Oh I wish I was a punk rocker with flowers in my hair

I’m going slightly off topic this week. Still craft but not yarn craft. Instead I’m talking flowers. Those of you who have come to this blog via my Instagram feed will already know of my love of flowers in general. But this week, I’m getting specific with a love of  flower crowns.

Some of you will know I work for a couple of hours each morning in a fabulous florist near my home called Green Parlour, owned and run by the very lovely Emma. As well as making gorgeous hand tied bouquets and selling pretty plants to the residents of Pangbourne village, she runs all sorts of fab floral workshops (see here for details) and when I saw she was running a flower crown workshop I jumped at the chance to go.  

 Flower crowns aren’t something you see a lot of outside of weddings and festivals but, amongst younger women, they are growing in popularity (my children now call their teenage cousin The Flower Girl because she once, ages ago, wore a faux floral crown, and they haven’t forgotten it, such is their lasting impact) and I wanted to learn to make one, because, well, I like to learn new things.

The workshop was on a Saturday afternoon and it was lovely to escape the usual chaos of my weekend for a couple of hours to sit in the calm of the flower shop and play. There were three other ladies on the workshop, all of whom had floral experience or had been on several workshops before. One of the ladies was looking for ideas for her daughters wedding flowers which was very exciting.

  
 We started by learning to wire our flowers. Emma explained that wiring is a declining art because of the fashion for loose more naturalistic florals but they are still used in button holes and, in flower crowns. To wire a flower you need to remove most of the stem and attach a wire either by piercing the actual flower or by placing a wire next to the remainder of the stem and taping the two together. By this method you give each flower a faux wire stem. The advantage to this over keeping the natural stem is that the wire stem can be bent so this allows the flower to be positioned exactly where you would like it. 

  
You need quite a lot of flowers to make a flower crown and wiring them, especially when you aren’t used to it, takes quite a lot of time. Eventually we all thought we had enough flowers wired so it came to crown construction. This involves taking a length of flexible wire measured to fit your head and starting at one end, lie the flowers along the wire so the flower stem lies on top of the wire. Then tape the flower to the wire. Lay the next flower head on top of the bit you’ve just taped with the stem lying the same was as the first flower, tape and repeat until you’ve covered the whole length of your wire. Make a loop at either end of the wire , add a ribbon tie and viola! Flower crown!

 
  

If you are thinking of making your own flower crown, you need consider that the flowers aren’t in water, and so they do fade quite quickly. This means you would need to make your flower crown on the same day as you were wanting to wear it. If I were to do this again (and I almost certainly will because it was so pretty), I would probably use more orchid flowers as they’ve lasted for a few days, while everything else was looking quite floppy by the next morning. If you didn’t want to try a full flower crown, a few orchid flowers glued to a hair comb would be a very pretty accessory and this is one I’m definitely going to try just the next time my orchid produces some flowers.

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this change of scene this week. Next week I’m sure we will be back to yarn craft as I’ve been busy doing some more dyeing that I’m keen to tell you all about. 

 

Dyeing: things I learned

In my last post I told you all about how I dyed yarn in my kitchen, and because so many of you have said you were inspired to do the same, I thought I should probably follow up with some “things I learned” from the experience. Now, I’m not a big one for lists and this will all be basic and obvious stuff to experienced dyers, but to a newbie like myself, I was in uncharted territory, so, here goes. Things I learned:

