Tuesday, 28 December 2010

As the year comes to an end

I was surprised to see that it has been 10 days since I last blogged, the christmas period seems to have gone by in a blur (not helped by my head cold which has laid me a bit low the last few days).  I had to work right up until Christmas Eve (boo hiss) so Christmas and Boxing Day seemed to take me by surprise, and I didn't feel like I was on holiday until Monday.

We had a quiet Christmas at home, and then had the family around on Boxing Day which was also nice.  I didn't get too many crafty presents but they were mostly things I'd asked for:  a roll of freezer paper, some fabric, two sponge bars for my knitting machines, and 'coupons' from DH for chauffeured visits to a knitting shop, quilt shop, Hobbycraft etc.  I also had a lovely visit from my minis friend Anita and her DH on Christmas Eve, and Anita gave me a dollshouse construction book (in French, as she lives in France, so I am slowly deciphering that with my schoolgirl french), a tiny card of buttons for my knitting shop in my Willowcrest, and a little pretend cardigan in a box that she made herself.  Thanks Anita!

I've taken advantage of the holiday time to put together the bathroom kit for my Fairfield dollshouse, but I've also done some knitting.  I kept myself going on Boxing Day during the chit-chat by working on the sleeve for my Jaeger Natural Fleece Yoked Cardigan, and I've done a few rows on my Johnny Rotten Mittens

But mainly I was working on my Christmas Tree Tea Cosy as it was sort of time sensitive - and I got it finished!  I'm pretty pleased with how it turned out, I think I like it better than the Laughing Hens original that inspired me because I made my branches 3-D and theirs are flat and droop.  It was a bit fiddly knitting all the presents and seaming/stuffing them, but they really add to the cosy.  I sewed a gold bead onto the tip of each 'branch'.  The star was a bit of a challenge to work out, and I admit it has come out a bit wonky, but the whole effect makes me smile when I see the cosy sitting on the table.  Full credit to Laughing Hens for designing the original which gave me the idea to copy, but I feel like I've achieved something to work out my own pattern for it.

I don't go back to work until 4 January, so I really want to do some sewing this week on my Hawaiian memory quilt and some machine knitting on my Sock Wool Machine Knitted Vest.  I feel worried that my week of holiday is going to fly by in a blur of sales shopping, nose blowing and sleeping.

I hope your festive season is going smoothly, and I wish you all the best for a happy, healthy and hopefully prosperous, and crafty New Year.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Let it snow

London has had snow dumped on it yet again.  I woke up this morning to a light dusting of snow, that looked like this:

but then it suddenly started snowing heavily mid-morning.  By 11am, we already had about four inches and it didn't stop until about 1pm.  DH and I dressed up in all our layers and hiked into town to run errands, through a winter wonderland.  And when we got home, DH and DS made a snowman in the back garden.  Very unusually, the snow was 'sticky' so they were able to make quite a big one, he's about 5 feet high.

The prediction is for more snow over the weekend, so I am extremely hopeful of being able to stay home on Monday, if the snow disrupts the trains sufficiently.  On the other hand, I want to be able to get over to my local knitting group tomorrow, preferably without having to walk.  So lots of snow Sunday night please.

Instead of doing crafts this week, with my free time I've been putting out Christmas decorations.  I have a lot.  We got our usual enormous tree from the tree farm, but even so  it was a job to cram all the ornaments onto it.  As you can see, I don't go for the minimalist look  :)   That's the tree skirt that I made a few years ago, underneath the tree.

The end of the kitchen table is filled up with various candle holders and mini scenes.

I went to the I-Knit Christmas party on Thursday night.  Snow was threatening, which may have contributed to the smaller crowd but there were still about 25 of us.  There was a huge spread of food with several delicious home-made cakes.  As a precaution against drunken knitting, I had taken my Jaeger Natural Fleece Yoked jumper, which is just stockinette stitch, but in the end I didn't actually drink too much so it was ok.  We did the Secret Santa, I gave away a Rowan pattern book and some cashmere lace yarn, and received in return a hand-knitted hat and some homemade earrings.  The hat is tight on my big head but I am hoping I can block it bigger as it is a pretty variegated colour in a wool/acrylic blend.

I've also finished the 'tree' portion of my Christmas Tree Tea Cosy and I've started work on the 'presents' to go around the base.  I enjoyed this 3D knitting experience - for once I wanted my knitting to bulge out in odd places!

I hope that you are looking forward to the festive season and to enjoying a relaxing break - hopefully with lots of quilting, or knitting, or dollshousing, or whatever your hobby is.  Merry Christmas!

