Monday, October 31, 2011

Advent Sock Kit Giveaway

Remember these socks? Well, over the course of the year, I've accumulated enough scraps of sock yarn to make up a new set of Advent sock skeins. Just in time for the Christmas season/Hanukkah/winter solstice!(because tiny skeins of sock yarn lend themselves to most major festivities). In order to be in with a chance to win - wait for it! -
  • 23 little balls of sock yarn
    Mostly a wool/nylon mix, one or two little balls of cotton. Some Kool-Aid dyed, most standard German yarns. Each ball weighs approx 20 g (my socks weigh approximately 12g each, so these mini skeins should be enough for a wee sock.)
  • one finished sock to start you off 
  • 1 hook - 3.5 mm
  • 1 set of foam number stickers
All you have to do is leave a comment below with a contactable address - a link to your blog / your user name on Ravelry or Crochetville / your email address (= in which case, your comment will not be published publicly, I'll just enter your name on the list.)

The closing date is the 7th November, 2011.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Tutorial: Fun Fun-Fur Scarves

A few years ago, fun-fur was very in. Many craft stalls looked like the scene of a Muppet massacre, awash with swathes of multi-coloured fluff. Then ... fun-fur went out of style. Let's be honest, few people want to be attacked by members of PETP (People for the Ethical Treatment of Puppets) and, besides, working with fun-fur is immensely tedious. It knots easily. Underneath the furry threads, the actual yarn is very thin and it takes aaaaaages to get anywhere with it. I'm willing to bet that there are half-finished fun-fur scarves languishing at the bottom of thousands of wardrobes.

But strangely enough, few passers-by can resist touching a furry scarf on a craft stall: they're very tempting for those of us affected by chronic tactility. So how can we use up those orphan skeins of fun-fur left over from the days when yarn shops were full to bursting with the stuff? Well, I still use fun-fur and I've managed to make loads of scarves that look ... well, relatively nice actually. Sadly, my photography skills do not lend themselves to capturing their niceness in pictorial form, but I'll do my best - with the aid of my lovely model, Gladys:

Essentially, you need
100g acrylic yarn
(a lighter weight yarn is better. Worsted weight might "swallow up" the effect of the fur because it's comparatively thick.)
75g fun fur
an H (5 mm) hook
Pattern is in American terms. British terms are in [brackets].

What is important is that the two yarns be close in colour. The furriness looks more discreet and less crazy when the colours are tone-in-tone. If you're into crazy, go with contrasting colours, but don't say I didn't warn you.

Start by chaining till you've reached your desired length. My dining room table is 150 cm (approx 60 inches), so my starting chain is always the length of my table. Yup. That's precise for ya.

Row 1 (acrylic): Start with the acrylic yarn. In the fourth chain from the hook, crochet a DC [TR]. Crochet one DC [TR] in each stitch in the chain. When you get to the end, cut the yarn and weave the tail back in along the top of the stitches with your hook.

Row 2 (fun-fur): Don't turn the scarf! Attach the fun-fun by chaining two into the first stitch as a kind of 'fake' SC [DC]. Crochet one SC [DC] into the top of the stitches in the previous row. Crochet to the end of the row, crocheting over the woven-in tail of the previous row. Now turn your work.

Repeat rows 1 (DC [TR] in each stitch) and 2 (SC [DC] in the top of each stitch in the previous row till the scarf reaches the desired width. Both rows 1 and 2 should go in the same direction, i.e. don't turn your work between row 1 and 2, only turn your work after every second row.

But why, Gingerbread Lady, why? you grizzle. Well, the fun-fur appears furriest at the back of the SC row. If every SC [DC] row is crocheted on the same side, in the same direction, then one side of the scarf will be very furry and the other side won't. This way, both sides are evenly furry and everyone's happy.

When you're finished (and you should finish as you started - on a row with the acrylic yarn) you can crochet one row of DC [TR] or SC [DC] around the scarf in the acrylic yarn to neaten your edges. Cut yarn and weave in your tail.

You can prepare a PDF to print or save by visiting THIS site ( and entering this address
   in the box on the Joliprint page. Just click 'print' and it creates a lovely PDF for you!

Tutorial: Soap Socks


I was at home waiting for news from my sister, Eithne Gingerbread, who was supposed to deliver unto the world a new baby today. The child has Eithne's sense of punctuality and thus took a good fortnight to appear on the scene, but finally did so in a whirl of drama this afternoon. Mother and child are doing well, hurray.

