Saturday, 29 May 2010

Camping woes and long weekends

It's a long weekend here in the UK, and today we have had the traditional Bank Holiday weather:  rain.  Good for the garden, I guess, as it had become very dry in the hot spell last week.  I've spent part of the day working on my dollshouse and sewing on my sewing basket.

Last weekend we went for our first camping night of the year, traditionally a shakedown cruise after putting everything back in following the winter.  It is often trying, as we discover multiple things that we forgot to bring, and of course there was the disastrous year when we put our previous unit up in the rain and it promptly started leaking because the waterproofing had disappeared over the winter.  But I think we topped that this year.  When we pitched up, we found the electrics weren't working so no lights and no water pump (it turned out to be a flat battery despite our battery charger telling us that the battery was fully charged right before we left - time for a new battery charger).  Then we made a mistake in hitching up and broke our emergency brake cord off of the trailer hitch.  But the real icing on the cake was a young girl in the wrong lane sideswiping our trailer when we were almost home.  Her wing mirror ripped along the side of the trailer, damaging the strut that helps it open up, gouging the side, and tearing the door frame.  So it's been in for temporary repairs this week so that we can still use it, and we will have to negotiate with the insurance company for the permanent repairs.  It looks very sad at the moment.

So, I've been working on my Sewing Basket this week, based on a pattern in the Art to Heart 'Sew Necessary' book but I have shortened it by an inch and added different pockets and different hanging items.  My Vilene firm fusible interfacing turned up last Saturday and it was a much firmer product.  I am so ignorant about the zillion types of interfacing.  This one is quite impressive, giving a very stiff result while still being sewable.  Here is a picture of all the pockets on the inside before I put it together.

And this is what it looks like at the moment, although I still have some tweaking to do to get out some of the wrinkles.  I made the needle book out of some wool felt I had lying around, and made the pincushion from a Moda charm square pack.  They are hanging on ric-rac so they can be inside or outside the basket, which is an idea from the original pattern although they hung different things outside.  I may add some carrying handles.

I've been knitting on my Rhapsody hat but I think I am going to have to pull it back.  I was knitting one repeat less than the smallest size of the pattern, because my yarn is thicker.  It makes a nice snug hat that feels good on my head, but at that gauge it is stretching the fair isle knitting very unattractively. I think I am going to have to start over again and increase by one repeat.  I may keep the hem at the current size and just increase by 12 stitches evenly around the brim.

I managed to find some zippered pencil bags on eBay to keep my circular needles in.  Longtime readers may remember that I made a fabric circular needle holder a long time ago, but I have too many circs to fit into that now plus they keep falling out.  So I am going to reserve the fabric holder for 2.75mm and below, and have put the rest into labelled pencil bags.  Currently these are tied together with string but I could use pretty ribbon or put them into a binder.

On Tuesday night at my knitting group, we unveiled a surprise gift for our leader, Daisydaisydaisy, who is getting married very soon (possibly even today, I can't remember).  For several weeks various members have been knitting the pieces for a knitted wedding cake, based on the Alan Dart pattern published in Simply Knitting magazine.  My contribution was 24 green leaves, but I couldn't blog them before now because Daisy reads my blog (Hi, Daisy!).  The finished results was gorgeous, thanks to some inspired sewing up by MizMiffy and Knit24seven.  With some subtle questioning, we found out details such as the colours of her bridesmaid's dresses (purple), her hairstyle, dress etc.  SallyBarrett made a super job of the bride and groom, they even have little wedding rings on their hands.

