Wednesday, 26 December 2007

My 100th post (or is it....?) & Give-away

I thought this was my 100th post because it was showing 99 last time I checked, but today it says I had 100 already, so who knows. Anyway, it is a milestone, and I would like to thank Swooze for getting me started back in March 2007. I have found blogging to be a really positive discipline, in that it helps me get things done (constantly thinking, must take a picture for the blog) and also helps me to look back and see what I have accomplished (for those darker days where you feel like you are never achieving anything). It has also been a fun way to show pics to online friends so that they can see what I am working on, and even to keep in touch with friends further away who wonder what I am up to.

In keeping with blogging tradition, I am offering a giveaway. The prize was a bit difficult, as most quilting stuff in this country is imported from the USA, but then I remembered that I have a whole scrap basket of Liberty printed cottons. So for everyone who leaves a comment on this blog before 1st January 2008, I will put your name in a hat and pull out one winner at random. The prize will be 25 charm squares (4.5") of genuine UK printed Liberty cottons. I will try to cut these with no duplicates, but if I don't have enough prints there may be some duplication. The table runner in the picture was made using prints from this Liberty collection.

I hope you all had a good day yesterday. We had a lovely relaxing day with lots of chocolate, good food, family games and television, and of course present opening. Ds gave me a cross-stitch magazine and dh gave me a copy of Quiltmania in my stocking, as well as a few packs of FQs and a pack of safety pins. I also received a daylight craft lamp and some dollshouse clamps, micro drills and needlenose pliers. Today we are off down to the in-laws for second Christmas at their house, and my sister-in-law and dh's uncle will also be there.

Meanwhile, I finished a pair of mittens and wore them for a walk on Christmas Eve. It was lovely looking into everyone's windows and seeing all the christmas lights and trees. Being close to London as we are, very few people have a big yard so you are literally looking in their front windows as you walk along the pavement. I probably sound like a peeping tom but I'm not, really!

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Yay, off work until Christmas now

Today was my last day up in London until after Christmas - yay! Now I can turn my attention to way more important things like figuring out what food we need to buy for Christmas dinner.

I had Christmas lunch with one of the local sewing groups at a pub a few days ago, and I wore my new Christmas earrings that I tatted on the weekend in 80 thread from a pattern that was published in the Ring of Tatters newsletter. Boy, when you see them blown up to this size, you wish you had made a few of the joining picots a bit smaller...

Remember I was working on that Kaffe Fassett striped fabric? Well this is what I have made so far - the diamonds are 11 inches on a side so this is wide enough to be the middle of a single size quilt. I don't have a pattern, I am just kind of making this up as I go along.

I also knit a hat using this free pattern, using one strand of the RY Cashsoft DK with one strand of a synthetic mohair, which together made about a chunky yarn. The texture of the hat is lovely, soft and fuzzy, but it is a bit big for me - I might unseam it and make it a bit smaller. I'm going to knit some mittens to match using this other free pattern.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Stocking Swap

Today was the grand opening party for the #QuiltChat stocking swap, and look at the lovely goodies I received from MamaRoo in Arizona! A cute striped flannel stocking that came with a ceramic angel candle holder, 2 FQ bundles, a quilt pattern, 2 half-yard cuts, a big spool of white cotton thread, loads 0f sweets (these aren't in pic much because my dh and I have already eaten most of them) and 2 quilt labels. Not in pic is the scented candle and a circular knitting needle! What a lovely treat, and what fun to open it all while everyone else in the chatroom was opening theirs as well. Thank you Mamaroo!

Friday, 14 December 2007

Interactive in my kitchen

I have been spending a lot of time this autumn in my kitchen, on my own while the house is empty, working on my mammoth Willowcrest dollshouse project. It could be a rather lonely affair, but in fact I have been keeping company with people from all over the world as I listen to their podcasts. Quite tedious tasks like painting 50 strips of wood, or sanding down 12 sets of window frames, pass quite enjoyably as I listen to friends in San Francisco discuss their yarn stash, or an Australian 'bloke' talking about his yarn dying experiments.

I enjoy the content of course, but as much as anything, it is delightful to listen to people who feel as passionately about their chosen pursuits as I do about mine. I don't really have that experience in my 'real' life. I don't have any close friends of my age who do any crafts at all, and although I have several older friends who do make things (the two I see regularly, who like to sew and dabble in dollshouses, are c. 65 and 85 years old respectively), it's not the same. So turning on the computer is like inviting a few talkative friends over to chat energetically with each other, while I sit quietly and work and enjoy listening. So here are a few of the online shows I listen to regularly:

Quilting- I don't know why, but there are virtually no quilting podcasts, which seems strange when there are hundreds of podcasts for knitters. Here are a couple I like.

Annie's Quilting Stash - A pattern designer and teacher, Annie seems to know a lot of people in the quilting world and does a lot of interviews and location visits. She is so enthusiastic about things, and asks some good interview questions. She also visits a lot of trade and quilting shows and reviews them.

Alex Anderson Quilt Connection - As the former host of Simply Quilts, Alex delivers a professional product, although she isn't podcasting as often now that she is co-hosting the online Quilt Show. A mixture of 'blog'-type catch-ups on her own life, and interviews with other notables in the quilting world.

Quilters News Network (QNN TV) - this isn't a podcast at all, but a site full of video-on-demand quilting shows. Recently they have moved to a subscription basis, but it is only $24 for a year so just a few dollars a month. This is well worth it to me, as we have no quilting programmes on TV here in the UK. So I really enjoy watching, or even just listening to, shows such as Quilt in a Day, Fons & Porter, Sewing with Nancy etc.

Knitting - the knitting world has just exploded with dozens, if not hundreds, of podcasts. Here are a few that I have tried and enjoyed:

Knit Picks Podcast - This podcast is so soothing and confidence-inspiring, like listening to a trusted newscaster who loves knitting. Professionally done and regularly published, combining a technical topic with book reviews, and with minimal 'advertising' despite the connection with the Knit Picks shop. I really like this one.

Lime 'n Violet - Although nominally about knitting, this fast-moving and possibly anarchic podcast is a conversation between two younger knitters which can veer wildly off the rails in many directions.

Stash & Burn - Again a conversation between two younger knitters, but calmer, and it makes me a bit jealous because I wish I had a friend like that who was as interested in craft things as I am. Jenny & Nicole have spent the year trying not to add to their yarn stash, with varying degrees of success. Much more on topic about knitting than Lime 'n Violet.

Sticks and String - A podcast by an Australian bloke who knits. Nuff said.

If you listen to a podcast that you think I might like - leave me a comment! My kitchen will thank you.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Feeling a bit more christmas-y...

We've just come back from ds's school Christmas Service, held in the evening in a traditional English stone parish church, in a fairly posh neighbourhood near his school (nowhere near our house I hasten to add). Ds attends a fairly prestigious and traditional English boy's school, so there was a strong boys choir, a small brass ensemble and two organ scholars taking turns playing the massive church pipe organ. So the rafters were rattling as we barrelled through songs like O Come All Ye Faithful, Hark the Herald Angels Sing and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. Very Christmassy and all rather posh (we are definitely not posh, so this was a treat for us).

After brooding over the work stuff for a few days (to the point where I had to make an emergency visit to the chiropractor today because my shoulder muscles were knotted so painfully), I have sent a formal note to my boss pointing out that retrospectively lowering my performance rating for 2007, when I was given no warning during the year, does not seem fair and reasonable, and asking for a response. This could be the opening correspondence of a formal grievance procedure, but it is likely not worth it as they will do what they want anyway. But at least I am not rolling over without a whimper.

I was actually off work today anyway as I had my consult with the plastic surgeon in the morning. He explained what he is going to have to do to remove the cancer on my nose, and it will be a day patient procedure with two weeks recommended off work (Yay!). We agreed to wait until after Christmas so it will likely be in January. It doesn't sound fun, apparently work on the nose is very tricky anyway, and my spot is rather large and the cancer may go down fairly deep into the tissues. He will cut some skin from near my ear to graft over the hole, and he said that the result might look a somewhat different contour from the other side of the nose. He also went into all the possible risks and bad things that could happen - yuk, let's hope I am lucky. Best case scenario is that after 2 to 3 months it will be fairly unobtrusive under makeup, so that would be good. Luckily, I am not very vain about my looks (but I am a little vain... aren't we all?).

Monday, 10 December 2007

Work sucks...

