02 May 2016

yarn travels: Wonderwool 2016

Alright y'all, so it's not like I need any more yarn, but when last weekend came around, I figured a day out was a day out - that's right, elbows at dawn, its time for the Wonderwool 2016 roundup!!

So we set off relatively early, getting there around 11am....and already it was packed with people! I'm not sure I was in the best mood for it really, me and crowds don't always go well together, and this year seemed particularly busy - but I wasn't gonna let that stop me from getting my hands on some woolly bargains.

I put into play my usual tactic of walk around everything once - don't buy anything, walk around twice - buy maybe one or two things, then walk around a final time and get what you want. There was one stall in particular that caught my interest, mostly because of their back story.

A stall/company called linladan was selling vintage flax thread in loads of different colours and lengths. I was already interested enough when the lady at the stall explained that it had all came from a Swedish factory that closed down, and the thread was stored in a haberdashers store room for years until they bought it all. I got two spools of the stuff at a reasonable price (2 for a tenner) - I'm thinking it might be good for some looming.

In continuation with recent years there was a pretty big crochet and knitting installation in Hall 3. This year it was 'Above and Below the Sea' by Alison Murray.

The installation was a tunnel-like structure with the outside consisting of beach elements and the inside being under the water. There was some very clever usage of black lights inside which gave a glowing effect to many of the pieces like this coral.

There were so many individual pieces that made up this work, you look at it and can only imagine the time it must take to create it all.

I think my favourite part of the installation was this funky pink octopus (but there were a few killer killer whales too)

So this is quite a simplified post about the event. It was kinda the same as most years (not that that's a bad thing), lots of regular stall holders, a few new things, and some really good food stalls (I had some awesome Greek food and of course fitted in an obligatory scotch egg). We only stayed for a couple of hours, and I was quite restrained - here's my haul.

So yeah it was a pretty good one this year - especially if you ignore the Sat Nav sending me some weird way home which resulted in me driving through the welsh middle of nowhere. Anyway -

What else has been going on?

Well - I finally finished sewing the majority of my crochet art pieces together, I've gotta get them framed and start looking into galleries and places to display them - but hopefully I can unveil them to you in the summer (although that's creeping up fast).

I also have another column in this months Simply Crochet (Issue 44). This one is about colour and how I approach it, and it was a real pleasure to write. Issue 44 is actually the main issue we were working on back when I was at their office so there's a lot of little bits that are extra pleasing for me as I helped work on them.

And finally...

Yes I am quite aware that I have been neglecting my blog more than usual. It does feel like I never have enough content and that I don't update enough. I've not lost interest - I'm just not feeling on top of my game at the moment. So I'm gonna take a little bit of a break - nothing too long (probably no longer that I would normally leave it between posts), but long enough for me to get some things sorted/work on some ideas and posts/finish a few projects/have a holiday.

Until then, peace out and treat each other right.

17 March 2016

A week at Simply Crochet HQ

Hey hey blog fans. Last week I was fortunate enough to be able to help out at the Simply Crochet office in Bristol, and thought I would give you a brief insight into what goes on behind the scenes.

On my first day I was introduced to the team, and given an overview of how the magazine is produced and the plan for my week – I have to admit that initially I was a bit overwhelmed but quickly started to feel at ease with being surrounded by all things crochet . The Simply Crochet team is actually quite small, and I was instantly astounded by the amount that they get done within such a small team. Once I got my bearings and settled in (and was shown the filing cabinets that were full of wool), it was time to get to work.

Just one of the drawers bursting with wool
One of the first things I helped out with was writing some book reviews for a future issue. This was a really fun task, but it’s not without its challenges. Obviously you’re being privileged to a first look at some of the newest crochet books on the market – but time is of the essence so you can’t necessarily read it cover to cover and try out every project. You have to learn how to spot the important things - How innovative are the patterns? What does it look like aesthetically? How well written are the instructions? It was a good first task as it really focussed my mind on what information is important for the reader.

