Saturday, 26 February 2011

Still employed

Thank you everyone for your sympathy about my job situation.  It has gotten better, in a rather unexpected way.  I was all ready to hand my notice in, and took advantage of a manager-less last Friday to clean out my desk, clean out my PC files and bring home my personal stuff.  I also started updating my CV etc.

Then on Tuesday I saw my boss' boss was in the office, with his door open, and I thought 'I'll give it one last shot and ask again for a working day at home'.  I went in and asked if he had a few minutes, and began my speech by acknowledging that he had previously refused the request.  The speech went out the window when he denied having done so, and I realised my boss had lied to me about that.  I'm afraid I rather lost it at that point, and poured out my woes about the uncertain situation, the lack of handover, the stress of not having a competent person in charge etc.  He was genuinely shocked because he said he had assumed my boss had given us a lengthy and thorough handover so that we were all happy and knew what we were doing.  Hah!  He also said he had begun to suspect something wasn't right as the consultant didn't seem to know about several issues that he should have done.

The upshot is that my boss' boss has now assumed direct management of me and my colleagues.  He has asked both me and the consultant to write down our current work responsibilities, so that he has an overview and can see where any gaps are.  He acknowledges my request to work from home and will evaluate the request once he sees what I am doing, which isn't a 'no' so there is some chance.  So I feel better now that someone with proper authority is in charge, and am prepared to give it some time and see what develops.

I went along to the I-Knit knitting group in London this week, where unfortunately the curse of the I-Knit alcohol license struck again.  I have learned my lesson not to drink their cider, but apparently the white wine is no better as I managed to overshoot on my increases on my Holden Shawlette.  I un-knit those rows but discovered I had an odd number of stitches which I traced to a missed yarnover several rows previously.  Sigh...  I'm all ready to start the lace border now.  Loving this Malabrigo yarn.

On my Liesl cardigan, you may recall that I was experimenting with the fit of the yoke and sleeve.  The original yoke depth is ok, I think, but I didn't like how extremely tight the sleeve was.  The cardigans in the pattern pictures all have very bodyhugging sleeves as well.  I ripped back my sleeve knitting and ripped back the body to the end of the yoke, and this time I cast on two repeats under the arm instead of just one.  Then I knit a bit of body and a bit of sleeve, and tried it on again.  This time the sleeve seems to fit well, so I think I will go with that.

I also realised that I missed the framed box in the pattern entitled 'Optional' where it turns out the buttonhole instructions are given for the yoke.  I therefore have no buttonholes and will have to work something out later.  I am not that upset as the buttonholes in the pictures on the pattern are all gaping wide open so hopefully I can come up with a better alternative.

I put the final border on my Kitchen Crockery wallhanging and sandwiched it up using a themed backing fabric featuring pots of marmalade and jam.  So far I have quilted around the border and the crockery with the walking foot, and I plan to stipple in the background.

As I type this, I am also trying out a new bit of kit to convert VHS videos to DVDs.  Both our VCRs started misbehaving years ago and wouldn't play tapes properly any more, and you can't seem to get them fixed either as they are obsolete, nor can you buy one without spending loads of money.  But a lovely neighbour (Hi Rosy!) had two she wasn't using, and gave one to me, and it works!  So I have seized the opportunity to convert some of my antique VHS tapes, especially the craft ones.  So far I have converted Susan G's 'Hand-Manipulated Stitches on the Knitting Machine' and at the moment am converting 'Knitting Machine Maintenance' by Peter Free.  I'm using a product called 'Video2PC' by Ion, which comes with software on a CD, a little video capture box, and a cable.  I also had to buy a Scart-to-Composite plug.  You use it by plugging the video capture box into a USB port on the PC, plugging that into the VCR using the cable and the Scart plug, and turning on the VCR.  When you play a video on the VCR, you see it playing on the computer screen and you just press the 'Record' button on screen to capture the video in real time and convert it to a digital file which you can burn to a DVD.  The 60-minute Hand-Manipulated Stitches video converted to a 1.79Gb file.  I haven't tried burning a DVD yet as I don't have any, but I've got some on order.