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Downhill to Christmas

I feel like Christmas is rushing at me, like I'm hurtling downhill on a rollercoaster, yet I don't feel ready yet.  Not ready as in the sense of being prepared (although I'm not prepared either) but just not ready emotionally.  I feel like I am mentally still stuck in Autumn, and it almost seems absurd to see all the christmas lights going up on shops and houses, all the christmas ads on tv etc. Despite this reluctance, I've now had two christmas parties (one at my husband's office last week, and my team lunch this past Friday) and another one coming up this coming Friday (for my office).  Cards are starting to arrive, I've posted most of mine, and we went out to get a tree Friday night.  I suppose I will catch up eventually - it feels like the older I get, the slower I am at accepting change.

I have made a small christmas list, including useful items such as Steam a Seam 2, and small extravagances such as Roxanne's Applique/basting glue.  Even a hopeful item: new sponge bars for my knitting machines (which sorely need them) but I doubt I will get those. I've already efficiently bought myself some perfume, for my DH to give to me  :)

Meanwhile this week, in between gallivanting around parties (and nursing small hangovers the next day), I have done a few things.

I've decided the 'jungle' border on my Hawaiian memory quilt is too harsh, so I've rough cut out several palm trees and pinned them on.  I think that softens it, so I will trim around them and fuse them on.

I've continued to knit on my Jaeger Natural Fleece Yoked Cardigan, I've done the body up to the armpits and have started on one sleeve.

I needed a new portable project to take on my team away-day (actually Monday/Tuesday with one night in a hotel) earlier this week.  I decided to go for Annemor 12 gloves from the Selbuvotter book.  Instead of the traditional black design on white background, I've gone for a white design on a sky blue Jamieson & Smith jumper weight wool, because I had some in my stash.  It looks sort of Wedgewood, very pretty.  This is a poor picture because the colour looks purple when in fact it is a lovely sky blue.  Needless to say, I was the only person on the away-day that was knitting during breaks and in the bar in the evening, but it was a great de-stresser and boredom combatter (if only I could have knit during the presentations!). We had a tour of the house and when the guide arrived, he caught sight of me and told the group: "well! I've never had a delegate knitting before" but I don't think he minded.

I've also started a Christmas Tree tea cosy.  I spotted this cute design in a knitting magazine, offered as a kit by Laughing Hens. They don't offer the pattern separately, but I decided to have a go at making up something similar myself.  I am short-rowing the peaks, with varying degrees of success.  I've managed to work out how to do it without holes (eventually) but they don't look as sharp as the ones in the picture.  DH says it looks more like a green hedgehog at the moment.

It's warmed up here a bit, up to 8 degrees C yesterday, but they say more bitter cold weather is coming later this week.  Only two more weeks of work and then my office closes for the holidays between Christmas and New Year - yippee!!!!!!!!

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Warm woollies weather

Even if you're not in the UK, you've probably heard about the severe weather currently afflicting the UK and Europe.  It's got down as low as minus 20 Celsius in Scotland, and down here in London we have been down to  around minus 4 C at night I think.  But what has really brought the country to a grinding halt is the snow, because we are not used to it and we are not set up for it. Earlier in the week it hit the South East, so colleagues who live east of London, in Kent and Essex, began to have difficulty coming into work as roads became blocked, trains stopped running, schools closed etc.  Here on the west side of London we were ok for a while (much to DS's disappointment who was hoping his school would close, and mine as I was hoping I would have a good excuse not to go into work) but we finally got a few inches Wednesday night.  I got into work fine on Thursday, but coming home Thursday night was quite difficult as almost every train out of London Waterloo station was cancelled or severely delayed.

When I finally squeezed onto a train, the journey was twice as long as usual so I had lots of time to knit on my Sanquhar glove. I've knit the little finger first, and have picked up to knit a few more rows up to the base of the remaining fingers.

Friday I decided not to even try going in, and I worked from home.  Hopefully my boss is not going to give me a hard time about it next week.  If she does, it will be really annoying because she has been using the snow as an excuse to do whatever hours she feels like.

I had a Finish this week!  The Freedom wool cable vest is finally done.  I am going to try wearing this to the office, because it's warm without being too warm.  The cable pattern came from a Freedom leaflet, but otherwise I pretty much ignored the pattern and just knit to my own measurements, and substituted my own twisted rib for the bands.

I've been trying to decide what to knit for my next portable projects.  I was looking in my Selbuvotter book at some fair isle gloves, and wondering if the Jamieson & Smith jumper weight yarn I have in sky blue would contrast sufficiently with the white to justify all that stranded knitting.  I also have a wonderful skein of Colinette Jitterbug in aqua, and I'm wondering about trying the Sunshine socks from Cookie A's Sock Innovations book.  The trouble is, once you start having to refer to a chart all the time, it detracts from the portability of the project and the potential for error when chatting (and drinking) at knitting group grows larger.

