Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Plans and hopes

I'm not huge on New Year's Resolutions. Actually, the holidays we get around winter time aren't hugely important to me anyway. Christmas is a holiday I have a lot of ambivalence about, and last New Year's Eve, Mr Handmade and I fell asleep at around 10 o'clock and were awoken by my sister at about ten to midnight so we could come and see in the new year with my family.

This year, we're doing New Year's Eve very quietly, at home. We've had invitations from several directions, but I've come down with a terribly nasty cold in the last 24 hours, and we'll stay in, drink tea, maybe watch something on Netflix.

I do like how reflective everything gets at this time of year, though. I saw New Year's Resolutions described as 'a to-do list for the first week in January', but it's still nice that people think at this time of year about how to make their worlds better. It's nice, in some ways, to think about how things are compared to this time last year, and to think and wonder and hope about how things will be this time next year.

Compared to this time last year, I'm much happier. I'm in a stable job, not a student any more. I live in a nicer place, closer to family and slightly more convenient for visiting friends and family north of the border. Mr Handmade and I were talking about how 2014 has been a tough year for both of us, and it has - but it's ended stronger than it began. I have a really difficult job, but it's really rewarding. I have some really great, really inspirational coworkers.

Although I don't have resolutions, I have some goals for the coming year. I'd like to read more short stories - I only read one short story collection this year. I have Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood lined up to read, and I have my eye on one or two others, like Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer, which I've been meaning to acquire and read since we read the titular story in a creative writing class I took during my undergrad degree.

I'd like to finish the two fleece-backed quilts I'm working on at the moment. One of them has the top pieced and just needs basting, quilting and binding. The other has around half of the blocks made. They're a top crafting priority for me.

I'd like to make a traditional log cabin quilt. I have a mini-charm pack of midwinter red, from moda, which I plan to use as the hearts of the blocks. I want to use the traditional dark/light division and play with layouts.

I'd like to try a little free motion quilting. I'd like to knit a few more pairs of socks for myself. Mr Handmade needs new gloves and deserves another pair of socks. I'd like to finish my cardigan that's stalled halfway up the body. I'd like to make a few more skirts.

I think that's enough goals for the year ahead. What do you hope will happen in the next twelve months?

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Fire the rockets!

Just needs basting now.Things have been moving slowly. Everything's winding down for... you know... the C word. But all systems are still running here. This particular spaceship (UFO... get it?) has been hanging around for years. I made these blocks when I was 21 or 22, in the second half of my first degree (I have 3). The blocks moved house with me at least five times, without being sewn together. I got them out earlier this year, ironed and starched them, then did nothing else with them.

A few months ago I bought the fleece for the back, expecting to have another row of squares; as you can clearly see in this picture, there's no space for another three blocks added onto that. Three blocks were culled from this quilt (they'll find good homes in other things) and eventually, today, I got around to sewing this top together. I have no real explanation for why it's taken so long for me to do anything with this one; that's just how things are sometimes, I suppose.

One of the reasons is probably that I haven't had a dedicated sewing space of my own before. Now I have the space for it, I've taken the decision to just make my living room into a sewing room. I live alone and keep one end of the table free for things like eating, but I can keep my sewing machine set up and my ironing board available at all times. It's so much easier when all you have to do is sit down and SEW - no messing around, putting things out and having to put them away again when finished.

Anyway, I'm ready to knock this spaceship out of the sky. It needs basting, quilting and binding, and then it can go to its new home on the back of my sofa or my rocking chair. I need to pop out tomorrow and get some curved safety pins (it's about time I stopped stealing my mum's and just bought my own).

It's funny - even the blocks I don't actually like on their own, I like in this mix. It's come together in a way I didn't dare to hope it would. And even if it was the ugliest quilt known to man, it would still be warm and cosy to snuggle under, and it would still contain my first ever quilt blocks. 

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Random saturday

1. The worst part about finishing book 1 of a series in early December is that I don't dare buy book 2 in case someone's already got it for me. I'd hate to ruin someone's carefully planned gift idea. The book in question is The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss. It's pretty standard anti-hero-ish slightly gritty epic fantasy - the main character's a special genius, but at least he doesn't have a special destiny. There's a mysterious woman who he desperately admires. He's the best in his field at whatever he chooses to do. It's pretty well written, though, and has some interesting adaptations of standard fantasy tropes. I'm planning to read the second book.

2. I've done very little knitting of late. I finished an adapted Tilting Tardis cowl in DK Blue-faced Leicester in Something Herbal from Old Maiden Aunt. I've made one Snapdragon Mitten but haven't yet cast on for the other one, in the same yarn.
3. I've pulled three quilt blocks out of my scrappy quilt and have used one so far for a cushion cover. It looks pretty good on my sofa for now, but it has a different home in mind in a few weeks' time.

