Sunday, 14 December 2014

Cycling and a spot of crochet...

I've been feeling a bit snuffly as a result of fighting off a bug this week so have given myself plenty of crochet time next to my new bluetooth radio which I have told everyone about three times over at least.

I treated myself a few weeks ago to this lovely blanket kit from Wool Warehouse designed by the lovely Lucy from the Attic 24 blog. Lucy has been amazing to read - I found her a couple of months ago and she's really inspired me to forge ahead with colourful crochet. I'm opening this kit on Christmas day (or maybe when I come off work for two weeks from the 20th December!).

We have the Christmas decorations up now and I have finally finished my not-very-taxing task of buying three presents (!), so I am feeling a bit more festive. I plucked up the courage to attend a lunch with some collegues I hadn't met before on Friday which was nice. The three course Thai meal was delicious and it polished off the week nicely. This week I am having another meal through work which will be something to look forward to. As an introvert with a depressive tendency (!) I do find it hard and can come across as aloof and unfriendly but if people are nice and put me at ease I'm usually fairly OK.

I have reached a grand total of 32 crocheted squares for my pink blanket. I was going to branch out into other colours but I just love the two pinks together so have just kept it pink and white. I think some of the squares are a bit skewed at the moment and will need to be blocked before I crochet them together but overall I'm pleased with how pleasurable I'm finding crocheting the same square over and over again.

Last Sunday I went for one of my bike rides along the canal with my mum and it was beautifully sunny. Mum and I have been having lots of discussions about autism lately as a member of my family has recently been diagnosed with Aspergers. I was unsure whether to forge ahead for a diagnosis as my doctor thinks I am only just on the autistic spectrum, obviously thinking my difficulties in life stem from other medical conditions. I am quite prepared to save up and go private to achieve a diagnosis if I can't get one through the NHS as I do feel it affects my life and you are entitled to quite a bit of help and support once diagnosed.

On a happier note I hope you all have a wonderful week of present buying and house decorating. I love this time of year and am looking forward to having two weeks of sleep in's and doing whatever I fancy...

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Lazy days...

I had such a lovely day on Sunday...

Finally getting to wear my lovely knitted hat which I finished earlier in the year...

Knitting my Stephen West shawl out of Rowan Felted Tweed DK...

Celebrating Advent Sunday and looking forward to opening the first window on the house (there are now three open of course!)

A walk through the park...

Playing with my camera and sitting thinking and jotting in my notepad on my iPod...

Then finally a lovely walk home watching the sky turn from black...

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Book Review: Crochet Your Christmas Baubles

I was delighted to be asked to partake in another blog hop for Stitch Craft Create. Their new book 'Crochet your Christmas Baubles: 25 Christmas decorations to make' is such a cute easy-to-make gem.

Of course now is the time you should be digging around in your stash for red, white and brown acrylic or cotton to crochet with for Christmas and this book is your perfect companion. If you're anything like me you'll relish the chance to have some handmade decorations on your tree with a bit of character for a break from all those mass produced stars and glittery balls.

I had a go at making the mushroom myself from the ebook I was sent to review and this is the result! I haven't made up many small dolls or figures in the last year so I was a bit out of practice and just finished him this morning but I am quite chuffed with him. The pattern was awesome to follow and I didn't have any problems understanding it - I just lacked patience which of course increases the more you make up.

The pictures were very clear and the patterns are great. It's so simple to make the baubles. If you are stuck for time this is great for you.

The basic crochet stitches are outlined at the back of the book for you to learn if you don't have any experience of crochet.

The ebook is available to download at the Stitch Craft Create website.

You can also check out their Craft eBooks and Downloads page and their Handmade Christmas page.

You can see the other blogs participating in the blog hop.

Share a picture of your own handmade Christmas decoration with the lovely people at Stitch Craft Create and you could win £100! Just add your photo to their share board or use the hashtag #SCCXmas on Twitter or Instagram.

Thanks to Rosie and the team at Stitch Craft Create for sending me this lovely ebook and inspiring me!

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness...

Well, it's been three weeks since I blogged. A few things have happened.

Frankenstein quote by NoodleBookArt from Scotland on Etsy

This is, appropriately, a quotation from Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. I saw the NT Live Encore of the play with Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch on Thursday evening. The evening didn't start well (we ate out and didn't enjoy it) but as soon as the play got going I was transported into the story and Jonny Lee Miller's stunning performance. It throws up lots of moral and ethical questions as I'm sure you know, and it has been called the first science fiction novel to be published. I'm really enjoying seeing the NT Live productions and have seen Skylight with Bill Nighy and A streetcar Named Desire with Gillian Anderson. They have all completely blown me away and left me wanting more London theatre.

