Wednesday, 31 May 2006

back tack home!

I've been holding off on posting anything about my back tack adventures because I'm just hopeless at the teaser thing. I'm trying to learn (see post below on knit project 2), but really I was nervous I'd let too much out of the bag or not enough, or something. But today my back tack buddy let me know my softie had arrived so I'm free to blab all I want.

So here's the wabbit. I can't remember a time I agonised over a softie like I did with this one. I agonised over the pattern, the fabric, the clothing, which additional went on and on and on. Pathetic!

And the root of all this anxiety is the incredible legacy of back tack. I first caught sight of back tack in the middle of wave 2 last year and I was so utterly gutted I was too late to join in that I have been in hyper anticipation of back tack 3 ever since. I so wanted to join in and I so wanted to make a really really good softie.

I had this B&W hatch fabric in mind from the very start, to me it is the essence of B&Wness. But it's not the kind of fabric I usually use for softies, I'm more a felt and knit chick. But a pure white it is pretty hard to come by in good felt. So I was wavering.

And add to that the whole pattern thing. In the start I was really keen on trying a new pattern, but I kept coming back to some of my favourites and wondering how important was it to go with the flow, to join in the uniformity? I figured the whole point was to join in so it would do me good to limit myself to one of the supplied patterns.

I decided early on I wasn't going with pointy kitty, I figured it wasn't my kind of softie. Love the pattern, just not me I thought. [Although last week whilst sitting in a restaurant I glanced across and saw a pointy kitty on the table next to us. Yep, you guessed it - a fellow back tacker out to dinner! Hi Osci Bear. And I LOVE pointy kitty and can't imagine why I didn't think it was me. I'm making her now Hilary!].

And I flip flopped for weeks before settling on the BHG rabbit. At first I was a bit perturbed about the proportions on the finished critter - the feet and arms were so much bigger than I expected and the head so much smaller. And the fabric I used was so thick and stiff that there were a few moments there I was thinking I had really stuffed it. So to speak.

So I decided to go with the freaky proportions thing and give wabbit some chunky big shoes and a long coat, sort of 70s style.

So I ended up a very long way from where I thought I was headed and I think that's a good thing. One of the strongest recommendations for participating in a great community event like back tack is the way it encourages you to do things differently, to try something new, to operate within constraints you normally ignore.

So thanks Nicole and Alison for your wonderful ideas, your organising, your presistence and your encouragement of connecting us crafters. Where do I sign up for Back Tack 4?

Tuesday, 30 May 2006

sneak peek II and the trials of being 3

Now can you guess what I'm becoming? It's not a sock or foot related item, sorry to the guessers so far!

Amy is really struggling with the frustrations of injustice. She's only recently moved on from sadness and withdrawl as a response to cruelty and unfairness to hitting back. She can't see why a wrong can't be met with another wrong. Her favourite revenge is spitting at people (charming) and saying "I don't care" through a veil of tears.

But she does care - her tears and anger betray just how much she cares about righting wrongs and making things fair.

I really feel for her, it's a darn hard lesson to learn that it isn't OK to take an eye for an eye, that no matter how wrong the other person it, it's never nice to do bad things yourself. Most of us never learn it really, and we're so busy shouting at and abusing all the idiots out there we don't have time to reflect on why our kids do the same.

Man, it's hard being 3.

Saturday, 27 May 2006

outrage and indignation

Wow am I bummed.

Our government recently made some really scary and awful legislative changes to Australia's industrial relations system. In a nutshell they did a u-turn on Australia's long history of worker's rights and unionisation by eliminiating our award and safety net system.

What this means is that where once workers had a basic expectation and entitlement to a decent wage and working conditions like holidays, breaks, sick pay, maximum shift lengths, job security and so on, they now have to negotiate their conditions directly with their emplyer as individuals. You know, divide and steamroller.

The debate around these law changes have been for many people a bit abstract. Lots of people thought it wouldn't make much of a difference. Lots of people thought it would be better for employers and the same for employees. But lots and lots and lots of people were worried it would be worse for employees.

Now we're beginning to see the results. Some people have summarily lost their jobs, others have lost money out of their pay packets or conditions that once made their jobs manageable, like flexible hours to fit in with kids or some control over their shifts and overtime. It's pretty grim, especially for lower paid, less 'irreplaceable' workers.

