Temperature Scarf: February

I decided at new year to make a temperature scarf, which is a woolly record of the daily top temperature for an entire year. You can read my January update here .

This is the colour chart I’m working from:

January was pretty mild, February was pretty much the same temperature the whole time. Here’s what February looked like overall:

Pretty much royal blue, 6-9 degrees the whole time with the odd dip into the navy blue and a lighter blue. I was desperate for some purple, which is the coldest on my blanket! Finally, in the last couple of days, we had some cold temperatures. And snow. I was a bit reluctant to use white yesterday rather than purple, but as I woke up and there were already flakes floating about and snow on the ground, I thought I better document it. Today, on the other hand, there was just a smattering of yesterday’s snow. So I went back to purple today! Plus I felt a top temperature of -1 definitely deserved purple!

I opted to change stitch so that I could see where it changed from January to February. Instead of just normal single crochet, I single crocheted through the back loop, which gives it a bit of a ridge. With hindsight, this only really works properly if you do the same colour for a couple of rows because some of the colours get ‘lost’, but I quite liked the stitch and it means it looks slightly different on each side.

I hate weaving in ends. But they were getting a bit ridiculous. So I decided to weave them in now rather than having 365 days worth.

This then highlighted how wonky my crocheting is before my tablets kick in! Half the reason I do the temperature scarf in the morning is because I have a period of time where I have to sit still and do nothing while I’m waiting for my medications to start working. Otherwise I’m a walking disaster. Except it’s clearly obvious that my coordination and skill aren’t great at this time of the morning when you see how dodgy the raw edges of this scarf are:

It’s terrible! I can crochet straight lines, I promise! Look, here’s a blanket I made which is neat!

It didn’t help that the change in stitch also changed the tension, and I’m also pretty sure that I forgot which size hook I was using at some point. I think I’ll go back to straight single crochet for March. Here’s a comparison shot for January and February temperatures:

In theory, I should be using more light blue from now on as we get into spring. But, this is the U.K. and we’ve had heat waves in March and snow in May before, so we shall see!


What I Made in February

I had a pretty busy month in January, both in terms of creating things and orders wise. In February, I had a similar amount of orders but I didn’t feel too spritely for 3 weeks or so, so I kind of slacked off coming up with new ideas slightly. Nevertheless, I don’t think I did too badly!

**shameless plug- have a look at my Etsy shop!Visit my OkThenWhatsNextCraft Etsy shop **

I finished 2 blankets and started a third during February, all baby blankets. This one was a custom order:

I loved the colour scheme of it. So much so, I decided to buy some more wool and do a slight variation with sunshine yellow as the main colour. Not for anyone in particular, just for my Etsy shop!

The third blanket, which I’m still working on, is a heart stitch blanket.

I learnt heart stitch after thinking ‘it’s Valentine’s Day, I should crochet something with hearts!’ and decided to make this hair wrap/Band:

Then I got a bit obsessed by colour changes and different stitches so designed and made a baby cocoon and matching hat with a bow detail.

Somewhere in the back of my brain, it registered that the Six Nations Rugby had started and St Patrick’s day is coming up in March. So I decided to add to the daffodil and red rose badges I already made in January and include a shamrock:

And a thistle:

For Ireland and Scottish fans, respectively. No one can say I wasn’t being impartial!

These were actually more popular than I thought and I sold a few! So I started experimenting with some other shapes. Being a music lover, a treble clef made sense:

As did a quaver

Then the weather forecast started saying it was due to get cold again and suddenly people started buying hats! So I made some more to replace the stock I’d sold out.

I also got a custom order request for a super soft bunny ears hat. The request was based on a hat she’d bought previously, which was knitted rather than crocheted. So I had the opportunity to get my knitting needles out again!

I’m definitely a lot slower knitting than I am crocheting though. But the hat was quite cute so I decided to make a crocheted version for babies too.

Creme eggs are back in the shops again, except I can’t eat any which is traumatic! But it occurred to me that Easter is pretty soon ish and creme egg or chocolate egg covers tend to sell quite well according to other crocheters and are popular novelty gifts. So I made a chick version

And that sums up my February crocheting/knitting escapades! I did enjoy learning heart stitch and experimenting with using it and other stitches in projects, but I think my favourite thing about February was using the super soft polyester yarn for the bunny ears hat. I’d not worked with it before so it made a change. I also enjoyed experimenting with different colours more this month, like in the baby blankets, as I was given a bit more free reign about colour choices with custom orders.

