Monday, 30 December 2013

Planning Ahead Gift Tags

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I'm not really one to tackle the post Christmas sales, but this year I've been very tempted to mingle with the hoards of shoppers to try and pick up wrapping paper and gifts tags while they are heavily discounted.  My current supply is running very low and as I was writing out gift tags this year, it was a close run thing as to whether or not I would have enough.  It almost, but not quite,  got to the stage that I would be writing names straight onto the wrapping paper...a disaster!

Thankfully, my dislike of shopping for anything other than craft supplies, quickly kicked in come Boxing Day  and so rather than purchase gift tags, I've  made some more using the beautiful cards we've been sent this year.  Lovely messages from family members far away are received with joy in the lead up to Christmas and I'm really delighted that the cards themselves will be used again.

To start, it's a simple matter of going through the cards and checking that there is no writing on the back of the picture you want to use.  We are very lucky in this household to own a set of Smiggle scissors with interchangeable patterned blades.  This give a lovely effect, but really don't hesitate to use regular scissors if you don't own fancy ones.

After a few minutes of cutting, we've got a lovely pile of gift tags for next Christmas.  All they need is a hole punch and a little ribbon and our tags will be complete.

If you're wanting ideas on how to recycle cards, Planet Ark provide some very useful info.

Happy Crafting

Deb

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Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Quick Crochet Gifts for Christmas

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I know the pre-Christmas panic is starting to settle in when I gaze down at my long list of present recipients and realise there are very limited crafting days left and I'm at the stage where I need to make a gift a night.  With this in mind, we've compiled a list of quick and easy gifts that can be done in a day, or two at the most.


Perfect for Lego loving kids, our free crochet pattern utilises bobble stitch to great effect.  It's a brilliant way to use up brightly coloured yarn and it may even encourage kids to keep clean...it's a win-win.



 
This is a beautiful gift for anyone who travels, from Aunts to neighbours, this lovely crochet bag is as useful as it is pretty.





Flip Flops (or thongs if you live in Australia) are cheap and a bit of crochet can add that little bit of zing to transform them from plain to personalised.


We love Crochet Roses and while we've used them for a brooch in this instance, don't hesitate to find other uses for them.  We've been splashing them around on tea cosiesdoor stops and even wine cosies, each making a wonderful gift for a special person in your life.






We hope your Christmas list includes lots of lovely crochet items.
Merry Christmas

Deb and Louise

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Friday, 13 December 2013

Christmas High Tea

Pin It It's beginning to look a lot like christmas .. 

Everywhere I go at the moment this song seems to be playing - whether sung by Bing Crosby or a barely recognisable accordion version.  Either way, there is no choice but to turn your thoughts to Christmas.

It's a time to catch up with friends and family but not always for the extravagant Christmas lunch.  Why not for a bit of afternoon tea?

Our lovely Gingerbread recipe is the perfect accompaniment to a cup of Christmas tea or coffee.










No need to stop there though .. what about an Australian Christmas Classic - Rocky Road?  A bit of chocolate at Christmas never goes astray.



Of course we'll be needing a suitable tea cosy for the occasion .. We have 2 perfect cosies to choose from.  Our Santa Christmas Cosy and our Nordic tea cosy are both delightful and the patterns are free.




















 If you are after something a little stronger, a Christmas tipple is a sure fire way to get the conversation flowing.  Whilst we don't have any recipes for wine making, we do have a free pattern for some wine cosies which will add a festive flair to any table.

Our list of very simple, hand made Christmas Decorations  will also help ensure that your Christmas is not only delicious, but crafty as well.

However you entertain this Christmas, we hope it's a fabulous affair filled with lots of love and laughter.

Merry Christmas,
Louise & Deb

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Monday, 9 December 2013

Woven Christmas Cutlery Pouches

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There's been a lot of talk about weaving in my family lately.  My father has been restoring an old table top loom and I was very excited a little while ago when Dad took his laptop into his shed and we skyped while he showed me how it all came together.  I'm itching to start weaving on it, but alas it won't be here for a while yet.  It's got a long cross country journey to undertake when Louise and her fiance Peter drive from Perth to Melbourne the week prior to Christmas.

