Monday, 30 March 2015

SkipNorth in rainy Yorkshire

I was away this weekend for the annual SkipNorth knitting retreat. While it didn't snow this year, it was rainy and blustery for most of the weekend so didn't exactly feel like a holiday in weather terms. I feel a bit coldish and fragile today so don't know if I have caught a bug.

I still enjoyed it, nice to see old friends again and it was a smaller group this year so felt more intimate and friendly. I also had a nice surprise from my friend Quitecontrary who brought me some lovely wooden bobbins that she had been treasuring for years, she thought that I could make better use of them now that I am learning bobbin lace.  Thanks Mary!

Friday afternoon is traditionally workshops and it was quite amusing to see some ladies getting mummified in duct tape to create their own duct tape mannequin forms.  I learned how to make stitchmarkers and produced four which aren't too bad. You make the hoop part by wrapping it around a pen barrel - the first time I used a Bic which of course is more polygonal so I ended up with a bumpy loop - fail!

Friday evening is the traditional p/hop swap where we all bring our unwanted yarn, books, patterns etc. and do a big swap on the condition that we will donate to the p/hop charity afterwards.  The last couple of years I have hauled back loads of stuff but this year I only took a couple of skeins and a few patterns. It's like being a kid in a candy shop with all the 'free' goodies laid out, but I was strong and only took things that I really thought I would use. I brought along several orphan skeins or leftovers from projects, it felt good to have a clear out of my stash and see some of it go to new good homes.

Saturday is shopping day but I was careful to be quite restrained this weekend given the financial situation.  We went to Skipton, which was lovely, to the very elegant Purl and Jane knitting shop, and had time for a good walk around including a visit to a fabric remnant shop called the Fent. I love all the stone buildings and grim Victorian architecture in these Yorkshire towns.  I bought three little black buttons to use as eyes for the Clanger I am knitting for DH. Then we were off to Leeds to visit BaaRamEwe with very welcoming staff and I bought a Kate Davies pattern called Peerie Flooers to make a fair isle hat and mittens set.  Then it was a return visit to The Skep in Farsley (knitting and quilting) where I bought the sheep fabric in the picture above, which was on sale, to make a project bag with. And I walked up the hill for a look at the Aladdin's cave of haberdashery, Bond's, but didn't buy anything this year.

Sunday the main group was off to Wingham's Woolworks but I didn't want to go again, so my friend Vincakent and I walked into Haworth and struggled up the steep hill to the Bronte Parsonage in the rain. We just did the gift shop there and then shopped our way down the high street, stopping occasionally for coffee or lunch. I was wondering why there were so many miserable looking families out in the wet weather then realised it was half term break from school.  We seemed to be jinxed - everytime we went inside it would stop raining, and then the moment we came back out it would start again.

Then it was back to the youth hostel for some more knitting and chat with the main group before saying farewell for another year.  It was quite a long train trip home but I had time to wander around Leeds while waiting for a connection. I hadn't been there for 30 years and was amazed at the enormous shopping district near the station, all malls and walkways and new arcades and Victorian arcades and broad pedestrian avenues. And all very busy as well right up until the shops shut at 5pm, unexpected for a Sunday afternoon. Quite a change from 1982 when it was all rather scruffy and low-rise.

As well as knitting on the Clanger, and experimenting with strap designs for my denim bag (think I'm going to knit it on the machine now, life is too short to knit 150cms of cable on 3mm needles), I started two new projects over the weekend:  a pair of sloppy basketweave pattern socks in a lovely soft pink yarn and a reversible cowl in a Fyberspates Vivacious DK yarn. I'm feeling too lazy to go find the project bags and actually put the proper design names in, will have to do that next time!

Earlier in the week I cut out the background setting squares and triangles for my Lone Star Quilt but haven't actually done any sewing on them yet.  And I'm well underway on my current bobbin lace sample, which has 19 pairs of bobbins so is my most complex attempt to date.  It's going alright except that I've realised half way through that I was making a mistake on one of the motifs - I've made the same mistake every time so now it is a design feature :)  I think when I finish this sample I am going to take a break and make a bookmark, I feel it's time to actually make something instead of always practicing. Our group has been contacted by another woman who wants to come so I will be welcoming four ladies after Easter - it's nice to have company and it motivates me to keep working on my lace so I have something to show (also makes me tidy up the house which is also good).