While baby Hannah was adjusting to the world, I was trying to get some odds and ends finished. So I'm going to do a series of little blog postettes about my craft fair endeavours. Most of what I'll show you in these posts will end up being donated to a Christmas bazaar in aid of the local children's clinic - as a result, they're quick and economical to make and rely heavily on a certain cuteness factor as a sales technique. Brace yourselves, crafters. Here we go!

Soap Socks
The idea behind these is that, as the soap shrinks with use, the wool felts through rubbing and the use of hot and cold water. I had loads of these finished, but everyone who has seen them so far has bought one or two off me - which is a good sign, but honestly I have to stockpile a little before Advent starts. They look cute. They smell nice. They're cheap to make (I buy the soap at Aldi - no one sees it because it's sewn into the soap). And even a novice knitter like me can make them.

You need:
felting wool (I can make 4 or 5 socks from one 50g skein)
and a set of DPNs/straight knitting needles.
(I used a size 5 mm.)

Cast on 20 stitches. Divide over four needles, or knit flat.
Row 1: plain
Row 2: purl (If you're knitting flat)
Repeat in stockinette stitch till you have a little tube the length of a bar of soap. Sew up the bottom opening. (If knitted flat, sew up the bottom and side.)

Cast on 10/11 stitches on your trusty DPNs.
Row 1: Plain
Row 2:  Kfb (knit front and back so you have double the amount of stitches that you started the row with)
Knit until the sock is *nearly* long enough to fit the soap, then
K2tog (knit two together) for one round, so you have 10 or 11 stitches again.
Cast off. Sew up the bottom opening.

 Squeeze the soap into its little sock. Weave the tail of the yarn around the top opening and pull to close the hole. Weave in your tail. Thread a piece of cotton yarn in and out around the top hole and pull tight (as a drawstring), tie it in a bow.
(Wowzers. Knitting patterns are so simple to write, eh?)

Add a label.
Be fancy.
Voilà - or as we say in cyberspace: Waalah!

Here's a copy of a sample label as a Microsoft Word document here.

But does it work, Gingerbread Lady?
 Well, here's the tricky part. Whether the soap sock actually works depends on a number of things. I've found that some soaps are too soft, they turn to mush straight away. Others are too hard to get up a good lather. In order to felt, the yarn needs friction, so the user has to be prepared to scrub hard to felt it! When I give these as gifts, I always say that they're best kept in a drawer among your underthings or linen: they make excellent scent sachets. The wool holds the scent for a long time and the soap normally has a very delicate scent.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

PATTERN: Emily's Roses

The pattern can be downloaded as a PDF here. This link will take you to a PDF hosting site called Mediafire, where the pattern can be downloaded directly on to your computer.Alternatively, you can download it on Ravelry if you are a member.

Ravelry download: download now

This is a pattern for an 8-inch square. It's also a charity square, which means that while it's free, you are strongly encouraged to use it for good, not evil, and to spread joy and warm fuzzy feelings to people in need. There are a lot of charities that would dearly love squares/blankets/lapghans - the "payment" for its download is that you consider sending at least a square to a group collecting crocheted/knitted squares to be made into blankets for charity ... or donate a blanket using these motifs for a children's charity ...  women's refuge ... homeless shelter in your area. Although this pattern looks quite lacy, it's actually very warm. If you are considering donating squares (and having read the heartfelt appeal above, you probably are), please think about using a more easy-care colour for the background - blue, yellow, grey, black.

The square is called Emily's Roses because when my little sister Emily was a baby, she was given a crocheted blanket with Irish rose motifs. We loved that blanket and I don't mind telling you that I was deeply envious that she had one like that and I didn't. This might have driven a deep wedge in our relationship but things were evened out somewhat with The Ice Cream Cake Controversy of 1981, when I had an ice cream cake for my 7th birthday - and my mother promised the other Gingerbread siblings a similar treat on their special day. But by the time Emily's birthday rolled around in April of the following year, production of birthday cakes made of vanilla ice cream had been discontinued. For a long time she was of the opinion that I, as the eldest child, had been shown preferential treatment with this choice of celebratory confectionery, and I have a sneaking suspicion that somewhere deep in her heart she still nurses a grudge against me, the intensity of which cannot be assuaged by a by-now tatty crochet blanket. I have seen her eyeing my desserts at the dinner table. I have feared for my chocolate cake and apple pie.

