Sunday, 22 February 2015

A rumour of Spring

Despite the damp chill which seeps into your bones, there is a sense that Spring is just around the corner in our garden.  A few inherited crocuses are peeping up, several clumps of snowdrops are glowing white against their dark surroundings, and bigger bulbs like tulips and daffodils are stretching green tips several inches upwards from the ground.  Our pear tree has buds on it, and what I think is a Mulberry tree has several fat buds as well.  I've indulged in some cut daffodils in support of the Macmillan cancer charity which are ripening to yellow buds in the dining room, and a little pot of narcissi from Morrisons for the study which have grown about three inches already in just a week.  I'm looking forwards to the earth warming up as I want to move around several shrubs in the front garden.

I had the builder back to give me quotes on all the repairs needed to our boundary walls, and I'm bracing myself for a big number. I knew the buttresses on the front garden wall were all broken away, but I didn't realise the wall itself was loose at the bottom - rather shockingly it rocked back and forth when the builder gave it a push.  It's all got to be done though, particularly the tall brick wall in the back garden which I'm afraid is going to drop bricks on someone's head - the top few courses are already collapsing.  The brick bays in front of our front cellar windows need digging up and rebuilding as well. So there won't be any point doing too much in the garden beds around those potential construction sites as plants will get smashed down. So instead I will likely be moving stuff out to safety in the side beds or even into the back garden temporarily.

From my sewing room I can look out at the garden, nice for good light but the view isn't that inspiring yet.  One day we will have a nice garden.  This week I cut out and put together a flannel raggy quilt for my son, which made an instant dent in my stash. Flannel quilting fabric is incredibly expensive in the UK but I had been picking up a few yards here and there in sales for several years. Therefore they probably weren't the fabrics I would have chosen if money had been no object, but I'm fairly pleased with the outcome.  I looked at a few tutorials to refresh my memory as I hadn't made one for several years, and I found this image of a four-patch quilt which suited my five-fabric stash.I used leftover flannel scraps for the middle layer plus I cut up an old brushed cotton sheet that I used in the past as a design wall.

(above) Piecing together the squares: large squares are cut 9", small squares are cut 5", 1/2" seam allowance used throughout. Eight rows with five blocks.

(above) The quilt top after I had cut into all the seam allowances, which took a couple of hours and gave me proto-blisters. At least this time I managed NOT to cut into the quilt itself, unlike previous experiences.

(above) The quilt edges all frayed after a trip to the commercial laundrette and a few spins through their tumbledryer. I didn't want to subject my own washer to such a heavy load and all the loose threads. I'm pleased with how it's turned out although it would have been nice if I'd had enough fabric to make it bigger, my son is tall enough that this won't cover him up completely.  I still think he'll like it.

While I was sitting in the laundrette waiting for the quilt to be finished, I was knitting on my capelet. I think I must be a bit more than halfway through, it's got to wrap loosely around my body and be seamed to itself.

I'm almost finished the last sleeve for my cabled cardigan, I'm just decreasing for the cap of the sleeve.  Then it will just need blocking and I can sew it together!  For my Aran Sampler Sweater, I realised that my plan to use the handknitting pattern as a machine knitting guide wasn't going to work. The handknitting pattern casts on a lot of extra stitches to compensate for the dense aran texture, and in stockinette it would mean a back that was half again too wide.  So I had to sit down and write out a machine knitting pattern to produce a back and sleeves that will be more or less the right size at the gauge I am getting on the machine.  Fingers crossed anyways.

Commuter knitting this week was the sleeve the first few days, then the Mixalot sock which is slowly progressing. I'm still not happy with the mess I made of the heel, but it's fitting pretty well. The top of the cuff is a little tight, I will have to be careful to cast on extra loosely for the second sock.

I finished Clue 2 & 3 of the Battle of Five Armies Mystery KAL shawl, which was leaves representing the elves of Mirkwood, followed by shields representing the Dwarfs. I added a couple of beads to each dwarven shield to bling them up a bit. I'm now working on Clue 4 which represents the goblins. This is TV knitting because I need my iPad to keep track of where I am on the charts.

And I astonished myself this week by picking up a hand applique project that I started many years ago, to sew some more leaves onto a block that I started at least two years ago. One day this will be a 25-block traditional applique quilt - I think this is something like block 17 but I've misplaced my master list of blocks. It felt really good to work on it, I enjoy hand applique once all the pieces are marked - it's the faffing about with templates and tracing onto the background for placement that I find really tedious.  Most of the blocks are from the book 'Grandmother's Last Quilt' but I'm also doing some out of the 'Rose Sampler Supreme' book.

