Sunday, 25 January 2015

Special but not in a good way

It's been a bit of a stressful week, mainly due to my own nature which DH kindly deems 'special' but in the past others have not been so kind.  All my life I have been much more bothered by environmental stimuli such as temperature, noise, draughts, perfumes, bright lights, crowds, sudden noises etc., than most of the people around me. Several years ago I found out about research into the trait of high sensitivity and it was like a lightbulb had gone on -  finally there was a name for people like me and I wasn't the only one.

As an adult I can generally manage my exposure to my environment to cater for my own preferences. I've also managed to habituate myself to the stresses of an open plan office - it still makes me uncomfortable but I've learned coping strategies and am able to function, or at least pretend to function (team days, ick!), normally.

But this week I've been subjected to noise that is outside my control and that I can't get away from, which is the worst kind for me. We've discovered there is a recording studio next door to our new house that we didn't know about when we bought six months ago.  And what's changed is that they've taken on additional space in the little Victorian industrial unit next door, and this week started playing amplified heavy metal music in the new non-soundproofed space. It went on until midnight the first day, and most of the second day until I went round to complain.  Since then it's been  much better, although we had one more night where it was going on until 10pm. It will remain to be seen if that overt noise continues, and if I have to complain to the Council.

But meanwhile, now that I know the studio exists, it has explained why we could often hear faint bass music reverberating the windows of our house. We thought it was some pub off in the far distance that occasionally had live bands. Now I know it is coming from the soundproofed portion of the studio right next door and it has been driving me crazy, thudding away just below the level of my hearing, all day and into the evening.  I don't know if they've stepped up their activity suddenly because I never used to notice it this much.  Of course, it's not bothering DH at all because the thumping is so quiet, and I'm sure a Noise Control Officer wouldn't think I had a case at all.  The studio's website says they're open seven days a week until 10pm, so I'm dreading that this is going to become the new normal.  Perhaps I shall get used to it. I suppose it is going to be intermittent depending on what clients they have in the studio.

The other thing that happened this week is that, before the dust has even settled on the last round of redundancies, we've been told at work that there will be more.  The company is still having financial difficulties and we've got a new CEO who has announced plans for major costcutting. It's too early to know yet what the impact will be on my team but it seems likely that we'll be combined with other similar teams and probably have to compete for our own jobs at some point in the next few months. All's we can do for now is wait and see.

The sane world of crafts

Thank heavens for crafting and the opportunity to use our creativity and relax.

This week I decided to paint our hideous dark brown MDF TV stand, that we bought cheap to use in the rental house and now can't afford to replace.  I had just enough chalk paint left over from painting the linen cupboard and hall table to give the TV stand a couple of coats, and I covered the flat surfaces in stick-on Fablon to resist scratching from the electronic equipment. Still not a thing of beauty but at least it looks less like a dark blob squatting in the corner of the lounge.

I found out at my next bobbin lace lesson that the book I was learning from at home was American and therefore I'd learned some incorrect terminology, so I've had to learn different names for the stitches.  She set us beginners an exercise to do a candle shape in Torchon lace.  I brought it home to work on but struggled because the directions aren't very precise and I hadn't thought of taking a picture of the original for reference. So I don't think the 'flame' part has come out the way it should have done, but I'll find out next lesson. I suppose I could have stopped and waited, but I wanted to move on and do some more practicing. I am going to make a cover for my second pillow today, so that I'll be able to work on a classroom project and my own projects at the same time.

On the knitting front, I had to pull out my first attempt at the Mixalot sock because I tried on the Medium and it was coming out huge.  I've started over and cut out a full repeat, and will try it on again when I get to a few inches.

I blocked my little machine knit baby cardigan and then gave it a steam press.

I've been sewing it together the last few evenings and it looks pretty respectable. I just need to press the last couple of seams and put some buttons on it. It's not perfect when you look closely but a reasonable first attempt as I try to get back into machine knitting.  I'm going to knit it again in 'boy' colours for an ex-colleague who is due in March. This is a first size, in a superwash 4-ply pure wool.

I've knit a bit more on the Aran Sampler jumper and have divided for the neckline now. I'm making the neckline deeper than the pattern's crew neck. I'm also halfway up the right front of the Cabled Cardigan, making buttonholes as I go.

