Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Two bunnies & a fairy...

Hello there!
It has been quite a while since we have had a cross stitching post around here hasn't it? Rather overdue actually considering I still count cross stitch as my number one crafting love! The truth is there just hasn't been much stitchy progress around here in a while, mainly due to my pesky headaches, but finally I have a finish to report! Do you remember me mentioning a Somebunny I was working on? Well the other week I put the last stitches into it & turned it into a cushion. Here it is with the matching one I made for Hubbie for his Christmas...
The idea was to make a matching pair of Somebunnies for our bed so I added our initials &, with the help of the computer, flipped the girl bunny round so they would face each other. Note - if you are going to flip a cross stitch chart remember the whole thing flips so all the symbols are the opposite way round from how they appear on the key! I had a small panic when I sat down to start stitching & couldn't find any of the symbols on the key! Here is a closer look at the newly finished Bunny with the older one back to front so you can see the fabric I picked to back them both with...
I do love that patchwork effect fabric, it's another one that I fell in love with on our trip to the States a couple years back. 
While we're talking cross stitch today I thought I would show you an update on the Ladybird Fairy...
Here she is with all the regular cross stitch complete, now on to the metallics & the back stitch! I have given up trying to work out how much longer she will take me to complete, I just don't seem to be able to get a solid run at her if you know what I mean? I guess she will have to join the list of "finished when it's finished"... So far I am getting on really well with the Q snap style frame, but as you can see this project is a bit too small width ways so I am looking forward to the next project I start on this which will be cut large enough to be secured it on all four sides...
Well that's all for today - thank you for visiting, I hope you are having a lovely week however you are spending it! 



Thursday, 23 May 2013

More New Homes!

Hello there! How has your week been? Mine has sped by, I'm not really sure where to!
So far this year I have been spending a lot of time with my sewing machine. Sewing in the UK seems to be experiencing a rise in popularity in much the same way as baking did a few years ago  (probably due in part to a certain TV program) and I'm very happy about that :-) But that is not why my machine has taken to living on my craft table, by happy coincidence it turns out my decision to spend some time sorting through, washing, & ironing my fabric stash has re-ignited my love of fabric :-) It has been egged on by some of the beautiful sewn items I have seen produced by some of the talented bloggers out there - immediately I'm thinking Sew Sweetness or pretty much anything here at Happy Little Cottage! I also love reading Sandra at Cherry Heart (I mean how can you resist this?) and that was where I came across this which is based on this by Amy at NanaCompany . OK now I read that back that sounds really long winded but isn't that the way lots of us discover new goodies online? You follow the link from one place to another... well hopefully some of you will now be able to enjoy some new goodies by following those links!
Anyways... Once I saw those beautiful little needlebooks I had to make one. Oh I have been meaning to make one for a while to go with my pin cushion & scissor fob, but you know how it goes, new things get added to the "to make" list & some things get bumped down the list... well this just shot up the list instead! I especially loved how it used some really tiny scraps of fabric, you know the kind of pieces non-hoarders would consign to the bin! In my fabric sorting I had decided to start a scrap box for all the off cuts & tiny bits I couldn't bring myself to throw away and so I emptied this out & started to rummage....
This is the back of my needlebook, twelve little 1" squares quilted in a big running stitch with embroidery floss. There are some tiny offcuts from my Easter bunting, the cross stitch project bag, the Let's Sew wall hanging which the eagle eyed amongst you might spot! There are also a couple of squares from dress making projects from my school days & one square from a dress making project of my Mom's from before I was born! For the front of the book I used fusible web to applique some even smaller pieces, the purple strip Mr Owl is sitting on is just 1/2" wide! I embroidered along the edges with a variegated yellow embroidery floss and used one of my hand painted wooden buttons with a deep purple ribbon loop for the closure...
For my inside fabric I used a bigger piece of the lilac floral print you can see on the front and some lilac felt trimmed with pinking shears...
This really was a very happily spent Saturday! I think I might make a few more of these...
Another thing I have been meaning to make for a while is a proper cover for my Pazzle. As some of you will know I have had a bit of a love hate relationship with this beastie since it came to live with me back in the October of 2011 following a trip to Glasgow for the big craft show. I had intended buying some paper punches so how exactly did I end up coming home with an electronic diecutter? Well...
This is a Pazzle Inspiration...
It truly is amazing how much this one little machine can do, in addition to cutting it will emboss, pierce, draw, you can even get attachments that are food safe so you can cut fondant icing for amazing cake decorating! You can find out all about it at the Pazzle website. I don't know why they aren't more widely known over here as they work out much cheaper than more popular brands of diecutting machines which use cartridges, just hook the Pazzle up to your computer and you can import any image you can find or design yourself. So what was the problem? I found (still find!) it incredibly complicated to get it to do what I want!!! I think what I should have done initially was sit down and go through it all methodically learning my way round the whole machine. But it was 8 weeks before Christmas & I had mountains of cards to make & so I jumped right in. To be honest even if it hadn't been that time of year I probably wouldn't have done it any differently, I'm not that kind of person where technology is concerned. Because it will do so much it has so many variables and  inevitably I had a few disasters that put me off, but at the start of this year I decided I had to start over & learn to tame this beastie. 
After spending a bit more time with each other I think we have declared a truce, and partly as a peace offering to it, I decided it deserved a proper cover instead of living under a scrappy bit of the original packaging! I had seen some fairly straightforward quilted sewing machine covers online & thought it shouldn't be too hard to adapt one of these. I also wanted to try free motion quilting & thought this would be a good first project as it basically lives in my bedroom out of sight! There is a lot of information online about free motion quilting but I found the video tutorials here by the uber talented Patsy Thompson especially helpful.
The cover would consist of three sections, two end panels joined together by a rectangle. I traced round the end of the Pazzle on tissue paper to get the curvy end panel shape & cut out two of these from my fabric. I measured around the curved edge of this shape to give me one dimension of my rectangle and measured the length of the Pazzle to get the other. I came across this tutorial for making "super easy pinwheels" which I fancied trying so set off making some for the central part of my rectangle. I framed them with two scrappy borders of rectangles and used a Loop de Loop pattern to quilt them. I sewed the end panels on to each end of my finished rectangle, made a lining from plain navy fabric, and taa dah!
Finally my Pazzle has a new home! 
What I learned from this project -

