Saturday, 28 January 2012

Gadget girl

My new iphone arrived yesterday so I spent most of the evening setting it up to mirror what I have on my ipad, including the knitting apps that I have been using.  Hard to believe the two gadgets cost about the same, when one is so small and is going to be riding around in my knapsack every day.  Hard to believe I have spent so much on gadgets. I can remember being incredibly excited to receive my first electronic pocket calculator when I was around 13 years old.  They were fairly new then and only did basic functions, but for someone who had always struggled with arithmetic it was like a clunky boxy miracle from heaven. Now I can download a calculator app to install onto my pocketsized super computer communications device. Who knows what our children will be using once they are our age.

I managed to finish the Sirdar Baby Cardigan on Wednesday night.  For good measure, I knit up a pair of booties from the March issue of Simply Knitting magazine because the pattern called for the same Sirdar Crofter yarn.  I knit the first size of bootie but they came out fairly large.  The cardigan came out fairly well apart from the band and buttonholes are a bit sloppy, but the mother-to-be was very pleased with them both and actually appreciates getting something handmade which is nice. I had to block out the scallops with a bit of steam, as a wet block wasn't sufficient to stop them from curling.

Thursday I had to go to a seminar for work in the morning, so I was knitting on my Harry Potter vanilla sock there and back.  I was tempted to get the sock out during the seminar, but there were only about 20 of us in the relatively small room and my degree of boredom was not sufficient to warrant the social suicide.  I've also done a bit of knitting on Day 3 of the Advent Calendar 2010 lace scarf - I'm just about to the end of the first chart repeat (there are 3 repeats in all).

Most of the TV time this week was devoted to the baby cardigan, but I also managed to sew down the binding on the second side of my Vintage Log Cabin quilt.

The penultimate instalment of the I-knit London Sock Club turned up, a lovely teal colourway (darker than it looks in the photo) of Cherry Tree Hill Supersock Select which is a yarn I like anyway.  For some reason it is hard to find in the UK, and wasn't available in any of the New England yarn shops I visited. I've knitted mittens, socks and gloves out of this yarn and it stands up very well with virtually no pilling.

I've enjoyed getting surprise yarn gifts in the post but I think overall my first essay into the world of yarn clubs has not been a huge success.  You are gambling that you might like the yarn and the patterns.  I've liked about half the yarn, and none of the patterns have shrieked 'knit me'.  I think what might work better for me would be to just treat myself to a special skein of yarn every two months (online, or going to a shop) and perhaps look on Ravelry for a pattern to go with that yarn.  Of course, then I am losing the surprise element.  This could be a gap in the market - a company that you can give all your parcels to and they mail them back to you at specified intervals in random order. Perhaps I could put all of the skeins in a big grab bag and reach in blind to pull one out every two months.  Perhaps I am over thinking this  :)

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Quick week

This week seems to have flown by, partly because I had to use chunks of time on unexpected projects.  We are quite busy at work re-tendering our membership magazine, which I have gotten fairly involved with so had to put in some overtime.  And at home our fridge started making a very alarming noise, a steady throbbing rattle which would shudder and die when you opened the door.

After a bit of googling, I came across some forum posts on what sounded like the same problem, including instructions on how to take the fridge apart from the inside to get at the iced-up fan causing the problem.  Don't you  love the internet?  So that's how I spent a couple of hours one night:  emptying out the fridge, taking it apart, DH giving it all a good clean while we were at it, and putting it back together.  The reward?  No more noise!!  Here is some of the ice I found inside, and there was more ice caked around the fan which was what was causing the noise.  I feel rather proud of myself for fixing this - hope it doesn't ice up again though - there may be something more permanently wrong as it shouldn't have gone like that in the first place.

Another time sucker was discovering that NetFlix had launched in the UK and had a free one-month trial.  I was relatively excited as I've often heard American podcasters mentioning the Netflix service for watching online film and tv programmes.  On the face of it, it sounds great, unlimited watching for £5.99 a month.  However, the free trial was sorely disappointing, their extremely limited selection of programmes is abysmal.  I was hoping for lots of American programmes but they had virtually none, just a few dozen dated films and a couple of UK tv series that I didn't want to watch.  So we gave up on that and tried the Lovefilm one month trial instead.  It has a wider selection but still not great - we found one film that we wanted to watch out of all the ones available.  So we will probably cancel that as well and go back to renting DVDs by post which is what we've done for a few years now.  Don't know why the UK should be so behind the US on this type of service, but probably because you can watch a lot of recent programming for free using the Catch up services from the networks.

