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The Knitting Tip Book I Wish I Had Bought Years Ago

The Knitting Tip Book I Wish I'd Bought Years AgoScarily I have spent at least £500 on craft books in the last 3 years. Gorgeous, but useless books. Do you know what my single most used knitting book is?

Front Cover - Tips For Knitters by Debbie Bliss

Disclaimer: I purchased this book at full price for my own use. I did not receive it as a 
gift nor was I asked to write this review. All opinions are my own.There are no affiliate
links in this post.

I should explain first of all that this isn’t a detailed “How to knit” book. I think that it works best in partnership with YouTube as probably the best medium for learning how to knit basic stitches and focusses instead on ways in which you can make your basic projects into professional looking articles. I refer to this a lot, especially to refresh my memory after I haven’t knitted for a while.

Boosting Your Knitting Ninja Skills

The retailers recommended price on this is £8.99 (although, at time of writing, The Book People seem to have a good deal on copies) this puts it at up to £10.00 cheaper than a lot of books covering similar subject matter. Plus it is the size of a small notebook which makes it incredibly handy to slip into your knitting bag. My version is paperback, which keeps weight down, although I know that a hardback version is published.

I like the fact that it is clearly written by a Brit and consequently talks in British knitting terms all the way through. It has a particularly useful needle size conversion chart for UK to US sizes but one of the few tricks I think it misses is including a chart to translate UK to US yarn weights. I have printed out my own and glued it into the back of the book for reference

Knitting patterns use abbreviations, you can find lots of keys as to what these mean (including one in this book) but what is often not covered are commonly used expressions, such as “place markers” or “easing in any fullness”. The author covers these common terms too.

The “Fixing Mistakes” section is probably one of my most thumbed. Picking up dropped stitches and untwisting them is something we all tend to need at one point or another! My other gem from this book is the demystification of the fabled “thumb cast on”. I still don’t like it but at least I now understand how it works in both the UK and European version!

I actually bought this book after attending a day workshop on finishing techniques because it has a really clear section on types of seams and where to use them.

The choosing a seam section of the book gives really clear instructions

Beware Of The Knitting Purists

On the negative side it makes me smile how Debbie Bliss covers “Yarns” without mentioning that synthetic yarns exist.  It fits in with her ethos of only using natural fibres but they aren’t all that is out there! Her edging reference section has some gorgeous ideas for decorative finishes for your projects and the book tempts you with more advanced things such as intarsia and bead work. It doesn’t provide an exhaustive guide to these though and you may well want more information before embarking on them.

In short this is a book that I would recommend for any “not quite beginner” which will last into expert-hood.

Are there any knitting books that you wouldn’t be without? I’m always on the look out for new titles to recommend to people attending my workshops (plus I need to feed my book addiction somehow!)


Pamper Your Creativity – Spend A Day Gift Wrapping With Jane Means

Last week I spent a day simply gift wrapping with Jane Means, doyenne of the the art, and I have never left a workshop feeling as pampered & relaxed. I was proud of my creations and confident to replicate them.

Any person can sometimes feel as if their creativity has “run out” in the day to day grind of just staying afloat and I must admit that before the day I wondered how gift wrapping could fill  six hours (without the mountain of presents every parent wades through prior to Christmas Day).

Jane Means is the UK’s wonder of wrapping.  A professional gift wrapper and designer she has wrapped for royalty and provides gift wrapping services for brand like Dior and Chanel. She also runs day long courses for members of the public to learn some of her secrets to making gifts look stunning.

Disclaimer: - I received a complimentary place on this day course. However all opinions are my own and the provider of the course has had no input in this review.

Arrival and Welcome:

First of all, let me be clear. This isn’t a class or a course. It’s an experience.  From the moment you travel up the long drive to the Lainston House Hotel (other, similar, venues are available) you feel like a heroine in your own version of Jane Austen (or Jilly Cooper!). It would be a difficult venue to get to with public transport but quite a few of Jane’s other venues are much more centrally located.

Is your creativity in need of pampering? A Jane Means' gift wrapping course will be just the ticket...

As you arrive to a door it is opened by a Concierge and you are guided to the room where the course is being held.  Jane and her lovely assistant Caroline greet you in the friendliest way possible and introduce you to the vast array of Tea and Coffee available.  The surroundings may be posh but no-one stands on ceremony!

