Saturday, 27 December 2008


Christmas Dinner Part Deux and Part Trois have finally finished off the leftovers. About 50% of our gifts this year were edible, so the house is still littered with boxes of chocolate, bags of toffee, not to mention the cookies and fudge I made, mince pies etc. I feel like I've been full for three days straight. I suppose if I had any willpower, I would put it all away (ha, ha, ha, ha, ha...)

Christmas Day actually went off very well. I had one bad moment when I was trying to orchestrate the seven or so components of christmas dinner to all be hot and cooked at the same time, then served up. I'm only used to cooking for 3 people, so cooking for 7 is a struggle. All the timings I have memorised (e.g. the steamer cooks carrots for 3 people in about 20 minutes) no longer apply (rock hard carrots for 7 after 30 minutes) so it was all a bit stressful. I am not a natural hostess. My idea of a relaxing and enjoyable guest visit is one or two people staying for a defined period no longer than two hours, doing some shared activity like dollshousing, and requiring only tea and biscuits/cookies. My m-i-l helped, and also carved the turkey, something else that I have no aptitude for. My family are well used to getting mangled and thick chunks of meat on their plate. Anyhow, it all tasted good and people enjoyed themselves. My sister-i-l brought musical crackers with eight whistles and a conductor's baton, so we formed an orchestra conducted by DS. Let's just say we won't be giving up our day jobs.

I got some nice presents, but once again because I had bought them myself and others paid for them. I struggle with this, as I know presents are supposed to be a 'surprise', but surprises usually turn out to be things I don't want, like boxes of chocolate or bottles of scented bath lotion. Despite having a kazillion hobbies, people say I am hard to buy for. This way I get things I actually want, and they tend to be things others would have trouble buying anyway unless I told them specifically what website to go to etc. I got an Elizabeth Zimmerman DVD (Knitting Glossary), a 1/24th scale kitchen kit to go with my Miss Lydia Pickett kits together with some 1/24th metal kitchen accessories, and vouchers from my DH entitling me to chauffeured trips to a number of my favorite destinations plus some free passes to go to the cinema once a month. Also some books, gift vouchers and a new small cutting board to take to sewing club (my old one is about 15 years old and hard as a rock). I hope all of you had a good day as well.

The night of Christmas Day I poured a glass of wine and logged onto #Quiltchat, where a number of ladies were taking refuge from their holiday. It's funny because my christmas was almost over, whereas the Americans were just starting theirs, and there weren't any ozzies on the channel because their christmas was finished and they were asleep. I'm very impressed reading about all the christmas gift sewing that went on, on other people's blogs. I didn't do any gift making for this christmas, although I did give a few dollshouse hats I had made some months ago, to my friend Eileen.

I did the Boxing Day sales in the little town near to us, yesterday and today, but there wasn't that much on sale. I think there were so many sales leading up to Christmas Day as retailers struggled to survive, that there isn't much left over to put on sale now. I was hoping to get another Knitting page-a-day calendar at half price like I did last year, but couldn't find one anywhere.

I have been doing lots of knitting on my Bianca's Jacket in Rowan Summer Tweed and today I cast off the neckline of the yoke which holds all the pieces together. This meant that I could try it on, the first time it has looked like a garment instead of like a pile of knitting gathered onto a circular needle. I'm really pleased with it, although it needs blocking. Now I am seaming the sleeves, then I need to knit a few rows of edging including button loops all around the fronts/bottom, then it will be done! I've got to the toe shaping on Swooze's second sock, so they are nearly done also. I had started knitting my husband a tie, but it has come out far too wide so I will have to start over again with fewer stitches. So it must be time to start a new project ( or go back to a UFO) since I am nearly finished all the ones I've been working on for the last little while.

I've got the quilting frame set up in my bedroom, and am on quilt number two. Quilt number one was just simple meandering and re-learning how to use the frame. It came out ok. Quilt number two I am doing a simple panto in horizontal rows. It feels like it is taking forever because the panto is only 2.5" high so I am finding it really tedious. I could go a bit bigger, maybe 3" or 3.25" but I have to be careful because once I am getting near the end of the quilt, the roll under the arm really reduces my amount of quilting space even though my Janome has a 9 inch throat. How I wish I had a short-arm, or even better, a long arm. Still buying those lottery tickets... I'm going to have a lot of binding to sew on once I get these six tops done. Quilt number two is for a work colleague (one that I like) so I will probably try to get it bound next week.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Home at last

