Sunday, June 28, 2009


I love making polymer clay buttons. They're perfect for budding polymer clay artists who don't have much time (because every other second is spent knitting), don't require lots of expensive supplies, and are great for embellishing hand-knits when you need that perfect button. For example, sometimes I want a button to completely blend in with the background yarn, like this one:

Shy Mole

Sometimes I want a showpiece button that compliments the background colors nicely like this one:

Lemonade Rain

Sometimes I want a button that is somewhere in-between:

Grape Conifer

You can make all types of faux buttons with polymer clay for much less than you would pay for the real thing:

Faux Wood

You can actually do more or less anything you want with polymer clay, all it takes is imagination


Swirly Pink

My Visit to a Scottish Cashmere Mill

In April I spent a week in Scotland. I was born and raised there - in the Kingdom of Fife - and go back to visit my mum fairly regularly. (I'm going back in August for a whole month!) She lives in a quaint 13th Century village, just down the road from a palace that used to be a holiday retreat for the Stewart monarchy, including Mary Queen of Scots.

Just 10 minutes away, on the shores of Loch Leven ('on yon bonny banks...'), is the mill where the world renowned Todd and Duncan cashmere is produced. Todd and Duncan sell their coveted cashmere fabric to tons of famous designers – Prada, Givenchy, and Chanel to name just a few. They’ve been in business for 142 years and this mill has been around since 1897. I'd whizzed by it in my mum's little Peugot many times and never realized that this unassuming, rather dreary building contained so many delightful treasures.

Thanks to my mum, who also loves to knit (and has a serious cashmere addiction), we had a tour of the mill on day number two of my visit. We saw the huge area where massive bags of raw fiber from Mongolia or China are stored, which had an overwhelming smell of goats. We learned about and watched how the yarn is cleaned, carded, and spun into single ply strands in all the colors of the rainbow.

After that the fun really started! Next was the design studio. In the studio, those single ply strands are combined to produce incredible results in a truly amazing range of colors. As many as 20 single strands can be twisted together - this would result in a very chunky yarn - most yarns contain a lot fewer strands. Other fibers, such as cotton, linen, or silk, can also be mixed with the cashmere strands to produce all types of knitted fabric. Each season new colors and fiber combinations are introduced and sold all over the world. This year’s range includes fancy names such as Lunar and Cruise. Todd and Duncan also produces patterned fabric knitted on their fantastic industrial knitting machines.

The best part of the tour for me was seeing the many garments that had been hand-knitted or machine-knitted using the various yarns. I felt like a toddler in a candy store but instead of candy it was a collection of the most exquisite colors, textures, patterns, and fashions ever. The cherry on top of the cake was when the nice lady in charge very kindly gave me some ends of cones to take home with me. I then spent the next few nights in my mum’s cozy little cottage, drinking vino and chatting while knitting up a storm!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

My Stash is Bigger than Yours!

I challenge anyone to prove that they have a bigger yarn stash than mine!

My stash just keeps growing and taking over my basement, like that red martian weed on War of the Worlds. It's actually kind of scary.

We finished our basement about 5 years ago to a) have a nice space for friends and relatives to stay during visits, b) to have somewhere out-of-the-way for our kids to play, and 3) to have a place for me to work and not have to worry about messing up the family's living space with yarn, beads, polymer clay, and fabric. But there's now a new reason for my basement - to see if I can fill every inch of it with my ever-explanding stash.

The problem is that there are too many great yarn sales on the internet and I just can't resist a good sale. This past Saturday I found a great site with discontinued Rowan yarn at incredibly low prices - yarn that originally sold for $14 reduced to $1.99. How can anyone resist that? I was so excited and terrified that everyone else would discover it and buy up the whole inventory that I decided to buy enough to last me the next 30 years. My huge box arrived yesterday and I was so happy with my purchase (after I'd ripped the box open with a racing heart) that I had to immediately place another order. After all, I might actually live way past 72, and when I'm an old lady living on my paltry pension I'll still at least be able to knit with quality yarn - not that vile, squeaky mint green stuff.

But....I do worry about my growing stash. Could I be developing that hoarding OCD syndrome, or maybe just going slightly insane? Are there others out there with severe yarn stashing behaviors? If so, I'd love to hear from you and I'd also like to challenge you because I'm sure that my stash is much bigger than yours!

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Grass is Always Greener!

It is so frustrating at times having so many ideas and so little time to actually work on them and feed my addiction (knitting). Between work (24-28 hours p/week), domestic chores, exercising, keeping up with friends, doing stuff with the kids, shopping, getting fresh air, doing online store-related activities on the computer, etc, etc, there's so little time left to actually knit and do all the other fun fiber-related things I love to do. At times I get such a yearning to sit in my basement studio for hours surrounded by lots of yarn, but that very rarely happens. I do have around 2 hours most nights though, which I think is a lot more than other working mothers have.
What is even more frustrating is the knowledge that when I do eventually have all the time in the world to sit on the couch and knit I will probably be regretting all the yearning I'm doing now. I will wish that I had just spent every minute enjoying my kids, enjoying the outdoors, enjoying my friends, cooking big family meals, and all that good stuff.

Of course I will love having all the time in the world to create, but I have a feeling that this will be very bittersweet. I know I will miss having the contrast in my life which makes me appreciate my time for knitting so much now. When I've spent a whole day rushing to get things done there's nothing that makes me happier than when the clock strikes 9pm signalling 'knitting time'. I can imagine that when my kids have flown the nest those whole days spent knitting in my basement won't be nearly as much fun as I sometimes imagine they will be.

I guess the grass will always be greener on the other side

Why I Love Cashmere

I have developed a cashmere addiction! I've been buying cashmere sweaters in the end-of-season sales for several years now and have a nice little collection (22 the last time I counted). They're just so cozy and always look brand new, no matter how many washings they've had.
A few months ago I started knitting with cashmere and found that it's completely addictive. The cashmere I use is excellent quality, from well-known Scottish and Italian mills.

Surprisingly though, before it is washed it doesn't really look or feel much like cashmere at all - kind of limp and a bit blah. It usually smells very oily too. But....wash it well in hot water with a good detergent, final rinse with conditioner, put it in the tumble dryer for 10 minutes and abracadabra! Suddenly that nondescript yarn has bloomed into the buttery softest, most beautiful yarn you can ever imagine. This amazing transformation never fails to excite and astound me.

The thing I love about cashmere is that it is so soft and completely luxurious, but it is also a durable and practical investment. It keeps you warm yet allows your body to breathe without getting sweaty. It is warm in the winter and cool in the spring. Good quality cashmere also becomes softer and looks better the more you wear it. Once you've worn cashmere it's really hard to go back to anything else!