Sunday, 29 December 2013

Getting back to normal

Today for the first time in a long time we felt like we were on holiday.  We had nowhere we had to go, nothing we had to do, no-one we had to oblige - it felt wonderful.  The two weeks after moving were all about sorting the house out and getting ready for Christmas, then we had a house guest for four days, then yesterday we had to drive down to the old neighbourhood to visit an elderly friend.

Today I slept in until almost 10am and after breakfast we took our previously-purchased Heritage Trail leaflet out into the sunshine for a stroll around some of the historic sights in our new town.  So cool to be living somewhere that has historic sights - our previous London fringe suburb had very few of those. We finished up with a leisurely hot drink and two mince pies at Costa Coffee, did a bit of shopping and came home for lunch.

After lunch I investigated one of my Christmas pressies which was the December issue of 'Let's Knit'.  It included an 'Essential Winter Knits' leaflet which for once has several things I wouldn't mind knitting - I find 90% of the time the patterns in these 'free' leaflets do not appeal but there are some cute things in this one.  The mag also came with three 'free' balls of yarn and two baby patterns to make.  I cast on immediately for the baby booties (although from the size they are coming out, I think they are toddler booties).  I've modded the pattern to knit straight down from the fair isle cuff instead of sewing it on afterwards as specified by the designer.

While the guest was here I started and finished another square for my GAAA afghan.  This is the Ginger Smith square, and it had an intriguing construction.  Instead of knitting four charts across each row, after knitting the border you then knit the first chart to the full height of the square, slipping the first stitch on each WS row.  Then you pick up stitches  down the side of the column (through the slipped stitches), move the next set of held stitches from the border into work, and knit up the next chart to full height - you join the second column to the first by P2tog on each WS row to join to one of the picked up stitches.  It made it really easy to whip off this square quite quickly as you are only working on one chart at a time.  I think I could use that construction method on some of the other similarly designed GAAA squares.

The day before the guest arrived, I worked on my Harvest Moon cardigan some more.  I steamed the edges and other troubled areas which made it look a lot better, then I unpicked the sleeves and pulled them back by about 2.5 inches, then re-knit the i-cord edging.  It looks pretty good now, I will have to get a piccie taken when I wear it although I am worried it will be too warm to wear to my generally-too-warm office.  I also stitched on my Hawaiian applique quilt one night, it's still a long way from being finished though.

We had a good Christmas even though everything felt a bit weird and different compared to how we would normally do things.  I received several craft mags as treats (Cross Stitcher, Let's Knit, Knit Today, Fabrications Quilting For You, Patchwork and Quilting), far too much candy and chocolate, and several other nice but non-craft-related items.  I also treated myself to a couple of knitted toy pattern collections - I fancy buying some cheap DK yarn locally and making something small and cute.

Much as I am enjoying DS's company while he is home from uni, it suddenly occurred to me that once he goes back, I can take his room over as a sewing room!  I feel quite excited - I haven't been able to have my sewing equipment out and ready to use since we put the house on the market in June.  I haven't told him because I don't want him to feel unwanted, but it will be great to put my little Featherweight up and spread out a few quilting projects on his bed.  I will need to buy a sturdy table though to put the machine on - we don't have anything suitable as my normal sewing table is in storage. I'm sure we can find something cheap secondhand.  DH is doing his modelmaking on a secondhand computer desk we bought from a charity shop.

With best wishes for a happy new year.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

We have broadband!

Happy Christmas and best wishes for much crafting in the new year!

I am publishing this on my brand new shiny broadband, which was finally connected yesterday morning.  Just in time as DS was threatening to decamp to Grandma's where they at least had the internet.  Although I wasn't too upset at not having TV for two weeks, not having WiFi was surprisingly troublesome and I shudder to think what my 3G bill is going to be like this month.  It was nice however to catch up on a few of our TV shows yesterday, especially guilty pleasures like Glee.

Things are starting to settle into a routine at the new Too-Many-Hobbies HQ.  I’ve done the commute to work several times now, and it’s going well apart from the night I got lost in St Pancras Underground station on the way home from my incredibly tedious office Christmas party.   (and no, I hadn’t been drinking that much)

I’m now finished work for the year and have a few days to relax before our Christmas house guest arrives for three nights.  I’m a bit worried as we rarely have house guests at all, and we generally spend Christmas lolling around in our pyjamas eating sweets and chocolate, watching TV, crafting, and reading/playing video games depending on our generation.  I don’t know whether to stick to tradition, which might bore the guest silly, or fake that we actually get dressed and leave the house to do things.

