Saturday, 30 October 2010

Books and other diversions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Autumnal thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 17 October 2010


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Alexandra Palace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Weird knitting physics

On the train this morning, I pulled out my sock to do a bit more knitting. I felt a happy sense of anticipation as I unrolled the sock and reached for my working needle.

Only it wasn’t there. Instantly there was that horrible feeling of a treat snatched at the last moment, the kind you get when you realise you’ve run out of yarn, haven’t brought the chart, lost your pattern or (and I did this once) forgotten your needles altogether.

As best I could in the crowded conditions, I searched my person, my knitting sack, and my knapsack. No needle.

I knew the last time I had been knitting was in the break room at work, so as soon as I could, I headed up there and had a good look but no luck. I also searched my desk drawer where I keep my bag. No needle.

Resigning myself to no knitting that day, I gave up.

At lunchtime, I picked up my lightweight autumn coat and was pretty astounded to see the missing fourth needle suspended from the coat’s lining, its wooden tip tucked into a seam by a scant ½ inch.

I say astounded, because if this needle fell into my coat on the train, it then managed to hang there suspended while I went to two different shops in the station to get a farewell card, gift bag and gift, while I walked to the next station, while I took my second train across to the third station, and a 10 minute walk to work.

Weird knitting physics, I thank you. And I got to do some knitting in the sunshine in the park at lunchtime after all.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Will knit for smoothies. And cake.

Monday evening after work I headed over to Fruit Towers, the headquarters for Innocent smoothies, to join Stitch London  who had been invited to come and take part in the Big Knit campaign. Around 50 knitters showed up to knit little hats to go onto smoothie bottles which are sold to raise money for the charity Age UK.

We were welcomed by the staff and the campaign coordinator, invited to help ourselves to smoothies from the fridge, plied with tea, and provided with a veritable feast of homemade cakes and sandwiches. Yarn was provided, and patterns and needles, and we were soon knitting away in between eating cake.  At the end of the evening there were competitions for most creative hat, most hats knitted and worst hat (won by a half finished hat that apparently fell apart when they tried to judge it).  I managed to knit three more hats in three hours:  another Christmas pudding which I don't have a picture of, and a striped hat and an earflap hat. And I enjoyed chatting with the friendly knitters around me, especially MarthaMay who has put a picture of my Christmas pudding and more pics of the night on her blog here. The Innocent HQ wasn't at all what I expected, they are in an old industrial unit, which is carpeted inside with astroturf and furnished with sun parasols, hanging wicker chairs, picnic tables, and colourful posters everywhere.  I was chatting to the organiser and it sounds like a fabulous place to work, she said people are really encouraged to be themselves and everyone is really creative. Oh, and I ate far too much cake, including an incredibly yummy cheesecake that was about three inches thick.

The new Cath Kidston catalogue arrived a while back and I was admiring the make-do-and-mend necklace - until I saw the price! I thought "surely you must be able to buy sewing charms a lot more cheaply than that" and sure enough you can, thanks to the magic of the internet.  For a little over £8 I was able to buy enough charms to make two pairs of earrings and a necklace (only one pair of earrings in photo, the other pair features a couple of teeny tiny rotary cutters). I wore the necklace to work today.  I also appreciated my Feather & Fan Neckwarmer which kept me warm and snuggly during the wet walk between the train station and work.

I've done a little knitting on the train on my Sanquhar glove and my hand-dyed sock blank socks, but it's been a busy week.  I had to get up at 5:40am on Thursday in order to be at the Royal Albert Hall by 8am for a work thing, and I have to work on Saturday as well :(  But I will get a day in lieu for the Saturday which I plan to take during half term when DS is in France for his exchange.  A whole day of crafting!

Sunday, although they are predicting torrential rains, DH has promised to drive me up to the NEC in Birmingham to visit the Autumn Miniatura, the biggest and best dollshouse fair.  Not sure what he is going to do while I am in there for 3 or 4 hours, but it is very nice of him.  Will be keeping my eyes open for 1/24th accessories for the Fairfield dollshouse I am building, and maybe pick up some more wood moulding.

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