Stitching, Writing life

A new writing tool…

As a student, I used to do tapestry and cross-stitch. Then I was busy with work and professional exams, and it kind of fell into the background. Until a couple of months ago, when I decided to pick up a needle again. I started off with bookmarks (I particularly like the Textile Heritage kits – beautifully designed and relatively quick makes), and now I’ve got the confidence to move on to tweaking patterns to suit a project, and to do bigger things.

Sometimes, when I’m stuck on a book, I need something that will occupy the front of my mind, and let things brew in the back. I’ve used online word games a lot, but it means I spend too much time on my phone and makes me feel unproductive. Counting things always helps (hence reps in the gym, or steps in ballet where I have to think about what I’m doing).

And then it occurred to me at the beginning of the second lockdown.

Counted cross stitch.

So I get to occupy the front of my mind (counting), I’m doing something where I can see the result, and it’s also good for stress. (Hmm – why didn’t I think of that in the first lockdown??)

I bought the first kit – a rose – and remembered how much I enjoyed sewing. So people close to me are getting bits of handmade needlework! Sometimes they get to choose; sometimes it’s a guess by me based on what I know of their tastes.

This was my first batch of makes:

The mini sampler is for my best friend Fi (in Suffragette colours), who sent me a gorgeous cross-stitch book. Bookmarks, left to right:

  • the rose for me (my first bit for years, really to get me back up to speed)
  • bluebells for my best friend (learned to mix strands to change colours)
  • cows for my daughter (chosen by her – and they were SO cute to stitch; the outlining made a huge difference)
  • a Celtic knot for my son (chosen by him – that taught me a lot about geometrics)
  • tulips for my favourite cousin (again, geometrics – her fave flower)
  • a dinosaur for one of my best writer friends, Scarlet Wilson (first time I’d tried using a pattern from the internet – also, using colours close together in shade, in preparation for a very ambitious project next year)
  • carnation for my dear friend Debbie – her favourite flower and I got to mess about with borders (and kind of designed this from a mix of patterns)

Second batch:

  • Dachshund and daffodils for one of my best writer pals, Liz Fielding (Dora the Dachshund from one of her books, and daffodils because she’s Welsh – the dog was tricky and also taught me that I need to check shades, as I like using DMC and the colour conversion from Anchor doesn’t always quite work)
  • Scotties and Westies for my friend Sarah, who has a Westie and introduced me to Radley handbags (Scottie dogs!)
  • Puffins for one of my best writer pals, Michelle Styles (my first bird – and I loved doing the feather on this because it’s in preparation for another of my ambitious projects, this year)
  • Coaster for my friend Jo, who tends to read ebooks rather than paper so I thought something for her mug of tea would be better than a bookmark
  • A second dinosaur, for my favourite cousin’s daughter
  • Lily of the valley for my sister-in-law (her favourite flowers) – very dense stitching, plus some shading, which will again be helpful for the big projects

Third batch:

  • Turkey coaster for my husband, who’s a turkey farmer
  • Daffodils for my stepmum (her favourite flower)
  • Guitar for my husband (tweaked this slightly as the pattern used black for the outer line of shading but in real life it’s chocolate – and I had chocolate thread!)
  • Sunflowers for one of my best writer pals, Annie O’Neil (her favourite flower – the original pattern had 5 flowers, but I wanted 7, so I tweaked it a bit; also outlining was done in a lighter shade because I thought black was too harsh)

Where next?

I’m currently doing a sampler on evenweave (given to me by my RNA pal Anne Styles, who’s an amazing seamstress and has been very kind and supportive to me). It’s an easy pattern, but evenweave is very tricky! It has, however, made me think that I’d like to design my own sampler, with motifs of my favourite things, so I’ve been having fun putting ideas together.

On the advice of my lovely neighbour and friend Vicki (also an excellent seamstress – the socially distanced tutorial on French knots was fun, though anyone seeing us would probably have been convinced we were doing charades!), I’m going to keep doing little projects at the same time as bigger ones, so I get the fun of finishing things to motivate me to continue (haha – this is SO like writing!). I bought a couple of projects and have been given some more, so as well as my personal sampler I have a wonderful peacock, a spaniel who’s the spitting image of Archie (that’s going to be HARD as there are lots of similar colours), a smaller spaniel which will be a quicker make, a bee flying across tulips, a Shakespeare sampler and a family tree sampler. And then there’s a stash with Noah’s ark.

I do plan to do some for reader giveaways; and I have a list of things I want to do for friends – the fun bit is sending them out as surprises 🙂 I might casually ask about favourite flowers or birds (I like stitching flowers in particular), and the answer is being carefully stored away on my list. I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler, but I can follow a pattern and tweak things. And stitching is much better for me than endless word games on my phone – but I’ve learned that I need a timer to limit myself on Pinterest…

Archie and Dexter, Pipsqueak posts, Writing life

The Pipsqueak Posts, Episode 72 – the one with Pipsqueak’s first Christmas

Dexter: Arch, Arch, what’s Christmas?

