Sunday, 30 October 2011

Knitting nirvana in Northampton

Today was a long drive south, and luckily we stopped and shelled out for snow boots because boy did it snow. We knew it was coming, so we stuck to the interstate for safety, which meant that we went right past Northampton, home of WEBs, America's yarn store. I thought I wouldn't be going until Monday but as the snow was still relatively light, we made a quick one hour stop.

Oh. My. God. I thought my head was going to explode. It's the size of a British supermarket AND there is a whole back warehouse full of sale yarns. Picture a huge room full of every yarn you've ever heard of, every obscure yarn called for in foreign patterns, every luxury yarn you've ever seen in Vogue Knitting. Nirvana. Thank god I had brought a shopping list or I think I would have just started running around throwing skeins in the air and speaking in tongues.

I got yarn for about five projects on my shopping list and a gift skein of Madeleine Tosh sock yarn for m-I-l. the we had to go as the snow was getting thicker. Sadly we ended up taking about 90 minutes of white knuckle driving to go 20 miles on the increasingly hairy interstate before finally reaching Lenox. Apparently there has been 18 inches so far and another foot expected. Luckily we are here for two nights and there is another knitting store here, Colourful Stitches, which is supposed to be fabulous...

Friday, 28 October 2011

Quilts, yarn, and iPad apps

We've had a great few days, with glorious sunshine today but it is very cold and apparently a risk of snow on the way. I hope not, as we aren't used to driving in it and I doubt the rental cAr has the right tyres on it. I had bought a warm coat at the LL Bean outlet and I've really been wearing it.

Yesterday we went to the Shelburne Museum and had a fabulous day. It was pretty empty as it is the end of their season, so we almost had the place to ourselves. We headed straight to the quilt exhibit to see some of their fabulous collection of quilts, some lovely examples and I took lots of pictures. This is a big outdoor museum bringing together heritage buildings from around Vermont so loads to see. There were more quilts and samplers etc. in many of the furnished homes, and also a collection of dolls and even some dolls houses. There is also an enormous side wheel paddle steamer on dry land, fascinating inside, and all sorts of amazing collections including hundreds of 1/12 scale circus figurines. I even did very wel at the gift shop where they had the cutest embroidered felt Xmas ornaments, very reasonable, and I bought several.

Today we went to the State capitol Montpelier where I struck gold. First of all, it is full of period wooden houses that look just like Greenleaf dolls houses so I took loads of photos. Secondly, I managed to stumble across a wonderful knitting shop The Knitting Studio, even though they had just moved to 112 Main street. What a great shop! Really big, loads of great yarns including from the region, very helpful staff, husband chairs. I found loads of new to me yarns, it was very hard to choose. In the end, I came away with five skeins of Elsebeth Lavold Silky Wool, 45 wool, 35 silk, 20 nylon, in a lovely tweedy purple, enough for a vest. Nine skeins of her Hempathy, 34 hemp, 41 cotton, 25 Modal, which feels like linen on the ball but softens and has drape when washed (they had a sample garment) in a faded denim (I wanted turquoise but they didn't have enough) for a top. Four skeins of Mirasol Tupa which we can get in the UK but this was on sale, 50 wool 50 silk, in pink. Three 100 g skeins of Queensland collection Rustic Tweed which feels gorgeous , 63 wool, 27 alpaca and 10 Donegal, in a tweedy turquoise, and one luxury skein for a shawlette of Juniper Moon Farm Findley, 50 wool 50 silk, in a sort of burgundy purple, so soft and light.

Then we drove up to Johnson where we saw a covered bridge. On the way, we stopped at Baileys Floral in Morrisville, which stocks a limited selection of yarn. They had loads of Peaches and Cream, so I bought one ball to knit a facecloth, and I also fell for a gorgeous skein of Malabrigo Sock for a shawlette, in peacock greens and blues. In Johnson I was looking for a third knit shop but it had closed down.

