Home Alone

The children have gone to their father’s for Christmas, and I am seizing the opportunity, greedily, for some ‘me’ time.  I got a rather fabulous new job this year, which has meant a lot more commuting than I did previously, and that in turn has meant that I don’t have a huge amount of time for sewing, knitting, crochet, relaxing.  So my creative synapses are beginning to feel a little furred up.  Underused.  The chance to spend a week by myself, relaxing and crafting seemed too good an opportunity to miss.

So far, I’ve added the border I mentioned to the Japanese Geek Quilt I made in August.  No pictures, yet.  I’ll wait until I’ve basted and quilted, for that.

But the main thing I want to do is a wedding quilt.  My lovely sister got married in 2004, and I promised to make her a wedding quilt.  I intended to do a combination of the classic double wedding ring and New York beauty patterns, but with the benefit of hindsight, that was a bit beyond my technical ability (or ability to concentrate!) back then.  So the quilt was started, but never finished.  I did some more work on it the following year, but by then I’d gone back to work and didn’t have the necessary time to give it.  So – long story short – I’ve never finished my sister’s wedding present quilt.  I intend to put that right.  I have, finally, abandoned the idea of an ambitious quilt, and intend to do something much simpler.  But until last night, I didn’t really know what.  I could knock up a variation on a strippy quilt in the blink of an eye, but I’ve done lots of strippies, recently, and wanted to do something rather different.  The thing I’ve most enjoyed making, recently, was the granny quilt, and so doing something with triangles rather appealed.  Technical enough to be interesting, but quick to put together.

I’ve been watching Homeland, this last few weeks.  Last night was the season two series finale, much of which was set in a cabin in the woods.  Hanging on the living room wall was a quilt.  A flying geese quilt.  And I thought, hmmm…. I could do something like that.  I quite like the idea of flying geese.  But they’re a bit busy, organised the way they are in the link.  Sissy and her husband are more, um, subdued and restful than that.  So I got to thinking.  And then I did a bit of drawing.  And I reckon something built around a 9″ square block like this one might be interesting.  But with lots of plain white.  Or at least, lots of white on white.  Different whites, I think – not all one, plain and calm fabric.

And then I wondered how they might be arranged… because technically this is more like half square triangles than flying geese.  And I wanted to avoid the busy-ness thing.  And, you know, it’s good to have a plan before you start.  So I did some doodling.  I think the squares will be arranged in blocks of 4, separated by a 3″ sashing, at each corner of which will be a (probably single colour across the face of the quilt) 3″ square.  The blocks of 4 triangle squares will be in different fabrics, but follow a muted green/blue/purple colour scheme, and the little squares which, in my head, are anchors, will be bright.  This (on the left) is my design sketch for this.  The shaded big white squares are my triangular blocks, the plain ones are my white on white blocks, and the red squares are my anchors.  Which may or may not be red.  I don’t know.

Anyway, it’s a lot of thinking and quite a bit of calculation.  And inevitably, there will be an error in it, somewhere, which will mean the design has to be adapted on the hoof.  But I’ve measured and made templates for my triangles, reminded myself how to make quick and easy flying geese, and will try a test square in the morning.

Tomorrow, I’m planning to take the dogs up to the peak district, whether permitting.  But this should, hopefully, be well under way by the time the kids get home.

I’ll keep you posted!

Creating Christmas

I wanted substantial parts of this Christmas to be home-made.  And the bits that aren’t homemade are, by and large, vintage.  It just chimes beautifully with the way this year has been, for me.

So inevitably there has been a flurry of crafting activity which I just haven’t been able to photograph and blog, for fear of giving many games away.  However, since a number of you are asking about the Tank Girl quilt, which I have *just* finished (and since I’m bursting with pride at it, and pleasure at having finished it in time) I thought I’d put some pictures up…

 I can’t remember if I mentioned it, but this quilt had no central layer, and is backed with microfleece.  It’s heavy and dense and snuggly warm – just as well, as my son’s bedroom is one of the coldest rooms in the house.  Instead of simply tying the quilt, which was my first thought, I decided to outline quilt each square, using sock yarn.  I wanted it uneven and hokey looking – nothing too polished, in keeping with the ‘upcycled’ nature of the whole quilt.  So I didn’t mark the quilting lines.  I didn’t even baste it – I just pinned it with malenky great big quilting safety pins…  Which meant that the back wouldn’t stay flat by itself, and so in order not to end up with a blocky, wrinkly backing, I laid the whole thing out on my draughty wooden floor, and quilted it in situ.

Normally, when I’m hand quilting, I use a size 10 between quilting needle which is, tip to tip, slightly smaller than 1″ long, and very fine.  For this quilt, I used a size god-alone-knows yarn darner, which was about twice as long and four times as thick as my normal quilting needle.  My normal quilting needle is the top one in the picture over to the right.  For scale, that’s a cat hair it’s resting on!  The needle I used for this quilt is the threaded one just below it…  Ordinarily, you insert a needle in the tiny gaps between the threads of a fabric.  Microfleece doesn’t have any such gaps being, essentially, melted plastic and not woven at all.  So it required some force to get the needle through, and it often landed on the thumb knuckle of my non-needle hand.  Resulting, I have to admit, in a fair amount of swearing and a totally unreasonable amount of Twitter whingeing! 

Still, I persevered bravely, ignoring the pain in my knees from crawling over the floor, and the bruising in my left knuckle (pity me, interwebs!!)  And I think I *did* achieve the kind of uneven, ‘homespun’ effect I was looking for, as evidenced by the back of the quilt…

 A substantial amount of this had to be done while my son was at home, which involved locking myself into rooms in the wee small hours of the morning, and the long dark evenings, with threatening signs taped to doors… And then being very tolerant when the animals wanted to get involved.  The dog is a very old lady, and likes to snuggle up under a blanket.  She is the biggest fan of my knitting/quilting activities!

