Monday, 31 August 2009

My knitting is not my friend...

... or alternatively, why on earth did I think it would be a good idea to spend £23 on two skeins of laceweight yarn to make Regatta?

I finished the main panel in about a month (yes, yes, I know, but I am not a fast knitter by any means...) After that, I went off knitting a bit and did no work on it for another six weeks. Started again a couple of weeks ago, but I'm struggling with the border. There are four sides of border to knit - two long and two short - and I haven't even finished the first long side yet!

I've been knitting for a long time, and have successfully worked cables, intarsia, in the round, on dpns, sweaters, cardigans, mittens, scarves and hats. But I never tried a laceweight yarn project before and I'm also not entirely confident I will be able to manage the double joins, triple joins, etc, as specified in the instructions.

However, I think the main problem is really the school holidays. Call me a killjoy, but after nearly seven weeks of having kids at home, I'm longing for the start of term, and a return to the regular routines of the school year. Roll on Thursday!

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

TLBG: Reduce, re-use, recycle

I've been reading with interest Emma and Rachel's new blog, That Little Bit Greener.

Sustainability is something I've been interested in for quite a long time. And I've learned that the mantra reduce, re-use, recycle is in that order for a reason. Whilst our family does participate fully in local recycling schemes, I'm aware that in fact, recycling is the least environmentally effective of these three possibilities (but still much better than chucking stuff into landfill).

In terms of resource use, reduce is better than re-use, and re-use is better than recycle. As an example, it takes more energy to melt down and recycle glass into new bottles, than to sterilise a milk bottle for re-use.

Unfortunately, in the modern western lifestyle, reduce seems the hardest of all to achieve. It means getting a grip on your shopping habit, and not buying stuff in the first place. I can't claim fabulous success at this, but I have made a little progress.

I love reading, but last year, I vowed to stop buying new books. I've bought only one new book since then (The Hummingbird Bakery Cook book, and only because there was no other way of getting my hands on a copy that I would actually be able to use in the kitchen). I'm still reading as much as ever, though!

The public library is a good solution, although being rather forgetful, I often get stung for late fines. So I tend to patronise charity shops. I'm lucky to have an Oxfam bookshop near me, which has a large selection.

I also recommend joining Bookmooch - an online book exchange scheme. This works using a points system - no money is involved. You get a point for every book you send to another person, which you can then swap in exchange for books you want to read. This way you can read (almost) the latest novels for the cost of posting off a few of your previously read books. I've also successfully sourced new-ish books for my teenage daughter off there.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Mermaid PJs

A little while ago I bought 2 yards of Heather Ross Mendocino fabric to make the pyjama pants in Sew Hip issue 7.

I used the FT to make a paper pattern first, rather than drawing round my existing PJs straight on to my fabric as suggested.

I cut out the first leg on the vertical, only to find I could not get a second leg out on the vertical, and had to cut it on the horizontal. Which means my mermaids are swimming in different directions. Good job I'm only going to lounge round the house in my PJ pants!

I wasn't convinced the Sew Hip seaming instructions would give a good result, so instead, I used a method I previously used to make trousers, which generally gives a neat crotch seam, and also allows you to adjust for fit reasonably easily. I'll explain it here in case anyone else reading this is planning to make these and is interested in an alternative, proven method.

Sew the inside leg seams first, stopping at the crotch seam seam allowance - not sewing in the crotch seam allowance will help when you sew the crotch seam later. Press the seams open; finish seams as you desire. (Finishing the seams was not in the SH instructions, but I like my seams to be seemly so I finished mine.)

Now turn one pyjama leg the right way out. Keep the other leg with the wrong side out. In the photo below, the right side out leg is on the left. This one is going to go inside the other, wrong side out leg.

Slip the right side-out pyjama leg inside the other leg, so that the right sides are facing, matching the crotch seams and side seams. Open out the crotch seam so it looks like a U-shape, like this:

Here's another photo, with my cutting mat slipped between the fabric layers to make the U-shape easier to see:

Now pin along the crotch seam. Use lots of pins if you intend to check fitting, so that the legs are securely fastened together.

