Saturday, 23 April 2011


The UK is having two four-day weekends in a row, one for Easter and one for a certain VIP wedding.  Lots of adventurous people have used the opportunity to book an 11-day holiday to jet off to foreign parts while only using up three days of their holiday allowance.  As we are going to New England later in the year, we don't have enough holiday left to book the time off. 

So I decided to have a 'stay-cation' instead at home.  We went shopping for ready meals so I wouldn't have to cook or plan meals and I have made a determined effort yesterday and today to a) not do anything chore-like, b) not to think about work and c) to just relax and chill out.  The weather is absolutely glorious, up to 25 degrees C or in that region, blue skies, yet with a light refreshing breeze. 

Yesterday I woke up and did a few hours of dollshousing, breakfasted and had a nap, then we took a tea tray out to the shady corner of the garden and lazed around for a few hours.  I was crocheting borders around my Learn to Knit Afghan Squares - I'm using a navy pure wool aran mystery yarn that I picked up a cheap load of, from Riverside Yarns (Riverford? can't remember what they are called) at a machine knitting show long ago.  They used to have cardboard boxes of unballed, unlabelled yarn at very cheap prices.  I'm having to guess how many stitches to do around each one - I've settled on 30 stitches to a side and a triple stitch in each corner, but of course some of the squares are bigger than that, so I am wavering a bit on pulling it out and going for 35.

After a tasty lunch in the garden, I had a nap in the shade before moving into the shed to work on my machine knit felted bag.
My first felted bag, using the Fiona Morris felted bag pattern that I mentioned last week, came out absolutely brilliantly.  I didn't take a 'before' photo but basically I had this floppy  loopy mess of oiled Shetland wool in a thin ply, that didn't look like it would ever be anything usable.  The pattern uses the knit side as the right side, and tucks in both directions on the wrong side to build up a thickness of layers.  But it is knit on T10 so very open and loose.  I threw it into the washing machine when I went to bed, on a 60 degree wash and was absolutely thrilled in the morning to find this charming bag.  It's like a magic trick.

So yesterday I knit another one, adapting the pattern to make the bag wider and bigger inside, added a flap and switched the twin handles for one long one.  This time I took a 'before' photo.  You can see how floppy it is, and the handle is so long that I had to knot it to keep the bag in shot.

And here is the finished result - another magic trick, producing a lovely felted messenger bag.  I might put a stiff base in to help it keep its shape.  I was guessing on how deep to knit the flap and on rounding the corners but it's come out fairly well.  Could have been a bit longer but it will work.

I still have about a third of a cone of yarn left so I could probably manage one more bag.

I came in for some sewing then, and added the parrot borders to my Hawaiaan Kaffe Fassett Potpourri Quilt. It's pretty wild, isn't it?

After a late supper of ready meals, I caught up on some telly and then watched some machine quilting shows on YouTube and QNNTV before retiring to bed with a machine knitting magazine.  The perfect day?

Today we headed off to Richmond-upon-Thames in the morning, for a little shopping, a stroll along the Thames, an icecream, and then we took over a table in a garden cafe in the park for a few hours.  I was knitting on my Cookie A Sunshine Sock - again.  Remember I ripped this out because the cast on wasn't stretchy enough?  Well, I got on quite well and was near the end of my second pattern repeat when I realised I had crossed a whole row of cables the wrong way in the first repeat.  So I ripped out again and reknit.  But then I realised that my sock didn't look like the one in the pattern picture.  I studied the pattern again and again and couldn't see what I was doing wrong.  So onto the lovely Ravelry to find that there are unpublished errata for this pattern and the cable crosses on the leg and foot pattern are reversed.  So I ripped out again and today finished the first repeat.  It finally looks like the picture but I have to say I am getting a bit sick of it.

And I think now I am going to go and do a little quilting...  The Stay-cation will be interrupted tomorrow as the in-laws are coming for Easter, so I will need to shovel out the ground floor so it looks less like we are living amid mountains of clutter, but I should be back on holiday on Monday!

Hope you are enjoying some sunshine and good weather, and lots of crafting, where you are.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Where is an engineer when you need one?

A lot of my free time this week (and, admittedly, some of the time when I was meant to be working) has been spent on solving the problems with my new-to-me Next Generation quilting frame.  I found several forum posts from Americans who strengthened their poles by sheathing them in EMT Conduit, a thin wall galvanised steel tube that isn't available in the right diameter in this country.  So I have gambled and ordered some mild steel tubing online, because I couldn't find a shop locally that sold it.

I ordered two 6m lengths because it was cheaper than ordering four 3m lengths (the frame has four poles), and I also ordered a thinner tubing to make a dead bar across the frame (makes it easier to quilt).  It belatedly occurred to me that because my tubes were 6m, I could cut them full length and replace two of the saggy poles altogether, if I could only work out a way of connecting them at each end to the frame. Then I wouldn't have to deal with the annoying ratchets at all on those two poles.

