Sunday, 23 July 2017

The purloined letter

The big exciting news that I thought I would be sharing with you in this post was going to be a picture of my machine quilting frame assembled for the first time in four years.  However, due to stupidity that has not happened yet.

I did try.  I unearthed my binder of instructions and started reading through it on a couple of my journeys to work. Then Tuesday night I asked the DH and DS to carry up the heavier boxes of components and the long box containing the poles.  I scrabbled around my sewing room trying to remember all the hidey holes where I had stashed the various bits. There was a bad ten minutes where I just couldn't find all the long table supports until I remembered a cranny behind my fabric shelves tucked in beside a bookcase. Wednesday night DH nobly volunteered to help me put it together.  By then I had realised the plastic tracks that carried the carriage were missing, but I thought I had everything else.  Following the instructions, we put together the end leg assemblies and then we were ready for the frame ends.  Only, they weren't there.  They weren't in any of the boxes or bags.  A long depressing search  ensued.  I went through the sewing room multiple times, we excavated the junk room in a hot and sweaty search involving much banging of my head on the low slanted ceiling - which did produce the plastic tracks stowed away in our plasma TV screen box - but no sign of the frame ends anywhere. I  trawled through every other room where they might be, but no sign of them.  As these are the main supports for holding up the poles that support the quilt, they are absolutely essential.

The only thing I could think was that somehow, somewhere, during one of our multiple moves three and a half years ago in and out of self storage, the removal company's storage, and the trip up to our new town, they went missing.  I even contacted customer service at the Grace Company in America to ask if they by any chance have two frame ends for a Next Generation quilting frame tucked away on a back shelf, and they said they would look.

Here comes the stupidity part.  I had snapped a photo early in the process of all the components on the floor of the dining room, for the blog.  It was only when I was loading the picture into this post, in preparation for a good moan about missing parts, that I spotted in the picture the metal bits to the left of the box of poles.  Yes, those are the missing frame ends. Mystified, I went back to the dining room and moved the box of poles, and there were the frame ends underneath it!  So the missing parts had been in the dining room during all the hours of searching.  We had looked in the box of poles a couple of times, but never thought of looking underneath it. Duh. Now I have to email Grace again and call them off. (smacks head several times).  At least we can finish putting the frame together.

The rest of the week I have been doing a lot of bobbin lace. I had signed up for one day of a local Bucks Point lace course tutored by Jackie Poulter, who turned out to be an energetic and excellent teacher.  I wanted to have a decent amount of my edging done to show her when I got to class, so I spent some hours this week pushing on with it. The class itself was very good and I learned a lot, but I was absolutely exhausted by the end of it.  I'm not used to making lace so intensively for a whole day, plus I felt pressured to get to a certain point with the pattern so that Jackie could show me how to turn the corner.  I'm also finding doing this pattern is making my eyes very tired and I'm not sure if it's because my prescription has changed or if the focal length between my eyes and this large 24" pillow is a challenge to my bi-focals. Anyway, I got on well and enjoyed seeing what everyone else was doing.  This is what it looks like so far. It's quite a pretty pattern.  I hope it isn't too many years before I finish it and have a completed mat!  But this segment, which is perhaps three inches long, has taken perhaps 18-20 hours so far.

Even the sewing this week has been about lace.  I made a large round cover cloth for the 24" pillow I am using, the cover that I am holding open in the picture above to reveal the lace.  The cover cloth protects the pillow surface from the movement of the bobbins and from getting dirty.  I also sewed a large bag to hold the 24" pillow because it was too big to fit into the bag I made in the spring to hold my smaller cookie pillows.

After making the 1930s decorative paper last week for the hairdressing salon, I was having a look at it on Thursday.  It's in pretty rough shape.  Eileen was only partway through it and then it suffered neglect while she was ill then got tossed about on its journey to my house.  I've decided to glue the front on and cover the top of the salon with plexiglass to let the light in. So after taking these pictures, I glued and clamped the front onto the three sided room box.

And that's about it this week. I'm still crocheting around knitted GAA squares, and have done about five repeats on the Debbie Bliss cotton denim cowl during commuter knitting.

