Why I blog

Last week I wrote about my crisis of blogging conscience. In that post I explained that my purpose for blogging wasn’t clear to me any more, that I was getting hung up on stats rather than just writing because I enjoy it. Thank you so much to everyone who left feedback on the post or on Twitter, it really helped me figure things out.

Progress 016One of my lovely commenters (I love comments, I can’t lie about that) had three clear reasons as to why she blogs and this prompted me to put down in writing why I am doing this to see if this could clear up my niggling doubts.

  1. I blog because I love writing: I’ve always loved writing, ever since I was young, and I think I’m a little bit good at it.
  2. I blog because I love knitting: They say write what you know, so I write about things I’m passionate about – knitting, libraries and animal welfare.
  3. I blog because I take photographs: I was taking photographs long before I started blogging but this gives me somewhere to share them, rather than just having them sitting on a hard drive.
  4. (and I’m a tiny bit narcissistic (aren’t we all? she whispered hopefully): I’m proud of my knitting, my photography, my writing and I want to share it.)

So there you have it. I love writing, I love knitting, I love photography and I’m a tiny bit narcissistic.

Why am I blogging?

Am I having a crisis of blogging conscience? I’m not sure.

I’m not even sure where to start with this post – my thoughts are jumbled and conflicting. I’ve been blogging for *goes to check* three years now (holy crap!) I’ve updated the layout of my blog in the last year or so and in the last few months I’ve tried to publish content on a more regular basis. See? There I go, calling it ‘content’ instead of just the ‘stuff I write’. I’ve asked a friend of mine, who is a graphic designer, to help me with a new blog header and she has already showed me the most brilliant ideas. And I’ve started reading more about SEO, how to increase the number of comments I get and how to get my stats booming. I’ve become hung up on stats and clicks.

There I said it, my dirty little secret is out.

Part of me thinks, why shouldn’t I want my blog to be successful. I want people to read what I write – that’s the whole point. But when I find myself going back over old posts to tweak keywords, titles, image caption and links in order to create an ‘evergreen post’ (I know! Vomit!) have I gone to far? Or is this just promoting my blog a bit better?

And why am I promoting my blog? Yes, I want more people to read and engage with what I write but I don’t make any money from this blog, nor do I see myself doing that in the future. So why have I become so caught up with improving my stats and emulating the big, beautiful blogs out there?

When choosing topics to write about am I prioritising those that I feel will get more click rather than just writing about what’s in my head or on my needles that day? Is there a chance that I’m alienating other like-minded bloggers by trying to be too flashy?

And do you know what? I’m not even sure all this extra effort is even paying off in terms of hits.

Should I just go back to writing about what I love? (I’m still writing about what I love but in a much more considered way.) Why am I blogging? And what’s the point? I’m not sure that I know the answer.

Ok, brain dump over, let’s hope I don’t hit delete rather than publishing. I’d love to hear what you think in the comments (because the narcissist in me craves your attention and comments, aaaggggghhhhhhh).

5 tips and tricks for photographing dogs (and other pets)

I took some photos of my dogs Ollie and Mia recently modelling jumpers that I knitted for them. And that got me thinking about the tips and tricks I use when photographing dogs (or other pets) to try to get nice photos. I also have experience photographing foster puppies over the years and while I’m by no means an expert, I’ve built up a few tip and tricks for photographing pets that I find help.

So often when taking quick photos of my dogs, I don’t have my SLR on hand, so I’ve tried to tailor my tips and tricks to using your phone (although I’ve cheated because all of the photos in the  post were taken on my ‘good’ camera).

Dog Jumpers 047 square1. One word – Treats

Before you think about anything else make sure you are armed with a bag of treats. This may be the only way to get your dog or pet to sit still for anything more than 5 seconds. I find holding the treat beside the lens or beside my phone, tricks them into looking directly at the camera. Or as happened when I was photographing the dog jumpers, Ollie looks like he’s staring ponderously into the middle distance, but is instead looking at R who was holding the treats just off camera. If you’re taking an impromptu photo of your dogs, or other pets, and don’t have treats available, grab their favourite (squeaky) toy and wave (or squeak) it beside the phone to get their attention.

