Things to learn... and a sprinkle of (Big) Magic

After multiple complaints about the terrible light in my Cwtch during the winter months, the great news is that I was given a *Portable Photo Home Studio and Joby Mount for Christmas. The bad news is that I have no idea how to light the things I want to photograph (yarn and projects). It's really not instinctive, and I'm experimenting with my new 'toys' to get a feel for it - so far, with very limited success. As well as the mobile photography class I'm enrolled on, it might be time to learn to use PhotoshopLightroom or something similar.


For these reasons, I can't show you a nice photo of my new Walk Collection yarn and as I'm itching to start a swatch with it, I'm pretty sure it won't be in a nice neat skein when you next see it. I have a plan for this one. I already know the name it will have, the overall 'look' as well as a rough idea of some of the stitches - in fact, this same idea has been pestering me in different forms for a while. It's time to get to work on the details. 

You see, another of my gifts was the book 'Big Magic' by Elizabeth Gilbert and reading it has made me want to get to develop this project as soon as possible. The main reason it's still a sketch in my journal is that I felt that it wasn't a very original idea - that it had already been done, and that my version probably wouldn't be as good as others that are already 'out there'. (If you've read the book, you'll know why I want to grab this idea with both hands right now while it's still with me). While reading the section about 'Originality vs Authenticity' (p97) these words struck me:
"Most things have already been done - but they have not yet been done by you. [...T]here's going to be some repetition of creative instinct. Everything reminds us of something. But once you put your own expression and passion behind an idea, that idea becomes yours."
I've read the first half of the book - in one sitting - and made so many notes in my journal! It is a case of perfect timing as there is so much that speaks to me right now. I've written before about feelings of being a fraud, or 'imposter syndrome' as it's also known, and Gilbert has a lot to say about that too. I really love her sentiment (on p120) which is to just make whatever you need to make and 'toss it out there'. Yes, there is magic in that! I have several books worth of ideas that haven't seen the light of day yet - it feels like it's time to get to work and to just enjoy making the things, without worrying about what anyone else thinks of them - to just enjoy the process. Expect more WIPs in 2016. A lot more WIPs!

If you've read the book, leave a comment and let me know what you think of it!
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*Amazon & Craftsy affiliate links are included in this post

Festive Gift Guide Part 10: Last-minute gifts (& Craftsy giveaway)

When I started this year's gift guide in September, Christmas seemed like another world away, yet here we are with only a couple of days to go. If you're still in need of a last minute gift, I have just the thing for you - in fact I have two different options - one which will suit most budgets and locations, and another which is quite special and takes place here in the UK! This post contains a reader giveaway and affiliate links to Craftsy classes, which I highly recommend.


THE GIFT OF KNOWLEDGE:
You probably know about the knittingsewing and spinning tuition available from Craftsy already, but how about photography, or bakingjewellery-making or drawing? There are so many different classes to choose from, you'll be able to find something for most people. If you're gifting (or receive) a new gadget you might also find a class to help the recipient get the most out of it, for example I'm currently enrolled on the mobile phone photography class (I'll tell you about it another day) which would be great for someone getting a new iPhone or Android device. There are all sorts of other classes for items like pressure-cookers, food processors and of course more 'on-topic' tools like sewing machines and overlockers/sergers too.


Classes are accessed online from almost any internet-connected device. Once purchased, they are available at any time and can be streamed or downloaded to watch later. So if you get a gardening class for someone, they can watch it in their shed without an internet connection.


Classes are all reasonably priced (some are on sale too) and all are covered with a 100% no-quibble guarantee. See the bottom of this post for the chance to win a class for yourself!

A LUXURY RETREAT:
If you have a bigger budget and Lyme Regis isn't too far to travel, Daisy from Devon Sun Yarns has Yarn Retreats running throughout 2016 which are perfect for any yarn-lover. The retreats are held in a beautiful house in Lyme Regis, just a stone's throw from the sea. Guests stay in private single (or twin) rooms and everything is provided, including delicious home cooked food, plenty of cake and workshop supplies - guests just need to turn up, and relax!


Throughout the weekend there are various workshops on yarn dyeing (exploring lots of different techniques) and Daisy is on hand to offer her expert advice on how to get exactly the results you want. There are also workshops on making ergonomic crochet hooks, buttons and stitch markers. There's plenty of time to relax and sit by the fire with your feet up too, and you can either work through a project you have brought along or get help with learning how to knit or crochet if you are a complete beginner.


This would make the perfect gift for someone you'd like to spoil, and you also have the option to join them in a twin room. Dates run throughout 2016 (the next available dates are in February, but booking up quickly). Contact Daisy for more information and to arrange a gift voucher You can also find further details here.

THE GIVEAWAY: Congratulations Patty Lee - you're the winner!!!!

Craftsy are offering one lucky reader the chance to win a class of your choice. To enter, follow these two simple instructions:
1. Leave a comment below with the name of the class you'd like to win - see the full list here,
2. Leave your Ravelry user name, blog link or another way of contacting you if you win (essential)
The winner will be randomly selected on 26th December 2015, and I'll notify you via your chosen method with the code to claim your chosen class. Good luck, and a very Merry Christmas to you all! 

