Saturday, 22 February 2014

A mini-er me

I'm feeling chuffed (pleased) because this week I wore two blouses to work that I couldn't even get into three weeks ago because they were so skin tight around my middle.  I've lost 5.5 pounds now which doesn't sound like much but it seems to have already trimmed down my abdomen.  Still a long way to go though, as the mirror sadly informs me.  But it feels like having part of a new wardrobe to be able to wear some of my thinner clothes again.

Today I had the treat of visiting Unravel, the fibre festival in Farnham.  It's quite a drive from our new house but we had to go down to Maidenhead anyway to return the saxophone that DS rented while he was in school, to the music shop.  When I saw in my diary that it was the same weekend as Unravel, I put my bid in with my chauffeur husband to visit.  He kindly passed a few hours in town having tea with his parents who drove up from Hampshire, while I whizzed around the show.  It's a complete labyrinth, sited in many smallish rooms up and down staircases in a restored malthouse, but this was my third or fourth time there so I knew where all the rooms were more or less.

I was very pleased to bump into Needlemum from my former knitting group, and catch up with her about our sons at university and how her house had fared during the flooding (it stayed dry thankfully).  She had already bought some gorgeous yarn from Fyberspates and beads to go with it. I didn't actually buy any yarn myself. I very much enjoyed visiting all the stands and patting the yarn, but it just seemed that every time something caught my eye, it was from a vendor whom I knew I had already bought stuff from in the past that was now sitting in storage.

One vendor I always enjoy (and I'm sorry but I've forgotten their trader name) sells a range of vintage needlecraft accessories, old needles, antique swifts and other goodies.   I was very taken with a vintage knitting needle display stand sitting on the floor in front of their table.  When I enquired the  price, it was low enough that I decided this should come home with me to hold all my needles and be an ornament to my new knitting room whenever I get one.

Isn't it great?  And it's double sided as well.  So I can put in all my long straights, and shorter dpns, all ranked by size.  At the moment I've got my straights in a homemade binder and they are always falling out, and my circs in zippered pouches.  I might be able to get my circs in on the other side probably, and even stand my blocking wires up in one of the channels.

The only other things I bought were two patterns from Tin Can Knits:  Low Tide and the Lush cardigan.

They both look great and while I was tempted to rush back into the marketplace to buy yarn for them, I didn't do it because I have several projects lined up at home already AND I have yarn in my stash I could use (once I get my stash back).

On the way there and back I was knitting on my bargain buy Sirdar Folksong Chunky yarn which was pimped to me by my online dealer, Black Sheep Yarns who send me an email every week trying to tempt me.  This stuff was 51% wool 49% acrylic for £1.29 a ball or something so I fell off the wagon and ordered enough for a sleeveless gilet that I had in my pattern stash.  On arrival the yarn turned out to knit up at the clown barf end of the spectrum plus it's a bit splitty, but I think the gilet will be fine to wear around the house and it's knitting up quickly. It's nice to have something mindless to knit on.  But I couldn't get gauge so I had to re-write the pattern to fit the gauge I am getting. As there are no sleeves to worry about, it wasn't too hard to recalculate even with my primitive math skills. I'm sure I would have paid more attention in school if they could have explained how useful math was going to be for knitting and quilting.

I'm also working on the next square for the Great American Aran Afghan, this is the Dana Hurt square and it's a bit boring to knit but is looking good.

Also this week I did a bit of sewing and finished off all the pieces for the centre of my Sara's Roses Stack n Whack quilt.  Then I laid it out on the bed to see what it looked like and to distribute the designs evenly.  All of the hexagon designs were cut from the same floral fabric.

I'm pretty pleased with it.  I love the hexagons and my colour choices there, I'm not quite as keen on the blue setting triangles but the blue does contrast well and picks up the blue that is in the floral print.  I have to say that it's smaller than I was expecting, it just seems like after all the work I've put in, that it should be bigger!  But there will be a plain border all the way round which will bring it up to a small double size.  I haven't got the border fabric yet.  I will piece the top then take it with me to the fabric shop to see what might work.  A great thing about our new location is that I have two quilting shops within an easy drive, Bramble Patch in Daventry and Poppy Patch in Great Doddington.

