‘Extreme’ Knitting rug

When on holiday in the Pennines in October I started making a rug with the ‘extreme knitting’ kit my Mum got me the previous Christmas, and was quite excited to be doing so. The kits are by Rachel John, a textile artist. The idea is that you use giant needles with several strands of yarn, to make big things. The kit Mum selected for me was, happily, in autumn colours because she knows I like them. It fitted nicely using the autumn colours when it actually was autumn. I don’t know whether they’re natural dyes, but it’s definitely 100% wool, it smells strongly of sheep, which makes my husband sneeze! It’s worn off a bit now, though. The instructions were quite vague, I think deliberately because you’re supposed to get creative, but she did give tips on the size needle to use for ‘x’ number of strands of yarn. I do have big needles, but they aren’t very long, so I went with her first suggestion of 15mm needles and 6 strands of yarn, with 36 stitches to the row. I wanted to knit stripes of different widths, and pretty much did that as I went along, doing some stripes then laying it out to see what would look good next. I didn’t want to have stripes of the same width next to each other, and tried not to do too many repeat colour combinations, though some do naturally go better together. The blue and the lighter yellow stand out, so I wanted them to be reasonably evenly spaced along the length of the rug.

 

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A practical problem was that the kit consisted of 28 balls, 4 each of 6 colours (a light and dark yellow, brown, green, and 1 shade of blue), so to do stripes with 6 strands of yarn I had to make 6 balls of one colour by unravelling some balls, cutting them, and tying them together to make six. Knitting with 6 strands also meant that when it came to colour changes I couldn’t do as usual and start a row knitting with two colours for a few  stitches, because that would mean knitting with 12 strands for a bit! So I had to just knots, and there are a lot of knots mid-way through rows as well because I didn’t work methodically making the six balls of each colour. I made sure the knots were at the back and fortunately they disappear into the thickness of the rug quite nicely. I regret not leaving lengths of yarn where there were colour changes near the beginning to weave into the back of the mat, and just snipping close to the knot, because they are now really obvious. I changed this after the first few colour changes, so there are only a few, but it’s a shame.

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I’ve never made tassels before, but husband helped me and they turned out okay. They’re simple ones, no cardboard involved. I finished the rug itself just after Christmas but it took me til last weekend to do the tassels. It was a struggle because I’ve had a bad cold which really got going last weekend, so I did tassels on the Saturday with a hacking cough, but they’re done now! The cold’s still there, but going (more slowly than I would like). Glad I didn’t get the ‘flu, touch wood, but by Sunday afternoon it was edging in that direction and I took to my bed for a bit and had to take Monday off work.

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The rug is lovely and soft to walk on. While knitting it I was sorry as it became apparent that 36 stitches equals a long and narrow knit – its finished size is c. 6 ft x 2ft, but am glad now because it’s nice in our corridor thingy. It would probably be good by a bed, running along one side, but our bedroom is almost too small for the bed, we have it pushed against the wall and you can only walk between the wall where the door is and the bed by walking sideways crab-like, hence why all the chests of drawers are in the corridor, so no room for the rug in the bedroom. But I make these things with my ‘one day’ home in my head, so hopefully one day we’ll get there! If you had a two-storey house it would look nice on an upstairs landing, I think.

Back to my autumn quilt, as well as finishing a cross stitch cushion cover, getting on with  a new jumper I’ve started, and planning a new (winter) quilt! Oh, and making some pyjama bottoms… wouldn’t like to get bored, or actually finish my backlog before starting something new!

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Mum’s Christmas present

I know, it’s New Year’s Eve and I’m writing about Christmas! I had to wait until after Christmas Day to share this post because it’s about the present I made for my mum, and I didn’t want to spoil the surprise in case she read my blog. A week’s passed since Christmas, and I’ve been trying to finish two projects that for psychological reasons only, I wanted to have finished by the New Year. Haven’t managed either, of course, but one awaits only tassels and the other really only needs another day, so I’m writing this now lest another thing I wanted to do by the New Year isn’t done! Ignoring a pile of ironing in the process, of course.