  • "super easy" is a relative term! The process of making the pinwheels is pretty straightforward but my sewing machine was not too happy going through all those thicknesses of fabric at the center...
  • free motion quilting is a skill that will take me many many hours of practice in order to achieve the results I want!
  • sometimes you need a couple days at the end of a project before you can go back & look at it with a less critical eye. After all how closely do you inspect something like this in day to day use? Yes, some of the pinwheels are not so precise at the centers as a result of battling to get my sewing machine to keep going through all those layers, and the stitch length on the quilting is ummm, shall we say variable?! But in the end I am quite pleased with it now, it certainly beats the white foam packaging!
Thank you for visiting here today, I have more sewing projects to share with you soon... I am on a bit of a roll with these at the moment and seem to be spending a large part of the day upstairs with my sewing machine & the evenings downstairs with my knitting or the granny stripe blanket. I hope you are enjoying your week however you are spending your days & evenings!


Friday, 10 May 2013

Playing Hooky ;-)

Hello there!
Another morning spent busy in the garden today but mid-afternoon the rain stopped play (just about 30 minutes after I pegged laundry out of course!). Time to bring you another catch up post before the weekend then...
Around the time I was looking at options for my new crochet hook a couple of friends mentioned the lovely ones you can get with polymer clay handles. I'm sure you've seen the sort on your web travels? There are some real beauties out there - like these. Well shortly after my new hook arrived I happened to be in the craft store in the city that stocks polymer clay & they had a Buy One Get One Free offer running! Even Hubbie said I had to give it a go so I chose two colors & when we got home looked up a good tutorial (I used the one here but there are quite a few out there including videos on you tube). Now I decided to Keep It Simple for once (!) and opted for a spotty handle. I used the teal clay to cover the hook &, when I was happy with it, added some little balls of the blue glittery clay. It still looks a bit rough (maybe I should've sanded it some more?) but it is much comfier to use than it was before.
As it is a 4mm hook I added four sparkly little gems from my card making stash to the end of it...
I figured I had better mark it because if I decide to play with the clay again I will be able to tell what size each hook is! Originally I added the gems before I baked the hook in the oven but two of them fell out during cooking so I used a dab of Superglue to re-adhere them once everything was nice & cool. It's not a real thing of beauty like the amazing ones you see online but now at least it is useable so it's a win really (and shows just how awesome some of those hooks are that you see online!). 
The other thing I want to share with you today is a little crochet & sewing project that has been on my mind for well over a year now. Amongst the craft books I have borrowed from our local library was Cute and Easy Crochet by Nicki Trench (one day I might even buy my own copy as there is something very appealing to me about this book as a whole). Before I returned it I took brief notes on a couple of the projects inside including the crochet hook holder. So far this year I seem to be on a roll making Homes For Things, now it was the turn of my crochet hooks to get a purpose made home ;-) 
This really was an easy project, basically a rectangle of plain double crochet with a little picot trim added in a contrast color down the two long sides. On the crochet side I pretty much followed the pattern from the book, the only differences being I used that wonderful Foundation Single Crochet stitch to start it off and made it a few stitches wider and about an inch longer than in the book just so I could keep all my hooks together in one place. Once the rectangle was finished I picked a couple of fabrics from my stash, a neutral linen for the background and a cream cotton with little rose sprigs for the pocket. I picked a couple of coordinating ribbons to pretty up the edges, sewed it all together, & then pinned it onto my crochet rectangle...
