Sunday, 29 December 2013

Handmade Sherlock Holmes on Etsy

The time is nearly upon us for the launch of the third series of Sherlock on BBC One. Those of you with elevated elite media status may have already seen it, but for us lesser mortals there are now just three sleeps left until we are happily re-united with Watson and Sherlock. Here are four international handmade items from Etsy to celebrate:

Sherlock Cross Stitch pattern

I believe in Sherlock tee

Sherlock silhouette

Sherlock print

If you don't know or you live under a rock or didn't buy the Radio Times it's on New Year's Day at 9pm on BBC One. Other countries please check your own channels or international iPlayer.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Book review: Natural Soap Making by Elizabeth Letcavage

'Natural Soap Making' by Elizabeth Letcavage is a wonderful introduction to soap making.

It includes 12 recipes to make soap and the instructions are very easy to understand. If you are new to soap making I expect it's a bit like taking up baking - you need a few moulds and cutters but once you get over the initial gathering of materials it could be lots of fun and save quite a bit of money.

The emphasis is on natural ingredients in this book - essential oils, medicinals such as coconut milk or vitamin E and natural colourings such as rose clay for pink or alkanet root powder for purple.

The soaps in this book are so pretty but look natural so would be nice to sell as natural vegan soap which is more durable and longer lasting than some vegan soaps which don't use caustic soda.

Elizabeth has included sections on how to use up soap scraps, how to make nugget soap, how to stamp and how to make swirled soap.

If you dream of making your own soap which is free from the heap of additives it's sold with in the shops then this is the perfect book.

'Natural soap making' by Elizabeth Letcavage is published by Stackpole Books and is available from the Search Press website.

Just an afterthought from me - If you use caustic soda as you are told to in this book to make the soap recipes make sure you wear a plastic apron, rubber gloves, eye protection and a dust mask as it is highly corrosive and an irritant. Please read about it here on Wiki. This is covered on page three of the book but I still wanted to highlight it - this activity is not suitable for children as a result. Caustic soda is not an animal product so this soap book will help you to make vegan soap if you avoid the minimal goat's milk recipes!

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

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

A finished Rowan knitted shawl by Stephen West

It's been a while since I had something nice to show you. I have a finished object and I'm very excited. I was so excited to take a picture on Saturday with the sun shining brightly and with a spare morning but my camera's batteries died. So apologies if these photos, taken on my iPod, aren't great.

This is the Stephen West pattern 'the Boneyard Shawl' - but I knitted it in Rowan Felted Tweed on 5.5 mm needles. It was my first shawl and I started it just after my birthday trip to Get Knitted in Bristol. It cost me £20 and I loved knitting it so much I feel bereft.

My next shawl is going to be 'Buttermere' - a free pattern from Tangled Yarn. I have purchased some beautiful teal 4 ply yarn from the Tangled Yarn site and have wound it using my new wool winder but I haven't got round to ordering some new knit pro needles from Get Knitted yet. I am starting a collection of knit pro circulars as I only had about four not-so-good-won't-mention-the-brand ones. I am very impressed with the join on the knit pro circulars - you really get what you pay for with the cable and the quality of the needles - they are a joy to knit with.

Here's to more lovely finished objects!

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Book Review: Tudor Roses by Alice Starmore

This is so brilliant; so vibrant and so beautiful I am in awe. The genius and intensity of Alice Starmore has entered my life.

What an awakening! Aimed at the deluxe side of knitting, Alice has her own collection of yarns to go along with the collection of Tudor-inspired designs. The book is exquisitely presented with a truly artistic look and feel. It is a possession I will treasure.

If you have been interested in knitting longer than I have you will probably have heard of Alice Starmore. She is a Scottish textile designer, author, artist and photographer. She was born on the Hebridean island of Lewis into a family of Gaelic-speaking crofter-fishermen. The book tells the story of fourteen women connected with the Tudor dynasty. There is a guide to the dynasty at the beginning of the book with Shakespeare quotations galore to get you fully in the mood before the knitting is unveiled. If you have the first 'Tudor Roses' book released in 1998 then this will add to your collection with three additional Tudors and well as three new clothing designs. Also, many of the designs have been revised and updated.

