Friday, 29 July 2011

Brave? or stupid?

I laughed when I read Sue's comment on last week's post about my new quilt pattern on the quilting frame: "You are so brave to do a baptist fan. That has got to be one of the hardest patterns to do freehand like you are doing. Every little waver shows."

Well, yes it does Sue, and I have lots of wobbles and deformed blades to prove it.  Brave?  or just stupid?  I have been see-sawing all week on this question.  On the one hand it's been great practice and I've learned a lot, plus the quilt is now done (yippee!) and no longer just a useless top hanging on the back of a door.  It is now useable and off my guilt list.  On the other hand, I have committed the sacrilege of machine quilting a vintage top made from genuine feedsacks, with the double sacrilege of not doing a perfect job, so maybe I should just be holding out my wrists for the Quilt Police handcuffs right now.

But then I took it off the frame, and saw how great it looks.  Yes, if you look closely there are lots of dubious blades, some alignment problems, some wobbles, even some accidental overlaps.  But then the quilt top itself is not that well made, it is hand pieced out of relatively coarse vintage feedsacks, with bulky seams, and had never been loved enough to be actually finished until I bought it and added borders to it.  Somehow, even with all the wonkiness, the curves of the baptist fans really set off the quilt design.

So what did I learn?
  • I found it easier to make smooth curves going faster, not slower.
  • Rather than staring at the line I am on, I found also looking at the previous line and imagining that I was steering parallel to it helped to drive a smooth line.
  • Drawing the pattern on paper really helped to develop muscle memory.
  • The key to this pattern seemed to be to get the final, longest curve as smooth as possible.  As long as that line was pretty smooth, wobbles on shorter, earlier curves of the fan didn't seem as obvious.
  • Keeping track of how many passes I get per bobbin sounds like a great idea, except that my machine does not seem to consistently wind the same amount onto each bobbin.  Still, it broadly helped.
  • Tweezers help to bring the short bobbin thread to the surface of the quilt if I used the thread cutter on the machine and had to restart in the middle of a pass.
  • A quilt with very bulky seam allowances in the middle (the centres of the spiderweb blocks) and relatively smooth seam allowances in the border, is not going to wind onto the rollers smoothly and the edges will tend to become slacker than the middle.  Therefore it is prudent to check the alignment of the panto in two or three places along the quilt after a roll-on, prior to stitching.
  • No matter how good I am getting at steering, bulky seam allowances will grab the hopping foot and inexorably yank it off track to go in completely the wrong direction.  This will also happen if the power cord gets wrapped around the corner of the carriage, if DS bumps into the edge of the quilt frame on his way past, if a loose thread from the edge of the quilt snags the hopping foot, or if one of the 70-year-old seam allowances suddenly gives up the ghost and a yawning chasm opens up just in front of the presser foot.
  • If the pantograph was aligned to the quilt top at the beginning, and mysteriously begins to be not aligned partway through the quilting, it may not be the rolling on at all.  It may be that the #!x(+! cursed masking tape holding the panto to the table has in fact given up any idea of being sticky and the panto has actually slid forward an inch at one end.
I used Hobbs Heirloom 80/20 wadding so I am going to wash it gently and let it shrink up a bit, which should do something to disguise the less than perfect stitching.  I am going to do the baptist fan again on a big Civil War log cabin kit that I made from a kit, and hopefully do a better job as it is pressed quite flat so the seam allowances shouldn't get in the way as much.  I'm also going to use a lot more masking tape!

Quilting is pretty much all I've done this week, as I had a deadline to get the quilt off the frame so that we could empty the living room as  we are getting our carpet cleaned tomorrow.  So my frame is now out in the garden (too long to go anywhere else) and the sofa and everything else has been crammed and stacked in the conservatory.  I took the poles and the machine off the frame obviously, but I didn't want to have to unscrew the table.

Otherwise, commuter knitting has been the same as last week, and TV knitting has been the same also.  The only other new development is that I started machine knitting a toy doll, a little girl in a dress, using a pattern that I bought for .25p at the machine knitting show.  It's fun to just knit something low key, and use up some of my acrylic 4-ply.  I was feeling quite pleased with the completed body until I realised one leg was mysteriously several rows longer than the other.  So I will have to reknit that leg but it won't take long.