On the weight loss front, I've made it back down to 11 stone (134 pounds) so I can now take my body measurements to fabricate the cover for my dressmaker's mannequin.  The idea is that you make a zip-on cover which is skin tight on you, then pad out the mannequin and zip the cover onto it to create your body double.  We'll see.  In the Craftsy video, they do it all with a skilled helper to take measurements and pin fit the cover on the model, which I think may be beyond DH's skill level.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

We return you to our normal programming

I've had a really crafty week.  The kind of week that used to happen a lot, up until two years ago when we decided we wanted to move house. With DS gone back to uni, and it being too cold to do much DIY inside or out, I've spent hours and hours just working on hobbies.  And it felt great, but a bit strange at the same time.

So this week I've done curtainmaking, started learning bobbin lace, sewed bobbin lace accessories, done handknitting and machine knitting. I've made loads of mistakes, learned lots of new things, and exercised parts of my brain that have been pretty dormant for a long time.

Bobbin Lace

Just before Christmas I heard about a short course introducing Bobbin Lace, being offered at a centre about eight minutes walk from my house. Bobbin Lace is something I've always wanted to try, and over the last 20 years I've collected parts from two Dryad starter kits (found at boot sales), several books, and some bits and bobs like spangle beads and pins. I had my first two hour lesson (of five) last week, and I really enjoyed it. There are five of us on the course, three continuing on from last term and two of us absolute beginners.  All the others had elaborate lacemaking kit which immediately awoke my gadget girl collector's envy. The teacher is really nice and showed us two beginners how to wind bobbins (she lent me hers to begin with) and how to do cloth stitch, and got us started on our first pattern which was to make a snake using cloth stitch. I did about an inch in class and then brought it home as homework.  I was enjoying it so much that I finished it the next morning.

Meanwhile I dug through my stash to pull together the long-hoarded bobbin lace kit.  Altogether I have 29 pairs of plastic or basic wooden bobbins, which all needed spangling - that's the circle of beads attached to one end which helps the bobbin lie flat in use.  So I spent several hours threading wire through beads and attaching it to the bobbins - but I had to go out and raid the local charity shops to find some more bead necklaces to break up as I was running out of big beads.

After that painstaking task, I sewed a cover for one of the foam Dryad flat pillows, and hemmed a work cloth to use with it.  To protect my newly-spangled bobbins, I sewed a bobbin-holding case which will hold 32 pairs.  I used curtain tieback Pellon for the stiff covers, and wide waistband elastic to hold the bobbins.  The binding is doubled French binding and I used the leftover binding strips to sew ties to hold it closed. I didn't have a pattern as such but I looked at a few online to see what others were using. It was good sewing practice as well.

Finally I was ready to try some more lace using my very own tools. I have a beginner's book called 'Lessons on Bobbin Lacemaking' by Dorothy Southard (Dover) so I started learning stitches out of that and had a go at a simple practice braid using different stitches.

I think Dorothy must be/have been American, so hopefully I'm not learning to do things differently than the teacher would have shown me. I'll find out at the next lesson! She seems pretty laid back so I don't think she'll mind that I've gone ahead on my own.

Having learned the three stitches (cloth stitch, whole throw, and half throw), I wanted to tackle my first piece of 'real' lace.  Dorothy calls this the Crown and Triangle edging, and it was really fun to do once I worked out which threads were going where and in which order.

I doubt this is going to become a main hobby for me, at least not to the point where I am going to spend £3.50-£10 collecting individual bobbins like the teacher. But I would like to be able to tackle some miniature lace for the dollshouse - I've got a book somewhere on how to do that and make little mats, antimacassars etc.  In the meantime it's been really fun to learn something new.

Curtainmaking is hard

At the opposite end of the 'fun' spectrum, I slogged through several more hours of seaming, pressing and hemming and finally finished the cellar stairs curtain.

Although the Laura Ashley book of furnishing describes this as a 'simple' curtain, it probably took me up to 10 hours to make and has wholly solidified my intention to pay someone else to make all the Roman Blinds we will need in this house. It's just really hard to wrestle a 2.2m square piece of heavy fabric, made heavier with a thermal lining and weights in the hem. It's hard to cut an accurate square that big in the first place - and my lining hem is wonky by about an inch because of that. It's hard to accurately press all the hems and seams, and it took about an hour just to handsew the bottom curtain  hem. The task was not made easier by  having to piece together three pieces of curtain fabric and four pieces of lining to get to the right size (the lining is my own fault, I didn't order enough).  But it's done, and it's doing the job apart from it doesn't hang right up to the walls very well because of the fittings supporting the pole. It looks pretty good from this distance  :)

Hand knitting

This week I finished the left front of the Cabled Cardigan and I've blocked it in preparation for marking where I want the button holes.  I was a bit stymied when I got to the shoulders and found the directions wanted me to keep knitting the neckband. I've not done a cardigan that way before, but I can see how it will work to flow the cable around the neckline. I've left the neckband stitches on a pin in case I need to make it longer or shorter.

