Saturday, 27 June 2015

Like-minded people

It seems to be a thing, in my new area, for groups to organise Craft Days - there's one almost every month somewhere within a half hour's drive. I had previously been to the Lace Day organised by the Olney Lace Group (but actually held in a village hall I forget the name of), and there I heard about several others including the one I went to today.

It was in Castlethorpe, a little village down towards Milton Keynes, and about 50 ladies attended from 10-4pm, bringing along all kinds of crafts.  I took my bobbin lace and there were about a dozen other lacemakers, there were knitters, crocheters, cross-stitchers, a scrapbooker, a few people stitching on patchwork, tapestry. In other words, it was a room of like-minded people.  All different ages but mostly late-middle-aged onwards, all very friendly and enjoying the day.  Admission is by pre-booked ticket, which got you tea/coffee/biscuits on arrival, and afternoon tea with cake in the late afternoon.  For an additional low sum, I was treated to a lunchtime feast, so I've eaten very well today. There was a raffle, a bric-a-brac table, and two traders so I was able to buy both some grey quilting fabric for my latest project, and some more lace threads for trying out some of the dollshouse lace patterns.

I spent the morning happily chatting and working on my Torchon lace mat, and managed to complete the first quarter and turn the corner to start on the next one.  It's going fairly well apart from some 'reverse lacing' as the ladies at my table described it, when we made a mistake and had to unpick. I had a few experienced lacemakers come to inspect my work and they thought it looked pretty good, so I think I am getting better.

By about 2pm my eyes were going funny from staring at the lace pillow for so long, so I got out my knitting.  I've finished all the 'wicker' pieces for the Completely Useless Handbag and have now started on the daisies to decorate it.  I need to knit 22 daisies and each one has 12 petals for which you cast on/cast off each time.  So it's going to take a while - I'm on my second one.

I also took my new Rowan Summer Tweed Cardigan project, using the yarn that I so laboriously untangled a few weeks ago.  I've chosen a Kim Hargreaves pattern for a cardigan with a simple lace border, which was in Simply Knitting magazine but was originally published in Rowan magazine as 'Dune' apparently.  I've modified it to knit it in the round up to the armholes.

Other knitting this week has been the 'Hewitt' square for the GAA Afghan, which has some very odd cables like 4/3/4 (crossing four stitches over four, but over a middle portion of two purls behind the cable, and a knit stitch which comes up in front of the cable) and 5/2/5.  I normally cable without a cable needle but I've had to dig the cable needles out of hibernation for those ones.  I've also done a few more rows on the Que Sera Cardigan.  Obviously, by knitting two summer cardigans at once, it pretty much guarantees that I won't finish either until it's winter again but there you go.

I also knit up a free kit for a fairly ridiculous baby hat designed to look like a bumble bee. I wouldn't have bothered normally but it was a free kit on Let's Knit magazine to support the RNIB charity, so I've sent it in to them and apparently the RNIB will sell the 'RNIBee' hats to raise funds. Look out for babies in strange hats in your area coming soon...

We had our first barbecue of the year tonight, and for once my steaks came out lovely and tender instead of like old shoe leather.  I did some sausages as well so DS was very happy with the meal. DH wasn't quite as happy as he likes his steak to be shoe-leather-coloured through and through, no pink allowed. We've been picking our strawberries this week and there are still loads to come.  They aren't as sweet as some I've had but have a lovely fresh strawberry flavour and it feels really good to be picking something from my own garden. DS has had a go at making a meringue tonight, if it turns out then we will have that with the strawberries tomorrow.

The garden arches have arrived so we have given the pieces two coats of brown wood preservative and tonight we started assembling them.  Tomorrow hopefully we will finish putting them together and perhaps start digging the post holes to install them.  They will give some valuable vertical elements to the garden and be something else to add interest when we look down from the house.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Feeling like a quilter again

Quilting was my main hobby for a long time, but for the last five years I've done very little of it.  I sort of ran out of steam once I owned over 50 quilts and had given them to most of the family, and I wasn't having much luck selling them online. I also didn't like my crowded sewing corner in my bedroom. And then of course it all got packed away for two years while we  moved house, apart from the Singer FW and a tiny bit of stash.  Even here in the new house, my sewing room in the cold basement was not attracting me.

But the last few weeks I feel like old skills are gradually coming back, and dormant instincts waking up again.  It's so much nicer having a design wall, and all my tools and fabric to hand - without having to burrow under the bed or in a crowded closet trying to find things.  And as well as being warmer in the basement, look at the view I've got from my sewing room:

This week saw the launch of the #CozyAfternoonQuilt free online BOM, with the cutting directions for the whole quilt and the instructions for the first two blocks. I'm doing the pieced version but there are also applique patterns available. I'm really enjoying my cheerful fabric colours, all from stash. The directions are really clear and easy to follow.

