Automne

When we arrived in France nearly six weeks ago it was still summer, it seemed, with days so warm we were out in shorts and T-shirts, and taking refuge in the shade. All of a sudden, the seasons changed, and autumn was with us.

This morning I woke up to a hard frost outside on the fields. Time to dig out the winter woollies, and light the two woodburners, which are our only form of heating in our little house.

Luckily, I’ve used my time over here wisely on the project front. Inspired by the Instagram wipalong run by the lovely Charlie @lovecharlie.co and equally lovely Laura @goslingandplumb, I finally finished my A Good Vintage Cardigan by Fran Morgan, from issue 54 of Simply Crochet magazine. I used Stylecraft Life in 4-ply. I started it a while back, so opening my project bag to this was rather daunting.

It’s not been the easiest of projects, I’ll admit, but I was determined to finish. It’s got lots of things wrong with it – all my fault. The arms are slightly short because I miscalculated the number of colour repeats I needed to match into the shoulder seams. Then a change in tension led one arm to be wider than another, and they don’t quite fit into the body as well as they should. Finally, I sewed all my ends into the wrong side of the fabric, so the fabric of the arms doesn’t quite match the body, and just for good measure, I rather messed up the placing of the buttons. Oh well.

Nevertheless, I’m pleased I resisted my perfectionist compulsions to rip back and put things right, and I love it despite all its faults – which include being unblocked (this house is cold and damp enough without wet knitting hanging around!). I’m wearing it right now, and it’s amazingly warm and cosy, and you honestly can’t see those imperfections.

I’m going to enter the Good Vintage cardi into another crochet along, the Back to School Sweater CAL run by a group of brilliant bloggers I’ve got to know on Instagram. I’ve already entered one garment, my Sardinia top by Marie Wallin, which I completed in later October.

I haven’t worn this yet because I finished it just as the weather began to turn, but I’m delighted with how it turned out. It was my first time working with bamboo yarn – Twilley’s Freedom Gorgeous, now sadly discontinued. But it certainly lived up to its name, being absolutely gorgeous to use – soft, sleek and silky, and a dream to crochet. The pattern is a very quick and easy make – much easier than the more ‘homely’ looking granny cardi above!

I’ve also been busy on the designing front, releasing the pattern for my two autumn-themed cushions, Falling Leaves and Shades of Autumn. As I started these a year ago, it was a huge relief to get both off the hook, and I’m very pleased with how they both turned out. Both patterns are now available in my Etsy shop, soon to be joined by a couple of kits with everything you need to make them up.

I’ve also been working on these baubles, and plan to release the pattern early next week. These were a lot of fun to design, and I want to play with the pattern in different colour combinations, including more traditional Christmas colours.

We’re off home in a couple of days, after what has been our longest stay in France. I’ve been very grateful for all the extra crafting time and a chance to catch up on a number of projects. My broken knee has recovered enough to allow me to go on some decent walks – here’s a beautiful sunset I captured a few weeks ago.

It’s been the first trip to France for our little pup Rosy. After being a bit clingy when we arrived, she’s adapted well and been up to no end of mischief, including escaping through the garden fence to maraud around the adjoining fields. Here she is with her best mate Cyril on the stairs – they like to peer down to see what we’re cooking.

These two are constant partners in crime, and there’s nothing they love more than a bit of tandem digging. Goodness knows what they thought was down there!

Hope you’re all having a warm and fruitful autumn, with plenty of opportunities for crafting. Time to start on all those Christmas presents!

 

The Ten Commandments of Knitting & Crochet: A Manifesto on How Not to Mess Up

If there’s one thing I hate when it comes to knitting and crochet, it’s ripping back – or frogging as we more affectionately call it (rip-it! rip-it!). Especially as you can guarantee that my partner, who normally ignores me for hours on end, will look up at the exact point I start undoing all my work, fix me with an expression of undiluted horror, and make a deeply unhelpful comment about how much time I’ve wasted. Yes, thank you, beloved. I really need salt rubbed into this particular wound.

My face when I realise I made a catastrophic mistake 90 rows back

That said, unravelling hours of work is better than trying on a finished object and finding it’s nothing like you imagined when you cast on. The disappointment that prompts you to relegate the garment to the back of your wardrobe, hidden away lest it’s presence be a continual reminder of your crafting failures.

Going wrong in your knitting and crochet is enormously frustrating, and despite years and years of practice, it still happens to me all the time. Just last night I had to frog half of one side of a cushion cover. Why? Because I forget to check it was the same size as the other side. Duh!

