Saturday, 25 September 2010

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful

The reason that I have a quote by William Morris as my title is that, from time to time, I do try to beautify some of the functional objects in my life.  Like piecing a patchwork cover for my ugly black sunglasses case, or a patchwork camera pouch to take on quilting holidays to replace the ugly black one it came with (why are these things always black?).  This week I pieced a slipcover for my ugly black laptop case.

I didn't want to completely replace the cover, as I have occasionally used my netbook for work purposes (when ugly black looks professional).  I also wanted to improve its usefulness - the original cover has nowhere to put power cords or the mouse.  That's why I decided on a slipcover that the original cover can fit into.  I started out by assembling strips of Liberty Tana Lawn, sewing them down in a stitch and flip manner to a piece of wadding with a calico backing, then channel quilting.  This is an idea I took from the Susan Briscoe books on making bags.  It makes a lightweight but sturdy fabric.

I made a simple envelope style cover, and lined the flap so that the flap of the original cover tucks inside the slipcover flap.  A piece of velcro underneath the lining's flap hooks into the original flap's closure, to hold the original cover in place.

I wanted to add a pocket for accessories.  I modelled this on some of the knitting bags I've seen recently, sewing a complete zippered bag, then opening the zipper so that I could sew the bag onto the front of my slipcover.  So that the loaded pocket did not hang down, I added a tie to the front.

To finish the bag, I enclosed the raw side seams in bias tape, and added a faux leather handle I bought at a quilting store on my last trip to America. 

So now it looks a lot more beautiful (to me, anyway) and it's easier to carry around!

I even did a bit more sewing this week, which was adding most of the machine stitched details to the appliqued cats portrait that I am making for DS's birthday (he dotes on them).  Just need to finish the facial features on the white cat.  I'm going to make this into a cushion for him. These are our actual cats:  Colin, the black male, who is amiable but quite thick; and Lucy, the female, who is neurotic and skittish. She would never sit still like this if she could see us, so I had to pin her down with one hand while I drew her markings onto the pattern with my other hand.  God knows what she thought I was doing...

When I was at the I-Knit weekender, I was admiring the gorgeous fair isle mittens on the Dutch Knitters stand.  They kindly said I could email them for the pattern sources.  They subsequently replied with three authors, two of whom were Estonian, and the other being Nancy Bush's "Folk Knitting in Estonia".  I ordered the latter after looking at projects from all three on Ravelry, because it looked like the style I liked was in her book.  And now it has arrived and there are some gorgeous projects in here!  Really nice socks as well.  The mittens have lovely geometric all over patterns with fancy cuffs, really pretty.  I would like to knit most of the projects from this book (remember I said I had Startitis...).

Otherwise this week I've mainly been knitting on the Freedom Wool Sleeveless Vest in front of the tv, and on the Sanquhar Gloves second glove on the train.  It's continued to be chilly here most days, and we've had some short but really torrential rain spells.  This weekend I am going to plant some more daffodil bulbs in the garden.  Some years I have planted as many as 100 bulbs, but we seem to have about a 70% failure rate which makes me feel like I am running a slug and snail buffet service...

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Antiquing we shall go

Just got back from a long day trip down to the gi-normous antiques fair at Shepton Mallet.  It was a glorious sunny day, the drive was a little over two hours, and we had a really good time.  This fair is so big that it took us about five hours to go around and we weren't even looking at every stall in detail.  I love antique shows, it's like a giant museum where you can touch things and even take them home.  I love looking through old linens, opening the drawers on furniture, trying to figure out what old gadgets do, and admiring the booths dressed up in shabby chic, or as Turkish harems, or looking like vintage French kitchens.

So what did I get?  Not that much really, but I enjoyed looking.

I picked up a knitted lace doily for only £3.  It needs blocking, and there is a bit of a boo-boo that needs latching up (where I am pointing) but somebody put a lot of work into this.  It feels like possibly a linen thread.

I bought somebody's tatted UFO, still attached to the shuttle, and with a ring partly made, for £2.50.  I will sew this trim around a handkerchief.  It makes me feel guilty that I have a hankerchief edging half tatted that I started about 8 years ago and still haven't finished.  I think this edging is already long enough for a hankie, but if it isn't, the pattern is pretty simple and I can tat some more length.

I found this super-cute embroidered linen tablecloth.  It is the Willow Pattern and it looks like it is done neatly by hand.  It's in really good condition, no stains or holes.

It's been a busy week and I was out two nights so haven't got a lot done otherwise.  I've turned the heels on my Hand-dyed sock blank socks.  I hate this yarn now and I'm only finishing them because I promised to send the tutor a picture of what the socks looked like.  After unravelling the sock blank, straightening the yarn and winding it into a ball, I had to unwind the ball AGAIN because one strand of yarn is continuously twisted around the other strand and the two strands just kept getting into hideous tangles as the twist built up.  Machine knitters strand two or more strands in that way to ensure an even knit, I do it myself when I machine knit, but I think for a sock blank they shouldn't have done it that way and should have just knit the two strands in parallel. So I've had to rewind into two separate balls now, which I should have done right from the get-go when I unravelled the sock blank.  In future I am sticking to nice pre-skeined sock yarn.

