Sunday, 26 October 2008

Happy Hallowe'en

I will wish my readers a Happy Hallowe'en now, as Hallowe'en will have come and gone by the next time I blog. As I am out every night for the rest of the week, Dh and I are going out in a few minutes to try and track down a pumpkin (or two). We may have trouble, as apparently all the wet weather this summer has decimated the pumpkin / squash crop. Another reason we may have trouble is, as you may have heard, Hallowe'en is not very popular here in the UK. When I first came over here about 20 years ago, Hallowe'en was virtually non-existent. It has become more popular over the last 10 years, but is still a pale shadow of the American holiday. Very few shops will decorate for it, and in my neigbourhood 3 out of 5 houses will stay dark on Hallowe'en night, hoping that the kids will just leave them alone. Few kids go out to trick or treat, due to safety concerns, working parents, lack of support for the holiday, etc. I have always tried to 'keep the flame' by buying candy and decorating my house, but some years I have had as few as 3 kids. I've also had problems with teens kicking my pumpkins down the road etc., so now I keep most of my decorations inside. The last few years have been pretty good, I think we had about 40 kids last year but some of those were teenagers not even in costume. I have several times seen articles or letters in our local newspapers from church officials preaching against the 'American' and 'satanist' custom of Hallowe'en. It is viewed with much suspicion here, people don't 'get it', I guess because they didn't grow up with it. It is also a night which invites vandalism from teens, which is why many people keep their house dark and pretend they are not home. I find it sad, I wish my son could have grown up knowing how much fun the holiday can be. I did take him to visit my brother in Canada for a 'proper' Hallowe'en once, but he barely remembers that now (he was only 4). And of course now he is too old to trick or treat so I don't even get to go out with him. But I will carry on, I already have my inside decorations up, and will put up the window and porch decorations on Friday morning.

We had part of this week off, as Ds is on school holidays. On Wednesday we took / dragged (depending on your perspective) Ds to see the Red House, home of the famous William Morris the Arts and Crafts designer. Even we were daunted by the 90 minute encyclopedic guided tour which was the only way to view the house, but we learned a lot about the Arts and Craft movement (whether we wanted to or not...).

This weekend Dh and I had a mini-break up in London, as Ds had gone off to his grandparents. In fact, as we drove him down to their house, I finished my first Noro Kureyon glove. I proudly displayed the glove to my m-i-l (who knits), and my f-i-l wandering by said "what colour do you call that then?". F-i-l is obviously not a knitter. I'm pleased with it, it fits really well, and the colour changes worked out pretty well. I had to skip a couple of places in the yarn, once because I got to a big slubby bit just as I was starting a new finger, which would have distorted all around the base of the finger, and two other times where I got to a really bright orange or bright yellow bit, and I didn't think having one bright yellow finger or bright orange finger was going to work. Completely by coincidence, the last finger ended at the right place in the colour sequence to start the next glove, which is now well underway and so far looking like a good match for the first one. This yarn is a bit odd, it is 70 wool, 30 nylon and feels quite rough in the hand, but softens when you wash it. Most of it is fine, but there are some unspun slubby bits ranging from a few inches to several inches, which might not show up in a jumper so much, but of course in a glove are very obvious. Conversely there are some thin bits, including one bit that was so thin it was like sewing thread, and a little bit of plant material which I have been able to easily pick out. I am using 2.5 mm needles.

We had a great time up in London, it really is one of the greatest cities in the world and I am so lucky to live here. Our hotel was in Belsize Park, one stop before Hampstead which is a lovely leafy village type part of London full of very expensive and very old houses dating back to the 1600s in some cases. Here is a pic of one that caught my eye - imagine sitting in that bay window with a bit of needlework...

Next to the village is Hampstead Heath, a huge park/woodland full of paths and ponds and hills. We sat in the sun for a while by the pond and of course I was knitting. I knitted in several parks this visit: Green Park,Regent's Park, St. James Park, and on buses, subways, cafes and at the hotel.

We had several fabulous meals, including a wonderful Chinese meal on board this floating Chinese restaurant called Feng Shang Princess which is moored in the canal in Regent's Park. We went to a very silly musical called Eurobeat, a spoof on the Eurovision song contest, which I enjoyed. We went to the Byzantium exhibition at the Royal Academy on the day it opened. We explored the food halls at Fortnum and Mason's and bought a picnic lunch there to eat in the park. We walked by Buckingham Palace on our way to the Royal Academy. Today we explored Hampstead using a self-guided tour leaflet, and read the Sunday papers while we ate lunch in a friendly cafe. Needless to say I am feeling very fat. But also very relaxed.

