Sunday, 27 January 2013

Retail therapy

I have been cheering myself up this week by choosing the summer clothes I will take on our February holiday to Miami Beach (strange to be trying on sleeveless tops when there was snow outside) and also with some retail therapy of the mini variety.

Today I went to the new City of London dollshouse festival, a new fair organised by the same people who do the London Kensington dollshouse show.  It was in the Tower Hotel, tucked in next to Tower Bridge.  The location is spectacular, with a stunning view of Tower Bridge, plus you have to walk around the dry moat of the Tower of London to reach the hotel from the Tube station.

On the downside, it was difficult to find, as the area around the Tower is a maze of walkways and underpasses.  There were two friendly people holding signs for the Dollshouse Festival, but their placards unhelpfully told you to follow signs to the Guoman Hotel - and none of the subsequent official signage included the Guoman Hotel at all.  Instead you should follow signs to St Katherine's Dock, but before arriving you need to head off down a narrow alley hugging the bridge approach which apparently goes nowhere but does eventually arrive at the spectacular view of the bridge as seen above.  Luckily there was a steady trickle of women of a certain age all heading down the alley, so I was fairly sure I was going the right way. Arriving at the show was not any more encouraging as the entrance took you into a small chaotic room about the size of a large bedroom, which housed a reception desk but no signage as to whether you needed to hand in your e-ticket there, no apparent queues and jam-packed with women who seemed to be exiting in several directions but the majority were heading up some narrow stairs so I went up there as well.  That turned out to be the right decision, as we emerged into an anteroom with several stands, and two entrances into a crowded large convention room.

There were the usual issues with it being very crowded, too hot, and dim unsuitable lighting made even more challenging by the many glaring spotlights on dealers' stands.  But other than that, it was a good show and I did feel it was worthwhile.  It didn't feel as big as Kensington but there were several dealers that I either hadn't seen before or perhaps they looked different out of the repetitiveness of the Kensington show. According to the programme there were 88 dealers, of whom 12 do not attend Kensington.  I did very well and ended up spending more than I intended.

These lovely boxes are from Jacqueline Crosby.  The teacaddy has a mother of pearl inlay set into the lid, as does one of the boxes.  The third box has a design of Tunbridgeware on the lid.  The little carousel is adorable and actually pivots around.  I am going to try it in my 1:24 scale Fairfield girl's bedroom and see if it looks like a large playscale-size toy in there.

I picked up another teapot from Sally Meekins to add to my collection.  Hopefully I don't already have this one - I really need to take pictures on my phone of which ones I already own.

These were on a wonderful stand from Pat Kay Toys and Dolls (pat.kay@tiscali.co.uk)  The tiny bear is fully jointed, and I am going to put him in the Fairfield girl's bedroom also.  I couldn't resist the tiger.  He is a soft toy enhanced with paint, but not jointed.  He will go in the Fairfield boy's bedroom.

This stand was new to me as well:  minst.com.  They had loads of Art Nouveau fantasy decorations, accessories and lighting, made out of beads and findings quite cleverly.  These are two collections of perfume bottles, a non-electric lamp, and a little box with seashells on the lid.  The seashell box will go in my Canadian house and I might see if the lamp fits into my French tower house.

I thought this couple were another foreign trader until the very end when they told me they were from Essex. I'm rubbish at accents but I thought they had one.  They had some adorable things on their stand in all scales.  This is a 1:24 scale bed, a 1:12 watering can, and I suppose the painted cabinet could be either a 1:24 wall cabinet or a 1:12 nightstand. Unfortunately (or fortunately) they only took cash so I did not come home with the 1:48 shabby chic French dollshouse which was very attractive nor some of their 1:12 painted furniture.

The quality of offering was very good, almost no tat, a lot of mid to good quality stuff, and a few top makers like Tarbena.  There were several house makers there, several lighting stalls, people like Sue Cook and Susan Bembridge selling upscale interior decor.  There was a new-to-me dollmaker called Fashion Dolls in Miniature (www.dollsinminiature.com) from Belgium by the look of their email address.  They had some exquisite but affordable dolls which they sell even more affordably as complete kits including all the fabric, costume pattern, instructions etc. and their USP is representing  historical or fictional characters like Eliza Bennett or Empress Eugenie's handmaidens.  I almost bought Lizzy but couldn't think where I would put her.  Also the stallholder wasn't letting me think as he was constantly at my elbow pointing out all the features and benefits of their kits, and patting my arm in a very non-British invasion of my space.  So I took their card and escaped to think about it.

