Thursday, 24 December 2009

Merry Christmas

I'm going to be too full tomorrow to blog (or else I will be cooking) so I'm blogging a day early. Merry Christmas to everyone, and best wishes for the new year - with lots of crafting fun and achievement for you in 2010.

I am feeling full of achievement as today I put the last stitches into my Hawaiian batik quilt, and sewed on the label. It is now wrapped and ready to give to m-i-l on Boxing Day. I had this fabulous fabric to use on the back, which shows glamorous vintage couples dancing under palm trees, perhaps on Waikiki Beach.

On Tuesday, as the batik quilt was drying after its post-quilting trip through the washing machine, I quilted up this fun flannel quilt using the panels I bought for £2 each at Leicester on the weekend. I love the way the cut edges fluff up on these raggy flannel quilts, although I had to clean the dryer filter out about 8 times.

On Tuesday I also put the finishing touches on my mini-Christmas Stockings, blocked them and sewed on little hanging loops with little buttons, then assembled the whole thing into a garland. It's so cute! I love these patterns from littlecottonrabbits.

I've made christmas fudge, and christmas cookies, and we are going to pick up the turkey this afternoon. Last night we made our final run to the supermarket(s) - we started in M&S where the shelves were literally picked clean, and so had to go to Tescos which was so full that we got one of the last parking spaces in the lot. So I am feeling that things are under control, and I can relax and enjoy the next few days (apart from doing lots of cooking). Before tonight I need to crochet the trim and hanging loop onto my enormous knitted christmas stocking so that it can be pressed into duty for its first christmas eve.

And in today's post, probably the last post before Christmas, I received a surprise gift from a friend in America. A wrapped present to put under the tree (I think it is a quilting magazine) and these lovely Americana miniature pottery bowls for my dollshouse, by Lori Ann Potts. Thank you!

So if you are celebrating christmas tomorrow, have a lovely day and I hope you enjoy a relaxing holiday with lots of crafting time.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

On holiday - finally!

Despite having three days leave last week, it sure didn't feel like a holiday as I was busy preparing for my two job interviews. I had one on Thursday, which was in the form of a practical test. It was all stuff I could do, except that I only had one hour to do it in. I had a 10-slide Powerpoint presentation to proofread (annotating changes on the hard copy) and it was riddled with errors, everything from spelling mistakes to mislabeled charts, and graphs that didn't add up to 100%. That took about 25 minutes, then I had to write an internet story based on a provided press release (another 25 minutes to read the press release then write a story), and in the remaining time to draft copy for bullet points on a poster, based on the same press release. I finished just as the examiner arrived back, but felt like I had been having a heart attack for an hour. I was already in doubts about this job, having experienced for the first time the commute from my house to Canary Wharf (a long way), and arriving in a building which had a lobby the size of an airport check-in lounge (and similar decor), then travelling up to the test floor to see bank after bank of call-centre style desks. Then the examiner said that what I had just done was fairly typical for the communications team, who are always working under time pressure. Not sure that I want to do that even if they are paying a lot. Anyway, it will be a few days before I found out how I did. If they like my work, they will invite me in for the next step which is a face to face interview with the hiring manager. I suppose it's all good experience.

The second job interview, by contrast, was with a much smaller company who are fairly local to me. This is for a 3.5 day job and really sounds quite interesting. I was feeling fairly excited until I found out that they are looking for someone with a car, as there is a need to drive about 100 miles up the M1 a couple of times a month to liaise with the manager, plus visit some manufacturing sites occasionally. I can actually drive, and I have a license, but I have never owned my own car and have hardly driven at all for the last 20 years. There is no need here, as public transport is widely available, I get the train to work, and if I need to go somewhere on the weekend then my husband will drive me. However, I girded my loins and announced my willingness to get a second car with my severance package. Everyone else can drive - how hard can it be? :) If I can figure out my new mobile phone, then surely I can learn how to drive (again). Don't know when I will find out about that job, I don't know how many people they are considering.

I wasn't even sure I was going to have the second interview, as the weather prediction was a very unusual one for the south of England: 8 inches of snow! Luckily we only got a dusting here, but even that was enough to cause various accidents as people aren't used to driving in it. Straight after the interview, I got the train up to Watford Junction to meet my husband, only the train I wanted was cancelled (presumably due to the weather), so I ended up having to change three times. We were off to his office christmas party, being held in a hotel where we had booked rooms for us and my DS. So I had christmas dinner and danced until midnight, and a good time was had by all. Saturday we went up to Nottingham for my family's annual pilgrimage to Warhammer World, the mecca for Games Workshop nuts. (If you don't know what that is, then you probably do not have male offspring). I left my DS and DH to it, and took the car and went DRIVING! I can still do it, although I got lost several times. I went to a knitting shop in Beeston, where I got a cool tote bag emblazoned with "I heart Knitting". Then I drove 20 miles up north of Nottingham to New Ollerton, to visit Heath's Country Store, which has both knitting and quilting supplies. There I bought a few fat quarters of quilting fabric.

