A knitting cabaret? As knitters, how could we possibly resist!? Last weekend some of our craft group trotted off to see Stitch in Time – a knitting cabaret, in which Canadian performer Melanie Gall explores all things knit (and crochet).

Excitement! Drama! Romance! And… knitting? A scintillating cabaret, featuring the lost knitting songs of WWI and WWII from Canada, Britain, America and France. Bring your knitting (or crochet) and stitch along to these funny, poignant, toe-tapping, needle-clicking tunes. Come out and have a ball! Stitch in Time presents over a dozen historic songs, including More Power to Your Knitting, Nell!, The Knitting Itch and Knocking at the Knitting Club.

It was a hoot! From her sensible heels, to her spangled dress and adorable knitting hat (!), Melanie rocked the room with rollicking tunes  and entertaining tales on the history of knitting. Most of us had brought along a knitting (or crochet) project and, between bouts of laughter, the needles flashed in and out of yarns of glorious colours and projects as varied as could be imagined.

My own knitting (and crochet) journey has been a rather bumpy one at times. From my first attempts in primary school – an epic fail that left me quite convinced that knitting was something other people did – to the community craft group I now help to facilitate, it’s been quite a ride.

My mum had knitted for us on and off our whole lives and, by the time I was making my first foray into the terrifying land of knit, she had acquired a knitting machine. This speeded up her production significantly and reinforced my notion that hand knitting was a waste of time. At about that time, my ever-busy mum taught herself to crochet. Unbeknownst to me, she bought yarn in four shades of green – from pale moss, though to the deep forest green of pine needles – and set about about making me the most amazing poncho.

This was in an era when ponchos were all the rage and many a mum, gran or aunt was conscripted into making one (or more). As often as not, the homemade creations were made from granny squares pieced together – very trendy! But not my mine. I’ve no idea whether Mum had a pattern or just made it up as she went along, but she crocheted the poncho in the round in alternating rows of trebles, popcorn stitch and clusters of trebles. The neckband was double crochet in the palest of the greens, with the tassels to match. It was perfect! The right length, perfect tassels and fabulous colours that showed how well Mum knew me. It also convinced me that crochet was yet another dark art that was beyond my abilities to conquer!

When I got to high school the following year, I found (to my horror) that students were expected to ‘volunteer’ to knit and/or crochet! At various times we were tasked with creating squares that would later be assembled into blankets and donated to a retirement home, and outfits for little cupie-dolls. The dolls were also for a good cause and many beautiful outfits were created – just not by me!

Not my work!

My output was slow and the quality highly variable. I did eventually conquer knitting a simple 6″ corner-to-corner square, but remained convinced that handcrafts weren’t  the best use of my time – or limited skills! What I didn’t realise it at the time was that these community service projects were aimed at teaching us the value of volunteering and to develop a sense of social responsibility. In my case what it really seemed to be doing was reinforcing the notion that knitting and crochet weren’t my thing!

A good many years passed before I decided to give knitting another try. Unlike me, my BFF has been a pro-knitter from an early age and I’ve always been unfailingly impressed by her fabulous creations. From time to time she’d offer to show me how, but I always protested that I was a hopeless case… until Dearest Daughter was on her way.

Then BFF (and DD’s godmother-to-be) suggested that I might like to try knitting something for the baby. She said that if I aimed at making just one small thing I might find it wasn’t so bad. I was dubious, but she convinced me that it was achievable. So yarn and needles were purchased and, although the project took ages and there was a fair bit of unpicking involved, by the time DD was born I had created a rather cute sky blue angel top for her. She did grow into it eventually… and it was passed down to BoyChilde in due course, so it was well worth the effort.

1983: BoyChilde & angel top.

It was also the foundation on which all the rest of my knitting adventures were based. With ongoing encouragement from BFF I learned to be more forgiving of my knitting mistakes and to not take it all so seriously. Gradually – and without me realising it –  knitting turned into more than a practical skill, it was fun! More than that, I felt ridiculously proud of my creations and of the that I’d become somewhat competent at something I’d always thought out of reach.

As the kids grew, so did the size and variety of jumpers. I experimented with Fair Isle and cables and intarsia – using multiple colours to add pictures to the jumpers. Hats, gloves, tea cosies, socks, toys, scarves and wraps all emerged from my needles at various times over the past 40 years – and I’ve enjoyed every knitting moment of the process.. even the undoing and re-knitting parts!

Crochet hit my radar only relatively recently, when arthritis started to impact my knitting enjoyment. The first step was to relearn how to make granny squares, with occasional guidance YouTube and from BFF – still my creative guru. As part of the learning process I went on to teach others how to crochet squares, dishcloths, Xmas ornaments and more.

