Playing

Sometimes it’s good to play. So, after making some very specific items for particular reasons and to deadlines, I thought that I’d spend some time just playing with my crochet hook. I have piles and piles of yarn oddments to use up, so I’ve been trying out some new patterns and some old favourites:

They are various sizes and I plan to put them (and more) together quite randomly into a large blanket that I will donate to Knit for Peace, who can always find a good home for woolly items.

All the above are made of wool or acrylic, but I also have a bag of cotton yarn oddments. Because cotton isn’t stretchy, it doesn’t really belong in my planned blanket, so I thought I would have a go at a completely different type of square, with a view to putting lots of these together into a fancy shawl or throw. It’s not my best work, but this is what I made:

imgp1179

cotton square

The design is from the book Connect the Shapes. I’m rather fond of this book, particularly because it’s spiral bound, so it stays open whilst you are working from it! In addition it includes both charts and written instructions, making complex patterns easier to follow.

Now I have another specific task to get on with, but the playing has been fun…

Off the hook

I try to use as little kitchen paper as possible for moping up spills and cleaning, but this can be quite demanding in terms of the number of cloths required. So, over the past couple of weeks I’ve been using up some of my cotton yarn to make these…

It’s also given me a chance to play with a few new stitches and enjoy some old ones.

Playing hooky

Today I’m supposed to be editing a paper on forest economics, but it’s not very exciting and so I keep picking up my crochet hook instead. The particular piece of editing does not need to be sent back until next week, so the temptation to do something else (and more creative, although less lucrative) is really strong, especially since the dragon neck warmer commission is starting to take shape and I’m rather enjoying the scale pattern that makes up the bulk of it:

Dragon scales

Dragon scales

The client selected yellow eyes, so those are inserted and there’s nothing fiddly in the pattern for about another 60 rows. My last post yielded some useful comments about having a few ‘attention grabbers’ on my future craft stall, and I may make another of these dragons for that purpose as I think it’s going to be quite striking. Anyway, here is progress so far (eventually there will be horns and spines too on the head):

Dragon progress

Dragon progress

But that’s not the only thing I have been up to in the past few days. I decided as  a bit of light relief to continue making dish/wash cloths (without patterns) and I’ve added two more to the stock, that’s three since Saturday. These are fairly quick to make and are using up cotton yarn that I have quite a bit of, so they feel like a winner in terms of de-stashing.

This week's cloths - too nice to use?

This week’s cloths – too nice to use?

And finally, I want to share a piece of work that I made weeks ago, but has only just reached its new owner. As one of my random crafts of kindness, I responded to Pauline The Contented Crafter’s appeal for lovely things to go to Marlene, who is ‘In Search of It All‘. This is what Pauline wrote:

Marlene has recently moved into her new forever home and has been hard at work turning what might have been described as a pigs ear into a silk purse.  Marlene has a china cabinet and loves keepsakes.  I am going to [possibly make and] send Marlene a small New Zealand icon.  Would you care to [possibly make and] send her something that will represent you to her so that every time her eyes fall upon your gift, she thinks of you. Wouldn’t that be the grandest thing!

So, what better to represent me than some crochet? But I also really wanted to send her a piece of my paper porcelain plus I  wanted to acknowledge the lovely links we all share through blogging. So here is what I came up with:

It’s just decorative, although you could use it as a pin cushion (voodoo roses, anyone?). The base is made from some British wool from Blacker Yarns and the crochet roses are made from some of the yarn oddments sent to me by Jenny at Simply Hooked along with the squares she donated to make another charity blanket. I’m rather pleased with the result.

Well, that’s probably enough hooky for one day, I’d better get back to work…

Stocking up and stashing down

Recently my friend Ann and I agreed that we’d like to do some craft fairs together. She has a big stock of unsold creations and I have been fairly unsuccessful with attempts to sell my stock via the web, so we think that working together we can fill a stall and have fun… not to mention making some money.

With this in mind I have been looking at the stock that I already have made up (bling bags, bath puffs, bird roosts) and thinking about the materials that I have in abundance. It’s clear that if I’m going to half fill a stall, I need more items and so I’ve decided to spend some time trying to convert materials into saleable goods. My first task is to look at the materials that I have. This includes interesting things that I had forgotten about like bag handles and dozens of card blanks and lots of yarn… especially odd balls and a left-overs from previous projects.

