Monday, 27 January 2014

Sylvanian Families Cake

This time if year is filled with birthdays for us.  The gift-giving fatigue that everyone feels post Christmas is quickly brushed aside as we celebrate three birthdays in the five weeks following the festive season.  The middle of the birthdays belongs to our niece Lilly who this year is 5 and is generally much easier to buy for and celebrate with, than her two teen boy cousins, who are far less easily pleased!

This year Louise came up with the brilliant idea of starting Lilly on her own Sylvanian Families collection.  Our house for many years contained what seemed to be a moderate to large sized town of the little critters and so we were naturally thrilled to make a Sylvanian Cake for our family get together.

I confess to not being much of a baker.  Appearing on "The Great Australian Bake Off" is not one of my ambitions, but I do enjoy the occasional bit of baking when the time's right.  I'm very thankful for my Women's Weekly Classic Cakes collection, that was given to me as a birthday gift a few years ago.  I'm not usually one to mention a cook book, but if you're not a baker, this one makes it seem to the rest of the world like you are.

Once the cake was baked, we rolled out some pre-made icing to make little flowers and some letters to decorate the cake.  We then added some food colouring to the rest of the icing and rolled out enough to cover our cake and a little bit for what we shall call "base camp", the section at the bottom of the cake for the seating and sandcastle.

The Sylvanian family kit we used is the "Sandpit and Paddling Pool" with a couple of little Sylvanian babies to fill the scene.  I bit of rather poorly executed piped butter cream icing around the edges and our cake was complete. 

..and the birthday girl seemed to like the fact that she could take the Sylvanians home at the end.

Happy Birthday Lilly


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Friday, 24 January 2014

All Things Socks

“And in the act of making things, just by living their daily lives, they also make history. 
Knitting is clothing made in spare moments, or round the fire, whenever women gathered together... It's something to celebrate-clothes made in love and service, something women have always done.” 
― Anne BartlettKnitting

I never really appreciated a knitted sock until I made my own.  I had never been given a pair as a gift and did not understand the joy that comes from finishing a pair.  Since I started knitted socks (initially to challenge my knitting skills), I love knitting them, wearing them and giving them as gifts.  I love the myriad of colours that the wool comes in and the seemingly endless  patterns available.

  • Firstly, how are they made?  

The construction of a sock is not set in stone but the method that I use is a cuff down, relatively simple method (not that it seems simple when you first start out).  

FitzBirch has put together a leaflet guiding you through the process step-by-step.

Sock Knitting 101

  • Loom Knitted Socks
Knitted socks are not just the domain of DPN's.  They can also be made on a knitting loom.

Our blog post on using the loom includes instructions and links for those of you lucky enough to have a loom.

  • Knitted Sock Patterns
There seems to be an endless amount of patterns available and I find Pinterest to be a great source of not only inspiration but patterns, how to's and links to great wool sites.

A quick search in google reveals an amazing amount of sock patterns as well.

I have come up with some very simple designs that follow the Sock Knitting 101 guidelines with just the addition of some detail.

Mock Cable Socks

The detail for this sock is not even cabled.  It just looks like it is.

Simple Cabled Socks

This pair are very, very similar to the mock cabled socks only this time the detail is a very simple cable design.

Modified Nutkin Socks

The pattern looks complicated but it is really very straight forward - A simple eyelet pattern that is used to maximum effect.

The pattern is free and makes a simply stunning pair of socks.  I knitted these for a friend but I was sad to see them go as I would have loved to have them for myself.

Salvaging an unwanted pair of socks.

Hand knitted socks can easily be re-used once they are past their use-by date.  A few unpicked stitches and then just wind it onto a wool winder (as heartbreaking as that is) ready to make into something else.

Dimble .. doing what Dimble does.

OR ... 

If there is no hope of salvaging them, then they can be turned into a very cute sock monkey.  Instructions to make Dimble can be found here on our blog.

  • Other uses for sock wool
The beautiful mix of colours in sock wool make them ideal for all sorts of projects.  I quickly knitted some fingerless mittens on a camping trip earlier this year and whilst it is rarely freezing in Australia, used them the other day at an outdoor pub.  It's much easier to hold a glass of something cold with a pair of these.

Fingerless Mittens.

