Friday, January 28, 2011


January 272
What is this internet thing that Mummy is playing with?  Hello?  Are there people?  How can it be fun for Mummy?  I don't see any milk? 

Maybe it's Daddy.  Mummy packs Daddy away in a little black box each morning but I can still hear him. 


Are you there?  

Can you see me?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Birdies, Buttons and Bows

I never did get back to you on my New Year's Resolution.  I do have one of sorts I promise, it's just a bit fuzzy around the edges.  It could probably best be summed up as 'Just Do It'.  Part of this is an organisational aim; it's incredibly easy to procrastinate as there are very few things as a stay at home Mum that can't be put off for a little bit if you want to (feeding and changing/providing the where with all for humans large and small being about the only exception) so I'm trying to push myself to do the odd jobs that always get left while I can still make the time to do them.  Things like finding a new drawer oprganiser for the kitchen cutlery drawer that actually fits the drawer for example.

The other side of my New Year's coin  is more crafty and therefore infinitely more fun.  There are so many beautiful and lovely things that I've flipped past in books or bookmarked on blogs and said to myself, I must make that/ bake that/ do that someday, and then something gets in the way and I never do, so this year, and particularly these last few months of maternity leave I'm going to start turning some of those dreams into reality.

That's not to say that I'm simply giving in to a raging bout of startitis - everything in my stash was bought with a view to becoming something more than simply a pile of fabric or yarn; but I'm going to re-look through my books and magazines and bopokmarks and start working out what I have and what I'll need for any project and then as I work through them, and as means allow, I might start finishing a few things this side of the next decade, or even better, before Kitty grows too big for the raw materials to cope.

So with all of this in mind I started re-reading my birthday crafty books which have lots of baby sewing patterns in them.  I want to get better at my dressmaking and what better way than to practice on my very own tiny person.  Now four months of parenting a our wee princess has taught me some very crucial things about little-girl wear.  Aside from the boring practicalities such as it's useful if a garment will fit over her head and be big enough so that she doesn't outgrow it after only one wearing, there must also be:

(a) Some element of pink.

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(b) Some cute animal.  Preferably of the baby or teeny tiny variety.
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Check (and bonus points for more pink)

(c) Bows.
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Check.  Well sort of, I know I said bows plural and this is a bow singular, but it is spotty.  I'm claiming substitute credit for the spots.  We also have funky little turned up cuff sleeves.
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Put it all together and what do we have:
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An Empire-Line top from Amy Butler's Little Stitches for Little Ones. Graded at level 4 difficulty and possibly the most complicated piece opf usable clothing that I have ever made.  Seriously peeps there are gathers, and elasticated bits, and those very cute cuffs, and a lined bodice and zig-zagged seam allowances (note to self: add 'learn to use the overlocker' to the to do list).

I spent a couple of nursing sessions reading the pattern and trying to visualise how it would all come together, and just took it nice and slowly.  The pattern was well written and the diagrams were really useful  so that's definitely a positive first experience of using this book, and there are a few more things thst I'd like to try now.

And to demonstrate my commitment to my re-appreciation of my stash I can tell you that the only thing I bought was a fat quarter of the bird fabric, everything else was stash.  The orange spot is a Kaffe Fasset print which we bought in Liberty's a few years ago.  I had a 60cm length which was just enough for all the pieces for this 6-9 month size with a bit of jiggery pokery.  The bodice pieces came easily from a fat quarter as long as you don't mind cutting out the backs separately.

Oh no, I forgot, I did buy a button.
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Well every girl's dress should have a pretty button right?  It still makes the total spend on the dress under £3 (I had thread and elastic in the sewing box), which isn't bad for a pretty little top for Kitty to posset down.

And now for the final test.  Question number 1 - Does it fit?

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Yes - although without quite as much growing room as I was hoping for.

Question number 2 - does Kitty like it?
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Success all round. All hail the sewing-machine conquering hero. Next up - world peace. Or not.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Sew many little things

First of all thank you for the recommendations for pasty recipes.  I vow I will not be defeated merely because my first attempt could accurately be described as drier than the Gobi Desert and with a somewhat similar sand-like consistency.  Nor will my latent Devonian need to cast nastushiums at something which claims to be Cornish lead me to put aside my lard in favour of its more refined artery-clogging cousin, clotted cream (although scones do sound pretty good right now).  Come back later for a surfeit of pastry and a comparison of the relative merits of Delia, the Hairy Bikers and the good old St Michael Freezer Cookery Book (a legacy from a time when Chicken a la Kiev was something rather new and exciting).