To find all of these, I am using the internet site Knitmap, which tells you what yarn shops are in your area, incredibly useful when you are travelling. I also have an app by Map Muse to find quilt stores, but it doesn't seem nearly as well populated or accurate. I am using free wifi so today used the Free Wifi app to find a hotspot in Montpelier. And of course I have been looking up opening times, menus, email, skyping with DS in the UK... The iPad had become my essential travel companion.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Jackson to Stowe

Today we drove through the White Mountains into Vermont. Mostly it was natural beauty spots but I did find a small quilt shop that was shutting down. I bought one fat quarter and three of the leather thimbles that I use when stitching down binding, all at 25% off.

We stopped in Barre for lunch and I was very excited to find a leaflet advertising the Real Good Toys dollhouse factory outlet! DH accused me of planning this visit, but it really was happen chance. So we drove up the road to find it.

Everything was marked down but I was surprised at how expensive they were to begin with. I think we are spoiled in the UK with fairly reasonably priced miniatures. I did see one very cute half scale victorian but it was $750 even marked down. I bought two tubes of Quick Grip glue which is hard to get in the UK and some strips of LED lights ditto. I hadn't realised they were based in Vermont but when I think about it, I realise how much both their houses and Greenleaf houses look like New England architecture. For example we saw this house in Stowe, very like a dollhouse. And there was one in Barre near the shop that had windows with surrounds just like a Greenleaf house.

We were just turning around in Stowe on the way to the hotel, when I spotted this sign for quilts and yarn and shrieked at DH to pull over . He is well trained so I was soon being welcomed by three ladies knitting, who invited me to pull up a chair. So I did, and knit a row on my shawl while we chatted. Very nice welcome to Stowe. Tomorrow we are going to the Shelburne Museum where I hope to see loads of quilts.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Shopping my brains out in New Hampshire

Shopping my brains out in New Hampshire

So we've been in New Hampshire for a few days, which just seems to be Mecca for quilters and knitters. I even saw an official road sign directing drivers off a highway to a knitting shop (unfortunately my chauffeur/DH didn't see it).

My first yarn experience was when DH spotted Nancy's Alterations and Yarn, across a side street from the Conway Scenic Railroad. The owner was very friendly and stayed open late while I browsed. It's a small shop but had a nice selection and variety by British standards, yarns like Plymouth, Lamb's Pride, Malabrigo, and lots of others. I fell for two exquisite skeins of lace yarn by a company I wasn't familiar with, Ella Rae, made in Italy. Extra fine merino, incredibly soft, hand dyed effect, think it was $26 a skein, will make a lovely shawl.

Today we drove an hour south to Keepsake Quilting, a place I have wanted to visit for almost 20 years. It didn't disappoint, fairly large although not as big as Hancocks of Paducah which is my main American quilt shop experience. Fabric is arranged somewhat randomly so it was hard to find things on my list. Some is by genre, ie civil war, but then there will be civil war fabrics dotted randomly around the shop in themed displays, or in colour families as well. Not much flannel, almost no fat quarters, limited books or patterns. Lots of fabric though and I was able to drop a few hundred dollars crossing things off my shopping list. I benefited from a 15%off coupon which I earned by bringing a little Halloween quilt to show and tell with. I also picked up hard to get notions like steam a seam lite, fusible batting, etc, a new Turning Twenties book 'around the block', an iron storage pouch that you can put a hot iron into, a Marti michel kaleidoscope ruler, two calendars, some gift cards, and I can't remember what else. I was very good at fabric shopping and only bought for existing projects, nothing new.

After a spot of lunch, I dove into the yarn shop next door, Patternworks, which had some gorgeous yarn. Very wel stocked, loads of names I recognised from American knitting magazines and even some yarn from Maine. I had a brief but intense love affair with some Art Fibres beaded and sequined lace weight, absolutely gorgeous but $50 a small skein. i bought two skeins of Lambs Pride bulky to try the felted boxes in the Mason Dixon book, some kollage square dpns to try, a Stitch Fixer set, some coiless safety pin markers.

Then we drove another hour south to Henniker to visit Quilted Threads, a lovely shop with very friendly staff. This was more of a traditional quilt shop. I picked up a bit more fabric, some lengths of continuous zipper, two jacket patterns as gifts, and a pattern for storage cubes. I wanted some machine quilting DVDs but they only had a couple. I got a great blue fabric to try Hawaiian appliqué and the assistant recommended an online course by Nancy chong with the quilt university on Hawaiian appliqué that she had just done.

