Saturday, 27 April 2013

Back to school for me

Besides the DIY (do it yourself) this week, I have started a couple of online courses.

First up was the Amy Herzog class 'Knit to Flatter' on Craftsy.  I'm watching this on my iPad after downloading the Craftsy app.  The app seems slighly less 'buggy' than the PC version, although still annoying as at the end of every lesson it closes out the app and returns you to the desktop instead of letting you move on to the next lesson.  So you have to start from scratch every time, repeatedly selecting the course, manually selecting the next lesson, and yet again tilting the iPad to turn it from the default portrait display to the preferable landscape display.

Apart from the minor technical annoyances, I am enjoying the class. I'm on lesson six of ten.  I really like Amy as a presenter, and I have followed her instructions to take my own photograph and analyse my body shape (bottom heavy, no surprises there).  There have been some good tips on what type of necklines / sleeve lengths / hem lengths will suit my body shape, and some discussion of shaping the fabric to suit my own curves.  It's been interesting enough that I have now ordered her book which apparently includes more detail plus patterns that are easy to customise.  On the con side, I don't feel we've covered very much yet considering I am on lesson six of ten.  Also, I found that I didn't always agree with Amy when she was displaying different sweater styles on different body types as to what flattered the models and what really, really, didn't. Also, so far Amy has used three models, two of whom have flat stomachs and curvy waists.  The third model is bulkier but also very busty so still not having the issue of a prominent belly. Obviously Amy couldn't have a model for every body type but I think given the majority figure type that I see at knitting shows, I think a model with a spare tyre or an obvious belly would have been good so that she could talk about how to deal with that.  But I have four lessons to go so perhaps I am jumping the gun on judgement.

The other course I have started is 'Design your own Hawaiian Quilt' with Nancy Chong on Quilt University.  When we went to Hawaii a few years ago, I really liked the Hawaiian quilts and bought fabric to make a double size.  The Quilt U course was recommended to me by another tour participant as being a really good introduction.  I always meant to take it but hadn't got around to it, but I'm on their mailing list so received the latest newsletter announcing that sadly they will close down at the end of this year following the death of their founder.  So I got off the fence and signed up for the Hawaiian course which coincidentally was starting the same evening.

The format is quite different from Craftsy.  The lesson is presented as text and images on a series of web pages.  A supply list is also provided which includes tips on fabric selection and preparation.  Course members are given access to a private Yahoo discussion forum where Nancy Chong is also participating, and to a photo gallery to share photos.  Unlike Craftsy, the lessons will be released once a week and will remain available only for a limited time (about two months I think) so I am printing them off.

I enjoyed the first lesson which talked about how to draft the 'snowflake' type design and talked about the history of the Hawaiian quilt.  Our homework this week is to get our fabric ready (mine is prewashing today) and to start creating our design.  I bought a deep blue fossil fern batik and a white flowery background, and the backing is a lighter marble blue.

While I have my doubts about my ability to complete a double size needleturn applique quilt, given my track record with my 25 block Baltimore-style quilt which has languished for years, I am hopeful that doing all the prep up front will encourage me to get on with the applique.  I think part of the reason I've dragged my heels on the Baltimore album blocks is that it is such a faff to get each block to the point where it's ready to applique.

TV knitting this week has been the Alice Starmore pullover vest.  I finished the second armhole band but subsequently realised that I had somehow knit it 12 stitches smaller than the first band, so that will have to be redone.  In the meantime I had picked up for the bottom band and knit a few rows, decreasing evenly all the way around to pull in the excess width.  After a few rows I tried it on and realised I hadn't decreased it enough, so I had to pull back and start over, decreasing even more.  Hopefully it is alright now.  I think I want a deeper band than on the armholes and neck so I am knitting some extra rows in each colour change.

I've also been knitting with string.  It might possibly be a fingerless mitt. We get an organic veg box from a company called Abel & Cole, and the boxes come secured with a multi coloured string that is probably recycled.  From the start it looked like yarn to me, and I've been saving it.  I finally had enough to start knitting.  I think it's about a DK thickness, and I am using the Russian Join to connect each piece to the knitting.