I watched 'Bright Star' this morning which is a film about the poet Keats and his lover. She was an avid fashion designer and seamstress so there was much to love about that!

About ten days ago I had my application to the 'Womentoring' project accepted. I spent quite a few hours on my submission and am so delighted and overjoyed that I found the confidence to even apply. I am now being mentored for a short while by a professional female writer for free so that's delightful news.

In other nice news - local gift shop and art gallery 'Ginger Fig' have asked me to help them create a window in the shop on the theme of 'Wish you were here'. So I have been looking into patterns for that.

I am still avidly reading as I have found my concentration has improved considerably since taking my medication. All I want to do sometimes is just read. It's probably because I attempted a couple of complicated (for me) lace knitted shawls which do require me not to be tired which means they rarely get knitted at the moment. As a result I am crocheting more and hope to show you some finished projects soon. I have just got into reading 'Attic 24' believe it or not. I always meant to start reading her blog but read too many blogs. I have recently had a clear out and she is on my new list! Yay!

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Handmade on Etsy!

Here are some beautiful handmade items I've found recently on Etsy:

Wild Flower Hand Dyed Yarn by Spin City UK in London, UK.

Pair of Birdhouse Storage Baskets by Cornlet in Cornwall, UK.

Crochet Pattern - Owl Basket by CrochetEverAfter in the US.

Mother of the Groom mug by SweetWilliamLondon in London, UK.

I've just bought the owl basket pattern and can't wait to whip it up for the living room to tidy all my clutter, sorry craft and knitting!

Friday, 26 September 2014

Book Review: Fun of the Fair by Melanie McNeice

'Fun of the Fair' is a bright delightful book full of colour and fun.

It contains five fabric soft toy projects for children and/or adults. There's a Pony, an Elephant, a Lion, Seals, and some Monkeys too.

The patterns are at the end of the book and can be printed out full size if you use the ebook or photocopied simply if using the hard copy. They look super easy to use. There is two pages of stitching advice such as how to do satin stitch and a page full of supplier information.

I was really impressed by the look and design of this book - it's rainbow colours will appeal to children and those who are looking for something super-cute and funky to make.

Thanks once again to Rosie Johns at Stitch Craft Create for sending me this lovely book to review. Fun of the Fair is available now to buy in hard copy or ebook on the Stitch Craft Create website.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Back from a blogging break

Other bloggers don't shy away from taking a break over the summer. Julie from Little Cotton Rabbits has done this in the past, although she has a better excuse than I do with young children finishing school every July.

I wasn't planning to take time out but my blogging mojo left me during the hot summer months when the temperature was often 25-27 degrees. I just about coped with full time work but by the evening I was simply exhausted. On top of this I was stressing about my driving theory test and desperately revising*. This isn't the first time I've tried to pass the driving obstacle course, previously having fallen off the oiled slide a few times, but I'm feeling reasonably confident now I've visited the doctor, which I probably needed to do anyway due to ongoing issues which flared over the summer. Having a female driving instructor who I can talk freely and get on with has helped too**.

Crafting has been keeping me going through all this and overall I'm feeling much more relaxed when doing it. I'm also able to switch off more during my leisure time which I had noticed I wasn't doing. When I begin crafting or reading I'm fully relaxed and not drifting off into a shopping list in my head or worrying about whether I have done my laundry. I also feel like I'm cocooned from the world when walking around which is strange, and some people wouldn't like it, but for me this is extremely freeing.

I've been crocheting some granny squares for what I hope will be a king size blanket for my bed. I've done about eight so far so there's quite a way to go, but I figured I could stop at a lap blanket size and finish if it was going on too long.

I'm using cascade 220 which is really nice to crochet with and the choice of colours is amazing. I'm paying for it bit-by-bit to spread the cost.

It's nice to be back. I hope you had a lovely summer!

*I passed!
**In the UK you have to pass a theory test which consists of two sections - one where you answer questions about the rules of the road, road signs, etc. The other half is a series of video clips in which you have to react quickly to hazards, such as people pulling suddenly out of junctions. Then you are permitted to take the practical which is a 40 minute assessment of how you drive and control the car.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Book Review: Sew Cute to Cuddle by Mariska Vos-Bolman

I was sent this book to review via email and what a present I have received!

