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Hello…and a goodbye

It has been awhile, and so many times I’ve thought, “I really should write a blog post.” But my life is so hectic right now–90% good stuff, 10% bad–these unfulfilled impulses only add stress to my life so I think it’s time to close this space down. I’m on Instagram (dmburrell), Facebook, and Ravelry (Mom2O) so if you want to keep in touch, that’s how to find me.

Thank you for reading my blog for the past nine (!) years. I hope you’ll keep in touch. 🙂

2016 Year in Review

According to my Facebook feed, 2016 has been a year that most of my friends are happy to see leave (“goodbye! don’t let the door hit you on the way out!”). Election results, death, humanitarian crises around the world, job loss … the year has certainly packed a few punches.

For me personally, I’ve had worse years although yes, it was a sad year in which I lost a close family friend to cancer. I look back at 2010-2011, a period of two years where we faced a financial crisis, and then on top of that, my own cancer diagnosis and for good measure, a herniated disc. All in all 2016 it has actually been pretty good to our family.

  • My husband found a great job after leaving his consulting position at a startup; he’s happy with the work and the people he works with.
  • Our son entered high school in the fall and is doing well. He’s in honors-level classes and has made first-honors with his grades (first-honors = A average).
  • My mother’s myeloma roared back in the fall, but this was mostly because she wasn’t taking her medication as directed. It was some work for me and my stepfather to get her to become a “compliant patient” (my mom can be “feisty,” lol), but once we got her on a regular routine of taking her meds each day, her myeloma went back into remission. This was HUGE good news because it meant her medical team wouldn’t have to go to plan B, or chemo drugs that I’m not sure her slight frame could bear.
  • While my father and stepmother went through a divorce, they’re still together … which probably makes no sense to anyone except for my family reading this. It’s a long story, but suffice it to say, this is good news. 🙂
  • My dad is heading toward 80, but he’s in fantastic shape and still working.
  • I went into business with my long-time co-author. We haven’t made a ton of money YET, but it has been good for me to have a focus. We released Money Shots in the fall and will be releasing a third edition of The Renegade Writer early in 2017.
  • My sweetie bought me a new car this fall, so we’re back to being a two-car family. This was after being car-less for two years.
  • We spent 10 wonderful days in Germany this summer visiting family.

  • And lastly, we have a new family member to look forward to this spring. I’m not sure how public this news is so I’ll leave it at that. Suffice it to say, I’m very excited about the prospect of baby knitting/sewing. 🙂

My knitting and sewing projects took a hit in 2016, mostly because I was so busy with my new business venture and taking care of my mother in Connecticut. I’m not sure I knit anything that memorable — no sweaters, maybe a half-dozen socks for the sock drawer. For the last few months, I’ve been working on baby knitting, including a large project that I can only work on at home. (I get a lot of my knitting done in the car, in waiting rooms, etc.)

I hope you had many good moments in 2016 that you can reflect on and wish you all the best for a happy and prosperous 2017! Until then …

 

 

Whiskers!

Today was my son’s last day of school before the holiday break so I drove over a little early, figuring it would be nice to sit in the warm car and either read or listen to BBC World Service. (I chose reading … too much upsetting news.) I happened to be sitting in bright sunlight, and with my glasses on checked out my appearance in the rear-view mirror and …

WHISKERS! Actually, more like a mustache…a sparse one, but yikes, those black hairs were scary looking.

When my son got in the car, I asked him how long I’ve been walking around with a mustache. He said he never noticed I had one. So there’s some good news there.

Oh, the joys of being 50! 😉

Merry Christmas, and if I’m not back before then, a Happy New Year, too.

Winter Solstice

The shortest day of the year. When I looked out the window yesterday afternoon at 4:45 p.m. it was completely dark. I don’t like wishing my life away but I do look forward to January and the days getting longer.

