Saturday, 27 October 2012

My lost week

I'm just coming out of one of the most miserable and uncomfortable weeks I've had in a long time, after starting to feel ill Monday night.  To cut a vile story short, the doctor says it's gastric flu.  Put it this way, I was too sick and too exhausted even to knit.

However, all things come to an end eventually and I think I am arriving there.  I'm supposed to go back to work on Monday, but I tried going for a short walk today and my legs felt rubbery after about 50 yards, so I don't know.

So it's pretty much been a lost week craft-wise.  The quilt frame sat empty all week after the flamingo quilt came off.  I've only just got the energy today (Saturday) to load on a printed panel for a waistcoat, and I had to sit down for a while in the middle of that task.

I've also switched from my clumsy plastic free motion foot to a precision hover foot which gives much more visibility.  It's a bit more of a diva, and we had a disagreement for 15 minutes or so concerning thread tension, which was eventually solved by replacing the needle with a smaller size.  I'm going to try custom quilting the different areas of the panel to practice my steering and precision (I need the practice).

I've suggested to the family that the delays so far in production may mean that Christmas may need to fit around the frame, but they aren't going for it.

When I could sit on the sofa, sometimes I was keeping busy with small tasks, like sewing on the buttonband on my Cityscape cardigan and the buttons.  So it is now finished.  I'm not entirely happy with it.  Actually, it would be fairer to say that I have mixed feelings.  I LOVE the yarn, Valley Yarns Northfield which is a merino / alpaca / silk blend.  It feels like a hug when you put it on, so soft and warm and yet so light.  I like the colours.  I like the amount of ease in the body which came out skimming the bulges as I wanted rather than negative ease like in the original.  My personalised city chart looks ok, and I accept my fair isle tension being a bit uneven. But I'm not keen at all on the way the decreases in the yoke show so obviously, like gathers.  I feel there is something funny going on with the fit around the armscye.  And I'm not happy with my buttonbands.  Despite going to so much trouble to back them with grosgrain ribbon, I think they look lumpy and untidy.  I don't know, I don't think I'm in the best frame of mind at the moment to be objective.

Eventually, when I felt slightly better, I picked up the DK Yarn vanilla sock that I started last weekend from my Mean Girls Yarn Club Episode 4 yarn.  This yarn is so silky and lovely to knit with.  It's so quick to knit even a large man's sock in this heavier weight yarn.  DH is quite pleased with it and looking forward to the other one, which is now started.

Yesterday, when I was feeling more on the mend, I also picked up and finished the cross-stitch bookmark for m-i-l's  birthday.  The tassel and the felt backing (unseen) came with the kit but I changed the colours of the fuschias.  Keen eyes will notice where I went wrong with the border, but I'm calling it a design choice.

And that's it for a pretty lost week.  I will fill up space with a picture of our cat Lucy being used as a prop for DH's cross-stitch chart (yes he is doing cross-stitch, and she ended up with the chart on her because she kept pestering him).

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Multi-crafting productivity

Despite being out three nights this week (Pilates, a work thing, and a V&A visit) it has been a pretty productive week craftwise.

I finished meandering on the McCall's Mystery quilt.

I got my second quilt loaded onto the frame, which is the Flamingo Turning Twenty Around the Block lap quilt.  I'm quilting this one with little freehand curliques.  I wasn't very happy with my clumsy meandering on the first quilt so thought I would try something different while I am still getting my hand in.  It's not going too badly except for my tension going funny for no apparent reason for an entire pass along the quilt, so will have to sort that out afterwards.  I did manage to mail order a bunch of HLx5 size 90 needles so should have plenty for this run of quilting.  I change my needle after every quilt.

TV knitting has actually been TV cross stitching for the last few weeks, as I am making a bookmark for MIL's birthday.  I changed the colours of floss to look more like one of her favourite fuschias.  This is an in-progress shot, I still need to do the back stitch detailing and stems.

But after cross stitch every night, I did darn in a few more ends on my Selbuvotter gloves until eventually they were done, and I was able to give them a wash which really made the Jamieson 2ply jumperweight yarn bloom, and evened out the tension somewhat.  I'm so pleased these are finally done, I started them almost two years ago and they were hibernating a long time due to the errors in the pattern.  They feel nice and are very warm.  My only issue with the fit is that the thumb is very much on the front of the hand, which is fine if you are holding your hand like you are about to pinch something, but pulls uncomfortably if you want to hold your hand out flat.

I've been on a make do and mend spree today.  I spent four hours tackling a build up of mending jobs: turning up a pair of trousers, fixing DS's school bag, replacing all the buttons on a blouse, replacing the cuffs on a coat, and working on the buttonhole band for my London yoke cardigan.  Despite having carefully worked out where the buttonholes should go, and stitching them on the machine, I am now having trouble lining them up with the stretchy knitting.  Not sure whether this is going to work or not.