Comforting Cowl Recipe

You may remember that a while ago I needed stress-relief, and cast on a simple comforting cowl. While finishing it, I realised the same project might make a good last minute gift because it is made using small quantities of yarn and can be finished in a relatively short time. This one took just less than a day and fits an adult, or a cheeky child who is unable to resist anything soft and cuddly.

If you have still to find a last-minute gift for someone, or if you're just feeling  a little overwhelmed by Christmas and need something relaxing and meditative to knit around your family (or in-laws!), I invite you to reach for your needles and cast on...


SIZE AS PICTURED:  62 cm circumference x 27 cm high (approx. 24" x 10.5")
Make any size you like by following the recipe below. My own stitch count and measurements are provided as a baseline/guide. For example, if you want to make a long cowl which can wrap around the neck twice but which is the same height, simply double the number of cast on stitches and the total yarn amount. If you want it to double both the length and height you'll need to multiply the quantities by four.

GAUGE: Approximately 20 sts x 29 rows to 10 x 10 cm

MATERIALS: 
- MC = 43 g *Scheepjes Stone Washed in Smokey Quartz
- CC = 28 g *Scheepjes Stone Washed in Deep Amethyst
- 4mm circular needles, 60 cm long
- 1 stitch marker
- Needle to sew in ends

INSTRUCTIONS: 

1. With MC, cast on a multiple of 3 sts using a long-tail (or other stretchy) cast on  - I used 120 sts
2. Join to knit in the round, being careful not to twist, and place the stitch marker to mark the start of the round
3. Work K2, p1 rib for four rounds
4. Work in stocking stitch for approximately 10 cm, then break yarn leaving a tail for sewing in
5. Switch to CC, using the 'jogless stripe' technique (tutorial here) and moving the stitch marker accordingly
6. Knit for a further 10.5 cm, then break yarn leaving a tail for sewing in
7. Switch back to MC (using the 'jogless' technique again), and knit for 2 cm
8. Work K2, p1 rib for four rounds
9. Bind off loosely
10. Sew in all ends

By the time you've done that, you should be feeling much more relaxed and will have a lovely cosy cowl to gift or wear too! I'll be back with a couple more posts before the new year, but if you'll be offline over the next few days, I'd like to take the opportunity to wish you a very happy holiday.

*Affiliate link. UPDATE: Stone Washed is now also available in the UK at Wool Warehouse. Find the full list of international stockists on the Scheepjes website. 

Knit the Sky: Book Review

I can't recall how I first heard about Lea Redmond's Sky Scarf but lots of these projects were popping up on blogs around the time I started knitting. As a nature-lover, the idea of documenting the sky each day - with a different colour yarn - is quite appealing (and may have subconsciously influenced one of my own projects where I chose colours from the Sussex Sky during the course of one autumn day). When I saw that Lea had written a book with 31 different projects, I was keen to take a look. My copy was kindly supplied by Storey Publishing but as always, all opinions are entirely my own. 

Images: Excerpted from *Knit the Sky (c) Lea Redmond. Illustrations by (c) Lauren Nassaf. 
Used with permission of Storey Publishing.
This is a high quality 21 x 18 cm hardcover book (or ebook*). As well as being an inspiring read, the illustrations (by Lauren Nassaf) and little stories that accompany the projects make it a lovely thing to pick up and flick through, which is precisely what my children keep doing.

Knit the Sky begins with an invitation to look up from your needles and to bring your attention to the world around you. Yes, it is a book of knitting "patterns", but they are patterns with a twist - your own sense of 'whimsy and adventure' are required! In fact, this book is a proposal to explore ways to creatively engage with your knitting. There are no pictures of finished projects. There are no 'rules' and in fact some of the prompts don't even tell you what sort of item you should make - you are simply given a starting point and the rest is up to you. 

You see, Knit the Sky is all about connecting with your world, your feelings and the things that inspire you. Knitting is a very personal experience, and you are encouraged to use it as a method of journalling and transforming "snippets of beauty into little loops of yarn" in the way an artist might record things in her sketchbook. 
The 'Mood Ring Cowl' is available to sample on Lea's website

There are so many ideas in this book, especially when you consider how many ways you might interpret the prompts. I will tell you about just a few of my favourites so you can discover the rest for yourself:
  • The Mood Ring Cowl - a colourful cowl that tracks your mood over a month.
  • Mind The Gap - the perfect commuting project; match your yarn with the underground/subway lines you are riding on, switching as you change trains.
  • The Inch-by-Inch Scarf - a unique way to measure a child's height/growth, which can be gifted to them to mark their passage into adulthood. 
  • Wabi-sabi - choose a technically challenging project which will take you out of your comfort zone and into the realm of mistake-making. Don't hide the mistakes - embellish them. 

As well as the detailed prompts, Lea talks you though how to invent your own project. Starting with an idea, brainstorming details, translating it into a knitted object (the aesthetics and process) and finally, bringing it all together as a coherent design. 


The appendix includes some knitting techniques, pattern stitches and a few actual patterns (for basic mitts, leg warmers, socks, a hat...) which can be used as the canvas for your own ideas, but I doubt you'll want to stop there. After all, the (knitted) sky is the limit! 