I haven't done any bobbin lace this week as I've been waiting for my new threads to arrive.  They tried to deliver while I was out so I picked them up from the post office yesterday. Now I need to copy out some practice Torchon patterns from the Pamela Nottingham book.

I'm pretty much finished sorting through my vintage linens, although I have a pile that needs washing to try to remove stains.  I didn't find everything that I had previously catalogued, but then I found quite a few things that hadn't been catalogued or at least didn't have tags on, so there may be some overlap there.  I've scrawled all over my old catalogue so I need to type all that up and re-print it.  I've sorted everything into four boxes so I need to label those as well:  Small mats and doilies, Large mats and doilies; Tablecloths; Oddities and clothing.

Oh great, it's started raining again outside...  England in February, not fun.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Let the sunshine in

It isn't actually sunny out, as we are going through a typical English grey and rainy spell, but the light levels inside our house have been considerably lifted with the installation of new sheer roller blinds in the front rooms.  For six months we've been living in partial gloom because all the front windows face onto a busy main road and people and buses are passing by within a few feet of our house.  Being privacy-loving individuals, we've had no choice but to keep our grubby inherited dark roller blinds closed at all times, casting the lounge, dining room, and front bedrooms into shadow 24/7.  Last month we scrimped and saved to put aside the funds to buy six sheer blinds in an lacy pattern that reference the older style of the house, and yesterday we put them up.  They let the light in, and give a partial view of the street, but people outside can't see in during the day time.  Yay!  It makes such a difference to the dining room, even in this gloomy weather. The room seems twice as big, and is much more inviting to go and sit in.

One day when we have the funds, we will replace the grubby old roller blinds with nice Roman Blinds in fabrics to echo the room decor.

After cleaning the house all up last weekend, and putting all the leaves into the dining table etc., I was let down at the last minute by the lace group which was disappointing.  The Council found a new venue for the last class, so the teacher called me a few hours ahead to tell me of the change. At least we ended up with a tidy house :)  So the course is over now, but there is talk of continuing to meet informally as a lace group so I said I would be interested in that.

In the meantime I finished my lace circle and turned it into a card even though I am only keeping it as a sample. I had my first try at joining lace to itself, I didn't do a good job and the join is quite visible, but I learned a lot by trying it so I think I can do a better job next time.  This is worked in 50-wt sewing thread.

The last lesson for the course was to try Bedfordshire-style plaited lace.  I worked two samples from the Pamela Nottingham book 'Plaited Lace No 1' and 'No 2', I just ran them together on the same pillow to avoid re-winding bobbins.  The strange place where some threads are stranded across is where the second sample starts.  Unfortunately the thread I chose, a No 80 crochet cotton, is too tightly twisted to lie flat for this lace.  I've since ordered a few reels of more suitable thread and when they get here I am going to keep working through the Pamela Nottingham book to teach myself. I didn't really enjoy the plaited lace, so I'm going to go back to Torchon and work through that chapter.

On the knitting front, I was sorting out my collection of ripped-out patterns to file them, and came across a few things that were tempting. I succumbed to a pattern from Let's Knit magazine for a Capelet, which normally I wouldn't be seen dead in but it just looked so warm for wearing around our cold house.  I'm knitting it in some Rowan Kid Classic from my stash, stranded with one strand of Forsell Shamal (a machine knitting coned wool blend) and I'm really pleased with the lofty lightweight fabric I'm getting.

I finished the first sleeve for my Cabled Cardigan, and I've finished one side of the neckline for my Aran Sampler Sweater.  I also did a bunch of tension samples on my Brother 260 chunky knitting machine in preparation for machine knitting the back and sleeves for the Aran jumper. Since they are now just going to be plain stockinette, there's no reason to slog through them by hand. With this discontinued Jaeger Sport wool, Tension 4 on the machine gave me the required 18 st x 24 rows, so I should be able to just follow the hand knitting pattern as there is no internal shaping.  I will probably knit the welts by hand because my ribber sponge bar is shot, and also to make them match the front welt.

I tried on the pin-fitted tissue bodice of my Mannequin Cover and it seemed to fit, so I laid out the pieces on some cotton gabardine fabric, and chalked additional seam allowance around each of them (the Craftsy video recommends increasing the seam allowances to one inch), then cut them out.  Now I just need to add the markings and symbols and then I can baste it together for a first fitting. I might do that today.

