Sunday, 14 October 2018

Disasters in baking

Inspired by a free Craftsy video on gluten-free baking that I dipped into last week, I tried out an American recipe for gluten free oatmeal chocolate chip cookies last night.  I'm not much of a baker and the whole experience reminded me why that is.  I had to buy a range of esoteric 'flours' to make up the recommended gluten free mix.  The estimated preparation time of 25 minutes stretched to almost an hour and trashed the kitchen.  My carefully arranged dough balls all melted in the oven and merged into one giant chocolate chip pancake that was falling off the edges of the tray and burning in the bottom of the oven. At the given cooking time of 10 minutes my pizza was still molten, but five minutes later it was overcooked.  Sigh.  The result is a tupperware full of toffee-coloured chocolate chip flavoured granola.  So not a success.  Investigating online, it appears that I should have had the oven hotter, have chilled the dough, have used extra baking powder as UK powder is apparently weaker than US powder, and possibly cut down the butter.  I'm not a chemist, I just wanted some cookies :(

I was going to do some garden tidying today but luckily it's raining so I don't have to.  Instead I did some work on my Japanese dollshouse this morning.  This week I have put together some kits which make up a little toilet room in the corner of the second landing, containing a tiny sink and a Japanese squat toilet which you can barely see now it's installed. I added a towel hanging from a jump ring.




On the sewing front, I assembled block 5 of the 30s Sampler quilt that I showed cut out last week.  I'm planning to sew a padded storage bag for carrying my lace making supplies in, so I have purchased the Ansel camera bag pattern from Sew Sweetness bags.  I've cut out most of the pieces for the medium size but I'm waiting for some interfacing that I ordered online to arrive in the post.  I'm going to use Bosal foam for stiffening so I was researching tips online for working with it.  There seems to be a wide spectrum of opinion between "this stuff is a miracle that's transformed my bagmaking" right through to "this stuff is awful and it ruined my bag with wrinkles".  I think I might play it safe and not fuse the Bosal to my outer fabric directly which is where the wrinkles seem to be a risk.  I'm going to add some extra pockets inside to hold my lacemaking supplies like my light and my glasses case.

I've moved on to the next room on my Christmas cross stitch now.  We've invited the in-laws for Christmas so I'm going to be having a working Christmas rather than a relaxing one, but it's our turn to have them.  Our favourite Christmas holidays are the ones where we can just chill out for several days of crafting and hobbies, relaxing, watching films and eating/drinking lots.  Having guests means having to wear proper clothes instead of pyjamas, constantly planning/cooking meals and cleaning up, not being able to watch any TV we like, having to all sit in one room and make polite chitchat for most of each day (the in-laws think it is peculiar to have people vanishing off to sit by themselves in another room alone) and not really being able to go anywhere much as they have mobility issues and the weather's not great. My m-i-l loves 'having all the family together' like that but I just find it exhausting after a few days. It makes me realise how much my life depends on my regular craftmaking for relaxation and mindfulness. At least I can knit while I'm sitting with them.

I've left my bobbin lace pillow set up on its stand all week and have done some lacemaking while watching YouTube videos a few evenings.  Yesterday I went out to a local group for a few hours and today my lace friends are coming over so I'm getting more done on bobbin lace this week than usual.  I haven't gone back to the Floral sample I started on the course yet, I'm working to progress the previous hexagonal edging with a view to finishing it before I move on.  I don't want too many outstanding lace projects because a) I forget how to do them and b) it ties up all my 'good' bobbins so subsequent projects have to use the less desirable ones  (my teacher on the course picked up one of my secondhand bobbins and the spangle of beads fell off in her hand because the ancient wire had deteriorated).

Evening knitting this week, as well as working on the ongoing edging and on the commuter shawl, was also knitting up a free kit for a Raccoon key ring charm that came with a knitting magazine recently.  I thought it was cute although I'm not sure what I will do with it. Perhaps DS's girlfriend might like it.


