Thursday, 28 January 2010

Lady of leisure

I took advantage of my new status as a lady of leisure to accept the invitation of a friend to vist the Sandown Stitch & Creative Craft show on Friday last week.  I hadn't been for several years, and last time I visited there was a distressingly high percentage of non-craft vendors selling massage chairs, hair scrunchies, magic mops, portable vacuum cleaners etc. and just way too much cross stitch.  It was much better this year.  The non-craft element was greatly reduced, only one vacuum cleaner man, a few clothing vendors and I think I saw a hair stall.  Papercrafting seems to have replaced cross-stitch in popularity, and probably took up about 50% of the stalls, jewellery making/beading had quite a few, some cross stitch, a small amount of patchwork, and several stalls selling knitting yarn - mostly acrylic but Uppingham was there and an alpaca stall.  I enjoyed myself going around for 90 minutes, bought some cheap Regia sock yarn in Kaffe Fassett colours, some knitting gauges for my tool bags, a great pattern from Fiona Morris for a cabled tunic, and I had a nice chat with the ladies running the Machine Knitters' Guild stall.  I realised that I am now available to attend the MK group that meets in the daytime, something I could never do before.  So I may try it out in February.  I also picked up 10 plastic storage boxes with snap-on lids for £2 each, as I am planning to try to organise my large dollshouse stash up in the attic.  It has to stay in the attic because there is no room for it down here, but I want to divide up all the furnishings and accessories by category:  all the china and glassware in one box, all the textiles in another, etc.  So it will be much easier, hopefully, to put my hand on things when I need them.  It's darn cold in that attic this time of year, so I don't want to be up there any longer than I need to when I am looking for things.

Again, as a lady of leisure, I'm planning to try out the Thursday knitting group at the newly-opened Mrs Moon knitting shop in St. Margarets, London.  I haven't been to this new shop - hopefully it is going to be a good replacement for the sadly-closed Stash of Putney.


So, what have I been up to this week?  I snapped a photo of the waterlily and butterfly blocks that I mentioned in my last post.  The larger waterlily is the actual BOM block, and I added a couple of smaller waterlilies that I drew in EQ6 for foundation piecing, and some green water.

I had so much fun putting together the Goldilocks panel last week that I sewed another one panel up on Sunday.  This one was of birdhouses, fairly large.  They have a cardboard base inserted inside before stuffing, plus I added some pennies to give them some weight. The panel had some matching birds but I haven't made them up, I rather like the houses on their own.

I have machined the binding strips onto all three quilt tops, but haven't started handstitching them down yet. 

That's because I've been spending all my tv time working on my lighthouse socks.  I am surprised by how much I have enjoyed doing these.  I was late to bed several nights because I wanted to do just one more row and see how the colours were changing in the picture.  It's a bit like doing cross-stitch only quicker and with knitting.  My reference book recommends leaving starting and finishing ends on the right side until you are ready to darn them in, so this is a picture of the shag rug I eventually produced.


I then spent an enormous amount of time, probably as much time as it took to knit it in the first place, darning in the ends.  My reference book does not recommend weaving the ends as you knit, because it can distort the stitches and reduce the elasticity of the finished item.  This is a picture when all the ends were darned in, but before blocking.  My learning from this is that I should be more careful that my stitches are even as I am working the piece, because it is hard to tighten them up later when you have so many colours interlocked.  I found it hard to  maintain an even tension on some rows, when a colour yarn is perhaps only worked for a few stitches before being dropped.

And this is what it looked like after I swiss-darned the windows and light into the picture.  It seems a shame to hide these as socks after all this work.  I am finding the Lion Brand Wool-Ease surprisingly wool-like to knit with.  It almost wants to felt, which makes it good for intarsia as it clings (although annoying if it is clinging to something unwanted like other colour strands).  It is slightly splitty but not too bad.  The pattern is "Lighthouse Socks" by Borealis Sweaterscapes.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Missing my structure

Week 3 of unemployment drags to a close. The number of email job alerts coming through is on the increase, the market seems to be picking up after being very quiet over Christmas. I am gradually putting in place a routine for my days: spending the morning on the computer looking at job ads (and hopefully submitting applications if I see something), errands at lunchtime, crafts in the afternoon. But some days I have really felt at a loose end, like I am in limbo, which makes me feel unsettled and a bit stressed. I am definitely missing the structure of going out to work.


And that makes me feel quite cross because I am sure there must have been a zillion occasions when I was working, and wished that I could be at home with more time to do things. Now, even when I am doing crafts, I am finding it hard to relax because I feel guilty that I am not at work, or not trying harder to find a job.


