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Getting Back Into The Crochet Rhythm

Last year I went a bit mad with the crochet, both in terms of what I created and what inspired me. But since Little Man has been born my crafting time has been severely limited.

And that is as it should be, of course. But I have missed it. 

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So it has been nice to find a bit more time to crochet of late. I've discovered that if I give Little Man a spare ball of yarn to play with he is generally happy to let me crochet in peace for a while. Which has meant I have been able to work on the huge crochet blanket I started making for my sister-in-law's baby, finally getting it finished (to be revealed soon!)

 

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I did the very same thing just the other day with this hat. I like little projects like this which I made for one of TJ's colleagues who is expecting a baby very soon. They work up so quickly and make me remember that even though the big projects like the blanket can be so daunting at times, they are worth it for the end result. 

I can feel the passion for crochet creeping up inside me one more, making my fingers twitch to grab hold of the hook and yarn and just go for it. And having let go of that need for "perfection" it is all the more enjoyable now.

Tell me, what are you working on right now?

 

Never Too Young For Art!

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When I worked in childcare, I thought it was mad that we were expected to do “arts and crafts” on a weekly basis with the babies from such a young age. Trying to get a 5 month old to offer up their hand or foot to be painted seemed crazy, and as for sticking bits of scrunched up tissue paper on to card, well that was just beyond mad!

So maybe I’m crazy too, because I had the wackiest idea the other day. I thought, “hmmmm, Little Man is a bit grumpy today, let’s try doing some painting for daddy.”

Now, Little Man has only just turned 6 months old, and although usually a very good natured child, he was having a particularly bad day because of teething. So why I thought painting would soothe him I don’t know. But it did have the unexpected effect of bemusing him so much he forget to grizzle!

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I stripped him down to just his nappy, sat him in front of me on a splashproof playmat, and placed some paper in front of him.

I decided to use the face paints we bought when I was pregnant (for bump painting) because I thought that was going to be the most friendly type of paint for his delicate skin.

I tried painting his hands first, but he wasn’t giving them up. He was far more interested in trying to screw up and eat the paper! So we painted his feet instead…

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Oh, painting those gorgeous (big) feet of his, and seeing the paint squidge between his toes made me smile. He is ticklish on the soles of his feet, so he wriggled and jiggled about, and wasn’t hugely impressed when I stood him up to make him stand up on the paper and make his footprint. But I’m sure he’ll get the hang of it and learn to love messy times like this soon enough.

I cannot wait until the summer months when it is warm enough to take him outside, lay him on the splashproof mat in just his nappy, and let him go wild with all sorts of things. I plan on letting him explore the taste and texture of things like baked beans, rice pudding, jelly and custard once the weather is warm enough. I love messy play, just not on my carpet!!

But for now, we’ll just enjoy the few moments we get to explore the paper indoors. After all, Little Man seemed to like that the best…

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Guest Post: The Joy of Photography

Wow, I am so behind. Apologies for not getting around to visiting blogs, commenting, and getting new posts up on here as often as usual. This particular guest blog has been sitting in my inbox for several days now and I'm only just getting around to uploading it. But, better late than never, hey?

Anyway, my guest blogger today is Dawn, who you may remember took photos at our wedding and also recently did a maternity photo shoot with me and Tim. She has agreed to be my "official photographer" and this is the first in a series of posts about photography that we have planned. 

Dawn is a great photographer, and she is self-taught. This means that anyone could get similar results with time, patience and a few hints and tips. And that is where this series of posts is going to come in. So, without further ado I'm going to let Dawn explain to you just why she loves photography and how she came to be where she is today. 

Photography: a Passion for Memories 

Hello everyone!  My name’s Dawn and I’ve been taking half-decent photos since I won a basic 35mm camera in a fancy dress competition when I was 8 or so.  I originally hail from Essex and I now live in Nottingham, having moved here in 2002 to come to University: that’s how I know Amanda, as we did the same course.  I live with my partner Matt (who’s from Lancashire) and I enjoy an awful lot of things, many of which will come out in this first post. 

Amanda asked me to do a bit on photography.  I’m not sure why; I’m one of those people who give ‘real’ photographers a bad name!  I’m a dilettante with some basic kit and a knack for being in the right place at the right time, and I take an awful lot of photographs.  A good example was 2nd August 2011, when I spent 4 ½ hours wandering around University Park campus in Nottingham and took 758 pictures…  I also did a lot of photos for Amanda’s wedding, and was the Official Photographer at another couple of friends’ wedding recently.  I don’t really ‘do’ people: I prefer when they’re acting up, being ‘normal’ and the like.  Posed pictures are all well and good but, oh my, so boring!  No doubt you’ll get to see some of the hilarious ones in my ‘Wedding Photography’ slot. 

