Wow where did March go?

I swear it was the end of February only yesterday, but no according to the calendar we are now in April and the nights are longer, the sun warmer and everything and everyone seems a little perkier… the preverbal ‘Spring’ in their step!

On a trip to Cordwainers Garden in early March I had the delight of seeing the birds, bees and frogs getting inspired by the warm sunshine. Shackleton whom is a favourite frog in the pond had been very active with tons of spawn bobbing about in the water – I cannot wait to see the tadpoles, although I fear that the over enthusiasm will result in many ending up with a very short life span. The sunshine and spring even got to me with a much needed clearing out of my old cd storage on the wall to make way for a rather inspiring display of a small amount of my Stylecraft Special DK yarn that I swear is multiplying behind the sofa… honest I don’t keep ordering more when I see something new on Instagram.

March 16
March makes, greats and ideas

So what have I achieved this month? Actually quite a lot when I look back at it. I took inspiration from a posting by Amanda from eightbysix and decided to put all of my ‘new’ ideas, trials and skills into one photo. It really does give you a sense of achievement. This month I have gained three new skills:

Knitting on the diagonal – taught at the Spring Knitting and Stitching Show by the UK Handknitting Association

Foundation Treble Stitch – self taught using the amazing step by step instructions of Cherry Heart on her blog

Tunisian Crochet – something I have wanted to learn for ages and finally achieved with thanks to Simply Crochet and their very comprehensive supplement; obviously the free hook worked a charm too!

Three new projects:

Knitted sundresses – I went through my ‘shelved’ projects box and found these knitted tops that I had been experimenting with. I downloaded a pattern from Ravelry about two years ago called Summerlin by Alice Schnebly which I loved and had immediately begun to knit. However I wanted to make some for friends and decided to alter the top a bit as it was a sort of bra design. I also began playing around with different textures on the straps to add interest. Needless to say my enthusiasm lasted long enough for four of these tops to be made and then life took over and they never saw the light of day again! That is until a friend came back from the Gambia with some rather lovely fabric for me, I decided to clear out my box and hey presto two new dresses are being born. My lovely nieces will hopefully benefit – I just need to do some measuring first.

Crochet Squares Blanket – I have been making random squares for months now when I have some wool left lying about from a previous project and I knew with Spring here it was time to do something with them; or risk them taking over all of my boxes. I researched ways to join them and enjoyed another new thing in the process, YouTube on my telly!! Ohh the amazing videos of people crocheting in glorious HD on a 32″ screen, I am definitely hooked! I also have to say a big thank you to Sarah-Jayne of Bella Coco for her fab tutorial and really clear instructions. The blanket is growing and will be ready for gifting soon.

Colour Block Blanket – This has been inspired by a logo that I saw from the taxi window

colour block blanket inspiration.png
Inspiring logo spotted on Clerkenwell Road, London

It is the way the colours graduate together that inspired me and made me think about the colour blocks, tones in a pallet,and then how to make them pop that got the little grey cells working. As you can see from the logo it is a blend of three tones in an arrow formation. I wanted to take this idea but make the fourth ‘missing’ colour something completely opposite – hence using the colour wheel. I have done my first sample block of pinks with a popping green and will spend the next few weeks working up the other colours… oh dear I might need to order more yarn!!!

Three finished items:

Triangle scarves – or Trendy Chale as they seem to be called. So simple to make now I know how to knit on the diagonal and so effective. Please note all family members will probably be receiving one of these for their Christmas presents!

Tunisian Crochet Cushion Cover – Taken from the supplement in Simply Crochet I managed to crochet this in one evening. I am absolutely loving the simplicity of this way of crocheting but also the lovely pattern it gives you. I did not manage the moss stitch that was in the original pattern, but did manage the colour changing to make triangles so am very pleased with myself.

Hexie Blanket – not in the final photo for March but it was still finally finished.