I've been wearing my Broken Rib socks and am quite disappointed with them as they are huge on me.  I think it is partly because the Tofutsi yarn lacks body, so even though the socks are a version of rib, they are drooping.  But I think the main culprit is the weird heel on this pattern.  Instead of a conventional heel, it has an upside-down gusset:  you increase for the gusset, then eat up the extra stitches when you turn the heel.  It just doesn't cup the heel the way a conventional sock heel does.  With the sock pulled right up, the heel looks ok, but it wants to pull down and sag outwards, like some kind of extra toe.  So even for bedsocks, they are annoyingly floppy.  I can't believe it after all the work I put into them.  grrrrr.

After the outing to the LYS with the knitting group last weekend, I sat down and quickly knit up a pair of fingerless gauntlets with the Sirdar Squiggle.  I love the colours in this yarn and as it is a super bulky, the gauntlets knit up quickly.  I didn't try to make the knitting pretty, I just wanted something warm to wear in our awful wintry weather.  After a bit of experimentation, I cast on 26 stitches to fit my arm at the elbow, and knit in 2x2 rib, decreasing four stitches to bring the fabric in for the wrist.  I seamed the long edge, leaving a gap for the thumb.  These gauntlets were wonderful for the Siberian walks from home to station, and station to office.  They pull on over my top garment and wrap me in warmth to the elbow.  I put my coat on top, and my thick gloves under the fingerless knitting.  So the knitting keeps the wind off my gloves, yet if I need to take a glove off, the knitting stops my fingers from freezing.  It's like having a big pair of sloppy sweater sleeves hanging out the bottom of my coat sleeves - wonderful. The only thing I don't like is that when I washed these after knitting, a huge amount of dye came out.  The water was bright fuschia for 3 or 4 rinses, and even after about another 5 rinses was still noticeably pink.  I would be worried about wearing these over a white shirt.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Getting back to normal

It's felt more like getting back to normal this week.  No FK to worry about, no parents' evenings at the school to go to (yay!), and work hasn't been too busy. One minor bombshell Thursday night when DS suddenly discovered that there is a deadline of 16 December to have located a work placement and to register it with the school - we thought we had until next summer to find one.  Not too much we can do about it now, except nag him to get looking.  I've even been able to work on my dollshouse in the evenings, although I am now set up on a tiny little workstation in my bedroom which is so NOT ergonomic.  I keep knocking things onto the floor when I reach for something else.

I haven't done any sewing but I have plugged on with the knitting.  I have a pleasant sense of finishing stuff off recently, and I remarked to DH that I will need to start some new projects.  This provoked an incredulous reponse which involved references to my new knit tidy full of project bags.  I had to explain about the need for projects that meet different requirements.  Currently I only have one portable project left, which is the Sanquhar gloves.  I was working on them today while enjoying a lovely cup of tea at a fellow knitter's house.  Six of us from our local knitting group descended on The Pincushion yarn shop in Windsor and had a good rummage, before retiring to her house for refreshments.  I picked up some DK yarn for a xmas tree tea cosy I want to have a go at, plus some chunky striped yarn which I think I will use for fingerless mittens.

I have knit two of the bands onto my Freedom wool cable vest, using the same twisted rib as the bottom band.  Just one more band to go! I've tried it on and it fits well and looks pretty good.

I finally finished the Broken Rib socks from the Little Box of Sock Patterns, knit in Tofutti yarn which is actually more pastel than it looks in the picture.  They are still wet in the picture which is making the colours look more vivid than they really are.  For some reason I found the broken rib pattern really tedious to knit.  It is two rows of 1x1 rib, 2 rows of stockinette, then two rows of 1x1 but staggered one stitch from the previous rib row.  They look nice now they are done.  The broken rib is actually quite stretchy, so really I could have knit these a bit smaller as they are a bit loose on my leg.

I'm almost finished the construction phase of my Fairfield dollshouse also.  Really there is just the landscaping to do, and then it will just be a case of furnishing and decorating the rooms.  That's taken six months because I can only work on it occasionally during the week.

It's turned incredibly cold here in the UK, even in London where I am.  It's been about 6 degrees C the last few days, a good reason to wrap up warm in hand knitted mittens and lots of scarves.  I'm also wearing my legwarmers from Sally Melville's Knit Stitch book, in Cascade 220, every day to work to combat icy chills up my ankles.  They are predicting it will get worse this coming week and we might even have snow, which used to be pretty unusual down south here.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Au Revoir to the FK

