Christmas pyjamas!

 

It’s Christmas Eve! We’re in a self-catering cottage in the English Lake District, where the views and the wildlife are amazing.

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I finished the hems on my Christmas pyjamas in brushed cotton.

Though I think I made them a size too big I’m still pleased with them and think they’re the best of the three garments I’ve made. I won’t wear them to bed but they’re nice to sit around in – loose and comfortable! The pattern’s a New Look multi-option and unisex pattern. I don’t know the manufacturer of the lovely fabric, but bought it online from Croft Mill, at a reasonable £5.50 per metre.

The pattern has pockets, which I thought would be hard to do but it was ok.

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I’ve also today posted to Mum and Dad a patchwork quilted mat I made for them, to put underneath a nice red glass bowl they’ve got standing on a polished wood sideboard.

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The fabrics are by Moda and came in a pack of 6 inch squares I bought on eBay then cut into quarters. I love the rich autumn / winter reds and greens. I used it as an opportunity to try some freestyle machine quilting (no idea if that’s the right terminology, I was going to write freemotion, but is that only when you use a long arm machine?), by drawing a leaf vine design on with chalk. Unfortunately I kept not being able to see the lines, partly because sewing at night when even electric light on good enough. Some leaves turned out quite well, others not so much, with spaces where they join the ‘stem’, or zig-zaggy loops. The light’s not the only reason for that, though!

Anyway, I enjoyed doing it and the project’s a nice size to practise on. I’d like to be able to make the same pattern on the double bed autumn quilt I’ve been working on for years, but don’t think it’s possible!

Anyway, I’m looking forward to walking to Grasmere tomorrow to go to church, where Wordsworth’s buried so I assume also worshipped. Then a roast dinner using the small oven in the cottage, but no pressure to have it ready by a certain time as there’s just the two of us. Ooo, Carols from King’s has started – Happy Christmas everyone!

Blocking, and a trip to Kew Gardens

The two aren’t related! I finished the main elements of my jumper last week – ‘Gotland’ in Rowan Hemp Tweed – but haven’t had the opportunity to start sewing it together so I could start on the neck. At the weekend we took the train to London and went to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. It was great! Apart from the rain, so I got soggy feet, but there was so much to see in the glasshouses we spent a fair bit of time inside anyway. We got there in the afternoon and knew when we left we hadn’t seen it all, but looking online when we got home realised just how huge it is and that you couldn’t see it all in one day anyway.

The Palm House at Kew Gardens
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So last night I decided it was time to think about sewing up the jumper. However, confession time… I have never blocked a garment before! Or indeed, anything. I hadn’t even heard of blocking until reading ‘Nothing But Knit”s blog: https://nothingbutknit2.wordpress.com/. It will have been referred to in patterns and in the Rowan knitting magazines I sometimes buy, but I must have glossed over it! Mum never does it so it isn’t something I picked up at home. The Gotland pattern says to block, so with much trepidation I looked up online how to do it. I haven’t blocking wires, blocking pins, blocking mats or other equipment, and frankly nowhere to store them given how much quilting paraphernalia I have lying about, but it’s a simple pattern, no lace or cabling, just some detailing to the hem and cuffs, so I decided I could do without. I approach getting knitting wet frankly with trepidation, bordering on downright fear. I’ve had bad experiences in the past with washing garments on the wool or even silk cycle in the washing machine and them felting and shrinking, so know I must handwash them, but still I fear the results. So with some anxiety I placed the pieces in the bath with some lukewarm water and handwash liquid, left it for what I thought I’d read somewhere should be 15 mins but later read was 5, rinsed them gently, then considered how best to get the worst of the water out without wringing it, before the rolling-in-a-towel bit I’d read about. Husband decided to get involved, probably because I’d been vocalising my concern which he takes as a plea for help (don’t know if he’s right, haven’t psychoanalysed that yet), and rather worryingly decided to fold pieces in half and then quarters before pressing down on them. I was worried that would put lines in them so made him stop! I squeezed mine gently, don’t know which was worse. Anyway, we then did the rolling up in old towels in a manner akin to making a roulade thing, and I was amazed by how much water that got out of them. We then laid them on the floor on yet more towels and though I was going to just pat them into shape I found the edges were still curling up, so went pinned them all to the towels around the edges. I made sure not to pull them and pinned them in the shape I think they should be. In the process I found that the chest is about an inch wider than it’s supposed to be. I read later that blocking can make the garment bigger, but I’m a loose knitter anyway so don’t know whether to blame the blocking, and in any case don’t mind because it’s a winter jumper and being on the big side’s better than on the small. They were still a bit damp when I left for work this morning, when I took this rubbish photo – it was still dark outside and I didn’t have my camera to hand so this was taken on my ipad. If they aren’t fully dry when I get home tonight I’ll lie them on the clothes dryer I have, which is a very low temperature electric thing with ‘shelves’ to lie items on, and I’ve used it to dry delicates and even teddy bears on before so think it will be fine, just for an hour or so, I wouldn’t leave it on overnight.