My new thread storage turned up as a flat pack from Storage 4 Crafts (called a 'desk tidy' with 8 drawers) and I put it together this morning.  For the first time in many years I can have almost all my threads in one place (apart from the cones of thread) and I've even got drawers for marking pencils etc.  It was well packaged, and easy to put together.  The 'pencil' drawer openings aren't quite long enough for a full length pencil but are fine for felt tip pens, shorter pencils, chalk pencils etc.  I'm really pleased with it and enjoyed retrieving my threads from their various hidey holes and loading them into the drawers by colour.

Yesterday we went down to Swindon to visit the National Self Build & Renovation Centre, where they have a Potton show home you can go around, and lots of displays about renovations and home extensions.  Afterwards we went to the Studley Grange craft village off the M4 for lunch in the garden centre (very long wait for fairly mediocre food).  The craft village has a small yarn shop, Crafty Yarns, which I didn't spend much time in as the owner who was putting out stock, had her husband doing DIY up a ladder and her two kids playing video games, plus another couple shopping, which pretty much filled up the entire shop.  There's a quilting shop which I think was called Quilter's Fayre, where I had a nice chat with the owner who has bought a Grace Pinnacle frame for her Janome 1600P.  Her frame is shorter than mine but she had invested in a Grace Sure Stitch for £300 from America which is an add on stitch regulator.  She showed it too me and it looked complicated and plasticy in the box.  She hasn't installed it yet. I think I would rather my next upgrade be to a 16" machine like a Handiquilter.  I don't think it would be worth it to me to try to do anything further with my 9" domestic machine because the real limitation is the restricted quilting space.

Also at the craft village is a dollshouse shop, mostly selling Dollshouse Emporium stuff and a bit of Reutters porcelain.  I bought a seated vicar with a coffee cup, who I will repaint to be a waiting husband for my quilting shop, a woven silk doormat which is probably for the same shop, and a Christmas 'quilt'.  I also bought a decorated porcelain bathroom set.  Normally I don't like these because they aren't realistic and can be gaudy, but this one wasn't too bad and the price was good (c. £14). I thought it might look nice in my McKinley house whenever I get around to building that.

Today was my knitting group (Hi Needlemum and Daisydaisydaisy!) which was quite enjoyable.  I took along my first skein from the Mean Girls 4 yarn club, which is a highly squishable hand dyed DK yarn that I am going to use to knit socks for DH as he really likes this neon green colour.  I made a start on a Paton's DK vanilla sock pattern and was amazed at how much quicker it is going than when you use a sockweight yarn.

I'll finish off by talking about my V&A visit (the Victoria & Albert museum in London) which was to the members' preview of the Hollywood Costume exhibit.  This was really good, much better than I expected and a lot bigger than I expected as well.  They have dozens of costumes actually worn by iconic stars in classic films from the silent era (Charlie Chaplin) right up to the recently released.  Tons of my favourite films were represented, including the green dress that Scarlett O'Hara made from curtains, Indy's outfit and fedora from Raiders of the Lost Ark, and many more.  But part of the fun was the presentation, which makes extensive use of video screen 'portraits' above the mannequin bodies, which blink and move; as well as video screen tables scattered with virtual objects or scripts from the films; and audio messages spoken by the actors or directors.  The exhibit isn't just about getting close to costumes worn by the stars (although Vivien Leigh's dress was really tall, and Marilyn's waist was incredibly tiny) but trying to educate the viewer about the important role the costume plays in the film in terms of augmenting the character and the context.  Part of the exhibit is about the working relationship between a costume designer and a director; and another part looks at how the costume helps the actor (Meryl Streep or Robert De Niro's costumes from several different films) get into character or even helps them to construct the character.  Definitely recommended if you were thinking of visiting.  I will say that it is very dark in the exhibit, I wish I had taken my glasses.  It's to protect the costumes but it does make it hard to see them clearly.  I might go back again and take my glasses this time as I have fairly poor night vision.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Ally Pally and lots of quilting

I spent the day at the Knitting and Stitching show at Alexandra Palace, and am so exhausted now.  The human body is just not meant to shuffle at the pace of a zombie for hours and hours in an overheated, overcrowded building with concrete floors and poor quality air.

However, apart from that, it was a fun day as this is always a great show. Although it is on for four days, I had to go on Sunday due to work and my sewing club yesterday.  By Sunday it all looks a bit picked over with half-empty bins of goods, and many of the vendors look shell shocked.  But in a way, that's good because picked over means less temptation and less weight to carry around.  I saw so many wonderful yarns and fabrics and gadgets, but in fact bought very little.

