The Bothered Owl

Alex and Sarah's crafty corner of cyberspace

Guest Blog: The Yarn Cafe July 11, 2011

Filed under: Custom Orders,Knit Nation — thebotheredowl @ 7:50 pm
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Alex and I are somewhat preoccupied with getting stock finished for a certain yarn event coming up this weekend  *cough*Knit Nation *cough*

Alex has, so far, made almost 80 bags, including the very special limited edition ones for our collaboration, and I know that she’s got more on the go as well.

I’m working a little more slowly than last year (anyone remember 100 items in a week? Glory days, I tell you, glory days!) but I’ve got needle rolls springing forth from my machine in a wide variety of fabrics to please the eye.

Anyway, as we’re both somewhat snowed under, we’ve invited Tracie and Simon from The Yarn Cafe to be guests on the blog.

 The Yarn Cafe is a brand new online yarn shop and Tracie and Simon have managed to find some gorgeous items with which to tempt us all – including some incredibly drool worthy Skein Queen colourways.

Skein Queen, By the Seaside

I do apologise in advance for my slightly lumpy interviewing style. I did once fail a course on print journalism at university so I’m in good company at least! Without further ado, I present The Yarn Cafe Team.

Please to introduce yourselves:

We are Tracie and Simon from Coventry in the UK.

How did you get into crafting?

Tracie: I first learnt to knit when I was 8 and was taught by my mum and had two grandmas that were prolific knitters. As I child I enjoyed sewing, drawing and the spirograph was my favourite toy. As time went on, I followed my more scientific side and only returned properly to knitting in January 2010 .

Simon: As a fisherman, I know all about knots and am able to cast on ,but I learnt to knit in September 2010 (when the promise of a free spinning lesson spurred me on). I have a knitting machine and have made numerous cowls on that and even some sparkly black fingerless mitts.

What are you working on at the moment?

Tracie: I have a number of projects on the go – a lace tablecloth, socks, a couple of cardigans and would like to learn to crochet.

Simon: I am currently knitting a cable jumper for myself (in between knitting some miniature bobble hats).

What else are you into?

Tracie: I am inspired by music, nature and impressonist art but also love films, computers, web design and gadgets.

Simon: I love music (especially Metallica) and have a drum kit and a few guitars. I also love gadgets, fishing and my VW campervan.

Tell us more about the shop

Tracie: There are not too many yarn shops in the Coventry area and as buyers, we found it hard to get hold of good quality yarns (as did our local knitting group). We have decided to set up an online web shop that stocks the usual items such as needles and notions, but also have some exclusive lines made for us by designers. At present we stock Fyberpsates, The Bothered Owl, Atomic Knitting, Skein Queen, Rooster Yarns, Lang, King Cole, Knit Pro, Frangipani and Blacker Yarns with more to follow.

Blacker Designs yarn

So there you have it folks. And if you’d like to see a photo of one of the sock pouches we’ve made for The Yarn Cafe, how can we deny you?

Coffee and Doughnuts – YUM!

I made up 10 bags, all in fabrics you will only be able to get from The Yarn Cafe. A couple of them are sold out already but I can confirm I’ve got more of those fabrics and once the Knit Nation slog is out of the way I’ll be cracking on with some more bits and pieces of loveliness for Tracie and Simon.

We wish Tracie and Simon all the best with their new venture!

And now, it’s back to the Knit Nation grindstone for us.

Three days to go!

Sarah 🙂


Finished Objects March 19, 2011

Filed under: Custom Orders — thebotheredowl @ 8:01 pm
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I was trying to come up with some kind of witty title for this post but to be honest, I’m exhausted from actually finishing the pieces I want to show you so I’ve given up on that! I’ll focus instead on trying to write some kind of coherent account to accompany the pictures. Does that work for you? Excellent. Let us begin.

Selena of The Couture Cookie Shop got in touch the other week and asked me to design a couple of new items for her.

First up is an adjustable belted waist pouch, a bit like the ones we wear for doing markets.


Selena does a lot of walking with her kids and needs something she can store her stuff in that’s easy to carry (hands free is good when you’re a Mum) and also secure. This pouch has three pockets, two with button flaps and one enormous one, hidden away inside, with a zipper:

Capacious! Pocketty! Yay!

