Friday, 23 June 2017

Love your local yarn store

 Like many other people out of necessity I buy a good proportion of my yarn online but where possible I like to buy it from a bricks and mortar yarn shop or direct from indie dyers if I can. It's so helpful to see and feel yarn before buying it and you can also learn so much from knowledgeable vendors. I often say that my local yarn store is four hours away in Shrewsbury where my parents live. Ewe and Ply is a fabulous yarn store in the centre of Shrewsbury offering a great range of yarns (for all budgets) and some really special Shropshire Ply from a local flock of sheep owned by one of the owners Teri.

Friday, 16 June 2017

How to make...crochet frames

I can't believe it, but we are rapidly approaching the end of our son's first year at school; the year has simply flown by. His attention is focused on the upcoming sports day, who his teacher will be next year and what creative gifts he wants the give his teacher and class room assistant to say thank you. The latter hasn't actually taken much consideration - he has commissioned me to made exactly the same as I did for his carers in Kindergarten when he left nursery this time last year - crochet frames.

Five crochet frames in a range of colours

 In today's post I thought I would give you a step-by-step guide to making crochet frames as they make perfect, quick end of term gifts for teachers.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Festival of finishing

Fay, the host of The Crochet Circle Podcast is currently hosting a Festival of Finishing to support and encourage crafters to tackle long-standing projects or W.I.Ps (works in progress). Between now and the end of August, Fay is hosting a CrAL (a craft-along) over in the Crochet Circle Podcast group on Ravelry. As an added motivation, for each project completed during the period, Fay's company, Knit-it Hook-it Craft-it will make a donation to the charity Knit for Peace which does great work in this country and overseas.



I don't have a particular problem with long-standing W.I.Ps, with perhaps the exception of my Amigurumi-Captain-Barnacles-of-doom which I'll talk about later, but I have reached the point in the year where I want to clear the decks in terms of my current projects and make some space for some new ones. In my post today, I wanted to review my W.I.Ps and set my self some targets to complete as part of Fay's Festival of Finishing.


1. Spring into Easter socks

These socks are my youngest W.I.P as I started making these socks during our Easter break away this year. I am using Opal yarn Viridian's Schafpate's range (Thelma, 7952) and a hybrid pattern combining Winwick Mum's basic sock pattern with Erica Leuder's modified Eye of Partridge heel.
A pair of hand-knit socks in progress

These socks have been a joy to knit - even if they are tricky to photograph! I am ready to work the toe decrease on both of them now but I really want these finished and quickly! My friend and I are planning a little summer KAL knitting a pair of vanilla socks continental style and I don't want an almost finished pair of socks hanging around as I start on a new pair. Neither of us can knit continental style so we are going to learn together in the hope it will make us super quick knitters. I have a sock yarn consignment arriving via my parents in two weeks time for our KAL so that's my target for completing these Spring into Easter socks.

2. Westbourne top
My next W.I.P is my Westbourne top designed by Isabell Kraemer. I've talked about this project in an earlier post  and it is growing steadily but slowly.
Westbourne hand-knit top

I would really like to be wearing this top in the Autumn/Winter rather than it languishing in a project bag so target number two in my Festival of Finishing is to work on this project every week day evening over the summer to make some good progress on it. 

3. Patchwork project bag
My third W.I.P is a patchwork project bag that I started making last year following a pattern from the Cath Kidston Sewing book.
Patchwork hexagons

I love working on it and then put it away and completely forget about it. I think with a little bit of focus, I can make good progress and hopefully finish this before the end of August...that's the plan!

4. Captain Barnacles
My longest standing W.I.P - Captain Barnacles - is three years old and has spent most of that time hiding away from the gaze of our little boy in the hope that he'd forget about it.
Crochet toy

I have a strong aversion to making Amigurimi toys because, to be frank - you can't wear them and the crochet projects that I like working on the best are wearable ones! I dread this project - but it is almost finished - Captain Barnacles needs two arms and two ears, plus an evening's worth of sewing up - and so, I commit to finishing it as part of the Festival of Finishing; our little one still likes the Octonauts and I'm sure will enjoy the finish object plus another finished object will increase the size of the donation to Knit for Peace.