On the way back, we were just in time to stop into Close Knit Sisters at 1976 White Mountain Highway in Conway. A dedicated knitting shop, they had quite a wide range of Cascade yarns, some Plymouth, Regia, Berroco, Galway, and lots of other stuff. I didn't find it as inspiring as Patternworks and didn't buy anything, although I was tempted by again some Ella Rae Lace Merino.

Other than that, we've seen some gorgeous autumn colour, rode the cog railway up to the summit of Mt Washington in the snow, sampled clam chowder and tonight I had a boiled lobster, yummy.

I've downloaded an iPhone blogger app which lets me upload iPad pics so here are the quilts I saw at LL Bean.

Monday, 24 October 2011

On the road - Boston to Freeport

Hi there, I'm in Freeport, Maine, and we just had a lovely dinner at our Inn after shopping the 24-hour LL Bean flagship store at 8pm on a Sunday. I took a picture of a couple of cute scrappy quilts with my iPad in there, but Blogger won't let me upload it from the iPad for some reason. They weren't very well made, big toe catcher quilting, but were cute. That was my first ever LL Bean store and I loved several things, including some really cute hooked rugs. In Boston we stumbled across two yarn shops on Newbury Avenue, the long shopping street. One was mainly a needlepoint store but had a small selection of yarn. She's been there 23 years apparently. The other across the road and a bit further down, had just moved into a basement shop and was much bigger but very disorganised. Yarn was arranged by colour so a jumble of different fibres in together, nothing priced, and when I asked how much some wool cotton tweed was, she had no idea. So I didn't buy that! In Rockport on the way up here, on Bearskin Neck shopping colony, we found a bead store and I got some cute glass earrings that look like little pumpkins for Halloween. Commuter knitting has been the Fan Stitch shawl, which is going very well. Mindless enough for travel knitting but interesting enough so it isn't boring. I've also been trying out the Stitchminder app which I really like, simple counter but really useful.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Last blog before the holiday!!! (plus update)

Yes, we fly on Thursday to New England.  So the priority this week is to shovel out the house and hide the craft stuff away in preparation for the in-laws coming to house-sit with DS while we are away.  I also have to take down the 12-foot quilt frame to free up the living room, so tonight is the last night I will be stitching on that. (sob...)  I really wish I could have it up permanently in a garage or a basement, it is just so much easier to quilt things on it.  It would be great to just finish piecing a top, pin it on the frame and quilt it right away.  Instead of hanging it on the back of a door for months until the yearly assembling of the quilt frame.

This week I have been trying to do as much as I can on my Piece o Cake Vines quilt, which is a single size quilt that I topped several years ago.  Two years ago I used my previous smaller frame to hold it while I basted it with a micro-basting gun, and I did some stitch in the ditch quilting on my manual machine.  This week I have stitched a floral panto in the sashing strips (which was a learning exercise in how to line up a panto with a not-perfectly-straight-nor-parallel quilt element).  I also tried out my new open-toed hover foot from Cotton Patch and stitched a somewhat wobbly line around all the applique, and then did a loopy stipple in the background.  My carriage is jerking slightly when I try to stitch a smooth diagonal.  I suspect the wheels are not entirely aligned with the top carriage track but I don't have time to sort it out.  I decided the wobbles were a design feature.

Commuter knitting this week was the Cookie A Sunshine Socks and I finished them!  I knit these a bit shorter than the pattern and they came out fairly well.  I  knit them as written in terms of size, and they fit fine but could be tighter.  I find it hard to knit negative ease into socks even though intellectually I know it makes for a better fit.  These are in Cherry Tree Hill 100% wool sock yarn.

Having finished the socks, I was a bit stuck for commuter knitting for Friday so dug out my Selbuvotter Wedgewood gloves which had been hibernating due to the pattern being full of mistakes and no full errata available.  Many Ravellers have given up on these and just turned them into fingerless mitts, but I have soldiered on and finished the third finger on Friday, and picked up for the fourth finger today.  I think I will be able to finish the glove.  The challenge will be knitting a second one to match with all the same modifications.  Also they are a bit tight. 

TV knitting has been the Drops Cable Yoke Cardigan, I am now almost halfway on the yoke.  I have also been using TV time to sew down binding and finished the Stars over England quilt complete with label, so it is all ready for its new owner next week.

