Friday, 30 January 2015

SkipNorth Knitting and Spinning Holiday - Last Chance to Book!

What are you doing between 26th and 29th March this year? 

Oh really?

Well, that sounds fun, but you'll have more fun at the 
UK's numero uno knitting and spinning holiday 
- now in its 11th year!

Shop, eat, natter, eat, learn new skills, eat...and more!

We also have a discussion group on Ravelry

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Normal Service Will Resume At Some Point

I am currently living with The Pooch in a tiny studio flat in Paddington (London) without any craft materials other than one half done pair of knitted socks and one patchwork hand sewing project. I have also been ill with a virus pretty much since the plane touched down from Tokyo two weeks ago AND I sprained my thumb lugging that wretched suitcase around over xmas so can't in fact knit anyway until it has healed. As a result I've not got a lot to blog about apart from the occasional outing completed between bouts of coughing.
By March I hope to be living in a more permanent place in a country to be confirmed. Until then it might be a bit sporadic on here.
Sad Kitty
Here are some more cat pictures to round things off. I hate blog posts without pictures.
Tsukimaru Goes Veggie

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

A Delayed Visit to London's Only Cat Cafe

When I first heard about the crowdfunding campaign to get a cat cafe open in London I was all over it like a rash. I was so excited. I signed up and pledged my hard earned wonga and then sat back, eagerly awaiting the opening date. That was at the start of 2013, and shortly afterwards I found out I'd be moving to Japan which then finally happened in November of that year. I vaguely remember that the cat cafe was supposed to have opened by then but got held up by planning permission, so I was already in Tokyo and whooping it up in the cat cafes there by the time Lady Dinah's opened its doors.
Lady Dinah's Front Window
In return for my funding I got a "Nine Lives Card" entitling me to a discount on the £6 or so cover charge for a 90 minute visit for my first nine visits. Saturday was my first! The staff were very friendly and I was seated at my own table downstairs.
Inside Lady Dinah's - Cat Paw Hot Chocolate
There were cat perches everywhere and sure enough there were about five of the seven or so cats sleeping in different spots.
Inside Lady Dinah's
Some of these were accessible and some weren't. Before I went I had read one of their updates online saying that some people had been disappointed with the number of cats that were sleeping during their visit. I read that statement in the context of Tokyo's cat cafes and assumed the disappointment was due to the cats not running after profered toys or jumping into laps. What I hadn't realised was that you are not allowed to touch sleeping cats, even if they are sleeping right next to you. That basically meant that there were two cats to "go around" what turned out to be a really large number of people for the space. If the downstairs room was a cafe I would have described it as definitely full. Perhaps 20 people were down there? And half an hour after I got there - in what was the first "sitting" of the day - more people arrived and were seated at the tables upstairs in the play room. What quickly happened was that as soon as any of the awake cats did something (such as walk across the room) it was immediately surrounded by a little crowd.
Inside Lady Dinah's
The cat cafes in Tokyo and Seoul were never anywhere near this crowded and often I'd be the only one there for at least some of my visit.

On their website, Lady Dinah's talk about how some overseas cat cafes deprive cats of food so they beg customers for treats - something I never saw in Tokyo or Seoul - but at Lady Dinah's the cats instead were stimulated with some sort of powdered chicken treat. Initially this was done by staff but they then handed it to visitors so the cat in question would interact with them. This is what that looked like.
Inside Lady Dinah's
An even bigger crowd around the cat involved. If you were at the front of the crowd you got to pet the cat. Otherwise, you got to watch other people do it.

While I can understand that the thinking behind Lady Dinah's is all to protect the cats, I feel there might be a bit of anthropomorphism going on. If your own cat was asleep at home, you wouldn't fear upsetting its emotional balance by stroking it. And if the cat was peeved at being disturbed it would go and sleep somewhere else. The same thing used to happen in the Tokyo cafes I went to. Cats wishing for a good snooze would sleep up high.
Final Visit to Calico Cat Cafe
Cats open to a bit of doze/tickle would stay low.
Afterall, these cafes are only open for about 8 hours a day so that leaves another 16 for undisturbed r+r.

On reflection I felt that if I had never been to any other cat cafes I would have been satisfied with the experience on offer at Lady Dinah's. In fact I felt the word "experience" summed it up pretty well. It is a "cat experience" and a cafe. It was only having experienced a "cat cafe" as they were originally intended to be that made the name a misnomer in this case. However, as the Knit Harlot once said when I asked her for her opinion about knitting needles on planes (at the time they were banned) "It's their plane so it's up to them to decide what can go on them." So it follows that this is their cafe and their cats (I forget who exactly 'they' are) so it's up to them to decide when you can stroke them. However, I won't be needing the other eight of my nine lives so if anyone in the UK would like the card let me know and I'll post it to you.

