Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Christmas socks, a belated present for me

I hope everybody has been having a wonderful holiday week, because I sure am!  (and not just by strictly limiting my exposure to the news, though that has certainly helped! criminy.)  My recipe for success is to spend the days immersed in a chocolate-studded landscape of books, sleep, nice people, and soft knitting.  I'm particularly enchanted by the knitting... these sock legs look so amazing to me, like stained glass, or striped candy.

Admittedly, if these are a Christmas present to me, they are obviously of the 'wrapped up with needles with a promise to finish later' variety.

But still! The pleasure of touching alpaca yarn while knitting is a gift of its own.

If I'd wanted something finished - and I kind of did - I could have deemed the green socks I was obsessively knitting earlier in December my present.  I was thinking of that, actually, but I didn't get the ends run in until the evening of Boxing Day so I'm sticking with the alpaca ones.

Let's take a closer look.

These are almost fingering-weight socks.  Normally I make my winter weight socks with heftier yarn in at least sport weight, quite often a DK, so I had to be mindful and cast on 64 stitches as I do with my spring/fall stripey Vesper socks. When I did the first pair of green obsession socks I was on autopilot and cast on my usual 56 stitches, not making the connection between the fact that that yarn is fingering weight too, and the likely outcome.  I knit past the cuff before I realized I was making a child-sized sock.  This is not a mistake I want to make twice!

The alpaca sock skeins I source from Meadowview Alpaca Farm are never quite enough to make the socks I want to wear, because I like a pretty good length of leg.  Enough to clear the top of my boots and give me some buffer so that when I sit down, what shows is pretty handknit sock and not a short interval of actual, freezing-cold skin.  So I always pair my chosen skein with another yarn to ensure I'll have enough alpaca to cover my foot, and this time it was a carnival-coloured wool/mohair blend from Syliva at Stoddart Family Farm (she of the green obsession sock yarn.) Which, now that I think of it, means that these are truly local socks - both yarns from small farms in Ontario! no wonder I love these things so much.

Back in the day, I used to stripe my sock legs athletically, with a thick contrast colour, a thin, and back to a thick one before switching to the main colour for all but the heel and toe.   But I got tired of all the switching so lately I've been working much smaller stripes to see how far I can get away with just twisting the two yarns at the beginning of the round and carrying on. 

For these socks the stripe is one to one, but because some of the same light green of the alpaca yarn is in the wool/mohair too, the effect is blurred and sometimes it was hard for me to see which stripe came next!

I'm glad I'm onto solid alpaca now, even if it does mean keeping my fingers away from random chomps.

For the heel flap, I stuck with alpaca, and I'm hoping to stick with it for the toe as well.

I did that with the green obsession socks and when I finally got around to running in the ends it was SO fast and easy!  and comfortable underfoot, too.  You only feel the run-in tails (if at all) for the first few wears until the heat and friction of use felts them in with all the rest of the fiber, but still.

(side note: the reason the second sock is well into the gusset is that I brought it along with me to a carol service and midnight mass on Christmas Eve, instead of a nice sensible Vesper sock.  I was wearing a black wool dress coat with a black jumper underneath.  I will leave you to imagine the carnage.)

The only downside is that while I love the alpaca, and I love the stripes, I'm not sure I love such a long expanse of alpaca against such a long expanse of dense stripes.

But here's the secret to sock design:

In ordinary use, you only see the foot or the leg, not both together. 

Most of the time - between shoes and pantlegs, you don't see any of the sock at all, or maybe only a bit of ankle.  So you really only have to please yourself.  For the foot, choose something you'll enjoy the feel of on your skin, or will tolerate the occasional exposure to a wood floor, or keep you extra warm in whichever circumstances are most important (in boots in the snow, or on a sofa while reading, for example.)  For the leg, which requires no shaping, choose an interesting stitch pattern or a yarn-stretching stripe or a mindless knit you can do anywhere, depending on your needs.  When you're done, whether or not the leg and the foot match, you still get a Yay! 

