Friday, April 29, 2011

Pillows and Cushions

I was sorting out my yarn and found a bag of squares among my cottons. I'd made almost enough for a couple of baby blankets, but I apparently ran out of steam before finishing. So I used my free time this week to turn them into half a dozen cushions. Oh, I love cushions!

If you'd like to make your own pillows or cushions, but you're afraid of the odiousness of sewing - never fear! I have a relatively painless tutorial for fleece-backed crochet cushion covers here.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Autumn Realta

This one was a bit of a hit-and-miss effort. I had planned to make it with these colours:

Very demure, eh? Unfortunately, three of the six colours were so similar, I couldn't tell them apart when I was crocheting in the evening under artificial light. After my fifth time clambering on to the coffee table  to hold my crochet up to the lightbulb, I decided to throw a few more colours into the mix.

The problem was, it still didn't look very nice:

But here speaketh the benefit of 30 years' crochet experience: you have to keep going. Uh-huh! Even if the 52 individual pieces don't look very nice, something weird and wonderful happens when you sew it all together. It becomes ... quite interesting. Rather nice. Sometimes even kind of pretty.

And, in an effort to turn over a new crafting leaf, I created and kept a project page.
Impressive, eh? Yup. Sometimes I even surprise myself:

(I would be more impressed with myself if I hadn't promptly lost it after completing the afghan, but I'm pretty sure it's on my desk somewhere.)

A Walk in the Woods

Hello there, folks!
I hope you enjoyed Easter (if you celebrate it.) We travelled down to the out-laws in-laws in the south of Germany, where we ate a lavish Easter breakfast before trekking off up a mountain to enjoy The Nature. As usual, I was the only person in a large vicinity that was not wearing clothing made of Gore-Tex, Teflon, Neoprene or  [insert fabric with scarily scientific name here]. I wasn't even wearing footwear with laces, just my nomal shoes. And I wasn't armed with a stick - neither a walking stick nor one of those ski-pole thingies that are especially beloved of senior citizens. In other words, I was dressed like an Irishperson on a casual, no-strings-attached Sunday afternoon stroll, and not as a German Wanderer (hiker). I was quite worried that I might be stopped at the foot of the mountain and sent back to the car to wait with a window cranked down till my in-laws and husband returned, but fortunately I was allowed meander up the hill and admire The Nature from a variety of clearly and informatively signposted viewing platforms.

It was a bit misty, so I couldn't get any nice photos, but trust me when I tell you that the Alps are there:

After that, we went back to a café, where we sat outside - first in a gale-force wind, then a rain shower and finally a thunderstorm. Like the rest of the café patrons, we shivered grimly in the inclement weather and drank our coffees as though everything were perfectly fine. Germans will not sit in a café without complaining if there is, say, the slightest draught, an uneven table, an odd smell or bad Feng Shui - but plonk them outside and this changes. Such is the love of dining al fresco in this country that they will happily perch on half-rotten log, eating charred barbecue offerings and dinking warm beer, while batting away wasps and mosquitos and plucking ticks out of the flesh above their robust hiking boots.
But let's save that grouse for a post of its own.

In the meantime, this is what the main square of a town in the region known as 'der Bayerische Wald' (the Bavarian Forest) looks like:

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Craft Ethically: Say 'No' to Mermaid Bumfluff

I'm having a very serious day today, readers.
Hot on the heels of the launch of my crafting campaign against capitalism comes the second installment of same work, a treatise on the necessity of the purchase of yarn from ethical sources.

Now, as we all know, in Ye Olden Days of the 1980s - back in a time when you always had a 10p in your back pocket in case you needed to make an emergency phone call. Yes, youth, those little glass cells are more than just Superman's changing room, you know - knitting in the United Kingdom and Ireland essentially involved DK acrylic. And nothing wrong with that. However, knitting and crochet in the noughties and beyond have become a luxury pastime. Sure, you could continue to buy acrylic yarn, but obviously no one does. (Well, they do, but no one admits to it. You know who you are, missy.) Instead, yarn manufacturers and indie dyers and spinners have started to market yarn using the same thesaurus as chocolate-makers: it's sumptuous! Luscious! Saturated! Decadent! (There are even wool companies that have turned the keystone of economics on its head: Wollmeise here in the south of Germany does not meet demand with supply. They don't supply, and demand grows. You simply can't buy it. It is the El Dorado of yarn.) The prices of these luxury yarns might even make you squawk out loud: "What on earth is this stuff made from? Mermaid bumfluff?"

