Friday, 20 July 2012

Knitknacks Baby Owl Kit

Cuddly but not tiny

I was most excited when I spotted this Knitknack owl kit on It came in two sizes -baby and cushion. My husband persuaded me that baby size would be best as my younger cat, Dexter, has a penchant for woolly cushions, especially alpaca ones. So, baby it was, costing £22.50.

The kit was complete in terms of providing needles, yarn, stuffing, buttons, and even a sewing up needle. It all came in a brown paper bag, which I always think is a lovely way to package knitting goods.

The owl was knitted on 6.5mm needles in two parts for the front and the back.  The yarn provided was 100g of really soft chunky baby alpaca in a brown/caramel twist shade from a US company called Catalina. The front of the owl is mostly knitted in stocking stitch but with a clever moss stitch design to define the wings. The ears are also knitted in moss stitch.

The back of the owl is the same as the front minus the moss stitch wings. However, I did hit a bit of a snag that earlier in my knitted career would have sent me over the edge. I ran out of yarn just before the ears on the back piece. I knew it was touch and go as I'd weighed the yarn at the half way stage and only had 48g left. Anyway, a mental review of my stash revealed some Rowan Purelife British Sheep Breeds Chunky in brown that was the right weight and would just about blend in colour-wise. The backs of the ears would simply look a little more textured.

Textured not odd

Once that drama was over, I created the owl's face. The kit thoughtfully provides two crochet circles for the outer eyes. I don't like it when knitting kits assume you can also crochet, although I could just about manage a circle now. The circles came with yarn attached to the outer circle for sewing the circle to the owl and then the inner circle so you could sew on the coconut shell buttons for the pupils. Nifty. I then used the contrast yarn to make a simple V-shaped beak.

To make up the owl, I back stitched the two halves rights sides together with the Rowan yarn, leaving the bottom open. I think using mattress stitch for shaped pieces that will be stuffed is kind of a waste of time and you get a more secure result from the back stitching. Once sewn, I turned the owl the right way out and stuffed it with the toy filling provided. I then mattress stitched the cast on edges together at the bottom.

I do like to embellish, so the final flourish was a cream felt bow from stash, that I attached to one of the ears with a corduroy brad.

The finished owl is really squishy and huggable, but not so tiny at approx 14 inches high by 10 inches wide.

Now, where can I hide it from that pesky cat...

Alpaca loving cat


Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Knitted Ferdinand Fox

Foxy obsession...

I have recently replaced my owl obsession with a fox obsession and I've been looking for a cute one to knit for a while. So, when I saw Val Pierce's Ferdinand fox pattern in Lets Knit magazine, I decided to give it a whirl.

The fox in the magazine was made using Stylecraft Life DK. I went for a more luxe fox using Rowan Kid Classic that I bought from Laughing Hens. They were even nice enough to go through the shade card and choose a suitably foxy colour for me.

The fox was knitted on 4mm straight needles as a traditional toy knit in separate pieces. So that was two arms, two legs, a body, a bib, a head, a tail, four ear pieces and a nose. Phew! Much of it was very similar in terms of increasing, knitting even and decreasing in stocking stitch.

I made a couple of minor alterations to the design - I missed out the black tail tip and back of ears as I thought the fox looked better in just orange and cream. I also used safety eyes rather than embroidered ones.

I exercised my usual discipline in making up by sewing and stuffing each piece as it was knitted. I back stitched most of the pieces as (1) I find stocking stitch unrewarding on shaped pieces, and (2) you can't tell on a toy anyway.

Dismembered fox parts

Having dutifully made up all the body parts, I found myself strangely procrastinating over sewing the fox together. Once I finally got down to it on a rainy Saturday morning (not that there's been any other kind in the UK of late), I worked out the problem. It was hard.

I don't have much faith in my arm and leg positioning anyway, but I looked carefully at the magazine photos and got them roughly correct. Then for the head. Wobbly head syndrome is the bane of toy construction. I toyed with inserting a dowel or pipecleaner to hold it up, but DH, who is an expert on model construction, thought it just needed more stitches. About a gazillion of them. Similar issue with the tail - to make the fox balance you need to attach a fair amount of the surface area of the tail to the body.

Finally, Ferdinand behaved himself and sat up straight like a good fox. To finish him, I knitted his black nose and sewed it on with a bit of light padding. I embroidered his eyebrows and then ran a length of cream yarn along the line between the orange and cream sections on his head to define his snout.

I'm surprised you can see me for all that wool in the background

Ferdinand is about 8 inches sitting and I find myself quite pleased that he: (a) broadly resembles the fox in the magazine, and (b) is pretty sweet.


Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Mini Intarsia Cushion

Knit Now Issue 8
I was very excited when I saw Elly Doyle's Graphic Cushions project in Issue 8 of specialist accessory magazine, Knit Now. One cushion featured mushrooms and the other cute Russian dolls. The Russian doll design was my favourite but gave me a bit of a dilemma. A full-sized nine-doll cushion would (a) take ages, and (b) require the purchase of new yarn. I am currently aiming to knit from stash until I go to Woolfest next week. with that in mind, I decided to make a mini cushion featuring just one repetition of the doll chart.

For the background of the cushion and the bottom of the doll, I used some cream and purple blue-faced Leicester DK I had in stash. Unfortunately, I didn't have a third colour in that yarn so tried a pale pink alpaca DK.

I find that the trouble with intarsia is that it's easy to lose concentration and miss a colour change, especially in the middle. Indeed, I mucked up shortly after introducing the alpaca for the top half of the doll. I tried to pull it back, but that's kind of tough with intarsia. So,I gritted my teeth and started again...

On the second attempt, I took the opportunity to add more background stitches and rows so the design wasn't so close to the edges of the cushion. I also switched to a hot pink Sublime Baby Cashmere Merino Silk DK for the top of the doll as I found the alpaca didn't work well with the other yarn.

This time I managed to complete the design with only the odd stitch out of place (see if you can spot where :). I used yarn bobbins for the different sections of colour as I find this reduces tangling quite a bit. Afterwards, I pressed and sprayed the front of the cushion by way of blocking.

Having completed the front, I knitted a two-tone back piece in stocking stitch from the leftover blue faced Leicester. I then decorated the doll with a button for her tummy and an embroidered face.

To make up, I back stitched around three sides of the cushion, wrong sides together (I don't see the point of mattress stitch for a sealed cushion). I then turned the cushion the right way out and stuffed with toy filler. Finally, I mattress stitched the bottom edges together.

So, a cute yet challenging stash buster on only two tries...


Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Knitted and Crochted Headbands

Hair accessory frenzy
As I've mentioned before, I don't tend to enjoy making more than one of the same thing. That said, I do love a theme. Hence, ending up with these three headbands rather than one.

The starting point was Diane Grimshaw's Beautiful Bands Project in Simply Homemade Issue 17. My effort is a combination of the Knitting Pretty and Bobbles in Blue designs. All the headbands I've used are thin, plastic bands that I picked up in the Accessorize sale. For this version, you first had to knit a cover for the band using 5mm needles and DK. My hot pink yarn is Sublime Baby Cashmere Merino Silk. You essentially knit a strip in moss stitch that you then oversew it onto the band. I was a bit sceptical that the knitting would be the right size for my band and indeed it took me two attempts to get it right. Once sewn on, I glued the strip to the ends of the headband for extra security.

The second part of the design was to wrap around some biased binding, secured to the knitted strip at each end with a few stitches. I used some rather posh Liberty biased binding from Clothkits. Finally, I glued on a couple of dense pom poms from my stash.

By this stage, I'd got to thinking that it would be easier to cover the headband in crochet as you would  keep going until the headband was covered rather than needing to guess the size. Unfortunately, I couldn't quite work out how to double crochet over the headband. I took myself to YouTube and finally figured it out from watching this video many times over.
Having created a cover from black DK, I simply glued on a cute felt heart embellishment from Blooming Felt.

Flushed with success, I finished with this crochet tiara from a PDF pattern from Cheryl Cambras's Etsy Shop. The pattern began with the same double crochet covering and then used doubles, trebles and skipped stitches to create the tiara shape. I used some leftover Debbie Bliss Glen yarn and a size G (4.25mm) hook.  I'm not sure my version is perfect, but in fact it's my favourite of the three. Unfortunately, my husband says I'm not allowed to wear the tiara outside the house...

So, there's my headband jag and I've a few plain headbands left for when inspiration next strikes.


Thursday, 24 May 2012

Crochet Storage Jar Covers

Minimalist Me

I love to use decorated jam jars to store my crafty notions like buttons, pom poms and embellishments. I'd had a couple of empty jars languishing on the dish drainer for months when I re-read The Joy of Less by Francine Jay. The books includes a section on re-using food jars around the house, which spurred me on. However, I don't think Miss Minimalist would approve of the number of jars I have or what I keep in them...

First, the tedious job of cleaning the jars. I had already soaked them and disposed of the remnants of their original contents. However, I gave them another soak and scrubbed off the labels. I then used lighter fuel to remove the last of the glue.

For the jar covers, I used a simplified version of the storage jars pattern in Claire Montgomerie's Crochet for Children book. I know, it's coming to something when you have to simplify a pattern intended for kids and rated "easy" at that. The specific changes were that I used variegated yarn rather than stripes in multiple colours and I used continuous spiral thought rather than slip stitching at the end of the round.

First up was a former Tesco Finest Olives jar. I used a lovely purple aran yarn from stash with a 4.25mm hook. I crocheted a flat circle using a 6, 12, 18, 24, 30, 36, 42 double crochet pattern. Once the circle was just a little smaller than the base of the jar, I worked even in rounds until the cosy reached the lid of the jar. You need the cosy to be a little smaller than the jar so it fits snugly around using the natural stretch of the yarn.

