Friday, 27 March 2009

Neck tie finished

I finally finished knitting the neck tie for my husband. This was from a pattern in the first or second issue of the Fons and Porter Love of Knitting magazine, and I knit it in Cherry Tree Hill sock yarn on 2.25mm dpns. If I had really thought about how long men's ties are, I might never have started it, but I persevered and finally finished it during a long car drive. DH is surprisingly taken with it, and has already worn it to work once (where it attracted no comment at all).

On the quilting front, I am handstitching down the binding on the jellyroll quilt, after machining it on during last Saturday's sewing club. I have loaded the last quilt onto the quilting frame, the second Accidental Landscape wallhanging, and am about halfway through the quilting. You have to change thread colour quite frequently so it takes time despite being a small wallhanging. Last Saturday I also started piecing the background to an appliqued tablerunner in 30s fabrics, from a pattern in a Quilter's Almanac magazine that I bought in Hawaii.

I've spent a few happy evenings this week filing paperwork into my albums and scrapbooks. I hadn't done much filing during 2008 so there was a lot to catch up on. I take photos of everything I make, so I have one album where I keep those photos and also any associated paperwork such as patterns, show entry forms, thank you letters from recipients etc. That album is divided by year tabs, so I can look back and see what I was working on in a particular year. I have another album where I keep 'inspiration' images, photos of quilts I've liked at shows, pictures ripped out of magazines and so forth. I also have photo boxes of loose photos from my trips to big quilt shows, the patchwork tours I've been on etc, plus one box for pictures of my non-quilty projects such as my dollshouses. My knitting photos are filed in a different album. Can you tell that I trained as a secretary?

Last night was DS's school concert. He was only in one piece so I was happily knitting on 'Hey Teach' through the rest of the pieces, because knitting doesn't impair my hearing and I didn't need to look at the other ensembles to enjoy them. I've taken the Potpourri sock on the train to work a few days this week, and am almost at the toe decrease now. Meanwhile in front of the tv I have revisited an old knitting project, the 'Learn to Knit Afghan' which is how I learned to knit a few years ago. I've done about 20 squares and there are 67 in the book. I felt like going back to it one night, so finished off one square (in popcorn stitch) and started another one.

Oh yes, the interview. Well, it went ok, but hard to say what impression I made. I liked the interviewer, who will be the boss's boss, once they fill the boss position, for the two jobs I've applied for. She had a script of tricky questions, the kind that make my mind go blank, like "Tell us about a time when you overcame a challenge in order to meet a deadline", or "Tell us how you overcame a resource pinch point (?huh?) or conflict in order to achieve your goal". Questions like that just make me feel tired. I guess I feel that I do a good job and that should speak for itself, but I guess when you are interviewing 10 people you have to have some kind of structure around the interview. The danger there is you end up hiring the one who can talk the best BS, not necessarily the one who can do the job best. I was depressed to hear that the full-time job will not be allowed to work from home for at least a year. I am crossing my fingers that I a) get a job, and b) it is the part-time job. The idea of having a four day weekend makes me practically drool in anticipation.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Wish me luck

I've got my interview this morning - wish me luck...

Friday, 20 March 2009

On blocking quilts

First a quick report on the job situation. The new organisation has now been published, there are only two possible jobs in it for me: one full time job that sounds pressured and scary, and one job-share 3 days a week that sounds very overworked but it is stuff I know how to do. I've applied for both but stated the part-time as my first preference. It will mean a 40% salary cut but the siren call of going back to part-time work is too strong to resist. I have hated being full-time the past year, the only thing that has made it bearable is having one day working from home. Working five days a week makes me feel like I am in a cage, with life stretching bleakly ahead of me punctuated only by too brief weekends and the occasional week off. That is not how I want to live my life - yes, I need to work to pay the bills, but my time at home is equally (or actually, more) important to me. I looked out the window of my train this week as it pulled into the London station, and the ranks of black and grey suited workers tramping off to their daily imprisonment seemed briefly like some kind of science fiction horror film. So sometime in the next few weeks I will presumably get interviewed, then selection will be in mid-April. If I don't get either job, I go on notice from 1 May. Then it will be a waiting game to see if something else turns up before I have to leave the company towards the end of the year. Fun fun fun.

