Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Take your inner child to work day

Today is "take your inner child to work" day. Did nobody tell you? Maybe its just a local thing... very local.

So today I am wearing my new Clothkits skirt, tailored to fit, with red shoes and a black velvet jacket for that.. err.. corporate edge. Don't worry - I ditched the stripey socks and oversized sweater!

The second picture shows the lovely lining and inside details. I was also provided with a length of polka-dot ribbon, but I decided to save that for the Cloth Kitty doll.

Would I recommend the kit? Yes I would. Not for an absolute beginner, and ignore the hilarious suggestion that you could make it in an evening. Allow yourself a relaxed weekend and check the fit before you attach the waistband. If you need to reduce the waist width, taper the entire skirt - otherwise you will look like you are wearing jodhpurs underneath.

Whatever you do, don't follow the instructions for inserting the zip "open". It is much easier to make a good job of it if you baste the zip in place, close to its teeth and also baste the material closed over the zip as if it was a continuation of the back seam. Then machine-stitch the zip in place "down, across and up" from the outside, as near to the basting line as you can. This way you won't risk bumping into the zip-pull as you stitch. And the cord material won't "travel", leaving you with a lop-sided top edge.

Or ignore my advice and make friends with your quick-unpick! (My new best friend - we shared a long glass of wine together on Sunday.)

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Bigger bird's skirt

So much for proceeding with caution!

I spent most of the weekend sewing my Clothkits skirt with meticulous care and attention to detail. Which is how I come to possess a size 14 skirt when I am a size 10.

So I will have to do some adjustments. Like losing two inches off the waist and backside. At least. If I sneeze it will be round my ankles.

Apart from that, I love it!

I added my own fusible interfacing on the waistband. And re-did the zip after the instructions led me to a puckered mess. There was a scarily scant piece of Liberty print for the lining - enough but only just And I had forgotten how cantankerous babycord can be. Not recommended for a beginner sewer.

I am a bit grumpy because I can't wear it yet. Off to bed now. Night night.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Clothkits and nostalgia

It is my daughter's birthday in a couple of months, and my quest for original gifts has begun. She is so shy about presents - quite embarrassed by fuss and expense. But at the same time I know she loves having pretty wrappings to undo on the day and then having new things to wear / read / look at / create!
I was thinking of buying her a book on how to make amigumuri - either sewing or crochet. She will be 12 and I know I was stitch-obsessed at her age. Any recommendations? But I do have to remember that she is NOT me, and that she might not be ready for this.
So then I thought some kind of kit might be the catalyst to get her sewing. So imagine my delight at discovering that Clothkits is back! I read about it at Six-and-a-Half-Stitches. I have ordered a Cloth Kitty doll kit for her. It is a lot like the dolls Emily makes over at the Black Apple, and I have opted for the black-haired version so that my daughter can "emo her up"! It will be such fun helping her design and make clothes for Goth Cloth Kitty! Watch out for pictures in June!

I did a search around the blogs for other Clothkits fans, and read an interesting piece about a girl who grew up in Shetland in the seventies, whose mother made her an elaborate ruffled Clothkits dress in the same shade of ginger as her hair - poor kid! And then I remembered wanting a dress like that. But it would have been way too expensive for my mother, who certainly made me clothes, but generally in cheap hard-wearing crimpelene. Remember crimpelene?! (Shudder!) Clothkits was not a cheap option. Clothkits was all about ready-to-sew dresses for cash-rich time-poor middle-class mums. Teachers' daughters wore Clothkits dresses, I remember! I can almost smell the incense as I recall the hippy floral / ethnic cotton prints in a rich jewel palette - very much like Oilily. I spent hours in my room flicking through the catalogues - as aspirational a look in the seventies as the "Boden look" is today. No doubt the Sunday supplements will soon be writing articles about the relaunch along these lines.

So having said all that, I took one look at the adult skirt kits and was smitten. I am perfectly capable of cutting an a-line skirt out of cord and lining it with Liberty cotton. But it's the nostalgic bird print that captivated me! I couldn't have it in the seventies, but I am most certainly having it now. ("Cash-rich and time poor" did I say?! Ha - that will teach me to make sweeping generalisations about class won't it, Jane?)

The instructions are very detailed, but I think suggesting it will take "an evening" to complete is a bit optimistic. I had to laugh at the comment that you can "tailor it to fit", without any directions on how this can be achieved - presumably do NOTHING until you take very careful measurements of yourself and the pre-printed fabric pieces, and then take bigger/smaller seam allowances? But they don't say this. How many people will take scissors to fabric too quickly? My fear is of a too-tight waist. I normally take a size 10 and this is intended to fit sizes 8 to 16... but I am not sure. Proceeding with caution...