I had my year-end appraisal today, which was so demotivating that I ended up coming home after lunch and going to bed for a while. My boss basically said that I am doing a great job, which she is really pleased about, but she doesn't think it is a four-day-a-week job any more, so from 1 August it will go down to a three day a week job. And because she doesn't feel that I am currently as busy as people with more pressured jobs, she is lowering my performance rating (even though I am doing an excellent job) which means that I will get less money when our bonus is paid in the spring. So basically my company is saying "we're really pleased with the great job you are doing, but by the way, we're cutting your salary". The reduction in days per week isn't a big surprise, as it has been raised before but as recently as July she was still happy for me to work four days. It is the whole performance rating thing which is just a kick in the teeth. It just makes me feel really unappreciated and like I want to quit, but unfortunately that would be financial suicide. Also I need the health insurance to pay for this surgery on my nose. Merry Christmas to me from the company...

I put the borders on the Baltimore Album top (made up from left over pre-printed blocks from the duvet cover I made a while ago). I was pleased that the border worked out as well as it did - since this twin-size top is rectangular, I thought I might have to get real creative to have the corners of the pre-print border stripe meet up properly, but as it turned out, they were ok. I will quilt this next time I have my quilting frame together, and probably offer it to an elderly house-bound woman that I visit each month - she might like it for her bed.

I also finished the Boogie knitted slipover. It isn't the best knitting job, but it is warm and cosy. I changed the neck to a V-neck (the pattern looks like it is a v-neck in the pattern photo, but actually it is a slit neck like a caftan) by decreasing up the sides of the cable.

I am currently working with some Kaffe Fasset stripe material that I bought a while ago - can you guess what I am going to make from it?

Thursday, 6 December 2007

What am I up to?

I feel like a bad blogger because I used to manage two posts a week, and lately it has only been one, so my apologies for that. There are a number of reasons: I've been busy at work; I'm spending a lot of free time either knitting or working on my big dollshouse that I'm building; and I haven't been feeling 100% well for a while as I have developed an allergic rhinitis for no apparent reason which makes me feel like I have a slight cold all the time. Coupled with my fading eyesight and hearing, and my nose cancer (appointment with the plastic surgeon next week), it all makes me feel like I am crumbling into a middle-aged crock at 46 years old. I can't remember the last time I woke up in the morning feeling refreshed and full of energy, but then my memory isn't what it used to be either... :)

Anyway, enough moaning about my minor health niggles. Now that it is getting colder here in the UK, I have put aside my sock to work on a sleeveless pullover to wear around the house. I had a bunch of RY Cashsoft DK that I got half-price when our local craft shop said they were going out of business (they didn't) and I am double stranding that to knit a bulky pattern called Boogie from My new favourite thing to do is to curl up under a frayed-edge flannel quilt in the corner of our L-shaped sofa, with my knitting and preferably a nice drink, and watch something good on tv. I've got the back done, and am half-way up the front. This is the first time I have knit with double strands of anything, and I don't like it as much, the knitting looks a bit uneven but hopefully that will block out. But this is only to wear around the house, so it doesn't have to be perfect, just cosy.

I feel slightly ashamed of my hissy fit over the mystery quilt last week. Once I calmed down about it, I unpicked (in front of the tv) and resewed the borders. I think what had happened is that I had the left and right portions of that colourway, sewn onto the opposite border than where it belonged, if that makes any sense. Surprisingly (considering two of the fabrics have rosebuds on them) dh announced, after studying it on the wall for a while, that he quite likes it - he likes the graphic quality of it. So I guess when it gets quilted that he can have it. His old TV quilt (we all have at least one) was a Trip Round the World which is getting a bit worn out so maybe that can be his new tv quilt (and I will try hard not to tell him that he and his rosebuds look sweet together...).

I was surprised to get a 'letter' (a leaflet really, it wasn't personalised or dated) in today's post, from the Tom Bishop dollshouse show in Chicago in April. The leaflet announces that they have moved the show from the hotel where it normally is, due to renovations, to a completely different hotel, so we should all cancel our hotel arrangements and rebook at the new hotel. Luckily I was able to get a room at the new hotel, even though I probably got the leaflet later than American visitors, but it all seems rather casual and rather like shoving the inconvenience on down the line to us visitors. Makes me wonder if the traders (who must have made their advance plans as well) received any better treatment. I've just checked again and there isn't one word of apology in the letter, an interesting way of treating customers.

Christmas is coming, as I'm sure you all know. Last night was our town christmas celebration which was surprisingly well attended. We are basically a suburb of London, with a small neglected high street of shops (and several vacant), living in the shadow of the bigger town three miles down the road which has all the malls and restaurants etc. However, our town does put up a big christmas tree, and last night was 'Carols Around the Christmas Tree' put on by the Rotary Club, with a small amateur brass band from the Salvation Army. There must have been about 100 people there which is surprising, lots of families too, and Santa came too in a decorated convertible car. I went along (ds refused to come, at almost 13 years old he is too much above attending such tedious events with his embarassing mother) and sang a few carols. Then I checked out the Christmas fair, which was well attended but consisted almost entirely of local charities and good causes (churches, scouts, etc.) trying to make money, stall after stall of tombolas, raffles, throw the hoop over the wine bottle etc. I strolled around but tried not to make eye contact with any of the hopeful 'salespeople' all calling out "five tickets for a pound", although I did donate to the cancer charity that was being sponsored. I picked up a bag of cotton candy and brought it home to an appreciative dh, although of course I had to sample the goods on the way home.

Looking ahead to the holidays, I am wondering what my holiday sewing project is going to be. I always enjoy sewing on something festive to get into the christmas spirit. I have a pattern called 'Let it Snow' with lots of appliqued snowmen on it which I could work on, or there is the vintage log cabin which has all the strips cut out now. I suppose really I should be concentrating on finishing the dollshouse to get it off the dining table, but I think the family are all resigned to the fact now that it isn't going to happen. Luckily we don't have anyone coming over for christmas, and in fact my ambition is to do as little as possible on christmas day this year. I had a bit of an epiphany last year, after five hours in the kitchen, that I wasn't really enjoying myself, so this year I am aiming to misbehave... We will go down to the in-laws on Boxing Day.

Hope you are looking forward to a good holiday, and are feeling in control of whatever preparations you have in hand.

Friday, 30 November 2007

It's a Mystery

Last Sunday night I took part in the Planet Patchwork #125 Mystery Quilt, which started at 11:00 am EST which was 4 pm for me. I quite enjoyed this on the day, but to be perfectly honest I am completely fed up with the thing now as I struggle to finish it using flawed instructions.

On Sunday night, I was all set up with my main computer downstairs set up with the instruction page, to print off each instalment as it was published hourly, and a laptop upstairs which had the Mystery Quilt chat room logged in next to my sewing machine. It was quite enjoyable to be sewing and pressing, with dozens of other quilters logged in and chatting in the room under the tutelege of 'Merry Mayhem', the persona of Planet Patchwork. There were a few problems with spammers logging in, and the organisers said they had no way of kicking them, but luckily they left after a few minutes. The cutting instructions had been issued beforehand, so we could get stuck right into the sewing. The printed instructions appeared very professional, with clearly labelled diagrams.

The sewing itself was simple, making four patches for the most part. But errors began to reveal themselves. The first error wasn't a problem, an instruction to cut segments which needed more fabric than had been seamed into strips, but of course it caused multiple confusion as each quilter came to that step in their own time, then posted on the chatroom to ask about. Luckily we had extra fabric to compensate (in fact, I think the cutting instructions called for too many strips, as I have some left over). The next error was a bit more annoying, in Step 7, when some pre-pieced four-patches turned out to have the wrong colouring. As this only became apparent when the Step 7 borders were seamed on, it meant some unpicking and re-ordering the checkerboard, then re-seaming. This was now after 9 pm for me so I stopped at that point and only printed off the final instructions for Step 8.

This week I have been assembling the Step 8 borders when I get a chance, and today I tried to sew them on. It became immediately apparent that there must be errors in those instructions as well, and sure enough, when I checked the 'corrected' version on the Planet Patchwork website, the Step 8 instructions were now different. So more unpicking, and re-ordering of checkerboards, and re-sewing. Then I thought I was finally finished, but as I pressed out the final two borders, I see that two of the dark checks are next to each other on two corners. I'm pretty sure I have done these according to the 'corrected' instructions, so now I think they are wrong as well. I can't face more unpicking (and we are talking about a yard on both edges) so I just hung it up and took a pic. I have gotten a headache trying to figure out what they mean when they say 'top border' or 'left border' because the middle of the quilt has no obvious orientation and there is no picture of the overall finished quilt in either of the instructions, so it has all turned into a bit of a guessing game as to what the designer intended. And I don't want to play anymore. They are doing another Mystery Quilt on New Year's Day but I think I might pass. You can see pictures of some of the other quilts people made on the website.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Busy weekend

I'm taking a break from the Planet Patchwork online mystery quilt (just finished step 2, waiting for step 3 to be posted) so I thought I would catch you up on my busy weekend.

