Tuesday, 31 March 2015


Well now.  I made a patchy-work quilt!  It's not a traditional one, with fantastically precise geometry, but kind of a wildly modern one of mismatched and layered patches.  Gee's Bend is not where I live, obviously. 

In the process, I've learned quite a lot.   

Firstly, I love fabric.  I love pattern.  I love color.  Really, I do!  No matter that I strive to have 100% black and monochrome wardrobe.  What is available to you now at any well-stocked fabric store is amazing, and these designers always release collections that work so eccentrically well together.  This was a collection of fat quarters I had picked up here and there for the past year, almost always heavily discounted as last year's pattern collection.  Liberty, Westminster Fabrics, Rowan, Amy Butler.  I went for blues-greens-yellows in various electric shades and amassed enough to start thinking about a project that would take up more fabric than a tote bag.  Originally, I had no real desire to quilt, as it seemed like a process that would be taking me down quite the rabbit hole.  Whatever, I did it anyway.  It's not like I'm going to be sitting by the fire and hand-stitching this.

The original pile of scraps

I chose a pattern for the quilt top in Amy Butler's In Stitches book and roughly followed it.  She called for bigger chunks of fabric; I pieced together fat quarter pieces until I got the patch dimensions right, sometimes sewing together several lengths of scraps to get where I needed to.

Stitched-together quilt top

I don't have a long-arm sewing machine, so I figured a full-sized quilt top would be easiest to deal with since feeding the entire quilt through the tiny gap allowance on my Singer was anxiety-inducing.

Rather weirdly, in the Amy Butler pattern, she has you sew the quilt top pieces onto muslin backing.   From everything else I read about quilts, I found nothing about doing that technique, and I just sewed the quilt top together.  That ended up being the easiest step.

Once I had that done, I found 4.5 meters of fantastically contrasting fabric for the backing- a geometric print in similar blue-greens from Westminster called "Summer Tweed", and some lightweight cotton-poly blend quilt batting.  Or wadding, as they call it in the UK.  

So the basic quilting 101 theory is this (in case you are a complete amateur like me):  you need to make a sandwich with the backing, the batting and the quilt top.  You pin it all together (or you can sew about a thousand tailor's tacks to hold it together).  Preferably with safety pins if you choose to pin.  I did not.  Feeding a quilt with a hundred pins holding it together through the machine led to blood.  It was mine.  I pricked my hands constantly before I wised up to why the instructions specified safety pins at this point.    

et voila!  a finished quilt

 With your layers sandwiched together, you sew around all your patches.  Once it's secured, you can figure out your quilting lines- the decorative stitching on top that will secure the batting in place so you don't end up with it bunched up in every corner, and to add interest to the quilt top.

This was the hardest part for me.    There was much rolling and turning and pushing and pulling to get all the quilt lines down.  I tried to start in the centre and work my way out, and just did alternating sections of vertical and horizontal stripes either 1" or 2" apart.  This step took days, and a few days more of the quilt being in time-out as I learned to walk away.

My biggest problem was the thread.  I chose, after much deliberation, a light weight cream thread in 100% poly.  At first, I thought an acid lime green would be just wonderful, but after realizing my quilting lines might be quite imperfect, I decided to go with the subtle.


I had so many problems with this thread and tension.  It was maddening.  Next time, I'll choose a thicker thread.  Almost every time I stopped the machine, or even paused, the thread would manage to wind around the bottom bobbin and I'd have to stop, clip the threads, untangle and re-thread every single time.  It just wasn't right.  I also ended up ripping back quite a lot once it was done to fix spots where the tension was wonky enough to make it look sloppy.

The other thing I really struggled with was the bias tape.  I hate picky-picky work like that (I normally just go out and BUY the stuff, pre-folded), but I used the leftover meterage from the quilt back to tie the edges together with homemade bias tape.  It went...a bit sloppy.  I had to go around the entire quilt a second time as the front and back of the tape ended up not always keenly matching up.

So yes, this did cause me a bit of pain and suffering.  No, it's not quite big enough to cover a queen-sized bed, and it won't be winning any prizes at the county fair, unless the county population is exactly 1.  But look- it's all my favorite scraps of fabric, all haphazardly stitched together in a nice summer-weight blanket.  It's functional, I swear it!  I don't know if I'm jumping on the quilting bandwagon any time soon, but it was a really nice way to teach myself and understand the technique, and a good excuse to start hoarding more fabric scraps.

I love it despite its imperfections.

Monday, 30 March 2015

FO: Var

My obsession with all thing Icelandic continues.  While I won't be stocking deliciously fragrant Hakarl any time soon, I am loving lopapeysa sweaters.  Casual, functional, warm colorwork pullovers and cardigans were my go-to this winter.  Now that it is springtime, I still wanted to wear one, so I decided to fight my fear of zippers once again and make a jacket that is still warm and weatherproof without being too swampy-pits on.