I've been wearing my Clapotis shawl a lot during this miserable summer, for an extra layer of warmth.  I made it last year from Paton's Linen Touch, which I think is now discontinued, which is a blend of linen and cotton.  The Clapotis is so nice to wear, a really nice texture and cool to the touch even though it adds a little warmth on cool days.  It's also worn really well, with no pilling and only a little fuzzing.  I suddenly realised that I should grab more of this yarn before it disappears, so I found some cherry and navy balls online at a good price and snagged them for my stash.  I wouldn't mind having another Clapotis in the navy, except that it was so incredibly tedious to knit that I don't think I could face doing another one.

Good news on the Sock Club front, I've found someone who loves the first two yarns and is willing to swap me some great sock yarns from her stash, so everybody's a winner.  I'm still looking forward to the months to come, it's fun getting surprise packages of yarn in the post.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Better week

Do you remember I lost my earring last weekend.  Well I was relieved to find it on the floor near where I was working on my dollshouse (this is after scrutinising the lawn around the apple tree for 10 minutes, in case it fell out while I was picking up windfalls...)  Never did find the missing double-ended bodkin.

[break]  You won't believe this.  While I was downloading my pictures from the camera just before I started  blogging, the doorbell rang.  It was a kid visiting next door, and his dad, who had thrown a ball over our garden wall.  I politely went and retrieved it for them (which means finding shoes, finding the key to unlock the back door etc.).  Not ten minutes later, as I am typing the above paragraph, the doorbell rings again.  Same kid.  I gritted my teeth and said fairly calmly that I was working, and I would rather he would be more careful.  His grandmother (who is our actual neighbour) suddenly pops us at his elbow, and I explain that I am doing some work and she says they've got a big family group visiting.  Then I say politely to the kid that I will get it this time, but that will be the last time tonight.  Then our neighbour, who has always been perfectly pleasant, suddenly glares at me and says "I'll remember that next time I get a parcel" and stomps off.  To add insult to the incident, I couldn't even find the da**ed ball which turned out to be stuck in the most inaccessible part of our border and I got a bit scratched retrieving it.  So I don't know what that's all about - apparently I may order too many things online for her liking?  Although I wouldn't say she's been inundated with parcels, maybe one every two months.  Neighbours...  She was a bit funny when we had our security lights installed (which is on that side of the house) after the burglary, even though she has a light on her side of the gap which is on every night all night.  Our gardens are fairly small by the way, not exactly ball game ideal.

Anyhooo...  This week has been a nice mix of quilting, knitting and dollshousing, and things have been going well at work.  Today I had my quilting club, and tomorrow is my local knitting group, so it's a nice crafty weekend.

Commuter knitting this week has continued to be the Cookie A Sunshine Sock and I'm almost ready to start the heel flap.  TV knitting has been the Berrocco eyelet jumper and the Drops cabled yoke.  Both of these are going fairly well now that I am used to the charts, and I can actually knit on them while watching TV.  The big breakthrough with the cables was the belated realisation that the cables are snaking over and under each other, which makes it a lot quicker to know which way to cross the cable so I don't have to keep looking at the symbol key.  My tension isn't perfect (I tend towards loose knitting) but I am hoping that blocking will smooth out the cables a bit more.

On the quilting front, my new tracks arrived and I fitted them, then I loaded a practice sandwich to practice a Baptist Fan pantograph.  This is much harder as you have to quilt smooth parallel curves.  The carriage is steering much more smoothly without the cracks and breaks in the old tracks, but I am still finding it difficult.  I practiced several rows, and you can see they are fairly wonky.  I also drew the design over and over while on a not very interesting course at work, to build muscle memory.

Now I have loaded a real quilt, which is a vintage spiderweb top that I bought in America and added borders to.  The baptist fan pattern will look more traditional on this vintage top.  I am trying really hard to achieve smooth parallel curves.  Some of the fans aren't bad, others are not great, but overall the effect isn't too bad so far.  I'm a bit afraid of ruining the top, but on the other hand it's not accomplishing anything hanging on the back of the door for five years as an unfinished quilt.  I'm using Hobbs Heirloom 80/20 wadding for this one so that it will shrink up a bit when I wash it.

At Quilting Club, the first phase of our UFO challenge has drawn to an end.  It seems to be working and is motivating most people.  I have completed about 80% of block 16 of my 25-block applique quilt and will keep plugging away on this block even though  we have now moved on to Project Number Four on the list.