The driving went really well, I even parallel parked, but I was exhausted by the time I found my way back to Games central. And on the way back home today, we stopped in at the Fabric Guild in Leicester, a great place for cheap quilting fabric. I picked up some christmas flannels to make a quick christmas quilt, and some other flannel to make another tv quilt (because we have two flannel tv quilts and there are three of us, so we are always fighting this time of year because of how warm they are), some bag handles so I can try some more felted bags, a new pair of Fiskars snipping scissors, some cheap christmas gift bags, a pillow form, some toy stuffing, a roll of quilt wadding, and a printed panel table runner. Good haul really.

So, enough about my adventures over the weekend, but that's why I'm late blogging. What have I been up to? I started a new pair of fingerless gloves over the weekend, using some great self-patterning sock yarn. Actually, it was going to be socks, but the yarn is so pretty I started over again and made it gloves, using a pattern from my birthday book: Ann Budd's Knitter's book of Handy Patterns.

I finished my f-i-l's xmas scarf, knit with the Farrow Rib pattern. I just need to wash and block it, then I can wrap it up.

I finished the knitting part of the enormous Christmas stocking which was a pattern in the Simply Knitting calendar giveaway, using Debbie Bliss Fez. I put the remote control in the picture for scale. I can get both my legs in this stocking. Now I need to wash and block it, then crochet some contrasting trim around the top with a hanging loop.

I also finished the final sleeve of my Noro Matsuri cardigan, so that's all knitted now. More washing and blocking needed, then sewing up and it's done! These are the two sleeves, it is a modified drop shoulder so they are really just rectangles with a seed stitch band at the bottom.

In between studying for my interviews, I ferreted out the various bits of my quilting frame from where they are hidden for 10 months of the year, and put it together for my annual quilting binge. As you can see, it takes up a good part of my bedroom (you can also see what a mess my room is...) Top priority is to quilt my Hawaian batik top which is a christmas present for my m-i-l. I've got two other tops to quilt, and might do the table runner and christmas flannel quilt that I bought in Leicester while it is set up. I can only quilt 60" wide tops, so it is only suitable for twin-size or for larger quilts that can be quilted in pieces.

I haven't had time to put up all our christmas decorations yet, but the tree is up and I've got a little collection of my christmas houses and christmas dollshouse scenes on the table.
I hope your house is looking christmasy too!

Friday, 11 December 2009

Things are looking up

I've got two interviews next week! A source of hope, but also of panic. One is for a major high street bank, and one is for a manufacturing company, both in the internal communications area. I've also been in to register with two communications recruitment agencies, which is a bit like going for an interview as well. I also had to do a bit of a telephone interview with the bank before they invited me in. At least I am getting better about talking about myself, although I still have to fight the urge to guffaw loudly about the absurd things coming out of my mouth.
Meanwhile, this has been my last week in the office before Christmas, so I spent most of it saying goodbye to people and being taken out to lunch. It started off small with a colleague taking me for a salad at EAT on Tuesday, then Wednesday I used my company allowance to treat seven of my friends to lunch in London, then yesterday really tipped the scales with two more colleagues taking me out for middle eastern food at lunch (delicious!) and then my boss taking me out for afternoon tea at The Criterion restaurant in London (gorgeous decor, middling tea offering). I've been given a company pen, a lovely christmas table centre, a pretty bracelet, a nice shawl, an Amazon voucher and a huge bouquet of lovely flowers. All in all, it's been a bit like having my birthday all week. And yet it is for a sad reason, and some of my friends are really sad to see me go, and my (nice) colleagues have been saying nice things about me. It leaves me with very mixed feelings, like I don't know whether to be happy or sad.

I finally figured out why I never seem to hear my new mobile phone ring, and keep missing all my calls. Turns out the default is for it to divert to voicemail after five seconds. Neither my reflexes nor my hearing are that fast. I've now managed to change it to a 30-second delay, plus found a much more ear-piercing ringtone, so hopefully I will now start to get my calls.

Anyway, I'm sure you are much more interested in what I've been up to craft-wise. I am starting to panic about christmas presents. I want to finish the Hawaiian batik quilt for my m-i-l for christmas so I managed to squeeze in an afternoon of sewing last weekend and got it to the 'top' stage. I've also pieced some yardage into a backing for it. I was going to machine knit a scarf for my f-i-l until I realised I didn't have any suitable coned yarn. I can't use my chunky machine at the moment because the sponge bar has died. So while on a trip to Guildford, I stopped into the yarn shop on the High Street and picked up two balls of Rowan Cocoon in a gorgeous Emerald shade. This is 80 merino and 20 kid mohair, and feels lush and soft, hopefully soft enough for him. I am knitting a ribbed pattern I found on Ravelry called Farrow Rib, quite simple although a bit monotonous. I knit up one ball and realised I wasn't going to have enough, so in between visiting the recruitment agency and being taken to lunch on Wednesday, I nipped into Liberty's and grabbed a third ball.

