Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Mystery knitting project unveiled

Isn't it mad?  I laughed out loud when I found this on Debi Birkin's website, where the pattern is available as an instant download for £2.  It's been a very enjoyable knit, and coincidentally very timely for Easter which is rushing towards us.  Yes, it's a bit insane, but everyone who has seen it has to laugh - and isn't that a good thing? In case you haven't worked it out, it's a tea cosy.

The job market seems to be picking up a bit, I've been contacted by a recruiter this week about a three month contract position, and  a friend has passed on to me a five month contracting opportunity.  I would prefer a permanent role to a contract role, but it would be good experience and would build my network.  We'll see if anything comes of it.

I blocked my Sirdar Juicy Lace Stole.  It looked really good for about 30 seconds when I unpinned it, then collapsed back in on itself.  This is a very drapey yarn, in bamboo/cotton, so it doesn't block very well.  A knitting friend suggested spray starch.  The ball band says not to iron it.  Ideally I would show you a picture of how nice the stole looks over a strappy summer dress, but there is no way I am putting one on in this miserable grey cold February weather.  This is the time of year when I am wearing lots of hand knits, in layers.

I sewed the binding on to the Harry Potter freebie quilt and took it in to my Saturday sewing group, where it immediately found a new home with one of the grandmothers for her small grandson.  I feel good that this pieced duvet cover got re-purposed and has gone to someone who will use it. The central figure was a panel, then I fussy-cut boy wizards to be the central square in each Ohio Star.

I spent several more hours refurbishing and finishing my Vic-War-Gency period house.  This is my biggest house, with five floors.  I bought it as a bare wood shell about 16 or 17 years ago, and it had never quite gotten finished.  I spent a lot of time finishing the edges of the plywood walls off by gluing strips of card over them, painting 'brick' colour on exposed bits of outer wall, touching up old paint, cleaning off dust and muck, replacing gooey antique bluetack with much safer tacky wax, and re-sticking things that had fallen off/over.  The big job was fixing the electric lights: one whole floor was dark and a couple of other lights weren't coming on.  The floor was easily re-lit with a touch of additional solder on the connection so that power flowed through.  But to correct one stubborn unlit hall light, I ended up having to tear up the floor on the hallway above it - grrrrrr.  Turned out to be a nick in the wire, which I probably did about 15 years ago when I laid the hall floor.  It had worked for a while, but obviously decided to die.  I had to replace the wire, resplice it to the light, then try to stick the floor back down, not very successfully.  The moral of this story is to make your floor removable if there is wiring underneath it. This was the first house I wired for electricity so it was a learning curve.

I spent a couple of hours one afternoon photographing my entire stash of quilting UFOs, panels, fabric collections, bagged up projects, and planned projects.  This added up to over 80 photographs.  Now I need to print them all out and stick them onto index cards.  I am a very visual person when it comes to inventory - out of sight means out of mind for me.  I am hoping having a visual record is going to spur me to finish some of these.  I did take one of the oldest ones with me on Saturday to my sewing group:  a Stack and Whack from Bethany Reynold's first book, which I started in 1999.  There is even a pack of Y2K fat quarters in the bag, which may be collector's items by now.  Hard to believe that is ten years ago now. Luckily I had always said that this would be DS's college quilt, so I've got a few years to go yet.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Busy busy

My retired friends used to make me laugh when they complained about how incredibly busy they were.  How busy can you be when you don't have to go to work every day?, I used to wonder.  Hah.

It is amazing how the time soon fills up.  I can't believe it's a week since I last blogged, and I'm starting to feel like I don't have time to job-hunt, which has to be bad. 

So what have I been up to?  Well, on the weekend I realised that one of the main reasons I was procrastinating about starting the new Fairfield dollshouse kit was that I had really wanted to use my unemployed time to progress/fix some of my older dollshouses.  So on the weekend I got the big protective padded tablecloth out of the attic (last used when I built my Willowcrest house on the kitchen table) and made a start on some of the backlog.

I scratch-built a 1/24th scale Thatched Cottage about 17 years ago, complete with an outdoor garden made of railroad terrain materials and dried flowers.  Over the years, as well as getting extremely dusty inside and out, the colours of the garden had faded to a uniform mud brown (something to keep in mind if you are using commercial flock or foliage materials).  So I spent some hours removing all the dust (including running the hoover over the thatched roof - I may not do housework but I do use the hoover!) and then got my paints out and painted back in colour to the garden.  Plus lots of sticking things back where they had fallen over.  It looks a lot better now.