They are running a design competition too... tempting!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

April knit from stash socks

The trouble with promiscuous knitting (more than project on the needles at one time) is that it slows the pace on any one item.

So this month's "socks from stash" are way behind schedule. However, now that everything else is complete, I should be able to polish them off before the end of the month. The pattern is "Embossed Leaves" (from "Favorite Socks"), the yarn is Cherry Tree Hill superwash merino, and the needles are 2.75mms.

They are for my daughter, and she chose the yarn and the pattern. It's not a combination I would have gone for myself, because the colours are a bit busy for the stitch pattern, but she really likes them so far, so who am I to argue?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A whole cherry strudel

Sunshine at the weekend slowed my knitting progress. Instead I dug manure into the veg plot and sowed some seeds in pots on the bedroom windowsill.

But I managed to finish my Strudel hat.

My photographer was outdoors without her shoes, so lost patience with me before getting the perfect shot. Yes, clearly I do need to get a haircut.

I found this a fascinating knit. I learned to do a provisional cast on and the “wrap and turn” technique so often used for toe-up socks. Woolly Wormhead's photo tutorials in this book ("Going Straight") are really clear and easy to follow. Knitted on straight needles, the first 33 stitches are in a dense lattice cable, forming the band round the head. Beyond this, 9 short row openwork sections shape the crown of the hat. From the top, they look like the segments of an orange. This part of the hat can be worn to one side, to the back, or to the front for different looks. I prefer the “one side” approach as otherwise I look like I work in a chicken-processing plant or as a school dinner lady. It would look fabulous with sharply-bobbed hair peeping out at cheekbone-level!

The yarn is pure wool dk from Coldharbour Mill, colour “Cherry”. 3.75mm needles – strong ones! After snapping a wooden needle, I switched to Pony Pearls, which are luminous orange plastic with a reinforcing wire through the middle. Not glamourous, but absolutely fit for purpose.

I have three more skeins of their dk ready for other projects from this book: “Going Straight” by Woolly Wormhead.

By the way - my Volksfaden order arrived! That's amazing - I only ordered it on Friday!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Salsa Celtica in Tarland

It was a local holiday weekend so this is me just back to work today.

On Friday night, FL and I went out.

Out! For the evening! For only the second time in the four years we have lived together with my children at home! We left my son in charge, with strict instructions on his role as a “babysitter” – i.e. make it a happy experience for the child (let her choose the tv programmes to watch!), don’t drink all the Pepsi in the house and go next door if you set the house on fire.

We went to see Salsa Celtica in Tarland Community Hall. Notably the only other time we have had a babysitter, it was for the same event two years ago – woo hoo! I first saw this band at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London. It’s a ten-piece mix of Latin and Scottish musicians. They make a huge sound that defies you not to dance. In London, there was dancing in the aisles. In Tarland… there was dancing in the village square! The drummer led the audience Pied-Piper-style into the silent empty streets of this sleepy Scottish village – amazing! Everyone had brought their own bottle and picnic, and the floor of the hall was transformed into a salsa ceilidh, with lots of stamping and clapping and twirling. A couple of backless dresses. A few highland flings. Lots and lots of fun! The lead singer, Lino Rocha, is a bit of a babe-magnet and breaks into a deep-down-and-dirty rap over the bongos, while the bagpipes skirl, the fiddle fairly flies, the banjo strums and the saxophone honks – wow! My only regret was that Toby Shippey, the band leader, didn’t play his trumpet, so there was a top note missing. But the guest keyboard player was Roland Perrin – a really serious jazz pianist. In Tarland Village Hall?! They are on tour across the UK now – go and see them! Buy their CDs!

There was added poignancy for us. FL didn’t have the energy to dance, and I felt unable to abandon him on the sidelines, so found myself wistfully watching the dancers until the final song, when I got him up on his feet with me. He wanted me to go up on the stage when Lino called for people to come up and dance with him. Err… no! FL told me he wanted to see me “go” – to show him that I would “move on” after he is gone. It was a conversation he continued yesterday. And I explained that there was time enough for that after he is gone. That for now, it’s all about us enjoying the time we have left together. “You mean it’s none of my business what you do after I’m gone?” Yes, I suppose that’s true. He wanted to make plans for me, for when I am left alone. And I feel strongly that that will be another phase of my life, which I don’t want him to “make plans” for. We need to get on with living in the here and now.