Anyway! I finished quilting my jellyroll single quilt today. I had a genius brainwave for quilting the side borders, which probably means someone else has already figured this out and documented it, but I haven't seen it anywhere. My frame is quite narrow, the 7 foot rollers have an actual sewing area of closer to 60". So I don't have the width to turn a quilt sideways the way a long-arm quilter can do, when it is time to quilt the side borders. Yes, I could quilt the side borders in 4-inch chunks as I quilt the main body, but that would mean lots of annoying and unsightly starts and stops.

It suddenly occurred to me that I could just pin the quilt back into the frame with the leaders on top, and let the excess hang down on one side, allowing me to still have the convenience of freehand quilting on the frame. So I tried it out and it worked quite well. I was quilting a scrolling feather, so when I got near the place where the quilt started hanging down, I stopped and cut the thread. Then I went back and quilted along the other side of the feather. This time, when I got to the stopping place, I left the needle in, unpinned the top, re-pinned the remaining segment, and finished quilting that line. Then I went back and quilted the remaining line on the first side. The layers all stayed aligned because when it was on the frame for the main quilting, I also basted along both sides with a Microstitch tack every inch. Having the bulk of the quilt top hanging down under the frame impeded the carriage slightly when the feather scrolled towards the front roller, at that point I just picked up the bulk of the quilt and lay it on the front roller temporarily.

After basting around all four edges and trimming back the batting/backing, I threw it in the washing machine for a short wash. I always block my quilts this way. If I think the quilt may be soiled, for example a long-term UFO, then I add a bit of non-bio detergent, otherwise I just give it a good rinse and a short spin. Then I lay it flat to dry, generally by suspending it over our rotary clothes airer outside, or over two clothes horses inside. Once completely dry, I give it a light steam press on a big blocking board (made from a segment from an old door, padded with a woolen blanket and a muslin cover), with the iron on half steam and just running it back and forth over the quilt without actually applying much weight. Only when the whole quilt is lying flat with no bumps or bulges do I trim the edges with rotary cutter and rulers so the sides are straight and the corners are square. And then I apply my single binding, pressing first lightly to flatten the binding outwards, and again once the binding is handsewn down, very lightly on both sides of the binding.

I use thin wadding, either Hobbs Heirloom (80/20 cotton poly) or Polydown traditional, (100 poly) and the result of the above treatment is a vintage appearance with good but softened texture to the quilting, and a square quilt that lies flat. I don't generally pre-wash fabrics any more, apart from reds or very dark colours. 10 years ago I pre-washed everything, but I have read/heard several well known quilters who say that manufacturers have progressed in their processes and very few good quality quilting cottons actually bleed although they may lose some colour in the first wash. Like many people, I prefer to work with crisp fabric that still has its sizing applied from the factory. Hobbs Heirloom shrinks slightly when washed the first time, and some fabrics will shrink slightly, and the result is a lovely vintage look where the quilting lines have embedded into the quilt.

If I was treating a quilt where either I had reason to believe it might distort (bias edges involved) or where it was very important that it be square (show quilt, or pieced borders) then I would pin it out flat on the carpet on a sheet, using my quilting rulers to ensure it was square, and let it dry. In our little house this means moving furniture around, so I rarely go that far. In this case, the quilt is likely quite flat once dry, and I would not apply the light steam treatment.

Why block? Some people are astonished that I would a) wash a quilt before binding, and b) steam press a quilt, however lightly. My thinking is that a quilt sandwich is an anchoring together not only of three disparate layers, but one of those layers is itself pieced from many separate pieces. The fabrics may have had different manufacturing processes and treatments applied to them if they come from different manufacturers, and the shape of the pieces themselves (bias edges) and even the type of thread used are all going to impact on what happens to that sandwich when it gets wet. The application of quilting stitches, both in quantity and location, will also affect how the sandwich is going to respond. My feeling is that the vast percentage of quilts are going to change shape on their first wash, the most likely effect being shrinkage in one or more dimensions, while the quilting is going to cause valleys and puffs to appear. If I bind and therefore restrict the edges before this shape-changing occurs, then I am just asking for waving borders and, if the overall shape changes, a polygonal quilt. Several of the quilting 'greats' block their quilts - in fact I remember one of them specified a new floor for her sewing area with big square tiles so that she could use the resulting grid when blocking quilts!

