Sunday, 15 December 2013

Have yourserself a home-made Christmas ...

Christmas decorations don't have to come from a store.  You can make your own for hardly any cost and they can be so much more precious to you and your family than anything you could buy in a store.  And with a little bit of effort your decorations will look just as good as something you bought - if not better!

This year I have made some crochet Christmas ornaments for the Doctor Who fan in My Splendid Family.  I made six for the tree and all it cost me was $3!  I already had the white yarn, fiber-fill, and crochet hook lying around the place - I only needed to buy the blue yarn.  But even if I had to buy everything from scratch I estimate it would cost $15 in total.  That's still a great saving when you consider to buy something similar in the shops is $10 (plastic) - $20 (glass) for just one.  And of course you get to keep the leftover fiber-fill, hook, and yarn for other projects.  And trust me, once you have a supply of something in your hands you will start coming up with ideas on how you can use the rest of it!

Make your own Doctor Who Tardis Christmas Tree Ornaments!
The result is super cute and I think you will agree looks fantastic on the Christmas tree!  And our Doctor Who fan thought it was just the best thing ever!  For those of you who would like to make something similar I've included some instructions at the end of this article.  But if Doctor Who is not for you, then why not make something to do with what your Splendid Family loves?  Chances are there will be a free crochet or knitting pattern to make something cute from a favorite cartoon / computer game / book on a website like Ravelry.

If it wasn't intended to be a Christmas ornament, there is no reason why you can't add a loop and turn it into one!  Just create a loop out of a length of single crochet stitches and pull it through the top of your item with a crochet hook before you add stuffing and finish it off.  Just remember that smaller is better (and cuter!) for the Christmas tree - don't go for something that will be too big.

Best Wishes for a fantastic Christmas with your Splendid Family!

How to Make a Doctor Who Tardis Christmas Tree Ornament

If you want to make these for your own Christmas tree, you can download the basic pattern from here.

To make one just like mine do the following ...

  • Use 8-ply yarn in blue and white.
  • Ignore the instructions for the snowy top.  I think it looks fabulous in the picture, but I just couldn't recreate it myself and it looks like a lot of people have struggled to create something as good.  So my advice is don't do it - it looks fabulous on the Christmas tree even without it!
  • Use white yarn to cross stitch the windows on all sides of the Tardis and the notice on the front of the Tardis.  Stitch around the cross-stitched areas to create a nice defined shape.  
If you intend on decorating the Tardis in this way, you should alter the pattern to join each row with a slip stitch rather than crocheting in the round.  If you crochet in the round, your windows will not all be in a nice straight row right around the Tardis..  I crocheted the top of the Tardis in the round according to the instructions, but finalized the top pyramid shape with a slip-stitch and then completed all the rows of the body using a slip stitch
  • Crochet 20 single crochet stitches and make a simple knot in the ends over the stitches to create a nice big knot that will not pull through.  Pull the loop up through the top of the tardis with the help of your crochet hook.
  • Half stuff your Tardis with fiber-fill.  Crochet a square to form the bottom of the Tardis.  Sew 3/4 of the square onto the Tardis.  Finish filling the Tardis with fiber-fill and then fully sew the bottom square onto the Tards.
  • If you want to make it look a bit more Christmassy, consider adding a bit of tinsel, or holly, or ribbon or whatever else you can think of.




Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Amigurumi - Cute Crochet Toys

Have you heard of Amigurumi?  It is two Japanese words combined together to mean crocheted stuffed doll and you pronounce it Ah-me-goo-roo-me (glad to see my two years of high school Japanese are finally paying off!).  It’s a bit difficult to remember and almost impossible to type correctly into Google so maybe we will see a good nickname develop for in the next few years (please!).  And of course they have to be cute.  Think Hello Kitty and other cute Japanese cartoon creatures made out of crochet.  More often than not they are animals, but they don’t have to be.  Best of all, if anyone in your family has a favorite character, chances are there is a cute free pattern so you can delight them by making them one!

An amigurumi version of an adipose baby (a cute Doctor Who character).
Make your own using with this free pattern ...
http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/amigurumi-fat-baby

If you have never picked up a crochet hook before, I’d suggest you start on a simpler more traditional crochet project.  In my experience amigurumi is a bit fiddly - you don’t want to be learning your basic stitches on something that is fiddly.  Also free patterns on the internet often have mistakes and you need a little bit of experience with crochet to spot and correct these problems as you go.  Ideally you want a little bit of crochet experience including reading a pattern.  You also want to have a little bit of experience with sewing - nothing fancy – if you can do basic mending you are set.  Having said all of that, I was looking up the Internet to learn how to do some new crochet stitches and translate acronyms for my first amigurumi.  There really is no excuse for not tackling a project these days with the help of Google.  Go for it if you are really keen!!

