Sunday, 24 February 2013

I'm not sure it's meant to look like this

I finished my Beret Beanie.   But I'm not sure it's meant to look like this.

Before wet blocking, the band was loose but clinging to my head.  And I have a big head, normal women's hats don't fit me.  This is pure New Lanark DK wool, so I optimistically hoped it would tighten up when it was washed.  Nope.

I blocked this over a plate (to flatten the beret part) balanced on a mixing bowl (to allow the beanie part to stay vertical).  I had to wait a day and a half for it to dry then I finally got to try it on.  You can see the result above - the ribbing had loosened up considerably. The beret part looked really good, and it had been a lot of knitting so I didn't want to start all over again.

In machine knitting I have quite often unraveled waste yarn from below, so I thought that would be the solution.  I picked up stitches all the way around just above the ribbing with a circular needle, then cut a thread a few rows below and unpicked the ribbing so it just fell away.  However, I had reckoned without this hairy yarn, which just wanted to cling to itself and breaks rather easily, and made it so impossible to unravel the last couple rows so that it was a complete mess.  I had to pick up AGAIN a few rows higher up, above the increases, and pull away more rows.  Then I decreased down to the ribbing, reducing by 30 stitches which was my estimate by pinching the original band on my head.

However, after knitting a half inch or so of ribbing, it became clear that it still wasn't snug enough.  So I ripped out AGAIN, picked up AGAIN, reduced another batch of stitches evenly, and knit the ribbing.  The happy end to this probably dull story is that the ribbing now fits quite snugly and I am really pleased with the hat.  Apart from the untidy loopy edge where I picked up the stitches.  I've never had a floppy hat like this so wasn't sure how it would look on me, but it's cute and makes me feel like picking up a paint brush and palette like a bohemian artist.

I blocked out my Advent Lace 2010 Calendar Scarf on the bed, diagonally, because we don't have a clear space sufficiently long enough on the floor.  Only the king size bed wasn't long enough either, so I had to put part of it in a plastic bag to stay wet, while the blocked part dried, then block the wet part later that day.  I blocked it to 16" wide which seemed to suit the patterns.  I didn't steam block, but perhaps I should have as it is curling on some of the patterns a little.  I'm really pleased with it, and feel proud of how much better I am at lace knitting now thanks to this KAL.  It is ridiculously long, but lovely and soft in  Valley Yarns Huntington (colour Arctic) and I found I can wrap it around my neck like a giant cowl.

Yesterday was my quilting club, and Clue Two of our group mystery design was to make two variations of an animal connected to your theme.  I'm making a knitting bag, so I made two sheep.  I drew my own foundations based on two blocks I found online, mine aren't as good but they still look like sheep.

Today I had the pleasure of visiting unravel, the yarn festival in Farnham.  In the morning I took a very enjoyable two hour class on Knitting with Beads with Fiona Morris.  I've had classes with her before and like her teaching style, she is very prepared and really knows her stuff.  To teach us the two techniques of pre-stringing beads (which I hadn't done before) and the crochet hook method, she gave us a pattern for a simple lace bracelet.  The course fee included a choice of many colours of perle cotton, 2mm needles, a tiny crochet hook, a packet of small beads and a packet of accent beads and a clasp.  I chose to do mine all in silver, and I'm really pleased with how it's going.  It might actually be something I will wear.

I find the crochet hook method fairly easy.  The pre-strung beads took a bit of getting used to, but after a while I found what worked for me was to bring up half a dozen to sit above my tensioning left hand little finger (I knit continental style), and just bring one bead down over my forefinger with my thumb when I was ready to place it.  I had most problems with the instructions being written out, because I am used to charts after knitting the Advent Calendar scarf.

What did surprise me about this course was the number of knitters getting into trouble over what to me are fairly basic concepts.  Perhaps I need to upgrade myself from 'advanced beginner' to 'intermediate' knitter.  People were struggling to do a knitted cast-on, about half didn't know how to do ssk, one woman was doing her yarnovers backwards so they hardly showed up, other people were struggling with the lace pattern etc.  So the first hour of the course was more Fiona solving all of those problems for people and doing demos of SSK, than actually about the course matter of knitting with beads. But she was really patient about it.

