My favourite free photo editing and graphic design sites

Megan Recommends blog seriesI have a MacBook, but it is showing its age and likes to be super slow and shut down programs in the middle of use (especially Photoshop!). I mostly use my little Acer Chromebook computer now, and I am loving it.

A Chromebook is basically a computer with a browser, and that is it. It is super affordable, super basic, and super fast (it turns on in seconds!). The only problem with a Chromebook is that I can’t download software to use on it, such as Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator. However, I still use my Chromebook for all my photo editing and graphic development for my website – I simply use all online tools, that are free! There are three websites that I use consistently:

Pixlr

My favourite website for editing photos is Pixlr. It is very similar to Photoshop, and has everything I need. I can resize the photos, change the brightness and contrast easily, as well as use a paintbrush to make clean solid white backgrounds (I use a method similar to Stacey of FreshStitches).

PixlrEditing
A recent Instagram picture after editing with Pixlr.

The program is free, fast and I can easily download my finished photos to my Google drive when I am done. The only disadvantage is that there are advertisements on the side, which make the working area on the screen a little smaller, but it is still large enough for what I need. Or, of course, you can always pay to have an ad free experience.

Canva

For most of the graphics for my website, advertising, and CAL badges, I use the website Canva. This site is so fun to play around with. While there are features, fonts, and images that you have to pay for, you can do a lot for free (everything I have made has been free!). I can also upload my own images to to site and use them in my designs.

All my blog titles and graphics for my newsletter are made using Canva:

How to read amigurumi patterns by @hookabee

Press and Publications of hookabee crochet

tuttifruttiCAL

I created an account with Canva which allows me to save all my designs and go back to them whenever I want. I love that the site has pre-made templates for particular elements on different sites, such as social media, so you don’t have to look up what dimensions you should use. For example, there is already a template for an Etsy banner, so you just choose the Etsy banner and it is already the perfect size for your Etsy shop. They also have templates for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, YouTube, as well as for blog posts, flyers, posters, cards, and invitations. It makes things so easy!

PicMonkey

PicMonkey is somewhat in between Pixlr and Canva – it is great for photo editing (but does not have all the tools Pixlr has), and it is also useful for graphic design (but has different features than Canva).

I use PicMonkey a lot for the images in my patterns and blog tutorials
– when I want to add text, arrows, or need to highlight certain stitches. It is also super easy to resize and round the corners of my images, as well as make collages.

Joined rounds in blo for amigurumi by hookabeearmattachmentantennaAttachment

So, those are the three programs I use on a daily basis for my photo editing and graphic design. I highly recommend all three of them – I cannot do everything using just one, but need all three in combination for my creations. Maybe try them out for your website or ravelry project pages!

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Getting started with cross stitch

CrossStitchI recently finished my very first cross stitch project – a Toronto Blue Jays logo for my brother:

2016March_BlueJayXStitchCollageIt was a super fun and easy project, so I thought I would share what I learned about cross stitch so you can try your hand at stitching something too!

What is cross stitch?

It is a specific type of embroidery, in which you use thread and a needle to stitch many little crosses on to fabric and all the crosses together form an image on the fabric.

Materials

To get started, you will need some fabric to stitch on. There are two basic kinds used in cross stitch: Aida and evenweave. They are both easy to use, just different! I started with a 14-count Aida fabric because it does have more obvious holes to stitch into than evenweave, but I am sure you can figure out evenweave as a beginner, too. To help you choose, you can learn more about each fabric on the Cross Stitch Guild’s website.

Both Aida and evenweave come in various colours, so make sure you choose one that will go with the design you want to make – it does make a difference to your overall project. You can usually get both kinds of fabric, in a variety of colours, in most general craft stores.

Of course, you also need something to stitch with: embroidery thread (floss). The most common type, and the one most recommended for beginners, is DMC cotton floss. This floss is 6 ply, which means you can separate it into 6 different strands. In most cases, you have to separate them and use only 1, 2, or 3 strands at a time, not the full 6. You can see a great image of how the thread splits on the DMC website. Floss comes in a crazy number of colours, so have fun shopping for just the right shades for your project!

You will also need a needle. For cross stitch you use a blunt tipped tapestry needle, NOT a sharp embroidery needle. You don’t want to pierce through the fabric itself when cross stitching (unless you are doing a fancier stitch), but instead through the holes of the fabric. The most common sizes used are 24 and 26. The size you use depends on the fabric you have chosen, and how many strands of thread you are using. If you are using a fabric with larger holes to stitch into and more strands of thread (2 or more), than use the larger size 24 needle. If your fabric is finer and you are using fewer strands (2 or less), use the smaller size 26 needle. A good test is to pass the needle through the fabric – if the needle makes the hole larger, it is too big.

I used a size 24 needle and 3 strands of thread for my project, but from what I have read since, most people use only 2 strands on 14-count Aida. Working with three strands worked out fine for me – my stitches were simply thicker and more raised from the fabric. It is all a matter of preference, so experiment using the fabric you have choosen. Next time, I plan to experiment and try only 2 strands.