Once it was hand sewed in place I turned it over to add the other ribbon tie. I picked a couple of pretty buttons to sew over the ends of the ribbon...
... and added my hooks!

Here's a close up of the buttons...

I used one ball of Peter Pan Jeanie Aran yarn in Heather for the main body of it & a little bit of the same yarn in the Moss colorway for the edging. It's a blend of Polyamide and Acrylic but it feels a lot like cotton, it was so much nicer to work with than that Creative Cotton I used for the bathmat! The only thing I would do differently next time round would be to make a fabric flap to fold down over the top of my hooks - the first time my son picked it up he turned it up the wrong way and a bunch of them slid out!
Thank you for stopping by to visit me today, I hope you have a lovely weekend however you are spending it!

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Crochet journey

Hello there!
Today I have been busy out in the garden, finally some lovely weather after a Bank Holiday weekend where it felt like we'd stepped back to February - grey, pouring rain, windy, cold, & thoroughly miserable out there! There is so much to do outside after this prolonged winter, boy this one did not want to give up & my brave little crocuses & daffodils really took a battering! It is nice to feel some warmth in the sunshine & see your shadow as you work, the cats thoroughly approve too! I know the start of hours spent outside will see a decrease in productivity on the crafting front, but maybe it will give me a chance to get you all caught up with what I've been up to over the past few months!
A long time ago, way back here in fact, I showed you some crochet hexagons I had started making with some lovely cotton yarn. I planned to make them into a bath mat but had realized part way in that I didn't have anything like enough yarn to complete this (which as I had bought the yarn on our last trip Stateside was a bit of a problem...). Internet to the rescue! I discovered Rico's Creative Cotton (aran) which is available in a lovely array of shades from a variety of uk sellers (for example here). I ordered some & couldn't wait to give it a try when it arrived. The colors where just as vibrant as I had hoped but I must admit I was rather disappointed once I began working with it. It was just so splitty, it seemed to reach out & grab my hook as I worked each stitch - uggghhh! it was hard going!!! I was having a lot more fun with some of the other projects I was into at the time & so this one got kinda sidelined.
It sat untouched in it's plastic carrier bag for months. Then after I finished the baby blanket & the crochet bag I decided I really should be good & finish the hexagons off before I started on my next big blanket. I discovered I had actually made more hexagons than I had thought so in the end it didn't take that many evenings to finish them off & work a simple edging round them...
YAY! Finally!!! One completed bathmat!!!
So once this was ticked off the list I could make a start on my new blanket *big contented sigh* :-)
Do you remember back here when I showed you a box of yarn I had gathered for a new blanket? Have you been wondering what ever happened to that? Well I started a granny stripe with it :-) Another project from Attic 24 that I have been longing to start for a while (you can find the pattern here). I decided to try a different method to pick the colors for this than I have used for previous blankets. I wanted about seventeen colors altogether and I wanted a balance of light, medium, and darker shades so this would give me roughly six colors in those three groups. I also wanted a balance between red/purple (warm) colors & blue/green (cool) colors so I chose these eight colors from the first group...
...and these nine colors from the second...
I really wasn't totally convinced about using the cream, but when I put all the colors together it seemed to need to be in there with the rest of them. I thought I would try it and see how it looked, I could always pull it out if I didn't like it. So here are the seventeen colors I ended up with...
 