What I Crocheted in January

I’d been making snowflakes and elves and other Christmas related gifts and items since about September, so when the Christmas orders ended, I suddenly had a lot of time on my hands! January is always a quiet month for any business, because no one has any money to spend, but I was pleasantly surprised that I still was quite busy!


**shameless plug- have a look at my Etsy shop!Visit my OkThenWhatsNextCraft Etsy shop **

Two custom make blankets completed, some charity daffodils and twiddle muffs, some hair slides sold from stock, and, possibly the most random request I’ve had, marmalade sandwiches and a jar of marmalade for my friend. Which turned out to be really fun to make!

Part of the thing I love about crocheting is being able to be a bit creative, since that’s what I miss most about having stopped working and playing music. So I used the time in January to try out some new designs and play around with ideas.

heart hanging dice

I made my husband some fluffy dice for christmas as a joke, and then one of my friends pointed out that love heart fluffy dice might be good for Valentine’s Day. So I gave it a go, and was quite pleased with the result! I think they can be a pretty good all year round decoration, not just Valentine’s Day.

heart hanging decoration red

Then I decided that people might like hanging decorations in general and personalisation with initials is always a big hit with most people. So I made a mock up so that I could put some in my Etsy shop. I was having a bit of a slow day when I made this- I actually was intending to make a ‘J’ as in the first initial of my niece’s name, Jenna, but I’m apparently not too great at my letters because I sewed it on the wrong way and it looks like an ‘L’. Which coincidentally works because my nephew is called Luke. So that’s the story I’ve been telling people anyway 😉

rose brooch red

I sold Poppies for the British Legion in November, and they proved really popular. I thought people would stop buying them after poppy season ended, but I’m still selling some. I thought about what other flowers people might like and opted for a coiled rose badge or brooch which people might buy for Mother’s Day.

Then my friend (the same one as before) suggested making crocheted rose bouquets for Valentine’s Day. Brilliant idea! I thought about it a bit and decided that a green pipe cleaner would be easier to post and display rather than a green cocktail skewer, which is what other people seemed to use. A bit of experimenting with the glue gun and a trip to Hobbycraft resulted in this:


I thought they were cool so now we have some in a vase in our living room. A few Welsh friends mentioned that they’d like daffodil badges for St David’s Day in March, so I had a go at those too:


And also some bouquets of daffodils- they’re a nice, Spring flower, and they might be good gifts for Mother’s Day.


I decided to make the daffodil badges with a charity donation in mind as well. It’s also the symbol of Marie Curie, but St David’s Day celebrations in Wales are a big thing, and there’s a race and fundraising weekend in Cardiff to support Welsh charities. One of those charities this year is Cancer Research Wales. So when people decide to buy a daffodil badge, they can choose which charity the donation goes to, and then I donate to those charities at the end of each month. I haven’t sold as many as the poppies, but it is still January after all!

Another charity donation item I added to my shop is a pair of twiddle muff wrist warmers. Brenda, one of my followers on Facebook, suggested that the wrist warmers I made for myself at Christmas could also be used as twiddle muffs. I did a bit more research and thought about how I wanted to design them and produced these:


I made the charity link Alzheimer’s Society UK because my Grandma had Alzheimer’s for 10 years before she died last year, but the mittens would be good for any condition or individual who feels comforted by having something sensory to fiddle with. These ones sold super quickly- I think they’d only been live in the shop for 3 hours before they were sold! I plan on making more though.


At Christmas, I made snowman coasters which proved really popular so thought the same might be the case for Valentine’s Day. I saw a pattern for a Granny Square style love heart and thought that would be easily adapted to make coasters, and it was!

I then used the same pattern to make Valentine’s Day cards.


You can remove the heart and sew it to other things or use it to accessorise bags or scarves or coats. It’s something a bit different to a normal card. Plus I haven’t written any really sappy messages inside – you can do that yourself if that’s your thing! 😉 (it’s not my style!)


I made this love bug hanging decoration one day for a bit of fun. It looked cute and I needed cheering up, so he served his purpose!


I like to make blankets in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep. Blankets are good because they’re repetitive, take very little concentration and you can pick them up and put them down easily. This one doesn’t have an intended recipient, I just liked the stitch pattern when I was looking through pinterest one day so decided to make a baby blanket in blue! It hasn’t been blocked yet, that’s why it’s slightly wobbly on the border.


I didn’t make this in January alone, but I did finish it in January. I made it as a playmat/blanket gift for my friends’ new baby. I wrote a post about it here.


I didn’t know the gender of the baby until it was born, so made a pink sparkly penguin when I found out she was a girl. I love this wool!


