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Quite a few birthdays fall in March. The first one is that of a bird-loving friend, who is studying birds for her PhD. For her birthday I made a card for her with an adorable Kentish Plover (Charadrius Alexandrius).

Card detail

Kentish Plover

I got inspiration for the bird from a beautiful collection of bird photos. The website is in Dutch, but it is easy to navigate. I came across the Kentish Plover in a variety of poses and finally settled on this one. The technique I used is very simple: I sketched the bird with pencil, selectively went over the lines with a uniball gel pen and then achieved a water colour effect by going over the lines and shading with a wet paintbrush. I learnt this technique at least five years ago in an art class and its still useful.

Every Monday and Tuesday we get free hot chocolates from some magical vending machines. They’re surprisingly delicious for something that’s (sort of) free. I’m fairly sure extortionate tuition fees cover the cost. The cups that they are dispensed in are thin, and as such, spectacularly fail to insulate your hands from the scalding heat of a freshly brewed hot chocolate. It seemed wasteful to take more than one cup to protect my hands, so I decided to knit up a little cup holder.

Cable Knit Cup Holder

To make your own you’ll need:
Some wool (I used some that I had leftover from another project)
Four double pointed knitting needles (dpns)
The gauge doesn’t really matter too much, as the knit and the cables give it quite a bit of elasticity. Nevertheless, if you are interested, my gauge was about 28 sts/36 rows = 10cm/4ins. The finished product is between 16cm and 20cm in circumference, depending on how stretched out it is.

Cast on 36sts over three needles – each needle should have 12 sts.
Row 1 – Knit 6, Purl 6, k12, p6, k6 – repeat this pattern three more times.
Row 5 – k6, slip three stitches onto a fourth double pointed needle, hold these stitches in front as you p3 that are still on the original needle, then p3 on the fourth dpn, k12, slip 3sts to 4th dpn, p3, p3 on 4th dpn, k6.
Row 6 – repeat row 1 four times.
Row 10 – see row 5.
Repeat the pattern until you reach your desired length.

If you want to make the circumference to be slightly larger to fit a Starbucks cup, for example, use the pattern below.
CO 48 sts over 4 dpns – 12sts on each needle
Row 1 – k3, p6, k6, p6, k6, p6, k6, p6, k3 – repeat this for three more rows
Row 5 – k3, sl3 on to another needle, p3, p3 from other needle, k6, sl3, p3, p3 on other needle (repeat until end of round)
Row 6 – same as row 1.
Repeat as desired.

You could also flat knit this if you don’t have dpns, but you will need to sew up the sides. Also, don’t forget to alternate your knits and purls on each row:
Row 1  –  k3, p6, k6, p6, k6, p6, k6, p6, k3
Row 2 – p3, k6, p6, k6, p6, k6, p6, k6, p3
Row 3 –  see row 1
Row 4 – see row 2
Row 5 – k3, sl3 on to another needle, p3, p3 from other needle, k6, sl3, p3, p3 on other needle (repeat until end of round)

I’m not one to let something beat me. I’ve been thinking about my failed attempt at machine sewing Sashiko embroidery for a while now. I’ve realised that there were two problems with my approach. Firstly, I was trying to sew circles – something a machine just isn’t very good at. Secondly, I was sewing totally illogically.

The solution to these problems is very obvious. For the first problem, sew in straight lines. For the second problem, come up with a plan for sewing BEFORE starting.

And that’s exactly what I’ve done.

The results were excellent compared to the first attempt. I have a little patch of Sashiko embroidery that looks the way I wanted it to and didn’t take forever to hand embroider.