One thing about the cafe is its very interesting location - on Bethnal Green Road. This is a low income area of London, coincidentally where I was living when I met The Pooch. You will not find many other hipster places just here which, let's face it, is basically what Lady Dinah's is. Depending on the way you choose to walk you can end up walking through parts of Shoreditch which has been gentrified and is now full of hipsters wearing layers of grey, black and plaid. This means the graffiti, something I quietly admire in general, is a mix of traditional and modern. You get the more artsy stuff...
Shoreditch Graffitti - Shark Fish Bowl
...on hoardings surrounding current building work while longer-term walls hiding waste ground get a more transitional treatment.
Shoreditch Graffitti
My personal favourite on this trip was this thuggish Peppa Pig amid a load of tags.
Shoreditch Graffitti - Evil Peppa Pig
Having had to draw Peppa umpteen times for my ickle niece I admired this artist's work. That's assuming it is Peppa. For all I know it could be a Hipster Icon and Peppa is simply an ironic reworking of it. In which case I need to rewatch the "Muddy Puddles" episode and think in more depth about the subtext.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

My 2014

My year started with us living in Japan and has ended with us back in the UK but with plans to be somewhere completely different within the next two months. Looking back, I have made at least 117 different things during the year. More than one every three days - not bad going!
Makes of 2014 Part 1
Makes of 2014 Part 2
Makes of 2014 Part 3
Makes of 2014 Part 4
Phew! I've knitted eleven hats, two adult jumpers, four little ones and seven pairs of socks plus various other bits. I've sewn six Sew Together bags, three bed quilts and twenty four other bags or pouches. Lastly, twenty nine of the things were for me or my home - everything else was a present or for a swap.

Personally there have been a few ups and downs and there has been a lot of uncertainty about the future but as the year ends it is all looking pretty good! I don't yet have any plans for 2015, apart from setting up another new home in another new place. Hopefully this move will be slightly more permanent but never know!

Friday, 26 December 2014

Magical Button Jars

My mother-in-law works in a charity shop and when I got here to her house for Christmas she resented me with a little jar full of buttons. I *love* buttons. Seeing my glee she remembered a jar she had (on the left below) and invited me to take any I liked. Squee!
Vintage buttons
Between the two jars I found some lovely ones. Terribly cute yellow on their card and a single in the sweetest shade of red.
Vintage buttons
Lovely pink with an octagonal blue.
Vintage buttons
Beautiful glass ones.
Vintage buttons
Five very small little glass triangles with diamante.
Vintage buttons

I had a lovely Christmas with the in-laws (there were 18 of us in the small house at one point) and a very nice few days before that at my Mum's with my sister and ickle niece. The poor little thing wasn't too well and was cuddled up with her Mum when she asked for a toy. She asked for my Quiet Book!
Sian and Jasmine
I had given it to her the day before the the pages with the moving beads from one to five and the stars on ribbon velcro'd to the page were the clear winners. I was so chuffed that she liked it enough to want it when she was poorly!

Monday, 22 December 2014

Tokyo Crafting - Guide to Shops, Classes, Events and Resources

Not intended to be exhaustive - this is just my round up of what I have come across after 13 months of living in Tokyo.

Last Updated: December 2014.


Shinjuku Craft Shops - I created a map and list of shops for a tour I did. download .doc list and descriptions and download .doc map

Nippori Fabric Town - Blogged about here. Worth going to just for Tomato which has four different buildings.
The main one has 100 Yen a metre at the entrance which is great for cheap curtains. Each floor deals with something different like knits, cosplay etc. On the fifth floor you'll find patchwork cottons in fat eighths (ish) and you can buy american imports by the half metre - everything else in the shop is by the metre. The prices are cheaper than Okadaya or Yuzawaya (both in the Shinjuku list above) but if you only need 20cm or so you're better off at the expensive shops. There are about 50 other fabric and notion shops on the same road too. Go to Nippori station and look for a down escalator at the East Exit. You should come out on a square with a big samurai on a horse statue. Look for the signs for fabric town.

Yanaka - as well as having a comic museum and an amazingly beautiful sculptor's house which is always worth visiting, and lots of cats and cat merchandise, it has a beautiful bamboo craft shop called Midoria (3 Chome-13-3 Nishinippori, Arakawa-ku). This is high end stuff so you can easily pay 15,000 for a woven vase but they also have smaller, cheaper items. Beautiful work. Few minutes walk from Nippori station, in the opposite direction to Fabric Town.

Sakura Horikiri - washi paper, fabric and paper 'painting' and kits galore in Asakusabashi. Eveything is in Japanese but the staff are very friendly and the kits are so well illustrated it is clear what you need to do just from the pictures.