Happy Sock and/or sock related knitting,

Louise & Deb

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Monday, 20 January 2014

Crochet Flower Hair Comb

Sometimes there's yarn in the stash that you wonder about.  The label has long gone and it may have been purchased for a particular purpose, although that's likely to have been forgotten or it's now redundant.  I must admit to more than a few of these in my yarn stash, but there's one that's been lurking and playing on my mind for a little while.  It was a variegated crochet cotton originally purchased as amongst the blue and green hues was a little glimpse of mint and I thought I could make a little hair accessory for ballet class from it.  The young ballet student in this household, had other ideas however, and thought it was "too loud" to be acceptable at ballet...and so it's sat unused ever since.

Until I thought I may as well continue with my plan to make a pretty little hair accessory out of it, despite the passing of a year or so in the meantime.  I used my smallest crochet hook for this project, a teeny, tiny size 2 as  I wanted a petite row of flowers to cover the hair comb.

The pattern I decided on is:

Chain 5, form into magic circle.
*Slip Stitch 1 into circle
1 x Single Crochet into circle
1 x Double Crochet into circle
1 x Single Crochet into circle
repeat from *4 times to form flower
Slip stitch into magic circle

To form second flower
Chain 8 (the first 3 chains attach the two flowers together)
Slip Stitch into 5th chain along to form circle, repeat pattern from first flower to form second flower and continue forming a chain of flowers until you have enough to cover the length of your selected hair comb.

I was tempted at this point to just get out my glue gun and stick my flowers onto the hair comb, but who doesn't like a bit of bling.  So out came my beads and a selection was made. (I ended up choosing the darker blue beads)

 I'm not very trusting when it comes to beads and glue guns.  The weight of the beads and their awkward shape doesn't bode well for a secure bond and so in the interests of longevity I used some artistic wire (any bendy craft wire will do for this) and thread both the beads and the flowers onto the headband all at once, securing the ends so there were no rough edges.

While our ballet student still considers the colour "too loud" for ballet, she's delighted that it perfectly matches a dress she's just purchased online, thanks to a gift card from her Nanna.  Nanna can expect a photo of the whole ensemble very soon!

Happy crocheting


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Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Very, Very Useful Neck Cooler

There is a reason why the Australian Open is the only one of the Grand Slam Tennis Tournaments to have a heat policy.  This was very much in evidence this week when Melbourne experienced a heat wave during the opening rounds.  Day two saw the temps at around 44 degrees Celsius (that's 111.2 Fahrenheit) and day three was forecast to be only slightly cooler.

As luck would have it (or not), we had tickets for day three and the evening before I decided that something had to be done, as the thought of standing out in that sort of heat for a few hours seemed pretty unbearable.

I searched the Internet to try and find a solution, thought perhaps my husband could stop at the chemist on the way home from work to pick up some sort of personal cooling devices for us, but then stumbled across this neck cooler tutorial on Instructables. 

I had loads of suitable fabric in my stash, but the water crystals were another thing entirely so off I went to my local hardware store and for the princely sum of $7.00 bought a little container of crystals and then it was home again to get sewing.

The tutorial was very simple to follow and before we knew it we had a selection of very, very useful neck coolers to match the existing one my husband had squirrelled away in his golf bag.

I'd love to be able to tell you that the neck coolers kept us perfectly chilled for the event, and I'm sure we were much better off than not having them.  We did find however the very best solution for the intense heat was the neck coolers, together with an ice cold slushie and an industrial sized fan blowing cool water.

Tennis bliss!

Happy sewing


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Monday, 13 January 2014

Nectarine and Periwinkle Cowl

Well, it's that time again.  We are on the road and that leaves plenty of evenings free for
knitting/crochet whilst waiting for the sun to set.  Currently, we are in the Yarra Region of Victoria and loving every moment of it.  Well, nearly every moment.  The caravan park where we are staying leaves a bit to be desired but, as it is situated in God's own country, we can live with any short comings.

A long while ago I purchased some Louisa Harding Ondine in the nectarine shade. Nectarines happen to be my favourite fruit so it was really a no-brainer when it came to choosing colours.  So, as campers light their fires and bottles of wine and beer are opened, I find myself knitting and crocheting a cowl using this lovely fibre.

I decided on a crochet trim to start the cowl and then it's a change to knitting to finish it.  I discovered a marvellous crochet trim called 'periwinkle' and thought that the lovely flowers would be a great way to start this cowl.


