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    Wednesday
    Aug272014

    The ice bucket challenge, awareness and DIPG

    I was nominated for the ice bucket challenge yesterday. I have mixed feelings about these challenges. On one hand, they raise awareness and clearly do raise money for charity so that's got to be a good thing, right? On the other, lots of people just do it to be part of a group, without bothering to find out anything about the charity, or donating any time or money. 

    The ice bucket challenge is intended to raise money for research into a cure for ALS, which is a type of Motor Neurone Disease. It's a cruel disease, and not a pretty one. I have only known one person that had it, and it's nasty. It attacks your brain, destroying the motor nerve cells that control movement but generally leaving memory & cognition intact. Movement, speech, breathing become difficult - and you remain the same person inside, but less able to express yourself.

    Despite all the concerns about wastage of water (although that's less of a worry in soggy gloucestershire), and the feeling that it might really be more of a viral wet t-shirt contest than real fund raising, I can't help but think that any awareness raising has got to be a good thing, even if not everybody learns why they are chucking ice water over their heads.

    I did the ice bucket challenge despite my mixed feelings, but am not posting the video online. That is partly because my phone didn't record it very well and it came out all wierd. It's also partly down to vanity - I unwisely wore a swimsuit next to my slender lovely friend and I don't come out of it well in comparison. But I will donate to charity. Just not to the MND charity that is so very worthy.

    With a viral campaign like this one, I think it is also worth highlighting small charities where small amounts of money have a big impact. Regular readers know I'm keen to promote awareness of autitstic spectrum disorders as my oldest son is on the spectrum. But the NAS is doing amazing work raising awareness and campaigning for people on the spectrum already. Don't get me wrong - it is important work that relies on donations, but I would like to do my bit, small as it is, to raise awareness of a disease that far fewer people know about.

    When I was a teenager, Dad was based in Ramstein, Germany. All the british kids would get together in the school holidays and hang out in a large group. I've kept loosely in touch with a few of them, helped out by facebook. A few months ago, one of them got horrifying news. Her 6 year old daughter, Daisy, was diagnosed with DIPG (Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma). DIPG is a devastating brain stem cancer that has so far been incurable. It affects children, mainly between the ages of 5-10 years old. The prognosis shares a lot of the devastating problems that MND sufferers face. Unfortunately, children's brain tumours get very little research money allocated to them. 

    Bristol Children's Hospital have a research team dedicated to DIPG. They have come up with a pioneering way to get to the tumour so that they can inject chemotherapy directly into the tumour itself without (hopefully) damaging any vital functions. The implant device is 3D printed in titanium, and Daisy is the first child to try this experimental treatment. The funds raised so far in Daisy's name have paid for an extra 2 part time researchers. Small donations are essential to charities like this, and can make a huge impact. I don't know if Daisy can be cured, but hopefully her family will have her for longer than they would without treatment. 

    I've already made a donation, but I'm going to make another small donation to the fund for my ice bucket challenge. You can donate at Just Giving or by texting BROO65 followed by the amount to 70070. 

    If you can spare a little bit of money, it will make a difference right now. I did a text donation for £3 this time. I really believe that a little is better than none! If you don't want to donate, that's fine - thanks for reading all the way to the end. And I would love to hear if there are any charities or causes that you want more people to know about - let me know in the comments. I'd love to learn more about them xx

    Tuesday
    Aug262014

    All the plans - and no action!

    I've thought of loads of things to share with you over the summer. Sadly, it turns out that thinking things isn't the same as doing them!

    I've been sewing a lot in anticipation of teaching classes from September. I want to tell you about some of that. I've cast on my Alafoss jumper (finally) and am really enjoying knitting it. I made the sleeves first (I hate knitting sleeves!) so now I'm just going round and round for the body of the jumper, which is very happymaking :)

    We've been glamping in Wales. We slept in a tipi which was fabulous & I want to tell you all about it. We spent lots of time with my nieces who are adorable. My twins became teenagers, and recreated some baby photos. We've been able to be more social with friends this summer than we've been able to before. It's been the best summer holidays yet. When the kids were younger I would DREAD the summer holidays. The lack of routine would send M into a frenzy of bad behaviour, the twins would find creative ways to create mayhem, I felt isolated and pretty desperate some years. So I'm thrilled with this upward trend - even if it means that I have neglected you, lovely readers.