And finally, I am actually binding off the Pi Shawl!!!  The end is in sight - but I need binoculars to see it because the set-up row for the stretchy bind-off was K1, YO, increasing my 574 stitches to 1148 stitches, and now I am knitting a yarnover before each one, so I don't even want to think about how many stitches that is to bind off.  I've done about a foot of it so could take years.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Summer days

The weather has finally gotten warmer here, although still a bit erratic, and this weekend is supposed to be wonderful. Our garden is looking at its best, with the clematis covering the shed in full bloom, and the weigela likewise covered in bloom. They are both pink so look very nice together. The apple blossom is finished and hopefully the tree will be healthier this year, we had terrible apple scab in the last wet summer but I have sprayed it twice and tried to get rid of all the old leaves from underneath it.  We tried to enjoy our garden after work tonight, but unfortunately the neighbour's grandkids (who all have improbable names like Willow and Summer) spent two hours screaming and crying and running around to the sound of their various parents yelling "It's not nice to hit, Summer", "Don't do that, Willow" whereupon the chastised child bursts into loud tearful howls.   Grrrr.

I’ve actually done a little bit of sewing this week. By fitting in 30-40 minutes on a few evenings, I have got most of the pieces cut out for the Sewing Basket in the Art to Heart book that I bought at Malvern last weekend. The pattern calls for the basket to be stiffened with Peltex 71F fusible interfacing. I tried fusing on my heaviest interfacing, the heaviest one that my local store does, and it still felt very flimsy. Then I tried using fusible web to bond an additional layer of home dec fabric to the bottom, but it really didn’t do much. A bit of Google research revealed that Peltex 71F is not available online here, but that the UK equivalent is Vilene S520 Firm Fusible. Not many places even do that online, but I found one place and have ordered one metre of it. I don’t think there is much point in having a floppy basket, things will just spill out of it when I try to carry it. I am assuming that the specified interfacing must give a very stiff finish.

I’ve been playing around with the blocks for my Garden BOM on my design wall. Unlike some of the other participants, I made each block on its own merits rather than compressing it into a frame, or into a certain size. I have therefore ended up with a random assortment of sizes and shapes which don’t bear much relation to each other. I think I am just going to ‘set’ them all against a  bushy-shrubby background fabric and add the large floral border that I have ordered from America (which hopefully will make it here in between bursts of volcanic ash). So I am trying to arrange them to look like they belong in the same quilt. My DH has had a look and recommended helpfully (NOT) that they look like two different quilts and I should split them up.

I continue to progress on my Pi Shawl. Touch wood, the last few rows have gone alright, and the end is in sight after just a couple more rows. The border pattern I am using recommends using a particular stretchy bind-off, which I don’t understand how to do, but I have some lace books that I will look in to see what they recommend. Speaking of lace books, I ordered some genuine Estonian lace yarn from Hobipunkt in Estonia, because I am so in love with the pictures in my two Estonian Lace books. In the pictures, the yarn weight looked to be like a heavy laceweight or skinny sock yarn. But what has actually arrived in the post is more like sewing thread! After struggling with the cobweb yarn on my Pi Shawl, I am not that keen to tackle a potentially complicated project in sewing thread. I might try knitting up a sample to see what it is like to knit with, and to see what it looks like once washed.

I’ve started knitting the Rhapsody Hat, a white hat with a fair-isle design in two colours of blue. The pattern was in my Knitting Pattern Calendar 2010 but is luckily also available as a download from Ravelry. I say luckily, because I remember having the pattern in my hand as I ordered the yarn online from Get Knitted (using my Christmas gift certificate), and that was the last I saw of it. When the yarn turned up, I looked for the pattern so I could put it with the yarn, and do you think I could find it??? So I had to look for it on Ravelry and pay $5 to download it. Isn’t getting older wonderful... The yarn I ordered is Patons Diploma Gold DK, which is an affordable wool blend so that the total came in under the amount of my gift certificate. The Patons is a little thicker than the yarn used in the pattern, so I have had to start three times, reducing the number of stitches each time. I have a big head but am now knitting on one repeat less than the Adult Small size. I’ll see how it goes. The wool seems to be knitting up nicely, slightly splitty but easy to correct, and with good stitch definition.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

11 balls of yarn, 6 and a quarter yards of fabric, and a 38-piece tea set

No, it's not my shopping list, it's what I've come back with following a weekend away to the Malvern quilt show.
Seven members of my quilting group (including me) plus one husband (not mine) car-pooled in two cars up to stay in a bed and breakfast between Malvern and Worcester on Friday.  My friend and I had a lovely time in Worcester on Friday afternoon, visiting the cathedral, the Greyfriars Tudor National Trust property with a lovely garden behind, two shops selling quilting fabric, and several other interesting buildings and shops.