More about the Festival of Finishing
Fay has written a super blog post about the CrAL and how to tackle long-standing projects; Why you don't finish projects and what to do about it so do visit her blog to find out more.

Festival of finishing graphic
Everyone is welcome to take part in the CrAL so hop over to the Crochet Circle Podcast group on Ravelry for more details; you'll find a really friendly and supportive group offering mutual encouragement as we all tackle our W.I.Ps.


For me, one of the best things about finishing up these projects is the prospect of planning the future makes so whilst I'm crocheting up Captain Barnacles' arms I will be dreaming of my next shawl project and garment make! I hope you have a super creative and crafty week x

Friday, 2 June 2017

How to...knit mittens

In our corner of the UK we have been having a glorious spell of warm, sunny weather - the perfect weather to be knitting a pair of mittens! Today, I wanted to share with you my progress knitting mittens as part of a KAL (knit-along) but also share with you all of the things I've learnt along the way so that you can knit mittens too!

Along with millions of other people, I have Raynaulds Phenomenon and keeping my hands and feet warm is an ongoing challenge. As a consequence, I have crocheted mittens for myself (and our little boy) and have always wanted to knit myself a pair. As with many things, I initially assumed that I couldn't knit them and then procrastinated whilst I convinced myself that I really couldn't! Thankfully, the lovely Emma from Eldenwood Craft and Ellie from Craft House Magic came up with the idea of a Craftymitalong - an open invitation to use the same pattern and knit a pair of striped mittens. Knowing that I would be making the mittens along with others gave me the confidence to give them a try and I can tell you that mittens are super easy to make, quick and incredibly satisfying - I really wish that I hadn't waited to so long to try making them!

The pattern

Emma and Ellie chose Stripped Mittens according to Badegakk by Lena Gjerald as the pattern that we would all follow. This is a free pattern, available to download from Ravelry. I immediately loved the look of the finished mittens on the pattern - I do love a stripe - even if I don't like all of the ends that need weaving in!

There are a couple of things that I would say about the pattern; I think that it would be perfect if you had already made mittens. I have found that it has been challenging at points but only because I don't have any mitten knitting experience under my belt. I have made a lot of modifications to the pattern, so I think this pattern wouldn't be for you if you just wanted something straightforward to knit without thinking.

Yarn choice

For my yarn, I chose a set of mini skeins from The Little Grey Sheep - an independent yarn producer just a few miles up the road from where we live. Emma, who owns the business - they are her sheep and she dyes the yarn at her farm - was incredibly helpful in sorting out my order.
Five mini-skeins of Stein Fine Wool yarn

And then the yarn came - five mini skeins of Stein Fine Wool (4ply) and it is the most delicious yarn and possibly the best yarn that I have ever worked with; it is beautifully soft, with a really lovely lustre, the stitch definition is great and I know my finished mittens will be so warm.

Needle choice

I have chosen to use short circular needles to work up my mittens. I normally use Hiya Hiya short circulars for socks but for these mittens I am using 2.5mm 9 inch ChiaoGoo needles and I have found them lovely to work with and definitely quicker than if I have worked up the mittens with magic loop.

Mitten resources

Tin Can knits has great introductory tutorial on mitten construction; Let's Knit some super simple mittens is a helpful starting point for mitten knitting and they also have two free mitten patterns:
Maize mittens
The worlds simplest mittens
to put your new skills into practice

Working the cuff and the body of the mitten is straightforward. The off-putting element for me - before I started making the mitten was the thumb. But I can reassure you that is not as bad as it first seems; I have drawn on some key resources to help me and I wanted to share those with you:

Creating the thumb gusset and thumb
To construct the thumb of the mitten you increase stitches between two stitch markers. On my first mitten I used M1L and M1R increases and found that despite my best efforts I was getting tiny holes at the increase points. Emma in the Craftymitalong chatter thread on Ravelry had a similar problem and was able to share her solution with the group - (very nearly) invisible increases:
Techknitting: A very nearly invisible increase

Thumb gusset on knitted mitten

I used this increase technique for my second mitten and I am really delighted with the result.