Sunday, 16 July 2017


The first part of this week was spent regrouping after the holiday and the in-laws visiting: laundry, unpacking, retrieving all the clutter from the hidey-holes where I had concealed it, hacking back the garden, unpacking DS and getting him back into his room (which doubles as the guest room), moving furniture back into the proper rooms etc.  So not a lot of energy for anything major craftwise.

I did block the Rose Window hat and it is now finished and handed over to DH. It fits fine and he quite likes it. I haven't wound the skein of yarn yet into a cake for the second hat for me.

I've started the Ciao! cowl by Gretha Oceann using the Debbie Bliss Cotton Denim I bought on the Isle of Wight.  I will knit roughly one-third in each of the three denim tones I bought.

TV knitting has mostly been crocheting around the 20 squares of the GAA Afghan. I've done about half so far.  It is slow going as it involves lots of counting (something I'm not good at) to check I'm getting the right number of stitches on each side. Hopefully this is all going to pay off with an easy seaming job at the end. Then there is a knitted edging to make.

This is the sewing-themed wall clock I bought on our holiday. It's just a budget clock with a machine embroidered fabric circle inserted.

I didn't like the black frame so I took the clock apart and sprayed the plastic base with primer and then a nice blue colour.  It looked really good so I glued the embroidery back in and added a few buttons as an extra touch. The final step after adding the clock, or so I thought, was to click the plastic face back into the frame and I would be done.  However, I hadn't reckoned with the very tight fit of the plastic face.  It basically scraped the blue paint off the frame in several places around the inside rim of the clock. As well as being unsightly and filling the clock interior with shavings, through some quirk of physics many of the shavings were attracted by static electricity to the inside of the clear cover and almost welded themselves to the plastic.

I glued a ribbon around the inside of the clear cover to hide some of the damage, then a farcical 20 minutes ensued where I would (*) brush out the shavings and try to un-static the shavings sticking to the inside of the clear cover, then try ever so carefully to slide the cover on without scraping, but without success then have to take the cover off again (*).  Repeat the directions from * to * approximately 10 times. Eventually everything that was going to scrape off had done so, and I was able to get the now rather beaten up cover on with just one paint crumb sticking to the inside which I have decided to ignore.  I then had to touch up the frame a bit where it had become damaged. I've hung it on the wall and called it done.  It looks fine as long as you don't look too closely, lol.

As I said earlier, I've hacked the garden back a bit this week, cutting back things that had finished like the geraniums and campanula.  We had decided some time ago that our attempt at growing a box hedge around our central feature had not worked. I think it's just too dry and exposed there, and the Japanese Ilex I had planted was not growing at all.  I'd been thinking about replacing it with a lavender hedge when fortuitously Aldi (a budget supermarket) brought in a bunch of good-sized lavender pots at only £2.49 each.  So I bought 15 of those, potted up all the Ilex in case we can use it somewhere else, and planted the lavenders instead.  It instantly looks much better and hopefully they will thrive there.  I don't know what variety they are as it doesn't say on the label, some lavenders don't like exposed sites. It will probably be alright for the summer, it's the winter that might do for it, but the price was cheap enough that I am prepared to take a punt on it. As you can see, our lawn has suffered in the hot weather.

On the sewing front, I've trimmed all the blocks for my 25 block applique quilt to size and have sewn them into five rows so far.  On my lace, I finished winding all my bobbins and have finally started my Bucks Point hexagonal edging.  This is a picture of what I'm making. It's a mat designed to have fabric inserted in the centre.

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It's the biggest project I've tried so far, and I will probably be working on it for quite some time.  I've successfully started (after one early false start) and have all 42 pairs of bobbins in play now - so far it's going ok.  I'm going to take a day course soon on Bucks Point, and this will be the project I take with me, hopefully the teacher will approve of what I've done so far.

I haven't done any dollshousing this week but I've started to think about one of my remaining UFOs which is a model of a 1930s hairdressing salon. I inherited the project from my older friend Eileen who has since passed, it recreates her father's salon where she also worked.  She talked me through what her plans had been for it so I have something to go on.  Today I was working on creating some decorative paper to cover the plain wood on the outside of the room box.  I scanned in advertisements from some genuine 1930s needlework magazines that I own, then cropped them and collaged the ads together to fill an A3 sheet which I can get printed. I think it will look cool and in keeping with the theme of the box.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

And it's finally happened

Regular readers will know that I've been preparing for several months for a visit by my dollshouse club to view my houses.  Having a deadline has been a driver to complete many long-outstanding projects as well as putting right niggling issues with older houses.  The last few weeks I've been preparing signage for the houses and for our house to direct people towards toilets/garden/ downstairs room etc, not to mention doing an unaccustomed amount of housework.