On the way to the fair, I finished the body of my first Cranford Mitt and picked up for the thumb.  I am really enjoying this pattern, I love the way the thumb grows organically out of the lace.  I will definitely be donating to p/hop for this one.








I also finished the Pretty Thing cowl this week.  These pictures have come out fuzzy for some reason.  It turned out fine, but unfortunately the Adriafill Carezza angora blend which feels so exquisitely soft on my hands in my fingerless mitts, feels slightly prickly on my over-sensitive neck.  I can tolerate it, but it's not the fuzzy gloriousness I was hoping for.  I am wearing it around the house as an extra bit of warmth on the cold evenings.





I also finished the Medieval Panels wallhanging and it will be on its way to France soon to its new owner.  I gave it a wash to remove the markings and it unexpectedly shrank quite a bit, so it has more of a vintage look than I was intending.  I did a cable design in the borders, and a free-motion rosette in each corner block.  The main lines are stitch-in-the-ditch and I did some free motion in invisible thread inside the panel following some of the design lines, to secure the layers there.




Sunday, 20 January 2013

January blues or January bleahs

One of my friends said in an email this week that she had the January blues as a number of things weren't going very well for her and her family, on top of the whole post-holiday letdown and poor weather.

I don't think I've got the blues so much as the 'bleahs'.  As in, Bleah my job is boring, Bleah I can't seem to sleep a full night any more so I am chronically tired which makes job even more challenging to cope with, bleah to commuting, bleah to mounds of paperwork at home waiting to be tackled, bleah to housework / laundry / cooking meals when I'm not hungry, and just generally Bleah.  I seem to have some snuffly thing which is either a strong allergic reaction or a sinus infection, not sure which, so my nose is permanently running and painful and I just have no energy.

Nonetheless the show must go on, and yesterday I had my quilting club.  We have started our new group project which is a Mystery design challenge.  I've basically told them they can make whatever they want, but they need to pick a theme and a dominant colour, and they need to demonstrate that they have followed each of six clues I will provide.  The clue for January was to make a block with their theme expressed as one word using their dominant colour.  After some thought, I am going to make a large carpet bag to hold larger knitting projects.  I've ordered a 16" inner tubular carpet bag frame from u-handbag.com, and yesterday I made two blocks with the word 'knitting' fused on to them.  I used the method where you print the word out on your computer then trace it mirror image onto the fusible.  After that I pieced another hexagon and a half for Sarah's Stars Stack n Whack.  I am loving the colours for that.

On the commuter knitting front, I've completed four repeats of the Featherduster Shawl chart but I've decided to stop knitting on it so that I can save it to use as airplane knitting for a holiday we are having in February.  So instead I have started a project from my queue: the lacy fingerless mitts called Cranford Mitts, which is a free pattern for p/hop on Ravelry.  I'm using a skein of Colinette Jitterbug in 'The Elephant's Dream' colourway which is a lovely green, with a contrast of some spare sock yarn in a multicolourway of pinks and lavenders.

Work knitting has continued to be the Pretty Thing cowl in a cheerful red Adriafil Carezza Angora.  I've finished the main body of the chart and am just knitting the top edge now.

I love this yarn, and in fact TV knitting this week was knitting some 'liners' in pale blue Carrezza to line the collar stand and inside cuffs of my Rowan Scottish Tweed DK cardigan.  I hardly ever wear it because the wool scratches my neck and wrists.  I knit two bracelets in soft angora and stitched them inside the cuffs.  Then I knit a flat collar stand in angora, short rowing to turn the bends, and stitched it on.  It isn't 100% as the very top edge of the collar is still scratchy but it's a huge improvement.  I wore the cardigan all day yesterday for sewing club and it was fine.

I finally got the Kaffe Fassett fabric lone star quilt onto the frame.  This will be the last quilt before the frame gets taken down, and probably the last time the frame gets used in this house if our house move goes ahead as we hope.  I still have a couple of tops but one is really complicated and would take ages to custom quilt, and the other needs a lot of custom quilting as well, so I've decided to call it quits.  The frame has been up since October and I think we've all had enough of it.  I don't feel I've been as successful on it this time round, especially the first few quilts I did on it.  Hopefully in the new house I will have a studio where I can leave it up all the time and use it regularly, so there isn't such a learning curve each time.

I've also been working on the Medieval Panels quilt - I finished all of the quilting and am now working on the hanging sleeve and binding.

