Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Syria and Me

Someone asked me yesterday why I am so keen on helping Syria and the Syrian people. As I do tend to mention Syria and helping various charities who deliver aid there, quite a lot, I thought I would try to explain.
A selection of hats that I have made
and donated
My partner, Peter, and I went on a tour of Syria in January 2005. We had received a brochure from a holiday company which included the trip. I like to visit places that are not the usual type of destination and it immediately appealed to me.
Peter was widely travelled before I met him and, together, we have been on some wondrous holidays but Syria was definitely a favourite for each of us.
A few of the teddies that I posted recently -
 some were made and donated by other people
We were in a small group with a tour manager and coach driver who stayed with us throughout the entire holiday. Samir was our tour manager and guide and he was excellent. He was fluent in english and had a degree in archaeology, both of which helped to enhance our enjoyment of the trip. He was a skilled communicator and could bring history to life as he talked. I remember being amongst some ruins at Bosra (I think that was the place) and, as Samir told us about life at the time of the Nabateans I looked up expecting to see them emerging from one of the buildings!
Unfortunately I was taken ill as we arrived in Aleppo. However, the hotel staff, doctor and our coach driver were so friendly, pleasant and helpful that, what had begun as a very scary experience, become much less worrying with their respective interventions. In fact, our driver was most attentive. He made a bed for me at the rear of the coach, made sure I always had water available to drink, physically helped me if I needed it and always checked that I was properly dressed for the weather. He was most solicitous, without being overbearing.
Some of the Taggies that I have
made for Syrian babies to play with
The contact that Peter and I had with Syrian people affirmed for us how delightful they are. This was confirmed by another passenger on our return flight to Heathrow.
Our Syrian cabin crew asked a young male passenger if he would mind moving so that they could make a bed for me to lie on during the flight. He kindly agreed. At the end of the flight I thanked him for having moved and we began talking. He had been on the Hajj and had travelled via Syria as he had not been able to book a direct flight to Saudi Arabia. He told me how pleasant the Syrian people had been and how different his treatment had been from that he received in Saudi.
A pair of socks that I knitted and donated
That holiday had a profound effect on me. I loved Syria and was keen to return. Even though we had glimpsed some effects of living under the Assad regime, I thoroughly enjoyed the places we had seen and meeting some of the people.
Over three years ago, the UK media began to run stories about the uprising of the Syrian people. At the time, Aleppo appeared to be bearing the brunt of the regime’s reaction. We had arrived in Aleppo to the sound of the banging and crashing of drums that were being played in joyful celebration. Now, however, the banging and crashing was from gunfire and air strikes.
Hats for premature babies - there has been
a sharp increase in the number of premature
births in Syria
Our tour manager, Samir, and our coach driver (whose name escapes me) both came from Aleppo. It was a horrid feeling, knowing that we knew two lovely people who were, most probably, caught up in the terror and destruction. Indeed, one or both of them might even have already been killed. From what we could see in the media, there was widespread suffering and destruction. It broke my heart, and it still does.
I do not profess to be an expert on Syria or its people nor can I quote endless statistics to back up anything that I say. I can only follow my conscience – and my conscience is telling me that I must do anything that I can to help those in need.

Monday, 1 September 2014

A New Month for Be Creative

Pinch, Punch, The first day of the month and no returns!

Even though my sons have both been adults for several years this still comes to mind when I realise that the date is the first of any month.

Not only is it the first day of September, it is also the first day of a new direction for the Be Creative group which was set up by Myfanwy Hart. Previous Be Creative events have involved a weekend of creative prompts, published periodically throughout Friday and the weekend. However, for September, the Be Creative event will be for the entire month! Members of the group are not obliged to work on every prompt, it is fine to pick and choose what one fancies doing. Also, the prompts don't have to be followed slavishly: if your imagination or creativity takes you off at a tangent that's absolutely fine. The whole point of Be Creative is to stimulate the imagination and creativity of participants.

The prompts vary tremendously: choose some fabrics, cut up a sheet of paper, colour a page, stitch some circles.

The Be Creative prompts are published on this blog and there is a group on Facebook which you can apply to join. It is a lovely, inspiring and encouraging group.

If you fancy having a go, why not pop over to the blog and have a go at today's prompt? You can do as much or as little as you like. You never know... you might even enjoy it!

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Such a Useful Idea for Stitchers!

Sewing City Guide to Central London
(Copyright The Brodrick Design Studio)

I have to admit to spending more time than is sensible on the internet. However, in my defence, I do sometimes come across really useful things. Today was one of those days.

One of my "go to" sites is The Sewing Directory, run by Fiona Pullen. Fiona set up The Sewing Directory as a resource guide for stitchers and both are going from strength to strength. On my Facebook newsfeed today I saw a Sewing Directory post about Sewing City Guides so decided to take a look.