Sunday, 7 October 2018

Winter is coming

We spent some time winterising the garden today, although the afternoon sunshine seemed to mock us later on.  But there have already been a few light frosts so it won't be too much longer before we will be glad we tidied up.  So we've scrubbed out the various bird baths and fountains and moved the smaller ones into the shed, added the smaller garden ornaments, and carried in the garden furniture as well.  The shed is now very full.  I haven't done much to the plants yet, I'll wait until the frost starts killing off the bedding, but I did earth up the fuschias for protection just in case. We also moved the hibiscus off the patio and tucked it next to a southwest-facing wall for winter protection. In a strange seasonal time parallel, I'm looking at booking a cottage for a week next summer before all the good ones get booked up.  DH is a bit boggled, he can't think that far ahead.

It feels like I got more done this week on crafts, mainly because I have lightened up on the time commitment I'm putting into learning Japanese.  I'm still trying to do a bit of Japanese every day but I'm no longer trying to churn through the chapters in a couple of weeks each. I've also paused the Skype lessons since they were stressing me out because I am so rubbish at speaking.

So I worked on the staircase for the Japanese dollshouse and managed to get it painted, varnished, assembled and installed this week.  It just needs the bannister rail added around the landing, which I am currently working on.



During TV knitting, I am still working on the lace edging for the 10-stitch triangle shawl, after some early problems and a lot of reversing, I have now got into the rhythm of it.  I think it is going to ruffle slightly, probably because the book says the edging naturally wants to be a shallow curve, but blocking may help flatten it.


I've also been working on my Christmas House cross-stitch in the evenings.  The whole piece  certainly won't be done for this christmas, but I'm almost finished the christmas kitchen (the room on the right in the picture).


I haven't done any more bobbin lace since the course last weekend, partly because I was waiting for a secondhand pillow stand to arrive.   I wanted a stand because it was doing my back in to hunch over a big pillow resting on a table. Not many people make these stands anymore, so when I saw one on Preloved for £5, I snapped it up.  I also wanted one that would take my existing pillows, because some of them are designed to only fit a specific pillow that is fitted with a bracket underneath.  However, when the stand arrived, it quickly became clear why it was sold.  It was nicely made but extremely wobbly, perhaps a home effort by a skilled handyman?  I spent some time analysing why it was wobbling, and then applied a variety of solutions which have improved it quite a lot. 

  • The legs weren't quite even so I've padded a few with adhesive felt to level it.
  • the central post had no sideways bracing. I've duct-taped on a couple of shelf brackets, also with adhesive felt on their bottoms to protect the floor.
  •  the extendable support wasn't clamping tightly into the lower part of the post. I've drilled a second hole higher up and added a second fixing which has made it more stable.
  • the bolts holding the stand together couldn't be sufficiently tightened. I've replaced all but one with proper bolts that can be tightened securely with a spanner.
  • the thinner extendable part of the post was twisting under the weight of the lace pillow and bobbins.  I've braced it on either side with a batten held on with two more bolts.
So it's not pretty, but it's a lot more useable now.  It only wobbles slightly now at the top, which is mostly mitigated by sitting up to the pillow with it butting against my chest. I think if I could replace the final bolt on the pivoting head to one that could be tightened more securely, it would help as well.  But it's a wing nut so that you can adjust the pivot, so I would have to look for a bolt that fits a wingnut.  It's fine for now.


So now hopefully I will get a bit more lace made!

I pieced together block 4 of the 30s Sampler Quilt and cut out block 5. I can't remember if I blogged that I had covered a large scrap of cardboard with some flannel for laying out each block as I cut it?  Then I can just carry it to the sewing machine without disarranging anything.  I really need to choose a border fabric to ensure that the fabrics I am picking for blocks will all go with the border.  I don't have anything suitable in my stash so will need to go shopping.  It's fun to work with such scrappy blocks and use up some of my 30s bits and pieces.




It's Halloween at the end of the month so some of my quilted hangings and dollshouse bits are having their moment in the sun.  I also got out my Lego haunted house and put it on display in the hallway.



