Monday, 27 April 2015

May you live in interesting times

'May you live in interesting times' is supposed to be a Chinese phrase that sounds like well-wishing but is actually a curse.  I have similar mixed feelings after receiving a phone call from my boss this morning to inform me that enough people have quit from my redundancy pool that the rest of us get to keep our jobs.

Obviously it is a relief to not have to look for a new job, and to know that I will continue to receive my salary.  On the other hand, I was feeling very stressed last week as it began to look increasingly likely that I would be staying.  Going, while kicking off a whole new journey, was at least simple. Staying, on the other hand, means adapting to a huge amount of change in a job that I'm not that keen on in the first place. The team will be moving to a new part of the building which alarmingly is adjacent to the most senior bigwigs, I'll be losing team mates and gaining new ones, I'm going to have more work and some of it is rather scary. My boss said bracingly that I'll "get more exposure".  I'm quite happy being unexposed, thank you very much - I much prefer a quiet life staying as anonymous as possible. I'm not good with change.

Lace Day

Saturday was the Lace Day that I was rather nervous about attending, but it turned out to be lovely.  Everyone was extremely friendly and welcoming. There were about 40 or so ladies there, and as well as doing bobbin lace there were lots of other crafts in evidence as well: cross stitch, crochet, knitting, even some English paper piecing.  I worked on a third Torchon lace bookmark and finished it, and then had a go at a new sample (which all went wrong so I've had to start over now). I talked to lots of ladies and looked at what they were doing, and there was even homemade cake in the afternoon.  There was also a sales stall and I picked up 14 pairs of nice wooden bobbins at .50p each which was a bargain and means I can replace almost all of my plastic bobbins now.  They announced some more lace days later in the year so I will plan to go to a few of those. It was really helpful to mingle with people who know what they are doing when I am just a beginner.

Above is m-i-l's bookmark which I posted to her on the weekend.

Above is the third bookmark I made at the Lace Day.  Still making mistakes
even on my third go however.


We've continued to plug away at the garden.  On the weekend we transferred over the grass from the new path to the old path, and laboriously levelled out the dirt in the central circle and the new path.  After tamping it down, we spread over the hardcore that we had dug out of the old path.  The gravel which is the final surface is being delivered on Saturday morning so by then we need to be ready to spread it. We need to set up the edging and pin down the weedproof fabric first.

You can also see in the picture that lots of things are blooming or growing leaves, even trees that were moved, The re-located lawn pieces are still alive, although I've been having to water every few nights with all this hot dry weather we've been having.

We went to a church's plant sale on the weekend that I found advertised online.  We were able to get about 10 medium sized plants and two trays of annuals for just £21, and I've planted them out to fill some of the bare patches around the garden.

Other crafts

This week I started knitting the miniature Aran sweater that will be appliqued to the blank square I knitted last week, for the GAA Afghan.  This is the body and then the sleeves are knit separately.

I'm still plugging away at the Battle of Five Armies MKAL final clue.  There are now hundreds of stitches and I've had to switch up to my longest 150cm cable.  During one TV episode I can only knit about four rows but it's straightforward knitting.

Commuter knitting is still the second Basketweave sock - I've turned the heel and am decreasing the gusset.

I finally blocked the rest of my Cabled Cardigan and I've started sewing it up.  I couldn't remember which pieces I had blocked, and spent about 10 minutes comparing knitting trying to work it out. The sleeve still attached to the yarn ball obviously hadn't been blocked, but I had to look on this blog in the end to discover which pieces I HAD blocked. I suppose if you can't tell the difference then it isn't that crucial...

On the sewing front, I've stitched in more of the lining to my Rowan Denim knitted bag.  I also made the first sleep eye visor.  I traced around my old worn out visor for the pattern, and lined it with black felt to block the light. The inside is a sort of minky-like fabric from a dressing gown.  The visor is comfortable to wear but the fleece inside makes it fairly warm.  So I am planning to make another one in cooler fabrics in case I need to wear one in summer.

Next weekend is a Bank Holiday (long) weekend here in the UK, so something to look forward to.  We will be spreading gravel on Saturday, but hope to get to some historic houses and gardens if the weather is nice.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

It's Summer! No, wait, it's Spring. Nope, it's definitely summer...hang on, no, it's spring again, wait...