Whenever I go somewhere, like many other stitchers and crafters, I am always on the lookout for new, independent fabric shops, haberdashers and other craft outlets. The first two will be much easier to find with the help of these guides - yippee!

Sewing City Guide to York
(Copyright The Brodrick Design Studio)
The Guides are being compiled by Rachel of The Brodrick Design Studio. Each Guide has a map showing independent, local sewing businesses. What a great idea, and, they are free to download! To date, Rachel has published several Sewing City Guides to London, covering the Central, North, South, East and West areas; York; and Cambridge, and there are more in the pipeline (including Manchester - yippee!).

For each business listed on the maps, Rachel has usefully included a key showing the type of products sold: Haberdashery, Fabric, Wool, Classes, Machines.

You can find out more about the Sewing City Guides on the The Brodrick Design Studio blog or and download them on the website.

Happy shopping!

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Over the Bank Holiday Weekend I Am Mainly...

When I returned from the Festival of Quilts I unwittingly brought home an unwelcome visitor. If I had known the likelihood of this visitor turning up, I probably wouldn't have gone to the Festival but, no matter, I simply have to put up with the situation. Oh! Who is the visitor? It's my bete noir: the chest infection. I have a condition that makes me susceptible to them. However, I am not really going to complain as it is a long time since I last had one: just before my momentous trip to Australia, in fact!

I don't feel particularly unwell neither do I look it. In some ways, it seems as though I am bit of a fraud. However, when I do any small thing, I am floored by tiredness. Every day I am having to lie on the sofa, whereupon I fall fast asleep for a couple of hours. Consequently my sewing and crafting has been extremely curtailed.

Last week I finished knitting some scarves and hats for older children in Syria using yarn that had been donated to me for a charitable purpose. This was a significant achievement for me as I had tried offering the yarn to several people but no-one wanted to knit with it as it was fluffy! And, there weren't just one or two balls! I think there were six balls of white and four of peach - and there was a lot of meterage in each ball! The yarn had been languishing in the boot of my car for several months and I was thoroughly sick of seeing it there - looking at me accusingly. So... I decided that I would set myself the task of knitting it all. It took some time and a lot of teasing from Elizabeth but I have now used all but about three metres of it. Phew. Now, all I have to do is deliver it to the Syria Relief warehouse:

Details of the Syria Relief
Warehouse in Openshaw
 As I don't have the energy for large projects at the moment, when I had finished using the fluffy yarn I decided to start a pair of socks for one of my grandsons.

The First Sock...
As you can see, I haven't progressed very far! That is due, in part, to my being distracted by a quick and easy crochet pattern that I saw on Facebook. The pattern is for hats for premature babies. I saw an article somewhere a few days ago that said that the number of premature births among Syrians has increased dramatically recently. I was obviously meant to see that crochet pattern so I have been making some little hats.

Crochet hats for premature
babies in Syria
The hats are very quick and easy to make. Mind you, it is claimed on the pattern that one can be made in 10 minutes but mine are taking considerably longer! It is also a useful pattern for using up scraps of yarn so it's a winner all round!

So, over the Bank Holiday weekend I shall be mainly knitting socks and crocheting hats for premature Syrian babies.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Artists' Trading Cards for Two Swaps

ATCs - the beginning
Today I finally managed to complete the two Artists' Trading Cards (ATCs) that I have been making for the fourth Very Berry Handmade Swap and the Be Creative Swap as part of the National Celebration of Stitch 2014 respectively. I was doing so well with them, in fact, I had almost finished them - way ahead of time! As usual, no matter how well organised I am, something always crops up and makes me late! I should have remembered: it has happened so many times before. Oh well, at least the swap date for the Very Berry swap hasn't come yet and Sheila, with whom I am partnered in the Be Creative Swap, knows that I have been unwell.

The photo at the head of this post shows the start of the creative process for these ATCs. It shows various plastic bags that I had ironed between some non-stick baking paper, which resulted in several different effects.

ATCs in progress
The theme of the Very Berry swap is "Getting away from it all" but there was no theme for the Be Creative swap. However, both swaps stipulated that the ATCs must include some stitching. As soon as I saw the theme I knew that I was going to make an ATC using Antarctica for inspiration. I think Antarctica is probably my ultimate "getting away from it all" destination. Peter and I were privileged to be able to travel there during the winter of 2006/2007.

During that trip I took hundreds of photographs on films, not digital camera, so the processing bill was HUGE. I also bought a CD containing 365 photographs taken during our trip by one of the geologists who accompanied us. I think that, from the selection of my photographs below, you will see what inspired these ATCs! (Apologies for the curves around the corners: the strong light damaged my camera. I knew that was a possibility but it didn't stop me clicking away.)