On the way back to the car park in Farnham, I picked up a remnant of laminated cotton oilcloth from Laura Ashley at 50% off to make a new apron for DH who is managing the washing up while we are temporarily without a dishwasher and without a son to do it for us.  I'll use his old apron for a pattern and I'm hoping my Featherweight will sew through the plasticised cloth ok.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Biblical weather

I don't know how much news about British weather makes it abroad, but the weather lately in the UK has been astonishing to the point of being biblical.  I'm feeling quite groggy today because we had yet another major storm last night and I was kept away for over an hour in the middle of the night by the sheer noise of the wind-lashed rain against the window, the constant thud of the wobbling fence panel and a crash which turned out to be one of our wheelie bins blowing around.

Meanwhile the Thames Valley in Surrey where we just moved from is subject to several severe flood risk alerts (which means potential loss of life) and many affluent homes along the river are now flooded.  The area we lived in for 20 years is in the national news every day because so much of it is under water, and even the Prime Minister visited this week to show support.  It just won't stop raining, and not only are the rivers full to the brim, the ground itself is so saturated that the water has nowhere to go.  Other parts of the country like Somerset are even worse off and they are saying the bad weather could go on to the end of the month.

We are so, so, so very grateful that we sold our house successfully before Christmas because not only would the flooding and road closures and train cancellations have been a nightmare, I can't imagine that the housing market isn't being very negatively impacted. The house we lived in isn't at risk of flooding but surrounding nearby towns like Staines, Chertsey and Shepperton have been badly affected, and I would suspect the perception now is that to buy a house in that whole area is potentially risky.

Where we are living now is well above a river valley, up on a hill, so flooding is not an issue.  Our commutes to work are luckily also unaffected (apart from the 48-hour tube strike last week).  So we are counting our lucky stars to be free-range house buyers with our money in the bank.


On the sewing front, I broke down and bought a cheap swivel chair from Argos for my sewing room.  It makes it so much easier because I can swivel away from the machine to use the iron, or roll the chair over to the bed to reach something.  I dug out my Sara's Roses Stack n Whack project and pieced more of the hexagon setting triangles.  I love how every hexagon looks so different, even though they are all cut from exactly the same fabric.  I don't see Stack n Whack in the mags or online anymore, it seems to be out of fashion but I still really enjoy the effect.

I'm almost ready to start piecing the top together, just need to make four more of these beauties.


I had a kid-in-a-candy-shop moment last weekend at a yarn sale.  The House of Fraser department store in Northampton is closing down, including its yarn department.  I'd been a few weeks ago and had been strong and not bought anything, but then I heard at my knitting group that all the Rowan was now 50% off as well.  So there I am, facing a wall of Rowan yarn, dithering over what to get.  In the end, I settled for a sweater's worth of cotton glace in purple, and then made a selection of Handknit Cotton colours which I plan to knit into a striped top  of some kind. That's the moment when you wish you had pre-chosen patterns and knew exactly what Rowan yarn you wanted, but I couldn't even get a signal on my smartphone to look at my Ravelry queue so I had wing it.

I've started the Desolation of Smaug Mystery Knit Along and have completed clue two.  I like my yarn but the variegation means the lace pattern isn't showing very clearly.  This is supposed to be the Lonely Mountain at the top with a wavy river running along underneath it.

I've continued to knit on my Haapsalu Shawl and I've also started a new square for my Great American Aran Afghan.

Act your age not your shoe size

I have a new time-suck because I finally cracked and downloaded an expansion module for the videogame that I am addicted to:  Skyrim Dragonborn.  It's really fun to be back playing it again, with new and improved quests, dungeons, monsters etc.  I also took part in a Beta trial for an online version (Elder Scrolls Online) but I can't talk much about that because I had to sign a non-disclosure agreement to get in.  However I can say that I was really, really rubbish at it - compared to my limited experience of playing on an Xbox 360, trying to master about 40-50 keyboard commands to play on a PC while grappling with entirely new systems for attributes, skills etc was just far beyond me.  I could barely cope with running around and talking to NPCs, and meanwhile everyone else in the game (it's an MMO) seemed to know exactly what they were doing.  I strongly suspect I was probably about 30 years older than most everyone else in the game so that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.  I don't know if I will get invited to another beta test but in the meantime I need some kind of Idiot's Guide to MMOs. I'm so dumb that when I filled out the after-game survey, I had to keep looking up the acronyms on another tab because I had no idea what they were talking about.  The survey was also asking many questions about locations and activities that I hadn't even known existed so apparently I missed a lot while I was stumbling around.

