Friday 28 September 2012

Sand Dollars

Last week someone very cleverly managed to guess what my next knitting project is. Unfortunately they chose to remain anonymous, but well done anyway.

After I published my little collection of sea creatures back in the summer I had an email from Mary Ann on Ravelry, asking if I had thought of designing a sand dollar. 

Well you don't get sand dollars around the UK, and I had never heard of them, so I decided to do a bit of research, and found them really intriguing. The best website I can find for them is called Echinblog

Mary Ann's sister-in-law decorates her ocean house with sea creatures for Christmas, so she was hoping for a Christmas sand dollar decoration pattern. I thought that idea was so original. There are so many similar Christmas decorations, so why not go for something a bit alternative. (I do know Christmas is all about tradition, but why not start a few new traditions.) I think my starfish and minnows would also make nice Christmas ornaments.

So I started working on a pattern, but was finding it difficult to say the least. But when Mary Ann really kindly sent me a little collection of real sand dollars things seemed to fall into place.

Sand dollars are consider symbolic, and I found this poem, which explains the legend of the sand dollar.
The Legend of the Sand Dollar
That I would like to tell
Of the birth and death of Jesus
Found in this lovely shell.
If you will examine closely,
You'll see that you find here
Four nail holes a fifth one
Made by a Roman's spear.
On one side the Easter Lily,
It's center is the star
That appeared unto the shepherds
And led them from afar.
The Christmas Poinsettia
Etched on the other side
Reminds us of his birthday,
Our happy Christmas tide.
Now break the center open
And here you will release
The five white doves awaiting
To spread good will and peace
This simple little symbol,
Christ left for you and me.

So it does seem appropriate that they are used as Christmas decorations. The poem is slightly wrong, as they are not shells, but the internal skeleton of the sand dollar.  If you break one open you find what look like five small doves, (but are actually its jaws). We did break one open, but I slightly regret it, as they are so beautiful.  Many sand dollars do have five holes, but mine did not, so I have not included holes in my pattern.

I started off trying to design my sand dollars with a minimum of sewing up, and incorporating the five pointed star into the knitting. It is possible to knit a circle, starting with all your stitches on one needle, and decreasing at regular intervals. But when the real sand dollars arrived, I realized that an important part of what makes them sand dollars is that they are not round, and also that the shape of the star has to be just right. So in the end I resorted to knitting five sections which have to be sewn together, and making the star with wool embroidery. (Hubby kept asking me why I was sewing marijuana leaves. Sigh!) My favourite technique again, but it did seem to work well. I've knitted mine in a variety of light coloured wools to make them realistic, but I think they could be jazzed up a bit too, if you wanted to add some brighter colours.  My favourite ones are in a lovely wool called Echo Freedom. It is a recycled wool and has the feel of knitting with really nice string.

So some sand dollars are on their way to Mary Ann as a thank you, and the pattern to knit a Christmas Sand Dollar is available on Ravelry.

Friday 21 September 2012

Needles Old and New

I decided to post about knitting needles, partly because I have no finished projects this week, but also I wanted to take some photos where I could work on the depth of field. They're not quite perfect, but it was interesting experimenting, and some of my first attempts were terrible. Hubby (still calling him that on the blog) was leaning over my shoulder giving me advice.

Today I was out shopping and saw a rack of lovely bamboo knitting needles. They just all looked so nice hanging there, that I couldn't resist buying a pair. There were also some very expensive rosewood needles. I wonder if some needles are more suited to different wools.  Does anyone know? 

New Needles

Most of my needles are metal, but I do have a few very old pairs of plastic ones that came from my mum. I think they are really jolly, but every so often one of the needle snaps, I guess from plastic fatigue.

I'm going to give my new needles a try out this evening. What sort of needles do you prefer?

Wednesday 19 September 2012

Yarn Along and Mystery Knit

Although I quite often link to the Yarn Along, I have to admit that it is not often that I have actually read a book. I don't know why, because I used to read a lot. Somehow these days as soon as I hit the bed I fall fast asleep. Perhaps I need to try to fit reading in earlier in the day.

So I am rather pleased to be able to link with an actual book, and a work in progress. The Girl at the Lion D'Or is a lovely book, set between the wars in a small town in France. The rather mysterious Anne arrives from Paris, to take up her post at the rundown local hotel, and eventually begins an affair with Hartmann, a married man. Throughout the story Anne's secret past is revealed, and I think the book is partly a tragic love story, but also about French history, life in a small town, and resilience of spirit. I would recommend it, and may now attempt to read the much more well known Birdsong. It also reminded me of being in my early twenties, as I did spend a summer working in a hotel (although disappointingly I didn't have an affair with anyone).

With a lot of patterns, I think of the basic idea, and the knitting just trips off my needles. But my current project is causing me headaches. These are just a few of my prototypes, and I have half a dozen more in my knitting bag. I am slowly getting closer to how I would like it to look. I would be very surprised if you can tell what they are meant to be. I would be delighted if you want to have a guess. (A clue might be that I think anyone in the USA on the Pacific coast or Oz might have an idea, and I wouldn't even try if you live in the UK.) Also the colour is not right, I just have a lot of spare white wool which I am using up.

