15 in 15

Magnolia bud against blue skyOne of my favourite pictures of the year.

It’s fairly traditional at this time of year, I think, to start thinking about the next 12 months and decide what you want to do with them. New Year’s Resolutions are notoriously difficult to keep, mostly because everyone sets unachievable targets. I do want to have a better year – 2014 has been hard in all kinds of ways – but I don’t want to set myself up for failure. I’m looking for good habits that take time to establish, not turning everything upside down in an instant.

After some thought, I cam up with the list below. Some are ambitious, some less so. Although they range widely, they’re all really for one thing, which is to build on each other and give me a good year. Most are things I’d like to do anyway, and really, writing down a list of them is just a way to remind myself I’m getting somewhere. Everyone likes crossing things off a list! Others are things I’ve been thinking about for a while, and am starting to feel ready to tackle. Initially, the idea had been to just come up with 15 things to do in 2015, which would be the more traditional form of the challenge. But it didn’t feel like much of a stretch, and it didn’t really take into account that some things are easier to achieve than others. Crochet projects? Not a problem. Go running? That one’s a little harder. To compensate, I decided to make the numbers of the list the number of those things I wanted to do. Hang on, does that make sense? Hopefully it’s clear when you look at the list!

My idea is to update my blog on progress twice a month – once in the middle, and once at the end, and I’ll kick things off on 5th January, once we’re all recovered from the holiday and back to work. If you fancy joining me, I’ll set up a link party for it each time – just add Made in Oxford to your blog-reader (I use Feedly, but I’m listed on BlogLovin as well) and join in when I put up the post.

Close up of a grey crochet shawl

My favourite project of the year, my Dahlia Shawl

The Big Giant List*

*PennyLibrarian was the only person to get this reference. I think I owe you a skein of yarn, Penny, just for making me smile!

15 Crochet projects
I’d originally said ‘new’ crochet projects, but have decided Works in Progress will also count towards this.

14 New recipes tried twice
I’m really good at finding new things to cook, and I’m really good at cooking old standards over and over. Once we’ve tried things twice, it generally ends up in our repertoire, which I’d like to expand this year.

13 Weeks at Slimming World
Hopefully after 13 weeks, I’ll be in the habit, but creating that habit is the hardest part. 13 weeks is one quarter of the year, which should be enough to set me back on track.

12 Books finished
I’ve barely done any reading in 2014, which I really miss. Books include audiobooks, library books, fiction and non-fiction, but I want to read from what I’ve already got and from the library, rather than buying new.

11 Patterns used from my current stash
Just like yarn, I have a huge pattern collection, and yet am continually drawn to buy more, which is a waste of what I already have. Books, magazines, single patterns in all crafts, everything counts towards this.

10 Letters and birthday cards sent
My memory is terrible, and I often miss people’s birthdays or hold back on sending notelets. Which is sad, because I love to get post and would like to be better at this in 2015

9 Friends emailed
Like most people, I have friends scattered around the world who I tend to assume I’m in touch with because I see their posts on Facebook. it’s not the same, and I’d like to pick up some of those threads again.

8 Patterns written
I’ve got ideas in my head and sketches in my notebook that I’ve lacked the confidence to turn into something ‘real’. I’d like to get some of those out there.

7 Knitting projects
That’s just over one every two months, which seems about right for the rate I knit! I’m going to pace myself, finishing off simple projects first, then building up my skillset. I’m fairly happy reading lace patterns, so cables are next, then knitting in the round and by the end of the year, I’d like to make myself something from Yokes.

6 Quilts finished
I have at least three that are cut out and enough fabric to make all of these. And more! But one every two months seems about right.

5 Kilometres run
This is probably the hardest goal on the list. I sometimes struggle to run for the bus, and having seen friends succeed lately, I’m encouraged to give Couch to 5k a go.

4 Tops made
I’ve yet to find a top pattern that really works for me, so the first task is to track one down!

3 Dresses and/or skirts made
I’m really good at cutting out the pieces and really bad at putting them together. This year, I’d like my clothes to be all in one piece!