And tonight, before dinner, I took advantage of Ds being away to commandeer the dining table again and start making the paperclay shingles for my Rik Pierce house. I suddenly remembered that he told us that Paperclay will go moldy once it has been opened for a while, and go off once it is a year or so old. He gave me the Paperclay back in April and I opened a packet early in the summer, so I suddenly realised I need to get a move on and shingle the roof before I lose my raw materials (you can't buy Paperclay in the UK). I made a start on the dormer roof but before stopping for supper I managed to fill in all the front part of the roof and a bit behind the dormer as well.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Feeling christmassy

It's been Christmas in my sewing room this week as I work on my tree skirt, and also made a stocking for the #QuiltChat stocking swap. The tree skirt has been a lot of fun, choosing fabrics to add character to the houses, reindeer, and the jolly Santa, and snipping everything out of fusible web. This is an in-progress shot of the centre. There is embroidery to add, and buttons for decoration, and a border around the outside. The whole thing will be about 65" square, and the hole will be cut out of the middle to accommodate the tree.

The stocking is in response to my swap partner's expressed preferences, I hope they like it. I used a pattern from Eleanor Burns Quilt in A Day.

I finally got around to painting and varnishing the bread dough sculpture I made several months ago - although it doesn't seem to have suffered from not being sealed. I guess although our summer was pretty gloomy, it wasn't particularly humid this year.

This is my little sock on its mini sock blocker, that I bought as a kit at Alexandra Palace - so cute. I have hung it on my zip bag of knit accessories.

I've been knitting up a storm this week. My Noro Kureyon glove now has 3.5 fingers and went with me to the knitting evening at the I-Knit shop in London on Thursday night. Now that Ds is rowing that day, I don't have to rush home so I can go knitting instead. There was an interesting short presentation from an author of a vintage knit book, and I enjoyed a cider (they are a licensed knitting shop) while chatting to my tablemates. My Plymouth Baby Alpaca scarf is about 14 inches long and slowly growing, I have pressed on with Bianca's jacket in Rowan Summer Tweed - now that I am reading the pattern correctly it is going much more smoothly. I've started a hat in Koigu from the pattern I bought at Alexandra Palace.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Stitching weekend

The weather was gorgeous this weekend but I spent most of it inside enjoying myself. On Saturday I had my Saturday Sewing Club, which was very enjoyable. I've started making a xmas tree skirt adapted from a pattern by Art to Heart called "The Night Before Christmas", so I spent my time sewing together the background and tracing off eight reindeer, santa, sleigh, houses, trees etc. onto Steam a Seam 2 fusible web. Then I ran out of web, and was also wishing I had more plaid fabrics. But I was not concerned, because I knew I was going to Ally Pally the next day!

Alexandra Palace, site of the annual big Knitting and Stitching Show. This year I arrived in luxury as Dh decided it was such a nice day that he and Ds would spend the time wandering about the neighbouring parkland while I was inside at the show. Usually I have to slog up there on public transport. I got there by 10:30 a.m. and spent an enjoyable but increasingly exhausting four hours trying to see everything. An early highlight was that I have sold my Passap Duo 80 knitting machine - a lady on the Guild of Machine Knitters stand also buys/sells knitting machines, so she agreed to take it off my hands. The price is a lot less than I have invested in it, but considering you couldn't give knitting machines away a few years ago, it is better than nothing and I really need the room in my knitting shed. Now I need to pack it all up and get it over to her friend's house who is near us and will drive it up to where it needs to go.

So, what did I get? Four socks worth of yummy sock yarn, including two lots of Koigu that were on sale for just £5 a skein. Two balls of Sublime to make baby booties from the free Debbie Bliss pattern in this month's issue of 'Simply Knitting'. A hat pattern to make from sock yarn. Several pairs of four-inch long dpns for making glove fingers. More steam a seam and several plaid fabrics for the tree skirt, plus buttons and reindeer noses for decoration. A kit to make a tiny sock-on-a-sock-form key ring. I extended my subscription to 'Knitting' magazine in order to pick up a free book gift - I chose Nicky Epstein's On the Edge book, and she was there so she signed it for me. I also subscribed to the new Debbie Bliss knitting magazine to see what that is like (yes, I am a magazine addict). Oh, and a few more reels of Masterpiece thread because I like it.

