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March 2015

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March 25, 2015

Well, it seems that I have a bit of a thing for knitting lace all of a sudden. Having both finished and started lace shawls this week, I decided it was time to bite the bullet and buy some proper blocking gear.

When it comes to most of my crochet and knit pieces, all I need to effectively block them is patience, my ironing board, a hot steam iron and a pressing cloth.  This works perfectly for all my favourite yarns and is especially effective for silk based yarns like this silk and baby camel crochet wrap:

It's also great for my favourite mohair and silk yarns, even when the yarn includes sensitive elements like sequins or metallic thread:

But, when it comes to shaped lace shawls, it becomes a little more complicated.

To block my first lace crescent shaped shawl:

I used my ironing board, lots and lots of pins, a hot dry iron and a damp pressing cloth.  The result was perfect, but the process was very time consuming and involved pinning and re-pinning, to ensure that the shape was just right and properly balanced.  Stitcking my longer quilting pins in it at strange angles to get the shawl tauIt didn't seem to do my ironing board an awful lot of good either:

Before making my decision about what equipment to buy, I did my research on line, including watching a number of how to videos.  This one was excellent and I'd highly recommend it for a super clear and simple explanation of what wet blocking involves.

When searching for blocking wires to buy, I came across the KnitPro ones all the time.  Because it's a brand I know already, I decided to go with them.  However, I was absolutely not parting with £25 to buy their blocking board and opted for some simple children's interlocking playmats from Amazon for £4.75 each (I bought 2 packs and found that I needed them):

On Monday morning, I cleared the floor of my studio, gave it a good hoover and set out my kiddie playmats – they're super comfy to kneel on too!  I took my latest completed shawl, a blackcurrant coloured crescent shape made with a yarn called 'Yaksino' (a delicious mix of Merino, Silk and Yak from Skein Queen) and after weaving in the ends, I put it in warm water to soak for 15 minutes with a little Persil wool and silk wash.  Although the video I watched didn't say to rinse out the shawl, I did rinse it – surely it can't be good to leave the wash on it, however little you use?  I got all my equipment to hand, set my latest audio book to play and got started.

The wires themselves are brilliantly bendy and the KnitPro set I bought from Amazon has a number of sizes in it, although it has to be said that £20 is a lot of money for what you get.  I found that I needed to use 4 of the longest wires – two for the top and one for each bottom side.  My one complaint about the wires is that they have flat ends with sharp edges.  Would it have been difficult to make one end softly pointed like a dullish knitting needle or a darning / tapestry needle?  That would have made the process much, much quicker.  As it was, I had to work very slowly threading the wire through the stitches to make sure that I didn't snag the yarn anywhere.  This was easier with this particular yarn, since it is well twisted – but I could imagine how much trickier it would be with a lot of the pure silk yarns I use, or anything loosely twisted.  Having said all that, it wasn't really a lengthy business and the wires were soon in place. I made the mistake of pinning down the top before threading the bottom wires and I won't do that next time as I ended up having to contort myself, in what is quite a small space, to thread the last parts of the bottom edges.  Next time, I'll try threading all the wires first – hopefully without sticking myself in the eye with the end of one of them…

As well as being glad that I bought the second set of playmats, I was also glad that I bought an extra 50 T-Pins to pin out the wires.  This meant that I could use lots of pins without worrying about rationing them on each wire. They went into the playmats like butter and the whole thing worked a treat.

Given that I'm in England and it's March, it certainly took the shawl longer than the couple of hours to dry as mentioned in the YouTube video, but if you live in a warmer climate, it would be pretty quick.  As it was, I left the shawl all day Monday and overnight too, which was way more than it needed.  When I took it up on Tuesday morning, I was very pleased with the final result and am certainly a convert to wet blocking with wires!  I did give it a little press with a dry iron and damp cloth, just to give a final finish to the feel of the shawl and to fine tune a couple of picot points at the edge, but that could just be the perfectionist in me 😀

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March 18, 2015

This week, like last week (and, come to think about it, last weekend too…), has mostly been about knit and crochet, but I had a little escape for a few hours to do a little bit of sewing and I've just completed my latest sewing case, which was a custom order for a fellow sewist via Etsy:

What she wanted was a case based on one of my existing Tilda sewing cases, but supersized with lots of pockets inside. I didn't have enough of the rose print inner fabric to make all the pockets and the inside as well, so we agreed that I'd make the inner with a plain, bright pink Robert Kaufman Essex Linen, and the pockets with the roses print:

This rose print is a swine to pattern match and I found that with so little of it left in my stash, pattern matching was even trickier, plus it also forced a couple of construction compromises. I had to make the little pockets at the front smaller than I would have liked to get the pattern to work with the pocket underneath, and I had to place the scissor keeper at a very slight angle.  Ever noticed how unstraight the patterns on many printed fabrics are?