  • Like most things, preparation is important. You need to thoroughly soak your yarn and get set up before you start. 
  • It’s really quite stingy when you splash the citric acid soak in your eye, so you will probably want to avoid doing this by either being careful when you get your yarn out of the bucket or if, like me, you are prone to clumsiness, by wearing goggles (I have onion peeling goggles which would have been excellent for this, had I been forewarned).
  • A little bit of dye goes a loooonnnnng way. All over spoons, jars, tables, clothes, small children. You need to be prepared to make a mess, so take precautions. I wore old clothes and an apron, and I had plenty of kitchen towel on hand to mop up spills and wipe up between different colours. And if you are hand painting on super wash yarn, boy, does a lot of water go everywhere. I’m thinking old towels would have also be useful if I’d had some.
  • Wear gloves. And don’t get distracted by small children (“Mummy, I did a poo poo”), remove your gloves to attend to them, and then forget to put then back on again. Unless you want to walk around with multicoloured hands and nails for the next several days.
  • If you are at all worried about your yarn felting then cold dip dye or hand paint your yarn (this is what I did), rather than kettle dye. Having super wash in your yarn will help but remember you need heat AND agitation to felt yarn so, as long as you don’t fuss about with it too much when it’s hot (you won’t be able to touch it for ages anyway after it comes out of the microwave), you’ll be fine. 
  • It will seem like the skeins take a small eternity to dry. It rained both days I did my dyeing and waiting for skeins to dry indoors is just so dull, so, if you can, dye on a dry day and hang them outside on the line, they’ll dry in no time. 
  • Try not to have too many preconceived ideas about what you want the yarn to look like at the end. I just went with the flow with the tone of my first few skeins. It turns out that I’m pretty heavy handed with the dye so get strong colours, but, because I’m using them together, I wanted my skeins to tone which meant the same strength of colour throughout, so, I had to work harder with the last few to make sure I was getting that right. That’s ok because I mostly enjoy a challenge but if you aren’t so keen, go easy on yourself and don’t stress about it. Like any new craft it takes plenty of practice to learn how to produce the effect you want. Whatever you make, it will be fabulous. 
  • Your skein will probably appear to get in a hideous tangle but do NOT be tempted to untie the ties to sort it out. That way lies madness and many hours of (not so) patient untangling. Once it is dry, just go around each of the ties in turn and check that there are no threads lying over the tie. Once you are satisfied that’s the case, pop your hands in either end of the skein and give it some sharp tugs as if you were trying to stretch it out. Then you should be good to pop it on a swift or a handy pair of outstretched arms, cut your ties and ball away without tangles.  
  • Be prepared to dye more yarn than you actually need. You will love your creations so much it will be hard to ball them up and use them. You will want to keep them as yarn pets for ever, just for squishing.
  • It’s worth getting a note book and writing down what colours you mixed. You think you’ll remember because you had such a fun time but, in reality, busy lives crowd in and you won’t. I’m only a few days away from having finished dyeing the yarn for my blanket and I’m already starting to forget. Besides, its always good to have an excuse for a new note book.
  • As soon as you finish, you will want to dye more, and it will be a fidgety torture waiting for the postie to deliver more yarn. So get in more undyed yarn than you think you are going to use. I guarantee you will use it all.
  • It is great fun but don’t even think about trying it unless you are prepared to become totally addicted. And have your whole house smell of damp sheep (but there are worse smells, right?)

Happy dyeing xxxx

Dye Day

So, the long awaited dye has actually arrived, and I have been busy in my kitchen. 

Last year I went on a yarny retreat in Lyme Regis, run and hosted by the very lovely Daisy from Devon Sun Yarns (if you need reminding, I wrote about it here) and, over that weekend, I learnt to dye yarn. I’ve had a couple more tries since then on other retreats and workshops, all under Daisy’s supervision. But I hadn’t actually done any yarn dyeing on my own, so when the idea for a temperature blanket required justification, dyeing my own colours for it seemed the way to go.

Daisy supplies excellent yarn dyeing kits (with detailed instructions for those who haven’t had the benefit of her presence) with no nasty chemicals so they are safe to use in your kitchen. But, sensing I probably needed a bit more of a challenge, and because I wanted to dye a blanket’s worth of yarn, Daisy supplied the undyed yarn and pointed me towards procian dyes.

  

The process for dyeing with procian dyes is exactly the same as dyeing with the dyes in Daisy’s kits, but with procian you need separate pots, pans, spoons etc as they aren’t food safe so you can’t use the pans etc in your cooking afterwards.

This type of dyeing is known as acid dyeing, which, when I first heard the term, brought to my mind memories of lab coats, goggles and bubbling beakers of hydrochloride acid and those cupboards with the big extractors in the chemistry lab at school. But we aren’t talking about scary acidic, just a bit of an gentle acidic soak for the yarn before applying the dye. 

