Monday, 28 December 2015

Sugar overload

You know you are approaching maximum holiday sugar capacity when even 21-year-old DS is whimpering that he just wants real food and can't face any more sweets. DH reckons he's put on 7.5 pounds the past week and I no longer feel comfortable wearing anything except stretchy leggings or track bottoms. Sigh, time for a New Year's diet again.

I hope you all had a pleasant Christmas. We had a relaxing day just the three of us, starting out with stockings (full of sweets) and culminating in a Christmas turkey feast which we are still ploughing through some days later. On Boxing Day we had a 2.5 hour drive to spend the day with the in-laws and overnight in a hotel before rejoining them for breakfast.  The obligatory present swap of course included huge amounts of sweets as did the catering.  It's a very Christmas-sy thing to do, visiting with relatives, but at the same time it can be somewhat trying and we were all glad to head for home again.  We stopped at the Outlet Mall in Swindon to pick up a similar casserole pan to the one my sister-i-l had used for cooking dinner which I think will be really useful, and also found a Sheridan outlet where we picked up some 70% off duvet covers which are quite welcome. Unfortunately we got stuck in traffic jams around the M40 and coming home took half again as long.

Although I refrained from wearing my "I get to knit, you get to live" button, my sock knitting did protect my sanity during the visit. I've started the Basket Check Socks from The Little Box of Socks by Charlene Schurch and Beth Parrott, using the other colourway of Arne and Carlos sock yarn that I bought in Oxford. I really like how the texture of garter stitches and slipped stitches is popping the colours and breaking up the stripes.

In the car I was knitting on my third pair of Arne and Carlos felted slippers, having finished and felted the second pair on Christmas Day. They are equally snuggly and I'm wearing them right now.  Here are pics before and after felting in the washing machine.

On Christmas Eve, I finished the rejuvenation of my 1/12th scale laundry roombox and hung it on the wall of our real laundry room. I never had a good place to hang this in our old house so it used to be in the kitchen, hanging under the upper cabinets. It had a terrible yellow paint job, and over the years had become splashed with all sorts of stuff as well as getting knocked around.

I gave it a really good degrease and clean up with my new favourite cleaner: sugar soap wipes, and tackled the plexiglas front with both sugar soap wipes and glass cleaner until it was finally spot free.  I repainted the box in blue using a Dulux tester pot (mixed to my choice of colour for just £3). I tidied up the inside, removed several items that were out of scale, and added an ironing board from my stash.  The shelves are still somewhat bare but I will look out at dollshouse shows for more things to add to the basement-type clutter.  I've hung a vintage embroidered mat from the towel rail and I'm quite pleased with how much better it looks now.

Also on Christmas Eve (which was my day off) I cut out all the pieces for 12 star blocks finishing at 6" each, for my Let it Snow quilt. Today I've pieced some of them, they will go in two rows of six above and below the central panel.

I found it quite handy to cut the flying geese for the star points using my Fons & Porter flying geese ruler, since they are scrappy and each star is of different fabric. The ruler makes it quite easy because you don't need to measure apart from cutting the right size strip to start with.

We've been watching a lot of Christmas television the last few days, films like Brave and The Croods, and shorts like Stickman, the new Shaun the Sheep with Llamas, Agatha Christie's And then there were None, etc.  As well as doing a lot of knitting, I finally finished hand-quilting my hand quilted cushion cover and today I made it up into a zipped cushion with piping, using some synthetic burgundy suede/velvet type fabric from my stash. It looks quite effective on the windowseat, and I like how the fabrucs I chose work with my design and with the window seat colours. It was nice to hand quilt something again although I am chagrined at how unskillful I have become.

In terms of crafty christmas pressies, I received an Optivisor magnification lens to go with the Optivisor headset that I've ordered so I can see what I am doing for miniatures; a Noro knitting magazine full of colourful patterns; some pretty ceramic handmade buttons, some gorgeous miniatures from a fellow dollshouse collector (thanks Anita!) and two lace bobbins from two lace friends, It's so nice to get crafty gifts from people who understand or share your hobbies.  Non craft gifts included a vintage style clear cake stand/dome, socks, a bottle of champagne, The Hobbit trilogy DVDs and of course lots and lots of sweets.

 And that's about it. I'm back at work for the next two days then get another long weekend thanks to the bank holiday. Happy new year!!

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Festive wishes

If you are celebrating Christmas tomorrow, then I hope you have a lovely day (and hopefully with better weather than the British rain currently driving against my windows!). Let's look forward to a happy new year with lots of crafting time.

