Essential sewing keeping me clothed and sane


Blog Hopping

Thanks so much to Sewing Elle who invited me to contribute to the world wide blog hop  – so a hop, skip and jump from Down Under to up here.

I am soooo behind in blogging that those who I’ve invited to take up the torch have actually posted their hops before me! So I’d better get a move on……

Why do I write what I do?

To be perfectly honest, a few years ago my conscience pricked me. At the time I was sewing solo and felt I was bleeding dry the good work and expertise of others – I’d hit a tricky bit of sewing and immediately went to sewing blogs: I devoured the information and never left a comment but bookmarked the pages. Then I began to secretly and regularly read a few blogs and then a few more and one day took the leap of “following” a few. And then I began to feel guilty – I was taking all this knowledge and not giving back. That’s when I took the dive.


Longish hair

I ‘came out’ and started commenting, photographing, styling, writing and sewing.


then shorter…

And I’ve been doing it for 3 years now, in fact November is the anniversary. I started with the notion that if no-one read my posts then I’d just pack up and disappear. I set an indefinite trial period and if it didn’t work, no big deal and maybe I’m still in my probation time……


And shorter…

I asked DH the other day if he ever read my blog and he said ‘No, I don’t need to I have the real thing.’ And that’s a little bit about why I write too … there are apparently so few of us who sew, especially in Belfast, that the Internet is a fabulous way of connecting with like-minded people and the very fact that they are half-way round the world is so unimportant and yet at the same time so appealing. I really never thought that I’d make such good friends without ever having met any of you!



Sometimes I crave approval, sometimes I want to share a new idea, style, fabric or pattern and sometimes I just want to show off – LOL! I appreciate comments – good and bad – at least it tells me that someone is reading!

Last and not least – it’s like a diary isn’t it? When I scrolled though all my posts so far I had a hard time believing how long ago I made some of my clothes. Many are still in circulation. I even use my own tips and tutorials when I can’t figure something out. And just look at the hair styles – like old photo albums!


What am I working on now?

Oh…. I have so many plans and patterns and fabric! In reality, I still have an Alabama Chanin tank dress to hand sew and I set myself the deadline of October 30th.

In the meantime, I’ve started a tailored jacket – Jean Hardy 875 already cut and partly started. I’ve made this twice before but as it’s tailoring and a lot of hand sewing involved, every jacket is like a brand new pattern.


There is nothing that make my heart sing so much as seeing the inside of a tailored garment – such beauty in the invisible.


How does my work differ from others in the genre?

I don’t know that it actually does (and I know everyone says that ) but it’s absolutely true. I love tailoring because I adore perfectly made jackets and skirts – they make you stand taller and make you feel really good  – so still striving for that, but I don’t do spectacular ball gowns or  drop dead gorgeous dresses. I just make clothes for me. I do try new things because it’s fun and challenging – I do like a challenge, and I’m a wee bit tenacious, so I won’t let things beat me.

I diversifier this year into Alabama Chanin cotton jersey sewing, but after a bit of consideration – this is really just haute couture using a cheaper fabric!

I sew all types – 1 hour T-shirts, Vogue is my favourite simply because their fit is best for my body, draping was a new diversion this year thanks to Sew2Pro, but I’m not convinced this is my singular route  I’d rather someone else does all the hard work and I just use their pattern!

I’d love to have a defining ‘style’: something you could look at and immediately think of ME. Just like Laura-Mae or Gertie. However, I like many different styles – sometimes casual, sometimes sloppy, sometimes dressy – everything really and that is hopefully reflected in what I sew and what I write about.


How does my writing process work?

Firstly, I’d like to start with with what I’m not – and thereby actually complimenting those bloggers to whom I aspire:

I’d love to have the rapid repartee and wit of Pretty Grievances, but I don’t.

I want to write (and sew) as prolifically as Rhonda, but I can’t.

I desire to to be as meticulous and accurate as Mrs Mole, but I don’t have the skills.

So what you read is what you get. A little libation sometimes helps. I know I am good with words – I teach so I hope I am! I tell stories to small children and they are often mesmerised but maybe this is the power of their imagination. I often feel like the speccy-spotty girl in big school, as opposed to being the cheerleader or the captain of the 1st II when I look at the stats on my blog. But, then again, I didn’t start this to compete on the popularity stakes (in fact it didn’t even occur to me at the time) I started this because I felt I was sucking so much out out of others that I was obliged to return to favour and give something back.

