Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Do I really have to go back to work...?




I'm feeling back to normal (stitches come out tonight) and it has been really great having all this time to tackle lots of things that normally fall through the cracks. Like filing the huge pile of craft magazine clippings in the attic, and getting to projects that have been on the back burner for quite a while...


Like this pattern called Jellystone Park that I bought this summer, made up from a stack of American Jane FQs, and laid out on my new design wall! Those are the border fabrics I am going to use.














Refolding all the quilts in my quilt storage cupboard, so that the folds are on the bias. This is from an article in QNM last year which suggested that bias folds are less likely to become permanent. I've got too many in this cupboard really and I worry about the weight of them pressing down, so I try to refold them at least once every six months. It's a big job and so far I've only done the top two shelves. And no, this isn't all the quilts in the house.

















I have been a good samaritan and am helping one of my friends who is 85 by building this room box for her (16" x 18") so that she can re-create her father's hair salon where she worked in the 1930s. She has been talking about it for years, so my new year's resolution this year is to nudge her into actually doing it.







I made this Spool House from a pattern by Pam Scott (this used to be on the internet but I can't find it now). The scale is somewhere between 1/24th and 1/48th so I will have to custom build furniture for it. The top and bottom are made from 3 stacked CDs (finally a use for those free CDs that come in magazines), and the 'spool' is a food tin that used to hold dried potato.








I have dabbled in salt dough sculpture in the past, and DH gave me another book on it for Christmas. I made this from a picture in the book (they didn't actually tell you how to make it, classic case of bait-and-switch) but I copied it from the illustration. In the book the flowers are all painted and the basket left natural. I'm a bit afraid to paint it in case I ruin it. I also made this Quilter's Heart from the book. Of course they don't call it that, but we know what it is.


























And finally, I made this felted basket, which I am going to use as a place to store my sock yarn stash. The brilliant thing about this, is that it used to be my Sonny & Cher waistcoat, the failed attempt to knit a Rowan jacket from Rowan Biggy Print yarn. It was on the 'to be frogged' pile, when I suddenly had the brainwave that I could felt it. I sewed shut the front seam, sewed across the neck opening, and sewed the sleeve openings horizontally to create a rough bucket shape. Then I threw it in the washing machine at 60 degrees Celsius with a pair of jeans, and voila! I love it, and it is really bulky and sturdy. This is the first time I have tried felting, but now I definitely want to knit up the rest of my Biggy Print and Big Wool and see what else I can make.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Getting productive

I've been feeling better the last few days and I am starting to make effective use of my time off work.


I finished my first mitten.










I assembled the blocks that I made on the Mystery Quilt day at Sisters in July. The colours were chosen from the border focus fabric, but I don't really like this top, it's not me. I can imagine it in a Mondrian modern bedroom, I am more a Laura Ashley girl. Not sure what I am going to do with this one. With the wide borders, it's about a Queen size.
















I made a wall hanging as a gift for a friend who loves cats and who has moved to a turreted farmhouse in France. The cat pattern was published on About.com last year, originally with 9 of these blocks to make a wallhanging. I just used one block, and I included a portrait of her farmhouse for the cat to look at.

















I finished a cover for my hot water bottle. The knitting is somewhat uneven because I was trying to train myself to knit without looking at the needles, after seeing the Yarn Harlot on YouTube being interviewed by a journalist and she didn't once look down at her sock that she was knitting on dpns. I found I was successful only about 80% of the time, the other 20% I was dropping stitches or making accidental yarn-overs. I made up this pattern myself, I knit the body of the cover flat, then seamed along the top leaving a gap for the neck. Then I picked up for the neck in the round, and knit enough to cover the top, then bound off with a three-needle bind off. Then I seamed the single side seam. The bottle slips in from the bottom of the 'sweater'.



