Friday, 7 December 2012

Please can there be more days in December?

I'm still in denial about Christmas (shhh!) here at Magpie Towers. My daughter is turning 16 next week and I'm desperately trying to get her something made that I can give her on the day, I've always been adamant that her day shouldn't coincide with the other one that happens on the 25th.

That said, poorly children and a poorly Mr have been cluttering up the house this week so not much making happening, just a bit of knitting.

Since this is not yet halfway through, the Spectra isn't a contender for most on time birthday present, but I am enjoying knitting it very much because of the short rows and the interest of getting to the next colour. I will definitely be making another for me.

Anyway, back to the sewing machine...........

Beth x

Thursday, 22 November 2012

In Which I Actually Make Something

Firstly, I will say that I am no longer going to apologise for my irregular blogging. I used to aim to post on a weekly basis, but lately life gets in the way far too much and I am still sans laptop. This is likely to be an ongoing problem for some time, so from now on I will be a more infrequent blogger but I hope you will keep visiting me when I have something to show you.

Secondly, thank you for all your kind words regarding the burglary. Unfortunately, the police haven't managed to recover any of our possessions and as predicted, the insurance company is so far refusing to cough up; they don't know yet what a determined little beast I can be when I put my mind to something so I am hopeful that we may get some good news yet.

So, all that having been said, let me show you  a little of what has been keeping me cosy of an evening.

First up is a shawl that has been incredilbly popular on Ravelry, the Color Affection. The idea is to take three different yarns (either lace weight or 4ply) and combine them in garter stitch rows to make a cosy wrap.

I had been wanting to try this for ages but hadn't found a colour combination I was happy with, so made sure to buy something specifically at Ally Pally. I cast on the day after I got back and finished last week. The last few rows are a bit hard-going as they take about 30 -40 minutes to complete.

I haven't blocked this monster yet; I need to get some advice from the girls at SnB. My problem is that as a tight knitter, my shawl has come out quite a bit shallower than it should have done and the top left edge (where the three-colour stripes start) is incredibly tight and I don't think blocking will relax it.

For the bottom edge I used a different technique to cast off which made the edge loose. This was the most fiddly and time-consuming cast off I have ever done and I had to break it down over three sessions! I wish I had tried this technique on my Changeling Shawlette though as it would have solved the stretch issue, but you live and learn.

I have worn the Color Affection, which is more of  scarf really and am happy to report that it matches my winter coat perfectly and the alpaca yarn (the green colour) makes it really swishy and snuggly. I might attempt another one day but I will have to address my tension issues first!

Before I had completed the marathon cast off, I snuck this little treasure onto the needles. It is another pattern that I have been itching to make, due to it's clever use of slow colour-changing yarn. Usually people kit it with Noro Yarns, but although I like the pictures I see of finished results with Noro, to me it looks un-appealing when I have seen it for sale and it feels really scratchy.

My alternative is the Poems yarn I used in my Changeling Shawlette. It is lovely and soft and a good deal cheaper than the Noro too. I have a different colourway this time.

For this scarf you knit little wedges of the colourful yarn in between the solid sections of the contrast. So far I am still on the purple but you can see from the yarn that I will eventually have a myriad of jewel-coloured wedges, that turn inwards in a spiral.

Miss Magpie Jr has already staked a claim on this one, which I am really pleased about as she usually turns her nose up at my latest creations. Also, I think the Poems is long enough to get two scarves out of, and as a short-row project it is much easier to make time for.

I can't reveal too much of the final project as it is under construction for a present, but I can happily report that I have re-kindled my passion for crochet, which had been rather doused during Larmer Tree. I am also using my cheap acrylic yarn again and have surprised myself by loving it as much if not more than some of the 'posh' stuff I have been knitting with.

So much so that I will be 'forced' to go and buy some more now ;). All I can give you is a little close-up,  I don't want to ruin the surprise.

We have had the sniffles around these parts. Yesterday I spent a glorious day on the sofa in front of the fire with the littlest Magpie as we were both poorly but I got lots of hooking done and it was nice to be indoors. Today we are all going about our usual routines and I'd better get some housework done!