You can see I have turned my sewing machine desk sideways on to the window now, and I've set up the two folding tables in front as a work area.  It seems a better use of the space than when the desk was facing the window.  If I ever actually machine quilt something larger, I will need to rig 'dams' along the lefthand and far edge of the work area to prevent the quilt falling off, but I think that day is far off at the moment.

Did you do anything for Valentine's Day?  We didn't do much apart from putting the blinds up, but we did have a nice bottle of chilled Prosecco in the evening which was a treat.

I'm still ploughing through my vintage linen collection, I've ironed most of the small stuff so just have about 25 small table cloths left to get through.  I have a number of fragments of lace that I found in bargain bins, edgings that were cut off from decayed cloths, or unfinished lengths of lace.  I've left them until last but I would like to find things to do with them.  I might sew some onto the ends of hand towels, and make a valance for my bed edged in lace, and maybe sew some along the bottom of my new sheer blind in my bedroom. I'm increasingly feeling like I would like to get back into sewing, it's mainly the unheated floor in my cold sewing room that's discouraging me so hopefully in the spring you will start to see more sewn items on the blog.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

The sun is shining..

It's a gorgeous sunny day out as I write this, still cold though and hovering just above freezing.  We had some more of this a few days ago:

but it's all gone now.  And I've been very pleased to see the dawn almost breaking when I am at the station in the morning, so it's quite light out, plus it's staying light longer in the day as well. It's always so oppressive to be going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark.  We have several clumps of snowbells blooming in the garden, and quite a few inherited bulbs poking up so it will be exciting to see what we've got in the spring.  There are also some fat buds on some of the trees in the garden, I think one is a magnolia tree so that could be pretty.

We had a breakthrough on the noise-from-next-door front, when our doorbell rang one evening and someone who looked a bit  like a ZZ-Top band member announced that he owns the studio.  Despite a beard lush enough for families of birds to nest in, and a big piercing through his nose, he seems quite pleasant and anxious to adjust sound levels so that the Council doesn't email him again.  He said he didn't realise how loud it was outside until recently, so he's turned everything down and has been round a couple more times to check that it's not bothering us.  So that's a huge relief and we're very grateful.

Today I've been cleaning the house up because I've invited my lace class round tomorrow, we didn't have a venue for this week's class because the normal one was double booked.  I've cranked out our Victorian dining table and put both leaves in, so we can easily sit eight around it and could sit 10 at a pinch.  I've been getting on fairly well with my  bobbin lace circle piece and am almost to the point of meeting where I started. We've only got one more lesson the week after next and then the course is over.  I can't justify the money to sign up for another one, but I think I've had a good grounding that will now enable me to keep working on my own from my library of bobbin lace books. One day I would like to buy some decent hardwood bobbins, but the plastic ones are working fine in the meantime.

I topped my Christmas Table Topper, so it just needs quilting now.  The 'ribbons' are fusible applique finished with a small zig zag. There will be dark green binding to finish it. I'm definitely not getting a quarter-inch seam with my quarter-inch foot, not sure yet whether it is me or the foot so I need to experiment before I tackle anything more complex.

I also did a bit more sorting out in my sewing room, and spent a couple of hours sorting photos and pasting them into my project scrapbooks.  I used to be really good about pasting in a picture of everything I did in a year, and including notes or patterns etc.  Somehow with everything that's been going on I stopped filing about three years ago.  So it was quite challenging to work out what went in which year, I found scrolling back through my blog quite useful to pinpoint when I was working on things.  It's made more complicated by my habit of taking several years to actually get around to finishing things.  So a quilt that I started in, say, 2003 might not have been topped until 2009 and not quilted until 2012.  It was quite nice to look back over old projects though, I'd forgotten a lot of them. I sometimes feel like I am the only one that still prints out hard copies of photos (I save them up and send 150-200 at a time to an online place, it's much cheaper). I just like being able to have a physical copy that I can write on, write notes next to, move next to other related photos etc. and know that it is safely preserved and not at risk of loss due to hard drive failure or technical obsoleting.

I've got as far as cutting out the pattern pieces for my Mannequin Cover. It's been a long time (decades) since I handled a dressmaking pattern and I was confused that there were no seam allowances marked. I googled and it appears that they are included, just not marked on this McCall's pattern.  Then I had to try to alter the pattern for my thick waist.  I'm not sure I've done a very good job, but I guess the next thing to do is to pin the tissue together and try it on.