Because I was dyeing a animal fibre yarn, I made my acidic solution by adding citric acid to some water in a bucket. Luckily I had some citric acid in the cupboard, left over from some random long forgotten cooking experiment. If you don’t have any, I’d recommend you get some just for the comedy value of the faces your children will make after slyly eating some thinking it is sugar. Alas this isn’t something that is going to happen much longer as they are now learning to read and the jar has a big label so I don’t get confused (I have previously tried to make marzipan from cornflour rather than icing sugar so all my jars now have big labels). So, citric acid for animal fibre. If you wanted to dye plant fibre (like cotton), you’ll need soda ash in your soak.

I left my yarn to soak overnight but I’m suspecting that just a 30 minute soak would do it. You want to make sure the acid solution properly gets right into the fibre, so squeeze out the big air bubbles when you put your yarn into soak.

  
I’d already decided which colours I wanted (see the post here) so I got to mixing the dye. I decided to start with my orange, yellow and greens, because, well, you have to start somewhere. The dye comes in powder form and you just mix it with tap water adding more water or more dye, mixing until you achieve the colour you want. I made one colour at a time and put away the dye in between so as to avoid accidents (I am outrageously clumsy).

I wanted a fairly solid colour for my blanket and the obvious way to achieve this is kettle dyeing. But, despite scouring local charity shops I couldn’t get hold of an old saucepan (unless they are in mint condition, the charity shops just bin them). Ideally I’d use a maslin pan but didn’t want to use the perfectly good one I have in the cupboard as (because I am using procian) I wouldn’t be able to use it afterwards to make strawberry jam, and strawberry season will soon be upon us. 

  
So I went with hand painting. To protect my kitchen table oilcloth I put down one of those toddler dry nites sheet things you use to save the mattress from nighttime accidents, when potty training children. Then I put down a couple of sheets of cling film, wrung out and laid on the skein of yarn, spreading it out well. Then I added my colour. I used a paint brush (the sort you use on walls) to paint on the colour and a spoon to dribble it on. It was fascinating to see how the yarn sucked up the colour leaving just a little water behind. 

  

Then once I’d put on all the colour I wanted (and I deliberately left some parts lighter so it would look unmistakably hand dyed), I wrapped up the skein in the cling film, laid it in a glass dish and popped it in the microwave and fixed the dye by cooking it for 3 minutes, then resting for 3 minutes, then cooking again for 3 minutes. This was probably overkill but I didn’t want all my dye to run out, given it was my first time. 

Once the yarn had finally cooled down (and it does come out of the microwave at approximately the same temperature as lava) I gave it a quick rinse and hung it up to dry.

  
It really was as simple as that. And highly addictive. I dyed four skeins the first afternoon, and another four the following morning, and will definitely do more. Now, I have to decide on whether to knit or crochet the blanket and which stitch I’m going to use…

 

Stitch Solihull

I do like to visit independent yarn stores so while I was staying my in-laws recently I asked on a couple of Facebook groups if anyone knew of any good ones nearby and Stitch Solihull came up, so on a rather rainy Sunday, I paid a visit.

Stitch Solihull was opened just three years ago by Ana, who told me she had no previous experience running a yarn store, so what she has created is all the more impressive. It’s a gloriously colourful space with a fabulous welcoming sofa generously adorned with cushions and crochet blankets, and the biggest Heidi Bears’ Dinosaur if have ever seen (Ana made him in aran). Ana has also made a more normal size Heidi Bears’ Hippo. Isn’t he fabulous!

 

Now, I do like a yarn shop (well, any shop really) with a big comfy sofa and if I hadn’t been accompanied by my husband and children (who refused to play outside in the rain) I might have lingered there, knitting in hand. But there was an extensive range of yarn to be squished, including a favourite of mine, Fyberspates Scrumptious, a merino/silk 4 ply in gorgeous colours with a particularly lovely twist, and Noro, which I’d always thought was a bit rough and scratchy until a friend of mine filled me in on how soft it became after washing.

  

 

Ana also stocks a range of hand dyed yarns, as well as undyed yarns and can arrange to have yarn hand dyed to order.  It’s always interesting to see what the owner has on his or her needles and Ana did not disappoint. She had not long cast on a pretty shawl in a lovely yarn from Juniper Moon Farm.  

