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I do like a hobby where you can accessorize and sewing is excellent for this. There are many, many gadgets and tools available for the home sewer. In fact, one of my favourite things to do these days is to browse through a sewing supplies catalogue (I know, I know…). I have bought a few useful sewing tools lately so I thought I would share them with you.

Magnetic pincushion – I’ve been storing my pins in a Cath Kidston tin. However, being the clumsiest person in the world, I’ve knocked over the open tin more times than I care to remember. I walk around the flat barefoot and I don’t relish the prospect of stepping on a pin. So I bought a magnetic pincushion and I am very pleased with it! It holds plenty of pins, it’s weighted at the bottom (the magnet, I assume) so it’s difficult to knock over and the pins are held firmly on the top. No more crawling around the carpet looking for stray pins!

Duckbill scissors – They are meant for applique, but they are brilliant for grading seams. Normally I have to be super careful not to catch and cut the back seam accidentally as I am trimming the front one with dressmaking shears. However, the ‘duck billed’ blade on these scissors slips between the seam allowances, holding the back one down and out of the way whilst you trim the one in front. Indispensable.

Blunt tracing wheel – when transferring pattern markings, such as darts or pleats, from the pattern to the fabric I insert tailor’s tacks and then join the points indicated by the tacks with a dressmaker’s pencil. It’s not so bad if you have a couple of darts, but when making the Simplicity 2444  dress there are four darts on the front bodice, plus markings for pleats on the front and back skirt pieces. I was looking for a quicker way to transfer pattern markings so I bought a blunt tracing wheel and dressmaker’s carbon paper. I cut the fabric with wrong sides together, then slide two pieces of carbon paper (carbon sides out) between the fabric pieces and trace the pattern markings. I’ve found it best to roll the wheel downwards with a firm pressure.

Point presser and clapper – the latest tool I’ve bought is a wooden point presser and clapper.  I’ve wanted one for ages, but I could never justify the cost (nearly £30). However, I’m planning to make a few shirts for myself this year and I’d like crisp collars! I’ve used this only once so far, but what a difference it makes when pressing shirt collars!

I could manage to sew without any of these tools and get along fine, but I like to make life easier and if there’s a tool to help me do that, why not? Apart from the point presser, none of the above tools were expensive and I’m enjoying them very much. I hope someone has found this post useful!

My overlocker arrived yesterday! I unpacked it and, I’ll admit, it scared me. It looked so complicated. So, I placed the cover over it and I backed away cautiously. I eyed it warily for the rest of the day.

I decided not to be such a wimp today. I took off the cover and resolved that I would learn the basics. You see that small table it’s sitting on? That’s my sewing table. It’s barely bigger than my sewing machine. It’s in a corner of my living room (which is now very untidy with sewing stuff). I dream of the day I can get a sewing room and a bigger table to work on.

I plan to use the overlocker for a long while, so I figured I should invest some time in getting to know it properly. I watched the tutorial DVD which was pretty strange. It looks like it was made in the 1980s and it’s delivered by a woman with the most monotone voice I’ve ever heard. Here’s an extract if you’re interested. I read the manual, too, and made some notes on what seemed to be the most important bits for quick reference.

Finally, I watched this video, kindly sent to me by Handmade Jane, which shows more clearly than the tutorial DVD how to thread the overlocker. Emboldened by this, I took the bull by the horns and deliberately unthreaded the machine so I could practice threading it up. I’ve read lots of anecdotes online about how awful threading an overlocker is, so I thought I’d get the worse over with it and just give it a try. Actually, it wasn’t too bad. I’d need to watch the video to do it again, but it took only a few minutes.

After all that, I did some overlocking/serging. Here’s my first attempt:

You see the way the thread loops are hanging over the right edge of the fabric? Is it meant to look like  that, or do I need to fiddle around with the tension?

I have so many questions about using an overlocker, I’ve ordered this book (when in doubt, buy a book is my motto). In the meantime, if anyone has any top overlocking/serging tips, I’d be very pleased to hear them. Here’s to neater seams!

I’m very excited today – I’ve ordered my overlocker! I have some days off work next week and hopefully the overlocker will arrive on Monday. I just need to learn how to use it now… I hope it will help me produce garments with neater seam finishes, plus I’d like to try sewing with jersey at some point.

