Saturday, 27 March 2010


I've spent the week waiting to hear about a start date for my new job, but nothing so far.  Next week they have asked me to go on a three-day course to learn Sharepoint.  If I'm not on payroll yet, then they will give me the time in lieu later. I've felt a bit in limbo, unable to make plans more than a few days ahead in case I got a call.  It's also giving me more time to feel nervous about going back to full-time work.  I think it would have been better nerve-wise if I could have started right away while I was still on a high from getting hired.

I used some of the time to become better acquainted with my knitting machine, one of the hobbies that I wanted to get back into while unemployed.  I read through the manuals again, and re-discovered several things I had forgotten, including the fact that I have a colour changer and a lace carriage - somewhere in the knitting shed.  I expect they are in one of the drawers.  I knit up the back of a waistcoat in some Wendy's slubby denim cotton I got at a boot sale a long time ago.  Despite doing a tension sample and using a pattern from Ann Budd's handy book of patterns, it came out too big.  I also think I don't have enough yarn.  But I am going to unravel the back and have re-written the pattern to make it smaller, so will have another go and keep my fingers crossed.

I also knit a tuck-stitch blanket using a pattern that I discovered on the internet, using some 4-ply acrylic I had.  This is the smallest size, more of a baby blanket, at about 22" square.  I am going to try knitting the largest size next.  I blocked it by chucking it in the washing machine and dryer, but found the edges were still curling a bit so I pinned it out and steamed it a bit.  I ended up killing the acrylic more than I wanted to, will have to go more lightly on the next one.

On Sunday, DH drove me down to Cobham to a antiques fair specialising in vintage dolls and dollshouse items.  These aren't really my thing, as they are frequently out of scale, and very battered, but at one stall I picked up this gorgeous handmade quilt, pieced from individual tiny hexagons, for £1!!  Isn't it sweet?

On Thursday I had to get out the house as I could feel the onset of cabin fever, so I went on the train to Guildford.  I had been before, but never really looked around.  It is a really nice place, I was very impressed.  I went to the museum first, where they have an excellent collection of antique needlework tools, some samplers, and various examples of costume.  I picked up the Town Trail leaflet and followed it around all the historical sights such as the Castle, the 17C buildings on the high street, and also saw several excellent Victorian villas off on the side streets.  There is some really good shopping as well, and I tried on various clothing items but only bought a pair of linen trousers for the summer.  And a yarn shop, where I bought some buttons for the waistcoat.

Today (Saturday) I have been up to Birmingham on the train to visit Miniatura, the best dollshouse and miniatures fair in the UK (IMHO).  Although it did seem smaller this year than the last time I went.  I went with a list, and got several things for my Rik Pierce house, which I was working on earlier in the week.  I had several purchases from previous fairs to install, stain, glue in, shelves to fill etc, and it is now looking like someone really lives there.  It was quite fun filling up the kitchen shelves.  I am picturing it as a sort of hunting and fishing lodge on the edge of the estate, somewhere where the young owner can get away from it all and do for himself.  I also saw pieced hexagon quilts that were more neatly done but not as cute as my antique find, and they were priced at £75 - so I am treasuring my bargain purchase.

Keeping me warm (but not too warm) in both Guildford and Birmingham was my Rowan Scottish Tweed cardigan, now all finished complete with pockets.  I am quite pleased with how this turned out.  I copied the shape and design from another favourite purchased cardigan, so I really like the fit.  The buttons are great, handmade ceramic buttons that were a gift from my m-i-l.  Being a pure traditional wool, it is very light and yet quite warm.  I knit the fronts and the back on my Brother 260 on T1, then added the bands, collars and pockets by hand.  I did a little eyelet detail on the pockets and threaded through some ribbon.  I had to seam the back from two pieces as the machine needle bed wasn't wide enough at this gauge to do the whole back. 

Earlier in the week I finished the second BOM sample block.  This design was a traditional Cat's Cradle pieced block, which really didn't fit with all the other blocks people had contributed, which are all pictorial.  I was trying to think how I could fit it into the quilt (and was considering using it as a label on the back), and turned it sideways and realised that with some creative piecing it could be fish.  I've done a fairly small version, the grid is 1.5", so rather than piece really fiddly tiny pieces I have appliqued on the tails.

