FO Friday: Labour of Love. Possibly.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve had anything to show on a Friday. The last few months have felt like very hard work, and I haven’t been much inclined towards making things. Picking anything up to crochet or sew has just been that little bit too difficult, but picking this one up has been even harder.

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This is my third Tunisian Lace project, and as ever, I love the look, just as I love my Phoenix hat and shawl. But I have to be honest and say that I didn’t love making this one. My original idea had been that if I made something modular rather than all in one piece, it would be easier. I’d have lots of finishes, I wouldn’t have to carry everything around with me all the time, and it would be much more satisfying.

Needless to say, things don’t always work out the way you plan them. The stitch pattern on the solas is very plain, which creates a beautiful finished effect, but was a bit dull to make. Rather than having a series of finishes, it felt more like every time I finished something, there was another one to do, and making the whole thing seemed endless. Joining was tricky (it’s never been something I’ve been very good at), and I realised in the middle of wedge six that I wasn’t going to have enough yarn to make all nine pieces that I was supposed to have.

So that’s the down side.

The upside is that now I’ve finished, I really, really love this shawl.

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The yarn is from Natalie at The Yarn Yard and is Moondance, a sparkle 4-ply. Natalie doesn’t have any at the moment, but I think it’s the same base that other indie dyers use. I love the two colours together, and while it looked a bit sad when I finished, blocking has really brought out the shape.

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I edged it in double-crochet, in contrast colours to the wedges (so. many. ends. the weaving in seemed to take as long as the crochet!) and put a row along the top as well to help it hold its shape.

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While the process didn’t work for me (and I’m very much a process person when it comes to crochet), if you’ve never done any Tunisian Lace before, this would be a great place to start. The increases are nice and easy, and as it only uses one stitch, you’ve got plenty of time to practice, and wouldn’t need to concentrate too hard. I would recommend counting stitches every couple of rows – I missed some of the increases and had to do a bit of ripping back, which probably also didn’t help me love making it!

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Overall, I’m glad I made it. It taught me a lot, as well as giving me a lovely shawl at the end.

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Tools of the trade (stationery edition)

I’ve had a look through previous posts, and can’t believe I haven’t talked before about Bureau Direct. No, they’re not sponsoring me, I’m just a fan, both of the range of stationery they sell, and their customer service. It’s not just about answering emails or the phone, though. The staff are approachable and expert, so that when I was looking for recommendations, I didn’t hesitate to email them, say what I was looking for and ask for advice. They’re generally awesome and I heartily recommend checking out their site.

I also love their blog, where recently they put up a post about weapons of choice, and it occurred to me that I cannot be the only stationery addict out there, so I thought I’d share some of my own favourite tools of the trade.

Unfortunately, since I’m lousy at making decisions, it turned into rather a long list. Most of it came from Bureau Direct, and was bought with the monthly discount code (definitely recommended!)

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As well as the pens, I carry a pencil sharpener, eraser and fold-out ruler, none of which I use often, but all of which are really, really useful when I need them. The eraser and sharpener are both Stabilo Exam Grade – I’ve always found it hard to find good basic items, but these two are great. The ruler folds out to be 30cm across, very handy for quilt pattern sketches.

In Box 1 are the things I carry around in my nifty pencil case, which is also a stand-up penpot. The fine point sharpies are lovely for writing with, as well as coming in a good range of colours. I like the ‘normal’ pencil for drawing with, and the OHTO Promecha for writing. Of the last three, the black one is a Lamy ballpoint, which while nothing particularly special, is quite nice to write with. It is, however, nothing compared to the pens on either side. They’re both OHTOs, the left hand one is a Tasche (rollerball) and the right hand one is a Horizon (ballpoint). They’re both incredibly smooth to write with, even and sharp, and I love the Horizon so much I have 2 (there’s a black one in Box 3 that I use for work). Rollerballs are nicer if you can sit for a while and write, but the Horizon is the first ballpoint I’ve had that I actually enjoy using, and it’s much more practical for writing quickly.

Box 2 has my two ‘mobile’ pens in, although technically, only one of them is a pen. The left hand one is an iPad stylus, which I use all the time. Mine’s a Bamboo one, and as you can see, the paintjob hasn’t survived very well! The purple pen is another Lamy ballpoint. They’re not precision instruments like the OHTO pens, but they’re pretty good for the price. This one fits in the pen loop on my notebook (see below)

Box 3 are my ‘desktop’ pens. I like pencils for writing sometimes, and prefer roller-top ones to clicky ones. The fountain pen is a Lamy Al Star, which I confess I don’t use very much. I have a Lamy Safari as well, but I don’t actually find either of them particularly suit my writing. The Safari doesn’t write properly at all for me, and I find the Al Star scratchy. But every now and again, especially when I’m planning, I like using a ‘real’ pen. I’ve already talked about the Horizon in black, and the last one is the OHTO Dude (why yes, yes I am thinking of buying shares in OHTO, why do you ask?). It uses the same refill as the Tasche, but the size of the pen means it’s a very different instrument to write with. It’s got a good weight when you put the lid on the end, which is why it lives on my desk rather than in my pencil case.