But it’s not just yarn. Ana stocks gorgeous fabrics, an extensive collection of buttons, needles, hooks, kits, thread and wool wash. And, Ana is the owner of the most impressive wool winder I have ever seen. Now, wool winders aren’t usually terribly attractive things, don’t take a good photograph, so consequently would not normally be a subject of my blog, but, just check out this big boy!

 
So, eventually, with my children getting restless, I signed up to the news letter, made my purchases and made a mental note to return. You can find Stitch Solihull in a ‘cabin’ in the outside plant section of Notcutts Garden Centre just off junction 4 of the M42 and if you are ever passing, and need an excuse to break your journey, it’s well worth popping in.

 

Heliotropic positive ease in yak

Erm. Yes, I know what you are thinking. You know those words are English but, what am I on about???

Well, after a couple of years knitting socks and shawls and hats and clothes for the kids, I’ve finally summoned the courage to knit a garment for myself. Courage was required because a garment is a big undertaking, it’s a lot of knitting, and it’s got to fit (unlike the kids clothes when you can just knit a size up knowing they’ll grow into it eventually). Getting a garment to fit requires two things. A tape measure and a tension square. 

The tape measure is for measuring oneself. Alas knitting patterns rarely come in standard sizes 8, 10, 12 etc. Rather, they give various measurements for each size and you have to pick the one that best meets your own measurements. But it was a surprise to me to learn I am not the size I imagined I was. In fact, I am several inches bigger than the size my bra would have me believe (and now I actually understand all those numbers and letters!).    

My measurements taken and duly noted,  I compared these with the pattern I had selected (the Heliotropic Pullover by Mercedes Tarasovich, chosen because I thought it would be versatile, with ot without another top underneath dependant on the seasons. And also, I only had 300g of the yarn I wanted to use so I was never going to be able to make something with sleeves). And here is where the confusion starts. The pattern says the smallest size of the finished garment is 45 1/2 inches bust measurement. Now my bust is nowhere near this, so I read on. It turns out that this is the finished size at the hem not the bust. Eh? The design of the pattern makes it a ‘functionally smaller garment at the bust’ so the smallest size is for a 37″ bust. I’m a bit bigger than this but nearer to the smaller size than the next size up, so I opted for the smaller size, because of positive ease.

So what is this positive ease I speak of? Positive ease is simply where the garment is designed to be a bit bigger than the wearers measurements (compare this with negative ease on socks where the sock is narrower than the foot so it doesn’t go all saggy and fall down with wear). The pattern in question talked of several inches of positive ease, so I went with the smaller size. 

  
 
Next up is the tension square. Many knitters I know have never made a tension square. And I don’t often, but given my dilemma over pattern sizing and the sheer amount of knitting involved in the finished garment, it seemed prudent. For the uninitiated, a tension square is just a small knitted square made on the suggested needles and with the yarn of your choice (in my case a really rather scrummy yak from the January Yarn Club by Daisy at Devon Sun Yarns. Gorgeous to knit with, cotton like in feel but warm like wool), to check your gauge against the designers. The theory goes, if your tension square is too small, you go up a needle size and knit another square to check again, repeating the process until you get the correct gauge. You go down a needle size if your square is too big. Well, the goldilocks effect reigned supreme because my tension was just right.

  

But. Even though I’d gone through all this preparation, all the way through the knitting, I still doubted it would actually fit (and I cannot tell you the dispair that filled my heart when I read the words, “Continue in stocking stitch for the next 14 1/2 inches”. It was a lot of knitting!). You see, I wasn’t really reassured by the potential positive ease because on the circular needle, it looked really quite small. And, even worse, everyone who saw it in progress, quietly thought the same thing (I could see it in their faces; they would only confirm their thoughts when I shared my own fears). So, it was with some nervousness that, after the final cast off, I tried it on and, hurrah! It fitted, if not exactly like a dream, certainly like a dream with some positive ease. And, as first knitted garments go, I’m pretty pleased with it.  

  

 

Happy crafting everyone xxx

Where is my dye?

