Thursday, December 20, 2012

Sending love

I had been planning to try to write a festive post round about now, as I've been busy making lots of festive things recently. But I have, as have so many, many other people all around the planet, been so deeply shocked, shaken and distressed by last week's events in Newtown, Connecticut, that I just can't bring myself to write the cheery post I'd had in mind. I have decided, instead, to use this post to compile a list of organisations who are accepting handmade donations to send to those directly involved in this horrendous tragedy. I have seen various links being posted over the last few days on various social media sites, but I thought that, for my own benefit, and for that of anyone else reading this who might feel moved to make a contribution, it would be useful to have these contacts listed together here. This is, by no means, a definitive list, but just a few of the ones I have come across.

These guys (a group formed on Ravelry) are collecting knitted creatures to send to each one of the surviving children from the school. Click on the link below the photo for more info.
600 Monsters For Connecticut 

These people (Ewe & Company) are collecting knit/crochet 'comfort' shawls:

These people (The Yarn Barn) are collecting handmade teddy bears:

And here (on facebook) is a community collecting knit/crochet scarves and cowls:

UPDATE: Thank you to Allison for this link - the Connecticut PTSA is collecting handmade snowflakes to decorate the new school when the students return in January:

As I said, these are just a few of the groups I've come across who are collecting such items to distribute to those involved in this tragedy. I'm sure there are many others. If you want to make something that does not fall into any of the above categories (I'm thinking of something sewn, for example, rather than knit/crocheted), I am sure any of the contacts at the above links would be willing and able to let you know how to go about donating such items.

I am never sure how much a gesture of this nature really helps someone who is faced with such unimaginable pain. It seems such a small, perhaps even futile, thing to do - to send something handmade to someone who must be suffering beyond belief. However much love and care you put into making something, it's so insignificant in the context of the enormity of what these people are suffering. I wonder, might it even be angering to those suffering such a horrendous loss, the thought that someone thinks a handmade scarf/toy/etc might make you feel better? But perhaps there are other moments, even if they are few and far between, when maybe it just helps a tiny, tiny bit to know that someone you've never met is sending you a gesture of love? I don't know. But compared to doing nothing, I think it's worth a try.

If you would also like to add your voice to the calls for change regarding gun laws in the US, here are a couple of links to places where you can do that.

Wishing you all a very peaceful holiday season, and sending  love...

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Knickers!: An Update.

This post has been brewing for a while now, but, despite my brave words on the subject in my previous post, I have actually had trouble finding the nerve to put photos of my knickers on the internet! I guess I'm an old-fashioned girl at heart - I can't help wondering what my Grandmothers would have made of such behaviour. My Mum, however, has said it's ok though, so, with her blessing, I shall proceed!

I think it's fair to say that I have been hooked by the whole sew-your-own-undies thing. It really is rather liberating, not to mention pretty good fun, once you get the hang of a few techniques and can then let your imagination take off. I think I am up to about eight or nine pairs of knickers now, and my skills are definitely improving with each new pair. I have tried both self-drafting patterns based on items I already own, and using commercial patterns (Ohhh Lulu has some lovely ones, and some very helpful tutorials too), and also combining elements of both. Here's my progress so far...

This is my first pair - a fairly simple style to start off with - which I drafted myself based on an M&S pair I've got. They are made out of some organic red cotton jersey which I had leftover from a top I made back in the summer (I am not usually a flamboyant, bright red knickers kind of a girl - I just wanted to use up scrap leftovers on my first few test pairs - but you will probably find this hard to believe as you scroll down through these photos!).

For the next couple of pairs, I experimented with bias-cut woven fabrics (as opposed to the jersey above, which is a stretch fabric - i.e. what t-shirts are made out of). Much as I love cotton jersey, it is fantastic to discover you can actually make underwear out of wovens (which don't stretch) as long as you use an appropriate pattern and cut them on the bias. It opens up a whole world of wonderful prints to use. These first ones are a kind of lacey-print in cream and white...