The second jar used to contain Jo Malone body creme, so it's good to get my money's worth from the jar. This time I used a lovely, soft, hand-dyed chunky, which I've lovingly christened "rainbow vomit", but in a good way. Same process but with a 5mm hook this time.

Normally, I decorate the lids of the jars only, so I can see the contents. Obviously, the cosies hide the contents, so I decided it would be sensible to decorate the lid with a sample of what's in there; plastic flower and heart buttons in the purple jar and wooden buttons in the rainbow jar.I simply glued the buttons onto the lids with Bostik All Purpose glue.

The cosies were very quick and satisfying to make and the pattern works with any size of jar as you just keep increasing by 6 stitches per round until you get the desired base diameter.

Well, I may be a crummy minimalist but my jar re-use is beyond reproach...


Thursday, 17 May 2012

Knitted Notebook Cover & Felted Crochet Bowl

Simply Knitting Issue 94

Nothing in a knitting magazine attracts me more than a patterned labelled "Quick and Easy". In some cases, of course, this turns out to be an outrageous lie but happily not so with Louise Butt's study gifts set from June's Simply Knitting.

There were 6 patterns in total, but I narrowed it down to the knitted notebook cover and the felted crochet bowl.

First up, the A6 notebook cover, which I knitted using Paton's Fairytale Dreamtime DK in a vibrant shade of orange. The yarn is 100% wool, but quite smooth to knit with. The notebook cover is knitted in a single piece with 3.75mm needles. There is a simple garter stitch / stocking stitch section for the inner cover and then a 6 row pattern for the main section.

The making up entailed sewing the sections at each end of the cover to form pockets to wrap around the covers of the notebook. This is where the trouble started. It turns out that 2cm is not really enough to make the cover fit snugly around the notebook of its own accord. I think you'd need nearer 6cm to make it work. Also, the main body of the cover was curling up a bit and not reaching the edge of the notebook.

So, blocking time. I can count the number of times I've blocked anything on one hand, so I wasn't terribly confident. Nonetheless, I ironed the reverse side of the knitted fabric to fold over the edges and flatten the piece. Then I used 10 paperclips to fasten the cover in place on an old A6 notebook. I then sprayed the lot with water (hence the old notebook) and left for 24 hours.

Next day, the cover was behaving itself quite a bit more, so I transferred it to my new A6 notebook. For security, I glued the cover with Bostik All Purpose Glue to the inside covers of the notebook.

Finally, I sewed on a Miffy fabric covered button from my stash my way of embellishment.

The crochet bowl proved quite a bit easier. It is made using Rico Creative Filz, which is a 100% merino yarn, especially designed for felting. I happened to have a ball in stash, so set off with my 6mm hook.

The bowl is mainly constructed from treble crochet. As my crochet skills mostly stop at double, I had a quick read up to remind myself of how to treble.

The bowl crocheted up superfast and I finished it in one session. I sent it for a 50 degree rapid wash in the machine and it looked sufficiently felted whilst retaining some muted stitch definition. To dry, I stuffed the bowl with plastic bags to hold the shape.

Now, I don't often save magazine patterns once I've completed them, as I don't usually make anything twice, but I'm going to hang on to these two as they will make pretty gifts. Might add a few centimetres to each side of the notebook cover though...


Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Toft Alpaca Beginner Blanket Kit

Ode to Alpacas

I love alpacas. They are so cute. I saw some up close at last year's Woolfest and I now fantasise regularly about owning my own flock. In the meantime, I have to make do with knitting with alpaca yarn and where better to go than the fantastic Toft Alpaca Shop.

The Beginner's Blanket kit was advertised in an email. Not cheap at £80, but you get 800g of their lovely chunky alpaca / wool blend yarn and the printed pattern.I went for cream yarn on this occasion, as I knit far too much grey already.

The blanket is knitted using the yarn double on 20mm needles. The pattern suggested using circular needles due to the number of stitches and the weight of the yarn. However, I had  a go with my 16" long 20mm straight needles, which were fine, albeit a little bit heavy as the blanket grew.

The pattern is simply 30 stitches in moss stitch until you run out of yarn and then you cast off. I finally learned that moss stitch with an even number of stitches is knit one, purl one on the first row and then purl one, knit one on the second row. Up until now, I've avoided even numbered moss stitch because I wasn't sure what to do. Durr!

The blanket knitted up really quickly. My husband said that I looked like a pixie knitting with my giant needles. After I cast off, I tried to take care with weaving in the ends as I've found they can work loose pretty easily in blankets, especially when you have two pet cats trying to pick the ends out with their claws :)

The finished product is a nice lap blanket; heavy and robust. I'm looking forward to my next alpaca-spotting session at Woolfest 2012 next month.