Saturday, 25 July 2015

Fibre East 2015

At the risk of this blog post getting blocked by spam filters, I have to confess that I have been a naughty, naughty girl...

I headed off to Fibre East in Ampthill today (conveniently reachable by my normal season train ticket) with the firm intention to only shop for three things: 1) to match the Aran yarn for my Sampler Jumper where I've run short for the sleeves; 2) to jump on the gradient yarn bandwagon; and 3) to find a replacement white DK yarn to knit daisies with for my knitted handbag. My willpower was firm.

I made it through the first room with willpower intact, only noticing peripherally the rather smart yarn lazy susans on one stand.

Working my way through the next room, I came across some excellent blocking wire sets, eight stainless steel robust wires in their own carrying case for only £9.75 on the Simply Sheepish stand. Now I've been making do with a small set of long and short flimsy wires for the last 15 years and I never have enough to block all parts of a sweater at once. Brain wave: I could buy some more! I could have enough to block a whole project at the same time! Plus I figured carrying around a metre-long package of wires for the rest of the morning would slow me down enough to prevent further extravagance.  [postscript: It didn't, plus  I managed to poke myself in the eye with these on the way back to Flitwick train station, sigh...]

After a few more rooms I think the yarn fumes were starting to affect me, and I found myself buying two secondhand bobbin lace books and a small book on collecting vintage linens from Felicity Warnes at The Old Bookshop.  She said she has 20,000 needlecraft books on her website including lots more bobbin lace books so I probably really, really shouldn't go and look at her website.

While going around the stalls in the marquee outside, and attracting repeated sympathy from vendors as I fruitlessly tried to match my Aran jumper wool, I decided again buying Drops yarn for my daisies. Then I saw this:

Baby, come to momma....   Gorgeous, gorgeous single fingering in Duck Egg blue, 70% superwash merino and 30% silk from The Wool Barn. I don't generally like really tiny shawlettes and the skeins are 400m, so I got two to make a shawl with.

It all went downhill after that. I bought this gradient blank from, which is 75% superwash merino and 25% nylon, 425m. Again I worried it might not be enough for a shawl but they had a reasonable size shawl sample knit on 5mm needles on the stand. Afterwards I saw some even nicer gradients at Rosies Moments, but decided I should start with the one I already had.

In the 'have a go' tent, I was surprised to find The Lace Guild.  I had been thinking of joining them anyway for a year, to see what the benefit was, so I signed up and acquired a 2015 membership bobbin.

After a sandwich in the refreshments tent, I decided I should head for home and not take the dangerous step of going around for the second time.  Unfortunately, to get out I passed the rather smart yarn lazy susan again and found myself picking one up.  No more yanking at my yarn ball during sofa knitting.

So laden down by all my books and purchases (and nursing a sore eye after poking myself in the face with the wires), I tottered back to Flitwick station feeling very guilty.


This week I finished my first bunny from the Little Cotton Rabbits pattern. I'm quite pleased with it, although I can see that my proportions have come out a bit different than hers. The Lion Brand worsted I am using for the body is chunkier than the Malabrigo the designer has used, so that my little dress of Rowan 4-ply cotton looks a bit small on my bunny.  But she is still very cute.  I've started knitting a second one which I will dress as a boy bunny. That's pretty much been all my TV knitting time this week, with all the sewing up and stuffing etc.

I finally finished knitting 22 strings of daisy petals for my knitted handbag and have started knitting the yellow centres during commuter knitting.  I sewed together a couple of daisies to see how they will look, and was quite disappointed. Partly due to my straggly tension, and partly due to using cheap acrylic yarn, my daisies look quite sorry compared to the plump white puffy daisies in the pattern picture.

I don't like them and I'm tempted to knit them over again in a better yarn. I didn't see anything I liked at Fibre East but I popped out this afternoon to my LYS and picked up some Stylecraft Lullaby DK, which feels like a better quality and much puffier yarn.  I'll knit a daisy in that to see if it looks better.  I've been using Robin Bonny Babe DK for the yellow centres, it's only acrylic as well but surprisingly plump and soft - I got it at QD but they don't stock it in white.