At Christmastime I think it's nice to make something for yourself even if you're busy making things for other people, but where possible, it's pretty wonderful to buy yourself something you couldn't otherwise afford in a Boxing Day sale, too.  I didn't go out on Boxing Day itself (that is the one day I year I let myself lie around and eat candy and read books and nap without guilt) but the next day, I treated myself to a 100% cashmere poncho.  I am wearing it as I type and I can tell you, it is the ultimate Hug. 

I just have to be smart, and not wear it while I'm knitting a pair of alpaca socks.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A felted wool Christmas project

Hi again!  While I've been off not writing a new Hug, I've been very busy sewing some:

I never get tired of looking at these so bear with me while I post many, many pictures to remember them by, now that they've all been sent off to their new homes.  These pins are so simple to make.  Also, they take less than two hours each, some of which can be done well in advance and all of it in stages.  So technically there is still time for you to come up with some yourself, if you are looking for a little Make to top off a gift this year.  Really, they are the gift in my case, though I did add a little chocolate to sweeten the deal.

I've made these before, many times, and last year I did a detailed tutorial here.  But this year I went all-out and made 9 of them at once.

Okay, it was a little crazy around here while I did this.  Even though I had some felted wool ready, and some previously-cut circles and other supplies, I added a new design (candy canes) and anyway: sheer volume.  I spent all day Saturday making the tops and sewing on the pins, and all day Sunday sewing the backs to the fronts with blanket stitch.  And yet.  After walking around blankly for nearly two days, I'm thinking of doing a few more in an Ornament version with a loop for hanging, instead of a pin for wearing.

Pretty sure this is the sort of assembly line we can all get behind:

There would have been a lot more candy canes but MAN those turned out to be hard to cut properly on this scale!  Holly leaves are so basic and easy to trim, but you can ruin a cane with one wrong snip.

Also, the candy canes require many more stitches.  They are simple - all I did was to bind down the white felt with slightly angled stitches all the way from the tip of the cane to the bottom - but it takes a while and I did rip out a lot as I went, to get the angles just right.  The glossy sheen of the embroidery thread I used was SO beautiful, it would have showcased any errors in judgment.

Also the bows on the candy canes were a bit tricky to cut, and I wasn't sure at first how best to stitch them on.  There's a close up further on and you can see what I ended up doing.  First though: PROGRESS.

Sewing on the pins, very late on Day 1.  (innovation alert: last year, I sewed the pins at the middle, but this year I put them on at the top so there is less flopping during use.)

They look so neat and tidy from this angle, but actually: I am terrible at hand sewing.

Bleah.  People who are really good at embroidery can produce worth that is as lovely on the front side and the back, and I envy them.  Maybe some day I will take a course.  I mean, check out the best of my candy cane stitches!

Gah!  I have no idea how they could look this bad when they look so normal on the other side.

However.  I did come up with some valuable additions to the craft this year, like a wider variety of colour options for the holly pins:

You really want a good stiff felted wool for the back of a pin and a thin one with low pile for the front.  The low pile felt is easier to get your needle through and it shows off your embroidery; the thicker stuff at the back keeps the whole pin stable.  Also, the low-pile stuff is what you can buy easily in a craft store, and using it allows you to eke out the harder-to-come-by thicker felt.  For that, you really need to find inexpensive, sometimes motheaten sweaters in a thrift store and felt them at home.  But the holes from moths don't felt shut in the process, which limits your materials in the end.

At the same time: if you have felted a sweater that is dark green and you have scraps left over, how many opportunities are you going to have to use it?  And how much is a black thread stitch going to stand out when you are setting it in place in the form of holly leaves?

The candy canes are all pretty similar to one another:

I was trying to stretch out my supply of light green felt for next year so I used a little blue, but when it came to the point, I had to keep the blue one for myself.  It is SO CUTE, and I am so selfish .  And conveniently enough, now I can show you the simple straight stitches, forming a box, that I used to secure the bow to the pin.

