Monday 27 February 2012

This is how it starts

140grams approx of hand dyed BFL with the promise to play on my friends wheel included in the present. 

Oh dear.

Saturday 25 February 2012

Leftover Soup or Winners Soup

I love soup. Anyone who has ever read the blog before will know that my love for seasonal soup is what gets me through the week. I'm at my happiest when there's a tub of delicious soup in the fridge to schlurp from when I get peckish. So I thought I'd share a leftover 'go to' and the tips for making leftovers winning on the taste front.

The basic recipe is a twist on Moroccan soup and the lemon adds the zing sometimes nececsary to pick up a tired soup. I substitute beans, veg and all sorts but the basics remain the same: a good strong, tomato base, lemon and a combination of fresh and stored herbs and spices to add depth and interest. Here's the basics then I'll explain the twists as I go. 

To serve 4 people you will need approximately:
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion , chopped
  • 2 celery sticks, chopped
  • 2 tsp ground cumin (this is basic- I add mix and match spices to add zip- see below)
  • 600ml hot stock (to make this more meaty, use ham stock and add pancetta or chorizo at the onion stage)
  • 1 can chopped toms
  • 1 can of pulses, rinsed and drained or any other bean, soaked. It needs to be a good handful at least. Chickpea is nice and I often do a handful of two different beans or pulses.
  • zest and juice ½ lemon
  • large handful chopped coriander 
To make a winning soup:
1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan, fry the onion and celery gently for 10 mins until softened, being sure to stir frequently. 
2. While this is cooking down, heat a small pan and lightly toast your spices to bring out their aroma. I use paprika, dried chilli and cumin, sometimes with ground coriander or dried garlic. It depends on my mood. 
3. Add the spices in to the pan and any 'additional veg'. Last time I used carrot and pepper and a little left over cabbage but you don't need to. 
4. Turn up the heat, then add the stock, tomatoes and pulses, plus a good grind of black pepper and pinch of salt.
5. Simmer- the longer the better
6. Add the lemon juice and heat through for 2 more minutes. 
7. To serve, sprinkle on the zest and chopped fresh herbs (Parsley also works). 

Ta da!

Thursday 23 February 2012

12 women in 12: Jeni (Fyberspates) Hewlett

This month, my attention for 12 Women in 12 turns to the world of yarn production and just what it takes to make a yarn business grow to an international level. It's no mean feat and it's a goal not to be taken lightly. Offering a quality product, in a range that appeals to all kinds of Crafters, with pattern support takes time and dedication and here at A Playful Day we salute that. 

Jeni, (c) Fyberspates
Jeni Hewlett is the woman behind the brand Fyberspates, and believe me, she is a force to be reckoned with. Jeni has built this empire from scratch and every aspect of the business and it's thriving community of supporters is a credit to her hard work and determination. Fyberspates started out as a small and independently run hand dyed company, but Jeni admits that it was never her intention to keep it that way. Fyberspates yarn is now sourced from within the UK, Peru, Italy, Spain and the USA and can be found stocked in LYS' from Australia to France and more, so you can see just how far a journey Fyberspates has enjoyed. 

Jeni's aim was to grow her company slowly and build into a sustainable business which would be able to do things which she felt other commercial companies didn't do. This growth came from wanting to get Fyberspates products out into the world, and so Jeni came up with 2 ranges: a 100% Wool range and Scrumptious. Scrumptious was a huge success and so Jeni expanded what worked, and rolled out Scrumptious into 5 weights of yarn to suit a wide range of projects.

Now with a hand dyed speciality range, a whole sale range and pattern support from well known and respected designers, I asked Jeni what an average work week looks like; her answers were honest and I was struck by how much dedication it takes to create a yarn business of this magnitude. On average, Jeni will work 6 and a half days, occasionally managing a weekend off but even then there will always be work in there somewhere. A huge proportion of time is spent answering emails, organising advertising, sorting out wholesale orders, doing invoicing and packing orders. 

Hand dyed lovelies, (c) Fyberspates
When Jeni first started, she had left a Master's degree which she hated and set out to make knitting her career. She started learning to design and dye yarns and from this small business enterprise, a yarn company grew that included a hand dyed range but also a carefully developed whole sale line. Jeni admits that dyeing has become the least part of what she does now, and admits that it is a shame because it's her most favourite part. With this in mind, the Fyberspates site moved and changed so that Jeni now has a new dyeing unit which means she can dye a lot more in a shorter space of time. Great news for those of us still loving the Fyberspates unique colour palettes.