A 'small' section of the crochet book shelves 
Over the next few days I was assisting each member of the team with some of their tasks, such as uploading patterns to Ravelry, updating the website, helping with technical editing of patterns, posting content to social media, online research, reviewing products, and coming up with ideas for future features. It was during a team meeting that it really struck me as to quite how much there was to do. I’d been invited along just to see what it was like, but I was so impressed by how much information the team constantly has to be thinking about. Take for example the amount of patterns in each issue. Now, when you consider the fact that all the patterns have to be submitted, checked, photographed, edited, prepared and readied for print, it’ll come as no surprise that they have to work way in advance. So, bearing in mind that Simply Crochet averages roughly 20 patterns each issue, and they can be commissioning for three or four issues ahead as well as working on the current one – that can be around 80-100 patterns they have to keep track of at any one time!!!

Art Editor Charlene Lim preparing props for photographs
On my final day I got to accompany the art editor in the photography studio. This was loads of fun and particularly appealed to my creative side. It’s never a simple case of point and click – you have to set up the shot, decide what would make the best props and backgrounds, work with the photographer to get the lighting just right, and so much more. It was photographing some of the amigurumi projects that I enjoyed the most, I loved the way how just adjusting the positioning of a crochet character ever so slightly could completely change the overall look of a project.

in the office on my best behaviour, combed beard and everything
I had a brilliant time with the team and I’d say it wasn’t even really work – it was an education, and I love to learn! The whole team made me feel welcome from the moment I got there. We finished the week by going for a beer together at the end of the day, where they gave me a big bag of wool as a thankyou/parting gift – beer & wool, my two favourite things! If I have to sum up what I learnt from the week, it’s that you should never underestimate what goes into making a magazine. The whole team have to work incredibly hard to bring you a magazine of such quality month after month!

That's all for now, until next time - peace out!

13 February 2016

february already?

Oh this is terrible, it's a new year and I haven't updated my blog, better do something about that! Ok well firstly, I'll skip out the usual excuse that I'm busy working on my crochet art. I'm starting to feel like the end is in sight with it, but feel like it's stifling my blogging, as I don't really want to show off the collection until it's all completed. But just as a teaser my new blog header contains a little bit of a recent piece (yeah I keep being fickle and changing the blog design).

Anyway, other than that, I have been doing a few other things. You may have noticed that I'm back in this months Simply Crochet magazine (issue 41) with another column.

Those that have been following me for a while might remember I've written a few guest columns for them before, so after a long absence I was delighted when they asked me to come back and write about my crochet projects from 2015. As usual, it's a cracking magazine, and this months issue also has a large interview/feature on the Craftivist Collective - always nice to be featured among such good company.

But what have I been crocheting? Well like I say mostly my big art pieces, but as it's now properly entered that time of year that I despise - winter, inevitably it was time to make another hat.

As you'd expect from me, it's suitably psychedelic. It's one of those slouchy type of beanies that I just kinda freestyled, but the soft variegated yarn that I found at the back of my wool stash made for some really interesting colour changes.

It's just something small and quick I knocked up, but I figured I better show you something. Anyway, I've gotta get back to the crochet, but don't worry, I've got some plans and possibilities I'm looking into, so I'll try to write again soon with something more substantial.

Until then, peace out

31 December 2015

End of the Year - Q&A style

Hey hey folks. Well it's time for the obligatory 'end of the year' post. 2015 certainly was an interesting one, but rather than looking back at what I got up to over the past year, I figured I'd try something a little different for me.

I generally try and keep a degree of separation between my personal life and what I write about on my blog. I think to a degree everyone does this and creates a persona that they want to project (normally focusing on the more positive aspects of their life or personality). So with this in mind I thought I would try and answer some of the more common questions that I get asked about myself and my crochet, to give you a little glimpse of the man behind the hook. I'll try to be honest, but sometimes being completely honest can mean it can't all be positive. I'm fully aware that whilst some of you might find this interesting or revelatory, others might see it as narcissistic self-indulgent hog-wash...if you're the latter then don't worry, I'll go back to my usual crochet ramblings soon enough. Here's a picture of me at work before the mass of text.

Anyway, let's give it a go.

1. How are you?
Standard answer: Not too bad thanks
People rarely want to hear the real answer, it's something we ask as a greeting rather than a question. Throughout 2015 I've struggled with this most basic of questions, as the year has been an emotional roller-coaster. The year started off with one of the hardest experiences of my life. I'm not going to say what it was, as I don't want this to turn into a 'poor me' sympathy post, but it was something that broke me. I've had to learn how to carry on, had to reassess my life and who I am, and had to know when to ask for help. Throughout this, crochet and my creativity has helped keep me going forward, and the support I get has been the encouragement and affirmation that I've needed. In my lowest moments there have been comments or emails that I've received just at the right time to pick me back up. Crochet has been a real driving force for me this year, and although it's been a hard year I've achieved many personal milestones.