Indeed. It often is. Some crafters, like my dear reader Quinn, even believe it to be little more than a myth. Oh, I wish.

As the demand for luxury yarns grow, so too does the burden carried by the poor creatures that supply it. Some more than others. This is why I wish to send out a plea here and now to needleworkers of the world: the next time you consider splurging on sinfully expensive yarn, please make sure that it comes from an ethical source.

How To Change The World 
Without Leaving The Comfort Of Your Living Room 
in 20,000 Easy Steps 
(Many of Which Will Involve Handicrafts)

Part 2: Know Your Yarn
Rated: PG13. Some viewers may find the following images disturbing.

Luxury yarns come from four popular sources:
There's also silk, but silkworms aren't very exciting to draw.

While sheep, rabbits and alpacas are not averse to a shearing, mermaids do not take kindly to this. Despite protests by international organisations such as Greenpeace and Amnesty International, fishing trawlers continue to scour the Atlantic coasts, searching out mermaid colonies:

Having no natural enemies except humans and intrepid polar bears, and armed with nothing other than strong language, the mermaid becomes easy prey for the fishermen who supply a voracious yarn industry:

They are removed to the mainland, where their bottoms are sheared for the much-prized mermaid bumfluff, which later becomes the luxury yarn that you, the crafter, crave.

While the shearing process is relatively short and painless, mermaids are made to endure endless sea-shanty sing-songs and are seldom offered a cup of tea. Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General, has gone on record saying that he finds this treatment "appalling". His jumpers are cotton.

Thus, I plead with you, fellow crafters. The next time you pick up a skein of an obscenely expensive fibre folly: is this yarn ethical? Have mermaids been made to suffer through the 23 verses of 'Blow the Man Down' without as much as a cuppa, not to mention a chocolate biscuit? Make sure you choose a yarn that carries the internationally-recognised mermaid-friendly symbol on its label:

Ponder on that, crafters. I hope you have learned your lesson.

The Price of Fame

This is going to be a serious post.
This month I have received a portentous signs of my impending fame (cough): I've received anonymous nasty comments. I mean, aside from the offers of viagra (thank you, will consider it once I have grown the appropriate appendage) and referrals to porn sites (can barely control my boobess, don't want to watch someone else wrestling with theirs, thank you kindly), I also receive comments from an anonymous user who signs off as Jane or Jane Doe or Janie D. Aside from having a bit of a personality crisis, she also likes to vent her spleen at the world in the form of trying-to-be-sarcastic-but-not-quite-getting-there comments. I am quite entranced that someone somewhere has the energy to send me half-a-dozen nasty little comments that serve no real purpose. Constructive comments, yes please, but things like "really ugly" doesn't help me make the world a prettier place till I see what you understand by "really pretty" (and it you link to Botticelli's Venus, I can only warn you now: I can't crochet that. He wins.)

The fact that I don't publish these comments is mostly because I reserve them for my own private mirth (sorry, I mean, I weep into my cornflakes when I get them.) I am always very touched that anyone would make the effort to make a nice comment; likewise, I am bewildered that someone would make the effort to leave a nasty one. I mean - you have to, like, log on. And type it. And it never gets published. You could just click the website away, but instead, you torture yourself reading all the posts and picking out ones to comment on. This is a stupendous amount of effort to no significant end. It must be kind of disheartening after a while.

That's why the latest message upped the ante - my troll decided that I obviously can't speak English, so made a special effort to go into Google Translate and butcher the German language instead:
So bohrend. Hässliche Häkelarbeit auch. 
So oil-drilling. Ugly crochet too.
Now, the second bit I can forgive. Beauty's in the eye of the beholder etc. But I was fascinated by the idea that the adjective chosen by this succinct anonymous poster is drilling. My blog is drilling. Take that, Yarn Harlot. I bet your blog's not drilling!

