Saturday, 31 January 2009

Old stash

I have been picking fabrics for a workshop I am doing later with Kaffe Fassett. We are supposed to bring 25 large or medium scale floral prints in similar values but different colours, to do a scrappy colourwash quilt. This has made me realise that: a) I almost never buy large prints, and that in fact my stash is almost entirely small prints and tone on tones, and b) that most of my stash is really really ooooooollllllllllddddddddddddd.... I haven't been sewing very much the last few years, for various reasons, and the last five years I have mostly been sewing up kits I have bought at shows, or making tops out of coordinated fabric collections. Meanwhile my stash has been sitting there not getting used, and in fact quite a few of the fabrics are probably more than 10 years old. And despite having what seems like a lot of fabric, I constantly find I don't have the right colour or fabric for what I want. I should try harder to use it up, I guess, like the way I have been using up my unwanted FQs by piecing backing.

When I was pawing through the stacks, vainly searching for large prints, I couldn't help realising how dated a lot of it looks. The whole Valorie Wells-type fabric trends have completely left me behind, and unless I am suddenly contacted by a movie producer desperate for a era-appropriate quilt for the 80s movie he is making, I'm not sure what it will ever get used for. It's a bit of a dilemma - we want to have lots of 'crayons' on hand for the next time we want to 'colour' a quilt, yet the bigger the stash, the more likely it is going to sit on the shelves unused and going out of date. A lot of the fabric I bought 10 years ago was purchased mainly because it was cheap, in the days when quilting cotton fabric was very expensive here in the UK. Fabric still is expensive here, but it has come down in price and now we have a lot more available to us, and the internet has made it possible to purchase new designs direct from American quilt shops.

That's what I've had to do for the workshop, I ordered two stacks of large floral print FQs from, which were rather expensive by the time I paid shipping but at least I have what I need for the class now.

What else have I been up to this week? I've knit about 8 inches of stockinet for 'Hey Teach' and am almost ready to start the waist ribbing. DH's tie is down to its final decrease and I was knitting on it on the towpath this morning, watching DS racing on the river Thames. I broke down and bought one of those nifty drawstring pouches with a hanging loop, so I just threaded the loop through a button on my coat and knit happily away. At least until I lost all feeling in my frozen fingers, as there was an icy wind sweeping along the riverbank. I gave the pink sweater to my colleague at work, he and his wife were thrilled with it although they say it will probably only fit for a few weeks as their baby is growing fast, in the way that babies do. Perhaps I should make a bigger one, I still have the machine set up. I quilted a bit more on the landscape picture that is in the frame, I'm on the 'grass' now.

Here is the promised picture of the bear in his dungarees, I'm quite pleased with him. Don't know what I'm going to do with him. I wouldn't say I am a 'bear' person, the way some people are passionately interested in bears, yet somehow I do seem to have about 10 of them dotted around the house.

Tomorrow I am off to the Ardingly quilt show down in Sussex, which I've never been to before, but it is supposed to be a nice little show. I don't plan to buy very much [famous last words], as I have Paducah coming up in April, but it will be fun to look.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Dusting off the knitting machine

I used to be a machine knitter. I was really into it for about 4 years, from 2000-2003. By that time, the hobby was on its last legs in the UK, and I was able to pick up all sorts of machines and kit quite cheaply. Then we moved, and I had to put it all into storage for almost a year. By the time it was all out again I'd forgotten a lot of the more complicated stuff. I gave away several machines and sold another couple, and now I have three left, which I rarely use.

But I dusted my Brother 881 off this week, and knit this little baby jumper for a work colleague who has had a little girl. It's from an old Machine Knitting News, the 1989 No 2 Baby Collection, and is all done on the machine, in 4-ply acrylic. It felt good to be machining again, except for the frustrating parts where I made stupid mistakes because I haven't used the machine for so long. It is a drop shoulder, which is why the arms look a bit stubby. I'm not entirely convinced that machine knitting is that much faster than handknitting really, especially when you make mistakes. It takes a while to punch the card, get all the yarns set up on the machine, do all the colour changing, set up the ribber for the ribbing bands etc. I suppose the difference is that once you have all that set up, you could knit several jumpers one after the other quite easily, if you wanted to for some reason. And it would definitely be faster if you were just knitting plain in one colour, because you can knit a whole row in just seconds. Now that I am a hand knitter too, I am becoming a bit of a yarn snob who looks down on all my cones of acrylic machine knitting yarn, but I need to use them up.