I also added the borders on to the Vintage Snowball quilt. I used a 30s repro from my stash because it had exactly the same red colour in it - it's a somewhat unusual terracotta-y red which I couldn't match to anything else I had.

So I was able to move the Snowball quilt off the UFO list and onto the 'needs to be quilted' list.  Next up is actually another snowball quilt I started on a Kaffe Fassett workshop, cut from blue & white fabrics that looks like a mosaic.  It needs borders but I've never been able to decide what I want to do with it:  lap quilt? tablecloth? wallhanging?  I've put it on the design wall while I think about it.

On a more prosaic note, I took in three pairs of linen work trousers now that the warm weather is here.  I'm thinner than I used to be, so I chopped one inch off the side seams and finished the raw edges with my serger.


After knitting a few tension swatches with the Shilasdair slubby cotton I bought at Alexander Palace a few years ago, I've decided to knit the Que Sera Cardigan by Kirsten Kapur, which is a free pattern on I'm quite pleased with the texture I'm getting.  I'll probably do an interim block after six inches or so, just to check gauge.

This week I stitched together the machine knit t-shirt in marled cotton, from a pattern called 'Rosy' in the May/June 2004 issue of Machine Knitting News.  I was pleasantly surprised to find it fits me fairly well: it's the right length, right depth of neckline, shoulders are hitting almost the right place, armholes sitting where they should.  The only real issue is that there is too much fullness in the sleeves which is making the armholes flare.  Trying to imagine how to alter a 2-D sleeve to improve fit on a 3D armscye makes my head hurt but I think it is something to do with how broad and shallow the sleeve head is.  I might try making this again and see if I can figure out how to make the sleeve less wide while still keeping it tall enough to fit into the armhole. I wore this to the office on Friday and it was quite comfortable.

Bobbin Lace

I stitched my strip of Torchon lace onto the vintage cloth and I'm really pleased with how it looks.  The lace is wobbly and amateurish but it looks quite nice as an edging.  Because I'm a beginner I wasn't really sure how to handle all the thread ends but I darned them all into the hem of the cloth and it's come out better than I thought it might. It looks nice on my little sofa in my room.

I spent several hours on Sunday night drawing out the pricking for a Torchon mat onto graph paper (quite difficult when your brain can't count accurately) and then pricking the holes.  For this intermediate project I needed to wind 34 pairs of bobbins - a lot of winding!  As a longtime winder of sewing bobbins, I felt there had to be an easier way. After considering and discarding my food mixer, I experimented with my electric drill and it actually worked quite well.  I cupped a small circle of thick felt around the head of each bobbin and clamped it gently in the jaws, then squeezed the trigger to wind the thread on. I was able to wind all the bobbins in an hour or so.

I ran out of wooden bobbins so I had to stop procrastinating and get on with spangling the 20 bobbins I bought at the Peterborough Makit fair then stained and varnished myself.

Then I could get started on the mat, which apart from a few mistakes needing unpicking, I'm really enjoying. It looks fairly impressive to have so many bobbins on the pillow after doing all my previous small samples. You do one quarter triangle at a time, I'm almost halfway through the first triangle. The finished mat will be about six inches square.


Last Sunday DH helped me dig out a circle of lawn, although he regretted it because that was one of the few parts of the lawn that is growing well, lol.

Then on Monday morning I spent a couple of hours hauling sand and some of our used bricks, and I made this! The plants were purchased quite cheaply from a church plant sale.

I was inspired by a similar feature we saw when we were touring the open gardens.  This gives us another nice thing to look at from our kitchen window, along with all the flowers that are coming out.

And look what is peeping out from amongst the leaves of the strawberry patch.  I think we might pick our first berries tomorrow.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

A senior moment - aaack! I'm too young!

You know that moment of realisation that you've done something really stupid, and you just can't believe you've done it?

Today I was sewing together 36 vintage snowball blocks into six rows of six blocks.  I spotted that I had pieced three blocks in Row 1 in the wrong orientation, luckily before I joined it to Row 2.  I ripped out the seams, telling myself off, carefully resewed them, pressed them again, and then joined Row 1 to Row 2.

Then I hold up the two joined rows to inspect my work, and realised I had sewn the three blocks right back into the same wrong orientation! And this time I had to rip out the row seam first and then AGAIN rip the block seams.  Grrrr, smack head several times...

