Friday, 29 November 2013

On gifting handmade items

With advent almost upon us, I've been thinking a lot about gift-knitting. In a recent Christmas interview I mentioned that my Nanna Shirl used to make knitted sweaters for all the family. For her it was a labour of love and also 'less expensive'* than going out to buy gifts for everyone. She was a pensioner with a low income and lots of time on her hands, so for her this may have been true.
Gift-knitting formula
As a busy mum with very limited time to knit (spin and blog) combined with a preference for knitting more expensive yarns than those my nan used, my own considerations are quite different. Although I love handmade gifts (giving and receiving them) I often decide against making them myself.  To help me decide, I have formulated an equation which I use to (mentally) calculate whether I should make a gift, or buy one:
R> (T+C) x E
R = Reason for wanting to make something for this person
T = Time (as a % of life during the intended crafting period)
C = Cost of materials (including postage or petrol & parking etc)
E = The anticipated enjoyment of the recipient 

It works for me, and means that my children make many of their gifts, but actually there are some things that just aren't worth making (I'm thinking of those never-ending 4ply socks I made my husband, which he can't wear as he goes through even the thickest store-bought socks after a single day. I made them for him by request, but I won't rush to make another!) 

With all this in mind, the Festive Gift Guide is coming back in December, and it includes lots of handmade items - some you might choose to make, but plenty you can buy, if your equations just don't add up. (There are also books, notions, and other things that you might like.) I hope to see you back for that, but in the meantime I'd love to hear your thoughts on handmade gifts. Do you make many?

*It's interesting that the most debated post on the CftC Facebook page this week was a link to an article about the devaluation of handknits. Nanna Shirl didn't value the time and effort she put into her items, only looking at the cost of materials, and that's still a problem for craftspeople, especially those who are trying to make a living. 

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Show & Tell: stripes!

It's not so much a 'spinning' show & tell as a handspun knitting update this week. Here's the project I started last week...
Knitting handspun
You can see that it's knit in the round, has stocking and reverse stocking stitch and now it also has stripes... but I'm still not giving much else away - not because I want to be secretive, but because I'm keeping my options open! I'm really hoping to crack on with it this week, but if the first two days are anything to go by, I'm not holding my breath - the days are over when they are just getting started, which I am putting down to the shorter hours of daylight and far too much to do.

If you've managed to 'get your spin on' this week, please feel free to leave a link to your spinning or fire posts in the Mr Linky below.  
Monday, 25 November 2013

Trend-spotting: Katniss-inspired Knitwear

If you're both a knitter and a Hunger Games fan it's likely that you have already seen Catching Fire and that you spent the first half hour of the film admiring the knitwear. I know it wasn't just me, as many of my friends said they were exactly the same. When I looked online there was already a lot of debate about the fashions and in particular this cowl which seems to be the most popular and striking piece of "knitwear" and is in fact woven....
Image: Lions Gate Entertainment
The piece is by Los Angeles-based designer Maria Dora and is a variation of one of her other designs, adapted for functionality (hunting), and it took two people a week and a half to construct. Maria talks about it here. So far I have come across a few different patterns which are inspired by the garment and which each take a slightly different approach to it's construction. 

There were various knitted items that I liked in the film and I've started a Pinterest board to keep a track of them - I'll add any other patterns and garments which have been inspired by them as I spot them - let me know if you've found any I missed!

What do you think of these? Do you see Katniss-style filtering into the High Street?
*Clicking the images or links will take you to the original source/image copyright information. 

FAO my Secret Santa...

Dear Secret Santa, 
I'd like to thank you so much for the gifts you sent. You chose perfectly, obviously realising (a) I need sewing practice and (b) I love red... Little Miss loves it too and has commandeered the adorable mini sewing machine (if something is cute she thinks it belongs to her). It's certainly unleashed her creativity, and she's already been cutting outgrown clothes and sewing pieces of them to an old sheet. I can't post a picture today as she's taken it to school for 'show & tell'.  We had great fun with this, and the little seamstress is already planning future projects. (She thinks she's like Nanna who is officially "brilliant" at sewing.) 
Little Miss has been busy sewing with the mini machine from the John Lewis Blogger Secret Santa
Thankfully, it looks like I will at least get to keep the lovely sewing basket for myself (I've put it on a high shelf, just to be sure!) and am looking forward to filling it with the various bits and pieces that are currently scattered around the Cwtch. 
I hope that you also received a great gift, and that you and yours have a wonderful Christmas.  
Love & best wishes,
Sarah x

