Sunday, 12 August 2018

What are these things called 'socks'?

I was chilly last night and went upstairs to put some socks on, then realised as I was doing it that I had literally not worn socks for several weeks. It's been way too hot for socks so it's been bare feet in the house and sandals outside.  But the weather has now broken and in true English fashion has turned cold and rainy.  It's good for the garden, and perhaps the poor lawn might resuscitate now. But they tell us the hot weather will be back in a few weeks so the lawn had better hurry up.

The big finish this week: at long last the ancient cross stitch UFO is done!  It's not framed yet, but I've ordered some artist's stretcher bars to make a frame to stretch it over.

To give you an idea of scale, it's 22 inches tall.  The price tag reads '2001' and I think I bought it on a trip to America plus all the threads to do it.  I started it, struggled with the counting and only got about halfway down the first dresser before it went into hibernation. It lived under the bed at our last house for 10 years but I never wanted to throw it out.  Then three years ago I discovered that the world of cross stitch had moved on and you could now do something called 'gridding' with coloured fish line, to divide the canvas into blocks of 10 squares.  This is a huge help when you are number-challenged like I am.  I'm much better at thinking in terms of "three squares past the gridline". I picked it back up and worked at it off and on, it came on a few holidays with us, and now it's finally finished! I feel a sense of achievement and I do really like it.

So that means I've been able to move on to the next cross stitch UFO which is a younger-but-still-middle-aged Christmas house that fits into a house shaped frame (had a few worried moments where I thought I had lost the frame over the years but I found it).  Some years ago I did the first 'room' which was the hallway.  So I've loaded the fabric onto the frame and it is now living in the living room so I can work on it while watching TV.  The house frame is bare wood, I don't think I will paint it such a strident red as in the picture.

I finished the other two book pincushions this week, these are such fun. I feel tempted to make more but you only need so many pincushions and they are a lot of handwork to make up.

Finishing the pincushions meant that I could choose another project from my queue, so I picked one of the fabric-foam picture kits I bought in Tokyo a few years ago.  I did an American kit about 20 years ago where you cut fabric and push it into slits cut into a foam base, which made a quilt scene.  But being Japanese, this kit is organised to the nth degree:  all the fabric is provided with individual pattern sheets for cutting out each colour piece; the pattern sheets are self adhesive so they don't slip off the fabric; the foam block is self adhesive; there are full colour photographic instructions (which is good, because they are in Japanese and mostly using Kanji which I haven't learned yet); etc etc.  It's a countryside scene with traditional Japanese houses and a sprig of oranges in the foreground so I think it is an autumnal scene. Although it isn't difficult, the fabrics are mostly kimono-type fabrics so a bit slippery and tending to fray, so it does require some patience and care for a neat result.  There's a pleasant mindlessness to it as the picture slowly builds up.

The last couple of days I've been working on the second bedroom for this floor of the Japanese dollshouse.  This room is a bit different as it has a planked floor instead of tatami mats.  So there are floorboards to lay that I am currently painting.  This room also features an 'irori' which is a traditional firepit.  The dollshouse version was just a wooden box sitting on top of the floor but I decided to sink it into the floor like the traditional versions we saw in historical houses in Japan.  So I've cut a hole in the floor which luckily is raised up so there is room underneath for the hearth box. I've cut the floorboards to go around the hole when I lay them.

And that's pretty much it this week.  I did do a bit of work on my big Bucks Point hexagonal lace mat while I watched Youtube videos about Tokyo Disneyland as research for our trip next year. I finished the first sleeve of the Purple Roses cardigan and have started the second sleeve, and I've added some more inches to the ten stitch triangle shawl final round.

Hope it's cooler where you are as well.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Heat makes me stupid

I'm supposed to be studying my Japanese but I just can't concentrate, it's too warm.  It's back up to 30 degrees again until mid week.  But at least we are better off  than southern Europe where it is literally roasting hot.  I've done very little today apart from some stints in the basement dollshouse room where it is cooler.

I've finished the first bedroom on the next floor of the Japanese dollshouse apart from making the tatami mat floor, and I've started work on the other bedroom today. I'm skipping the intervening hall for now so that I can tweak the width of the hall if need be once the bedrooms are built.

