Thursday, 18 September 2014

Being spoilt

It was my birthday the Sunday before last (7th September).  I'd actually booked the weekend off work as annual leave, which I don't often do.  Unlike my husband and children, whose birthdays fall during school holidays, I grew up being used to spending my big day with class- or work-mates if it fell on a weekday, but not this year.  This year, my birthday felt a bit different.  Turning 30 was fine (in fact, that was a bit of a bonkers day because a major assignment came in at work that day which meant my evening plans were scuppered).  Turning 40 was fine.  This year, however, it dawned on me that this was the last birthday that would start with a 4.  Yes, next year is the Big 5-0 and to be perfectly honest, I'm not sure how I feel about that.  I've been able to kid myself so far that I'm not middle-aged and whilst I know everyone says "you're only as old as you feel", that's like a verbal pat on the head.  The fact is that I am middle-aged and next year my age will reflect that and, as I've said, I'm not sure about it.

Anyway, despite all that, because Monday 8th was a school day for the girls and a work day for hubby, it was decided that my birthday would be celebrated on Saturday 6th - from mid-late afternoon!  My parents and in-laws were invited to come round for a celebration dinner and hubby made a dinner of roast rib of beef, roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings and vegetables and my mother-in-law brought pudding in the form of a Cadbury's chocolate cake sandwiched with fresh cream and a lemon meringue pie, plus some extra thick double cream.  Hubby also went all-out and bought a magnum of Moet & Chandon champagne.  When my Dad saw the champagne, he immediately decided that Mum was driving home!

While we were drinking the champagne, hubby brought out my presents and, well, oh my gosh.  He does tend to get carried away and this year he did spoil me somewhat.  He decided that whilst I've been perfectly happy with my little red Nikon camera, he'd buy me a new one.  Which one?  A Canon EOS 700D, which is super-duper and which I can't really use yet (I'm thinking of buying the "Dummies' Guide" for it as it has good reviews on Amazon).

My first 'Selfie'!
He also bought me a funky, extra-zoomy lens:

That wasn't all though.  He also bought me a Kindle Paperwhite (which means I now have four e-readers) and a gift pack of Crabtree & Evelyn Wisteria fragrance shower gel and body lotion, which smells divine.  I'm a big fan of C&E toiletries and although they're quite expensive, they do go a long way.  I only need about a teaspoon of the shower gel for my whole body!

There were also some Thorntons chocolates in a small heart-shaped box and some other little presents including a small tin of lip balm (because he knows I like to have one in my work jacket).

My mother-in-law had been primed as well and my gift from her and my father-in-law was a camera bag to fit the camera and both lenses.

I've been out and about a few times getting to grips with the camera.  It's going to take me a while to fathom it and at present I'm using it on auto-focus and am pleased with the results.  Here are a few pictures I've taken:

Dedham Lock

Swan and Cygnets on Dedham Mill Pond

River Stour at Dedham (using zoom)

Dedham Valley

Dedham Mill Pond - ducks on a tree branch

Those were taken last Friday.  I've got more photos to show - the difference between this Canon and my Nikon 'point and press' is noticeable - but I think that's enough for now!  Once I've got to grips with what the various buttons on my camera do, I'm going to see if I can find a photography workshop to go on that fits into the hours the girls are at school.

As you can see from those photos, we're still enjoying fabulous weather.  The gauge in my car was registering an outside temperature of 25C at 1pm today :o

Not surprisingly, crafting has taken a bit of a back seat over the last week and a half, but I have been doing some!

Thursday, 4 September 2014

A Long-Haul Knit

Sorting out some bags of crafting 'stuff' a week or so ago, I came across the receipt for some roving I bought in June 2012.  It was for some North Ronaldsay fibre I'd bought from Scottish Fibres.

I blogged about buying the roving not long after I'd bought it.  I blogged about finishing spinning the yarn in April 2013.  After that, even though I cast on the cardigan (Reine - a Brooklyn Tweed design), I don't think I got round to blogging about it.  In fact, I finished the knitting part of the cardigan just before Christmas last year (or thereabouts).

