Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce the newest member of the Gray Day Collective: Captain Thunderbolt!
(Wait - what?)
Ah, I can hear you scratching your heads all the way through my computer screen (correction: phone screen). This name may be counter-intuitive, but it actually comes fully loaded with intention and pith.
Firstly, I like the verbal irony. I found myself remembering an episode of “To the Manor Born”* where Audrey fforbes-Hamilton takes Richard DeVere horse shopping. He’s very keen on the horses with grandiose titles, but when Goliath turns out to be a Shetland pony, he’s open to Audrey’s prodding for the most tucked away and dismissed horses. Eventually, they are successful and Audrey provides this sage advice If anyone ever tries to sell you a horse named ‘Utter Rubbish’ - buy him on the spot!” So there is definitely a bit of tongue-in-cheek with my darling Captain Thunderbolt, but that’s not the end of his story.
This fish is a pink convict cichlid. Found in warm waters around Central and South America, but they have also made their way to Australia. Most people know a few general facts about Australia:
1) Home of deadly and cute animals
2) They love to cook on the barbie
3) Boomerangs! Opera House! Great Barrier Reef!
4) Convict past
I wanted the fishie friend for my coral reef tea cozy to link together the tropical and exotic beauty that is the Great Barrier Reef and the fairly well known, but little understood, Australian convict past. A pink convict cichlid was just what I needed, but the actual relationships between convicts and the water isn’t very strong. We imagine the escapees traveling through red dust and scrubby bush ala Ned Kelly. Most convicts couldn’t swim. Enter Captain Thunderbolt!
Fred Ward was one of the convicts imprisoned at Cockatoo Island. A stunning location in Sydney Harbour these days, but in the 1800s it was the equivalent of Alcatraz. Aside from not being able to swim, sharks were a real threat. Real AND effective. There were very few attempted escapes from Cockatoo Island, let alone successful ones. Fred was imprisoned at Cockatoo Island for bush ranging (stealing cattle and horses) and given early release before having to return for violating terms of his release (he was late for a quarterly check-in.)
The fears that kept other prisoners on the island were no match for Fred. He planned a bold escape swam to Woolwich. It is believed that his fellow escapee, Frederick Britten, drowned en route.
This escape transformed Fred Ward to Captain Thunderbolt. He went on to become the “Gentleman Bushranger” in the Hunter and New England regions of New South Wales.
Now, my little fish, Captain Thunderbolt, is no bush ranger or hardened criminal. He may be a convict cichlid, but he’s full of equal parts heart and grit. His story has a happy ending with full rehabilitation and a new start in his happy home, the anemone in his coral reef tea cozy. More than anything he wants to feel secure and at-ease and he welcomes your company at his next tea party.
*Bonus points to anyone who can name the other BBC comedy with the nearly identical theme song.
In case you haven’t noticed, I’m taking a bit of an “iterative” approach to my blog and website and even the crochet designs themselves. This isn’t do much a “design theory” approach as a need for trial and error. I have no idea what will work and what won’t. And - to be honest - most of the times I’ve been sure I kicked a goal, there was little interest. Whereas projects I deemed “meh” have gotten some of the biggest reactions.
I’m not savvy enough in the world of crochet design or online content creation to know why something does or doesn’t work. All I know is that there is a difference and the more things I try, the more things I learn.
If you’re an avid follower, you may have noticed that I quietly started adding Etsy links to some projects. One of the great things about Etsy is that the threshold to selling is very low, so I really isn’t hard to get something up there. What is hard is getting someone’s attention in a ridiculously crowded marketplace.
Ravelry is great because everyone who is on the site is seeking patterns. With Etsy, people are usually looking for something tangible. Because you don’t want to confuse or disappoint people, you have to work quite hard to make sure the people who do eventually find you are in the right place.
I went back and forth about setting up an Etsy shop, but then I remembered the journey to designing patterns in the first place. I’ve been making up patterns for almost as long as I’ve crocheted. I had never taken the leap to writing them up or publishing them because there was never a reason compelling enough to overcome my doubts. I was asking “Why should I?” Rather than “Why not?” But this year, I decided to give things a shot more and to ask myself “Why not?” instead of “Why?” Certainly I haven’t skyrocketed to crochet stardom, but I have kicked a few goals (seriously can’t wait until my magazine project can be made public.) More than anything, I’ve felt so free to flip my mental narrative. I’m exploring, discovering and learning a lot. Even when things flop, I’m still having heaps of fun.