I was about to grab the phone and announce to various friends that my blog has been compared with an oil platform, when it occured to my that it was, in all likelihood, the result of the poster's inability to use a bilingual online dictionary, as the verb 'to bore' in English has more than one meaning.

In any case, all of this didn't help when I misdirected my wrath at another anonymous poster using a similar name (probably even her own, I bet). Janey logged on to read about crochet and got a brief tongue-lashing instead. Obviously, a tongue-lashing is only effective if directed at the right person. I think it would be nicer to apologise to Janey in private but I can't: I have to say I'm very, very sorry in public. As you correctly guessed, it was not for you and you unfortunately just happened to have the same name and anonymous profile. Even if it sounds flippant, I am very contrite and dearly wish I could have vented my pithy spleen at a person who deserved it instead of an innocent and undeserving bystander. If you wish to change to attic24's blog, please do. She photographs tulips and ladybirds and squees at baby toes. I don't think she scolds her readers.

So come back Jane/Jane Doe/Janie D: I need you to bring me back down to earth and tell me how rubbish my blog is. For a while there, I was feeling kind of good about myself. I've obviously got too big for my boots. Come on back - all is forgiven!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Changing the World Order with Dishcloths (well, kind of)

It’s interesting how an idea spreads like a virus. This is something I’ve been think about for a couple of weeks, but coincidentally was blogged about by both Susie at Useless Beauty and Rachel at Growing Things and Making Things in the past week. I am too much of a sloth to protest against … well, most things, actually. There’s not much in the way of protesting going on in this part of the world anyway, though I might be moved to a spot of pitchfork-waving if cacti continue to disappear from our Botanical Gardens.

Otherwise I am shamefully passive, so this is my contribution to the topic of
How To Change The World 
Without Leaving The Comfort Of Your Living Room 
in 20,000 Easy Steps
(Many of Which Will Involve Handicrafts).

Part 1: Make your own dishcloths.

Left: Dishcloth of Rebellion. Right: Evil Capitalist Dishcloth
I crocheted a dishcloth. Actually, I crocheted three dishcloths in the past two days. The fact that I crocheted dishcloths will have two possible effects on you, the reader. Either you’ll wonder why I’ve even bothered to mention it, or you’ll wonder why on earth I bothered to make something as mundane as a dishcloth. If you belong in the former category, you’re probably a crafter. If you belong in the latter category – indeed, if you’re still wondering why I’d put so much effort into creating something that I’ll use to wipe encrusted gunk off the hob of my cooker – then you’re either not a crafter … or you’re me a short time ago. 

Up until a few months ago, I used to see pages of knitted and crocheted cloths and trivets on crafting websites and wonder, “Why did they bother?” I mean: seriously!  See, I could buy a pack of 5 scrubbing cloths for 89c. They’re disposable items: they can’t be washed (I’ve tried) but why bother anyway, because they’re so cheap? It’s just more convenient to buy another pack than to try to re-use them. But to spend an evening actually making one and the next morning plonk it into a basin of soapy water to scrub dried-in jam off my breakfast plates? Puh-lease!

But - after a period of deep introspection (excuse me: did I hear you snort?), I realised that I was doing the very thing that drives me nuts about other (non-crafty) people:
If I had a euro for every time I’ve been asked why I “bother” to crochet by someone with the portly stature of a chronic couch potato, I’d be able to afford to crochet my dishcloths in mermaid bumfluff. (Interesting, isn’t it, how people with hobbies never ask you why you “bother” to do handicrafts? Just those who habitually spend their free time sprawled across a couch in their jammes. Nothing wrong with it, of course, but I like to mix my couch surfing with a soupçon of needlework.) So if I’m going to spend an evening watching Cheers re-runs on TV, I can do so - and at the end of it, produce a cloth that I could, theoretically, use for years. If I grow attached to it (which is doubtful, given my loathing of all things domestic), I could possibly even have it for decades. See, here's my radical notion: if we’re being sold things to make our lives more convenient, to free us up to do … well, usually nothing, why not fill that time creating something that replaces the thing that we’ve been sold to give us enough time not to have to make them?

