Freddies handmade jewellery

Monday, 30 January 2017

Heath Ledger cross stitch project - out with the old, in with the new

I am extremely thrilled to be able to announce that I've finished my longest ever standing, cross stitch project.

I'vee talked about my phases before and I'm not ashamed of having a minorly short attention span when it comes to sticking to one craft or another. They all remain very dear to my heart, which is the one and only reason I managed to get this 7 year project, finished.

Heath Ledger Joker Cross Stitch In Progress In Wooden Ring
After years of struggling along, it was only in the past few months I learned the value of guide lines
I had real trouble with this kit - it was really hard, on dark fabric with 30+ colours in various shades of brown.

All of these colours looked the same to me, I'll be honest. I couldn't identify them by eye, so it was very easy to go wrong.

The patterned areas were the hardest - those are the areas where all of the colours become very sinilar indeed, with a veritable lack of contrast to add to the already challenging design.

But hey ho, I've finished it - and I'm thrilled with the results, even if he most certainly needs a wash, and the loving touch of a caring custom framer. His time will come.

Heath ledger as the joker needlework the dark knight
This crumped masterpiece has a few minor pixel errors, but I'm still extremely proud to have finished such a tricky kit
I learned throughout this project just how much a symbol of our generation, Heath Ledger had become.

It sounds silly but at least once a week, the girls in the office and I recant excerpt from Ten Things I Hate About You with very fond memories - mostly teenage girls at the time.

The dark ending of Heath's career in the Batman film was bitter and twisted - a very sad end to a troubled young man of great talent. I have selected a quote from The Dark Knight in which Haarvey Dent talks about how one should die a hero, and not live long enough to become the villain.

A fitting brass plaque to accompany him I think.

So yes, glutton for punishment I sure am.

I've picked yet another kit from the same photo-realistic designers, Designs In Thread. I guess I'd liken it to picking another epic.

Photorealistic john lennon in progress cross stitch
Heavens knows why I've gone from working black-on-black to white-on-white. Not intentional, I swear it
John Lennon's poetic lyrics have spoken to me since I was very young, and this felt like a good time to pick a real idol of mine to immortalise in another needlework project.

As a huge fan of Stephen King, I also have a kit for IT the clown, but the fella won't have it - he says there would be nowhere suitable to hang it [fair enough].

Instead a pallette of cool greys and not warm browns, I'm thinking that picking an accompanying quote for the final framed piece could be rather fun.

John Lennon cross stitch kit, page 1 with guidelines threadMy favourite recording of his at the moment has got to be the Real Love recording, sneakily recorded by Yoko and butchered in a cover for a John  Lewis advert years later. I've never liked Tom Odell. Was it Tom Odell? Whatever, those guys all sound the same to me.

I am starting to get the impression that I've started with the best bit of this kit - with Heath Ledger I started at the nose and seemed to work anti-clockwise from there, filling the corners.

With John there's lots of hair to be stitched, and that's all very dark and quite hard to see.

I've had to put it down this evening for lack of not being able to see the damn thing in domestic light (must, must, must invest in a decent craft light). And having a very stiff neck for no placable reason.

This one is only four pages where the previous was 9 - and a hefty 45 x 45cm where John will most certainly be much smaller.

But there's no danger of the artist dying while I make this one - Heath did, sadly. So I sort of ended up making it in his memory although thatg was never the original intention.

So in the meantime while I have probably another four years to pick a quote from a Lennon song to accompany this cross stitch project, here is Real Love - the way it should be heard. I wish i could pick Real Love as the quote but erm... it's a bit short, don't you think?

Monday, 2 January 2017

Sleeper Train To Edinburgh - Our Journey To Hogmanay

My birthday is New Year's Eve and we never do anything - at my decision. So for the big birthday last year, I figured I ought to do something at least once, and do it big. Hence, we swanned off to the Hogmanay festivities in Edinburgh for a fun-filled four day trip. It was GREAT!

We had two real highlights on our trip and the first was the sleeper train journey up there. So let's start with that.

I had always really really wanted to do the Calendonian Sleeper train, and walk past them docked at Euston all the time so this seemed as good a time as any. We couldn't do a sleeper train it both ways because the check-in and check-out times with our accomodation wouldn't have worked out.

I was prepared for it to be a bit cramped (it was) and we got around the high cost by investing in a two-together railcard. For £25 (I was offered a discount, I think it's usually £30 - the card lasts a year), we ended up saving something like £150 on travel all-round so it was worth it. You don't have to be family members, any two people can register for one of these and you can be listed on several. So I think I'll be registering for a few with other family members, too.