However, I did start a new project this week which has been my tv knitting and my commuter knitting: a Baby Cardigan by Sirdar which was published in the recent issue of Knitting Magazine.  I thought it looked really cute and luckily there is a pregnant colleague at work that I can make it for, so I ordered the yarn from Get Knitted in Bristol.  I ordered the colourway specified in the pattern but it looks a bit duller in shade, perhaps they PhotoShopped the photo to brighten it.  I'm knitting the 0-6 months size but am a bit worried as it looks small to me.  But with my teenage son towering over me by three inches now, perhaps I've forgotten how small a baby can be.  The colleague is leaving soon on maternity leave so I've asked if I can post it to her. 

The cardigan is knit with Sirdar Snuggly Crofter Baby Fair Isle effect DK, which is 55% nylon / 45% acrylic.  This yarn feels velvety soft knit up, but I am finding it a bit difficult to knit with.  It seems to have permanent static cling, and instead of draping away from the needles, the free yarn end wants to cling to my hands, my clothing, the pattern, the knitting bag... I seem to be constantly having to stop to free the yarn so that it isn't putting too much tension on my stitches.  It's happening in several different environments (office, train, home) which makes me think it is the yarn and not just the weather for example.

I also finished sewing the last row and a half of the Kaffe Fassett Snowball Quilt.  Now all the rows are sewn, it will go quicker as I just need to press all the rows and sew them together.  It was very fiddly to make sure each snowball had the correct colours on its four corners, plus thanks to Kaffe telling us to cut the wrong size cornerstones on the workshop, I had run out of some fabrics and had to pull different stash fabric to substitute, and then I ran out of some of that so had to unpick some of the previous substitutes and substitute different substitutes.  One of those projects where the fun part was the designing but the sewing part leaves a bit to be desired in the fun department.

The last big time sucker this week was that I bought an Iphone.  It won't be delivered until the end of the month but it took a while to compare all the deals, contract possibilities, decide whether I wanted the new one or an older one etc.  Here in the UK, the newer ones aren't that much more expensive that the old ones, unless you get a really really old one with limited memory.  So I've gone from being an 'I-don't-want-one' to being an 'I-convert'.  Once I became so dependent on the Ipad 2, the I-phone was the next logical step particularly as my old Nokia smartphone is acting up and was never really that great in the first place.  I am looking forward to having my knitting patterns and knitting apps on my phone as well as on my Ipad, and to be able to look at Twitter and the internet at something quicker than the speed of a creeping glacier which was the best my Nokia could do.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Oops, forgot to blog

I managed to log on both Saturday and Sunday intending to do my weekly blog post, and both times got completely sidetracked.  You know how it is:  "I'll just check my email" and before you know it, you've lost three hours.

I was out for most of the day on Saturday at my sewing club.  We are still doing the UFO Challenge for a few more months, so I was plugging away on my Kaffe Fassett Snowball Quilt in blue & white fabric prints with a variety of yellow cornerstones.  Sewing each snowball is fairly tedious as all the cornerstones are different colours of yellow, so I have to make sure that the four coloured corners of one block are going to meet up correctly with the row above and the row below.  It's gotten a bit easier since I remembered I have one of those stick-on plastic Angler guides, removing the need to draw a diagonal line or iron a diagonal crease.  So I was proud of myself for soldiering on, and managed to get through quite a lot - only a row and a half left to sew now.  And no, I didn't remember to take any photos.

Sunday we had someone come to look at our trailer tent and it looks like they are going to buy it, so that's good news.  And today I got some more good news - I made my first Folksy sale!!  Someone has bought a patchwork knapsack that I made a while ago.  There have been a couple of enquiries about the quilts but no sale so far.  I don't know how many people look at Folksy, I should perhaps try to get listed on some other craft selling sites.  Although it took ages to put together my listings for Folksy, but I suppose it would then be quicker on other sites now that I've done the groundwork.

Commuter knitting this week has largely consisted of carrying my knitting to and from work without actually doing anything on it, but I have got as far as turning the heel (again). This is a blurry picture but gives you an idea of the colours.This colourway is 'Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince' so I have amused myself by trying to guess what the colours symbolise - perhaps the red is the blood of Hagrid's griffin pet?  Either that or they had already come up with this colourway and just jumped on the bandwagon by giving it a Harry-related name.