Thanks so much for reading,

Beth x

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Criminals, Camper Vans and Cake

Hi Folks, sorry it's been a while (again). One of the reasons for this is that I am now without a laptop. A couple of charming individuals did this to our dining room door, having slid open the half-painted sash that was without a lock.

They got a really good haul of all our electrical goods and even carted off my son's little home safe which he used to store his sweets in.

Lack of intelligence prompted them to use Mr Magpie's cards in two different cashpoints which had cameras on them and a car that was registered to their address. When the house was raided four days later our goods were long gone but other people's were found. A letter written to my son from his cousin (which had been in the safe) was also found, as was the tool that made the charming marks in our woodwork. This evidence was enough to charge a man with and he is now on bail pending a court date in the new year.

We are now waiting anxiously to see whether the insurance company will settle our claim since the window was unlocked (the lock had been removed for painting) even though the inner door was double locked.

Mr Magpie had a busy weekend after the robbery securing the house once more and adding window restricters and an alarm. I took the children up t'north to see family and we had a lovely time before coming back for our camper van adventure.

We have owned our old T4 Van for about six years now and although we have added (and removed, and added) seats to it it has essentially been a builders van, very useful whilst we have been renovating the house and also handy for transporting off-road motorbikes. It is also brilliant for camping since we would never fit all we take in the car. I was however very envious of my friend and her old VW in the summer when we went camping. She pulled up, hopped into the back and put the kettle on. I pulled up, had to unload all our gear and then spend at least two hours setting up camp.
Mr Magpie had been eyeing up camper vans for a while and spent much of his time at Larmer Tree sussing out the various options. We have been thinking of upgrading our T4 to a T5 so decided to hire one in half term to try it out. We weren't disappointed.  Since we didn't want to spend hours driving we had a lovely little tour of the West Country and it was just what we needed.

Glastonbury Tor

East Somerset Railway

Wookey Hole

I'll let you guess

The van was toasty warm at night thanks to the heater and it was fab for the days out too since we could provide our own hot snacks, drinks and warm seating area. This was particularly welcome at Stonehenge where the wind was whistling across Salisbury Plain.

We hired our van from here and thought the service was excellent. Although the owner is selling one of his vans, the £34,000 price tag is slightly over our budget so we will be looking for an ordinary van and 'pimping' it ourselves. I would love to hear if any of you have any camper van tales to tell or wisdom to impart.

Finally the cake you were promised. I can't show you a true 'ta-dah' since it is still in the oven and will be for at least another three hours, but it is that time of year again. I love making my own Christmas cake and in doing so I give myself the metaphorical kick up the backside needed to kick-start our annual preparations.

They are on hold for one more week though as this weekend I will be having a stall at Karen's lovely fair, so I have got a little bit of sewing to do. I am looking forward to catching up with Karen, as well as some other blog land friends like Katherine.

If you can make it to Alderholt on Saturday I'm sure you won't be disappointed, Karen did a fantastic job last time and always has a great mix of stalls and entertainment. Make sure you come and say hello!

Thanks for stopping by,

Beth x

Monday, 22 October 2012

My First Craft Swap (And one for you too!)

Last Thursday at SnB was swap night. We have spent a lovely few months collecting and making items for our various swap partners and we were all excited to be exchanging bags and opening parcels. We had five categories of items to be placed in the bag, with each item being given by a different member of the swap group.
Our categories were yarn, a pattern, accessories, a handmade item and an edible/drinkable item. I was lucky enough to be the recipient of Bex's handmade item, which is the handspun, hand dyed 3ply yarn you can see to the right of the picture. It is a mixture of bluey/greeny tones and has silver sparkle running through it too.
For my handmade item, I made my partner a needle case, which was a first time make for me. I looked at a few designs and then just sort of made mine up as I went along. I think I will have to make one for me too.

I also made a little project bag, and a pear pincushion, but I forgot to take a picture of that. It's like the ones you can see in my sidebar though.