It's the Easter long weekend coming so I will only have to work two days this coming week - yay!  We are planning to visit a few historic houses over the weekend, weather permitting, and do lots more work in the garden.  I think it is safe to start moving some plants around now, the ground is warming up and I don't want to leave it too late as everything is starting to bud/sprout/grow. DH is getting on quite well with smashing up the concrete path, it's more than half gone now.  I had a go with the sledgehammer as well, which went fine apart from a piece of concrete hit me in the leg and gave me a big bruise, but my shoulders were so sore the next day that I think I might leave the rest up to him. I've been looking online at easy DIY garden paths where you just bed bricks into sand instead of having to use mortar, so we might have a go at that with some old bricks we have.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Dodged a bullet

I had a job interview this week so preparation rather dominated my free time over the past several days. It's been a year and eight months since I last had to job hunt so it took me quite a while to get back into the right head space, learn my 'elevator speech' again, remind myself of interview techniques etc.  I was rather dreading the interview which included a test, but both test and interview turned out to be rather easy.  That's not to say that I did brilliantly - I certainly could have answered several questions much more actively and succinctly.

But I wasn't that enamoured of the job which sounded repetitive and lower level than my current role, the office was small and old fashioned and overlooked a busy noisy road, and worst of all it was about 100 degrees in the room where I would be working.  Nonetheless, I was kind of talking myself into to being ready to accept should they offer me the job, as we need my income.  Luckily they didn't offer me the job so I feel like I dodged a bullet as they made the decision for me. Still, it was good practice to gear up for an interview and hopefully I will do better on the next one I get invited to.

Still no real news at work, although the mood is getting grimmer every week as people start to panic. They are still saying that they plan to issue notices in early April, yet there is no real news on how they will select people etc. There's a new twist which is that they've decided they have to place my job-share partner currently on maternity leave into an unspecified role, but they had no information on how that would affect me as her jobshare partner nor the contractor currently doing the maternity cover.

Gardening time

It's starting to feel much more like Spring, things are starting to bud in the garden, we've got daffodils and crocuses blooming.  We don't have any money to spend on it but there are things we can do that won't cost much.  Last weekend DH and I measured the garden and then I drew it on graph paper and started playing with designs.  I'm thinking of something like this, with a snowman-shaped lawn on the diagonal, and a patio on the right behind a trellis privacy screen as we are very overlooked.

So today we went out with a can of line-marking spray, some pegs and string, and measuring tapes, to draw out what it might look like for real.

We bought a sledgehammer and safety gear and DH is currently pounding away outside to break up the unwanted former concrete path down the middle of the lawn. It's going to be a long job, in one hour he only managed a little nibble but I expect there's a learning curve.  He seems to be finding it quite satisfying but I bet he will be stiff tomorrow. In a few more weeks when it is warmer, we will start digging the new beds and moving existing plants around. I'm still waiting for a quote from the builder on repairing our crumbling boundary walls, although he did say he might bring a mason around this coming week to have a look. We can't do anything about the patio until the walls are repaired.


This week I was working on an old project, a Lone Star quilt kit that I bought at the Chicago Quilt Festival in 2008 from Karen Witt of Reproduction Quilts. It's called 'Suzanna's Star' from c. 1870, and included all the fabrics and some quite minimal directions which didn't even specify all the cutting sizes. Luckily I have the excellent book by Jan Krentz 'Lone Star Quilts & Beyond' which has comprehensive directions for sewing accurate lone star points, blocking them, and calculating how big to cut the setting squares and triangles.

It's taken me a long time to sew the points, because each strip segment requires matching 7 seams accurately, so 56 seams to match every time I added one of the eight segments to each of the eight points.  But this week I finally finished the last of the eight points and was able to draw out a blocking diagram on some scrap fabric based on average measurements of each diamond.

Then I pinned out each point in turn, starched it, and pressed the seams open.

Which yields eight points which in theory are all exactly the same accurate size.

Then I had the fun of putting them up on my display wall to get the full effect for the first time. Wow!

