Why crochet?

I don’t mean why crochet as opposed to knitting or any other craft. Although there’s probably a post in there somewhere too. I started crocheting because I had a hook and some yarn and a spare evening and an internet connection. I never started knitting because… well probably out of some sort of pigheadedness I think. Until it’s as easy to find attractive contemporary crochet patterns as knitting patterns I will not knit. Huzzah for the underdogs!

Someone really ought to remind me of that saying about noses and faces and spite and knives.

Anyway. That wasn’t the point.

The point was why do any of these things? What’s the appeal of sitting implement and material in hand for hours manufacturing a garment which may or may not live up to the beautiful dream in which it was conceived. Why put oneself at the mercy of inept pattern writers*, unreliable colourways and fibres that don’t drape the way you thought?

Why not, as non-crafters occasionally say with a patronising smile, simply buy the blasted things?

I’ve come to realise that actually the reason why not is, and I do know how unlikely it seems as I say it, the reason why not is because we’re hooked on the risk.

The very reason why I crochet is because it might go wrong. 

It seems frankly bizarre but there you have it. The very possibility that I may be wasting my time and money, that I may reach the end of my project and with it the end of my tether and find that I have in my hands an object destined for Ravelry’s celebrated Ugliest FOs thread, is what keep me going.

Because that risk means that every time I make a stitch that is in the right place, every correct yarn choice, every tricky bit of shaping or cabling that I can pull off feels like a massive achievement. The whole thing borders on the mystical. I’m never entirely convinced that I am genuinely responsible for what emerges from my hands.

Every time I look down and think “I didn’t just utterly piddle £40 and 150 hours of my life up the wall. I have in fact used them to make a very passable sweater.” I could do a little dance. (And sometimes I actually do.)

Yes, yes, there’s all that stuff about being able to make what you want to your exact specifications and yes, if you’re any good you can. But for those of us who are still very much learning (and I hope never to stop learning) the truth is that the real appeal of crochet isn’t about the control you have over what you’re making. It’s the lack of control that’s exciting. Crochet is all about risk.

*Ahem… looks bashful.


And in the meantime…

Hello lovely readers!

I apologise for the long absence. I’ve had all sorts going on in my personal and professional life which has taken me away from both posting on this blog and actually from  crocheting altogether.

I have written the odd guest post for The Vintage Cookbook Trials if you really missed me.

I also have begun a new pattern and I’m trying to get excited about it because it’s an idea that’s been in my head for ages but really… I just can’t. I’m sorry.

No crochet love right now. It’s all gone. I hope it will be back.

So, what am I doing that’s taking my attention from designing and making?

Well, firstly, I stopped being self-employed and got a full-time job, which is ace but involves lots of travel and learning. This is taking alot of my energy and headspace but I am enjoying it and the financial security has lifted a huge weight from my mind.

Secondly, I have been very focussed on my own well-being lately. Just over a year ago I ejected someone very toxic from my life for good. Someone I had been close to who’d been hanging around making me increasingly miserable for nearly 5 years! It takes a remarkable length of time to exorcise people like this from one’s mind.

During the last months of being in that person’s company and the year that followed, I escaped into crochet as a flow activity. It allowed my brain to process what had happened while my consciousness was focussed on something else. Something controllable, creative and satisfying.

When the anniversary of the final ejection came around it was as if I woke up and decided to move into the future. That has involved becoming more physically active, getting some counselling to help me learn how to avoid toxic idiots in future, treating myself to some pampering and having some good old-fashioned fun.

I have been to a spa, gone out dancing, started running again now that my injured ankle has more or less healed, bought some new clothes, had a good haircut  and started just plain walking taller.

I have for the time being more or less stopped crocheting, checking Ravelry and updating this blog. I’m sorry.

On the upside, when I get around to getting the ingredients together I have a lovely summer salad recipe for you.

