intrinsic power to bring people together and through that togetherness transform people’s lives. I came across two such examples over the summer which, each in their own way, are transforming the lives of the women involved.

The inspirational Greenbelt  ~ arts, culture and faith ~ festival held every August attracts over 10,000 people. As well as the ‘make and take’ tent which the girls, with a little assistance from Daddy created a wonderful sock monster, I discovered, nestled in the corner of one particularly muddy field, a tent selling the creations of women who’re practising their art to the highest standard.

Squelching thorough the Mamachatent was a delight, not only were the colours good enough to eat, the alpaca wool was the softest to touch. The snuggliest of cabled hand knitted scarves, carefully patterned hats, stunning cardigans and jumpers and, of course, the cutest of children’s ware.

Amy, founder Mamacha

Amy, surrounded by her fabulous knitted gifts

Amy’s story is an interesting one – having worked for a gap year inTrujillo, northern Peru she was inspired to create a market for the stunning handknitted items made by the talented women in the community she was staying. The prices they pay for the women’s work is fair – determined by the women themselves and this income helps them generate an income to support their families through their creative and fulfilling work.

At Exeter’s annual Green Fair – I came across Global Indigo, producing a wider range of more ‘everyday’, but no less beautiful and thoughtfully created objects. From earrings made from recycled cola tins to the fantastic red crocheted elephant made from recycled clothes bought at the local market in, carefully taken apart and given a new lease of life. The two social entrepreneurs behind the project are Ella and Angela who together have set up a small Devon based business – not a charity – to ensure their suppliers from Nicaragua Ecuador, Kenya, Afghanistan,Nepal &Vietnam get paid a fair price for their goods. They have visited the women’s projects they buy from to ensure the money goes where its intended but also to develop their relationships.  Relationships that are so missing in our global market (I’ll stop at that point before I get too political on you!).  The producers’ stories on their website are fascinating. They also happened to sell fairly traded Peruvian dark chocolate – which I did have to experience – I bought two bars, all in the name of research you understand!

Any of the goods from either of these boutiques would make an excellent birthday, and yes, Christmas (its only 43 days to go!) gift and be appreciated not only for their beauty, skill and functionality but also because of the story behind them.

But its not only the suppliers that have had their lives changed. Its clear the founders have been seeking lasting and empowering solutions to work with those with less opportunity. I am impressed by the courage of these social entrepreneurs’ convictions which has driven them to turn their visions into reality. Of course this conviction can’t be underestimated in the current economic climate requiring an investment of time, money and energy into these businesses. The relationships demand an ongoing commitment, willingness to make mistakes, to learn. To make a profit for good and a transformational long term change.

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Good Clean Fun…

Beautiful felted leaf:: a 7 year old's creation

Beautiful felted leaf :: a 7 year old’s creation

It is not often you get 17 children all enthusiastic to pick up a bar of soap! We had great wet fun at the Woodcraft group tonight making felted leaves this evening. Every child had bought in an autumnal leaf, which we spent some time getting to know. Red leaves, yellow leaves, changing leaves, spiky leaves, scented leaves and larges leaves! One leaf had even been given a name: Tom, on its journey between the tree and the Church hall. We discussed, felt and smelt wool and the children were keen to share their parent’s washing day disasters: yes daddy had shrunk the jumper!

wet felted leaf

A 7 year old’s first wonderful attempt at felt making!

Using their leaf as an inspiration the coloured wools were carefully teased out to shape into a thin layer of green with reds, golds and yellows layered on top. Then came the fun bit getting the wool wet with hot water and soap and even the liveliest boys were fully engaged in soaping, rubbing and drying their creation, making it shrink into shape. Of course the mess didn’t matter!

One of the great things about wet felting is that you get stunning results very quickly and easily.

wet felted lefa

I love the autumn colours in this leaf

There was a great sense of pride as we sat around in a circle thirty minutes later and showing off our creations. Leaves were big and green, small and colourful, had carefully arranged rainbow colours, had holes in (like the rhubarb leaves eaten by the slugs), were small and purple….  “I like the way its thick at the bottom and thin around the edges”, “It was good fun”, “I like the shape”, “I want to do this at again”!  We agreed it’d be good fun to collect wool on walks along the hedgerows and fences to take home for more felting experiments.

And never before have I seen the Church hall floor cleaner at the end of a Woodcraft session than at the beginning!

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Inspiring adventures with wool!

Inspired by the versatility and beauty of wool Off Jumps Jack is a new adventure, inviting you on a journey to share and learn new and traditional skills, make new friends and creations to treasure. 

 I was introduced to knitting as a child when my mum knitted an epic multi coloured jumper. Labouring over the stitches for months until all the wool was gone, the result a colourful but uninspiring…well… sort of sack with arms, which sadly languished in the bottom of the wardrode. (Sorry Mum!). Surely, I thought, its easier to buy a jumper instead? Needleless to say my knitting ended there.

 I was reintroduced, no – inspired, back to knitting, and indeed all things woollen at my little daughter’s Steiner kindergarten. Under Sue’s patient guidance I learnt to knit… scarfs, stuffed dogs and horses (the Unicorn was a particular hit) hens and hats. Small items were an instant hit with my daughter and impressed the other mothers as we juggled little children and casting on!


I was hooked… so crochet came next.Lilca silk gown - crochet top Great for simple items and not just about doilies, you can get quick results and its great for experimenting  – flowers, bags and I even managed to crochet a top for my daughter’s Christening dress.

 Then I discovered felt – fantastic! Needlefelting pictures, creating woollen felt angels and wet felting. With a bit of effort and imagination anything you produce looks wonderful. It’s so simple that my daughters now aged 4 and 6 make amazing wet felted creations, nests for their dolls and felted beads, and my friends co-created a brilliant needlefelted collage for my birthday.

 The thrill of completing the latest masterpiece, oggling over beautiful wool or persisting with learning a new technique isn’t all that inspires me about woollen crafts. At the heart of it are the special times and friends that I have met along the way – the kindergarten mothers, knitting for fundraising craft fairs, new friends made on courses and, of course, the delight in a new knitted creation for my girls.

 So my daughter, now aged 6, has asked me to teach her to knit. The pressure! The fun! Together we have experimented helped by the traditional poem:

 “Jack goes through the front door,

 runs round the back,

 out through the window, and

 off jumps Jack.”

 She’s now working on a knitted cat.

 The adventures with wool are endless… join the journey!

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