Inspiration hunting

I’ve been pondering today on inspiration and where it comes from. Like a lot of crafters, I’m always on the lookout for new inspiration for projects. Instagram and Pinterest are great sources – I hoard pictures of crochet and knitting patterns on Pinterest. Again, I’m sure that’s not unusual.

Dahlia3

But I was thinking today about why it is that I’ll pick on one particular thing and think, ‘yes, that’s what I want to do‘. What I mean is, we’re all exposed to a deluge of information every day – just taking images as an example, think how many you might see in your average day – not only what you see in the world of online – other blogs, Pinterest, Instagram, websites, magazines, but things you see in the world around you, at home, work, out and about. How do you decide what to pay attention to and what to ignore without getting in to a state of collapse? I think a lot of it must be subsconscious – after all I know I don’t actively stop and consider every little picture of piece of information that passes my way. I also know that I hone in on certain things, sometimes without really thinking about it or even noticing it. Then I’ll step back and see a pattern.

I find this often happens with colour. I’ll start to feel a little bit haunted by a particular colour or colour combination and then suddenly seem to see it everywhere. This week for example, it’s aqua and a sort of pale warm pink shade. I think this pre-occupation with blue-green and pink started a little while ago while I was working on my ripple blanket. Since then, even though I’ve been making things in other colours I keep being drawn back to that combination. I’ll have to find a way to get it out of my system by making something else!

lillies

Cushion

I’m interested to see if there is any way that I can use this subconscious tendency of mine to gravitate towards certain colours at certain times – maybe I can try and use it to be a little more organised in my colour choices for future projects. I tend to be fairly instinctive in my colour choices and don’t put too much thought into it before hand. As a result I’ll often feel that I have one colour in a project which seems like a bit of an odd one out, and I wonder why I’ve chosen it. I know other bloggers have written about their processing of choosing colours before – for example Lucy from Attic 24’s posts about her yarn pegs. I’m in awe of the amount of effort that Lucy puts into planning her projects, but I don’t think I could make that work for me. I think having a selection of many colours in front of me makes me feel too pressured – I need something to narrow it down with first.

pinkaqua3

How do you work out your colour combinations and inspiration? Do you think about it consciously or is it more instinctive?

Poppies and sunshine

It’s such amazing weather here at the moment. Blue, blue skies, massess of sunshine, and very hot.

poppies3

I’m not normally someone who likes it very hot – if the thermometer goes much above 25 degrees I start to feel uncomfortable. But the summer has been so pants up until recently that I’m not complaining even though we’ve had almost 30 degrees several days this week.

poppies2

Seeing poppies scattered across corn fields and along road sides, waving there heads under a pure blue sky is the essence of summer for me. It takes me back to my teenage years. I grew up in a village in the home counties, and used to roam the footpaths in the surrounding countryside during holidays and weekends. In the summer I always loved to see red poppies dusting the verges. In autumn is was hearing the leaves crunch under foot, looking for conkers and seeing pheasants scuttle across the road ahead. I miss that. Sometimes I wonder how I ended up living in a city. I think I’m a country girl at heart.

poppies1

Anyway, I thought I’d do a little crochet catch up today. I seem to have decided that it’s ok to have one crochet and one knitting project on the go at the same time. So at the moment, in between working on my Ashburn shawl I’m making another blanket. The design is one that I improvised based on Tipsy Tessie’s blanket.

blanket3

I think this may take a while to complete, but I’m ok with that. I think this one will be picked up and put down in between doing other things, but that’s fine as long as I keep coming back to it.

blanket2

I’m off now to enjoy the final hours of the weekend. Hope you enjoy the rest of your Sunday, whatever you do.

blanket1

Autumn knitting

Happy Friday.

Yes, you can guess by the title what this is about. We’re in the middle of the first heat wave of the summer, it’s sunny and sultry outside and I’ve already started knitting for Autumn!

Ashburn1

It can take me a while to finish a project these days, what with life being so busy as it is, so I just thought I’d get a head start!

Ashburn2

I don’t know why it is, but every year I seem to only get round to knitting cosy things like scarves, shawls and jumpers in January, which, despite the length of time which winter can drag on for in this country, kinda feels a little late. So this year I am starting a whole season early!

I had this vision of having a gorgeous, cosy, textured shawl the colour of autumn leaves to wear, knitted in a fabulously soft luxury yarn. Mmmmm! So I have set about making my vision a reality! All it took was a little skim back over my Pinterest boards, where I absolutely hoard and hoard patterns for knitted things – I probably already have way too may saved for one lifetime, and a little visit to Loop.