I also finished the binding on my Hawaiaan Potpourri Quilt and got it listed online for sale. The colours and patterns on this really make me smile, but it is a bit special so needs the right kind of person to love it. I like the parrots peeping out of the jungle border too.

I managed with some stumbling to get Day 2 of the Advent Calendar Scarf completed.  There is a yarnover right before the nupps and I had about a 98% 'success' rate of purling the YO into the nupp on the return row before I caved and started making the nupps with a crochet hook.

This week I finally got around to wearing my Drop Stitch Shawl to the office, where, absolutely typically, nobody said anything - except a lady who sits near me (she admired it). I ordered the shawl pin from etsy, it's sterling silver. The shawl is soft and warming without being too hot.  I didn't want to risk wearing it under my coat in case it pilled, so I put it on when I got to the office.

Another job I completed this weekend was to finally finish taking and uploading photographs of our house contents.  Being burgled last year really brought home to me the importance of having photographic evidence of what you own, both to see what is missing and to prove to the insurance company that you owned it.  I gradually worked my way around the entire house, attic, garden and shed, and have uploaded several hundred photos by emailing them to  myself in Googlemail.  Hopefully they will never be needed, but it gives me some peace of mind.  I didn't turn out every single drawer or storage bin, but I did make sure to get photos of the high value items and general photos of everything else.  A fairly tedious job.  I still haven't made the similar photographic record of all my dollshouses and their contents that the insurance adjuster recommended - I might save that for the next time I have loads of time at home due to illness or unemployment (or a lottery win!!).

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Happy new year (I have to say that, don't I?)

Yes, here we are in 2012 and this is my first post of the year.  I've seen lots of new year's greetings and 2012 resolutions in the web-o-sphere as everybody else releases their first twitter/blog post / podcast / Ravelry post etc.  I haven't made any resolutions, I am a list-maker and have plenty of list entries to get through so I don't need to make resolutions on top of those.  I suppose the closest I have come to a resolution is the realisation that almost none of my clothes fit around the waistline anymore and it really is time to do something before I develop diabetes or high chorestoral or something else horrid.  Easier said than done as office colleagues have been bringing in loads of Christmas goodies to get rid of them so they don't eat them. I am not a dieter so it is a question of eating less junk and trying to exercise more (ha ha ha).  I think the only way I will ever be fit again is if I bought a television that only worked when powered off the self-generated electricity from the treadmill that I am using.  Or if the internet only worked that way - wow, I would be an Olympics contender in that case.

I managed to fix the mess I had made of my Cabled Yoke sleeveless cardigan, finished the yoke, and blocked it right away because I thought it would be easier now than when it was part of a garment.  However, this Drops pattern(119-28) has caused me some problems.  The pattern specifies measuring around the circumference of the long edge and placing markers to pick up stitches while leaving gaps for the armholes.  But even though I spread my yoke out, I couldn't get the outside circumference to match theirs (the inner circumference does).  Also, matching distances were not ending up at matching points in the cable pattern.  Sadly, I realised I would have to break down and actually Knit a Tension Swatch... (gasp!)

So I knit a tension swatch in the round, having decided that I would be steeking the front opening.  Despite having gone down a needlesize, my gauge was still looser than the pattern specification.  Also, having tried the yoke on, it seemed that following their measurements would make for really tight armholes.  I consulted Ravelry and discovered someone else who had had the same problem, had knit their body separately and seamed it on afterwards.  This sounded like a great idea so I cast on and knit about four rows before it dawned on me that I was essentially knitting a cylinder of stocking stitch (because I am not doing the waist shaping due to not actually having a waist).  Like, duh, isn't this why I have knitting machines??

So I went out to the knitting shed and ran off a few tension samples.  My standard gauge Brother 881 as usual did not like the DK weight and struggled with it even on Tension 10.  The Brother 260 chunky knit it happily enough at Tension 0.  I blocked both tension swatches and measured.  My gauge on the chunky is now tighter than the pattern but has an acceptable hand.  However, when I ran the maths, I would need to cast on 130 stitches and the chunky bed only has 110 needles.  So now I am thinking I am going to knit it sideways and add the bands on afterwards.  Meanwhile I got out the ball winder and wound the rest of my yarn into cakes ready for machine knitting.  I will get there.