2 balls Louisa Harding Ondine 'Nectarine'
1 x 3.5mm crochet hook
1 circular 3.5mm knitting needle

Periwinkle Crochet Trim

Chain 8 stitches and join using slip stitch.
Chain 1, single crochet into loop
**Chain 4
Triple crochet into loop but leave the last stitch on the crochet hook.
Repeat 2 more times (3 triple crochets in total).
Wrap yarn and take 4 stitches off at once.
Chain 4
Single crochet into loop.**
Repeat from ** to ** a further 4 times to have 5 petals.
Once you have 5 petals, chain 16
Slip stitch into the 8th chain from the end to create a loop. 
Chain 1
Single crochet into loop and then repeat from ** to **.

Continue until your periwinkle chain measures the desired length.  In this case, I have 13 periwinkles.

When you have finished, it's time to set up for the knitted part of the cowl.  
In the last periwinkle, single crochet 3 times into the top the the petal closest to the chain. Make sure that you crochet BOTH the petal and the chain together. (see diagram - picture 1).  This 'anchors' the petal to the base of the cowl and gives it some stability.

Then, single crochet twice along the chain between the petal you have just crocheted and the next one. 
Single crochet 3 times into the top of the petal of the next periwinkle (including the petal and the chain), single crochet into the middle of the loop that forms the middle of the periwinkle and then single crochet 3 times into the next petal (picture 3).  Continue until you have single crocheted 3 times into the last periwinkle.  Make sure that you crochet the petal and the chain together along the way.  
To join, single crochet 3 times into the petal of the first flower.  Single crochet into the middle of the petal.

Using the lovely chain edge that has been created by the single crochet, you will need to pick up and knit into each one.  (Picture 4)  Once you have finished picking up the stitches, place a stitch marker to indicate the beginning of the round and you are then ready to knit the remainder of the cowl.  There are 9 knitted stitches per periwinkle.  As I have done 13 flowers, I have 117 stitches for my cowl.

Knitting instructions for the Cowl

All rows:  P3, K6, repeat to end.

Make sure you check where your purl stitches are.  The purl stitches represent the stem of the flower so, depending on where you started your cast on, adjust the pattern so the the 3 purl stitches are either side and the middle stitch of the centre of your flower.
Once you have done this, continue until the cowl is about 2cm short of the desired width.

To give the bind off edge a bit of stability, I decided on a stylised leaf border.

Row 1: P5, K2 *P7, K2* repeat from * to * until the end of the row
(remember, depending on where you started your row when you picked up the stitches you will need to make sure that your Purl 3's are situated in the middle of the P7's on this row)
Row 2: Purl to end
Row 3: as row 1
Row 4: P4, K4 *P5 K4* repeat from * to * to the end of the row
Row 5:*P3 K6* repeat from * to * to the end of the row
Row 6 K1, P1 *K8, P1* repeat from * to * to the end of the row.

Bind off.  Make sure the bind off is not too tight as this is a small cowl.

Happy knitting,

More Cowls and Scarves from FitzBirch

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Friday, 10 January 2014

Asymmetrical Easy Crochet Poncho

I once had a bottle green crochet poncho which, when worn with my knee high ABBA socks made me feel like a bit of a fashion icon.  Whilst the ABBA socks may no longer be in fashion, I am pleased to see that ponchos, shawls and all manner of drapey knits never seem far from a knitters (0r crocheters) wardrobe.

One of my many and frequent internet purchases was 8 balls of lambswool from Scotland.  I have had it for about a year and was wondering what to make with this delicious stuff.

I wanted a warm, close weave poncho that could be worn with skinny jeans and leather boots and, from looking at a number of ponchos, decided to give one a go.  


Scottish Wool - Scrumptious!
Make a chain that is the length from the wrist of your outstretched arm, around your neck and back again.

Double crochet into the second chain from the end and continue to the end.
Next row:  Chain 2, DC into each space.

Continue to crochet until you are happy with the width of the poncho - in my case 43 cm or 16.5 inches.

Using a crochet slip stitch, crochet the shoulder seams together until you are happy with the fit and drape.

Very simple instructions, in fact, I doubt it could be any easier.  

I chose not to double the yarn so that it crochets up quickly as I wanted a finer look to the poncho but, by all means, double or even triple the yarn for a quick project.

To finish, I chose a couple of toggle buttons with a leather look and the poncho is ready for its first outing.

It's currently 40C outside at the moment so, unfortunately, I doubt that it will be any time soon.