Despite the self-inflicted guilt trips, I am progressing various crafts.

The lighthouse socks are coming on much better now after the arrival of my reference book: "Intarsia: a workshop for hand and machine knitting", by Sherry Stuever and Keely Stuever (ISBN 0-9749475-0-4). This little booklet is a comprehensive reference to intarsia, starting with the interlock between two colours, how to treat the interlock in a variety of situations (left leaning, right leaning etc.), how to start and finish ends of yarn, how to achieve even tension, how to weave in ends etc. It isn't always the easiest book to understand, I've had to read some explanations several times before I can see what they are getting at. I found this book recommended on Ravelry and it is really helping me with the socks.


I've started a sleeveless slipover vest in Freedom Spirit 100% wool yarn, using a pattern from a Freedom booklet. Although so far I've been ignoring the pattern because the clinging band of ribbing wasn't going to do my pear shaped figure any favours. Instead I have started with a loose rib from a Harmony Guide, and am knitting in the round rather than in two pieces.

I have finished one fingerless glove and have started casting on for the second one. I finished the first one at an enjoyable meeting of my local knitting group this week. We meet in a pub so there is always the risk of drunken knitting. So far I've been ok.

I spent part of the week sewing the next two blocks for my Saturday group BOM: a butterfly and some waterlilies. I don't seem to have taken a picture of them - probably because I was so shell shocked after about 15 false starts on the water lilies. Ever have one of those evenings where you seem to have completely lost the ability to piece two fabrics together in the right order, much less get the right colours on the right area of a foundation pattern? Instead of giving up, I stupidly persevered, and probably wasted about a quarter yard of two different fabrics just to finish up with one 8-inch block which isn't even that well done. Luckily I just held the sample up at a distance and none of the group members got closer than five feet so they didn't notice.


We had our quilt group meeting today. The heating was broken in the church hall where we meet so it was pretty cold. I'd warned everyone so we all came bundled up with legwarmers and thick sweaters, but it was still a bit fierce. We must be truly dedicated. I did a lot of sewing while wearing my knitted wrist-warmers, my Poems hat, a scarf and a fleecy blanket wrapped around my legs. I had brought along a Makower panel of Goldlilocks and the Three Bears, and made that up. It was so cute: there is a little stuffed cottage which has pockets for the four dolls of bears and a little girl, and a little rag book telling the story which fits into another pocket. It was really nice to just make something for fun, not for a deadline or a xmas present or to stashbust. After I photographed it,
I gave it to one of the members for her

one-year-old granddaughter - she was thrilled (the member, not the granddaughter, although I expect the granddaughter will like it as well).

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Sun at last

We finally got a sunny day with positive temperatures - we went for a walk and I felt like I had been let out of the house after being cooped up with some kind of illness. The snow is almost entirely gone now after two days of rain.

Somebody knocked over a brick pillar in our driveway then drove off, on Friday. So today we spent an hour knocking down the remaining stub, and breaking up the pillar into bricks. We kept some of the whole ones, and DH took the rest to the dump. We probably won't replace it as it was in the way - it's much easier to park now. Still incredibly annoying that someone would do that and then just drive off. I hope it made a really big and expensive dent in their vehicle.
Today I finished quilting the fourth and last top on my tabletop quilting frame, so I could finally take the frame apart and store it away. Instantly my bedroom seems 50% bigger - the frame really takes up a lot of room. But I did well on it this year: I quilted the Hawaiian Batik top for christmas, the Bento Box red, white and blue quilt, experimented with custom quilting on the country set group project quilt, and finished up with a freebie. The freebie was a Harry Potter duvet cover I pieced for my son some years ago. He has now grown out of it, but it seemed a shame to waste it. I cut it apart, and put it onto the frame, and used up the scraps of wadding/batting left over from the other three quilts, to make it into a quilt. Slightly worn but still good enough to give to charity I think.


The only downside of all this is I now have three quilts to bind.


What else have I been up to since my last post? I made a shelf for the living room of my oldest dollshouse, to accommodate my ever-growing collection of miniature house-shaped teapots. I pieced the shelf together from wood scraps, mitering the corner, and cutting slices of cornice for the brackets. It looks good now that it is mounted, and there is room for more teapots!









My fingerless gloves are coming along, this is a photo taken when I was working on the ring finger and I am now working on the middle finger. I love my specially short glove needles, so much easier for knitting the fingers with.










