Saturday, 25 August 2012

Officially a lady of leisure

Well, I didn't get the job I was so optimistic about, and I've now finished at work, so I am officially unemployed.  I think it is going to take a while to sink in, my subconscious just thinks we are on holiday and will be back to work in a few days.  Meanwhile my conscious brain is feeling slightly panicked and suddenly unwilling to spend money (I even passed up the chance to go to a dollshouse show on Bank Holiday Monday).

Nevertheless, I've signed up for 'In the Loop 3', a knitting conference in Winchester in the first week of September, taking advantage of the fact that for once I am available on weekdays to do something like that.  Hopefully it will be really interesting because it is three long days of sitting and listening to talks, and I know I won't be able to knit all day because my hand still starts to hurt after a few hours.

Last night I started a new shawl, the Ginkgo Counterpane Shawl, which was in the Summer issue of Knitscene magazine. You knit about 20 modules in the shape of what quilters would call a 'clamshell', then sew them together to make the shawl.  I am using Sparkleduck Genie in 'Deco' colourway, which is a fingering weight, and it is taking me about 1.5 hours to knit each unit.

I felt able to start a new shawl because I finished the Multi-coloured Shawl from the Fledermaus-Tuch pattern, a free pattern on Ravelry that sits really nicely on the shoulders.  This was knit in Lang yarns Jawoll Magic Degrade and I used a great crochet cast off that I found online but stupidly didn't save the link from.  You crochet a chain of 5, then crochet through three knit stitches, then crochet through both loops and start another chain 5.  Of course, I ran out of yarn about a foot from the corner of the shawl, but luckily I had another ball of the same yarn in a different but sufficiently complementary colourway that I could use. This yarn feels fine on my arms but a tiny bit scratchy to have near my neck.

I'm continuing to work on my Lone Star Quilt, trying to cut and sew as accurately as possible to avoid the dreaded volcano-centre.  I'm making this pattern, which I bought together with a kit of fabrics from Reproduction Quilts at an American quilt show a few years ago.  I have to piece and cut eight strip sets, I've done three so far.

Other than that, commuter knitting has been the Japanese Stitch sock and TV knitting has been the Eyelet Lace jumper sleeve.  A new category of TV knitting, which is unemployed morning TV knitting, has been Day 11 of the Advent Calendar 2010 Lace Scarf.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Goodbyes and potential hellos - and lots of crafting

I went public at work  last Monday with my imminent departure so it's really going to happen now.  This coming week will be my last week. The news has brought me some really nice 'thank you's from people - some whom I knew were friends, others were a surprise. Nice to be told I will be missed. Although so many people are leaving now that I think there is a certain amount of 'leaving fatigue'.

And I had an interview for a new job which went very well and I am optimistic that they will offer it to me.  Very similar to what I have been doing, and similar salary, but much closer to my home so it should cut my commuting time by up to two hours.  More crafting time!  I mentioned that when they asked why I was prepared to make a sideways move, which resulted in two slightly baffled looks until I translated it into 'work speak' by saying it meant a better work/life balance for me.  Then they nodded in understanding.

To reward myself after the interview, I walked over to Hobbycraft (a job within walking distance of Hobbycraft!!) and had a mini-rampage.  They had this Sirdar Persia, a wool/acrylic boucle, on sale for £1.79 a ball and I loved the rich red.  Grabbed five balls thinking I will make a scarf or a cowl.  Got some new washable markers to try out as quilt markers, some wedding decorations which are meant to be tiny roses but are pretty much 1/12th scale miniature tulips for dollshousing, and a copy of Machine Knitting Monthly which I don't like but it's the only MK magazine still available in the UK.

Having scared myself a little last week when I got out all my knitting UFOs for the picture, I have been trying to finish some of them.