In an attempt to combat this foolishness, I’ve analysed all the ways I seem to screw up with a project, because it feels like I’m making the same mistakes over and over again. And I’m not alone. I watch a lot of podcasts, and we all seem to have similar woes with our works in progress – moments of inattention that lead us down crafting cul-de-sacs, where there’s no way out except back the way you came.

So here goes. Ten resolutions to follow to make your crafting life run a little more smoothly:

1. Choose wisely. Is this the right pattern? Is the item something you will really wear or use? Don’t set yourself up for disappointment by kidding yourself you’ll wear it all the time, when in truth it’s not right for your body shape or colouring. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been seduced by how lovely a garment looks on that gorgeous model, only to find on me, not so much. Go figure.Make sure too that you pick the right yarn – I’ve made this mistake more times than I can count. I bust something out of my stash, even though it’s a different weight or drape. I substitute a stiff cotton for soft wool then, guess what? The finished item is a disappointment. You don’t have to use the exact yarn the pattern calls for, but if you want what you make to have the same qualities, you need something similar in weight, feel and drape.

2. Swatch. Okay, confession time. I hate swatching. It feels like time and yarn wasted, even though I know logically that’s not true. I never used to swatch anything. Now I’m a bit more disciplined and do make up a tension square, but I still can’t bring myself to cut the yarn, wash and block it. My bad. Most of the time I get away with it, but there’s little doubt that some of my garments have suffered because of my laziness and obstinacy.

3. Read the goddamn pattern. That’s right, before you cast on a single stitch. Everyone who never looks past the first few lines, stick your hand up now. That’s most of us, right? Here’s why you should. I once knitted a cardigan from a vintage Rowan pattern. It was worked flat, and I’d completed the back and both front sides of the front, only to find when I got to the top of the first sleeve that the pattern instructions were wrong. Try as I might, I couldn’t work out how to fix it, so I eventually gave up and frogged the whole thing.

Top tip: If you’re making a garment or anything with different sizes, print out the pattern, get a highlighter pen and mark all the stitch counts and instructions that relate to your chosen size – it’s too easy to glance at a pattern and pick the wrong one.

4. Check your work regularly. If you’re anything like me you get in the zone and zip along while watching a favourite podcast or TV show, not thinking very hard about what you’re doing. Then you look down and spot a mistake you made miles back. If you’re knitting plain stocking stitch, this might be easily fixable, but with crochet you’ve got just two choices – live with it, or rip back to the point where you went wrong. Don’t be that person. Cultivate the habit of looking over your work every few rows or rounds.

This makes a brilliant BOR marker when knitting or crocheting in the round.

5. Count. I can’t emphasise this enough. Count your stitches regularly and make sure they’re all present and correct. I use a handy little stitch marker/progress keeper (pic below) for keeping track of which row I’m on – you can get yourself one here. Don’t try and keep everything in your head, because if your head is anything like mine, it’s not safe in there.

6. Write things down. Keep a pencil at hand and jot on the pattern or into a notebook exactly where you are and what you’re doing when you put your project away – particularly when working more complex patterns like lace. Make a note of any modifications. You think you’ll remember next time you pick up that project. Chances are you won’t.

I’m particularly hopeless when working top-down in the round, where you’re increasing regularly across each ‘section’ of a garment. I rush right in, follow the instructions to the letter, but somehow always end up with the wrong number of stitches, and have to frog back, especially when I’ve missed a visible raglan increase. I can’t tell you how much time I’ve wasted doing this – I spent four hours knitting during a long car journey recently, and by the time we arrived I was no further on than when we departed. Ugh. So I’ve vowed to write out pattern instructions in full, working out the exact stitch counts for each round, then make myself check before crossing off that line. Laborious, yes, but not as laborious as ripping back four hours of work and having to do it all over again.

Yep, I sure messed up the stitch count on this one.

7. Keep your tape measure handy. I’ve crocheted a lot of throws and afghans that are wider at one end than the other, only I never notice until I cast off and fold the darn thing up and realise it’s less of a rectangle than a trapezoid. Measure your work regularly and make sure you haven’t inadvertently changed your tension, or screwed up your stitch count.

8. Trial your work. This one applies to item you’re designing, or heavily modifying. Imagine you’re creating a large throw, making decisions about which colours to use and in what order. It would be very time consuming to do this on a full-sized blanket, where you might have to rip back rows and rows of crochet because you’ve decided you don’t like how it turns out. No one would be that stupid, would they? Umm…

So yeah, one of my resolutions is to make up a small sample first, say 30 stitches wide, working through the colours and checking I’m happy. It’s a no-brainer, Emma, you hear? A no-brainer.