While rummaging through the knitting storage unit (the one my family thinks is the media unit, ha ha ha) I came across a knitting bag with my Noro Matsuri cardigan pieces, all fully knit and just waiting to be blocked.  I felt guilty and gave them a wash and blocked them to size, then seamed the shoulders and one sleeve.  The sleeve, despite being the size given in the Yarn Forward pattern I am using, seems tight, partly because I bound off too tightly.  I am going to open the cast off edge up and try binding off more loosely before I set the sleeves in.  I also think I need to press the knitting, as it seems to have gone very floppy now that it has been washed.  Love the colours though.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Feels like a holiday

This week has seemed so relaxing because I haven't had to job-hunt.  I am taking enormous pleasure in hitting the delete button on the few job alerts still arriving in my in-box.  I still don't have a start date, but my employment contract came today and I've completed all the forms and sent it back.  I have a pleasant feeling of being on holiday, in this interim period before I rejoin the workforce.

Tuesday I went to see a film (Valentine's Day, a romcom, not very good) then went straight on to my pub knitting group where I worked on my mittens in Rico Poem.  These are to match the Warm-Ears Hat that I made a few months ago and have been living in ever since.  Although I got so interested in the chat that I managed to knit a thumb gusset halfway up my index finger and had to rip back several rows (and somehow ended up with my working yarn coming out of the row underneath the stitches on the needles, I'm not even sure how I did that...  I'd only had one drink, honest).

Wednesday I went by train to Richmond to meet up with an ex-colleague who is still job hunting.  We had a nice walk along the river and enjoyed a cup of tea at the cafe under the bridge.  Afterwards I went shopping for a new spring coat (didn't find one), and was working on my Broken Rib socks in ToeFutti yarn from the Little Box of Sock Patterns.  These socks have a really strange heel, sort of an upside down gusset where you increase and THEN short row, instead of short-rowing then decreasing.  I've also decided to knit the ball of the foot in reverse stocking stitch so that the smooth side of the stitches is against my skin - a tip I read online somewhere for people with sensitive feet.  If I had been thinking, I should have done the heel in reverse stocking stitch as well, but I'm not ripping back now.

Meanwhile I knit the collar and crocheted bands for my Rowan Scottish Tweed machine-knit/hand-knit cardigan.  I was able to use some gorgeous handmade ceramic buttons that my m-i-l gave me for christmas.  Unfortunately, when I tried the cardigan on, the drop shoulders were hanging down near my elbows due to the neckline being waaaaaaaay too wide.  I think this was partly due to my having left the back neck stitches on waste yarn  rather than casting them off, so the knitting was very stretchy there, and partly because I picked up too many stitches.  So I ripped out the collar and am reknitting.  I cast off the back neckline stitches then picked them up again, picked up fewer stitches, and knit the first inch using a smaller needle size.  The cardigan seems to be sitting much more where it should now, and is looking good.  I love this colour.  The yarn is a bit scratchy although it softened on washing, but I think this is going to be one to wear over a long-sleeve t-shirt.

Last weekend was my sewing group, and as you know I have been handing out BOM patterns each month on a garden theme.  Normally I have completed a sample ahead of time, but completely failed last month due to all the interviews etc.  So I worked on the sample during the day, and finished it afterwards - here it is, this is c. 12.5" square.  The blue print in the background is actually  my tablecloth but it looks kind of cool with this block! The pattern was in Australian P&Q magazine and provided several different flower patterns to choose from - this is the Lily pattern.

I'm being more diligent for next month and have already almost finished the next sample of a rooster (I just need to embroider some legs).  I decided to perch him on the birdhouse I completed in a previous month, which means he must be a small rooster (or else it's a big birdhouse...).

Yesterday I travelled up to the Stitch and Craft show at Kensington Olympia.  I enjoyed the show but most of it was stuff I don't do, like scrapbooking and stamping.  There were probably about 7 or 8 knitting suppliers, including the troubled Web of Wool, Toft Alpaca, Knitting4Fun, Debonnaire, and others I can't remember.  The machine knitter's guild were there, and teaching people how to knit.  There was also an initiative I hadn't heard of called, who are collecting handmade textile pennants for the athletes of the 2012 Olympic games.  There were a handful of quilting suppliers, and I succumbed to a set of reasonably priced FQs from Sunflower Quilting because they were just so Cath Kidston.  I have the Eleanor Burns book "Fans and Flutterbies" and some fabric bagged up as a future project, and I think this fabric would go really well with it.

Monday, 15 March 2010

I've got a job!

The national charity that I interviewed with on Friday has offered me the job!  The salary isn't great because it is a charity, but otherwise it sounds like a really interesting role where I will be producing a newsletter and maintaining a website.  The commute is a bit longer than I used to have, but the hours are shorter so it kind of balances out.

I am just so pleased at the prospect of not having to job hunt any more,  you can't imagine.  Jobhunting is like banging your head against the wall so being able to stop is going to be wonderful.

They hope to start me before the end of the month, subject to paperwork getting completed.  Yippee!!