And today it finally happened.  I imported my in-laws to handle the catering side of things, and my m-i-l made three cakes and two kinds of scones in preparation for visitors.  DS was on go-fer duty and bussing tables, while DH was co-host and also helping get people up and down the basement stairs.

I set up the back opening houses in the dining room for easier 360-degree viewing, and added a few small tables for teas.

I re-arranged the main dollshouse room so that everything could be seen clearly and had its write-up nearby.

As recently as last month's meeting, it wasn't at all clear how many people were coming so we didn't know whether to expect 6 or 20.  We prepared for 20 and just prayed that somebody would come. We were joking that if it were only a few people then we would have to hold them hostage until they ate several pieces of cake each.  But to my relief we did eventually have 12 people in total turn up.  They all had a really good look at both displays and were very complimentary. In fact they have now asked me to give a talk on next year's programme about how I got into dollshousing and about some of the projects I have completed!  Then most people repaired out to the garden for refreshments although a few people preferred to stay inside in the dining room.

I alternated between visiting all the groups and chatting and answering questions, while the in-laws took care of top-ups and the catering side.  It was a very jolly group and they stayed for a few hours enjoying the sunshine in the garden.  I hadn't asked for anything for hosting but they very kindly had a whip round for charity and raised an impressive £50 which I have donated to MacMillan Cancer Support.

And now it's over.  It feels funny when something you have been preparing for over a long period is suddenly over.  Now I have no excuse not to tackle things like getting my quilt frame out or starting one of the many dollshouse kits awaiting my attention.


We were actually away the past five days on a short break to the Isle of Wight. Although I had booked for three, in the end DS had to go back to Oxford to defend his thesis so it was just the two of us.  We had a lovely time, we were very lucky with the weather and the cottage I had rented turned out to be very comfortable.  We used to go to the island regularly when DS was small, so 15 or so years ago, but hadn't been for a long time.  It was really nice to be back, and we had fun visiting our old haunts such as the fabulous Mother Goose bookstore in St Helens, and the lovely Shanklin Chine and the beach below it, and the beach at St Helens where we used to camp many years ago.  I managed to fit in a visit to Strictly Knitting in Shanklin which is a very nice knitting store.  I bought three colours of Debbie Bliss Cotton Denim DK to knit a cowl, and some Araucania Botany Lace to knit another Rose Window hat.  I also visited the Hellerslea Fabric Store in Newport, which was a good size with a wide range of haberdashery, quilting and home dec fabric but I didn't buy anything there.

I took along the Rose Window Hat as a project and finished it on the drive home, it's blocking right now.  I also took my ancient cross stitch project and did a few square inches, as well as my GAA Afghan Squares  to crochet around in preparation for joining.  And my Victorian Lace Today shawl which I managed to finish the main section and cast off in preparation for the knit-on border.  So yes, about half the car was taken up with my craft projects.  At the book stores I found a secondhand copy of Christine Springett's Lace for Children of all Ages, and a lovely cross-stitch book in French with very attractive designs featuring houses.  We visited several art and craft shops so I also managed to bring home a sewing-themed clock, some art glass, a hanging teacup for the garden summerhouse, some LED garden lights, biscuits for work colleagues, and quite a few books.  It was a job to fit the in-laws' luggage into the car when we collected them on the way home!  It was a nice break, and felt much longer than it was.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Boo housework

Not much to talk about this week as I've spent a lot of time hacking the house and garden into shape ready for the in-laws to visit and the dollshouse club outing. The downside of not doing much housework the rest of the time is it takes a while to get things into shape.

I've done a few more inches on the Rose Window hat and am now decreasing for the crown.  I'm also on the final garter stitch border of the main section of my Victorian lace shawl so will be moving on to the knit on border soon. I've also started experimenting with crocheting a chain around each of my 20 blocks for the GAA Afghan, trying to achieve the same number of crochet stitches on each side no matter what size the block is. The theory is that this will make it easier and neater to sew together.