I haven’t generally talked about my personal life on this blog. It’s been what it says on the tin, a recipe and crochet blog. I hope you’ll forgive me this little splurge and stick by me. I also have some personal musings on weight and diet that if you want to read them, I would like to post. Let me know in the comments.

Anyway, I’ll be back.

My best wishes to you all.


Hopefulness Scarf Pattern

Hopefulness scarf

Hopefulness scarf

This scarf was designed for a lovely friend of mine who has had some truly horrible times lately. Somehow she remains one of the sunniest people I know. I have been very affected by her courage and ability to look to the future.

I used one skein of Malabrigo lace to make this scarf i.e. just under 430m and a 2.25mm hook (US size B I think). I strongly suggest that you choose a solid colour yarn to make this scarf. Or at least a semi-solid with only a small amount of variation in depth and a single hue. The stitch pattern will be lost in a heavily  variegated yarn.

The finished project, once blocked, is approximately 150cm long and 30cm wide.

The pattern is deceptive. While it uses simple techniques and only four stitches, it is not easy to memorise and you will probably need to use the chart the whole way through. I did!

The stitches used in the chart are chain stitches, UK triple/ US double, UK triple two together /US double two  together. The edge  pattern which I have written out below also uses UK half treble/US half double crochet stitches. From now on I will use US notation.

Hopefulness Scarf detail

Hopefulness Scarf detail

The pattern is worked in two halves from the middle of the scarf outwards.

I apologise that this is a hand-drawn chart that I’ve scanned in. I have done my best to make it clear and easy to read but if anyone struggles I am very sorry.

Chain 74 stitches. This is the foundation chain. The first turning chain (shown on the chart) is not included in this number.

(An aside: The pattern repeat is 24 stitches wide. So to make the scarf wider or narrower chain a multiple of 24 plus 2.)

Then work according to the chart, starting with the turning chain of three.

My pattern testers suggested that placing a stitch marker after each repeat helped them to stay on track with the pattern.

Please note that the pattern looks neatest if you work the double crochets into the tops of the relevant chain stitches instead of around the chains. I know it’s quicker to work around the chain but it looks really sharp if you actually work into the stitches.

Another point to mention is that if you are working the chart correctly the double crochet stitches should create smoothly curving vertical lines. Please click on the detail picture above to see what I mean.

After working the chart twice through, work the edge.

Modelling the Hopefulness Scarf

Modelling the Hopefulness Scarf

Edge pattern:

1. Chain 2, work a row of half double crochets.

2. & 3. Chain 3, 3 doubles, *2 chain, skip 2 stitches, work a double crochet in each of the next 2  stitches, repeat from * until the last 4 stitches which are all doubles.

Repeat rows 1-3 then repeat row 1 as the final row. Bind off and weave in ends.

Attach the yarn to the reverse of the foundation chain and begin again with the chart.

To download the chart* click here: HopefulnessScarfChart

The scarf really benefits from blocking to straighten out the edges and open up the lace.

I hope you enjoy making this pattern.

For a variation, have a look at the chart. It is divided into two sections. If you just repeat the first section, instead of alternating with section two, you will also get a pretty lace but this time the arches will stack on top of each other instead of being offset like scales.

Thank you for reading, please send me comments or questions.

Special thanks to my volunteer pattern testers, Ravelry members: kimothy76, jacquimorse, Mshanane, SmallCrochet, AnarchyCox, wlindboe, lorithetrainer, ManicBeach, yarnedaround and funisinstyle.

*Extra super special thanks to Aparna Rolfe for making a professional quality chart for me on her pattern drawing software to replace my scruffy hand-drawn one. Her designs on Ravelry are well worth checking out by clicking her name. Lovely, stylish, contemporary  work.


Coffee with Supermum

Erel speaking at the South London Press- Shell 'Our Heroes' Awards

Erel speaking at the South London Press- Shell 'Our Heroes' Awards

Erel Onojobi is one of those people who’s both fantastically inspiring and so completely down to earth you immediately feel at home in her presence. She’s an ex-colleague and a good friend. A serial social entrepreneur whose goal in life is to get positive portraits of young black Londoners into the public mind. This in the face of a government and press that seem intent on scapegoating  urban youth for every possible societal ill. Erel is also charming, honest, generous and possessed of the most infectious giggle I know.