Friday, April 18, 2008

What next?

Firstly, a big thank you for all the coat love! Home-dressmaking can be rather nerve-wracking: you spend all that time and effort on making something and then you can't always tell if it "works" or just looks home-made. The big test of this coat has been wearing it to work. I know that my old scruffy parka was the cause of much quiet consternation in the corridor of power. The muddy paw prints didn't help. So it was quite a relief yesterday to have a Boss remark to me about the "lovely flashes of colour" from my new coat lining. I had suddenly become visible in the right way. It shouldn't matter to me, but it does.

So now I am feeling excited about creating my "spring / summer collection"! I worked through autumn and winter in my set of home-made tweedy skirts, but the time is fast approaching for something a little cooler. I am thinking super-wide trousers and swishy skirts. If I had more cash to spare they would be from Toast and Boden. Instead they will be from Roobeedoo!

I don't know how I came across this, but I found a German site (in perfect English) with the most fabulous collection of funky fabrics - I am in serious danger of "stocking up"! I warn you now - if you are a sew-er you will not navigate away from Volksfaden without spending some Euros! The site design is inspirational in itself - I love the collage style!

I am also drooling over "Wrap Style". I know, I know. This is hopelessly "behind the times" of me and everyone else got over it at least a year ago, but I only just got this book from the library. I am thinking of a Shetland Lace Triangle in Wollmeise Poison Nr. 5 from the stash - mmmm! Not to mention a chunky shoulder wrap in cashmerino superchunky - but that would involve buying more yarn - tsk!

Because I just bought some yarn from handpaintedyarn in Uruguay. This felt like an enormous leap of faith. It was too cheap to be true. It was too far away to get here within my lifetime. But how wrong can you be? It arrived in less than a week after my order, and the colours and quality are just... delicious! The green dk is destined to be either Astrid or Anais from "Norah Gaughan Vol. 1". The Manos-like handspun will be a hexagonal scarf from "Knitting Nature". Too many projects, too little time!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Ribbon Lace scarf

Another finished object to report.

The is the Ribbon Lace Scarf from the latest edition of Knitty, modelled by my daughter. There was just enough yarn for 14 repeats of the lace pattern, which makes a neat little cravat-size scarf. Super-soft Hipknits handspun merino sock yarn in a soft shade of lavender, totally washed out by the sunlight in this photo, but I liked the atmospheric shot.
My laptop appears to be OK (touch wood) and at least it has made me more conscious of the need to back up my documents - at home and work!
FL also seems to be OK, with no further visual disturbances and renewed energy (digging the veg plot, would you believe!?). But he has knocked a hole through his sea wool socks - nooooo! Lucky he enjoys darning, eh?
I am halfway through knitting my cherry Strudel hat and I love love love the pattern - such an interesting knit!
My April stash socks, the Embossed Leaves, are waiting in the wings. I reached the heel turn on sock one before Strudel fever gripped me. This will be next week's priority.
And I bought some wool from Uruguay.... ooooh! Pictures will follow!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

I won again!

I won another bloggy competition!

This is getting quite embarrassing - I must be on a lucky winning streak!

Ambermoggie was running a comments contest, and when I saw that one of the prizes was a skein of Lorna's Laces sock yarn, I couldn't resist entering.As well as the LL, there is a skein of Natural Dye Studio boucle, some massive (10mm) Addi needles, the pattern for a Seascape Shawl and some rather dinky stitchmarkers.
Sorry about the squinty photo - I had big computer troubles at the weekend and thought my laptop was on its way to landfill. Blind panic, as all my photos were on there, not backed up to disc - eek! But luckily after a 12 hour sleep it woke up and let me retrieve all my files and do some tricksy stuff like "defragging". Fingers crossed... but this photo was retrieved before I had thought to rotate it.
I am feeling very lucky! Many thanks Ambermoggie!

Monday, April 14, 2008

My new coat

At last! The middle of April and I have finished my winter coat! So it must be spring, right?

It’s not perfectly tailored but it is deliciously cosy and I love the lining, which adds a vintagey-vibe. The outside is a springy felted wool from “Favourite Fabrics” at Ebay, my usual source for good-quality material. The only problem is that it is actually a knitted fabric, so it has a tendency to “relax”. Because of this, I have a slightly wonky front facing, which I accidentally stretched as I pressed it ready for the top-stitching. The lining is a Chinese-type brocade that I bought as a remnant from a goth clothing designer at Ebay. I have a thing about red lining! The buttons were recycled from a coat I made in the Eighties – perfect with my red DM’s!