The other thing you can see here is the blanket stitch I used.  It's a little inconsistent on this pin but it's more inconsistent across all the pins.  The rule is: whatever spacing and distance from edge to inside you start with, is the spacing and distance you should go on with.  I try to consider how far the decorative felt comes toward the edge and keep all the stitches within that range.  In this case, I was stitching right up to the bottom of the cane.

Stitching tip: it's best to sew this things with a sufficiently heavy-duty yarn or thread to allow you to work with a single strand (rather than having to loop it through the eye of your needle and tie both ends together into a knot at the end.)  That makes it SO much easier to rip out, when you find you put a stitch or two wrong and want a do-over.  Ahem.  (there is a reason there are so few pins incorporating thin white thread, doubled.)

Another stitching issue is how you close it all off at the end so it doesn't unravel. I did a little series of knots along the back edge, which shows, but not when you're wearing it.

The trick is to match your thread to the fabric you are using on the back.  I decided to stick with black button thread this time around, because I couldn't find my stash of stripy sock wool scraps, but black works for the other three of backing fabrics I used this time.  See?

It really only looks bad on the red backing, which came from a lovely red boucle Chanel-style dress cardigan that somebody mishandled horribly in the wash, to my benefit.

Group shot!

I used these ones to top off a gifts of a small bar of almond bark from Soma, a chocolatier here in Toronto, but I gave one to Carol too:

There's a hat* in this little parcel if you can believe it, as well as some more Soma chocolate and a large square of sea-salted chocolate from France.  I really think the wrapping is as valuable as the present inside - certainly it gave me a lot of pleasure to put together!  Well worth the purchase of fancy tags and un-fancy twine.

* I knit three of these hats four years ago in January, intending to give one of the red/brown stripies to Carol the following Christmas, but I had another idea for her by then, and every winter since has been kind of mild, so I held off.  This year is supposed to be freezing, so I decided it was Time, and it fit her, and she loved it.  Yay!!!  I got to give a hand-knit gift this year, without having to hand-knit it this year.

And that's me for today.  I hope you are well and your stitching fingers unblemished, and I will try to pop back in again this week because I have some other yummy knitting projects to show you.  Either way, take care till we meet again!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Merry Christmas from a flying sheep

What do you think of my improvised sheep with holly-leaf wings?

Pete came home and saw it and kind of shrieked, "Aghhhh! Bat-Sheep!" but once I explained, he was totally supportive of my artistic vision.  I mean REALLY, bat wings? They aren't even black.  Or green, because I don't have green construction paper on hand, and red was going to be too gory, and there were already blue snowflakes on this particular stretch of wall because white ones wouldn't stand out enough against the white walls.  See?  I'm completely logical, like always.

(design note: the wings are paper, stuck to the wall, and the sheep is suspended in front of them on a string from a temporarily placed hook.  this combination is surprisingly effective in real life in spite of being the product of about three minutes' effort.)

As I was saying the other day to a sympathetic friend, there is no time in my life so busy and complicated and stressful that I can't find a way to make it more so, and in this case, that way is "Turn The Condo Into A 3-D Advent Calendar."

Yes, it's true.  For the last two weeks I have been either planning for, or doing, three things here in CondoLand.  Every single day.  A number gets stuck to the wall (see, I'm all the way up to 12 as of yesterday)...

and a decoration goes up or out...

(this is two, actually - the garland was hung one day last week and the snowman is from yesterday)

and I put new candy in a bowl for anybody who finds the newest decoration. 

Today's offering is chocolate-orange Lindor balls and I might be eating one as I type this  (after all, I am doing most of the work, right?)