You may also want to get a hoop to hold your work as you stitch. A hoop is made up of two wooden or plastic circles, one small one that fits inside a larger one. You stretch your fabric across the small circle and keep it taut and in place with the larger circle. You can see how it works on the DMC website. Many stitchers use a hoop to help hold the fabric for them and keep it taut while stitching, but others prefer not to use one at all and simply hold the fabric in their hands. Try out both methods and see which you prefer.

Hoops come in both wood and plastic, in a variety of sizes and shapes. Again, you need to experiment with each kind to see which you like to use – there are mixed reviews! When using a hoop, make sure you choose a size that is larger than the pattern you want to stitch – you don’t want your work to be pressed in-between the two hoop pieces.

There are alternatives to hoops, such as scroll bar frames and stretcher bars, so if you aren’t a fan of the hoop, check these out and see if you like using them instead.

Finally, you will need a good pair of really sharp scissors that are used exclusively for your stitch work. You may already be familiar with the stork scissors that many people use for embroidery and cross stitching, but of course, a normal pair also work, just make sure they are super pointy for cutting the fine threads accurately.

How to Cross Stitch

I won’t go into the details here on how to actually cross stitch because there are so many great resources already out there. The two websites I referred to the most were:

The Cross Stitch Guild

and

DMC

These two sites are really all you need to get started reading a pattern and making a cross stitch project of your own, but if you prefer books, I have also read parts of The Cross Stitcher’s Bible – see if your library has it (that is where I got mine!) because it has some great tips and techniques to improve your stitches as well as embellishments to try.

Pattern Ideas

There are so many really great cross stitch pattern designers out there. A good place to start is Etsy, but of course just Googling something you want to stitch is also quite effective (I found the Blue Jays Logo as a google image).

I already have a number designers on my “to stitch” list. Here are my favourites so far (maybe they will inspire you, too!):

The Frosted Pumpkin Stitchery

Satsuma Street

Crafty Like a Fox

cloudsfactory

andwabisabi cross stitch

sew sew n sew

Another neat website for some quick and simple designs is the Daily Cross Stitch website. Visit it everyday for a new free pattern!

You can also try your hand at creating your own design. You can convert any image into a cross stitch pattern by using a program that will turn it into a bunch of little squares, just like a cross stitch design. While I haven’t tried it myself (yet!), there are free options out there to try for yourself (just Google it).

Finishing techniques

Once you are done your project it is a good idea to wash it, even in just water, and to press it using an iron. This will remove any wrinkles and other things that may have gotten on your fabric while you were stitching.

Now you have a beautiful design on a piece of fabric, but what do you do with it?!? I simply put mine back in the hoop to frame it and sent it off to my brother. In the hoop, it can be hung up as a piece of art on your wall, or sit in a stand on a table. I followed the video by Shiny Happy World on how to frame using a hoop.

You can also place your work in a normal picture frame to hang on your wall. Or, you can turn it into a bookmark, a pin cushion, a pillow, a greeting card, etc. I have started a Pinterest board with ideas on what to do with cross stitch projects.

And that is all I have learned so far! I hope it helps you if you want to start to cross stitch, too. I highly recommend it as a relaxing craft.

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Until next time,
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Hand-dyeing yarn with food colouring: Sun method

hand-dyeing yarn with food colouring using the sun by @hookabeeI have wanted to dye yarn for a while now. Playing with colour and creating unique yarn that is all your own doing – so much fun! I researched different dyes, including acid dyes and natural dyes, but decided my first experiments would be with the safe and easy food colour dyes.

This post is the first in a series of tutorials on how to dye yarn with food colouring, each demonstrating a different method: using the sun, microwave, stove-top and crock-pot (slow cooker). Each method has one thing in common: HEAT. Heat is required for the dye to bind to your yarn and is necessary when hand-dyeing. Today’s method – using the SUN! But first, some prep work.

General info for hand-dyeing with food colouring:

What yarn can you use?

Your yarn needs to be made up of animal fibres, such as wool, alpaca, angora, or cashmere. Silk and nylon supposedly also work with food colouring, but I have not seen an example. Acrylic yarn and yarn made up of plant fibres, such as cotton and bamboo, will not work – the dye will not take to these yarns. If you want more of a pure colour that is most like what the dye looks like in the dye bath, you will want to use white yarn, but dying coloured yarn also works and you will get a different effect. I have chosen an alpaca and wool blend with a slight cream tone (Berroco Ultra Alpaca #6201).

What dyes can you use?

You can use any food colouring, such as those classic little dropper bottles, icing dyes, Easter egg dyes, and drink powders (eg. Kool Aid – but make sure there is no sugar added). I picked up the 12 pack of Wilton Icing Colours and will be using them for my experiments. Wilton dyes are concentrated, so you don’t need very much, there are many different colour options, and you can find them easily in your local craft store (and use a coupon!).Wilton icing dyes for dyeing yarn

Adding vinegar (or not!):

If your food colouring does not have an acid already included, which is most dyes except Kool Aid (already has citric acid), you will need to add vinegar (or other form of acid) to your dye bath.