The pattern is from a Japanese book “Sweet Black” aka “My Favourite Black”, style Z. It is a simple raglan, slightly a-line style with a dart at the top of each sleeve. Because of the stretchiness of the fabric I decided not to add pockets, as they would inevitably end up down round my feet when I filled them with all the rubbish I seem to accumulate. I might have to start carrying - gasp – a handbag!

I had a moment of brain fog when I tried to work out how to attach the lining with the machine. I remembered it involved turning everything inside out through the sleeves, but ended up in a bit of a muddle and had to walk the dog for a while until I sorted it out in my head. I am still not sure what I did, but it worked! But best of all – my new sewing machine produced perfect buttonholes every time, no stress involved – hooray!

Now I need a library of red hats...

Friday, April 11, 2008

Origami pincushion

Just before my holiday, I won a bloggy competition - hooray!

Kate over at Needled got carried away making Japanese-design pincushions and needed a home for one, so ran a comments competition... and I was the lucky winner. Believe it or not, I didn't have a pincushion until now! It is an interesting design, with a special button-over flap to secure your needles. Clever!

If you haven't already visited Kate's blog, please do drop in for lovely photos of Scotland, an intelligent view of the world and plenty of crafty goodness.

Thanks very much Kate - and I love the card too!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Cherry Strudel Crunch

As well as wild walks, it was a holiday for knitting and sewing. I knitted a couple of pattern repeats on my daughter’s Embossed Leaves Socks. There is a lot of pooling and I would have been happier using a smaller needle, but having got this far I am carrying on. I saved my Lace Ribbon Scarf for dark evenings by the fire and added a few inches to its length.

But my favourite holiday knitting project was the Strudel hat by Woolly Wormhead. The yarn is a lovely cherry dk wool from Coldharbour Mill, purchased online at Great British Yarns. (I bought three other colours at the same time - hooray!) I learned to “wrap and turn” from the detailed photo instructions at the front of the pattern book – the training I needed before I embark on a toe-up sock, so that’s an extra bonus!

The first of 9 segments to make a hat knitted up rapidly: an openwork lacey pattern for the crown, and an intriguing basketweave cable below, both happening on the same straight needle. I was having a cracking time knitting this and would happily have sat up all night until I finished it… but on the last row of the first segment there was a sickening “crunch” as my needle snapped. And no, I don’t have spare set.

But the other thing I made on holiday was the most exciting: my Japanese coat! FL went golfing twice, in Lochcarron on the other side of the mountain, and I took the opportunity of being stranded alone in the wilderness to set up my sewing machine and spread my material in the spare bedroom where the Velux window gave the best light and the painted wood floor was in no danger from my scissors.

I would love to show you pictures of the completed garment, but the one thing missing from my holiday home was an iron, so although I “made” the coat and its lining, I was unable to press any of the seams, so have had to wait to get home to do the finishing: steaming the seams open, edge-stitching the collar and fronts, attaching the lining to the coat, making the buttonholes and hems. Meantime, here is a tantalising picture of the lining fabric: the red is the “right” side.

This weekend, I will have a new coat!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Aesthetics and Ascetics

I wanted to show you my holiday knitting and sewing exploits today, but Blogger won't play with me - no pictures!

So, instead a note on my holiday reading.

When I went to collect "The Gentle Art of Domesticity" from the library, I was delighted to find another recently-reserved item had come in: "Animal Vegetable Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver. You may have read "The Poisonwood Bible" or "Prodigal Summer"? If so, this account of the author's experimental year of "seasonal eating" may come as a bit of a surprise.

It is almost a family journal, with contributions from her partner (who lectures in Environmental Studies) and others by her 18-year-old daughter (who is a yoga-teaching, nutrition-fascinated biology student). I felt the book would have benefitted from some pictures. Perhaps it is my enjoyment of the blog culture which provokes this comment, but I wanted to see this family in action: tomato-canning, poultry-slaughtering sessions and all! I felt that the author was trying to sell me a lifestyle, sight unseen. I suspect that she was protecting her family's privacy... but if you choose to write a book about "real life", it becomes a lot more attractive to the reader with a few photos thrown in - even if it is just of hatching chicks! Perhaps she was underlining the seriousness of her environmental message by remaining invisible? It is entirely possible to avoid the sections of polemic on global-warming, as they are sectioned off within the main body of the text. And sometimes I sailed past them just because I wanted to know "what happened next", returning later if I felt like learning something. I particularly enjoyed the daughter's recipe sections, with sample menus for a week of seasonal eating. I started feeling quite guilty that I hadn't started off my veg seed yet (but it's snowing today so maybe it's just as well!) and developed a severe case of "gardening itch"!