Thank you also for reading my blog, I do appreciate your comments and tips and I always try to respond when I can     (if your Blogger profile is set to 'no email' then I just see a 'no-reply@blogger' address and I can't reply to you).

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Happy one month anniversary to me

This week I celebrated my one month anniversary in my new job. I'm starting to feel like I actually work there, and I've had good feedback on my performance so far which is reassuring. We're still not actually doing any real work, we are practicing but everything we do has to be checked by experienced staff before it is signed off, so it still feels like college rather than a proper job.  There is a huge amount to learn, and they keep giving us more challenging things to try. Some people are feeling rather overwhelmed and the general mood was sinking towards desperation last week - to the point where they called the entire cohort into a room to talk us off the ledge and assure us that we wouldn't have any more lectures over the christmas period so we will have time to practice and consolidate what we've been learning.  I wasn't feeling too bad, but I appreciate the opportunity to do some practice over the next few weeks.

I decided it was time for a treat as a reward - so on my day off I used my season ticket to return to Leicester then walked over to the legendary Fabric Guild, a warehouse-style quilting and craft shop which is probably the closest thing I've seen in the UK to the big American quilt shops like Hancocks or Joanne's. They buy in a lot of end of lines and discounted fabrics, and prices start from as low as £2/m. As well as fabric, they stock a lot of random things they get when haberdasheries close down or a factory unloads unwanted stock: all sorts of haberdashery, buttons, zips, trims, ribbons, some yarn, some books, lots of wadding, rulers etc.  My visit was made even better when I presented 15 vouchers from their loyalty scheme, dating back as far as 15 years ago when I used to visit. I asked if they were still valid and they were worth £1.25 each! So I had a happy splurge on qualifying haberdashery before starting my slow cruise around the store to see what else there was on offer.  Here's a pic of my eventual choice of loot:

- several colours of Kunin wool blend felt
- four scenic fat quarters
- a fat quarter of blue plaid and some blue snowflake fabric for my snowman quilt
- 9m of good quality gingham for quilt backing at £2/m
- six half-meters in poison green and pinky-red for my Grandmother's Last Quilt applique project
- zips
- several packets of pretty decorated wooden buttons
- a blue wash out marker
- a needle threader
- a Clover thimble
- three weights of fusible interfacing
- a string of wooden beads which will make great 'bun feet' for dollshouse furniture
- a necklace of beads on a chain, to wear
- a sheet of heavyweight template plastic

It was really fun and a bit like the old days when we had more money and I used to do a lot more stash accumulation.  I rounded the day off with lunch in a sushi restaurant and ice cream from a gelato store, both being establishments which I have walked past on my way to/from work and wanted to try.  Then in the evening we took DS and his girlfriend to see the new Star Wars film which they both liked.  DH and I thought it seemed like a thin-blooded remake of A New Hope but judging from the interweb reaction we are in the minority. Still, I'm glad I saw it so I know what all the hype is about.


This week I've been working on my snowman quilt, stitching around the fusible applique and adding detail like beads for their mouths and three-dimensional scarves (those are going to be trimmed shorter than they are at the moment). I've also started the mitten blocks. It's quite fun choosing fabrics to use - I had some great 'knitted' fabric which I've used for one pair of mittens, and I've fussy cut snowman fabric for two more pairs. All very seasonal.

I finished the Arne and Carlos vanilla socks and blocked them.  They look good but I think the next pair I will do a heel flap heel to fit my foot better.

I needed something else for commuter knitting after finishing the socks, so I started an Arne and Carlos knitted bauble which was a free kit that came with Let's Knit magazine. They are fairly straightforward to knit, but I didn't like how they look a bit wonky or lopsided when they are stuffed according to the instructions. So I had the idea of putting a real Christmas bauble inside to give it a better shape.  I worked the chart until just before the decreases, then added the bauble. It was a bit awkward knitting the next few rows with the bauble inside, but as I got closer to the tip, it got easier.  I think it was worth it because now the bauble has a really nice shape. You could also use a styrofoam ball instead of raiding your Christmas tree.

The new Lett Lopi yarn arrived from Deramores for my next two pairs of felted slippers.  I've cast on for the red and white pair from the Arne and Carlos book and am working a fair isle cuff before working the solid red foot. Hopefully these are going to fit and be as snuggly as the first pair which I am still wearing all the time.

Three more work days and it's Christmas - yay!!