POST SCRIPT: It may come as no surprise that after reading the book, I have been feeling inspired! I've been taking photos of colours that inspire me for a long time and feel like they may have an outlet very soon! If you listened to the recent podcast interview with Felicity Ford/ Knitsonik on A Playful Day (which I wrote about here) you'll see how it all fits in really well (and with those drain pictures, perhaps!)

*Amazon = affiliate links. If you don't have an ereader but like the idea of downloading the book straight away, check out my earlier post on how you can read it on other devices. 

Inspiration through ears, eyes, weeds and drains (yes, really!)


The last week has been full of inspiration. Actually, I will rephrase that: over the last week, I took the time to be inspired - artist Danny Gregory has written about "filling the well" of creativity, and that's what I've been doing. Not just through the Stephen West workshop, but also thanks to various podcasts while wrapping gifts and preparing for Christmas. There are a couple of episodes that particularly 'spoke' to me and which I'd like to share with you. 

Image Source: Blogtacular - find episode one here
When I saw that Kat had released the first Blogtacular podcast I knew it would be worth a listen. At the time I wasn't following her guest - Mart Marie Forsberg - but soon found myself perusing her beautiful Instagram feed while listening. It was an interesting discussion and fascinating to hear how it took several false starts before she truly came to recognise what her 'thing' was, and how a momentary interplay of shadow and light happened to shape her brand, and her career. I am really interested in the idea that there's a moment of recognition when you find the thing that speaks to you(r spirit) - it's something I would like to explore further.

Image from the Knitsonik Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook - order the book/ read more here
After that, I caught up with episode 95 of A Playful Day podcast in which Kate interviewed Felicity Ford aka Felix / 'Knitsonik'. I already bought the Knitsonik Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook but hearing about the process and 'art' behind it brought it to life as well as being a really inspiring conversation. Topics included the importance and influence of sound, impermanence, feminism, art, being a creator, and capturing certain moments in different ways. Felicity's thoughts on experiencing and hearing things in a new way, and capturing some of that - either in a recording or picture / sketch or even in a written description, particularly struck a chord with me. This is something I have been doing (visually) for a while on Instagram and in my journals, but really only by instinct, without any direct purpose or plan for what I'd do with them.  

The footpath: so many colours
There was so much in the episode, I can't even begin to tell you everything I got from it. If you haven't already, I would recommend you give it a listen. Aside from everything else, you will also understand why my Instagram feed is filling up with pictures of Tarmac and, randomly, drains.

A sewer-inspired shawl? .... Perhaps! 
The pictures of the ground that are used in this post were all taken within very close proximity of our house. After six years of living here, it's the first time I've noticed any of them. (Seeing these things with fresh eyes is largely thanks to #TarmacTuesday.) I can't be sure whether the images will ever become a part of a project, but if everything you create is part of your journey it is fitting that these little places of interest are a part of almost every physical journey I make. We will have to see where they go from here...
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COMING SOON: On Saturday my review of *Knit the Sky goes live. The book is (coincidentally) also mentioned in the Knitsonik interview - I hope you'll be around for that. There are also a few posts lined up over the next couple of weeks - including a great (last minute gift) giveaway and the final Festive Gift Guide instalment. To catch all of the posts, you may like to turn on notifications for my Facebook page (where I always publish links to new posts), or to subscribe to the blog by email in the sidebar, as I won't be sticking to my regular schedule until the new year.  
*Affiliate link

A day with Stephen West (and lots and lots of shawls)

On Saturday morning I hopped into the car and headed to YAK in Brighton to meet up with some friends. Technically were were going to a 'Top-down Shawl Workshop' but as I've already made dozens of top-down shawls, it was mainly an excuse for a fun day out smooshing piles of shawls in all sorts of wonderful colours, and meeting someone that can only be described as one of my design heroes - Stephen West.

Stephen West shawls at a top-down shawl workshop, on Crafts from the Cwtch blog
Piles of lusciousness! 
The workshop began with a 'getting to know you' session, where lots of people got to show off the gorgeous West Knits designs they were wearing (I have made several but opted for my latest FO instead). I already knew about Stephen's background as a dancer and how he learned to knit to beat backstage boredom, but it was interesting to hear him tell it, and I loved hearing how everyone else got into knitting too. Some, like me, had been knitting for just a few years while others had been knitting for almost their entire lives.

With the introductions done, we cast on a top-down shawl and talked about shaping, different types of increases and how the shape of the shawl will affect the way(s) it can be worn. There were less than 20 participants (I think) so there was time for Stephen to answer questions and to knit and chat with us all which, let's be honest, is why most of us went. Amongst all the fun, we did manage to get a little knitting done, and Katie even brought her 'selfie stick' so we could prove it...

Stephen West top-down shawl workshop, on Crafts from the Cwtch blog
Knitting with Sophie, Katie and Meg
Here are some of the things I learned:
1. The best way to knit the neat little 'wrong side knit-to-purl-yo' trick which Stephen uses in several patterns
2. Keeping stitch markers on your shoe-laces means you always have them handy (footy?)
3. How to carry a ball of yarn, hands-free, when you have no pockets (!)
4. Totally wacky shapes and colours work incredibly well even on older more 'conservatively' dressed people - most of Stephen's designs looked much more 'wearable' in person than they do in the highly stylised photoshoots that publicise them. In fact, I would wear all of them - including Penguono - and didn't think that would be the case before the workshop.
5. How to wear a shawl, the Stephen West way. He was very gracious and let me video several different tying methods, here's one of them...


