Monthly Archives: August 2014

Blogs of Much Loveliness.

The Arne and Carlos giveaway is coming really soon. Disclaimer: I’m not actually giving away Arne and Carlos themselves – that’d be more of a coup than I can pull off. It’s just signed copies of their books, OK? Meanwhile…


Yes, you!

Look! Over here! I’ve got things to show you. Good things. Entirely legal things, in case you’re worried.

One of the best aspects of blogging is getting to know other blogs, as well as the writers behind them. There’s a treasure-trove of wit and creativity out there in the art/craft blogging community, but you probably know that already. Would you like to see some gems? Yes? Right, I’ll just move up a bit so you can sit down and look through these.

Don’t mind me if I do a bit of sewing on the knitted mandala picture while you’re reading, OK? I’m not ignoring you – I’m just desperate to get this blighter finished, so that I can plonk it on the newly-redecorated living room wall and blog about it. Help yourself to some of this rioja – there’s a clean glass on the kitchen table. Oh, and would you like an olive or two?

Anyway, here’s some bloggy loveliness…

Have you met Pauline? She’s the Contented Crafter, and she’s busy in New Zealand using colour in the most amazing way in her artwork. Her work is rich in hue, and feminine/flowing in style. She and I had a little exchange recently, and I’m still smarting with guilt that she was the rather more generous donor. Look at these beauties! Her paintings are for sale as prints and cards in her Etsy shop, if you’re interested. Here, inexpertly photographed, is a little sample of the work that she sent me.

Prints by The Contented Crafter. :-)

Prints by The Contented Crafter. 🙂

And there’s Greenclogs. 🙂 A musical, creative, fellow British blogger, who writes about the things that bring her joy. One of the things that I love most about her blog – and by now she will be heartily sick of me telling her this for the eleventy thousandth time – is her photography. Seriously, she could photograph Slough and make it look like the Hanging Gardens Of Babylon. (With apologies to readers from Slough.) I mean, you can’t really argue with this quality of photographic loveliness, can you:-

Screenshot of Greenclogs' blog. Image used with permission.

Screenshot of Greenclogs’ blog. Image used with permission.

The blog that I most frequent for practical inspiration is Eclectichomelife. Written from very near my own Oxfordshire hide-out, it is – as billed – a very eclectic mixture of wonderful different crafts, but especially crochet, written by a creatively talented Norwegian woman. (There’s a bit of bias here on my part: I adore Norway. It was the first foreign country I ever visited.) Anyway, this is the blog that most frequently makes me think, ‘I must try that’. When – soon – I publish a piece about our revamped kitchen chairs, it will be thanks to inspiration from this blog.

Oh, and have I mentioned Tatie’s World yet? Well I should. She knits and she crochets, but it was to begin with the wonderfully colourful array of her crocheted work that attracted me. She lives in Italy, but hails from Croatia and often posts stunningly gorgeous pictures of flowers and landscapes, especially when she visits home. (Can you tell that I’m jealous?) Here’s a sample of her knitting and a sample of her floral photography:-

Knitting from Tatie's world. Image used with permission.

Knitting from Tatie’s world. Image used with permission.

Floral photography from Tatie's World. Image used with permission.

Floral photography from Tatie’s World. Image used with permission.

And for visually creative wit, I can’t help but admire Sharon Mann at Her technical skill is just as amazing as her originality. You really really can’t beat Georgia O’Keefe in a teacup. 🙂

And of course there’s the blisteringly wry and stiff-upper-lipped Celia Ladygarden’s Lifestyle For Ladies.

Finally, may I encourage you to go take a look at the Telly and Travels blog? Not craft-related, I know, and I should probably declare an interest because I’ve been friends with its author since about the age of four, when we both lived on a vast modern housing estate where all the roads were named after airports, from the predictable Gatwick Close to the weakly punnish Heath Row. But man, this blogger can write. I like to read her television-and-travel blog even though I don’t own a TV and even though the toddler twinnage scupper pretty much any plans to travel anywhere beyond our village shop. Enjoy.

Oh, you’ve finished looking through these blogs? Right, I’d better put the mandala down and be sociable, then. More wine? Oh hang on, the bottle seems to be empty…


Filed under Blogging

Illuminated Crochet Hook Review

I was moseying around the internet the other day, when I stumbled across something intriguing. An illuminated crochet hook. How wonderful is that?! I ordered one because of my propensity for nocturnal crochet/knitting whilst various members of my household (the toddler twinnage, mostly) snore beside me in the bed. So I thought I’d do a product review, in case you too are tempted by the concept.