First of all, I finished my other Ridged Feather pattern sock - and here is a pic with one of our cats, Colin, inspecting the handiwork. Being jet black, he doesn't photograph very well.

Second, Saturday was my sewing club day. I didn't get as much done as I had optimistically expected - by the time I make the announcements, hand out the instructions for our new group project (I've designed a sampler quilt in EQ6 to do as a block of the month), collected the dues (a share of the hall rental money) and made the first cup of tea (yes, I am a dogsbody), there is only about 90 minutes until lunch time. But I did get the borders on my vintage Lone Star. There is such a big difference between the poor waif that I bought from a dealer in Paducah, and its new incarnation with the star points adjusted, and reset into a blue background, and a border added.

I took my batik Easy Curves top for show & tell and because I thought I might get the borders on, and before I'd even finished it, it had sold. One of the other ladies wanted it for her granddaughter because she said it was all her favourite colours. I didn't have any special plans for it so I named a price which would cover the cost of the fabric (but still pretty pricey by low UK standards for buying handicraft). The lady blanched a bit, but agreed. I felt a bit guilty so I threw in some binding and backing as well. I sewed on the borders when I got home, and we dropped it round to her house this morning. She's going to do the quilting herself. I think this must be a record for the shortest time I've owned a quilt that I made, lol.

By coincidence, this was the same lady who was making my tablerunner from our earlier Brown Bag challenge (the one that had a deadline in September...) and she had finished it. It is an unusual block, and of course I love the fabrics that I gave her, so it will look nice on our table. It's nice to get it back finally and close off that chapter.

So I took the money she gave me on our outing to Eltham Palace, an English Heritage property on the other side of London. They were supposed to be having a craft fair, but we found out when we got there that it had been cancelled. We still went in and toured the house, a former Tudor palace which was converted in the 1920s into an Art Deco mansion for the wealthy Courtauld family, and had lunch in the tearoom, and a lovely walk in the autumn sunshine in the garden. On the way there and back, I started my new socks: the Cross Hatch Lace pattern from 'More Sensational Socks', using Lorna's Hand-Dyed Shepherd sock yarn in 'Wisteria' colourway that was part of my sock yarn haul from Alexander Palace show. The colours are just gorgeous, although they aren't striping like I thought, the sock is more blue on one side and more purple than the other. This picture shows my ribbing and the first repeat of the lace pattern.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Completed 'Suzy' cardigan

I've finished my Rowan Big Wool 'Suzy' cardigan, knit in colourway 'Rascal' on 15mm giant needles. I finished sewing it up yesterday and put the buttons on last night, and wore it to a funeral today (dh's aunt-by-marriage). It looks quite smart with navy blue trousers, I think enough to wear to work (it is quite cold at work because they are rebuilding our office building and we don't have central heating anymore). The shaping at the waist gives it a good silhouette despite the bulky yarn, and it fits pretty well apart from the sleeves are a bit too long. This is the medium size. Knitting with this really big wool produces really quick results, but any untidy stitch or error is also magnified so you have to be really careful about tidy edge stitches and how you do your increases/decreases.

I've got three quilts ready to put borders on, at my upcoming Saturday sewing club, although I don't know if I will get them all done. They are the vintage Lone Star [that screech you just heard is Swooze shouting 'about time!'], the second Baltimore Album (made with the leftover blocks from my duvet cover), and my batik Easy Curves twin size. I've also been cutting out for a Vintage Log Cabin with 1-inch blocks, using a fabric kit that I bought at the Stitching Post in July. I'm using the Marti Michell Log Cabin Ruler which I have to say is rather helpful. Normally I do not go in for speciality rulers, when they are for things that I could do with just my normal 6x24 ruler. And yes, I could cut the Log Cabin strips with the 6x24 ruler, but the Log Cabin Ruler is pre-marked specifically for the strip sizes I need, which makes it a lot quicker as there is no hesitation to find the right mark. But it is a lot of cutting, there are 36 fabrics, to make 36 blocks, and 6 x 1.5 inch strips from each fabric to be cut up into 'logs'.

I have also picked fabrics from my stash because I am toying with the idea of joining in with the Planet Patchwork online mystery quilt this weekend (starts 11:00 EST on Sunday). I haven't cut them yet, but I think I will do that even though it starts at 4 pm for me, so I may still be sewing past bedtime. I am a bit ambivalent because I've done mystery quilts before and never been happy with the end result. Once the quilt is done I always wish that I had used different fabrics.
I've had the results of my biopsy, and the skin cancer is confirmed (for those who missed my previous post, it is the non-spreading kind of skin cancer) so now I am waiting to hear from the plastic surgeon.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Miss Lydia Pickett - Coop Cupboard and Wardian Case

This is actually two months at the same time from my Miss Lydia Pickett club which I am doing in half-inch scale from 'In Some Small Way'. I have found in the past that it makes sense to do two months at once, because many of the steps are similar and you can do all the painting, or all the sanding at one go.

For some reason, maybe I am in a slump, I found both of these kits more challenging than the ones I have done previously. I also am not very pleased with the paint finish. On the previous kits I have always sprayed with white auto primer first, before painting in acrylic, and I think that smoothed out the wood grain much more and gave a good base for paint. These kits have acrylic inserts that go in during construction, so I couldn't spray. The resulting finish is very grainy. I also had tremendous problems trying not to get glue or paint onto the acrylic, particularly in the Wardian Case.

The Wardian case went together fine, although the instructions were a bit confusing as they are written for 1 inch scale which has slightly different components than the half-inch kit. My roof ended up slightly crooked as the acrylic insert is very unforgiving - if you get it slightly out of line, the roof won't glue on straight. I wanted to 'fill' the inside with some soil and greenery, which despite my best efforts ended up sticking to the glass several times so I ended up wiping it away with damp cotton buds etc. I found the 'Grow' carving hard to paint also, it is so shallow that it is easy to obliterate it with paint even when you are trying for a light touch.

The Coop cupboard has a multi layer sandwich construction for the walls and doors, with the acrylic insert sandwiched between the frame and the trim. So you have to do a lot of painting ahead of time before assembly, because you can see the inside of the trim from the inside of the 'glass'. The doors are hinged with wire pins. Two things to learn from my mistakes: the sides of the cupboard should be mirror images of each other (the wide leg goes to the back) so don't just assume the 'good' side of the wood should be up on both pieces. Also, the door trim on the front side of both doors has to exactly line up on both pieces, so that your handle holes are in line with each other. I decided not to try adding the 'chicken wire' effect to the glass.

I think these kits are ingenious, giving a very 3-d result for a laser cut kit, but I am not so pleased with my end product on either kit. Definitely more challenging than the bedroom set, or the desk or day bed.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Tackling the deadlines

My last post attracted more comments (7) than I have ever had! Thank you everybody. Obviously, all that I had to do to attract your attention was to pick a really hard project, moan about it copiously for several posts, and then announce it was finished and post an eye-candy photo. :) Watch this space for my knitted shed cosy... (just kidding).

I posted the Paducah quilt today, and received quite a shock when the post office told me that their fastest service (3 days) would cost over $110!!!! I am using the exact same packaging that my long-arm quilter paid $45 for two-day service US to UK. I gulped and asked what was the next cheapest (5 days for over $90) and then the next and final price which was $70 for 15 days. Obviously I went with the 15 days, grudgingly and asking plaintively why the Americans seem to be able to offer a better service for half the price. I just hope the quilt doesn't get all wrinkled in the box for that long, I thought it would only be in it for a few days.

Anyway, now that it is finally gone, I can turn my attention to some of the other deadlines awaiting me, and then I can actually do something for fun!

This is the knitting bag that my work colleague commissioned me to make as a xmas present for her mother after seeing my one. The instructions are in a previous post here. I made the frill deeper on this one which I think looks better.

I have also made twelve 144th scale coffee tables with flower arrangements on them, for a swap on Micro Minis. I am finding it harder to see things this size clearly without good daylight coming in the window, which is in short supply at this time of year - I think I am going to put an Ott light on my xmas prezzie list.