Fully adjustable waist band with back pack style snaps

I made the waist band the same way I do the straps for our messenger bags. Both sides needed to be adjustable so the pouch didn’t end up lopsided and weird when adjusted, so I used a couple of grippy tri-glider thingies to make sure there’s plenty of wiggle room. The snaps were a must. Much less irritating than trying to tie a secure knot when busy with a couple of active toddlers!

I have plans to make some more of these, if nothing else I must make myself one for when I start doing markets again.

The second item I want to show you was something of a learning curve and if I’m honest, the main thing I’ve learned from making it was that I really don’t want to make one again! I’ll explain why after the visuals.

It’s a mei tai style baby carrier.

Check out those dinos!

With a button up pocket on the front for those little bits and pieces you need to have with you. It’s hot, wearing a baby, so coats and jackets tend to be awkward and jeans pockets are a pain. Hence the need for a front pocket:

Flappy. Useful. There's a limit to how much I can really get excited about pockets in this post, isn't there.

Selena chose the same cute dino fabric that I used for the trims on Orlaith’s pirate jacket the other week. And to go with it I picked a chocolatey brown cord. I chose cord because it’s fairly tough and when folded in layers it’s very very soft. Given that this is going to be used to carry a heavyish toddler around, tied on, soft padded feeling straps are a must.

And there is the main reason why I will almost certainly never ever make another one of these. It’s going to be used to carry around someone else’s child. Which means it has to be securely sewn to the point of paranoia and insanity and it needs to be sturdy beyond belief.

In terms of construction, this is a really simple item. It’s a big rectangle, with four longer, thinner rectangles poking out at each corner (the straps.) But to make sure that everything is secure and won’t unravel you have to sew it over and over and over again.

The main rectangle has to be made of at least 2 to 3 layers of cloth, for padding and for strength. Do NOT use jersey for this. Sturdy woven cloth is what you need here. I used quilting cotton, reinforced it with interfacing for a bit of added stiffness, a layer of plain lining cotton and then a layer of the brown cord, to make sure it was really cushy and strong.

The straps were the real killer though. Each of those babies is a long strip of cord, folded in on itself several times over for thickness and strength, then top stitched 3 times with straight AND zigzag stitch for extra strength in the seams.

I stitched them onto the centre layer of cloth in the main body of the mei tai, then I put all the layers together, sewed around leaving spaces for turning inside out. Once turned inside out, I had to do triple rounds of top stitching round the edges and THEN I had to securely topstitch each of the four straps in place:


Doesn't look like much but it took me over 3 hours to put the straps on.

It’s not the prettiest stitching I’ve ever done but by gum, it is secure.

In summary, if you want a pretty mei tai carrier, don’t ask me to make you one! I found it interesting to try out a new technique and the finished product is very satisfying to look at but I won’t be making one for Brutus. I’ll be sticking to my enormous woven cloth sling or if I’m feeling adventurous making myself a stretchy Jersey one like the one I whipped up for our friend Claire.

If you want to have a crack at making one for yourself there are tonnes of detailed and fantastic tutorials out there, for example this one: how to make a Scandinavian style mei tai, which explain in great detail how to do so. But there are also lots of lovely people who already make them out there, who are specialists and who can probably make one for you faster, sturdier and with a lot less cursing!

I’m looking forward to handing over Selena’s finished items and do make sure to go and check out her website, especially if you’re in the South London area as her cakes and cookies are AMAZING!

And now, I have a date with my rotary cutter. Just ONE custom order to go! It’s a big one, but I know that once it’s done, I don’t have to panic about going into labour leaving anything unfinished. Ahh, the relief!

Sarah 🙂

PS I can confirm that Alex has landed safely in Bris Vegas and appears to be enjoying herself thoroughly in the warm weather. Huzzah!


Doctor Whoooooooo – HEY! March 12, 2011

I have a long standing obsession with the Doctor. My Dad used to tape all the old shows off the ABC when I was a kid and my sisters and brother and I devoured them, voraciously. We can debate the merits of John Pertwee, Tom Baker and Peter Davidson till the cows come home. We even watched as many of the original Hartnell episodes as we could get our hands on.

I used to dream that one day on my walk to the bus stop the Tardis would turn up and whisk me away for fabulous adventures.

The only Doctor I’ve never seen even a single episode of is Colin Baker because my Dad felt those episodes were too violent for us.