An appropriately cosy looking pattern (Ashburn by Melanie Berg) was soon found, luxury yarn in the perfect shades, just as I had imagined was purchased and off I went! I’m only about a third of the way through this pattern, but it’s going ok.

Ashburn3

The textured stitch is an interesting one, unlike anything I’ve tried before. It involves slipping and wrapping stitches and alternating with garter stitch. I do love textured stitches, but don’t tend to actually knit them very much, so it’s good to learn a different take on it. Moss stitch and garter stitch are usually my favourite for textures, but this one is growing on me.

Hope you have a lovely weekend and manage to stay cool!

Water

Photography: a few tips

I hadn’t planned on this post, but a few days ago I had a request from a fellow blogger for some help improving their photography. I’ve taken photography up pretty enthusiastically as a hobby over the last few years, and while it’s not my intention to present myself as an expert, I thought it would be nice to try and share some of what I’ve learnt in case others do find it useful.

Tulip

So, before I get stuck in, my big caveat is that I am, exactly as I said above, just an amateur photographer. I’ve never done any formal course or training in photography and everything I’ve learnt has come from doing my own research, trial and error and a lot of practice.

Ok, now that’s over with, here we go with the hints and tips!

  1. Equipment

I know we all love our smart phones and love to use Instagram. I’m a big fan of the fact that phones now have cameras, and with smartphones, cameras often have a pretty impressive range of settings to manipulate for what is after all, still just a phone. However, as much as we do all love smart phones and their cameras, I have to say that it’s been my personal experience that using a proper, dedicated camera rather than a smart phone will bring better results almost every time.

My understanding is that this is basically to with with size of the sensor which forms part of the workings of a digital camera. The sensor is the part that functions to detect light when shooting. Smart phone cameras will likely have a much smaller sensor even than a fairly basic compact camera. If you want to find out more about technical details of why a bigger sensor is better, have a read of this, or try a little online research into sensor sizes in digital cameras.

This does not mean that I am advising you to go out and buy a really expensive digital camera. I’ve personally had very good results from a relatively inexpensive compact camera that I’ve had for about 10 years now.

For the record there are several different types of digital camera on the market, which have different features, advantages and disadvantages. I have three cameras now (I know, it’s getting a bit ridiculous!).

One is a compact camera which I bought in 2007 and only used to take holiday snaps up until I started blogging. I still use this from time to time and it can give very good results if used correctly. Since learning more about photography I have found I am able to get much better results with this camera from knowing a few things about it’s settings. It’s advantage is that it’s small and light, so I can slip it in my handbag easily.

My second camera is a second hand digital single lens reflex (DSLR) which I was given a couple of years ago. This was the camera with which I really started to learn and experiment with photography and learnt about all of the settings I’ll explain below. However these cameras are more expensive and tend to be quite heavy and bulky – not something I want to carry around with me all the time!

My third and most recently bought camera is a compact system camera. Compact system cameras (CSC) are much smaller and lighter than DSLRs, but give you more flexibility in manually controlling settings than a compact. They combine some of the advantages of both types of camera. I’ve not have much change to road test my new camera yet, but so far I am very happy with the results! Unfortunately new CSCs do tend to be fairly pricey.

If you’re thinking about buying a camera my advice is not to rush into anything. Think about what you need, and want to do and remember you don’t need a super-dooper camera with all bells and whistles to achieve good results. Before buying do some online research – there will be reviews of camera makes models and types out them from reputable sources such as Which? that can help you in your decision.

2. Get to know your camera settings to get the best from your camera.

I’ve found that one of the most important things to get right in order to take a photograph that I am happy with is the lighting. I think there are 2 things to bear in mind in relation to this – taking pictures in good light will generally give you a better picture, and taking pictures in natural daylight is better than artificial or flash lighting.

If you live in the UK, you’re already aware that with our often overcast and cloudy skies, good natural light is not always available, especially in winter. I am also going to assume that a lot of people reading this are going to be crafters who are taking pictures of their makes for their own blogs, and possibly also for listing in their online stores. In which case, I suspect a lost of those pictures might be taken in doors in homes or studios – again if you’re in doors you have to be prepared to deal with there being less natural light than there would be if you’re taking pictures outside. The results of taking pictures in less than ideal light will usually mean that your shots are way too dark for anyone to be able to pick out the details of your lovingly crafted wares! What are your alternatives? Use the flash on your camera? Switch the light on? I find that both options usually result in rather luridly coloured images, where the true colours in the scene are obscured with the yellowish glow of flash or artificial light.

