Making a new (or several) new starts

This used to be an active blog with plenty of updates about projects, making, yarns etc - and then it wasn't.

Part of the reason might have been the amount of blog content I was writing elsewhere, but the main reason was that life happened.

2015 was a tough year. It is one that I will always associate mainly with grief and physical pain. 

Which isn't to say that there weren't any highs. There were opportunities to take on new projects that draw on a range of my skills, I won two competitions for knitting design, chances to visit new places and great times with family and friends.

image from www.lapurplepenguin.comMy wining design for Knitting magazine

But grieving and dealing with pain used up a lot of energy and as much as I am by nature a battler, I ran out of steam. So much so that for a while I was finding it hard to pursue opportunities and even to set fingers to keyboard. My head was still buzzing with ideas but I wasn't always getting them out there.

As  result I entered 2016 needing some change and the first quarter of the year has been focused on achieving that.

Some of that has been physical. The start of the year featured a lot of physio and rehab exercise which means I'm in less pain and am more active. Last week I attended my first fencing session in nearly a year. Getting back to those particular pointy sticks was energising and gave me a boost for other activities.


But mainly the change is about my work focus. I have stopped working on something that I was no longer enjoying and which was perhaps stopping me chasing other opportunities - and already I'm replacing that lost income from new projects and expanding existing one.

Although I've laughed at the Japanese idea of decluttering by holding each object in your hand and only keeping those that give you a feeling of joy - it would probably take a life time to go through my clutter - I have been doing something similar mentally in terms of work and goals.

Part of this process is giving time to (and keeping that time) for doing what makes me feel positive lifewise as well as workwise, which means:

  1. Setting aside time to blog regularly including:
    - completing the promised set of posts on decoding cable knitting
    image from

    - talking more about the creative projects I'm involved in and why you might like them too
    - sharing the development of designs and patterns
    - reviewing the new yarns I try
    It may also means reviving a second blog for my political and social issue musings

  2. Making part of my working week about my own designs which means:
    - sorting out my sketch book and the assorted other scraps of paper
    - writing up designs I've already made
    - giving myself a kick up the backside about actually submitting designs to magazines etc. I did this in the last few days and have a commission as a result. Just need to do it more
    - taking more pictures
    Sketch book

  3. Teach more. I love helping people develop new or improve their skills whether that be knitting and crochet, business and social media or other crafts such as jewellery or braiding. So I will be developing some new workshop ideas and looking for opportunities to teach. If you are looking for a tutor for an event check out what I can do and get in touch.

  4. Allow myself time for learning and creativity. Some people might think that someone whose working life involves writing and working with knitting patterns might have plenty of creativity going on already. But stimulation beyond work is important to keep you active and fresh.
    Towards the end of last year I took a couple of online photography courses. This meant setting aside time to join online seminars and to do my homework. I found that not only did I learn a lot from the classes but the homework time was stimulating for all my creative projects.
    So the plan for this year is to have some time each week to do more online courses or attend a workshop and also to explore new sewing and jewellery-making techniques. With this in mind I've signed up to a sewing magazine and started an online wire weaving courses, so expect more posts on these topics as well as more experiments in resin.

    Wire weaveEarly wire weaving attempt

Even writing this has made me feel positive so I'm looking forward with new energy and new plans. Roll on the remainder of 2016 and beyond.

Learning about leather

As someone who loves textiles and jewellery (and who has a bit if a thing about statement cuffs and bracelets), I had been looking forward to the leather jewellery day at London Jewellery School for quite a while.

Apart from wanting to make my own cuff like those pictured on the course web page, I was interested in the possibility of making leather embellishments for hats and bags – and possibly even leather stitch makers.

The workshop is taught by jewellery designer Hayley Kruger who uses leather and suede in a lot of her work.


When we arrived the table was piled with pieces of leather and suede in a variety of colours and it was all I could do not to rifle through it immediately. Hayley first explained about different types of leather and how to tell one from another – for example pig skin has pores on its surface and some leathers are more stretchy than others – and the different treatments that can be applied.

Then it was time to choose some leather for our pieces. I was very excited to spot some leather and suede that matched some of the colours in my Barnett Park scarf which I was wearing that day – orange suede and glossy brown leather. Plus there was some mustardy yellow thread that was perfect for some contrast stitching.


We also chose studs, eyelets and fasteners and started to plan our pieces with the aid of a cardboard template cut to fit our own wrists.

Once we’d decided on the size of our bracelets we drew out the shape on the reverse of our leather pieces and cut them to size using craft knives. A fresh sharp blade is essential, as soon as the blade begins to blunt it will drag on the leather, spoiling your straight edge.