My thanks to John Lewis for sponsoring the Secret Santa gifts and giving me the opportunity to take part in the swap. To those wondering about the mini machine* I'd say it's great for supervised sewing - it's very small, lightweight and not too powerful for a child/ total beginner. The foot is designed to help keep fingers out, which can make threading the needle a little fiddly, but that's a job best done by an adult using the threading tool provided, so isn't a problem. The pedal is the perfect size for a little person to control and it's 'stop and go' rather than having adjustable speeds so it's easy to teach them how to use it. The full spec can be found here (and there is a full-sized version, suitable for a beginner too). 

Now I'm off to stalk the blogger my gift went to - I hope she likes it! 
*Please note that although the machine was supplied I  am under no obligation to provide any review or details of this product. I am writing this as I'm sure many of you would like to know more about it and, as always, you can count on my honest and unbiased opinion. 
Saturday, 23 November 2013

Things I didn't know, part 2: Different ways to join yarn

There are so many things that I don't know about knitting, and each time I think I have something sussed, I discover there's a whole selection of different techniques I haven't heard of. Take joining new yarn (at the end of a ball or for a colour change) as an example.
Different ways to join yarn
Selvedge: When I first started knitting, I only knew about knitting flat and joining yarn at the beginning of a row so the ends could be hidden in the seam. Simple. Except it wasn't quite so simple, because sometimes every scrap was precious and I didn't want to waste yarn that wouldn't make it to the other side of the work and so it joining in the midst of a row was necessary on occasion.

Double Yarn: When I started working in the round, seams were no longer an option but I didn't want to see the join or to weave-in ends on a visible section of a garment. I tried knitting both yarns double (with the ends in opposite direction) for a small section before switching to the new yarn, but this left one bulky row in the knitting, and there were still two ends to deal with.

Russian Join: Aware of my frustrations, a friend sent me the link to the Russian Join and I thought it was the perfect solution to my problem... 

... but the Russian Join isn't perfect for all yarns, and sometimes there isn't always a tapestry needle to hand.

Splicing: When I wrote about the Russian Join, a few readers recommended Spit Splicing wool yarns, which is essentially a felted join. I know some people love it, but I really don't like this one so much. Perhaps it's the spitting thing, or perhaps it's because it's really quite fiddly.

Double Knot: Last night, after spotting this cute scrap yarn pattern, I wondered what a "Magic Cake" could be, which lead me to the following video from Jane Richmond showing the 'Double Knot' or 'Magic Knot' method...

This looks super... but the comments on this video are quite varied. People seem to either love this method or hate it. It seems to depend on the type of yarn being used, whether it will be machine washed and how the fabric will be treated. I don't think I'd trust my thinnest handspun to this method, but can see that it would work for lots of other yarns and am keen to give it a try.

These days, when I have a knitting question I consult June Hemmons Hiatt for guidance and when I did this, discovered a few more options including the Twined knit tie-on (alternating stitches from each yarn rather than using both together as in double yarn variation, borrowed from Twined knitting) and Purl Inlay tie-on (borrowed from the purl inlay colour technique where the ends are weaved in as you knit).

It seems there are many methods, but not one that is suitable for every occasion. There is only one thing that does seem certain:
Unfortunately, no matter how you join the yarns or weave the ends into fabric, the last little bit may refuse to stay put because the fabric is stretchy. I have yet to find any solution to this short of acceptance - hide most of the end using whatever method you choose, and cut the rest off. 
June Hemmons Hiatt, The Principles of Knitting, p592 

So which technique do you use most often? Are there any you don't get on with? I'd love to know.
Friday, 22 November 2013

FO Friday: Wrapping up

Googly Santa DecorationSnowman decoration
If you missed Wednesday's post, my Googly Santa Decoration pattern is now listed on Ravelry. You can download the pattern from Black Sheep Wools free pattern page where you'll also find my little Snowman and other cute decorations from bloggers you may recognise. You can also read more about my Christmas plans and memories on the BSW Blog today.