In the meantime, I've been playing around on my daughter's toy loom in the hope of learning a little bit about weaving before my long awaited table top loom arrives.  Now I'm not one to go all out at Christmas, I prefer a quiet and relaxed day filled with large amounts of family, food and laughter (and if I can sneak an afternoon nap in that's even better).  This year though, people are making a journey of pretty close to 3500km to spend the day with us, so I thought I'd better make a little bit of an effort to dress the dining room table.

I've gone for traditional Christmas colours this year and purchased a couple of balls of "Esther" brand yarn from my local Lincraft store and decided to add some glitter silver wool I had picked up for a bargain at a nearby charity shop.

The process of weaving, even if it is only on a toy loom, is rather relaxing and so I've spent my evenings in a  peaceful state as I've made the fabric for each little pouch.  I threaded the entire width of the little loom using crochet cotton and rather than counting rows, I've used a rough estimate of width so the each pouch is slightly different.


I've been using different combinations of colours to add even more variety and then I've simply sewn up each pouch adding a little silver trim around the top and a silver Christmas ornament to finish.

If you don't have a loom, you could really use any fabric you like for these, or perhaps even cut up an old jumper and sew the pouches from that!

I'm excited at the thought that by this time next year I might even be making Christmas table runners and placemats on the table top loom...

Happy Weaving

Deb

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Friday, 6 December 2013

Gingerbread Christmas Tree

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Gingerbread Christmas Tree

I have what I believe to be, the best gingerbread recipe in the world.  I just love it but I only
make it at Christmas time.  It's a Thermomix recipe which means that making it is an easy and relatively tidy affair.  

I was out shopping with my daughter the other day and I came across a Christmas tree baking kit for $5.  It goes without saying that I snapped it up and this years gingerbread cookies will now become a tree.  I noticed on the packaging that it said 'fun for the whole family'.  How I laughed.  Try as I might, I could never re-create those wonderfully traditional scenes about cooking with children in the kitchen.  I could never see past the mess.  This year, as we are going away, we aren't putting up a tree.  In fact, there are no decorations at all so I am really pleased that our house at least has a little something that nods in the direction of Christmas.

The Thermomix recipe can be found here.  For those of you without a Thermomix, the translated recipe is as follows:

Ingredients:
270g Icing sugar
1 Egg white
100g butter
250g honey
half a teaspoon of ground cinnamon
half a teaspoon of ground cardamom
half a teaspoon of ground nutmeg
half a teaspoon of salt
500g plain flour
1 tablespoon of baking powder
1 egg lightly beaten

Method

1.  Using a hand beater/mixer, mix 150g of the icing sugar and the eggwhite to make the icing.  Cover and set aside in a bowl.

2.  In a saucepan on low heat, gently stir together the butter, remaining icing sugar, honey and spices.  Stir until all the butter and honey have melted and all the ingredients are mixed.

3.  Remove from heat and transfer into a mixing bowl and add the flour, baking powder and egg and knead to form dough.

4.  Let the dough cool and rest for about 2 hours.

5.  Preheat the oven to 180C
Cut the dough ball into 4 equal pieces and roll out between 2 sheets of baking paper to a thickness of about 5mm.  Bake the gingerbread shapes in the oven for between 12-15 minutes.  The christmas tree has a number of different sized star cookies so it will take a bit of oven watching to make sure that they all cook properly.

If you are making gingerbread cookies, glaze the gingerbread with the icing whilst they are hot and allow to cool before storing in an airtight container.

Once you have baked the stars, gently 'thread' them on the pole and offset them.  Sprinkle with icing sugar to represent snow.  Alternately, they can be made into lovely christmas tree ornaments (that's if they make it to the tree .. I can never stop at eating just one)

If you don't have a stand to make the christmas tree, use the icing to 'glue' the stars on top of each other.  

This tree would be fabulous for children to decorate with sprinkles, edible flowers and glitter and some chocolate and I know I will be making a few of these to give away to friends and family.

