Friday, 26 June 2009

I had a wonderful weekend in France, it was much more like a mini holiday than I was expecting, with lovely weather. It's a long way to go though, it was an 8 hour journey door to door on Friday to visit my friend who runs a wonderful gite (pictured) southwest of Le Mans in Normandy. I had to travel up to London, get the Eurostar train to Paris, travel across Paris to change stations, then get a TGV train to Le Mans where she picked me up. Lots of knitting done on my Pi Shawl and my fair isle sock, and as it turns out my friend likes purple, so those will now be Anita's socks.

They've been living over there about three years now, and I was tremendously impressed at their fluency in French and how hard they have worked to achieve that and their beautiful restored farm complex. On Saturday they took me out to see some of the gorgeous medieval stone villages and towns in the area, each one with its chateau. It really made me want to work more on my dollshouse French gatehouse, which I built a few years ago but have never really finished the inside of (story of my life).

On Sunday Anita and I got the train back up to Paris and went to the SIMP dolls house show. I'd never been before, and felt somewhat intimidated in case I couldn't make myself understood to French dealers (my French is not much better than pigdin) but I shouldn't have worried as there were dealers and customers there from several European countries and lots of people spoke at least a little English. The standard of most of the work was surprisingly high, as were some of the prices, but I did pick up some accessories for my French tower (a wall fountain, some pottery for the kitchen) as well as a tv for my Canadian house, some lovely knitting for my knitting shop, and a kit to make a sales display of embroidery silks for my quilting shop. Afterwards I got the Eurostar back to London and the train back to my house, finally arriving home quite worn out at 9:30 p.m.

So what have I been up to?

I had two dollshouse friends over for a work morning, and I turned this empty shelf, into a filled up office shelf for the sales office area of my quilt shop. The laptop and printer are from Jim's Printables site of free printies, as are some of the office products, the calculator and tape dispenser are metal minis I picked up somewhere and painted, the basket of quilting goodies on the bottom shelf came in a swap, the filing box is from Jim's site, I made the in-tray from coffee stirrers.

And you didn't think I was going to let you get away without another garden picture, did you? The roses I blogged last week continue to expand, to the size of small dinner plates now. That is my husband's large hand in the photo and they have gotten bigger than that since then. I don't remember them ever being this big before, our wet/dry spring must have suited them.

I am on about row 8 of the Gull Wing section of the Pi Shawl - it is very slow going with 576 stitches on the needle. I have wet blocked 'Hey Teach' and am waiting for it to dry so I can pick up for the bands. The Sirdar Juicy shawl is only about 1/3 done - it is too bulky to take out and too complicated to knit on easily while watching tv, so not getting much attention. I am on the fourth side of hand-sewing down the binding on the big log cabin quilt (the one I joined from two halves). I got loads done on it last night as I watched the Season 5 finale of Grey's Anatomy, which was bundled up with the debut episode of Season 2 of Private Practice. I had commandeered the tv from 8-11 p.m., and had a real night of it, drinking Pimms and lemonade with strawberries in, eating Ben and Jerry's ice cream and stitching on my quilt binding.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Off to France so I'm blogging a day early

I'm off to France tomorrow to spend a long weekend with a friend who moved from the UK to run a gite in Normandy. On Sunday we are going to travel up to Paris by train to visit the SIMP dollshouse and miniatures show. My friend says it is a small but good show so I am looking forward to it.

I am experimenting with a schedule for my leisure time, and so far it seems to be working. I applied my work skills by making a list of the activities that I don't feel I am tackling satisfactorily, then specified how much time a week I wanted to spend on them, then broke it down by days. For example, I would like to spend on average at least 30 minutes a day on quilting and 30 minutes on knitting. That is a minimum (I spend a lot more time knitting than that) but added up over a week it would be 3.5 hours more than I am managing some weeks. I'm going to try to stick to the list for a few weeks and see how it feels (although already I am screwing it up by disappearing for the weekend - but I will take my knitting).

So what have I been up to?

