Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Pay-It-Forward 2013

In January this year, one status dominated my Facebook news feed:
2013 Pay-it-forward
The first five people to comment on this status will receive from me, sometime in the next year, something handmade. There will be no warning and it will happen whenever the mood strikes. The catch? Those five people must make the same offer in their FB status. Go. Create.
I can't resist pay-it-forward, and part of the fun of the challenge for me is in making something for people I don't know well or see often. My girlfriend is driven mad by the time I spend checking things out with her, trying to scope ideas, but I always know the answer when I find it!

I only managed to get photos of four of my five projects this year, but here they are, in no particular order:


Pattern by Lucy Ravenscar, related blog post here.
Totoro, pattern (c) Lucy Ravenscar
 This little chap was a gift for my friend Franki, who is epic and adores the film. He keeps watch over her patch in Yorkshire; it's a long way from the forests of Japan but a loyal Totoro does what he must.

Fashionably pastel headband

Pattern from knitty.com, winter 2006.
Calorimetry, pattern (c) Kathryn Schoendorf
My cousin Milly has an epic fashion blog - Fashion Launderette - and awesome pastel-coloured hair (lilac in this pic, but it changes). She loves anything that looks like 'unicorn puke' and this yarn from Ramshambles in York fit the bill perfectly. What I love about this pattern is how easy it makes it to have great hair in winter, without worrying about what a hat might do to it.

Crazy Cat Lady

Pattern from AManicMonday's etsy store.
pattern (c) AManicMonday
A present for Diana, and Tino the Cat. The biggest difficulty with this instant-gratification project was finding the right frame. Cargo came through for me in the end, and I'm really chuffed with how it looks.

Pink mitts 

Pattern from knitty.com, summer 2006.
Fetching, pattern (c) Cheryl Niamath
These are for a school friend who is living in the north of Scotland with a young baby. I love fingerless mitts, and thought they would be perfect for springtime walks with a pram. They are made from a very soft, warm pink yarn (which I remember being a DK-weight merino bought from I Knit London) that I had been waiting for the perfect project to use.

Fluffy grey scarf

I don't have pic of this, but it was a really easy crochet; it took me about an hour and a half using a single hank of fur-trimmed ruffle scarf yarn and a 6mm crochet hook. The scarf was about 1.5m long and really, really warm. Annoyingly in my haste to post it, I forgot to take a photo or make a note of the details from the ball band! I think the yarn was by SMC.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Have Yourself a Nerdy Crafty Christmas

Finally, I can show you the fun things I've been working on lately!

I obviously don't want to blog about my girlfriend's presents, but I was really keen to share with you her two dice bags.

Zombie Eyeball
This disembodied eyeball is functional and good-looking. With all the vitreous gel wrung out of it, it perfectly holds Zombie Dice with room to really get your hand in and have a rummage. Even better, it can be tied off with the use of the handy, loose blood vessels.

For many cultists, bas-relief clay just isn't enough any more. To really drive them crazy, this craven image in wool can also be used to store everything you need to drive your rivals mad.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Who's afraid of the mental patient?

Mental health stigma seems to peak around Hallowe'en season. We all heard about the outcry over major supermarket 'mental' costumes back in September.

I know I'm a little late to the Hallowe'en party but I was in Hobbycraft the other day (other craft shops are available, etc.) browsing through the books. Whilst browsing, I found Super Scary Crochet, which I had seen and liked before so I started to flick through. Lots of the patterns are really fun, I liked "Mummy" (and really liked that her description of a mummy, whilst brief, aims at accuracy - nerd alert!). Unfortunately, in the middle of a lot of really fun amigurumi patterns is "Murderous Mental Mary".

Murderous Mental Mary
"Mary is a serial murderer who lives in an institution ...
She has murdered lots of nurses and ... doctors"
Pattern (c) Nicki Trench, www.nickitrench.com
According to the pattern description, "Mary is a serial murderer who lives in an institution, but occasionally escapes. She has murdered lots of nurses and has a blood lust for doctors. Each time she kills, she dribbles blood with excitement" (see left, below).