2 Thumbs healed
For as long as I can remember, I’ve picked at my thumbs. While I’ve improved massively in the last year, I’d like 2015 to be the year I can make a crochet tutorial without having to put plasters on them.

1 Pair of trousers made
This is one for the last quarter of the year definitely. It’s more about stretching myself a little and getting over my fear of dressmaking. Having this on this list I’m hoping will help me with the other dressmaking goals, as I’ll need the experience to get there!

0 Stash acquired
This isn’t a shopping ban. If I need a particular weight yarn for a gift, a top up to finish a project, or some backing fabric, that’s fine. But I want to stop buying ‘for the sake of it’ or ‘for the stash’. I need some focus back, which is what this list is all about!

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Yarn Along: Back on Track

So Christmas is a week tomorrow, and after a difficult long weekend last week, and a stressful evening on Monday, I’m feeling like I’m finally back on track. Of course, I can’t tell you how I’m back on track, as that would more or less defeat the point of making surprise presents. But on Monday I managed to get through a heap of things on my list, and bake a rather fab looking cake.

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In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that while it looked awesome, it only gets 7/10 for eating. The tin I cooked it in was a little too small, the cake a little too deep and the bottom a little too gooey still. But apparently it tasted good anyway, and next time I’ll know that I can’t get away with too small a tin! The recipe is from Nigella Lawson’s How to be a Domestic Goddess, which is pretty much the only baking book I use. It’s an Italian Christmas cake recipe, Certosino, and although it’s not on her website, I found a copy here on a cooking blog.

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Having conquered that, I also finally mastered using the Overdrive app on my ipad, and downloaded some audiobooks from my local library. It’s not ideal – I’d rather have them on my much more portable iPod – but it’s still nice to get ‘reading’ again. I’m a few chapters into 1434, and think I’m going to have to go back and find the previous book, 1421 to make full sense of it, but I’m enjoying it anyway.

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The stitching I can show you are things I finished a few weeks ago, and have been wearing too much to remember to blog about! They’re lovely, warm mitts and while they’re a little big, it does mean I can curl my fingers up into them when necessary, and still get my bus pass out quickly without having to take them off. The pattern is Fidra from Inside Crochet. I modified it a little, as the thought of a slip-stitched cuff made my heart sink – it takes so long! Instead, I used half-trebles in the back loop only to make a cuff the right size, then just spaced the first row of double crochet evenly around the edge. The cuffs are a little loose, but I like the look and it meant they got done in a sensible amount of time! Once you get going on the main stitch pattern, it’s easy to settle into a rhythm, and they really are wonderful mitts to make. I find that crochet doesn’t tend to have the variety in mitts and hats that you find in knitting, so I’ve loved having something different to make, and the fact that they’re lovely to wear is an added bonus.

The yarn is handspun by Kirsty at Wharfdale Woolworks, and is a mixture of merino and silk with a little touch of sparkle. It’s almost ridiculously soft and warm, and I love stitching with handspun so much. Spinning isn’t something I intend to take up, and there aren’t many places you can buy handspun as, not unreasonably, people tend to keep what they make for themselves. I’ve now made a hat and these mitts from handspun, and while I still don’t think I’ll be taking it up any time soon, I certainly understand the attraction.

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Apart from adding things to the Christmas pile, I’ve also been having a bit more of a clearout, adding books to the yarn and fabric that I’ve already put aside. I’ve created a new page for them here, and as books are expensive to post, everything is a bargain price! There’s knitting, crochet, quilting, dressmaking, bag making and general crafting in there, so definitely something for everyone. If you’re in the UK, there’s still time to post in time for Christmas if you see something you like!

To see if everyone else is having just as busy a week, head over to Ginny’s by clicking the button below. This will probably be my last blog before the holiday, but I’ll be on Instagram and Twitter, I’m sure. Hope everyone has some restful time off and see you in the new year!

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Yarn Along: Are we nearly there yet?

