Friday, 31 July 2009

It's official: redundant in five months

I've just been watching the first episode of the new online quilting tv show: "Quilt Out Loud" with Jody Davis and Mark Lipinski, available on (paid subscription). I had let my subscription lapse last year because there didn't seem to be many new videos, and I didn't like their little player and the way they broke the shows up into segments. I know you can make the player full screen, but then you seem to lose resolution. And the segment thing is just irritating because they don't automatically provide a link to the next segment, you have to go back to the episode list and find the next segment. But I was interested when I read that they were producing this new program, I've enjoyed 'Quilter's Home magazine' by Mark Lipinski. We have no quilting tv here in the UK (no craft tv at all, unbelievably, Americans are so lucky with all their quilting, sewing, knitting etc. programmes). Anyway, I enjoyed the first episode, it had a lot of energy, lots of different topics, and they get out and about so it isn't just people sitting on a sofa. And no live audience which is wonderful. A minor irritation is that several times there were several people talking at once so I couldn't hear any of them, but you did feel like you were sitting in on a bunch of good friends having an energetic chat. I'll be interested to see future episodes.

I received my formal notice of redundancy at work, so the clock is now ticking on my final five months. If no job comes up internally, then I will be out the door on 31 December. There aren't any jobs being advertised internally as my company is undergoing a lot of restructuring and I think quite a few people will be following me out the door before long. On Wednesday I was finally given the details of my severance package, which was a gobsmackingly large number that has certainly gone a long way to reconciling my husband to the whole idea. I am impressed but also keeping in mind that the package is compensation for the almost certain 50% salary cut I will take when I have to move outside (I work for a big company with artificially inflated salaries). So it sounds like a lot of money but in the long term we will be worse off financially. I will also receive outplacement support, and my first appointment for that is next week. I think I need to take some interview skills training, I completely suck at the new way of interviewing here in the UK, which is all behavioural questions like: "Tell us about a time when you resolved a conflict with a line manager", or "Tell us about a time when you had to overcome blockages to meet a tight deadline". I just don't think like that, and I don't keep a mental log of the times I have overcome stuff, I just overcome it and get on with things. What happened to the good old days when it was enough to be doing a good job....

Anyway, enough moaning. What have I been up to this week?

Progress continues on my Noro Matsuri cardigan. I finished the moss stitch lower band, and am now knitting up the body, keeping a moss stitch band at either edge of the fronts. I cast on enough stitches for the large size and am now decreasing on alternate right side rounds to take it down to the medium size (I am pear-shaped) by the time it hits my waist. Hopefully that is going to make a good fit. I love the colours in this yarn, and the Russian Join works really well for joining in the new ball. I did find several knots in the first few balls, which is a bit annoying, but I just cut them all out and Russian Joined the splice.

I am knitting the toe on my Scandinavian pattern sock from "Little Box of Sock Patterns". This is going to be a really warm sock because the stranding makes a double layer of yarn.

I finished stitching down the binding on my vintage Crossed Canoes top, so this is finally done. It only took me eight years... It actually hangs quite flat, which is something of a triumph considering what I started with. I put a label on the back with the details of the auction in Paducah where I bought it (donated by Bettina Havig).

I machine knit the front of the Kauni v-neck sweater. Although I made a point of starting the front with the same two colours that I started the back with, they weren't in exactly the same point of their run so the front has come out somewhat different from the back. But not so different that they are going to look odd, I don't think. Due to the colour runs in this yarn, I couldn't break and do the two sides of the v-neck separately, so I just took needles out of work and let the strands run across as I decreased. I will use cut-and-sew techniques to finish off the ends. DH still really likes it. I just hope it is going to fit him. I'm still following the instructions for a woman's medium, it is only the tension that is making it come out in his size.
No photo on this one because it doesn't look like anything yet, but I finally got started on the next block in my 25-block applique quilt which I have been slowly producing over the last three years or so using patterns from 'Grandmother's last quilt' and the 'Rose Sampler' book. The next block is block 6 from the Rose Sampler book, a Rose of Sharon variation. I procrastinate about applique because I find preparing the templates, block, stems etc. takes almost longer than the actual stitching. This will be my 14th block so I am finally past the halfway mark, but it is still going to be a long time before this is on the bed.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Quiet weekend

It's been an odd weekend because the plans we had for both Saturday and Sunday fell through, so abruptly instead of having a busy weekend, I've been at a bit of a loose end. The weather continues to mystify, moving from blue skies and sunshine right through to thunderstorms and driving rain, and back again all in one day. Saturday I was in a bit of a bad mood because of my situation at work but my lovely dh set up a deck chair in the garden (this was during one of the sunny periods) and I sat out there with a Pimms and lemonade, my knitting, and a good book, and managed to calm down and really relax.

