North American wildlife block

I didn’t really set out to make a specifically North American block, but searching for ‘woodland’ fabric on Ebay in an attempt to find more of a fabric I’ve used before but run out of, I came across material with moose, bears, and deer. It had autumn coloured leaves and some pine cones, so autumnal enough to fit my theme and I couldn’t resist! It wasn’t actually that easy to make it blend in with others, perhaps because the background is very white and I’ve been steering away from that to more tan coloured backgrounds, or because there’s something about the way the animals are drawn, can’t quite put my finger on it.

Moose

The centre came together easily but not the outer edge, and I’m not actually sure they go together. I like the fir tree patterned fabric but have only used it in one other, recent, block and won’t use much more of it (if any) in the remaining blocks because the green is quite different to other greens I’ve used. I think it’s a Moda fabric by Holly Taylor and I actually bought more to make a Christmas quilt or wall hanging with, but it’s completely out of stock anywhere I’ve tried, so I’m conserving what I have left. The dark orange I salvaged from a block I took apart and have been trying to find a way to reuse it ever since, but there are some tans and some greens especially that it shouldn’t go anywhere near.

Sorry the background to the photo’s a bit confusing, it’s the wicker lid of my laundry basket because I took it outside to photograph in natural light but didn’t want to put it directly onto the concrete because it had been raining, so grabbed this to use.

I’ve got 13 blocks left to make for this quilt and have started on the next block though I’m worried it’s using too much of one fabric in the same block. I tried deciding on my next blocks at the weekend but it’s getting a bit mind-boggling now, trying not to repeat myself, wanting to use more of certain fabrics I’ve got left over but not having ones to match them with, etc. etc. I’m keen to move on to the next thing so must stay focussed!

3 more autumn blocks

I made these over a couple of months, I think Nov – Dec., but thought I’d save them up to post them all together and a lot of time seems to have passed, with some intervening Christmas projects too. The last one is a rather wintery autumn, but I don’t care, I like it! Though whether the shade of green in it will tone with the other blocks is another matter…

I think these are blocks 47-49.

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The dark tan fabric that appears in all three, and the brown with a red and tan pattern that is in the first and last images, were both bought at the Knitting and Stitching Show I went to at Alexandra Palace in London in October and are by Moda. Don’t think I’ll be repeating the ‘Ally Pally’ experience, it was more expensive than the one at London Olympia I’ve been to in March and the heating was on so high I felt really ill at one point. I wasn’t the only one, judging from the red-faced persons fanning themselves; not much fun. Anyway, the fabrics with pine needles on are ones I bought in an online sale maybe last year and bought up what they had left to make a Christmas quilt one day, though I could have done with a bit more but it’s discontinued. I think they’re Holly Taylor for Moda. I really like her colour schemes.

In retrospect I’m not that keen on the middle one with the chrysanthemum, maybe a bit too brown, even though it is an autumn-themed quilt, there’s something depressingly 1970s living room about it, but I hope it’ll fit in with the rest okay.

I took all the blocks to show my Mum when I went to see the parents before Christmas, and we decided I need 14 more as well as the one I’m doing. So it must be 8 x 8 blocks though I forgot to count! The one I’m working on also has animals on it. Then I’m going to have to take stock again, count how many of the two different designs of block I have so I’ve got an even number at the end of it (!) and try and plan the next ones carefully. There are a few fabrics I’ve only used once and would rather include them in more than one block, for example, but then again there are some I used at the beginning that I wouldn’t choose now, like ones with a white background which aren’t great in an autumn quilt.

However, at home I’m making a baby quilt for my husband’s brother’s new baby, which was born on Saturday, so will of course prioritise that, then get down to the block planning. There’s also the pyjama bottoms I’m going to make for my brother and have bought the fabric for, so want to get on with those while the weather’s still cold, as it’s a warm brushed cotton fabric. So whether I’ll be able to plan blocks as well I’m not sure, could be it has to wait until February. Well, there are worse problems!

 

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
Fraxinus americana autumn purple

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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Autumn quilt: funky owl 2. And a new project!

I think this is autumn block 44. Not my favourite, but as mentioned in my last post I’m at the stage where I know there are blocks I want to make so that there’s a balance of blocks in the quilt as a whole, and I have one other block that uses this fabric so felt I needed another so it isn’t all alone. It was retrospectively an unwise choice of fabric being so different from the others (though I do have a small repeating cartoonish hedgehog in a few), but a couple in amongst the others is okay and maybe gives it a bit of added ‘interest’! I’ve tried to tone it down by using quite quiet fabrics for the rest of the block, with only the four small inner squares having anything other than a blender-style pattern, so I think it works okay.Owl 2

I had a hunt through my photo library (boy does that need a clear-out!) and found the photo of its friend. Both had been in blocks I did earlier in the project but had to take apart and do again to make them work better in the quilt as a whole, both having been way too ‘busy’. The first one still was, a bit, but I think there was a limit to what I could do with the pieces.

