Saturday, 31 December 2011

Target Practice

As the end of the year approaches there are a few targets I'm trying to reach. I managed to get most of my handmade Christmas presents completed in time, including a second pair of felted slippers for my sister. The pattern is quick and easy to knit, and they are oh so cosy to wear.

I don't really have clown feet - this is prior to felting.

The proto-slippers are currently in the washing machine shrinking to a useable size - I don't want her tripping down the stairs! I also finished leather phone cases for my sister and another friend. I used a free tutorial and some leather offcuts, adapting the pattern to fit both a classic iPhone and my friend's Droid 2.


The other couple of things I am knitting and planned to give as gifts are still on the needles, but they're getting closer to completion every day. However, my big target for the past week has been decluttering 100 items from my home.

Decluttered: items 39-62 await despatch
I've spent some time this afternoon scanning my bookshelves and I am now up to item 97. Only 3 more to find in the next 3 hours!

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Window dressing

After the tree went up, the weather started to get warmer here in the northwest of England. Christmas doesn't really feel like Christmas without a few flurries of snow or an icy draft or two, so I've improvised and added tatted snowflakes to the windows of our living room.

I had a little time on Boxing Day to catch up on some blogs, and to discover some new ones. One that really struck a chord was A Thrify Mrs, particularly her series of decluttering posts. Inspired, I decided that I might try a focussed declutter in the New Year - perhaps 100 items in the month of January. However, whilst cooking dinner last evening I thought I might get a little head start by decluttering the kitchen cupboards. Here's what I've managed to get rid of so far...

  1. pestle and mortar - an unwanted gift as we already have one - I'll offer it to my sister, or take it to the charity shop
  2. scales - who needs 2 sets? - this will go to the charity shop
  3. a very grim glass plate - trust me, no-one else will want this - recycle
  4. mixing bowl - again, I have several - charity shop
  5. sparkly red plant pot - charity shop
  6. very beaten up cake tin - bin
  7. victoria sandwich tins that have seen better days - bin
  8. broken bowl that I made in a beginner's pottery class - bin
  9. a tiny hand towel - maybe someone with very small hands will like this - charity shop
  10. holey tea towel - fabric bank
  11. fridge magnet - charity shop
  12. 4 plastic plates - charity shop
  13. 4 plastic tumblers - charity shop
  14. 5 blue glass tea light holders - charity shop
  15. coffee percolator (I don't even know how to use it!) - charity shop
  16. a teacup and saucer - charity shop
  17. 2 shot glasses - charity shop
  18. water carafe - charity shop
  19. salad dressing bottle - charity shop
  20. an old cake plate - charity shop
  21. 3 ramekins - charity shop
  22. white rectangular plate - charity shop
  23. 2 glass tea light holders - charity shop
  24. yet another tea light holder (this one takes 7, yes 7 tea lights) - charity shop
  25. another cup and saucer - charity shop
  26. a unopened packet of incense - charity shop
  27. a tablecloth - charity shop
  28. a tray cloth - charity shop
  29. unopened bag of sparkly heart confetti - free cycle
  30. a bag of foreign coins - charity shop
  31. (-38) 8 cookery books - some have gone on amazon to sell, and the rest, you've guessed it, are going to a charity shop
At this rate, I may well hit 100 items by the end of the year! In fact, in the spirit of optimism, I've decided on a new target - 100 unwanted items will be gone by December 31st. New Year, new start and all that!

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Light up my life

I am not the greatest fan of dark winter mornings and short winter days, especially when the days themselves are rather damp and cloudy. Every so often the cloud lifts and we have bright, cold, crisp days which were just made for long walks followed by tea and cake in front of the fire.

Christmas (and the midwinter solstice) provide the perfect excuse for lots of extra light around the house, and it lifts my spirits immeasurably to see Christmas lights in people's houses as I trudge home from the railway station every evening.

Given my love of twinkly lights, you might imagine that our house would be fully lit up from roof to cellar, but you would be wrong. We've always put up our decorations quite late - a legacy from my childhood.  My mother, a teacher, would be fed up with the idea of Christmas long before the school holidays began, and she would delay the decoration for as long as she could. My dad would be chomping at the bit and about a week before Christmas, he and I would scurry down to the local greengrocer to pick out a tree and spend a very happy afternoon decorating it together, choosing from an increasingly large collection of fairy lights and baubles.

This weekend, after some discussion about the environmental impact of Christmas decorations (during which Mr Q threatened to connect the Christmas lights to an exercise bike) we headed off to the nursery to choose the perfect tree. I spent a lovely couple of hours decorating it - far less lights than Dad would have had (with LEDs to keep the power usage down), and a sparser but more colour-coordinated set of decorations. I wonder what he would have made of that!

not a shiny carpet - newspaper covered in wrapping paper to catch falling needles

Monday, 19 December 2011


It's a year ago today since Mr Q and I braved unbelievably icy conditions and an uncomfortably early morning to get to the airport on our way to my first ever Christmas in the southern hemisphere. It was a great trip and I really enjoyed spending Christmas with my Australian family. It was Mr Q's first Christmas at home in 10 years, and he enjoyed catching up with family and friends, and being warm in December.