    I'll post about all these things soon. I've got another post in mind after being nominated for the Ice bucket challenge - but I need to check if it's ok to give you some of the details I want to as it's not about me or my family.

    I think maybe I need to try to post on regular days. September still feels like a fresh start each year, so maybe I'll make that a new term resolution! See you soon xx

    Tuesday
    Aug052014

    Bobby socks - from design submission to publication

    I thought you might be interested in how a pattern goes from an idea to being in a magazine. I'll use my latest pattern, Bobby socks, in Crochet Gifts 4 as an example.

    Photo ©Practical Publishing. Cute, no?

    It started off as an idea sent to Knit Now for a crochet supplement. As I have worked for them a lot, it's a very informal submission. Even so, it still includes a sketch and a swatch along with suggestions about how it would be worn, the type of yarn to use & general construction ideas. I am ridiculously pleased with the sketches, even though people who can actually draw might think they're pathetic. But they are ecognisable as what they are supposed to be! For sketching challenged people like me, that's a triumph :)

    As it turned out, the socks weren't selected for the Knit Now supplement, but Crochet Gifts is also published by Practical Publishing, and Hugh got in touch to to say he would like them for issue 4. That was fine by me! 

    As we both liked the idea of a cotton blend sock yarn, and the colour was fine, I used the Rico Superba stretch that I had swatched in. The sock went pretty much as planned, starting from the toe up, using linked trebles for the body of the sock (no more difficult than standard trebles, but a more continuous fabric). The sock is worked in a continuous spiral and has an afterthought heel. The stitches only really vary in the round after the heel space, so that I could add height at the sides of the foot to keep the top of the sock level. The only difference from the submission is that I didn't add a ribbed cuff - the lacey edging is worked over the linked double crochet. I did change the initial idea of a short row heel to an afterthought heel. The reason for that is that you can easily change the depth of an afterthought heel, which is especially important for people like me who have a very high instep/heel. I like trainer socks, but always find that they get pulled down under my heel when I wear them. Being able to make the heel as deep as I need means that these socks have stayed firmly in place when I have worn them after getting the samples back. The yarn stretched more than I expected in wear, so if you are making these it's worth making them shorter than you think is right! 

    I love that the magazine photographed the socks with wedge sandals. So many people (knitters especially!) assume that crochet socks are bulky and uncomfortable. But they really are very wearable, so I'm glad that they showed them worn in cute shoes :) 

    And since I have the samples back, and a reluctant 12 yr old photographer - here's how I'm likely to wear them most of the time. And they are really comfy!

     The next stage in this pattern's life will be self publishing in about 6 months time. I will probably add more sizes to the pattern & another 1 or 2 edging options, keeping the basic sock the same. I like the idea of using a contrast yarn for the edging so will try that out if I get the time too. I think these would be cute little girl socks, so I'll definitely add child sizes to the pattern. I'll need to re-photograph the samples and change the layout of the pattern to fit my pattern template. Self publishing adds quite a lot of work (I hate layouts!) so I don't do it for all my patterns. I think this is one that would be worth the extra work though.

    Let me know if you've made crochet socks before & if you have any favourite patterns :)

    Sunday
    Aug032014

    The Creative Blog Hop

    Last week, Sarah from Crafts from the Cwtch tagged me in the Creative Blog Hop. This is the first time I've done a blog hop, and I'd like to welcome any new readers. It's an interesting idea & I've enjoyed reading other blogs involved. The questions I've been asked are:

    1. What am I working on?
    2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
    3. Why do I write/create what I do?
    4. How does my writing/creating process work?

    I've dithered about how to answer these. I have a post planned about the life cycle of a pattern from submission to magazine publication which kind of covers these, but not quite. So I decided to do that post separately & just answer the questions!