Most of these colors I pulled from my stash and most are Sirdar Hayfield Bonus DK as I can get that easily locally, four of them are Woolcraft New Fashion DK, and three of them are Stylecraft Special DK which I bought from here. I have heard a lot about the Stylecraft yarn but have never come across it in an actual shop so I was looking forward to finally seeing/feeling it in the flesh! In the same parcel I had also ordered a new crochet hook.
When I started crocheting I bought a secondhand set of basic aluminium hooks from a lady on ebay (now when I say a set, there was one in each common UK size but they were far from a matching set!) Most of them were perfectly fine but the 4mm one was different from the rest & I found it pretty uncomfortable to use. I read this article about different types of hooks (which explained why I didn't get on well with the one bamboo hook I bought for taking on the airplane the other summer) but with a very limited choice available locally to see I still wasn't too sure which one to go for. After much deliberation I decided to go for this... 
... a KnitPro Soft Grip hook. I was not disappointed when my parcel arrived - this must be about the best £1.99 I have spent on a craft tool in ages!!!!! I love this hook!!!! It is very light, beautifully balanced, & a true joy to work with :-) Now I know crochet hooks are a very personal choice (as the article says we are all different & that is why there are so many different ones out there!) but if you like the non-inline style hooks (like Boye) & are looking for a new hook then I think you will get on very nicely with this.
Well now I had my new hook & all my chosen colors I could begin on my new blanket. A granny stripe is one of those blankets that begins with a long foundation chain that you have to work all the way back down crocheting into every chain. This is not my favorite job. I try and make my chain not too tight but I also want to keep it even & not too loose so as to have a nice edge for working the blanket border into later on. Just before Christmas I discovered a new way to start a project like this using a stitch called the Foundation Single Crochet or FSC (sometimes called the No-Chain Foundation Single Crochet). If you haven't come across it before there is a great video tutorial for it here. Basically when you work this stitch you are making the foundation chain and that annoying single (double in English terms) crochet into it in one move. The little bit of time it takes to get this stitch under your belt is more than worth it! No more crocheting into that wiggly chain, no more ripping out a row because of one too many or one too few chains, and the resulting edge is more even too! Oh, and if you fall in love with this stitch there is also a Foundation Double Crochet (treble in English terms) for those projects that start with a dc (tr) into that initial chain (tutorial video here, don't say I'm not good to you!). 
So I used the FSC to start my granny stripe blanket...

Now this new creature of mine is a big blanket. At 82" wide it will be my companion for many months as I slowly work my way down each stripe & back up again. But that is just fine. It's not a race, there is no deadline.
 Bit by bit it is growing... 
...it will be finished when it's finished...

... this one is all about the journey.
With the weather continuing to be unseasonably cold I have really been enjoying getting comfy under this of an evening and adding a few more stripes! Right now I am eleven stripes past where I reckon the middle will be...
That really doesn't look possible that that is over half the blanket, but each stripe is one inch tall so I figure 36 stripes (3ft) must be around half way up? I guess it's just because it is so wide, well when I hit that 72nd stripe I will see how it looks (it will be getting a border added too). This kind of "mindless" crochet is a great accompaniment to TV programs you need to actually watch a bit more ( a lot of times I follow programs by listening more than watching) or for picking up on an evening when I am too tired to have to concentrate much on something. I guess the fact that I'm this far along this blanket in just over two months points to how many of those nights there have been! 
Thank you for stopping by today, I hope that you have been enjoying some sunshine where ever you are at and that the rest of your week will be a happy & productive one :-) 



Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Carrying On

Hello and welcome!
It's May already! I'm not quite sure how that happened but here we are. Now we have hit the fifth month of the year I have decided I'm not going to try & "catch up" with things, I'm just going to "do" at whatever pace needs be & go with the flow a bit more. I'm not very good at "going with the flow"...
Maybe there's something in the Spring air that makes me step out of my comfort zone, but it most often seems to be this time of year when I try something completely different. Spring of 2010 I borrowed some quilting books from a friend & started playing with patchwork blocks, the following April saw me buying my first crochet hook, a book on amigurumi, & a few balls of yarn, so really it was inevitable that as Spring came round again something new would appear on the horizon. This time I am blaming  was spurred on by some beautiful colors of less-than-half-price yarn that jumped out at me when I was in the craft shop for something else entirely. Have you done that? Stood in the shop with the bargain in your hand frantically thinking "what can I make with this & how much will I need?" It's ok, I won't tell anyone, it'll be our little secret ;-) In the end I decided this gorgeously soft yarn had to be made into clothing & I would give in to the little voice inside calling out "Knit! Knit!"
I have often been asked if I knit as well as crochet & over the last year or so I have seen some really lovely knitted projects online. This had led to a little voice inside saying "Go on, why not give it a try?" which had been growing louder over the last few months. I did have a couple of pairs of knitting needles tucked away upstairs & we all know there is plenty of yarn in this house! So what was stopping me? Well...
For me knitting is inextricably linked to my Nan. She raised me, made wonderful homecooked meals, and she knitted. She kept my cousins & me in cardigans all our growing years and I remember many, many trips to the shop with her to buy yarn to start a new project or buttons to finish one off. I don't remember exactly what age I was when I was finally allowed to pick a pattern and yarn & try knitting my own jumper, with a lot of help from Nan of course! She cast on for me, picked up dropped stitches, fixed it when I brought it to her only knowing that something just wasn't quite right,she did all the shaping rows, cast off, and finally sewed it all together. How I loved that yellow jumper! At some point I had started a new jumper, a cream colored Aran covered in cables but for some reason I stopped knitting & Nan found someone to finish it for us. Now looking back on this she must have thought I stood a good chance of finishing it or I would never have been allowed to begin such a project. Although perfectly proficient at cables I only ever remember her knitting a handful of such projects & she certainly didn't want to get left with my big jumper! Maybe she just found plainer knitting more relaxing? I wish now that I had sat down & talked with her about her knitting, and I can't think why on earth we didn't, but she passed away almost three years ago now. For a long time any suggestions that I try knitting again were met with a definite No. Knitting was Nan's thing. But in recent months I began to feel that it would possibly be a nice thing to try, to be able to carry on a craft that she loved.
So Easter week I found a basic cardigan pattern that I liked online, looked out an old pair of her needles, found some instructions on how to cast on & began. I discovered that knitting is like riding a bike! In no time at all it felt like a totally natural and relaxing thing to be doing and after one evening I had this...
At the shop I had given in to four colors of lovely soft merino; this red, a lime green, a dusky pink, & a cream and I decided to play with a stripe pattern as I worked my way up the back of the cardigan. I really wasn't too sure about the stripes but apart from worrying over that I was having fun. After a few days, and with some more reference to my trusty Needlecrafts book, the back was finished...
I was working my way up the second front, still not totally convinced by the stripes (but egged on by the family) when I remembered that I hadn't checked the tension! Whoops! So out with the tape measure &, big surprise, it was out. Well that decided the fate of the stripes - out it all came! Now if not stripes what could I come up with for those four colors? Never one to pick the easy route (!) I found myself increasingly drawn to Fair Isle patterns. I know, after spending one week knitting - am I mad or what?! I looked at a variety of patterns online, consulting the knitting chapter in my big needlecrafts book some more, and finally requesting some books on Fair Isle from the regional online library catalogue. Two of these are now in my possession (the 200 Fair Isle Designs by Mary Jane Mucklestone seems especially good so far!) & I have started on a new back for my cardigan. I think my Nan would have had a chuckle over my madness at attempting this so soon, and I have had more than a few moments where I have wished I could just call her up & ask her something, but overall??? I am absolutely loving it! Would you like to see where I have gotten to now? OK then, just for you...
 Do you like my natty point protector? Yes it is an eraser, I might cut it down a bit & get another one out of the other end... now for a closer look at the knitting... 
 This is what the back looks like...
I think I'm doing ok, the floats (those bits of yarn that run horizontally across the back) are nice & stretchy & I think from what I've read that the unevenness in some of the stitches when viewed from the front will even out once I've secured all those ends (!) & washed & blocked the finished cardigan... I'm definitely much happier with this than with the stripes, this time round I can actually see myself wearing it (which is, kinda, pretty much, the whole point! duh!) Also if any of you long time knitters out there have any hints or tips for me they would be very welcome!
Thank you for stopping by today, I hope you have a lovely week whatever you are up to :-)