Having created the thumb gusset, you transfer the stitches that you have created on to waste yarn, to pick up later when you need to knit the thumb itself. If you haven't done this before, Tin Can Knits show you how:
Placing stitches on hold on waste yarn

I had been dreading the next bit of the mitten construction - casting on additional stitches. I had found this incredibly tricky when I had been dividing the sleeves on my Westbourne top. I used a convoluted cast-on process that I had found online - a mistake. I did more research for my mittens and discovered a back loop cast on:
Love Knitting: The backward loop cast-on
Tin Can Knits: Backwards Loop Cast On

Example of backwards loop cast-on

This technique allowed me to create really neat additional stitches on my work.

Double pointed needles
I am using double pointed needles (dpns) to knit the thumb of my mittens. I use dpns to finish off the toes on socks but not much beyond that, however the thumb worked up quickly using them and it was fun - so I obviously need to do more dpn knitting! If you haven't tried working with dpns, Purl Solo has a helpful tutorial to get you started; double pointed needles.

Stripes
One of the defining aspects of the mittens are those beautiful stripes requiring many colour changes. I started weaving in the ends as I went and for me - this didn't work, I found that it distorted my stitches so I stopped, but if you want to have a go, here are two great resources to try;
How to change colours and weave in ends as you by Cozy Knitter
Constrast Cuff, Heel and Toe Socks - joining in new colours by Winwick Mum (socks are quite like mittens!)
 

Life line
In a previous post I have talked about the importance of lifelines and the fact I am not always very good at using them myself. However, I didn't want to take any chances with the decrease section of the first mitten so I popped in a lifeline.
Close up of life-line on a knitted mitten


Fay from The Crochet Circle Podcast suggested dental tape as a effective lifeline so I gave it a try and it works brilliantly - it slipped into the stitches easily, didn't distort the stitches and came out easily too.

Modifications
In case you want to try making these mittens yourself, I thought that I would share the modifications I have made to the pattern;
- I cast on 56 stitches (rather than 62 stated in the pattern)
- I shortened the length of the mitten before the wrist decrease (personal preference)
- I decreased down to 50 stitches after 23 rows rather than the 56 stated in the pattern)

These simple changes have allowed me to create a really good fitting mitten. Much like socks, I have kept trying the mittens on as I worked on them to make sure I was getting the best fit. Don't be scared to make modifications!

Finished mittens...not quite

I really wanted to have a finished pair of mittens ready for this post but I am afraid that life (and in particular the half term holidays) has intervened. I have however made great progress in the week....


One and half striped knitted mittens

It is really lovely to be part of a knit along - I recommend it as a way to push yourself to develop new skills - thank you to Emma and Ellie for hosting.

Future projects

Despite not having completed my first pair yet - I am already on the look out for more mitten patterns and I wanted to share with you three lovely ones that I have found...

Antler Mittens by Tin Can Knits
Vanishing point by Georgia Farrell
Tavy by Linda Lencovic

I would love to hear of any other lovely mitten patterns that you've come across and also any brands of dpns that you would recommend.

Thanks for visiting today, I hope you have a lovely week of crafting x

Friday, 26 May 2017

Ideas for crafting with kids during the school holidays

In the U.K. it is the start of a long Bank Holiday weekend and a week off school for many children. Our little one loves school but is very ready for a break, a rest and some time playing with Mummy and Daddy. We have some days planned together as a family, and some Daddy-days whilst I have to work and Mummy-days whilst Daddy works. I look forward to our Mummy-days so much; it's our chance to bake, make and catch up with friends at our schools. In today's post I want to share the projects we are planning and some tips for having the most crafty school holiday possible.

