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!

Frogs and Blogs

One of the most dramatic spring milestones is the arrival of frogs in our garden pond. They are late this year, by a couple of weeks but since yesterday the water has been seething with writhing amphibians seeking a mate. There’s no sign of frog spawn yet (just frog porn!)

In the last few days my little blog has passed a couple of milestones too: over 50 followers and 500 likes. I started blogging in November, but I’ve never written about why I started it.

Since I retired in 2015 I’ve made a point of trying to learn a new skill every year.

The first one was linked to my choir. Our musical director had brought a friend of hers to one of our sessions to run a beatboxing workshop. Beatboxing is simply making percussion sounds with your mouth. Of course unaccompanied choir music is just that – no instruments (including drums), but if you can add those rhythms vocally it can sound brilliant. If you’ve ever seen the Pitch Perfect films (which feature a lot of beatboxing) you’ll see what I mean. Anyway, I really enjoyed it and ended up doing the beatboxing part on our version of Seven Nation Army. It’s one of my favourite’s in the choir’s repertoire.

Another skill came about when I was approached by a friend for help. I’ve already blogged about my friend’s book Secrets and Guardians. Basically, She’s the creative one, I’m the computer-nerdy one and we worked together to get it published on Kindle. That meant learning all about how to format the text so it’s suitable for online publication and doing the uploading. I can now add online publishing to my new skills.

Skill number three was learning a bit about millinery, specifically how to make fascinators (hat blocking is a skill in itself). I started off doing a one-day course at The Amble Pin Cushion, in which I learnt how to work with sinnamay and made black and cream fascinator.

I decided it would nice to make some with pheasant feathers. These birds are extremely common around here. They aren’t very bright when it comes to traffic and you see as many as roadkill as you see alive…and they can do a great deal of damage to your car if you hit one. I didn’t really fancy picking dead birds off the road though. Then I had a brainwave – I asked a farmer friend (who runs a pheasant shoot on his land) what happened to the feathers after the shoot – he explained that someone comes in and plucks and draws the birds ready to go to the game dealer. I asked if he could save me a few pheasant tails. He suggested that the feathers would be better developed if I waited until the January and he’s get me some then. I’d almost forgotten about it when we saw him a while later. “I’ve got those feathers you asked for,” he said. There were two sacks full!I spent a couple of days preparing all the feathers, cleaning them, sanitising them with laundry disinfectant and drying them. I found the easiest way to dry them was to use those net bags you wash tights and socks in: put the feathers in and tumble dry on the gentlest setting. This is one of the fascinators I made. Not a great photo, but you get the idea.

Number four happened by accident in 20018 , really. When my friends told me that a ukulele class was starting in the next village and they were planning to go – I quite fancied trying that. There were instruments on loan for the first few weeks and it seemed like a great idea to do a taster session without making the commitment of having to buy my own ukulele. I have quite small hands and my wrists aren’t terribly manoeuvrable, which thwarted my attempts to play the guitar when I was in my teens. I really wanted to find out if I could manage a smaller instrument with fewer strings….and the course leader was called Barry White. I was curious!

It all worked out beautifully! I can do it! Some of the chords are rather challenging (and some are downright impossible) but it’s mostly OK. Barry White, is lovely (though not a bit like THE Barry White) and very patient with the us. We’ve now got a huge repertoire, have played a few concerts at local care homes and we always end up taking the instruments to any parties that happen and playing a few tunes. We have a good laugh.

I realised very late in the year (November) that I didn’t have a new skill for 2019 and racked my brains about what I could do quickly. I’d read a lot of blogs and was doing a lot of knitting at the time, so I set out to write primarily (though not exclusively) a knitting blog. I get very attached to the things I make and there’s always some story, whether that’s the reason I’m making that item, or where I bought the yarn. I also love where I live, here in North Northumberland, so that features in the blog a lot too. Since I started, the posts seem to be less and less about knitting, but that’s just the way it has evolved.

I have a couple of regular blog features: “Scone of the Week”, which has become a bit of a collaboration with my fellow scone-eater Mum, and “Knit and Natter Friday”. the other knitters are now quite used to assembling a display of their work for a photo to go in the blog. I was posting daily (sometimes twice a day) at the beginning, but now I’m a lot more relaxed about it and sometimes I might just post a couple of times a week.

I had forgotten just how much I enjoy writing. The brevity needed on social media just didn’t satisfy that need. I used to write articles for and edit community magazines when I was working and it was one of my favourite parts of the job.

The other thing that’s been really nice and unexpected is the feedback. I love reading comments from followers and always try to reply. Everyone is so lovely and that’s such a refreshing change from the bile that’s spouted on Facebook and Twitter. I always put links to blog posts on my social media accounts and get good feedback from that too.

It’s been a rewarding experience and I hope to keep it going throughout 2020…..and learn another new skill, which of course I’ll be able to blog about.

So that’s why I started my blog.

Fellow bloggers: why did you start yours?