Daisy asked for a picture of the pink mittens slash arm warmers.  Here is a picture of one (I'm holding the camera with the other hand. )  I've got it pulled right on tightly so there is no floppy bit at the top, but in normal wear there will be some flop.

I wasn't very well for a couple of days this week, and stayed home.  On one of the afternoons I dug out a free kit that came with a dollshouse magazine a few months ago.  There were several options for using it, I decided to make a set of towels to go in the guest bedroom in the first dollshouse I ever built. It was fun to do something creative but not very taxing.

(Update because I forgot to blog what I had done at my monthly sewing group).

I topped the Quilt in a Day Fans & Flutterbys cot quilt at my monthly sewing group today.  It's a bit wrinkled in the picture.  I would have loved to throw it on the frame and quilt it, but sadly it will go back to 'back-of-the-door-limbo' to await the next incarnation of the quilting frame.  It's very sweet and will be a lovely quilt for some little girl.

In the afternoon of the club day, I put together a really cute little kit that I bought from Sally Holman at last year's Alexandra Palace (who surprisingly doesn't seem to have a website but she is a UK quilter, author and teacher).  Last year her booth specialised in landscape quilts made with folded fabric layers, which I really liked, and I bought a kit to make a beach scene greeting card.  It was a great kit, only £3.95 and had everything in it including interfacing, wadding and embroidery cottons.  It was fun to put it together.  I need to find a frame to fit the mount as I want to keep this one.

I also meant to say that I am taking my I-pad on holiday so I may be able to blog a bit while I'm away.  The only thing is that I don't have the gadget that lets you upload a camera card to the Ipad so pictures will be a bit of an issue.  The Ipad does have its own camera but it's not much good, and it's a bit heavy to lug around just to use as a camera.  I will see what happens.  I don't plan to turn this blog into a travelogue, but I may be able to blog some crafty things and purchases along the way.  Stay tuned!

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Update to last post

A brief update to say that once my mittens were completely bone dry (and I put them in the airing cupboard in the hope that the dry heat would shrink them a bit), the yarn has plumped out again and regained much more body. 

I was very surprised when I took them out, because even when they were still just slightly damp, they were floppy and thin-feeling.  They aren't nearly as plush and thick as they used to be pre-washing, but have settled down to a smoother fabric that is soft without being too limp.  Bizarre.  This yarn seems to be really Jekyll and Hyde.

They are still much longer than they used to be, but I think they are wearable. If I push my hand right into them, they are only about an inch longer than my finger tips.  The wrist however comes partway to my elbow now, but it feels a bit like wearing a combo wrist warmer / mitten.

They are definitely pink, which is still making me feel cross when I look at them, but perhaps I will get used to it.  I will give them a chance this winter and see how we get on together. I can always give them to the charity shop if it doesn't work out.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

A knitting disappointment

Yesterday I finally finished my Johnny Rotten mittens, the ones that look like Union Jacks in hand-dyed red, white and blue pure wool from Skein Queen.  I had struggled a bit with the stranding of three yarns in this pattern, and it took me a lot of work to finish them.  But they were done, they fit well, they felt cosy, and I was quite pleased.

I decided to give them a wash and let them block flat before I took a picture for the blog.  Well, I sure wish I had taken the picture first because after that decision, it all turned into a bit of a disaster.  I washed them in a bowl of warm water with a little bit of liquid soap for delicates in them.  My first inkling of doom was when the mittens went abruptly floppy and loose as they became wet in the water.  Then the water turned a vivid pink.  And stayed a vivid pink through multiple rinses.  And the mittens just grew and grew and became floppy and huge.

It was as if the yarn had just lost all of its cling and bounce, and become floppy and stretched out.  After about 10 or 12 rinses, the water was still very pink, so I tried adding a small amount of malt vinegar to the water. This immediately cut down on the pink, reducing it to a pale pink, but the damage was already done.  The white yarn was a definite pink, and another 5 or 6 rinses only reduced it to a sort of dirty taupe colour.  Meanwhile the mittens are now about two inches longer in the hand and in the cuff than they used to be, and they feel strangely floppy.  Any hopes that they would shrink up again when they dried seem destined to remain unrealised, as so far they are staying the same length even though they are almost dry.