On the knitting front, I've completed the increases for the first sleeve of the Cabled Cardigan, and I'm on the short row heel for the Mixalot Sock.  I also did a bit of knitting on the neckline of the Aran Sampler Sweater.  I've gotten muddled up several times and had to pull back because of either forgetting to decrease or forgetting that my charts are now partially cut away due to the decreased stitches.

I've also started a new Mystery Knit Along, The Battle of Five Armies, which is the third shawl in the series by AlterLace on Ravelry to go with the three-part Hobbit films.  I really enjoyed the first two 'An Unexpected Journey' and 'The Desolation of Smaug' so it's fun to be knitting one again.  Apparently this will be another half-round shawl.  Of course, it doesn't look like much until it's blocked.  This is in Auracania Ranco Multi, and this is Clue One and Clue Two.

For machine knitting, I finished, blocked, and sewed together the little denim baby jumper, and it's all wrapped up now ready to take to work on Wednesday to travel to the baby shower with a colleague. I stitched the bands down with a contrast cotton and gave it wooden buttons, for a bit of a 'denim jacket' vibe. I hope she likes it.

Prettifying the house

Several years ago I cut up some charity-bargain vintage linens to make bunting, copying some expensive bunting I saw for sale in Lewes.  This used to be pinned up in my bedroom at the old house, but I decided to try it in our new kitchen.  I think I like it, it adds to the 50s country kitchen feeling and the yellow is a cheerful contrast with the blue cabinets.

I've also started sorting out my large collection of vintage and antique linens.  About 10 years ago I was really into collecting filet crochet, especially pictorial crochet, and was always on the look out for items at flea markets, antiques stalls etc.  Along the way I have picked up or been gifted various other linens other than crochet, such as knitted lace doilies, netting, tatting, needlelace, pulled thread work etc.  Again, initially, I was very good at cataloguing them and put a little tag on each one but that rather fell by the wayside over the years.  Partly because there were few places to display them in our previous little house and because they were inaccessible under a bed.  So now I've taken over DS's bedroom and have unpacked them all and am gradually ironing them and ticking off items on the catalogue, and tagging uncatalogued items.  Despite the incredible work and artistry that goes into them, vintage linens are still almost worthless.  I have about 25 gorgeous little table cloths that used to go on tea tables etc,, all heavily decorated with fine crochet borders, and these still seem to be selling on eBay for abou £4-5. It's ridiculous.  I don't need so many linens and doilies but I feel like I am keeping them safe for future generations.  But I've been having fun finding places around the house to display some of my collection. Much easier in this house plus they are more likely to stay clean for longer now that DS is grown up.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but inside it's so delightful

Yes, we've actually had snow the last couple of days. Not very much, about a half-inch crust on Friday here in the Midlands, but that's enough to cause a certain amount of chaos on the roads because most people down here don't know how to drive in it. It's also been hovering around zero degrees Celsius which by southern UK standards is very cold. Having survived several years in eastern Canada, it doesn't seem too cold to me, but I'm still happy to stay inside my warm house.

This was the view from my train station on Friday, when I was on my way to work.

This week I took advantage of my 'free' train travel to London courtesy of my season ticket, and paid a visit to the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green to visit the 'Small Stories: At home in a dollshouse' exhibition.  As this is primarily of interest to miniaturists, I've blogged about the visit on one of my dollshouse blogs here.

On the trip I was working on my Mixalot Socks, which are a great way to use up scrap yarn but makes for a rather heavy project as you have to carry around all the small balls of said yarn. Each of these colours is from a previous pair of socks or shawl, and you can choose from four different simple lace patterns each time you knit a stripe.

This week I've also finished the right front of my Cabled Cardigan and I've started on the sleeve.

I also sewed buttons on the Machine Knit Baby Cardigan in fuschia, and am 2/3rds of the way through knitting a second one in denim blue cotton Panama yarn.  The second one is going much quicker now that I sort of know the pattern and how to knit it.  Another colleague has just announced she is also pregnant but she doesn't know what it is yet.  She's not due until the summer so no rush.

I've spent a lot of time this week trying to get to grips with my next bobbin lace class assignment.  It's a circle with leaf-shaped 'tallies', and I started it in class with the thread I had which was too thick, just so the teacher could show me how to do it.  At home I wound 10 more pairs of bobbins (20) in thinner thread, and started over again. That thread turned out to be also too thick plus I realised I had no clue what I was doing.

