Saturday, 31 May 2014

Hooray, we did it!

Yes, we have finally exchanged contracts!  In the English house-buying process, this is the penultimate step before you 'complete' and get the keys to the new house.  Exchanging contracts makes the sale legally binding so anyone dropping out now would be subject to stiff legal/financial penalties. We will be completing next week so we will soon be homeowners once again.  And more importantly, I will once again have a sewing room  :)

I've been a busy bunny booking in lots of people to do stuff on the house next week or give us advice, and arranging appliances to be delivered, removers to move us over from rented in a few weeks, and kicking off the process to take over the utilities.  We've continued to pack up our stuff, and tomorrow we are going to have a big blitz on packing and cleaning so that the rented house will be ready when the letting agent wants to start showing prospective tenants around after we give in our notice. It's going to be a busy few weeks.

Today I went on a chalk painting course to learn how to transform furniture because it is so much cheaper to buy antique furniture than it is to buy new, painted, solid-wood furniture.  I'm talking up to £900 for a triple new painted wood wardrobe versus around £350 for an antique one bought on Preloved (an online selling site).  I want to have a pale-coloured bedroom suite in the new house so I was thinking I might have a go at painting furniture. We're going to hire a van and drive up north to some of the big antique warehouses next month with a shopping list for the new house. I could potentially buy several pieces and then paint them all the same colour to match.

The course was held at an Annie Sloan stockist and we were using Annie Sloan chalk paint.  It was a bit like painting with coloured gesso, it covers really well but it's quite soft and easily scraped off.  Once it hardens completely it isn't as soft, but it still scratches fairly easily so I don't know if it will stand up to frequent use such as a dressing table drawer opened daily.  On the other hand, it is dead easy to touch up again if you do scratch it.

I was painting the little hall table I bought at the vintage fair a few weekends ago, which is a reproduction not an antique.

I painted it with two coats of Paris Grey, and gave it a coat of clear wax apart from the table top which was having some issues with the original finish bleeding through from a knot.  I think I need to buy some knotting to seal the knot, and paint another coat of chalk paint over the top.  Otherwise I am quite pleased with how this turned out.  On the course we covered how to distress furniture but I didn't want to do that on this little table.  We also covered two-colour distressing, colourwashing, and using cracquelure.

Last weekend I finished a few more blocks for my Jelly Roll Sampler Quilt but now I've had to pack it all away, to conceal the evidence that I've been using the wall as a design wall.  I've still got my knitting , and have been working on the boucle yarn scarf very slowly (it's so hard to knit with) for commuter knitting.  I've started a pair of vanilla socks, and made a start on the lace panel for the bodice of the Low Tide vest.  I don't think I can bear to pack the rest of my knitting away or my needles, so they might just all go for a nice car ride to the new house next week so that I don't have to risk withdrawal symptoms. Ditto my Featherweight sewing machine for safekeeping so it doesn't have to risk being moved by the removal people.

We snagged another Billy bookcase on eBay to add to my collection for my future sewing room and/or our future study.  In my mind's eye I'm imagining a sort of 'U-shape' of bookcases in one end of the room.  My fabric will be stored on the inside of the U, safely concealed from the light from the window, and then the outside of the bookcase wall will be my design wall.  However, I'm not sure if the room is big enough for this or not.  We'll see.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Are you all as bored with this as I am?

Our house purchase still hasn't exchanged, after several days of mind-sapping emailed excuses and hold ups from the vendor and their solicitor. I feel so bored with the whole thing now that I am almost attracted by the idea of just pulling the plug and cancelling everything. I suppose that would be the definition of cutting off your nose to spite your face.  It just feels like it is never going to happen, and we have been waiting so long for these people to get their act together.

We have started packing stuff up in boxes anyway, trying to keep the faith.  I'm finding it really hard to choose things that I won't need for the next month, because we mainly brought essentials with us - all the non-essential stuff went into storage.  This week for example I packed my bag of toy stuffing thinking I wouldn't need it, and the next day a magazine turned up with a free kit to knit a teddybear (which needs stuffing).  Rather than excavate the stuffing from the pile of boxes in the garage, I'm just going to knit up the pieces and pack them as well, to be finished at some later date. And I've packed all my handknits because we have been going through a real warm spell the last week.

