Sunday, 22 February 2015

A rumour of Spring

Despite the damp chill which seeps into your bones, there is a sense that Spring is just around the corner in our garden.  A few inherited crocuses are peeping up, several clumps of snowdrops are glowing white against their dark surroundings, and bigger bulbs like tulips and daffodils are stretching green tips several inches upwards from the ground.  Our pear tree has buds on it, and what I think is a Mulberry tree has several fat buds as well.  I've indulged in some cut daffodils in support of the Macmillan cancer charity which are ripening to yellow buds in the dining room, and a little pot of narcissi from Morrisons for the study which have grown about three inches already in just a week.  I'm looking forwards to the earth warming up as I want to move around several shrubs in the front garden.

I had the builder back to give me quotes on all the repairs needed to our boundary walls, and I'm bracing myself for a big number. I knew the buttresses on the front garden wall were all broken away, but I didn't realise the wall itself was loose at the bottom - rather shockingly it rocked back and forth when the builder gave it a push.  It's all got to be done though, particularly the tall brick wall in the back garden which I'm afraid is going to drop bricks on someone's head - the top few courses are already collapsing.  The brick bays in front of our front cellar windows need digging up and rebuilding as well. So there won't be any point doing too much in the garden beds around those potential construction sites as plants will get smashed down. So instead I will likely be moving stuff out to safety in the side beds or even into the back garden temporarily.

From my sewing room I can look out at the garden, nice for good light but the view isn't that inspiring yet.  One day we will have a nice garden.  This week I cut out and put together a flannel raggy quilt for my son, which made an instant dent in my stash. Flannel quilting fabric is incredibly expensive in the UK but I had been picking up a few yards here and there in sales for several years. Therefore they probably weren't the fabrics I would have chosen if money had been no object, but I'm fairly pleased with the outcome.  I looked at a few tutorials to refresh my memory as I hadn't made one for several years, and I found this image of a four-patch quilt which suited my five-fabric stash.I used leftover flannel scraps for the middle layer plus I cut up an old brushed cotton sheet that I used in the past as a design wall.

(above) Piecing together the squares: large squares are cut 9", small squares are cut 5", 1/2" seam allowance used throughout. Eight rows with five blocks.

(above) The quilt top after I had cut into all the seam allowances, which took a couple of hours and gave me proto-blisters. At least this time I managed NOT to cut into the quilt itself, unlike previous experiences.

(above) The quilt edges all frayed after a trip to the commercial laundrette and a few spins through their tumbledryer. I didn't want to subject my own washer to such a heavy load and all the loose threads. I'm pleased with how it's turned out although it would have been nice if I'd had enough fabric to make it bigger, my son is tall enough that this won't cover him up completely.  I still think he'll like it.

While I was sitting in the laundrette waiting for the quilt to be finished, I was knitting on my capelet. I think I must be a bit more than halfway through, it's got to wrap loosely around my body and be seamed to itself.

I'm almost finished the last sleeve for my cabled cardigan, I'm just decreasing for the cap of the sleeve.  Then it will just need blocking and I can sew it together!  For my Aran Sampler Sweater, I realised that my plan to use the handknitting pattern as a machine knitting guide wasn't going to work. The handknitting pattern casts on a lot of extra stitches to compensate for the dense aran texture, and in stockinette it would mean a back that was half again too wide.  So I had to sit down and write out a machine knitting pattern to produce a back and sleeves that will be more or less the right size at the gauge I am getting on the machine.  Fingers crossed anyways.

Commuter knitting this week was the sleeve the first few days, then the Mixalot sock which is slowly progressing. I'm still not happy with the mess I made of the heel, but it's fitting pretty well. The top of the cuff is a little tight, I will have to be careful to cast on extra loosely for the second sock.

I finished Clue 2 & 3 of the Battle of Five Armies Mystery KAL shawl, which was leaves representing the elves of Mirkwood, followed by shields representing the Dwarfs. I added a couple of beads to each dwarven shield to bling them up a bit. I'm now working on Clue 4 which represents the goblins. This is TV knitting because I need my iPad to keep track of where I am on the charts.