And so endeth the lesson. Tomorrow I have my Saturday club so I will plan to bind the jellyroll quilt then it is going to the same colleague at work that I gave the baby quilt to, he has an older boy and a wife who loves Cath Kidson so I think she will like the jellyroll quilt.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Thank goodness for crafts

I have been keeping my mind off my job situation by pottering around the house and catching up on some of the paperwork that piled up while we were away. And also doing some crafts.

I have loaded the last bed quilt onto my quilting frame, this is the American Jane jelly roll single, and am meandering my way along it. After that, I will just have one small wallhanging to quilt (another Accidental Landscape) and then I can PUT THE FRAME AWAY! It is going to make a pretty huge difference, getting a 7-foot long frame out of my bedroom. Also I will get my main sewing machine back, although for some time yet I am going to be finishing the quilting and sewing on binding onto all the tops I have been quilting the last 3 months. It's been three months since I have been able to open my underwear drawer without contorting myself around the end of the frame which sticks out almost to my dresser, so I may very well spend a happy 10 minutes opening and shutting my underwear drawer... just because I can.

Here is a picture of the baby quilt I finished last week. I gave it to my male colleague at work who has just had a little girl, and he was satisfyingly impressed with it. He later reported that his wife loves it as well and they may hang it on the wall of the nursery instead of just using it. Which is flattering but I think it would be nice for the baby to have it. Maybe she will get it when she is older.

I finished the pair of legwarmers from Sally Melville's Knit Stitch book, in Cascade 220 (a worsted wool). They are basically a knitted tube with decreases at one end to help it stay on the calf. They are lovely and warm and I plan to wear them under my work trousers on the way to work. Except that now it is Spring here and all our daffodils are up in the garden, so I may not actually be wearing them until next year. I did wear the first one to work last week, because it was finished and the day had an icy wind. It stayed up so well that I forgot I was wearing it until after lunch when I suddenly noticed that I still had one legwarmer on under my trousers. Hopefully no-one else noticed.

I wound my four balls of Kauni yarn, and punched a card ready to knit the Kauni cardigan. I have adapted the pattern to knit on my Brother 881 knitting machine, and I will do the ribs by hand. I may still steek the front, because then the stripes on the front will match up, but they aren't going to match the stripes on the back the way they would do if it were handknit. Winding the yarn was quite enjoyable because the dye sequence does follow the colours of the rainbow, so I found myself chanting "Richard Of York Gained Battles In Vain" (Red, Orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet) as I was winding. Until I got to the fourth ball which confusingly was initially skeined as Vain in battles gained york of richard, so I had to wind it twice to get it onto the winder in the right sequence.

I am still working on 'Hey Teach' in Rowan Summer Tweed, I am up to the armholes and am now knitting the lace pattern for one front. The great thing about knitting with Denise interchangeable needles is that you can just leave the stitches on a spare cord with stops on the end, until you have all the pieces ready to join the yoke, so your needles are always available to knit with. I am also still working on the second Potpourri sock, but haven't done anything on it since I was at I-knit last week.

For a change of pace, I decorated a 'blank' tray from the hobby store by spraying the edge gold, and decoupaging the centre with some torn scraps of japanese origami paper, which has given it a sort of patchwork look. I've painted it with several coats of waterproof Mod Podge, now I have to let it dry 72 hours then we can use it for carrying cups of tea around.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Just one damn thing after another...

Remember that cartoon from The Far Side, with two monsters chasing each other?

Today was the day we got told what is happening to our job under the restructuring at work, and I was told that my job is disappearing. They have to cut 4 jobs, and rather than just choose 4 jobs, they have taken the opportunity to reorganise the three teams totalling 17 people, into new streamlined teams totally 13 people.