Huge sigh of relief as I am now at home for two weeks, mostly working from home but I am taking off the two days before Christmas. It was all happening the last week at work, as pressures and frustrations came to a head. A catalogue of mixed messages and miscommunications culminated in a sudden announcement that I was expected to go on a two-night business trip in early February, despite the fact that I have been booked to take a major holiday the following weeks since before joining my new job. My refusal to travel sparked a meeting with my supervisor and my team leader, where my pointing out that I could have told them that was a bad week for me anytime over the last eight months had they bothered to ask me, led into what was virtually a shouting match between me and my supervisor over all our problems, with the team leader trying ineffectually to mediate. Curiously enough, I felt immensely better after pouring it all out, so I was able to survive my end-year performance appraisal the next day with equanimity. My team leader is promising a fresh start in new year, with better communication, clearer roles and structures, so we shall see. I am feeling very stressed by it all, and particularly from the move into a sardine can call centre open plan environment which is constantly noisy and has no privacy at all. I am very introverted and just loathe the constant exposure to people, noise, phones ringing, cells going off, interruptions etc. which has not helped my ability to cope with my new role.

Anyway. So I have two weeks at home now and the future looks slightly brighter. It sure isn't a good time to go looking for a new job.

So what have I been doing? After reading about handmade circular knitting holders by Sarah Kincheloe in the latest issue of Knitty, I felt inspired to tackle my longstanding issues with my Denise organiser needles. Denise interchangeable needles come neatly packed into a non-latching plastic case which holds everything brilliantly until the first time you take something out. After that I found it hard to get the cables back into place, things
were falling out of the case, and there was nowhere to store the

spare accessories. I have looked at the new Denise plastic case, but it is very expensive here in the UK and needle sizes aren't labelled. So I made this combined holder for my Denise needles and for my circular needles, and I can label the pockets. I'm sure Sarah's are much nicer than mine, but this does the job. I have a few spare pockets but if I get many more circs, I may need to make another one. I modelled it on Sarah's, and it folds into four and latches with velcro.

I finally finished the last of the backs for my six tops, so yesterday I spent a long time setting up my table top quilting frame again. I haven't used it since setting it up for the first time last Christmas, so the first big job was just to locate all the pieces from where I had squirreled them away around the house and attic. I spent at least 45 minutes looking for the wooden supports that I thought I had put under the runners until I eventually realised that I hadn't actually had any last christmas, but had meant to buy some for next time. Isn't getting older wonderful? This time, as I assembled things, I wrote little labels on them (back roller, this faces front etc.) so hopefully it won't be such a learning curve next time. The huge improvement this time around is that I bought the Grace speed control that fits on the handlebars, so I don't have to put up with the improvised foot pedal arrangement I was using last time. It is much better and for the first time the set-up feels a bit like those I have tried out at shows. I loaded a test sandwich and practiced a bit and fiddled with the tension, and now I have loaded my first top.

I am starting with one that I know I am going to give away, the New Year's mystery quilt from last year, and just trying out meandering to begin with. I know a big problem I had last time was the limited throat space (2-6" as the quilt roll enlarges) and I struggled to find quilting designs to use. It still surprises me that with all these tabletop frames that Grace, Hinderburg and others are selling, that someone hasn't written a book on how to quilt horizontal design bands of 4" width that still look good. I bought a few long-arm quilting books but although I got a few tips out of them, it is mostly just frustrating because of all the stuff I can't do. Still, things are going well, tension isn't too bad, and I feel good that I am finally tackling my quilt top collection.

I hope that, if you are celebrating, that you are in a good place with all your preparations, and are looking forward to an enjoyable holiday. Merry Christmas to all my readers, hope Santa brings you all your crafty desires, plus lots of time to craft in. Oh, and the good news is that I got my sock pattern back, the girl sitting next to me at the xmas party had it, and gave it back to me Thursday night. So Swooze will get two matching socks after all.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas (except at work)

Christmas is now taking shape, the tree is up, the decorations are up, I've done my cards (which always seems to be a huge job) and the long job of shovelling out the house to prepare for the Christmas Day guests has begun. I had to completely rearrange our living room to fit the tree in, since as usual it looks about a third bigger now that it's home, than it did in the lot. Therefore the xmas tree skirt I just made, which I worried was too big, in fact just peeps out all the way around. Dh actually decorated the tree this year, and it looks really nice. I did the rest of the house (we have quite a few decorations). Found another dead string of lights that I couldn't get working despite trying every single bulb with a replacement. That makes three dead strings this year that we can't get to work at all. I guess they don't last forever.

