Sunday, 25 January 2009

Training course

This morning has mostly been about gathering the things I need to survive for a week away from home, as I'm heading off to London later this afternoon for a training course. I've mentioned this to a few people already and it's interesting how their first reaction is to tell me which sights I should visit.

Sadly, there won't be time for sightseeing. Technical training courses, or at least every single one I've ever attended, tend towards full days in the lab absorbing as much detail as possible.

Come the evening, I'll be exhausted and my plans involve nothing more complicated than me, a sofa and a sock. Admittedly, the sock in question will be the Jaywalker, who's first incarnation met its demise this week, so I've no idea how successful my attempts to knit will be, but that's what I've got in mind. I've even cast the sock on again and knit four rows in readiness.

I'll not be taking a laptop with me, so that means no internet access for the week, which of course means no email and no Ravelry. I can survive for a week without the internet, but it normally involves being under canvas so this will be a novelty for me.

Anyone who speaks to Dave while I'm gone, be nice to him. He's in sole charge of the cats, who're bound to run circles around him for the duration.

In other news, I got my spinning wheel out yesterday afternoon. It did not go well.

I'm sitting here trying to explain why and I can't. I set it up with an empty bobbin and spent a good while practicing treadling, which was fine, but the instant I attached a leader, it all went wrong. First it wouldn't draw in the leader. I adjusted things so that it would. Then I found that if I held the leader, which should store the spin preventing it from traveling up the leader, the wheel stopped dead. As far as I could tell, there was no spin in the leader at all and no amount of adjusting or repeated attempts seemed to help.

I persevered for maybe an hour and a half, then gave up and got my spindle out which gave me predictable, reliable results and reassured me that I wasn't completely rubbish. However, either the wheel is misbehaving or I've forgotten everything since the last time I used it back in November.

Back to the drawing board, methinks and time to read those books Dave bought me for Christmas called 'Start Spinning' and 'The Whole Craft of Spinning'.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Hot and cold

We can now enjoying the benefits of having running hot and cold water in our kitchen once more, as the handyman showed up as scheduled to replace the tap with a shiny new one. We have actual water pressure when we turn the tap on now and last night Dave spent most of the evening marveling about how quickly the sink fills up. The whole job took a couple of hours and was without drama's other than me discovering the tardis like properties of the cupboard under the sink. I seem to have been collecting dusters, and sponges in there, so many that I had my doubts I could get them back in again when it came to putting things away.

While the handyman was on site, I quizzed him about woodburners (which he didn't know anything about) and escorted him to the end of the garden, to get his opinon of the area behind the shed. This is the forgotten end of the garden, currently hidden by the shed but a traditional dumping ground for rubbish by the previous owner and it seems, our neighbours. We spent a good six months clearing about half of it several years back and I'd like the rest of it cleared, not least because it would discourage said neighbours from thinking they can throw anything they like there.

The handyman stood there looking a bit flummoxed until admitting that he couldn't see any other way to clear it than to do it manually by hand as he wouldn't be able to get a small digger in there. His verdict was that there was at least a couple of skips worth still buried in that patch and it would take a lot of effort to get it out. Hmmm... Not exactly what I wanted to hear.

In other news, I think I'm about to rip out my Jaywalker sock and here is a picture of it, showing my progress so far - just for the record.

I'm not happy with it. I miscounted the stitches somewhere in amongst the increases and decreases that make up those chevrons and for the life of me I can't see where. On top of that, the sock is eating yarn at an alarming rate and I don't think I'm going to have enough left to complete the sock. If I do manage it, there is no way I'll be able to match up stripes because I won't have enough length to play with and of course, because of the mucked up stitch count I'm doubtful the colour bands will match anyway.

Then there's the fit at the heel... Having been warned that the Jaywalker is notoriously tight, imagine my surprise when the turned heel and gusset actually appears to be a bit loose! Not much mind, so maybe knitting it with the correct number of stitches will correct it. If not, perhaps I need to knit the foot in the next size down.

The final nail in the coffin - having tried the sock on I'm not happy with the cuff which doesn't seem to fit at all. Rather than cling nicely to my calf, it just sort of hangs there loosely and is clearly too big for my leg and I don't exactly have skinny legs. Years of walking, vigourous exercise and being a fairly active adult mean that I have muscles in my legs even if I don't have them anywhere else.

I could persevere and hope I have enough yarn to finish the sock, but I'd know it's a bodge. I'd know that cuff doesn't remotely fit even if it is covered up by my trousers and I don't intend them to be house only. If I go to the bother of knitting a pair of socks, while they don't need to be perfect, they do need to at least fit vaguely and be wearable.

