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Here it is — my brand new, first ever plarn creation! The design is based on Vickie Howell’s eco lunch bag from her book AwareKnits.  It’s just one of many great ideas from her book for the eco-conscious (and, I might add, time conscious) knitter and crocheter.

All in all, it took about a day of working off and on to complete it.  I added the last row of orange to the handles yesterday before breakfast.  It was a good one day project, but for someone who’s more comfortable working with yarn made from plastic bags, it could easily be done in a couple of hours.

There’s a sense of fun and novelty involved in crocheting with plarn that reminds me of those crafts we used to do as kids. (You know when we used to sit in those miniature chairs at those tiny, shellacked tables, sticky from the Elmers glue of past crafts, and decorate our paper plate masks, or some such project, with glitter and pipe cleaners? The messier the better.)

Making plarn is easy enough: you just flatten a plastic bag, fold it into a long strip about an inch or two wide, snip off the end and handles, then cut the strip into one inch pieces.

Cutting off handles.

Cutting the bag into 1" strips

Now unfold the pieces (which are now big plastic circles) and link them together so that they form a long chain. Wind them up into a ball.

More instructions about making plarn here.

Stitching up  definitely takes a little getting used to. I recommend only using plastic bags of similar thicknesses. You can see where I included plarn from a large, white, heavy-duty plastic bag. Not only was it thicker than the rest of the plarn (you can see how it bulges out), but it got to be rather painful to work with.  I cut it off after just two rounds because I couldn’t take the rubbing anymore.  In the end, I think it makes a niceish band to match the orange one, but I don’t think I’d crochet with it again.

In any case, I hope you enjoy!

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After a week of traveling and having people over it’s nice to finally sit down and share some of the things I’ve been doing (and creating) lately.

So in between doing this in Dublin and seeing beautiful scenery like in the picture above and watching sunsets like this…

I’ve also been learning how to crochet.

My grandmother and knitting instructor was right: once you learn how to knit, crocheting is a cinch.  Of course, I still managed to botch things up a time or two, which meant having the unravel half the project.  But we got there in the end.  I decided to do a market bag (this is what I think of when I see the words “market bag”) for my first crochet project since, I figure, my vegetables won’t care too much if my rows aren’t perfectly straight. Jill’s  Rust Goes Green was a quick and easy project (even for a beginner) and it was a great way to finally use up some of this bulky nylon yarn I’d been practicing with for ages.

And the finished product…

And just for fun I made these dangly wire earrings with royal blue beads. I’m not sure about  the ear hook design so I’m thinking about changing them… maybe adding a loop so that the ends clip together to form a fill circle?

Two books that have become permanent features on my nightstand these days (along with the, happily, never-ending Cold Mountain Scarf) are Melanie Falick’s Weekend Knitting and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s The Hound of the Baskervilles of Sherlock Holmes fame.  The proprietor of the tiny second hand bookshop I bought it from in the market said Baskervilles was the only book that ever scared him…  I love the classic Penguin book cover possibly as much as the expert, chilling, and somewhat whimsical story-telling.

And in the meantime I’ve moved on to a new project (two actually, but the second will have to wait until another day). Now that I can crochet passably, I’m working on my first plarn project. Here’s a sneak peak of the lunch bag-in-progress, based on Vickie Howell’s design from her book Aware Knits. More to come when I’ve finished.

In addition to picking out our wedding favors these past few days (which, by the way, is still not a done deal: s’mores or candy rock?) I’ve also been looking into handmade wedding thank-you gifts for family and friends who’ve helped out. Naturally I’d like to knit and crochet some of these gifts. And I don’t just want to knit pretty flower pins and small gift bags either; I want my gifts to be personalized, practical, and something people would want to use or wear because, let’s be honest, the handmade movement is at its best when made-from-home crafts compete with factory-made items for usefullness and prettiness.  Otherwise, why would people bother with handmade? So picking the right gifts/patterns is key.

The other factor is, of course, time. Seeing as it’s taken me three months to get through half of a shawl for my sister’s wedding gift turned birthday present (granted, I was in the middle of finals), I know it’s better to be realistic than optimistic — game day is, after all, under three months away. Yikes!

But because I’m stubborn, I’m determined to at least try. Plus I’m sure these adorable gifties won’t take too long to whip up. What do you think?

