The Ukeladies: Apart and Still Playing Together

Isn’t technology wonderful? We may have to stay at home but I’ve been trying to maintain contact with all my lovely friends – thanks to Zoom I’ve been doing this all week. Tonight my ukelele group (alias the Ukeladies) had a bit of a practice, so we belted out Eight Days a Week, Country Roads, Wagon Wheel and Sunny Afternoon. It was good to catch up.

On Sunday we had our first virtual coffee morning on Zoom, joined by other friends, including one that recently emigrated to Australia. It was 7pm rather than coffee time for her, so she had a glass of wine instead! It was interesting to see how things are going in Australia compared with here.

We also held a virtual quiz this week. Five couples took part over Zoom. Each couple set ten questions on a subject of their choice and took their turn reading them out. That way nobody got lumbered with having to think up 50 questions. Obviously you can’t score on your own round so with five teams and 50 questions, your maximum score would be 40. of course it relies on honesty, no cheating, no using Google or Alexa. It was a great laugh so we are going to do it all again next week.

So, I’ve been able to maintain my social life, despite the restrictions… just means I switch the computer on instead of going out! Virtual Knit and Natter anyone?

Knit and Natter Friday: 6th March – Knitting is Good For You!

We loved looking at this big colourful haul of gorgeous knits from the Knit and Natter Group, who meet at Alnwick Medical Group on Friday afternoons. At the top of the picture are baby jackets, mostly premature size. I love the contrasting edges on the ones at the top right. We also have some beautiful blankets and premature baby clothes from a lady who loves knitting but doesn’t come to the group. The multicoloured blankets left and front are knitted in beautifully soft chenille yarn. The pink/purple baby clothes and blanket were all made out of one big ball of ombre wool. The blanket is knitted in a design of alternating stocking stitch and moss stitch with a moss stitch edge. Isn’t it effective?

We were joined by a couple of members of staff from the practice today. Of course, we can’t let anyone visit us without doing any knitting so we found them some wool and needles and got them started. One had knitted before and soon picked it up again. The other was a complete beginner and after a bit of tuition she was doing brilliantly.

They were there to gather information for Social Prescribing Day (next Thursday, 12th March. Our knitting group was set up as part of the medical practice’s social prescribing work. At the end of the session we took part in a video interview and answered questions about the knit and natter group and what we get out of it. It was interesting to reflect on why we enjoy doing what we do. From my point of view……

  • It’s good to interact with a friendly, supportive group of people with a shared interest. We enjoy each other’s company.
  • We can share skills and learn from each other. There must be several centuries of knitting experience in the group!
  • There’s a shared sense of achievement in completing a project or learning a new skill.
  • Knitting for charity is a worthwhile use of our knitting skills to help others.
  • Communal knitting is fun!

One question that really made me think was about the importance of holding a knitting group in a doctors surgery. I think it legitimises knitting as a worthwhile activity that’s good for physical and mental wellbeing. I know that those of us that knit have known this for years, but there are still people out there that consider it to be a boring solitary hobby, primarily for elderly women! Nonsense!

There are real benefits to mental and physical wellbeing

  • The repetitive action of knitting has a calming effect, lowering heart rate and blood pressure (like stroking a pet or doodling)
  • It’s a mindful activity. By concentrating on the activity of knitting you can slow down, focus on what you are doing and reduce stress and anxiety.
  • It keeps your hands moving, good for the blood supply and muscle tone in the fingers.
  • There’s always something new to learn. Learning new skills encourages the development of new neural pathways, great for maintaining a healthy brain and improving memory.
  • Knitting groups are a great way of combatting social isolation and its effects of mental and physical health.

Now that this is being endorsed by healthcare professionals maybe more people will take up knitting!

What do you think are the benefits of knitting?

Coffee and Crumpets

Our regular Thursday jaunt took us to somewhere different today: Company B at Longhoughton…..and what a little gem it is!

We got got a very warm welcome and were found a table among a crowd of children and parents that were filling what is quite a small space. (I’d forgotten it was school half term holidays). All the children were so polite and well-behaved……it appeared that everyone knew everyone else, including the lady running the cafe. We had walked into what appears to be the heart of the village!

