Saying Yes, Not Saying No

Thanks to everyone who took the time to read and get in touch after my last post – blimey what a confused lot we are! Thanks also to the kind friend who reminded me that we can never please all of the people all of the times – and that no-one can do everything. The task of living a “good life” becomes overwhelming. It’s much easier to break down our intentions into steps (big and small) and recognise successes and failures as part of the journey. I was also reminded of the short  film The Story of Stuff, which was released ten  years ago If you haven’t seen or heard of this, do go and check out the website or listen to the Story of Stuff Podcast.

And special thanks to the person who reminded me of my own advice: When you want to encourage people to change their behaviour tell them what they can do, not what they shouldn’t do. So, heeding my own advice, here’s what we’re saying “yes” to.

We’re saying yes to:

Re-usables

I’ m digging out my crochet cotton make up remover pads (that means saying no to future purchases of disposable cotton wool). You’ll be able to find the free pattern over on my knitting and crochet website later this week.  I’ll remember to take my Sigg water bottle out with me to avoid any temptations to buy bottles when I’m thirsty. I’m keeping up with the habit of carrying a cotton tote in my handbag (no accidental plastic bag purchases). We’ll continue to drink fresh coffee made using our cafetiere and compost the coffee. When a single use option is the only option, we’ll say no, or find a way to repurpose the packaging. We’re already well down this path, but we can definitely do “better”.

Meat and Dairy:

Yes, I know all about industrial meat production, factory farming and food waste. I’ll keep buying free range meat from the local farm shop, eggs from a friend and cow’s milk from the self serve machine at our local farm. This is the issue which seems to create the most conflict among groups and individuals trying to promote a greener or more ethical life. I don’t want to argue about the merits for and against (I was vegan, I worked for an anti vivisection charity, I am at peace with my choices). We’ll continue to eat plenty of fish and vegan dishes (they’re already a part of our weekly meal plans) and I’ll make sure to bulk  buy and freeze so we don’t waste anything and reduce the overall amount of packaging that comes into our home.

Buy more glass:

When I do buy something in a container I’m choosing glass first. All the research I’ve done (and my own gut instinct) leads me to believe that plastic is just scary. It leaches chemicals, it’s hard to recycle, it pollutes the ocean (I don’t want to lecture – make up your own mind, but we’re definitely heading towards a life with less plastic). Mr T drinks goat’s milk and so I’m choosing tetra pak over plastic, because so far what I’ve read makes me believe that’s slightly “better”. But I’m learning as I go. If I can source a local supplier of goat’s milk direct from the farm, that will be even better! Ultimately I’d like to see our whole packaging mountain reduce, but small steps…

Growing our own and shopping local:

I love to grow my own food, watching seedlings grow is so exciting. Every time I walk into the garden I am thrilled that it won’t be long before we’re putting home grown food on the table every day.  I like to know where my food comes from, trips to the local farm shop and markets are great places to meet the people who feed us and to ask question about the origin of what we’re buying.

Faitrade:

We’ve always bought Fairtrade tea, coffee and chocolate. Over the years it’s become easier to buy a whole range of Fairtrade foods and fashion. I like that Fairtrade principles pay attention to the environment and to the people employed. It feels good to me that people and planet matter to the organisations that run and support Fairtrade.

So there you are, five easy wins towards reducing my eco guilt. Your choices might be different, that’s fine. The small stuff adds up to big stuff.  Slowly, very slowly I’m hoping we’ll see a reduction in the stuff we throw away (that’s my biggest indicator) and that will mean less stuff bought. We’re also going to be more mindful about what we do buy, and how we dispose of it.

I’ve been reading blogs and books (on my kindle) about people who have adopted plastic free, or zero waste lives. I can’t help being inspired, but I know that this lifestyle isn’t an option for us (at least not yet). It would just be too hard, too overwhelming and I know that my Lupus affects my choices and my lifestyle whether I like it or not. I’m learning that my “Greenish” life is a journey, not a destination and I’m grateful to have you all along for the ride!

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#Friday Freebie – Crochet Scarf

new zig zag scarf imageRegular readers and crochet pupils will be very familiar with this simple zig zag scarf, which has been available for quite a few years now. On a recent wander along Cockermouth Main St I picked up a couple of balls of sock yarn from the wool shop and made a new version just for me.