Meanwhile I then needed a new portable project, so I started the Mixalot Sock by Rachel Coopey. This pattern has been featured in full page ads for a yarn company in UK knitting magazines, and is essentially stripes of different colours each featuring one of four lace patterns. It looked like a great way to use up my many balls of leftover sock yarn. I started it on my Wednesday commute but by Thursday I could see that the  medium size was going to be far too loose on me. So I've pulled that out and re-started with fewer stitches. Haven't photographed as it doesn't look like anything yet.

I finally finally finished the endless stockinette of the Low Tide Cardigan body in sock yarn. A really tedious knit.  I tried it on and I am not convinced this is going to be a success.  The v-shaped lace yoke is bulging strangely on my back. Other Ravellers have reported fit problems so I am not optimistic.  I've measured the armhole size and calculated how many stitches to pick up which is different from the pattern because the yoke is stretching on me. So I will have to increase as I pick up the live stitches.

I've knit a bit more on the Aran Sampler Pullover, but still on the section above the armholes. I will need to decide how I'm going to do the neckline soon, the pattern neck is too high for me.

Machine knitting

I have persevered and completed the two fronts, and two sleeves for the little practice baby cardigan I am knitting in fuschia pink.  Today I tackled knitting the front buttonhole bands, which took ages and was exhausting.  There are some things which just aren't that easy or quick on a machine compared to handknitting.  I also re-learned how to use my Hague Linker after a few false starts - that's a machine that chain stitches live stitches down onto the knitted fabric, to give a neat finish to the folded knitted bands.  Now I just need to do the neckbands, darn in some loose ends and then I can block the pieces ready for seaming.  I haven't photographed them yet as machine knitting tends to curl up a lot more than handknitting so at the moment they just look like fuschia pink sausages.

Hopefully I will end up with a cardigan that's reasonably adequate to give away to someone.  Then I am going to knit something for an ex-colleague who is pregnant with a baby boy. I need to have it done before the 15th of March when she is having a baby shower.  I'm not going but one of my current colleagues will take the gift along for me.

Edible craft

I made my first bubble tea at home today!  We like it so much when we have it at Oxford that I looked up how to do it.  I used this recipe here, and some boba pearls that I  mail ordered from an online Asian shop. I used Jasmine Green Tea bags, and flavoured it with fresh squeezed lemon juice.  It was pretty good!  Will definitely make again, and would be so refreshing on a hot day.  Today it is hovering at freezing but it is lovely and sunny.

Hope you've had a good week too!

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Faux paper tiled fireplace hearth

In which I apply dollshouse techniques to the real world  :)

The cute Victorian cast-iron fireplace in my bedroom had been given a quite ugly makeshift hearth by the previous owners, who had just stuck down some slate tiles and put a wooden border around them.  We had that pulled up and I scraped off the tile adhesive, but that left me with an unattractive concrete slab flush with the floorboards.

For a while I thought I was going to re-tile with some replica Victorian tiles, but once my bedroom was finally re-painted and the furniture arranged, the hearth has ended up right in a traffic route leading to the ensuite.  Tiles would raise it up to toe-stubbing level above the floorboards.

Eventually it occurred to me that the only way to have 'tiles' that were level with the floor would be to use a faux decoupage tile glued to the hearth slab.  This is the technique we often use in the miniature world, to create an effect that looks in scale.  I spent some more time looking for gift wrap or wallpaper featuring tiles and although there are quite a few designs, I couldn't find anything I liked.

I eventually realised (yes, slow thinker here) that I could just make my own tiles. I cut out a portion of a mosaic image I found online, made it square using Photoshop, and printed out lots of copies on my inkjet printer. I let them dry then sprayed them with a coat of clear sealer. Then I  cut out individual tiles with the help of a paper cutter. I left a sliver border of white around them to help with spacing.

Meanwhile I painted the concrete slab white with three coats of smooth masonry paint.

I 'tiled' the hearth just like you would with real tiles, cutting the end tiles in half to get even spacing across the hearth. I painted the back of each tile with PVA adhesive using a foam brush, and the neat trick of using a new clean page in a magazine each time as a glue palette.  The PVA stuck the 'tiles' down really well.  When I got to the curved bits around the cast iron, I creased the paper with my finger nail then cut it to shape with scissors.

The end effect does look like tiles from a short distance, although I did have a bit of trouble keeping the 'grout' lines even.

