Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Twitter spring cleaning

I blogged recently that I was going to spring clean my virtual life...I've started with twitter!

If you're active on Etsy or Folksy forums you'll have seen many a thread along the lines of "you follow me and I'll follow you" and I used to do that when I started. As a consequence, I was "following" way too many people for comfort. Everyoen uses social media in different ways and we all need to do what works for us - and for me, I like to chat. I don't want to see streams of links, quotes, horoscopes and non-stop-advertising. So I've started using TwitCleaner and have to say I LOVE IT!

The initial page looks scary, you have to agree that they can post and delete stuff and other scary ideas, but that is just standard twitter stuff. It doesn't really happen. What *does* happen is that your following list gets categorised: people who don't ever tweet, people who only use auto applications, people who don't follow you back. Now some of those might not bother you, I don't care whether people follow me back IF I'm genuinely interested in their tweets (Hugh Jackman, you're forgiven)

You can check each one individually, you are not obliged to unfollow their suggestions. I discovered (eventually! must learn to read instructions) that I can also click-and-hold and remove whole swathes at a time if I wish.

Already I am finding that tweets from interactive people are more visible - result! However, if I've deleted you in error (and I am bound to have missed some pals), PLEASE tell me and I'll refollow. 

The app is very clever and deletes from your required list very slowly so twitter doesn't get upset with you. This means there is a daily limit, so don't worry if it all comes to a grinding halt! 

Twitcleaner, virtual friend!

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Carpe Diem

Seize the day!

I read an article in the Guardian yesterday that really struck home with me, so I thought I'd share it here
The writer starts: "If you knew you were going to die at eight tonight, would you want to have spent today doing what you're doing?"

I plan to keep this in mind and spend less time on twitter, facebook and playing plants v zombies!

Read the article, and seize the day.

(no, I'm not ill, this isn't a plea for sympathy or anything...I just found the story moving)

Friday, 22 February 2013

Abakhan challenge #2

I posted last week about the Abakhan challenge and showed you my flamenco dancer.

Her skirt was created using the Desire "yarn" .. and today I'm showing you how I've used some more of the same hank. It's not cheap, but a little certainly goes a long way.

I decided to create collars to jazz up a plain top. If you've watched the instruction video for this unusual yarn you'll see they recommend knitting it as icord, on 5 stitches. I'm not a fan of following instructions so I decided to just knit in rows. I used just 3 stitches as I wanted a collar, not a scarf. I measured the neckline of the top and cast off when I reached that length.

The first top I tried it with has a V neck so I used a brooch to make sure it kept to the shape.

This second top has a rounded neck so the collar sat in place without pinning.

If this was to be permanent I'd maybe stitch it in place, but I like being able to add it "as and when". I'm allergic to handwashing, so that's another good reason for leaving it detachable!

This is a little dressy for my style (do I have a style??), so I thought I'd see if I could crochet with the yarn...

It was much easier than I'd expected. I literally poked my hook through the first hole, then the second - pulled it through and voila, the first chain. I continued to make a chain till it was long enough for my neckline. The result was frilly but much less fussy than the knitted version. I tried making a second row of double crochet but to be honest it was trickier than it was worthwhile for me. I like the simplicity of this collar, and would stick with knitting if I wanted the thicker version.

My verdict? This yarn is great fun to work with and because it is sooooo fancy works well when combined with other yarns. Don't think it's only for scarves!

My final pick from the Abakhan website was to treat myself to some bamboo DPNs (double pointed needles). If you could see my stash you might wonder why! I have LOADS of knitting needles. I've been knitting for almost 50 years now, and I inherited needles of every size from both my gran and my great aunt.

So you can imagine I don't buy needles often! I hadn't tried bamboo before, and have to say I'm now a convert. Apart from anything else they are SILENT! No longer will poor MrNifty have to listen to me click-click-clicking away whilst watching TV. They're also very comfortable, I grip quite tightly when I'm knitting and my hands do become sore when using metal needles for long periods. My future meerkats will be knitted on bamboo!

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Abakhan creative challenge

Oh I do so enjoy a challenge! Abakhan challenged me (and other creative bloggers) to spend £15 in their online supplies shop abakhan.co.uk and share the results. I went straight to the knitting section and just look what I spotted in "other": I chose the black/red floral version but there are lots of others, even animal prints!