On the way home, we got stuck in a traffic jam for a long time, so gave up and stopped at Starvin Marvin's, a American 50s-style diner with homemade chocolate malt shakes, and pigged out on yummy junk food. A good day was had by all.

I have to share my new toy with you. my Asus EEE 901 Netbook. I love it! I love it so much that Dh is getting a bit jealous about how much attention I am giving it. You can see how small it is from the knife in the picture for scale, but it has a stomping wireless connection so I can carry it all around the house without losing the connection - probably even into the garden although I haven't tested that. I am catching up on podcasts, watching online quilting tv, catch up television, internet radio, it's fantastic. Like a super Ipod. The keyboard is a bit too cramped for easy typing so not quite as good for answering email, but great for everything else. In the traffic jam today, I was listening to podcasts that I had downloaded. Now I can always be entertained no matter what boring chore I am doing.

I have a bad case of knitting start-itis at the moment. So what's on my (multiple) needles at the moment?

- a scarf I am knitting out of the rest of my Plymouth baby alpaca Grande paint, in a great twisted stitch I found through Ravelry
- a glove that I am knitting out of the Noro Kureyon I bought at Loop. I don't really have a pattern so am having to do a lot of trying on to get the size right.
- Bianca's Jacket from Interweave Fall 2006 from Rowan Summer Tweed - this is progressing slowly as I had to rip out a few inches after I misread the pattern.
- and I am about to start baby booties in Sublime, and my new key ring kit, and a hat in sock wool
- and I'm not mentioning other, older, UFOs which are languishing in cupboards.

Monday, 6 October 2008

My week in pictures

Lots of pics this week.

Here is a shot, on one of our last sunny days before the autumn rain set in, of my three mosaic blocks in place in the lawn. The grass is starting to grow back around them, and they look really pretty glistening in both the rain and the sun.

Here are my lace socks in Lorna's Laces Shepherd sock wool, finished at last. I was startled when I blocked them to find one was definitely smaller than the other. I've managed to block it out to a similar size to the larger one. I think what may have happened is that I knit the rib in a smaller needle, then forgot to shift to a larger needle for the body. See what happens when you take months to finish a project... They have turned out really nice though, the pattern is from 'More Sensational Socks' and they will be a gift.

This is my gorgeous yarny lovely soft wonderful alpaca shawl, from Plymouth Baby Alpaca Grande Paint that I bought in Chicago. I still have loads left, so I think I will knit a scarf as well. The pattern is Feather and Fan, and I found it free on Ravelry but can't find the link again now that I want to imbed it here. You basically cast on 74 stitches in a bulky yarn and keep going in Feather and Fan pattern until it is about 52" long. (mine is longer)

On Saturday I took the train up to Miniatura, the UK's largest dolls house fair, held at the National Exhibition Centre. It was a three hour trip but easy, and I had four hours to spend at the fair which was long enough to exhaust me. I had a great time, it is a great fair.

These are the things I bought for my Rik Pierce house, envisioning a sort of Tudor/Edwardian kitchen.

These are the things I bought for my quilt shop / knitting shop.

And these are the things I bought for another period house that I call my Vic-war-gency house because it can't decide what period it is. The little china pieces were very inexpensive, I think they must be the French equivalent of Crackerjack prizes. The little tole-painted box opens up and is a needlework box, very pretty.

This is a kit by Robin Betterly that I put together on Sunday when one of my dollshouse friends came over. This is the Flutterbye Dollshouse kit, so cute, about two inches high.

And lastly, this is the math-challenged block for my BOM that I wimped out of last month. I got round the math by cutting the strips 1 7/8th inch wide and sewing a fat quarter inch seam allowance, which brought the nine-patches in at 4.5 inches wide as required. I am steeling myself for my ladies' looks of disbelief when, after preaching at them for years on the importance of an accurate quarter-inch seam allowance, I tell them to purposely sew wide. The alternative was cutting strips 1 13/16th inches wide so hopefully they will see that this is the better way forward.

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