1.) I love this Crocheted Hemp Flower Necklace from Crescendoh, which I’m thinking would be an adorable gift for the mothers and/or my soon-to-be sister in law. The kit comes with hemp yarn, a crochet hook, 40 hand-dyed buttons and intructions (v. important!). Of course, I think I would use different colored buttons and maybe throw in some novelty items, i.e. felt leaves, shells, and wooden buttons. We shall see.

2.) For our somewhat “green” wedding (whatever that means), I  thought this simple yet lovely market string bag from Erin Vaughan would make a nice gift.  You can never have enough of these washable, stretchable  bags, especially now as farmers markets are regaining popularity across the country.

3.) Here’s one for the winos and, incidentally, the men in my life.  I hope they wouldn’t feel too girly caring a “handbag” even if it is for wine. I don’t care either way. They’re cute as all.

Harry wine bottle tote by Tante Sophie.

I’ve never tried felting before but the instructions look pretty straight forward. I’d say now’s as good a time as any to give it a try.

4.) In the same vein, these crocheted baskets are darling. Perfect as fruit baskets, napkin holders, anything really.

5.) Finally, who doesn’t love an adorable, multi-purpose tote? What’s more, it’s made from recycled bread bags. Again, this would complement our eco-conscious wedding theme, plus it’d be great as a market or beach bag.

I love the colors on this one. Wonder what bread they used... Sarah Lee?

So will I have time for all these projects on top of writing this novel, on top of planning the wedding, on top of applying for real jobs? Okay, probably not. But one can dream, right? Besides, they’re great projects to put on the backburner if I don’t finish them before the wedding.

As many of you may know, I’m getting married in August and I’m currently in the process of planning a mountain wedding for a (gulp) modest guest list of over 200 people. Yeah, not so modest, I know.  Well let me tell you, no one has been more surprised than me at how gun-ho I’ve become about planning this here shin-dig. After all, I am the girl who in high school ruined my sister’s and every other girlfriend’s dreams of a white wedding when I decided there were undeniable symbolic similarities between the modern white wedding in the West and virgin sacrifices of yester-years. Not to mention I’m not a spot-light kind of girl, and I didn’t relish the thought of spending beaucoups of money on a party that would last a couple hours when that money could go towards a down payment on a house.

But then a friend and fellow bride-to-be gave me an awesome gift: The Green Bride Guide by Kate L. Harrison.  Swooning starts here.

One of my former hang-ups with planning a big wedding was that I couldn’t see how I could be a good steward of my money and the Earth’s resources and still throw  a whoppin’ good party. Take the meal, for instance. My fiancé and I are vegetarians. Would we force our guests, mostly good ole’ country folk and meat-and-potato-lovin’ brits to eat quinoa salad and barley loaf? Or would we give in to our guests’ culinary tastes and decide our wedding was worth the price of four pigs’ lives and a pretty penny to boot?

Not only did Harrion’s bride guide give me a lot to think about in the food arena, but she helped me realize that planning a green wedding can be fun, challenging and, best of all, it can be an excuse to get crafty. And by the way, we ultimately decided not to have meat. Hurray, the pigs can live!

So this week’s wedding craft was to come up with an idea for a cute, preferably edible, favor for our 200+ guests. And after much deliberation, i.e., surfing of the blogosphere, I think we have a winner. Of course, in hindsight, it was so obvious. What better favor for an outdoor mountain wedding than personal S’mores goody bags! We’re even having the wedding at camp — so why didn’t I think of this? Of course, we did… we were already planning to have a bonfire with marshmallow roasting in the evening, but the thought hadn’t even crossed our minds to combine the two and make them into wedding favors.

In any case, I’m loving this idea featured on Once Wed with the super cute tag  designed by Miss Pickles.

Not to steal this bride’s style, I’m thinking of making our baggies out of burlap with maybe the Hershey’s logo stenciled onto the front. And I might just have to convoy this Miss Pickles for a similar darling tag.

Also, what do we think about incorporating straightened-out coat hangers, i.e. marshmallow skewers, into the table flower arrangements? I’m picturing them bursting out of the zinnias and hydrangeas like those curlicue, gold sparkley twigs you stick into the Christmas tree… Anyone else? Just me? Okay, so maybe not.

With temperatures climbing into the 80s here in Bristol, I can’t believe I’ve chosen such a hot day in May to post these pics of the winter hat and cowl combo I began back in January. It’s just like me to talk about a winter knitting project in this kind of heat.