It's FO Friday, so I should also mention the Double Basketweave Cowl which was finished in no time, and has been great for dog walking in the cold weather.
FO Friday: Double Basketweave Cowl
As I pointed out last week, it was made from "desperation" yarn  - cheap acrylic from a charity shop, as there was nothing else to buy - but I really like it. This is a free pattern which knits up quickly and would be good for a beginner - especially with some lovely smooshy yarn.

This weekend I'll be schnuggling with the Schnauzer and contemplating a couple of new designs and of course we will be heading out to see Catching Fire. What are you up to?  
Wednesday, 20 November 2013

WIPs, books, yarn & a new pattern

With wintery weather making its presence felt (a temperature into negative figures overnight, but we still got soaked on the school run/dog walk) thoughts are turning to staying indoors with some knitting. Since yesterday's show and tell, I did a little work on my handspun project which now has two colours and a couple of stripes that aren't really visible in the photo. I can't tell you how much I love knitting the yarn I made on my spindles - it's quite unlike knitting anything else. I am officially hooked. 
WIPs and books: November 20th 2013
It's been a while since I've made any 'stash enhancements' (i.e. bought yarn for its own sake) but I really couldn't resist a few skeins from Kauni's Etsy shop, which are very different to the soft fluffy yarn I've been making, but absolutely stunning. 
 WIPs and books: November 20th 2013 - Kauni yarn
You may remember I fell in love with Kauni when I made the rainbow Whippoorwill and then used the leftovers for some of my favourite hexipuffs. The recent restocking seemed a great time to try some 1 ply. I have around 1,800m of the red/green and 800m of the purple/blues and grand plans for them both... but they will have to wait while I crack on with a few other projects. 
Googly Santa Decoration: free pattern coming soon!
There are some new books on the go - a review copy oHook, Yarn and Crochet which I'll be writing about soon, and the Booker prize winner The Luminaries for next month's book club, although it's highly unlikely I'll have read all 849 pages by then. 

In other news, my latest little pattern is now available to download from the Black Sheep Wools website as part of the Creative Christmas campaign. Thanks for the suggestions about his face - in the end I decided that he was far cuter with stick-on googly eyes and I love him! The pattern can be used without the beard to make elf friends for him too. Googly Santa is listed on  Ravelry, where you can see a full-length picture, add him to your queue and hopefully link up any FOs. 

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Knitting with handspun... finally!

Indecision has prevented me from knitting with the yarn I've spun to date. Each new skein is finished, admired, and then piled up while I ponder, browse patterns and fail to reach any decision. As these early spindle-spun attempts are all quite small in quantity and inconsistent in weight (wpi) the options have left me feeling a little despondent, until last night when I just really wanted to get knitting. So without even thinking about it I wound a few of the skeins into balls and cast on. Just like that. 
Knitting with handspun
I have the vaguest notion of what it is I'm making, but it's subject to change on the slightest of whims, so I won't tell you just yet. All I will say is that it feels great to finally be making it into something. Each stitch has been a pleasure so far because, frankly, I don't know whether it'll be thick or thin, smooth or fluffy but I love that about it. There should be more to show you next week, because I'm itching (not literally, it's not itchy!)  to get back to it this evening.

If you have a spinning or fibre post to share, please feel free to add your link which is at the bottom of this post when viewed in a standard web browser). 

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Comfort knitting revelations

Feeling a little under the weather these last few days (hence missing a few planned posts), I started a new project last night. It's total comfort knitting - a big cowl in knits and purls. As there are only two places to buy yarn in our village (the post office and the charity shop) I had to resign myself to using uber-cheap acrylic yarn (Cygnet - £1.79 per 100g ball x 2 held double) - something I usually avoid. But you know what? It's very soft and knitting up a treat. I like it!
 Comfort knitting
PATTERN: Double Basketweave Cowl by Karen Templer (free download)
Wednesday, 13 November 2013

WIPs & Books: Sinister Santa!