I started this in October, having seen a fab fabric by Lewis and Irene, featuring farmyard animals which though cartoon versions, were recognisable breeds – belted Galloway cows and Herdwick sheep, for example. My Mum’s a Knitter (capitals intended) and I thought this would be a great fabric with which to make a knitting bag. Plus, I’ve never made a bag before or grappled with lining. I bought the main fabric and another consisting only of sheep, also by Lewis & Irene, from one website; they were discontinued. I got them all from the same manufacturer because I’ve learned the hard way from my autumn quilt that matching fabrics by different designers is hard, not just regarding colour, but also the thickness of the cotton. I wanted a third because the two blended together too much, but on a second website found another featuring pheasants which I really liked, so it had to go in even though it blended a bit, then another that was from a different Lewis and Irene range, with the same theme but with much smaller design elements, more ‘ditsy’, and which had a matching but dark teal background so acted as my contrast.

I bought a pattern from Etsy, though it was for jelly roll strips and I wanted to do squares, so I changed the sizing a bit. I cut strips with help from my husband, who helpfully pointed out that if I just went for it with the farmyard one I’d be cutting off some animal heads! I’ve been known to do that before. I made sure to cut it in the direction that would leave me pieces of the right size for the strip across the top and for straps etc. Then the fun part of cutting squares (I ended up cutting a square-shaped hole in a piece of paper and holding it over the farmyard fabric to make sure I got the best scenes! Followed of course by ages arranging the squares just so.

The squares for the two sides of the bag, sewn together:

side 2 comp

side 1 comp

 

I sewed strips across the top, as per the instructions, and decided to make the base from the same fabric as the lining. It’s probably the least exciting of the four fabrics! Then I quilted it, just doing diagonal lines across the squares. Same as I always do, I’ve never been brave enough to try anything else. BUT this  was the first time using the new quilting foot Mum got me last Christmas after the cheap one I bought online first didn’t work well, then broke completely. This one was so much better, definitely a case of ‘you get what you pay for’. Thank you, Mum and Dad!

quilted comp
Two sides and base of the bag-to-be after quilting

 

Getting the squares to meet on the side seams when putting them together after  quilting is hard because you can’t see the squares from the reverse because of the quilt line. I  had one unpick and redo, and it still isn’t perfect, but it’s okay. More annoyingly, I didn’t think to make the outside squares into rectangles, making them wider to accommodate the 3/8 – 1/2 inch seam allowance required for sewing the sides of the bag together rather than the 1/4 inch for patchwork squares, so the quilting doesn’t have continuity at the edges, which looks messy. It would never have been perfect, but it would have been less obvious.

sides not quite matching comp

I didn’t have enough fabric to make the lining from a single piece, but it worked out well because using two pieces meant the sheep on each side of the bag could all be facing the right way up! No spacesheep swirling in zero gravity. I had to put a little piece in between the two, just because of the amount of fabric I had, but I think it’s okay. Unfortunately the interfacing I had wasn’t good and I had some problems getting it to stick.

lining comp
Lining

I made the pocket and the straps from the teal background with ditsy-ish hens; sewing a 1/8 inch topstitch down the sides of the straps wasn’t easy and the result a bit wobbly, but when I unpicked the wobbly one quite late at night and redid it, only to then realise it  wasn’t the wobbly one I’d just done but the okay one, I decided to pack that in and just leave it alone. Sewing on the strap ends to the top of the back within a very small seam allowance, as per the instructions as I understood them, means I don’t think it would bear much weight. My attempt at it was messy, but you don’t see it when it’s finished.

strap attached comp
Strap sewn to top of bag

 

inside out comp
The lining pinned face-to-face with the outer bag, ready to be sewn together.

I had immense difficulty fathoming out what the instruction for the base of the bag meant. Triangles were involved, and scarily, ‘snipping’ off their points (for ‘snipping’, read ‘hacking off 3 inches of material’). I only worked it out by setting up the bag as it would look when finished and trying various origami-type set-ups til the right one presented itself. Better diagrams in the pattern would have been appreciated. It’s amazing how often I find myself puzzled by pattern instructions; I think that’s where YouTube comes in. Still not sure it’s quite right, unless the edges are meant to have a fold a bit in from where they join the side fabric:

base comp

I left a hole in the lining and, again late at night, having sewn around the top of the lining and outer bag, with difficulty, and in a scene less bloody than ones on farming programmes but still reminiscent of calving, pulled the outer bag through the gap in the inner lining.

Only to find….

something missing comp

no handles!

I’d trapped them between the bag and lining. So had to unpick it and do it again. Though I only unpicked the parts where the handles were, tied off the ends, and redid that part, thus avoiding the tricky bit where the side seams of the bag meet. I find sewing circular or tubular shaped things on the sewing machine really hard.

almost finished comp
More like it!