Since uploading a few patterns, I haven’t had masses of customers flooding in. But, I have been happy enough with the traction to keep at it. So I am very happy to announce that I am having a soft launch party for my Etsy store: Gray Day Crochet Shop. To honor this auspicious occasion I’ve added my first promo code: GRAYDAYPARTAY. Enter this promo code for 20% off your order before the end of May. (Fingers crossed this all works ok). In addition, for every order with this promo code, I will donate 10% of the order to the Autoimmune Resource and Research Centre - a charity dedicated to helping people with autoimmune diseases live to their full potential.
It is hard to believe it is May already. Even though this year has been ridiculously busy, working on crochet patterns has brought me so much joy. I would really encourage you to think about those things you’ve never tried and ask yourself, “Why not?” Even if it isn’t great, you will still gain the experience and the insights through the journey.
Thank you all for coming on my journey with me. I have no idea where it will lead, but I’m enjoying the experience along the way.
In addition, for every order with this promo code, I will donate 10% of the order to the Autoimmune Resource and Research Centre - a charity dedicated to helping people with autoimmune diseases live to their full potential.
I’m so excited to finally get to share one of my happiest projects ever - my May Day Tea Cozy! Oh man, was this fun. I wanted to make something for my mom for Mother’s Day, but it’s going into Spring in the US, so it wasn’t time to whip up a cowl or mittens. Once nice thing about these sorts of occasions is that it can really stimulate your creative juices by giving you something to aim for. Let me shed a little light on my process for this one.
One of my favorite things to do with my mom is to have a lovely cup of tea and catch up. It can be total fluff or the deepest conversation - there’s just something transcendent about that quality time for me. So I thought….what can I make that’s tea related? Good thing I’ve been getting very into tea cozies lately, so I instantly knew I had to make one for her. Even when it is just her and Dad at home, they will still brew a perfect pot of tea most nights and she loves entertaining, so I thought it would be a fun gift that is not only perfect for tea, but allows you to have those long, winding and wonderful conversations without worrying about your tea going cold. The “what” stage is usually the hardest, so once I knew tea cozy, 90% of the mental lifting was done.
Next I was trying to think about what I wanted to do specifically for her. I could have approached it from a few angles, but one of my old reliables for my mom is the color green. She has always loooooooooved green, so I knew if I started with that, it would be hard to go wrong. So I started thinking what could I do to involve green and Mother’s Day and you can see how quickly I landed on a bouquet of flowers. It is perfect for a tea cozy because you can do all kinds of fun and fancy things on top and keep it more simple on the sides. Right off the bat I knew I wanted to do a bow around it to make it feel more like a bouquet than just an amalgamation of flowers.
When it came to the flowers, I really did ponder a bit. The problem isn’t so much coming up with ideas it is culling ideas! There are so many to choose from - peonies, dahlias, day lilies, chrysanthemums, poppies, snapdragons - you get the idea. Fortunately, crochet is infinitely better for flowers than knitting (sorry knitters, I still love you). The shaping possibilities are endless. The obvious choice for flowers was roses. Not only are they quintessentially “Mother’s Day,” but Mom loves them and they remind me of the many years we gave my grandmothers’ miniature roses for Mother’s Day. I’ve been making crochet roses for decades, but I did want to challenge myself to a new technique. I love making paper roses from a paper spiral. When you wind from the outside in, it gives the perfect amount of pulling in from the outside and blooming from the inside. So I worked out a few equations to vary the expansion along the spiral and I’m pretty darn tickled with the form I landed on.
Once I picked roses, I thought for a minute I would maybe just do one kind of flower, but then I thought, “Where’s the fun in that?!?” So then I had a think through some of my favorite flower variations. Here’s what I ended up with:
Each of these took a fair bit of work to get them where I wanted. Lots of one step forward, two steps back, but once I got it - I got it. I was on such a role, I ended up with leftover flowers.
Sewing isn’t my strong suit, but the flowers were very forgiving to arrange and to attach. It was a very satisfying feeling to see the bouquet truly take form. It was one of those situations where the whole was so much more than just the sum of its parts. I am in love, love, love with this tea cozy. Part of it is the design factor, but mostly it’s because I designed it for my mom, with her in mind, and I can’t imagine anyone I would rather give this to.
Thank you mom for loving and encouraging me for all these years. I hope this tea cozy will be the perfect accent for your many cups of tea and the wonderful conversations that go with them. Even in my 30s, I love learning from you and aspiring to be like you more and more.
You can check out the info on Ravelry and Etsy.