Today we went for a walk over in Windsor, down the big avenue of trees in front of Windsor castle. I don't know how long it is, but it must be at least a couple of miles because it took us an hour to get to the end of it and my legs were quite sore by the time we got back to the car. We did not see the Queen, but there were sure a whole lot of tourists milling around the streets outside the castle. Apparently there is a knitting shop in Windsor called 'Pincushion 2', I will have to try to find it (I just saw the address in a knitting magazine). Here is a picture I took at the top of the avenue, looking back to the castle looming on the horizon.

After my big sew-out last Sunday, I haven't done any sewing this week until today, when I started piecing strip sets to cut 60 degree triangles for the border of my Hawaiian batik quilt. The border can't be too wide, only about 5 inches in total, and I wasn't sure what I was going to do. I was thinking piano keys or striped blocks, but the colour wasn't broken up sufficiently, so I got out a 60 degree ruler I've never used and tried cutting triangles out of the strip sets, and I think that is going to work. Just a bit boring piecing all the strips together, but I made enough for one side of the quilt before I stopped.

In front of the tv this week I have been stitching down the border of my Crossed Canoes quilt, I've almost finished the third side. I have got to get some vari-focals with clear glass in the bottom half, because it is getting really annoying trying to stitch or knit in front of the tv when it is a programme I actually want to see clearly (and thus need my glasses). I have to balance my glasses right on the end of my nose like some kind of granny so that I can see over them to do my close up work, then tilt my head back to see the tv through the glasses. Urrrg. I used to be able to still see close up through my glasses, but now I can't see sufficiently for fine work. Most of the time I don't bother with my glasses, I don't mind the world being a bit fuzzy as long as I'm not trying to drive or watch a film.

Knitting this week has been mostly on my Noro Matsuri cardigan. I've finished the 4.5" of moss stitch at the bottom border and have started the stockinet stitch. I did do some more knitting on the Kauni v-neck jumper out in my knitting shed, I am about halfway up the front and will be binding off soon for the armholes. I am having to guesstimate how to decrease for the V-neck by comparing the already-knitted back to another V-neck sweater of my husband's and counting stitches and rows. It was one of those days though when it feels like somebody up there doesn't want you to be knitting. The yarn broke as I started across one row and I lost about 20 stitches off the needles of the machine. I fixed that and knit a few more rows, but on my next fair isle row, about 30 stitches fell off the machine because I had forgotten to push the fair isle button back in on the carriage. I fixed that one and gave up for the day, it obviously wasn't meant to happen.

I did some more work on the 1/48th soda fountain scene inside the Coca Cola tin, and the upper floor is more or less finished. This is inspired by a group project that was featured in American Miniaturist magazine a while back. The tables are made with scrapbooking brads and aluminium tubing, the chairs are velvet brads with paperclip backs, and the wall decorations are a combination of scrapbooking stickers that I found in Paducah and print outs from the internet. Instructions for the jukebox were given in the magazine. The glasses of 'coke' are glue tip caps filled with black paint. I need some more velvet brads to make more stools for the ground floor and I've run out. I looked online, and they only cost £1.99 but the sites I looked at wanted to charge 3 pounds or more for postage, and one even had a £10 minimum order. Hmmmm.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

2nd post this week: My big fat quilting day

I have read with jealous eyes of other quilters having 'retreat' days with their friends, or even just spending the weekend on quilting, illustrated with lovely photos of the numerous projects they seem to turn out effortlessly. I thought you might be interested in the other side of the coin, what really happens when a normal person tries to have a day for quilting: constant interruptions jerking you out of the 'zone'. This is my second post for this week, and this is how my Sunday quilting day went.