Almost forgot!  I finished my scarf in Katia Ondas.  I have to say that I didn't enjoy knitting this.  You have to unfold the ribbon in advance so that you can knit along the edge, and as I knit with the yarn in my left hand, it was an awkward interrupted process of knitting a few stitches, sorting out the ribbon, knitting a few more stitches etc.  I took my cue from the comments on Ravelry and only cast on 7 stitches so that I could get a longer scarf.  Not convinced about this.  I wore it to work this week but it felt a bit like wearing colour-coordinated seaweed around my neck.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

The times, they are a changing...

I have pretty much decided to give in my notice at my job, which could mean that I will (hopefully temporarily) have LOTS more time for crafts.

This was my new job that I found almost a year ago, after being made redundant from my old job of 18 years.  I like the organisation and the culture, and I like most of what I'm doing, but my boss is a very difficult person to work for - her work habits are shambolic, she's a diva, and extremely jealous of anything she perceives as a threat (e.g. me) so very reluctant to hand anything over and I don't think she has a mentoring bone in her body.  I was tolerating this initially because I hoped they would agree I could work one day a week at home, but that was turned down.  I continued to tolerate it because I really didn't want to be jobless, but last week the final straw arrived when she called me to one side and announced she was being seconded onto a project team for six months or more, and that the APC (annoying pompous consultant) was now going to be my manager.  This guy has only been with us a few months, doesn't know squat about the organisation and lacks basic skills such as editing or proofreading, so there is suddenly no support net for me in my role.  Also I can't stand him. But my boss' 5 minute handover did not acknowledge this increased pressure on me in any way - I think she views me as equivalent to the photocopier and that I will just keep plugging away with no need for feedback or motivation.

I'm going to wait a few weeks just to make sure I know my own mind, and also to bring my time there up to an exact year.  Part of my brain is screaming in intermittent terror but the rest of it is eagerly anticipating just walking away. Shame though, as I could knit there on my breaks.

On top of all of this, I have ANOTHER cold.  There ought to be some law that when you have had one stinking cold, you should be automatically immune for at least five months.

Not feeling well means lots of sitting on the sofa knitting, so I managed to finish my Jaeger Natural Fleece Yoked Cardigan.  I designed this myself working from the numbers in Ann Budd's Handy Book of Sweater Patterns.  It is knit in one piece to the armpits, then the sleeves, then all picked up for knitting the yoke.  The edges are single crochet.  It's lovely and warm, and surprisingly light as the yarn is quite lofty.

I am enjoying knitting the Liesl Cardigan in Knitcol variegated yarn, the lace pattern is only four rows so very easy to memorise.  This is knit from the top down, and the instructions say to knit the yoke to the depth of the armpit.  I couldn't tell if it was deep enough or not because the unblocked lace was pulling up so much, so I put it on a longer cable and gave it a quick block.

I knit a few more repeats then took off stitches for the sleeve.  I am still concerned that the fit is going to be too tight on the armpits, so I have only knit about two inches on the body, and have put caps on the ends of the cables (don't you love interchangeable circulars!) to hold the body stitches.  Meanwhile I have picked up for one sleeve, to knit a few inches of that so I can try the cardigan on.  If it's too tight, I will rip back and put some more repeats on the yoke, but I want to find that out now before I knit the entire body.

I put together the Kitchen Crockery Foundation-Pieced wallhanging and am now adding the borders.  I like how bright and cheerful this is, a nice thing to be sewing now that Spring is in the air.

And in honour of Spring, and the crocuses and daffodils coming up in the lawn, I dug out my Quilt in a Day Spring basket wallhanging that I made some years ago, and hung it up on the wall.

Today was my monthly quilting group meeting for the little group that I run.  I suggested to them that our next group project could be to make seasonal wallhangings, because I like to have a changing assortment on my walls to reflect the seasons.  Blank looks all around and no enthusiasm, so I guess we aren't going to be doing that.

