Sunday, 7 February 2016

Mental arithmetic with fractions makes my head hurt

This weekend we went out and bought this lumber:

Then turned it into this robust workbench:

...but not without a huge struggle in which I had to do mental arithmetic with multiple fractions because we were using American instructions based on imperial measurements.

American instructions using imperial measurements
referring to lumber that isn't actually measuring what it's called, eg a 2"x4" isn't actually two by four inches after planing
I had to comb the internet to work out how to buy equivalents in the UK in metric - eg the closest equivalent to a 2x4 seems to be a 50mm x 100mm x 2.4m, 3/4" plywood is 18mm here etc.
   - then-
I had to work out how long to cut various bits allowing for the differences in metric lumber vs the American timber.
  - resulting-
in me having to calculate things like 34 1/2" minus 2 x 3 15/16ths" minus 19 3/4" = ?
ow ow ow headache...

But we got there in the end and the bench is really solid, it's got a useful shelf and we added a good-sized bench vise.  Best of all, I now have all the measurements worked out ready for when we build the second one next weekend. The instructions are here, free to print from the detail below the Youtube video - we didn't actually watch the video before building it as the instructions are pretty good by themselves (apart from not being in metric). Our carpentry skills are pretty minimal so if we can manage it then almost anyone with a handsaw and a power drill should be able to cope. We got the plywood cut to size at B&Q.

This was the first step in tackling the final dumping ground in the house which is the unheated cellar room. It's a disaster zone at the moment, full of stuff that got left there when we were unpacking, untidy messes of tools and packing material, empty boxes, paint tins etc.  I want to turn it into a more tidy workshop with decent storage, and places to put our power tools. And eventually a place to build dollshouses hopefully.

Also on the DIY front, I installed the painted brackets I posted about last week. They look good, like they are holding up the beam rather than just stuck to it. A subtle bit of bling for the room. And you can't see the hints of lime green  :)


I did in fact run out of white yarn for the Baa-ble mittens so they are stalled while I wait for another ball to arrive in the post. I have the tip of the second mitten to do, and thumbs on both mitts.

I also went shopping for fabric as the Fabric Guild in Leicester emailed me about their sale when I was having a weak moment. I wan't happy with the solid blue fabric for the border of the Let it Snow quilt, it was just killing all the joy of the central panel stone dead. So I headed up to Leicester on my day off to look for an alternative. I found a mottled blue which is much more what I wanted, so I've unpicked the snowballs but I'm leaving the corner triangles in solid blue and will replace the plain squares with the new fabric. They also had this snowman fabric for £2/yd so I picked up some for the back of the quilt, and fell for this cute pack of four FQs and this vintage sewing fabric. I felt I was showing real dedication to my craft as the Fabric Guild is a little over a mile from Leicester station and it was very windy and raining as I trudged along on foot there and back on what was meant to be my relaxing day off.

I did a bit more stitching on the latest applique block from my ancient UFO 25-block applique quilt.  I manage about two blocks a year and I think this is only block 17, sigh...  It is starting to look very pretty though, will be fab if I ever finish it.

I also finally finished the first Basket Check Sock - commuter knitting took a real back seat to my re-reading an urban fantasy series from my bookshelf the last few weeks. You know how it goes, you pick up the first book because you don't have anything to read on the train and before you know it you are procrasti-reading all eight volumes and stalking Amazon to see when the next one comes out.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

I have sheep on my head

Yes, I finished the Baa-ble hat and it fits really well. It's so cute. It's turned a bit cold again so I wore it to the supermarket today, very warm and snug.

I stumbled across free instructions on Ravelry for matching mittens, using the chart from the purchased hat pattern. I wasn't sure I would have enough yarn so I knit the two cuffs at the same time and finished with literally a couple of feet of yarn left over. I'm pretty sure I've got enough of the other colours.

