Monday, 28 November 2011

At last, they’re finished.  In the end, it didn’t take very long to construct them.  The decoration took the most time, and with hindsight there are quite a few things I would do differently to achieve a better finish but the mistakes have developed my understanding further of the properties of different types of fabric so good learning.  I also got very focused on how to pull the whole together (dreams about stitching the lining for example) without considering sufficiently the constituent parts.  The plush sheds a lot as well – the flat looks as if it has been carpet bombed by a yeti. 

And ground breaks this morning on the craft room.  Rather daftly I have forgotten to take a before picture – actually I didn’t forget so much as run out of time after a panicked “must get fit” revelation as I fell asleep last night which propelled me out of the door before the crows were up this morning which meant I was then running late for the schlep to the office.  So no before picture, but I will take some work in progress shots as the week goes on.

My cushion has been banned from the living room - apparently it's "very nice but one for the craft room only".  Honestly, I should have made it in beige and pastel flowers. Grr.  Oh well, am sure I'm not alone in this - having a warm and untroubled fondness for something I've made, then being surprised when it is not shared by other people.  It's probably a bit like being a parent to a ugly child - no one thinks they're child resembles The Thing, and I love that ugly cushion goddamnit.

Anyone else been taken by surprise that it’s Christmas in four working weeks – the trouble with getting excited and baking the cakes in early Autumn is that it’s a constant low level hum and a body doesn’t realise the event itself is sneaking up.  I've suddenly realised I have no time to decorate the cakes I made as gifts, and also don't know how to decorate cakes.  Ah well, nothing like learning on the job and under pressure.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

View from the (Wobbly) Bridge

Crumbs, it’s actually properly November all of a sudden.  As I wandered into work along the South Bank this morning, clutching my Thermos (yes, people still use them to take packed lunch to work) it was a stunning winter morning.  The fog over the Thames was thick enough to obscure the north of the river so I had to take a picture of the view (pardon the very poor literary pun above).  I was not alone – I lost count of the people taking snaps of the mist; perhaps we were all a little lost in the romance of Dickensian London and wishing we were wrapped up in our bed jackets at home in front of a roaring fire and reading a jolly good book.  I still envy tortoises, snuggling down to sleep in a nice fuggy straw lined box for the whole winter.  Lucky bastards.

Last night’s craftsploits took me north of the river to the Make Lounge in Islington where I learnt more about machine quilting.  We were tasked with creating a Log Cabin quilted cushion cover - quilting probably doesn’t get more straightforward than this which was great.  I’ve taken Friday afternoon off work to start making the baby quilt up (and finish those Christmas stockings so I may be being slightly ambitious) and I already had an idea of what I wanted to do.  The workshop last night hasn’t changed my view, but it was fun to sit in a room of other people all sewing away. 

There were a few quizzical looks when I pulled together my fabrics but while I was bearing colour theory in mind, I didn’t really want to stick with pastel florals, all spots, or harlequin solids.  There’s not really any point being frightened of pattern or colour given my view that if you like something and the way it works together, it really doesn’t matter what other people think – it works if you think it works.  I have my favourites of the fabrics, I might have used bright pink instead of orange thread, and I’m not a big fan of what I think of as slightly 1980s graphic prints (which is why I decided to use it to challenge my thinking a bit) but overall I’m really chuffed with the outcome and do think the colours and patterns work together well. 

I've rejigged the quilt pattern and swapped out some of the white spots for the orange fabric. I now think I'm going to scrap the four orange squares on the outside of the formation and replace them with a solid colour, probably light green so it tones down the busyness.  I also wonder if I prefer the first formation, and perhaps in that case I should switch out the white spots for a solid colour.  Thinking thinking ...  

Original layout - not quite right ...