It goes without saying (but I thought I would say it anyway) that there are no knitting guides or help pages in this book. The garments look quite advanced to me but would still be worth a buy if you are a beginner looking to be inspired and love history and the look and feel of this book. However, the patterns are clearly set out and the garments are photographed from many angles.

The book is well researched and I loved to read about what inspired Alice's designs. The relationships, affairs and the different dispositions of the women were so fascinating.

You can order Tudor Roses from this week on the virtual yarns website.

Thanks to Dover Publications Inc for sending me this book to review.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Five knitting patterns for men from Ravelry, Brooklyn Tweed and Etsy

In the (almost) six years since I started this blog I have had a fair few comments about the assumed sexism of the blog name. I say assumed as it's not implied, it's more of a sarcastic repetition of the derogatory comments towards girls and women for sewing and knitting.

Beer gloves by Kurt Fausset (Available from here) (£10.79 with 44 other patterns) (Or Kindle for £1.92)

However, I am happily noticing more of a presence of male knitwear designers doing well on the internet and more of a choice when I look for knitted garments for men. With the Christmas knitting season now upon us I thought I would round up five patterns to knit for the men in your life, whether father, brother, uncle, cousin, brother-in-law or if you are lucky boyfriend or hubby :)

'Chicane' by Cookie A (£4.75)

Doesn't this guy look suave in his knitted cardigan? I bet he loves wearing that. It looks as if it were made just for him. I bet all the girls fancy him in that. Cookie A is a genius.

Highwayman Armwarmers by KnittingPirate (FREE)

I love these - I love grey myself and of course grey goes with any coat he wears.

A scarf Askew by emilyelizabeth (FREE)

This looks amazing and I love the yarn she's chosen and that it's unisex.

Bartek by Woolibear (£3.22)

Again - you can't go wrong with grey. What a gorgeous hat.

I hope you agree that these links will take you onto sites where you can explore the different options and colours for men. I was impressed and I hope you will be too.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

150 Scandinavian Knitting Designs by Mary Jane Mucklestone

This is such a great resource book for those looking for fairisle knitting designs. However, it's not just a dictionary of design but also a guide to more advanced knitting, such as steeking and designing garments. It's so accessible but gently stretching too.

There are 29 pages on increasing, decreasing, working in the round and holding the yarn with heaps of tips for working with two or more colours.

I've always loved going at my own pace with knitting, gradually teaching myself all the techniques one at a time, then coasting for a while until I get bored. I do feel as if I want to try the hat above, maybe in my favourite colour combo - white and red.

There are four projects at the back of the book to knit - a cowl, a hat, mittens and a pincushion. The rest of the book is comprised of 168 design charts with an example swatch to show you what it looks like.

There are black and white charts as well as colour charts and alternative colourway charts to inspire you.

I love the Scandinavian look. The jumpers have really come back into fashion again, so maybe now is the time to knit your own?

You can buy '150 Scandinavian Knitting Designs' by Mary Jane Mucklestone from the Search Press website.

Thanks once again to Search Press for sending me this lovely book to review.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Don't quit the day job

It's been over two weeks since I blogged and I can only apologize. Going back into full-time work again means I will start to schedule posts at the weekend so I still reach the same week-time readership. Unfortunately whenever I have time for a session with the camera the rain appears but I'm sure it will all work out eventually.