I will be able to apply for one of the new jobs, but from the organigram it looks like there are only two possibilities, which means all of us lower level people will be going for the same two jobs. Also, they sound like awful jobs, which have had all the donkey work piled on them. My line manager described them as 'very busy' and 'this person will have to be careful managing their workload' and other code phrases which all add up to: "we will be working these two people into the ground and they will not be able to work part-time, or work from home and in fact we would prefer they didn't even have any time off."

The jobs get posted next week, and we have until the end of the month to apply, then selection will be the first week of April. This all seems very deja vu because it was exactly the same time last year that I was going through all of this.

I don't really feel upset, just resigned. Like a twig being washed along a river... a very stupid river with inept management ...

Friday, 6 March 2009

More pictures, as life gets back to normal

It's only been a little over a week, but already the holiday seems so long ago. So I'm going to post some more photos to bring it back to my mind. I'm just about over my jet lag, it was getting really boring waking up at 2 am, or 3:30 am, or 4 am and several mornings I just gave up and got up at 5 am and did stuff quietly. I knew someone once who got up 90 minutes before her family every day, and used that time for handquilting. I thought that I could never go without sleep like that, but it is amazing how much you can get done in an hour. A lot of my holiday laundry and shopping got put away in that time.

Here are some more great quilts from the Waimea quilt show.
Here is a picture of our truck, that we drove all over the Big Island.

Here is Kaffe Fassett standing next to the workshop quilt they called 'Potpourri' but in his Kaleidoscope book it is the Garden Tapestry pattern.

Last Saturday I made a little baby quilt out of some of the leftover big floral FQs from the packs I ordered for the Potpourri workshop, using only the yellow prints. It is quite cheery and in the week I have done a big meander on it using my frame. I plan to offer to my colleague at work who just had a little girl (the one I gave the hat and booties to).

The rest of this week I have been making Excel spreadsheet lists of my quilt projects and of my yarn stash. The yarn stash was particularly hard as I kept discovering more little caches of yarn that I had stashed all over the house and out in my knitting shed. I used Ravelry to look up all the gauge and fibre content information where I didn't have this from the ball band, and made a separate list for what's on my needles. I don't actually have as much yarn as it felt like I had, but I do have plenty of projects to tackle. The quilting project list is completely out of control, however, and not helped at all by the new fabric brought home from Hawaii.

I find I am feeling very ambivalent about quilting lately, because I already have too many quilts for personal use and have run out of storage room. There are a lot of quilts I would like to make, but don't necessarily want to keep once I make them. And I don't have a good outlet for those. You can't sell handmade quilts in the UK for more than the price of a blanket (unless you are famous), and I'm not very good about just giving things away as I have had several experiences where the recipient either wasn't too keen, or let their dog sleep on it, or wouldn't let their child have it because it was too 'good'. I've given a few away when someone has seen the quilt, or a picture, and fallen in love with it. We only have a small immediate family. Most local charities, like homes and hospitals, will machine wash quilts at hot temperatures frequently, and just destroy them rapidly. My quilting group donated several quilts to a home once for disabled children that we thought they would sell to raise funds, but they put them on the beds. It is a lot of work to hold a raffle or a sale, so I don't blame them, but they weren't just quick utility quilts. I did donate one quilt to the auction at my son's school, where it raised over £200. Which was impressive but still didn't cover the cost of materials and of long-arm quilting. In fact, I would be happy just to piece tops, I don't really enjoy the quilting part and I'm not that good at it. I wish we had something like Etsy here in the UK - I think it wouldn't work to use Etsy in the States as the quilts are big enough to get stopped for customs duty if posted.

I've started a pair of legwarmers from the Sally Melville Knit Stitch book, using a skein of Cascade 220 I bought in Hawaii (Cascade 220 is an imported and uncommon yarn in the UK). I'm still knitting the second Potpourri sock, and took it to I-knit's knitting night last night where I also did a few inches on DH's necktie - which has to be the most boring knitting project on the planet. Who knew how long men's ties were! It's like knitting a rope. I can't even knit it on autopilot because then I get the double decrease in the wrong place and the centre spine goes crooked. This may be DH's xmas present for next year.

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