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.

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