It helps a lot that my inkjet printer is a bit knackered so the colour on random tiles is a bit mottled.  After taking this picture, I let the tiles dry overnight then gave them three coats of Ronseal Clear Floor Varnish left over from refinishing the floorboards downstairs.

Humorous aside: DH was really confused when I showed him my 'tiled' hearth because he couldn't remember when we had bought those ceramic tiles.


I finished the back on my Cabled Cardigan.  I really like this Eco Debbie Bliss yarn, it's soft and yet has good stitch definition.  I've started the left front now and am halfway to the armhole.

I've made it past the armholes on the Aran Sampler pullover.  I decided to give it a modified drop shoulder as I know the pattern's drop shoulder would be really unflattering.  I'm also leaning towards doing a plain back and plain sleeves, because I think if I do the whole pullover in this bobbly pattern then I am going to look like I'm wearing a fat suit.

I've done a bit more machine knitting, completing the two fronts for the little baby cardigan I am knitting.  They went much better, it's starting to feel slightly more natural.  Although the on-board sensor still seems to be working because the exact moment I started thinking "Hey, this is fun!" then I immediately dropped the stitch I was moving to a new needle to decrease, dropped the stitch I had already decreased and suddenly had armageddon on the armhole.


Although Christmas has come and gone, I've decided to make a table topper from a book called Deck the Halls - Quilts to Celebrate Christmas by Cheryl Almgren Taylor (That Patchwork Place). I'm actually combining two table topper designs, using the appliqued 'presents' from one and the candy cane border from another.  I'm still having trouble sewing an exact seam allowance, I'm wondering if my quarter-inch foot has gone out of calibration. It was fun going into my 'walk in fabric closet' to pick the fabrics for this project, that part of my new sewing room is working really well.

But today I put the christmas project to one side (well, actually I put it on the floor because I am short on table space) to start sewing a curtain to stop the drafts coming up the cellar stairs.  I'm making it out of the final remnants of about eight miles of Sanderson Morris 'Willow' pattern fabric that we inherited with our first house almost 25 years ago. In its time, this fabric has been drapes, sun canopies in the garden to protect the baby, upholstery fabric for an Ottoman, lining for handbags, and there was still just enough left to piece together into a 2.2m x 2m curtain.  It sure is awkward trying to wrestle that much fabric on and off the ironing and sewing tables though.  I've bought some combined lining/interlining to use, to make it thermally efficient, and I'm just going to do a simple bagged lining. The hardest part is doing all the calculations, hopefully I've got it right and it will be the right size.

The house is ours again

We took DS back to Oxford today and moved him back into his room.  Much as we love him, it feels nice to have the house back again. I should have more time now as well, less cooking and picking up after him. After we took him to lunch and forcibly bought him a new pair of trainers to replace the ones his toes were hanging out of (I made him wear the new ones out of the shop so I knew the old ones had gone in the bin), we had a lovely long walk.  All along the Thames on the opposite side to the boathouses, with lovely views across Christchurch Meadows to the colleges. Then back over the Thames on the Doddington Road, and back into Oxford on the Iffley Road arriving eventually at Magdelan College. It felt like several miles and it was a lovely sunny day.  We rewarded ourselves with a nice glass of Bubble Tea at the peaceful sanctuary of Formosa Tea Room, then headed home.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Waddling into the new year

Happy new year and best wishes for 2015. I don't go back to work until Wednesday so I still feel a bit like I am on holiday. However I'm conscious that the couple of weeks off have not been very good for me.  I weighed myself as I still try to do every few weeks since our diet in 2014, and I've put on six pounds (over 3 kilos) after all the good (bad) eating in December.  Time to cut back but it's hard to do until DS goes back to uni in a week because he keeps wanting sweets and biscuits in the house and we have no willpower. At least we have finally eaten our way through all the Christmas food and chocolate.

The other bad habits I have fallen back into, are staying up and sleeping in really late. I've been galloping through the Game of Thrones series catch-up which was screened on Sky Atlantic over the holiday, watching three or four episodes a night while I knit.  I'd only seen series one before  we switched away from Sky a few years ago and lost access to Sky Atlantic.  I'm now midway through series three and really enjoying it. Although I'm trying not to get too attached to any of the characters because DS (who has read the books) has warned me that the author likes to kill off his main characters.  No spoilers please.

I've also become re-hooked on my son's video game 'Skyrim' on our ancient Xbox 360. I started a new character who mainly uses magic, which makes it quite a different playing experience from my previous character who was a walking  tank.  So a typical holiday day has been getting up at 9 or 9:30am, doing a bit of work during the day then settling down to Skyrim for a few hours in the afternoon before spending the evening watching Game of Thrones and going to bed around 1am. No wonder I've put on six pounds!  I need to phase back in early mornings to get ready for the 6:30am start on Wednesday, groan.