The candy part probably strikes you as a bit silly because after all, who's going to miss a flying blue-winged sheep on the wall?  But some of the decorations have been more subtle, like when I tucked a salt and pepper shaker set under the paws of two different bunnies on the table beside the TV.  Okay that just sounds obscure - I should clarify: the salt and pepper shakers are designed to look like wrapped Christmas presents.  Anyway since there are rather a lot of bunnies scattered here and there, it took quite a while before anybody spotted that, and it was even longer for the bottle-brush miniature trees I stood under the wooden 'Happy Holidays' sign I'd tacked up on the backboard of our bookcase on the first day.

The miniature tree was a no-brainer for all who sought it, but I very cleverly set two parts of a toy train under it for ambiance and then a few days later when the tree had become part of the furniture, I sat two little Santas on top of each train, and they were hard to see.  

Overall, this scheme is working out well.  it's fun to see the place slowly transitioning from a fast-paced autumn to a frenetic Christmas. 

On the downside, I keep forgetting that I have committed to do this every day.  It is surprisingly difficult to think of fun decorations, especially under pressure!  Plus, if I were trying to do something new-to-us every day it would get very expensive.  Instead I am bringing in some new things, like the bird garland; repurposing some things we had before, like the sheep, the mini tree, and the Santas; and making some things myself.  The blue snowflakes, for example, were born of desperation when all I had handy was the blue paper and some sticky-tack stuff to get them onto the wall and about five minutes' grace.  The biggest expense? Command-brand hooks to attach to the walls temporarily for suspending garlands and other random decorations.

I have no idea what I'm doing today.  I really need to figure that out, and soon.

For his part, Pete is contributing to the jollity which a much easier project that is just as satisfying, not that I'm jealous or anything.  We have this little stuffed fox toy we call 'Finlay', and Pete has taken to moving it around the room periodically, sort of like our personal Elf On The Shelf.  Finlay doesn't do anything terribly remarkable but he does turn up on some interesting perches.  I don't know if I will commit to the 3-D Advent Calendar thing again but I have a feeling that Finlay is going to be pulling this stunt for a looooong time.

In other Christmas news, remember how I bought two sets of dishes for the new house because I couldn't choose just one?  Well, now we have three.

It's just - I've always wanted Christmas dishes and these ones were really affordable, and made by Royal Stafford, whose plates I love because they have this super glossy finish that just feels marvelous coming out of the cupboard or getting put away from the dishwasher.  Hey, at least I restricted myself to an 8-place setting this time!

Since I got them at the discount-housewares marvel we call HomeSense (is that what it's called in the US too?) I had to take what was available, so I got the bowls and sandwich plates with the sleepy snowy village print and the dinner plates with the fireplace:

And then a few days later I went to a different HomeSense and they had four dinner plates with the snow-village so I bought those too.  Sigh... I have about as much self-restraint as you can fit into a gnat, but I guess that's okay this time at least, because we are LOVING eating off these dishes.  It really does make each day a little more special.

As interesting as all this is, I am pretty sure that what you are wondering most is, Where is the fingerless mitt pattern?? and I'm with you.  I have the mitts, I have the math, and I have the motivation.  But I still don't have the pattern.  Or photos, which is the trickiest part, since I would need three hands, one of them mitt-less, to produce them.  I will try to get that part done tonight but oh dear, if I am able to publish the pattern by Saturday morning I will be a happy knitter.  My apologies!

Perhaps this other winged sheep will serve as consolation:

Have a wonderful day and I'll see you soon!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A crafty person's dream living room

Today I thought I'd do something a little different.  A lot of design blogs are doing 'dream living room' posts with an eye on furniture from and I thought I'd do one too, but with the Hugs touch (aka, no moodboards, I don't know how to make those.)  Plus, it's so simple.  It's this!

Well, I have a little more to say than that, because hello, Chatterbox Here.  This living room is part of the set from The Holiday, starring Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz.  This was where Kate Winslet's character got to put up her feet when in the UK - I didn't see this movie but isn't it the one where the two main characters swap their houses, and each fall in love with some guy in the other one's country?

If I'm honest, there are very specific reasons I haven't been able to forget this living room.

