Sunday, 29 March 2015

Mystery Project - Revealed!!

The last time I showed you my Mystery Project, it looked like this:

The pieces were all ready, they just needed to be decorated and then put back together - but for what??

Well, you probably won't remember these little guys, as they only appeared once in a photo of something else, back at Christmas time:

These funky little skeletons came home with us from Peru when we were backpacking in South America just over a year ago. These are little ceramic Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) decorations that we picked up, and I'm amazed that they made it home with us intact!

We bought these little skeletons as most of the Dia de los Muertos art that we saw was much larger, and would not have fitted in our bags to bring back - although now we are both wishing that we had given it a try!

These larger folk art pieces were not only Dia de los Muertos themed, there were all sorts of scenes, cultural and religious, that were depicted in the form of Retablos. You can read more about what Retablo means here, but they are basically 3D art forms presented in decorated wall-mounted boxes. I so wish that we had bought one while we were away, as some of them were truly beautiful, but when I searched through my photos to show you some I was disappointed to find that I hadn't taken very many (I hadn't wanted to offend the stall holders by taking photos and not buying anything). These pictures are the only Retablo pictures I have. They're not the best Retablos we saw, but they do give you an idea of what they can be like:

Picking the prickly pear cactus fruits   :)

I think that now you can probably see what I was aiming for with the MDF bits in the first picture?   :)

Not all of the Retablos had carved boxes like the one in the above picture, most of the ones I saw were painted - and in fact my favourite ones were the painted ones. This is lucky, as while I'm not great at painting, I certainly wouldn't be able to make carvings! (especially not with MDF!)

Both inside and outside of the box needed decorating, and I decided on a night-time desert theme for inside the box for our Mariachi band skeletons. The desert with cacti theme was quite a feature of the Retablos we had most liked when we were looking at them in Peru. I free-handed the scene on the inside of the box using acrylic paints and sponges, including a few cacti of my own. The weird messy bit on the bottom left was meant to be an agave plant, but the sponge defeated me for this bit.

I did a little bit of research for designs for the outside of the box to decorate the doors and the top, and for these bits I sketched the designs first, before transferring them onto the doors and top piece. Once finished, I attached the doors to the box using the little hinges I mentioned before, and used wood glue to attach the top piece. Altogether, this is how they turned out:

The bright sunlight has made the paint colours glare a bit, they aren't this bright in real life!

I'm not totally happy with my painted flowers, it's a long time since I painted anything so my work on this was not delicate enough. When I feel the inclination I will go over it again to improve it, but for now it looks ok - better in real life than it looks in the photos as the paint is not really as bright as it appears here!

The hooks you can see in the top are the key hooks that came from the key hanger, which was cut in half to make the top piece. By a happy coincidence, they were just the right length for hanging the skeletons from :)

Painted cacti are all well and good, but the proper Retablos have modelled scenery. I used floristry wire to make a rough cactus shape, and then modelled air drying clay around it. Once dry, I painted my cactus with more acrylic paint, and when that was dry I added details with an art pen, to look thusly!

The wire at the bottom helps it to stand in the box, although I do need to fix it more securely really...  I quite like my cactus, and I think I might make some more scenery in the future, when the inspiration strikes.

But for now, all that remains is to hang the skeletons in their new home, so that instead of 3 dangley skeletons with nowhere to display them, we have a (kind of) Dia de los Muertos Retablo to display!

Ta dah!!!!!

It's definitely not as good as the proper artist-made Retablos on sale in actual South America, but the skeletons themselves are authentic, and for a DIY tribute to Peruvian folk art, I'm pretty happy with it!   :)

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Disco Willow is Finished!!

I’ve finished the neon willow blanket!!! I’ve decided on a name for it too, I’m calling it the Disco Willow (I hooked a lot of it whilst watching ‘That 70s Show’, and it’s kind of disco colours I think…)

I've been hooking this little blanket along with the Cherry Heart Blanket Along, hosted by Sandra over on Ravelry. It's my first time joining in with a group, and my first time being active on Ravelry. I've found it great to interact with all the other blanketeers as we've grown our creations, and I've had some lovely feedback. Not least of which was all of the responses to my cry for help with choosing a background colour for the neon motifs! Several people came to my rescue with great suggestions, and Sandra and Patchwork Dragon both recommended navy, which is the colour I went with in the end - and am very happy with!

