26 September 2015

My Mollie Makes Patterns

Hi blog fans. This month has been huge for me - as well as the Handmade Fair experience, I've also had not one but two patterns published by Mollie Makes!!!

Mollie Makes Issue 58 - also comes with a free loom!
This is a massive deal for me as these are my first 'published' patterns. I've been a fan of the magazine since it started, and recently I feel it's gone from strength to strength, hosting an ever-widening range of crafty projects. Now, if you know my crochet, you'll know that a lot of what I do is quite abstract, so when it came to writing my first patterns I wanted to keep it nice and simple, using my love of shapes and geometry.

The first pattern is this impossible triangle necklace. The art aficionados among you will recognise my influence here - I've always been a fan of M.C.Escher. Ever since I was an awkward teenager failing maths at school, I was perplexed by the posters of his work on the walls. I always struggled with maths but at the same time wanted to be good at it, and this frustrated me enormously. But on the other hand, I've always been creative and artistic. I think this is why Esher speaks so much to me - even if you cannot understand how it is done, you can still appreciate the visual qualities. For any kids reading (or parents for that matter), I truly believe that sometimes young minds just aren't ready for maths, but you should never give up on it - I scraped through a GCSE in maths and I failed miserably at A-Levels, but now as an adult - I love it!!! I'm not gonna pretend I'm super clever, string theory and quantum mechanics are beyond my grasp, but if anything crochet has shown me the importance of numbers and the patterns that you can spot. Marcus du Sautoy is a bit of a personal hero, his book 'The Music of the Primes' made me realise that I could be interested in maths again after decades of struggling with it.

Anyway, the second pattern is this infinity symbol necklace, which Mollie Makes published for free on their blog/website - which can be found here

Again, this pattern played on my love of mathematical shapes, and although this pattern is very simple, I really pushed myself to get it precision perfect. I know that you could achieve a similar effect with a mobius strip, but I wanted the finished item to lie completely flat with no overlaps. The Mollie Makes team did a stunning job with the photography, and choosing the graph paper styled dress on the model was a spot of genius.

So here's the deal, I didn't want to just do a blog post being all 'look at my patterns', so I thought I would give you some extras (like my approach to making them and a few alternative colour-ways). As I was saying above, with the infinity symbol I really wanted to get it mathematically perfect. This was something that took some trial and error, but I knew that it was entirely possible, it was just a case of getting the maths just right.

My sketchbook notes proved essential for this. I knew that to make it a flat piece and with turning the rows, the direction of increases and decreases would change each time you turned the work. The fact that I also had to allow for the gap in the middle took me a while to overcome. There were quite a few moments of, 'I know this should work, where am I going wrong?' - and for some reason it took me far too long to click that it should be the same amount of stitches on each row (I was trying to account for the angles when I didn't need to), but eventually I cracked it. The triangle design was a lot easier for me, as I've made triangle and diamond shapes hundreds of times before. So with that pattern I already knew the exact angles I was working with, and the ratio to use on my squared paper, so I simply had to draw it and then translate it into crochet. That said, I still had to tweak a few bits and pieces to make the pattern sit nicely.

I'm a total perfectionist when it comes to this sort of stuff. I made various versions and experimented with different threads and tensions until I got to something I was happy with. Here are just a few of those:

Initially I thought I would use standard embroidery thread, and for the triangle design tried using colour schemes that complimented each other (this was after my first attempts that were done in monochrome). The problem I found with using standard embroidery thread was that you really had to use PVA on the reverse to get it to lie flat and have a solid feel. Although this does work, I wasn't quite happy with it.

Through trial and error, the other problem I discovered with standard embroidery thread is that the PVA could seep through, and could slightly darken the colours and almost blur the colour divides. So this led me onto trying pearl cotton embroidery thread. This does work a lot better as the strands are more tightly wound and less likely to split. You still need to use some PVA to make it solid, but it works a lot better.

This orange and blue combo used the pearl thread and as you can see the stitches are still clear and defined despite having PVA applied to it. It was while buying more of these threads that I spotted the metallics, and instantly knew that these would keep their shape a bit better as well as adding a nice bit of bling.

These last two images were the versions that I submitted to Mollie Makes when offering the patterns. They came back saying they would like to use both, and I was over the moon. They just asked me to tweak the colours of the triangle design to be all copper tones, and that maybe I try also using metallic thread for the infinity symbol two. Both of these were wise suggestions in my opinion and I was only too happy to make those changes.

I hope you've enjoyed reading a bit more into the back-story of my creations, and I hope you enjoy the magazine and the free pattern on their website too. I plan on writing many more patterns in the future, and I am so thankful to Mollie Makes for giving me this first opportunity.