Having ever so slightly possibly sworn off cooking in a fit of pique at the state of Pasties Mark 1, I turned to my sewing machine for a little solace, and as Miss Kitty seems quite happy to sit in her bouncy seat alongside Mummy and play with Emily-dolly while Mummy sews, I've actually managed to get a few things finished.  That and I got in the zone on Satuday night and stayed up after her highness had gone to bed.

First off the machine; a final block from the block of the month club.  I knew it was meant to be Drunkard's Path and I'm equally certain that this is not the one they did in class, but I found it by the wonders of Google-fu:
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A three-colour Drunkard.

I also did a bit of Google magic for a block to replace my Celtic Knot.  I had originally planned to do a repeat block but your comments helped me to decide to go hunting for something new and complimentary.  And so it came to pass that I discovered Jacob's Ladder blocks and their three-colour variation which goes by a myriad of names but which I like to call:
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The Tail on Benjamin's Kite. It's also known as Stepping Stones and Underground Railroad among other things.

And so we have our final 12:
Sampler Quilt
Now all I need is a little sashing and binding and we might just have a quilt by my self imposed deadline of the end of the month.

The only thing that could get in the way with that otherwise excellent plan is a little project which has a serious deadline on it.  A 'finish it before the recipient moves halfway aropund the world' kind of deadline.

One of the Mummies in my group of friends is about to go far far away on a year's secondment for her husband's job.  As a keepsake for her daughter the plan is to fabric paint handprint all our babies and then use those prints as the centre of a quilt block.  H and I tried it out using Kitty as our test-baby and I knocked up a prototype from the scraps basket, et voila:
January 259a

The smudge underneath isn't a smudge it's her real name and the star pattern is courtesey of AmandaJean's great tutorial here.  I'm quite pleased with this as a first draft - not least because my piecing has got so much more accurate since I first made a version of this star for my big blue and white quilt.

My questiopn to you all is; if I go with a mixture of dark fabrics for the background, do you think it would look best if they were an organised mixture like the prototype, completely random (a bit like this), or more consistant (ie one star, one background)? 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Hit and Miss

One of the loveliest benefits of being a stay at home Mum (and to tell the truth there are many), is having more time to cook properly and do a little bit of experimenting in the kitchen while Miss Kitty sits in her buggy in the corner and chatters away to me.  We've been doing a little baking over the last couple of weeks and some of it has worked and some of it really really hasn't.

My lovely sister Zee, knowing how much I like my collection of Nordicware cake tins, added another one to the kitchen cupboard at Christmas, in the form of some Zoo Animals.

I'm not quite sure where exactly in the world Nordicware found a Zoo on which to base their cake tin because it's certainly got an unusual mixture of animals.  We start our tour with a whale:

January 120
And then we move on to a lion?
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Before encountering, an elephant, a hippo, two goldfish, a giraffe, a rhino and a monkey.
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The assortment may be unusual but that cakes were delicious; made to the back of the tin recipe which turned out to be a moist buttery little sponge bite.  These ones were just vanilla flavoured but next time I might add a little lemon zest and juice to give them a little zing.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for my next incarnation.  I was trying to make Cornish Pasties from the recipe from Nigella's Domestic Goddess for lunch today.  I think the first problem was when I overrode my own instinct and didn't use any egg to bind the pastry, following the recipe instead to use just flour, lard and iced water.  The more I think about it, the more I think it must be a printing error; every other recipe has egg in the instructions for the pastry, and I always use it when I'm making a shortcrust pastry off the bat.

So failing number one was a batch of pastry that didn't want to hang together; and then got left in the fridge for a little longer courtesy of a nappy emergency.

The filling was looking good but the same nappy emergency led to the pan staying on the stove just a smidge longer than it should have done so it was a bit too dry for, well anything really.

And so it came to pass the I made, not a Cornish pasty but what I would like to newly christen:
January 213
A Warwickshire splat.  I did cook them, and we even tried eating them but alas
January 222
Only suitable for thudding crumily into the bin.  We ordered pizza.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Now we are 4

Months that is.  Yes it's true, and I can't really believe it myself, little Kitty is the very great age of four months old.
January 133
Well my little squeaky peach you have changed in so many ways in the last month and it's wonderful to see.