However, I do wonder why I am learning to sew sometimes – it’s just so darned difficult. I’ve run into problems with the Crescent skirt. I attached the waistband, following the sewalong instructions. The next step was to insert the zip using a method I haven’t tried before – you attach the zip to the facing and then sew the facing + zip to the waistband and skirt.

I got a bit stuck as the sewalong seems to skip a step. In the post on attaching the waistband, the skirt is not seamed up at the back. The next time we see the skirt, the back seam has been sewn together. I had to go back, read all the posts and check I hadn’t missed a step. Have I?

I’m not criticising Tasia at all – the sewalong is a wonderful resource which she has provided for free and it must be horribly time consuming to put together. However, when you’re a sewing newbie it really does help to have every little step laid out for you because you don’t have the background knowledge to fill in the gaps.

In the end, I sewed up the back using a french seam, as I had done with the side seams. I wasn’t sure what I was meant to do about the seam allowance to which the zip is sewn but I snipped across the fabric where the french seam ended, allowing it to lie flat enough for the zip to be attached. No idea if that was the right thing to do.

I tried to follow the instructions (here and here) for attaching the zip, but I couldn’t get them to work. The back of the skirt was starting to look a bit tatty where I had ripped out the zip a couple of times. At this point, I was thoroughly miserable as I had been doing so well with the skirt which was looking neat inside and out.

I decided to abandon the sewalong zip instructions and to use an invisible zip instead. I’m going to use the instructions for inserting the zip and attaching the facing from the Colette Ginger skirt. I’ve ordered some invisible zips online, so I’m just waiting for them to arrive. Does anyone else find it weird to order something that’s described as ‘invisible’?!

Image credit: Brother.

I mentioned last week that I had a new gadget to show you. The item in question is an iPad. I’ve had it almost three weeks now and it is AWESOME.

I thought I’d share some screenshots from iPad to show you how I’ve been using it so far. As you’d expect, I’ve mainly been browsing the internet and emailing. It’s great that I can dip in and out quickly without having to boot up my laptop.

It’s also very good for social media. I’ve downloaded the Twitter app (I tried several others, such as Tweetdeck and Sociable, but they kept crashing) and I keep track of blogs using Pulse. I found the mobile version of Google Reader difficult to use.

The other main use I’m going to make of iPad is as a reader. Zinio is a free app which allows you to purchase and read magazines, including international titles. I haven’t found many knitting apps for iPad, but GoodReader is fab for storing and reading PDF knitting patterns.

I’ve mainly got reading and photography apps on the second screen (below). I downloaded iBooks, but I have to say I prefer the Kindle app. The books are much cheaper in the Amazon Kindle store than on iTunes, for a start. I’m a massive book geek, so I will still be buying hard copy books for those titles I’ll want to keep and read again. However, my bookshelves are overflowing,  so ebooks are a good solution for modern fiction that I might only want to read once. I downloaded The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo from Kindle for £2.68 and so far I’m enjoying reading it on screen.

I’ve yet to play around with the photography apps, so I’ll post about those another time. However, Guardian Eyewitness is fantastic. It’s a free app containing photos from The Guardian’s stock library, with comments and tips from the photographers who took the shots. There are some amazing photos in the collection, it’s so inspiring.

I love Pocket Pond, although it is kind of silly. It’s exactly what it sounds like – a pond containing fish. If you touch the screen, it ripples the surface of the water and the fish swim away. It’s strangely compelling!

I have a third screen which contains games apps, but it’s also a dumping ground for apps I’m not sure about, so I won’t show you that. Labyrinth HD is ace – you have to roll a metal ball around a maze by tilting iPad, to get the ball into a hole at the end. The sound is great – it really sounds like a metal ball rolling on wood (little things please me!).

I’ve never been an Mac user and I will stick with my PC/laptop as my main computer. However, I’m loving iPad beyond measure. It’s light enough to tote around (although not super light) and the HD touch screen is amazing. I wondered if I would carry on using my iPod Touch, but I’m using it for different things (organising myself, listening to podcasts and music) so it’s still an essential gadget. Also, many of the apps sync between gadgets, so I can read my Kindle books on iPod Touch if I don’t want to carry iPad.

In celebration of Apple, I’ve created a cross stitch chart of the Apple logo. It’s free to download and use, if you’d like to do so.

