NaBloPoMo #9: the one with the grumps

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As with most things, tea and the promise of crochet make things much, much better.

I feared this post might have come out a little cranky, thanks to two semi-related factors. Yesterday, I had it confirmed that I am severely deficient in Vitamin D, which explains a lot of the chronic symptoms I’ve been putting up with for the last few years – the obvious ones and the not-so-obvious. It was the kick I needed to get my eating sorted out, as I’m terrible at choosing things that will make me healthy. Treats are fine, but not if they make up most of your diet! Anyway, I’ll have to tackle the caffeine monster at some point, but for now, I’m just trying the “More fruit, less chocolate” approach and wow, I want a bar of dairy milk more than anything right now. As in, I’d swap you a skein of yarn for a piece at the moment. Ah well, hopefully if I can get over the hump of the first few days, the crazy cravings will die down, the supplements will kick in and hopefully in a few weeks, I’ll start feeling better. Not that I’m sure what that will feel like, but that’s another blog post.

It’s maybe not the best frame of mind to tackle this sort of post in, but at least you know you’re not getting a sugar-coated (heh) version of events!

I blogged last week about making my two day shawl from the ‘Your Mileage May Vary’ pattern in The Shawl Project. That was actually the third shawl I’d made from the book, and undoubtedly my most successful. The other two aren’t failures, but I’m not 100% happy with them, thanks to some yarn decisions I made when I started. Neither are disastrous, and as I’m a person who learns best from mistakes, I thought it was worth blogging them both for future reference.

The first shawl I finished from the book was the first one in the book, Never Black.

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My iPod hasn’t done a bad job of the colour, although it’s a little blue here. In real life, it’s a strong, bright purple

I chose it because it looked the most challenging, and at the time, I wanted something to stretch me a little. After auditioning three or four different yarns, none of which quite worked for the combination of large lace and dense edging, I settled on this stunningly colour of Colinette Jitterbug. It had been in my stash for ages, and after unsuccessfully trying to turn it into colourwork gloves last year, I decided it was time to make into something I’d actually wear.

The result is lovely. The yarn has great stitch definition, and the colour is perfect. The only problem is the gauge. Jitterbug is a heavy 4ply/sports weight yarn, not the 4ply recommended in the pattern. That meant that to get drape, I had to go up a few hook sizes. That meant that I didn’t have enough yarn for all the repeats, and the resulting scarf is a little on the short side. I do have more Jitterbug, in an eye-watering pink that goes wonderfully with the purple, so I’m currently pondering unravelling the last row, and adding the rest of the repeats in pink. But I’m not sure if that would just look really strange! This scarf goes well under a winter coat, as it’s not too bulky and is actually quite nice for our current mild autumn. As much as I’d get more wear from something longer, I have a feeling that pink ends would make it look rather odd.

Gauge was also my issue with my other shawl from The Shawl Project, although this time, I’m not 100% sure what went wrong. I always seem to have problems with half-circle shawls, in that the top edge is never straight. Despite blocking, there’s still a ripple to my Cherry Pi, and it doesn’t really look much like other people’s.

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I think a second problem is the yarn. This lovely bamboo/merino from The Knitting Goddess has very short runs of colour, which make it great for knitting but tricky for crochet. The runs are just a little short, and end up looking splodgy rather than interesting (at least to my eyes!). Something definitely went wrong with this shawl, as it’s incredibly open lace compared to other people’s, and while it’s okay, it’s ended up neither nowt nor summat. It’s a bit short, a bit open, and while it has amazing drape, I’m left with the feeling that the yarn and pattern just weren’t meant to go together. You can see in the picture how off my gauge was – it won’t even lie flat!

I want to try it again in something woollier that will have better density and hopefully a longer length. Not that I’ve given up on this one yet – it’s going in with my summer clothes to see if I’ll wear it next year. I actually have a sneaking suspicion that the main problem is that I don’t really get on with semi-circular shawls, in which case it will be frogged to become something I’ll actually use. Interestingly, looking at the pictures from The Crochet Project, my shawl is closer to theirs – very light and lacy. So maybe it’s just that everyone else is doing it wrong!

Neither of these shawls are failures, they just don’t quite work as intended. It happens to all of us, I’m sure, and hopefully by thinking about what went wrong, I won’t make the same mistakes next time! After all, there are new mistakes to be made all the time.

NaBloPoMo #8: the first one with the shawl

I fell a bit behind on the blogging schedule last week, thanks to managing to put my back out again, this time leaning down to put cake on a table. Cake! I ask you! Who knew it was so dangerous?

