Wednesday, December 24, 2014


Our Messiah performance on Saturday was a success, and heaps of fun if a bit nerve-wracking at times! Willie came along to listen, with Chloe and Celena and two friends. They brought me a bunch of flowers, which was lovely - one's first Messiah is a big deal, after all. ;)

A lot of the choruses rattled along at a cracking pace, which is exhilarating but also scary if you're not totally confident with your part. The period-instrument orchestra was excellent, and added a lot of sparkle and depth to the music. 
I loved Chloe's comment that the choir sounded "tight" - coming from a rock musician, that's a great compliment.

Here's one of my favourite choruses, the final "Worthy is the Lamb" and "Amen". These guys take it slower than we did, but it still sounds fantastic...

I'm nearly ready for Christmas! Jam Drops, Salted Toffee Almonds, and the all-important Pavlova have been baked. My mini-solo for Christmas morning choir has been practised (a verse of a carol called "Past three o'clock"). Tonight we'll wrap presents and put up a few decorations. And tomorrow afternoon, we'll go to Chloe and Celena's house for an "Orphan Christmas" featuring a vast vegetarian feast, cocktails, a performance by Booty Pageant, and a Slip 'n' Slide. ;)

Merry Christmas all!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Designer interview: Marie Segares

I had the honour of interviewing another designer as part of the Indie Design Gift-A-Long. I love hearing about other people's creative processes! Here it is, my interview with Marie Segares of the Underground Crafter. :)

Marie, wearing her lovely crochet design Thaden's Asymmetrical Shawl

Hi! Please tell us a little about yourself…  
Sure! My name is Marie Segares and I'm the crochet and knitting designer, teacher, and blogger behind Underground Crafter. I also host the Creative Yarn Entrepreneur Show, a weekly podcast for yarn industry indies filled with ideas for launching, managing, and evolving your yarn-related business. Random fun facts about me: I'm a native New Yorker and have lived in New York City for 92.5% of my life. I am a "cat person," though I think other people's dogs are really cute (most of the time). 
How did you begin designing? 
I got started designing because of my somewhat unique crochet teaching situation. I've taught crochet for a local union since 2008 (and knitting since 2011), and I often have repeat students. At first, I would create projects to demonstrate a particular technique or skill, or to give them practice with reading patterns. Eventually, I started submitting designs to magazines. I now have a mix of patterns published in magazines and other publications, self-published patterns for digital download, and free patterns on my blog. 

What is your favourite type of item to design? 
Accessories and blankets are my favorite things to make and to design. 

Which is your favourite design? 
Right now, my Thaden's Asymmetrical Shawl is my favorite crochet design. I love asymmetry when designing - I think it looks interesting and it keeps me on my toes when I'm making the sample ;). I've been wearing mine almost every day now that it's getting cold. The Dream in Color Jilly Lace is so soft and cuddly, and since it's a lace weight yarn, it's thin enough to fit under any coat. It's great for layering in this weather. My Alaskan Moonrise Scarf is my favorite knitting design. I just love the look of the stitch pattern, and the Miss Babs Yowza! Whatta Skein really lets the stitches shine. I guess you can tell I love hand dyed yarn, too! Both of these yarns are great - stunning colors, and the skeins are "jumbo sized" so you can splurge and be frugal at the same time!
Thaden's Asymmetrical Shawl

Alaskan Moonrise Scarf

Alaskan Moonrise Scarf (detail)

Are there any of your designs that need more love? 
Haha, I've always wished that my Visit to the Kantcentrum would get a little more love. It's a Bruges crochet design, and I had fun taking pictures for the tutorial. It's one of those patterns where gauge isn't critical and you can adjust the size easily, so it's fun to make. 

Visit to the Kantcentrum

What is your design process, and which are your favourite parts? 
I have two different processes. When I'm designing for other publishers, I usually look through their mood board or design call and immediately will get certain project ideas. Then I may dive into a stitch guide or look at different yarns to flesh out the idea a little further before I start swatching. For my self-published designs, my inspiration either comes from fashions I see in the streets of New York, or from thumbing through stitch guides, or from a great skeins of yarn. 

What skills do you find come in handy as a designer, other than crochet and knitting (e.g. sewing, drawing, coding)? 
I think comfort with math is critical for designers. I've always been that person who calculates how much everyone should pay and what the tip is when eating out in a group, so that's not a problem for me. Also being confident about writing is helpful. I'm not the world's greatest author, but I don't second guess myself too much about descriptions, blog posts, and social media conversations, either. I wish I had better (or, even some!) illustration skills since I think that would be helpful when submitting sketches to publishers. 