I have to say I think they need to get more creative with the section heading, "other" just doesn't do it justice. The line of knitting "yarn" is seriously bizarre and was in my virtual basket in seconds, it comes in a range of colours and patterns but this one spoke to me and I knew what I'd be making before it arrived...

It's not really yarn at all, it's a thin strip of chiffon fabric with holes punched regularly along the length. Abakhan link to another website with instructions on how to knit with it, there are also diagrams on the ball band. Basically, instead of winding the yarn around your needle to knit a stitch you slip the needle through the next hole - easiest to understand by looking at the video Desire Fabric Yarn video tutorial  (she doesn't start knitting until 2min10sec so you might want to whoosh straight to that point)

Looking at the fabric just one strip thick, it's quite translucent. However, it knits in rippling layers so that soon changes.

As you see, the suggestion is 4 mm - 5mm needles. I grabbed both from my stash but after starting to knit realised it doesn't actually matter. Usually a bigger needle results in bigger stitches and looser weave, but of course with this fabric yarn you're going to poke the needle into the holes in the fabric which will always be the same size. I chose to carry on with my 4mm needles because they were shorter and therefore more comfortable on so few stitches.

After knitting a couple of rows I decided to switch needles again. The 4mm needles were plastic and quite sharp. I unravelled what I'd knitted so far and several of the holes were starting to fray. This is not very forgiving yarn! Best to use smooth blunt needles if you have them, and try to be sure what you're going to make from the start!

At this point I also discovered the yarn was not one continuous strip as I'd expected. I hope the break isn't going to show, but I'm surprised. (edited to add - there was only one break)

Back to work - this is going to be one VERY fancily dressed meerkat!

I'm finding the yarn is twisting around on itself as I knit, so I suspect I should have started using it from the middle, rather than the outside of the skein as shown on the video tutorial. I also discovered (too late of course!) that it is really easy to see if you have enough length left for a final row: all you need to do is count the holes remaining in the strip. Next time I'll do that slightly earlier :-)

My intended design needed some fancy feathers, so I chose these:

Have you guessed what I've been making yet? Because of the season, she's dressed for Mardi Gras!

I wanted her ruffled skirt to be longer at the back so I cast on 7 stitches, knitted 4 rows and then cast on another 8 and carried on to the waist. Cutting the strip at that point I joined in my normal red yarn and just picked up the stitches by knitting into the holes as before, it made a seamless join which just needed the red end sewing off. I liked the ease of changing yarn, it means you can use the fancy expensive yarn in small amounts to jazz up an otherwise plain piece. 

I tacked the edges of the chiffon together in a few laces to keep the meerkat's modesty but to be honest the ruffles blend in together very well. 

I then picked out a few feathers, tacked them together and added a wire handle so she can hold her fan - she's good to go! Whether for Mardi Gras or for her weekly flamenco lesson, this is one jazzed up meerkat! If you fancy becoming her dancing partner you can buy her from my Etsy shop.

I still have a decent quantity of the fancy "yarn" and I'll show you the next project when I've figured out how to finish it. I'll also let you know about my third purchase from abakhan.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day!

 What a venue for a pancake race! Many thanks to St Leonards Toss Off at Marine Quarter

Oooh look at that height!

Nicely tossed!

don't forget to toss!

And yes, there really was a dog race. 
Funnily enough most of them seemed to have eaten their pancakes by the time they returned!

A good time was certainly had by all!

Monday, 11 February 2013

Spring cleaning

I don't know about you, but my life has a way of becoming over-complicated, I swear it does it on its own when I'm not paying attention.

So although I don't believe in New Year's Resolutions (which is just as well as I'd be a bit late) I have resolved to spring clean my virtual life. I've been going through the list of blogs I allegedly "follow" and removing a good proportion so that those I retain I will actually get around to reading. Some of them hadn't posted since 2010 - and I hadn't noticed. The shame is mine, not theirs!

I think I've also decided to close my Zibbet shop. I sell in UK £ on both folksy and etsy these days, and it's a nuisance having to keep on top of the exchange rate to make sure my prices in Zibbet stay the same. For the moment, the shop is just "on vacation".

Facebook...well, we have a love/hate relationship! When I signed up, online sellers used their profiles as business pages. Then business pages came into being, and now I mostly just post from my business page. That way I know the fans are expecting to read about my business - but as always, there will be lots of irrelevant nonsense too. Recently my personal facebook profile has decided I'm Estonian, all the adverts are Estonian and facebook keeps asking me if I wish to translate the page. Interesting!