Last weekend we drove to a really fun Vintage Fair in Wellingborough. I was expecting a handful of stands but it turned out to be fairly big, with probably about 50 traders.  And they had loads of cool stuff, lots of hand-mades, shabby chic antiques, and local artists.  I bought several nice things which I didn't think of photographing before I packed them into boxes: some pretty chintz china plates, two mini knitted teddybears (one for me, one as a gift for a friend), a really unique mirror with a frame handmade in  a stained glass technique but incorporating everything from glass pebbles to vintage buttons all soldered together, some vintage linens, and the coolest thing of all: an antique Bakelite telephone handset, black and decorated in gilt a bit like an old Singer sewing machine, which has been refurbished to work as a modern telephone. That was in the antique shop which is always open at the venue, and I also bought a really pretty vintage hall table for the telephone to go on.  I can just picture this duo in the hallway at the new house - assuming we ever move in.

Sunday we went to Oxford to visit DS, the last chance to see him before he sits his final exams in a few weeks then comes home.  As well as a nice visit with him, we had a lovely time in this beautiful city.  It was really hot, so we spent some time in the afternoon relaxing in the pretty Botanic Gardens in a bend of the river, watching people punting past us.  It didn't look too hard, so the next day we thought we would have a go.  Well, it turned out to be a lot harder than it looked.  The pole is incredibly heavy, I didn't have the upper body strength to manage it so DH did all the punting while I helped steer from the front with a paddle.  We had a bit of a disastrous start (drifting backwards, hitting a bridge, drifting through the bridge and then hitting another rowboat!) but eventually got the hang of it enough to complete the route.  DH says he is never going punting again.  We liked being out on the water though, so next time we might try one of the punts that's been converted to a pedal boat.

DH in action

I finished knitting the Pop Baby Cardigan for my work colleague, I sewed some bought trim onto it to pep it up a bit.  I bought a pink gift box and made a nice ensemble out of the pink teddybear, the pink Mary Jane socks, the cardigan, and the Leaf lace hat that I made a while ago.  Hopefully she will appreciate the hand knits.

I also finished the Sirdar drop stitch t-shirt. It fits fine although I'm not entirely happy with the stitch texture as it just doesn't seem to want to lie flat even though I wet blocked it.  I'm going to hang it on a hanger for a while and see if it 'drops' a bit under gravity and straightens out a bit more. I modified the pattern to create a small scoop neck at the front instead of the original boat neck.  This was knit in Sirdar Breeze, a cotton/acrylic blend, which I rather like.  It's a nice yarn for summer which feels cool on the skin.

The next instalment of my bi-monthly knitting care package from Knit Crate arrived. I love getting these in the post, it's like a really cool birthday present.  This month the scrumptious handpainted yarn is from 'All for Love of Yarn' and is Luminosity Fingering—70% SW merino, 20% bamboo, 10% nylon. The pattern is the paid version of the Holden shawlette.  I knit the free version some time ago and it's probably the shawl that I wear the most. The paid version has more sizes. The gift was a pair of square circular needles from Kollage which will be interesting to try - I have a pair of their DPNs although they hurt my hands.  And the food treat was delicious brownie crisps which disappeared almost instantly (I shared them with DH).  So far this package is arriving in the UK without any extra customs charges which is really nice.  Presumably it is falling below the VAT threshold.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Mixed feelings and busy week

I seem to have been running to stay in place for most of this week.  No, we haven't exchanged contracts on the house purchase - 'quelle surprise'. This time it's the top of the chain who apparently have been ill and therefore haven't responded to legal queries in a timely fashion. Sigh.

I already blogged about my visit to the V&A's Clothworkers Centre on Tuesday and that same day I went over to the main museum to visit the Wedding Dress exhibition (pretty spectacular) and the Italian Glamour exhibition (not really my thing).  The advantage of paying to be a member of the V&A is that I can dip into these shows without having to buy a ticket or queue.