New layout - still not quite right

This morning I started reading some preparatory work for my creative writing course in January and am suddenly realising how much I’m taking on by starting the Certificate at the RSN and a 22 week writing course; but life’s there for the challenge and the things I want to be doing are writing and making, which means I’ll find a way to fit them in.  Ultimately, I’d like to work with textiles and right now feel as if I’m right at the start of any kind of understanding, but am just not sure of the steps I need to take so all of these things come together.  Am taking a bit of a “ah Grasshopper” view of it and assuming that if I keep trundling along learning what I’m learning, and listening more to the little voice that says “take a picture of that”, “have a go at drawing this”, “how would that look in stitched form” that eventually I’ll get there in my own little way.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Having bought myself some beautiful dark green wool fabric from Fabrics Galore at the Alexandra Palace Knitting & Stitching Show (without owls - although have you noticed owls and small birds are everywhere), I decided the best use for it was a dress and opted for the Trapeze dress from Merchant & Mills.  Coincidentally, I really like their “eye test” cards and have bought a couple to frame up and decorate my craft room with.  More on that later.  I hadn’t counted on how much fabric I would need for the Trapeze dress so the wool isn’t quite enough – I’m wondering whether to use two different fabrics and see if that might look quite interesting, or to use the stuff I already have for a skirt and invest in some wool suiting fabric.

In the meantime, I'm knitting my first jumper in great big super chunky coral coloured yarn.  It's a reverse stocking stitch so I'm having to overcome my aversion to the Wrong Side as that's the side I'll be wearing as the right side.  It all seems very bizarre.  Running out of a ball of yarn halfway through a row hasn't happened to me in quite a while and now it's haunting me that I didn't tink that row - it was late and I wanted to press on but it's really niggling and I wonder whether I should just pull back to that spot.  Reasons not to include the fact that a) it's my first jumper, b) it's for me, c) I'll be hypercritical of anything I make anyway and d) I'll also conversely be delighted that I've managed to knit a jumper.  The super chunkiness of it and therefore the speed of it is a great antidote to the fiddliness of the baby blanket. 

The craft room work starts next Monday so blinds are weighing on my mind – not least as I haven’t a clue what type of fabric to use for blinds, where I get it from, or where to buy the little fiddly bits for putting them up etc – it’s new territory.  Clearing the room should be weighing on my mind more, but that’s the least interesting job, not least as I’ve then got to figure out where all the stuff that can no longer live in the room is going to go.  Trying to fish my boots out for work this morning was slightly problematic as stuff is now occupying the middle of the room ready to go into the loft, to the charity shop, or identifying its new home.  It’s a nice problem to have though and having spent yesterday evening cutting out the squares for the baby quilt on my living room floor having a work space will be great and I’m itching to move myself in. 

I decided that a square quilt would better suit what I wanted to do so I’m now going for 6” squares, 7x7.  This has gone from 6x7 to 9x7 until I finally settled on the idea of a square quilt.  Having worked out how much of each fabric I had, and therefore the maximum number of squares I could get from each piece, I assigned a number to each of them and then drew out a grid of squares and started plotting according to colour, texture and dominant colour in the main themed fabrics – the owls.  The owl range from pink to yellow, green to blue, orange to brown so I wanted to try and complement and contrast where possible.  I ended up with the following which I quite like but feel it loses impact in the middle so after work tonight I’ll have a bit of a play – I think the answer is moving some of the orange squares towards the centre, and some of the white spots out a bit to provide balance for the darker green spotty fabrics towards the edges.  We’ll see. 

Finally, the Afternoon Tea on Saturday was a lovely day.  We had about 15 or 20 people there who could enjoy the glorious sunshine from Kate’s beautiful kitchen and raised £200 on the day.  With contributions from people who couldn’t make it and other halves we should have around £500 for Pancreatic Cancer UK which both Kate and I are chuffed with.  We weren’t sure anyone would come, and for everyone to have been so generous was very touching.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Baking - what a jolly way to spend an evening. 

I made Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s hazelnut and chocolate cake on Tuesday and haven’t included a picture because my version looks absolutely nothing like his version.  In fact, mine is a rather stolid looking object – I must have done something wrong because it’s very crumbly so I’ve “glued” it together with the chocolate glaze (which is as deep as the Zion narrows in parts where there are crevasses and cracks in the cake).  As with all things edible the main thing is the flavour though.  The depth of flavour is incredible and it has such a richness to it (that’ll be the 400g of hazelnuts).  It’s just my presentation that’s poor so I’d say it’s the cake equivalent of a Ferrari engine inside a Robin Reliant.  Hopefully people will see past the visual impact and appreciate the performance on the taste buds.  The flavour has torque.