9. Never underestimate your ability to lose interest. We all know that exquisite joy of casting on a fresh project and how quickly that’s followed by a numbing sense of boredom, and hot on its heels, an increasing temptation to set the work aside and follow the siren call of something new. This is doubly true when we run into problems with a work in progress. We tell ourselves that we’ll take a break and come back to it with fresh eyes and renewed resolve.

Err… not so much. Far more likely that we’ll resist picking up that project again. Or when we do, we find we’ve entirely forgotten where we were with it, making it doubly difficult to get back on track. No cure for this, except awareness and self-discipline. Set yourself limits about how many new projects you’re allowed to start at any one time. Join festivals of finishing and the like. Find the courage to get out all your wips, line them up and actually count them. (I still haven’t managed that one.)

A few of the WIPs I hauled with me to France.

10. Don’t sweat the small stuff. I’m an anxious perfectionist and I find this one really really difficult, but I am trying hard to learn how to let things go. I know, rationally, that I will neither notice nor care about the odd imperfection when I finish the object and start using it, but the urge to go back and make it right in the moment can be overwhelming.

Assess just how important the mistake is. Would anyone really notice it? Will you even remember it’s there a few weeks down the line? How many hours of work would it cost to fix it? Resist the compulsion to do everything perfectly, and come to a decision that respects your time and sanity. Enlisting the help of family and friends is useful here. See if they can spot where you’ve gone wrong. If they can’t, then leave it the hell alone, you hear! Just let it be.

Right, that’s it! This is my manifesto for finishing my projects with a minimum of fuss and wasted time – hope some of you found it useful. If you have any tips of your own you’d like to share, I’d love to hear them. Just leave a comment below.

10 Ways Crochet and Knitting Save My Life – And Yours Too!

Recently I was having a mildly stressful day. You know, the usual – trying to accomplish too much in too short a space of time. Anyway, in the midst of it all my mind wandered to the knitting project waiting for me in the living room, and I felt a sudden delicious sense of anticipation and well-being. Just thinking about working on my project later was enough to bring a little oasis of calm into my day.

That got me thinking more about why I so love crocheting and knitting. What is it that I enjoy so much? And what does it bring into my life? Turns out it’s a great deal more than I realised, so I’d like to share the top ten reasons why I craft – and why you should too!

  1. It makes me happy

Crocheting or knitting brings with it a great feeling of contentment. It’s my own form of ‘me time’ and I try to make room for it every single day. Since setting up Blue Ammonite, it’s become a priority to design and make new things, but I still make sure I’m always working on other things that are just for me, because crafting is what keeps me steady in an increasingly confusing and complex world.

My current WIP – Sunshine Coast by Heidi Kirrmaier

I’m not alone in finding fulfilment in a ball of yarn. According to researchers, knitting, crochet and other crafts stimulate the brain into releasing dopamine, a natural antidepressant. An online survey of several thousand knitters found that half reported that knitting left them feeling “very happy.” Many said that they knitted solely for the purposes of relaxation, stress relief and creativity. Frequent knitters – those of us who knit more than three times a week – report generally feeling calmer, less anxious, and more confident.

  1. It’s keeping me young

You probably already know that mentally stimulating activities like crosswords, sudoku and learning a foreign language help keep the brain sharp as the years pass, but it turns out that knitting and crochet have a similar effect. A 2011 study found that crafters had a decreased risk of memory loss and mild cognitive impairment, possible precursors to Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

But why? Researchers believe that crafting promotes the development of neural pathways in the brain that help to maintain cognitive health. Completing a complex pattern, for instance, involves many areas of the brain – it’s a workout for your memory, attention span, and problem-solving skills. Not to mention all that visuospatial processing! Crochet and knitting also improve fine motor skills, especially in the hand, which may stimulate cellular development in your brain.

  1. It’s a proven stress-buster

My husband sometimes glances over at whatever I’m making and shakes his head in disbelief, asking me how I can stand doing the same thing over and over again. ‘All those stitches,’ he grumbles. ‘Doesn’t it drive you mad?’

Nope. And now I can tell him all that repetition is actually doing me good. Apparently the rhythmic nature of crochet and knitting activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps quell feelings of anxiety and worry. It’s an active form of meditation and offers similar benefits – lowering heart rate and blood pressure, slowing breathing, and reducing stress hormones like cortisol.

