Saturday, 3 November 2012

Babes In The Wood Crochet

As a small child I was addicted to fairy stories - I read all I could get my hands on and when new ones were scarce, I reread the old ones, time and time again. I had several, well-thumbed compendia of fairy stories, or "treasuries" as their old-fashioned titles described them. This is the frontispiece from my favourite one, which I still have on my bookshelf:

And I still remember the delicious frisson of joy I felt on discovering in the local, public library Andrew Lang's apparently unending series of colour-coded collections of fairy stories. Fairy tales from all over the world collected in The Orange, Red, Pink, Lilac, Blue, Crimson, Olive, Violet, Green, Brown, Yellow and Grey Fairy Story Books. Anyone else remember these? Originally published in the early 1900s, they were still populating bookshop and library shelves in the early 1970s. I think they have been given a new lease of life recently and are now again available for a new generation of fairy tale lovers.

Although all fairy stories were grist to my mill, some were better than others and some of course were a bit disappointing as far as the plot went. Not all were as powerful as "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", "Sleeping Beauty", "The Princess and the Frog" or "The Brave Little Tailor Who Killed Seven With One Blow", "The Wild Swans" or "Rapunzel" (How I longed to have hair as long as Rapunzel's! Even on one occasion going so far as to construct DIY Rapunzel braids out of long lengths of brown wool, plaited together and pinned to my short curly hair with hair grips!).

Snow White was a particular favourite - I was mesmerised, not so much by the seven dwarves, at that stage unreconstructed by Disney, but by the whole business with the talking mirror and the Poisoned Apple and Snow White lying in her glass coffin.

This had an unfortunate repercussion, when at the time aged four, I was taken by my mother to have tea with a rather old-fashioned and stiffly unbending friend of my grandmother's. I was under strict instructions To Behave, to Be Polite and Not Rush About. All went well until tea was served by this rather severe old lady, when, with Snow White's perils running in my head, I was given something to eat and I asked, in the clear and bell-like tones peculiar to a four-year old with a burning question requiring an urgent answer, "Is this Poisoned?!" Needless to say, my mother was mortified with embarrassment and had a hard time explaining away my inquiry. To me, aged four, in a world partly inhabited by real people and partly (and equally vividly) by fairies, giants, wicked witches and the like, who, at the drop of a hat and without a scruple, substituted poisoned apples for harmless ones, it seemed a perfectly reasonable question. I had some difficulty convincing my mother of this point of view at the time however!

Anyway, I am wandering away from the matter in hand, or rather on hook! One of the stories with the least satisfactory plot, I always felt, was The Babes In The Wood. Even as a small child, I found it unsatisfactory, especially the ending, where a too-convenient-to-be-credible grandmother was on hand to encounter the robin wearing the scrap of the little girl's hair-ribbon and one of the buttons from the little boy's coat that the grandmother remembered sewing on herself! Even aged four this seemed to me to be stretching credibility too far even though I had no problem with witches living in gingerbread houses and wicked fairies casting mean spells at babies' christenings! Clearly my logic, at the age of four or five, was deployed somewhat erratically! But despite what seemed unsatisfactory to me about the plot, (not least the fact that, once the children were found, the story simply ended with them being taken to their grandmother's cottage, with no proper pursual of the miscreant robbers), the idea of the children falling asleep and being covered with fallen leaves by the birds, to keep them warm, enchanted me.

How cosy to be covered by a light eiderdown of soft autumn leaves! In my mind's eye, of course, these leaves were not damp and rotting nor did they realistically harbour woodlice, spiders and other creepy-crawlies! They were dry, as light and soft as a feather and all the colours of a New England Fall. When I first slept under a duvet as a student, rather than under the old-fashioned sheets and blankets we had at home, it was this image that floated in my head.

What has all this, you will say, to do with crochet? Well, the image of being able to snuggle under a drift of autumn leaves has stayed with me all these years and while doing a bit of stash reviewing in September, I came upon the beautiful Sublime yarn I bought in the Spring when planning and making my "Glory be to God for dappled things" cushion cover. I needed earth colours and neutrals for this cushion, which are not my usual palette at all and, to be honest, I over-bought as I wasn't sure what I would need. Some of what was left I used up in the dahlia cushion for my mother's birthday but there were still quite a few colours untouched.