Similarly, I worked on my 1/48th scale New Orleans house which I built from a kit during a workshop with Itsy Bitsy at the old New Orleans dollshouse show years ago.  It too had become very dusty inside and out.  I also made up some recently purchased 'QuickerWicker' kits and patio tables to go on the balcony.

As an unexpected treat on Valentines Day, my DH (proudly wearing his knitted heart pinned to his sleeve) drove me and a friend to the Epsom Dollshouse Fair.  This is a smallish fair run by the same people that put on the Kempton Show, so a lot of the same traders attended.  I had a fun 90 minutes going around, and a nice chat with Judith of 'In Some Small Way'.  I bought a 1/24th scale greenhouse kit from another trader which I am planning to cannibalise to be part of my pseudo-MissLydiaPickett construction, and picked up various accessories such as doll stands to help tidy up my other houses.

Monday was almost completely taken up by a visit to the Victoria & Albert museum's new Medieval and Renaissance galleries up in London.  DH took the day off and we went up together.  They are quite magnificent, bigger than we expected as it is over three floors, and surprisingly not finished yet - lots of scaffolding and unfinished displays.  A lot of ecclesiastical relics as I suppose the Church preserved things, but I liked the domestic objects better although they were in a minority.  There was a magnificent drinking cup which I would have taken home - it was in the shape of a Disney-esque castle with a fully modelled town on its lid complete with tiny figures of soldiers about 1/4" high.  When we got home, I started renovating my biggest dollshouse, the one I call my 'Vic-War-Gency' house because it is period but can't make up its mind which period.  It too needs lots of dusting and sticking things back up/down, but it also needs some painting and finishing.

Tuesday was a knitting day.  After seeing an agency in the morning and signing on for my benefits, I was ready to relax with some knitting.  I met up with a knitting friend in the afternoon to talk about jobhunting, and then we moved on to the pub knitting group for an enjoyable evening.  I had taken along my Sirdar Juicy summer stole.  I hadn't worked on it for months and it took me about 30 minutes just to figure out what row I was on and then repeatedly knit/un-knit it trying to get it right.  After that, I took a group poll and we decided it was long enough so I bound it off.  It's Finished! apart from darning ends in and blocking it.  I also knit some more rows on my Pretty Thing Lace Cowl (now over halfway) and on my Roman Rib Socks (almost finished the cuff, will be turning the heel soon).

Wednesday saw another finish:  I finished sewing down the binding on my Bento Box quilt.  So this is now done and ready to give to my ex-colleague for her daughter who I think is about six or seven.  I also went up to London to start my volunteer job.  My outplacement coach suggested that I volunteer out of the home for one day a week, to keep me busy (hah!) and to have to get dressed/be nice/operate in a strange environment.  Somewhat to my own amazement, I have managed to find a volunteer gig where I get to quilt all day.  The Fine Cell Work charity provides needlework kits and tuition to prisoners, to give them 'hope and independence'.  As well as being therapeutical, the prisoners get to keep some of the proceeds from the sold items.  Since the prisoners aren't allowed to use scissors or rotary cutters, all the cutting out has to be done at the charity.  So I spent my first day cutting out fusible webbed animals which will be part of a cot quilt kit.  Probably not quite what my outplacement coach had in mind, but hey, I was dressed and out of the home.

And all this time I have been busy working on my Mystery knitting project which is almost finished.  I am now just adding the final details such as this little grouping:

Friday, 12 February 2010

Time is whizzing by

Now that I am adjusting to my new routine, the time just seems to be evaporating.  Some days it feels like I roll out of bed, wonder what I am going to do all day, and then 'poof!' - it's time to make supper.  It is partly because being on the computer looking at job ads eats up hours every day.  And this week I had parent's evening at the school, and a compulsory 'Back to Work' course at the unemployment benefits centre.  The course was only an hour long but pretty grim, full of angry frustrated people complaining about how they don't get a break because they are dyslexic or don't have computer access at home.  It made me realise how incredibly privileged I am.

