Monday, 29 October 2007

One Year On

A year ago today I was on holiday, staying with friends in VA for Halloween, and the urge came over me to learn how to knit. In truth I actually decided I wanted to learn whilst I had been in Kingston, ON the week before, where I had paid a ridiculous amount for a pair of hand knit socks. The socks totally rock and I love them, but I grew up in a house were the watchwords were "I could make that", all cack-handed evidence to the contrary. The opportunity too get to a yarn shop didn't however present itself. All of which is not entirely germane, other than the fact that the fabulous Ms Jenn deserves a mention for having been there from the beginning.

Where was I? Oh yes, I got the urge to knit, so... I went into the Micheal's at Seven Corners in Falls Church and bought 2 balls of Lion Brand boucle because it was pretty and autumnal and nicer than most everything else there, a pair of 5mm needles, and a book. I then sat down and taught myself to cast on. I proceeded to knit 4 miles (ok. ok! 3 metres) of garter stitch scarf. Garter stitch because I couldn't figure out how to purl. No really, I can be that dense. I did it on my own, without talking to people. Mostly because there were no people around who could help, but also partially because I am stubborn like that.

Things I didn't know when I was staring at the pictures trying to figure them out was; a) I can't read, and managed to knit the entire scarf in a twisted knit stitch, going in through the back of the loop, rather than the front. b) tension. c) how to stop. d) any concept of how much yarn you need for a project (I kept going til I could no longer carry the scarf safely without it being a trip hazard. I still had yarn left over). d) that a boucle yarn is a tricky little beast.

All that said, I finished the scarf, and wear it a lot. I LIKE the scarf. It makes me proud and happy.

Since then I have knit, in no particular order;

4 more scarves;
a shawl;
4 bags (2 felted, 2 cotton shoppers);
2 blankets (1 twin & 1 baby);
7 pairs of socks;
2 pairs of felted slipper socks;
1 pair of bed socks;
6 dish cloths/flannels;
a pot holder;
a SG I & SG II;
a jumper;
a baby kimono;
a felted tea cosy;
a felted brooch; and
a cat.

I have started, but not yet finished;

another baby kimono;
a hot wheatie bottle;
a dozen or so knitted Christmas tree ornaments;
a shawl that is destined to be frogged, if I can get the kid silk haze to frog successfully, which I doubt. If not, I'll bind it off and see what happens when I try and felt it; and
2 more pairs of socks which will also be added to the frog pile, not because I don't want them, but because I have lost my place in the pattern, and as a novice knitter, I didn't think to make a note of where I left off. DOH. Oh, Fawkes in Appliance, how I long for thee.

So, a year of over achievement? Possibly. But also a year of massive learning. The wheatie bottle cover is the first piece of colour work I have done, and I find it daunting. Not having someone to talk to about how to knit I rely on what I can glean from reading everyone's blogs (and thank you all for being so generous with your knowledge), and just making it up as I go along. It turns out that in knitting the wheatie cover I have invented intarsia...

It has for the most part been a year of instant-ish gratification, although both the felted bags were exercises in knitting through the stocking stitch pain barrier, the baby blanket I knit for Julia Franco an exercise in colour selection (and how to do it better next time) and blocking, and the afghan scarf a huge exercise in ripping and counting rows and following patterns carefully (to be fair, it was the difficult 2nd project...). The thought of doing an adult sized jumper is also scary, but I have 3 projects that I am desperate to do. Desperate enough to consider test swatching and growing a little patience for.

All in all though I have loved every minute of learning this new craft, and can't imagine being without the skills it has taught me. I get huge satisfaction out of creating things anyway, but love that I can still be creative in what is otherwise be down time. I have also loved being introduced into this community of crafters, and tentatively stepping into the world of craft bloggers, although I feel I have a long way to go before I can consider myself a fully paid up member of that community. All in all this knitting thing is great.

Long live the needles. Long live the yarn.

Friday, 26 October 2007

Ignoring the slightly uric colour of the cheap Spanish Brandy...

(Don't ask.)

Jenn, anyone, I need some help please.

It isn't me is it? This sock is ugly. Ugly enough that even it's mother wouldn't love it.

This is meant to be the start of a pair of socks for Jonathan. You know; glasses, supports Man U, married my sister, super-Dad and all-round Sainted soul. Not the other one.