I've decided to start attending a monthly group at a quilting shop and went to my first session today. You can work on whatever you want, so I took along the borders for my Let it Snow quilt. I went with the solid blue in the end because the batik I bought last weekend was too directional. I am a bit disappointed at having to use plain fabric but I couldn't justify buying a third lot of fabric and the colour is fine. So I sewed 18 snowball blocks today and pieced them into four panels.  I then started to piece 3.5" squares of plaid fabric into panels to bookend the snowballs and once again proved I can't count. I thought I had cut plenty of squares to piece four plaid panels and have squares left over. Not only had I not cut enough squares, but I belatedly realised I actually need eight panels, not four. So I've only cut about 40 squares when I actually should have cut 96 squares.  Good thing I don't work in a bank.

On my day off I put what is probably the ninth coat of paint on a pair of brackets that I'm going to mount on my bedroom wall in mock support of the ceiling beam. I picked these up on a bric-a-brac table at a fete and they are meant to hold up a curtain pelmet. They were originally painted gold but I wiped them down with sugar soap wipes and started painting them. After a couple of coats not only was the gold still showing through but the paint started to turn green. Three more coats and I gave up on my lime green brackets and gave them a good spray with sealer. That turned them a very attractive mixture of brown sealer and green paint that almost looked like I had done a verdigris effect on purpose. Thankfully the sealer has mostly stopped the reaction with the gold paint, and four more coats of paint finally turned them white. I am choosing to ignore the hints of lime green inside some of the deeper crevices...

I moved the brackets out of the way and started repair work on my 1/12th scale French Loire chateau gatehouse which had lost its railings and the tip of the turret in the house move, plus some of the 'stone' coating had chipped off.  Luckily I still had plenty of the stone coating so I mixed more up and patched the breaks, and reglued the railing. I've driven in a couple of nails to try to give the railing a bit more stability.

My new job is going fine and Friday I was told that I've passed the first qualification stage successfully so that was a nice way to end the week.  It's a bit scary because being qualified means that a portion of my work won't be checked any more as I am deemed competent to do it on my own.  Of course I promptly hit two cases that had things I had never seen before so I ended up sending one of them for check anyway like a chicken - cluck cluck cluck.  Perhaps I need to ease into standing on my own  :)

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Bleah, stupid head cold

I was actually better for most of the week and then suddenly last night my sinuses went into overdrive and I've been sneezing and blowing my nose all day. Bleah.

However I have discovered my hitherto unknown superpower which is manipulating the weather: Thursday I broke down and wrapped up our poor bay tree in fleece to belatedly protect it from the sub-zero frosts at night, and Friday afternoon the temperature promptly shot up 10 degrees.  It's suppose to be warm all week so I guess I am taking the fleece off again tomorrow.

I've been knitting on the Baa-ble Hat this week which I think will be quite a warm hat, in aran 100% wool.  It's very cute and DH has even hinted that he would like it - but it's mine.

Like many other knitters on Ravelry, I found it was coming up quite big even though I had dropped to a 4mm needle from the recommended 4.5mm.  I pulled it out and started again with a 3mm needle which is sizing up quite well and also giving a denser hopefully warmer fabric.

This week I took the bobbin lace dollshouse towel edging that I made a few months ago, and stitched it onto a towel I made from a piece of cotton hankie which had a printed design on it. I hand rolled a tiny hem on the edges, which went fairly well on the sides but was much harder going across the end which wasn't woven on grain. I was pleased with the end result though, and this went off to an online swap partner.

In return I received this generous assortment of neatly made bathroom goodies, which I can find good homes for in various of my dollshouses.

I also finished renovating my 1:24 scale thatched cottage which has four rooms - two downstairs and two upstairs. There is room for more accessories but everything is repaired and cleaned and I added a few new pieces of furniture. (I know the doll looks a little unrealistic but it's hard to get good dolls in this scale). I built this cottage from scratch to my own design about 20 years ago and also built most of the furniture either from kits or from scratch.

To add a homely touch, this week I put together a kit from the now defunct Model Village Miniatures for a tiny knitting bag, and added it to the living room.