On the sewing front, I've finished stippling the pieces of my quilted knitting bag, succeeding in NOT sewing through my fingers so result. I've added the strap and handle to one side but not the other yet.

And I finished another block for my 25 block applique quilt. I can't remember how many I've done now - I think this is around block 17 or 18.  The blocks finish at 17" square and they are all pinks, reds and greens.

I did some of the applique stitching while watching a bit more of a Craftsy class "Cut to it: Strategies for smarter quilting" by Debbie Caffrey which I think I got for free as my birthday gift from Craftsy.  It's a bit dull so I hadn't got very far but full of very useful information about rotary cutting various shapes. The reading material you get with it also includes some handy charts for how to cut shapes from strips using HST and QST rulers, but I need to watch that part again because I get easily muddled when it comes to numbers.

Other stuff

The cat is settling in well. She seems to have a sensitive tummy so we are having to feed expensive Royal Canin Gastrointestinal food to prevent smelly outputs, hopefully she will grow out of that or she may have to have a trip to the vets.  In another week we will be able to let her outside. She is keeping us all amused with her playful antics, although I am getting a bit tired of having to protect my knitting when she is in a playful mood. She thinks the waving needles and the moving yarn must be specially for her, whereas bits of knitted bunny with trailing cords must be cat toys.  Not.  I felt sorry for my DS's girlfriend who is currently visiting with us and was really looking forward to meeting the cat.  Within an hour of arriving she succumbed to an allergic attack and had to go out and buy antihistamines which knocked her out, so she was asleep when I got home from work. She does pet the cat but washes her hands afterwards and we're having to keep the cat out of her room.

DH and DS put together all the kitchen cupboard carcasses for the dollshouse room, and I've ordered three lengths of worktop. I've made contact with the kitchen fitter we used for our actual kitchen, who says he will drop by and have a look (no show so far). I can't really do anything more on the room until he fits the cupboards and worktop but I did put up new blinds (budget blinds from Dunelm) which tone well with the walls.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Holiday is making me fat

Our staycation is drawing to a close: DH is back at work on Monday and I have to go on Wednesday. Our fairly steady diet of cream teas and cake while we're out, and 'treat' food while we're home, had resulted in a 3.5 pound weight gain when I weighed myself last weekend and I'm not expecting any improvement at tomorrow's weigh in.

We've had another nice week. Some of the things we've been up to:

  • a visit to Sywell airport's snazzy 1930's Aviator hotel and cafe (tea and cake), watching planes taking off and landing from the balcony and visiting the wartime museum there.
  • a one-night break in King's Lynn, which is full of great period buildings but unfortunately it rained all day.  We stopped on the way at PMJ Miniatures just outside Wisbech, which was a good size and had a useful assortment of DIY dollshouse stuff.  I bought another resin 'bored husband' figure for my quilting and knitting shop.

  • On the second day we visited a branch of Norfolk Lavender, which had some wonderful displays of flowering plants.  We bought four very small lavenders from the plant shop for our garden and I've planted them on either side of one of the arches.

  • We stopped into Downham Market and Wisbech on the way home, both very picturesque Norfolk towns. Wisbech had this wonderful run of Georgian frontages along the river.

  • I started work on  my dollshouse room: hoovering up the cobwebs, filling holes, priming the woodwork and doing two coats of white gloss on the windows, and then cutting in with blue paint all along the walls that will be the backdrop to the dollshouses. DH then painted in two coats of blue. Once the cupboards are fitted I may add some clouds, trees etc. onto the wall although I'm no artist.