Blue velvet
Giant footstool with curvy black legs
Big fireplace complete with fire
It's clearly in England, which is where I would live if it was practical
There's a pretty good lamp at one end of the big sofa
There's another sofa tucked into a window for natural light
I can't stop looking at THAT BLUE VELVET BENCH THINGY.

The rest could all go, really.  Maybe even everything but the blue velvet bench thingy which is the first and last thing I see when I look at this picture.

Living Rooms: the concept

When I decided to do this post I got thinking about my friends' and neighbours' living rooms, and the ones I see in magazines.  They seem to fall into three categories:

the ones for entertaining in (lots of seating and negative space for standing and, often, the latest decor)

the ones for reading books or otherwise being cosy in (like the one pictured above)

the ones for watching TV in (which mostly have a TV in them)

My preference is for a blend of all three, and if you're a crafty person you know why.  If you don't have lots of seating, how can you fit in all your needleworking friends for a social hour?  And of COURSE you have to be cosy for fiber related activities.  Crafty people are tactile by nature and always collecting different textures which eventually produce Cosy.  Or Chaos, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Finally, TV is the knitter's friend.

On top of all that though, I would want a living room that says "Hello Mary, welcome home, I love and cherish you no matter how many stupid things you did or had happen to you today, and I'm here to make you feel safe and creative and productive even if all you end up doing is collapsing on a convenient feather-stuffed cushion to consume Turtles while watching Pride and Prejudice for the 64th time, because after all, Pride and Prejudice needs to be watched and who else could possibly do it?"  And then ends that very long run-on sentence and lets me just sit quietly for a while.

Now: the specifics.

Feature #1: The Seating

Judging by my reaction to the Kate Winslet Stage Set, my dream living room has to have blue velvet in it.  And since I am absolutely besotted with the blue velvet daybed I bought for my office, and had already ordered a sofa in the same fabric for our soon-to-be living room, I am very happy to be able to show you a picture of same as my ideal sofa.  Just try to imagine there being enough space for the full size version instead of the much smaller condo sized one I purchased.  Less the rivet things, though I wouldn't refuse delivery if that's what came to the door.

This really is my sofa by the way, right down to the blue velvet, from Barrymore Furniture here in Toronto.  Generally I prefer a more English-style sofa, the one with the very gently curved arm and sloping undercarriage, but this flatter arm shape is way more compact and lets you snug a table right up alongside, so we will forgive it its mid-century modern leanings.  I mean I love that look too and have had tons of retro pieces and prints over the years.  No shade cast upon the mid-century modern thing.

Worth noting: the cushion is and should be stuffed with a huge amount of feathers so you sink right in.  Once you're sitting down you want to be able to claim, plausibly, an inability to extricate yourself so that somebody else will fetch you the sandwich you forgot on the kitchen counter.

The trouble with sofas is that they aren't so great for sharing, necessarily.  They might seat three, but you can't sit beside somebody to chat with them while you are both facing forward.  If you can only have seating for two in a room it's so much better to have armchairs angled toward each other as in The Holiday's English cottage living room.  And armchairs are not a bad bargain, either.  If you do have armchairs (and they are exactly the right width) you can prop your elbows up as you knit a quality I appreciate enormously.  But... it's an armchair.  You can't lie down on it, which is exactly what you will want to do after your guests are gone, having restrained yourself throughout their visit because Decorum.

So my dream living room, though it might perhaps also feature chairs, would be big enough for this gorgeous sofa I found at the Art Shoppe (another local furniture store), stuffed with feathers and upholstered in natural linen:

I love this thing so much.  I'm protected by the fact that Pete really dislikes it from noticing the way that its arms are too low to support your back if you swing sideways to knit with your legs stretched out, or that it's a bit short for stretching your legs out in the first place, or that the metal wheels would probably scrape etchings out of your wood floor, or leave giant wheel-shaped dents in your carpet.  All I have to think about is how gorgeous it looks, and how soft the linen is, and how deep and squishy the seat and back cushions feel.  While sitting on the blue velvet sofa instead, the better to admire it without complaint.
Although actually, one might also consider switching from the velvet to the linen sofa or vice versa depending on the season and the textile work being undertaken.  Cuddly velvet for winter knitting, cool smooth Linen for summer, or for spinning.  See?  Lavish sofa purchases: they're almost sensible.