The blanket itself and had been together since Feb but I had been putting off tying in all the ends so it was officially finished in March and given to its new owner for their birthday. As it was a first attempt at this kind of blanket and the African flower motif I really hope they enjoy it, and can ignore any mistakes. Although as I keep saying to myself – mistakes prove that an item is truly hand made!

 

So March has been a busy month in all and I am grateful for all the new skills, surprises and mistakes that I have made.

 

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Mistakes I make

We all post beautiful pictures of our crochet WIP or finished moments – artfully draping, adjusting lighting and lying down on the floor to get that ‘perfect’ unusual angle, but what about our more humble moments?

Double african flower mistakes

This is a post I am going to add to – I may even give it it’s own page – and would love it if you can share your ‘Mistakes I Make’ too. I think it gives hope to all those out there struggling with their first big project, looking at something and that terrible lurching feeling when you know you have to unpick the last few hours work. Or like me this morning that moment when you realise you can’t unpick it and horror of horrors the scissors are going to be needed to fix it.

I love crochet, knitting and sewing; some of these techniques I have been using for decades and others for just a few years, therefore I am still learning with every new project I take on. There is no way I can call myself a pro at crochet, but I am beginning to see what I have to do to correct my mistakes; but not always. So if any of you out there see a solution for a ‘Mistake I Make’ please, please comment and let me know how to fix it xx

Trying to turn an African Flower block into a Square

African Flower mistakes x 2

Well other people have managed it so surely I can…mmm I did manage to work out the maths that I would need 8 sides instead of 6 but they really don’t look like the beginnings of a square! Is my tension too tight? However I decided to pick the least ‘star’ like one and try to make a square.

African flower to square mistake

Halfway round and it certainly doesn’t look like a square – in fact that is not looking healthy at all, but I will continue…

Not really a square!

It is kind of there – wish I could use that emoji of the monkey with his hands over his face.

African Flower Blanket

Crocheting late at night whilst trying to watch a film results in many mistakes for me – once I get past 10pm if its not a simple thing I have done many times before I really should remember to walk away from the hook!

This was quite an upsetting mistake for me as I had to resort to the dreaded scissors! You can see their little pointed threat in the first picture. I really did try to unpick but it was not going to happen so last resort time.

Opps cut the wrong bit

and oh dear this is the result! ok it is easily fixable and with a little further unpicking and some more Magenta yarn we were back to normal in no time – but I am sure you will all know the pain of having to re-do a perfectly good piece of work because you were just not concentrating.

I am sure I will be adding to this soon as I am going to try and work out how to piece as I go – youtube here I come!

In or Out – that is the question…

I don’t know about you but my friends and I have started discussing the Brexit debate, and realised it may actually overtake the London Mayor debate at this rate! For us Londoners the new Mayor is quite a big thing as I cannot see a clear front runner at the moment.

I know craft blogs are not meant to be political – we should share our craft stories, woes, excitements and dreams, but politics… we can leave that for other bloggers to cover. Well, wait a minute; the in/out debate might be more important than you think especially if you are a keen supporter of sellers on Etsy, or if you sell through Folksy. And opps we might just be looking down the barrel of the download pdf VAT debate again.

I was calmly going through my Instagram account and clicked on a link to Folksy, and then another link, and well you know the story suddenly you are somewhere totally unexpected. Before I knew it I was reading a post about selling craft overseas, where Hillary Pullen was giving a very handy breakdown on postage costs, packaging and finally legal requirements and customs forms. Lightbulb moment!

Selling-Craft-Overseas-2

Now I have sold internationally on eBay when I ran a vintage and pre-loved business, and it can be a minefield with different customs requirements, tracking post etc etc… ok imagine that but include all those countries in Europe that we have not had to worry about. Oh and don’t forget the VAT MOSS debate in regards to pdf downloads – again Folksy have done a wonderful article on it here. The EU member states have all agreed that VAT rules apply across the board so if we are buying from a designer in the EU we know they will not be paying VAT or having to increase their prices to us to cover this.