  • Took my main sewing machine in for a service - am I the only one that feels somewhat bereft when without a machine?  I've got two substitute machines but neither are as good. I hope I get the Janome 6500 back soon.
  • Spent the morning in Kettering visiting the museum, the vintage tea shop (tea and cake, he he he) and I was going to go to the dollshouse shop but it was shut.
  • Yesterday we drove back up to the Hemswell Antiques Centre in Lincolnshire, a fabulous bonanza across multiple buildings on a former RAF airfield.  We spent about five hours there including lunch on site, and had a marvelous time searching through all the tat and treasures.  I had a short shopping list suited to our budget, and I found some things from it.  We wanted a nightstand for DH and found this great piece which is actually a coal scuttle: the bottom 'door' hinges forwards and there was a metal liner and coal scoop inside.

I already had a nightstand but I spotted this French table and absolutely fell in love with it, and it looks great with my bed.

We also picked up a fairly utilitarian side table for the study, an additional platter for my good china set, and a lovely rusted old Victorian watering can with a gorgeous patina (DS: "Mum, why did you buy a rusty old watering can???")  A very nice day out, although we could have easily spent every penny we own many times over.


Today I spent part of the day sewing, something I haven't done much of the last few weeks. Although first I had to dig out my Singer Featherweight and oil it all over.  Then I pieced block three of the Cozy Afternoon free BOM. It went fairly well apart from a failure to read the instructions properly which led to me having to cut more fabric to re-do the corner blocks.

Then I put away the Singer and dug out my monster, the giant Pfaff I use on the quilting frame, so that I could do some stippling on the sides of the Knitting Bag that I'm making. I've never used the Pfaff on the table and it took me about ten minutes to work out where the presser foot and power cord were stashed.  This is the machine that punched right through my finger a few years ago and it's very noisy, so a bit nervewracking to use. I haven't done any machine quilting for a couple of years so the resulting stippling isn't very good, but it will give the bag some stiffness.

Knitting in the car has been mainly daisies for the Pointless Handbag, I've knit 19 of 22, plus I did several rows on the Que Sera cardigan.

The main TV knitting has been the Toy Rabbit from Little Cotton Rabbits. This is an excellent and detailed pattern, right down to telling you how best to sew it up. I'm quite enjoying it and may make another one after this.

I'm still working on my Torchon bobbin lace mat, I've completed two quarters and have turned the corner to start the third quarter. I've made some mistakes but nothing affecting the structural integrity.

This isn't exactly craft, but it's a neat idea that I adapted from something I saw online. We had a mess of router and telephone wires on the bookcase, so I bought a pretty box with a fastening lid from Homesense. I cut out the back panel, and cut an air slot in the top, and it hides all the router mess quite neatly. The online idea was to buy old books, cannabalise them for their covers, glue the covers to an inner box so that it looked like a stack of books. I think my adaptation is a lot easier and possibly even cheaper.


The mystery plant from last week's post is apparently a fuschia.  Sarah Nopp says it may be a Phygelius, and we saw a similar plant called a Thalia fuschia in a garden centre. Thanks for the input, I didn't even think of fuschias because I'm only familiar with the bell-shaped flower type.

I went out to take a few pictures of the garden and saw yet more things peeping up which may be flowers or weeds, it's all kind of growing together now like a cottage garden - DH would prefer something more regimented and neater but I rather like the effect.  There are still one or two of the bigger plants that haven't recovered from being moved - I've sunk pipes outside four of them to get water down to the roots while they are re-establishing. The previous owner had planted clematis which are growing up through the larger shrubs, very pretty.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

A new family member, and a holiday

We have a new family member: we have adopted a young female cat from a shelter. We were all very sad to lose both our cats to age-related illnesses prior to the house move, and DS has been desperate to have another ever since.  As we are finally settled in the new house, and DS is home for the summer from uni, it seemed like the right time.

Oreo (formerly known as Lorna but DS came up with her new name) is about 11 months old and very friendly. She's a bit nervous about being in a new place, so she likes staying on this top stair underneath the attic door hatch, but she's getting braver all the time. Isn't she pretty?

We're letting her explore more of the house bit by bit, but I'm hoping to keep her out of the sewing and knitting rooms altogether to avoid things being used as a cat bed.


