Knitting project: completed!


You may have noticed that over the past few weeks I’ve ditched my crochet hook and picked up some knitting needles for a change. It’s been good fun actually, I don’t always get on too well with knitting as I can come unstuck with tension and I find it difficult to maintain a smooth end result when I keep stopping and starting (usually because I have to do it in short snatches between interruptions). One of the reasons I love crochet so much is that you can stop mid row, chuck on a stitch marker and you can restart days, weeks or months later and it all remains looking lovely.

Last Christmas, I was given a knitting book by my brother. He often buys me craft books, and I love using them to inspire my future projects. This book, as I’ve mentioned, was knitting rather than my usual crochet, and rather than teaching new techniques or containing projects for the home (as is my usual fodder) it was purely hats, animal hats no less!

Last year, when there was a dressing-up day at school I used the book to knit a rabbit hat for one of my boys as part of a costume. I found the pattern really easy to follow and quick to work up as they are all worked in chunky wool. There’s nothing more satisfying than having something to show for your efforts in a relatively short period of time.

I decided right back on Christmas Day last year, that I’d have a go at making one of the hats as a gift for my brother (he loves hanging about on mountains in inclement weather taking gorgeous photographs so he needs a hat 😉 ). Then when he got engaged recently to his lovely girlfriend, I thought I’d better make one for her too, so she wouldn’t feel left out!


And so it began… Before long I was staring at a rather boss-eyed frog!


I’ve never attempted that twisty rope effect before – it was fun to have a go at.

Then for hat number 2…


Can you guess what it is?


A fox!

It was great fun revisiting pompoms – it’s years since I’ve had a go at making them.

Let’s have a look at them both together, his & hers… Mr Frog & Ms Fox.


Aw I think they’re rather cute! I’m very pleased to say they were well received…and the engagement’s still on despite the fact his weird sister knitted fox & frog hats for them! Whether they’ll get an outing up a mountain in the near future or not, I’m not sure!

Creepers, grass blocks & diamond swords : a Minecraft themed party

  
In our house we have some Minecraft addicts. For the uninitiated, Minecraft is a computer game which involves creating virtual ‘worlds’ and constructing buildings using various materials to create villages, towns and even cities. I’ve heard it compared to virtual Lego (I prefer real Lego personally, but perhaps I’m just old fashioned). Anyway, a certain young man in our house had a birthday recently and there was only one party theme it could possibly be – you guessed it; Minecraft.

In the weeks running up to the party, I trawled the Internet looking for ideas to make this work. To be completely honest, I don’t enjoy hosting kids’ parties. I find them really stressful and worry that the birthday boy and guests won’t enjoy themselves. My only way to cope with them is to keep the numbers involved relatively small and try to be super organised in the run up to the main event.

Normally I make up shop bought plastic party bags with sweeties and plastic ‘tat’ bought from supermarkets and discount stores. This time I decided to be different; gone were the over-priced, flimsy plastic bags, replaced with small brown paper bags left over from my last craft fair stall. Inside them were the obligatory lollipops and jelly sweets but I made themed key rings for each child using little plastic beads.

  

I used a combination of Hama beads and Ikea’s own range to create symbols and characters associated with Minecraft; Steve, Creepers, diamond swords and the You Tubers ‘Stampy’ and ‘iBallistic Squid’ (don’t ask – they take up residence in our lounge most weekends). I got my inspiration for these from Pinterest. If you search for Minecraft party ideas, dozens of fab pictures come up with everything from invitations to piñatas. I cannot take any artistic credit for these creations! With some mail order key ring loops and jump rings I turned the plastic characters pictured at the start of this post into school bag charms. 

  
I have no idea how long they will last as they are fused together with an iron and may not stand up to too much rough handling, but they did go down rather well with the party goers.

I also wanted to make something handmade for the birthday boy on the Minecraft theme as a gift from me. Fortunately as pretty much everything in the game is designed in squares, it made crochet an ideal medium to make something for his bedroom. I also, rather fortunately, had a perfectly square cushion pad sitting unloved at the back of my crafty hidey hole. And so a cushion idea was born.

I decided on a creeper for one side, but didn’t have the time or patience to exactly recreate the multi faceted face with multiple shades of green, so I opted to crochet using two yarns at the same time:

 
 I decided to have a TNT block as the reverse side of the cushion:

 
Despite choosing two very obvious Minecraft images as the front and back of the cushion and crocheting openly in front of the recipient of the gift, he never twigged about what I was making. When he asked, I just said I was ‘experimenting’ which is exactly what I was doing as I made it up as I went along! And so the double-sided cushion was made and completed in good time for the big day – I’m very pleased to say he was thrilled with it and it has pride of place on his bed now.

  
Then came the cake. I was starting at a disadvantage here as a very good friend of mine hosted a Minecraft party last year and she’d asked an extremely talented mutual friend to make the birthday cake for her. It was stunning – covered in different colored Minecraft squares of homemade (yes homemade) fondant icing. Sitting on top of this marvel were Minecraft characters, also made of homemade icing. It was a work of art, and tasted out of this world. So, as I said, I was starting at a disadvantage… The cake that I made was never going to match up to the one we all enjoyed last year, so I tried to manage my son’s expectations early on!

  
Fortunately for me our local supermarket had just had a new addition to it’s bakery aisle- ready coloured fondant icing. Trying to colour fondant icing in a warm apartment with no air conditioning is no joke – there have been some traumatic cake decorating moments in my kitchen since we moved to Gibraltar- believe me! I bought a few packs of emerald green icing so we were off to a flying start (one less thing to panic about). I decided on a simple ‘grass block’ design, but in order to make a cube shaped cake, I needed to sandwich together 4 layers of sponge, little did I know that would be my downfall…

   
I edged the cake in chocolate buttercream (soil) and set about making the template for my grass.

 
I rolled out the icing on a clean work top dusted with icing sugar. This was to be my second mistake; after cutting out my grass shape, I discovered the icing was stuck to the work top – nooooo!!!! Cue heightened blood pressure and mild panic. So I had to start again, this time rolling out onto baking parchment. 

  
The parchment worked a treat – thank goodness! When I transferred the icing onto the cake it wasn’t too neat on the corners so I decided to jazz it up a bit on the top to draw the eye away from the wonky corners – time to make some little squares.

  
At this point I had no idea how to adequately glue the little squares onto the cake so I improvised with some thickly mixed paste using icing sugar and water – it worked!

  
That was pretty much all I could do at home ahead of the party. I bought a couple of plastic Minecraft toys to sit on top (no icing sculptures for me!) covering the cake was tricky enough. The cake was made, the party bags filled, all we had to do now was turn up at the venue and let the guests arrive. We had opted for a sports bar set up with booths to play video games – perfect for a boy who’s obsessed with them.

Unfortunately things didn’t quite go according to plan on the journey to the party. Between our front door and the party venue, the top of the cake slid off the bottom layers TWICE!!! Can you imagine that I didn’t handle that very well after spending hours creating it the day before?! On arrival at the venue and with the aid of a couple of fish slices from the bar’s chef the cake was rebuilt. I was fine after a few deep breaths and a very strong coffee! It didn’t quite end up as I’d envisioned it and I can’t show you a photo of the side view as I didn’t take one out of shame for its appearance but here’s the final cake photo, in situ, bedecked in toys and candles.

 
What a day! Thank goodness they only come around once a year! 

As I tucked the birthday boy into bed, I asked him what the best bit about his birthday was. He made my day with his reply; ‘My cake Mummy, I loved it!’ The stress was worth it just to hear that.

NOTE TO SELF: Next year keep the cake to just 2 layers!