Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Cleaning Before Crafting

I don't know of a single creative person who is extremely tidy and living with minimalist decor.  The two just don't seem to mix. It's just a downright nuisance to have to pack everything away when you're in the middle of something.  I'm sure it contributes to unfinished objects.  And what about the creative inspiration arising from the haphazard combination of those fabrics, yarns, beads, textures, colours ...?

As I've confessed elsewhere, I have a blind spot for creative clutter and hate housework.  However, there comes a time when the chaos is too much, even for me.  I've been trying to get the house tidy, spring-cleaned, redecorated in places, and the garden straight in an hour a day, but it's not working and I feel like I'm constantly fighting a losing battle.

I surfed around for more ideas. There are lots of sites with ideas for dealing with housework and decluttering in anything from 15 minutes to an hour a day.  Let's see ... none actually include the garden as well, or doing any redecorating.  15 minutes a day at a running pace and then has professional cleaners in once a month for a thorough clean? (Isn't that cheating?) An hour, but it doesn't include laundry and dishes. Another does include laundry and dishes, but requires a dishwasher and a washer-drier so the machines do all the work. I have neither. Lots of tips for multi-tasking, such as cleaning the sink while you clean your teeth, or sweeping through with a broom as you walk from one room to another (like you're going to go fetch a broom before you walk to another room? Yeah, right!). All assume the place is easy to clean, furnished so that you have a place for everything, and don't necessarily include 'picking up' in the cleaning time. There's a general consensus that for everyday, a quick whisk through is fine. That's as maybe, but it's time for something more in depth. A couple of them recommend doing a walk-through to make a list when things are really bad, so that you can plan what to do and have the joy of crossing things off.

There's nothing for it, I've decided that for the next 10 days and around my other commitments, I'm going to concentrate on getting the chaos under control and do cleaning and clearing rather than crafting. What a terrible thought! Will I be able to cope?  I'll have to put my creativity to work in other ways. The main issue is still the pain in my knees, so there will still be a need to microburst. I'm loving the idea that I might make such a difference I don't recognise the place and I'll be much more efficient when I can quickly and easily find the fabric, beads or item of clothing that I want and focus on the project in hand.

As for the garden, the only fine day in the next five day forecast is the day I'm out all day. I really hope this is not the start of a rainy summer! It's pouring with rain as I write.

So, where to begin? Meh.  I could do with some Minions and a cup of tea.  Okay, just the cup of tea, then, while I plan my campaign.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Owl Socks Finished, Time to Reflect

I've finished my fourth pair of socks,  how did that happen?
I'm sure when I decided to knit a pair of socks, it was because I had been told (and therefore believed) that socks were challenging, difficult to knit because of the heel shaping.   Like so much else I had been told or read about knitting, it has proved to be wrong.  Or at least, if not wrong, then not completely right.

I should remember my own mantra: Lots of other people do it, how hard can it be? In this case, really not hard at all.  As suspected, the self-patterning yarn makes the owls difficult to see (oh, well, that's owls for you!). I also discovered that on 2.75 mm dpns, 66 sts as per the pattern is the lowest I can go for the cuff and still get the sock on my wide (24.5 cm) foot and ankle, although the cables do reduce the stretch a little.  If I were to make them again for myself, I would add some stitches, perhaps make it 4 stitches between owls instead of 3 to cast on 72, so that the owls aren't stretched out of shape as they are currently. And get some beads so that they can have eyes! And make the toe less tapered by starting it a little later and then decreasing every row for the last few rows. (I'm tempted to make another pair for me, as they knit up so quickly, but the next pair I make will be as a gift and the pattern as written will suit her foot size and shape just fine.)

While I was looking for socks to knit and before I had remembered these in my queue, I saw the phrase 'standard slip-stitch heel' on a few patterns. As it turned out, these socks have a slip-stitch heel flap - a new stitch for me (but there's plenty of scope there!).  This was my fourth pair of socks, but the first pair with a slip-stitch heel.  So it's probably not really 'standard' then?

Finding out that you shouldn't believe all you read, and that what you thought you knew isn't quite correct, can have an unsettling effect.  I have books which show me how to hold the needles and yarn, how to cast on and off, increase and decrease.  But now, with YouTube and various websites and blogs, I have access to a whole new world of information. There's no single, correct way to hold the yarn and the needles. You can approach stitches differently, twisting or not if you like, based on how they are mounted on the needle (whether the leading leg of the stitch is at the front or back). Instead of the three methods for casting on which I knew, (knit-on, cable and thumb, although I couldn't get the hang of the latter), and the single way to cast off, there are loads of them, with fibre artists inventing new ones from time to time. You can even knit backwards if you know what you're doing. And crochet isn't confined to rows, circles or afghan squares, but anything goes!

So, rather than feeling unsettled, I'm finding a new confidence in knitting and crochet.   I'm enjoying the exploration enormously. There are several patterns in my queue which I've decided are possibly a bit too advanced for me at the moment, but their time will come.