This week I decorated the entrance hallway, which had a huge number of dents, knocks and marks on it.  It looks so much fresher with its new paint job and the new bright light fixture I wired in.  I also painted our front door, which was a horrible job.  I've never done one before.  It took ages to sand it down and mask off the glass, and then the green gloss was like painting with syrup.  The first coat took ages to dry so I had the door open all day.  The second coat dried faster but there are still streaks so it still needs a touch up and I need to clean up the glass.  I've fitted the new brass hardware now so it all looks very hobbit-holeish and shiny.

I've booked the re-carpet job for mid-May, the oven's getting cleaned on Monday and someone is coming in a week to quote on washing the windows and jetwashing the path and forecourt.  I also will have the fun job of varnishing 38 replacement kitchen cupboard knobs and then switching over all of our tired worn ones.  But it's coming together, just the kitchen left to redecorate now.  The hack job I did in the garden hasn't in fact killed the shrubs, and we've planted a few new ones to fill in bare spots.

I hope that somewhere, someone is doing this much work to get their house ready for me to buy!

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Sunshine at last

It seems like we've been waiting for spring to arrive for such a long time, but suddenly over the last few days the cherry trees have burst into blossom and things in the garden are beginning to wake up.  It's still not safe to tackle painting the front door as there are still some frosty nights (amazing in late April here near London) but today we had glorious sunshine.

I treated myself to an afternoon off and spent over three hours lounging in the garden - for once blessedly free of the war cries of the neighbour's homicidal grandchildren.  I read - I'm reading 'North and South' by Elizabeth Gaskell and really enjoying it.  This was prompted by renting the mini-series starring Richard Armitage after seeing him play Thorin Oakenshield in The Hobbit.  The mini-series didn't make a lot of sense (although I would watch Richard Armitage even if the sound were off) but the book is great.

And I did some cross stitch - I finally finished the background of a shadow box that I've been dabbling at for several years.  Now I just need to stitch the quilt that goes on the little brass quilt stand. I'm going to stitch my quilt on some blue evenweave linen so it stands out more.

And I did some knitting:  a few rows on my Quilt Sampler mittens - I'm about halfway up the second mitten now.

TV knitting this week has been working on my Alice Starmore Marina pullover.  I seamed up the sides, but because I knit this on the machine and didn't plan for how the repeat fell at the side seams, the match at the seam is not great.  It's ok on some of the bands, but fairly obvious on the flower band. It doesn't help that I tapered the shape by three stitches going up the body.  Although as it turns out, I needn't have bothered as it is a bit loose at the waist but fits well at the bust.

I've picked up and knitted the v-neck band and one armhole, I am following the 'recipe' for the colour changes in the band and really like how it looks. I picked up 1:1 on horizontal sections and slanted sections, and 2:3 on vertical sections.  After I picked up the back neck, I decreased 4 or 5 stitches evenly across the back on the next row so the band didn't stick up.  I did a double decrease at the centre front of the v-neck.  The armholes could have been deeper but generally it's a good fit and looks great. I'll knit the second armband next and then pick up for the bottom band.  You can see the lilac acrylic waste yarn currently anchoring the bottom live stitches in the picture.

Decorating and gussying-up continues apace.  Earlier in the week I started work on my bedroom, which is the master bedroom.  That was the last of the carpeted rooms so I went ahead and made three appointments with carpet companies to quote on recarpeting the house.  After finishing the decluttering and rationalising the closet contents and rolling all the quilts, I filled all the holes in the walls in my bedroom, scrubbed it all down and touched up the paint.  I also tackled the ensuite and the family bathroom:  pulling down the damaged corner tape over the windows, redoing them with new joint compound, sanding that down and repainting several times.  I had to repaint both bathroom ceilings as the white paint we have doesn't match the old ceiling paint, but I was able to touch up the walls without having to repaint them entirely.  More holes to fill in the walls of my bathroom.  I've also cleaned the inside of all of the upstairs windows with UVPC cleaner I bought on Amazon - fabulous stuff that makes the white plastic look almost new.

I did a mega shop at Argos (like a Target) to replace various tired household goods.  I bought two new ceiling light fittings and wired those in to replace the two I took down which are going with us.  I bought a new bathroom mirror and screwed that to the wall of the ensuite.  I replaced two laundry hampers, the kitchen bin, and three pedal bins in the bathrooms.  And the cat got a new scratching post as she had shredded her old one (in between shredding the sofa cover).

