Article · How To · Tutorial

How to: Up your Photo Game on Instagram – for Crafters!

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Photo editing has come a long way, hasn’t it? I’ve got vivid memories of my Dad knobbing about with some program called Paint Shop Pro as a kid and enjoying all the CDs bundled with crap software when we bought a new printer (which was like, every month). My other half is a huge MS Paint fan, and proudly created all his old band’s graphics on it in his musician days. I try and forget the fact that all the type was in ARIAL (my graphic designer soul just cried) and it was red text on black, but hey, it looked good for 2004. I even get threatened by him ‘doing all the graphic design on Paint’ when I take a bit too long to create something for our company on Illustrator… It’s not my fault I’m constantly distracted by knitting.

Now we have miniature versions of Photoshop built into our smartphones, with the average phone able to correct, crop and add that special sheen to even the darkest of images (eat that, Paint Shop Pro!) so, all in all, it’s almost impossible to take a bobbins photo. Sort of. Unless your phone is a Motorola Razr. Remember them? Mine was pink!

That said, it’s always nice to know a few tips on how to make sure your photos look as good as they can on your feed, and that don’t include spending your life savings on a top-of-the-range smartphone or camera. I’m by no means a master photographer, but here are a few ideas that will make your images shine a bit brighter.

THEME UP!

Sticking with a coherent theme with regards to style and colour will hold your feed together. Working with an organised feed will make your ‘brand’ (I hate that word but you know) really look polished and professional, whether you want people to buy your lush hand-dyed yarn, bonnets, or just scroll and see what you’re about. If you’re trying to focus your account on solely your crafting, try not to intersperse your images with baby photos, you relaxing in Crete with hot dog legs or shots of how messy your kitchen is. If you’re seriously into building an identity, consider opening a personal account for those photos to keep your crafting feed free of cluttered, off-topic images. Try using a similar background, filter or style on all your photos to expand that theme further.

LIGHT & SIMPLICITY.

Depending on the look your going for, a plain background, a decent camera (smartphone or otherwise) and a lot of light is all you need. Try and keep your photo area free of mess, cat hair and pieces of cereal (unless that’s your aesthetic in which case, go you) and stake out the sunniest area of your home to be your go-to photo-taking zone. I use a south-facing glassed in balcony (yes, it is hot in summer) to take my photos because the light there is blinding (in both senses of the word) even on cloudy days. I lay my background down on the floor, arrange my object and off I go. My studio is also very bright, so it’s great for impromptu shots. Speaking of unwanted bits of mess in your photos, I recently took a photo that looked incredible – I was convinced I was the daughter of David Bailey for a good moment – I uploaded it and waited for the hoardes of people to gasp at my talent and offer me contracts, until I noticed that there was whacking great black HAIR and a random bead in the background. Fail. FYI, for my coloured backgrounds I use plain A2-sized paper from my local craft shop. Cheap and effective.

PROP YOURSELF UP

Props can add character to your shots. Lets face it, Instagram is chock full of beigeness, marbled or wooden backgrounds and… White. They look lovely, and it’s important for your image to have little to no distractions from the object you want to show off, but adding a well-placed object that matches your theme can make your viewers really see the personality behind your work. I know plonking a cactus next to a crocheted thing is very trite, but it looks great, and if you really love plants (hi) it can add something special. Do you design kids items? Try and get a child you know to pop their cute feet in frame (obviously you’ll have to bribe them) to personalise it. Or how about a vintage children’s book or toy? Do you make home decor? Well, use your entire home to show off that lovely blanket… You get the idea!

SEE ME WITH THEM HANDS

Did you know that #handsinframe is huge? This hashtag is an awesome way of showing your talented mitts actually ‘making’ and working on that special something. No matter if you’re knitting, crocheting, Fimo clay sculpting or simply writing a note on a packing slip, this type of image is another way to make your photos rise above the rest. Some people photo their hands by stuffing their phone between their knockers, others balance them on shelves above their heads (careful, bruv), but if you plan on doing this on the regular, invest in a useful phone-holding contraption. These odd-looking holders securely clamp onto surfaces and hold your phone tightly, leaving you free to shoot your hands, beautiful face, or your face and head covered with yarn like I did once, weirdly.

