Beautiful Yarn

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I love natural fibres. If they’re “grown” and processed in the UK that’s even better. I couldn’t resist sharing my new discovery with you all. Beautiful, light as air and soft as a cloud this mohair yarn from West Yorkshire Spinners comes in many shades. I am in love and loathe to ruin the magic by winding it. Is it just me who finds some skeins of yarn just beg to be treasured forever? Read the full post »

Finished Projects and Sneaky Peeks

It was only when I had finished writing this piece that I realised every project features yarn from the DMC range! It made me realise how much it means to me when yarn companies take the time to support designers and that I am much more likely to choose a yarn for a project if I have an actual sample or even a shade card with “proper” yarn attached instead of photos. Take note yarn companies!

Hooked Zpagetti basketThe first project I can show you is this very handy storage basket made in Hooked Zpagetti yarn. Disappointingly, I offered it to a couple of magazines last year  who declared it “too simple for our readers”, so you’re unlikely to see it in print. I may write it up for the blog if anyone would like it, let me know. This version uses a multi coloured print version of this versatile recycled t-shirt yarn and was made in under two hours. It now sits by my bed, stuffed with all my favourite magazines. You can see from the photo, it holds a lot of reading matter!

baby jumper

Next up is a very sweet little baby sweater. I make these a lot  as baby gifts and one day I will get round to writing up and hopefully submitting the pattern for publication. This one is made in DMC’s “Woolly”, a 100% superwash merino which I am loving! It’s quite a “light” double knitting yarn, which makes it ideal for baby clothes, and because it’s washable, parents like it too. This combination of grey and orange might not be your typical combo for a new baby, but it looks great on little boys and this one is destined for a rather sweet newborn and I know his stylish Mum will love it.

cover image

I can’t resist a little plug for “Crochet” published by Dorling Kindersley. I haven’t really said much about my contribution to this fabulous book, but inside you’ll find over 80 designs for all skill levels put together by a team of very talented designers. 15 of the projects  are mine (yes, if you want to know what kept me so quiet last year, it was this!) One of the first patterns in the book is a simple washcloth which is made in DMC’s Natura 100% cotton. This yarn comes in an unbelieveable range of colours and is perfect for crochet. Natura washes really well and is very soft, which made it the perfect choice for this project. Don’t mock, washcloths and dishcloths are always appreciated as presents and I have at least a dozen in my kitchen.

washcloths

Lastly, here’s a sneaky peek at what’s on my hook right now. Full of optimism for a lazy summer, I have started work on a fine tablecloth (yes, crocheting with a  2.75mm hook will keep me out of mischief for a while). The yarn is another DMC favourite. Petra is a mercerised cotton and again comes in fabulous colours and three weights. The “yardage” is very generous, which makes it ideal for this project. The colour isn’t my usual choice, but I picked it out as it goes so well with pale pink and looks very fresh. It’s destined for a round “bistro” table and will probably have a weighted hem to stop it blowing away in the evening breeze (see how optimistic I am, cue chilled white wine and glorious sunsets please).

It’s always very frustrating not to be able to share commissions until after publication, so I hope this little snippet will prove I’m keeping busy!

table clothAs the weather gets warmer, it’s time to start thinking about lightweight and portable projects for outdoors and for travelling. I’ll be back soon with a round up of some of my summer favourites. Don’t forget, if you’re a “facebooker”, you can say hello on my facebook page and if you use Pinterest you might like to follow some of my boards to see what else I’ve been up to and what’s catching my eye in the world of knitting and crochet.

 

 

New Published Patterns

INSIDE-CROCHET_NO-52It’s always a thrill when new issues of my favourite magazines are delivered, and it’s even nicer to see my work photographed beautifully.

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Image: Britt Spring for Tailormade Publishing (c)

As you can see, the hugely talented Britt Spring has again worked her magic on my latest design, a simple Tunisian crochet cushion.

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Image: Britt Spring for Tailormade Publishing (c)

Quite by chance, the colours I chose for this design exactly match our newly decorated bedroom at home, so this now has pride of place.

