It's just a life, but its all mine and I love it!

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Crochet Crocodile Stitch in Purple


This week has been long on sick kids, working hours (my real job is a hydrogeologist) and short on either blogging or crafting. How do other people manage? A set time each day or week? Two hours sleep a night? Or like me just muddle through occasionally ignoring the swaying pile of dishes that teeters by the sink?

In fact what I often do is sit on the sofa in the kids bedroom and crochet while watching them play. I don't feel I've abandoned them and they have my attention. One of the bonus's of having an aspie kid is that when he is doing something he is interested in, like playing with cars or trains, he can have a long attention span.

Crochet Crocodile Style

I did spend a little time this week working on one of my ripple blankets which is growing nicely, but what I am really happy about is that I finally took the plunge on learning a stitch I've been putting off for a while - crocodile stitch!

I've seen a few pictures on pinterest etc using this stitch, often with slow colour changing yarn, with really spectacular and complicated looking results.

I set about watching you tube videos this morning and hunting up tutorials while my mini-man L cuddled up me with a temperature (see what I mean by sick kids, his brother was earlier in the week). I was just about to give up, there is plenty of stuff out there but I wasn't quite getting it, then I came across Michael Sellick's you tube video tutorial and it suddenly clicked.

I used some purple yarn left over from my African Flowers and after a few false starts I was making crocodile scales. And guess what? It is really easy! Seriously I love this stitch.

I quite quickly worked up a few rows which in this stitch soon adds up and was quietly chuffed with the result. I debated carrying on and making a scarf but I have enough UFOs as it is so decided to make something with the sample I'd made.

Finished Item

There was something I'd been thinking about making, although I hadn't decided whether I'd sew, knit, crochet or what.

I crocheted a small circle, about the right size to form a base if I rolled my sample up, then attached it using single crochet. I also added a two stitch width tag of single crochet to the top, only about 4 rows long. To that I attached an old keyring ring (why buy if you can recycle?).

Ta daa! Ok so it may not be obvious but what this is, is a earbud, or earphone caddy that from now on will be attached to my hand bag. I travel by train most days and while sometimes I am able to sit and crochet, there are plenty of times I'm playing sardines and maintaining my sanity by listening to an audio book on my phone. On these occasions the people around me definitely don't enjoy me rootling around in my bag and pockets as I attempt to locate a pair of ear phones, elbows flying in all directions.

From now on I shall calmly reach for my purple crocodile keyring bag, located on the outside of my handbag and while away the journey listening to pride and prejudice for the millionth plus time.

To find out what other crafters have been up to this week please visit Handmade Monday.

Have a great week.



Sunday, 19 August 2012

The Measure of Success - sewing machine and polymer clay

Anticipation and Plotting (errr planning)
I was extremely excited leading up to the weekend. I'd been trying to think of a way to justify the purchase of a sewing machine for a while now. Somewhat difficult as its approximately half my life (gasp) since I last touched one. My good friend Ripple came to my rescue when she heard my mutterings and immediately offered me the use of one she had boxed in the garage, just like the fantastic friend she is.

The sensible thing to do would have been to practice sewing straight lines, maintaining speed etc but where is the fun in that?

Another Wet Weekend

We were expecting yet another wet weekend and so I'd also bought in a supply of fimo clay (something else I wasn't practised with but very excited to try). After cudgeling my brains I came up with a plan to combine both crafts and have a bit of family fun.

Firstly we split into two teams. Each team had to create five colorful bugs from the clay, the only requirement being the first team had to make the bodies green, while the bodies made by the second team had to be blue.

As my boys like families each set of bugs also ended up with two bigger ones (the mummy and daddy), and three babies.

At three and four years the adult supervision was very necessary, the clay being surprisingly difficult to mould. It was most definitely great fun and a really good wet day family activity. Directed by our mini-men we helped to add heads, eyes, smile and spots coming up with two distinct bug families.

Not beautiful perhaps but little hands very much enjoyed making them. That they were different was most important as you will see.

The next step was to practice sewing my straight lines. I took some coloured cotton, cut up an old fleece jumper that never really fit and layered them cotton, fleece, cotton. Using the wonderful (you should see my hand sewing) sewing machine I sewed then together making a handkerchief size floppy square. Soft enough to fold up but the fleece giving it enough strength for the purpose we intended.

As a final touch I practiced some more straight lines by adding some strips of ribbon. And there you have it, a homemade version of the traditional noughts and crosses (tic tac toe) game! Don't worry that there are two boards, just a requirement for the two kids.