The debate just got really personal for me not as a worker, but a consumer. Like lots of aussie crafters I spend a fair whack of time and dollars at Spotlight, our crafitng superstore. There's one really close to my home and it's my store of choice for fabric, basic yarns, and a good portion of my craft supplies. The store is great on prices, even if it's a bit chaotic and over utilised. Getting a pram down the aisles can be an impossibility and the wait at the check out can be frustrating.

But I am really horrified to learn that the guys who run the store have just completely done over their workers. I am really really disappointed and sad because I've seen how hard their workers work, how understaffed and overextended they are, and how helpful they have been to me. And now their bosses are telling them they are worth less than they used to be, because the government has removed impediments to their wage reduction they have siezed the opportunity and done just that!

So I'm going to be going out of my way to take my business elsewhere, and to encourage everyone I know to avoid them in favour of other businesses. It's a real challenge because they are for many of us the only option for lots of things, and they are really close to my house and I don't drive. But I want those guys to know I don't want to do business with them anymore.

**Edited later - thanks for all that good feeling solidarity! It's really encouraging to see that others are prepared to go the extra mile - literally - to do the right thing by their fellow workers and to support small local businesses. Good on you all!! Also thanks Fiona for leaving the link to the ACTU Spotlight campaign where you can leave a message for Spotlight's owners letting them know you are taking your dollars elsewhere and why. Please take the time to stop in here and give these guys a little insight into how their chase for profits at the expanse of their employees may land them in the red.

Friday, 26 May 2006


Can you guess what I'm going to be?

Part of what I love about knitting, when you aren't counting stitches and rows and doing complicated bits, is the rhythmic meditative thing. In summer I like swimming laps for the same reason. It gives me a chance to feel like I'm doing something constructive, but still makes time for my mind to wonder over things that I haven't fully processed.

I don't know how to express some of the stuff I've been thinking about - when I try and write it I come off all facile or preachy, neither of which reflects what's going through my mind. It's far more profound, for sure! But it frustrates me that there is a whole undercurrent of interesting stuff that goes on in life that I don't blog about because it's not pictures or stuff I did or unequivocally affirming.

In fact the relationship is almost inverse - the deeper in thought I get about complex stuff the more I feel unable to write about things and the more I resort to simple posts about the stuff I've made or seen or done. The stuff I can take pictures of. The stuff I feel is not going to upset anyone or be misinterpreted. So forgive me if I press on regardless.

I mean I have no trouble having an opinion, if you want to hear my views on the situation of Australia's indigenous people, the fall-outs of capitalism and neo-conservatism, or the hideously conflicted set of public policies our current government has on women and families I would be only too happy to oblige. I don't much mind if you don't agree, in politics we won't all see things the same way.

But I don't really see the point of oppositionalism. I can get fired up for sure, but in the main I try to be more interested in seeing problems solved than deciding whose fault they are, mostly because as soon as you start pointing fingers solutions tend to slip away. Especially if you take to assuming that people who think or feel differently to you are stupid or thoughtless or ignorant or selfish or just plain wrong.

It's tempting to do this especially with people whose views are radically different to your own and for many of us it becomes a way of life. The idiot who cuts us off in traffic deserves to be yelled at, the thoughtless person who makes an insensitive remark should have known better, the evil politician we can't support should be derided, the betrayal of a friend who didn't support our point of view should not be forgotten. We react to the things that happen around us as though our own point of view should be everyone's reference or base line. As though what is obvious to us should be obvious to everyone.

But of course it isn't, and neither should we expect it to be. No one has had our lives, our experiences, our thoughts. And let's be honest, our own views can change, sometimes swiftly and for reasons to do with something completely else! Especially at times of heightened emotion, reading someone else can be a tricky business indeed. Look at the trials of adolescence - despite the frustrations we might have with a particular teenager, doesn't the fact that pretty much most teenagers exhibit the same behaviours tell us that there's more at work than what we can see? Human diversity and pluralism are not neat or easy, but are valuable and important and inevitable.

There's a lot of much richer pop psychologists out there than me, but more than one of them has harped on about the benefits of trying to understand someone or something before we react against them. Because stewing over something or blowing up about it do nothing to benefit anyone. Anger is not the only response open to us in the face of the inexplicable, the confusing, the sad or the challenging and most likely its the one least likely to resolve the situation.

I think most of us know this, and most of us probably think we practice it - so why do I see so many people who are so angry, so hurt, so upset by other people? Why do we so often assume the worst of others and their motives, intentions or levels of care for each other? Why do I hear people say things like, "they said it just to upset me" or "how could they have been so rude as to say that" when so often it could just be a misunderstanding.