I also rode a bus for 40 minutes to another town to attend a daytime meeting of a machine knitting club, one of the few still in existence after the hobby basically died in this country.  I was really into machine knitting in the late 90s until 2003, when I had to put my machines in storage for a year when we were trying to sell our house.  By the time I got them out and set up at the new house, I'd forgotten how to do all the good stuff and really lost my momentum. There is a fine line between enjoyment and frustration on a knitting machine, like any craft hobby I guess.  Only on a machine, if you forget to push a button or mis-thread the carriage, it can all go pear-shaped in a couple of seconds.  Anyway, it was really nice to be in a room full of (rather elderly) people who are still doing the hobby and who had brought in things they had made for show and tell.  The group challenge at the moment is to make a cardigan so I may try to have a go at making one before next month's meeting.  I have loads of coned yarn out in my knitting shed, although a lot of it is [lowers voice and whispers] acrylic.

So, not as much craft time this week.  I did spend several hours working on an old quilting UFO, a sliced up picture of Venice from a group project two years ago.  Basically you chose a photograph, traced out the outlines enlarged to your desired size, sliced the photo into four slices, and handed out three slices to other group members to applique over.  I never finished mine because the fourth contributor took months to get her slice back to me, by which time I had moved on to other projects.  I haven't taken a photograph because it doesn't look like much yet.  I have completed the lower half of the slice which is part of a gondola, and am now working on windows with grilled balconies.

And I've done more on my mystery knitting project.  I have made seven of these.

And I've made 10 of these.  Bet you can't guess what I'm making.

I've started sewing down the binding on one of the quilt tops, because I have arranged to give it to a former work colleague for her daughter.

And that's about it this week.  Still bitterly cold here, with a real wind chill, hovering around freezing, and we even had more snow flakes for a couple of days although it didn't settle.  Meanwhile the crocuses are starting to bloom in the lawn, and the daffodils are poking up out of the ground.  Hope you are keeping warm where you are. 

I will finish with a seasonal knit that I made as a surprise to slip into my husband's card on Sunday.  The pattern is in the 2010 Knitting Pattern a Day calendar, for February 14.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Thank goodness for knitting

I've been doing a lot of knitting lately - I find it very calming.  Previously I might have managed a few hours of knitting a week.  Now it is more like a few hours a day, and today (Sunday) I've probably done about 3.5 hours because I was knitting at lunchtime in a cafe and then spent the afternoon with my pub knitting group.  Friday I was so fed up with the whole job hunt slog that I played hooky: I knit in front of the tv for an hour and a half, went back to bed for two hours, had lunch then went shopping with a friend ,then sat in a cafe with her just knitting for another hour and a half.  It was wonderful and I felt so much more relaxed and energised afterwards.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if I could knit during a job interview?  I would be so calm and relaxed, and not nervous at all.

So what am I knitting?

I finished the fingerless gloves.  I like knitting gloves, there are so many different stages to them, so they are never boring to knit.

With the gloves finished, I needed a new mindless carry-around project, so I have started some Roman Rib Socks from the 'Little Box of Sock Patterns' that my lovely friend Swooze sent to me last year.  These are in Tofutti which is a mix of wool, cotton, soysilk and chitin.  The colours are actually a bit more pastel than they look in this photo.

My Pretty Thing Lace Cowl is slowly coming along.  I am finding the middle bit somewhat boring as it is just the same two rows repeated. Still enjoying knitting with the cashmere.  And I've tried it on my head just to check that it will fit over - it does.

I finished the first Lighthouse Sock after reknitting the toe decreases a few times.  This is thicker wool than I've ever used before for socks.  After a few experiments I found that two rows of plain knitting between the decreases gave a rounded shape that fit my foot.  I found that the intarsia cuff was too loose on my ankle so I decreased more than the pattern said, to tighten it up to fit my foot.  I might try and decrease the intarsia portion on the second sock, although there were a couple of decreases in the lighthouse pattern and I didn't like how they interfered with the picture (the decrease makes a bump).

I finished the second tree block for this month's BOM samples.  I laid out all the garden-themed BOM blocks I've made so far.  I have no idea how they are going to go together yet, but they are starting to look like a quilt.