We love to talk about the weather in the UK and with some justification this past week as the temperature has gone up and down like a yo-yo. My Wednesday morning walk to the station at 7am was still chilly enough to require woolly hat, gloves, scarf etc. but it went up to 24 degrees C in London that afternoon. That's warmer than some summers I've had here. Thursday I happily donned a summer dress for work, anticipating similar temperatures, only for it to sink down to about 16 degrees and I was cold all day, huddling in my cardigan and wishing I had trousers on. And so it has gone on, up and down, warm in the sunshine and cold and windy in the shade.

Today we drove DS back to Oxford for his third term, and afterwards we went on to Blenheim Palace for a walk in the parkland - cold! Spectacular views but once again I was huddling in my woolies from the cold wind.

Then when we were back home and out digging in the garden, the sun came out and soon it was t-shirt weather and I had to strip off all my outer layers and go in to get a sun hat.

Garden update

This week we spent the evenings prying up the foundations of the old retaining wall around the Victorian patio. I built a loose new retaining wall re-using some of the bricks and cap-stones and we backfilled with dirt (more digging...). Then yesterday we did two marathon digging sessions and dug up a multitude of 'lawn bricks' from the centre circle and I re-laid them to fill out the curve of the lawn. It's amazing how much bigger the garden looks now that the snowman lawn shape is complete and not cut into thirds by the old patio. One day when we have some money we will replace the temporary retaining wall with one that's actually mortared.

Today we excavated the hard core from the old pathway where there will be new flower beds (near the house, and around the outside of the centre circle where there will be a low hedge). Then we backfilled with dirt. This coming week we will tackle moving the lawn from the new path (between the string lines) onto the old path, and start levelling out the new path/centre circle in preparation for laying gravel. We've also bought an octagonal planter which will go in the centre of the finished circle (although I would love to replace it with a stone font if we win the lottery...).

I'm relieved to see signs of growth on several of the plants we moved, even the apple tree is showing a bit of pink on its buds. So hopefully they are busy putting out new roots and getting used to their new home.

I'm losing hope that our builder is going to give me a quote any time soon on repairing our boundary walls, so I've got three other builders coming round tomorrow to have a look. So it's going to be a busy day, but will be good to get a number established for the cost so that we can work out how we are going to pay for the work.  It's got to be done, the tall brick wall in particular is looking very precarious so I want to get it made safe this summer.

Craft update

On my days off, I finished setting in the background squares and triangles of the Lone Star Quilt and then joined the star points together to make the quilt centre. To my relief, it is all lying really flat. It is pretty easy with this kind of quilt to end up with something shaped like a volcano, which is why I've been really trying to be accurate and precise.  It just needs borders now.  I've measured for them and measured the piece of border fabric provided in the kit.  I can cut the two side borders in one piece, but the top and bottom borders will have to be invisibly joined from three pieces each in order to get the directional fabric all pointing upwards like the original sample in the picture. The background fabric was directional as well, but there was enough provided that I was able to cut all the squares and triangles so that all the flower buds face upwards.

I blocked my Mixalot Socks and have been wearing them to bed. They fit well and I'm pleased with how they turned out (apart from the messy job I did on the short row heels).

I finished the bobbin lace bookmark for DH and he has been using it this week and likes it.  I've started another one in different colours for m-i-l and am about halfway through that. So I should finish it tomorrow during the lace group meeting. I might make a third one because I'm going to a Lace Day soon and will need something to work on that isn't too taxing or I'll make a mess of it while I'm chatting. I'm a bit nervous about the Lace Day because our teacher complained about how cliquey lace people are, particularly the majority who belong to one of the guilds, but hopefully people will be friendly.

I finished and blocked my Reversible Cowl in Fyberspates Vivacious DK.  I joined it as a Mobius but I'm thinking that I made it a bit too long. I'll wear it a while to see, but I may unpick the join and shorten it a bit.

Other craft activity this week included finishing the plain background square for the next GAA Afghan block, unpicking some vintage crochet lace from the remains of a couple of tablecloths (I bought it that way) so I can re-use it to edge a bed valance, making a pattern for a new sleep eye visor and choosing fabrics, working on Clue 9 of the Battle of the Five Armies MKAL Shawl, and finishing the first of my Basketweave Socks and starting the second one, and I did a tension sample on the knitting machine in preparation for knitting a summer t-shirt.