So Sucess? Well YES! Not of it is pretty and it's very far from perfect. But...as a family we had a great time with the clay, we have ten colourful bugs, enough for a game of noughts and crosses as well as a board or two made to size. I've learnt a bit about polymer clay and started to remember how to use a sewing machine. Oh yes and the kids are very taken with their bug families and have been flying them round the house all weekend.

Most definitely a success!

Hope you had as much fun with your weekend and wishing everyone a happy Handmade Monday.


Sunday, 12 August 2012

Weekend Crafting

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men... And Women

I've stated before that I would like to plan, and in fact often make plans. I just don't seem to be very good at it. This is not necessarily a problem and can lead to a lot of fun, it just means keeping an open mind.

For example, I had some nature based crafting planned for my mini-men this weekend. We went through the back garden to the garden gate, paused momentarily to hoist them over the fence after finding our landlord had put a new padlock on the garden gate (apparently my husband has a key) and stepped out into the fire break that separates our garden from a forest. Someone had helpfully dumped a pile of wood off cuts into this area (D'oh) and so in the interests of protecting our house from forest fire AND adding to our wood stockpile I gathered those into a bag I'd brought for our booty. At which point the heavens opened.

So I hoisted my 3 and 4 year back over the five foot fence, think sack of spuds, clambered over myself with minimal dignity and we legged it back through the now wet bushes into the house. Minus the goodies we'd gone out to find.

Our fall back plan was jam tarts so we spent a happy hour in a nice warm kitchen making several batches of strawberry and plum jam tarts, and lemon curd tarts making everything bar the filling from scratch.

Looped at the pub

Part two of my planned crafty weekend was to join my crochet group, Looped, at the pub for an afternoon of crocheting, woolly companionship and some liquid refreshment. This part went pretty much to plan.

My friend Ripple and I took ourselves off to the pub and got there to find a roaring open fire, squashy leather sofas and a group of ladies of all ages happily chatting as balls of yarn magically transformed into beanies, scarves, blankets and in Ripple's case a jumper for her husband.

The young bar staff seemed mildly bemused by this apparition but good humouredly so, keeping the fire roaring and supplying drinks and bar food on demand. As far as I could tell the drinks were not affecting anyone's ability to wrap yarn round a hook and I look forward to seeing these ladies again in a couple of weeks for crochet and a meal.

The Yarn Shop

The unexpected part came from my dissatisfaction with my ripple blanket. I love it, I do. I promised my 4 year old his choice of pattern and yarn. I showed him pictures of blankets and he chose Lucy of Attic24s ripple blanket. Because of his fixation on the colour green (its as aspergers thing) he went for the yarn with the most variations of green, plus a blue for me (explained here).

This yarn happened to be the cheapest in the shop. I tried to dissuade him but he was adamant and I'd promised! So I've been working on it not too unhappily until I got to the most recent colour which basically feels like twine in my fingers.

So Ripple and I were child free, and highly tempted by the proximity of Wondoflex, a good quality yarn shop. It closed at four so we dragged ourselves away from Looped, got lost in various imaginative ways and dashed through the door at 3:55pm.

Ripple was like a kid in a toy shop, it was her first time there. I scoped the place trying to find a combination of good quality, reasonable price and of course lots of green.

I found what I was looking for in Cleckheaton's Country 8ply, pure wool.

Ripple No.2

I got home, grappled with my conscience and decided that to keep my promise I had to give my mini-man the choice although I was fairly confident I would be starting a new ripple for him that evening, it was just so much softer.


Response was "my brother will like that."

As you can see I did get to start a new ripple blanket. This is a mini one bug enough to cover a pillow. It's for his brother. Looks like I'll be grinning and bearing the cheap yarn for his.

Lesson learned, next time take him to a good wool shop to choose. And in the meantime, I have some lovely new yarn in my ever increasing stash.

Hope you had a lovely weekend and wishing you a happy Handmade Monday!



Thursday, 9 August 2012

Making a Space Your Own

Moving into a Snowdrift
About a year ago I was given a more managerial role at work, one that involves people, their dreams and ambitions, their goals, their fears and occasionally their tears.

Understandably many of the conversations around such fragile things are better in a private space and so I was given an office.  It wasn't the first time, but this one felt different.

There is no outside wall (frosted glass front for a little light).  I didn't have enough books and files to fill the shelves.  I'd just moved half way round the world and to be honest I didn't have much of anything to fill the space with.