If you would like to see his (crazy) alter-ego "Stephen East" showing more ways to wear a shawl, check out this video - the 'shift' is clearly very important "for asymmetry and excess"!

In light of the crazy videos and photos, I wasn't sure what to expect from the man himself (I certainly wasn't expecting him to be so tall) and he was great. Entertaining, yes. And knowledgeable, of course. But also just a really nice guy who clearly loves what he is doing and who seems genuinely interested in the knitting and the different ways we do it - he wasn't used to seeing so many throwers as he's also Continental knitter ("How do you purl? Oh, I do it the same way") so that aspect of teaching in England had taken him a little by surprise. He's certainly someone I'd like to spend more time with, geeking out about different techniques.

The biggest thing I took from the workshop was to stop playing safe - the mixtures of colour, texture and shape were very inspiring and so much fun to look at and to wear - yes, we got to play with them and try them on. (And even to recreate some of the photo shoots - Meg!)

Stephen West's Doodler at a top-down shawl workshop, on Crafts from the Cwtch blog
Edge detail from The Doodler 'Mystery Shawl KAL'
I also have an overwhelming desire to learn Brioche stitch so I can knit an Askews Me shawl which is amazing but will probably take an age as I think each 'row' is knit 4 times in multi-colour brioche....?!  The photo below is one of Stephen's but one of the participants was wearing one which I completely fell in love with and I really wish I'd thought to take a photo of it. I've already downloaded *The Essential Guide to the Brioche Stitch technique, so maybe I'll try a small simple project over the holidays.

Stephen West Askews Me brioche shawl at a top-down shawl workshop, on Crafts from the Cwtch blog
Close-up of Askews Me
While there wasn't very much knitting on the day, it was definitely worth attending the workshop. Not in the least because of the great company. The friends I met up with are people I have known 'online' for the last 6 or 7 years, but I'd only (briefly) met one of them in real life before, so sitting together with our knitting was the cherry on the cake. We were the final stop on his UK tour, but if you'd love to learn more about shawl knitting from Stephen he also has a *Craftsy class called 'Shawlscapes' which you can stream or download to watch at your leisure. There will be more workshops and some 'Westknits Weekends' coming up in 2016. Follow Stephen on Facebook and Instagram to stay up to date.

* = Affiliate links

FO Friday: Another Colourblock Shawl (with mods)

One of my most well-loved and well-worn projects is last year's Cosy Colourblock Shawl (find the free pattern here). Since knitting it I have wanted another in a more basic/ neutral colour-scheme, so when I decided to take time for leisure knitting, it was the obvious project choice. As I intend to wear it this afternoon, these pictures show it fresh-off-the-needles. The knitting will no doubt look neater after it's been washed and the edges dried in straight lines (!), but I really didn't want to wait. 


WHAT'S DIFFERENT?: This time around, I left off the fringe and the thin stripes which were in the original. Combined with the two shades of grey, this has given it a much more unisex look - before the ends were sewn in I draped the shawl around my son and it looked great so I may need to make another (smaller) one for him too! 


PATTERN MODIFICATIONS: Without the fringe, I made a few more changes to the pattern
1. The last stitch of every row was slipped with the yarn in front.
2. On the RS rows, the increase happened on the second stitch, not the first (so K1, kfb...).
3. I used a simple crochet bind off with a 10mm hook. 


4. I haven't measured it but I'm 5'3" / 1.6m and it's longer than my wingspan so I'm guessing it's around 175 cm wide, straight off the needles. The original, is a bit bigger (at 450g including fringe) and having been worn so much and wrapped around us all, it has also grown a little with use - this one weighs 350g but does not feel very much smaller.   

THE YARN: I absolutely love Stone Washed XL - it is my favourite non-wool yarn and I use it whenever I can (and no, this post isn't in collaboration with Scheepjes!). The shawl took 150g of colour 842 Smokey Quartz and 200g of colour 843 Black Onyz, both available at Deramores, Wool Warehouse (affiliate links) and other selected retailers. 

Beginner Tips: Lace Knitting 101

Are you new to knitting? Or perhaps you're a knitter who has been making 'plain' things for a while and are ready to try something else. After some recent conversations, I figured it might be helpful to post a few beginner tips that helped me when I first tried knitting lace. In one short post, I'm just scratching the surface, but if you are a more experienced knitter and would like to add something which would be useful for novice knitters, please feel free to leave a comment.

Before moving on to general tips, I'll tell you what I told the lovely ladies (who were quite new to knitting and) wondering whether they'd be able to knit some of my lacy patterns: I purposely aim to keep my designs straightforward to encourage beginner-to-intermediate knitters to give them a try. For this reason, my patterns are uncomplicated and use lots of knits and purls, and simple shaping. (I also let them into a little secret: my most popular designs include 'lace' stitches and this can make them appear more difficult, but they aren't very hard to knit at all!)