The saga of the gas hob continues.  We had to do without cooking apart from microwave meals from Thursday until Tuesday, due to a comedy of errors with the gas engineer chosen by the landlord. Eventually the letting agent sent their own workmen to install the hob on Tuesday.  It took three of them an hour (one was supervising the other two while taking calls about other jobs) and then they announced that the hob was faulty.  They can’t fix it, it needs to be serviced by the manufacturers.  So the landlord is supposedly setting up a service visit (no word so far) and meanwhile I only had two usable burners and the oven.  Since then another burner has proved reluctant to turn on  so I am terrified about having no means of cooking over Christmas.  The complicated chain of semaphore signals via the letting agent to the landlord has produced a promise that the service visit will happen tomorrow, and I'm really hoping they don't suck their teeth and announce that some part needs to be ordered with a two week delay.  And I thought all the stress would be over once we moved...

This week I finished the Baby Surprise Jacket.  I crocheted the sleeve seams for a neat finish and added the modification of a hood with i-cord ties.  I won’t put buttons on until I know if it is a boy or a girl – Elizabeth Zimmerman’s pattern has you put button holes on both sides, then you just sew buttons over the unwanted holes once you know. This is knit in Patons Fairytale Dreamtime DK Pure Wool, which I got on sale at Hobbycraft.  I think it was on sale because the colour is a bit bleah, obviously an attempt at a gender neutral baby yarn with its mixture of lemon, pink, blue and white. It was fine to knit with although it feels a bit like acrylic.

I don’t think I blogged that I finished another square for the Great American Aran Afghan (GAAA) before we moved. This is the Dagmara Berztiss square and was surprisingly easy as you are generally only moving one set of stitches at a time and it is pretty obvious which way to move them. This is my seventh square so I am still a long way off of the goal of 20 squares.  Also, all my squares are coming out at quite different sizes so fingers crossed that blocking will save me.

I blocked the Harvest Moon aran cardigan the week we moved.  It took forever to dry.  Generally I knit in pieces and block before seaming.  The double layers of the fully knit cardigan really held the water despite blotting with towels.  As I had read on Ravelry that this yarn really grows with washing, I was trying to be ultra careful not to put any strain on the stitches.  The body of the cardigan is still fine but the sleeves are now too long even though I was careful to knit them shorter.  I will have to unpick the  i-cord bind off and pull them back a little.  The edges are still curling so I will try steaming them.  It's darker than it looks in this photo, I think the camera was confused by the pink carpet.

DH drove me up to another ‘local’ quilting shop: ‘The Bramble Patch’ near Daventry, to visit their annual Christmas exhibition of work by students and teachers.  The shop is quite large by UK standards, and reminded me of as American quilting shop.  They also have two Gammill Long Arm quilting machines for quilting shop samples and quilts for customers but I don’t think you can rent time on them like you can in American shops.  I didn’t buy anything for myself as I feel very disengaged from quilting at the moment with everything in storage, but I did pick up a birthday present for a quilting friend. I have to say that I feel very out of step with the modern fabric prints.  I think they have their place, but an entire shop of brightly coloured trendy retro and large-motif prints seemed a bit samey.  I don't dislike that type of print, but I also want to see all the other 'families' of fabric print that I am used to using - I suspect I am now hopelessly old fashioned as a quilter.  My stash would probably look like a museum to a young Modern Quilter!

On another day, we stopped into Kettering where the ‘Bee Inspired’ haberdashery shop was sadly closing down.  All their stock was 20% off so I seized the opportunity stock up on thread as they had Gutermann cotton thread.  I bought about 20 spools in different colours to augment my thread stash for future sewing projects.

My commuter knitting the last few weeks has been my Vanilla Socks two at a time.  I'm still not getting the flying saucer effect this yarn is supposed to produce, although the stripes are getting a bit wider.  The line of white yarn is for an Afterthought Heel.