I have reached that sort of strange calm plateau you get when you’re very, very busy and have no idea where to start. Pratchett talks about passing through the rapids of panic and reaching the calm stretch of utter terror beyond, and I know exactly what he means. I’m still working my way through ‘And I shall wear midnight’, so the quote’s been on my mind this week. He’s got a pretty good handle on human nature, and Tiffany remains a favourite character.

Despite my best efforts in October and November, we are 15 days off Christmas and I have sorted exactly two presents. But it will all be fine, I have four days off in which to put everything together. I’m sure this is a do-able thing. *gulp*

Incidentally, if you’re looking for something to buy, my Etsy shop and my Ravelry Trade page are still running and well-stocked. Hint, hint ;)

Christmas stitching obviously can’t be talked about, but I’ve also been working on my Christmas present to myself, my Christmas Stars cardigan.

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The yarn (Cascade Venezia) is just wonderful to work with, and the fabric is thick, soft and drapey. I’m up to the waist shaping, and if I keep going at this rate, I think I’ll have it done for wearing on Christmas day. I hope! I can do exactly one row on my bus journey to work, and two or three on my way home (heavier traffic). Although I’ll confess, I’ve been a little distracted while at home, working on my Big Giant Quilt*.

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(apologies for the blurriness – my phone doesn’t cope well with being held above my head in artificial light!)

I have to honest, it was not this big in my head. Next time, I will draw the size I want, then make the design to fit, not the other way around! It’s about 80×108 inches, and our living room floor was nowhere near big enough for me to spread it out to baste it. I tried doing it section by section, but the backing creased horrendously. So my lovely husband had the idea of doing some slight furniture rearrangement to fit it in.

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Believe it or not, even then I couldn’t quite lay it flat in the bottom right hand corner. It’s a beast! I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m very proud of it, but Oh. Good. Grief.

To see if other people have had more sensible weeks, head over to Ginny’s by clicking the picture below.

*Am I the only one who gets this reference? I’m tempted to offer a small prize ball of yarn to the first person who does, on the basis that then I will not just be smiling to myself and looking slightly mad.

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FO: Dobbin the Dubious Horse

I should probably start this post by saying that any deficiencies in my FO this week are my own work, not the fault of the designer. My evidence is in this gorgeous unicorn, which looks great. Mine? Well, let’s see.

The whole thing started with Inside Crochet 58, a couple of months back, which was full of lovely patterns. Regular readers will know that the whole colourwork mittens thing didn’t go so well, mostly down to my choice of hook size. They will be awesome when they’re done, but at the moment, they’re still balls of yarn waiting to become mittens. Never mind, I thought, I’ll have a go at the horse. It’s basically an amigurumi, I’ve made lots of those, how hard can it be?

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This is the midway stage, with the body done, but without a face or legs. All toys look daft at that stage! I’d chosen a fuzzy grey acrylic from my stash which has been lurking there for years, and a 3.75mm hook, which is awfully small for a heavy DK yarn. But one of the things that drives me nuts with crocheted toys is being able to see the stuffing inside them, and I thought if I used the smallest hook possible, I’d have a dense, solid fabric. Apparently there’s a theme running through my project decisions at the moment…

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Problem 2 is also my fault, but it’s a problem I have with many toy patterns, or hat patterns for that matter. They don’t always tell you whether you’re crocheting from the inside or the outside. Particularly when crocheting in the round, the two sides have quite different looks, as I’m demonstrating at the head/body join here. From memory, the neck was crocheted with the outside facing me, while the body was done with the inside facing me, and the two fabrics look a little odd next to each other. Is there a rule about this that I’ve missed somehow? Are you always supposed to be inside or outside?

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Then there’s the legs. The horses are supposed to have short legs for the size of the body, it’s part of their distinctive look, but for some reason, I can’t get mine to stay upright. It’s not a stuffing problem – I shoved loads and loads in there, took it out again, and pushed it in again. Nothing helped. The legs are squiffy. The designer specifies two different leg types, but on reading the pattern through, I realised that was just to make sure the decreases ended up on the inside and therefore invisible, so I didn’t worry too much. Maybe if I’d paid more attention, my horse wouldn’t look like he’s already been on the mulled wine.