Alvescot by Jeni, (c) Fyberspates
Furthermore to all this work, there is a huge amount of planning things that will happen in the future. Fyberspates now work on an 18 month plan ahead of time so that there is quite a strict structure to work in terms of patterns, books and other publications. On this schedule, Jeni states that it takes about 12 months to bring a book to fruition. This struck me as incredibly well thought out, with a clear understanding of the market, knitters and her own products. To go from working week to week, to planning so far in advance, means strict budgets and editing schedules. Like our other 12 Women in 12, Jeni is approaching her work with carefully measured plans and allowing projects time to grow so there won't be any nasty surprises in the future.

It would be easy to think that Jeni has, understandably, become removed from the customers who she first started dyeing for but this is simply not the case. Jeni exhibits at roughly one show a month and admits that this is great fun and that this is the time when she gets to go out and meet customers face to face, and get great and valued feedback on the company and products. Jeni states emphatically that this is something very important to her.

I asked Jeni for her business advice for those wishing to follow in her footsteps. Here's what she said:
1. Steady growth is extremely important, because it allows you to learn the lessons you need to learn as you go along.
2. Get customer service right- you have to deliver the things you have promised, and if you end up losing money/or customers, you must learn from it, move on and DON'T do it again. This is VERY important.
3. Find people to work with who match both your own personality and share the same values.

Longcot by Jeni, (c) Fyberspates
Finally, I asked Jeni what her proudest moments have been to date. Jeni described the way in which 'The Scrumptious Collection: Volume 1' opened so many doors for the company. Tellingly, Jeni states that it wasn't the book so much as the realisation that her business would fly once she had the right people to work with on board. Jeni now feels that she has a 'dream team' that can do anything together and so now the stage is set for further success. A point proven by her other greatest moment- being asked by John Lewis to be featured in their stores. Fyberspates is now a widely respected luxury yarn stocked in high end commercial and small, independent stores alike.

This interview gave me great food for thought and really made me appreciate just what makes a yarn company successful: determination, sound business plans and the ability to attract the right people around you. In the future, Fyberspates 'dream team' are planning Collection 2 of the highly successful Scrumptious Collection for January 2013 and also exhibiting at Handarbeit in March 2012. Lastly, there's TNNA to look forward to in June with the new Distributor Lantern Moon so things look very positive indeed.

You can follow all of Jeni's most recent news on the Fyberspates blog, her twitter feed, the Ravelry Group and Facebook.

Stay tuned for more 12 women in 12 and please do join in to show your appreciation for good business practice by yarn companies by eithertweeting along on twitter (#12womenin12) or sharing your feelings on your own blog. Be sure to let me know/ link us in, we'd love to know what you think!

Tuesday 21 February 2012


This weekend I'm off to Unravel so if you're there and spot me, please do say hello! My plan is to try to remember to take lots of audio and catch up with lots of friends and I can't wait.

On Saturday I will be part of the Podcaster's Meetup at the Ravelry Party being held in the East Wing of the Maltings. The Meetup kicks off at 11am and ends around 12. 

I'll also be there on Sunday in a less podcasterly fashion but still with mic in hand- you never know who you might meet!

There will be a special podcast soon to tell you all about the frolics so stay tuned!

Sunday 19 February 2012

Ode to my Knitting Crushes.

I have many knitting crushes. Some are pure and steadfast, some whimsical and some have been my biggest crush since, like, FOREVER. So I thought I would pay tribute to the people I consider legends in the knitting world and I would turn completely fan girl on at the drop of a knitted hat. 

In no particular order....