Kiwa Products - beads and findings for jewellery, resin craft, bag making and probably much more. There is a small one in Shinjuku but the store in Asakusabashi is enormous - about 5 floors of lovely temptation and tonnes of instruction sheets at 50 yen a time if you lack a definite plan. There are a lot of bead shops in this area - look out for 'wholesale only' signs as they won't welcome you.

Traditional Dolls - if you are in Asakusabashi to visit either of the two above places you really have to go and at least have a quick look at the ground floor of this place. Kyugetsu is one of several of these places in the area and the dolls are just amazing, and I'm not into dolls at all. If you walk from here to Sakura Horiki you'll go past another doll making shop with all the bits and bobs needed to get started.

Salvation Army Bazaar - it might sound odd but this huge charity shop is a warehouse with different sections for clothes, books, furniture, crockery (just get everything here rather than at IKEA) and also crafts. I've blogged about it here. Only open on Saturday mornings but definitely worth a visit. Buttons are so expensive in Japan so this is a great place to get them.

100 Yen shops - beloved beauties. The biggest I've found is Daiso in Harajuku (blogged about here and in picture below).
Sewing Notions Inside Daiso
However, you are likely to have a local Seria or Can-do near you. There are several on the Shinjuku list above. You'll be surprised (especially if you're used to nasty english pound shops) at the quality here. 100% wool yarn, fibre for needle felting, purse frames, fabric, needles, thread, name it. Add kawaii stationery and kitchen paraphernalia and bob's your uncle.

Online craft shopping in Japan - I compiled a list of places I found out about at the Yokohama Quilt Show here. I also have a list of places selling finished handmade items in my Handmade in Japan Fes post here. Okadaya and Yuzawaya (in the Shinjuku download) also have online shops.


Pottery - Shirokane Ceramic Art School. I have done their 'try out' class in english and it was awesome. I had never made anything on a pottery wheel before and it was a great experience. Wear trousers you don;t mind getting clay on (it washes off easily). Don't expect a modern studio. It is off the main road and down a traditional little street.

Loom Weaving and/or Indigo Dyeing - both at one place, Wanariya in Asakusa. While this is a child friendly activity, don't be put off by the pictures of children on the website. I still felt like a grown up while weaving and am ridiculously proud of my coasters. You can also take your own fabric to indigo dye and they charge you by weight. About 15 mins walk from the station. Very friendly people.
indigo workshop - what we all made

Washi Paper Mini Tasters - the shop at Sakura Horikiri (above) usually has a little taster session going for some form of paper craft.

Adhoc Craft Meet-ups - is very active in Tokyo. I can recommend Kokoro Crafts Group!

Craft Shows

Tokyo International Quilt Festival - blogged about here. Held in January every year at the Tokyo Dome which is a huge baseball stadium. This show gets seriously busy - as in no-room-to-turn-around busy. You save a couple of hundred yen and avoid the queues if you buy a ticket in advance. Not as many shopping stalls as I would expect but amazing quilts - if you can get close enough to see them!

Yokohama International Quilt Week - blogged about here.
Detail from Quilt by Lim Min Seon
Less than an hour from Tokyo and, in my opinion, a much better event than the Tokyo one. This is largely down to the far more manageable number of people, the excellence and variety of the displays and the numerous shopping areas. Again, you save a hundred yen or so buying in advance but the website usually has a coupon for that much you can print out and use on the day.

Handmade in Design Fes - blogged about here. A staggeringly huge event by british standards.

Design Festa Tokyo - I hear this is very good.

Other big events - keep an eye out on Time Out Tokyo for what is going on.


Stitch n Bitch Meetup - a very active group with people passing through and some 10+ year regulars. All nationalities welcome. You just promise to buy one drink minimum wherever it is, although the food at Pariya is delicious if they are there and you should try the ice cream too. There is a daytime group as well as this evening one. Both meet twice a month. I found out so much about craft shops, dealing with the recycling and more from chatting to regulars at these meetings.

Searching google in Japanese - an artform in itself. If you can't find something by googling in English, it is quite easy to do so in Japanese. The key to success is using Chrome as a broswer which auto-translates for you. Then go to and type in what you want to search for (i.e. glass blowing lesson ガラス吹きレッスン) and copy and paste the japanese into Each result will then have "translate this page" as a link next to it. Click on that to see what the suggested websites are saying.

Time Out Tokyo - keep an eye out for flea markets, big events, museum exhibitions and so on.

Japan Folk Craft Museum - amazing exhibitions in the most beautiful traditional building with a rotating collection of handmade items.

Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum - blogged about here. An often overlooked simple but quite large museum near Shinjuku station. They have exhibitions on all sorts of fashions.