The great thing about Icelandic sweater patterns is they all follow a very basic formula for men and women alike- a tube for the body, two tubes for the sleeves, then you join the whole mess when it hits the yoke and decrease down to the neck.  They are perfectly unisex, and while you can add waste shaping for a more flattering fit, I opted not to.  I found a yoke pattern that I loved but it didn't match my gauge (Var), so I mashed it up with another sweater that did (Frost) and added a steek in the front so I could install a zipper.  Both patterns are found in the Istex Lopi 29 book, which is full of patterns that you can just adapt and run with your own creation.

I wanted a longer sweater, a bit oversized, so I know this isn't the most flattering length on someone with curves.  I wanted function over fashion this time around though, and having something that reaches you hip makes for a really warm jumper.  I also added a hood.  It just felt right to be able to have a built-in hat on something that I would wear in such changeable spring weather.  Plus, I've never made anything with a hood before and was long overdue.

I am also getting so much better at installing zippers.  This one I got right on only the second try!  It's practically bulge-free, and the whole process went so smoothly that I have conquered my fear and I'm zipper-ready for anything.

The pattern for the hood also said that you should roll the edge of the hood under and seem it in place, but it does that naturally without any help from me, so I left the edge unfinished.  If you were really inspired, you could do an i-cord edging on it, or extend the button band up and around it, but I think it was fine as it is.

I used up almost all of the Rowan British Sheep Breeds that I had in my stash.  The colors:
White= BFL
Black-Brown= Black Welsh
Brown-Grey= Jacob
I also used small amounts of Grey Suffolk and Moorit Shetland, as I was just down to scraps with those and still wanted to put them to use.  

It's just fascinating to feel the different wool characteristics in this way.  The BFL is by far the softest and silkiest and I want to buy all of it in the world and live in a house made of it.  

I am quite pleased with it.  It's just suck a simple design and only took a few weeks to whip up with no real intense effort needed.  I'm quite sad to see it done, as this is the very last of the instant gratification projects for a while.  On to sock-yarn pullovers!

Friday, 20 March 2015

Let Down by London Skies

One of my most vivid childhood memories was that of a solar eclipse.  They made a big deal of it in school and tricked everyone out with welding glasses and pinhole cameras and warned us up and down not to actually look at the thing.  I remember it being spring, and the entire school was allowed to run wild on the lawn for the occasion.  

It was quite the eerie event.  It was a bright, perfectly sunny spring afternoon and once the eclipse started, it became progressively darker.  The thing I remember most vividly is the symphony of bird song as the birds began to urgently roost in the false twilight.  It was deafening, and once the moon had moved away and the earth began to warm up again, there was a sort of embarrassing silence as the birds realized it was just a false alarm.  It was magic, and being a nerdy kid into science and astronomy and birds and nature and just getting outside during a school day made it pretty much the best day ever.         

I was quite excited for this one that could be seen over England this morning.  I woke up early, planning to go out to climb the hill in Greenwich and see it from the Royal Observatory.  Alas, thwarted by rather English weather, I realized I might as well just look out my window as I couldn't even figure out which direction east was based on the sun.  The day started out darkly cloudy, got darker and more gloomy, and then went back to being just regularly darkly cloudy.  I don't think anyone in London really noticed that there was an eclipse at all.  

The magic moment of the near-total eclipse:

Naturally, the afternoon is blindingly sunny.

Thanks, Obama.

Happy Equinox!

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

The earliest yawn of springtime

Springtime is just the most glorious time, isn't it?

The newness of it all, the novelty of the early flowers.  Winter wasn't even all that much of a hardship here in southern England.  The thing I had the most problem with was the darkness- if you didn't make a point of getting out, you could easily go days without getting a little daylight.  But now spring is here, and moody and damp alternates with sunny and hopeful.

Naturally, I jumped the gun and left my basil plant that had over-wintered on the window sill out too early.  I now have an ex-basil plant.

All the things you took advantage of in the cold months is now over.  Maltby Street in Bermondsey is  once again a scrum, with a tangle of beards and piercings and skinny jeans all pushing their way through the narrow alleyway, dodging harried waiters with fancy cocktails and inhaling the smells of whole roasted hogs.  Museums and restaurants are now packed, and having London to myself is a thing of the past.

Naturally, getting out into the countryside becomes a priority when the sun gets to my head.  After the mudbath of a couple weeks ago, I found a drier bit of trail...when in doubt, head for the hills!