I put together two of my 1/24th scale Miss Lydia Pickett kits, the Side Table and the Side Chair from the living room set. These both went together easily, and there is a really nice touch of having artwork inside the drawer of the table that looks like vintage papers. The books and postcards on the table also came with the Side Table kit.

Monday, 21 January 2008

Feeling better today

I had my nose surgery on Saturday morning (to remove a local carcinoma) and after a few days of feeling a bit hot and woozy, I am starting to feel better today (Monday). The left side of my nose is all taped up, and I have another dressing on my hip from where they took the skin graft. I get the stitches out next Wednesday, by which time the lab results will be back and they will know if they got it all or not. It was fine, I was under about two hours, and home by 2:30 p.m. Dh is taking good care of me, and worked from home today in case I needed anything.



I did some more knitting while I was recuperating, and have finished the first mitten body. I haven't picked up for the thumb yet, but the mitten fits really well which is a pleasant outcome. As a new knitter, that isn't an outcome I can confidently expect.



I wanted to work on some UFO blocks that needed laying out first, so shamelessly playing the invalid card, I got dh to do all the hard work to cut and drill some wooden blocks so I could finally put my homemade portable design wall together. This is based on the commercial product available in the US at $129, which would have cost a whole lot more by the time it was shipped over here. Mine cost about $80, and would have cost less if I had owned a white flannel sheet already, but I didn't so I bought a good quality double flannel sheet in the sales last year. The poles are replacement shock corded tent poles from a camping supply store, 8.6mm in diameter, 3 packs at about $12 each. As well as the four sides, there are two cross-braces behind the sheet (one vertical, one horizontal). I cut down the sheet to the right size and sewed some wide hems, to end up with a design wall that is almost six feet square. It all breaks down into components that fit into a drawstring bag that I sewed up out of leftover white flannel. It needs to be leaned against a wall as it isn't freestanding like the commercial product, but I laid my blocks out on it and it worked great.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Some pics






Here is the assembled vintage string star top, although my hallway isn't wide enough to fully spread it out. I found these 9 vintage string star blocks in a basket at an antiques dealer in Paducah, in the downtown quilter's mall in 2005. They were set with the most disgusting see-through cheesecloth, that basically fell off when I cut a few threads. I purposefully chose a new background that wasn't too high-contrast, because the stars are fairly wonky, and appliqued the stars to 20 inch squares. I would guess the stars date back to the 40s or 30s, and they have a wonderfully broad selection of fabrics in them. Even some of the horizontal pieces are pieced from smaller pieces. Hopefully the lady that made them is looking down and is pleased that they are now part of a top.








I am getting on quite well with my Norwegian mitten, and feel much more confident about the fair isle technique which is new to me. My tension is getting more consistent, although I am still having to watch the stitches where the two circular needles are joined. I blocked a portion of the cuff with steam just to check my gauge, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I am getting the correct gauge of 7 stitches to the inch. This is knit in Cherry Tree Hill Supersock Merino yarn, which I really like. The red is the leftover from my gloves. I've been wearing my gloves almost every day and they are surprisingly warm, considering that the fabric is not bulky, but then they are pure wool.
This is the pattern on the palm and you can see where I have left stitches on waste yarn for the thumb.




















Monday, 14 January 2008

Scary stuff...

Today I applied for a new job at work, a full-time role (I am currently part-time) which is one level up from my current role so it would be a promotion. I am alternating between feeling empowered and righteous for taking my sagging career by the horns, and terrified at the prospect of change and having to cope with new demands and responsibilities, not to mention the upheaval to our family routine. Of course, I don't even know if I will get an interview yet at this stage. But I tell you, it is sure taking my mind off the prospect of my nose surgery this Saturday. It was also nice to send my current boss a courtesy note to tell her I was applying for something else.