I wound 10 more pairs of bobbins in 50-weight sewing cotton thread, and spent about an hour and a half analysing the pattern diagram, looking up things I didn't understand online, and writing out step by step idiot instructions.  Today I started over again for the third time, and am now getting on fairly well apart from the fact that I'm still not very good at it so the tension isn't great. Also it's not brilliant for visibility to be using white thread on a white photocopy - I am going to order some coloured self-adhesive film to cover the pattern to give a bit more contrast.  In the meantime I'm using my glasses, a magnifying stand, and a daylight lamp in an attempt to fight back against my ageing eyesight deficiencies.

On the quilting front, I went back to work on my Christmas Table Topper, fusing on the 'ribbons' and finishing the raw edges with zig-zag, and now I'm adding the first of two red/white borders which are separated by a green stripe.

Not much noise from the studio next door this week, but I have now raised queries with the Council as to whether they have planning for their operating hours, and about the noise.

And no more news yet at work, although the rumour is that they are going to create one big team instead of all the dispersed current units around the UK.  We have a briefing scheduled for Monday to update us so perhaps there will be more news then on what's happening and what the timescale is.

Hope you are staying warm.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Special but not in a good way

It's been a bit of a stressful week, mainly due to my own nature which DH kindly deems 'special' but in the past others have not been so kind.  All my life I have been much more bothered by environmental stimuli such as temperature, noise, draughts, perfumes, bright lights, crowds, sudden noises etc., than most of the people around me. Several years ago I found out about research into the trait of high sensitivity and it was like a lightbulb had gone on -  finally there was a name for people like me and I wasn't the only one.

As an adult I can generally manage my exposure to my environment to cater for my own preferences. I've also managed to habituate myself to the stresses of an open plan office - it still makes me uncomfortable but I've learned coping strategies and am able to function, or at least pretend to function (team days, ick!), normally.

But this week I've been subjected to noise that is outside my control and that I can't get away from, which is the worst kind for me. We've discovered there is a recording studio next door to our new house that we didn't know about when we bought six months ago.  And what's changed is that they've taken on additional space in the little Victorian industrial unit next door, and this week started playing amplified heavy metal music in the new non-soundproofed space. It went on until midnight the first day, and most of the second day until I went round to complain.  Since then it's been  much better, although we had one more night where it was going on until 10pm. It will remain to be seen if that overt noise continues, and if I have to complain to the Council.

But meanwhile, now that I know the studio exists, it has explained why we could often hear faint bass music reverberating the windows of our house. We thought it was some pub off in the far distance that occasionally had live bands. Now I know it is coming from the soundproofed portion of the studio right next door and it has been driving me crazy, thudding away just below the level of my hearing, all day and into the evening.  I don't know if they've stepped up their activity suddenly because I never used to notice it this much.  Of course, it's not bothering DH at all because the thumping is so quiet, and I'm sure a Noise Control Officer wouldn't think I had a case at all.  The studio's website says they're open seven days a week until 10pm, so I'm dreading that this is going to become the new normal.  Perhaps I shall get used to it. I suppose it is going to be intermittent depending on what clients they have in the studio.

The other thing that happened this week is that, before the dust has even settled on the last round of redundancies, we've been told at work that there will be more.  The company is still having financial difficulties and we've got a new CEO who has announced plans for major costcutting. It's too early to know yet what the impact will be on my team but it seems likely that we'll be combined with other similar teams and probably have to compete for our own jobs at some point in the next few months. All's we can do for now is wait and see.

The sane world of crafts

Thank heavens for crafting and the opportunity to use our creativity and relax.

This week I decided to paint our hideous dark brown MDF TV stand, that we bought cheap to use in the rental house and now can't afford to replace.  I had just enough chalk paint left over from painting the linen cupboard and hall table to give the TV stand a couple of coats, and I covered the flat surfaces in stick-on Fablon to resist scratching from the electronic equipment. Still not a thing of beauty but at least it looks less like a dark blob squatting in the corner of the lounge.

I found out at my next bobbin lace lesson that the book I was learning from at home was American and therefore I'd learned some incorrect terminology, so I've had to learn different names for the stitches.  She set us beginners an exercise to do a candle shape in Torchon lace.  I brought it home to work on but struggled because the directions aren't very precise and I hadn't thought of taking a picture of the original for reference. So I don't think the 'flame' part has come out the way it should have done, but I'll find out next lesson. I suppose I could have stopped and waited, but I wanted to move on and do some more practicing. I am going to make a cover for my second pillow today, so that I'll be able to work on a classroom project and my own projects at the same time.

