Tuesday 24 March 2015

Free Pattern: Siobhan the Sheep Bowl

sheep crochet bowl

I promised another sheep related post after the cupcakes! A good friend of mine from University moved to Manchester last year, and I thought I should make her a house-warming gift to say welcome to the city. It wound up being very late since she moved here last summer! Her husband is Chinese, so when we were invited to celebrate the Chinese New Year with them, I thought a Sheep Bowl would be a perfect gift - fun and useful, and a nod to the time of year. She named her sheep bowl Siobhan, so that's the name of this pattern. Also I have the Shaun the Sheep theme on my brain now.

Since I decided to make a gift at the last minute, I wanted something which would be quick to do. I would have loved to make another Willow throw but I only decided on a Thursday and I needed it ready that Saturday evening. Hoooked Zpaghetti seemed to be the perfect yarn for this project - it works up extremely quickly although it can be hard work, and it's hard wearing - you can even make rugs from it.

Gauge is not important for this project, and it does actually work in lighter weight yarn and corresponding hook, though you will wind up with a very small bowl. I tried made the bowl part in worsted weight with a 3.5mm hook, and it's just about big enough for a few usb sticks for my desk at work. 

small crochet bowl

You will need: 
  • 35-45yards white hoooked zpagetti/t shirt yarn, (a little under a third of a 120m ball)
  • small amount dark grey/black zpagetti/t shirt yarn.* 
  • 9mm & 10mm crochet hooks
  • big tapestry/darning needle
  • stitch marker
  • Toy stuffing & pair of tights / scraps of fabric for stuffing
*It's possible to make your own t shirt yarn - have a look at this tutorial if you'd like to know how. You could also use super bulky 'normal' yarn or a few strands held together.

Stitches used: ch, sl st, sc, hdc, dc, trc (triple crochet), invdec (invisible decrease - put hook through front loops of next two sts, yarn over, pull through two loops, yo, pull through two loops), hdc dec (hdc decrease - yarn over, draw up loop through st, yo, draw up loop through next st, yo and pull through all five loops on hook), magic ring.
US terms are used throughout, if you prefer UK ones please use this conversion chart.

The base of the body is an oval worked in rounds. The sides of the body are worked in a continuous spiral. The initial chain is done with a smaller hook to minimise holes in the base of the bowl.

Foundation: With 9mm hook ch6. 
Change to 10mm hook

Round 1: Sc in 2nd ch from hook, sc in next 3 chs. 3 sc in last ch (crochet over the tail as you do these three sts and the rest of the first round.)
Working down the other side of the foundation chain, sc in next 3 chs, 2 scs in the last ch. Join with sl st into first sc. (12sc in total).

Round 2: Ch1, 2sc in same st, sc in next 3 sts, 2sc in next 3 sts, sc in next 3 sts, 2sc in next 2sts. Join with sl st into first sc. (18sc)

Round 3: Ch1, 2sc in same st, sc in next 4 sts, (2 sc into next st, sc into next st) three times, sc in next 3 sts, (2 sc into next st, sc into next st) twice. Join with sl st into first sc. (24sc)

Round 4: Ch1, 2sc in same st, sc in next 5 sts, (2 sc into next st, sc into next 2 sts) 3 times, sc in next 3 sts, (2 sc into next St, sc into next two Sts). Join with sl st into first sc. (30sc)

Round 5: Ch1, 2sc in same st, sc in next 6 sts, (2 sc into next st, sc into next three sts) 3 times, sc in next 3 sts, (2sc into next st, sc into next three sts. Join with sl st into first sc.(36sc)

The base should look something like this (but bear in mind I crochet left handed!):

bowl base

Round 6: Ch1. In back loops only, (2 hdc into st, hdc in next 11 sts) three times (39hdc)
Do not join.