Then after the magical ‘big reveal’ of turning it the right way round, some top stitching to keep it in place, and it was finished.

finished bag comp

side 2 finished comp

side 1 finished comp

 

A Happy New Year to all!

Christmas bits and pieces

We bought and decorated a tree at the weekend and I do like having it in the corner of the room, smelling all pine-y and nice! We got a Norwegian spruce so the needles will drop everywhere, but it was cheaper, smells stronger, and looks bushier so I like it, though it’s a shame the thin branches can’t hold the weight of bigger decorations. I think it looks better in real life than in the photo.

Christmas Tree

The prosecco on the mantlepiece, by the way, was given to my husband allegedly by a pigeon, for rescuing it from the chimney of his office at work… something to do with it being stuck and him putting a light underneath to lure it down and release it, when the works department wouldn’t help. The tag is written in very small writing and says he – the pigeon – has 20 baby pigeons who would have missed their daddy at Christmas. Someone in his office has a sense of humour! (I think the prosecco was left over from an office function, maybe the one he missed when we got snowed in).

I finished a hat I started knitting when staying with my parents. The directional knitting was okay until right at the end, when there would have been a strange lump so Mum and I just cut it off in its prime and pulled it through the last few stitches to finish it off. I also had a big old to-do when it said to keep knitting until it measured 20 inches, but that that had  to be on row 14 – it was too long when I got to row 14 and no amount of fiddling about with stopping it on a different row worked. I pulled out loads and now can’t tell you whether I pulled it back a whole repeat, or knitted it up again with a tighter tension. The yarn (acrylic) was a brand called Bergat that I hadn’t heard of before. Anyway, it sort-of worked except that it’s too big for me so I have to roll up the brim and with my round face it doesn’t suit me at all! The last hat I knitted wasn’t great either, but I got used to it, then I lost it. Perhaps I should give up on hat knitting.

Hat

Lastly, I made this cross stitch Christmas card kit for my brother, with beads. I really like the design, it’s effective yet simple (if a bit fiddly). This kit was in a sale but still really more than I should pay for a Christmas card, but I’ve kept the pattern and it should be easy to get the fabric and threads to make again. The worst part was putting it into the card holder using double-sided sticky tape. Only in the photo (which is on my mantlepiece at home for display purposes before I sent it) have I noticed the top of the pot looks wonky, I don’t know how, perhaps the fabric stretched when I stuck it to the card. Oh well, too late now. It’ll remind him of me at Christmas, like I’d let him forget (hee hee)!!!

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Card

Work Christmas carol service tonight then drinks and nibbles. Maybe having it on a Monday is to dissuade us from staying too late!

 

Cathedral Windows Christmas tree decoration

I’m just back from a week staying with my parents in the home I grew up in Northumberland (for those who don’t know it, a county in the far north east of England, bordering Scotland, with hills and a beautiful coastline). While there I made a Christmas tree decoration using a pattern I bought on Craftsy months ago. I’ve never done cathedral windows before, and think the effect of them is stunning, but knew that when the pattern introduction said it would be ‘easy’, ‘quick’, and ‘simple’, that wouldn’t be true – at least not for me!

It’s a double-sided decoration, the ‘O’ shape on one side and ‘X’ on the other. I followed the instructions with not the least idea of where they were heading. It’s a bit like origami, but with sewing. At least I though to use spray starch, because the pieces are tiny.

Here are the two sides after the first stage was completed:

compressed

Can’t explain how I did it (and if I’d known what it would look like once unfolded would probably have positioned the left and right green triangles so the fabric pattern wasn’t facing the same way, but as it turns out you can’t see that when it’s finished); but the pattern if anyone would like to do it is by Shelley’s Studio. The green is scraps left over from the Christmas cushion cover I made for my brother last year. Hope he remembers to bring it out this year!

