Monday, March 31, 2008

Mend and make do...

This weekend marked the official start of British Summer Time with the clocks all going forward by an hour on Sunday morning. Personally, I hate it when the clock gets adjusted as it takes at least another week for my body to catch on. It seems to have thrown the cats as well, who were decidedly late in their waking yesterday morning and again today, rather than being ready with the CPR at 6am to get me going.

Today I ache in all the wrong places and my right knee has a definite whinge going on, the cause being too much cycling. Taking advantage of the break in the weather, Dave and I cycled about seven miles on Saturday and another three or so, yesterday.

The ride on Saturday was the more productive of the two and I actually rode on the road, surviving my first encounters with inconsiderate drivers who blocked me in and rode so close, they seemed determined to knock me off the bike. I say 'seemed', since I'm sure they weren't trying to send me flying, just agressively claiming the road, which in turn pushed me into the gutter and made trying to pull out so I could turn right impossible.

Sunday's jaunt was more sedate as well as shorter, since within moments of getting on the bicycle, muscles I hadn't realised I had started to complain very loudly! I persevered and then discovered a new issue, namely the bike seemed to be trying to throw me off every time I changed gear. In the end, Dave had a go, riding my bicycle for a short while around the park before deciding there was a genuine problem with the gear transition. A brief visit by Dave to the bicycle shop later (I let him go, since he knows bike speak) and it was sorted (I hope) and turned out to be a stretched gear cable, which the man in the shop said is normal on new bicycles.

Dave has cycled to work this morning, but for me I think more practice and confidence will be needed before I can do the same.

When not risking life and limb on the road this weekend, I pottered around the house (as I regularly do), performing household chores. In between all this, the focus was on 'mend and make do' type activities, as I get ready for the next AscendancyLRP event.

I started off by spending about three hours on Saturday repairing the robe I wear, which was damaged by a clumsy viking at the last event. Since I couldn't find any replacements for the torn frogs last week, I carefully removed the frogs from under the sleeves on the short jacket I made last year, then transferred them to the dress.

Pictures from when it was brand new and pristine...

The removal of the frogs, took quite a while as I'd sewn them on to stay sewn on, so getting them off without damaging the jacket fabric was very fiddly and time consuming. Then I had to do the same with the damaged frogs, carefully feeling for the stitching with my unpicker so I could cut it, but not the threads of the robe itself. Then came the fun of sewing the frogs back on, both for the robe and the jacket (replacing the burgandy frogs with black ones), since I didn't want to leave it in a canibalised state - knowing me I'd have never got around to fixing it again.

When I was finally done with the robe, I moved onto making an amulet pouch or a little bag to hang around the neck.

This little pouch illustrates and vindicates all my insecurities about why I should never throw away scrap! You never know when you might have to rustle something up which looks like it is and always has been part of your character's costume.

The main fabric of the bag is part of the left overs from a jacket I made... er... five (maybe) years ago. That fabric turns up again on the robe as part of the colar, and the gores (or godets) in the skirt. The lining is scrap left over from the robe I made for Dave last summer. The ribbon came off a chocolate box and the beaded bit is one of the frogs I'd just cut off the robe. Dave has retouched the beads for me, as the paint was worn off and I just need to thread a cord through and it's done.

Not too shabby for something made entirely out of left overs and all in about three hours work.

As always, click on images to see bigger versions...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

By way of experimentation...

Dave has been safely returned from camping at the Maelstrom event last night and many thanks are due to Sarah who gallantly stepped in as his substitute lift, after his first ride had repeated car trouble. I was on the verge of going to fetch him myself (shoes on, directions from website in hand) when she kindly stepped into the breech, which saved me a two hour round trip. Dave himself is slowly recovering, no longer looks so plasticky (ye gods, the horrors of makeup!) but has a cold to show for his exploits.

Myself, I spent the weekend pottering around the house, running errands and experimenting in a fibery way.

I bravely dodged snow, sleet and hail showers to visit Coventry market in search of frogs. The habberdashery stall there does a range of very pretty, if horribly expensive, frogs and was where I found the originals I'm trying to replace, so it seemed a logical place to start. Sadly, it wasn't to be with nothing even remotely suitable on offer and so I'm preparing to canibalise the jacket I made last year so I can repair my kit in time for the next Ascendancy event.

I'm thinking of stealing the frogs under the arms and replacing them with plain black ones, which shouldn't be too jarring to the eye should I ever wear it again. Looking at the forums, it seems I'm going to have to make an amulet of some sort as well, so I anticipate I will be doing a spot of sewing next weekend.