If you want to make your own, this version took 100g (250m) of Regia sock yarn (this one is shade 01126) and also a ball of 4 ply in a solid colour (I used part of a leftover ball of Rowan Pure Wool 4 Ply). Alternating a solid colour with the stripes really helps to make the colours stand out and looks far better, but feel free to work with your choice of yarn and experiment.

You can find the pattern by clicking here. I hope you enjoy it.

T xx

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Friday Freebie: Crochet Mittens

This week I’ve been looking through my “back catalogue”, the many and varied knitting and crochet designs which really need a revamp.

First up, these gorgeous mittens. I first blogged about them way back in 2011, I like to think my pattern writing and my photography have  come on a bit since then. But, the pattern still works and makes a great first project for a beginner. You can find the pattern here.

I remember taking them on their first outing to Sugar Junction in Manchester, where fellow designer Emma Varnam declared them “Genius” and subsequently wrote a lovely post about them which you can read here. There’s a rather lovely photo of them on flickr too.

The pattern may be an old one, but that doesn’t mean it should be forgotten. I have plans to ” revamp” it. Those back loop only ridges lend themselves so well to frills and ruffles. What would you do to “revamp” them or make them truly your own? I’d love to know.

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Man Made Objects

I recently blogged about my passion for British wool and promised I would redress the balance by showing you a few projects designed with man made fibres.

Acrylic has a place in my yarn stash. It’s a great budget choice and ideal for charity makes (the special care baby unit I knit hats for will only accept acrylic knits because they need to be repeatedly washed at high temperatures). My designs for Let’s Get Crafting are designed specifically to work with the free yarn kit supplied with each magazine. In addition, there are some projects where only a man made fibre will do, such as this fur collar I designed using Louisa Harding Luzia yarn.

(Fashion note: fur yarns are set to be “big” again this winter, so this free pattern could be very useful for your Christmas gift making).

This gorgeous doily rug was also designed to work with the hard wearing nature of  a super chunky acrylic. Cygnet Seriously Chunky is a great budget yarn choice, comes in some great colours and makes this rug a very hard wearing home accessory. You can download the pattern for this rug from Etsy or Ravelry

Of course, when most of us think of man made yarns, we think of toys. My favourite toy designs  all feature acrylic and although I prefer to use British, Natural fibres for myself, I’m always aware that knitters and crocheters making my designs may be on a budget and that does influence the yarns I choose.

The fluffy, bobble yarn used for this cute baby bird was a perfect choice and it’s one of my most favourite toy designs.

I’ve also noticed that more and more of the “big” yarn companies are introducing “budget ranges” which include dralon and acrylic blends, and let’s not foget that even the ever popular Bay Cashmerino from Debbie Bliss is 30% acrylic, yet it remains one of the most popular wool blend baby yarns on sale. Yarn companies respond to customer demand, so if you want to see a greater emphasis on natural fibres and British yarns, tell the yarn companies or seek out the independent traders who are making natural fibres more affordable.

 

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Crochet Tips for Beginners #1 and a Free Pattern

granny squareSo, you’ve successfully completed a crochet class, taught yourself from Youtube, or maybe a patient friend sat you down and showed you the basics. However you learned  to crochet, there are some things that only experience can teach you.

Faroe cushion frontThis simple crochet cushion is designed to give you some experience in the basics of crochet, choosing a yarn, making a tension square and following a simple pattern. Think of it as a spring board for your own adventures in crochet. Experiment by working in stripes, change the yarn and make a unique accessory for your home that will have all your friends asking where you bought it. You can find the free pattern here.

Let’s start with a few basics.

Choosing a pattern

This can be a daunting process. There are literally thousands of free patterns available on the internet, but remember you get what you pay for. A free pattern is unlikely to have been tech edited (so it may have mistakes), it may use terminology unique to the designer that can flummox a beginner or it might just be brilliant. Choose with caution by looking at patterns from reputable designers, sign up for free patterns on yarn company websites such as Rowan or ask your friends to recommend great blogs.