4. I'm hopelessly behind on my reading goals for the year. I've read 37 books so far, but I'd rather be averaging somewhere around a book each week. I'm reading MaddAddam at the moment, though, which is wonderful and I'll probably finish this afternoon.

5. I've finally got central heating and cooking facilities back in my house. It feels so good to be able to take a hot shower again - living without heat is no way to be in the autumn/winter.

6. I'm taking full advantage of having cooking facilities back to cook a big batch of spaghetti bolognese this afternoon. It's a little sad how excited I am to cook real food in my own house again.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Unidentified Flying Objects

It's an inevitability of being a crafter, I think, that we end up with UFOs surrounding us. Of course I mean Un-Finished Objects. A project can take our fancy, fire us up big time, and then... fizzle. Or sometimes they get set aside so that we can do other things - other projects, other crafts, other work. Sometimes projects are tidied away so that space can be used in other ways. And sometimes we fall out of love with projects in a big way.

For me, it's mostly the time factor that gets in the way of me finishing projects. Well, that and the B word... boredom. Take this project, for example:

I began this project with yarn that a dear friend bought me for christmas... christmas in 2011. Yes, this granny square blanket has been on the go for almost three years. It's over half done, and has stalled and been picked up again many times. I'd love to finish it so I can snuggle under it!

Then there's the quilt that has all of the blocks made, mostly from Leila's skill builder sew-along. I was merrily working on that this summer, but then hit a snag with the length of the fleece. I've come to the conclusion that I'd rather do a shorter quilt than piece or change the back, so now I need to re-figure the layout, decide which blocks to take out, and sew it together. This one's annoying because it's mostly done, just needs probably a day of sewing to get it finished.

So I need to pick 3 blocks here to take out. I'm tempted to take out my 3 favourites and use them for something else - cushion covers, maybe?

Mr Handmade and I love to give each other hand made gifts. He's had several pairs of fingerless mitts and scarves and hats. He's had pyjama trousers and home made birthday cakes and stuff like that. He's never had a quilt from me. Except, his Christmas present from last christmas is a quilt - which is still not finished. (It's ok, I'm also waiting for him to finish my last christmas present, too). I have the fabric picked out and some of the blocks made, just need to get on with it. Hopefully by this christmas.

Then there are all of the knitting projects that are inhabiting my project bags. I should really go through them and do a major frog-or-finish. These are currently strewn across my house. I'd love to just get this stuff finished or reskeined and absorbed back into stash. Currently I'm doing nothing, and a huge part of that is because my job is really, really time consuming, and part of it is because I still need to buy a table for my craft room, but in part it's because there's so much going on that I should be doing that I just don't know where to start or what to do. I'd love to get everything cleared and organised so that I can just have a lovely clean slate to my crafting.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Literally the worst thing ever

You know what is literally the worst thing ever? Moving house.

Packing up all of your belongings, trying to cushion the breakables and wrap the spill-happy or spiky things adequately, filling your car or hiring a van or hiring someone to drive the van and driving for however long it takes to get from there to here and then the undignity of unloading, carrying, cursing, sweating, arranging and rearranging. Not knowing where anything is for the first however long, everything being in a permanent state of just grubby and disorganised and horrible. It's the worst.

You know what's worse than moving house?

Moving house four times within one year.

Yes, that's right. I moved at the end of last August, the middle of last September, the middle of June and the beginning of this August. Four moves, less than twelve months.

As a result, I've had the sewing machine and my stash packed up pretty thoroughly, and it's going to be a while before I can get my craft room set up to the point where I can just go and work on things. So, instead, I've been knitting.

I took a trip to London to visit my elder sibling and a dear friend, and the very best train knitting is, of course, socks. Why of course? Because they're small and portable, tend to have easily memorable pattern repeats, and, most important, nobody wants to sit beside someone with a handful of frightening looking spiky metal needles!

My big project at the moment is a cardigan, in dark purple. The yarn and pattern were bought for me by my godmother (I was named for her, so for my whole life she's been known as 'Big Lilly') and I really like it so far. Of course, I'm congenitally incapable of following a damn pattern as I'm told, so I've eliminated the side seams, patterned the back (it was plain, with lace fronts in the original), and charted out the lace repeat on squared paper. I know that written out instructions work for some people, but charting just makes so much more sense to me. The cardigan is a delicious deep aubergine-y colour.

I'm a bit further along than this picture, but not much. Doing the back and fronts at the same time means it seems to grow slowly, but it isn't really growing slowly. It's just a lovely thing, and I can't wait to finish it so I can wear it everywhere.

