Saturday, 23 May 2015

The road not taken

I used to work for a big corporation. This week I met up with a woman who was probably my closest friend during those years.  She still works there, and has been promoted to middle management. We hadn't seen each other for three years, because her job keeps her very busy, with a lot of travelling, and somehow our plans always fell through.

We caught up over lunch, and it was sort of fun, until the question of my working part-time came up.

"But what do you DO on your days off?" she enquired, looking genuinely baffled.

And thus the mighty chasm opened up, the one that divides the countries of "Work is my life" and "Work is something I have to do to pay the bills".  She is ambitious, absolutely convinced that higher salary/higher job group equals success and even superiority. I would guess that she feels I have let the side down, taken the easy route, wilfully sacrificed my career and my salary because I'm not tough enough, or perhaps even lazy.

While I on the other hand would be tempted to say she has sold her soul to the devil: working 15 hour days, travelling time zones at short notice away from her family, enduring constant stress and continual corporate BS. Yes, she is getting paid mega-bucks and will have a huge pension, but does she have a life right now?

I tried to convey my enjoyment of my downsized career, my crafts, my bobbin lace group, the garden, but I could see her eyes glazing over and pretty soon she changed the subject.  I suppose if I had been better prepared, I could have talked about project managing two house moves, a major refurbishment of our new house, transforming the garden.  But I'm not sure it would have made much difference. The fundamental divide is too great.  I genuinely enjoy not being at work, it feels like a holiday, it feels like I'm getting on with my real life, it's reduced my stress.  Whereas I would say work is her real life. It makes me wonder what she is going to do with her time when she retires in less than ten years. Although she said she is looking forward to it, I wonder if when the time comes, she will panic and ask to work on.


This week I finally finished the Battle of Five Armies Mystery Shawl Knitalong.  This sucker is huge, 72 inch wingspan and about 37 inches deep.  I had trouble blocking it because the final two charts introduce a lot of fullness. Only by blocking the centre very hard indeed, could I get the leaf edging to lie at all flat. It's knit in Auracania Botany Lace which is a fingering weight, and I added some beads to some of the charts.

My strip of bobbin lace is coming along well.  I had to execute the tricky manoeuvre of moving the lace up the pricking / up the pillow, which is what you have to do when the strip of lace is longer than the pricking/pillow.  It involves taking all the pins out, and then gingerly moving things while trying not to put any tension on the bobbins until you get the pins back in again.  It seems to have worked fine, I can't see any difference in the strip where the move took place.

I knit a sleeve on my machine knit t-shirt, fiddly because of all the increasing and decreasing which aren't fast to do on a machine.  One more sleeve to go. It's in a marled two-colour cotton thread.

Commuter knitting continues to be the completely pointless handbag and I'm almost finished the second side of the 'wicker' basket.

I did a little work on the Stack and Whack Sara's Stars quilt, piecing in some dark red triangles at the end to square off the hexagon shapes.  I think I am going to do a blue inner border and a red outer border, but I don't have very much blue fabric.  Will have to do the dreaded Math to work out how wide a border I can cut that will still go around the circumference of the quilt.

I'm knitting another square for the GAA Afghan.  It's the Fenick square, which shows a tree made from cables standing out against a reverse stockinette background, with cables up either side.  I was knitting away, and after a while discovered that my tree had disappeared because it was blending in with a normal stockinette background.  After some baffled consultation with the pattern, I eventually realised that when I had photographed the chart with my iPhone app to turn it into a PDF that I can use in Goodreader on the iPad, the scanner app had 'helped' by turning most of the grey squares (purl stitches) into white squares (knit stitches).  Not good, and I had to pull back about 10 rows on either side of the tree and crochet them up again one column of stitches at a time. I can't trust the chart now so will have to photograph it again, or perhaps dig out the old scanner and plug it into the PC.

It's a bank holiday (long) weekend again here in the UK, so of course the weather is pretty grey and uncertain.  I've been out in the garden today painting teak oil on the garden furniture to make it look better, and black paint on the rusty drainpipe (and by accident on the house).  There are weeds coming up everywhere so I did a lot of hoeing.  There are things coming up that might be weeds or might be flowers, I don't know.  And a lot of bindweed, which is bad.  If you are here in the UK, I hope you are enjoying your long weekend and perhaps getting in some good quality craft time.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Fallen off the wagon and under the wheels

I've been so good about not buying craft stash for such a long time, largely by avoiding temptation through not attending my former round of craft shows like Miniatura or the Knitting and Stitching show. But this week I fell off the wagon with a vengeance, attending not one but three craft shows.  Oops.