In this post I have included pictures of my most recent amigurumi.  It is an Adipose baby from Doctor Who.  It is a free pattern that you can download from Ravelry (http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/amigurumi-fat-baby) once you sign up to the website for free.  If you haven’t yet discovered Ravelry it is time you check it out (www.ravelry.com).  You can search for and download the free instructions to lots of crochet and knitting patterns.  Best of all you can see how the pattern has turned out for other people and the modifications they have made and find out if anyone experience any difficulty with the pattern.

Amigurumi versions of Daleks from Doctor Who.
Make your own using this free pattern ...
http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/dalek-egg-cosy

Arguably the most important and most difficult part of your amigurumi project will be adding a face.  Without even trying you can turn your amigurumi from a cute adorable thing into a scary angry looking monster!  Or if you make the mistake of allowing the natural crochet holes to control your embroidery, you can end up with a very unprofessional and ugly looking result that really brings your whole project down.  So be prepared to spend a bit of time getting the face just right.  And be prepared to start over a couple of times if it is not looking right.  I've included a picture of a partially complete embroidered mouth I tried for the adipose baby. In the show the character has a baby tooth showing that I wanted my version to have.  But the mouth ended up making the adipose baby look scary rather than cute!  So I removed it and started over again and copied the mouth used in the instructions.  I may have had more luck with a felt mouth - there is more wiggle room as you can reshape it by trimming it - embroidery is not so easy to change.

A mouth I experimented with that makes
the amigurumi look more scary than cute.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

The "Throwaway" Bouquet

The "Throwing of the Bouquet" is a fun tradition that a lot of brides like to include as part of their wedding.  But some brides are reluctant to part with their beautiful bouquet after only a few hours.  The solution is to get a throw-away bouquet made.  This is often a smaller, simpler version of the bride's bouquet.  The bride can then take her own bouquet home and enjoy it for a bit longer, and the lucky catcher gets a nice memento to take home as well.

But before ordering a throw-away bouquet, have a think about whether you will be around to enjoy your bouquet.  If you and your new hubby will jet off on an amazing overseas honeymoon, chances are you won't be taking it with you, and when you get back it will no longer be at its best.  So consider saving the cost of a throw-away bouquet and really make the day of the lucky catcher!

TIP: If you are budget conscious, instead of stipulating the flowers that should be used, allow the florist to source flowers that are readily available and in season.  They can often re-create your vision using several different flower types - and ones you may not have even thought of.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Choosing Your Wedding Shoes

Shoes from Alan Pinkus' wedding range


Bridal shoes should be a synch to cross off your to do list - right?  Wrong!  I've been hearing all sorts of horrible stories about how hard it has been for brides to find a pair of wedding shoes.  Why?  Because white and elegant strappy shoes are out of fashion right now - chunky straps are in.  And whilst they may look hot on a nightclub dance floor, they aren't the right look for a wedding dress.  I've put this post together for you to help make finding your splendid shoes just a little easier.

Traditional Wedding Shoes


Traditional wedding shoes are very difficult to find right now.  But nothing completes your look quite like a pair of traditional wedding shoes.  They are hard to find - but the effort is well worth it.  I recommend tracking down the shoe brands that carry a sizeable wedding range.  Alan Pinkus (see photo) is one such designer and his shoes are available in most capital city Myer stores in Australia as well as online.  The range includes a variety of colours and heel heights. 
You can also get your wedding shoes custom made for around the $300 mark and up.  A pair of proper wedding shoes can easily cost you from $180-$250 and up.  So it isn't ridiculously expensive. You get to pick the heel height, style, colour, diamantes etc.  But you don't get to try the shoe on before it gets made. 