I also did some dollshousing, as part of my slow furnishing of the Willowcrest quilt/knit shop. I painted up a bare wood chest to look like Americana, using acrylic paints. I used a tip I picked up in a Jane Harrop workshop, and gave it a final polish with tan shoe polish. It gives it a lovely soft sheen and a bit of an antique look. This now holds all the tea and coffee things at the back of the workshop area.

I converted this cheap cupboard. First of all I removed the 'tin' panels, then I painted the inside with yellow acrylic paint (sorry all the pics are not quite in focus). Then I filled the inside with items you might find in a workshop area, like books and fabric, and put clear plastic into the doors. This goes in the other back corner of the workshop area.


Meanwhile I was knitting a Christmas Pudding Tea Cosy from the December issue of Simply Knitting magazine, using Stylecraft Life DK which is acrylic but feels surprisingly nice, perhaps because of its 25% wool content. I had to re-knit the 'icing' because my teapot is a different shape from theirs and it didn't come out right the first time. I'm quite pleased with it though, it's very cute.

And I finally finished the Kauni pullover. I had to re-knit the bottom band yet again, as the first time I tried 2x2 rib, it still came out too tight. I will post the technical information about how I did it on Ravelry. It fits fairly well, and my husband said it felt good. It is his christmas present (one of them) so he didn't look in the mirror while he was being photographed. The main pieces were knit on a Brother 260 chunky knitting machine (as the sponge bar was dying, so some dropped stitches) and the ribs are all by hand. The v-neck was cut and sew.

I managed to finish my little 'pie plate' pincushions in time to give them away at our sewing club christmas party. We had a lot of fun, and they gave me a thank you gift of a gift voucher for our LQS, and a book of knitting humour ("It Itches"). I made two more pies when I got home, one for m-i-l for christmas, and one for me to keep! [update: pattern for pie plate is in the Quilter's Catalog book]

And something nice happened - I received a suprise package in the post! I am the winner of a knitting magazine competition. The prize is 20 balls of Debbie Bliss Rialto Aran in a dark burgundy colour. I reckon that to be in the region of £80-worth of yarn. Nice to feel like a winner for a change, rather than a job-seeking supplicant.
I hope all your christmas preparations are in hand, and that your christmas gift-crafting is going well. We went and picked up our tree this evening and will decorate the house over the weekend. I still haven't sent my cards yet, but I get my first turkey dinner next week when I go out with the local quilting club for a pub lunch.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Adventures in felting

Some time ago I ripped a suggestion out of a magazine which advised searching charity shops to find attractive pure wool sweaters at bargain prices, then bringing them home and purposefully felting them to turn them into various projects. Great idea, thought I, then promptly did nothing about it for months. Meanwhile I read further stories about people finding Jaeger sweaters in pure cashmere, unpicking them and knitting themselves bargain luxury items.

So a few weeks ago I tore myself away from my computer (the work-from-home prison cell) to go out for a walk and some fresh air, and I thought "I know, I will go and trawl the charity shops for woolen items". Great plan, and I love going out for a walk with a goal. And our town has about 5 charity shops, so I thought that I was bound to find my choice of items.

Well, it seems that wool sweaters are no longer commonly available. Searching through five shops, I found just a couple of items that were wool/acrylic blend, one lamb's wool man's jumper in a very ugly mustard colour which was already partially felted, and everything else was acrylic. However, I did find this 'Pure New Wool' scarf and decided to settle, and go home for a cup of tea.

Examining my new purchase (rather stiff and yellow with age, and probably never used) and removing the fringing, I found that the two ends were finished off with overcast machine stitching. A vision of a handbag took shape in my mind.

I cut off the two ends, folded the remaining scarf in half, and re-stitched the ends onto either side of the scarf to create a bag shape. The overcast edges became the top edges of the side pieces. I left two flaps standing up to accept the handles later. I assembled the bag with machine stitching, and also ran a line of zig-zag stitch across the two cut flaps so that they wouldn't ravel.

Then I threw it in the washing machine with one of my son's trainers for agitation, and ran a short hot cycle. To my delight, it came out beautifully felted, and considerably whitened. (as was the trainer, so my son now has one grey trainer and one white trainer).

I shaped it with my hands and set it on a towel to dry, and also pinched together the sides with a few clamps so that the sides would fold inwards easily once dry. My husband came home while I was shaping the bag, and asked "what's that?". "A scarf", I replied, with a perfectly straight face.