I used a Japanese print from a cheap book I found on sale for the inside of the sliding doors, and a graphic wave print scrapbooking paper for the cupboard doors in the tokonoma.  The 'tree trunk' is papier mache applied over the dowel that comes with the kit.

 You can start to get an idea of how big the house is going to be now that the next floor is under construction. I've now opened kits up to number 72 (out of 120) although I've left several bits for later like stairs and furniture while I'm doing the basic room construction.

Also while hiding in the cool of the basement on my day off, I  made the components for three more 'book' pincushions and finished the first one off today.  I used the embroidery alphabet on my Janome 6500 to stitch 'Journal' and then surrounded it in a leaf embroidery stitch to make the cover title.  I found some lace in my stash to go around the edge of the cover.  I might embellish it with a bit of ribbon as well.  This book is a quarter-inch thinner than the prototype and I think looks better proportioned.  I think you could still go thinner without compromising function.  I think these are really cute.  DH is more dubious, perhaps it's a girl thing.  When these are done I will have to decide what to tackle next from my enormous queue waiting.  It's rather exciting after not being able to start anything new in quilting for almost a year while I was finishing off old UFOs, to be able to look at the queue and pick things to do.  These books were on the queue by the way, I had seen a picture on Pinterest a few years ago and thought they looked cute so I had printed it off and stuck it on my design wall.

I thought I had finished my ancient cross stitch UFO this week.  I took it off the frame and admired it then pulled out all the fishing-line grid stitching I was using as reference lines.  Then I realised I had missed a bit. Grrrr.  So I just need to do that bit and THEN it will finally be finished.  I'm tempted to wash it to remove the grime of 17 years but I worry that the ancient embroidery cottons might not be colour fast so I may leave well enough alone.  I need to decide whether to take it now for framing, or whether to stretch it over an artist's canvas which would also look nice.  I'll take a pic when it's properly done.

I've knit the back and two fronts of the little purple rose cardigan and have started a sleeve.  I switched from metal points to wooden points on my interchangeables because the acrylic yarn seemed a bit 'sticky' on the metal points.  My corner of the living room is a bit of a disaster zone at the moment, I'm spending evenings surrounded by a high tide of craft projects I am intermittently working on.  Luckily we rarely have visitors  :) 

Sunday, 29 July 2018

Curtain making

Well, the curtain making went about as well as I had expected.  I have achieved a finished curtain which is doing the intended job, but it took me about six hours and a lot of going backwards.  Basically I somehow measured the drop (length) wrong and also managed to calculate the lining length as 220-8=202 instead of 212 (told you I was bad with numbers).  So I ended up with a well made but very short curtain, with an even shorter lining.  Luckily I was following this excellent tutorial by Debbie Shore for a simple lined curtain and her instructions include a four inch hem.  By unpicking then reducing my lining hem to 1/2 inch and my curtain hem to one-inch, and moving the hooks to the top loop in the curtain tape, the curtain has ended up the right length and looks nice.  The lining is still rather short on the inside but that doesn't show from the room.

Manipulating 2m square panels of fabric in 32C heat was not fun.   In the morning before it got too hot, I  put both leaves into the dining table and it made a good working surface for these big pieces of fabric.

Pattern matching the central seam took a while, I looked at various methods of doing it but my linen is a fairly open weave so quite slippery.  In the end I pressed under a hem and then secured the match with masking tape from the right side.  The tape acted like a hinge when I flipped the top layer of fabric over to get at the seam so I could pin it.  I stitched a basting stitch a little inside the fold, removed the tape, then stitched a final seam along the fold line which came out pretty well, the seam is quite unobtrusive.

The final straw challenge was discovering that somehow my curtain heading tape was two inches short when I thought I had bought more than enough.  So the final curtain hook is sewn on by hand.  Whew, I'm glad that's over with and now all the junk in the alcove is hidden from view.

I wore my new t-shirt dress to work, and it was fine.  Apart from noticing partway through the day in the bathroom mirror that I still had tacking stitches in my sleeve tucks, it felt comfortable and a colleague who also sews said she didn't think it looked homemade. I guess it's like a quilt: when you finish it, all's you can see are the mistakes, but over time those fade from your memory and it's just a quilt. 