This is what I did today, pieced together 10 blocks for my Kaffe Fassett Stars Over England quilt, which is half of the total of 20.  I don't often make block quilts anymore because I really get bored doing the same thing over and over, at least with this quilt the fabrics are pretty wild, but I was still quite bored after doing 10 and got my Holden Shawlette out for the last 40 minutes or so and just sat knitting.  I am using a fast flying geese method for these, which is explained in several places on the internet such as here.  I had to guess at the size of squares to cut but tried my guess out in scrap fabric before cutting out the quilt, and these stars are going together quite smoothly (except for the one where I accidentally cut the background square too small, but let's not talk about that one...)

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Me and my big mouth

I have to tidy up the house today, as some nice people that I hardly know are coming over to see my dollshouses.  This is what happens when you have too much to drink at your husband's office xmas party and the nice woman next to you says "Oh, I always wanted a dollshouse when I was little!"

Along a similar vein, following my boastful post last week (which was intended to be tongue in cheek), every time something has gone wrong this week with a craft, my DH has said innocently: "but I thought you were the boss of your crafts?"  It was somewhat funny the first time, and several reiterations later is making me feel homicidal.  I wonder if they let you blog in prison.  Or knit.  I suppose you aren't allowed to knit because the needles would be potential weapons.  Which leads me back to what I want to do to DH...


I've continued to sew the Paper pieced kitchenware blocks this week, as they are so much fun to do.  I'm using some red and blue Dutch fabric that I bought years ago at a quilt show in The Hague.  This week I've finished the rest of the blocks: teapot, milk jug, tea cup and plate.

This is what the hanging will look like. 

I finished the Baby Surprise Jacket in Mission Falls 1824 cotton.  As many knitters before me have observed, this pattern really is an act of faith.  Even though I  knew what it would turn into, I still had trouble working out what part of the jacket I was actually knitting at any one time, and the final transformation into a jacket is like a magic trick.  I joined the shoulder seams by crocheting on the right side, to make a feature of them, and added a little collar.  I have made buttonholes on both sides, and will sew one set closed when I find out if I am giving it to a boy or girl.  No destination in mind yet, just waiting for the next baby to come along.  The size is definitely not new born, probably more like six months or so.

I also finished the Sanquhar Gloves at long last, darning in the ends and wet blocking them.  When I washed them, I purposely worked at the palms a little to shrink them down a bit, and they do fit better now but are still a bit loose in the palms.  I wore them to work this week and they are very warm.  Guess what, it's really really hard to take a picture of your own hands.  I had to improvise by suspending the camera from the clothes rack and using self timer.

The wet blocking flattened out the knitting beautifully and the gloves are quite smooth now.  I'm a bit disappointed that I don't have good definition on all my checkerboard patterns, a result I think of my uneven tension and the hairness of the yarn making some stitches more prominent than others.

It was a really fun knit to do and I feel a sense of achievement at finishing these with such small needles (1.5mm) and lace weight yarn. The geometric pattern is easy to memorise and yet gives a constant feeling of progress as you move upwards, and touches such as the gussets between the fingers and the meeting of the three vertical bands at the tip of each finger are satisfyingly structural.

I've crocheted a bit more of the bands on the Jaeger Yoked Cardigan and have been knitting away on my Katia Ruffled Scarf this week.  I've also cast on for the Holden Shawlette using a limited edition Malabrigo fingering yarn that I bought at Imagiknit in San Francisco and have been saving for something special.

Well, off to tidy the house up now.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Fitting it all in

This week I have written an essay with a few of my thoughts on fitting in craft time.  If you don't want to read the essay, then skip to the end for a few pics from my crafting week.


For I am the boss of my crafts

“I’m an inspiration!,” I crowed to my husband, reading aloud from Miss Martha's comment on my last post 'Starts and Finishes'.  “You’re a something alright”, he may have muttered, but I ignored that, he’s probably just jealous.

