What to do when you can’t knit or crochet?

So. I am having all kinds of funtimes at the moment owing to having got tennis elbow. I’m getting acupuncture treatments for it -my acupuncturist also does cupping on my arm- and last Monday she did my back and I look like I’ve been attacked by a kraken. If only Kate McKinnon as Jillian Holtzman was there to rescue me. I’m sure a nuclear laser would work on kraken tentacles as well as on ghosts… Where was I? Oh yes. The elbow.

It was getting better, and then it really wasn’t and I realised the reason it wasn’t getting any better was that I’ve been crocheting and knitting like a fiend the past couple of weeks and all the twisting of my arm was definitely. not. helping.

But what’s a yarn-aholic to do when she can’t actually knit or crochet? OK, not can’t. Shouldn’t. Well…

Sew granny squares together

Because mattress stitch is a revelation, y’all. And because when one is making a blanket, eventually one has to sew all the squares together.

Sew hexipuffs together

I have 285 of them. I counted. I probably ought to start joining them up so that when I finish the other 65 I have planned to knit, I’ll be well on my way to an actual complete Beekeepers Quilt.

Organise stash

In my case, organise projects into plastic baskets so I realise exactly how many projects I have on the go and that I probably shouldn’t start any new ones until I’ve finished at least a couple…

Plan new projects

Just because I probably shouldn’t start them doesn’t mean I can’t look at them. And download the patterns. And make sure I have the yarn.

In totally unrelated news I have a bunch of new yarn.

Shut up, I can stop any time I want to.

5 ways to make the world a better place

I have had a lot of feelings about the world in the past few days. Many of them have not been happy ones. On Friday night I had to steer clear of social media, because the news that Britain- my mother country- had voted to leave the European Union, in spite of the huge amount of support among young people (the ones who will have to live with the decision longest) for staying in, in spite of the fact that the campaign promises and claims of leave were largely unfounded… well, it left me deeply depressed. And it only got worse from there. People saying they wanted to change their votes because they “didn’t think it would actually happen”. The leave camp admitting they actually have no plan for how Britain is going to exit the EU. And worst of all, casual racism in the streets and people of many nationalities (including British) and ethnicities living in fear.

And then I had the horrifying realisation: if Trump is elected president, it will legitimise prejudice in exactly the same way that the leave vote has done in the UK…but the racists, xenophobes, and homophobes will have ready access to guns.

I can’t sit idly by and let the world go to hell in a handbasket. And while I know there’s not much I can do to change the outcome of the US election, and not much I can do from the other side of the world to help people in the UK, and while I know that what one person can do is just a drop in the ocean…I want to do something. If you’re reading this, perhaps you do, too. So here are just a few practical things you can do to make the world a better place.

1: Give some Kiva loans

Kiva is a microfinance organisation. They work by members giving small loans ($25) and collectively funding larger loans to communities where it is needed. For example, war-torn countries where credit is hard to come by. Here’s the beauty part- as the loans get paid back, you can re-lend the credit. So that $25 can help people again and again and again.

2: Make some twiddlemuffs

If you knit or crochet, you can make these. A twiddlemuff is for people with dementia. Put simply, it’s a knitted (or crocheted) muff with little fiddly things (beads, tassles etc) attached so that people with dementia have something to do with their hands. With the added bonus that a knitted or crocheted muff helps keep their hands warm. If you’re in NZ, the link above will take you to Knit World’s page for Twiddlemuffs. If you’re elsewhere, google ‘twiddlemuffs’ and your country or locale to see if there’s a collection going on in your area. Or just contact a local hospital or retirement home to ask if they need any!

3: Eat your lunch

If you’re in Auckland (or, soon, in Wellington), you can help Kiwi kids living in poverty by supporting Eat My Lunch. You buy yourself a lunch which is delivered to your workplace, and for every lunch you buy, a lunch is given to a child in need. Many kids in NZ have to go without basics like a packed lunch through no fault of their own or their parents, so this is a great way to stop them from going hungry.