I’m working on my own Apple cross stitch, with white floss on black Aida fabric, but I haven’t got very far. I’m still very stressed at work, so I continue to stare into space and/or snooze on the sofa when I get home.

I’m off to I Knit Weekender on Saturday. Is anyone else going? I’m looking forward to a day out!

I have a FO to tell you about, but before I can do a tah dah! moment I need to take some pictures. All will be revealed shortly….

In the meantime, I have a work in progress – ‘Joy’ from Kim Hargreaves’ Nectar.

'Joy', image from Kim Hargreaves' website

I have been obsessed with this cardigan since I saw a woman wearing one at the I Knit Weekender last year. She was wearing it over a floral summer dress and she looked great. Naturally, I stalked her around the exhibition space to get a proper look at her knitwear.

I’m using the recommended yarn, Rowan Denim (in Ecru). It’s a nice yarn, but the lack of elasticity in the cotton is hard on my hands and arms. I can’t knit on this project for too long otherwise they ache. I’m working on the back and it’s smooth sailing so far. It’s knitting up quickly.

'Joy' in progress

I’m slightly concerned that Rowan Denim is designed to shrink:

…wash all the pieces together in the washing machine at a temperature of 60 – 70 degrees C so that shrinkage can take place. The pieces are then dried and can be sewn together. Kim Hargreaves’ website.

I have a horrible premonition of making the pieces, being delighted with the result, then putting them in the wash whereupon they emerge the size of doll’s clothes.

I have been indulging my geeky side this week. I am very excited by the Lego Harry Potter game. I have pre-ordered the DS version. I’m not a big gamer (in fact I’m useless) but the Lego games are fantastic. OH has Lego Star Wars for the DS – it’s faithful to the films and witty, as well as fun to play.

Also, I was over-excited by the release of the new Apple operating system, iOS4. I installed it on my iPod Touch last night, then happily re-arranged my apps into folders. Ah, the joy of organization! Here’s the first of the four screens on my iPod Touch before iOS4:

Here it is with iOS4 installed. You can see the apps are now in neat little folders all on one screen, apart from those in the top row which I use most frequently:

The only problem is, it encourages you to download more apps, as you can fit lots more onto one screen. This is me today:

Dilbert.com

I’ve been dabbling in photography for a few months now. In that time, I’ve learned that I enjoy taking macro shots. I love to see the world in close up, which reminds me of these lines by Blake:

To see the world in a grain of sand

And heaven in a wild flower,

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,

And eternity in an hour.

Blake, ‘Auguries of Innocence’.

Anyway, I made an investment purchase recently – a macro lens. I debated getting some Kenko extension tubes, which would have been the cheaper option. They sit between your camera body and your lens. Basically, they extend the focusing distance, allowing your camera to get closer to smaller objects. However, in the end I took a deep breath and I bought a Canon EF-S 60mm f2.8 USM macro lens.

It arrived last week and although I was hugely excited, I confess I’m also a bit scared of such a posh lens. I took it out for the first time at the weekend and played about with the camera in my parents’ garden. I didn’t really know what I was doing, so I just gave it a try and hoped for the best. The bee was difficult to capture as he kept moving from flower to flower (I guess that what bees do…).

Greedy bee

I tried it out again when I got home. This time I put my camera on a tripod to cut down on any shake from my hands which was blurring some images. I took shots of things I had in my living room. My favourite is this one of coloured pencils.

Get the point?

I’m still very much an amateur, but I’m loving just playing around with my camera and seeing what happens.

The topic for Day 6 is ‘Revisit a past F/O’ but I’m embarrassed to say I don’t have many past FOs. I’ve given some as gifts (mostly socks). But I’m such a perfectionist, I invariably frog most of the things I knit for myself as I’m rarely satisfied. I guess that makes me a process knitter.

So, I’m going for the wild card topic today, which is craft tools that you love. I’m going to pick a few knitting tools I use every day and wouldn’t be without.

KnitPro Symfonie wooden interchangeable circular needles (KnitPicks Harmony in the US). These are quite simply the best needles I’ve ever used. I bought the deluxe set and I’ve added extra tips over time.  The wooden tips are laminated birch wood in swirly colours. They have everything the KnitPicks image describes below – sharp points, smooth joins and flexible cables. When I took up knitting again, I bought a set of straight needles but I realised very soon they didn’t suit me. Knitting with straights makes my arms ache, so I moved onto circulars and I’ve found them so much better. The last time I used one of my straight needles, it was as a stake for a drooping hyacinth flower!