Bobbin Lace

I'm meeting every Monday with some former classmates from the lace class for mutual encouragement. Last Monday I finished pricking number three from the Pamela Nottingham book. It's got several mistakes and I wasn't tensioning the 'fans' very well to begin with, but I was getting better by the end of the piece (where the loose threads are).

Then I moved on to pricking number four, which is a short piece with fans and spiders.  I was doing the edging wrong for a while but I worked out my mistake and was able to correct it from then onwards (about halfway through the square corner, heading towards the loose threads). Some of the other students repeat pieces again and again until they get them perfect, but I feel I am learning more by pressing onwards and learning new concepts. I don't see a lot of value in repeating something I already know how to do, just to get it absolutely right with no minor flaws. I will repeat if I genuinely didn't understand, or was using the wrong thread or something. My plan is to complete the half dozen samples in the Torchon chapter and then have a go at actually making something like a mat.


I'm quite pleased with my finish this week on the Capelet from Let's Knit Magazine, designed by Jan Henley (which let's face it is basically a poncho). It's come out the right size, feels light and springy and cosy, and unlike a shawl it stays put and keeps me warm.

TV knitting has been another square for the GAAA Afghan, which I'm enjoying as it seems fairly easy after slaving away on the Aran Sampler Sweater.

Commuter knitting has been the Mixalot Sock and I'm just about to knit the final toe. I'm still knitting the Battle of the Five Armies MKAL Shawl, this week is Clue Seven. And I dug out another ancient kit, a free gift from Rowan when I was a subscriber about 10 years ago, for a denim yarn shoulder bag.  I never knit it because it was basically a meter-long strip of stockinette, but I suddenly realised I could whip it up quickly on the knitting machine. So I knit the bag body and flap on my Brother 260 at Tension 2 quite easily. Now I have to hand-knit long strips of narrow cable to edge the flap and be the strap. Then as it is denim yarn, it all goes in the washing machine to be shrunk before it gets sewn up.  Due to back issues I don't really use shoulder bags, I always use a knapsack to distribute the weight. But it will be nice to finish it and perhaps it can be a knitting bag.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Well, that didn't work.

Fairly major 'FAIL' on the knitting front this week.

Having removed and re-knit the stained portions of my Aran Sampler Sweater, this week I sewed all the pieces together for the first time.  I tried it on and stepped in front of the mirror.

The first obvious problem is that the sleeves are too short. If I pull the shoulders up so the design lines are vertical, then the sleeves are about 10cm (4 inches) too short. They are meant to be full length and when I knit the cuff I actually thought they might end up too long.

The second problem, which may not be as clear in the photo, is that the different wool I used for the main part of the sleeve (not the cuff) is a really different cream colour and stands out like a sore thumb.  Even DH, who hadn't been able to tell the difference when the pieces were separate, immediately remarked on the bi-coloured effect.

It's also not the most slimming jumper in the world. I haven't knit the neck yet, but that will help pull in the neckline and support the shoulders.  It was a drop shoulder design which I turned into a modified drop shoulder, but even so there is still some unattractive bulk under the armholes. The textured front is doing nothing to disguise my tummy.

After considering it in the mirror from different angles for a time and feeling really depressed, I think I have no option but to take the sleeves back off, pull out the non-matching wool, and try and buy some wool which matches better then re-knit them (and knit them longer this time). In retrospect I probably should have added some waist shaping in the back but I'm not going to pull that out.  It was tempting to put the whole thing in the bin but I haven't hung onto this yarn for 20 years and put so much effort into the Aran front to give up now.

Other knitting this week has been a few more inches on the Capelet where I am almost ready to seam together the cape part of the poncho, Clue 5 of the Battle of Five Armies MKAL, and the second sock of the Mixalot Socks (and the short row heel went a lot better on the second sock).

On the quilting front, I dug out all the completed blocks of my 25 Block hand applique quilt and put them up on the design wall.  It seems that I have completed 17 blocks so far so I have another eight to go.  I spent a couple of hours preparing the templates and tracing the background and fabric shapes for Block 18, and have started stitching it. If I ever finish this quilt, it is going to look so nice.  According to my notes, I started this in 2007 with the plan to complete it in one year.  ha ha ha ha ha ha haha

What's in the box?

I had a very interesting delivery this week.

What's in the box???

Could it be 120 part-works to build a Japanese dollshouse??  Why yes, I think it could be.