'Sew Cute to Cuddle' lives up to its name. It's so cute and sweet it positively drips honey from every page. The colours and designs leap off the pages of the book.

The fabrics used for the toys are not specified but are kept vague. 'Red cotton fabric' is specified instead of being specific about which designer she has used for the toys but that keeps it open and you could easily find similar. I have found whenever a new book comes out which specifies fabric this opens up the possibility of the range being discontinued and therefore dating the book. It also puts people off who may want to stick to a budget.

A few of the toys need extra bits and bobs like fusible webbing or steel balls to shape them but most of them just need cotton, felt and stuffing. Oh, and of course thread to sew them. They look very easy for someone new to sewing and you could enlarge the patterns to make the toys larger if you find small toys too fiddly.

The step-by-step instructions are very easy to follow. There are pictures and written instructions so you won't get lost if you don't understand the writing as there will always be the picture to refer to. Of course the beauty of an ebook on your computer means you can directly print them out instead of turning the book upside down onto your photocopier and you can enlarge them more easily.

Overall I would say this is a very accessible, cute and lively book which would be great for kids or adults alike. The toys are exceptional and I am sorry to say I have not had the time to make a toy, but they are definitely on my 'to make' list for when I want a break from crochet and knitting!

Sew Cute to Cuddle is available now from the team at Stitch Craft Create.

This book was sent to me to review after a speculative email offer from Stitch Craft Create. Many thanks to Rosie at Stitch Craft Create.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Book Review: Fairytale Knits by Katharina Ritter

'Fairytale Knits' by Katharina Ritter was published in 2011 and is a smouldering dream-like collection of fairytale-inspired knitwear for women and children.

There are twenty designs - all of which are themed on fairytales. Each pattern is based on a character or a story. The cover design features fingerless gloves and is based on 'Sleeping Beauty'.

One of the distinctive features of this book is that the patterns do not specify the yarn to be used apart from its weight and whether it is cotton, wool, etc. Most of the patterns only have two clothing sizes (10-12 and 14-16 for example) so there is not much use getting this book if you are unusually small or above a size 16 unless you are advanced enough to alter the pattern to fit you.

However there are five children's patterns and eight hats, bags and mittens to knit so the majority of the book is not comprised of women's clothes.

The photography in this book is stunning and magical. I loved the Tom Thumb children's sweater and the Rapunzel knitted dress. The charts and blocking diagrams are very clear. There is no advice on how to knit from scratch in this book so I would recommend it as an advanced beginner collection.

'Fairytale Knits' by Katharina Ritter is published by Search Press and you can purchase it from their shop.

Thank you to Search Press who sent me this book to review at my request.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Book Review: Christmas Cross-stitch Treasures by Joan Elliott

Yes - I know it's July and the temperature is about to hit 30 degrees later this week, but if you want one of the larger cross stitch pieces from this book finished in time for Christmas you're going to have to start around now (although there are smaller patterns too!)

This is a truly delightful book full of beautiful timeless classic cross stitch designs. There are 18 patterns in total and the level of detail in each one is amazing.

At the back of the book there are three A4 pages full of advice on how to start to stitch - this includes working from charted designs, stitching with beads, french knots and finishing up. The issue of framing your work while stitching isn't covered. This isn't essential but there is a wide choice of frames, particularly at the larger end of the scale which may have been helpfully explained here since the projects are very big and may be cumbersome to hold. However these instructions are enough to get you started and don't waste space for those who are already in-the-know.

Eight of the 18 designs are large and will occupy your hands for a few months or weeks - dependent on how busy or experienced you are. 'The Snow Princess' stood out as particularly special in my view (pictured above). Usually there are a couple of patterns I don't like but I could imagine myself stitching all these designs.

The charts are very clearly printed and the numbered threads are given for Anchor and DMC - something you don't always get with a cross stitch book. This enables you to easily shop for a variety of threads if you are on a budget. Joan also has worked out how large each design will be if you stitch on 11, 14, 16, 18, 25, 28 and 32 count aida.

This book was sent to me at my request by Search Press. Please buy 'Christmas Cross-stitch Treasures' by Joan Elliott from Search Press. Thanks to Search Press for sending me this book to review and for generously linking to my blog.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

London Short Story Festival and a finished object!