On the quilting front, I cut the white binding strips for my Bear's Paw quilt then moved on to ironing all 25 blocks of my 25 block applique quilt.  I measured them all to make sure I can trim them to 17", a few are going to be a bit scant but the majority are fine.  I've started the trimming now, my heart a bit in my mouth as I try not to make an irreparable mistake.

I finished pricking the pattern for my Bucks Point hexagonal edging at long last.

I'm still winding bobbins, I need 39 pairs (78 bobbins) wound fairly full, so it is taking quite a while.  I think I have about 28 pairs wound so far.

And that's about it this week. At least the house is looking nice now.  I happened to look out the window while carting stuff around and spotted the cat somehow on top of our pergola.  I think she climbed up the rose arch then jumped across.

Speaking of spotting wildlife, I saw a river otter on the way to work this week.  It was raining steadily and I was walking through a park near a river, when suddenly the otter emerged from a bush and crossed the path about 10 feet in front of me.  It was huge, like a ferret on steroids, and had an odd conical tail.  It was probably at least 2.5 feet long. It didn't look at me, just trotted across the path then slipped into the river and disappeared.  I didn't have time to take a photo so here is a picture from Google.

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We've been getting ready for our plumber/builder to start the installation of the shower at long last in our main bathroom in a couple of weeks. Only now he's not coming, he emailed last week to say that his previous jobs have run over and now he won't have time because he's going on holiday in August. I'm feeling like I can't give my money away when it comes to this shower, we've been trying to get someone for three years now, we keep waiting months and they keep letting us down.  I emailed him back to see if he could start in September instead and he hasn't answered yet. So infuriating.  We've now got someone lined up to install the patio underneath the pergola, he reckons he will get it done in the next month in between bigger jobs but it remains to be seen.  It would be nice because then we could get the plants in and actually use the pergola while it's still summer.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Cool breezes

The heatwave is over, for now, and we are back to overcast cooler weather which is currently spitting rain. Hurrah, and long may it continue. We had a very pleasant visit today to some open gardens in Weedon Lois and Weston, which felt lush and green as opposed to arid and baked like the gardens we went to last weekend. We quite enjoy poking around other people's gardens in pretty villages which are open for charity under the National Gardens Scheme, especially when they include very posh places or in today's case, the lovely country mansion of a genuine Lady. And there is usually tea and cake on offer somewhere, today it was in a pretty little Baptist chapel. It's also a way to get ideas for our own garden - we were lusting after a pretty little pond today with surrounding planting.

On the way there I was knitting on my Rose Window hat , which is a free pattern on  I couldn't get the yarn they used here in the UK so I am using an Opal sock yarn (Fresh & Juicy 9365) with a black Cascade 220 fingering (which feels thin and I don't really like it).  The colours are coming out more citrusy than I would like, but DH is expressing interest so it may end up being for him. Luckily I have a big head so it will likely fit him as well. It's quite fun seeing the colourway unfolding and of course comes out differently on a hat circumference rather than a sock.

When we went to the boot sale last week I picked up a little shelf quite cheaply.

I gave it a lick of paint and inserted a backdrop of a picture of patchwork cut from a magazine cover.  This is going to be a little display shelf to house the needlework tools that have been passed on to me by older stitching friends who have passed or who are destashing.  I've cut a little piece of plexiglass to go on the front when I've stocked the shelves.

I've spent some time this week working on preparations for my next Bucks Point lace project.  I bought a pricking for a hexagonal edging from Irene Tomlinson of Shireburn Lace but to make it useable I have to prick every single hole first and there are hundreds ( possibly thousands).  So there are a few hours into it already this week carefully pricking each hole using a needle held in a pin vice and a magnifying visor for accuracy, and I am just over halfway.  I also need to wind 39 pairs of bobbins very full, which will also take quite a while.  I think this is one of the reasons I prefer knitting, you just pull out some yarn from the ball and cast on and you are away.

On the sewing front, I finally got my ancient Indigo Bear's Paw quilt to the top stage.  It's come out bigger than I thought, a generous double and I think could even be used on a queen size bed.