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In other news, I’ve started making the sleeveless summer top I bought the fabric and pattern for last year. It’s taken me til now to get over the mental angst involved in making the first top I’ve ever sewn, which was year ago! So this is the second one. Apart from darts, which didn’t feature in the first top, this is going to be easier (famous last words…). I cut the pieces last weekend and did the darts and the top and side seams this. The darts aren’t brilliant, I had to unpick one and redo it because when I changed the stitch length as I neared the end (following YouTube advice) I must have somehow knocked the fabric skew and got a dogleg in the sewing, which means there are little holes you can see (though if anyone was that close to my bust I’d punch them). Then I forgot I’d changed the stitch length down and did the whole dart at length 1.0 instead of 2.5! I debated doing the same for the other one for consistency, but in the end decided not to and I don’t think you can see the difference. Stripey fabric with darts so of course the stripes then don’t line up – not a good idea, or doesn’t it matter?

Dart

From top no. 1 I learned that, for me personally, it’s not worth the difficulty of trying to do the overlocking stitch (have I got the right word?) to finish the edges of the seams, but just to use the pinking scissors. Last time trying to do the overlocking stitch I got it all snarled up and had to unpick bits and redo it by hand and the end result was messy, whereas pinking scissors do the same job but without the hassle, so long as you don’t mind the serrated effect, which I don’t. I had to alter the length of the top to fit to where I like it best, allowing for a bit of uptake on the hem, and have sewn the side seams nearer 7/8 inch than the 5/8 on the pattern, by the time I basted exactly on the line then sewed to one side of it, but the pattern size was slightly too big so that’s worked fine when I’ve tried it on. Happily the positioning of the darts in the pattern seems to look okay on me, because I’m really not up for trying to alter bust sizes on these things, that’s far too advanced! I now need to put bias binding at neck and armholes, which will be taxing and is for next weekend unless I have a burst of energy midweek (doubt it, in this heat and with an allotment to water), and then of course the hem to do. Be nice if this time I finish it in time to wear this year! The fabric’s a lovely Kaffe Fassett one, perhaps more subdued than some of his others! Cotton, but woven (I think), nice and light, and drapes better than standard cotton. And I love the colours!

Top before binding

Autumn quilt: block 43 and taking stock

I designed this simple block just before I went to stay with my family last month, so that I had two to do, even though I always take two but only have time to do one, and so it proved on this occasion! But I’d rather have too much than be ‘caught short’ with no sewing to work on. The purple fabric is from Moda’s Thistle Farm range, called Primrose Thistle, so tones with the tan fabric from the same range. I’ve made just a few blocks with dark purple in them, partly because that is the main colour in Lewis and Irene’s harvest mouse fabric I like, and partly because I think of the purple in berries and on copper beech trees as being autumnal, or at least the prelude to autumn.

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On Sunday I laid out all my blocks on the sitting room carpet and am now glad I have these few purple blocks, as they are the ones that ‘pop’ and stop the rest blending into such a mass of orange and brown, which was a problem I had. (Taking apart approx. 12 of the blocks which were too ‘busy’ and reusing the pieces to make simpler blocks also helped, though talk about reinventing the wheel the hard way!). I didn’t place them carefully so they aren’t lined up and the two designs aren’t placed alternately as will be the case with the finished item, but it gives an idea of where it’s going.

Autumn

As I’m past the half-way mark (or perhaps the two-thirds mark, we’ll see) I also wanted to see what needs to be made. I decided I needed another with the cartoonish owl that you can just see at the top left, as it’s an oddity and one stands out too much whereas a second will balance it but be more than enough. I’ve designed that one and am working on it this week. I’ve also got one to make using a fabric that’s been rescued from a dismantled block but is otherwise not to be found anywhere. Then I think one more with the stag from the naturalistic woodland fabric in the central square, as I’ve two with the fox from that fabric and one with the stag, so that will balance out; then at least one more with the fussy-cut pumpkins in the four small squares in the middle of the block. So that’s a few where I’ve got something to work on rather than a blank canvas, which at the minute I think is good. I think I’ve got 43 blocks completed (the one I’ve just finished is at the front of the picture but without the last row sewn on, which is why it looks badly proportioned to the eagle-eyed observer). Plus one in storage I’m undecided about.

Down on the allotment, we’ve problems with the fruit trees which we’ll just have to ignore until October, but otherwise we’re doing lots of watering to combat this prolonged spell of dry weather, and have our first potato crop! Very exciting, for me at any rate.

Squash are doing well, though I mustn’t speak too soon…

squash

They’re a newish thing in Britain and I don’t think they’d grow too well in the north of the country, though maybe they’ve bred varieties that would cope, I don’t know. There’s a lot that we planted too late this year because we didn’t have time to prepare the soil, but we’ll hopefully do better next year.

