Sunday, December 29, 2013

49 before 50: Blue Hair

 Can you see it, can you see it?!
This is my second attempt at dye-ing my hair blue.  Last weekend you could just about see it if you squinted.
Another half-hour's-worth of Midnight Blue and I am... Dawn Blue?!
But it is definitely there this time and I am really enjoying it.  Even if it has the effect of making the rest of my hair look grey!

I took these pictures in the top woods this morning.  I am challenging myself to walk faster, lift my knees a little higher, get the heart pumping that bit harder.  And every so often I do a little sprint between the trees.  It all helps.
The dog got bored when the camera appeared and he wandered off.
I found him sitting outside the house when I returned.
Lazy mutt!

I never tire of taking spooky pictures of the tunnel through the pines.
I just missed capturing 5 roe deer taking their morning constitutional.

Back indoors now with my knitting and a good not-my-sort-of book.
I treated myself to a new project bag from knitrundig.
The drawstring is elasticated and secures with a toggle.  It is just the right size for a one-skein project.  In this case, it contains a Stovetop hat for The Girl.
But didn't you just knit her one of those?
Yes... and she loved it.  But then it was lost on the bus.
I am told there were tears.
What else can a mother do but knit another?

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The 2013 Account

I don't know how many readers are interested in a summary of my year in stitches, but it is a useful exercise for me, so here goes.

You will recall my vow to give up shop-bought clothes.  This has gone pretty well.  My only purchases in 2013 were: 
  • one black jersey skirt (Inis online sale, last January)
  • one second-hand plaid shirt
  • one Seasalt cardigan
  • one Llynfi cardigan
  • one Seasalt rainproof coat
All of these items are worn regularly, except the black skirt, which is reserved for funerals.  Sadly, we have had a few of those this past year.
The plaid shirt is one of my favourite things.  It is just so cheerful and relaxed and makes me think of Ysolda :)
If my garment-knitting had been more successful, I wouldn't have needed those cardigans...
The coat was essential.  My attempt at making a 1970's pattern raincoat was an unhappy experience and I recently landfilled the evidence.

I was surprised when I listed this year's sewing output. 
Camber dress
I thought of this as the Year of The Dress, but tops were my most prolific make:

Dresses: 5
Skirts:  5
Tops:  14
Trousers:  none
Jackets / coats:  none

However, when I go back and look at how often I wore the things I made in 2013, there were some duds among those tops.

I realised I was not comfortable in my Airelle blouse:  the sleeves were too bulky and the neck facing refused to stay inside.  It has gone to a charity shop.
I have never worn my silver striped Drafting Top - because I never "go out".  I am keeping it for an unknown future social life.  You never know!
And there was the comedic 70's smock which I re-made into a Datura top... sleeveless, so worn maybe once.  I will keep it for a sunny day.
The big successes were my Renfrews which are worn and washed on repeat, and my tops from a vintage 1960's pattern, Simplicity 6238.  That pattern also provided the sleeves for my two Camber Dresses.
Simplicity 6238

Ah yes - the Camber Dresses!  HUGE success!!!  I have worn these more often than almost any other thing I have ever made, pro rata!  (My dark denim Kelly skirt is the other main contender.)

I made 3 Chardon skirts this year and wore the linen ones a lot in the summer.  The brown wool version is still very new and hasn't quite found its place in my life - mainly because I reach for a Camber dress 3 working days out of 5.  Uh huh.    And when the Cambers are having a rest, I have turned to my Marimekko-trimmed dress, even though it is a wee bit short for work. That explains why I think of this as the Year of The Dress!
Marimekko-trimmed dress

And finally...

Completed items:

Socks:  13 pairs, of which 10 used Rachel Coopey patterns (woo hoo!)
Garments:  2 cardigans
Scarves / shawls:  5
Hats:  5
Mitts:  4 pairs
Other:  2 tea cosies

Still in progress are my Kex Blanket (resting at the half-way point) and my Advent Scarf (I am on Day 5).  I will continue to work on both of these.
Day 3 of the Advent Scarf - attempt 3.  Oh dear.