I’ll be sewing or driving or watching the potatoes boil and an idea will come to me: I like to link blog titles with garments or patterns – a little segue never hurts does it?  Thereby, perhaps, offering a small glimpse into my very normal life with a little bit of light entertainment and maybe a sewing scattered tip here and there.

The gaps between my posts is getting more and more stretched. There was a time when I posted twice a week, then that dropped to every five days and recently it’s down to once a week or less. Do blogs have a natural lifespan? Some of my favourites have stopped and I might just be heading in that direction too.  I look at my photos now and see a middle aged woman who has put on weight and is resembling her mother more and more – maybe it’s time for the next generation to take up the baton and carry it on with all their enthusiasm and freshness.

One genuine reason for not blogging might actually be SEWING! I really do prefer to sew than blog……..



Thank you so much for reading and for your support. I’ll leave with the very first photo I ever posted and I’m wondering now how I ever thought anyone would want to make a top like that! It’s Vogue 8616 if you’re interested.


I’m passing this blog hop honour to Coco who sews such perfectly fitted clothes in her loft and hasn’t put a single pound on since she was 17! She is so popular that she has been asked by 3 or 4 bloggers.

And to Marianna who sews everything from pencil cases to shark dresses and pushes me to try new things.Keep pushing Marianna…..



CCN (CoreCouture News)

The opportunity for photo taking of finished items has yet again escaped me this week so here’s a newsletter of sewing, plans, ideas and other stuff. There’s lots of links to really interesting sites, so settle down with a cup of tea or a cocktail (recommended by Mrs Mole  and The Material Lady), stick the needles in the pin cushion, ensure you have reliable broadband and indulge.

p01s0x1qFirstly, the Great British Sewing Bee. Technically, Northern Ireland isn’t in GB, it’s in the UK, so any sewers from here are politically illegible to participate. I’d thought of throwing my hat into the ring for the next series just to have the chance of sewing uninterrupted for  two days – bliss. But the challenges aren’t really the type of clothes I want to make and you all know that if your heart is not in a project it’s doomed to failure. Also, I’m not competitive at all. I like sewing things to the best of my ability but my elbows aren’t sharp. I mean, I entered PR’s fitted shirt contest but that was really only because I happened to have completed a fitted shirt. Having said that, I love this TV show. After every programme, I stare into space and think “What would I have done?”.

This can be a challenge in itself: I review my patterns for wrap dresses or which ones would be suitable for velvet trousers; images-2what fancy dress costume would I have made out of a pillowcase and a mis-matched sweatsuit?; I don’t have patterns for prom dresses and for the foreseeable future I never will! But a winter coat in just 6 hours! I can only think the finishing and the inside seams must be a mess.

The stylish and creative Marianna of Sew2Pro fame, has set a challenge too this week – choose a garment from the show that has inspired you and you have 1 week to make it! She has also managed to locate the programme’s accompanying book’s publisher and they have very kindly posted all the patterns for FREE download.
014pppI’ve got the patterns for the draped top and the 1930s blouse, but I’ve no material nor a well stocked haberdashery in the room next door and the week has run away from me so unfortunately I’m unlikely to participate. I will make the blouse at some point but right now I’ve other things to start and finish…..






SWAP ’14 is drawing to a close – by the end of April I have to have another three things made: a jacket, a blouse and a knitted cardigan. I started the cardigan ages ago knowing that I am a slow knitter  – it’s Noro Kirara, a multi-coloured yarn of silk, angora, wool and cotton. Quite fine and most suitable for spring/summer.


I’ve got a printed poly satin ready for the blouse in the blue/green colour set but in reality it is another rainbow fabric that will go with lots of things.


The jacket will be a rather rushed affair methinks, not tailored but a relaxed casual throw-on made in blue fleece or sweatshirt material and hopefully lined with the same poly satin as the blouse. I owe so much to Coco Chanel’s ideas!

We had a rush of lovely spring weather a little while ago and so the summer dress patterns were dusted off and I began yet again the Dress Quest. I like to think of myself as having some influence – my offspring, students, even maybe one or two of you but I am now beginning to think I might possess powers beyond human as every time, I mean every time, I start to sew a sleeveless cotton dress – it rains! The temperature drops and I regard my burgeoning summer wardrobe with despair. If I make a coat, the sun shines.