Fortunately, if you can learn to manipulate a few key settings on your camera you can get around the worst of these effects without having to be an expert. The main things I do to improve my results when taking pictures indoors are:

Increase the ISO value before you take your picture

Don’t ask me what ISO means, I can’t explain the technicalities of it! What I do know is that in bright settings (e.g. outside on a sunny day) a low ISO value of 100 is usually ok. Indoors, or in more overcast weather or shaded areas outside, you may need to increase your ISO value. Different cameras have a different range of values for ISO. I have one camera where the highest ISO value is 800, and another which goes up to 32,000.

Beware there is a bit of a trade off with increasing the ISO value. The higher the ISO, the grainier your picture will become, and you will loose the crisp sharpness which you probably want to achieve. However, as long as your not in really really poor light, you may not have to increase the ISO too far. In the middle of the day indoors I have in the past been able to take pictures with an ISO of 400, which don’t look too grainy. Check your camera manual to find out if and how you are able to change the ISO setting.

Increase the aperture value on your camera

Again, I can’t explain the working behind this, but the aperture of your camera is the opening which allows light in through the lens. Some more technical information is available here. On some cameras, you can adjust the size of this opening – the bigger the opening, the more light will be coming in, and the better your photograph should be. Check your camera manual to find out if and how you are able to change the aperture size and how to do this.

Alter the shutter speed you are using

Again, I’m not going to try and explain the technicalities of a camera shutter when someone somewhere else can do it far better than me (see here for a good introduction to shutter speed, and the function of the camera shutter). Basically the shutter speed controls how long your camera’s shutter stays open whilst taking a picture. The longer the shutter is open (a slower shutter speed and smaller shutter speed value), the more light will enter the camera and the better lit your photo will be. However, longer shutter speeds also have their downsides – your picture can become blurred if you move even slightly during the time in which the shutter is open. This is why photographers will sometimes use a tripod when photographing in poor light.

If you can master these three settings, you can use them together to get more control over how well lit your photos are using natural light. I have a digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera which I often use to take pictures indoors at home. In poor light I typically use a combination of a larger aperture setting, slightly higher ISO and slower shutter speed to ensure I get good light in my pictures. Beware you can also have over-exposed pictures if you take it too far with changing these settings – this means there will be waaay too much light in your shot to the point where you have a white-out! It’s all about getting the balance right. If you’re using a digital camera (which I assume most people will be) you should have a preview screen with which you can check your photos as you take them. Make use of this – if the picture you’ve just taken looks too dark or too light, change the settings and have another try – keep going until you think you’ve got it right.

Have a look at the two pictures below – both were taken on the same day in the same lighting conditions, but you can see the one on left has much more light in the shot, compared to the one on the right. This change in light was achieved through altering values of the above three settings. I don’t think I quite got it right in either case, but you can’t win them all! Learning is about trial and error as much as anything else, so don’t expect perfect results every time.

Please note that not every camera will give you the ability to make changes to all of these settings. Some compact cameras may not allow you to have control over all of these settings. However, they may instead have pre-programmed automatic modes for taking photos in low light conditions, such as cloudy weather. Check your camera manual to see what you can do.

4. Composition and focus

So this is where things start to get a little less technical and a little more about using your eyes and thinking about what appeals to you. Composition is about what you actually feature in your photographs and what is included and positioned within the frame of your photography. There are a some broad general principles which you can apply. One particularly well known one is the ‘rule of thirds’.

To understand this, next time you look through your viewfinder, or at the display screen on the back of your camera, imagine that the the image you see is divided into a grid using horizontal and vertical lines which split the image into equal thirds. The aim of the rule of thirds is to have points of interest in your picture positioned at points where the lines fall or where the verticals and horizontal lines intersect. You can find out some more about this here. Your points of interest depend on what you’re taking a picture of – this could be a person, buildings, rocks, you name it. Below is an example of where I have tried to use this rule in a recent photo:

torquay

I’ve tried to position the vertical struts on the bridge and the ferris wheel roughly at one third intervals across the screen.

You can also get a different look and feel to your photographs by experimenting with what you focus on in an image. This may be easier if you have a camera where you have more manual control over the focus, for example in a single lens reflex or compact system model, but again if you have a compact camera check the manual to see what your focusing options are. Below are two examples of recent photographs taken when I have focused first on an object in the foreground (left), and then on something further away (right):

One handy tip for taking close up pictures of things in detail is to see if your camera has a macro setting on it. Compact cameras sometimes have this, and I often used this setting on my compact to take pictures of things like flowers.

Lastly, remember you don’t have to follow these rules! My advice would be to use your eyes too – when you’re taking pictures out and about or at home, think about and look for images that you find visually appealing and then try and frame them within a photograph. There is plenty of other material online about improving your photography with composition – try a little online research and see what you can find.