My biggest disappointment this year has been the lack of happy full-sized knitted garments.  Both cardigans (Shalder, and the Learn to Knit cropped bobble-tastic number) were a lot of work and neither fits me properly.  I really want to address this issue in 2014.
I am a fairly standard size, so this should not be a problem.
I just need to make better choices.
With Ravelry at my fingertips, there is no shortage of information on yarns, patterns, gauge and fit. 

2014?  The Year of The Cardigan That Fits!

Friday, December 27, 2013

FO: Thora Socks by Rachel Coopey, aka the Christmas Explosion socks

What is left to be said about my Christmas Explosion socks?
I finished them on Boxing Day just as a big storm hit our small corner of the world.

 In fact, these socks look a lot like the weather map for Scotland over the past 24 hours.
We lost a few branches and the outside light was blown off the side of the house, taking a large section of harling with it, but I think we got off lightly.  I was surprised to find the tarpaulin still covering the woodpile this morning.
Pattern:  Thora from A Knitted Sock Society by Rachel Coopey
Yarn:  Knitting Goddess 4 ply sock yarn, 75% superwash merino, 25% nylon, in the colourway Jolly Holly
This is one of those compulsive patterns which lures you forward into knitting just one more section until suddenly you realise you have finished a pair of socks :)
I really enjoyed the yarn too - the crazy pooling adds to the character of these socks.  It is much softer than I expected from a 75/25 mix - a seriously good workhorse sock yarn that comes in a remarkable range of colours.  (And there is a 20% off sale on right now... just saying!)

I wanted a pair of cheerful Christmas socks and that is definitely what I got!
I am very happy :)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Day after Christmas

Where have the days gone?
Working til noon on Christmas Eve meant that the holidays sneaked up on me and I wasn't really ready.
My second attempt at card-making had to be adjusted to read "Happy New Year" as it was far too late to pretend I had made them in time for Christmas!
We are having a very quiet time of it, FL and I.  There has been knitting and reading and a black and white film on tv.  I cooked something from the freezer with herbs from the garden and a whole heap of vegetables.
But really it was today before I started to relax and feel like this is a good time in our lives.
We had a walk in the woods this morning.
And I did some gentle organising and thinking and list-making.
The log fire is keeping us warm and we have new slippers cossetting our toes - I bought a pair for each of us, but FL says mine are "a fashion statement" - I think he may be jealous! 
 I hope you are having a lovely peaceful break - I know we are :)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Week in Knitting

This week’s knitting plan took an unexpected twist when I suddenly decided to drop everything and start a new project.
Having decided I was going to devote myself to my Jolly Holly Christmas Explosion socks, I found myself smitten with the Advent Scarf 2013 by Kristin Benecken.
And even though it was 15 December when I cast it on, and I therefore had no chance whatsoever of catching up with the sensible people who started on the 1st… well, it just had to be!
The concept is simple: every day from 1 to 24 December, the designer releases the instructions for a single section of the scarf. All around the world (confirmed by an online map of participants!) crazy knitters simultaneously work on that day’s stitch pattern, until by Christmas Day they all have the same scarf.
Except… no they don’t! Because there are lots of modifications going on out there as people realise they can’t find time to knit the full-width version, and have chopped it down to a more manageable size. Others have taken fright at some of the sections (you want me to do what?!) and done their own thing. And an enterprising breakaway contingent has declared itself to be the "Relaxed Knitters" group, who will get there… eventually.
I probably fall into this category.
I am using Posh Yarn Miranda laceweight in an alpaca / silk / cashmere mix, in the colourway “Galeforce”.
Days One and Two took me 4 days, so I guess I am not going to be finished by Christmas.
Day Three left me puzzled and I had to rip back and try again after reading the help board on Ravelry: the double yarn overs have to be “purled and knit” and not treated as a single elongated stitch.  And then I got in a muddle and dropped a couple of stitches that I couldn't relocate...
But I will persevere because it is looking lovely. The yarn is slightly fluffy, with a sheen from the silk and a surprising amount of “body” which keeps the lace crisp.
I finished the first Explosion sock while I thought about the ripping-back. Sock 2 is now just past the cuff, and looks nothing like the first one, but that was to be expected.
My last piece of knitting news is to report a lucky-draw win on the Knitting Go! Podcast.
Yay! I am so excited!
I won three patterns from the new e-book by Abigail Phelps, Hiraeth Casgliad: two selected by the designer, and the third my own choice.
Old World, Image copyright Megan McGlothin
I opted for “Old World” which is a shawl or a blanket depending on yarn choice.
OMG – imagine a giant worsted-weight tweedy blanket in this pattern?
Or a gradient-dyed laceweight shawl using the specified yarn, which can be bought at Purlescence in the UK?
I am at work until noon on Christmas Eve.  Then FL and I have a quiet few days at home alone with the dog before the kids arrive on the 28th, so I predict some serious knitting time in the week ahead - woo hoo!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

