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Isolation

April 13, 2020

“The whole value of solitude depends upon oneself; it may be a sanctuary or a prison, a haven of repose or a place of punishment, a heaven or a hell, as we ourselves make it.”
― John Lubbock, Peace and Happiness

My quote comes from a book I haven’t read and apparently nobody else has either if the lack of online comment or review is anything to go by!  It struck me as a wise and apt quotation for the days we find ourselves living in right now.  I think I need to find and read this book…

Most of what follows comes from my last newsletter sent a few weeks ago at the beginning of the lockdown, but reading back my opening paragraphs that focused on the practicalities and how we'd all cope with the restrictions – being alone, being bored – really doesn't feel appropriate at this point.  By this point there have been so many deaths and we're all so fearful and worried that the idea of being stuck in doors and a bit bored, pales into insignificance.

Like everyone else, I'm trying to make sense of what's happening to us and feeling so grateful to the heroes working amongst it all.  I'm trying not to let fear and worry take over and trying not to dwell on the things I'm powerless to influence.  I’ve chosen to embrace this period of forced isolation and make and try all the things I can, within the confines of our little cottage and small garden with Mark and Badger the cat.

My first week of isolation saw me finally making a breakthrough on a couple of new designs that I’ve been working on for the longest time.  New designs are always simmering away in the back of my mind as I do my day to day making and admin work, but I do sometimes struggle to make proper time to work on them.  I used to allocate Fridays as my ‘play day’ for working on new things, but if I have commissioned work to do, play day takes a back seat.

My designing process doesn’t involve sketching – I find that a frustrating and unhelpful exercise.  I do sketch diagrams of things once I’ve worked them out with my head and my hands, but until my hands can feel how something in my head works, I can’t bear to pick up a pencil – I wish I could, I'm sure it'd work much more smoothly!  Most of my designs go through several virtual and actual prototypes and I’m often surprised how the final piece turns out, since it bears no resemblance to the early versions!

When you design and make pieces that already have a pretty nailed on standard form, like storage for knitting needles, the first hurdle is to get yourself past thinking in that accepted standard shape(s).  Logic dictates that if something has a standard, it must work well, but that’s not always true. The classic needle roll is a great example of this to my mind – I made myself one for my 8" dpns but find it clunky and time consuming to use with all that tying and untying, rolling and unrolling.  For that reason, these never made it into my shop!

Months ago, I was asked by Emma if I made storage for fixed circular needles.  I didn’t, although it was something I’d considered before.  I consider making lots of things but usually find that the ones I prioritise are things that I would use / want myself and I don’t have many fixed circulars, except mini sock ones.  However, I had been thinking about getting some fixed circulars for cowl knitting and Emma introduced me to KnitPro’s Zing needles, which I’m now in love with!

The first case I made was pretty huge and more or less based on accepted formulas for this type of storage case and turned out to be perfect for storing all my mini circulars in their original packets!

This was way too big to be practical for most people, so I made a folding version of it next:

Emma kindly agreed to test drive this one for me and it worked somewhat for her, but the needles wouldn’t stay put in their pockets and sometimes stuck out of the side of the case.

Going back to the drawing board but sticking with that general folded design, I found myself over-engineering solutions and eventually deciding that the whole thing didn’t work and I needed to create something totally different.

Thinking about how I use my new lovely Zing cowl circulars, I decided that I really wanted a compact storage case for each needle and then a case for them all together.  After working through several prototypes, I came up with this very simple purse design:

Inside, there’s room for 12 sets of 16” circulars, all cradled in their own secure and colour coded fabric cases that you can just remove and take in your project bag, as and when you want them.  And look at those sparkles!  The lining is made with Essex metallic in Onyx – yum!

Although this one will be fine for my own use, I do think that I’ll make the pattern half an inch wider so that the separate cases sit more tidily in their two ‘columns’ inside.  The case is completely scalable for larger fixed circulars too, and I'm now working on how this would work in practical terms.

The second design I’ve finalised is my sock knitters’ case, which has been through a couple of iterations and was kindly test driven by Lin and Lauren.  Based on feedback and on how I tend to use my own sock knitting needles and accoutrements, I’ve come up with this design:

The outer is very similar to my second design that Lauren tested, albeit in very different fabrics:

The inside is quite different though.  The previous model just stored dpns

This new one has three main sections.  When you open it, there is a felt page, which both protects the needles in the pockets underneath and provides a useful place for storing stitch markers on the move:

One side then stores your dpns:

These are my 6” Zing needles – so pretty and colourful against that super sparkly fabric!  I can easily make it larger for 8” needles, but the shorter ones make more sense for socks, I think.  The other side has 2 rows of pockets:

There’s one deep pocket that you can use for whatever you like and this has a press stud fastening too.  The other row is split into 3 sections, which are the perfect size for mini circulars, if you use them.