Please postie? Pretty please? Nope, despite my postie stalking, my dye has still not arrived. I’m now suspecting it’s been lost in the post but the dye company are blaming the long Easter weekend and asking me to wait a bit longer. Well, that all very well for you to say Mr Dye Company but I’ve got dyeing to do and, more importantly, a blog post to write.  

 

In the meantime, to keep my hopes up that I might one day do some dying and start my blanket, I have been having a think about my colours and looking at some photographs for colour inspiration. If you remember, I’m making a temperature blanket (see here for my first post about it) so I started off thinking about red for hot and blue for cold, with a range of orange to yellow to green in between. But I wanted some purple in there to so I decided my ‘really cold’ would be purple.

It’s pretty temperate where I live and I’m slightly cheating because the coldest it’s been here so far this year is minus 8C, and I’m guessing it’s unlikely to be colder than that at the back end of the year, so I’ll set my coldest range at minus 10C to minus 6C.

 
At the other end of the scale, anything higher than 25C is just FAR TOO HOT for me, so I’m setting my top range at 25C+. If it gets above 30C, I will have melted so won’t be making any blankets, so I don’t need to plan a colour for this.

Then I divided up the ‘gap’ between the two ranges and ended up with the following

-10C to -6C purple

-5C to -1C dark blue

0C to 4C light blue

5C to 9C bluey green

10C to 14C yellowy green

15C to 19C yellow

20C to 24C orange

25C+ Red

Then,  as it snowed for 1/2 a day this winter (whoop whoop,) I thought I could add a row of undyed for a snow day and then a dark grey for thunderstorms (none yet but more of a hot summer phenomenon).

  
I tempted to leave dyeing the red and grey until I actually need them. However, It would be a very depressing summer if I didn’t need the orange, so in a spirit of optimism, I’ll dye that first.

When my dye ever gets here that is….

What are you making NOW?

These words, uttered by my 5 year old daughter in a tone of incredulity  recently, upon the sight of me knitting (again!), made everyone one else in the room laugh heartily, but made me fly into a panic. “Nothing” I said as I hastily shoved my knitting away in a bag out of sight. But she eyed me suspiciously and I suspect the game is up.

 

The game, which, until now, I have played regularly with both my children, is informally called “did you buy it in a shop?”. You see, despite being lovingly clothed from an early age in fabulous handmade knitwear and fed nutritious (ahem!) home made biscuits and gingerbread men, my children are astonishingly keen to eschew all home made items. No, I don’t understand it either. If I hadn’t been there and actively participating on the night of their birth, I would seriously question whether they were actually my children.  

Their favourite snack is any biscuit out of a packet. Any biscuit. Just so long as it has been previously packaged. The packet, it turns out, is of the upmost importance, signifying shop bought rather than made by their mother’s fair hand. If I answer “yes” to the question “are they from a packet?” I am greeted with yippees of delight. If I answer “no”, I get a sullen “oh” and they take the biscuit as if it were something I might have otherwise offered to the dog. It’s worth me pointing out at this point that I am no slouch in the home made biscuit department so it’s not because they are of lesser quality than the shop bought biscuit (anything but!). They simply lack a packet. 

The same is also true of their clothes. If a cardboard box with the word Boden on the side, is delivered to our house, the children open it with squeals of delight, hastily trying on everything and wearing it (often all of it, no matter how many tops are in there) for the rest of the day. But try getting them to wear a home made garment? Not a chance;  if you can persuade them to try it on (just for a photo, so mummy can put it on her blog, please??), within 30 seconds they are complaining it is too hot, too tickly or too itchy, despite no part of their bare skin actually touching the item. So the item is removed, parked in a drawer and barely looked at again, except with suspicion.

However, if they don’t see it being made, and I have a handy bag available I can produce it with a fanfare and a big tah-dah! and they’ll love it and wear it forever. Yes, I know it’s a lot of effort to go to but, well, it’s either that, or not knit, and that’s just ridiculous.  

So, you see, it is quite important in order to maintain the ruse, that they don’t see me actually making the garment. Consequently, after my daughter’s question, I’ve been struggling with what to do. The item in question is a sweet cardigan called Entrechat by Lisa Chemery made from a gorgeous aran weight yarn hand dyed by Daisy from Devon Sun Yarns. I don’t want to pretend I bought it in a shop. Especially if there is any chance my daughter will recognise it and realise I’ve been hood winking them all this time. But I don’t want her to refuse to wear it either. So I’ve been dithering over what to do.   