I went to the doctor again about my wrist, and we now think it's actually Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Which is a heck of a lot better than rheumatoid arthritis.  I've got to have a nerve conduction test at the hospital before they can decide treatment - apparently you start with a steroid injection and if that doesn't work then surgery.  Meanwhile I've discovered that if I sleep with a brace on my right hand, it reduces the severity of the symptoms considerably.  So I'm back to lots of knitting, hurrah!

New year's resolutions

Do you make resolutions?  And do you follow through with them?  I rarely make them, but I was thinking about it today because I was listening to some podcasts while I was quilting and they were all talking about plans for 2015.  Obviously we need to keep working on the house, but I think this year I would like to learn to take better pictures for my blog.  Generally when I finish something, I just want to quickly snap a photo to make it official and it isn't until later that I notice all the wrinkles in the item, the distracting background, the shadows, bad lighting, blurs etc.  I've been reading articles online about photographing knits, they all bang on about using natural light without giving much real advice on how to do that in grey rainy England when typically you are photographing things indoors.  Also they advise to use neutral or white backgrounds, with side light. We don't have any empty walls that have a window to the side of them. For smaller items like dollshouse miniatures, it looks like good advice to create a homemade 'light tent' to give diffuse light so I might have a go at that.

This could also be the year we both look for new jobs with shorter commutes, now that we are settled in the new house. I still need to lose some more weight (plus I need to lose the extra six pounds!).  And I want to use up stash in all my hobbies over the next few years, either making it into things, selling it, or giving it away.  A house move really focuses the mind on how much stuff one has, and as a natural hoarder I have a lot of things 'just in case' that realistically I am never going to use or that aren't even my taste. Our new garden needs a complete redesign, and while we can't afford to have any professional work done, we could do a lot ourselves once I work out what I want it to look like. So lots to look forward to in 2015.


I finished my Itineris Shawl early in the week.  It's such a simple design yet fairly effective even though my two yarns have low contrast. However, I was on the home stretch of the side border before I suddenly realised that I've been doing the stripe pattern wrong the whole time.  I thought it was 'six fat stripes, six skinny stripes' when actually I should have been knitting 'seven fat stripes and five skinny stripes'. It's probably a good thing though because I ran out of the Socks That Rock yarn an inch before the end tip, and had to go back and change some fat stripes to thin stripes to introduce more contrast yarn.  If I had been knitting seven fat stripes I would have run out much earlier. The shawl, being garter stitch, has quite a heft to it and is fairly warm, while the side border helps reduce the 'giant arrow pointing at my bum' effect of a triangular shawl.

I've started a new cabled cardigan by Debbie Bliss, using her Eco cotton yarn in dusty pink from my stash and a pattern from her Eco Fairtrade Collection book. I bought the yarn years ago when she spoke at the I-Knit Weekender event in London.  The I-Knit shop took a break from events for a few years but has now announced the 'I-Knit Fandango' weekend 15-16 May in London, I've booked my ticket already.  The Weekender used to be a nice event, a good size yet with a really friendly hang-out feel. Anyway, I'm enjoying knitting with this Aran weight yarn after the sock yarn shawl.

I've done some more quilting and finished the final two blocks for my Star Sampler quilt.  These are the Indian Hatchet design. I still feel really out of practice though, nothing is very precise and I'm having to deal with lots of floating points plus a few cut off points.

This means that all the blocks are pieced now and I just need join them together and fill in the inner and outer borders in the same background fabric.

I also made a basic sewing machine cover for my Janome 6500 because it's never had one. I used some fabric that's been in my stash for ages because it was too good to use on other things. I had some leftover dotty strip from the binding, so I made it into a fabric rosette as an embellishment.

I'm  trying to re-learn how to machine knit, a very frustrating process.  It's terrible knowing that you used to be quite good at something, but now you are fumbling the most basic techniques.  I sat in front of the Brother 881 and worked my way through the manual, trying out various things. I ran into an immediate problem with my carriage which has gummed up, meaning one of the cams doesn't want to relax from KC back to normal knitting.  It took me about 30 or 40 minutes to work out why my carriage was repeatedly jamming and now I still have to take it off the rail and push the cam open with my finger when I switch from patterning to normal knitting.  I've put some oil on it so hopefully it will loosen up. This equipment is probably 40 years old or more now so it's all wearing out.