08:30-09:00 - Clear stuff off my sewing table, and shove clutter around in my bedroom to make room for my design wall. Argue briefly with son about how he is going to spend his morning.

09:00 Start sewing - cut binding strips for Crossed Canoes quilt and start sewing them onto the quilt.

09:35 - discover son watching tv instead of working, have a short fight and put him to work vacuuming.

09:45 resume sewing

09:55 - set son to revising French and doing a self-test from the workbook I bought him (because his teacher said he needs to work over the summer on his French).

10:00 resume sewing, finish sewing binding on by 10:10, and start assembling Vintage Log Cabin blocks that I made last year.

10:35 Go back downstairs to review son's French test, another big argument in which I get to hear (at top volume) all his reasons why French is stupid, the French teacher is stupid, and how he is dropping French as soon as possible.

11:20 (finally) resume sewing and continue to assemble log cabin blocks

11:25 - stop to phone husband to find out when he is coming back to take son out. Husband returns, son eventually leaves after hunting all over the house for his mobile phone.

11:35 (in blissful solitude) resume sewing and get rest of blocks sewn into rows

12:15 - now I'm hungry, so stop for lunch

12:45 resume sewing, iron all the row seams, and start assembling the rows. Finish the quilt top by 1:45 - I've left it in two halves so it will fit into my tabletop quilting frame. I'm happily listening to quilting and knitting podcasts as I sew.

1:50 start assembling Bento Box blocks that were my 'quick quilt' from xmas 2008 I think. Both the Bento blocks and the log cabin blocks have been living on my never-used exercise trampoline in my bedroom for at least a year, so it is great to finally get them assembled. After laying out the blocks on my design wall, I realise that I don't like them in the classic set shown in the pattern photo. Start experimenting with different sets, but with 80 blocks it takes a long time. Husband does not help when he returns and squeezes into my room past the design wall, making it shudder and risking the blocks falling off. Resort to EQ6 on computer to find a set I like.

4:30 p.m. Finally decide on a design and pin up rows into 'packs'.

5:00 p.m. Stop to make supper.

5:35 p.m. Resume sewing and start sewing rows together.

6:15 - stop for supper with family.

7:25 Resume sewing - by now I am getting quite fed up with sewing, my back hurts, my eyes hurt, my bum hurts from my too-hard sewing chair, but I am determined to get these x!/xzz! blocks together and off my trampoline.

8:25 p.m. Finally finished. Everything hurts, but I have two quilt tops. I feel a real sense of achievement and wonder if I could do this every month. And here's what I made:

The vintage log cabin is made from fabrics that were put together as a kit, purchased at Stitching Post in Sisters, Oregon.

The Bento Box blocks use the Alex Anderson Romance line of fabrics, mixed with a couple of toiles from my stash.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Be careful what you wish for...

Remember the heat wave we had a few weeks ago, and I was complaining about how uncomfortable it was. Well, we've gone right the other way now and it has been raining off and on for several days, including the last three nights when we were trying to enjoy a camping holiday down in Dorset. After struggling with heavy rain for two days, we gave up and came home a day early, today, taking advantage of a brief interlude of not-rain overcast weather to get the tent and awning dried out. Thankfully the tent is quite waterproof so we were dry inside, but struggling around outside in rain macs and carrying umbrellas was not my idea of a good time. Now I have Sunday back as a gift, so I am planning to spend it quilting.

I found this lovely English spongeware handmade mug at a gift shop - it really reminded me of a quilt. I also found a couple of knitting books at a secondhand book store, and also found copies of two different American quilt magazines at a newsagent, so I had some good reading on the trip. And of course I was knitting: on my Scandinavian pattern sock, and on my Pi Shawl.

This week in dollshouse land, I finished accessorising my kitchen counter for the office in my quilt shop, then installed it in the office next to the cupboard I filled last week and the sales counter. Again, most of the accessories are printables I found on the internet.

I also finally finished Hey Teach, and it has turned out really well. I am quite pleased with it and wore it to work on Tuesday where I felt very special. As usual no-one said anything, I always wonder if this is because my item looks so professional that no-one thinks anything of it, or because it looks so home-made that everyone is embarrassed for me...

