Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Book review: Knitted Dolls with a designer wardrobe by Arne & Carlos

'Knitted Dolls with a Designer Wardrobe' is the second book from Arne & Carlos after their book '55 Christmas balls to knit'.

This has to be the cutest front cover of a knitting book ever. It's a knitted Arne & Carlos knitting. Perhaps they are knitting smaller and smaller versions of themselves to infinity and beyond : P

This book is full of fun. There is a main doll pattern with pages and pages of colourful imaginative clothing for the dolls. You can mix and match different fashionable clothes to put on the doll and choose from an array of hairstyles too.

The dolls and clothes are all knitted in the round with clear diagrams if you like working from a chart. There is plenty here to satisfy all levels of knitting ability and taste.

The photography is fantastic with the dolls in various situations and places!

I've lost count of how many times I've picked this book up. It's so bright and colourful I keep flicking through in amazement at the array of clothes and detail in the patterns.

It's a heavy book at 200 pages and there are plenty of tips and hints about techniques for when you come to the crucial doll face.

I love this book so much. It's a book you could have out as a talking point it's so quirky and unusual. The clothes are expertly designed and actually make me jealous that I don't own them in adult human size!

You can buy a copy of 'Knitted Dolls with a Designer Wardbrobe by Arne & Carlos here from Search Press.

Thanks to Search Press for sending me this book to review.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Why go vegan?

I celebrated my two year vegan anniversary in June. It's been a long journey which has had its fair share of ups and downs.

Apricot Flapjacks by Viva!

I thought I would talk about how it's changed my life, the way I feel and the challenges involved to try and encourage other people to at least try one vegan product this week.

Firstly, what made me go vegan? I've outlined this before on this blog but it was getting involved with green groups which made me think about meat consumption and how it linked to my carbon footprint. Someone somewhere mentioned 'meat free Mondays' and I felt ashamed about my meat consumption. I'd been a vegetarian as a teenager but it had only lasted a year or so.

So I went away and tried cutting meat out on Saturdays. It was great. I ate a veggie burger to replace my usual lamb mince homemade burger and it tasted amazing. The range of tastes in my mouth made me hate the dull meat burger. Eventually I went veggie full-time as I was reminded of how wonderful a plate of food could be. As a result of following vegans more on social networking sites I then thought about going vegan. One of my favourite foods was cheese, and it was a big step.

At first soya milk tasted weird. It took a few attempts to get used to it and then gradually soya marg appeared in the fridge along with more salad.

The worst thing about going vegan, or so I thought, would be cutting out chocolate but I found an array of dairy free and dark chocolate which satisfied me.

My advice for anyone thinking about going vegan would be:

1. Do it gradually and don’t panic if you don’t like soya milk at first. You’ll soon get used to it. Put it in the cup first if having coffee and stir well. Costa coffee serve free soya milk in their outlets. Try a soya latte if you don’t want to fork out for soya milk. Also, supermarkets do their own brand of soya milk now so you won’t have to break the bank.

2. Don’t panic if you lapse. If you’ve been vegan for a while and you have a moment of weakness like I did about six months ago you’ll soon notice the massive difference in how you feel and refrain in the future.

3. Learn to cook if you don’t know how. Learn where the vegan ingredients are (mostly in the health food shop but soya milk, marg and tofu is sold in shops like Sainsbury’s) and make sure you get lots of recipes.

Things which have improved in my life since going vegan:

1. My concentration has improved ten-fold. I can hold things in my head for longer and have found things like reading, making and studying much, much easier.

2. My sinusitis has completely gone away. I used to experience palpitations and panic attacks. These have been completely eliminated. My asthma has neither improved nor worsened and I unfortunately still get hay fever.

3. I have significantly reduced my risk of heart attack/cancer/stroke (but may still be susceptible due to genetics!)

4. Obviously my fruit and vegetable intake has increased four-fold. This in itself has made me feel healthier and stronger physically and mentally.

5. Skin related things like acne and nail fungal infections have cleared up by 90 per cent.

6. I have more energy and don’t find myself slumping as much.

7. I feel soothed by a vegetable-based diet and most of the time my stomach feels simply amazing. I was never diagnosed with lactose intolerance but feel sick if I lapse and drink dairy milk. Apparently you can be drawn to food which you are intolerant to and indeed become addicted to it and crave it.

8. I feel amazing whenever I exercise as a result of having more energy. I had piled on weight and was a big size 16 (almost 18) in 2010. Now I'm a size 14 and can sometimes fit into a size 12. Although losing weight isn't the main priority for me.

9. I feel excited about food as my irritable bowel syndrome has been reduced by about 80 per cent. It sometimes got to the point pre-vegan where I was anxious about eating due to the indigestion I would feel afterwards.

10. I have reduced my carbon footprint and am not participating in the slaughter of animals. I don’t believe an animal based diet suits everyone.

If you are thinking about going vegan don't do it all overnight. Try cutting one meat night out a week or just try a soya coffee in Costa Coffee until you’ve weaned yourself off meat and dairy. You may just notice how good you feel straight away!

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Granny Square Blanket

I've discovered the simple beauty of the granny square.