Twitter - most days I don't like twitter one bit. Why? Because when I started I became obsessed with the numbers game, following more and more people in the hope they'd follow me back. It worked - I have a crazy 7 thousand followers, and I supposedly follow 5 thousand - many of whom (not you, obviously) I'm not really interested in. I wish there was an easy way to filter them, but going through that number to make lists just does not appeal. So maybe twitter will go, I'm not sure. I do enjoy the occasional chat with individuals (yes, you) on there though.

How do you manage to keep your virtual life manageable? I'd love to know if you have any magic tricks!

Saturday, 9 February 2013

I name this rabbit...

Nameless rabbit waits impatiently whilst MrNifty stirs the pot. 
Sometimes he takes his job very seriously indeed.

MrNifty makes his choice...who can it be?

BigBlueBed! Congratulations, Hector is now a rabbit who knows his name.

Thanks for entering, everyone.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Kittencam and Chickenfish

Each day MrNifty and I have to have our kitten fix on livestream, all the way from America. John fosters kittens for Purrfect Pals and streams video 24/7. Kitty bliss!

One of the kitten's favourite toys is chickenfish, you can just about spot it in the middle of the screen - and I have knitted a tiny version to hang on a keychain.

I'm posting the pattern I designed free for your personal use, but I'd ask that you don't make them to sell unless you donate the profits to Purrfect Pals, the charity John fosters for.

Before I get to the pattern: I used double strands of DK wool simply because I have lots of it in my stash. If you choose to use a single strand of thicker yarn, that will work fine. My patterns aren't rocket science, try it and see what works for you. I used smallish needles and thick yarn to get a fairly solid piece of knit so that it will "stand up" by itself. Using single strand DK will result in a floppy fish.

You'll need a small amount of yellow DK yarn (light worsted weight), an even smaller amount of red DK yarn, a pair of double pointed needles (3.25mm, UK 10, US 3), a keychain and a pair of googly eyes. The yellow part is knitted as i-cord, there are lots of tutorials online if you're not sure how to do this.

Using TWO STRANDS of yellow DK yarn, cast on 3 stitches (leave a few inches of yarn for sewing up later) and knit i-cord for 10 inches (25cm). Cut yarn, leaving about 6 inches or so and pull through.

Now for the fiddly bit! Fiddle with your yellow tube until you've got it into chickenfish shape - basically 2 thirds will be the bottom loop, with the last third going from tail to nose. Use your yarn ends to sew in position, you may need a few extra stitches to "tweak" the shape at either end. Don't cut off the yarn yet, you'll need it to sew on the keychain.

Fins: make 3, red yarn, garter stitch. (It's a bit fiddly, but results in a sloping fin rather than just a square.)
cast on 4 stitches
row 1: knit
row 2: slip 1, knit 1, pass slip stitch over, K2 (3 stitches)
row 3: inc 1, knit 3 (4 stitches)
row 4: repeat row 2
row 5 inc 1, cast off all stitches.

Tail: make 1, using red DK yarn, garter stitch (just knit)
cast on 4 stitches
row 1: knit
row 2: knit 1, increase by knitting in back and front of next 2 stitches, knit 1 (6 stitches)
row 3: knit 6
row 4: knit 1, increase by knitting in back and front of next 4 stitches, knit 1 (10 stitches)
row 5: knit 10
row 6: Slip 1, knit 1, pass slip stitch over, cast off till 2 stitches remain, knit 2 together, cast off. Cut yarn leaving a few inches for sewing on.

The tail should be fan shaped at the moment. Take one of your ends of yarn and stitch through the middle and pull tight, this will give a better "fishtail" shape - then stitch to whichever end you have decided looks most like the bottom!

Stick the googly eyes either side of the other end with superglue, or embroider eyes if you prefer. Craft glue probably won't do the job, it's not easy to persuade knitted yarn to stick!

Stitch the fins on either side and at the top - and then decide where you want to attach your keychain. I tried two positions:  between the eyes, and just behind the top fin. It's up to you.

Hail Chickenfish!

Now I know some of you won't want to wait...so if you would like one of the two I've knitted, I've listed them in my Etsy shop here. I promise to donate £5 from each purchase price to Purrfect Pals.

oh...and before I go, if you're here before February 9th, don't forget to enter my giveaway here!!