The story of how I got into photography is rather fun: I started back in the 80s with a free Kodak 110mm film camera which was so hard to use I couldn’t even get a single picture of any of the planes filling the sky at the 40th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain flypast down the Mall.  I was 6.  I moved on to my Mum’s old 110mm film camera and took pictures of my pet rabbit Charlie and all sorts of other things I’ve long forgotten.  All these photos are at my parents house so I can’t show you! 

After a few other 110mm film cameras, when I was 8 I entered a fancy dress competition at school as a dragon (the theme was fantasy so I was well prepared: I love dragons!) and won the first prize of a 35mm camera.  It wasn’t a fantastic camera, but it taught me the principles of changing the film, getting the light right and where my focus limits were: it actually had an auto-focus!  I enjoyed taking artsy pictures of my dinosaurs creeping through the long grass, aeroplanes hung in the ice in the freezer (on a snowy airfield!) and animals at parks, as well as my rabbit. 

After that, I saved my pennies and bought a second-hand ‘posh’ camera (that’s an SLR) from Jessops which I used for years, and still have, until it started greying out the 35mm film and I moved to digital in 2004 just before I went on my Year Abroad: my parents furnished me with what was then a top-of-the-range Sony Cybershot plus memory sticks for £300.  It started to misread batteries in 2008 so I re-upgraded to posh cameras and got the cheapest of the good ones, a Nikon D40.  I have two lenses, one standard but quite wide-angle and one zoom.  Last Christmas I spent my Christmas money on a little compact Samsung to take to parties and for everyday use: it also has a movie mode which my ‘cheap’ SLR lacks. 

I have to thank my Dad for a lot of my prowess in photography: he taught me about f-numbers and light settings and aperture. He’s had the same Olympus 35mm film camera for donkey’s years and takes pictures of trains and stuff onto slide film.  His pictures aren’t professional as such, but they’d be good enough to publish in a railway magazine or the like, if he ever submitted them! 

So, what do I really like about photography?  Why do I do it?  Well, a big part of it is about showing off, to be honest.  Showing off what I like, the awesome things I’ve made or painted, the reactions of people in all sorts of situations, the places I’ve been, that sort of thing. 

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I love painting models.  This is a Trygon, a big plastic monster kit produces by Games Workshop for use with their Tyranid range for Warhammer 40,000.  He’s called Boris and he stands about a foot tall: this is a close-up of his head.  I took this in May 2010. 

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This is one of my ‘arty’ photos: it’s some flowers in the Jekyll Garden on University Park, Nottingham, that I took on 2nd August 2011. 

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This is one of my classic holiday shots, designed for posting on Facebook or whatever comes out next, to show where I was, what I was doing and what hilarious things I’ve seen.  I love travelling.  This is from Antwerp, Belgium, while I was on holiday with my parents this summer. 

I bake.  Not a lot, but I like making cakes and cookies and biscuits and whatnot.  This is an ‘action’ shot of a lovely mocha sponge which is my speciality. This one’s from March 2011 and was mine and Matt’s ‘anniversary’ cake and was taken on my Samsung. 

It’s also because I like to archive what I’ve done, where I’ve been and, most importantly, what I’ve seen.  I have a pretty good memory: I remember things in pictures, so aiding that memory is something I love doing! 

This is another of my classic holiday shots: Brighton Sunset, from September 2010. 

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Near where I work they’ve been demolishing an old soap factory, so I’ve been using my little Samsung compact camera (rather than the Nikon DSLR I use for ‘planned’ photography) to capture a running history of it.  This is part-way through the demolition and was taken in February 2011. 

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I love aircraft and I love going to airshows.  This is one of my favourite aircraft, the Avro Vulcan, and this is the last flying example.  It’s owned and operated by a registered charity and I save my pennies to help keep her flying.  Nothing can replicate the awesome roar of four Rolls-Royce Olympus engines propelling a beautiful example of British engineering into summer skies, but it’s a great reminder of those windy days taking in the kerosene.  This was taken at The Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford in July 2010. 

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Finally, this is from a game we play called Inquisitor, also produced by Games Workshop, which uses 58mm scale models and comes somewhere between a wargame and a traditional pen-and-paper role-playing game.  We were running a scenario with my Jurassic Park dinosaurs as alien monsters (they were a bit like raptors, but bigger and scarier!) and this is the moment they jumped one of the warbands…  Taken in February 2011 on my Samsung. 

Well, I think that brings us full circle: back to dinosaurs!  I hope you’ve enjoyed me harping on about me and my awesome photos but, hey, we all need an ego boost at times!  I really do love photography and perhaps love being on the other side of the camera more than taking the photos, so I feel I should end on a picture of me taken by my other half at Alnwick Castle in April 2011, where I was far too over-excited at the prospect of meeting a real dragon… 

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Thanks Dawn! 
I'm hoping to get those photo galleries I mentioned a few posts back onto the blog over the coming days/weeks, so do check back later for more examples of Dawn's work. And don't forget, we'll be running a series on topics such as "wedding photography", "maternity photos" and "baby photos" as well as Dawn's advice on how to take photos of things both very close to you and very, very far away! 

