Thursday, 26 March 2009

Busy, busy, busy

It's been a while and I can only apologise! Things have been hectic here chez Shamu. First it was Duck Pond Market and then I was a "victim" of a Ssneak Attack on Etsy. In 24 hours my stock was virtually wiped out! I can't begin to describe how much it's boosted my confidence - after going to the last few fairs where I was beginning to feel like I was selling my soul, I had begun to doubt whether I'd keep trying to sell for much longer. This has just cemented the deal!

Apart from selling, I've been making a bunch of new things for my shop(s). I'm now making little bags and I hope they'll go down well. This one is made from bamboo and cotton, and is modelled by my little star. I love the way that holding the two yarns together gives you such random colour blends. It's so pretty that I've had to hide it from Bea as she wants to wear it all the time now!

This one is the adult version, crocheted in Noro Cash Iroha - a luxurious blend of silk, cashmere and wool. It's a great size - perfect for a small purse, a phone and a lipstick. The sort of bag that I need on a night out when I don't want to lug a huge bag around with me.

I am still adding to my stock and will update with pictures of my new legwarmers and hairslides as soon as the weather gets better and the sun comes out again.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

A night of knitting

Last night I made it to my second knitting group meeting. The Harrow Area Knitters meet in Grims Dyke Hotel once a month, for an evening of knitting, nattering, yarn lusting and general fun! I had had a very prodcutive day - I'd been to a morning run by Harrow Carers where they had discussed a range of issues that are pertinent to me as a carer. I hate sitting idle, even when listening to presentations, and so sat and crocheted a couple of brooches, hair slides and a bag! I must have looked a little loopy, but never mind.... At least it gets my stock up for my shops and upcoming craft fairs (more about those in another post though).

So I set out in the howling wind and pouring rain for the hotel, which is situated in the middle of nowhere. I arrived, ordered my drink and sat down to knit, wind some yarn and generally relax. As more and more of us arrived, it was great to sit down and chat with likeminded women (yes, we were all ladies - we're quite open to men who knit too though!). We passed around books, magazines, yarn, needles, bags, allsorts. No one batted an eyelid when we talked about unfinished projects, enormous yarn stashes, impossible lace, frustrating yarn. How I wish my husband was as understanding! My hand dyed yarns were quite a talking point and my leg warmers were received enthusiastically - hopefully the same will happen when I (finally) put them up for sale.

So today so far, I've been sewing in ends, attaching brooch backs and hair clips and generally finishing off projects. I hope the sunshine stays put so I can take some photos later - watch this space.....

Sunday, 1 March 2009

A winning streak!

I never usually win anything (although there was the prize of a year's membership of a gym that I won at the annual medical students' ball around 18 years ago - anyone who knows me will vouch for the fact I am not gym material.....), but have been inspired by reading posts on Folksy to enter a couple of blog competitions recently. I guess it's a great way of getting folk to read your blog and to make a comment, and I know I'm always intrigued to see who is actually reading my blog. So I was a little shocked and very happy to find I have won some mohair fibre from Llamas, cats and crafts! I'm really pleased as it will be a good excuse to get on and learn to spin with my drop spindle. Plus as they say, good luck brings good luck, so I'm going to have to start entering more competitions!

This weekend has been very inspiring - with the sun on Friday and my parents visiting I've had a lot more time than usual to think about my creations. We visited Kew Gardens on Friday and it was so uplifting to see the spring colours, vibrant and alive, sparkling in the sunshine. The crocuses were amazing and I even managed to take a couple of pictures which really show them in all their glory - I'll try and upload them tomorrow. I have dyed some aran weight yarn in shades of purple and electric blue, and am calling the colourway "Electric Crocus" as it brings to mind the colours of the crocuses (is that the correct plural spelling???!!!). Hopefully, I'll have a picture of a finished article later in the week.

Today we went to the Victoria and Albert museum - I suppose I ought to be ashamed to admit that despite living in and around London for over 9 years, this was my first visit. To say I was in awe is an understatement. Hopefully, I'll start visiting more often. We went to see the Stephen Jones exhibition of hats and I can assure everyone that has checked out my Folksy and Etsy shops that there will be hats featured in my next autumn/winter collection... Watch this space!

Saturday, 28 February 2009

Dying to dye!