We've continued to pack things.  We packed 14 boxes of books from the living room storage unit, and I have managed to go through almost all of the magazines from the attic.  I threw out loads to recycling after tearing out what I wanted, but I am keeping all of the old Miniature Quilt, Miniature Collector, American Miniaturist and Nutshell News magazines because there are so many good things in them. I now have a huge collection of torn out patterns and clippings which I will need to sort out into some kind of system in the new house.  But for now I have packed them up along with the empty magazine holders.  I know some people put their clippings in plastic sleeves then into binders, but I just have so many that I don't know if that's feasible.  I've tried keeping them in hanging files, but those are hard to search and the clippings tend to slip down under their own weight and become curled.  I've tried box files which just get filled up and are hard to search through.  I suppose in this digital age I could scan them all in but I tried that with recipes and the result was that I never look at the digital recipes because it's easier to pick up a physical cookbook.  Suggestions are welcome if you know a better way to deal with loose patterns and magazine clippings.

It feels kind of good to be having this rationalisation and clear out, like a fresh start to a new leaner lifestyle which will be physically easier to relocate. I'm looking forward to how much bigger the house is going to look once we start emptying out the rooms. I'm not looking forward to having to keep it pristine during the months that we are having viewings by potential buyers.

And of course we had some snow here in London, very unusual so kind of exciting.  As usual, the mere prospect of snow brought the country to a standstill, with my train company implementing an adverse weather timetable (cancelling my normal train) before a single flake had fallen, and newspapers recommending only essential travel should be undertaken.  Nearby Heathrow airport cancelled flights and someone said that thousands of people were sleeping on the floor of the airport but I don't know if that's true. We had about three inches fall on Friday, and the roads were fine, just a bit slushy.  I left early on Friday for fear of transport chaos but it was fine. We've had more snow today, but tiny flakes like icing sugar that aren't really settling. It makes me laugh in a way, when I remember minus 40 degree Celsius temperatures in Ottawa, Canada, and several feet of snow and yet somehow life still went on.  But I do understand that it isn't economically feasible here in the southern UK to be prepared every winter for severe weather that rarely arrives.



Thursday, 17 January 2013

Should it be this hard?


Should it really be this hard to get to work? It already seemed counter intuitive to have to drag myself out of bed after a poor night’s sleep due to a snuffly nose, when the temperatures are below freezing outside.  I promptly gashed a 1.5” cut into my little finger, and after temporarily patching that with surgical tape, shoved my foot into my trousers only to have it emerge trailing a long thread which proved to be the entire trouser hem coming down.  Quick change of trousers, shove some breakfast down and head out into the cold for the daily commute. 
 
Yesterday the trains were all delayed due to a tragic helicopter crash in London very near a main line into the centre.  Today my trains were delayed due to a train fire at London Victoria.  It’s starting to feel a bit like a war zone. When a train did arrive, it was standing room for sardines only.  As I stood there breathing in the waft of other people’s deodorant-lacking armpits, heading doggedly towards my uninspiring job, a little voice in my head was asking ‘why?’.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Some good news

We got some very good news yesterday:  DS has received an offer to study at Oxford University!  We are very proud of him, so now all's he has to do is produce the goods on his end-year exams.  As the alternative was Durham, which would have been a six-hour drive away, Oxford at 1.5 hours seems a much better bet as well as being so prestigious.  I look forward to many visits there over the next four years, it is such a lovely historic city.

This was my first full week back at work, and it really dragged.  I've got a bit of a cold which didn't help. My manager has apparently taken a new year's resolution to be very proactive both in tackling new things (many of which I don't think are actually adding any value) and in managing my time (which is kind of annoying).  Six more weeks plus two weeks holiday and my contract will be finished.

But one good thing about the job is that I can sit indoors downstairs and knit during my lunchtimes.  I am halfway through the Pretty Thing cowl in Adriafil Carezza angora and it's looking pretty good. I've also almost finished the third chart repeat of the second Featherduster shawl that I am knitting for myself after giving the first one away.

One of the things on my Christmas to-do list was to block my hibernating Haapsalu Shawl and decide whether I was going to keep going or not.  I had lost the will to live with it because I realised that the mohair lace yarn isn't really the right yarn for it and I wasn't even sure if it would block flat, was concerned about how ragged my nupps looked, and the pattern wasn't looking very good, plus it is HUGE. I'm only knitting the centre at the moment, then there is a knitted border to add.  This is the traditional Lily of the Valley pattern.

But I was pleasantly surprised.  It blocked flat fine, and when I took it off the wires it was so soft and ethereal.  Most of the nupps flattened out in blocking, and my always erratic tension doesn't glare as much as I feared.  I measured and it's coming out a little on the wide side, and the length so far is about 1/3.  I've done three chart repeats, and I calculate I need to do eleven chart repeats.  So I felt heartened about the project, put it back on the needles and knit a few rows during TV knitting.  I'm more experienced at lace now as well, than when I started the project a few years ago, so it is easier now.