I think as crafters it is very important for us to realise the impact an exit from the EU could have upon our activities. What will happen when we go to the Knitting and Stitching Show? There are some lovely stall holders from all across Europe whom come but if they are now going to have to think internationally when they cross the channel will they still come? Will customs riffle through my bag when I return from France with a hoard of wool and slap me with a bill for VAT?

The one plus side might be that we get better duty free deals when we fly or sail to the continent again… but I would rather have the wool!!!

 

 

Wasting to Dye

A class that can be adapted for an educational environment or used as an open community class.

Educational Class

Key Stage One/Two Curriculum

Mathematics

  • lengths – comparing lengths
  • mass and weight – using measuring tools including weighing tools
  • capacity and volume – using measuring tools including liquid measurement
  • time – recording time
  • shapes – recognising squares, rectangles
  • geometry – whole, half, quarter

Science

  • identify and describe the basic structure of a variety of common flowering plants.
  • explore and compare the differences between things that are living and dead
  • find out and describe how plants need water, light and a suitable temperature to grow and stay healthy

    We can also cover reversible and irreversible change by looking at the difference between dyes and stains.

    For an educational class the children will look at a history of natural dyeing, general household waste and growing items that can be used to extract dye. Plants can be brought into the class or if the school has a garden we can look at plants growing outside. The children will be encouraged to work out what part of the plant they feel dye can be extracted from.

    They will be using small square silk hankies which dye easily and retain bright colours. These can be kept and used for other project work. I also use mine to sew small lavender bags.

     

    Two techniques will be employed during the session:

    Immersion Dyeing –  using Shibori technique which is an ancient Japanese art of folding cloth to create pattern through the dyeing process.

    Steam Dyeing – placing of plant part directly onto cloth, then wrapped around a stick before being steamed for 20 minutes. The dye is processed directly onto the cloth often leaving a good outline of plant itself.

    All Photos taken at a community class run by Cordwainers Grow

    Further practices can come from the class in so far as kitchen waste from the school canteen can be gathered prior to the class to be used – please ask for details on how to do this.

    A small dye garden can also be developed to be used in further teacher led programmes. Staff can be taught safe and quick practices to show children basic immersion dyeing. I am happy to organise this and work with classes of children in sewing seeds, planting and discussing maintenance of the plot. Worksheets can be left with the school to cover the ongoing development of this.

    Solar dyeing kits can also be made using recycled materials. These are completly safe for children of all ages to use as no hot water is employed at the point of construction. The dyeing takes time over one-two weeks on a window sill in direct sunlight. After this time the hankies can be removed from the water/plant solution, rinsed in a sink and the patterning explored. Again worksheets can be left with the school to cover this activity.

    Please call 07493 244315 or email debmitchener@gmail.com to discuss lesson plans or community classes.

My new Valentine

African Flowers heartIt seems to me that these days everyone has a Valentine; girlfriends & boyfriends, parents & children, even friends sending cards to each other – well I chose mine differently and it began with a hook and some Stylecraft DK….

 

I had been looking on Instagram for some crochet inspiration and came across a wonderful pattern in a photo from Knitted Yogurt which I soon learnt was called African Flower – a quick google and fifteen minutes later my very first flower was born. I had been looking for a pattern that reminded me of my lovely 60’s jars I keep buttons and bits in for ages and this was most definitely it! I just need to stick to the right colour palette – however I had lots of left over bits of wall from the various blankets and I swiftly began to make a selection using up little bits…

Even on the train down to my sisters I could not resist the urge to crochet a few. Soon I was building up quite a stack but they were all sorts of different colours and I could not see how they were all going to fit together into a blanket without it looking a complete mess. I guess with my art and costume background colour plays a huge part in my design process and there has to be a harmony there.