The additional pale blue background fabric I was waiting for has turned up, to finish my vintage string stars top after running out of it. I knew exactly what to order because the blue fabric was left over from my vintage lone star (I thought) and I had recorded in my blog that it was Kona Dresden Blue. Aren't blogs useful? like an achievement diary. However, after appliquing the final string star to the square I cut from the new fabric, and seaming it into the top, I moved onto the final step of trimming up the vertical rows prior to the last two seams. That's when I noticed that the Dresden Blue is in fact a different fabric completely, more grey than what I've used on all the other squares. I can't face unpicking the invisible thread applique, so I am going to call it a design feature. Talk about having a senior moment (I'm 46 by the way). I guess the blue fabric I used first must have come from something else.

Saturday Club was fun. I seamed together several more strips of FQs, which will eventually be made up into quilt backings. It is really fun to do that sort of mindless pressing and sewing, when you've got company chatting around you. The first two blocks of the BOM went down well, and a few of the ladies had theirs finished by the end of the day. Someone asked if they could have the next set of instructions early - I haven't even written them yet! So, no, sorry.

I am really enjoying my fair isle Norwegian mitten. I've just put the thumb stitches onto waste yarn and am moving up through the main chart - it is so exciting seeing the pattern appear. I've switched to using two circular needles, as I found trying to manage the dpns at the same time as trying to manage the floats was just too much for me. I am finding the two circular needles much easier to manage, and there are only two places where I have to be careful about train tracks instead of four.

Wish me luck for getting an interview for this job. The only thing is that it will likely not be until after my two weeks off work, so I will be interviewing with a big scar, or a big bandaid, on my nose. Hopefully that won't put them off.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Catching Up...

Well, it's been a busy week and at last life is back to normal, we are all back to work/school and back to our normal routine (big sigh of relief). You may be amused to hear that dh read my blog when he was working from home on Monday (he can't read it at work because their network restricts social sites) and he was not amused that I am blogging our dirty laundry in public. Although he did say that it was insightful to read my perspective and how I was presenting my story to other people (you guys) whom I perceive to have similar priorities. I invited him to leave a rebuttal in my comments :)

On the work front, I had a meeting with my boss on Monday to further discuss my performance review. It was infuriating to discover (although pretty much what I expected) that she hadn't given two thoughts to the impact of what she had dumped on me before Christmas, and was astonished to hear that I had been really upset by it and had worried about it all holiday. I pretty much lost my temper and gave her an assertive piece of my mind for 30 minutes, laying out exactly what losing 25% of my income is going to mean, the impact of the uncertainty of job hunting on my childcare commitments etc. and ended up frightening her by asking if redundancy was an option. I felt tremendously better afterwards (although slightly embarrassed for not acting more professionally), and like I now have closure. I am looking for a new job in the company but there are very few for senior admin staff such as myself (I am a committee secretary) so I am likely stuck for a while. I don't think that ranting at her is going to change anything, but maybe it will teach her to be a better manager and think more about the impact of what she is saying to people.

Getting back to the much more important topic of crafts, I have my Saturday Sewing Club this weekend when I am launching our new Block of the Month, to make a simple sampler quilt that I designed in EQ6 (that sounds really impressive, but EQ6 does a lot of the work for you). I handed out a picture of the quilt before Christmas, and this week I worked out what blocks will be done in what months, and wrote the instructions for the first two blocks. Then I had to make samples to test the instructions - they are the Rail Fence and the Indian Hatchets Album block. I've decided to make this quilt from stash and use a palette that I am mentally labelling as contemporary American country colours. These are 8-inch finished blocks.


While I was looking for fabric, I was irritated anew by my FQ storage (stored vertically inside two converted CD towers stacked on top of each other) which was so overflowing that I couldn't close my closet door any more. I decided to have a New Year's clearout, and went through all of them and pulled out all the ones that I am never going to use, that are hideous, that are unusable novelties, that are ancient etc. This is the pile I amassed:



As you can see, I have divided them up into colour families. At first I thought I might chop them up into charity quilts but then I decided life is too short to spend ages pressing and cutting and sewing fabric I don't like. So Plan B (now started) is to sew them into backings for quilts. I am seaming them into panels at least 60" long all in one colour family. That's wide enough for a single quilt, then I can assemble coordinating panels to make a backing for single sized quilts. So that's what I will take to club on Saturday to work on.