It seems to me there's a quantum leap to go from recognising that something someone said upset you, to assuming it was their fault that it had that effect on you and nothing to do with you that you reacted that way. Or even worse, that they said it with the intention of upsetting you.

The first is the bump and rub of human relationships, a confrontation between my values or manners or beliefs or behaviours and those of others, and far from being someone's fault it should be entirely expected.

But to blame someone for my reaction to their difference, or worse to assume their malicious intent, seems like something of a dangerous leap. And what could be expected to come from that? Do we think that our sense of righteous indignation will somehow persuade them to apologise for being who they are, for thinking what they thought, for an honest mistake now cast as a malicious act?

Do we think that once offended we are entitled to criticise, to yell, to hurt, to stew and boil, to behave badly? Because it seems this is how things escalate all too often. No time to find out how that person might react on hearing we're offended, no time to pause and ask ourselves if we want to be that angry person or we just want to let it pass. No bigger picture.

Why do we do it? Why do we get sucked into that vortex of anger and criticism and second guessing and assuming the worst of each other? And if you think I'm overstating things just keep an eye out for it. Look at the person who has to wait in a queue at the bank, or who loses a spot in a car park they thought they had or who reacts badly to a discussion of mothering choices. Look at how quickly a petty frustration or difference of opinion brings out their worst.

So my challenge this week is not to bite. To try each and every time I am feeling bent out of shape to put myself in the other person's shoes and try and understand what's going on. To consciously choose to assume there's a good reason for whatever is going on and no bad intent, to accept any genuine misfortune as just that and move on. I'm going to try.

And if you stuck with me through this whole post I'm really impressed and I hope it wasn't too...too...too much.

Wednesday, 24 May 2006

I am lovin'

Henrietta. She was a labour of love, being the world's most complicated knitted toy and all, but I am pleased to say I think the degree of difficulty is evident in her finely sculpted form.

She's got 9 different body parts (not counting the end of her nose) and 3 garments (which is more than I can manage some days and you can forget about colour coordination).

She is also my first toy to feature plastic joints (count 'em there's 5), which I am pretty ambivalent about. Amy is dead impressed Henrietta can turn her arms and legs and head all the way round, so I guess it isn't all bad, but you just can't cuddle like you can with a squishy toy.

I've already started knitted critter two, but you'll have to stay tuned for details.

I am also kind of obsessed with these acorn type things that are all over the ground in a nearby park. There's something about their stripes and colours that strikes me as totally surreal. I sound like I'm tripping don't I? I could stare at them all day, wondering about the way each one is different to the last and yet so utterly acornish.

There are a few of nature's gifts that do in my head like this - the flowers on the passionfruit vine are another. Their form and colour is so incredibly complex, so mathmatical and precise and yet each one is slightly different, slightly off. It just seems like they are too amazing and perfect to be made in their thousands by a bunch of pant genes, by accident. Yeah I know I sound like a nutter but I can so easily get lost in these contemplations. Do you?

And the gorgeous Amy sent me these for no good reason at all except that she wanted to go spreadin' some love. Isn't she just the best? The striped bag has been carrying Henrietta-in-the-making around and now has my new project in it. I just love the fabric to bits. And the coaster is on my desk keeping my mug from leaving yet another grubby ring on some important piece of paperwork. Some great colours! Thanks so much Amy you are too too kind!

The last whiplash has finished for round 1 and I am really disappointed with myself for not entering any. I just felt, well, kind of intimidated about it. I know that's silly, but it all seemed so scary and hard. I seem to spend my life telling other people not to be intimidated and to just give things a go and here I am confessing to craft-fright. I can hardly believe it! Now I'll just go over and stand in the silly-billy corner.

Friday, 19 May 2006

wonky girl

I was pretty happy with Juliette earlier in the week, but a second creation from my new book is thrilling me even more.

The pattern is asymetrical in quite a few places, so the wonk factor looks pretty convincing rather than contrived, which is also a great relief to a sewer in a hurry.

She's got a cotton interlock skin, a wool felt dress, face and flower details and is stuffed with wool.

I love the way her arms can be crossed! Why does this please me so?

She's headed off as part of a flower themed swap, is a flower motif dress qualification enough? I hope she's enjoyed in her new home. When you are that wonky you need a lot of lovin'.

I'm off tonight for a fundraiser for Amy's kinder. There's a cannon digi cam up as a prize and I'm all crossed I get it - wouldn't that be cool?