Let's just have one close up of those pretty needles…

Although they aren’t falling out, I’m now thinking that press studs on the smaller pockets for the mini circulars might be a good idea to keep them 100% secure.  If you don’t use mini circulars and would use those pockets for something else, the press studs wouldn’t get in your way, so maybe it’s a no brainer to add them?

As you can see from the photos, I messed up the position of the stud on the outside of the case a little, but should the closure be this slim shape, or would it be better to have something a little wider / chunkier, more like the ones I used in my earlier circular needles cases pictured above?  I've had lots of great feedback on both these new pieces from my newsletter readers and some additional suggestions and ideas as well, which I'm so grateful for, but if you have any thoughts on reading this, please go ahead and leave a comment or send my a message.

It does feel good to have finalised these two designs!  I'm now enjoying using the samples shown here in one of my all time favourite nani iro prints and Essex linens and have all kinds of ideas about other fabric combinations to make these with, which I'll be making up over the next few weeks.

Stay safe and well.

x

 

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Sweet Spring

March 7, 2020

“sweet spring is your
time is my time is our
time for springtime is lovetime
and viva sweet love.”– e e cummings

I've been a little absent around here of late, mostly because I now have a newsletter, which seems to take the place of the blog.  My plan is to share some of the same content from my newsletters here, as and when I write them (only when I have something new to say or share!), but if you'd like to receive the newsletter into the comfort of your inbox and be first to hear my news, you can subscribe to receive it right here.
 
We took a week off for my birthday at the end of February and despite some rather drear weather, I was delighted that we made it out to my three favourite places for getting close to birds: Lackford Lakes, Warley Place and Hanningfield Reservoir.  The former has a little area where all the birds have been ‘trained’ to pose by many photographers who bring them food in exchange for close ups!  It’s amazing how close you can get to them too – they almost pop onto your hand as you put the food down for them:

Mark takes all the photos he wants while clouds of small birds fly about in the low branches, just feet away from me – total heaven!  This time, I took along some hazelnuts just in case there were any squirrels and we did see them too, as well as a little Bank vole who I’ve named Bernie:

We were told about this little chap by a guy we met in a bird watching hide at Warley Place.  He let me know where to find him, so I made a beeline for his fallen log and sprinkled it liberally with bird food.  We didn’t have to wait long to meet him and he certainly wasn’t as shy as a Bank Vole might normally be – he was as used to visiting photographers as the birds were!

At Hanningfield Reservoir, the water was very high – probably the highest we’ve ever seen it, which isn’t surprising given all the rain we’ve had lately.  There’s a little picnic area here where you can feed the local woodland birds and squirrels and shiver over your sandwiches!

Mark got me some rather splendid binoculars for my birthday so that I can always get close to the birds, plus a wonderful skein of Whistlebare’s Cuthbert Sock yarn in a gorgeous blue.  I can’t recommend this yarn enough for cold weather socks – I knit my first pair with it last year and they are SO warm and cosy!  https://whistlebare.com/yarns/cuthberts-sock/

Back to work this week and I’m very sorry to say that my relationship with Etsy will be coming to an end very soon.  If you sell with them yourself, you will have seen that they’ve issued another one of their dictates this month that involves paying for mandated advertising, whether you want / need it or not.

I see this most recent change as yet another sign that Etsy is no longer the right home for small handmade shops like mine who can't, or don't want to be "scaleable" – they really want aggressively growing businesses who want to focus on earnings that Etsy can share.  I understand that they have to deliver for their shareholders and the writing was really on the wall when they went public, but I waited and hoped to be able to stay in my little burrow there, which I’ve loved and built up over the last seven years.

Sadly, it really no longer works for me so I’ve bitten the bullet and am making the move to the Folksy platform, which will happen gradually over the next three months.  I will keep my Etsy shop for now with a very limited range, but my main focus will be Folksy going forward.  You can find my shop here: https://folksy.com/shops/thecrimsonrabbit and it would be great if you wanted to register there and bookmark / favourite it!  I’ll also add a link to my Instagram profile and here on my web site, as soon as it’s up and running.

