Friday, 30 August 2013

Can't Afford to be Sick

One Good thing to come from a few  days at home.
I think everyone has a ‘sickness barometer’ .. a measure that is intrinsic to each person that lets you know just how sick you are.  Mine is knitting.  I knit all the time, anywhere, any hour - so I know if I don’t feel like knitting or even feel like thinking about knitting, something is wrong.

For the last week I have struggled with a virus/cold/flu type thing.  It’s OK, we all get sick but I always recover pretty quickly.  This time however it is dragging.  I have had nearly a week off work (nobody likes an office martyr) and on the days I did go to work, I was sent home again.

So, I had no choice but to languish on the couch watching TV and surfing the net. 

There are a few rules in our house about being sick.
·         We all understand that you may be feeling unwell – but don’t whine about it constantly
·         Get lots of rest and drink lots of fluids
·         The person who is unwell should not be involved in food preparation (Frustratingly, this one doesn’t seem to apply to me though)
·         And the new one to add to the list – Never give a bored, sick person access to a credit card.

As I was lounging on the couch I started browsing wool sites.  This is nothing new, I do it all the time and my favourite seller had a bag of 10 skeins of Noro Furin on sale.  So, I bought it.  Next was a skein of Araucania sock wool to add to my ever burgeoning  stash of sock wool.  At this point, I thought that was enough.  No more spending.  Have a nap instead – it’s much cheaper.

I was woken from a nap on the couch by my phone ringing.  It was the winery where Peter and I buy our wine.  I know it sounds a bit pretentious but after searching for a long time for a nice classic dry white wine, we finally found one.  (Vasse Felix Classic Dry White – Very nice indeed) so we cut out the middle man and buy direct from the winery.  It was good news! Our wine was on sale – so I bought 2 cartons.   2 CARTONS!  I can’t justify 2 cartons.  What was I thinking?  I think I was still asleep or maybe dreaming about when I am well again and how lovely a cold glass of wine would be.  Right now, it’s the last thing I feel like.  So I started feeling a bit miserable at my spending. 

Absolutely Gorgeous Sock Wool.
My son suggested that I better utilize my time by playing a computer game.  Good idea, I haven’t got stuck into a game for ages and this lifted my spirits.  I like empire building games so I found one about the rise of the Roman Empire.  So I bought that online as well.

So I am single handedly building the Roman Empire surrounded by wool and wine in the true Romanesque fashion.  I really hope I get better soon.  I can’t afford to live like a Roman.

Happy Empire Building,


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Monday, 26 August 2013

Crochet Rose Wrapping

Crochet Roses are one of my favourite small projects to put together.  Done in no time at all and a perfect in-between filler when larger projects seem to be going nowhere, they are immensely satisfying and pretty to boot!

One of my favourite patterns is from Free Craft Unlimited and I've made these so often now that you'd think I would know it off by heart, but I don't and so I have it under my favourites so I can keep referring back to it.  The free pattern gives the instructions for a range of sizes and so no matter what you're thinking of using your rose for, there's the perfect pattern for you.

For this project I decided to use up a little of the blues in my wool stash and so picked out a ball of Rowan yarn I've had sitting around for a while.  It's lost it's label, but I think it may be Summer Tweed?  I also used up the last of a ball of Lincraft Celtic and added Bella Baby (4ply) in Sprinkle for my last rose.

To add a bit of detail to my roses, I decided to raid my daughters stash of buttons (yes she does keep them colour coded and organised, but let's not hold that against her!)


Then I simply sewed everything in place and found some matching ribbon... 

...then attached ribbon and roses to the present with double sided tape.  Now I just have to decide on the design for the card.

Happy crocheting


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Friday, 23 August 2013

Beaded Hair Comb

It's getting to that time of the ballet year I'm afraid.  If you live in the southern hemisphere it's likely you're trapped in the middle of what seems like an endless Winter and existing ballet paraphernalia is getting a bit old, and if you're in the northern hemisphere, the new ballet year is about to start and it's fast approaching the time to seriously start thinking about accessories.  No matter what your scenario, here's a quick and sparkly way to liven up your ballet wardrobe:

You will need:

  • Artistic Wire - any brand will do, just so long as it's quite fine and bendy.
  • Beads - something to match your class leotard or costume.  I've used a mix of plastic and glass beads as well as assorted sizes of pearls
  • Jewellery making tools - these really aren't necessary, but I had them to hand so used them to snip the wire.  This is easily done with a cheap pair of scissors.
  • Hair comb

To start cut a length of wire that is long enough to wrap several times around the length of the hair comb.  To secure the wire, wrap between the first tooth of the comb, going up over the top of the comb and then back in between the tooth again a number of times ensuring that the end of the wire sits underneath where the wire has been wrapped.  The wire is secure when you pull it gently and it doesn't slip.  