We are halfway through our two week 'staycation' and we've been having a pleasant time. Happily the weather has cooled down from the ridiculous 36 degrees of last week, to about the mid-twenties with cool evenings, so it's been much more comfortable.  We're trying to do things that we wouldn't normally be able to do on weekends, but without spending too much money.

So far we have:

  • visited the Poppy Patch quilt shop in Great Doddington for their 'up to 70% off' sale, where I got backing for three quilts in my UFO queue.
  • watched a parade for a summer carnival
  • used our HHA membership to visit Kelmarsh Hall and gardens for an excellent tour, and tea and cake in the garden
  • visited the Olney antique shops and picked up a couple of old prints for the house, visited the Olney museum where they display antique lace (and I bought some lace patterns in the gift shop) as Olney used to be a lace town, and had a Turkish lunch
  • visited the Tudor Rose patchwork and craft shop, which was also having a summer sale, and where I found this cool embroidered ric-rac. Don't know what I will do with it, but I really liked it.

  • went sightseeing in Northampton, with an excellent tour of 78 Derngate which was remodelled by the famous Charles Rennie Mackintosh for W. J. Bassett-Lowke in 1916 (and he made his money selling models and dollshouse furniture!) and a cream tea; then a tour around some of the heritage sights and a visit to the museum (mostly shoes as Northampton was a shoe-making town).
  • adopted Oreo, and sorted out registering her with a vet, buying her equipment and food etc.
  • and today (drum roll please.....) we went to the Wickes kitchen sale and got the cabinets I need for my dollshouse display room!!!!!!!!  Finally! After losing I don't know how many kitchen auctions on eBay. It's a quite reasonable cream-coloured range which comes flat-packed, so we've got a lot of assembling to do, and it was 40% off in the sale. So not only was it cheaper than the eBay kitchens, I haven't had to hire a van to collect it, and it will all be nice and clean. So a Win Win.  I don't know if we will work on it while we are on holiday but there will be a lot of shifting boxes first to move out all the stuff we've been storing in the dollshouse room before we can start putting together cabinets.


You would think I would be doing lots of crafts while I'm not at work, but we've been relatively busy doing other things.

This week I did finally finish a cross-stitch kit which I started about ten years ago.  It's called 'The Quilt Room', designed by Michael A LeClair and manufactured in the USA as part of JCA's Displaymates range. I saw it in a catalogue and enabled a friend to buy one as well, since we were both interested in cross stitch and quilting, and for me of course it taps into my interest in dollshouses.  She finished hers right away, I got bogged down in the boredom of stitching the wallpaper stripes.  Over the years I did a bit more from time to time, then I finally finished it when we were in the rental house.  Recently I unpacked my dollshousing paints and stains, and was able to decorate the plain pine box frame, then this week I stretched the stitched piece over some cardboard and installed it in the frame.  I feel a sense of achievement.

I've started knitting a toy rabbit from Little Cotton Rabbits. They are so cute and come with instructions for the dress and shoes as well.

I'm still knitting on the Rowan Summer Tweed cardigan and am almost up to the waist. I'm knitting it all in one piece rather than separate fronts and back.

I'm about halfway through knitting the Hewitt square for the GAA Afghan although I am leaving out the bobbles as I thought they looked messy. It has some very complicated cable crossings in it like 4/3/4.

On the sewing front, as well as altering some clothing, I've pulled out the next couple of UFOs from the list.  Do you remember this knitting bag I was making about five years ago?  These are the two side panels, and I have a large metal snap frame that will give the bag its shape.  This week I was stitching down the fusible applique motifs with invisible thread. My sewing machine is making some funny noises when it does zigzag but we found a place in Northampton that does servicing so I will take it in there next week.

And this four-part picture of a Venetian gondola dates back to a group project in 2007 when four of us in my sewing club all made a quarter-panel for each other's choice of picture.  I've put it on my design wall while I think how to finish it.  It needs a lot more embellishment, and then I think I might put a frame around it like a postcard.