This is where the engineering came in.  You can buy tube inserts, and I concocted an elaborate plan using Google to purchase threaded tube inserts from one supplier, and screw in threaded rod from another supplier with star handles from yet another supplier.  That came to a grinding halt when I discovered you could only buy the tube inserts in packs of 100.  To make a long story short, I have come up with an alternate plan which involves no less than five online suppliers, and made my head hurt with extensive calculations, looking up ISO metric threading charts, British Standard tube widths etc.  Math is not my strong point. So this weekend I cleaned and degreased my metal tubes, and sprayed them with Metal Protekt, and am waiting for all my supplies to turn up to see if this is all going to turn into a workable quilt frame, and not just a colossal waste of time and money.

Meanwhile, I wore my new Holden Shawlette to work, where noone commented on it at all - but I felt very glamorous and cosy and spent a lot of time admiring myself in the bathroom mirror.

I also re-knit my Cookie A Sunshine Sock back to where I ripped out, and slightly past it.  Cast on is now fine and stretchy.

Now that my knitting machines are squeaky clean and all oiled to go, I have been knitting a Fiona Morris Felted Bag pattern on the standard machine, in tuck stitch using oiled Shetland wool.  It has a decorative top in e-wrapped boucle yarn.  I've done the body of the bag and one strap, just need to do the other strap and then I can sew it up for the washing machine and get to the fun part of felting it.

I finished the bottom of my Hawaiian Kaffe Fassett Potpourri Quilt and I was pulling fabric from my stash to decide on a border.  I had A) a batik that had all the right colours but looked too much like a frame, I had B) a Texas wildflower print which was well matched in terms of broken colour, but not quite the right green and of course pretty far away from the tropical theme, and C) a wild jungle print with parrots, frogs and lizards which matched the tropical theme and several of the colours, but the wildness was fighting with the quilt a bit.

I left them up on the wall for a few days, and decided to be bold and go with the parrot print.  So on Saturday when I had Quilting Club, I carefully cut out borders to centre the parrot both vertically and horizontally.  I also cut borders for my Stars Over England quilt and started sewing the blocks together.  Hopefully I will be quilting both these quilts on my new frame!  some day...

And in the evenings in front of the telly, I've been plugging away at my remaining Johnny Rotten mitten.  I'm on the decreases for the top now, so not long to go.  Soon I will have a snuggly warm pair of mittens, just in time for summer  :)

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Summer days

We've been enjoying summer temperatures of 22 degrees C and gorgeous sunshine, which is incredibly unusual for April in the UK. I actually wore a skirt and bare legs to the office on Thursday, although I still had to wear a light woolly hat in the morning on the way to the station before the sun had warmed up the air.  Our apple tree is putting on its annual show of gorgeous blossom and looks lovely.

It's been a bit of a frustrating week in terms of my new quilt frame.  The machine appears to be working fine, which is good news.  The poles on the frame, however, are so floppy and saggy that I haven't actually been able to get quilting.  I was also having trouble with the rachets (the plastic bits on the ends that hold the poles up) but I've sprayed those with silicone to loosen them up.  Both these problems are apparently known issues with the Next Generation frame, as I have found out on the Homequiltingsystems Yahoo group.  The mystifying thing is that many people swear by their Next Generation frame and how great it is.  I have tightened the join as much as I can, and it doesn't seem to have that  much play in it, so I really don't understand why they are so bendy.  In the USA, they can strengthen their poles by sheathing them in metal conduit, but despite visiting several DIY places and a few metal places, and extensive googling, I haven't found a source in the UK yet.

Meanwhile, I finished my Holden Shawlette in Malabrigo fingering weight.  It's come out a lot deeper than it looked in the picture.  Also, my picots were more like nubs, much less prominent than in the picture, so I don't know what I did wrong there.  I didn't try to block them out as they really are just little bumps, so I concentrated on the scallops instead.  I really like this colour and the yarn is so soft and cosy.

Bad news on my Cookie A Sunshine socks in Colinette Jitterbug.  I really love this yarn, and I had got far enough to try them on when I discovered that my cast-on wasn't stretchy enough.  I had done a loose cast-on but not a super-stretchy one, but it turns out this lacy cable pattern is very stretchy and my cast-on is too tight.  So I took this picture for posterity, pulled it all out, and started over with my favourite stretchy cast-on (cast-on over two dpns held together, and rib the first row using both the ball yarn and the end held together).

I've been doing a bit of Spring cleaning, inspired by a visit to 'The Cult of Beauty' exhibition at the V&A museum.  It made me feel deeply dissatisfied with my cluttered existence, so I had a bit of a turnout.  One of the things I tackled was a fair-isle sweater that I knit on the machine about 10 years ago using Jamieson jumper weight. The sleeves have always been about 2.5 inches too long, which contributed to it being rarely worn.  I finally decided to do something about it.  I threaded two circular needles through the rows on either side of the excess, opened up the seam slightly and cut through the knitting to unravel all the unwanted rows.  Then I grafted the two edges together and closed the seam again. Voila - sleeves that are the right length.  Why didn't I do this 10 years ago????