Outside I've painted the top of the wall that runs along our entrance to freshen up the white paint, scraped down the bubbling render on the neighbour's abutting garage wall and repainted that, scrubbed down our entrance porch, and replaced the hardware on the inside of the door (the outside hardware will get replaced as well but I'm waiting for better weather so I can paint it first).

So the only rooms left to do are the lower hallway, and the kitchen.  As we are going to have a tremendous upheaval for re-carpeting, which will involve filling the kitchen with all of the living room furniture, I think I wait on decorating although I can start cleaning the cupboard interiors. I've had two carpet measuring visits so far, and they've come back with fairly similar quotes, and the third company is coming on Monday.  So hopefully we can get the carpeting over with by early May.

In between the work, I've been doing paperwork-type stuff:  househunting on the internet, chasing up the plumber to get the darn part for the leaking hot water tank (he has finally gotten sick enough of my phone calls and actually ordered the part and says it will come next week), getting our household insurance altered to cover the substantial amount of possessions now in self-storage, and talking to the NHBCC about paying for our failed window panes in the conservatory.

So not much job-hunting going on, although I do read my job-ad emails every day and have been twice contacted by agents who want me to apply for things.  DH and I both think that I don't have time to work full-time at the moment, although it feels a bit unnatural not to prioritise job hunting.  If I see a part-time job that I could do, then I would apply for it.

Hope you are getting some sunshine where you are.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Deja vu

Sand, fill, rub down, wash Paint, paint, paint Pack, declutter To the dump, to the dump, to the dump dump dump Tis better to give to charity than to receive Roll quilts and find hidey holes for them Sort through years of paperwork and try to thin out the herd And in the evenings, slump in front of the telly with my knitting. And that's pretty much been my week :)

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

How the Grinch 'got' decorating

And as the Grinch was slapping Forget-me-Not-blue paint onto her tired and rotting knitting shed, watching it transform before her eyes like an ugly duckling into a fine swan, she suddenly felt her brain let go of its intolerance and scepticism.

Maybe, just maybe, decorating wasn't just what retired people did, or people with no hobbies and too much time on their hands that she had mocked in the past.  Perhaps decorating wasn't just what you did to fool buyers into thinking you had looked after your house for the last ten years and that you were actually tidy, clean people who did frequent housework.

Maybe those retired people were on to something.  Perhaps decorating was a way of feeling good about your surroundings again, and getting a fresh new environment without having to move (even though the Grinch was definitely going to move).  Maybe decorating was a relatively cheap fix that swept away vague feelings of dislike and depression about one's surroundings, and made it feel like you were visiting a hotel, for free.

Perhaps... decorating was something you could do EVEN IF YOU WEREN'T MOVING HOUSE!!

(However, the Grinch drew the line at putting antlers on the cat and harnessing it to a sled full of decorating supplies.)

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Who needs the gym?

I think decorating must be the ultimate exercise workout.  I am normally an extremely sedentary person, happiest curled up on the sofa with my knitting, in front of the telly (hopefully with a drink of some kind to hand).  So to be spending six or more hours a day bending, lifting, washing walls, painting etc. has been tough.  I probably overdid it by starting on the conservatory first, as that was an all day job.  By the evening my right hand and arm were extremely painful and I had to ice them and take ibuprofen.  But each day I feel like my arms are getting stronger, although I am still struggling with stamina and energy.

But it's going very well.  I filled all the gaps and holes in the conservatory and repainted the sill and walls.  In the living room I filled about a dozen screw holes and lots of little dings, scrubbed down all the walls, painted them and touched up the cornice.  Today I have been working on the stairwell:  I took down my quilt hanging system and filled in those holes and also filled the two big dents we made when we wrestled down my craft cupboard. It's all looking so nice that we are asking ourselves why we haven't done anything like this since we moved in.  It helps having so much more space to work in now that most things are packed.

I'm sorry if this blog is turning into a really boring monologue (pack pack pack, paint, house move, blah blah blah) but that's pretty much all we're doing at the moment.

I've started to roll my quilts onto the pool noodles.  I find I can roll two bigger quilts or three smaller ones onto each noodle.  It's a slow job, and so far I've only done about 10 quilts.

I'll be storing them under beds and in closets but I'm already wondering if I have enough space for all of them.  Might have to draft in the in-laws beds  :)

Today I finished packing up my machine knitting shed.  DH helped by packing all my old machine knitting magazines and patterns.