All the pockets and the scissor keeper are lined with the Essex Linen and I also interlined the back pocket to make sure that any weighty scissors in the keeper wouldn't pull and misshape the pocket fabric.

The larger pockets both have hidden press stud fastenings hand stitched into place, to keep the contents safe:

My supersizing sewist customer wanted coordinating pink felt pages in the centre and I added two sheets in different shades, which I think looks really pretty. I also couldn't resist adding a line of decorative couched herringbone stitches in gold thread to the first page, just for fancy, and because the case's new owner is a cross stitcher – I thought she'd like it:

My customer said she'd been looking for just the right case for ages and hadn't found it – so nice to be able to make it for her and have a little break from my knitting… 🙂

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In which I am 50

March 1, 2015

I have a very clear memory from when I was 13 or 14 of thinking that if I actually lived to the grand old age of 25, I would kill myself.  The idea of living beyond that seemed horrific – anyone older than that was, well, really old – ick!  I know that this is a shocking thing to say, unless you, dear reader, are 13 or 14 yourself, and then you will understand 🙂

As it turned out, I didn't progress my teenage plan and felt slightly horrified when I became 50 years old on 27th February.  I decided to make the best of things and told him indoors that I wanted a quiet birthday, doing the stuff we love to do.  So, after opening my rather lovely gifts and imagining the horrified cries of my 14 year old self at the very idea, we set off for the day with our National Trust membership cards.

The weather was absolutely lovely – a bit chilly but sunny and bright with gorgeous blue skies, just how I like it.  There aren't a lot of places open in Februrary, but we found one place in Norfolk and decided to head there first and follow our noses towards the coast thereafter.

Oxburgh Hall is a 15th century moated manor house originally built by the Bedingfield family.  It was remodelled in the 18th and 19th centuries and almost torn down to make way for a housing estate in 1950, when it was saved by three female family members, who sold their own houses to buy it back from the developer:

We enjoyed looking round the house and although I can't say the interior particularly caught my fancy, the architecture is lovely:

There were a number of interesting pieces to see indoors as well, including Mary Queen of Scots' needlework scissors:

You can see also see the 'Marian Hangings', stitched by Mary and Bess of Hardwick.  Mary worked on these while imprisoned in England by her cousin Elizabeth I:

There are some lovely wooden doors on the bedrooms floor and the painted wallpaper is amazing, although it is understandably kept a little dark, so not so easy to see.  Mark managed to get a lovely picture of a section of it over one of the doors though – I love the colours:

In one of the bedrooms, there were some costumes on display but sadly, they were behind very reflective glass, so it was difficult to get a decent shot, but Mark managed to capture most of this day dress:

Strangely, the piece that I found myself most taken with was a carved study of a collection of fish that was oddly displayed in a room that is set as a bedroom (the Gatehouse Chambers):

Can't say I was in love with the pink artex on the wall behind the fish…

We headed north towards the coast next and driving towards Cromer we spotted a heritage sign for a castle and priory at a village called Castle Acre.  Although the priory was closed, the castle turned out to be a gigantic motte and bailey Norman affair from the 11th century:

Walking up and down all those hills and stairs after walking up and down little spiral stairways in the turrets at Oxburgh Hall, made my legs stiff the next day, but it was well worth it – the size of the place is quite impressive:

Cromer was our next and final stop and I was really glad we decided to go.  Although it was late in the day and very early in the year, there were some people around and even a couple of surfers, although they seemed to spend more time under the waves than on them.  We really only had time for a walk up the pier and down the beach, but agreed we'll definitely go back to explore the town properly later in the year as there seems to be lots to see.  For the time being though, I was happy to see the sea and pick up some lovely blue pebbles from the beach:

It was a very enjoyable day and, on balance, I'd say that being 50 is preferable to being dead 😉

(All pictures are by Him Indoors)