I thread one bead at a time and then wrap between the teeth of the comb to secure, add another bead and continue along the length of the comb until it is full.  When placing and wrapping the bead, I ensure they are squashed tightly together and you will end up with several wraps of the wire through each tooth of the comb.  Once the last bead is placed, wrap the wire as per the start of the comb and snip the end of the wire, ensuring the end is underneath the wrap.

Please forgive my daughter her messy ballet bun!  This photo was taken on a Sunday, and she was most displeased to have to put her hair up on one of the only days of the week when she has the freedom to do as she pleases hair-wise.

Happy beading 


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Monday, 19 August 2013

Braided Cowl

I like it when a plan comes together.  

Everytime I go into my new craft room (which is quite a lot now that it has been set up) 5 skeins of Araucania Tepa keep calling out to me.   Something must be done with this gorgeous blend of Wool, mohair and silk.

I have had an idea in my head for a while now which I have been gently mulling over.  I wanted a cowl that looks like it has been braided. 

For this pattern, each braid is knitted separately but they are joined at intervals to keep some stability ... and just like that, the araucania has found it's way into my current knitting projects basket.


1 pair 6.00mm knitting needles
1 size 6.00mm DPN to use as a cable needle.

3 skeins of Araucania Tepa. (Wool, mohair & silk - just lovely!)

I use Knit Pro knitting needles and they are ideal for this project.  The end of the needle is flexible and has a large 'end' to it.  This means that I can slide the braids that are not being worked on to either needle and the flexibility makes everything a little easier.  Normal needles or a circular needle will do the trick though.

Getting started


C5F - Slip 5 stitches purlwise onto the cable needle and hold in the front of your work.  Knit 5 stitches from Left hand needle, Knit 5 from cable needle.

C5B - Slip 5 stitches purlwise onto the cable need and hold at the back of your work.  Knit 5 stitches from the left hand needle, Knit 5 from the cable needle.

Cast on 45 stitches.  Each braid is 15 stitches.

3 Separate braids
Row 1:  Knit 15.  Join second ball of yarn, Knit 15 with new yarn, Join 3rd ball of yarn, Knit 15 with new yarn.
Row 2:  (Slip 1, Purl 14) Repeat for each braid with separate yarn.
Row 3:  (C5F, Knit 5) Repeat for each braid with separate yarn
Row 4:  (Slip 1, Purl 14) Repeat for each braid with separate yarn
Row 5:  (Slip 1, Knit 14) Repeat for each braid with separate yarn
Row 6:  (Slip 1, Purl 14) Repeat for each braid with separate yarn
Row 7:  (Knit 5, C5B) Repeat for each braid with separate yarn.
Row 8:  (Slip 1, Purl 14) Repeat for each braid with separate yarn.

These 8 rows form the pattern.  

Repeat a further 3 times with the addition of Row 1 and 2.  The joining up begins with a row 3.

To join up

The braids are now joined.

To ensure that there is some strength to the join, the next 3 rows are knit as one (45 stitches).  The yarn from braid one is used and the remaining 2 balls of yarn are left at the back of the knitting.  Ensure that they are not left at the front.

Row 35:  Using only the yarn from braid 1, C5f, K5, repeat to end.  
Row 36:  Using the yarn from braid 1, slip1, purl to end
Row 37:  Using the yarn from braid 1, Slip 1, knit to end
Row 38:  Using the yarn from braid 1, Slip 1, purl to end.

To separate again

Continue the braiding pattern starting from Row 7.

ROW 39:  as row 7.  (Knit 5, C5b) change yarn for braid 2, (Knit 5, C5b) change yarn for braid 3.

