Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Ever Creative

One of the best things about the changes I have made in my life recently is working part time.   I now have time to spend on my crafts and I can spend a whole day sewing or knitting if I so choose.  Admittedly my job doesn’t pay enough to fully support me, but I reckon the trade off of using some of my savings to supplement my income is well worth it. 

I’m still trying to figure out a way to start my wool cafe.  The only way I can study the small business course for free and receive mentoring is if I’m not working. The allowance I can get for doing this is around $A550 a fortnight, which will only just pay the rent.  I would have to use more of my savings just to survive, then take the risk of trying to get finance to open the shop and risk not making any money for at least a couple of years.  Pretty scary! 

I’m in an interesting place…I now have a way to realise my dream but I will have to whittle away what little savings I have.  I could just give up on the dream and get a full time job and a mortgage, but somehow after all I’ve been through in the past few years this doesn’t look like much of an option to me.  I’ve realised that all the time I work to fulfil someone else’s dream I’m ignoring mine…not what I want at all.

I’ve been branching out with my crafting, partly to take a bit of a break from knitting/crochet, but also with a view to incorporating another craft into my business plan.  I realise I can’t go too crazy and get too far away from my basic idea but wool crafts in summer in Australia does take a bit of a back seat.  Our summers are usually long and hot, not conducive to knitting at all.  Granted, I and many others are hardened to our climate and will knit no matter what the barriers, but the new knitters that I am trying to target aren’t interested until Autumn!

I’ve been playing with a semi-decoupage idea of mounting retro adverts onto MDF boards for hanging.  I’ve done a couple but I’m still working on getting them mounted smoothly.  It’s getting there but nowhere near ready for public consumption.  I’m also revisiting cushion making and mounting funky matching fabrics on canvas to sell in sets. Pictures to follow!  I’m also looking at re-purposing old furniture, but I don’t have the necessary skills just yet.  I’m thinking about doing a couple of courses to bring myself up to speed.

So, after reading all of this, I’m sure you can see why I’m so happy to be working part time!

If I don’t get to do any more blogging this year, I wish whoever is reading a safe and happy Christmas and New Year.  Cherish your family, be thankful for the good that may have come about for you and let the mistakes of the past year help guide you to better experiences for 2010 and beyond :-)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Good and not so good

The good bit?  I have a job!  It is in a call centre, part time, and pretty much all I do is read from scripts over and over again.  It isn't rocket science, but after the stress I've was under in my previous job, this is perfect for  me at this time.  I guess a lot of people would look at me and say that I'm a bit of a in a house that is due to be knocked down, little part time job that doesn't quite pay the bills.....single at 48 etc etc....but right now I couldn't be happier :-)

The bad?   This won't mean much to those "ordinary" folk who don't knit or crochet (or do any other art or craft work for that matter) but almost every thing I have tried to make over the last few weeks has been a disaster!  I've made -  a cushion cover for my daughter - this turned out alright in the end but I forgot to make a 3rd buttonhole in the centre of the front flap so it doesn't sit quite right...she loves it anyway so that's a good thing!

In progress - a mohair blend wrap - it's going alright but I managed to drop 2 stitches right at the beginning and didn't notice until I'd done 10cm or so of rib...will have to darn when I'm finished and hope it looks alright.

A felted crochet bag - first of all I couldn't get the squares to look right so had to dump 3 of them and use another square pattern that I use a lot.  Next, I joined the squares but managed to join one to the wrong corner....after 6 or so rounds in different colours I realised the item was twisted, so had to pull it back and re-do.  This bag should only take me a couple of days but so far has been over a week!  Grrrr

I'm wondering if I can only crochet and knit properly when other aspects of my life are in turmoil.....knitting as therapy!  I wrote about this aspect of crafting in an earlier post and have found that I do go through periods where everything I touch turns to knots!  On the other hand, when I'm going through a therapeutic phase, I probably still make mistakes but am more determined to keep going until I fix it.  Now that I'm more relaxed I make a mistake and put it away for a couple of days until I can be bothered to correct it.  I guess that at the moment the need to prove to myself that I am good at what I do isn't as critical as a month or so ago...after all I feel that I have my strength and self-esteem back after a prolonged and intense battering by my former employers....!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

I’m going on a treasure hunt!

When I left Canberra for Perth in June, I had to put  most of my belongings in storage until I knew where I would be living.  Now that I have decided to stay in Perth and am about to move into a rental property, it’s time to gather all of my stuff and have it shipped over. 

I wasn’t able to store anything big, like furniture, so have “lent” my kids things like my bed, fridge, washing machine etc.  I don’t expect to ever get them back but at least I’ve been able to help them out a little.

As I remember, the boxes contain the things that I can’t get rid of.  There are albums of family photos dating back to the early 1900s, linen, books, jewellery making books and supplies and……my big box of knitting stuff!

I think I’m more excited about getting the knitting stuff back than almost anything else!  I bought quite a few Creative Knitting Australia magazines (I wonder what’s happened to that one?  I haven’t seen any new issues for ages), along with some overseas issues.  My main collection is old pattern books that I have found on eBay, Oztion and op-shops in Canberra.  I’ve found that Perth op-shops just don’t have the same range of old patterns as Canberra, which surprised me, seeing as Perth has 3 times as many people living there. 