For 10-15 minutes there is a chance to have a cup of tea and a biscuit (from Fortnum’s no less, Jane had a meeting there earlier in the week and thought of us!) and a quick chat with the other attendees. My shoulders dropped and I relaxed, already feel like a queen.

I took my place. in the room and we were off…

The Morning:

You start by learning (or should I say re-learning) how to wrap a simple box.  Boxes are weapon number one in Jane’s arsenal of wrapping weapons. She recommends buying postal boxes via Amazon in a sensible size to fit a lot of your gifts. Voila, a pair of slippers or a framed picture become MUCH easier to wrap impeccably.

Is your creativity in need of pampering? A Jane Means' gift wrapping course will be just the ticket...

We learned how to guesstimate the about of paper we needed and the secret of working on the area farthest away from yourself. It sounds counter-intuitive but once I tried it I was converted.  We finished our ends symmetrically and I revelled in the feel of such lovely wrapping paper under my fingers.  As I am a self confessed stationary addict this was one of the best things!

Before the course I was concerned that I wouldn’t have the patience to fiddle endlessly with frills and frou-frou.  Although I like pretty things I don’t do fussy. I needn’t have worried. Through her job Jane has developed an endless armoury of no fuss, fail safe approaches to wrapping conundrums that get the job done quickly and efficiently.

Then we graduated to the big leagues…

Is your creativity in need of pampering? A Jane Means' gift wrapping course will be just the ticket...

We each produced a pleated effect for the top/front of a parcel (again, much easier than it’s sophisticated appearance would have you think). Then it was onto gift bags.

Jane’s bold assertion was that “You’ll never buy a gift bag again”. I was sceptical that it could be so easy to make a gift bag that I would truly hate wasting the money on buying one. I was wrong.  With the help of a hole punch it was a revelation how little fuss it was to create something gorgeous and personal.

Is your creativity in need of pampering? A Jane Means' gift wrapping course will be just the ticket...

From there it was an easy jump to gift envelopes and using natural products to prettify the envelopes. Not bad for a piece of wrapping paper eh?

Homemade gift bags that look good and are easy to make

I will be raiding the charity shops for artificial greenery to spruce up my parcels!

Bows were the next challenge, tailored and freestyle, and continued to introduce more “props”. A bell on our wreath ribbon, a rose made from wired ribbon

Is your creativity in need of pampering? A Jane Means' gift wrapping course will be just the ticket...

Then it was the turn of every Mum’s nemesis, the bottle.  Jane advised us to use tissue paper and cellophane and showed us how to hold the bottle, gathering the paper in one hand.  It was then a simple step to add more pieces of flamboyant tissue and ribbon to finish the look.

Is your creativity in need of pampering? A Jane Means' gift wrapping course will be just the ticket...

No-one would believe that inside is a bottle of mineral water!

Then came lunch…

On the terrace…overlooking the park…  WOW!

Is your creativity in need of pampering? A Jane Means' gift wrapping course will be just the ticket...

Photo via Jane Means

Lunch time also provided a chance to shop the beautiful papers and ephemera that Jane had brought with her. Conveniently there was the opportunity to pay by either cash or card (my downfall!) It was a good job we were asked to bring a large carrier bag along with us. I concentrated on buying the stuff that was awkward to get elsewhere. A roll of cellophane, high quality wired ribbon, tear-able double sided tape and I couldn’t resist the most amazing glittery gift wrap!

Is your creativity in need of pampering? A Jane Means' gift wrapping course will be just the ticket...

I also patronised the most amazing Ladies Loo I have ever been in!

Is your creativity in need of pampering? A Jane Means' gift wrapping course will be just the ticket...

The Afternoon:

During the afternoon Jane proved again how well she knew her audience. The Malteasers were passed round and we learned how to wrap a bar of chocolate with no tape at all. I have to admit this was probably the thing that I found the most difficult all day.  I managed a passable effort (decoration hides a lot of sins) but definitely need more practice!

Is your creativity in need of pampering? A Jane Means' gift wrapping course will be just the ticket...

