Monday, 29 December 2008

Back in the civilized world.

Having just spend a week in Ireland, I am very glad to have broadband again. It's shocking how much I've come to depend on it, but even just for stuff like checking the times of the buses back to the airport, or the Christmas opening hours of the local restaurants, it was very awkward trying to manage with a copy of the Yellow Pages and a telephone. How I managed in ye olden days (i.e. pre-2003) I have no idea. We brought my netbook everywhere with us and tried to find an unsecured wireless connection. It became an obsession. And we never did manage to find one.

Anyway, Christmas was good. Ate too much, slept a lot, caught up with friends, played pool in the pub (a thing I rarely get to do in London) and sat for two hours sorting out my cousin's PC after he and his twin girls filled it up with rubbish software, spyware and general crap. You could literally turn it on and go off and make a cup of tea before it finished booting. And what antivirus software does to the speed of a PC is just horrific. God bless the Macbook.

One thing that always happens in Ireland is that I spend too much money. It's as if rent and bills suddenly stop existing the minute I arrive in an airport and I start spending as if my life depended on it. So I ended up with clothes and new boots and a very nice coat from A-Wear (although my parents paid for that as a Christmas present), not to mention the set of Daler Rowney brushes in a nice little travel case that will be just perfect for bringing to class, or the Frank Clarke's Paintbox 2 book, or the set of oil pastels. The latter is my new favourite thing, they're just so much fun to use. I've never used 'normal' pastels but I imagine they're quite different. Here's a little sketch I did of our catdog Elvis. I used yellow ochre, purple and orange. Most of it is from my imagination, as I drew a very rough outline and then the little bugger ran away to chase something.

Annoyingly, I can't get our scanner to cope with white space around an image, it completely screws it up. I did a painting while we were away from the Frank Clarke book but can't get it to scan at all - I'll have to try and photograph it when there's daylight.

And here's a bit of art that isn't mine - it's a little oil painting (about 7" x 5") that my dad did in 1985, and he varnished it up for me so I could bring it home. I've got to find a frame for it so it can go in the bedroom. I've always loved this - I remember him painting it when I was only five years old and thinking my daddy was the cleverest man in the world. (And I still do.)

I'm back to work tomorrow. I can think of at least a million things I would rather be doing.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Happy Christmas!

We had our early Christmas day this morning and opened presents - as usual I was out of bed at the crack of dawn. I got a set of all the Laurel and Hardy movies which I really wanted but never mentioned to Richard, so he did very well! I also received a gorgeous bag from one of my bosses and some books and Northern Exposure season 1 from my parents in law and some other bits. Very nice! One of the books was from my Amazon wishlist but I'd actually gone out and bought it for myself about a week ago, so I took the receipt and the new book and returned it to Amazon, and used the money to buy myself a box easel that was on sale in Cass Arts, which is a shop where I could easily spend my entire wages in about a minute.

We're leaving for Ireland at about 6am tomorrow, and will be without internet access till the 29th. (How will I cope??) I can't wait to see my family. I just hope the rain isn't as bad as it usually is...

I hope everyone has a fantastic Christmas!

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Last minute Christmas stuff

Today I have been mostly finishing off a few last minute Christmas bits. Here's some Kleenex cozies. One of the star & spotty ones will be going to a Cath Kidston-loving friend - Cath Kidston has lots of stuff with a similar star print and polka dots. The boring brown check one is for my dad, and one of the brown ones with the little flowers is for my mum. That fabric is from Liberty and I LOVE it. It's gorgeous to sew with. I want to make a few purses with it too but I'm trying to find orange zips to match the flowers in the print.

That Matryoshka print is my favourite fabric at the moment, but I only have a fat quarter so I'm using it sparingly! In fact I'm so stingy with it that I didn't even cut off the selvedge for this tissue holder.

Next here are some crochet snowflakes for my mum. I found some crochet cotton in Lidl that had silver lurex thread running through it and immediately thought of snowflakes. It was about £5 for a huge ball that will make about a million snowflakes and is nice to work with, although I'm not used to using such a tiny hook (1.5mm).

I wanted to starch them to make them nice and stiff for hanging on the tree, but I didn't have any starch so I boiled some rice and used the water from that - it worked a treat. About 100g of rice and a kettle full of water, boiled for about 20 mins, gave me more than enough liquid to starch these and bottle a load of it for another time. The pattern is from the Lion Brand website - HERE - and is very easy. You might be able to see the sparkle a bit better in this photo, but I couldn't seem to get a decent picture of it.

Finally here are some bottle cap pincushions that I made a while ago, but keep forgetting to post. I love these things, they're so handy and they make lovely little "extra" presents for people.