I find these little bags come in very handy for someone like me who always has at least three (ahem) projects on the go at once as they are big enough to contain the yarn, needles and the pattern safely. When I went to Ally Pally and my water bottle leaked inside my handbag, my knitting was safely tucked up in it's bag, which is lined with waterproof fabric and no harm befell it.

Anyhow, all this swapping gave me a real taste for another one and as it is almost my first blogiversary I have decided to host my own swap. Since this is my first time, please forgive me if I am not following standard practise, I'm hoping to appeal to other novices too and hopefully we will all muddle along together.

I am going to call this swap the Stash-Busting Swap. I have decided to limit the number of items to three to keep overall costs down. As the name indicates, the idea of the swap will be to use as much as you can from your own personal stash of resources. The key input required here is time, not money.

I am keeping the time frame relatively short as I am aware that there is a little event looming that will be keeping many of us crafters busy, so I want to get the swap completed before we are all frazzled. There will be just under four weeks to compile your parcel so please don't sign up if this doesn't give you enough time. I don't want to be the creator of head/heart aches!

The three items are:

1) Handmade item. This forms the main element of the swap and will be either sewn, knitted or crocheted, tailored to your partner's taste.  We're not talking about extremely labour intensive pieces here such as a knitted jumper or double bed spread but  it should have taken longer than a few hours to knock up. Think about the quality of item you would like to receive yourself.

2) Crafting accessories/stash items. Ideally plucked from your own stash, this will be an item/items of haberdashery, again taking account of your partner's preferences. The value of this item should be around £5.

3) Edible/drinkable item. Because we all love a little treat. The cost of this item should be no more than £3.

Once I have some swappers willing to participate I will be sending out questionnaires that will help your swap partner decide what to send you.

I will keep the sign-up list open until November 1st and will then coordinate all the details and assign partners by November 5th. It is then up to you to tailor your parcel to your partners likes and dislikes (stalk her blog if she has one).

Participants who blog will be asked to write a blog post on their parcels when they are received and non-blogging swappers will need to be able to email me pictures so that I can post them on their behalf.

As the swap hostess, I am not responsible for the content of the swap parcels, I am merely coordinating partners, but if you have any problems along the way, contact me and I will help if I am able to. I will make sure that everyone has someone to swap with, even if we have an odd number of participants.

To take part in the swap, please leave me a comment below, including your name, email address and blog address if you have one.

Please do consider taking part, especially if you have never swapped before. As a newbie to this, I was surprised by how exciting I found the whole process (maybe I don't get out enough). We all love receiving parcels in the post and when they contain something made just for you, what could be better?!

Here's to a great swap,

Beth x

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Changeling Shawlette

As I was on my way home from Ally Pally on Sunday I managed to cast off my changeling shawlette. I am still very slow at this and it must have been painful for my seat companion to watch as she is a very experienced knitter.

I had bought this yarn back in the summer, originally intending to make a lacy shawl with it, but I decided that the colour change of the yarn would be more suited to a denser knit. The pattern I used (found on Ravelry, link here if you are a member) is really designed for a larger needle which would result in a bigger shawl, but I knitted mine on a 3.25mm 80cm circular.

The pattern suited my limited knitting ability, although I still managed to make a few errors, particularly around the centre yarn overs as I was having trouble with my improvised stitch markers but overall I am pleased with how the yarn and the pattern went together.
Throughout the process, I was aware that the shawl would need blocking after it was knitted as this would reveal it's pattern properly. Here's how it looked before blocking:
This is a close up before blocking; you can see the garter stitch and stocking stitch sections, but not the lace pattern detail.
To block the shawl, I rinsed it in lukewarm water with a bit of gentle washing liquid added, then rinsed it and rolled it up in a towel to squeeze out as much moisture as possible. I then laid a clean towel over some foam matting and pinned out the shawl.
I found this a bit tricky as my cast off edge obviously wasn't loose enough and couldn't stretch the shawl into a proper triangular shape.
I then left the shawl to dry for a few days. This is a close up afterwards, the difference is very noticeable.