And I astonished myself this week by picking up a hand applique project that I started many years ago, to sew some more leaves onto a block that I started at least two years ago. One day this will be a 25-block traditional applique quilt - I think this is something like block 17 but I've misplaced my master list of blocks. It felt really good to work on it, I enjoy hand applique once all the pieces are marked - it's the faffing about with templates and tracing onto the background for placement that I find really tedious.  Most of the blocks are from the book 'Grandmother's Last Quilt' but I'm also doing some out of the 'Rose Sampler Supreme' book.

I haven't done any bobbin lace this week as I've been waiting for my new threads to arrive.  They tried to deliver while I was out so I picked them up from the post office yesterday. Now I need to copy out some practice Torchon patterns from the Pamela Nottingham book.

I'm pretty much finished sorting through my vintage linens, although I have a pile that needs washing to try to remove stains.  I didn't find everything that I had previously catalogued, but then I found quite a few things that hadn't been catalogued or at least didn't have tags on, so there may be some overlap there.  I've scrawled all over my old catalogue so I need to type all that up and re-print it.  I've sorted everything into four boxes so I need to label those as well:  Small mats and doilies, Large mats and doilies; Tablecloths; Oddities and clothing.

Oh great, it's started raining again outside...  England in February, not fun.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Let the sunshine in

It isn't actually sunny out, as we are going through a typical English grey and rainy spell, but the light levels inside our house have been considerably lifted with the installation of new sheer roller blinds in the front rooms.  For six months we've been living in partial gloom because all the front windows face onto a busy main road and people and buses are passing by within a few feet of our house.  Being privacy-loving individuals, we've had no choice but to keep our grubby inherited dark roller blinds closed at all times, casting the lounge, dining room, and front bedrooms into shadow 24/7.  Last month we scrimped and saved to put aside the funds to buy six sheer blinds in an lacy pattern that reference the older style of the house, and yesterday we put them up.  They let the light in, and give a partial view of the street, but people outside can't see in during the day time.  Yay!  It makes such a difference to the dining room, even in this gloomy weather. The room seems twice as big, and is much more inviting to go and sit in.

One day when we have the funds, we will replace the grubby old roller blinds with nice Roman Blinds in fabrics to echo the room decor.

After cleaning the house all up last weekend, and putting all the leaves into the dining table etc., I was let down at the last minute by the lace group which was disappointing.  The Council found a new venue for the last class, so the teacher called me a few hours ahead to tell me of the change. At least we ended up with a tidy house :)  So the course is over now, but there is talk of continuing to meet informally as a lace group so I said I would be interested in that.

In the meantime I finished my lace circle and turned it into a card even though I am only keeping it as a sample. I had my first try at joining lace to itself, I didn't do a good job and the join is quite visible, but I learned a lot by trying it so I think I can do a better job next time.  This is worked in 50-wt sewing thread.

The last lesson for the course was to try Bedfordshire-style plaited lace.  I worked two samples from the Pamela Nottingham book 'Plaited Lace No 1' and 'No 2', I just ran them together on the same pillow to avoid re-winding bobbins.  The strange place where some threads are stranded across is where the second sample starts.  Unfortunately the thread I chose, a No 80 crochet cotton, is too tightly twisted to lie flat for this lace.  I've since ordered a few reels of more suitable thread and when they get here I am going to keep working through the Pamela Nottingham book to teach myself. I didn't really enjoy the plaited lace, so I'm going to go back to Torchon and work through that chapter.

On the knitting front, I was sorting out my collection of ripped-out patterns to file them, and came across a few things that were tempting. I succumbed to a pattern from Let's Knit magazine for a Capelet, which normally I wouldn't be seen dead in but it just looked so warm for wearing around our cold house.  I'm knitting it in some Rowan Kid Classic from my stash, stranded with one strand of Forsell Shamal (a machine knitting coned wool blend) and I'm really pleased with the lofty lightweight fabric I'm getting.