Now that you are four months you:

- Sleep in your big girl cot in your own room (after Mummy and Daddy finally admitted that you had actually grown out of your moses basket), but you're never too big to snuggle up with Mummy and Daddy in their bed.

- Suck your thumb.  And your fingers.  And your dolly Emily. And anything else that comes into view really.
January 170

January 169

- Can scoot around in circles on your playmat if we put you down on your back, and you've just started experimenting with rolling onto your side but you haven't figured out how to get all the way over onto your front.

- Are starting to enjoy playing on your front with your teddies during tummy-time.

- Give yourself hiccups giggling at Mummy pulling funny faces and singing to you.
January 186
- Are on the cusp of 6-9 month old clothes.  This means that you have grown out of two baby-gros that Mummy adored (they were from JoJo Maman Bebe; one with pink and purple flowers on a cream background and one with polar bears and penguins on pale blue, and are so cute)
January 106
- Snuggle up to Mummy for the same bedtime story every night.  We like The Very Hungry Caterpillar, thank you Auntie Zee who gave it to us.

- Have definitely got more hair.

- Are currently squeaking for more food.

We love you little pip-squeak

love Mummy

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The magic of heat

One of my new year's resolutions has not been to declare a stash down, or a finish-up-the-wips-athon. I'm not banning myself from buying any new yarn or fabric but instead I want to rediscover the beautiful things that I already have in my stash, or, if I don't think they're beautiful any more, sell them, trade them, or give them away.

I have some lovely fabrics in my fabric stash, and I also have two half finished quilts.  So my first resolution of the year is to finish the two quilts before I let my over-active imagination, and some very beautiful quilting books and blogs, run away with me.

First at the machine is the ever so nearly finished block of the month quilt.  When last this quilt came out of the bag I'd started the October and November blocks but not finished either of them, and the combination of Kitty, Mummy-brain and some snow prevented me from getting to December's class.

The aim for January then is to make one block per week, and have the last week and a bit to quilt, sash and bind it.

October's block is the Lattice Window, and once I'd got the hang of the technique it came together pretty quickly:
January 006

But it was November's block that had the magic.  It's a Celtic Knot, made by tacking iron on bias binding to the traced outline on the backing fabric,
January 151

January 152
and then applying a medium iron to melt and smooth it all out.
January 155
You can see the difference from this progress shot.
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And then the final result.
January 157
I then tacked down the binding on each edge with some thinner than thin hand quilting thread, and pulled out the tacking.

A final pass with the iron has unfortunately rather scorched the gilt off my bias binding which is a tad annoying but not so much that I want to make the block again.
January 167
Truth be told I'm not sure that this block is going to make it into the final quilt; sampler quilts are never going to be the most cohesive quilts at the best of times, even using the same fabrics throughout, and I don't think that the gold sits particularly well with the other blocks.  Silver might have been better and was my first choice of binding but there wasn't any available when I took the class, so gold it is.

I rather suspect that my conclusion on the whole 'block-a-month' experience is that I love the techniques I learned and I loved the company, but sampler quilts are not for me, I like my quilts to flow together and to have a more strongly geometric aesthetic than I'm ever going to get in a sampler quilt.

If I leave out the Celtic Knot block then once I've finished the last block (Drunkard's Path) I'll be a block short so I'll have to see what fabric I've got left and choose one of the other blocks to repeat.

Quilt Blocks

I suspect if I've got enough fabric I'll choose the Roman Road (second row, right hand side) but reverse the colours to make it predominantly dark, but I'm open to suggestions so please chip in.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The miracle of soap and water

I know I thought it might take me another year and a half to have enough time to block my Flowing River shawl but when Miss Kitty kindly obliged me with an extra snooze in her cot on Saturday morning I decided to strike while the baby was sleeping, and dunked my little scrumple of squiggly blue knitting into a bowl of lukewarm water and grapefruit flavour Eucalan.

One squoosh in a spare bath towel and we had some damp yarn ready for an appointment with my blocking wires, some t-pins and the floor of my sewing room, prepared for the purpose with another fluffy blocking, sorry, bath towel.