Dad packed me a little birthday present to keep up busy on the sleeper train and it was great fun!
With such a big saving, it was tempting to go for First Class but as soon as I found out that all First Class rooms only have one single bed in them (not bunks), so it kinda sucked the fun out of travelling with my partner completely. I don't think I'd have coped in the shared bunk room with a total stranger though. Not a lot of room to get around.

I've since learned that my annual gold card (the bit of paper that goes with my annual London travelcard) also gives you a massive saving on sleeper train tickets - so tick both boxes if you have both, as discounts can be applied for more than one railcard.

Boarding doesn't start in London if you're only going to Edinburgh, until about 11pm. So we chose to go and hover at Euston station with a couple of pints. That is, until I remembered that the pub inside the station had vanished, that is..

A quick Google search suggested an alternative within a few metres of the station (us with our heavy luggage didn't want to go far) and although I couldn't picture where it said it was (I go through Euston quite often and I'd never seen it), we chanced it and followed Google Maps.

Hidden away, The Doric Arch is a cheeky little pub tucked between Nandos and William Hill (out of Euston's exits and towards the left), and was totally empty when we got there at 9pm. We did have to lug our heavy suitcases up the stairs though, so beware if you have accessibility issues - but it's a nice little pub with some lovely ales to keep you going while you wait for a train.

A photo posted by DoricArchPub (@doricarchpub) on

We boarded in good time - at the earliest possible opportunity (11pm for an 11.50pm departure). Greeted by a member of the Caledonian Sleeper staff who confirmed the brekfasts I'd pre-ordered and asked which drinks we'd like in the morning.

As you can see, there isn't much room to move around in there - negotiating our suitcases up the narrow corridors wasn't much fun either but we managed it within a few minutes, and before it got too crowded.

Over night was fine - we had special christmas soap gifts from the Caledonian Sleeper company. I'd brought a bottle of wine so there was no need to bother with the dining car - I did wander up there to nab plastic cups and let me tell you, it's TINY. So buy your snacks and drinks before you get on, as space is prioritised for first class ticket holders. And there isn't much of it.

Yes we could hear through both walls so had to be mindful to keep our voices down. We could both sit quite happily on the top bunk to play games and share a drink.

It was totally dark so don't expect to spot anything outside the window on the journey. All we saw was blackness and a few distant lights.

We got a few hours sleep on what were suprisingly comfy beds and the bathroom wasn't far although it was filthy so there was no washing going on in there. I waited to do all that when we reached our accomodation.

Breakfast came at about 6am - we ate it and went back to sleep for another hour. My bacon roll had no sauce and Ben's poor 'full Scottish' was pitiful - it looked like it had been trodden on. Nothing like the Instagram pictures had led me to believe!

The train booted us off at about 7.45am despite me having read somewhere that we were safe to sleep in til 8. But that was fine, it was a bit weird staying in bed when we knew we had reached the station and the train had stopped.

On arrival in the city it was very easy to find our bus even though it was dark. You literally disembark the sleeper train in the middle of the city centre so there's not far to go if you've got somewhere to get to nearby. It's very early in the morning though. Not a lot was open.

We managed to negotiate with our accomodation, to let us in about half an hour later. Luckily they didn't have people staying overnight the night before and over Hogmanay, so we were extremely fortunate. Be prepared to pay for an extra night if you need to do this during busy periods.

The alternative is to leave your luggage with the Left Baggage facility at Edinburgh Station - which would have weighed in at a cost of £25 for our two suitcases - a cost I'm happy we avoided!

I would do the sleeper train again, it was a great experience in good company. But I don't think I'd want to brave it on my own. Part of the fun was having my partner with me.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Peter Rabbit Knitting Pattern - A Christmas Make

This Christmas, I dug out my old Peter Rabbit knitting pattern from the 'archives under the bed', for a very special mum-to-be, my brother's girlfriend Monika.

Christmas just wouldn't be Christmas for me if I didn't have some handmade gifts to make. Granted with my charity handmade jewellery sale, I was a little short of time this year but luckily I started the knits a little earlier so that was alright. And this year there were more than just knits - I decided to do some Christmas cross stitch too.

But Peter Rabbit was the special one.

Peter Rabbit

 It just so happens that my brother and his girlfriend are expecting a little baby boy this coming February.

I always struggle to know preciseley when to gift knitted things to people and invariably nearly always do it too early or too late. But Christmas seemed a good opportunity to give gifts to the 'bump'.