Last night I baked the 24 cupcakes although sadly only 23 will make it to their cake stand tomorrow as one found its final resting place in my tummy.  Let’s call it chef’s perks.  Although when I caught sight of myself in the mirror before I started getting ready for bed it was clear chef had been in receipt of several perks – there was cake mix dried to my chin and cheek from licking out the bowls and green food dye from the frosting smudged across my forehead.  I’m fairly confident Lorraine Pascal never looks so scrappy after baking but licking the bowl is almost better than the cake in my view ... 

So I’m all ready to go for the Afternoon Tea my friend Kate and I are hosting for Pancreatic Cancer UK tomorrow.  Here’s to a good afternoon of much fun for a good cause.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Owls - all the rage in Stitchville


The Christmas stockings are coming along – some of them more quickly than others - and as I work my way through I’m realising what I would do differently if I were to do this again.  Buy them.  Not really.  Hmmm.  There are loads of beautiful Christmas stockings out there already made though and clearly they look what they are – professionally finished.  There have been several “gah” moments when I stumble across another lot of them and wonder why I’m doing them myself.  Apart from the pleasure of it of course.  I’m hoping my home spun look and personalised stockings will appeal more than store bought goodies.  I have also noticed a plethora of knit baubles in the shops and a lot of them are seamed which has made me ponder – wouldn’t it be easier to knit them in the round?  No fiddly seams to finish and a neater shape.  Maybe that’s my inexperience with finishing talking.

So, what would I do differently.  I’ve left the appliqué raw edged thinking it would add character but I hadn’t counted on the nature of linen and its ability to fray given the slightest prompting.  The positive is that I’ve mastered my arch-nemesis zigzag stitch once and for all as I’ve had to edge all of the linen pieces, but if only I’d realised before I appliquéd on the lettering.  Next time, I’d sew under the edges.  Oscar’s ho ho hO is looking a bit sorry for itself even with my newly introduced chain stitch to tidy it up. 

The other thing I would have done is listen to my instinct on the tree “A” as I don’t like the green felt – it looks as if someone’s left a misshapen snooker table in the middle of a misshapen crop circle.  Too late now, although I’m wondering whether I just stitch another tree over the top of the felt one in the dark green odd spot material I had in mind in the first place.  The lesson here is ask others’ advice but don’t assume they know better – each time I see it, I grimace and that means it probably will have to change, not least as I dislike it sufficiently that I can see I’ve been careless on the baubles and French knots – a clear sign I knew it wasn’t right and should have tried to fix it sooner.

Although it’s the simplest, my favourite is the Santa “I” – in the end I left the front pretty much untouched and the detail is on the back, but I think it looks adorable and very understated.  To make up for that, as I’m not sure 7 years olds particularly care for understated, I did sew a bell to the hat of the boy on the front.

Next is the Elf for Elsa and then we’re nearly there with making up.  Again, a Eureka moment in the middle of the night when it occurred to me how best to sew the lining, boot, plush and hook together and the next day my research on YouTube showed me I had been right so I must have been learning something over all these months and that’s quite a nice feeling. 


Liberty were running a Rowan workshop to knit a Christmas stocking so I thought, “why not?  I’ll give it a go”.  Which I did – it’s a good venue, apart from the lighting which is more suited to mole watching, bat bothering and other nocturnal pursuits, but what a lovely room and a delicious cream tea.  I’ll buy reading spectacles for goodness sake if the venue is good.  First attempts at beading and frills are attached.  If I could track down knitters graph paper then I’d have a go at designing a reindeer motif and knit one for the office, specifically the administrator in my team who soundly teases me every time I mention any of my crafty activities.