Next came pink polka dots! Now I have knickers to match my teapot!

Then, having realised the potential of being able to use up scraps of printed wovens, I made this ruffled pair out of what was leftover from making my son a Halloween cloak! Heck yes, why should kids have all the fun?!!!

I then moved on to a pattern that has lace side-panels for a bit of textural interest. In this style (adapted from Ohhh Lulu's Betty pattern) you can use either stretch or woven fabrics for the centre front and back panels, as long as you make sure you use a stretch fabric for the sides (this is stretch lace). I think this might be my favourite pair so far...

I made another using red stretch velvet for the centre panels...

And, finally, here are a pair I made for my sister to congratulate her on recently graduating from 'permanent resident' status to official American citizen. These made me giggle the whole, entire time I was making them!

I've got so many ideas, now, that I'm itching to try out - it's opened up a whole new world of inventiveness to me. And I am definitely going to try my hand at bras, too, now I've caught the bug. It would be fun to have some matching sets. This is a pretty hilarious thing for me to say, as I don't think I've ever had a matching set of anything in my life before! But now I can make it all myself, I'm suddenly right into it. And, as I said before, I've really never been a flamboyant underwear girl before (honest!) - I always prized comfort way above style, I'm afraid - but now I can make things that are both comfy and interesting, I am really having fun with it. Anything like this feels so much more authentic to me when I get to choose, invent and make it myself. I don't like having the mass-market ideal of "sexy" foisted on to me, but, it turns out, if I get to make things how I want to make them myself, perhaps I do have an Inner Underwear Minx after all (don't tell my Mum).

Something else surprising that I have learned so far - those bows, mini-rosettes, etc, (that I always thought were such a cliche) actually do matter. They kind of tie it all together visually, as illustrated above by my earlier (bow-less) versions, and my later (bow-bedecked) ones. I won't say that knickers necessarily need a focal point (!), but, hey, if you're going to show them off on  the internet anyway, what the heck, might as well just embrace it!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Flash Hats (a collaboration) and THE BEST POMPOM EVER

The new edition of Interweave Crochet Accessories 2012 has just been published, and I've got a set of patterns in it: the Flash Hats. This is one basic hat pattern with three different variations you can choose between - you can stick with the straightforward hat, or you can add a pompom, or earflaps and tassels (more on the pompom in a minute). This was an interesting experience for me, as it was quite a collaborative process between myself and the Interweave team. With previous designs, the only real changes which have been made to my initial design proposals have been the yarns (the editors select the yarns and colors they want you to use for each project, and you never know what it might be until it arrives in a package on your doorstep, like a yarny Christmas surprise). However, with this design, Marcy Smith (the editor of Interweave Crochet) e-mailed me and asked if I would be interested in working on three variations of the original hat design I had submitted. They wanted to create a family of hats in a variety of sizes, which would start out from the same basic hat "recipe", and could then have the various design elements swapped in or out as desired.

To show you how the designs evolved, here is a photo of the hat design I originally submitted to Interweave:

It was a simple, striped hat, with a ribbed brim which could be worn turned up or down, and was worked in a lovely burgundy tweed wool with brown tweed stripes. I had called it the Harbour Hat, as the original was made for my friend, Pete, who makes music under the name Harbour. The magazine also gets to name your finished project, by the way, and you only discover what they've decided to call it when everyone else does (i.e when it's on the newsstands) - so far, I think it's been about 50/50 between them using the name I gave a project when I submitted it, and them picking something entirely different - it's fun to see what they come up with each time.

The other major change they made to the look of the hats was to have me make them in various different shades of NEON. I have to admit, I did do a small "yikes" when Marcy mentioned that! But, apparently, neon is back, and the yarn they sent me (Manos del Uruguay Maxima) was so gorgeous that I soon forgave it for making me wear sunglasses while working on it. They sent me six different colours to play with, and so the next part of the collaborative process was deciding which colours to mix and match with which other colours. Many photos were e-mailed back and forth between myself, Marcy and Sarah at Interweave, with the various yarns laid out in various combinations, trying to decide which options to use to suit the different styles. And, of course, if neon is just not your thing, you can substitute for another worsted weight yarn of your choosing (the stripes do not require very much yarn, and so are perfect for stash-busting those little leftover bits and pieces you don't know what to do with). As you can see from the photo above, the tweedy yarn gives it a completely different look.