What special equipment do you find useful (e.g. software, fancy hooks/needles)?
 I do enjoy using ergonomic hooks and wood needles when I can, since I find that as I crochet and knit more often these days, I want to avoid strain. I LOVE my DSLR camera, and I use Lightroom for basic photo editing. 

What’s your absolute favourite yarn to work with? 
Oooh, this is tough. As I mentioned, I love hand dyed yarn, and I'm a huge fan of wool of all varieties. I also like undyed wool and alpaca. I know that may seem contradictory, but it's true! 

I just love Marie's Chubby Sheep!

Do you prefer to work with charts or written instructions?
I think it depends a bit on the project. I sketch charts when I'm creating my own crochet stitch patterns because I find it easier to figure out how things will line up and how many chains I'll need to get started. I am not that comfortable reading knitting charts, though, so I usually write out those patterns. I find it easier to work from written instructions on the whole, though, since I am often working in suboptimal lighting conditions and it's usually easier to mark them up to keep track of my progress. 

Have you noticed any differences between the worlds of crocheters and knitters? 
Haha, yes, at least in the U.S. There's definitely a lot of baggage about crochet and knitting here and which is "better" or "more versatile," etc. Since I teach a lot of international students, though, I realize that some of this is cultural.

Quadrilateral, a broomstick lace shawl - so pretty!

Do you have any advice for a newer designer?
Yes, lots! I share a fair amount of it on my podcast every week. But here are a few things I think are important for designing newbies.
Keep excellent notes while designing and creating your sample, especially if you don't already have a relationship with a tech editor you trust and who is "in synch" with you.

Remember what's important to you and your business and design career, and try not to get caught up in what others are doing. It's great to learn from other people, but you never have the full picture and everyone's situation is unique, so don't compare too much.

Try not to let negative comments and trolling get you down, but at the same time, listen to constructive feedback and see what may be valuable to help you to grow. I give you permission to throw a 5 minute pitty party after you get a mean comment, but then delete it and move on with your life! 

Lastly, are you making anything for the Gift-A-Long?
Yes! I'm working on cheezombie's Crochet Splat Cat Coaster to accompany a custom mug I bought on Etsy for a friend, and Bruno Bear by Justyna Kacprzak for my toddler cousin. 

Thanks so much, Marie!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Gift-A-Long progress

The Gift-A-Long is going strong! If you'd like to see all the amazing projects which people have already finished, check out the FO (finished object) thread. There's still the rest of the month to go, so do jump in if you're keen. :)

I admit my own Gift-A-Long project (a Park Slope top) has stalled a bit...
I managed to knit the shoulders, sleeves, and body down to just below the armpits, but then I got caught up in knitting another exciting (and top secret!) project. The top is looking great though, and I'm looking forward to finishing it when I can.

Another cool part of the GAL is the blog interviews the designers have been doing! Those of us with blogs were assigned names out of a hat to interview. I’ve been interviewed by two other designers, which was really fun. Here are the links:

Interview: Amy van de Laar, Baroque Purls
- at Janelle Martin’s Eclectic Closet, and
Designer interview: Amy van de Laar, Baroque Purls
- at Nim Teasdale’s Little House on the Hill.

I'm also super-proud to have been featured in this highlights post:
GAL 2014: my picks of the unique, quirky and innovative designs
- at Elizabeth Felgate’s blog.

My own interview with Marie Segares is coming soon. :)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Turnin' Tricks

A couple of months ago I helped out on a 48 Hour Film, which was totally amazing and exhausting and hilarious. My post about the experience is here: A 48-hour adventure.

We were among the four films nominated for 'Best Musical Score' from this year's batch of Melbourne films (although we didn't win), and our music team actually won a prize from a film-making school!

The film is up on Youtube now, so enjoy! Keep an eye out for me, Willie, Julian, and Chloe (aka 'the band'). Celena is starring (and rapping)...

Pattern sale alert!

Hey knitters and crochet peeps, the Gift-A-Long sale has now begun! 

Eleven of my patterns will be 25% off until the 21st of November, with the coupon code giftalong2014 on Ravelry:
The list of all the participating designers is here, with links to their on-sale patterns (or if you like to browse on Pinterest, all the patterns are here).
Once you have your yarn and patterns, come and join the fun in the Indie Design Gift-A-Long group to share project photos and be in to win prizes.
The Gift-A-Long will run
from now until the end of December.