Craftsy.com is having a week where you can watch all their videos for free, through until next Friday 12th October.  I watched a good class with Sara Lawson on interfacing for structure in bags, but couldn't really find anything else I wanted to watch.  There's something about the Craftsy format I find really tedious. I know they've got to reach the common denominator, but I often find the pace really slow and the content repetitious.  Especially when they tell you that you need to sew the seam from A to B, then you've got to sit there while they actually do it on camera even when it's a really long seam.  In fact I find some classes improved if set to double speed, particularly the really slow speakers.  When you eliminate all of that, and the constant reminders about how to use Craftsy, and the chapter headings etc., some of the classes probably boil down to about 90 minutes tops of actual useful information which isn't much for £30 or £35 at the normal price.  I started to watch another bag making class about sewing storage caddies but had to turn it off when the teacher recommended you to use your rotary cutter to cut foamcore board with !!!  She should know better if she works with fabric and shouldn't be recommending anything so damaging to students.  

Sunday, 30 September 2018

Trying new kinds of bobbin lace

The last few years I've mainly been making Bucks Point bobbin lace, and not very much of it since I don't actually fit it into my craft time often enough.  The past few weeks I went back to Torchon lace to make the pincushion square I posted about last week, which was hard because I couldn't really remember how to do Torchon.

I finished the square, with some mistakes which I was able to camouflage when I sewed it onto the pincushion.

Here is the finished pincushion which is a 'biscornu' shape.  I took it to my lace course this weekend and used it. Nice to make something in lace which I can actually use.  I think that's one of the bigger inhibitors from bobbin lace becoming more popular: there is very little to make that modern people actually use.  Nobody wants to launder handmade lace edgings, few people need bookmarks or use cloth hankies, and there are only so many cards you can make (plus people throw them out after all that work you put in).


So I spent the weekend on a Bucks Lace course where I tried floral bucks (Floral Buckinghamshire Point Ground Lace, to give it the full name) for the first time.  After spending approximately 14 hours, I managed to produce one inch of lace:  Ta Da!!  You can't even see it because there are too many pins in the way, lol.


It's an edging, done in relatively fine thread (Madeira Cotona 80) and although it doesn't look like much, it was actually fairly tricky for a first timer.  The challenge now will be to keep going without having a teacher at hand to bail me when I run into a problem.  I found it quite a challenging and tiring weekend but it was good to learn something new.  I have a couple of other normal bucks point projects on the go but I get a bit bored with them because I already know how to do them.  I'm going to get a secondhand pillow stand then perhaps I can leave a pillow set up downstairs and work on it more often than I do now.  Also it will save my back, which gets quite sore hunching over a big pillow on a normal table.

And that's it this week apart from a bit of knitting.  Finishing up the pincushion and getting bobbins and pricking reach for the weekend took up all the craft time this week.  Plus I've had to do some gardening now that it's turned into autumn:  I planted up some pots of bulbs for the spring and started cutting stuff back.  And I'm still picking apples, tonight I made some apple sauce which we had for pudding plus I froze some for later.  There are still apples on the tree which are getting really big, but they don't seem to want to come off when I try lifting and twisting (the technique recommended by Monty Don on Gardener's World!).

Sunday, 23 September 2018

apple time

I've just finished eating an apple fresh picked from our tree in the garden.  It's a funny little dwarf tree that wants to sag to the ground, but the apples are lovely: big and juicy, crisp and just the right balance between tart and sweet.  It was here when we bought the house but we did move it from one side of the garden to the other.  I thought it was young and would grow taller but it only seems to want to spread horizontally so now I'm thinking it's not a tall variety after all. I've also made a few pies from it and there will be more to come.

I sewed another New Look t-shirt last weekend using the leftover whale jersey fabric from the dress I made, and wore that to work once, but it's already getting a bit on the cool side for short sleeved t-shirts.  My sewing room was then tied up for a while because I was using my cutting mat to cut out cardboard panels to make homemade shoe organisers from this prosaic YouTube video. When I re-organised my walk-in closet alcove, I put in a 40cm wide Ikea shelf unit to hold shoes, but they were all piled on top of each other in each shelf opening.  Now I have rough but serviceable cardboard pigeonholes so each pair has its home.