Feeling an urge for experimentation, I decided to have a tentative first stab at felting knitted fabric. I've been curious for a while now as to how easy it is to hand felt as opposed to machine felting and I wanted to know if an acrylic/wool mix would felt or not. I've not been able to find a definite answer on this one, with opinions being varied and so I decided there was nothing for it but to resort to the swatch...

This rather dashing green Katia Azteca is a 50% Wool/50% Acrylic yarn of about Aran weight...

It knitted up into this 13cm square on 6.5mm needles as everything I've heard suggests that felting is more likely with a looser stitch guage...

The result was actually quite nice; while the stitches weren't overly tight, they weren't terribly loose either and felt good in the hand, with a very soft drape.

For the felting part, I set to work in the kitchen sink alternating between hot tap water, cold water and occasional input from the kettle, as I attacked the fabric square with my agitator (a whisk). It took about two minutes for the first sign of felting to appear and I stopped after about 30 minutes, satisfied the little square did indeed look like felt now...

So to answer my own question, yes, a 50:50 acrylic/wool mix will felt.

Although in this case, I also discovered that I don't particularly like the result.

Unfelted, this yarn produced a nice fabric but felted it looks like nothing so much as one of my kitchen scouring pads - which is of course a good thing to find out now before I try to use it in a proper felting project!

My plan for this little square is to give it a trim, as it may look a bit tidier with fewer fluffy, straggly bits and then I may needlefelt on a spiral or something similar... After which I should have a coaster.

On a more positive note, I finally seem to be getting somewhere on the spinning front!

After Mandy mentioned the 'park and draft' method of spinning, I googled and hit on this tutorial. I gave it a go and this is the result!

(As always, click on the images to see bigger versions.)

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Arctic Easter and Pink Fuzziness

With certain British papers starting the week with headlines of 'Artic Easter!', you can imagine the theme of the past couple of days. Brrrrrh!

Having never coped well with being cold, this did not bode well for me but even more so it did not bode well for the players at the Easter Maelstrom event, which includes my other half. I'd kept an eye on the forecasts so knew what was coming and spent a considerable part of last week persuading him to take a stove along, as well as lecturing him on not sleeping on the floor! Thursday night Dave weakened and finally consented to take along a small single ring, one gas cylinder, a billy, some tea and some soup (in addition to his usual snack foods).

As it turns out, Dave is one of the better prepared players on site - something of a shock in itself! Tents have been blown down or apart by the high winds, which combined with the snow/sleet/hail showers has driven quite a few people to abandon the event, which Dave says is very quiet (numbers wise) compared to normal. Quite a few of those who've remained have had to give up on their tents, bailing out for the relative comfort and safety of sleeping in their cars.

Not so Dave though, who slept soundly in his two sleeping bags and four blankets. He says the worst his tent has suffered was one lifted peg which meant the inner and outer tent froze to each other. His other complaint was that a billy isn't as good as a kettle when it comes to boiling water.

What a relief that he is OK!

On a knitting note, I finished the pink fuzzy scarf on Friday.

This is "Warm Fuzzies" from Stitch n'Bitch Nation. It is knitted in Paton's Studio Mohair, with two strands held double.

I pretty much followed the pattern, except that my version is considerably longer than the measly 54" suggested in the book. Since the scarf is only 4 1/2 inches wide, I wanted it to have a good length so it could be wrapped around the wearer's neck a couple of times, hence I kept going until the scarf was just over 72" long.

The result is very fluffy, soft and thick scarf which is very pretty as well as warm, which has pleased me no end. Hopefully it will go down well with its intended recipient come Christmas and yes, I'm thinking of Christmas already.

As always, click on the image to see a bigger version...

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Pretty in pink

Yesterday and today have been spent at home, as I had a couple of days leave to use up or I'd lose them. I'm back to work tomorrow and Thursday and then of course it's Easter so I have a long bank holiday weekend to look forward to.

The theme for yesterday was looking at forum software and trying to remember how to install it. Fortunately, I am a compulsive note taker so once I'd dug out my scribbles I was away and had a fairly productive day. Still lots to do as I want to set up a test bed, so I need to bring it in line with the forums I set up earlier at Then... I shall be able to play with impunity and not worry about breaking anything, which will be good as I have a few tweaks I want to make to the Ascendancy boards. Nothing too drastic initially, but I want to see what I can do to further inconvenience that particular breed of internet pest called the SPAMbot.

