Monday, January 31, 2011


Somehow it feels really good to have finished this quilt by the end of January. That makes two quilting projects finished this month. This quilt top was begun last summer, just as a way of utilizing some scraps. There are lots of "memorable" fabrics in this quilt: from G and C's wedding quilt, made in 1995, from vests made for 2 daughters and a sister sometime in the 90's, from a jacket I made for myself early 90's, from K's king-size quilt, from K's lap quilt, etc., etc.

For the top, I bought only the sashing and border fabric; the rest came from the stash. The red squares (from our bed quilt, started in 1986 and completed in 1996) were the starting point, and the other fabrics added, log cabin style, though it is NOT a log cabin quilt. Thought of using that for the name, but settled instead on "Red Square." I love the way the red squares seem to float up off the surface of the quilt.

The batting and backing were new. The flannel backing is black with colour crayon images of rockets, just right for a young boy.

It measures 67" x 84" which should do fine for a single bed. It was made without a donee, but later chosen for Dear Grandson #3, who turned 10 last August. His sister was the recipient of the "Kids Can" quilt finished last September on time for their visit at Thanksgiving.

It's machine quilted, in black around each of the pieces of sashing, and in variegated thread in each of the blocks. I didn't want to quilt each piece in the block. That would make the whole quilt too stiff. I finally decided on this pattern of quilting in the blocks, enough to "highlight" the red square and tie down the rest of the block, but not too overpowering.

I'm very happy with this quilt, and now I just have to figure out how to get it to him. Maybe by Greyhound bus? Mailing it would be out of range, considering that it costs about $10 to mail a pair of mittens.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Lots o' Knitting

The first order of business with that hank of yarn is winding it into usable balls. I have a really nifty yarn winder that I bought when I got my knitting machine, a very simple LK 150 Knitter. So it takes no time at all to have these neat, draw-from-the-middle balls wound. It would have been nice to keep it continuous, but that would have made a ball twice as big, and the winder is not capable of that.

Behind the two intriguing balls of wound yarn is some "Lopi," an Icelandic yarn that
is also 100% wool, which I thought to use
as an accent colour.

Then comes "swatching," or knitting up a sample on the needles you guess might be the right size. Most bought yarn comes with needle size suggested, but this home-spun yarn has no labels, so make your best guess. The first try is the bottom one on smaller needles, size U.S. 9. That seemed to produce a pretty stiff knitted fabric, so then I tried the larger wooden needles, size U.S. 11 in the upper swatch. That sample felt better, so I went with the bigger

I also took a guage reading off that swatch, approximately how many stitches to the inch. Then it's a simple matter to measure the circumference of your head to decide how many stitches to cast on. I guess my guage was not accurate because here's the first version of the hat: quite enormous!

Knitting without a pattern usually means unraveling at some point, and that was certainly what was called for here. So back to the beginning again.

From the big "hat" above I was able to get a more accurate guage, and cast on a more fitting amount of stitches. So by 10 a.m. on Wednesday I had begun again. I just used the variation in colour that was inherent in the yarn and came up with this lovely striped toque. It was finished by 3:30 that afternoon.

I'm delighted with this one of a kind hat. The blue yarn matches exactly the Goretex shell jacket that I bought for the hiking holiday in Chile.

On either side are the two neckwarmers that I knit the past weekend. The one on the right is my favorite, from the yarn I bought at Walmart on Saturday when I realized I'd run out of knitting before we got home. It's a very soft yarn, and I think the varigated colour in the yarn provided a really nice pattern in colour.

Because I wasn't sure how much yarn I needed for the neckwarmer, I bought two balls, and now have enough to make a matching headband. I'll be just all set with headwear for our holiday!

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Fantastic Performance and an Intriguing Gift

We were in Red Deer this past weekend to attend a concert of the Red Deer Symphony Orchestra. This is the first year we've had season tickets, and we've enjoyed each concert greatly. Saturday was no exception.

The first half of the concert was exceedingly short. On the program were Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, of which the small chamber group played only the very familiar "Air" as in "Air on the G String." I was delighted to see the first violins begin that long, long first note on an upbow. This is how I treat that note, as it needs a slow crescendo throughout the whole 9 beats (counting in 8 to a measure). One of the enjoyments of watching this group is how unified they are in their bowing. I give credit for that to Naomi Delafield the concertmaster. One slight comment, however, a disappointment that the interpretation was so delicate. To my ears a very sonorous, passionate playing seems the way to go, but that is just a matter of personal preference.

The next piece was The Brandenburg Concert No. 2 in F Major, which has a "fiendishly difficult" trumpet part. The quotes are from the conductor, Claude LaPalme. The soloist was the Acting Principal Trumpet of the RDS, Richard Scholz. The performance was, sad to say, an embarrassment. Whether he was nervous and that interfered with his playing, or whether it was simply beyond him, I don't know. I really wondered why they didn't choose one of the other five Brandenburgs. I don't think #2 is the only one with trumpet soloist.

