A Year of Blogging.

Last week was my first blogiversary. It’s interesting to look back and see how Stitches by the Sea has evolved over the last 12 months.

One of the reasons I started the blog was to keep up with my “every year learn a new skill” plan. This has included all sorts of things, from beat-boxing to playing the ukelele via needle felting, proggy mats and book editing. I’d reached November and was getting worried that I hadn’t fulfilled a new skill for 2019 when I got started. I was doing a lot of knitting at the time and there was always a story to each project: why I was doing it, where I bought the yarn and so on, so it started off being mainly about that, but I soon brought in other things, often about Northumberland. This is a beautiful part of the world steeped in history and teeming with wildlife, so I’d often write about local places of interest.

Bamburgh Castle – one of the many fascinating places on my doorstep.

A couple of regular features emerged early on. Knit and Natter Fridays included write ups on the two knitting groups I’m in. the other members have also kindly let me photograph and write about their projects. I also wrote a “Scone of the Week” post, writing about weekly trips to visit local cafes with my mother. The two of us became serious cheese scone critics as we assessed the texture, flavour and presentation of every one we tried.

One of our “Scones of the Week”

Of course all that changed in Spring 2020 when the Coronavirus Pandemic led to a national lockdown. For a while I lost my blogging mojo and really struggled to find things to write about – I wasn’t even doing much knitting. I did always feel better for being out in nature however and our daily dog walks around the village became a new focus. Taking the same route every day meant that I could really see the changing seasons. As the year went on I could see the lambs getting bigger, the crops in the fields growing and different wildflowers coming into bloom. This turned into a regular “Wildflower of the Week” post, which involved trying to take better photographs and doing a bit of research about the plants I wrote about. It really helped me hone my wildflower recognition skills.

Town Hall Clocks

The other main change is that my social life is now almost totally lived online. With friends, choir and knitting groups now meeting via Zoom. The quality of the photos is nowhere near as good when you use screenshots unfortunately, but that’s the way it has to be.

There have been some lovely and quite unexpected aspects of blogging too. I had forgotten just how much I actually enjoy writing. I did have to write reports and other stuff when I was working, but writing for pleasure is quite different, especially when you are writing about things you love. I’ve also really enjoyed becoming part of the blogging community. Although I do use various social media platforms, I find them increasingly toxic. I have found fellow bloggers however to be supportive, kind, and generous in their comments. The blog has kept me in touch with far-flung friends too. It’s always lovely to hear from them when they’ve read something of interest on the blog. I didn’t quite get to 100 followers in my first year: 96 people followers to date, so not far off. I’d like to thank everyone who has followed or read my blog, especially those that comment. I really appreciate it.

These days I don’t panic about missing a few days without writing – when I started I blogged every day without fail, but this is after all something I do for pleasure so I don’t put myself under that sort of pressure any more. If I don’t have something to write about I won’t do it. Looking forward I wonder how the blog will evolve over the next year!

P S: Today I reached 100 followers. That’s 2 milestones in one week!

Fenwicks Window

Newcastle’s long-established department store, Fenwicks, enchants visitors to Northumberland Street every Christmas with it’s dazzling window display. In a normal year there is a big build up as the store windows are covered up as the animatronic figures and elaborate sets are constructed, then crowds gather for a first look as the windows are unveiled. The windows bring a lot of people to the street and they herald the beginning of the Christmas shopping period in the city. Every day the crowds gather and slowly progress from window to window. Small children press their noses to the glass and stare as their favourite characters actually move!

Of course there couldn’t be anything like that this year….or could there? Well yes! No crowds of course, but thanks to technology, Fewwicks were able to livestream the countdown, the unveiling and a unique pressed-against-the window viewing of this year’s extravaganza. I watched it on Facebook and took some screenshots.

It began with some cheeky elves dancing to Christmas music in an upper floor window.

Then Father Christmas waved from the roof and led the countdown.

