The great sock experiment part 2

Life has been so busy this year!  The weeks just fly by and before I have a chance to blink, we’re on to the next one.  So I apologise for being so slack in my posts.  I have a new job this year and it is very on and off and last minute and it’s taking some adjustment!  However, in amongst the busyness of life, I am still creating and things are ticking away in the background.

I have continued with my sock experiments.  With my first pair of socks, it was hard to judge the length of the foot for adding the toe, so I have ended up with one sock that is a tiny bit short (I’m sure it will stretch once I start wearing them – it’s been warm here and socks and flip flops are generally not a look I go for!).  So, I decided that my next pair of socks would be toe up and knitted two at a time.  I’ve taken both of my girls to the yarn store and they have chosen the yarn for their socks and have been told not to hold their breath for a quick finish!

I started with my older daughter’s socks.  To make toe up, I needed to learn a new technique – Judy’s magic cast on http://knitty.com/ISSUEspring06/FEATmagiccaston.html.  To be honest, I’m on my third sock doing this technique and I still don’t quite get it right unless I have the instructions close by, but I am getting there.  I followed the instructions for two at a time socks but I just couldn’t get it to work – my tension was off and it was going to leave big holes in the toes.  So, I decided to take it easy on myself and just do one at a time.  That seems to have worked well, although I wasn’t able to avoid all of the counting of rows to have them the same, which was my aim.  However, I have produced a lovely pair of socks that my daughter can’t wait to wear (she’s been told I have to photograph them before she can wear them!).

The yarn was another learning experience.  I’m using Jawoll Mille “Luxe Sparkle” sock yarn.  It doesn’t have a repeat of colours – anywhere!  So, despite the fact that the socks come from the same ball of yarn, they are completely different!  The colours are similar but they by no means match (for those that are conscious of wearing matching socks!).  I like it, it’s quirky!  And, I have lived for a long time with a man who refuses to wear matching socks!  Yup, if he pulls matching socks out of the drawer, one goes back so he has an odd pair!

Toe up socks definitely worked well for getting the length of the foot part of the sock right, but it still hasn’t solved my problem of knowing how much I can knit of the leg before I need to switch to the cuff so I run out of yarn at the end of the sock and not before.  If you have any clues on how to do this, please share!  But for the moment my experiment continues.  I’m now on my other daughter’s socks and she has decided she wants ones without heels at all, so another knitting experience is being added to my life!

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Ray of hope

Cancer sucks. Everyone agrees and I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t been touched by it in some way. This week it has touched our lives again. We attended the funeral of a friend whom it took and my aunt passed away after a long fight with it. It’s so frustrating to have a disease that is so prolific but we can’t yet fix. So, I decided to share with you my Connie’s ray of hope mandala (https://theloopystitch.com/the-loopy-stitch-cal/). This pattern was inspired by the passing of Actor Samuel Johnson’s sister, Connie. Together, they have raised millions to fund cancer research with their Love your sister campaign (http://www.loveyoursister.org/).

I saw this CAL last year but didn’t have time to try it. This year I have!  And I had the perfect ball of yarn to use. It was one that I bought in Melbourne, that I didn’t have solid plans for – I just liked it. It’s a variegated cotton by Katia. I didn’t quite have enough to finish it, but I managed to find some purple in my stash that matched well enough! I loved working on this. It’s so pretty and made up really quickly and easily. This is the first time that I have attached anything to a wire frame. That part was a bit time consuming and the first couple of rows after that were a bit fiddle but I’m hooked! I definitely want to make more of these in a variety of yarns, colours and sizes to make a beautiful display on my wall!

New year, new product review!

Hi! I hope you all had a lovely Christmas and that the new year has started well for you. I made my husband a knitted jumper for Christmas and this has rekindled my love of knitting. It has also given me a chance to try out a new brand of needles. In Australia, and particularly where I am, there are not a lot of choices of places to buy knitting needles. We have the big craft chain stores of Spotlight and Lincraft and a few small independent yarn stores but none of these are very convenient to my home. The chain store needles are generally fine and have been what I’ve used for all of my knitting life but being connected to the world by the internet has shown me that there are other options out there and I’ve wondered if they might be better.

I needed a circular needle to complete my husband’s jumper and was heading in to the adelaide cbd so I decided to pop into The Button Bar (one of the little independents around). As it’s name suggests, they mainly sells buttons, but they also carry a small amount of yarn and some crochet and knitting tools not found elsewhere. I picked up a Knit Pro Zing circular needle. The price was ok and it was colourful (which is always a plus for me!). I brought it home and started using it and was instantly sold. They are so smooth and easy to use. They don’t snag on your yarn at all (I was using 100% wool) and are such a pleasure to use!

