Ash Wednesday

I’ve had another go at the 100 word challenge for grownups… the prompt is, again, in bold. 

By Wednesday, the house lay still.  Footsteps tracked across the grimy floor, and runnels of water left greasy trails down the smoke-stained walls. 
The far corner of the dining room was, incongruously, almost untouched.  The walls retained an echo of their original colour.  A charred, wet box exposed its contents.
She picked her way over, and pulled clear a photo album.  A single image fluttered free and settled in the ash on the floor.  She crouched to see: a small boy, blonde curls glowing in the sunshine; eyes screwed up against the light.  Posed against a hedge, in his school uniform.    

What She Wanted

Via The Blog Up North I have discovered the 100 Word Challenge, run by Julia’s Place.  It appeals.  Here’s my attempt – the prompt is in bold.

You bought her what she wanted,
You read it in her eyes.
You gave her hope when she was fearful;
Strength when she was flagging;
The courage to examine
What her outward face belies.
I gave her what she needed:
I thought it was enough.
I thought she’d be contented
With passing, light-held comfort.
You wrapped her in a blanket,
Warmed her with your love.
She came home when you released her
Head high, and hope undaunted;
With a new belief; with courage;
And a light behind her eyes.
She’s haunted by your absence.
You gave her what she wanted.

Little Hooky Hearts

I’m ignoring January. It’s really the only sensible approach, what with financial crises and gloom and doom and now you can’t even say worse things happen at sea…. So in the spirit of ignoring January, I’ve been becoming quietly obsessed with hearts. Not sure why: as an official singleton, valentine’s day is likely to be something of a non-event, but it’s sweet, isn’t it? And somehow, making hearts does feel as though I’m filling my home with love. It’s ok, I’ll hang on here, while you go away and vomit…!

The first heart was somewhat unintentional. My lovely new kitchen cabinet has generated a considerable reshuffle of furniture around the house. No matter where I move things to, there is a big hole, somewhere. In an attempt to reduce the size of the hole, I bought a beaded, fairy-lit wire heart from Next of all places. But it’s white, and looked a little stark sitting on its own on a white wall.  So I slung up some ‘vintage’ grey paint (as in, it’s a vintage colour, rather than it’s been lying around for a while) in a rough and ready, brushtroked kind of way, and hung the heart over that.  It looks quite good – although it really *doesn’t* fill the hole.  My lovely friend suggested that the paint makes it an ‘installation’ which made me feel a bit better about buying ready made, populist tat (from Next!  Of all places!)

 Then I got my hooks out.  My new issue of Mollie Makes arrived the other day, and they are feeling the hooky, hearty love in a big way.  Well, there’s a little window in my lovely new cabinet, which was just calling for something, and so I sat down in front of the television with some scraps of yarn and hooked up these little hearts. 

The Mollie Makes issue does have a pattern for hearts, but I didn’t like the straight-row nature of theirs.  I like my crochet hearts a little bit swirly, so I used the heart pattern from 201 Crochet Blocks by Melody Griffiths.  I made 6, though really there’s only space for 5, because I like the combination of pastelly ice cream colours.  Also because, if I’m honest, I’m rather desperate to finish this yarn, which has been hanging around for quite a long time.  There’s not enough of any colour left to do anything substantial with, and because it’s acrylic and I prefer to work with wool, I don’t want to buy any more!

Anyway, I then stitched the hearts with a single, golden cross stitch (or a kiss…) to the printed cotton ribbon which came free with the magazine.

So.  Twee.  Irredeemably twee.  Next stop, menopause, I suspect!  But they’re rather pretty, too.

My next project won’t be twee.  I’ll crochet up a full set of genitals, or a lion ripping the guts out of a springbok (deer, not rugby player…), or a full set of  matching dishcloths.  In the meantime, do feel free to carry on being a bit sick until this phase passes!

Quickie checker-board mug hug

My Twitter friend, Corinne, (@MotherScuffer) needs a quick make for her partner’s birthday.  So here’s a mug hug how-to.  I wouldn’t aggrandise it with the label ‘pattern’, since although it’s coming straight out of my head I can hardly believe it’s original.

So.  I work these things with double yarn – knitting two balls of yarn simultaneously.  Bear in mind this is going round a mug – some people drink with them still on, so you probably want to avoid fluffy, shedding types of yarn.  I have to admit, I go with acrylic, partly because I have a lot of it left from the zigzag blanket, but also because it washes so well.

If you choose two related colours, say a light blue and a dark blue, or burgundy and pink, you get a lovely tweedy effect.  Or you can go for a sharp contrast – orange and green is good together.  So is yellow and red.

I tend to default to 5mm (US 8) or 6mm (US 10) needles.  Up to you – the thinner your needle, the tighter your knitting is going to be.