Scarf in SMC Argentina

Scarf in SMC Argentina

Probably the best thing to do would be to make an inventory of what I have and then plan the optimum use of all my material. But, it’s early days and this weekend I fancied doing some fairly mindless crafting. So, yesterday evening knitted up a ball of cream SMC Argentina yarn (which I was given) into a fancy scarf. I hate this sort of yarn with a passion – it’s not fun to knit, but it does work up quite quickly so I knew it would be done in an evening. The result is a ruffled scarf/boa that I don’t want to wear, but I’m sure someone will like. I’m not sure whether the neutral colour is a plus or a minus, but at least it will go with almost any other colour.

Too pretty for a dishcloth?

Too pretty for a dishcloth?

And then today I realised that I’ve got quite a lot of coloured cotton yarn that’s not ideal for knockers, but is perfect for facecloths/dishcloths. So, I made this jade green and cream circular cloth from the ends of a couple of balls (it’s about 25 cm/10 inches across). My plan is to try and make a few ‘stock’ items from my stash every week, so that when we find a suitable craft market, we’ll be all set to go. Now I’m just guessing what might sell well…

Puzzling

Sometimes it’s good to do something just because you want to. And so, this week, I put aside sofa covers, slippers and string bags and made something that I saw a while ago and simply wanted to have a go at, namely an Amish Puzzle Ball:

It’s lovely and tactile, but has no particular use. I have given it to Mr Snail to have on his desk… and possibly throw at his computer when he’s having a frustrating day!

If you want to make one of your own, the pattern is available free on Ravelry. I made mine with Paton’s mercerised DK cotton and a 3.5mm hook.

Samplers

As a relative novice as regards crochet, I have recently wanted to explore some techniques and have a go at some design work. To this end I have been making ‘samplers’ that allow me to explore what I can do without a pattern to follow. Being me, however, I do like anything that I make to be useful, so some of these have taken the form of granny squares for the blankets we are making to raise funds for Denmark Farm Conservation Centre:

Purple squares

Purple squares

All of these squares need to be around 15cm across, so there is some limit to testing out larger patterns. Therefore, in addition, I have been making cotton squares that can be used as dishcloths or washcloths. These can be any usable size, which gives me the freedom to play around with larger patterns. So far, I’ve made four of them, but only three are photographed because the other one is rather grubby, having been drafted into use already:

Now, however, I must return to the Masterpiece and finish it off… only three more squares are expected (including one I must collect from Katie the Night Owl – soon I promise, Katie) and then I can edge it. Possibly not the ideal project for summer, but it can’t be helped.

 

A thing for string

Now string, unlike politics, is something I can have  a positive relationship with…

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know about my love of string and you won’t be surprised to read that I was very excited about the prospect of using it for crochet. When my friend Sarah introduced me to dishcloth cotton a few weeks ago I was captivated, especially since she simultaneously gave me a pattern to knit a string bag complete with its own storage pouch built-in and forming the base of the bag. The pattern for this bag originates from the 1940s, but similar patterns can be found on Ravelry. My only problem to begin with was that my local yarn shop had sold out of dishcloth cotton, so I had to restrain myself. Of course I could have ordered some over the internet, but I stuck to my guns and waited until it was back in stock locally.

On Saturday I was able to buy some Stylecraft Craft Cotton (sounds much more fancy than dishcloth cotton) and away I went (putting aside the woolly yarn bag I was working on). Actually, I got distracted to begin with and made what may be the world’s fanciest dishcloth:

Just because it's a dishcloth doesn't mean it can't be lovely (no pattern for this, I just made it up)

Just because it’s a dishcloth doesn’t mean it can’t be lovely (no pattern for this, I just made it up)

But then I regained focus and made my very first string bag:

I suspect that it won’t be my last, although I will modify the pattern a bit next time. Plus, having got the feel of it, I now know that Sirdar Simply Recycled (a mix of cotton and acrylic) will be suitable, and I have several balls of that left over from previous projects.

Here in Wales, shops are no longer allowed to give out plastic bags for free, so there has been an increase in people having their own shopping bags. I can think of lots of folks who could make use of a few of these. And even where plastic bags are freely available, something like this is a much better option if you are trying to be sustainable.

Sometimes I even inspire myself!