Watching the autumn leaves beginning to float to the ground...

... I realised that here was a beautifully straightforward opportunity to make my childhood image a reality. All the colours of yarn I had left over were straight out of the illustration of the leafy eiderdown in my old fairy tale book - rich deep brown and umber, burnished bronze and soft ochre, golden amber, wine-red and flaming-orange, old yellow and a soft evergreen, bleached ivory and old parchment. They echoed all the colours of horse-chestnut, ash and oak leaves, birch and maple, cherry and beech, sycamore, lime, elm and willow with a few delicate leaf skeletons, pale as bone among them. I chose a simple granny square pattern  and started crocheting my own pile of soft autumn leaves.

Most granny squares are quite "holey", if you know what I mean. I didn't want the "holey" effect for my leaves but more solid blocks of colour. After one or two "holey" experiments, I settled for an adaptation of the pattern that was on the ball band of some Peaches and Creme yarn, that Liz of Carolina Knits very kindly sent me from North Carolina and I am very pleased with the result - nice, solid blocks of colour with minimal "holes" and very easy to crochet neatly together. I prefer to do this after finishing the blocks rather than joining-as-I-go because I like to play around with the design combination when I can see all the colours that are in play and how they are going to repeat against one another.

My pile of simple, blocky granny squares grew steadily during September and is now a "Babes In The Wood" throw just big enough to snuggle under on a late-autumn evening when it is dark and chilly outside. It's not quite as big as I would have liked - more a lap-quilt than a full-size throw in size but I didn't have enormous quantities of each colour and I didn't want to buy any more as the whole point was to use up what I had. But I think there is room in the world for small and cosy as well as for big and enveloping. The kind of throw that as well as using inside on a chilly autumn evening one might take outside for a late picnic when it's really too cold just to sit, but the sun is out and still warm and the idea of sipping a mug of homemade soup among the autumn leaves appeals.

I've given it an accentuated picot edge adapted from Lucy of Attic 24's Granny Stripe edging (you can find her original edging pattern here.) I wanted an edging that resembled the delicately complicated edges of sycamore or maple leaves and I think it's worked OK. I have deliberately not blocked the finished crochet as I want the overall slightly crinkly effect of the fallen leaves it represents. It's deliciously warm and snuggly even though it's quite small and of course small means easy to wash and not so expensive or so long to make as a bigger blanket so I may pass this way again! 

Not with my slowly deepening sea-ripple however, which, (for good or ill!), will be much bigger when it's finished. That, however is having to wait in the wings a little while my Christmas present-making takes priority. 

There are, of course, loads of granny square instructions out there and you may well already have your own favourite but if you want to replicate my solid blocks of colour here's my adaptation of the Peaches and Creme pattern: (I've given the pattern here in UK terms. If you use US terms, just substitute double crochets for trebles.)

Chain 5 and join with a slip stitch to form a ring.

Round 1: ch 3 (counts as first treble of first cluster of four trebles), now, working into the ring, make 3 treble crochets, 2 chains, 4 trebles, 2 chains, 4 trebles, 2 chains, 4 trebles 2 chains. Join with a slip stitch to the top of the ch 3 you made at the beginning.

In round one you will have 4 stitches on each side of your square, separated by the chain spaces.

Round 2: ch 3 (as before, this makes the first treble of the first cluster of four trebles), make 3 trebles and now into the chain space make 2 trebles, 2 ch and another 2 trebles. Now carry on your trebles in each st until you reach the next chain space. Make sure you do not skip the first st after the chain space trebles - you need to continue the round starting in the very first st, which can get a little hidden by the second pair of chain space trebles. When you reach the next chain space, repeat what you did in the first one i.e. 2 tr, 2 ch, 2 tr before continuing your trebles on the next side. When you get to the end of the round, join with a slip stitch to the first ch 3.

In round two you will have 8 stitches on each side separated by the chain spaces.

Round 3: exactly as round 2 except that at the end you will have 12 stitches on each side separated by the chain spaces.

Round 4: exactly as round 2 except that at the end you will have 16 stitches on each side separated by the chain spaces.

Round 5: exactly as round 2 except that at the end you will have 20 stitches on each side separated by the chain spaces.