Thankfully the heatwave has now broken and we are back to a nice rainy cool day, and I'm loving it. I've been able to do things for the first time in weeks like wear slippers in the house and have a hot shower, and return to clothing items I haven't seen since June.  Hopefully the cooler weather will stay with us for a while.  The garden got a good soaking yesterday so perhaps we might even get some green grass regrowing through the yellow stubble.

With the cooler weather I've had more energy for doing things.  Yesterday I spent part of the afternoon sewing something just for fun now that the curtain is out of the way.  I had purchased this pattern for book-shaped cushions and pin-cushions so had fun choosing fabrics to make a new pincushion for use on my lace pillow. These little books are really cute but there is a lot of hand sewing to finish them so they are a bit fiddly to make.  But I might make a few more for me and for gifts. I think I might reduce the depth of the 'pages' by a quarter-inch as the book looks a bit fat to me.  Possibly I over-stuffed it but I don't like a limp pincushion, I prefer one that is firmly stuffed and I actually stopped before I reached the point of this being firm. You can also make these cushions so that the front cover opens to reveal the first 'page' of the book, but I thought a closed book would be more practical as a pincushion.

In the evenings I have been working on my cross-stitch UFO which is almost finished now, and doing some extra knitting on my commuter project the purple rose cardigan.  I also did a bit of work on my Bucks lace edging while watching Youtube videos at my desk. And I've made a start on the next floor of the Japanese dollshouse, staining and painting the components for the first bedroom on the second floor.  It's constructed exactly the same as the previous floor so it's all pretty familiar.  This will be my last tokonoma (decorative alcove) as the other bedroom on this floor doesn't have one.

Our pear tree pulled the same trick as last year with all the pears coming ripe at the same time.  I was trying to pick them off with a long basket picker on a stick but they were so ripe they were just falling off.  So in the end I just shielded my head, and used the picker to shake branches so that all the pears fell off into the undergrowth. Then I crawled around collecting them, disturbing clouds of biting midges but I had prepared for them by covering up completely including a woolly hat pulled down over my ears (just what you want to be wearing in 32C heat) so I avoided being bitten this time.  So we now have about 120 pears (I didn't actually count them but it's loads) in the basement so yesterday I made a pear crumble. I threw in a handful of blackberries from the bushes that hang over from next door into our garden which added a nice pink tint.  Hopefully we'll be able to eat and/or give away the pears before they go rotten. I remember last year they only lasted a few weeks before going off.

I'm attempting to trick my brain into viewing Japanese as something it needs to remember, by creating an artificial deadline. I've done that by engaging an online Japanese tutor using an app called iTalki, a platform that supports paid-for language instruction. I had my first lesson this morning, it was terrifying and in panic I forgot most of the Japanese I had learned. But she was very friendly and speaks reasonable English, and after a while she managed to dumb it down to my level (speaking very very slowly and emphasising the individual words).  She has the same Japanese textbook as I am using, so we went through a couple of the exercises. I did not perform well but I've booked five more weekly lessons so hopefully over time I will improve now that I have someone to practice with.

Sunday, 22 July 2018

The triumph of hope over experience

I've just looked my title quote up and apparently Samuel Johnson said it upon hearing of a man who had remarried soon after the death of a wife to whom he had been unhappily married.  The reason it's my title is because I was questioning myself repeatedly this week as I once again became frustrated and defeated by attempted dressmaking. 

I don't know what it is with sewing clothes.  I'm good with my hands, I'm reasonably intelligent at understanding instructions, I'm good at using my sewing machine and tools. But somehow this all goes out the window when sewing clothes and I have about a 15% success rate. I think it is partly psychological: one thing goes wrong and the despair starts to creep in once again. And partly because things like a good fit and neat hems/edge finishing are much more important on clothing than on, say, a bed quilt. And yet I continue to get sucked in by patterns that promise 'Easy', 'suitable for a beginner', or Youtube videos where they effortlessly bind a neckline in knitted fabric without even measuring and it is looks fabulous. It almost always turns out to be a waste of my time and money.