Booties and baby hat sets have been on my list for a while for things to make but I haven’t had the time to experiment with designs properly. January was that time! I’d never made booties before, but they weren’t as hard as I thought they’d be. The problem I had was that I didn’t like the way they were turning out e.g. the shape was funny or the cuff wasn’t right. So a few adaptions later and some animal features, I managed to make some I was happy with.


Someone told me Easter was early this year, so I thought I should experiment with some Easter gift ideas before I got potentially more busy with Valentine’s day and Mother’s Day orders. I thought these baskets were pretty cute. And they can hold chocolate eggs!

I also had 2 custom orders for blankets this month- one baby size and one single bed-kind-of-size length.



I love the colours in both- I was quite sad to see them leave me!

I’ve still got a fair few things on my list of ‘things I want to try to make’ so I’ll hopefully get round to trying some more ideas in February! I think the thing I’m most proud of having made this month is the animal blanket for my friends- it was a challenge but pretty fun at the same time.

If you’ve seen something which you like the look of, you can message me for a custom order, find me on facebook/twitter/instagram as @okthenwhatsnext or have a look at my Etsy shop here: Visit my OkThenWhatsNextCraft Etsy shop 

january what i made.JPG

Credit for patterns used:

Easter Baskets: Hello Yellow Yarn
Bear Booties/Hat: my design
Coiled rose: Attic 24
Granny Square Heart: Crochet Tea Party/some adaptations
Daffodils: Attic 24
Twiddle Muff Wrist Warmers: my own design
Baby Blue Blanket: Arcade Stitch, Wool and the Gang
Pink Penguin: Amigurumi Today
Love Bug: Lily Sugar n Cream
Marmalade Sandwiches/Jar: My design
Neat Ripple Blanket: Attic 24
Love Heart Hanging Dice/decorations: adapted from Bella Dia’s tutorial

Temperature Scarf: January

I decided that I’d make a temperature scarf for 2018 and wrote a blog post about it here. The gist of it is you crochet or knit a row with a colour which corresponds to whatever the temperature is for that day. Here the the colours and temperatures I worked out:

temperature scarf 2

I changed it slightly because we actually had two days of snow, and I wanted something to represent that! So I added white in for snow days. I’m a bit sad I haven’t got to use purple yet, but I quite like how it looks so far:


We’ve had a pretty mild January! Mostly between 6-9 degrees, but we also had a couple of days where it was 13 degrees because I *nearly* had to get the light light blue out. But not quite.

Aside from it looking pretty and it giving me something to do while I’m waiting for my cup of tea to cool down enough to drink, it’s actually proving quite interesting. I wonder what February will look like!

Making an Animal Blanket

Or more of a play-mat type thing I guess. My friend got pregnant and I wanted to make her and her husband something a bit different for their baby. They chose not to find out the gender of the baby, so I opened Pinterest for inspiration and saw a zookeeper blanket, which was (unsurprisingly) a blanket with lots of zoo animals. Then I thought about making it a granny square blanket and sewing an animal on for each letter of the alphabet. I wanted it to be bright, but not knowing the gender of the baby meant I couldn’t do the typical blues for a boy or pinks for a girl, but part of the reason I liked the animal idea was because the blanket itself could be quite plain but the animals could be colourful.

So I dragged my husband to Hobbycraft and chose grey and white wool for the main squares. I missed out learning how to make granny squares when I first started to crochet, because I originally started so I could make animals for my charity blog so it was also a bit of a challenge for me. Some of the squares aren’t perfectly shaped, but I don’t think their baby will mind 😉 I decided on 4 squares along and 7 squares down, which left me with 2 squares spare, which I put the letters A and Z on.


Thinking of animals is actually quite hard for every letter of the alphabet, and it probably took just as long thinking of the animals as it did making the blanket! Especially because I had to be able to crochet them as well. I’ve done a lot of 3D animals, but appliqué animals was new to me, so some didn’t work as well as others and I relied heavily on other people’s patterns rather than being able to make up my own like I can with 3D animals now. I also wasn’t convinced I’d be very good at sewing the granny squares together, but actually that proved quite easy thanks to a really good Attic 24 tutorial. I’ve written where I got the pattern from for each animal as well.

Here’s my alphabet animal blanket!