 

Life at the Patch – 33 weeks

It feels like forever since I wrote last week's "Life at the Patch" update. The combination of getting heavier, sleeping less and becoming impatient has meant that time seems to be dragging once more. A week still doesn't feel quite as long as it did at the beginning of the pregnancy when my Hyperemesis was at its worst, but suddenly reaching our due date 7 weeks from now feels so far away again.

Perhaps it is because having finally sorted out the nursery, washed all the baby's clothes, put the cot up and ordered the mattress, I now feel ready for the little man to be here. There isn't much more to do other than wait. My hospital bag is packed, my next midwife appointment is booked and I am waddling around the house wondering just when the little one might decide to come and just how long I have left. Will he come a couple of weeks early, or will he be late? Do I actually still have another 9 weeks to go? 

So it's been great to occupy my mind with other things. And one of those things has been crochet.

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I've had the pattern for this little bassinette for months and yet only just felt confident enough in my skill to have a go. Ever since discovering Ravelry I have been more adventurous with my attempts. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but I'm having fun anyway. 

And it's perfect timing really as I have several people I want to make things for over the coming months, and doing so develops my skill so that hopefully I'll have some even better results by the time Christmas rolls around and people will actually receive gifts rather than apologies that I just didn't have the time to complete them. Is it too early to talk about Christmas? I'm guessing not seeing as though once the baby is born I am sure time will whizz by me so fast that Christmas will have been and gone before I've caught my breath!

I'm still enjoying the little projects that work up quickly, although I am still slightly unsure how the lilac hat turned out bigger than the pink one when I made them one after the other, using the same pattern, same size hook and very similar yarn. Both were DK weight, but I guess something in the material made a difference. I still have so much to learn!

But, the more I do the more I realise the theory behind crochet. Up until this point I have simply followed patterns and looked online for the instructions for stitches I've never worked before. I loved what I could produce but had no idea how the designs were made. But working on several patterns recently I have begun to bridge that gap in my knowledge and realised that all it needs is a bit of thinking, a bit of maths, and just a tiny bit more patience than I sometimes have!

It started when I was making up a pattern for some fingerless gloves/wristwarmers and realised the pattern I was making was far too big for my wrists (I have tiny wrists). So after some thinking and playing around I realised how to make the pattern smaller by taking out the correct number of stitches on the foundation chain. This was what taught me that the patterns are essentially mathematical in design, working on repeats and multiplication of said repeats to gain the correct size and shape. I was always good at maths but always found it very boring, so it's nice to find that I can actually use it for something other than my weekly budget!

(Remind me I need to show you a photo of the gloves/wristwarmers!)

Anyway, with that aspect of crochet design firmly implanted in my head and a wealth of new stitches and techniques being presented with each new pattern I tried, I found myself planning first changes to the patterns (like making a thumb hole for the wristwarmers). And before I knew it, I tried my hand at making my very own pattern when I couldn't find what I wanted. 

As I'm totally new to this, I have sent the pattern to my "crochet guru" for guidance, but I hope to share it with you soon. For now, let me show you my first attempt, which will be ok for my little man but was not quite right. 

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I stole the initial part of the design from the pattern for the hats I shared earlier on. This helped me gain the right size for the hat. But then I was on my own, hooking (and unhooking) the motif as I worked my way down the rows. Like I say, the motif didn't quite work out right and I re-worked it once I had the rest of the pattern clear in my head and promise to share the end result with you later in the week.

But I cannot begin to tell you just how proud I was to have finally made that step from what I call my "passing interest" in crochet into what I deem to be quite an addiction. My stash of yarn that I have had for years is now half the size it once was and I am sure it will be all but gone by the time the baby gets here, so I think I shall be needing some more. How exciting! I hope you won't get too sick of my crochet enthusiasm because I have a feeling it is here to stay.

And talking of crochet, don't forget to enter this week's giveaway to win the totebag/hot water bottle cozy and purse that my crochet guru Jen created especially for you, my readers. Find out all the details here

Endometriosis Awareness: free crochet pattern and giveaway!

Good Morning!

Today I have a real treat for you. My “crochet guru” Jen has kindly created a very special crochet pattern that I’m sure you’ll love as much as I do.

I’ll let Jen explain the pattern herself, but please don’t just “skip” this post if you’re not a crocheter. The pattern is actually remarkably simple once you understand the basics and I shall be having a go at it myself once I get some yellow yarn. And even if you are absolutely certain you’ll never pick up a crochet hook, you could still get a hold of the end product, courtesy of Jen’s generosity and a little giveaway we have planned. So read on and all will be revealed…

I’ve known Amanda since she was a teenager. It seems pretty incredible now that the only time we actually met in person was a luncheon in Glastonbury in 2006.

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The world of online community brings people together in a way they never could before. Where else could the inquiring mind of a middle aged American woman with a family meet the inquiring mind of an English university student under circumstances in which they become friends? Seriously, I ask you?! It’s an amazing thing, and even more amazing now that she is married (hi Tim!) and expecting a son soon. (I, on the other hand, am still a middle aged American woman!)