The first one, the Makit Lacemaking, Quilting and Needlecraft fair in Peterborough last weekend, I could justify because it was fairly local, and had a large focus on lacemaking - so providing access to supplies that aren't readily available elsewhere. I had a pleasant visit with a fellow bobbin lace beginner. The fair was a good size, sort of medium, well worth going to but not so big that it was exhausting.  There were probably at least a dozen stands relating to lacemaking, including several bobbin makers and stands selling supplies, pillows, patterns etc.  I was looking for a couple of reels of thinner thread than I have been using so far, which I bought. I also bought 20 unfinished wooden bobbins, the cheapest way to buy them, then when I got home I stained and varnished them myself.  I got some beads and wire for spangling the bobbins, and I also found a secondhand copy of Ros Snowden's Miniature Bobbin Lace which is all patterns for dollshouses like doilies and tablecloths.  Technically I know I can do the stitches, the tremendous challenge is that they are all in incredibly fine thread, much finer than anything I've done so far.  I'm going to have a go, and I've ordered some Madeira Cotona 80 thread for it.

The second fair, the I-Knit Fandango yarn fair, was an impulse ticket buy some months ago when it was first announced, prompted by happy memories of the previous I-Knit Weekenders which had included speakers, workshops, fashion shows, live music etc.  However, it later emerged that the Fandango was only going to be a yarn market, with no other events, which was a disappointment.

I was considering not going to the Fandango at all, despite having a ticket, but my willpower drained away when I regarded the temptingly nearby London Kensington Dollshouse Festival on the same day, one of the best dollshouse fairs in the world.  I hadn't been to KDF for a few years now, and was feeling increasingly out of touch with the miniatures hobby. So I ended up going to both.

KDF was great, even when trying not to spend money. I used to get a bit bored with it because it was mostly the same traders, who were always in the same spots.  This year they rearranged everybody, which made it feel much fresher.  I was also surprised at how many new traders there were, including some younger artisans crafting upmarket expensive dollshouses.  It suggests the hobby is picking up again now that the economy is improving. There was a fantastic display of items in the lobby which had been entered in the new competition for makers, 'Perfection in Miniature Awards' (PIMA), with the winner being a working scale replica of a Swiss Army knife complete with multiple tools. Some lovely items in that display case.

I saw lots of things that I would have bought if I had more money, and lots of things that I couldn't afford in any case but were still lovely to look at.  But my purchases were another house teapot from Sally Meekin to add to my collection of them, a kit to make a decorated blanket box from Art of (who also threw in a free gift of some mini clock faces), a cast metal dollshouse from Phoenix, and three non-working resin clocks from Hall's Miniature Clocks.
The Phoenix house has two floors inside, a staircase, and a few pieces of cast-in-place furniture, so lots to paint up.  Phoenix have definitely upped their game: they specialise in cast metal items and it used to be all jumbled anonymously in stapled bags with minimal labelling, with a fair bit of sprue and flash making it even harder to see what the item was supposed to be.  This time they had a good sized table with most things assembled, cleaned up and already primed, unbagged and in trays, making it much easier to shop their range.

Off to Fandango then, where I ate my lunch with Maurice who repairs knitting machines, so we had a chat about my ribber problems and he gave me some advice on calibration.  I strolled around the not-huge marketplace, which was almost entirely indy dyers and small yarn companies like Blacker.  I wasn't especially tempted until I came across a sock pattern inspired by the Outlander series called Lady of Lallybroch by JavaPurl Designs. Once I bought that, then I had to buy a couple of Jamie-inspired buttons for the sock's cuffs, and a skein of sock yarn from SparkleDuck, Galaxy in the Autumn Leaves colourway (75% superwash merino, 20% nylon, 5% stellina, bottom in picture).  And while I was at Sparkleduck I couldn't resist a skein of Pebble (85% superwash BFL, 15% Donegal nep) with an intriguing dark tuft. Both very pretty.

So excuse me while I go sell a few more premium bonds to pay for all the above. But it felt nice to pretend to have money again, just for a day  :)


This week I finished an Owl toy which was a free gift with Let's Knit magazine a while back. I stalled on it when I ran out of dark pink for the wings, but decided to just finish it up with light pink wings instead.

I've been machine knitting a marled cotton t-shirt, which has a ribbed hem and a v-neck.  The ribber didn't want to play at all, which is why I was talking to Maurice about it today.  I got it sort of working in the end, but it's not right. The t-shirt is plain but good for practice on shaping, neckline finishing etc. I've done the front and back so far.

I've been sewing up the pink cabled cardigan that I knit a while ago. For some reason I've been really procrastinating on this, usually I like sewing up.  I sewed on the neck trim around the back neck last night, tried it on and realised it was gaping. So had to unpick what I had done (always harder) and remove some of the neck trim, and re-graft it.  So many ends to darn in...