Then I spent two exhausting days down in London, in Kensington, attending an IGMA course with master artisan Geoff Wonnacott, who is internationally famous for his amazing miniature furniture pieces which are works of art. The course was to build a Chippendale Corner Cabinet on Stand. The IGMA information describes the piece and states that "A finish will be applied and brass keyplate fitted.  Completion in the allocated time is likely...A spray finish could be applied in class, time permitting....All tools and equipment will be provided.  A reasonable skill and ability would be an advantage."  The picture shows an impressive finished sample with hinged door decorated with applied moulding, a fretwork pediment, and a shaped lower shelf and tapered legs.

I believe this is the first time the IGMA has co-ordinated with the London Dollshouse Festival to put on a week of courses with IGMA fellows.  The courses are not cheap - the two-day course with Geoff was £225.  I booked it back before Christmas when I saw the announcement of the IGMA involvement, when I was feeling flush with our house sale proceeds sitting in the bank.  My rationale for spending so much was that I have been in the 'amateur leagues' for a long time with my dollshouse miniatures and I wanted to learn from a master 'how to do it properly'.

I have very mixed feelings about the course and am finding it hard to decide what to say in this review. I think Pros and Cons would be the most neutral format.


  • Geoff is a lovely man, friendly, funny, patient, full of energy even at 7pm at the end of a long day after an over-running class, not in any way a diva.
  • I didn't have to fly to America or Europe, I could travel to the course on public transport to London.
  • I met some nice fellow students, including international attendees, and the usual serial-course-attendees who have been all over to Castine and Denmark and all the big miniatures shows. It was nice to talk minis with fellow enthusiasts, and there was a bit of a holiday feeling at times in the room.
  • I have an assembled Chippendale cabinet with a first coat of sanding sealer on it, which will make a nice addition to my collection when it is fully finished. It's not perfect, but I feel a sense of achievement.
  • The kit, in walnut, was precisely cut and beautifully smooth, with minimal tidying up required.
  • I did learn some useful techniques, mostly fairly minor stuff like a good way to apply super-glue, using spacers to glue shelves in level and correctly spaced, using a marking device to consistently mark multiple pieces with an identical measurement, etc. And I learned from observing the kit, about applying decoration and mouldings to improve a piece.
  • The classroom, a hotel meeting room, was shared jointly between three classes:  our two tables, two or three tables of people sculpting dolls with Jamie Carrington, and two tables of stitchers working on miniature tapestries and samplers. Although the room was fairly quiet, you were still getting some noise and overhearing instruction going on at other tables.  Our class were probably the worst offenders as we were running power tools and painting on smelly sanding sealer all in the same room. This was a normal meeting room, it wasn't a ballroom or big conference room. I suppose I have been spoiled by attending classes in America when each group had its own room.
  • The class size was too big for Geoff's teaching style.  We had 12 students and it would have been 14 (two people dropped out for health reasons), sitting six on a table.  Although a book of instructions with some illustrations was provided, it was not sufficiently informative to follow ahead on your own.  For example, the three bags of numerous kit pieces were not labelled so we needed Geoff to show us which pieces to use for which step.  Key information like how to align pieces correctly when glueing, or where to cut them, or how to sand them to shape, was not included in the book or was not very understandable from its terse text.  Geoff worked hard to get around everyone but due to people's different working paces and various hiccups with the power tools that needed sorting out, there were many occasions when some or all of the people on my table were sitting idle waiting for Geoff to tell us what to do next.  Worse, by necessity, there was a fair amount of student-to-student teaching as Geoff would show one person, then get sidetracked, so that one person would have to show her neighbours and try to describe what Geoff had said/shown.  This even resulted in some Chinese whispers and wrong information getting passed on.
  • I was very disappointed that this course was all about putting together the kit.  There was no sort of 'master class' teaching on techniques such as proper sanding, or finishing, or tips on how to use the hand or power tools.  The entire emphasis was on assembling the kit, and even though I am generally a fast worker, I often felt rushed as we had so much to do in the two days yet so much time was wasted waiting around for instruction or for tools.  Most people didn't even get any instruction on how to use the scroll saw to cut the fretwork, you just took it over from the person who was ahead of you and if you were lucky the student showed you how to unhook the blade (so you could thread it through the drilled holes in your fretwork) and where the power switch was. I had at least used one before. But I wouldn't pay £225 for a kit, even a nice walnut one. And even more frustratingly, we were not shown how to make our kit look like his beautiful sample.  His fretwork, for example, is so delicate, and I would love to have learned how to do that.  I even asked him but he just said that it just comes out that way when he cuts it.  Not much help to me to refine my technique to be better.  Most of the kit was pre-cut so for the most part we were just assembling components.  We did cut the curve of the lower shelf, the fretwork of the pediment and bracket, and cut a few other straight pieces to length but for the most part it was just an assembly job.