This recipe makes the tree which is 15 stars and 25 gingerbread cookies.  Rather a perfect amount for Christmas time.

and yes .. you are correct in noticing that there is no ginger in this gingerbread. Technically, it should be called cardamom bread I suppose. Either way, it is just delicious.


Merry Christmas,
Louise

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Monday, 2 December 2013

Christmas Traditions

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I have a confession to make regarding Christmas.  You see, our Christmas doesn't look anything like those TV adverts where perfect families race downstairs on Christmas morning, children all bright eyed and shiny haired and the Christmas tree perfectly put together.  In the ads, the presents are wonderfully wrapped and excited youth  sit surrounded by mountains of expensive gifts and then a meal is served from family heirloom quality crockery and all of the happy, smiley people gaze lovingly at each other for the rest of the day.

It can be hard to put together any sort of traditional Christmas when you're first a couple and it wasn't until we spent our first Christmas in the UK, not knowing anyone and with two very young children, that our own traditions were started.  From that first Christmas by ourselves we realised how easy it was to get involved in the advertising hype, and by putting all of that aside, the best Christmases are formed.  Our first cold Christmas was a wonderful day of relaxation. Our main meal included the Supermarket delights of frozen roast potatoes and Yorkshire puds (we were in Yorkshire after all), followed by lovely phone calls to our family in Australia, who were enjoying the endless sunshine of an Australian Summer, and children who were just happy to play with their toys and enjoy their usual afternoon nap. 

Our Christmases haven't changed much since our early UK festivities.  Our morning starts with the children opening their Christmas stockings and the rule is not before 6am - we all need our beauty sleep.  We then have a lovely leisurely breakfast of a Summer fruit salad (Watermelon cubes, Strawberries and Blueberries drizzled with passionfruit), Danish pastries, coffee and juices before the main pressie opening begins. Strict budgets apply to the presents so part of the excitement is seeing what everyone managed to buy each other for next to nothing.

The rest of the morning is then spent putting the final touches to our main meal.  We're very lucky in Australia that Christmas falls in Summer.  For the last few years our meat slowly cooks in the BBQ outside while the salads are prepared and the trifle and/or pavlova is made of dessert.  Lunch is eaten, and even I confess to using paper plates on occasion, no-one wants to do all of that washing up, and then in between phone and skype calls we marvel at how easy Christmas can be...

...even if it doesn't quite feel that way when there's less than a month to go!

Hope all your Christmas plans are coming together.

Deb

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Button Christmas Trees

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This morning I went shopping and as I was out and about, I wandered into my local craft shop.  While I wasn't specifically looking for Christmas decorations, I did walk down the aisles dedicated to all things tinsel and marvelled at how expensive everything was.   I've got all sorts of baubles, beads and buttons at home and it pains me to purchase anything if I can make it myself using what I already have on hand.

While I didn't necessarily set out to make any new decorations today, after my shopping trip I did decide to set myself a challenge and see if I could make some new decorations using only what I had in my craft cupboard.  

I quickly discovered my bottle of green buttons and together with some craft wire, a few stolen borrowed brown buttons from my daughter's collection and a couple of sparkly beads, I had a plan and the materials to make decorations that were quick, easy and very cute.

This is a lovely decoration to make with children, but just make sure they are over the age of putting things in their mouths, so perhaps not suitable for the under threes..




I started with a piece of "Artistic Wire", cut it the about the length of a standard ruler and then used four brown-ish buttons as the base of our decorations.  I folded the wire in half and then threaded the brown buttons onto the wire as shown.  I then stack my green buttons in height order and starting at the largest button, threaded these onto the wire, ending with the smallest.

To finish, thread a sparkly bead onto the wire and then twist the ends to form a loop for hanging.

Now I just have to find a use for my bottle of red buttons!

Happy Crafting 

Deb

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Monday, 25 November 2013

Luggage Scents

Pin It In a few weeks, we will be travelling 3000-odd kilometres across the length of Australia for a long awaited 5 week trip to Victoria.  

I pulled out my suitcase the other day to start to get ready and decided that I needed something fragrant to keep my clothes smelling lovely and fresh.  I usually pack a bar of wonderfully scented soap but this year I decided on cedar balls.  We have had an invasion of pantry moths this year and I am a bit paranoid about moths getting into the clothes.  Plus I love the smell and I needed something to keep them in, so I decided to quickly crochet a little bag.