Saturday morning we were off to the quilt show.  I was quite restrained at first, although I did order a laser pointer for my quilting frame as this is an add-on now from the manufacturer.  Then we met up for lunch and decided we would have another half-hour at the show before driving into Malvern.  That galvanised me and I quickly picked up a lovely book of sewing accessories by Art to Heart, several pieces of Windham fabric from the American Quilt Store which was reduced to £4 a yard as well as five fat quarters of 30s fabric, and half a metre of a cute fabric from the Brittania line featuring various British pubs.

In Malvern I hit "The Knitting Parlour" knitting shop which is in new more spacious quarters since my last visit (when it was shut).  I had a happy half hour fondling yarn and came away with 11 balls of this very pretty self striping DK yarn.

Then I went up the hill to the main street that runs along the hill, to visit the antiques shop where I picked up a lovely little Royal Albert tea set for a song last year.  And dang if they didn't have another tea set in the window.  This one doesn't have a maker's mark but the dealer thought it might be late Victorian or Edwardian.  It's in the Willow pattern, and there are 11 cups, 12 saucers, 12 side plates, 2 cake plates, a fruit bowl and a milk jug.  All in good condition apart from one cup that has a small crack.  There are only three of us in my family and I don't need a 12-setting tea set - but it was going for £45!!!  They were practically giving it away.  So it all went into a box and I tottered down the hill to find my friends who were luckily having a cup of tea not too far away.  Now I just need a bigger house and a French dresser to display them all on.

I took my Clapotis  and my Pi Shawl to knit on over the weekend.  I am beginning to have a love-hate relationship with the Pi Shawl.  I have gone wrong so many times on this border that it's not funny.  There have been whole sessions of knitting, two hours long, where I have actually ended up with less knit at the end than I had to begin with.  Thursday night I went to I-knit and took the Pi, and it was just a disaster from start to finish.  I noticed I had dropped one stitch down several rows, but because it involved k2tog and yarnovers I made a complete dog's breakfast of latching it up.  Then I realised I had been knitting the wrong row in the pattern for about 200 stitches.  And when I tried to un-knit back to the beginning of the round I managed to drop two more stitches next to each other, and completely wrecked about a square inch of knitting trying to repair that.  So on the weekend I spent Friday night letting those two stitches down again and trying to knit them up again properly.  It still doesn't match its neighbours but it looks better.  Things went better after that until I realised last night as I reached the end of the round that I had just knit approximately the last 250 stitches as the wrong row again.  AAAAAAARGHGHGHGHGHGHGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I only have about 4 rows to go so I may just leave it that way...

oh, and I finished the last block of the Garden themed BOM I've been running with my club.  This sample actually combines the three final patterns into one block.  I looked hard at Malvern for a border fabric that will pull all the blocks together, and finally found it!  Unfortunately, it was in the stash of another member who had bought it at the show, and was showing us in the evening at our Show and Tell session.  And not enough yardage to make it worthwhile mugging her for it.  I've now had to order it from America because she can't remember where she bought it and I couldn't find it from an online UK supplier.   Grrrrrr.....