I have a new affliction and it could be contagious! I have started hand dyeing yarns and fibres and I@m having so much fun. It all began as a bit of an experiment, as I mentioned before, but now it's getting a bit out of hand - we nearly missed toddler group on Thursday as I was so busy dyeing a hank of roving..... The effects of home dyeing are really something else - each skein is totally unique and the effect on my mental state is amazing, I feel elated, excited and invigorated. I find it very therapeutic, mixing up these powders and soaking yarn. The point when I take the "virgin" yarn and add the first colour causes me to take a sharp intake of breath, as I see the first colour. I'm finding myself browsing websites, searching for UK produced undyed yarn to dye up myself. I hadn't realised I'd enjoy the creating process quite so much. It's funny, I have never had real "artistic" talent - I was terrible at drawing and would get report cards that basically said good attempt but terrible finished article! Yet with hand dyeing yarns, I can be creative, allow my artistic nature to take over and create a masterpiece. I like the mathematical aspect (working out dilutions, volumes and additives) of creating the dyes and preparing the yarn. I love the slight leap of faith that is required as you put your precious yarn in the microwave to "cook" it and set the colours. Amazingly the yarn doesn't felt, or change in any way apart from colour. As I rinse out the yarn, I can't wait for it to dry - wet yarn looks diffferent to dry and in it's damp form, you only get a vague impression of what it's going to look like dry. Once it's dried, it's time to wind it up and then to knit or crochet it. Again, the effect of working the yarn up is totally different to when it's in a skein, and you never quite know how it's going to look until you start a swatch. And if you use a different stitch pattern or an open weave you change the nature of the beast even more.

So now my life is revolving around colour palettes, mordants, soaking, sourcing undyed yarns and trying new dyeing techniques. It's a lot of fun and I should have the first pictures to share with you very soon.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

The Stone Soup Challenge

As the last twelve months have unfolded (or should that be unravelled....) I have found myself more aware about the provenance of my food. We shop locally, I am currently boycotting Tesco, I buy as much as possible from my farmer's market (sadly, it isn't that large, so the choice is quite limited, but Duck Pond Market should be better) and I buy Fairtrade and organic where that choice is available and within my budget. We cook 95% of our food from scratch (including fish goujons, curry and chicken nuggets) and I use my slow cooker at least twice a week in winter, allowing me to use cheap cuts of meat and make tasty, good value food for the family.

It makes sense for me to now commit to buying "luxuries" more ethically and to support other small businesses. I have therefore signed up to The Stone Soup Challenge and am pledging to spend at least 15% of my net profits from personal sales on Folksy, Etsy and craft fairs on buying from other artists. I don't think this will be too hard, though, as I've calculated this week alone I've spent around 250% of my net sales EVER!!! Darn Folksy with it's lovelies such as this bag that I've just bought from Oh Gosh!

I'm sitting at home at the moment waiting for the postman to ring the bell!

As a reader of this blog, I would urge you to sign up for the pledge, even if you aren't a craftsperson yourself. Perhaps set aside a budget for handmade, homecrafted items and treat yourself - you will be amazed at what's out there.

For more information read this blog: The Stone Soup Challenge

Happy spending!

Sunday, 22 February 2009


Yesterday I went to a knitting and yarn festival, held at the lovely Farnham Maltings. I managed to combine it with lunch with a dear friend, and had a whale of a time. Unfortunately, I left my camera at home, so there are no photos, and I haven't had time to photograph my bag full of lovelies that I came home with!

I have recently become more aware in the miles that go into production of fibre. I like to use eco and ethical yarns where feasible and practical, but haven't always been that aware of the provenance of my yarn. Which seems odd, as I'm pretty ethically minded when it comes to our household purchases - I am currently boycotting Tesco, trying to buy locally and have discovered the joys of our local Morrisons. I am aware that my slight internet shopping addiction is probably contributing to global warming and a fairly large carbon footprint, but I have made a pact that from now on, where possible, I am going to buy handmade. So this week I have purchased a gorgeous peg rail for Bea's bedroom from Folksy It's super cute and will go really well in her bedroom (which is mainly white with red - so I bought the white rail with red birds). I think that hand made and home crafted items are so much nicer and meaningful.

At unravel I was able to indulge myself completely - it helped that the children with with my husband and I had my large Orla Keily trolley with me. It was pretty empty on the train there, but I was packed like a cart horse on the way home. I managed to purchase several skeins of amazing yarn - some hand dyed from Skein Queen, some bamboo from her too, a couple of skeins of sari silk and some banana silk. I have ideas for all of them, but will keep my plans under my hat for now! My big purchase was a yarn swift - so many of the luxury yarns now come as skeins, and my husband is fed up of holding his arms out while I wind the skeins into balls, so I'd been toying with the idea of a swift for a while. So I bought one! My husband is happy, so it's a toy for both of us. I also managed to buy a drop spindle and a bunch of undyed natural fibre from UK raised sheep - some Blue Faced Leicester, some merino and some Wensleydale. I'm really excited about the prospect of spinning my own yarn and then dyeing it. So of course my final purchase of the day was a bunch of dyes for use at home from Tall Yanrs. I hope to showcase a selection of my creations over the next few weeks (if I ever get 5 minutes to myself - half term has a lot ot answer for!), so watch this space....

Happy crafting!