I tried very hard to buy some System HLx5 needles for my Pfaff Hobby GrandQuilter, but drew a blank everywhere.  Even the Pfaff dealer looked baffled, and a know-it-all on another stand tried to tell me that they don't exist.  I said that was odd as I've been mail ordering them from Cotton Patch in Birmingham. I had to settle for some Schmetz needles which will work but aren't as good for maintaining an even tension on the frame.  I got some more pins because a lot of my pins are currently holding the quilt on the frame.  And some new Machingers gloves because my ancient ones have worn off the coating on the fingertips from off-frame quilting.  I bought five blown glass beads from Kenya just because I thought they were pretty.  And I ordered a thread storage cabinet from Storage 4 Crafts which will be delivered later.  It will have 8 plastic trays to hold my thread and markers etc.  I bought three laser wood buttons which I will use in my dollshouse quilting shop as signs.  And I bought a laser wood 3D village scene which is a light - up Christmas scene - for sale for no apparent reason on a quilting stall.

There are lots of guild stalls and designers exhibits.  One of the most intriguing was a double-peaked colourful tent in the Palm Court, with the walls made up of exotic collages of unfinished needlework items.  Inside the tent, beside greyed out images of the collages, you could read the stories of the contributors and why they had never finished the item.  There was everything from vintage crochet lace part-borders, a part finished Sanqhuar glove,  unfinished tapestry and cross-stitch projects, part-made dresses, all cleverly assembled into attractive framed panels.  It was both poignant and irresistable, it made you want to claim all of the UFOs and love them and finish them.  All that wasted potential.  I took another good class from Celia Banks, who taught the excellent zipper tutorial at last year's show.  This year she was running through a variety of tips to improve sewing and dressmaking.

This week I have mostly been quilting my first quilt on the New Generation frame.  It's the first McCall's Mystery Quilt that I did, which I am probably giving to charity so it seemed a good choice to practice my meandering on while I get used to the machine again.  I'm please to report that the frame and machine are behaving well.  The machine operator is rusty and prone to rookie mistakes like running into the takeup roll and thus suddenly having a planned curve turn into a flat line, but I'm getting better.  I'm almost finished this quilt, just need to do a couple more passes.  The family have accepted the massive machine in the living room almost without comment, they are well trained.

At sewing club yesterday, I spent the entire day cutting out a Stack and Whack quilt from Bethany Reynold's second book 'Stack and Whackier', called Sara's Roses.  I'm using a gorgeous red Japanese print that I bought in Hawaii.  It was fairly complicated to cut out, as it is made of interlocking hexagons pieced from 60 degree triangles and 60 degree diamonds like a vast puzzle.  So I didn't actually get to any sewing but it's ready to start piecing now.  Hopefully it will go alright, I don't have the best luck with diamonds and triangles due to inaccuracies on my part.

Not that much commuter knitting, just one partial motif for the Gingko Shawl but the Wedgewood Selbuvotter glove is coming along well.  I've knit all four fingers and am just finishing the thumb.  Then I will just need to darn ends and block and this longstanding UFO will be done!

It's almost become too cold for my light autumn jacket, while not cold enough for my winter coat.  So a couple of mornings I have worn my shawl under my jacket.  This half hexagon shape fits the shoulders so well, and just doesn't slip.

I ordered a Niddy Noddy from Wingham Woolworks, and it turned up this week.  It's a Kromski medium size and should wind a 48" skein.  I've had a few disasters trying to frog things by winding around books so I thought it was time to get a proper tool.

I was looking on Knitmap and discovered that there was a yarn shop I'd never heard of, within walking distance of my new workplace.  It is called 'Patricia Roberts', which sells very expensive handknit designer jumpers to the ladies of Knightsbridge (it's not far from Harrods) and also luxury yarns.  Apparently she was a famous designer in the 80s. I bought two balls of their Angora in a rich plum colour, darker than it looks in this photo.  I'm slightly allergic to Alpaca so I'm hoping that I won't be allergic to Angora.  I was thinking of re-knitting the 'Pretty Thing' Cowl by Stephanie Pearl McPhee.  I knit it the first time in cashmere and it is far too floppy to be useful.  You have to ring to be let into the shop, and the woman running it (not Patricia) knows little about knitting.  The label on the ball has no information (and there are no prices) so I had to ask for help, but she could only look up the yardage on a chart and had no idea what tension it knit to.  It's not on Ravelry either, but their own website says up to a 3.75mm needles and that it's 70 angora and 30 wool.  It feels lovely.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Autumn and time for some quilting

There's definitely an Autumnal hint in the air now, and I've been wearing a lightweight woolly hat and my fingerless gloves in the mornings to work. On 1 October I hung my autumnal and Hallowe'en quilts around the house, to enjoy until the end of the month.  It's nice to be wearing the woollies again, but when I put away my summer clothes under the bed, I realised I hadn't even worn some of them.  It was such a cool and rainy summer.