So, being able to immerse myself in my stash of books and possibly some wool that I couldn’t fit in my suitcase is going to be great fun!  I’m a bit nervous about how much it is going to cost to get the boxes freighted over.  I might have to be ruthless with some things and get rid of some of the crafts that I haven’t touched for years, like my collection of cross stitch mags and a huge box of jewellery mags and supplies.  I loved making jewellery but just don’t think I’ll be getting deeply involved again.  I know that knitting and crochet is my main passion and will continue to be until my hands and eyes give up on me, which hopefully won’t be for a very long time.

I won’t be posting any new pics until I get back to Perth….USB cord is still there!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I’ve been busy!

I've had a bit of a rush of blood to the head in the last few days. In between trying to teach a 17yo boy how to apply for jobs – I’m doing this via msn and hotmail, and trying to sort out something for me job/house wise, I’ve been madly crocheting, partly to build up items for possible sale but also to keep improving my techniques and learning to adapt existing patterns to suit my needs.

I’ve found this to be a great way to start designing, because I have a solid base to work on and make enough changes along the way that there is nothing much left of the original pattern. There are so many generous people on the net who have posted patterns for anyone to use however they like. I’m becoming more aware that, if you look carefully, most “original” designs are based on a standard pattern type. As long as you don’t copy and market a design stitch for stitch, you can make changes to the basic shape etc. For instance, you can make a freeform bag that is based on a bag of similar measurements but by the time you have put your own touches to it, it is your design.
Anyway, while I’ve been waiting to hear if I am the successful applicant to rent a house for 3 months which will get me back into the rental system, I’ve been making some bags, slippers and the odd washcloth.
I have added a couple of these to my Ravelry account.
Market Bags
This is the first one based on a free design that I found on Ravelry. The original pattern is by Jill Chatelain, who’s blog is here Jillsknit....the pattern is here Rust Goes Green Market Bag . I found that, when joining rows as stated in the pattern, a diagonal line developed up the bag – pictured. I made a second one and worked in the round, which made the stitches look much neater. When I changed the stitch pattern for a panel or 2 (my variation) I worked a couple of half trebles (hdc) to make for a smoother gradient....I was happy with the result. I changed the handle on one of the bags as well. I used some of my extensive stash of Anchor Magicline, purchased at various Perth Spotlight branches. They are currently selling bags of 10 balls and a free pattern for $10...bargain!
You can see the diagonal line running across the design. It is only on one side but I wasn’t keen on the look.

This is the version I made in the round. You can’t quite see the adjustments that I made but it is far more subtle than the first.

Daggy Slippers
Check these out! I found the pattern somewhere (will post a link as soon as I find it!). They are officially daggy, but as they only take one 100g ball of acrylic doubled, they are super easy and quick to make. They can be a bit slippy on wood/tiled floors but as long as you are careful you shouldn't break a hip! So far I've made about 6 pairs and have given them to family and friends who happily scoot about the house in them.  I found the link!  Crochet slippers

My "Inga"Bag

This is my current favourite! It is from this pattern Inga's Crochet Bag. I made this one using Magicline and I think I made the squares 1 round bigger than in the pattern, which may be why I used 6 balls instead of 5. I lined the bag with calico. Sewing up is a bit weird, it is a bit of a puzzle but once you get the hang of what is happening it's like magic! I'm now working on a slightly smaller version (4 rounds instead of 5) in the variegated blue.

Well, this is lovely diversion from job-hunting...not! I'd better get back to it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

How to open your own wool shop when you don't have a clue!

As the title suggests, I would love to run my very own wool shop. Not just to satisfy my obsession with the stuff, but to provide a funky, welcoming environment to all knitters and crocheters, both experienced and newbies. I have a vision of a light, bright area where the walls are taken up by rows of colour and texture, with a central work/relaxation area. I would love to offer coffee and snacks as well. I'd offer lessons, knit group venue, charity knitting, guest speakers etc etc.

This is all very nice, but I've never come close to running a business in my life, unless you count some eBay selling off and on over the years. I am doing a small business course to build some skills in that area and am waiting to get accepted on a Government funded program so I can take advantage of the mentoring and support that they offer. Whilst I'd love to spend all my time for the next 12 months getting this dream into reality, there are a couple of life issues to be dealt with first.

Firstly, I'm boarding with my daughter, her fiance and their 3 month old baby. This is fine at the moment but it can't last forever. I left my job in the Public Service earlier this year due to extreme stress and finally accepted a redundancy. This, combined with selling my house in Canberra at a really good price (for the buyer!) means that I have a little cash to play with...or do I?

I've been living off this money since June this year, and I am fast approaching my bottom line. I can't get Centrelink until I've served the waiting period imposed after a redundancy. Combine this with the problem of my 17yo son, who I left back in Canberra to finish Year 12 and is taking up valuable real estate at my eldest daughter's house and I have a dilemma!

I've looked into buying a house here in Perth and even if I was working as a full time wage slave I would only be able to manage a very small mortgage, say, under 200k. I would be looking at a purchase price of no more than 250k which is almost impossible to achieve. If I was to rent I would still be paying around the same as a mortgage payment, so buying would be a better economic well as not having to endure 3 monthly rental inspections!

I've been studying various online real estate sites and found that I could pretty much afford a 3 bedroom house a *little* way out of Perth....4 - 5 hours drive! Err, no thanks. I'm a city girl, or at least a coastal town girl. Living in the middle of nowhere on my own (or with a 17yo metalhead son who needs a job) isn't my idea of a good solution.