 I had a rather amusing encounter on the train.  It's an unwritten rule, at least on trains in the London area, that you don't talk to the other commuters.  Everyone exists in their own little bubble of privacy no matter how squashed together we are.  But a portly man in his 50s facing me across the train table finally leaned over on the trip home and said he had to ask me what I was doing as it was so intricate and fascinating.  I hadn't really been paying attention to him but after explaining what I was doing, I then had to endure his unnerving stare for another 15 minutes until he got off in Bedford, punctuated by him chuckling at intervals "Socks! Amazing!".  He wasn't a knitter himself (I asked).  Perhaps a bit too much Christmas cheer?  He seemed quite nice.

I've also done more on my Winterland Mittens.  I'm having my usual problem with uneven tension and a bit of peek-through but wet blocking usually improves that.  They do seem a bit big even for my big hand but I'm going to push on.  I'm almost at the point where I will knit a line of waste yarn across the palm to pave the way for making it a Convertible Mitten. These are in Jamieson & Smith 2ply jumper weight.

Another useful store that is relatively local to me is the The Dolls House Store in Kettering which is a bit exciting as I haven't lived near to a dollshouse store for quite a while (all our local ones shut down at the old house).  They have a huge stock, mostly the usual imports and Dolls House Emporium stuff, but some unique stuff of their own.  I was able to buy a cute little 1/12 iPad (can't take a picture because it got packed in the move and I don't know where) and some more resin figures to be customers in my quilt shop.

We're pretty much settled into the rented house now.  It's got a lot of idiosyncracies, like no mirrors, no towel racks, no hooks for tea towels etc. when at the same time we aren't allowed to make any holes in the wall.  I've got round that with some sticky-backed hooks for the kitchen and some freestanding towel rails, but getting the ethernet cable up the stairs from the router in the living room was more of a challenge.  In the end I have draped it across doorframes (held behind a panel nail), across the hall ceiling, vertically upwards to a hoop nailed into the attic hatch, across the upstairs hall ceiling, over a few more door frames until it drops down to my computer in the upstairs study.  Looks like heck and we will have to hide it if the landlady wants to visit, but it's working.

The closet in the picture is also where all my remaining craft stuff is hiding.  I'm tempted to make a sign, something like "Sharon's closet of happy times" but the landlady might get the wrong impression  :)

With best wishes for a happy Christmas, and for lots of
crafty-related treats under your tree!

Friday, 13 December 2013

Hello from Northamptonshire

We did it, we are now living in a rented house in Northamptonshire.  Right up until the moment the solicitor's secretary confirmed that the funds had come through, we were fully expecting that the buyers would screw it up somehow and we would have to turn around and go home.  But miraculously they didn't and we sold our house to them.

The move all went fine, it was just a huge rush the last few days trying to get everything packed while I was trying to cancel services and get them set up for the new place.  This wasn't helped by the short notice nor by the fact that until the morning before we moved, I still didn't know where we were going.  The flat we initially tried to rent turned out to be unavailable, with extremely dodgy letting agents giving me conflicting stories on its status.  In desperation, after a few more days I fell back onto a property we had previously seen and rejected because it was too expensive and had dodgy decor.  Luckily it was still available (probably because of those reasons) and the letting agents were able to rush through the credit checks in just a couple of days.  So at least we knew where we were going and I could start ordering telephone and utility connections.  I've had to pay a lot more than I would have done if we had had the luxury of advance notice but at least we didn't have to go into a hotel.

The rented house has been a bit traumatic, even though we weren't expecting something as comfortable as the home we had left.  It's been difficult to find places to put even our limited possessions, the kitchen/bathrooms are pretty worn, and the first night we discovered we couldn't lock either of the doors from the inside.  Well, the front door would lock from the inside but wouldn't unlock from the inside.  The letting agents sent their workman the next day after I complained and he ended up replacing both the locks. There was no fridge or washing machine so we had to rush out the day after moving to buy a secondhand fridge, and then keep our food outside in the cool until it was delivered on Monday.  I bought a washing machine on Monday which was delivered on Tuesday. There are no mirrors in the bathrooms (and we're not allowed to drill holes in the wall to hang any), the heating seems eccentric with freezing floors downstairs while the upstairs gets too hot, not a single hook or towel rail in the kitchen for teatowels, aprons etc., and we were having to eat off a garden table until we could buy a secondhand dining table which was delivered on Monday.