4: Buy some underwear

Smalls for All is a charity that provides underwear for women and children in Africa, where many girls often miss days of school every month because they are having their period and don’t have any underwear. Then there are the women suffering with conditions like fistula. And even more alarming- having underwear in many areas is seen as a sign that a woman has someone to care for her- that she’s not alone and vulnerable. You can donate packs of underwear, or money (which goes towards helping get said underwear to people who need it). Or both!

5: Take advantage of peoples’ love of baked goods

Baking is easy- a while ago I shared a super easy recipe for scones. Three ingredients. No muss, no fuss, bake ’em, get some jam and cream and you’re ready to go. Or perhaps you’d prefer some three-ingredient peanut butter cookies (gluten and dairy free y’all!)? Why not make a batch, take them to work, and tell people ‘hey, if you’d like a cookie/a scone you can have one- just pop a coin (or neatly folded donation) in this tub for…’ and pick a charity. Time it right (Monday or Wednesday morning or Friday afternoon) and you should have no shortage of takers.

I guess what I’m trying to say is- there are lots of things you can do that don’t take much effort on your part, but which could make a world of difference.  All of us are drops in the ocean, but the more of us who do what we can, the better the world can be. If the world isn’t giving you much hope, you have to find a way to create some for yourself.

The Pinup in Winter

I don’t know about you, but I don’t enjoy winter. Don’t get me wrong, I much prefer winter in New Zealand to winter back in the UK. I don’t miss how it gets dark by 4 o’clock, how the sun never really rises, or how you need to have something woolly on any part of you that you don’t want to be frozen solid if you’re venturing outside. That said, it has taught me the valuable skill of staying warm in the cold.

A couple of months back, I started taking daily outfit photos again, and actually planning out what I want to wear the night before (or in the occasional fit of hyper-organisation, planning an entire week’s worth of outfits on Sunday night).  I’m not gonna lie, I enjoy clothes, and colours, and even makeup (now that I’ve found a lipstick brand I love- eventually I’ll work on eyeliner…). I especially love pinup and retro style, and will wear it almost every day if I can. Except Sunday. Sunday almost without fail is pyjama day. But I digress. Since we’re heading into the freeze-yo-tits-off part of the year, I thought I’d share with you how on earth I can go pinup in the cold, in case any of these tips are new or helpful to some of you.

Now, this is not me telling you what to wear. I say, wear what you want. But if you really have an urge to wear a fabulous circle skirt but you’re worried about your legs getting cold, or if you have a strappy dress and you’re concerned about becoming a pinupsicle, I can help.

First thing’s first

Pay attention to your body. Think about how you normally dress in winter. What parts of you feel the cold most? For me, my legs aren’t really an issue BUT I hate having cold gusts of wind anywhere on my arms or my core. For you it might be different. Maybe it’s your feet. Or your ears. But figure that out, and you’ll know where to concentrate your warminating efforts.

Layering is, of course, the oldest trick in the book. But some of the things I do are either old-school or a bit different to ‘put on a cardigan’. I will say – thermals are your friend if you can find ones with a neckline that hides properly… Here are a few secret warm layers:

ABM_1464816145Tights! If you’re not wearing tights (pantyhose, for those not familiar with British slang) in the winter, I don’t know what to tell you. There are lots of options here. Fleece-lined tights are great. But a favourite trick of mine is to wear multiple layers of ordinary tights. Or wear one pair of ordinary tights under fishnet or lace tights (which are actually warmer than you’d expect given how big the holes are), or of course leggings. In this photo, I’ve got two layers of tights on. Noone will know- trust me- I’ve been doing this since I was 14 years old and not once has someone come up to me, pointed at my legs and said “YOU’RE WEARING TOO MANY TIGHTS”.

Petticoats! These are so great for keeping you warm. All those layers of tulle? Toasty. You can also use a cunning trick from Miss Victory Violet to wear a dress as a skirt if you have a petticoat and a decent belt- which means that you can still wear that strappy dress but stay warm.