Crafting and pets – both proven stress-busters!
  1. It boosts my confidence

Crafting produces tangible results, and there’s nothing like holding your finished object to induce feelings of pride and achievement. Even simple patterns require perseverance, and every project you finish proves to yourself that you can successfully see something through to completion.

Every project seems to have its challenges – whether I’m designing my own or following someone else’s pattern, there’s always a few obstacles to overcome on the way. Learning a new stitch perhaps, or a fresh technique. Recently I discovered how to form German short rows in knitting, and make a bean stitch in crochet.

My super-squishy bean stitch blanket in the making

The satisfaction you feel in your lovely finished item gives us doesn’t just stop there – psychologists believe that the confidence you gain spills over into how we feel about performing other tasks, and helps shape the way we face new challenges or overcome disappointments in life. So that big blanket you just finished might actually be setting you up for passing your driving test successfully, or asking your boss for a raise.

  1. It provides a sense of community

Ever since I joined Ravelry some ten years ago, and more recently became active on Instagram, I’ve found myself welcomed into a wonderful virtual community of other crocheters and crafters, granting me 24-hour access to a constant source of inspiration, advice and support. And that community is growing by the day: it’s estimated in the US that a third of women aged 25 to 35 now knit or crochet. A third! And to think I once worried that these were dying crafts!

Yup, that’s Marilyn knitting. Not just a beautiful face!

If you are lucky enough to have an active real life crafting group in your area, you’ll going to benefit even more. The online survey I mentioned earlier found that people who knitted as part of a group were even happier than solo knitters. So go find yourself a local knit-and-natter group – you’ll reap the benefits.

  1. It’s a link to my past

My grandmother was a knitter, and my mother too. I remember trips out with my mum to stock up with yarn at a local outlet, both of us spending many happy hours rummaging around the sale bins. As many of us were taught to knit or crochet by older relatives, these skills provide a sense of continuity in our lives, a grateful connection to all those other crafters who came before us.

My mum knitting while chatting to my gran.
  1. It’s a feast for the senses

What’s the first thing you do when you walk into a wool yarn shop or get a new package in the post? You reach out and touch that yarny goodness. Part of the pleasure of knitting and crochet is that it’s essentially tactile – you’re constantly in contact with the yarn, experiencing the variations in texture, ply and softness. With many of us increasingly spending more time online, crafting anchors us back into the real world where you can actually feel and touch things.

Then there’s the colours. I’ve always been a bit obsessed with colour, love collecting pens and pencils that span the full spectrum of the rainbow. I find almost every shade imaginable interesting in its own way. Somehow looking at colourful things and playing with colour when designing my own projects is endlessly soothing and absorbing.

  1. It relieves boredom

Nowadays I rarely leave the house without taking some crocheting or knitting with me, just in case I find myself with an opportunity to get stuck in. What better way to kill a bit of time than to work up a few rows on a project? Crafting is also one of the best ways to make a long journey more bearable. One of my abiding memories is knitting a top-down jumper during a very hair-raising ferry trip from Denmark back to the UK when the boat was hit by a storm. While my husband fretted about the boat capsizing – at one point it tipped 45 degrees and we all slid off our beds! – I just knitted away serenely, trusting all would be well.

  1. It fulfils my need to be creative

I’m a writer with five novels under my belt – not to mention a growing file of poems – but somehow that doesn’t satisfy my urge to bring new things into the world. Hence all the crochet and knitting. I love everything about making a new project, from deciding on a pattern or design, to choosing the colours and the type of yarn I’ll use, then casting on the first stitch and finally the last. Plus, you get to give nice things away to people!

  1. It’s just plain fun.

Crochet and knitting are good fun (okay, let’s not dwell on those times when we have to frog something and start again). I believe any kind of crafting taps into a more childlike part of ourselves, harking back to a time when we were actively encouraged to play with objects and colours, to make and create things and get lost in the moment. As adults, it’s easy to lose touch with that playful, imaginative mindset, but as makers we rediscover that essential part of ourselves, and let our favourite crafts lead us back to what we always loved.

So there you are. Ten good reasons to stop whatever you’re doing and go off and do some crafting instead!

 

 

Designer Spotlight: Nicki Trench

Creativity doesn’t appear out of nowhere. In any creative endeavour – be it writing a novel or designing a crochet blanket – we bring with us a host of influences from other writers or designers. So I thought it would be interesting to focus on some of the crochet and knitting designers I really admire, and who influence my own work.

First up is crochet and knitwear designer Nicki Trench – I currently have four of her book (one borrowed from the local library) and I love both her colour sense and the simplicity in her designs. Nicki really enbodies the cosy retro aesthetic that’s been popular for a number of years now, but never fails to give her designs their own modern twist.