Then came the “Challenge Jane” part of the afternoon. We had been asked to bring along any awkward shaped gifts that we needed help wrapping. Jane rose to the challenge with typical humour and aplomb, wrapping an unusual shaped box of sweets for one participant’s neighbours and a two part gift for my father in law’s birthday.

Is your creativity in need of pampering? A Jane Means' gift wrapping course will be just the ticket...

There was time for a few more tricks and tips… (Tissue Pom Poms anyone!)

Is your creativity in need of pampering? A Jane Means' gift wrapping course will be just the ticket...

Then time was up.  Those six hours flew past and by doing everything “hands on” it boosted my confidence hugely. Jane was an extremely fun and knowledgeable course leader and both she an Caroline showed endless patience.

At the end of the day Jane was happy to pose for photos and sign copies of her book that attendees had purchased.  I already had her book from last Christmas so she even went as far as to sign a sticky label (sourced by Caroline) that I could put inside my book.

Is your creativity in need of pampering? A Jane Means' gift wrapping course will be just the ticket...

I came away with armfuls of parcels, purchases and a copy of Jane’s DVD in case I forgot anything.  I am the proud owner of a certificate to prove that I completed the course and a desperate urge to wrap everything in sight!

My Personal Take Aways From The Day:

  1. I will now always sit at a table to wrap – so much easier.
  2. Work on the side farthest away from you and pre-crease on the edges so that the wrapping holds its shape better.
  3. Buy decent quality wrapping paper. You use less and it looks much better.
  4. If in doubt use brown parcel paper – you can print it, glitter it, sticker it and generally make it fit any occasion.
  5. Double sided sticky tape CAN be the easiest thing to use for wrapping – you just need Jane’s GENIUS hack for making it easy to peel!
  6. Wired ribbon is the bees knees and an essential part of the gift wrapping armoury.
  7. Pick up little bits and bobs as you see them in charity shops or pound stores to use as decorations on gifts.

To Sum Up:

This is an expensive day but the experience and materials you use are the very top quality.  You have fun, relax and feel like Queen for a day. I was inspired and empowered and for me that was the most valuable thing.

Now I plot how to adapt and develop Jane’s strategies for my own use.  How’s your gift wrapping? Do you have tricks and tips that I could use to become more of a wrapping ninja?

Pattern Review: Japanese Style Cross Backed Apron

Aprons should cover, they should protect but not restrict your movement, that is my opinion.  I find that many you can buy today are too small to cover much (on me at least!) and they are a pain to put on with ties that have to tie behind you and basically I wouldn’t want to answer my front door wearing one!

I found this free cross backed apron pattern via Pinterest and thought that all my prayers had been answered. No ties, covers almost everything, loose enough to have free movement without getting in the way and could be made in a fabric that I liked. This is my pattern review so that you can hopefully avoid some of the pitfalls that I encountered!

During a trip to the “Eternal Maker”, (an amazing fabric shop just on the outskirts of Chichester that I could move into tomorrow, given half a chance!) i fell in love with this “Garden” Linen blend (in the Green colourway) by Ellen Luckett Baker for Kokka. I wanted a linen or linen blend because I love the way that it just looks more “lived in” after washing and I think this garment is going to be washed a lot!

I printed out the PDF pattern on my printer in adult size – there were a few issues with it.  Some pattern lines didn’t line up between pieces of A4 paper and I had to free hand a line to connect them in a more sensible way.

Close up image showing pattern lines drawn in


Also, whoever drew out the pattern on the drafting software had not noticed that some of the construction lines printed on the pattern.  This meant it was tricky to figure out which line to cut on. This pattern was a very simple one and as long as I kept in mind the shape I was going for it wasn’t hard to figure it out. You can see in the picture where I have scribbled though the construction line – and hey, the pattern WAS free!

Close up image showing scribbled through construction lines on pattern


When I pinned the front pattern piece to me to check sizing it was a bit small (It did not reach half way across my chest!) so I added on eight centimetres to the centre line of the front to make it a bit wider.

Image of pattern piece pinned to author to check size


Cutting out was pretty straight forward, I used the kitchen table, fabric scissors, pins and the pattern pieces, nothing fancy required.  As I sewed the side pieces to the front piece I discovered that the pattern sizing was slightly out.


This was easily corrected with scissors though.