Slips! They’re a bit granny-tastic but for hidden layers under a skirt or dress that keeps your core from getting cold, you can’t beat them.

And now, some additional honesty:

When it’s freaking cold, I don’t go near the skirts. I’m not insane. And I don’t subscribe to the suffering-for-the-look school of thought. So this is what I wore the first day of winter:

ABM_1464729705Yup. Jeans. If my fabulous 40s-ish trousers still fitted, I would be wearing those a lot. Sometimes, you’ve just got to adapt to the weather.

Also, while I have a beautiful retro winter coat, there are plenty of days when I don’t wear it because it doesn’t have a hood- on those days, I wear a ridonkulously warm coat I got from an army surplus store. Not pretty, but also not at all cold. Looking pinup is fantastic- but when it’s really effing cold, looking pinup is something best done indoors.

I hope at least some of this has been helpful. What are your top tips for staying warm while looking fabulous? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

What I’ve Made Wednesday

So, it’s been a while. I’ve been afb (away from blog. That’s a thing, right?). And one of the things I’ve been doing is, of course, making things. At the moment, the main focus is on making decorations for the ceremony and reception at mine and my Best Beloved’s wedding, so I’ve been working on some macrame garlands, and also lots of fabric garlands (made of upcycled fabric I’ve found in op shops, or leftovers from different projects).

I’m also knitting the bouquets for myself and my bridesmaids, and boutonnieres for the groom and groomsmen, plus the most foofy and ridonkulous floral crown I possibly can for my flower girl- all of which has resulted in a pile of flowers and leaves which I hope will get much bigger.

And then there are the chandeliers. I found this tutorial on making a (non-lit) chandelier out of some hanging baskets and thought, why not?

You know, as you do.

It finally gives me an excuse to get a hot glue gun, and also- pretty! I was wondering what to do for crystals and then I remembered- our house had two big chandeliers stored in the basement. They’re not quite my style, but they’re covered in dangly crystals.  I already have a box full of them- and those are just the ones that fell off them when the Best Beloved was moving them.

Now I just have to buy myself my birthday gift- a hot glue gun. I know, a craft-loving gal who doesn’t own one? Insanity! It’s taken a while but I finally got fed up with reading about great projects that I wanted to try and sighing because I don’t have one. With the right hot glue gun, I can conquer the world! No really. Don’t mess with someone who’s operating a hot glue gun.

And when I’m Queen I can finally bedazzle All The Things. The future’s bright. The future’s COVERED IN RHINESTONES.

Ahem.

You might be wondering what on earth I’m going to do with all the decor when the wedding is over, and the answer is simple: it’s going up around the house. Because I’ve always wanted to live in a house that’s decorated like an old-fashioned barge, or a gypsy caravan. And now I can. This is what happens when I’m allowed to decorate things.

Hello again

Hello there. It’s been a while. A long while. You’re probably wondering why I didn’t just take this site down and give up.

I’ll be honest with you, I thought about it. I’ve been dealing with a very full plate in terms of things claiming my time. Work. A new house (a new house that I actually *own*. No more calling the landlord. I *am* the landlord.) Writing and running what is probably more than my fair share of LARPs. Most awful of all, depression and anxiety- those roommates in my head who may never move out, who may go away but may always have a bunch of stuff stored inside me.  And most wonderful of all, planning a wedding.

There are a lot of reasons not to try again with writing about the things I love and trying to build this into something worth the building. There’s only one reason for carrying on. But it’s way more compelling than any of the reasons not to.

This is something I am doing for me. One of the very few things I’m doing only for me. Because I like writing. I like connecting with however few or many of you there are. I want to record at least part of my life in a way that’s more substantial than the empty calories of social media. I want to put something good out into the world- encouragement to try and make things. Because I know from experience that making things keeps the darkness at bay. And when there’s less darkness, it brings satisfaction, and joy.