On the knitting front, I finished my cherry gloves (thanks for your comment Greenmare!). This pic is taken before I steam blocked them - the blocking improved the appearance and evened out the knitting. I'm quite proud of them and have worn them a few times already. The second one, where I reduced the number of stitches, fits much better than the first. However, because all four fingers are knit from one horizontal plane, they don't fit my hand as snugly as I would like, since my little finger starts about half an inch below my ring finger. I have now bought a download of a glove book by Nanette Blanchard, which has lots of great tips on custom fitting gloves so that they, well, fit like a glove :) I will definitely knit another pair to try out her patterns.



For my next project (yes, I know I am ignoring my lace sock but I'm not really enjoying that project) I have started a fair-isle knitting pattern from my christmas present book of Norwegian knitting patterns. This is my first attempt at a fair-isle project since taking the course at Loop in the autumn. I am using Cherry Tree Hill sock yarn (again, but I love this yarn). I doing ok with holding the two yarns (I am holding the red in my left hand and the white in my right) but the tension is very difficult. My first go was way too tight and puckered, but as it turned out I made a major mistake in the chart just above the ribbing so had to rip it all out anyway. This time around I am going too much the other way, and some of the stitches are far too loose. I expect it is just something you have to practice, and in time you achieve a more consistent tension. I think I might do better on circulars as crossing the jump between dpns is tricky with the two colours and trying to manage the float simultaneously. Nanette also has a book on stranded knitting (which is actually how I found the glove book, when I googled on stranded knitting tips) which I also purchased as a download, and that has some helpful advice in it.




Last, but not least, it was Dollshouse Club last night. We all had to bring in our bookend which we were meant to have decorated as a sewing scene. These will all be displayed together at the Kempton Park dollshouse show in February to raise funds for charity. Mine is actually a kitchen scene with a little girl sitting on the floor with her cat and dolly, playing with mom's sewing machine and sewing basket. The kitchen dresser is the one I made in the online workshop back in March (or May, can't remember).


And finally, I been given a date for my nose op - 19th January - and I have to be there at 0730 a.m.! groan. I will come out the same day and then I get two weeks off work, yay! Hopefully I will be feeling ok and will get lots of craft time in, even if I look too hideous to go outside.



Sunday, 6 January 2008

Bucket Bag



I managed to get some more time at sewing on Saturday afternoon (although not without another fight with dh, who showed up after just an hour wanting me to do something 'with the family' - apparently spending the whole morning putting away the family's christmas decorations, cleaning the family's house and making the family's lunch does not count as family time...). I made the Bucket Bag that has been popping up on so many blogs. I first heard about it from Swooze, and Dr. Beth made several as Christmas presents. It is really fun to make, what a great pattern for showcasing fabrics. I used some of my blue & white collection.



If you are thinking of trying this pattern for the first time, the instructions are excellent on Welsh Quilter's blog, but here are a few extra tips based on my first try at it.




Step One: Fabric Selection. You need seven fabrics, and the order 1-7 is the order of the horizontal bands of diamonds from the top to the bottom of the finished bag, so choose fabrics that contrast with each other when placed in the 1 to 7 order. Fabrics 7 and 1 will form the bottom of the bag, so you may want these to be darker fabrics to prevent soiling when the bag is set down. Fabrics with one vertical direction (like Toile) may not look so good as they will be slanted on the finished bag. The fabric placement in the finished panel (make 4) from top of bag to bottom, is:
1, 1
2, 1
3, 1
4, 3
5, 4
6, 5
7, 6
1, 7

I made my bag a little bit stiffer by adding a layer of medium interfacing underneath the wadding (batting).