There was a good selection of home made cakes (no scones today) but we decided to ring the changes and opted for crumpets and coffee – all very nice and extremely reasonably priced (a fraction of the cost of many of our Thursday snack outings). They also serve breakfasts, soup, hot and cold sandwiches, baked potatoes and there’s a decent children’s menu too. I noticed other things for sale too – preserves and chutneys and hand crafted jewellery and other items.

I just loved the way that everyone was made to feel so at home – the parents chatted away; the children were all very chilled – some were making use of a basket of toys and books; Another regular customer, an elderly man, enjoyed soup and a cuppa. There is such a great sense of community in this little cafe. I think it’s dog friendly too.

I’ve since looked on the Facebook page and found that the dynamic cafe owner, Charlotte, also makes celebration cakes and has even run children’s cookery classes in the summer holidays and “Breakfast with Santa” at Christmas. There are a lot of young families in the village: married quarters for nearby RAF Boulmer are situated here. Charlotte also told us about the regular pensioners lunches – a 3 course hot meal for only £8 (I think that was the price).

What a lovely change it was from some of the other places we have visited that seem to cater more for tourists than locals. Well done, Company B – you know and love your community and serve them well.

As we left I noticed the rather unusual planters in the cafe garden and they made me smile..

Where is the heart of your community?

An Animated Evening

Nearly every month I take my Mum to the meeting of her Inner Wheel group. I always enjoy going but this week’s meeting was especially good

The guest speaker was artist and animator, Sheila Graber. I remember Sheila from a long time ago: she taught art when I was at school. She was a very popular teacher and ran after-school groups, including an Animation Club for pupils – we were sometimes shown the group’s films as well as Sheila’s work at the end of term. Eventually, she left teaching to work on her animation full-time

On Thursday night we were treated a compilation of some of these animations. The River Tyne featured strongly in Sheila’s work (she was born and brought up on Tyneside).

Image from The Tyne by Sheila Graber

My favourite was a charming film about a little boy playing with his cat in the snow (Sheila explained how this was inspired by her own cat). Other animals featured too: she made animated versions of Kipling’s Just-So Stories.

Image from “The Elephant’s Child” film by Sheila Graber (part of series: The just So Stories)

At the end of the evening my Mum bought me a copy of Sheila’s Book, My Tyneside, which she signed for me. We chatted and amazingly she remembered me from school. It was fun to remember some of my old teachers from back then.

Since the other night, I’ve read the book, which includes a load of Sheila’s pictures of my home town, South Shields. I’ve also been looking at her website and Youtube channel, where I found a film of an old school sports day. She’s done some amazing stuff and I’m hoping to get to an exhibition of her work that’s coming up later this year at The Customs House, South Shields.

Are there any inspirational teachers that you remember from your schooldays?

My Own Personal Unicorn

I’ve had the house to myself for most of the day, so I finished a project that has been hanging around since last Christmas. It’s a rather sweet needle felted unicorn, made from a kit I received as a gift. It was my first attempt at needle felting.

To a point, these kits are a bit of a cheat. If you were making this from scratch you’d make a skeleton or armature and needle felt over that, but this kit came with a polystyrene base, so it was just a case of making the legs and ears, covering the body/head shape and felting it all together. The instructions were not great: a sheet of tiny photographs and no explanatory text. Once I’d worked out what to do, I found there’s something very satisfying about wielding that felting needle, especially if you are in a bad mood. I did learn that getting carried away has its drawbacks however. If you miss it really hurts. Also, those needles break really easily.

The most fiddly part was the unicorn’s horn. This involved twisting some of the purple fibres and a white thread around a short piece of pipe cleaner and securing it with hot glue. I went for a more free-flowing mane and tail than the one on the box illustration, so they don’t look that similar. You finish it off with embroidered eyelashes. I love putting the eye on a toy or animal. I always take a lot of care getting the placement right – it seems to be the most important thing that brings it to life. I rather like it!

When I’d finished I looked out the window and there were seven collared doves in one of the trees in our garden. They usually seem to gather when it’s stormy to shelter from the weather. These three looked particularly cosy with their feathers all fluffed up.