So, introducing the Crochet Lite illuminated crochet hook, in this case supposedly a 4.5mm, although more on the sizing issue, later. Here’s the chappie:-

hook collage a

Reasonably cool, no? I paid £5.99 (plus postage) at WoolWarehouse. Now, I can’t offer you any slow, thoughtful ‘unboxing’ (Ugh! When did that become a word?) videos on YouTube, because when the parcel plopped through the letterbox, I shredded its packing within nanoseconds, to get to the treat within. Sorry. So unless you wish to see a photo of cardboard carnage, I have nothing to offer on that front. Folks who produce unboxing videos are patient sorts.

Anyway, having done that, I realized that there was not a lot I could achieve with the hook, because it was broad daylight. Duh.

Enter night-time, stage left. Witness night-time sniffing, scratching, and settling itself down.


So then, it was late. I was sitting up in bed in the dark with yarn and hook. The toddler twinnage snored outrageously beside me. The stoic spouse was up in the tower strumming his guitar, busy expanding his repertoire of chords from six to seven. (I’m not mocking: he’s been doggedly practising every single night for weeks, and some nights he practises his French, too. I deeply respect him for this, but please don’t let him know that I said something nice about him.)

All was well. I switched on the hook.


Wowsers! That’s properly bright! The light gives the impression of coming from two places – the tip of the hook and its base. It’s plenty bright enough for nocturnal hooking, and it’s plenty bright enough to read a pattern. In fact it stayed bright for a couple of hours before dimming to a slightly calmer level. (Yes, a couple of hours. Sleep? What is this ‘sleep’ concept of which you speak?)

There are some things that I should tell you about this hook. It’s comfortable to hold for long periods. If feels light and well-shaped. The tip is smooth but not especially sharp. And wow, you really can crochet in the dead of night, although you might struggle if you were working on an exceptionally complex lacy design, unless you’ve got another source of light as well.

However, working in the pitch black, crocheting at speed, you get some seriously distracting flickering, as the tip of the hook dashes in and out of your fabric. This is quite annoying, and I think it will be the biggest factor that will stop this hook from becoming my new favourite-gadget-in-the-whole-world. (I should stress that it’s not the light itself that’s flickering, purely the fact that you’re working it in and out and in and out of your crochet.)

By the way, check your gauge when working with these hooks. My 4.5mm hook seemed about the right size, but online reviewers often suggest that the larger hooks in the Crochet Lite range are over-sized.

A lot of people use these hooks to work in dim (but not fully dark) conditions, especially when they’re working with dark-coloured yarn. I tried this too and yes, it is probably better suited for these conditions than it is for my secret midnight hooking. The Crochet Lite is not just a gimmick: it clearly has been thoughtfully designed as a useful tool, and the construction feels solid enough. But it’s definitely best suited to low light, rather than no light. Enjoy.

PS: Apparently, you can buy illuminated knitting needles, too, but I’m convinced they’d be requisitioned by the toddler twinnage for fencing contests. Also, even though I’ve never seen Star Wars, I realize that they’d be just a little too much like lightsabers. Possibly the Jedi like to knit on their days off. (Do Jedi get days off? I had to look up lightsaber on Wikipedia to even find out what sort of characters use them. That’s how little I know. If you came here in search of the Star Wars Aficionado blog, you’ve taken a massive wrong turn. Sorry.)


Filed under Crochet

Blocking Your Knitting

Right. Before we begin, I just wanted to say that the (signed) Arne and Carlos giveaway is coming soon! As is a post about some rather gorgeously talented fellow bloggers and their amazing work.


Progress on the knitted mandala picture continues at a pace so slow that I was recently overtaken by a glacier whilst knitting.

Having cut the steek to transform the mandala from a knitted-in-the-round tube to a flat piece, I decided to wash and block it, in order to enhance its flatness and to even out all those wibbly-wobbly stitches and small variations in tension caused by knitting whilst being climbed by the toddler twinnage, as well as by my general incompetence.

But pre-steeking, I did something that I didn’t tell you about in my last post. I, err, tried it on, so to speak. Thing is, when it was still a tube, it started looking rather like some of my dresses. Yeah, I’d need to sort out top and bottom if I was actually going to wear it, and it is a tad wide, but still. I like it asymmetrical, like this:-

mandala dress

I don’t knit many clothes these days because this blog is an insatiable beast that needs frequent feeding with knitted homewares, but sometimes I’d like to pause and make clothes, so it was briefly tempting to finish the mandala picture for wearing rather than putting on the wall.