I finished my first Sanquhar glove and have made a start on the second.

I knit three little hats for the Innocent Big Knit charity campaign, and posted them off. The Christmas pudding and the flower are patterns I downloaded from their website.

And I finished my Malabrigo Silky Merino neckwarmer.  This yarn, which was lusciously fluffy and cosy, with a silken sheen as I was knitting with it, has rather disappointed me.  I gave the neckwarmer an extremely gentle handwash in liquid woollen soap, and laid it out flat to dry.  The finished result has lost most of its cosy fuzzy softness and gone quite flat and drapey.  Which is kind of what you would expect from a high silk content but not what I thought this yarn was going to do, based on how it was knitting up.  So instead of having a fleecy cuddly wrap around my neck, I have more of a drapey flat scarf.  So I am still getting used to that. I didn't knit a swatch because the neckwarmer didn't have to fit as such. It looks nice though and is very soft.

I received two knitting magazines this week, both of which had several things in which I liked so that was a rather pleasant treat after the disappointment that was Rowan 48.  Designer Knitting Fall 2010 (Vogue Knitting in America) has some fabulous things in it, including a round lacy jacket that looks exactly like my Pi Shawl but with sleeves.  I am now contemplating whether I am brave enough to create Afterthought Armholes in my Pi Shawl.  I will have to do some trying on in front of the mirror to see if it is big enough.  I find I am not wearing the shawl as it is too delicate to wear under my knapsack outdoors, and too warm to wear doubled up indoors.  But if I could turn it into a vest or a cardi, then I could just wear it in the office as a single layer.  We'll see.  The other magazine I received was the Fall/Winter Debbie Bliss knitting magazine, which also has some nice things in it. I am particularly taken with a car coat in Luxury Tweed Chunky which is a gorgeous denim blue colour. My subscription to that magazine is up for renewal, and I wasn't sure I was going to bother, but now I am tempted again.

It's turned surprisingly chilly here now, real Autumn weather even though it is only mid-September.  Today in the sunshine it was only about 15 degrees C.  I think we might even get a frost soon.  So I am feeling like it is time to get the knits out to wear, and also to start knitting warm cosy things.  I seem to have had severe Startitis this summer on knitting projects, but Gigi on the Knitmore Girls podcast says that startitis is a good thing as it makes you embark on all sorts of new ventures so that you always have a project on hand that suits your mood or your needs. I feel a bit frustrated though as I am not a very fast knitter and I want them all finished NOW so that I can wear them.  :)  Looking forward to my local knitting group tomorrow afternoon at the pub, when I will get some quality knitting time in.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Alternate knitted realities

I had a strange encounter yesterday - well, not an encounter exactly.  I commute into London on the train, and quite often I am knitting.  I never see anyone else knitting, except once, years ago, an elderly lady.

Yesterday I was going in a bit later as I was headed to a training course, so the carriage was fairly empty.  When a 30-ish woman sat down at the end of my three-seat row (one empty seat between us), I didn't take a lot of notice as I was figuring out how to turn the heel of my Two-At-A-Time socks.  But when she also pulled out a sock a few minutes later, my knitting radar went off and I was absolutely delighted.  At last! Another knitter on the train!

However, this was a knitter that seemed determined not to make eye contact.  She had her headphones on, loud enough that I could hear the buzzing over on my seat, and she was determinedly eyes down.  I looked hopefully in her direction intermittently for a few stops, and even sort of waved my sock in her direction a few times.  But no good.  Very deflating.

Then a businessman boarded and sat down in the empty row opposite us.  Is it my imagination, or did he do a doubletake to see two women facing him, both knitting similar objects?  Immediately an entire alternate knitted reality flashed into my mind's eyes, a world where it would be normal to knit on the train.  One where most of the passengers would be working on socks, or jumpers, or have something on their needles. Think of the eye candy! Perhaps people would even chat to each other about their projects, breaking the usual Commuter Glass Bubble of Silence.

Then another woman sat down between the two of us knitting, and my fantasy was broken.  The other knitter got off at Clapham Junction.  I was still watching her hopefully, but she walked past my window without looking back.

Today I was finishing my first Sanquhar Glove, on a train sadly bereft of other knitters.  I was still imagining what it might be like to live in my alternate knitted reality, and meanwhile the standing passengers were packing in like sardines around my seat.  Then I realised that I might feel uncomfortably judged if all these people were in fact knitters.  Imagine 20 people packed in around your seat as you sit knitting, with nothing to do but watch you. They might be thinking: "oh, she's going to be in trouble in a minute - yes, she having to tink back, what did I tell you?", "hmmm, not too sure about those colour choices...", "Doesn't she know a better way to SSK?".