After tidying up all the leftover cardboard scraps and debris, then I cut out the pieces for block 3 of my 30s Sampler Quilt and sewed it together.  I've pulled fabrics for block 4 but haven't cut it out yet.


On my day off I did some work on my Japanese dollshouse, finishing off the join between the new floor and the base units and retrieving all the various sub-kits that I had skipped over while pressing on with the structural components.  I'm going to sweep all those up now so I've started with the stairs from chapters 56 and 57. I've done a preliminary assembly and a dry fit inside the house. Surprisingly the stairs fit fairly well, I just needed to shorten the upper stairs by about 3/16th of an inch so that they will finish level with the upper floor.  Next job is to paint and varnish all the components.  Then I can glue in the main stairs and landing, and assemble the railings. 


I've continued to work on the Torchon Lace Square which I started on the holiday.  It's intended to decorate a pincushion so I'm hoping to get it finished in time to use on my next lace course.  It's been a few years since I did any Torchon lace so I don't really remember how and I'm sort of making it up as I go along (and making mistakes) but once it's on the pincushion hopefully noone will notice :)


TV knitting is still the lace edging on the 10 Stitch Triangle Shawl plus I did a bit more on the wallpaper sweater.  Commuter knitting is still the Itineris Shawl using the Batik Swirl yarn. I went down to London to a small concert Friday night and I knit my way through the warm-up act, waiting for the main performance. It was very pleasant to listen to nice music while knitting away. It was a  late night though, I didn't get to bed until about 12:40pm which is really late for me, so I was quite tired yesterday.  I spent a lot of the day quietly watching YouTube videos while I wound 66 pairs of bobbins for the lace course.  To save my wrist, I took apart my bobbin winder and attached the bobbin holder to an electric power drill, essentially electrifying the winding process which made it a lot easier and quicker.

Hope you've had a crafty week!

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Well we survived our holiday

You know it hasn't been the best holiday when you wake up excited on your last day because you finally get to go home!  We had six nights down in Gloucestershire in a rented cottage and although we did do some nice things, overall it wasn't great.  The weather was poor at the beginning of the week, although it improved later on.  The cottage, while charming and ancient (built 1620 as a part of an estate of Tudor buildings nestled in a valley) was cramped, awkward and gloomy. The only access between the three small floors was via a tightly narrow spiral staircase which had to be negotiated with constant caution - particularly in the night when attempting to reach the ground floor loo.  Several enormous spiders made their home inside (or perhaps the same two spiders just getting back in again after DH threw them outside) so you also had to watch out for those.


 The owners were lovely and very prompt in helping with problems, but unfortunately we were heartily sick of each other by the end of the week after a succession of issues requiring attention or assistance.  Starting with some overlooked cleaning (a roast pan full of our predecessor's meat debris and a sticky orange liquid all over the inside of the freezer), we progressed to a broken fridge (not broken by us) which they replaced with a new one. Then they replaced the oven because you couldn't read any of the markings and apparently they had been meaning to replace it for a while.  The broadband went out mid-week and as there was no mobile phone signal in the valley that had been our only way of communicating. The boiler had an intermittent fault so we had no hot water or heat one day and the handyman had to come out three times to do something to the pressure. Thursday morning just as I boiled the kettle, there was a loud bang and all the power went out, immediately followed by a knock on the door because the BT engineer had arrived to look at the broadband.  I was still in my pyjamas, and poor DH didn't get any tea or breakfast because of no power and he had to show the BT engineer around to look for where the line came into the house because nobody from the estate was available to meet the engineer.  Turns out the armoured cable on the line had perished so we had no broadband for the rest of our stay until it gets dug up and replaced. The shower cut out in mid-go (after I had shampoo in my hair of course) but I managed to get it back on and I didn't even tell them about that one because I didn't want the handyman back yet again. 