For an ordinary (UK ordinary) sized mug, I would go with 15 stitches.  For a larger mug, increase this number in multiples of 3.

The design is easiest to work with the mug you’re knitting for – or one like it – by your side.  There are no hard and fast rules for sizing these things.

Cast on 15 stitches, using two strands of yarn.

Row 1: knit to end
Row 2: purl to end
Row 3: knit to end
Row 4: *K3, P3, repeat from * to end
Row 5: *P3, K3, repeat from * to end
Row 6: as row 4

Rows 4 – 6 form the pattern.
Continue in pattern until your hug is roughly 1cm (1/2″) too short for the mug, wrapped around the mug horizontally starting from the handle.

Repeat rows 1-3.
Cast off.

Now, join the top two and bottom two stitches of your hug, leaving a gap in the middle for the handle.

You can either leave the hug plain, or embellish by stitching on a heart cut from felt, or embellish with buttons, or a little message/label embroidered in backstitch on felt. 

Cats and Short Cuts

 So.  I have finished the memory quilt top.  No, not the whole quilt.  Just the top!  It has evolved a little, as it’s gone along – although to be honest, by my usual standards it’s remained fairly true to the original idea.

This quilt is half rectangle triangles.  Or isosceles triangles, as the more mathematically minded amongst you will call them.  Why does this matter?  Well, it doesn’t particularly, except that an isosceles triangle cut on the grain of the fabric will have its longest side on the bias.  Which means you’re more likely to pull, stretch and distort it in the stitching.  Really, in order to sew two isosceles triangles into a perfect rectangle, you are best not to guide the fabric *at all* as it goes under the needle.

Anyway, above and right are pictures of the finished top.  I have to say, I’m really pleased with it.  There wasn’t enough fabric to have made it all rectangles, and that would have been far too busy.  So I found some lovely lemon print fabric for the inbetween stripes.  It works well – the colours play gently with the rest of the quilt: it calms it down; allows the prints to sing; and hangs onto the nostalgic vibe I was trying to capture.  Most importantly, Buto likes it.  I haven’t actually stitched her into the quilt – she is fascinated by sewing and sits and watches closely as I pass things through the machine.  She insists on helping arrange blocks, by batting them up and down the bed, and examines every edge and corner closely at all stages.  This one passes her test!

One of my lovely Twitter friends commented that it had gone together quickly, and it has – no more than about 3 days work, in fits and starts.  I didn’t start it until 31st December, and it was finished on 7th January.  In between times, I’ve gone back to work, fettled around with kids and friends, and generally got on with other stuff too.

 It went so quickly because I used a technique called Stack ‘n’ Whack.  This is essentially a production line approach to piecing.  First, you pile up your fabrics, ensuring you’ve aligned selvedge edges, so you can be sure that they are all on the grain.  This is easiest to do on a cutting mat with a ruler grid printed on it. I had made a plastic template for my triangles, but the plastic was only thin, so I simply used the template to line up my cutting ruler, rather than actually to cut round.  (Actually, that’s not strictly true.  I did cut round it for the first few goes, but it wasn’t strong enough to withstand the rotary cutter’s blade and as I didn’t have a spare blade, I didn’t want to blunt the only one I had.  So I lined up the proper ruler…)

 I had 8 different fabrics in this pile, and once I’d flick-flacked the template over two or three times, I had a goodly pile of ‘neutral’ triangles to form the base of my rectangles.  That’s when it’s time to go to work with the pretty patterned fabrics…

 So again, here you’re just lining up your fabrics.  Remember, these were scrap strips of different lengths and widths, so it’s not as neat as the bigger pieces of the neutral fabric, and on some of these fabrics I’m forced to use the unprinted selvedge in order to get a big enough triangle out of the fabric I have.  Note how I’ve used the grid printed on the cutting mat to make sure my fabrics are ‘square’.  That way, I know I’m cutting on the grain.

Just pile the fabrics on top of each other, making sure they all line up at the end you’re going to start cutting from, and not worrying if the far end doesn’t line up.  You’re not bothered with that, at all.

Next, overlay your template.

 Butt your ruler up to the template… and cut!  I couldn’t take photos of cutting, on account of needing two hands to cut and another to take the photo.  But if you’re using a rotary cutter (and you really need to for this method), hold the ruler down firmly with one hand and press the rotary cutter hard into the fabric (to make sure you get through all layers) and roll it along the ruler’s edge.  Two golden rules:  1) MIND YOUR FINGERS and 2) when you’ve finished cutting, retract the rotary blade to its safety position.

Pile your patterned fabrics and your neutral fabrics together, so that the long edges of the triangle (which you’re going to seam to make the rectangles) are together.

