Big Blue


I have been doing a fair amount of machine sewing lately. Some of it has been modification of unused items, some of it has been the small projects that are ‘free’ on the front of magazines, and I have patched some of my jeans. I also made a flannel blanket for my son, a very large one that should help hold the toys in bed with him. Oh boy. The more serious sewing still lies ahead of me, the fleecy jacket for my son, the black tops for me.

bigbluesketchThe project that impressed me most was inspired by my son’s lament that he needed a bigger cuddly toy to take to bed with him. The larger toys were not soft enough, and his tigers not large enough. I was not keen on a large stuffed toy entering the house. However, he had been having trouble sleeping, disturbed by low-level nightmares that the dreamcatcher could not filter (school art project). As he fell asleep, inspiration struck. I did not want a big toy to enter the house, but I had no objection to a pillow coming in, as it was time his pillow was replaced, and they tend to come in packs of two, so one for his head, one for the toy. I scribbled a couple of ideas on a scrap of paper (I have had decades of being told not to use scraps of paper, they get lost, but it is like running through the house, a habit that has been impossible to break), and a few days later bought the corduroy (cotton, but soft and fluffy-ish) to make Big Blue the cat.

bigbluefeaturesSo far Big Blue has been a great success. My son is sleeping well. I am amazed that he is something I made, as he does not look made-by-me. I handstitched the eyes, as my attempt to sew the centre of the eye onto the larger piece of fabric was terrible, and it is not something I want to do often enough to take the trouble to work out how to do it properly on the machine. I tacked the shape of the mouth and position of whiskers before backstitching the real thing. Limbs, tail and ears were stitched on with a smaller stitch than usual, several times, to ensure they won’t come out. 


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green alpaca jumper

greenalpacasideseamI dabble in several different crafts. However, I try to restrict myself to a single project in progress in each of those crafts. I make the rules, so I make the exceptions. Small projects that can be completed within a week can be performed at any time, provided they are completed within that time frame. The large project is set aside for that time. Projects that would be tedious, such as the mohair throw, can be worked ‘on the side’, with a small amount to be completed each week. It makes a nice change for the hands, to be using such thick needles, but requires more attention than my regular knitting, so I don’t want it as my main knitting project. 

mohairthrowupdateAnd occasionally, just occasionally, a large project can be set aside and ‘forgotten’. 

This green alpaca jumper was one of those projects.

It should have been a simple project: I have knitted 8 ply alpaca from Bendigo Woollen Mills several times in the past. I assumed my tension would be the same this time as previous times. I knew the measurements of the recipient’s favourite jumper. The calculations were simple. I merrily cast on the body (circular needle, so a huge tube) and knitted. Then after knitting a ribbed band and perhaps 10 cm of stocking stitch, I made the mistake of measuring the width of the tube. I was sure it was too narrow. I made more calculations, pulled out what I had knitted, and resumed with more stitches. 

There was an interlude due to a finger injury (RSI? arthritis? old injury suddenly aggravated?). When I resumed knitting, I blithely worked until I finished a 200 g ball. I measured the tube. It was very wide, much wider than I wanted. By then I had had enough of working on the jumper. I put it in a cloth bag and set it aside. It was not forgotten, just banished from the work basket.

I picked it up again a couple of months ago. It had not made itself narrower during its year of exile. I could not bear the thought of pulling it out again. It seemed doomed to never be the correct width. Instead, I decided I would compensate afterwards. I would make a padded side seam instead. So when casting off a few stitches for the armholes, I cast off extra, the amount that would be lost in the seam. Then I shaped the top of the jumper as normal. Sewing up was ‘fun’

greenalpacastitching seam1. I sewed side seams using mattress stitch, as I usually do when sewing together flat pieces of knitting, right side of the knitting facing me.

greenalpacamarkingseamcentre2. I turned the jumper inside out, and stitched along the centre of the seam using a contrasting thread.

greenalpacaseamcentre3. I flattened the seam, so that the centre would align (approximately) with the seam I had stitched.

greenalpacacatchingseamsides4. I stitched each side of the excess knitted fabric to the body of the jumper, catching just one horizontal bar of yarn every few rows. 

I am now hoping that the recipient does not notice. If he does, I will be flippant, and suggest the extra padding will keep his sides especially warm. It is a relief to have completed this project.

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Cardboard, Sawdust and Styrofoam

I have had a couple of months of feeling I was some experimental subject being fed gluten-free wheat-substitute baked goods. My mother baked a special cake, some shortbread and some almond bread biscotti at  Christmas, and I felt horribly ungrateful for not finding them delicious. The cake seemed to be made with a fine sawdust, and the biscuits were far too sugary for my taste. I hadn’t really missed eating cakes and such, as I had largely given them up when my son was young and I was keeping refined sugar out of his diet because teething was so painful that he refused to allow a toothbrush in his mouth. (So far, no fillings, the damp face washer rubbed gently over the teeth and the lack of refined sugar was sufficient to protect them, even though he chewed on dried apricots every day.) 