Anyway, ignoring my apparent and inadvertent influence on the weather, I ordered the spring/summer Marfy catalogue. There seems to be a current surge of interweb interest in this Italian pattern company or else I’m late to the party  and it appears that many others have quite a bit of influence over me so I bought the book. Euro 20 and you get 20 Free patterns! That’s quite a bargain when you consider that the full retail price of a Vogue is about £15 – 20.


DSC01265I could never figure out the fascination with Marfy patterns – the sketches all look like cartoon girls dressed as wedding guests to me and there’s no technical drawings. You can say that I’m not competitive but I am a trier. I traced off one of the free dress patterns – 0303 – and have got this far.


The main fabric is a pale airforce blue, quite a substantial cotton and the collar is a paler light blue fine shirt linen. There are no instructions with any Marfy patterns, so thinking and figuring out time are essential – no good for the GB Sewing Bee then – but I’ve enjoyed the problem solving and technical know-how. Mine’s lined too and I probably over-complicated the make, but heck – put it all down to experience.

I have a budding stash. A spring-like apple green linen which might end up as this Vogue 1381 – Ralph Rucci with lots and lots of topstitching.V1381










And a muted pink and cream polka dot which might end up as Rachel’s Brasilia dress – another free pattern which she designed and has very, very kindly shared with us all. Go to Rachel’s Pinterest board to see all the wonderful variations of this super pattern.


Both fabrics are from Chrysalis.



The very talented and versatile Beata from Red Point Tailor commented on a post a little while ago so I went to have a look at her  blog offerings. Thankfully I did because she makes sumptuous glass jewellery – like boiled sweets for your ears, neck and wrist. I ordered some blue stud earrings ostensibly to wear with the Ziggi jacket but will be lovely with the Marfy dress and a green glass bracelet for the green linen dress. I have the accessories – I just don’t have the clothes yet!

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Easter holidays are looming on the horizon and this is the time I generally use to settle down and do some serious sewing. In between the church services and the choir practices, I sew.

Apart from finishing SWAP and the Marfy dress and maybe a few unknowns, I also plan to make another StyleArc Ziggi biker jacket. I love my first one so much that it really has to have a companion. With all those pastel, muted tones being used for dresses, I decided I needed to ‘harden’ them up a bit and have got some black. The main jacket will be in black distressed leather-look, with black suede sleeve tops and yokes and a black and white swirly lining. The black leather-look fabric is also from Chrysalis.


It seems that material shops in the UK do not sell the same zips in different lengths! But I learned from the first Ziggi that on the finished jacket if the zips are similar it’s OK, they don’t have to be exact copies  of each other. I’ve opted for brass teeth this time to try and warm up the black. I don’t wear black so it’s a strange choice for me.

Is your tea cold or your cocktail glass drained? Go and get another one because you are now about to enter an exclusive world of fabrics. No poly satins here! Sheer utter indulgence and fantasy……

It was always my aim this year to sew with very good fabrics but make fewer items and somehow so far I haven’t seemed to get round to it sticking with that idea. DH has a notion for me to make a classic navy wool crepe dress – the type of dress that stands the test of time, day to evening, perfectly fitted, style not fashion. So when I wasn’t sewing, working, leafing through Marfy or reading, cooking or cleaning this week I Googled ‘wool crepe UK’ and this came up – click on the logo for the treat of your life……see you in about an hour or so……..


Guipure lace at £600 p/m anyone?




Suiting with 24K pinstripes at  £1, 500 (it’s on sale, it’s normally £1,900, so hurry) – that’s the per meter price by the way.

Hand sewn sequins on silk, laser cut motifs embroidered on chiffon, brick wall silk lining and trims and embellishments that bring tears to your eyes. Unique, luxurious, absolutely fabulous fabrics.


Thankfully, for us mere working mortals there is a remnant section and a bargain basement. My finger slipped and I bought 2m of black and ivory wool patchwork fabric and 1m of a loosely woven black and ivory herringbone wool. No sooner had I ordered the fabric, it had arrived at my door – really, less than 24hrs!