My Project Number Four was supposed to be my Kaffe Fassett Stars Over England  quilt, but I actually got this to top stage this week in preparation for quilting it on the frame.

So instead I am going to tackle a Patchwork Knapsack, copying one that I fell in love with on another camper at Knit Camp last summer.  She very kindly let me take photos (that's her in the photo, sitting down holding the bag), and told me it was adapted from a pattern by Susan Briscoe.  So I bought the book but didn't do anything for a year.  Today I worked out the measurements that I am going to change on the pattern to make the bag wider at the sides, and how I will adapt the front pocket and the patchwork to be more like the one I saw at Knit Camp.  I even have an American Jane layer cake (by Moda) of fabrics similar to the one's that she used.

Then I pieced together a panel of Square Dance blocks for the front and side pockets, and some strip panels to be the back/front and sides.

Making the Square Dance blocks was fun, I can imagine making a full size quilt that way.  I feel slightly guilty though because I suspect the instructions I found on the web may be breaking copyright on an author's book somewhere, and I don't like supporting that kind of behaviour.

That's about it for this week.  Still feeling a bit unsettled about the run-in out of the blue with the neighbour.  I wonder if she has been brooding on our 'crimes' for a long time without actually saying anything before.  For that matter, I wonder what our crimes are?  Bringing down the neighbourhood by getting burgled perhaps?  Some people have too much time on their hands...

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Having a grumpy day

It's been one of those random days when nothing seems to go right and the universe seems to be out to get me.  I think I will retire with an alcoholic drink and watch a Disney film, on the principle that I will be safe on the sofa and nothing else can go wrong.

It's been an ok week.  My commuter knitting has been the Drop Stitch Shawl and I also took it to I-Knit on Thursday night.  I've stopped increasing regularly now, and will likely only increase occasionally to see if I can turn it into a crescent shape instead of a triangle.  While I was at I-Knit, Maurice told me that it was Machine Knitting (MK) Live in Selsden on Saturday.

I haven't been to a MK fair for years, so this morning I looked up how to get there and thought: "why not?".  I was interested to see how MK had moved on over the years, especially since I've heard that it is starting to pick up in popularity again on the back of the handknitting boom.

It took about an hour and a half to get there, via Clapham Junction (where I missed my connection due to the apparently non-availability of Oyster card touch in points anywhere in the station other than the main entrances), East Croydon, and then a tram ride.  It was raining and gusting wind by the time I got there, so even with my brollie I was rather damp by the time I found the college and the entrance to the show.

Oh my god.  It was like Night of the Living Dead.  I'm used to an older crowd at quilting shows and the like, but this was like a nursing home.  I saw one girl in her 20s (perhaps a college textiles student), two other women possibly in their 40s and then everyone else looked about 90.  I'm talking wheelchairs, wheeled zimmer frames, shaking palsies, humpbacks, canes and a positive sea of grey hair.  If there has been a mini-renaissance in the MK world, it doesn't seem to have made it as far as the MK Live show.

But what was really disappointing was that, as far as the stands at that show, machine knitting seems to have completely stalled in the 90s.  Not only was it the same exhibitors that I used to see at the shows 10 years ago, almost everything for sale was either actually made before 1995, or designed to look like it was.  I only saw two garments that I would consider wearing myself, and one of those was handknit.  Almost everything was drop-shouldered, 80s styling, very unfashionable, very baggy.  Some of the stalls were more like antique dealers, selling bits of equipment manufactured in the 1980s or earlier, and box after box of tattered patterns and ancient books from the 90s or 80s.  About the only concession I saw to modern Ravelry-type trends was a pattern for fingerless mitts on Ann Brown's (Posh Frocks) stall.  I came away thoroughly depressed.  The only things I bought were a few .25p old patterns, and a chunky-gauge double-ended bodkin.

Going home was the same in reverse:  rain, just miss train at Clapham Junction and had to wait 30 minutes.  And when I finally got home, I found I had an empty bag where my bodkin should be and I can't find it anywhere.  Plus, later on I realised I was only wearing one earring and seem to have lost one of my favourite knitting-themed earrings.  Bleah.  Some days you just wish you had stayed in bed.

