Saturday, 31 July 2010

The dying art of Fair Isle

Photo courtesy of

It's funny what you can find out when you get up VERY early in the morning. Like today, when I caught a fascinating documentary about Fair Isle this morning, on Radio 4.

Fair Isle knitting, as a technique, originated in and has been important to the economy of the Northern Isles for generations. Its links with Shetland wool production, and the skill level involved, mean that its status has long been protected so that the tradition can continue. The documentary I heard, which you can listen to via this link, was prompted by the news that knitting will no longer be taught in local schools.

An interesting argument that was put forward by one of the Fair Isle knitters was that garments produced in this specialised and traditional way should be granted Fair Trade protection. To produce a jumper at around minimum wage levels would incur a price tag of around £700. This provoked a discussion about the challenge of educating the wider public on the pricing of traditional skills, whether knitting should be left to re-emerge simply as a hobby or gifting skill, or whether artisans should expect to have to take another type of part time work in order to subsidise the production of traditional garments. These are things I think about all the time when I'm knitting, so I was delighted to hear it voiced on national radio. It's only a shame that it was discussed shortly after 6am, when anyone with a choice in the matter is still catching up on sleep.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Win with Miss Baah

There's a fantastic giveaway taking place over at the blogging home of Answers on a Postcard contributor, Miss Baah.

Based here in Scotland, designer and maker Elspeth has a quirky Etsy shop full of jewellery and handmade purses and pouches. I know what I'd spend my prize money on if I'm lucky enough to win...

This awesome purse with lovely penguins all over it:

And how about this brooch - love the shiny tentacles!

Head over to the blog right now and help make Miss Baah's first giveaway a success - you've got until Monday 2nd August.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Treasury roundup

I've been featured in two lovely treasuries recently - themed Spring Chicken and Teenie Weenie - both over in Treasury East on

Huge thanks to Little Nester and Yellowee. Just click here to get your hands on a spring chick or mini envelopes from the Girl Industries etsy shop.
Updated to say: look at this nifty little trick from our friends at etsy - just click to find all the recent treasuries I've been featured in:
Fellow etsians can search for their own featured items by swapping out your shop name at the end of the web address.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

A little bit of housekeeping...

I've been tidying up around here. I do have grand plans to make more of Blogger's layout templates and other features for people who don't know anything about how the internet works, but in the meantime I've spent a short while putting a bit of effort into arranging my list of blogs into something that looks like order - check it out over on the right hand side there.

You can now find all of the blogging Glasgow Craft Mafia members in the one spot, as well as the blogs I check almost every day. And of course, I can highly recommend clicking on the logo of each of my followers, each of whom keeps a varied and interesting blog!

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Armchair travelling

I use a nifty little widget called Statcounter to see how many people are reading my blog, and whereabouts in the world they're checking in from. As well as seeing lots of familiar names of places I've been (Brooklyn, Ards, Sheffield, Munich, Eugene, Madrid, Providence, Dundee and more), there are a few places on the list that are new to me, so I thought I'd do a bit of armchair travelling and find out something new...

First up is Curitiba, Brazil - one of the cooler places to visit in South America. Not just because of its relatively mild climate, but also because of its enviable and sustainable public transportation. Local Etsy seller GlassGift is one to watch, too. Look at this fantastic sushi set, it's making me hungry...

And where better to head next than Shizuoka, Japan? In the shadow of Mount Fuji, the scenery here seems so much more dramatic than the Ochil Hills behind my house! This stunning photograph is by Altus, on Flickr.

Next stop on this impromptu world tour is Castellon, Spain. It turns out that this is pretty close to a part of Spain I visited in 2006, when I attended the famous La Tomatina festival, near Valencia. Here's a photo of one of my favourite prints at home, which reminds me of Bunol, Eivissa, Palma and just about every small Spanish town I've visited. If you like it, go to Blancucha's Etsy shop to get a copy for yourself.

I visited some pretty interesting places when I lived in New Jersey, but I don't think I ever made it to Verona. It's home to the charmingly named Kip's Castle Park, which was restored recently after falling into disrepair. The photo comes courtesy of The Keystone New Jersey, where you can find more information about the history of the house and the grounds.

Staying in the USA for the last stop on today's itinerary, we're heading west to Granite Bay, California. Notable as home to Eddie Murphy, I thought that a little look at the local real estate would be in order. I wasn't disappointed. For just under $4m, look what Real Estate Ground want to sell me....

Quick, someone, buy 5 million upcycled envelopes from me and help make my dreams come true!

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Making jam

While I've been home every day and not that mobile, I've been listening to a lot of Woman's Hour on Radio 4. I caught a programme the other week where Ghillie James talked about making preserves and decided to order her book online and see what all the fuss was about. I'm not a huge consumer of jam, mainly because I find it far too sweet, and the main thing that drew me to the book was a focus on fruit and flavour over sweetness.