Meanwhile, with great difficulty, I finished the little dollshouse mat in bobbin lace that I was making. I found this very difficult to do, not because the lace stitches are difficult because they aren't, but because it's so tiny. The pins are so close that they get in the way of seeing the pattern. The thread was so fine that I snapped three threads and had to work in replacements, and I had an extremely difficult time finishing it off at the end when you have to join the start to the beginning. So it's a bit of a mess but it's still usable.  I've ordered some different thread which I hope will be slightly sturdier and I'm going to try again: hopefully my second attempt will go a bit better now that I know more what I am doing.

I haven't done any quilting this week because I didn't have any fabric I was happy with to use as the background for the snowball blocks in the border of my Let it Snow quilt. Why is it that no matter how big your stash is, you still find you need a different colour?  So DH kindly drove me to Tudor Rose Patchwork near Bedford, and to Poppy Patch in Great Doddington, to look for fabric. Neither had quite what I wanted but I bought a solid blue at Poppy Patch and a batik at Tudor Rose and will try them out on the design wall.  There was only 1.2m left of the batik so I will have to do math (ick) to work out if that would be enough for all the blocks I need.

The other thing I've spent some time on this week is not a crafty thing as such. I've started to seriously look at booking a holiday to Japan later in the year. Originally I was planning to hit the Yokohama Quilt Show in November but then that was cancelled. So now it will just be a more typical tour around the main destinations that everyone goes to, but hopefully hitting lots of craft shops along the way. I've always wanted to go to Japan and we aren't getting any younger  :) DH is less convinced but willing to come along.  It does seem to be an extremely expensive place to visit, the two quotes I've had from travel agents so far for my desired itinerary are rather shocking - I may resort to booking it myself to save money.  If you've been to Japan, I'd love to hear your tips and recommendations!  Especially for crafty destinations in Tokyo and Kyoto.

Friday, 15 January 2016

Baby it's cold out there

Yes, after the warmest December on record, we are finally having some winter.  Here in Northamptonshire it is down around freezing, and the puddles had thin skins of ice when I walked to the station this morning.  Our old house is generally not too cold down to about 5 degrees C outside, but now there are icy drafts snaking around my ankles and I am typing this wrapped up in a quilt and a knitted shawl. I'm also sleeping under three of my handmade quilts at night to stay warm. Luckily my feet are fairly warm in  my latest pair of Arne and Carlos felted slippers.

These are knit in Lett Lopi again, and the duplicate stitch embroidery is in a triple strand of Jamieson's 2 ply jumper weight.  There is a chart in their book but I adapted it to just do the rose motif, plus I went a bit wrong so have ended up with an individual design.

I missed posting on this blog last week as my return to the office exposed me to the lurgy making the rounds, so I wasn't feeling great plus I was quite tired after we packed DS up and took him back to uni.  After we got him unpacked into his room, he took us to the History of Science museum which was surprisingly interesting, full of antique scientific instruments some of which were objects of beauty in their own right.  Then we took him for lunch at his latest fast food find, a Mexican burrito place which was fairly good, before bidding him farewell for another term. On the way home we made our customary stop at the big antiques centre in Brackley, where DH picked up a book and I found a nice table centre and a framed Victorian engraving.

Just in time for the cold snap I finished my attempt at a warm windproof hat in Jaeger Natural Fleece.

It is surprisingly hard to take a picture of the
back of one's own head

As well as a deep, ear-covering ribbed band, I knitted the body of the hat by stranding two ends of wool, alternating two stitches in each (I tried one stitch but it made the fabric too stiff). The idea was to make the hat windproof by plugging up all the holes with the strands. It was partially successful: the hat is quite warm but still lets some wind in.

We took the Christmas tree down last weekend, so last Thursday I made myself finish the second Torchon Lace Christmas star and stiffened it.  It went on the tree for a brief moment so I could take this photo, before the tree went off for recycling.

I've 'cast on' (sounds better than 'set up') for a little dollshouse mat in fine bobbin lace. I've already broken one of the thin threads by tugging too hard and had to replace it. The mat is about the size of a postage stamp so I am having to use a clip-on magnifier to see what I'm doing.