8. Melissa Wehrle of Neoknits. My favourite ever knitscenes are without fail, the ones where she has several designs. I've built them up to the point I couldn't possibly knit them. But this year, as I say every year, it's going to happen.
7. Gudrun Johnston of the Shetland Trader. Just wow. Again, I'm in awe and am yet to brave casting any patterns on!
6. Alana Dakos of Never Not Knitting. I've made several of her stylish accessories by now and I'm thrilled that she has a collection coming out with another delicious designer: Hannah Fettig. I'm avoiding buying Coastal Knits for fear I will become knit frenzied and never leave the house.
5. Vanessa Smith of Knit Rhapsody. I think not only is her design work to die for but she is also hot stuff herself and I admit, I have a girl crush.
4. Veera Välimäki of Rain Knitwear Designs. Her designs are stylish and grey and striped and I must KNIT THEM ALL. yes. 
3.  Cecily Glowik Macdonald. My more recent knitting crush, a slow burning and building crush. Now it is fully fledged and I want to make about 10 of her sweaters/ cardigans NOW. I'm in awe of course and completely paralysed by the thought of not making mine as perfect as the pattern.
2. Stephen West. I love his wearable designs. His photography suits my playful self and I love, love the fact that I can make things for both myself and the giant that I will wear. Lace is nice but this is wearable. I'm working through this collection slower than I would like. It helps he's cute as a button too. Yes. 
1. The ultimate for me, Brooklyn Tweed. Oh Jared, let us count the ways I love you. For me it's not just the clear, simple but informative pattern writing, the stunning photography but it's the classic nature of these designs. This is what knit wear should look like. The last two Fall collections have taken my breath away and made me sink into tea and toast and hours of reading and browsing over the pattern info. I can't bring myself to knit them. I'm too in awe. Aren't I silly?

Do you do this? Obssess about design collections but never seem to get there? Or dabble then run away again?

ETA: I have absolutely NO idea why this republished here. I was correcting typos last night and something funky happened. Ho hum

Episode 23: Stop! Sweater Time!

Aplayfulday is kindly sponsored by Superknits, who are changing and to mark this evolution are hosting a massive sale of all branded yarn to make room for their own super yarns- go on, spoil yourself!!!

Aplayfulday is also kindly sponsored by NorthboundKnitting, uniquely hand dyed yarn, spinning fibre and modern knitting designs. NorthBoundKnitting have just released a new update and if that is not enough to tempt you, the Fiber Club spots will be in the shop on the 24th February 2012. Please show your support for our playful friend by clicking on the link above.

Aplayfulday is proudly sponsored by Candy Skein and is sharing the love with 10% off all purchases until 29th February 2012. Simply enter the code 'APLAYFULDAY' at checkout to claim your discount. 

Show notes:

I will be attending Unravel at the end of February 2012 on both days. The podcaster meetup is happening in the East Wing, behind the Interknit booth at 11-12 on the Saturday as aprt of the Ravelry party. Please feel free to come and say hi on the Sunday but I won't be doing a meet and greet on this day!

Save the date- Wonderwool is in April.

Off the Needles
After thought heel socks by Laura Linneman in a mystery self striping of awesome- stay tuned!
Kai Mei by Cookie A in Superknits Mary, Queen of Socks, colourway 'With my tv and CD collection of Bob Marley'

On the needles 
Whippoorwill by Carina Spencer using Northboundknitting Superwash Merino Fingering in the 'Moonstone' colourway and Tactile Fiber Arts Studio Bolinas Sock in the colourway 'Pomegranate'.
Julissa by Vanessa Smith of Knit Rhapsody in Miss Bab's Yowza! Whatta Skein! in the colourway 'Catherine'.

Playful Pursuits:
Elizabeth Zimmerman's 'Knitting Without Tears' for inspiration and Knitting Pipeline for pure podcast delight.

Munch, Burp, Schlurp
Delicious Pumpkin Nutella Swirl Bread from BarbaraBakes.

Fly, Fly, Fly by Adrina Thorpe, available on Music Alley
I'm Single by Deidre Flint, available on Music Alley
You Can't Touch This! by MC Hammer
Simon Says by Pharoahe Monch
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Friday 17 February 2012

Tag You're It: Featuring Carol Feller

Aplayfulday is kindly sponsored by Superknits, who are changing and to mark this evolution are hosting a massive sale of all branded yarn to make room for their own super yarns- go on, spoil yourself!!!

Aplayfulday is also kindly sponsored by NorthboundKnitting, uniquely hand dyed yarn, spinning fibre and modern knitting designs. NorthBoundKnitting have just released a new update and if that is not enough to tempt you, the Fiber Club spots will be in the shop on the 24th February 2012. Please show your support for our playful friend by clicking on the link above.

Aplayfulday is proudly sponsored by Candy Skein and is sharing the love with 10% off all purchases until 29th February 2012. Simply enter the code 'APLAYFULDAY' at checkout to claim your discount. 