Once I had finished my Christmas present crafting, I was finally able to get on to those projects that had been calling me but had had to wait. One was knitting socks. I’ve long wanted to try it and finally got around to buying some sock yarn whilst we were in Melbourne. Unfortunately, I did not have small enough double pointed needles. At the time, I wasn’t going near the cbd and was keen to give it a try, so I bought some dpn’s from a chain store. I wasn’t confident when I got them out of the packet – they looked very “production lineish” and quite sharp where they had been cut as they went through the machine but I gave them a shot anyway. They didn’t catch on the yarn too much but they hurt my fingers – a lot! I knew I couldn’t continue with them, so the next time I headed into the cbd, I visited the Button Bar again! A set of Knit Pro Zing dpn’s has joined my knitting needle family! The best part about these dpn’s is that there are 5 in the packet, so I can work the sock exactly like the pattern calls for (which is great considering I don’t really know what I’m doing). And, they don’t hurt. The ends are slightly rounded and much more gentle on my delicate fingertips. Just like the circular, they are smooth and the yarn just glides around them. My sock isn’t finished yet, but it’s coming along very fast. I can’t recommend this brand enough! It’s so much fun trying something new and very gratifying when it is successful!

Scrub-a-dub-dub

Firstly, I think I need to let you know the results of my market entries.  Sadly, I had zero success.  I was trying to prepare myself for the fact that that could happen, but I think I was secretly hoping I’d sell at least one thing!  Anyway, I’ve tried it and have a better idea of what to do next time.  I was also told that not a lot of things sold – many people were looking but not buying, so it may have just been in the wrong market for the time.  But, failure teaches us things and I’ll be better equipped in the future!

Earlier this year, I wrote about my experiments with reusable dishcloths.  I’m still using them and still loving them.  My only problem was that I still needed to buy non-scratch scourers for cleaning my pots and pans.  I had been seeing “scrubby” yarn online for a while and this yarn seemed to be used to make just such a product, the only problem was it was very expensive – especially when you added in the shipping charge to Australia.  However, Lincraft finally started stocking their version of this yarn.  I bought some and made up a quick little flower dishcloth scrubby.  I haven’t photographed it, but it is probably the size of my palm.  It is not quite as effective as a store bought scourer, but it does do the job with just a little bit of elbow grease – and the benefit is that it is washable and reusable! So, when I’m scrubbing away and feeling a bit grumpy that I’m having to scrub so hard, I just remind myself of the environmental benefits of what I am using and my patience is restored!

I do also think that a bigger scrubby might be a little easier to handle.  I knitted up a Santa belly one for Christmas and will have to give it a go to see if the larger size is easier to use and if the knitted weave is better or worse that the crocheted one.

A lot of what we do as crafters and just in life is experimentation – trying different methods until we find the one that works just right for our own needs.  And when it involves crochet or knitting, I’m happy to experiment away as much as I can!!

 

The Santa Gnome

I’m discovering that it is difficult to run a blog about my crochet exploits around this time of year!  I’m busy working on teacher gifts and gifts for my family but none of them are completely finished and ready to be shared.  Life is also ramping up in it’s busyness.  I’m face painting more, leaving less free time in my week and there are even days when *gasp* I barely get to pick up my crochet hook at all (thankfully not too many of those – phew!).  However, I am plodding away on things – and lots of these gifts I won’t be able to share with you until after Christmas has passed as those recipients read this blog!

Today though, I thought I might share with you my Scandanavian Santa Gnome (https://www.1dogwoof.com/scandinavian-santa-gnome-amigurumi/).  He’s finished and I love him!  He is the perfect size to sit in my wreath, but he is weighted down with poly pellets and the jury is still out as to whether he will be too heavy and put too much pressure on the delicate foam and crochet wreath.

Once again, ChiWei has written a fabulous pattern, that was easy to follow and made making all the little bits a pleasure – until I got to the beard.  Oh my, how I hated that beard.  I thought it wouldn’t take too long, but splitting all of those pieces of yarn took F O R E V E R!  However, I am thrilled with the finished product and wouldn’t change a thing!

Christmas is fast approaching, and we are well on the way to being in the swing of things.  We’ve started listening to Christmas music, and our plans are to put the Christmas decorations up next weekend, so we are looking forward to that (especially my girls – it’s gonna be fun!) and our Santa Gnome will finally find his place in our home for the yule season!