I had two bamboo handles that came free with a magazine, so I stitched the flaps over the handles using matching sock yarn, then 'gathered' the flap by running some yarn along inside the fold. The resulting handbag will make a handy knitting bag for small projects. I might sew a catch or loop at the top to hold it closed.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Running to stay in place

I don't know where this week has gone, I seem to have been really busy all week and yet I feel terribly guilty about not doing more on job hunting, not too mention the chaos around the house.

One of the really positive things about being made redundant is that I didn't have to attend Teambuilding Hell this year. However, I was invited to come to the team dinner on the first night, and I decided to go - partly for closure, and partly because my friend who is also being made redundant was going. It sounds like TBH was just as excruciating this year, although to cut costs they were meeting in a community centre near the office rather than decamping to a hotel like last year. When I joined them in the room at the end of the day, there was one wall covered in coloured balloons and stars that they had had to stick up, and they had just finished a teambuilding exercise called 'junk funk' where they had to improvise musical pieces using instruments made from watering cans, safety helmets, etc. Is this a good use of 18 people's time in this economy??? Anyway, so I'm sitting at table next to my friend, looking around at these people and thinking 'I don't know half of you new people that have joined, and I don't like most of the rest of you', when my boss' boss leans across the table and says in her loud nasal American voice to my friend (who finishes the end of this month), and with several former colleagues listening: "So, does it feel strange to be leaving?" The monumental lack of tact was just breathtaking, and how do you answer a question like that? The same woman made an after dinner speech in which she thanked my friend and I (the only two being made redundant) for our "exemplary change behaviour". As another friend remarked, this translates as "you rolled over and died quietly, thanks for that..."

Anyway, enough tales from la-la land. Not a lot of crafting going on this week. I finished two more of the little Christmas stockings but need to sew them up. I made the second sample for the Block of the Month that I am running for my sewing club (which meets tomorrow) - this one is a birdhouse which I think was from a quilting calendar, from the look of the pattern which was contributed. I am probably going to combine it with another block, such as a butterfly, or some flowers growing around the foot.

I also need to finish today some little piecrust pincushions which I am making as gifts for the two ladies that help me out with the club. I'm making four altogether, the third one for me and the fourth one for m-i-l for xmas. These are so cute, I saw them on the Quilt Out Loud internet quilting show because the presenters visited the home of the author of the book that the pattern appears in. The pattern is by Ami Simms, but it is published in the Quilter's Catalog. You basically make a fabric lid for an actual metal pie tin. The pattern calls for a 5.5" tin, but I could only order 4" tins here in the UK, so I have had to downsize the pattern a bit. This is an in-progress picture, I haven't done the decorative blanket stitching on the 'pastry' yet, nor made the rest of the top. I've made three raspberry pies and one blueberry, using the 'Farmer's Market' line of fabrics.

Tomorrow is our last meeting of the year so it is also our christmas meeting. We are only a small group, but we all bring some food for a pot luck lunch, and do a secret santa gift exchange. I am giving away a little miniature crazy quilt. It's usually a fun day, and a chance to get some uninterrupted sewing time in.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

On the road

I didn't blog yesterday because we had a 200 mile road trip to take one of our cats to a specialist animal hospital, where he is going to have radioactive iodine treatment for hyperthryoidism. It is eyewateringly expensive but we are crossing our fingers the pet insurance is going to pay for it all. If successful (and the treatment works for 95% of cases), then it is a permanent cure. We had to hang around town for four hours while they tested his blood and urine yet again, and gave him a second heart scan (he had the first at our home vets, and they shaved a patch the size of my hand to do it. It was just starting to grow back and now is shaved again. He looks like he is a half-finished cat.) But he passed all the tests and will now be in for three weeks, before we do another 200 miles to collect him.

Unfortunately this was a town with no knitting or quilting shop, but luckily I had brought knitting with me. I am progressing on my elephant-sized Christmas Stocking in Debbie Bliss Fez (pictured, showing how I have just turned the heel), and halfway up the final sleeve on my Noro Matsuri cardigan.

I have also knit three more little Christmas stockings (the one on the right needs sewing up). I am thinking I may crochet a lanyard and hang all the little stockings from it, it will be really cute and then they won't get lost on the christmas tree.

What else this week? I've been experimenting with felting, but will blog about that separately once I've finished my project. I've been quilting on my Piece o' Cake 'Flowering Vines' quilt top: I've done all the straight line quilting with my walking foot and am now starting to go around the applique in free motion. I may have to put that to one side however, as I need to finish up my Hawaiian Batik quilt top and then get my frame put up and quilt it, all in time for Christmas.