Comfort vs Style


You will be on your feet most of the day - photography shoots, talking to guest, and dancing.  The wrong pair of shoes will leave you in pain and make all of this very difficult.  If you aren't used to 6-inch heels - then your wedding day is not the day to start wearing them.  Remember that you will be a little bit out of your comfort zone already with your wedding dress - hey it isn't every day that we wear a dress with a train is it!  So don't add to your discomfort with shoes that make you feel like you are about to trip over.
Are the shoes you are looking at suitable for dancing in?  If not you can consider buying a second pair to change into like many brides do - but make the right decision now and you can save yourself that added cost. 
TIP: Bring band-aids!  Just in case those shoes do rub a little - you can pop on a band-aid and sail through the rest of the day and night pain-free 


Coloured Shoes


This choice is very popular with brides right now.  They are choosing bright colours that will pop with a white dress like royal purple, electric blue, or bright red.  Electric blue is by far the favourite choice as it sorts out the "something blue"!  You can also feature your shoes in your photography shoot - it makes a cute photo to have the bride lifting up her dress enough to allow her bright shoes to show!
But be careful - we've seen brides who have gotten it dreadfully wrong - black thick straps are more suited to work than under a wedding dress! 


Boot-Scooting


If you are having a country wedding then a cute pair of boots may be the way to go.  And they are quite practical too if you have to traipse through a farm yard!  But if you are having a city wedding, your boots are best left at home!


Ordering Online


If you can order shoes from anywhere in the world - but remember that comfort is very important on your wedding day.  You have to try a pair of shoes on to know if they are suitable for you.  Especially as a lot of wedding shoes are made out of materials that don't stretch.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Using Social Media to Organize Your Wedding with Pinterest

Have you discovered Pinterest yet?  If not then we suggest you hop on over to http://pinterest.com/ and check it out as it will revolutionize the way you are researching ideas for your wedding.  It doesn’t matter if you are just starting out, or only have a few tasks left – Pinterest will be able to help.  And it is all free!  And free is a word we brides-to-be love to hear as we watch the costs for our wedding tally up!
Use Pinterest to organize you wedding

So what is this Pinterest and why should you care?  Some brides will create a vision board – especially those who have a creative background and do something like this on a regular basis for their jobs.  For those of you not familiar with a vision board – it is a collection of mostly images, but also fabric, colours, words, ribbon, and anything else that you can stick onto a board.  They can be very specific – with pictures of the exact dress you want, the exact ring you want, the exact bouquet you want.  They can also be not so specific – a collection of pictures that have a feel that you’d like to recreate – or even just a collection of pictures you really like and want to keep to look at in the future as you refine your vision for your wedding.
Without knowing it, you are probably already creating a vision board.  The collection of images you are ripping out of or post-it noting in wedding magazines would make up a vision board if you glued them to a board.  Vision boards can be used as your own personal tool to keep your ideas together, or as a very powerful communication tool.  If you are trying to communicate a vision to your wedding suppliers – nothing is as powerful as an image for describing what you are after!  And they can be invaluable if you are using an overseas or interstate wedding planner.
But much of the inspiration that brides get these days is not something they can glue down on a board – the Internet is a very popular tool for brides-to-be – and this is where Pinterest comes in.  When you set up an account with Pinterest, you can create boards and give them names.  And then you are ready to start pinning photos to your boards!
A good starting point is to search Pinterest.  There are thousands of brides out there who have already created boards that you can search (this is where social media comes in).  If you really like someone’s content you can follow them so you are notified of their new posts – but this isn’t necessary.  You can make great use of Pinterest for your wedding and never interact with anyone.  So if you have a colour theme in mind for your wedding – chances are you aren’t the first and someone else on Pinterest has already done the hard work for you. Just search for something like “purple wedding” and up come lots of gorgeous wedding photos and ideas featuring purple.  If any catch your eye, then you can pin it to your board.  How great is that!  All the hard yards are done for you!
Not everything is on Pinterest – yet!  But that isn’t a problem.  You can pin content from other sources as well.  The easiest way to do this is to install the Pinterest toolbar button.   It is super easy to install with a simple drag and drop.  Read more details at http://about.pinterest.com/goodies/ under “The Pin It Button”.  When you are done, whenever you see a website with a picture you just adore, press the “Pin It” button in your toolbar and up will pop a box for you to select the picture you want to pin.
Best of all it is seriously fun!  The best thing to do is give it a try – it is very easy to pick up.  And just a bit of a warning - you could become addicted very quickly!
Have fun brides-to-be!

Friday, 23 August 2013

Three Essential Weight Loss Tools



Weight loss has been the aim in my house for 8 months now.  After many false starts I am happy to say that we are finally starting to see results.  And I’d like to share with you what I believe are essential tools to successful weight loss based on my own experience.  There are lots more “things” that are essential for weight loss such as a supportive environment, but here I just cover all the things you can pick up and play with!

A WIFI Enabled Scale (or a notebook and pen if you are freakishly disciplined)

Or in simple language, scales that will record your weight and allow you to view it with for instance an app on your iPhone.  Now I know what you are going to say – and the answer is yes, you can record your weight on a piece of paper yourself.  But if you are the type of person who doesn’t always write it down, or you always end up losing that bit of paper in-between diets, then you will love this type of scale.