Round 7: In both loops, hdc into first hdc of previous round & place marker into st just made, 5 hdc, (2hdc into next st, hdc in next 12 sts) twice, 2hdc into next st, 6 hdcs (42hdc)

Round 8: (2hdc into st, hdc in next 13 sts) three times (45hdc)

Rounds 9,10: hdc in each st around. Keep moving marker up a row to keep track of where rows begin and end. (45hdc)

Round 11: (hdc dec, 13 hdcs) three times. (42hdc)

Round 12: 6hdc, (hdc dec, 12hdcs) twice, hdc dec, 6hdc. Join with sl st into first hdc of round. (39hdc)

Round 13: Sl st in each St around. Bind off and weave in ends.

crochet bowl

Use 9mm hook to make this tight, if you can - it's hard work! The head is worked in spirals - don't join at the end of each round, but use a stitch marker to keep track of the first stitch in each round.

Round 1: 6sc in magic ring.

Round 2: 2sc into each st around.

Round 3: (2sc into st, sc into next 3 sts) three times.

Round 4: (2sc into st, sc into next 4 sts) three times.

Round 5: (2sc into st, sc into next 5 sts) three times.

Round 6: Sc in each st around.

Round 7: (Invdec, sc into next 5 sts) three times. Bind off, leaving a long tail to sew it to the body. 

crochet sheep head in progress
just before binding off

Sew the eyes onto the head with white yarn.
Here is how I did it, but feel free to use a different method.
1: Draw your yarn through a gap in the head with your needle.

2: Create a knot.

3. Pull knot tight

4: knot loose end underneath the knot.

5. Pull tight and draw yarn back through the same hole.

6. Secure the ends into the head on the inside to anchor the eye securely (so it can't be pulled through), and trim excess yarn.

7. All done!
yes that is one of my cats in the background.

Ears (make 2)
Using 9mm hook:
Make magic ring
Round 1: Ch 3, tc 6 times into ring. Pull ring tight and bind off, leaving a tail to sew the ear onto the head. Sew in other end.

crochet sheep ear

Using 9mm hook, working in spirals:
Round 1: 6sc into magic ring 

Round 2: 2sc in each st around

Round 3: Sc in each st around

Round 4: invdec in each st around & bind off, leaving a tail to sew to the body.

crochet sheep tail


First stuff the head. I cut off the foot from a cheap pair of black tights, and stuffed regular toy stuffing into it. Then I tied a little knot in the end and stuffed it into the head. This way the tights show up in the gaps between stitches, which looks better, and the stuffing can't come out. You could also use scraps of fabric to stuff the head.

The stuffed head.
Then sew the ears to the top edge of the head.

Stuff the tail with a few scraps of tights/fabric. It doesn't need much.

Finally sew the head and ears to the top of one side of the body, and the tail to the bottom of the other. (See the picture at the top of the post). Weave in ends and then you're done! Your Siobhan is ready to hold your trinkets :)

crochet sheep bowl facing forward

Sunday 22 March 2015

What I baked: Sheep Cupcakes

sheep cupcakes closeup

Two weeks ago, my next door neighbour asked me if I could make sheep cupcakes for their church. I had never thought about sheep as a thing you could have in cupcake form before, but why not? I find it hard to resist a challenge!

Of course my first port of call for something like this is Pinterest. I really had no idea what a sheep cupcake could possibly look like, but looking at the pictures, I was happy to see that there were a lot of options that looked do-able. I enjoy piping buttercream, but I know I wouldn't be able to do it in a wool-like manner, so mini-marshmallows seemed to be the better option.

sheep cupcakes

I didn't take any photographs while I made these so it isn't going to be a tutorial, but I made the eyes first, by making small balls of white fondant icing and even smaller balls of black and sticking them together with a little water. Then I made blobs for black fondant for the sheep faces, squeezing one side a little flatter and then sticking the eyes in, sticking with water again. I made the ears by rolling out a sausage of black fondant icing.