Sky Full of Stars Convertible Shrug on Crafts from the Cwtch Blog
PATTERN: Sky Full of Stars Convertible Shrug/Wrap (knit in the round)
Let's take the example of my Sky Full of Stars convertible shrug/wrap. It's actually a really simple design, which makes the most of an easy-to-knit lace pattern combined with some lovely sequinned yarn. There are not many different stitches and it's easy to spot a mistake as the pattern repeats align with one another when it's correct. If you're worried about committing to a relatively big item, try something smaller first. The matching mitts give you the chance to practice the stitch and gain confidence - it is almost the same as the shrug/wrap except that the mitts are knit flat. Leaf Collector's Mitts would also make a good project for those new to lace stitch patterns. And so onto the tips I found most useful when I was a new knitter...


1. LACE DOESN'T NECESSARILY MEAN LACE-WEIGHT
'Lace knitting' is a slightly confusing name because it would be easy to assume that one needs to use lace weight yarn (and small needles) to do it. In fact, 'lace' simply refers to patterns which are made using 'negative' space - that's holes to you and me. You can use any yarn weight at all, with appropriately sized needles.

2. DON'T BE INTIMIDATED, IF YOU KNOW THE INDIVIDUAL STITCHES YOU CAN DO IT ( & SWATCH!)
Provided you can knit the stitches listed at the start of the pattern, you should be able to follow many lace patterns quite easily. They will usually include yarn overs (or other increases) coupled with differing decreases in order to make holes in the fabric while either maintaining the stitch count, or shaping the garment as required. This strategic placing of holes is what gives the fabric the interesting look and texture, especially after blocking (being pinned out into shape, to open up the pattern). Take it one stitch at a time, and don't panic.

It's also a great idea to knit a swatch over a smaller number of stitches so you can be sure you understand the instructions and you can check the stitch pattern looks as it should. I know you probably don't like swatching (I think it's mostly designers that like it!) but it's worth doing before you cast on a few hundred stitches. 

New evening mitts pattern -coming soon!!!
PATTERN: Sky Full of Stars Mitts (knit flat)
3. READING A CHART IS EASY (WHEN YOU KNOW HOW)
I will admit that charts terrified me at first, but now I will always use a chart over the written instructions (English language lace patterns usually include both) as it's quicker to take in the information and to see where I am - in the case of the patterns I've mentioned above, the charts and knitting look the same. Having both written and charted details is a 'belt and braces' approach - you can check back and forth if you're not sure about something.

If you're new to charts, here are some things to remember: 
  • If knitting in the round (e.g. the shrug/wrap), follow every round on the chart from right-to-left. If knitting flat / back and forth (e.g. the mitts), the right ride rows are knit right-to-left and the wrong side rows are knit left-to-right. Check your pattern for any special instructions.
  • With many patterns (such as those pictured above), there is a 'central' element of each repeat - these stack up on top of each other, so it's easy to see if you make a mistake. 
  • If the pattern has a 'rest' row/round where there is no lace, use this to check for any mistakes  such as missing yarn overs or places where the where the pattern doesn't line up or look how you think it should.  
  • When knitting in the round, use a stitch marker at the start/end of the round. In some patterns it may be necessary to move the stitch marker, so pay attention to any instructions before you start knitting - this is something that caught me out a few times in the early days!
  • If you're worried about keeping track over a long number of stitches you can place a stitch marker between each pattern repeat and then count your stitches after each one - you'll know if you've missed an increase or decrease, or dropped a stitch etc when the count is wrong. Be sure to use a different marker for the end of a round though, or you'll confuse yourself.
  • Find a method of marking your your place in the pattern - a sticky note or washi tape which can be moved as you go along work well if you have a printed pattern. If you're using an electronic copy there are various apps you can use to annotate or mark the pattern - or you can write row numbers on a piece of paper and tick them off. 

4. THE CHART CAN BE YOUR MAP
A little while ago I was speaking to a test knitter who prefers written instructions. She had put down her knitting and when she came back to it, realised she'd forgotten to make a note of her place. I advised her to use the chart as a map, even though she wasn't working from it. Looking at the knitting she knew where the start of the round was (by the stitch marker) and comparing the work with the knitting, it was clear to see where the yarn overs and decreases lined up. With that information, it was easy to work out where she was.

5. FURTHER READING: There's a lot more to know about lace knitting, but I hope this has whetted your appetite to give it a try.
- If you'd like to learn more about charts, Karie Westermann has published some excellent detailed tutorials on her blog - find the first one in the series here.
- You might also like the Craftsy class (affilliate link) Lace Knitting: Basics and Beyond with Eunny Jang

Make Good Feel Good

As I have already written, Christmas can be stressful for anyone. It can be particularly difficult for those who are affected by mental health issues including anxiety and depression. Luckily I have (so far)  managed to get through the most challenging times in my life relatively unscathed but this subject is close to my heart as I have several friends living with depression*, and one who tragically lost her struggle earlier this year

Kate from A Playful Day recently asked me to contribute some relaxing project ideas for an article she posted on the Mollie Makes Blog - you can see the full post here.  One of my suggestions for a comforting knit was the Cosy Colourblock Shawl (free pattern) and as it happens, I've just cast on another. I already posted this on Instagram with the #makegoodfeelgood hashtag and after being contacted by some lovely followers,  should point out that my project is for relaxation, and not because anyone should be in the slightest bit concerned about me - but thank you so much for caring. That's exactly what this campaign is all about. 