  • There were not enough hand tools provided, so you frequently had to wait to use one of the three chisel blade knives on the table, the one bottle of fast-setting superglue, the one template provided to set the shelf at the right height (to be fair, he produced a few more templates later in the day when he saw we were all having to wait), one of the 2 or 3 needle tools, one of the two metal rulers etc.  I suppose the rationale is that not everyone works at the same pace so we wouldn't necessarily all need the same tool at the same time.  But on our table we hit a couple of stages with, for example, intense chopping of small pieces of wood where we all needed one of the chisels.  Even the glue applicators were parsimonious: we were given one cotton bud which had to last the whole of the first day and became hopelessly gummed up (I brought some from home the next day and Geoff did give a few more out the second afternoon).  After cutting the fretwork on the scrollsaw (and to be honest, I'm not sure anybody did a very good job) we were all asking for needlefiles to refine our cut-outs, but there were none available.  Geoff's suggestion was to cut tiny bits of sandpaper as he hadn't brought any files, but that really didn't work in these tiny holes and I actually broke a bracket trying it (I was luckily able to repair it with superglue).  I had to take my brackets home and use DH's needlefiles to clean them up, and other people brought their own ones in on the second day if they had them. 
  • Lighting was not wonderful.  My eyes are weak now that I'm middle-aged, I had brought a magnifier visor but I really need good light.  I had brought a daylight lamp and extension cord, but there was no powerpoint near to our table to plug it in.  The other table had a powerpoint, and had some lights plugged in, and the stitchers had mostly brought battery Ott-lites.  The room lights were fairly bright, but they were behind me and I was working in my own shadow if I bent over my work.  This was particularly a problem when applying the delicate tracery to the glass of the door.  I thought I had tight joints but found out later when I held it up to the bright light that there were in fact gaps I hadn't seen.
  • The working station for the power tools was very poor, just a single hotel banquet table which had to accommodate the scroll saw, the large power supply, the drill press, the Dremel mototool, a disc sander, a second scroll saw, a light on a stand, and various boxes of equipment and spare bits.  The power tools were all crowded together, the drill press literally about two inches away from the scroll saw, so that you had to awkwardly crowd in together with other people to use them.  The non-ergonomic height meant that you had to either kneel to use them (drill press) or stoop over dramatically (scroll saw) trying to see your work.  Although Geoff had brought some scraps of carpet underlay to tackle vibration, the vibrating scroll saw was amplified by the bouncy hotel table so that the entire plate was furiously vibrating - not good when you are trying to cut out intricate fretwork (while you stoop over awkwardly and in poor light). I waited about 45 minutes while Geoff got out and set up a second up-and-down scroll saw, but it turned out to be faulty with the blade cutting erratically and I ended up ruining my piece with mis-cuts and had to start over again on the vibrating scroll saw. These are his small-size power tools that he takes on tour, I'm sure he has better stuff at home.
  • We did not finish our pieces and there was no way we could have finished our pieces.  I would say I was one of the faster workers, when I wasn't waiting around, but it was only by staying over an extra hour and pushing through my exhaustion that I even got my cabinet assembled and a coat of sanding sealer on it.  And then only because Geoff re-did one of my hinges for me because it hadn't worked the first time.  He was actually doing some of the steps for other people on my table at the end of the day, to get them along closer to finishing, and a couple of ladies were planning to work on it again the next day when they were back in the room to take a different course with Geoff, so they didn't assemble theirs. This meant that we received almost no information on how to sand the piece effectively (something I always struggle with) nor how to give it the lovely finish that the sample had.  I did ask Geoff how to do it, but he just advised spraying a couple of coats of satin acrylic finish.  I pushed a bit more, and he laughed and said finishing the piece could take another couple of days and there obviously wasn't time to do that in the class.
  • I am not fully satisfied with my end product.  It looks ok, but I know I could have done a much better job with properly set up power tools, better lighting, more consistent tuition, proper demonstrations of techniques like cutting fretwork, and more of a chance to look at the sample (it got put away) with perhaps Geoff pointing out aspects relevant to our current stage like how the miters are configured on the door glazing. Having paid £225 for this kit, I feel frustrated and, to be honest, like I didn't get my 'money's worth' out of the two days. I feel guilty for writing that, because Geoff was lovely and I know he teaches all over the world. Some of the above may be down to IGMA not booking appropriate facilities or over-filling the class.  I don't know.  I'm sure compromises had to be made to host the courses in such a central (expensive) location.
Anyway, here is my piece.  I stress that it isn't finished, it's only had a coat of sanding sealer and the bottom part looks different because I've started to sand it down. I don't have the ability to finish it at home until I get all my stuff back out of storage and my new workroom set up, so I guess it is going to live in a box for a few months.