My big sewing project du jour is the scrappy quilt for the back of the sofa. Yes, still. I've got the backing for it, and chosen a layout for the blocks, and all that remains really is sewing the stuff together. But I've hit a snag, because my supposedly 60" wide backing fabric turns out to be closer to 57", and with a 60" top, I'm coming up short. I still need to decide what I'm doing with that. It's fleece, so I can't just piece something from the scraps of the top. I'll have to either get different fleece or add a stripe of some other fleece, or shorten the top. I need to get this done, though, so I can snuggle under it on the sofa. My new house is lovely, but a tad on the chilly side.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

On Holiday

As I said in my last post, I'm on holiday at the moment. I spent a week visiting my lovely friend and her family, and now I'm in another city with Mr Handmade, relaxing and enjoying ourselves. There's a great little bakery about a block and a half from our hotel, so we've had some great breakfasts from there. We also took a pretty long uphill walk to a local grocer's and bought things like bread and lactose-free cheese and cereal bars so that we could lunch in the hotel room if we wanted to. This morning we breakfasted in the hotel room because there's an event on in the shopping centre nearby which is causing all sorts of clogged up shops and bakeries and stuff.

I've been enjoying a lot of frozen yoghurt and some great sushi and mexican food, both of which are a little scarce in my hometown. I've taken advantage of better prices over here to buy fabric for myself and I've bought some yarn. Pictures will come after the holiday is over.

Swistle's post about travelling with Elizabeth made me think about what I pack in hand luggage for long flights - it's about a 16 hour journey from my hometown to here, so there's plenty of long time spent in airports and on planes. I pack my handluggage with two aims in mind - first, that I can amuse myself easily on the flight, and second, that if my luggage doesn't arrive with me, I'll be okay for at least two or three days. For this trip, my handluggage contained:

*Two forms of photo ID (passport and driver's licence) with paperwork for travelling.
*Clean underwear (3 pairs) and 2 summer dresses, rolled up tightly to take up little space
*Shower gel, deodorant, shampoo and conditioner in small, travel sized bottles
*All medication needed for the duration of the holiday
*Empty bottle to be filled with water once through security
*Book of sudoku and pencil to fill them out (wasn't used on the flight over)
*2 books (Dust, by Hugh Howey, which I finished, and The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, which I read half of on the plane)
*Kindle, loaded with three new books (Americanah, The Snow Child, The Golden Notebook) and pre-switched to airplane mode
*Headphones (yes, airlines provide them, but my ears are unusually small and my own are more comfortable)
*Ipod, fully charged
*Mobile phone, fully charged and pre-switched to airplane mode
*Charger cables for all of the above electronic items

On one of the flights, I also took a simple knitting project with enough yarn to finish it. I worked on this during the wait at the airport, but not on the plane itself.

How does this differ from what you would tend to pack in your hand luggage?

Friday, 11 July 2014

Secret project revealed

The secret project! It was not one project, really, but three linked ones, gifts for my friend and her family because I'm visiting this week and they're putting up with me. Aren't they wonderful for letting me invade like this?

So I've made three little bags - about ten inches by six, just the right size for some big bars of British chocolate - one each for my dear friend, her mother and her sister. All fully lined, and all with little zipped pockets inside. I hope they'll be a useful size for keeping things in.

I love this detail in the lining of the blue bag - the fabric I used for lining has all sorts of British icons on it, like the tea caddy you can just see there, and afternoon tea. The blue bag was one that I wanted to be light and pretty, for my lovely pretty friend who loves blue. You saw the lining of the inside pocket of this bag last week.

This bag is for a purple-loving lady - no problems with that here! My love of purple is well documented... I wanted something modern and striking, so I did some flying geese for this one. The points have come out very well, I think! Much better than usual for me, anyway.

It's lined with this pretty print which I got from Mandors in Edinburgh, and the pocket is lined with this sweet floral. I have a headband in this fabric that I wear quite often.

Finally, I made subtle inquiries and was informed that one of the party had blue and yellow as her favourite colours. I'm not long on yellows in my stash, but I had this fun print with the bees and the daisies, and the blue with yellow flowers is one from my double bento-box quilt that I made a couple of years ago. I designed this bag to be based on a traditional dove-at-the-window block (one of many with that name), which works wonderfully in just two colours. Finally, I lined it in this rather charming fabric with tea pots and jam on it. The yellow pocket lining was pinched from my mum's stash.

So, there we go. Far more detail than you ever wanted to know about a little project, I'm sure!

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Secret WIP is finished!

As I said yesterday, this project is secret. Its reveal won't be for about another week, yet, but it is finished! Threads trimmed, ironed, and stroked and admired plenty (yes I'm proud of my handiwork).