So I'm starting with a basic baby's cardigan with a picked up picot hem, just to practice the basic techniques like casting on, decreasing, picking up stitches, knitting on bands etc.  It took me two attempts to make the picot hem but I managed to finish the back today. I'm using a Forsell Superwash wool 4-ply in fuschia pink.


There's a new antiques centre opened up in town, which we stumbled across on a New Year's Eve afternoon walk.  I picked up some very cheap vases and a bowl, and some lovely chintzy plates. Then I spotted this amazing beaded embroidery, very Victorian in style although I'm not sure how old it is.

Everything that isn't green in the design is actually beads.  Most of it is in quite good condition, but some of the threads are broken and I will need to repair it. An amazing piece of work. I wonder what talented woman stitched it in years past?

I'm not sure if we will use it on a mantle or I might use it in my bedroom once it is repaired.

With best wishes to you and yours in 2015.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Happy Christmas!

It's Saturday and tonight we finally finished the leftovers from Christmas dinner on Thursday, hurrah! Still have bucketloads of sweets, cake, mince pies, gingerbread house and cookies, marshmallows, wine, mulled wine etc. etc. etc. to get through. 'Tis the season to live on sugar and all that.

Christmas in the new house went very well, the in-laws were very impressed with how much we had accomplished since their last visit in the autumn, and it was nice to have a proper guest room (a.k.a. Ds's room) for the first time ever. I made DS a bed in my knitting room in the attic and he was happy enough because there's an ethernet connection up there that we installed when the scaffolding was still up. All my menu plans worked out fine, we had enough groceries, and there was plenty of room at our new dining table for the five of us and all the Christmas dinner after we put one of the leaves into the table.

Our preferred Christmas would be much more self indulgent, with plenty of television, sleeping in, and hobbies, but with guests in the house we had to have more of a routine.  So we took them out for a walk both days, had regular meals, and watched family-friendly films.  They headed home on Boxing Day morning.  DS and I promptly retired back to our respective beds to catch up on sleep and then spent the rest of the day eating sweets, watching junk TV and playing on the internet, which felt much more like a holiday especially for me as I didn't have to do any more catering.

Before the guests came, DH and I went down to the railway embankment and gathered some greenery to decorate the house with.  I had a go at decorating our lounge mantel - something I've never done before and it's harder than it looks in the magazines.  It came out rather messy, but still looked quite festive.

While watching the films (Billy Elliott, and The Eagle) with the in-laws, and a few more with DS (re-watching Guardians of The Galaxy, my xmas present from DS [love Baby Groot!!!]; and Arthur Christmas, which was brilliant), I got quite a lot done on my Itineris Shawl. I've almost finished the border stripe now.

I also finished the Rowan Big Wool Cabled Hat and added a nice puffy pompom.  I wore this out to the sales today, it fits but I would like it if it covered my ears a bit more.

I fixed the defective knitting charts for my Aran Sampler Jumper and have knit through another set of charts for it. It's slow going though because my gauge is so tight and because of the twisted cable which is quite fiddly to do.

And I have even been (drum roll please) doing some quilting!  I hardly remember how to do it. My machine wasn't helping by stuffing the pieces down the plate every time I started a seam, but I changed the needle and it's behaving itself now.  I had put the Star Sampler Quilt up on the design wall, the quilt that I started in the rented house which is from 'Jelly Roll Sampler Quilts' by Pam & Nicky Lintott.  I went through the rest of the fabric in the bag trying to work out what I had been doing, and then cut out pieces for two "Love in the Mist" blocks in pale blue.  They've turned out fairly alright, although I can see now that the white flowers in the floral print are bleeding into the background too much so I will need to do something about that. That's one of the problems with working from jelly rolls, sometimes you are making do with fabric prints that aren't ideal. It felt good to be sewing again, even if it was a bit "oh yeah, I vaguely remember doing a lot of this a long time ago..." and good to be finally doing it in the new sewing room that I've been wishing for over the past two years.

I got some nice crafty Christmas presents:  some sharp new quilting pins in my stocking from DH, and he also got me a dressmaking mannequin on a stand, which I intend to customise to match my shape as per the instructions in the Craftsy video that I've been watching.  I need to sew a new cover for the mannequin first and I've sent away for one of the patterns that the instructor recommends for altering into a cover. My friend Anita gave me a great dollshouse kit for a 1:12 scale table, along with a nice selection of printies and accessories which was also wrapped in a nice house print fabric. M-i-l gave me some more nice fabric as wrapping on some new kitchen knives.