Of course it's much more likely I'll drink too much, make an idiot of myself and end up with a piece of rubber poo as a booby prize. Ah well, these are the things you do for your kids. I hope.

I'm taking my knitting because you never know if there will be some quiet time and I am so terribly keen to finish the world's most complicated knitted toy.

I'm onto the pants and jumper after nearly killing myself attempting to understand the vague make-up instructions for the pig itself. I unpicked so much of the sewing I actually accidentally unpicked some of the knitting itself. I almost cried with frustration.

I had to google how to use plastic joints since neither the pattern nor the joints themselves came with instructions (why is that??) and my confidence was so cut to shreds I wasn't prepared to go with the obvious. Of course, the obvious was exactly what it was.

I expect the pig's clothing to be simpler. Maybe I'm dreaming. I'm looking forward to posting pics and saying DONE!

Wednesday, 17 May 2006



If you have been stuck for an idea whilst entertaining a child.

If you've ever been rained in and need to be shaken out of a funk.

If you want to be craftier with kids but can't get age appropriate.

If you've always liked Loobylu and would like to see her new stuff.

I have no need to say more. Go. See. Do.

how to host a crafting get away

I've been asked for advice on organising craft get-togethers and though I do not consider myself an expert I am always willing to do what I can to get craft happening! It wasn't much work to organise our recent retreat and I am already keen to be there again. Email me if you are in or near Melbourne and want to be kept informed.

So for what it's worth here's what we did:
  1. Find a possible venue. Think space! The place we had (located by the ever crafty Cath) had a big dining room and living room that were joined, so there was plenty of space. We were able to spread out and because there was also a big table in the kitchen we didn't need to pack stuff up for meals. We had 4 sewing machines and an overlocker so we had a sewing table and a cutting table. There was also couches and armchairs for knitters, hand sewers and embroiderers. There were 5 bedrooms and a couple of people shared big double beds because they already knew each other and were fine about that. Good to check this out with potential people when matching beds to numbers. A well kitted kitchen helps if there are foodies on board (there was) and you want to eat well. Walks were also encouraged by the lovely scenery and gorgeous garden around the venue. Although totally unplanned, the crappy mobile reception no doubt helped some mums not get sucked into domestic affairs long distance! Also important to try and keep costs down, and not require too much driving.
  2. Draft up some possible dates that work for the venue, you and don't clash with school holidays or other big events that affect lots of people. Remember you need a LOT of lead time. 2 or 3 months might seem excessive, but can melt away before you know it. You are much more likely to get people if you give them plenty of notice. It also gives you more opportunities for word of mouth etc.
  3. Work out what boundaries you want around activities. We opted for a totally unstructured inclusive model - anyone who wanted to come was welcome. As a result we had a dazzling array of craft activities. You may, however feel that space or time constraints make a specific orientation better - knitting or sewing or doll-making or felting for example. You might also feel like you want a certain level of expertise, so everyone could get on with their own stuff, though I personally loved the diversity of absolute beginners to total pros. You might also want to consider a workshop format where everyone or some people run sessions to teach other people something specific. We toyed with this but ultimately abandoned structure. In practice there was a fair bit of teaching and learning going on though.
  4. Get together an email list of people who might be interested, or who might know someone who is interested. Then write a really enticing email, post on your blog and in any other forums you have access to - like the window of your favourite craft shop. Talk a bit about the venue and how fabulous it is, be clear about potential dates and a timeframe for deciding between potential dates. If you are going for an inclusive model reassure people that this is not a professionals deal, that everyone is more than welcome and willing to work with beginners on projects. Tell people about cost, including when you need a commitment and deposit by (we took 50% because the venue required that at the time of booking), how people are going to get the money to you, and any aspects which aren't negotiable. For us you had to pay for both nights even if you couldn't get down till Saturday morning because that was how the booking worked, you had to be prepared to contribute to communal meals and share bedrooms and you couldn't bring kids.
  5. Once you have your minimum number you are good to go on the finer organisational points. Book your venue. If you reach your maximum number make sure to inform people that bookings are now closed. Offer to keep a waiting list if there are people who missed out. Someone always cancels.
  6. Get an email or contact list for everyone and try and keep of track of any specific bits like anyone who is vegetarian or doesn't drive or is an absolute beginner or who won't share a bedroom because they snore or whatever.
  7. Put together a roster for meals. Keep asking about food and drink allergies or issues - I asked about 5 times before 2 people mentioned they didn't eat meat! I asked for volunteers for each meal (1 person for each breakfast, 2 people for each lunch and 3 for the evening feast), as well as someone to pick up the in between bits - tea, coffee, milk, butter, sugar etc. Everyone was encouraged to contribute any other bits they felt so inclined - cakes, biscuits, fruit, drinks and any other snacks. That all worked smoothly though surprisingly (not) we had a total excess of food and drink. If anyone felt unhappy about how the provisioning worked out they hid it well. We didn't allocate bedrooms - first in first serve was our intricate plan!
  8. We also car pooled because it's a disgraceful waste of resources to have everyone bring their own cars and because some people were not in a position to drive, so we helped connect drivers and non-drivers. Provide details about the venue and how to find it at the beginning and again close to the time. Everyone deletes the earlier stuff and asks for it again.
  9. Provide opportunities for people to get to know each other beforehand, even if only by email. I posted an email to everyone of what I was planning on doing, what crafts I knew about and didn't, and what I was prepared to teach others if they wanted. Only a couple of others did this so perhaps it wasn't necessary. Who knows.
  10. Relax and enjoy yourself. Aside from Cath needing to collect the final payments to pay the balance to the venue, and me making sure the place was tidy and locked before we left, there really wasn't anything else. Everyone was refreshingly grown-up and self-sufficient.
  11. Start planning the next one while you are all still together if you want it to be a rolling affair. If you've got a keen group, you might even rotate who does the organising and venue finding.
  12. Send me an email or post to let me know you are doing it!!