Three! Two! One!……the blackout curtains dropped to reveal this year’s window story: The Wind in the Willows at Christmas. It began with mole getting ready to leave his home to visit his friend, Ratty.

Outside Toad Hall, Mr Toad has crashed his new red car.

The friends warn him to be more careful but he dashes off, on skis, far too fast as usual, crashing into Santa. Toad steals the sack full of presents.

Mole and Ratty enlist the help of wise old Badger to capture Toad, who is escaping on the train. They have a plan….and a net!

They catch Toad and rescue Santa and all the presents. They help deliver them to all the children that Christmas Eve.

With the job done, they all sit down to a magnificent Christmas feast.

The Fenwicks Window is a tradition that has lasted almost 50 years. In recent years the theme has been a little bit more commercial, with links to a popular children’s book and lots of linked merchandise on sale in the store. We’ve had “The Snowman” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” most recently. it doesn’t make the whole thing less magical.

A year or two ago, with all eyes on the windows, Greggs bakery found the perfect solution to remind people that they were there across the street. They changed the shop sign to a mirror image, so it could be read in the reflection!

The video of the this year’s Fenwick’s Window can still be seen on Facebook, with 821,000 views so far – the comments were all very positive and in some cases people were quite emotional. It certainly made me smile.

Knit and Natter 13th November

We had another fun session at Friday’s Knit & Natter on Zoom. Some newly completed projects were on show, including Santa’s washing line (above) – It’s brilliant – down to the Y-fronts!

With that finished this clever knitter is now concentrating on Christmas tree decorations.

The maker of this stunning Fair Isle Headhand kindly modelled her work for us.

Her original plan was to make it even warmer by adding a fleece fabric lining , but the double layer of knitting is proving to be quite warm enough. She’s had some requests to make more of these and was working on one in a lovely teal colour with the design in black.

The crochet baby blanket is coming on well, in a beautiful variegated yarn in soft pastel lemon, lilac and white.

I’ve was working on baby items too, but I’ll share that in a separate blogpost once the baby and her mum receive them.

Our new knitter’s work is still getting longer and neater.

There was an elephant in the Zoom Room too, or at least its feet!

When he’s complete, he will look like this.

The pink toenails are crocheted (like the rest of him) then sewn in place). He’s going to be amazing!

We were also joined by Evie the cockapoo. She’s adorable, though is not showing any interest in leaning how to knit or crochet just yet!

Have you been involved in any online knitting activity recently?

Lockdown Crafts: Scented Wax Melts for Crafty Monday

I was joined by Daughter the other afternoon. She’s working from home, which can be pretty isolating, but was at a loose end as she has to use some annual leave from her job before the end of the year. She’d reminded me that I still have a load of candle-making gear in the garage and that she wanted to use it to make some wax melts. We had everything we needed and had a lot of fun so (as she is off work for the next few Mondays too) we’ve decided to make this a regular thing. Welcome to Crafty Mondays!

The only specific ingredients are soya wax and fragrance oil (which can both be bought online from craft or candle supply shops). Everything else we used are pretty ordinary kitchen items:

  • old pan (to use as a water bath
  • metal or oven glass jug to melt the wax in
  • a kitchen thermometer
  • measuring jug
  • teaspoon, measuring spoons or cup/syringe used to measure medicine (to measure small quantities of fragrance oil
  • something to stir with – we used a wooden skewer that was thrown away at the end of the session
  • silicone chocolate moulds (we used these, from Lakeland) or ice cube trays (several stores, including IKEA, do silicone ones in interesting shapes)

We weighed out 500g soya wax flakes into a metal jug (which yielded about 500mls molten wax) The jug was stood in a pan containing about 2 inches hot water on the lowest heat. Remember wax burns so never melt the wax directly over the heat. Using a water bath keeps it to a temperature below 100C.

When making scented candles and melts, the temperature at which you add the fragrance and pour into moulds is important. If the fragrance is added when it is too hot, the scent evaporates before it is captured in the hardening wax. Too cold and it won’t mix in properly. The wax must be poured before it starts to set.