So the house looks very christmassy now, unlike the office. I took in one strand of tinsel and pinned it around 'my' area of the divider between our sardine banks of desks, and that tinsel is the only decoration on our whole office floor of 70 people that I've seen. I asked one of the secretaries and she says they are always a miserable bunch at Christmas. Work is really getting me down again, I have been feeling quite depressed about it lately and it is very hard to go in some days. I have my end year appraisal on Thursday which will be a joke I am sure. Thank god I get to work from home for two weeks over christmas (and two days of that is holiday) so it will be a break to regain my mental health I hope.

On a better note, I had a very good time at the I-Knit knitting shop Christmas party this week. In fact, too good a time as somewhere along the glasses of wine I lost the pattern for the socks I am knitting for Swooze. I've finished the first sock, and am halfway through the second, but no pattern when I got home. I phoned the shop twice but they haven't seen it, they said it might have gotten thrown out. I'm hoping someone picked it up and will give it back to me on Thursday night. It is the free Regia sock pattern but I think it is the older version, as I have another newer leaflet that has all the sizes in a table on the last page, which has a completely different heel/gusset/toe than the one I was knitting from. My pattern had the pattern written out in words, for 4-ply yarn in one half, and 6-ply yarn on the second half of the leaflet. Swooze may have one warm foot and one cold foot at this rate. We were very crowded at the shop, about 40 people squeezed in, so my knitting fell off my lap several times, and I guess on one of those times the pattern fell out of the bag. Guess I'm lucky i still have the sock and needles... We all brought a wrapped gift and put it in a tub, and were given someone else's gift back. I got a lovely pair of wrist warmers, in sock wool, very warm indeed, and fit great as they are in 4x4 rib so very snug, and some perfume and lotion. I wore the wrist warmers on a shopping expedition today, and they kept me toasty warm.

I finished the Advent Calendar panel, and it is now in use. I highlighted all the ornaments with glitter glue for a subtle sheen, they are really cute. And I finished the scarf I was knitting in the rest of my Plymouth Baby Alpaca Grand Paint yarn, it is long enough to tie around my neck twice and lovely and warm. I did a crochet trim on both ends.

And tonight I had the fun of attending the #Quiltchat stocking opening, where I opened a huge box of goodies from Sarkarnor. It was supposed to be a maximum spend of $20 (which will buy you about one yard of fabric here in the UK) but it is obvious that most people spent way more than that. My box was stuffed with lovely things. I got a nice postcard of her home town, and a big heavy parcel all wrapped in fabric containing: 3 cute FQs of ‘keep on quilting’, a lovely ‘Village Angel’ fabric panel to make up, more fabric wrapping up marking pencils and blunt tip scissors, even MORE fabric in a great patriotic heart/log cabin pattern, wrapping up a pattern for an “Eco Market Tote” and a lovely little journal, a handmade blue& red stocking heavily stuffed with: chocolate, directional pins (I need those), a thread clipper, a rotary case, and more chocolate! TY, TY, TY, TY this is probably the best present I will get this year, lol.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Christmas: am I getting old?

We bought our christmas tree today, but it is staying outside with a drink of water in a bucket until DS's birthday has passed. I had read in the paper that trees would be up to 50% more expensive this year, but the tree farm we go to seemed to have the same prices as last year. We didn't get quite as big a tree this year, as we found quite a nice one that is about six or seven feet high (depending on where we cut the tallest orphan branch reaching for the sky). We also got the exterior lights out of the attic and tried to put them up. I say tried because the first string had a few burnt out bulbs, and when we tried to replace them, half the string went out and refused to come back on. After burning out several more bulbs, we gave up and that string went in the bin. The other much longer string of very small modern lights (LEDs maybe?) also has several sections of dead lights. So then we started driving around garden centres trying to find spare bulbs. The first garden centre, noted for its christmas decoration section, was so full that there was actually a traffic jam in the car park, so we gave up on that one. The second garden centre did not have spare bulbs. Neither did the third one. We tried a hardware store: closed on Sundays. By this time on a Sunday afternoon, everything was shutting so we had to give up. DH is going to try on his lunch hour tomorrow. Meanwhile we have one measly string of lights up outside which is only intermittently lit up in sections. Ho ho ho...

