Saturday, 29 December 2012

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

I'm writing this on Saturday 29 December, feeling very relaxed but sadly several pounds heavier.  And we are still eating our way through the turkey leftovers.  I hope you all had a lovely Christmas, we certainly did.  Far too much food and sweets, but very relaxing.  You know it's Christmas when you are still in your pyjamas at noon, eating Percy Pig sweets with a rose wine chaser, and reading your new dollshouse tome.

This is a wonderful history of the Christian Hacker toy factory in Nuremberg (1835-1927) written by Swantje Kohler with text in both English and German.  I ordered it direct from her website but it was a gift from DH and the in-laws as it is rather pricey.  But I think well worth it, 332 high quality pages with tons of illustrations including reprints of early catalogues, and many pictures of extant dollshouses and room boxes from collections juxtaposed next to their catalogue pictures.

I'm not generally a fan of antique dollshouses as I have a good eye for scale but every since my friend Anita sent me a Christmas card one year of this house (pictured on right hand page), I've wanted to find out more about the Hacker houses and perhaps one day build a duplicate. I love all the dormers, roof planes, the American-style porch and the Italianate windows.  They are just so charming, and so much more interesting than most of today's boring 'bookcase-style' dollshouses.

My Alice Starmore yarn turned up from my Ravelry de-stash purchase. This is Hebridean 2 Ply in colourway Erica, which is a bit darker than in this photo and a nice heathered berry colour which I quite like.

Another crafty christmas gift was this acrylic stand to hold my KnitPro needle tips. There will be another one coming from s-i-l when it is back in stock, so I will have one for my wooden tips and one for my metal tips.  Unfortunately both said tips are trapped in the cupboard behind the Christmas tree so temporarily inaccessible - I did not plan this very well.

One of my best presents was this homemade version of the June Tailor Pressing Board.  My f-i-l made it from this pattern and did a super job.  It's turned out really well and is going to be so useful for pressing. There's a video by Nancy on that link which shows all the different uses for each surface.

A few days before Christmas, I made two of these gingerbread houses using a clever set of cutters from Lakeland Limited (I've tried to link to their website but apparently the cutters are discontinued so must have been a seasonal item).  I also used their gingerbread recipe and it was so delicious!  We managed to eat most of our house by Boxing Day, and I took the other one down to the in-laws on Boxing Day as my contribution to the meal. I'm not very good at cake icing, but they were cute.  However, I'm not sure my British in-laws get the concept of a gingerbread house, they were rather reluctant to snap pieces off. I think they would have been happier to have separate small ginger cookies.

DH loved his Christmas socks (he had forgotten I'd knit them so they were a surprise) and m-i-l thought her knitted snowman was really cute.

So before Christmas, I made a list of my aspirations for the holiday.  Here is a progress update - and I still have three more days of holiday after today!

  • Seam up my Eyelet Lace jumper - I've knit the neckline so it's only the seaming left to do. DONE - see below
  • Block all the pieces for my Gingko Shawl and start sewing them together Blocked and seaming underway, see below.
  • Fix the errors in my Marina electronic chart and make a start on knitting my Marina pullover on the 950i knitting machine. Mostly fixed, and now on row 92, see below.
  • Sew a label onto my Vintage Lone Star quilt that I finished a few weeks ago. - DONE
  • Start the straight-line quilting on the Medieval Panels quilt - STARTED
  • Do some more piecing on the Lone Star kit I am sewing Pieced row 6 onto all eight star points
  • Do some more piecing on the Sarah's Stars Stack 'n Whack quilt. - No
  • Crack on with the Advent Calendar Scarf - I would like to get it finished.- up to Day 17
  • Do a trial block of my Haapsalu Shawl so far, and decide if I am knitting it or frogging it. - No
  • Work out a sleeve pattern for my Twice Doomed Tee and knit both sleeves - No
  • I've got quite a few kits for small dollshouse accessories - perhaps tackle some of them? - No
  • Start more knitting projects if I can finish some of the old ones! I've started knitting the Yarn Harlot's 'Pretty Thing' cowl in my ruby red Carezza angora blend.

I seamed together my Eyelet Lace jumper (a.k.a. 01 - Pull ajourĂ© by Bergère de France) and finished it on Christmas Day.  DH pointed out that I could wear it to the in-laws on Boxing Day, so I did.  It has come out a bit loose but that's not a problem apart from the shoulders want to hang a little below my natural shoulder line.  Otherwise I'm pleased with it.  I had trouble finding what to wear underneath it, I settled on a black top for Boxing Day but I think I might try a sleeveless white blouse next time.  Although this is not a difficult knit as such, I found it hard work because you are juggling so many factors:  stripe pattern shading with two strands of mercerised cotton to transition the colours, the lace chart, and the increasing/decreasing.  I could never have done it without the ipad app Goodreader.