Then I could have some fun, and I made this batik handbag using a pattern I bought at Malvern back in May. The pattern is called 'Hannah's Bag' from and came with the handles. I have to say that it is not very well written, it is quite hard to figure out what they mean in a few places, and some measurements are not given so you have to guess, but the bag turned out pretty well. The drawstring closure means you can actually use it as a handbag rather than just a tote. The batiks are from a bunch I bought as remnants at Hancock's of Paducah in 2005. The handle came with the pattern. You can't see in this photo, but I free-motion quilted leaves in variegated thread across the pieces.

I also knit this tiny sweater christmas decoration, using some of my leftover sock yarn. It is from a book called 'Miniature Sweaters' by Betty Lampen which I bought in San Francisco at the Imagiknit knitting shop. ISBN-0-9634890-0-3. I adapted the instructions to knit it in the round but it was a bit fiddly so I think the next one I will just knit flat. It would be kind of neat to knit a little sweater from each sock yarn that I use.

On Saturday I went to the first UK Stitch 'n Bitch Day up in London, with Debbie Stoller of Stitch 'n Bitch fame as the main attraction. To my surprise, I actually got a place on her limited numbers workshop - the organisers said that attendance would be by lottery but on the day it was the first 30 people to sign up. She showed us how to do double sided knitting, using a scarf from her latest book 'Son of Stitch 'n Bitch' as a sample pattern, and she even picked me out of the crowd to stand up with her for a quick roleplay (I was 'Miss Red' for anyone who attended the same workshop!). So that was my unexpected brush with a famous person for this weekend. I found the technique difficult, you have to bring both yarns to the front for the purl, and move them to the back for the knit stitch, and the two-handed technique I settled upon at my Fair Isle workshop just wouldn't cut it. I had to revert to holding both yarns in my left hand and laboriously picking up the colour I needed. Debbie did what she called 'pit knitting' - she stuck one needle under her left armpit, leaving her left hand free to dance around the needle with both colours so fast that you almost couldn't see the stitches forming. And she was talking at the same time. Still, the woman next to me didn't know how to cast on, so I didn't feel I was the complete dunce of the class, lol. I didn't buy anything, although there were traders there, and I enjoyed knitting some more on my sock in the knitting lounge where the entertainment was going on.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Finished at last

I put the last stitch in on the binding for the Paducah quilt today. (Thank god.) I've just got to sew the label on and do my best handwriting on the entry form, then I can post the whole thing back to the quilter and get back to my normal life. I don't have anywhere big enough to hang it up flat (and I do not dare let it touch any horizontal surfaces in this house) so I could only take a picture of it gathered on to my hanging stairwell display rod.

You can see Dinah Miller's quilting better in this pic. The design is by Beth Ferrier and was offered by her as a free internet pattern some years ago.

I made the label using EQ6, which turned out to be surprisingly easy once I stumbled across the video tutorial on how to make a quilt label (it wasn't going too well up to that point). I spent some time googling on garden quotations, and discovered that Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem called 'The Glory of the Garden' so I have borrowed that title as the name for my quilt, because I thought it suited what I liked about the design: the colourful flowers both pieced and appliqued.

I also took a couple of pics of items referred to in recent posts. Here is the finished Ridged Feather sock from 'Sensational Socks'. The heel is quite neat because you put half the stitches on a holder, and cast them on again on a provisional cast-on, then knit the heels as a bulls-eye which is closed with kitchener stitch. Then you undo your provisional cast-on, and keep knitting along the foot of the sock. You choose the colour stripe carefully when you rejoin the self-striping yarn so that the pattern looks continuous rather than being interrupted for the heel.

This is the fair isle band I knit on Saturday on my knitting course. I have finished the two edges but it is a bit loose to be an ear warmer. I can either put elastic in it, or I was thinking it might make a neat handbag top if I knit a body in a co-ordinating colour. I went to an interesting lecture by Fiona Morris on felting knitting (at the Fleet Machine Knitting club on Tuesday) and she had made some lovely felted bags. The fair-isle band should felt as it is in Rowan wool and I could knit the body in my Rowan big wool.

I've also cast on for a new project, the 'Suzy' jacket-cardigan from Rowan using Rowan Big Wool in a nice navy colour. It is knit on 15mm huge needles which are awkward and tiring to use, but it is growing quickly. I was able to view several other 'Suzy' jackets on Ravelry, I hope mine will turn out well. Ravelry is such a great resource for knitters, I'm so glad I finally got through the waiting list and received an invitation.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

I went on a knitting course

Yesterday (Saturday) I went up to London for a one-day workshop on Fair Isle & Continental Knitting, at the Loop shop in Islington. I had a bit of trouble finding the shop, as their artistic website map is fairly removed from reality, but I managed to get there a few minutes before the course started. The teaching room is the basement of their small shop, a rather crowded and cold room which is also their stock room. There is one long table with two (uncomfortable) benches on either side, and a stool at each end. Thank god I got there in time to bag a bench seat, I would never have survived sitting on a stool. So they can accommodate 7 students and one teacher.

Our tutor for the day was Linda Marveng, a lovely Norwegian lady who gave us a big pack of written material so that we didn't have to take notes during the day. There was free tea/coffee/biscuits but lunch was not provided - the talk at lunch- break amongst participants was that other courses (John Lewis, Rowan) provide lunch and more comfortable facilities, and probably represent better value for money overall.

We were each given two balls of Rowan Pure Wool DK and a set of Addi Turbo circular needles which were ours to keep. I am a fairly recent knitter so I didn't expect to do very well, but the first part of the course was on how to use the long-tail cast-on and how to knit continental style, both of which I already knew, so I was suddenly showing other people how to do things! Then we moved on to reading Fair Isle charts and how to hold the two yarn colours. I was able to try three different methods (both strands over left index finger, using a finger ring yarn guide, and one strand knit continental/ one strand knit English style in RH) and settled on holding a strand with each hand. Only I am knitting the RH strand continental method as well, not throwing it as the English knitters were all doing. I got on fairly well, I just had to be careful not to pull the RH yarn tighter than the LH yarn. I knit through one repeat of my pattern which is wide enough to turn into an ear-warmer band I think. Linda also showed us the Magic Loop method, knitting a steek then cutting it for a traditional jumper arm hole, and the three-needle bind-off.

I enjoyed the day a lot, Linda was lovely and everyone else on the course was nice as well, and we had some interesting conversations while we knit away. By the end of several hours on the almost-unpadded bench, my bum and back were killing me, so I was glad when we finished a little early and I was able to shoot off home for the Fireworks.

Tomorrow night (5th November) is Bonfire night, or Guy Fawkes night, so there were a lot of fireworks displays last night (Saturday). We went to one at the local primary school, and it was quite fun and a fairly good display about 15 minutes long. Dh & ds had a burger from the BBQ and then we had some sweets.

I am still plugging away on the binding for the Paducah entry, I've just turned the second corner so I am more than halfway now. I will be so glad when this is done. I am still trying to come up with an official quilt name for the entry form- dh suggested that my frequent label of 'that stupid quilt' would suffice but I'm not sure the Paducah jury would get it...

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Not much going on...

I'm waiting to see if any trick-or-treaters show up, so it seems a good opportunity to update my blogs. As usual I am the most decorated house on the street, Hallowe'en is not a big holiday in the UK and, indeed, many still frown upon it. Some years I get up to 40-50 kids, other years I get 3. So far (5:45 pm) no-one, but I am sure dh will be quite willing to eat all the candy if there are leftovers.

I am toiling away at applying the hanging sleeve and binding to my 'Year in the Garden' quilt, which is the queen-size quilt that my machine quilter wants to enter into Paducah. It is just horrible trying to do the absolute best job I can on the binding and sleeve, I feel like every quilt police constable in the world is hovering just behind my shoulder watching each stitch. So far I have got the sleeve on, and all appliqued down, and all of the binding is machine attached but not yet sewn down. It took a while to fiddle with the binding seam, because the on-point sashing ends in half-cornerstones, creating definite points that the binding seam MUST cross, yet in the nature of fabric (and my worksmanship) those points are not necessarily in a straight line. So a lot of fudging going on, but the end result isn't too bad apart from one point which for no apparent reason is a good 1/4 inch higher than its neighbours, so I gave up on that one. Still lots of handsewing to do though, and the machine quilter wants it back in about three weeks.