For a long time, I let all the other things in my life stop me from showing up to the work of trying to create a better and more meaningful life for myself. Well, I’m done letting the resistance get me. Whether I have grand lessons to impart or whether I just found an interesting pattern. Whether I’ve made something cool or (equally likely) made something that isn’t Pinterest-worthy but is still satisfying. I’m going to show you the messy side of the room (to quote Heather B. Armstrong), because I think people need to see the thread, the scraps, the paint-covered newspapers, the burnt-sienna painted chux-mache props that kind of look like giant poos, drying on my dining-room table… whatever happens, I’m going to keep showing up. I hope you’ll join m

Susan Crawford-along: talking about vintage patterns and accidental genitals

Nik:

I wonder if there’s this thing that authentic vintage patterns = difficult, or if it’s just the way that the patterns are written? The twinset cardigan is pretty simple, though, and I’m loving the ‘mock cable’ pattern because I don’t have to use a cable needle…that being said, I am about 2 inches into the back. There’s still time

Ellen:

It may be that authentic vintage patterns= difficult because back then, more people knitted, so there was an assumption of greater knowledge. I mean in the UK, girls were taught knitting in school, so if you were designing a pattern you were writing for knitters who had been doing it for longer. Maybe. And you look at some of the old patterns and the code is even more code-like than a normal pattern. “Continue in pattern as set and do-ci-do every 2 inches. Use number 6 needles (subtext: if you don’t know what number 6 needles are, this pattern is NOT FOR YOU) and 7 ounces of 4ply”. Never mind that the weight doesn’t actually correspond to the yardage, or not totally.

I still think the Susan Crawford= Alien Government Recruiter theory is probably more accurate.

Mainly because we would be completely fabulous as secret agents.

Nik:

I realised the other day that I’ve been knitting for eleven years now! Although perhaps I haven’t been as brave in my choice of projects…my first ever book was the original “stitch and bitch” do you remember that?

I’m quite happy with this choice of yarn, now. At first it felt a bit plastic-y, but now it seems to be softening out. I’ve decided that 1×1 rib never shows off yarn at its best…and yet it’s often a feature of vintage patterns. Maybe I’ll bust one of my Nana’s genuine 1950s vogue ones for my next project. Or more likely I’ll knit something simple in stocking stitch in chunky yarn and cackle to myself about how easy it is.

Ellen:

It’s 10 years for me- yikes.

I’m making good progress- I’m actually quite surprised at how much of the front I’ve knitted up now, considering how long I thought it would take me. The trouble is, now I’m at the point where I needed to make an important decision about the jumper: AT-ATs or reindeer?

The thing is, the AT-ATs would be cool but I don’t think they quite fit with the style of this jumper. So reindeer it is. And AT-ATs next time I do a fair-isle jumper. One that isn’t 1940s style. Or maybe one that is, but is in navy blue and grey. Rosie the Rebel Alliance Riveter could be a fun cosplay…

And then, of course, there’s the accidental penis in one of the rows of Fair Isle. To our lovely readers- nope, I’m not kidding:

2015-07-17 13.51.07

Duplicate stitch is my friend, because there is absolutely no way on God’s green earth I’m ripping back three repeats of a pattern to fix two stitches in the wrong place, even if they do make it look like there’s a penis in the bottom corner of my fair isle.

I’m starting to wonder if I’m cursed. The number of times I’ve ended up unintentionally adding genitalia to the design of a project is alarming. First there was the Vagina Owl, and now this. Are Freudian Slipped Stitches a thing?

The Susan Crawford-along: in which we decide that our knitting patterns prove Susan Crawford is an alien

Read our adventures with casting on here: casting on our vintage knits.

Ellen:

OK, so I finished the ribbing and got on to the larger needles. And then the colourwork. I’d say I’ve started the colourwork, but technically I’ve started the fucking colourwork THREE TIMES.

And then had to carefully frog said colourwork and start again.