What I didn't do was get round to sewing in the ends, sewing on the pockets and sewing on the buttons.

Finding the invoice spurred me on to Get On With The Finishing.

And I'm glad I did, because I'm really pleased with it:

Because it's handspun yarn and a bit inconsistent in places, although the stitches per inch tension/gauge was ok, my row tension was off, which meant if I stuck rigidly to the instructions, it would have been too long, especially from armhole to shoulder, so I had to do a bit of back-of-envelope maths scribbling and take out some rows, whilst taking into account the reverse stocking stitch ridges.

The weather's still too warm to wear it at the moment (I started to heat up just trying it on to check it still fits after eight months of languishing upstairs) but once autumn and winter kick in, I can see that this will be a favourite cardigan to pop on.  As it's pale grey, there are lots of t-shirts I own that I can wear it with.

The last week has been all about crochet.  Pink crochet for the most part.  I'm hoping to have an FO to show off in the next few days.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Taking Inspiration from Others

Earlier this year, my blogging feed showed me that Jennifer had posted a new entry to her blog so I clicked on the link to see what she'd written.  She was showing off a dress that she'd made for her daughter and it gave me the idea of making something similar for DD2 (even though Jennifer isn't happy with the size her dress came out - but better too big than too small when it comes to children, I always say :) ).

I had a think and came up with a plan.  I went to the yarn shop and bought some yarn and some fabric.  I made a few squares.  Then..... I got waylaid by something else and the couple of squares I'd made sat, neglected, in a bag.  Recently, I got into a sewing kind of mood and have been playing with fabric, such as lining my crocheted bag and sewing some charm squares into a 'something' which I'll blog about at a later date.  So, my squares have been pulled out of hibernation and I've been hooking and sewing.  I'm nowhere near finished, but progress is being made.

As DD2 turns 12 tomorrow, I needed to modify the original idea to give a bit more up-top coverage, so I'll be doing two rows of squares (leaving gaps at the under-arms) and will be sewing squares together to make the straps.  I know that it's a bit of a girly kind of dress, but DD2 is still very much a girly kind of girl and is happy to wear flouncy clothing.  And yes, I know that this summer seems to be over, but DD2 likes to be covered up whatever the weather and even if it was 26C outside, she'd still be wearing a long-sleeved t-shirt and leggings or tights with a dress.

So, photos.

Eight squares made and sewn together (it's been ages since I made Granny Squares and had forgotten how fiddly the centre of each one is to make).  Another eight middles made (I've sewn the ends in since taking this photo earlier this afternoon).  I think I'll need 26-30 squares in total, so a way to go yet.

The fabric for the skirt?  This photo comes with a warning of brightness!!!

I couldn't resist.  In fact, I bought the fabric first and then chose the cotton yarn to match.

When I got this project out of hibernation last week (and was - perhaps - saying rude words about the fiddliness of starting to crochet Granny squares) I started thinking about other ways of making a crocheted or knitted bodice to attach to a fabric skirt and had a light-bulb moment when I thought of using a top-down cardigan yoke (probably backwards so it does up at the back - but maybe not), stopping a couple of inches below the armpit area, or just carrying on with the crochet to the natural waistline.  Lo and behold, a couple of days later up pops a new blog post from Jennifer and guess what?  Yes, she's done something very similar to what I was thinking.

I managed to 'escape' from DD2 the other day as hubby took a couple of days as annual leave from work after the bank holiday and I wanted to see if Oranges and Lemons, a lovely shop in our little town, had some ribbon I could use to go around the top of my crocheted bag (it did - I bought some dark blue grosgrain ribbon, which has stabilised the handles nicely).  As I went in the door, I glanced at the basket the owner uses for reduced items and spotted some poly-cotton fabric marked at £3.50 per metre, so I bought a metre with a view to using it as a skirt for another crocheted-bodice dress.  Definitely more subtle than the pink floral fabric, but DD2 likes it.