Saturday morning we breathed a huge sigh of relief as we said Au Revoir to our French Kid (FK) from Marseilles. Apart from the inconvenience of having a stranger in the house all week (having to hide the clutter, having to serve proper meals at regular times, not being able to undertake our normal activities), we managed to actually  lose him twice, so it was all rather stressful.  He was a sweet kid, with lovely manners, but spoke virtually no English and evidently had no wish to learn any more, as he spent most of the week hiding in his room.  He would show up to silently eat breakfast, and supper, and the rest of the time we never saw him.  I did try a few times to get him to come out and watch television or play video games, but he always refused - very politely of course.  The first time we lost him, he had asked if he could attend a birthday party for another of the French exchange students.  We said he could as long as we knew where it was - both so that we knew where he was and also to be able to pick him up.  He went off anyway without providing an address, despite us trying to contact him several times by phone.  So I get home from work, and DS is there but no FK.  In the end I had to call our teacher emergency contact and explain the situation, and provide our only crumb of information which was the christian name of the English party host.  Our teacher had to contact their teacher etc. etc.  And meanwhile, as we are waiting for information, who should call but FK's mother, from France!!  She didn't speak much English, and I sure couldn't think that telling her we had lost her son was a good idea.  So I asked her to call back later.  Eventually the other teacher called back with an address, so my husband could go and pick him up.  FK was completely oblivious, he probably thought it was the plan all along, although god knows how he thought we were going to retrieve him.  ESP?  He disappeared again at a school awards evening, we turned our back for one second as we were filing into our seats, and he was gone again for the rest of the evening.  Predictably for a teenage boy, we found him afterwards near the refreshments.

So today has been a happy day, as we retrieve our clutter from its hiding places and once again take up our hobbies and normal lifestyle.

This week I finished and blocked the Hand-Dyed Sock Blank socks.  They fit fine and I am pleased with the colours.  Because of the problems with snarling and having to re-wind the yarn so many times, I'm not sure that the socks bear much resemblance to my original blank.  You can perhaps make out some diagonal lines of colour on the socks.

I finished knitting the body of my Freedom Wool Cable vest and blocked it prior to picking up for the bands.

I also finished knitting the front of my machine knit Sock Wool Vest and blocked that. This was after I adjusted the pattern to reflect the tension achieved on the back (which came out too big, despite having done a tension swatch on my Brother 881 machine).

Saturday was my quilting club day.  As well as making a start on my next applique block, I pieced a random strip 'jungle' border for my Hawaiian memory quilt.  I think I may need to add some fused detail to interrupt the straight line a little. I asked my little sewing group for their opinions on how to treat the edge of this quilt.  Some thought I should add a definite border, like a picture frame, around the entire quilt - perhaps in green, or in blue.  Others thought that a straight border in blue across the top edge would set off the straight jungle border, and be sufficient to frame it.  What do you think? This will be a wallhanging.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Life gets in the way - but provides photo opportunities

Life has rather gotten in the way this week, as I had another parent's evening at the school on Monday, and then the rest of the evenings were spent trying to tidy our cluttered house in time to welcome the French exchange student who arrived on Friday.  He is a teenager from Marseilles and will be with us all week until next Saturday.  He's very sweet but speaks very little English, so it's a bit of an uphill struggle.  I've had to tidy away the dollshouse I was building in the kitchen, amongst other things.

Today was a miserable November day, cold (6 degrees C) and drizzling rain all day, very typical English weather but not very welcoming to someone from the Mediterranean.  We drove him down to see Stonehenge in Wiltshire.

And then drove over to nearby Salisbury, and took him inside Salisbury Cathedral.

Yesterday, we delegated my son to be host because DH and I had tickets for the Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall in the afternoon.  It was the first time I've been to a performance there - it's pretty darn impressive. We were in a box on the Grand Tier, but I think most seats have good views because of the oval shape inside.  The Festival is a combination of both performance and a service to Remember the Fallen, and parts of it were extremely moving.

Before we went up to London for the concert, we took the boys to Windsor so our guest could see Windsor Castle.  We had tea at a cafe opposite 'The Crooked House', an old house which is leaning pretty dramatically.

I am going to show off my new yarn tidy, which I ordered after seeing it in one of the knitting magazines.  It's really intended for putting your recycling in, but it does a good job of tidying up all my various knitting projects in progress.

So the only craft I have been doing this week is knitting, because I didn't have time for anything else.

Here is my progress on the Johnny Rotten mittens so far.  Considering I have knit several stranded projects before, I am surprised at how difficult I have found stranding three strands of worsted weight.  The pattern suggests using the magic loop method, but after several attempts, I had to give up as I just couldn't strand the other two colours loosely enough.  I switched to dpns, and still had to start over a few times.  I eventually worked out that because the yarn is thicker, the act of trapping it with the working yarn (to avoid loops) is enough friction to prevent it from pulling out loosely enough even when I stretch out the stitches when I am picking up the next colour.  I have to stop and physically stretch the mitten when I change colour, to drag through enough of the other two colours from underneath the trapping, to keep the mitten loose.  This isn't helping my tension, but I think the mitten is going to be really warm with these three strands.

And I've almost finished the horrible Hand-Dyed Sock Blank socks - yay!!  just one more decrease row and some kitchener stitching, and they are done.  Finally.