I have a finished object - my first one for a few months. It's a hat knitted from Classy Dream in Colour in the Prince William colourway on 5.5 mm circular needles. It's a pattern I keep going back to as I know it fits me and the pattern has stitch counts for DK, Aran and chunky. I downloaded it a couple of years ago to knit hats for the Mungo's homeless charity. I'm not sure if it's available now.

I was very pleased with this yarn. It's so soft and I knitted the hat with an extra five centimetres of stocking stitch before the shaping for the crown to make it hang down in a slouchy style. I love it and couldn't wait to pick it up each night after work. I think I have to pick projects which are either crochet based or stocking stitch based for a while. I'm completing them faster.

Since going to the London Short Story Festival two weeks ago I have been subscribing to literary magazines and buying books like a true bibliophile. I felt like I got a lot of superb quality books in the past two months since Arvon.

The festival itself was amazing. It was a small festival with about 50-80 people around at Waterstones Piccadilly. It took over two floors with writing workshops in the basement and talks and readings over another floor. The highlight of the festival for me was definitely the Jackie Kay reading on Friday night. She was absolutely amazing and if you ever get a chance to see her please leap off your chair enthusiastically as she really was entertaining.

I wrote two pieces of flash fiction in a notebook in the basement. I showed the second one to Vanessa Gebbie who was very helpful with plenty of constructive criticism and encouragement. I came away feeling really inspired until I got to Paddington station and ended up arriving home at 11.40pm when I had planned to get home before 9pm. All the trains had been cancelled due to a signalling failure just outside Reading. Be careful if you travel between the South West and Paddington as there seem to be a lot of fails at the moment.

But what a festival and a buzz being around amazing writers for hours. I've written a poem and two flashes since the festival. I think the poem is slightly above my usual standard of poetry (i.e not completely crap) and one of the flashes is lovely and fits well with another one I wrote which came runner-up in a competition.

I will start reviewing books again next week - I had a lovely delivery from Search Press earlier this week and I can't wait to show you them!

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Flesh and bone chats

I've had a busier-than-usual six weeks. It's been amazing and I have been stretched and challenged as well as inspired and enthused creatively.

Birds sunrise photo by AllyNewcomer on Etsy

I've written so many flashes - for me it feels like I'm writing reams, although in reality I'm not of course. I've been blocked in my creative writing for so long I hadn't really written anything much. I started and stopped and became discouraged.

This time I've tried to have what the late Paul Sussman (and my Ty Newydd tutor in 2009) called 'flesh and bone' chats. I've never written anywhere online about Paul but as anyone who has been on a writing residential will know, you sometimes have very intense chats and you really do have so many conversations with the tutor-writers - it's the equivalent of a semester at university. I was very upset when he died in 2012 and still have his obituary pinned to my noticeboard by my desk and it really does feel like he wants me to write. He tried hard to encourage me to get out and meet people but at the time I lacked money and was disheartened.

So after my recent Arvon course it's been really nice to feel as if I have enough money to get out the front door and try and make things happen a little bit. I'm very introverted and quiet most of the time but I do have a chatty side which I have attempted to kickstart in terms of literary outings. Hopefully I should be out and about a lot more as well as writing, editing and submitting. I so want to continue to have this as a blog about craft but I hope my regular audiences won't mind a bit of creative writing sometimes and the odd fiction review as well as the latest crochet book!

Sunday, 15 June 2014

From Exmouth to the London Short Story Festival

I went for a lovely day out in Exmouth yesterday. The sky was clear in the morning and we sat looking out to the beach watching the jet skiers, boats, and children swimming. Unfortunately I forgot my iPod at the last minute so there are no pictures!

We had fish and chips along the seafront (I eat eggs and fish now - so I'm not a vegan or a proper veggie, just dairy and meat free), then we got on a very hot train back to Exeter for some shopping. I went to Inspirations next to Exeter Central station which has now become my closest Rowan stockist. It was so nice to feel the yarn and I fell in love with the hank above. It's Rowan Fine Art Aran and it has all my favourite colours together in one place.

I felt like going somewhere quiet this weekend as next weekend I will be in London for 24 hours for the London Short Story Festival. It takes place in a very large bookshop in Piccadilly. I'm really looking forward to meeting up with someone I met at Arvon a few weeks ago for a coffee and chat, and being around creative enthusiasts. The heady combination of books and writers will be hugely exciting. Tania Hershman and my Arvon tutor from a few weeks ago, Adam Marek will be there too. Jackie Kay will be around as well as the people from Litro Magazine - I'm actually thinking about cancelling my Mollie Makes subscription to subscribe to their magazine and book club (shock horror!).