The only problem I have now is deciding how to wear it!

Thanks for stopping by,
Beth x

Monday, 15 October 2012

Ally Pally 2012

Yesterday was my first visit to the Knitting and Stitching Show, which is held at Alexandra Palace each October. Just out of interest, you can read about the history of the building here.

The inside of the show was vast, with two large (mahoosive) rooms and then further stands and displays in other smaller areas. The picture doesn't convey the scale of the area, the size was almost overwhelming.
From talking to other members of my knitting group who have been to the show before, I was expecting to want to spend lots of money, so had been saving in anticipation. I wasn't let down on the shopping front, there were LOTS of things I wanted to buy, but I had gone with a list of things I really wanted, which I stuck to, allowing myself to choose a few skeins of yarn too.

I have been looking at interchangeable knitting needles on line for a while and found this set for a good price, with no additional postage costs of course. Instead of buying a larger set, which I had considered, I decided to get a smaller starter set and bought additional needles in the sizes I know I will actually use as the bigger set had lots of larger sizes that I wouldn't use at the moment, given that all my latest yarn purchases have been 4ply and lace weight.

Mostly, I used the day to visit retailers I have previously bought from on line, so that I could get a feel for un-tried products in the flesh and also make some postage-free purchases. I visited Blooming Felt to stock up a little.

The Eternal Maker was selling Sherbet Pips fabric for a massively reduced £3 per meter. I stood patiently waiting to add to my collection but two ladies in front of me had also spotted the bargain, so by the time my turn came I only got one meter. I was still pleased. I love this fabric.
One of my favourite stands was Fyberspates. I have long admired and coveted this yard when I have seen it being knitted up by SnB members and I made three separate visits to the stand before deciding on a couple of skeins. This picture does the yarn no justice, especially the colours. The bottom one is a really gorgeous kind of racing green with beautifully rich and deep tones. It is soft and lovely too.

Another lovely stand was The Crochet Chain. I have looked at their website a few times as they sell Drops Alpaca at a really good price. It was good to have a squish.
As the name suggests, the show is not just aimed at knitters and crocheters; there is also plenty to tempt the sewer. Lately, I have got my knitting head on and I really don't need any fabric but inspired by the quilt that Fiona made for her daughters sixteenth ( read about it here) I had decided that I will make my daughter a quilt for her birthday, which is in December.
I had already stared a quilt for her, using Clarke and Clarke fabric which she had chosen before the current Goth, sorry, 'Emo' phase but that has now been discarded as being too pink and flowery. Considering her current colour of choice (note, singular) and her love of horses, I chose these fabrics to try again with.
I couldn't resist sneaking in some Summersville
By the early afternoon, I was getting uncomfortably hot and was really rather shopped out, so I had a little stroll around the outside of the palace, which has the most amazing views of London sprawling away to the south.

I returned inside for the last hour and wandered around the exhibition pieces, which we were politely asked not to photograph. We were allowed to take pictures of this knitted village though, which was brilliant.

Whilst outside, I had a quick look at Twitter to see if anyone had mentioned the show. Angela from This is Wiss had tweeted to say that she was helping out on the Ray-Stitch stand so when I went back in I went along to meet her which was lovely as I have been reading her blog for some time now.

Overall, I was pleased to be able to stock up on such lovely yarns and supplies in one place but was rather disappointed by the lack of inspirational content; it seems unfair to ask people to pay £15 to shop when you know that it would have cost the stallholders a small fortune to be at the show.

Travelling home on the coach, I managed to finish the shawlette I stared in this post. It needs blocking to finish it, which I have never attempted before, but I will poop back again soon to show you the results.

I can't wait to get started on my next project now that  have lovely new needles and really lovely yarn so I will be getting lost in Ravelry for a few hours to decide on a project.

What are you working on at the moment?

Thanks for reading,
Beth x

Friday, 12 October 2012

Rainbow Blue Hat

Hi folks, this is just a flying visit before I head out into the cold wet night for another night shift. I know I have been neglecting my poor little blog of late but the painting is getting there and I will soon have some time for making and writing again. I can't wait.