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I buy a lot of my fabric online: sometimes it comes in a cardboard box wrapped in brown paper, sometimes it comes in a plastic envelope, sometimes it’s folded and sometimes it’s rolled, but look at the way this one came…


Each length of material folded around tissue paper and inserted into protective bags sealed with a Joel & Sons silver label; two woven labels for sewing into the finished garments; a handy tape measure for my handbag; a pretty little postcard thanking me for my order and my definite belief that I will shop again.

Finally…. and if you have any money left….



Just very recently I found a linen weaver who is still in business and only 40 mins drive away. I haven’t made it to the factory shop IRL yet but I plan to do just that some time over the Easter break. So until I do here’s a sample of genuine Irish linen available online. Not cheap at £50 p/m but then again it is 3m wide! Have I read that right?


Don’t know yet for sure what I’m going to make from all this gorgeous stuff but you can bet that when I start sewing with wool the sun will be shining and the temperatures will rise!






2013 Sewing Year in Review


Vintage Vogue 1137 made from teenage son’s old jeans – a dress made with memories and worn often this year – goes in the Good pile.


Cream French jacket, Vogue 8804 made in Linton tweed and lined in silk. Goes in the GOOD pile.


Vogue 1312 made in Dutch wax cotton – not good – relegated to the BAD bin.


Stretch cotton flowery jacket, Vogue 8887 – great favourite of late summer. GOOD and worn often


Most Proud – DH’s jacket. Vogue 8890


Vogue 8841 – a firm favourite coat of this winter season and worn a lot. GOOD


Scarlett Hobble dress – probably the most challenging sewing this year due to fit but I got it made in the end so into the CHALLENGING pile.


Vintage Vogue 8851 – wrong fabric, wrong style for me – BAD pile


McCalls 5938 – Rive Gauche jacket – I love this jacket – GOOD pile

Well, that one went really quickly didn’t it? If you want to know about the makes above just click on the pics for the original posts.  Overall, more good than bad in 2013. The really Bad Ones didn’t get photos taken but believe me there were quite a few:

My foray into indie patterns didn’t go well – Newcastle fleece for teenage son and Four Square dress by CfPD, to name some.

New to Me in 2013

Completing an 11 piece SWAP


Serging (overlocking)  – still having the occasional fight but we’re getting on much better

Sewing for others – DH, SIL, niece, nephew and giving away some things I made for me but looked much better on other people.

Grading patterns (up, always up!) – Anne’s MIL’s vintage Vogue dress (see animal print), Scarlett’s Hobble dress (see above)

Wearing animal print! Blame Anne.

Making and wearing sleeveless tops and dresses.

Move to WordPress in April. Some things are better and some are worse than Blogspot. I think I lost a few followers along the way but I’m here now.

What I’ve learned in 2013

The fabric is all important! Wrong fabric and right pattern don’t make a good combination. Wrong fabric and wrong pattern are even worse.  It’s lovely to work with natural fabrics – cotton, silk, wool etc but they are expensive and extremely wasteful if paired with a bad design. Most of my failures this year were due to poor fabric choices not lack of sewing ability.

That my sewing confidence and skills are not where I sometimes think they are: I rush into sewing projects without proper planning or thinking time. My seam ripper was probably the most used item in the sewing room this year.

Which leads nicely onto to a shift in attitude that erupted this year – “if it’s not right, rip it out and start again”. Previously, I would have rolled the whole lot up and hidden it somewhere, now I try to figure out the problem and fix it.

I learned a lot about my body shape this year too: I think I suit skirts that are knee-ish length; I look better with a defined waistline; V-necks and scooped are best for my short neck.

What you’ve given me in 2013

Good advice and support. All those comments really mean something to me, so thank you for taking the time and effort. I may not answer every single one but that doesn’t mean they aren’t read or considered – sometimes life just gets in the way.

Encouragement to complete – when I am hitting a brick wall, you have made me carry on and climb over it.

Compliments – nothing makes you feel better than if someone else likes what you do.

Inspiration – without reading and looking at your sewing projects I’m sure half of mine would never have been made.

Impressive – when I see some staggeringly beautiful dress or meticulously made jacket, you raise the bar on my own achievements.

What I would like for 2014

To complete another  SWAP.


