Saturday 30 October 2010

Book Review: Love Knitting

You'll have noticed how much I've fallen in love with knitting this year, and I've blogged before about how excited I am to start trying out simple patterns... so it will come as no surprise to hear I was interested in this book when it arrived in the post this month:

Love Knitting: 25 Simple Projects to Knit is published by New Holland and, guess what, it's full of lovely simple projects!

The book starts out with a detailed beginners guide to the basics of knitting, with fantastic clear photos, which are then followed by 25 projects that increase in difficulty as you move through the book, from a super-simple baby blanket to bigger projects like a lacy shawl and a ribbed jumper (sweater).

The blurb I was sent about this book describes it as a "one stop guide to knitting" which I think is a teeny bit of an exaggeration, as though the knitting basics are great you wouldn't get very far through the book as a beginner knitter without coming across something not covered in the introductory "how to" section.

The patterns cover a wide range of techniques and yarn types and working through the book would be a great way to practice lots of new skills, but if you're not an experienced knitter you'll definitely need someone who is to help you out, or to buy a comprehensive "how to" knitting book to help you get to grips with the stitches involved.

The patterns themselves are a great mix of what I would call "classic" knitting patterns (like knitted slippers) and more modern, trend-driven designs like a bow hairband and a fun stripey snood which I'm particularly looking forward to knitting.

If you're a younger knitter there might be a few projects in there that you'd only knit for your aunt or your grandma, and if you're an older knitter some of the projects would make good gifts for a teenage neice or granddaughter, but as many of us knit presents for people I think this is no bad thing. There are also almost no baby/child projects in the book, which as a young unmarried person with few friends who have kids and no nieces or nephews to knit for I found quite refreshing after seeing several knitting books where the easy projects are all booties and other new baby gifts.

I took the book along to my knitting club and got everyone's feedback on it: all the ladies found projects they really liked, the more experienced knitters thought it was full of great easy things to knit as gifts and the less experienced knitters agreed with me that it looked like a great primer to start improving our knitting skills.

Love Knitting is available from New Holland, Amazon UK, The Book Depository and many other bookshops.

(Disclaimer: New Holland sent me a free review copy of this book and the Amazon & Book Depository links in this post are affiliate links)

Friday 29 October 2010

Hand-knitted Treasure

It is definitely blanket season. Our house is full of them: big ones, small ones, old ones, new ones, woollen ones, furry ones, store-bought ones and hand-knitted ones. We've got them on the bed and on the sofa and a big pile in the spare room for guests.

My favourite blanket? The one my mum knitted for me when I was a baby, a lovely rainbow patchwork of tiny squares:

The slightly blurry photos were taken in our spare room on a rather gloomy day! As you can see, I am fighting the gloom with colour :)

Wednesday 27 October 2010

Coloured Threads

In an attempt to help me be able to find things a bit more easily I've been re-organising my sewing supplies.

I've got two mini chests of drawers from IKEA that I (like many crafters around the world, I suspect!) use for storing my small bits and bobs for sewing. Some of the drawers didn't even close any more because they were overflowing with ribbons and miscellaneous haberdashery gubbins... but now they're neat and tidy and there's a place for everything! Hurrah!

This neatness has mostly been achieved by clearing out lots of the random stuff I'm hoarding for mystery Blue-Peter-style craft projects in the future (now safely tucked away under the bed in the spare room), leaving room for the day-to-day supplies I need regular access to like buttons and beads and tape measures and sewing thread (sorted by colour, of course).

Monday 25 October 2010

Christmas Shopping

With the arrival of the colder weather I'm starting to really get in the mood for Christmas...

I've already done my first bit of Christmas shopping: a set of these cards from Oxfam, featuring an embroidered nativity scene complete with tiny embroidered bunny rabbit. If you love vintage embroidery you'll love these.

(Apologies for the tiny picture, it's borrowed from Oxfam's website... my camera batteries need charging! If you click here you can see an enlarged version).

I've also got my eye on some gift wrap in our local Oxfam shop, lovely kraft paper (always a parcel-wrapping and crafting staple in our house), some gold and some plain brown printed with silver snowflakes. Lush.

Next up on my festive shopping list are these gorgeous biscuit tins from Marks and Spencer, designed by Sanna Annukka (images from her website).

So, so lovely, and they're full of M&S biccies too! Bargain.

I'm also thinking about treating myself to a second set of these adorable glass bird ornaments from the RSPB.