So as mentioned last week, I had drafted a pattern based on a comfy t-shirt dress that I've been wearing a lot in this hot weather. I had some good quality cotton overlock that I got online, mainly for the colour but it happens to have whales swimming across it.  The next challenge after drafting the pattern was attempting to get the stretchy fabric to lie accurately on the fold for cutting out.  The front came out not too bad but on the back of the dress the whales are swimming a little downhill on one side. I have an overlocker/serger so sewing the seams and turning up the hems went fine.  Even stitching the hems with a twin needle came out reasonably.  Until I realised afterwards that my tension was still turned up to '9' from when I was gathering the neckline.  So my twin stitching is really tight and is going to break if the hem gets stretched.  Sigh.  The next challenge was to bind the neckline in self-fabric, basically using the same technique I've used a hundred times on quilts.  I watched Youtube to prepare, it looked easy. I cut a band 30.5" long, seamed it, marked the quarter points, and sewed it on with a narrow zigzag, then realised that my seam allowance was too wide and my band width was too narrow.  Trying to un-pick the narrow zigzag took ages and resulted in a few holes in the neckline so I had to cut the neckline a bit bigger.  Attempt number two with a wider band went much better - until I tried it on and it fell off my shoulders. Somehow my 30" band had turned into a 42" neckline, presumably because of stretching from the unpicking...  By now I am fighting strong urges to throw the whole thing in the bin.  There was no way I was going through all that unpicking again, so I cut the neckband off with scissors.  For attempt number three, I cut a really wide band (to make up for all the neckline I had cut away) and just folded and seamed it like a normal t-shirt neck, abandoning the attempt to bind the edge.  This came out alright, apart from I should have hidden the seam at centre back instead of leaving it on the sleeve like a dummy where it's on show.

After that it was fighting with sewing on the tie-belt casing (more stretchy fabric that didn't want to lie flat with edges neatly pressed under) and making the tie out of self-fabric.  And I have a dress.  From a distance it looks fine.  It took hours, I did not enjoy the experience, and DH helpfully pointed out that I could have just bought another dress (no I did not kill him).  Except I don't think they make this particular dress anymore so I probably couldn't have bought another one.  I am telling myself this is a prototype and if I am ever crazy enough to make another one, it would probably go better.

I finished the vintage tea cosy this week and we've already used it once for tea out in the garden.  It keeps the pot astonishingly warm, in fact the handle of the teapot became almost too hot to pick up. The tatted bits are various bits that I bought in a bag from the Lace Guild stand at the Makit show in Peterborough this year, somebody had been busy.

On my day off I finished the second bobbin lace sample from the course I went on.  I've mounted them on black card, tucking the raw ends through slits in the card, which makes for a really neat display.  I saw this method being used by one of the teachers, then you can slip the card into a plastic holder and put it in a ring binder. I went back and re-mounted some of my older samples onto black card as well so my sample binder looks a lot smarter than it used to.

This week I've been working on the shingled overhangs that fit on to the balcony rooms of my Japanese dollshouse. There was a lot of sanding trying to get the mitred corners to fit correctly as my balcony rooms hadn't come out exactly square/the right size to match the pre-cut roof pieces.  Then you have to make the shingles from four-inch squares of very thin wood veneer that delights in falling apart when you try to cut it.  I stained batches of shingles in different colours to give some variety, and stuck them onto the overhangs.

After trimming the shingles flush with the overhangs, you glue them onto the balcony rooms. Which is quite tricky as there is no good way to clamp them while the glue dries.  In this pic, the right hand roof has been done, and the lefthand roof is drying.  The corners came out fairly well apart from one on the left which I think will need some remedial shingling.  The final step is to fit decorative beams underneath each corner.

I booked our flights to Japan this week for next spring, so we really are heading back for a second visit.  So I may be able to pick up some bits to go in the dollshouse although it's a funny scale. I'm still trying to learn some Japanese but finding it very difficult because my memory isn't what it used to be when I was younger, and it's just not sticking in my head very well.  I've got a rough itinerary planned out but need to start working on the details.  We are going to start off in Tokyo, then have a stop in Osaka on our way to the island of Shikoku where we will have a rental car for several days.  Shikoku is a little more off the beaten track that the places we visited on our first trip, and is famous for its 88-temple walk.  We will see a few temples but definitely not all 88!  I'm looking forward to visiting Tokyu Hands again (a sort of cross between a Hobbycraft and IKEA) and probably Nippori fabric town in Tokyo.  Something to look forward to.