Before anyone says it.  I know I should have pattern matched properly like the do on the “Great British Sewing Bee” but it seemed to waste so much fabric that I was put off!

Image showing pattern pieces sewn together in a misaligned way

Adding the bias binding around the edge was the bit I was dreading, sewing around internal and external curves accurately?!?!  I found two tutorials from The Haby Goddess that were easy to follow and got me through both adding the bias binding properly and sewing the curves! It took over five metres of Bias to get all the way around the outside but it didn’t leave me wanting to throw in the towel (a feeling I quite often get when attempting fiddly things).

The binding isn’t perfect but I was quite pleased with the job!

Close up image of bias binding on edge of crossed back

I had some fabric left over and approximately 30cm of binding so I “stole” a pocket pattern from an apron pattern in “Sewing Machine Basics” by Jane Bolsover (a fab book that does exactly what it says in the title) and added a pocket for my inevitable tissues and other bits of junk!

Close up image of pocket added to front of apron


The hardest bit was gathering the curve on the corners of the pocket but the instructions in the book were very clear.  I was just a bit awkward in the execution! There is a really good tutorial on how to do something similar on Guthrie and Ghani’s Blog.

When I tried it on it did gape around the bosom/armpit area a bit (probably where I altered the pattern with not enough knowledge!) so I sewed one dart at the bust each side.  I forgot to take a “before” photo but the “after” was that the apron fit much more snugly.

Close up image of bust dart added into pattern


Really pleased with the resulting apron.  It is easy to get in and out of, fun to wear and (I think) it looks stylish. I can’t wait to get dirty!

If you have never downloaded a PDF sewing pattern and find the idea intimidating, watch out for this Sunday’s post where I try to make it more friendly for you with some of the things I have learnt.

Two views of apron being worn, front and back

The 10 Best Things About The Handmade Fair 2014

As regular readers will know I spent last weekend as a volunteer at the first ever “Handmade Fair”.  The idea was to offer a huge crafty “get together” for crafters and non-crafters alike to learn from each other, share ideas and embrace the amazing feeling that crafting gives you.

What were the best things about this amazing event? It is very hard to even know where to start. In no particular order…

(Please excuse the photo quality but the iPhone was the most practical thing to carry with me as I dashed around!)

#One – The People

There were the most amazing people in attendance.  I was manning the information point inside the front gate for most of the weekend and people were (almost without exception) lovely.  Easy to talk to, friendly and interested.  The staff from the events company (Brand Events), the exhibitors and teachers, everyone.


The queue eagerly waiting to get in on the final morning.

As for my fellow volunteers… words fail me.  They were an AMAZING bunch.  Hugely talented, great fun and we were all united by the sisterhood of the Pink Hi-Vis Vest!

The prestigious Hi-Vis Vest!

The prestigious Hi-Vis Vest!

 #Two – All Crafts Were Embraced

There were workshops on cake decorating, sewing, needle felting, furniture upcycling, crochet, origami, printing, jewellery making, calligraphy, decoupage, knitting, embroidery, making bath salts, gift wrapping, the list goes on… (No wonder Il Magpie loved it!)

Chalk Paint Workshop with Annie Sloane

Chalk Paint Workshop with Annie Sloane

#Three- The Food

There were loads of amazing food vendors to suit almost every taste.  French, Indian, Gluten Free, Mexican, I could go on and on!  There were amazing mobile bars with clever mixologists and to put the icing on the cake they all seemed to have the most amazingly cute transport!

Cake bar anyone?!

Cake bar anyone?!

A touch of Gallic charm.

A touch of Gallic charm.

#Four – The Venue

Where else can you come to work in the morning and be greeted by two bewigged gentleman taking the morning air, or make a new avian friend on the way home?  Hampton Court was a truly beautiful and inspiring.

Hampton Court in all it's glory.

Hampton Court in all it’s glory.

A morning constitutional!

A morning constitutional!

My new friend.

My new friend.

#Five – The Decor

There was bunting galore,

Custom made, beautiful bunting.

Custom made, beautiful bunting.

There was washi tape,

Washi tape cutting table

Washi tape cutting table

And there was origami!

Origami door curtain.

Origami door curtain.

They even thought about how to divide up work stations and protect the surfaces (brown paper and butcher’s twine anyone?!)