GET INSPIRED BUT BE YOU

Look around other people’s feeds to see what they’re up to. This doesn’t mean copying (please, don’t copy other people, it’s shitty behaviour), but getting inspired – there’s a big difference. Along with flicking through design magazines, doing this keeps you up to date with trends, what’s happening in your creative community, and gives you ideas on how to adapt these hot looks to your own style. It takes a while to develop your own aesthetic and really make it pop, but once you discover it, stick to it and watch it grow – you’ll really feel great!

Do you have any tips on how to take incredible-looking photos? Let me know!

Article · Yarn Reviews

Acrylic Yarn – The 700g Itch

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Acrylic, synthetic, no matter how you prefer to call it, man-made vs. natural yarn is a hot issue in the word of fiber art. Not potential war with North Korea hot, but pretty hot.

I think it’s fair to say though, that if the average knitter* or crocheter was offered 100g of synthetic yarn or 100g of cashmere/alpaca mix yarn, the latter would be the choice. Natural yarn is almost always seen as the best choice for any craft, and a lot of makers see the slightly annoying task of hand-washing delicate fabrics as a worthy trade off for working with a material that is animal or plant based, not made from anything artifical and usually pretty lovely to touch.

*Forgive me if I sometimes only use the word ‘knitter’, but I’m trying to avoid typing ‘knitter/crocheter/weaver/etc’ all the time because, obviously.

Then there are others who cannot work with or use animals fibers (shout out to the vegans and allergic people) to whom acrylic yarns are life and the difference between crafting or not.

I did a little Instagram poll recently where I asked my followers a few questions about their feelings towards our acrylic-y friends.

“Here we go…” I thought, “The synthetic-bashers are going to come out in force with this one” but surprisingly to me at least, 61% of people asked said that they are a fan of acrylic, and 57% said that 50/50 (acrylic & natural) yarns are also great. 43% of those asked said that even if the yarn was mixed with natural fibres they still wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole, and 39% said that acrylic was basically “ugh!”.

Sorry to use a particularly trendy and irritating word, but I was SHOOK!

I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that normally when I scroll through my feeds on social media that natural fibres are the ones that get most of the praise. You don’t usually see folk proudly holding up their 100% acrylic chunky yarn proclaiming, “Look at this babe I found in my #LYS! I cant wait to get my mitts on this!” – unless they are sponsored, or sent it for free, and I can’t criticize, but then again I’m a fan of acrylics – that kind of talk is almost always used for your expensive hanks of 100% angora, am I right? My conclusion is that maybe using acrylic is seen as a sneaky, ‘guilty pleasure’ by some people and/or maybe it isn’t as photo worthy as those lovely natural skeins, or perhaps it’s just that, no matter how much synthetic yarns have improved in recent years, it’s still seen as a nasty, crunchy, filling-irritating. cheap, neon green ball of nastiness only used by beginner knitters who don’t know any better (we’ve all been there, guys) or cantankerous great-aunts who insist on making appalling cardigans for you that make you sweat just by looking at them.

Which brings me on to the next part. The fact that there’s acrylic and then there’s acrylic (the latter said in a slow, accusatory tone, obvs).

Let’s make it easier and take a look at the positives and negatives of synthetic/synthetic mix yarns.

Positives

Price

Undoubtedly it is cheaper to buy acrylic yarn than natural yarn, with some exceptions. For those of us who have to count the pennies and need to watch what we spend on our yarn hauls, buying synthetic is a good way of still being able to shop for that sexy yarn and fill those bags and not break the bank.