Week 4 (143)2. The same rules apply

The same basics that apply to all photography also applies to photographing dogs or pets. Think about your light source, get them near a window or in natural light. Have a quick scan of the background to make sure there is nothing distracting there and remember the rule of thirds. Try to compose the photo so that your pet’s head is at one of the ‘points of power’. Most phone cameras will allow you to view the ‘rule of thirds’ grid as a guide.

Dexter 8 week old Jack Russell foster puppy3. Get down to their level

You have three options here – get down on the ground, lift your dog or pet up by placing them on a couch, bench or rock, or compose the photo so they are meant to be staring up (or down) at you. I’m one of these people how likes to get down on the ground to play with my dogs anyway so I can just grab my phone (which is nearly always in arm’s reach :/ ). But if you’re outside it might be less messy to pop your pet on a bench and hunker down so that you’re face to face.

Foster a puppy, dog, cat or kitten4. It’s all about the eyes

You have to get the eyes in focus, there really is no way around it. This is true for photographing dogs and pets, as well as people. I have a gazillion photos of dogs where the eyes are out of focus and they just don’t have the same wow factor. This can be really difficult to achieve, but you should be able to tap on the screen of your phone to tell it where to focus. This of course only works if you have time before your dog or pet moves again. If you’re using an SLR it can sometimes be difficult to tell if the eyes are in focus until you upload your photos to the computer, so just keep shooting. (Agh, I’ve just noticed that the eyes are not in focus in the shot below, but the runners give such a good sense of scale I don’t care).

Four week old pit bull puppy

5. Natural habitat

When I was photographing Ollie and Mia in their new jumpers I wanted to capture them looking natural, so off we went to the park with my camera and a bag of treats in my pocket. I think this worked better than just plopping them on the couch, or in the back garden. It can be great to get some non-posed photos of dogs and pets too. Some of my favourite photos are of dogs just being dogs, although you’ll have to be quick (and lucky) to get these shots.

Kilmacurragh 185

Yarn Review: Hedgehog Fibres Sock

I don’t generally do ‘reviews’ in the traditional sense, but maybe I should? We’ll see. Anyway I loved this Irish yarn, Hedgehog Fibres Sock, so much I felt I had to write a review of it, so here goes…

Yarn Review: Hedgehog Fibres SockA friend of mine (who is becoming a vegan knitter, which I find so interesting) was destashing all her animal fibre based yarns over the summer and I took the opportunity to add some superwash yarns to my stash. That was my criteria – I wanted yarn I could use for baby clothes, as I know this will get used at some point. So I bought three skeins of Malabrigo Rios in Sunset and one skein o f Hedgehog Fibres Sock in Seaglass.

Yarn Review: Hedgehog Fibres SockAnother friend (and knitter) recently had a baby, so I quickly cast on my new favourite baby cardigan, Beyond Puerperium, using the Hedgehog Fibres Sock. The yarn is a fingering / 4 ply weight, made of 90% merino wool and 10% nylon, with around 350m per 100 grams. And even better the yarn is dyed right here in Ireland, in Cork. I used around 65g for the 42.5cm cardigan.

Yarn Review: Hedgehog Fibres SockThis was one of my first times knitting with such a variegated yarn but I must say I’m delighted with the result. I’ve started knitting from time to time at my morning coffee break and several of my colleagues were curious as to how I was creating the multicoloured effect, until I showed them the ball. The overall effect reminds me of camouflage and my colleagues were very impressed.

Yarn Review: Hedgehog Fibres SockBut what prompted me to write this review is how soft this yarn is. I should say here that the colour in the first few pictures is more true to life – the pictures of the FO were taken in the evening before I parceled it up for posting. It’s just gorgeous to work with, I didn’t want to put it down. The stitch definition is also really crisp. I’ve popped the finished cardigan in the wash, and though I’ve only tested it after one wash, the garment really held it’s shape well.