We meet in outside a station in West London and head to a cafe for a catch up and to talk dream and projects. It’s been over a year since I’ve seen her and she has her little boy, just turned one, in a buggy. He is, of course, an adorable bundle of round eyes and chubby little cheeks. Even though he’s got a spring snuffle, the sight of him standing on the cafe seat holding onto his mum’s shoulder makes me as broody as anything.

“His dad taught him to climb the stairs.” says Erel shaking her head, “Bad idea. He’s gonna fall down them.” I remember my mum telling me stories about how I learnt to climb up stairs before I learnt to get down. How she used to spend all day racing to the top to bring me back, only to have me determinedly set off again. It suddenly comes home to me how much energy that would take up. I dunk a biscuit in my cappuccino and consider that maybe broodiness is one thing but having a baby is quite another.

I ask her about her work projects, Ministry of Thrift and Set Fashion Free. Ministry of Thrift is a consultancy specialising in creating tools to help people, particularly young people, manage their money better. It has funky retro branding and a focus on social media. This is of course awesome, but today we’re here to talk about her other project. The one that connects with my deep, deep love and fabrics and design.

Set Fashion Free is a charity that bring young Londoners together to learn to design and make clothes using African textiles and then showcase them in a judged catwalk competition. The young people visit museums and learn about African imagery and crafts as well as meeting designers and fashion industry insiders to learn about real world of the ragtrade.

“Well, everything has to fit around him,” she gestures at her son, “And I’m supposed to be winding down Set Fashion Free and handing it over but somehow we’ve ended up doing an e-commerce site.”

This is news! Surprising but somehow not so surprising. Erel wind down? Seems unlikely. And Set Fashion Free has been a successful and growing organisation since 2008, working with high profile partners like the V&A and Goldsmiths University as well as garnering awards for Erel and exciting opportunities for the young people. Not to mention that African inspired looks are smoking hot this season.

“Afrikouture is a shop selling designers who make clothes in African textiles. We want the young people to have somewhere to go with this. Not just to make the clothes in a bubble but actually to be able to sell things. We want to sell them to white people too. I’ve had people ask if they can wear the clothes and I say ‘Yeah, of course, this isn’t just an African thing!’ “

I tell her I’m relieved because I’ve seen some beautiful pieces made in African fabrics, but I always feel like I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes by wearing them.

She laughs at the idea. “Nah man, it’s good. Wear what you like! We want our clothes to be for everyone.”

Afrikouture is still in development but the signs  are very promising. Erel has a gift for bringing people on board and in her words “Doing a lot with nothing.” A skill we all need nowadays. Somehow I find myself asking if there’s anything I can do.

“The crafting community are very supportive of independent design.” I muse. “Maybe I can put the word out and see what comes back.”

“That would be great!” She says.

Her little boy sneezes and as she wipes his nose I think of all the women in the craft world who are doing the same thing: taking care of their baby with one hand, their business with the other.

It would be great, wouldn’t it? I think.


Beetroot and pumpernickel stuffing

You know when you make something a bit random on the offchance it’ll be nice but you don’t hold out much hope, and then it turns out to be delicious. BEST FEELING EVER.

This was such a surprise find that I didn’t take photos the first time around. I just  bunged it together and when it came out  tasty I scarfed the lot.

This time I have been a bit more careful so we have pictures. This is honestly one of my favourite creations.

Enjoy.

Stuffing mix as the egg goes in

This stuffing mix is very colourful

You will need:

1 medium sized beetroot

1 small onion

180g pumpernickel bread, crumbled

1 egg beaten

25g butter plus a little extra to grease the dish

a tablespoon lemon juice

salt and pepper

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C and grease an ovenproof dish.
  2. Beetroot stained hands

    And my hands are colourful too. (There must be some way to prevent this...)