I'm not sure what colour to do the bodice though.  Cream might be pushing my luck a bit as DD2 can still be a bit of a mucky pup.  Pink to match the roses?  Green to match the leaves?  As the bodice on the Granny square dress is pink, I'm leaning towards green, but DD2 is definitely a lover of all things pink.

We've now got to decide what length to make each dress.  Above the knee so it's like a smock, or below so it's more of a dress?  I'm sure that DD2 will let me know her preference!!

Talking of the weather, I took this photo yesterday, early evening when I took Jess for a walk.  The sun came out yesterday afternoon and it was sunny and warm, but as the afternoon started to slide into evening, grey clouds started to gather and obscured the sun, except the sun was making a valiant effort to show it was still there:

I'm off to do some more hooky stuff now.  Hopefully I'll be able to finish the squares within the next week and will then tackle the job of making and attaching the skirt.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

A pair of not-so-attractive socks

I cast these socks on back in February and they became my 'upstairs' project.

The yarn's some of my handspun, from a 'bump' of a merino/bamboo blend that I bought from World of Wool.  There was nothing wrong with the fibre - it was nice to spin, but I should have thought more about how I was spinning it.  The colours have merged into a bit of a 'meurgh' heathery yarn with bits of bottle green and bright pink here and there.  That's why the yarn's become socks.

A close-up of the colours
These socks should, really have been a disaster.  The yarn's a sport-weight and I thought I'd cast on using my 2.75mm circular.  I was more than halfway up the foot of the first sock when I thought that the fabric I was knitting was looking a bit, erm, 'substantial' and so I had a closer look at the needle and saw printed on the tip 2.25mm.  Oops.  At least it explained the firm-ish fabric!  I tried them on, thinking that they'd feel too stiff and I'd have to rip back and start again, but they actually felt really comfortable and soft.  So, I carried on and today I finished them off.  Knitting sport-weight yarn on 2.25mm needles did mean that my hands began to ache after a while, which is probably why it's taken me six months to knit them (that and only doing a few rows every now and then in bed, or while waiting for DD2 to finish playing in the bath).

This does mean that I don't have any socks on my needles at all.  I can't remember the last time that happened.  I also have nothing on my spinning wheel either, so I might have a delve into my fibre stash and choose something to spin.

I also want to get on and make something from these:

There are 42 five-inch squares in this pack and I'm going to make them into a patchwork, quilted pad-type thing to go on my coffee table and protect the table from my laptop.  I think I'm going to get DD2 to help me decide which square will go where :)

Monday, 18 August 2014

From UFO to FO!

I've been good in the last few days and, as I said in my last post, I've applied myself to finishing off a couple of unfinished works in progress.

First off, was the quick job of finishing off a wash cloth.  This was made using the remains of the ball of light pink soft cotton I used when I made wash-cloths to go with bars of nice Italian soap that DD1 gave to some of her friends last Christmas.

This isn't quite square as I ran out of yarn, but it's a decent enough size for face-washing.  To make it, I chained a length to the width I wanted (usually 7" or 8" or thereabouts).  Then, I crocheted a row of Trebles (UK - US DCs), then a row of Half-Trebles (UK - US HDCs) and repeated until I ran out of yarn.  I worked each stitch between the stitched of the row below, which gives a more open look to the Trebles, which I find makes the cloth softer and also has the benefit that it dries more quickly than working the stitches into the top V of a row.

Next up was finishing off a bag.  I'd kept the various small amount of DK acrylic yarn from various blankets I've made, so started off with holding two yarns together and then joining in another yarn once one had finished (knotting them together and crocheting over the ends so there was minimal end-sewing-in to be done at the end).  Once I'd run out of leftovers, I made two magic-balls of yarn from my DK acrylic stash and just carried out, not really knowing how the colours were going to play out, but knowing it would certainly be colourful.

