Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Family Excitement!

My sister announced just before Christmas that she and her boyfriend are going to get married on the 14th February - now, just how romantic is that?!

I am really excited for them both and in honour of the occasion, I have updated my ticker on the right over there, so I can watch the days count down to their big day!

Gifting Knitting

This year I did not give very many knitting related gifts. Also, this blog post is short a few things that I cannot show - well, um – because I have suffered from an attack of inefficiency. By which, I mean that I have not put them in the post yet. So they will, um, need to be January gifts? Actually, depending on the post from here, they may even need to be considered Burns Night gifts? Ahem. Moving swiftly on...

Phyllo Yoked Pullover


The extremely capable and lovely Ms Ting helped me to reduce the size of, and stabilise, the neckline on the Phyllo Yoked Pullover that I finished earlier this year. So I was finally able to gift it to its intended recipient, a friend who happened to be stopping over in Vancouver over Christmas while en route to New Zealand. I did hope that she might wear it to our house for dinner one evening, so that I could snap a photo - however, this did not happen as she needs to find a suitable top to wear underneath it. So this is probably the very last time that you ever catch sight of this knit on my blog!


I decided not to mention that my Ravelry project page would suffer without a photo of the completed top on its intended wearer!

A Hat - To Be
Ta-dah! I ran out of time and exercised the ultimate knitter's fallback option: I packed two balls of wool, gift wrapped with a promise note!


The colour of this yarn drove its purchase and there should be more than enough for a hat (single or double stranded). This gift went to the Fella's Brother's Wife. It is one of her favourite colours and she asked me to make her a hat back in the autumn.

"So now I am just waiting to meet up with her for a coffee and a bit of hat pattern browsing. This way, she will get a hat in a colour that she likes from a pattern that she has picked out herself?!" She says brightly, trying to console herself for not managing to knit a hat in time for Christmas.

Dashing - Fingerless Mitts
Okay, okay - I am ashamed to admit that what it really boils down to is that I only managed to work one specific knit in time for the end of Christmas Day:



Pattern: Dashing (Large)
Designer: Cheryl Niamath
Source: Knitty, Spring 2007
Yarn: Dream in Colour Classy – Black Parade
Gift Recipient: Kid, the Fella's son
Above Photos: Secretly modelled by the Fella (just before they were wrapped and gifted)
Started: October 4th (on the plane to Vancouver)
Finished: December 25th, 22:00 (yes, that is 10:00pm on Christmas Day)

What can I tell you, this is me, first thing on Christmas Day, still working on Mitt 2:

Crikey, these mitts were almost a Boxing Day gift.

Now, I had been chugging away on this mitt very quietly with no questions being asked by anyone all week (right under the Kid's nose). That is, until Christmas Day when we all settled down to watch a DVD after dinner and out of nowhere, the Fella's mother decided to take an interest in my knitting.

Honestly any other time - any other knit or even if the Kid had been out of the room – I would have been delighted. However, she-would-not-let-it-go and kept asking questions throughout the film about what they were, what wool it was and who they were for. She kept picking them up, handling them, trying them on, just to work out what they were (their lack of thumbs did somewhat perplex her).

As Prince Caspian was going at full tilt, I thought that it might be obvious if I made a point of escorting her from the room to explain. So instead, I kept trying to keep my answers light, general and non specific. "Oh, nothing special, just something I am finishing off for a friend - ooh look, exciting bit - shall we watch the film?!"

She was not put off at all. She wasn't interested in the film; she was interested in my knitting. So I tried to whisper and use hand language (cue some frantic pointing at the Kid) to indicate the problem. She didn't get my hand gestures at all and my whispering backfired totally as it turns out that she is a little hard of hearing. So net result? She looks at me very oddly, as though I am a mad woman, "Pardon? What did you say? you'll really have to speak up, you know!"

At that point, I feel like everyone in the room is looking at me like I am being a complete weirdo (well they were all looking at me) for being so evasive about my knitting. Like, what is my problem? "Oh nothing, it's nothing - ooh look, exciting bit - shall we just watch the film?!"

There was no opportunity to explain before she left - so I think that I might need to visit, explain and apologise for being so cryptic. Just in case she thinks that I was being intentionally rude.

Now, okay, I must also confess - I did sweeten these Dashing with an i-Tunes gift card. After all, the Kid is a teen and knitted gifts are inherently lame, right?

Yet, do you know what? He opened his present and uttered the very word that every knitter hopes very secretly that they will hear after they have put hours of effort into some lovely wool and a good pattern,


(He's not the sort of teen that is given to lengthy dialogue - in fact, I suspect that he might be the kind that is able to go days without saying anything at all.)

Clearly, I like to think that this was expressed about the knitted part of his gift, not the i-Tunes card. Particularly as I kinneared this shot of my knit in action 48 hours later:



Tuesday, 30 December 2008

The Big House Countdown to Christmas


We do have a few things left to finish but in the main, December has all been about completing Phase 1 of our house clean up and redecoration project.