The show was great as usual, so much colour and creativity, and witty yarn bombing - and a pair of sheep outside.  I bought some 1.25mm needles (like piano wire) for a workshop I will be doing at the SkipNorth knitting retreat also on knitting with beads.  I was trying hard not to buy yarn, as I have to pack my stash soon.  But I did get two more skeins of Debbie Bliss Angel Print because I have been enjoying knitting the Featherduster in it.

I also bought a  secondhand book, The Art of Knitting, on one of the vintage stalls.  There looks to be some history of knitting in the first part, and then some patterns inspired by historical artwork.

And I bought a pattern from Fiona Morris called Liz's Jacket.  She knit hers in two strands held together but it equals an Aran weight, and I have a fair bit of Aran weight.

I saw a very interesting demonstration of a Brinkley Loom on the Plant Dyed Wool stall. It looked much less faff than other looms I've seen. It was basically a large wooden rectangle which you just wound yarn around to be the weft, and then an ingenious plastic finned heddle, that looked a bit like a futuristic radiator, acted both as the gadget that raises alternate threads and as a beater. However, they cost around £200 so not cheap, and you would need a large table to use them.

The show was busy but not heaving, but this was the second day.  It was impossible to find anywhere to sit at lunchtime, so I ended up not eating lunch until about 2pm, when some chairs opened up as many people went to see the fashion show.  I thought perhaps there weren't as many traders as last year, but many of the traders who were there had really big stalls with loads to look at.

Two more weeks of work and then I will be a free (unemployed) woman.  I've started jobhunting but not very actively, just sending my CV in to a few agencies and turning my email alerts back on.  I've applied for one job in London which sounds interesting, but it's one of these annoying ones where they say 'competitive salary' without telling you what that salary is.  I always think that they will see what candidates are asking for and then pitch their salary offer at that level.

The dollshouses and roomboxes are all packed now apart from the biggest one (the Vic-war-gency house).  I've booked a hotel for a couple of nights in March, we are going to go and really look around Sandy in Bedfordshire to see if we could live there, and try out the morning commute from there. Although we are beginning to wonder if we actually need to be moving even further away from London, say South Yorkshire, before we will find a big enough house that we can actually afford. On the positive side, I did a bunch of online research on what's available in the area, and discovered Sunflower Fabrics, BSK (machine knitting supplies), and a few other knitting shops are all within driving distance.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Work? What is that?

We are at the end of our two week holiday and tomorrow it will be back to cold reality.  I'm not sure I remember how to work.  I certainly don't remember how to get up for work: today it was 08:45 before I regained consciousness.  I don't even want to think about that alarm going off tomorrow.

We had a few days of jet lag but not too bad, it was vastly better being able to slowly transition instead of going straight back to the daily grind.  We've done a lot of packing, including dismantling a storage unit in the living room made of kitchen cabinets and Freecycling it.  I've been slowly packing up all my dollshouse room boxes, a tricky job trying to pad them sufficiently and fit them into boxes.  I haven't done any of the big houses yet but will tackle some of those this morning.

I'm packing the dollshouse stuff the same way I did last time we moved.  I tend to stick things into my houses anyway, either permanently, or temporarily using tacky wax, so there aren't many loose things.  Life is too short to take everything out and wrap it individually.  So what I do is wad up tissue paper and carefully place it into each room, filling the nooks and crannies until the entire room is held lightly in place with tissue paper.  If there is something heavier that lacks support, for example a doll, then I will wrap it individually and place it back into the room. For big rooms, once I've covered everything with tissue paper, I might fill in interior voids with crumpled newspaper or bubble wrap.  Once all the voids are filled, I either seal the opening with cling film in the case of a room box or 1:48 house, or in the case of a bigger house, wrap it in bubble wrap then lightly hold that on by wrapping parcel tape around the bubble wrap.  So that nothing can shift or fall out as it is a sealed environment.  Eventually, when I unpack, I will unpack on a low table placed in the centre of a bedsheet on the carpet, and I will carefully open out each piece of packing material to check that nothing small is embedded in it.  Last time very few things came loose, and I was able to spot them in the packing material.  Worst case scenario, they fall onto the bedsheet where they can easily be spotted.