Other stuff

Commuter knitting this week has been the Sirdar drop-stitch t-shirt.  I've finally memorised the pattern so it is somewhat less laborious to work on.  I've finished the back and am about a third of the way up the front.  I had to go to Nottingham for a work event today and afterwards I managed to visit a couple of knitting shops before my train back.  The first one was Knit Nottingham, which turned out to be tiny - perhaps 10ft square? It seemed to mainly stock value yarns like King Cole and I only spent a couple of minutes in there.  About a mile out of town from Knit Nottingham, which was a 20 minute walk but unfortunately up and down some steep hills, was the lovely Yarn Loft

 It was much bigger and full of gorgeous yarns from fyberspates, Manos, Noro, Debbie Bliss, Rooster, Louise Harding, Bergere and more.  I indulged in a quite a bit of yarn fondling and eventually came away with a skein of fyberspates Vivacious DK in tones of burgundy which might be a hat, and a skein of luscious Manos Lace (baby alpaca, silk and cashmere) which might be a small scarfy-shawl.  At some point in the future.

I squeezed in some sewing time and completed the four corner blocks for the Jelly Roll Sampler Quilt, and four of the filler blocks.  It's hard to take a picture of my faux-design wall because the room is so small.
It's nice to be sewing again.  I just wish I was better at it...

In the post this week arrived my copy of The magic of Shetland Lace Knitting by Elizabeth Lovick, which I had seen in a knitting magazine.
This has been my bedtime reading this week.  It's not a pattern book, although there are seven projects included at the back of the book.  It is primarily a book of stitch patterns for knitting lace, insertions and borders.  All of the patterns are charted, and many of them have written instructions.  At the beginning Elizabeth talks relatively briefly about various techniques (such as joining yarn, weaving ends, picking up stitches), briefly about shapes for shawls, and briefly about how to combine motifs.  I presume this would be adequate for someone who already understands how to design shawls and lace, but I would have liked to have seen some recipes- for example, although she briefly describes the makeup of a square shawl, she doesn't give any measurements or ratios, or even a diagram, for how the components (centre, border, edging) typically relate to each other.  Nor does she talk through examples of typical Shetland shawl designs and how Shetland knitters used or combined motifs to fill their shapes.  But if you already know how to do that stuff, then this is a great resource for various Shetland lace stitches.  I'm considering pulling out the start I made on my Cherry Tree Hill boucle scarf and starting over again with one of the garter ground all-over patterns from the book.  And I think it will be useful if I am looking for a stitch pattern or edging to substitute on a shawl pattern if I don't like what a designer is suggesting.  There are clear photographs and the charts are a good size and easy to read, and there is a colour photo index of stitches at the start of the stitch pattern section. I bought the paperback version on Amazon and it doesn't open flat, but it's big enough that it almost stays open so would only need something light to weight it down. A good resource for the library.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Visit to the V&A’s Clothworkers’ Centre

I don’t normally join the tours that the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) runs for its members as they are expensive, hard to get tickets for, and tend to take place on weekdays when I’m usually working.  I think they are mainly aimed at non-working ladies of a certain age who lunch. But a while back I spotted that they were running a short visit to The Clothworkers' Centre for the Study and Conservation of Textiles and Fashion, which is where the V&A textiles collection is now located.