Typing that I feel a bit foolish for choosing a velvet sofa and a sort-of corduroy fabric for my armchairs, because MAN am I going to be vacuuming up a lot of fluff from upholstery in our new living room.

But enough already: we have a big velvet sofa now, between two (yes, why not?) of the Napa Valley Settees which are facing each other.  And then maybe two armchairs facing the sofa, except in that scenario, where are the fireplace and TV?  Never mind, it's a dream living room, it would all work itself out.

Feature #2: The Horizontal Surfaces

Horizontal Surfaces is what tables got called when I was growing up, as in, "Every horizontal surface in this house is covered with books!"  Yeah, we were all readers at home, and woe betide anybody who put one down to go and get a snack or use the bathroom because when you got back, chances were good that somebody else would have wandered in and started reading from the beginning.

You're probably thinking I would choose for a coffee table the giant blue velvet bench thingy in my inspiration picture but No!  I would not.  Because even in my dreams I know that dust and toast crumbs happen and those deep valleys for the buttoned detail would be a daily nemesis for me.  Plus, I like to be able to slide a tea mug onto my table rather than lifting it over the edge of a tray, and anyway let's not pretend I would ever do anything but swing my legs up onto the sofa. It's not like I would need the squishy bench.

(it would go into the front hall instead, so I could look at it adoringly every time I went in or out of the dream house.)

The coffee table I would choose is the coffee table I'm going to order from a local custom furniture shop for my actual too-small-for-standard-furniture living room, which is impossible to clip in a picture of here but is very similar to the Toulon coffee table at Arhaus:

You probably know exactly why I love this table.  It ticks all the critical boxes.  Drawers to store the tape measure, darning needles, stitch markers, scissors, and playing yards (hey, I love euchre and cribbage, don't judge me.) Ample space below for baskets or stacks of books (the version I have on my shopping list is missing the shelf, but I can still stow baskets and probably vacuum with less effort so, tradeoffs), and a large surface for draping a runner and vase of flowers over, or to serve snacks on, or support a cushion, or host your mug of tea.  PERFECTION.

If there was space - and in my dream living room, there would be space - I would also want a table to write at.  I love Beckett, also from Arhaus:
To me, this is a genius piece of furniture.  It has black carved legs, a parquet top which gives texture, the brace is across the back legs instead of the middle so you can push in a chair or bench underneath it, and it is only about 10" short of the length I need for my office and 3" too deep.  Do you know how hard it is to find a desk with its brace in a logical place, a shallow depth, and a wide, uninterrupted work area?  It's really hard.  In my dream living room, there would be space for this one.

Of course you need side tables too, if you're having table lamps or don't have enough coffee table surface for a plate of cookies.  Mine would be square, with four legs so you can stack books under it, and have marble tops like in a Paris bistro.  I love marble and it's looking a lot like I'm not getting any in my actual living room, not even around the fireplace.  So let's pretend I found the perfect ones and imagine them repeated around the sofas.

Feature #3: The Drapes

I spent weeks looking at fabric for the house so I have no hesitation whatsoever in telling you that the drapes in my dream living room would be Tree Poppy, a large-scale brushed cotton fabric from Sanderson:

.... or more likely Amanpuri, in linen, also from Sanderson.  They are both reproductions of 1920s English prints and I love them both, but Amanpuri has more colours to play with which is why in my actual house the Tree Poppy will be in the stairwell and the Amanpuri gets the living room and my office.