I finished the back of the Kauni cardigan on my Brother 260 chunky machine. Only there has now been a change of plans. It seems to have come out far too long, even though the width is about right. Also, the colours are much more earth-toned than they looked in the pattern picture and I don't like them as much as I liked the rainbow-brights I thought I was going to get. So I jokingly said to my husband: "this would fit you" and he immediately said "ok" because he really loves it. So now I am suddenly making a Kauni men's v-neck sweater.... This is knit entirely from two yarns, both of which change colours according to the rainbow order ROYGBIV, and you start the pattern with the colours offset by two.

As mentioned, last Saturday we started the new Garden BOM in my Saturday quilting group. The first two patterns were a watering can full of flowers, and a foundation-pieced snail. I combined mine into one block. The flowers are cut out from a printed fabric, the leaves from another, and fused onto bias stems. This is going to be a fun quilt to make. As I am a 'cake now' person, I am just going to make all the blocks (which are in random sizes) and see how I can make them fit together into a quilt afterwards.

On our second day, before the really heavy rain set in, we went to a water garden outside of Weymouth, where they have made a lovely replica of Monet's bridge, surrounded by water lilies. This is a view out from one of the gazebos, with the bridge in the distance.

Friday, 10 July 2009

School's out for summer

Ds is now off school for a two month break - why don't adults get this? Before he starts his holiday camp (at vast expense) in a few weeks, he is down at his grandparents this week so it has been very peaceful here. I've taken advantage by being out almost every night for something: Monday to the chiropractor (oh yes, we live the high life here...), Tuesday to an after-work event, Wednesday to a seminar for job-hunters, and last night I was knitting at I-Knit (my LYS). But I've still managed to squeeze in some hobbies.

I have sewn the vertical rows of the Hawaiian batik blocks that I made at last month's sewing club meeting. I used the Crazy Curves templates to cut these, and this layout is modelled on one in the accompanying book, only I have added a strip of small 3.5" blocks inbetween the 7" blocks. Working with these fabrics reminds me of the lush Hawaiian greenery amidst blue water and sky. However, they are relatively low-contrast, so the design is partially hidden. This will be a single, so once I get the rows joined I will have to think about a border.

I have made a start on knitting the Kauni cardigan by machine, the one I was winding the wool for back in March. I struggled to match the tension of 24st/30 rows for this, going all the way up to Tension 10 on my Brother 881 knitting machine without success, then moving on to my Brother 260 Chunky, so I ended up knitting about 5 tension swatches which I will probably have to unravel to avoid running out of wool. The 260 matched the tension on 1 and one dot, but when I sat down to knit I realised that the 114 needle bed was not sufficient for the required 122 needles for the pattern. After a few minutes of hair-clutching, I have decided to knit the back on 114 needles at tension 1 and two dots, which should work out at about the right width. This is pure wool so I should have some bodge room at the blocking stage. I'm a bit worried about the fronts as I won't have many spare needles to do the steek, but I will cross that bridge when I come to it.

I still haven't picked up for the bands on Hey Teach as there hasn't been an evening where I felt alert enough for this make-or-break task. I have progressed on the Scandinavian pattern sock, and finished the gusset last night at I-knit. Making an effort to strand loosely has worked and the socks now fit comfortably. I fell in love with some sock yarn that another knitter was using last night, for some Cookie A socks. It was handpaint from 'Old Maiden Aunt Yarns' in Scotland, and the rich moss green was so gorgeous, it just made you think of lush moss banks under a cool waterfall. Cue bad case of yarn lust...

I've started a new project, as I didn't have any mindless knitting for in front of the television when you don't want to have to think too hard. I am using my Noro Matsuri yarn that I bought in San Francisco at Imagiknit in February. Originally I was going to knit something from the accompanying pattern book 'Joy' but got very frustrated as I couldn't even come close to matching the tension - which is very unusual for me. So now I am knitting a plain cardigan with a moss stitch border on 3.5mm circs. The bottom band is 4.5" of moss stitch, and I am knitting it all in one piece. I got about an inch and a half done last night before I got bored with it. This yarn is gorgeous, I love watching the colour changes.

And I have done some dollshousing. I had a slow day at work so visited several 'printables' or 'printies' sites on the internet, and printed off various items to fill the shelves under the sink in my office. I had two fridge magnets that looked like a photocopier and a filing cabinet, so I have doctored them up (removed the magnet, covered up or painted out unwanted detail, added accessories). And I made a little curtain to go under the sink. I will take a picture once it's finished, before I install it into the dollshouse quilt shop.