I hope that this conciliatory gesture will smooth things over between us once again.
Emily Gingerbread: here are your roses. xx

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Gracey's Goodies

Gracey is not her name but she writes a fun blog about her crafting and woolgathering adventures at Life and Yarn or Yarn and Life. I have a suspicion that this lady has a stash I'd give a couple of teeth for. Just a suspicion, mind, but recent posts have confirmed this. In any case, she sent my husband - yes, my husband - a couple of gifts. Look at the name of the yarn ...

I waved it under his nose and then stole it (bwoahahahaha!) but he got the little critter for his desk. It only took about an hour or two for him to remark, "You know, I think this little thing isn't a mouse."
(Who'd said it was a mouse? I wondered)
"I think - " dramatic pause as he holds it up for inspection "I think it's a bird!"
"Did the wings give it away?" I enquire.
He turns it over in his hands. "Ah! Wings!" he says. "So it is a bird, then!"
"It's a pigeon!" I say. "It clearly has a beak and wings."
He was tickled pink. "A pigeon ... cool ..."
And now the pigeon has become a permanent fixture on the desk, leaning up against the external hard-drive. When someone asks what it is, Mr Gingerbread says in a tone of scorn, "It's a pigeon! Look, it has wings and a beak!"
Yes, yes.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Crafting, Karma and Charidee Part Deux

Hallo there, bloggers!
In a triumph against the chaotic side of my nature, I finally packed up my scarves for Compassionate Creations (remember I wrote about it here?) I beat my way through a small army of shoppers and found myself in front of the post office - minutes before it closed early on Saturday afternoon. So: shipment fail. But here's a photo my scarves, both knitted and crocheted. I will add that in the time it took me to knit the two cabled scarves, I'd crocheted the other seven. Sigh.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Yoga Mat Corollary

So the academic year is back in full swing! The trees are shedding their leaves and it's pitch dark when I get up at 7 a.m. and getting dark when I come home. Normally, the darkness is cause for the blahs, but the new school year always brings a few treats. For example, the perusal of the Volkshochschule (community college) prospectus.

My town has a relatively big Volkshochschule (which, literally translated, means the People's College - or the Folks' College, as I like to call it in my head.) You can do anything at the VHS (German words are shortened a lot. You can see why.) Anything, from DIY courses to history courses, from How to Make a Felt Hat courses to How To Sue Your Landlord seminars. I read the book from cover to cover every year and pick out all the courses I'm definitely going to do. Like, totally and definitely this time. For realz. I have almost done courses in Swedish, Norwegian, Japanese and German Sign Language. I very nearly attended a DIY Course for Women. I barely dodged a sewing course, seriously considered a wine-tasting course and got as far as picking up a pen to sign up for a mosaic-making workshop. I sometimes surprise myself with my own dynamism.

You see, there's one thing that makes me nervous about all of these courses: yoga mats. Germans - at least the Germans in our liberal student-infected university town - have a thing about further education and yoga mats. Strangely enough, many of these evening courses seem to involve a phase where one gets down on one's yoga mat, clad in comfortable fairtrade sports clothing, and one does meditation exercises to commune with The Nature or The DIY Deities or whatnot. Sometimes, one gets paired up with an earnest-looking retiree, to whom one has give a back-rub. On rare but traumatic occasions, feet have been rubbed. Now, I have a thing about people touching my feet, my knees and my belly-button (seriously: just don't. I will bite), so when I found myself lying in a state of paralysed fear on a foam mat, while a greying ex-hippie* kneaded my bunions and sent my chakras good vibes, I almost fainted with the effort of controlling my cold sweats and convulsions.
This is Just. Not. Me.

And I tried yoga, I did. You see, I'm a rather hyperactive person - it's why I crochet: I like to be Doing Stuff - and my ex-boyfriend (pah!) thought it would be good for me to offset the stress of Educating The Youth by attending a yoga course at the community college. Back then I was innocent: I didn't know about the Yoga Mat Corollary (Evening Course + Yoga Mat = Horror), and, naturally, was ignorant of the fact that a yoga course would clearly involved a blooming plethora of mats. I found myself amongst a dozen earnest (it's always earnest when a yoga mat is involved) and bendy people, who only needed to have an ankle wrapped around their neck to experience nirvana. I, in contrast, am not bendy AT ALL. Physically, I am built for short sprints (preferably towards food) and not contortions. And meditating is extremely stressful: I lay on the mat wondering if I was relaxing properly - everyone else looked more relaxed than me (I know because I peeped) and how was I supposed to know if my muscles were relaxed? How could I "think of nothing", when thinking of nothing made me wonder if it really was nothing, or did thinking about whether I was thinking about nothing count as something?
I left the class with a migraine. I limped home and had to have a whiskey to settle my nerves.