It has been about getting ourselves organised and getting the house ready for the holiday festivities and our second Christmas together. It was very close, as the Fella put up the mantelpiece on Christmas Eve, but we just about made it!

So, this meant that:
  • curtains were adjusted and hung *;
  • furniture was retrieved from storage, cleaned up and repositioned;
  • some new furniture was acquired and assembled (that took a lot of gin and tonic); and
  • a wreath, a Christmas tree, lights and decorations were put up.
The photos below are simple 'before and after' snaps of the hall, the Kid's room and the living room. They should all enlarge if you click on them for a closer look!

The full slideshow of our Phase 1 work can be seen if you click here. The photos are grouped so that you can see the rooms before, during and after our attempts at DIY.

Hall - Before:

The two photos on the left were taken with a flash, so the hall appears brighter than it really is - the photo on the right is a shot of the hall without a flash!

Hall - After:

Both of these photos were taken without a flash.

The Kid's Room - Before:

The photos of this room looked better than they were in real life, so I have inserted a close up of the trailing plug to illustrate what state the walls were in when you got close to them.

The Kid's Room - After:

The colours and the new furniture were chosen by the Kid.
All he needs to do now is personalise it a bit with some pictures and things!

Main Room - Before:


Main Room - After:

There are lots more photos of the room before, during and after decoration on the slideshow!

Reactions from some family/friends have been a little bit mixed - it seems that they have a deep seated fondness for pine cladding. However, the Fella is delighted with our progress and loves the results so far. His son never used to spend any time in his room and now it is difficult to tempt him out (although admittedly that could just be teenagedom and a batch of new Christmas computer games at work).

The best validation that I have received on our work on the house to date has come from quite an unexpected source - from our Canada Post mail delivery woman, actually. When I was out shovelling snow yesterday, she stopped, introduced herself and said thoughtfully as she looked over at the house,

"You know, I used to wonder if anyone actually lived here. Except - he does get a lot of post - too much post for an empty house. You can tell that a woman lives here now - the house - it has a spirit again."

With that, I kid you not, she quietly stepped away into the snowy slush and continued her postal round. I stood there for a moment, watching her walk away, wondering if I had wandered into a Coen Brothers movie set!

*Notes: Mum, do you remember this Christmas gift that you gave me 5-6 years ago? I am happy to show that it is alive, well and has given me staunch support and companionship throughout a month of drapery adjustments!


Monday, 29 December 2008

A New Memory of Snow

My apologies for a lack of blog posts - I am so very far behind! Here is the first in a batch of catch up posts!

I feel compelled to start my big blog catch up with the unusual weather that has graced Vancouver since the 14th December:


Approx 7am, 14th December - about to set off for my uni course

When I say 'unusual weather', it is important to note that Vancouver is more famous for its average annual rainfall of 46 inches than it is for any kind of serious snowfall. Just as context, Vancouver's rainfall compares with an average of 22 inches of rain per annum in London.

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Approx 8:30am 17th December - taking the Fella to work...ahhhh, so sweet!

In fact, a local radio station advised that this is the first White Christmas that Vancouver has experienced since 1998. In the run up to Christmas, the temperature averaged between -7 and – 4 degrees Celsius. I did hear some East Coast Canadians quipping to West Coast Canadians, "Welcome to Canada!"


Wouldn't you love to be a fly on the wall when these geese caught up with the bright feathered spark who persuaded them that there was no need to migrate this year as Vancouver never gets any snow?!

Now I did not see the weather channel on Christmas Day so I am not sure whether Mother Nature pulled it off or not. However, as a result of snow here, Canada was set to experience something that has not happened since 1971: a coast to coast White Christmas. I can hardly get my head around that. Canada is a country that is big enough to span a number of different time zones and the idea of it (and a whole nation of people) being completely (or even mostly) under snow is just mind boggling.


It is not just the geese who have been bemused by the snow - many Vancouver residents have been scratching their heads about what this white stuff is and how best to deal with it and get on with their daily lives!

I must confess that it has not all been a big happy Bing Crosby though. As snow is fairly infrequent here, Vancouver is coping just about as well as London would in the same situation - i.e. not especially well. Only essential roads have been ploughed and none of the pavements (sidewalks) have been cleared or gritted, except where individuals have cleared them in front of their homes and shops. We are only in the suburbs and my car has been snowed in since the 20th December.


At one point, I swept the car so it was ready to dig out - I gave up. The snowiest car photo is after I had swept it clear. I finally dug it out today!

So the inclement weather and the city's inability to deal with it over such a prolonged period of time have made things a bit difficult, particularly for the elderly and commuters. The other group of people very badly hit by the weather are the city's homeless, who are a very visible part of the urban landscape here. There has been a push to open more emergency winter shelters that allow people to bring their belongings into safety with them.