The blocks came from a vintage top I bought in Sisters, Oregon back in 2007.  I thought I had a picture of the whole quilt top, but I only have this image where it appears on the right hand side.  It had blue sashing with red corner squares, which were vintage fabric but the colours didn't look good with the block fabrics. The blocks are hand pieced but were joined together by machine into blocks of four, then sashed.  I suspect someone found some blocks and joined them together into a top to make it more sale-able.

I ripped out the sashing and started playing on the design wall.  Due to the extremes of values (dark and light) the groups of four blocks didn't work well at all, so I ripped them all out to end up with 36 single blocks.  Then I played some more and in the end I came up with this arrangement where the dark blocks form a diamond and the duplicate blocks are arranged symmetrically.

So I've sewn those together now and I just need to add an outer border.  Then that will be another UFO I can move to the 'needs to be quilted' list.

Before I tackled the snowball blocks, I finished sewing the borders on the Stack and Whack Sara's Stars quilt.  I'm pleased with how it's turned out, it was so enjoyable to sew all the kaleidoscope stars and hexagons, which are all from the same fabric as the outer border, and see all the amazing designs emerging. The colours really sing to me.


This week I finished the little baby cardigan in Lion's Brand worsted acrylic for the girl at work. The pattern is 'Miss Sadie Baby Kimono' by Mary Kate Long and it's  a free pattern on Ravelry which is written for either DK or worsted weight.

I've blocked the machine knitted marled t-shirt pieces after finishing the v-neck trim application, and I'm just waiting for it to dry so I can sew the side seams and set in the sleeves (pic is of the sleeves blocking).

There hasn't been much commuter knitting this week as I have gotten totally sucked into re-reading the Aubrey and Maturin books by Patrick O'Brien - I've just finished book 6.  It's actually been a bit of a mental wrench a few times as my train pulls into London and I have to take myself away from some tense naval battle in 1812 off the New England coast and turn back into a London commuter.

I finished the Fenick square for my GAA Afghan.  I've lost track of whether this is block 17 or 18 so not sure whether I have 2 or 3 squares left to knit. I've cast on for the next square - I hope it's square 19.

Other stuff

I finished painting the mirror frame.  It looks quite dull in this photo, in reality it came out a sort of goldy-greeny-bronze sort of colour.  It suits the hallway a lot better than the original orange pine frame. I really like this sort of 'quick fix' where with relatively little labour or expense, you can completely change the look of something. I had to buy a tin of gold paint for £4 but I had everything else to create this effect.

I had a go at flower arranging using some of the early summer flowers from our garden.  I've never been much good at flower arranging but it is easier when you have a selection of ferns and greenery to draw upon. I was disappointed that the rose only lasted three days though before it started to droop, and the hydrangeas were limp by four days. It almost seems a shame to bring them in from the garden then. But they did look fabulous in the hallway, made me feel very posh.

I finished the strip of dollshouse bobbin lace, but can't show it to you made up as a towel end because all my miniature toweling fabric is packed still.  I'll put it safely away until the dollshouse room is set up.  The long strip of lace is almost finished, I'm just working the final corner and then I will seam it onto a vintage cloth.

The garden is looking pretty good.  After a few weeks without many flowers, we now have geraniums, foxgloves, roses and other unidentified things blooming.  However, we've realised that there are no apples forming on the apple tree despite the brave show of blossom it put out after we moved it.  I guess the stress of moving was too much for it to fruit this year.  Hopefully next year we will get some apples.

DS will be coming back from university soon for the summer, which will change the dynamic of the household. It will be lovely to have him back, but there will be a period of adjustment while we get used to having a third person in the house, and he gets used to not being as independent as he is at school.  I also think we will need to have a conversation about pitching in with housework this time round, although he did do a lot of cooking last summer which was nice.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Gardens and cream tea

Today (Sunday) was a lovely sunny day at last. We spent the morning grubbing out the copious crop of weeds from our own garden, and putting down some mulch - which we should have done weeks ago but the garden wasn't ready then.  But in the afternoon we headed off to the pretty Northamptonshire village of Creaton, which was having its annual Open Garden Day.

Ten lovely gardens were open, and it was quite enjoyable to stroll around the pretty village in the sunshine and just walk into people's gardens.  You pay £4 to get a map showing all ten gardens and then you can visit them in whatever order you like.  We saw so many lovely plants and it really made me wish that I knew more about gardening. Also lots of lovely features like ponds, gazebos, arches, sundials, dining nooks etc.  Makes our infant garden look quite boring and open. And we had a lovely cream tea at one of the houses along the route, in fact they brought out an entire platter of cakes and just left it for us to try whatever we wanted - yum yum!