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Christmas is in the house

Yes, we have spent the last few days Christmafying the house. We were both off Thursday so after putting up the garlands along the picture rail in the dining room, and hanging the light-up features in the front windows, we dragged DS out to look for a tree.  While I can afford it, and have the manpower to haul it home, I love having a real tree. And with our tall ceilings we wanted a big one again. We tried a garden centre where the tallest one was only about five feet, then headed to a nursery we found last year. Most of his were only five or six feet but when I explained what I was looking for, he headed to the edge of the lot and pulled up a gorgeous tree which is about nine feet high and very well shaped. I think he was beginning to worry it wouldn't sell, in this country of small houses, because he asked worriedly if we had room for it. I confidently answered in the affirmative and we proceeded to haggle our way to a price we were both happy with.

I was wondering if I had been a bit over-confident when we home and set it up on the stand so it could dry out (it had been raining on the lot, of course, being England in winter).  As it dried and relaxed, the bottom got wider, and wider, until eventually we had to pull it out of the corner into the room to accommodate the five foot plus width at the bottom. So we've had to turn the dining table sideways to make room. But it looks great and has a wonderful smell to it.

On Saturday when it was dry, we put on some carols and got DS to join us for some decorating.  About five minutes after DH and I had a conversation about how nice it was that our new cat wasn't trying to climb the Christmas tree, a little white head poked out of the branches about a meter and a half in the air. Good thing we have a sturdy tree stand.

We also did our new traditional gathering of green stuff from the garden and from a footpath, to heap up foliage on our two mantles and tuck ivy behind picture frames etc. This is me in the throes of putting together arrangements of ivy, gorse and pyracantha gathered from the footpath, holly from our own tree, and eucalyptus from the garden. Plus I cut some teasel heads and sprayed them gold.

I also hung up my new Christmas wallhangings on the doors in the hallway. The lights look really cool on the Stonehenge Starry Night panel. They are all on one string connecting to a battery pack which sits in a little pocket on the back of the quilt.  You just cut holes through the quilt and poke the bulbs through.

I mentioned that I was picking fabrics from my stash to start the 'Let it Snow' quilt pattern. I have been getting a bit frustrated with my sewing room because there is nowhere to put stuff that you need to hand but aren't immediately cutting/sewing/pressing. I did a bit of lateral thinking and went out and bought the cheapest ironing board I could find (£9.99 from Argos). A little work with a hacksaw to cut off the iron rest, and I have a portable shelf that just fits in the corner next to my cutting board. Most of the fabrics I've picked are now on that where I can grab them.

So I had an enjoyable time choosing fabrics for the various components for the central panel.  I pieced the two colour background from a great 'snow' fabric (which I originally bought as a sky fabric but it looks great as snow), and cut the snowmen from a piece of white wool felt which I preshrunk. The rest of the components were traced onto Steam a Seam Lite and fused on. My Steam a Seam is a bit stale so they aren't sticking as well as they could, but well enough that I will be able to stitch them down.  It was fun to see the snowmen coming to life.

I gave up on getting the second bobbin lace star done and just posted the original one to my m-i-l in their Christmas card. I will finish the second one for our tree.  I'm just about to start the toe on my second Arne and Carlos vanilla sock, and I've ordered some more Lett Lopi to make two more pairs of Felted Slippers after a knitting friend pointed out that Deramores sell it (and it was on sale!). I've done a bit more knitting on my Rowan Summer Tweed Cardigan sleeve. And I repainted a secondhand picture frame to frame a print to hang in our hallway. I've done a bit more handquilting on the pieced cushion cover - I have to say that I'm not doing the world's greatest job, I'm very out of practice, but it looks good from a distance :)

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Starting to feel a bit Christmas-sy

We spent a few hours today at the Dickens christmas fair in Olney, an attractive market town full of period buildings. We were a bit surprised at how many people were there, the whole town was full and parked cars lined the streets for a mile or so out of town. It was quite Christmas-sy with brass bands, choirs, lots of holly wreaths and mistletoe, mince pies, mulled wine, and loads of craft fairs, market stalls, a farmers market, and stalls lining the pavements. It was almost too crowded really, and although I enjoyed looking around, I  was quite tired by the time we left.

Today also is the two-year anniversary of selling our last house, so we spent some time reminiscing about how wonderful it felt to finally complete that stage of our lives after months of striving and frustration. We had a look at our old house on Google Satellite, it looks like they cut down the wonderful apple tree in the garden - vandals.