Even so, this variation on the simple knitted hat with rim (kind of like this one by Deborah Anne, only I knitted mine in the round) is stylish and cozy enough to make even the most vitamin D-starved sun-worshipper long for those winter months when they can pull this cap down over their ears.  Knitted with Araucania’s lush Azapa wool, hand-dyed by fairly-compensated local women in the mountains of Chile, this earthy moss color can dress up a drap outfit or blend in with other neutral colors.  And did I mention this wool is super soft? It’s the perfect Christmas gift or late fall birthday present, and now’s the time to start knitting up a whole slew of them.

First, let me just say, I adore this yarn.  It’s soft, multi-toned and complex, and it’s the perfec choice for a chunky wool that doesn’t feel like you’re wearing a sheep on your head. However, this yarn likes its static electricity. So as a novice knitter it was a bit tricky trying to tame the hairy, clingy bits, especially when I had to tink a few times (first time using circular needles).  I probably wouldn’t use this yarn for a more complicated pattern with several repeats, because I had to be careful when frogging not to let it get knotted up. Of course, having said that I have a friend who’s knitting a shell lace stitch scarf with this yarn and hasn’t had any problems. So it must just be me. I like easy knitting jobs that use nice, tractable yarns.

Still, I will definitely be using this yarn again for simple patterns. The beauty of Araucania is that a simple pattern compliments the lovely tone and textures of the wool, while a complicated pattern could detract from it.

I made the cowl neck out of the leftover yarn from the hat (150grams for both) and sewed on a couple giant buttons for detail.  I didn’t follow a pattern, just knitted a simple rectangular piece on #13s.  Since these pictures were taken, I’ve added a second button, lending more versatility to the piece. I wear the pair together or each on its own.  Actually, I rarely get to wear the hat at all, since the boy keeps nabbing it!

Ignore the red eyes! 😛

And here it is on the boy on Hadrian’s wall.

Sure, we’ve all heard how important beginnings of novels are, but what about the endings? Check out my guest article for SilverWood Books for lots of tips on how to plan, craft and pull-off the perfect ending.

Recently, I started knitting.  I began for a few reasons, the most obvious being that I wanted to extend my wardrobe with lovely, handmade garments.  Also, it was around Christmas and I was annoyed at all the over-spending that goes on around that holiday, and on gifts that have arguably less meaning that something handmade.  As a writer, you always have the option of writing your loved ones a story, poem, or memoir (hopefully keeping it as cheese-free as possible).  But, let’s be honest, how difficult would it be to write something creative and uniquely styled for each family member while also working on your own projects?  And with the same 25th deadline for each present?  I don’t think so.  Now, with knitting, I’ve got next Christmas in the bag.

One of the driving reasons for my learning to knit, though, was as a way to connect with my grandmother.  Although she is healthy and active now, I know that she won’t always be around.  I feel a great push lately to spend as much time as possible with my grandparents and to accept their gifts of knowledge and skills, which will otherwise be lost.

So those were my reasons, and the time spent with my grandmother in pursuit of this craft produced lasting and precious memory.  However, as I’ve now completed two projects and am working on a third, I’ve discovered another benefit of learning a craft.  Knitting to me is like praying the rosary.  Sometimes I do pray; knit by knit, perl by perl, a prayer for every action, every loop, ever tug, every person in my life, for the stranger I’ve never met.  But even when I am not actively praying, I am meditating.

Knitting preoccupies the hands in a creative way, allowing the mind to mull over other creative pursuits.

For me it’s a great time to think — sometimes without being aware of it — of my writing projects and to work out issues which, if I stared at a computer screen and forced myself to work them out in an attitude of frustration would, A, be unproductive, and B, possibly, and hopefully only temporarily, snuff out the positive creative  vibrations associated with that project.  There is so much to be said for taking breaks from writing.  There’s even more wisdom, I think, in taking craft-based breaks which keep your creative muscles engaged in a way that might seemingly have nothing to do with your writing, but is actually keeping you in tune to those voices.

I’m officially a knitter, but I realize that as long as I’ve been a writer I’ve always been a crafts person.  In these next few days, I’d like to discuss the philosophy of “craft” and how it pertains to the writing life.  What crafts do y’all enjoy in partnership with your writing?

Pictures of my latest project, a basic hat using Araucania yarns from Chile.

I love how my camera picked up the lovely glints of green and blue of this yarn.  Safe to say it will be a photogenic hat even if the wearer is not.  🙂

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"The purpose of art is not a rarified, intellectual distillate -- it is life, intensified, brilliant life." ~ Alain Arias-Misson

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