One of the "Grand Make" tents ready for action.

One of the “Grand Make” tents ready for action.

#Six – Kirstie Allsopp

The amazing Ms Allsopp was around all weekend.  She was warm, funny, friendly and inspirational.  She always had enough time for people (much to her assistant’s dismay at times!) and may have the world record for the most number of “selfies” taken with her in one weekend.

She hosted the “Super Theatre” all weekend in conversation with many famous crafters (Annie Sloane, Cath Kidston and Kaffe Fassett amongst others) and  refereeing “mash ups” where different crafts competed for supremacy.

Despite this busy schedule she still managed pop up everywhere and even ran a surprise workshop (which I happened to be taking as one of my “perks” for volunteering!)

Kirstie's Surprise Glitter Bauble Workshop.

Kirstie’s Surprise Glitter Bauble Workshop.

Me getting in on the act, photo by Sheree Green - Molloy

Me getting in on the act, photo by Sheree Green – Molloy

#Seven – The Exhibitors and Shopping

There were the most amazing range of exhibitors in the “Shopping Villages”.  Etsy were there and even ran some craft entrepreneur workshops.  There were craft supplies of almost every type and a huge range of very talented crafter selling amazing works that took your breath away.

The thing that impressed me most for a show with the motto “Everyone has a craft they can do”, there were lots of crafters who had made up kits of their designs for those just starting out to buy and follow instructions until they got comfortable with their own crafting “skin”.

#Eight – The “Annual”

As I was selling show guides (or “Annuals”) I was really relieved that they were a publication I could really endorse.

They were half show guide, half “Molly Makes” magazine.  There were the usual maps but I really liked the alphabetical list of exhibitors (with their contact details) which meant I could put a star by the ones I wanted to get Christmas presents from and not have to carry lots of things!

The cutest "Annuals" ever!

The cutest “Annuals” ever!

Not only was there that but there were some very stylish “makes” in there.  A knitting pattern, a cross stitch chart, a paper craft mobile and other items.  There was something worth taking away and keeping to remember the day by.

#Nine – The Experts

Almost all my heroes were there; Annie Sloane, Zeena Shah, Mr X Stitch, Kaffe Fassett, Jane Means.  I even got to meet some of them they were generous with their time and expertise, many of them even ran workshops to let you into some of their secrets!

Experts pitching in and sharing their secrets.

Experts pitching in and sharing their secrets.

#Ten – World Pomination!

The event saw a world record attempt for the most woolly Pom Poms strung together in a continuous row.

They were everywhere all weekend and you couldn’t help but smile as you saw them.  It was even fun being part of the the team sewing them all into one long string.

Sewing up the Pom Poms, does that make me the Pominator?

Sewing up the Pom Poms, does that make me the Pominator?

I was one of a two person team counting them with another amazing volunteer because we were “independent” (i.e. not employed by the organisers) and we counted THOUSANDS of them!

Ready for count off!

Ready for count off!

One, Two, Three...

One, Two, Three…

and because I cannot resist…

#Eleven – The Atmosphere

The whole weekend was so inspirational, positive and buzzing! I made crafty friends I hope to keep for life. I got to experience many new things, see how a large show like this works behind the scenes.  I had more fun than I have had in ages and even better I got to craft!



Review: Heat ‘N’ Bond Iron On Vinyl

I had the fabric I wanted to use to make a cushion for our kitchen pew but I really wanted to make it durable and easy to clean so I chose to buy some of Heat ‘N’ Bond’s Iron On Transparent Vinyl (I bought it in gloss. It is available in matte as well but I couldn’t find it in a local stockist at the time).

Heat 'N' Bond Iron On Vinyl Review - 6

As it was my first time using it I thought you might like to hear my thoughts.  I would like to point out that I paid for all the materials in this post and it is not sponsored in any way.

The product is supposed to provide an alternative to store bought Oil Cloths and PVC Coated Fabrics so that you can have the convenience of a permanent wipe clean and waterproof finish on your choice of fabric.  The packaging says that it is sewable with either a non-stick foot or a normal one on your sewing machine.

At £10.00 – £13.00 for 1.8m (2 yards) it isn’t cheap.  I bought mine from my local Hobbycraft but I notice that you can get it through Amazon now.  I would also by it in Matte if I was to buy it again (personal preference) but that wasn’t available to me at the time.