Yesterday we went to Northampton to run some errands and stopped into the marvelous Fabric Millshop, which is a huge Aladdin's cave of  bargain gorgeous home dec and upholstery fabrics, as well as craft fabric, trims etc.  I wanted to recover two cushions in the living room to tie in better with our blue painted walls, and I chose two fabrics that picked up the right blue colour, plus two more cushion inners and some continuous zips.  A bit of sewing last night and this morning and we have four new cushions. The plaid fabric was only £2.95 a metre!  I'm pleased with how the cushions make our ratty old sofa look more like it belongs in the room.

I started to add the outer border to the Stack and Whack quilt.  The short borders went on fine, but the first long border is too short so I've measured something wrong - not sure whether it was the quilt or the border fabric.  Need to investigate.

I stumbled across a free online BOM called the Cosy Afternoon Free BOM by Jacquelynne Steves and decided to sign up.  Not because I need a new project (I really, really don't...) but because I thought it might get my creative juices flowing again and bring back some of my quilting mojo.  I pulled some fabrics today ready for the kick off on 15 June. What do you think? I was going for a vintage feel.


I finished the teddybear for the pregnant colleague at work.  For some reason his head looks a bit small - perhaps my tension tightened up from the stress of playing Scrabble with the in-laws? :)

I knit a pair of booties for her as well, and have started a quick newborn cardigan in worsted weight Lion Brand acrylic.

Commuter knitting has been the same. This week I also made a start on a cardigan for me out of slubby cotton yarn.

Do you remember this bargain buy of 'tangled at the dye stage' Rowan Summer Tweed, from Texere at Fibre East?

I've spent probably about 8-10 hours in the last few weeks untangling the blue yarn. I was very disappointed to find that hidden in the coiled skein were multiple broken ends, ranging from just a few feet up to several yards.  I have managed to wind two big continuous balls from it, then I have some medium balls then some pretty useless balls of lots of small scraps.  The plan is to knit a cardigan for summer from it, but I need to do some tension swatches now that I've untangled it.  Not looking forward to ever untangling the purple skein now...

Bobbin Lace

I was almost finished the long strip of bobbin lace but I've found a vintage cloth that I think I will attach it to, and the cloth is wider so I need to extend the strip by two more fans. That means I've got to move the lace up the pricking again, so that might be my job for tomorrow's bobbin lace meeting.  I've also got started on the first dollshouse edging.  It's a fairly simple pattern of fans and ground, the real challenge is that the thread is much thinner (Cotona 30) than I've used before.  As dollshouse scales go, this is a pretty wide lace edging - it would equate to something like 6" deep in real life. But I'm proud of what I've managed so far, even though it's only half an inch long. Now that I'm familiar with the pattern I can manage it with my glasses on, although I occasionally have to use a magnifying glass to check if I've missed a pinhole or not.

Around the house

While my f-i-l was here, he narrowed the quilt ladder he built for me last year so that it fits in the corner of our hallway. It makes quite a nice display area for rotating quilts from my collection, and I see it every time I walk to my bedroom. The top two are vintage 30s quilts that I bought on holidays in America, the third one down is a vintage top that I added borders to and quilted, and the bottom one is my Piece o' Cake applique quilt that I finished a few years ago.

I've put a first coat of paint on the frame of a cheap pine wall mirror that came with us from our old house.  My plan is to do an antiqued gold finish to make it look a bit more 'period'.  I saw a Youtube video by a picture framer showing a three layered technique: base coat + gold coat + antiqueing stain. I've got some gold paint but no antiqueing stain. I might try normal wood stain and see if it works.

Yesterday we spent a few hours constructing a cage of netting for our inherited strawberry patch, to keep the birds out. It looks like we should get a pretty good crop, although they will be hard to pick as the patch has sprawled to about six feet by 12 feet. I think we need to do some judicious runner removal afterwards to try to create some lanes between the plants because they are just all growing together at the moment.  I put down some straw underneath all the plants I could reach, to keep the berries away from the dirt and the snails. Although our garden seems to be inhabited by rare acrobatic snails, I've found several climbing high into our pear tree nibbling on leaves, so low level straw probably won't give them any trouble.

Monday, 1 June 2015

If this is summer then why do I need my woolly hat and gloves?