Step 3: Final topstitching - Before turning through the finished bag, through the gap you left in the lining, clip into the 'V's of the seam allowance at the top, and trim away the wadding from the top edge of the bag. I also reduced the seam allowance to about 1/8th inch, on either side of the 'V' for an inch or so. This is all to reduce bulk when you turn through the bag and press this top seam, as I had trouble getting it to lie neatly flat particularly around the 'V' area.

A great pattern! I feel like making more of them in different colours. I've also seamed most of the Vintage string star quilt, I'm just waiting for a bit more light blue fabric to arrive for one more block.

On Thurday night, I caught the train up to London to attend the newbie evening for the London Stitch and Bitch knitting group, which was held in the cafe in the basement of Waterstones on Piccadilly. About 50 knitters showed up, which was amazing, and we practically took over the cafe. I was in a very friendly group of six knitters, and spent about 2 1/2 hours knitting on my second glove and chatting about knitting and helping a lady next to me who was even newer to knitting than me. I would go again, but usually I can't stay in London after work as I have to get home to meet ds from the school bus. Perhaps I will manage a meeting if he is on holiday or dh is working from home. I wish there was a knitting group closer to my home in north Surrey, but I haven't been able to find one yet.

One piece of great news - I won a prize in a competition in a dolls house magazine: £50 in vouchers to Hobbycraft (like a small Michaels or small Hobby World). I'd forgotten I'd entered, so this was a lovely surprise and I look forward to spending them.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

And we have a winner!



Congratulations to Mel from Texas, who is the winner of 25 Liberty charm squares to celebrate my 100th post. Mel, please can you get in touch with me as your profile won't let me email you.




Happy New Year to everyone - we had a quiet night in front of the telly watching a two hour retrospective of the Top 40 movies of the Eighties (which I was embarassed to find I had seen virtually every one apart from the war films) then stepped out into the garden to enjoy all of our neighbours' fireworks going off.




I haven't done much this week, and I have had waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too much quality family time. In our normal schedule, ds is at school and dh is at work, so as I work part-time I get a fair bit of quality time on my own to get on with stuff. Now I've had more than a whole week of both of them, all the time, and I seem to always be the one that's got to plan what we are going to do for the day, and what/when we will eat, and of course cooking meals blah blah blah until I am completely fed up. Sunday I shut myself into my sewing room after lunch, got interrupted three times in the first 20 minutes, then dh picked a fight with me because he said I was being 'selfish', then dh picked a fight with ds because of being in a bad mood, and so it went on. I kept my door shut and tried to concentrate, and actually got about 3 hours of sewing done which gave me a sense of achievement. And yesterday I went up to London to the office for a few hours and did the Boxing Day sales in Richmond on the way back, which was nice. Dh goes back to work tomorrow but I have ds until next week. I know I am lucky to have them both, but 24/7 for more than a week is too much for my sanity.




I was working on appliquing 9 vintage string stars, about 20 inches across, that I bought at Paducah from an antique dealer in 2005. They were pieced crudely with some cheesecloth muslin background that practically fell off of the stars when I cut a few threads, so the seam allowances were already turned under. I didn't fancy trying to re-piece the background because the stars are fairly wonky, so I have appliqued them on to big blue background squares, and will set them on point with dark blue fabric. Here is a picture of the pieces (not sewn yet) laid out on the bed.


I'm knitting gloves at the moment, using a Cherry Tree Hill pattern and Cherry Tree Hill merino sock yarn (another excuse to have a sock yarn stash). The pattern is designed to be knit on two straight needles, with each finger being seamed in turn, but I found that a bit tedious so I switched to using 4 dpns to knit fingers in the round, to eliminate the seaming. This is the first one, and it came out pretty well but not as snug fitting as I would like, so I am adjusting the second one to be tighter.
Happy new year, and may 2008 be prosperous and bring you lots of peaceful craft time.

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