After intermission, which was lengthy as the stage crew tried to remedy of lack of light for the musicians to read their music, the second half of the program began, and it was a TOTAL DELIGHT!!! The music programmed was all four of Vivaldi's Four Seasons concerti, performed by a chamber group and featuring soloist Marc Destrubé. I have heard the Four Seasons in recordings countless times, but never heard it performed live. It's a difficult work: there are some incredibly dense, fast passages. Well, I have to say it was like hearing a totally new work.

Marc Destrubé is a marvellous violinist, and a very warm, personable stage presence, I would even have to say a delightful performer. He gave us some background on the writing of the concerti, and then before each movement of each concerto, read the small piece of "poetry" Vivaldi had written showing the inspiration of the music. Many were humorous, or were made so by Destrubé's reading.

I was totally enthralled with the whole performance, which was top notch. Special plaudits go to the cellist (Janet Kuschak, I believe) who had much to do throughout the concerti, and the harpsichordist, whose name I couldn't find on the program. The whole ensemble of three first violins, two second violins, two violas, two cellos, bass and harpsichord did a sterling job accompanying the soloist.

Maestro LaPalme is wonderful, but I was so intent on watching the soloist that I really can't comment on his part, except to say that the group was excellent, and he certainly has the credit for that.

Now to the gift: My dear friend M had been gone for 10 days visiting her sister in Chile. She often returns from a trip with a gift for me, and she's so good at finding things that I will love. This time she brought
me a large hank of yarn bought in a market in Chile. This lovely yarn is pure wool, straight off the sheep, spun as is with lanolin and a few twigs intact, undyed showing its natural colours. I'm thrilled!

I've begun winding it into balls and then I'll weigh it. The first inspiration is to use it to make a knitted woollen hat, complete with ear flaps and cords to tie under my chin. It would be a very warm hat, and would be just the right thing to take along on my upcoming trip to Torres del Paine National Park.

I have a waterproof, brimmed hat to
keep dry, but think I'll need a knitted hat in addition to keep warm. Since the trip is coming up the second half of March, I plan to get right at this project, and see what I can come up with.

Here's a closeup of the yarn. You can see it's fairly tightly spun and full of wonderful, chunky slubs. What I especially love about it is the fact that someone cared for sheep, sheared the wool, and someone there spun this yarn by hand. So before I even touch it, it has a rich history, partaking of the whole historical way of doing such things. For me, this is a significant factor. Completely opposite from the manufactured acrylic yarn I bought in Walmart on Saturday to knit another neckwarmer (since I didn't have enough knitting along to last the weekend.)

Friday, January 21, 2011

A New Project

Since the start of January, I've been finishing projects. Made up my mind to get some of those things out of the way, and not start anything new. My drawers and closets are too full of things begun and not completed!

But today, S. came for a violin lesson and afterwards gave me copies of two nice "neck warmer" patterns. I've been thinking I need a neck warmer to go with my blue Goretext shell jacket that I bought for the coming trip to Chile. When I saw the patterns, I just had to try the one out. Found a nice variegated yarn in the basket and started knitting. This is the second version. The first one was too stiff, so I went up a whole size in the needles. These are U.S. 11's, so this is knitting up very fast. There are over eight inches there already, and the neck warmer is supposed to finish at 24". So I'm well on the way. Certainly didn't mean to start anything new, but there it is, and I think it's quite pretty.

Other projects underway: after I finished the girls' mittens I got out a sweater I had started in '07. It was supposed to be a "car" project for on our holiday, but was too complicated a pattern to follow while traveling. The back was almost finished, but I wasn't pleased with the way the knitted fabric bubbled over the intarsia section, so I put it away for a while. Last week I got it out and unraveled it to a certain level in the pattern. Since then I reknit the back and am well on the way with the left front. But it's very slow going in the patterned part of the sweater. Read part of the line in the chart, knit about 12 stitches, read some more, etc. This is the finished back.

This next
photo is a closeup of the back, and you can see in the middle of that center "V" how the yarn makes little bumps where the yarn not in use is "woven" in behind the yarn on the surface. Those bumps had extended all the way up to the point of the "V" and it just wasn't good enough.

But because I didn't want to carry the yarn across that space, I had to cut it each time, so on the back you can see a lot of hanging threads that need to be woven in.

Here you can see the inside of the back, with
the yarn not in use "woven" into the fabric, rather than carried across as a loose float. This is a technique I learned from Wendy Toye of Saskatchewan. She was teaching from the "Philosopher's Fair Isle" method taught in the book "Fair Isle Sweaters Simplified" by Ann and Eugene Bourgeois.
I've mentioned this book before, and it's worth every penny of the price.