I’ve had a little trawl around the interwebz, and here’s a few pictures to give you a feel for Nicki’s work.

I love this gorgeous little Blossom Brooch – very tempted to make this myself.

I love this round cushion, made in chunky yarn – you can download the pattern free over on Cushie Number.

If you prefer knitting, you might like Nicki’s Gardener’s World cushion, with a free pattern from Let’s Knit – note the flowers are crocheted though.

More gorgeous blooms adorn this crochet tea cosy – you can get the pattern free via Prima.

I adore this Bobble Cafetiere Cosy from Nicki’s book Cute and Easy Crocheted Cosies – definitely one for my Xmas list!

Nicki’s no slouch when it comes to garments either – how cute is this cardigan from Geek Chic Crochet?

Or this jumper from Fair Isle & Nordic Knits?

I’ve my own Nicki Trench project in my WIP pile – her gorgeous Camellia Blanket from Cute and East Crochet. Here’s my progress so far!

I’m determined to finish this, as I think it’s absolutely lovely, and works up well using the bargain Sirdar Calico I bought a few years ago.

I hope you think Nicki’s patterns are as gorgeous as I do. You can check out more over on her website or over on her designer page on Ravelry. You can also follow her on Instagram.

Happy crafting!

 

My Five Top Crochet Hacks

Over the last few years I’ve come across a number of crochet techniques that have really made my life easier. And one of those I only discovered this morning – thus proving there’s always something new to learn. In the interests of helping everyone up their crochet game, I thought I’d share them with you here. So here they are, in no particular order.

  1. The Magic Ring

Like many people I learnt the traditional way to start off a granny square or other projects that begin with crochet in the round – simply chain a few stitches, then slip stitch to join the chain together. But when I came across a pattern using the magic ring – sometimes known as the magic loop – I decided to give it a go. It’s now my go-to technique for many crochet projects, especially where I want a nice tight centre to my circle.

Yes, it takes a bit of practice to get the hang of it, but once you do, you’ll never look back. Check out this neat little tutorial here.

2. The Magic Knot

While we’re talking magic, this is one way of joining yarn that has really revolutionised my crochet and knitting. Again, it takes a bit of practice to remember how to do it, but there’s really clear instructions in this Bella Coco video:

Alternatively, check out this picture tutorial at Nelkin Designs. I blogged about how to use the magic knot with colour changes in crochet here.

3. Foundationless Crochet

I mainly design blankets, which can mean starting chains 100 to 200 stitches long. And it can be very important to have an exact number of stitches in terms of the design. I don’t know about you, but I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve…err…lost count. I’ll check then double check how many stitches I have on my chain, only to find once I’ve got to the end of my first pattern row that there’s too few or too many.

So imagine my excitement to discover there’s a way to create that first row from scratch, adding in as many stitches as you need as you go along. Yes, it’ll still involve some counting, but a lot less ripping back when you discover you’ve got it wrong.

Sandra at Cherry Heart has a brilliant tutorial here – scroll down to the bottom to find out how to do this with a number of different stitches.

4. Standing Stitches

How to use a standing stitch in crochet - Blue Ammonite Designs

I first came across these when working on Dedri Uys’ exquisite Sophie’s Garden, using the excellent video tutorials from Esther Dijkstra from It’s All in a Nutshell. Standing stitches are a brilliant way to start a new row without using skinny chains to stand in for your first stitch. Check out this fabulous how-to guide over on Crystals and Crochet.

5. No-Twist Chain

This crochet hack is so neat and somehow so obvious you wonder how you never thought of it before. But it never occurred to me, though I could have definitely used it recently when designing my Crossbill pattern – I lost count of the number of times I managed to twist my initial chain ring, thus ending up with a mobius cowl. Never again, now I’ve seen this brilliant little trick from Brianna K:

That’s it for my top five crochet hacks – hope you find them useful! Do let me know in the comments if you’ve got any you’d add to the list.

 

Launching the Crossbill Crochet Cowl

I’m rather proud of my new baby – the Crossbill Crochet Cowl. It’s the first item I’ve ever designed that you can actually wear, as opposed to drape over your lap or sofa.

It started life with an impulse buy of five pastel shades of the gorgeous Drops Baby Alpaca Silk, which was on sale for what seemed like silly money for a high-end yarn blend. When it turned up in the post and I actually got my hands on it, I knew I had to design something to showcase the umbeatably soft look and feel of the yarn, and immediately I thought of an oversized cowl with deep stripes of colour.