Tunisian Crochet is a very simple technique, and the knit stitch used in this cushion looks just like knitting. The Inside Crochet team have written a piece about the technique on their blog this month, highlighting some of their favourite designs from recent issues.

stool cover

Image from “Crochet” published by Dorling KIndersley, March 2014

Also in issue 52 you can find one of my designs from the newly published book “Crochet” from Dorling Kindersley. On a visit to Cockermouth this week, I saw the book featured as part of a rather cute window display (the sun was shining so brightly  it’s not the best photo ever. )The New  Bookshop always has lovely displays, which really tempt you inside and the recent addition of a friendly coffee shop makes it an essential stop on our visits home.

cockermouth book shop

This issue also has a lovely article by Emma Varnam, in which she shows you a few simple ways to use floral motifs this summer. Ideal for bringing new life to last year’s cardigan or for making cute hairclips.

After a week in Cockermouth, we’re home now and busy catching up. I’ll be back soon with a few more finished objects and some sneaky peeks at designs in progress.

Whatever you’re making right now, I’d love to see photos, you can share by tagging @traceytodhunter  on twitter or instagram or post pictures to my facebook page. If you’re a “Raveller” you can also find the project details for the Tunisian Cushion here.

 

Recipe: Homage to Manchester Tart

jammy coconut thumbprintsAs a child I loved Manchester Tart, the combination of sticky sweet jam, pastry and the exotic coconut on top  was hard to resist and I always had second helpings.

These biscuits were developed to satisfy my craving for this school day favourite and Mr T has already requested a second batch be baked this weekend, so join me in the kitchen, set aside 20 minutes and pop a tray of these in the oven. Best of all, they’re gluten free and dairy free so I can indulge my sweet tooth and remember all those delicious, stodgy school dinners.

You’ll find the recipe here

If you’re looking for a modern take on the traditional Manchester Tart, there is agreat recipe on the Great British Chefs website.

A Ranty Post About Working for Free…

(c) Andrea Ellison PhotographtIt’s rare for a week to go by when I don’t get asked to give my work away for free. Mostly I just ignore the cheeky emails, but every now and again I get a bit “ranty” and feel the need to justify why I sometimes  (politely) say no thanks.

Here’s an example of a typical “invitation”.

“Dear Tracey, we love your work and we think our readers would too. We’d be happy to feature your designs on our website. In return we’ll link back to your blog and promote you on our facebook page”

Sounds reasonable enough you might think, but click through to the website and you’ll find this

 “Subscribe to our pattern database today and you’ll NEVER need to pay for a crochet pattern ever again”

So, I’m supposed to feel flattered that you want me to provide you with a free pattern (which I’ll have proof read and tech edited at my own expense) and a high quality photograph and return you’ll actively encourage your readers not to pay for my other designs…

That kind of email definitely goes in the “no thank you” pile.

I have given free patterns which first appeared on my blog to the UK Hand Knitting Association  (UKHKA), they always ask first and I’m happy to give them, but when I’m asked, (and this is my particular favourite) by large multinational companies:

“If you could send us a couple of hundred words for our in house journal and perhaps a pattern our readers could make …. We have no budget…but we’ll be happy to print your website address…”

I have to decline.

It’s the same with magazines who offer to print patterns in return for “exposure”. I understand  that printing the names of established designers on your front cover can boost sales so you’ll be paying them a fee, but your argument that I’ll only get to be a “big name” by working for free or very little doesn’t really work on me. I get a kick out of designing simple, easy to follow patterns which are affordable and enjoyable and I do it for money. The fact that other magazines are willing to commission me repeatedly gives me the confidence that I’m doing something right.

So, I pick and choose who I work with carefully. I have given free patterns to Inside Crochet, such as my Lavender Hearts which you can find on their blog. They paid for the original design, paid the photographer and had it tech edited, so why shouldn’t I let them have the occasional freebie?   I have also written (unpaid)  for the Craftseller blog, answered reader’s letters for other magazines and  provided photos and copy for features and interviews in craft magazines. I am happy to do this as I feel it’s a part of building a good working relationship  and we all benefit.