Knitting

I can't deny that my heart sank when last weekend R asked if I could teach him to knit. I have vivid memories of being taught to knit as a little one and it being disastrous. As ever, our little one proved me wrong and together we began his knitting career making a scarf for Henry Bear.

The start of a hand knitted yellow and green scarf


My top six tips for teaching a five year old to knit;
1. Let them watch you knit slowly on your own project  - this really helped R understand how to hold the needles and how the needles move
2. Sit your child on your knee and let them hold your hands whilst you knit
3. Use blunt short needles and inexpensive DK or chunky yarn - you won't be upset then if it ends up a hot mess!
4. Ask your child to 'be in charge' of the needles and let you look after the yarn, keeping the tension and wrapping it over the needle - we found this to be a really great 'bridge' into knitting. R had the satisfaction of creating a growing piece of fabric without getting into a tangle. Starting off, we knit together like this for a good many rows to help build up knitting muscle memory
5. Once your child understands how to hold the needles and where they need to go, suggest swapping roles so that they get practice holding the yarn, keeping tension and throwing/wrapping it over the needle.
6. Be ready to tink back and pick up dropped stitches, let your little one assemble their knitting skills together and fly solo...

I foresee knitting being a big part of our crafting plans this holiday! Other plans that we have, which you might also want to try include;

Embroidery

R has done a little cross-stitch at school but none at home so far. I have bought some binca and brightly coloured embroidery threads so that we can have go together. R loves reading and having many bookmarks so I will cut the binca into strips that R can decorate with cross-stitch and running stitch should we plastic needles I ordered a month ago actually arrive! This is a really low cost and safe entry point for sewing and we can't wait to get started.

French knitting

A quick search around Pinterest reveals so many good uses (snakes, mats, bowls, bags!) for the cord created by French knitting that R is very keen to give it a go. We have a couple of wooden 'dollies' purposely made for French knitting that we'll use but online I've seen people use a toilet roll and four large paper clips! Pinterest is a great place to search for resources.

Sketchbooks

If you haven't discovered the lovely Jennie Maizels and her stunning illustrations, then I urge you to look at her website or Instagram feed. One of the growing aspects of Jennie's work is teaching and enabling people to create their own sketchbooks. Jennie offers regular evening classes, day workshops and two online courses. I have been lucky enough to attend one of her day workshops which was just the best fun and also participate in both online courses. Our little one adores Jennie and her work and together we have worked through Jennie's online courses. We have so much fun together working on our sketchbooks, exploring new materials and developing our techniques - even Daddy has his own sketchbook! Sketchbooking is part of every school holiday for us and often after school too.

Flay lay of sketchbook, paints, paintbrushes and pencils


 If you want to have a go over the holidays, you just need to assemble a few key resources that can be purchased online inexpensively;
- we use A5 brown backed sketchbooks available from all over but the website Baker Ross is a good place to look
- a HB pencil, pencil sharpener and rubbber
- a fine line black ink pen
- coloured pencil crayons
- paints; we have built up our collection to include watercolours, gouache and acrylics but to start you can simply go for an inexpensive child's watercolour set
- 2 paintbrushes - thin one and a slightly fatter one

If we aren't following one of Jennie's online modules, R will often think of a theme (animals, farms, American Football!) and this inspires his sketchbook spread.


We will also bake this holiday and do some junk modelling too I imagine. I hope these ideas have helped you plan some making time with your children over the holidays. Do check out Pinterest which has a wealth of resources for craft activities.

In terms of my making, I am hoping to do some more work on my jumper and make good progress on some mittens that I am working up as part of a knit-along hosted by Emma from Eldenwood Craft and Ellie from Craft House Magic. Do check out Emma and Ellie's Ravelry groups for more details. We are all working on a free pattern for stripey mittens by the designer Lena Gjerald and I am using this beautiful yarn from The Little Grey Sheep;

Five mini-skeins in greys and pinks

 I am also hoping to finish a commission that has taken too long and start a new crochet shawl...