That's all for now, peace out y'all x

20 September 2015

Handmade Fair 2015

So on Saturday, I got up at 4am....4AM!!!! Why on earth would I of all people be getting up at that ridiculous hour?!? Well because it was time for a trip to London for this years Handmade Fair.

As you'll remember I visited the Handmade Fair last year on my trip around London. This years event had expanded a bit (a lot more food stalls - wood fired pizza, yum!). There were many of the classic traders as well as plenty of new faces.

But there was an extra reason for me making this trip (and suffering the consequential sleep deprived meltdown on the way home). I entered a competition that the Handmade Fair was running on their twitter and instagram using the hashtag #lovehandmade. They asked for the nation to send pictures of their handmade items to be judged by Kirstie Allsopp herself, with the finalists receiving complimentary tickets to the fair. So hence, I got selected and this happened -

So as you've probably gathered I submitted a picture of my costume from Shambala this year, and after being selected it was only appropriate that I man up and wear it on the day. We were told to assemble at the press tent for 10am (which is why I had to get up so early - takes a long time to get from Cardiff to that part of London). Kirstie pulled up on her golf cart (and I mean pulled up, for a moment I thought she was gonna do a drive-by), took one look at my costume and appeared to be in total shock.

Both Kirstie and the other finalists were all really nice. I'm not one to gush just because of celebrity, I was more concerned about not saying anything stupid or inappropriate, but she genuinely was a pleasure to meet. She asked loads of questions about how (and why) I made the outfit, even showing me some pictures on her phone of an outfit it reminded her of. Near the end of our time one of her assistants reminded her that she had to pick a winner, and although all of the other entries were of top quality, she said that I should win just because of sheer bravery. A few minutes for some photo's, and that was that, off she zoomed in her little golf cart. I was a little bit in shock after it all, and especially at being decided as the winner. I don't have a competitive bone in my body, so the most important thing for me was the fact that she approved of my work (with the acknowledgement that you maybe have to be a little bit crazy to wear this sort of thing). So with that done, we went about enjoying the rest of our day at the fair (with some VIP passes thrown in!!!).

There were loads of great stalls in the 'shopping villages', but if I have to pick my favourite, it would easily be this one by Best Of African. They had loads and loads of these bead and wire sculptures on display and everything was seriously impressive.

This warthog was one of my favourites, and I'm sure from the picture you can get an idea how much time one of these pieces of art must take.

I thought this funky dinosaur was particularly cool, and in my opinion for such large beautiful sculptures they weren't ridiculously priced either (this was one of the larger pieces). I was aching to buy one of them, but my lovely wife politely reminded me that only last week I was moaning at how little space I had to work with in our flat, and that maybe buying a massive bead elephant wasn't going to help matters. So although I didn't get one for myself, I made a point of taking some photo's and grabbing their card for future reference, for when I live in a warehouse or something - one day I will have a huge studio room!!!

So what did I buy, yeah that's right it's the obligatory haul photo. Well, after my recent splurge on a loom I was actually quite restrained. I bought a cool little bowl weaved out of sisal grass, a clever needle threading gadget, a bargain load of seed beads for two quid, a little pink plastic mouse brooch, and a fairtrade ethical necklace made out of Tagua Palm seed (which is being used as a natural alternative to ivory) from artisan life - check their website, they have some gorgeous products. Oh, and we also got a VIP goody bag with some nice little extras in it.

So that was my Saturday, pretty intense but very enjoyable. I wore my costume for most of the day but it got to a point where I was too hot and wanted to actually get on with some shopping, so changed back into my normal clobber. We stupidly forgot about the talk we we supposed to go see until it was too late, but did have a great day out anyway just walking around looking at everything (oh and I bumped into the brilliant Mr X Stitch again, such a great bloke).

Big thanks to Kirstie, her team and all the other finalists, I had a great day.

Peace out y'all x

15 September 2015

yarn travels: Bristol Wool Fair 2015

Hey hey hey. So this weekend I popped over the bridge to good ol' Brizzle to check out this years wool fair.

This year the fair had moved to a new location at Washingpool farm, meaning all the stalls/displays were indoors (last year they were in massive tents). Although there are a lot of benefits to this change of venue, such as more space and more protection from the weather, if I'm honest I did think it lost a bit of the charm it had previously - but hey that's just my opinion, it was still chock full of woolly goodness.

As you all know I love to see the various work that is often on display at these sort of fairs....as well as buying wool of course. These crochet hoops instantly grabbed my attention. I'm not 100% sure who made them but I suspect it was probably Vicky from the paper village in Bristol, as she was doing loads there this weekend.