I haven’t much to show knitting- or sewing-wise as mostly everything I’m working on is meant for gifting. One of my siblings is going to be a father this spring, so I’ve gone a bit crazy with baby knitting. Although I learned to knit as a child, I didn’t get back into it until my son was well into elementary school, so I missed out on knitting for my own baby. It is very exciting because this will be my first niece or nephew from my side of the family. (No word if baby is a girl or a boy. My feeling is boy. The Burrell family is male-dominated.)

The expectant mom is a knitter and wants me to show her some tricks. She calls herself a “basic” knitter, which is how I think of myself. I’m not very clever, just good at following directions and patient when things go wrong … and they do, all the time. Take for example one of the huge baby projects I’m working on… Only this morning I realized I had one fewer stitch I needed in a critical row, which means tinking back three long rows of lace to fix a missing yarnover. It annoyed me so that I put aside the project aside; I’ll return to it when I’ve cooled off and can face the task without any emotion. As I told my sister-in-law several weeks ago, I think the sign of knitting competence is not in the fancy stuff you can do, but in being able to look at your work, see where it’s gone south, and know exactly what you’ll have to do to get it back on the path. Getting back to that point is often a boatload of work (to mix metaphors), so extra points there. 🙂

And Christmas is almost here! It feels like it snuck up on me this year. We elected not to put up a tree. I would have done it if O insisted upon it, but he’s never been that affected by holiday spirit, so we’re going to put a few bulbs on our potted Norfolk pine and call it a day. Our cat Winston is a climber. Last year he knocked our tree over so many times it was more of a hassle than it was worth. Live and learn!

We spent Thanksgiving in Florida this year. My mother-in-law’s extended family built an amazing outdoor pavilion on their property so they had a family reunion of sorts. It was an interesting experience eating Thanksgiving dinner outdoors in 70 degree weather! On top of that, the food was definitely “southern style,” which interested me greatly as a food writer. For example, there were no vegetables that were cooked on their own. In other parts of the country, I think it would be common to have side dishes of plain green beans, mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and/or winter squashes, but with this Southern-style Thanksgiving, the vegetables were cooked into casseroles with a lot of added ingredients. Again, it was interesting to experience a different regional style of celebration. 🙂

OK, so the photo above. That happened Sunday afternoon, right after my husband and I returned from grocery shopping. I had just settled down with a cup of tea at the dining room table when I heard a loud crack. I looked out the window, saw pine boughs falling to the pavement, heard more cracks, and then I jumped up and ran to the other side of the house because I could tell the tree was coming down. What a noise! It ripped out the power lines, caused some significant damage to our neighbor’s home, and shut down the street for hours. We are very lucky no one was hurt, and we had power back by 9:30 p.m. (Actually earlier for us … my husband had the foresight several years ago to buy a backup generator after we lost power for a week at our old house.) This has been the third or fourth tree to come down sort of close to where I’m sitting. Yikes! Think someone’s trying to tell me something?

Cranking it out

Yesterday (Friday) was mostly spent working like a dog on Money Shots: doing some last-minute research at the grocery store (oops, forgot to talk about all those new refrigerated coffees and how you can save $ with them), editing recipes, adding to the text portion of the book, assigning ISBNs through Bowker. I love this stage of book-writing–the end is nigh and the incoherence has been beaten and massaged into paragraphs that make sense.

Updated author photo; forgive the war paint

Updated author photo; forgive the war paint

What is really enjoyable is having all my fingers in the pie, not just the writing one. I suspect I’m more of a manager than an artist at heart; maybe a manager with artistic sensibilities. Whenever I take those left brain/right brain quizzes, I fall in the middle somewhere, maybe a little bit more to the left on one day, more to the right on the next. I’m not one of those writers who throws up her hands at the prospect of doing some math, figuring out a bit of geometry, or working on some website coding that’s gone wonky.