They've been the absolute stars of our tree for the past couple of years and though our Christmas tree is usually quite minimalist you can never have too many birds, right?

(P.S. apologies if you've got lots of weird versions of this post showing up in your blog reader - for some reason Blogger kept publishing my post while I was just starting to write it!)

Thursday 21 October 2010

Pins + Pressing Pause

Yesterday I counted lots of wheels of pretty pins...

... so many yummy bright colours...

... pictures were a must!

Unfortunately the pins will soon be vanishing from my shops as I'm down to my last few boxes and will be discontinuing them after that (hence the need to carefully count up the ones I've got left!). You can buy them from my website, or my Etsy shop while stocks last.

I'm going to be closing all my shops for a couple of weeks (22nd Oct - 4th Nov) to take a break from the day-to-day running of my online business (sending emails, sorting orders, listing and relisting products, sending more emails, etc) to work on a couple of other projects and take a bit of a breather before the festive season begins in earnest.

I'll still be blogging though, so you won't have a chance to miss me :)

Wednesday 20 October 2010

How To: Felt Wound for Halloween

This how-to is a bit of a cheat. It's a spooky adaptation of my raincloud tutorial from earlier this year... instead of a cloud with raindrops it's a wound with dripping blood!

Sort of gross, sort of cute, and perfect if you don't fancy dressing up "properly" but need to make a quick costume to wear for a party this Halloween :)

Just draw your own wound shape, follow the tutorial for the raincloud to make the brooch and then pin it to your sweater.

Subscribe to my newsletter for a monthly free pattern and visit my crafty tutorial archive for lots more free projects.

Visit my shop to buy my printable PDF sewing patterns:

Tuesday 19 October 2010

Festive Balance

I love Christmas.

I love all the sparkly things in the shops, I love decorating the house, eating yummy festive treats, and buying special gifts for all my friends and relations.... and I love sending out the things I've made to my customers, knowing they'll be under someone's tree or in someone's stocking on Christmas day.

But I definitely "get" why people feel a sour taste in their mouth about how commercial the Christmas season feels nowadays, and how overloaded with consumption the season can feel.

To get a bit of balance at this time of year I always try to make time to make my own decorations to add to my store-bought ones (like lots of paper snowflakes!), to bake biscuits or make little homemade gifts for friends and to take the time to wrap my gifts with care to make each gift personal and special...

I also set myself a little challenge every year, to give something away every day in the run up to Christmas.

I usually do it for a month or two but this year I've set myself a bigger challenge and am trying to give away 100 things before Christmas. Picking one book or one CD or one bit of jewellery every day to give away to the charity shop (or to friends who you know will love it) is dead easy, it's a great way to declutter and it feels great as a counterbalance to a season full of buying stuff.

So far I've cleared out 42 things, including spare bedlinen for a bed we no longer own (why did I keep that?), dresses that no longer fit me (ditto!), and all sorts of other stuff that was sitting unloved on shelves or lurking forgotten in the backs of cupboards. I always think it'll get harder each year I do it, but I'm always surprised to find how easy it is once you get started, and at how good a bit of charitable decluttering can make you feel!

How do you find balance at this time of year?

UPDATE: Read about what I gave away (and what I learned) during my 100 Things Challenge.

Monday 18 October 2010

Giveaway Winner: Flower Hairband

Thanks for all your kind comments about my flower hairband, everyone!

I really appreciate your sweetness even though you were probably all just being nice to try and win stuff, heehee ;)

The lucky winner, chosen at random is.... Lucíola! Please leave me a comment with your email address Lucíola and I'll be in touch.

Sunday 17 October 2010

Silver and Gold Thankyous

I've been in the mood for some cutting and sticking this week, so as well as notecards I've been making lots of little thankyou cards to send with my shop orders. Each card is about 3 inches (7.5cms) across.

I've been using up lots of paper scraps to decorate them, including bits of yummy silver and gold paper ribbon leftover from giftwrapping.

I stuck some of the ribbon onto my mini cards "as is" but also used the wide ribbon like fancy paper, and cut shapes out of it: silver hearts and little gold oak leaves.

PS - today is your last chance to enter this month's giveaway! Visit this blog post for a chance to win an autumnal felt flower headband (comments close at 10pm tonight, UK time).

Saturday 16 October 2010

How To: Simple Notecards

I'm forever buying stationery but I also love making my own cards to send to friends. These simple notecards are really easy to make, and you don't need any fancy supplies to make them.