And did I mention how soft it is? Definitely soft enough for a baby’s skin! You all know I’m a yarn snob, so for me this is a great combination of a washable yarn, made from natural fibre, that I really want to knit with. I know not everyone would be willing the spend the €22 on a skein for baby clothes (and I paid half price) but as the recipient is a knitter too I know she will appreciate the beauty of a hand dyed yarn.

Yarn Review: Hedgehog Fibres SockSo the perfect yarn deserves the perfect button, right? I wanted to get some rust coloured buttons to go with this cardigan, to pick out the brown-y tones in the yarn. I popped into A. Rubanesque and found the dotiest little elephant buttons. And even better – they were on sale. I do love a good button, the finishing touches can really make or break a finished item.

I will definitely be going back for more of this yarn, and will be trying more hand dyed, superwash yarns for baby clothes – for the right recipient (you all know what I mean).

10 Gifts for Knitters (curated by a knitter)

I recently wrote about gifts for the librarian in your life. That got me to thinking about gifts for knitters and crocheters. Knitters are often very generous at creating gifts for other people, but what about gifts *for* them? You may need to play detective a little to determine their tastes or to see what gadgets they already have, but I hope this list will offer some inspiration.

If you want to use this list for the knitter in your life I suggest bringing it to your local yarn store, as they are likely to stock some (or all) of these products. I haven’t linked to any specific shops within the post, but you can find a list of yarn shops in Dublin in this post. And if you are a knitter or crocheter, feel free to hint heavily by sharing this post with loved ones. So without further ado….

1. Gift vouchers

This is a controversial one, some people love gift vouchers, others hate them. Me? I love them, because it means I get to pick my own treat. If you feel that gift vouchers are impersonal, at least with a voucher for a yarn shop you can argue that you put some thought into it, rather than getting one for a shopping centre (which I also love, btw).

2. Luxury yarn

10 Gifts for Knitters (curated by a knitter) - Luxury yarnIf you don’t want to buy a gift voucher and you do want to buy yarn, I recommend buying one or two beautiful skeins of luxury hand-dyed yarn. They may seem eye-wateringly expensive to you, but (most) knitters will know and appreciate the value of such a gift. If you want some Irish dyed yarn Coolree, Dublin Dye Company, Hedgehog Fibres and Townhouse Yarns jump to mind, although there are others. I suggest checking to see if your knitter has particular colour or fibre preferences.

3. Wool wash

10 Gifts for Knitters (curated by a knitter) - soak wool washMost knitted items need to be handwashed rather than machine washed. But handwashing is a pain in the ass (pardon my French). Wool wash is a non-rinse detergent, perfect for delicate items. Brands that I’m familiar with include Soak and Eucalan. These can be used on any clothes that require handwashing and I often bring a bottle on holidays incase I need to wash any of my clothes in the sink. It’s also lovely to pop a drop of it in the water when soaking knitting, ready for blocking.

4. Blocking Wires

10 Gifts for Knitters (curated by a knitter) blocking wires

Blocking is a magic thing – magic! This is the process whereby you soak a knitted item and then pin it to the shape or size that you want. When it’s dry the fibres hold this shape. It’s kind of like ironing for knitting. You can block items without wires, but they are particularly helpful when blocking lace. [Image courtesy of Inspinknity]

5. Yarn winder and swift

10 Gifts for Knitters (curated by a knitter) yarn swiftHave you ever seen yarn in a hank? This is when the yarn is twisted lightly into a kind of plait (like in the photos above). Well you have to wind the yarn into a ball before knitting it. Just as blocking doesn’t require wires, winding doesn’t require a winder and swift – but it’s a hell of a lot easier if you have them. The swift is the yoke that reminds me of a washing line, which holds the yarn and spins around as you wind the yarn on the, well, yarn winder.