On the knitting front, I had to pull out my first attempt at the Mixalot sock because I tried on the Medium and it was coming out huge.  I've started over and cut out a full repeat, and will try it on again when I get to a few inches.

I blocked my little machine knit baby cardigan and then gave it a steam press.

I've been sewing it together the last few evenings and it looks pretty respectable. I just need to press the last couple of seams and put some buttons on it. It's not perfect when you look closely but a reasonable first attempt as I try to get back into machine knitting.  I'm going to knit it again in 'boy' colours for an ex-colleague who is due in March. This is a first size, in a superwash 4-ply pure wool.

I've knit a bit more on the Aran Sampler jumper and have divided for the neckline now. I'm making the neckline deeper than the pattern's crew neck. I'm also halfway up the right front of the Cabled Cardigan, making buttonholes as I go.

On the weight loss front, I've made it back down to 11 stone (134 pounds) so I can now take my body measurements to fabricate the cover for my dressmaker's mannequin.  The idea is that you make a zip-on cover which is skin tight on you, then pad out the mannequin and zip the cover onto it to create your body double.  We'll see.  In the Craftsy video, they do it all with a skilled helper to take measurements and pin fit the cover on the model, which I think may be beyond DH's skill level.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

We return you to our normal programming

I've had a really crafty week.  The kind of week that used to happen a lot, up until two years ago when we decided we wanted to move house. With DS gone back to uni, and it being too cold to do much DIY inside or out, I've spent hours and hours just working on hobbies.  And it felt great, but a bit strange at the same time.

So this week I've done curtainmaking, started learning bobbin lace, sewed bobbin lace accessories, done handknitting and machine knitting. I've made loads of mistakes, learned lots of new things, and exercised parts of my brain that have been pretty dormant for a long time.

Bobbin Lace

Just before Christmas I heard about a short course introducing Bobbin Lace, being offered at a centre about eight minutes walk from my house. Bobbin Lace is something I've always wanted to try, and over the last 20 years I've collected parts from two Dryad starter kits (found at boot sales), several books, and some bits and bobs like spangle beads and pins. I had my first two hour lesson (of five) last week, and I really enjoyed it. There are five of us on the course, three continuing on from last term and two of us absolute beginners.  All the others had elaborate lacemaking kit which immediately awoke my gadget girl collector's envy. The teacher is really nice and showed us two beginners how to wind bobbins (she lent me hers to begin with) and how to do cloth stitch, and got us started on our first pattern which was to make a snake using cloth stitch. I did about an inch in class and then brought it home as homework.  I was enjoying it so much that I finished it the next morning.

Meanwhile I dug through my stash to pull together the long-hoarded bobbin lace kit.  Altogether I have 29 pairs of plastic or basic wooden bobbins, which all needed spangling - that's the circle of beads attached to one end which helps the bobbin lie flat in use.  So I spent several hours threading wire through beads and attaching it to the bobbins - but I had to go out and raid the local charity shops to find some more bead necklaces to break up as I was running out of big beads.

After that painstaking task, I sewed a cover for one of the foam Dryad flat pillows, and hemmed a work cloth to use with it.  To protect my newly-spangled bobbins, I sewed a bobbin-holding case which will hold 32 pairs.  I used curtain tieback Pellon for the stiff covers, and wide waistband elastic to hold the bobbins.  The binding is doubled French binding and I used the leftover binding strips to sew ties to hold it closed. I didn't have a pattern as such but I looked at a few online to see what others were using. It was good sewing practice as well.

Finally I was ready to try some more lace using my very own tools. I have a beginner's book called 'Lessons on Bobbin Lacemaking' by Dorothy Southard (Dover) so I started learning stitches out of that and had a go at a simple practice braid using different stitches.

I think Dorothy must be/have been American, so hopefully I'm not learning to do things differently than the teacher would have shown me. I'll find out at the next lesson! She seems pretty laid back so I don't think she'll mind that I've gone ahead on my own.

Having learned the three stitches (cloth stitch, whole throw, and half throw), I wanted to tackle my first piece of 'real' lace.  Dorothy calls this the Crown and Triangle edging, and it was really fun to do once I worked out which threads were going where and in which order.

I doubt this is going to become a main hobby for me, at least not to the point where I am going to spend £3.50-£10 collecting individual bobbins like the teacher. But I would like to be able to tackle some miniature lace for the dollshouse - I've got a book somewhere on how to do that and make little mats, antimacassars etc.  In the meantime it's been really fun to learn something new.