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Catch Up

I realised that I forgot to blog my visit to the V&A quilt exhibition last Monday.  This is a major exhibition and quite a big deal, as it is the first time in a very long time that British quilts have been given this level of mainstream recognition.  There is intense interest in the British quilting tradition amongst quilters and quilt historians in other countries due to its fundamental contribution to quilting history and fabric history.  Yet unlike America we have very few places where you can actually go and see antique British quilts, and I don't think anywhere that you can see large numbers on public display.  So "Quilts 1700-2010" is quite a groundbreaking exhibition, and provides the opportunity to see a number of quilts that are normally not able to be seen.  I've got American friends coming over to the UK especially to visit the exhibition and to attend the accompanying seminars in June.  And the accompanying publicity to the exhibition has seen quilting mentions popping up all over the place: on posters around London, in my women's magazine, my knitting magazine, in craft catalogues etc.

I wasn't sure what to expect, as I am not always a fan of big exhibitions with their accompanying crowds, shuffling lines of viewers, tiny unreadable labels, and generally frustrating lack of information unless you shell out £25 or £30 for the exhibition guidebook.  Entry to the quilt exhibition is by timed ticket, and I was pleasantly surprised at how uncrowded the exhibition was when I went in with the first tranche at 10am on a Bank Holiday Monday.  I was also impressed with the audio tour, which is by I-Pod with touchscreen controls, and includes visuals and close-ups of some of the quilts (necessary as you can't see some of the quilts very clearly in person).  The audio tour doesn't cover the entire exhibition, I didn't count but I would guess it was about 50% of the quilts get mentioned in the audio tour.

It took me about two hours to go around the entire exhibition with my audio tour as there is a lot to look at and read, and it is fairly large.  It would probably take a normal non-quilting person a lot less time, maybe 45 minutes. 

I also wasn't sure what to expect of the quilts themselves, but I was really quite impressed. There are some lovely quilts, with bright colours and intricate piecing - as opposed to the muddy coloured, faded frame quilts that I am more used to associating with older British quilts.  Right at the entrance is a four poster bed with magnificent clamshell hangings pieced from a huge variety of chintzs, really stunning.  There are the usual broderie perse examples, and some elaborate wholecloth quilting, and some truly impressive pieced quilts with intricate blocks made from tiny pieces.  It made me wonder why we have no 'Dear Jane' tradition over here, as some of these quilts make the Dear Jane quilt look almost easy. 

Most of the quilts are well displayed, either on the wall or on bed-shaped platforms, with labels giving some information on the provenance and historical context.  Sadly, four of the older pieced quilts are completely obscured by their unfortunate display within three-sided rooms under very dim overhead lights with ferocious sidelighting.  This means that you can only see the side-lit texture, with some vague idea of colour, and as you are forced to stand at the foot of each 'bed', you can't even make out what the pieced pattern is.  Very annoying in this calibre of exhibition.  The other bed-platforms are either much better lit, or allow you to view from more than one angle so that you can see better.

The breadth of the exhibition is quite magnificent.  The first set of rooms is mostly filled with the older quilts.  The second set of rooms tackles the social and economic context of quilting, including quilts from the northern tradition of quilt stamping, from rural industry initiatives, a quilt made by a former Land Girl, a quilt top pieced by female convicts on their transport ship to Australia, a quilt pieced by prisoners of war in a Singapore internment camp, quilts made for political causes, for the Temperance movement, or to commemorate historical events, etc. etc.  In addition to quilts, there are antique needlework tools and boxes, quilted baby items, and prints and paintings that add context to the historical descriptions accompanying the quilts.

Dotted amongst the antique quilts are a number of modern contributions.  A lot of these are just not my thing, being of the 'dirty corrugated fabric rag' art quilt school.  There is a gaudily embroidered bed by Tracy Emin, a neatly constructed quilt by prisoners at Wandworth Prison, an attractive quilt pieced from silkscreened pictures of modern household gadgets (can't remember the artist) and other items of interest.  Oh, and a truly annoying video contribution with an endless soundtrack of rattling chains.  I spent the first part of the exhibition wanting to throttle what I supposed to be a bored child or bored security guard rattling a chain, but it turned out to be a video of a finger flicking over a bunch of handmade sewing needles, over and over and over again.  And I wonder how much that is costing to exhibit...