I hope you all have a lovely weekend and a happy week x

Friday, 19 May 2017

A beginner's guide to garment knitting

In the last of my accidental mini-series on hand-made garments, I thought I would share with you my current knitted garment journey. I have knitted a sleeveless tank-top before, but it was so easy that I really don't think it counts, so my current project is my first knitted garment! I do like a challenge and this year my making goals include developing my knitting skills and creating beautiful, wearable pieces - in that spirit, I am making the Westbourne sweater by Isabell Kraemer.

Pattern choice

If you are a regular reader of my blog you might know that I like top-down garment construction and so in looking for patterns, I focused my search to garments knitted top-down. Whilst searching, Fay from the Crochet Circle podcast finished a really beautiful sweater designed by Isabell and she only had good things to say about the way that the pattern was written.  With this endorsement, I was delighted to discover a selection of designs by Isabell constructed from the top-down and after a little mulling over I went for the Westbourne - a lovely, 4ply slouchy-fit sweater.

The pattern is excellently written, with clear instructions and links to tutorials for tricky bits of the construction.

Yarn choice

To make life easy, I am using the yarn recommended in the pattern and unsurprisingly, I've chosen blue! I am using;
Cascade 220 Fingering (4ply) yarn in Sapphire (9332) and Grinseng (9593)

Three skeins of yarn



I haven't worked with Cascade 220 Fingering before and when it arrived I thought it felt quite rough and rustic. However, the swatch I made to test my gauge washed-up beautifully and the yarn really softened. Now I am working with it, I am finding the fabric it creates to be soft, with a good drape.

Needles

Knowing that I wanted to do more knitting this year, I bought myself a set of insert interchangeable needles - I think needles might deserve a whole post to their own some time - but I am really enjoying knitting with the wooden needles.

Interchangeable knitting needles

I find them comfortable in my hand, light and slippy enough for knitting to be pleasurable. The join between the needle and cable is really smooth and the cables, whilst not my favourite, are absolutely fine for this project.

Techniques and resources

This project is definitely the most challenging knitting project I've tackled. I can't divulge too much as it is a paid for pattern but it goes straight from casting on, to a large section of short rows. Short rows in crochet projects require concentration but are easy enough, short rows in knitting feel much more intimidating. I have to say that I felt overwhelmed but thanks to another fabulous tutorial from Tin Can Knits, I overcame them and I am just so delighted with how they look. I found getting the tension consistent ( and tight) is the key to success.

The sweater is created using (a lot of) raglan increases and once I've mastered short rows I thought the raglan increases would be a breeze but I have had a complete mental block with my increases leaning to the right and the left. My go-to visual guide has been this excellent blog post; Muddy Sheep - Make 1 left, right, knit-side, purl-side

I am not fabulous at doing this myself, but if you are thinking of embarking on a garment or a complex knitted project it is really worth considering putting in a lifeline at key points of your project. The Love Knitting blog has a helpful article showing how to do it, but in summary by inserting waste yarn through your stitches, you can rip back your work more easily if you make a mistake later on in the pattern. If you didn't put in a lifeline and end up making a mistake, one of my favourite resources is from  Vogue Knitting which provides a helpful guide to fixing common mistakes.

Weaving in ends is one of my least favourite aspects of knitting, or crochet for that matter, so I was interested to see Christine's (Winwick Mum) latest free tutorial this week sharing a technique for weaving in ends as you go. In case you've missed it, Christine shows the technique with contrast cuffs, heels and toes on a pair of socks but I think it would work well with other projects: 

Progress

I am almost at the end of the raglan increases and just about to transfer the sleeves to waste yarn and then, I can start the stripes on the body.

Close up view of raglan increases on knitted sweater

So far, this not proving to a photogenic project but I am loving it all the same. I'm pleased with my yarn choices and glad that I'll have no seaming up to do at the end. I will share this project here again as it develops.

