Friday, 26 September 2008

Row, row, row your boat

I had a fairly idyllic British summer afternoon last weekend, when Dh and I went along to the school's boathouse on the Thames. It was a lovely sunny day, and they were offering a 'have a go row' for parents. Ds took up rowing as a school sport this year, and so far seems to be enjoying it even though the fitness regime outside of rowing is fairly intensive. Dh thought it would be fun to try rowing for himself. Actually, I could have gone rowing as well, but I thought I would be much happier relaxing on the boat house sun deck, sipping a Pimms and knitting while I looked over the river activity. Beats being a soccer mom!!

This was the first time I had seen the boats up close, I couldn't believe how long the eights are! Apparently they cost up to $30,000 each, yet I saw them being swung around with apparent abandon by school kids portaging them in and out of the boathouse. Teachers must have nerves of steel - or really cast-iron insurance policies...

This is Dh's boat setting off at last (after about an hour of safety lectures and how-to's, another reason why I'm glad I didn't do it) - he is the third from the right in the baseball cap and dark t shirt. They were out for about an hour and a half and he said it was surprisingly hard. Apparently it requires serious coordination to get all 8 pairs of oars to synchronise, plus he found he kept clawing his own hand with his own fingernails as he crossed the two oars in front of him. I nodded very sympathetically as I sipped some more Pimms and knit another row on my alpaca shawl...

The Big Knit is running again this year, and I have contributed three little hats (pictured on top left of blog page). They pop the hats onto Innocent smoothie drinks that are sold in supermarkets, and 50p from each one sold goes to help the elderly stay warm during the winter.

Taking Swooze as my role model, I have been excavating my sewing closet and bagging up all my projects and UFOs in clear plastic carrier bags, writing on the outside what the project was and, more scarily, the year I purchased/started it. In our old house I had a whole large bedroom as my sewing room, but when we moved here I ended up with a double closet. Over the five years we have lived here, the closet had deteriorated to a useless and impenetrable mound of fabric and haberdashery. I've taken everything out, put the stash into plastic boxes that I will at least be able to lift out of the closet to paw through when I am looking for something, bagged up all the projects/UFOs and taken all the quilting books out to be moved downstairs. It still isn't as good as having a sewing room, but hopefully will improve matters. I am depressed at how ancient a lot of the stash is, there is plenty of fabric in there 10 years old or more that I've never used. Lately I have turned into what Mark Lipinski calls a 'McQuilter', just buying kits or pre-packs of coordinated fabric, just because it is easier. Even though I know that the quilts I love the most are the ones where I have added my own creativity to the design.

I found two Christmas quilt projects in the closet, the 'Let it Snow' snowman quilt and a tree skirt kit. I should make one for christmas, probably the tree skirt. When I looked at the pattern, it is only 42" square, which is way too small for the giant xmas trees we like to buy (some years we have to trim the top because it is hitting the ceiling) so I think I am going to have to break away from the kit and make up my own adaptation of the design.

Friday, 19 September 2008

This week's summary

I've had a better week, and feel like I have produced things.

This is the October block for my BOM programme, a simple applique block called Tulip Leaves in EQ6. I am procrastinating about the double nine-patch with the math issues, and haven't solved that one yet.

This is a Hallowe'en wall hanging I am making, after spotting this wacky row of houses in the U.S. version of Country Living magazine where it was a small pic of a Bethany Lowe paper cutout. Right away I thought it would make a perfect hallowe'en quilt. I am going to fray the edge of the golden border.

This is my wonderfully soft and cuddly alpaca shawl, in Plymouth Grande baby alpaca that I bought in Chicago back when the exchange rate was so wonderful. The exchange rate completely bites now every time I drool over online quilt fabric or books. Obviously I have some knitting to do before this is actually a shawl, but this is the first ball knitted up.

I've been enjoying reading the three back issues of 'Yarn Forward' magazine that I bought at the I-knit show last week. It is refreshingly non-commercial and I like the lack of ads, the use of real-shaped amateur models, and the feeling that they are really writing what they think, not just what their advertisers want them to write. Hopefully they will keep that homespun feeling now that they are moving to more regular publication and sales via newsagents.

The fall issue of Vogue Knitting finally turned up and as always was a very enjoyable read. None of the patterns really caught my eye this time, in terms of being something I would want to wear or knit. But the articles are great, and the ads are such eye-candy that they are a good read in themselves. I was very interested to read that there are two new knitting magazines coming out. Fons & Porter, who do 'Love of Quilting' which I quite like, are now starting up 'Love of Knitting'. I've ordered the first issue (although I couldn't find a subscription option on the net so perhaps they are just testing the water), after grimacing over the exchange rate and my enthusiasm being dampened by finding a lukewarm review and will wait to see for myself. Debbie Bliss is also launching her own magazine, which apparently is going to be modelled on Vogue Knitting which sounds exciting. I am going to look for it at the Alexandra Palace big Knitting and Stitching Exhibition. If I like it, I expect there will be a show special on the subscription there. Because I don't have enough magazine subscriptions already, rofl...