Our weight loss month is going well.  I've lost four pounds now and I can already feel a difference, my clothes are a tiny bit looser and I feel lighter and more energetic.  As a motivational tool, I have bought two one-kilo bags of sugar (the equivalent of four pounds), and I can't believe how heavy they feel to hold.  I was carrying that weight around all the time and now I'm not.  I'm going to buy a bag for every week that I lose two pounds. Wonder how much sugar I am going to own if I keep going?

Sunday, 9 February 2014

A cover for my Featherweight Sewing Machine

This week I finished the quilted cover for my Featherweight 221 Singer sewing machine.  I sized it to be tall enough to fit over the machine even when it has a large spool of thread on the pin, long enough to fit over the machine when its deck is hinged upwards so that the cover goes down to the table, and with a cut-out for the power supply cords.

For my machine, these were the desired finished measurements:

For the cut size of my panels, I added half-inch seam allowances only where the central panel is seamed to the side panels.  No seam allowances are needed for the cut-out or for the bottom edge.

I pieced my panels out of half-square triangles to be oversize compared to my cut measurements.  I sandwiched them up with thin batting/wadding and the backing fabric, and quilted 1/4" on either side of the vertical and horizontal seams.  After lightly pressing the quilted fabric, I cut my panels - first centering them against the design so that I have partial columns on either side of each piece. The central panel is continuous from front to back, and I rounded off the top corners of the end panels by tracing around a mug.

The next step was to bind around the cut-out for the power cables.  I used 1.5" bias binding that I cut from the red fabric, and stitched it RST with a half inch seam allowance from the front, easing it around the corners.  Then I turned it to the back, folded in the seam allowance, pinned and pressed, then stitched from the right side in the ditch of the binding seam to catch down the binding.

Then I seamed the centre panel WST to the two end panels, so that the seam allowances are on the outside of the cover.  The half-inch seam allowance is to allow wriggle room.  After I had tried it on the machine to ensure it fit the way I wanted, I trimmed back the seam allowance to about 3/8". To apply the binding to hide the seam allowance, I placed the binding RST with the end panel but stitched with the centre panel  facing upwards so that I could stitch along the previous seam line.

I did try turning the bias seam allowance in, pinning it down, and sewing it on the machine as before.  But I found that I couldn't get a smooth result without puckers when I sewed the round corners.  So I ripped out that stitching on the end panel I had experimented on, and sewed both binding strips down to the centre panel by hand for a neat result the same way I would normally do on a quilt.

The bottom edge can be bound fully on the machine as per the cut-out, the only difference being that I started and finished with the cut edge of the binding folded back on itself, to give a finished edge where it starts and stops at the cut-out.  For a really neat finish, I caught the front and back folded edges of the ends of the bias together with a few hand stitches in matching thread.  The finished result has cheered up my sewing room and certainly looks a lot better than the towel it replaced.

This week I also finished the Janet Martin square for my Great American Aran Afghan, a cute square which features a fish swimming amongst the waves.

While out and about I've added several inches to my Haapsalu UFO shawl, and I'm almost finished the eighth of eleven repeats of the chart.  One advantage of leaving it hibernating for three years is that I'm much more practiced at knitting lace now. The yarn I ordered from Garn in Denmark for knitting the border showed up.  It came quickly and didn't get stopped for Customs and it is the same yarn and the same colourway.  Unfortunately it is NOT the same colour, it's a very violet-toned pink whereas my shawl is a dawn blush pink.  I don't even think the two colours go together very well.  So I'm not sure what I'm going to do about the border.  I will wait to see how much Blush Pink colour I have left after knitting the centre.

Otherwise it's been a fairly quiet week.  Work has been as boring as ever - much as I love love love working part-time, I think perhaps I may have to look for something else once we aren't having to pay a big chunk of rent every month.  I had my annual review last week and my manager was sketching out his ideas for what I will be doing during 2014.  Don't you just hate it when someone is telling you all about something they want you to do, with the obvious expectation that you will be really pleased at being given this opportunity, when inside your heart is just sinking because you really really don't want it?  But for professional survival you have to paste a smile on your face and look keen and willing?  I always thought that I would be willing to put up with a lot for the opportunity to work part-time but this job is really testing my resolve with its strange mixture of mind-numbingly boring menial tasks and frustrating insufficiently-thought-through-and-frequently-pointless real work.  I'm beginning to wonder if the older I get, the more unemployable I am becoming, because I'm just not as willing to put up with the cr*p.  And the cr*p people who make open-plan office working unpleasant with their disruptive phone alerts, smelly hot food, loud complaints about temperature and of course the perennial favourite of dialling into to conference calls on speakerphone.  Grrrrr.