I still seethe in rage and bitterness over my Dad punishing me for something particularly naughty by taping over the final episode of a particular story arc, during the Sylvester McCoy years. I’ve never found out how it ends 😦

Anyway ages ago, when I was working on a certains Star Wars messenger bag for a certain Jon of Easy Knits, he asked if I would be able to get hold of any Doctor Who fabric and I had to very sadly answer in the negative. Search though I might, the Doctor always eluded my wily grasp.

And then Alex, with her incredible ability to find amazing fabric, went to a comics show and there, happened to chance upon a chap who had not one, but two Doctor Who duvet covers with matching pillowcases. She told him she’d take both of them as she was going to use them to make stuff like bags and I believe he went a slight shade of green. We’re philistines!

Anyway, we mentioned on Twitter that we had found these holy grails of fabric and straight away the very lovely Debbie replied saying that she would like us to make something with some of it, once it arrived.

The project kind of got put to one side, until Alex bumped into Debbie at Unravel and then she put in an order for a few bits. And then a few more bits and a few more bits.

Like me, Debbie is a proper, old school Whovian. We even have the same favourite episode! (Pyramids of Mars, for those who care.) So it was an absolute pleasure to devise the cunning objects which I shall now reveal.

Giant Yarn pouch

Mmm, tardi-licious

Sock needle envelope

Foldout needle envelope

So far, so standard for us, hey. But now onto something new and different.

Debbie spins as well as knits and has a couple of different types of spindles, including a gorgeous Russian supported spindle that her sister in law made for her. So she asked if I could fashion some spindle pouches for her.

We had a chat about what she would like, and decided on some extra pockets and some padded bits to protect the wood.

Here’s what I’ve come up with.

Spindle pouch number 1

This is the pouch for Debbie’s Russian supported spindle. This is a spindle with a bowl that you insert the end of the spindle into. The bowl has some kind of a notch in it that hold the spindle in place as you spin it ( I think?) hence it’s a supported spindle.

I’ve made the pouch extra long and added a padded pocket on the outside for the bowl to slip into.

On the inside:

Spindle pouch number 1: interior

A long padded pocket (lined with fusible fleece) provides a home for the long, relatively slender spindle, while the rest of the bag provides plenty of room for whichever fibre Debbie’s working with at the time.

I used fusible fleece in the base of the pouch too, just for a bit of extra stiffness and cushyness. It closes with a drawstring, like all our normal pouches.

Pouch number two is for a drop spindle (not sure if it’s top or bottom whorl – check out me and my technical language. I do actually own one of each. Can I spin? Can I, heck.)

It’s slightly shorter:

Spindle pouch number 2

(I realise it probably looks an awful lot like the precious two pouches, these photos are at least partly just for Debbie, as I know she’s been waiting a while to see her shiny things and they won’t arrive till next week.)

On the inside, a larger padded pocket provides room for the wider shape of the drop spindle. It also has a secret pocket in behind which could be used for things like scissors and so forth.

Squishy padded pocket

The base on this one is also padded with fusible fleece and again it has the same wide shape that our normal pouches have, leaving loads of room for squishy delightful fluff!

And I’ve still got a duvet and a half worth of fabric left to play with…

Anyway, it’s not quite the TARDIS turning up out of the blue to take me away from all this, but these were an awful lot of fun to make – the fleece really tested my patience at times but the result is really nice, very squishy – and I hope Debbie, as a fellow Who fan, will appreciate and love them!

When I’ve got a bit more time to sit down and think properly about it, I am going to figure out a more standardised design to accomodate general drop spindles and so on, as I think spinners are a sadly neglected bunch when it comes to pretty accessories. Watch this space, eh!

Sarah 🙂



A quick note about custom orders March 7, 2011

Filed under: Custom Orders — thebotheredowl @ 10:48 pm
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Sooooo, in a couple of weeks Someone is going to be wearing this:

Baby Surprise Jacket in Knitting Goddess sock yarn

This, combined with some impending scheduled time off for Alex and a certain wool festival in Wales, means that for at least a couple of months, custom orders are about to go off the menu.

I’ve got at least 14 different items on my List Of Things To Do, all of which will get finished over the next week or so, but realistically I am not going to be able to cope with adding any more onto that list and Alex is really not going to be able to either.

I love doing custom orders more than pretty much anything else we do. Gives me the chance to flex my sewing muscles a little, trying new techniques or fiddling about with our designs to make them better or just play around with really cool fabric.