I have to prepare two more samples for the Garden Block of the Month for our quilt club meeting next weekend. I have contributed an applique pattern from EQ6 for a garden arch and fence. I decided to avoid the obvious white choice of fabric and went with a wooden fabric. I then had the problem that it was very low contrast against all the fabrics I had been thinking of using for background. Then I found this panel tucked in my stash, and felt it worked well. Since taking the big picture, I have gone around the fused applique with two tone thread to create a 3-d effect of light coming from one side, and it stands out better now against the garden.

Today I was also on the road, heading up to London (going around the collapsed bridge on a separate train line). First of all to a Christmas craft fair at the Royal Horticultural Halls, to which a friend had given me a complimentary ticket. It wasn't really what we would call 'crafts', more jewellery and designer clothing accessories etc. But I did get a cute Advent Calendar and a bit of xmas shopping done. Then I was off to the Christmas London Kensington Dollshouse Show at Kensington Town Hall. This is a good show that attracts all the top makers, so lots of good eye candy even if some of it costs more than the real thing would. My only complaint about this show is that the majority of traders are the same year on year, and not only are in the same booth locations but even have pretty much the same stock. It was incredibly crowded this year, so I did a lot of looking over shoulders and thinking "it's the shoe lady" or "the glassware man". For some reason there were some truly enormous women customers in the crowd, I don't just mean 'heavy', I mean gigantic, like they could be extras in Lord of the Rings if more cave trolls were needed. I was behind one woman who must have been almost six feet tall and at least 2.5 feet wide. Maybe there was a coach trip for gigantic women from one of the European countries...? :)

Anyway, you want to know what I got. Well, I bought a set of golf clubs and a shooting set (consisting of a gun in a long leather holster and a game bag) from 'the Luggage Lady' for my Edwardian gentleman in my Rik Pierce house, a tea pot from Valerie Ann Casson (which it turns out I already have, so I am going to have to swap it), and a kit from "Petite Properties" for the 1:48th Washtub Cottage. The latter includes mdf wooden parts to build the cottage, and a booklet teaching you all her techniques for creating weathered stonework from air drying clay, tiled floors, beams etc. She is basically giving away all her secrets, which makes me wonder if we are soon going to see a rash of clone buildings for sale on Ebay and elsewhere. The kit is a christmas present for me, for someone to give me. I have also ordered myself a mitten kit (the union jack 'Johnny Rotten' mittens), and a model ship kit, and have handed them over to my husband for someone else to give back to me. Only way to get quality christmas presents in my opinion. Who needs another basket of scented soap?

I will finish with my newest wheeze: a rotary cutting mat. I spotted this solid wooden turntable when I was on the IKEA trip last weekend (and no, we didn't leave anyone behind, and yes, people enjoyed themselves) for £5.99. It just so happens that I had a spare large cutting mat that was completely knackered (I used it to build my Willowcrest dollshouse on) so I cut a circle out of that and stuck it on upside down (to use the smoother surface) with doublesided tape. Hey presto, a rotary cutting mat!

Saturday, 14 November 2009


I finished my little November fireworks wallhanging today. We went to a great fireworks display (for Guy Fawkes) last weekend at my son's old school. This is hanging in the downstairs hallway where I can see it as I come in the door. At the moment it is hung up with safety pins, I should likely come up with something more sophisticated.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Wet and dreary

The weather is terrible: wet, windy, rainy. The good news is that we thought we were going to spend all day Saturday on a muddy cold riverbank supporting our son in a rowing race, and now it's been cancelled due to dangerously high river levels / wind levels. So I've got my Saturday back and will try to do some quilting tomorrow.

Otherwise I haven't got much done on the craft front this week. A bit of knitting every day. I'm having trouble with the corrugated ribbing curling on my DH's Kauni jumper. Apparently this is a common problem. I tried undoing the last few rows, reknitting in garter and casting off tightly - which improved it but it still curled. So I undid it all, and cast on again in 2x2 rib (it was 1x1) which is supposed to be more stable, and am re-knitting the bottom band hoping it will improve. I'm on the last sleeve of my Noro Matsuri cardigan, so that might actually be finished before the end of the year.

My November fireworks wallhanging has sat on my sewing table all week. I've sewn a few borders on, then had to take them off because I didn't like them, and now I am putting them back on. It is looking a little boring to me now, I think I need to add more fireworks.

And I made some dust covers for two of my dollshouses from heavy transparent vinyl, using velcro that sticks on one side (the dollshouse side) and sews on the other side (the vinyl side) to stick them on. This was my quilt shop and my Rik Pierce house, both open-backed houses that were getting really dusty inside, hopefully the vinyl will be a barrier against most of the dust now.