4. Practice, practice, practice

This kind of goes without saying, but the more you practice the more confident you will become behind the camera. Your skills should gradually improve. Get used to taking your camera out and about with you at weekends and on holiday, or at home if you see something that you think looks nice, take a quick snap! Practice really does make perfect.

——————————————

So that’s it! Phew, this was a long post! Well done if you’ve made it to the end and I hope I haven’t overwhelmed you with information and too much detail. Most of all remember to have fun when taking photographs. I’d love to know if you find this at all useful, so if so (or even if not!) please leave a comment and let me know.

 

Cornwallis sweater

cornwallis3

Hi everyone, I have a fairly quick show and tell today, as having spent all day at work, and then worked on my Ph.D. and various other things since getting home I am really feeling like I have spent too much time in front of a computer screen today! Plus I am craving to go pick up my needles and squeeze some knitting time into my evening!

So, you may remember seeing the snaps of my Cornwallis sweater a little while ago back in May. I finished knitting this whilst on holiday last week, but have just gotten around to uploading the pics to share with you.

cornwallis2

I love a stripey sweater or top at any time of year, and especially in summer. This was generally speaking a pleasure to knit up, and fairly quick too. It’s simple stocking stitch stripes with a garter stitch yoke are knitted in a contrasting colour. It was that colour blocking that really drew me to this design and first made me want to knit it, and I still love that about it. I have to say I did struggle with the making up a little. I knitted the smallest size, and with the sleeve shaping as set out in the pattern, I found it a little difficult to see actually where I should pick up and knit stitches across the top of the sleeves when working the neck band. At one point I did despair of ever getting it right and was tempted to chuck the whole thing (I know, it was bad!). However, I persevered and some how it does all seem to have worked out looking fairly even.

cornwallis4

cornwallis5

I really loved the yarn used, which is Rowan Summerlite DK. It has a great drape when knitted up and feels wonderfully soft without making you feel like it’s going to pull or snag as soon as you put it on. It also washes well, being machine washable at 40 degrees (thought I stuck to 30 when washing this to be on the safe side – Summerlite is pure cotton and cotton can shrink in the wash).

So there you are, summer in stripes! I’m sure you’ve had enough stripey show and tell now. What are you knitting this summer? I have to say I am already planning my autumn knits, but more on that next time.

p.s. the sweater pattern is by Martin Storey and you can find the Ravelry page here

In and around Hampstead

flowercarpet3

This time I thought I’d share a little bit about a day out S and I had in London. We often think that there are a lot of hidden gems in London. Places to visit that tourists might overlook and that we as London inhabitants probably forget or never hear about. So, I thought it would be fun to tell you about a visit we had to Hampstead this weekend. It’s one of my favourite areas of London for wandering around. And it’s not just about the famous Hampstead Heath or and the view from the top of Parliament Hill. There’s a lot more to Hampstead.

The main reason for this little wandering was for me to have a chance to try out a new camera. I’ve been lucky enough this week to snap up a new-old camera in the form of a second hand Canon Eos M compact system camera, in virtually mint condition. I wanted to take it out for a spin, so came up with the idea of a walk around Hamsptead to visit some of my favourite haunts.

There are some lovely back streets and side streets, which seem to have hardly changed since Victorian times. If you like old street lamps, street signs and forgotten little churches with overgrown graveyards carpetedin flowers, you’ll be in heaven here.

flowercarpet2

Benhams

sky

When the weather is as gorgeous as it was yesterday, it’s enough for me to just roam the streets – I don’t need anything more to make me happy!

However, if you are after some more of a destination, and a little bit of culture for your day out then there are a few National Trust properties in and around Hampstead. We happened upon this one, Fenton House.

nthouse

We didn’t go in on this occassion, but just peaked through the gate.

nthouse2

However, it’s now on my list of London places to visit, so I’ll hopefully be returning there soon.

hamspteadgrove

The final destination for our morning out was the Hampstead Pergola. The Pergola is sort of part of Hampstead Heath, but is a little bit away from the most popular spots on the Health. You can find out more about it, and a map here.

It’s a beautiful spot to visit on a summer’s day, and yesterday it felt positively mediteranean!

pergola3

pergola1

pergola2

It’s truly a beautiful spot to sit and lounge, soaking up the sun. There are plenty of benches where you can sit and take in the view and enjoy the site of the occasional rose peeping out from between the stone columns.

That’s all for now, but I promise to be back with a crafty catch up soon. Hope you’ve enjoyed the weekend, whatever you’ve been doing!