Monday, 15 May 2006

romeo and ....

I couldn't help myself. I spent the last part of mothers day kitting up Juliette, since she didn't require the ever ellusive stuffing beans. I'm liking this book. Lots. Quick, simple patterns with good detail. Expect to see more.

And thanks commenters - there seems to be some kind of weird problem going on in my comments page - sorry if I haven't responded to your comment! It always frustrates the hell out of me that I don't get your email addresses when you leave a comment, and often there isn't an email contact on your blog site either, but I do love comments, especially when they tell me you're still tuned in, or lead me to a new blog. So thanks guys, I'll try and answer you as often as I'm able.

**Added later - thanks for the comments about Juliette! For those who were interested in the technical notes, her skin in machine sewn cotton interlock (T-shirt material), her dress is hand stitched lycra, she's stuffed with wool and her face details are made from wool felt. I chose the materials based entirely on what I had on hand. I have sewn toy skins in lycra, and may well have done this one in lycra if that's what I'd had lying around, though sometimes (depending on the pattern) the stretch can distort the shape a bit. These patterns are designed for stretch though, so it would probably be OK. I really recommend the book if you are into toys made from stretch fabrics.

Sunday, 14 May 2006

happy mother's day

Vegemite toast and tea in bed, 2 cards handmade by an enthusiastic 3 year old and a Japanese crafting book from a very thoughtful guy. Oh and half a dozen Haighs chocky frogs. It's pretty good being a mum.

I am busting to make some of these fellers. The whole book is for knit fabrics so it's right up my alley. I love pretty much every pattern in this book, which is something of a rarity for a pattern book. I really wish I could read the technique section, which looks like it has lots of really useful advice. If I had some stuffing beans I'd be stuffing right now... and if the bedroom where I sew wasn't so darn cold.

And to all the other mums out there who get to celebrate mum's day today (Australia only I think?) congratulations. I hope you get a chance to reflect today on all the great bits about being a mother. A chance to celebrate your mother for getting you this far, to celebrate your own skills, patience, persistence and love in keeping your youngsters alive and in the world. And hopefully staying more or less sane in the process.

And here's a picture of my latest attempt at something way too complex for my skill level. It's from a book of sewing, knitting, embroidering and applique gifts for babies by the Australian Women's Weekly.

Ang, my knitting instructress thinks this pattern is overly complicated and she might be right, but I'm kind of enjoying (in a masochistic kind of way) the challenge of so many illogical increase/decrease patterns. It has jointed limbs, which will be another first for me and not at all in keeping with my general philosophy that soft toys should be entirely soft, but I'm enjoying surrendering to someone else's pattern for once.

I just love the way this pig looks in the picture and I am hoping it's adorable look is directly related to the degree of difficulty in the pattern. Either that or I'm the butt of someone's very unfunny joke.

Making this guy has provoked a lot of thoughts for me, thoughts about knitting and knitted toys and making things that are really complicated, and following patterns instead of your nose. First and foremost I think I am enjoying the delicate balance between a steep learning curve and yet not feeling completely overwhelmed. The pattern is hard, but there isn't anything in it (so far) that is beyond me. I'm really enjoying doing something quite different from my usual repertoire.