First of June today, and when I went out this morning I had to combat the icy wind with a double layer of jacket/jumper, a woolly hat and gloves.  Summer, yay.  Summer in Siberia perhaps. Even Canada was warmer than this on 1 June.  Still, at least it's been raining after the long dry spell so my transplanted garden plants are looking happier. Some of my inherited flowers are blooming now, gorgeous paeonies, roses, geraniums, and I am still discovering plants popping out of nowhere and having to move a few things.  The transplanted 'lawn bricks' have been enjoying the damper weather, and the seed I planted on the future patio area is sprouting a green fuzz so the birds didn't get all of it.

We bought a few more plants for the garden last weekend, including a hydrangea for the central planter.  Also the baby hedging plants arrived and are now planted out - you can barely see them in this photo but one day hopefully they will be a trimmed hedge about two feet high.


Bit late blogging this week as we had the in-laws staying for the weekend. That went off fine, they liked my cooking and enjoyed the pretty Northamptonshire countryside.  We stopped in at a quilting shop as my m-i-l is also a quilter, and I bought a metre of fabric for the border of my Stack and Whack Sara's Stars quilt.  The first time I've bought fabric for a very long time, it felt a bit weird.

As it turns out, although the fabric was a good match, I've decide not to use it because it was 'shouting' at me when I put it on the design wall.  I've added a blue inner border which really helps calm the quilt down, and I've calculated that I have just enough of the Stack and Whack main fabric to add an outer border which I think is going to look better than plain red.

I felt a bit coldish on the bank holiday weekend so I spent a morning nesting in front of my computer,catching up on episodes of Outlander (not very good) and Youtube videos while I knitted and then did some stitching on my hand applique block for my Grandmother's Last Quilt applique quilt.  I've done the four flowers and now I am stitching on 20 leaves around the circle.

On Tuesday, my friend drove up from where I used to live for a visit and to see our new house.  She brought me this lovely handmade shoe bag with applique on it, which would make a good knitting project bag also. It is especially welcome as it is made from fabric from the stash of our mutual older friend whom we sadly lost last year. Isn't it nice that our stash can live on after us and bring happy memories?


Commuter knitting continues to be the pointless handbag but while the in-laws were here I started a new easy project which is another baby teddy bear toy. This is about the fourth time I've made it, but this time I am using brown as my young colleague at work doesn't want to know if she is having a boy or girl so I can't pick the usual blue or pink. I was knitting on this project while we played a couple of games of Scrabble last night. As well as calming down the impulse to kill people, it turned out to be a good strategy because I didn't look at the board until it was my turn each time. Then I just put down the needles and laid out the highest scoring word I could see to fit onto the grid.  Not only did I remain much calmer, I won the first game and tied for winner on the second - not bad when I haven't played for years and my in-laws are fairly keen players.

Just before they came, I finally finished sewing together the Cabled Cardigan in Eco cotton. I  had to press the seams and sew on the buttons but had been procrastinating.  I wore it on the first day of their visit, it's comfortable but surprisingly heavy. So it had a tendency to want to slide backwards on my shoulders leaving an increasing gap at the back of my neck.  Other than that it was fine and will be good for wearing to the office in this transitional weather. It probably could have benefited from being a tad longer, but being cotton it will probably droop with time anyway (just like me)  :)

Other stuff

My strip of bobbin lace is getting longer.  My f-i-l wanted to see how it was done so I did a bit while he was watching.  Partway through I realised that in the stress of being watched I had done some of the stitches completely wrong, but to preserve my image of skilled lacemaker I had to press on regardless.  So this afternoon when the bobbin lace group comes along, I will start out by unpicking that area! I've also started preparing the pricking for my first attempt at miniature lace for the dollshouse. I've chosen a Rosetta Stone-like pattern which is a largish towel edging (for a mini towel) which is given in two sizes.  I will try the larger size first and if I can do that, then I will downsize to the (microscopic) smaller size in finer thread. I've had to put my glasses on just to prick the holes in the pattern though which doesn't bode well for actually working the lace!

When is a new house not 'new' any more?

Tomorrow is our one year anniversary of getting the keys to our 'new' house. On the one hand, it still feels very new as there is still so much I would like to do, and add, and change. On the other hand, a year is a long time: we've been through four seasons here now, two redundancy scares, DS has been in and out for his first and second years of university, we've made major transformations in its appearance, we've celebrated holidays and birthdays.  But I still feel grateful almost every day for it, for the space, for the craft rooms, for the sunlit rooms, for the period features.  Not so much for the people yodelling down the street at 2am going home from the pub, but you can't have everything and that's part of being right in the town centre.  So happy birthday to our new house - one year and counting and hopefully with many many more to come.

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