As we're going away early on Monday, tomorrow morning we're having a "Christmas morning" and opening the presents! Well, the presents that are here anyway. Lots of mine will be in Ireland and Richard's got money from his parents so not a lot to open for him really. I've never really grown out of the whole Christmas morning excitement, so I can't wait!

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Where does the time go?

Has it really been over a week since I last posted? How scary, I can't believe how fast this year has gone and especially the last couple of months. I was married 4 months on the 13th, but actually it feels more like 4 years (and I don't mean that in a bad way). Although I'm still getting the hang of the new name.

Speaking of husbands, mine got laid off last week, along with about 700 colleagues. Unbelievable - that's twice in about three years, not counting when one company he worked for got bought out by another one (which has just gone bust) and took most of the staff along for the ride. He had an interview today for a major software publisher/developer and it would be great if he got the job, but I have my reservations. I think it's no coincidence that all the companies he works for end up in adminstration; in fact I think he does it deliberately. Whether it's out of malice, boredom or some other agenda I can't work out, and he denies it. Anyway, I particularly like this company's games and would be more than a bit miffed if they also ended up bankrupt so perhaps it's best if my lovely husband stays clear. Although they're not a three letter acronym, like the last few have been, so perhaps they're safe.

What have I made this week... well as it's Christmas, I've been making presents, and giving them away before remembering to photograph them. So I don't have a decent photo of the lacy scarf my friend Em got, nor the beaded bracelet. But I do have a photo of the soap I made for some workmates. It's Christmassy-scented and has gold glitter inside - yum.

In the background there you can see some little crocheted ducks. I received these yesterday as part of an angel package for a Sanrio swap on Craftster. I got a massive haul of stuff from RhymeswOrange, who is awesome, but these little ducks are just so sweet, the more I look at them the more I love them. I need to find somewhere permanent to put them - I want to put them in the bathroom as they match the shower curtain and walls but I need to put up a shelf. Here's a better photo.

I've also been doing a bit more painting. I did a couple of landscapes straight out of the book Paintbox by Frank Clarke, which I really like even though the author has a truly terrible shirt on the front cover. Mine don't look quite like his examples but I'm a total beginner, so I'm not beating myself up about it. I enrolled in a watercolour techniques class for the new year - three Sundays for six hours at a time - and I'm really looking forward to that. Here's my two landscape efforts so far:

(That second one looks very pale in the photo - it's less washed-out looking in real life.)

And here's my paintbox and brushes. I love the palette when it's all messy, I wish I never had to clean it.

I accidentally bought yet another watercolour book, but I've hidden it amongst the others in the hope that my husband won't notice. He was shopping the other day and bought me two books from one of the cheapo book shops in Walthamstow, which was very sweet of him, but one of them wasn't for beginners/idiots like me so that's for a bit later on.

Right, it's after midnight and I'm off to bed. Tomorrow's my last day at work before Christmas and we're off to Ireland on Monday, I can't wait!

Monday, 8 December 2008

Writer's block

I've got a Portuguese assignment that has to be handed in on Thursday. It's a relatively simple task: write a travel guide of around 500 words about "an area local to your school" and stick in a few photos stolen from random websites. So I'm choosing London, which is fairly local to my school, given that my school is in London. Actually it's in Bloomsbury but I'm not sure what I could write about that, apart from the British Museum. Unfortunately, I've hit a snag. It seems I really don't know how to write in Portuguese. In fact my Portuguese is not very good at all, but it's too advanced for the beginner class, and the gap between the beginner class and the next class (mine) is huge. From nothing to post A-level in a year. And that's not great when you've got to sit and write something and your head goes straight into Spanish mode. There are penalties for plagiarism (I think death is one of them, they get pretty pissed off about it) so I'm really trying very hard not to copy stuff, but it's quite difficult as I don't actually know anything about London hotels. I live here, I never need to stay in a hotel. And my mind has gone blank about pubs and shops and exciting places to go. So I'm procrastinating by surfing the internet for interesting blogs (I really need to update my list), daydreaming and trying not to succumb to temptation and read my new book that I bought today. It's called Terry Harrison's Complete Guide to Watercolour Landscapes, and one of the great things about it is that he shows you how to mix brown. When I try to mix brown using primaries, I get either muddy blue, muddy red or muddy yellow. In the absence of any photos to add to this post, here's a picture of the book I've stolen from Amazon.

Other things I am procrasting about at the moment include blocking two scarves I've made for Christmas presents (is there anything more tiresome than actually finishing your knitting once you've finished knitting it?), writing Christmas cards, and sorting out our wedding photos, which are still sitting on memory cards and have been since we got married in August. There's no excuse really. I was off work for three weeks with the Evil Arthritis and what did I do with myself? Watch Life on Mars. Watch NYPD Blue. Knit (but not finish) scarves. Make bottlecap pincushions. Mindlessly surf the internet. I'm really rather cross with myself for being so unmotivated.