A- Alligator: Repeat Crafter Me


B- Bear: Didn’t Anyone Tell Me


C- Cat: Trifles n Treasures


D- Dog: Repeat Crafter Me


E- Elephant: I haven’t written this one down, so can’t give credit sorry :\


F- Fish: My Crochet Projects


G- Giraffe: Repeat Crafter Me


H- Hedgehog: Repeat Crafter Me


I- Iguana: Repeat Crafter Me


J- Jellyfish: Damn It Janet Let’s Crochet


K- Kangaroo: Repeat Crafter Me


L- Lion: I made this one up myself


M- Manta Ray: I also made this one up myself


N- Nightingale: Repeat Crafter Me


O- Owl: Repeat Crafter Me


P- Penguin: Repeat Crafter Me


Q- Queen Bee: Repeat Crafter Me


R- Rabbit: Repeat Crafter Me


S-Squirrel: Maria’s Blue Crayon


T- Turtle: Repeat Crafter Me


U- Unicorn: Fave Crafts


V- Viper: Repeat Crafter Me


W- Whale: Repeat Crafter Me


X- X- Ray Fish: Repeat Crafter Me


Y- Yak: Repeat Crafter Me


Z- Zebra: Repeat Crafter Me



I decided a pink and green border wasn’t too girly or boy-y either way. I made the error of sewing the squares together first and then sewing the animals on afterwards. This made it really awkward, but I was having issues visualising it all in my head. I did actually change some of the animals and colours once I realised where they were all going so it did help in that respect. I quite enjoyed making the different animals and watching it grow from one lonely alligator all the way down to zebra!

A Year Ago Today…

… I made my first Out With Animals animal! Well, it wasn’t officially for Out With Animals (yet), but my Facebook ‘On This Day’ thing tells me this:


I’d been knitting animals for my nephew for Christmas. And I saw a koala pattern and thought ‘that’s cute, I’ll make that’. Mostly for something to do! This was before I learnt about Pinterest’s existence, so maybe I specifically liked the idea of a koala, rather than just coming across it. Either way, a year ago today I made Kenny the Koala!

I remember my husband coming home from work and asking why I’d made a Koala and me saying ‘why not? maybe I’ll post them to the Postpals kids’.

The next day, so tomorrow a year ago, I was lounging around in my pyjamas trying to get something a bit more concrete with the idea of posting animals. You can read about my thought process here. My husband came home from work and I told him about the progress in my idea. So he asked what I was going to make next. Pass, I said.

On the 12th January, I finished Eric the Elephant.


I’d told a friend about my idea and she liked the sound of it and said that Coventry’s animal was an elephant. So if I made an elephant, she would take it on an adventure during her lunch break for me. Great!

I can’t quite remember why I decided to make an owl as the next animal, but I have a feeling I’d told another friend about my plan and she’d said how she was going to see the Harry Potter play and how an owl might be a good animal to take. So I made Olivia the Owl later that week.


I wanted to test out how it would work, so my husband and I took Kenny the Koala to Leamington Spa for the day. His adventure involved a walk around the park, a trip to Nandos, a nap and a trip the cinema. Accompanied by the grumblings of my husband as he tried to take photos of this tiny animal without it getting wet, muddy or lost. But by the end of it, he was surprisingly enthusiastic (as much enthusiasm as my husband shows anyway!) and was telling me that my photos weren’t good enough and finding different things for Kenny to be photographed with.


I didn’t get around to writing Kenny the Koala’s story until I’d set up my blog, and his story was first published on the 6th February. So that’s when Out With Animals’s official anniversary shall be! I feel like I should have some kind of online celebration or something for it- there’ve been a lot of animals and volunteers in the space of a year! Maybe something will come to me while I lounge around in my PJs like it did last year, but in the meantime, if anyone has any suggestions as to how to make the occasion online then let me know!



New Year, New Project: Temperature Scarf

I was flicking through Instagram and saw a post by Repeat Crafter Me about how they’d always liked the idea of a temperature blanket as a year long project. How cool! The gist of it is, every day you crochet based on the temperature for that day. Some people do granny squares, others stripes. It doesn’t really matter how you do it. But investing in wool for a blanket would be really expensive, and also a bit daunting- what if I missed a day? Then I’d never catch up. Then I saw someone on Pinterest doing the same thing with a scarf (yes, I spend most of my day stalking crochet people on social media!). A scarf is doable, isn’t much in terms of yarn and it wouldn’t take that long to catch up if I missed a day because I was busy. Or let’s face it- the most likely reason I’d miss a day would be because I was in hospital!

Here’s a photo of the scarf idea I found, from Repeat Crafter Me.