Row 40: as row 8. Continue in the braiding pattern for  5 repeats of the pattern. (Rows 1 through to 40)

That's it.  Once it is the desired length, bind off, join and you are ready to go.  This is a very versatile pattern.  It can be made into an infinity scarf, a normal scarf or, with the addition of one or 2 more braids, a capelet.

Let's see what else is calling to me from my craft room.

Happy knitting,

More Cowls and Scarves from FitzBirch

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Friday, 16 August 2013

Favourite Free Crochet Hexagon Patterns

Bees were definitely onto something when they made their hives with hexagons.  I'm currently experimenting with the crochet variety and while not "obsessed" as such, well not yet anyway,  I'm loving them so much that I thought I'd share some of my favourite patterns.

Flower Hexagons:

These intricate (yet easy to crochet) hexagons are a free pattern from Red Heart.  The Stolen Moments crochet throw that I made using these floral hexagons was one of my very first large crochet projects and I love the result so much there's a part of me that's tempted to make another in a different colourway.

Simple Hexagons:

If you're just starting out with crochet, then the simple hexagon tutorial at Crochet Fundamentals is perfect for beginners and is a fabulous way to add a bit of shape to your crochet.  All you need to know is how to make a magic circle, double crochet, chain and slip stitch and if you're stuck, the tutorial even has a video to help you along.

Granny Square Hexagon

This is another design that's simple to do and so a blanket can be done in no time.  Granny Squares lend themselves to rounds of colours, even though my example here is in variegated yarn just waiting for other hexagons in alternating colours.  This free pattern can be found at Crochet Again and I think this shape makes a delightful change from the usual granny square

African Flower Hexagon

This is a beautiful design that's simple, but striking.  The only problem I've found with this Hexagon is choosing which colours to use from my yarn stash.  The tutorial from Heidi Bears is well photographed and easy to follow, meaning you'll have your project done quickly and with a minimum of fuss.

Granny's Garden Hexagon

Rounding out my top five favourite free Hexagon patterns is Granny's Garden.  Six petals form this  design and I'm  loving it in softer tones crocheted together to form a baby blanket.  The pattern (which makes a dinner plate sized hexagon)  is available for free at Scrap Yarn Crochet

Happy crocheting


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Monday, 12 August 2013

Trying Plying & Dyeing

For my recent birthday I received what I would call a perfect assortment of gifts for a knitter/spinner.  2kg of clean roving, wool dye, wool tags (hand made by my niece Andie - just gorgeous), Louisa Harding wool, pattern book and a little book to keep me calm when I am not knitting.   I was thrilled - and touched.

Amongst all this yarny goodness, one item was making my fingers itch - the wool dye. Not due to an allergy I hasten to add, I had 3 skeins of homespun that was desperate for some colour. Deb & Andie has already dyed some of my earliest spinning attempts (you can read about it here) but looking back, I am a bit embarrassed at the homespun I sent to them.  It hadn't been plied and the twist hadn't been set.  How they managed to wind it up to use it, is something I'm too self conscious to ask and they were too polite to say.  I am determined to make up for this by sending them some 'proper' stuff.  I still can't say that my spinning is all that good but it has certainly improved since using the quill spindle.
Birthday Goodness

Saturday dawned clear and bright - perfect dyeing weather. I had 3 skeins of merino to dye and, as luck would have it, I had 3 new wool dyes - Bluegum, Tomato and Lemon.  I started with the blue.

It was very straightforward.  

Soak the skein in warm water with a little detergent while waiting for the water in the saucepan to boil.  You will need enough water to completely cover the skein - although this is a bit tricky as the skein floats .. who knew?
I mixed my dye - 1 cap full to 1 cup of boiling water and then added it to to saucepan.

Gently boil (if that is possible) for about 30 mins.  I started off with a rapid boil until I watched a you tube clip that said that if you boil it, it might felt.  So I had a quick panic and turned it down.  Intermittently throughout the 'boil', I lifted the wool and gently moved it around.  Once it was done, it was simply a case of running it under warm water to remove all the dye and hanging it out to dry.  It looked lovely outside in the winter sunshine.
On the line to dry

One down, 2 to go.

The next colour, tomato, really did look like I was cooking tomato pasta.  Once out of the pot and rinsed, it has taken on an almost coral colour.  I was very happy with it

I thought I would get a little adventurous for my last skein and mix my bluegum and lemon to form green. 