Feature #4: The Blanket(s)

If you're going to relax in a room, there's a serious risk that you might get cold.  Or you might suddenly find yourself in need of a hug.  Or a scary scene might come on the TV and leave you looking for a makeshift wall to hide behind.  A really good blanket can solve any of these pressing problems for you, even the interior decorating kind one calls a 'throw'.  Technically a 'throw' is smaller than what you'd put on a bed, and should appear as an afterthought, strewn over the arm of a chair as though casually left behind when rising to perform some elegant domestic task such as making more tea, or wrestling the recycling out the side door to the bin on a commercial break from the scary movie running on your TV.

Because it is an interior decorating feature, the throw's colour and print should play nicely with the other features of the room and its texture matters.  For example, in a room with velvet and linen, a boucle fabric would look good, or a loose-weave cotton or something.  In my dream living room, however, the most important quality is SOFT.

The blanket has to be soft.  And long enough to cover your feet, because it's entirely possible that you sat down, then curled up, and now can't move, only to realize you forgot to leave a pair of handknit alpaca socks within reach.

(seriously this happens to me almost every day.  why can I never remember to bring over a pair of socks??)

At the Royal Winter Fair this year I bought myself a sort of cape/wrap thing in a 100% lambswool plaid from Patrick King, and it is wildly soft and cuddly.  Patrick King also produces blankets.  Sadly none of them combine the right colours for my dream living room.

So instead, let's go for a blanket from MacAusland's Woolen Mills in Prince Edward Island, since I had a memorable vacation there one summer with my family when my age had only just entered double digits.  A nice natural wool with either a blue or red stripe depending on which curtain fabric I chose.

Let's just pretend the blue stripe and the blue poppies are a perfect match, okay?  And if in person the cream colour proved to sort of scream at the linen sofa twins, it could be stowed in a natural woven basket or on the lower shelf of our coffee table.  Baskets are a hugely textural element to include in a room, so my dream living room would need one anyway... though it would have to be lined with fabric if blankets were getting tossed in there all the time.

Or maybe a black wire one would offer a fetchingly rustic note?
Hmmmm... I am feeling pretty smitten with this basket. 

Feature #5: The Throw Cushions

Okay, this one is a biggie.  A lot of designers are saying now that throw cushions really do make or break a room and I can see why, but only partway, because - have you noticed this?? - a lot of designers seem more engaged by appearances than function.

In a crafty person's living room, cushions perform very specific tasks.  They might raise your head just enough to see past your knitting needles, when you are watching TV in horizontal mode.  They might prop up your elbow when you are knitting at one end of a sofa and missing the other armrest, or when you are in an armchair too wide for your frame.  They might tuck behind your back to give you a little more support and push you forward on the seat while operating your spinning wheel.  They might get thrown onto the coffee table to elevate, and/or to protect the back of your legs, from the surface and edge said table.

Okay, those last two could be performed by a designer's choice of standard cushion shape.  And in my dream living room, in addition to a few small pillows in the drapery fabric the better to bridge it further into the room, the fabric I'd use would be sewn from Sanderson's linen Roslyn print in its palest colourway, which looks fabulous with Amanpuri.  You wouldn't expect that, but it really does!

plus a ticking stripe because I love stripes SO MUCH... maybe in black, to tie in the inevitably black TV set and floor lamps:

or maybe a vintage linen tea toweling such as the one I sourced for our kitchen windows, instead.  To use both would be way too much stripings.

I like a soft dense fringe on a pillow so - some would be trimmed with that, and some would have a crisp piped edge, and there would be a mix of sizes for stacking.


throw cushions do not have to be square shaped, or round, or tubelike.  They can be rabbits.
Or swans.

Or LC.

Okay, LC (a hand puppet from Folkmanis, not a real calf) isn't stuffed quite enough to serve as a pillow but she is so happy-looking and would be adorable - or, in Interior Decor terms - 'whimsical' peeping out from behind a feather-stuffed square cushion.  LC came home with us from the Royal Winter Fair this year and honestly, she never gets old.  If you have a bad day, you need one of LC's sister cows for your home.