Re-read that. I think I’m making sense, but I’m not entirely sure yet. I’m getting flashbacks to college lectures about Marcuse’s theory of repressive desublimination here, but I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have used crocheted dishcloths as an example of how we can start a global upheaval. Then again, if he'd had to scour his own porridge pot with cheapie synthetic scrubbers, he might've come over to the dark side, hooks and all. 
That's my theory, anyway. 

Dishcloth pattern here.

Gingerbread Dishcloths


I like dishcloths that are a bit chunkier - and sturdier. This cloth can be made a bit larger by chaining 30 stitches instead of 24 and can then used as a facecloth.

You need: 
Approx 40g of kitchen cotton
The recommended hook + a hook in a smaller size (our cotton is thinner than Peaches'n'Creme or Suagr'n'Creme, so I used an 'H'/5 mm hook, plus a 'G'/4.25 mm hook)
A darning needle

This pattern is in American English terms, the British terms are in [brackets].
SC = single crochet / [DC] = [double crochet]
Special stitch:
Puff stitch = Yarn over, insert hook into stitch below. *Yarn over and pull up a loop*. Repeat from * to * twice more. You now have 7 loops on your hook. Yarn over, draw yarn through 6 stitches, then draw through the last two stitches on hook.

Chain 26 in colour A.

Row 1/Colour A:
Crochet 1 SC [DC] in the 3rd chain from the hook. Crochet 1 SC [DC] in the next 23 stitches.

Row 2/Colour B:
Ch 1, 1 SC [DC] in the first two stitches. In the next stitch: puff stitch, then  1 SC [DC] in next stitch. Repeat from * to * till last two stitches. 1 SC [DC] in last two stitches. Cut yarn and weave in end. 
Note about end-weaving: it’s odious, yes, but have a needle on hand and tuck the tail in quickly before you start the next row. It takes seconds and you’ll be glad not to have to do a stack of them at the end.

Row 3/Colour A:  repeat row 2! Yes, simple as that!

Repeat rows 2 and  3 till your cloth is square. Finish in colour B. 


Change to a smaller hook because this will make it easier for you to poke the hook through the stitches around the sides of the cloth. Edge the cloth in SC [DC]s . 


You can finish the cloth with another round of SC [DC]s (see purple/white cloth) or DC [TR]s (see navy/cream cloth.)

Now, hit the dishes! Get scrubbing!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Crime Spree in Gingerbreadtown


I live in a small university city in Bavaria, in southeast Germany. Our crime rate is embarrassingly low. Most crimes involve bicycles or students, or combinations of both: student-steals-bike, bike-stolen-from-student, student-run-over-by-bike, bike-run-over-by-student etc. The local police force seems to spend a lot of time cruising in their green-and-white police cars, desperately looking for crimes to solve. Sometimes, out of pity, I deliberately loiter and try to exude mischief and/or criminal intent, just to give them something to scowl at. Sadly, with my purple duffelcoat and satchel, I do not pose much of a threat. Occasionally a squad car might slow and I'll see a police officer peer hopefully out the window, but when they realise that I'm not about to spray graffiti or steal some child's pocket money, they keep going.

Things are changing in Gingerbreadtown, though. I feel we are veering into a full-scale crime bonanza. On Sunday afternoon, Mr G. and I meandered over to the Botanical Gardens. It was there that we noted with horror that some fiendish gang of horticultural bozos had had their wicked way in the greenhouses and had stolen not one, but three plants! The staff of the Botanical Gardens had decided to go with vigilante justice and marked the scene of the crime with reproachful little signs saying 'stolen!'  (with an exclamation mark. Take that, you dirty scoundrels!)

That showed you, you plant plucker. Return the cactus tout de suite!
If that were not bad enough, this morning I was very nearly the witness of another dastardly crime involving local flora. I was cycling to work and spotted two police cars parked outside a house near our school. Three police officers were holding an earnest conversation on the footpath. Naturally, I slowed to gawk and spotted two more police officers at the scene of the crime itself. One was interviewing the house owner, the other was taking photos. Agog, I slowed till I almost fell off the bike.