I blocked six units at a time of my Gingko Shawl over the days leading up to Christmas, pinning them onto outlines I traced onto paper and protected in plastic sleeves.  My units have come out a bit big which is typical for me as I am a loose knitter, so I expect my shawl will be larger as well.  Also my partial units don't want to block flat which might be a problem. I am finding the seaming together is fairly straightforward as I am ignoring the ridiculously complicated instructions in the pattern and just grafting them with a yarn needle.  I'm working on a flat surface to ensure the gathering in is done smoothly.  Once the shawl is finished, I will block it again to flatten it all out.

My Marina sleeveless pullover is at last underway (Alice Starmore design).  It has an amazing number of colours, and I have placed them in numerical order along my machine lid so that I can easily find the next colour.  There are two colours in each row, and one or the other or both changes on virtually every row.  So it is slow going as I have to keep threading and unthreading the 950i machine, but still a lot faster and more even than if I tried to hand knit.  I'm up to row 92 and in a few more rows (row 111) I can start decreasing for the armhole.  On the chart on the wall, I have written out the colours for every row.  I really hope this fits as the colour shading is going to be fabulous.

I finished quilting the Teacups Quilt on the frame, and have now loaded up the Red & White Stars quilt.

The back has a panel of fabric featuring fun coffee jugs.

I hope you all had a very Merry Christmas, and I wish you all the best for a very happy new year in 2013.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

It's the Holidays!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Woo hoo!!!  I'm on holiday until 2 January 2013 !!  I'm so excited, I've been counting down the days of my not very interesting job for this day.  DH is also on holiday, and last night we cracked open a bottle of cheap pink Cava to celebrate.

Our tree has turned out fine, you can see it above squeezed into the living room with the quilt frame in the background.  I couldn't squeeze on all of our ornaments but it looks very nice and has a lovely christmas smell.

Today we got in our Christmas food:  turkey and trimmings, christmas pud with custard and cream, and the fridge is groaning.  The idea is to live in a complete cocoon and not go out until Boxing Day (and only then because we have to visit the in-laws).  I've made our traditional Christmas fudge (basically brown sugar stuck together with butter), we have candy canes, and all the decorations and lights are finally up.  I love this time of year.

I'm hoping to get lots of crafting done over the holidays, and last night I did three more passes of the Party Hearts pantograph on my Teacup Quilt on the frame.

I managed to fix the Shaelyn stole that I screwed up so badly trying to knit in the dark in the Hobbit.  The final toll was eight stitch markers knitted in, one stitch dropped outright, two more stitches dropped and picked up incorrectly missing out some bars, and one accidental K2tog.  Luckily as I am purposely knitting at a loose gauge for drapeability, I had enough slack to just drop down stitches and knit them up properly, and I cut out the stitch markers.  As I did my provisional cast on over a spare interchangeable cord, I could switch over my needle tips and start knitting the other way when I started my second ball of yarn.

I'm up to Day 16 of my Advent Calendar 2010 Lace Scarf but after about 10 rows I realised that I was stupidly knitting the right side of the chart onto the wrong side of the scarf and had to frog back.  I was tricked because Day 15 has a wrong side that looks like a right side.

I finished cross-stitching a little snowman gift tag for m-i-l's present of the snowman I knitted her.

So what am I hoping to tackle these holidays?

  • Seam up my Eyelet Lace jumper - I've knit the neckline so it's only the seaming left to do.
  • Block all the pieces for my Gingko Shawl and start sewing them together
  • Fix the errors in my Marina electronic chart and make a start on knitting my Marina pullover on the 950i knitting machine.
  • Sew a label onto my Vintage Lone Star quilt that I finished a few weeks ago.
  • Start the straight-line quilting on the Medieval Panels quilt
  • Do some more piecing on the Lone Star kit I am sewing
  • Do some more piecing on the Sarah's Stars Stack 'n Whack quilt.
  • Crack on with the Advent Calendar Scarf - I would like to get it finished.
  • Do a trial block of my Haapsalu Shawl so far, and decide if I am knitting it or frogging it.
  • Work out a sleeve pattern for my Twice Doomed Tee and knit both sleeves
  • I've got quite a few kits for small dollshouse accessories - perhaps tackle some of them?
  • Start more knitting projects if I can finish some of the old ones!