Cosy Colourblock Shawl version 2, in shades of grey (both Scheepjes Stonewashed XL)
As well as offering project suggestions, Kate's article talks about the work of mental health charity Mind who have launched a 'Christmas Crafternoon' campaign. The idea is to get together with friends, family or colleagues for an afternoon of crafting and fundraising. A network of support is one of the key factors in supporting those with mental health difficulties - inviting people to get together to 'make' can also be a great way of reaching out. 

If this is something you fancy, you can request an information pack by email (or hard copy) which will include lots of ideas and tips. Posters and bunting to decorate your event can also be downloaded from the Mind website.

*If you think you are, or may be, suffering from depression and would like information or assistance, you will also find helpful resources on the Mind website

Spinning yarn from plastic bags - an interview with Michelle Baggerman

Source: Michelle Baggerman
Always on the look-out for interesting yarn crafts, upcycing projects and people who are using / passing on traditional skills, I  was delighted to come across this project via social media. Michelle Baggerman is based in the Netherlands and one of her projects is 'Precious Waste' -  textiles made entirely from carrier bags which have been spun into yarn and woven. I loved the look of the video I first saw (find it at the bottom of this post) and got in touch with Michelle to find out more.

Source: Michelle Baggerman
Can you tell us how this project started and what was your inspiration?
"The project started as my graduation project from Design Academy Eindhoven. I had recently gone on a trip to Japan and was astounded by how many plastic bags I had consumed in the month I was there. Everything I bought, even something tiny like a pack of gum would be bagged at the counter! (I'm currently in Japan again and I can say this hasn't changed at all.) I thought I was doing much better back home, always trying to bring a reusable bag or basket to the supermarket, but when I really started looking I discovered that the bags that I had stashed away in various places around the house amounted to a much bigger pile than I thought. When I asked other people about it, it turned out they were doing the same thing. This raised a lot of questions for me. Why were we hanging on to these worthless things? What would happen if we disposed of them? What is the life-cycle of a plastic bag anyway? Questions very interesting for a designer, so I thought I'd address them in my graduation project. 

Once I found out more about how terrible it really is to make oil based materials, turn them in to a product with an average use of just 15 minutes and then landfill or incinerate them (or worse, dump them in nature), I started looking into recycling. But that wasn't as good as I thought it was. Of course it is better to recycle than not to recycle, but plastic recycling is done in big plants that consume lots of energy and water, use toxic chemicals to treat the plastic, release filthy emissions and so on. And plastic degrades every time it is recycled. After about three cycles it is useless. So I decided I should focus on extending the life-span of those plastic bags that we already have consumed."

Source: Michelle Baggerman
So how did you end up making textiles? Had you been spinning with fibre already? 
"I never set out to make textiles, but that's where I ended up after lots of material experiments and many failures. I was inspired by people knitting and crocheting their bags (I've been knitting and crocheting myself since I was a child) but I didn't like the way the final products looked. Despite all the hours of loving labor people put in, the products still looked like the cheap waste they were made of. I thought maybe if I went back to the very first step in textile production, I could make something better and that's when I started experimenting with spinning yarns. That was something I'd never done before, so I had to learn a lot about it. I started by making a drop spindle and kind of took it from there. Now I'm happily working on a second hand Louët. 

Do you have to do much to prepare the plastic before spinning it?
Of course plastic isn't a fibre and it works very differently. It took me a while to get it right, but I figured out some basics for plastic spinning (cut strips 5-15mm depending on the  thickness of the plastic bag, literally don't cut corners because the yarn will break if it's not a straight cut, stretch as you spin...) and then it suddenly became super easy. I do it as I watch tv or listen to a podcast or something. I'm still useless at spinning anything other than plastic though ;)

What’s the future for the ‘Precious Waste’ project?
So yarns lead me to weaving, and weaving led me to Mexico (although it took a few years!). That is where I'm working on the future of this project with Anudando. As the whole process is done by hand, it's super sustainable, but not feasible in a country like the Netherlands, where time is expensive and we're so industrialised that few people still possess the skills of hand-making textiles. Whereas in Mexico spinning, weaving, knitting, crochet and other textile crafts are still proper occupations. They also have a lot of plastic bags. Mexico consumes the largest number of plastic bags per person in the world. The traditional crafts are under great pressure, so this project is a wonderful way to help preserve those, creating opportunities for craftsmen to earn a fair income, and create awareness about waste and set up a grass-roots recycling system at the same time.


There is still a lot of learning, developing and growing to do. Anudando is only a small and young company, and it's not exactly smooth sailing, but we're starting to see the first signs that our efforts are paying off. Hopefully in the future, we can support many craftsmen and put all this plastic waste to good use by making it into beautiful products. I would also love to see how this would work in other countries that still have craft textile production." 

Visit the Bureau Baggerman blog to follow Michelle's journey. You can also read more about the Precious Waste initiative in Mexico here and here.  Dutch readers can find some of the textiles at a recycling exhibition at Museum Boerhaave in Leiden until the end of January 2016. 