Happy crocheting,

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Monday, 6 January 2014

As exciting a gift as ever there was

When I was younger, there were two birthdays that were notoriously exciting in our family.  The first was turning five, because that was the age when you got your first bike.  Mine was shiny and red and wonderful and got me through until I was 10, which was the next exciting birthday when you would get bike number two.  Both of those bikes were ridden for many kilometres (helped in no small measure by the bike track at our local park and endless trips to the corner shop to buy ten cent bags of mixed lollies).  I'm quite sure though, that may latest birthday gift has travelled even further than those treasured sets of wheels.

When Louise first phoned me about the weaving loom she had discovered at her local weaving shop (you can read all about its purchase and restoration here ) I don't know which of us was the most excited and as the months ticked past and her visit to Melbourne approached, it was fantastic to Skype with Dad as he showed me how it all worked.  Naturally when Louise and her fiance Peter finally arrived in Melbourne after their journey of many thousands of kilometres, I let them rest for what must have been at least two hours before we attempted to wind the warp and begin the whole process of weaving.

My father, bless him, had not only restored the loom, but made a warping frame as well (he's rather fabulous like that) and so it was that we began winding, warping, laughing and trying desperately to come to terms with all of the vocab from the book "Learn to weave on the table loom" from Ashford.

After working out the "threading cross" and the "counting cross", "warping the loom", what to do with "cross sticks" and what seemed like a million other processes, we were finally at the stage where we could begin weaving.  Louise had rather thoughtfully put together a bag of homespun wool for me and so we were able to take yarn that she had spun and dyed and use that to make our own cloth - an immensely satisfying process.

Sadly I have run out of anything remotely usable as warping thread and so now await an important bag of bargain yarns from "Webs" - please Mr Postman, come soon!!

Happy weaving


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Friday, 3 January 2014

Double Knit Floral Cowl

Last year my son bought me 2 balls of SHIBUI sock wool in 'storm' for my birthday.  It is such lovely stuff that I decided to save the wool for just the perfect pair of socks.  I though I had found the right pattern but when I started to knit, the pooling was such that the front half of the sock was light blue and the back half was dark blue - giving the impression that I had been standing too long in the sun and they had faded.  It was something that I could not live with, so I undid it and searched for something else.

It was at this time that I decided to give double knitting a try.  I charted a pattern for some flowers and decided to jump in, head first, with a cowl.

I have always had a 'thing' for delicate blue and white plates, cups and saucers and teapots.  When Deb lived in England, she lived very close to a Spode factory outlet shop and every birthday and christmas, a little bit of Ol' England would find it's way to my display cabinet.

I noticed when I was knitting up my trial sock that the wool reminded me a great deal of the variegated blue in my spodeware so I took this as inspiration for my cowl.  

Before I could start however, I had to actually learn how to double knit and I was remarkably surprised to realise that it is nowhere near as difficult as I had though.  I watched this you-tube video  on how it was done and made a start.


50g skein sock blank

1 x 50g balls of SHIBUI sock yarn in 'Storm'.
Circular needles - 40cm long size 3.5mm
Knitting thimble (or yarn stranding guide) 


Cast on 180 stitches using the double knitting method.  ie.  you will end up with 360 stitches.  Cast on 1 blue, then 1 creme until you have 180 of each colour.  Place a stitch marker after each 45 sets (90 stiches) of cast on.  The pattern repeat of the cowl is 45 stitches and having a stitch marker in place makes counting stitches much, much easier.
A Knitting thimble helps to
organise the different colours

I also use a knitting thimble.  Much like fairisle, there can be a bit of a mess with the constant wrapping of the yarn and it can get very fiddly when dropping yarns and then picking them back up once they are wrapped.  There appears to be many methods to double knit.  I am a standard knitter and hold the yarn in my right hand (I am right handed).  I place the thimble on my right index finger and the thimble not only keeps the colours separate, but allows you to easily pick up and the knit the correct colour quite quickly.

Once you have cast on your stitches, follow the chart and then, using the double knit cast off method, cast off all the stitches and block your cowl.
(Downloadable from here)

If you would like a smaller fitting cowl, it is just a case of repeating the pattern 3 times instead of 4.

Be warned - double knitting is not the fastest way to achieve a cowl, but well worth the effort!

Happy Knitting,

More Cowls and Scarves from FitzBirch

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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...