Show notes:

I am joined by Carol Feller of Stolen Stitches fame. We discuss her book, Contemporary Irish Knits, and her self published collaboration with Fyberspates, Scrumptious Knits.

Fly, Fly, Fly by Adrina Thorpe, available on Music Alley
My Favourite Place by Katy Pfaffl, available on Music Alley
Contact me at:
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Thursday 16 February 2012

Experiments with popcorn

I am addicted

I love making microwave popcorn. The smell, the buttery taste (no sugar here) and the combinations that I can make with my own concoctions and recipes. 

I also have a deep and undying love for Wasabi Peas but have run out. Yes, I know, it's tragic. A house without Wasabi Peas is a sad house indeed. I was a very sad panda

Until I realised- I have a tube of Wasabi! I put it in mash potato when I make asian salmon and have been wondering how else to bring more Wasabi into my life. It was as I prepped for more popcorn I thought 'This needs to happen'. 

Here's what I did:

I heated 1/2 tbsp- 1 whole tbsp butter in a microwave safe bowl until it melted, then added 1 tsp plain oil (I used Groundnut) and 1 tblsp Wasabi. 

I then mixed in 1/3 popcorn kernels and made sure they were all coated in the mixture. 

Next, I wrapped the top with baking parchment and secured it with a rubber band, being terribly careful not to ping it in my face. I then stabbed some vent holes in to the parchment with a sharp knife (yes I did a psycho sound track as I did so because I'm a nerd this way)

I put it on high heat for about 4 mins and listened. You want the popping to go bananas and then slow so there's a good 1-2 seconds between pops. This is when you grab it out and devour ravenously.

Verdict: The paste has a slight tendency to burn, hence why I added the splash of oil. I'm now on a mission to track down Wasabi powder which you can buy to add water to and mix your own paste.

Failing this I'm going to try heating a Wasabi mixture and pouring it straight on to the popped corn, like I do with my salted caramel sometimes. What's that? Oh yes, you read that right. Salted caramel.

Expect more popcorn related posts......

Wednesday 15 February 2012

Another Valentine's Winner

We have a winner!

The random number generator has selected: Vanessa!

Please get in contact to claim your copy of 'All You Knit it Love'.

Thanks to all of you who entered x

Tuesday 14 February 2012

Cold sheep? About that....

I have been gleefully knitting these last few weeks. I have 2 new pairs of socks and I'm whizzing through a beautiful new shawl which is so lovely, it has to have a blog post all to itself. Really. I'm in love. 

In the meantime I thought I'd update you on my sweater quest. 

Part of the incentive to go cold sheep this year was to knit through some of the sweater quantities that I have so diligently accumulated. I have a grand total of 4 possible garments now and how many did I knit in 2011?

Well, exactly. 

So cold sheeping got my sweater mojo whirring again and I spent a delightful evening swatching with this lovely yarn. It's Miss Babs, Yowsa! Whatta Skein! in the colourway 'Catherine' that I was given as a gift. I knew instantly that I wanted to make a sweater from it and tracked down a second skein with the help of a friend. 

Since then it's been consulted often and like a yarn whisperer I listened when the yarn said that it might want to be an Idlewood, a beautiful tunic design with a monster cowl from one of my knitting crushes, Cecily Glowik MacDonald. I pictured myself in long sleeve tees and this top, nuzzling into the cowl and feeling happy after weeks of vanilla knitting.

Image credit Cecily Glowik MacDonald
Alas, it was not to be. This skein is a really light worsted and the design works best in an aran weight. There are examples of the Idlewood knit in Malabrigo but as we know, Mal is fluffy and made of clouds and therefore can be used in the absence of a true aran weight yarn. So I am back to day dreaming about this pattern and have a birthday present in mind because gifts don't count in cold sheeping. They don't. Honest.

So I thought about its' twist, its lightness and I listened again as the yarn said 'Something with negative ease please'. I found this pattern and I've admired it since it was published a few months ago.

'Julissa' by Knit Rhapsody (image credits Knit Rhapsody)
So I'm back to swatching and measuring and wondering what size to make. I am slightly concerned about the sizing and I suspect this Sunday's podcast to include tales of hilarity and woe. 

Or omit to mention it at all. This is also a highly likely event if there is a sweater disaster. In which case, let us not speak of sweater knitting ever again hmm?