I'll be joining the sweaters/cardigans/etc knit-a-long, with the Park Slope top by Laura Aylor. It should be a useful top for spring and autumn, and I have some really rich and beautiful Vintage Purls Sock yarn all wound into balls and ready to go. :)

If I have time, I also have my eye on the Fightin' Words mitts, and Findlinge shawl. The Wesley Bobs Christmas tree decorations also caught my eye, and as for the Persian Dreams blanket... just go take a look. Seriously.

Friday, November 14, 2014

New pattern: Paper Snowflake

The final pattern in my 'Paper Hats' series is now available: Paper Snowflake. 

As you might have guessed, this one was inspired by the Christmas-time ritual of cutting out paper snowflakes to use as decorations. Even those of us who have only ever had summery Christmases know how to make these! 

  • a snowflake pattern outlined with simple 2-stitch cables
  • the 'cut-outs' are filled with purl stitches for textural contrast
  • both charts and written instructions
  • five sizes - for babies, kids, and adults

You will need one ball of Morris Empire 4ply (except for the Adult Large, which requires two balls), or one ball of White Gum Wool 4ply. If substituting yarn, you'll need 100-215 yards of a smooth, bouncy sock or fingering-weight yarn.

If you haven't made 'proper' six-pointed snowflakes before, here's a good tutorial: How to make 6-pointed paper snowflakes 

And just for fun, here are a couple more tutorials for neat paper toys I remember making long, long ago. The water balloon is particularly cool:
Inflatable origami water balloon
Origami 'popper'
Origami hopping frog


Willie and I had fun taking photos of me in my hat (an 'adult small', in the insanely soft White Gum 4ply), around our neighbourhood. Brunswick is excellent for photo opportunities. :)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

It's Gift-A-Long time!

Hey crafting folks! If you plan to knit or crochet Christmas gifts and/or you want to make something special for yourself, there’s something exciting happening. A big group of indie knit and crochet designers have teamed up for the Indie Design Gift-A-Long on Ravelry, which will run from 13 November to 31 December 2014.

If you enjoy taking part in knit/crochet-alongs (KALs/CALs), there will be forum threads for each type of item (hats, shawls, mittens, etc), and heaps of prizes to be won - both physical prizes and pattern downloads. The idea is to kick-start our gift-knitting and have fun along the way.

If you need patterns, there will be a sale during the first week of the Gift-A-Long. The participating designers (all 293 of us) will each have a selection of our patterns discounted at 25% off. The sale period is 13-21 November. You can see my on-sale patterns collected here

All the details are over in the Gift-A-Long group.

One of our designers put together this graphic with some stats about the GAL (click to enlarge). Check out the "designers per capita" graph! ;)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

New pattern: Paper Boat

Introducing number four in my 'Paper Hats' series of patterns: Paper Boat.
I think it would make a great pirate captain's hat for dress-ups!

  • a wide turned-up brim and pointed crown, to form the boat shape 
  • simple to knit, using only knit + purl stitches and basic decreases
  • knit in the round from the brim up
  • written instructions
  • five sizes - for babies, kids, and adults
  • will not actually float ;)

For the baby/toddler sizes, you will need one 50g ball of Morris Empire 4ply, or two balls for the larger sizes. I decided to use a marled black & white yarn to mimic newsprint (Empire 4ply in 'Beluga Twist'). If substituting yarn, you will need 145-310 yards of smooth, bouncy sock/fingering-weight yarn.

If you'd like to fold some 'proper' paper boats, here are a couple of tutorials which I think are nice and clear:
Origami Boat Instructions
Origami Boat

Monday, November 3, 2014

A bounty of books

A few exciting packages have arrived lately, because I've been buying books!

I ordered a shiny new copy of June Hemmons Hiatt's The Principles of Knitting, which I've been hankering after for ages. It's very in-depth, and will obviously take me quite a while to absorb. I really like having actual reference books around! The internet is a fount of all knowledge, yes, but often I just want to grab a familiar book when I need information on a technique...

Suitably attired!

I also found these second-hand knitting books going cheap on Ebay: Montse Stanley's Knitting Your Own Designs for a Perfect Fit, and Barbara Walker's Charted Knitting Designs. I have plenty to learn about garment construction, and I find stitch patterns endlessly fascinating. I'm still on the lookout for Barbara Walker's other stitch dictionaries.