Tokyo Crafts Gallery - This comes under the wing of the National Museum of Tokyo but is in a separate building. It is a great space and has some excellent exhibitions.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Boro-ichi Market and Happo-en Garden

As part of the farewell tour around Tokyo I knew I was not to buy anything because the suitcases are already full. Why then torture myself with a trip to Boro-ichi Market? I don't know, except that I'd had it in my diary for the last six months and nothing else planned for the morning.

The Market is called Boro-ichi because it used to be where the poorer people came to get clothes some 400+ years ago (boro being the type of kimono patched and sashiko'd many times to hold it together like what you can see on this Pinterest Board). It was also known for tool and agricultural sales and you still get several tool stalls as well as ones selling plants. What you also get it lots of everything else. If we hadn't sent our things away to the shipping company two days earlier I would have come home carrying more than the average Spanish grandmother does at harvest time. It was, though, a tad crowded.
Busy Market
Can you make out the vanishing point there? This place was huge and went off down other streets at right angles. I would guess perhaps 500 stalls? It could easily have been more though. There were many vintage kimono stalls.
Vintage Kimonos
Lots of scrabbling for the cheaper ones on the ground was going on. I saw some racks, like this one...
Shibori Silk Haori and Kimono
...of just one type of Kimono - in this case Hand Shibori Dyed Silk. They were about 2000Yen each - maybe £15? Beautiful. Kokeshi dolls were clearly not that popular since there were crates of old ones for sale all over the place.
Kokeshi Dolls
My Japanese friend Noriko told me these ones were also rumoured to be used by noble women as...ahem...a sex toy, so possibly that's why they have apparently been cast out of family homes everywhere. I certainly wouldn't put a dildo over my fireplace but each to their own.

Baskets abounded.
Woven Baskets
Both conventional and the more modern.
Woven Bags
Shinto shrines for home use.
Shinto Shrines for the Home

Beautifully carved. Rice pounding sets with the huge bowl and hammer.
Mochi pounding bowls and hammers

And then lots of other stuff too - new and old.
Tenugi Cloths
Frame Purses and handbags
Vintage Glasses
Vintage Stall

It is on again in January but only for two days and then that is it until next December - I would definitely recommend it. It was a Shoreditch vintage shop's idea of nirvana.

After all those crowds it was rather nice to arrive at a garden far away on the other side of Tokyo. Even nicer was this visit was at the prompting of Mr Pooch who had almost visited it on his first visit to Tokyo but had never quite got in. We were initially joined by a group of teenagers and a teacher but later they left and we had the place to ourselves.
Foliage at Happo-en
Happo-en Gardens began life in the late 1600's and its name means "Garden of 8 Views" meaning it is beautiful from every angle.
Foliage at Happo-en

90 degree trees

Huge Koi Carp

Foliage at Happo-en
I could have stayed on that bench watching the fishes for hours - if it hadn't been only 6 degrees outside!
Me looking at the Koi
The Gardens are also known for their collection of Bonsai, some of which are over 500 years old. It really staggers me everytime I hear about a plant that is that old.
Bonsai Trees
They were are clearly the work of crafts people.
Bonsai Tree at Happo-en Garden

In the evening we headed off for dinner...but I'm going to save that for another day!

Friday, 12 December 2014

Final Craft Shopping

I thought I'd had my final splurge when I bought bits to finish existing projects last week. But... since I was visiting Shinjuku Gyoen Garden (yesterday's blogpost) I was so near to Yuzawaya so as to make it rude not to just pop by. There was one thing in particular I was keen to find. I had seen some decorated rotary cutters in a Japanese patchwork magazine and told myself at the time I had an Olfa yellow one and didn't need another one. But it stayed niggling in the back of my mind...
Last Craft Shopping in Tokyo
And then since I was in the shop...has anyone seen these pins with bells on in other countries? I first saw them when I took something to a local mending shop to be adjusted and was amazed. They certainly make it easier to find where you need to sew when you're dealing with a lot of fabric, plus one in a pincushion is just going to sound lovely when you are using the others around it. And then they just happened to have half price metal purse frames.
Last Craft Shopping in Tokyo
The circles at the bottom are the binder rings I'm going to use to bind the quiet book I made last week. I'll just need to check how easily Jasmine can open them. They are quite stiff for a toddler though. And then of course I had to walk past the button section to get to the tills.
Last Craft Shopping in Tokyo
The red riding hood and puss in boots ones were too cute to ignore. My sister loves monkeys so those will make their way onto something for Jasmine next year. The others are MINE ALL MINE. Jeez I love buttons. I'll be happy to be reunited with my full collection back in England! Oh and of course my family and friends...!

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