But the real drama was when I got home last night from work and could smell gas as soon as I got into the house.  It was reeking of gas in the kitchen so I called the National Gas Emergency Line who told me to shut down the gas and open all the windows, and they sent out an engineer within 30 minutes.  He declared it 'actively dangerous' and capped off the gas at the meter and shut off the boiler.  So no cooked dinner and no heat all night.  I spent some time yelling at the letting agent while we waited for pizza to arrive but he said he couldn't make the landlord send anyone out until the next day.  Luckily the cold spell had warmed up and it wasn't as freezing last night. They came out today  to look at the gas cooker and isolated it so we can have heat and hot water again, and they are supposed to be replacing the insides.  The joke is that they claimed to have passed the property as safe in a gas safety check the day before we moved in, yet the emergency engineer said it was clearly leaking when you carried out the standard test at the meter.  I don't need all this stress - it was supposed to get better after we moved!!!

We don't have any television or broadband as the earliest installation date I could get was a few days before Christmas.  DS isn't very impressed at the lack of these vital services.  I'm typing this blog at work as I only have an iPad on 3G at home.  Which has also made it awkward to change my address with banks and providers as not every site is compatible with an iPad as well as the iPad not having a decent keyboard.  I'm slowly ploughing through the huge list of people and companies I need to give our new address to, plus our mail is being redirected.

Meanwhile I've been unpacking.  After some deliberation, I've managed to squeeze most of my remaining craft stuff into a hall closet.  I'm using some of the moving boxes stacked on their sides as 'shelves' for the yarn etc.  I look forward to the Christmas holidays when hopefully I will get some time to sit down and do some sewing - meanwhile I am knitting on my new longer train commute and at night. I started a Baby Surprise Jacket the week we moved, it's straightforward garter stitch although I'm having my usual problem that I can't remember how it goes together or what bit I'm knitting without comparing it to the diagram.

Last week is my final week of work for 2013 and then we are both on holiday for almost two weeks.  I can't wait.  We are going to go get our tree this weekend, and we both have office christmas parties to go to. Christmas has been the last thing on my mind these past weeks so we are playing catch up.  I've discovered that my carefully purchased stash of christmas cards from last year's sales must have gone into storage so I've had to go out and buy more, which I will have to get filled out soon as the 2nd class mailing deadline is next week I think.

I hope you are all having a much more relaxed pre-holiday countdown, and are looking forward to a restful holiday.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Fingers crossed, we're moving!

While it is not out of the realm of possibility that it could still go wrong, we finally exchanged contracts on Friday to move next Friday 6 December.  So I probably won't be blogging next weekend because I am unlikely to have broadband.  In fact, at the moment, there is still a possibility I may not even have an address.

We were kept waiting right up until almost the last minute, but finally just after 4pm on Friday my solicitor called with the welcome news that we had exchanged contracts. We were pretty exhausted from all the stress but had a quiet celebration that evening with a bottle of sparkling wine.  Saturday we shot off up to Northamptonshire again to inspect the extremely limited  number (4) of rental properties still available at this time of year where we want to live.  Property number one was a tiny but very well kept estate house, which would have been quite a squeeze for us.  Two and three were bigger Victorian terrace houses but in bad shape, threadbare rugs, repellant bathrooms, and number two even had fleas as I found one biting my leg immediately after we left.

Property four was in a different town from the one where we want to buy, but it was the best of the lot so we've gone for that one.  By which I mean, we filled out the preliminary paperwork to commence the checks on our credit history and employment.  We will find out hopefully on Monday if the landlord is willing to consider us, then we have to pay a non-refundable £200 charge for the checks to be carried out.  That takes five working days so we may not actually know by moving day if we've got the flat or not.  So I've re-booked the hotel again as a Plan B.

The flat doesn't have a garden and is partly furnished, so more of our stuff will have to go into storage as there won't be room for it.  So over the next few days I have to pack everything up into two groups:  storage and rented.  There may be a third group called 'hotel' if we don't get into the flat right away.  To add to the complication, DS is coming back from Uni on Saturday, so I've had to book him a hotel room as well.