I'm sure I will remember the iPod this time so I will have lots of photos of the event this time next week.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

My week on a creative residential

I got back from my creative writing residential at Totleigh Barton* ten days ago and haven't stopped thinking about it since.

It was an amazing five days. I got used to meeting people sprawled on sofas with notebooks or laptops looking thoughtful around the house and felt at home alongside the incredibly well-stocked bookcases. It was like sleeping in the best library in the world where the authors had come to life and were speaking to you about how to improve your writing. It was quite a buzz and it's taken me a while to come down!

I managed to get up the drive for a good 90 minute walk. The drive takes a while to travel along in a car and it takes about 30 minutes to walk to the nearest little town, Sheepwash. I was struck by the isolation of the house and how you could easily forget about the internet, television, or even that anyone else in the world existed. The manor house is surrounded by farmland which isn't all owned by the Arvon Foundation so I was very careful to stick to the road. I went for this walk on a whim to get rid of a claustrophobic mood which had descended so I hadn't asked at the office for a map. I'm sure there were many walks to explore and I would be so excited to walk through the lush countryside if I ever go again.

I didn't do an enormous amount of writing during the week but there were four three-hour workshops in the mornings which were extremely entertaining so I wrote in those. I think I over-compensated by reading about five collections of stories and 'on writing' by A.L. Kennedy which was amazingly funny and suited my mood perfectly. I was lucky in that there were seven other students instead of the usual 15, so we all got twice as many one-to-one tutorials. I had taken a few stories with me which have benefited hugely from having an expert edit them and guide me into how to finish the piece and 'sew in the ends'.

Overall it was a hugely beneficial experience but I think it lessens the effect if you go on too many so I will aim to do another one in a few years' time. Hopefully things will have moved on quite a bit by then. Fingers crossed.

*Bursaries are available.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Literary shenanigans

I've been knitting away on my Wollmeise shawl in the last ten days. My shoulder is starting to heal and I have more flexibility in it. I now have 115 exercises overall to do each day which involve attempting to push a wall over with my fist :)

Oscar Wilde postcard by Literary Emporium on Not on the High Street

This time next week I will be on an Arvon Foundation residential deep in the Devon countryside with no internet access and just a notebook, a project bag full of wool and my own mind. And lots of other creative wonderful minds, good food and nice wine.

The last couple of months have felt a bit strange for me personally with a few opportunities exploding from the toaster and landing buttered side down. A few things have gone very right though. I am feeling very confident with my good female driving instructor and I'm going to Arvon, obviously. I have also bought some lovely things and the sun is out this week. Each day I try and write a list in my head to try and focus on the good things. Sometimes we can get carried away and forget how many steps we've taken when we feel as if we are going backwards.

So I will have some time to knit next week I'm sure. And take photos of the wonderful Devon countryside. Lets hope the opportunity will land buttered side up and I will start submitting my flash fiction again!

Happy knitting :)

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Book Review: 'Knit and Crochet Garden' by Arne & Carlos

This book review is a bit later than I had planned. I took the pictures in December then put them to one side as I had asked Arne & Carlos for an interview. I waited to see then found out from them about a family illness. Then came Christmas and all the hustle and bustle. Anyway, here it is finally.

'Knit-and-Crochet Garden' by Arne & Carlos is, as always, an amazing cute wonderful book. It's full of bright cheerful colours and comforting knitting and crochet patterns.

There are unusual twists on household items like coasters and cushions inspired by flowers and all things related to the garden. I love the feel and aura of Arne & Carlos books. They are so homely. You feel as if you could really snuggle up with the cushions and throws.

There are also patterns in here for toys - a mouse and a hippy to be exact! They come with clothes and you'll need to be able to knit in the round with DPNs or be able to adapt the pattern to suit your needs. There isn't much in the way of instructions for complete beginners, just advice on yarn and needles, but if you are a confident beginner you should find you are OK.

There is a pattern for a blanket for the toys and there are lovely photos of the dolls house Arne & Carlos own in their garden.

I have reviewed two other Arne & Carlos books here: Easter Knits, and Knitted Dolls with a Designer Wardrobe

You can find 'Knit and Crochet Garden' by Arne & Carlos on the Search Press website.

As usual, thank you once again to Search Press for sending me this book to review.
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