The pattern is the Easy Peasy Crochet bag from Laughing Purple Goldfish.  It's very simple to do.  First, you make a chain the depth you want your bag to be, then do rows of DC (UK - US SC) until the base is the width you want your bag to be.  Then, still using DC/SC, you crochet around the base of the bag and keep going round and round in a spiral until it's the height you want.  The original pattern then has you do a decorative stitch at the top and then make two handles which are sewn on afterwards.  I wanted my bag to be a hand-held one, so once the bag was the height I wanted, I worked out where the middle of each side was and then skipped 8 or 9 stitches either side and then , on the next round, crocheted the same number of stitches over the chain before going round and round for another 4 or so rows.  I finished the top of the bag with crab stitch (reverse DC/SC I think it's also known).  I started off doing the crab stitch with two strands of the same colour, but it was a bit too bulky so I undid it and started the finish again, this time using just one strand of yarn, which looked much better.

I've made a very similar bag before, but smaller in size, using various needlepoint wools I'd got left over from various projects.

I decided that I'd line this bag.  I didn't with the first one of these bags that I made and I find that if I use it as a project bag, my knitting needles stick through the crochet!

I've got a smallish stash of fabrics, so got those out and cut strips of varying widths.  Next, I reacquainted myself with my sewing machine and sewed the strips together.  After that, I ironed the sewn strips and then ironed on some Vilene interfacing so add a bit of weight to the lining.  I carefully made a base from some cardboard* and covered that with some stripy fabric, using PVA glue to attach it.  I then measured around the base (twice - to make sure I'd got it right) and then sewed up the bag lining before sewing it around the edge of the base.

One side of the lining:

Other side of the lining:

On Friday evening, I sat down and sewed the lining to the bag.  It looked a bit baggy, but I thought that might be the crochet relaxing, so I hung it up by the handles with a couple of soup tins in it.

Saturday morning, I decided I was deluding myself, so took the lining out and reattached it.  Halfway round I decided that the lining was now too short (I hadn't cut off any excessive fabric, fortunately) as the crochet was now puckering.  There may have been bad words said!!  Feeling a bit cross with myself, I decided that there was no point in cutting corners, so I put tacking stitches through the lining and crochet, starting at the base and smoothing crochet and lining upwards before I put in the next row of tacking stitches.  Once I was happy with how it looked, I pinned and tacked the top of the lining to just underneath the handles and sewed it in place with small stitches.


And this is how it looks:

I'm not sure about the inside rim of the bag though.  I might make a strip of fabric to go round, or I might buy some binding or grosgrain ribbon that's the right width ---- or I might just leave it as it is.

Overall, I'm pleased with it and think it's a nice size for a scarf project bag, possibly even a sweater.  It'll definitely fit a 100g skein of yarn, pattern and the bag I use to hold my stitch markers, tape measure, scissors, etc.

* What I didn't take into account was that using cardboard as a base (I thought I was being so clever at the time) means I won't be able to wash the bag.  If I make another one, I'll use plastic instead.

Onwards now!  I took my 'upstairs' socks with me to knitting group today and I think I've got about ten rounds of the leg and the ribbing to do on the second sock and then they'll be finished.  I also brought my black Puffin sweater downstairs yesterday and before I went to work I managed to work out where I'd got to.  My clickable row counter had got left in the bottom of another bag and must have got clicked a few times because I hadn't done as many rows as the counter was showing.  Fortunately, I realised that pretty quickly, so I'm back on track with that and even managed a couple of rounds and I think I've got about ten rounds to go before I'm at the waist.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Being Disciplined

Having flitted around with my various knitting and crochet projects over the last few months, I found that I was getting a bit irritated with all of them as, picking up something one day and something else the next, etc, was resulting in very little visible progress.  So, action was required and I decided to be more methodical and concentrate on one or two projects and Get On With Them.  Last night, I cast off the second of the red/pink pair I cast on at the end of June and this is the result:

They're a plain pair (the yarn's too variegated to warrant a pattern), made to my usual toe-up pattern and I'm pleased with them.

Next up is finishing off this bundle of soft cotton, which is a crocheted wash-cloth that I started ages and ages ago and then put in a bag and forgot (I found it a couple of days ago).  This shouldn't take long to finish:

The fabric it's on was ironed yesterday and is destined to become part of this.....