The other option I've looked at is park home living. I've seen a few places for sale on the net and am taking a drive to Rockingham/Mandurah later in the week after the dreaded inspection, to check out some parks and see if this is a lifestyle that I could handle. I've heard good and bad about living in van parks and am a bit nervous about the whole prospect. Economically, it would allow me to live cheaply once I've bought a place and work part time while I build up my business. I think that part of Perth could sustain a wool shop too.

What if I can't go down the van park route? I have no idea! I really don't want to put aside my dream. I've spent many years as a single parent working my arse off to try and get ahead but I feel like I haven't made a dent. Sure, I have a smallish lump of cash to call my own, but that won't go far and I can't stay with my daughter forever. I'm not old enough to retire but I'm pretty nervous about going back to being an employee....the stress I was under and some of the things that happened at work are still weighing on my a nutshell, I'm not sure I'm ready to put up with bullying behaviour again, or ever for that matter.

So, I did say earlier that I'd post some pics and patterns here to get myself started in business mode. As you can see it's all words and no piccies just yet! If you are really desperate to see some of the stuff I've been doing, here I am on Ravelry.

Back to the scrubbing!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Designing is HARD!

I've been having a go at making up my own patterns with a view to offering them for sale/free on my blog and eventually in my shop, if I ever get to the point of opening it! I started with some crocheted hats, a knitted scarf, headband and washcloth.

The scarf is one that I have made up myself and is based on alternating panels of stocking stitch and a simple 4 stitch lace panel. So far it's knitting up OK. This and the other patterns that I'm working on are designed for beginners, so they can practice their basic stitches and learn new ones easily. No point trying to learn lacework by starting on a wedding ring shawl! For those who aren't familiar with this type of shawl, here is a link to Lacefreak's blog...this should say it all!

Now, I've never been one of the people who can have a flash of inspiration and create it. I love watching Project Runway and am always amazed at how the designers formulate an idea while they are still being told the challenge, then produce an amazing drawing of the finished design, which they then create from scratch. I've always been more confident letting the "experts" design and I just follow their pattern.

As I get older and maybe more patient, I'm now seeing design ideas for myself. I look at patterns and find ways I can modify it or use the basic shape and fill in the design myself. Of course, I need to respect the original designer's work and not just rip off their pattern. A lot of inspiration comes from just observing people on the street or what people are wearing on television.

The mechanics of designing aren't easy! I'm glad I've started on small items like headbands and washcloths, as they are pretty forgiving and easy to pull out and start again. I started writing out the pattern for my headband, which is loosely based on a basic rib band that increases in width as you knit. My idea is for a standard rib version with options for a cable or lace variation, which both use the same 4 stitch panel as the basic. After knitting one to fit my head, I started writing out the pattern. Once this was done and checked I began to knit from the pattern. I made sure I followed my instructions to the letter and found mistake after mistake...bear in mind this pattern should be able to be finished by beginning knitter in a couple of hours. I'm still working on the instructions after a week of typing and knitting! It's certainly taught me a lesson...just because I've come from a background of writing processes and test scripts doesn't mean I can write a knitting pattern with my eyes closed.

I'm also working on a washcloth with the word "baby" across it. I did my design using a spreadsheet and it looked pretty good. I made sure I changed the cell dimensions to represent a knit stitch and got to knitting. I used Anchor Magicline which is on special at Spotlight at the moment. $10 for a pack of 10 balls and a pattern sheet...awesome value! I'm off to check Joondalup today to see if they have any left. I raided the Innaloo store last week and bought 5 packs, but I've read on the Western Australian Ravelry group that most stores are pretty much sold out.

Anyway, by the time I'd finished the lettering I had a small square shape with an odd assortment of knit and purl stitches....didn't resemble any word I've ever seen, let alone "baby"! So, it's back to the drawing board for me. I've re-drawn it making the letters chunkier and will have another go at a test knit today.

I guess this keeps me off the streets but I'm going to have to get my butt into gear and progress my wool shop project soon....or I'll be forced to swallow my pride and go back to the ranks of wage slave.....NEVER SURRENDER!! hehehe....I love dreams...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Well what can I say? It's been a veryyyy long time between posts! My fault entirely, due to a myriad of reasons, probably the most significant one being a move from Canberra to Perth with 2 boxes and a suitcase...I've gone from being an APS6 in the public service and paying a mortgage on a 3 bedroom house in the suburbs to being unemployed and living in my daughter's 3rd bedroom! I think I may have hinted at the reasons for this earlier and I will expand in a future post (not too distant future, promise!) but for now let's just say that in many ways I have never been happier :)

Since I've been in Perth I've had time to rebuild some of my emotional energy, after a hugely stressful first 6 months of this year. I've discovered things about myself that I like, some things that I don't like, but all in all I've come to see that I am who I am, and although I am capable and willing to make adjustments to fit in socially, no-one is ever going to make me be anyone else than who I am....end of rant!

OK, next post I'll show you some of the stuff I've made since I've been here and let you in on my plans for the coming year.....which includes me opening my very own wool shop!!

Thanks for waiting :-)

Friday, June 5, 2009

Another Quick Catch-up

Just a quick word or two to catch up. I've arrived in Perth (Western Australia) and am settling in with my daughter Lou and her fiance Ben. I'm still going through hell with the events of the past year...I am being continually asked to explain my situation over and over to a variety of case managers and is getting extremely tiring and I keep losing faith in myself. I will keep on though and just hope that the system acknowledges what I have experienced and the effect it has had on me and my family. In short, if you break a leg at work you have x-rays and a cast to prove it. If you break your brain (stress, psychological injury) good luck proving it!