Mary's inclusion in this book plays into the same fears that the "mental patient" and "psycho ward" costumes play into. There is no need to play up a character with talk about mental health issues, or "institutions", but the hyperbole of horror is always out to shock, and my guess is that this was the author's intention here. A murderer in a high-security prison? Not scary enough. Let's make her mental, and add some "blood lust" in for that extra frisson of excitment.

Murderous Mental Mary
"Each time she kills, she
dribbles blood with excitement"
Pattern (c) Nicki Trench,
To be clear, although I think this is all pretty rotten, Nicki Trench didn't invent the idea of the "mental patient" as a figure of horror and disgust any more than did Tesco and Asda. The fear of the "other" and of a loss of control are well-documented areas of the human psyche. We fear that we know we could become, the things that hold up a mirror to what we perceive as the worst of ourselves. A murderer is horrifying, but a murderer who is out of control and "mental" is almost irresistible to our own internal lust for horror and fantasy. This always has been the case, one only needs look at the ways in which Bedlam hospital was opened to the public for their gawping in the C18th to see the noble history of how we relate to mental illness. 'Bedlam' is also currently the name of a popular C4 documentary about a mental health trust in South London; the very name has become synonymous will illness and spectacle. (For a good overview of the history of Bedlam, I would recommend Catharine Arnold's excellent study, Bedlam: London and its mad.)

Don't misunderstand my intentions here, I'm not going to start calling for people to stop stocking Ms. Trench's books, or start a letter-writing campaign. Nicki Trench is a talented designer, and I'd always urge you to support creatives - they need to eat, too. 'Mary' is but a symbol of how widespread in our culture the fear of "madness" is. 

I also want to address the accusation that people who are worried about the association between horror and depictions of mental illness have lost our sense of humour. I am always aware of the risk of "going on about stigma or overblowing it. It might seem petty in the grand scheme of things, but I see people day in, day out, who are terrified of disclosing mental health issues to anyone (even a professional) in case they lose their job, lose their friends, are labelled a "freak". That fear hasn't just popped into their heads from nowhere, the stigma is real and damaging. It leads people to avoid seeking help, and in extreme cases not seeking help can lead to death.

If you want to do something to help, take a look at Time to Change. You could even sign up to their pledge and make my day. 

To end on a lighter note, here's a video made by the charity Bring Change 2 Mind:

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Hooked on crochet

I've been a knitter for my adult craft-life. I define myself as such and seek out likeminded yarnies (what can I say? - tribalism suits me). I have attempted to crochet before, but never got far beyond basics and got bored.

Recently my yarnie-side has been horrified to discover that not only is crochet easier than I thought, it's actually really fun. I needed a project to take on a plane with me, and my hit-rate at getting knitting onto airlines is pretty hit-and-miss at the best of times. I was flying into the US and generally didn't like the idea of trying to explain to the TSA that they didn't need to confiscate my hard work and lovely needles, because Denise interchangeable needles are certified airline safe. So, grudgingly, I thought I'd give crochet one last chance.

One conference and two sets of bunting later ("My First Bunting" and "Big Gay Bunting"), it turns out I really love the instant-gratification feel of small crochet projects. They seem to work up faster than their knitted equivalents and use less yarn.

Grey Totoro Amigurumi
pattern (c) Lucy Ravenscar
Naturally, I progressed to amigurumi, which has been the one craft area where I have never felt knitting really cuts it. My Neighbour Totoro worked up with a lovely, dense fabric, really easy to stuff.

In my charity knitting endeavours, I have been teaching people to do yarncrafts as part of a social group. The vast majority find crochet much easier than knitting. We've made Attic24's striped wristwarmers and Crochet in Color's mitts to get people used to various stitches and the difference between working in the round and on the flat, as well as teaching about gauge and making the existing pattern man-hand-sized. Not bad for the first month at a new craft!

pattern (c) Crochet in Color
The joy of having both crafts in my arsenal of yarny goodness is that I can pick and choose. Some projects just look better in one than the other. Amigurumi is a great technique for a sturdy cuddly toy, but I prefer the knit look for clothes. If I've learned one thing from my great crochet binge, it's that flexibility is a good thing. Binarism is so passé, let's transgress some yarncraft boundaries!