Apparently (...) he ARSKED for socks-a-la-me for Christmas. So of course I want to oblige, and am delighted to do so. F & C even chose the yarn (and maybe that is where I went wrong... 5 & 7. Love them to bits, but they are not know for taste.), but I can' get it to pool, which is the only way I think it is going to work.

Once more, a bit closer, and with feeling;

I think I need a plan B.

So, do you think any of these would work? Or shall I just get a nice plain solid?

Lovely camouflage colours, somber-ish. Neutral tones;

Cosmic, 50's colour, a brave bloke's colour way, but still, he is a modern man.

Lime greens and steel grays;

Braan 'n' blue;

Whaddaya think? Even if it is "stick with it, they are fugly but all the better for it, and by the way dig that diamond waffle babe"?

Ta. Love, Me. xx

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Pay It Forward

I have just been over at Magnusmog's site, and she has really made my day. A pay it forward initiative!

The rules of the game are I get to gift three things to the first 3 people to leave a comment asking to sign up, and in return Magnusmog sends me a little gift. Sounds like a really great exchange to me!

Or more formally;

"I will send a handmade gift to the first 3 people who leave a comment on my blog requesting to join this PIF exchange. I don’t know what that gift will be yet and you may not receive it tomorrow or next week, but you will receive it within 365 days, that is my promise! The only thing you have to do in return is pay it forward by making the same promise on your blog."

Want a little PIF action in your life?

Monday, 22 October 2007

Yarn, yarn and more yarn

I know this isn't Friday, but a couple of parcels arrived over the last couple of days, and I needed to share.

A parcel arrived this morning. The effects of the post strike have taken their toll, as I have been waiting for this to arrive for aaaaaaaaaages. It came from Geminiknits who is fairly local to me, as a random piece of information to share with you. The parcel contained 4 skeins of merino sock yarn, and 4 surprise and very sweet little stitch markers.

All the colours were impulse buys, but I want to knit a Chevron Scarf out of two of them, and it is just deciding which 2. At the moment the bottom two in the picture below are winning.

I was in a very blue place when I ordered them, which wasn't apparent until they arrived. They are all desperately pretty though, and I can't wait until the end of the self imposed project moratorium whilst I get on with the Christmas knits.

Today's parcel wasn't the only one that arrived. Saturday I got up to a little package from Robyn. It contained some Colinette Jitterbug in Jewel (which girl can resist a sale bargain!) which may well become fingerless mitts.

3 skeins of this delicious Hacho 4-ply or slightly thicker merino from mirasol, enough to make a pair of really squidgy, longish socks out of - possibly Monkeys.

and some cool stitch markers. They pleased my crossword puzzler self.

All in all way too many goodies. I think I am going to have to have a yarn diet too, until I have suitably shrunk the stash. If ever I get on to Ravelry the list of planned projects is going to be obscene.

At least it made Monday a squee-fest though.

Monday, 15 October 2007

Little bits

I have a couple of FOs to show you today. Bits of FOs anyway.

The first is part of a Christmas for a friend who made the dangerous mistake of saying how nice she thought a dishcloth was that I had made, so I have made her a pair using the colour of her kitchen as the starting point. May I present Ballband I and Ballband II from MDK.

BBI was knit as per recipe. BBII was knit on 4mm needles, rather than the required 4.5mm, and has 1 fewer bands, as I was a bit concerned that I would run out of the variegated cotton. I needn't have worried, I would have had enough for the full sized on the 4.5s, but actually, I think I prefer the fabric the 4s make.

The second is also a gift, but as it is SGII this is all you are getting...

Well, ok, this little bit as well...

Friday, 12 October 2007

A little bit fiberlicious a little bit eye candy

Firstly the eye candy;

A little fuchsia from the garden to cheer the day along

Now for the fibre;

The yarn is STR medium-weight. 2 skeins in Space Dust. Bought to be the foundation yarn in a blanket I want to knit for myself. I wanted to have the yarn in front of me so that I wasn't matching colours via internet pics.

Please excuse the pics. I had real problems getting the light levels right, and these were the best of a poor bunch, but I had to share the love regardless.

Monday, 8 October 2007

I had a lovely knitterly weekend. Problem is that I can't share much of it with you. For 2 reasons; 1) I haven't managed to take any pictures of any of it yet, and 2) it could spoil the surprise for someone.