Yet, despite all of the problems and misery brought about generally by the snow and cold weather, I have to admit that I love it in just the same way that I did when I was a child - it is just magical.


I love the way that it changes how everything looks and sounds. How familiar objects and landscapes can appear totally alien - even in and around your own garden and street.


I suspect that my enjoyment is helped by the fact we have power and are only a short trek to shops / buses on ploughed streets. I suppose that I might feel differently about the snow if this was not the case? Otherwise, this snowfall has helped me to chalk up another, truly authentic Canadian experience - not only did I rake leaves this autumn, I have now shovelled snow!


I have found that the only problem with shovelling snow is that:


It snows again. So it must be shovelled again:


And again - we paid an enterprising teen $10 to shovel and salt it on Christmas Day! And lo, it was shovelled again today.


Trust me, authentic as the experience is? The novelty wears off after a bit!

So, it is now the 29th December and while we still have snow on the ground, I think that we are headed towards a thaw. The temperature has risen to +4 degrees Celsius and when I was outside this morning (digging my car out of its snow bank) it started to rain.

I appreciate that many people will be relieved to see it vanish but I have thoroughly enjoyed it. It has provided me with a new, fresh memory of snow to draw on each and every year until nature gifts me another snowy yet cozy Christmas:


So whatever weather you are having this holiday season, I hope that you are enjoying it thoroughly and that you are having a wonderful time!

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Parts - sometimes greater than the sum?!

When I wrote my last post, I had completely forgotten the fact that a month or so ago, I did do some sewing. I grabbed a last minute place on a Christmas Rag Lap Quilt workshop in a town, just outside Vancouver. It was an opportunity to catch up with a friend plus have a go at using one of the sewing machines that I had been researching on the Internet.

Now before I come clean with dubious images of my sewing output, please note:
  1. It was the first time that I have sat in front of a sewing machine in about 5-6 years.

  2. I was not given a choice of fabric. I was handed a pile of pre-cut strips. Just in case you have these fabrics at home, I want to reassure you that there is nothing wrong with them. The prints are festive, fun, cheerful and I am sure that you have made something wonderful with them - it is just that I might not have picked them out for myself or chosen to piece them all together into a single item...?!

  3. In fact, I admit that I rebelled over my quilt's intended centre panel - I refused to use the fabric that I was offered. I asked to use some of the backing fabric instead. Not on the grounds of good taste (trust me, by that point I was beyond any illusion that I was creating a swoon-worthy masterpiece), just on the basis that the overall effect of the quilt would have been dangerous to anyone visiting our house - frankly, I think that it could have induced migraines or epileptic fits.

    That said, I think that I got off lightly - there were some combinations of fabrics in circulation at the workshop that, to me, looked like ribbons of vitreous ectoplasm based on an acid Christmas theme?

    At the 'show and tell' session at the end of the workshop - I did my best to 'oooh and ahh' alongside everyone else. Yet inside? I felt waves of relief at my good fortune to escape home without a festive snot monster on the back seat of my car!

  4. This quilt is not yet ragged as I ran out of time at the workshop and do not have any scissors up to the task at home. So I have not put it into the wash yet. Not that I think that this will improve it!
Without further ado, here are some close up details from my Christmas Rag Quilt:

Christmas Rag Quilt 1

"Ahh, what is she on about?"

I hear you wonder. "Those details look quite fun!"

Christmas Rag Quilt 2

"Ohhh look, pretty snippedy snipped Christmas fabrics!"
Sigh. I know.

Christmas Rag Quilt 3

"Oooh gosh, lovely - doesn't this just put you in the mood for the festive season?!"

Sigh, it does - I just wish that the whole quilt looked as good as these close up pictures! This just happens to be one of those cases where the parts are far nicer than the sum of the finished product! Just in case you think that I am kidding, here is a picture of the whole quilt - in its full and glorious, Christmas splendor!

please do not scroll down if you are suspectible to migraines or epileptic fits.
Or would prefer not to have your creative eyeballs burned.


Last warning.

Are you sure?

Okay: here it is!


Gah. Now, come on - isn't that just foul?!

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Digging my way out of a creative hole

I think that I may have fallen into a bit of a creative hole.

In London, I would knit every day during my work commute = 2 x 35 minute knitting sessions, 5 days a week with some bonus knitting thrown in when I met up with other knitters. On Sunday nights, I would panic if I had nothing ready to go in my handbag.

I appreciate that this is less knitting than other people tend to do on a weekly basis but it suited my lifestyle. My approach to my knitting created a natural impetus for me to spend time researching what to do next (avoidance of Sunday night panic). Actually, I used to feel that that I never had enough time to really explore certain ideas and techniques. For this reason, I was really looking forwards to my six months of study in Canada - I thought that it would give me lots of time to step up my crafting activities and output.