Frankly, all of this talk of yoga mats has made me weak and I feel the skin on my feet crawling, so I think I probably should stop here and sprint to the kitchen for a yoghurt. We'll talk again tomorrow when I've recovered. xxx

* and please note, I have nothing against greying ex-hippies or current hippies, for that matter, as the Gingerbread family is generally considered to be of the hippie variety. The point is, though, that German hippies have cupboards full to bursting with yoga mats, and the only mat we have at home is one that my great-uncle Joe picked up at the Ballylinan market. He swears it's Persian, but I somehow doubt that a rug hooked in Persia managed to end up in Ballylinan. Though, if you knew Ballylinan, you'd probably understand that stranger things have happened there.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Life in Bavaria

You know what they say: if it's not Baroque, don't fix it.

Following my last post, in which I revealed the level of subterfuge I engage in to make you all think my house should be a model for Better Homes and Living magazine, I thought I'd show you a snapshot or two of life in Bavaria. I live in the middle of an axis formed by three very beautiful and very different cities. There's Nuremberg (Nürnberg), which has the mediaeval flair of a Grimm fairytale, then there's Regensburg on the Danube, which - and be sure, the locals will inform you of this at least once during your visit there - is called 'Italy's northern-most city' because of its broad streets, squares and its plethora of towers (they were quite the 'in' thing five hundred years ago) and then there's Bamberg ... that's where I was on Friday.

Ahhh, Bamberg.
This photo was taken by my brother John in summer - October afternoons do not lend themselves to outdoor photography.

This is how you know you're in Bavaria: red roofs.
The front door of the cathedral.
Not one you should forget your keys to.
St. Kunigunde (centre statue): local celebrity and mediaeval feminist of sorts

Before I bought a house of my own, this kind of domicile delighted me. Now I can only think about the rising damp.
Bwoah! Nice knockers!
(Sorry, but I just couldn't resist. And they are nice, aren't they?)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Blogging Lies and Crazy Patchwork

I have a deep suspicion about bloggerdom: I believe that many of the photos that we see of artfully-arranged living rooms with distressed furniture and shabby chic assessoires are total bunkum. Clearly, a blog's function is to provide not a mirror to the world you inhabit, but a mirror to the world you would like your readers to think you inhabit. Behold my living room:

Oh, Gingerbread Lady (you say), you are clearly a lover of the minimalist look. Those stark walls. The simple window dressing. That bed-sofa - making a bold statement to the world: "Cushions? Who needs 'em?"

Sadly, this is not my life at all. This is all a lie - a lie, I tell you! I took this photo stemming a tidal wave of clutter, which I had stacked on the armchair behind me for aesthetic purposes. The bed is actually a sofa, but at some point we realised that we very much valued its abilities to support afternoon naps, so it hasn't been folded back up into its sofa-position since then.  We don't have anything hanging on the walls because, after two and a half years, we still haven't decided upon the final, Happily-Ever-After position of our living room furniture and don't want to hang our paintings and photos yet - just in case. We're not ready for the commitment. If you think that's bad, then take a gander at our wedding photo ->
Oops, yes. Well, we have the frame. That's a start.

In the midst of all of this, we live quite happily. But as I'm sure you have plenty of clutter of your own (please say you have), I'm sure you don't need to see photos of mine - so I'll give you the Nice Version of my living room instead. And, being the honest soul that I am, I'm telling you about it, too.

By the way, you might have noticed that I finished my Crazy Patchwork blanket - yes, yes, that's it draped casually over my ... um, divan - juxtaposed against my stark, Shaker-inspired interior décor, with a nuance of shabby chic in its vintage retro-ness. (Believe it. You know you want to.)

"Why, Gingerbread Lady - you're so fancy!"  "Yes. Yes, I am. Fancy is my middle name."