There was a bit of a debacle with one of the side white borders and I'm currently feeling not very happy with the whole quilt due to some puckers and distortion that still remain despite much remedial action. What happened was that I cut the final borders to size and pinned on the first one. I was aware that the multiple sawtooth patches were a bit fluttery even though they are on the straight of grain, but I foolishly thought my feed dogs would ease any excess in.  What actually happened on the first border was that the feed dogs stretched the patches and made even more excess, and no matter how much I tried re-sewing the worst segments, I couldn't ease it all in.  I had to unpick the whole border, which stressed the fabric even more and caused many of the sawtooth seams to start coming apart plus the white fabric started fraying as it is not a very close weave.  So I had to resew a lot of those seams, and then re-pin the border doing what I should have done in the first place:  smooth and pin the outer white border to the inner white border as they are both straight/flat, then pin in the fluttering saw tooths with a multitude of pins in the same way that you would ease in a sleeve cap in dressmaking.  This subsequently worked well on the other three borders, but by this time the first border was so abused and stretched that I still had to take in some of the sawtooth seams to reduce the excess and there are still some small pleats. And this is all before even worrying about whether or not I was chopping points off the indigo triangles.  Nightmare.  It looks good from a distance  :(   It's probably one of those things that I will forget over time and in a few years I will be happy again. Before I put it away, I need to cut some binding strips and decide whether to bind it in blue or in white.  I think probably in white because the indigo African fabric is fairly coarse and I would have to piece many short pieces to get enough length for binding so I think it would be difficult to achieve a smooth result.

Monday, 19 June 2017

I'm melting...

...and not from a bucket of water either - the UK is in the middle of a heatwave. It's been in the low 30s since Friday (around 90 degrees F) and very sunny. I can't cope with heat at all, so I am feeling  stressed and uncomfortable.  My part of the office is not air conditioned either so it was not fun today at work. And I haven't been sleeping well  even with a fan going.  At least with this old house, there are some rooms that stay cool (unlike our previous super-insulated new build which turned into an oven) so I may camp in one of the downstairs rooms until the weather breaks. My sewing room isn't too bad either so I've put in some hours working down there over the weekend. Apparently we are going to have an unusually hot summer which I feel depressed about but I expect some people are skipping around with glee at the prospect of a 'real' summer.

Last weekend I made another Pumpkin Basket, this one in Japanese fabrics as a gift for my m-i-l for her birthday in the autumn.

Then I made one more so that I could use the Tilly brooches I made a few weeks ago.  This is still the Pumpkin Basket pattern but I omitted the darts in the top to make it more of a bucket shape.

After the basket production line was tidied away, I got out my Indigo Bear's Paw UFO quilt.  According to the date on the project bag, I started this in 1998 so it's coming up to its 20th anniversary which apparently is either China or Platinum, lol.  After doing some arithmetic (shudder) and a fair bit of measuring, I added inner spacer borders then applied the sawtooth edging (in progress picture).  So now I just need to sew on the plain white outer borders and it's ready to join the waiting-for-quilting queue. I love this crisp white and blue. But I would like to quilt it with a hanging diamond grid which I can't do on my home machine frame, so it would have to be a walking foot job which will just be incredibly tedious to execute.

This week I also finished what I think is the 25th and final block of my 25 block hand applique quilt so after I finish the Bear's Paw top, then I can start trimming my 25 blocks to size. I appliqued the lattice with the 'freezer paper on top' method which I have to say I didn't like at all, it felt like the paper was really in the way and made it hard to get smooth curves.  Usually I draw around templates for needleturn applique but for such an intricate shape I thought I would try a different method. I gave up on it after I'd done the outer and inner edges and went back to my usual mark and turn process for the insides of the ovals.

Today I finished my Portsmouth Beanie hat from the Spring 2017 issue of Interweave knits, I just need to weave in the ends.  It fits really well but obviously in this weather is not something I will be wearing for a while!

I've done a bit more work in my second bobbin lace snowflake ornament, and I've ordered some hexagonal edging patterns from Irene Tomlinson for my next Bucks Point lace project.

And that's about it for crafting this week.  Hope you are managing to stay cool!