Fidget Blanket

I was recemtly commissioned to make a fidget blanket for a lovely gentleman who is suffering from Dementure.  I’ve attempted something similar before but in a much smaller format for a child with Autism to use as a calming/sensory tool while sitting on the mat with the class.  Basically, they have both involved having different textures to feel and things that can be played with to keep minds and fingers busy.  This particualr client went out and bought the “fidgety” things that would be added on, and kept in mind the likes and interests of the recipient when they were choosing what would be added.  They also wanted to keep a Port Adelaide Football Club theme to it, so I chose white, black and teal yarn to construct the blanket.  It’s made using basic granny squares single crocheted together and is big enough to fit comfortably cover the legs and lap of a tall adult.  This will have an added benefit for the recipient in that it will keep them warm in the cooler evenings of the year.  I placed the fidget squares where they would comfortably sit in my lap and be the easiest to reach and use.  It has metal flowers that are textured and raised, an Eiffel Tower, buttons in different shapes and textures, soft tassels, beads on a string that can be manipulated and a stretchy dinosaur (because honestly, who doesn’t love a stretchy dinosaur?).  My children were somewhat disturbed when I was sewing the dinosaur on as he was skewered by the needle to pass the yarn through!!

These are definitely an interesting concept.  From feedback I have received, I know the fidget muff was very helpful to the young child at school, allowing them to participate with the class and to concentrate better on what the teacher was saying.  I can only hope that the blanket will also be very helpful for my latest client and bring some calming when agitation begins.  They are certainly becoming more popular and are a great resource in nursing homes.  I had some discussion with a friend of mine who has worked in this field for many years when I was beginning this project and her suggestions were very helpful.

There are many ideas for these out there on the internet.  My favourite one is a cat, but it is not a crocheted piece.  Perhaps I can see some pattern designing coming up in my future!

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

For those of you that don’t know me personally, you couldn’t yet know how much I love Christmas.  It is my absolute favourite time of the year.  I think it took even my husband by surprise – he’d seen my parent’s home decorated for Christmas, and my sister’s home but when we married and celebrated our first Christmas in our own home, I don’t think he was quite prepared for the onslaught of Christmas cheer!  And having children has only made it worse.  They are old enough now to love decorating and they egg me on to get more decorations each year (I’m proud to be passing this Christmas spirit down to the next generation!).

However, being a face painter means that this time of year is also my busiest time of year, and to survive it all, I have to be super organised and think ahead about everything.  This year, I decided to make a wreath for our home.  My plan was to put it on the front door, but it gets a lot of sun, and I’m worried that it will fade and render all my hard work useless, so it’s final display place is still up for debate.

I got the basic idea and instructions from this Attic 24 post http://attic24.typepad.com/weblog/2012/12/christmas-wreath-ta-dah.html, where she covers a foam wreath and decorates it with Christmas bits and bobs.   I decided to go a little more traditional with my colours, and used the Kringle Sparkle yarn from Spotlight.  I’ve doubled the strands because it is quite a thin yarn (I’ve had this in my cupboard for a year or more and have been told that this year’s batch is a little thicker!).  I’m loving it so far.  It is so beautiful and sparkly and Christmassy!  My plan is to add a Scandanavian Santa Gnome (https://www.1dogwoof.com/scandinavian-santa-gnome-amigurumi/) and some holly etc. once the wreath is finished.  It is getting hard working on just the one project – I’m so tempted to put it aside and start on another (or I should finish another wip!), but I’m determined to finish it THIS Christmas, so that is spurring me on (and putting it out here will also hold me accountable!).

I’m quite excited to see how it will turn out!  It may have to feature in one of our Barbie escapades (we don’t do elf on a shelf – our Barbie dolls come alive during December!).  Are you thinking ahead for Christmas?  I’d love to see some of your Christmas projects (and get more ideas!).  Please share them in the comments, or on my facebook page https://www.facebook.com/thingsnicolemade/.

P.S.  I wasn’t expecting to finish this so quickly, but was so excited I had to add it to my post before it went live! I’ve finished covering the wreath and I’m stoked about how it’s turned out!

Darning needle review

In the past, I have only ever used straight needles to weave in the ends of my projects.  Being part of a crochet group has widened my horizons as I have been exposed to different products and tools.  One of the ladies in my group had these Hiya Hiya Darn It needles at one of our meetings, and I had been reading about these “bent tip” needles and was curious to try them.  She told me where I could purchse them (at the Port Adelaide market), and I went and bought a set.  I love them.  I do think that they make weaving ends in easier as they can be manouvered a little easier through the crochet than a straight needle.  They are smooth and glide easily and, best of all, they are colourful (I’ve currently lost my blue one!).