I finished my first sock in the Ridged Feather pattern and have cast on for the second one. I am going to the first UK Stitch 'n Bitch Day up in London this weekend, so I will take my sock along to look like a 'real' knitter. I also digressed this weekend back to my 'Learn to Knit' afghan pattern, and finished off a lace square and completed most of a diagonally knit garter stitch square. I've completed 18 squares now but I think there are 65 in the book. It is in Aran weight Debbie Bliss wool, on 5mm needles, which seems enormous after all the sock-knitting I have been doing on US No.1 dpns. We had a long car drive up to Nottingham so the bigger knitting was easier to do in the moving car. On the way back down we stopped into the Fabric Guild in Leicester, a great place for cheaper fabric and notions. I hardly bought any fabric, just 3 yards of a fun backing fabric (the one with all the people waving goodbye to the steamliner passengers) which was on sale. I did stock up on Gutermann cotton thread (£1 a 100m reel) and pins (my house and vacuum cleaner seem to eat all my pins) and got my m-i-l's birthday present (batting and backing and some notions).

After a bit of dithering, I paid up for a year of basic membership to Quilter's News Network streaming internet video. I've been watching it the last year because we don't get any craft television here in the UK, but it had gotten very repetitive with little new content. Now for members they have a big library of programmes like Quilt in a Day, Fons and Porter etc. that are video-on-demand. The picture is smaller but it's great being able to watch what you want. Anyway, the exchange rate for the US dollar is so good right now that it is only about £1 a month. I had previously subscribed to 'The Quilt Show' with Ricky Timms and Alex Anderson, which I think will run out in March 08. I don't really like it so far, but I know they are working to improve the content in response to viewer feedback, I will see how it goes.

Ooo! I just had my first trick-or-treater - a little ghoul whom I rewarded by offering him two candy bars. That only leaves 73 for my dh - no - 72 because I ate one when I got home (I bought three bags of 25 candy bars, ever the optimist)...

Friday, 26 October 2007

Catching Up

Suddenly it is almost a week since I last posted, don't know where the time is going... well, I do, it's going into work and into my dollhouse that I am building, plus ds has been on half term break this week.

I had a bit of a shock today - I went to see a consultant about this persistent scab I've had on my nose for months, and he took one look and says it all needs to be cut out and a skin graft applied. Apparently it is something commonly known as a 'rodent ulcer' or basal cell carcinoma, but he must have noticed my face turning white because he quickly said that they are not the bad kind of skin cancer. But left to itself it will just keep getting bigger and eat away the nose (lovely...), and it is pretty big already, about the size of a quarter will have to be cut away I think (gulp). He took a biopsy under local anesthetic right then, and I have to wait a few weeks for the result, but then it will likely be plastic surgery to remove it. Apparently the skin graft, if needed, will come from somewhere else on my body like my neck. The cause is sun exposure so now my ds said that he is going to be reminding me about sun cream all the time. I should have gone in ages ago, but I kept thinking it would heal on its own.

Anyway, when I am not working on the dollshouse, I have been doing a few other things. I've made a patchwork Christmas stocking for the #Quiltchat stocking swap (I don't think the recipient reads my blog so I think I am ok to post a pic).

I've also made up the crochet tote bag from the kit that was the free gift at the Rowan fashion show I went to at Alexandra Palace a few weeks ago. I'm terrible at crochet, very poor tension and it hurts my hand, but the bag turned out ok.

My other big news is that I have booked my flights to go to Chicago in April for two weeks. The first week I will be attending the Tom Bishop international dollshouse and miniatures fair (and taking two classes) and the second week I will be attending the Chicago International quilt show. So that is something to look forward to.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Applique group pictures

You may remember that I was taking part in a group project of four people, where we each chose a picture, traced a pattern, cut the pattern into four slices, and gave a slice to each other person to replicate in fabric? Today at my sewing club I was able to take a picture of two of the unfinished applique pictures.

This is the portrait of one of the early black visitors to Britain that my friend Pauline chose. I did the slice of eye on the left. The person next to me chose a significantly lighter fabric and did a rather large staring eye. Eileen did the ear, and Pauline did the writing (scanned and printed on her computer). Pauline was a bit at a loss when she first got all the pieces back, because the middle piece of eye was so mismatched. After thinking about it for a while, she embroidered a lot of detail, including to adjust the staring eye, and used embroidery stitches and fabric paint to blend the head pieces all together into a convincing portrait.

Eileen had chosen an impressionistic painting (Monet?) of a snowy farm. Her four pieces looked pretty good apart from the piece next to mine (mine is the left hand piece again by coincidence) wasn't quite accurate and didn't entirely line up. Eileen adjusted some of the mismatch and appliqued another cloud in the sky to blend the pieces more. I think she is also going to add some embroidery but she hasn't yet.

I got back my third Venice piece finally today, so now I just need to make my fourth piece and then I will be able to take a pic of those as well. The fourth picture, of the Belgian houses, isn't finished yet and Angela hadn't brought her pieces so I couldn't take a picture of them.

This was a really enjoyable exercise that really required creativity and a bit of an artistic eye, to 'paint' with fabric to match the colours in the photographs. Now that the group have seen how we did it, some of the other ladies want to have a go as well, so we may repeat the project in 2008.

Oh, and the lady that I made the autumn tablerunner for in the Brown Bag challenge has now told me that she absolutely loves it and that it looks great on her dresser. So that is good.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

I am quilting, really!

I feel guilty that this blog appears to be turning into a knitter's blog lately, and I don't want to get kicked out of the quilter's club. To be honest, I have done very little sewing lately because I am spending all my free time working on my big Willowcrest dollshouse project. But I have put the binding on my Civil War lap quilt which is now finished.

I have my Saturday quilting club this weekend and I am planning to put the sleeve and binding onto my 'Year in the Garden' top there - we meet in a church hall with nice big tables, so it will be easier and also there will be less cat hair to get on the quilt top. I am also taking my camera and have asked the other applique ladies to bring in their 4-part pictures so I can take a pic for my blog. As for mine, I have STILL not received the fourth part of my Venetian picture nor my challenge tablerunner. Some people seem to find the concept of a deadline hard to comply with, no matter how many times you remind the group and tell them when things are supposed to be done by. I have made a mental resolution to not launch any more group projects which rely on other people giving you things - I think for the next while we will stick to self-make projects like BOMs and mystery quilts. My ladies have asked for a BOM for our next project in the New Year, so I may have to actually fire up EQ6 for the first time since installing it last Christmas, and get designing something. We always have a problem with group projects since there is a very firm split between the majority who will use a sewing machine, and the minority who hate them and want to do everything by hand. There is also the split between those who love applique/hate piecing, another lady who hates applique, and the majority who don't care. You can't please everyone all the time. My husband listens to me feeling frustrated about this, and his solution is that I should just kick the non-believers out of the group. Men always have very simple (unworkable) solutions to problems.

I am displaying my seaside wallhanging in our stairwell where I can enjoy it every time I go downstairs. I don't think I showed a pic of how the old church tower in the picture completely took on a new life after I had quilted it (and this was so easy to do on the frame).
We are enjoying some glorious autumn days now, brilliant sunshine but temperatures cool enough that I want to wear a hat in the mornings (but then I am a wimp). This is my favourite time of year, when the air is crisp and the leaves are turning such gorgeous colours. Apparently there is a national pumpkin shortage in the UK after all the floods and the wet summer, but I have managed to secure two small ones and have stashed them in the knitting shed in preparation for Hallowe'en.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Champagne at Alexandra Palace

I had an enjoyable but exhausting four hours today at the Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace (a large Victorian exhibition venue in north London). This is a huge show with an emphasis on knitting (and not just socks, but cutting edge showcases from fashion colleges and artists etc.) and covering many other fibre arts such as lacemaking, braiding, spinning, felting, dying, quilting, etc. etc. etc. There is a large hall full of artists displaying their latest work, some of it for sale, other fibre exhibitions, Quilt 2007 (an art quilt display), another large hall with many of the fibre associations such as the Lacemakers' Circle, the Lace Guild, the Ring of Tatters, Machine Knitters Guild and many others, and a huge hall full of shopping opportunities. I dropped into the Ring of Tatters' stall because I am a member, and admired the 1/12th dollshouse displays of a hat shop with every hat decorated with tatting, and a florist's shop where all the flowers were tatting. At the Machine Knitters Guild, they were able to tell me about a few machine knitting groups that are still running, and one of them is about 25 minutes from me so I might try a visit next month. In fact, the lady thought that machine knitting is starting to pick up again, on the back of the hand knitting trend, because she has had several people asking where they can buy a machine.