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Possibly employed again

The good news is that the three month contract people have said they definitely want me - for six months!  I am still waiting for the paperwork to go through and my references to be checked, but they have talked about me starting on Monday.  So I've spent time cancelling most of my e-mail job alerts and tomorrow I am going to practice riding the bus to my new job, trying out different routes to see which is the best.  The job is in internal comms for a large company - they are restructuring so need some interim support until they recruit new people.  So I suppose they may let me go earlier than six months if they get someone - but perhaps they will like me and keep me on.  I've never contracted before, but I did temp as a secretary a few decades ago.  So now I have a whole new thing to stress out about:  learning a new job, making a good impression, and surviving a 40 hour week when I have become accustomed to being at home.  I have warned my family they are going to be getting lots of takeaway meals the first few weeks.

I forgot to blog last week about Unravel - a festival of knitting, a two day show held at the Farnham Maltings in Farnham on 27-28 February.  We went on Saturday, arriving just as the heavens opened in an absolute deluge followed by hail pinging off the windscreen.  Luckily it died down before we got out of the car. This is the second year the show has run, and it was so successful last year that they expanded to two days this year.  It was certainly buzzing when we went in, surprising considering the weather. I count over 40 traders in the programme, who were spread out over several rooms in the complex.  I particularly liked that there were many independent and small traders that I hadn't seen before, including one lady making ceramic buttons from clay right there at her stand, and another lady handknitting gorgeous fair-isle items for sale while she sat amidst her colourful display.  Natural fibres were well represented, dyers and spinners had stands to choose from, handdyers were there such as Fyberspates and Skein Queen.  There was a hands-on room in the basement with the Guild of Machine Knitters giving demos, spinners and weavers giving demos and letting people try it out for themselves, a knitting clinic with Fiona Morris and other interesting stands.  The admission included entrance to free lectures, and we attended a fascinating talk by Susan Crawford (of Knit on the Net) about rationing during the war and how the clothing restriction affected knitting design and home knitters.  I of course bought a few things:  a skein of gorgeous lace yarn in a heathery purple to try out a pattern from my Estonian lace book and a cheap skein of sock yarn.  It was a really enjoyable day out, and I highly recommend it for next year.  There is parking available by the venue but get there early.

I also attended my local dollshouse fair at Kempton Park on Sunday.  I generally go to this fair, held twice a year in December and in February (March this year).  It's a friendly fair, not a bad size, and a good place to buy reasonably priced goods, cheap tat, and some do it yourself materials.  However, this year it seemed to have gone somewhat upmarket.  There were more of what I would term 'quality' stands - for example Sally Meekins the ceramicist was there, and I don't remember seeing her there before.  Unfortunately it wasn't very busy when I arrived after lunch, and a friend who was trading there said people were looking but not buying.  I picked up several accessories for various houses in various scales, and had a good chat with the various friends that I bumped into.

So, what have I been up to?  Not much this week as I have spent a lot of time studying for interviews.  I went to a two hour interview yesterday morning before going up to my volunteer job.  It didn't need to be two hours, the interviewers were terribly disorganised and kept running out of steam until I would prompt them to ask me another question (which isn't really how it is supposed to work...)  I felt I did well but came away feeling that I wasn't that interested in the job they were describing, it sounded dull.  I've got one more interview on Friday with a national charity, so am studying for that now, but really I need to study up on the company I may be working for from Monday.

Do you remember I went to the machine knitting club a month ago, and the challenge was to knit a cardigan?  Well, I've been doing that, slowly.  I had a whole bunch of half-price Rowan Scottish Tweed DK from the John Lewis sale.  So I knit up some tension samples, measured a favourite cardigan, and sat down with a calculator to work out my own pattern for a simple drop shoulder cardigan.  I am hand knitting the bands and collar in moss stitch.  This is a gorgous heavenly blue, a bit lighter than in the photo. I knit the stockinette portions on a Brother 260 chunky machine on tension 1, and had to seam the back from two pieces due to insufficient needles across the bed.  I found this yarn hard to join on my linker, as it is so fuzzy that the stitches are obscured, so I mattress stitched the seams.  So far it is fitting pretty well, I'm pleased with it, and it was nice to knit again.  This was using the rejuvenated sponge bar as well, which seemed to perform absolutely fine.

I finished the Lighthouse socks.  They are quite comfortable despite their bulkiness but don't stay up very well.  I think they are going to be bed socks. I had a lot of fun knitting them but now have about a dozen balls of Lion Wool-Ease left over as I only needed a little bit of most colours.  I feel pleased that I accomplished this challenge during my unemployed time - I've had this pattern a long time and never found time to get to it before.