Well, maybe not, but it got me to thinking about how many times people have asked me ‘how do you fit it all in?’.  Although it is a mystery to me why my chaotic life would seem inspirational to anyone, the fact that I work full time and still manage to fit in my hobbies of quilting, knitting (hand and machine) and dollshouse miniatures, has often led people to ask how I do it.

My usual response is to acknowledge that I don’t do housework, which makes them laugh, except that I’m not joking.  Someone once said that there is never enough time, yet we have all the time there is.  We all know that we should be prioritising the things that are important to us, but how many of us actually do that?

Are you still vacuuming the house every night because that’s what your mother did? Do you feel compelled to keep your house in a pristine state at all times in case of unexpected visitors who might judge you?  Well, I would rather use the limited time I have for things that are absolutely necessary, like kitchen / bathroom hygiene, and save as much time as I can for things that I enjoy.

But enough about my housekeeping habits – where does the rest of the time for my hobbies come from?

1.  Utilise your down time.  I may only get an hour or less after work to do my hobbies, but I can maximise my effectiveness during that hour by having prepared during my downtime. While I’m standing on the train, or waiting in a queue, I can be planning how I am going to tackle a project, or I can be jotting down a list.  I can read craft magazines on the train, check through a knitting pattern at lunchtime, or read a chapter from a quilting book at bedtime.  As my sewing room is also my bedroom, I have been known to quickly pick some fabric for a block while brushing my teeth with my other hand.  In my weekly yoga class, when the teacher asks us to relax our minds, I am relaxing by picturing the dollshouse kit I am building and how I will tackle the next construction  challenge.

2.  Keep projects where you can see them.  Out of sight, out of mind, I find. I am far more likely to work on a project when it, and the tools needed to do it, are waiting where I can see them.  Again, I can utilise my downtime by taking a few minutes to get things ready - getting out fabric, thread, and pattern while getting dressed in the morning, for example.  And my sewing machine is always out. Then, when I get 20 minutes after dinner and before helping with homework, I can sit down and quickly sew several seams.  Don’t feel that you can’t work on things because you don’t have a solid block of hours to tackle them.  Twenty minutes here and there on a regular basis soon adds up to a quilt, or a knitted sweater.  And you aren’t wasting time getting everything out, and putting it away again.  No room to leave things out? I sometimes put all the bits for a dollshouse project in a shallow box lid, or tray, that I can balance out of the way on top of furniture.

Some people may object to Tip #2 on the basis that it looks untidy to have stuff out all the time.  Well, it's my house and this is my life and my crafts are important to me. My family are very used to living around my crafts and luckily they have their own hobbies which they also leave out.  So our house is messy but full of creativity.  On the odd occasion where I really have to tidy the ground floor up, I jam it all in cupboards or hide it upstairs, then get it out again after the visitors have gone.

3. Have projects ready to grab.  I keep all my knitting projects in a motley collection of tote bags and drawstring bags, ready to be grabbed for a few minutes of knitting in front of the television, or for the daily commute to work.  Each project bag contains everything I need for the current stage of the project: pattern, project on needles with current yarn ball and perhaps a spare ball, and a small zipped bag of accessories.  A few years ago I bit the bullet and bought duplicates of my commonly used tools (scissors, crochet hook, darning needles, stitch markers) and made up zipped bags in various sizes.  If the pattern is in a magazine or book, I scan it and print out a paper copy to go in the project bag.  My current quilting applique project is similarly packaged up with all needed tools and fabric in a zipped case designed for cross stitchers. Even if you only get two rows knitted before the oven timer goes off for dinner, that is two rows of progress towards a finished item.

4. Plan projects to fit your schedule.  Rather than having unrealistic expectations of changing your life to make more time for crafts, make the crafts fit into the life you have.  I have multiple knitting projects on the go at any one time, because they all fit different purposes.  I always have small projects like socks and gloves in my knapsack for knitting on the train to work, or at lunchtime.  I have garter or stockinette projects for when I’m at my knitting group or attending a talk, and charted projects for when I have more space and quiet to concentrate, such as in a hotel room.  Bulky projects stay home for knitting in front of the television.  With quilting, I work on units suitable for small blocks of time at home, such as sewing blocks, or adding a border, and save the more time-consuming parts like cutting out for my monthly sewing group or for that rare free weekend.