What's that, Sharon?  All the instructions are in Italian?? Well, you're not insane at all, are you??

he he he

Yes, after reading a feature in a British dollshouse magazine about an American lady living in Italy, who had built a gorgeous Japanese-style dollshouse from kits published as part-works by De Agostini, I made the fatal error of looking it up online.  The more I looked at it, the more I liked it and thought how fun it would be to build.  It was a small step from there to Italian eBay, where I soon found an entire full set of kits on sale for about 1/10th of their original price.  Despite being skint, I decided to cash in some Premium bonds and snatch it up before it was gone.  After an interesting exchange of communications relying heavily on Google Translate, my big box arrived this week by courier.  I'm really looking forward to the day I can start translating the instructions and get going on it, but that will have to wait until my dollshouse workshop gets set up and I can unpack all my gear.  Still no word from our erratic kitchen fitter on when that might be.  In the meantime, after unpacking and checking all the kits, they've gone back in the box and into the attic storage room to wait for their day in the sun.  And I want to put in this post for posterity how supportive DH was about this purchase. Instead of telling me off for buying crazy things when I'm about to be made redundant, he congratulated me on my bargain buy. He's the wonderful product of 25 years of training and I'm grateful.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Less haste, more speed

So I blocked my Aran Sampler Sweater  on Tuesday, let it dry until Friday, then Friday night I hand-seamed the shoulders together. This morning I thought "I'll just give those seams a quick shot of steam before I sew in the sleeves on my linker."

Then this happened.

And it won't wash out.

I was pressing onto a wooden ironing ham that my f-i-l made me, which I've used several times for quilting when you want a really firm surface to press on.  It's never made any marks on the fabric I've pressed, yet when I turned over my first seam to see how it had come out, there was this horrible brown stain all along the wool.  It isn't burnt wool - it almost seems to be some kind of dye or oil and yet I don't believe he used either when he made the ham. I tried various cleaning agents and it won't come out.

So I guess the only thing to do is to let it dry, and unpick the seam, unpick the stained knitting, and re-knit the back and front shoulders.  Luckily even though I don't have much yarn left, I've got enough to do that.

Earlier this week I seamed together the blocks of my Star Sampler Quilt with the inner border.  The pattern binds off the quilt around the outer blocks, but there is an alternative version which has an outer border.  I tried the first version on a double bed.

I thought it looked a bit skimpy and not covering the bed sufficiently to be useful.  So I went ahead and added the outer borders.  I didn't have enough fabric left to cut them all in one length, I had to piece four cornerstones to make up the length.

I like it better in the bigger size, it covers the bed properly and the blocks are set off better.  So that can move out of the 'needs to be pieced' queue and into the 'needs to be quilted' queue now.

I finished my first Mixalot Sock which I quite like apart from the badly-worked shortrow heel.  I'm considering cutting the heel out and knitting a new one back in, but I'll see how I feel after I knit the second sock (which I've started). The fit is quite good, although as usual with my handknit socks, it's not going to stay up my calf in wear.

Otherwise this week I've been working on my bobbin lace,  and knitting the Capelet.  It's been a fairly quiet week because I still wasn't feeling 100%.  Today was a gorgeous sunny day, up to 17 degrees C, so we went out and did a big clean up in the garden: cutting down all the dead stuff, raking up leaves, pruning roses etc.  There are loads of bulbs coming up and you can see them better now that all the debris is gone.  Spring is coming!

Sunday, 1 March 2015

In which I sort through several years of tear sheets

I think I've been quite clear that I suffer from S.A.B.L.E. in all my hobbies (Stash Acquisition Beyond Reasonable Life Expectancy), but the fact that my eyes are bigger than any lifespan I am likely to enjoy was driven home to me this weekend as I sorted through my craft files.

Last weekend I put two coats of Dulux Wood & Metal paint on a decrepit four-drawer filing cabinet bought at a charity shop several months ago.  It looks a lot better although obviously painted.  Then I started unpacking four boxes of files and sorting through them to determine which would go in the cabinet, which needed to be broken down into smaller files, which were rubbish etc.  After those boxes, I moved on to the 18-inch stack of magazine tear-outs in my quilting room, and the similarly-sized pile in my dollshouse room.  It actually took several hours over yesterday and today and was quite sobering because there is no way in heck that I am ever going to have time to make even 1% of what I've optimistically pulled out of magazines.  Also sad to find projects that I was really keen to make, say, twenty years ago but never did. But also nice to come across projects that I did make and enjoyed.