2. Why aren't you on instagram/facebook/pinterest/whatever else is popular nowadays?
Standard answer: Because I'm a grumpy man, not a teenage girl!
That standard answer is a joke by the way. I've got nothing against social media/networking when it's used in the right way...it's just personally, I'd rather be crocheting. This is also connected to the reason I don't post as often as other bloggers. As much as the internet is an incredibly useful and valuable part of modern life, I also view it as somewhat of a time burglar. I try and set myself time periods for going online and blogging, as I know it's important but I prefer to minimise my distractions and focus on my craft. I succumbed and joined twitter as I find it a very good way of making connections and that initial point of contact, but as a blogger I don't personally see the need to be on every single kind of social media platform. You know where I am if you want to find me - right here! This is just my personal view on things, and of course that may change.

3. Do you sell your crochet/how do you make your money?
Standard answer: Not really, at least not for now anyway
This is a very tricky question to answer. The question of do I sell what I make...well the real answer is 'not yet'. It's been clear in my mind from day one that I didn't want to end up making the same thing over and over again, which is why the whole Etsy thing isn't something I do at the moment. I really respect those that can do it, but I'm too fickle for it. I like to explore my ideas, then move on to the next thing. Pattern writing fits well into this, and it also appeals to the perfectionist and creative sides of my personality. But the ultimate dream is to progress with the idea of being a crochet artist. I've mentioned many times that I'm working on a collection of crochet artworks at the moment, and maybe in the next year there will come a point where I put a price tag on them...but making a living off art is always going to be difficult. So, how do I pay the bills? Well I work a 9-5 like most people in an office admin job....BUT, change is in the future. This job will be ending at some point in the next year, so I will have to reassess how I make my living. There are a couple of options, I'm aware that I could take the risk and up my freelance work, but I do like the security that having a full time job brings (as much as it bites into my crochet time). The logical thing would be to get a job that makes use of my skills and is in the creative sector, but I need to put some work in to make that happen. Either way something's gotta happen. New year, new challenges!

4. I like that thing you made, do you have a pattern for it?
Standard answer: No sorry, haven't got around to writing it up
I make so many things, and I hardly ever follow patterns anymore, but I rarely get around to writing my own patterns down. At the moment I'm trying to keep my focus and get those arty pieces completed, but once they're done I plan on getting around to writing up patterns for a couple of things that I've had on the back burner. When I make something new or come up with an idea, I always keep notes in my sketchbook. This is not only so that if I make a mistake I can go back rather than starting from scratch, but also so that if I ever want to make it again I've got something to reference. If I'm going to make a pattern I want it (a) to be unique and (b) to be absolutely perfect, and I think this is what holds me back when actually completing and publishing them. Pattern writing is however something that I thoroughly enjoy and want to do more of. I'm in awe of crochet designers that seem to churn out fresh and interesting designs on a regular basis. So what I'm saying is, more to come. Who knows, that thing you liked might become a pattern eventually, it might take years but it's all in the sketchbook!

5. What does the future hold/what do you want to do?
Standard answer: *shrugs shoulders* I dunno
As you've probably gathered from my previous answers, I kind of feel like I'm at the edge of a cross roads. It's clear that crochet is my passion, but where I go from here is a little unknown. When I started crocheting I had no idea that it would become such a prominent part of my life, so trying to guess what it will lead to now is kinda hard. I know I want to do more with it. I have so many ideas, some aren't even possible at the moment, but I''m going to keep trying. As I've said, the dream is to pursue crochet art and that's what I'm really pushing at right now. Hopefully I will complete my work and we'll see how well I can do with it in the next year. What I do know is that the positive comments I get from you guys really helps me (even if I often don't reply). Whenever someone tells me that they've been inspired by my crochet, or even just that it made them smile, I know that it was all worthwhile.

So there you go, five answers to five questions you never knew you asked. Maybe you feel you know me a little better now, maybe you feel like I've wasted your time....all I know is I've got some crochet to do!