5. Keep related stuff together.  There is nothing more irritating than having some precious time to work on a project, and then wasting that time looking for things.  I’m afraid some advance organisation is necessary to tackle this problem. I bulk-ordered 100 large clear plastic bags, and bagged up all my quilt projects and fabric collections – including the fabric, pattern or book, and any specific notions – and wrote the name of the project in permanent marker on the outside. I leave dollshouse kits in their packets until I’m ready to build them, and keep the kits and accessories for a project all together in a labelled bag or storage box.  Yarn is left in its packet, and single skeins are grouped by weight. Try to get in the habit of putting tools back where they go when you are finished with them, and keep related tools together, e.g. crochet hooks all in one bag, or craft paints all in one cupboard. I’m certainly not perfect at all this, but I’m trying.

6. Multi-task, and prioritise your time - When I was younger, I think I spent a lot of time doing things that I didn't necessarily want to do, but felt like I had to - because of peer pressure, or family pressure, or social pressure.  Now that I am moving on in life, I have become rather more assertive about doing what I want, if it isn't hurting anyone, and also about using up waste pockets of time.  I knit on the train, I knit during talks at my son's school, while visiting with my in-laws, on long car journeys and when waiting for appointments. I even knit during my off-site work seminar yesterday - I felt conspicuous doing that because there were only about 40 people in the room, but at least half of them were working on laptops, reading email on their Blackberrys and texting on their phones while the speakers presented, so I felt defiant that I was probably paying more attention as I knit than those people were. Nobody said anything about the knitting and I got quite a lot done during the day. I have done applique and gathered Yo-Yos on long car journeys, I have taken sewing machines and knitting machines with us to holiday cottages, and assembled dollshouse furniture while camping.  It just takes a bit of forward planning and ingenious packing.

7. And most importantly, keep a record of your work.  Keep a camera handy, and snap progress pictures, and make sure you get a picture of finished objects. Keep these in a scrapbook, or post them on your blog if you have one. I find this the best motivational tool, and also the best weapon to combat the ‘I-never-get-anything-done’ blues.  There are weeks where the sum of my progress is 30 minutes of knitting and a few coats of paint on some dollshouse furniture, but at least I did something.  And unlike the endless repetition of household chores, that progress stays done and I can add to it when I get more free time.  

Because I’m the boss of my crafts.  


So what have I managed to fit in this week?  I completed the second block in my Kitchen foundation-pieced wallhanging which is a little jam or marmalade jar.

I also darned the ends in on one Selbuvotter glove, and started crocheting the edging on my Jaeger Natural Fleece Yoked Cardigan.  I've decided to go with the wooden buttons for the cardigan.  I had to travel up to a conference in Leicester Thursday night and all day Friday, and I took along my Baby Surprise Jacket and my Haapsalu Shawl, as well as my Selbuvotter Annemor 12 Wedgewood gloves.  I got as far as dividing for the fingers on the Annemor 12 glove, which is when I discovered that the charts for the fingers (and these are the Errata charts) bear no relation to the reality of stitch counts.  I looked on Ravelry and apparently this is a problem several other people have found, and you basically have to wing it.  So I spent some of the time in my hotel room working out a possible plan for the fingers which I will include on my project page if it works.

And I seamed up my Machine Knitted Regia Sock Wool Sleeveless Pullover and wore it to work. Not the most trendy of garments (although Retro is back in) but very comfortable and perfect for air conditioning in the office.  The shoulders came out too wide, partly due to the tension problem that made the back too wide, so they are a bit more like cap sleeves, but there you go.  At least it's finished and I got some practice in on my machine.

Best wishes, and here's hoping you are the boss of your crafts.

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