FO: Subversive Schoolgirl Camber Dress by Merchant and Mills

Today we had a round of “Secret Santa” in the office.
Remarkably, there was a high participation rate and I don’t think anyone felt let down by the elves.
I was surprised and pleased to receive a Ness tartan bird brooch, which goes perfectly with my new grey dress. I happened to be wearing the dress today for the first time – amazing!
Santa clearly knows me quite well!

You want to hear about the dress?
Of course you do!
This is my second make of the Camber Dress by Merchant and Mills.
Once again, it is Shetland flannel, this time in Grey Herringbone. The grey seems slightly fluffier than the red, but that may just be the result of my over-enthusiastic pre-washing of the fabric, after a pigeon flew past the washing line and scored a direct hit. Grrr.
The back neck facing is my favourite feature of this version. I used another scrap of jotter doodle print fabric, with which I lined the pockets of my denim Portfolio dress. There is hardly any left now – but since I only bought a fat quarter, it has certainly served me well!
Merchant and Mills Camber Dress in size 8, with sleeves from a 1960’s pattern, Simplicity 6238
2 metres of Robert Kaufman Shetland flannel in grey herringbone, from the Eternal Maker - it looks like they have sold out of the grey now. 100% soft and fluffy cotton – deliciously warm!
Part of a fat quarter of Peace Always Michael Miller for the facing.
Satin bias binding on the inside bottom hem. Thread.
The wrinkles are easily smoothed out - honest!

I got up on Saturday morning in such a storm of unhappiness about work / careers / life, the universe and everything, that I needed instant and reliable distraction.
I was not willing to try out a new pattern in case it all went horribly wrong.
I wear my Redwood Camber dress regularly… perhaps more often than office etiquette considers appropriate!
Having bought 2 metres of grey at the same time as 2 metres of red, and with no particular plan in mind for it, this seemed like as good an idea as any other.
So… I sewed this dress.
And really, that’s all there was to it.  The same as last time.

This is my subversive uniform dress, in schoolgirl grey with doodles at the back where the Principal can't see them!
Heh heh heh.
I wonder how many of these dresses I will crank out before someone notices I am wearing the same thing every day...?
I'm thinking velvet next time...

PS - the cardigan is an ebay "Made in China" number that I blogged about a while ago.  Sorry to the person who asked about the pattern!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