But I digress! It’s not only inquiring minds that Amanda and I share, we share a love for crafting. Between us, we’ve shared ideas, recipes, patterns and tips. I’ve used her as an excuse to try my hand at projects like the beaded Dream Tree…

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…the crocheted cabled Tree of Life afghan…

…and to create the best mix cd of love songs EVER.

I’ve felt helpless though in sharing her journey through endometriosis. While I could offer moral support, it upset me to see the physical, emotional and mental pain it’s brought to her over the years. We’ve all felt it, wanting to fix something for someone who is suffering… it’s very difficult to feel helpless isn’t it?

Normally when I am feeling helpless, I practice ‘random acts of kindness’ and they help me feel more connected not only to the ‘family of man’, but to my own priorities. I help the old woman at the grocery to reach her favorite jam on the top shelf (I’m tall, it happens). I pick up someone’s tab at a restaurant (very rewarding, you should try it!). I spend a day picking up trash at the lake (you’d be surprised how other people join in). These little extensions of myself fill me up in a way nothing else can.

Then, Amanda had an idea! Her idea is to combine my love of crafting, and crocheting in particular, with the cause of endo awareness. Brilliant! So, here we are… I created this hot water bottle cozy with a yellow awareness ribbon, in hopes it will not only bring awareness but comfort to a woman in pain.

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The exact same pattern can also be used to make a tote bag, and I’ve included a pattern for a small pocket purse for carrying personal items as well (because you know we all do!).

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When Amanda asked me about it, I spent a couple of days simmering with ideas. I decided on this “illusion crochet” ribbon not only because it’s cool, but because it is symbolic of hidden issues, and the work so many are doing to bring them to light. If you look at it one way, it’s simply striped…

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but change your perspective a little and the ribbon appears.

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You can find the free pattern here. I wrote it with beginner crocheters in mind so don’t let the look intimidate you if it is a new technique. If you get stuck you can reach me through my blog with questions.

We’ve also come up with a way for you to win this one from me! (Amanda will fill in the details)

The process of creating these items reminds me that we don’t have to move mountains to make a difference, we just have to make an effort to share our gifts as they are… when we all come together and contribute in our own way, those mountains will begin to move themselves!

So, do you fancy being in with the chance of winning an awareness tote bag/hot water bottle cozy and purse?  Can you picture yourself receiving all of this in the post?

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For more information, help or support, please consider visiting the following websites:

Endometriosis UK

SHE Trust UK

The Joys of Crochet

I'm sure some of you remember me introducing you to my "Crochet Guru" earlier on in the year. Well, Jen is back with a post on just why she loves crochet so much. Take it away, Jen!

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Amanda and I have chatted about many crafting projects over the years but none so much as crochet. She calls me her crochet guru, but really it’s because I’m old and have been crocheting for about as long as she’s been alive! There are few crochet questions I can’t answer after all this time, but it’s just the voice of experience.

That said – crochet is not just for Grandma’s! It’s all the rage in high fashion right now, and it not just about making doilies and dishcloths.

I enjoy crochet because it keeps my hands busy… while my mind is focusing on other things. When I need to think things through, I pick up the crochet. When I can’t sleep, I pick up the crochet. When my husband is watching the same show for the 79th time, I pick up the crochet. Do you have something you like to do when you need to settle your mind?

One of the things I really love about crocheting is how emotionally rewarding it can be. I love projects that make someone smile. It might be a silly hat, using special colors or characters, or simply surprising someone with a gift. (Just don’t ask me about my collection of Harry Potter related items!)

I tend to have especially silly fun making hats. I’ve made “Cutie Pies”

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Star Wars villains

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and matching squirrel hats for the two silliest nuts I know.

But I’ve also made someone’s day by making prayer shawls for sick or troubled friends

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and cold weather items for the local homeless shelter.

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I’ve also had incredible moments reaching out to new mothers when my grandsons were born. The first time, the nurses introduced me to a new mother whose own mom had passed away. I was able to stop in and chat for a while, representing Grammas in general, presenting the blanket and my good wishes. The second time, the nurses asked me if they could give the blanket to a baby in the intensive care unit who was not expected to survive. They told me it would mean a lot to the girl’s parents to wrap her in something pretty and so full of love. I never got to meet that family, but I know that was a gift worth giving. 

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It puts things in perspective to reach out to others. There’s nothing better than knowing you brought a little sunshine into someone’s cloudy day. What do you like to do to cheer someone?

I’ve also discovered that I can make my own day with crochet. This shrug is so soft and sparkly it perks me up every time I wear it.

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And my new supersized leafy shawl may be my most favorite project ever.

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Sometimes, we need to nurture ourselves so we can better nurture those around us.

So, pick up that project, take up the new hobby… you never know where it will take you.