Sunday 12 February 2012

We have a winner!

The Random Number Generator has spoken and Justine, you are the winner of this wonderful print from Sparklehen!

Please drop me an email at the usual address with your mailing address. 

Don't forget there's still a prize to be won!

Friday 10 February 2012

A non-resolution check up

This New Year I opted for goals that would generally make me happier as I'm not a fan of resolutions. I'm not very good with being told 'don't'. The minute I hear I can't touch wet paint I'm splodging finger prints in it or trying to trick someone else to doing it too. It's just the way I'm built. 

Instead I chose to liberate stash and gleefully cast on anything I felt like in a decadent call to arms that is 'Cold Sheeping' (don't faint). I get a lot of mail and a lot of it is yarn for various purposes and it threatens to drown my stash at times. I also wanted to curl up with a book more often. I thought I'd let you know how I've been going in terms of reading and I'll get you some knitting porn later in the week.

Highs: The Hungers Games, Elizabeth Zimmerman and The Moomins

The Lows: A badly written Judy Garland book that was only saved thanks to great photographs being included and the third book from the Hunger Games trilogy. It seems impossible to capture the momentum of the first books and while it wasn't a stinker, I wanted to be gripped as much by the third as I was by the first.

Finally, I need to declare to the world that I love Elizabeth Zimmerman. I love her writing style, her attitude to knitting and her humour. Heck I just love her ok? I want to read all her books. NOW

Wednesday 8 February 2012

Be My Valentine: More Crafty Ideas (and another giveaway)

I'm starting to feel quite cosy. Perhaps it's the snow we had at the weekend as it always makes me feel snuggly. There is something so satisfying about cuddling up under blankets, with piping boozey hot chocolate and hand knit socks; it puts me in a great mood for days to come. 

So while I'm in this delicious mood I thought I would finish off the Valentine's features with a little round up of the fun things that I've been finding and a book giveaway. 

First an internet round up of the yummy things that caught my eye.

I can think of nothing more decadent that a chocolate baked goodie. These wholewheat brownies from the '100 days of Real Food Blog' looked delicious and I'm planning to make these for Valentine's. 

Cute idea for love heart ice cubes from 'A Subtle Revelry'. 

I'm slipping a gin cocktail in here from the fabulous people at The Design Sponge because, you know, gin. 

These sewn heart cards from Reb Bird Crafts are so simple that even me, with my dreadful sewing skills is debating having a try.

I absolutely love Elisa's designs and creations and this printable card is adorable and free and not 'naff' and gooey at all like so many Valentine's things are. I approve.

Molliemakes brought these love heart badges (and other designs) to my attention from Not On The High Street.

I want cute heart elbow patches thanks to One Sheepish Girl. 

Finally, the kind people at Collins and Brown have sent me a few books recently and one caught my eye for all you lovers out there.  'All You Knit is Love' is a quirky little book, reasonably priced at £5.99. The author, Debbie Harrold is the creator behind the 'Ha Pea Birthday' cards that I've giggled at in Paperchase and also known for books like 'The Knit Olympics' and 'Knitted Icons'. I'm not a toy knitter largely due to laziness and RSI but I know lots of knit friends who will make something cute for gifts now and then. I think this would defintely appeal to them. 

The subtitle reads '20 patterns for romantic handmade gifts' and while 20 is true I'm not sure anyone other than a knitter would really see the romance in a knitted penguin or fish. It's a cute idea, don't get me wrong but I kept thinking that these toys work well in print, like the little peas to be photographed with quirky captions; in other words I liked them more as funny little pictures. To this end, each project carries a cute title like 'Cuddle Bunny' or 'Bee Mine' so I think something like a little handmade card with the pun included might make a knitted fish seem a bit more festive than say just handing one to your partner expectantly. 
It's a cute little book that won't take up a huge amount of room on your book shelf so could be kept and pulled down for fun occassions. There's also a nice reference section at the back and this would really suit beginner knitters, looking to have some fun with a low commitment level of yardage to knit through.

If you think your partner or another loved one would get a kick out of a knitted toy, leave a comment on this blog by 13 February 2012 and I'll announce a gift of love on Valentine's day using the random number generator. Good luck!

Also don't forget you can still win a beautiful print from Sparklehen.