Once I had the basic shape I used the cardboard template to work out where to place the holes and studs in my outer layer. You can punch plain holes or add eyelets to them which allows your lining layer to show through.


There were a range of large punches to make the holes but I definitely preferred the set with the blue handles pictured.

Once I’d punched the plain holes I’d decided on and made slits to attach my studs, I had a go at “bevelling” the edges.


This involves running a tool with a curved split end along the edges to expose a little of the undyed leather. You follow this by smoothing the edges, polishing with a damp cloth or using a liquid called edge kote.

I must admit that bevelling was the part I found hardest and the edges are not as I would like them. More practice needed.


Then came the laborious process of preparing your leather for stitching. You first mark up the stitching lines on your leather and then score those lines with an awl. Then you use a with a wheel to make the stitch hole positions and finally you use the awl to make the actual holes.

At which point you are ready to stitch – well almost.

You still need to prepare your thread. We used embroidery thread which we stiffened by running it through beeswax.


For leather stitching you use a needle on each end of the thread and in each stitch bring one end from the back and one from the front through the same hole. In the class we created our own needles using twisted wire but I think I’ll use leather hand sewing needles in future.

Once the stitching was complete I was ready to construct my cuff.

I attached the studs and then glued the orange lining layer in place and added fastening studs using the punches and stud tools again.

And my cuff was complete.



There was time during the class to work on a second bracelet but because I decide to stitch layers of leather together it still has a little work to be done.

And that won’t be the last of my leather working. Hayley has given me great instruction and left me with the confidence to start working on some ideas. Perhaps I’ll request a bag of leather scraps for Christmas.

Making Monday - a riot of colour

As it was my birthday this Monday, I made sure I planned the week to set aside some quality making time today. 

And as the sun came out, it became all about spring colour.

This cuff of a fingerless mitt is a glorious daffodil yellow (yarn from Sparkleduck) which I've using to bring some brightness to a grey few weeks - and of course bright colours are a big fashion trend this spring.

IMG_3580And adding the first contrast edging to my Pinion cardigan today made me smile - it's exactly as I hoped.

The purple is used for the edge of the rib and as the quills of the feathers worked round the yoke of the cardigan and I really think I'm getting the jewel/peacock tones I had hoped for.  IMG_3598a

All this colour made me have a bit of a poke about in my yarn stash and came across a skein or two I'd forgotten about.

In particular there is this Crazy Zauberball with orange and turquoise. I'm not sure what exactly it should be yet but the really strong colours make think of a light but dramatic statement scarf to drape over a plain top or jacket.

Once I'd reorganised the yarn and plotted future projects, turned my attention to the bead stash which has plenty of colour.


 I recently learnt traditional pearl knotting and wanted to practice.

IMG_3588I've been experimenting with using less traditional thick cord with some vintage carved beads and am quite pleased with the necklace I finished today.

(Ok so I compensated for the natural tones with a bright background here. The day was clearly turning into one for photography practice.)

 Then I turned to some more traditional practice using silk cord and semi precious stones. 

I've had a string of hot pink faceted jade beads in the bead box for quite some time. The bright colour is perfect for this spring but I wanted as vintage style as well - something that could go with a tea dress for example. I had black silk beading cord which made for a strong contrast with the pink and I also had a handful of smaller watermelon tourmaline beads with pinkish tones to add extra interest. 

An hour or so of happy knotting practice later - plus a little work with pliers and findings - and I had created a lovely birthday present for myself.






Missing-in-action penguin returns

I've realised that since London 2012 the Penguin has been very quiet. 

Some of that was being happily exhausted when the Paralympics finished and having 1,000s of Games photographs to edit.

Peacock versus Pistorius - the men's T44 100m final

And a lot of it is down to being very busy with work - some of which I haven't been able to talk about, and a lot which involved writing articles and blog posts for my various professional roles.

So this post will serve as an update list of what I've been up to - at least as much as I can tell you.

So plenty of writing in the past few weeks from social care policy to new knitwear designers - look out for my pieces in The Knitter and Simply Knitting in the coming months (obviously the social policy stuff will be elsewhere).

I now also work part-time for the London Jewellery School - the place where I learnt most of my jewellery making techniques. I look after web and blog content, social media, press, advertising and membership which means I've been writing plenty of blog posts for that site instead of here. It's very educational and inspiring being around the classes and seeing the work of all the students wether doing one-day courses or a full diploma programme. So I've been working on my own jewellery which means I'll hopefully be updating the etsy shop soon.

Agate and wire necklace

Meanwhile I'm also blogging over at Planet Handmade where I'm working on the content our full launch. If you don't know about Planet Handmade, I'd recommend follwoing the link and having a look at our blog but in summary it goes like this...