I finished my cabled beanie made from the hand-dyed Aran wool I bought on holiday in Orkney.  It fits quite well and I'm pleased with it, and the lovely colours of blues and greys remind me of our holiday.  I knit the large size with an extra repeat first, but that was too big so pulled back a few inches and reknit the crown.  Washing made the wool bloom but it still isn't very soft, but I don't mind that in a hat.  Wouldn't want it next to my neck but fine on my head.

I finished the front of my Eyelet jumper.  I was trying to knit on this while watching the Rhythmic Gymnastics during the Olympics, but it's one of those 'pat your head and rub your tummy' patterns where you have to follow a lace chart, decrease for the neck AND follow a stripe pattern.  So there was a certain amount of frogging until I achieved two matching shoulders. I've started the first of the 3/4 length sleeves now.

I'm almost finished my Garter Stitch shawl - I'm just doing a decorative crochet bind off (for which I hope I have enough yarn) and will likely finish it at Knitting Group this afternoon.

I finished my True North mittens in Berroco Blackstone Tweed - this is an unblocked picture but they are now blocked and currently drying in the living room.  I really like these and will enjoy wearing them next winter.  They've got cute little reindeer on each thumb to match the big reindeer on the body.

I've also been doing some sewing.

I made another drawstring bag using the online tutorial I've blogged before.  I made the contrast fabric deeper on this one, and used two sewing theme FQs.  These bags are like candy, so quick and satisfying to make.

I've made a start on a Texas Lone Star quilt in reproduction fabrics, using a kit I bought several years ago in America.  Having 'been there, done that' on the whole volcano centre bulge for a lone star, I am trying to be very accurate in my cutting, and started by starching the heck out of my fabrics to minimise stretching.

I finally stopped procrastinating and got all the pieces of my previous Freestyle quilting frame out of their storage places and photographed it and listed it for sale on Ebay.  It's been bought by another quilter and will be going to a new home later this morning.  I will need to set up my New Generation frame soon and start making a dent in my pile of quilt tops.

I finally sewed the binding onto my Flowering Vines quilt that I quilted on the New Generation frame a year ago, so it is now done apart from a label.  I will be keeping this one, it took me years to make and I really like it.  It's a Piece o' Cake applique pattern and I used a fabric kit I ordered from America apart from the pink squares which were my modification. So bright and cheerful.

I carry a knapsack instead of a handbag to save my back, and I now have a new red bag.  After years of looking for the perfect knapsack that had all the right kind of pockets, I belatedly realised about three knapsacks ago that I had a sewing machine and could make my own pockets - duh.  So now I always sew customised linings in pretty fabric that have zippered pockets where I need them and key chain holders etc.  For this red bag I made a spotty lining.

Yesterday I cashed in one of my Christmas vouchers from DH ("I promised to take Sharon on a trip out of her choice") and asked him to drive me up to the Festival of Quilts at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, which is about a two-hour easy drive for us.  This is our largest UK quilt show and possibly the largest in Europe now.  I hadn't been for several years because when it first launched I didn't like it at all, it was about 75% textile art and there were some organisational issues and I heard of problems with quilts being treated badly etc.  I decided to give it another chance and was blown away by how huge it now is.  It was across Halls 7,8 and 9 of the NEC and must now be comparable to some of the American state shows. It was actually too big to see everything in one day, and I was shattered by the end from trying.