So my plan... I'm going to rip that sock out and start again, this time casting on the cuff in the next needle size down. Once I'm off the cuff, I'll go up a needle size for the rest of the sock. I'll shave an inch off the length of the leg too, which should hopefully give me a little more confidence that I'll have enough yarn to finish the sock.

Perseverance, I has it.

In the spirit of cheering myself up and looking for a quick project, I cast on my first intended Christmas present of the year...

It's going to be a mitten...

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Spinning progress

I'm still waiting for the promised thundersnow I heard the DJ talking about on the radio yesterday morning, but so far there's been no sign of it - although it was very stormy last night, which made very glad to be indoors. Richard pointed out a day or two ago, that this time last year we were camped out in a drafty shed in York, mad, mad, people that we are!

With no camping this weekend, I headed off to the spinning guild yesterday for the second time ever. Coventry's guild meet every third Saturday of the month and I'm still having difficulties in adjusting to the fact we're in January, while at the same time Christmas seems six months ago, so would have missed the fact the guild was meeting at all, if Claire hadn't reminded me.

The ladies at the guild were pleasant enough and I had a couple of prompts to bring my wheel with me next time, which made me feel kind of guilty since I haven't touched it since November. Being at the guild did mean that I got on with some spinning on the spindle though and I'm beginning to make some noticeable progress now...

This is one of Violet Green's superwash merino's in a pastel sort of mix, which appears predominately pink in the roving form, but here it looks more minty blue. I've got used to the shorter staple length and I'm working it quite well, especially since I'm able to spin without using the park and draft method now. I'm still horribly slow and the single you can see in these photographs represents between three and four hours worth of spinning.

I tend to only spin for short periods on the spindle, certainly working for no longer than 30 minutes at a time, so spending well over an hour spinning yesterday was a rare treat. My spinning is coming along though and I can see definite improvement in the consistency of the single I'm producing and my technique seems to be working for me, so I think I shall persevere.

One thing that struck me while watching the other ladies, was how easy and relaxed they make spinning at a wheel look. One day, maybe I'll manage that kind of serenity, but for now the spindle is far more soothing than the wheel as for the most part, I can control what it does rather than having the distinct impression that it's got a mind of its own!

Friday, 16 January 2009

Tempting the kitchen fates

I think I may have tempted the kitchen fates last weekend, by posting a picture of a dishcloth in repose on the sink. We've been experiencing reduced pressure in from our hotwater tap since Christmas and on Wednesday morning, the tap gave up completely. Turning it on, no matter how fully, did not mean you'd get any water.

Oh well, thought I... I've got that Homecare cover thing with British Gas, which includes plumbing and drains. I'll give them a call and it will be sorted.


The very polite gentleman on the other end of the phone wasted no time informing me that Homecare does not cover what they consider to be 'endpoints' of the pipes - which include the stopcock and the taps. In fact, he couldn't even send around a plumber and charge me for the privilege as they just didn't offer it as a service.

I am not exactly what you might call impressed.

I did not have my agreement, complete with the small print, to hand and so I had no choice but to thank him (equally politely) and start looking for alternatives. Suffice it to say that when I come to contract renewal time in a few months, I'll be looking at the cover provided and that small print very carefully and may well investigate other cover providers.

All of this means that currently, we are without hot water in the kitchen which is proving to be very inconvenient. I've contacted the handyman who sorted the fence for me last summer and he'll be around on Monday to replace the tap, which is great...

But part of me is still annoyed that British Gas' Homecare is not everything I thought it was.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Tunisian dishcloth

This week back at work has been hard and a shock to the system after a couple of weeks off. The cold hasn't helped - having to leave the house in sub-zero temperatures and returning in the same, has not been a good experience. And did I mention, I'm back on the bike? Cycling in freezing temperatures is not pleasant either, with the cold giving me a headache by the time I get to work and my sluggish calf muscles even succumbing to cramp one evening. Cramp when trying to ride a bicycle is not to be recomended!

One side effect of being gainfully employed is having less time to do things for me and hence having both less time to write here as well as having less to write about.

That said, I did make this...

This is a new dishcloth for the kitchen, which I needed since the last one of the last batch I made is in a sorry state. The last dishcloth I made was knitted, this one is made using Tunisian Crochet. I simply cast on (I need to check if there is a proper technical term) 30 stitches and did Tunisian Purl Stitch (Tps) until I thought the cloth was big enough. I added a simple crochet border to finish off.

The whole thing took me a couple of hours, which I thought wasn't bad since I'm pretty new to this whole TC thing.

At the moment I'm still making swatches, but I'm trying to get my tension a little more even and experimenting to see what I can do about the curl. I want my crochet to lie flat.