The show runs for four days and also offers book-ahead workshops and fashion shows. I went to the Rowan fashion show which featured garments from several of their booklets and from Issue 42 of the magazine, and we received an unexpected goodie bag! Amongst the promotional literature inside were some balls of cotton yarn and a pattern for a tote bag to make. I enjoyed the show but why do they have to blare the music so loud that it was actually paining my ear? (god I'm getting old...)

The shopping area also featured large displays by some of the yarn companies, magazine publishers, embroidery companies etc., some with drop-in teaching areas. I headed straight for the shopping before and after my fashion show, and kept finding sock yarn which got cheaper at every stall. I started out at the top end with some Lorna's hand-dyed, then found the Cherry Tree Hill stand and got two more colours of Supersock Merino, then found another shop doing three balls of sock yarn for a special price, and finished up at a Scandinavian trader selling sock yarn for £1.60 a ball! I also got some more dpns, and some straight bamboo needles, and stocked back up on machine needles (Schmetz quilting) after breaking several when I was learning to use my frame. I also fell off the wagon and subscribed to a knitting magazine because they were doing the first three issues for £1 and I couldn't resist.

I tottered out in complete exhaustion about 2 p.m. and made my way to the Champagne Bar which was supposedly being run by the London Stitch 'n Bitch group. I didn't see any of them, unless they were amongst the big group of teenagers learning how to knit, but I did enjoy a cool glass of bubbly and knit some more rows on my Ridged Feather sock. I am absolutely loving the colours of this self-striping yarn (Regia Cotton Colour), I might try to model a quilt after them. The yarn itself is a bit splitty, but I am enjoying seeing the pattern emerge. And there is something quite civilised about sitting in the Palm Court of the Alexandra Palace, sipping chilled champagne as you peacefully hand knit.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Sock Finish

I finished my Widdershins socks! The second one fits better with the higher heel flap and also I think that using the no-cable-needle method made the crossovers slightly looser. I really like them. I've cast on already for my next pair, which is the Ridged Feather sock on p70 of 'Sensational Socks' by Charlene Schurch, using Regia Cotton Color. I am getting 7 stitches to the inch on No1 US dpns, which may be too loose but I hope not. That's the sock yarn I bought on Ebay, and it is really pretty. I can't post a pic yet because I've only knit two rows.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

New Blog on Greenleaf Willowcrest

I've started a new blog to document my big new project: I am assembling a Greenleaf Willowcrest dollshouse kit. This will be of no interest whatsoever to anyone who isn't planning to do this themselves, so I have started a new blog at to keep the posts separate. It will mean that I have less spare time to do other crafty things, but it's got too be done, I've been procrastinating for four years on this kit.

This morning I took the charity quilts, bunnies and rag doll over to Peggy, who is 91 years old and who runs an annual coffee morning / quilt sale to raise funds for her local hospice. She used to be in my sewing group about 10 years ago and is still sewing away. What a marvel. She lives with her daughter now that she is a widow. She was very pleased and I got a thank you kiss on my cheek and was told how kind I am - isn't that sweet. I feel guilty because I wanted to make all those things anyway and it is convenient for me to have somewhere useful to give them to, but at least they are going to a good cause and Peggy was very pleased.

I'm almost finished my second cabled sock, I'm just knitting the top ribbing - will post a pic once it's done.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

A potpourri

I am feeling a bit peculiar today after being up all night, the night before last, with food poisoning. I've lost five pounds in two days and feel sort of fragile and empty (which I am!) but on the mend now. Today I have actually had some tomato soup whch seems to have settled okay, yesterday I only managed some dry bread.

I have a nice package to take round on the weekend to the elderly lady who is running the charity coffee morning in November. It includes a printed-panel rag doll, the three cot quilts (now all bound) and my no-longer-nekkid rabbits. The girl bunny seems to be showing off rather more than I intended, but you know what rabbits are like.

I started binding the three cot quilts shortly after a discussion on #Quiltchat when Swooze expressed her preference for self-binding (bringing the backing around to the front). I tried this on the first cot quilt to see if it would be easier, but I really found that it wasn't - for me anyhow. It was incredibly fiddly to trim off the wadding without cutting the backing (especially since I had started some of the quilting stitching from off the edge of the top, and because I had meandered all over the quilt, the edge was no longer completely straight, and then more fiddling to press the fold, bring the fold over and secure it with clips, and don't get me started about trying to get neat corners. I ended up hand stitching the four corners. For my second quilt, I tried a modified continuous binding which I found much easier. I trimmed the sides of the quilt square, and cut strips 1 and 3/4 inches wide which I joined on the diagonal into a continuous strip. I applied this on the back of the quilt by machine, starting with a 1/4 inch fold to the wrong side, and doing the usual mitre thing on the corners. I finished by overlapping the original folded start by about one inch then trimming off the excess end. Then I pressed this binding away from the quilt. Turning it over the right side, I pressed the raw edge of the binding in to meet the quilt edge, then folded that fold over onto the right side of the quilt and secured with clips. The corners were easy to mitre neatly. Then I stitched on the right side by machine close to the folded edge of the binding, which was easy to do because of the wider-than-normal binding on the front. I obtained a much neater result and for me this seemed easier. I used a walking foot by the way. The third quilt had a non-fraying fleece backing, so that was easy, I just folded it over to the right side and stitched it down with a decorative stitch.

I was listening to a podcast interview with Alex Andersen a few days ago (Annie's Stash) and heard Alex say something which I've heard her say before on her own podcasts: that she's never met a quilter she didn't like, and that quilters are all such wonderful people. Every time I have heard her say that, it has made me think about this myth prevalent amongst the Americanised quilting world, that because we are all quilters we are all one big happy family full of lightness and brightness. Maybe it is because on my best day I am not one-tenth as perky as Alex Andersen (though I do like her) but I have met many quilters that I didn't like. Just because we are all involved in aspects of a wide-ranging textile hobby does not automatically make us all sympatico, or honest, or fair, or polite, or nice. Like any other human activity, quilting draws from a broad cross-section of society and I am sure there are lots of quilters who aren't particularly nice people, or who have not very nice beliefs or habits. I think Alex's comment says more about the kind of person she is, and perhaps anyone encountering such a bubbly cheerful personality is momentarily uplifted into responding in a similar way. I have certainly found that having quilting in common with someone gives me a jumping off point for relating to them, but it isn't a sure-fire guarantee that I am going to like them. But then I think we have more than our fair share of Quilt Police in the UK (city and guilds, anyone....?).

I also managed to get the binding on my Seaside wallhanging, and it is now hanging on the wall to remind us of summer holidays. My possible Paducah entry is lurking about, waiting for me to feel brave enough to start the binding process (and I have to make a sleeve) but it doesn't have to be shipped back until late November so I am putting it off until I feel better. I'm still not sure how I am going to do the stitching without getting cat hair on it. Or my hair for that matter (I have a shedding problem...)

Sunday, 30 September 2007

Rabbits and quilting

Isn't it wonderful that school has started again! I feel like I am getting back to a normal routine for the first time in about three months. I had some lovely time at home in an empty house in peace and quiet and managed to finish off and assemble my two machine-knitted bunnies. They will have some knitted clothes but I am still making those. I knit these on a Brother 881 and the pattern was from a knitting calendar

I've also done quite a bit of quilting on the frame the last few days. I finished the Civil War quilt - I did continuous curve quilting around the block seams, a little feather in the setting blocks, and a wavy pattern down the sashing strips. There is a noticeable improvement by the end of the quilt from when I started, I am definitely getting better at steering. At the moment I am quilting the Seaside wallhanging, and the frame is perfect for that. I can steer back and forth quilting in the lines of the sky, sea and beach and really see what I am doing. I am really loving it and have to watch I don't get so excited that I start moving too fast and making enormous stitches. I can see that there will be a real temptation now to only make quilts that will be suitable for quilting on my tabletop frame. When I finally get the machine off the frame and the frame dismantled, I am going to have so much binding to do. Here is a pic of the three practice cot quilts I started on. The blocks for these were left over from my Almost Amish quilt, and originally came from a lady in my sewing club. We did a group Row Robin, but she decided to ignore the rules and ask for blocks instead, then was disgusted with them when they came back all different sizes / different seam allowances. She was going to throw them out, so I asked for them, and used quite a few in the Almost Amish quilt, and these cot quilts finish them off. I will be giving the cot quilts to a fundraising coffee morning on the 18th November, so have to have them bound by then. Following a tip from one of the Yahoo groups, I have discovered that there are tons of machine quilting videos on Youtube, so I am trying to watch some of those to pick up tips for using the frame.
I can't believe it is almost October already - and it is definitely Autumn weather here now. Later today if the sky stays clear we are going to empty out the camping trailer for the winter, which is always a rather sad task, like saying goodbye to summer. We bring all the textiles (curtains, bedding, cushions etc.) inside for the winter, and give it a good clean out. I need to give the garden a good tidy up as well, and get rid of the summer hanging basket contents which are now all straggly and sad looking. I usually plant out some winterflowering pansies and ivies for the winter, to give us something nice to look at out the window.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Checking in

I feel guilty that I haven't blogged since last Thursday, but with this quilting frame tying up both my worktable and my sewing machine, I really can't do much else except practice my machine quilting. I have loaded my Civil War shoo-fly lap quilt onto the frame and am very carefully trying out pantograph designs on it. So far so good - it is a bit shaky but still better than I could have done without the frame. I have also spent quite a lot of time googling for tips on how to use frames - although I am still disappointed in my search for a book or dvd. I have joined two Yahoo groups for home frame users so hopefully when I get time to trawl through their messages I will pick up some more tips.