So a written update on what I got up to at the weekend.

A parcel arrived with books. Books really top the list of things that make me dizzy with happiness. The books included the new Terry Pratchett, because I am a geek and I love him - well I love the stories. The books also included Last Minute Knitted Gifts and One Skein. The first because I have seen soooo many chevron scarves and needed my own. The 2nd because I could.

Baby Kimono 2. The back is done, so is 1 half of the front. I just have the other arm to do, and whizz down the front, and we are done. I think I have decided to use a kilt pin as the closure mechanism, but we shall see. I also think that there is going to be enough yarn left over to make a matching hat, which is pleasing me.

Denim Jumper for Charlie. Back done. Front done. Sleeve 1 started. Yay! I am getting really excited about this, and probably need to put a good couple of evenings in this week to really get it moving.

Surprise Gifts I and II. Surprise Gift I comes from LMKG, and I adore it. More I will not say. SG II is being made without a pattern, and is coming together really well, as far as I can judge. I am quite excited about it, as I haven't really made anything from just my imagination, even if it is based on inspiration I have seen elsewhere. Full credits when I can.

On top of that I ordered yarn for 5 more projects all for Christmas. And it is all the fault of the first part of the knitterly loveliness of the weekend. All the projects-in-potentia are divine, and all are coming out of either LMKG or 1Skein. I obviously don't have enough to do in the, what, 8 weeks left to us! But, hey, who can't use a little stress around the holidays?! I am however looking forward to a proper post-Christmas chronicling of everything.

Happy Turkey Day Canada.

Friday, 5 October 2007

Smuggy McSmugpants

2 weeks finished, and I still feel like that.

This is my first quilt. And I am that proud of it with all its imperfections.

I will now go and do the very British, and very female thing of telling you about all the imperfections in the thing. Like there isn't a straight line in it. Anywhere. Not by design, but by the fact that I am pathologically incapable of sewing in one. And like, if I were to really be pernickety about it I would rip out all the yellow quilting and redo it, because the bottom spool tension was off, but I was being such a quilting demon I didn't notice 'til it was all done. Oh, and while we are at it, the point where the edging meets... a bit clumpy...

Despite all that? Still Smuggy McSmugpants. I even made up a song about it. Unoriginal lyrics, simple tune, and you will have to get me stone drunk to hear it.

I have also come to the conclusion that quilting is a drug. I know pushers, dealers and pimps of fabric, pattern books and cutting mats. These are ruthless women who will stop at nothing to get you to join the club. Make you one of them. Give you the disease. My mother is one of them, and in retrospect real drug dealers could learn a LOT by her stealth tactics. I have been worn down by the creativity of the finished object and the beauty of the fabric, and I love it. Not enough to become a full time quilter (probably denial), or to do anything that requires too steady a hand, but enough to have already planned the next 2 quilts!


Quilty details. It turned out twin-sized-ish. The top is a Moda Jelly Roll that I fell in love because of the evil temptation laid down by another quilt-pusher. The bottom is make up largely of fabric I had lying around; bits of Amy Butler fabric left over from a top I am making, and bits of batik my Mum decided she didn't want, so it is pretty much a thrifted back. The back piece is made up of 4 inch strips and the top 2 inch (finished width) with 1 at 90 degrees to the other, and is loosely based on a feed sack quilt from Quick Quilts (the one hanging over the armoire door, in fact). I quilted in waves along the length of the 4 inch strips with alternating colours on the top, and to finish it was all bound in a lovely warm brown.

I'm Smuggy McSmugpants, tra-la-la-la-laaaaaaa...

Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

At what point does employment become oppresive cruelty?

I made the decision a few years ago. Where I could afford to, I would employ people to do things that I either didn't enjoy doing, or didn't have the time to do. This includes cleaning the house, because as much as I hate living in a pig-pit I won't get off my arse to do anything about it because I hate hate HATE cleaning. This also includes gardening. Gardening falls into the 2nd category though. I love my garden. I love the garden when it looks all pretty. I love the garden when the leaves are all over the lawn in the autumn, and again when it has been mowed and the leaves have all disappeared. I love planning for new borders, picking out the plants, but in the list of activities that I can choose to fill my free time with, I'd rather bake, or sew or, erm, what's the other one? Oh yes. Knit.