The Pretty Thing cowl in cashmere is coming along, I am on row 25 out of 61 rows. I had to pull back a few rows because I got to a plain row while I was watching tv, and was knitting round and round waiting to come to my end of round marker (two stitch markers next to each other). Eventually I paid attention to what I was doing and realised that one of the stitch markers had fallen off, so that the end of round marker looked just like all the other markers, leading to me knitting about 2.5 rounds more than I needed to. I am finding this Knitwitches 'heavy lace weight' much easier to knit with than the fine laceweight that I am using for the Pi Shawl.





I have been working on the cross-stitch scissor keeper (actually, most of it is tent stitch) and finished it. I decided it would get in the way, if it were actually attached to scissors. DH suggested making a fridge magnet out of it, to add to my collection of over 100 house-shaped fridge magnets (can you spell 'c-o-l-l-e-c-t-o-r'?), which is what I did. I just slipped a magnet inside before I stuffed it and stitched the top shut. Here is a shot of what it looks like. This is such a cute idea. They did a second version in a Georgian brick style, I might get that next time I see it. UPDATE: after putting my quilting frame away, I tidied up my storage cabinet and guess what I found buried under a lot of fabric? yes, the Georgian style scissors keeper kit, which I had obviously purchased and then forgotten all about. Isn't getting older great?




Continuing my organisational kick, I have photographed all my outstanding dollshouse house kits, and am going to make index cards for each one to help me remember what I've got. This is the result of looking in the bottom of my closet for a pair of shoes, and uncovering a room box kit hidden in the back which I had completely forgotten about. Depending on how long I am going to be a lady of leisure, perhaps I can build some of them.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Still snowing

The snow has started up again. My poor son spent 45 minutes shivering at his bus stop but the school coach never showed up, so he is home today. This is a picture of our garden early this morning, and it's a lot whiter now.













I realised this morning, as I sent my son out into the snow and my poor DH reluctantly set off in his car, that I am a genius. What a great time to be unemployed - I get to stay in my jammies and sit down with a nice hot cup of tea in front of the television, and work on my cross stitch. No struggling into work in this icy weather, wonderful. This is the scissors keeper that I bought at the Ally Pally show, a cute little cross stitch 3-D house stitched with 6 strands of floss.





Yesterday, after looking at my job ads and doing a little quilting, I went to the daytime films for 'Bargain Tuesday' (when it costs just an arm, instead of an arm and a leg). I saw Sherlock Holmes, which was pretty rubbish, but first of all I had to sit through more than 15 minutes of advertising. I was fascinated at the repetitive topics, there were about 6 ads for alcohol, 5 for cars, and the rest were for gadgets. Apparently the advertisers believe that people who go to see films in mid-week during the day time are all alcoholics in the market for a new car, who also need new mobile phones and digital cameras. Presumably they crashed their old car while under the influence, and their old phone and previous camera were in the car's glove compartment.


So what have I been up to? I renovated the sponge bar for my Brother 260 knitting machine using the excellent instructions here. It appears to have worked really well, although I haven't actually tried knitting with it yet. But anything has to be better than the decaying ick that the previous foam had deteriorated into.




I dressed the dolly for my oldfashioned doll which was incredibly difficult. Her arms and legs are fixed, so I had to sew the dress around and onto her, and she is so small. But mother and dolly look pretty happy together now.





















I finished my Rico Poems Hat - this was a pattern from my Knitting Pattern a Day calendar (July 23, 2009) and was called the 'Warm-Ears Hat'. Poems is a 100% wool yarn, affordably priced, and although slightly splitty, was good to knit with. This hat is great, really stretchy over the ears and fairly warm. I might get some more Poems and knit matching mittens.

















I started knitting Pretty Thing, a pattern for a lacy cowl designed by the YarnHarlot, using the 100% cashmere that I bought at the I-Knit Weekender this year. It is only 61 rows and a really pretty pattern. My understanding is that the yarn will 'bloom' when I wash it, so should look fluffier than this in the end.











I also started knitting a pair of intarsia socks featuring a lighthouse, using Lion Brand Wool-Ease that I bought in America (too expensive to buy that many colours in a pure wool yarn). I am pretty new to intarsia, the Christmas stocking was one of my first attempts, and I quickly realised that I don't know what the heck I am doing. So this project is on hold until a reference book arrives that I have ordered on Amazon.








While I was in Farnham a few weeks ago, I bought several balls of Paton's Linen Touch in the sale at Farnham Interknit Cafe, to knit a Clapotis. I have not previously jumped on the Clapotis bandwagon as it didn't really appeal to me, but I have registered to attend the Clapo-Tea Party at Knit Camp in Stirling this summer, and you have to wear a Clapotis to get in. For anyone who doesn't know, presumably because they are not a knitter or have been living out of internet contact for the last few years, Clapotis is a drop-stitch shawl/scarf designed by Kate Gilbert which has been knitted by literally thousands of Ravellers.