The cupcakes are coffee flavour (following the linked recipe but without the espresso syrup), with white chocolate buttercream, as requested by my neighbour. I spooned the buttercream on to the cake, pressed in a sheep face, then stuck in mini marshmallows in the rest of the buttercream.

 I'm so pleased about how they came out because I'm really not good at making things like this with my fingers - fimo clay is largely wasted on me. But although they look a bit crazy and did take me a long time to do (the sheep faces took about three hours but I was watching Supernatural on TV at the same time!), they were well worth it.

sheep cupcake with marshmallow wool

Should I make some too? I'm sure like me you've seen a lot of Pinterest fails, but this definitely qualifies as a Pinterest win. These would be great for a farm theme party or for an Easter or spring lamb theme. Also they tasted pretty good, even if I do say so myself!

Look out for a sheep related crochet pattern coming up on my blog soon...

Tuesday 17 March 2015

How I pick out patterns

So far, nearly all the items I've blogged about making have been successful, and I would recommend you try those specific patterns if you're interested in making similar things. However, I don't want you to think when reading my blog that I'm just saying nice things so that everyone likes me. I thought I could counter this by sharing a few fails, but, other than projects that are hibernating because I got bored of them or needed to do something else more urgently, I don't actually have all that many full on fails, and for those that didn't work out as well as I hoped, the pattern isn't usually to blame.

Instead I thought I'd share my process on picking a pattern and how I try to avoid fails as early on in the process as possible.

I find almost all the patterns I use on Ravelry. I have two major processes for starting projects - either I want to give someone a specific thing, or I have some nice yarn and want to find something to make to show it off.

I have two main principles for picking patterns - find something that's well written, and find something that works for me.

crochet baby blanket

Finding something well-written

Pictured above is something that could have been a fail - the spiral baby blanket I made for my youngest niece when she was born. The middle of this blanket was really difficult to do and I don't think I ever really got it right, but I got it working well enough that I could continue to make the rest of the blanket. My niece is two and a half now, and I'm a more experienced crocheter. I would still say this pattern is worth trying if you're a little more experienced, because the tricky bit is right at the beginning, so you can frog and do something else without losing a lot of work, and the finished object got a lot of compliments and is still in use albeit as a throw as my niece has grown out of it.

I could have avoided the angst if I wanted though - other people had made this project and also had problems getting started. There are many projects for it on Ravelry, and several of them have described their difficulties. I knew what I was getting into, to an extent. 

When I pick patterns I pay attention to:
  • Photos, their quality and number - do you have pictures of the back? of all sides? if the designer hasn't posted any, there may be some in the projects. They don't have to be super artistic, just clearly showing what the finished project should look like.
  • Projects and comments - have other people made this? Are their results good? For example, if I wanted to make a circular blanket, I would avoid one that no one had been able to get flat (if they're using the hook/yarn weight combo recommended). If no one else's project looks good, the chances are mine wouldn't either.
  • Reputation - if there's a new pattern you'd like to try, and especially if it's one you'd have to pay for, has the author published other patterns that people have liked? If they have then it's worth taking the risk.
If someone's charging $5 for a pattern for which they've provided one small photo and no one else has made it, I'm not going to be the first. But if there are several pictures by the artist, showing the pattern in different yarns, I'm happy to take the risk.

folded crochet blanket

Finding what works for me

The classic baby blanket was my real fail, but that wasn't the pattern's fault, it was all mine. The pattern calls for worsted weight yarn. I would have liked to use wool, but the daughter of the person I made it for is allergic, so I thought it was likely her new baby may be allergic too. I didn't want to use acrylic, and the pattern recommends cotton, but I couldn't easily get an appropriate cotton worsted at the time so I used double knitting weight instead. I used a smaller hook to make up for it but not small enough, and the dk I wound up using was bamboo cotton and was on the light side of dk.

My first struggle was getting an appropriate tension on my beginning chain - using the same size hook as for the rest of the body left it much too tight. After I thought I fixed that, I carried on crocheting and got a long way on the blanket, only to find that it was no longer rectangular - it had gradually got wider despite my best efforts.