A couple of hours after I had started, I had 3 skeins of my homespun on the line and feeling very satisfied, although one dyeing tip that I ignored to my peril was the bit about the gloves.   My hands look like a bit of a mess at the moment so I won't being dyeing again without them.

Feeling a little off colour ..

Whilst all the skein dyeing was going on, I thought I would experiment with dyeing some roving.

It looked interesting.

Firstly, I plaited the roving to hold it in shape and to create 'crevices' where the dye could hold.

Then, a quick wash in a warm bath and then into the blue pot.  It didn't seem to take nearly as well as the spun wool but came out a lovely sky blue.

I knotted the ends to create places where the blue would be protected when it was immersed in the 'tomato' and then knotted it again.

Felted Roving - Not what I set out to achieve.
Finally, it was immersed in the green and then hung out to dry.  

I do believe I have felted it though.  I'm so disappointed - what a waste of roving. We shall have to see how it drys up to see if it will improve although, somehow I doubt it. Now I am wondering what I can do with a 2m long piece of multi coloured felt. 

 There is still so much to learn ... 

Happy Dyeing,

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Saturday, 10 August 2013

Garter Stitch Scarf

The Dr Who Scarf is something I've been pondering for a while now.  It's a mighty project to undertake and by all accounts can get a tad tedious after a while, so I've been delaying and pushing it to the furthest reaches of my mind, all the while knowing that it will happen one day, just not right now.  Last week when I headed over to The Wool Shop for a bit of a browse and pursuit of a gift for a fast approaching birthday, I actually happened across a sale on some Panda "Amber"  in the discontinued section.  There's always a slightly unnerving feeling when buying discontinued yarn, the thrill of a bargain coupled with the thought of running out mid project, really is living on the edge for me craft wise.  I couldn't resist though as there was a little sample knitted up in garter stitch and it was calling to me in a way that said "this will be good practice for Dr Who - let's see just how patient a knitter you really are?"
even though I think we all know the answer to that already!

From variegated to Vertical Stripes
The first hint of my impatience in this instance was that the wool called for a 7mm needle and I could only find one needle of that size.  The other I know to be lurking somewhere at the bottom of my Hope Chest, but rather than rummage through it, I grabbed an easily accessible 6.5mm pair of plastic greens.  Not my favourite thing to knit with, but I was in a "near enough" kind of mood.  It all started frightfully well I have to say, until the wool started self patterning in vertical stripes!  It wasn't exactly how I planned it to go, and a knitter with more perfectionist tendencies than I would have stopped at this stage and revised the number of stitches to stop it from happening, but not me.  While all this was happening my Mum mentioned that she was having similar problems with some baby wool she was knitting with and had taken to cutting and rolling smaller balls and weaving in lots of ends...and I also could have done that...if I was a knitter with more perfectionist tendencies...but I didn't and kept going.

The pattern was a simple Cast on 30 stitches, knit as many rows of garter stitch as you please, Cast off -   and it only took a week of night time knitting to get it done.  After I had knitted up one ball of yarn I did a bit of measuring and decided that I really didn't want to leave myself short and so headed back to the wool shop for a couple more balls of Amber.   Now I have a couple of balls left over for a future project, and by then I'm hoping to have worked out the maths so I don't end up with vertical stripes.

I feel the Dr Who scarf is still some distance away!

Happy knitting


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Monday, 5 August 2013

Knitters Block

In the past, I have never bothered to block anything.  Once the item was finished it was worn - or not depending on the end result and fit.  I knitted a lot of sweaters so by the time the marathon effort had been completed I was well and truly over it and ready to move on to something else.  However, I always used to lament that my knitting never looked finished or professional.  I would see pictures of other peoples knitting and it looked lovely - but mine didn't.  I tried my hand at fairisle but it looked like a lumpy blob of knitting and not at all what I had hoped for.

I didn't make the connection about finishing an item and blocking it until I knitted my first shawl.  It was a very necessary part of the process that the shawl is blocked.  It is the only way to bring out the intricate design and stitches.  Once I saw the shawl transformed I was hooked, and from then on I have blocked everything I have knitted and I couldn't be more pleased with the results.

The purpose of blocking is to smooth out any imperfections (or lumpy bits), enhance stitch definition, ease a garment into shape or add some length.  It can also help to disguise minor imperfections - a bit of easing here and there can be very forgiving.