Anyway, the quilt is, eventually, finished.  I decided not to bind the edges – again, to preserve the ‘homespun’ look, but also because just overlocking them seemed to preserve the masculine flavour of this quilt.  So I ran them up in the overlocker.  Time will tell, I guess, how durable this edging is, but it looks good for the time being…

 Here is a final photo of Tank Girl in her setting.  As I type, the whole thing is going round the washing machine and my heart is, slightly, in my mouth.  I had originally planned to boil wash it and allow the blocks to felt variably.  But that was before Tank Girl who is on a fine mohair patch which I don’t want to shrink so radically that it distorts her.  So I’m washing it at 40 degrees, and will dry it slowly in a coolish tumble dryer… 

Other Christmas crafting has included knitting.  I decided late on that my mother needed an additional something under the tree, so I threw together a cowl using an aran weight wool yarn that I’ve got lying about (who hasn’t…).  I’m quite pleased with the result, although it’s a *bit* big for me: being new, it’s quite stiff, but I’m hoping it’ll soften down with wear.

The pattern was an online freebie, from f.pea, and knitted up very quickly.  I may do it again, in a lighter yarn, and see if that makes it lacier.  I prefer my own cowl, I have to say…!

So that’s Christmas about done, I think.  I hope you all have a lovely time!  

Hung Parliament

Ha!  Do you see what I did there?!  I’m a little bit pleased with myself :-))

So, these are two little owls.  They’re made of commercial felt, based on a picture I glimpsed on a website somewhere, and I genuinely can’t remember where, but I think the person who posted them had taken the idea from the Christmas edition of Prima magazine, because I’ve seen something very similar there, too.

Apart from it being nice to sit and sew something cute(ish) in front of the TV of an evening, these have been an experiment in hand embroidery.  The blue one was my first attempt, and not terribly satisfactory.  The purple one has, I think, got a little better…. I will probably make a few more, since they only take a moment or two.

And, of course, it’s Christmas.  This year, we have unearthed our advent calendar.  The children and I made this when they were really very small.  The background is a log cabin quilt: a number of ‘shades’ of white log cabins built around a traditional red centre, with the tree made up of green log cabins.  The hanging has 24 star shaped gold buttons, and the numbers are either baubles, stars or Christmas stockings, cut out from red felt. 

I sat the small children – Dan and Daisy – down with some squares of white felt, and a red fabric pen, and let them draw Christmas pictures.  I guess they were two years and one year old, at the time – possibly three years and two years, but whatever.  Then I cut the shapes out of red and decorated white felt, and stitched them together with a decorative machine stitch.  And Moo, who would have been eleven or twelve, wrote the numbers on, in gold silk paint.  We used it every Christmas from then until we moved to this house, when it got lost and I thought I must have thrown it out by mistake.  I was heartbroken to think I’d lost such a treasure.  But it was unearthed when I emptied a storage crate, earlier this year – I think we’re all very happy to see it, and it certainly feels more like Christmas, to have it hanging in the living room.

 It’s Daisy’s birthday at the beginning of December, and so we can’t start Christmas until that’s safely over (apart from the advent calendar!)  So on Sunday, with birthday festivities firmly behind us, we put up the Christmas tree.  It’s a plastic one – but the children wanted a recyclable tree (in fact, they wanted to recycle last year’s cut tree, which is behind my shed in a very brown, dead condition, but I drew the line, there!) 

Every year, I practise letting go of my control freakish design prejudices, and absent myself from the tree decorating.  Left to me, it would be themed and minimalist – perhaps no more than lights and some angel hair – but the children still enjoy loading it with the baubles we’ve accumulated over the year.  So I poured myself a gin, and left them to it… They haven’t done badly, I have to (grudgingly!) admit.

I think the fact that I’d spent the weekend on a meditation retreat at a buddhist centre in Derbyshire definitely helped with the letting go, too!

I’ve finished off the decorations, this year, with some heart-shaped fairy lights over the fireplace.  I quite like these, actually – they may stay.  I might even make more owls to hang amongst them, in the manner of bunting.  Although, of course, when I finally get round to ordering some more firewood it will probably be way too hot there for anything so meltable.

And that’s it for Christmas decorations, chez nous – I’m not a big fan of the season, and we’re the wrong faith for the celebration.  I will bring some mistletoe in on the 21st as part of our solstice celebrations (not that we’re that faith, either, but why would you miss an excuse for mulled wine and sausages cooked on the barbeque??). 

But Christmas *is* an excuse for Christmas markets.  On Sunday, I found myself with some time to kill and so I headed to the Manchester Christmas market.  We lived in Manchester for – oh, about 20 years, and so it’s a bit like homecoming to wander around the city centre.  The market there is much bigger (and better) than the Birmingham equivalent, and has German, French, craft and art sections, as well as the obligatory gluhwein and nyummy continental food!  I grew up in Germany, so always enjoy the opportunity to stock up on German delicacies – lebekuche, and gluhwein and bratwurst – just scrummy!  This year, I found a fabulous stall (from Hebden Bridge of all places) selling Polish earthenware pottery.  The shop is Polkadot Lane, and I really defy you to click on that link and not want to buy *all* of it!! I constrained myself to the mug above, and a glorious earthenware yorkshire pudding dish, decorated with forget me nots.   Tomorrow is my first morning at home since I bought the mug, and I’m sure my coffee will taste extra delicious, drunk from such a beautiful vessel!!

And finally, here’s an utterly gratuitous photo of one of the cats.  Because hell, it’s my blog and I can if I want to!!