Recently though, I received the greatest praise of my crocheting career. My five year old grandson asked me for a blue dragon toy.

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The next time he visited his dragon was patiently waiting. He ran over, scooped up the dragon and gave me a great thank you hug. That day he started to notice the other crocheted items around the house including the flowered doily on the table. He asked me if I made it all by myself out of thread, and when I answered that I had, he touched one of the flowers and said “Good job, Gramma!”

It just doesn’t get any better than that.

 

Jen has very kindly produced a new crochet pattern that will thrill both seasoned crocheters and those who are new to the craft or wanting to give it a try but unsure where to begin. I shall be revealing the pattern on Monday and cannot wait as it is a very special pattern for me.

We'll also be running a giveaway connected to the pattern, so do remember to check in next week to see what it's all about!

Crochet Crowns

My crochet fest continued this weekend as I found myself rushing to complete a last-minute project idea in time for our niece's birthday party. I had spent Thursday evening making her a little pink and white bag as a little gift, following this pattern on Ravelry.

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I have to say that either my tension is completely out or I just misjudged my choice of yarn and crochet hook, as my end product turned out a lot shallower than the photo shown with the pattern. Not that it mattered much, as the bag looked good enough as it was, but I really do need to work on my pattern-reading skills!

This became even clearer to me as I spent Saturday evening and Sunday morning desperately trying to finish 5 crowns for 5 different aged children between 11 and 1 years of age. As soon as I found out the party's theme was "princesses and princes" I just knew I had to have a go, but I did give myself quite a task. I didn't have the time to properly work out the sizes and actually started, undid and restarted the birthday's girl's crown several times and still think it ended up a little bit too small. But at least I finished them… what do you think?

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The top one was for the birthday girl (4), the pink one for the eldest (11), the purple for the birthday girl's friend (4), the blue one for the birthday girl's brother (19 months) and the green one for the birthday girl's friend's sister (1). As you can see the bottom two are actually bigger than the top one even though there were 3 years' age difference between the recipients. That is because I started with the top one and it took until the fourth crown for me to figure out the correct alterations to the patterns to get the size right. Unfortunately I couldn't make the first crown bigger, but when the second and third ones turned out too large it was a simple task to make a discreet fold and stitch them in a way that made them smaller!

They were far from perfect, but I had fun making them and learnt a lot about sizing and altering patterns by doing it. I just needed a bit more time than I had allowed myself.

The patterns I used were also from Ravely, with the first crown being made to this pattern (using the same number of stitches but a larger hook) and the others were made following this pattern (using the same sized hook but eventually cutting the initial number of stitches in the chain down to 77 instead of 110, which is why I think my tension must be rather off as the original pattern was supposed to fit a 12-18 month old but my version was too big even for me! Or perhaps it was because I used DK yarn, which is larger than sport weight… I have a lot to learn.)

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I also made these sweet little flowers to attach to hair slides for the ladies going to the party. They are super quick and easy and come from one of my favourite crochet bloggers and designers, Alice of Crochet With Raymond. The pattern can be found here and uses one of my favourite crochet tricks, the Magic Ring. Before I read about this technique for starting a circle, I always ended up with a gaping hole at the centre of my work, but no more! I love the things I am learning about crochet these days and am finding it very therapeutic to just sit and create things right now.

Sitting on the sofa crocheting away whilst Tim watches a film or plays on his xBox is so much fun as I can be in his company without becoming bored or distracting him from what he is doing. And doing this at the weekend, putting together things for a birthday party, made me think of how many times I might do that over the coming years as I get an idea and try to make it into reality for our son's enjoyment. I see many crowns, capes, and fancy dress items in my future at this rate: what fun!

I haven't done any crochet since Sunday, thanks to the intense heat we've been experiencing. At 27 weeks pregnant, I am finding it more difficult to breathe, move and simply keep going and the added heat just completely wiped me out. I couldn't even sit and watch tv I was so hot, and spent a lot of time with my feet in a bathfull of cold water, which is not a great place to crochet! But I have plans for this coming weekend and I shall share more with you next week.

Grannying Away

I have been on a massive crochet fest this past week or two. What started off with an idea for a nursery project turned into an obsession. I had forgotten just how relaxing crochet could be and to be fair I don't think I have ever enjoyed it this much. I think the fact that I am currently unable to do much thanks to the growing bump and ligament/joint pain, has made sitting on the sofa for hours on end crocheting away very soothing. 

I am not the greatest crocheter by any means: I taught myself everything I know from internet guides and have a long way to go before my understanding of yarn weight, pattern and tension is good enough to produce things to size! Normally I am a perfectionist and I think this is why sometimes I have steered away from crochet as the craft of choice because I couldn't get the result I wanted. But not anymore… now I am just enjoying hooking away for the sheer pleasure of it. Which is how today's result came about!

Meet the Granny Mandala Lap Blanket which was made using Alice's pattern and some strange fluffy yarn I had in my stash.

