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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.

 

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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

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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….

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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.

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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,

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Darning. How it came to this.

Like a lot of people, I knitted when I was a child, and, maybe slightly more unusually, I continued well into my twenties, but, the closure of our local yarn store when the proprietress retired and with the cost of good quality yarn being beyond my, then, meagre resources (and I really couldn’t be persuaded to make any more garments from acrylic), I gradually stopped knitting. That’s not to say I stopped crafting. But I did stop knitting. Or at least knitting regularly.

Then after ages and ages, two things happened. The first was that I had my children. For the benefit of those readers who haven’t had a peek at my “about me” page, I have 5 year old twins, a boy and a girl, and I was (and remain) astonished at how exhausting parenting is. For a period of about 6 months, in order to cope with my 4am starts, I would fall asleep on the couch by eight o’clock each evening. And so, it was in an effort to stay awake (and remember who my husband was) that I came to the conclusion if I was doing something with my hands, it would be harder for me to nod off in the evenings. So I bought some yarn and patterns, and picked up some needles and started knitting. I made a cardi for my daughter and a couple of sleeveless pullovers for my little boy and was generally pretty pleased with them.  

Then, three months later, I realised these garments were getting a bit snug, then about a month after that, they were definitely too small. At this point, it dawned on me that babies grow really fast. So, if I was going to knit their clothes, I was going to have to knit a size up so they would get a decent amount of wear from them. But it takes longer to knit a bigger garment so it was a couple more months before I finished the next cardi for my daughter. By this point, she had learnt the word NO! and refused to wear any form of knitted garment. I persevered for a while but attempting to put her little arm into any knitwear lead to tears and tantrums. Then summer arrived, and I surrendered the battle and the needles (but not the war -although that is a subject worthy of a post all on its own),

Then the second thing happened; my very good school friend Gail taught herself to crochet. I loved the things she was making and, I was missing yarn, so she set me up with a crochet hook and got me started on granny squares. For the whole of that Autumn and Winter, I made blankets. I made them with such a fervour, my husband started to fear for my sanity. We soon had more blankets than beds but I couldn’t stop. I started blanket after blanket. Bought yarn pack after yarn pack. Joined Facebook group after Facebook group. And then I discovered hand dyed yarn.  

And here is the thing. Until that point in my life I’d never heard of sock weight yarn. Obviously I’d heard it called by its other name -4ply – but not sock weight. And then I had a conversation in my head that went something like “this is called sock weight. Does that mean you can knit socks with it? Wait, socks are knitted? I could knit socks!” 

And so I did. A mini obsession was born. I made lots and lots of socks and was supremely happy with every pair. But that was a while ago now and it’s funny how these mini obsessions go in cycles. The sock phase was superseded by a shawl phase (as these are also often knitted with sock weight yarn) which, in turn, was superseded by my recent, and still continuing, hat phase.   

I mention this now because, yesterday, I noticed that my most favourite watermelon socks (pictured above), made from fabulous hand dyed yarn from Abi Grasso, have a hole in the sole. Whilst I’ve done some other forms of mending, I have never darned anything and will admit to feel a bit daunted by the prospect. So, if you need me, I’ll be watching sock darning videos over on YouTube and wondering whether to invest in a darning mushroom.

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Egg-gate

I ended my last post with the words “even I can manage an egg”. And really, how challenging can it be to produce a faceless vaguely oval shaped crochet object? As it turns out, for me, quite challenging.

The first challenge to overcome was pattern selection. This necessitated a good deal of time scouring Ravelry (for my non knitting crocheting readers, it’s a website containing hundreds of thousands of patterns for everything you’d ever want to knit or hook). The trouble with Ravelry is that it’s very easy to get distracted. You start with the best of intentions, type in the word “egg” and press the search button and before you realise what has happened, an hour has passed, you are perusing shawl patterns and are nowhere near having an egg pattern selected. So, I buckled down and eventually picked a pattern

Pattern selected, the next decision was yarn. Clearly, I don’t want to buy any more yarn just to crochet a couple of Easter eggs (although as excuses go, I’ve used some which have been much more feeble than this) so I looked in my stash. Some time later, I realised I’d been horribly distracted again, by squeezing and squishing all my beautiful colourful hand dyed yarn, and so eventually settled on 2 shades of Stylecraft Special DK, an acrylic which I don’t especially love but I have loads left over from a previous Attic 24 blanket obsession, and a hand-dyed yellow from Cuddlebums, which I’d been saving for some daffodil brooches but thought I could probably spare an egg’s worth.

So, on to the pattern. It assured me an egg would take about an hour to make, and it is true to say, the second and third ones were much quicker than that. The first one however took me the better part of an evening. It turns out that one of the reasons I’m not very good at amigurumi is that I can’t count. At least, not reliably, when there is good TV to watch.  

And counting, it turns out is the key to producing an object that looks at least a little bit like the pattern. About the first 10 attempts were frogged (translation for the benefit of non crafting folk: to unravel your work, or “rip it, rip it” back) or simply abandoned, when I decided that reusing yarn that had been previously crocheted wasn’t helping my cause.    