I need more holiday.

With best wishes for the season to you and yours.


Wednesday, 19 December 2012

An unexpectedly entertaining carol service

Last night we attended the school’s annual carol service, an impressive and traditional event in a large parish church that includes readings, audience singing of hymns, and musical interludes from two choirs and a six piece brass ensemble. 


The first glorious performance is always ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ with solo soprano boy’s voice.  Although, annoyingly, there were still latecomers arriving onto our balcony seating area as the music started. 


As the audience joined in at the appropriate point, I was startled to hear a rich, trained, deep baritone voice from the row behind me, away to my left.  Looking around, I realised it was a former student come back from university to attend the service.  I remember that this boy always sang in all of the school’s concerts and vocal ensembles, and it was a delight to hear his rich enunciation and powerful true tones.


The latecomers got themselves settled and we had a couple of readings and some performances from the choir.  Then it was time for the next audience-participation carol.


I listened with anticipation for the lovely baritone and he did indeed start singing, but suddenly from behind me came a loud but reedy man’s voice, in a somewhat higher register.  It was one of the latecomers:  an older man (sixties?) who had taken a seat directly behind me, sharing the same almost-empty pew as the baritone with a gap of about four feet between them.


Older-guy seemed to feel competitive because he became louder and louder along with the baritone’s powerful voice. Only Older-guy wasn’t content to just sing the melody.  Older-guy was being very inventive and singing lots of descants and harmonies and trills – only not very well, not always in tune with the music, and with occasional cracking of his voice.


Baritone-guy got louder and so did Older-guy (still trilling) until the two of them were virtually bellowing along to the song, and by then I was trying so hard not to laugh that my programme was shaking.  But youth will win out: Older-guy was running out of steam by the end of the song, and I would say Baritone-guy took that round.


For the next few audience songs, Older-guy seemed to have settled down, and was more or less singing along with Baritone-guy (both still fairly loud). 


But then we reached ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’, with its final verse traditionally sung at full pelt with choir soaring above the audience with wonderful harmonies and the brass instruments following suit.  Baritone-guy was obviously prepared and upped his already loud volume by about 25%.  Older-guy, determined not to be outdone, also upped his volume considerably (although it was a strain for him and his voice was cracking a bit) and started crazy harmonies again. 


With both of them bellowing along in full voice, they were so loud that they were actually hurting my ears and completely drowning out the entire brass section and the c.30-member choir so that we couldn’t hear any of the harmonies.  It was like a wall of sound blasting us from behind and completely ludicrous. I was outright laughing by this point but also a bit annoyed that we couldn’t hear the choir and brass.


At the end of the concert, I watched to see if the two singers would interact, but they completely ignored each other and departed the pew in opposite directions.


So a much more entertaining carol service than usual, although not for the best reasons.  I couldn’t help thinking that Baritone-guy is going to be an embarrassment to his wife and children once he has them, and Older-guy probably already has been.   I also wonder if Older-guy fancies himself the leading light of his local church but when I suggested that to DH, it was met with the alternate suggestion that Older-guy has been kicked out of all the local churches and thus has to come to show off at a school carol service…


Merry Christmas, and may your carol services be equally enjoyable.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

The Hobbit ate my knitting

We've just come back from seeing The Hobbit in the cinema.  Contrary to the lukewarm reviews, we both really enjoyed it and the almost three hours flew by rather than dragging as I had feared.  They have taken some liberties with the book, and two of the dwarves are distractingly familiar (one is Anders from Amazing Johnsons and the other is Mitchell of Being Human fame), but overall it looked great and is a good start to the trilogy.  We still feel the 3D is just a gimmick, it doesn't add anything to the film and occasionally seemed blurry at the edges of the picture, and I find the glasses annoying.

Due to reading reviews like "We couldn't wait for the film to start, and after one hour we couldn't wait for it to be over" I had carefully saved my Shaelyn Shawl up to knit in the film, as it is bands of stockinette punctuated by simple lace and should have been easy movie knitting.  However, I had reckoned without two factors:

1) it is very hard to see dark navy yarn while wearing dark 3D sunglasses.  I dropped a stitch about two minutes into the film and just could not see well enough to pick it up properly.  I did my best and persevered, but my knitting now has a nice loopy hole in it.