So I had a look at the temperatures and decided to re-think them for our climate here in Coventry, UK. We very rarely have temperatures below -6 and above 32, but we do have a lot of temperatures falling into the blue shades. Which might get a bit boring if it’s the same colour blue for every day. I came up with these as my temperatures.

temperature scarf 2.jpeg

I gave it to my husband to check to make sure I hadn’t done anything stupid. Either he’s as stupid as I am, or he really doesn’t pay much attention to any of my crochet ventures (probably the latter), because he declared it was fine. Except it wasn’t- I’d written 7-13 for the 4th colour from the right, which obviously wouldn’t work. Thankfully I noticed this on day 3, so could just redo the 3 days of the year so far. It’s a good job I noticed early on and not in March or something!

I told my husband about his lack of observation skills and he kind of did his eye roll thing (meaning- ‘jesus, you’re showing me crochet stuff I don’t care about). Then he asked ‘how will you decide what the temperature is though?’

Good point! Some people do it based on the temperature at the time they sit down to do it, some people do it based on the top temperature for the day. I decided that my time for doing the scarf would be immediately after breakfast, when I have to sit still for at least half an hour and not move until my tablets and food have all kicked in. Which is a great way of making sure I do it every day, but it does mean that the temperatures would all be the same for a lot of the stripes. My mum bought my husband a google box thing for christmas, which if I say ‘good morning’ to it when I come downstairs, it turns on the lights and tells me the weather. Including the top temperature! Bingo. That’s how I’ll do it then. And google knows everything!

So I’ve been doing it for about 7 days, today is the 8th day and I’ve had a nice spectrum of all the blues so far.


If it snows again I might do a white row. For now, I’ve just been doing 50 single crochet every day, but I saw someone else do a different stitch for each month, so you could differentiate between them, so I might experiment. I’m quite enjoying it so far! I shall keep you posted 🙂

Crocheting Blankets

Weirdly, I love crocheting big projects like blankets but hate knitting similar things like scarves. Knitting isn’t as quick and takes a lot more wool to get a similar length, or maybe it’s because most long knitted things don’t have enough variation in the pattern of each row, I don’t know. But I really enjoy crocheting blankets.

Most beginner crocheters start with granny squares which can be turned into a blanket or go ahead with a blanket itself. I didn’t because I wanted to make animals for my other blog, Out With Animals. So it’s actually taken me until this current blanket to be able to feel like I can do it without having to rip out loads when I’ve gone wrong in the pattern.

I always planned to make my niece a blanket for when she was born, but then she arrived 11 weeks early so I had to get a wiggle on quicker than I thought I needed to! I made her this granny stripe blanket from Attic 24’s pattern:

I chose pinks, purples, greens and blues because I didn’t want to just assume she’d be a girly girl and like pink. As it turns out, she does seem to like pink a lot! I didn’t do it in a regular repeating pattern because I wanted it to look a bit random.

It was a pretty steep learning curve doing it though. I realised I hadn’t really learnt how to chain properly, since most animals are made of circular shapes so I got very good at magic circles, but had no idea how to chain. So doing the foundation chain was interesting! I also kept adding or losing stitches at the end of rows, mostly because I didn’t really know what a stitch looked like properly- again, it’s easier to see the stitches when making animals. And far less to count! I fixed this by using stitch markers (well, safety pins) to help keep track.

The most ridiculous thing I did when making this was to get the foundation end and the bit I was working on end mixed up when I came back to it after putting it down, because they both were pink at this point. So instead of ripping out the pink bit I’d just worked but added lots of stitches to by accident, I actually ended up pulling out the foundation chain. Which is a massive problem because then everything just unravels! I didn’t actually realise I’d done it until I started working on my next blanket, so goodness knows how I managed to fix it! I remember being really confused, but since I used to make pretty big errors knitting, I threaded the stitches to secure them with a piece of pink wool and then carried on working. You can only see where I did it if you really look hard or know where it is, so I’m happy with that in the end. Plus my niece doesn’t seem to mind!

It’s pretty big for a baby blanket, especially as she’s particularly tiny so I’ll probably make it smaller if I make another baby blanket. It took me a week to make.

The next blanket I did was also by Attic 24 called the neat wave (I think anyway). I spend a lot of days on the sofa under a blanket so decided that I’d mind less about being ill if I had a nice colourful blanket. I picked the colours because we have a striped chair in the living room with similar ones. And this time I followed a colour order, because the wave pattern makes more sense if the colours repeat regularly too. Again, I wasn’t very good at chaining and the pattern took a bit of getting used to. I put stitch markers every 25 stitches along the foundation chain, which also had the added bonus of meaning I couldn’t accidentally rip out the foundation chain! I did a practice swatch first, like the author recommended, so that I could get used to the pattern, but I still found it pretty difficult to work out what the different stitches looked like, so spent a lot of time counting or getting to the end of the row and realising I’d gone wrong. What I learnt from this blanket is that a lot of the time when you’ve gone wrong, it’s usually because you’ve made a mistake in the row below but hadn’t noticed until you tried to make the next row of pattern fit.