Then there was the toast I ate at a cafe, and I was expected to consider it some gourmet delight, even though I have never liked gluten-free bread (my parents-in-law liked a gluten-free cafe for its egg-rich menu – I hated the cement-filled stomach followed by sudden extreme hunger).The recently tried gluten-free bread resembled slices of a multigrain supermarket loaf of bread, something usually disdained in this house, and tasted the way I expect cardboard would taste. 

After all of that, I had a sudden craving for a pleasant cake to eat. So I baked an orange and poppyseed cake, as these often have a good amount of almond meal in them. I could not be bothered looking up a recipe, and took the attitude that it is usually 60 g of butter per egg, and that the dry ingredients are usually added to create a ‘slop’. So I decided to make it up as I went along, as someone must have done originally in the past. 

The cake keeps its shape better if allowed to cool in the tin. The first time it collapsed when released.  



60 g butter, melted 

1 egg

juice of half an orange (very juicy, 20 – 30 mL)

3 tbsp (1/4 cup) marmalade (lemon & lime, because that is what I have)

1 cup almond meal

1/4 cup poppyseeds

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp cloves

Mix all ingredients together.

Pour into 10 cm square tin.

Bake at 160 C fan, 40 minutes.

*double ingredients to bake in loaf tin, same amount of time, as it will be the same distance to reach the centre of the cake from the outside.

*spice measurements can be adjusted to taste, or omitted, and if the batter seems a bit stiff more juice could be added (marmalades vary in how liquid or solid they are). 

*our tablespoon measure is 20 mL, and 3 tbsp is close enough to 1/4 cup, where a cup is 250 mL.


Note: There are two gluten-free substitute foods I consume regularly. There are the popcorn biscuits that are acceptable with nut butters spread on them. I would not bother with them if I could still eat real bread, but I would rather eat styrofoam than cardboard or sawdust. The other substitute, the most successful I have tried, is the weet-bix made with sorghum instead of wheat. They taste more the way I remember weet-bix tasting when I was a child than weet-bix really taste (my son did not like them when he tried them about six years ago, so I ate all that remained in the box). 

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A few Easter chicks


I have been wanting to make some sort of lavendar bag for months. It has been an insane urge. Maybe a few drawers are a bit musty when opened, but wouldn’t it make more sense to toss the stagnant items? Sigh. There just never seems to be time. But there is time to sew chicks. Huh.

Anyway, several sources of inspiration converged recently.

There was the stench, very slight in this house, that came from the sewer upgrade works (thank goodness the holes in the road near here were open for less than a week – some intersections have been closed for months with huge access holes). I distracted my nose with a small dish containing some chai tea and lavendar (my stomach can’t handle black tea anymore).


There was the library craft blog session, with the suggestion that favourite craft blogs be shared. We did not reach that point in the session, but when looking at old favourites I came across Molly Chicken (, no longer active, but the archive is beautiful and the chicks in the banner seemed to be just what I needed.

And finally, instead of making a pattern, I just cut the first directly from the fabric, then used that as my pattern (but then traced afterwards, just in case…). This is the approach used by my son and my nephew when making anything from paper or fabric (or, let’s face it, Lego). It is the best way of cutting shapes from felt, particularly small circles for making eyes. After cutting, I then sorted them according to size to create pairs, trimming one or two where needed. 


Placement of beak and tail before stitching. (Couple of beak positions used.)


Stitching the bottom with one of my favourite machine feet (the saleswoman seemed uncertain of the wisdom of that purchase with the machine, yet I use it as often as the regular foot).


Steps in production.


Happy Easter!

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Broken Rules and Resolutions

160303 casesonwardrobe Sometimes I feel smug when reading of other people’s yarn stashes. Mine is under control, confined to three small cases on top of my wardrobe. The smugness then diminishes when I remember the considerable stash of mohair in the ‘craft cupboard’ in the front room. Oh well, at least there was space in some of the cases, and I was not gaining any more yarn. Until Christmas, when I received two lots of yarn for making blankets, my own request… 160303 cottonforhexagons

160303 hexagonsamplesAnd I was so good at keeping the works-in-progress to a sensible number – just one major work in each craft at the most, with the occasional small project on the side. But then I would remember the alpaca jumper languishing in the front room while some cotton creation was in progress elsewhere in the house. Oh dear. But at least the cotton projects are now complete (a plain jumper and a plain cardigan, both very dull but exactly what we wanted) and I am working on the alpaca (another plain jumper).