Image from Knitpicks website

Namaste Oh Snap! mesh pouches. I tend to carry small projects around in my regular day bag, rather than having a separate knitting bag, and these are great for keeping everything tidy. I use the smallest one for my notions and the middle sized one is perfect for a small, portable project like socks.

Image from Namaste website

I bought an iTouch at the start of 2010. I use it every day and I love it. Here’s a screenshot of page 2 of my apps, which is where the knitting apps live. I use KnitBuddy as my row counter. ConvertKnit is handy for metric/imperial conversions. If I need to learn a new technique, then YouTube is my friend – I learned to knit socks with two circular needles by watching a short Cat Bordhi video. I’m finding the groups on Flickr more and more useful – there are some great photography groups and I find the Knits from Knitty group gives me lots of inspiration. I use Dropbox to store pdf knitting patterns, so I can access them from my iTouch. When I need something to accompany my knitting, I download a free audiobook to Stanza or I listen to music I’ve copied from my CDs. Great gadget.

iTouch screen with knitting apps

However, if I had to choose my favourite knitting tool, it wouldn’t be anything new or technical, it would be something old and simple – my mum’s green plastic row counter. I remember being fascinated with it as a child and I loved twiddling the numbers around.

Mum's row counter - an endless source of fascination

It’s only now I can appreciate how infuriating this must have been for my mum, realising she’d lost her row count again in the complicated aran sweater she was making for my dad. I’ve apologised profusely since I took up knitting again. It might sound silly, but I treasure this little bit of plastic.

I have the last class of my ten week photography course tonight. We’ve been set a challenge for the last session; to produce a photograph on the theme ‘after dark’. Here’s mine. It’s not brilliant, but it’s my best effort.

It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness...

I’m sad the course has come to an end as I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve learned a lot in ten weeks. I understand more about how my camera works. I’ve got a basic understanding of shutter speed, aperture and ISO. I need to get out and practice now, which is the only way it’s all going to stick in my head.

However, it’s been a challenging experience. I’ve found the principles of manual photography hard to grasp, whereas normally I’m a quick learner. I’ve had to get used to feeling totally stupid. But, it’s been good for me to try something out of my comfort zone.

The main lesson I’ve learned is that photography is EXPENSIVE! I started the course with a compact digital camera. I’m ending it with a digital SLR (Canon 450d). The best tips I’ve picked up for using the camera are:

1. Buy a tripod;
2. Buy a UV filter, it will help protect your lens if you drop your camera;
3. Get hold of a companion book for your camera (this is mine);
4. Read Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson.

You can look forward to many more awful photos as I progress along the photography learning curve…

I’ve had my DSLR camera for about a month now. I’ve been practising with it, trying out the different modes and experimenting with shutter speed and aperture.

Most of my photos have been poor, and I’ve been quite despondent at my inability to use my new gadget properly.

However, there was a breakthrough yesterday – I took a half-decent photo (IMHO) with my Canon 450d. Yay!

Crocus in March

I’m sorry I disappeared for a while. I’ve had some family problems going on and I haven’t felt like blogging or knitting :-(

I’m back with a happy post, to tell you about my latest gadget. I’ve been really enjoying my photography course, but I wasn’t getting the most out of it with a compact digital camera, so I have bought (you guessed it) a digital SLR.

I’ve had two compact Canon cameras and I’ve been very pleased with them both, so I stayed brand loyal and have updated to a Canon EOS 450d after chatting to my tutor about what he would recommend (he’s a Nikon man, but open minded…).

I’ve had the camera nearly a week and I haven’t taken a single photograph yet! I’m a bit scared of it, to be honest.

I’ve bought it a camera bag to sleep in, a UV filter and a companion book so I can understand how to use it – I find the manuals supplied with gadgets are usually impenetrable. Also, I found a free app for my beloved iTouch, DSLR for Dummies, which has tutorials and tips on using a DSLR camera.

I’ve learned very quickly that photography is going to be an expensive hobby (even more so than knitting) but I hope my camera will last for several years.

If any of you photography buffs out there have recommendations for tripods or other essential kit, then please let me know!

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