After a train ride to Rochester, in which a hat lovingly handknit with Madeline Tosh Merino in the color Graphite was sadly left behind, we walked a stretch through the city, past adorable shops and an impressive cathedral and a Norman castle that stands guard the River Medway.  

We picked up a trail along the banks of the river, which were mudflats filled with gulls and ducks and waders.  Rather stupidly, I had doubled up on wool socks, thinking that it would be helpful in preventing blisters.  Less then two miles in and my heels looked bloody awful.  I stopped to put on the Compeed plasters that I always bring along (but never had to use!) and hoped for the best.

The North Downs Way passes over the Medway on this super motorway and highspeed rail bridge.  I really didn't mind skipping that bit of walking at all.

With the motorway behind us and occasional thunders of the train going from London to Paris at breathtaking speeds, the countryside opened up and once again we were walking in the lovely bucolic downland of Kent.  Considering this was only 45 minutes outside of London...not bad.

One notable thing:  a burial chamber on the hill, left by the ancients, the cremated remains long gone.

Rather mystifying why they would put the mile marker on a tombstone:

Really, I've only done 80 miles on this trail?  It feels like a lot more than that.  One thing I can say about this trail: it's great that it's so close to London and so easy to do stretches on the commuter rail.  Also, Surrey and Kent are both infuriatingly well served by motorways.  The trail has got some good climbs here and there, it keeps you in trees quite a lot, and there is very little chance anyone might ever get lost.  

The original plan had been to do 18 miles to Hollingbourne, but as we sat down at the pub with the obscene name for a breather I thought otherwise.  

My feet were in all sorts of agony.  New boots, the early double sock error.  Oh, what a world!  I took out the map and found a train station 4 miles closer than Hollingbourne.  I always feel like a lousy cheat when I take a shortcut or deviate from the original plan, but 14 miles is still not a bad walk.  Right?

Instead of climbing back onto the downs, we headed across the fields to the nearest train station, and let the rails take us home.

I did find a lovely little church tucked between some farms and some grand estates, which is always so charming to find.

So there.  We did our first big walk since early January.  My feet have recovered and I've been doing the fashionable thing and wearing my hiking boots around London, ignoring the fact that they don't go with a smart skirt and blouse combo.  The things I do for fashion!  

Monday, 16 March 2015

FO: Babette Blanket

Like so many knitters, I had accumulated a really large amount of scraps since I've started knitting.  Hopefully, you end a project and still have a bit left and don't have to put a funky contrasting stripe in.  Ahem.  What to do, with all those odd balls and leftovers?  A bit of color-work here and there fits the bill nicely, but it still won't put a dent in my scrappy stash.

Since moving abroad and starting fresh three years ago, I managed to knit enough to once again get an overflowing bin of leftover odds and ends.  Sigh.  I resolved to do something with them instead of cramming yet another partial skein into the bin.  Searching the vast crafty pages of the internet, I ruled out loads of ideas before starting to drift towards blankets.  I have never made one of those before!  My fully-furnished rental flat had a decor scheme of white and beige and zzzzzz I'm sick of that.  


The Babette blanket, a crochet calliphony of different sized squares, all cobbled together and tied up with a border.  It is a sight to behold.   All my sport, sock and robust laceweight yarn scraps...every last bit used up.

If you have received a knitted gift from me in the past few years, chances are you can possibly play a game of I-spy and find your leftovers.  wow, much pink.

It's kind of a hot mess of whatever I could grab and crochet into a square.  I tried to mix it up as best I could without too many similar colors grouped together, but that was really all the planning I did.  I've seen other people's blankets where they actually planned out their color scheme, and it looks fantastic.  However, I am not that color coordinated and I really just wanted all the stash gone.

I did have a small moment of cheating as a friend of mine brought a bag of scraps of Wollmeise to knit night and was just giving it away, so I got a much-needed boost of someone else's stash.  Otherwise, I would have run out of scraps, the horror of it all!

I tried to seam it up as I went along just to save myself the mega headache of getting this all together.  This didn't work really well:  after washing and hanging to dry, the weight of it all unravled many, many seams of the slippery superwash wool.  I spend a whole afternoon piecing it all back together again.  

It really was so simple, and not so huge where it didn't drive me mad.  It's a good scrap-busting project, and it adds a much-needed pop of color to my world of beige.

It's throw sized, so it's nice to curl up on the couch with it with a cuppa.

Since I had never crocheted a square before, a found this tutorial quite helpful:

It took me three or four watches and then I was motoring along like a pro.

 I am quite pleased with it.  No awkward bin of scraps, some cheerful warmth, and self-satisfaction all in one project.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

FO: Oranje

My fair isle obsession continues.  This has been the winter of colorful colorwork for me, with nary a cable or lace to be seen.