The chilly weather lately made me feel like knitting something really warm and cosy.  I dug out some Jaeger Natural Fleece that I got half price at John Lewis a few years ago.  I couldn't find any suitable patterns for this chunky yarn, so I have written one based on the Ann Budd Handy Book of Sweater Patterns Yoked Cardigan pattern.  The Jaeger is 100% wool, and is a loose roving wrapped around by a spun 1-ply yarn.  It knits up quickly at 10 stitches to 4 inches, so after I took this picture, I managed about 8 inches of knitting just while we were in the car on the way to Stonehenge.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Remember Remember

Happy Bonfire Night if you are in the UK.  We had supper early and went out to take in a few of the local school fireworks displays. We ended up standing directly underneath one display because we parked in a car park behind where the display was being set off. Which was spectacular as it exploded over our heads for 15 minutes, but started to feel a bit dangerous when a few burning embers crashed down only 10 feet or so from us.   Very exciting though, you don't normally get to stand so close to fireworks [because it's not safe, duh...] It's so dark in the evenings now that the clocks have gone back.  My walk from work is suddenly through darkened  streets lit by streetlights and headlights.

Due to a parents' evening at school, and being tired from the time change, there hasn't been a lot of crafting this week.  I did make it to I-Knit one evening, where I was knitting on my Sanquhar Glove and on my Sock blank socks.  I am finally almost finished the socks, just need to do the toes and then the entire not-very-enjoyable experience will be over.

I haven't conquered the Startitis yet, and this week have made a start on my Johnny Rotten Mittens, a kit from Skein Queen which was one of last year's Christmas presents.  It has the most gorgeous hand knit yarn in the kit, really squishy and soft and luscious.  You have to strand three colours at a time to do the Union Jack design.  I experimented with my finger clip for a while, that holds three strands at once on the index finger, but I found the yarns kept getting twisted oddly because of having to catch in the other two colours on the back. Plus it was hard to strand loosely.  I've gone back to just picking up the colour I need and dropping the other two.

I've done some work on my Hawaiian memory quilt, running a border of exotic blooms up one side.  I cut out and fused on several blooms to blur the join between the ocean and the flowers.  It's been fun making this because it brings back so many memories of our lovely holiday.

I'm getting ready for the 15th block of my Grandmother's Last Quilt 25-block applique quilt.  I laid out the other 14 blocks on my bed, to see what fabrics I had used so that I could select the best fabrics to use for the new block.  This quilt is all in reproduction bubblegum pinks and acid greens.  I quite like doing needleturn applique when I'm actually doing it, but I find the long preparation process very tedious:  making templates, making bias stems, tracing templates onto fabric, cutting out, pinning into exact position on the block, and then FINALLY you get to do some sewing.

Tomorrow we have to tidy up the house in preparation for my son's French exchange partner, arriving from Marseilles next Friday.  I'll have to move the dollshouse construction project out of the kitchen, sadly, to make more room for having a fourth person at the dinner table.  I've also done a load of cooking today, to get some prepared meals into the freezer so that our guest doesn't have to subjected to our usual erratic meal provision (which is highly subject to how tired I am after work plus how distracted I am by craft projects).

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Books and other diversions

I've been using GreenMetropolis.com for a while now, which is an online service for buying and selling secondhand books in the UK.  You can sell your own used books for £3, and buy other people's books for £3.75 including delivery.  I always check there first before ordering something on Amazon.  Recently there have been more knitting books popping up on the site (search on 'knit' in the title field, which will pull up anything with 'knit' in the title like 'knitting', 'knitted' etc.) and this week I was delighted to score a copy of The Stitch and Bitch Handbook by Debbie Stoller.  So many people list this book as one of the seminal works that got them into knitting, but the cheapest I've seen it elsewhere has been about £7.  I will enjoy reading my bargain buy.  I've also just sold my spare copy of 'Noro Joy' through the site.

Another book site I have recently looked at is Project Gutenberg, a site which provides legal electronic versions of many older out-of-copyright books for people to read on their PC or on an e-reader. Interestingly, they have some delightful antique needlework books to download, such as "The Ladies Workbook Containing Instructions in Knitting, Crochet, Point-Lace, etc."  The search function is not very advanced.  I found the best way to find these books was to find one of them, click on it to view its indexing details which include the 'class' and 'subject', then click on either the 'class' or 'subject' hyperlinks to see all other books which fall into that class or subject area. To read on your computer, click on the 'Download' tab at the top, then choose the 'html' link which is usually the top link.  The file will open instantly on your computer screen.

My copy of Alice Starmore's 'Aran Knitting' turned up this morning, so I've got lots to read through now.  I saw this at the I-Knit Weekender event, where the author was signing copies, but I'm afraid I was naughty and waited until I got home to order it from Amazon for only £12. There are some absolutely gorgeous patterns in this re-release of the original, including some new material and a new pattern.

Other diversions this week have been distracting me from my main knitting projects, although I have been soldiering on with the second Sanquhar Glove and am just about back to where I was before I had to rip out.  This time it is coming out the right size.  But I just couldn't settle down to any of my other projects and got distracted into knitting a couple of quick projects.  One was the mug cosy in the picture above, which has come out a bit big so I think I need to sew some darts into it to make it fit better.  I had some leftover Rowan Cocoon from knitting the scarf for my f-i-l last xmas, so I just did some 1x1 ribbing top and bottom, and a few cables in between, and crocheted some ties.