On Sunday I am going on a road trip to Ikea with several pensioners from my sewing group, most of whom have never been there. Hopefully it will be enjoyable for them and not too overwhelming, and most of all I hope we don't lose anyone! I think I will give them all DH's mobile number, and print maps of the store off the internet to give everyone. I volunteered DH to be a car pool driver for this trip, and as you can imagine he was thrilled when he heard that. I tell him it is our way of giving back to the community... :)

Friday, 6 November 2009


November... only a matter of weeks now until I leave work at the end of the year. I am in a mini-support group with someone else at work, and they are leaving at the end of November. Suddenly time seems to be speeding up. I've been on a financial awareness course for redundancy leavers, which sparked a long overdue look at not only our finances but my long neglected filing system. So today I've spent about five hours tidying up files, hunting down tax forms and pay slips, and clearing out the shelf on my desk where I throw things that need to be filed. Somehow there always seems to be something better to do - like quilting or knitting. I found out yesterday that I won't hear about the internal vacancy I applied for until the beginning of December, a long time to wait.

Meanwhile, Halloween went off pretty well. I left the front window open a crack so I could hear what the kids said as they caught sight of my decorations, so that was pretty fun. We had half a dozen parties of young kids before supper, and another half a dozen of older kids after supper. And only one group of teenagers who weren't even wearing costumes, girls this time. I had two carved pumpkins since the third one had unfortunately gone rotten. The leftover halloween candy has nourished us for several days but is almost gone now. Thankfully. My DH said he only saw one other decorated house in our neighbourhood though, which is even less than usual. I enjoyed seeing all the costumes and handing out fistfuls of candy. Do you like my haunted house pumpkin?

I managed to knit the Rico Pompon scarf for my m-i-l's birthday. I started Friday night and finished it off on Saturday. This time I cast off by knitting 2 together across one row, then casting off the single stitches on the final row. That worked fairly well and only pulled in the knitting a little bit. She was thrilled with the scarf.

My Christmas knitting is underway. My enormous Christmas stocking in Debbie Bliss Fez is several inches long now, and I am just doing the big fair isle stars. I am also knitting some really cute mini stockings to hang on the tree, using a free pattern from Little Cotton Rabbit. They are knit flat which she says makes it easier to do fair isle. But it means you have to purl in fair isle, which I've never done before and find really awkward. Luckily they are only small. I knit two in 2.5 hours with my local knitting group this week. I am also working on my DH's Kauni Pullover and knitting the bottom rib on by hand, and I think this will be his christmas present (although not a surprise obviously).

I've been doing some quilting as well. I finished the re-quilting of the Amish Sunshine and Shadows and gave it a wash to take the marks out. It looks really good and I have now handed it over to my DH. Now I have started a wallhanging for November featuring fireworks (for Guy Fawkees night, which was last night but we are going out to a fireworks show on Saturday night). I've adapted the design from a book by Jeri Kelly called "Every Month- a tablerunner for every month". My wallhanging is basically half a tablerunner, and I've changed the fireworks a bit. I picked the book up at Paducah this year, because I've always wanted to have seasonal quilts for every month of the year. I do have several seasonal wall quilts already, but November is a month that isn't covered.

And here is a tip that I think I read in Fons & Porter magazine: storing sewing needles in a divided plastic box. They recommended a seven-day-pill box, but I couldn't find one of those. I picked this one up for .79p at Lidl (a supermarket) and it works great. I've got my quilting/piecing needles in one, and my general and specialist needles in a second one. I've got the different sizes in each compartment, starting from 60 at the left, then 70, 75, 80, 90 and 100, much easier to find things.

Friday, 30 October 2009

A quieter week

It's been a quieter week, as I had a day of leave to relax, and I haven't had any training courses or anything. I feel like I am holding my breath for the next two weeks, until I hear the outcome of my application for the internal job. If I don't get that (and 6 other people applied for the same job) then I will really have to ramp up the jobhunting activity.

Tomorrow is Halloween, and once again I will pay my lonely homage to my childhood in Canada by being virtually the only house in our neighbourhood to decorate and hand out sweets. The Brits do not really understand Halloween. Although it is becoming more popular and you do see a limited range of decorations and treats in many stores now, trick or treating is still not common in our area. You even still occasionally see clerics denouncing the foreign import of devil worship, in the local papers. Plus of course there are huge safety concerns, there is no tradition or culture here of it being a lighthearted fun children's holiday, so it does present an excuse for vandalism and bad behaviour, parents worry about the children going to strangers' doors for possibly doctored sweets, old people cower in their homes with the lights out, etc. But I will have my decorations up (most of them are up now), and three pumpkins this year, and my flashing skull and my blow-up ghost and my glow-in-the-dark plastic skeletons. Some years I get as many as 40 kids, other years it might be 7, or 3. My family doesn't mind as they eat all the leftover sweets.