I liked the idea and look of a more modern take on the traditional fair isle yoke sweater- something with a bit of shaping and more modern looking yoke motifs- and I've been wanting to cast on for the Oranje cardigan for a while.  I originally thought I would work this monochrome- black, grey, white- but got inspired and replaced the black with the most insanely shocking pink I could dig out of my stash.

The yarn was sport weight, so it took quite a while to get knitted up.  It was pretty boring until the yoke, and then it got colorful and a bit complicated with all the braids tangling up the yarn.

I finished the knitting, then butchered it.

Ha ha, kidding, I machine-stitched neat lines on either side of the steek, and then split it from navel to throat like the barbarian that I am.  Pullover become a cardigan, presto changeo!

 Oh and I did try it on before I sliced this- I was happy with the fit.  Then I washed and blocked it, and wouldn't you know it?  That son of a bitch grew and grew and grew.  Behold the wonders of superwash wool.  I blocked it a bit smaller, with some success.


It is now a too-large cardigan.

I put in button bands, but no buttons or zippers yet as I give this some thought.  The cardigan is in time-out while I decide what to do with it.  I had made the Medium size- 40", wanting something that wasn't skin tight.  Unfortunately, if I would have made the next size down, I would have gotten a much better fit.  So it sits, folded in the corner, waiting for divine inspiration or someone slightly larger then me to be in want of a sweater.  

I love the details- the short rows to build up the back of the neck:

The neatly turned hems:

The colors I chose, and the braids that added texture and gave it a more modern look:

Alas, none of this will make up for the fact that it's about two sizes too big.  It's just way too much fabric for me to swim in!  I did want a relaxed cardigan, but this much ease is just unflattering and unkind to the curvy.  I'm trying to decide if it is worth it to tuck in the button bands and attach a zipper- it would lop off about two inches that way.  I need to somehow get rid of six before I felt like this was a good, flattering fit.

It's not a complete loss: It was fun to knit.  But you can see perfectly in the photo below that all the extra fabric is just hanging out.

But the yarn, ooooh, the yarn.  That touch of cashmere makes it so lush.


I used 2 skeins of Sanguine Gryphon Bugga in Tulip Tree Beauty (grey) and most of one skein of Devil's Flower Mantis (pink) plus a skein of undyed yarn.   I DID SWATCH and yes, I did get gauge.  It's just bad judgement on sizing and yarn drape on my part really.

If anything, this cardigan has taught me to doubt myself a bit more and to take my self-confidence down a few notches.

I did make some modifications: the original has 3/4 sleeves and a high turtleneck that reaches the chin.  I lopped off the turtleneck once I finished the short rows, and added inches to the sleeves.  Having a winter sweater with 3/4 sleeves just seemed silly.

To be continued...

Monday, 2 March 2015


My impatience and wishful thinking for springtime got the better of me the other day.  

I got inspired to try a new trail, put my pretty new boots on and took the Piccadilly Line to the very last stop.  

The London LOOP trail- London Outer Orbital Path- is 150 miles of trails that takes a walker around the outer suburbs of London, mostly through green spaces and parks.  It's broken down into 24 easy-to-reach sections with train and tube stations as your start and end points.  How nice is that?

Most people who fly into Heathrow end up taking the Piccadilly line towards Cockfosters, so it's the train that everyone knows (and giggles at the name) as soon as they get to London.  However, taking the tube out there was quite nice as we ended up having the entire train car to ourselves for most of the trip and celebrated this rare occurrence by singing and dancing loudly and erratically.  

Down the muddy lanes, we took off- the trail is right outside the tube station- and it soon became apparent that even on a nice winter day, it was still winter out.

The mud, the mud, the mud.  It made the going awful.  Despite the way being fairly flat, every step was a slippery mess, and sometimes so sloppy walking became treacherous.

It wasn't long until I had mud coming up over my socks and most of the way to me knees.  This was exhausting work.

Still, we did 10 miles, and it felt more like 20.  The sticky clay mud weighed us down, and later, it took me hours to get the boots cleaned off.

While parts of the trail were kind of pretty- much of it went through small stretches of forest, parkland and farm fields- I found myself terribly bored after just a few miles and ready to be done already.

From a hill in Enfield, the city punctured the horizon.

We were so tired and cold and exhausted at the end, we canceled our dinner plans and curled up on the sofa with Netflix and hot soup for the night.

The trail was understandably quiet- we only passed two other couples on the trail all day.  What, no one wants to join us in cold slogging misery?  Until the springtime winds and sun dry up the bogs a bit, I think I'll not do this again any time soon.  Yes, I have a big walk planned in a month and I want to get the boots broken in and not die on the first 16 mile stretch, but I think I'll stick to the pavement for a bit.