Festive Gift Guide Part 9: Unisex gifts for Kids

It can be SO hard to find nice gifts for children, which are not "mass produced plastic tat" - especially when that's what they are exposed to via targeted television advertising and peer pressure. For this week's selection, I've put together a list of unisex gifts - mainly DIY - to suit various ages. They include things you can knit, crochet, and sew, one that you can gift ready for the children to make themselves. If you don't have time / inclination to make something, there are some ethically produced pre-made toys which I heartily recommend, and those also come with an exclusive reader discount.
NOTE: Lots of these pattern books are available to borrow via Kindle Unlimited and I've marked them with "KU". If you missed my post on how to access ebooks without a Kindle / eReader, click here. Amazon affiliate links are included. 

CUTE CREATURES (All ages)
Who doesn't love a cute monster or alien?

Quincy Quade Quinten (C) Rebecca Danger, source: Ravelry
  • If you knit, Rebecca Danger has a whole host of wonderful patterns available individually or in her lovely books. They are great for using up scraps of yarn, and can be customised to suit. 
  • If crochet is more your thing, how about something from Edward's Menagerie? Both the animal and bird books are available in kindle edition if you can't wait to get started (KU).
  • Want to sew something? Take a look at the lovely patterns in Sew Fantasy Toys by Melanie McNeice (KU) where you'll find lots of super cute projects which don't take much fabric, so you can probably raid your stash!

HANDMADE DOLLS (All ages): A little reminder that boys like dolls too - my son still likes his Fairtrade Peppa doll, which looks a lot like he does and which he's had since he was two.

KANO COMPUTER KIT (Ages 6 - 12) 
I came across this one after we had spoken to Santa to order everything for this year, so I haven't tried it (yet) but it's either going to be a surprise under the tree (if I can twist an arm or two) or it will make a great birthday present in the spring. This really has to be the ultimate DIY kit for kids in 2015, and is the one I wish I'd seen sooner based on the fact that (a) our children are both into copmuters and attend the coding club at school, and (b) the reviews are great. 

It is basically a Pi 2 powered computer which can be built by 6 - 12 year olds. Guided story books (think Lego manuals) show children exactly what to do to make their computer for under £100, and once that's done they can try all sorts of programming (including things on Minecraft which remains the favourite in our house) and it all seems like a game. (The basic kit will work with a TV or monitor with an HDMI input, or an optional screen can be purchased separately.)  As one reviewer put it, it's a win-win as it's educational but just feels like fun. Watch the video here, which will tell you a lot more than I can! 
The Kano Computer Kit is available at Amazon (with next day delivery for Prime customers) or can be ordered direct if you don't mind waiting for delivery (with expedited shipping it may work out a little more expensive, or it's a few pounds cheaper if you can wait for delivery).

ETHICAL TOY SELECTION AT NATURAL CONNECTION (All ages)
If you don't fancy making something yourself but would prefer handcrafted toys, take a look at Natural Connection. This online store is run by some lovely people I have come to know since becoming a mum. They are parents with a firm belief in ethically produced and handmade goods, and stock a great selection of toys for babies and older children. I've chosen a few pictures of things  I bought my own children when they were much younger, and which still feature prominently in our home - the Grimms Large Rainbow and the 'Karl' Peppa Doll (in fact the boy and girl dolls I bought are responsible for my first few attempts at knitting), but there are many more lovely toys and gifts to choose from.


You can see the full range of toys here and if you use the code CC10, you'll get 10% off any order placed before December 31st - feel free to pass the code on to family or friends too.

With time running out, there are just a couple more festive gift suggestions to come - stay tuned for some last minute options! 

Scheepjes Christmas Blog Hop: Secret Surprise Santa

Christmas has well and truly begun in the Knight household. The children are preparing for their school performances - which means they are randomly blurting out carols - the elves are back on our shelves, and I'm planning 'all the surprises'. In fact, my favourite thing about this time of year is being able to give surprises, so when invited to take part in the Scheepjes blog hop for the second year running, I wanted to make a little character with a surprise of his own - he can hide a gift and a message under his hat!


Secret Surprise Santa - free knitting pattern at Crafts from the Cwtch blog

If you know someone who'd like to find one of these little chaps on their shelf or tree, read on - I've included the full pattern below. NOTE: This was originally planned to be an elf, but with two here already I decided on a little Santa - if you would prefer to make an elf, simply change the colours and omit the beard.

This post is a part of the Scheepjes Christmas Blog hop. Yarn supplied by Scheepjes*. Pattern is my own. 

YOU WILL NEED:

- 15g Scheepjes Merino Soft DK colour 621 (red - MC) , 
- 6g Scheepjes Merino Soft DK colour  601 (cream - CC1), 
- A tiny amount of Scheepjes Merino Soft DK colour 602 (black - CC2) just to make the gloves
- 3.25 mm double pointed knitting needles, for knitting in the round and flat (back and forth)
- 1 pair of eyes
- A safety pin or stitch marker to hold 2 sts
- 1 cardboard tube from the centre of kitchen roll, cut to 7 cm
- 1 pompom (I used a 35mm a pompom maker to make mine - you can also use home made cardboard rings or even a fork,  check out my pompom Pinterest board if you need inspiration)
- Needle for sewing in ends


GAUGE & SIZE: 