It’s pretty big but I like being able to fit under it without my feet poking out. I made it in summer though, which meant I couldn’t really work on it during the day because it was too hot with it on my lap! So this one took me about 6 weeks but I made other things at the same time.

My current blanket is also Attic 24 and is a ripple blanket. The pattern is slightly easier but also I now know what the different stitches look like so don’t just have to pull it out to the start of the row, I can actually tell where I’ve made a mistake! And also I know about the error in the row below thing, so check that too. I’m much better at chaining, and, although I seem to have lost one stitch at one end, both edges are currently really straight. I’m only making this one at night time when I can’t sleep, so progress varies on how well I’m sleeping! So far I’ve been doing it for about 2 and a half weeks.

This one is to keep me warm when I go out in the wheelchair over winter. It’s really, really cold sitting because you’re obviously not walking which is what warms most people up. I’m aiming for it to be longer than it is wide, so that I can double it over on my lap or pull it up to my ears if its particularly cold! I picked the colours partly through practical reasons and partly because I just liked them. From a practical view, the blanket is going to be outside so likely to be dropped on the floor or rained on. So dark colours show dirt less!

I like having a blanket to do at night time because the repetitiveness of it helps me switch off. Now that I know what I’m doing and don’t make as many mistakes! Once I’ve finished this one, I shall have to find someone else to make a blanket for!

Crochet & Mindfulness

I started knitting when I had to have a long time off work because my asthma was really unstable. I couldn’t walk around my house without numerous doses of ventolin and steroids a day, let alone teach music. But my brain was fine. It wasn’t like feeling poorly where all you want to do is watch daytime tv and snooze on the sofa. I was slowly being driven mad and getting really bored.

So I taught myself to knit so I had something to do while watching hours of daytime tv. And now, I also crochet. Difference being is my brain isn’t as ok now- now I have brain fog and concentration issues but I work around that. Crocheting also has the added bonus that I can do it while lying down!

One of the big things with my Adrenal Insufficiency is that I can get incredibly anxious over not a lot. And then I can’t sleep, which feeds the anxiety…. so I find crocheting gives me something to slow my anxious brain but isn’t too taxing, as long as I pick the right project. It means I have lots of things on the go constantly because then I can pick and choose.

Like I said, usually I crochet with the tv on. But more recently I’ve been trying something new. I’ve been practising mindfulness and meditation to help my anxiety anyway, but I thought why not combine two things I love doing?

Nowadays, we don’t really approach many things mindfully. We constantly have our phones out, or listen to music while walking or eat and watch TV. We don’t actually really ever settle to do one task and get absorbed fully in it. Our brains are constantly thinking of the next thing, and we don’t really enjoy being in the moment.

So crocheting mindfully means not doing it with the tv on. I’ve been doing it two ways: one way is where I approach it like meditation, where I concentrate solely on what I’m doing (more on that in a minute), or the other is where I want to give myself space to think about something specific but without getting emotionally involved in it e.g. My hands are busy which lets me see the facts rather than the emotion attached to the facts, which is what makes me anxious. If I feel overwhelmed, I switch to just the mindfulness option.

What does it actually mean though? It’s:

– paying attention to each stitch. If there’s a pattern or rhythm to it, I say the stitches in my head like Dec, single crochet, double crochet… it helps if it’s repetitive and I don’t have to consult a pattern

– looking at the colours. I love the blanket I’m working on (they’re best for mindfulness practice). So I like looking at the colours blending.

– I also like the feel of my current yarn. It’s really soft but chunky so it’s easy to hold but really tactile.

– I sometimes put on calming music from my Calm meditation app or definitely have my white noise machine on. So I tune into those sounds

– I try to match my breathing to what I’m doing. It kind of makes it musical if you’ve got a steady rhythm going and get your breathing to coordinate

– it’s about not getting frustrated if you make a mistake and have to rip it out. I’m not doing it to make progress in my project (well I kind of am too), I’m doing it because I love crocheting

– it doesn’t matter if I finish in the middle of a row. Another reason why blankets are good because you can pick them up and put them down again easily. It’s about removing the need to set targets and time limits, and just ‘being’.