I made my granny squares five rounds each but of course you could make them bigger or smaller. Each round you add, will increase the stitches in each side between the chain spaces by a factor of four.

Now what other fairy tales might prove inspirational for a blanket? Sleeping Beauty with a thick hedge of dark green thorns and deep magenta and wine-coloured roses surrounding a pale pink and white and gold sleeping princess? Cinderella with drab, ashy colours on the outside leading the eye to dancing colours of ballroom silks and satins and at the centre a bright orange pumpkin patch? The possibilities are myriad and may keep me and my hook "happy ever after", as in all the best stories!

In the meantime, The Babes in the Wood have it!


  1. Dear E
    Beautiful, beautiful photos of the leaves and your crochet.
    That book is one of my absolute favourites from my childhood, although my copy is not in good condition owing to me having constantly looked at it - in fact, it is decidedly the worse for wear. I also have Treasury of Poems and Treasury of Nursery Rhymes and another Fairy Tale book all with illustrations by Hilda Boswell. (I was particularly scared by the picture of the Man in the Moon and mum had to cover it with a sheet of paper. I'm not sure why it scared me so much, but there we are. I can look at it now with no problems!)
    The Babes in the Wood story was not one of my favourites but I didn't seemed to be as concerned about the coincidences as you were. You were obviously a much more discerning reader.
    Thank you for reminding me about these lovely books.
    Best wishes

    1. How lovely to find another Hilda Boswell fan! Funny what scares us as children. I know what you mean about some illustrations though. I had an old French edition of La Fontaine fables which had belonged to my great-grandmother with an illustration of a wolf which terrified me aged five and still terrifies me now over 40 years later! E x

  2. hello
    as i was a child i loved märchen auch,especially schneewittchen und die sieben zwerge,rapunzel etc. lovely book. your photos are amazing,love the leaves and your beautiful crochet.thanks for the pattern.
    wish you a nice weekend,
    love regina

  3. What lovely colors together and the sky in your leaf photos is an incredible blue, surprised it didn't work into the leaves, but understand you were going for the 'ground' blanket of leaves and you did if fantastically.
    For another color scheme (not fairy tale) think 'nasturiums' (sp). The holey granny square with two blossom colors in the centers with 2 leaf colors on the outer rounds. My mother did it one (1970's) and I asked for recently as it is still stunning. But back to yours...Really lovely. :) So clever. Helen

    1. A nasturtium blanket sounds beautiful - those bright flame colours against soft bluey green leaves. What a lovely thought! Thank you for sharing - I've squirrelled it away in my mind for future use! E x

  4. Hello E! I too remember all those fairy tales - many of them good enough to scare even the hardiest of children to death!!!! I was a huge fan of Enid Blyton's Secret Seven, Famous Five, Magic Faraway Tree (my all time favourite) and The Wishing Chair and am currently covering the cushions on a wrought iron rocking chair which I like to think is my very own Wishing Chair! Your solid granny pattern is EXACTLY what I've been looking for to use on the cushions so thank you soooooo much! Will be posting about it soon. Love your throw - I'm an autumnal person and those colours are all my favourites! Much love L xxx

  5. I too avidly read all the Enid Blyton books I could get hold of! Loved the adventures of The Famous Five and The Secret Seven. And the Faraway Tree series was enchanting - remember Moonface and The Saucepan Man and Silky and the Slippery Slip?! I sometimes feel a bit like Dame Washalot myself! Happy days! Love the idea of your own Wishing Chair - we all need one! Can't wait to see your post on it! E x

  6. Hi Mrs TT. I really enjoyed you post ... as always! You stories, photos and crochet always link together with a beautiful thread. What a treat!

    As for you blnaket I think it is beautiful and has inspired me to make something for ME. :)

    x Kate x

  7. Elizabeth, you have excelled yourself! This blanket is so, so beautiful. I ADORE the muted, autumnal, slightly-seventies-but-in-a-good-way colours and the "less holey" granny pattern looks so warm. And it's so neat!! I can't believe how quickly you made it - I've just finished one scarf in the same amount of time. I enjoyed your thoughts on fairy tales too. I am revisiting them now when I read to Bella and am often uncomfortable with the dark undertones of some stories...luckily she hasn't really picked up on the cannibalism in Hansel and Gretel yet. Gillian xx

    PS. As a child I SO wanted to sleep on a bed of soft sand or heather and bracken like they were always doing in the Famous Five stories.