I spent last Sunday afternoon making a cotton shopping bag so that I could photograph the steps involved and post the instructions here on my blog. I wasn’t in desperate need of another bag (although they always come in useful), but I really wanted to show how simple they are to make. In order to do this, I had to get my sewing machine out and set it up . Once it was there and ready to use I began thinking that it would be a shame to put it away without giving it a bit of a work out… and anyway, I was suddenly feeling enthusiastic about sewing again.

I have recently noticed that my night attire is starting to fall to bits… this may be linked to trips out to deal with chickens early in the morning – wellies, a nighty and a shawl, what could be more glamorous? Or to the fact that I haven’t bought any new night clothes for quite a lot of years. So, I thought, what better use to put my sewing machine to? Now don’t get over-excited about negliges or baby doll pyjamas, I was thinking practical and warm!

All set to go - fair trade organic cotton and two patterns

All set to go – fair trade organic cotton and two patterns

I love the fact, these days, that I can have an idea like this and immediately search for patterns and fabric without moving from my chair. I am not a big fan of trailing round the shops, I much prefer sitting at home with a cup of tea and a dog at my feet. In addition, we live in quite a rural area, so a trip to any place that can provide a good selection of shops for fabric and sewing patterns would require a whole day out and lots of fuel. Plus, the internet gives me so much choice… something I really wantedin this case because I decided to seek out ethical cotton (preferably organic as I want to minimise the number of potentially toxic chemicals next to my skin), and I don’t think Swansea is well stocked with fair trade fabric shops.

But the internet is a wonderful place. I managed to find a couple of sewing patterns that appealed to me from a shop that allowed me to view the details of the materials I would need, then to search for suitable fabric. After a bit of hunting around I came across Fair Trade Fabric, who

source cotton fabrics that help to improve the lives of poor and marginalised producers, from those who grow the cotton, to those who dye and weave it. The cotton is grown organically and produced to minimise the impact on the local environment so both people and planet are protected

What a great find! Lots of lovely cottons sold by the metre or in fat quarters. I chose two lovely designs to try out and placed an order. And by the magic of the Royal Mail, two days ago* both patterns and fabric arrived and so I’m all set to get going… I just need to stop dogs trampling across the paper patterns whilst I’m cutting out. Oh, and work out whether there is some sort of ethical interfacing…

-oOo-

* I got distracted yesterday because of my lovely shawl pin arriving, so this post got bumped by a day!!

The eco bath puff collection

Anyone who has been following this blog for a while will know about my search for a green bath puff and the various trials I have conducted with patterns and yarns. It’s not been easy and I have finally had to accept that it is impossible, using natural materials, to recreate the qualities of nylon exhibited by the standard bath puffs you can buy in supermarkets and chemists (drug stores) for a few  pounds (dollars). For example, none of the fibres I have tested produce the amount of lather that you get from a nylon puff* and all of them are much more absorbent, being more like a spherical flannel (wash cloth) in some cases.

However, if you wish to tread more lightly on the planet, sometimes you have to adapt… and I now have a range of bath puffs that have different characteristics and suit different people. All of the puffs I have made use recycled, upcycled, waste or organically produced fibres and are I make them by hand, so certainly have less impact on the earth than the commercial nylon versions. They are all crocheted by me… a skill I have learned specifically because of this project, but which I’m now using to make all sorts of other things. So, what sort of puffs have I made? The following is a list of fibres used, their source and characteristics.

Acrylic: all the acrylic yarn that I use is either reclaimed from previous projects (e.g. unravelled jumpers) or is left over from completed or abandoned projects (usually not mine!). Acrylic bath puffs are the least absorbent of any that I make, although they still hold a lot more water than a nylon puff and so take longer to dry. They have a slight abrasiveness that increases with use. They produce some lather, but this depends on the soap/shower gel you use and how hard or soft your water is. This is the sort of puff I take with me when I am travelling.

Organic cotton: So far, this has had to be purchased new, and is relatively expensive. However, it does make up into a lovely soft and gentle puff – ideal for delicate skin. You don’t get much lather and it is very absorbent so takes quite a long time to dry: you need to think of this version as a type of wash cloth. I have used two different yarns for these puffs so far: Debbie Bliss Ecoaran (in shocking pink) and Twilley’s Sincere Organic Cotton (in a pinky-beige).