.... which is a crocheted bag.  My plan is to cut strips from the various fabrics and then sew them together until I've got a piece the circumference of the bag, strengthen it with some iron-in vilene interlining, make a base from some card (the base of the bag is a rectangle - more about the construction when I show off the finished bag), cover that in fabric and then attach the body of the lining to it.  I'll be honest and admit I haven't made a decision regarding the top of the bag where the handles are (they're the type where you skip a number of stitches, chaining over them instead and then work the same number of stitches over the chain on the next round).  I might attach a fabric strip to the top of the lining -- or I might not.

To make the lining, I'll be using my sewing machine.  My sewing machine hasn't been used in so long that I had to dust fluff off the cover, so wish me luck!  I've got out my cutting board and my rotary cutter and, with the help of hubby's spirit level I'm hoping cutting the strips (which will be various widths) will go smoothly.

Once I've finished the cloth and the bag, I'll be concentrating on my stripey scarf (which I started before Christmas!) and bringing down my black Puffin sweater as that's been languishing in a cupboard upstairs and hasn't seen any action for, well, let's just say it's been a while.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

A Tale of Two Handspun Yarns

or, how two braids of the same fibre can end up looking different (on purpose, I hasten to add).

After the disappointment of the last two skeins of yarn I spun, I'm feeling rather pleased with myself today.

Ages and ages ago (probably three or four years ago), I bought two braids of BFL fibre that my friend Lucy had dyed.

Rather summery, don't you think?

My first thought was to spin them as one big 200g skein of yarn.  Then I had another think and came up with a different plan.

The first braid, I spun fractcally.  That sounds rather technical and complicated, doesn't it; but it isn't.  Basically, you split the braid in half lengthways and then spin one half down the whole length of the half-braid so you get very long lengths of individual colours (or, as I did, pull of chunks of each colour and spin them - you get the same effect, but can re-distribute where each colour goes if you want).  Once you've spun all of that half of the braid onto a bobbin, you start another bobbin with the second half.  With the second half, you split the braid lengthways again, but this time, into 4, 6, 8, however many you want strips and spin each thinner strip so you get much shorter lengths of colour than on the first bobbin.  Once you've spun the second half of the braid, you ply the two bobbins of singles together and get a barber-pole striping yarn (although in places the yarn will be one colour where two colours meet).  It's a pleasing effect.  I got approx 400m of yarn from 100g of fibre, which I'm very pleased about:

Enough for a pair of socks or a decent-sized shawl/scarf

With the second braid, I divided it into two (lengthways again), but then I pulled off chunks of the fibre and put them through my drum carder to make into batts.  The first half I just put through the drum carder one time to mix up the colours a bit, but the second half of the braid I (well, we really as DD2 helped me) put through three times in total to really mix the colours so they were blended well.  Here are the two batts I ended up with (I'd already started spinning one, which is why it looks smaller than the other one):

3-times blended on left, 1-time blended on right

The two bobbins of yarn I finished up with looked like this:

Actually, that photo doesn't really show a great deal of difference in the singles on the bobbins, but there was, I promise!  Yesterday, I plyed the singles together and this morning, I wound the 2-ply yarn onto my niddy noddy (with a bit of "shush, I'm counting" when either child tried to speak to me!), tied it up so it wouldn't tangle, then soaked it, squished excess water out and hung it up on my washing line to dry (we're having glorious weather here at the moment).  This afternoon, it was dry and I brought it in to photograph it:

Approx 325 of sport-weight yarn

It's rather shrimpy or lobstery in colour and I'm very pleased with it.  I think this yarn is going to become a Norby hat (for me).

Here are the two skeins, photographed side by side:

Hmm - someone's dripped something on the hall carpet!

So, two braids the same, but two subtly different yarns.

Pleased with myself?  Yes, yes, I am :D

I've now got an empty spinning wheel and I'm trying to resist the temptation to start spinning something new until I've finished at least one of the knitting WIPs.