It is interesting to compare this book with "The Gentle Art..." which is almost its opposite: stuffed with juicy delicious colourful photos of an idealised domestic lifestyle and not an ounce of political awareness. I swallowed both books whole, immersing myself in two very different approaches to a kitchen-table-centred life. On the one hand, you have Jane Brocket knitting a pineapple-shaped tea cosy and sloshing around in syrup and artificial food colourings, while on the other you have Barbara Kingsolver refusing her child a banana as it can't be grown in Virginia. I would love to get the two of them together to debate their chosen approaches to domesticity!

Reading these volumes concurrently, I felt challenged to examine my own "philosophy" of home-making. I find Jane Brocket's sugar-laden world very attractive, like looking in the window of a sweetie-shop. And Barbara Kingsolver's deeply-wholemeal, high-fibre life appeals to my ascetic presbyterian roots. But it niggles at me that both women have the economic power to choose how they live. That essentially, both are highly-privileged members of society with the money to buy imported fruits whenever they feel like it and the free time and space to cultivate their organic veg, without the pressures of a full-time job / daily commute.

So where do I stand in all this? Somewhere on the periphery... I shop at Lidl to save money and feed my children for the lowest possible price, but I try to choose the organic / fairtrade options where available, I bake my own bread and I grow a few veg. I also choose to spend my evenings knitting socks (a luxury - it's certainly not cheaper and it uses up prodigious amounts of time!) But my house is, frankly, a bit of a tip most of the time, almost entirely lacking in "style", homespun or otherwise! A full-time job, the daily commute, two kids, a husband, a dog and a cat and constant home maintenance issues (the chimney has flooded again!) have the potential to wear me down... but I can't let that happen. The Brocket-esque side of me selects beautiful yarns to knit in the time I carve out for "me". Yes, it would be great to save the planet, but I can't do it on my own and I need a little bit of colour in my life!

What about you? Are you a Brocket or a Kingsolver?!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

A house by the sea

The Applecross peninsula is one of those places which doesn’t lead to anywhere else. If go there, you do so deliberately. Speaking to a local in the pub, I was told that when children reach secondary-school age, they have to go to boarding school in Plockton, only returning home at the weekends, as it’s too far to travel every day.

So families make their choices, and many choose to live somewhere else.

All along the coast there is evidence of former settlements. At Callakille, ours was the only habitable house, but all around were the remains of a former community. We could not resist a trepidatious (not a real word but it should be!) look around. Talk about "fixer-uppers"!

The house we stayed in had been passed down through generations of the same family and there were photos on the walls of the people who used to live there. It felt like a privilege to be sharing a family’s history in this way.
Just beyond “our” garden was the cliff edge, leading to a wild and lonely beach. We spent many hours exploring the shore, with only a few sheep for company. Reading the visitors’ book, many couples had chosen to spend a honeymoon here and I cannot think of a better place.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Callakille dreaming

We’re back!

We had a wonderful break and I have so much to write about I can’t decide where to begin.

The English teacher in me says I should first set the scene, so here goes:

We arrived on Saturday night after driving over the “Pass of the cattle” in total darkness with sleet bashing the windscreen. This is a perilous single-track road of steep climbs and sharp bends with sheer drops down rocky cliffs. Luckily it was too dark for me to see this! At one point, FL stalled trying to negotiate a bend and our handbrake is not very reliable... gulp!

Arriving in Applecross village, we went into the pub for a meal and a stiff drink. The Applecross Inn has won several “gastro-pub” awards but isn’t at all pretentious. It was packed with hungry hillwalkers and families playing Scrabble and Jenga by a roaring log fire. Lovely food too!

Then on to our cottage. If we could find it. We drove down a muddy farm track with bog on either side until we came to a gate. There was no mention of a gate in our arrival instructions so we tried to reverse… but it was too muddy and we were just getting bogged down. I changed into my wellies and we decided to try driving through the gate to see if there somewhere to turn… and discovered that the track led to our cottage! However, the instructions to locate the key were equally vague, and we fumbled around in the dark with our torch, finally discovering the key and promptly dropping it into a deep puddle!

Luckily, the house was the sanctuary described in the brochure. Excuse the “Country Living” style pictures, but it had to be done!

More tomorrow!