In the meantime, I'm pottering about there discovering my fellow makers and sharing my best finds with everyone on Instagram – I've already discovered a number of new to me artists whose work I admire and created my first Folksy Friday post on Instagram, which you can see here.

I will hopefully be telling you about a couple of new designs very soon, which are almost ready to share!  One is a storage solution for circular knitting needles and the other is a sock knitter’s storage case.  These have both been in the works for such a long time and gone through several versions, which some of you have very kindly been helping me with.  I now need to finish making up my samples and once I’ve got some photos of them, I'll be showing them to my newsletter subscribers first and then sharing them here.
 
Finally about the newsletter, I’ve decided that I’ll be having a prize draw at the beginning of every season, which anyone who subscribes will be entered into automatically.  I have to admit that I have shamelessly copied this idea from Hannah Longmuir, whose newsletter I really enjoy and whose creations I cannot resist!  If you don’t already know her work, you can find her here: https://hannahlongmuir.co.uk/ 

Animal photography by Mark Seton

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Circular Design

September 21, 2019

It feels like it's been a while since I blogged about new designs I've been working on, although I mentioned one a month or so ago, which was a storage case for circular knitting needles.  This one has taken quite some time, but I'm delighted to say that I feel much closer to a finished item that I can be happy with.

I guess it would have been easy to just make the case using the usual styles that are already available via mainstream manufacturers and other handmade makers, but I really didn't like the look of those and felt that it should be possible to make something a little more polished.  Moving from that proposition to actually coming up with a design that works is another matter!  I spent a lot of time thinking about how it could work and drafting up shapes and measurements, but always felt dissatisfied – I knew what shape and style I wanted it to be, but to store lots of circulars (my aim was to have 12 large pockets and 6 smaller ones), it would need to larger than I wanted.  After thinking around the circulars problem in for weeks and going in actual circles, I finally decided to do what always works best for me and just cut up some fabric and make it!

So this was my first attempt at the case using a cute Kokka circus themed print.  At a little more than 13 inches high and 10 inches wide, it was way larger than I wanted, although there was stacks of storage inside, with room for many more pockets, if I'd wanted them!  On the inside front cover are pockets for storing smaller circulars.  With 8 pockets, there's tons of room here.  Like most of my prototypes, it's now become my circular needle storage, although I have very few fixed circulars to store – you can see my complete collection here:

Most of my fixed circulars are mini circs used for socks and when in their original packaging, I found that they fit perfectly into the central 'pages' of the case which were designed for larger circulars:

Admittedly, the colours here are a little wild – as this was a prototype, and it matched the mood of the colourful outer circus print, I used lots of colourful offcuts of cotton 😀  The construction is also very rough with extra lines of stitching here, there and everywhere, which is something you can't really avoid when you're sketching with actual fabric and the sewing machine – I do wish I was better at thinking things through with a pencil and paper.

Because I'd already made more pockets for circulars than you could shake a stick at, I didn't want to put more on the back internal page, so I put a large zip pocket in there and crocheted a little rope to store stitchmarkers on:

In retrospect, I think I could have put all the pockets I needed on the inside of the 'book' and not bothered with the two internal pages at all, but I still didn't like the overall size and went back to the drawing board.  After more measuring, fiddling and a couple of false starts, I came up with this much smaller folio design that's just 9 inches wide and 7.5 inches tall, when closed:

This Enchanted Forest print is perfect for it too!  When you open it up, you see this:

There's a little press stud at the bottom to keep this folded over piece in place, then you open that to see all the pockets inside:

There are 12 large pockets and 9 smaller ones in total and I think you could certainly store more than one needle in each pocket, if you wanted to.  I've done away with any other storage, although I think it'd be easy enough to add more, if needed.  I definitely don't like my construction choice for the pockets here and will be changing that on the next version, which should see the width of the case reduce a little.  In this version, I decided to make sections with finished edges for the pockets, which was to reduce the bulk in the seams of the whole piece, but you can see that it hasn't worked – getting the edges of several different pieces perfectly square with each other is pretty impossible, even when they're cut and sewn precisely – they always go slightly wonky on turning out and pressing.

The next stage of my design is to answer a number of questions about how the case works in practise: do the closures work effectively; do circulars fit as well in the pockets in real life as they do in theory; do the circulars sit safely in their pockets when the case is carried about / moved / opened and closed in the usual course of use?  For this stage, I'm hoping to have some help from a very kind customer who can road test this prototype and give me some feedback.  This is something I've done a couple of times in the past and it is so helpful.  For most of my designs, I can road test them myself, but when the design is for something that I don't use, like this case, that's pretty impossible to do in a meaningful way.