I was contemplating putting my last quilt top onto the frame, when I remembered the two landscape pictures I made in a workshop at Sisters last year in the 'Accidental Landscapes' class. So I've put one of those on the frame instead and am quilting it. It's a bit of work because lots of starts and stops, so each time I have to bring up the bobbin thread and fasten the two threads off to avoid getting a bird's nest on the back when I start, but it is going well. Lots of thread colour changes as each fabric is quilted in matching thread. That's how the tutor does it, rather than using invisible thread, it gives more texture and 'painting' to the picture. The mountain tops have a bit of angelina fibre to make them glisten.

The dungarees I am knitting for my teddy bear are just about finished, I will snap a pic for next week. Thursday night at the I-knit shop knitting group, I cast on for 'Hey Teach' in my pink Rowan Summer Tweed. I am once again knitting the fronts and back in the round as it is plain stockinet up to the armholes. Good tv knitting. Dh's tie is coming along, more than halfway in length now, but it is so boring to knit on that I can only do it for short periods.

I don't think I said that Swooze got her socks, they fit great and she is really pleased with them.
I bought the new UK knitting magazine, 'The Knitter', last week. It is aimed at the more experienced knitter, and I think is intended to be a UK answer to Vogue Knitting or Interweave Knits. I was curious so bought the first issue but on the whole I wasn't that impressed. First of all it cost £5.99, which was a bit of a shock. Second, I was wondering why the man's jacket looked familiar then I saw that it was reprinted from an old Rowan book (42) that I already have, and it turns out that no fewer than six of the patterns in the magazine are actually reprints from other published books or pattern leaflets, not original designs. Of the couple of original patterns, one by Di Gilpin looks rather unblocked and homemade. So on the whole, not worth £5.99 and definitely not a competitor for Vogue Knitting. Perhaps it will get better, but I am not tempted to subscribe at this point.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

And two become one...

Today at sewing club I joined together the two halves of my big log cabin quilt. I had done a large meander on both halves using my quilt frame, which only takes about a 60" wide top so i had to split the log cabin into two halves. Swooze asked how I was going to join them, so I took pictures as I did it for the blog.

When I quilted, I left about 3 inches unquilted on the edge where I would be making the seam.

Then I trimmed the back and wadding 1/2 inch away from the edge of the top.

Then I folded back the wadding and back, and pinned the top halves right sides together, then stitched and pressed.

Then I spread the quilt flat on a table, overlapped the wadding, and cut through both layers with scissors to make a smooth join.

Then I turned one backing edge under by approximately 1/2 inch, and overlapped it onto the other back edge, pinning it down and using a ruler to keep the 'seam' straight.

Then I hemmed the overlap down by handstitching, pressing when I was finished. Voila, the join disappears. The final step will be to put it back under the machine and meander over the middle unquilted six inch strip.

This is the finished back - this is one of the backings I made out of all those FQs I purged several months ago.

And here is the fully joined top, just needs to have the unquilted strip meandered.

After I joined the log cabin together, I joined together all the blocks in my BOM because today I handed out the last set of instructions to everyone, and I had completed my final block as the class sample. It is pretty small, I might add another row of blocks, or maybe just a big border.

I've had another go at knitting a bear from my 'Knitted Teddy Bear' book, this time in DK so he is bigger. He came out fairly well, I put an embroidery skein in the picture for scale. I only had slightly too big eyes, which makes him look very young, will have to find some smaller eyes for the next bear. It would have been better if my stuffing had been grey rather than white, I am going to squash his arm a bit so the knitting doesn't stretch so much. There are patterns for clothing as well, so I may knit him some clothes.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Back at the grindstone

No pictures this week as I have had an exceptionally busy and tiring week at work, plus I was out two nights, so really have done extremely little. I have the second half of the big log cabin on my frame and am doing a row or so of meandering whenever I get a few minutes. The colleague at work seemed to like her quilt. She partially unfolded it at her workstation (we are in an open plan call centre type of office) to look at it and for a moment it was if my two worlds had collided, very strange feeling, to see the vivid colours of a homemade textile glowing against the spartan and regimented world of the office. It drives home how separated my 'real' life is from my work life.

On the knitting front, I have worn my new cardigan (Bianca's jacket) to work twice this week. No-one has said anything, so presumably it either looks unremarkable, or so homemade that they are embarrassed for me. I personally think it looks quite smart, and it is very comfortable. The 70 silk / 30 cotton is surprisingly warm. I have a second pack of Rowan Summer Tweed that I bought at the same sale, and I may try my hand at 'Hey Teach', a pattern from that the Yarnharlot recently completely. In the meantime, I am knitting another teddy bear out of my Knitted Teddy Bears book, this time in DK weight so hopefully he will look less scrawny than the first one I tried. I posted Swooze her socks last week, so hopefully they will survive the trans-Atlantic crossing and arrive safely, and fit well when they get there.