The aisles were generally spacious, the signage was good, there were information booths outside the show, generally all very professional now.  There was a much better balance of traditional and modern quilts vs. textile art, and all sorts of products that I didn't realise had come to the UK such as Juki sewing machines (big stand) and Horn Sewing Cabinets (big stand).  There were even several long arm companies which used to be quite rare here in the UK with our small houses:  APQS, Innova and even a new UK-made long arm machine (which looked a bit clunky) - so someone must be buying them.  It made me realise how out of touch I am now with the UK quilting scene, because for the last few years I have really been a knitter and not a quilter. The quilts still aren't getting treated as well as they deserve - when I walked in, I turned to the left to start going through the Traditional Quilts.  Ahead of me a younger woman probably in her 30s was picking up every quilt in her bare hands to look at the back and no-one was stopping her.  Several other people were tapping quilts as they pointed at them, or brushing past the quilts lining the main corridor which had no barriers or protection.  I was about to say something to the young woman when I realised that I could not see any signs anywhere to tell people not to touch the quilts.  Also didn't see any white-gloved stewards until I had been there about 20 minutes and done several aisles.  Some aisles did have a small 'don't touch' sign but as it was in the form of a small quilt, it almost looked like an exhibit and wasn't very high profile.  In the whole four hours I was looking around the show, I think I only saw about five white-glove stewards.  Some exhibits that were being run by other organisations, such as the Olympics gift quilt display, were much better done with 'Don't touch' signs every few quilts and someone looking after them. I know that people should know better about touching, but they obviously don't.  Also saw an absolutely gorgeous three-dimensional travelogue quilt (see below) where the maker had carefully inserted rolls of torn paper underneath some of the 3-D elements to keep them from getting crushed in packing - and the organisers had left all the paper just sticking out!!  One more moan and then I will stop ranting:  they tried to force you to buy the programme by not indicating any information on the quilts apart from the name of the quilt - not even the name of the maker.

Anyway, when I wasn't being irritated by some of the above issues, I did enjoy seeing so much on offer and some very nice quilts.  As usual with a non-juried show, there was quite a mix of quality, and interspersed with the 'public' quilts were the self-contained exhibitions from various quilt artists or groups, some of which were really to my taste.  Here are a few photos from the show, and apologies that I can't attribute them to the makers due to the organisers not providing that information with the quilts.
Kaleidoscope quilt - I think this may be a Kaffe Fassett design.
A visual record of a trip around the Middle East, with exquisite inked detail in the style of a Victorian journal, and 3-D embellishments such as scarabs and little mummies in calico coffins (note the torn paper packing material just left there by the organisers!)

A group quilt from Colmar in France, each section done in a different style such as tapestry and even knitting.
A lovely tablecloth of scraps of different eyelet fabrics really sets off this tea party scene.
Adorable miniature quilt with real seashells sewn to the border.

There was a programme of workshops, make and takes and lectures.  I booked two of the lectures:  Marti Michell on curved seaming, which was her usual extended sales pitch for her ruler and template sets but I like her and enjoyed seeing some of her quilts - I've been to things with her before. In the afternoon I went to a presentation by Jonathan Gregory who is an Assistant Curator at the International Quilt Study Centre and Museum in Nebraska.  He told us about the incredible facility they have there and talked about some of the quilts they have collected.

I didn't actually buy that much, although it grew heavy by the end of the day:  sewing machine needles, a new seam ripper (broke the old one), fusible interfacing, 60" wide calico backing in cream and in white, two Sally Holman booklets of seaside scene patterns, two cotton scarves to wear to work, and four rolls of Polydown wadding.  There were several knitting stands in the shopping area, and while I fondled I didn't buy.

Nice to have a day out - I shall probably go again.  Perhaps I need those blinkers like horses used to wear in the old days, so I can only see straight ahead and won't become enraged by people to the sides of me who are touching quilts or blocking aisles with ridiculously huge trundles on wheels (don't get me started...)

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Hee hee, I've got a medal

Here is my official medal for being a member of Team Apathy in the Ravellenics (and if you're not a knitter, this post will be clear as mud...)

And here are my official event medals - which I would be very proud of if I weren't a member of Team Apathy - meh.

Later on they provided a correctly spelled version of the Rhythmic Machinastics but I kind of like this one.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Smoke and mirrors, and Harry Potter

Somehow this week I just never got going on crafting - it was too hot in my craft room / bedroom, my sewing table was buried under clutter, I frittered a lot of time away doing paperwork, blah blah blah. I did finish my machine knitted sweater for the Ravellenics, and I will post some photos further down this note.