Since having one of these scales, I’ve discovered that I unknowingly tend to bend the truth.  Not on purpose – just simply because I forget the facts.  For instance – this morning I hit a weight that I knew I hadn’t been down to in quite a while.  I felt a little bit good.  But when I looked at my history in the app, I discovered I hadn’t been down to that weight since I started using the WIFI scale at the beginning of my weight loss journey.  All of a sudden I went from feeling a bit good to “Oh wow!”.  I should have been really proud of myself but wasn’t simply because I couldn’t remember what had happened in the ups and downs of the last 8 months.  And it is important to know you are going well because it can give you the mental power to stay on track when you can see what you are doing is making a difference.  We have many variations of this story in our house where our own recollections are either too harsh or too complimentary and readings in the app have set us straight.

You don’t need to look at the app every day.  Most days you will be happy just to see the reading on the scales – so it isn’t another thing you need to worry about.  And if you get one that has an app on your iPhone, the graphs are never far away when you want to have a look at it.

A Calorie Counter

There are a lot of companies out there that make lots of money taking the thinking out of dieting.  They can help you lose weight, but ultimately in the long term you need the knowledge to plan the meals yourself.  Even diet books full of recipes aren’t the answer in my opinion because often they are full of time-consuming recipes and that don’t leave you with the knowledge of how to judge a recipe you might find elsewhere.  Essentially all these companies are trying to do the calorie counting for you – but get yourself my second essential tool – a calorie counter, and you can do it yourself and you will be able to look at any recipe and know if it will blow your calorie intake for the day.

I’ll be straight with you - it isn’t the most fun thing you could be doing.  But it can be quite educational.  You will never want to eat fast food chips again after looking up their calorie content!  And once you have done it for your favorite meals you never need to do it again. 

A Digital Kitchen Scale

This one goes hand in hand with a calorie counter.  Your cheap kitchen scale with the arrow and manual adjustment for containers just won’t cut it.  You need to know how big those potatoes are so you can work out how many calories they contain!

And that’s it.  Good luck with your weight loss – I hope these tips put you on the road to weight loss success too!

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Dr Who Scarf Inspired Cushion Cover



This simple cushion cover is just the thing for the Dr Who fan in your house.  It is so simple that even a beginner can do it and you will end up with something original that money can’t buy in the shops.  They look great on couch (see picture) and have a different pattern on each side so you can flip them over according to your mood.  It’s a subtle tribute to Dr Who – fans will love it and those who aren’t fans will just think it’s a normal cushion cover.  It is stylish enough that it will not be forced to hide in the study like all the other Dr Who merchandise!  And besides – what else are you going to do with your time while waiting for the Dr Who 50th Anniversary special!

Dr Who Scarf Inspired Cushion Cover - Side 1
Dr Who Scarf Inspired Cushion Cover - Side 1
What you will need:

  • A 46 cm x 46 cm (size 18) cushion insert.  I picked one up at Big W for $6.87.
  • 5.5 mm knitting needles
  • Vanna’ Choice Yarn in the following colours and quantities (see my note below on yarn choice)
    • Beige – 1 ball
    • Olive – 1 ball
    • Charcoal – 1 ball
    • Brick – 1 ball
    • Toffee – 1 ball
    • Burgundy – 1 ball
    • Mustard – 1 ball
  • Scissors
  • Wool needle
Dr Who Scarf Inspired Cushion Cover - Side 2
Dr Who Scarf Inspired Cushion Cover - Side 2
Instructions:

  1. Cast on 70 stitches in Olive.  You will be knitting every row (aka Garter stitch).
  2. Knit 20 ribs (a rib is two rows of knitting counted from the right side) in Olive.
  3. Knit 3 ribs in Mustard.
  4. Knit 7 ribs in Charcoal
  5.  Knit 3 ribs in Brick
  6. Knit 21 ribs in Beige
  7. Knit 3 ribs in Burgundy
  8. Knit 8 ribs in Olive
  9. Knit 5 ribs in Charcoal
  10. Knit 3 ribs in Mustard
  11. Knit 7 ribs in Brick
  12. Knit 3 ribs in Burgundy
  13. Knit 16 ribs in Toffee
  14. Knit 4 ribs in Beige
  15. Knit 3 ribs in Charcoal
  16. Knit 17 ribs in Brick
  17. Knit 6 ribs in Mustard
  18. Cast off all stitches
  19. Fold the resulting rectangle in half so you get a square with the right sides facing out.  Sew up the two sides closest to the fold using a proper garter stitch seam here for a fantastic seamless result.  There are lots of great tutorials on the web to teach you how to do this if you don’t already know.  Here you are doing a VERTICAL garter stitch seam.  The result is mostly seamless it but may show a little so use toffee yarn here as it isn't obvious when it does show.
  20. Insert the cushion into the cushion cover
  21. Sew up the final seam using a HORIZONTAL garter stitch seam.  Use olive yarn here since you are joining two green sections together.