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Alongside my pens, I’m even more particular about what notebooks I use. #1 is a Leuchtturm hardback lined notebook that acts as my catch-all. It’s my diary, my shopping lists, my to do lists, my craft planner, you name it, it’s in there. I found that with information in different places, I was losing and forgetting things. Having them all together really helps, as does the pen loop, which stops me scrabbling around for something to write with when I only want to write down a thought or email address. #2 is my Moleskine work diary/notebook. As with #1, I’m an ‘all in one place where I can find it’ kind of person, and since I don’t have too many appointments each day, I find that one box is more than enough. The rest of the pages are notes, mostly to do lists (I tend to put meeting notes on my iPad), and again, I don’t lose things so much when I have the same book for everything. #3 is a Rhodia mousepad, which I absolutely love. I prefer squared paper in general, and this way, I don’t have to fit something else on my desk, I always have a piece of paper when I need one, and I can write in any direction. A sheet lasts me about a week, and I make sure I have a supply in the drawer for when a pad is all used up.

If pushed, I think my essentials would be a Horizon pen and my Moleskine. It’s not that they’re my favourites, but that with those two, I could manage fairly well. Having said that, what I really like is choosing the item that suits my mood/need at the time, and I’m pretty happy with the set I’ve settled on.

So tell me, what am I missing out on? What are the essentials in your pencil case?

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The View from the Desk

In the two months since I last blogged, I’ve read a lot of articles proclaiming the death of the blog, and how it’s just not something people do any more. Like letter writing and long phone calls where you managed to tie yourself up in the phone cord (or was that just me?), it’s apparently something that’s had its day.

On the other hand, looking at the massive number of crafting blogs I follow, and all the ones that are mentioned in the blogs that I follow, I seriously doubt the blog is going anywhere soon. I’ve had “write blog post” on my to-do list for eight weeks now, but it’s only today that I’ve really had the mental energy to put words on the screen.

This may be why:

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Yes, that really is what I see when I look up from my computer at the moment. While I’m sure to all you book lovers out there are going “ooh”, to me, piles like that mostly represent hours of very dull processing (trust me, when you’ve stamped one book, you’ve stamped them all…). But on the plus side, the summer at least means I have the time for this sort of thing, and as my office doesn’t get much direct sunlight, it’s fairly cool in here, even on the hottest of July days. So not all bad. Plus there’s this cheering me up.

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While that may just look like the cutest little handbag, it’s actually my lunch bag, and more than that, it’s a cool bag! No more luke-warm salad for lunch! No more suspiciously tepid yogurt! Definitely to be recommended in what is turning out to be an actual summer. It feels like ages since we had one of those over here, so it’s much to be enjoyed.

Hope you’re enjoying a similarly sunny summer out there in blogland – I’m sure you all still exist really :)

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FO Friday: The Things you Learn

I think I’ve said before that crafting is one area of my life where I allow myself not to be perfect. The point is to make things. That’s it really. I like learning new skills, I like practising old ones, and I like holding things I’ve made or giving them away. There’s always something wrong with them, but I don’t tend to let it bother me too much. Or if it does, I rip the whole thing out and make it again to a standard I’m happy with, which still isn’t perfect. Good enough is good enough.

All of which is fine as long as I don’t compare my work to other people’s. But this week, I entered a quilt into a competition, and have spent the last 48 hours on the Perfectionist Rollercoaster Ride.*

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The quilt is for the Dear Stella-Timeless Treasures Modern Traditional challenge (details here). I only found out about it 2 weeks before the deadline (1st May, also known as “that Wednesday just gone”), and I only started to cut the pieces for it on Sunday. The whole thing was assembled in a bit of a whirlwind on Monday and Tuesday nights, knocking elbows at the desk with my husband who was using the computer at the same time. So that’s a mini-quilt designed in 20 minutes on a train, and then cut out, pieced, quilted, backed and bound in 3 hours. Which isn’t too shabby, really.