They're older books, but most of the information is still useful and current.
I want to learn more about knitted garment construction as I think I might like to try designing a sweater sometime. And in the meantime, I'll be better equipped to tweak other people's designs fit me properly. :)

A peek inside...

And last but not least, I ordered my own score of Handel's Messiah. I've joined a new choir (at the Scots' Church in the central city), and we'll be performing it this December. The new choir is going well so far - there are plenty of good singers, and we've done some interesting music. I feel like I'm diving into the 'other half' of the choral repertoire, i.e. the Protestant side of things. Good thing I like Bach. ;)

I think I'm the only choir-geek in the English-speaking world who's never been in a Messiah performance, so this will be interesting! I know two of the choruses already (and the soprano solos of course), so that's a start. I just need this damn cold to go away so I can start learning my parts...

"Hallelujah", etc etc...

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

New pattern: Paper Planes

The third pattern in my 'Paper Hats' set is out - this one's called Paper Planes. A tutorial for making my favourite made-of-actual-paper planes (like the ones in the photos) is included below. I couldn't find one online for this method, so I made my own. :)

  • textured paper-plane shapes, outlined with twisted stitches
  • a cosy garter-stitch brim
  • both charted and written instructions
  • five sizes - for babies, kids, and adults
  • requires only one 50g ball of Merino Soft 4ply from Skeinz
    (or 85-185 yards of 4ply/sock/fingering weight yarn)

There are two kinds of twisted stitches used: the 'normal' one, i.e. knitting through the back loop of a stitch, plus its mirror image, which is slightly more complicated. You slip the stitch knitwise, then slip it back the left needle purlwise, and finally knit the stitch. I've abbreviated this as 'skw spw k', which in my head tends to turn into 'skew spew knit'!


Best Paper Planes
- A tutorial by Amy van de Laar

You will need a pair of scissors, and a sheet of paper - printer paper is fine, or coloured paper if you choose. I usually use a sheet of A4 paper (or a halved sheet of A4). Take care to line up the edges/corners well when you make your folds, and try to make your folds nice and crisp.

1. Fold your paper in half lengthwise, and open it out again:

2. Fold each of the top corners down, to meet the central fold from step 1:

3. Fold the top triangle down, lining up the point with the central fold:

4. Fold your rectangle in half lengthwise, with your folded triangle visible on the outside:

5. Snip a small-ish square out of the top outer corner:

6. Open out your rectangle, with your folded triangle visible on top:

 7. Fold each of the top corners down, to meet the central fold:

8.  Fold the little triangle up, so that the folded parts are 'locked' in place:

9.  Fold your plane in half lengthwise, with the folded parts visible on the outside:

10. Fold down your wings (flight-testing will help you find the best angle):

11. Test out your airplane!

© Amy van de Laar 2014.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Roses after the storm

Last night we had a pretty intense thunderstorm. I don't think I've ever heard that much thunder - loud, rapid-fire waves of it. Needless to say, no-one got enough sleep last night! But my roses look amazing covered in the rainy aftermath...

This is my 'Lamarque' rose, which came back from the dead last summer (it had dried out during one of our heatwaves and played dead for a few weeks). It has an amazing scent, and I love the way the petals unfurl from the centre. It's a really old-fashioned-looking rose. <3

Here are a couple of shots I took a few days ago, when the first flowers were newly open:

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

New pattern: Paper Hearts

Introducing the second pattern in my 'Paper Hats' collection: Paper Hearts!

  • a ring of hearts, outlined with simple 2-stitch mini-cables
  • knit-purl texture within each heart, imitating woven paper
  • a cosy garter-stitch brim
  • both charted and written instructions
  • five sizes - for babies, kids, and adults

You will need 95-220 yards of 4ply/sock/fingering weight yarn, depending on the size you knit. I used Skeinz Merino Soft 4ply in Red. It's such a bright, pure red I had real trouble photographing it! The glow is quite something...

As you can see, the inspiration for this hat is woven paper hearts, which are a Christmas-time tradition in northern Europe. They make very cute ornaments - in fact, we still have a couple of ribbons-ful hanging from our ceiling from last Christmas! 