You'll need some blank card (or ready cut and creased card blanks), envelopes, and any interesting paper you can get your hands on: sheet music, pictures from magazines, coloured paper, brown paper, envelopes with interesting security patterns, bits of gift wrap, etc. You'll also need scissors, a glue stick, a pencil, a bit of thin card (e.g. from a cereal box) and a pile of paper from your recycling bin.

First, choose a shape to use (more on this in a minute) and cut it out. If you're just making one or two cards you can use the paper shape as a template but if you want to make lots of cards, or use the template again in the future it's worth taking the time to glue your shape to a bit of thin card and then cut it out again.

Second, choose some nice paper and draw round your template on the back of it with a sharp pencil (remember to flip your template over if it's not symmetrical). Cut the shape out of the paper.

Third, glue it in place on your blank card. I find the easiest way to do this is to place the shape you're glueing face down on some scrap paper (e.g. old computer printouts from your recyling bin) and apply the glue stick evenly. You can go right up to the edges and over them onto the scrap paper, making sure the shape is totally covered. Then position your shape in the centre of the card and press it down, smoothing it over with your fingers. (You could of course use any glue you're happy working with, or double sided sticky tape if you prefer.)

You can have lots of fun playing around with shapes and different paper patterns.... For these heart and star cards I used shapes cut from magazines, and old sheet music. I think trios of simple shapes always look great.

Regular readers of this blog will know how much I like a project involving autumn leaves. You can either collect fallen leaves to use when making your templates, or you download some sheets of leaf shapes here.


I used gold kraft paper, plain brown paper (from an old envelope I rescued from our recycling pile) and sugar paper (construction paper) in warm autumn tones. Play around with colours and combinations of shapes!

Finally, I made some pretty butterfly cards using some butterflies and doilies I had leftover from my butterfly curtain project. You can download the butterfly template here.


I layered the butterfly shape with doilies and coloured paper (the blue card is made with two patterns from the inside of envelopes), but I think the simple butterfly shape cut from sheet music is my favourite.

(My tutorials are for non commercial use only, please feel free to borrow photos if you want to blog about my projects but remember to credit me and link back to the original source, and do not reproduce entire tutorials on your site. Thanks!)

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Friday 15 October 2010

Postal Love

I am completely in love with the new(ish) labels the Post Office are using for parcels - they're like giant first class stamps!

(See how big they are next to those ordinary 2nd class stamps?)

I know that printing postage is much, much more efficient than sticking on lots of stamps for parcels and overseas mail... but the old white postage labels the P.O. used to use made my parcels look so boring. The oversized "stamps" are just so quirky and full of character in comparison.

I've heard they might be discontinued due to printing problems, but fingers crossed they'll be around for a while yet as they make me smile whenever I see them.

Wednesday 13 October 2010

Freebie: Anti-Fashion Zine

I've been having a bit of a clearout this week and last night I found a whole folder full of clippings from women's magazines and beauty columns and was totally at a loss as to why I'd kept them... until at the back of the folder I found some half-finished anti-fashion zines.

Before I had a blog, I used to write lots of zines (including one called Bugs and Fishes which I published at irregular intervals for about 6 years, hence the name of this blog!). I wrote about all sorts of weird stuff, stuck it down on a bit of paper with pritt stick, photocopied it and handed it out to friends, and later sold a few copies through my fledgling Etsy shop.

As I don't sell my zines anymore, I thought it might be nice to share one here instead: issue #3 of my anti-fashion zine This Season's Must Have (yes I know sharing issue #1 would make more sense, but I can't find the files on my computer and my scanner needs replacing, so shh).

I love clothes, but fashion (and fashion journalism) drives me crazy! This Season was inspired by endless articles about the new "must have" jeans and how not wearing them would be social death. It's packed with clippings that made me either fall on the floor laughing or grind my teeth in a vaguely feminist, and distinctly anti-fashion rage. Hope you enjoy it :)
Creative Commons Licence
This Season's Must Have by Laura Howard is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Click on the images to view full size and print (each page prints to A4 size)

Monday 11 October 2010

Shop Updates

New in my supplies shop today: neon elastic headbands...

... and silver bells for your Christmas projects.

Back in stock: giant plastic buttons in bright colours.

Now reduced: sequinned elastic...

... and rolls of paper ribbon (perfect for Christmas gift wrapping).