This week I have knit 1.75 fingers on my Wedgewood Glove and have knit the button band on my Cityscape Cardigan.  I tried a few different buttonholes on a sample and couldn't come up with any that wouldn't gape because the buttonholes are vertical.  So I made a trip to McCulloch and Wallis on my lunch hour, which is a big haberdashery store just off Oxford Street, and picked up some cotton grosgrain ribbon to back the bands with.  Hopefully I can line up buttonholes in the grosgrain with the knitted buttonholes and stop them gaping so much. In the end I used the one-row buttonhole from an Elizabeth Zimmerman video that I have, which seems sturdy but still gapes under sideways pressure.

Commuter knitting has been the Ginkgo/Gingko Shawl  (I can never remember how to spell that) and I am just knitting the final full unit (21st).  Once that is done, I will start the seven partial units.  I've been reading ahead about the method for sewing the units together, which sounds dreadful and involves trying to stitch curved edges to live stitches held on a straight needle. There aren't many projects on Ravelry for this, but two of those have chosen different sewing methods and I think I will as well.

Because it is October, I realised I finally had to stop procrastinating and get the quilt frame up, because otherwise it wouldn't be down in time for Christmas.  I don't want to wait until after Christmas because I am still hoping that we will be putting our house on the market next summer so we will be starting to prepare for that in the spring.

First job was to make room for the frame, by dismantling DH's desk and stashing it behind the dining table in the kitchen.

Next job was to find all the bits for the frame, which were variously squirrelled away in the attic, behind wardrobes, in cupboards and under beds.

Two hours later, after lots of perusing of directions and trying to differentiate between screws that were 2mm longer than other screws, we got to this stage:

I've stopped there for now because I'm exhausted.  Next step will be to get the Pfaff GrandQuilter machine out and give it an oil, and wind some bobbins.  DH was a big help, it's definitely a two person job putting this together.  Hopefully this week I will get the machine going and a practice top onto the frame to start recovering my quilting mojo.

Other mojo I have worked on recovering this week has been electronic knitting on my Brother 950i knitting machine - the one that I did the repair job on the power supply a few weeks ago.  Back in 2009 I blogged that I had fallen in love with the Alice Starmore design 'Marina' after seeing it at the I-Knit Weekender talk she gave.  I eventually bought the Jamieson Spindrift yarn to make a sleeveless pullover version (too expensive to get all the yarn for a cardigan) and the pattern in an old BBC book called This Morning Woolcraft (1993).  During some of my less busy periods at my last job, I slowly input the chart into Excel.  As it is 32 stitches by 68 rows, it doesn't translate to a 24-stitch punchcard so I knew it would have to be knit either by hand or by electronic knitting machine.  I'd had success knitting Jamieson & Smith 2 ply jumperweight fair isle on my standard knitting machine and thought that was more likely to happen than me knitting this complicated design by hand.  

However, first I had to get the chart loaded into the electronic machine, which was more difficult than it sounds.  The first setback was when the knitting machine blew up in a puff of smoke.  The second was to get an Excel chart into a format that my antique Designaknit 6 would accept, so that I could subsequently load it via cable into the memory of the knitting machine.  This was so complicated that I can't even remember exactly how I did it now (as it was about 18 months ago).  I think I turned all the Excel pattern squares black, so I had a black and white pattern, and then converted that to a bitmap file.  I then converted the bitmap to something that Designaknit would read (can't remember what) and burned it onto a CD.  I took the CD out to the ancient computer in the knitting shed that has Designaknit and uploaded the chart which converted it to a .pat file.  And finally, after lots of hunting through the manuals to remind myself a) how to use the 950i knitting machine and b) how to use Designaknit, I managed to download the pattern to the machine last Sunday.  Hurrah!!  Then I knit a tension sample in just two colours.  I can see a couple of mistakes in the chart but hopefully I can just fix those in Designaknit.  The tension is coming out tighter than the ball band recommendation (35 st instead of 30) but the fabric feels ok.  

Then I had to write a pattern for a sleeveless pullover to match that tension.  I based the pattern on the KnitCamp vest which fits me fairly well, and did all the arithmetick to hopefully arrive at an accurate replica.  It's not quite ready yet, but soon I may even be able to start knitting this three year old project.  I'm tempted to see if I could knit a cardigan with the yarn I have, since the yarn quantities are for an enormous 80s style baggy cardigan, but I think I would actually wear a sleeveless pulllover more than a too-warm-for-the-office cardigan.  I've also gone through the 22 colours of yarn I was sent, and matched up all the substitutes to the outdated chart in the book, and then written down next to the chart which yarn colour to load in which feeder on the machine for each row.  I expect the actual knitting will actually take less time than all the preparation!

Hope you are all getting more crafting time now that the weather is getting cooler (or warmer if you are down under!).

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