I finished the socks for my husband. These are in Red Heart 'Heart and Sole' with Aloe Vera that I bought in America. The pattern is the standard Regia leaflet which I quite like.

I've started a new pair of socks. These are the "Scandinavian Pattern Socks" from my "Little Box of Sock Patterns" that my friend Swooze sent me from America. Don't look too closely at the tension: I couldn't find my 3mm dpns and I didn't have 3mm circs at that point, so I was fumbling along on glove needles for the first half. Plus the coloured yarn is slightly thinner than the purple yarn which is the yarn I bought at the Ravelry day. The coloured yarn is a self-striping yarn Admiral R Druck from Schoppel Wolle. But tonight I visited the wonderful 'Socktopus' store in Fulham and picked up some 3mm circs there, much easier.

I FINALLY finished the sleeves for 'Hey Teach'. I have ripped these back so many times I could have knit six sleeves. My problem was decreasing while trying to stay in the lace pattern, compounded by my inability to count and, let's face it, some plain dumbness. I'm not that experienced at lace yet. The first time I managed to get to the end, I had left the partial repeats in plain stockinet, but that looked really obvious and not how they did it in the picture. So I pulled it back and tried to knit it up in pattern, but managed to really confuse myself when it came to decreasing at the same time as trying to deal with additional stitches caused by yarn overs etc. I got there in the end thanks to an article on decreasing lace in Interweave Knits, after several false tries (at least half of them due to picking up my knitting and assuming I was on a different row than I was really...) Now I need to block the pieces and knit the bands.

The Liberty's department store yarn sale sneakily started earlier than their main sale, but thanks to a chance visit to Ravelry I was on the case, and buzzed up there on my lunch hour from work. It wasn't a huge sale, as they have reduced their yarn department so greatly, but lots of good Rowan yarn brands on half price. I picked up some hand knit cotton in blue, and some kidsilk haze in pink. I was carrying around some cotton glace in pink as well, until I remembered that at least half my stash is pink of one kind or another. I instinctively pick it up, it's one of my favourite colours for clothing.

While looking for new places to hide my yarn stash in the living room, I found this quilt which I was handquilting last year - you can read about how I rescued this deformed top here. When I found it I realised that all the quilting was done apart from the border, so I just stitched in the ditch around the border on the machine then finally got to give it a good bath in the bathtub. I didn't dare wash it when it was just a top, some of the blue material is very thin and the stars are pieced onto a coarse sacking. But I was itching to do it, because the whole top was so dirty that the blue had a funny brown tinge. After many rinsings in the bathtub, I am thrilled that the blue is now a lovely 40s/50s blue. The cotton wadding has shrunk up and the quilt is lying much flatter now - even though the blocks are basically gathered to the backing, it doesn't look obviously distorted like it used to.

I hope you are not getting sick of pictures of gardens. We have one specimen rose bush which has the most gorgeous blooms - only about 5 or 6 of them, but they are so beautiful. The flowers are just starting to open up now - here is one of them. They don't seem to have any scent, but I don't mind because they are just lovely.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Ravelry day, that t-shirt, and a homemade chart stand

I don't know where the week has gone, but somehow it is Friday already and time to blog.
UK Ravelry Day last week was fantastic. I had a really good day, everything seemed really well organised and everyone was so friendly. Several times I fell into conversation with other knitters over a cup of tea or while we were waiting for something, and met loads of nice people. My friend Mishka from the London knitting groups was there as well, so we sat and knitted together for a while and attended the Meg Swansen lecture together. The day seemed well attended, I'm not good at estimating numbers but I think there must have been at least 150 people at the Meg Swansen lecture. Many of us wore badges with our Ravelry names on them.