The constant gloom, the damp, some unfortunate traffic jams and some unsuccessful day trips earlier in the week were getting us down. It also seemed like every knitting shop I found was either closed or, in the case of Marmalade Yarns in Frome, gutted and being completely repainted.  Luckily things picked up on the day trip front with a sunny and relaxing visit to Westonbirt Arboretum, where we saw some amazing trees and the start of autumn colour.


We also checked out Poldark's Trenwith which is actually Chavenage House near Tetbury. We were on part of an entertaining tour by a family member with interesting stories about the Poldark cast filming there, before being passed off to a much less entertaining staff member who insisted on recounting a garbled version of the history of the Civil War while we were all crowded into a small 17C bedroom for 15 minutes.  Luckily I had my knitting and a seat on a 17thC chair (they had invited us to sit so it wasn't wrong) so I knitted several rows on my shawl and let it pass over my head.

We visited a few other ancient estates and gardens in the area, and also had a couple of relaxing walks in the countryside. Then on Friday we drove down to Shepton Mallet (more traffic jams) to attend a big antiques fair that we've been to before.  We had an enjoyable stroll around but I only bought one bronze figurine until I found a stall of vintage linens.  Here I cleaned up on embroidered tray cloths for £1 each, as part of my collecting for my future vintage linen quilt.  In fact I'm wondering if I might combine these with the 30s Sampler Quilt that I've already started, will have to think about that.


The evenings in our cramped and not very comfortable sitting room were enlivened by attempting only partially successfully to get the satellite TV to work while I tackled several craft projects I had brought with me:  my 10-stitch shawl edging, my leaf-yoke sweater, my new bobbin lace project and my Christmas cross-stitch.

So you can see why I am so pleased to be home!  Showers and broadband that work, spacious sunny rooms, a garden to sit in, and all my stuff around me.  Bliss.

Saturday, 8 September 2018

Time to put the woollies on again

I've been wearing some hand-knitted hats and fingerless gloves in the mornings for my walks to the station as it's been quite chilly.  I gave all my hats, gloves and knitted socks a wash back when the weather was warm so they are all nice and fresh now to put on. It's definitely feeling autumnal.

Somehow I don't seem to have got much done this week, not sure why.  No dollshouse work, no quilting.  Knitting went a bit backwards as I decided the join between the knitted on edging on my Ten-stitch triangle shawl was just too untidy so I pulled it out and started again.  Now I am doing a slip 1, knit 1 from the shawl edge, and ssk. It makes a chain edge on one side which looks better.  I've also done a few inches on an older knitting UFO, the Leaf Yoke sweater.  It's knitted top down so the interesting bit was all at the beginning, now that I'm knitting the body  it is quite tedious, like knitting wallpaper.  I've reached about the bottom of my rib cage so far, so still a fair bit to go then I'll have to do the sleeves.

The only completed item this week is a simple t-shirt sewn from  New Look pattern 6217.  I saw some finished t-shirts online from this pattern and it was being praised for being a simple quick wardrobe basic. So I thought I would have a go, even though my track record with dressmaking is quite poor.  I looked at a few blogs to see what modifications were being made, and I cut out and sewed a throw-away toile using a drop cloth from Poundland (another tip garnered online).  That was too tight, so I cut out a larger size and tried again.  That still didn't fit quite right so I ended up taking a pleat in the back and slashing the front to let in more room (I carry my weight at the front).  That seemed to do the trick so I cut it out in a silky drapey jersey and overlocked the seams, stitching the hems with a twin needle and walking foot on the normal machine.  The result fits quite nicely, it's soft and drapey and looks smart (it looks better on me than it does on the dummy).  I wore it to work yesterday and felt good in it.  So  I might make a few more now that I have a pattern that fits me.


I've started a new little bobbin lace item which is a three inch square of simple Torchon lace, designed to cover a pincushion.  It should be a relatively quick project, although bobbin lace is never particularly quick really. It's a project that was handed out at my lace group so several people have made it/are making it.