Eventually, and after a good deal of sighing, I did manage three egg shaped objects and I do have to say, I think they look really sweet. Now I’ve mastered (ahem!) the pattern, I may make some more but I think the Easter bunnies will need to wait until next year. However, I am now thinking surely all eggs need a nest? So, I’m off to have a scroll through Ravelry…. 

Have a happy Easter everyone xxx

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Postie Stalking

It’s always the way isn’t it? You decide to do something, make a big announcement, get everyone enthused, then have to wait what feels like a small eternity for the things you need to get started, to arrive in the mail. This is the story of the dye I need for my blanket. I’ve spent hours of fidgety torture each day waiting for the postie to arrive only to be disappointed as he zooms past our house and up the lane in his van without giving my letterbox a second glance. So, in an effort to distract myself, I’ve been doing other things…

 come on postie 

It was a surprise to me when I realised it was Easter this weekend. This means two things 1. I will need to occupy my children for a month before they return to school again, and 2. I have, yet again, not produced any Easter related craft items. This happens to me every year with almost every event in the calendar. If I actually start something, the event usually overtakes me and well, it just feels weird making Easter bunnies after the event, even though they can be safely stored for decorations next year.

My children are five years old (I have twins) and I appreciate, in a few years (who am I kidding? Next year), the only thing they will be interested in will be the chocolate, but for the moment they are really keen on painted eggs and little birds to hang  up so I’ve focused  this week and found some contorted hazel sticks and have the very best of intentions to crochet some little eggs, which along with some hasty purchases in our local John Lewis and some other bits and pieces, should make us nicely festive. 

  
I am not, it should be pointed out, very accomplished at amigurumi (weird word so, for non crafters reading this, see here for an explanation). Most of the animals I make end up with slightly demented expressions. At Christmas, I crocheted the Toft robin and I had to make 5 separate legs in order to end up with two that could reasonably be called a pair. Needless to say, he is not finished (beak, eyes and assembly still outstanding). 

 It takes real skill which, like anything, can only be mastered with many hours patient practice. But not having many hours and Easter being only a couple of days away, it really will be best crochet hook forward and, surely, even I can manage a crochet egg?

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Right. Let’s. Get. Started.

Right. Let’s. Get. Started.

I’ve been saying these words for months with the idea of writing about my crafting life, without actually doing it, so, here goes.

Deep breath.
<<<sounds of toes being dipped into water>>>

It seems only fair that I should start my crafting blog life with a new craft. Well, if not actually completely new, then almost new. About a year ago, on a spur of the moment whim type thingy that I’m prone to, I signed up to and went on a yarn dyeing retreat run by Daisy at Devon Sun Yarns. I mostly did it so I could escape my children for the weekend and it was with some nervousness that I knocked on the door of the Arched House in Lyme Regis on a Friday evening and said hello to a group of women who have forever changed my life.

preparing to dye

It’s fair to say I’ve always been a crafter. I loved art at school and my mum taught me to knit when I was very small. But I’d mostly always done it in what felt like a crafting desert. A 20 year corporate career followed by a move to a commuter village and then twin babies, didn’t leave a huge amount of space for social crafting, so, apart from a brief foray into a quilting group, at which I always arrived late, in a suit and with my mind still on work, I’d never spent any real time with crafting folk.

So, the ladies I met on the retreat were, in every sense, a revelation. Their creativity astounded me (and still does) but what struck me most was their generosity of spirit and willingness to share their time and themselves. And I realised then how wonderful it is to share your crafting experiences with others. There is as much pleasure to be taken from sharing your love of a craft as actually undertaking the making.

crochet hooks made with Kuritumi

I came away from the retreat with lovely new friends, in a state of complete serenity (this might not have been entirely a good thing however, as the morning after the retreat ended, I managed to lose my mobile phone and lock myself out of my house!) and with a good understanding of the basics of yarn dying. I enjoyed it so much that I’ve been back to one of Daisy’s yarn dyeing workshops at the fabulous destination yarn store, A Yarn Story, in Bath (if you are ever in the area, you must visit), and on a crochet retreat with Daisy and Dedri Uys the lady behind the lovely blog Look At What I Made. My last trip to Lyme was on an Inspire a Retreat, again with Daisy, one of the results of which is this blog.

Given how much I enjoyed it, it is surprising that the one thing I haven’t done at home since that first retreat, is dye any yarn. Over the Christmas holidays I was really enthused with the idea of a temperature blanket where you record the maximum and minimum temperature in a row or square of a blanket, so the colour of your eventual blanket is driven by the weather. But I just don’t have the time for a daily row or square (besides which, I calculated this would make my blanket about 15 feet long) so I came up with the idea of doing a row for the maximum and minimum temperatures each week, with an extra row for the rare events of snow and thunderstorms. This would make the blanket a much more reasonable length. But my house really doesn’t need another crochet blanket. But I really wanted to do this. Then I hit upon an idea. I could dye my own colours for the blanket, then it would be really special to me. And this made the idea of yet another blanket, completely acceptable.

 

image

So, here I sit, with coffee, fear and trepidation, looking at 10 skeins of un-dyed super wash merino bamboo mix supplied by Daisy and wondering which colours I need to dye for my temperature ranges. I’m telling you this so I don’t wimp out and pop the skeins back in my stash. You are my conscience. I will now have to keep you posted.