Materials

10 x cedar balls
Scrap yarn in a neutral colour
30cm length of brown ribbon
1 x brown button.
crochet hook 


Instructions

Using the magic loop method (instructions available here), create the loop with 6 single crochets in the centre. Place a stitch marker to indicate the start of the row.  Pull the loop closed.

Row 2: *2 Single crochets between each stitch* repeat to end of row
Row 3: *2 single crochets between each stitch* repeat to end of row
Row 4: Double crochet between each stitch and continue for 8 rows or until the pouch comfortably holds the 10 cedar balls.

Next row: * Skip 1, Triple crochet, chain 1* repeat to the end of the row
Next row: *slip stitch, 2 x double crochet, slip stitch* in each of the gaps created by the previous Triple crochet row to create a little frill along the top of the pouch once it has been tied.  

Secure the yarn and finish.

Thread the ribbon through the triple crochet row and tie in a bow and pop into your luggage or drawers.

The addition of a crochet rose would also make this fragrant pouch a lovely little, inexpensive christmas present.

Happy crochet,
Louise

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Saturday, 23 November 2013

Wool Winder Christmas Decorations

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One of my favourite birthday presents from last year was my wool winder.  In the weeks that followed the big day, I happily set to work winding practically every bit of wool I owned, happy in the knowledge that the randomness of my wool stash had come together with a uniformity that I never imagined possible.  Almost a year on, I'm afraid to say the stash is needing a bit of a tidy and some reorganising, and I promise I'll get around to that soon one day, but in the meantime I've decided to put my wool winder to good use making Christmas decorations.

Louise made some lovely decorations last year using the wool from the wool winder (you can find them in our blog post 15 days of Christmas) and that inspired me to use my red and green wool to make some yarny Christmas baubles.  I simply took some red and green wool from my stash, used the wool winder to make smallish baubles, wrapped ribbon around, tied a bow and added a little metal hook for ease of hanging.

I love the thought of these simply hung on the tree, or strung on a garland and perhaps made with brown wool with a little white crochet  top to resemble a Christmas pudding.  I might actually do that - when I get around to sorting through my yarn to find some brown wool. 
Merry Christmas

Deb


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Monday, 18 November 2013

Clean Fleece and Rolags

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The 'missing' fleece.
A little while ago, I tried my hand at 'Spinning in the Grease'.  I am a little ashamed to say that it was too dirty for me.  I know I should be a 'get-my-hands-grubby-and-stop-complaining' type of girl - and usually I am, but the smell and the dirt was more than my little craft room could handle.

I packed up the fleece with every intention of cleaning it first and then spinning it.  I placed it outside in the garage waiting for the day to clean it.  Today was that day.  But no fleece.  I hunted high and low.  Surely, you can't just lose a whole sheep fleece - but it was nowhere to be found.  As luck would have it, the reason I was going to clean it was because I had just been given a fleece from my boss at work.  It's not the usual work bonus I know, but I was very happy with it.  I thought I would clean the two of them at the same time - in the end, I only ended up cleaning the new one.  I was mystified as to what happened to the old one.


Fleece washed and ready to card.

Being a complete novice about washing fleece, I watched a you-tube video on how to do it and learned quaint phrases like VM - vegetable matter.  This fleece had a lot of VM (thankfully it appeared only to be VM, a lot of the unimaginable horrors that can accumulate on a sheep had been removed - I'm still a bit skittish with a very dirty fleece)

Basically, drop the fleece into a sink of hot water (not boiling) with wool-wash mixed through.  DON'T AGITATE IT or it will felt.  Just gently press down on it for a few seconds and then leave for 15 mins.  Remove the fleece and empty the sink of the mud, dirty water.  Fill the sink with hot water again and add the fleece for a further 15 mins.  I would call this method a 'preliminary clean'.  It smells much, much better but still has a few bits and pieces in it.  I think that the next time I clean a fleece, I will try and separate the locks to keep the structure sound. 