2) I am using small rubber bands from Claire's Accessories, which used to be great stitch markers.  However, I bought a new pack recently and they have changed the hard small hoops into larger floppier thinner rings.  Unfortunately, in the dark the floppy rings don't feel very different from yarn, plus they are so flexible you can actually knit the rings.  Then you end up with knitting like in the picture, where I have managed to knit about eight stitch rings actually into my knitting. I could tell by touch that my stitch markers were missing, I thought I was dropping them in the dark, so I kept adding more from the packet.  In one place I've knit three markers into the knitting, one above another.

Luckily I abandoned the knitting as a lost cause after about 10 rows and didn't attempt the lace row because god knows how that would have gone.

TV knitting, and knit club knitting, this week has continued to be the Advent Calendar Lace Scarf 2010 which is now up to Day 15.  DH pointed out that I am just about on schedule so if I just started to knit one pattern a night, I could finish on Christmas Eve like the original knitters.  Sure I could do that, if I gave up sleep.

Commuter knitting has mostly been the Shaelyn, but on Thursday I had to spend six hours on trains taking DS to an assessment day at Bristol University, so I cast on for my new Featherduster Shawl to replace the one I gave away.  Tomorrow's commuter knitting is going to be frogging the movie knitting back to where I started.  Either that, or if I can pick up the dropped stitch and cut out the stitch markers, perhaps I can save it.

I loaded the Teacups Quilt onto the frame, and have started to quilt it with the same Party Hearts panto that I used on the Village Quilt.  Obviously the quilt frame is still in the living room, so I chose a tall, narrow Christmas tree (we buy a real tree from a tree farm) which we have managed to squeeze in near the TV.  There is just room to walk between the tree and the sofa, and between the tree and the quilt frame, and you can only watch TV unobstructed from one place on the sofa (luckily, the place where I normally sit), but we have a tree.

We've made a good start on putting up the Christmas decorations this weekend.  The outside lights make the house very cheerful, and I've made a little Christmas village scene on the windowsill using various houses and trees I have collected.  I used my knitted snowman as part of the scene.

I have been living dangerously and checking out the British Classified ads on Ravelry lately, where there are lots of de-stashed yarns for sale, and I finally succumbed to an Alice Starmore kit for an Aran cardigan, going a bit cheaper than if purchased directly.  That should be in the post as a Christmas present from me to me. I don't know if I will knit the pattern or not, but I could use the yarn for another Starmore design as I have her Aran book also.  I am seriously contemplating a yarn diet for 2013 but I don't know if I have the willpower.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Still got it (or at least, some of it)

DH's Christmas party was great fun and I was able to hit the perfect balance between drinking enough to be a dancing fool until the wee hours, without actually being hungover or ill the next day.  The waist cincher did stay up  and was even relatively comfortable, the dress looked great, and I did not fall off my high heels (although it was a near thing a couple of times).  There was an even bigger office Christmas party in the next room so at a couple of points in the evening when our DJ was playing rubbish music, we went and danced next door instead. The hotel (we stayed the night) was very comfortable, and we had a fab breakfast the next morning. That's the only time all year I get dressed up and also the only time we go dancing, so it's not something I'm very practiced at, so I'm relieved that it all went well.

As I was also out another night for my own office party (very tame sit-down restaurant meal), I didn't get a lot of frame quilting done this week but I did eventually finish the panto on the Village Quilt.  It looks good and I think I might use the same panto on my Teacups Quilt.  After taking that quilt off the frame, I pinned on the Medieval Quilt and used my Microstitch gun to baste the sandwich together.  I'm going to quilt that one off the frame because it needs a lot of stitch-in-the-ditch quilting.

While at my own office Christmas meal, I heard a very sad story from a colleague about her childhood best friend who has lost her mother and has now developed breast cancer.  My colleague was so sad about it and  misses her friend so much (the friend emigrated to Canada) that I felt really sorry for her and offered her the Featherduster Shawl that I've been knitting out of Debbie Bliss Angel Print.  My colleague was thrilled and accepted, so that meant I had to finish it quickly as the postal deadline to Canada is about now.  I was just about up to five repeats so I decided that would be enough (the full shawl is six repeats but that's fairly big) and quickly finished it off and blocked it.  It is so soft and silky and lovely that I think I will have to knit another one for me.  My colleague absolutely loved it and thinks her sick friend will really appreciate it.  She insisted on giving me double the cost of the yarn so that means I can buy more to knit my own version.