Curtainmaking is hard

At the opposite end of the 'fun' spectrum, I slogged through several more hours of seaming, pressing and hemming and finally finished the cellar stairs curtain.

Although the Laura Ashley book of furnishing describes this as a 'simple' curtain, it probably took me up to 10 hours to make and has wholly solidified my intention to pay someone else to make all the Roman Blinds we will need in this house. It's just really hard to wrestle a 2.2m square piece of heavy fabric, made heavier with a thermal lining and weights in the hem. It's hard to cut an accurate square that big in the first place - and my lining hem is wonky by about an inch because of that. It's hard to accurately press all the hems and seams, and it took about an hour just to handsew the bottom curtain  hem. The task was not made easier by  having to piece together three pieces of curtain fabric and four pieces of lining to get to the right size (the lining is my own fault, I didn't order enough).  But it's done, and it's doing the job apart from it doesn't hang right up to the walls very well because of the fittings supporting the pole. It looks pretty good from this distance  :)

Hand knitting

This week I finished the left front of the Cabled Cardigan and I've blocked it in preparation for marking where I want the button holes.  I was a bit stymied when I got to the shoulders and found the directions wanted me to keep knitting the neckband. I've not done a cardigan that way before, but I can see how it will work to flow the cable around the neckline. I've left the neckband stitches on a pin in case I need to make it longer or shorter.

Meanwhile I then needed a new portable project, so I started the Mixalot Sock by Rachel Coopey. This pattern has been featured in full page ads for a yarn company in UK knitting magazines, and is essentially stripes of different colours each featuring one of four lace patterns. It looked like a great way to use up my many balls of leftover sock yarn. I started it on my Wednesday commute but by Thursday I could see that the  medium size was going to be far too loose on me. So I've pulled that out and re-started with fewer stitches. Haven't photographed as it doesn't look like anything yet.

I finally finally finished the endless stockinette of the Low Tide Cardigan body in sock yarn. A really tedious knit.  I tried it on and I am not convinced this is going to be a success.  The v-shaped lace yoke is bulging strangely on my back. Other Ravellers have reported fit problems so I am not optimistic.  I've measured the armhole size and calculated how many stitches to pick up which is different from the pattern because the yoke is stretching on me. So I will have to increase as I pick up the live stitches.

I've knit a bit more on the Aran Sampler Pullover, but still on the section above the armholes. I will need to decide how I'm going to do the neckline soon, the pattern neck is too high for me.

Machine knitting

I have persevered and completed the two fronts, and two sleeves for the little practice baby cardigan I am knitting in fuschia pink.  Today I tackled knitting the front buttonhole bands, which took ages and was exhausting.  There are some things which just aren't that easy or quick on a machine compared to handknitting.  I also re-learned how to use my Hague Linker after a few false starts - that's a machine that chain stitches live stitches down onto the knitted fabric, to give a neat finish to the folded knitted bands.  Now I just need to do the neckbands, darn in some loose ends and then I can block the pieces ready for seaming.  I haven't photographed them yet as machine knitting tends to curl up a lot more than handknitting so at the moment they just look like fuschia pink sausages.

Hopefully I will end up with a cardigan that's reasonably adequate to give away to someone.  Then I am going to knit something for an ex-colleague who is pregnant with a baby boy. I need to have it done before the 15th of March when she is having a baby shower.  I'm not going but one of my current colleagues will take the gift along for me.

Edible craft

I made my first bubble tea at home today!  We like it so much when we have it at Oxford that I looked up how to do it.  I used this recipe here, and some boba pearls that I  mail ordered from an online Asian shop. I used Jasmine Green Tea bags, and flavoured it with fresh squeezed lemon juice.  It was pretty good!  Will definitely make again, and would be so refreshing on a hot day.  Today it is hovering at freezing but it is lovely and sunny.

Hope you've had a good week too!

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Faux paper tiled fireplace hearth

In which I apply dollshouse techniques to the real world  :)

The cute Victorian cast-iron fireplace in my bedroom had been given a quite ugly makeshift hearth by the previous owners, who had just stuck down some slate tiles and put a wooden border around them.  We had that pulled up and I scraped off the tile adhesive, but that left me with an unattractive concrete slab flush with the floorboards.

For a while I thought I was going to re-tile with some replica Victorian tiles, but once my bedroom was finally re-painted and the furniture arranged, the hearth has ended up right in a traffic route leading to the ensuite.  Tiles would raise it up to toe-stubbing level above the floorboards.