So I am going to distract you with smoke and mirrors, and show you some photos of our trip today to see the Warner Bros Studio Tour of "The Making of Harry Potter".  Not crafting on the face of it, but in fact almost the entire exhibition is about the craft behind the film:  the model making, artwork, costume design, prop manufacture, animatronics, creature studio, set design and more.  Unfortunately I forgot to take the proper camera, so these pics were taken on my iphone, which doesn't seem to cope with low light levels very well.  Plus I kept getting my finger in front of the lens.

There was even knitting!  These are Mrs Weasley's magicly self-knitting needles at the Burrow, which really 'knit' when you pushed a button.  Or at least moved.  They were doing a better job than some of the actors who pretend to knit on screen.

And this is a grainy picture of the Christmas jumpers Mrs Weasley knit for the boys, which were on display in the Gryffindor common room.

This is the Potter's cottage in Godric's Hollow, which I thought would make a cool dollshouse (and yes that's my finger).

This is DH on the set for Diagon Alley, which was a huge set with fascinating detail everywhere you looked.

The art studio was full of blueprints for various sets, like this drawing of The Burrow.  I've seen at least two projects online where people are trying to make dollshouse models of this.  And later on you could see card models of The Burrow and artist's impressions, next to the final shots from the film.

Here's a model of Hagrid's Cottage (I think from the first film, before it gained an extra room). I was lucky enough to see the dollshouse version of Hagrid's Cottage by Rik Pierce, I will have to dig out my photos and compare to this model and to the life-size set elsewhere in the studio.

And this is the actual cupboard under the stairs.  This is a standalone set, but they had a full-scale Number Four Privet Drive in the outdoor part of the tour.

If you are at all interested in the world of Harry Potter (and I wouldn't say we are that into it) then I would recommend a visit to the studio.  It is expensive, and you have to book weeks ahead, but as crafters we really enjoyed it.  It really makes you realise the intense amount of labour and hundreds of people behind the scenes to achieve just a few minutes of this type of fantasy film.  I was worried it would be too Disneyfied, and certainly the first few minutes of the tour when you are subjected to chirpy young guides trying to get the crowd to yell louder in excitement before they let you watch a film about the tour weren't very promising.  But after that it is self-guided and much more like a giant Harry Potter museum.  And there is a gift shop - but empty your piggybank if you want to buy anything in there, all very expensive.  It was cute to see kids running around in convincing Hogwarts robes and school ties - slightly more disturbing to see the same items available in adult sizes.  We spent about three hours at the tour and very much enjoyed it.

So here is my machine knitted sweater, done on a Brother 881 using the 'Gauze' pattern from Rowan magazine and using Rowan 4-ply wool.  It's come out fairly well - a bit shorter than I would like and a bit too much ease in the shoulders, but certainly wearable for work once the cooler weather comes.  This and its preceding failure were good exercises in learning how to use the machine again.  I need to keep my momentum going and try something else now.  I also need to frog the failure.

TV knitting this week (some of it in front of the Olympics) has been:

  • starting the next GAAA afghan square:  the Levy square
  • dividing for the neckline on the Eyelet Lace jumper and knitting most of one shoulder
  • almost finishing the body of the second True North mitten
Commuter knitting has been:
  • the multi-coloured shawl from the Jawol ball
  • a cabled beanie hat from the yarn I bought on Orkney
I started to feel like I wanted to start a new knitting project, probably because I finished Piper's Journey and the Ravellenics jumper.  To stop myself, I got out most of my UFOs for a picture.  Left to right these are the Twice-Doomed Tee (waiting for the pleats to be determined), the GAA Afghan, the beanie hat, the Advent Calendar 2010 lace scarf, the eyelet jumper, the Japanese stitch socks, the Selbuvotter gloves, an ancient Estonian shawl, and the True North mittens.  Not pictured is the multi-coloured shawl.  I think I have a bit of a problem.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

27 hour days

I was 'working from home' this week apart from Tuesday, based on the premise that London was going to grind to a halt under the weight of Olympic numbers.  In fact, the scare tactics adopted by Transport for London appear to have been so effective that shopkeepers are actually complaining about the lack of customers and apparently West End theatre audiences are 25% below this time last year.  I certainly had no trouble going in and out on Tuesday, so I probably shouldn't be working from home at all.  But strangely I do not feel the urge to bring this to the attention of my employers  :)

So this means an extra three hours on my day because I am not commuting, and of course time during the day and at lunch time to do sensible things instead of having yet another cup of office tea and wondering which sandwich establishment to patronise at lunchtime.