Anyway, this week, we’re going to do a bit of catching up, mostly with things that I’ve actually finished. There’s been a lot of shawls over the last couple of months, none of which I’ve managed to blog, and most of which I absolutely love.

Let’s start with the biggest and work our way down.

Way back over the summer, the lovely Louise of KnitBritish ran a Hapalong. Now, there aren’t many crochet hap patterns, and as I’m on a NO YARN BUYING kick, I couldn’t just pick a pattern and get suitable yarn. I had to work from the stash backwards, and there just wasn’t anything there that would have worked. Besides, I wanted something more like a traditional hap, with a proper centre, lace edge and border. So I did what anyone would do under those circumstances. I designed my own.

Before I go any further, no, there isn’t a pattern for this. I made it up as I went along, and a lot of my numbers totally failed to work. Do as I say, not as I do!

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This was the point at which I realised I might have taken on a bigger project than expected…

I had three precious skeins of Babylonglegs merino/silk, which is luscious and wonderful, and the colours worked perfectly together. The inspiration for the hap came from Aestlight, and I decided I would have a solid centre, a similar lace border, and a wavy edging. The centre was simple enough, and despite original plans to work top-down, doing the maths from a swatch, I quickly realised that it really didn’t matter and it was going to be much, much easier to work from the point upwards until I ran out of yarn! I worked my favourite half-trebles, increasing at each end of the row to make a fairly regular triangle, which I then blocked to make sure I got the maximum size for the edging.

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After a little experimentation, I added a black border, to give a base for the lace to work from. Ah yes, the lace. As you can see above, I did try to count out the base stitches so that I could do the maths in advance. While it looked pretty, I gave it up as a lost cause and decided to wing it!

The basic stitch pattern came from the wonderful Encyclopedia of Crochet by Donna Kooler (can’t recommend highly enough), but it was for a square, not something that needed to increase at both ends. I’d love to say that I sat and worked it out, but I absolutely and totally didn’t. I fudged it, and was rather lucky to get away with it. The point is a little uneven, but aggressive blocking solved most of the problem, and I’m delighted with the overall effect. I added a final row of open chain spaces and that gave me something to anchor the ripples on.

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The poor hap languished on the WIP pile for a while, until the numbers decided to behave themselves…

Let’s not look too hard at the ripples, shall we? It’s just as well that they’re dead easy to work, as it took me 4 or 5 goes to find an exact pattern I was happy with, and even now, the top edge of the shawl isn’t quite straight despite Extreme Blocking (seriously, I don’t think there was a pin unused in my entire house). But as you can see below, it was worth it.

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But none of that really matters. Because it is simply wonderful to wear. It’s about twice the expected size, warm, soft and immensely snuggly. Despite a few years’ experience, I still buy into crochet myths. Yes, dense crochet fabric does use more yarn than dense knitting, but not twice as much. And in lace, there isn’t much to choose between them! But I’m glad I didn’t realise how big it would get, because I would have been put off and not ended up with such a lovely, beloved shawl.

I haven’t decided yet whether it’s my favourite make of the year, but it’s definitely up there. I’m even considering writing up the pattern, although I have a feeling that’s going to take me almost as long as the shawl itself!

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NaBloPoMo #7: The one with no thinking

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Close-up of the awesome-even-if-I-say-so-myself invisible finish on the top of my mitt!

For the curious, I did manage to get the other mitt done today, so more of that later in the week. And for the even more curious, yes, there is a pattern, but you can’t see it until I correct the typos, the font, the grammar, the style and the maths. Honestly, reading it through, you’d think I’d never used a crochet hook before. Or possibly the English language…

Anyway, buoyed up by last night’s mitt-triumph, I did a proper sort out of all the things I’m going to need to make Christmas presents. We have a fairly small flat, and things need to be used or put away properly, or I start to go slightly mad with the clutter.


The other week, I went through and wound all the balls of yarn I was going to need over the coming months. (Although I’ve since changed my mind about the sparkly green, as the pattern didn’t work. Plan B for that one…)

Last night, I gathered up the fabric as well, banished the rejected pieces to the garage, and put it all away in a single box that can sit under the table when I’m not using it.

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There’s something deeply satisfying about this, somehow. I mean, I can reach into the box and pull something out to work on, without having to think too much about it. Maybe that’s why I like making presents, especially with a deadline. There’s no decision to made, not too much thinking to do. You just pick something up and work on it until it’s done. I like that.

