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Lizz Roe – September


September –  Make all your cards and presents for christmas, birthdays, eid or whatever as well as for the year ahead and give something away every day!

One of the things I know is don’t give yourself impossible knitting (or other ‘make it’ deadlines), Stephanie Pearl Mcphee ‘the yarn harlot’ has some hilarious stories about knitting against deadlines and the ways in which promised jumpers became pullovers and long socks got shorter as the day of delivery got closer. Because of a christmas deadline and a yarn supply crisis I once knitted a pullover in about 32 hours and I will never do that again. I also once knitted a single sock for a christmas present and gave the other one for a birthday present and managed to make virtue of my terrible knitting management through linking the gifts. I also made a quilt for someone last year and each time I visit them I ‘tie’ a bit more of it (oops). I’m currently making a big project for next year but I mustn’t give myself the luxury of spending too much time on the planning of it because suddenly the flipping deadline will be upon me! I’m currently thinking I might take it on holiday with me in November – to help the long winter evenings pass!

Oh – other deadlines – such as cakes and food for shared lunches. I recently got up horribly early to cook the cake made late the night before (the fruit had to steep for 12 hours and I forgot to do it before I went to work) and then went back to sleep for two hours whilst it cooked and then had to put it in front of an open window so that it would cool in time for me to ice so that I could take it to a party later in the same morning!

Mostly I’m very organised but just sometimes it all goes out the window.

I suppose I’m thinking about it a bit now because if I start now I’ve a couple of months until christmas and although traditionally Quakers don’t make a big think about christmas there are friends I like to honour by doing something for them. It’s also starting to be birthday season!

Week 1

For my dad – rather than do a big present I usually do some kind of stocking of smaller things. For his 80th birthday a few years ago rather than get a present we did something together each month – to the theatre or the cinema or to the footie or to an exhibition or festival. It was great! A whole collection of memories and good times spent together.

For my friends – well counting up I usually give things to about 16 people for Christmas, Eid, Yule, or Hannukah, and to about 20 people or so throughout the year for birthdays. I do keep a present box – which as I make things acts as the store place for the nice newly made pressies (I’m depressingly organised as I usually label them and keep a list from year to year so that no-one gets scarves year after year!). Actually what often happens is that it goes in cycles – one year everyone got scarves, another year it was hats, some years its soaps and scritchy things, some years it’s food (eg sloe gin)…. What shall I make this year?

Ok, for dad I am making him first of all a new stocking as the one he currently uses has been on the go for about 25 years and though it is fine I think he might like one that is slightly easier to get things out of! (and slightly larger too).

For my friends:-

Hmm I’ve started a hot water bottle cover, a pair of socks, a cushion cover and some fun soap strings. Most of these took next to no time – except the socks – I’ve got as far as turning a heel on the first one. I’ve also decided to make some fingerless mittens for one or two people – someone gave me some very nice wool which will make a lovely pair!

And what have I given away?

This week I have given away a DVD, three books, a skirt to a charity shop, a shirt to friend of mine who has coveted it for ages, and some knitting needles. That wasn’t so hard!

To help with the whole creative process I’ve read several craft and knitting books this week including Jane Brockett’s lovely book ‘the gentle art of domesticity’. I’ve also looked through some magazines and cuttings for further ideas and inspiration. Each time a friend passes on a magazine or journal I look through and cut out things which I think – hey I could make that, or which I think – hmm that’s a fabulous colour combination.

This all goes back to when I was a teenager. At some point I had this idea about one day being a set designer or shop window designer or doing the backgrounds for photo shoots -you know the kind of thing? The careers person at school said that this wasn’t a proper job and I should think about being a nurse (dang!) but I carried the interest into working as a volunteer in a local museum – they had great little scenes by the time I finished with lots of period detail. I also got into the habit then of collecting images and bits of ideas in notebooks (what I now know are called colour boards or mood boards) and into collecting things that were quirky or one off or hard to find any more; such as wooden cotton reels, little tins and interesting packaging. It can mean that sometimes I have just a bit too much junk but it can mean that when people need odd things I can turn it up from a cupboard or chest (two dozen un-matched blue and white cups and saucers and plates anyone?) So that my flat doesn’t look too crowded I tend to alternate ornaments and the like – I have two pirate chests (which my mum gave me years ago when I lived on a boat) and most of the time most stuff lives in there. But a friend of mines mum used to call me Mrs thing, so it may be that the whole tidy away process is not quite as thorough as I think! In fact I can imagine my friends at work having a good laugh as they read this. In particular because in my office are:-