I finished the first sleeve for my Cabled Cardigan, and I've finished one side of the neckline for my Aran Sampler Sweater.  I also did a bunch of tension samples on my Brother 260 chunky knitting machine in preparation for machine knitting the back and sleeves for the Aran jumper. Since they are now just going to be plain stockinette, there's no reason to slog through them by hand. With this discontinued Jaeger Sport wool, Tension 4 on the machine gave me the required 18 st x 24 rows, so I should be able to just follow the hand knitting pattern as there is no internal shaping.  I will probably knit the welts by hand because my ribber sponge bar is shot, and also to make them match the front welt.

I tried on the pin-fitted tissue bodice of my Mannequin Cover and it seemed to fit, so I laid out the pieces on some cotton gabardine fabric, and chalked additional seam allowance around each of them (the Craftsy video recommends increasing the seam allowances to one inch), then cut them out.  Now I just need to add the markings and symbols and then I can baste it together for a first fitting. I might do that today.

You can see I have turned my sewing machine desk sideways on to the window now, and I've set up the two folding tables in front as a work area.  It seems a better use of the space than when the desk was facing the window.  If I ever actually machine quilt something larger, I will need to rig 'dams' along the lefthand and far edge of the work area to prevent the quilt falling off, but I think that day is far off at the moment.

Did you do anything for Valentine's Day?  We didn't do much apart from putting the blinds up, but we did have a nice bottle of chilled Prosecco in the evening which was a treat.

I'm still ploughing through my vintage linen collection, I've ironed most of the small stuff so just have about 25 small table cloths left to get through.  I have a number of fragments of lace that I found in bargain bins, edgings that were cut off from decayed cloths, or unfinished lengths of lace.  I've left them until last but I would like to find things to do with them.  I might sew some onto the ends of hand towels, and make a valance for my bed edged in lace, and maybe sew some along the bottom of my new sheer blind in my bedroom. I'm increasingly feeling like I would like to get back into sewing, it's mainly the unheated floor in my cold sewing room that's discouraging me so hopefully in the spring you will start to see more sewn items on the blog.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

The sun is shining..

It's a gorgeous sunny day out as I write this, still cold though and hovering just above freezing.  We had some more of this a few days ago:

but it's all gone now.  And I've been very pleased to see the dawn almost breaking when I am at the station in the morning, so it's quite light out, plus it's staying light longer in the day as well. It's always so oppressive to be going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark.  We have several clumps of snowbells blooming in the garden, and quite a few inherited bulbs poking up so it will be exciting to see what we've got in the spring.  There are also some fat buds on some of the trees in the garden, I think one is a magnolia tree so that could be pretty.

We had a breakthrough on the noise-from-next-door front, when our doorbell rang one evening and someone who looked a bit  like a ZZ-Top band member announced that he owns the studio.  Despite a beard lush enough for families of birds to nest in, and a big piercing through his nose, he seems quite pleasant and anxious to adjust sound levels so that the Council doesn't email him again.  He said he didn't realise how loud it was outside until recently, so he's turned everything down and has been round a couple more times to check that it's not bothering us.  So that's a huge relief and we're very grateful.

Today I've been cleaning the house up because I've invited my lace class round tomorrow, we didn't have a venue for this week's class because the normal one was double booked.  I've cranked out our Victorian dining table and put both leaves in, so we can easily sit eight around it and could sit 10 at a pinch.  I've been getting on fairly well with my  bobbin lace circle piece and am almost to the point of meeting where I started. We've only got one more lesson the week after next and then the course is over.  I can't justify the money to sign up for another one, but I think I've had a good grounding that will now enable me to keep working on my own from my library of bobbin lace books. One day I would like to buy some decent hardwood bobbins, but the plastic ones are working fine in the meantime.

I topped my Christmas Table Topper, so it just needs quilting now.  The 'ribbons' are fusible applique finished with a small zig zag. There will be dark green binding to finish it. I'm definitely not getting a quarter-inch seam with my quarter-inch foot, not sure yet whether it is me or the foot so I need to experiment before I tackle anything more complex.