You can register on the Rowan website for patterns, tutorials and lots more inspiration. Look out for courses run by Rowan consultants at your local yarn store too.

Check out the free Pattern Tab to find my latest free patterns, many of which were first published in magazines, so have been tech edited and road tested by beginners.

Read the pattern through before you start

It sounds obvious, but reading the pattern allows you to highlight things you may not have come across before (such as the slip stitch seam on this cushion), you can look up techniques online, consult a book or ask a friend. Believe me, there’s nothing worse than settling down to an evening of crochet only to come up against a nasty surprise!

Here’s a great slip stitch seam tutorial from Simply Crochet.

Check your tension

Designers give a tension for a reason. If you work more or fewer stitches than the stated tension, this will affect the size of the finished piece and the amount of yarn you’ll need. For example, this cushion pattern gives a tension of 8 stitches to 10cm, if your tension varies, then your cover may be too big and sag or too tight. As a general rule of thumb, go up a hook size if you have too many stitches and down a hook size if you have too few. A point worth noting here is that in addition to the tension given, you must account for a seam allowances, which is why the cushion cover pattern instructs you to work rows of 26dc – slightly wider than 30cm at stated tension – but you’ll need a stitch on either side for  the seams. Making a swatch also allows you to practice techniques, such as the simple button hole on this cushion. You can then take your swatch with you when you choose buttons. That way you’ll get the right size and a great colour match.

Faroe cushion backMind your language

Check before you start whether  your pattern has been written in UK or American crochet terms. There really is no difference to how the stitches are worked, but they do have different names. A UK double crochet is the same as an American single crochet. Most magazines and books have a conversion chart, it an be useful to keep one in your project bag or stick it in the front of a notebook so you can remind yourself.  After a while you’ll find you become fluent in both UK and US terms and can easily convert in your head, but until then always check before you start and be clear on which stitch the designer means. A simple rule of thumb, if a pattern uses “half double crochet”, then it’s definitely written in American terminology – we simply don’t have that stitch name in the UK!

So there you are, a few things you were probably told in class and instantly forgot – you’re not alone – learning a new skill takes time and patience and the humility to admit you don’t know everything. That goes for the teacher too – we’re constantly learning and discovering new techniques – and it’s what makes teaching  so rewarding.

You’ll make mistakes, you’ll give up on projects half way through, falling out of love with the yarn or the pattern. You’ll experience the thrill of saying you made it yourself when someone compliments your scarf or jumper.  Before you know it, someone at knit group, or work or even a friend will say “Can you show me how you did that?” and you’ll be passing on your skills and enthusiasm to another beginner.

But first you have to make stuff. Go to your library and borrow a book, ask advice at your local yarn store, email your teacher and ask for recommendations or buy one of the great UK magazines that are filled with patterns, hints and tips. Have fun, be brave and let me know how you get on.

Happy making

T x

 

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!

 

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!

Share the Crochet Love

Crochet HeartOne of my all time favourite designs is now available to download for free on the Inside Crochet Website. First published in 2012, this pattern has been reworked several times. This version remains my favourite. It’s hard to achieve a really great heart shape, but with well placed increasing and decreasing this one is the best I’ve managed. The skill level is “beginner”, written in UK crochet terms it could easily be tackled by anyone who has managed to learn the basic stitches.

crochet heart

The gorgeous photography and styling by Andrea Ellison combined with a simple to follow pattern makes this perfect inspiration for handmade weddings, love tokens or just to add a little handmade chic to your decor.

You can get the free pattern over on the Inside Crochet website from today and you can see some finished projects over on Ravelry.

crochet heart

Photo credit:  All images here and on the Inside Crochet website are (c) Andrea Ellison Photography

New Pattern for Sale: Crochet Heart

Lavender heartThis simple crochet heart first appeared in Inside Crochet in 2012. Designed as a lavender sachet, I have modified it in many ways since then. Made in dk yarn it looks very sweet hung on a coat hanger. Make a single heart  in aran weight and stitch to a cushion or jumper for a quick, fun applique. I have put the pattern up for sale on Etsy today.

crochet heart aplique

Also on Etsy you’ll find a pattern for a smaller heart key ring or brooch, which uses the same principle of simple increasing and decreasing. Over the years I’ve experimented with lots of different crochet hearts, but this remains my favourite. If you’d like a free copy of this pattern, like, share or leave a comment by midnight tonight and I’ll choose three people at random and email you a free copy first thing tomorrow.*

Photo credit: Andrea Ellison

*Draw will close at midnight on 28th January 2014 (UK time)

On the Hook: A New Blanket

granny ripple blanketA new year means a new blanket, and looking at instagram, facebook etc it seems like every knitter and crocheter has started a new project to brighten up a gloomy January.