Sunday, 11 June 2017

I'll huff and I'll puff

It's been a week of very strong winds which have wreaked some minor havoc in the garden but the important thing is that our pergola did not fall down!  The trellis acts as a bit of a sail so I have always been a bit worried because our garden is generally a windy site, which is why we did our best to make the pergola quite strong with diagonal bracing and lots of rafters.  This week I've been watching our apple tree tossing back and forth, our pear tree shed some pear sprigs, the delphiniums have mostly bitten the dust because they weren't adequately supported, I've had to support the hollyhocks and some alliums and irises, and tie back in some wayward roses.  The clematis at the front which was just coming in to bloom has basically had those blooms shredded.  But the pergola is still standing which is a relief.  I've done some more digging out underneath to level the patio area but there is still lots more earth to shift.

As you will have gathered, housework is never high on my agenda, but I've spent some evenings this week doing some major tidying and cleaning to lay the foundations for some visitors over the next month including the dollshouse club and my in-laws.  So less crafting took place this week.

I did finish the Bucks Point bookmark. Mainly because I just got sick of lacing and un-lacing trying to get the tapered point to work out.  I just couldn't and still ended up with about 10 pairs at the point when I should only have had half that, but I  decided that life was too short, it's only a bookmark, I don't even use bookmarks, so I just did a different finish where you roll the pairs to one side or the other and fasten them in place out of sight.  It means the reverse isn't as neat as it should be but it's finished.  It was a bit discouraging but I guess this is where actually having a teacher to show you how to do things would help, you can't always work things out from a book. The main part of the bookmark turned out rather well and I'm pleased with it.  I took it along to the Saturday lace group yesterday to show people and it was complimented by some of the experienced lacemakers which was nice.

Now I need to decide what to work next. I think it's time to go large and actually make something I can use. It's a bit intimidating because anything larger is going to take many more pairs of bobbins which equals many more hours of work, and it could easily turn into a project which takes me a couple of years to finish. However, I have many such projects :) so that shouldn't be an issue.

One example would be my 25-block applique quilt which has been going on for about 10 years now.  I've finally started what I think is the 25th and final block (that's if I've counted properly, never a certainty) so I may soon be able to move onto the next step which will be attempting to trim all the blocks to the same size.  I think they were all meant to be 17 inches square but I'm pretty sure there is an assortment of sizes in reality. Which reminds me of my 20-block GAAA Afghan  which is currently hibernating waiting for me to join all the knitted squares together.  We're going on a short holiday in the summer so joining the blanket squares might be my takealong project.

A fun thing I did this week was to make this basket:

This is made from the Pumpkin Basket pattern by Beth Studley which is the pattern I bought on sale last weekend.  She is also the designer of the Honeycomb Basket which I made a few months ago, and this pattern is quite similar so I was already familiar with the principles and how to make it more efficiently than how the instructions tell you to do it. The William Morris print is a teatowel I bought in the V&A gift shop, and the lining is leftover quilt fabric from my William Morris grid quilt. I enjoyed making it so much that I am now making a second one out of Japanese prints which will be a birthday present for m-i-l.  I might make a third one out of fabric to match the Tilly fabric brooches that I made last week, then I can sew the brooches on for decoration.

Yesterday we went to a church fete and I snapped up this handcrafted tote bag from the jumble table.  Somebody has cut squares out of vintage and new embroidered linens and sewn them together in a patchwork onto a calico backing, quite a clever idea which I thought was worth sharing with you.

TV knitting this week has mainly been the purple lace shawl from Victorian Lace Today, which I started quite a while ago and then it got pushed to the bottom of my workbasket and I forgot about it.  I found it a few weeks ago when I was having a tidy up.  I've also picked up for the sleeves of my top-down leaf yoke jumper so I can knit a few inches on each of them then I can test the fit before going any further.  In commuter knitting I have started the Portsmouth Beanie hat from the Spring 2017 issue of Interweave knits, which is a solid colour beanie hat featuring a wave pattern created from twisted rib and moss stitch.

I had an email from a Canadian friend this week which started out with "Craziness in the world these days" which is certainly feeling true.  Some awful events here in the UK, but equally so many tales of heroism and compassion.  And now of course the election chaos with looming Brexit.  It all makes the future seem very uncertain but I suppose all's we can do is keep carrying on with our daily lives and hope for the best.

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