Another thing that caught my eye was the lace work by Uli Baysie. It really impressed me because I got to see her working on an item before looking at her collection, seeing how fine the threads she was using blew me away - I would just end up in a massive knot if I tried something that intricate.

But perhaps my favourite thing at the fair were these baskets sold on a stall by injabulo. They were pretty much the first thing at the fair that made me think - "I will not leave here without buying one of those".

These baskets are made from telephone wires by weavers in South Africa. The colour combinations were all amazing and I just had to have one.

And naturally, no wool fair would be complete without that old stalwart - the alpaca!!! But anyway, onto the wool stalls.

One of the reasons I love going to this sort of event is because you get the opportunity to find those 'special wools' for your stash. Although I personally use a lot of acrylic, I also have a huge amount of special wool that I keep for when I'm making presents. This banana fibre wool was new to me! Initially I just thought it was that sari silk type of wool (which they also sold), but the lady at the la la with love stand took the time to explain to me the process that is used turning banana husks into yarn.

There was pretty much every type of yarn you could want there. I spotted these linen threads that I had bought at previous wool fairs...so bought a few more as you'd expect. Overall I'd say Bristol Wool Fair has done it again, another cracking event this year and long may it continue.

Don't worry, I haven't forgot....time for the obligatory photo's of my haul!

Relatively restrained I think.....well, maybe not, it would have been if this hadn't happened......

.....I BOUGHT A LOOM!!!! I went for the Rigid Heddle loom as it seems a good one for weaving beginners. I had to assemble it myself so haven't started working on it yet, but I'll keep you updated with progress.

Don't worry though, it won't take over from my crochet, I've got far too many projects stored up in my crazy mind.

That's all for now, peace out y'all x

01 September 2015

Shambala 2015 - the crochet master returns

Hi world. Well it's happened, I teased you on twitter, I hinted at the amount of neon yarn and I got beads and wool everywhere......I'm back from Shambala 2015, and now you finally get to see the pictures (and be prepared, there's a lot of them).

Yep, this is it! My second entirely crocheted outfit. After about 2 months work and a hell of a lot of mess, it was time to freak out some squares.

For those of you that are new to my crochet shenanigans, me and my besties have been going to Shambala festival for 8 years now. Every Saturday of the festival is the fancy dress day, and being the creative fella that I am I like to go all out and make my costumes myself.

This year I decided that I wanted to make another fully crocheted outfit (I defined it as a robe rather than a dress as it has buttons....but I think we all know it's a dress really). I have a magic hamper where I store every bit of left over wool from all my projects, so I cracked that out and used all the different odds and ends to create this madness.

As well as the robe (dress), I also made two armbands (both with beaded decorations), a plaited crochet necklace, a beaded headband (made on a loom), a bag to cover my boring looking camera bag, and of course......

.....my magic (light-up) staff.....you gotta have a magic staff, for casting spells and doing rain dances etc. Although one thing to note, you don't half get some funny looks when catching a train before the festival with a neon beaded staff.

As well as going nuts with neon wool and beads, I also got to use up a load of my buttons from my massive button jar. You'll notice that there are loads of different stitches going on here. This was perhaps the part of the project I enjoyed most, every row I would think "which stitch next?", and with a little help from my various stitch books would just try different stitches to see what worked best with the wool.

This lead to my favourite conversation/anecdote of the festival. A lady came up to me and asked where I got my outfit....when I told her I made it myself, she didn't believe me. So she decided to quiz me on the stitches, and her face was priceless when I started reeling off and pointing out all the various different stitches. Looking completely shocked and taken aback, she simply said "ok, you win, that's amazing".

Oh and of course, I did say a complete crochet outfit! So needless to say, I knocked up some crochet footwear too. I had a pair of old slippers hanging around from a spa day me and my wife went to, so I cut off some of the strap so it was like a pair of flip-flops, and then added a load of crochet straps to make sure they stayed on my feet while dancing.

Speaking of dancing.....

I dance like an over-excited idiot toddler that doesn't know what to do with his arms, and look like I could fall over at any second, so combine that with the costume and you can see why I stand out in the crowd.

The music as Shambala is always a bit of a mix, and normally good for a dance too (hey it's pretty much the only time during the year when I can get a good shake on). Me and my friends do have some 'specific' tastes when it come to music, and in some ways previous years have met those tastes a bit better than this year (a bit too much 'hip-hop' and beatboxers for us)...but there were still a good few bands that should probably get a mention for, you know, being amazing!!