I’m not likely to get to see this facility without going on a tour, as members of the public can now only visit by appointment to view specified items, which are then brought out of storage in advance of the visit. You can’t just wander in and ask to look at quilts. So I telephoned the Membership Department (another block to the 21stC tour-goer is that you can’t book online and can only call during opening hours) and managed to secure a £15 ticket for a one-hour tour on one of my days off.

The tour was marshalled by Elizabeth, a friendly volunteer, who took our group inside the rather prison-like Blythe House in Olympia in west London.  The building was constructed at the turn of the last century as an immense headquarters for the Post Office Bank. 

Elizabeth handed us over to the Clothworkers’ Centre manager, Suzanne Smith, who was very welcoming and informative.  Suzanne told us that Blythe House had been used as additional storage for many years by the V&A, the British Museum and the Science Museum, before the decision had been taken to also relocate the textile collection here.  The Clothworker's Centre is mainly on the third floor but the conservation labs, which we also visited, are on the fourth floor.  The name derives from the facility's main sponsor, The Clothworkers' Foundation..

Most of the building d├ęcor is very institutional and late-Victorian, walls covered in sanitary tiles, imposing staircases, lots of ductwork and pipes running along the ceiling.  Suzanne said the building has been used for film location shooting for films such as 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy'.

Suzanne said they have about 100,000 items in the collection, with about 50,000 of those stored in one immensely long modernised room which she took us into.  The collection holds everything from tiny hat pins, through designer clothes, to ancient carpets. Most of the room is lined with gigantic mobile storage units, the kind that you crank to move sideways on runners when you want to get into a unit.  The units contain drawers of various sizes underneath, with hanging space above.  There are also gigantic wire frames on runners on which many framed needleworks were hung.  Suzanne told us that the quilts are also stored in this room, either in drawers or on rolls, but we didn’t see any. The knitting must be here somewhere as well.

At one end of the long room is a large, airy open space with several tables.  This is the study room where you can view items by appointment, supervised by an Assistant Curator.  Suzanne said that they get the items out for all the week’s appointments at once, and use the opportunity to further document or photograph the items if their records aren’t complete. 

She had some items waiting to show us, including a rather macabre monkey’s fur capelet c1930 and a ethereal swansdown stole, which were both nestled in Tuvek protective bags.  On another table, two exquisitely embroidered 18thC waistcoats were waiting underneath protective tissue paper for a PhD student who is writing a thesis on embroidery.

Also in this room is one remaining example of the old display cabinets that I remember from the Textiles rooms when they in the main V&A museum, the ones with pullout vertical frames where you could see examples of knitting, smocking, tatting etc.  Suzanne said all of the several thousand items were taken out of the frames and transferred into improved storage, and she showed us a huge jar of all the nails that they pulled out which were pinning the items in place inside the old frames.  However, she said before the items were stored, they were all photographed and these images are now available to view in high resolution on their website. So although the items are no longer on public view, you can probably see more detail in the images anyway.

After that she showed us a couple of the mobile units, and opened a few drawers to display their contents (one drawer had a gorgeous Norman Hartnell dress ‘The Flowers of the Fields of France’ which the Queen wore on a state visit to France.) There are labels on the end of each mobile unit describing what the contents are (‘Galliano’, etc.).  All the hanging clothes were protected with more Tuvek coverings.

Then we were taken upstairs to the Conservation Lab and handed over to its manager who I think was called Joanne(a).  This was another large airy room, with intriguing equipment and materials laid out on pristine worktables. 

We saw several pairs of shoes which were being conserved for an upcoming exhibition, two very dirty 1930s gowns which were being assessed for cleaning and repair, and an exquisite Indian embroidery which was being cleaned.  Daylight lamps give plenty of light, and there is suction available for when they are using solvents.  I had a brief urge to retrain as a conservator but that died down as they talked about spending hundreds of hours over a couple of years to conserve a tapestry.