I finished the Medieval Book of Hours scenes quilt to top stage, and it already has a future owner because one of my friends saw it on my blog and really liked it (Hi Anita!).  I just need to quilt it. DH says it looks like a medieval banner.

(I've just realised this picture is sideways, but DS is moaning about his gaming slowing down because I'm uploading photos, so please just tilt your head to the left...)

I finished the Union Jack bag and even used it on Tuesday when I went up to London, to show I was in the patriotic Olympic spirit and all that.  Although it isn't really big enough for the huge amount of stuff I feel is vitally important to my commuting health - I even had to leave my knitting at home which made me feel very vulnerable.  I had to rip back the top moss stitch border on the back piece once I decided to use these handles, then cast off the sides, then re-knit a shorter border.  I've lined it with fabric themed with black taxi cabs and red phone booths.  It's quite a handy bag and fairly comfortable to carry.

I painted up some quarter-scale miniatures that I bought some time ago from Judith of In Some Small Way.  In this scale, one foot in real life is equal to 1/4" in the model, so they are pretty small.

This was a kit with two plastic chairs, a plaster barrel, and a chessboard.  I painted them up and installed them on the boardwalk in front of my quarter-scale Western saloon that I made in a workshop in Chicago several years ago.

I also had a packet of plaster minis in various scales, I pulled out a bucket, an open sack, a closed sack and a pile of sacks, and a crock, and painted them all up - also for the Western saloon.

I had another kit for making bottles of wine and spirits - with a laser-cut acrylic cutout that you colour with a Sharpie pen, and labels to cut out and stick on.  I made up about eight of these and put some in the Western saloon, and some in the club on the ground floor of my quarter-scale New Orleans French Quarter house.

I had another little kit for making quarter-scale baskets by forming strips of Aida canvas around round dowels, then gluing on card circles for bases.  I put one of these by the piano in the Western saloon, then two in the 'modern' flat of the New Orleans house and one on the desk of my 'Feed the Birds' gift shop.

Then I painted up a laser-cut scrollwork bench kit and put it on the balcony of the New Orleans house outside the modern flat.

I finished the first square of the GAAA - Great American Aran Afghan.  This has taken me weeks and there are 20 squares in the blanket.  Also this was one of the easiest according to the pattern book.  This could be an afghan I am cuddling under in the nursing home while I am still knitting the final squares.

We had a couple of outings recently.  We went to see the Great Barn at Harmondsworth, which isn't too far from us.  This has been called the 'Cathedral of Middlesex' and has stood since 1426.  It is astonishingly enormous and gives you an idea of what the first wooden churches must have been like. It's now been bought by English Heritage who will be opening it on one day each month (fourth Sunday I think).

We also have been out on a few more future-home-hunting expeditions.  One of these was to Bicester, which had a town centre we liked including this very nice knitting and patchwork shop at one end of the high street.  Good selection of yarns (can't remember which brands now though) and a display of Moda fabrics and jelly rolls.  It's a spacious shop, very friendly husband and wife owners, and they said they are converting the upstairs to be a classroom and meeting area.  Sadly after this promising beginning, we didn't like the Bicester housing estates and the drive to DH's workplace was too long.

On the Ravellenics front, after frogging my cardigan, I have been machine knitting Gauze from a Rowan magazine - I've just got one sleeve left to knit and then I can block it and seam it.  It's supposed to be done before the Olympics come to a close as I've entered it in the Rhythmic Machinistics event.

This has turned into a very long post, but hopefully you have enjoyed seeing what I've been up to.

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