Be careful what you wish for.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

I quilted!

Today was the first meeting in two months for the little quilting group that I run.  We always take August off and the July meeting was early in the month, so it felt like it had been ages.  I dithered over what to take, and finally grabbed a bagged up project from my vast collection: 'Gingerbread Town', which was a pattern in the McCall's Quilting magazine for Nov/Dec 09.  I had ordered some of the fabrics from America, including the central panel with the houses printed on it, and the gingerbread house border fabric, and I added other fabrics from my stash.  I was able to get it completely to top stage by the end of the day, so I am feeling a big sense of achievement.

It's only about 46" square so will be a wallhanging for the stairwell during the holidays.  I enjoyed working with all these xmas-y fabrics and I am obviously very sad as I even felt a bit xmas-y.  Meanwhile my older sewing friend was complaining about having seen mince pies already in the shops when it is only September.  Oops.  However, now there is a chance that the quilt will be quilted and finished in time for xmas.

A close up of some of the cute fabrics.

I have to confess that it did feel a bit weird to be quilting again - I have been doing the total immersion knitting thing over the summer and I almost felt like I had forgotten how to quilt.  Almost.

Yesterday I took the day off work and went to the I-Knit Weekender knitting event.  This is the fourth year it's run and I've been every year.  I was surprised when I arrived about 15 minutes before it opened that there was very little queue.  Even once the doors opened, there was only about 15 or so people to go in (other people had already gone in to their morning classes).  In fact, it was so quiet that after trying to shop for about 10 minutes, I just felt so conspicuous in the empty aisles that I bought a cup of tea and sat down and knitted for half an hour until the place filled up a bit more.  But it never got very busy, nothing like last year when I also went on Friday.  There really seemed to be considerably fewer people, it was easy to find somewhere to sit down, easy to look at the stands as few of them were crowded with shoppers.  There also didn't seem to be nearly as much going on.  The I-Knit event previously has felt like a bit of a party, with plenty of events going on like knitting competition entries on view, the Shellac Sisters spinning old 40s vinyl, knitted seaside scenes on display, and of course last year's fabulous Friday night party with the rock choir.  This year there was no party, and in fact the show was closed 30 minutes earlier than advertised (5:30pm instead of 6) because there were so few shoppers. I wonder if this was the result of the economy, or the effect of more knitting shows diluting the available knitting audience.  We had Knit Nation in London just over a month ago, which probably targets the same pool of people, and of course some of us went to Knit Camp as well.  Hopefully they have had a busier day today (Saturday).

There were two fashion shows:  Erica Knight did a small trunk show with about 8 garments and accessories illustrating current fashion trends.  I saw this one because it was at lunchtime.  The other show, showcasing garments from the traders, was in the afternoon so I missed it because I was in my class.  I took 'Intermediate Lace' with Anniken Allis.  She was very nice and had some gorgeous shawls to show us.  I had to do some hard knitting to complete the small square (four repeats of a garter lace chart with lace stitches on every row) in time to learn how to knit on a border.  We added a simple zig-zag border, learning how to join it as we knitted it, and how to double or triple join to get around a corner of the shawl.  She also talked about basic chart reading, blocking, suitable lace yarns and adding beads. 

I didn't buy very much.  I picked up this gorgeous Swiss Silk with Kid Mohair DK out of the Knitwitches sale bin, (was £15 for 100g, and I got 3 of them for £27).  I think I am feeling a bit of yarn shopping fatigue, after being exposed to so many yarn traders in the last few weeks.

And I bought three of these lovely ceramic buttons by Incomparable Buttons, who weren't at the show but were being stocked by another trader.  One of the buttons is to go on my finished neckwarmer (those are the yarn colours wrapped around the card), which is pictured below being blocked.  It is shaped like a giant sweet wrapper, and there is a button hole in one of the ribbed sections so I can overlap and button it. Coincidentally the buttons also look gorgeous with the Swiss Silk so now I just need to find a pattern that takes 300g of DK and needs two buttons  :)

Alice Starmore was at the I-knit event signing her new books, which I had a look at: 'Fishermen's Knits' and 'Aran Knitting', both I think re-releases although apparently there is an additional pattern in the Aran book. The Aran book has several pages of examples of Aran stitches, with instructions, should you want to design your own, a bit of a historical section, and many complete patterns for garments for men/women/children.  Some of them very attractive so I am quite tempted.  I also had a lovely chat with the friendly lady who runs Ida's House, who sells salvaged vintage knitting equipment: lovely coloured plastic needles, old needle cases, bakelite yarn holders etc.  She has a full-time job as a kitchen designer but spends her weekends trolling through boot sales and markets looking for these gems, mainly to rescue them and move them to good homes.  She has recently started a blog and would love people to visit and leave a comment.