Monday, October 3, 2011

Saying Goodbye

No, I'm not. I'm not going anywhere. You're stuck with me now.
But yesterday evening, Mr Gingerbread and I travelled an hour down south (= a hop and a skip down the road for American readers, a long-distance journey for this Irish writer) to attend my brother-in-law's birthday party. My husband's sister - she who is pregnant, as mentioned here - invited us to the party and so Sunday evening saw donning our gladrags and dancing shoes, and off we went.

And it was all very nice till the end of the evening. Then my husband and his sister started to do something that his family are prone to doing: The Protracted Farewell. Mr G and his sister share a similar sense of humour, so they were exchanging quick-fire banter of the slightly demented stand-up comedy sort, when I gently stepped in and alerted my better half to the fact that it was almost midnight and he'd wanted to leave a half-hour previously. I leaned in to hug my sister-in-law goodbye, then she turned to her brother - and the weirdness began.
"Goodbye," she said. "I wish you both a safe and pleasant journey back to Gingerbreadtown."
"I thank you," he replied, "And I also extend my gratitude on the kindly proffering of an invitation to this, our dear brother-in-law's birthday."
"It was my pleasure. I am very happy to have been able to welcome you both here as guests."
"Again," said my husband, "We were delighted to have been asked. It was no trouble at all; on the contrary we welcomed the opportunity to be a part of the general revelry."
"The pleasure was entirely on our side and once again, on behalf of my husband and myself, I would like to thank you both very much for having come here tonight."

Get the picture? I personally think that they're just overcome by the emotion of parting, but rather than give each other a quick squeeze and indulge in the kind of parting that is a sweet but brief sorrow, they start making very formal ... speeches to cover the awkwardness. When all four members of the Hubby family are saying farewell, it becomes the kind of event to which one feels one ought to have been invited. I have to resist the temptation to applaud during the pauses. Instead, I wander off to laugh into the clematis and come back twenty minutes later for a round of hugs, dragging my husband into the car as he wishes his father continued good health, his mother many good wishes and his sister a safe and pleasant return trip to her home in southern Bavaria.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Search for Treasure Here

We're experiencing a beautiful Indian Summer right now - in fact, the late September/early October weather has been far more clement and more lovely than our so-called summer. So I took a walk yesterday afternoon down past the hospital clinics to the meadow behind it. The sun was warm, but there was that pale, wintry sky and the first leaves had started to fall. Just as I was returning home, I passed this message on the ground. It says: 'Look for the treasure here'.

I thought about it, but as I was rooting my camera out of the depths of my Bottomless Handbag, two little children scrambled back up the bank with disappointment written all over their faces. Darn it, I thought. Too late.

In any case, apart from re-adjusting to the start of the school year, I've been crocheting. Not a lot, though - no energy. Instead, I've been stuffing my brain with visual junkfood: True Blood. True Blood, in case you didn't know (and my parents will be reading this, so I have to explain) is about a bumbling waitress-slash-telepath in the American state of Louisiana, who meets and consequently falls in love with a vampire. Because - oh, yes, I should mention this - they 'came out of the coffin' a couple of years prior to the series' start. Lest you wonder if a lone Lousianian vampire would be enough to sustain a long-running serial, never fear: the place is awash with the paranormal. It is veritably crawling with all manner of shapeshifters, werewolves, werepanthers (?), witches, possessed babies, a demented maenad and, for good measure, an infestation of fairies, to which the series producers try to lend credibility by calling them 'Faeries'. Sadly Ye Olden Spellinge does not make it any less ridiculous. Apart from buckets of blood and inter-species copulation (no, Mammy, this is definitely not for you), the main characters are tortured by Inner Turmoil and much scenery is chewed as they Grapple With Their Feelings. My sister and sister-in-law told me to keep watching and, shame on me, I did - though, in its defence, the series is probably much less OTT when watched on a week-to-week basis. A marathon DVD session does not allow one to digest the episodes' content properly: you start to suffer from plot-hole burps if you gulp it down too quickly. (And you end up having surreal conversations like this:
"Are you coming to bed?"
"Just a minute. The vampires and the faery telepath are being held captive by stake-wielding Christians.")

Now I know what happened at the end of the last series so I have my life back and my brain cells can regenerate. Mr Gingerbread says it's my own darned fault: how could I expect a series about vampires not to ... suck? (Puns are the lowest form of humour, I know. Try telling him that).

Then I took up the hook again:

It's nearly finished - just one more panel and then I can edge it and move on to the next project, yippee!