I finished my Halloween wallhanging and it is on display in the stairwell. I enjoyed making it, but I am a bit disappointed that what is meant to be the focus fabric (the print with all the halloween houses with monsters in each window) is rather overshadowed by the accent fabrics. This is a pattern from the book 'Nine Patch Pizzazz' and is a quick and fun way to work with focus fabrics. I have some other large prints so I might have another go from this book.

I was recently given a teapot, so of course it required a knitted tea cosy. This is based on a pattern which was in the December issue of 'Knitting' magazine, but as my teapot was a completely different shape (sort of a round square with a flat top) and I was knitting a completely different gauge (holding a strand of coned 4-ply wool together with a strand of coned boucle), the resemblance is only loose. I also knit mine seamlessly. It does up with a button loop underneath the handle.

On other knits: I am progressing on my Christmas stocking in Debbie Bliss 'Fez'. I love this yarn, which is so soft and warm, but this stocking is turning out absolutely enormous. My gauge is pretty close, but this stocking would fit both my legs into it. My DH looked at it and inquired just how many presents I thought Santa was bringing me this year. I have also knit several more rounds on my Pi Shawl, mostly stockinette but one round of yarn overs, thus adding about one painstaking inch to the circumference. Now that I am knitting stockinette, I can do a full round of 574 stitches in about 20 minutes so it is growing faster than it was. Remember I was going to knit another Rico Pompon scarf for my m-i-l? I suddenly realised last night that her birthday is Monday, so DH would have to take the scarf down on Sunday. Can I knit an entire scarf in two days??? I hope so. It is a pretty quick knit.

I am feeling virtuous because I have tackled a project which has been hanging around for years. At least 5 years ago (and it might even be 10) I bought an Amish-style Sunshine and Shadows quilt from a quiltshow, by accident. What happened was a lady had made the quilt to raise money for a cancer charity, and there was a sheet next to the quilt inviting bids. No-one had bid on it when I was there, and I felt sorry for her because it was an impressive quilt, so I put on a bid. Well, it turned out I was the only one, so the quilt was mine. She had done a great job on it, except for one border where I think she was practicing her free motion quilting. Using invisible thread and about 20 stitches to the inch, she had quilted a vine and leaf motif which didn't suit the quilt and at a standard much lower than the construction quality. Over several years I gradually unpicked this border (mostly in front of the tv, cursing quietly about invisible thread being invisible) and finally finished it last month. Now I am marking a scrolling feather in the next border, the outer wide border, which I think will suit the quilt better. To mark, I am using a neat gadget that I swapped fabric for at my sewing club: a Quilt Pounce. A friend of mine had bought it and never used it. It's a fabulous device that you pour chalk powder into, and just wipe it across the stencil for an instant mark, so quick and easy. I've quilted one border so far and marked the second one. I did find that the chalk does rub off fairly easily, by the time I got to the end of the quilting some of the lines were just about gone, so I've marked the second border much more heavily and will try not to rub it on itself.

I will finish with a picture of the triffid in my garden, a.k.a. the world-eating nasturtium. This is entirely self-seeded from a nasturtium I planted about 5 years ago (which as I recall was supposed to be a dwarf version). Somewhere underneath the main mass is a large rosemary bush, and it has reached out over a fuschia shrub to embrace the adjoining hydrangea, and even thrown runners across the path to start to engulf the lavender hedge. I would be scared as the house will be next in its evil all-conqueroring path, except that I know the first frost will kill it.

Friday, 23 October 2009

First interview / first rejection

Well, I didn't get the civil service job, which is fine because I mainly did the interview for practice. I thought it went pretty well, so I have asked for feedback to help me improve. I have also applied for a role in my current company, which doesn't really sound like me but it might be a chance to stay in the company.

I have to use up my leave before I go, so I had a lovely day off on Wednesday and really took it easy. I spent the day finishing the interior of my 1:48 scale Halloween house. I haven't built a ladder yet to go upstairs, and I could still add more accessories. It was wonderful to just not think about jobhunting for a whole day.

I also finished the red, white and blue Regia socks, in just over a week which is something of a record for me. I was hoping to beat the UK postal strike but didn't. I will have to make other arrangements to get them to their new owner.

I've finished quilting the halloween wallhanging and am now stitching down the binding. A friend brought another friend over to see my quilt collection today. I got them all out of the cupboard and laid them on top of each other on the bed. It's good to shake out the folds and give them an air. Only now I've got to fold them up and put them all back this evening, or else face being really REALLY warm tonight. There were a few I'd kind of forgotten about, so it was good to see them all.

I've finished the back and two fronts of the Noro Matsuri cardigan and have cast on for the first sleeve. Even though all my balls are the same dye lot, one of them is much paler than the others, if I have to use it (and I think I will be short on yarn) I am not really sure how I am going to do that, maybe knit it in alternate rows.