I had fun knitting another tea cosy, this time for a very small tea pot that I like to use when it's just me, as it only holds about 1.5 cups.  DH suggested making it look like a cupcake, so after a bit of experimentation, this is what I came up with.  This is knit yet again from my huge surplus of Lion Brand Wool-Ease left over from when I knit the intarsia lighthouse socks last year.  The 'cup' is in garter stitch knit sideways, then I picked up in stockinette stitch (leaving a little lip) to knit a top which draws on the influence of the Innocent Big Knit xmas pudding pattern. Above the handle I joined up and started knitting in the round.  I will be honest and confess that this final version is actually Mark II.  The first version I finished didn't have the lip, the icing was much smaller and the cherry was bigger, and, much to DH's hilarity, it looked exactly like a breast with a nipple at the top.

I have to show off a picture of my new glue bottle stand, which my f-i-l built to my specifications.  He did a brilliant job, it is all beautifully sanded and he even glued felt on the bottom.  I have about five bottles of Aileen's Tacky Glue which have just a little bit left in them, so this gadget will help me use up the very last drops when I am dollshousing and ensure the glue is always at the top of the bottle ready to come out.

We are once again mystifying our neighbours by displaying lots of Halloween decorations in our front windows.  Although Halloween has definitely become more of a thing here in the 20-odd years I've been living in the UK, it is still not mainstream and virtually none of our neighbours do anything for it, or even give out candy to trick-or-treaters.  I don't think the English really 'get' Halloween: although there are more decorations and costumes for sale in the shops, they tend towards ghoulish and macabre (bloody knives etc.) rather than kitsch and humorous.  It's the one North American holiday I haven't given up on, so I persevere even though some years we have had less than 10 trick or treaters.  DH wants me to put in that he (an Englishman) has embraced Halloween, but really I think he has warmed to it because when there are only 10 trick-or-treaters,  he gets to eat all the leftover candy.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Autumnal thoughts

We've just come back from a walk in the crisp autumn air, brilliant sunshine but cold enough that I needed to bundle up in several handknits.  I probably overdid it, but it's just so much fun to be wearing things like my Selbuvotter mittens that I haven't seen since last winter.  This morning we drove to a farm shop to look at the pumpkins and buy a few more Halloween decorations.  I couldn't resist coming home with these colourful gourds and squashes, which will decorate our table for a while until we eat the squashes.

Remember I was having Monday all to myself this past week?  It was blissful.  I didn't even get out of my pyjamas until after lunch.  I realised the next day that the front door was still locked from Sunday because I never went out at all on Monday.  I resisted doing all work, including washing up, and spent quite a lot of time knitting and drinking tea, cosily tucked up in front of the computer, watching catchup tv shows that I had missed.  I also did some quilting and some handsewing! And here is what I was working on:

This is the start of a Hawaiian memory quilt/wallhanging, using fabrics that I bought on my quilter's tour of Hawaii last year. I blocked in the various landscape zones on Monday, and then worked on it more yesterday at quilt club, fusing on extra bits to blur the lines between the various fabrics.  It's full of things that remind us of our holiday, like the whale we saw on the horizon, and the stingray we saw when we were snorkelling near the hotel, and Diamond Head at Waikiki.

I finished the pumpkin tea cosy.  This is knit in Lion Brand Wool-Ease.  The cables are my own design, but the leaves and tendrils are crocheted and I adapted them from instructions for a similar tea cosy on the Vogue Knitting site.  It works really well - keeps a pot of tea nice and warm for ages!

The hand sewing I did was to attach the tatting that I bought at the antiques fair a few weeks ago, onto one of my hankies.  It looks very dainty now, and I even had a few inches of tatting left over. The edging was easy to attach, as the maker had left picots all along the straight edge, ready to be caught down with invisible stitches onto the hem of the hankie.

Yesterday at quilt club I also finished my son's birthday present of the cat portrait cushion cover.  It's turned out really well, and here is a picture of Colin inspecting his portrait.  The cushion has to stay a surprise until DS's birthday in a few weeks.

Unfortunately, weird knitting physics came back to bite me on the a** this week.  I've been knitting occasionally on my second Sanquhar Glove and had reached a point above the thumb opening where I felt I had enough knitting to try the glove on.  Astonishingly, it was way too tight.  Completely mystified, I got out the first glove and compared it to the second one.  As you can see, the second glove is clearly and dramatically smaller.  I spent a few moments wondering if I had suffered some kind of blackout which had caused me to lose all memory of using a needle several sizes bigger for the first one.  But I know that I didn't.  I am using exactly the same 1.5mm needles and exactly the same wool. I can see that the corrugated ribbing was a lot tighter on the second glove.  The only thing that I can think of is that I have grown much more accustomed to handling the small needles, which may have caused my tension to tighten up.  Or maybe I was really tense when I was knitting the ribbing.  Who knows.  Anyway, it all had to come out (sob...)  I've started over and made it a priority this week, and have managed to reknit the ribbing, and am halfway up the bracelet/date band.

