Five best things I tried this week



Upcycling my first, felted, jumper

When I say first, I mean, firstly, the jumper I designed and knitted after I (re)learnt to knit, and secondly, the only garment I’ve ever felted. It was made in Rowan Big Wool, of four rectangles (front, back, two sleeves) and I loved it. And then, five months ago, I washed it in the washing machine. On a wool cycle. Because I didn’t know I shouldn’t. And it felted.

Being a bit of a hoarder, I couldn’t bear to throw my new miniature jumper away. I wanted to upcycle it. And this week I did. I cut the sleeves off, sewed the front and back together where necessary, cut two strips – and made a bag. It’s lovely. I’ve had compliments. But I’d still prefer the jumper.

IMG_5685Seeing The Rising Tide

Part of the annual Thames Festival, this sometimes-submerged sculpture by Jason Decaires Taylor, is on the south side of the Thames by Vauxhall Bridge, next to the MI6 building. It’s designed to encourage environmental awareness and features four horses with nodding donkey oil drills for heads. Men in suits sit astride two of the horses, looking upward, avoiding looking at the rising water. Children sit astride the other two, and their gaze is directed at the river. The sculpture is in situ until September 30.

Taking vitamin B12

That’s the one that vegetarians like me worry about. It’s found in meat, eggs and dairy produce, and is needed for the production of healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen around the body. Symptoms of deficiency include extreme tiredness and lack of energy. I’m certainly not lacking in energy at the moment, but as always it’s hard to know what’s responsible – I’ve had a few positive changes in my life recently.

There are lots of vitamin B12 supplements out there, but if you take daily supplements in tablet form, as I do, you might like Better You Boost B12 Oral Spray (£11.95). If you’re necking a succession of capsules it’s a pleasant change to squirt this deliciously peachy-tasting supplement inside your cheek, where it’s more easily absorbed by the body than via the stomach.
This product was supplied for testing free of charge.

Making elderberry cordial

I’ve been making elderflower ‘champagne’ for several years, and I haven’t even finished this year’s ‘vintage’ when with the sudden arrival of autumn (which felt like it happened overnight) the elder trees were covered with sprigs of black berries.

Elderberry, or Sambucus nigra, concoctions have been a folk remedy for colds for donkeys’ years, and there are several cold-fighting products on sale that contain it. However, I’m content to take my homemade cordial with hot water if I’m struck down by the virus. And in the meantime, it makes a very acceptable alternative to crème de cassis for a kir.

Pick some berries (by cutting the sprigs off the tree, not individually), then run a fork down the stems to remove the berries. Give them a rinse, drain, weigh them, put them in a saucepan and just cover with water. Add half their weight in sugar, bring to the boil and stir until the sugar dissolves. Then pour the cordial into sterilised bottles.

Storing my earrings

Until this week, my earrings have been jumbled up together in a lidded box from Habitat. Not very satisfactory – it leads to endless rummaging, usually when I’m in a hurry. This week, inspiration struck… so I bought a canvas from Tiger (£3), and poked my earrings through it. You could also use it for necklaces, suspending them on a couple of pins poked through the canvas.

Five best…places to find free knitting patterns


PP-knitting-pattern-300sqUntil recently was a great place to find free knitting patterns. I should know; I worked there, and part of my job (possibly my favourite part) was the management of the Craft channel, commissioning and publishing free knitting (and sewing and crochet) patterns, often designed especially for our readers.

As you’d imagine, the free knitting patterns were consistently the most popular section of the site. And then Allaboutyou’s publishing company decided to ‘merge’ with Prima magazine’s website. (The inverted commas are there because it wasn’t a real merger; basically some content from was placed on the Prima website. However, this included only a few of the free knitting patterns, even though Prima has a free knitting pattern in every issue.) So most of those free knitting patterns are no longer available, and no longer exists. It’s all such a shame.

As a knitter myself, I’m always on the lookout for free knitting patterns, so here’s a few of my favourite places to find them…

A word of caution re ‘linklist’ sites such as Knittingpatterncentral . These can be a bit hit and miss because although they appear to offer an almost limitless number of patterns, they’re not monitored, so you run the risk of clicking on a broken link. (Knittingpatterncentral still has links to patterns that used to be on And lots of the patterns are from the US, which is fine if you’re bilingual in knitting terms.

  • Your local library. With public spending budgets being slashed, they need our support. Have a browse on the shelves (746.43 if you’re familiar with the Dewey Decimal System), and you’re sure to find fab knitting books. Borrow them, find the patterns you want, then make a photocopy – or take a photo – of the relevant pages.
  • KnitRowan, the website of Rowan Yarns. You need to register (it’s free), then go to the Patterns section and select ‘Patterns by project type’ as ‘Knitting’. At the time of writing there were 460 free knitting patterns for baby knits, blankets, hats, jumpers, ponchos, dresses, ornaments, created by top designers such as Kaffe Fassett, Marie Wallin, Martin Storey and more. Rowan is pretty diligent in issuing corrections to patterns if necessary.
  • Victoria & Albert Museum  Perfect for vintage-lovers, the museum’s collection of 20+ free knitting patterns is fascinating to flick through even if you’re not a knitter. Although you may want to give the knitted vest and knickers a miss, there are timelessly classic patterns for sweaters, gloves and hats, with a couple of funky jumpers. And if you like vintage knits, you might like ‘Patterns from the past’.
  • Easy to navigate, with reasonably sized photos and good-looking, inventive, fun creations.
  • Your imagination. I’m serious. You probably don’t think of yourself as a knitting designer, but you don’t need to be. If you can knit a rectangle (garter stitch, stocking stitch, moss stitch, stripes… whatever you want) it can be a… ring, mug cosy, cowl, wrist warmers, gadget cover (that’s smartphone or tablet, not food processor – although…), place mat, jumper, shawl, bag, dishcloth, sofa throw, blanket, draught excluder, or, of course, a scarf!