Work update

The redundancy exercise has finally crawled on to the point of individual consultation and I had my first meeting on Friday. They explained the whole exercise again and how we will be scored to determine who gets made redundant, and said everyone should know their outcome by the end of the month. But it's actually looking a lot more optimistic in my pool.  Several people have resigned for better jobs, and a few have asked for voluntary severance, so the number of people left is only a little higher than the number of available jobs - although it's not that simple as the jobs are located around the country so not necessarily going to match up with where people are based. But I feel much more optimistic that I might actually make it through and end up with a job, although being part-time complicates matters. They said my working pattern will not affect my scoring against others, but realistically I don't know what they will do with the other half of these new busier jobs if they keep me on.  We'll see, but I'm hopeful that I may get to stay now. The survivors will have a difficult time though: with over 20 people leaving the company and several separate teams being shoved into one team, it's going to be almost like starting somewhere new. But not as bad since my manager is staying, I know the commute, I'm familiar with the company etc.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

No more digging - please!

After a week of digging in the garden in every spare moment, after work, every day on the Easter bank holiday weekend, and most of yesterday, my back has given up and said "No more!".  I also have mental digging fatigue. So today we are having a day off apart from I moved the last few bulbs this morning.

But we've done it: we've moved probably upwards of 40 plants and shrubs big and small, including an apple tree and a large Sambucca Niger, plus loads of bulbs, day lilies, irises etc, - hitting our deadline of moving things before they burst into growth in most cases. The concrete path is all gone, the hardcore dug out of the bed areas and we've started to fill it in with 'lawn bricks' cut from other parts of the garden that we've turned into beds.  The future patio area (out of picture to the right)  is now devoid of plants.

You can see the 'snowman' lawn taking shape, and we've marked out the future path and central circle.  We inherited so many plants (which were all higgledy-piggledy on top of each other) that I 've been able to fill out most of the new border area without spending anything, although we did buy one evergreen Juniper Skyrocket to plant in an empty space by the back fence.  The things we've moved in the front and back garden are not obviously dying yet, although some of them are probably still trying to work out what's suddenly different (like the apple tree which did not retain much of its root structure so could be doomed).

So not a lot of crafting this week apart from slumped in exhaustion in front of the telly in the evenings.


  • I've joined together four quarter-stars with background triangles on my Lone Star Quilt, and am starting to add on the corner squares.
  • I've seamed together the knitted Denim shoulder bag, sewed a lining stiffened with fusible fleece, and have partly sewn the lining in.
  • I've turned the heel on the Basket weave socks.

  • I've finished knitting the Reversible Cowl so just need to block it and seam it.

  • I cut the felt armour for the Clanger and appliqued it on using silver metallic thread, and gave him some felt hair so he is now finished. DH really likes him.

  • I'm almost finished the penultimate Clue 8 on the Mystery Battle of Five Armies Shawl. Not sure about this one. It's a half-Pi shawl and seems to be a rather arbitrary mashing together of stitch patterns. Perhaps I will like it better when it's got an edging and is blocked.

  • I've been appliquing the next square in my 25-block hand applique quilt, this is a square from the Rose Quilt Supreme book, scaled up in size. After I finish the other two flowers, there will be leaves around the circle.

  • I finished Pricking 5 in bobbin lace after making lots of mistakes (left in picture). But I'm getting better at spotting my mistakes and unravelling to fix them. I'm taking a break from samples to try a simple two-colour Torchon Bookmark using a design that one of my lace group ladies developed. This one is for DH and I will make another one for my m-i-l. I picked up a few more nice wooden bobbins from an antiques fair we went to last weekend, priced very reasonably at .50p and £1 each. So gradually I am replacing the nasty plastic bobbins. We didn't buy anything else there but had a lot of fun looking - antique fairs/shops are like museums where you can touch everything, it's great.

  • I've started the next square in the GAA Afghan, which requires knitting a plain square first and then a miniature Aran sweater which is appliqued to the plain square.

Actually, now that I've listed it all out, it feels like I got more done this week than I realised.  I think it's because suddenly there is so much television to catch up on, with a lot of shows back from their mid-season break like Elementary, Marvel's Agents of Shield, Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, Suits, Vikings, 12 Monkeys, Mad Men etc. So I'm spending a lot of time on the sofa knitting or sewing.

How is your garden looking?  Are you doing any digging?

Saturday, 4 April 2015

The wrong kind of plants

We've done a lot of digging in the garden this weekend so far, and boy do I feel it.  My back was so sore this morning that I could barely straighten up after pulling my jeans on. My total lack of upper body strength means that I have to take breaks from digging about every 8-10 minutes but even so my arms are stiff from elbow to shoulder today. A couch potato existence knitting on the sofa does not prepare you for sudden intense exercise.