Disco Willow!

They are all joined using a join-on-the-go method which I described here, and I think that’s worked out pretty well too. I wasn’t sure this would work so well on solid rows of crochet (rather than granny rows which have gaps), but I’m really happy with it on this blanket. I do like the effect of crocheting squares together, but I would definitely use this method again too.

With joining complete, I then did a round of navy trebles all the way around the entire blanket. Where two squares meet and you have their corner chain to work into, I did a treble-2-together (tr2tog), or treble decrease, crossing each corner chain. A far better explanation of this can be found over at Bunny Mummy here

This round not only tidies up the outer edges of the joined squares by going over all the joins etc, but it also balances the look of it – where the squares are joined to each other you get a double thickness of the navy colour, but on the outside edges you only have a single thickness of navy. Adding the navy again all the way around balances this out (I should have done 2 rows really, as the rest of the navy is 2 rows, but I was impatient to finish! This is the same reason that I don't have any 'in progress' photos of the border being done...)
For the rest of the border, I wanted a simple pattern as I think the colours shout loud enough for themselves! I didn’t have much coloured yarn left, but I did want to use it as a simple yet striking feature.  I came up with plan to use one colour for each quarter of the square blanket, so that each new colour starts/finishes halfway down each side, using a simple V stitch. I just did one row of coloured Vs, followed by one row of navy Vs, and I love it!  

In the Pink Corner!

Turquoise Corner

All the Corners!

For the final round, I wanted something really simple just to finish it off while preserving the navy V shapes. I could have done a simple row of double crochet, but I wanted something a little more interesting than that. I remembered seeing Crab Stitch on Pinterest before, so I quickly searched it to check how to do it. It’s very simple in theory: you hook double crochet stitches, but you hook backwards (going left to right for right-handers, or right to left for lefties like me). This sounds really simple, but I actually found it quite fiddly to get the hang of and get the tension correct, so I ended up with a bit of a lumpy final edge. I decided that this adds to the charm though, which gave me the excuse I needed to not have to frog it and go round again!

Lumpy Crab Stitch, but I'm really pleased with my colour changes on the Vs :)

That's probably enough waffle! Do you want to see how the whole thing looks?

I couldn't get a good enough photo over this mini sofa, so a trip to The Strand was in order so I could lay it out properly. I felt a bit silly at the busy sea front, laying out my blanket and snapping away. This led to rushing, so I didn't get a really good shot, but hopefully these are ok:

I love the simplicity of the Vs, and the effect of the different colours on each quarter :)

So there we have it, the finished blanket! I can't quite believe how quickly I made this: although I picked up my willow squares for the blanket-along on 11th March, I only started making these particular squares a few days later, and then the whole thing was finished on 27th March. That's just under 2 weeks of serious hooky! 

For a change, I kept track of what yarn I used! So here are some Facts and Figures:

The finished blanket is a square roughly 125cm on each side, made up of 64 willow squares, with equal numbers of each colour. I’ve tried to lay out the colours so that they are evenly distributed, but not in too obvious a repeating pattern, and I think it worked out ok :)

I used:

4.5mm hook.

1 ball each of Stylecraft Special DK in Fiesta, Bright Green, Turquoise and Jaffa.
1 ball of Patons Fab in Fruity. (I had leftovers from each of these)
7 balls of a store brand navy yarn from Spotlight (4 Seasons Marvel Soft 8 ply). This is a really dark navy, which I think works well, so maybe Stylecraft's Special DK in Midnight would be a good alternative?

I think that's all the bumpf you need, but if you do have any questions, feel free to ask away in the comments :)

Friday, 27 March 2015

Mystery Project - Some Progress to Report!