So, a sneak peek? How's this:

You want an inside look too? Well... alright then. Another teensy sneaky little peek. Here you go:

Now the only problem is, what do I work on next? Back to the WIP quilt for me, or do I do a lap quilt for Mr Handmade, which has 3 blocks done and the fabric sitting there in a bag waiting for me to finish? Or do I do another quick project of one sort or another...? No, better to go back to the WIPs. I'm going to finish those quilts this summer, you just see if I don't.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Works in Progress

Wow, things got incredibly busy here! My life has been incredibly hectic since September, really, though I was able to carve out a little time for me... since January, I've been unable to get even that, just working a lot and not being able to find any time to spend knitting, blogging, doing anything that is just indulgence, really.

But! I have a job where I get a chunk of time off in the summer, so I've been free and breezy the last week or so, and using it to indulge all my crafty needs.

I have this pile of quilt blocks that I made over 2 years ago - that's 3 houses ago!

There are 11 blocks there, and 3 more that I made at around the same time but didn't include in the photo. 14 blocks just sitting around, taking up space in my stash boxes, not the right number to make a good quilt or anything. They needed one more to be a 3x5 quilt, which is just a nice size for a lap quilt to throw over the back of a sofa, I think.

So I threw this one together from the book Jelly Roll Sampler Quilts, to make it up to 15 blocks. Now I have a lovely scrappy sampler quilt to put together. I've got the backing already, so it shouldn't take long to make up.

Of course, that's not the only WIP that's finally getting some love. I've got a secret project that will be revealed in a few weeks, but I can give this sneak peek of one step - that's 32 half-square triangles ready to turn into 16 wee squares.

It's odd, getting the urge to go back and finish a WIP after it's been hibernating for 2 years. What's the longest you've ever had a WIP before finishing it?

Monday, 20 January 2014

Only Connect

This morning, on the train, I made accidental eye contact with a stranger. He was a young man, probably a student, wearing a faded band tee shirt with a tartan flannel shirt over it. His eyes protruded and he had a long face with curly hair that stood tall on top of his head. He glanced at me at the same moment that I glanced at him and our eyes met. I smiled at him, and, after a moment of hesitation, he smiled back. A minute or so later, our eyes met again and we shared another smile. When he left the train, he smiled at me again. It was a rare but lovely moment of connection with a stranger. There were no demands, just a moment of shared humanity in the freezing train.

I asked a particularly flirtatious friend of mine, LadyV, does she flirt with everyone? She considered for a moment, then said, no, not everyone. A lot of people, though. It's not about sex, though, she said. It's about human connection. It's about forging links with people.

In about my third year of undergrad, I read a series of novels for classes about human connection. The one that sticks in my mind is Howards End. I think sometimes about Forster, about how his novels explore the barriers between people that lead us to miss each other. A Passage to India is about people connecting despite these barriers. He was not, I think, a happy man, but he was a great writer.

Waiting in the rain for the tram on Thursday, I moved to make room for a young woman to shelter at the tram stop. I caught her eye and smiled, glancing up at the sky to let her know why I had moved. She thanked me, asked my name, offered hers in return. She was from Albania, she told me, and asked had I heard of it. Mediterranean, I guessed, and she nodded. Good food, I told her, and she admitted that she's a terrible cook, though she enjoys needlework. She tried to guess my accent, declaring that I was Italian and then American before she gave up. I have no explanation for my higgledy-piggledy accent, but told her that I'm English, born to English parents. She said that she can't get used to the way that people here don't strike up conversations with people on the street the way they do in Albania. I asked what she does, and she told me she works for her church, showed me a badge declaring her a member of the LDS church. She asked what I do and I told her I teach literature. The tram arrived, and she smiled at me. 'God bless you,' I told her, and she said, 'the same to you.'

I'm recently returned from a visit to my partner, who lives in Scotland. We're lucky in that we have nightly phone calls and regular video chatting to sustain us, and we try to spend a weekend together each month. I can't imagine trying to keep up our connection through weekly letters and nothing else. We sometimes spend all evening skyping, carrying our laptops into our respective kitchens to cook together and eating together at our respective tables. It's almost like living together, except that the physical affection on which we both thrive is missing. When we're together in the flesh, we're almost always connected physically, holding hands or tucked in to each other's shoulders. Waiting at a red light, he briefly rests his hand over mine on the gear lever. These moments of connection are important.

The internet has made the world so much smaller. We can connect with people over vast distances and strike up friendships that are rendered no less real for the screen names and distance between us. These networks of friends make us more human, I think. I have friends on every continent except Antarctica. I think that's pretty cool. I have blog readers all over the world.

Wherever you are, I hope you have a lovely day. I hope you have some human connections in it. I hope the same sun shines on you as is shining on me just now.