I have also seen that Clover make the same sort of needles.  I love my Clover crochet hooks, and these needles come with a cute little container to store them in (which is always a bonus!).  Whilst we were away in Melbourne, I found them in Yarn + Co and purchased a set.  I love the container, it definitely keeps them safe and together and the lid has to be screwed on and off so it won’t accidentally be knocked off if they’re floating around in my crochet bag.  They do the same job as the Hiya Hiya needles, the only difference is the finish.  These needles have a slightly rougher finish and this prevents them from moving as smoothly through the yarn as the other ones.  I find it interesting that two virtually identical products can actually be quite different.  Either way, I love the ease they bring to that dreaded job of weaving in ends!

To block or not to block…..

bohobagblockclose

Blocking – I hate it!  And I love it!  It makes it take that much longer to finish a project I have been working on but the results are worth the time.  What is blocking you may ask?  It is the process of relaxing the yarn to correct any areas that may have come out of shape during the crocheting process.  I have been crocheting for many years but have only come across this concept in the last year or two and it is revolutionising how my finished pieces look!  There are a number of ways to block a crochet piece (googling it brings up many options) but the way I have settled on doing it is as follows.  I pin the item out in it’s correct shape on a foam camping mat (bought at Aldi but you can also get kids alphabet sets at Kmart that work just as well, they’re just smaller!) and then I spray, spray, spray it with a spray bottle of tap water.  I press down on it to make sure the water has penetrated the piece, then I leave it for a day or two depending on the weather and voila!  Remove the pins and you’re done.  If the piece is really wonky or very large, I would probably put it through the washing machine first and then pin it out to dry.  My husband has bought me a wonderful big blocking table (hang on, I can hear him saying something about it’s meant to be a pool table for him to use!), so I leave my blocked pieces on that to dry.  It’s an ideal surface for me to use because it is high and as I am a tall person, it is easier on my back bending over to pin everything precisely.  You can leave your mats on the floor for the piece to dry but with two children and two cats (who would think it was the perfect place to sleep!), I prefer to keep it up off the floor!

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Once your piece is dry, you WILL notice a difference.  It has a neater, more professional look with crisper edges and corners.  Much as I hate doing it, the end result makes me happy.  Last year, I entered a doily in a local show.  When I was collecting my pieces, a lady actually asked me if I had blocked the doily because she could tell there was a difference.  This was very encouraging because I had put a lot of work into blocking it and didn’t think anyone would appreciate the difference.  It has encouraged me to keep going with it!

 

I have just completed the main section of a bag (keep your eyes open, it will be appearing on the blog soon).  I had the usual talk to myself – “does it need blocking? It’s pretty much in shape, the squares are a little “bubbled out” but I suppose it doesn’t matter because it’s a bag, not clothing, etc”.  However, I decided to bite the bullet and block it and I am so much happier with how it looks now.  I don’t have a before picture, but here it is blocking away nicely!

bohobagblock

So, I thought, here I am rambling on about blocking and the benefits of it and so on, but you really need to be able to see a before and after shot to get a good idea of what blocking will actually do.  And, I have the perfect project to demonstrate it on for you!  I have been busily working on the Neave Collection Blanket https://www.facebook.com/groups/621056114767998/?ref=bookmarks.  The centre square begins with a series of front and back post stitches and then evens out into a lot of half double crochets and single crochets.  Due to the front and back posts, it tends to buckle.  Although it has flattened out a little as I’ve gone on, it is still pretty wavy.  I have been holding my breath because a lot of people have had the same problem, and it has been corrected with a block.  So, I am up to the part of the pattern where it is suggested that I block the piece, so block it I have and it has made a huge difference.It’s not perfect by any means but it sits flat now and gives me hope that as I continue to crochet around it, it will correct itself even more.  I am so excited to finish it and gift it to my friend!

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Neave blanket centre square unblocked…..                                                         
neaveblocking
…blocking…..

 

neaveblocked
…all finished!

 

neavefolded
I can even fold it up nicely now!

So, now you have read about the benefits of blocking, go and give it a try.  You can buy all sorts of fancy wooden blocking boards (I’d love to get some one day!) and pins, you can make your own wooden ones, or you can use foam boards like me but I guarantee you, it will make a huge difference to the finished presentation of your crochet!