I showed you this Mystery Project the other day, and said I was looking forward to sharing my progress with you: 

The first stage of my project involved a little bit of woodwork with my MDF box and key hanger.

(My initial plan had been to make the box part, but when I was looking for materials I came across a ready-made box that would be an ideal starting point. As I don’t have a proper work bench or anything at the moment, ready-made did seem like the most sensible option.)

For the woodwork I needed some equipment, so I had also bought a hand saw for $5, and 2 little hinges for about $6.

Cup of tea is also essential equipment!

The name of the hinges made me chuckle :)

At home, I already had the pencil, screwdrivers, the retractable knife, and the little tape measure. These were all things that we had to buy early on for unpacking and putting furniture back together etc. (after discovering that my toolbox hadn’t made it to its new home :( 

This project does not require a free-standing box with a lift-up lid, so the first thing I needed to do was remove this part. It was simply put together, just a couple of screws on each of the 2 hinges and the catch, and they were gone. (I will need to re-use the hinges later, along with the 2 that I bought.)

Rather than this single lift-up lid, I need 2 meet-in-the-middle doors (hence the requirement for 4 hinges in total), so the next thing I needed to do was cut the lid in half. I measured carefully - "measure twice, cut once!"

And used a good straight edge to draw my line to follow – the back of the saw (with the tooth guard on!!) makes a good straight edge.  

I like to use the knife to score the edge where I will start sawing, and along the line as well. This helps the saw to bite without slipping, and stops the top surface from fraying as I saw through it.

I braced the saw with my other hand when I actually scored the surface, but I couldn't take a photo like that! I also had the saw's tooth guard on, but then just as I was about to start sawing I realised that I hadn't taken the photos, so I quickly set up this picture. Don't copy this photo for best / safe practice!!

Then I put my new saw to work, carefully following my line. I'm not too bad at sawing a straight line, so now I have my 2 equal pieces, with nice neat edges, for my 2 doors :)

The key hanger is for a decorative piece – I just picked it because it was almost the same length as the long side of the box. To make it the right size and shape, I again measured and marked to cut it in half lengthways and trim off the excess at each end.

So now I have a box, 2 doors, and a decorative top piece.

Together they look like this:

Getting nearer to being recognisable!

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Tutorial: Joining On The Go (Solid Stitching)

Apologies in advance if this isn't very good - I have very little experience at writing tutorials!! Just leave a comment if you have any questions about this - or any advice for improving it!

I have nearly finished the squares for my neon willow picnic blanket, so before they are all complete I thought I would share my joining method with you.

I am joining on the go, as this saves time and yarn, but this is the first time I have tried the technique with a solid row of stitches – previously I have joined Granny-type rows, where the stitches are in clusters and you join at the chain-1 gap between clusters.

I wasn’t sure how this would turn out on these squares, and while I think that hooking the squares together afterwards is a bit neater, I am still pretty happy with how these are turning out! I think that for this project, which will get heavy outdoor usage, the saving on time and yarn is totally worth it :)

How the joining looks
And a close-up :)

The first thing I did was to work out how frequently I wanted to make a joining stitch – this is really straightforward when joining Granny clusters, as you just join between the clusters. But on solid stitching, you need to figure that out…

I do a chain-2 at each corner, and for the purposes of this calculation, I included the chain stitches in my stitch count. (So at each corner, one chain stitch belongs to each of the sides forming that corner. My dotted lines at the corners in the picture below help to show what I mean…)  
The way I have been doing these squares, I end up with 26 stitches per side, consisting of 24 trebles and 2 chain stitches, 1 at each end of the trebles.