I particularly liked my mother-in-law's routine of stopping for "morning tea". Whether we were having a lazy day or preparing Christmas lunch for 14, we would stop for tea and something sweet and delicious. So, in tribute to my mother-in-law, today I stopped for "elevenses" (the British version of morning tea). Jasmin tea in my new mug (from Illustrated Living) and homemade Victoria sandwich cake.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Out of season

Do you ever feel out of sync with the seasons? I'm feeling a little like that at the moment - we keep hearing about the glorious Queensland weather from Mr Q's family as we cosy up in woollen jumpers and thick socks. And then there is the bizarre and unexpected urge to spring clean - in the depths of winter. To empty out drawers and cupboards, sorting and editing the contents. In the last week or so, clothes and books have all been through this process, and the spotlight is now firmly on my crafting space. It's probably apparent from this blog that I am a serial starter (and a quick look in the kitchen cupboard will also show you that Mr Q and I are cereal starters too!). I have a few unfinished knitting projects, but the largest number of works in progress are definitely in the quilting pile.

I am sure that my Christmas break will involve some culling of fabric and craft supplies, but before that happens I am digging through the box of unfinished quilting projects and seeing what I can complete.

So this week, I have been mostly quilting this quilt.

I started piecing this quilt in the summer of 2010, using a jelly roll that I'd purchased a couple of years before. The fabric is A Little Romance from Moda. I wanted to create a simple quilt using just a single jelly roll and some sashing fabric. The top went together quickly, and then I stalled trying to decide how to quilt it. Finally, a border quilting design in Christine Maraccini's Machine Quilting Solutions caught my eye. Getting the quilting to match up at the corners provided a little challenge, but I am very happy with how this turned out. Just the binding to do now. And perhaps a quick write-up of the quilt as a tutorial?

So what else is in the finishing pile?

To be quilted...
  1. A colourwash Irish chain that I started in 2000
  2. A traditional red and white "Double X" quilt that I started as a wedding quilt in 2006, before Mr Q told me he's not that keen on red and white!
  3. A French Braid quilt that I'm making as a raffle quilt in aid of Friends of Gawthorpe - hopefully I'll show you that finished next week
  4. Two Harmonic Convergence quilts made from Ricky Tims' book

Tops to be completed...
  1. The daisy quilt I showed you in an earlier post
  2. A Strips and Curves quilt from Louisa Smith's book
  3. Some curved pieced leaves that I designed years ago and have never put together in a quilt
  4. A fossil quilt that I started in a class with Anja Townrow
  5. A Single Girl quilt from a pattern by Denise Schmidt
  6. A table runner that I started in a class last summer
And my thought for the day? Finishing is fun - even though you sometimes you have to admit defeat and let sleeping cats lie.

WIP Wednesday at Freshly Pieced

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Sock it to 'em

Earlier this week I attended a workshop with my mum at Alston Hall, near Preston. The workshop was run by Fiona Morris, and we learnt how to knit a sock from the toe up. For the non-sock-savvy amongst you (and I was among your number until the workshop), knitting socks from the toe up is an INNOVATION. Always a fan of innovation, I really enjoyed learning how to (i) do a Turkish cast on, (ii) knit on two circular needles simultaneously, and (iii) shape wrapped short row heels. As I am a slow knitter, I decided to make a teeny tiny sock so that I could attempt all these new skills under the watchful eye of the tutor. 

sock in progress - on TWO circular needles

the finished sock - too small for human foot
I will definitely try knitting socks again and have been trawling ravelry for an appropriate pattern. Oh, and did I mention that I love this yarn?

On Sunday, Mr Q and I rode our bikes to Cedar Farm. In an attempt to avoid having to cycle around a big motorway junction, we took to the back routes - country roads and muddy bike paths in equal measure. My plan had been to bring you pictures of the English countryside in Autumn - all mists and mellow fruitfulness as the poem has it. Sadly we couldn't really see beyond the mist! After about 12 miles of cycling we reached Cedar Farm, and treated ourselves...

the reward!

Mr Q enjoying his muffin
Anxious that the weather was really drawing in, we didn't spend much time looking around. We nipped into the little deli to buy chorizo for our dinnertime paella, but had to miss the vintage fair that was going on :-( We took a more direct route home, past a local beauty spot where on a clear day you can see all the way to Blackpool. No views today, but at least the ice cream van was still open for business!

a local viewpoint - yes, those are fog lights!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Lazy daisy

For a while now I've been thinking of linking up with Work in Progress Wednesdays at Freshly Pieced. But every time that Wednesday rolls around I find that I don't have anything photographed or blogged, or anything in progress that I'm feeling enthusiastic about. This week, however, is different. I spent Saturday with the quilting group that both my mum and I belong to and was able to get some uninterrupted sewing time, without the distractions of Mr Q :-) and the never ending cleaning and DIY of the renovation project we call home. And without the helpful intervention of my two cats.