Plus! Lots of packs of ribbon added today at bargain prices to help me clear out my crafty stash.

I've also been adding lots of items to the SALE section of my Etsy shop this week...

... and I've found a big box full of things that I've made this year and totally forgotten to list in my shops (oops - don't try this at home, kids!), including lots of things I finished during my challenge to clear out my workbox.

I'll be working hard to get everything photographed and up in my Etsy shop over the next couple of weeks, starting with these yummy floral necklaces:

Sunday 10 October 2010

Beating the winter blues...

... with turquoise and green...

... purple...

... orange and mustard...

... and more orange!

I love digging out all my chunky knits, cords, warm tights, woolly scarves and favourite coat at this time of year... they make the cold, wet English autumn & winter totally worth it.

The high street might be a bit depressingly early 90s grey-and-beige at the moment, but my winter wardrobe is bursting with colour :)

Saturday 9 October 2010

How to: Button Sweater

Today's how to is a quick and easy way to revamp a boring sweater (jumper) and turn it into a buttony thing of beauty.

You only need basic sewing skills for this, plus an assortment of small, colourful buttons, a sewing needle and thread to match your sweater... and, of course, a sweater in need of a makeover! I used an old black v-neck jumper that was getting a bit boring and bobbly and very much needed pepping up.

First, choose your buttons. I chose bright buttons in a mixture of shapes and sizes, but all small enough to fit along the neckline of my sweater. Rearrange the buttons until you're happy with the layout.

If you're aiming for a "random" layout of buttons make sure you spread colours and shapes and sizes out so there's not too much of one type in one place, and check that you don't accidentally create a pattern from your alternating colours.

Place the buttons on a tray or table in the order you want to use them.

Gradually sew the buttons in place using thread that matches your sweater, spacing them as evenly as possible along the neckline. Secure each button with lots of stitches, and sew small stitches inbetween each button. If your sweater has a lot of stretch to it (or you can't find thread to perfectly match the sweater) you might want to sew each button on seperately to keep your neckline stretchy (or to avoid having visible lines of stitching between the buttons).

Finally, if you want even more buttons on your jumper, add some to the cuffs!

Please feel free to borrow photos if you want to blog about this project, but remember to credit me and link back to the original source, and do not reproduce my entire tutorial on your site. Thanks!
Enjoyed this free tutorial? Buy me a "coffee" and help support my blog!

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Subscribe to my newsletter for a monthly free pattern and visit my crafty tutorial archive for lots more free projects.

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Friday 8 October 2010

A Giant Custard Cream

Look what I got...

... the biggest custard cream I've ever seen!

It's actually a biscuit tin (full of custard creams, of course), from Marks & Spencer. I saw it a while ago and didn't buy it and totally regretted it, so when I saw them back in stock this afternoon I couldn't resist.

When we've worked our way through all those custard creams I'll be putting the tin to good use storing my sewing supplies or felty works in progress.

Tuesday 5 October 2010

Giveaway: Flower Headband

This month I'm giving away one of the felt flower headbands I made for Cloth Magazine (buy a copy of the autumn issue for instructions on how to make your own!).

The flower is made from gorgeous 100% wool felt in lovely autumnal colours, sewn onto an elastic headband.

Keep it for yourself, or give it as a gift to a flower-loving friend :)

As always, I'm happy to ship internationally, so anyone can enter. Just leave a comment on this blog post before 10pm on Sunday 17th October and I'll pick a winner at random on Monday (18th October).

Please make sure you leave a name or pseudonym (no anonymous comments please!) and be sure to come back to see if you got picked. If I'm unable to contact the winner within two weeks another will be chosen.

EDIT: this giveaway is now closed!

UPDATE: This flower design is now available as part of my Romantic Flowers sewing pattern! Visit my shop to see all my printable PDF patterns

Monday 4 October 2010

A Mountain of Hats

Last week our knitting club parcelled up all the little hats we've been knitting for The Big Knit, but we had to count them first...

Amazingly our little group has managed to knit 300 little hats from our leftover bits of yarn. I was a bit lazy this year and only knitted about 10 hats but one of our members knitted at least 150 all by herself!

It was lovely seeing them all together, all the colour combinations and cute patterns.

The youngest members of the knitting club definitely approved.

We're currently looking for more charity knitting projects we can get involved with... if you know of any (especially ones based in the UK) please do leave a comment.