Planet Handmade is the brainchild of former editor of The Knitter and all round craft PR guru Juliet Bernard. It is an online hub for designer makers across all the handmade sectors - from metalwork and woodturning to jewellery and ceramic with of course plenty of yarn and textiles in the mix. Planet Handmade will support designer makers by providing relevant business and other information and promote them to retailers, stylists and the press. It will also campaign abpout attitudes to craft skills and the handmade.

One of the first things we've been getting exercised about are the changes to how textiles - especially yarn - have now to be labelled. The new EU rules have been drafted by someone who clearly knows nothing about yarn or textiles. If you want to marvel at the stupidity of rules that make no distinction between superfine merino and the cheapest coarse wool, do have a read. In the course of looking at this issue, I appear to have become something of an expert on the matter...

Knitting has also been featuring heavily in both my working life and downtime - now there's a surprise. I've been working as a tech editor on a number of interesting projects brining me into contact with some beautiful patterns - which probably deserve a post of their own once I check what has been released so far.

I've also been knitting for a London College of Fashion project. I can't reveal even a glimpse of what I'm working on but I can say that it is a new an exciting challenge because I'm interpreting the designer's drawings to create full garments with unique features. It requires a problem solving ability, knitting skills and an understanding of how fabrics behave. I look forward to being able to share the results and to talk about the experience in full.

IMG_2586As with the jewellery, all this exposure to design in the raw has sparked my own creativity.

Current swatches range from the super-fine for a 1920s inspired idea to super chunky (below).

The super-fine idea came from seeing some beautiful yarn and catching up with some TV drama in the same day. I was already besotted with the yarn and then I fell for a sweater on TV. Moare as the idea develops.

Meanwhile I was swatching for the secret LCF IMG_2616project when I started thinking about what it would be like to knit lace this big.

So I got some of the yarn for myself and started experimenting, and a bolero jacket using shawl shaping techniques was born.

I'm not quite ready to reveal the finished product but using shawl techniques in big wool adn needles raises some interesting thoughts. Is lace itself, plus provisional cast-ons and short row shaping, difficult because we think of doing it in fine yarn and on tiny needles? Would it be a good introduction to these techniques to do them "big"?

Despite all of this I did make it to Ally Pally last week. And I even know what most of the haul is for. The purple Fyberspates yarn is for long gloves for a December wedding, the brown Nimu will be a scarf for Mr Penguin and the Rowan Lima had to be bought after I was talked into buying a copy of Designer Knitting containing some fabulous cable patterns.


So now we're up-to-date, I'll no my very best to post interesting and informative - or at least yarn-obsessed - items on a more regular basis. 

Simple but effective, perfecting an earring design

Just as with knitwear, as I become more absorbed by jewellery making I'm forever staring at strangers' earrings. Oddly enough, it was a plain silver pair worn by a woman at a knitting group that started me thinking about creating a very simple design caging a coloured bead or gemstone in silver.


In picture above you can see a few of the pairs I've been working on - I've been playing with different ways to contain the stone/bead and different lengths. It's quite therapeutic experimenting with the shapes although I have to contain myself from wanting to wear everything I might make.

Actually, I've been wearing these ones for great reaction. Now I'm happier with the idea and several different colours for myself, I will be starting to sell these and a few other designs very soon. I just have to have more confidence in myself and work out some pricing.

Having a rubber ball with bangles

 Jewel 041

 It may lead to be hanging about in plumbing supply shops, but inspired by something I saw on my recent travels and by various jewellery trends of the moment I've been experimenting with wire and rubber combos for jewellery. These are prototypes and experiments but they are leading to what will be finished pieces shortly.


Jewel 039Silver wire and odd earing


Jewel 040

 Coloured wire coils


Jewel 037


Torc type necklace with pendant...

Jewel 038



From blank page to bangle: a day of silversmithing

Silver 046a


As part of my plan to try out as many jewellery techniques as I could, I Silver 025took a Beginner's Silver day at London Jewellery School early this year. During the day we learnt the basics of cutting, annealing, texturing with a hammer and soldering to produce a ring.

While I was very pleased with my end product, I found the day very hard and wondered if these techniques were really for me. But then I had a revelation - I had been walking round, sawing, hammering, etc with a fractured vertebra (I'd previously been told my back was just badly bruised), which may have impacted on my silversmithing experience.

So I signed myself up for the intermediate workshop. This is a major step up because it isn't a case of following along with the tutor - albeit making your own variations - on a single project. This time each of our group of five had to come up with our own project and design, within the constraints of available materials. Then the tutor Melissa Hunt then worked with each of us to identify the techniques we would need and indeed it the idea was feasible.

Silver 035The one thing I was sure of was that I wanted to make a cuff-style bracelet.