Another new design completed in the last few weeks is my re-vamped sewing case, here in an absolutely gorgeous limited edition Liberty print:

I'm super happy with this new design, it feels much more flexible with the new scissor storage, which means that stitchers can store their own favourite small scissors in the pocket rather than the ones that come with the case, should they wish to.

The anchor for the scissor keeper is also a great excuse for sewing on pretty buttons!  My plan is to replace all my sewing cases in the shop with the new design, as and when making time allows.

My latest finished reading (or listening, since I use Audible), is The Familiars by Stacey Halls:

It really is hard to believe that this is a debut novel, it is so well written, in every respect. I'd read the description of this novel several times and thought it sounded like something I'd like, but rejected it because it might just be another one of those novels with a whiny, irritating heroine. Happily, it's not.  From the Audible description (©2019 Stacey Halls (P)2019 Bonnier Books UK):

"To save her child, she will trust a stranger. To protect a secret, she must risk her life….

Fleetwood Shuttleworth is 17 years old, married and pregnant for the fourth time. But as the mistress at Gawthorpe Hall, she still has no living child, and her husband, Richard, is anxious for an heir. When Fleetwood finds a letter she isn't supposed to read from the doctor who delivered her third stillbirth, she is dealt the crushing blow that she will not survive another pregnancy. 

Then she crosses paths by chance with Alice Gray, a young midwife. Alice promises to help her give birth to a healthy baby and to prove the physician wrong. 

As Alice is drawn into the witchcraft accusations that are sweeping the North-West, Fleetwood risks everything by trying to help her. But is there more to Alice than meets the eye? 

Soon the two women's lives will become inextricably bound together as the legendary trial at Lancaster approaches, and Fleetwood's stomach continues to grow. Time is running out, and both their lives are at stake. 

Only they know the truth. Only they can save each other."

A very enjoyable read that was over way too soon. The story was very original and unpredictable and I loved the idea that it was based around real events (the Pendle witch trials) and on a real person, albeit that her history was pretty much all made up. The narrative also made for a great opportunity to think about what it would have meant to be a woman of the time. The writer did a great job of making you really feel that restriction of freedom and the danger you could very quickly find yourself in if you went against the men of your circle or society – even if you were a privileged woman of the upper class.

I'm looking forward to reading more by Stacey Halls.

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2,500 things!

September 8, 2019

Last week I had nothing new to record for my maker's journal and this week, there seemed to be stacks going on – not least selling my 2,500th 'thing' in my Etsy shop!

It honestly doesn't seem like very long ago that I made my 100th thing, which felt amazing, so you can imagine how this feels! 😀  I tend to be quite demanding of myself, so I probably don't take the time to celebrate successes when they come along, but this one does feel very special.  Each of those 2,500 pieces was made by my hands and was bought by someone who values that – wow.  The best thing about running my little business these days, now that it feels a bit established, is how many lovely people keep coming back to me to make them more 'things' – that really does feel good and I'm so grateful that they do.  When I think back to the last few years of my corporate working life and how utterly miserable I was, these days my work is a joy and it has all been built by me and lots of wonderful people who like what I do.

Now seems like a good time to talk about something new I've added to the shop:

How cute?!  My own collection of stitch markers and progress keepers is very small, but I so enjoy using them that I spend time window shopping for charms and thinking about making some of my own.  When I came across these enamel charms, I had to have them for myself and bought extra to make stitch markers for the shop.  It turns out that lots of other people loved them, so I have ordered some more of these and a few others that caught my eye…  One thing that irritates me a bit about stitch markers / progress keepers is that they tend to be one or the other and it seems to me that they could and should be both.  They also tend to fit on up to 4mm needles only and as I'm a keen worsted in the round knitter, I often wish they were bigger.  With these two points in mind, I've added a large size double split ring to mine and the usual size lobster clasp – that way, you can use them on larger needles and easily remove or re-add the lobster clasp as and when you like.  It's like Transformers for knitting 😀

My new cowl design is also finished and I now just need to write up the pattern – see that word "just"? it's a big one that one – LOL!  I am actually planning to put this pattern in a little booklet with a couple of other easy cowl patterns that I've been meaning to write up for a while.  I always have very good intentions!