I've been working on another Christmas decoration to accompany my Snowman pattern, and am having a little trouble with his face. I've said on many occasions that my knitting is spoiled as soon as I have to sew anything onto it, and this is certainly the case with Santa. He has been knit since Saturday, the pattern is written and ready to go, but I just can't get his face sewn. Each time I try (and there have been many attempts now) I end up with a murderous looking creature which I wouldn't want hanging on the tree! He's in time out. I'm going to make something else while I ponder his evil little eyes *shudder*. I'd like to get on with reading Case Histories too, but very much doubt there will be time until the weekend. 
WIPs and books.
Last week I mentioned Wild by Cheryl Strayed, and now that it's finished I've been recommending it to anyone willing to listen. This video has a short overview of the journey Cheryl writes about in the book, and if you've read it already but haven't seen the photos of Cheryl, her mother, Lady, her tattoo and pictures from the PCT, you'll probably enjoy it too.

Thanks to those who wished Archie well at Puppy School. Tonight it's his third class and he's doing well. As I'd already taught him some things, he's quick to pick it all up, although he is incredibly excited about all the other puppies, and having so many distractions is quite a challenge. As a typically Schnauzer, he's rather noisy when excited! Hope you are all having a great week and I'll be back tomorrow to launch the 2013 Festive Gift Guide. 
Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Soaking & Thwacking

Today I've been soaking and thwacking* and enjoying the online Spinning class I talked about last week. There is a lot of really useful information for a relative newbie like me, and probably plenty for the more experienced spinner too, although being new to all of it, I'm finding it all helpful and only wish I'd watched it sooner. A couple of people asked whether the class is suitable for spinners who use a spindle rather than a wheel, and my answer is yes (I have yet to use a wheel). The class covers fibre preparation, understanding how to get the effect you want in your finished yarn, maintaining or mixing the colours in the fibre. It's about the way the fibre is prepped, split and spun and how that can be used to affect the outcome, and so is applicable to a spindle as much a wheel. (There is a dedicated spindling class, if that's what you're after).
Spinning Show & Tell: soaking and thwacking.
On the subject of wheels, a Schacht Ladybug is definitely heading this way for Christmas. I'm so excited already and starting to note some of the fibres I'd like to try. Do you have any spinning items on your wishlist? My 2013 Festive Gift Guide kicks off on Thursday, so if you find something awesome that you think spinners would love, please let me know and I may be able to include it.

As usual, the Mr Linky is below (view in your web browser if you can't see it on a mobile device). Happy Spinning! 
*I still don't really know the correct term for this!
Friday, 8 November 2013

A snowman, a secret and an award!

Hopefully Instagram followers will forgive my recent secretive posts (especially the sheepskin insole with an ipad screensaver backdrop which I posted last week). I am pleased to finally reveal what I was working on .... a little Snowman Decoration for Black Sheep Wools. 
BSW are running a Creative Christmas competition and my little snowman is just one of the free patterns which have been designed to get you in the mood for festive knitting and crochet. You can find the pattern listed on Ravelry, and on the Black Sheep Wools website where it is available as a PDF download. 

Continuing the Christmas theme (come on, it's November already, I'm allowed to talk about it now) I am delighted to be taking part in this year's Blogger Secret Santa challenge from John Lewis. I LOVED taking part in the office Secret Santa when I worked outside the home, and being a stay-at-home-mum for the last seven (seven!) years, I've missed out on this lovely tradition. I can't wait to get an email telling me which blogger I need to select a gift for, and then scouring their posts for clues as to what they might like. I'll keep you posted... when I can!

Homecrafts Finally, I got an unexpected email yesterday which informed me that Crafts from the Cwtch had been selected as one of the Top 50 Craft Blogs 2013 by online retailer Homecrafts, and not only had I made the final 50 but had been awarded 3rd place. There are lots of great crafters on the list which you can find here, and some I haven't had the pleasure of reading before so that's my weekend reading sorted! I hope you have a lovely weekend. I'll be back next week with lots more, including the return of the Festive Gift Guide! 
Wednesday, 6 November 2013

A tip for managing yarns & a great book

I have two stashbusting projects on the needles today. The first is a facecloth which I have been working on while teaching a friend to knit (Continental style) this morning. We used the Basic Knitted Dishcloth pattern which is perfect to learn from as it covers casting on, knitting, increasing (YO), drcreasing (K2tog) and binding off. Thanks to a couple of errors, it also taught how to tink back and how to rip out entire rows and my student did brilliantly. 
Top Tip for 2-at-a-time knitting without tangles!
The other is the project I told you about on Sunday, my Christmas Socks. After seeing a great tip online yesterday, they are pictured here with the yarn separated by a simple sandwich bag! I usually use a pretty poppered project bag to do this, but thought this was a great use of something most people will have around the house already.