I've been enjoying knitting the Unexpected Journey: A Hobbit KAL shawl.  The clues are published each Friday and so far I have easily been able to complete them in one day.  The latest clue, Clue 3, featured little owls with beads for eyes.

I felt like a change so I have started a hat called the Beret Beanie, a sort of slouchy beanie from the book Knitted Beanies by Susie Johns, which Secret Santa gifted me at knitting club.  I'm on the crown decreases at the moment.  This is in New Lanark DK left over from the cable yoke vest that I knit a while ago.

I got quite a lot knit on the hat yesterday, when we spent the afternoon driving around checking out potential future places to live.  We visited Knebworth (ugly, too expensive), Hitchin (big, not very attractive, still on the expensive side), Biggleswade (big, lots of estates) and went back to Sandy in Bedfordshire for another look (still like it).

I haven't done any sewing the last few weeks, I just haven't felt like it.  Soon I am going to have to start making choices as to what gets packed craftwise, and what gets left out to get me through the next several months.  Gulp.  I just know that I will pack things that I should have left out, or else get cold turkey withdrawal and have to raid the storage unit to fondle my yarn stash to calm down.  :)

I blocked out the back of my Alice Starmore Marina slipover. It looks pretty fabulous with all the shading, makes all the labour worthwhile.  It seemed bigger than the measurements when I blocked it, but it shrank up a bit as it dried.  It's still a bit wide in the shoulders, so I think I will reduce the front by 6 stitches in width as I knit up the sides, and fudge the shoulders when I seam the front to the back.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Miami nice

We arrived back in the UK today after a week in sunny Miami Beach, Florida.  After spending a week plastered in sunscreen and surrounded by palm trees in 80 degree temperatures, it was with sinking heart that I heard the pilot announce that the weather in the UK was one degree above freezing and that snow was falling.  Groan.

We had a fantastic time, and were so relaxed by the last night that we could hardly stir from the sofas on our hotel's rooftop terrace.  We had loads of lovely meals, went all over on the good bus and train system, swam in our hotel roof pool almost every morning, paddled on the beach, shopped, and generally kept pinching ourselves to think that it was actually February.  I can now see why northerners become snow birds and go south for the winter. We've never done it before but definitely plan to do it again!

We were staying right in South Beach in an old Art Deco hotel, and took three different tours of the Art Deco architecture because we like it so much.  This isn't our hotel, but is a picture of two of the classic hotels on Ocean Drive.  We were lucky that South Beach was fairly quiet for most of the week we were there, several people told us that it would be a lot busier in a few weeks.

Here is DH on the beach.  We didn't actually swim in the ocean as it was fairly breezy most days, but we did go paddling and walking along it several times.

This was our hotel rooftop pool, not that big but bathtub-warm and generally fairly private.

Palm trees were everywhere, and tropical flowering plants.

We visited beautiful Vizcaya Mansion, in southern Miami, a Florida Gilded Age take on a European mansion and gardens.

And we visited the Knitted Garden, an excellent wool shop in Coral Gables.  DH rested on the (husband creche) sofa while I fondled much yarn, and came away with three skeins of Madeleine Tosh   Merino Light (fingering) in colour Volga, a sort of mottled denim.  That is for my Unexpected Journey KAL on Ravelry.  I'm starting late, as the KAL is on Clue 2 already, but I hope to catch up this week.

Holiday knitting was the Featherduster shawl in Debbie Bliss Angel Print, where I am now on repeat 4 of 6.  When I had more time to be stationary, in our hotel room or at the airport, I was working on the Quilt Sampler mitten.  This is a really cute pattern and quite fun to do.  However, in two smooth fingering yarns, it isn't going to be very warm.  I will see where the third row of quilt blocks falls on my hand, and I might turn it into fingerless mitts, or convertible mitts.