I still had my Paypal receipt so I have written to Skein Queen with photographs, asking for a refund.  I am really gutted about this after all the work I put into them.  If they were just a bit pink, but still the right size, then it wouldn't be so bad.

Update:  Skein Queen promptly issued me with a full refund and said: "The colour should never run out of hand-dyed yarn and I'm mortified that it has done in this instance, especially after all your work.  Please accept my sincere apologies and reassurances that this is not a common occurrence with Skein Queen yarn. I was also extremely surprised to hear about Desire losing its structure and having a odd smell. It never usually smells when I soak it prior to dyeing and has maintained its shape in anything I've knitted with it. I'm wondering if what happened might have been that, around that time, my supplier sent me a faulty batch of the superwash merino that acted a bit differently to the usual Desire and didn't have the superwash element added and maybe that's got into the kits before I realised there was a problem? I'm not sure, but could be a possible explanation. I'm just sorry it's happened to you. "

On a happier note, I am really getting excited about my trip to New England now.  I spent several hours yesterday trawling through all my knitting books and loose knitting patterns, matching up possible projects to available yarns on the Webs (big knitting store in Massachusetts) store website and comparing prices to the UK.  I now have a shopping list of several projects to buy for, but am keeping an open mind about the vast backroom in their warehouse full of end of line sale items.  In fact, I had planned to go to the Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace today, but realised that it was a bit pointless when I was going to the motherlode in a few weeks.  We've purchased the ability to bring a second suitcase each on the return journey, and I'm sure mine will be full!  And DH's as well...  If he buys anything, he will have to wear it onto the plane  :)

The weather has turned warm again, so I washed the Vintage Lone Star quilt very carefully in the bath and let it dry out on the rotary arm where it gets some support.  The 80/20 Hobbs Heirloom wadding has shrunk up a bit, throwing the quilting pattern into relief.

My work colleague finally decided she definitely did want to buy my Stars Over England Kaffe Fassett design quilt, and she is giving me quite a decent price for it which is great and gives me more spending money for America.  Not as much as it's cost me to make it, but a substantial portion thereof. So TV viewing this week, when it wasn't finishing the ill-fated mittens, has been sewing down the binding on the edges.  I prefer to do single binding as I feel I get a neater result, and I sew it down by hand.

Today in the car I made a start on the Fan Stitch Half-Circle Shawl  (Rav link) by Martha Waterman from 'Traditional Knitted Lace Shawls' , which is going to be my travel project in America.  Why is it that no matter how many needles you have, you can never find the right pair?  I wanted a 3.5mm lace circular, and I know I have some somewhere, but could I find them??  I had to make do with a blunt tipped metal pair, which worked adequately.  I am a bit confused because currently I am knitting in garter whereas it looked like stockinette in the picture, but looking ahead, it seems that it turns into stockinette later.  Do you read patterns through from start to finish before you begin a new project?  No, neither do I.  In fact, I kind of like the sense of a journey of discovery, when you realise 'oh, that's how we do that bit...'.

We were in the car on the way to a preview of an amazing film 'The Help'.  We had to go to Henley which was a bit of a drive, but the tickets were free.  It had received good reviews but I didn't really know what to expect. It's about race relations in the early Sixties in the southern United States, but from the perspective of ordinary white families and their black maids (the help) and it is so excellent and moving.  I don't cry very much but my eyes were watering by the midpoint and by the end I was in full-scale nose blowing crying mode.  Really well acted, really well told, highly recommended if you get a chance to see it.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

In which I create a mutant bear

We have been having the most gorgeous Indian summer the last week, with temperatures up to 28 degrees and cloudless blue skies.  Having put away all my summer clothes under the bed, I've had to pull some of them back out so that I don't roast to death on my commute in and out of London.  I've had several nice lunch hours sitting out in the park (in the shade) and enjoying the lovely weather while I eat, then doing a bit of knitting.