After a root through my stitch directories I came across the crossbill stitch, and decided to try to adapt it for crocheting in the round. And so the Crossbill Cowl was born.

I was really pleased how it turned out, and the lovely diagonal lines that evolved as I added row upon row. It was also a gratifyingly quick make – I had it done in a few days, mainly because the Drops yarn was such a joy to work with. It’s one of those yarns that you just can’t keep your hands off, so buttery soft.

So there we have it. You can purchase the pattern on Etsy or Ravelry, and I hope to be adding a crochet kit to the Etsy shop soon – everything you need in one handy pack. And I’d just like to add a bit thank you to the lovely ladies who offered to test out the pattern!

Oh, and just in case you’re interested, the Crossbill is a bird that looks like this – if you look at its beak you’ll see what the stitch is so aptly named.

 

Poetry, craft and imposter syndrome

I had a busy week last week. On impulse, I booked a poetry course several months ago, despite having only ever written a handful of poems in my life. So it was with some trepidation that I set off for the Arvon centre in Totleigh Barton, in deepest, darkest Devon.

Indeed, it was so deep and so dark, there was no internet, and you had to walk half a mile up the track to get a phone signal; as you can see, that was no hardship given the fabulous scenery.

Despite misgivings about being there at all, I had a ball. The tutors were fabulous, and the other students were a joy to spend five days with. I had my birthday midweek, and the group bursting out into Happy Birthday over supper was one of many highlights.

A room with a view

In one of the moments when we weren’t all holed up in our rooms writing poetry, I had an interesting chat with a couple of the other students about imposter syndrome. How so many of us feel we have no right to be doing what we’re doing, or pursuing our goals, whether at work or in our leisure activities. I could really relate to that – although I’ve got a handful of novels under my belt, I felt a complete beginner when it came to poetry.

And that got me thinking how I often feel that way when it comes to my crafting life. It started years ago, often masquerading as a feeling of incompetence. Did I have the skill level to attempt this project? Could I trust myself to make modifications to a pattern? And it’s still plaguing me today. Could I really call myself a crochet designer? Why on earth would anyone buy anything from my shop? Dare I ask people to test out a new pattern for me? Every step in my crafting journey has been plagued with self-doubt. And chatting to other writers about how we sabotage ourselves in this way made me realise just how common imposter syndrome is, and how much it can hold us back from doing what we really want – and ought – to do.

So I’m resolved to be bolder. To experiment more. To accept failure not as judgement but feedback. I’m going to try my hand at things I’ve never tried before, and I’m going to aim for fearless creativity. Above all, I’m going to try to remember that most people, however competent and confident they appear, have felt this way at one time or another, and may be battling the feeling still.

The Best Crochet and Knitting Video Podcasts

I’ve had a lot of bum on seat time recently. By which I mean hours where I’m just sitting around designing or crocheting something new for my shop, or more recently, combining that with minding the new puppy while she sleeps. Tough job, huh?

Totally gratuitous cute puppy picture

I always like to have something playing in the background. Quite often that’s an audio book – I’m currently listening to The Nix by Nathan Hill – but more recently I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole of crochet and knitting podcasts, and have been binge-watching as many as I can squeeze into my day. As hunting around on YouTube can be a bit hit-and-miss, I thought I’d make a list of my personal favourites so far, in no particular order.

Potter and Bloom

 

 

 

 

 

I can’t remember when or how I first stumbled across Emma Potter, but I was hooked from the moment I first watched her podcast. I think it was the one where she apologises for being a bit moany, but I loved how open and natural she was, and she never fails to make me laugh. I really enjoy seeing her crochet designs and magazine commissions, as well as her regular yarn hauls. A must-see every week.

Hue Loco

 

 

 

 

 

I came across Nicole from Hue Loco when I was idly googling dyeing your own yarn (I’m seriously tempted, but have too much else on my plate at the moment). She’s made several great videos on exactly how to go about it, and I found her so sweet and interesting, I started watching her podcast too. Nicole is a US-based knitwear designer, as well as an indy dyer, and it’s fascinating to see all the beautiful designs she comes up with, as well as her gorgeous range of yarn. I’m sort of grateful that the postage from the US would be prohibitive, otherwise I’d be buying all of it.

Crochet Cakes

 

 

 

 

 

Clarisabeth is a Harry Potter-obsessed crocheter who lives in Puerto Rico, where she regularly podcasts about her projects and yarn purchases. She’s warm and funny, and has a disarmingly charming way of pronouncing certain words – Edinburgh and Hermione being my favourites. I particularly love the episodes where she’s joined by her mother – it’s fun watching the pair of them interact.