I looked in every magazine store that we came to, hoping to find quilting or knitting magazines, but was surprised by an almost complete absence. Every other part of America that I've been to, the magazine racks are groaning with craft magazines.  In Miami Beach and at the airport, there were only gardening magazines and interior decorating magazines.  No craft magazines despite all sorts of other esoteric specialist mags on sale for bodybuilders or deep see fishing.  I would have thought the snowbirds would be doing lots of hobbies, but perhaps not in Miami?

It's really nice that we've still got a week of holiday, so we have lots of time to get over jet lag (I am so tired at the moment, after only a few hours of dozing on the plane), do laundry etc.  I'm also hoping to get the front of my Alice Starmore machine knitted Marina Vest started - I finished the back just before we left.  I also finished the Advent Calendar 2010 lace scarf before we left, and need to block it and take some pics.

My holiday reading, which I am only halfway through, is My Life in France by Julia Childs, which I am finding very entertaining and it is making me feel that I should make more of an effort to be a better cook.  We watched Julie and Julia on telly the week before we left, then I saw this book in a discount bookstore and bought it on impulse.  I don't remember ever seeing Julia Childs on TV or reading one of her cookbooks, but I am enjoying the book so much that I think I will have to delve into her bibliography.

Good to be back.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Suddenly our living room is bigger

The quilt frame is down.  It had a good run, it was up in our living room since October, but I finished the last quilt early this week, the Kaffe Fassett Lone Star quilt.  I used an all-over panto called 'Hedge' and it came out quite well apart from a couple of tension problems in the first few passes.

Although the living room seems much bigger, I feel a bit bereft.  Also the imperative to use all free time to quilt on the frame is suddenly gone, and I feel a bit aimless.  We took the frame completely apart, and boxed up the small bits and bubble-wrapped the larger bits, ready for the move.  I have no idea when it will go up again, it will depend what happens with our housemoving adventure.  In an ideal world, it will go up once more in a large quilting studio and be able to stay up permanently.  Fingers crossed.

The tally this time around included:

  1. Red and White Stars quilt - alternate blocks meandered
  2. Medieval Panel quilt - basted on frame
  3. Village Mystery Quilt - panto
  4. Waistcoat panel - custom quilted
  5. Teacups quilt - panto
  6. Fans cot quilt - meandered
  7. Birds mystery quilt - meander
  8. Single quilt on commission - meandered
  9. Kaffe Fasset Lone Star - panto
  10. Flamingos Turning Twenty around the block - meandered

TV knitting this week has been the Advent Calendar lace scarf - last night I finished Day 23 so I just have one more day and it will actually be finished. This thing seems about four miles long, I haven't measured it but I think it is going to hang to my knees.  DH asked why I was making something so long, and I didn't really have a good answer apart from it seemed like a good idea to join a KAL at the time.

I've joined another KAL now on Ravelry, a Mystery lace shawl based on the Hobbit in the Lord of the Rings group "An Unexpected Journey: A Mystery KAL".  Apart from it needs 1200 yards of sock yarn which I don't have yet, but I'm aiming to get to a yarn store in Miami so that will give me an excuse (like I need one) to buy yarn.

Commuter knitting has been the second Cranford Mitt but I haven't gotten very far on it yet.  I also made a start on a new project, which is the Quilt Sampler mittens from Ravelry.  This is to take on my holiday, so I wanted to start the knitting in case Security challenges me on my reason for having four pointy sticks in my carry-on.  I'm doing red mittens with white sampler block patterns on them.  Confusingly, the chart is illustrated as a white chart with red sampler blocks, so I have to keep reminding myself that I am doing the reverse.

We got a new television which was delivered last weekend.  It's a flat screen, our first one, and the nice John Lewis people took away our old dishwasher-sized dinosaur when they left.  This is an 'HD-ready' television, and the picture is completely different and I am having a hard time getting used to it.  Everything looks crystal clear and hyper real, destroying the 'magic of television' by highlighting every spot on an actor's face and every wrinkle in their costume.  So instead of being immersed in the plots, I'm spending my TV time thinking 'that's a set', 'they are acting', and it all looks far too hard-lit - like cheap soap operas used to look like.  I suppose I'll get used to it.  If it's really bothering me, I could always take my glasses off and then it would be all nice and blurry again :)

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