    What am I working on?

    For those of you who don't know anything about me, I knit, crochet, spin & sew. I dabble in other crafts too, but these are the main ones. You can find me on Ravelry as Curvyjax and my designer page is here. I have had knitting & crochet patterns published in various UK magazines for the past 2-3 years. I also teach workshops in knitting, crochet & sewing - in fact that's been the biggest part of my job over the last couple of months.

    I have 3 teen boys (the twins turned 13 yesterday). I'm acutely aware that there are only so many summers left that they will want to spend any time with us, so we've planned a family focussed summer & I'm really looking forward to it! I have workshop planning to do, but that's about it for the summer. I have a 10-week sewing workshop due to start in September at Kingshill House, Dursley, as well as a bag-making workshop to plan. I'm looking forward to both, but feel I should do lots of dressmaking this summer so I'm in the zone for the weekly workshops!

    How does my work differ from others of its genre?

    Wow, that's a tricky one! I'm not sure that it is THAT different. Different people often come up with a remarkably similar design at the same time. Where the differences might come in (apart from photography & yarn choice) are in the writing style & pattern details. Writing easily understood patterns is a craft in itself, and there is a steep learning curve involved.

    Teaching has a lot to do with personality, and how you bring a group together for the duration of the class. When I teach, I always put a LOT of work into the teaching materials & where appropriate I will design a pattern specifically for the class. Designing a pattern that is achieveable but will teach the elements I want to focus on often takes trial & error, so I always make the sample before writing up materials. That way I know which parts benefit from photos, and what tips to give. It's also interesting from a design perspective - to blend the teaching points for a class with a design I will like enough to make again!

    Why do I write/create what I do?

    I've always had a compulsion to create. It has taken many different forms over the years, and I've always had some sort of crafty outlet. At school, I was rubbish at Art - can't draw at all - and dropped it as soon as I could. I was put firmly into the academic category - I was even told I was 'too academic' to do drama at GCSE! In a way, focussing on science at school was good as it meant that my crafty stuff was for me, no deadlines or demands & I could drop it if I was bored! Taking up knitting again about 9 years ago started this path that has lead to me carving out a little designer/teacher niche for myself in the crafty world. In this world, I'm one of the cool kids!! :)

    How does my writing/creating process work?

    Again, this varies depending on the work. When submitting to a magazine, it's a good idea to read the brief & consider how well your idea fits. I tend to make most of my samples myself. So often I'll change things as I go, decide that this decrease works better, or a different technique is more appropriate. I tend to work out a rough draft of a pattern, and amend as I work. The most painful part of the design process is sketching, but I'll often take photos of textures/details of buildings, plants, colours - things that appeal. They tend to swirl together in a kind of mental soup & add different elements into a design. Often, inspiration is distractingly prolific and there are so many ideas that editing them down is the biggest challenge! Other times there's a creativity block & I really need to look through the photos/notes/ attempts at sketches that I've collected. I like Evernote for saving random ideas that might come in handy later, and I tend to use it for writing rough drafts of patterns too. Pattern & workshop writing is done in a considered way & I'll come back to it and edit/re-arrange for clarity. Blog posts are almost the opposite - they tend to be a bit more loose & chatty. I rarely edit my blogs, other than a quick spelling check.

    I love being involved in this creative world. We are becoming so removed from the process of making in so many ways - from buying pre-packaged food to cheap mass produced clothes & homewares. The internet is a wonderful thing, but it makes us less patient, more demanding. Making things by hand connects us with our individuality, forces us to wait and to appreciate.  

    As part of the blog hop, I get to tag a couple of bloggers to take part. I've chosen two favourites, Rachel at PorposeKnits and Jen at Tea & Knitting.