Anyway, yesterday was a productive, satisfying day that left me feeling like, “Ok, I’ve accomplished something here.” Writing isn’t particularly hard for me as much as it’s tedious and slow business. So I’m going to enjoy the weekend and finish my new denim skirt, which only needs to be hemmed. “Only” is misleading here; it’s a button-up skirt with a facing and I can’t quite figure out from the directions what I’m supposed to do with that flap of fabric, but I’ll figure it out after a few more cups of coffee. Then, since it’s a bit overcast today, it feels like a good day for a leisurely bike ride, maybe as far as Cambridge with some knitting packed into my bike kit. (It’s surprisingly pleasurable to pull over in a scenic spot to work a few rows of garter stitch!) I don’t want to save it till tomorrow because we’re supposed to get some stormy weather. Maybe dinner out tonight with the husband … yes, sounds like a good day.

Speaking of which, here’s what a good man I have. Recently, packages have been arriving in the mail addressed to him, which I don’t open. That was a cardinal rule in our home growing up, you never open someone else’s mail, so I don’t do it even if I know what’s inside is for the house or something he’s ordered for me. So when he comes home, he opens these packages and leaves the contents on my work table. To wit:

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This was everything from the last week. He had overheard me mumble something about not having good marking tools for the dark fabric I was using as a mockup, so he took it and ran with it. {{{}}} Of course, we have an unwritten agreement that whenever he needs something sewn, whether it’s bathing trunks, a wallet prototype, or a pair of pants that need rehemming, that I’ll do the work. But really, I think it’s time for me to get going on the tailored dress shirt I promised him for a birthday present something like five years ago. :-/

Fall is (almost) here

For once, I’m happy that September has been ushered in the door. Summer here in eastern Massachusetts has been hot and dry; our county is under a severe drought, my vegetable garden didn’t survive past the end of the July (the deer also helped), and because I’m a woman of a certain age going through some hormonal changes, the heat makes it hard for me to get comfortable. So autumn, let’s get it on!


I can always tell fall is in the air because the knitting projects I mostly ignore during the summer start calling to me from their dusty project bags … like the wine-colored mohair cardigan I intended to wear for a Christmas 2015 party:

I’ve knitted the back, which you see above, as well as the two sleeves. When I knit sweaters, I always knit the sleeves first just to avoid the whole “Second Sleeve Syndrome” thing that often happens … you get done with one sleeve and think, “Oh God, another?” then never finish the darn thing. Here, what happened is that I didn’t take great notes when I was knitting the back, so when I started to knit the two fronts, instructions like, “decrease on the same row as you did on the back.” Had I kept notes, I’d know what that row is. But I didn’t, so in a fit of pique I threw the sweater aside and went on to knit something else, probably a hat … or ten. 😉 And I would rip the back out and start over again — I’m the kind of knitter who doesn’t mind taking something completely apart to get it right, even if it means I “wasted” days knitting it the first time ’round — but this is silk mohair, and you knitters know it’s sheer hell to tink back a row, never mind rip back a whole sweater knit in mohair! 

So … the plan now is to use a measuring tape and measure the best I can where I should start decreasing for the armholes and neck holes. And take good notes so I have them for the other front side of the cardigan. I was being a big baby about it, but it’s time to move forward and get this lovely sweater finished. BTW, it’s an Erika Knight design — I knit one in gray a few years ago and it’s one of my favorite pieces. I’m going to knit another in an icy blue, maybe with some silver thread shot through the ribbing.

I’ve always got a pair of socks going, of course, to get me through appointments, waiting rooms, and sitting in the car waiting for my son to appear. Speaking of my son … it was his first day of high school this week. Late Monday night when my husband and I were talking in bed, I started to cry because it hit me that in four years he’ll be off to college. “He’ll be an adult!” I sniffed, and my husband said, “No, he’ll be an adult in three years, two months.” Geez, honey, thanks! 😉 Anyway, Oliver wasn’t too excited starting school again, but he did say he liked his math, history, Latin, and digital art classes.