I've started a new commuter knitting project, a completely pointless handbag designed by Clare Scope-Farrell for the July 2012 issue of Simply Knitting. I don't even carry a handbag but there is something strangely appealing about the vintage impracticality of the design. Perhaps I shall use it for knitting accessories.

On the sewing front, I'm back on the UFO list and have dug out the Stack and Whack Sara's Stars quilt that I was completing when we were in the rental house a year ago.  At the time, I wasn't sure about the blue background colour but now I like it.  I've been shopping my stash to see if I have a border fabric I can use.  I tried the dark red but I don't think it has enough contrast. I'm considering the blue border at the moment - what do you think? The quilt is pretty wild so I think it needs a more solid border to calm it down and set it off.

I finally finished the Rowan denim yarn messenger bag. It's come out fairly well, I decorated it with some Cath Kidston buttons from my stash.  It's stiffened with fusible fleece so holds its shape, and lined with quilting cotton. The denim yarn is attractively faded and soft after its trip through the washing machine.

On the bobbin lace front, I've started a longer strip of the Pricking 6 lace that I did the sample of . I'm making it long enough that I could use it to trim an antimacassar perhaps, and it's going fairly well. Having done the sample, I'm familiar with the pattern now so I can catch myself if I start going wrong. I'm enjoying it.

Hope you've had a crafty week also!

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Twelve years old but who's counting

Yes, this week I 'topped' my Lone Star Quilt, purchased at the Chicago quilt festival in 2003. So it's only taken 12 years.  And it's still not quilted.  But it looks good, I'm pleased with it. It's 80 inches square so it covers a double bed quite well. And I like the reproduction Civil War fabrics.

You may recall I was trying to get the directional border fabric to a) all face upwards and b) line up horizontally at the seams.  It just shows the flexibility of fabric that despite cutting the side borders in one length, starting from the same pattern place, they didn't end up at the same pattern place despite both measuring 80". As there is an obvious horizontal pattern, I had to cheat a little on the bottom border. I was able to line up the top border quite well horizontally. On the bottom border I had to cut the third segment crookedly by about three-quarters of an inch so that the horizontal pattern lined up on both ends.  It's a subtle flaw but would probably get marks off if I ever  try entering it in a quilt show.

As a reward for finishing a UFO, I went off piste from the UFO list and whipped off a few fun projects.  I finished the second Sleep Eye Visor which turned out well, and I used a remnant of good quality cotton velvet to make a cushion cover for an IKEA inner pad to go on our window seat. I also tried out this fun Vintage Caravan Pincushion tutorial, although I didn't so much as follow the tutorial as look at the picture and make up my own smaller version.  I'm going to use it as a pincushion for my bobbin lace pins.

The tutorial recommends glueing cardboard underneath to prop the wheels apart - I used a length of balsa wood instead for a neater result. I had a plastic key in my box of findings (I don't know where from) so I sewed it onto the bottom to be the trailer hitch.  So cute!  Although I know I could do a neater job if I made it again, but I probably never will :)

On the knitting front, I finished the miniature Aran jumper for the next square of the GAA Afghan, it's cute as well.

I've started the next square, which is the Fenick square showing the Tree of Life.

I'm still working on the BotFA MKAL Shawl, a.k.a the shawl that will never die.  The number of stitches on each row is just ridiculous now and I'm waking up every morning with quite stiff fingers from overuse.

Commuter knitting this week was a free kit from Let's Knit magazine for a striped baby hat.  Rather squeaky acrylic yarn, but quite pretty colours. I'll probably give this to my young pregnant colleague at work.


The lawn edging arrived late on Tuesday and most of the evenings since then were wet, so today was the first day I could tackle putting it in.  Tackle being the right word, or even wrestling wouldn't be far wrong.  This stuff is six inches wide and comes in 5m (over 15 feet) rolls. It's metal and wants to stay rolled up. And although it's not as flimsy as I feared, it is flimsy enough that it only has to hit a small rock and it won't go any further into the ground.  So it's rather like wrestling a recalcitrant, awkward snake - you push down one loop and another loop pops up and the end starts rolling up again, and then the wind catches the loose end which starts waving... I've done four hours work on it today and feel quite stiff, but really don't have that much to show for it.  I've done round the central round patio, and around about half the snowman lawn. Not worth a picture because it won't show up.  However, DH did take a picture of me out in the garden in my fetching old clothes, transplanting some Black Eyed Susans to temporarily fill up the border where our privacy trellis will go one day.