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Here’s a slideshow of some photos of Kew, though first are 3 bonsai, because I think they’re amazing – one is 80 years old, and getting on eye level with them is really like looking at a full size tree. Won’t be growing any myself, but you have to admire the people with the patience to do it. The first picture in the slideshow, by the way, is steam coming into the palm house, it skooshes out automatically every few minutes, nifty. The titan arum from Sumatra isn’t in flower and I’m not sorry, it only flowers for 2 days every year and when it does it apparently smells like rotten flesh, an experience I am willing to forego.

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Birthday present to self featuring funky animals, and the snow’s been and gone

Two more autumn blocks finished – one a couple of weeks ago but I waited until I’d finished the next one before posting. These are blocks 39 and 40 (of the ones I’m keeping, I did more that haven’t made the grade), and I turned 39 yesterday so now have more blocks than years in my life – sometimes it feels like that’s exactly how long it’s taken to make them!

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I love the colour scheme on this one, when I saw how well the Moda Prairie Cactus went with the green autumn leaves one I had to make something that put them next to each other, and I could actually visualise a whole quilt made just of these blocks. I do realise that despite the autumn leaves on two of the fabrics it doesn’t actually look all the autumnal, but I went ahead and did it anyway. It’s slowly dawned on me that it’s not so much the patterns on a fabric that give it a certain theme, but the colours and how they’re put together. I can see it on professional ones I see online and on other people’s blogs, but haven’t got there myself yet.

This next one took ages to design! I really wanted to make one using this orange fabric with animals as the centre square, because I have the fabric and love the animals, but of the other blocks I’ve made with it only one has worked out ok because the colour is difficult to match to other fabrics; the others I’ve either taken apart or will include because they’re just about okay but I don’t love them. I think ‘autumn’ when I see the woodland animals, and like the spot-the-animal-in-the-quilt idea, but struggle to design blocks with it that look autumnal. I think the problem’s partly the shade of orange and partly the animals are bright white, whereas my palette’s more muted and has a lot of tan in it now. With the fabrics I have I think this is the best I could come up with, after about 10 variations were laid out and photographed. I finished it yesterday, hence the birthday present to self comment. Perhaps it would have been better with something plainer than the bright acorns and berries, but there you go…

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I saw on a Moda blog a little YouTube clip of a lady who clips the fabric slightly at the back where there are bulky joins so I tentatively tried that here, but I think I didn’t  do it right because it hasn’t made much difference. Where the points of the triangles created by two adjoining flying geese on the outer edge meet the inner block there is always a lot of bulk, and at the outer corners where you’ve essentially got 6 pieces of fabric meeting at a point, and it is a problem. I’m nervous of snipping as I sew by hand so there are gaps between stitches for fraying to work its way through, whereas sewn by machine it shouldn’t be a problem; as the Moda blog said, it’s done when making garments (sorry I forget who posted, perhaps Carrie Nelson).