The heatwave broke with a spectacular day of thunderstorms and torrential rain which caused localised flooding everywhere, and now it is actually quite pleasant. I've got my Saturday sewing club tomorrow and we are starting our new Block of the Month. I think I've mentioned that we have steered away from any type of group project which relies on swapping blocks or other work, as somebody always ends up feeling unhappy with the quality of what they've received. So for the last few years I have been designing block of the month projects of various kinds and handing them out. This year we have gone for something different: I asked everyone to provide two blocks of their choice on a garden theme. I am then handing back two patterns (with added instructions if needed) to the group each month and people will make their own quilt on a garden theme. It can be any size (so they can size the blocks up or down), any design, any technique, any colour. The only rule is that they have to use each one of the 18 blocks at least once in a recognisable form. It should be really interesting to see what people will come up with.

Friday, 3 July 2009

It's hot in the summer

The UK is having an uncharacteristic heat wave, with temperatures soaring up to the low 30s celsius over the past week (apparently this resulted in temperatures in the 40s at Wimbledon on the courts). As most domestic buildings do not have air con, this has meant very hot nights. My office and train are luckily air conditioned (not all are), but when I get home I throw open all my windows and interior doors and put fans on to try to move out some of the hot air before bedtime. I've also been staying up quite late waiting for the bedroom to cool down. So more knitting time in the evenings, but more tired in the day time. And I don't go outside much during the day, as I burn easily and don't cope well with the heat. I hope it isn't going to be like this all summer. It's supposed to be cooler this weekend thankfully.

Thanks to the extra knitting time, I have now got 'Hey Teach' blocked and sewn together. I've also knitted the neckband, and just need to pick up for the front bands. I've tried it on, and it fits and looks cute. I will confess that I discovered that not only did the front shoulders not match the back shoulders, they don't even match each other! Obviously I have a fair way to go on the 'decreasing lace correctly' front. But we all have to start somewhere. I was able to bodge together the shoulders seams ok, and I don't think many people will notice that the lace pattern on the front shoulders is not identical. OK, some knitters might notice, but nobody likes the knitting police so we will ignore them. This is a pattern from and I've knit it in Rowan Summer Tweed.

I had hoped to show you my Scandinavian pattern sock almost completed, but last night at my son's school concert (yes, I was knitting, and thank god) I tried it on and discovered that the foot was far too snug. So I had to rip it back to the heel pick up. I think what has happened is that the regular stripe pattern on the foot (K1 MC, K1 CC) had encouraged my fingers to tighten up on stranding, so the knitting suddenly got tighter than the more irregular fair isle pattern on the cuff. I am knitting the foot again and taking pains to strand loosely this time.

I've knit a bit more on my lace shawl in Sirdar Juicy, it is likely about half way now. It feels lovely when I drape it over my shoulders, but as usual with lace it is scrunched together much narrower than it needs to be. I hope this yarn is going to block well, I've only really blocked wool and cotton before. It will be annoying if I get all the way to the end and find out I've knit a scarf.

I finished sewing on the binding on my big log cabin quilt earlier this week. It looks great but of course it has been far too hot to even think of having it on my bed. Even sewing on it was hot work, I had to try to drape it over the back of the sofa so it didn't cover up my legs.

And as part of my new schedule, I made myself do some dollshousing. I am trying to be more disciplined about this, because I have so many houses waiting to be 'finished' on the inside. Not too mention boxes of components and furniture waiting to be worked on to go into the houses, and meanwhile cluttering up my real house. I put together the kit I bought at SIMP in Paris, which is boxes of little cards wound with 'Anchor' tapestry yarn. They are a bit out of scale I think, but look nice as a display in my shop counter. I filled the rest of the shop counter with a gift box display I made from a free cut-out in a magazine, and with ribbon wound onto some of the reels I assembled from a kit by 'Lisa's Little Things'. I glued a tape measure onto the top of the counter for measuring the ribbons at point of sale. Now I need to make a cash register and credit card machine, and paint my plastic telephone to go on top of the counter. This is in 1/12th scale and is the sales counter for my quilt shop.

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