Today, the 2nd of October, we took advantage of the Radio Times free voucher for entry into a National Trust property, and drove over to Osterley Park.  This is a lovely brick mansion decorated by Robert Adam in the late 18thC with gorgeous ceilings and walls.  Neither of us had been since the early 90s and it seemed a lot better than we remembered.  There is more of the house open now, and they've turned the stable block into the obligatory cafe and gift shop, so I had a cream tea in between visiting the house and the garden.  After walking around some of the garden, we had a bit of a nap on a shady bit of lawn in the park.  Incredible to believe that it is October. I think it is going to be very hard to pack sensibly for New England where it could be quite a lot colder, or even snow, when at the moment I am sitting here in shorts and a sleeveless top. The weather is supposed to turn cooler though on Tuesday.

Things have calmed down at work to a certain extent, as I met my deadline for producing the latest newsletter and it's off at the printers at the moment.  So I've been able to leave on time and consequently get a bit more done at home.

I finished quilting my Vintage Lone Star doublesided quilt, which I was quilting with a tulip pantograph.  I'm rather pleased with the effect of all the swirling lines behind the geometry of the lone star.  Another seam came apart but luckily I saw it in time and was able to pin it down before I quilted over it.  This lone star was a rescued top which was very wonky and didn't lie flat originally, plus it was pieced into some horrible pink sheeting.  I unpicked it and pieced it into a new blue background, trying to get it to lay a bit flatter, and added the border.  It obviously still wasn't quite flat as I ended up with some fullness about midway along the side borders which I had to ease in / quilt in, so there are some pleats and gathers there.  Also the final edge was rather lopsided so the quilt obviously wasn't quite square despite my efforts.  But it lies flat now, and I'm pleased that the reverse side came out fairly well centred.  The reverse is a set of vintage lone star blocks that were originally attached to a backing that was literally falling apart.  I just sort of pulled the stars away from the shredding fabric, and re-appliqued them onto blue squares before setting them in a zigzag pattern.  Originally this was going to be another quilt, but then I realised it would make the perfect backing for the big lone star.

In two weeks I have to take the quilt frame down in preparation for my in-laws coming to visit, because I don't think it's fair to expect them to live around a 12-foot quilt frame in the living room.  I have two tops left to quilt, one is a very complicated and very large blue & white top so I definitely don't have time to do that.  The other is a Piece o' Cake applique vines quilt which is already partially quilted with stitch in the ditch lines.  I'm tempted to put that one on the frame and just do as much as I can over the next two weeks.  Because once the frame is put away, it could be several months or even a year before it comes out again and I will have forgotten how to use it and will have to build up my expertise all over again.

On the knitting front, I also had a finish:  my Drop Stitch Shawl in Knitwitches 'Seriously Gorgeous Swiss Silk with Kid Mohair'.  I haven't blocked it yet, so it will be wider once it's blocked.  It feels so gorgeously ethereal and yet surprisingly warm.  I'm a bit worried about it felting or matting if I wet block it, so I may just pin it out and then spray it with water and hope that will be enough.

I also started something new this week, because on impulse I dropped into the I-Knit knitting group on Thursday night.  Since I had finished the shawl earlier in the day, I looked through various pattern books and magazines and eventually chose some fair isle wristwarmers, project number one in the latest Debbie Bliss magazine, which I am knitting in Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino.  Rather oddly, the pattern wants you to knit these flat and have a really ugly seam that doesn't even match up the pattern.  I have adjusted the stitch count to knit them in the round, which seems much more sensible and eliminates purling.  I quite enjoy fair isle but I may restrain myself and save this project to take to New England for when I feel like a change from the lace shawl.

I knit a bit more on my Berroco lace tunic and am up to the point where I need to decrease for the armholes.  I like the colourshaded effect on this, achieved by knitting with two strands of mercerised cotton and changing one strand at a time. Once again I have failed to complete this summer top in time for summer, having started it last summer.  Must try harder.

And just in case you are thinking that my craft projects usually turn out ok, have a gander at this mutant bear slash dog which I tried to make from a free kit with a dollshouse magazine.  This is the first time I have tried to craft a mini animal out of pipecleaner, and it did not go well.  It actually used to look much worse than this but I persevered.  At no time did it look anything like the picture, and it looked a lot more like some weird very inbred dog for quite a while.  His snout is still too long for a teddy bear, and his chest looks like he is wearing Spanx, and let's not even discuss his strange staring eyes which seem to be located inside his ears...

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