One of my first granny square charity blankets.

In keeping with our early introduction to knitting as a community project, BBF and I started a regular community craft group a number of years ago; the group still meet up each month to chat and knit or crochet – sometimes on our own projects and sometimes making items for charity. And occasionally we go to things like the knitting cabaret, just for fun – but always armed with some sort of small project to work on!

This knitting (and crochet) cabaret of mine is far from over – although it still surprises me that I enjoy it so much (thanks, BFF!). My 12-year-old self wouldn’t recognize this version of me, but I think she’d be amused by the Loani Prior tea cosy I made this week – particularly the polo neck 🙂

Pot Sock Frock and Petticoat tea cosy.

Our household tries to be mindful about single use packaging and to reuse and recycle wherever possible. In the run up to Christmas festivities, however, this gets to be increasingly difficult. The sheer volume of packaging on gifts and food items undermines the best of intentions. And then there’s the gift wrap…

I recently discovered that in Australia alone, more than 150,000km of gift wrap is used over the festive season. Yup, 150,000 kilometres. I found that to be a mind boggling stat – and one that’s impossible to unknow now that it’s hit my radar… as is the info on just how much of that wrapping is not recyclable.

This includes: foil, embossed, glittery, laminated or plastic wrappings, tinsel, tissue paper, cellophane, ribbons and bows. Then there’s very thin wrapping paper, smaller pieces of regular, recyclable paper and shredded paper; these are also off the list as their fibres are generally too short to be made into recycled products. Yikes.

With all this in mind, Daughter Dearest and I embarked on a mission to discover ways to eliminate those wrappings that can’t be recycled. We’ve made our own wrapping papers before, using butcher’s paper or brown paper and decorating it in various ways, but this year we’re on a mission to test out other options.

Phase one was to attend a session on sustainable gift wrappings. There we learned how to make gifts bags out of newspaper or other repurposed paper, with the help of just a little glue. The bags can be pretty much any size out of whatever paper you have to hand. I had fun putting some out of date maps to good use, making surprisingly sturdy (and attractive) bags. There are heaps of online resources for this, so track them down if you’re interested 🙂

We were also were introduced to the basics of the not-too-mysterious art of Furoshiki (Japanese fabric wrapping). This is a brilliant way to wrap gifts sustainably, using fabric (recycled, repurposed or new) instead of paper.

So phase two of operation alternative-wrappings was to hunt through my fabric stash, brave a Spotlight sale and visit a couple of Opshops. I now have a box full of pretties and plan to add a wrapping instructions with each furoshiki-wrapped gift so that my people can re-use the wraps that way if they’d like to. I’ll also include a note suggesting that, if the wrapping isn’t wanted, it can simply be ‘recycled’ back to me to me 🙂

I can’t wait to get started on the wrapping! Here’s a how-to in case you’d like to try it too.

We’re once again in the throes of a re-training regime for both our dogs. This is mostly because one of them recently developed a liking for adventuring when off lead at the park. No biggie in and of itself, except that she sometimes chooses not to come back. Apparently it’s much more fun to turn the whole exercise into a game. Much sigh.

Fortunately we know some great people at the local Dobermann Club. They all know MissMolly (she has something of a reputation as a super bouncy Dobe) and one of them kindly agreed to help out with some one-on-one. This new training regime started a few weeks ago and we’ve had some great results with MissM (aka the runawaydog) so far. It’s involved going back to basics with recalls, impulse inhibition and so forth.

Cassie’s been having some fun with training as well. But since most of it’s really aimed at the runawaydog, she needs to be kept occupied whilst the high intensity focused training sessions take place.

Enter the snuffle mat. This is essentially a rubber door mat that has had a whole lot of fleece fabric strips tied to it to create a densely packed, soft and fluffy adventure mat. The idea is that it acts like a puzzle for the dog, allowing it to sniff out and hunt around for little treats in a fun way. This provides mental stimulation, slows down their eating, encourages natural foraging instincts and works to decrease their stress levels.

It was a really simple rainy day craft project to undertake and very rewarding, although it used a good deal more fabric than I expected. It also involved a lot of knot tying! My reward was to see Cassie take to it with great gusto during training time this week. She hunted and foraged, snuffled and searched for her morning kibble in amongst the fleece-forrest, tail going like crazy. Very cute. And afterwards? A delightfully calm pup – which was a real bonus as she’s usually hyper if separated from her buddy for any reason.

Snuffle mat - Cassie

If you think you’d like to make one yourself, the instructions are on my craft page. Enjoy!

ps. For heaps of other good ideas to keep your dogs occupied, you might like to have a look at this canine enrichment site.