And I wore my t-shirt! I wore it over a longsleeved t-shirt in a toning shade of dusty pink, and I received several compliments during the day. The first few times I had to fight an urge to blurt out the ugly truth about the inside seam allowances, but I managed to restrain myself and just smile graciously and say thank you. It was just the right level of warmth for wearing indoors in a big hall on a rainy chilly day. Because it drizzled steadily outside almost all weekend - I felt sorry for the c. 25 traders who were outside all day with their wares. They were at least dry as they were under plastic-roofed market stalls but they looked very cold. Hopefully it was worth it for them, they certainly seemed to be doing a busy trade for most of the day. I didn't buy very much myself: I bought one skein of soft purple British Wool sock yarn, thinking I might try one of the patterns from my 'Little Box of Sock Patterns' that Swooze sent me. And I bought a CD ROM of Shetland Lace patterns and tips from Elizabeth Lovick. I bought a pattern from Medicin sans Frontiers for some lacy fingerless mitts, and a copy of the latest issue of the Machine Knitters Guild newsletter to see what they were up to. And a copy of Debbie Bliss' Eco pattern book after hearing her lecture. But I had a lot of fun looking at all the great indie dyers and spinners, a wonderful button lady, luxury fibres and even two live alpaca shivering in a pen in the rain (the stall holder said they were perfectly fine, they live outdoors).

I enjoyed my two lectures. Meg Swansen, daughter of the great Elizabeth Zimmerman, read several excerpts from her mother's books, but the best part was an extended question and answer session about her and her mother's work. One question was whether she ever thought the February Baby Sweater and subsequent February Lady Sweater would be so popular, and she laughed and said wasn't it amazing - then she invited everyone in the audience wearing a FLS to stand up which resulted in about 7 people standing up (including Mishka). Debbie Bliss' lecture was less well attended, probably because it was right at the end of the day and daytrippers were on their way home, but very interesting. She talked about her career as a designer and held up several garments from various books including her new one which is just coming out called "Design It, Knit It", talking about how the designs illustrate some of her own design philosophies and preferences. For example, designs that are flattering to the pear-shaped figure by not cutting the figure off at the widest point with ribbing bands etc. I was very impressed with some of the designs from the new book, and also from the Eco book which I subsequently purchased plus later via mailorder some dusty rose Eco cotton yarn to go with it.

I saw a great gadget at the show: a portable chart holder made out of black nylon. It had a concealed magnet board on one side, and a pocket on the other, and snapped together so that you can take your knitting chart on the road. I was immediately interested as I've found my own magnet board very awkward, it doesn't prop up, if it gets knocked the magnet markers get dislodged, it's hard to store. But the holder at the show was smaller than my own board, and its magnets seemed even weaker in their holding power. Plus it was expensive. So when I got home Sunday morning I sat down and made up my own. It's turned out pretty well and I've already used it several times for my 'Hey Teach' chart (i'm halfway up the sleeves now).

I made it with one big piece of fabric for the outside cover, stiffened with medium fusible interfacing, and a non-interfaced pocket on one side to fit the magnet board. The other side has a non-interfaced pocket to fit a piece of lightweight perspex which I cut to the same size as the magnet board, then on top of that it has a half-width slip pocket which is interfaced with stiff interfacing. I sewed all around this construction with right sides together, then turned it right sides out and pressed the seams flat. I also caught into the seam an interfaced fabric finished-edge strip to be the snap band. And before I sewed, I hand-sewed a snap onto the front cover.

Then I sewed on three snaps: 1 to snap the cover tightly closed around the magnet board for storage/travel, one at the end of the fabric strip to turn the holder into a chart stand that stands up horizontally or vertically, and one to catch down the excess end of the fabric strip when the holder is being stored. It works great! And it was 'free' as I already had all the stuff in my stash.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Adventures in t-shirt land

I am looking forward to travelling up to Coventry tonight for the UK Ravelry Day tomorrow. For anyone who isn't familiar with Ravelry, it is an online community and resource for knitters and other fibre enthusiasts, at However, the weather forecasts are absolutely awful, heavy rain and cool temperatures, which could impact the outdoor shopping yarn market area. It's a pity because we have been enjoying some lovely summer weather the past few weeks. I'm certainly going to pack my raincoat.