I had a couple of unexpected emails this week. One was from an American gal who had been going through my Flickr album, and she emailed to ask if she could buy my teacup. Now I am not running a home business or anything, but I am happy to pass on the teacup to someone who really wants it. So I suggested a price which she is happy with, and I just need to take it to the post office to see what the postage is going to cost. The other very unexpected email was from my long arm quilter, Dinah, in Indiana, who has finished quilting my Year in the Garden top for me. This was made from a Beth Ferrier free internet block of the month pattern a few years ago. Dinah has finished the quilting and was posting it back to me, and she wrote to tell me that it was coming. But the really unexpected part is that she is strongly encouraging me to enter it for Paducah. Now I would never in a million years think that my work is good enough for Paducah, and on this top in particular I can remember several problems with the invisible machine applique, but Dinah really thinks I should go for it. She is willing to help with the photography and appraisal and entry process. It is going to cost me some money, but I guess maybe these sorts of opportunities don't come up too often. I still can't believe it would get juried in, but who knows. This raises the spectre of quilt police staring over my shoulder as I sew on the binding and sleeve (and try not to get cat hair on the quilt, pretty difficult in this house).

The only other useful thing I have done lately (besides knit on my sock, and boy am I loving the no-cable needle method of cabling) is to organise my knitting needles. I was getting fed up with having them all stuck in a big tin, even though they were rubber-banded together by size, it was still annoying trying to find the size I wanted. I had a brainwave about a new way to use office supplies and have come up with this solution: I stitched pockets into some punched plastic folders, and it works great up to about a size 10mm needle, and I can rank them by size.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

I seem to be turning into a knitter...

Watching me as I obsessively knit little hats in aid of Age Concern the other night (see pic to left of blog), my dh remarked that suddenly I seemed to be a Knitter - not a quilter, or a dollshouser or anything else. I think it might have been the insane chortling and the chanting of 'isn't it cute!' as I waved little pom-pommed mini hats around in front of his face.

I do seem to be on something of a knitting jag at the moment. I finished the first of my cable socks, and I am really pleased with how it looks. The fit is a bit tight, especially to get it on over the foot, so having consulted my 'Sensational Socks' book, I am going to make the heel flap a few rows higher (and thus the gusset a few stitches wider) which hopefully will give me a bit of slack. I am also going to try the no-cable-needle cable method on the second sock, which looks like it may also make a looser cross-over which should loosen the second sock slightly.

I continue to tweak my Freestyle quilting frame arrangement. I gave up on trying to get my own table level because no matter how much propping up I did, the sewing machine was still trying to coast downhill and backwards on its own. So I sent dh to Ikea to pick up two of the height-adjustable trestles like the ones in the instructional video (and he even put them together for me, what a sweetie!) and the frame is now resting on those. This had the added advantage that I could raise it up about 8 inches higher, so I could see the needle more clearly and no longer had to adopt the weird backward stooping posture. However, we quickly discovered that the weight of my machine was making the frame support rails sag by almost a half inch in the middle. It is impossible to see in the tiny pictures in the instructions whether or not the makers have boards between their trestles to support the rails. I have now propped up the centre of my rails with a stack of craft books (the first time many of them have been taken off the bookshelf in a long time). And at last I am level! If I let go of the machine carriage handles, the machine stays where it is! what a difference!

So now I feel like I can concentrate on learning to steer. On my current practice top, I am experimenting with edge-to-edge quilting. I traced off my chosen fairly simple pattern onto Golden Threads paper, and used a big needle to needle-punch six more copies of the pattern. I started out pinning these to the quilt and quickly discovered that I absolutely hated the technique. The paper isn't quite flat no matter how much you pin it, so the fullness gets pushed around by the presser foot and develops wrinkles, and it is sort of crunchy to stitch through. By the time you have stitched through one repeat, the paper sort of wrinkles up to adapt to the quilt contours, which means that when you pin down the next un-stitched sheet, it is now longer than the stitched sheet so that it is hard to line up the interlocking pattern correctly. and if the wrinkle gets high enough, the presser foot hooks into it and tears the paper. Aaarrghghgh!!!

After a few lengths of the GT paper, I felt there had to be a better way. Googling on the internet quickly revealed the pantograph system used on the Hinterburg system and others, where a stylus is attached to the back edge of the carriage to trace along a panto roll laid on the table. I have now temporarily improvised this system by taping a draughtsman's compass to my carriage and laying my panto roll along a board between the two trestles. Even this improvised system is working great, so I will have to adapt it into something more permanent.

I have received my first commission! A friend at work saw my knitting bag, and has asked me to make her one for her mother for Christmas.

On Saturday at my club meeting, we concluded both our brown bag swap and the applique split-picture swap (I was doing both). The mystery recipient of my autumn leaves table runner turned out to be someone unexpected, and I'm not sure she liked it. She said something pretty feeble like 'oh, that's nice', but when another tablerunner in similar colours was unveiled by someone else, she was raving enthusiastically 'OH, that's beautiful!' etc. so I guess she would have rather had that one. oh well. I glimpsed my own table runner which isn't finished yet so I don't have it back yet. I liked it because I like the fabrics I put in the bag. The applique split-picture swap has been really interesting - these are the pics where I made a slice of a black man's head, a slice of a Monet farmscape, and a slice of a Belgian street scene (as blogged previously). My picture is of a Venetian canal, and I haven't got all the three pieces back, but I've seen the third piece and it is quite amazing how much my three pieces look like they go together. I will make the fourth piece when I get the other three pieces and post a pic. The black man's portrait didn't fare so well - one contributor had used a fabric tremendously lighter than the others for the skin, and also made an over-large staring white eye. The Monet farmscape fabrics were all very good, but unfortunately the person who made the slice next to mine was wildly inaccurate and their piece doesn't line up at all with mine (we are talking more than a half inch out). At first when I saw it I had a sick feeling wondering if I had made the mistake, but we compared pattern pieces and it is definitely the next person's. The Belgian street scene is going to look good, apart from the boring low-contrast fabrics for the building and foreground provided by the owner of the picture. Hopefully I will get photographs of the finished scenes and be able to post them.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Re-inventing the wheel, and Miss Lydia Pickett

I am continuing to climb the steep learning curve with my Freestyle quilting frame. It is very frustrating because I feel 100% sure that I am reinventing the wheel - yet I can't find any book or dvd/video on using a home frame system. There are trillions of books on quilting designs, how to stipple, that sort of thing, but I can't find anything on the mechanical practicalities of using a frame. It seems ridiculous when these home systems have been sold in the thousands, if not tens of thousands. If anyone knows of a reference, PLEASE let me know, I would be very grateful.

Here are a few more things I have learned:

  • I need to smooth the top from the centre out to the edges each time I roll on, to try to fight the tendency of the quilt top to become hourglass-shaped (the quilting draws it in, yet the ends are pinned to full width on the rollers). The sideways tension is on the backing so it doesn't alleviate the tendency of the top to draw inwards.

  • where the top has no excess to trim off, I should put the batting onto the backing first, then pin the quilt top through all three layers. The cd that came with the system shows the top being pinned to the backing, then folded back, and the batting being inserted between the two layers. Despite best endeavours, this left me a gap of up to 1/4" with no batting in it along the top edge.