I have been aghast to find myself having the occasional passing thought this year about how much work it is to put up all the christmas decorations. We have rather a lot, as I am something of a christmas decoration junkie and have been known to buy them in July if I find one of those 'Christmas all year' shops on holiday. Aghast because I love Christmas, and also because that is what old people say. It's a slippery slope, first middle aged people buy an artificial tree, then after a few years of boasting about how easy it is to get it out of its box and put it up in minutes, they decide they are going to cut down on how many cards they send, then they stop sending cards altogether, then they start saying "oh, it's hardly worth putting up the decorations, it's just us" and pretty soon they are having christmas dinner in a restaurant and it is all downhill from there. I'm too young!! Somehow I seem to bear the brunt, sorry, have all the joy of putting up most of the decorations every year and of course taking them all down and packing them away for next year. Last year I finally caved on the whole Christmas dinner thing, and bought most of it pre-prepared from Marks and Spencers. It was so much nicer to put dinner on the table in about two hours instead of six+veg prep, it made for a much more enjoyable christmas spent mostly in the living room instead of the kitchen. Usually by the time I have cooked it all, I don't want to eat it anyway (and that would have nothing to do with all the chocolate and candycanes I have been nibbling since waking up).

Anyway, DH wants me to blog his scarf. About a month ago, DH suddenly announced that he wanted a scarf like the one I knit from Noro Silk Garden. I naturally suggested he knit one himself, never expecting him to do it. He looked at himself in the mirror for while, wearing my scarf, and said 'ok'. I stayed very low key, and got some needles and some yarn and started teaching him continental knitting, not expecting very much. He wanted to learn to cast on first, so the first two or three lessons were how to do a long-tail cast on, and he did lots of practicing in various yarn weights. He refused to go any further until he had mastered the cast-on. So then I suggested we go to the yarn store and get him some Noro Silk Garden, and he picked out a colourway he liked. Then we progressed to the knit stitch, and much more practicing. I've never taught anyone to knit before, and his fingers are not very nimble, so it was slow going. To be perfectly honest, I expected him to give up, but I kept coming in to the living room at night and finding him doggedly practicing. The hardest thing for him was to tension the yarn, as he seems to be completely unable to press two fingers together with any sideways pressure. Perhaps it's like Spock's vulcan gesture, and some people just can't do it. Finally he felt ready to try the purl stitch, which I found the hardest thing to learn in continental style knitting. He got it, and was doing lots of practicing (3 or 4 inches on c. 35 stitches in various yarn weights) when I discovered that he was twisting all his purl stitches as he had got into a bad habit with the yarn wrapping. So we sorted that out and at long last he felt ready to cast on for his scarf using my simple pattern (written out in the original post). After that, it went along quite quickly and 10 days later I was teaching him to cast off, and here is a pic of the end result. He has worn it proudly to work several times and even come out of the knitting closet to his mother. Throughout the process he told me several times "this doesn't make me a knitter", "I'm not a knitter, I just want this scarf" etc. Now that it is finished though, he is feeling a little bereft and making small noises about doing another, longer scarf. I will tell you though, it is slightly surreal to call your husband and to hear the answer from the living room "just a minute, I've just got to finish this row...".

Here is a pic of the finished Noro Kureyon gloves, with replacement finger on the right hand. It's a bit too cold to wear just light gloves at the moment, so I will look forward to wearing them in the spring. They have a nice long cuff that will tuck right inside my coat sleeve and all the fingers fit really well as they are custom sized to my hand. Now I am zooming along on the socks I am knitting for my friend Swooze. I've almost finished the first one, and have already cast on for the second one and am just finishing the ribbing cuff. I've also finished the second sleeve on Bianca's Jacket in Rowan Summer Tweed and tonight put all the pieces onto one long circular needle so I can start knitting the lace yoke.

I went to two dollshouse fairs this weekend. I had a brief hour at the new London Kensington christmas show, as I couldn't get there until late yesterday. Apparently it was a very successul fair and the traders are happy, so presumably it might be back next year. It looked just like a normal London Kensington fair, although perhaps a few less traders in the main hall? Not sure. I didn't buy much there, just some vegetable displays for my Rik Pierce house kitchen. Today I went to my local show at Kempton Park racecourse. It's a very friendly fair, mostly stuff at the lower end of the market, and I picked up a few more things for the Rik Pierce house plus some very reasonably priced knitted garments for my knitting shop. I was looking at both fairs for an occupant to live in the Rik Pierce house, some kind of gamekeeper or fisherman, but didn't see anything I liked. It is a difficult house, a bit too fantasy for a realistic doll, yet I don't want to go completely fantasy and make it a wizard's cottage or anything. Oh, the really cool things I got were a realistic duck which I am going to glue to the 'river' and two small frogs to put in the reeds.

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