The publishing company we started at the beginning of the year (“we” being my long-time co-author and business partner Linda) is going well, and in October we’re releasing another title called Money Shots: How to Save Cash on Your Coffee Habit—While Still Feeling Full & Satisfied. Linda did the lion’s share of the writing, while I’ve been handling the recipe development. By tomorrow I should be finished with the last of the recipes. I’ve been on a perpetual caffeine high for the last six weeks. In some ways it has been good because it has me buzzing around here making lists and plans and actually executing some of those plans! On the other hand, my adrenal system feels shot so I’ve been taking long walks to calm the jitters.

Research for our next book!

Let’s see, what else? I’m planning a short trip to North Carolina next month to meet with Linda. I was hoping to make a stop in NYC to do a little shopping in the Garment District, but the truth is, my fabric stash is overtaking my studio and I have too many sewing projects already in the queue. When I’m faced with too many possibilities, I stall and get nothing done so the smart choice is save NYC for when I really need something. My brother is coming up this weekend to go hiking with my son; it’s always nice to spend time with my brothers. 🙂

Hope you’re enjoying the cooler weather wherever you are. 🙂

A trip to Germany

We just got back from a family holiday in Germany, spending time with my husband’s family in Munich. We were gone ten days, which was a good length of time, and we were blessed with fabulous weather, good meals, and some precious visits with aunts, uncles, and cousins. My brother Kevin and his wife Jenny joined us for part of their two-week European jaunt, which made our trip extra fun.

Some highlights:

Schloss Nyphenburg in Munich

Schloss Nymphenburg in Munich

Oliver at Documentation Center in Nuremberg

 

Yarn at the local grocery store in Seefeld

Yarn at the local grocery store in Seefeld

 

My boys at Andechs Monastery 2007 vs. 2016

My boys at Andechs Monastery 2007 vs. 2016

Apres lunch with family, Andechs Monastery

 

Steckerlfisch, a biergarten delight

Steckerlfisch, a biergarten delight

It was a quiet visit, since we were mostly there to visit family rather than do tourist-y things, although as you can see from the photos, we managed to squeeze in a few museums and castles. I also did a bit of yarn shopping, which I’ll talk about in another post.

You’ll notice that I made a switch from WordPress to Blogger. I was spending more than I wanted through my hosting company, and when they wouldn’t negotiate a lower price with me, I decided to move my sites. Since Hail Britannia is a hobby blog for me, I thought Blogger would be a good platform. I was able to transfer most of my old blog posts over, but it will take some time for me to replace the photos that didn’t make the transfer.

Sewing projects for May

I completed two sewing projects this month, not bad in that it was a super busy month around here.

First up is McCalls 6886, which has been a popular pattern with sewing bloggers over the last few months. It was a fairly straightforward project with the only challenge being keeping those stripes lined up at the seams, which I managed to do fairly well. The only thing I changed about the pattern was binding the neckline with a strip of fabric cut on the cross-grain. I left one shoulder unsewn before I did the binding so I could seam everything up neatly once the binding was attached. I adore hot pink and bright orange together. When I spotted this fabric in the bargain bin at my local Joann’s, I bought all they had left. I still have enough left over for a t-shirt.

This is a size 14 at the shoulders/bust, and I graded out to a 16 at the waist and hips. This would have been fine in a heavier ponte knit, but I used a thin pique knit that shows every lump and bump underneath. That said, I’m planning to bring this dress on our trip to Europe later this summer when I’ll be at my slimmest/fittest, so I’m not too worried about it. Also: Spanx. 😉

McCalls 6886

 

 

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Next up for your viewing pleasure is yet another tailored shirt, this one made out of some of-so-soft fine-wale cotton corduroy I had in my stash. The pattern is also McCalls (M6649, a Laura Ashley design now OOP) that was part of the Craftsy class called One Pattern, Many Looks. Again, I cut out a size 14 for the shoulders/bust and graded out to a 16 around the waist/hips. This pattern includes separate pieces for B/C/D cup sizes, so I chose the C cup. 

