Archive for May, 2013

Oh yeah! Mystery cross-stitch-along! You know you want to…

STEOTCH: Fine New England Needleart

stitchalongAW YISS.  It’s that time, beotch!  Welcome to the Steotch Fine New England Needlearts Inaugural Mystery Stitchalong.

Edit: 8/1 – The Stitchalong has now closed, and as we warned, the patterns are no longer available. Follow our page on Facebook or follow us on Twitter to get notified when the next Stitchalong is underway.  Otherwise check back here.

What is it?

We posted a series of cross stitch patterns at this URL.  Each pattern revealed a little more of the design.  A bunch of crafty craftersons stitched along with us, and created badass samplers of their very own – but didn’t know what they’d created until they’d invested way too much time to allow themselves to see it as anything but a triumph!


They shared their progress using #steotchalong on Twitter.

To see the finished sampler (and pictures from many of the fine steotchers who came along for the…

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The complete lack of recent posts about embroidery might give you the impression that I don’t do it any more.  I promise that’s not the case at all!  I’m still beavering away at my knitting needle roll/bag/thing, which has planned embroidery elements, still reading upon blackwork and redwork and different stitch techniques, I’ve just had nothing worth showing off in a while!

But I do still love embroidery, which is why I thought I should remind everyone that May is the month that Urban Threads celebrates it’s birthday – and they just announced a site-wide sale on all embroidery designs!

Personally, I’m a big fan of their design packs.  The packs are 25% off, while individual designs are 50% off, but the packs are already cheaper per-design, so now is a great time to pick up your favourites!  It’s an especially good opportunity if you’re a hand-embroiderer like me – their hand-embroidery versions of the designs are only $0.50 each, which works out something like 30p per design.

I’ve picked up the Blackthorn and Elven Court design packs.  I’ve already got most of their others – the Nordic Majesty and Clockwork Magic packs were early favourites of mine – and I’d had my eye on these two since they came out.  I also picked out their standalone design, the Hops and Grain crest.  I’m a big lover of earthy designs incorporating plants, so this and the buckthorn designs were no-brainers for me.  But actually, Urban Threads are pretty good all-round if you’re Pagan, and they’ve got designs featuring symbology from Norse Paganism, Wicca, Celtic Paganism, Druidry, Eastern religions and all sorts.  Not only that, but they’re Yuletide Revelry pack features Christmas designs that manage to display a little Christian theology while still looking appropriate for both Pagan and Secular homes!

Oddly, the design categories only seem to have a tiny sampling of designs that quality – “Pagan” as a category only has two pages of designs, and yet not only does it not include the Ankh designs, Hugin and Munin or the Vegvisir, it also only contains one or two items from entire design packs dedicated to Pagan spirituality.  So your best bet really is to just search every category and save every new, useful pattern to your favourites – you never know where it’ll disappear to later on.


Anyway, enough blathering on.  There’s a sale on!  Go!  Go!

DSCN0570Thank goodness for paranoid duplicate-save-obsessions!  I make it a habit to always download and save a copy of any knitting pattern I’ve picked up on Ravelry – I know you can save patterns to a cloud by adding them to your “library”, but cloud saves are login-dependent, and I worry about what would happen if my entire online world crashed and burned.  Turns out, this was sensible!  Since I’ve not had even slightly enough time or energy to devote to recovering my lost Ravelry account (don’t ask, long story), having a folder full of all my saved patterns has really been a life-saver.

I’ve been working on my Ravenwing Shawl on and off, working with my lovely raven handspun that still refuses to be photographed true-to-colour.  I haven’t made much progress, Life and Time being what they are, but I’m still very pleased with how the yarn is taking to the pattern.  I know a lot of people using the In The Pink shawl pattern like to use dramatically variegated yarns, to make the most of the spiral design, but personally I think patterns like this look best in either a single colour or a sufficiently complex tweedy colour, to show the pattern elements and shaping more clearly.


I can’t wait to see how the finished shawl looks.  Part of me wishes I’d waited and picked up some black, deep purple or pewter beads to add as I worked – the scattered holes that make up the inner edge of the spiral arms of the shawl look like tattered holes into space, and I imagine they’d look amazing with scattered beads glinting in there, to say nothing of the eventual feathered bird-wing edges of the shawl.  I suppose I can always do that with the next shawl I make.  I imagine this yarn would look amazing as a Shipwreck shawl, or Celestarium, both use delicate, subtle beading to great effect.

DSCN0577Of course, there’s no way I have enough fibre here for two shawls, and in any case plying the singles for the Ravenwing is making the yarn far too thick for either of those shawls.  I’ll need to order more fibre to spin up for that (oh, the horror!).  Maybe I’ll experiment a bit modify the blend some.  I’d love to see what the deep, complex blues and purples of the fibre look like without the distraction of glittery thread, and I imagine the finished yarn will also be a lot less fuzzy without it, too.  Maybe I’d add more black, or perhaps I’d throw in extra purple a shade lighter than the rest, to pull the fibre more towards the violet end of the spectrum.

Whatever happens, I’ll be sure to let you guys know!

So, a little while ago I posted my recipe for earl grey and lavender shortbread.  I’d been looking for ways to incorporate tea flavour into my baking for a while – infusing tea into milk worked fine for cakes, but resulted in either too little tea flavour or too moist a dough for biscuits.  Melting butter, steeping teabags in it, then cooling the butter before use was messy, often scorched the tea and greatly increased the time needed to create the biscuits, since butter sometimes takes what seems an unreasonably long amount of time to set.  I considered infusing tea into rich milk and cream, and then churning my own butter, as a way to combine the benefits of infused milk with the drier dough of infused butter, but that would take even longer than the melting method, although I will try that at some point.