I'm still plugging away at Japanese language study albeit with intermittent depressive periods where I question why I am wasting my time.  The vocabulary I am able to recognise has grown a lot.  The vocabulary I am able to write is less but still impressive considering I started from scratch and I'm writing in Japanese scripts.  Unfortunately my ability to speak remains at almost zero.  I had this same problem when I was learning French in school many decades ago.  My brain seems to consider that foreign languages are something that may need to be understood but are never going to actually be spoken by me.  I even went on a French immersion course for six weeks after uni and still managed almost zero speaking. DH says I shouldn't feel like a failure because I'm only learning Japanese to make our future holiday experience better and he points out that I have learned a lot already.  It's just really hard to find an hour every day where I can concentrate and don't have to stop to make dinner or because I'm too tired. わたしは にほんごを べんきょしていません、ブログをかいていますから。

Sunday, 2 September 2018

Another week passes

How did it get to be September so soon?  I feel like I lost a lot of the summer just keeping my head down trying to survive the hot weather.  But it is lovely outside this weekend, mid-20s and a nice breeze, more what I prefer as proper summer weather. We had a BBQ last night and ate outside on the patio which was nice.

I've glued the next floor onto my Japanese dollshouse.  Unlike the first two floors, I didn't glue all the components together into a separate unit and then try to make the unit fit onto the house. There was too much variation in measurements and levels to accommodate from the existing construction.  Instead I cut the hallway floor and wall down a little in width to fit, and then glued on each room separately with the hall wall going on last. I'm a bit concerned about how strong the bond is but I've added some hidden staples at the back of the house to hold the gap between floors closed and as extra bracing for when the weight of the front balconies gets added on eventually.



I think it's getting to the point where I really need to put the house onto a rigid base to protect it from collapsing under its own weight when it's moved. I need to think about what I might put on the base as external decoration because that will dictate how big it needs to be.  The fronts need to swing open so anything near the house will have to be removable.  It would be nice to have a Japanese-style garden.

I had jumped ahead to complete this second floor structure, skipping over quite a few kits for stairs, sliding window screens, internal decoration and furniture.  So I think now I need to go back and work through all those to clear the decks before I start in on the next set of balconies.

In quilting, I finished block 2 of my 30s Sampler quilt.  I've picked the fabrics for block 3 but not cut anything out yet. The yellow print is what I am considering using as the border although it's more 50s than 30s so I might buy something else once all the blocks are done.


I spent a few hours yesterday working on my Bucks Point hexagonal edging and then a few more tidying up the area where I keep my lace stuff.  It was chaos because I had just been dumping things out when I got back from lace days and from the Nottingham weekend, and hadn't put anything away for quite a while. Loads of books, bobbins, loose paper patterns, threads etc.  It's more organised now.  I need to prepare the pricking and wind 60 pairs of bobbins for a lace weekend I'm attending at the end of the month now.

On the knitting front, I ripped out the Batik Swirl shawl because it was just such an ugly shape: a long thin triangle that was only gradually widening.  I think part of that may have been my fault for missing out some decrease/increases accidentally but overall it wasn't going to be something I'd wear.  Instead, I'm using the yarn to knit a second Itineris Shawl which is a pattern I knit about four years ago. It will look different in these long colour runs but hopefully still nice, and that's a shawl I have worn more often, I like the shape of it.

I'm slowly adding the knit-on garter lace edging to my 10-stitch triangle shawl.  It's not difficult but it is easy to get confused so sometimes I have to pull back when I realise I've done a section of the repeat twice by accident (usually because I'm distracted from watching TV).  


Film4 was running a Studio Ghibli event all through August so we've taped about a dozen of their animations which we are gradually watching.  I had previously seen Spirited Away and Howl's Castle and liked them although they were a bit odd.  Some of the others are very odd, and I question whether they were aimed at children as an audience.  We didn't like Princess Kaguya which bounced all over the place and couldn't decide what it was trying to tell, and When Marnie was Here was both tragic and creepy (although very pretty). Then we watched The Cat Returns which was more straightforward, we both enjoyed that one.  Apparently it is a spin-off from Whisper of the Heart which we haven't watched yet. It's quite interesting to see animated versions of Japanese neighbourhoods, or alternately a Japanese vision of what western cities/houses look like.

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