I've started a new blanket and it's so quick to crochet I've decided to make this blanket for the Refuge campaign instead of the one I designed. I will still crochet the one I designed at a later date but this is fast.

I love the fact I can pick up a ball of yarn at any moment and start crocheting without the pattern. Patterns slow the process of making down so much I'm loving the fact that it's simple enough to memorise and just relax while making it.

So far I've crocheted nine squares (you need 24 for a cot blanket) and I've been crocheting it in between other projects when I've wanted something to completely switch off with.

It's all acrylic which is good as it needs to be washable.

I'm so addicted to crocheting with bright acrylics now. Which can only be a good thing!

Friday, 20 July 2012

Book Review: Cable Ready

'Cable ready - A collection of 10 easy-to-master cable knitting projects' is an excellent starter book for those looking to jump into the world of advanced knitting and also challenging for those already there.

The book begins with a great starter shrug which is worked as a rectangle so you can concentrate on practicing cable without any distracting shaping. Although if you are a complete beginner there are a few scarves to practice with too.

There are four projects classed as 'easy', four classed as 'intermediate' and two 'experienced' projects. The jackets are the hardest projects but if you are a cable virgin they will still serve to inspire you to practice.

They've included a total of six information pages which is more than you get in some other knitting books. There are two pages on how to cable which you could pair up with a YouTube video. Also included are abbreviations and symbols, the yarn weight system, inches into millimetres and centimetres, increasing and decreasing, kitchener stitch and the provisional cast-on method.

I started to cable myself about a year after learning to knit and it felt odd. To concentrate you have to focus on the needles you are knitting with at the time and forget about the third. If you have experience knitting in the round on multiple needles you won't find it hard at all.

I love the raised bulky chunky look of cables. They look so sumptious and delicious.

My only criticism is that half the projects are scarves or cowls. There are many accessories which take cables, for example one would be straight cabled armwarmers. Cushions are always good too. But if you are a complete beginner you will welcome the proliferation of scarves as easy projects. I've knitted a cabled scarf in chunky wool and it was beautiful.

At $14.95 (or £9.99 in the UK) it's good value at $1.50 or £1 per pattern. The book is published by House of White Birches and you can buy it from Search Press here.

Thanks to Search Press for sending me this book to review.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Ravelry sock pattern

I've been looking at socks a lot this week.

The reason for this will become apparent later on this week but for now I thought I would highlight this lovely sock pattern which I found on Ravelry. It's free to download thanks to Laura Sparling. Go check them out if you haven't already.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Visit to Dunster Castle

Yesterday I visited the delightful Dunster Castle. We travelled for a total of 2 hours and 20 minutes on the bus to get there and back but it was well worth it.

The rain held off but a light drizzle was always in the air as we walked around the extensive gardens. The house was very homely, warm and inviting with beautiful ornate ceilings, decorations and paintings.

There is so much history in the geneology of the Luttrell family. It's a Norman castle so dates from 1066. You can trace all of medieval history, georgian, victorian and 20th century through the stories of the family. There's an MP in their history, who spent most of his life renovating the castle instead of travelling to the House of Commons. But you will find it in your heart to forgive him when you imagine the journey from Somerset on horse as you look around the ancient stables!

The views as you walk around the castle are just fantastic. The only houses I've been in which can rival the views are John Ruskin's house in Cumbria, a socialist artist who I was quite obsessed with at the age of 15 and Ty Newydd, the creative writing centre which is located within the former house of Prime Minister Lloyd George.

It's a very interactive house for children to look around as they can play in the billiard room, do puzzles in one of the rooms and play the piano by the grand stairs. There is also a fantastic natural adventure playground in the gardens which I would have loved as a child. There wasn't much of interest craft-wise but I did spot some embroidery used as a coaster for a plant and a wall hanging of embroidered silk. Although the wallpaper is absorbing to look at!

The flowers in the garden were stunning. Even the bridges in the river gardens were of huge architectural historical significance. I would highly recommend this as a day out if you are ever in Somerset.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Book Review: The Bumper Book of Crafty Activities

'The Bumper Book of Crafty Activities' by Search Press should be at the top of your shopping list if you are a parent of a child aged 8-12 looking for low-cost activities for the summer holidays.

It's the age where children start to branch out from finger painting and pouring glitter glue everywhere to more advanced creative play.

Everything is bright and wonderful in this book. The tutorials are super-easy to follow, clearly illustrated and have alerts for when children should ask adults to help them.

The book is divided up into 13 sections covering Printing, Creative Lettering, Mosaics, Paper Mache, Origami, Handmade Cards, Collage, Clay Modelling, Beadwork, Decorative Painting and Paperfolding.

It's very educational too with information on everything from Picasso's art to Egypt which is perfectly pitched. I remember feeling really excited about Egypt when first studying it at the age of nine.

Introductions to the chapters include the history of the craft if your child wants to follow up to find out more about it.

Some of the projects don't require any costly items and instead encourage recycling of old yogurt and crisp pots - very Blue Peter!

There are over 100 projects to make in seven steps or less. This book really will keep your creative monsters entertained for weeks. Just remember to cover that table!

The Bumper Book of Crafty Activities is available from Search Press here.

Thanks to Search Press who sent me this book to review.
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