Then it was over and we had to let them get back to work while we returned to the real world. An interesting and informative visit, although what we all really wanted to do was to start opening Tuvek bags with glorious abandon to see all the concealed treasures, so a bit frustrating in that sense.  I do think it is regrettable that there is no facility to display a proportion of the collection for the general public, although Suzanne did point out that many textile items are on display within other galleries in the main museum, such as the British galleries. But that only represents a tiny percentage (I think she said about 1-2%) of their actual holdings. A compromise might have been to include an exhibition space at Blythe House or at the main museum, in the same way that the British Library shows off some of their treasures in a purpose-built gallery in their new building.  Although Suzanne said that several of the dresses in the current Wedding Dresses exhibition come from their own collection.  But I don't think there is anywhere now that you can see, for example, several quilts together, or several knitted items, or a collection of lace, with the kind of curatorial guidance that has been provided, say, in the new Furniture gallery.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Time to start packing again

Fingers crossed and touch wood, we are almost homeowners again.  We saw our solicitor on Thursday to go over the purchase paperwork, and everything seems in order to exchange this coming week for completion in early June.  I'm alternating between excitement and panic, between mentally furnishing the new rooms and worrying about finding builders and tradespeople, and we're going to have to start packing up our stuff.  Again.  I am so over the whole packing thing after this past year.  The removers offered to do it but I would rather do it myself so I know what is where, and most of it is just clutter and paper/books rather than fragile stuff.  We've still got all the boxes from when we moved here so it should be easier than last time when we were scrounging for boxes.

Last week I said we were going to go out on the holiday Monday for a cream tea and to watch May Pole dancers.  Isn't this a lovely sign?

We had a very nice cream tea in a gorgeous garden at an old rectory in Sudborough, which was open to raise funds for good causes.  I took several inspiration photos against the day when perhaps we will try to do something with our new garden - currently a fairly blank slate.  There was also a tabletop sale where I bought this lovely handmade bowl for only £5.  I was kicking myself afterwards wishing I had bought a few more as gifts. I know how to make these (winding fabric strips around piping cord, then zigzagging them together) but I could never do it as beautifully as this.

The May Pole dancing was in the village of Orlingbury and it was a real community event, with locals of all ages gathering around the Green to welcome the May Queen and watch the dancers.  It was totally charming and yet unintentionally hilarious.  The MC's mike kept cutting out so we were getting 3 words in 5, the Brownies had only had one rehearsal and shortly after I took this picture, they got into a hopeless snarl and had to be stopped, and the maypole dismantled, to get the ribbons untangled, and the CD of old English music kept stuttering.  It would go uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh and the Brownies would have to pause mid-leap while the DJ gave the equipment a slap to get it going again. Very enjoyable and lovely surroundings.

I finished the slubby white baby cardigan and have put the buttons on, but I am going to add some trim to pep it up a bit.  I also knit these adorable little socks from a pattern called "Pram Shoes" from Twilleys of Stamford in association with Knit Now magazine, so cute.

And a little pink teddy bear from the same pattern that I used earlier this year (Sandra Polley's Knitted Toys).  That makes three things.  I will find a nice pink gift box and I think it will make a nice ensemble to give to my work colleague.

I finished the wristwarmers I was knitting.  These are in a double strand of sock yarn and are just a rectangle of 3x3 ribbing, seamed up one side leaving a hole for the thumb.  They are to replace a pair that I was gifted with several years ago at the I-Knit London christmas santa swap which I found surprisingly versatile: they are great under mittens or to just warm my wrists when I am wearing a bracelet-length cardigan, because you can just take your thumb out of the hole and slide the wristwarmer onto your arm.

I've managed to finish the four corner blocks for the Stars Quilt.  We're not meant to make holes in the wall of this rented house but I'm hoping they won't notice pinholes if I use the bedroom wall as a design wall.

And I did a bit more Fimo modelling, this time I made apples and pears.  I'm pleased with how they turned out apart from the stems are too big.  But the stems need to be sturdy enough to support the fruit while the varnish is drying.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Happy May Day

It's a Bank Holiday (long) weekend here in the UK and for once the weather gods have co-operated and provided some sunny and fairly warm (15-17 degrees Celsius) weather. We've had a lovely couple of days and still have another holiday tomorrow - yay!  If it stays nice, we are going to a nearby village where they will be dancing around a May Pole, which is something I've never actually seen.  We are also planning to go to an open garden which is promising cream teas, yum.