I hope you all had nice christmases also and that Santa brought you some crafting goodies.  Happy Christmas and best wishes for a happy new year, with lots of quality crafting time.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Ready for the holidays and Fudge Recipe

I finished work on Friday (yay!) and have spent the last few evenings and Saturday finishing preparations for the holidays:  lots of housecleaning to get ready for guests, a final big late-night grocery shop to avoid the crowds, finding homes for the remainder of the Christmas decorations, and starting to make Christmas treats.  I've invited my knitting group to come round this afternoon for a knit & natter, and we've also invited the previous owners of the house round in the week to see what we've done with the place, then the in-laws are coming for Christmas.  So hopefully one clean up will last through all the visitors.


I made the first batch of Christmas fudge, which is delicious but I think I had the pan a bit too hot so the fudge crystallised as I was pouring it into the pan.  Therefore it looks far too untidy to serve to guests and we will have to eat it all ourselves (Result! according to my son).  Here is our traditional family recipe:

- 3 cups light brown sugar (not dark brown, it doesn't work well)
- 3 Tb real butter (not marg)
- 1 cup milk (full fat - won't work with skim.  Works OK with 2% though)

Put all ingredients in a heavy bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring regularly to avoid sticking.  Bring up to a soft-ball temperature then immediately take off the heat and commence beating the mixture with a wooden spoon.  This is the part that is more of an art than a science.  Continue to beat until the mixture thickens,  and is just about to crystallise -  but about halfway through this cooling process beat in 1tsp vanilla extract.  At the right point in time, pour into a buttered 8" square pan.  Leave to cool and cut into squares while still warm.  Once cool, store in a sealed container, will keep several days but you'll probably eat it before then.

Notes:  I use a candy thermometer to see when I am getting close to the soft-ball temperature, but the real test is to drip a few bits of mixture into a glass of cold water, and push at the resulting blob with your finger.  It should hold its shape and resist your finger pressure but not actually be hard.  When beating the mixture, occasionally let some mixture wash up the pan side and let it drip down to see how thick it is.  When you are getting near the crystalisation point, the drips in the pan will be congealing and not dripping down any more.

Happy Christmas fudge making!

Here's our tree.

This is the quilted tree skirt I made a few years ago, with Santa and his reindeer

Christmas overmantle

Craft rooms

The last week I've been trying to lick my craft rooms into shape.  The sewing room is pretty much there apart from some tidying, and I also gave my handknitting room a good tidy up. I eventually removed some of the cube dividers because I prefer to keep balls of the same yarn together in bags and the bags didn't fit very well into a half-cube.

I've also been unpacking and assembling my knitting machines, although they need a lot more work to bring them into use.  The sponge bars are pretty much all shot, and the gubbins need a good cleaning and oiling.  It was rather challenging trying to find all the bits to put the machines back together, as clamps and brackets etc all seem to have ended up in various boxes - I don't know what I was thinking when I packed them away two years ago.  I've got two standard gauge machines: a Brother 881 and a Brother 950i (electronic) in the middle of the room, and then my chunky Brother 260 against the wall.  I may switch around the 260 and the 950i as the ports for the electronic machine are on the right side and the power point will be on the left.


This week I finished the furry fingerless mitts in Sirdar Ophelia to match the tam I made earlier. They're very soft and silky, but as it's an artificial fibre they aren't warm enough for really cold weather.

I also knit a Santa Hat from a pattern in Let's Knit magazine, which uses acrylic DK yarn for the body, and an eyelash yarn for the 'fur'.  I wore this to Tesco supermarket for our big shop last night, much to DH's embarrassment. It's very comfortable.

 I knit up a free kit that came with Simply Knitting magazine a while ago, for a little change purse. The kit provided the purse frame, and the wool (Cascade 220 superwash), buttons and lining are my own.  I found it very difficult to stitch the frame to the purse neatly, there must be an easier way?

And I've been working on a hat in Rowan Big Wool based on a pattern called 'Misty Mornings' which was in Let's Knit magazine but is originally from a book called 'Winter Knits Made Easy' published by DK.  I've pulled this back a few times to get the right number of stitches for my big head, and because I didn't like the effect of having six purl stitches between cables in this thick yarn.  I've cut that down to three purl stitches and increased the number of cables accordingly.  This means I'm having to improvise the crown decreases however. I've had this Rowan Big Wool in my stash for years so nice to be using it up.