I've always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with knitted toys. I love the idea of them, their handmadeness, their domesticality, their imaginativeness. At the same time so many seem really disappointing in their execution. Poor colour choices, loose, sloppy stitches, cheap acrylic yarns, ugly increase and decrease markings,stuffing poking through. I feel ashamed of being so critical of them, since I applaud all crafting efforts as a blow against the mass produced plastic world our kids grow up in. Maybe I had a bad experience as I kid that I have since repressed, something scary and awful that's put me off.

Anyway, when I saw this pig I thought it just might be the pattern to bring me round. To embrace my inner toy knitter and overcome my fear of complicated knitting patterns. And get more crafting mileage out of trips in the car and time on the couch. And to get me over the hats. I really need to get over knitting hats. And it's going so well that Ang and I are planning a series of projects on the knitting toy front. After the pig there is a fantastic book of Aussie animals to knit, which excites me a lot since the animals Amy sees when we camp and go bush never seem to make it to her toy box. So hopefully there'll be a piggy here in a few days and a steady stream of wombats, possums, penguins and the like to follow. Here's hoping this post doesn't put the mozz on me.

Thursday, 11 May 2006

cake o'clock

I was in two minds about posting a picture of this - it looks totally ordinary. But as I was tucking into my second piece for morning tea (oops) I was thinking how damn good this cake is.

I haven't made it for a while because (embarassing admission coming up) when I read the recipe I think, nah, that's too healthy. I want something really nice. You know with lots of butter and eggs and maybe some brown sugar or chocolate. something that makes you feel naughty just thinking about it.

And then every time I make it (like I did yesterday because I have an excessive amount of dried apricots at the moment) I remember all over again how great it tastes.

So read the recipe and think what you like, but I bet you anything that if you make it you will be pleasantly surprised. Oh and the other thing - it's really really quick and easy.

Super duper yum-o apricot and honey cake
Pre-heat your oven to 180oC/350oF. Don't use fan forced or the cake will be too dry. Grease a loaf tin.

Mix together:
125gms melted butter
185gms chopped dried apricots
3tbs honey (don't be stingy)
2/3 cup of milk
1 beaten egg

In a medium to large bowl sift:
1 cup self-raising flour
1 cup self raising wholemeal flour
1/3 cup raw sugar
1/2 tsp mixed spice

Make a well in the dry ingredients, pour in the apricot mixture and mix lightly. Put the batter in the loaf tin and bake for 50-60 mins. Leave in the tin for 5 mins before turning onto a wire rack to cool.

Wednesday, 10 May 2006

hats for sale

I had that book (hats for sale! hats for sale!) as a kid, and gee I loved it. Did you?

But this is not a post about books, it's a post about hats. More specifically my inexplicable obsession for knitting them. I just love it! I'm playing with the pattern each time, just to keep me on my toes.

This one is on 6mm needles (up from my usual 5), so I took the stitches down to 78. It's a bit bigger as a result, but also has more stretch. I did a rolled brim and a smaller nobble on the top, and reduced in 8s, instead of 6s and using slip stiches passed over, instead of knitted together stitches. An altogether different hat, but I really love it.

But I have run out of heads! So I've decided I need to put it up for sale. I've debated for a while about how to deal with some of my crafting excesses. I don't want to stock these in the shop as a regular thing - I can't imagine how hard it could become to keep up with demand for a million knitted hats! I feel the same way about the zoo puzzle I made a while back, which I love but which was so excessively time-consuming I am not sure I could ever make another. But like a few other things I've made, I'd like to find them good homes and pay back some of my costs.

So I've added a new shopping cart to my shop that just has one-off creations. It's a place I can show the prototypes and the things I've just made too many of. I'll post here when new stuff goes in - and I hope they sell quick so I feel totally justified in making mroe stuff ;-)

Tuesday, 9 May 2006

the things you take for granted ...and dealing in felt

Our fabulous friends from Thailand have gone home and we miss them already! We had a very busy time while they were here and we got used to having them around, now the schedule seems kind of empty and sad.

While they were here I had quite a few moments of reflection about the things we take for granted. You know those things it never occurs to you that others don't know about or understand. There are so many differences between Australia and Thailand.

Here are just a few things that really hit me.

We need heating. It's so hard for us down here in Southern Oz to imagine a life in which guarding against the cold never enters our minds (except when we go to the cinema or air-con shopping mall). How different our lives, our houses, our wardrobes, our fuel bills would be.