I can't go without mentioning my current book - Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found by Cheryl Strayed. It's our book club choice for this month and we are all loving it! If you haven't heard about it, it's definitely worth checking out, but I'll tell you more next week as it's time for the school run. Have a great Wednesday!   
Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Spinning Show & Tell: More learning

I didn't have chance to spin in the last week, but after lots of personal recommendations I finally started watching the Spinning Dyed Fiber Class on Craftsy. I haven't watched it all yet, but so far so good and I have it on great authority that (a) I'll find it all really interesting, and (b) my spinning will be improved as a result. Hopefully that will be evident in coming weeks, especially as I am asking Santa for a wheel! (Thanks for all the advice when I asked for recommendations, it's looking like a Ladybug will be top of my wishlist!)

In the spirit of 'show and tell', for anyone who has yet to try a Craftsy class, I've taken a few screenshots from my iPad so you can see how it works on a device (I sometimes access it using my laptop but prefer the iPad app which is really well designed for purpose). Classes can be watched in full screen mode, or you can minimise the lesson to access lots of other features, take notes, and even ask questions! I find it a really convenient way to learn as it's portable (provided I have wifi or 3G coverage, which is most of the time) and I can watch while doing other things around the house.
Each class includes printable PDFs, which in this case include a handspun beanie pattern, information on colour theory, and lots of different tips and resources to accompany the eleven lessons. (I tend not to print them but to access those from my iPad too, by saving them in iBooks).
If you like to try before you buy, there are lots of free classes which will give you a taster, and the Know Your Wool class is a useful one for spinners. Classes come with a satisfaction guarantee, although I have been really happy with all those I've watched to date (some free and several purchased) so I can't imagine needing it. 

Ok, so it's over to you. If you've already taken this class, what did you make of it? And as usual (except for last week when I forgot which day it was, sorry!) if you would like to add your recent spinning/fibre posts please use the Mr Linky Widget below. If you can't see it on your device, open this page in your web browser. 
Monday, 4 November 2013

Snippets: More half term adventures

Puddle-checking at St Leonard's Forest
Leaf printing
The children go back to school tomorrow after a very busy half term. You may remember that Mum and I took them Fairy Spotting and on a a trip to Goring beach last week. We also went Dragon Hunting at St Leonard's Forest (we didn't find any) and had fun at Hallowe'en. The children carved pumpkins, made 'Woodland Logbooks' and did leaf-printing with things they'd found over the week. Then D took a rare day off so we could spend the weekend with good friends at Center Parcs in Longleat Forest (near Stonehenge) - we all went bowling and swimming and the children did lots of running around and shouting!
I feel worn out, but it's been the best half term holiday yet - the kids have hit a sweet spot where they enjoy doing things together - they actually get along most of the time. (It's the first time this has happened!) I realise it's probably just another phase that may not last, but it's been good. 
Having Archie has made a big difference to their dynamic, and we all missed him while we were away (the holiday was booked long ago, so he had to stay home with my mum). We've booked another adventure for May half term - a glamping break on a working farm, where dogs are welcome. We're already looking forward to that! 
Sunday, 3 November 2013

Year of Projects: Stashbusting Christmas Socks!

Inspired by the oranges and reds of Autumn, I remembered the yarn which was used for my Beginner's Guide to 2-at-a-time toe-up socks, and subsequently left on the needles. After transferring the first row onto Chiaogoos (the KnitPro Karbonz from the tute are much too sticky for me) I popped them into my bag for our half term trip away with kids and friends. D drove on the outward journey so I had a couple of hours to work on them on while we travelled and I managed a little more over the weekend too. It'll soon be time to increase for the gusset, so I'm looking forward to a quiet evening at home.
YARN: Nimu Torva from my first visit to Unravel.
PATTERN: Hybrid of Gussett heel vanilla sock with the stitch pattern of Hermione's Every Socks (not shown as the sole is pictured), but knit toe-up and 2-at-a-time on one circular needle.

The colourway is perfect for Autumn knitting and they feel rather festive - I'm calling them my Christmas Socks. You know what else? When these are finished, I'll have SEVEN pairs of handknit socks in my drawer, and I will admit to finding that really quite exciting!
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