Swirly ear warmer

Depending on how you look at it, this is either one of the quickest or one of the slowest makes I’ve ever done.

My ears were FREEZING I got back from my walk with her majesty Lily of Stink this afternoon. No surprise really — the hill and the horses’ field were both still covered in the morning’s frost — but unpleasant all the same. I decided to look for some ideas for crocheted (or stitched) ear muffs but after looking at various options on Ravelry & Pinterest, I decided I’d prefer a band-like ear warmer instead of muffs. “Hmmm,” I thought, “I could knit a pretty swirly one easily enough.” Then I remembered the swirly beany I started making last year? the year before? I ran upstairs and grabbed the half finished hat from where it was gathering dust on top of the chest of drawers in the bedroom – and lo, it was just about the right size for ear warmer.

I had left my hat mid-row so it took me a whole 12 minutes to finish off that row, cast off and put a couple of stitches in the back to double over the back bit (which ever so conveniently gives it a bit of an ear shape at the front). So it either took me 12 minutes to make this or 2 years. Ahem.

Even if I had started it from scratch this afternoon, it still would have been a quick make – that’s why I started making it as a hat. I probably will make a full hat version later this winter – probably in a less sludgy colour – but this will keep my ears warm in the meantime and tuck neatly away in my pocket when I don’t need it. Double yay.

3BT – too tight, warm, discussion and snow

carla-sunshine0. (From last night) I always cast on too tightly, making the first row of knitting on circular needles a right pain in the arse. By comparison, the second row at the correct tension is a joy and I happily, mindlessly, knit two, purl two until the item is finished.

1. After nearly a decade in a north-facing house, the cats love that the bedroom and living room in the new house are sunny in the mornings. Even in December, the sun streaming through the window is warm enough to make them toasty to the touch. We make sure there are comfortable places to sit to make up for their years of gloominess.

2. After a lunch of manchego cheese and Iberico ham (again, our holiday lives on in the food we carried back with us), we discuss genes and memes, fire and water.

3. John’s ill so we decided on comfort food for tea: fish and chips from the great place at the end of the road. The vinegar sizzles as it hits the straight-from-the-fryer fish and the woman serving remarks that she somehow got some salt in her mouth. We joke about how she must have been throwing it everywhere for that to happen, and she adds: “I’m pretending it’s snowing. I can’t wait until it’s snowing.”

Making stuff: another crochet net shopping bag

crocheted shopping bag

I’ve made a few of these crocheted shopping bags now and am refining them further and further every time. They’re roughly based on Melinama’s pattern though (a note – she uses US stitches so SC = our DC; and her DC = our TC).

My favourite thing is they’re super quick and easy to make – I’m not particularly fast at crochet but I can make them in a few hours. They’re a great project for beginners too because you only need to know chain, double crochet and treble crochet (US = chain, SC and DC). They cemented my love of crochet because they were the first thing I made that produced something really different to knitting.

Most of my bags so far have been made out of some super cheap dishcloth-style cotton so the stretch comes from the stitches not the yarn. The beige for this one was heavier than normal so in comparison, I had to double up the purple so it didn’t look weird. A single thread of the purple would have been strong enough though. (I’ve also tried making a bag out of old carrier bags cut into strips and crocheted using a chunky hook. It was fun as a Recycle This-style project but something about it seems a little too stretchy for regular use.)

I like making the handles considerably wider than in Melinama’s pattern – TCs in each stitch up each side – and joined to the body in more than places than just the first chain/last slip stitch. If I had more patience, I’d probably do two rows of TCs up each side but by that point, I get over excited about the finishing line being so close. I do love how neat the top of the bag is though.

The bags crunch down pretty small when not in use but then stretch up quite a lot as soon as you put something heavy in them. Really pretty smashing.

Making stuff: a knitting needle bag made from old jeans

knitting needle bag made from old jeans

As my love of knitting and crochet has grown so has my collection of needles, hooks and other related accessories.

I decided I needed a needle bag to keep them all neat but despite digging the sewing machine out, didn’t fancy doing too much sewing. My first thought was to modify an old pillow case – I have a stash of vintage ones for crafting with courtesy of various charity shops – but then realised an old pair of jeans would be even better – lots of built-in pockets!

Vague instructions below but it’s dead simple. The belt is old cheap one that I worn too much and snapped the last 6 inches off the tip — too short for me now but a perfect (if largely unnecessary) accessory here.

I made it and took the photo a few weeks ago – the front pockets are now filled with crochet hooks in one side and short double pointed needles in the other. I’ve got stuff I don’t use much in the back pockets – picking shears in one side, cable needles and stuff in the other – with the main pocket stuffed full of regular needles and circular ones. It works pretty well and I can find everything I need – plus, it lifts of the hooks and is easily transportable too if I ever need to take my stuff anywhere (might add a detachable strap if that looks likely).

The bag hangs on the side of my “craft” unit in our living room – it’s relatively flat and looks comparitively neat compared to the rest of the crap bursting out of said unit/the rest of our house and is, reasonably, cat proof.
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Things we made in Staithes

John and I have just returned from another fabulous holiday at Northside Cottage in Staithes.

We first went in January 2006 and loved it to bits but what with starting our own companies and everything, we’ve not really had time to go again. We finally decided a break was in order last month and though we both had to work a little bit every day, it was just as wonderful and relaxing. Except the bit where we nearly drowned, that wasn’t particularly relaxing.