Sunday 16 September 2012

Monarch Butterfly - Machine Embroidery

All summer I have been intending to have a go at machine embroidery, as I see such lovely things on other people's blogs. But things (or little people) always seemed to get in the way. Also I had the idea that I would have to buy a special foot for my machine, and I thought this might be difficult, as my machine is not very modern. 

Finally have managed to get my act together. I found the manual for my sewing machine, which directed me to this magic little switch at the back, which I had never noticed, which lowers the feeders. It said I could embroider with no foot at all!!! Bit scarey.  I managed to find my embroidery ring, which I knew I owned but just couldn't find.

So here is my first attempt. It has taken me all afternoon, but I have to say I am a bit pleased with it (I know that sounds smug). I thought I would try a subject I am familiar with, but something organic so it wouldn't matter if it was a bit wobbly. 

At first the whole thing was a bit scarey, with my needle swinging around rather wildly. I have also probably used a whole reel of black thread. After a bit I realized that it was actually easier if I got a bit of speed up. I started off using the embroidery ring, but by the end found the whole business of getting it under the needle a bit of a pain, so I abandoned it for all the fine lines.

I had got a book out of the library on machine embroidery, but soon realized it was much too advanced for me. If anyone could recommend a fairly basic book on techniques, I would really appreciate it. I have lots of ideas for projects, but still need to learn a bit. I really wanted much bigger black areas on the tips of the butterfly's wings, but couldn't make my stitch any wider. Perhaps I should have used more applique, or found a way to fill those areas in. I did the little spots by hand, as I do like a bit of hand sewing, especially french knots. 

But now I have to think what to do with my monarch butterfly, which is just on a small square of hessian. I think the best thing may be to incorporate it into a cushion. Any ideas?

Friday 14 September 2012

Nature's Fibre Artists (Not For Those With Arachnophobia!)

I have spent the morning trying to get a good photo of the many spiders in my back garden. 

The garden and the house seem to be full of them this year. I think there are more than usual. My mum insists spiders are lucky, not just the money ones, and it very bad luck to kill one. So I spend quite a bit of time trying to gently remove them from my house to the garden.

I have had a few online discussions about whether photography is a craft, but in this case I would definitely argue that these are fibre artists.  I hope they inspire you, particularly if you are into weaving or spinning!

I am also linking to Saturday Snapshot at At Home With Books.

Wednesday 12 September 2012

Wonder Badge

Very excited today to receive a little package from the other side of the world. It contained my prize badge from Miriam at CreateHopeInspire. Here it is pinned on my cardigan.

I am not sure how long it will stay there, as Frankie is arguing that as she suggested the word wonder it is her badge. She is taking it to school tomorrow for showandtell. I love the little girl at the bottom and the think bubble.

Thursday 6 September 2012

The Potato Chip Scarf

I decided for once to have a bit of a break from the designing, and actually knit something from a pattern. Little One said she would like a scarf, and she would like it to be twirly and lacey. Well lacey is not really something I am very good at. Sometimes when I see some of the beautiful shawls that others knit I am really aweinspired, not just by the quantity of knitting, but what on earth do you do if you make a mistake in the middle.  

So we hunted on Ravelry for something twirly, and found a fantastic pattern for The Potato Chip Scarf by Barbara Aguiar.  Click Here to Find It. At first I thought it was called the Potato Chip because it looks a bit like a long piece of potato peel, but in fact it is because like a chip (crisps for some readers) you can't stop at just one.

Then we went to buy some wool, and I managed to steer her away from something very bright, to this rather subtle coloured wool, which is Regia Snowflake. I think it is intended as a sock wool, as it is a fine 4ply. But I thought if I used fairly large needles, it would give a bit of a lacey texture, but without the need for complicated stitches.

I was so glad that I managed to get it finished for her to wear back to school today. By my standards this is a big knit, as it has taken me several evenings.

I slightly altered the pattern as I made it 26 stitches wide, and turned at 11, 9, and 7.

This pattern is so simple, but I think the scarf is really cute.   I may have to knit myself one next, or try to borrow hers from time to time. After all she is always borrowing my things! So I guess it has lived up to its name. It would also make a great Christmas gift.

Wednesday 5 September 2012

Flower Power

We were driving through our part of London, when I almost had to bring the car to a screeching halt. In the midst of the rather urban landscape there was this beautiful meadow of flowers. It was like a splash of a rainbow. 

I have to say that my photographs do not really do justice to the flowers. Still getting to grips with my new camera. I also had a rather grumpy teenage boy in tow, who was definitely not impressed by all that "flower power". I may try to go back on my own later this week, although it will have to be soon as there is a bit of a chill in the air.

The banner at the top of my page is one of the photos I was really pleased with. The meadow is called Pesthouse Common, near Richmond. I am going to use some of the other shots in my top banner, which I take a lot of pleasure in changing and trying to keep seasonal. I can't wait for some lovely autumn coloured leaves, which must be just around the corner.