The Simple Things: A New Magazine

31 July 2012

Exciting times, exciting times. The creators of Mollie Makes have put together a new magazine.

Doesn't it look lovely? You can have a sneak peak here.

At first glance you'd think that this was the sort of thing that Country Living would have cornered. Gardening, interiors, craft, vintage feel, lifestyle and so forth. But it's a bit more. Actually, a lot more. Rather than just going "ooh" and "aah" over beautiful products, houses and country estates The Simple Things gives you a sense of "oh, that's lovely / tasty and I could actually make that." And you do. How satisying.

What really caught my eye was the interview with Ned, a 78-year-old amateur gardener originally from the West Indies. There's nothing whizz bang or earth-shattering about Ned's gardening life, like a post modern rethink of Great Dixter. Yet the simplicity of his wisdom, gained through trial, error and the contrasts of the different challenges in English and Jamaican gardens, is captivating. 

I like this overlap of the generations in such a"young" publication. It seems there's often a fencing off between the old, middle-aged and young in magazines - be it craft or fashion - so you find super edgy publications versus the frumptastic. To have a more inclusive stance is really what life, learning, family and community is all about. No man is an island etc etc. And I mean that John Donne reference in a "we are defined by the generations that went before as well as the society that surrounds us now" rather than in a final, momento mori sort of way.

And my, don't they make everything look so pretty in The Simple Things

P.S. Stay tuned for more about Mollie Makes in the next month or so...

Charity Shop Bargains

30 July 2012

Ooooh, how much do I love regional charity shops? Let me count the ways...

Whilst pottering about in Kenilworth the other week I popped into Oxfam and emerged with these delights.

For 3m of quality cotton and a retro pattern... *drum roll* ...

£10, people! 

 £10. In total!

A celebratory cup of tea was swiftly imbibed after bagging this bargain. 

Now it's just a case of fixing the pattern dial on my blasted Toyota sewing machine (gah) and finding the time to actually make something.

Hoopla Yarn

20 July 2012

Defeated. Almost.  Let me explain…

Whilst pootling about on Ravelry a few months ago in a quest to find crochet  cardigan patterns that didn’t scream aged hippy, I came across this number:

It’s essentially two granny square hexagons that one folds and joins along the back and the top of the sleeves. Use a chunky wool, a large crochet hook and away you go.  “Marvellous,” I thought, “summer’s coming so I’ll whip this up in a cotton in no time.” I had the yarn in mind. Hoopla Yarns are made from the selvedge of T-shirt jersey, the off-cuts that the garment industry would normally toss away. Socially, economically and environmentally conscientious, Hoopla eases many facets of bourgeois guilt. In addition, there’s a veritable cornucopia of colours to choose from and at a ginoromous1 cm in width this was the cotton answer to my granny hexagon cardigan.

And what ambitions I had for this cardie. I’d make it in an afternoon and sport it the next day. My magnificent cardigan and I would be the focus of fashion bloggers' attentions and the source of envious sighs amongst magazine editors the world over.

Anna Wintour eat your heart out.

Or so I thought. Having picked out two bobbins-worth of a stunning turquoisy green and armed with a 20mm crochet hook I began. About 5 rows in however it became apparent all was not well. A visitor’s query confirmed my suspicion: “Is that a tea cosy or a coaster you’re making?”

Clearly the drapey and light effect I had hoped for was not materialising. A couple more dogged rows later, I realized that this yarn was waaaayyyy to heavy for the pattern. Urgh. I frogged this miserable attempt and rewound the yarn about the bobbins and pondered.

And pondered.

Had a piece of cake and some tea.

And pondered before an almighty bolt of Divine Inspiration struck.

I would make a cushion cover with my Hoopla Yarn. A robust, greenish cushion cover that goes with absolutely NOTHING in my house, but a cushion cover nonetheless. In a sort of cake induced, almost Delphic reverie, I went out and purchased a feather-filled cushion pad around which I would craft a cushion cover without parallel.

And here’s the result.

Gawd awful, n’est pas?

There’s no denying it is without parallel. It is arguably an abomination of soft furnishing beyond compare.

The cushion pad is now in The Cupboard of Pending Projects, the Hoopla bobbins restored to an almost virgin state and the cushion cover is no more.

I finally visited the Hoopla Yarn website in the hope of finding a pattern. I wait patiently for a free one to come wending its way into my inbox. Such a virtuous and gloriously coloured yarn must not be stashed away for long and demands a suitably worthy design to show off its magnificence.

I’ll report back when I find such a design but if you want to help me on my way with suggestions, do feel free to tell me.

Until then, what’s the moral of the story? In two words: tension square

Alexander's Quilt

6 July 2012

Last year, some dear chums announced that they were expecting a wee boy. “Marvellous stuff!” was my immediate thought, “but what to give in celebration of the boy child’s arrival?”