I'm debating whether to wear the knitted t-shirt I just finished today, "Marble", a design by Kaffe Fassett in the Rowan 41 magazine. This has been a bit of a triumph (or disappointment) over common sense. I was at the Liberty department store yarn sale the summer before last, and they were having a huge sale on Rowan yarns including Rowan 4-ply Cotton. I was fingering the cotton wondering what I could make out of it, and the helpful sales assistant showed me 'Marble' which looked so pretty that I bought all the yarn. Even on sale it was a bit of an investment because it is knit with two strands held together.

Now if I was using an ounce of common sense I would have taken a step back and thought about how bulky two strands of 4 ply cotton were going to be knitted up. And I would have read the pattern more carefully to discover that on top of that bulk, Kaffe's design features buttoned up shoulder seams right down to the sleeve hem, and buttoned up side seams, which are all faced so that you have a double layer of this thick fabric. I might also have taken in the cropped length and thought about how the world really is not ready to see my belly hanging out below a t-shirt.

But no, I was too dazzled by the pretty colours and the 'Sale' sign.

Back home a grain of reality trickled in as I read through the pattern, and right away I decided to eliminate the double-thickness buttoned flaps and just have a one piece sleeve, and normal shoulder/side seams. I also looked at the complicated stripe sequence (120 rows using different combinations of 10 colours held two strands at a time) and decided there would be much less potential for tangling if I knit it on my chunky knitting machine.

I did a tension sample - I really did. Then last summer I started the long process of knitting. Even on a knitting machine it was relatively slow as every few rows I had to unthread the machine and rethread the two new colours. At least I was able to weave in all the ends as I went along.

Finally, last month, I finished the front, back and one sleeve. Items tend to come off the machine stretched wider and shorter than their final measurements, so I wasn't too bothered at the initial dimensions. However, even washed and pressed, it became quickly evident that my garment was far too wide, and far too cropped. And there was no way I was going to unpick all those stripes and end up with a zillion lengths of different coloured yarn. At this point, one begins to consider throwing the item out and pretending that none of it every happened.

But I persevered. I picked up the live stitches from the waste yarn at the hem edge of each piece, and lengthened it with the bird's eye stitch from page 16 of Nicky Epstein's 'Knitting Beyond the Edge'. I joined the shoulders and handknit the rolled trim as per the pattern, and I handknit the rolled trim on the bottom of the sleeve. Then I tried the garment on to see where I should mark the side seams.

About now it became apparent that I had created the 100% cotton equivalent of chain mail. This garment is as stiff as a robust dishcloth - so if I do give up on it, I can still use squares from it to scrub my dishes with. But I persevered.

I mattress stitched the side seams and tried it on again, ignoring my inch-and-a-half seam allowances. I marked where the armhole seam should fall on the shoulders, then threadbasted a matching curve from that point to mark the new armhole. I backstitched the sleeve right sides together along that curve, then turned it out and mattress stitched the sleeve seam.

That looked ok so I went back out to the knitting shed and knit the other sleeve. Did I mention I have loads of yarn left over? The requirements obviously allowed for all the flaps that I haven't knit. Then I repeated the steps for the other sleeve. Then I washed it all again to give it a chance to shrink up a bit.

Now comes the dodgy part (yes, even dodgier than all that stuff above). I hauled out my overlocker (serger), threaded up with a neutral colour, and did a four-thread overlock from the hem, up the side seam, all the way around the armhole and back down the other side of the sleeve, trimming down the seam allowance as I went with my cutter blade. This did not go smoothly as the overlocker really did not like having the folded bulk of the knitted garment under its presser foot. I had to do some fixing afterwards with matching 4-ply cotton.

Then I pressed all the seams, and the garment. And here is the finished result. It is wearable, but I'm not sure I want another knitter within 10 yards of it in case they want to look at the inside. It is extremely thick, and has somewhat uncomfortable bulk under the arms due to how the sleeve fits the shirt. It is still a bit cropped for my tastes but at least I'm not going to scare anyone.

Will I wear it? I honestly don't know. I think the problem with summer knits for me is that if it is warm enough for me to feel comfortable having my arms bare, it is likely too warm to wear a knitted garment. And this is really thick. The stripes and colours look great, but it is not a cool garment. I may try it over a long-sleeve t-shirt and see if it works as a pullover.

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