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I have to be honest and say that until I put the ears on, I was fairly convinced that I’d actually made a four-legged duck. The nose came out very flat and sharp at the end, so it looked more like a beak than a nose. The ears help, but even so, there’s still something more avian than equestrian about that face.

After all of that, I haven’t yet quite had the heart to add any embellishments to the back of my horse. I don’t think the pattern-specified embroidery will work for him, but after some horrible-looking free-form attempts last night, I’m not entirely sure what will. I’m open to suggestions!

My original thought had been to put my horse at the centre of a candle-lit display as part of my Christmas decorating. Now? I’m seriously considering cutting the legs off and having another go, adding a few rows in the middle and sticking to the pattern a little more closely for where I put the decreases. On the other hand, it might be thought that putting a flammable toy in the middle of a candle display might not be my best idea ever.

For the moment, Dobbin will stay on the radiator, gently lit by well-protected candles and looking more than a little sorry for himself.

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Yarn Along: productive or distracted?

I’m having the sort of day (week, month) that sort of makes me want to run away and become a yak-herder, so I’m clinging on hard here at the moment. I’ve noticed in the past that my crafting output tends to increase when I’m struggling, probably as a distraction activity. On the downside, that doesn’t actually work. On the upside, I have a lot to show for my time!

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I spent the weekend decorating the living room for Christmas, something I’d normally leave strictly until December, but as it was the first weekend in Advent, and as we’ll be away for most of the Christmas season, I decided to start early this year. There are still a few bits and pieces to finish, but I’m mostly done.

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These are probably the things I’m most proud of. Our sofa cushions are brown and stripey, which matches the room most of the year, but as my decorating scheme was silver, gold and grey, I decided the only thing to do was make new covers. They started out plain, but at some point I decided they needed decorating, and as the dark fabric was too dark to show anything up well, the two-tone design was born. My original intention had been to embroider everything with metallic embroidery thread but good grief that stuff is difficult to use. The metallic coating comes off the black underthread as soon as you look at it funny, and it tends to get stuck in the fabric. If you do use it, I strongly recommend a large needle-size to create a big enough hole for it to run through. As it happens, I’m quite pleased with my 4-colour design, even if some of the circles are more like polygons! Embroidery is not my best craft, but I’ve decided not to worry, no one’s going to look that closely. And if they do, at least the zips are inserted properly.

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I’m ridiculously proud of these, I really am. Normally I use invisible zips, as I have a special foot to help me insert those, and I find them quite easy. Putting on a normal zip without instructions? I’m awarding myself a gold star. Or possibly a silver snowflake! More on the decorating next week once I’ve got the final parts in place.

There’s been plenty of yarn action going as well. Apart from the little start that I talked about last week, I’ve added a few rows to my Christmas cardigan:

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This yarn could be addictive, I think. It’s soft and not too splitty and is making a wonderful fabric. Something’s gone a bit wrong with my maths on the last row, and the final star has ended up in the wrong place, so I need to make a decision either to live with it, or do some serious maths to work out what happened. Guess which is my preference right now…

That’s gone on the back burner for the last few days, though, as I’ve been adding to this cardigan for my mum:

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It’s the Ridge Swing Cardigan in a Rowan Wool Cotton, and has been crazy-easy so far. Although I wouldn’t have agreed to make it at all if it hadn’t been by one of my favourite crochet designers, Robyn Chachula, as I knew I could rely on the pattern to be well-written and easy to make. I’ve used up 3 balls of yarn so far, and am stopping until I can hold what I’ve got up to its recipient and check it at least vaguely fits. Crochet is definitely the quick way to make a cardigan, but it’s not so fast that I want to risk going much further without a quick measure!

After that flurry of activity, I still have things planned for the weekend, and just have to hope I don’t burn out my sewing machine motor in the process :) To see what other people have been working on this week, head over to Ginny’s by clicking the picture below.