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The soundtrack to my making has been the podcast series 12 Byzantine Rulers, which I highly recommend, although not necessarily as an ‘all at once’ kind of listen as I’ve been doing. Things start to blur together – too many names! – but it’s a period of history I know very little about, so it’s an interesting listen. Like having an audiobook, but in bite-size chunks.


I’m a bit late to the party today, but heading over to Ginny’s to see what everyone else has been up to.


NaBloPoMo #6: The one with the !

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The slightly strange-coloured background is because I’ve caved and put my Nannie’s table-protector on the dining table so that I can work on it properly without scratching the wood. It’s going to be there until Christmas now.

To my slight surprise, I seem to have finished something. Okay, not a whole something, but half a something. That has to count, right? The thing is, it’s a bit of a good news/bad news sort of story.

Good news! I’ve finished something.

Bad news! It’s a mitten, so I still have the other one to make.

Good news! That’s half a Christmas present finished.

Bad news! I kind of love it and it’s for someone else.

Good news! There’s enough yarn to make 2 pairs.

Bad news! It’s from a discontinued yarn, so once it’s gone, it’s gone.

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But I’m going to concentrate on the good news, which is that despite my fears, this lovely soft yarn is showing the stitch pattern beautifully, and it’s turned out just how I wanted. One mitt only takes 15g of 4ply yarn, so not only do I have lots for the second one, I should have more than enough to make a slightly larger pair for me (my recipient has rather small hands). I’m completely in love with this colour. The tiny variegations lift it from just being grey, and the sheen of the silk in the blend gives it a beautiful silvery appearance. Once I can stop making mitts for others, I’m next on the list.

So that will be about the end of January then…

I’ve dropped my link into the Making Winter bloghop over at SilverPebble. Do go along and see the other lovely projects over there. The parkin recipe alone is worth the trip.

NaBloPoMo #5: The one with the two-day shawl


I look pretty chilled, don’t I? Oh yeah, just hanging out here in my pretty dress and shawl. No big deal. Hah! So much for ‘the camera never lies’…

It’s a bit of a cliche to say that crochet is quicker than knitting. I always add the caveat that it’s quicker once you’re a confident crocheter working on a simple pattern! Otherwise, I think beginners get put off that they’re not zooming through the rows.

On the other hand, when you know what you’re doing, crochet really is incredibly fast, as I proved last month. We’d accepted an invite to a wedding where we only knew the bride. Or rather, my husband knew the bride. I knew no one! This made choosing an outfit tricky – what do you wear when you don’t know what other people are going to be wearing? I didn’t know if it was a ‘hat’ wedding, a casual wedding, society or informal. Nothing.


Fortunately, Oasis came through for me, as it so often does, and I found a wonderful dress on their sale rack. It was part of their collaboration with the V&A earlier in the year and, best of all, was reduced from £65 to £25! Bargain! (I have to say, Oasis have yet to let me down. Their clothes are well-made, well-cut and their sales brilliant. I’m not on commission, just a fan :))


I’m still not sure if wearing white to a wedding is a faux pas, but I just fell too much in love with the dress to care.

But the thing that gives me real confidence is wearing things I’ve made. I wear one of my handmade shawls every day, and I decided I wanted to wear one to the wedding. There was only the slight problem that I bought the dress on Wednesday and the wedding was on Saturday. That gave me just over 48 hours to find yarn, choose a pattern, make the shawl and block it.



It was kind of spooky how well my two yarns matched my dress. Apparently my taste is very consistent!

The pattern is Your Mileage May Vary by Joanne Scrace (from the first Shawl Project book) and the yarn is my favourite base, merino/tencel, dyed by The Knitting Goddess. I love this yarn blend – it’s a joy to work with, the sheen is perfect and the stitch definition spot on. The original thought was for a two-skein shawl, but given the time limit and how perfectly one skein matched my dress, I scaled it back to one. I wound the yarn and started work on Wednesday night, managing more than half of the edging pieces. I carried on before work on Thursday morning, finishing the edging by 8.30. My plan had been to carry on at lunchtime but (disaster!) I managed to leave my crochet bag in the office. That meant I only had the evening to finish off, and yes, I really did stand outside my front door crocheting to the end of the row, having walked down the road with it from the bus stop.


It was fun keeping everyone on Instagram updated with my progress, and to know I’m not the only person who stands outside their door stitching!