Today's happy news is that my latest gnome from Craftster's Roaming Gnome Swap has arrived! She's called Ruby and is from Germany and is made of nallbinding. I don't actually know what that is. The last two gnomes I had didn't have a very good time. I was stuck indoors and consequently so were they. But little Ruby will be different, she's going to have some fun! I'll post photos soon.

Wow, what a wordy post. Time flies when you're not getting any work done.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

More birds

Now I don't claim to be getting the hang of it or anything like that, but I am definitely enjoying this watercolour lark. We live beside a river and about a mile from here there is a tame grey heron who always hangs around outside one particular house begging for food. He's awesome. So I thought of him and painted a heron. I messed up the legs.

And tonight I painted a kingfisher which is one of my dad's favourites. I had problems with the washes pooling and drying into icky lines but I think that's because I wasn't using watercolour paper, I just painted on a bogstandard sketch pad. I went and bought a load of watercolour paper but even though it was pretty inexpensive as far as watercolour paper goes, I'm strangely reluctant to paint on it and ruin it...

The sock I started the other day is coming along ok. I've done the short row bit for the heel, but now I think it gets a bit more complicated. I'll post a photo when I've done the next step. This is the bit that scares me. It's like when you buy expensive fabric and make that first cut. Except if you mess up your knitting you can frog it and start again, but with fabric if you mess up there is no going back. Scary stuff, crafting.

Oh, and I'm going back to work tomorrow after three weeks off. I can't wait to see everyone but it's going to be a bit weird not watching Top Gear repeats on Dave all day while knitting scarves.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Scared of socks!

I've been dying to learn to knit socks for ages and ages, but something about them frightens me. I can do Fair Isle and lace and have no problems using dpns, but the very mention of short row shaping makes me run and hide behind the sofa. And I even signed up for a sock knitting class at Loop, but it was cancelled due to insufficient numbers. I was gutted.

Well I'm determined to get over myself. My husband has one pair of slipper socks and they are looking the worse for wear, and I have several balls of sock yarn that I bought two years ago in a brave moment but that have sat in my stash ever since. I found Silver's Sock Class which has lots of very detailed instructions and is bursting with photos for the mentally challenged, like me, dug out some 2.5mm dpns, and cast on. I have no idea what the yarn is, the ball band is long gone, but it might be something like Prism?? Here's what I've done so far.

The photo is a bit poor... I'm using my compact because my SLR is in the bedroom but as soon as I open the living room door a wall of cold hits me, so I'm hibernating in here. Here's a photo of the ball:

I forgot how tedious k2 p2 rib is. And it's slow going. But at least I can watch TV at the same time.

In other news, I think I'm addicted to Klutz books. Is that possible? I started off with the shrink plastic jewellery one which was fantastic. Then I found the hemp bracelets one in a charity shop for 50p, still with all the hemp (but missing the beads), and ordered the bead loom one from Amazon which was fantastic. (Well, the weaving bit is great, the sewing in the ends when you're done is less fabulous.) The supplies that come with the books are really great quality and you can find them pretty cheaply from Amazon sellers or Playtrade on So since I'm on a drawing and painting kick I had to have the drawing and painting Klutz offerings, which are clearly aimed at kids but since I have the drawing ability of a two year old that suits me fine. Plus "Drawing for the Artistically Undiscovered" has Quentin Blake as a co-author, so even if I never draw anything I can look at the pictures. I'm a huge fan of his. I was obsessed with Roald Dahl books as a kid and still think they're the best kids books ever. Here are my two new books: (Sorry the photo is so terrible.)

But the most exciting thing to pop through my letterbox today was something I've been waiting for since 1995!

Chrono Trigger! It was one of the brilliant SNES RPGs that never made it to Europe, and it's just been re-released on the DS. But since the DS is region free I don't have to wait till the UK release next year - I just ordered it from Video Games Plus in Canada. But I'm determined to finish the Final Fantasy IV remake before I even take this out of its wrapper :-)

Monday, 1 December 2008

Playing with paint

I thought I'd start off the blog with some photos of something I've made that I'm actually good at but everything I'm currently making is a Christmas present of some sort so they'll just have to wait, I think! So I'll post something I'm terrible at instead. I have always been jealous of my dad's amazing talent for painting, so at the age of 28 I've decided it's about time I learned. I bought a set of watercolours yesterday and some brushes and sat down today to have a go. I doodled a bird - a coal tit - and coloured it in with my new paints. It didn't come out quite perfect (understatement of the year) but I kind of like it. More importantly, I enjoyed painting it. I'm going to stick at it.

It's just a scan of the page I drew it on. The photo I used for reference is here. I've ordered some very cheap books on watercolour from so when they arrive maybe I'll actually find out what I'm supposed to be doing :-)

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