A beautiful tabular iceberg

Tabular icebergs and berg-y bits -
Yes, that's what they are called!

So many colours, including the
vivid turquoise at the base of the iceberg

More lovely colours on this
tabular iceberg

The eerie beauty of drifting, part-melted
The amazing range of colours in Antarctica remains in my memory: such beautiful shades and hues, yet so unexpected.

The first of my completed ATCs
Unusually for me, as soon as I knew that Antarctica was to be my inspiration, I knew that I wanted to use slivers of different whites and blues. Almost immediately after that decision I happened to see a translucent blue plastic bag which inspired me to use that and other bags to show the colours. I loved the soft sheen on the bags after they had been ironed and also the variation in colour and texture that was created from just a small selection of bags. I am not usually particularly imaginative when it comes to creating something like an Artist Trading Card so I was absolutely thrilled to have come up with the idea and a way of putting it into practice. 

The second, slightly different, ATC
I began with a piece of white cotton fabric measuring 3.5" x 2.5" and began tacking strips of the ironed plastic bags onto it. I added a few slivers of coloured fabrics to give more variation in colour. Next, I used just two or three pale shades of embroidery thread to embellish some of the strips using a simple running stitch. I also used some ordinary cotton thread for the running stitch. *** I merely wanted to enhance the idea of slices of colour and so keep the finished card looking fairly understated. I hope I succeeded - I think I did.

*** After completing the running stitch, I attached a few beads across a couple of the strips of colour which, I hope, pick up and reflect a little light. My aim was to give an impression of how, occasionally, one glimpses a sparkle in the ice. ***

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Summer Journal Project: Prompt 51

Prompt 51 invites us to discuss a quote from Stephanie Pearl-McPhee:
"I am a person who works well under pressure. In fact, I work so well under pressure that at times, I procrastinate in order to create this pressure."

When I was in my early twenties I was, most definitely, of the opinion that I worked best under pressure. I can't say for certain whether I procrastinated so that the pressure would build, but I would often be working right up until the deadline.
I know that when it comes to creativity I struggle to come up with ideas until a deadline is looming. That is not always the case, but it very often is. Either that, or, I know from the outset what I plan to do. Feast or famine.
Some years ago I was on a training course learning how to be a trainer. We had been given an assignment to create a substantial activity or presentation which could be used to increase awareness of our subject and aid participants' learning. This was the first time I had ever had to do anything like that and I was really floundering. I just could not think of what to do, not even whether to devise a presentation or an activity. I was feeling more and more under pressure. I was also feeling woefully inadequate: not up to the task. All of my insecurities were fighting each other to see which one could come out on top, and stay there.
The deadline was rushing towards me and I was becoming ever more despondent at my inability to come up with an idea.
Early in the morning on the day before the assignment had to be handed in, inspiration finally struck! At last! I jumped out of bed and started work immediately. When the rest of the family awoke a couple of hours later I was hard at work at the dining table and everyone was banned from talking to me. I worked and worked, all day and late into the night and, again, early the next morning. I finished the assignment just in time to hand deliver it! And it was a pretty good piece of work, even if I do say so myself. Well, I was pleased with it!
The last minute 'lightbulb moment' is definitely a concept I am familiar with. I used to thrive on it. However, nowadays things are different: I can barely cope with stress or pressure. If I am working to a deadline and it looks as though I'm not going to finish the task, or I am feeling anxious about it, I will sometimes simply withdraw from the task. For me, failure to complete the task, in that instance, is not failure, it is self-preservation. My mental health is far important than some specious deadline.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

National Celebration of Stitch 2014

The National Celebration of Stitch took place on Saturday 2 August 2014. As part of the celebration, Myfanwy Hart suggested various swaps of Artists' Trading Cards (ATCs)and/or postcards between members of the Be Creative group. As usual, I jumped in with feet. Actually, I thought I had signed up for both an ATC and a postcard swap but, in the end I was in only the ATC group.

The ATCs I am working on for the
National Celebration of Stitch swap
and another swap
I wrote this post about the ATCs I am making for this and another swap. I haven't managed to complete them yet as I have been duelling with a chest infection - and I haven't won yet!

In the meantime, I have received this delightful ATC from my swap partner, Sheila Craig. It was Sheila who organised for members of Be Creative to meet at the Festival of Quilts.

Artists' Trading Card made by
Sheila Craig
Sheila very kindly included an extra item in the package containing the ATC - and I absolutely love it! It's a gorgeous handmade brooch!

Brooch made by
Sheila Craig
Thank you, Sheila, for two lovely gifts which I shall treasure.