Then I read of people declaring how they do not make New Year’s Resolutions. Oh, neither do I, I’d think, I just list projects I would like to work on some time in the future, and tick them off as they are made, and while I aim to unclutter the house during the first term of school, it is not an actual resolution. Given my current sense of let-down and self-disgust, I think the uncluttering was a resolution, or at least an unachievable goal, and I am deriving satisfaction from ticking off completed craft projects (green crochet cat, cotton cardigan, modification of a bag…). I have temporarily abandoned the front room, pruned a couple of plants, and cleaned out a bathroom cupboard, so there is progress, just not what I imagined.

160303 greensbirthdayThe most sensible aim for the year is to knit my nephew a mohair throw to give him for his 21st birthday in November. There are too many browns in the stash, so there is a strong brown element in the blanket, but I have added other colours to keep it from looking dead. I have made a lot of throws in a related feather-and-fan pattern, but decided I preferred a more zig-zaggy look for this one. Maybe it is also due to laziness – fewer holes per row in this pattern. 

160303 mohairthrowstartOne tip, for anyone interested in knitting anything striped in mohair blend yarns: Mohair is very ‘grippy’, so when changing colours it is sufficient to twist 10 to 20 cm of yarn (up to 4 inches) at the site of colour change, then just knit it into the piece. It is not noticeable, and saves a lot of time later. 

The pattern I am knitting (after 3 rows of garter stitch):

rw 1: knit

rw 2: k1, purl to last st, k1

rw 3: k1, yfwd, k4, sl1, k2tog, psso, k4, yfwd; repeat to end, k1

I have 133 sts, and I am using size 8 mm needles. The pattern requires a multiple of 12 sts + 1 for the end.

I change colour after rw 3, and I usually knit about 200 rows for these throws, and finish the ends with fringe. 

And this throw will be finished by November, as I will knit a minimum of 2 stripes (6 rows) per week, and that requires very little time.

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walnuts and jigsaws


We had a brief holiday in Tasmania, and while there I bought some walnuts, in their shells. Back at the apartment I realised that I had neither nutcracker nor meat tenderiser. An image of Antonio Carluccio entered my mind, and I thought of him wandering about in the woods, eating anything, using his pocket knife when necessary. So I tried opening the walnut shells with a knife, and it worked! At home, I wanted to repeat the experiment, but did not want to risk ruining any of my few sharp knives, so I tried an ordinary bread and butter knife, quite blunt. It worked. And since then only one walnut has required that I resort to the hammer equivalent.


Life has been busy. I am making an effort to get more junk out of the house. When I made the huge effort five years ago, I began at the back of the house and worked my way forwards. This time I am beginning at the front, and I am still in the front room. I have reduced the space occupied by jigsaw puzzles simply by making puzzles share boxes. The largest boxes have left the house, minus their pictures, which I have taped to the shared box, larger pictures accommodated inside. 


This is something I could not have done a few years ago – it would have seemed wrong to cut up a jigsaw box, to disregard the feelings of the people involved in its design and manufacture, and then of the person who might own it next. Huh. Today it is mine. And it only took so much space so that it might be noticed in the shop.


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cats at year’s end


I often carry around a bag of cats. Last year there were five of them travelling to the zoo each week. Some people make a rod for their own back, I stick to crochet cats. 


Pyewacket joined us at Christmas. If the name is ringing a faint bell, perhaps you have enjoyed “Bell, Book and Candle”. It is the movie my son first saw when he was around 15 months old, and it instantly became the movie he had to watch. I don’t know if it happens with all children, or just with most of the children in my family, but it seems that at that crucial age they suddenly become obsessed with a single movie, and have to watch it repeatedly. I felt I was lucky. The more we watched this movie, the more I loved it. I love the soundtrack, which is very important in a movie that is watched daily, sometimes twice, as a loathed soundtrack can drive a person crazy. (An evil family member tried to create an attachment to Mama Mia, that ABBA movie, and I cannot adequately express my dislike for that soundtrack. My sister’s children were introduced, by the same person, to ‘Dirty Dancing’, another movie I am happy to never see nor hear again.) I also like the people in “Bell, Book and Candle”, many unattached adults who lead interesting lives and don’t seem to be bothered about having romances. Anyway, for years it was known as ‘The Meow Movie’, and there are still times when I find myself thinking of it that way. The movie begins on Christmas eve, so it seemed an appropriate time for our own Pyewacket to enter our lives. 


Then came the birthday, just a week later. I was told in the middle of the year that the blankets I make are too dreary. Even the eye-watering blanket my grandmother had made was not bright enough, I assume due to the inclusion of a black border. So I ordered so bright wool from the Bendigo woollen mills, and this blanket seemed to make itself. It was a lot of fun. I also had a ball of brightly coloured random-dyed wool in the stash, so a cat was made to accompany the blanket. Absolutely insane, yet fun.


And now I can carry seven cats everywhere we go.



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