I picked Peter Rabbit because mum-to-be is a big fan of Beatrix Potter, particularly our cotton-tailed friend here. And my personal speciality has always been knitting toys. It's where I cut my knitted teeth, if you like.

Thankfully I've been hoarding knitting patterns for toys since I was about eight, so in amongst my stash is my Peter Rabbit knitting pattern as well as knitting patterns for the rest of the Beatrix Potter clan.

It's no coincidence that I'm now working at Woman's Weekly Magazine, as I've been an obsessive fan since I could read. My late grandmother used to help me make the toys and it's nothing that I've shaken off.

Sadly, for copyright reasons, the Peter Rabbit knitting pattern is no longer available unless you're able to snag a copy from eBay (worth watching, they do pop up from time to time).

I used Stylecraft Special DK which is pretty handy because they've got every colour known to man, and I added a few embellishments, a couple of brown Trimits safety eyes and a big pom pom for his tail.

I initially bought a pom pom from TOFT, having asked them at Ally Pally whether or not it would be baby safe - they said it was but I soon realised that it probably wouldn't wash, so opted for a synthetic one from Rico instead.

The sewing up and stuffing took some time - I shredded the stuffing and really went to town with puffing out his cheeks and shaping the face. As with all Alan Dart patterns, the shaping and sewing up was extremely complex but worth getting right and undoing if needed. I was thrilled with the outcome and I'm pleased to say that mummy-to-be was, as well.

 Apparently she sat with it in her arms for most of the day on Christmas - not believing that a knitter could produce such a thing. Which is cool, because this is the first thing I've ever knitted for her and it's hard to tell whether or not non-knitters are gonna love the handmade thang....

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Sparkly Bezelled Beads For A Dreary Day

It's almost a running joke in the office about the craft phases I go through. I have so many crafts that I do, but I only tend to stick to one for a few weeks and then move on to something else. They're like clockwork, and last about six weeks each. Knitting is not the current phase, it's something slightly sparklier.

Cross stitch is another frequent recurring phase...

Last Autumn, I went on a bit of a tour around the country teaching various workshops with ICHF and Woman's Weekly. I visited Birmigham, Exeter, London, Manchester and Glasgow for a few days each, all over three months and although was totally shattered by the time I returned, I had an AMAZING time.

...but I brought a new phase back with me. One I hadn't done before.

The first stop was Exeter where I purchased my very first beaded bauble kit in between teaching classes (ahem, in between actual work, that is). I'd seen the kits from afar at various other shows in years previous, but never actually got around to buying one. They just looked too complicated. Turns out, they weren't!

And then by the time I reached Glasgow (penultimate on the tour if I remember correctly), I was zipping around the SECC in between teaching classes to buy random beady bits from all the sellers. I didn't really know what I was going to do with them, I just knew I'd caught the bug!

Into one of my full-day crochet classes, wandered Lesley - one of my 'students', wearing the most stunning pendant you have ever seen. So much so, that while I was trying to teach the group, I just kept getting distracted. It was so sparkly, the more I think about it, the more I blame the 'magpie' effect.

She told me how to make one [I'm all like 'you actually made that?!'] and at Glasgow airport on my journey home, I ordered all the kit on my phone and had a go at it a few days later.

I had to try and remember the colours she used from memory (in my honest opinion, colours aren't something that memory records very well - I should have just taken a picture of the thing). I gave it my best - and despite a couple going wrong, I did alright!

 You start off with a single Swarovski rivoli stone in the middle (for this one I picked a cool dual coloured one - but most of them are just one solid colour) and then weave beads around the edge in different sizes to enclose or 'bezel' the stone...
 I made up a little woven strap loop to hang them on some pretty ribbon cords I get from eBay. The strap uses super tiny beads (size 15s if that means anything to you), so they come out really fine.

Excuse the blue fuzzy background, these are special bead mats which stop the beads from rolling around, they're like a velvery kinda surface.
Next comes stitching on columns of accent beads around the edge - one row of bicone-shaped beads in a large size (4mm)..
 ...and then another row of smaller ones (3mm) on top. The results are mesmerising. Not a day goes by where I wear mine and nobody comments or asks about it. I got caught out in Sainsbury's today with someone very kindly passing compliments. Thank you!
So recently, in this phase, I've been experimenting with different colour mixes for some really fun designs. I've done a few custom orders where I can pick and blend shades according to the personality and preferences of an individual. Those are always fun. But these are just me playing with colour, which is also great fun.