When Stylecraft launch their 10 new shades in the Special DK I had to order it straight away – my go to shop is the Wool Warehouse as I just adore the lovely bags they send the wool; amazing for keeping each project together as it progresses. They are also amazingly fast at delivery. I had put these new delights away in a box so I could not be distracted whilst finishing Big Sis hexagonal blanket and suddenly rediscovered them whilst rummaging for something to tie together all these lovely african flowers. The Lobelia sang to me the strongest and this I knew would be the base, but when I started to put it next to some of the other colours it just didn’t seem to fit.

I know a lot of people who design spend a long time working out colour combinations by using shade cards, colour pegs, etc but I tend to be a more seat of the pants designer – I always have been especially when painting ceramics. It comes from a feeling and the mood you are in at the time. Hence when you walk away from project for a few days you can come back and think ‘what the heck?’; but to me that is all part of the design process.

Anyway this meant that I started another blanket with the lovely magenta linking the flowers. It is a very strong colour – as is the Lobelia – but it just seems to sit right with the others:

I will have to keep to keep going now and make two blankets at the same time…. what a chore (I love making blankets)…

Addicted to Crochet

 

My weekend has been a time of finishing projects, starting new ones and getting organised with my photos – how can I share my creations if I don’t have photos.

The green blanket above was made for my daughter, and that is her cat Tinks enjoying some quality time with it. She looks so sweet and almost human draped over the sofa, as if she has enjoyed a heavy night on the tiles and just needs some netflix&chill time. I made this blanket back in the late summer and it was my third ever Granny stripe using the colours that my daughter loves with a made up stripe sequence and a pattern taken from the hugely popular (and rightly so) blog of Attic24. I absolutely adore the simplicity and clarity of Lucy’s projects, she takes so much time to give you step by step instructions. So a huge thank you to her.

The new Granny square cushion cover had to happen as I have been staring at an unfinished blanket for months now which we are using to drape over the back of the sofa and it just looks so out of place with the covers I had on my cushions – they were made 11 years ago when I got a new sofa. I now have a gorgeous secondhand brown leather sofa which you sink into, so some lovely soft tactile covers are needed.

I began the square as an antithesis to the three striped blankets I had previously made, The first ever blanket, a gorgeous and truly huge rainbow striped one for my nieces 5th birthday and then the Green “Tinks” blanket for my daughters 17th birthday at the end of September. So another design had to come into play, and use up some of the colours left over from the three previous delights; waste not want not as they say. However as it got bigger I suddenly was not sure of the squareness of the blanket if you know what I mean, and began to look for other things I could do with it. Well, googling Granny Squares brought me to the most wonderful site and fantastic design for a Granny Square Shrug I have ever seen. What a brilliant idea by Maria Valles, and what a simple design. I thought my daughter might like it but I could tell when I suggested it so wasn’t cool enough; hence the back of the sofa, and there it sits still with its tails and no border….

What next for my happy hook? Well, it was by now October and despite the freakishly warm weather I knew I should get cracking on something for my other niece – Big Sis to her whom received the Rainbow blanket. I noticed on presentation of said Rainbow Blanket that Big Sis eyed it up; and whilst rainbow and unicorns are the ideals of five year olds and there can never be too much pink – for an almost nine-year old something different was required! After having visited the Autumn Knitting & Stitching show and coming away with a book hoard of designs I had fallen in love with one by Susan Pinner for a hexagonal delight in muted colours. It looked simple enough and I had plenty of time to be making triangles so searching for inspiration I asked my sister to send some photos of the new bedroom in the new house. Big Sis had chosen some rather snazzy and grown up curtains made with fabric from the Scion Mr Fox range, and this had to be the beginning for me.