    Rachel is a scientist, designer,spinner, knitter & dyer (I love her dyed fibres) and her blog is intelligent & accessible. She's an American living in London & is a regular contributor to Knit Now too :)

    Jen has just graduated from Uni, and is slightly obsessed with knitting socks. Her blog is very like her - enthusiastic, friendly & very keen on Harry Potter! She's looking for a job now she's no longer a student, and I only wish I could employ her! I hope you enjoy their blogs if you haven't come across them before. Look out for their blog posts next week, and I'm sure they'd love you to say hi xx

    Monday
    Jul282014

    Spinning - Tour de fleece 2014

    I love the look on people's faces when they find out I spin actual wool on an actual spinning wheel. Reactions tend to vary from 'OMG really? I didn't know people still did that. Is it hard?' to 'Isn't that for witches?'

    Luckily, I find most of the incredulous reactions pretty funny. It's really not that long ago that almost every house would have had spindles or a wheel in it. We have become so distanced from traditional production methods - much like most of us buy anonymous chunks of meat from the supermarket rather than rearing the animals ourselves or having to pluck chickens we have bought.

    Spinning has become possibly my favourite craft. It's a sensory feast - the tactile feedback from the fibre, feeling the twist run, turning loose fibres into a strong yarn. Watching the colours blend or stripe and how they sit next to each other on the bobbins. The rythmic movement of feet and hands and the gentle sound of the wheel spinning around. It's almost hypnotic, defintely the closest I get to meditation. Happily my Bliss is so quiet she lives in the living room, like a functional sculpture. My old Dryad wheel I bought on eBay was much too noisy to use & watch TV!

    Every year, as the Tour de France unfolds there is a parallel event for spinners. The Tour de fleece encourages you to spin every day throughout 'le tour' (rest days excepted). I haven't ever watched the TdF before last year & spinning while watching the daily round up got me quite hooked! I didn't manage quite as much spinning as I did last year - I had new workshops to prepare which takes me ages - but you can see I did quite a bit.

    I knew I wanted to challenge myself to spin singles yarn. Normally when you spin you put in more twist than you need as you spin the fibre in the opposite direction when you ply 2 or more strands together. For a yarn that you are not going to ply, you need to put enough twist to hold the fibres together (the twist acts as a kind of glue) but nott enough to make an unbalanced, twisty yarn that will bias when you knit it. It's quite the balancing act! I was really pleased with the singles I spun - they are the first ones i've been happy with. The fibre was from Porpoise Fur - I love Rachel's colours & she's lovely to buy from. The colourway is Roses, and the fibre is Falkland.

    As you can see there are a few skinny bits that got away from me, but they can be skipped over in knitting. I have over 800m from just over 200g - and the yarn should gently stripe. 

    The other 2 fibres I spun ended up being chain plyed as it gave the colour treatment I wanted. The first is another Porpoise Fur fibre in the 'Death to MRSA' colourway in Cheviot (bottom in the picture below). The colour is mostly blue/black with a little purple & a couple of intense spots of lime green. I wanted to keep the green as pure as I could rather than muddying it with the darker colours, so that led to chain plying. I split the fibre lengthwise into 8 approx equal widths so that I would get regular smaller hits of lime green. To chain ply you only need to spin one length of yarn which you then ply back on itself in what is basically a crochet chain, making a 3 ply yarn. I think it's one of the easiest ways to ply - although lots of people would disagree. This will make a great pair of socks.

     The last spinning I did for the Tdf was the Dark Rainbow from Hilltop Cloud that I bought at Unravel. I tried a couple of things with this fibre, but it tended to fall apart in a 2 ply unless I added a huge amount of twist - and it really calls out for chain plying anyway so that's what I did. I plan to use this in a fairisle hat - the stripes are quite long so they should give a great effect in a hat. It's really  squishy and has a tweedy effect within the colours that was really enhanced by chain plying.

    The other mini skeins in the pictures are some experiments with some gorgeous alpaca fleece I was given. These are spun direct from fleece without any sorting or pre-treatment. I'm also going to try making rolags on my blending board before I make a decision on how to spin it, but the chunkier 2 ply (the natural black) is unbelievably soft. 

    So in all I spun nearly 1200m over the duration of the race. I'm pretty impressed with that actually! Definitely very happymaking :)