I'm also thinking that what I may do is start to crochet larger swatches and keep the swatches as I make them. I'm thinking that when I have enough, I could sew or crochet them together to make a sampler blanket.

This was my excuse to buy more yarn on Saturday when we made a very quick visit into town as we were expecting a visitor in the form of Dave's dad. I had a list and tackled it efficiently rather than ambling around town allowing Dave to browse at will. Dave complained that he kept losing me, as the instant he took his eyes off me I was gone.

Our hurried trek around Coventry yesterday revealed how many empty units are there now and just how many of the smaller retailers, along with bigger chains are gone. Some have vanished in the past few weeks!

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Something to beat the chill

I'm still shivering away in Coventry where temperatures outside are struggling to get above freezing today. We've had snow showers on and off since Sunday and while none of it has really built up to significant levels, the light dusting of the stuff has frozen in place, giving Coventry a pretty wintery look to it. Any standing water or puddles have frozen solid and reported temperatures are down to -8C at night now.

The only reasonable way to respond to all this coldness was to cast on a sock.

This is my first 'patterned' sock, following Grumperina's Jaywalker pattern (Ravelry Link) and knit up in the Regia Design Line I picked up from Web of Wool back in October.

So far, the colourway is all I'd hoped for. It's colourful, bright and cheery, showing up the Jaywalker pattern beautifully.

My only problem is that I found the pattern increases and decreases difficult to do on my normal Clover bamboo needles which have quite blunt tips. To overcome this, I switched to some more pointy metal DPNs, but I'm finding them very hard on the hands. They don't flex as much, are 'harder' when I hold them and I'm finding that repeatedly pushing the tips back (to move the stiches into place so they can be knit) is making my fingers sore. There must be a technique to using pointy metal needles, but at the moment I don't have it.

The upside of this is of course, that I'm currently unlikely to sit for hours and hours watching the colours unfolding in front of me... Meaning the lace is still getting the odd look in (234 rows and counting) and I'm still hankering after the hook - so much so I may need to do a crochet project or two soon.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

More tunisian swatching

I guess I should start by wishing any who read this a Happy New Year - I hope that so far, 2009 is working out for you.

For us, the new year started with Coventry plunging into the deep freeze. As anyone who knows me could tell you, I do not cope well with cold at all, so when temperatures drop to an alleged -7C I shut down. I can have the heating on at full pelt, wrap in many layers, wear copious amounts of wool on my hands and feet, but I'm still going to be freezing. Take those mitts or socks off and you'll find my hands or feet are like ice! I dread to think how I'd cope if I lived in a truly cold country...

When not paralyzed by the cold, I've been pottering around the house doing the housework and becoming reacquainted with my spindle. But when the cold hits I've resorted to sitting bundled up on the sofa, hugging a hotwater bottle and crocheting or knitting.

On the spindle at the moment, I've got the pastel merino I bought last year from Violet Green. Progress so far is slow, as my hands seem to have forgotten how to spin and the merino handles very differently to either Blue Faced Leicester or Grey Swaledale. It's draw length is notably shorter for a start, which meant that the first time I started working it, the spindle kept crashing to the floor.

Now, after a bit of practice and relearning how to use the spindle, things are slowly coming together. I did consider taking a photograph, but to be honest the pastel colours are very muted once tightly spun into a single and I'm not sure I could do it justice. In the end, I decided to work it a little more before I try to take a picture and see if I can play with the contrast levels a bit.

When unable to get quite so active, I've been making more Tunisian Crochet swatches as I continue trying out the various standard foundation stitches.

Here we have the Tunisian Simple Stitch (Tss) which is also known as Afghan Stitch, Tricot Crochet or Knit Stitch. This is usually the stitch meant whenever a book or pattern refers to Tunisian Crochet, or gives a simple overview of the technique. It really is quite simple to do and works up speedily, giving a grid like effect (which apparently Victorian ladies used as a base for their cross stitch).

Next up, the Tunisian Full Stitch (Tfs) which produces a dense, lofty fabric which is very, very prone to curl. On all of these swatches I've used a 5.5mm hook with a basic DK yarn, so that's three hook sizes up from the recommended hook and as you probably see from the photo, this swatch wants to curl up really badly.

Finally, the Tunisian Purl Stitch (Tps) which is the flatest of the basic foundations - note it's just sitting on the table without me needing to spread it out so I can see the stitch pattern. The fabric itself is dense, but not as lofty as the other stitches. It does have actual drape and while I find the hook gymnastics needed to form the stitch really awkward, I like the effect.

Back to work tomorrow and therefore back to real life, computers 9 til 6 and no where near so much time for playing with yarn.