Looking back, I realised that my lack of confidence didn't stem from only knowing a few basics, but from a few incidents which left me wondering why I bothered to knit, coupled with a lack of practice.  For example, I was sitting knitting some interminable beige thing during a family garage sale in my teens and an older woman stopped by and came over to watch me knitting. After a couple of minutes, she grabbed my needles, held up my work and declaimed for everyone to hear that I was not holding the yarn or my needles correctly, that it was a horrible yarn in a terrible colour, that I was twisting the stitches and, in short, was just doing the whole thing completely wrong. She may have been right about the horrible yarn, but not about anything else, and what a nasty thing to do to anyone, let alone a teenager!

In my early 20s, after making a couple of sweaters for myself and friends, I made the mistake of knitting for my then boyfriend. Soon after the sleeveless, 4 ply V-neck and gorgeous, cabled  Lopi sweaters were finished, he left me. The sleeveless V-neck was requested, but the beautiful, expensive sweater was not.  It wasn't until years later that I ran across the concept of the 'Sweater Curse'; that knitting a sweater for your boyfriend (or significant other) can be the kiss of death to the relationship.  It may feel like a curse at the time, but it's probably a blessing. Whatever, it stopped me knitting for a few years until I decided to knit a 4 ply cabled cardigan for myself, but then agreed to test knit a DK cabled cardigan for a local wool shop. Knitting against time burnt me out and the 4 ply cardigan went into hibernation (and is still there, so much for finishing all my WIPs!)

As the saying goes, that was then. Now for the next pair of socks ....

Monday, 12 May 2014

A Flower a Day: Week 6 - Even More Crochet Flowers

The time has come to get to grips with crochet charts, so this week's offering is a miscellany from charts I've found online. I even popped in a couple of leaves for good measure.  Most of them had no picture of the finished flower, so it was quite entertaining to imagine the flower from the chart outline.  The large, jazzy  flower was interesting, as it was built around chain loops of different lengths. There are a few flowers with open centres where I played with the number of petals resulting from the original chained centre and they cry out for something in the centre, but that won't be a problem.

Lesley Stansfield's book '100 Flowers to Knit and Crochet' gave me some practice in seeing how charts work, although at the time I found it easier to follow the written instructions.  However, the strength of charts like this is that providing standard symbols are used (and they mostly are), the pattern can be understood and used with no need to translate instructions from one language to another. Once you know the symbols and know the different stitch lengths, charts are suddenly far simpler than they appear.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Owlie Socks - And Other Projects

Cute owls seem to have been a design feature for the past couple of years  now and they're everywhere.  Whenever I see one, it reminds me of my friend J, who is very fond of these owls, has created some lovely owl decorations in felt, and whose wisdom I seek on a regular basis.

While I was (spending far too long!) browsing around for my next pair of socks, which I thought should be toe-up so that I can learn some new techniques, I found the 'Hedwig and Friends' socks in my Ravelry queue.  I had earmarked the soft chocolate print Drops Fabel (colour 912) for this, although it may obscure the owl design which is done with a repeat of a cable around the leg of the sock.  These look fun, so I'll start them tonight, if there's any night left by the time I have supper. Lost in Ravelry, I hadn't realised how late it is!

I have a couple of balls of the same colour in Drops 'Big Fabel', intended for an owlie hot water bottle cover.  While I was looking for the pattern for that, I came across the toe-up socks I was intending to start.  They can come next, as I'll need to watch and knit along with a couple of videos so that I can get to grips with the cast on at the toe end and another technique for the heel.  It's things like this which make me wish for a laptop, or even a tablet, so I can look it up while sitting and knitting comfortably on the sofa - not that I'd get a good wireless signal down the other end of the cottage.

The kettle's boiling for my noodles; I'd better get cooking!

A Flower a Day: Week 5 - Flowers by Lucy at Attic24

Materials: Acrylic DK
Techniques: Crochet, Sewing

So, what with all the colourful inspiration and joy at playing hookey, I am finding myself pretty much addicted to crochet flowers.  I had queued up all of Lucy Attic 24's flowers on Ravelry to work through, but ended up sitting with her blog, since that's where all the tutorials are.  Lucy does superb tutorials, with well lit and focused close-up photos and clear instructions, including descriptions of how to work the different stitches and tips for refining techniques. What more could anyone want?

I started with Lucy's pattern for teeny tiny flowers. Gosh, these are addictive, possible because they are so quick to do.  If you don't count weaving in ends, one flower takes approximately 3 minutes.  Yes, really!  So I made one in each of the flower colours I'd chosen for this project.  And then one of the tiny leaves in each of the chosen leaf colours. Lucy also suggests playing with hook size. I had noticed that the Woolcraft luminous peach DK yarn is rather coarser and woollier than the other flower colours, which I think are all Stylecraft DK. I used a 3.75 mm hook for all of the flowers, and then made an additional spice coloured one with the same hook, and an additional peach one using a 4mm hook. The resulting difference in size means that the flowers layer quite nicely.
The leaves took me a little longer, simply because they are small enough to be fiddly, there is a strand to weave down the centre of the leaf, and a couple of my leaf colour yarns are a bit soft and splitty.  (I feel a post comparing acrylic DK yarns coming on, but flowers first!)