  1. a beehive
  2. a small weaving loom
  3. a box of crockery
  4. 7 knitted blankets
  5. a desk and all that kind of gubbins
  6. an armchair
  7. a swivel chair
  8. a filing cabinet
  9. paper recycling pile
  10. a bag of knitting
  11. 4 pairs of wellies

oh dear – perhaps it’s time to give some of these things away!

Week 2

For my dad – I’ve decanted some sloe gin into a nice bottle and made a nice label. I’ve also got some marmalade I made earlier in the year and done a cool label for that too. Maybe one of the things I give him will be a sort of mini-food hamper? that sounds quite nice. He likes jam and chutney and I have made both of those this year.

Ok this week I’ve finished sock one and started sock two. I’ve made the hottie cover and finished the cushion and started a knitted bag to be decorated with mother of pearl buttons. I’ve also started a button necklace, a knitted christmas pudding cover (for a chocolate orange) some mini knitted christmas puddings to go over ferrero rocher, and three tea cosies! Hmm this sounds like a slightly crazy knit fest!

And given away?

A cloak, three more books, some blue and white china, two pairs of wellies, two scarves, two bags, a hat – so I’ve managed more than one thing a day this week. I don’t think anyone has spotted I’m giving things away more specifically than usual. I quite often bring people things back from holidays and little trips – and this time I brought back dried fruits and nuts from Uzbekistan as well as stamps for bread for some people I know who are keen bread and biscuit makers. They’re not usually big presents but usually I hope quite nice. I find there is something very pleasurable about giving small gifts – but I also know there are many people who prefer not to be given things too – so there is a balance to be found here. I’ve also learnt that it’s important to feel that you can give away something you are given if it’s really not to your taste and that if you happen to spot something you gave to someone in a charity shop that’s ok too. For years a friend and I sent the same christmas card back and forwards and my dad says that in the local church raffle the same picture regularly shows up (either that or the local artist has a whole pile of the same view).

I’ve carried on with the reading – quick knitted gifts, quick quilts, and several books about recycling. I’ve also sorted out some fabrics which might be rather good recycled – some fleece, some velvet and some silk – hmmm – yummy.

Week 3

This week I went to Paris for a few days and with two books in hand I went in search of lots of fabulous craft, artisan and arty places (I was also on a fish stamp mission but more about that another time). The two books ‘the antique and flea markets of London and Paris’ and ‘the markets of Paris’ are both fabulous – and whilst I sat on the metro and in cafes I also did some serious knitting. in the process I met some other women in a cafe (they are regulars there and I had read about them on line) who are big guerilla knitters – they knit covers for lamp-posts, buses, velibs, everything! I’d taken some wool to donate to their latest project (a cover for one of the bridges over the Seine) it was like a passport to a whole afternoon of friendship and we exchanged knitting tips and ideas til late in the day (and cup cakes – the cup cake and macaroon are both big in Paris!) The other book I took was a Frommer’s guide ‘Free and dirt cheap Paris’ it is the business for a thrifty like me.

So, this week I have finished sock two, the knitted bag, the christmas pudding covers, one of the tea cosies, and the button necklace. I’ve started a small quilt picture – not sure who for yet and I’ve also had a moment of illumination about what to give a friend of mine for a birthday – hurrah.

And given away? The wool to the wild knitters, a piece of jewellery, some little things from Paris, another pair of wellies, another pair of knitting needles, a DVD, a CD, a mirror and a small stuffed toy.

During the Paris trip I talked to lots of artists and artisans – so interesting to find out what people are making and why, where their inspiration comes from, whose work they like or not, and what they think about their work. I bought a tiny picture, five painted cards, some felt, and some fish stamps.