We poured out 100mls melted wax into a measuring jug and when this had cooled to 65C added 6mls fragrance oil, stirring to mix. When the scented liquid wax cooled to 60C it was poured into the moulds.

A couple of handy hints: Put the silicone moulds on a tray so if you have to move them they won’t spill. Also, we numbered the rows and gave a letter to each column so we could make a note of which fragrances were in each location

Each batch of 100mls wax made 15 small or 6 large melts – the measuring jugs and spoons and the thermometer were thoroughly cleaned between fragrances to stop them blending. The whole process was dead easy – much easier than making candles with no wicks to think about. Also pretty economical – a decent sized candle takes a lot of wax and scent oil. The oils can be pricey – HobbyCraft do packs of four themed scents (Christmas, household, fruity etc) at a reasonable price.

We used some of the fragrances we ealready had: orange, vanilla spice, melon and cucumber (used for two batches of 100mls) and lime, basil and mandarin. The specialist candle making suppliers have hundreds to choose from.

We left the melts to set and watched a film on Netflix – if you like a romcom we recommend The Holidate – it was hilarious.

The melts then easily unmoulded and we’ve divided them between us. I have a lamp which incorparates a tiny glass bowl over the bulb, which warms and melts the wax.

I was really happy with the scent “throw” . The fragrance filled a reasonably sized room when the wax had melted.

Daughter has a special ceramic burner which is heated by a tea light. Doesn’t it look lovely with the candle burning?

Our first Crafty Monday was a great success!

Druridge Bay Country Park in November

At the weekend we went for a walk in Druridge Bay Country Park. We normally go in the Hadston entrance to the park, but this time we used another way in to the south that I’d never used before.

My first thought as we walked along the path here was that there was a ridiculous amount of litter, but on closer inspection, what I thought was discarded paper turned out to be fallen leaves.

I think these are from White Poplar trees, which had turned bright yellow for autumn except for the downy underside of the leaves which stay white.

There were quite a lot of these trees in this part of the park and when I checked I found out that they thrive in coastal areas, so are perfectly suited to this location.

We walked as far as the beach. There were quite a few people about, including a couple of surfers. There were certainly big enough waves for them. Buddy had a bit of a run about. He loves the beach.

I stayed at the end of the path – scooters and sand are not a good combination!

We walked back through the park and around the lake. Some of the trees in more sheltered spots have retained their leaves but many have fallen. It was damp murky weather and the rain had left the leaves slippery and beginning to rot down – no crunching through dry rustling leaves today! This larch provided a splash of colour. Its needles have now turned bright mustard yellow and the twigs are dotted with small round cones.

Buddy has never learnt that the water by the stepping stones is deeper than he thinks so we called him back before he made his usual mistake.

Even when the sun isn’t shining it’s always good to get outdoors, though I was quite glad to get back indoors and warm my hands on a mug of hot chocolate.

Poppies for Remembrance Day

This November there have been some wonderful displays on our war memorials that reminded my of a project I took part a couple of years ago – the plan had been to decorate the memorial in Old Eldon Square but after being inundated with knitted and crocheted poppies this stunning river of red was created on the grass and the trees were decorated too.

All over the country statues and cenotaphs, trees and railings have been festooned with handmade poppies in a trend that I think began in 2018, the centenary of the end of the First World War.

In nearby Warkworth the bridge railings are decorated.

Here in Shilbottle this village sign at Shilbottle Grange has been decorated by a talented lady named Brenda who lives close by. She’s incorporated purple poppies to represent the animals that died in service during conflict.

Photo D Sanderson

Also in the village we have a community garden known as Green Hut Corner, which includes memorials to the war dead and also those who died in mining accidents at the two former collieries here. In recent months the garden was decorated with thank you messages to the NHS heroes of the COVID pandemic. The hedge here provides a wonderful backdrop to this year’s poppy display.