And lo and behold, by the miracle of soap and water and an overnight rest on the floor ...
January 085
... he had turned into a beautiful butterfly.  Hang on, wait, that's not right.  Sorry, reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar to Kitty every night before bed is clearly addling my brain.  It had turned into a beautiful light and lacy shawl.
January 089
The pattern is the Flowing River shawl by Goddess Knits.  The only modification that I made was to use 3.75mm needles rather than 5mm.  I don't know whether I'm using much finer yarn than the original (it's Fyberspates Fairy Lace) but I didn't think that 5mm needles would give me sufficient distinction between the yarn overs and simple blocked stocking stitch to make all that effort worthwhile.
January 094
At this smaller gauge the distinction is much clearer and I can see from Ravelry that I'm not the only one to make that substitution.

The side effects are rather predicatable - firstly I used a lot less yarn.  I'm not sure how much less because the battery in my scales has died and I haven't replaced it yet but I've still got a good hunk of yarn left in the ball.  If I were to guess I'd say I've used half the skein or thereabouts.

The second result is that the shawl is not the huge sweeping gesture size that the original should be.  That's not to say that it's small by any means and it will still wrap around my neck as a generous size scarf (which is how I tend to wear my shawls).

All in all I'm pleased with the finished shawl and pleased to have finished the shawl - it's a win win situation.  If I were ever to knit it again, and I think that's unlikely, I'd use a slightly thicker yarn and 5mm needles for a huge shawl; I think it could work quite nicely in sock yarn if anyone happenned to have 1,000m of sock yarn lying around.

And because no blog post is complete without it, I leave you with a gratuitous Kitty-pic:

January 096

Complete with baby drool for added cuteness!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Mummy's Little Helper

The very great wonderfulness of Sanguine Gryphon's Bugga sock yarn has been widely proclaimed across the internets.  It is unbelievably soft (that would be the cashmere) and comes in wonderful colours that make my heart sing.  Knitting with it you can understand why people are willing to stalk updates; when site overloads made selling from the online shop unworkable I was lucky enough to win the lottery for a space to buy two skeins and I treasure them.

Now I knew I was going to enjoy knitting with it; that's why I choose it to take to my Cookie A sock class and use it for my Phoenix socks but it's had an unexpected  consequence that I never envisaged when I made that first purchase.

You see Miss Kitty spends a good part of every day snuggling with her Mummy.  If she's finished a feed and done her little girly burps, she often sits and chats to me, and I've got enough lap length that she can sit facing me, supported by my nursing pillow on my knees.  We play blerum, sing songs and make smiley faces, and sometimes she plays with her dolly Emily and I pick up my knitting for a few rounds.

I suspect she's now seen enough knitting to have a good idea about how it works, she'll sometimes catch the yarn through her hands and sometimes the finger movements look very like she's getting a bit of practice in, but now she's decided that at the grand age of 15.5 weeks she is definitely old enough to join in:

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"Hands off Mummy! The Bugga's all mine."
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Now as we all know, Miss Kitty is oh so terribly advanced and talented for her tender years, but even I, who truly believe her to be a super special snowflake and the cleverest girl in the whole wide world, cannot with all truthfulness give you cause to believe that she simply picked up the needles and carried on knitting.

She grabbed the needle. She wiggled the needle. She pulled the needle out of the stitches.  Twice.

But given how much she seems to take in as she sits on a variety of willing knees at Thursday Knit and Natter I don't think it'll be that many years before I'm looking for a pair of little girl needles.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Lighten our Darkness

Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; 
and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night; 
for the love of thy only Son, our Savior Jesus Christ.

I think that must be my favourite of all the collects. We used to sing it at the end of evensong every week in the college chapel; somehow it seemed very fitting when you were only lit by candles and tiny little choir lamps, and now, with all the colour and cheer of Christmas taken down and packed away for another year it seems fitting again.

That's not to say that my lounge doesn't now look immeasurably larger, which, as it isn't huge in the first place, can only be a good thing, and with all of Kitty's toys around and H and my predilection for strong colours in quilts and knitting and painting it isn't exactly bland around here.  I think I just miss the twinkly fairy lights chasing away the dreary outside weather we've had recently (no snow, just rain, rain and more rain).