Then you sew a third colour on at the corners, and open up pieces to reveal the colours beneath, and sew them down. Rather like slits in Tudor gentleman’s robe, I suppose. This is one side mid-process:

O midway compressed

Unfortunately I forgot that I am hopeless at binding, at least the part where you have to get the beginning and end to fit together. I also definitely needed a longer piece of binding. I cut the pieces before going home and took them with me on the train, so when the pattern said ‘at least 14 1/2 inches’ I cut it to exactly that but should have made it longer. Although it’s a single rather than double binding I turned the edge up to stop it fraying, which the pattern didn’t mention though I think it looks better. But I ended up with not enough to make the fourth corner mitred like the others, and with a lump, not to put too fine a point on it, at the point where the start and finish of the binding met. So all I could do was make it as neat as possible and try to hide it under a thicker piece of velvet ribbon hanging than I would have chosen. Fortunately Mum had some I could use, because I forgot to bring any with me. I would have preferred to have the end of the hanging ribbon inside the binding, but even without the mess at that corner which needed to be disguised, couldn’t work out how to do that.

The overall effect of the finished item is nice, though the ‘X’ has come out better than the ‘O’. I would make one again, but be prepared to spend a long time on it. I wanted to leave this one with Mum and Dad so stayed up late, a Christmas ‘tradition’ I really must stop!

The ‘X’ in two different lights (to try and show the gold snowflakes):

X compressedX on wood

 

And the ‘O’:

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And in situ (blurred I’m afraid, I was in a rush)!:

tree compressed

Changing seasons

We went on holiday to the North Pennines a month ago, but it doesn’t feel so long ago; so much crafting has been going on since then! Before we left, I finished this autumn jumper, in Rowan British sheep breeds boucle:

jumper

It’s perhaps a size too big (the last two having been a size smaller than I would have liked it seems this time I over-compensated), but I like it.

I took projects with me on holiday that I can’t do on the train so don’t get much attention unless I’m on leave… an ‘extreme knitting’ rug, the quilt back and leaf shapes to do applique, and my cross stitch cushion cover. Also the pieces for the next autumn block, the wool to knit snowmen Christmas tree decorations, and even some pieces to make cathedral window Christmas tree ornaments. Good to have a choice! In the end, I focussed on the cross stitch, though mostly when on the long car journey, and the rug. Neither are finished, but are close, if I could have continued to focus on them when I got back.

Had some nice days when away…

And some less nice…

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… but it was great to be away.

When we got back, I did finish the autumn block:

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This reused the dark orange fabric in the centre that came from a block I’d dismantled, and used most of what’s left of a fabric I bought on ebay at the beginning of the project and which is best used for ‘fussy cutting’ because the motifs aren’t close together. It is an old fabric, thin and frays easily, so I’m a bit worried about how long it will last in the quilt. It’s quite hard to sew fabrics of different thicknesses together and I know this has ‘issues’! The tan coloured fabric is Moda and is very useful for autumn projects.

A last burst of colour in a London park a couple of weeks ago  (complete with dustbin, sorry!):

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Since then, I’ve been working on a Christmas present which I really need to have finished by this coming Friday, when I’m getting the train to stay with my family for a bit as sadly I won’t see them at Christmas, so if I have it finished in time I can take it with me rather than trusting it to the post. It uses the sewing machine so really I can only do it at weekends – evenings in an emergency but I’m tired when I get home from work and make mistakes – but these last few weekends have been busy, with my husband’s family visiting and other things, so it’s not gone as smoothly as I’d have liked. I should finish it by working on it these next few evenings, it’s just something I’ve never done before so I’m doing a lot of reading and re-reading of instructions!

Then these little fellows have kept me occupied… They had to be delivered to church yesterday, to be put with other items to be sold at the church Christmas Tree Festival next weekend. So early! I feel like Christmas is over with before Christmas Day is even in sight, it’s so confusing and the day itself a bit of an anti-climax, I guess that’s getting older but with no children of my own – sorry, that’s a bit depressing. I’ll have to get used to it, because that’s the way it’s going to be now, best make the most of it. My in-laws will come to us on Christmas Day so at least it’s not just the two of us. I’ll try not to stress out about the cooking, when people are older they have fixed likes and dislikes which take precedence and that makes me anxious, but I should calm down and try to get a sense of perspective, because it’s okay really. At least on home turf I can have a glass of wine with Christmas dinner, which they don’t do. Anyway, here are the finished snowmen, which took me an insane amount of time to finish, the earliest I went to bed each night last week was 11, past midnight some nights, and I get up for work at 5.50. Crazy little snowmen!

snowmen

 

 

 

Different fussy-cut pumpkins (and more sparkle)

I feel more inspired now that autumn is kicking in.