49 before 50: Update my CV

This weekend my "49 before 50" list probably saved my sanity.  If it was not for Number One:  Be True To Myself, I would very likely have rushed headlong into Number Ten:  Update my CV, with absolutely tragic consequences.
As some of my readers know where I work, I will not go into detail, but suffice to say a "job opportunity" has come up.  It is a job I am supremely qualified to do, and if I were to get it, it would bring a substantial increase in salary. But...
It would be absolutely toxic.
Everything about the role would require me to become another person.  It would involve longer hours, evening and weekend working, travel away from home, and a whole new level of toeing the corporate line.  It would put me in the direct line of enemy fire.  And nobody should knowingly put themselves in such a position unless they are wearing a bullet-proof vest.
And while I was almost persuaded to fall for the received wisdom that the only way is up, and that this was my chance to "succeed", the future I foresaw was overwhelmingly bleak. 
So after 48 hours of headaches and feeling ready to vomit, I talked myself down from the precipice.
I remembered Jessica's wise words:  "Just because you can doesn't mean you have to!"
Phew!  Breathe again Roo - it's all going to be fine!
I spent the weekend doing things I really wanted to do.
Instead of filling in an application form, I sewed a dress.
And I cast on something new in actual laceweight - eek!
I read the weekend papers, and allowed myself to be inspired by unconventional women.  Look at those glasses!  See that hair! (AND she knits!)
If ever there was a day when I was likely to dye my hair blue, it was today.
But I am saving that for next weekend ;)

So despite the failure of this year's lino cut (Number Thirteen:  Make my own greetings cards), which looks more like an overweight mouse than a robin, I am feeling a thousand percent better on Sunday night than I did on Friday.
And you know why? 
Number Nineteen:  Treat myself kindly.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

FO: Deer & Doe Chardon au Chocolat

I bought this brown wool / viscose fabric from Little Shop of Treasures on ebay in August 2011.    Unbelievably, they are still selling it - go ahead and make them an offer - it is lovely stuff!  I am pretty sure I paid about £14 for 1.5 metres, although admittedly that was two years ago.

Pattern:  Chardon skirt by Deer & Doe, size 38
Fabric:  As above.  I pre-washed it in the machine on a wool cycle, and it warped slightly in the brisk wind on the washing line but I don't think it shrank at all.
Other:  Anti-static lining (less than 1 metre); invisible zip, thread, woven fusible interfacing, thread:  all from stash.

After sewing two successful Chardon skirts out of linen in the summer, I was keen to make a wintery version.  This wool was perfect for the job:  drapey and substantial with a slight sheen, it has a felted texture which stops it from fraying - so there was no need to zigzag the raw edges - woo hoo!
I lined it with some anti-static fabric, using the shape of the pleated skirt pieces as a template to cut the lining.  It is sandwiched between the skirt and facing pieces, and slip-stitched to the zip tape at the centre back.  I also stitched through all the layers (stitching over the top-stitching on the box pleats) to secure the waist facing and prevent it rolling out.
I wanted this to be a wardrobe staple, so kept it simple:  no bow at the back, and no belt loops.  It is a plain chocolate brown wool skirt, and all the better for it.
The hem is faced with black satin bias tape.
And I used an invisible zip at the centre back - successfully!
It was a straightforward project that ought to have taken me a day at the most, but circumstances meant I had to nibble at it in short bursts of activity over three weeks, which I found frustrating.

I can't believe it has taken me 2 years to use this fabric.  It is warm and soft and lovely.
I knew I wanted a pleated skirt, and this high-waisted style manages to provide volume without excessive bulk.
And of course it has those beloved side-seam pockets for swaggering around in a tomboyish fashion, whistling nonchalantly.
I know already that this is a garment I will wear all winter with different combinations of top / cardigan / scarf / shawl.
This is how it looks with my Betty Jean McNeil cardigan and Mermaid's Song Shawl, but it works well with my lime green cardigan too.

Will I make another?
It is entirely possible... but I have a new pattern I am itching to try out soon.
Have you seen the Peggy skirt by BlueGingerDoll?
Mary of the Idle Fancy blog has made it twice, and I love them both.  I am planning a black moleskin version for starters...
Next project?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Week in Knitting: Christmas Explosion socks