One of my freinds who I made one for recently suggested I try selling them at an annual charity benefit we have in our offices each year. They invite members of staff with 'making' skills to bring their handmakes to sell, and donate a bit to charity. So I've been experimenting with all sorts of colours and styles.
The itsy bitsy beads around the edges are called Czech Charlottes and although are described as a size 15, are considerably smaller. I've invested in a few different ones, although the bronze are my favourite, I've also got some gold and silver plated ones for a more luxurious finish.
Another lady told me recently that they looked like something Imelda Poldark would wear, which didn't mean anything to me at the time as I don't watch it, but I looked it up and lo and behold, not far off at all!
I must watch it one day. Period dramas aren't really my sort of thing but I could always give it a go. I might get some inspiration, who knows!

Anyway, any left from this charity sale at work [if it happens - we're currently moving offices], I'll be selling them off for charity anyway. So if you see anything you like, or you fancy a custom order, proceeds will go to Myeloma UK in memory of my grandmother who sadly passed after a short battle with the illness earlier this year. Just let me know.

I do think that 2016 has been a SHOCKING year for all of us, especially today. So I just thought I would talk about pretty things and enjoy a bit of healthy escapism before The Missing starts (love that show, and David Morrissey is goooorgeous).

Have a lovely evening, all - and look at it this way, 2016 is [thankfully] very nearly over.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Easy Crochet Patterns - My Designs From 2016

I've been working on a few new designs for The Knitting Network, which is really cool because they appeard in Love To Knit And Crochet Magazine, and now they're going up online. So I just thought I'd share a few of them with you where I perhaps haven't shouted wenough about what I've been designing this year.

Essentially, building design time into your work time in an office environment is tricky, so they're simple and quick easy crochet patterns but there's some great stuff here if you're a beginner.

Kicking right off with my pride and joy;

Slash Neck Womens Top Knitting Pattern

This one is very special to me because it appeared as the cover shot on issue 2 of Love To Knit And Crochet magazine.

It's essentially two big squares with some felt-style mesh side panels which gradually turn opaque towards the neckline. I had all sorts of mad ideas for this one including all-mesh with an opaque strip around the bust, but in the end went for this more subtle effect.

The shoulders are tied at the top with crocheted chains so really for this one, all you need to know is how to crochet a double-treble and a chain, all pretty simple stuff. I used Stylecraft Cotton Classique DK, a cotton which has gone on to become a favourite in the crochet cottons of my mental design pallette.

Download your easy crochet top pattern from The Knitting Network website. I have got some Sirdar Cotton DK put aside for me to make one for myself in navy blue - with some AB Purple knitting beads for the front panel - I thought this might give it an evening-y look.

Striped Scarf With PomPom Trim

This was another fun one, mainly for the fact that it was a fun brief, actually.

I don't get many opportunities to design in 4ply (it just takes too long when I'm on a deadline), but with this which was set to be a slightly smaller project, I had the chance to fill my boots with some delectable Rowan Super Fine Merino 4ply.

Really lovely stuff to work with for a soft scarf against your skin.

The brief was fun because myself and several other designers including Anna Nikipirowicz and Kath Webber, were each given a pack of embellishments including beads, pompom trims and embroidery threads, and asked to design a knit which showcases these little flourishes.

I kept it simple with this easy crochet pattern for a filet striped scarf - it's all trebles and chains (speaking the UK abbreviations speak here), so you can't go wrong if you fancy making my lovely, easy pattern. Download the easy scarf crochet pattern here.

Womens Chevron Poncho

I had lots of fun and slightly mad ideas for this one
Briefed to create a beach cover-up, I'm always a bit of a lover of design sketches. I love to draw, having studied the sculpture of anatomy and faces at high school.

Sadly my tinge of green in the above sketches didn't quite make it to the chopping block, and as such I ended up doing a design in just the duck egg and yellow [which is a little sharp on the eyes to be honest - but you can do it in whatever colour you want, of course!].

I managed to crochet the finished poncho in two and a half days, so this really is designed to be a quickie. I remember the conversation in the office about how good this particular design would be if you were heading off to a festival and needed something quick.

I added armholes just for the sake of being practical - I can't bear snoody and poncho things where you can't get your arms in.

Made in Lily Sugar n' Cream, this is a worsted/aran crochet, which you might think would be really heavy - but with the granny-square style finish, technically the fabric is 'half-empty', so it's surprisingly light. And as the finished item is a big square, it makes a pretty decent beach blanket too. Download this easy crochet poncho pattern from The Knitting Network.