I suppose what I’m really trying to say is, treat me (and designers like me) as professionals. It’s fine that some crochet designers don’t do it for the money, the “thrill of being published” is enough for them. But taking advantage of their talent and enthusiasm is bad for us and bad for them. Ultimately it’s also bad for the publication and for the reader. If you publish original, imaginative, well written patterns  your readers will keep coming back and you’ll build up a bank of loyal, creative designers who will keep sending you great proposals. That has to be good for all of us?

But here’s the thing, if I don’t contribute to that website / blog / magazine then another designer will. They’ll get the exposure and publicity that should have been mine. They’ll be the one who gets to put “As featured in xxx” on their publicity materials. We’re an insecure bunch us designers, we’re self employed and we live from month to month hoping that our next batch of submissions will fit with an editor’s plans and ideas for future issues.

So; even as I type “No thank you” and hit send, I know that there is another designer hoping that this opportunity will be her big break and that makes me sad.

ps If, after all that you’re still looking for free patterns, try clicking on the “free pattern tab” at the top of the page!

 

Review: Joana Vasconcelos in Manchester

Britannia 2014

Britannia 2014

I’ve been visiting Manchester Art Gallery since my student days. Mr T and I would spend many Sunday mornings “mooching” around the exhibitions, and when the teen was a “tiny tot”, few trips into town were complete without popping in to see what was new.

In recent years, the creative team behind the gallery exhibitions have brought a vibrancy to the gallery, fresh, modern and fun are words I use to describe the space to people who aren’t familiar with this “gem” (alongside the traditional pieces in the collection which are on permanent display).

I had  been looking forward to visiting the latest exhibition, Joana Vasconcelos’ Time Machine  and when I heard that a curator tour and talk by Emma Varnam had been organised as part of the “Thursday Late” series I knew this was the perfect opportunity to make a visit (I’ll be honest, the first of many, I already have plans to go back and to take the Teen when she comes home for Easter.

Big Booby 2

Big Booby 2

I’ve written quite a long piece here, although it hardly seems to do the exhibition justice. You really need to see it for yourself. These photos are only a small snapshot of what is on display – and I’ve mostly included the textile pieces – there’s much more to see throughout the gallery.

Bestie 2014

Bestie 2014

‘Joana Vasconcelos: Time Machine’

Described by the gallery as “seductive and subversive”, Joana Vasconcelos has brought her  large-scale sculptures to Manchester for an exclusive site specific exhibition which runs until 1st June. This major new show features over twenty of the Portuguese artist’s most significant sculptures, which fill the gallery’s major exhibition spaces, adorn the exterior of the gallery and can also be found within the gallery’s permanent collection in spaces across the whole gallery building. It’s a breathtaking sight to walk into the building and see Britannia in all her glory!

Britannia (2014) is made up of  brightly coloured organic forms that cascade down the  stairs from the main exhibition galleries and spill over the balconies into the atrium. Britannia is composed of many fabric elements including knitting and crochet, fine silks and cotton velvets (referred to as Manchester cloth across much of the world), recycled clothes and industrially produced textiles, embellished with Portuguese tassels, crystals and beads in a riotous patchwork of patterns, shapes and textures.hanging. Our enthusiastic curator described how this new piece, from the iconic ‘Valkyries’ series is inspired by a previous work, Contamination, which was originally conceived for the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo in 2008 and reconfigured for the historic Palazzo Grassi in Venice in 2011. Listening to the curator describe how the piece was commissioned and installed was mesmerising. I would never have thought the huge pieces were held together with zips! Pom poms, fringing, fur yarn all feature in a playful and quirky piece which really defies description no matter how hard I try.

Tutti Frutti 2011

Tutti Frutti 2011

Two of my favourite pieces, The sculptures Tutti Frutti (2011) and Fruit Cake (2011) from the series “Treats” are positioned outside the gallery  on either side of the building (Princess Street and Nicholas Street). These works, an oversized ice-cream cone and a giant cupcake, are made from plastic toys used by children to cast shapes in sand and they are truly captivating. It’s rare to see small children slow down as they approach the gallery building, but I watched mothers with pushchairs stand while their little ones simply gazed at the huge sculptural ice cram cornet.