I haven't done very much of late, as I've been busy with the business of moving. The house was meant to be finally settled and sold 3 days ago, but has been held up for whatever reason...just as well I rang the solicitors to find out what the progress was or I would never have known! So, to maintain some semblance of sanity, I've crocheted another camo bag, this time with a front flap and a back pocket. I've made quite a few of these, from BigW Carnival Camo yarn, which is perfect for this type of project. It is generally quite firm and in my opinion has the best colour blend of any local yarns. As I remember, here is what I did -

Disclaimer - I am RUBBISH at writing instructions! I am working on this and will start putting in photos to accompany patterns....I've written many processes and test scripts so you would think that this would be easy!

200g BigW Carnival yarn (this size bag used pretty much all of the 2 balls, so you might like to buy 3 to cater for bigger sized bags)
4.00m hook
2 large buttons or toggles

Make 55 chain.
DC (SC if you are in the US) until the piece is long enough to form a bag shape with the desired flap length. Fasten off.

Make 15 chain. This makes a 7cm wide strap. You can adjust to your desired width.
DC until the piece is the desired length. To measure, fold the bag into shape, then lay the strap along the first side, drape around to the second side and make a visual judgement on length. The strap will stretch once the bag is used and weight is put in it.

To make up the bag -

Fold the bag into the correct shape.
Pin strap along first side, making sure the strap can drape around to the other side. In other words, don't get half way up then realise you have started with the wrong end of the strap!
With right side facing, DC bag and strap together.
When strap is attached, run a line of DC around the front flap of the bag. I used a 4.5mm hook for this to minimise curling of the flap corners. My flap still curled a little, so I then sewed a toggle button to each corner, then made a loop buttonhole on the body of the bag. To do this -

Take 3 strands of yarn, tie a knot at one end, plait about 3cms, tie another knot.
Feed the ends through the bag and sew ends in firmly. If you are lining the bag, you can just tie the ends together and clip off the excess.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

A Quick catch-up

Well there hasn't been much action here has there? That's probably because I've been pre-occupied with sorting my life out and dealing with the various complications that are part and parcel of a major life-changing decision.

Stress and depression are brutal companions and hang around like unwanted friends. No matter how hard you try to be nice to them to keep them in check, they just keep niggling you, teasing you, mistreating you like only a real enemy can, albeit using psychological weapons.

I've been struggling with a situation at work for almost a year now. It's a situation that has crept up on me and that, although I've been aware of, could not put into words until recently, when it was almost too late for my sanity. When I did speak up, I began another struggle that is almost as stressful as the situation itself. As a result, I have taken control of my life and am now calling the shots, or at least trying to! I have sold my house (the sold sign is there for all to see) and I have a flight booked on the 31 May to Perth. My previous plan of visiting my brother and his wife in Tasmania on the way may have to be shelved for now.

In between the cleaning, de-junking and dealing with the work situation, I've still found time to create. I've made several more hats, and have returned to knitting, which even I find hard to ignore in the cooler months. I have a chunky jacket on the go, which I'll put details up for later. I've also made a gorgeous turtle neck jumper for my eldest granddaughter, Zoe. I found the pattern here

I haven't tried it on Zoe yet, but will post another pic once I've done that.

I used Sean Sheep Elmswood in Multi Grey colour. The actual colour has some mauve tones as well, which softens the blackness. Needles were 8mm and tension was pretty much the same as the original, although the height tension was a little different. This would explain why my version is a different ratio of sleeve length to body length to the original.

I think I used 6 balls! If you are using this yarn I would suggest buying an extra ball just in case. I forgot to write down exactly how many I used and I've lost the docket from when I bought the yarn from BigW. It worked out to 3 balls for the body, 2 for the arms and 1 for the neck.

One thing I tried and loved was using 2 circular needles to make the neck in the round. Why? I sewed up both shoulders before realising the pattern called for the neck to be knitted using straight needles. I used 4dpns and my circular for a while to make up the needle numbers, then thought “Sod it!” I'll just try the 2 circular method. One Youtube tutorial later

and there was my neckline! Brilliant! I'm now itching to have another go at socks using the circulars. But that's another blog!

Next time I will show you the sleeveless hoodie I made my 2yo Grandson, Connor, and the crocheted satched that is in progress. I'll also fill in some of the gaps around the stress and depression situation if I have time, although I believe that is a blog in itself.


Sunday, March 8, 2009

A quick note...

I've just re-jigged my blog because I realised that it makes more sense to use a more relevant name in my blog url. As I've said before, although I'm a bit of a net nerd, I'm new to this blogging lark. I have 2 followers on my original blog but can't figure out how to transfer them to this one. I'm not even sure if that can be done...oh well, here's hoping they find me soon! I guess I can put a post up in the old blog to let people know where I am from now.

Anyway, I will post a crochet article in the next couple of days...tales of my latest wool buying.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Hats, hats and more hats

I was going through my big bag of crocheted hats today, picking some out to list on Oztion. Some of the hats may become re-works so I won't be selling them. I really love making small items like hats and bags. I can finish them quickly (average hat takes an hour) which gives me a great sense of achievement and if I or one of my family need a particular colour or style I can make them up that day...very convenient.