Luckily I’d made a double portion of dinner on Wednesday night, so I was able to just sit and stitch (and stitch and stitch) on Thursday night, rattling through the rows and only having a minor game of yarn chicken to get to the end. I soaked and blocked it while dinner was heating up, and by Friday night, it was dry and ready to wear (note: we have a dehumidifier as our flat is slightly damp. It’s wonderful for drying blocked shawls quickly!). It helped that the pattern was well-written and easy to follow, and had a clever construction. I haven’t made an ‘edging inwards’ shawl before, so was a little skeptical, but I really enjoyed the way the pattern flows. Mathematicians talk about proofs of theories being ‘elegant’, and I always find that with The Crochet Project patterns. It’s not so much about the elegance of the finished product (although that also applies), it’s about the way they’re constructed and written, a style that’s hard to describe but that just clicks with my brain in the right way, and makes it easy for me to make their designs. Of course, using Sports weight yarn and a largish hook also helped, but I doubt I could have managed if the pattern hadn’t worked so well.


Even pre-blocking, it looked pretty good.

As it happened, I’d got it spot on with the dress code, and we had a lovely time at the wedding. I’m normally terribly anxious with groups I don’t know, but everyone was incredibly welcoming and really made us part of the family for the day. The weather was beautiful and we ended up having a fabulous morning in Poole on the Monday.


Messy hair, but gives you a good look at the shawl.

And I proved that yes, if you really, really try, you can make a shawl in two days. Maybe I should try that more often!

NaBloPoMo #5: The one with the romps

anderson cosy

Now, now, don’t worry. This isn’t about to become an ‘adults only’ blog. But over the summer I read two books that, if pressed, I really would have to describe as romps, and some of the best that I’ve read for ages. To my complete dismay, there are only 3 books in this series, and having read the first two, I’m lingering over getting the third just to prolong the enjoyment.

The first one, which I listened to while we were in Italy, was The Affair of the Bloodstained Egg Cosy, while the second, devoured in a single afternoon when I just couldn’t put the book down, was The Affair of the Mutilated Mink. The third, which I’m waiting to come into the library, is The Affair of the 39 Cufflinks.

I should say up front that I love pastiche. There’s a cleverness to it that delights me, whether I get all the references or not. The ones I do understand make me smile, and in these books, they’re woven in so tightly and cleverly for the most part, that they made me really love the stories. It helped that the reader of the first one was absolutely brilliant, and despite the intricacies of the plot, he kept all the characters distinct from the narration, and really enhanced the whole experience for me.

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For all the books, the setting is a classic English country house. There’s a cast of eccentric characters, a mysterious murder, spies, bounders, beautiful women, and truly ridiculous dialogue. The detective claims to be nothing of the sort, the suspects are all deeply suspicious and the solutions are on the borderline between genius and ridiculousness. But it turns out that for me, the most important thing is style of writing. If the writing sucks me in, then I’ll read on, even if the characters and plot don’t entirely work for me. And there are parts of this that are so wonderfully stylish that I just couldn’t put them down.

If you’ve any read any ‘Golden Age’ murder mysteries – or even just seen Poirot on the TV – these are characters and situations that will resonate, and at no point are we invited to take any of them remotely seriously. Some of the plot devices are lifted straight (and shamelessly) from Agatha Christie, which is great for me, as she’s the Golden Age author I know the best. It didn’t spoil my enjoyment, although I can see how it might for some people.

You’re not meant to take any part of the books seriously, and I loved having a break from some of the weightier tomes I’d been reading to indulge myself a little. They are wonderfully, unapologetically light, fun and ingenious, and I’m still gutted that there are only three of them.

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NaBloPoMo #2: The one with the blog hop

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The cobwebs this morning looked like someone had draped silk over the bushes.

The last couple of weeks have been a very strange time. My Instagram and blog feeds have been full of people celebrating autumn. The glorious changing colours of the leaves, the incredible light that we get at this time of year, all the seasonal things that seem to make people happy.

It’s meant a lot of biting my tongue. I don’t actually begrudge people their happiness in autumnal things, and for people affected in the opposite way to me, it’s finally a chance to breathe after the oppressive heat of summer. And, of course, yarny folk are looking forward to wrapping themselves in all things woolly.

But for me, mid-October is less about pumpkin spice latte and cosy blankets and more about darkness, tiredness and gloominess. I suffer from fairly severe SAD, and the changes in daylight hours are like flipping a switch in my brain. This year seems to have been particularly bad, and I’ve spent a lot of the last month hugging my light box and sleeping (not at the same time!). As usual, November comes and things start to improve, as I adjust to the new light levels and get used to coping all over again.