Plus I like spirals, coils and curves - in metal, fabric, etc - and have often used them. Working in wire recently has seen me play with those shapes a lot.

The question was how to bring this elements together. But as I was sketching and thinking I noticed the ring I was wearing, which had a small coil of wire soldered to it.

That helped me with one element - I would use silver wire to make raised coil end pieces for the bracelet.

On the left you can see a test coil in copper as I played with width and shaping.

But then I was stuck. I wanted to reflect these motifs on the body but couldn't see how.

Melissa had the answer. I could try making a series of scrolls in copper wire and use a roller print technique to impress them into the silver. Roller printing involves annealing (softening) the metal and then placing it and a texture between two large rollers to press the design into the piece.

So the first jobs were to cut the sheet metal to length and to test the roller printing idea on a scrap of copper. I need a lot of sawing practice but with a bit of vigorous filing I did produce a neat piece.

As for my test piece:

Silver 032
 There was some distortion but that was useful in working out the settings for the real piece.

Plus it showed that there is no chance of reusing a a copper motif.

Silver 033
So after a spot of gentle scroll rolling it was time for the moment of truth. I attached my motifs to a strip of sellotape and alligned them on the annealled bracelet metal.

Silver 036
Then the moment of truth - the whole thing went into the rollers. I didn't get it quite right at the beginning - so admit that one end of one scroll impression isn't perfect (the pictures avoid this little blemish) - but over all it worked.

Silver 047a

Silver 037Then all that was left was shaping the ends, crating and attaching the ends and shaping the actually bracelet with all the intermediate heating, cooling and cleaning stages.

Plus Melissa had a new challenge for me. We'd orginally talked about soldering the wire motifs to the bracelet but she now reckoned I should consider riveting them instead. This meant working out how to build pins into the centre of my spirals (as in my test copper cols, left) and drilling holes into my piece. 

The drilling worked with a lot of help from Melissa because we had trouble with fine enough drill bits and then it was time to rivet the piece. The drilling is the scary bit - if the pins fit in the holes (and they did) the rest is about good soldering and finishing.

Silver soldering involves painting your joint with borax flux, heating the area with a small blow torch in one hand and adding tiny pieces of silver solder with tweezers.

Silver 039

Then you snip of the excess pins and file down the bumps. This is another worrying moment. My joints held but one of my fellow students managed to file through one of hers and had to start again.

And then there is plenty of polishing and cleaning up to do before a final shine up in the tumbler to produce a pretty piece.

Silver 044

Making life difficult for myself

I'm planning a mini knit-a-long with a friend to take on vintage style short-sleeved Fair Isle jumpers. But being a bit out of practice with colourwork I decided to take on a couple of smaller projects first. But I also decided to go for a spot of self-improvement by learning to hold one colour strand in each hand.

This takes some practice to ensure even tension and I find I have to swap the yarns between my hands a lot because I can only manage some tasks with my left. On reflection a practice swatch with something relatively simple like a traditional star was probably the best way forward - instead these reindeer have been unpicked a few dozen times but at least they don't look too mutant now. But more practice required.

Proj 061
Meanwhile, I console myself with some lace and wire making successes.

Lace 041

Jewel 036

Find out about other people's Making Monday.



DIY souvenirs

It seems that my memories of my first trip to Sicily will be in the form of things that do not yet exist in their final form. 

There will obviously be the online photo album and the new silver charm for my "travellers tale" bracelet just requires a jump ring but this is merely the tip of the iceberg. 

In Cefalu, where we were staying, two things caught my eye; the number of shops featuring beaded and wire jewellery and a little outlet for a traditional weaving and textile business featuring shawls, crocheted items and what from a distance appeared to be skeins of yarn.

So one evening I arranged to meet my very craft tolerant other half in an establishment that purveyed beer and set off for a browse/shop/inspiration-seeking wander. Several jewellery shops later, having being intrigued in particular by what you can create with half a zip (watch this space), I stumbled across one featuring exactly the types of wires and bead/semi-precious stone jewellery I've been learning about. Even better it had a large basket of these:

  Pic 001

Elasticated bracelets length loops strung with beads and stones which you could just wear as a bangle - or like me have mentally reworked into necklaces and earings by the time you reach the till.

And then I popped into the interesting textile outlet and made a fascinating discovery - in Sicilian terms all we knitters and crocheters have been wasting our time. If you want a scarf, all you do is takes a skein of yarn like so...

  Pic 002

... tie a couple of strategic knots or add a piece of ribbon and lo, you have a scarf.

Pic 003
Me being me, I'm already unravelling the knots and winding the yarn so I can turn it into a different type of scarf.

Happy memories.

 Meanwhile check out more of this week's Making Monday posts