Sunday, 26 May 2013

It's only money (but let's hope we get it back eventually)

Today we went and spent about a week's wages on plants and poncey decorations to finish dressing the house.  I realised that we had sunk to our lowest ebb when we seriously considered buying a triptych printed 'painting' of abstract poppies, just because the red would go with the artificial flower arrangement I had put together a few days earlier.  The kind of artwork we have previously asked ourselves: "who on earth would buy that?".  And it was almost us. Luckily we came to our senses before we got to the till.

I went to knitting group on Thursday (Hi Daisy!) which was fun and it was really nice to get out of the house.  Afterwards I went to Hobbycraft and laboriously put together an arrangement of artificial flowers to brighten up our excessively-neutral living room.  I don't think I have much interior design sense, I like things to have  a purpose and make my life easier, so we would never normally have artificial flowers.  But I do rather like how it turned out.

So today I was mainly buying cushions, some tacky wall art (the word 'Love' in cream metal scroll work, eewww) and a wicker chair and cushion for the conservatory.

I've been experimenting with dressing the conservatory, using our new cafe table set from IKEA and some vintage china and a few more artificial flowers.  The strange cacti in the tea cups are actually my second pair of Cranford Mitts which were just drying after being washed. They are a gift for m-i-l.  Hard to believe that for the past 10 years this has been my son's wargaming room and therefore a no-go area for us.  You can see my new carpet in that picture too.

On Saturday I foundation pieced four small blocks for my future knitting bag.  Here are all the blocks so far, plus some cool fabric I found that looks like it's knitted.  I've got a metal carpet bag frame for the bag but haven't really got a plan yet for how it will all go together.

In TV knitting this week I've been plugging away at the knitted border of the Shawl KAL, and also finished my fourth block of the Great American Aran Afghan, which was the Strong block.  I've cast on for my next block, the Morioka block.  Here are the first four blocks, although they aren't blocked to size yet.

When we got home today, I put the various plants into the borders to fill up bare spots, or into pots, or hanging baskets.  It all looks rather good now, this is the best time of year for our garden, before all the pests arrive and it all dries up.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Old dog

I spent the first part of the week trapped in my kitchen as workmen took over the house.  Monday I was literally barricaded into one small corner of the kitchen in front of my PC, as the entire contents of the living room and conservatory were piled in the rest of the kitchen.  So no TV to watch, no sofa to sit on, no table to eat at.  Two carpet fitters laid new carpet downstairs and in the master bedroom that day while I spent the day watching stuff on the PC and knitting on UFOs.  Monday night we shifted everything back into the living room, and shifted the contents of the other two bedrooms into the master bedroom (cue much cursing as we struggled to dismantle IKEA furniture or move it without making marks on our newly decorated walls).

So Tuesday I could at least sit on the sofa and knit while the fitters were working upstairs and recarpeting the landing and stairs.  I was bored with my UFOs by then so I sorted out my knitting collection and found a pattern for a cute simple top down baby cardigan, the 'Pop!' Baby Cardigan' by Rachel Atkinson, which was in Knit Now magazine. I am using the Sirdar Snuggly Crofter Baby Fair Isle Effect DK that I got on sale at Hobbycraft.  It's knitting up fairly quickly.

I did find however, perhaps because I was distracted by workmen banging away or moving around the house, that my usual problem with looser purl rows, or 'rowing', was even worse.  I decided this was a low-risk opportunity to try Combination Knitting so I looked up a video on on how to do the purl stitch.  It was a bit of a case of 'old dog new tricks' but I found the purl stitch actually easier to do than how I usually do Continental purling and it really worked to tighten up my purl stitch.  In fact it worked so well that I began to see the opposite problems, with my knit rows being a bit looser than my purl rows.  However, I wasn't so keen on the Combination knit stitch as you have to knit into the back of the loop due to how the stitch is placed on the needle.  I found that harder to do and I was tending to split my yarn occasionally.  In this picture I tried to show the 'before' and 'after':  the six rows nearest the cable (beyond the white row) are in Combination knitting and are much flatter than the earlier knitting. It's an interesting experiment. I finished the sweater later in the week but as I packed my button box, it remains buttonless.