I mentioned in an earlier post that crochet is wonderful therapy for me. On reflection, I think my latest hat making frenzy is providing me with some emotional relief, due to a situation I am facing at work. I won't go into details, but I'm currently on stress leave. I actually couldn't pick up my hook at all on Monday, which is almost unheard of for me! I think I'm getting my crochet mojo back though...I've been working on another market bag and whipped up a quick beanie last night...although said beanie was pretty bloody awful! I do hate it when you use the same brand of wool for 2 hats but one turns out a different size from the other! I used Carnival Effects from Big W. The last one I used was quite soft but this one is much firmer, so the hat is bigger, stiffer and just yuk...might have to turn it into some squares for an afghan.

Here are some pics of my recent works – I will be adding patterns soon. I'm still working on getting them technically correct, so anyone who uses them doesn't end up with the world's weirdest shaped hat, which is what happened to me the other week!

Some of my designs are based on hats that I already own and have adapted for local yarns. Some are similar to those that you see on the numerous free pattern sites on the internet. If I have made something using the exact pattern I will be sure to link to the pattern author's site/blog, otherwise I will start putting my patterns up soon. They are all pretty much what you would see on other sites, with the emphasis on using locally available yarns.

Baby beanie...I love babies in beanies! They look so cute! This one will fit birth – 3 months and was made from some baby acrylic that started life as a pram cover. I think it was 8ply and I used a 5mm hook. Again that's a guestimation...I must start documenting patterns as soon as I make them, instead of trying to remember 2 weeks after the fact....oh well...

Lady's cotton/acrylic blend beanie. This is sooo soft, it's gorgeous. A little tricky to work with but bearable for such a small item. The colour changes are hard to see in the picture but the crown is blue tones, turning more to grey as you reach the brim. Had I been making something bigger, you would have seen pink tones creeping in as well. The yarn was Panda Fuchsia, which was at Big W for $2 a ball....1 hat uses ¾ of a ball. Funnily enough this one isn't listed on the Panda site, so I'm not sure if it is discontinued or so new it hasn't been added yet.

Last one for now...Crimson variegated newsboy cap. I have spent a LOT of time getting my head around the circular increase mixed with Front Post Treble stitch thing. Lord knows why, as it's not really that hard. I've pretty much nailed it now which is great, as I'm itching to make some more berets and newsboys using different combinations of stitches. I will knit a couple as well, as I love the ones with cables, but that will take longer and I'm becoming addicted to the fast turnover of crochet. The brim looks unnaturally huge but that is just the way I photographed it. I haven't tried making the stiff brims yet, but have a couple of 2litre milk bottles lined up ready to cut templates from.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Crochet as Therapy

Actually, the title should be as *insert craft name here *therapy, shouldn’t it? The principles apply to any craft or hobby you do that gives you pleasure and takes you away from stress and tension. I know much has been said about this from both a medical and psychological viewpoint, but as is my right as a Blogger, I’m putting my 2 cents worth in!

When my marriage ended in 1998 I moved myself and the children to Perth, Western Australia. I had never lived there before, having spent most of my life in Canberra, some 3000 miles east. When I look back on it, it was a pretty bold move, but at the time that was my only option.

For most of the next year I spent many hours crocheting rugs. It felt like a bit of an obsession, from deciding on the colours, to which squares to use, to which brand of wool. That very much depended on the budget, which was almost non-existent, so acrylic invariably won the day.

Apart from being able to give the kids some warm blankets, it gave me time to clear my mind of much of the negativity that was swirling around my head. I think I was suffering from depression, which I was later diagnosed with, but at the time I just expected to feel empty and worn out. Looking back I can recognise other symptoms, like not wanting to leave the house/answer the phone/engage with people. I am much more aware of the symptoms now and am managing them better.

I had another period of intensive crafting a couple of years later. My father was dying and I couldn’t be with him, as he was still in Canberra. I wasn’t working at that time, due to the ratbaggery of my children’s behaviour. I needed to be on hand to make sure they got to school every day and then came home once in a while! I was more into Cross Stitch at that time, and I made many lovely pictures for anyone who wanted one. I mainly made small items, as it gave me a sense of achievement.

I still have a couple of the crochet rugs I made all those years ago. When I look at them now I can see where I could have done a better job, especially weaving in the ends. I have tried sewing them in and crocheting them in but little endy bits still tend to wiggle out from time to time. I won’t say I’ve cracked how to stop that from happening, but I’ve found that when I sew the ends in firmly, going back and forth several times over a few centimetres, the ends stay put. This is all good for small items, but a big-a***d blanket is a pain! I try to set aside a non-hook night once in a while to do these housekeeping tasks. If anyone reading this has their own method of fixing ends, feel free to add your comments…all are welcome. I have tried crocheting them in, sewing them in, just cutting them off…

I am now back into the crochet obsession space! This time, I am concentrating on hats, bags, scarves and the occasional rug. Again, being able to make a hat in a couple of hours is hugely satisfying. I am also selling some of my hats so I’m trying to keep a bit of a supply handy. I only sell online at the moment, on OZTION, which is an Australian auction site. I’m not keen on selling at markets but I’m happy to make something for friends, family. My daughter wears some of my work and has had some interest from her workmates, so that could be another source of extra cash. The nice part of my current activity is that I am doing it as much for pure enjoyment as much as stress relief and I can identify it as just that...a nice feeling.