I did get in to see the doctor about my hand on Monday.  He thinks it is likely rheumatoid arthritis and sent me for blood tests which came back negative for the RF factor.  But apparently about 30% of people test negative even when they have it, so I need to go back to see him again to see what the next step is.  The good news is that as far as I can tell from googling, it isn't going to make anything worse by knitting, and in fact many doctors have recommended their patients keep knitting to help keep their fingers supple.  So I don't have to restrain myself from knitting anymore, although I am trying to remember to take more breaks and to do finger stretches before and after.  So I was relieved about that and to read online that loads of people keep on knitting and crafting with RA although they have to adapt how and when they can do things depending on symptoms. I was afraid that I had a house full of stash in various hobbies that I wouldn't be able to use up!

Happy Christmas! Hope Santa is packing lots of crafty goodies to bring you on Thursday.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Feeling Christmassy

Yes, it is beginning to feel a bit like Christmas. DS is home from uni for the holidays, and I only have three working days left before I'm on holiday until the New Year.  Here's a shot of our hallway with the tinsel running up the stairs. I bought plain greenery-type tinsel, and decorated it with red bows and bits of fake holly bought from Wilkinsons. It looks surprisingly nice - DH says he feels like he's staying in a hotel for Christmas.

We were out last night at DH's office Christmas party, which is always a nice dinner followed by a disco generally at a hotel.  This year it was at a comfortable mid-range country house hotel and we stayed overnight so we didn't have to drive. We took Friday off and stopped in St Albans to visit their charming German Christmas Market next to the cathedral and did a bit of Christmas shopping, then went to the hotel early to relax in their swimming pool before getting ready.  The theme was 1960s, so I back-combed my hair for the first time in my life and, in another first, applied false eyelashes which miraculously stayed on all night although they felt very weird. My Agent 99-look was completed with a retro dress, white tights and white strappy heels, and a chunky white necklace I picked up at a church bazaar.  A lot of fun having a bit of a dance but we're both quite tired today as we don't have much stamina now that we are getting on  in years :)

On the way back today, we stopped into The Bramble Patch quilt shop so I could visit their Christmas quilting exhibition (DH settled in the cafe with a mince pie and coffee). This is a small exhibition of quilts made by students and customers.  There were several nice pieces but I was particularly taken by this quilt by Tracy Slavin which used a technique I'd not seen before, of crayon-tinted redwork designs (done in brown) with the embroidery carried right over onto pieced blocks.

The elaborate design is of a witch's kitchen and with no disrespect to Tracy, struck me as probably a copy made from an American pattern (there was no attribution given on the quilt labels).  A bit of Googling when I got home, and I tracked the pattern down:  it is "Calendula Patterdrip's Cottage" from Crabapple Hill Studio.  I rarely try embroidery so I wasn't familiar with the designers but they have some some lovely patterns.  I've ordered this pattern now and also a Christmas design. It may be beyond my skill level however.

I also liked this quilt which I'm guessing might be pieced from vintage linens rather than newly embroidered.

And in the coffee shop they had class samples displayed, where I quite liked this embroidered townscape by Gillian Travis,  It's for a class in May but on a weekday so I couldn't get there. It would be fun to try something similar.

After that we headed for home, but stopped and bought the Christmas tree on the way. We wanted a big one to take advantage of our tall ceilings, as usual we overestimated and had to cut off the top foot of the bare stem at the top to fit the tree in. Looks good though and we will decorate it over the next few days.


Knitting has been a bit intermittent as I've been having quite a bit of soreness in my hands, particularly the right one.  I've now got a doctor's appointment for next week.

I finished my Seven pointed Star Tam which I blocked over a dinner plate.  I'm really pleased with it.

I'll have to wait for a warmer day to wear it, in the colder temperatures we are currently having, I need to have my ears fully covered.

Sewing room

This week I put together the design wall for my sewing room.  First of all I duct-taped the eight expanded polystyrene insulation panels together in our front room. It was great to have enough space to lay out the panels - I couldn't have done that at our old house.  However, the flaw in this plan was that the resulting panel was too big to get down the stairs into the cellar so had to be folded in two even though I had already taped the flannel cover onto it.  Luckily it all held together somehow - hurrah for duct tape.

The cover was done on the cheap, so it's a king-sized brushed flannel sheet with the elastic corners cut off, and the resulting squares patched in with additional flannel cut from a matching single sheet.  The flannel is stretched tight and held with pins into the polystyrene around the edges, and also duct-taped at the back.  The entire structure is held to the back of the bookcases with screws through cup washers.  It's all a bit low tech but is so much better than what I used to work on.

The blocks are from the jellyroll quilt that I started while we were at the rental house, which have been languishing in a bag for the last several months.  I hope to start work on it again, possibly over the holidays.

Season's Greetings to you and yours!

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