Finally, wet-blocking it made the rib texture completely fall out. It was lovely and drape-y because of the bamboo in the yarn, but it wasn't remotely how I had pictured it from the pattern. Because it was cotton/bamboo, I wasn't even able to block it to be properly rectangular, as you can tell from the picture above - the edges were as even as I could make them, but not all that even.

Happily, the person I made it for, not having preconceived notions of what it should have looked like, was very happy with it, and she was very appreciative of the time and care I had put into making something for her, regardless of the outcome. And I learned a lot from it too. For example I learned that I find making blankets in that style stressful, and I'd rather make granny squares or circular blankets, because the errors tend to get distributed more evenly and the final results are better.

When picking patterns I try to:
  • Look for patterns that suit my style. I enjoy things that don't require a lot of counting or loads of concentration, because I like to crochet in front of the tv and I find counting stressful. I also find sewing lots of pieces together in amigurumi stressful too. Your style may be different, and it's always worth trying new things, but I can look at some patterns and say, no, that's not for me.
  • Have examples similar to what I'd like to do. I went wrong on the classic baby blanket because I used the wrong hook/yarn weight combo. I should have looked more carefully at what other people were doing, and thought more carefully about how the characteristics of the yarn I chose would work with the pattern. Looking through other people's projects is a great way of finding combinations that work well, and things to avoid.
  • Not be afraid to change things. If a pattern starts with a huge number of chains and then a plain row of dcs, for example, I switch out for a foundation dc row. Or if it says make 6 sts into the second chain, I will substitute a magic ring. I prefer both of those techniques, and in most cases it won't make a difference to the finished item.
Know when to quit
It's good to give a tough pattern a chance, but it's important to know when something is proving to be more trouble than it's worth. It may be you, it may be the pattern, but time is limited and there's no point wasting it if you hate what you're doing.

crochet lace scarf

For example, the first time I tried the flowering clematis scarf, I used really pretty Noro yarn (silk garden I think) that just didn't work for me with the pattern, and I thought it looked horrible. Rather than finish I frogged it and tried again with a much more appropriate yarn.

Share your results
If you make something and it works out well, or if you make something and it doesn't work out but you know why, share. Blog it, make a project on Ravelry - you'll be helping the next person who comes along. Plus it's always nice to have a little show-off from time to time!

Wednesday 11 March 2015

What I made: Lara Doll and Dress

 crochet dress and amigurumi doll

Hello. My name is Joanna, and I am sewing-machine phobic. When I was a young, my mum told me she did really well at her sewing classes at school by basically having her teacher do it, and when I tried using a sewing machine in school textiles classes it felt dangerous and out of control, and I managed to get my teacher to do a lot for me too.

This was all fine and dandy until I thought it would be a nice idea to make a gift for my niece, and a friend of mine suggested making her a dress, and a doll wearing a matching dress.

crochet dress

 The dress pattern is called Beautiful Red Dress by Janette Williams on The Green Dragonfly blog. The nice thing about this pattern is that the skirt is really really simple - the most basic A-line you can get, perfect for someone like me who is a complete beginner. But it's also a very flexible pattern, and would be easy to make to fit practically any size. You can see from the picture above my sewing was far from perfect, but it did the job and my niece loved it. She called it her princess dress! I followed the pattern as given for the top part of the dress too but with a smaller hook because I was making it for a smaller child. You can see details of yarn etc. on my Ravelry project page.

crochet dress closeup with buttons
I discovered a new love when I made this: self cover buttons. If you don't know, they're metal or plastic buttons you get in pieces, and you wrap them in fabric, then clip them together and you have a button covered with the fabric you choose. It's a perfect way to make matching buttons for anything, or for custom accessories like hair clips etc. One thing I did find though was that following the instructions on the back of the packet didn't always work - I eventually found a tutorial like this which worked much better.