Friday, 16 October 2009

I need a holiday

It's all been a bit mad this week and I am really starting to feel like I need some down time. Unfortunately I am not going to get it very soon, although I did get to sleep in this morning, which was great. Now however I have to get busy because:

- I have a job interview next Thursday for a civil service committee administrator job. It doesn't pay very well but this will be my first interview so I have loads of preparation to do. Apparently they are also going to give me a 45 minute test on my minuting skills - eek! I have good minuting skills, but I've never actually been tested, I wonder how they will do that?

- My company has embarked on a flurry of resourcing, part of the 'new brush sweeps clean' approach of our new CEO. A significant proportion of the company (hundreds 0f people) have to re-apply for their own jobs, the idea being that there are fewer jobs and they pick the best people. The unsuccessful will be redundant like me. It is a grim time, but it means there have been a number of vacancies posted this week which I have had to wade through to see if there is anything suitable for me. There is only one, in a completely new area and a bit of a step down, but I have to decide whether to go for it or not. To complicate matters further, in their hurry to get the process over and done with in two weeks, there are errors on the system, including two different deadlines (one this Sunday, the other next Friday) so I'm trying to find out if I have to hurry my application in this weekend or if I have next week as well. Meanwhile I've got to prepare my application and get the wording exactly right, as they are basing the selection entirely on the submission - no interviews.

While all this has been going on, I've had no less than three courses this week so I've hardly been in the office or at home. I was on a Search Engine Optimisation seminar on Monday (quite interesting), an outplacement course on 'Networking Skills' on Tuesday (not very good, and I'm not very good at it either), and yesterday I was on a full day course on 'Company Secretarial Practice', all about the legal compliance side of corporate governance. The last one was an exploratory course to see if that is an area I want to get in to. But I'm not sure I'm very keen, it seemed very dry and a lot of filling out forms etc.

So you can see why I am feeling somewhat burned out. And not a whole lot of crafting has been going on.

I did finish my Opal yarn Harry Potter socks. They have come out somewhat large on me so I think I will give them to my sister in law for christmas. I loved this yarn though, it had a great colour repeat.

I have been trying to sandwich up my Halloween quilt ready for quilting, after getting it to the top stage last Saturday and also piecing a back for it out of Halloween fabrics. Annoyingly, I snatched a few hours on Tuesday night to get it 3/4 pinned up, then realised that I had the top slighly off centre so it wasn't lining up with the batting/backing - so I had to unpin it all again. Grrrr. I started again but it is only about 1/3 pinned - maybe I will get that pinned up completely today if I need a break from job applications.

I have started a new pair of socks with some great Regia red, white and blue sock yarn that I bought at Alexandra Palace. It knits up in solid stripes of each colour. These will be a gift. Oh, and my friend Anita received her Scandinavian pattern socks in the post. She says she loves the colours and they fit great! So that's good, and a relief to know that they arrived safely.

And last weekend was of course the great Alexandra Palace Knitting and Stitching Show, one of the premier textile events here in the UK each year. It goes on for four days but I couldn't go until Sunday, when things were looking a bit cleaned out. But I had a great time, it seemed quite busy to me and some of the traders I spoke to had done very well. Even the Machine Knitting Guild had done a roaring trade in signing up new members, which is good news because machine knitting has been dead as a doornail for the last five years or so. The lady on the stand who sells secondhand machines said she can't get them cleaned up quick enough to satisfy the demand. Who knows, maybe we will get some new clubs started up (my local one closed years ago) and a new UK magazine. She also told me how to open up the panel on my Brother 260 machine to clean the patterning mechanism, because I've been having a problem with it freezing up as I am trying to knit DH's Kauni jumper (now knitting final sleeve).

So what did I get? Well, I did in fact take my knitting stash index cards with me as a kind of talisman in my bag, so I did not go overboard on the yarn front. However, as we all know, sock yarn doesn't count, so I did come back with yarn for four new pairs of socks including a gorgeous skein of Colinette Jitterbug, the red and white Regia, and two other self-striping yarns. I also bought a pattern for some traditional Sanquhar gloves, which are 12 stitches to the inch so I must be mad. To make those I bought a skein of white Shetland lace yarn and two skeins of navy (backordered as they were out).
I had a lovely but exhausting time viewing all the stalls, guild displays, artists' exhibitions, club projects, got chased off the 'Learn to Knit' stall for the crime of having a hot drink with me (I guess there is an HSSE risk that I might suddenly have a fit and start flinging tepid tea over the beginners), had some nice chats with other shoppers during refreshment breaks, and bumped into a few people that I know (Hi Vanessa!). I didn't actually buy any quilting stuff although there were several quilting shops there. I spoke to the Jamieson's people (shetland wool) about shade cards for knitting the Alice Starmore design that I admired at the I-knit Weekender event ('Marina') and they said to give them a call after the show and they would sort me out. Needless to say I haven't had time!

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