I also blocked the Victorian lace scarf which I finished a couple of weeks ago, but was waiting for a clear run (and a clear floor) of days when I didn't have other commitments.

A straightforward shot of it lying on the bed and here are a couple of close ups of the pattern.

I also hung it up in front of the window to see if I could show how the light is coming through the weave as I'm not convinced the photographs are doing it justice.

This is taken from Victorian Lace Today and is "Scarf with the striped boarder from Weldon's, Volume 5 1890". I knitted it in a 4-ply Merino from Tess Dawson, which I bought from Angel Yarns a while back and the colour is cherry.

The result is very light and floaty; it looked good straight off the needles but really came to life once I'd blocked it. It looks equally pretty as a head scarf or worn around the neck and I just love the way the light shines through it making it look like proper lace.

My one reservation is not with the pattern but my blocking technique. After gently hand washing the scarf, wrapping it in a towel and stomping up and down on it to get the water out, I duly pinned it out to dry (i.e. blocking it). Unfortunately, the points where I pinned it seem to have distorted the stitches so the edge is no where near as smooth as I wanted it to be. I steamed the edge after blocking which relaxed things somewhat, but I can still see where the pins were. Any suggestions for how you pin something out to dry so this doesn't happen?

In other news, I can report that I do remember how to ride a bicycle. I took the new bike to the park on Sunday afternoon, taking advantage of a brief let up in the rain. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that once I'd pushed off, I had no problems with cycling, other than being a bit wobbly if I wasn't moving very fast and gears remain a mystery to me but I think I'll get there with a little more practice.

Not quite so successful were my first attempts at spinning using my newly acquired spindles. I tried out the smaller one, thinking it would be easier to handle and so far I'm not having much success. At the moment, my problem is trying to keep the spindle spinning and not back spinning while at the same time trying to tease a small amount of wool out so I can allow the twist into it. I appear to have a distinct lack of hands, with the invariable result being that I can't keep the spindle going, it spins the other way undoing the tentative spin in the wool and then crashing to the ground. Suggestions on how I acquire more hands (or better use the two I've got) gratefully received!

And to answer Frizbe's question - I don't know where I'll find the time and suspect that mostly I won't, but I'm optimistic and do like to try new crafts, you know? Especially if they're pretty, involve yarn, sewing, beads, buttons or sparkly things. :)

As always, click on the images to see bigger versions...

Saturday, March 15, 2008

So now I have a spindle or two...

So far this weekend is turning into one of those expensive ones, where I seem to be falling over myself to spend money.

Yesterday afternoon, with a few hours off work at my disposal I headed off to the camping shop to stock up on gas and buy a new single airbed, so we're sorted for the beginning of season.

Then I had an unexpected visit from an electrician to deal with a dodgy socket and light switch. Unexpected in that I'd actually booked him for Monday, but he had an empty slot so wanted to come there and then.

Next up, I hurried over to a cycling shop where I took a good hour or so to pick out and buy a bicycle. This is something of a gamble for me, since I haven't been on a bike since my teens... Then, low and behold if Dave (who'd dropped in to see what I was up to) didn't decide to buy one as well!

Then today, to top it off we headed to the Re-enactors Market where I acquired these...

I picked up two spindles of differing weights because I wanted to see what they feel like, along with a little booklet explaining the basics and a couple of 50g bags of wool 'tops'. I've no idea at this point whether I'll take to using a spindle, but I'm determined to have a go.

I also picked up a costume book called "Historic Costumes and How to Make Them" which caught my eye. It's a generic instruction book covering the fifth century through to late eighteenth so I'm hoping might be useful.

Hopefully that's about it for spending money for a while!

Knitting wise this week, I've been working on this...

It's a mock cable scarf in pink mohair taken from Stitch N'Bitch Nation, which is a book I bought right back when I started to teach myself knitting. I remember when I first looked at most of the patterns in this book, I classified them as scary - meaning they looked far too complicated for me to even consider. Having picked it up again, it's comforting to be able to say that there are actually things in there I'd think about making now, which shows how far I've come since Christmas 2006.

Anyhow, I picked out the mock cable scarf because it's pretty, pink and girly, which I'm hoping will suit the intended recipient. It's a fairly mindless knit, which has suited me well this week as I'm feeling rather brain dead after being force fed project management jargon for three days. All of which means, that half way in I'm pleased with it so far.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Circumstances beyond our control

Having just spent the past three days locked in a room absorbing information on Project Management followed by evenings packed full of homework, I was looking forward to my regular weekly knitting group last night. Unfortunately, circumstances conspired against me with workmen uncovering a WWII bomb which led to the entirety of the Coventry city centre being sealed off until this morning.