We can drink water from the tap. When we first got home from Thailand it took a while for the novelty to wear off. I was not above slurping directly from the water flow. Just because I could. No more worrying if there was enough water to drink, no more filling glasses up downstairs where the purifyer was before settling in to our evening at home. No more living in mortal fear that Amy will drink the bath water or that I'll forget and stick my toothbrush under the flow before I put it in my mouth. We should remain deeply thankful we have clean water so easily available to us.

We have hot water on tap. In the kitchen and the bathroom, and in the bath as well as the shower. For those that have hot water in their homes in Thailand (which certainly isn't everyone), they usually have one small unit attached directly to their showerhead. The water pressure is usually crap too. Of course when it's always stinking hot, a hot shower isn't necessarily a high priority, but I found it really hard to get used to washing dishes in cold water and taking the chill off Amy's bath with buckets of warm water filled from the showerhead!

With autumn leaves comes the cold. Don't get me wrong, I know it's really beautiful. Crisp clear Autumn days and muddy puddles and fresh air - I love 'em. But the dramatic change in weather and the way that totally changes our lifestyle is something lots of places never experience. In Thailand the woollies (well, synthetics anyway) come out with winter - but the average temperature difference between summer and winter is negligible from a Melbourne perspective. We were still happily wearing shorts and T-shirts (and sweating more than our fair share) when the Thais were wearing parkas. Many non-tropical residents go to Thailand and freak about the heat - they come here and freak about the cold!

Clothes that won't dry was also something of a mystery to our friends - they were really dumbfounded by the ever present wet washing. The prevalence of the clothes dryer, like heating, seems kind of obvious to many of us (especially those with children), but they were pretty surprised.

I can't remember when I had my first toasted sandwich. I grew up thinking they were one of the five food groups. They just always seemed so, I don't know, obvious. Like a sandwich, only better. Widely available. Supplement to soups, a quick snack or a meal substitute all on their own, I have rarely found myself without the ingredients for at least a basic toasted sanga when all else in the kitchen fails. From plain cheese or tomato through to the complex multi ingredient stack, I had never imagined a life without a toasted sanga. But now I have. Seeing our friends total lack of familiarity with the form absolutely floored me.

The pud. A land of no pudding? Can you imagine? Where cake as we know it is a relatively new thing and the ubiquitous outing for cake and coffee is the pastime of only the wealthy and worldly younger generation? And a self-saucing steamed pud with cream is an uncharted territory? And where no matter how many courses your meal has there will almost certainly only ever be fruit for desert? Unthinkable!

It's a wonderful think to get the occasional jolt out of complacency, to remind us what we love so much that we sometimes forget is even there. To suddenly see the world through the eyes of someone who has experienced such a different life to your own. So when was the last time you had your jaw dropped by the gulf of human experience?

On a totally separate note, I get quite a few enquiries about where I get my felt, wool rovings and other doll making supplies because the stuff I use is really, really, really nice. I know, I get to touch it everyday. I've been holding off because my dealer (as I like to call her coz you know, she's got the stuff) is in the process of setting up a website. But she does run a mail order business, so really there's no reason you can't shop with her now.

Her business is called Winterwood and it sells Steiner inspired craft supplies, as well as books, some toys and wool. It's a small business run by a small group of very dedicated crafters, so don't go expecting some kind of glossy brochure corporate identity deal. They are strictly into handmade.

There are a few things I really like about this store:
:: the people who run it are really nice, with good values and ethics. They form real relationships with their customers and take a real interest in their craft work. They make me feel special and cared about.
:: their stuff is quite simply the best. Top quality everything. And if they haven't got what you need they can often get it, make it or suggest an even better alternative. They are not cheap, but I think they are very reasonable for what they sell and I am happy to pay their prices.
:: they can dye wool and felt to order without charging you a bucket load of cash and they can often sell you small quantities of things for specific projects instead of upping their sales by making you buy loads of everything.
:: they have really good kits and packs of mixed colours in felts and wools if you want a range of options, or if you want some guidance on getting started.
:: I learn stuff when I am in the store, I feel inspired, refreshed and free to ask for advice and help. They know their stuff, they make things themselves and have lots of feedback from customers so they will give you honest and useful insight into materials. Including the drawbacks and things to watch out for.