The pattern directions were not the best on this pattern, but it really wasn’t an issue for me because I’ve developed my own “order of construction” based on Pam Howard’s excellent Craftsy class on sewing tailored shirts. I also recently purchased David P. Coffin’s class on shirtmaking details and picked up a couple neat tricks for turning collars and cuffs.

I had always wondered how my grandmother’s hemostats (she was an RN) ended up in the sewing box I inherited from her. Then I saw Coffin’s trick of using them to fold and hold the seam allowances while turning a collar or cuffs. Absolutely brilliant! I’ve never had sharper points on my collars and cuffs until now. I wonder if this was a trick my grandmother knew, although she was more of a knitter than a sewist.

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I’m pretty happy with the shirt. The darts in the front and the back flatter my figure, and the fit in the shoulders is spot-on. The only thing that was surprising was seeing how the C-cup barely contained my bust. The buttons aren’t straining or anything like that, but the fabric is a bit too form-fitting for my tastes. Next time I’ll use the D-cup piece to give myself more room in this area.

Speaking of buttons, I chose snaps for this garment. I wanted a more casual look with this garment, and I think the pearl snaps help.

I’ll probably pack this shirt away for the fall.

McCalls 6649

McCalls 6649

I picked up my 2nd Kelly sweater after a long hiatus and it’s coming along nicely. I’m still surprised how much I enjoy knitting with two strands of mohair and silk! You’d think it would be fussy and a pain, but it’s actually not much of a bother at all. Plus all the fluff hides wonky stitches and it looks beautiful on the needles. I’ve finished the sleeves (I always knit sleeves first) and am nearly done with armhole shaping on the back piece. Then all that’s left are the front pieces plus the finishing details … I’m hoping to have this done by July. I started this sweater around the same time last year, planning to have it finished for Christmas 2015. So it goes.

Blogging has definitely taken a back seat lately. Our trip to Europe this summer is taking a lot of coordination as we’ll be traveling with my brother and his wife and visiting with my husband’s family in various locales. Then my husband is starting a new job in Boston in a couple weeks. Last week we were out to dinner and he mentioned he was thinking about getting some shirts custom made. “I hope you’re thinking made by your wife,” I said. So yeah, that’s on the plate now, along with the sun-blocking drapes I need to make for our bedroom and the clothes I want to make for our travels this summer. My son is now as tall as I am and eats constantly; there are days where I feel like I’m a short-order cook at Denny’s flipping burgers, pouring waffle batter, or kneading bread dough. (Wait, I don’t think they knead dough at Denny’s, but never mind.)

I’ve been hearing a lot of “blogging is dead.” I have to admit, I think about shutting Hail Britannia down, but something stops me. I guess it’s that I’ve been doing this since 2008 and that I do it for my own amusement … there’s no rule that says I have to blog every day or every week. It’s okay if I take a break. Still, these days I’m much more apt to post something on Instagram because I can do it in a minute versus this. THIS, what I just wrote, took me over an hour because my computer is crap and it struggles with cutting and pasting links to my Flickr photos. I feel like I have to carve out an hour or two from my schedule to blog, whereas Instagram takes me seconds.

I don’t know … guess I’m rambling here. At any rate, I’m still here and have plans to write more about what I’m making and doing. I hope you’ll still be around too. But if you want more frequent updates, or are curious whether or not I’m still living and breathing, Instagram is probably the best place to check. 🙂

Hope you’re enjoying this glorious spring!

Kwik Sew K4032 fleece jacket

 

First, a very happy 90th birthday to HM The Queen. I love the portraits that Annie Leibowitz captured of her with her family, especially the one with Princess Anne. Just lovely!

Yet another sewing project, Kwik Sew 4032, view B. I’m not sure what possessed me to attempt sewing a zippered fleece jacket as good quality ones are fairly priced around here. I think it had something to do with making my son a blanket out of the gray fleece, which was surprisingly good quality–despite it coming from Joann Fabrics of all places–and wondering how it would look with my favorite spring green color. Thus, a fleece jacket was born.