Just recently I received a fan email about Girdle of Bones. Yes, I know! Me – fan mail!? Wowser! It was a delightful surprise, particularly since it’s over two years since I (self)published the epic tome. But reading the email reminded me of just why I wrote the book in the first place.

Hey Nicky, I hadn’t realised you wrote a book. I think that would be my opening line when introducing myself to all people, in all settings, at all times.

What a journey! I won’t fanboy too much, but I really did enjoy it. Your resilience is, of course, the highlight of Girdle of Bones, and as I read I could feel it providing some much-needed perspective for myself… Medically, your advice about autologous blood deposits is such an important piece of knowledge I will take with me going forward. Questioning your doctors/performing your own research, something I am guilty of not doing, is something that will now remain front of mind when I have extended dealings with them. … I’ve already recommended your book to an aunt of my wife’s as she is possibly going down the path of a hip replacement. I know it will be of great use if she takes up the offer.

Anywayyss.. I did just wanted to pop in to say I really enjoyed it and hope you are spending your increased spare time working on more pieces so I can read on in the future. T.C.

Rather lovely, really. Thank you, TC. You made my day 🙂

So there I was, later the same day, feeling all shiny and pleased, when I bumped into someone from the local writing group. Much like most acquaintances when they bump into each other unexpectedly, we did the usual slightly awkward hello-how-are-you things for a couple of moments. Then, just as I was turning away, feeling reprieved, she popped in ‘‘So… you’re not writing anymore, are you?’

Ouch. Not an unreasonable comment, I guess, considering I have been AWOL from writing group for quite a while, but still… It felt like I’d been slapped by a wet fish… and my shiny writerly bubble was thoroughly burst.

All it took was seven words, delivered in a perfectly pleasant tone of voice, to supply a surprisingly effective dose of negative mental realignment. Perhaps I was feeling a little defensive about being absent from the group and not making contact with them?

No matter. Taking a deep breath, I let one of my mantras play inside my head – the equivalent of counting to 10: You’ve donned your big girl panties perfectly well when faced with far more confronting situations than this one, girl…

That allowed me to step back from what was, no doubt, just a passing comment. Then I just smiled. I smiled and told Patsy that I write when I can. She smiled too, said she hoped to see me back at the group sometime soon, and we parted ways.

But it made me think. In fact I thought about Patsy’s question far more than it actually warranted before eventually realising that it was irrelevant. I do write – I write when, where and what I feel in the mood for. Sometimes it’s just a brief note about something that catches my attention; at other times it’s as though my pencil is an extension of my hand.

But no matter which end of that writing scale I’m on at any given time, writing is part of who I am – whether others see me do it or not. (If I was five years old, I’d add: so there!) 🙂

It’s not what (or when or why) you do it, it’s whether you have fun on the journey.
Thanks for the reminder, TC.

Over the weekend I was having a chat with someone who’s been having a bit of a hard time coming to terms with some changes in their life. She spent a fair while telling me in some detail about the negatives, the unhappy-making things, and the things that cause her dissatisfaction. The list was long, with most of the issues carried forward over many years and none of them seeming to have any clear pathway to resolution.

It took me back to my mental first aid training last year. At the time the instructor stressed that, as often as not, people just need someone to hear them. That talking through an issue can make a huge difference in terms of coping and moving forward. So I listened.

When the conversation moved on, I found myself asking what sorts of things make her happy. Just simple, everyday things. Her response was, ‘I’ve never really thought about life that way.’ That made me sad.

But here’s the thing: life’s full of potentially unhappy-making events and experiences. They’re there, right in front of us or lying in wait around unexpected corners or concealed in the strangest of places. Every day. But so are happy-making things.

Happy-things don’t have to be epic happies, like successfully completing a project, or finding a solution to global warming, or resolving a relationship issue. They can be things as seemingly-trivial as taking a moment’s pleasure in sunshine on your shoulders, or someone smiling at you on the train, or seeing a dog chasing a ball in the park. It can be anything that, in that moment, makes you smile. That smile – that moment when your face softens and your eyes sparkle – that can be your positive for the day. If you let it.

It may sound a bit self-help and twee, but I’ve found that outlook makes an enormous difference to coping with all the weird stuff that life throws my way. Actively choosing to be receptive to the joy in the small stuff, making a conscious decision to look for happy things, changed how I looked at the bigger issues as well.

So, perhaps, dear friend, since the big issues are so very big and have no endgame in sight, perhaps try changing how you think about life. See if it helps to make a conscious decision to try to take pleasure each day in the small things, in the everyday things – and let’s catch up again next week and see how you’re travelling.

Autumn roses: my smile for today.