That said on Sunday I ended up at a plant auction. It was held in Midhurst at the Grammar School. There were many good reasons to go; I'd never been to MGS and always wanted to, my friend Rachel had suggested it would be good fun (and R is rarely wrong - statistical anomaly rarely), it was an auction, what's more it was an auction selling plants.

3 of us ended up going, R, Debs and me. I ended up with our bidding card. This was possibly a bad move. I haven't been to many auctions before, and only bought things by email bids. I think I got bidding fever. Don't get me wrong there were some serious bargains. D bought a plum tree for £7. A whole tree. That will make plums. For seven pounds. It only has to produce a kilo of plums to have paid for itself. Where was I before I got carried away with plums? Oh yes. Carried away. I bought some bulbs.

215 bulbs.

Even as I bought them I realised that I probably wouldn't be the one to plant them. I got a little worried, and then a lot worried, that actually presenting Andy, the world's loveliest gardener, with 215 bulbs and the plans for the new borders that are going to need to be made to fit them in actually constituted cruelty.

I am still worried, but Andy came over today and I showed him the bulbs, and showed him the un-tilled earth that is to be the bulbs new home, and he is still just about talking to me. I may get away with it, albeit with a slightly tarnished reputation as a nice, kind employer.

And to think I thought this was going to be a post about my employer!

Monday, 1 October 2007

Cake & not knowing when to stop...

I needed brownies on Saturday. Home made ones. Like you would not believe.

So I went into the kitchen, got Nigella out, and discovered that I didn't have the kilo of chocolate that I needed for her fab brownies. I had to improvise with the resources I had, which fortunately included 4 precious squares of the Chocolate Alchemist's Spicy Chocolate. mmmm. sigh. I ended up making a grown up chocolate cake. Even though it has marshmallows in it, it is far to good to share with children. If any had been around they would have been made to stare at it but banned from eating any. I did, however, share it with friends who came to dinner last night. We ate it with Greek yoghurt, and despite the groaning and a general loosening of waistbands, seconds were required. I count that as a success.

This is all that is left...

But before that it looked a bit like this;

Feel free to make your own version.

Grown Up Chocolate Cake;

2 large eggs
4 oz soft butter
4 oz soft brown sugar
2 oz best cocoa
2 oz self raising flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
a GOOD tsp (didn't actually measure it, it may have been 2, use your judgement) vanilla essence

scant 1/2 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt
dash of milk to slacken, if needed
as much good quality choc as you want chopped up small but still worth eating-sized. I used 4 squares of the Chocolate Alchemist's Spicy Chocolate, which is probably a 60% dark choc because that is all I had. I would have used more if I had it.
8-10 marshmallow, but really to taste. Chopped into roughly 8ths if proper size ones. If minis just leave 'em be

Cream butter & sugar. Add egg & vanilla and whisk til creamy. Add cocoa, flour, salt & baking powder and mix by hand, a bit like you would for brownies, don't worry too much if it isn't silky smooth. Add milk if needed to make a nice soft batter. Throw in the choc & marshmallows, and anything else you have forgotten or want to add (macadamias, pecans, dried mango, splash of brandy). Stir. Slap into a greased cake tin. I didn't bother to even it out, and let the cake self level.

Pop into 160 deg.c. oven for 25 mins. Check. I turned the oven down to 150 after 25 mins and let it have another 10, which was about what it needed without burning the top of the cake, cover if it is getting a bit dark though.

Make cup of tea and lick out bowl while waiting for cake to cook. Transfer to wire rack. Put in a tin once cool.

Now on to the 2nd part of the title. Is casting on new projects when you already have a ton of UFOs a known illness? Is there a cure? I got a bit bored this afternoon and rather than work on Charlie's Christmas present, or the one for my Ma, or either of the pairs of socks that are underway I cast on Baby Kimono II. I had to. Quite apart from the fact that this is a gift for my friend Andy's soon to be son or daughter, I just needed to use the yarn, which is Blue Sky Alpaca's Dyed Cotton in colourway Tomato. It is so soft I have checked at least 300 times that it isn't merino. The kimono is based on the same MDK pattern. This time I am doing a little Moss Stitch edging rather than garter.

Happy Days!