I get paid two months' in lieu so I have yet to be paid (ten days' time and counting) but I worked out all my finances before I started work and things are exactly where I predicted they would be just spending 25 per cent of my eventually normal spending money (there's an accountant in my family tree, can you tell?). Coming out of severe poverty, luckily, that still feels as if I've won the lottery so I don't mind so much. This time I haven't had to start an office wardrobe from scratch every weekend in my new dress size (although it's still lacking) so it's been nice to spend more money on crafting materials. Mostly, wool. I ordered the above Malabrigo and Classy wool from Tangled Yarn. It arrived so quickly and was such a nice hit. It's still a massive thing when I order really nice wool. Hopefully that'll go and I'll relax and create a bit faster with it. I'm teaching myself to knit socks on a circular needle using the magic loop method with the classy. I just gaze at the Malabrigo at the moment...

My other knitting has suffered a little from this sudden influx of nicer yarn. I still love knitting dolls though and I am progressing well with this one above, although I'm not sure about the colour of the skin. I may re-do it. I'm not sure. She's going to be a huge 50 cm high. I'm changing the clothes from the pattern so indecision is slowing her down a bit. She may remain naked and in pieces for a while longer.

Another purchase from a few weeks ago - Yarnmaker magazine from HilltopCloud on etsy and a beginner's spindle kit. I haven't attempted the spinning yet but I will come across the right moment to try it soon I'm sure. Knitting is taking over the sofa at the moment but I am sure I will crave something different again soon. The magazine was highly informative.

Whenever I return to work as a temp I realise having less time makes you more productive. There's one article in 'Yarnmaker' magazine written by a woman who produced a large amount of dyed yarn over an Easter Bank Holiday weekend. Lets hope it makes me more productive eventually with this blog : )

Friday, 4 October 2013

Book Review: Compendium of Cake Decorating Techniques by Carol Deacon

This is quite simply fantastic. It's especially perfect if you have been watching The Great British Bake Off and you're suddenly itching to take your baking to the next level. It's so cute, so accessible if you haven't decorated a cake before, so useful and so challenging if you already decorate a lot, it's just such a perfect book.

I couldn't stop looking at this when I received it from Search Press. It immediately answered a lot of my questions, such as if you can lay fresh flowers on a cake and how to do this, and how you will need more colouring for marzipan than fondant as it is not naturally white. Carol has split the book into four sections - Cake Basics, Fondant, Buttercream and Chocolate. At the end of the book are lots of templates for you to use to decorate your cakes.

To give you an example of how technically useful this book will be - there is a chocolate cake, a fruit cake recipe and a pound cake in a table so you can adapt the ingredients for eight sizes of cake - especially useful if you are baking a wedding cake. She tells you exactly how to calculate the position of the dowels between a tiered wedding cake. She covers writing on fondant, moulds, cutters and crimpers and making fondant figures - an amazingly illustrated section of the book. Just simply adorable.

In the buttercream section she covers piping animals and faces, frozen buttercream transfers and flowers. The Chocolate section covers tempering chocolate, ganache, making a chocolate lace bowl, chocolate cake pops and truffles.

You can buy this book from the Search Press website and I think it is so worth the money if you are a beginner and new to cake decorating. I felt really confident after flicking through the book that I had learnt a great deal.

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

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Book Review: 1000 Mini Cross Stitch Motifs by Sharon Welch

This is such a cute colourful book full of fun and quirky charm, it's a must-have for cross stitch fans.

It's a book full of cross stitch motifs, but with a cute childish feel to them. There are bunnies and diggers, tractors and teddy bears. If you want to cross stitch for children it would be a perfect book for you, but also if you are into the cute kawaii look you'll love it too.

Motifs are useful to embellish cards and children's blankets. You can get special aida which you sew on to another fabric while you cross stitch which then dissolves in water.

There are twelve introductory pages before the motifs on: stitches, framing, using the charts, sizing your design and preparing the fabric. Sharon has published several books and been in lots of magazines. She knits, sews and felts as well as cross stiches so she is a very adept craft teacher.

Here's my five tips for cross stitch beginners (not necessarily endorsed by Sharon!):

1. Let the thread unwind every five minutes or so by holding the fabric up and letting the needle dangle. It will spin and unwind itself. It reduces knots.