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Still no rain

Our lawn looks like a desert now, just dried earth with a bit of yellow stubble here and there. I'm watering the garden every couple of nights trying to keep the plants alive.  Several of them are showing signs of stress even so.  It seems to be a year of extremes, all that snow going on and on in the winter and now this endless sunshine.  Quite apart from hating the hot weather, I just don't feel like doing anything and feel quite stupid when it's really warm.  So it's hard to feel energetic about crafting.  I've been living in a couple of loose t-shirt dresses so I've taken one and traced a pattern off of it to see if I can make a duplicate dress in some cotton interlock I bought online.  I'm not much of a dressmaker but it's a fairly simple shape so we'll see.

A completely useless finish in this weather are the Peerie Floorers mitts, now blocked.  Somehow one has come out slightly bigger than the other, even though I used exactly the same yarn and needles.  I was probably more relaxed with the second one because I'd worked the design out. They feel like they will be fairly warm as the stranding makes them thicker.

I've done a bit of simple embroidery on my tea cosy in the evenings, which is eating up an amazing amount of embroidery floss.  I had to go buy more of the same colour today to continue work on the second side.  The pattern has you embroidering flowers in the central half-circle but I think I will see  if some of the tatted flowers and bits that I bought at the Peterborough show from the Lace Guild stand will look nice instead.

My Ten Stitch Triangle Shawl has become too big to carry around easily as a portable project so it has now become a living room project.  As a replacement commuter project I've started on the purple roses cardigan using the self-striping yarn I bought on holiday in Cumbria.  The first panel of 'roses' has appeared on the back. It's a clever idea, makes a change from the normal self-striping patterns.  The written pattern helpfully directs you to check before casting on that you are getting green spots appearing before the pink ones, so that you don't accidentally end up with upside-down flowers.  Normally I knit from the centre of the ball but I'm having to knit off the outside of the ball to get the flowers to come out right.

I persevered in the Battle of the Front Porch and eventually managed to get the porch back together and to fit onto the front of my Japanese dollshouse and get the balcony doors to close.  It took a while to reconstruct the porch but it looks ok now, I don't think you would notice all the bodging adjustments unless you were looking for them.  I put a torch (flashlight) inside the hall to get a lighting effect for these photos.

I've started work now on the shingled roof overhangs for the first floor, which wrap around the balcony rooms so a lot trickier to fit than the simple one-piece overhang at ground level.

And that's pretty much it this week.  I did install the curtain rod over the closet alcove in my room so now I will be able to take measurements to sew the curtain, but I feel very procrastinatey about that because I hate sewing curtains. I'm very bad at arithmetic so it's stressful trying to get the curtain and lining and hems all to come out right.

Sunday, 8 July 2018


We continue to suffer under a punishing heat wave.  I was away for the weekend attending a lace course and it was like an oven in both the classroom and my dorm room, which really made it hard to feel like I was enjoying things.  I was working on a couple of samples to learn new techniques and it went fairly well but everyone was complaining about how stupid they were feeling in the afternoons when it was so baking hot (no air conditioning in the buildings and the windows didn't open).  Not the management's fault and otherwise the course was very well organised and I met some nice people.

I also picked up a few more bargain secondhand bobbins.  I asked a few of the more experienced lace ladies how many bobbins I should be aiming for to be able to tackle more advanced projects and a few projects  at a time.  There were some very furtive looks as they confessed to having almost 2,000 bobbins each.  Wow.  Maybe I don't have as much of a problem as I sometimes think.

It's been too hot to do anything ambitious.  I've started to embroider feather stitch along the seams of the vintage fan tea cosy that I'm making, and I finished the second Peerie Flooers mitten but still need to darn ends in.

I finished the second balcony room on the Japanese dollshouse  and completed the fiddly task of hinging them both on.  They were on and off several times as I tried to get them to close properly and be even with each other.  In the end I had to pack out all four hinge rebates with some pieces of coffee stirrer because the hinges seem to be set in too deeply for the doors to close properly.  I eventually got them both hinged on  and fairly even. You can get more of a sense of what the house will look like now, if you imagine a second similar floor on top of these two floors.