Friday, 16 August 2013

Blogging about Craft and Mental Health

I've long talked about the link between craft and wellbeing. It's not a simple link. Sometimes on a bad day I get really crafty. As I write this, in August 2013, I've just learned to crochet (for about the third time!) and I've made bunting, an amigurumi, some letters for an appliqué project and I'm working on some plarn. Sometimes a bad time is the last time I'm going to want a project. If I do, I tend to want something new. The Works in Progress Box is a law unto itself.

When I learn a new knitting technique or find an absorbing new project, it's addictive and fun. I become absorbed and for that time the intrusive thoughts can't find a way in. The craft is all. It helps if I have some radio, telly, or a book to concentrate on as well but it seems to take up the bit of my brain that the intrusive thoughts seep into when they're left empty.

I have explored the connection in blog posts before, and I have posted a fair bit from the archives - so although this is my first post here, you'll find some posts that were written in the past three years. Look around, enjoy, comment.

I'm also on Twitter and Pinterest, I'm rowleypolybird on both.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Om Nom Hat

My girlfriend is a gamer and a nerd. She loves interesting knitted hats, and when she saw an Om Nom hat for sale on Etsy, she wanted one immediately.

I don't crochet, so I set out to recreate one in knitting.

This is a pattern based on Hannah by Blake Ehrenreich, but you could use any hat pattern, as long as it is worked from brim to crown, and you start the antenna with 8 stitches.

The reason for choosing Hannah as the base was two-fold. Firstly, I made a lovely, pink Hannah from Manos del Uruguay a few years ago and the Girl envies it! Secondly, because of the deep brim and the purl ridge that marks the beginning of the crown, I knew it would be very easy to place Om Nom's teeth. I didn't want them hanging over the edge of the hat.

Om Nom
When I made Hannah in the past, the back opening around the pony tail curled inwards, so I worked 2 stitches on each end in garter stitch to prevent that.

Garter stitch around the pony tail
opening prevents curling
Click here to see my project on Ravelry.

Yarn: A worsted or aran in Om Nom green (15 stitches and 20 rows = 4 inches in stockinette stitch on 6mm needles). When I finally found the right colour, it didn't come in worsted or aran, so I used Hayfield Baby DK 'In the Limelight' held double, and it turned out well. It's very soft.

Notions: White felt, black marker, a small amount of toy stuffing.

Antenna pattern:
starting on the final round of Hannah as written (or working the last round of decreases on your hat pattern of choice):

Rnd 40: (K2tog) 6 times—8 sts.
Rnd 41 - 48: knit around

Divide sts so that the four at the front of the hat are on one needle, and hold the back four on a separate needle. You will work the four front stitches flat for the next few rows.

Row 1: slip 1, p to end
Row 2: slip 1, k to end

Work these two rows until you’ve worked 5 rows (i.e. ending on row 1).

Knit across these 4 sts*. Using a new needle, pick up 5 sts from the slipped sts on the end of the rows, and knit 2 of the held sts. Using a third needle, knit 2 of the held sts and pick up 5 along the other slipped edge.

*If it matters to the pattern - e.g. if you're making Hannah, these should be at the front of the hat

You should now have 18 stitches on three needles.
Work around these 18 stitches for about 2cm.

At this point, stuff the top of the antenna firmly.

Next round: knit 2 together around (9 sts)
Next round: knit 1, knit 2 together around (6 sts)

To finish: cut the yarn leaving a tail. Thread the end of the tail onto a sewing needle and pull the yarn through the last 6 sts.

The face
I used white felt and black marker pen.
  1. Draw around a jam-jar twice on the back of the white felt (with a pencil!) to create two overlapping circles.
  2. Trace these circles with a black marker to the point where they bisect so that you have a goggle shape. Add pupils.
  3. Make 4 triangles of white felt with a black outline for the teeth and place them along the purl ridge above the ribs.
  4. Sew the features in place and wear with pride.