Here are a couple of tutorials, if you'd like to make some:
How to Make Woven Paper Hearts (includes a template)
Making Woven Paper Heart Baskets to Celebrate Santa Lucia Day

And here is a crochet pattern for woven hearts: Danish Heart by Allison Baker. I made a couple of them last December, in the midst of my decorating excitement. ;)

Monday, October 13, 2014

Happy birthday to me!

I'm 35 today (whoa). So far, the highlight has been a gift voucher for one of my favourite yarn shops - thanks Mum & Dad! And for dinner tonight, I have been promised pancakes. :)

The other thing I've been up to today is releasing a new hat pattern, called 'Paper Crown'...

Fittingly, it's inspired by the paper crowns worn at kids' birthday parties. Here's a not-so-recent example (my Dearest Brother is doing his best to steal my candle-blowing glory):

The hat is a fairly simple knitted beanie, livened up with some mini-cables forming the crown shape between the ribbing and the plain top. 'Paper Crown' would make a great introduction to knitting cables if you haven't tried them before. Here is my favourite tutorial on knitting mini-cables without a cable needle: twisted stitches.

Five sizes are included in the pattern: Baby (to fit 16"/40.5cm head) Toddler (18"/45.5cm), Kid/Teen (20"/50.5cm), Adult Small (22"/56cm), and Adult Large (24"/61cm).

You'll need a smooth, bouncy 4ply/fingering/sock yarn - I used Merino Soft 4ply from Skeinz, in 'Gold'. One 50g ball will be enough for any size, but you might be cutting it fine for the Adult Large size (I'd get two balls to be safe).
How to Make a Regular, Life-Sized King's Crown Out of Paper Only

Read more :
How to Make a Regular, Life-Sized King's Crown Out of Paper Only

Read more :
How to Make a Regular, Life-Sized King's Crown Out of Paper Only

Read more :
How to Make a Regular, Life-Sized King's Crown Out of Paper Only

Read more :

'Paper Crown' is the first in a set of five hat patterns inspired by the paper-craft projects I enjoyed as a kid. We had a couple of great books with step-by step projects. I have particularly fond memories of the excellent paper plane design, and the origami water-bomb. ;)

I'll be releasing my 'Paper Hats' collection hat-by-hat over the next few weeks. Here's a preview - yes, I had great fun making the photo props!

If you want to make an actual paper crown, here's a really easy method:
How to make a regular, life-sized king's crown out of paper only

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go buy strawberries and lemons for tonight's pancake extravaganza. Yeaaahh lemon & sugar!

Saturday, September 27, 2014


I've been playing around with some really lovely yarns lately, super-soft and luxurious! I thought I'd tell you about them all at once. ;)

Two of the yarns have been knit into swatches for a secret project - a design submission to the knit magazine Twist Collective. It's my first submission to a publication, so it's been pretty exciting (and nerve-wracking)! I can't show you the swatches, but I can show you the fancy yarn: "ethical superfine merino" from Tasmania's White Gum Wool, and the merino/silk blend "Scrumptious" from Fyberspates, both in 4ply/fingering weight. The silk content in the aptly-named Scrumptious gives it a nice sheen, which helps highlight textured stitch patterns like moss stitch and garter stitch.

White Gum Wool 4ply, and Fyberspates Scrumptious 4ply

Next is a brand-new luxury yarn from New Zealand, which I just had to get my hands on: "Vanitas" from Outlaw Yarn. It's a DK-weight blend of alpaca and a little bit of merino. I love the design of the ball-band!

The colours are inspired by European 'vanitas' paintings of the 16th and 17th centuries. A couple of examples (click to enlarge):

Philippe de Champaigne, Still-Life with a Skull, c.1671

Adriaen van Utrecht, Vanitas - Still Life with Bouquet and Skull, c.1642
Johann de Cordua, Vanité au buste, 1665

So you can see why this yarn appealed to me! I chose the colours 'Vanity' and 'Mahogany'. I'll probably turn them into a cowl and a hat. :)

Lastly, I managed to get my hands on some very special yarn through a bit of luck. I entered a contest on Instagram by posting a photo of a past-or-present knitting project using Zealana's yarn. I entered this photo of my 'Bushwalk Beanie' knit in their Kauri 4ply:

And I won! My very generous prize arrived last week - four balls of the cashmere/possum/silk blend Air laceweight, along with a book of patterns.

It's very, very soft and has Zealana's usual subtly-heathered look and slight halo from the possum fur. I think a striped scarf or shawl will really make the most of this yarn. :)