Guide to machine sewing Sashiko from scratch:
Drawing out the pattern

Assuming you haven’t bought a ready-made pattern, the first thing you’ll need to do is draw out your pattern.
First, decide how big you’d like the pattern to be. This will depend on what you’d ultimately like to use it for. For example, if you’re going to make a cushion out of it you’ll need a fairly large piece of fabric. Since the pattern itself can be repeated as much as you like, there is no limit on how large you can make it.
Start of the pattern
Starting with a rectangle or a square draw the lines in the order prescribed in the image above. There should be a gap of 2.5cm between the start of each diagonal line and a gap of 2.5cm between each horizontal line. Of course, if you’d like the repeat to be bigger or smaller, just vary the ratio (i.e. 1cm to 1cm or 3cm to 3cm, etc). Mark the peaks of the zigzags. In my example the point is 1.25cm from the centre of the star and then each point should be 2.5cm from each other. Again you can vary this. How deep you make the zigzags is mostly a matter of preference. I made the 0.75cm (7.5mm) away from the horizontal lines, but if I’d wanted the stars to appear completely symmetrical I would have made them 1.25cm deep.
When you have finished drawing all the zigzags you can mark on the short vertical line. This should reach from the top of one zigzag to the bottom of another. In my pattern they are 3.5cm long. All of the lines should now be marked.

Sewing the pattern
The next step is to put thread to fabric and sew those complex lines.

SewingFollowing the same logical order as for drawing out the pattern (see the picture above, excluding step four) sew along each line and watch the pattern come together. This is fairly straightforward until you reach the short vertical lines. At this point, the best strategy is to sew down each line break the thread and start again. It seems like a waste of thread, but there’s no better way of doing it. If your machine allows you to secure the thread without breaking it do that at the end and beginning of each line and then move the needle to the next, keeping the thread intact. When you have finished you can simply cut the addition thread out, without losing too much along the way.
Finish the embroidery by outlining the square/rectangle and trim all the ends.

Finished sashikoEasy.

Further things you may be interested in…
If you are really interested in Sashiko and would like to find out more about how to do it the traditional way, The Purl Bee have and excellent tutorial. You might even want to try out the pattern they use there.

Google books is an excellent resource for crafters. Quite often if there’s a subject you’re just getting into Google books will have a limited preview of a book that will help you to find out more and get inspired. For example, Paradise Stiched is an excellent introduction and resource for anyone interested in Sashiko.

If you’d like to have a go at creating your own patterns, Sumopaint could be just the thing to get the creative juices flowing. The online application has a tool allowing you to create symmetrical patterns quickly and easily.

Finally, if you’d like to draw your own patterns from scratch it might be helpful to have some square paper on hand. This will help you know where the repeat begins and tell you how big to make everything. Plus, drawing it from scratch would help you to get your head around the logical approach to sewing it. However, if you don’t have the patience to draw everything out from scratch, I’ve drawn up this handy sheet of the pattern used in this post.Sashiko pattern

Good luck! And remember the general rule: if it’s round, hand sew it; if its straight, go straight to the machine!

Unfortunately, my sashiko experiment was a failure. I just couldn’t get the circles to come out. There were three main problems. Firstly, I didn’t approach the circles very logically. I’d start sewing and follow the lines in a completely random way. Secondly, the sewing machine just isn’t meant for such tight circular lines. Thirdly, I’m just not very good at using the embroidery foot on my machine, so I avoided it, even though it would have been better for this project.

This photo gives you an indication of the randomness with which I stitched along the lines. It seemed to start off quite well, but by the time I’d given up it was just a mess. The canvas fabric does work extremely well for this kind of embroidery though, as it’s stiff enough to hold its shape without distorting the stitches.

So, in conclusion, the best Sashiko effect is achieved by hand-stitching in the traditional manner.

Something I’ve been looking at fondly for a while is Sashiko. This form of Japanese embroidery is so simple and elegant. I’ve been wanting to try it out for a long time, but I’ve just never worked up the courage. Besides, all that embroidery by hand must be time consuming!

I’ve come up with an idea to make it slightly less arduous. Hopefully, by machine sewing the lines it will be a lot quicker. Admittedly, by doing this I’ll lose the beautiful gaps between each stitch, but at least I’ll have a semblance of sashiko embroidery.

So far I’ve made a little square with a pattern that I’ll sew.

This is the pattern I’m using. Simple overlapping circles.

To make the pattern I used something with a circular based (a bottle of ‘champagne bubbles’) and drew around it with a pencil. With some help from a ruler I was able to get all of the circles neatly lined up to make the pattern.

So far it’s been pretty easy. We’ll see how the next step goes…

For anyone interested in crafts or with a penchant for vintage style fabrics and knick knacks, I highly recommend heading over to the Cath Kidston website where you can order the new magazine for free. If you’re in the UK you get free delivery as well.

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