And there have been beautiful things. The colours of the trees are simply stunning, and I genuinely enjoy the run up to Advent, planning decorations and starting to think about what I want to make people for Christmas presents. Before today’s fog, we’ve had some really beautifully sunny days which have definitely helped as well.

One more thing that I’m looking forward to is the Making Winter link up over at Silver Pebble. I love the idea of gathering together all the positive things about the time of year, so that even when I’m not really feeling it, I’ve got a collection of lovely things to look at. To quote Emma:

“My plan is for us to create a sort of electronic wintry crafting bee. A collection of heartening blogposts, a cosy instagram feed and a Twitter hashtag lined with quilts, yarn, hedgerow liqueurs, crochet cake and lovely twigs. A place of solace on the dreariest days.”

I’ll be sharing my first winter finish by the end of the week, I hope, with many more to follow. I’ve decided to make it a handmade Christmas, so watch this space! In the meantime, have a look at the (stunning) Silver Pebble blog, or check out the #making_winter tag on Instagram. And in the meantime, I’m going to keep taking pictures of the wonderful colours all around me, as a reminder.

a tree with a gradient of leaves, green at the bottom to red-brown at the top

NaBloPoMo #1: The one with the numbers


Autumn is, by some distance, the worst time of year for me, but I’ll grant you that the light is beautiful at the moment.

I am, I will admit, a last-minute person. I always have been and probably always will be. It’s why I’m better at exams than coursework, good in a crisis but always behind on the day-to-day, and why I sort of love the last-minute-Christmas-present thing. It just works for me.

It’s also why, despite planning to post every day in November, roughly outlining what I want to write about each day, and spending the best part of a week writing blog posts in my head, I’m actually sitting down to write this at 3.30pm on 1st November. Not having posted in a while, I’m out of the habit, and with so much to say, making a start is almost overwhelming. So I’ve fallen back on my trusty lists to see how many of my 2015 goals I’ve actually managed. I’m not going to go through them all in detail, just pick out a few highlights.


I haven’t read this one yet, but it’s on my list!

12 books finished – Yes! And more! This has been the year I’ve definitely got back into reading, mostly through audiobooks, but a few paper ones as well. It’s been the big success of the year for me, as I used to be a voracious reader and lost the habit over the last few years. I’ve refined my podcast choices, upped my book list, and am very happy with the result.

2 thumbs healed – So close. I’m so close to this one. After 20-ish years, my thumbs are almost back to a normal shape and size. It’s taken will-power, concentration, and a lot of ups and downs, but I’m delighted with the progress.


This beast was started last Christmas, and I’m determined to have it ready for our bed on 1st December. For scale, it’s almost as wide as I am tall.

Anything to do with sewing – this has been a yarn year for me, definitely. My sewing machine has been sadly neglected, as in the bad patches that I’ve had, setting up has just been too much effort. I need to think about this for next year, because getting it out and sitting down to sew yesterday made me very, very happy. Somehow I need to combine ‘having things ready to sew’ with a new-found need for tidiness around the flat. So there’s some quilts, and I think some bags, but none of my dressmaking goals. Ah well.

Anything to do with contacting people – I’ve sent some birthday cards, and a few emails, but this has been something of a hermit-ty year for me. Given how much of a slog much of it has been, that’s not really a surprise, but it’s hard re-making contact casually when you’ve lost it for so long. I’m not counting Christmas cards towards this one, as that seems like cheating! On the other hand, I’ve been using Facebook to reconnect with people I haven’t seen in ages, and that’s been lovely, so not a total loss.

All in all, it’s been a mixed 10 months. There have been some real lows, mental-health wise, and some real successes, especially around my personal organisation (it turns out the secret to getting things done is ACTUALLY DOING THEM. Who would have thought??). In the run down to Christmas (oh shush, I’m looking forward to it!) I plan to do a lot of making, more sorting, and to start up some of the good habits now that I want to carry into next year. It’s going to be a busy 2 months until January. Time to get organised!

Anyone else planning on blogging every day in November? Or are you NaNoWriMo-ing? The goal of that is to write 50,000 words in one month, and I’m going to go for 25 blog posts in 30 days. That’s technically not the full NaBloPoMo, but with 2 weekends already booked out, and signs of things getting busier – and the fact that I haven’t posted since August! – that feels like an achievable stretch. And if I do manage every day, even better!

Here’s a sample of some of what I’ve been up to since I last saw you, and I’m looking forward to catching up with everyone this month.