Commuter knitting continues to be the Basket Check sock.  Sofa knitting, now that I've finished the third pair of slippers, is now another hat.  I know I said in the last post that I wanted to knit more from my stash, but then I promptly fell off the wagon and ordered more yarn to knit a Baa-ble Hat.  This was the free pattern from this year's Shetland Wool Week and is adorable. One Raveler described embarking on this project as "drinking the Koolaid" due to there being over 3,000 projects for it on Ravelry. In fact every UK site I tried for buying the wool (Jamieson Shetland Heather) was sold out of some or all of the colourways for it.  In the end I was able to get the colours from one site then substitute a black and a white yarn from Blacker Yarns for the sheep.  So I've cast on for that and am currently knitting the ribbed band.

Dollshousing in the cold basement room is not an attractive pasttime but I did do some work this Thursday on renovating my 1/24th scale thatched cottage.  It needed a good clean, some broken items repaired, and I've re-arranged the rooms somewhat to improve the appearance. I put together a simple little wooden cabinet kit after staining it, which made me realise how out of practice I am at building things.

I've  put together the central panel of my Let it Snow quilt now and am quite pleased with the cheerful colours (although less pleased with my not entirely accurate seam allowances). I'm currently deciding what to do about the snowball border because I am going off piste from the pattern yet not entirely happy with how the quilter whose scrappy version I am using as inspiration decided to tackle hers.

I hope you are staying warm and enjoying wrapping up in your handmade knits and quilts.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Last day of holiday

...then back to work tomorrow.  Today I got up at 7:30am on the theory that it will make getting up at 6:25am less horrible tomorrow but I don't think that a week of lie-ins will be overcome that easily.

Through dedication and perseverance, we have managed to eat up all the holiday food and sweets.We got through most of the turkey before its expiry date, and cracked open the gift Prosecco for New Year's Eve in front of the telly. We've watched the entire Hobbit trilogy which was one of my Christmas presents - I liked it a lot better watching it for the second time and consecutively, than I did seeing it in the cinema.

Yesterday DH dropped me at the new year's sale at the Colemans Craft Warehouse in Rushden. It was a decent sale, 30% off most things and quite a few bits marked down to 50% off. Also there was a pop-up sale next door of MDF blanks - I think it was these people - at very reasonable prices. I haven't really done anything with MDF blanks before but they were so cheap that I bought a caddy for my cutting rulers on my cutting station; a tray to corral my scissors, rotary cutter etc; a pencil holder; a couple of blank plaque shapes and two caskets which may be gifts.  A bit of painting with acrylic paint ensued, decorating with Mod Podge and papers, and the old hot glue gun came out, and I'm quite pleased with the results. It was fun to try something new.

Pen holder decorated with some gift wrap from Venice

Desk caddy decorated with gift wrap on outside, and 
the inner tray lined with some card printed in button motifs

Ruler caddy with fabric applied using Mod Podge, then
various charms, buttons, ribbons and thread spools from my stash
applied with hot glue or Quick Grab.

Yesterday afternoon I went to the first meeting for 2016 of the gardening club, where there was an astonishingly poor speaker. He attempted to present to a crowd of over 80 people using A4 laminated pictures which he held up or tried to pass around, and kept waving at A4 laminated papers he had taped on the wall with the names of trees which couldn't be read even from the front row. As he also spent the first 2/3rds of his topic waffling off-topic, not surprisingly he completely lost the crowd's attention and by 50 minutes in everyone was just chatting to their neighbour and looking at their watch waiting for tea break.  I hope the organisers give him some feedback about coming into the 21st century and at a minimum getting some slides together, if not a laptop and projector. Luckily I had brought my knitting with me thinking that I might do a few rows before the talk started, so I was able to knit the whole time on my Basket Check Sock: knitting the heel flap, turning the heel and starting on the gusset.

Over the last few days of holiday, I finished piecing the stars for my Let it Snow Quilt and also cut out and pieced the tree blocks. The trees aren't part of the published pattern so I had to wing it a bit and draft my own block. I used a 22.5 degree angle ruler to cut the background wedges, and drew a template to cut out the trees. I like how it is all looking cheerful and scrappy.