Our excitement this week has come from my raiding a skip (dumpster) down the road (yes, we lead simple lives here...).  I usually have a peek into skips as I walk by them, because of all the times I've heard on TV or read in magazines about people making incredible finds.  The skips I look in are usually full of dirt, broken bricks and rubbish, so I wasn't expecting anything.  Lo and behold, this skip was full of all sorts of perfectly good stuff.  It looked like someone was clearing out a garage and just decided to pitch it all instead of giving it to charity or selling it.  There was a whole crate of Games Workshop models, which is my son's hobby, so I bagged them immediately and he was in seventh heaven going through it all - he reckons there is about £200 worth of stuff in it.  I also got some lawn chair cushions still in their wrappers, a folding plastic crate which I will use for sewing, and a box of artist's pastels.  A few days later, when we drove past, I thought it looked like they had put  more stuff in the skip so I went back for another look.  Sure enough, there was new stuff, including a whole crate of dollshouse stuff!!  I mean, our hobbies are a bit esoteric, and we don't even usually find anything for them at boot sales (flea markets), and here are two big crates of stuff in the same skip!  We have dubbed it the Magic Skip, and although I have been watching it daily in case they dump in a crate of knitting yarn to ice the cake, disappointingly they now seem to be filling it with the remains of the garage itself.  I will keep an eye on it though, in case they put in more good stuff once it's been emptied.  Look at all the dollshouse stuff I've got!

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Apparently I am still emotionally attached to my ex-employer

I went up to London last night to attend a farewell party for a former colleague at my old office.  This is the first time I've been back since I became unemployed a month ago.  I was somewhat appalled to find that it seemed completely natural to be going into the building, like I'd only been on a little holiday, and I still felt a strong sense of belonging.  I guess this old dog has not yet learned its new trick despite being cast adrift.  Old habits die hard, and I did work there for 18 years.  I met up with some old friends at the party, and it was nice to be back and talk shop again.

We went up to London on Saturday as well, to visit the Van Gogh exhibition at the Royal Academy.  The first thing we learned is to never never go to an exhibition on a Saturday.  We bypassed the enormous queue to get in as we had complimentary tickets, but the exhibition itself was essentially one long queue shuffling along the walls looking at each picture and description.  If you wanted to look, you had to get in the queue, as you couldn't see anything from inside the room with the queue blocking the way.  Very frustrating and not the way I want to look at pictures at all.  Luckily we found out that Van Gogh isn't to our taste anyhow, so we were not too devastated at the difficulties.  Then we went for a nice lunch at Wasabi (sushi and hot Japanese food).

So what have I been working on?  I still haven't sewn the binding down on the three quilt tops but I did sew the binding onto this tablerunner, which was a printed panel.  I practiced 'channel lock' on my tabletop frame, which is something that longarm quilters can do.  Essentially you lock the machine so that it can only stitch parallel to the roller bars.  Then you roll on a specific interval and stitch another line.  If you turn the item 90 degrees and repeat, you get a grid.  On a home tabletop machine, channel lock is accomplished rather simply by just fixing a clamp to one of the wheels so the machine can only roll sideways.

The Lighthouse sock is looking more like a sock now after I did a flat Bickford seam up the back.  I am just experimenting with toe decreases, the one in the pattern is too pointy for my foot, so I need to redo it.

I made a rack of quilting magazines and books to put in my dollshouse quilting shop.  The rack was a white painted metal clothes rack, and I used some garden wire to bodge in some ledges to rest the books and magazines on, then sprayed it all gray.

I have to make another two samples for the club BOM for our next meeting in February.  This month I am making two trees:  this is the first one.

And I've started a mystery knitting project.  Here is the first picture - bet you can't guess what this is going to be.  I found a pattern on the internet which made me laugh out loud on Sunday night, so Monday morning I was off to my LYS to buy green novelty eyelash yarn.  Which is sure something I never expected to be knitting with.

And my new dollshouse has arrived, thanks to a very kind friend in Indiana who forwarded it to me.  This is a project I want to try to tackle while I am unemployed and have some time to do it.  This will become a new home for my 1/24th scale  Miss Lydia Pickett furniture that I made up last year.  This is a Greenleaf Fairfield dollshouse kit, and I am going to kitbash it to look more like the official Miss Lydia Pickett house (only available in 1/48th scale sadly).  I will probably start a new blog to showcase the build and keep it out of my main blog so that you quilters and knitters don't have to read about how I am cutting and painting little bits of wood.

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