When I put all this into perspective, I can see 2 angles to all this mad crocheting. Yes, there is the therapy...when I am feeling lost and not so clever in real life, I immerse myself in the colour matching, pattern browsing and creative process. It allows me to free my mind from the stresses that are always around me and to focus on one thing instead of the flurry of thoughts that are usually present.

It also lets me just admire something that is beautiful and that was my creation. Not a lot beats that.

Here is a pic of my eldest granddaughter Zoe wearing her beret, barray as she calls it! She has been asking me to make one for a while and I finally got around to it yesterday, during her and her sister's weekly sleepover at Grandma's house. When I put it on her she had a bit of a grump. It turns out she wasn't keen on the colour, and would have preferred a green version! So, when she pops round today she can take delivery of her little green barray!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The curse of the wool snob

Opening disclaimer – Whilst I respect the use of the American term “yarn” to describe all kinds of knitting/crochet fibres, I'm afraid my brain naturally gravitates towards the term “wool”. I know this term isn't as all-encompassing as the word yarn, but it makes more sense to me. I have Anglo-Australian heritage, and most of us speak “Wool”. So, bear with me and feel free to adjust your personal mindset, while I revert to form and use the term wool for most of the time (unless I forgot to edit or it just happens to fit).

Ahhh...that's better! Which brings me to today's little ramble...or should that be yarn?! Once upon a time the only fibre you had to knit with was wool. Good ole dependable wool. Warm, smelt nice, great insulator, somewhat waterproof, just don't stick it in a washing machine unless you want your size 14 cardie (Australian women's average dress size) to turn into a dolly coat.

Knitting was for many a necessity. I'm amazed at how women could knit so many garments using extremely fine wool, given that there weren't any time-saving appliances like we have today and time must have been at a premium. Limited choice of colours and plys ensured that knitting was for practical reasons more than glamour and decoration.

After the Second World War, knitting, like all types of fashion, became more glamorous and yarns (see it makes sense here!) were produced in a wider range of colours. This was all fine until the evil 80s, the decade where the hole in the ozone layer opened wider every time a teenager did their hair (figure it out!). The market was flooded with cheap imported machine knitted garments and the craft all but died. To be honest, when I flick through old patterns in my local opshop and stumble across a garish picture knit with huge shoulder pads, I can see why.

Bring on the noughties! The 21st century has given us the widest selection of yarns in history. We can now knit and crochet with angora, bamboo, synthetics that are as soft as silk (and machine-washable to boot) to name just a few. As for patterns, there is one for pretty much anything you can imagine. A quick google search for knitting or crochet patterns will keep you entertained for hours browsing through the hundreds of pages of hits. Go to YouTube and type in knitting, crochet, or even a stitch name, and you can watch video tutorials while you stitch along. I'm happy to admit that I've learned and re-learned so much by watching Youtube. Give it a go if you haven't already.

Now you would think that with the huge variety of fibres available, we would all be greedily building monumental stashes, and dreaming of piling all those balls of wool in the middle of a room and doing a swan dive right in the middle! And yes, there are some of us who try all sorts of fibres and textures just because we can. Then there is....pause....the wool snob! Yes, there live, amongst us, and not afraid to shout it from the rooftop, those dedicated souls who refuse to use anything else but that exclusive Tibetan hand spun, infused with essential oils mountain Yak wool. Marry this with a pair of responsibly farmed bamboo needles and you are in wool snob heaven.

Now, you may think I'm being harsh, and yes, you are right, I am. And with good reason. If we are to bring the humble crafts of knitting and crochet back to the masses, we don't need to scare them off by showing them a 5g ball of this wonderous fluff with a $100 per ball price tag now do we? By all means, when you have managed to knit more stitches than drop, sure, go ahead and impress all your girlfriends with the latest wool bling, but please, don't forget the more humble acrylics, acrylic blends, and of course, the fibre that started it all – good old, honest wool. Not yarn, wool.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

What is so special about hand-crafted items?

Who really cares if a baby hat is handmade or bought from a chain store? What does it matter if someone has spent hours crafting an item when it will be discarded after the child grows out of it or when the item is no longer in fashion?

The reality is that we should all care. The growing global financial crisis is making many people stop and think about what they are spending their money on, and where that money is going.

There has been endless debate about the merits of buying locally vs imported, and the difficulties many people face trying to justify the increased cost of locally produced goods when money is tight. I’m not touching that argument with a barge pole! Instead, I’d like to tell you why I think handmade items will always be better value, both in money and personal terms. And who knows? Directing our focus to handmade items could herald the start of a revolution in how we buy and value our possessions.

Family heirlooms – this doesn't have to be a christening gown or expensive jewellery. It can be a jumper, rug, hat, anything that gave you pleasure as you created it and can be passed down the line. I wrote in an earlier post about a jacket I made for my first daughter. It is now waiting to be worn by her youngest son, making him the 7th person in 20 years to wear it.

Dressing the kids – When my brood were at school I made most of their school uniforms and a fair stack of play clothes as well. I found this a great money saver, as I would buy material when it was on sale, then store it away for making into jumpers and pants. Leftovers made little outfits for my son who was then only a baby, and my twin girls even had outfits for their dollies! My eldest girl didn't usually benefit from the doll's hard to make an outfit to suit a doll whose head has been ripped off! This girl now has 3 children of her own. The 2 girls love dollies and adore pink – revenge is sweet!