Once I had finished, (it took ages - I ended up with over 24 sinks full) I went along to my local spinning shop for some spinning combs.  The very nice and knowledgeable gentleman in the shop gave me a quizzical, sideways look when I asked for the combs.  'Have you been watching overseas videos?' he asked me.  'How did you know?' I replied.  He then proceeded to let me know that most Australian wool does not need the combing stage, it can go straight to the carding stage - which was going to be my next purchase so I saved a bit of money there. He gave me a quick demonstration on how to card the fleece into rolags and I was on my way.  They really are the most helpful people in this tiny little shop. 
The stages of making rolags


I felt quite confident about carding but my first attempt was rather pitiful so, once again, You-Tube to the rescue.  I found an excellent clip here (although I did wonder if I should have googled 'How to card Australian wool' but thought better of it.  Besides, the music in this clip is just lovely).

1.  The 'teased' fleece ready to be loaded
2.  Loading the fleece onto the brushes
3.  Combing the fleece
4.  Starting to roll up the fleece to make the rolag
5.  The finished rolag
6.  A whole laundry basket of fleece left to do.



I am pleased to say that my rolags are coming along quite nicely and by my estimation, I should have a few thousand by the time I have carded all the fleece.   It's a big job.
Finished rolags looking for all the world like giant lint-balls.

Later in the evening when Peter came home from work and I showed him my handiwork, I asked if he had seen the fleece that I had left in the garage.  He looked a bit awkward and I sensed what was coming. He didn't think I wanted it and so he threw it out.  Usually, I would have been upset at this but I gave him (and everyone else who cared to listen) the impression that I never wanted to handle such filth again.  I'm making a conscious effort to praise this new fleece - lest I have to start all over again.

Happy Spinning,
Louise

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Friday, 15 November 2013

A Birthday is Looming

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One restored loom waiting for delivery.
Every now and again I have bought someone a present that I have been so excited about that I can hardly wait to give it to them.  Such is the case with Deb’s present this year.

Some months back when I first ventured into the world of spinning, I came across a second hand weaving loom at the spinning shop.  During my first visit, I saw it sitting under a table, all dusty and looking deliciously vintage.  I thought at the time that is was something that Deb would probably like to have but I didn’t inspect it any further as I was on a mission to learn how to spin and I thought it was just a display piece.

On my second visit with Mum and Dad a month or two later, it was still there.  While waiting to be served, I noticed that there was a price on it.  I had a quick look  to see how many hundreds of dollars it was and was blind sided when I saw $50 on the ticket.  This is a large loom – the size of a small dining room table and I quickly got a case of ‘shoppers panic’.  This is the panic you feel when you see something so unbelievably wonderfully priced that you feel it must be a mistake and therefore, it must be hidden from other shoppers in case they realise what a bargain it is as well.

I stepped outside and made a quick phone call to Deb to see if this was something she would like for her birthday.  Her response indicated that my shoppers panic instinct was correct and I quickly snapped up the loom for her.  I was extremely happy to be giving Deb something vintage, something crafty and, most of all, well within budget.

I then got a case of the ‘Wish I had bought it for myself’ blues when I got home.  It really was a magnificent piece of equipment.  Dad had already agreed at the shop that his contribution to the present was to restore it to its past beauty.  Some of the wood was warped, the heddles were rusty - the more we looked at it, the more work had to be done.  One more phone call to Deb the next day confirmed that she was still just as excited about having a loom, despite my saying that I was more than happy to have it should she change her mind.  She didn’t. 

A few weeks ago, Dad bought the loom up to me all finished and restored and we have a fantastic morning getting it up and running.  The process was long, intricate and complicated for a couple of first timers but once it was up and running I was surprised at just how quick and efficient the loom was.  I spent an hour or two happily weaving but then remembered that it wasn’t my present so, reluctantly, finished the sample and put all the pieces away.  

Unfortunately, the only way to get the loom across to Melbourne is to pack it up in our camper van and transport it across when we start out on our holiday.  This is over a month after Debs birthday.  I can well imagine her frustration at knowing such a marvellous item is sitting at my house whilst she is sitting at hers - some 3454 k’s apart.