I also did a bit more sorting out in my sewing room, and spent a couple of hours sorting photos and pasting them into my project scrapbooks.  I used to be really good about pasting in a picture of everything I did in a year, and including notes or patterns etc.  Somehow with everything that's been going on I stopped filing about three years ago.  So it was quite challenging to work out what went in which year, I found scrolling back through my blog quite useful to pinpoint when I was working on things.  It's made more complicated by my habit of taking several years to actually get around to finishing things.  So a quilt that I started in, say, 2003 might not have been topped until 2009 and not quilted until 2012.  It was quite nice to look back over old projects though, I'd forgotten a lot of them. I sometimes feel like I am the only one that still prints out hard copies of photos (I save them up and send 150-200 at a time to an online place, it's much cheaper). I just like being able to have a physical copy that I can write on, write notes next to, move next to other related photos etc. and know that it is safely preserved and not at risk of loss due to hard drive failure or technical obsoleting.

I've got as far as cutting out the pattern pieces for my Mannequin Cover. It's been a long time (decades) since I handled a dressmaking pattern and I was confused that there were no seam allowances marked. I googled and it appears that they are included, just not marked on this McCall's pattern.  Then I had to try to alter the pattern for my thick waist.  I'm not sure I've done a very good job, but I guess the next thing to do is to pin the tissue together and try it on.

On the knitting front, I've completed the increases for the first sleeve of the Cabled Cardigan, and I'm on the short row heel for the Mixalot Sock.  I also did a bit of knitting on the neckline of the Aran Sampler Sweater.  I've gotten muddled up several times and had to pull back because of either forgetting to decrease or forgetting that my charts are now partially cut away due to the decreased stitches.

I've also started a new Mystery Knit Along, The Battle of Five Armies, which is the third shawl in the series by AlterLace on Ravelry to go with the three-part Hobbit films.  I really enjoyed the first two 'An Unexpected Journey' and 'The Desolation of Smaug' so it's fun to be knitting one again.  Apparently this will be another half-round shawl.  Of course, it doesn't look like much until it's blocked.  This is in Auracania Ranco Multi, and this is Clue One and Clue Two.

For machine knitting, I finished, blocked, and sewed together the little denim baby jumper, and it's all wrapped up now ready to take to work on Wednesday to travel to the baby shower with a colleague. I stitched the bands down with a contrast cotton and gave it wooden buttons, for a bit of a 'denim jacket' vibe. I hope she likes it.

Prettifying the house

Several years ago I cut up some charity-bargain vintage linens to make bunting, copying some expensive bunting I saw for sale in Lewes.  This used to be pinned up in my bedroom at the old house, but I decided to try it in our new kitchen.  I think I like it, it adds to the 50s country kitchen feeling and the yellow is a cheerful contrast with the blue cabinets.

I've also started sorting out my large collection of vintage and antique linens.  About 10 years ago I was really into collecting filet crochet, especially pictorial crochet, and was always on the look out for items at flea markets, antiques stalls etc.  Along the way I have picked up or been gifted various other linens other than crochet, such as knitted lace doilies, netting, tatting, needlelace, pulled thread work etc.  Again, initially, I was very good at cataloguing them and put a little tag on each one but that rather fell by the wayside over the years.  Partly because there were few places to display them in our previous little house and because they were inaccessible under a bed.  So now I've taken over DS's bedroom and have unpacked them all and am gradually ironing them and ticking off items on the catalogue, and tagging uncatalogued items.  Despite the incredible work and artistry that goes into them, vintage linens are still almost worthless.  I have about 25 gorgeous little table cloths that used to go on tea tables etc,, all heavily decorated with fine crochet borders, and these still seem to be selling on eBay for abou £4-5. It's ridiculous.  I don't need so many linens and doilies but I feel like I am keeping them safe for future generations.  But I've been having fun finding places around the house to display some of my collection. Much easier in this house plus they are more likely to stay clean for longer now that DS is grown up.

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