This year the gatherings, services and parades have either been cancelled or reduced so that social distancing can be observed, so by adding these poppies to displays over the last week or so people have been paying their respects in their own beautiful way.

But there are other ways to mark Remembrance Day with poppies. My friend Cal Boal posted this on her Facebook Page (where you can see other examples of her work). Cal is a a very talented quilter and I’m sure you will agree that her Poppy Portal quilt is stunning.

Knit and Natter 6th November

Friday’s ZoomKnit and Natter at Alnwick Medical Group was as lively as usual and we were joined by a new member as well as a new member of staff.

Our existing members showed off what they’ve been working on over the last week – I carried on spinning alpaca fleece. I’ll not post any more pictured of that here but I will share some cropped screenshots from the session.

Last week one of the Alnwick members showed us the start of her knitted “Santa’s Washing Line”. She’s completed more of Santa’s laundry.

She also showed us this Christmas tree decoration knitted from a selection in this book illustration- she explained that the candy canes are held rigid with a bendy drinking straw.

Aren’t the colours in this crocheted blanket great? It looks really cosy. The maker of this explained that it is worked diagonally.

The co-ordinator of The Berwick Group (the two knit and natter groups have combined online) has been knitting head bands in various colours using a Fair Isle design. She intends to line these with fleece fabric to make them warmer to wear and stop the wind whistling between the stitches! I want one! – it would stop my hair blowing about too.

Our

Our new member introduced herself – we are going to send her some patterns as she’d like to try some charity knits – something the group does a lot of. Unfortunately it’s harder to access the donated wool and needles from the surgery at the moment as we are in lockdown, but we gave her some ideas where to get some.

Jane, who co-ordinates the Alnwick group and is a new knitter has added to her first knitting project. She says the garter stitch is getting neater as she does more. Scarf length soon!

We also met Andrew, Jane’s colleague in the Social Prescribing Team. He can knit and was taught by his mother who made this lovely bobble hat.

All too soon our hour was up – another great catch up and some great projects. The group meets on Zoom every Friday at 12 noon for about an hour and is open to all patients of the Alnwick Medical Group – no social prescribing referral is necessary.

Ready For Lockdown: Stocking Up On Supplies at The Amble Pin Cushion

It’s been a strange week. Here in England the second lockdown began on Thursday and I felt strangely calm and ready for it. I had spent the earlier part of the week preparing for it – a final lunch out before the restaurants shut and on Tuesday, a visit to the Amble Pin Cushion to stock up on some odds and ends I know I’ll need to keep on crafting over the next month. I haven’t been to shops much at all this year so it was lovely to get back to one of my favourites.

I’ve been a regular member of the shop’s knit and natter group and attended craft courses, there, held in the training room upstairs before the pandemic. There is also a workroom where staff can carry out alterations – we knit and natterers have enjoyed a sneaky look inside in the run up to the local high school prom to see the students’ dresses being worked on! More recently the staff have turned their skills to making face masks, using some of the wide variety fabrics in stock.

As well as fabric, yarn and haberdashery there are all sorts of other craft supplies in the shop – it’s a bit of an Aladdin’s Cave really. Fortunately the team have excellent knowledge of what’s in stock (as well as a lot of skill in how to use it)

I bought some buttons to use on a project I’ll be finishing soon, some metallic thread for something I’ll need to embroider soon and some spare needle felting needles. If you’ve ever needle-felted you’ll know how they snap quite easily – I don’t want to run out in the middle of a forthcoming project.

I was also after a very specific shade of yarn. When it comes to colours I have to admit I’m really picky. Seeing something in a photo online just doesn’t work anywhere near as well as actually seeing it “in the flesh” After checking through my stash and drawing a blank there I had looked online at some well known yarn suppliers I found that the same yarn looked a completely different colour on different website. Of course as soon as I arrived at the shop I could see the exact colour I needed right in front of me! Even in this photo it looks much yellower than in life!