A lot of knitters are intimidated by hand-dyed yarns.
There is that element of unpredictability.  Unless it is labelled "self-striping", it probably isn't... and anything could happen.
So when you cast on a 64-stitch sock and the colours seem to be forming a regular sort of a spiral, it is a mistake to expect it to continue that way.
Because let's face it:  if the colours are overlapping by 4 stitches at each end of every row, there WILL come a point when it all just explodes in your face...
And the delusions you had about the stitch pattern looking a bit like Christmas trees on a snowy Alpine hillside are replaced by the reality that this is, in fact, an explosion on a ski-slope... in which many Santas, reindeer and elves lost their lives.
This is my first Thora sock, a Rachel Coopey pattern, knitted in Knitting Goddess 4 ply sock (80/20 merino/nylon) in the Jolly Holly colourway, a present to myself using my mother's birthday cheque (so that doesn't count as stash acquisition at all, does it?!)
Luckily, it is for me :)
It started spiralling again after the heel turn. The cheek of it!
I cast these on on Sunday, in the run up to a close family funeral to which I was not welcome but which FL absolutely had to attend.  We had house guests.  FL met his grandchildren for the first time and caught up with many old friends.  It has been a very sad and yet in some ways happy week.
Today we were back at the hospital, where we were told he is better than he has been in years... and that his myeloma is creeping back.
But let's focus on the good stuff - FL is better than he has been in years, and he has met his grandchildren, and I have the loudest sock this side of New Year!
Oh - and we have each other - woo hoo!
And this week's random outfit photo?
I call this one the "Country Christmas Camber" :)

Monday, December 09, 2013

49 before 50: Make Tea in a Pot (with bonus FO)

One of the aims of my 49 before 50 list is to slow down and make more of my experiences.
To start to take more notice of the world around me, enjoy new tastes, relish the old ones.
While I love my morning coffee, I can only cope with two mugs a day or I start to go a bit doolally ;)
Tea doesn't seem to have the same effect.
But I had started to knock back multiple cups of "builder's tea" without paying much attention to what I was drinking.  It was just a hot drink which punctuated my day at regular intervals, keeping me warm and giving me an excuse to leave my desk.
I wasn't really enjoying it.
So I started buying loose-leaf tea instead of tea bags, and brewing it in my lovely Zero Japan pot.
When The Girl and I went on holiday to Hebden Bridge, I treated myself to two packets of Hebden Tea:  their Queen's Jubilee Earl Grey with Cherry and some Nuwara Eliya Ceylon Orange PekoeOoh - fancy!
FL took a shine to the Cherry tea, and it was soon gone.
So in October I visited the Hebden website and tried out a few more of their specialities:  Lady Hebden (an Earl Grey-type with orange), Earl Grey Blue (a gentle Earl Grey with a subtle bergamot taste), and the Hebden Breakfast Blend ( a simple black tea with lots of flavour).
Lady Hebden took the place of the Cherry tea in FL's affections and we are down to our last spoonful!
Fortunately, Cherry is back in stock, so I have made a pre-Christmas order for that, more Lady Hebden, some Mango and (very exciting this!) some Santa Tea, which is a seasonal blend of black tea with Apple and Vanilla :)
This is all light years away from PG Tips or Typhoo tea bags!  And while those still have a place in my life when I need a quick cuppa, my tea pot now has pride of place next to the kettle.
It is such a pleasant, calming ritual to measure out my spoonful of leaves into the little metal basket, pour over the boiling water and wait for it to infuse, inhaling the fragrant steam all the while.  Ahhh!
But... what is THIS?!
No, FL that is not your Christmas hat!  Put it down immediately!
While my son was here in the summer, he was intrigued by the tea ceremony, and for his Christmas /  21st birthday he has asked for a tea pot.   Well, I could not possibly let it go naked, could I?!
I have knitted him this rather special tea cosy, using the Baby Jester Hat pattern by Woolly Wormhead.
It took one ball of JC Rennie Chunky Aran plus the remains of the two handspuns I used to make another gift tea cosy, the Betty.
No jester is complete without bells and pompoms!
But the weight of those fluffy beasts was pulling the points down and flattening the top of the cosy, so I stuffed the top with some bfl fibre, which will also help to insulate the pot - woo hoo!
I think The Boy will appreciate it... if I can just get it away from my darling FL!