But then it started to get very frustrating.  In chapter 66, they have you fine-tuning the fit of the front porch so that it will fit underneath the balconies of the first floor.  It turns out that the plastic fancy tiled porch roof should never have been glued on - it was glued on when I got it but poorly, I broke it off and repaired and repainted the porch then glued it back on again.  The plastic part of the porch now hits the front of the balcony's lower beam preventing the porch from going back far enough to meet up with the ground floor.  And the porch was too high altogether so hitting the bottom of the balconies.  So I've had to partially destroy the porch, ripping the roof off so I can whittle down the porch wall enough to get it under the balconies.  I've had to whittle the undersides of the balcony to fit over the fancy porch roof.  And now I've got to re-cut the roof understructure to allow the roof to go back on a few mm further forward than it used to be.  At least it's cool in the basement dollshouse room. It's very disheartening to have the porch in pieces again,  and shavings and sawdust everywhere.  When all this is over I'm going to have to deep clean the rest of my houses and their display shelves.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Happy international lace day

Although a quick Google shows that most calendar sites think that International Lace Day is in September, I went to a local event celebrating it today.  It would have been quite a nice day except that it was way too hot, over 30 degrees, and even in the 'shade' of a marquee it was uncomfortably warm and letting in the UV rays enough to burn my skin.  I had to give up and come home early.  I suppose it's better than being rained out.  I got an inch or so done on my Bucks Point edging but was so grateful to get home to our relatively cool house.  It was nice to see some of my lace friends there.

I've progressed well on the second balcony  room for the Japanese dollshouse kit, and it's almost finished.  I'm just finishing the railing and need to glue some trim on the top of the ceiling piece.

I've looked at the next five or so kits and they are to construct the next staircase, which I don't want to do until I have the third floor in place so I can finesse the fit; and to add roof overhangs to the two balcony rooms, which I don't want to do until I get them hinged in place in case I have to finesse (bodge) the fit of those.  So I think I will likely jump ahead to hinging the balcony rooms onto the house, then do the roof overhangs, then move straight on to building the third floor. Once that's in place I will return and build the staircase.

I finished the first Peerie Floores fingerless mitt a while ago and have been knitting on the second one, which is almost finished.  This is the first one which hasn't been wet blocked yet to let the yarn bloom, so the stitches still look fairly uneven.  It will look much better after it's been washed.

It took a fair bit of tinkering to work out my replacement thumb design and to decide on the ribbing pattern and if I wanted any decreases.  The second mitt is going a lot faster because I wrote down what I did.  Being hopeless at numbers, my usual design approach is to knit a bit, see if I like it/how it fits, and if it's not right then rip back and try something else.

I started a new quilting project this week which is based on a pretty vintage-style tea cosy that was in a back issue of Handmade magazine, using some of my 30s repros.  The next step will be to add some embroidery and I'm thinking I might sew on some of the tatting bits I bought at the last lace show.

It was fun to pull fabrics for this, I started out with more of a green combination like their picture but found myself gravitating towards blue and pink. I think picking fabrics is the most enjoyable part of a project, apart from finishing - it's the fun part for me anyway.

Our little cherry tree produced its annual handful of cherries early this year, presumably due to the hot weather, so today I baked an apple pie and added the cherries in for some colour and extra taste.  Our strawberries were cropping a small bowlful every couple of days for a few weeks but are finished now.  Last year they flowered again and we had sporadic handfuls through the summer.  The pear and apple trees are both heavy with fruit.  I learned my lesson from last year's extreme apple tree sagging (to the ground on one side) and staked our little tree  in the winter to hold it more upright. The branches are bowing under the weight of the fruit but the trunk is staying more upright.  The new flower bed that we dug last year is looking good although I may rearrange some of the plants in the autumn as one of the plants (a yarrow) that I moved in must really like finally getting some sunshine because it's grown about 15 inches taller than it ever did before.  So it looks a bit odd at one side of the bed, it would look better moved into the middle.  It's been way too hot to use the patio and watering the garden is turning into a real chore. 

I made a list of all my outstanding knitting project kits, after the wave of yarn shopping over the past six months or so, and it is rather a long list.  I need to get knitting, and possibly stop buying yarn for a while (gasp).  I bought a cute badge at a show once which says something like "No I don't have enough yarn, you're the one with the problem!"  But I may possibly have a small problem... :)

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