The walls were painted a stark white.  Sitting on the inside looking out I felt I had a pretty good idea of what living in an igloo might look like.  It was unsettling and most of the time I felt like I was in a sterile doctors waiting room.

Original Painting by my Talented Husband

Making the Space Personal

This picture was the turning point.  My infuriating husband decided one day, without any painting experience since high school that he would buy some acrylics, canvases and just paint.  And he did.  This one is one of my favourites and he generously donated it to my snowdrift.

I look at it and see two valley sides covered in houses with the view beyond showing the sea and evening sky.  Almost everyone comments on it, and sees something different there.

Of course my space is now so cluttered that occasionally I miss that snowdrift, but at least its all me.

I'd love to hear what anyone sees in this picture, or hear about what you've found a hidden talent for.


Monday, 6 August 2012

Crochet African Flowers Tutorial (part 1)

I promised that I would post a tutorial showing how to crochet an African Flowers Blanket and I thought this Handmade Monday would be the ideal opportunity.  The blanket pictured below is very special to me as I made it last month for an 80th birthday present for my Nana who lives on the other side of the world.  Connections like that can mean a lot I find. Also this is one of my favourite patterns to crochet.

I would also like to emphasise that the flower itself is not my design, it is based on one published many years ago but the where and by whom seems to have been lost to time and arguments.  There are minor changes from other versions I've seen on the net, but that's because I played with them to see what looked best to me with the yarn I was using and the look I was going for.

I like pictures when I'm trying to unravel (pun accidental but left in deliberately) a new pattern so there are more than most people will need, mainly because you never know which bit you'll need to see rather than just read about.

For anyone who read my last post, the stitches are written in American see this post for an explanation.  Also I used a 3 mm hook with an 8 ply yarn, 50% micro acrylic, 50% micro nylon (chosen purely for how soft it felt against my cheek).   The recommended hook size for the yarn is 4 mm but I wanted a denser flower for a nice warm blanket.  Use 4 mm or bigger for a lacier flower.

Step 1 - Assemble the necessary materials.  Hook, yarn, cup of tea.... and not shown in this picture it's useful to have a pair of scissors and a yarn needle handy.

Step 2 - Chain 6 stitchs.  Join with a slip stitch into the first stitch to form a ring.

Step 3 - Chain 3 stitchs.  Double crochet into the circle.  Chain stitch.  *2 double crochets into the ring followed by a chain stitch.  Repeat from * 4 times.  This should give you a total of 12 double crochets into the ring, each pair separated by a chain stitch.

Step 4 - Slip stitch into the third of the chain 3.  Fasten off.

Step 5 - Select a new colour.  Join into any of the chain spaces with a slip stitch (pics are same just near and far).

Step 6 - Chain 3 (the reason for the chain threes is to get the round of stitches to the right height otherwise it would pull down)

Step 7 - Double crochet into the same chain space, 2 chain stitches and 2 more double crochets into the same chain space.  (That's a total of four double crochets into the same chain space.)

Step 8 - *1 chain stitch.  2 double crochets into the next chain space.  2 chain stitchs, 2 double crochets into the same chain space.

Step 9 - Repeat from * four times, until you have four double crochets, seperated by two chain stitchs in each chain space.  Join with a slip stitch into to the third of the 3 chain stitchs.

Step 10 - 2 slip stitchs into next chain space. 3 chain stitchs. 

Step 11 - 6 double crochets into same chain space. 1 chain stitch.

Step 12 - *7 double crochets into the next chain space. 1 chain Stitch. 

Step 13 - Join to third of 3 chain stitchs with a slip stitch.

Step 14 - Select a new colour yarn.  Join to any of the double crochets with a slip stitich.

Step 15 - Single crochet into the next double crochet.

Step 16 - Single crochet in all double crochets to the next chain space.

Step 17 - Single crochet into the chain space but pull the yarn through the row below.  Don't worry it's quite intuitve when you're there.

Step 18 - Continue round the flower in single crochet.  Slip stitch to join to the first single crochet.

Step 19 - Sew in all the loose ends to make it nice and neat.  Do this now or you'll have a lot of loose ends at the end!

This really is a lovely granny square (hexagon) to crochet.  Part 2 of the tutorial will show how to flat join them together into a blanket with no back or front so that it resembles the pictures at the top of the post.

Any questions just leave a comment!
Hope you enjoy as much as I do.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

British v American Crochet English or No You Haven't Lost The Plot

I was adding some pictures to ravelry this week, and as I was smiling at the memories associated with various projects. Sometimes you can smile. Later! 