But right on cue, to alleviate the gloom

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the first of my amaryllis for this year trumpeted its arrival at the start of the week and is now in full bloom.
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This year's first is Prelude; scarlet with white edging and a gorgeous feathery centre.
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A blast of colour to chase away the winter gloom.
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Friday, January 07, 2011

Phoenix Rising

It's official.  The Ashes are ours.  Not just because we had them last time and somehow managed not to loose them, but because over a 5 test series we were the most consistent and dominant team and we won 3-1.  We've been glued to the daytime highlights and the start of match play each evening on the laptop - the battery lasted just long enough last night for me to see the final wicket fall and then it too gave up the ghost so I had to wait until this morning to see the celebrations.

On which point oh ye might of Cricket Australia - do you really call that an appropriate end of series presentation?  5 minutes in and out is how you hand out the swimming badges at a primary school, not the teeniest sporting trophy out there.  Hmm, we'd better leave it there before I get on to why it is that Michael Vaughan, whilst an excellent cricketer and commentator, is English and so a surprising choice to be presenting the crystal ashes in Australia.  I mean, had all the Australians already gone home?

For Ashes-watching knitting I resurrected another project from the bottom of the knitting bag.  This one has only been buried since the end of July, it's the sock pattern that I started to design in my Cookie A class at Knit Nation, appropriately christened Phoenix.

January 038
I knit a full repeat after the class finished but I was in a very instant gratification kind of frame of mind and wanted everything finished the day before yesterday.

This is not a quick knit sock; there are no 'rest' rounds, with lace patterning on almost every row, and the four vertical braids are a bit fiddly to work but as with all of these things, if you're not in any tearing hurry it soon adds up.  I'm now about half a repeat from the heel turn and really enjoying the knitting.  It doesn't hurt that it's Bugga yarn, and sheer bliss to have running through your fingers.
January 040
In between all the knitting and cricket, my Mum and Dad came to visit to deliver Kitty's Christmas present.  Now it's here I can see why it wasn't suitable for the post - they've given her an Old England rose that shares her name (her real name, not Kitty).  It's a very pale pink and apparently should smell wonderful.  I think it's a lovely and unusual present and I can't wait until the summer when it flowers.
January 011
And of course there was plenty of time for Kitty-cuddles.  Well, Mum was cuddling Kitty.  Dad on the other hand was somewhat distracted by the gizmo in the corner, and couldn't wait for a go.
January 003
Move over Pierce Brosnan's 007, that's Dad, on a cross trainer, wearing a tie.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Happy New Year

Well here we are, safely into 2011; a whole new year stretches before us crisp and unsullied by daily life and with a world of possibilities. It's that feeling of smooth fresh paper at the beginning of a new exercise book that has you furriting in a drawer for a nice ink pen and using your very best handwriting and possibly even some underlining for at least the first couple of pages until it all degenerates into a biro scrawl.

December 236
Most of my new year's knitting time has been spent with a lapful of blue squiggly stitches; frequently accompanied by a little girl who thinks that she might be able to help with the blocking; I mean, who doesn't block their lace with regurgitated milk?

But as it is true that if you knit and knit and knit, you will escape any knitting black hole, even the edging on a Flowing River shawl, and I have intermittently knit and knit and knit, and refused all temptation including some Christmas present sock yarn, I had the very great pleasure of casting off this evening.  I still have to weave in some ends and do some non-milk enhanced blocking to turn the love child of a pair of indigo jeans and a packet of super noodles into a beautiful shawl but I am quietly confident that this magic will happen.  Sometime.  Given that I started the shawl in September 2009 and finished in January 2010, don't expect to see me wearing it any time soon.

To start the New Year with a flourish we've had visits from Zee ...
December 221
her new camera and her husband (she was trying to take a photo of me at the same time but I had my macro lens and she had a long lens so guess who got the photo - hee hee).  Given that all of our planned pre-Christmas present exchanges were thwarted by snow, we allowed it to be a replay of her birthday for half an hour and then moved on to Christmas and a roast gammon feast; a lovely way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon.

And on Monday we had Christmas all over again, only this time with spaghetti bolognaise and chocolate reindeer when Kitty's godfather came to play blerum with her and kick back with us.
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All in all a lovely way to end a treasured holiday.  I'm working my way around to some New Year resolutions/goals but as I never seem to remember to start thinking about them until 1 January I figure I have at least until Epiphany to decide on them properly!  Happy New Year one and all!