So how did I spend this valuable time? Well, I designed the daisy petals for this little quilt, and started cutting out the white fabrics. I am so happy with how this is coming together. When it is complete, it will be a gift for a friend who has just had her first baby. Everyone I have shown it to so far, assumes that my friend's new daughter is called Daisy. She isn't. Design inspiration struck when I remembered my friend's wedding stationery - pretty pale green paper with small, scattered daisies. I hope they'll love it as much as I do.

WIP Wednesday at Freshly Pieced

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Fossils on my mind

subtle textured trilobite on a hat
You may know that I am a palaeontologist. My day job involves studying fossils, and teaching undergraduate students about them. As well as teaching, I also do palaeontological research, with my chosen specialised subject (to coin a phrase from Mastermind) being fossil sea urchins. I am particularly interested in mass extinctions - times when many different organisms all went extinct within a short space of time. The most recent of these events was at the end of the Cretaceous period, 65 million years ago, when the dinosaurs (and lots of other creatures) came to a sticky end. However, the biggest ever mass extinction occurred at the end of the Permian period, about 250 million years ago when over 95% of all species alive at the time died out. One of the groups that bit the dust back then were the trilobites - marine creatures distantly related to crabs and lobsters that had more than a passing resemblance to woodlice. I am a big fan of trilobites - they come in lots of different shapes and sizes. Some are ridiculously spiny, others totally smooth. Some had eyes on stalks, other had no eyes and were completely blind. It all sounds a little like science fiction, doesn't it?

For a long time, I've thought about mixing science and craft. I have designed several craft projects that link the two parts of my life, but I always seem to put them off, worried that I don't have the time or skill to do my vision justice. Maybe, just maybe, the tide is turning now. A couple of months ago, I came across Hannah Ingall's trilobite hat on Knitty, and decided to knit it for myself. With all the tricky design work done for me, I could concentrate on learning how to knit bobbles, and how to simultaneously manipulate circular needles and cable needles. I cast on a couple of weekends ago, and on Saturday night after my weekly fix of Strictly Come Dancing, I cast off and sewed in the ends. I have been wearing my trilobite hat pretty much non-stop since then.
Trilobites on my mind. Well, on my head!
Except when Mr Q has stolen it.
Mr Q in the stolen trilobite hat
For those who like to know all the details, the yarn is Debbie Bliss Luxury Donegal Tweed Aran in a charcoal colour way (15) knitted on a 4mm circular needle. My reasons for choosing this yarn were several...
1. It's soft, cosy and rustic looking.
2. I lead field classes in Donegal looking at rocks of trilobite-bearing age.
3. The colour is similar to the rocks that many trilobites are found in.
4. The tweedy colours, and angora texture mean that the trilobite is quite subtle, disguising any mistakes, and preventing my students from immediately thinking that I am a total geek. They'll have to be quite observant before they are able to think that!

Monday, 7 November 2011

Grey days

We have had some beautiful crisp autumn days over the last few weeks. But there have also been some very grey days too, reminding me that winter is well on its way. This is the perfect time of year for knitting, and I seem to have been inspired by the grey skies in my choice of yarns.

First off the needles is this cowl for my sister. She is a fan of all things ultralight, and I thought I would make her a warm but featherweight item. The yarn is Debbie Bliss' Angel, and the pattern is Abby by Amy Singer on Knitty. The whole cowl weighs less than an once but it packs a very cosy punch. This was my second lace project, and my second time working with circular needles. I hope Kath likes it.

Now that the circular needle is free, I have cast on the Trilobite hat by Hannah Ingalls, also on Knitty. This hat is for me - the perfect field attire for a palaeontologist. I have completed the cephalon and am now working my way along the thorax. I took a photo of Mr Q modelling the half-finished hat, but he has pleaded with me not to show it. You'll just have to wait to see the completed hat in a few days time.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Autumn days

Last weekend Mr Q and I ventured south to Gloucestershire, the county of my birth. It seemed appropriate as it was the closest weekend to my birthday. As a kid, one of my greatest birthday treats was a walk through the glorious autumn colours at the Westonbirt Arboretum followed by lunch at a nearby hotel. I thought that after 20 years away, I might be allowed to relive my childhood memories. I was worried that it might not be as spectacular as I remember, but in fact it was better. The colours of the leaves were truly breathtaking...

Monday, 17 October 2011

Friends reunited

This week has not seen much creative activity. The reason? My good friend, Amy, has been visiting from Oregon where we met as grad students at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology.

It's been a brilliant few days, and we've had eight whole years to catch up on. There's been a lot of talking, gossiping, laughing and silly accents. Some sightseeing, hiking and shopping. And a little crying too. She's gone now, and I miss her terribly, but it won't be eight years until I see her again.

Highlights of the week include a hike around Malham, taking in Janet's Foss, Gordale Scar and Malham Cove...

...cultural treasures like the Walker Gallery in Liverpool, Lancaster Castle and Speke Hall...

...and Bottom Drawer Quilters' biennial exhibition where we caught up with my Mum and saw some beautiful quilts.

Great week. Do I have to go back to work?