How much vinegar do you add? I am following the ratios found on the website DyeYourYarn.com (a very helpful website, by the way!):  “a teaspoon per 8 ounces [of] water for reds and yellow and a tablespoon for blues”.

Preparing the yarn:

For my first time dyeing, I decided to keep it simple and make a skein of yarn all one solid colour. There are many different ways to prep the yarn to create different effects, such as colour gradients and multi-tonal results. In the future I want to experiment with different techniques, but I am sticking to simplicity for now!

Preparing the yarn is the same for each method of dyeing. You want your yarn to be loose so that the dye can penetrate all the fibres (especially if you want a solid colour), but you also don’t want a big tangled mess of yarn in the end. I divided my 100 g skein of yarn into four 25 g skeins using my weigh scale and a cereal box. I was able to use a cereal box because my skeins weren’t very large, but you may want to use something else to wind yours, such as the back of a chair, if you want a larger skein.

I simply placed the yarn on my scale and wound one end around the cereal box and stopped when the yarn on the scale was 25 g lighter. You want to wind the yarn in one layer, to prevent tangling. using a cereal box to wind yarn

Once I had the 25 g wound around the box, I tied the yarn in four different spots by weaving a piece of acrylic yarn through the strands. I used white acrylic yarn so it would not absorb any of the dye from my dye bath or bleed any colour onto the yarn I was dying. The weaving through the yarn prevents the yarn from becoming tangled as you handle it for dyeing.tying yarn for dyeing

Next, I slipped the yarn off the cereal box and had a circle of yarn that was ready to be dyed!yarn skein for hand dyeing

Pre-soaking the yarn:

This is a step where you can experiment with different methods. You can pre-soak your yarn before dyeing, or you can add your yarn dry to the dye bath – each method will create different effects. You also need to decide whether you want to add vinegar to the pre-soak bath or not.  You don’t have to add it to the pre-soak bath. I had read that adding vinegar at this stage results in yarn with a more solid colour, so that is what I chose to do this time.hand dyed yarn using Wilton icing colours and the sun

Hand-dyeing using the sun:

While it is already September, it is still summer here in Montreal with temps reaching 30°C each day, so I decided now was the perfect time to use the sun to dye some yarn. And what better colour to dye my yarn in the sun than yellow! Actually, to be honest I decided on the colour before even realizing this connection, but hey 😛

The idea of using the sun to dye my yarn came about when I read this post on Kool Aid Yarn Dyeing on the Knit One, Blog Two site, but I didn’t follow their protocol completely.

My sun dyeing protocol: (using 25 g of yarn)

  1. I pre-soaked my yarn for about 30 min in a bath made up of vinegar (2 tsp) and water (2 cups). I used these volumes because my dye is yellow (so needs less vinegar than blues, see DyeYourYarn.com), and the total volume was able to cover my yarn fully.
  2. In a one pint mason jar, I mixed 1.5 cups of water with 1.5 tsp of vinegar and some Lemon Yellow Wilton icing dye. I just estimated the amount of dye, but used no more than 1/4 tsp because I didn’t want extra, and therefore wasted, dye that wouldn’t be taken up by the yarn. I based this on the info found on the DyeYourYarn.com site for Wilton dyes: “[Use] 1/16 teaspoon Wilton® Icing Gel on .2 oz Lion Brand® Fishermen’s Wool. This amount of gel produces a saturated dyebath. Using more gel will leave food color in the dyebath that will not bond.” With the Wilton’s concentrated gel, I did find I needed to wisk the solution for some time before it all completely dissolved and was no longer clumpy.
  3. Next, I transferred the wet yarn from the pre-soak bath to the jar, closed the lid, and set the jar in the sun! Make sure that your two baths are not drastically different in temperature when you make the transfer. This reduces the chances of your yarn felting.hand dyed yarn using Wilton icing colours and the sun
  4. I then kept checking the jar every so often to see how it was doing. You want to leave the jar in the sun until the dye bath is clear – this means all the dye has been taken up by the yarn! I had my jar outside in the sun at 10:30 am, and it took until the late afternoon for it to become clear, but the duration will vary depending on the weather. When you check up on your yarn, you can shift the yarn around gently in the jar to make sure it dyes evenly, unless you want a more mottled effect, in which case leave it alone.
  5. Finally, once the solution was clear, I removed the yarn, rinsed it so that any extra dye was removed, and then hung it to dry outside in the shade. When handling the yarn while rinsing, make sure you are gentle and don’t agitate it too much or wring it dry or your yarn may felt.

And that is it! Once my yarn had dried I twisted it into a little skein and admired my work. It looks so yummy!! I smile whenever I look at it 🙂

hand dyed yarn using Wilton icing colours and the sun

Next method: slow cooker dyeing!
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Until next time,

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