Another big plus in the jam-making process is the small number of ingredients required. I stocked up on special offer punnets of strawberries (800g), raspberries (300g) and blueberries (300g), a pack of jam-making sugar, a jif lemon and an emergency bottle of Pectin - in case it was struggling to set. Raspberries and strawberries have a low pectin content, which can prove problematic. I loosely based what I was doing on Ghillie James' recipe for muddled berry jam, reproduced for the BBC, here. I didn't add orange juice, even though we have some in the fridge, because, you know, I'm 8 months pregnant and I have to make at least one mistake in everything I do at the moment.

Rather than boiling the backside out of your fruit, Ghillie James asks instead that you leave the fruit to macerate for two hours - this releases the juices from the fruits slowly, while keeping the integrity of the flavour, and hopefully some of the nutrients intact.

The first step in the process was to layer up all the fruit, and a few squeezes of jif lemon, with a pack of jam-making sugar. The sugar had the appearance of sea salt, lovely big solid crunchy grains. Yes I did try a bit.

Halfway through the macerating process. Looking good!

Next step: transfer to a heavy pan and simmer for 10-15 minutes. I used my trusty Le Creuset because I wasn't sure how much of a good idea it was to use aluminium with acidic fruits. I can't remember science very well from school.

The fruits start to break down as the mixture starts to bubble.

Next step, boil for 10-15 minutes, until the mixture reaches 104 degrees (and I left my sugar thermometer in my old flat) or until a spoonful sets on a cold side plate.

After five minutes of boiling, I have a mild panic attack for the wellbeing of my lovely range cooker. So I split the mixture into two pans. This may have been detrimental to the jam-making process but it made cleaning up much easier. See my sterilised kilner jars in the background? They're sitting in a bain marie so that I'm not pouring hot jam into cold jars. That's a bit of science I do remember.

So, after sort of getting the jam to a setting point, stirring in about a third of a bottle of pectin to be on the safe side, then reassuring myself with Ghillie James' book that jam continues to set over the next 48 hours, I decide after 20 minutes of boiling that enough is enough and ladle the jam into three jars.

And this is what I'm left with. The next day, the jam is still a little bit wobbly in the jars, but the taste test says I've done a great job. I comfort myself with the thought that this is more of a preserve than a jam, and a million times nicer than shop-bought.
If you enjoyed this post, you might want to check out Answers on a Postcard contributor Vonnie, of Blotted Copybook and The Life Craft, and her recent adventures in tablet making.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

It's done!

I actually finished this last week, but I've had a hectic time with midwife, doctor and hospital appointments, so my progress report has arrived a little bit late.

Here it is against the backdrop of our brand new sofa:

I really enjoyed making this blanket, but I did stop for a moment to dwell on how much it might cost me to make and sell them... With 24 hours' work (I did have a sore back, so was possibly going at a slower rate than usual) and £42 worth of yarn, and of course all the overheads involved, and P&P, of course, you wouldn't really be looking at much change out of £300 if I was going to indulge myself and pay a little bit more than the minimum wage.

Having said all that, I did find the blanket incredibly relaxing and rewarding to make, so I've started another one in a more crisp cotton yarn (from Rowan, again), this time in a pale pink colour which for some reason they saw fit to name 'soap'. I'm not sold on the whole gender-specific colour thing, and we made the decision not to find out whether we're having a boy or a girl until we meet him or her, but this is a lovely gentle colour and will totally work with the nursery we're putting together.

My husband recently finished painting the baby's room, which is still empty but for a Miffy toy, Phil's tool box and a pair of ladders. Some photos will be up as soon as it looks a little more presentable (and we're currently working on a 7 week deadline here), but it's a rich lilac colour, which should tone in with anything from beige to pink or blue. All bases covered!

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Hello new readers!

I'm really excited to have been featured in two different places this week, Popular Crafts magazine, and the blog of Answers on a Postcard zine contributor, and card maker extraordinaire, Konnie Kapow!
Konnie's work is so original and creative, and she's a local Glasgow crafter, too. You can find her interview with me here, and her Etsy and folksy shops are just a click away.
Welcome to all my new readers, no matter how you found me, I hope you'll stick around and say hello.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

A big thanks to Boobahboutique

I love using Alchemy on Etsy because sometimes you get to 'meet' very lovely people. A case in point is Robin, of Boohbahboutique. As well as having a lovely shop with a range of gift ideas, stationery, jewellery supplies and other crafty bits, Robin was super-helpful in answering and discussing my request (for supplies for a new product... in development...). Can you believe my order arrived within 4 working days? Neither can I... but it's true!

So of course, I am going to encourage you to visit Boohbahboutique and take a look around, and say hi to Robin from me if you decide to treat yourself or someone else to something special!

Friday, 2 July 2010


I just found this in my husband's study and had to share. Boys, eh?