6. Knitting needle/ crochet hook sets

10 Gifts for Knitters (curated by a knitter) Crochet hook set from knitproA set of knitting needles or crochet hooks is more useful for a beginner, who may not have built up a large range of sizes already. Most yarn shops will stock sets in a pretty (and useful) presentation box. I’d advise checking first if your knitter prefers straight (no cable) or circular (joined with a cable) needles before investing in a set.

7. Interchangeable knitting needles

10 Gifts for Knitters (curated by a knitter) knitpro interchangeable needlesI use my set of Knitpro interchangeable needles pretty much exclusively. You may be familiar with the knitting needles joined by a cable, but did you realise that there are many lengths of cables, depending on the type of project the knitter is working on? Well there are! And interchangeable needles mean you don’t need multiple lengths in each needle size. You just choose your needle size and add it to the required cable length. You can buy sets of these in pretty presentation boxes, or you can buy individual tips and cables to expand the set. As well as Knitpro needles I’ve heard of Addi Clicks, although I’m sure there are others.

8. A yarn bowl

10 Gifts for Knitters (curated by a knitter) wooden yarn bowlI’m lucky enough that my father-in-law is a super talented wood-turner and made my my very own yarn bowl. I love my yarn bowl and use it all the time. You can find lots of different examples on Etsy or you could contact a local potter or wood turner if you were feeling particularly generous. Again, this isn’t necessarily a cheap option, but your recipient is sure to love theirs as much as I love mine.

9. Knitting related stuff

10 Gifts for Knitters (curated by a knitter) Debbie Bliss mugA few knitters I know have expressed interest in these tea towels and mugs from Debbie Bliss, however I have to say I think they are a bit pricey. Having said that if someone else was to buy them for me, I would be absolutely delighted. I particularly like this London brick knitting needle holder.

I love tote bags and have ones from Loop London and Purl Soho in New York, these would also make great gifts. Most yarn shops will have some kind of knitting related paraphernalia, often locally produced, so just ask.

10. Stocking fillers

  • 10 Gifts for Knitters (curated by a knitter) Stitch markersButtons make great stocking fillers for the knitter in your life. I’m talking cute buttons, or unusual buttons, not a packet with 6 plain black buttons. I often see lovely handmade buttons at craft markets or in craft shops (and I am rarely able to resist them).
  • Stitch markers would make another nice stocking filler. You’ll find all sorts of handmade ones on Etsy or in your local yarn shop. My favourite ones are those made from wire. If you’re buying for a crocheter make sure you go for split ring markers.
  • Project bags are great for knitters who regularly have multiple projects on the go. Julie says they don’t even have to be actual project bags – any little drawstring pouch and sometimes toiletry bags are perfect!
  • Other bits of pieces that knitters “need” are called notions. These include tins or boxes to store stitch markers and needles and interchangeable needle stops. How about some tiny embroidery scissors, a cute measuring tape or needle size gauge thingy.

If you have any further suggestions leave them in the comments please and I’ll add them to the post.

Tiny knitted pumpkins

Anyone who follows me on Twitter will know that I’ve become a bit obsessed with these knitted pumpkins recently. I originally planned on knitting just one for my desk, but that was swiftly follow by a second, third, fourth fifth and sixth pumpkin. And I can’t say for certain that I’m finished. I’d love to knit one for my aunt, but I’ve run out of lighter weight orange yarn. The sixth pumpkin was for a colleague, so not included here.

Tiny knitted pumpkin in green, orange and white, knittingA friend of mine who knew I was knitting pumpkins sent me a photo last weekend of the pumpkin display in Fallon & Byrne, and immediately I knew I had to contact them to see if I could take some photos. So huge thanks to Fallon & Byrne who allowed the crazy knitting lady to take photos of her knitted pumpkins with their real pumpkins. I could happily have snapped away four hours and I’m so excited about the results.