You are of course disgorged into the gift shop, where a number of quilting books are on display, including the obligatory £25 exhibition book (£35 in hardcover).  I would have liked to see some of the quilts face on and find out more about them, but that is out of my price range.  There are postcards of a limited number of quilts so I bought a few of those.  There is also a range of very pricey fabric especially printed for the exhibition.  I bought one FQ of a blue/white print that I really liked.  And various other quilty tat is available which will likely not be of much interest to actual quilters but is fun to look at.

So my verdict is a thumbs up, I would recommend a visit to anyone interested in textiles, quilting, history, fabric or costume.  The exhibit runs until 4 July, and entrance is by timed ticket so it is likely worthwhile pre-booking.  The audio tour costs extra. Members of The Arts Fund get in at 50% off, and get the audio tour at a discount as well (I think I paid £3.50).  There are a number of accompanying lectures and events which are listed on the V&A website.

I was particularly intrigued by how many of the techniques and block patterns used in the quilts were familiar to me as a modern quilter, despite being up to 300 years old.  It makes me feel a sense of kinship with my fore-sisters, as you look at how they have fussy-cut a fabric, or chopped off their points to make a block fit, or chosen colours to accentuate their applique.  What do they say? 'Everything old is new again!'

Thursday, 6 May 2010

One election and a funeral

A strange day as the nation is gripped by election paralysis.  My office is next to a polling station, and my first thought was "why are those people with ribbons on their chest standing outside the library?", before realising why.  My newspaper was full of election  articles, and the office is partly empty as various PR people are out on election-connected duties.

I however was wearing my black suit, which doesn't really suit me, as I had a funeral to attend.  I left work at 10 and hopped on the Northern line down to Tooting where my DH and in-laws picked me up.  It was a cousin of my f-i-l whom I didn't know well.  The service was well attended and everything went smoothly.  But it was distressing to see how distraught the immediate bereaved were, it feels almost like we are intruding on them,  to have to be a spectator to such grief.  Afterwards I went back to work, and my DH and in-laws went on to the reception, where they said the family were more pulled together and able to talk to people.  Not nice.  It was a brain tumour and she went very quickly, I think just four months from feeling unwell.

I was on a two-day Adobe Photoshop course this week, and able to knit on my Pi Shawl on the train journeys and at knitting group on Tuesday night.  I'm almost halfway through the final border now.

I also finished the new edging for my Kaffe Fassett Chain Mail t-shirt.  The left picture is what it looked like the first time I finished it, and the right picture is the new length with a garter stitch edging, which I think looks much neater.

I've also realised that I never blogged my finished Pretty Thing lace cowl.  This is a pattern by the Yarn Harlot which I purchased as a download from Ravelry.  It's the most complicated lace I've tried, but it isn't hard.  I used pure cashmere from Knitwitches in a heavy laceweight.  The finished result is soft as a cloud and incredibly lightweight.  Unfortunately it is also incredibly floppy, and tends to sag into a kind of rope around my neck which obscures all the lovely lace.  It is really warm though.  My tension looks ok, so perhaps a pure cashmere just doesn't have enough body for a cowl to stand up.

I've even done a little bit of sewing.  I am working on the final block of the Garden themed BOM, which I fused at the last Saturday sewing group session, and now am zigzagging around the edges of leaves and flowers.  Then I will be able to get going on designing the quilt.  The big decision will be: "do I like it enough to make it queen-size to fit my bed, in which case it has to be quilted manually" versus "no, I think I will give it away, in which case I will make it less than 60" wide so it will fit onto my table-top machine quilting frame and I can quilt it easily."