Tuesday 7 February 2012

And in other news....

A little while ago, my lovely friend Kristin from KnitNook interviewed me and the post just went up. I was really thrilled to be included as I love KnitNook (and Kristin). She said some really lovely things about me that made me blush and smile all day!

You can read the interview here.

Also I've got round to editting up a lot of photos and I found another 'best picture of food ever' without any clue what the dish was I was making at the time. I suspect a Nigel Slater seasonal special but I can't be sure. Clearly I wolfed it down without further thought but I was left with the dilemma of how to share the pictures in a meaningful way in a post. 

Just put them in randomly, clearly. Behold!

Monday 6 February 2012

Proudly Brought To You By....

I am thrilled to be able to announce that the playful tribe now includes The Lollipop Stop as one of our cheerleaders! Long time readers and listeners will know I've always had a love for this lady's cute and well made bags to keep my knitting possessions in. I love her choice of fabrics and attention to detail so was really pleased to welcome her on board. It is always nice to support good customer service, products and generally all around nice people working independently in the knitting and crafting world.
You can find an interview that I did with Lauren here, follow her on twitter as @thelollipopstop and support our fab friend at her folksy store. She's also Lolabella on Ravelry.

Sunday 5 February 2012

Episode 22: Let There Be Love

Aplayfulday is kindly sponsored by Superknits, and brace yourselves because..... the stripes are here!

Aplayfulday is also kindly sponsored by NorthboundKnitting, uniquely hand dyed yarn, spinning fibre and modern knitting designs. Please show your support for our playful friend by clicking on the link above.

Aplayfulday is proudly sponsored by Candy Skein and is sharing the love with 10% off all purchases until 29th February 2012. Simply enter the code 'APLAYFULDAY' at checkout to claim your discount. 

Show notes:

I will be attending Unravel at the end of February 2012 on both days. The podcaster meetup is happening in the East Wing, behind the Interknit booth at 11-12 on the Saturday as aprt of the Ravelry party. Please feel free to come and say hi on the Sunday but I won't be doing a meet and greet on this day!

Save the date- Wonderwool is in April.

Mooncalf Makes, purveyor of handmade tea accessories is offering 10% for all playful friends. Simply enter the code 'playful' at checkout to claim your discount. Offer ends 14th February 2012.

Off the needles

Cedar Leaf Shawlette by Alana Dakos in Silky Malabrigo DK weight in the colourway Sand.
A stash liberation challenge for a design using SuperKnits soon to be announced Catherine of Aran-gorn.

On the Needles
After thought heel socks by Laura Linneman in a mystery self striping of awesome- stay tuned!
Kai Mei by Cookie A in Superknits Mary, Queen of Socks, colourway 'With my tv and CD collection of Bob Marley' 

Notes from a Cold Sheeper:
Joyful stashing opportunities from Tactile Fiber Arts, The Uncommon Thread and Yarntini.

Munch, Burp, Schlurp
A guest feature from the blogger and podcaster LGesin of the 'Blog Like It's The End of the World' podcast. Laura mentions the following resources Veganise This, Veganomicon, The Vegan Table. Furthermore Stuff Vegans Say, and.....

Vegan Francaise Sauce

1/2 package silken tofu
juice of one lemon
1 Tbsp nutritional yeast
creole seasoning (or red & black pepper plus garlic salt if you don't have this but this is much better)
2 Tbsp canola oil

Heat the tofu in the microwave for 30 seconds.
Throw everything in a bowl, beat with immersion blender until smooth.
Throw back in the microwave for 30 seconds to a minute or until hot.

Pour over whatever!

Fly, Fly, Fly by Adrina Thorpe, available on Music Alley
Home by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
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Saturday 4 February 2012

The Story of a Cowl

I have an incredibly lovely knit friend. She's the friend you've read about before, that you've heard in the podcast and extremely knit worthy


I live in fear of knitting for her. 

There's no reason other than my own self doubt. Struck by her own knitting prowess and in awe of how much I care for this friend makes it hard to feel happy with anything I knit. I try to make it really personal but small and achieveable because the longer that her project is on the needles, the faster my self doubt grows. In the past I've knit a hat as she stated she didn't have any she liked and a joke scarf (long story). For her last birthday I made Monster Chunks and photographed them getting up to no good all around London. This then became a book. 