We're attempting to transplant a lot of the plants we've inherited but we seem to have the wrong kind of plants - instead of ending up with a nice round, easy to move, root ball like in the Youtube videos, we always  end up with a huge mess that falls completely apart and all our plants have a tap root heading down to Australia which inevitably breaks off no matter how deep we dig.  I expect we've killed everything.

But for the moment the front garden looks a lot better - we consolidated all the bergenias into one narrow side border where their messy 'elephant ear' leaves look a lot better, and moved several shrubs from the border next to the wall that needs rebuilding over to fill up empty spots in the borders by the house.  In the back garden, most of the path is now removed and I've started to move some of the smaller plants, and I dismantled the crumbling brick wall around the old patio. I also dug a big hole (not in picture) for a big shrubby tree thing that we will try to move (not optimistic).

It's the Easter long weekend here, with Friday and Monday both being holidays - yay!  I've pulled out my small collection of Easter decorations and added a few other spring-themed ornaments. And tomorrow is chocolate-for-breakfast day, one of our favourites. The yellow daffodil doiley is one of my vintage doilies from my collection.

Craft stuff

Have you heard of Sugru? It bills itself as 'super glue meets blue tack' or something like that. We noticed it in B&Q and then I realised it might be just the thing to repair my cracked thread mast on my Janome 6500 sewing machine.  The little plastic cap that held the horizontal thread guide onto the metal mast had cracked before we moved, and cracked off completely during the move so it didn't stay on any more. Kind of annoying.  This Sugru stuff sticks to almost anything and dries as sort of a very firm rubber. I probably could have moulded it more smoothly, but appearance aside, it has done the job and fixed the problem. Now I can fold my mast down when I put the cover on the machine, without the thread bar falling off.

This week I finished the Hanna Burns square from the GAAA Afghan. This was my 16th square so I just have four more to finish and then I can start blocking and sewing them together.

I sewed together the Clanger and added eyes, and felt feet, fingers etc.  If you don't know what a Clanger is, it was a very strange children's programme here in the UK in the 60s or 70s, about aardvark-type creatures living on the moon who communicate by whistling. DH watched it as a child and has fond memories, so this is for him.  However, they wore crude armour so the paper templates in the picture are experimental pattern development before I cut felt for armour. DH is pleased.

I knit a long piece of strap for my denim shoulder bag from Rowan denim yarn. I used the circular knitting feature on my Brother 260 machine, using tension 1-dot. It worked really well. Then I threw all the pieces in the washing machine and tumble drier. This denim yarn fades in the wash and shrinks up quite a lot.  I tried to take a picture to show how the knitting had faded compared to the ball yarn but my camera couldn't capture the difference. Too much blue I guess.

I forgot to include in last week's post that I've finished the Mixalot Socks,  just need to block them.

I said I would include the names of the two projects I started last weekend at Skipnorth.  The socks are 'Basketweave Socks' from the March issue of Simply Knitting magazine by Rhian Drinkwater, and I am knitting them in Mirasol Tupa which is 50% merino and 50% silk. Sorry the pic is a bit fuzzy, and the astute will notice that my third needle fell out of the stitches when I picked the sock up so I need to fix that.

The reversible cowl in Fyberspates Vivacious is the Zig-Zag Cowl by Zoe Clements in Let's Knit magazine. You knit it flat and then join, and I'm planning to join it as a Moebius loop.

Other than that, I've sewn a bit on my applique block and done a bit more on my latest bobbin lace sample.

Other stuff

We continue to get driblets of news at work. We were told on Thursday that my boss and his boss have been appointed into their positions, and that we will have our first personal meeting about our own circumstances starting from the second week after Easter. They expect that everyone will know what's happening to them by 1 May. So it's dragging out longer than they expected, but it means we get paid a little longer.

Yesterday we went sofa hunting, which might as well have been snark hunting for all the success we had. We went to Milton Keynes which is our nearest big shopping hub, and we must have looked at over 200 sofas in several stores. I would say 35% were hideous, and the next 60% were bland and completely unsuitable for our Victorian/Edwardian interiors.  I lowered my standards considerably and started sitting on anything vaguely passable but almost all of them were really uncomfortable or felt competely flimsy.  Considering how much sofas cost, it is astonishing how rubbish most of the fabrics and construction are, and how short-lived the softly squishable cushioning is likely to be. Of course the only ones that felt both comfortable and well made were Parker Knoll which were the most expensive sofas we saw.  You could buy a whole living room suite in most of the stores for the cost of one Parker Knoll sofa.  Sigh.  Looks like our 11-year-old IKEA sofa and its lumpy cushions is going to have to last a while longer.

Happy Easter everyone!!

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