Apparently I can’t maths, because getting the pattern to actually line the fuck up is some kind of Labour of Hercules.

This is what I get for knitting backwards, and thus having to read charts backwards and oh my god just put me out of my misery.

Nik: 

I’m slightly worried I’ve made the wrong size, so I might frog and start over. Not too traumatic, I’ve only done about 2cm of ribbing. I also stopped because I felt a bit chilly (it’s been averaging about 3 degrees) to make a chunky cowl.

Ooof, colourwork. Flat? I love colourwork in the round, but as we know, there’s nothing that English designers hate in particular than knitting in the round. Colour work and purling. Uggghhh.

Not so fond of this yarn, but it’s nice and solid.

Started cable pattern. If there;s anything SC loves it’s the dreaded AT THE SAME TIME instructions. Repeat pattern 6 more times, while inc stitch at every 16 row, while also balancing your entire stash on your head.

Ellen:

OH GOD NOW I’VE GOT TO SWITCH TO ANOTHER CHART.

This will involve additional maths and 3d modelling in my head to try and work out which end to start the chart so it looks like it’s supposed to look.

It’s flat, though that’s actually a good thing because if it was in the round I’d be using a lot of extra yarn just carrying it across the back.

The really fun bit (and by fun, I mean complete bloody nightmare) will be the reindeers. You’re right about how SC loves AT THE SAME TIME. For the reindeer part of the jumper, it’s Fair Isle AND Intarsia involving, from what I can tell, at least 5 different balls of yarn at once AND armhole shaping.

I’m becoming increasingly convinced that SC is an alien with about 4 extra limbs that are used solely for knitting. Either that or her patterns are part of some kind of government training programme designed to identify people with elite multitasking skills to become secret agents. Possibly both.

Which I’m all for, if I get a red Stetson like Agent Carter.

Nik:

Think about how fabulous we’d be as secret agents though.

 

Monsterful Monday: in praise of the Great British Bake Off

Yep, I went there. I have knitted in front of a programme about baking, because apparently I’m turning into somebody’s great aunt Margaret or something.

Season 3 is being re-screened on Prime, and I haven’t seen it before so please don’t tell me who wins.

Maybe it’s because of my heritage, but I love how British this particular iteration of the talent reality show is. I love how Mary Berry tries to find something positive to say about each contestant’s efforts. I love how happy people are when Paul Hollywood likes their cooking. I love how they own it when something’s gone a bit wrong, they don’t try and argue about it. I love how the departing contestant each week is given an enormous bear hug from Mel and Sue, the presenters, as well as all the other contestants.

And season 3, oh season 3. Cathryn, who is all of us wanting our baking to turn out well and being nervous. Victoria, who knows what a ‘filip’ is and wears padded vests and I suspect has a couple of dogs and a family tree that goes back to Cromwell, or at least her name on a plaque at a fancy girl’s school. And James, the student from the Shetlands in his array of devastating fair-isle jumpers, who is every hipster crafting girl’s dreamboat. Note, I don’t have a crush on him, though I do wish I had some of his recipes and that I could find out whether he bought the fair-isle jumpers or had them made for him by his Nan. I hope it’s the latter.

There’s actually an impressive number of guys in this season, and I think it’s great seeing men embracing something so ‘domestic’ as baking. I am deliberately not looking up who won Season 3, because that would ruin the fun.

I love the gentle innuendo, “we need to come up with something naughty to say about this week’s challenges. It’s tarts…nope, can’t think of anything.” And my personal favourite, of course, “we all know what makes a great cocktail party: keys in a bowl!”.

And I love all the inspiration it gives me to bake myself- the flavour combinations that make me hungry, the tips and comments from Mary and Paul that help you know what good baking looks like…

All I can say is, I love this show and I actually made choux pastry from scratch last night and turned it into profiteroles, and it’s because I’ve been watching this show.

The Susan Crawford Along: casting on our vintage knits

Nik and I both got started, and we’ve started keeping each other updated on what we’re doing. Enjoy!