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I had no real plan for this other than to use up the yarn I had bought years ago on a whim and never knew what to do with. The initial ring was difficult to work up as the yarn was so fluffy that I couldn't see the individual stitches. But once I got to the clusters on the rest of the blanket I was speeding away.

It may not be the most practical of shapes or sizes for a blanket, but Tim sure did find plenty of uses for it. This was his "I can't see you, so you can't see me!" impression. I'm not sure it worked quite as well as he planned, as I spotted him quite quickly…

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Not that he minded so much, as we then got to thinking about how our little one will soon be able to lie on the floor with this super soft blanket and learn to play "peek-a-boo" with it. 

But a blanket isn't a blanket without several uses in our household, so Tim was quite keen on trying out a variety of poses, in which he likened himself to a "Roman Centurian"…

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I'm not so sure he quite pulled it off… pink and purple fluffy capes are not quite as striking as the ones the Romans used to wear. But, unfazed by my suggestion of such, the impressions continued, with one I can only liken to a General heading into battle, what do you think?

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Jokes aside, this is a really snuggly little blanket that will come in handy over the next few years I'm sure. It is big enough to wrap around a toddler who wants to have as much fun playing as his daddy does, and yet small enough to be easily packed away at the end of the day. Of course, by then, I hope to have a few more additions to my completed projects and our son may well end up with a proper cape or two.

But, seriously, this was so much fun to make up that I can see the granny mandala will become quite a feature in our home and lives so we'll have to get our thinking caps on as to other ways we can use them.

Have a lovely weekend. 

My Crochet Guru

Today I thought I would introduce you to a very special person. She has been an amazing teacher during that incredible, and sometimes terrifying, transition from teenager to adult, helping me to make sense of the deepest questions that came up during that period.

But more than that, she introduced me to the wonders of crochet, inspiring me with the gifts she created until I just had to learn the craft myself. And today she is my crochet guru, the person I turn to time and again when I need a pattern, or someone to explain an aspect I just don't understand.

Meet Jen!

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Jen has her own blog, called Just for Fun, and she often posts photos of the items she has made. But I wanted to utilise her skills and experience to create a post about the joys of crochet. I know a few of my regular readers enjoy this craft, so I hope you will enjoy the conversation I had with Jen, and perhaps leave a comment with your own answers to some of the questions asked.

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How long have you been crocheting?

I started crocheting in the early 1990’s, so almost 20 years. At the time, I was looking for a way to keep my hands busy during all the kids’ sporting activities. I learned that crochet was a great way for me to channel all my anxious energy and keep from yelling at the coach.

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Who taught you to crochet?

I am self taught. I bought a pattern book with a section on basic stitches and the rest is history!

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When did you discover you were a true fan of this craft?

Almost immediately. I loved that I could pick it up or set it down at my own convenience, take it along with me, sit on the chair or the sofa. I also found that I could crochet while my husband was watching a game or show I wasn’t really interested in… which meant I could patiently sit with him without getting antsy or bored. It was ultimately flexible! I tried other crafts, but they required a focused period of time or special space.

Once I had enough practice to stitch evenly, I loved seeing the various patterns and the fabric I created. I’m also not ashamed to say I loved the compliments I received on my work. It inspired me to keep at it and try new stitches and patterns in creative ways.

Christy's bday bags

Have you taught anybody else to crochet?

I’ve taught several friends and family members over the years, but most of them just ask me to make them something if they have an idea. It takes a certain amount of patience and practice to get even stitches and it always seemed easier just to ask me. 

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What are your favourite types of patterns?

I love the smaller projects the best because they offer almost instant gratification. Smaller items like bags or hats can be useful as well as colorful and I don’t get bored repeating the same stitch for weeks on end.

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Do you have an absolute favourite, if so, why?

I have a few “go-to” patterns for certain occasions, usually gifts. For example, I have a lap blanket pattern that looks like a stack of crayons – great for kids. Otherwise, I tend to make it up as I go along.

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Who do you most like crocheting for?

Kids! They like colorful things like the crayon blanket I mentioned (no neutral sweaters for them!) and they also can’t figure out how you made it so it’s like magic. I recently made a rainbow cream pie (complete with a dollop of whipped cream) beret for a friend’s daughter, and she wears it to school every day.

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A gift from family


Has anybody ever crocheted a gift for you?

Now that I think about it, none specifically crocheted for me. When my first child was born, we received some crocheted items that I was too afraid to use at the time because I didn’t want to ruin them. My son-in-law’s 92 year old grandmother gave me a crochet and embroidery piece she made in her youth because it matched my kitchen. It’s gorgeous!

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What advice would you give to a would-be crocheter?

Start small and take the time to get your stitching rhythm down. Consistent yarn tension is what makes or breaks your fabric and that only comes with practice. A good way to start is making washcloths, scarves, or items that don’t have to be perfect… save the sweater for later.

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What are you working on at the moment?