It does not seem to have worked out that way. Instead, I have been in Canada for two months (no commute) and all of my waking time has been consumed by home reno (DIY), domestic chores (as I am the one at home) and oh, my course.

Mind you, when you combine paint fumes with all the energy zapping visits I have made to lumber (timber) yards, Home Depot, Ikea and the grimy hotel that hosts my course – well - forget being creative, it is pretty amazing that I have any marbles left at all!


Wouldn't a week or so of this type of activity numb your brain?!

Also, in terms of having a space set up to work on and store my creative stuff, I have come to realise that my whole home in London was given over quietly to my hobbies. Art and crafts stuff accented just about every room.

It was tucked away in cupboards, stacked on/under/inside furniture (coffee table, desk, chest of drawers), it was blocked out on the spare bed plus it peeped out of baskets, vases and project bags. My dining table was more marked with ink, paint, glue and cutting marks than it was with wine glass stains. In fact, my arts and craft stuff was pretty much everywhere you did or did not look. I took its accessibility - totally and utterly for granted.

In stark contrast, there has not been anywhere here for me to unpack the craft stuff that I bought with me to Canada. For the past two months, the bulk of it has sat in airtight plastic containers in the basement and the rest is stacked in bags around the shoes in my closet.

To start with, the DIY put paid to any unpacking. I hoped that when we were more organised, an obvious place for me to craft would emerge from the dust, polythene and masking tape.

It has not. I have hunted high and low. We are still working on getting upstairs organised and downstairs? Well, the most accessible part of the basement (due to be sorted in January) currently looks like this:


It is not anyone's fault. It is not a lack of willingness on the Fella's part to accommodate my things – even his creative work space is at the bottom of his garden. It is just that the house (size, layout and the fact that it is now home to two adults plus a visiting teenager) does not lend itself to the activities that I enjoy doing.

So my craft belongings are languishing and I cannot explain in words, just how frustrating it is being stuck at home without proper employment and without proper access to the things that would help to keep me occupied instead.

In addition, I should admit that I am struggling terribly with the isolation of being at home without interaction with other people (I am used to working full time in a busy office). In truth, there have been days here (the rainy weather has not helped) when I have felt very down indeed.

No matter how much your job might get on your nerves at times, the very next time that you wish that you did not have to go into your place of work? I suggest that you think very carefully about how you would cope with being trapped at home, on your own and with no reason to go out anywhere except on domestic/DIY errands - you may not realise it but you probably spend more time with your colleagues than you do with your own family. I miss my work colleagues very much (both from my last job as well as my job before that*). Particularly at about 3pm. I have started to eye up the wall as a conversation partner.

The impact of the above on my crafting productivity is evident - I have not done any sewing (apart from attaching heading tape to a pair of ready-made curtains). The sum total of my knitting related output in Canada is 1.5 skeins of blobby unusable cream handspun, two bobbins of hand spun singles (almost) and three quarters of a one 'Dream in Colour' Classy, Dashing fingerless mitt.


[Just as an aside, rather sadly, these mitts are intended as a Christmas present for someone who, without realising that I was sat there working on their Christmas present at the weekend, revealed that they have no plans to wear any of the things that I have previously made for them unless it gets REALLY cold. I suspect that they meant, 'really cold' as in, 'when hell freezes over'. Oh well.]

In fact, the only occasions when I have managed to dedicate time to knitting recently has been when I have left the house for a coffee and a knit with a local knitting group. Each time I go, I find it really uplifting. For instance, last Saturday, we had an impromptu coffee at a local Starbucks where I lapped up every last bit of energy and conversation.


As a result, I achieved more knitting in two hours than I have in the past two months [for my prospective, complete ingrate of a gift recipient]! Actually, I did not want to return to my DIY chores at home - I could have stayed out all day. It was another pathetic prod in the ribs to let me know just how much I am missing day-to-day interaction with others.

So I have had enough - I have decided to make a proactive, positive change.

I need to unpack. I need easy access to my things. I need a place to work. In my personal view, this place needs to be away from the house. It needs to be somewhere that I stand a half a chance of bumping into another human being - even if it is only to say hello casually - during the course of a working day.

So with the above in mind, I put a down payment on the rental of this space last Sunday and moved my boxes of craft things into it yesterday:



Yup, 400 square feet of crafting space to call my own.

Yes, this is a bit of an extravagance as I am not working. However, I am hoping that this space has arrived just in time to rescue my sanity from an abject case of cabin fever.

So – exciting? Yes.

Scary? Definitely!

* * *

Notes: *My ex-ex-colleagues Skyped me from a hotel this morning, to say hello from a retirement party that I am missing because I am so far away. It was lovely to see them and get a chance to say goodbye to a very decent chap who was extremely good fun to work with.