It's the time of year to knit hats for Innocent smoothie bottles for the Big Knit, to raise funds to help keep older people warm in their homes over winter.  I've printed off a couple of new patterns from their site:  one that looks like a bell flower, and another that looks like a xmas pudding, so I will have a go at those soon. Hats need to arrive by 15 October - the address is on the website.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Getting back on track

I spent most of yesterday tidying up the debris from August.  I still had ironing and laundry waiting to be put away from Knit Camp / camping in damp Wales / Bank Holiday camping, not to mention suitcases, camping gear, yarn purchases etc.  I am feeling a bit more organised now although I am still dealing with bills and filing paperwork etc. following the archaeological expedition to locate the surface of my desk underneath the piles of paper that had built up.

I did actually get some sewing done, although it started unpromisingly with mending the mysterious four-inch tear under my son's school shirt underarm, and sewing a patch over the rip on one of our folding camping chairs.  But then I did get to piece together a backing for my Garden BOM Quilt.  I am still using up the unwanted fat quarters from my big purge a few years ago, so I pieced several of those together, and threw in a bunch of fabric left over from making the quilt, plus a surplus block from my Disappearing 4-patch quilt, and even some mountain panels I bought at the Stitching Post in Sisters, Oregon. I like a busy back on a quilt, it's like a surprise when you turn the quilt over.

Thursday night I made it to the knitting group at I-knit for a little while, and started knitting the thumb on my Sanquhar Glove.  I had previously finished the fourth finger in the week.  I had to re-knit the spotty top decrease section several times to get the right length.  Stupidly I was trying to do the final bit on the train coming home after work, jiggling about with all the movement, and trying to keep my metal dpn needles from falling out of the few stitches.   It was like some sort of fiendish hand/eye coordination test (now thread this narrow needle through the tiny constantly-moving loop...). I had to give up and finish it at home but at least I didn't lose any needles on the floor of the train (been there, done that...).  I've now received my order of some special short glove needles in 1.5mm size, from Brownberry Yarns, which should make it easier to knit the fingers on the next glove.

It's turned colder here now, like a switch was thrown on the 1st of September ("That's it, folks!  Summer's finished.  CLICK.")  So I wore my Knit Camp Vest when I went to the Epsom Dollshouse Fair today, and I got DH to take a few pics of the finished vest.  Finally.  I didn't have time to take any pics before going to Stirling because it was still drying overnight before I left and was the last thing to go into my suitcase.  As you can see, I didn't do the corrugated ribbing on the bottom band because I ran out of time / finger stamina, but I think I might just leave it the way it is.  It is a bit more flattering and subtle for my tubby middle.  Actually, I love this vest because the dark middle sheepy stripe contrasting with the lighter, yarn ball stripe, makes me look like I actually have a WAIST.  Which is definitely not the case.

On the machine knitting front, I rescued the Tuck Stitch Blanket that I had to quickly finish up prior to knitting the Knit Camp Vest so that I could use the same machine (Brother 881 standard gauge). This is the free pattern from the internet from which I knit a small sample  earlier. This time I knit the largest size, which is almost the full width of the machine, using 4-ply acrylic from a cone.  I unpicked the waste yarn/ravel cord and darned in the ends.  Then I hand-washed it, then blocked it by throwing it into the tumbledryer until it relaxed and expanded, then finished drying it outside. It's finished up at c. 36" x 55".  I'm going to give it to my Japanese yoga instructor who is having a baby soon.  I was a bit worried that white might not be an appropriate baby colour in Japan but when I googled, I found white Japanese baby clothes, so hopefully it will be ok.

I enjoyed looking around the Epsom fair, and bought some wood sticks and cornicing for my Fairfield dollshouse that I am still building on my dining table. I also picked up this game pie (pictured on the steps of my Fairfield) for my Rik Pierce-style Gamekeeper's Cottage.  For non-dollshousers, it's about the size of a marble.

With the colder weather, I felt moved to work on my Freedom Wool Sleeveless Vest in  DK wool.  I spent ages in the spring getting a rib that I was happy with, and that fit me, then kind of stalled out when the hot weather arrived.  It was fun to pick it back up again.  You can just see the beginnings of the central cable panel starting to emerge.

DS is back in school now, and we are sliding back into our normal routine term-time routine. I get a treat next week because it will be our 20th wedding anniversary (god, how did that happen?) and DH is coming up to London to take me out to lunch from work.  I thought the 20th anniversary was something boring like cardboard, or tin, but apparently it is china.  China is fine, but why isn't there a 'yarn' anniversary? Or a 'quilt' anniversary?  I think someone needs to make a new list that fits better with our 21st C pastimes.  :)

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