Sandra Paul

 

 

 

 

 

You know most times you check out a particular designer’s creations, you love some more than others? Some will really jump out and you’re just dying to make them, and others aren’t really your cup of tea. Not so with Sandra from Cherry Heart. Absolutely every design she comes up with makes me want to reach for my hook or needles. She has a beautiful eye for colour and style, and I love watching what she will come up with next.

The Yarn Hoarder

 

 

 

 

 

Want to know what attracted me to Amber’s podcast? Take a look at that stash. I mean, just look at it. Words fail me. I am both deeply envious, and actually hugely relieved that my stash just can’t compete. I feel a lot less guilty about the money I have blown on yarn when I gaze at this. On the other hand I want to fly over to Illinois and spend several blissful hours just poking around in there. The icing on the cake is Amber is fun and amusing, and an absolutely voracious knitter.

The Grocery Girls

 

 

 

 

 

A knitting podcast hosted by the irrepressible Canadian sisters Jodie and Tracie. As you can probably tell by the picture, they’re a lot of fun, and I love watching their interaction as well as seeing all their yarny makes. Jodi also makes gorgeous project bags over on Mrs Brown’s Bags on Etsy.

Lottie and Albert

 

 

 

 

 

Hosted by the lovely Lindsey Newns, the Lottie and Albert Crochet Podcast features some lovely designs and projects in gorgeous colours. Again, Lindsey is always spot on with her accessible designs, and often has me wishing I’d thought of that myself. Very inspiring for anyone, no matter what level of crochet skills you have. She also runs a fabulous Etsy shop.

Crafternoon Treats

 

 

 

 

 

Catherine at Crafternoon Treats is a lovely Yorkshire lady who has an enviable array of skills. As well as podcasting, she runs her shop on Etsy for her hand dyed yarns and gorgeous stitch markers and progress keepers, designs her own crochet patterns, and also knits and spins!

Well, that’s it for my personal round-up – if you haven’t discovered these lovely ladies already, you’ve got hours of crafty pleasure ahead of you. And if you know any more that I’m missing out on, do let me know!

How to Use the Magic Knot with a Colour Change in Crochet

How to change colour without weaving in your ends

I was pretty chuffed when I came across the magic knot, since I’m no fan of sewing in all those ends created when you change colour in crochet. And I’m even less of a fan of how quickly they work themselves loose again. So when I stumbled on the magic knot, I was intrigued, and scared – let’s face it, cutting the ends off so close to a knot seems counter intuitive. Surely it will come undone?

Well, I’ve used it on a number of projects with no unravelling so far, with one exception – I don’t recommend the magic knot for ‘slippery’ or very silky yarn, such as the Drops Baby Alpaca Silk I used for my Crossbill Crochet Cowl. It’s great for acrylic though, and has saved me tons of hassle with loose ends.

So how do you use it when starting a new colour? After much Googling and experimentation, I came up with a method that works pretty well. I’ve used it in several stripy crochet blankets, and it’s saved me oodles of time and effort. It may seem tricky, and yes, a little scary, but I promise you it works. So here goes!

Step 1

Crochet to the end of the row, finishing the last stitch completely (usually you leave out the final part of the stitch to add in your new colour, but not with this method).

Step 2

Withdraw your hook, and insert your scissors into the stitch and cut. Yes, I know this feels like the very last thing you should do – you’ll just have to trust me!

Step 3

Unravel back a few stitches, then take your new colour yarn and prepare your magic knot. There’s dozens of resources online to show you exactly how to do this, but Bella Coco has a great little video here. If you prefer pictures, Nelkin Designs has a good tutorial.

Step 4

The important thing to remember when tightening your individual knots is not to leave too long a tail with the old yarn – you want to aim for about 1.5 cm or just under an inch. With the new colour it doesn’t matter.

Step 5

Draw your knots together and cut as usual.

Step 6

Test your knot is secure by pulling tightly on both ends. Then re-crochet the last stitches in your row. You should end up with the join appearing right before the final yarn through.

If it’s a little off, with your new yarn appearing too soon or too late for that final part of the stitch, don’t panic! Just unravel a few stitches and adjust your tension to give you slightly more or less yarn. The effect you want is this:

With practice you’ll get this down to a fine art, and can kiss goodbye to annoying yarn tails in your work.

I hope this helps! – do get in touch if you have any questions.