I have made a stab at sub-dividing by topic: for example, 1/12th scale furniture, polymer clay ideas, quilt patterns, machine quilting tips etc.  But there are six fat files of quilt patterns alone.  I think at some point in the future I am going to have to go through it all again and winnow it down to things I might actually need or make.  But for now at least it is all in one cabinet and reasonably under control. And there is a system set up so future tear-outs will have a home to go to. And the good thing about sorting through a curated pile is that I liked almost everything I came across, so lots of pretty eye-candy.

Earlier in the week, before I succumbed to the sniffly cold I've had since Wednesday, I sewed some vintage lace onto one of our new blinds, in my bedroom, and I'm really pleased with the Edwardian vibe it has now.  This is made from two pieces of vintage crochet intended as towel ends - I've seamed them together as unobtrusively as possible (by hand) and then machine stitched the lace onto the blind.

I've got plans to make a valance for my bed out of some more lace when I'm feeling better.

I also spent several hours earlier in the week laundering the vintage linens that had stains on them.  Some of the stains didn't come out sadly, but boiling some of the most affected items produced some startling successes.  The two collars/cuffs drying below were a disgusting peanut-brown, but turned snowy white in the boil wash, as did the similarly dingy two netted doilies.   The pink tatted dresser set previously looked grey and grubby and brightened up wonderfully, and one of the bigger tablecloths that was badly stained with large brown marks came out almost completely white.

The clothes horse above is suspended in one of our cellar rooms which were the former servants quarters (possibly the former kitchen) so I thought it was quite fitting to be hanging up vintage linens to dry just like those previous occupants probably did over one hundred years ago. Too bad they weren't around to do the subsequent ironing - I'm sure they would have done a better job!

On Tuesday I wound off my remaining Aran Sampler Sweater yarn ready to machine knit the back and sleeves. It quickly became apparent that I hadn't bought enough yarn 20 years ago.  I had enough to knit the back, but nowhere near enough to knit two sleeves.

 So I sent off for some budget yarn from Black Sheep, some Wendy Traditional Aran 100% wool in cream, which is a similar colour but definitely a bit darker. I've machine knit the sleeves out of that, but I've knit the cuffs and the back welt with the original yarn because it's softer.  As I'd also finished the Cabled Cardigan final sleeve, I now have all the pieces for two sweaters waiting to be wet blocked to measure.

I might do the blocking on Tuesday as I have the bobbin lace ladies coming over tomorrow and they might wonder why my lounge is carpeted in wet knitting - (DH is just used to it so won't bat an eyelid).

Now that my bobbin lace course is over, I've set up a workstation upstairs in my knitting room as it didn't seem fair to continue to litter the dining room with all my lace equipment. I'm near the window so the light isn't bad but I've also got a daylight lamp for extra light.

I'm working my way through Pricking No 1 from the Pamela Nottingham Torchon chapter, it's going fairly well although I've made a few mistakes. I'll probably finish this one tomorrow and move onto the next pricking in the chapter - I've printed off all the Torchon prickings from the chapter and have got them ready to go with coloured film and card, I just need to prick the holes first before use.

Bad news on the job front

My team suffered a sudden crushing blow on Thursday, delivered via a hastily arranged Webex conference call.  There are some 50 or so people doing similar roles around the UK - they've announced this group will be cut to 22 (first shock!) and that we will be given our notices by the end of March (second shock!).  People are a bit stunned by the scale of the cuts and the speed with which they will be enacted, particularly since the dust has barely settled on the previous round of redundancies before Christmas.  First we have to go through the charade of consultation which they are abridging to the bare minimum of 30 days. I think it highly unlikely that I will survive, although we have no information yet on how they are going to select who goes and who stays. Being part-time I am already at a disadvantage. We'll see what happens but it seems likely that I will be out of a job come June. I've started looking at what's available in London and around where I live, but as usual there is very little part-time work in my specialism. Roll on the lottery win is what I say.

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