Deb and I have a budget of $50.00 for birthdays and it is usually something crafty and always something thoughtful.  This year I was the very lucky recipient of some Louisa Harding wool and knitting book.  The pastel sea greens and blues have pride of place in my knitting stash but I think I can safely say that when is comes to 'How MUCH craft can $50 buy', the loom is going to be very hard to top.


Happy Birthday Deb.   

Monday, 11 November 2013

5 wonderful ways with Bi-Carb

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Bicarb Soda is the one product in my pantry that I can't live without and  I often think I should have a few boxes in the house, located in different rooms, because it seems to get used for everything other than baking.

My top 5 tips for using bicarb are:

Insect Bites

Mix to a paste with warm water and place directly on the site of the bite - it's wonderful at taking away the itch

Sunburn

Add to a tepid bath to take away the pain of sunburn

Toothpaste

Mix bicarb and water into a smooth paste and brush away.  Perfect for if you forget to pick up toothpaste at the supermarket.

Dishwasher

Sprinkle a handful of bicarb in the bottom of the dishwasher between loads.  It will keep it smelling fresh as well as helping to clean the dishwasher when you do the next load.

and lastly (and this is my personal favourite)

Deodoriser

Bicarb is a fantastic way of getting rid of smells in fabric, so if you're wanting to freshen up the car, couch or even kids toys, give them a generous sprinkling of bicarb, leave for about 15-20 min and then vacuum.  It's also fantastic for keeping shoes fresh and this was never more apparent then when my daughter brought her pointe shoes home from ballet class for the first time in a couple of months.  On a positive note, it was quite obvious she'd been working very hard in them, on the down side the sweaty foot smell emanating from these, the most delicate of shoes, was almost unbearable.

It was obvious something had to be done to at least try and keep the shoes fresh for the six or so weeks left of the ballet year, so scissors and fabric in hand I came up with a pair of pretty shoe deodorises to keep the smell at bay.

I simply cut two fabric squares with sides of approx 10cm, put a few generous tablespoons of bicarb in the centre and then tied with some pretty trim.


Smelly shoe problem sorted!

Do you have any tips for using bi-carb?

Deb


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Saturday, 9 November 2013

Broken Seed Stitch (or Moss Stitch) Socks

Pin It I love these socks.  Very simple to make but, oh so effective.

The pattern is available as a free Ravelry download by handepande and the striping effect is really eye catching.

I am making a pair for a friend of mine.  We met at Kindergarten a long time, years and years, quite some time ago and we are meeting up for her birthday.  Yes, I know, it's my standard birthday gift but what's a knitter to do? I love knitting socks, people love receiving them .. it's a win/win situation.

The pattern is more of a recipe so some previous sock knitting will be required.  I use my 'standard' pattern when it comes to the number of stitches, when to do the heel etc but I'm thrilled with how these turned out.  

My friend and I are thinking of having high tea for her birthday - I'm not sure these are high socks but they are pretty close.


Happy sock knitting,
Louise

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Monday, 4 November 2013

Hexagon Table Mat

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I little while ago, I was experimenting with crochet hexagons (you can read about it in our 5 favourite free hexagons blog post) and thought the time had come to make myself a crochet bag. I loved the Simple Hexagon pattern in colours I'd chosen from the Bendigo Woollen Mills Classic range, and thought a bag would be the perfect casual accessory for jeans.





I started to crochet hexagons and chose to make less rounds per hexagon than stated in the pattern, while varying the inner colour, all the while leaving the outer round  ivory.  I didn't want the bag to be large and thought the smaller hexagons would give it a dainty, but still casual feel.





It was when I started joining all of my little hexagons together that I decided I wasn't going to be that thrilled with it as a bag.  I still loved the colours and the hexagon design, it just didn't scream either "bag" or "something I'd use" at me as I was piecing it all together.  

I'm really not one to let things go to waste though and quickly decided it would make a wonderful table mat with matching coasters.




and so I kept joining  and then I blocked the whole thing...





















....until it looked like this





It's not a bag, but I'm still pretty pleased with it (and it's still a great matching accessory when I'm wearing jeans for dinner!)

Happy crocheting

Deb

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