These are just a few of the projects I’ve had a chance to work on over the last 6 to 12 months. They’ve been so much fun to make and I want to say a huge thank you to all the lovely people who’ve asked me to make them something special. It’s been a blast!

Hopefully, Brutus willing, fabric custom orders should be back up and running from the end of April onwards.

Thanks so much for your patience, guys and I look forward to returning service to normal as soon as possible!

Sarah 🙂



Something new! December 28, 2010

One of the fun things about doing custom orders is getting the chance to try out a new technique or even sometimes invent a whole new design, or just add something new to an existing design.

So when my friend/student Syeda asked me if I’d make something for her cousin’s birthday I jumped at the chance because what she wanted was something I’ve been meaning to have a crack at for AGES: a box purse. I’ve seen them around, heck I even have a really horrible plasticky one I got free with a knitting mag years ago, but I’ve not yet had a chance to sit down and figure out how they work.

Had a brief scout about for tutorials and confirmed that I was right about basic construction and then I went to town, tinkering. All the tutes I found were for purses made without a bottom seam, and with the side stitching showing on the inside. Which is fine but I am a little … funny… about exposed stitches. (The day I figured out how blind stitching works was one of the happiest of my sewing ‘career’. ) Couldn’t be too hard to do one with the stitches all neatly concealed, thought I.

And it wasn’t! I think it took me about an hour and a half, all up, to make this little cutie and part of that was just because I stopped part way through to figure out how to make this work and how to trim that seam and so on. The actual construction is fairly simple.

And as always, it’s all about the right fabric! This fabric is amazing – subtle hints of gold mixed in with the paisley. And with that black background, the colours just BURST out at you.


I’m already thinking about ways I can improve on it, make it longer, make it wider, put a handle in here, stick a little pocket on there, maybe attach some kind of clip so you can attach it to the strap of a bag…Then I can say I’ve really mastered a new technique!

Now, if I can just find a decent tutorial for making a mitred corner pocket, I’ll be really happy…




Last orders. December 22, 2010

I am officially done! No more orders now until after Christmas. (Unless you’re local and prepared to come and pick it up tomorrow! And even then, no more orders!)

I thought I’d quickly share a couple of the last ones I’ve done, partly because one of them is delightfully fun and partly to illustrate the amazing difference fabric choice can make, even more than the choice of shape/style in a bag.

Firstly, a bag that is more than meets the eye. (Oh yeah, I went there. I am no stranger to the bottom of that barrel and I’m happy to scrape it.)


The print is really big, it was quite hard to 'centre' it when cutting.

I went with a really long flap on this bag, instead of putting in a button or magnetic closure. I used loads of extra reinforcement to stiffen the fabric too, so that flap is staying shut unless you want it to open.


The bag has a main pocket and smaller external pocket.

Under the main flap you find the main pocket and a slightly smaller exterior pocket with its own button flap.

Sadly, I had no robot buttons so I had to go for something more understated. Red works, I think!

The strap is made from the same material as seatbelts. It’s polypropolene, very very shiny and smooth and most importantly blinking hardwearing. And adjustable. I like using bronze sliders and D-rings, they’re sturdy and they look really smart.

Final touch is the teeny weeny mobile phone/ wallet / key pocket on the inside:

How can you resist his grumpy wee robotic face, glaring at you from his soul-less robot eyes?

I have to say, it took me bloody ages to make this one but it was totally worth it and it was for a friend’s son and I hope she (and her son, obviously) will love it. (Before any one asks, I have no more Transformers fabric left. I can probably find some, if I look hard enough and you ask nicely enough. But not before Christmas. No, no, no.)

Next up, a couple of bucket bags. These were the last two things I finished today and I am showing them, mainly as an illustration of how different fabric totally transforms a design.

While I am really proud of all the bits and pieces I’ve designed over the last 18 months, I think it’s fair to say that without totally awesome fabric they’d be nothing. We’ve noticed when manning (owling?) the stand at the various shows we’ve done this year that it is always the fabric that hooks people. Most  of the time people don’t seem as bothered about the size of the bag – unless it’s for a specific project – as long as the fabric is just right. There’s something about fabric that just clicks for people. I’ve seen people spend the better part of an hour going through our stash crates looking for The One and it never fails to make me happy when they find what they’re looking for. The look on their faces when they find it is priceless.