It was quite a lot of googling and plotting and experimenting before it occurred to me to just dump the contents of the teabag into the mixing bowl with everything else.  Of course, it works best with teabags that contain well-ground tea, and it’s worth giving the contents a quick whiz in the blender just in case.  I’ve since wondered – lavender sugar is easy to make by simply crumbling lavender flowers into a jar of sugar and letting the flavour infuse.  Violet sugar works the same way.  Could the same be done with tea?  Could I make an earl grey sugar to add to baking, thereby avoiding the need to ever worry about infused butters and milks ever again?

My experimental jar won’t be ready to test for another couple of weeks, but watch this space!

In the meantime, the revelation regarding emptying the teabags into the mix has made me wonder – is there any reason I can’t do that with other teas?  Today I made a simple, plain vanilla shortbread dough, but enhanced it by emptying the contents of four rosehip and hibiscus herbal teabags into it.  The resulting biscuits have the sharp tartness of the rosehips, and the fruity edge of hibuscus.  I think I need to adjust the amounts, and I definitely need to add more sugar to counteract the sourness, but the result is pretty good!  Some shortbread additions to try next:

  • fennel tea
  • liquorice tea
  • ginger tea
  • chamomile tea

What’re your favourite herbal teas?  Got any that’d make a good addition to shortbread?  Let me know in the comments!

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Can we talk for a moment about the Big Yarn Companies?

Because I love the yarns offered by Rowan.  They’re pretty, feel wonderful and tend to knit up beautifully.

And I love that Rowan offer pattern books designed around specific ranges of yarn.  The patterns are often pretty, and invariably showcase the unique aspects of the yarn very well.

But you’d think that, if anyone could get something as basic as photos of their pattern samples right, it’d be a large company like Rowan.  They’ve had years and years to get the hang of things, but they have a knack for making all the worst possible choices when it comes to how they photograph their samples.

Rowan recently brought out a new set of patterns to go with their “fine art collection” yarn range.  And as pretty as they are, I’m certainly not going to even consider  picking up the patterns until I’ve seen samples made by other knitters.  Here are some notable examples of the reason why:

Are we supposed to be looking at the scarf, the socks or the top?

“Sparrow”, this item is called.  Now, I’m a sucker for patterns named after birds, trees and woodland animals.  The names invite me in straight away.  But tell me, from looking at this picture, do you think we’re supposed to be looking at the socks, the scarf or the top the model is wearing?  Did you guess “socks”?  Congratulations!  Now, what can you tell me about those socks?  They look stripy.  Do they have a textural pattern?  What sort of heel do they have?  What sort of toe?  Is the striping an aspect of the yarn, or is it part of the pattern?  We’re zoomed so far out that I can barely make out anything except the socks are ankle length.

Who cares about seeing the item when the shadows look so pretty?

Here’s another very nice, artsy photo for the “Ibis” pattern.  Socks again, but thigh-high ones this time.  Of course, half the sock is hidden in deep shadow, and the cut of the coat worn by the model is such that we can’t actually make out the cuffs.  Note that between the shadows, the coat and her hands, we can’t see how the cuffs fit – do they pinch her thigh, causing it to bulge?  Are they baggy?  She’s also wearing shoes, so all we can actually see is that, again the socks are stripey.  So, how does this pattern differ from the previous once, except for length?  Do these socks have a textural pattern we can’t see?  Different heel/toe construction?  Is there any reason this is a separate pattern to “sparrow”, or could they have been the same pattern with a variable length option?

Finally, a close-up! Sort of.

At long last, we can actually see the socks!  This is “cuckoo”, a pattern which clearly has… some sort of cabled pattern on the side, and some sort of textural pattern.  This is one of the clearest photos of any item in the range, which should tell you something, really.  The deep shadows obscure the heel of the socks, but we can at least see the cuff and toe, and are close enough to make out some basic aspects of the pattern, although not with any detail.

Socks! No, wait… Scarf!

Before you shout “Socks!  Definitely socks!”, I should tell you that the pattern book does include scarves as well as socks, and that this pattern is called “goose”.  What do you think, is it the scarf?  Hard to tell from this zoomed out, but the colour of the scarf and the pattern of colours looks sort of like the colour of some birds, doesn’t it?  You’re going to guess scarf?  Congratulations, you’re… wrong.  Socks, again.  With the cuff partially hidden by the fringe of one of the two scarves the model is wearing, and the heels obscured by shadow.  And again, so much effort has been spent showing off the model and the setting, that the actual item is a tiny, not-terribly-clear part of the picture.


I don’t think I even need to comment on the issues with the photo, at this point.

One thing I’ve learned about buying a pattern is that you do not pay for it unless the photo or photos:

  • Clearly show the item in question
  • Clearly show key design elements of the item, such as lacework, cuffs, construction
  • Do not conceal areas that can be signs of a poor pattern, such as cuffs, collars, seams etc through artsy posing
  • Show the item laid flat or otherwise displayed in a clear, simple way so the full shape and overall appearance can be seen

The simple reason for all of this being, it is very easy to make an otherwise poorly-fitted item look very good indeed if you take an “artsy” photo.  Just take a look in any women’s magazine at the fashion ads and you’ll see models contorted into poses no person would voluntarily, naturally stand in outside of a photoshoot, with the items of clothing pinned where you can’t see for better fit and rumpled, tucked, creased and oddly worn.  The photos look lovely, but you can’t even tell what neckline the item has half the time, let alone where the waist falls, how long the sleeves are or whether it’s a loose or tight fit.  This is all well and good for off-the-rack clothes, when you can walk in-store and actually pick up, view and try on the item in question.  It’s unforgivable when we’re talking about something that you’re going to need to buy the yarn and pattern for and spend hours or days of your precious time knitting.