There’s something a bit hypnotic about it. Some days I’m better at keeping my mind on the task, others my mind keeps wandering and I keep having to bring myself back. But that’s ok, because I’m recognising my mind wandering, which is almost as important as staying focussed is. I still like crocheting in front of the tv, but I also quite like the time I get to just crochet because I want to enjoy that specific time.

Why I Started ‘Out With Animals’

It’s a very strange thing when you stop working because of ill-health. The only thing I can really compare it to in any way is it must be a bit like what retirement feels like. It’s the end of an era, you’re admitting that you’re not able to function like you used to, you’re taking some time for yourself and you’re putting your working life behind you. But retirement is expected, and it’s a celebration in some ways as well. When you stop working 40 years earlier than expected like I did, you don’t get people celebrating your working achievements with you or praising your dedication and merits. I didn’t even get a leaving card or a cake. It was a bit like I died- I just ceased to exist in the working world and life carried on for everyone around me.

I get it, to everyone else – family and friends included, not just work colleagues- it’s a case  of people don’t know how to respond. It’s not like leaving for a new and exciting job role, or a change in career, or going back to studying, where you can wish someone luck in their new projects. It’s not like giving up work to go on maternity leave or to concentrate on bringing up your family where you can at least make jokes about the perils of parenthood, while also wishing luck for the future. It’s not even like taking a break because I’ve got cancer or another illness with an end date on it and I’d hopefully go back to work sometime in the future. So people didn’t know what to say, and, truth be told, it’s only now I think about it that I realise what would have helped me at the time.

I realise now that I didn’t fail because I stopped working. But I felt like that was the case because of my feelings about it and because of the way people (inadvertently) made me feel by dodging the subject or the way they spoke to me about it. There should have been something to mark the successful bits of my career.It takes a bit of getting used to, being unemployed, even if you’ve been off sick for a while beforehand. It’s completely different and still comes as a shock. It also takes a bit of getting used to admitting you’re disabled. So until Christmas, I basically was trying to find where I fitted in the world without my job and all of the things I loved about having a job which came with it. Not to mention the sudden drop in income and the change in lifestyle which has to come with it.

I decided to knit everyone I knew Christmas presents, which kept me busy. But then I got to January, where everyone always feels sad and depressed anyway and it kind of hit me. What the hell am I going to do with my life now? The way I saw it, there was two options:

  1. Give up and become a victim-like personality and exist purely as my illness and nothing else.
  2. Find myself a reason to get up every day which gave me some sense of purpose. I can’t work but I can find something to do with my life which makes it actually worth living. I’m definitely not living the way I planned my life to be, but I can’t do much about the cards I’ve been dealt, so I may as well make the game as good a one as I can. Just because I’m incapacitated doesn’t mean I’m incapable. I still have worthwhile characteristics and qualities which didn’t just vanish when I stopped working.

Number 1 is by far the easiest. If people feel sorry for you, you get attention, and who doesn’t feel better from attention? You can use your illness as an ‘excuse’, some people will let you act in whatever way you want ‘because you’re sick’. But it’s more pity than attention, and it’s completely fake. And, if you’ve got a normal lifespan with your chronic illness, other people aren’t going to put up with you acting like that forever.

Number 2 is definitely harder. Most mornings I wake up and think ‘here we go again, I feel awful, I haven’t really slept, I wanted to do X today, but I probably won’t manage. Why is the kitchen so far away to make my breakfast? Can I really be bothered with this?’ In January, it was even worse and I really struggled mentally. So I decided to do something about it.

I sat down and thought about what I’d like to do with all my ‘free’ time if I wasn’t restricted by illness:

  • volunteer
  • support a charity
  • do sports
  • play music
  • start a business
  • meet up with friends
  • read
  • study something
  • Take up a hobby I do every day
  • travel

Then I put a line through all of the ones I can’t do because of illness. Meeting up with friends with no money wasn’t going to be a sustainable thing. Plus they have jobs during the day. Reading is something I struggle with. I’d been supporting Post Pals, a charity which sends post to seriously ill children to cheer them up over Christmas with their reindeer post scheme, so I contacted them and asked if there was anything regularly I could do. They said people send their kids post all year round. I know I like receiving post when I’m feeling poorly and depressed, so I decided to find something along those lines which I could do. I could do it from home when I could manage it with my illness, which was good for me too.