Another new make is this A5 notebook cover:

This was attempt number 1 and the fit is a little snugger than I'd like because I decided at the last minute to add puffy fleece to the outer as well as cotton interfacing and didn't allow for the extra headroom I'd need to have in the fabric.  The great thing is that I love this polar bear fabric and as this first version isn't perfect, I get to keep it for myself and use it every day for my work notebook 😀

When I make the next one, I think I'd also like the inside pockets for the notebook flaps to be a little wider to hold the book better.  I'm very glad that I added the snap closure to the side, it holds everything perfectly snug when it's closed.

There was also a 'last' thing made this week – this little polar bear purse:

I ran out of this fabric (except for one purse's worth) quite some time ago, which is a shame – it's so cute.  I have a few little scraps so it should turn up in a bit of patchwork somewhere, sometime.

Just as I had an order for an unseasonal 'Hesketh' snowdrops project bag a few weeks ago, I had one for a 'Hubert' daffodils bag this week:

Although this one is actually seasonal for it's new owner as she's in Australia, where Spring is just springing!

In my mind, Christmas is the next season as this is the time that the shop starts to get busy with orders from people like me who like to start early and get organised.  I spent a while yesterday cutting out fabric for some special Christmas pieces I have planned and I also sent out this bag, which although the print pattern is totally not Christmassy, makes me feel Christmassy!

I really do have to do more with this winter white Metallic Essex Linen and I have a particular plan for it, if I can find the time to make it.  I only managed to get a small amount of this lovely Maureen Cracknell Moon Stories fabric in this white, although certainly enough for at least one more bag.

Reading wise, I continue to make my way through the Sevenwaters series and I'm about to finish book three, so more of that next time.

 

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Purses, wristlets and pouches, oh my!

August 25, 2019

This week has been super busy and pretty dominated by purses, wristlets, little pouches and cat toys!  One purse I made that I haven't for a little while, is my Liberty Wild Flowers purse with the black background:

There are so many gorgeous colours in this print that I offer this one in two alternative lining colours because I can never decide which I prefer!  I have a golden yellow lining and an electric blue lining, which this customer chose:

Another purse that I've been having this same challenge with is my cutesy marshmallow bunnies purse:

This started with a cherry red lining, which I liked, but I thought I might like a pale blue with silver metallic Essex Linen lining more…

Of course I still couldn't decide, so this one is also now available with two alternative linings 🙂

There was a special commission Liberty purse as well this week, which was for a Swedish customer who is in love with the wonderfully summery Small Susanna print:

And who can blame her – so cheery!  She chose my fresh green Essex Linen lining for this supersized coin purse and it was a perfect choice – almost an exact match for the green in the print:

Another special commission was for a wristlet made with the most whimsical Windham Fabrics print designed by Betsy Olmsted for her 'Enchanted Forest' collection:

This was based on my Foxy Wristlet design but made a little taller.  I still added the large padded pocket inside but closed up the zip ending at my client's request since she carries pens in her wristlet and they could escape out of there, if she dropped it:

So glad that she asked me to make this because this print is perfect for it, although it did also send me on a hunt for some more of this fabric and the navy Hedgehogs from the same collection, which are also so loved.  Although it is sold out in most places, I did manage to find some more of both without having to buy overseas and risk the customs charges.

I've also managed a fair amount of knitting this week and have just finished a new cowl design using a new to me yarn by Katia. Katia have lots of new to me yarns that might also be finding their way into my clutches in the not too distant!  This first yarn is called Concept Cotton Merino and is a very interesting yarn with a chainette construction and a soft halo.  Although nothing like it in construction, it really does remind me of Malabrigo Merino Worsted in some ways – the same weight, soft feel and semi variegated look of the colour.  It knits up beautifully and although it absolutely didn't work for the stitch pattern I had in mind when I swatched it, I quickly tweaked that and have ended up with a soft looking, reversible and very textural cowl.  Here it is while still in progress:

I should have the photos of it completed for my next post, but all details about it are on my Ravelry project page, as usual.  I haven't reviewed the yarn yet but so far I love it and it's available in so many gorgeous colours!

As to book reading / listening, I finally finished Daughter of the Forest and started the next in the Sevenwaters series, Son of the Shadows.

I've already kind of reviewed Daughter of the Forest here with my comments about it over the last few weeks, but I will just summarise by saying that I did enjoy it, despite a little gagging and sniggering here and there.  I can't quite work out why I enjoyed it though – was it because it made me feel all nostalgic for the habits of my reading youth, or was it just a good story?  I think the answer is probably a little of both and I suspect that book 2 in the series may well be more of the same, but if I'm listening to a story and don't notice all the work I'm completing while listening, it's probably a good thing 😀