Archie: Pipsqueak, it’s when Santa Paws brings us new toys and yummy things. The parents eat too much and play board games with the kids and there’s cheese – and we get Christmas Dinner. Like Sunday roast but better.

Dexter: Is that why that tree is on top of all the music?

Archie: It’s there so you don’t pull the reindeer off and chew the tinsel. But, yes, it’s a Christmas tree and if it’s like last year that means some of the parcels underneath it are ours.

(Christmas Eve)

Dexter: Arch, Arch, is Santa Paws here yet?

Archie: No, but we’ll keep watch…

(Christmas Day, morning)

Dexter: Arch, Arch, Santa Paws has been! That thing I sniffed under the tree when I stood on the arm of the chair – it’s ours!

Archie: Calm down. You’re moving so fast Mum can’t take good pictures. We’re blurs! Calm down. We have all day. And you’re licking the wrapper, Pipsqueak. The good stuff is actually INSIDE the stocking…

(Christmas Day, evening)

Dexter: Mmm. Turkey. Walkies. Sausages wrapped in bacon. More turkey. A roast potato. Walkies AGAIN, yippee! Though the parents got a bit excited about the light in the sky.

Archie: Dad says it was a UFO. Mum says it was probably a bolide.

Dexter: What’s a bolide?

Archie: I don’t know, either.

Dexter: I don’t understand half of what Mum says. But never mind. My tummy’s full. And did you see how well I’ve trained Chloe? I lay on my back and lifted my paws, and she came and sat next to me and rubbed my tummy.

Archie: Yeah, but Chris gave me extra bacon.

Dexter: Because you’re bigger than me. I’m exhausted. What a day! I’m going to have a nap on Mum’s lap.

Archie: So am I. Though I really think you shouldn’t have scoffed those Brussels sprouts. They’ve made you a bit gassy.

Dexter: The turkey made YOU gassy. Haha. Can we do it all over again tomorrow? Christmas EVERY DAY?

Archie and Dexter, Pipsqueak posts, Writing life

The Pipsqueak Posts, Episode 70: the one with the king of the castle

Dexter: Look at this, Arch! It’s a big pile of sand with a racetrack round it.
Archie: It’s a sandcastle, Pipsqueak.

Dexter: What’s a sandcastle?
Archie: It’s where kids — and sometimes teens — build a castle, and what you think is a racetrack is a moat that gets filled with water when the tide comes in. Sometimes they bring buckets of water from the sea but it sinks down and never fills.
Dexter: Water to play in — yay! I love the sea.
Archie: I know, Pipsqueak. And sometimes they sing songs. I think they’re meant to stand on top and sing, ‘I’m the king of the castle and you’re the dirty rascal…’ Except you’re the rascal, Pipsqueak! Let’s have a race!




Archie and Dexter, Pipsqueak posts, Writing life

The Pipsqueak Posts, Episode 68: the one with the doggies in the window

Archie: Pipsqueak! Pipsqueak! I know Chloe’s in the front garden but you can’t climb out of the win— phew. So glad Mum just heard me barking and grabbed you before you fell.
Dexter, rather sulkily from the floor: But I wanted to go out and play.
Archie: Through the front door with your lead on, only.
Dexter: Huh. You spoil *all* my fun. My life is RUINED.
Archie, realising pup is about to have a teenage strop and planning distraction: There’s a song about dogs and windows. We can go and pose for it in the conservatory and sing, if you like.
Dexter: Sing? All right, then.
Archie: How much is that doggie in the window — the one with the waggly tail? How much is that doggie in the window? I do hope that doggie’s for sale.
Dexter, flouncing: So you want to get rid of me now, do you?
Archie: Arggh! No. I would like you to stop pulling my tail when you want to play, but I’m used to you being around. It’s just a song. All right. We’ll sing a different song about windows. It’s one Mum loves by Travis. Flowers in the Window.
Dexter, still flouncing: I don’t want flowers. I want a biscuit.
Archie: I can’t open the treat tin. You’ll have to go and find Dad. He’s a pushover…


Archie and Dexter, Pipsqueak posts, Writing life

The Pipsqueak Posts, Episode 67: the one with Scrabble

Dexter: So Mum’s an author.
Archie: That’s right, Pipsqueak.
Dexter: So she likes words.
Archie: Yes.
Dexter: That’s why she’s playing Scrabble in the garden.
Archie: Yes.
Dexter: We could play Scrabble with her. B-I-S-C-U-I-T — hey, that’s a 7-letter word, so I get bonus points for using all my letters!
Archie: Yeah, but you need to *have* those actual letters on your tray before you can put the word on the board. You can’t just make up any word you like.
Dexter: Hmm. I’d rather have a proper biscuit, anyway…