Anyways, back to the wash-and-block. I use the word ‘wash’ lightly, because it was actually a very hasty agitation in soapy cold water with a Dylon Colour Catcher, because I was terrified of all that luscious Fyberspates green dye seeping into the plain cream yarn. Witness:-

Washing. Quickly.

Washing. Quickly.

Then I wrapped it in a towel (a very, very ugly towel), and patted gently to get the worst of the water out. Finally, I pinned it out on some old towels stretched over polystyrene blocks. It spent a day on one side, catching the rays:-


Then flipped over for a day on its reverse (look at all those ends I need to weave in – I’m in denial about those).


And then it was dry, and beautiful, and much smoother and more even than pre-blocking.




Now for the gold embroidery. And the weaving in of ends. The fun starts here. 🙂


Filed under Knitting

Tutorial: How To Steek

Steeking (aka setting your knitting up to be cut, in order to turn a knitted-in-the-round piece into a flat piece, for example to open up the front of a cardigan) tends to scare otherwise bold and courageous people. It feels vaguely wrong to take a pair of scissors to your knitting.

Cutting the steek. Can you hear those stitches screaming?!

Cutting the steek. Can you hear those stitches screaming?!

Really, it shouldn’t. Honestly. It used to scare me, until I tried it a few times, at which point I thought, “Is that all?” The secret is this: *whispers* Knitting doesn’t especially mind being cut vertically. (Cut horizontally, and you’d be in a for a whole hairy heap of horror, though.) There’s a wealth of advice out there in the blogosphere, some of it wonderfully detailed and advanced and immaculately illustrated. I’m not even going to try and replicate that, but I will try to condense it. Dis is da basics, no? Steeking 101. Steeking for people who are too busy/impatient to be world experts. Steeking for dummies… like me.

Why Steek?

Fair question: I see that you are a knitter of uncommon perspicacity. A steek is a set of extra ‘bridging’ stitches added in addition to the pattern in a piece of in-the-round knitting, in order to reinforce and cut those stitches to produce a flat piece of knitting. Why would you do that? Well usually, it’s used in colourwork, ie fairisle/stranded knitting, as in the picture above. If you’ve ever tried purling stranded work, you’ll understand why sticking exclusively to knit stitch in the round is vastly preferable. Purling in stranded/fairisle work is poo. Don’t do it. Just don’t. It will visibly age you, which would be a dreadful shame because you look perfectly lovely just the way you are.

How To Steek

Ah, now you’re talking. There are a few basics that you need to know. Let’s award them each a neat, round, inky-black bullet point:-

  • What yarn are you using? No, I’m not just being nosy. Actually, I am. The more that a yarn will felt, the more suitable it is for steeking. So a nice Shetland pure wool will work perfectly and maybe not even need any reinforcing stitches. It’s no coincidence that it’s fairisle knitting that’s best associated with steeking. Animal fibres are (generally) good, though anything superwash is not. Artificial fibres ain’t great for this technique. The more slippery the yarn, the more unsuitable it is. I guess that nothing is absolutely ruled out, but you’re going to have to think long and hard about how much reinforcement your stitches will need if you’re using an ultra-smooth synthetic or cotton yarn. Sorry. You may wish to consider superglue… *joking*


  • Extra stitches. Listen up, people. Stop fiddling with your phone, and pay attention, because this is important. The steek comprises some extra stitches that are added for the express purpose of sewing the outer ones in order to secure them, then cutting down the middle. You don’t need many stitches to achieve this: in fact, the fewer stitches there are between seam and cut, the less there is to unravel. But try telling that to a newbie such as me in the (old) example photographed above. I thought more stitches meant more security, so I added eight. In pure wool knitting. Not really necessary, (though more stitches may be helpful in slightly less feltable yarns). Anyway, let’s move on. Steeking is typically used in stranded/fairisle work, and in such cases, I recommend knitting a ‘chequerboard’ pattern for the steeking bridge, as you can see in the photo above. This makes it easy to ‘catch’ everything in your steeking stitches, and also makes it nice and obvious where the bridging stitches are. You can steek with just one yarn, though, as I’ve done for my knitted picture of a mandala.