So, here is how it all worked out in the end:

Easy Crochet Hats

Crochet Hats

For more details and photos, see here.
To get a copy of the magazine (available in print or digital form), see here.

Oh, yes, and about that pompom... it's actually kind of funny - I, erm, how shall I put this?, don't *love* making pompoms. They asked me to make one for the child's version of the hat, and, well, let's just say, it took me a few attempts. And it is possible that the air may have turned the teeniest bit blue during the process. Anyway, as the child's hat was so colourful (it uses five out of the six colours I had available), and I was having trouble deciding which colour to use for the pompom, I decided, what the heck, I'll just use them all. So I made a multicoloured pompom (erm, *eventually*), attached it to the top of the hat, breathed a sigh of relief, and, thinking no more of it, sent it off to the Interweave office. A little while later, I received an e-mail from Marcy saying that they loved the pompom I had made, and would I be willing to write-up an article for their Back to Basics column describing how to make it? I was both amazed and delighted by this (she has, very kindly, dubbed it THE BEST POMPOM EVER!), and willingly complied. (There may or may not have been a small amount more *language* involved while reworking the project for them to take guide photos. I can neither confirm nor deny such reports). So, if you should wish to create a magnificent, multi-coloured pompom yourself, find out how on p50 of the magazine - don't worry, all *language* has been edited out for publication, but I won't judge you if you feel the need to pour yourself a stiff drink either before, after, or during (or all of the above) the pompom-making process...

And now, I will leave you with a word of warning:


Sunday, September 30, 2012


Ok, I'm doing it - the sewing project that dare not speak its name: I'm going to try to make my own knickers! This is an idea which has been bubbling away at the back of my mind for a while now - wouldn't it be great to be liberated from the tyranny of underwear shopping? I'm sure I can't be alone in finding underwear shopping to be one of the most depressing and frustrating shopping activities of them all, and one which is hard to avoid on, at least, a semi-regular basis (I may be making assumptions here, but I think the majority of people wear underwear the majority of the time - I could be wrong, though...). I can never really find stuff I like, stuff that I actually want to wear, stuff that is made out of materials which I like. I end up having to make do with stuff that kind of fits, in styles dictated by the (rather cliched) fashion industry. So, enough's enough! I'm going to start with knickers, and, depending how that goes, might even move on to other items, you know, the ones that require more complex structuring... It's funny, isn't it, how it feels a little embarrassing to talk about these garments - the temptation to add *wink wink* and *snigger snigger* to every sentence is hard to resist, but the truth is, we all (or, at least, most of us) do wear these garments (or some variety of them) on a daily basis - more consistently than anything else in our wardrobes, probably. So I'm just going to try to get over myself and discuss it the same way I would anything else that I'm making to wear. The only difference is, I probably certainly won't be posting photos of me modeling my creations, so you can breath easy on that front!

My idea is this: to combine the techniques I've been reading up on in this book by Karen Morris with the ethics and aesthetics of Natalie Chanin and her books, by which I mean, use simple, thoughtful, handsewn techniques and simple, thoughtful materials (good quality organic cotton jersey) to create lovely things that will be a pleasure to make and to wear. Of course, this  dream may fall flat on its face, but it's worth a try, right? And, if it works out, then I'm sorry, Marks & Spencer, but it's over between us!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Postcards from A Grand Summer of Sewing.