This is a truly “upcycled” blanket, it began life as a ripple blanket and was meant for the teen to take away with her, but instead she chose a rather grubby, but much loved fluffy “blankie” and this one lay unloved across her bed at home.

I had in mind a granny square throw, but not being a lover of all that sewing up and weaving in of pesky ends I sought inspiration in Sarah Hazell’s new stitch dictionary. As soon as I saw her Granny Chevron pattern (number 184), I knew this was the answer.

Once you have made your initial chain and worked the set up row it’s very simple and very relaxing. The addition of some soft bobbles on the decreases makes for a pretty blanket and means that you do need to pay a bit of attention to your work.

There are lots of examples and free Granny Chevron / Ripple blankets available if you would prefer to follow a pattern. A favourite among my crochet pupils is this one from Very Pink Knits (which comes with a handy youtube video) and one you’ll see “pinned” a great deal is this one from The LazyHobbyhopper blog, which has very clear photo tutorials.

In true “stashbuster” fashion, I have vowed not to buy any yarn for this project. I know that won’t last, but for now I’m making do. Most of the yarns are “heavy” arans or chunky wool, but I’ve also used some 4 ply (held double) and a bit of dk.

It’s going to take a while to get this one finished as I’ve so much else on, I’ve popped all the yarn  into a basket so it will probably be my knit group project for a couple of weeks until it gets too big to carry easily. Then, ever the optimist, I shall sit outside with the growing blanket over my lap and watch for signs of spring!

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  • I’m Tracey Todhunter. I’m a freelance writer. specialising in green / ethical living – with a “sideline” in craft!

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  • Finished a new shawl. Far too hot to wear it, but luckily my shed is a great backdrop! Yarn is King Cole Riot. 
#crochet #crochetgirlgang #neverenoughshawls #sheshed #madenotmanufactured #crochetlove Free food! Next best thing to growing your own food is eating other people's homegrown. I'm looking after my neighhour's garden & boy does he have a lot of radishes just now! I have written a blog post about more of my favourite (almost) free foods. Link in profile, now I'm off to pickle these radishes.
#frugalfood #foraging #ediblegarden #growyourownfood #girlgardener #allotmenteering #eattheseasons #permaculture  #zerowaste #slowliving #gardentotable #organicgardening #forktofork I'll admit it, I grow this mostly for it's amazing colour - but the stems are delicious sauted with chorizo or streaky bacon!
#mygardenrightnow #girlgardener #girlsthatgarden #permaculture #growyourown #ediblegarden #bakingandmaking #slowliving #organicgardening I do love a formal garden. I walk through this one every Friday on my way to knit group.  Castle Park is a hidden gem.
#gardens #castlepark #parksandgardens Thanks @simplycrochetmag for featuring my crochet picnic basket :) The pattern is available  now in Simply Crochet celebrations edition. You'll need a cardboard box to upcycle & some chunky cotton yarn, I used DMC Natura XL & finished it off with leather buckles from Bag Clasps. 
#crochet #crochetgirlgang #upcycling #reloved #crochet #makersgonnamake #lovecrochet Today I shall mostly be darning... these were the first socks I ever knitted, I resisted for years(turning heels, grafting toes all looked like too much faff), then I bought a book called Toe UpSocks Two at a Time & now I only wear handknitted socks. Because I love them, I shall darn the toe & keep wearing them for another 5 years!! (btw @lottieknits you sold me this yarn at Stash - happy days :)
#toeupsocks #toeuptuesday #30wears #zerowaste #reducereuserecycle #throwbackthursday #choosewool #igknitters #slowliving #bakingandmaking
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