On a more positive note, my new tracks for my quilting frame showed up this week, undamaged, and I have installed them.  The new Grace laser pointer was in the delivery as well, but I am less impressed with it.  It's really cheap and plasticy, and I can't work out how to install the laser tips to narrow the beam down.  The battery case won't stay shut on its own but luckily the mounting bolt holds the case tightly shut.  I'm going to try to learn to do a Baptist Fan pantograph which is going to require very accurate steering, so I've loaded a practice sandwich for some practice quilting.

That's about it this week.  I've knitted a bit on the second Sunshine Sock, and done some more rows on the Berrocco Eyelet Tunic, and even done some rows on the Estonian Lace Shawl.  I still haven't decided about unpicking it.  I checked the book and I have the correct number of stitches but for some reason (probably my gauge as I am a loose knitter) it is coming out wider than the typical measurement.  I should probably block what I've done while it's on the cable and see how wide it comes out and how that's going to work for wearing the shawl.

My second delivery of the I-Knit Sock Club showed up, I won't post a picture yet but it is a luscious Natural Dye Studio fingering yarn.  Sadly it is again in a colour I won't wear, unless I make socks out of it.  It came with two cute beaded stitch markers, and a note asking me to email them for the patterns.  The patterns this month are for socks and a scarf, both designed by Gerard of I-knit.  I am beginning to worry that all the colours will be ones I won't wear, if they are all being chosen by Gerard and he seems to like acid, yellow-toned colours.  I like those in quilts but not near my face in clothes - I'm more of a cherry red, navy blue, and pastels kind of girl.  Still, the yarn is lovely and maybe next time I will like the colour more.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Too Many Hobbies on holiday

We went camping this week, staying in a lovely country park just outside Southampton.  The good news is that we didn't get burgled this time.  The bad news is that the weather was intermittently appalling.  Wednesday night the gales were so strong that the entire trailer tent was shaking about as the rain lashed like a drum on the roof - quite interesting trying to get to sleep in that!  Thursday we gave up and drove home (an hour and a half) to spend some time in the dry and have a shower. Luckily we are well used to rain as it almost always does rain on us when we go camping, and we were able to pack up the awning all dried out on Friday evening when the weather improved, and then pack up the main unit in the sun today before coming home.  We had a nice time, and I got to do lots of shopping, plus we went over to Cowes on the Isle of Wight for lunch one day  (as you do...).

I took several knitting projects on holiday, and we also visited a couple of shops. The Dolls House in Whitchurch, Hampshire, is well-stocked with all the usual Dolls House Emporium imports, some Reutters, I think I saw a bit of Bespaq or Bespaq knock-off, etc.  I didn't notice any handcrafted miniatures, but they certainly have everything of the cheap import variety, including some DIY materials, glues, big wall of lights, and a small selection of 1/24th furniture.  I've been wanting to go to Liss Wools, also in Hampshire, for some time as their big ad is in some of my knitting magazines. They seem to have an online shop with a different name,  It was a welcoming spacious store, with two big red sofas inviting people to knit (I didn't have time unfortunately as we arrived not long before closing), loads of attractive knitted up sample garments, an attractive window display which included a miniature knitting shop done all in knitting.  They had Rowan Yarns, and I think Sirdar, Manos, sock yarns, Sublime, and they stock the Namaste knitting bags and accessories.  I literally only had about 10 minutes to whiz around, and to grab a 5mm circular needle for one of my projects, but I would certainly stop back in again next time we are going that way.

As well as the knitting projects, I took my 16th applique block and am getting on well with that.  It's probably about half done now, although I could only see well enough to work on it when we actually had some sun coming into the awning.

I finished my first Cookie A Sunshine Sock and cast on  for the second one, knitting on it in various restaurants and on park benches through the week.

I knit several rows on my Bergere de France Eyelet jumper.  This lace tunic has clever shading from one colour to another by knitting with two strands, and switching one strand for the new colour.  In the picture you can see that I am currently shading from green to blue.  I was having trouble with my cables having a loose stitch, but I've just discovered that if I knit the preceding stitches in the cable very tightly, then the cable row is a lot tidier.

I bought the 5mm circulars for my City Tweed Drop Stitch Shawl  in Knitwitches 'Seriously Gorgeous Swiss Silk with Kid Mohair' as I was finding it very awkward to knit with full length straights - the needle ends kept hitting the chair arms etc.  This is knitting up very quickly and shows off the yarn well.  It is supposed to be a big triangular shawl but I think I may stop increasing for a while and turn it into a crescent-shaped shawl, as it is almost as long as I want it already.