For Kathy, wherever you are

A while back I came across two American-style cross stitch canvases in a vintage shop and bought them for a few pounds.  They were dirty and quite stained around the edges of the canvas from some previous framing, and not particularly well done. But there was a lot of work in them and I liked the folk art quality of the pictures.  One is signed 'Kathy, 1985' and the second 'Kathy, 1986'. I expect when Kathy stitched them she didn't imagine they would end up unloved in a bric-a-brac shop. 

A few weeks ago I took the measurements to a secondhand centre and chose two matching frames that were about the right size. Unfortunately they didn't have mats and I decided not to try cutting my own although I have that a few times a long time ago. I cleaned up the frames and the glass, and gave the cross-stitch a wash. Sadly the red thread in the house picture ran terribly and that picture dried with pink tidemarks all over.  After a bit of Googling, I bought some colour catchers and started soaking the picture with a colour catcher, changing the water and the colour catcher every few days.  After several days of soaking and stirring, most of the marks had either gone or faded to the point where they aren't immediately noticeable. The red roof meanwhile faded to a pinky-terracotta colour but at least the picture was saved.

I stretched each canvas over a bit of cotton sheeting on top of the backing board of the picture frame, and put the frames back together.  And now I have two nice Americana pictures in my sewing room. I suspect Kathy may have gone to the great craft room in the sky but perhaps she would be pleased to see them displayed again.

Dollshouse stuff

I've started cleaning up and renovating a 1/24th scale thatched cottage but haven't taken any pictures yet.  I mentioned in my last post that I got some lovely miniatures from my friend Anita, and here is a pic of them.

Can you believe those tiny teddy-bear buttons? The hangers have beautiful
crochet lace covers.

Anita was also having a bit of a stash clear out for the new year, and has passed over to me several goodies for my stash, which arrived in the post this week.  I particularly like the hand-stitched chair seat covers worked by her late mother - I hope to use these on some dining chairs possibly in the McKinley kit house if I ever get round to building it.  Thanks Anita!


I was upstairs working a bit more on my second bobbin lace star which is set up in my knitting room. It's looking dicy whether it will ever make it onto this year's Christmas tree (which is still up). My stash is guilting me out - I really must try to knit more from stash and stop getting seduced by projects in magazines /on Ravelry which always seem to require buying more yarn.  On that basis, I picked up some bulky Jaeger Natural Fleece and I've been playing about trying to come up with a warm windproof hat. I got halfway on a hat from Ann Budd's book of patterns for a plain hat with a turned up hem, but not only was it coming out too tight, it looked lumpy and mishapen in this thick yarn. So I've pulled that out and will try something else, perhaps a ribbed turned up hem.  I'm partway through the second sleeve of my Rowan Summer Tweed Cardigan but am feeling guilty about several other UFOs lying around the living room, including the Que Sera Cardigan, the GAA Afghan, the Now in a Minute Shawl, and the Latvian mittens.  There are a few more hibernating UFOs upstairs including the Sampler Sweater and the Winterland mittens, and a lacy scarf that I need to pull out. Some of these are stalled because they are going wrong: don't fit, don't look good, are too hard, ran out of yarn. Others got derailed when I was seduced by a shiny new thing or had to meet the deadline of a new baby or an upcoming holiday.

How do you deal with your UFO guilt?  Do you have a new year's plan for tackling them?

Happy new year!

Monday, 28 December 2015

Sugar overload

You know you are approaching maximum holiday sugar capacity when even 21-year-old DS is whimpering that he just wants real food and can't face any more sweets. DH reckons he's put on 7.5 pounds the past week and I no longer feel comfortable wearing anything except stretchy leggings or track bottoms. Sigh, time for a New Year's diet again.