And the flowerbed is looking good, due to an injection of new plants at the weekend and a pick-up in watering now that I’m over my fear of drowning them and recognised that there’s not much chance of that in this heat! I managed to kill a lavender plant, maybe two as one’s on it’s way out, I think, through underwatering, so it’s been replaced and I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Be great if the sweet peas flower, and if the lupines and delphinium make it through the winter be even better next year when they’re taller. Good to have things to look forward to, and jobs to do that don’t involve dusting and ironing!

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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!

Prairie Cactus

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…

fox and badger

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:

Pheasant

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!)

Landscape

 

Two more autumn blocks with fussy cutting, but also some unwelcome news

Since my last post things have all been ‘a bit much’. I’d designed two blocks in a weekend and worked slightly obsessively to finish the first one by the end of Wednesday, absolutely record progress for me as I was so keen to get on and have the blocks finished by this coming autumn. I wanted to make one using the new prairie cactus fabric that was my latest fabric crush, though it somehow turned out that the fabric I thought went best with it was the foxy / nature / woodland one, which I also like but the overall effect is a bit gloomy; maybe more woodland than autumn, though it does have the word ‘harvest’ on the fabric somewhere! (The curvature is down to my non-existent photography skills). The fabric the central star is made of is one I bought ages ago but hadn’t found the right combination of other fabrics to use it with until now.

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So it was all going quite well, then I started feeling ill with what turned out to be the ‘flu, all my muscles and joints aching so that moving around hurt for days and even sewing seemed too much effort! In retrospect I’m glad ‘flu was ‘all’ it was, because after days of this I started mulling over what it must be like to have M.E… I’m a glass half-empty kind of a person.

On the Friday the estate agent that manages the flat we rent phoned me just after lunch to say that our landlords want their flat back, so the estate agents would be delivering the letter next week to say we’ve two months to move out. This was bad news because moving costs a lot in the UK and estate agents have fees for everything. The rental market moves quickly and is very expensive where we live, so it would mean finding a property in an area we’d like and where I can get the train to work (something else that is eye-wateringly expensive) and my husband can drive to work in the opposite direction. We need to pay a deposit on a new place, with an overlap paying rent on the place we’re in til the end of March as per the contract while paying rent for the new place, estate agents fees for taking the property off the market and making a tenancy agreement, paying for the inventory on the new place, and this awful clause on our current place whereby you have to pay to have the curtains dry-cleaned and the carpets and oven professionally cleaned and provide receipts to prove it. And of course the costs of moving our furniture. These are massive outlays but so much worse when you’re not expecting it and it didn’t feature in your budget – the fabric I wouldn’t have bought in the January sales if I’d known! Anyway, with that on top of the ‘flu when I had to take time off work because all I could do was sleep through the day but wasn’t able to sleep at night for coughing, I couldn’t summon up the energy to do any patchwork and it went on hold. I lost my sense of taste for 5 days too! Almost wish it wasn’t back because then I wouldn’t be comfort-eating chocolate. I did finish the gold stitching on my cross stitch cushion cover, and did a bit of knitting.

The ‘flu is almost gone now, I just need to wake up each morning without a sore throat and stop coughing. We flat-hunted on Saturday and saw nothing nice, but out current estate agent phoned to say they wanted to give us first refusal on a flat in the village next to the one where we currently live, that they’d been given instructions for but hadn’t advertised yet. We were fortunate to be able to arrange to see it first thing on Tuesday morning (I’m making up the time I took off work) and though not ideal, in the light of what we knew from searching is available on our budget (i.e. nothing will tick all the boxes) we said we’d take it. We haven’t anything in writing from the estate agents yet so I hope nothing is wrong, but I know from last time they can be pretty slow. I know I’m feeling better because I’ve started sewing again! I just finished the second of these two blocks last night.

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The colours on the second one are almost identical to the last one I did with this pumpkin fabric, just the tan blenders are different. Writing that makes me realise I’d intended to do the corners in the green leafy fabric (like the light cream one here) but have done them in brown instead by mistake, not sure how that happened. Oh well, not changing it now. Before I felt unwell I’d fussy-cut the pumpkin fabric for the outside edge flying geese, and worked from there to choose colours for the rest of it. I’m not so keen on the element of the fabric that has  gold-coloured acorns on it, but never mind. I hope tonight to finish the back of the jumper I’ve been working on, and at the weekend to sew the back of the cushion cover on. I did cut the pieces for that last weekend, but couldn’t face setting up the sewing machine. Moving flat has motivated me to work on the jigsaw that’s been sitting on a jigsaw board under the sofa for the past year (or is it more?), which I’ve taken out only periodically because of not having enough light in the winter evenings and because of it being a really difficult one! I think I won’t get so much sewing done at weekends because I want to finish it, even on a jigsaw board with zip-up cover it’ll still come apart when moved around so finishing it would be better, and I think I’ll give it away afterwards because it was so hard I don’t think I’ll do it again, though I often do keep jigsaw puzzles to redo (yet something else I feel guilty about when it comes to me having ‘too much stuff’). Oh dear, my list of things I want to do before have to pack up everything keeps getting longer…