As is often said (although perhaps not by many people parenting young twins), honesty is the best policy; not least because, one day quite soon, they will be able to read this. So, honesty it is. Here is the finished cardi. It maybe the last time it sees the light of day for a long time. But, I’ll let you know how we get on.

Trip to Toft

I could barely contain my excitement last weekend when I wangled a detour to Toft on the way home from visiting my in laws. Visiting Toft has been a long held ambition of mine and it did not disappoint.  As it happened they were having an open day, so after admiring the alpacas, I parked my husband in the cafe, my kids on the craft table with a helpful pva glue and tissue paper loving Toft employee , and plunged headlong into the shop. 

 

You might think Toft is an odd choice for someone who struggles with amigurumi as much as I do (see my recent post on crocheting Easter eggs) but I just adore their animals and their crazy looking birds. I bought a robin kit at the yarn show Unravel in Farnham Maltings two years ago (and have 3/4 made him – only beak eyes and general assembly to finish him -although trying to produce two legs which could reasonably be called a pair nearly defeated me)  and I’ve wanted to see base camp ever since. 

Now, in my mind, Toft doesn’t just sell alpaca yarn, Toft is alpaca, and I spent a long time squishing yarn and amigurumi animals in a sort of trance, before I started to actually read labels and it occurred to me that the majority of what they sell is not actually alpaca but, pure wool. Certainly, all the animals and birds I squished in store were made from wool.   

But it’s not just any wool. Toft proclaim their wool yarn to be seriously luxurious and indeed it is very soft and squishy and it has a lovely shine almost as if it were spun with a silk mix. It is spun in the UK which ticks a lot of my boxes re buying local and supporting British business but I notice they are quiet on whether the fleece is grown here too, so I’m not so sure I’m supporting British Farmers. 

Toft also say their yarn is great if you are time poor (aren’t we all!) as it knits up really fast and, until recently,  I might have thought this was an odd thing to say. How can a particular yarn knit up more quickly than another? Surely it’s the speed of the knitter that’s the variable? But I recently knitted with some lovely yak yarn from Devon Sun Yarns and that was a speedy knit so I have a new appreciation of these qualities in a yarn.

One thing I had not previously realised is Toft produce a range of clothing and accessories kits and, to my mind, it’s in wearable garments that alpaca really comes into its own as its so soft against skin. As you know, I’m going through a hat phase at the moment so I just adored their hat kits. 

There are a couple of things that set Toft apart from other yarn stores. The first is they only sell their own product. The second is their display. It’s really clear to see that every aspect of the store is carefully considered and reflects their brand. This attention to detail appears right down to their mannequins and the crates they use for their display. No ikea shelves here! This gives the entire store a cohesive and very organic feel which was extremely seductive to me from a purchasing perspective. 

The one thing Toft is not, is cheap. Although amongst all this luxury, you wouldn’t expect it to be. And the kit for say the robin I already own will set you back £24 which, even in my book, is quite a lot of money for an amigurumi bird that you still need to (struggle to) produce yourself. But the thing I wouldn’t have realised had I not made the robin is, in the kit, you will get enough yarn for several robins, or a robin and say, an aardvark. So it was with this in mind that I made my purchases.

  
As you can see, I’ve bought the book of bird patterns and a flamingo kit. But, with the left over white from this, and the left over red from my robin, I should be able to make a stork too. I also bought some sock weight alpaca because, well, I couldn’t visit Toft without buying some alpaca. My last purchases were two lovely chunky French knitting dollies which I plan to teach my children to use this summer.

One thing I would like to have heard about was the story of Toft. It’s possible this was displayed elsewhere in the complex and I spent so long squishing yarn that I didn’t get the chance to explore the rest of the facilities. But, all in all, I enjoyed my trip. I came away feeling delighted with my purchases and keen to return when we were next in the area. If you haven’t been,  and you get the chance, go! Just remember to take a bit more than just your pennies with you,