Project added to ravelry before I got caught up in looking at old pics
It can be very (pick the word you feel fits: disappointing; frustrating; annoying; gut wrenchingly soul destroying) to religiously follow a pattern and end up with a misshapen lump that your husband studiously avoids looking at for fear he might be asked to comment.

1, 2, 4, 5,...start over.  How hard can it be to work in fives for basketweave?

And yes sometimes it's because I (we?) seem to forget the basic skills we learned at school, like counting, but sometimes it's more than that.  Especially when you're starting out you remind yourself how to twist a stitch by googling double crochet.  If you happen to land on an American site you'll be told something like, yarn over, insert hook, yarn over, pull through one loop, yarn over, pull the stitch through 2 loops, yarn over, pull through last two loops.  On the other hand if you land on a British site it might be insert hook, pull through one loop, yarn over, pull through two loops.

Stars and Stripes
See the difference? American gets you 4 yarn overs compared to the British 2 yarn overs.  This gives you quite a difference size stitch.  By the way both are right!  They're just different conventions.  Even then the result might not be terrible, your blanket or scarf might not be exactly the size you expected but it's still a blanket or scarf.  More of a problem if it's a fitted item, but the real problem comes when you aren't hitting the same site each time you google to remind yourself of the stitches and sometimes you're in the old world and sometimes the new.  Especially when its a project you haven't worked on for a while.  As I said, misshapen lump.

Union Jack

If it makes you feel better this issue is not limited to crochet.  The Mars Climate Orbiter went silent as it descended to Mars because some of its engineers had worked to feet and inches, while others worked to metres. 

So how do you know what a pattern is asking for?  Well it might actually say!  This is incredibly useful when it happens and is definitely something I'd like to see on all patterns, so have a look, you never know your luck.  Even if it doesn't actually say "this is written in ..... " then it might name a stitch and tell you how to o it, in which case you should be able to work it out for the rest of the stitches.

If not, then the hook size, if specified, might give you a clue.  If the pattern requires a G or I hook, or any other letter, then it's probably written in American and it's a fair assumption (although not certain) that the stitches will be written in American too.   If it asks for a 3.5 mm hook, the it's more likely to be British.  

Usually, and again this isn't written in stone, if the pattern includes a single crochet then it's American as it is not usually a term used in British crochet.

Crochet Stitch Terms
sl/ ss
sl/ ss
double crochet
single crochet
half treble
half double crochet
double crochet
double treble
triple treble
double treble/triple

This is my little chart that helps me make sense of it, and also reminds me not to take crochet language for granted.  A copy bimbles around my desk, randomly being unearthed from a pile of paper at often opportune moments.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Why Crochet?

Really why??  I have a more than full time job, I’m married to someone I love to talk to, I have two wonderful but very active children, one of whom has Aspergers which increases the time demands.  So why not flop in front of the tv/ a good book/ a glass of wine and chill out in those moments of down time?
Well for one those things aren’t mutually exclusive.  My crochet group even meets at a restaurant from time to time for a bit of hookery as well as food.  I can’t normally make it but I’ll be attending my first one later this month.  I’ll let you know just how that works!
Apart from that, my full time job is a geologist and people manager.  I love (mostly) both aspects of my jobs, from the client management, technical discussions, solution finding to the helping to develop people, resourcing and the occasional sobbing person arriving in my office.  Honestly I get a kick out of my job.  Couple that with a great boss and the whole thing is quite satisfying.  Except.  Well I don’t build anything.  I’m a consultant, I provide facts, thoughts, analysis and advice.  Apart from a pile of paper and hopefully some people going happily about their jobs, I can’t point to anything and say “That’s what I did today.”
When I crochet a bag, or a blanket, or little African Flower I can hold it up, touch it, feel it.

An Ipad bag I deisgned for myself
So that’s one thing.  The other part is that most of my life, mother to a 3 and 4 year old, even without the Aspergers, is a lesson in the unexpected.  My job is different every single day.  I manage more than 30 people, I work on a myriad of projects.  Honestly, I rarely get to plan my day for more than an hour.
Crocheting is soothing, repetitive, structured (until I decide I need to try something a little different).  It gives me the opportunity to relax my mind, focus on what I’m doing and get back to basics a little.  And better still as I’ve met more people who share this love it’s given me friends in a strange country half a world away from home.
African Flowers waiting to be added to a blanket
Finally, it’s a source of wonder to me.  Twisting a string of yarn somehow produces recognisable items.  How does that even happen?

So….why do you crochet?