    Peel and grate the beetroot.

  3. Finely chop the onion and fry in the melted butter in a covered pan over a very low heat until translucent but not browned. If they begin to brown stir and turn the heat down.
  4. Mix all the ingredients  together thoroughly (make sure you get all the butter the onios were fried in) and transfer into the ovenproof dish.
  5. Cover with foil and bake until set. Remove the foil and allow the top to brown.

I serve this with roast chicken (slide a bay leaf under the chicken skin on each breast and thigh, place a quartered onion in the body cavity and salt the skin all over, roast  breast down until the last twenty minutes and breast up to crisp at the end). The  sharpness and subtle flavour of the stuffing aren’t overpowered by the chicken and bring out its meatiness.

Hot stuffing just out of the oven

Hot stuffing just out of the oven


In which I persevere when I should have just given up.

Ladies and Gentlemen I give you…. drumroll please…

The embarrassment of Twilleys!

The exemplification of hubris!

The proof that beginners are not always lucky!

The wonky horror!

The felted monstrocity!

The one, the only, the original…

FAILHAT!

I wear a bad hat and a dubious expression

Not looking good

Close up of bad hat.

Nope, not looking any better close up

Described as “That extraordinary thing you were wearing on your head that looked like something belonging to a cardinal”, FAILHAT began life as the cardigan project of Doom. A classic example of beginner makes three scarves and thinks that an ‘experienced’ level cardie pattern is well within their grasp. Oh woe is me…

I started out by buying not quite enough yarn in a colour that was being discontinued, always a good way to begin a project. So I spent some time halfway through running around London trying to find more. Eventually the internet came to my aid.

Of course I didn’t gauge swatch. I just charged right on in and happily hooked away until I had all the pieces ready to assemble. Of course it was mostly far too big with kind of skinnier sleaves and a loose flappy body. This on a cardigan that’s supposed to be a neat little fitted thing.

So what did I do? Did I frog? Nope, this yarn is fuzzy and sticky and virtually unfroggable. And anyway I’d assembled, I’d trimmed. I wasn’t going to unstitch and frog. So what did I do?

Well, you already know it’s felted so I think you can guess the next bit…

I put it in hot water and left it to shrink. Which It didn’t noticeably do. In fact the water wasn’t very hot and the sleaves even stretched a bit making them even longer and ganglier than before.

So I put my newbie crocheters thinking cap on and I decided that if I stuck it in the drier just for a few minutes I could shrink it down in a controlled way. So in it went.

Then the phone rang. A work call. I had to answer.

By the time it came out the drier 40minutes later it might have fit a six year old. Providing the six yr old had very skinny arms and never cared about moving them once inside their thick ugly grey felted jacket.

Oh… dear…

I put the cardigan away and went about my daily life. Older, sadder, wiser.

Then one day I saw the wretched garment and it seemed to call to me: “You could make a hat! You could cut out a box shape and make a little retro pillbox hat!”

So I did. And I even put a couple of little fan shapes on the front in an attempt to make it pretty. Then I determinedly wore it out to meet a friend and her family for a coffee.I had to get something back for all that time money and effort.

It was my friend’s dad whose immortal description above has prompted me to enter FAILHAT into this post for your enjoyment. I hope it has amused you as it clearly amused him. I am trying to decide whether the hipsters in this area are daft enough that it’s worth putting the blessed thing in the charity bag or whether I should do the world a favour and bin it.


We all fall down part 2.

When it comes to unfinished projects I have several that eye me from their bags and fill me sometimes with joy and sometimes with dread.

Pretty cardigan is too small for me.

Oops! Too small!