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I was quite pleased with it. Then I made the mistake of looking at #DSTTChallenge on Instagram. BIG mistake. All I could see were beautifully pieced quilts with complex designs and perfect quilting, making me feel like I’d entered a finger-painting in a fine art contest. I was pretty upset about it, if I’m honest and had the hump for most of Wednesday afternoon, which is ironic because the other thing that happened on Wednesday was the release of the latest issue of Fat Quarterly, and I have a pattern published in there. (The issue is all about pre-cuts, and I had a great time playing with a selection from Color Me Happy. Love this quilt, and the issue is awesome – go buy it!)

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It’s actually my second published quilt pattern, and although I ran out of time to finish quilting and binding it, the top looks pretty good. Most of the points match, and I love that it’s a one-block quilt. My DSTT quilt is a one-block pattern as well, and I’m starting to see a theme emerge in the patterns that make my brain happiest, which is interesting in and of itself. There’s lots of good stuff there, and Wednesday should have been a great day.

Instead, I couldn’t even bear to look at the pictures of my mini quilt most of Wednesday and it took most of Thursday to work my through the combination of disappointment and embarrassment, which was rather dispiriting, not to mention hard work. It takes a lot of reminding yourself that perfection is not the goal, that if you are happy that’s what matters, and that feeling things are rotten isn’t the same as things actually being rotten. Oh, and also remembering that it’s just a quilt and hobbies are meant to be fun!

So work through it I did, and I’m feeling much happier about the whole thing today. I made a whole quilt, from idea to binding, in just a few hours, and I like the design a lot. I entered a competition for the first time. I tried, I got to the finish, and while I can still see the problems, I can also see the good. The problems stop being problems and become “things to do better next time.” There’s no point not learning from the experience, but there’s no point not having the experience in the first place either.

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And that’s the real lesson. It’s fine to enter something and not win. It’s good to have a go. The taking part really does matter, and you learn something along the way.

To see if others are having equally philosophical weeks, I’ll link to the post at Tami’s once it’s up.


*Can you imagine if this was actually a thing, or worse, a whole theme park of things? There’d be the Flawless Flume where you climb up and up and up until someone says you’ve come the wrong way, at which point you plunge over the edge; the teacups where you turn a wheel to go round and round trying to draw a perfect circle; and bumper cars where every time you hit someone else’s car you hear “their car is much better!”. I need a lie down just thinking about it…

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WIP Wednesday: Finishitis

Hello all, and I hope your April has been less gloomy than ours here in Oxford. The fog took more of the morning to burn off, and while it’s sunny now, the morning sky seemed to have gone beyond overcast to some kind of white ceiling, as though the sky had been painted with a thick layer of cloud. With the sun behind it, what we mostly had was a white, glowing sky that was actually rather eerie.

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View from my office window that doesn’t quite convey the strange glowiness of the sky.

Whether it’s the weather or the time of year or just me, I’ve been feeling rather restless about things lately. Most people who make things feel this at one time or another, I think, and what normally occurs is a nasty case of startitis, casting on or cutting out a few hundred projects all at once because you can’t quite settle to anything. Or you spend a few hours moving things in and out of your Ravelry queue, only to close your browser in frustration because nothing quite scratches the itch in your brain.

Normally when I get like this, I end up filling my Ravelry project page with a couple of dozen Works in Progress that all stay at about 10% for the next 6 months. Maybe I’m growing up or getting old or it’s just that I’ve got some nice Finished Objects lurking around at the moment, but what I mostly want to do right now is finish things. I’ve got 3 crochet and 1 knitting project on the go, then four or five quilts in various stages of completion, and what I keep finding myself thinking is “I want to have finished this.”

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Maybe the Solas shawl above is bringing on that feeling. I thought that making something modular would be easier. Less to carry around, and more finishes to celebrate. Instead, I keep forgetting how much more there is to do, and have a vague sense of disappointment each time I join on a new piece. It’s been a good experiment, but I think I’ll go back to the all-in-one approach next time.

And of course, “wanting to have finished” and “wanting to finish” are not quite the same, and my brain doesn’t quite seem to understand that in order to achieve the whole finishing thing, it needs to knuckle down and actually finish projects.

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5 down, 1 almost done (which curls horribly until it’s joined to the others) and 3 still to go. And while I’m working on it, I want to finish the stuffed elephant I’ve been making. When I pick up my cardigan, I want to unpick the quilt that didn’t quite work first time so that I can finish that. And when I’m quilting, I want to knit.

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Quilts, languishing.