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Back to school

Ds is now back at school, and we are returning to our normal, more structured, term-time routine. I have convinced my team leader to let me work two days at home, Fridays and Mondays, so I am feeling in a much better place about my work/life balance. I actually asked if I could go back to working four days, but they wouldn't agree to that. But at least having two days at home gives me a lot more time to run the household, deal with paperwork, deliveries, cook some meals that take longer than 30 minutes to prepare, and even sneak in a few minutes here and there on crafts. I am still not thrilled about the job but I feel more in a steady state than I did a few months ago where I seemed to be in permanent crisis mode.

Last weekend I had a few friends over to work on dollshouse stuff on Sunday morning, and I put together this kit for an Indian elbow basket, which my friend Andrea gave me when I sat next to her on Rik Pierce's course in Chicago back in April. It was pretty tricky to make, but I got there in the end, and I filled it with some paper flowers left over from something else I made. I am hanging this in the quilt shop as another bit of Americana decoration. It's about 1.5 inches high. I am still making miniature fabric bolts for the quilt shop, only about another 75 to go (actually, I haven't counted, I just keep making a few here and there and eventually the shelves will be stocked).

I got about 8 inches knitted in the round on the new sweater in Rowan Summer Tweed that I started on holiday, enough so that I could try it on. I immediately realised that this design, in this yarn, would make me look like a Teletubby (think Goodyear tire man). The yarn is not soft enough or drapey enough for a close fitting sweater. So I ripped it out (aaaaak). I have now started on plan B, 'Bianca's Jacket' from Fall 2006 Interweave Knits. I have modified the pattern to knit it in one piece to the armholes, so far I have about 1.5 inches done and the curved fronts are slowly starting to emerge. I think I will knit it longer than the cropped pattern as I am not a stick insect and my tummy needs to be hidden, not flaunted.

I was on a one-day course up in London on Friday, and my key agenda item for the day was to nip out at lunchtime to visit nearby 'Loop', a knitting shop in Islington. I had a nice browse around the store, and eventually decided upon a skein of Noro Kureyon sock yarn. It feels a bit scratchy on the ball, I am hoping it will soften with washing. I am thinking about a pair of gloves in it, rather than socks. I have to confess I don't get a good vibe in Loop, the two sales people were very busy talking to each other which made me feel like an intruder, and after waiting several minutes at the till with cash visible in my hand while one of them did stuff on the computer, I had to ask her if she would mind terribly if I paid for my item. Hmmm.

On the sewing front I had to make a sample block for my BOM for the September class last week, and now I need to tackle the block for October's meeting. I have put myself into a spot of bother on a few of these blocks as I designed the quilt in EQ6 to work on multiples of 2-inch measurements, e.g. 8 inch blocks, 12 inches, 16 inches, all fit together like a puzzle. What I hadn't thought about (duh, math challenged here), is that if those blocks are 9-patch variations, like a double nine-patch, that 3 doesn't go into 2 very well. This has led to some unusual instructions for some blocks and I am stuck on the next one trying to figure out a way to avoid telling people to cut squares that are 1 and 13/16th inches. I can't just substitute another block as they all have a line diagram of the finished quilt so are expecting this block. Good thing I am a volunteer and no one is paying me for this, lol. I will work out something.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

I Knit day in London and the Yarn Harlot

I've just come back from a great day up in London, the I-Knit Day with Stephanie Pearl-McPhee the Yarn Harlot. I got there about 1:15 pm as I had to get my ladies started off ok for our Saturday Sewing Club - then I blew that popsicle stand and got the train up to London.

This year the day had expanded to a larger hall, with a separate auditorium for the Yarn Harlot's talk. I had time to take in the gorgeous fashion show for the book "A Stitch in Time" which features modern takes on vintage knits. What really amazed me was how 3-dimensional the sweaters were, unlike our modern frequently flat knitted fronts and backs with perhaps a little waist shaping. Most of these were sculpted onto the body, with gathered yokes, tucked waists, sculpted stand-up sleeve caps,puffed sleeves, stitch textures, even details like mitred knitted points falling from the elbow to drape over the rib cuff, ruffled necklines, just like something out of a 40s b&w film.

Then I went to the Yarn Harlot's talk with 349 other people. She was very funny as expected, but I was amazed at how normal she was, and how much time she was willing to give us. She seemed like a really nice person, very natural even though she must give variations on the same talk so many times. She kept taking questions past her cut-off time until the questions finally petered out. Then she went back to the book signing table and was still there three hours later - I know because I waited for the queue to die down until I joined it. She must have a bladder of steel, lol. And even after three hours of signing, she was still taking the time to chat pleasantly with each customer, and pose for pictures etc. I identified myself as a former Canadian and we had a short pleasant chat about where I grew up, then she complimented my Katia linen vest which I was wearing! So not only to I have a personally signed book but the Yarn Harlot likes my vest!