There is the top down cardigan that was too small when I first made it and had to be frogged back to above the waist. It’s almost done only the ribbing and buttons to go. It’s a very cute little garment made of hand dyed DK weight in shades of lilac, mauve, pink and grey. It’s also nowhere near going to fit me now. I’ve had to stop running due to an ankle injury and I’ve been working long hours and keeping my energy up with cake, chocolate and takeaways with inevitable results. I don’t mind getting fatter… much… but I do mind finishing a project after all this time only to find it won’t wrap around me. There’s little incentive to do the last bits of fiddly dull finishing work.

Then there’s the much more promising slouchy teal sweater. This is a simple two piece short sleaved layering piece with a boat neck and probably some decorative buttons on the shoulder which I have yet to find. I am in love with this project which I just know will be stylish and wearable and exactly what I need for the spring. But it’s all in plain slip stitch stockinette equivalent. There’s enough counting that I can’t really do it at knit night (and I’ve been too busy for knit night anyway recently) but it’s also too dull really to want to do at home. I need to just pick it up and do a row or two a day and then it’ll jog along nicely. Soon, soon.

There’s the Neverending Shrug of Doom which started out as a way to show off some gorgeous hand dyed silk yarn and has morphed into something rare and terrible with a life of its own. Nothing about this project has gone right. I have started off and frogged the silk itself several times. Then I got the silk right by deciding to use it as a collar for the shrug and bought some plain black wool for the body. Now the body is being a nuisance! I gave it an initial shot and got half way through before trying to pin it all togerther an see how it looked. Disastrous! The wool pulled on the silk and the collar looked mishapen and the torso hung away from my body in weird directions. This was not the glamourous vintage-inspired Hollywood diva-esque garment I had envisaged. This was a mess.

Madeline Tosh shawlette

So pretty but I'm halfway through the first skein already...

I found a fix for now. I am using measurements from a shrug I own that fits to make the pieces up in slip stitch. Except that at some point my tension changed and I made the second half of the front 1.5 times the size of the first half with the same yarn and hook. I may be the only person in the world who crochets even looser when she is stressed! Rip it, rip it and I’m trying again. I will succeed!

I have  the Sirdar Big Softie cushion covers to do. Just big spirals to sew together and fill. These will be lots of fun but I need to buy an extra ball of each colour first and as I bought the original balls in a shop on the other side of London I will have to phone up and order them to be sent over. I have started one of these.

I started a shawlette with the Madeline Tosh that Greentrianglegirl of A Playful Day gave me for my birthday then realised I needed another two skeins. Do they sell merino light in London? I should be so lucky! I will probably end up trading on Ravelry with someone in the States.

Crochet shawl motif pattern

Crochet shawl motif pattern

I have two lace shawls in process. One is a 1920s style shawl based on this square motif pattern that I have extended outwards and outwards.  The other is the final product that I am making with the recycled yarn I talked about in this post. I decided in the end to throw most of it out because winding it all without a swift and ballwinder would have been hellish. What I’ve got left will make a nice semicircular shawl and I’m using a doily pattern with a leaves and flowers theme to do that.

I’m making a cowl type neckwarmer for my sister in beeeeaaaaauuuutiful soft alpaca. This is a copy of the one I made for my mum for Christmas and should actually be done really soon. I can do this one on the train so it’s getting along nicely. I hope to post a joint celebration of both versions soon.

Finally there’s the fab handbag that I am storming through and need to find handles for. In my mind I’m thinking dark bamboo or semicircular wood. The yarn, not my usual taste, is a gift from lovely, lovely Rachel. (Cf the photos of my glazed carrot dish.) It’s Rowan Colourscape in the eye-popping Candy Pink colourway. Between the brightness and the chunkiness though it’s turning into a rocking handbag and the combination of self-striping yarn with tweed stitch is a winner.

I think that’s all my current UFOs. Of course I have two unstarted projects, a cardy for my sister and a lace scarf for a friend. The yarn is there, the will is there, but I feel that would be a new quantum leap in start-itis. I have decided that until at least one of the big projects is gone I won’t get going on another. Wish me luck though. I feel I have many miles before dawn…


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