Anyway, I digress. My kids and grandkids now line up to receive hats, bags, scarves, jumpers, whatever takes my fancy at the time. I do believe my sewing days are mostly over though, due to lack of space, lack of enthusiasm and lack of time due to the crocheting and knitting! I do use the machine for sewing linings for my bags, but to be honest, I only set the machine up for the first time in...well...nearly 10 years? Wow...

Following fashion on the cheap– I love the way you can re-create many fashion items with yarn. I was watching an episode of Sex and the City where Carrie was wearing a knitted (or crocheted, can't quite remember, but I'm pretty sure it was pink lol) newsboy cap. That was the start of my newsboy obsession. I have done extensive research courtesy of Google and found quite a few patterns that I love. Here are a couple of my favourites -

Mimi's Warm Cap with Brim

South Bay Crochet Beret with Brim

I also browse Etsy most days searching for inspiration.

(I haven't been blogging for long so forgive me if I should have used a different technique for linking to these pages....I'm an IT person during the day so I'm sure I'll figure it out!)

I am currently working on several hats and adapting the patterns for local yarns. I have talked about this a little in an earlier post, but will be going into some more detail and adding a few of my own designs as I develop them.

There are a million other reasons to support handcrafters, too many for me to go into here. I'm not for one minute suggesting that the handmade revolution will take over the corporate world or drive large stores out of business. The best thing for me is when someone admires something that I'm wearing and I can tell them “It's one of my own creations!”

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Market Bag

It wasn't until I piled up all of my recent projects that I realised just how busy I'd been! I've amassed a large number of hats and quite a few bags as well. I will show them here and try to link to any sites where I found the patterns. For now here is the way I made my first market bag.

Market Bag

I made this one up myself, based on various similar patterns. I just started with 90 chain (I think), double crochet (single crochet if you are American) across the chain then back across the chain again using the other half of the loop about 8 times to make the bag base.

I then did a 4 chain 1 treble (DC) miss 3 dc (SC) all round, then continued with 4ch 1tr (DC) in each chain loop until the bag was as long as I wanted.

The next step was to dc (SC) 3 in each loop then 1 in the tr (DC) all round, continuing until I was happy with the finished height. Last step was to find the middle of the bag, pick up and dc (SC) 10 stitches, carry on until strap was as long as I wanted, then run a line of dc(SC) around handle and top of bag. Pretty easy really!

The yarn I used is a ribbony, slightly shiny one. It was from Lincraft and was in one of those cheap multi-packs of 5 balls for $5.00. Because I'm not sure what the composition is, I will be hand-washing only.
If you want to have a go at making one yourself, add a comment and I will supply the pattern in a more accurate way.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

What is the fascination with crochet?

It's relaxing, therapeutic, more fun than housework, a cool way to express myself, I could go on...but I won't!

I learned to crochet when I was about 10 or 11. I already knew how to knit. I've done both ever since, although I think I've knitted more until recently. I took crochet up again after a few years break when I was looking at something to do that was quick and portable. I take the bus to work so a crochet hook is easier to manage than knitting needles, although I use circulars more now which makes bus knitting much easier.

I love the range of crochet patterns available now. It used to be a bit daggy to crochet, reserved for grannies who pumped out baby clothes and doilies. Of course there is nothing wrong with either, but now that crochet is back in fashion, there is no restriction on what you can make.

I have dabbled in designing patterns, mostly by adapting patterns for Australian yarn tensions. The good thing about hats is that the basic pattern doesn't really change, it is like a formula. Now that I've finally nailed the formula (and unpicked many lumpy hats in the learning process!) I can use whatever yarn I have at hand and experiment with different size hooks.

And who are the big winners? My kids and grandchildren! My granddaughters have an ever growing collection of cute hats that they are crash testing. One of my daughters has a couple of hats and bags and I am never short of a new fashion accessory.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Going on a yarn hunt

I mostly shop for yarn by price, so I use acrylic more than anything else. I know there is a bit of a political divide around acrylic yarn, with the purists condemning anyone who stoops to the level of using synthetic, unnatural fibres for their precious creations.

Bunkum I say! I believe there is room for all yarns in your repertoire and it really depends on what you are making. For instance, when I make things for my grandchildren, I mostly use acrylic so their mother can machine wash them. If I am making garments using wool, I make sure she brings them to me for know how clueless these modern kids are!

And the decision to use acrylic over wool often comes down to what is available and what would look best. I made a lovely striped jumper for Zoe, then 3, using Patons Inca which is a particular ply that I couldn't replicate in cheaper yarns. It would have cost me around $60 to knit, which I considered excessive for a small child's garment, so I waited until Cassidy's at Jamison had their 30% off sale (which I haven't seen for quite a while) and made the jumper for around $35 if I remember rightly. That jumper can be passed down to Claire who is now 3.

When their mother Emma was about 2, I made her an aran style jacket using Cleckheaton 12ply pure wool. It has been passed down to her 3 siblings and Zoe has had a crack at wearing it as well! So this is proof that using pure wool has its advantages, as that jumper has seen around 20 years use over 5 children and will be kept as a family heirloom. On the other hand, I also made a jumper for Louise when she was 3 or so, using a Bernat yarn. I still have it, and although it has pilled a bit over the years and hasn't been worn by as many people, I would still pass it on to my granddaughters.