DH: "Do you really need all of these magazines???"
Me:  "Yes!  It's a dead hobby and those are full of tips, tricks, patterns and advice that you can't get anywhere else now."
DH:  (looks sceptical but resigned, and starts packing)

DH has pretty much finished packing his room so I will be able to decorate that this week.  I can't decorate my room until I've rolled all of the quilts and got them out of the way.  I've been shoveling out DS's room and encouraging (forcing) him to sort through all of his modelling debris but it's going to be a while before I can get in there to start decorating.

TV knitting continues to be the Unexpected Journey KAL and we are now on the penultimate clue, Clue 8.  We are up to some ghastly number of stitches now so each row takes ages, but I am amazed at how much shawl I have knit in just a few weeks.  This type of KAL format seems to suit me, it gives a manageable chunk of instruction to tackle every one or two weeks.  I'm also knitting the fourth GAAA square, and I've started some socks from a magazine pattern.

When I am too tired to do anything else, I've been experimenting with the Craftsy platform.  It's been around for about a year I think, but it really seems to be picking up momentum now and I'm hearing about it more often on podcasts and in magazines.  They seem to be getting more 'names' doing classes.  If you sign up to their e-newsletter, they constantly email you with sales so you would rarely need to pay full price.

I resisted paying anything at first as even on sale, the classes cost the same as buying a knitting or quilting book.  I know that is cheaper than taking a class or workshop live with an instructor, but given the choice between online video and a book, I would rather have the book because I can keep that forever and refer to it anywhere.

However, sometimes you really need to see someone do something, particularly in knitting which can be hard to illustrate on the page.  After hearing it praised on some podcasts, I took a free course on Short Rows by Carol Feller which was really excellent.  It's about two hours long, broken into four segments.  Carol is an excellent teacher, very personable and friendly, and the course comes with comprehensive written handouts showing all of the variations on short rows plus how to knit set in sleeves or shoulders with short rows.  I'm impressed that this was a free course.

However, I did have some technical problems with the platform.  Judging by the comments from users on the courses I have looked at, this is not uncommon.  Apparently Chrome is the recommended browser, and that's what I was using.  However I still experienced a number of issues.  One time I was trying to watch Carol, the video kept stuttering and I had to give up - when I tried again later it was fine. Craftsy promotes itself as being an ideal teaching environment because you can pause or rewind the video to re-watch something until you understand it.  I found that doesn't work at all.  Pausing the video for more than a few seconds always causes it to hang permanently for me.  It won't restart at all until I go back to Home, reselect the lesson and start over again from the beginning, fast forwarding to where I left off.  Similarly, trying to use the 30-second Repeat function also causes it to hang more than half the time.  Less than half the time it will rewind but it pauses for several seconds before it starts playing again.  So it can be frustrating if you didn't catch something.

I've had a look at the free course on pieced quilt backs, which was ok but I didn't find it very informative.  I've also watched most of a free course on making 'Perfect Pizza' at home.

Inevitably I have been sucked into buying something, and it was the 'Knit to Flatter' course with Amy Herzog which was highly recommended on the Stash and Burn podcast who also provided a 50% off code.  I haven't watched it yet but it sounds really useful.

Have you tried any of the Craftsy courses yet?  What did you think?


Monday, 1 April 2013

Happy Easter

Happy Easter and here's hoping the Easter Bunny brought you lots of chocolate.  DS did the traditional 'chocolate for breakfast' on Sunday but that's partly because he didn't get up until midday (he's now on school holidays).

We've had a busy Easter weekend:  Friday was van hire day and we spent eight hours loading and unloading the van over five trips to the storage unit.  The van held about seven handcarts worth of boxes, and there are only three of us so it meant two trips between the van and the unit each time.  We managed to completely fill a 75 sq ft unit right to the door - there's only a little bit of air space left near the top which I am planning to fill with bags of machine knitting cones once I get them packed.  I kind of wish now that I'd booked the 100 sq ft unit instead, as we still have more stuff to store/hide but I guess it's going to have to go into the attic instead.