Quite simply I can't say enough good things about them and the stuff they sell. Their turn around time is not quick on mail order and they aren't open full shop hours because they have lots of felting and dying and order packing to do, so don't go hassling them for instant gratification and plan ahead for purchases. If you live in Melbourne go there - the shop is really magical. Seriously magical. If you can't get there, buy a little piece of magic through the mail.

Winterwood is at 32 Heads Rd Donvale Vic 3111, or their postal address is PO Box 4043, Croydon Hills Vic 3136, Australia. Call them on (03) 987 3013 or email for shop hours or to get a catalogue sent to you.


Got the buttons on the new pinafore and Amy just couldn't stop talking while I was trying to take a pcture that didn't look quite so much like she had a stick up the proverbial. The overall effect of the mosaic keeps me smiling all morning! And in case you were wondering - no I didn't sew all those strips of corduroy together, the fabric came presewn like that.Oh and a second pincushion. So quick and easy! I can see a whole range coming on. Which isn't a bad thing since I have a habit of sticking pins into all kind of inappropriate makeshift pincushions. I usually live to regret it. But I will be reformed and have one for every work surface...

Monday, 8 May 2006

what I (re) learned

1. I love the rural landscapes of Australia and I want to spend more time in them. It is a real struggle to divide my time between crafting indoors and exploring outside and though I love all the things I did whilst I was away, I wish I'd spent more time in the fresh air.
2. Sometimes deciding what to do is the hardest part of crafting. Especially when you are surrounded by talented women doing all kinds of different things. There's so much to learn from working with others. And not just crafting skills or being humbled by other people's talents. There's the amazing reservoirs people have of patience and generosity and trust and warmth and humour. Especially humour.3. People make some amazing stuff (and I don't always take such great photos).
4. If you go away with a bunch of women there's bound to be too much good food, plenty of wine and lots of cups of tea. And not nearly enough sleep. As Cath said to me at 8am in bed through bleary half-open eyes (after a 1am bedtime), "we've already wasted hours of crafting time!"
5. If you are going to leave a little girl at home you had better bring back some new clothes for her.

6. And get some work done.

7. And make something for yourself, preferably something you've never tried before like a bottle top pincushion. Even better if you get to challenge your inner hoarder by making a dent in the stash of fabulous 60's fabric samples and stop the loss of yet more knitting needles with a new needle roll. 8. Nothing raises your tolerance to life's daily frustrations and stress than a break from it. I vow to take a crafting holiday at least 3 times a year, preferably with a group and in a fabulous location. And because I'm really serious about this I'm going to start organising the next one RIGHT NOW. I'm starting an email list for people who are interested so email me if you want to be on it. I figure the next one will be in September, but it's going to be an ongoing thing so email me even if September may not work for you.

9. I need to worry less about what I produce and focus more on what I enjoy.

10. I am one lucky chick and I'd be a happier person if I remembered that more often.

To Cath, Lauren, Sandra, Suzie G, Debi, Roch, Maria and Jody I thank you. You are wonderful, talented, inspirational and oh so much fun. I had a fantastic time and I hope you're as keen to make it back in September as I am.

And now I gotta go unpack. And get the buttons to finish off the pinafore I made for Amy...

Thursday, 4 May 2006

off again

Had a great dinner last night, here's the left overs of a fantastic self-saucing chocolate pudding, made in the wonderful vintage pyrex bowl Bugheart sent to me (thanks again!).

I'm only just home from the prom and I'm off again. Seems there's always so much going on! I find it hard to focus and really just be in the moment. Too much to prepare for, look forward to and reflect on. Gotta work on quieting my mind.

I am guessing this won't be the weekend for it. Nine fantastic women in a rustic farmhouse crafting their little hearts out. I am so excited I'm about to burst. There's brownies to make and projects to gather materials for and car lifts to organise. The house is a STY and I don't care! Poor David left to live in the chaos I will be leaving behind. Thankfully next week is looking pretty quiet so I should be able to make up for it.

And the Beaver (version 3) finally found it's way to Beverly. I'm really happy with this one and VERY glad I persisted past version 2 (the photos do not do it justice - the tail is much bigger than it looks here for example. Don't know why but every shot looked weirdly not right?!) The teeth and other face features are needle felted onto the sewn felt. Good technique, I'll be using it again.

Wednesday, 3 May 2006

Wilsons Prom

This was where I've been for the last 3 days. It rained pretty much the whole time and it was freezing, but it is still one of the most beautiful places on earth. I was bummed I couldn't swim in the crashing waves, or better yet, show our visiting friends from Thailand what it's like. But we all had a great time anyway.