 

Special DK v Paintbox

With the recent addition of three new shades to the Stylecraft DK stable, the range of colour choices is better than ever. I’ve designed most of my blankets and cushions in Special DK, but I couldn’t help coveting the colour options offered by one of its main rivals, Paintbox Simply DK. Eventually I caved in, and bought some full size balls, plus a number of the mini balls to make up a number of shade cards.

Stylecraft Special DK
Paintbox DK

Seeing them all together like this, I was struck by the difference ebtween the two colour ranges – I’d assumed there’d be lots of similar shades, but that isn’t the case. As I’m fascinated by nuances in colour, I thought it would be fun to compare them directly. I’ve done my best to reproduce the colours as best I can, but cameras are funny things and sometimes insist on seeing thing differently to the human eye. But here goes!

Top: Special DK
Bottom: Paintbox

As you can see, there’s not a lot to choose between Lemon and Banana Cream, but it’s interesting how much variance there is between the yellows, as you can see better below.

The oranges were even more striking – and Paintbox wins this round with a lovely subtle range of orange.

Top: Special DK
Bottom: Paintbox

When it comes to peach tones, Stylecraft again has the edge, particularly since its new additions of Mushroom and Vintage Peach. Please note that Blush Pink is a Paintbox colour and should be on the bottom line!

On to pinks, and you can see both ranges have a similar number of colours. There’s not much to choose between some of them – Fondant and Bubblegum Pink, for instance, are almost identical shades, as are Bright Pink and Lipstick Pink.

Top: Special DK
Bottom: Paintbox

It’s a different story with the purples, however, with Paintbox Simply DK the clear winner. I love Pansy Purple, which seems a pretty standard shade, but is somehow missing from the Special DK range.

Top: Special DK
Bottom: Paintbox

When it comes to lilac/mauve shades, however, it’s much more of an even match, though Paintbox is filling some useful gaps in the Special DK range.

Top: Special DK
Bottom: Paintbox

The reds are similarly evenly matched, though Paintbox has nothing similar to Stylecraft’s useful Burgundy. Unfortunately my camera seems completely fazed by its rich colour.

Top: Special DK
Bottom: Paintbox

Where Special DK wins hands down, it’s in the berry shades. There’s really nothing Paintbox has to offer that comes near them.

 

Top: Special DK

On to the blues, and Paintbox adds a couple of lovely tones, Sailor and Kingfisher.

Top: Special DK
Bottom: Paintbox

Stylecraft has a clear edge when it comes to other shades of blue, though I love Paintbox’s Kingfisher and Marine, which both fill a gap in the colour spectrum.

Top: Special DK
Bottom: Paintbox

Again, more options with Special DK in the light blue range, though Seafoam is a beautiful colour from Paintbox.

Top: Special DK
Bottom: Paintbox

When it comes to the greens. I’m particularly taken with Paintbox’s Spearmint and Lime, both very different to anything Special DK has on offer. Though Stylecraft’s Lime is a lovely subtle colour, it doesn’t quite have the clean green zing of the Paintbox version.

Top: Special DK
Bottom: Paintbox

Quite a lot of similarity between the two ranges in the mid greens, though Paintbox has nothing comparable to Special DK’s Bright Green.

Top: Special DK
Bottom: Paintbox

Lovely subtle differences in the browns.

Top: Special DK
Bottom: Paintbox

I included Melon Sorbet again in the light browns. I can’t seem to make my mind up what kind of colour it is!

Top: Special DK
Bottom: Paintbox

Finally, the neutrals. As you can see, tney’re pretty evenly matched, though Parchment is something of a classic. I love Paintbox’s subtle variations on light grey, though.

Top: Special DK
Bottom: Paintbox

So, all in all, both brands have a lot to offer, and there’s very few colours that have a direct equivalent in either range. They’re fortunately very similar in thickness and weave, so you can interchange them freely. I’m definitely going to mix and match to get as much choice as possible for future projects.

In the meantime, here’s my picks from both ranges. I’ve included two of Stylecraft’s new additions – Mushroom and Buttermilk – for their subtlety and versatility. Sage is one of my perennial favourites, hovering between green and blue, a lovely soft tone. Parchment is the ultimate neutral, and Storm a very useful, moody blue tone.

With Paintbox, I’m particularly impressed with their orange and purple tones, and the lovely vibrant Lime green.

But if I had to pick one colour above all others from the 74 on offer in Special DK range and 60 in Paintbox Simply DK, it would have to be the gorgeous Spearmint Green. I’m a sucker for any shade of green – my favourite colour – but this is just so mouthwatering and soft I want to use it all the time.