On the quilting front, I have been handstitching down the binding on my Hawaiaan Kaffe Fassett Potpourri Quilt this week while watching TV.  I also finished quilting the Piece o Cake Applique Vines Quilt and gave it a wash.  It has come up beautifully, all nice and puckery like an antique quilt.  But before I could wash it, I had to take out the basting tacks.

Mini-review:  the Microstitch basting gun
I first heard about this gun in one of Bethany Reynold's newsletters a few years ago.  It's one of those guns that bastes fabric layers together by inserting plastic tacks like those used on clothing price tags.  The Microstitch has a very fine needle and uses very small tacks, so the holes left in the fabric are almost imperceptible.  I bought one in 2008 and used it for two things:

a) I had a quilt, my Piece o Cake applique vines quilt, which was too large to quilt on my old quilting frame because it needed to be quilted longways.  But I could put it on the frame shortways and baste it easily and quickly with the Microstitch. 

b)  I took the gun to a workshop where I was doing two classes of designing (not sewing) quilts on flannel design walls that we brought with us.  At the end of the class, I could easily secure all my pieces to the flannel for transport home (and subsequent hibernation in my UFO closet).

This week I finally removed the tacks from the Vines quilt.  Now this quilt has had a hard life which has been very testing for the tacks:  it has kicked around various storage places in my bedroom, had a variety of stitch in the ditch done on it, been mounted on my Next Generation frame for machine quilting, and then back under the sit-down machine for finishing quilting.  Even after all of that, I was pleased to find that the holes the tacks were making in the fabric were still virtually invisible.  Almost all of the tacks had held, although a minority had worked one end inside the fabric layers.  The tacks were also great for stitching as unlike safety pins, you can stitch right over them and they don't get in the way at all.  The tacks held the layers really well and I didn't get any puckers on the back despite all the different manipulations this quilt has undergone.

On the con side, I had run out of black tacks when I basted this light coloured quilt, and the white tacks I used instead were virtually invisible.  Even sitting by a well-lit window, I had to resort to running my hand over the quilt to find the tacks by touch, and I'm still not convinced I have got them all out.  Overall verdict:  great gadget, but make sure you use a contrasting colour of tack to your fabric colour.


I did a bit of dollshousing on my Willowcrest dollshouse last weekend, and have also started a new knitting project, the Advent Calendar 2010 scarf.  This is a long lace scarf, with 24 different lace patterns.  The original gung ho knitters did it in 24 days leading up to Christmas, and there was a new pattern for 2011. I've decided to try the 2010 pattern and by coincidence stumbled across a knit-along on Ravelry which I have also joined.  I'm using the Valley Yarns Huntingdon (light fingering weight) which I bought at Webs in Massachusetts to use for a lacy pullover.  But I recently saw a FO picture of someone's version of the pattern, posed on a very plump tailor's dummy, and suddenly realised how unflattering this pullover would be on my figure.  So lace scarf it is, and here is the Day One pattern.

Commuter knitting this week has been the plain sock in Harry Potter yarn.  I got as far as turning the heel, and realised that I had once again knit a sock with no negative ease.  I use the Regia leaflet pattern and normally cast on 60 stitches.  So I ripped out and have cast on 52 stitches instead and am just about ready to turn the heel again, so we will see if that fits better.

Our remaining cat, Lucy, is curiously changing her behaviour now that she is on her own.  She is spending more time downstairs than she used to, and here is a picture of her on a quilt.  She's always been a very nervous cat, and we don't normally see much of her, but she has definitely been friendlier the last few weeks.

Pagans walk among us

On 2 January, which was a Bank Holiday here in the UK, the sun finally shone after a few grey rainy days.  We decided to go for a walk in another village called Wraysbury, setting off across fields to arrive at the remnants of the 12th C St Mary's Priory. Nearby is The Ankerwycke Yew tree, reputed to be 2,000 years old.  The trunk is enormous and gnarled, but almost entirely hollow so it seems amazing that it is so large and still alive. It seemed almost otherworldly to stand under its branches, and as we walked around the trunk, we came upon an actual shrine where passersby have been leaving offerings of flowers, holly, berries etc.  Closer inspection of the trunk found several paper notes twisted up and wedged into the crevices.  We looked at one of the more accessible ones, which was a prayer to 'the gods and goddesses' to grant various boons and ameliorate various personality faults in the new year.  Fascinating stuff, and in a site which has likely been sacred for just as long as Christianity has been with us. I am tempted to go back and tuck in a plea for more even knitting stitches...

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