To sew with only good quality fabrics. This might mean buying less fabric due to the higher cost per meter but even if I sew less, then maybe what I make will be better too.

To improve my knitting ability – or at least get one thing finished!

To consider my sewing projects a little more before I start – Do I need this garment? Would I look good in it? What is the best fabric?

And of course, that all your sewing adventures will be plan sailing and successful in 2014.

Go on – impress me!



The debate is concluded; the discussion is completed; the negotiations and proximity talks are terminated and the rules are posted. It’s all happening at Stitchers’ Guild!

The Algebra SWAP ’14 – (3 X 3) +2 = 11

A sewing plan to make 11 garments in 4 months that creates a coherent and well thought out capsule wardrobe. At least that’s the aim – whether I get there, and arrive with cogent, coordinating clothes is another matter. This year’s rules are really simple and easy to follow –

Three separate outfits comprising one bottom, one or two tops, or a dress, or a jacket. Two wildcards.

Sewing starts in the 26th December. We can also start one item now and/or include something already in existence – RTW or previously made.

Last year I choose the colours navy and natural to make my SWAP ’13 and I must admit these clothes have been worn a lot. But when I changed the wardrobe from summer wear to the autumn/winter I noticed how dark all the clothes appeared – navy, grey, brown, dark green – and decided I needed colour to brighten the short, dark winter days.

Now where else does one get colour from, but from nature!


This was my starting point. The more I read about colour – the light spectrum, Newton’s experiments with a glass prism, the good old colour wheel: complimentary and contrasting colours – the more I was seduced by the idea of creating a wardrobe anchored in the rainbow.


images-1 images-2I don’t want to look like a children’s TV presenter and I don’t want to stray into hippy-land, so my fabric choices will be paramount to creating  clothes that are age appropriate, stylish and wearable, but still honour the concept of a techni-coloured  wardrobe.

As I don’t possess a stash I can purchase the fabrics to suit. I think I’ll go for more muted, sedate versions of the colours but still spanning the spectrum. I also have some small issues with this idea: I associate lilac with traditional mother-of-the bride outfits which is just a wee bit too age-appropriate; and my complexion coupled with yellow makes me look ill. Red is a colour I generally use for accent rather than an whole item so I have a few hurdles to get over.

So far I’ve come up with this plan…..


Collection 1 is based in red/orange/yellow . A skirt, a shirt and an unlined jacket.

Collection 2 lies in the yellow/green/blue range. Jeans, a T-shirt and a lined jacket to match the T.

Collection 3 compromises indigo and violet. A skirt and two tops.

My wildcards are also rainbow based: a multi-coloured knitted jumper and a white blouse (mix all the colours together and you get white light). These two items should go with everything I’m planning and hence extend the mix’n’match aspect.

I’m also hoping that I can cross the colour boundaries and wear the yellow jacket with the purple skirt, the blue jacket with the orange skirt etc, to maximise the outfit choices.

All the patterns and fabrics are yet to be finalised and agreed upon but I’m slowly sorting through the styles (and taking inspiration from all your makes – so keep it up!) and taking lots of time online to check out the fabrics. I think I’ll start on the knitted jumper now because I knit so slowly and might just get it finished in time for the end!


In the meantime before the start sewing date, I have a posh frock to knock up. Our now traditional close friend gathering on New Year’s Eve requires evening wear and glam, even though we only party in each other’s homes on a tri-annual rotational basis. This year we are at K’s house and the black satiny thing I made for last year’s bash has now been cut up and used for lining and other things. It was only cheap poly anyway and not made to any great standards as I knew I’d only wear it once.

This year I’m planning to spend a bit more time and effort on the frock. Pattern Vault showcased the Scarlett dress designed by Juliana Sissons recently with a free pattern download from the V&A museum. This is a 1980s wild child dress: red, tight, backless and quite possibly, a knock ’em dead dress. There are lots of other links on Pattern Vault’s post – so have a read.


I’ve downloaded and tiled the pattern, ordered a red crepe with a bit of stretch  but I really think I should make a muslin as the pattern only comes in 12 and I usually cut a 14, so there might be a bit of grading to be done.