Regular readers will have noticed that it is not Friday and yet I am blogging. Now that I am dis-employed, I have more time on my hands, so more crafting and more musing.


And finally, another plea to commenters to change their Blogger profile from the default 'no reply' option, especially if you ask me a question. It is so frustrating to click 'reply' and to see the fatal return address: Jane.Doe@no-reply.blogger.com. You need to opt in to receive emails via Blogger.

Stay warm!

Friday, 8 January 2010

Big freeze

The UK is shivering under a very unusual cold spell, we have even had snow down in the London area which is very rare. Although only a couple of inches fell here, it was enough to shut over a hundred schools and public institutions such as libraries. So DS had an extra day's holiday yesterday as his school closed, but they have reopened today. DH has also gone back to work, after two days working from home rather than risking his car on the roads. Incredible as it may seem to those living in colder climes, many Brits have no winter tires, and my British DH not only has never had snow chains, he even thought they might be illegal for road use in the UK (they aren't - I checked on the internet). So a lot of people have no idea how to drive in snow, which leads to massive problems -for example, over 200 cars were abandoned on one of the motorways in the south of England, and 100 of them were still there two days later apparently.
To be fair, this is because the infrastructure when it comes to ploughing and gritting the roads is not comprehensive - in my county, the council is only gritting major roads and hospital approaches.

It's still pretty cold today (hovering around zero degrees Celsius) but no further snow has fallen. The house seems very quiet as I experience my first day home alone. But the good thing about being snowbound part of the week is lots of time to do crafty things.


I finished my Argyle Slippers, from a pattern in Simply Knitting magazine's free calendar supplement. They are in Artesano Aran yarn, which is 50% alpaca/50% wool. Despite knitting the smallest size (the original pattern is for men) I still ran out of the blue yarn, much to my annoyance. I was reduced to scrounging short scraps of blue yarn to sew the blue sole to the slipper sides, and had to knit the cuff in pink instead. The finished slippers were too loose on my feet, mainly because they were too high - if I were to knit them again, I would reduce the repeat on the sides from four down to three repeats. I decided to try felting them as I handwashed them, to see if that helped. It did, but trying them on damp, I found they were still too loose. So I thought 'what the hey' and chucked them in the washing machine for a 30 degree Celsius easy-care wash cycle. They came out beautifully felted, and now fit pretty well. They are cosy and warm, and the sole feels quite cushiony under foot. I made the cord using a Bond Magicord cord maker, it struggled a bit with the Aran weight yarn but produced a firm cord. (I know my feet look like boats in this photo, but in fact are UK size 7).






On Tuesday night I travelled up to London to join the I-Knit New Year Knit-in at the Royal Festival Hall, where I managed to sit near the boxes of free chocolates (completely by accident of course) and enjoyed a glass of wine as I started a new project: a nice warm hat knit in Rico Creative Poem, a self patterning 100% wool yarn. It has a turned up cuff so is doubled over the ears to keep me warm. That's almost finished now, I am just decreasing for the top of the hat.



But I've spent most of this week working on a project which doesn't make for a very interesting photograph: re-cataloguing my collection of vintage textiles and crochet. This is one of those jobs that you put off for years until you have the time - and now I have the time due to my lack of unemployment. The collection lives under my bed in three big zip-up bags (I thought it was only two zip-up bags, and I spent more than a day wondering why so many of my items seemed to have disappeared, until I looked under the bed and discovered the third bag...). It started out very methodically about 15 years ago: when I acquired a new item, I would tag it with a catalogue number and write up the description. After about 100 items and five years, this system broke down and items still got catalogued, but not tagged. After about 200 items and ten years, the system disintegrated altogether, and new items just got stuffed under the bed without any cataloguing at all.
So this week I have spent hours going through everything, weeding out the junk, matching untagged items to the catalogue so that I can tag them, and writing up new descriptions for the items that don't seem to be in the catalogue. Most of the collection is filet crochet, and I particularly like pictorial scenes. But several items of tatting, knitting and other needlework have crept in as well. Most of it has been picked up from bric-a-brac stores, flea markets etc., but there are some nice pieces purchased from antique dealers. Unfortunately I can't really use most of them, we have few horizontal surfaces unimpeded with clutter in our house, and putting any cloths on our kitchen table would be an invitation to disaster. But I just love them. I love the idea that some woman, similar to me, made them by hand years ago, and that they have lasted all this time. Plus most of them go for ridiculous prices: I picked up an antimacassar mat that must have taken someone weeks to make, in very fine thread, for .50p last weekend at an antiques fair in Farnham. For the most part, this type of needlework is just not valued any more. I guess because it doesn't fit the modern lifestyle: who wants to be washing and starching and blocking out lace these days? (besides me that is, and even I don't want to do it regularly).