Anyway: same bag, two ways:

Ignore the owly needle roll for a minute and look at the bags. They’re cut from the same template, they are to all intents and purposes the same bag. But see the difference the fabric makes? One is cute but more serious, slightly understated and very grown up. The other is quirky and cheerful and is just begging to go out and play.

The first bag is made from some adorable Japanese fabric (  I _think_ it’s a Kokka print but can’t remember off the top of my head and my selevedge/scrap box is in the other room. What? I’m pregnant and lazy, that’s way too far!)

Can anyone spot the Big Bad Wolf?

The second is a bucket bag and matching needle roll for a lovely newish knitter, desperate to keep her needles from the curious (and pull-y) fingers of her small child.  Some more details? Well, of course I’ll oblige!

Em requested some special pockets, one to hold scissors and various notions (That’s the one on the left) and one large enough to slip patterns or knitting magazines into. Pattern pockets are something I’ve been meaning to incorporate into the bucket and messenger bag designs for a while now, so I was glad to have a chance to try it out and see if it would work with the dimensions of the current design. It does!

I used the same owly fabric as the exterior, just on a brown base for the pockets. I love those owls, they’re just adorable!

The bag closes with a button flap and I managed to finally get a reasonable shot of the little teeny weeny owly button:

Surprisingly hard to photograph, for an inanimate object!

For some reason, even using the macro setting and no flash, these little guys have proved remarkably resistant to me taking photos of them in the past. You can kind of see the details here but it’s still far from perfect.

To match the bucket bag, Em asked for a needle roll for straight needles. I don’t actually own any straight needles any more, but I know how long they are and I DO own a tape measure. (Or four. ) Plus our standard needle roll design is deliberately sized to be adjustable for straights or circs. Easy peasy!

And that’s it!

I had a bunch more custom bits and bobs that have already gone out, but I don’t want to overload you with pictures of shiny things made for other people 😀

Anyway, I am done diddly un until after Christmas now and planning on hiding out on the sofa with the kids, NOT checking the computer or making anything even vaguely sewing related for the next week or two. I have socks to knit and presents to wrap and meals to plan and general merriment to indulge in.

Have a fabulous seasonally appropriate festival/non-festival of your choice, folks!



Pirate islands, custom orders and Christmas December 14, 2010

As a sop until I have time to sit down with Alex and write up what happened at the Yarn Party, have a link to a lovely blog post all about it from the lovely Anna of One Hand Knits. If you’re interested, you should totally check out her patterns and handknitted items in her shop. She is always wearing one of her amazing garments and very chic they are too!

Before the gratuitous shots of small children making stuff, a quick word about custom orders. I’ve got about 8 or 9 on the go at the moment for various people. If you want something making up, with the hope of having it in time for Christmas, you need to get your order in a.s.a.p. Mainly due to post issues! If I have to order fabric in and so on, it’ll take a couple of extra days to get stuff done for you. So, UK folks, any further custom orders by Friday at the latest, please, otherwise it’ll be after Christmas, I’m afraid:-D  (It’s really nice to be so busy! I’m totally loving sourcing fabric for people and coming up with design ideas for a couple of very special messenger bags, including one made of Transformers fabric. AWESOME!)

Finally, I promised about a week ago that I would share photos of the owlettes hard at work on their pirate treasure island. It has subsequently been thoroughly trashed but they had fun making it.

So here you go:

They were occupied making this for a good couple of hours and they’ve played with it with their Lego pirates a lot since they finished it. Who needs horrible plastic toys, eh? Save your packaging and give that to them for Christmas instead! Seriously, I reckon most kids are more interested in the boxes the toys come in than they are in the toy itself. If I could get hold of one or two of those gigantic electrical appliance boxes, I’d be in heaven!

Oh, one more thing, forgot to say that both Brockley and Ladywell Christmas markets were absolutely delightful! I had a blast at Brockley, chatting with lots of lovely people and selling many pairs of Lego cufflinks. I was so busy I didn’t get a chance to take a single photo. Oops. There’s a pattern emerging here, folks. Not sure if Alex and Scott had a chance to take any pics at Ladywell but I know they had a lovely day and they were stood next to the lovely Anna, who I believe also had fun. So hurrah for that!

Right, I am off to scoff some veggie soup with the owlettes and thence to get them to bed and make up a few more custom orders. Yay!