Meanwhile this past week we spent a full day with a removal crew moving all the excess stuff into long-term storage (at that point, I still didn't know if we were moving or going back on the market).  They were really good.  I had been quite worried about my dollshouses in our self-store unit, but I was hugely impressed at the care they took in packaging them.  They basically built a custom box around the bigger houses, with plenty of reinforcement and tape.  Luckily they had apparently moved another woman earlier in the year with even more dollshouses, so the concept was familiar.  They similarly boxed up my Pfaff sewing machine because I bought it secondhand so it didn't have a box of its own. They were a bit boggled by the amount of yarn and fabric emerging - one of them asked if I was running a business.
Bye bye yarn stash

Bye bye knitting machines

So all that's gone away for six months.  I am left with my Singer Featherweight sewing machine and around four bagged up quilt projects, my thread stash and most of my quilting tools; my Hawaiian applique quilt; my 'Grandmother's Last quilt' hand applique quilt; my hooked rug kit; a couple of small cross-stitch kits; a petit-point bell pull for the dollshouse to work on; yarn stash for about six small projects; and my ongoing knitting WIPs including a hibernating Haapsalu lace shawl, my GAA Afghan, my Winterland mittens, and my Opium cardigan which just needs buttonholes.  I don't know if that is going to be enough for six months in a small rented flat or not.  I had a bit of last minute panic Tuesday night and went box-diving in the pile to pull out another ball of Aran wool/acrylic yarn for the GAAA in case I suddenly put on a burst of speed, and another sweater project.

My oldest knitting UFO

The sweater project I found was my oldest UFO which dates back to around 1992 or 1993. I bought this pattern from the Readicut mail-order company, and took it along to a big London store (I’m thinking Selfridges or Harrods) to buy yarn. I spent what seemed like a fortune to me on enough Jaeger Sport Yarn for my size. This Aran sampler was way beyond my skill level at the time so I had huge problems with it. This was before the internet (!) and long before Ravelry, so I had to feel my way with the help of library books. The instructions are all written out, no charts, so were very confusing. Progress was painfully slow, and I eventually gave up about a third of the way up the front. I could never bring myself to discard the UFO after paying so much money for the yarn and I’m not a quitter, so I hung on to the project bag for years.

My skill level is now such that I can tackle this, even though my self-awareness has matured to the point where I can see that this is not going to be a flattering jumper on my figure type! I was pleased to see that the part that I had painstakingly knitted didn’t look too bad and was actually the right size. However, it had yellowed over the years and was a darker colour than the un-used yarn (probably from the sweat and tears that went into it). So I’ve pulled it all out, skeined it and given it a wash. My tension will have completely changed since then anyway.

 The first step after washing the used yarn was to sit down with the pattern and chart out the instructions for each pattern panel. I used this free online chartmaker which worked really well: 

As I completed each chart, I used the Snipping tool to capture it as an image on my PC and pasted it into a word document where I could add further explanation as to repeats etc. At the end, I saved the Word document as a PDF and emailed it to myself so that I could open it in GoodReader on my iPad to knit from. In GoodReader I can have a separate progress bar for each chart to keep track of where I am.  The charts are actually quite straightforward, not the baffling mystery that the instructions seemed twenty years ago.  Since then I've knitted a tension swatch to see what needles to use.

Sweater surgery

Another thing I tackled this week was the neckline of my Topdown Icelandic sweater which I knit from a Craftsy class.  The pattern yields a very small tight neckline which many have complained about.  I kept thinking it would be alright because  the cardigan was open at the front, but it wasn't. The tops of the bands, made even stiffer by the crochet steek method from the class, poked unpleasantly into my neck so I never wanted to wear it.  

So this week I sat down with some scissors and some circular needles and cut off/undid about one inch of the neckline.  I had hoped to unravel it and reknit it, but as it was knit top down, the knitting really didn't want to cooperate so in the end I had to cut it away.  I picked up the stitches and reknit the band, then re-blocked it.  The result is much more wearable although the ribbing doesn't transition into the fair isle as well as it used to.  I still need to stitch down the grosgrain ribbon inside to hide the remaining steek ends, but I think it is a big improvement in wearability.

BEFORE (although here the neck looks worse than it was as the cardigan is riding up too high)

AFTER - much better

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