When I come to deciding her project, I always start too late, losing time with anxiety and self doubt. It is so silly, I LOVE wrapping the people that I care for in knits but this one cripples me everytime. I wear the shawls that she has made me with such joy and feel like I'm receiving a hug from my dear friend, who lives too many miles away to make us able to see each other more than once a year, tops. 

This Christmas was no exception. In a flash of bravery, I decided that I would accept a challenge. PJ thinks that there is no such thing as a warm cowl because they don't stay around your neck. She has a point doesn't she? How many have you tugged at in sheer frustration? 

So I made her the Tuesday Night Cowl from Malabrigo Rios. I even chose a daring colour as her love for purple is bipolar to say the least; she has a very love/ hate relationship with purple. I then set about working out the exact combination of squoosh and stiffness in order to be sure that this cowl sat neatly around her neck. 

I was aiming for thoughtful. I found vacant I think.
I used a trick.

The pattern calls for a slipped stitch edging on both sides to make it smooth but also stretchy. I pulled one side tighter so that this could be worn closest to her chin and would help it stay up. 

I would say I had some success.... she tells me she's worn it all week which makes me a very happy friend indeed.

Thursday 2 February 2012

Be My Valentine: Sparklehen

I am a whimsical creature, as most of you know, and illustration, graphic design and interesting prints make me hum contentedly to myself and daydream. So for this Valentine's feature I invited Heather, also known as Sparklehen, to come and share the inspiration behind her wonderful prints.

I discovered Heather entirely by accident when rooting through Folksy looking for inspiration for Christmas presents. I saw a picture that was just perfect for the giant and very much in the style we both enjoy but I wanted it a little more customised. Heather was brilliant at making sure I had the perfect print for my giant and I was delighted. So much so I just had to share her with you all as I think there's a print for every love in your life in her store.

Tell us a little about you and your beautiful work
Well I originally qualified in Graphic design and illustration. I then worked in medical illustration, which was a great job, working with health professionals, putting together leaflets and posters, creating artwork and helping out at photo shoots.

However, I had made the decision to give it up to look after my 2 boys as there is only 15 months between them, and eventually I thought that I would try and put some t-shirt designs onto RedBubble, I then went onto opening my own shops on Folksy and Etsy. 

You have a very distinct style, could you explain your inspiration for this?
Well I start with a blank page and look at it until my brain starts to bleed! Not quite, but it sometimes feels that frustrating when you really feel like your creative juices have dried up.

Sometimes it is starting with a blank page, other times it can be an idea from nowhere or when I'm in bed or in the shower.

My style really started back at high school, I was always doodling (when I should have been working!).

I think the more you do something no matter how much you are inspired by someone else's work, there is part of your personality comes through, making it your own. I'm still learning not to fight that, as it is easy for me to admire other peoples work and wonder why I can't be more like them. It's a confidence thing that I'm still working on I suppose! 

There is a whimsical, playful quality that I love- would you describe yourself in this way?
Unfortunately I don't have a naturally smiley face, and maybe come across as serious, but once you get to know me....oooh this is beginning to sound like I'm looking for a date!.

What I'm trying to say is that I suppose I have a quirky sense of humour and I try to let it come through in my work. Sometimes I laugh at what I have done and wonder if anyone else will get it, so it's really gratifying when I get good feedback from customers or people who like what I do. It really makes  what I do worth while!

Describe YOUR perfect valentine's date
It sounds sooo cliched, but it would have to be going out for a really lovely meal with my husband, but I prefer not to do it on Valentine's day (no, not because it's less expensive!) I just like being more spontaneous, well, as spontaneous as you can be with 2 young boys!

The best Valentine's gift you were ever given? Or perhaps one that sticks in mind (mine is a dead frog. I was 5 and it was the boy next door. I screamed blue murder)
I'm not mentioning any names here, but A pack of 5 M&S whites ladies briefs. I thought they were a joke at first, then I realised that they were the present along with a white t-shirt bra. I don't want to sound ungrateful, but they are hardly going to start any fires!!

Anything else?
I love Liquorice Allsorts!!!

I am thrilled to be able to offer MY favourite print, 'No Words Needed' (pictured above) to a lucky reader. Please leave me a message below this post by 10th February 2012, telling me which prints from Heather have caught your eye. Good luck!

You can find Heather as Sparklehen on Folksy as well as Etsy.