Thanks so much for coming to visit my blog and sharing my making journey x






Friday, 12 May 2017

Finished 'Luna' crochet sweater

In my crochet garments post last week I mentioned that I was working on a sweater from Dora Ohrenstein's Top-down crochet sweaters book. After a lot of work this week, I'm so delighted to be able to share it with you as a finished object. As well as sharing the finished garment, I thought I would also give you a quick review of the yarn I used, share my modifications and some tips in case you want to make the sweater yourself.

Folded crochet sweater on top of 'Top-down crochet sweaters' book


I received Dora's book as a gift for Christmas and whilst it is crammed full of beautiful designs, the Luna sweater stood out for me. I liked the look of the unusual stitch pattern, the style, and I thought that the tonal yarn looked really lovely too. My birthday and Christmas are very close together which makes it tricky sometimes to think of what I might like as gifts from family. However last year was easy - the answer was yarn please, and so my parents very kindly bought me the yarn to make the Luna sweater.

Yarn choice

I've called this section yarn choice but actually, there wasn't any choice involved! I went straight for the recommended yarn which was a Knit Picks hand-painted fingering weight yarn; Stroll fingering in  Deep Waters Tonal.

Three skeins of tonal blue Knit Picks yarn


I hadn't used a Knit Picks yarn before and I was really impressed with it; it is a 75% superwash Merino, 25% nylon blend so it is beautifully soft to work with and wear, with great stitch definition. I think it would be a really good choice for someone with skin that is slightly sensitive.

I made the small size sweater which required just two skeins, but I bought three skeins just to be sure that I wasn't going to run out and as you'll read - I am so pleased that I bought that extra skein.


The pattern

As it is a paid-for pattern I won't say very much here but the sweater is constructed from the neckband down, with a circular style yoke.



The pattern is written clearly with advice on sizing, tips for yarn substitution and how best to finish the piece - although it's a top-down seamless construction, the use of the tall linked double trebles (US) means there is a little steam blocking and seaming required at the end. The fabric created by the stitch pattern is stretchy so no shaping is required which made the construction very straightforward.

I think this would be a good and accessible pattern for a garment-making beginner.

Modifications

The beauty of top-down garment construction is that you can try on the piece as you go and make any necessary modifications to either improve the fit or suit your preferences. I made two changes to the pattern;  I lengthened the body by two rows and the sleeves by six rows. As I was nearing the completion of the first sleeve I realised that the length wasn't quite right for me - I am nearly always cold and I knew that if I left the sleeves at the length set out in the pattern, I would either not wear the finished garment very often or be always wearing a cardigan over the top of it which seems a real shame when the yarn is so beautiful.

Ball of yarn and crochet sweater


The pattern is well-written and gives tips on modifications too, so it was incredibly easy to make the adjustments to get the best fit for me. However I could only do it because I'd bought that extra skein of yarn. In the end I used 22g of the third skein, so I still have enough left of the skein to make something else with the yarn that remains and I have a garment that I know I'll actually wear!

The process

The yarn is just gorgeous, I love how it works up with the stitch pattern and as I've mentioned, the pattern is great, but this garment has been such a slow project. After swatching, I eventually began working on it in February and it's taken until today, mid-May, to finish it. There are two reasons for this; the linked double trebles take a really long time to work because of the multiple steps involved in the construction of each stitch, and I unfortunately found that working that particular stitch made my wrist ache. As a result, this was a stop-start project whilst I gave my wrist a little break.

If you are going to make 'Luna' I would definitely recommend that you allow yourself a uninterrupted couple of hours to do the steam blocking, and seaming at the end. A little bit of quiet and concentration makes all the difference to the quality of the finished garment.

The finished garment

Now it's finished and blocked, I can say that I am absolutely delighted with my Luna sweater; it looks beautiful and fits perfectly.

Luna crochet sweater


Overall, I would definitely recommend this make and I wouldn't be surprised if I didn't make another one at some point in the future!

Now the search begins to find my next crochet garment project!
Hope you have a fun week of crafting x