(really truly love the swan though, don't you?  those FEET!! totally adorable.)

The key to using stuffed animals as cushions is not to go overboard (poster child for overboard = me); buy animals made from only the softest fabrics; choose a variety of sizes and shapes to fill different gaps in cushion usage; and stick to fur colours that go with your decor.  After that, you can factor in cute.  There is never ever a shortage of cute.

Why choose inanimate furry friends for some of your cushions?  Because in addition to their oddly-shaped usefulness, they are cheerful and funny and if the only way you can get a crafty friend over is for him or her to bring a small child with them, said child is guaranteed a good time in your dream living room.

Feature #6: The Art

Of course, you need to have art on the walls, especially if you are crafty.  It's very very important for good vision to look up from your work from time to time and focus on something in the distance - what better something than a beautiful thing?

If you're going to hang art, I think it should be something that matters to you.  My dream living room would include a painting by Ady - I have several, and in my actual living room I'm going to hang Whiteswan Lake:

Ady was at a huge crossroads when she painted this, and I was present for most of it by phone.  After it came to live with me, the painting hung in my front hall on the wall facing our kitchen wall, which housed (on the kitchen side) our telephone.  I spent SO MANY HOURS on that phone over the years, talking to loved ones who are gone now, or to loved ones who were in desperate situations and calling to ask for advice or sympathy, which I always feel is a tremendous honour even at 11:30 at night (unless I have to get up at 6.)  Inevitably I would have the cord stretched around the corner, leaning on one wall and gazing at Ady's painting on the other.  As a result, these trees have valuable people and memories lingering among them.  It is the perfect living room art for a creative woman.

Also a favourite: vintage plates. I am a huge fan of dishes and for years I had these, and others like them, hanging on the wall in our old living room.  They made me so happy.  Still do, only at the moment they lie on a table with sweets or a candle resting on them.  Can't wait for them to go vertical again.

Another dream art item: enlarged and framed photographs.  I took so many pictures of clouds the last few years at the cottage, and when I colour corrected some of then I got combinations that would look amazing with the Amanpuri drapes.  Maybe with the Tree Poppy ones, too?

Yum.  Still love this picture.  If it was made big enough, you could see probably a thousand different things in these clouds.

Feature #7: The Lighting

Lighting is important in any living room but crafty people need task lighting.  You need a good overhead light in case you find yourself cutting out fabric on your nice roomy non-velvet coffee table, table lamps to spotlight where your bowl of current knitting stands, and floor lamps to provide swing-arm lighting.

For my casual dream living room, I would choose a black wrought iron candelabra like 'Graham' from Pottery Barn (which I did actually choose for our dining room):

and this swing-arm 'Kinetic' pharmacy floor lamp from Robert Abbey in - what, oil rubbed bronze? something that looks nearly black anyway - which I have already bought for our living room and is SO functional:

and 'Yolanda', a fetching mercury glass table lamp from Currey and Company which I could only ever afford in a dream.

Probably it's too fancy for the pharmacy floor lamp.  What do you think?  Bad combo or charmingly mismatched?

Feature #7: The Odds and Ends

The stand for the Ashford Knitter's Loom.  Need I say more?

Feature #8: The Books

Probably it goes without saying that a living room needs books.  There are always books going in and out the door of ours, but I think a good mini library for this Dream Edition would include:

1/ the entire set of Margaret Sutton's Judy Bolton mystery books

2/ a collection of knitting stitch dictionaries, including Japanese ones (so creative)

3/ a stack of picture books of English country houses and their topiary gardens

4/ a stack of coffee table books of portraits of famous people, because faces are so fascinating, especially as they change over time.

Well, that was a very long post.  Did I miss anything, apart from a carpet?  I would be skipping that, the better to admire my beautiful wood floor.

What would you put in your dream living room?