I was looking for ways to re-use the green and brown fabrics here that I’d rescued from blocks that hadn’t worked and I’d taken apart, so after much fiddling about with different options – as usual – I eventually came up with this one. The pumpkin fabric is from a piece I bought in the clearance section of a website and at first I’d discounted it because most of the motifs are too big for what I’m doing, but then I thought I could do as for the last block and ‘fussy-cut’ small pieces out of it. It does lead to wasted fabric, but worth it for this and not so bad when it’s on sale. Maybe the centre square could have been a different fabric, but a big block of something plain in the centre sometimes looks a bit too stark. I do realise my pattern now seems to be to use these plain pieces in shades of tan for the background of the flying geese and don’t want to do too many of them, but I think it’s okay for now.

pumpkins

I’ve  made slower progress on finishing this block because I’ve been working on a machine-stitched project at home. Top secret so pictures after Christmas! I’ve got as far as making the quilt sandwich and doing one line of quilting, but ran out of thread! It was just as well because that was Sunday and this coming Saturday morning we’re leaving for a week’s holiday so I wanted to spend Sunday afternoon (after my driving lesson) choosing colours for the next block so I can sew it while we’re away, and if I hadn’t run out of machine quilting thread I might not have stopped then I would be holiday-block-less.

I’ve also bought the backing piece for the quilt. It came yesterday so I washed it and it is still on the dryer as we speak – it’s rather large so drying it on my free-standing electric dryer is awkward, but we don’t use the tumble dryer due to expense and have nowhere outside to hang things (it’s raining anyway). My plan is to applique leaf shapes on it which will be made out of autumn fabrics. That way I can use some that I bought online but have turned out to not be the right shade, or were early mistakes. I think it should look good and removes difficulties of the seams of pieces making up the back not lining up with quilting lines, but it will take a long time and is not exactly something I can do on the train, so I thought I’d get a head start and alternate doing that at home with making up blocks on the daily commute. At least, that’s the plan!

I think this is block 33 and I’m looking at a 8×10 block quilt… so only 47 to go! I don’t know if I can get my head round that.

The estate agent through whom we rent our flat is coming to do a flat inspection while we’re both out at work tomorrow. I don’t like people looking around while we’re not there but there’s nothing I can do. I’ve been on a washing, ironing, and dusting spree because I don’t want to have laundry hanging around while she’s in there, so more ironing tonight, hoovering, tidying of the baskets of fabric and piles of paperwork (and hiding of candles! Not that our contract says we can’t have them but you never know)… by the time I’ve done all that, then on Thursday and Friday actually do some packing, I’ll be so whacked I’ll probably be too tired to make the most of being away. Hope not, because we’re going north and I’m looking forward to fresher airs and if it isn’t cloudy every day seeing some stars. Too much light pollution as well as air pollution down south.

Autumn block with fussy-cut fun pumpkins

I like the term ‘fussy cutting’ that I picked up from Peggy Cooper’s lovely blog (https://peggycooperquilts.com/) – it’s something I do occasionally but hadn’t thought about it having a name – now I know it I’m going to use it more! I’m not sure if using it as an adjective as in the title is the done thing, but I’m doing it anyway…

IMGP1042 comp

The flying geese round the centre square use the very last of the special autumn leaves fabric I love so much: they’re recycled from a block I didn’t like and took apart, and I’m so happy I did because they’re used much better here. I’m not convinced about the use of colour in the central triangles at the edge (where two flying geese are sewn together), but the number of variations I tried in order to get this the best I could was ridiculous! In the end I had it all except the four small squares at the corner of the sort of block-within-a-block, so when I found a remnant of the fabric that I ended up using I was really pleased. It’s one I’ve tried to work into other blocks because I like it, but it’s only ended up in one. Part of the problem is that the background’s white and bright, and the other is that the motifs on it are quite widely spaced. Hence the fussy cutting, so I could get a tiny part of the edge of a sunflower in alongside the leaf and pumpkin in two squares. I would have liked more, but there just weren’t enough on the piece of fabric. I kicked myself for cutting squarely round the pumpkin used on the top right, because it would have looked better at an angle, but I used it anyway because it’s nice to have the two pumpkins with different patterns. That fabric is very thin, not easy to work with, and a couple of the corners of those squares came out stretched when I ironed them so they don’t look their best. I now realise I should have starched them… too late!

One problem with having spent so long choosing the fabrics for this one is that I only finished sewing it together on Sunday afternoon and didn’t have time to choose fabrics for the next one, so have no sewing to do on the train for my daily commute, I feel bereft!