Scarlett Cannon in her namesake red dress in 1980s

The hairstyle I think I’ll leave for another time……


Different Stitches

imagesI have a very good friend, T,  who is a super-duper knitter. Personally I don’t quite comprehend her passion for knitting penguins and camper vans etc. but horses for courses.The garments she has knitted for herself are exquisite – all fancy stitches and lacy and cables and the like. And she’s fast!

Me, I have an issue with knitting….impatience probably ranks high….DSCN2589

it just take soooo long for me to knit anything. I can sew a skirt in 1.5hrs but to knit a cardigan takes me months. Added to that I don’t understand the fit – the tension, and casting off and on for shape and I always lose track of the number of stitches and whether I should purling or stocking stitching. To combat these failings I usually knit with the biggest needles I can find and the chunkiest yarn I can buy. This is fine but somewhat limiting in my knitting repertoire. I can do two stitches and the more of the same stitches in a pattern the better.

T and I had a day out recently to the quirkiest wool barn (literally) in the depths of the Northern Irish countryside: one of those places that is off a country road that is off another country road and then down a long driveway – if you didn’t know it was there you’d never find it. A Brigadoone of a place, run by a couple of women of a certain age who are extremely friendly, extremely knowledgeable and are the best sales people I’ve ever met! Yes, they made me give them a tonne of cash in exchange for a book and some wool. The yarns they stock are the best on the market – cashmere, mohair, silk, lambs’ wool – not a thread of poly in sight! It’s called the Glen Gallery, and while they don’t have a website of their own my new friend Dazy has done a small review.

So anyway, T said I needed to change my attitude to knitting – a different mindset, so to speak – it’s not supposed to be quick, just enjoy every stitch and the actual process of knitting. So I’ve attempted to do just that. Of course having very expensive yarn helped considerably.

Before the summer, I had unravelled a blue RTW cardigan because I liked the colour but not the style and thought (with endless optimism) that I could knit the yarn into something more ‘my style’ – whatever that is…. As usual, the balls of wool sat about for months as I hunted for a plain cardigan pattern. Weirdly, I buy knitting magazines – believing wholeheartedly in the power of osmosis. It hasn’t happened yet!

I have this magazine and liked this pattern – Mad Men inspired cardigan in the workwear section. See only two types of stitches! Perfect.

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It soon become obvious, even to me, that I didn’t have enough blue to complete the job so I thought of knitting the yoke bit in a fancy yarn – all design like.

At the Glen Gallery, I bought 5 hanks of Japanese NoroMossa to be exact – and realised that this might just be epiphany I have been waiting for all this time – gorgeous blended yarns of silk and cashmere and wool and a multitude of colours – so that every stitch is unique and different to the last. There’s knobbly bits and smooth bits and fluffy bits too. I shall never knit with anything else from now on – damn you T – this has to be one of the most exclusive and expensive yarns. It comes in old-fashioned hanks too, so I’ve been employing DH and teenage son to sit with their arms out as I wind the hanks into balls. DH is loads better at this job than teenage son, as he had to do it for his mother when he was a lad.


I’ve knitted the cardy up to the armholes in the ripped out blue and then transitioned into the glorious Noro for the top half.


I’ve been researching this thing called ‘blocking’ – laying out of knitted pieces to flatten and shape them and it’s really scary. We all know that you don’t wash wool – it’ll shrink or grow or change shape or do some weird thing. Here’s the method I used – found here and seconded fortuitously this week on Rhonda’s Wednesday showcase.

1. Soak the pieces in cold water until they are saturated. I stopped breathing while doing this thinking all that knitting was going to turn to felt.


2. Gently press the pieces against the basin to remove excess water – do not wring out!


3. Lay the pieces flat on a large bath towel on the floor


4. Roll up the towel firmly to squeeze out more water.


5. On another, dry towel lay the pieces down: measure and pin to shape. Walk away for about 2 days.


This method worked a treat and all my fears were completely unfounded – I now have flat, but still textured, knitting and nearly all the right size.

Just have to pick up the stitches from all the pieces and knit the neckband.


And if you don’t believe how slow at knitting I really am, I found this project in a bag under the sewing table – a kimono style cardigan downloaded 8 years ago! A free pattern from Clementine – a loose fitting wrap cardigan with kimono sleeves.


Might just go back to it, now that I have a more positive attitude towards knitting. Might…….


And I’ve added knitting blogs to my Reader – oh, just more stuff to get in the way of actually doing something.