Maybe I'm grumpy because this month I am trying to lose some weight.  I gained so much weight during the stressful house move months that I now weigh more than I did just before delivering an 8-lb 6-oz baby.  So from 1 February I am trying to dial back the eating to more sensible levels.  I've invested in the Hairy Biker diet cookbooks, they are two British television presenters who lost a whole lot of weight and were filmed while doing it, for a television series.  I'm not that keen on them as presenters but was impressed to see their substantial weight loss while they ate what looked like pretty good food.  So far we've tried two recipes and they were both really good.  In the first week of February I have lost two pounds, which doesn't sound like much until I picked up a kilo bag of sugar at the supermarket and hefted it.  I've got a long way to go before I get back into all my clothes, ideally I will get back to 11 stone (154 pounds) at least, because that is the upper boundary of the 'normal' range for my BMI.  We'll see.  I am definitely going to stick to it for the month of February and see how much I weigh at the end of it, and if it's working then I will hopefully keep going.  Wish me luck!

Sunday, 2 February 2014


My local knitting shop has asked our Knit & Natter attendees to knit items for a Spring window display.  I thought I would have a go at an Alan Dart pattern for knitted birds that was in Simply Knitting magazine a few issues ago.

I should have remembered how loose my tension is when I got to the instruction "stuff body firmly".  Instead of the svelte little bird in the picture, I've ended up with a bird that looks more like it ate two or three other Robins for breakfast  followed by a chaser of steroids.  This is an English robin by the way, they are normally much smaller than the North American robins. Rob-zilla, however, has a waist of about nine inches.

Rob-zilla is a flightless bird, since its wings are obviously too small to lift its incredible bulk into the air. Basically the wings, beak and legs all look too small compared to the pregnant body, which is entirely my fault and not the pattern. However, DH also queries whether robins have that sort of tail in real life.

Rob-zilla was also incredibly fiddly to make, so I have abandoned plans to knit a companion goldfinch and blue tit. Rob-zilla might eat his smaller companions so why take the risk.

Before knitting Rob-zilla, I also knit a flower for the display based on a pattern I found in Vogue Knitting intended as a bag decoration.  This is knit from the centre out, and unfortunately depends on accurate counting of intervals between increases - something I am consistently poor at and thus one petal is a bit smaller than the others.  The flower is fairly large as well, about eight inches across.

I finished my vanilla socks knit in Schoppel-Wolle Fliegende Untertasse (flying saucer yarn).  Because they were knit two-at-a-time straight from the reel of yarn, they are virtually identical apart from the afterthought heels.

The fine gauge means they are quite comfortable to wear, although I only wear handknit socks around the house as I don't find them comfortable to wear in shoes as I have princess feet :)

Concluding the vanilla socks meant I needed a new portable project for knitting on the train.  I've pulled out one of my older UFOs which is my Haapsalu Shawl in BC Garn Baby Alpaca, which has been languishing for many months since I started it in 2010.  It's in a double Lily of the Valley pattern with nupps, and I need a chart when I am knitting it.  I was reluctant to take it out because the yarn might mat if it is dragged around, but on the other hand it is never going to get done if I never work on it.  So in the last week I've added about 2.5 chart repeats which is more than I've done in the past year.  I finished the first of my two balls of yarn and realised that I am not going to have enough to make it long enough AND knit the edging on.  Of course nobody sells the yarn in the UK anymore but the Danish company still make it so I've ordered it direct from them.  I think it might have been cheaper than I paid at Loop in London to boot, but only if it doesn't get hit for Customs charges.

The new mystery shawl knitalong (KAL) for the Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug has started.  The first clue portrays the Lonely Mountain with its entrance.  I am knitting mine in rainbow coloured Araucania Ranco Multy. I really enjoy these knitalongs because each clue has a little story with it about what you are knitting.

On the sewing front, I've felt a bit reluctant due to the poor ergonomics and mainly because that room is freezing (the radiator is turned off and I can't get it back on again because the valve is stuck).  But I have finished assembling the three panels of half-square triangles for my sewing machine cover and sandwiched them up ready for quilting.  I think I am going to look for a secondhand or cheap swivel chair, because it's really bugging me being on a normal chair that doesn't roll or pivot when I want to press or cut something away from the machine.

Still no movement on the house-purchasing front.  I checked with the owners of the house we want to buy, but they still haven't had their offer accepted on the house they are interested in.  It's frustrating because I see things that I might want to buy for the new place, but I don't dare until we know we are definitely getting it.

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