After that I went back for the shopping, and had a great time working my way around all the interesting booths, lots of small dyers, internet shops, native British wools etc. I didn't buy too much - one hank of sock yarn from Indigo Moon 100% merino wool, and a supersoft hank of laceweight baby alpaca 70%/ silk 20%/ cashmerer 10% from Knitwitches yarns in a lovely purple/blue. I want to have a go at my first lace shawl, possibly from the book Victorian Lace Today which has loads of lovely but scary things in it. I had a good time fondling lots of other lovely yarn. There were several charities there as well that you could sit down and knit for, baby hats for Oxfam, pink scarves for breast cancer. I picked up some leaflets with charity patterns for later possibly. I also bagged three early issues of Yarn Forward magazine for £5, as I only started subscribing from issue 5 I think, so I will enjoy reading those.

Then I was tired so I sat down at one of the tables to knit on my lace sock, while I enjoyed the show. There was knitting poetry, followed by a great fashion show of men's knits by Erika Knight from her new book. She had convinced several male audience members and trade people to model - they were very good natured about it although some looked very self conscious. Some of the sweaters were very good, but others I had trouble imagining on 'normal' men. There was one scarf which was basically a single giant cable in giant wool that I don't think I could pay my husband to wear. But some of the other things he would quite like. Perhaps I should knit him something... in my spare time....right.

Then I got into the Yarn Harlot queue for 40 minutes, and like many of the women in the queue, I kept knitting. By the time I got near the signing desk, I had finished the lace cuff and started the heel. The rest of the sock is plain so perhaps I will have a completed pair soon. I am thinking about giving them to my m-i-l for xmas, but her feet are smaller than mine.

Here are some pics from my last post: the fabric I bought in Scarborough last week, and the baby hat and booties I finished.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Summer - don't blink or you'll miss it

Well, that was it. One moment DS had two months off school, and the next, he is going back on Wednesday. We've just come back from a week of camping up in Yorkshire - DS has decided he hates camping so he went to the grandparents. That's our last camping trip of more than one day, and I am struggling to find any weekends to camp before it gets too cold for us (no heater in our trailer tent). The weather continued to be variable, setting off in the morning was like being a Sherpa for Mount Everest because we had to load 3 or 4 changes of clothes and shoes for each of us into the car: socks/shoes/sweaters for when it was cold, sandals/t-shirts for when the sun suddenly came out from behind a cloud to roast us for a few hours, and rainy gear for when it started spitting. In one day you could go from one extreme to the other. By the time you got the sun cream on, the sun had disappeared behind a black cloud and you had to look for your umbrella.

But we had a relaxing week (apart from a few screaming rows over navigation). We had a day in York, an old favourite of mine as I once went to college there for a term. I visited Sheepish yarn store in The Shambles and bought a few patterns, and the dollshouse store in Fossgate which has a huge selection. I got a couple of lights for my Rik Pierce house and a few other bits and bobs for various houses. We also went in loads of book stores and one had a big discount section upstairs with a huge craft section including a whole bookcase of quilting books, very unusual for the UK. I got two great books by Mary Mashuta: "Confetti Quilts" which is all about colour theory for scrap quilts, and "Cotton Candy Quilts" which is about 30's quilts. Most of the quilts in Confetti Quilts aren't to my taste, but the discussions on colour theory are very interesting. I found that all the quilts I liked were either polychromatic (all colours) or Triad, so I should try to use this to plan my quilts better. We also ventured into a strange cellar called 'Aladdin's Cave' off Walmgate which I don't think I would have gone into on my own as it was not only in the cellar but down a dark alley. It was a junk antiques shop, and I got two empty clock cases which I plan to use as roomboxes for dollshouse vignettes. In late afternoon we had a relaxing boat ride on the river Ouse.

We had a lovely afternoon in Whitby, where we visited the atmospheric ruined abbey up on the cliff (no sign of Dracula, but then the sun had come out), mooched around the harbour, and I found a fantastic yarn shop called 'Bobbins' in an old chapel in the old town. They had indigo dyed cotton aran yarn quite cheaply and patterns for traditional guernseys, so I bought a kit to knit a patterned cardigan-jacket.

Another day we went to Scarborough, which I found rather run down, but there was a great sewing centre on Aberdeen Way in the town centre which had likely the most bolts of patchwork fabric that I've seen in an English shop. It was all cheaper lines and all priced at £4.30 a yard which is cheap for the UK. I stocked up on several yards of fabric that caught my eye. And I found another dollshouse shop (run by a very grumpy woman) in St. Helen's square, where I bought a few pieces of chunky cheap pieces of furniture which I think I can re-decorate to go in my Rik Pierce dollshouse.
The drive home was pretty awful, with heavy fog, driving rain, traffic jams and roadworks. But we stopped for lunch at Brodworth Hall (pictured) and the sun peeped out for a little while so it was very pretty.

In between all of the shopping we had several nice meals, and saw some lovely countryside in the Yorkshire moors. It was a good break. I did lots of knitting (DH was calling it 'performance art' as I was knitting in pubs and cafes and while I was waiting for him in museums etc.) and I finished the matching hat to go with the baby booties I made last week. I also made a good start on a sweater with some of the Rowan Summer Tweed that I bought in the Liberty's sale a while back. It was a good conversation starter particularly with other knitters.

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