Peace out everyone, and have a great new year :)

03 December 2015

OMC on TV (with a crocheted tree)

Hello you lot. Well.... did you see it? On Tuesday I had my TV debut on 'Kirstie's Handmade Christmas' On Channel 4. If you missed it, you can catch up on All4

Screenshot from Kirsties Handmade Christmas/Channel 4/RTRP
Perhaps wisely, in the edit there wasn't a whole lot of me talking (probably cos of my low mumbly voice and the way I cover my mouth when I'm nervous), so I figured you might like to know a bit more about my tree decorations and how this came about.

The production company (Raise the Roof Productions) contacted me a few months ago after seeing some of my images on twitter, asking if I'd like to take part in any of their Christmas competitions. Initially, I turned them down - I was worried that the deadline was too short for me to complete something I'd be happy with. But they didn't give up on me, they sent me a really lovely encouraging email saying how much they'd love to see what I could do. And that was it, I changed my mind, and now had a two-week deadline to make enough decorations for a 5 foot tree (which maybe explains my comment on the show of how I crocheted for 15 hours straight to get it finished - I have a full time job and only really had two weekends to get this all done).

We were informed that the tree decorating would be judged on wow factor, originality, design, composition and individual decorations. But even with this in mind, it was only ever going to be completely made out of crochet. Now, here's the truth that didn't get aired (and with good reason) - I'm not a big fan of Christmas!!! I hate the cheap plastic tat that ends up on most people's trees, I hate the way people annually buy this tat for one months usage only to put it up in the attic then end up breaking or losing it and so then they end up buying more tat again next year, and I hate being restricted to those standard red, green and white Christmas colours. So I thought, why not cover that tat with crochet? Why not make something vibrant and colourful? Why not make decorations that aren't restricted to being used once a year? I came up with the idea of covering normal spherical baubles with crochet and transforming them into droplet style shapes, and once I'd made a few I decided to change the colours in layers up the tree.

When thinking about lights (obviously important on any Christmas tree), I wanted something bold and constant, but without that seizure inducing brightness. I came up with the idea of covering a rope light, as this would allow me to spiral it around the tree (and as it's already safely encased in plastic, less of  a fire hazard). Just to make my work even harder, the rope lights I had had some big plastic bits on the end, so rather than making a tube I had to make one long crochet piece and sew it around the lights at the end. One downside of filming during the day is that you didn't really get the full effect of the lights - but luckily for you I've taken a shot of them in the dark.

My tree topper was a bit of a last minute addition, I didn't want to go for the usual star on top (or even an angel - no chance of that happening). I had some nice neon yellow chunky yarn, some red glittery twine type thread, a plastic hoop and some wire, so knocked up a quick gold ring.

So, I managed to get everything done....just in time! And then before you know it, it was time for filming. I arrived at 'Christmas HQ' early in the morning, was introduced to the many members of the production team (who were all absolutely brilliant, so supportive and accommodating), and told of our schedule for the day. I got to meet the three girls (Sara, Rika and Jess) that were to be my competition, and I couldn't have asked for a nicer group. We spent most of the day laughing and generally supporting each other.

Screenshot from Kirstie's Handmade Christmas/Channel 4/RTRP
We were given a fair amount of time to prepare our trees, but as all of my decorations were pre-made it didn't take me long to get it set up. The downside of this is maybe that I ended up faffing with it a bit too much, the perfectionist in me wished I'd taken a spirit level as I struggled to get all the baubles perfectly in line. But overall I was happy with the way it looked, this was of course the first time I'd seen everything together on an actual tree.

As you'd imagine, they film A LOT more than you end up seeing on screen, and this was where the geek in me came out. I loved seeing all the cameras and technical bits. Being filmed overhead by the drone camera was particularly exciting (even if it did sound like a giant swarm of bees about to attack you).

Screenshot from Kirstie's Handmade Christmas/Channel 4/RTRP
We did some shooting with Kirstie during the morning as we were setting up the trees, and were then treated to a bit of lunch (gotta say they had an EXCELLENT catering crew). We had a little more time to add finishing touches and then it was time for the judging.

We were whisked off to a room where we couldn't hear what was being said as to keep the result a secret. Now, honestly, I never expected for a second to even be considered as the winner. I knew my tree was abstract, unconventional, would divide opinion, would defiantly not be what a large proportion of people would want in their home. But that wasn't why I made my tree the way I did - this was my tree, I made what I would want in my home, crochet is my passion and this is what I do! I got this into my head so much so that I tried to push out even the slightest thought that I could be in with a chance of winning - and really, I'm not a competitive person. This wasn't about winning, it was about having my craft and ideas appreciated, it was about fun and the challenge of it, and if I'm really honest, it was about exposure.