Yarn choice:

I’ve listed here what I used.  I started out by making a Dr Who scarf thanks to the directions of a really great website wittylittleknitter.com.  I then had the idea of making a cushion cover with just a section of the scarf.  The lady behind Witty Little Knitter has gone to a lot of effort to choose colours and create patterns as close as possible to the original scarf.  The instructions I give you here are how turn a section of that scarf into a cushion.  To be exact, I have chosen a section from the Season 12 scarf.  I chose a section that includes a bit of every colour of the scarf.

Witty Little Knitter will give you other yarns that you could use instead of Vanna’s Choice.  Or you can go to your local yarn shop and try to match the colours to yarns that you have access to.  Some of the colours used are quintessential 70s colours that aren’t so readily available today.  So I ordered Vanna’s Choice yarn from fabric.com.  To me it was worth the extra cost of postage just to avoid the hassle of colour matching a local brand. 

Happy knitting!

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Choosing Knitting Needles



Recently knitting has become my new old hobby.  Old because I dabbled in it as a child.  New because I have a renewed interest in it.  I’ve had to purchase knitting needles recently as I don’t have the sizes required for the projects I am working on.  I used to think that knitting needles only came in metal – the ones my mother had that I grew up using.  But recently I’ve discovered and bought other types – mainly due to not being able to find the right size in the metal ones.
But which type do you choose if you have a choice?  And in what length?  In this post I’ll go though the positives and negatives of each type to help you decide.

Plastic

These can be entirely made of plastic, or reinforced internally with a metal rod inside the plastic.  If they are reinforced, they can rattle a little bit as you knit but I haven’t found the noise to be annoying.  They have a nice smooth surface that makes the yarn slide over easily – perhaps not as slippery as polished metal, but personally I haven’t noticed much of a difference.  They aren’t as cold as metal but they won’t last as long as metal.  Plastic degrades over time – and while you will probably get many many years of use out of plastic knitting needles, you might not be able to pass them on to the next generation.

Metal
3.5mm metal knitting needle with a length of 25cm
 Great for small projects like scarves
I once accidentally slammed on in the door of my car and I’m still using it after bending it back into shape.  So these needles are tough and will last a long time.  On the negative side, they can be cold to the touch initially, and stitches can more easily slip off them.  However, a slippery needle is seen as a good thing for a proficient knitter as it allows them to knit fast.  Maybe try another material if this is your very first attempt at knitting, but don’t be scared off by metal needles either – they aren’t that difficult to use.

Bamboo
3.5mm bamboo knitting needles with a length of 35cm
Great for bigger projects like adult jumpers

Bamboo is the opposite of metal as far as knitting needles are concerned – they are cheaper, warm to the touch, grip the yarn (good for beginners, not so good for proficient knitters), have a bit of flex and can break .  

Length of Needle

Needles tend to be available in a shorter size that I would say is more manageable, and a longer size that in necessary for bigger projects such as an adult man’s jumper.  The shorter ones are nicer to use if you can – they are easier to transport, you are less likely to hit the person next to you with your needles, and you can use them sitting in bed without worrying about hitting the doona.  That said longer needles are a must for bigger projects such as an adult man’s jumper.  You can try to squeeze all the stitches on shorter needles but it really is worth the money to invest in a larger set of needles for these projects as with a bit more space to see what you are doing properly you are less likely to make mistakes and stitches are less likely to fall off. 

My Advice

It all comes down to your budget.  If you can afford it, buy a length of needle to suit your project.  If money is tight, buy the longer needles as they are suitable for a wider range of projects.  As for material, again budget comes into consideration – but that aside I would choose metal knitting needles.  They are the most durable and will last a lifetime (or two or three – I just received my Grandmother’s metal knitting needles after she passed away and they are showing no signs of age – her plastic ones didn’t fare as well and were thrown away).  And when you gain just a little bit of experience you will appreciate the yarn sliding easily along the needles.
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