Eventually it occurred to me that the only way to have 'tiles' that were level with the floor would be to use a faux decoupage tile glued to the hearth slab.  This is the technique we often use in the miniature world, to create an effect that looks in scale.  I spent some more time looking for gift wrap or wallpaper featuring tiles and although there are quite a few designs, I couldn't find anything I liked.

I eventually realised (yes, slow thinker here) that I could just make my own tiles. I cut out a portion of a mosaic image I found online, made it square using Photoshop, and printed out lots of copies on my inkjet printer. I let them dry then sprayed them with a coat of clear sealer. Then I  cut out individual tiles with the help of a paper cutter. I left a sliver border of white around them to help with spacing.

Meanwhile I painted the concrete slab white with three coats of smooth masonry paint.

I 'tiled' the hearth just like you would with real tiles, cutting the end tiles in half to get even spacing across the hearth. I painted the back of each tile with PVA adhesive using a foam brush, and the neat trick of using a new clean page in a magazine each time as a glue palette.  The PVA stuck the 'tiles' down really well.  When I got to the curved bits around the cast iron, I creased the paper with my finger nail then cut it to shape with scissors.

The end effect does look like tiles from a short distance, although I did have a bit of trouble keeping the 'grout' lines even.

It helps a lot that my inkjet printer is a bit knackered so the colour on random tiles is a bit mottled.  After taking this picture, I let the tiles dry overnight then gave them three coats of Ronseal Clear Floor Varnish left over from refinishing the floorboards downstairs.

Humorous aside: DH was really confused when I showed him my 'tiled' hearth because he couldn't remember when we had bought those ceramic tiles.


I finished the back on my Cabled Cardigan.  I really like this Eco Debbie Bliss yarn, it's soft and yet has good stitch definition.  I've started the left front now and am halfway to the armhole.

I've made it past the armholes on the Aran Sampler pullover.  I decided to give it a modified drop shoulder as I know the pattern's drop shoulder would be really unflattering.  I'm also leaning towards doing a plain back and plain sleeves, because I think if I do the whole pullover in this bobbly pattern then I am going to look like I'm wearing a fat suit.

I've done a bit more machine knitting, completing the two fronts for the little baby cardigan I am knitting.  They went much better, it's starting to feel slightly more natural.  Although the on-board sensor still seems to be working because the exact moment I started thinking "Hey, this is fun!" then I immediately dropped the stitch I was moving to a new needle to decrease, dropped the stitch I had already decreased and suddenly had armageddon on the armhole.


Although Christmas has come and gone, I've decided to make a table topper from a book called Deck the Halls - Quilts to Celebrate Christmas by Cheryl Almgren Taylor (That Patchwork Place). I'm actually combining two table topper designs, using the appliqued 'presents' from one and the candy cane border from another.  I'm still having trouble sewing an exact seam allowance, I'm wondering if my quarter-inch foot has gone out of calibration. It was fun going into my 'walk in fabric closet' to pick the fabrics for this project, that part of my new sewing room is working really well.

But today I put the christmas project to one side (well, actually I put it on the floor because I am short on table space) to start sewing a curtain to stop the drafts coming up the cellar stairs.  I'm making it out of the final remnants of about eight miles of Sanderson Morris 'Willow' pattern fabric that we inherited with our first house almost 25 years ago. In its time, this fabric has been drapes, sun canopies in the garden to protect the baby, upholstery fabric for an Ottoman, lining for handbags, and there was still just enough left to piece together into a 2.2m x 2m curtain.  It sure is awkward trying to wrestle that much fabric on and off the ironing and sewing tables though.  I've bought some combined lining/interlining to use, to make it thermally efficient, and I'm just going to do a simple bagged lining. The hardest part is doing all the calculations, hopefully I've got it right and it will be the right size.

The house is ours again

We took DS back to Oxford today and moved him back into his room.  Much as we love him, it feels nice to have the house back again. I should have more time now as well, less cooking and picking up after him. After we took him to lunch and forcibly bought him a new pair of trainers to replace the ones his toes were hanging out of (I made him wear the new ones out of the shop so I knew the old ones had gone in the bin), we had a lovely long walk.  All along the Thames on the opposite side to the boathouses, with lovely views across Christchurch Meadows to the colleges. Then back over the Thames on the Doddington Road, and back into Oxford on the Iffley Road arriving eventually at Magdelan College. It felt like several miles and it was a lovely sunny day.  We rewarded ourselves with a nice glass of Bubble Tea at the peaceful sanctuary of Formosa Tea Room, then headed home.

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