So the moment that our judge (designer Sue Timney) said my name and declared me the winner, I nearly choked, but this meant the camera got a good genuine shot of my reaction. After all that I was done for the day, time to go back to normality and keep that secret win hidden until it went out on TV. Since the show aired I have had so many nice positive comments about my tree and my crochet, from old friends and new. I know that what I did might not be to everyones taste, but if it inspired just one person to take up or try something new with crochet then it was worth it. And my response to any negativity about what I did - "It's easy to hate, but it takes hard work to create".

I hope all of my followers enjoyed the show, and hello to any new people that found my blog through it. You'll be hearing more from me soon, until then - peace out x

Screenshot from Kirstie's Handmade Christmas/Channel 4/RTRP

29 November 2015

The Handmade Christmas Fair

Hey hey hey. So last weekend we hopped in the car, and travelled up north to Manchester for Kirstie Allsopp's Handmade Christmas Fair.

After visiting the Handmade Fair in September at Hampton Court, I was intrigued to see how different the fair would be in a new location and with a Christmas twist. Set in the Manchester Central exhibition centre, we got there early and booked ourselves onto some talks and workshops and got ready to enjoy a craft filled day out.

First of all we went to the super-theatre for a Q&A style talk between Kirstie and Lucy of Attic 24. Out of all the talks being held this was the one I wanted to go to most. I've briefly met Lucy before, and seeing as she's undoubtedly one of the most popular UK crochet bloggers I wanted to hear what she had to say. Lucy talked about her passion for crochet and colour, how and why she started blogging, and the way that crochet and being a blogger has changed her life. A few of her comments really resonated with me, such as "the more colours the better, I generally go for odd numbers" and "I'm quite a selfish creator, I do it for pleasure". Overall it was a really entertaining talk, and it was nice to see a few people say that Lucy was the reason they started crocheting during the questions from the audience.

After the talk, we headed into the shopping village area to check out the stalls.

Here was (in my opinion) the biggest difference from the Hampton Court Fair. The Manchester Central venue provided so much more space, so there was less pushing and shoving to get to the stalls, making it a far nicer shopping experience. But the downside was that maybe there weren't quite as many stalls as the London event. There were a lot of quality makers and sellers, but I thought that it was a little lacking in the craft supplies department. That said, I managed to find some nice washi tape and a few little bits and bobs. There was one stall that really caught my eye though.

Before going to the fair I kept hearing about geo-fleur online, and when we saw their stall I kinda knew that I'd end up buying something off them. They had a really nice collection of plants in nice design-orientated pots, and I ended up getting a small one as a late birthday present for my sister. Both the ladies on the stall were really nice and had a long chat with us (something I really appreciate from sellers, I'm far more likely to buy off someone who's friendly and passionate about their products than off someone that just delivers a sales pitch)

After shopping and a coffee, we headed back into the super theatre for the Mollie Makes Mashup.

I've never managed to go to the mashups at the previous fairs so I was intrigued to see what they were like. The one we went to on the Saturday was Christmas wreath making with Ellie Jarvis and Lisa Comfort (hosted by Mollie Makes editor Lara Watson). The mashup was really fun to watch, and Lara did a really good job of keeping it relaxed and making sure it flowed well whilst the ladies were making the wreaths. It made me regret not going to some of the Mashup sessions that were on in September.

After watching others being creative, it was time for us to take part in a workshop. I'd booked us onto an embroidery necklace workshop run by Katy Fenner of Pixie Craft. 

She showed us how to make tiny snowflake embroidery to go in a small embroidery hoop which fits onto a necklace. Me and the lovely wife had a lot of fun (even if she did get hers in a massive knot), and I refrained from finishing mine as I fancy trying to embroider something a little more complicated.

After that our day was done, and overall it was a nice day out. In some respects there were both positives and negatives which clearly related to it being the first Christmas version of the fair, but I hope they carry on with it as it was a lot of fun and I think it has a lot of potential.


'Kirstie's Handmade Christmas' show starts at 8pm on Tuesday 1st December on Channel 4. You may want to watch it....you might just see a beardy crochet man :)