I'm almost finished Day 20 of the Advent Calendar Scarf 2010 (having skipped Day 18).  Day 20 didn't start out well, I had to frog twice and was starting to feel really inept until it occurred to me to check the errata.  There I discovered that the starting stitch count was wrong, which resolved the issue.


I'm halfway up the straight part of the armhole of the Alice Starmore Marina pullover  on machine.  It's long enough now that I can admire the right side of it, although the colours have come out a bit more 'southwestern' than I was expecting.  I think when I saw a slide of it at Alice's lecture at the i-Knit Weekender a few years ago, it may have been recoloured to more blues and pinks which I like better. This is still nice though, with such gorgeous shading.  But still not convinced by the number of colours specified, some of them are only used for one or two rows once in the 68 row chart.


I've been doing some more packing in the attic, and have boxed up eight boxes so far of my dollshouse stash.  It's taking ages and isn't fun because it is freezing up there and dusty, also it  depresses me that I have so much good stuff and it's been hidden up in the attic for nine years out of sight and mind.  I really hope in the next house I have a proper workshop.  We just picked up a load of boxes from Freecycle today so will start boxing up some of the books tomorrow. I also brought down my entire collection of magazines covering a variety of hobbies, dating back to when I used to keep all my magazines instead of ripping things out.  So I am having an enjoyable but dusty time going through 30-40 magazines most evenings and ripping out what I want to keep.

The Red and White Stars quilt is off the frame now, although it still needs some manual quilting before it wil be done.  I need to do some maintenance on the frame, the takeup roller is freewheeling now and I need to reglue the end caps.  Then I will load up the next quilt which I think is the Kaffe Fassett Lone Star top.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

A new year with changes coming

Happy new year to you!  This will be the year that DS flies the nest for university, and hopefully the year that we move house.  We have swung into action for 2013, and have started to take stuff to charity shops. I also spent ages locating all the accessories and bits that belonged to a sewing machine I never used, and sold that on Ebay.  Today we spent some hours clearing junk out of the attic to give away or take to the dump.  We also visited a couple of local self-storage places to price up the facilities and also to buy a roll of bubble wrap and a parcel tape gun.  There is so much to do but if we just keep nibbling away at it, it will get done.

On New Year's Eve, just before midnight, I darned in the last end on my Gingko Shawl and it is now done. At first it looked like this picture (left), not terrible but not very flat.  Sort of a dragon scale look.








After blocking, it flattened out really well and looks much more homogenous.




Commuter knitting this week didn't happen very much as it was a short week, but I knit on the Pretty Thing cowl in Carezza angora at work, and a bit on the second Featherduster shawl.

I've been stitching today on the Medieval panel quilt, using my walking foot to stitch patterns in the border.  And I've done some meandering on the Red and White Stars quilt which is currently on the frame.  I am meandering in the lighter fabrics, and using my Microstitch gun to baste in the dark fabrics so it still rolls okay on the frame.

On the Advent Calendar 2010 lace scarf , I spent two TV evenings trying to knit Day 18, which is true lace (knitted in pattern on both sides).  I just could not get it to come out right, despite frogging and trying again and again.  It was just looking like a dog's breakfast and I was starting to hate it, so I have skipped Day 18 and this is going to be a 23-day Advent Scarf instead.  It's already ridiculously long so I don't think skipping a day is going to matter.  I'm now about 2/3rds of the way through Day 19.

I am on an unofficial yarn diet for 2013 because I have such a huge stash.  I went to the John Lewis yarn sale at Peter Jones in Sloane Square, which is closest to my office.  I had a good fondle and picking over of the sale bins but only bought a Debbie Bliss pattern book which has some nice DK designs.  I also mailordered 'The Celtic Collection' by Alice Starmore pretty cheaply off Amazon because I found the aran design 'Cromarty' on Ravelry when I was looking for something to knit with my Erica yarn.  It's a heavily cabled jumper and I'm not sure my tension is up to it, but I like it.

I ordered some fabric in the Quilt Room two day sale, three gorgeous fabrics from the Cameo collection by Amy Butler which were half price.  One is a lovely design of trees and fences which I might make into a tote bag.

We took down most of the Christmas decorations today and the tree has gone outside so I can finally get at my cupboard where I keep some of my knitting stash and my interchangeables  So I will be able to try out my tips in their new acrylic stand.

With best wishes to you for a happy new year.

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