It’s a positive addition to other yarn compositions

Cotton, for example, is the high-maintainence chick of the yarn world. It’s unforgiving, stretches out easily and is a pain in the backside to use if you make garments, things that need cuffs, ribbing… It’s However, when combined with a synthetic material such as polyester, it can gain a bit in terms of stretch and take on some wool-like characteristics that make it a lot better and more versatile to work with.

It’s ideal for people with allergies/animal-free lifestyle choices

Whether you are a maker who chooses not to use animal fibres in your work, or you are making something for a person who has a wool allergy or is following a vegan/veggie lifestyle, you can still create fantastic handmade treats for them. The same goes for plant-based yarns as well, of course.

Premium acrylics

It’s unfair to say that all acrylic is that kind used by that nasty auntie I mentioned earlier. There are some simply beautiful acrylic yarns on the market, some of which I was kindly sent to review by Stylecraft Yarns recently (You can find a mini-review later on in this post).  Premiums are a world away from scratchy, cheap versions.

Durability

Especially when you make items for children, durability is key. Synthetic yarns tend to be hard wearing, machine washable and easy to care for – although don’t iron them, ever!

Negatives

That itch I mentioned, and the sweat

Probably the number one issue people have with Mr. Acryl and his sisters Poly and Ester is the itchiness, sweatiness and general lack of breathability acrylic yarns have. No matter how high-quality the synthetic yarn is, you can’t replicate that fantastic breathability of natural fibres. Let’s be honest though, 100% wool garments can also give you the itch (itchy pits alert!), so it depends on the quality of the yarn you are using.

Pilling, shine and the “halo”

Nothing to do with Beyonce here, she’d obviously be 100% organic silk if she was a skein of yarn, but the halo I’m talking about is tht unpleasant ‘glow’ that hovers around acrylic yarns. Slightly fuzzy and cheap-looking, it is a good way of telling whether a garment is synthetic or not. We aren’t talking that sweet halo you get with angora or fluffy natural yarns. Pilling is when fabrics bobble up with wear, and although these bobbles can be removed with a special tool, it’s inconvenient and makes items look tatty. Thirdly, synthetics can have a pretty horrible shine to them which can look bad. Maybe that is a matter of taste, though. I’m not so keen on it.

So what can we gather from all this, yarn people? The fact is that there are good and bad things with all types of yarn, and acrylic just happens to be one of them. The moral of this story is, as long as you are in love with what you are making and are enjoying yourself, that’s all that matters.

If you’re interested in checking out some fabulous quality synthetic/synthetic mix yarns, here are a few examples of the best I’ve tried so far in three weights from 2-ply to aran, and no sweaty Betty in sight!

Schachenmayr (try saying that with your mouth full) Baby Smiles Suavel

Composition: 100% Acrylic
Yarn Weight: 2 ply
Yarn ball weight: 50g

Buy it at: Loveknitting

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A genuinely awesome yarn, completely chemical-free and the ideal choice for lighter babywear. It comes in a wide selection of muted colours, typical baby shades and some brighter options. Try it out on a romper, mid-season sweater or a newborn hat. So soft!

Stylecraft Bambino DK

Composition: 100% Acrylic
Yarn Weight: DK
Yarn ball weight: 100g

Katia Merino Tweed

Composition: 51% Merino, 43% Acrylic, 6% Viscose
Yarn Weight: Aran
Yarn ball weight: 50g

You could have fooled me that this contains ANY man-made fibre, to be fair. This is the softest acrylic mix yarn I’ve ever tried, and I love the wonderful flecks of material that give this yarn a really cute and traditional look. Good for garments that need a ‘rural’ look (it makes me think of posh people in the countryside called ‘Bunty’ or ‘Julian’ wearing wellies and walking Labradors – I mean TWEED – of course you would). A wonderful Aran that makes for a quick knit and a warm garment.

I’m excited to hear your opinions and views. Are there any synthetic yarns that have totally impressed you, or totally made your teeth itch? Let me know via the contact form or on Instagram and I’ll share your views in a future post!