I didn’t stay in the house all day: I nipped out to pick son up from Alnmouth Golf Club at Foxton and parked up with my knitting while I waited for him. I had a great view over the golf course towards Coquet Island. Being Mum’s Taxi does sometimes have its compensations!

Back home, Unicorn is now sitting in pride of place. I need to think of a suitable name for him/her. Any suggestions?

Countryside cast-on

Last night I picked out some yarn from the pile that I’d previously earmarked for the big stash busting blues poncho/cape – I found this sock yarn I picked up from Flying Tiger a while back.

This has too much green in it to fit in with stash busting project. I’ve really enjoyed wearing the last pair of socks I made, so need more – especially now I’ve become more confident about sock knitting and recovered from One Sock Syndrome. It seemed obvious to use this sock yarn!

I needed to start a new small portable project, something that I can stick in a small bag to do in the car, waiting for appointments and to take to knit and natter groups. Socks knitted on tiny circular needles are perfect for this (though when I turn the heel it might need a bit more concentration and nattering may cease for a while)

It was blustery this morning, but looked beautiful and such a joy to feel the warmth of the sun on my face when I was out of that cold wind. Sitting in the car in a lay-by while K walked Buddy nearby, I cast on the first sock – if I’d been more prepared I’d have brought straight needles in a larger size (casting on with thumb method, using 2.5mm circular sock needles is fiddly) – I wanted to try this to ensure I kept the cast-on nice and loose. Anyway I just concentrated hard not to pull it too tight and managed to complete the cast on and knit a couple of rounds. The top of the sock is in k2p2 rib so it’s lovely and stretchy – it would defeat the object of that if the cast-on is too tight,

I love the colours of this yarn – they include a deep blue with a very dark green, shading lighter into almost yellow green. At first this made me think of rocks by a deep blue sea, strewn with yellowish brown seaweed below high water mark and crusted with yellow lichens above. Then I looked out the window, spied this puddle and saw similar colours in the sky’s reflection, the grasses and conifer saplings around me.

The woodland is managed here, with fencing and rabbit guards on the young trees.

We couldn’t stay long as household tasks awaited – but it was nice to be out in the sunshine, thinking about the colours in the landscape.

Do you get inspired by your surroundings ?

Fair Isle for a Good Cause

I thought I’d share a project that I knitted last year.

I was on holiday in North West Scotland, near Gairloch with K and the dog. Our trip coincided with a local community event: the Gairloch Gathering. There were lots of stalls from local traders and organisations and various activities including a pet parade (Buddy was not exactly on his best behaviour for that), children’s sports, a fell race, a demonstration of electro-fishing (used for sampling purposes), all ending up with a ceilidh in the evening.

There was a lovely yarn stall and a kit caught my eye: yarns and pattern to make this beautiful beanie – Harriet’s Hat. This was designed by Harriet Middleton to sell as a fundraiser for the Shetland Scanner Appeal. She wanted to do this following her own need for regular trips to the mainland for MRI scans. You can buy the pattern to download here for only £4 and there are similar gloves and other accessory patterns available too. The kit included 6 different shades of Jamiesons Spindrift Shetland yarn, which echo the colours of the scanner appeal logo.

The hardest part of knitting this was that the blue shades are very close to each other, both in the yarn and the colour chart on the pattern, but (as long as I was looking at the pattern in decent light) it worked out ok in the end.

It’s the first pattern I’ve worked on that has a nice design on the ribbing

Another thing I like about it (I think this is a characteristic of true Fair Isle) is that though the overall design is complex and multicoloured, you only have to use 2 colours of yarn at any one time on each row, so no tangles of yarn!

I was glad that I darned the ends in as I went along though – there were lots!

It is knitted in the round on circular needles, starting out with a K2P2 rib band, then in stocking stitch, finishing the decreases on double pointed needles. The decreases on the crown of the hat result in this gorgeous snowflake-like centre.

I really enjoyed making this – it was interesting and kept me engaged . The design and colours work well together. It fits well and is very warm – it covers the ears! It’s always good to know that you are supporting a good cause too!

Have you ever knitted Fair Isle?