Then I add in the problem of wanting something simple to work on at the weekend at the cake/coffee/yarny party I’m going to. Nothing I’m working on is really suitable – the cardigan’s too big, the shawl needs too much counting, the elephant is at the assembly stage and I can’t talk and knit at the same time – so I need to pick a new project for that. When I can’t even pick which of my Works in Progress to work on, this is proving challenging, and what I’m mostly doing is favouriting things on Ravelry and wondering if it’s okay to take three days off work just to stay at home and stitch.

I’ll let you know what I decide!

To see if other people are being more decisive in their project choices this week, head over to Tami’s Amis

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(Someone Else’s) WIP Wednesday

The last few weeks have gone by in a blur of tiredness and travel. I’ve been to Lisbon, Lincolnshire and London (locations not chosen for alliterative purposes, I promise). I’ve seen family and friends, eaten in all kinds of places, travelled by plane, train and automobile, and somehow found time to do the washing.

Oh, and I went to work from time to time!

The Bank Holiday weekend that we’ve just had was a chance to stop, breathe and take stock of where I am with things. More importantly, I’ve had a good think about where I want to be, the fruits of which labour will be on show here next week some time, I hope. I’ve got a few thoughts bubbling away, and some projects I’m working on and, of course, a long list with deadlines.

And as if that wasn’t enough, this week I’ve also got someone else’s project to work on as well. My friend L has just had her second baby, which she seems to think is an excuse for fobbing her work off on other people. Slacker ;D

So while she’s dealing with feeding, changing and complete lack of sleep, I’ve inherited her quilt to finish off. She got so close!

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It’s a funny thing, taking on someone else’s work. I want to make sure I do a good job for her, and I want to make sure that she ends up with the quilt she wanted, not the quilt I would make. Now, in practice, L and I are old enough and good enough friends that we’d probably do these things in the same way anyway. But there’s definitely a frisson of extra pressure on a project that’s not yours, and that you’re not keeping.

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In truth there isn’t much to do. A little bit of quilting, then self-binding, although because of the way it’s constructed, that’s not entirely trivial. Still, I’m looking forward to the challenge, as well as being immensely flattered to be trusted with it – L makes lovely things herself, so to be given a project and asked to finish it for her is quite the compliment. Now I just have to hope my machine’s tension issues when I last used it were a temporary glitch…

To see if other people are working on projects that actually belong to them, head over to Tami’s Amis or click the picture below.

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Making…er…Tuesday…

Okay, so I lack an alliterative title, but my excuse for late posting is that I was working crazy-hard on something with a deadline. Thanks to some marathon sewing, it’s done, and I can show you this sneak preview:

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Yes, okay, technically those are the cut-off scraps that I’m turning into the world’s biggest pile of squares. For what, I have no idea, but I know I’m more likely to use them if they’re sewn together rather than leaving them as just triangles. I’m sure I’ll think of something.

Food-wise, it’s been rather a dull week:

Monday: Paella. All the paella. Seriously, more than that.
Tuesday: Paella. See above.
Wednesday: Paella. Yes, again. Yes, there was still some left over. Yes, I took it for lunch on Thursday.
Thursday: Pineapple Jalfrezi.
Friday: Nyonya Quorn (Rick Stein)
Saturday: Leftover Jalfrezi
Sunday: Slow-cooked pork with ginger (Rick Stein)

On the original menu, we’d planned to have risotto on Thursday, but I decided that I really, really couldn’t handle another rice + vegetables dish and made a curry instead. With vegetables. And rice.

On the plus side, the paella was really, really good. Just as well, considering how often I ended up eating it. I tend to start with a recipe from a website, then veer off it halfway through, coming back for the spice list, then throwing in anything else that seems good at the time. When we were in Menorca, we found that the secret to the excellent paella we’d been eating was the paella spice mix that you could buy in most greengrocers. But given the age of the stuff we bought, I went with individual spices instead, including a little cayenne pepper, which gave it a lovely lift.

If you have the Rick Stein book, I heartily recommend the slow-cooked pork, which was wonderfully sticky and gingery. And if you make the Nyonya chicken, definitely use chicken, not quorn. Something went a bit wrong, and although the flavour turned out okay, it looked very strange – yellow and rather unappetising, not at all as yummy as the chicken version had been. Apparently some substitutions can be done, others should just be left alone!

We’re away this coming weekend, so I’m in ‘basics’ mode for food this week. Bolognese last night, with leftovers tonight, and probably sausage and chips tomorrow. Hopefully we’ll make up for it with the food while we’re away – I’ll report back next week!

To make up for the dullness of ploughing through all my to-do lists, I took some lovely sunny photos by the river last week. One a gloomy, rainy day like today, it’s a nice reminder that we do get good weather sometimes!

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Have a good week, everyone. I shall report back from sunnier climes next week!

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