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    Saturday
    Aug302014

    Sewlicious by Kate Hexell book review

    Every now & then I go through the library online & order the new sewing/knitting/crochet books that they have in stock. One of those was Sewlicious by Kate Haxell

    I haven't come across the author before, and the front cover didn't get me very excited. It's pretty, but a little self consciously 'distressed' and vintagey. The cover project is a pretty collar, in muted neutrals with decorative shell buttons. Interesting ways to sew the buttons on when you have a close look, but it's all a little safe and not really very me. I was not expecting to be AT ALL excited by the projects in the book. I was unsurprised when I saw the introduction had a patchwork dog coat  picture. Poor dog. And the apron (I actually like and use aprons) was a rather mumsy length and very 70's print fabrics in browns with creams & orange. Fabulous giant rickrack trim, but not something to set my heart fluttering. But then I got to the projects - and all my preconceptions were blown away. I <3 this book! The second project in the book is a doll - but what a doll! The Tattooed lady doll is distinctly burlesque & foxy. Using patterned Toile do Jouy fabric to give a tattooed look is so simple & so clever. I don't even like dolls but still want to make this one!

    The very next project is a Geektastic quilt based on a fibonacci sequence. By this point I'm in heaven. I don't do patchwork or quilting - but the clever mix of simple squares & an appliqued spiral of circles makes my geeky heart happy. By the time I got to the next project, Dead Flowery, I was reaching for my sewing machine. I haven't seen free motion machine embroidery like this before - and it does it for me completely. A flowery fabric with a scribbly skull stitched onto it? Yes please! I drew the pattern onto my fabric by holding the template up against a window, and launched into stitching. It took a bit of trial and error to get the hang of using my sewing machine to scribble, but I really enjoyed it. Instead of making the skull into a picture, I made mine into a project bag where it is currently holding my Alafoss lopayesa sweater-in-progress.

    I've never really quite got excited about decorative stitching. I did enjoy making reverse applique flames for my boys' gym competition leotards a few years ago,  but that was because I knew they would stand out and work really well with the music - Cliffs of Dover by Eric Johnson, they knew it from Guitar Hero 3! But something about the projects in this book clicked with me. I've used ideas from 2 other projects in this book to decorate a plain fabric for the bag making workshop I'm running in November, and I love how it looks. I think it's the mix of solid satin stitch & scribbly freemotion embroidery. Anyway, I'm looking at applied decorations in a totally different way :)

    The 2nd chapter is 'Under Canvas' and again there were projects to appeal. I loved the Do away with damp picnic mat which mixes floral fabrics, tartan, pieces of an old cabled sweater and granny squares. Oilcloth backing provides water resistance, and the mix of fabric & crochet is just brilliant. I've also make the hot water bottle cover. Somehow it never occured to me that the cover doesn't actually need to follow the shape of the actual hot water bottle. Doh! The mix of fleece & faux fur is super snuggly. I used some really good quality dense fake fur, which feels amazing but was a bit of a pig to sew.

    There are more chapters, and more projects but I won't go on. You probably won't be surprised to hear that I bought the book. I thought it would be good for students to look through when I teach my next sewing class, which is a 10 week course at Kingshill House in Dursley staring this September. This course is full, but there will be another one starting in the new year. I like the different aesthetic of this book to lots of other sewing book which are rather more flowery in their preferences. The instructions seem pretty clear - to be honest I didn't pay too much attention other than for the free motion stuff as I put in zips etc pretty often. But if you are looking for a sewing book that appeals to the less flowery - you could do much worse than this one! 

    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

    ETA - The fundraising page on facebook can be found here if you want to keep updated on how things are going

    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