I conquered (sort of) the Magic Loop technique in knitting with more help from Bex and got to work on a hat for the littlest, which he requested be a 'rainbow hat, but with just blue'. Hmmm.

Unfortunately, the end result was not a stunning success and is rather too small for his head, so it's back to the drawing board. I made a few mistakes too but I wanted this to be my practise hat with the new technique before hopefully moving on to greater things.


On Sunday morning I will be getting up very early to go to Ally Pally, to the Knitting and Stitching Show. I have been looking forward to this (and saving my pennies) for ages, so I will let you know how it goes.
Thanks for stopping by,
Beth x

Wednesday, 3 October 2012


I don't seem to have found my crafting rhythm again yet since the children have gone back to school. The youngest is only doing two and a half hours of a morning until November, which is rather less than the three full (school) days he was getting at nursery and I spend my mornings frantically trying to fit in as much domesticity as I can so that he can have my attention in the afternoon. I have also been painting the bay windows at the front of the house (inside and out) but it has been tricky to fit this around everything else with the added element of the weather.
For a few weeks all my stuff was left in an awful muddle because I just couldn't get around to sorting it all out. The fact that this room is in the attic, and is accessed by a fold-down ladder which is only out when our time-share teenager is here means that it is very easy to ignore a mess as nobody can see it.
The need to get my sewing machine out and make some things for the SnB swap I'm participating in necessitated a quick tidy but there is still lots to do.

You can't really tell from the pictures, but there are several large Ikea bags stuffed behind the desk in the eaves space that need to be sorted out. Also when Mr Magpie brought my white drawer unit up, it got turned on it's side. I'll let you use your imagination as to the state of the drawers, in which I keep all my tiny oddments including needles, beads, ribbons and lots of other small objects. Picture, if you will, some kind of haberdashery soup and you'll get the idea. Still plenty for me to be getting on with before I can relax into creation up here.

I know that this yarn should really be packed away from moths and sunlight but it looks so pretty!

Just out of interest, this is the other side of the room. The bed is a double, so you don't really have to sleep squashed under the eaves, although I have done exactly that on occasion (sometimes we sleep up here when family comes to stay, we frequently play musical bedrooms in this house).

I'm actually getting quite excited about the SnB swap. It's the first time I've ever done one and I can already tell it won't be my last. This is a 'round robin' swap, consisting of five rounds. Every few weeks we pass the bags along having placed in our item for that round. There are five rounds altogether. Week one was yarn, week two accessories, last time it was a pattern and this week a handmade item (hence the need for me to sort out the craft space). The last item is something edible or drinkable.

None of us know who is getting what for who and the rounds mean that we get to choose things for five different people and our own bags will be a deliciously varied mixture, but hopefully chosen with the recipient in mind. I can't show you what I have made for the handmade round until the swap is completed but it was something new for me and I may now have to make something similar for myself.
My knitting is coming along well and will hopefully be finished soon. I even found some foam blocks at a charity shop last week which I'm reliably informed are brilliant for blocking on (more on that another time).
My Smoothie-hat knitting also got me thinking about trying to knit some hats for the Magpies again (questionable results achieved last time a few years back). I fancy trying to knit 'in the round' and need to have a play with some different techniques. If anyone has any advice I'd love to hear it. I'd also like to hear about any other hat disasters because it will make me feel better.
Thank you for reading, it's been lovely to have a little catch up,
Beth x

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Innocent/Age UK Big Knit 2012

Just a quick post to tell those of you who don't know about the Big Knit which you can find out about here.

These are the result of my efforts so far.

The hats are really quick to make and use the tiniest amount of leftover yarn. You could whip up one watching your favourite programme, no bother and would be helping to keep an older person warm this winter.

Why not get your needles busy this week? You have until October 1st to get them in.

If you don't have time to make a hat you can buy a be-hatted smoothie in Sansbury's from November 21st. I bought my first ever one to check the size of my hats, and as you can see, it is all gone. It was delicious. If you buy one during the event you will be contributing to charity as well as getting a scrummy drink and a free egg cosy.