Fortunately, I knew something was up well in advance so wisely stayed home rather than trying to get into town. The journey home last night took twice as long as it should have done, so I tuned into the local BBC radio which is when I found out what was going on. It turned out that the police had also closed Coventry's Ring Road, a major hub here without which it becomes very difficult to get from one side of the city to the other.

Hopefully, all the other ladies heard similar reports and stayed clear.

In other news, we had an event in York at the weekend which went quite well, despite the strong winds which made staying outside incredibly cold as well as making it impossible to hear what anyone was saying unless they were standing right next to you. Thank goodness for gloves and having drafty huts at our disposal!

There was one worrying moment though, when Dave and Richardxl5 disappeared around the back of our hut to fix the roof with some drawing pins!

One fallout of the weekend is that I now have a minor sewing emergency on my hands. A great big, clumsy, armour wearing viking, decided to throw himself dramatically onto my lap when I tried to roll him over (to tend to his wounds). Fortunately, my knee took the strain. Unfortunately, my costume didn't, with his armour ripping into and tearing the frogs which hold the dress closed.

At the moment, I'm counting my blessings that the fabric itself didn't tear as well, but as it is, getting hold of fancy frogs is hard at the best of times, so this damage is not as trivial as it might seem. My current plan is to try to locate suitable replacements, but if not I'll have to cannibalise another outfit which has less frogs on it... The theory being that I'll have an easier time finding a small number of matching frogging than a large number. Or at least that's what I'm hoping.

Monday, March 03, 2008

A whirlwind of activity

This weekend has gone by in a whirlwind of activity, pretty much as anticipated really.

Dave departed early on Saturday morning and after doing some household chores, I drove down to Warwick for the Ravelry day at Crafty Cottage. The drive to Warwick was made more interesting than usual by the high winds which kept trying to blow the car off the road. I later learnt that I wasn't the only one having scary moments due to the wind, with a couple of freight trains loosing their containers!

I arrived in Warwick, just as Jo was getting her children to cut the ribbon to start the day's festivities. Then, ribbon cut and scissors stowed, knitters began to file into the shop, at first just a handful or so and then in a steady trickle that just didn't seem to stop. I've never seen so many people in the Crafty Cottage and what is normally a spacious shop, became crowded very quickly... So I did the only sensible thing and retreated upstairs out of the way, where it was slightly quieter.

Upstairs, Steelbreeze was knitting away on her knitting machine and a local textiles artist, Emma Price from Charkha Yarns, was giving a first taste of spinning. This was popular with the other attendee's so it took me a while to work up to speaking to Emma and eventually having a go, first with a tickler and then spinning at the wheel itself.

A tickler is essentially just a piece of wood which has been whittled at both ends so it's got a point. You wrap some spun yarn around it and then use that to lead your unspun fleece onto the tickler, turning the piece of wood which puts a twist in and hence spins it. It did seem incredibly complicated to do, but once I'd had a go on the spinning wheel, the theory suddenly made sense. Using the tickler, I managed to spin up a few yards or so of wool and was pleasantly surprised to find that I picked up the essence of how to use a wheel in less than ten minutes.

If I only had room for one, I'd now be sorely tempted to start looking for a spinning wheel because it was very satisfying to see the fluffy fleece turning into yarn right in front of my eyes... And even more satisfying to know I was responsible for that transformation!

Eventually, I had to go home because I was running out of time on my parking ticket, but I did thoroughly enjoy myself.

However, I didn't manage to slip away before buying some yarn. During one of my forays downstairs in search of cake and tea, I spotted some Shades of Cashmere merino and some locally spun heavy wool. I've PM'd Jo because I can't remember the details of the local spun stuff, but it was in a gorgeous raspberry shade which I think would felt well.

Having spent money at the Crafty Cottage, I was far more restrained at the Living History Fair on Sunday. So restrained that other than some jerky and teas, I didn't buy anything at all! I did have fun looking around though and I think this fair is getting better each time I go. My one request would be that they have more craft traders, who'll supply you with the raw materials, tools and instructions to make your own things rather than just presenting us with the finished item.

After a good while, Richardxl5 and I managed to drag Dave out of the fair and we headed to a local pub for a spot of lunch before going home.