Now that I'm finished the Marina pullover, I'm back on the final clue of the Unexpected Journey Mystery KAL shawl which is a densely knitted on border.  I'm adding a bead to each point (they will be pointier once blocked).  It's easy enough to knit but a bit boring and I have to do something like 56 repeats of the chart, groan.

During my hours in front of the PC I was doing some thinking about my Hawaiian quilt.  I really do prefer the white applique on a blue background, so I was researching how to prevent the seam allowances shadowing through.  Some people seem to think that you can fuse on lightweight interfacing to prevent the shadowing but still be able to needleturn the fabric.  I'm sceptical because I think the fabric will be too crisp for needleturn applique once interfaced but I've ordered the lightest fusible I could find online to give it a go.  Unfortunately it's got to come from America as I couldn't find a UK source, so that's going to take a few weeks and let's hope it doesn't get stopped for Customs duty.  I've ordered some sharp scissors from Cotton Patch in Birmingham that purport to cut through eight layers of fabric at a time - I'm sure they will be sharper anyway that my collection of dull scissors.

I'm starting to lose the will to live with regards to the house. It just seems like it's been going on forever (I'm sure you feel that way too!) and it seems no sooner do I get something looking nice than it gets a mark on it from someone or something.  Even the nice new carpet got christened this morning when the cat threw up on it - probably on purpose.  Next week the leaky panes in the conservatory are getting replaced, and I'm having the EPC report done (Energy Performance Certificate, a requirement now for selling a house in the UK).  Next weekend we will go to Dunelm Mills and see if we can find a few finishing touches, like poncey artwork and silly glass vases that we would never buy in our real life but which seem to be required now to make one's house look like an interiors magazine.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

A sense of achievement

I am basking in a sense of achievement, as several long outstanding projects/issues have been successfully tackled.

I finished my Alice Starmore Marina pullover.  The new 23-row bottom band came out just right, it fits well pulling in the excess width unobtrusively, and makes the pullover the right length.  I pulled out the too-small armhole and picked up and knit it again to match the first one.  Then I darned in the ends from the bands, and neatened the ends on the seams.  Then I wet blocked.  I'm quite pleased with the result.  It fits well and looks great.  Even DH is impressed.  It was quite a long saga, conquering everything from a knitting machine that went up in smoke, to writing a new pattern, to programming the machine, and adapting the bands. But the result is a garment that I think I will be wearing for a long time.  And I've got a fair bit of Jamiesons Spindrift left over as some of the colours hardly get used at all, so perhaps I should knit some accessories.

With the help of a very informative Youtube video, I successfully replacing the siphon in our downstairs loo.  It hadn't been flushing very well for a long time, and recently it stopped altogether.  It was a long job but went smoothly apart from I put the water back in too soon for the silicone sealant to have gone off.  But now it has a good robust flush and I reckon I've saved over £100 in plumber fees. It wasn't that hard when I had someone showing me what to do.  My PC is nearby so I would play a segment, pause it and go and do that on my own loo, then come back and watch the next bit.

And today I finally installed the last blind in the conservatory.  I put up side blinds about eight years ago but mis-cut the final blind so couldn't install it.  We eventually bought a replacement blind, but I never got around to putting it up.  So it was one of those jobs on my long guilt list and now it is finally done!

This weekend we have to empty out half the house to make room for the carpet fitters coming on Monday. Then Monday night we have to move everything back into the newly carpeted rooms so he can do the rest of the house on Tuesday.  Then Tuesday night we have to clear everything off the patio and front so that the jet washing people can spray all of the paving on Wednesday.  I expect I will spend Thursday and Friday just putting everything back to rights.

I've been working on my Quilt University Hawaiian Quilt design.  I drew out my potential design and then traced it onto tissue paper so I could cut it out to get an idea what it will look like.  The tissue paper is really flimsy and doesn't lie very flat but you can get the general idea. I based my design on the Plumeria flower.

While I quite like the effect of white on blue, I was actually planning to do blue on white.  So I used Photoshop to simulate what the finished quilt might look like.