- 12 sts and 15 rows to 5cm in stocking stitch
- Finished size approximately 16 cm


TECHNIQUES USED: 

- Casting on
- Knitting in the round using double pointed needles
- Knit and purl stitches
- Kfb = knit into the front and back of the same stitch to increase by 1
- K2tog = knit two stitches together to decrease by 1
- Ssk = slip two stitches, then knit together through the back loop to decrease by 1
- Moss Stitch = knit the purls, and purl the knit sts (from the previous row) 

INSTRUCTIONS:

STEP 1: Body / head
  • Using MC cast on 1 st
  • K, p, k into the same stitch (3 sts) 
  • P3
  • Kfb three times (6 sts)
  • P6
  • Kfb six times (12 sts)
  • Split the stitches evenly onto three dpns and k12, joining to knit in the round
  • Knit one round
  • *K1, kfb; rep from * to end of round (18 sts)
  • Knit one round
  • *K2, kfb; rep from * to end of round (24 sts)
  • Knit one round
  • *K3, kfb; rep from * to end of round (30 sts) 
  • Knit one round
  • *K4, kfb; rep from * to end of round (36 sts). The work should now fit comfortably around the tube. 
  • Continue to work in rounds, without increasing, for 4 cm
  • Switch to CC1 and continue to work for a further 3 cm
  • Bind off, leaving a long tail

Secret Surprise Santa - knitting pattern on Crafts from the Cwtch Blog

STEP 2: Hat
  • Using MC, cast on 32 sts, split evenly over two needles and join to knit in the round
  • Work in k1, p1 rib for 3.5 cm
  • Work in stocking stitch for a further 6 cm 
  • Continue to work in stocking stitch, decreasing on every other row as follows, until only 8 sts remain:
    • DEC ROW 1: *K2tog, k6; rep from * to end of round (28 sts)
    • DEC ROW 2: *K2tog, k5; rep from * to end of round (24 sts)
    • DEC ROW 3: *K2tog, k4..... and so on.....
  • When 8 sts remain: *K2tog, k2; repeat from * to end (6 sts)
  • Cut yarn leaving a long tail and thread it through the remaining sts to sew closed
  • Attach pompom to the top of the hat, and sew in all ends

STEP 3: Beard
  • Using CC2, cast on 1 st
  • Row 3: [K1, p1 into the same stitch] to end
  • Row 4: Knit the purls and purl the knit sts 
  • Repeat the last two red length (mine is 4 cm)
  • Bind off in pattern, leaving a long tail for sewing up

STEP 4: Arms - make two
  • Using MC, cast on 10 sts and split evenly across two dpns to knit in the round (or use Judy's Magic Cast on, as in this tutorial)
  • Work stocking stitch in the round for 3 cms
  • Switch to CC2, knit one round
  • Purl two rounds
  • K4, slip next 2 sts onto a stitch holder (or safety pin)for later, k4 (8 sts) 
  • Knit five rounds
  • [K2tog, ssk] twice (4 sts)
  • To close the hand: k2tog using one st from each needle, repeat then bind off the remaining 2 sts
  • Pick up the 2 sts on the stitch holder to work the thumb
  • Work a two-stitch icord for 3 rows (tutorial here
  • Bind off and sew in ends closing the thumb hole - if you stitch the end of thumb to the rest of the hand, he can hold small things! 

STEP 5: Nose
  • Knit a 3 stitch icord for 3 rows
  • Bind off and sew it into a circular shape, leaving tails for sewing on
Secret Surprise Santa - knitting pattern on Crafts from the Cwtch Blog

TO MAKE UP
  1. Sew a little mouth onto the beard, using MC
  2. Sew the beard in place - along the line where the colours change.
  3. Pop the cardboard tube inside the body to decide on arm placement, then remove the tube to sew the arms on. 
  4. Place the cardboard tube inside the body and, using the long tail (left at bind off), loosely sew around the top of the work, to form a slight 'drawstring', this will hold the knitting in place. 
  5. Decide on eye placement, and make two holes through the cardboard to keep them in place, then insert the eyes and secure the backs.
  6. Sew the nose in place.
  7. Put the hat on - it will stand up straight, but I like it at a jaunty angle!
  8. Finally, the centre of the base is purposely bulbous and you may be wondering why - it's actually to allow for a good 'standing' surface. Invert it slightly with your finger, and he will stand up well on any flat surface. 
I hope you have fun knitting your "Secret Message Santa". If so please post a picture on social media and tag #ScheepjesChristmasBlogHop so I can find it - there is also a Ravelry page which you can link to. If you missed yesterday's post from Annelies Baes, you can find it here. Tomorrow there'll be another free festive pattern from Miss Neriss - hope to see you there! 

*In the UK, you can find Scheepjes yarns at Wool Warehouse and Deramores (affiliate links). Find a full list of international stockists on the Scheepjes website

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The free patterns and tutorials on this site are provided for unlimited personal use. You may print a copy of a pattern or keep a digital copy for personal use only. Please feel free to share links to the relevant posts but do not reproduce or sell any of these patterns (either digitally or in print). Copies of any patterns/tutorials may not be posted online, in whole or in part. You are welcome to sell items made using the patterns, as long as Sarah Knight is credited as the designer.

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