  • Sewing. So, you need to reinforce what will be your two edges before you cut down the middle. There are various ways of doing this. I’ll briefly mention two, before telling you in detail about how I do it:-
    • Crochet-chaining your edges. Google it, if you’re tempted. This method very neatly holds in the cut edges.
    • Machine-sewing beside where you’ll cut. Quick and easy, but watch that you don’t accidentally catch your floats in the machine mechanism. And you risk not catching every thread, because you don’t have exact control over where every stitch lands. (But I’d quite like to use this method, because I’ve got my great great grandmother’s 1895 Singer sitting, rarely-used, in the cupboard upstairs.)
    • My own personal favourite, hand-sewing the edges, because you can see exactly where every stitch lands. Here’s how. Let’s assume we’ve got a lovely fetching brown-and-blue piece of stranded work in progress. No need to adjust your sets, people, but you may wish to fetch your sunglasses in from the car. See the picture below. I’ve chequerboarded the bridge stitches that are to form the steek. In the picture, the cut will (later) be made along the dark red central line. There are two columns of stitches on each side of the cut. This is especially important in colourwork, where you want to catch both colours. (Am I making sense yet?) The black lines in this picture are where I’d sew, catching the two colours by sewing a half of adjacent stitches. (Don’t you love that knit stitches are like little hearts? I once sewed the occasional red stitch into a stranded skirt, and people said, ‘Oh that’s lovely that you’ve knitted hearts into your design’. But I digress – not for the first time, and not even remotely the last.)
Where to sew; where to cut.

Where to sew; where to cut.

For sewing, use a yarn of the same constitution as the knitting (100% wool, for example), though it can be thinner than the yarn with which you knitted. Now, there’s a special way of sewing this. It’s called backstitch. I’ve tried to illustrate it below. In this example, you’d insert the needle in row 2, then bring it out again in row 1, insert it in row 3, bring it out again in row 2, insert in row 4, bring it out in row 3, etc. Make sure you’re using a nice sharp needle, because you want to pierce through the middle of each thread. So stitches on every row will be pierced. Twice. Ha! That’ll learn ’em.



Here’s the process of sewing the steek on my knitted mandala picture. The stitch markers are just to remind me of where I’m working:-

Sewing the steek

Sewing the steek

  • Cutting! Simply (yes, simply) cut up the centre of the steek. A few words of warning: the first time you do this, you won’t dare take a breath for the entire time you’re cutting, which could prove problematic if you’re steeking something as large as a blanket – do please try not to lose consciousness through hypoxia. You may or may not be well fortified with gin. And when you’ve finished, it will astound you that your knitting doesn’t immediately disintegrate into a pitiful pile of fluff. The second time you steek, you will approach the matter with calm concentration. And by the third time you steek, you’ll hack away distractedly at your stitches whilst yabbering to your best friend about the price of baked beans.

It really is that simple. So here I am, cutting the mandala picture:-

Eek! Cutting the steek!

Eek! Cutting the steek!

And then the thing can finally lay flat, prior to blocking and then embroidering with gold:-

Mandala pre-embroidery

Mandala pre-embroidery

Naturally, we need a shot with the star of this bloggy show, ie stork scissors, as usual:-


And that, my friends, is all. It’s that simple. 🙂


Filed under Knitting

Knitting Arne and Carlos

Oops, that was an especially ginormous gap.

I have been here, at the brewery. And sometimes I’ve been knitting, but also I’ve been painting the living room (photies soon) and doing all sorts of other bits and pieces that sadly didn’t involve yarn, such as doing final final edits on my MPhil in novel-writing degree coursework at three in the morning, and trying to remove rampant ivy (so dense that birds are nesting in it) from our tower, and digging the allotment, and seeing lots of patients at work, and watering the hanging baskets, and trying without success to persuade the toddler twinnage that they don’t really want to spend their entire lives in nappies.

And there’s been a bit of an irresistible distraction from the knitted mandala picture, which arrived courtesy of the Deramores Blog Awards. I am a very naughty knitter. I should have been finishing this, because it’s so nearly done and ready to steek, and embroider with gold thread:-

knitted mandala picture

But instead, yet another bit of the prize arrived, in the form of a little pile of signed Arne and Carlos books. Looooooooooook! I love them as colourful style manuals, as much as anything. I love the garden one in particular. I love the fact that they knit and crochet. I love the fact that they’re fearless around strong colours, and quirky in their creativity. I love the fact that they’re Scandinavian, having spent much happy time in my youth mooching around Norway and Finland.

Arne and Carlos books

Look! They’re all signed!

signed Arne and Carlos

Would you have got anything useful done the day something like this arrived in the post?? Well, would you? I thinketh not. So I had to cast on a blanket. It’s such a clever idea. You alternate two colours, two rows each, then as soon as one runs out you introduce another, and so on. So simple, no? Yet so perfect. Here’s the idea:-

Arne and Carlos striped blanket

Arne and Carlos striped blanket

And here’s my version so far:-

my Arne and Carlos blanket

So that’s why I’ve been quiet. Sorry. But I’ll be noisy, now. You won’t be able to shut me up. Consider y’self warned.


Filed under Knitting