I had nothing but trouble with this project from the beginning, mostly operator error, although for the first time I was baffled by Kwik Sew’s instructions i.e. why was I instructed to cut out three pockets instead of the two I needed? and some confusing graphics. The parts I thought would be bearish — the collar, zipper, and topstitching — ended up turning out okay, while other parts — those darn zippered pockets! the hems! — had me with a seam ripper in hand for hours. Do I need to point out how difficult it is to rip out stitches in fleece, especially stretch/zig-zag?

Despite all the challenges I had here, it turned out well enough to wear on a brisk hike or an early morning bike ride. It is cozy warm and I like how it can be zippered up around my neck to block out wind. My husband gave me the highest compliment by saying it looked store-bought. Before he could ask me to make him one, I said I was retiring from the fleece garment making business. If I sew fleece again, it will be to make blankets, or maybe a simple ski hat or mittens.

Another caution: this is a unisex pattern but duh! I forgot and cut out a size medium. It is HUGE on me. I shortened the sleeve by a good inch on the pattern but still had to take another couple inches off while sewing. I don’t mind the extra room around the shoulders and middle as I like room to layer … just a word of warning if you’re looking for a snugger fit.

We’re off to Connecticut today to spend some time with my family. Have a good weekend!

 

 

Kwik Sew 3614 shorts … and September!



Way back in July I noticed a dearth of shorts in my wardrobe. I’m not a big fan of shorts … specifically, I’m not a big fan of how shorts look on me. Mostly because I don’t tan at all and my white legs scare people, but also because I don’t like wearing anything higher than just above my knee. Since I have a spiffy new sewing machine, I decided to make some shorts that met my requirements and I feel comfortable wearing on the hotter days of summer.

Enter Kwik Sew 3614, a pattern I first read about on Sewn. Elizabeth had mentioned how members of Pattern Review raved about the fly construction instruction on these shorts, and after making a couple pairs, I have to agree — fly fronts can be tricky, but it’s smooth sailing with this pattern.

My first pair was constructed out of lavender-colored cotton twill I purchased a few years ago from Fabric Place. I traced and cut a size L and followed the directions for view A (the longest version) exactly, making no modifications. The shorts came out well and I’ve worn them a lot this summer. My only dislikes were having hook and eye closures on the closure tab. I decided with my next pair I’d use a button and buttonhole.

My second pair are the ones I’m wearing in the photos above. I can’t remember where I got the fabric, a navy blue cotton twill … either Joann’s or Sewfisticated Fabrics in Framingham. The button/buttonhole closure works much better. For future shorts I plan to use a contrasting facing on the waistband, as well as softer pocket fabric. I used matching twill to make pockets for both pairs of shorts. They’re fine, but maybe a little bulkier than I’d like.

This is a great pattern and I will definitely get my money’s worth from it as I have plans for olive, white, and red shorts for next summer.

Since I took a bit of a blog break for the last six weeks, here’s what else is going on. My mother and I took a week-long trip to central Maine in August and had a wonderful time. I didn’t take any pictures (bah!) except for a shot of my yarn haul from Halcyon Yarn in Bath.  I’ll do a run down of what I purchased in a separate post.

I’ve been a bit down because my father and stepmother are going through a painful divorce. It’s not a bitter one, just very sad because of the circumstances. I’m hoping that once the smoke clears, things will get better.

Then my husband’s car died. We were down to one car for the last few years, so it has been necessary to do some car shopping. It looks like I’ll be getting a new VW Jetta by the end of the week. It’s funny because VW was not on my “car-buying radar” until I rented one a couple weeks ago and fell in love. Even better, my son loves it and my husband, while not a fan of practical four-door sedans, admits that it’s a smooth, responsive ride.

And oh, that cat you see above? That’s Winston. I’l write more about him in another post, but we decided after a year of having no cats it was time to welcome a new cat into our home … and hearts. We adore Winston … he is a sweet, lovable, friendly guy. And even better,  he doesn’t chase my yarn.

What have you been up to this summer? Are you glad it’s September?