I can't remember if I blogged that I frogged my Piper's Journey shawlette?  It was in the shape of an elongated croissant and I just found that shape didn't suit me at all so I was never wearing it. It just didn't sit well on my shoulders and wasn't the right shape for wrapping up in.  So I frogged it and now I experimenting with the Shaelyn Shawl pattern only knitting it as a rectangle instead of a triangle.  That's in the Quince & Co Chickadee yarn in navy blue.  It seems like a good yarn but not as soft as I would like for a shawl, it feels more like sturdy sock yarn.

I picked up my Twice Doomed Tee and finished casting off the pleats.  Now I just have to knit the sleeves. Only when I turned to that page of my handwritten modified pattern, I found 1/3 of a sleeve instruction then the words 'my brain hurts' so obviously that hadn't been a good night for doing arithmetic.  Unfortunately I neglected to 'show my work' so I have no clue how I was working it out.  I had a go at winging a sleeve but have ended up with a strange and ugly object that does not much resemble a sleeve so need to try again. I can't even remember what the difference was between my gauge and the pattern gauge - this is what happens when you neglect a project for several months!

That's about it this week - hope your preparations for Christmas are going well.  I just ordered the turkey and trimmings from our online organic supplier tonight, for delivery on the weekend before Christmas.  We're both on holiday between Christmas and New Year which I am really looking forward to.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

It's beginning to feel a bit like...

I won't say the 'C' word but it is the 1st of December.  I have excavated the quilted Advent Calendar from the attic, as well as our paper Advent Calendar from Phoenix Trading.  DH's office xmas party is coming up soon, so we went shopping today to get him a snazzy waistcoat and sparkly bow tie, and for me a sparkly hair elastic, sparkly earrings (and more prosaically, a waist cincher to keep the fat rolls under control underneath my slinky dress. I'm sceptical as to it actually staying up while I'm dancing but it's worth a try.)  We topped off the shopping expedition with a treat of waffles with strawberries, chocolate sauce, and gingerbread frozen yoghurt - which is going to make the waist cincher's job just that more difficult, isn't it?

This week I started doing a panto on my village quilt, and I'm pleased that it's going fairly well.  I've picked an easy one to start with, 'Party Hearts' from Sweet and Simple Pantographs.  It's also very easy on bobbin thread, I'm getting about 5 3/4 passes out of one bobbin which is great. The quilt is looking really nice, sparking off inner monologues such as: "I like it!  I could keep this one for myself." "You have too many quilts already and no room to store any more." "It could be a TV quilt."  "We already have 2.5 TV quilts per member of this household." "It could replace one of the other TV quilts - what about the flannel one that has holes in the seams?" "We all like the flannel quilt because it's so heavy and cosy and you could fix the holes in the seams."  And so on .

I'm very proud of DH who finished his enormous cross-stitch scene of London, 'Cityscape' by Anette Eriksson, in just 4.5 months.  To do it suitable justice, I bought some heavy red velvet from Peter Jones and some fancy twisted cord piping, and made a zippered piped cushion out of it using this superb tutorial. It turned out pretty well and DH really likes it. He says he is never doing another cross-stitch though.

Commuter knitting this week has continued to be the Featherduster shawl in Angel Print.  I am now up to the fifth repeat of the chart so there are getting to be quite a few stitches. TV knitting has been Day 12 of the 2010 Advent Calendar scarf.  I can't believe so many people actually knit this scarf in 24 days, each step is taking me several knitting episodes.

I tend to keep each project in a separate tote bag and I had collected quite an accumulation due to not emptying out old project bags.  So I sat down this week and went through the entire collection, emptying out old project bags and putting away patterns, needles, notions etc. in their rightful places.  I found the Twice-Doomed Tshirt in one bag, so now I am feeling guilty about it.  It's knitted up to the armholes and I just need to determine where the pleats should be.  This is where I wish I had a mannequin that is my size.  Hopefully in my next sewing room I will have such a thing.

I bound the baby quilt and sewed on the label, so it's all ready to take to work for its recipient next week.

We've got to pack up DS and take him up to Oxford for his interview soon.  He is alternating between confidence and nervousness, let's hope he strikes the right balance between the two for his actual interview.  It would be great if he gets an offer but we've been told by many people that it is such a lottery to get in because they get so many able students applying.

I hope that if you are making anything craftwise for Christmas, that it is all under control and on deadline.  I'm not really doing anything else specially for Christmas, I knit the socks for DH and the two snowmen decorations.  I just want to keep moving quilts onto and off the frame to get all my tops done.

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