I went out to dollshouse club on Wednesday night and took along my Rik Pierce house for show and tell. It was much admired, people were really struck by it because it is so different from the typical British dollshouse which is a front-opening box of rooms with a relatively plain exterior. Rik is coming to France in June to teach his 'Crooked House', a similar house to mine, and some people where looking at the brochure for that with interest. It is a lot more expensive to do his course over here because of the exchange rate, his travel etc. than when I went to him in Chicago when the exchange rate was good.

We aren't moving house. The estate agent valued our house yesterday at over £100k less than the house we looked at on the weekend, because the market has dropped over 20% in our area. I feel frustrated because I don't want to live in a crowded house picking my way between quilt frames and dollshouses, yet I don't want to give up my hobbies either. Maybe we can get rid of the sofa..... (joke)

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Holiday is over

We cleared out the last of Christmas today: the tree went to the dump, the needles were all hoovered up (and boy, were there a lot of needles...), the outside lights came down, and all the decorations went back into the loft. [All the decorations we could find, that is, there are usually one or two that surface later that we didn't notice]. It's sad in a way, but then it wouldn't be so special if it weren't only on a few weeks each year.

Ds has gone down to his grandparents for the last of his school holiday, so for the next few days we are on our own. This afternoon I even managed to catch up on some of the tv shows that I have taped on our Sky box (Tivo), without anyone clamouring to have the television.

The second quilt is now bound and ready to take into work. I didn't want to take the sewing machine off the frame as all the power cords are intricately wound about it, so I managed to sew the binding on by standing inside the frame and feeding the quilt through. Needless to say the edge is a bit wavy, but I don't think the non-quilter recipient will know the difference. This is the mystery quilt that I made in the workshop at Sisters last year. I don't really like it, too modern for my tastes. The fabrics were picked to coordinate with a pansy floral fabric which was the border, but the recipient doesn't do flowers so I took the border off again.

My third top is a massive log cabin, about king size, that I made about six or seven years ago. I have split it into two halves to fit on my little frame. I loaded the first half this morning, and have quilted most of it because I am just doing a simple large meander which goes quite quickly. It's a relief not to be doing a tiny panto like the last one. It will be nice to finally get this one finished and on the bed. It's sort of Brambly Hedge, lots of prints and primary colours, in diagonal zig zags of value. While the machine is on the frame, I can't do anything else, so that is the incentive to keep on quilting until I can take the frame down and put it away.

A while ago, I followed the example of my friend Swooze and bagged up all my quilting UFOs, WIPs and future projects. Swooze is now bugging me to list them all so that she can nag me to finish them. Needless to say I am not feeling motivated. However, I have summoned all my courage and counted the bags: 16. That is probably about 18 projects because I know a couple of the bags have fabric for more than one quilt in them (for example, I thought I might make a couple of quilts out of the Eleanor Burns book, Fans and Flutterbys, and I collected fabric for those). Last night I fell victim to the sales and ordered a half-price quilt kit using the Portugal fabrics which I love, and sale fabric for two other quilts just because I really liked it: Flamingo Run, and Donna Dewberry's Daisy line. This was all off the American website It looks like they only send by courier to the UK, so I shipped the fabric to an American friend instead and will pick it up when I am over there in April. I feel like I have fallen off the wagon because I haven't bought much fabric this year due to not having much time to sew.

We had one exciting thing happen this weekend: we went to look at a new house yesterday. It is one of a development of two, built by a small builder on a plot on the other side of our village, that was formerly an engineering works apparently. Unlike most new houses, it is actually quite big. It has four bedrooms, 3 of which are a double size, and a garage. The kitchen is a lot smaller than ours, but the rest of the house is comparable to ours. I can immediately see the garage as a sewing room, and the fourth bedroom as a dollhouse area (except that DS wants it for his wargaming table). Because of the housing slump, the price has dropped into the very top of our range, except for the fact that we probably can't sell our house. I've asked the agent if the builder might consider a part exchange with our current house, as then we wouldn't have to put it on the market. But if we were to more than double our mortgage, then I will have absolutely no option but to stay in my current hated job. It's a conundrum.