I mean just look at those cute foxes and those lovely muted colours! So grown up and would definitely give her something she could cherish for a while. Hexagonal’s, Mr Fox, and a raid on my huge box of colours and I began. Whilst I used the Mr Fox as a starting point I also wanted to inject some colour. So a mixture was thought up of brights and lights with six ‘cold’ colours based on blues  greens and six ‘warm’ colours based on Mr Fox. I also want all the centres and joining pieces to be a lovely soft grey to make the whole thing have a more grown up edge to it. The other thing I realised pretty quickly was that the size of the blanket in the pattern was not going to be big enough as Lil Sis had a ginormous one and sizing would be compared! I hastily did some maths and came to the conclusion that 144 triangles would be enough to make the size I wanted.

By half term I had amassed about 100 triangles and began to put them together, its was then that with sinking heart I realised exactly how many tails I would have to sew in and also that I had not read the pattern properly so would need to come up with an alternative way of joining the triangles. In some ways a relief as the thought of making about 70 small circles was almost pushing me over the edge….

I began to try and piece the triangles together noting that a circle was a good idea but maybe it could just be a chain…and then when I had joined a few it dawned on me that this made a delightful and ethereal star design in the middle of the hexagonal’s. Oh happy accident!

Tools were downed for half term apart from a few evenings of quiet when I managed to make a few more triangles, and then suddenly it was the beginning of November and my Little Man was back to boarding school; not so much happy days. He had only started in September and I am still adjusting to not having him with me. LM has high functioning Autism with sensory issues so he needs specialist teaching and a much quieter environment then I can give him in London; boarding school whilst not the choice for everyone has been a blessing for him. He also needs the rough and tumble of other boys and good role models as at home he is surrounded by women! Two cats, a sister and a mum all girls… no an eleven year old definitely needs more testosterone in his life. This does mean that holidays are for him, so I will only work, blog and craft when he is engaged in Wii or other activities. Time that he wants to spend with me is too precious to miss as with his Autism he sometimes just wants to be alone and that can be hard for a mum.

Anyway back to school and for me back to the hook. I raced through the remaining triangles and kept going with linking them all up, but before I knew it Christmas was upon us and LM was back. We were busy making decorations, going to see Star Wars and Panto and then it was off to France to see the GranParentals. I could not fit the blanket into the suitcase or we would not have any clothes so I left my hook and instead decided to knit. My mother is an amazing knitter and I love nothing more than sitting in her living room with the real fire going knitting with her and chatting about all things wooly. Of course being her daughter I never take her advice, but secretly I store all the tit bits she gives me and use them later.. shhh don’t tell her.

Once back from France I had exactly three days to finish the Grand Hexagonal as I would now like to call it. This meant three nights of 5-12pm crochet and sewing in tails. If I never have to sew in another tail I will be happy but the finished result is so lovely it was definitely worth it, and I know that Big Sis loved it. I will have to try and take an in situ picture when I visit this week. It is so hard to find space to photograph these huge blankets in my flat but I just about managed to get it all in!

 

So the hook went down for a while after that and I continued with my knitting phase, knocking out a jumper and two striped hats one of which I wore yesterday to a garden event – and boy was I glad of it with that wind..

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I also taught at The Make Escape for their bi-monthly craft evening as a knitting tutor so I was definitely immersed in the needles for a while. However the lure of the hook cannot be ignored for long and I was soon back absentmindedly making a granny square whilst watching Dickensian; a hugely enjoyable bit of fluff with beautiful costumes from BBC. Not so much of the fanfare of War & Peace but some of the outfits are just as gorgeous.

You can take the girl away from the costume department but you can never remove the costume from the girl it seems!

There are so many lovely open fires in this show that it did somewhat influence my choice of colours and the way I put them into my design. Still I won’t go on about the Granny Square Cushion now as I really want to make up a pattern for you and post it next.

Stash Bash

It seems that a bit of bright sunshine amongst the gloom inspired me to haul through my desk are and gather together all those little bags of bibs & bobs for a sort through.

The delights I found! and a huge realisation that I have far too much ‘stuff’ …. I know it’s like shoes you can never really have too many, but I think it appears you can. Twenty years of working in costume has seen me amass a ginormous amount of bits. Have a look:

Wonderful frogging used for Victorian period clothing

Beautiful buttons in enamel, jet and gilded plastics, twinkling tiny delights!