Tomorrow I'm going to the Makit Lacemaking, Quilting and Needlecraft Fair in Peterborough, my first craft fair for ages since I've been trying to avoid temptation.  I'm mainly going to get some more lacemaking threads, which are hard to find on the high street.  Willpower on maximum...

Saturday, 2 May 2015

We have a path

We got up nice and early today ready for the gravel delivery at 8am. DH even put on his gardening clothes and went to wait outside.  He came back about 8:45 because he was getting cold, and at 9:15am I started contacting the landscaping centre trying to find out where our gravel was.  They said they were running late and it would come around 10am, but it didn't actually turn up until almost 10:30 by which time we were both a bit grumpy at all the hanging around.  So I wasn't that sympathetic as the driver tried to get his massively long lorry close enough to our driveway  (now hemmed in by parked cars on either side which wouldn't have been there if he had come at 8am) to crane off the bulk bag of 900kg of Breedon self-binding gravel.

Earlier in the week I spent 4.5 hours crawling around on my knees digging in and placing edging bricks (reclaimed from the former patio we dug up) and levelling them, and laying the weedproof membrane in the centre patio. Then last night I laid membrane down the path itself ready for gravel.  So this is what it looked like first thing this morning.

The driver inquired if we knew how to lay self-binding gravel, and gave us a brief lesson.  That sent me upstairs to the computer where I googled and found out that self-binding gravel is different from normal gravel, and we should have put the weedproof membrane under the hardcore instead of on top of it.  Too late now with the edging stones all laid.!  Hopefully it will be alright.

Cue a couple of hours of shoveling, wheelbarrowing, raking and tamping down, and we now have a lovely golden path! This type of gravel is supposed to clump together into a hard surface rather than stay loose and get kicked around.

That's our octagonal planter in the centre, waiting for some feature plants. And obviously the circular bed will look better once it has the hedge planted in it. I have ordered some lawn edging which is coming on Tuesday.  We can't afford the good stuff (Everedge) but I didn't want to waste money on plastic, so we've gone for corrugated galvanised metal edging by Gardman which should last a long time. So the next big job will be to edge all the lawns and at the same time we can cut lawn bricks and fill in the last bits of lawn on the lefthand side of the circular patio.

Meanwhile I am stalking used kitchens on eBay for the dollshouse room, having given up on the kitchen fitter producing any cabinets.  I've come close to winning on a few of them but haven't been successful yet. Still haven't had the third builders quote for the boundary walls, even though I chased him.  I suspect he doesn't want to do the work but I will try him again next week.


I finished the basketweave socks in lovely silky Mirasol Tupa, which I bought in Vermont four years ago.  This is a picture before I blocked them and they are very cosy.

I finished the body of the miniature Aran jumper for the GAA Afghan and have started the first sleeve.  Eventually this will be appliqued onto the plain square I knit earlier.

I continue to trudge onwards with the BotFA MKAL Shawl and have started a little striped baby hat that came as a free kit with Let's Knit magazine to be my new commuter knitting.

For my summer sleep eye visor, I took apart my old eye visor and salvaged its cool-feeling inner nylon lining, and re-used it in a new visor.  I haven't put the binding on yet which will be cut out of the purple fabric. I chose the daisy fabric because it seemed suitably summery.

I have mastered pricking number six of my bobbin lace on my third attempt, and am getting on fairly well with it now, although I am still painfully slow.  I'm trying to think of a project where I could use a longer piece of this lace because I quite like the sample I am working on.  And m-i-l phoned to say she loves her Torchon lace bookmark, she's very impressed and can't see the mistakes at all.  She's taking it to her quilting group to show them, so let's hope none of them do bobbin lace either  :)

I've started cutting the borders for my Lone Star Quilt, although with limited yardage I am having to invisibly applique short sections to create the top and bottom borders in this directional fabric.  I do the applique by cutting the first segment to the correct width, pressing under a c. half-inch seam allowance on the short end, giving the seam allowance a quick squirt with 505 temporary adhesive and then pressing it down onto the uncut fabric main piece until it exactly lines up with the pattern.  Then I flip over the cut piece and take it to the sewing machine and stitch along the trough of the press mark for an almost invisible join.  I press the join, then take it to the cutting table and cut the just-joined fabric to continue on the 8.5" width of the border.  I have to join three pieces for each border.  (Turns out that when you put a partly empty can of 505 spray into storage for two years then try to use it, what you actually produce is extensive bubble blowing of sticky half-set gel - luckily I had an unused can as well).

It's traditional in the UK to have rotten weather for any bank holiday (long) weekend, and this one is no exception: it's grey, clouded over, cold and windy, and threatening rain.  But it can go ahead and rain because our new path is all laid!

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