The snow of late last week (here at work):

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has all gone now. Saturday morning there was still a fair bit in my soon-to-be-former landlord’s garden, and this pheasant sat for ages on their bird table, looking bemused:

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If we hadn’t been packing I would have gone out and taken photos, but my walk had to wait ’til the afternoon, by which time the thaw was well underway. By Sunday afternoon all the walks in these photos were deep in mud and sloshy meltwater, less attractive. (And yes, the wide photo was me trying to use the digital panorama setting, hence the dark streak down the middle where the clouds changed while I tried to line it up!)

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Changing seasons

We went on holiday to the North Pennines a month ago, but it doesn’t feel so long ago; so much crafting has been going on since then! Before we left, I finished this autumn jumper, in Rowan British sheep breeds boucle:

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It’s perhaps a size too big (the last two having been a size smaller than I would have liked it seems this time I over-compensated), but I like it.

I took projects with me on holiday that I can’t do on the train so don’t get much attention unless I’m on leave… an ‘extreme knitting’ rug, the quilt back and leaf shapes to do applique, and my cross stitch cushion cover. Also the pieces for the next autumn block, the wool to knit snowmen Christmas tree decorations, and even some pieces to make cathedral window Christmas tree ornaments. Good to have a choice! In the end, I focussed on the cross stitch, though mostly when on the long car journey, and the rug. Neither are finished, but are close, if I could have continued to focus on them when I got back.

Had some nice days when away…

And some less nice…

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… but it was great to be away.

When we got back, I did finish the autumn block:

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This reused the dark orange fabric in the centre that came from a block I’d dismantled, and used most of what’s left of a fabric I bought on ebay at the beginning of the project and which is best used for ‘fussy cutting’ because the motifs aren’t close together. It is an old fabric, thin and frays easily, so I’m a bit worried about how long it will last in the quilt. It’s quite hard to sew fabrics of different thicknesses together and I know this has ‘issues’! The tan coloured fabric is Moda and is very useful for autumn projects.

A last burst of colour in a London park a couple of weeks ago  (complete with dustbin, sorry!):

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Since then, I’ve been working on a Christmas present which I really need to have finished by this coming Friday, when I’m getting the train to stay with my family for a bit as sadly I won’t see them at Christmas, so if I have it finished in time I can take it with me rather than trusting it to the post. It uses the sewing machine so really I can only do it at weekends – evenings in an emergency but I’m tired when I get home from work and make mistakes – but these last few weekends have been busy, with my husband’s family visiting and other things, so it’s not gone as smoothly as I’d have liked. I should finish it by working on it these next few evenings, it’s just something I’ve never done before so I’m doing a lot of reading and re-reading of instructions!

Then these little fellows have kept me occupied… They had to be delivered to church yesterday, to be put with other items to be sold at the church Christmas Tree Festival next weekend. So early! I feel like Christmas is over with before Christmas Day is even in sight, it’s so confusing and the day itself a bit of an anti-climax, I guess that’s getting older but with no children of my own – sorry, that’s a bit depressing. I’ll have to get used to it, because that’s the way it’s going to be now, best make the most of it. My in-laws will come to us on Christmas Day so at least it’s not just the two of us. I’ll try not to stress out about the cooking, when people are older they have fixed likes and dislikes which take precedence and that makes me anxious, but I should calm down and try to get a sense of perspective, because it’s okay really. At least on home turf I can have a glass of wine with Christmas dinner, which they don’t do. Anyway, here are the finished snowmen, which took me an insane amount of time to finish, the earliest I went to bed each night last week was 11, past midnight some nights, and I get up for work at 5.50. Crazy little snowmen!

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Sparkly leafy new autumn block

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I’m pleased to have made this autumn block, as it uses my favourite fabric to best effect – albeit second (at least!) time lucky. I had 4 rectangles of it I’d never used and 4 that had been part of another block I’d taken apart, so I wanted to use them in the position in the photo along with less patterned fabrics so you can really see them. The only thing that really worked was to have a square of it in the centre, so I’m afraid I cannibalised another block to get to it. I wasn’t sorry to lose the one I took apart because making  it was a mistake really, too many very patterned fabrics and quite a bright green and a bright orange in the same block made it over-the-top. This is one of my favourites now, but re-sewing pieces that were already trimmed from having been in another block is difficult and I certainly wouldn’t choose to do it; better to have got it right the first time! To my surprise the sparkly orange fabric is going well in some blocks, perhaps because it’s a darker burnt orange, rather than some of the brighter ones I’ve bought in the past: it often isn’t easy to tell from photos online shops what things are going to look like in real life, and when I went to a fabric warehouse sale last weekend I couldn’t find a single one that would have gone well in this quilt, such a shame.