I am generally not one to mock the knitting media, like some do.  But I have to mention one pattern in the UK 'Knitting' magazine issue 83, December 2010, which turned up yesterday.  Given the time of year, you have to wonder what the stylist was thinking when they commissioned "Cabled Cape" from Susan Crawford  (page 23) and decided this spherical poncho with armholes should be pumpkin orange and be placed on a model dressed all in black.  Yes, she looks exactly like an adult dressed in a pumpkin costume.  Not only that, but there is something deeply weird about the angle her arms are coming out at, like they are her second set and there is another set of arms still hiding inside the pumpkin costume... [cue theme from Twilight Zone]

Sunday, 17 October 2010


There is a feeling of holiday in our house as only child/teenager DS is away for a week on a school French exchange.  Of course, before we could actually get him away, we had the major trauma of discovering his passport had expired.  This was Wednesday night, and he was due to leave Friday morning.  I got straight on the internet and found you can pay through the nose for a four-hour turnaround premium service by appointment only, and the appointments line runs until 8pm so I managed to make one for Thursday.  DH took the day off work to get the passport application from the post office, fill it out including the photos we dragged DS out to get taken the previous evening, and travel over to my friend's office in west London to get her to countersign the application (thank god she is one of the specified professionals).  Then he shot up to London in time to keep the appointment - only to discover that he hadn't read the form properly and our son actually needed to sign it himself!  So I told DH to jump in a cab to the station, he got the train to a station near our son's school and grabbed another cab to the school.  I phoned the school to have our son waiting to sign it, then it was back in the cab to the station.  Only DH missed the return train.  At this point I was looking up flights to Marseilles and making arrangements with the school to fly our son there on a later day.  However, the passport office very kindly took the application in even though DH was late, and finally by 8:15pm Thursday night, we had a passport.  Whew!  And it 'only' cost about £200 in fees and taxi fares...  We felt extremely stupid for not checking earlier.

Anyway,  for a week I am off the treadmill of homework / meals / sharing my TV and computer etc.  I tried very hard to relax over the weekend but found I had an absurd but uncontrollable compulsion to use the extra time to catch up on chores around the house and garden.  I am also off tomorrow (Monday) and I am really going to try to just relax and do crafts all day, and not think about work, and not do any jobs! Wish me luck.

The little bit of TV knitting I did this week was on my Pumpkin Tea Cosy.  I am knitting two halves and will sew them together leaving gaps for the handle and spout.  These are six stitch cables interspersed with two purl stitches.  I decrease to four stitch cables near the top, then to one purl stitch, and then finally K2tog to pull it all in at the top.

Thursday night I felt fortunate to be one of the 60 Rowan members who responded in time to an email inviting us to attend a special members' night at Liberty's department store in celebration of Wool Week.  The email made it sound like more was going to go on than actually turned out to be the case.  The stated time was 6-9pm, but it didn't get started until 6:40pm, so 60 people were standing around with nothing to do for 40 minutes (although there was wine) and some of the people I chatted with gave up and left.  Eventually we were welcomed, and Erica Knight gave a talk for about 15-20 minutes about Wool Week and the Rowan partnership with a fashion college (the results of which were on display).  Martin Storey and Marie Wallin stood at the sidelines but didn't speak.  And that was it, except that we got a goodie bag.  The goodie bag is soft jute, and contained a felt sheep keyring (cute, but impractical in white), some leaflets, and a book of patterns 'The British Sheep Breeds Collection' from Rowan Purelife - which I have looked up and is a £7.50 value so not a bad gift.  Although I had to spend £3.60 on tube fares to attend the event.  Still, I did have two glasses of wine  :)

Remember the lace doiley I bought a few weeks ago at the antiques fair?  I finally had time to mend the broken threads, then I boiled it in detergent water for about 15 minutes.  It went from a mid-ecru colour to a satisfying pale cream colour.  Then I pinned it out which took about another 30 minutes.  No wonder these things went out of fashion, if you have to spend an hour on them every time someone spills a drink.  The peacock feathers are interspersed with fan shapes, which almost overlap.  I wonder if the fans were meant to be starched up into 3-D ruffled shapes?

I washed and blocked the Sock Wool Machine Knitted Vest and as I thought, it is too wide.  Turns out I am getting a tension of 30 stitches to 10 cm, which is different from my tension swatch, so I had cast on 182 stitches when I should have only cast on 165 stitches.  I'm not knitting the back again, so will compensate by knitting the front smaller, and seaming a few stitches in from the sides on the back piece.