However, as much as sending post to children would give me something to do every now and then, it wasn’t really the regular thing I was looking for i.e. something every single day. What else can I do every day? Knitting. I was doing a lot of knitting. I could also write blogs on my phone. The thing with me and charity work is that I don’t do charity work for the ‘praise’ I get back. I actually prefer doing charity stuff if I don’t get feedback from whoever I’m doing it for, because it makes it feel less like I’m doing it for myself and more like I’m doing it for the ‘right’ reasons (in my head anyway). But, I was pretty isolated, and I knew that whatever I was trying to do every day needed to be something which involved a two-way interaction process with another human being, so that I didn’t get stuck in a depressive spiral.

So I had knitting, Post Pals and writing as my ‘things I can do most days’ list. I’d been making a lot of animals for my nephew because I’d got bored of making conventional things like scarves. The animals were good to make because they only took me a couple of days each and they knit up in sections, meaning I can start and stop them when I needed a rest without getting lost. Except my nephew was quickly developing quite a zoo in his bedroom, so that couldn’t continue much longer. But I thought ‘if he likes animals, then other kids will too. Maybe I’ll make some for the post pals kids‘. Another thing which I realised, is that I always have some kind of stuffed toy in my hospital bag because it gives me some kind of comfort when I’m feeling vulnerable in a hospital. Now, if I like to have something pocket sized to take with me as a 30 year old, those kids from Post Pals definitely will. What if the animal was their friend? And wrote a letter to them to say hello when they got sent to them? Or, what if the animals talked about what they’d been up to before they got sent to the child, and then the child could introduce them to their world?

Basically, I came up with: knit an animal (daily habit), persuade a friend to take out an animal and take photos of it doing things (2 way interaction for me), write a story (daily habit), post the animal and story off to the post pals children (charity). My doctors, especially my psychiatrist all heartily approved of me doing this.The friend who took the first animal out for me works in comms, so suggested social media to get more people involved, and because she found the whole concept quite amusing! I was having to work hard to convince people that they wanted to take a stuffed animal out with them places and take photos of it ‘pretending’ to be on an adventure (people thought I was a bit nuts), so I set up twitter, instagram and Facebook profiles, as well as an online blog for the stories, under the name ‘Out with Animals‘.

I was quite enjoying being sent photos of the animals doing fun things (and seeing what my friends were up to) and using my brain a bit to write stories- it appealed to the creative side of me that had kind of got covered in dust since stopping music teaching. Then around Easter time, a lot of people I know had holidays planned and, instead of me thrusting an animal on them and begging them to take photos, suddenly a lot of people asked if they could take an animal with them. And I’ve had some really imaginative photos from lots of people! I started using the social media pages I set up to ‘chat’ to places the animals visited- I had a lovely chat with Monarch Airlines about Lizzy the Lizard’s travel sickness from having eaten too much Easter Chocolate, I managed to get Eric the Elephant a City of Culture Badge by tweeting them about his adventures and the Kennedy Space Centre tweeted me back about Oscar the Octopus’s attempt to be the first octopus in space. Not only were the animals getting more and more adventurous- they’ve been to places all over, from Italy to Japan, but it really was helping me and my mental health. Around the same time, another charity called Help for Dominica emailed me and asked if I could send some animals over to Dominica to help with their school education and outreach programmes following Tropical Storm Erika. That was also pretty exciting, and I’ve sent 7 out there so far.

Now I’ve constantly got a ‘list’ of animals that people have requested to take out, and I’ve also had a few random strangers who have come across my page ask to be involved either by crocheting animals or because they want an animal to take out. Groups and organisations like primary schools, Scouts, Rainbows, Hospitals, the army, a mayor, and the police have asked to be involved somehow. That’s pretty cool for an idea that came out of me sitting in my PJs knitting one day in January!

Making animals is in no way filling the massive hole that teaching and having a job left. But it’s something I can do which helps other people, gives me some kind of a sense of purpose, and stops myself from hiding away and exacerbating my illness by isolating myself. I can do it at my own pace and stop when I’m having rough patches with illness. If you follow my social media, I tend to do an update before 8am when I’m doing my whole ‘here we go again….’ monologue- that’s intentional. It’s the hardest time of day for me, and even when I’ve been in hospital, I’ve still managed to post an update. It means that I can feel like I’m contributing to life even though I’m not out of bed yet and everything is really hard work. I’ve achieved something even if I manage nothing else for the rest of the day. It’s only a small thing, but it’s quite important for me to be able to do it. It’s not the same as having a career, but I enjoy doing it, and it’s a lot better than giving up and letting my illness take over completely. If nothing else, I’m proud of myself for that!