I am working on my scrap pile! In the fall I had several specific projects I was working on, and they left me with half a skein of yarn here, an extra there. It can become a storage issue, so I like to use them up when I can. I’ve been using my ‘leftovers’ to crochet hats, scarves and small blankets for charity.

I’m already thinking about spring colored cotton items though once I have worked my way through the scraps.

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What is the biggest project you have ever tackled? Why did you choose this, how long did it take, and how did you feel upon completion?

Ah, I remember it well. I crocheted a blanket the size of a full bed, using a double strand and double stitch technique that interweaves to a soft but chunky fabric. During a visit, a friend of ours commented on a sofa blanket I made for my husband. When our friend moved to a new house, I made a full sized blanket for him as a gift. I don’t even want to think about the number of hours it took. I was so sick of it about 2/3 through I wanted to scream. It was bulky and difficult to work with. However, he was so surprised by the gift and so appreciative that it was all worthwhile in the end! He still uses that blanket each night almost 15 years later.

Then there is the blanket I made as a special request. It was not the largest size, but the most work because it included several stitching techniques, crocheted flowers and embroidery. It took about 100 hours over several months for me to complete. Whew! Won’t be doing that one again. 

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What, for you, is the very best thing about crochet?

No pressure! No deadlines, no curing, drying or mess on the table, few supplies that never expire and are easy to store. In addition, those fingers can fly without really having to pay too much attention to them, so I find it relaxing. 

Of course, it’s also a lot of fun to see the expression on someone’s face when you give them a handmade rainbow cream pie beret! 

I can attest to the power of receiving a gift from Jen, as the hearts behind us in the wedding photo came from her, as did the ones on the front of the table. You can see them in greater detail by watching the video thank you I made here.

So, all that is left to say is: Thank You, Jen, for being my inspiration and crochet "guru". 

If you have any questions for Jen, please do leave them in the comments below.

Baby Ripples – photos at last!

Before I begin this post I must apologise for the awful quality of the photos. I have yet to locate our actual camera and have resorted to using my phone, which unfortunately does not take the same standard of photo. But I was missing new photos so much and running out of older albums to steal images from for the blog so needs must and all that!

So without further ado, PHOTOS

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These are the colours I chose for my very first ripple blanket. I promise you that in reality they are much bolder and brighter but with enough gentleness to create a glorious ripple blanket fit for any special like guy or girl in one’s life. The yarns are all 100% acrylic, keeping my costs relatively low, but they are so snuggly I can’t believe it. I am very funny about the feeling of yarn running through my fingers and if it isn’t just so I cannot use it as my fingers start to tingle and I cringe deep inside.

The idea behind this blanket was to create something that would suit any young addition to the family by being bright and versatile. In the winter it can be a cot or pram blanket and in the summer a bit of loveliness to take outside and lay on. I specifically chose a single-crochet ripple pattern rather than a granny square design so that a mother would be happy to lay her child on the grass, knowing that great big tufts of it wouldn’t poke through.

 

So this is where I’m at right now – the first part of the pattern complete. From here I will repeat the sequence already laid out (green, red, white, red, green, blue) and keep doing so until I reach the required length. It has taken me a week to get this far and although I have loved every minute of it I am beginning to wonder whether it really is the best design to follow when one plans to sell it for profit. I have to be realistic about these things if I am to make my little business a success and there is no way I could charge enough to cover my time and effort on this design. So I may just have to see how this goes and then plan on making some “quicker” blankets and smaller hats and bootees for the shop.

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And I’ll also need to work on my ends. Being self-taught in crochet and never having tried changing colours before, I’m not quite sure I’ve quite mastered the skill yet. Another reason why this blanket may have to be a “trial sale” – one that brings back the cost of the materials but is used more for practise than any real profit.

And that suits me fine. With such a fun thing to do as sit in the evenings rippling away whilst I watch some old-fashioned scrumminess as “The Good Life” who could want anything more? Incidentally, I have been rewatching the whole series of The Good Life and finally reached the last one, you know the one where everything goes wrong and their house is wrecked? Oh, my, I almost cried! And some of that sadness was from knowing that I would now be missing my regular Tom and Barbara fix – oh, how I loved those two! If only we had the guts to live like them, maybe we’d all be a little bit happier…

“A Box of Treasures”

Good morning all,

Today sees the first of my weekly projects for you to try yourself. It’s a very simple one this week, with not so many “step-by-step” directions but rather more ideas for you to try. I promise that there will be future projects of a more traditional style of instructions for those of you who prefer that, but I thought we would start our journey together with a project that is so simple you can adapt it to suit your own needs and preferences.

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So what have I got for you? Well, it’s quite simply a way of taking an old box you don’t know what to do with and turning it into a beautiful keepsake for yourself or as a more permanent way of gift-wrapping. I don’t know about you, but I often think that presents look so nice, all wrapped up, and it is such a shame to rip them open and simply discard the paper (not to mention less than friendly to the environment). I have long been urged to open my presents quicker by those around me, but I do so love the gift wrapping that I cannot bring myself to simply tear into it, and prefer to prise it open at the seams and fold the paper nicely, just in case I can use it again. And that is what has inspired today’s project.