Too red, too dark, not yellow enough….just right!

Another downside to online shopping is that temptation to spend more (on things you don’t really need) to qualify for free postage! Not an issue here!

It was also lovely to see my knitting friend Anne, who works at APC and featured in my very first blog post almost a year ago. She was involved in a project to yarn bomb her village with Christmas angels and had hosted a knitting event at her home as part of this.

To keep customers safe a temporary counter was set up in the doorway and though there was a steady stream of customers they were all able to complete their purchases before a queue formed (and Anne and I still managed to catch up).

The current window display at APC features poppies for Remembrance Day, including some beautiful poppy print fabrics and some handmade poppy brooches being sold to support the British Legion charity in a year when the usual collections have been able to take place.

Small independent shops like this are more than part of the economy – they are part of the community. Before you go online shopping this Christmas, especially to the big multinational companies, check out small independent businesses, especially those in your locality. Many offer an online service for delivery or click and collect which may be available through lockdown. They need our support.

Do you have a favourite shop in your area?

An Unexpected Scone of the Week : Rocking Horse Cafe

We had an impromptu lunch out today. We’d been out for a drive up the coast. As our second lockdown is nearly here and opportunities to eat out dry up after Wednesday, lunch out seemed like a pretty good idea, so on the way home we swung by the Rocking Horse Cafe at Rock Moor, just off the A1 north of Alnwick. It was lovely to be back and were warmly welcomed at one of our favourite cafes.

I ordered the red pepper and tomato soup with a cheese scone – a perfect combination. The soup was full of rich sweetness and flavour, a generous serving at the perfect temperature (I like my soup hot, but not too hot to eat) The scone was also well-flavoured, nicely crusted on the outside and soft inside, served warm with a big slice of butter.

K had the all day breakfast stotty: bacon, sausage, 2 fried eggs and black pudding served in a stotty cake (that’s our regional speciality bread – a large flat bread roll). He really enjoyed it…

…and Buddy was pretty impressed too!

As we had Buddy with us, The Rocky was an obvious choice as it’s one of the most dog-friendly lunch spots we know. Canine customers while we were there included a couple of shih tzus and a very pretty chocolate Labrador. We were all too full of lovely food to take Buddy round the agility course in the cafe’s garden.

The cafe is able to expand into adjacent farm buildings or the garden at busy times to allow for plenty of social distancing between tables as well as all the other COVID safety measures.

Of course it’s not just the humans that are friendly – the resident border collies always give a warm welcome too, especially Sam!

Halloween Happened

It was a strange one this year. There was no Trick or Treat -people were sensibly discouraged from knocking on doors this year. Many of us decorated our houses though. For some reason, K loves doing the Halloween decorations. He adds to them every year and they get more elaborate. He’s less enthusiastic about Christmas.

We put the pumpkins out a week ago and all the rest of the stuff went out yesterday late afternoon to avoid the worst of the rain and gales.

My contribution was the witch figure. She was sat in a deckchair attending a steaming cauldron.

I also painted some cardboard gravestones.

K loves his gadgets and new this year was the projector (this has interchangeable images, including some Christmas ones).

We also have an animatronic raven. This has glowing red eyes and is movement activated so when someone comes to the door it turns its head and squawks. Then there is the remote control tarantula. We make the legs move when the doorbell rings. That makes the trick-or-treaters (and their parents) jump!

There are sound effects too – we have a whole CD full of spooky noise: ghostly wails and moans ,evil laughter, clanking chains, creaking doors, howling wolves….. all played through a speaker in an open window.

I’ve missed the interactive bit this year. In the past I’ve used puppets to answer the door then jumped out in full costume and facepaint.

Hopefully I’ll be back to that next year. As we prepare to go back into lockdown and wonder what Christmas will look like, I’m not sorry that this year is on its way out.

This sums it up really.

On a more positive note, I got to keep all the sweets and didn’t have to give them to the local children!

How was your Halloween?