Nik: 

I have 1000 vintage dresses (shush) that I don’t tend to wear because their line doesn’t lend itself well to normal/modern cardigans. I have been searching for ages to find the perfect cropped vintage cardigan, so I was pretty excited when this one came along. I’ve been meaning to knit it for ages, but RSI is hard on the hands. But now, thanks to some gift vouchers and a nice pair of warm gloves, I’m ready to start!

Ellen: 

For me, the issue I have with cardigans is that I loathe ¾ length sleeves. Which is problematic as most every retro-styled cardigan I’ve seen seems to have ¾ sleeves if it’s a plain one. But my reason for choosing the jumper I’m making is party the shape, which I think is pretty fabulous, and also the slightly OTT Christmas-ness of it. For that reason I stuck with a super-bright red yarn for the MC, though I’ve no idea whether the fibre content is actually what it said it was when I ordered it, because Ebay. It feels very soft though. I’m excited to get going on this.

Nik:

The cardigan I’m actually making is the Princess Twinset one – sorry if there was any confusion! I get what you’re saying about the ¾ sleeves, it’s a pain. Especially since they’re such an awkward length! Just started casting on – 2.75mm needles. Ouch. And my only 3mm have vanished into the aether. Weirdly, I have four lots of 3.25mm. Why.

Ellen:

Argh, sorry for the pattern confusion. Fortunately, I cast on before we got a houseguest who likes to be in the lounge- counting when someone else is talking to you is the sort of thing that leads to stabbing. But I don’t find I need to concentrate quite so hard when I’m ribbing. Though I probably should, I slightly futzed the first row because I managed to forget whether I was on a knit or a purl stitch. And I hadn’t even put the knitting down and come back to it later. Yup.

I feel like getting the ribbing on the front done is taking forever on the tiny needles.  I didn’t have any of either size of needle. Actually, that’s not true. I probably do have both sizes of needle. But a lot of my needles have projects on them, and also there’s the problem of the circular needles I like (the KnitPicks Options ones) not actually having anything on them to tell you what size they are. So I probably do have the right size needles but HOW WOULD I KNOW?

And yes, I probably should have finished some of the projects already on the needles before starting this one… I feel like I should have a point about that. But I don’t.

Anyway, I still like the way the yarn feels, and the ribbing it’s producing is nice and sproingy (IT IS A WORD). I just want to get on to the bit with the larger needles so I feel like I’m making more progress.

A 4ply knit jumper doesn’t seem so crazy now, does it?

I often find myself wondering, as I look at vintage patterns, “did someone really knit this?”. Not just as a sample, were there people out there who actually looked at these jumpers made from super-fine yarn and with complicated lace or cables, and make them and wear them? I hope they did.

I feel that way looking at some modern patterns too, but then it’s usually “how would anyone afford to knit that sweater in that yarn unless they were the designer and getting yarn support?”. Or with Wollmeise jumpers, “how the hell did they manage to get SO MUCH of it when it sells out so damn fast?”

But I digress. I have never wondered ‘did someone really knit this?’ with more curiosity than when I found these patterns on Etsy.

Knitted wedding dress

 

Yes, that’s a wedding dress. A wedding dress knit in 4ply yarn (like the jumper I’m hoping to cast on this weekend). Oh, but it’s not JUST a wedding dress!

Knitted bridesmaid dress

The crafty bride could also make dresses for her bridesmaids. Or get them to make them themselves. Even the Mother of the Bride was included:

Knitted mother of the bride dress

Or (according to the description) fairy godmother. You know, if you have one. Actually, if you did, you could probably get those dresses knitted up no problem.

I think I know why all the women in those photos look so happy. It’s because they finished the damn project and now they can move on to something REALLY challenging.

Like a house cozy.

House covered in knitting

From http://www.mymodernmet.com/profiles/blogs/yarn-bombing-los-angeles-craft-folk-art-museum

Yup.