The afternoon was rounded off by taking our cat to the vet, because she's been getting heavier even though we are still feeding the diet recommended by the cat shelter. The vet confirmed that she is actually fat now, and put her on a diet. She also has to go to 'cat weight watchers' once a month to weigh in and be assessed. But at least there didn't seem to be any underlying health problems which is a relief. Plus she's not pregnant which was another thing I was worried about because she is supposed to be spayed.

Because I blogged late last week, on Tuesday, there is not a lot to report on the craft front.  The only new things are that I've started a sleeve for my Rowan Summer Tweed Cardigan after procrastinating about it for a few months; and I've dug out a quilt pattern that I bought in Sisters in 2007 called 'Let it Snow' which features snowball blocks and appliqued and pieced snowmen. I had also collected some fabrics to go with it, and today I picked out many more from my stash.  I think I will start it as a winter project. I'm basing my version on a scrappy version that I photographed in the exhibition at Sisters. The actual pattern is fairly plain, but the exhibitor had really jazzed it up with lots of scrappy fabric choices.

DS is back home now for the Christmas holidays, it feels a bit odd to have a third person in the house. I suppose if this had been his childhood home then we wouldn't feel that way, but we moved in here while he was at uni and he's only come here for school holidays. It is lovely to have him back of course. The house research that I was doing last week revealed that one of the families who lived here in Edwardian times had eight children, and another family had five children. They also had one or two servants who probably lived in up on the attic floor where my knitting/machine knitting rooms are now. So there would have been a lot more occupants in the past.

Are you starting to feel a bit Christmas-sy?  Our office christmas party is on Friday and the theme is 'wear something sparkly', so I spent some time today sewing sequins onto an evening jacket that I got cheap in the sales a few years ago because it had bald patches where some sequins had snagged off.  I filled in the bald patches with sequins and repaired several more places where the thread had broken and sequins had started to fall off.  It's incredibly fragile but it is very sparkly.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

So it's December

Bit late blogging this week because I just didn't feel like it on the weekend. We were relatively busy gallivanting around various Christmas fairs, plus a trip to the Northampton Library to look at census records from 1881-1901 to research the history of our house.

A couple of finishes since the last post.  I felted my Lett Lopi Felted Slippers and they came out just the right size. I am so pleased with them, they are incredibly comfy and cosy so I am wearing them every night. I would like to knit some more pairs but would have to find a British yarn to substitute. I embroidered the snowflake design on freehand before I felted the slippers.

I also finished my Bethlehem Stained Glass Wallhanging.  I added a thin pocket along the top of the back to take a rod to keep it straight, and sewed on two hemmed strips so that I can hang it from a door. I'm going to staple the strips onto the top of the door where it won't show, so the wallhanging is suspended on the face of the door.  The size is about 27 inches square.

As mentioned last week, I finished the first of the Arne and Carlos vanilla socks although it's not blocked yet.  In commuter knitting, I have gotten as far as just past the afterthought heel mark on the second sock.

On Thursday on my day off, I spent the morning cleaning and repairing a dollshouse that used to belong to a dear friend who has passed.  I then furnished the rooms with items from hers and my stashes, and on Saturday we dropped it into a grateful charity shop who said it is the perfect time of year to have a furnished dollshouse on sale. Hopefully some little girl (or boy) is going to be very happy to receive it this Christmas.

I also finished the first bobbin lace Christmas star. It's about five inches high and is worked in DMC 40 crochet cotton. I stiffened it with fabric stiffener but it doesn't want to stay flat.  I've started a second one for the in-laws but with much less enthusiasm, I don't generally enjoy repeating projects.

Not been as much Netflix going on this week but I did do some more handquilting on my cushion cover, I'm about halfway now.  I've also done a bit more on my Now in a Minute shawl, but unfortunately in between putting it down and picking it up again, I apparently forgot how to do the patterning so now I need to drop down one stitch in the lace edging about 100 rows to pick it up again as garter stitch. Fun fun fun. And it's next to a yarnover. I also forgot to put yarnovers in some of the purl rows at the top edge but that can't be fixed without pulling out several hours of short rowing.  That's not as obvious, it just means the top edge isn't as stretchy in that place.

Work is going fine, I'm in my third week of training and I think I'm managing to keep up. We have our first formal assessment this week so hopefully I will do ok.  I do really miss being able to surf the web in between work batches (absolutely forbidden and monitored by IT) because that used to be my reward and my relaxation. We're not allowed to look at our phones while we're at our desks either. On the other hand, flexitime is fantastic and I'm getting home 45 minutes earlier than I used to.

Are you making anything crafty for Christmas?

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