Guess what had happened? Brace yourselves, readers, because this next bit is going to be gruesome:
A tree had fallen over.
Or maybe - maybe it had been pushed.
A fence was very nearly damaged.
Yes, indeedy.
Five policemen and one policewomen had rushed to the scene of the crime to take notes and photos (with sirens blazing, I hope - but I missed that bit.)

WHAT IS THE WORLD COMING TO? At this point, I am seriously considering moving to a more stable environment, like Johannesburg or Mexico City. I fear for my life. Will my bike fall victim to thievery? Will someone stomp on the daffodils outside our front door? I quake at the thought.

Naturally, I have become more cautious and now I'm seeing the world in a different light:

Things will never be the same again.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Booboos and Ooopsies

I had a fantastic idea: I'd use my Realta pattern crochet the motifs in sock yarn, to create a stained-glass window effect. I dug out all the tiny little balls of sock yarn that I had and, in the last few evenings just before going to bed, I made an octagon or two. Or seventeen. Plus a septagon ... by accident. Naturally, I didn't notice this before sewing them together. Don't ask me how. I might have noticed it sooner if it had been at the centre of the piece, but as luck would have it, it was at the edge and already firmly sewn into place when it occured to me that it looked a bit odd. Can you spot it?

Yes - kind of obvious now, isn't it? Anyway, as we all know, crochet is a very forgiving craft and a bit of creative sewing allowed me to line up the sides of the errant septagon and tease it into line with its eight-sided neighbour. (Evil chuckle).

And there we have it - a nice, bright cushion displaying my perfect craftswomanship (another evil chuckle.)

Monday, April 4, 2011

PATTERN: Killer Bunny Egg Cozy

Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Now it's time for a little whimsy: egg cozies! These are supposed to keep your boiled eggs warm, but I think they just make funny table decorations. Hide a Cadbury's Creme Egg under one of these to make someone very happy (e.g. me. Any chance of a free box of eggs, Mr Cadbury, for my discreet product placement? No? Oh, well...)

You need a
3.50mm hook (an ‘E’ hook)
approx. 15g sock yarn (or fingering weight cotton)
2 little buttons for eyes
1 darning needle
Small amount of white DK or WW yarn (for teeth)
Note: this pattern uses American terms, the British terms are in [brackets].

Bunny Body:
Start by chaining 3 and join with a slip stitch to form a little circle.
OR: start with a magic loop

Round 1: Chain one, then do a SC [DC] in the same stitch below (this counts as your first SC [DC] here and throughout), then do 9 SC (DC) into the circle. (10 stitches in total)
Round 2: Chain one, then do 2 SC [DC] in the same stitch. 2 SC [DC] in next nine stitches (20 stitches in total)
Round 3: Chain one, then do 1 SC [DC] in the same stitch, 1 SC [DC] in next nineteen stitches (20 stitches in total)
Round 4: Chain one, then do 1 SC [DC] in the same stitch, 2 SC [DC] in next stitch, *1 SC [DC] in next stitch, 2 SC [DC] in stitch after. Repeat from * around, ending with 2 SC [DC] (30 stitches in total)
Round 5: Chain one, then do 1 SC [DC] in the same stitch, 1 SC [DC] in next twenty-nine stitches (30 stitches in total)
Repeat round 5 till your cozy is three in/eight cm long. Cut yarn, weave in end.

No rude comments, please.

Bunny Ears (make 2):
 Chain 11, do a SC [DC] in the second stitch from hook. Do 1 SC [DC] in the next nine stitches. Chain one.
Now turn this twisty little piece of crochet upside down, so the bottom of the starting chain is facing up. Crochet 1 SC [DC] in the bottom loops of the ten stitches across. Chain one.

Turn your work right-side up, so the first row you did is facing up again. Crochet 1 SC [DC] in the first SC [DC] of the previous row, as though you were starting a normal row. Do 1 SC [DC] in the next nine stitches,

then 1 SC [DC] into the top of this little rectangle, and crochet 1 SC [DC] in each of the stitches down the other side.

Cut yarn, leaving a 4 inch/10 cm tail to sew your ears on.