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FO: Minimalist Christmas wreath

I’ve been tweeting a lot this week about VATMOSS, for which I’m afraid I make no apologies, because it’s about to have a massive impact on the online crafting community. If you have no idea what it is, there’s a quick summary with links at the bottom of this post. If you sell any digital products to the EU, you’re affected. It’s worth a read, even if you don’t think it applies to you, just to see how wrong good intentions can go!


Right, on to happier things! I’ve finished quite a few things recently that I haven’t blogged, but this is the only one I’ve managed to get pictures of. It started with this:

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As I’ve said before, I’m going a bit all out on the decorating this year, and as part of that, I wanted to make a wreath. For years, I’ve looked at Lucy’s amazing creations and wished I had the time to make one. Last year, I even bought the polystyrene ring but never got around to making anything. So this year, once I’d picked a colour scheme, I asked Emma at Lemonade Yarns to help me out with yarn choices. Pity the poor shop owners I buy from – I’m always emailing Alice at Backstitch for colour advice – with the only comfort being at least I spend money! Anyway, Emma and I settled on the Stylecraft Special DK in 3 shades of grey and away I went.

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Yes, I know I used that picture on Wednesday. Shhhhhhh, I don’t think anyone else has noticed.

Things went fairly smoothly, although on getting to the end, I discovered that my strip was slightly narrower than at the beginning. I’d lost a few stitches along the way, which I decided not to worry about, as I’d more or less finished and was sure it would be fine. Which it is, but learn from my mistake, people! You want your strip to stretch, but not too tight. I got away with it because of my colourscheme, but for something colourful, I’d make sure the stitches weren’t quite so much under strain.

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My other piece of advice would be PATIENCE. It’s not something I’m normally blessed with in the field of crafting, but I really took my time sewing the strip on, then sewing in all the ends, and I’m so glad I did. Like Lucy, I used the tails from the stripes for sewing the two sides together, and while it was hard work, it kept everything lined up.

When it came to decorating, I spent a happy couple of hours last night with some sparkly grey yarn from the pound shop, making up more of Lucy’s decorations, mostly Little stars and Little flowers. They’re so quick to make that they’re like sweets – you can’t just make one, you have to keep going! They curled in on themselves, so I did my first ever steam blocking of acrylic and WOW. Honestly. WOW. The difference was just incredible, and I can’t recommend it enough. I even steam blocked the May roses, which ended up being the only things I put on the wreath. Despite all the work, somehow, the colour leant itself to something more understated. I used pearl-headed pins to hold them in place, and some more of the sparkly yarn, knotted and pinned to the back for hanging it.

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Ta da! Very different in character to Lucy’s wreaths, but definitely inspired by them. It’s hanging in the hall at the moment, but I’m contemplating hanging it on the front door, I’m so proud of it!

Now for the rest of the flat. If you want to see how I get on in real time, I’ll be Instagramming as I go :) Otherwise, I shall report back next week!


VATMOSS
If you follow me (or other crafters) on social media, you’ll know that there’s a storm brewing over the new VAT regulations that come for the EU on 1st January.

If you sell any digital products to the EU, you’re affected.
This is really, really important – even if it’s just a little ebook, single pattern, anything. You’re going to have to sort out the tax.

If you buy digital products in the EU, particularly from tiny, independent producers, you’re affected. I’m not an expert, but I am a librarian, and information gathering is sort of what I do. The short version is that tax will have to be paid according to the rate of the buyer’s country rather than the seller’s. The logistics of gathering that information are back-breaking to impossible, not to mention the absurdity of tiny sellers registering for VAT when there are thresholds in place to protect them if they’re selling physical goods. It’s complicated, but rather than waffle on about it even more, let me just point you to some useful pages, and recommend following the hashtag #VATMOSS on Twitter.

Basic summary from TechCrunch – it’s not just crafters affected! This is the best summary, worth reading even if you don’t sell.
Ysolda’s incredible helpful summary – much more detail for sellers about the problems.
Advice from an accountant
Summary from a web consultant
This is an incredibly in-depth summary from a web developer, including useful links and probably the most comprehensive for anyone selling anything digital online.