I do think that finding suitably heirloomy gifts for baby boys is tough. Girls are fine. Ridiculously ruffled ensembles, expensive bits of household décor and jewelry are easy enough to source. All sartorial items man-child related seem to involve shouty T-shirts and rather bleh, khaki hues. And what sort of household item could these boys grow into? An engraved tankard might be suitable for an 18-year old but sends out the wrong – and arguably alcoholic -  signals for a newborn. As for jewelry… it can be a bit, well, * sotto voce * chavtastic.


After a bit of pondering I decided upon a homemade quilt.

  • Can be used as a mat
  • Can be used as a blanket (multi purpose. Vital requirement for any mother)
  • Machine washable (Is there a word even more emphatic than “vital”?)
  • One of a kind (important consideration if this was to become heirloomy)

  • Ermmm. Can’t really think of any.

I’d recently become the proud owner of a Toyota RS Series A (RD) sewing machine bought for the grand total of €69 in a Dutch pharmacy (let’s not talk about the fact the plastic pattern dial broke after less than a year. The Toyota now gathers dust whilst I wait for a replacement nob. From China. Gah. I fear this serves me right.) Now was a chance to flex both machine and soon-to-be-learned quilting skills.

Fortunately I live quite close to Beyond Fabrics on Columbia Road, a veritable palace of patchwork. In and amongst their impressive fabric collection, they have a number of ready prepared quilt kits. 

However, none of the colours were quite right for this particular family. I wanted a quilt that shouted out strong, brave, MANLY. The sort of quilt a small boy would proudly sport as a superhero cape. The sort of quilt a teenage lad wouldn’t mind as a foot warmer at the bottom of his bed. The sort of quilt a man would still have at the bottom of his bed or maybe sport occasionally as a cape. The love of his life would look at the quilt, look at the man, look back at the quilt and go “This is a man who cares for craft. This is the man for me”. And later she would wrap the man’s baby in this quilt thus starting the whole cycle again.

This quilt would also have to be dark and patterned enough to hide stains.

And those lovely people at Beyond Fabrics put together this great combination of colours.

I know, there are roses in it, but manly men who support the English rugby team wear roses on their chest. With pride.

And may I say what a satisfying delight it was to make the quilt. The instructions were clear and the pieces cut to size. The scraps were even sufficient to whip up a couple of lavender bags to ensure the quilt’s longevity in moth-afflicted London.

Certainly, as the giver of the quilt I was pleased. We’ll just have to wait a couple more decades to see if it lives up to my ambitious expectations.

Pom Pom Quarterly : The Review

3 July 2012

I was pottering about Angel the other day and popped into Loop, one of London’s loveliest yarn shops. Instead of emerging with yet more skeins of delight to add to my ever-increasing stash, I found this rather charming publication:

This is a new, indie mag that Lydia Gluck and Meghan Fernandes have put together. Knitting, thinking, embroidering, drinking is the byline and I like that. Pom Pom contains 5 patterns ranging from the charmingly do-able Skipworth Mitts to the ambitious lacework of the Wick Lane Shawl.

What makes these pieces more (dare I say it?) youthful and (yes, I will deploy the word) hip are the colour choices and the use of boutique yarn producers and dyers. In any other publication the selection of a mustard hue – Uncommon Thread’s Brassica - for a piece of knitwear would suggest a surfeit of flammable 1970s acrylic. Here, it’s bright and edgy.

Into the mix are a couple of small articles that enable the reader to answer more obscure questions from a pub quiz. The linguistic forensics of the verb “to knit” are revelatory and slightly toe-curling, for instance its 17th-century deployment when referring to the gelding of farm animals.

* shudder *

My one quibble is the price. £9.50 for Issue 1. Eek! When one is faced with purchasing Pom Pom for its 5 patterns versus Rowan’s knitting magazine – a gazillion patterns – for £12 ish… well, it’s not a fair comparison between the behemoth yarn corporation and the intrepid indie entrepreneurs, I know, but I fear Rowan may win in these difficult economic times.

However as Pom Pom attracts more supporters, hopefully sponsorship shall soon follow thus bringing down the cover price or allowing for a couple of extra patterns. I also look forward to future editions providing more entertaining crewel in a similar vein to Steve the Marvelous Embroidered Insect and (as ever) a spot of crochet .

For now though, the scrumptious cocktail recipe for a rhubarb and vanilla Bellini on p. 18 - courtesy of Rebecca Litchfield from No. 98 preserves - proved a swift distraction from the cover cost. 

I heartily recommend a glass or three of this liquid ambrosia after an intensive session of the Wick Lane’s nupps and eyelets.