2. Only cut lengths of thread 30 cm long. Any longer and you will get knots.

3. Don't be afraid to shop online - DMC threads at RRP are unsustainable if you want to get into cross stitch seriously and long-term.

4. Never leave the needle in the fabric over a long period of time. Any slight dampness in the air will rot the needle and therefore the fabric. Rust will stain. Don't leave the frame in the fabric either, not even overnight.

5. Try and stick to one colour as long as you can instead of chopping and changing. This gives you a sense of achievement and gives you a good chart to work the next colour against on the fabric.

'1000 Mini Cross Stitch Motifs' by Sharon Welch was released last month and is available from the Search Press website.

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

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Drop Stitch Cowl from Ravelry

I have a finished object to show you*. I have been mooching around a bit more than usual on Ravelry. I've been really enjoying my free time to gaze enviously at other people's expertly knitted jumpers and stash of luxury yarns. I feel like I can find my way round Ravelry much better these days - I know the search procedure a little better and don't stumble across things and wonder how I got there. They've worked hard at making it more idiot-friendly.

So, I found this 'Drop Stitch Cowl' by Abi Gregorio to dig my knitting needles into. I knitted mine from some recycled Big Wool. The wool has now been through three projects - a jumper, a bag and now this cowl. The pattern calls for super bulky weight so mine is a little smaller round my neck. I'm looking forward to it keeping me warm in the coming chilly winter months. I have a lovely hat which I knitted from this shade of Big Wool so now I will be co-ordinated.

What are you making for winter this week?

*My tired clapped-out six year old camera will be upgraded in a couple of months I promise!

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Positive Etsy Feedback

It's not often you get extensive feedback from your Etsy sales. Usually you just get a rating on the (now soon-to-be defunct*) feedback system on the site of either positive, negative or neutral. I was delighted when one of my customers who I worked with on a custom order in March of this year got back to me on the site to send me a photo of what she had made and to thank me.

She said:

"It's been a while but I wanted to get in touch with you to show you what I've done with all those lovely little letters... I just finished a summer teaching program (baby sign language, the letters were my "vocab words") and my colourful words just looked super cute, I was so pleased with them. I'll attach a pic so you can see what I did with them.

Also, some fellow instructors have asked where I got them from, so I'll pass along your Etsy link. Thanks again, all the best in your creative endeavours! Nicole"

*You can read more about the new five star Etsy rating system here on Everything Etsy : )

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Book Review: Crochet Step by Step by Sally Harding

I have an almost finished object! Just a few knots to hide cleverly within a bag:

This was such an easy crochet project to do - it really switched me off which was good for the past fortnight or so - as I wrote about in my previous post. I've had three interviews in the last two weeks too, one of which finally resulted in a good temping role very close to my house, so I'm chuffed! And I have a new grocery bag : )

I undid an octopus I had knitted about five years ago. I knitted it from Rowan Handknit Cotton and shoved it into the cupboard when it didn't work. The eight legs put me off unwinding the yarn to reuse it but recently I was in a tense annoyed mood and relished the prospect of pulling something apart. Luckily it unwound well albeit with quite a few knots (I need to weave these in). The bag looks exactly like the one in the photo and is from this book:

This is an introductory textbook on crochet but it includes twenty projects which are crocheted with a mixture of affordable and middle-of-the-range yarn. They're all really cute and worth making. There are two blankets, two cushions, a basket (which is lilac and I made for my room - you can see it here), two bags, a bookmark, two toys, a baby cardigan, baby booties, an adult waistcoat, an adult shawl, two scarves, wrist warmers and three hats.

There are also lots of patterns as you go through the book before the projects at the back to help you learn about crochet. There are flower patterns, edgings and a good guide to different crochet stitches. I got this book out of the library and have enjoyed my time with it immensely. I always find DK books really well laid out and easy to understand. I had a few of them when a child.