Thanks for reading,
Beth x

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Catching Up

Firstly please let me apologise for another lengthy gap in posts but we are still not quite out of holiday mode here as the littlest Magpie doesn't start school until next Tuesday and there have been lots of other things happening around the nest.

September rather than January always feels like the start of the year to me (will I still feel that way when the pattern of our lives no longer revolves around school days?) and here at Magpie HQ we have been in a sorting out and re-arranging kind of mood.

Having admitted to ourselves that middle son was not enjoying the drum kit he was pleading for only two years ago, we decided to sell it to free up some room. The kit was in the attic, along with another instrument that has been massively underused. Make that completely unused. My Christmas present from last year, which Mr Magpie ordered me to sell and to buy with the proceeds something that I wanted instead, although not wool apparently (??).

Now that the attic room is no longer a music studio, it has been decided that my our lovely dining/craft room should be transformed into a dining/computer/train track room and me and my 'crap' (his word, not mine) are to be shifted two floors upwards.

It doesn't look it from the pictures, but there is actually loads of floor space in this room and I'm thinking that my long white table will fit alongside the one you see with the computer on it, which is the same height and width. The computer will be going to live downstairs, so I will have loads of table space, and when I've re-arranged the space under the eaves I should be able to fit everything in neatly. I will be having a clear out though. This week I have bagged up two big bags of old clothes and sorted out perhaps half of my books to go to charity. It feels quite cathartic, so I will seize this mood to keep streamlining my possessions. Keeps Mr 'Neat Freak' Magpie happy too ;) .

I used to sew up here when I first started sewing regularly and it's actually a peaceful, sunny space to work in. The main reason for me moving into the dining room was to be on hand for the family, but as come November all the children will be at school full-time, I can cloister myself up in the eaves without having to navigate the ladder every ten minutes to answer demands for drinks, snacks, refereeing or bottom-wiping.

The room itself is in need of some sewing treatments. I promised the Mr I would make curtains to cover the eave spaces which run along both sides of the room, and we have actually bought the fabric for it. I also need to make two more blinds, like this one which I speedily constructed before the Magpie cousins came to stay, so as not to blind our guests with morning sunlight.

The dining room is going to get a make-over of it's own in due course when all the downstairs sashes have been winter-proofed and I have painted the exterior woodwork at the front of the house. So, it may be a while yet, but I will share the pictures with you in due course.

Knitting-wise, after a few false starts on projects where I just couldn't seem to get the perfect mixture of pattern and yarn, I have started a new shawl/shawlette with some yarn that was originally going to be used for a lace project, but didn't work.

The pattern for this shawl comes from Ravelry and is called La La's Simple Shawl, and it really is very easy to knit. The yarn I'm using is called Poems, by Rico and it changes colours gradually, instead of being flecked like my Hitchhiker.

I was making fairly good progress to begin with, until my cheap-o bamboo circular decided to separate itself while I was pulling my stitches up and I had to make an emergency dash to the wool shop for a rescue operation. Work saved, I decided I couldn't wait for Ally Pally to buy new needles and ordered an Addi Turbo needle online.

I am so glad I did as this needle is just so much better than anything I have used before. I am a tight knitter and always struggled to move my stitches along the bamboo needles, and even on my ordinary straights it was challenging. The Addi needle tips are highly polished metal and my stitches really glide over them, making my knitting quicker.

Now that I am knitting more, and think that going to SnB will push me to challenge myself further, I am considering whether to get a set of circulars, perhaps like these? I was just wondering what other people use and how they rate them. I'm not sure whether to get metal or wooden needles so any advice would be great.

I seem to have experienced a little flurry of new people following the blog, so I would just like to welcome you all along and thank you for stopping by in my little corner of the world. All of my readers help to keep me motivated to craft and blog, for which I am thankful and when I am followed by other bloggers I get a chance to peep into their corners too, which as a nosey person is a great treat.

I hope you are all well and enjoying the change of seasons. Thanks for reading,

Beth x