Go Go Penguin were probably, in my opinion, one of the most interesting bands from this year. Comprising of piano, double bass and drums - you'd be thinking jazz right? Well you're kinda right, but then imagine them making it sound like electronica with their rhythms and beats, and what you end up with is nothing short of awesome.

Another stand-out performance was by The Electric Swing Circus, Swing music meets electro equals a good old fashioned knees-up in the traditional Shambala style. I haven't had a dance like that for quite some time....well, at least in the last year anyway.

Anyway, back to the costume. I wore it for the entirety of the Saturday, and surprisingly it wasn't too hot. In fact, it kept me at the perfect temperature right until the end of the night. I was also really impressed that everyone that talked to me about it knew that it was crochet rather than knitting....it seems the public is learning the difference (yay!!!)

You may also have noticed that, yes, I am wearing make-up. This is pretty standard at festivals, especially at Shambala, we loves the glitter!!! I'm sure all you girls and beauty bloggers would love to know how I do it. Well basically smear a load of neon eye-shadow colours on your upper eyelids, cover your lower eyelids with blue and black glitter eye liner, and top it off with some metallic temporary tattoo dots on your cheekbones....and voila, you too can look like a nut-case.

So yeah that's pretty much all I can say about the costume. As you would imagine, much drinking occurred (not that I'm condoning binge drinking - remember that I've had years of experience at this). So hence there's a couple of those sort of photo's, I call this one 'Two Drinks Matthew'

And by the time it gets dark and I get to switch on the light on my staff, I'm a little worse for ware and my make-up has smudged considerably. The light is a simple camping bulb style light that I gaffer-taped onto the top of the stick, and then covered with crochet so it would stay on.

So I think that's enough of my beardy face for now...what else happened. Well my regular readers will remember from previous years that I normally give out a present to a random stranger. This year I decided to use my recent phase of jewellery making and beads to make this random crochet necklace with a bell on it.

I generally always have the gift I intend to give easily to hand, and scour the crowd looking for that perfect someone. This lady was this years chosen recipient, the main reason I gave it to her was I noticed her earrings and thought the necklace would compliment them well.

 I approached her in my usual style, proclaiming 'you have been chosen!!!', and handed her the necklace in a little box with my business card in it. She said thank you graciously, and after looking in the box and seeing what the gift was, came and found me again to ask if I was sure she should have it and to tell me she loved it. She even spotted me again the next day and came over to tell me she would never forget it. It's so nice to be able to just do a little something special to make someone happy.

I also felt as the necklace was probably destined to go to an adult lady, I should also make something to give to a child, as Shambala is such a family friendly festival. The day before leaving I quickly knocked up this little Saturn-style planet type of thing, as the festival theme this year was 'cosmic chaos'.

And the chosen recipient for this, a little girl in a double buggy with her brother. I could see that the little boy wouldn't sit still and kept getting out of the buggy, his dad was trying to deal with him whilst having a conversation with someone else, and the little girl was being good and sitting still but starting to get a little upset. So I slowly walked over, opened my cupped hands and presented her with this. She picked it out of my hands as soon as she saw it and held onto it like it was a treasured possession. As I went back to my own business I glimpsed over to see the dad walking them past and he silently mouthed 'thank you' to me.

Alright so we're nearly done now (this is going on a bit isn't it). Finally I thought I would show you some of the crafty decor that goes on at Shambala, as it's always something that massively impresses me.

In a tiny yurt-style tent in the 'healing meadow' you could find the koo kou's nest tent, hosting a mix of world music. These paper-crafted birds in the roof of the tent were amazing, and some clever lighting meant not only did they glow in the UV lights but also changed colour.

It was quite hard to get a good picture of all of the birds, due to the UV and being inside a tent, but you might be able to see from this picture that there was loads of them, and each must have taken a huge amount of work.

There's something to look at in almost every tent, from these wicker (at least I think thats what they were made from) dragon flies....

....to the crazy UV decor in the dance tents. If you can say one thing about Shambala its full of colour and art. The enchanted woods are always good for this sort of stuff too, this piece was one of my favourites this year...

It's a ton of lipsticks hanging from a tree, with a spotlight lighting them up and creating a magical effect that looked like you were squinting at lights even though you weren't.

So yeah, that was Shambala 2015. Loads of fun, great people, great music, great food. Oh and remember that crochet footwear I made....they ended up looking like this.

Finally, I gotta say it wouldn't be half as fun without my best mates Ben and Ben, these are the guys that keep me going and stop me from getting in too much trouble.

That's all for now, hope you've enjoyed it. Peace out!