You can buy it here or grab it from your local library, like me : )

Monday, 19 August 2013

Facing fear with a pair of knitted socks

Apologies if you have been waiting with baited breath for me to blog. I am slow at the moment due to really needing to find a job and doing much more than I need to to accomplish this, as well as running my Etsy shop. I noticed a lot of my listings needed renewing in my Etsy shop about ten days ago, three days before going to the dentist for an operation, so I naively re-listed them forgetting that a lot of my sales come from custom orders and conversations which of course need someone to answer them.

So just as I was preparing to have two impacted wisdom teeth out under sedation I suddenly had lots of enquiries in my shop to deal with which wasn't perhaps the best timing. I coped however, and completed all my orders. I was very worried about my operation and had cancelled twice, once due to it clashing with the local elections and secondly due to having to attend an interview instead. About a week after I cancelled the last time everything suddenly flared up in my mouth and I gained a nasty gum infection, a vile taste in my mouth and intense pain. The last two weeks before the procedure were unbearable but I knew it would be hard to re-arrange as I had asked to be sedated and this only happens on Mondays in a special clinic.

I had to really fight for sedation as my dentist had initially recommended a general anesthetic but I am allergic to penicillin and get very sick after a general and the dental access centre (a kind of halfway house) seemed to think I would be OK on a local. I was quite honest as I was initially told to have my two wisdom teeth out at the age of 24, eight years ago, and had avoided it all that time due to fear. I said I would not be able to attend the operation if they didn't help me in some way so they finally caved in and agreed to sedate me. It was weird when I had the procedure as I became semi-conscious at 1.40 and regained full consciousness at 2.15. I woke up not remembering a thing. I initially thought they hadn't managed to sedate me and they were going to have to put me out again. While that helped, it did feel a little bewildering.

Anyway to cut a long story short, knitting and crochet has really kept me sane this week. I wasn't in that much pain at all after the teeth were removed - in fact I instantly felt a lot better as the infection seemed to clear up straight away. My mouth is a lot less tense and I'm noticing my mouth feels relaxed in the morning, when usually they have felt sore after tooth grinding due to a very tense mouth with too many teeth in it.

The moral of my story is if you have fear you need to go and sort the fear before you can sort the thing you're afraid of. Trying to face it alone without talking to someone who understands or pretending you're not scared then cancelling the appointments should not be an option.

My next fear? Knitting in the round so I can knit a proper pair of Malabrigo socks : )

Monday, 5 August 2013

Book Review: Blissful Beginnings - Embroidered Blankets to Cherish

'Blissful Beginnings' is a stunning book of beautiful embroidered blankets for newborn babies and children originally published in Australia last year.

What makes this book so sumptuous is the quality of the photos, the paper and the full size pattern sheets at the back as well as the beauty of the blankets.

There are nine large pages of general instructions for beginners and intermediate embroiders such as preparing the fabric and thread, using a hoop, finishing your embroidery and a full colour glossary guide to 31 stitches.

There are six pages of general advice which apply to all the blankets in the book which are clear and easy to follow. There are seven blankets in total with three extra projects including 'blocks' which tie-in with one of them.

One of the issues which used to put me off free-form embroidery was wondering how to get the illustration onto the fabric. This book has many ingenious solutions - pin the paper onto the blanket and stitch in white cotton around the edges of the design to guide you is just one. Then you just put it in a hoop and fill in the outline with embroidery stitches as guided.

The threads are clearly labelled at the start of the project alphabetically and full colour photographs guide you carefully through the blanket project.

I really love the designs in this book - I think they are timeless classics and will impress hugely as a gift for a new arrival. If you are new to embroidery you will need to really want to stitch the blankets but you will soon feel encouraged and safe with this glossy well thought-out book. You will treasure the book as much as the child will their blanket.

'Blissful Beginnings' is published in the UK by Search Press and is available to buy from its website.

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