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Giveaway Bunny


Isn't he (or is it she?) cute? Around 8 inches (20 cm) tall this bunny is up for adoption. I adapted the pattern from KnitandStitch magazine's teddy as part of my recent reviews (issue 1 and issue 2) and the one-of-a-kind rabbit is now ready to go to a new home cos he's outgrown my egg (not included).

How can you win?

Your first, compulsory entry is to choose a name for the rabbit and leave it in a comment on this blog post together with a way of contacting you. Any form of contact is fine, email, twitter, facebook whatever. Because I moderate all comments due to the daft amount of spam I otherwise receive, it is possible that you choose a name that has already been picked but not published. That won't matter, because I will put all the names (together with your name) in a hat so I'll know who has chosen the winning name.

Want extra entries for a better chance of winning?
You can do each of these once a day if you want!

Extra entry method #1 Share the giveaway on twitter and leave me a new comment with the link to your tweet* and your contact details with the same name you chose in your first entry.

Extra entry method #2 Share the giveaway on facebook and leave me a new comment with the link to your post and your contact details with the same name you chose in your first entry.

Extra entry method #3 go to my Etsy or Folksy shop, choose something you like and share it on twitter or facebook and leave me a new comment with the link to your post* and your contact details with the same name you chose in your first entry.

*to find the link to a tweet or facebook post click on the time/date of your tweet or post. You should see the link pop up in the address bar. If you can't find it, just come back and tell me you've done it.

Ready, set, go! I'll pick the winner next weekend (9th February). As always, this is open internationally. Good luck! Don't forget - I MUST be able to contact you, or you won't be able to win.

P.S. I know some of you have been looking for the bunny pattern. I adapted the teddy pattern from issue 1. All I did differently was switch to lighter yarn when I started the front of the head (don't cut off the dark pink). I increased to 2 stitches less than the pattern, and crocheted 2 rows fewer. I then returned to using the dark pink, crocheted all around the edge up to the top of the head to the first ear position. Crochet a chain (I did 7, you might want more) then DC back to the base, up the other side to the top and back down again, continue across the top of the head to ear 2, make that one the same and then DC back to the other side of the neck and finish. For the tail, I used a fluffy white yarn and picked up stitches in a circle in the appropriate place (it's easier to do this before you stitch front and back together), crocheted into them for a few rounds till it's big enough and then pulled the yarn through to pull the top together (stuff the tail first!)

Friday, 1 February 2013

Knit and Stitch magazine issue 2

If you saw my post about issue 1 you'll already know I've been given the first two issues of Knit and Stitch to review for you. This time both balls of yarn are for the final patchworks, one knitted in stocking stitch, the other in double crochet. Also included are knitting patterns for a lovely waterfall jacket, a scarf, a man's sweater and a baby outfit, and a crewel work drawstring bag.

I particularly like the waterfall jacket, but was disappointed that the sizing was given in the form of S, M, L etc with no explanation...or so I thought. When I investigated further I realised that the explanation for sizing was in a "know-how" page, but that is in issue 1. So it would appear that unless you buy the full series, there might be problems with referring to information in other issues - be warned. (and LOL guess what? I'm large. Humph.)

I checked online price of the recommended yarn for the waterfall jacket and it'd come to around £60, way out of my budget, but not bad really for a fun project and a beautiful handmade garment.

I decided to crochet the patchwork square, partly because I wanted to use the pretty pink crochet hook! (All my needles and hooks are plain) The instructions said to cast on 30 stitches for a 20cm square, but to change to fewer or more if necessary. Sure enough, 30 stitches was too big for me, so I started again with 26 and that worked out fine as you can see. It also shows that I do indeed work quite loosely, so that is why I ran out of yarn yesterday. (Yes, I know I should have done a test piece, but that's like reading a recipe all the way through before starting cooking, or finishing the sanding-down before painting...)

So, what do I think about the magazine? I've enjoyed having the chance to look it over, and I've enjoyed the challenge of crocheting from a pattern. Would I make any of the other patterns? No, very unlikely I'd say. Not because they're not good designs, but because my knitting time is already accounted for with filling my shops. I think it'd be a good series for someone starting out in their crafting life, who isn't sure just yet which craft they wish to pursue, to give a taster of several disciplines and allow the chance to develop your skills in a structured way in your own time. I've not been converted to a crocheter! Although I enjoyed making the bunny, all the time I was thinking that I could have knitted half a dozen in the time it took me - I'm definitely a knitter!

Anyway - here he (or she) is. Come back tomorrow and I'll tell you what to do to be in with a chance of winning him in time for Easter!