Recycled cotton and acrylic: This yarn (Sirdar’s Simply Recycled Cotton- Rich), made of 51% recycled cotton and 49% acrylic, combines qualities of the two yarns described above: the softness of cotton and the reduced absorbency of acrylic. I like the principle of using a recycled fibre (from t-shirt manufacturing), but sadly the acrylic doesn’t seem to be recycled. I’ve made these in a terracotta colour and  in green (how appropriate!).

Upcycled wool: Whilst not to everyone’s taste, this is the fibre I prefer my bath puff to be made of.  The sort of wool has an effect on how abrasive these puffs are, but all wool tends to be a little bit ‘scratchy’. I use wool collected from unravelled jumpers or left-overs, so it’s rare that I know the brand or type of wool. They tend to shed some fine fibres to begin with, but this soon stops. After a couple of months of use, the wool starts to felt, but this makes them even nicer to use. I’ve made these in green and purple so far… my bath puff here at home is a purple one made from wool from an old cardigan.

So, these are my basic fibres, but I have experimented with adding a thread of hemp fibre to one of the organic cotton puffs to make it a little more abrasive, as exfoliation seems to be a requirement for some folks. And here they are:

A bowl of bath puffs!

A bowl of bath puffs!

So, if you’d like one, contact me (thesnailofhappiness@talktalk.net) – for UK customers, they are £10 each including delivery, if you’re further afield, I’ll have to check the postage.

-oOo-

* Although using GreenPeople shower gel helps a lot!

Green bath puff 3… I can’t believe there’s another sequel

A woolly washball (Jacob wool, awaiting decoration) and a woolly bath puff

A woolly washball (Jacob wool, awaiting decoration) and a woolly bath puff

When I started this business with the bath puffs, I had no idea that it would come to occupy so much of my time and my blog… but that’s life isn’t it: you take a small step and it leads you down a very long path! ‘The road goes ever on and on’ as JRR Tolkien wrote.

Early on in my quest for the green bath puff I dismissed  sheep’s wool as a fibre because of its propensity to felt. However, over the months I have learned more about wool, its properties and the way it is processed. I’ve also come round to the idea that felt might be a desirable material to wash with for some people (yes – I know some people can’t stand it on their skin, but they do seem to be in the minority). Anyway, in terms of the ethics of knitting/crochet yarns, unless you want to avoid animal products, there is a great deal to recommend wool, especially for those of us who live in the UK where few plant fibres for yarn are produced, but where we have lots of sheep.

When you buy wool yarns or garments, the label often says that they are machine-washable: this means that they shouldn’t felt when agitated in a washing machine at a warm temperature. Sometimes the label says ‘Superwash’ but this just means they have been through a patented process; there are other techniques to facilitate machine-washability. On investigation, I have found that the process required to stop wool felting and, thus, make it machine-washable,  is to either remove the scales on the wool by stripping them off with acid, or coating the wool with a polymer. Neither of these approaches sound particularly environmentally friendly to me, but the acid can’t be too strong otherwise it would completely dissolve the wool and I’m not sure about the use of a polymer. The Natural Fibre Company have an interesting little piece about Superwash wool that suggests that the fibres from some sheep breeds (and other species) are difficult to felt anyway, so can be washed without the need for pre-treatment. I feel that these might be worth investigating in the future.  Again, however, I return to the idea of upcycled yarn because I have some I can experiment with…

Inspired by the woolly wash balls (I’ve just made one from Jacob sheep wool that’s lovely) I decided to make a wool bath puff. Using some wool that used to be a cardigan* and that I know was sold as being machine-washable, I produced yet another prototype, which I tried out this morning. It was nice to use and produced some lather (although I was using Green People Aloe shower gel, which is very concentrated)… it’s hanging up in the bathroom now to see how long it takes to dry – it can’t be as long as 100% cotton! I suspect that it will felt after a while, but perhaps that doesn’t matter.

And, finally, for the time being on bath puffs, I notice the large number of searches arriving here on my site from people who want a pattern for a knitted bath puff (as I did originally). I am guessing that, unlike me, many people are not prepared to put aside their prejudice against knitting and learn to crochet. So, over the next week or two, I’m going to design a knitting pattern… watch this space!

-oOo-

* You might also recognise it in the snails at the top of the page.

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