I went for a wander earlier and the trees are beginning to change colour:

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Lots of berries on this piece of hawthorn:

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I don’t know what this shrub in the area between fields is, but not only are the leaves very colourful, the flowers are extraordinarily bright… maybe if ever I have a garden I can find out what it is and plant one.

Stripey jumper, two new autumn blocks, and a trip to Wiltshire

I finished the jumper made from a self-striping Noro yarn (a silk mix) that I’ve been working on quite fast because I wanted to wear it when the weather cools down, but to be honest am disappointed. The colours are still lovely but I wish I’d made it a size bigger, and all is not well with the neck. I’ve included a photo from the pattern book to show what it should look like, but in reality it’s far too high and I don’t know what I did wrong; I followed the instructions!

Patchwork-wise, I’ve finished another two autumn blocks, and am pleased with the colour combinations on both. I thought the mouse one might be too ‘avocado and aubergine’, but actually it’s fine. On the other one, I wanted to showcase the rosehip fabric, following on from previous blocks when a more heavily patterned fabric stood out against plainer ones, giving a better effect. In the end some of the other fabrics are reasonably heavily patterned, but it’s still okay. The orange fabric is new and the best I could get to be close to the orange in earlier blocks that was more rusty than bright, despite being covered in gold sparkles!

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When I finished it I laid out all the blocks I’ll definitely use, and as a whole the quilt is looking much better, though sadly weeding out the unsatisfactory ones leaves only 30 blocks! Sorry the photo’s dark (though it’s really bright sunshine outside) and of course as I’m standing on a chair with the camera stretched out up and in front of me, at a bad angle.

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Of the eleven discarded blocks left, I can see how two can be taken apart and some colours changed to make them usable, two won’t be used at all, and of the remaining seven I’ll take some apart and hopefully use some component parts in new blocks, and may keep one or two as they are. It’s a pain, particularly as the awful truth is there are some fabrics I should just never have  bought or used, which is a waste of money as well as time and energy, but there’s no point crying over spilt milk – I can be  more sanguine now I’m happier with the overall project!

We went to Wiltshire on Sunday and stayed for 5 nights, one night in a B&B near Malmesbury and 4 in a self-catering cottage near Salisbury. It’s a county I’d never visited, and am so pleased I went. I wanted to visit some of the sites associated with people I studied in Medieval History, so was really pleased to see Malmesbury Abbey, which was built on the site of an ancient holy place, and Old Sarum, the site of a now-ruined cathedral and castle, as well as Salisbury Cathedral, which was built in the 13th century when the cathedral at Old Sarum was abandoned. But there was so much ancient history, too. You felt it all around you because although Stonehenge is the famous stone circle and we decided not to visit because it is such a tourist hub and so cordoned-off that there might not be much pleasure to be had, there are actually lots of other, ‘smaller’ stone circles too, as well as the white horses etched out of the hillsides which you can see just driving along. We visited the stone circle that runs through the village of Avebury, and although there are only 30-odd of the original c. 150 stones standing, the scale of them is amazing. They reckon the stones were put there in 2600 B.C.! My photos don’t do it justice, but you can see the scale from the ones next to houses and people.

 

Photos of parts of Malmesbury Abbey:

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Stunning gardens at Stourhead, designed in the 18th century (having first diverted a river and dammed some medieval fish ponds, of course!), complete with grottoes and follies. Now owned by the National Trust. Must look fantastic in the autumn!