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Crafting with children..

should never be attmpted! But I never learn and end up cross and frustrated with balls of yarn tangled around my feet, snapped crochet hooks and chewed up knitting needles. You'd think I would take the hint and only persue my addiction when the children are in bed, but when Bea appears to have settled down to watch Shrek for the 100th time, it's just too tempting! In fairness, she usually only starts playing with my bits when I have to get up to deal with James and can't put my article away safely. This time last year, I wrote a post on Ravelry asking how other people dealt with their toddler pulling their knitting off their needles - I received several helpful posts (and have now switched to circular needles for most of my projects - genius!) but I also got told off by several posters. I was a neglectful mother who should take more care of my child, as knitting needles are dangerous items that could cause significant damage to my toddler. I should always move my knitting out of reach of my poor, neglected child so as not to hurt her. I shouldn't ever knit with a toddler around. To be honest, I would be quite sad if I didn't share my passion for yarn with Bea - she is so aware of yarn and my crafting she is constantly asking me "what are you knitting?" or making comments on my yarn "ooh, lovely beautfiul colours mummy". I've caught her with some of my big crochet hooks and scraps of yarn, and she sits there trying to "knit" - very cute! I want her to learn to use her hands, to feel the weight and warmth of yarn and fibre, to watch her create an item from a ball of wool, to anticpate the finished article. I think I need to nuture this interest because if it wasn't for people passing their knowledge down over the centuries I probably wouldn't be knitting and crocheting now. I always find it a bit upsetting that my own mother wasn't keen to teach me to knit, and I have vowed to do differently by my daughter.

I'm currently working on a selection of little bags - I have lots of ideas and can't wait to crochet and knit them up! I've got a couple of children's bags and an adult shoulder bag which I'll be listing this weekend if we can take pics. I really like them, the colours are bright and sunny and there's enough yarn left over for me to make some more scrunchies and headbands.

My most recent addition to Folksy is this gorgeous scarf, knitted in Mirasol Sulka - the yarn is the softest, warmest, snuggliest thing I've ever knitted with and I will be so happy to see this find a new home. It's a fairtrade yarn so perfect in the run up to Fairtrade Fortnight! The stitching is really lovely - textured and eye catching without being fussy. I really enjoyed knitting it and can't wait for next autumn when I'll make some more.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

A busy weekend

I've had quite a weekend - partly busy with "life" (the extra needs of my autistic son definitely eat into my crafting time!) but also I've made time to satisfy my crafty desires. Today we went to Duck Pond Market, in Ruislip. Set in a renovated barn and with a fantastic community vibe it really stirred up my creative spirit - to see so many people displaying their crafts was really inspiring. It felt as though people were making the effort to turn up and see what was out there, which was really positive. There's a recession on and I think it could go one of two ways for crafters - either people are going to be thinking of ethical, quality, unique gifts and purchases and therefore heading for hand crafted items, or they're going to look for cut price goods. I know which I'm hoping will be the more popular choice!
So this evening I've managed to load a few more items onto my Folksy shop. Here are some photos of the bits I added, including a couple of new lines.

This is a rich brown version of my "Hug" scarf - I like it so much I've made one for myself. It's made from Rowan Ribbon Twist, which is a stunning yarn with a ribbon highlight throughout. Sadly the yarn is discontinued, so grab a "Hug" while I can still source the yarn!

This cute little pink fluffy item is pretty versatile - with a keyhole integrated it stays put whatever the weather. It could be worn by a child as a scarf or an adult as a neckwarmer. It's very warm and super cute!

These are my crocheted headbands and hair scrunchies - they're really pretty and should be a good eye catching and affordable purchase. Hopefully they'll entice people to my shop or stall!

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Coming out of hiding!

It's been a long time... Too long. This little blog has been hibernating over winter, but it's spring now and time to come out and play. I've been a busy little thing over the winter months, mostly preparing stock for my stall at various craft fairs. To be honest, the effects of the recession seem to be hitting crafters quite significantly. From recent discussions on Folksy several of us noticed that people were interested in and intrigued by our crafted goods, but not enough to make a purchase. I have a lot of plans to make affordable, small items over the coming months - it's not the size of the present that matters!
As we move towards spring, my thoughts are turning to the use of lighter cottons and summer weight materials. I have recently started dyeing yarn at home - the effects of Kool Aid are quite dramatic (enough to make me wonder why on earth anyone would drink the stuff - if it dyes yarn permanently what is it doing to your intestine????!!!). I can't wait to get hold of some undyed cottons and dye them up - though I'll be using slightly more muted colours I imagine.

Here are a couple of my recent creations - keep an eye on my Folksy shop over the coming days for some new items and lines. It's an exciting time of year and as the spring bulbs blossom so too should my creative streak.

Green wrap in Manos del Uruguay wool and silk blend - read more about the co-operative here A gorgeous long length wrap/stole in an open mesh stitch. This is both light and warm - the perfect combination - and could easily be worn throught the year due to the yarn used.

A stunning crocheted scarf in recycled sari silk from Cafe Knit. Amazing colours from this one of a kind yarn - each skein is completely unique. The colours speak for themselves.