After pinning the crotch seam is an excellent time to check fitting - it's much easier to adjust the fit before you sew the crotch seam. Turn the trousers the right way out and pull them on. If they are too big, you can pin inside to indicate any changes needed, and re-sew the inside leg seams if necessary.

When you're ready, turn the trousers inside out again with one leg inside the other, and then sew along the U-shaped crotch seam with the appropriate seam allowance. Take special care at the point where the leg seams attach. You need to make sure both inside leg seams are pressed open when you are sewing the crotch seam, and that you sew exactly where the inside leg seams end.

After that, when you take one trouser leg out of the other, you'll find you have a pair of trousers. It's like magic!

I would make these again, and next time, I will:
  • cut the pieces a bit smaller so I don't have to adjust and re-sew. I already cut down my paper pattern in anticipation.
  • make sure I cut both pieces in the same direction on the fabric (which means, for a vertically-oriented print, buying 3 yards to be sure of having enough)

I have my eye on some Kokka fairytale fabric for the next pair, just got to save up a bit of money first!

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Crop rotation

One of the lovely things about the garden is the way it changes in response to the turning seasons. Now we're in late summer, yellow flowers keep coming on ds's pumpkin plant, and two tiny pumpkins are starting to form. Here's one of them:

On past experience, these will not be giant hallowe'en pumpkins - they were planted too late. More likely to be baked pumpkin - or maybe even pumpkin pie - than jack o'lanterns.

Most exciting of all, a baby corncob has appeared on his sweetcorn plant!

We had some space in our vegetable patch, caused by having pulled all the lettuces and most of the spring onions. Dh planted some turnip seeds in some of the gaps, and this weekend we went to the garden centre for young brussels sprouts and leek plants. I love the idea of home-grown brussels sprouts with our christmas dinner. Here's our raised vegetable bed with winter veggies added to it:

We've also lifted all the potatoes - I haven't had to buy any for weeks.

A small local exchange scheme is also happening in our street, as we gave our neighbours some of our glut of runner beans, and in return have received courgettes and a promise of cooking apples, when they are ready. Which means baked apples, apple pie and Dorset apple cake will be on the Autumn menu.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Back to the seventies

I went to visit my parents, and came home with these two vintage volumes.

The sewing machine book on the left was published in 1980, so is the same vintage as my sewing machine. My granny bought it to go with a Jones sewing machine, which was a shared present for me and my mum. This machine has lived at my house since 1992.

My granny was a craftswoman of some skill. In my linen cupboard are a number of embroidered tablecloths, pillowcases and dressing table mats that she worked. My dad remembers cabled sweaters and the like being knitted for him as a boy. I don't recall wearing anything hand-made by her, but she taught me to knit.

The St Michael Book of Handicrafts dates from 1976. Looking at this book has brought back a lot of memories for me, even though I don't remember my mum actually making anything from it.
The fabric used for this tea cosy pattern is like my childhood curtains. It was Daisy Chain - my curtains were in pale green though. I see this fabric was sold in John Lewis: some things do not change much, as I also get lots of my fabric from there!

Also, this little girl modelling a knitted item is pictured with a wooden farm (bottom left of picture) exactly like the one I had in the 1970s. I wonder what happened to that...

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Simple holiday laundry bag - tutorial

The fabric scraps were building up in my scrap bag, so I was looking for a way to use some of them.

I made these two holiday-themed laundry bags for dd and friend to bring back their washing in, when they went away together. I used fabric scraps to cut out clothes shapes to embellish the laundry bags with a washing line design. I wanted a holiday feel, so my shapes were swimsuits, shorts and sundresses.

I'm posting the instructions here as a tutorial.


2 rectangles of cotton fabric, each 41 cms wide x 45 cms tall
Scraps of fabric in different colours and patterns, which will contrast with main fabric
Fusible bonding, e.g. bondaweb
Embroidery floss in contrasting colour to main fabric
85 cms piping cord


Step 1:
Draw clothes templates on paper. I cut out my original shapes from a clothes catalogue and then scaled them up slightly using squared paper. Alternatively, you could try scanning them and then enlarging using your printer, or enlarging them on a photocopier.