Tiny knitted pumpkins in orange, green and white with a giant white pumpkin, knittingI bought the beautiful yarn for the orange pumpkins at HandmAid. I spotted it on the market stall and knew instantly that it was perfect, the colour is pretty much solid, but with some variation to give them impression of something more organic. It’s handspun yarn, spun by Eimear and is called Ashford silvers in orange. The skein was marked merino and silk, with 169m in the 50g.

Small, knitted, orange pumpkin with other gourds. knittingI had never knit with handspun before but I really enjoyed it. The first pumpkin was knit with the yarn held double on 2.5mm needles. The fabric was really tight so for the second pumpkin I switched to 3mm needles. For the third pumpkin I added a few extra even rounds to use up as much of the yarn as I could, so it’s slightly taller.

Small knitted green gourd with orange pumpkins #knittingThe green gourd was Hedgehog Fibres Sock in seaglass. This was knit, with yarn held double, on 3mm needles.

Small knitted white gourd with orange pumpkins #knittingThe white pumpkin was knit with Madelinetosh Tosh Merino Light in Paper, again held double, on 3mm needles.

Small knitted orange and white pumpkin with other gourds #knitting

For the stems I used my Embellish Knits iCord knitting yokey, and I used some brown and green lace weight yarn held together to get a bit of variation. I love these pumpkins so much, I know I’ll be taking them out every autumn for years to come.

The pattern is Spice & Clove Knit and Crochet Pumpkins by Hannah Maier and is much easier than I was expecting. You essentially knit and stuff a ball and then feed the yarn through the centre of the pumpkin to shape them. The only issue I had was that as some of my yarn was quite delicate they broke a few times as I really tugged the pumpkins into shape. I highly recommend you download this free pattern, but I warn you – it’s addictive.

Ready for winter, kinda

At the end of August I attended a Yarn Dating event in my LYS This Is Knit. The evening was a fund twist on the Yarn Tasting events they have run for the last few years and featured new yarn for the new knitting season. In my goodie bag I found a ball of Sublime Superfine Alpaca DK, which was so new it wasn’t even in Ravelry at the time.

The colour is a lovely soft grey – one of my favourite colours. The alpaca was just calling out to be a hat. I chose the Habitat hat by Jared Flood, which is a heavily cabled beanie hat. The yarn is deliciously soft but quite hairy so probably not the best yarn for cables and I was a bit worried that all the manic cabling would be lost in the fluffiness of the yarn. But I’m quite happy with the result. Also, as I was using a DK weight for an aran weight pattern I knitted the large size.

Yarn 047I used two new (to me) techniques for this hat. The first is cabling without a cable needle. I had used this techniques before but I really feel like I have the hang of it now. There are 7 different types of cables in this hat. Seven! So to use a cable needle would really have slowed me down. If you haven’t tried this before I would really recommend giving it a go.

Wooly Woofers 077The second technique I tried was blocking my hat using a balloon. I don’t always block hats, but with this one I felt it would help the cables really pop. I bought a cheap packet of balloons, re-measured my head circumference and blew up the balloon to the same circumference. I didn’t buy the best shaped balloons for this job, but they’ll do. Then you just pop your hat over the balloon and leave to dry. It really did make a difference and now I’m almost ready for winter.

I’m also super excited about a ‘photoshoot’ I did today with my knitted pumpkins so stay tuned for that! All I’ll say is that it involved real pumpkins and knitted pumpkins and I can’t wait to get home later to edit my photos.

What new techniques have you tried recently?

We have a winner!

Actually we have three winners!! Last Friday I told you how the lovely people at the Knitting and Stitching show got in touch with me and offered three pairs of tickets to the show for me to give to my readers. The show runs in the RDS, Dublin, from October 30th – November 2nd.

Random numbersThe competition closed at 12 noon today and I used a random number generator to choose the winners. Congratulations to Ann,Daniela Simmons and joanfrankham. I will be in touch with each of you to arrange postage of the tickets as soon as I publish this post.