 To sew the rectangles, simply pick up the top triangle, and lay its long edge face down over the long edge of the bottom triangle, exactly as they lie in their piles.  So now you have two triangles, right sides together, each with its pointy end at the other’s blunt end.

Using a 1/4″ presser foot, put the fabric under your needle, and lower the presser foot.  Lower the needle into the fabric.  Slowly sew the seam, guiding it gently through the needle with your hand, but being careful not to pull against the needle and feed dogs, or there is a real danger that you’ll distort the seam – remember that you’re sewing on the bias, where the fabric is most flexible (and most vulnerable).

So keep your pace steady – slow enough that you can see what you’re doing and be in control – and your touch light!

When you reach the end of the seam, do *not* move the fabric.  Leave the presser foot and needle down.

Prepare your next rectangle to be sewn, in exactly the same way as before.

This is simply another view of the photo above: if you click on the image to enlarge it, you can see that the needle is all the way down.

 With the first rectangle still in the machine, gently insert the tip of the second rectangle seam under the presser foot.  Be careful not to overlap the two; you do want a *little* bit of space between them.  But not much.

Carefully and gently insert the new seam under the presser foot, and begin to sew – remember, keep your pace steady – slow enough that you can see what you’re doing and be in control – and your touch light!

Try not to guide the fabric too much – if your pace is steady and slow, the feed dogs should feed it under the needle in a straight line and you need not exert much more pressure than a watchful eye…

Keep going like this, feeding one rectangle after another into your machine.  You’ll amass a satisfying little pile of stitched rectangles on the table behind your needle.  You can keep going until you run out of fabric, or run out of space, or run out of coffee, or run out of patience.  Whatever your stopping point, when you’ve finished, you’ll have a happy little bunting of folded-in-half, stitched-up rectangles, joined by short runs of thread.

Pile your rectangles up, and cut their joining threads.  Give them back their individuality.  No, that’s getting silly.  But you don’t want a spiderweb of joining thread, so simply snip your rectangles apart.

Now you’re going to press your seams.  I’m not a huge fan of ironing.  It rarely happens to my clothes.  But I promise you, 9/10 of a good sewing project is in the cutting and the pressing.  Very little of it is how well you actually sew.  So press your seams.  It makes your work look professional, and only you will know about the mistakes, then!  In patchwork, we don’t press seams open like you do in dress-making.  To one side or the other… They’re much smaller than a dress maker’s seam, and this makes your work more durable.

Once they’re pressed, you want to trim them.  The finished piece will work much better if all the rectangles are the same size.  I came unstuck at this point, because my printed fabrics were not of an even width to start with, if you remember, but even so I was going for as close as possible to 5 1/2″ x 2 1/2 “, which would give me a finished 5″ x 2” rectangle.

And here it is.  Stitched, pressed, and trimmed.  And because you’ve stacked, whacked and chain pieced them, you’ve done about 40 in the time it would take you to do 5 if you cut, stitched, pressed and trimmed them individually.

Square One

Well I only nearly forgot, didn’t I?  I was just getting ready to put my feet up and succumb to the fluey thing that’s been threatening to engulf me all day, when my phone pinged.  An email.  From the stats monitor which looks after this place.  Telling me about my page views for the New Year Resolution(ish) post… Bum.

So, no sofa until I’d done a square.  Right?


So here it is.  Square one.  Made from the remains of a ball of acrylic.  It’s a crochet square, to get us started.  A popcorn square, no less.  Popcorn is a technique which makes bobbles out of triple crochet stitches, by gathering a row of them together through the top.  The corners are popcorned, the sides are plain ol’ triple crochet worked through the back of the stitch below (I think this is called “round the post” but I spend so much of my crochet time working out for myself how to do things that I kind of lose track of the formal way of doing things and what they should be called).

 I’ve also been working on the quilt.  I’ve put together 268 isosceles triangles, to make 134 rectangles.  I need another 88 rectangles in order to have 6  columns for the final thing.  I laid out 30-odd rectangles together, to see how the thing would look if it was *all* rectangles and, as I feared, it was rather too busy.  In order to appreciate the fabrics, the eye will need something calm to rest on, and none of my ‘plains’ are reading quite plain enough to give that unity to the final thing.  So there will be columns of rectangles, and columns of a single fabric, making a 12-stripe quilt, roughly 6’5″ x 5’2″.

I have some Lotte Jansdotter fabric which I was going to use to back it with, which may make the unifying stripes if there’s enough of it.  Otherwise, I shall have to go fabric shopping.  Oh, woe is me!

I’d also like to do an irregular sawtooth border, but that’s because I have a triangle obsession going on at the moment.  I may be sick of them by the time I get to the border.  Let’s see how that goes!