It's almost 8pm and I haven't eaten supper yet because I (that's me) am not hungry - how blissful to be able to do what I want.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Alexandra Palace

Yesterday I made the two hour trek up to London to the fabulous Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace.  It wouldn't normally take two hours, but London Underground in their wisdom had closed the nearest tube station, so I had to take an extra train to get there. Billed as the 'best textiles show in Europe', it combines a huge marketplace with all sort of displays, including graduate showcases, designer showcases, juried competitions, stands from manufacturers such as Coats Clark (Rowan and Paton) and others, magazine and book publishers, and displays by all sorts of weird and wonderful guilds.  You could easily spend the whole day there, as there is also a programme of 'taster' one hour workshops, learn-to-knit clinics, a swishing salon (clothes swaps), and various demos and mini-workshops going on.

I spent four hours going around and then did a one-hour workshop (which was a complete waste of time but you can't win them all). To begin with, it wasn't too crowded and I was able to view the first two rooms, where most of the displays and guilds are, fairly easily. I said 'Hi' to Liz on the Guild of Machine Knitters stall and let her finally talk me into re-joining.  I admired the Ring of Tatters display (I am a lapsed member), and fell in love with books on Sally Holman's stand for creating landscape pictures from quilt fabric.  Now that I am making less money, it was not quite as much fun as in past years when I would have just bought the books.  This year I bought a kit from her to make a card, to see what the techniques are, and didn't spend the money on the books.  I got some 20" squares of vintage Java batik fabric from an absolutely gorgeous display by Textile Traders, and enjoyed seeing some of the sample garments from Rowan 48 magazine.

By the time I moved into the main marketplace, around noon, it was getting quite crowded and eventually it was so crowded that you literally had to squirm through gaps in the crowds to get down the aisles.  There was a fair bit of jostling going on, and one poor lady had her foot run over by a mobility scooter, which sounded painful.  As in previous years, there were a lot of knitting stands, but this year there seemed to be a lot more quilting stands than usual.  Some good prices on fabric as well, £3m, £4, etc. with Doughty's putting on two stands, one of which was mainly batiks.  Black Sheep had commandeered almost half an aisle all to themselves, selling lots of bagged up yarn at cheap prices, plus tapestry kits etc.  I did a lot of fondling but only bought a half-metre of yellow 30s fabric.  I was very tempted by a jelly roll on sale for £20 but as usual thought "why don't I just cut 2.5" strips from my own stash?"  Plus I would really like to use up some of my stash and not buy any more fabric for a while.

It's been that time of year, lots of fairs, and I had a great time at Miniatura last weekend, as reported on my Fairfield blog.  DH also drove me up to Ripley afterwards to visit the Dolls House Emporium shop.  I mainly went to see Maddie's Hobbit Hole which was on display, but was curious to see their Chinese-import-headquarters.  Although a lot of their stuff can be a bit crude or out of scale, they had an impressively wide offering in the shop.  What did surprise me was their line of modern dollshouses, which were really rather good.  It's so unusual to see a dollshouse with modern architecture and they had three or four, including one that looked just like a modernised canal-side warehouse converted for modern open-plan living.  Of course, they only do 1/12th scale so the houses are all huge, I wouldn't have room for them. But neat to see.

The wife of someone at work just had a baby.  It was two weeks overdue, and came out at 9lbs 9oz!!! Ouch.  I knit a hat for it in Lion Brand Wool-Ease, and chose the toddler size as I didn't think the baby size was going to cut it.  This was a pattern from my 2010 Knitting Pattern calendar.

After doing a few tension swatches, I have started knitting a sleeveless pullover vest on my Brother 881 knitting machine, using Regia sock yarn that I got cheap online from Black Sheep yarns.  This is the back right after it came off the machine, before it has been blocked.  I'm aiming for a similar shape to the Knit Camp Vest that I made in August.

A few weekends ago, a friend came over to see my dollshouses. The big ones are all out on display, but the room boxes etc. were here and there, so we got them all out onto the kitchen table to make them easier to see. It was rather daunting to see how many I have, all together like that. A lot of time, and money, and effort which I suppose could have gone into something more worthwhile - like housework... hee hee hee, nope, can't say that with a straight face.

On the knitting front, I have progressed on my Freedom Wool Cable Vest...

...And on my Sanquhar glove.  You can see the date that I worked into the bracelet.  Interestingly, the people I bought the pattern from, EJT Trading, were at Ally Pally again this year.  I was looking at their sample when I realised that it was actually different from the picture on my pattern.  The fingers were orientated differently, so that the first column of motifs next to the thumb ran straight up the index finger.  It looked better than the way my pattern shows it.  Obviously I will have to knit another pair in the new way.

I've started knitting a Pumpkin Tea Cosy from Lion Brand Wool-Ease, kind of making up a pattern using cables. It's that time of year, and I have dug out my various Halloween / autumnal quilted wallhangings and hung them up around the house.

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