The rest of my time this week was spent in the knitting shed, cleaning the remaining 600 or so needles on the knitting machines, replacing them, and following the rest of the instructions on the maintenance video for checking brushes, tension masts etc.  So the machines are all clean and ready for use - apart from I discovered that my Brother 260 Chunky actually has a sponge bar in the ribber (which is now long dead).  I must have known that at one point, but I had been thinking that it was just a plain plastic bar like in my 881 and 950i ribbers.  I don't even know if you can still buy those, so I may need to recondition it myself like I did last year for the main bar. 

I've signed for the I-Knit Sock Club so I am looking forward to getting some nice treats in the post starting in May.  I've never been in a yarn club before but I've always been attracted by the idea - just been put off by the price, especially for the overseas clubs.  This one provides two patterns as well as the yarn, one sock and one non-sock, so it sounds like it will have a lot of potential and won't just feel like a sock treadmill.  Also the yarn sounds nice, with some big names like Cherry Tree Hill.

Hope you are enjoying some good weather where you are!

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Happy Mother's Day - to me

Look what I bought myself for Mother's Day! (yes, here in the UK it was Mothering Sunday today).

This is a Grace Next Generation quilting frame with 120" poles (wide enough to do a King size quilt, and even to turn quilts sideways) and a Pfaff HobbyGrandQuilter 1200 machine.  All secondhand on Ebay for a bargain price (the whole set up for about what the machine alone would cost new).

I was wistfully watching videos of HandiQuilter mid-arm machines on Youtube last weekend, wishing I had more money and more room, when it occurred to me to look on Ebay to see if there were any secondhand machines.  As they aren't very common here in the UK, not surprisingly there were none.  But my search on 'quilting frame' suddenly popped up the just-listed entry for the above.  Bargain price for 'Buy it Now'.  I did a quick bit of research on the Yahoo HomeQuiltingSystems group and found it was a well known frame and machine combo, and decided to go for it.  And we picked it up today.  It was all dissassembled and took us most of the afternoon to put back together, so I ran out of time and energy to actually have a play on it apart from testing that the machine works.

It's still only got a 9" throat, which is the same as  my current machine, but my current frame can only accept quilts up to 60", so it is going to be a huge improvement to be able to do an entire wide quilt.  Hopefully I can finally tackle my collection of huge tops from my pre-frame days.  As you can see, I've had to set it up in our living room which is the only room big enough, so once again my family are going to have to live around my hobby for a while.  I've committed to about a month to my DH, so will have to get cracking.  Luckily we've got two double bank holidays (four-day weekends) this month, one for Easter and one for the Royal Wedding.

What else have I been up to this week?  I've started giving my knitting machines a sorely-needed clean.  One of the videos I rescued and converted to DVD before the third VCR died on me was a knitting machine maintenance video.  I transferred the file onto my smartphone so I could watch it out in the knitting machine shed and pause it while I completed each step.  I brought out lots of fluff when I ran the cleaning brush through the sponge bar channel, and now I am taking out all the needles, cleaning them in surgical spirit, and replacing them.  As I have three machines each with a ribber, that's over 1000 needles, so it is taking me quite a while.  I'm just about finished the first machine (400 needles) but it is giving me sore fingers.

I wet-blocked 24 afghan squares from my Learn to Knit Afghan.  That also took quite a long time and virtually every plastic-headed pin that I own, to pin them all out to 9 inches square.  As you can see, they are rather a motley assortment. Now I need to crochet around each one and join them together.  I have some navy blue aran in the shed that I might use.

I have been doggedly ploughing on with my Holden Shawlette and am now doing a picot castoff on the edge.  Really annoyingly, I ran into a knot about 6 rows from the end.  I did the overlap/knit with both ends method of joining on, but now I am wishing I had done a spit splice.  Not ripping it out now, and it was in one of the garter rows so isn't obvious.  I have been having my usual trouble when I have a project that doesn't require much concentration - my brain ceases to concentrate at all and I start making stupid mistakes.  In this case, omitting a set of decreases for about 8 (very long) rows and having to drop down and fix them.  I guess the knitter's version of 'less haste more speed', is more like 'more chart reading, less time wasting'.

The new manager has started at work, and she seems really nice.  And our Director has verbally told me that I will be getting an 'acting up' allowance (more money).  Don't know how much yet, but I feel a sense of achievement to have asked for it and actually get it.  Considering I was all prepared to quit only a matter of weeks ago, it has been quite a turnaround for the better.

So I need to get some practice fabric rolled onto my new frame and start learning how to use it this week - wish me luck!

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