Things we made in Staithes:

  • John made a mushroom risotto, which was lovely despite us forget our bag of fridge food so not having any garlic or the nice mushrooms we’d bought for it.
  • I made fiery ginger biscuits on the first night – unused to the oven, I burned the first trayful but the second batch was spot on. Not bad considering it was all off-recipe and completely estimating the quantities of everything.
  • I made John a pair of mittens – my first entire double-pointed needle projects. I was chuffed with the first one – great thumb gusset, rounding at the top and everything – but the second one was even better (albeit with a slightly stubby thumb) and John says they’re super warm, so all hail me.
  • We made ick faces when the grease from our fish and chip trays re-solidified while we were eating in the cold, cold, wind.
  • We made 16p on the 2p machines in an amusement arcade in Whitby. We promptly “reinvested” it.
  • We made a new rule for air hockey: no scarves allowed, or rather no dangling scarves allowed to block goals.
  • We made a lot of fires: the cottage’s storage heaters etc do a fine job but there is a reason we go there in winter – pretty much constant open fires (and fewer people about too).
  • We made an incorrect judgement about the size of a wave while watching the sea on the Staithes breakwater thing. Said incorrectly judged wave made us very wet from head to toe. (see above note re: nearly drowning).
  • John (or rather the sea) made John’s very expensive phone no longer work. We also had to dry out the contents of our wallets in front of the fire.
  • We made me a little less fearful of fire but more scared of the sea (see above).
  • I made the wearing of pyjamas into a garish art form.
  • We made a lot of holiday-related Twitters: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24 and 25.
  • I re-made half a slipper twice before giving up because I decided I needed different type of wool – it is a simple crochet pattern that will result in a very cute slipper though so I’ll definitely give it a go again.
  • I made lots of “aww”ing noises at all the dogs I saw around the village and walking past the cottage.
  • I made friends with a ginger cat, who chased a duck outside the cottage then walked with us into the village.
  • We made sad faces whenever we remembered our lovely felines – we missed them so.
  • John made a Debian/Ubuntu package for Sphinx, a Ruby “Enterprise Edition” one and a GlusterFS Nagios plugin. ie, he fiddled on his laptop a lot.
  • I made lentil & sausage casserole from handmade-by-the-butcher-in-the-village sausages. Served it with herb & parmesan scones — another complete guestimate of the quantities of everything but they worked splendidly. A lovely, lovely comforting winter meal. Will post the recipe because it rocked.
  • I made a pointless but silly video of some ducks swimming around on the beck.
  • We made cities and roads and rivers and farms after buying Carcassonne from the fab games shop in Whitby. We liked it so much we went back today and bought an expansion pack for it too. Expansion packs for board games = awesome!
  • John made a great spaghetti bolognese. We had bought pork mince to make it like his grandma does but left it in the forgotten fridge bag at home in Leeds so had to make to with beef mince. Lovely and rich.
  • We made a hermit crab retreat back into his shell by casting shadows over his rock pool.

→ Some of my photos from around the cottage and the village

Double-pointed needles: double the needles, quadruple the hell

knitting needlesAfter many, many false starts, I’ve just finished my first knitting project (a hat for John) using circular needles and double-pointed needles. The circular needles were a dream – as soon as I realised you have to have the right needle gauge AND the right length for the job – but as I’m making his matching mittens, the DPNs continue to be a nightmare.

Here are some things I’ve learned/figured out along with way to make things easier – probably really obvious or even wrong for a more experienced knitter but it’s stuff that’s helped me:

  • Circular needles: I cast on and do the first row (until the last few stitches) on straight needles. I tend to cast on quite tightly (too tightly) so the first row is always a pain for me and trying to stretch it round the needles too is just annoying. After the first row, there is a lot more give so things stretch around the loop a lot easier.
  • Double-pointed needles: The first DPN video tutorial I watched showed me how to hold all the needles at all times, using my redundant fingers and whatnot. This confused me. The second DPN video tutorial I watch told me to ignore all the needles bar the two I was using at that very moment. The other two/three can just flail around by themselves. This confused me less.
  • Double-pointed needles: I kept getting ladders of loose stitches near my first stitch of each round because I couldn’t pull the thread tight enough. Now I knit the first stitch onto the existing working needle (my third needle) then once it’s on there all nice and tight, slip it onto the fourth needle (the new working needle) and continue from there. It’s a chore slipping it back and forth all the time but it’s a way to avoid ladders for now.
  • Double-pointed needles: You’re supposed to divide the stitches up equally between the needles but while I do that roughly, I always make sure each needle starts at the start of the stitch sequence: ie, with a basic 2x2rib, each needle starts with the first knit stitch. I keep getting lost/distracted/forgetting where I am and this makes it far easier to quickly work things out.
  • Double-pointed needles: Following on from that, because of the yarn placement or something, I find it considerably easier to start each new needle with a knit stitch rather than a purl.
  • Both circular needles and DPNs: Up until now, I’ve tended to put place markers in the stitches (because I have a problem remembering whether a place on a needle means the stitch before or after – I’m a bit scatty when it comes to knitting). (And everything.) But, when it comes to reducing the stitch count with two-togethers, I put the place marker after the stitches to be knitted together so I don’t have to move it between rows or do anything like complicated like counting any higher than 2. I suspect this is generally a best practice thing anyway but it was new to me.
  • Double-pointed needles: I can’t remember how many times I knitted the same bit of yarn trying to get DPNs. The theory of them just did not compute to start with, then when I got my head around that, I had (and still have) the ladder problems, or the problem of accidentally pulling all the stitches off the working needles, or the cat problem (which is, admittedly, not limited to DPNs and is closely linked to the latter). Anyway, what I’m saying is that it was tough. But it was fair easier to master when I transferred a nice tube of fabric from circular needles onto DPNs – perhaps because the tension of the fabric was already there or something – rather than starting on the DPNs from scratch. A great learning aid.