There are a number of ways to block.  My favourite method is the 'pin and spray' method.  This involves pinning the garment/item into shape and then spraying it with water, giving it a 'gentle massage' and leaving it to dry.  This method is especially important with items that need to be a specific size or shape.

There is also steaming.  This involves using the steam from an iron to gently glide across the item to steam it into smoothness and shape.  I use this method for larger items.  I knit my sweaters in the round so I prefer to steam rather than pin them.

The other method is wet blocking whereby the item is washed so that it is completely wet, then shaping it and leaving it to dry.  I used this method for the first time for blocking my shawl but I have also heard it is a good way to add length to an undersized sleeve or a jumper that is a bit short.  It is nice to know that there is a method that can stop a project from ending up in a 'never to be worn' drawer.  I wish I had known of this before though.  It might have saved me a lot of anguish when trying on a finished garment to discover the fit wasn't quite right.

The stages of blocking.  Just off the needles,
after a soak and then pinned into place.
The difference in blocking can be seen here where the 'fluffy' shawl has a soak and is then stretched out to dry.

The finished, blocked shawl

Materials Required to Block a Project

4 interlocking childs play/yoga mats.

I can use one of the mats for a small project or lock all 4 of them together for larger projects. There are a number of  different types of blocking mats.  A few towels folded up and placed over a carpet is one although not advisable if you have small children or pets but very simple and portable.  If you do have children/pets, then the towels on an ironing board can do the trick.  There are also some specially made beautiful blocking boards available for purchase as well.  I just find the yoga mats suit me as they are cheap, portable and take up next to no room - I keep them down the side of my wool cupboard, out of the way.

A one metre long wooden rule with inches and centimetres.

A long rule is a good way of not only measuring but keeping everything in line.  A measurement of 6 inches at the top and 6 inches at the bottom of a square doesn't mean much if it has moved an inch to the side when you are pinning.

Lace Blocking Wires

I did not even know that such things existed until I knitted my first lace shawl.  They are wonderful for weaving through an edge to keep it straight and pulling it tight and pinning. I can't even begin to tell you how much time they save.

Shawl blocking pins

These are rather robust pins used for pinning the blocking wires in place.  Once the wires are pulled into place, there is a lot of pressure on them so the pins that hold them in place need to be strong.

Normal Sewing Pins

I use ordinary sewing pins for the majority of my blocking.  They are cheap and plentiful.

Designated Spray Bottle

I keep this bottle filled with water and hide it in my craft room so it cannot be used by anyone else.  I have nightmares of someone using it for say ..  bleaching.  

Method for 'Pin & Spray' blocking

1.  With the right side down, pin the top corners to the desired width - in this case 6.5 inches.

2 & 3.   As this square needs to be square (obviously), measure the same distance on each of the other sides and pin into place.

4. Following the line of the ruler or the markings on the blocking mat, place a number (lots) of pins in place so that the edges are straight.

5.  Spray the square until it is quite wet but not soaking.

6.  Time for a gentle massage.  Ease the wool into place by placing your fingers on the wool and opening them up for a little bit of ease and stretch.

Then you leave it overnight to dry.  I love the feeling of waking up in the morning to freshly blocked knitting.

Here is an example of the difference between a blocked and an unblocked piece of fairisle knitting.  When it comes time to ask the question - to block or not to block, I think the answer is obvious.
Blocked Fairisle Knitting
Unblocked Fairisle Knitting
Blocking Process

Happy knitting and blocking,

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Saturday, 3 August 2013

Spinning in the Grease

Full of promise - and dirt!
When I first heard the term 'Spinning in the Grease', I thought how quaint it sounded.
The term is used to describe the process of spinning with raw, greasy fleece - straight off the sheeps back.

The story began, strangely enough, when my son asked me to take him out driving.  He has his preliminary license - this means that although he has passed his drivers test, he still needs 24 hours of supervised driving within 6 months in order to get his 'proper' license.  I think this is a fabulous idea.  It means our young drivers are experienced when they drive by themselves for the first time.  However, I find the whole process of supervising a young driver to be enormously stressful.  My foot is constantly pressing the floor of the car, looking for an imaginary brake pedal and I'm as jumpy as a box of frogs.