I’ve been following things fairly closely, as I’ve been thinking of selling patterns for a while, so if you’ve got questions, I might be able to point you in the direction of the right answers. Ravelry have teamed up with Love Knitting to solve things for yarnies, but U-Handbag and Fat Quarterly have already said that they’ll stop selling PDFs at the start of 2015, while lots of US folk have said they’ll just stop selling to the EU. It’s a pretty sorry state of affairs, especially since HMRC don’t seem to have any consistent or useful answers. If you think you’re affected, read up, and ask questions of the tax people in your own country – it’s better than getting a bill later!

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Yarn Along: It’s beginning to look a lot like…

…I might have started more things than I can finish. Just for a change.

After getting in a bit of an overwhelmed muddle last week, I decided yesterday that I needed to pick just a few things to concentrate on, preferably ones with deadlines so that I didn’t get to the last minute (as usual). So I’ve put various projects into official ‘hibernation’ on Ravelry, which gives me permission not to work on them for a while, and I’ve gone through my sewing projects and worked out which ones I do and don’t have to do by Christmas.

The sewing ones are mostly theoretical at this stage! For crochet, I’m starting with this, which looks unassuming, but is part of a grand plan:

Long strip of crochet in stripes of various shades of grey

For the last few years, we haven’t done much for Christmas decorations except put up a tree, but for some reason this year, I have the urge to do a little…more. Okay, a lot more. Pinterest may have been involved. I’ve got a bag of sparkly things sitting in the corner of the room, and the quiet strip of crochet fabric above is the start of a Christmas wreath. It’s my first time working with Styelcraft DK, and I can actually see what the fuss is about. For a dead cheap yarn, it’s easy to work with, not too squeaky and the colours are great. The next job is to work out how to decorate it, and just how carried away I want to get. I’ll be instagramming progress over the weekend if you want to see how I get on!

Speaking of Instagram, I put this photo up at the weekend, when I was seeking inspiration:

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For the first time ever, I really really really want a Christmas jumper. Not necessarily a crazy Christmas jumper, more a sort of subtlely seasonal one. Possibly with sparkles. Having failed to find one I really like, clearly the only solution is to make one. After hunting through Ravelry for a while, I found this pattern, which I’m going to make in, you’ve guessed it, greys and white.

woman wearing an autumnal coloured sweater, holding a baske
Maple Falls Sweater by Joanne Scrace

Depending on time/yarn, I will probably also add sleeves. And I’ve got some black sparkle lace that I’m going to hold double with my dark grey around the yoke. There may also be beads and possible penguin buttons involved. Because oh yes, did I mention, I’m going to turn it into a cardigan. My first attempt last night was a little large, so I’m going to rip my starting row back – I want it cosy but not swamping! The yarn is Cascade Venezia, a merino/silk mix that is absolutely lovely, and as it works on a 5.5mm hook, I’m hoping it will go quite quickly. Quick enough to be done by Christmas? Watch this space…

The other thing I did last week was something I’ve actually been working on since July, but only went live last week.

Screenshot from Etsy of my fabric shop

Over the years, I’ve acquired a lot of fabric. I like vintage pieces, modern pieces, colours, plains, patterns and stripes and more or less anything that makes me go “ooooooh”. That’s to my stash being full to overflowing, and with some difficulty, I’ve gone through and pulled out some of the lovely things that I’m just never going to have the time to work with. These are all now listed in my Etsy shop, OxfordMakes (Made in Oxford was taken!), at bargain prices. The aim is to clear out, not make a profit. If you want to stock up and find the postage charges are piling up, get in touch and I’ll see about combining postage to make things more economical. There really are some lovely things in there, so please do have a look!

To go with that, I’ve also cleared out my yarn stash and put quite a lot on my Sale page. Apparently pre-Christmas is when I decide to do my spring cleaning! Again, things are priced to go, not to make money, and I’ll do all postage at cost. Help me out, people, I need the space!

I’m joining up with Ginny this week as usual, so click the button below to see what everyone else is working on.

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