From your total stitches (26 for me), minus 1. This gives me 25, which divides really easily into a joining stitch every 5 stitches. The extra 1 is added back at the end, as we need to have a joining stitch as the first and last stitches. I’ve tried to illustrate this again, (if you notice the joining stitches, there are 6: the 25 ÷ 5 = 5, + the extra one at the end):

Now to actually get joining! I’m going to join the next square in this row, so I’ll be joining to the square with the green motif, turning the corner, then joining to the one with the blue motif. (I’m left-handed, hence I go clockwise when I crochet in the round. I’ve become pretty good at following picture tutorials or crochet charts back-to-front, but if you need to flip the images to follow them, simply save to your desktop and use you image viewer to ‘flip horizontal’. This will give you the mirror image you need)

Start crocheting the final round of your new square, but remember to check how many sides need to be used for joining. I begin in the middle of a side. I will need 2 empty sides with which to join, and then I finish up with the remainder of my first side. This means I can crochet another full side before I start joining – it’s much easier to crochet any spare sides before you have the rest of the blanket hanging off your square!

When I get to the part where I need to start joining, I finish the pervious entire side, including the first chain stitch of the corner (which is equivalent to the last stitch of that side):

The second chain stitch of the corner (which is equivalent to the first stitch of the next side) will be substituted with a joining slip stitch. i.e. it will join into the corresponding chain stitch of the square you are joining it to – here you can see me pointing out the chain stitch we need to join to, as it is the chain that belongs to the side we are joining to:

I am joining to the right-hand one of these sides, hence the right-hand chain stitch is the first stitch of that side.

To join, we use slip stitches. To do this, insert your crochet hook (front to back) through the chain stitch that we are joining to:

Yarn over the crochet hook as normal:

Then pull this loop through the chain stitch (2 loops on the hook):

DON’T yarn over again, just pull your new loop through the other loop (or, if you prefer to think of it this way – pull the first loop off the hook over the new loop) so that only the new loop remains on the hook:

Your new square will now be attached to its neighbouring square, by one slip stich to the corresponding corner:

From this point you can carry on hooking as normal. I am joining at every 5th stitch, so I need to hook 5 stitches:

Now I need to join to the solid row of stitches. I need to join to the corresponding 5th stitch, so count 5 stitches along the side you are joining to:

Pointing out the 5th stitch with my wool needle

This time, the slip stitch will be joined into the top of this treble (the same part as if you were crocheting into the stitch in normal crocheting, pointed out by the wool needle in the previous picture).
Insert your hook, front to back through the two loops of the top of the stitch:

The slip stitch is the same as before; yarn over:

Pull the loop through (2 loops on hook):

Pull the newest loop through the previous loop (1 loop on hook):

And now your new square is joined to its neighbour at a second point. Hook away as normal again – for me, another 5 stitches until I join again:

Then I make another slip stitch into the next place – again, it’s the 5th stitch along from the previous join on the corresponding side:

Keep going until your stitches have taken you to the corner.

In this example, the squares we are joining to have already been joined to their neighbours. This means that one of their corner chain stitches has already been occupied by a join (think back to the very first joining stitch we made in the corner). The remaining free chain stitch will be the one that corresponds to the side we have been joining to:

Once we have joined there, we go round the corner and start joining to the square that sits at the next side (note that we do not join to the square that is diagonally next to the new square). The next square that we join to will also have a chain stitch free to join our new square to:

We use slip stitches again as before, slip stitch into the final corner of the side we have been joining to so far:

Then, without making any chain stitch this time – we are joining to 2 corners, so each corner chain stitch is substituted with a joining slip stitch – make another slip stitch, this time into the chain that makes up first stitch of the new side we are joining to:

Now you can see that the corner of our new square is fully joined into its place:

From here, we can treat this side the same as the previous side; stitching as normal, but joining into its neighbouring square at every 5th stitch:

We keep going again until we are at the last stitch:

Slip stitch again, this time into the chain that makes up the final stitch of the side we are joining to:

The next side of our new square is free from any joins, so it begins with a chain stitch. This would be the second of the 2 chain stitches making up the corner, but in this case the first chain has been a joining slip stitch instead:

Then we can finish off the side as normal, joining back to the start and dealing with our ends (I like to deal with the ends as I go along).

And ta dah!! A new square is in place!!

From this tutorial, you should be able to start joining any squares together by joining on the go from the final round. If, however, I have made any mistakes or something is not clear, please let me know so that I can fix it!