Another thing I wanted to do while unemployed was bake bread.  I really enjoy making homemade bread but rarely do it, and even then it's usually in the bread machine.  This is a basic white loaf using Shipton Mill stoneground flour in the following proportions:  1 lb 3 oz white flour, 5 oz wholemeal flour, 1.75 tsp salt, 1 packet of Easyblend yeast, and 15 fluid ounces water.  Mix it, knead it, let it double in size (1-3 hours depending on temperature), punch it down, shape it, put it in the tin, rise it again for an hour until doubled, cut a slash with a sharp knife, bake 15 minutes at 230 degrees C then reduce temperature to 200 degrees C for another 20 minutes.  Check if it's done - should sound hollow when you knock it on the bottom. If you've made bread before, you know the drill.  It's delicious - my bread book stresses that good flour makes good bread, and this is really good flour.  I've got another loaf rising in the airing cupboard as we speak.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Feast or Famine

Someone poked a stick into the nest of recruiting agencies on the 1st of March, because my phone has almost been ringing off the hook, or at least that's what it feels like.  I've been called by 6 or 7 over the last week, so am getting quite used to conversations starting out with " Mrs ...? I saw your details on the internet and..."  The one who approached me about the three month contract succeeded in getting me an interview, so I went for that yesterday morning.  The interview went very well and I'm pretty sure they want me to do the contract - I just wish it were for longer than three months.  Meanwhile, one of my online applications has achieved an interview up in London for next Friday.  And then yesterday, one of the recruiters that had called and said he would send me a job description, but never did, called back to say he had got me an interview!  This is for a position that I hadn't even seen a description for, which seems like a shortcut through the whole process.  Perhaps the next recruiter will ring me to say they saw my details on the internet and would I like to start on Monday.  :)  So I've got two interviews next week, meanwhile waiting to see if this contract comes off.  It must be a sign of an improving economy, if companies are starting to recruit again, but it feels a bit surreal after February passed by with no interviews at all and very little interest in me.  But it has lifted my spirits and I feel more confident now than I did a few weeks ago.

However, these are all for full time roles, so my dream of being home one day a week for craft time is unlikely to be realised.  I haven't had as much time to craft this week what with all the phone calls and studying for interviews, plus I had to go in and physically register with one agency.  But I did get a few things done.

I sewed the binding on last year's quilting group BOM so it is now done.  This is the one where I was determined to use fabric for the border out of my stash, ending up with this pink and green mitred bordered which looks fine but perhaps doesn't frame the quilt as well as it could.  I also used this quilt for machine quilting practice on my frame, so some of the stitching doesn't bear close scrutiny.  But I always knew I was going to donate it to charity so felt ok about using it for practice.  I contacted a charity that provides blankets to elderly people in homes but they haven't come back to me yet, so this quilt is still hanging in the stairwell awaiting a new home.

I put my Rik Pierce Ratty's House on the kitchen table and finally finished it by installing the windows, shutters, and most importantly, the wiring.  There are two Heidi Ott lamps on the ground floor, a Sussex Crafts glowing fire, a hidden fluorescent bulb in the mezzanine and a dockside lamp outside.  The wires all go down through the walls (using channels I built in when I constructed the house) into the custom base that Rik provided.  I brought them all together and fed them into an adapter that came with the transformer, where the transformer lead plugs in to give power to the whole structure.  I really like it, the lighting brings it to life.  The next step will be to start adapting and installing the various bits of furniture I have collected for it.

Meanwhile, as I watch tv at night, I have been working on the second Lighthouse sock.  This pattern from Borealis Sweaterscapes is for two pairs of socks.  One pair has a lighthouse on one sock, and trees on the other.  The second pair has a sailing boat on one sock, and trees on the other.  I thought the boat and the lighthouse went better together, so I have knit the sailing boat as the other sock.  I had trouble with the trees on this intarsia, as they are very irregular with lots of isolated patches of colour, leading to lots of ends on the back to darn in, which makes the socks a bit stiff. The last step was to embroider the mast with backstitch.  I gave it a wash to block it, and it is now drying before I seam it into a sock and knit the foot in the round.

I haven't done much quilting but my Venice sliced applique picture has been on my sewing table all week, and I have added to it occasionally.  The first picture shows my slice on the right, in progress and pinned onto two slices contributed by others.  The second picture shows all four slices pinned together, with the original photograph.  You can see that there is a lot still to do on my slice, to add details, foliage etc.  There is going to be some trimming needed at the top and bottom of the picture, as contributors have left them at different heights, but I will do that last once everything is seamed together.

That's it for this week - wish me luck on my interviews!  And here is a shot of Spring coming into my garden.

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