I started a new project which is rather complicated, so it was nice to have some peace and quiet on the holiday to get it started.  It is a DROPS sleeveless cardigan, pattern R-557, which is a free download.  And I am using the gorgeous Iris colourway of New Lanark DK that I bought during our (dis)organised excursion from Knit Camp in the summer.  As well as it being a complicated (for me anyway) cable pattern, you have to short row so that the top edge ends up narrower than the bottom edge.  This is because you are shaping the sideways yoke as you knit.  The picture shows one chart repeat completed, and the next one underway.  The chart is confusing as well, it uses completely different symbols than I am used to.  The chart is also entitled 'M-1'.  So needless to say I found the written directions rather confusing for a while, as I couldn't see where the patterning started after you had increased one stitch :)  I've coloured the chart in with crayons which has helped a bit.  I expect I'll get used to it.  The wool is knitting up fine, a bit splitty.  It's a traditionally hairy wool which feels a bit scratchy, but the comments on Ravelry suggest that it will soften up after washing.

And I even did a few rows on my Estonian Lace Shawl.  I am beginning to have a very bad feeling about this as it is starting to look far too wide, even unblocked.  I need to look at the book again to see what are their typical measurements for a rectangular shawl, but I am fearing that I have included too many repeats of the Lily of the Valley pattern.  By the time you add a border, this is going to be enormous.  I hope I don't have to pull back... all those noops.... whimper....

So it was a very crafty week, as I also took along some knitting and quilting magazines to get caught up on.  When we were home for a few hours on Thursday, I even did some sewing on my Stars over England quilt which I will add to the queue for the quilting frame.  Before we left for camping, I decided to turn one of my quilt tops into a quilt back  by adding bigger borders.  This was a top I made out of re-used vintage star blocks which were falling apart.  I took them off their old background, and appliqued them to new background squares and set them in a zig-zag.  Now it is going to be a back for my big vintage Lone Star quilt top.

I hope you had a good week too, with better weather!

Saturday, 2 July 2011

The one where I finish a long term project

Yes, I actually finished my Learn to Knit Afghan from the Barbara Walker book, on which I re-learned how to knit back in Autumn 2006.  While she offers 63 squares, I stopped at a more modest 25 and used 24 for the afghan.  I can remember trying to figure out what the 'worsted' wool was that the book called for (I bought Debbie Bliss Merino Aran as the nearest equivalent I could afford in the UK at the time).  And I can remember painfully re-learning to knit, teaching myself continental style from the wonderful free videos in the website.  And now it's done, complete with garter stitch border which really pulls together all the disparate squares.  In fact, it looks like a quilt now.  It's lovely and warm as well.  And I can knit!  I'm still no expert, but it has long since become a pleasurable and relaxing activity (except when it's all going wrong...).

And even when it does all go wrong, I have the confidence and patience to pull it out and start again, as I've done several times now with my Cookie A Sunshine Socks.  I'm just about to start the toe, and it's fitting really well. 

I've quilted my Seven Wonders of the World Stack n Whack quilt this week, a project that I started for my son back in 1999.  The backing is made up of Y2K fabrics sewn together, that's how old it is.  I used a simple pantograph design stitched top to bottom.  I'm getting much better at following the lines but am still being thwarted by my dodgy tracks, but apparently my new tracks have arrived in the UK and they will be sending them to me soon.  I've got three more tops to go after this quilt, and a fourth one that just needs borders. I'm beginning to develop a Quilt Mountain in my bedroom/sewing room, piled up waiting for binding.  Perhaps everyone is going to get a quilt for christmas this year...

I pulled out another old project this week, my Bergere de France Eyelet jumper in mercerised cotton.  It took me a little while to work out where I was in the lace pattern but I'm back into the swing of it now.  I didn't feel like knitting on it during the winter because it is such a summery project.  And I made myself keep working on my applique block for the Group UFO challenge, making templates, tracing them on fabric, tracing the placement lines etc.  I've started sewing down the stems now for a whirling design with four roses on curving stems coming out of a centre rose.

Well, I'm going to go and wrap up in my new Afghan-that-looks-like-a-quilt, and knit in front of the tv.  Happy Canada Day and Independence Day to you (1 and 4 July respectively), hope you had a good day.

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