  • You can continuous-curve quilt around the seams of a block, by rolling on as needed (which is tedious but do-able). However (and my dh helpfully pointed out that this should be obvious), it is no good rolling forward to go around the whole block if the total distance quilted forward from original starting point exceeds a certain distance (about 10" on my frame) because once the three layers are quilted together, you can't roll back any further than about 10" because the top and bottom can no longer separate to go onto their respective rollers. I found this out by quilting all around one block, moving over to do the next block in the row and discovering I couldn't roll back far enough. Having driven helpful husband out of the room, I had to do part of the block and leave the rest to do later off the frame. I guess I should have done about half the first block, then gone along and done half the next block etc. etc., before rolling forward. But that is going to require some advance planning on how to quilt the seams, I hate advance planning.

On my next practice top, I am going to try some edge-to-edge quilting patterns. As there is no pantograph facility on this frame (and I would think that when someone writes that book I want to read, they will have a chapter on improvising pantograph systems), I will have to draw out the pattern onto Golden Threads paper.

What else have I been doing? I am still knitting on my Widdershins cable sock, I have turned the heel (which is just the most wonderful heel, you increase for the gusset, then knit a proper heel flap and decrease on either side to tie it back into the gusset - so no picking up stitches!) but when I tried to do the cable rib up the leg I found it was too tight. I ripped back and tried with bigger needles and less cross-overs, then it was too loose. So I have ripped back again, and am trying with original needles and less cross-overs. And I finally got my invitation to Ravelry, I was so excited, and spent about a half day setting up an account there. They only take pictures from Flickr, there is no direct upload option, so I had to create a knitting album on Flickr to get my pics into Ravelry. Oh, and it is getting a bit colder here now so I sat down one evening and knit a hat, the 'May' pattern from Rowan Big and Easy leaflet.

I've also finished two Miss Lydia Pickett kits from my monthly club that Judith of 'In Some Small Way' is running. This was the Day Bed and the Ladies' Writing Desk, which I think were the August & September kits. We have now moved onto the living room furniture so I have shifted my base colour from pale yellow to a sort of oatmeal colour (one of my dh's Citadel paints in a shade called 'Bleached Bone') which matches the provided artwork quite well. These kits went together well. The Day Bed was fairly easy. The front legs of the desk are built up of three layers and you need to sand the fronts off to round the leg so it looks more like a cabriole leg and less like a laser-cut structure. I found the artwork slightly puzzling as the interior pieces above and below the shelf do not completely fill up their allotted space, even though in the kit picture they appear to. The little extras with the ladies' desk are two little books and a folded vintage leaflet. I am quite pleased, as usual, with how both kits turned out.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

The Freestyle Quilting Frame

After taking delivery of my UK-made Freestyle quilting frame at the end of June, I have finally got around to putting it together. The following is an initial review - obviously I haven't begun to use it in any significant way yet, but I have assembled it, completed one practice cot quilt size top, and started meandering on a 'real' cot quilt.

These are the pieces as delivered. The frame is strongly constructed from quality materials. In fact the metal runners are so strong that in the accompanying instruction video you can see the frame in use and only supported at either end by trestles. The wooden pieces are of high quality wood, all well finished and completely smooth, and a large amount of pre-assembly has been done prior to delivery.

Now that the frame is together, I can say that it is not complex and I should not have any trouble putting it together a second time in the future. However, I had extreme difficulty putting it together the first time, largely because of inadequate instructions. Assembly instructions are supplied in two forms: a work-in-progress video (your choice of cd or dvd) which has chapter captions but no sound, and shows the frame being assembled and then loaded with a quilt top; and a one-sheet printed set of assembly instructions with small photographs. I had three main problems: firstly, the frame as supplied to me is obviously a later evolution and is not the same as the prototype pictured on either the printed instructions or in the video. Secondly, there appears to be no way to pause or stop the video on cd, forcing me to let it run full length repeatedly as I tried to figure out the finer details of assembly. I don't know what format it is in, but there are no controls provided for pausing or navigation, no key on the keyboard would pause it or make controls pop up, and Windows Media Player would not recognise the video format. Thirdly, the assembly instructions suffer greatly from 'must get it all onto one page' syndrome - the photographs are tiny and cropped so severely as to be almost useless. There is no sheet identifying the various components, which makes some of the references on the assembly sheet cryptic. Consequently the assembly, which on the video takes about 10 minutes, actually took me about five hours to get right. (At least, I think I've got it right)

It is a lot of little things, all of which could be solved with some close-up photographs. For example, when adding on the pivoting end pieces, it was not clear on which side of the wood the large washer should be placed. I put it on the inside - and it became clear later that this put the end piece slightly out of parallel with the base frame (because the spiral arm does have the large washer on the outside). So when I tried to adjust the height, my end piece was binding on the spiral arm's large washer, and actually chipped a bit of the wood off the bottom of the end piece. Another example would be that the rods have a specific right way up, which is to have the black handle down and the white plastic nub upwards in the support grooves. But you can't tell this from any of the instructions - it was my dh who pointed out that one end of the rods was lower than the other end. I'm still not sure where the side tensioning clips should be fastened on the frame - in the tiny photo in the instructions it looks like they may be hooked over a piece of wood which I don't have on my frame. I have hooked them instead over the white plastic rod, but that puts them off centre which seems strange. There are two more single sheets of instructions: one on loading the quilt onto the frame, which strangely is in a different order from how it is done on the video; and one showing how to adjust the height of the frame for your machine bed. I puzzled over the last one for some time and I am still not sure that I have it right, but the machine seems to be quilting alright.

When loading my machine onto the carriage (a Janome 6500) it became clear that I had another problem. The platform is not big enough to take my machine square on - the motor hits up against the handle and one foot is half off the platform. If I put the machine right over to one side, I can get it on at a slight angle but then the spool rest is preventing the machine from coming fully to the front of its platform (thus reducing the possible throat area on the machine since the platform steering handle support is in front of the actual machine throat).

The biggest problem has been the most unexpected - there is no allowance made, or mention of, where to put your foot pedal. When I tried out the frame at the Malvern quilt show, they were using the frame on two trestles, so of course the foot pedal cord could fall down behind the frame and the pedal come to the front. This obviously doesn't work on a table, unless you were on a very narrow table or have a very long foot cord. I have had to resort to improvising by tying my pedal onto the handle, which quickly tired out my left hand. Thinking of some of the other home frames I have seen at shows, some of which have a wooden trigger on the handle to push down on the pedal, I have now come up with this wooden stick arrangement to put leverage on the pedal, but it is still pretty unsatisfactory and prone to slipping off. I might try to suspend the cord on the stick to see if the pedal will reach down to the floor at the front. I have also had trouble a couple of times with the power cord at the back of the machine flipping up on the back runner and obstructing the machine carriage.

So what is it like to actually use? I found the action to be slightly heavy at first but I am getting used to it now. The system allows free movement of the machine in all directions, as it should. The handles are quite comfortable - or they would be if I didn't have the problem with the foot pedal level to squeeze. On my machine, I feel like I do not have good visibility of the needle unless I stand well back from the frame, because of the bulk of the machine head, so I find I am adopting a strange posture of standing well back and hunching my neck down to be able to see the needle, which grows uncomfortable over time. I guess if I had the frame on adjustable trestles like in the video, I could raise it to a more comfortable height.

I am having a bit of trouble because my table is not entirely level, and if I let go of the machine it wants to roll to the back and to the left. I am trying to prop the frame up with magazines and things but haven't got it right so far. That is just a problem with my table, and not the fault of the frame.

I ordered the six-foot rollers, and for some reason the leaders (the fabric 'tails' on the rollers) are different widths - the one on the back roller is 64 and 3/8th and the other two are near to 66 inches. So I guess 64 and 3/8th will be my maximum working width. It doesn't say this in the instructions, but it seems clear that the quilt back needs to be longer and wider than the top. Longer so that the top can be pinned onto the back below where the back pins onto the leader (so that you don't have two rows of pins on top of each other) and wider because otherwise the machine bed bumps into the side tensioning clip and disrupts the quilting. I have had several accidents with the needle hitting the back roller which is another reason for there to be a good gap between where the backing pins onto the leader and where the top starts. Once you have hit the back roller a few times, the needle clamp gets loosened and then the needle waggles and breaks (ask me how I know...).

Now that I have got going and am starting to learn all the quirks as above, the meandering is going well. I can see that it would save a lot of time, if you know what you are doing, compared to conventionally safety-pinning the quilt and free-motioning the normal way. I am pleased with the quality of the machine, and with the fact that I will be able to disassemble and store it easily (unlike some of the other dedicated home frame systems). I just need to do lots and lots more practice.

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