I have already had my whinge about the difficulties of buying cheap 100% cotton in Australia. I did an experiment with some of the All Sorts yarn that I bought from Lincraft, by crocheting a dishcloth. As I suspected, after using the cloth on the washing up last night, it was still quite wet today, which says to me that it isn't all cotton and probably contains acrylic. So, another little source of income is denied me, for now anyway. Did I mention that I am going to start selling hats and bags on Oztion? It's either that or get a second job which I don't want to have to do if I can help it. I have a few things made and crash tested already so I just have to pull my finger out and get listing!

So, what do I use acrylic yarn for and what are my favourite brands? Carnival from Big W is very versatile, especially their fairisle and camo ranges. I do find them quite firm, especially the Camo, which makes it very good for bags, but not so suitable for garments. The fairisle ones can be quite soft but I would suggest you check them before you buy, just in case they are too scratchy for you.

I don't get to Spotlight as often as I would like, but to be honest I don't think their range is much different to Lincraft. I use Lincraft brand yarns quite a bit, especially their Cosy Wool, which is pure wool and not too bad quality wise. I'm also use their acrylic which has a huge range of funky colours, great for baby and kids' clothes.

I haven't used Patons or Panda acrylics much, mainly due to the increased cost per ball. I'm not against paying a lot for a beautiful yarn that I will be wearing for years (the main reason I don't is that my knitting isn't in the expert class and would be a waste of good wool) but I don't see the point in spending twice as much for the same acrylic. I wouldn't mind trying Panda or Carnival soft acrylic though. I do draw the line at Panda Disco! Awful stuff!

These days I crochet hats, bags, scarves and am about to start doing Amugurami, because I think there is a market for funky little desk pals for all us working people. When I get started on my “seachange” what's life all about posts, I'll explore more about why I am trying to earn extra money and what I am planning (albeit theoretically at this stage) for the next phase of my life.

Here are some Australian links to the major yarn brands and free patterns -



Patons Australia


Panda Yarns

Carnival Yarns

So, until next time...keep on hooking!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Converting US yarn weights to Australian.

I've been using American patterns for long enough now to know that Worsted weight yarn (or number 4) is roughly equivalent to 10ply yarn in Australia. Our most popular wool is 8ply, so you can see how some of my creations were odd sizes in the early days!

Here is a resource that I refer to frequently. It is the American Yarn Standards site which has a PDF file that lists the yarn weights, related gauges and knitting and crochet US sizes with conversions to European/Australian sizes. Bookmark the page and download the PDF, as you will use it all the time.

Now when I use 8ply yarn for patterns that specify worsted, I either use a larger hook/needles, or in the case of hats, I will add a row or 2 of increases and maybe a couple of extra straight rows. If I have the hat wearer handy, I will try it on as I go.

One of the problems I have with crocheting and knitting is getting the tension (gauge) right when using patterns from overseas websites. As I am way too lazy to make tension squares, I often find myself unpicking a hat that would fit a basketball, or chucking it in the back of the cupboard, not to be seen again until I do my semi-annual de-junking exercise!

I know you are saying that a tension square done now negates all that wasted effort later....but when you have to crochet, you just have to crochet!

I've been madly crocheting cotton market bags to sell. I've been having trouble sourcing good, cheap cotton yarn locally. I feel this is a huge gap in the Australian market, as most shops only sell crochet cotton, which is more for doilies, or expensive brands that are limited in colour/texture etc. This is one area where I wish I lived in the US...there are so many varieties over there and very cheap compared to here.

I did find a local site American Yarns which sells some of the more popular US cottons like Lion Brand, Bernat, Lily and Caron. Their prices seem pretty good, although they don't appear to carry the full range of colours. They use Australia Post rates which makes it a good idea to buy up, as they can pack into satchels.

If you are looking for high quality, basic Australian yarns, try Bendigo Woolen Mills. Their 4ply cotton is lovely to crochet, very smooth and no knots so far. They charge $12.00 per 200g ball which works out a little cheaper than other local brands.

I've also discovered some cotton (I think) yarn from Lincraft. They get bulk buys of Chinese yarn which they label All Sorts. The label is generic so you are never quite sure what you are getting but at $5 for 5 x 50g balls, you can always find a use for it. So far I've found some variegated 4ply (Sport Weight), some 8ply in fairly ordinary colours that will make good bags/washcloths and some really funky ribbon type yarn in a camouflage pattern that I used to make a cool market bag. (Pic to follow)

I haven't listed any of these things on the auction site that I use, Oztion but am planning to list some hopefully this weekend. In the meantime, if you want to see my other listings of mainly knitting patterns, look here.

Keep an eye out for my next post, where I will be discussing the merits of cheap vs expensive yarn, and sharing my thoughts on some of the most common Australian yarns.

Well, here I am!

Here we go....will this be another one post wonder blog to clog up the internet? Or will my blog go on to attract millions of visitors who leave comments to say how wonderful I am and how my opinions and thoughts are vital to the future of the world....I think we all know which is more likely!

So, let me tell you a little about me and what I am hoping to achieve with this blog. I am a single mother of 4 children and grandma to 3 (rising to 4 in July). I work full time in the Public Service (Australian for Government) as a Business Analyst. I'm not entirely happy with my career these days and am toying with the idea of running away to find a seachange in the next year or so.

My blog will be a central point for my rambings about the seachange, as well as information about my favourite hobbies, which are crochet, knitting and jewellery making. I sell small quantities of all 3 online, and am building up some stock so I can sell more over the next year or so. My aim is to earn extra money to help with some of the costs of doing work around the house to get it ready to sell, and to give me a more rewarding outlet than my job currently provides.

So, without further ado....let's do this!