During the drive, we happened to pass my local spinning shop so I directed him to pull over for little bit of calming retail therapy and we browsed through the shop together.  I started chatting to the owner and mentioned that I was a complete beginner and I was looking for the best roving to spin.  In her opinion - and who am I to doubt, she spins at the Royal Agricultural Show so she knows her stuff,  far and away, the best stuff for a beginner is 'greasy wool'.   She showed me some fleece and it definitely felt greasy, sticky and dirty.  She mentioned that the grease helps it to stick together making the spinning much easier for a beginner.  The fleece doesn't 'run away' from you and you have more control.  It was also much, much cheaper.  I had been looking at the 'clean' stuff at $81 a kilo and I ended up with 1.2kg of fleece for $18.  Dirt has its advantages.  First you spin - then you clean.  How very thrifty.

I was much calmer on the drive home with my fleece keeping me company.

There is a problem though - it stinks.  Really badly - unpleasantly so.

I was initially banned from spinning in the lounge room due to the farmyard hues but spinning in my little craft room was worse.  It was also much grubbier than I had imagined.  I keep having to pull out all manner of debris and I now feel on intimate terms with my fleece and the sheep is must have come from (I have named him Errol).  Errol the corridale, has lived a typical farm life and this evidence keeps ending up on my lap.  The lanolin in the fleece is meant to be very good for your hands though, making them smooth and lovely albeit that they retain the faint whiff of ovine life.

The look of the water that the wool was washed in says it all ... 
There is something unrefined and unpolished about spinning in the grease.  It's how spinning must have started but I am not sure it's for me.  I honestly can't stand the smell.  For some time I have been grumbling about the smell of our dog and how unpleasant it is. Now, I have gone and added a sheep to the mix and it's all a bit too much.  

I was surprised though at how soft it became once it was cleaned - but it still smelled, only now it was more like a sheep that had been to the hairdressers.  The water instantly went the colour of builders tea and when I tipped it out, a muddy sludge was left on the bottom. Maybe the softness was comparative - it was truly disgusting to start with so any improvement would be substantial.

I do appreciate that it's a fantastic life skill and if we ever ended up with nothing in our lives but a sheep, I think I could clothe my family but I think this method is a little too 'raw' for me so I will wash the fleece first and then see how I go.  That's for another day though - I have to air the house out first. I can't see the  point in spinning when I can't stand the smell of the fleece and I have to psych myself up to use it.  Sorry Errol - I'm not sure that my tetanus boost is up to date so let's try another method.  

Happy odour-free spinning,

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Thursday, 1 August 2013

Bow Tie Hair Clips

Orange!  I don't think anyone in our household has an item of clothing that's orange. It's not that I hate orange, but I was very pale blonde as a child and citrus colours just didn't do anything for me.  I now think that perhaps I've been neglecting it all these years even though it may well suit the colouring of others.  The lack of orange was brought to my attention last week, when the tween came home from school with a party invitation indicating that she was to wear orange.  Everyone has been allocated a different colour and while blue, red, pink, purple or even green would have been a breeze, orange is a tad more tricky in an until now orangeless existence. 

I'm very thankful to our local discount clothing store who had a remarkably cheap tube skirt and t-shirt in exactly the right shades for the girly event, but I knew my daughter would be wanting some sort of accessory as well and on this occasion she came up with her own pattern.

Given our lack of orange clothes you may also have assumed that there would be no orange in the wool stash, but I'm thrilled to say that in a little craft pack from many years ago there lurked some neon brights and not content with just one colour, my daughter decided on making a few little accessories (perhaps in case the next party is 80's themed?)

Her simple crochet pattern is:

Chain 11
Row 1: Skip first chain and single crochet into each chain until the end of row.
Row 2: Chain 1(forms first SC), skip one stitch from previous row and continue to SC along row.
Repeat until desired thickness is me.
When cutting yarn at end of project, leave a long length and wrap around centre, gathering the bow tie.  Thread end of yarn through wrapped centre.
Attach to a hair slide.

I think these could be equally as cute made into a necklace or attached to a T-shirt.

Happy crocheting

Deb (and Andie)

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Drop Stitch Cowl

We were at a yarn market a couple of weeks ago and after speaking to some pretty fabulous yarn people all day long, I was struck with the...