Other progress: the "Red Square" quilt is close to finish. I quilted it in two sections, top and bottom, and then sewed the two together. Just the back seam needs to be stitched by hand when finishing this way. The quilting in that middle "join" section is almost finished and then we just need the binding stitched down. Some people stitch "in the ditch" on the front to tack the back of the binding down, but I always take the time to hand stitch it. It takes long: over two hours, but I think it's worth it in the finished product.

I've already started the next finisher up: a quilt top I made over a year ago and left that way. It needs a border, and the sides that hang down sewed. So I've started on that, using my bag of 2" squares cut from leftovers.

Other activities: working on the Rosetta Stone South American Spanish lessons and practicing the violin part for our quartet concert in February.

And HOORAY!!!! today it was finally warm enough to walk again. Well, yesterday was warm enough also, but was the day the country quilting group met (from 9:30 to about 3:30). The forecast for the next week look great! Above average for this time of year.

Friday, January 14, 2011


It's been snowing all day again. There hasn't been this much snow on the ground since we moved here over eleven years ago. Just keeps coming. This is a cedar wrapped for winter and frosted with garlands of the white stuff.

The current temperature is -24º, and the official weather site posts the additional information that this actually feels like -37º. I think we didn't get above -20º for at least a week.

But I am thoroughly enjoying this weather today. It's lovely to have quilting to do, snug and cozy at home on a dark, overcast day.

This morning I spray basted the top half of the quilt I'm making for our youngest grandson. The top was finished in September, but laid aside until now for layering and quilting. I decided to outline quilt each of the rectangles in the sashing with plain black cotton thread. It's basically invisible that way but the quilt is plenty busy as it is. I might do a little outline quilting within the blocks, too.

A CD that S. gave me of violinist David Garrett has been keeping me company while I sew. It was so good I hit the repeat when it finished. Favorites on this disc: Czardas, Air on the G String, and Zorba's Dance. Yes, it's pretty eclectic, all beautifully played.

Since the new year began, I've been in the mood to finish up projects. Need that once in a while! It's always more fun to start something new. So here's a set of placemats that I started as an example of the "Easy Peasy Paper Piecing" that I taught at the town club. The women at the country group also want to learn this. The "easy peasy" part is that you can cut your material to 1 1/4" strips. Most paper piecing has the difficulty of trying to figure out the backwards shape of the pieces. So this is an easy way to learn the method.

The Block of the Month quilt top is finished also, and put aside to be layered and quilted later. When that happens I'll post a picture of the finished project.

Well, the violin CD is finished for the second time. I think I'll put on the music to Schindler's List. Sixteen years ago our daughter-in-law (before she was our daughter-in-law) and son were over for a Christmas visit. She took some hand sewing along, and she and I spent a gloomy winter afternoon all cozy in the sewing room, listening to this music, which she had taken along. I loved it so much that they gave the CD to me. Ever since, a dark afternoon with sewing is the time to listen to it. Fills me with nostalgia.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Soup's On!

We started the day at -10º. By 8 a.m. there were a few, small snowflakes falling along with the temperature. By 10 a.m. the storm arrived in full fury, and it's been basically whiteout conditions since. Currently it's at -16º on our thermometer, but the official website says -12º that with the wind chill feels like -26º. Fortunately, we visited the library yesterday, and Jim got the Globe and Mail early this morning, so we're able to stay indoors, warm and toasty by the fireplace. But a day like this calls for SOUP!!!

One of our favorites is what I call "my kind of minestrone." So I've cooked up a 5 quart
pot of goodness that will warm us through and through. Here's my recipe. It's written on the back of a Christmas card, at least 15 years ago. I like to start with a package of soup mix, and my favorite label is Bear Creek soup mixes. Our local supermarket doesn't stock them anymore, so when I saw some on our holiday I scooped up what was there.

The rest of the recipe is "this and that" whatever you have on hand. Amounts vary, according to what's in the fridge. For instance, this pot has no spinach or fresh green beans. I could add some frozen beans, but chose not to. I take the casing off the sausage and cut it into rounds, which are then halved. The anise seed is in there just to emphasize the flavour of the sausage.
Throw everything in the pot and let it simmer for a few hours. Serve with fresh, homemade bread and a nice cheese (cheddar, maybe).

Here's another recipe that came into play today:
Quickie Cookies:
1 cake mix
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 large eggs
Mix all ingredients and drop by spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in a 350º oven.
If you use a chocolate cake mix, roll the cookies in icing sugar before you bake them.

I used a carrot cake mix and added raisins and chopped pecans. Because the eggs were large (farm-sized large) the dough was too moist, so I added two handfuls of whole wheat flour. I like big cookies, so there were only 15 of them. I dipped the bottom of a glass that had a pretty starburst pattern on it into sugar and flattened each cookie with it. Because of the additions and the size of the cookies, they stayed in the oven for 20 minutes until they looked done.

Jim and I each had two and they were delicious and filling!