I was a bit ambitious for my first project using it as my cushion was 1.6m long and I had a LOT of scope for disaster.  However I was pleasantly surprised.

The instructions are very simple and clear.  There is also a downloadable PDF on Thermoweb’s internet site if you feel the need to double check it.I followed the instructions to the letter apart from one thing.

Because I was using such a long piece I didn’t have any on the backing paper to place in between the iron and the vinyl at first so I tried to use a clean dry tea towel.  It didn’t work brilliantly so at the first opportunity I cut some of the backing paper free and used that – MUCH better!

I would really like it if they put a spare piece of backing paper into the package so that you could use it for ironing if you were using the whole roll.

Definitely don’t skip the ironing both sides of the piece stage to secure the adhesive as adhesion can be patchy up until this point.

I thought I would have a nightmare getting the backing sheet off of the vinyl without creases and bubble (any body else spent forever getting “sticky backed plastic” on without these problems?!) but I spread the fabric width ways over my ironing board and started by rolling back the backing paper about 3 inches all the way across. I positioned it and then continued slowly and steadily from there.

Not a crease or a bubble!  I was amazingly easy.  It could have been beginners luck but I was impressed.

Heat 'N'Bond Iron On Vinyl Review-4

When it came to pinning up and getting ready for sewing the fabric was slightly stiffer than ordinary Oil Cloth but it didn’t make it awkward to manipulate for what I was doing.  I was pretty much only sewing straight lines but the box corners were no harder than normal because of the vinyl.

I only put vinyl on the one side because I wanted to have a “posh” side for when we have company so there is the possibility that having both sides coated would have made it trickier as well.

I used a normal (and not even new) machine needle to sew it (and my normal sewing machine foot) and it went through just as if it was normal fabric.  Even when putting the zip in it did not make it any more awkward and my normal zipper foot worked perfectly.

I used normal dressmaking sewing thread (a polyester one) which seems to hold up just fine.

At the end of the making process the vinyl was still securely adhered to it’s surface and it had gained no nasty scratches or creases.  It has stood up similarly well to it’s first few days of wear and tear but only time will tell.

Heat 'N'Bond Iron On Vinyl Review-2

All in all I am definitely planning to use this product again and would definitely recommend it.  The pro’s outweigh the con’s by a long way and as long as it wears well I cannot see the down side.

My Holiday Bathrobe – An Attempt at Simplicity Pattern 1562

I hardly ever sew clothes.  It doesn’t interest me that much and I don’t have the patience to fiddle with fits and finish that you see demonstrated so beautifully on “The Great British Sewing Bee”.  However I had been looking for a lightweight bathrobe to pack and take on holiday for YEARS with no success.  The ones I found were either so flimsy I felt exposed or didn’t fold or roll small enough to pack successfully.

We often go camping and have to walk to the shower block.  If you are in a hot climate and wearing skimpy pyjamas I, for one, don’t want to flash everyone on my stumbling way to the sinks!

In desperation I was flicking through the pattern books at my (then) job one day I found Simplicity 1562.  It said “easy to sew” on the packet.  It was unisex which meant it wouldn’t be a skimpy cut and there was a special offer on at the time.

Simplicity 1562

That was it I bought three remnants of poly-cotton dress fabric, two of the same fabric and one of a contrasting trim and got cracking.

The instructions are easy to follow.  I chose a large size for comfort.  I did find that the result was VERY long and had to trim quite a bit off of the bottom (although I am fairly average height)  Because I used remnants I did have to do a bit of fancy foot work to have enough fabric for the sleeve trims.  You can’t see it in the photos but the purple facing actually continues all the way down the inside of both sides of the front.

Holiday Bathrobe-1

I am sure a professional tailor would pick it to pieces (the sleeves not being perfectly aligned to the shoulders, the bodge job on the sleeve trims, the list goes on) but it works.  All faults were definitely due to the seamstress and not the pattern.  In fact I would use the pattern again for a winter dressing gown and I have never made a piece of clothing twice.

I wear it and I am happy with it.  I don’t feel exposed on camp site and I still like the excuse to wear the cute fabric that I would wear in everyday clothes.  Lots more happy camping for years to come!

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