Ok – the stamps! When I went to Libya last year one of the things I found out was that they make the most beautiful stamps there. So I bought several sheets all with fish, shells or sea creatures on them. Since then everywhere I’ve gone I’ve bought stamps with fish on them – I’m framing them to hang in the bathroom. They look beautiful. and I rather like that they are pretty, low impact, souvenirs. Whilst I was in Uzbekistan I came across a wonderful little kiosk selling stamps (in the incredible walled city of Khiva) – but it was locked and the owner could not be found. There, just inside the window was a wonderful set of Uzbek fish stamps. I pressed my nose against the window like a child at a sweet shop – but to no avail. So, part of my time in Paris was spent in tracking down fish stamps. There is a whole road of shops selling stamps, a market near the Champs Elysee on saturday and sunday, and two of the arcades have shops that specialise in stamps. At the very last stall I visited there were my Uzbek stamps! hurrah. I was so delighted – the stall holder was a little bemused but said he hoped I’d come back soon!

Week 4

Whoopee this week is my birthday- several people have given me things which were made through some kind of recycling and one of my friends gave me knitting wool and a new book of patterns! How nice! Hmm – which one shall I knit? I went to stay with some friends (one of whom had just had a birthday – socks, little mat with a puffin on it, and a little smellie) and this involved a trip to a bookshop, a concert, a walk round Ely cathedral (whilst an orchestra practiced ‘An American in Paris’), a visit to a Quaker meeting, and several nice meals – what a pleasure – all we have to do is decide what to do with the time that is given to us. I read and knitted on the train journeys there and back again – I’m still doing the read a book a day thing – although I’m currently a few days adrift mainly because I’ve read several very very fat books recently.

So, this week I finished everything I’d been knitting or sewing, or making or ‘creating’. I had a few days of feeling very smug and then realised I had managed to miss one of my friends birthdays – oooops. This is especially silly as I’d had an idea for it ages ago and even started it but it’s been sitting on my desk at work for weeks waiting for me to finish it. Drat.

And what did I give away?

Birthday presents to my friend, a couple of hardbacks to a local library, another DVD, some beads, a small bookcase (via freegle), a dress, a saucepan, and a tray.

What I Learnt

Overall, what I learnt is that there is much to be said for planning ahead for presents, gifts and cards – I mean, it’s outrageous cards often cost £3 a pop and a home made one is not only much cheaper but often carries far more meaning – even if you’re rubbish at art there are stickers and printing stamps these days which make the process much easier. Collages can be good, as can photos stuck onto card. In terms of gifts it used to be considered cheapskate to make things but not any more – now it’s very on trend and you can even work the whole knit in public thing if you’ve got the nerve. Good enough for Russell Crowe? – good enough for me!

I also learnt that a tiny bit of ribbon and wrapping makes the whole thing even better – I often use maps, newspaper or bits of inflight magazines to wrap presents and I keep bits of ribbon and scraps of silk in a special tin. I keep the best postcards, christmas cards and birthday cards from year to year and turn them into tags etc. Yes you might say this all takes time – but the alternative is work hard, earn money, buy mass produced see everywhere things and wrapping for them and give them away or work less, have more time, make amazing individual and one off things and wrapping paper and give them away! Or give things from which people can make things!

When Peter Jackson was making the ‘Lord Of The Rings’ trilogy every prop and costume was made by hand from scratch by artisans and craftspeople and costumiers – that way he could be sure that no-one would be sitting in the film thinking hey I’ve got that goblet/tankard/curtains (or Orc Axe) at home!! As I look around at home I know the things I find most delight in are the one offs, the quirky, the handmade, the no-logo things and clothes.

I noticed in Paris on the metro that of the 8 of us sitting in the two sets of four seats adjacent to one another 7 or us (me too) were wearing converse. when it gets to the point that clothes or food, or even style is the same across the globe then we are way too close to global homogenization. Mono-cultures are unsustainable and we’re losing our diversity rapidly, so, if it’s the same in every language don’t drink, eat or wear it.

Next Month

Don’t get in a car at all and use no mains electricity at home!

To see the other months in this series, please see the Lizz Roe page.

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