Our house now feels enormous:  the living room actually echoes to the point where it was making it hard for me to talk on the telephone to a friend.  I had to move back into the kitchen because I found the echo too distracting. And we've gained an extra room:  the conservatory which has been DS's wargaming room for all these years is now suddenly empty.  We keep going in there and swinging our arms around in all the new space that we have, and I finally have a good place to put the laundry airer.

The long job of decorating now stretches before us, or rather before me because as the Jobless One it will fall to me as the person with the most time on their hands.  I can't believe how many holes we have managed to make in the walls over the past 10 years - not to mention the two big dents we managed to put into the stairwell walls on Friday when we were wrestling a cabinet down the stairs. Most of the walls need either touching up or repainting completely, and some of the woodwork ditto. I've made a start in my bedroom closet, filling in the holes left from the sewing shelves, touching up with paint and then re-inserting the closet shelf and hanging rail which have been in the attic since I took them down when we moved in in 2003.

Then Saturday we put together the new replacement garden arch and Sunday I dug the trenches so we could stand the arch up and bury it in.  It looks good, like it's been there a while.  Saturday I also emptied out the incredible clutter from our little tool shed, and DH made two trips to the dump with all the broken pots, netting, bits of board we were saving, broken down tools etc.  I demanded a medal when he got back, because my theory that there would be no spiders in there when we are having such a cold winter turned out to be false, and I disturbed not one but two ugly big spiders - yuk!

Today we went to two DIY stores and stocked up on copious amounts of decorating supplies and paint, so that I will have no excuse not to get on with it this week while DH is at work.  I need to do some paint jobs outside as well but I think it is still too cold for that, I don't think you are supposed to paint when there is a danger of frost.

No sewing again this week, and probably not for a while because my sewing table has gone into storage so now I will have to set up on the dining table.  But last week, before things got packed up, I sewed myself an apron out of some Laura Ashley willow home dec fabric I found in the attic (leftover from our previous house).  I used an old apron as the pattern, but the design is based on one shown in Craftseller magazine this month.  I used some striped linen home dec as the contrast.

On the knitting front, I have finished two squares from the Great American Aran Afghan (GAAA).  I finished the second one last week and then raced through the third one in just a few evenings.  The top one is   Levy and the bottom one is Selesnick.  This is one of the knitting projects I am keeping out, so perhaps if I keep going then I will complete all twenty squares.  I've started the fourth one now.  I'm enjoying them because there isn't much counting involved, I can just follow the visual shape of the charts.

I also finished the front of the Alice Starmore Marina Pullover that I was machine knitting.  I brought all the yarn colours inside the house then swiss darned over the hole I'd made.  In order to darn across thin air, I wrapped the first row of stitches around a cable needle until I could pick them up on the next row.  I also realised that I had knit the wrong contrast colour for four rows, so I swiss-darned across those also.  The great thing about Jamieson & Smith jumper weight yarn is that it is really hairy, so the additions immediately clung to the original knitting and now that it's washed and blocked, even I can hardly tell what I added.

Since taking this picture, I have cut&sewed the loose strands across the v-neck to neaten the opening.  So now I just have to seam the front and back and then start picking up and knitting the bands.  And now I can pack up the machine knitting shed - hopefully I can get to that this week.

I had a delivery last week: a box of pool noodles (or woggles as some people call them).  These are intended as flotation devices for people learning to swim, but I'm going to use them to wrap quilts around for storage to minimise wrinkling.  I got this idea from an American friend - you wrap the noodle in spare fabric, then roll the quilt onto it, then cover the quilt with more fabric or a specially sewn bag.  I've picked up a bunch of sheets and duvet covers from charity shops (and washed them) to use for the coverings.

This is the small mountain of quilts formerly in my quilt cupboard and now dwarfing my queen size bed.  I had to dismantle the quilt cupboard so it could go into storage, and now I need to tidy away the quilts.  They are a mix of ones I've made myself, antiques that I've bought, and a few gifts and family heirlooms.
Another knitting project last week was a cowl made from Sirdar Salsa! scarf yarn which I bought on the Skipnorth weekend at Texere.  I didn't want the usual skinny scarf as I find them annoying, so I made a long cowl loop that hangs to my waist, so that I can loop it twice around my neck as a cosy cowl.

And that's about it this week. If you are in the UK, hope you are staying warm in this endless freezing spell. Spring is trying to come:  the daffodils are up in our lawn and there are lambs in the pastures near the dual carriageway - so cute.

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