The Rowan instructor was impressive – she was very clear, thorough and although not always gentle with people about their progress she was honest in a way that was constructive and helpful.  Out of a group of eight there were four of us who knew how to knit and another four whose skill level varied between absolute beginner to pretty much a beginner (although that person also didn’t like knitting long rows of stitches, changing colours, adding in new yarns, using needles etc – I did rather wonder why she was there but as she was sucking up large quantities of the tutor’s time I didn’t get a chance to ask).  That cream tea though, you’d have to go some way to beat it and the session itself provided reassurance that while I think I know nothing I’m actually fairly competent and can have a go at most things (whether or not I will is a different thing).  Oxford Street or its surrounds are too busy at the weekends and I’m reminded why I typically shop online.  I have now signed up for one of Rowan’s Professional Finishing classes, but ended up booking in York for next March as I thought it was a good opportunity to visit my sister and probably marginally less of a melee than The Big Smoke.

The baby blanket is also chugging along – I’m about half way through and then I need to tackle the entrelac which is a new thing to learn and a bit daunting looking but should also make the blanket look rather spiffing.  Apart from a few bodges on stitch count – the perils of knitting past one’s bedtime – it’s going ok and I really like the way it looks.  In the light the colour is also a zingy and refreshing looking green colour.  In the evening, by lamp light, it’s alarmingly close to baby goo colour so that is either a good thing, as it’ll hide the grossness, or it’s a very bad thing, as baby grossness is horrible in and of itself and one doesn’t need to be reminded of it in its absence. 

The bobbles close up
 I’d really like to turn my hand to designing knits but am not quite sure where to start really; might have to add it to my long list of “things I want to do but full-time work gets in the way of”.

Sewing again

To try and mix things up a bit, I’m off to the Make Lounge next Tuesday to make a Log Cabin quilted cushion.  I’ve been to two workshops about paper piecing and hand quilting which I thoroughly enjoyed.  However, I’m making a baby quilt for a friend and I wanted to do machine quilting which means I need to learn how to do it really accurately – I’d be a lot less bothered if it was for me as I could have a tinker and deal with any issues as they arose.  However it’s not for me and I want it to be as close to perfect as possible. 

I already think I have a good idea about what to do to keep it simple.  I would have just got stuck in this weekend, and then I saw the course and decided it might be fun to learn properly.  It was either that or a machine appliqué workshop which would be fun to do, but less immediately useful.  For the quilt itself I’ve chosen a mixture of the three Urban Zoologie owl prints – Bermuda, Blue and Multi – and coupled them with spotty fabrics in complementary colours.  Am starting to pick up a bit of information on colour theory and it’s really fascinating.  It’s definitely informing the way I’m see things.  I bought these from Fabric Rehab which is a website I'm embarrassingly addicted to and keep popping onto to see what new treats might be available.  Must.  Stop.  There's a recession you know.

My plan is to do 6.5” squares and then quilt square shapes about ¼” inside the seam lines so it’s a super simple quilt but hopefully quite effective.  More on that as things progress as things will no doubt change as I plod through the making process.

The only other news is my craft room which is due to start being put together on the 28th.  Or more accurately, knocked down and put back together.  In the meantime I have to clear the spare room of all my stuff (and there’s already a sizeable pile for the charity shop) and buy flooring for what will be the new sewing area.  I should also really decide on a colour and start steeling myself for the nerve racking endeavour of making my first roman blinds.  I really can’t wait to have a room dedicated to sewing – increasingly I have been living surrounded by yarns and fabrics and it starts to get a bit chaotic living surrounded by clutter.  A trip to Ikea at the weekend gave me lots of storage and I’ve already started sorting through things so they are at least stored well and properly and will in due course have a new home to go to. 

Not sure if other people have found this but I do sometimes find it difficult to convince others that spending time making things is important and an actual "thing".  Often I’ll try and extract myself for the day and often get a response that the crafty stuff isn’t a priority.  I struggle with it slightly as I don’t really have a good response – it’s ultimately quite a selfish use of time, but not doing it makes me feel cooped up and frustrated.  Sometimes I wish I could take a sabbatical (from work, from people?) and spend the time learning more about different crafts, getting my paws on different ways of making and totally immerse myself in the culture of it.  All very self-indulgent but what a wonder to find something where you enjoy the practical and the theoretical aspects. 

Right, am off to teach a beginner to knit - we did casting on and stocking stitch last time, and we're moving on to ribbing so she can make a snood...