So what did I do? Well, I searched around the house and managed to find several boxes just hanging around, waiting to be used.

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There were actually so many boxes I couldn’t fit them all into one picture… so many, in fact, that I didn’t know which one to begin with.  As this is a project for you to try, I shall show you the largest and hardest one first, so that we get that over with. Then you will know that there is an even easier option that you can try further down the page!

Let me take a moment here to clarify that, being me, I chose a box that was not the easiest of things to cover. Half way through I thought “why did I choose this box, this is a nightmare…” and yet, the further I went, the more it came together and before long it was a perfect box for sending a gift in. It didn’t really take that long in the end, and it looks pretty good, don’t you think?

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I’m telling you this, not to put you off, but to remind you that even if the box doesn’t come out as “perfectly” as you may have hoped, it will still look amazing and you will still be proud of it.

Anyway, there are several ways you could cover your box. If you are good at measuring things precisely and figuring out the logistics of what piece of paper will end up where if you draw a pattern on the paper, then by all means do it that way. I, however, found it easier to measure each end of the box, add an extra couple of centimetres on to each edge and then cut out those squares to stick on first. A few little nicks in each corner, once the centre part had been stuck on to the box, ensured I had a perfect fit over each end.

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After that, I grabbed hold of a new piece of wrapping paper in the same design (to ensure it was big enough to cover the box) and started at the top, sticking each side in turn and rolling the box until it was all covered. I hope this makes sense – imagine what you do with a swiss roll, you start at one end and roll the rest of it round.

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As you can see, I continued cutting the paper to the exact size of each side as I went. This meant that I got a really close edge each time and you could do the same, so long as you use relatively small scissors. This worked especially well, because I had given each end that extra couple of centimetres to wrap over the edges, meaning that all I had to do at this point was cut along the box’s edge and you could barely see the seam.

The final step was to find a contrasting design to cover the inside of the box. I then followed the same idea I’d used on the outside – cutting and covering the smaller edges first and then using one big piece of paper to cover the larger part of the box, folding it as I went along. The end result was impressive, and something I am sure any girl would love to receive, especially filled with goodies to pamper herself with!

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It really is that simple, and although I cannot give you more direct instructions, I do hope you will have a go at this and let me know how you get on. Of course, you don’t always have to start from scratch like this – I did promise you an easier option, remember. Sometimes you will find a box that is already so pretty you hardly have to do a thing to make it reusable. Take this box, for example:

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It is already covered in two beautiful handmade blue papers. I have no idea what originally came in it, but I had an idea of how to reuse it. First,the plastic covering originally in that window space was removed, and a new, complementing piece of paper was put in its place.

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Once the new paper was securely fastened in, the box became a brand new box. Such a small piece of work, but a lovely result.

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These kinds of boxes are often given with bath-time treats and little bottles of perfume at birthdays and Christmas, so why not try and keep hold of a few next time, so you can re-use them for gift giving, or like me, to keep special memories in.

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Yes, that is Tim as a baby, isn’t he gorgeous? Would you like to see some more of the photos I recently liberated from his mum for my own collection? Well, as you asked…

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Awwww… I wonder if he’ll kill me for this?

Anyway, back to the project. If you’re really lucky, you may even come across a nice little box you need do nothing to, except fill. It might be a box you were given, or one you find in a charity shop, but if you do, how do you know what to fill it with? Well, here are a few ideas:

  • a selection of someone’s favourite chocolates
  • a “pack of cards” you create, writing a special poem, quotation or special memory on each one
  • a sewing kit, with all the essentials, plus some beautiful buttons and thimbles, to make you smile
  • a handful of shells you collected at the beach, to remind you of summer in the darkest days of winter, or as a gift for someone too old or ill to make it this year
  • a warm scarf you have knitted for a friend who’ll need it
  • a pair of bootees for a newborn baby

The list goes on, and there is no limit to what you can create in this way and that is why I just love this idea and wanted to share it with you all. No longer must you wonder how you are going to wrap that awkward shaped present – simply find a box big enough and make it special.


I used my “ready-made” box to keep a bracelet in, one of my latest designs. This one will not be going up for sale in the shop, however, because I am keeping it as a gift for one of you. All you have to do, to be in with a chance of winning this bracelet, is to leave me a comment, letting me know you are here, how you found me, and what you would like to see here in future (would you like more craft projects to try, updates on our life, recipes, gifts to buy… or something completely different). That’s it! The giveaway will end on Tuesday May 18th at Midnight GMT, with the winner being named on Thursday 20th. Please be sure to leave a link back to your own blog or an email address, so that I can contact you if you are the winner.

And don’t forget, if you do not win, you can still buy jewellery as pretty as this bracelet in my shop, more details of which will be given tomorrow.