Sew the ears on either side of the bunny body head. Position the button eyes in such a way that bunny looks vaguely threatening (or cute, if you so desire.) Sew on firmly - nothing worse than a one-eyed Killer Bunny.
Create teeth by simply adding two vertical stitches in white yarn. Again, contemplate how to position the teeth in order to make the bunny look extra-scary.


Now have them stand guard over your breakfast:


A PDF of this pattern can be made at THIS website: just copy and paste this link
and it prepares a perfect PDF, ready for print!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Where do I crochet? (= Where do I NOT crochet?)

When and where do I craft? Always and everywhere! I hate wasting time - I feel a subconscious pressure on me all the time to make the most of every minute. I don't know why my inner sandclock is on overdrive, but I feel the pressing need to always being DOING stuff. If there is a chance that I'll be made wait anywhere or for anything, I generally have a skein of yarn and a hook hidden in my handbag.

See, you have to be prepared, bloggers! Inspiration is everywhere!
Yesterday when I was in town I spotted egg warmers in one of those shops that specialises in selling all kinds of knick-knackery that no one needs. Mr Gingerbread was standing behind me looking painedly patient, exuding martyrdom and muttering under his breath in English so only I would understand his displeasure ("Only women buy stuff in these shops. This stuff is all useless. Who needs a purple plastic boiled-egg slicer? Use a knife! And what's that? An automatic cocktail shaker? Pick the darned thing up and shake it yourself!" etc.) Anyway, I spotted bunny rabbit egg warmers and I was smitten. Smitten, I tell you. Which is quite odd, because I don't eat boiled eggs as a rule, and hiding them under little hats doesn't make them more appetising to me. But I was still inspired. (Actually, at first I was more indignant at the fact that you had to pay €3 for a bunny egg warmer. For a couple of minutes Mr G and I formed a chorus of grumbles at the con-artistry of making someone pay €3 for an egg warmer. You could buy two dozen eggs for that! Eat your egg up and stop messing about, then you'll have no need for an egg warmer! Etc.)

Home we went and while Mr G tucked into a conciliatory icecream (easily appeased, that man) I started crocheting - yes, at the table. Even as he was unwrapping his Snickers icecream, I had my wool lined up and was sharpening my hook (metaphorically.) And thus the Killer Bunny Egg Warmers came to life. Scary, eh? (Sorry, but they're so ridiculous, they just make me laugh. They're getting an extra-big photo, just for that.)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Something I Sort Of Aspire To But Don't, Really

Today we're supposed to write about something we aspire to. Some skill we'd like to learn. Well, you all know about my thwarted desire to knit socks, so that kind of put the kibosh on today's rant. By the way, many thanks for all the comments. I now know that I'll have a career chronicling the adventures of my stickwoman, if the adventures of the gingerbread woman don't pan out. Thank you for all the advice: Quinn - I think I will start with toddler socks. And Shelley, I'll progress on to socks that I intend to keep for myself ... Thanks for the tip with the Soak Wool Wash, Marushka. Extra strength will be needed to remove all the naughty words from the stitches, but if the cursing hasn't felted them, the washing certainly won't.

Anyway, what do I aspire to? It's a tricky one. What I kind of aspire to is Irish crochet. Theoretically, in my head, I want to aspire to this. In practice, there's no reason why I shouldn't do it, except ... I couldn't be bothered. I like colours and symmetry and order and form. Irish crochet - in the traditional sense - is not really any of these things. Okay, symmetrical maybe, but in many respects it was the forerunner to monotonal freeform crochet and freeform crochet makes me itch with desire to line it up to something and even out the edges.

The funny thing is this: my sister Emily Gingerbread - who apparently looks so much like me that non-family members often have difficulty telling us apart (if I walk into a shop after she's been there, shop assistants ask if I've forgotten something) - is quite a dab hand at Irish crochet. Despite our negligible physical similarity (I'm a foot taller than her, people!!), our crochet styles are very different. Therefore I don't feel a pressing need to really try Irish crochet because my doppelgänger is already doing and doing it so well.

Don't believe me? Well, as a starry-eyed youth (i.e. before she had four kids, bless her cotton socks), she made her own wedding tunic. So in answer to today's question - what do I aspire to? - the answer is this:

Isn't my little sister clever?