And so onto the Crochet Flowers and Leaves.  Having used a magic loop rather than chain 4 centre on the tiny flowers, I decided to go back to a chain centre for the first of these flowers.  Ugh! I just cannot get my first round stitches evenly around the chains! I did the double layer flower first, and liked the way that the second layer is worked on top of the first, rather than having to fiddle around behind the flower to add a layer. I decided I would also do the single layer flower with a magic loop centre and ended up with seven rather than six petals where I forgot to skip a stitch.  Never mind, it's fine. The leaves are easy enough, on the same pattern as the tiny leaves - chain a number, work your way back with ascending and then descending size stitches, turn and repeat.  Emboldened by that, I chained an extra 4 and added a couple of double treble in the centre and another couple of treble on the other side of them.

The little picot flowers are cutely ruffly.  I went back to the chain centre just for practice, but after the first couple, ended up doing magic loop centres again. I love the way that Lucy eggs the reader on to do more than one and it is a good idea. You get to practice!  It gave me a 'what if' idea for a flower, exploring the potential for a picot of three chain on top of trebles into the centre rather than doubles (the peach centre with pomegranate petals).

I hadn't noticed them before in the list of patterns, but little crochet daisies looked pretty so I had to have a go at one of them. I went back to magic loop for the centre and found that I just could not manage to get the hook under both loops of the chains in the petals. This was something which I had tried and failed on the leaves done before, and had thought perhaps it was just because of the soft, splitty yarn. I had another go at a chain centre and going through both loops of a chain while making the little leaf, and was much more successful with a coarser yarn.

Moving onto the triple layer flower. These use five colours.  I magic looped the centre The seven petal flower created for the first layer was very cute just by itself, so I made another one. The flower would work just as well with two layers, but I carried on to finish the flower. Although these crochet flowers are destined for my flower garden scarf (or whatever), this triple layer flower would make a great brooch.  I also had a go at the leaf, although my attempts were a little haphazard.  I found it easiest to do the central vein with the 4 mm hook and then go down to the 3.75 mm for the main part of the leaf, but I seemed to end up with more chains than expected and started to improvise with the numbers of various stitches.  Still, I feel that's the best bit of using patterns like this, using the basic methods as a stepping off point to start playing with different stitches and numbers of repeats.

It's May, perhaps a little early for roses, but let's do some May Roses anyway. The coppery-spice one was made with the 3.75 mm hook and the coral-shrimp coloured one with the 4 mm and with a larger double crochet centre. I also made a couple of leaves, forgetting the second treble into a chain in the first leaf and then experimenting with a longer leaf with longer stitches, using the way that one yarn end is passed back down the leaf to change its outline slightly.

The Japanese Quince are still flowering, (although not as beautifully as those in Lucy's photo!) so that was the last pattern for the week, (even though there are more flowers on the blog). Again, I played with the yarn and hook size, doing the pale pink, lighter DK with a 4 mm hook and the coarser peach DK with the 3.75 mm, just to see the difference. I was intrigued by the propeller-shaped greenery, so I had a go at that, got carried away and did one with four arms instead of three.  Oh well, it's all good!

 Clockwise from top left:

Triple layer flower
Crochet flowers and leaves
Little crochet daisy
Japanese quince
Little picot flowers (with my larger one)
A drift of teeny tiny flowers and leaves
May Roses

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Knit and Crochet Flower Garden

When I started with the knitted roses, I had in mind some sort of flower garden scarf.  Since then, I've done 14 crochet flowers and counting, but I still haven't quite decided quite what it's going to be.  Something wearable, perhaps it will be a scarf, perhaps not.

Once I started the crochet flowers, I decided that I should put together a colour palette for my flowers and their eventual leaves.  I found Design Seeds some time ago, and loved the way that five or six (sometimes more) colours in toning and contrasting shades were picked out of interesting photos to create colour palettes. (The pic on the left is an edited screenshot of the Google search results for Design Seeds and orange.)

A friend and I went shopping over the Easter break and remarked on the peach/coral/salmon shades in evidence at the moment.  I don't wear girly pinks if I can help it, but I like these orangey-pink shades and found myself seeing them everywhere. My friend even bought me a bunch of salmon pink spray carnations!
(I've worked out how to do a photo montage, too.)

Inspired by this, I put together a basket of orange-peach-pink-yellow and greens which I thought went well, and these are the colours I shall use for the knit and crochet flowers and leaves, a sub-project of my Flower a Day project.

It's been a bit grey and murky recently, so I had to sit the basket on the back doorstep in order to take a photo.  The colours are fairly accurate.  Unfortunately the orange for the marigolds and flower centres is a rather bright and luminous, like the peach. Hopefully the cool bluey-greens will tone them down a bit.