There was an advertisement in my American Country Living magazine, for bathroom tissue of all things, but it talks about making a fresh start for the new year, and about having a "personal goal of bringing more order and restorative calm to your world". That sounds so wonderful, and would definitely be a goal I would aspire to, although I don't know the Frodo would say. I don't usually make new year's resolutions, but I would love it if that one came true for me.

Friday, 2 January 2009

Happy new year!

This year we did something exciting for new year. Instead of just sitting at home watching it all on the tv, we travelled up to London to be part of the crowds and to watch the fireworks for ourselves. I booked a budget hotel room near Euston, and we checked in and had supper there, then travelled down to the city centre. We passed through Trafalgar Square about 8 pm, when it was just starting to fill up and went down to Victoria Embankment to where they had closed off streets to create a firework viewing area. We bagged a prime spot directly opposite the London Eye and set up camp on a curb about 8:30 p.m. [This is someone else's photo, we were much closer to the river bank and more directly in front of the London Eye ferris wheel.]

I had been worried about whether waiting 3.5 hours for 15 minutes of fireworks would be worth it, but it was so much fun. The enclosure gradually filled up until it was very crowded, and everyone was in a party mood. BBC Radio 1 was blasting great songs out and everyone was dancing and singing along, there were people of all ages, impromptu dance displays going on, lots of drinking of course but I didn't see any bad behaviour. It is probably the closest I will get to being at a rave, lol. We were under streetlights so it was well lit, so I could knit, and I finished off Swooze's second sock while we were waiting. We had books to read and refreshments and a blanket to sit on, but the last hour it was really crowded and we were all watching the laser projections on the building across the river and waiting for the countdown. When the fireworks came, they were absolutely spectacular and all directly opposite us so we got the full effect, as everyone chanted down the 'bong's of Big Ben the matching fireworks were exploding right in front of us. At one point the sky was so filled with fireworks it looked like golden rain. The finale was deafening as dozens of fireworks went off together, the flashing was so vivid I had to close my eyes for a respite. Once they were over, the thousands of people all started streaming for the exit. We waited for a while until the crush had died down a bit, but still got stuck in a few jostling bottlenecks as we worked our way back up to Trafalgar Square. Transport was free on New Year's Eve, but having seen the size of the crowds we just walked back to our hotel, and finally got to bed about 2 am.

Thursday morning we woke up about 10, tucked into the all you can eat breakfast, then went back into London to see the New Year's Day parade. This was a huge thing going on for three hours, we only watched the first hour because we didn't have very good places and it was hard to see. Lots of American school marching bands, some of them about 60 strong, must have been a heck of a lot of fundraising going on to fly all those kids over here. Not many floats which was disappointing to me, parades in Canada when I was growing up always had lots of floats. By the time we got home Thursday afternoon, we felt like we had been away for days, and that the new year had well and truly started.

Meanwhile, I finished Bianca's Jacket, washed and blocked it. I am pretty pleased with it. The sleeves are slightly long on me but it is really comfortable and surprisingly warm, despite being fairly light. The Rowan Summer Tweed is 70% silk, 30% cotton. I will probably wear it to work when I have to back on Monday.

I also made a little christmas decoration from some sock yarn leftovers, using the mini-sock-keyring pattern that I bought at Alexander Palace a while ago. We will probably take our tree down this weekend, I am already gradually taking down the decorations throughout the rest of the house.

Here is a picture of the tie I am knitting for DH, using a pattern from Fons & Porter knitting magazine and Cherry Tree Hill sock yarn. I had to restart as the original was coming out too wide, I also switched to smaller needles to get a denser fabric. He is non-committal on whether he is actually going to wear it or not, I think he is withholding judgement until he sees the finished article, but he likes the colours. Did I blog that DH crumbled and bought more yarn and knit another scarf? Noro Silk Garden again, and longer and wider this time. He still says he isn't a knitter though, that he just wanted another scarf. Hmmmm, we shall see...

I finished the second quilt on my frame yesterday, and took it off and washed it. Hopefully I will get the binding on this weekend so I can take it into work next week. It didn't go too badly, although there are several bumps on the back where I paused too long in one place. The tension is fairly reasonable, and I learned a lot about using and positioning a panto. For example, if you forget that your top is pinned onto the canvas leader at the bottom, and try to stitch right to the bottom edge, then you will stitch your top to the canvas leader! I wouldn't want a quilter to come within 100 yards of this learning quilt, but the girl I am giving it to doesn't sew, so she will hopefully be happy with it.

Happy New Year to you all, hope 2009 brings you success, happiness and health, and lots of crafting achievement.

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