I hope you all had a pleasant Christmas. We had a relaxing day just the three of us, starting out with stockings (full of sweets) and culminating in a Christmas turkey feast which we are still ploughing through some days later. On Boxing Day we had a 2.5 hour drive to spend the day with the in-laws and overnight in a hotel before rejoining them for breakfast.  The obligatory present swap of course included huge amounts of sweets as did the catering.  It's a very Christmas-sy thing to do, visiting with relatives, but at the same time it can be somewhat trying and we were all glad to head for home again.  We stopped at the Outlet Mall in Swindon to pick up a similar casserole pan to the one my sister-i-l had used for cooking dinner which I think will be really useful, and also found a Sheridan outlet where we picked up some 70% off duvet covers which are quite welcome. Unfortunately we got stuck in traffic jams around the M40 and coming home took half again as long.

Although I refrained from wearing my "I get to knit, you get to live" button, my sock knitting did protect my sanity during the visit. I've started the Basket Check Socks from The Little Box of Socks by Charlene Schurch and Beth Parrott, using the other colourway of Arne and Carlos sock yarn that I bought in Oxford. I really like how the texture of garter stitches and slipped stitches is popping the colours and breaking up the stripes.

In the car I was knitting on my third pair of Arne and Carlos felted slippers, having finished and felted the second pair on Christmas Day. They are equally snuggly and I'm wearing them right now.  Here are pics before and after felting in the washing machine.

On Christmas Eve, I finished the rejuvenation of my 1/12th scale laundry roombox and hung it on the wall of our real laundry room. I never had a good place to hang this in our old house so it used to be in the kitchen, hanging under the upper cabinets. It had a terrible yellow paint job, and over the years had become splashed with all sorts of stuff as well as getting knocked around.

I gave it a really good degrease and clean up with my new favourite cleaner: sugar soap wipes, and tackled the plexiglas front with both sugar soap wipes and glass cleaner until it was finally spot free.  I repainted the box in blue using a Dulux tester pot (mixed to my choice of colour for just £3). I tidied up the inside, removed several items that were out of scale, and added an ironing board from my stash.  The shelves are still somewhat bare but I will look out at dollshouse shows for more things to add to the basement-type clutter.  I've hung a vintage embroidered mat from the towel rail and I'm quite pleased with how much better it looks now.

Also on Christmas Eve (which was my day off) I cut out all the pieces for 12 star blocks finishing at 6" each, for my Let it Snow quilt. Today I've pieced some of them, they will go in two rows of six above and below the central panel.

I found it quite handy to cut the flying geese for the star points using my Fons & Porter flying geese ruler, since they are scrappy and each star is of different fabric. The ruler makes it quite easy because you don't need to measure apart from cutting the right size strip to start with.

We've been watching a lot of Christmas television the last few days, films like Brave and The Croods, and shorts like Stickman, the new Shaun the Sheep with Llamas, Agatha Christie's And then there were None, etc.  As well as doing a lot of knitting, I finally finished hand-quilting my hand quilted cushion cover and today I made it up into a zipped cushion with piping, using some synthetic burgundy suede/velvet type fabric from my stash. It looks quite effective on the windowseat, and I like how the fabrucs I chose work with my design and with the window seat colours. It was nice to hand quilt something again although I am chagrined at how unskillful I have become.

In terms of crafty christmas pressies, I received an Optivisor magnification lens to go with the Optivisor headset that I've ordered so I can see what I am doing for miniatures; a Noro knitting magazine full of colourful patterns; some pretty ceramic handmade buttons, some gorgeous miniatures from a fellow dollshouse collector (thanks Anita!) and two lace bobbins from two lace friends, It's so nice to get crafty gifts from people who understand or share your hobbies.  Non craft gifts included a vintage style clear cake stand/dome, socks, a bottle of champagne, The Hobbit trilogy DVDs and of course lots and lots of sweets.

 And that's about it. I'm back at work for the next two days then get another long weekend thanks to the bank holiday. Happy new year!!

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Festive wishes

If you are celebrating Christmas tomorrow, then I hope you have a lovely day (and hopefully with better weather than the British rain currently driving against my windows!). Let's look forward to a happy new year with lots of crafting time.

Thank you also for reading my blog, I do appreciate your comments and tips and I always try to respond when I can     (if your Blogger profile is set to 'no email' then I just see a 'no-reply@blogger' address and I can't reply to you).

Merry Christmas!

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