In search of

So the other day I can across this Pin. Isn’t it beautiful? I have two similar coloured yarns in my stash that I bought in Loop in search of a project. But then I realised that there was no link associated with the pin so I couldn’t find the pattern. I tried tracing the pin back to the source through Pinterest but got bored with that. Then I tried asking on Facebook and Twitter and it was here that I found my answer. Which in itself is quite amazing, that I can post a picture of a knitted shawl and someone will recognise the pattern. Thanks April!

giniew's L'envoléeBut. That would make a relatively boring and short blog post. I remembered that you can search Google by image and wondered if this type of search would find the pattern for me (had someone on Facebook not recognised the pattern). The video below explains how to do this better than I could.

I had never noticed the ‘search Google for this image’ option when right clicking an image before (I use Chrome, but this option is apparently available in Firefox too). So I right clicked on the image in Pinterest and looked through the search results. It took a little bit of digging (i.e. clicking through to the second page of results) to find what I was looking for before finding a link to the original blog post featuring the image. Bingo! The blog post then linked to the pattern on Ravelry. So just a few clicks I had what I was looking for – the pattern for the shawl in the original image.

As well as showing matching images, the search for the images service shows visually similar images. A few immediate uses (as well as finding knitting patterns, naturally) for this service jump to mind. I could use this search to see if my images had been used on other sites without my permission. But I could also see my mum, who is fascinated by botany, using this type of search to find the names for flower and trees that she comes across. You could use it to do all sorts of research that just isn’t possible using text searching. Can you think of any other uses for this kind of search? The librarian, as well as the knitter, in me is fascinated by my new discovery.

The Knitting and Stitching Show and a giveaway

Good afternoon from a wet Dublin. Well I suppose we had a lovely September so we can’t really complain (too much, I mean we *are* Irish, complaining about the weather is a national pastime). Anyway, I have some lovely news. The people at the Knitting and Stitching show got in touch with me and have offered THREE PAIRS OF TICKETS to the show for me to give to my readers. The show runs in the RDS, Dublin, from October 30th – November 2nd.

K&S_LOGO RGB

Since starting knitting again myself and my mum have been to the show every year. It’s the biggest knitting show in Ireland, but you’ll find more than yarn and fabric at it. You’ll also find a range of crafts including beadwork, card-making, cross stitch, dress-making, embroidery, felt-making, jewellery-making, knitting and crochet, lace-making, patchwork and quilting, spinning, weaving and dyeing and tapestry. Last year I even bought some household cleaner. I’m still not sure how this fits in with knitting and stitching :/ but it did a good job on my oven.

JOB1778W0094The K&S show always has a huge range of craft supplies available but you all know I’m a yarn snob, so I would prefer to see more luxury yarns at the show. Coolree Yarns has been there the last two years and will be exhibiting again this year. And I believe This is Knit will be showing off some new Malabrigo yarns. However I do hanker after the knitting shows that I hear of in the UK where there are lots of indie dyers and spinners, offering the opportunity to try new indie yarns. But having said all that I do always come home laden down with new stash and I’m sure this year will be no different.

Folding materialsMy top tips for making the most of the show are to arrive early (to avoid the worst of the crowds) and to have a plan. Before heading to the show I’ll make a note of the yarn requirements for patterns in my queue and I’ll add buttons and beads for stitch markers to that list. If you’re into paper crafts Payper Box is worth checking out. Also keep an eye out for The Black Sheep Ltd stall, which always has large packs of yarn heavily discounted. Every year I drool over the beautiful fabrics but have resisted so far, as I don’t have time for another hobby.

**COMPETITION NOW CLOSED**

So. To be in with a chance to win one of three pairs of tickets simply leave a comment below (one entry per person) before 12 noon (GMT) Friday 10th October. Please make sure you enter an email address when commenting so I can get in contact with you. The Knitting and Stitching Show runs from Thursday October 30th to Sunday November 2nd 2014, however these tickets are only valid for Thursday, Friday or Sunday. I’ll use a random number generator to choose the winners on Friday 10th October, 2014. I’ll then contact the winners by email and aim to have their tickets in the post by Monday 13th October, 2014.