This summer has been A Grand Summer of Sewing, on a scale verging on the obsessive. My list of things to blog about has been growing so fast that it's become overwhelmingly long. It feels impossible to even scratch the surface of all the things I want to talk about, and I have thus been rendered somewhat mute. In an attempt to break the ice, I have decided that, rather than trying to talk about each project, design, influence, inspiration, technique, etc, in an in-depth way, I will just start off with a series of little "postcards" from my Grand Summer of Sewing. I apologise for the less-than-perfect quality of the photos - most of them were just taken quickly on my little iPod, rather than on my Proper Camera, and the self-portraits are from the school of stretch-out-your-arm-and-hope-for-the-best. 

It all started with some handsewn gifts made out of felt...

Then I began playing with cotton jersey garments, and texture...

A brief interlude for a bit of friendly 4th July fun...

Moving on to a major Alabama Chanin phase, including stenciling...


More adventures in applied texture...

A hat or two...


My latest breakthrough - pajamas!


There have been many, many other projects along the way, and I am still trying to gather photos of them all. I hope you've enjoyed this little taster so far, and I hope to be back soon with the next installment... 

Friday, August 31, 2012

Bear Lake Hat and Superswatch article


The new edition of Interweave Crochet (Fall 2012) is now available, and I have a design in it - the Bear Lake Hat (for more info and extra pictures you can also check out the Ravelry page here). The hat is worked in the round from the top down, and features a Fair Isle-style border which involves some very simple stranded colourwork. Don't be deterred if you've never tried stranded work before - only two of the rounds use the stranding technique, and it really is such a simple pattern repeat that it would be an excellent introductory project with which to acquaint yourself with this method of colourwork.

I also have an article in this edition (my first one!) all about swatching for colourwork, so you will also be able to pick up further techniques and advice there. I'm really excited to have been able to contribute both a design and an article this time. I still can't quite believe it! I hope you enjoy them.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

My Mum

I usually avoid talking about anything too personal or too heavy here on this blog - I will sometimes refer to friends or family in passing, but I try, in general, to keep to subjects relating to my work/fibre-related projects. Today I am going to break this (self-imposed) rule a little bit, although the subject I want to write about is actually fundamental to my love of crochet, knitting and sewing. I am going to talk about my Mum.

If there is, actually, anyone out there who reads this blog on occasion, you will have heard me mention my Mum before. We share a passion for yarn and yarn-related adventures, and I am forever nagging her into joining me on whatever my latest yarny fad is - socks, stranded colourwork, and crescent-shaped shawls, to name a recent few (more on the crescent-shaped shawls later). She usually politely accepts my enthusiastic exhortations to start whatever project I am currently badgering her to start with me, and then, a couple of weeks later, everso casually mentions that, yes, she has, in fact, finished four pairs of socks/stranded colourwork hats/crescent-shaped shawls and is now on to her fifth, while I sheepishly glance over at the one half-finished sock lying abandoned in a ziploc bag on the corner of my desk. She is a little bit sneaky like that.

She is the person who taught me to sew, knit and crochet (in that order). She and her Mum, in fact - my Granny Warhurst. They are the two people who first brought wool and cloth into my life, and made me realise I could make stuff with it. They were my first, and most important, teachers. They set me off on this path, and gave me skills I am still using to this day. They enabled me.

Yesterday, my Mum sent me an e-mail with photos (taken by my Dad) of the crescent shawl she has just finished (I warned you about her!). Here she is with her gorgeous shawl...

Photo by John Hewerdine. 
The shawl pattern is the Silk Moon Crescent Shawlette by Jaala Spiro.

Today, my Mum is in hospital having a pace-maker fitted. She is on my mind, and in my heart, and I feel completely helpless (I am in the US and she is in the UK), and it is very, very hard to be so far from her at a time like this. But she likes it when I write this blog (she might be the only one who reads it), and she (gently) tells me I ought to do it more often, so I'm writing this today because I can't think of what else to do.

I love you, Mum xxxxxxx

P.S. Both my Granny Warhurst and my Mum's brother, my Uncle David, also had to have pace-makers fitted, and both did brilliantly with them, so I know she'll be fine. I just wish I was near enough to give her a hug (and steal her shawl).