I can't use white fabric on blue as the white seam allowances would shadow through when placed on the royal blue background, at least with the white fabric that I currently have.

On Thursday I had a day off from the house and went up to London to visit Grand Designs Live.  I even saw Kevin McCloud up on stage, looking exactly like he does on television.  The show was full of all sorts of house-related products, and I visited a half dozen stands selling garden rooms, as potentially I might need to build a quilting studio in the garden - assuming the garden is large enough.  I quite liked one company and spent the train ride home thinking about how I would actually want to lay out a small studio, which was rather fun.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Apple blossom time

Our apple tree has rushed into blossom during the recent spell of warmer weather.  So pretty, but a bit sad to think that this might be our final spring with it.  I hope we have room in our next garden for an apple tree.

I had a job interview last week for a part-time communications role.  It came up at fairly short notice, and due to being fully committed on the intervening day (up to London for someone's leaving do and then IKEA to buy stuff for the house), I didn't really do much preparation.  That let me down in the actual interview where I found myself quite rusty about responding to questions.  I hate when they are sitting there with the forms they have to fill in, waiting with pen poised to capture the keywords I am supposed to spout in my answers.  Then they score you to rank candidates.  It's supposed to be fairer, but I miss the days when you just had to make a good impression and have good references.  Needless to say they weren't writing down much while I was babbling.  It's hard to get my head in the game when I am wrapped up with the house transformation.

The house is getting there.  I had the oven cleaned last week so it looks like new, and at IKEA I bought a bunch of clean new replacements for our knackered cutting boards, toilet brushes, door mats, place mats etc.  I also bought a pretty cafe chair and table set to go in the conservatory once the new carpet is in.  Today I had a rather Del-boy-like gentleman come to give me a quote on jetwashing the front pavers and our pathway, wash the windows and clean the marks and cobwebs off of the fascia boards and soffits.  I've been slowly emptying out the kitchen cupboards and washing them out, and I'm going to try out our steam cleaner on the bathroom tiles.

On the knitting front, I finished my Featherduster shawl in Debbie Bliss Angel Print, and I've blocked it.  It looked like a ball of nothing when wet, but so much prettier now it is spread out.  I hope it dries quickly so that I can try it on.

I'm still plugging away on my Alice Starmore pullover.  After I had knit most of the bottom band, I tried it on and realised that it was still too short.  So I had to pull out the bottom band for the second time and work out an extended stripe sequence that would look similar to the original bands but be more than twice as wide.  I'm just about finished knitting that now so should be able to cast off soon.

I haven't progressed much on my Hawaiian quilt with Quilt University.  I did piece together the three layers of fabric from yardage, but I had to do that sitting on the floor with my machine on the floor in front of me, as my sewing table is packed and there isn't enough room anywhere else in the house.  Really not ergonomic. I got that all ironed which took ages as I am rubbish at ironing, and then made up the paper pattern for 1/8th of the quilt top.  Now I just need to actually come up with my design.  I'm behind the class now, as this week we are supposed to be cutting out our fabric and basting it.

This past weekend was a long weekend in the UK, and DH and I had the excitement of a getaway city break to Istan bul.  It's such a vibrant city but incredibly overcrowded, twice as big as London apparently. There are so many gorgeous sights but you are constantly negotiating crowded streets and jampacked transport.  It puts London commuting in an entirely better light.  We had some great meals and saw some wonderful sights. Most of the people we came into contact with were courteous and helpful,  and there were a lot of other tourists around particularly in the old city.  Queues to get into major sites were absolutely massive, apparently there is a big cruise ship market now which floods the city with tourists. I enjoyed looking at everything but didn't buy much, only a few gifts for relatives. It was a real mix of East and West, they have Starbucks and McDonald's and everyone seemed to have smartphones, but also ancient Ottoman fountains and crumbling bathhouses tucked in between cramped ramshackle apartment buildings.  I took loads of pictures but won't flood this post with them, here are a couple.
 Galata Bridge across the Golden Horn
 Sultanahmet Mosque at night
The gorgeous tiles inside Rustem Pasha mosque

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