Friday, 1 January 2010

Happy new year

2010 - we were discussing last night how you pronounce it: "two thousand and 10?", "twenty-ten"? are we in the 'tweenies' now? (which will be better than the 'noughties', an expression I never liked). We had a quiet night in last night, then watched all the fireworks on TV taking place up in London, while meanwhile we could hear fireworks going off all over our neighbourhood. I hope you had an enjoyable new year's eve.


I am now officially unemployed. It feels weird, but I expect it won't really sink in until DH goes back to work and DS goes back to school. At the moment, it just feels like an extended christmas holiday. I went into work for the last time on Wednesday, to delete the last of my files and hand in my ID cards and phone. Just as I was leaving, my boss presented me with a gift bag which turned out to contain a very gaudy necklace when I opened it at home. Not my thing at all, and not anything that anyone at work would expect me to wear if they knew me at all. I looked it up on the internet out of curiousity and was appalled to find it cost over £100!!! Why couldn't they have given me a gift voucher which I could have used on something sensible - like yarn? or fabric? Honestly. But it was meant kindly. Just such a waste. I might see if I can sell it on Ebay then use that money to get myself something more meaningful. After leaving work, I popped up to John Lewis on Oxford Street where I was delighted to find loads of yarn in the half-price sale. I got a sweater's worth of Rowan Kidsilk Classic, Rowan Felted Tweed and Rowan Scottish Tweed. The Kidsilk Classic may be to knit Kelmscott, a cardigan from Twist Collective.




I spent a lot of yesterday sewing clothes for my poor nekkid old fashioned doll which I made over two years ago. She has been shivering away, gathering dust, ever since. I was shamed into it by a feature in Quiltmania magazine about a shop in Indianapolis, which featured several of these dolls in sweet little vignettes - and all with clothes on. I made up my own pattern based on the dresses in the picture, and used quilt fabric. I still need to make a little dress for her dolly.






















Here is the start of my fingerless gloves, using Garnstudio Drops Design Fabel sock yarn. I got as far as closing in the thumb, while I was knitting on Boxing Day down at the in-laws, but discovered the pattern was about 10 stitches too wide. So I ripped back down to the cuff and started over again. I do like knitting on dpns and having a little project going, to take around in my handbag for train journeys and when I have to wait.









I've quilted another top on my frame, this time it was the Bento Box quilt I made in the summer. I just did squiggles all over it using white thread, partly because it is such a busy pattern, and partly because that is the easiest pattern to do on my home quilting frame which only lets me do patterns of around 4-5".



I am knitting a pair of Argyle Slippers, which are another pattern from the Simply Knitting magazine free calendar supplement. They are in Artesano Aran, a 50% alpaca/50% wool mix, which is surprisingly tough (it is really hard to snap the yarn when you can't find your scissors). I've knit two soles, two sides, and am just finishing two argyle tops. Annoyingly, I have now run short of the blue yarn, even though I bought the one skein specified in the pattern, and am only knitting the smallest size. I'm not buying another skein, so will use the pink to knit the cuff of the slippers.






This is what the enormous christmas stocking looked like when it was finished. I purposely felted it a little when I washed it, which helped to give it some more body, and smooth out the stitches. It served me well on christmas morning, producing many treats.


















And finally, I tackled a little christmas project over the holidays. A few years ago I bought this gingerbread house in the half-price sales. When I got it home, I decided to see if I could take the back off. I could, so I went back and bought the remaining 'gingerbread' ornaments also at half-price, to use for furnishings.

















I chose three of the gingerbread people to be the family living in the house, then I cannabalised the remaining ornaments to make the interior of the house. First I cut up the back piece, to make a new mezzanine floor for the bedroom.

















Then I made a little gingerbread bed, using a heart-shaped piece for the headboard, and the former windowsill for the footer, and some quilty fabric for the spread. The 'gingerbread' is some kind of plasticy Fimo-like material which I can cut with scissors.











I cut up a bit more of the back, and a few gingerbread men, to make a table.
















Raiding my dollshouse stash, I found more christmas ornaments and decorations to furnish the house, and made a wall shelf out of a bit more gingerbread.



And here is the happy family, I even found a tiny little gingerbread man button, so the little girl can have a dolly.

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