Fruit Cake 2011

Fruit Cake 2011

Quoted in the press release I received about the event Joana Vasconcelos says: “It is a privilege to see my work go on show in Manchester Art Gallery’s remarkable spaces. I am particularly proud of the dialogue established between Manchester Art Gallery’s collection and my works, as well as the interaction between the city’s history and traditions and other realities of entirely different provenances – such as those specific to my homeland. Time Machine will certainly be one of the most challenging and noteworthy shows of my career.”

Bond Girl 2014

Bond Girl 2014

About Joana Vasconcelos

Joana Vasconcelos is a Portuguese artist, born in Paris in 1971, who lives and works in Lisbon, Portugal. Primarily a sculptor, she is renowned for her sense of scale, choice of materials and mastery of colour. A meticulous craftsmanship connects all her work which is ambitious, seductive, humorous and exuberant. She achieved major international recognition when her sculpture The Bride, a 5m high chandelier comprised of 25,000 tampons, was exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 2005. Since then her career has gone from strength to strength including recent solo exhibitions at the Château de Versailles in 2012 (where she was the first woman and the youngest artist ever to exhibit work), Palácio Nacional da Ajuda, Lisbon in 2013 and Trafaria Praia, the Portuguese Pavillion at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013.

 

Photo Credits: Pictures For Press

Friday Bake: Choc Chip Cookies

plate of cookiesThis simple recipe meets all my requirements in a cookie. They’re crunchy on the outside, but still slightly soft and chewy in the centre.

Using orange flavoured chocolate drops adds an element of surprise to the unwary; it’s never a bad thing to elicit an “ooh” over the tea pot!

Of course, they’re gluten and dairy free too – but that’s an aside – first and most importantly they taste great. If you need a quick recipe to make with your little ones, these are ideal. From start to finish, you can have a batch on the kitchen table within half an hour.

You’ll probably have most of the ingredients in your store cupboard. Do look out for the Beyond Dark chocolate drops, they are great quality. The taste is delicious and they hold their shape well for baking which is very important in a choc chip cookie.

This recipe makes 12, just enough to nibble a couple while still warm from the oven and then serve to friends with a pot of tea!

You can find the recipe here. Along with a few rather “under par” photos taken on my phone!! Believe me when I say my baking is far superior to my photgraphy skills!

The Complete Guide to Crochet Volume 2

I am so thrilled to see this new bookazine hit the news agents. It’s stuffed with some of my favourite designs from Inside Crochet (including the  gorgeous foxy capelet on the cover, I really want to make it for myself).

I have a few designs reprinted inside, some of which are ideal for spring. Also included is my pattern for a Tunisian Crochet Sunglass case, which will be very handy for the summer!

As always, the Inside Crochet team have excelled themselves. A lovely mix of articles, featured yarns, designer profiles and patterns for every skill level.

Look out for it now, it’s a great collection.

Some of My Featured Designs is this issue:

(images (c) Tailormade Publishing Ltd)

Bright Pot Holders

Buttoned Up Mittens

Doily Rug

Recipe: Salads with a Twist

I love beetroot, jewel colours, tiny globes of sweet flavour which brighten up winter mealtimes. Yet, for most people, mention beetroot and their first thought is the vinegar steeped slices bought from the supermarket. If you can get hold of fresh beetroot it’s truly delicious, easy to cook, versatile and very good for you. You can even eat the tiny young leaves in a salad.

LOWRESthenaturalvegmen_3143Earlier this week, I picked up a bunch of tiny, overwintered beetroot from the Veg Men (I wrote about them here). I decided to make a salad for lunch, using up a few left overs from the fridge, added some slivers of Gabriel Blue (a ewe’s milk cheese) bought from my favourite Cockermouth deli last weekend and a few slices of baked beetroot. Looking for a bit of added “crunch” I made some candied nuts as a gluten free alternative to croutons. Here’s how you can recreate your own version. Mix and match your flavours to suit what you have. Think of it as a twist on the classic goats cheese salad you find on so many restaurant menus and experiment.

sliced beetrootThe Basics

150g of mixed salad leaves (either home grown or find a local producer)

100g candied walnuts or pecans (see below for instructions)

75g goats cheese (I used a blue ewe’s milk because that’s what I had – and I didn’t weigh it – a small handful should suffice) chopped into small cubes.