 

Lastly, Salisbury Cathedral – great place to see stunning embroidery! I somehow managed to omit taking a photo of the central aisle down the length of the nave, which was very long. There is an incredible font in the centre, commissioned in 2008, with constantly flowing water. The Chapter house dates to 1260 and has an amazing frieze running round it, above the benches were Chapter members sit, carved in stone and showing biblical scenes.

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Autumn block and first attempt at neck binding (unrelated!)

Something of a lowering sky when I went for a quick walk earlier this afternoon, but I saw some magnificent red kites, one swooping quite low over my head; my photos don’t do it justice.

I worked hard to finish a new autumn block this week, inspired by having a plan to use the same colours as last week’s, and by wanting to feel I’d achieved something by the end of the week if sewing the neck binding on my top didn’t work out! I’m pleased with the result:

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The more boldly patterned fabric is much thinner than the higher-quality Moda fabrics that make up the rest of the block, and I can feel how much better (for which read, easier) it would be to have fabrics all of the same quality. Unfortunately I haven’t had time this weekend to choose fabrics to put together for the next block, so will be deprived of sewing to do on the train. Might actually start reading a book, I used to read so much before I took up sewing! I’ve just finished Life of Pi and it took something like 4 months, oh dear. I listen to audiobooks all the time while sewing on the train, but don’t know if that counts the same way.

On Thursday night I tried to use the overlocking stitch for the first time. Not a resounding success, alas.

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I put the edge of the fabric up against the guide on the overlocking foot, but obviously sometimes it got too close and the edges have turned in. At least no one will see it. It went wrong near the bottom of the seam so I’m going to do that by hand.

I have spent so much of the last two weekends looking at YouTube videos! So much good advice, but people do things differently and I don’t always understand all instructions, so it’s still a lot of puzzling out what best to do. I confess that in my ignorance before I looked at these videos I thought the binding went on the outside! I now know that’s only if it’s to be a decorative feature, which in this case it most certainly is not. It took me in the end I think two and a half goes to do the binding round the neck of my top.

First time I used all these pins…

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It still didn’t work out, and I did misjudge it a few times and had to lift the needle to get a pin out then carefully put it back in the right place. The curve of the shoulder seam has  been the main problem. This was a wildly off-kilter part after my first go:

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Oops. I thought of just unpicking that section, then thought of the mess I make when I tie off an end of stitching mid-length and reneged. I thought I’d try to just add the correct stitching without unpicking this one… yes, I know, it didn’t work! So I unpicked the whole thing and tried again, this time, and I don’t know why I didn’t think of it sooner, with basting. It still wasn’t neat like the woman in the video’s is neat, and I sewed over a few basting stitches and had fun picking them apart. But on the whole it was better.

Then as per instructions I trimmed it so the fabric was flush with the binding, and cut in little notches to help with the curve (thanks to having tried a little bit of needle-turn applique this idea wasn’t a novelty, so that was good), then turned  it inside the garment.

I saw on some blogs that some people do something called understitching, but I didn’t follow what exactly I was meant to do, and some people didn’t do it, so I decided as it seemed okay without it and my fabric’s not very stretchy (deliberately chosen for that reason) I would give it a skip. Then I basted the binding in place, by hand, then sewed it down with the machine. Again the problem with the shoulder, this time meaning I missed the binding for about 2 inches, but this time I did unpick from the  armhole edge to the offending part, and got the sewing machine needle in at the right spot and redid it. I stitched the thread ends in by hand, but don’t think it’s noticeable from the right side unless you’re looking really closely at the stitching, not if you’re just talking to me when I’m wearing it.

Having pressed in place, I think the binding’s  okay, a bit may gape in time but it’s fine for now (and for a first attempt) and for just me wearing it. A pity the two parts of the back are slightly misaligned, I really hadn’t realised until after the binding was done and I was going to take this photo. This whole thing has shown me – well, reinforced what I knew – that accuracy is so important, but also so difficult! I don’t think dressmaking is going to be my ‘thing’, I’ll make tops with the fabrics I’ve bought and I haven’t given up on making  pair of tartan pyjama bottoms in a nice thick or brushed cotton one day, but overall, I’ll stick with patchwork and knitting!

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