Archie and Dexter, Pipsqueak posts, Writing life

The Pipsqueak Posts, Episode 66: the one with the punk pup

Dexter: Arch, what’s punk?
Archie: It’s that really loud stuff Dad plays that only has three chords and people shouting because they can’t sing.
Dexter: Riiiight. So why does Mum say I look like a punk pup?
Archie, laughing: Because you do, Pipsqueak. Half the time your ears are inside out, and the other half the time bits of hair stick up. And you’ve got that bit on top of your head that looks like a mini Mohican.
Dexter: But you’ve got a bit that looks all sticky-up on the top of your head, too.
Archie: Yeah. Our dad has it as well. His mum calls it ‘Bonkers Bits’.
Dexter: Haha! Right. So this punk stuff. Let’s see what the songs are like. Oh, they definitely need to change some of these titles. Smash It Up should be Chew It Up, like I’ve done with the kitchen roll inner tube and scattered everywhere. Sound of the Suburbs — well, that’d be much better as Sound of Dogs Barking. And Pretty Vacant is so obviously Pretty Spaniels.
Archie: We’re so pretty, oh so pretty — we’re spaaaaaan-yels!
Dexter: Oi! I want to be the lead singer, so I get to be in front in the promo pics…


Archie and Dexter, Pipsqueak posts, Writing life

The Pipsqueak Posts, Episode 65: the one with Summer Nights

Dexter: Arch, Arch! Let’s sing. Mum and Chloe were watching Grease, the other night. We can sing ‘Summer Nights’.
Archie: Are you sure you don’t mean ‘Puppy Class Dropout’?
Dexter: Oi! I was good, I’ll have you know. It took me three classes, but I learned to play.
Archie: Haha. OK. We’ll do ‘Summer Nights’ — spaniel style.


D: Summer woofing, had me a blast
A: Summer playing happened so fast
D: I met a dog, he was crazy!
A: Met a pup, cute as can be
D&A: Summer days, days when we play, oh and barbecues on summer nights!

D: Tell me more, tell me more
A: Is that barbecued steak?
D: Tell me more, tell me more
A: Is that dog-friendly cake?

D: We went paddling, down at the park
A: He’s annoying, pounces and barks
D: Tennis balls, they really bounce!
A: He showed off splashing around (and then he fell over the paddling pool and cried)
D: (Shut up! That was ages ago. I am so stealing your chicken later.)
D&A: Summer sun, we’re having fun — we love barbecues on summer nights!

D: Tell me more, tell me more
A: Dexter’s dug a big hole
D: Tell me more, tell me more
A: I want a sausage roll…

Archie and Dexter, Pipsqueak posts, Writing life

The Pipsqueak Posts, Episode 64: the one with the three little biscuits and the big bad pup

Dexter: Arch, tell me a story.


Archie: All right, Pipsqueak. Settle down. This is the story of the Three Little Biscuits and the Big Bad Pup…

Dexter, rolling his eyes: Let me guess. Once upon a time, there was a big bad pup who scoffed your biscuits as well as his own?

Archie, laughing: You got it.

Dexter: Listen, I’m the baby. You’re supposed to tell me nice stories.

Archie: All right. Once upon a time, there were three little biscuits.

Dexter: What flavour?

Archie: Salmon, cheese and chicken.

Dexter: Yay! My favourites!

Archie: They were being saved for after-dinner treat. In a paper bag. Along came the Big Bad Pup and said, ‘Biscuits, biscuits, let me in!’ And they said, ‘Not by the hairs on your chinny-chin-chin!’

Dexter: Arch, biscuits can’t talk.

Archie: These ones can. Anyway, the Big Bad Pup said, ‘I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll chew a hole in the bag and scoff you.’

Dexter: Great idea! Did the pup get the biscuits?

Archie: No, because Mum caught him stealing the bag and took it away from him. She put the biscuits in a tin in the drawer. And along came the Big Bad Pup and said, ‘Biscuits, biscuits, let me in!’ And they said, ‘Not by the hairs on your chinny-chin-chin!’

Dexter: Did the pup get up on his back legs and open the drawer with one paw, like the way byou open the door?

Archie: No. He sat and cried. And then Dad came along and opened the drawer, and took out the tin, and gave all the biscuits to the pup — who shouldn’t actually be getting treats without working for them and doing puppy training, but who scoffed them all anyway.

Dexter: Hang on. Dad would give you half.

Archie: Riiiiight. And then the Big Bad Pup would steal them…