3 or 4 small baked beetroot (see below for instructions)

A simple dressing made with 3 tablespoons  walnut oil and 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar

Method

Whisk together the oil and vinegar to make the dressing. Shred the salad leaves, slice the beetroot and combine all the ingredients in a large salad bowl. Leave to stand for a few minutes for the flavours to develop beofre serving.cheese and walnut salad

Candied Nuts

The ideal nut for this salad would be walnuts -  the eagle eyed among you will spot I used pecans – that’s what I had in the cupboard! To be honest, that’s what I’d use again, the flavour of cooked pecans worked really well with the blue cheese.

1 tablespoon of dark muscovado sugar

3 tablespoons of water

100g nuts

Mix the sugar and water in a saucepan and heat until the sugar has dissolved, add the nuts and stir until well covered in the syrup.

Pour onto a baking tray lined with silicone paper or baking parchment and cook at gas mark 6 for about 5-7 minutes. Start checking after five minutes, you want the nuts cooked, but not burnt. Leave to cool. The nuts can be stored in an airtight jar for about a week. They make a great snack too.

As a variation you could substitute maple syrup for the sugar, add a little ground ginger, plenty of sea salt and perhaps even a little paprika. Combine with a small bag of mixed nuts and make the perfect gluten free nibble to serve with drinks. These may take a little longer to cook, in my oven I give them 10 minues.

Baked Beetroot

Wash the beetroot, but don’t scrub. It’s important not to break the skin or the colour will “bleed”. Trim off the leaves, leaving about 1cm of stalk and  then trim the roots. Place in a shallow baking dish and add a little water (as a general rule I add a tablespoon for each beetroot). Cover with foil and bake at gas mark 2 for about an hour. The baking time depends on the size of your beetroots, “golf ball” size take about an hour, larger ones will take longer).

Once cooked, leave to cool before trimming the stalks and roots. You can then peel them if you wish and add them to salads, make a delicious dip or make a puree.

Veg Men salad

When I was a little girl, a “salad” meant a slice of lettuce, tomato, cucumber and if we were really pushing the boat out, slices of hard boiled egg. This would be smothered in Heinz salad dressing. Today, we eat some kind of salad almost every day. Even if you only have  a small plot or a window ledge, it’s easy enought o grow a few salad leaves. Even during the winter you’d be surprised what will grow.

Cover Star!

There are few things nicer than seeing the result of many hours designing finally hitting the magazine shelves. It’s even more thrilling when your work makes the cover.

I came home this afternoon to find the latest issue of Let’s Get Crafting waiting for me and the gorgeous little Mama and Baby Bird are right there on the front cover.

All in all it’s been a great day, a quick photo shoot with the ever lovely Andrea, an inspiring meeting with some local entrepreneurs (which you can read about here) and a phone call from the teen.

You can pick up a copy of Let’s Get Crafting issue 61 from Friday 7th March. I’m particularly fond of the cute knitted sheep you’ll find inside and the simple little amigurumi Emma Varnam has designed.

I’ve got a few patterns ready for release, some free, some for the Etsy shop. I’ll be back soon with details. In the mean time, you can start getting ready for Easter with my free Easter Egg pattern and a simple Gift Bag, ideal for filling with treats and far better than a paper bag!

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    Beautiful British mohair - my Easter present to myself!! @kateheppell this is what I was ordering yesterday :) Same water - but tall people who can reach top shelf pay a penny less!! Made a tub to hold all my magazines by the bed - surprisingly roomy - &  took less than 2 hours to #crochet from recycled t-shirt yarn The same #crochet motif over & over again - very theraputic!! Playing with some new shades of yarn! This is what happens when you put a batch of freshly baked millionnaire's shortbread in front of hungry teenagers!! By complete accident my latest design exactly matches newly painted bedroom! (Ps it's not knitted, it's Tunisian crochet & the pattern is in issue 52 of @insidecrochet on sale now) A day late - but Mothers Day card has arrived - &  it's home made!! Time to unpack the garden crochet after winter hibernation! #crochet #handmade #garden
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