doll elara amigurumi
The doll for me was a lot easier! The pattern is Doll Elara by Jana Ganseforth. I named this doll Lara. It's such a cute pattern - I spent a long time looking at different dolls and this was my favourite by a long way. I didn't make the dress on the pattern, though; I used the same pattern as for my niece's dress. I guess that shows exactly how flexible it is! I used another cover button to make her hair ornament. I did use safety eyes for this even though it was for a two year old because I knew my niece would be supervised playing with Lara, and even if the worst happened and the eyes broke, it would be all right. But if you're concerned, don't use plastic eyes, just embroider them instead. The only thing I found hard about the doll was the hair - it took me a couple of tries to get it just right. But the tutorial is very clear, I think my problems were more from me not taking enough care.

I did make a hair clip for my niece as well, but it was a bit heavy and didn't work too well in her hair. I think I'll leave it until she's six or so until I try again.

Should I make one? Yes. A doll and dress combo is sure to be a winner, and you can make them as girly or not as you like by your choice of fabric. You can get something worthwhile out of the dress pattern even if you are completely hopeless at sewing like I am. Definitely worth spending the time for a little girl you care about!

Friday 6 March 2015

What I made: Willow and Anya throws

circular lace crochet throw

Who couldn't love patterns named after Buffy the Vampire slayer characters? You can never watch that show too much; I frequently find myself losing hours at a time crocheting and watching it on TV. Willow is the character I identify with most too - she works hard, she's bright, but she's not all sweetness and light.

I crocheted the Willow (Doily Blanket) by Lisa Gutierrez as a goodbye present for a friend who was moving to London. I had had my eye on the pattern for a while, and I was really pleased to have a reason to make it, but sorry that I was losing a friend to the Big Smoke.

crochet lace

Making this pattern lived up to my expectations. It was the first time I'd done anything really lacy - I find the idea of crocheting with cotton and tiny hooks intimidating, though I do now have a 1mm hook so maybe I will try one of these days.  I really enjoyed the way that every row added something new to the design. It was mostly pretty easy to do but frustrating at times since because it's in rounds, so unless you're very careful (something which I try to be but fail at quite often) you only find the error you make a round later, leading to a lot of frogging and re-doing, especially towards the end.

crochet lace fan edging

The edging on this throw was so pretty, even though it took a long time to do - there are a lot of stitches there. Circular things always start really quickly but the last rounds can seem endless. But this pattern really held my attention to the end.

The only sad part about it was having to give it to someone I wasn't going to see for a long time. Still, there's always facebook.

You can see details about which yarn and hook I used on my Willow Project page on Ravelry.

Anya Throw
crochet lace throw

After making the Willow throw, I was looking for an opportunity to make the Anya throw by the same designer. I really wanted to make them for my own home, but my two cats made me think that this would be a terrible idea. They've ruined about five throws that I've bought so far with their little claws, and I know that they would probably destroy all my hard work. And it took forever for anyone I knew to move house! So frustrating. But finally a friend of mine moved out of a flat into a house, so I immediately bought wool for a house-warming present.

crochet lace fabric
Anya, probably true to the character on Buffy, was harder work! This throw is bigger, and therefore took longer than I was anticipating, since I had the memory of the fast progress I made on Willow in my mind. On the other hand, I think I made fewer mistakes on this one, so it was easier in that respect.
crochet lace picot edging

The edging on Anya is understated but elegant. I don't think you can really go wrong with picots.

crochet throw over the back of a sofa

I wasn't sure what furniture belonged to my friend and what belonged to her flat when she moved, so I had no idea about her décor. So I was delighted by how happy she was with her throw, and how good the neutral cream colour looked on her dark blue sofa. One of these days I'm going to make a Willow throw to go on her other sofa!

Should I make one too? These make great gifts, but probably not if your recipients have pets. They also wouldn't go with a more modern décor, but they're pretty flexible other than that. Willow is quicker than Anya to make.