Just some of my brown buttons!

Trying to squash them all back in the tin!

My favourite jars that hold my special buttons… Yes I three jars of special ones my precious

I know I will never get featured on one of those Pinterest boards for workspaces I want but at least there is now space to work….

And one last thing my favourite pin cushion given to me by a friend – my very own Texan Prick!!!

Maybe next week when I’ve recovered from this bout I will sort out my fabrics. Now that will be a mammoth task.

The Make Escape

Had a wonderful evening at The Make Escape on Tuesday in the Hackney Picturehouse Attic with some truly inspiring recycling makes and amazing craft teachers.

Alison Beadnell from Barmy Cakes and co-author of ‘Sew to Bed’ was teaching people to turn old t-shirts into wonderful things such as coasters, napkin rings, and even wearing an amazing top she had knitted herself. Fingers crossed I can get a fact sheet from her so I can practice myself at home.

Spinning Yarns were on the decks providing us with endless eighties throw back tunes which had everyone singing along as they crafted.

Purple Claire took my daughters fancy and she had a fantastic few hours making collage designs from old maps with her mate. This disappeared into their sketch books at the end of the evening to be used for art and photography A level designs – just goes to show craft is educational and not just for fun!

I also met the wonderful Tree from Stitchless TV whom I will be catching up with at The Spring Knitting & Stitching Show 3-6th March. Tree is a master at teaching people whom have never sewn before to have the confidence to get behind a sewing machine and just create. Can’t wait to see what ideas she has for March.

All of this was co-ordinated by the ever colourful Momtaz from Craft Cafe whom will be on OneHarmonyradio.com this Saturday 9am speaking about how crafting can help postnatal depression.

I was there teaching knitting which I adore – love knitting and love teaching so a perfect few hours. Everyone managed to grasp the basics and whilst they didn’t leave with a knitted piece they all felt confident enough and inspired enough to grab some wool themselves and get stuck in making a scarf or hat.

If you have a Tuesday evening free and want to mix with some lovely people, enjoy great music and learn a new craft then come to the next Make Escape! it’s going to be Superhero themed…. can’t wait.

Printing fun with natural dyes

Yesterday was great fun with my friend Kate Poland from Cordwainers Grow. We have begun to experiment with natural dyes that we can grow/source locally and use them for printing. The first session was not successful – the blind leading the blind – but this second one progress was made! Just look at this…

Lots of experiments – timings – mixing – and mistakes, but we had some results after 1 hour

So now we have a basic formula the next stage is technique – we will keep you posted! As a parting gift here are some stencils I tried that are drying.

Debbie

The First Ever Blanket

I had been wanting to make a serious blanket for years. One of those lovely old fashioned granny square blankets that everyone seems to have on their sofas now. I knew I could make it but also knew I would not have the patience to do it from lots of individual squares.

Surfing the web one day I stumbled across a lovely site called Attic24 and knew then I had found a kind of crochet nirvana! The colours, the designs and the easy way to follow a make. It gave the kick I needed. Settling on a simple granny stripe design I ordered the stylecraft yarn I needed (in far too many colours), and waited.

Four days later I was poised and ready, hook in hand, iPad balanced next to me, and a cat looking determined to get on my lap. I think my cats hate the Attic24 site as since I have found it they don’t get half as much lap time as they used to.

Casting on the 196 stitches was a turning point and from that day till four weeks later I sat and crocheted everyday. Everyday getting a bit bolder with my colour ideas, everyday looking back and wanting to try something different. However I knew this blanket would be a mishmash of colours and stitches, I would probably hate it once finished but it was the learning curve blanket.

Not many pictures were taken whilst I was working, but when so finished my son was thrilled with the result and snaffled it for himself. He nicknamed it Mr Blanket Mcblanketon & he loves it.

Debbie Mitchener