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Out of the closet

One extremely strange thing (for me) about my new job is that I have come out of the (crafting) closet.  I was in my old job for 18 years, and in all that time I never ever knit in public at work.  I told very few people that I made quilts, and only about two very close friends knew that I made and collected dollshouses.  It was like a guilty secret that wasn't cool or professional enough to let out.  On Monday my colleagues would come in and talk about gardening and clubbing and sailing and golfing and all the other socially acceptable activities they'd got up to on their weekend, and I would use euphemisms like "we went to a craft show" or "I caught up on my TV" rather than coming clean that I had been to a dollshouse show or was binding a quilt in front of the tv.  My holidays were described as "I went to Kentucky for a week" and not as "I went to the Paducah quilt show for a whole week and took classes with..."

Meanwhile the world moved on and suddenly it is cool and trendy to be doing handcrafts.  In fact, some of us longterm quilters are rather annoyed that many of the media reports around the big quilt exhibition at the Victoria and Albert seem to suggest that quilting was a dying craft until suddenly it was 'rediscovered' very recently.  But still, in connection with the V&A exhibit, I have seen quilting promoted in several newspapers, my women's magazine, my knitting magazines, a craft store catalogue, and various non-crafting people at work have even asked me if I'd heard about the exhibition.

So when I started my new job, and found myself on my first lunch hour in the staff lounge, I thought "what the heck" and pulled out my knitting.  I have since fought down my instinct to conceal it, and have knit in front of colleagues in the lunchroom as we chat, smiled at my boss as she walked by, and on Thursday I knit in front of my team as we travelled to our away day at Bletchley Park.  Far from being ostracised, I have had unexpected team mates come up and show an interest and ask what I was knitting, and tell me about the one scarf they knit 15 years ago. It is an incredibly liberating feeling to actually be able to talk to people about things that take up a large percentage of my life.  Luckily a lot of my team are considerably younger than me, so hopefully they are viewing me as pursuing a typical older person's hobby rather than as an eccentric.

Although I have to admit that I still haven't told the new colleagues about the dollshouses.  Those are kind of harder to explain...

Bletchley Park was really interesting.  We had a short teambuilding session in the morning, very low-key and non-threatening, just sitting around in a room chatting.  Then we had a tour of some of the exhibits, and saw the Enigma machines, the reproduction of the codebreaking Colossus computer, and various other codebreaking technologies. A nice break from work, and an interesting place to visit if you are interested in WWII history.  They also have a small exhibit in the museum about the 'home front' which includes needlecrafting memorabilia such as the 'Make do and Mend' campaign, contemporary knitting tools, irons, dressmaking supplies etc.  I was knitting on my Pi Shawl as it is my most portable project at the moment.  I am on Row 6 of my 40 row border.

This week I have been revisiting an old project, the Chain Mail t-shirt that I adapted from a Kaffe Fassett pattern in Rowan 41. We have now reached that brief time of year where it is warm enough to wear summer knits, yet not too warm to be wearing a knitted item.  I hauled out the t-shirt from the back of the closet and wore it to quilt club last Saturday.  I hadn't seen it since last year, and I realised that I hated the lace edging I had used to lengthen the cropped t-shirt.  It looked clumsy and flared out, and the t-shirt still wasn't long enough to be comfortable.  But I liked the colour sequence, and it had been such a lot of work I didn't want to just give it away.

So I sat down and picked up all the stitches around the bottom row of stockinette and cut off the lace edging.  I had enough yarn left over to knit about three inches of garter stitch at the bottom of it, taking the project along to my local knitting club to work on.  I also decreased some stitches to correct the flare.  But when I cast the edge off and tried on the t-shirt, I realised that it was still too short, plus I had over-decreased and it was now too tight.  So I unravelled the garter stitch and started over again.  I still had some colours of this yarn left over from the original project, so I added in about another inch of stripe and once again started on the garter stitch edging.  I'm about halfway through that, so no pic yet.

Apart from that, I've mainly been working on my dollshouse, which you can read about (if interested) on my other blog here.

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