Step 2:
Select some fabric scraps big enough to cut the clothes shapes from. Fuse one side of the webbing to the reverse of the fabric scraps with a hot iron, following the manufacturer's instructions:

Draw round the template shapes on the paper side, then cut the shapes out.

Step 3:
With the short side of the rectangle at the top and bottom, lay your fabric "clothes" on one of the fabric rectangles with the right side of the fabric rectangle facing up and the paper side of the clothes shapes facing down. Arrange to your liking. I laid a piece of embroidery thread along the top of the clothes to be the "washing line" to help position them, as shown in the photo below. Remove the backing papers and fuse the pieces to the rectangle of fabric using a hot iron.

Step 4:
Set your sewing machine to a close zig-zag stitch and stitch carefully along the outlines of the clothes to secure the appliques in place. You can use either matching or contrasting thread. If you want to use matching thread, and need to change the thread for different "clothes", the bobbin thread will show only on the reverse, so perhaps you need only re-thread the upper thread. But this is probably not the approach of a purist!

Step 5:
With a fade-away or water soluble marker, draw a line along the top of the "clothes" where the "washing line" should go. Using an embroidery hoop to keep the fabric taut, hand-stitch with embroidery thread along this line. I used chain stitch, but you could try back-stitch if you prefer.

If you want embellishments on both sides of your bag, repeat steps 2-5 for the second rectangle of fabric.

Step 6:
Pin the two rectangles of fabric together with the right sides facing. With a 1 cm seam allowance, stitch from the top of one side, down to the bottom corner, pivot, along the bottom, pivot, and up the other side. Leave the top open. Clip both bottom corners. Press the seams open.

Step 7:
To make a channel for the drawstring, fold over a double 2cm hem around the top and pin in place. Leaving a 3 cm gap at one side seam, machine stitch near the bottom of the hem, backstitching at start and finish to secure the seam.

Insert the piping cord through the channel and fasten the ends into a reef knot to secure.

Voila! A holiday laundry bag, and because the applique is bonded and then edge-stitched, it should stand up to the rigours of use, including going through the wash itself.

My dd and friend were pleased with these, so I count it a success!
You could also adapt this idea for different types of laundry bag, for example, make a larger version decorated with cut-out nappy, bib and sleepsuit shapes for a baby's laundry bag.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Dorset Days

I've been absent from blogland for a while owing to our annual family holiday.

Given the dreadful exchange rate, we decided to stay in the UK this year, and chose Dorset as our destination.

This was partly because of my love of celebrated children's author, Enid Blyton... What has that got to do with Dorset? Blyton took holidays in the Purbeck area for many years, and this location forms the background to many of her books. Five years ago on our first visit, we went to the wrong end of the County to experience the Blyton connections, so this time I made sure we were in the right area.

This is Corfe Castle - the inspiration for Kirrin island in the Famous Five series. There is also an Enid Blyton themed shop, Ginger Pop, in Corfe village, but I only had time for a quick glance in it.

The local geology is very spectacular. Dd had studied the Old Harry formations in KS3 geography, so was interested to see them for real. I was glad ds was safe in a beer garden with dh at this point, as otherwise I would have been consumed with anxiety. The cliffs on the headland were towering - about 180 ft of almost sheer drop. Other impressive natural features we saw included the Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove.

We had a good seaside time on various beaches. Here's ds getting down to some sand action at Swanage. I was enchanted to find a traditional Punch & Judy show on the beach there, although they had sanitised it slightly- i.e Punch did not beat Judy nor the baby, and nor did he cheat the hangman's noose. But he did caper up and down hooting "that's the way to do it!" in the proper fashion.

We stayed in a charmingly cosy thatched cottage - with gable eaves, an inglenook fireplace (we lit a fire one evening, but only for ambiance - it was far too warm to need it), a roll-top cast-iron bath and an aga (unlit - definitely too hot).

Although I took my knitting with me, I hardly did any of it. The Regatta shawl border is proving rather complex and making me swear. So I abandoned knitting in favour of holiday fun. Now I'm nicely relaxed, hopefully I'll be more inclined to knit.