Saturday we picked up another Billy bookcase cheaply in Northampton - I've been gradually collecting them from eBay in preparation for my new sewing room.  We also stopped into the new knitting store that just opened there: Get Knitting.  It's attractively laid out with friendly staff, and stocks Auracania, Debbie Bliss, some Noro, Sirdar and has a small stock of haberdashery.  I didn't buy anything.  I was looking for buttons for a baby cardigan I am knitting for a work colleague but couldn't see anything appropriate.

This cardigan is knit using a slubby yarn that I found several balls of in a charity shop for .50p each.  I am undecided if the cardigan looks summery, or if a non-knitter is just going to think it looks like a dog has been chewing on it.  What do you think?  Do young mothers today like this kind of novelty yarn?  Maybe I should start over in a plain yarn.

On the way home we stopped at B&Q and I bought supplies to repaint my Victorian metal bed frame.  I bought it in Canada about 30 years ago and I've never painted it before so it was quite banged up and chipped.  Today I spent several hours brushing it down with a wire brush, washing it, and then painting it with two coats of metal paint.  It looks much better and when I polish the brass it will look all ready for our new house.

While the first coat of paint was drying, we went over to a sort of County Fair in Rushden, which was quite fun in the sunshine.  It reminded me of the agricultural shows I used to go to as a child in Canada apart from there wasn't any actual livestock.  There were all sorts of steam traction engines, vintage vehicles, WWII displays, military vehicles, fire engines, market stalls, a fun fair, and most importantly, cotton candy (candy floss).  There were also quite a few weird stalls, like a ferret racing tent, an animal rescue association with a sort of mini zoo including a nine-foot python, a mule society with several mules, an owl sanctuary with owls, a chap demonstrating how to take care of parrots, a society of people who build and decorate little painted wooden carts, and all sorts of charities and tombolas and mini-exhibitions.  We were exhausted after a couple of hours and a big lunch.  It's annual so we will definitely go back next year. Several of the people who live on the adjacent road were taking advantage of the crowds and holding yard sales, and I found a swivel office chair for DS's new room for only £5.

I saw this vintage poster on one of the WWII displays:

I'm a quilter?

I've actually done some quilting this week, which to be honest felt rather odd.  Quilting used to be one of my main hobbies yet I've hardly done any the past year.  I'm using up my pre-cuts and some batik yardage to make this quilt from the Jelly Roll Sampler book.

The book calls for you to use a speciality ruler to cut the half square triangles from the 2.5" pre-cut strips.  I don't have that ruler, and the rulers I do have that would work, are all in storage.  So I drew out on paper what I needed to cut, and put a piece of masking tape on a normal ruler as a substitute.  This is my quilt's centre.  I'm rather out of practice so there are a few wobbly seam lines as I endeavour not to cut off, or overly-float, any of the star points.  It's been fun.  The advantage of pre-cuts is that the fabrics all co-ordinate, yet at the same time it imposes restrictions such as a limited fabric palette.  I probably wouldn't normally have used the red stripe for a star, and yet it really pops.

Before I started the quilt, I sewed up a cute little knitting bag to fit a snap purse frame.  I actually made two, because the first time I didn't realise I needed to add some slack by angling the top of the bag, and the bag I made was so tight that I could barely get my hand in when the purse was open.  I have added a temporary handle from a bit of twill tape I had around. This is the fabric I bought on the SkipNorth weekend and it has a sewing theme: the outside is buttons and the inside is various sewing tools.  The bag is stiffened with interfacing and padded with wadding.  The frame is about 13 inches wide and is sewn on. I've taken it to work and it was really useful on the train because unlike a tote bag it holds its shape.

Other stuff

I finished the Jay Campbell square for the GAA Afghan.  I modified the pattern slightly and only included one bobble because I thought the original cluster in each triangle looked a bit messy.

I've done a few more inches on the Sirdar Summery T-shirt but to be honest it is a pig to knit and I'm not really enjoying it.

I've started a ribbed wristwarmer just to have something to knit that doesn't need a chart.

At the same charity shop where I bought the slubby yarn, I spotted a 3-D puzzle of London's Tower Bridge and the box said that it had all the pieces.  I gambled and bought it for DH who has spent the last four days happily putting it together (apart from the times when he wasn't very happy because of the vague instructions).  It's huge, and he's been very clever to work it all out.  It's incredibly detailed, it even has pictures of cars driving along the roadway, and has all the coats of arms and carving detail.

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