  8. Elizabeth, this is just wonderful. I think the colours you have chosen to edge with and the order in which you have used them are just fantastic - it really is an Autumnal feast for the eyes and one you should feel very pleased about - fabulously rich and pretty. x

  9. What a glorious story behind a most beautiful autumnal blanket. You are a born tale-spinner.

  10. absolutely gorgeous!!
    Makes me want to pick up crochet needles. WANT!

  11. One of the things I enjoy about your crochet is that you tell us your inspiration as I find it fascinating to follow the journey from the spark of an idea to the finished product. One of the best exhibitions at the Fitzwilliam Museum that I took my children to see was of sketchbooks belonging to illustrators of children's books. To see the study of something as simple as a shoe sketched from different angles and then to find it in the book made the children understand that pictures don't just happen. And so it is with your blanket with its glorious autumnal colours.

  12. hello Thomasina, cute blanket, a fresh new idea with autumnal colours.Very nice!

  13. I'm so happy that the pattern on the yarn I sent you came in handy. Pairing the squares with similarly colored leaves is really engaging--a great lead up to the picture of your finished product. You've inspired me to get outdoors and take some pictures before all of the fall leaves are gone.

    Thanks, too, for linking my blog to your post. Also, I can relate so well to your childhood love of fairy tales. I think I spent my childhood (and too much of my adult life, too) living half in my mundane existence and the other half escaping to other worlds through reading. I also laughed out loud about your inquiry regarding the food offered to you by the elderly woman. I'm sure that at the time your worries were very real to you.

    I saw a book at the store today and thought of you. It's called Nothing Daunted, and it's about two young society women from the eastern U.S. who go out west to teach school in the middle of some pretty rugged territory. The story is a true one based on the correspondence of these women. I'll probably buy the book sometime soon, read it, and then send it to you if it proves to be good.

  14. The colours of that blanket are just beautiful?

  15. Wow E, it's gorgeous!!! So eye catching, sumptuous in the way that autumn often is, and clearly with a high snuggability factor. Kudos m'dear!

  16. I too loved reading anything when I was young. As a teacher now my favourie thing is to read stories to my pupils. I fondly remember collections of Russian and european tales with astounding descriptions of princesses, fairies in castles and magical forests, so vivid, did they have beardley-esque illustrations ?

  17. 1) so funny about the question "is it poisoned?" Your poor mother.

    2) I absolutely LOVE the colors you used in the granny squares and it turned out beautifully. I will mark this post to refer back to for directions. The edging (picot) just makes it!

    3) as always, your pictures are lovely

  18. This is absolutely gorgeous. Beautiful fall leaf colors, fantastic edging, fabulous photos. I love it!

  19. This is beautiful - I have too many things to say about Fairy Tales to limit it to a comment - but just that I am constantly astounded by the fact that so few teenagers have any acquaintance with them outside of the Disney films- but I love the blanket, I love the 'unholy' (!) nature of it too. Well done, very inspiring. You are amazing.

  20. I absolutely adore this blanket! Everything about it is wow. The colours are so beautiful and fit the season perfectly. I think you must now have a blanket for every season?!

    Sorry it's taken me ages to comment... I'm still around!

    Can't wait to see what you've been up to for Christmas!

    Helen xx

  21. Your new blanket is gorgeous, I love the colours all together, so well put together. I agree with you when you are doing something like that you need to place it out before you sew it.

    I don't have the best memory for remembering the stories I read as a kid, but to be sure they've certainly changed now, and not always for the better....I love reading with my eldest boy....we've done a number of famous five and as I'm reading aloud I can almost remember the words.

    Hope you have a good week.

  22. So funny your fear of the poisoned apple! After listening to The Borrowers read aloud, my children were convinced we had some, and actually unpicked some mortar from around my fireplace looking for them. Never mind that we lived in suburban America with nothing very mysterious to recommend it. Love your blanket, and the thought process that went into it.


Thank you so much for taking the time to visit me at Mrs TT's and comment. I love to read what you write.