And I received a lovely parcel in the post this week from a very nice woman I met at the Castlethorpe Craft Day. She has sent me 35 lace bobbins she didn't want any more, they are all good quality but some of them are really lovely and must have originally been quite expensive. I'm really grateful and will have to look for something to send her in return as she doesn't want any money for them.


The big change in the garden this week is that we used one of our holiday days to cement in the two garden arches. They really change the feel of the garden: giving vertical height and psychological pressure to use them as entrances/exits from the round lawn.  With next month's pay cheque I'm going to order a rose to grow over the far arch and some lavender plants to plant around the near arch. That's probably the last of the big garden projects for this year, especially as we still don't have a builder to do wall repairs.

One of the mystery plants that I couldn't identify turned out to be day lilies which are very striking.

And something else that I wasn't sure if it was a weed or a flower is now blooming - and I'm still not sure.  Anyone know what this plant is?  The plants are about 2-3 feet high, they mostly died back in winter, and then sprouted again over the last few months.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

An alternative way to display patchwork (no quilting)

In what feels like the distant past (2009), we had a dream holiday to Hawaii as part of a quilting group accompanied by Kaffe Fassett and Brandon Mably. This week's UFO dates from that trip: a snowball quilt which we designed in a workshop with Kaffe and Brandon then brought home to sew up and finish.

I put a lot of effort into fussy cutting blue & white fabrics and choosing tobacco-yellow coloured triangles to twinkle in the background, and achieved an effect which Kaffe said he really liked.  Roll on six years and last week I hauled it out of the UFO pile to evaluate it.  The original piece, designed on a twin-size flannel sheet in class, had sewed up to the dimensions of a small lap quilt.  I had lots more cut squares so I could make it bigger.  But when I put it up on my design wall, I really enjoyed looking at it but I didn't think it was going to work nearly as well on a bed - too busy and you would lose the effect of the fussy-cutting. I also liked the resemblance to a mosaic tiled floor, like a fragment displayed in a museum.

That got me thinking sideways, and after a bit of Googling, this is what I've come up with.

Artist's canvas stretchers

There are dozens of shops online selling artist's stretcher bars which are intended for stretching canvas for artwork.  Some of these can be very expensive, some only sell in pre-set sizes, but I eventually found StretcherBarsOnline which would make up bars to my exact specification and include the appropriate number of cross-braces. Including courier delivery on my specified day, this came to the princely sum of only £27.84!  That's cheaper than buying backing fabric and wadding.

The bars I chose are about 1.25" deep by 1.75" wide, so quite robust enough to stretch a quilt top over, and yet the assembled frame is fairly lightweight.  The frame arrived unassembled with all the joints pre-cut.  There were no assembly instructions but you didn't really need any, the joints just push together.  They fit very tightly and no glue or nails are required. Don't forget to measure the two diagonals to check they are the same measurement, if they are not then your frame isn't square and you need to tap the joints on the longer side to adjust it.

How I did it

The first thing I did was to cover the wooden frame with some sheeting (from an old duvet cover) to protect the quilt top from the wood and from dust on the reverse.  I googled 'how to stretch an artist's canvas' to find out the best way to deal with corners.  The frame has a recess on the back of the bars so that you can staple without worrying about protruding bumps.  I used a lightweight staple gun and inserted staples about every three inches.

Next, I laid the frame flat on the carpet and placed my pressed quilt top over it, right sides up.  I had specified a frame size that would allow the quilt top to wrap around to the sides by about 3/8th of an inch, to add to the effect of a fragment of tiled floor. I had previously sewn on a 5-inch border of grey fabric all around the top.  Now I pushed pins into the softwood frame to hold the quilt top in position, all around the frame.  I went all around once, then went around a second time making slight adjustments so that the quilt top was held smoothly. I wasn't stretching the top drum-tight, just pinning it so that it was smooth and so that the overlap was the same all the way around.

Then I carefully lifted the frame up off the floor, flipped it over (trying not to dislodge the pins), and put it back down on the floor face down.  Then I went around with my staple gun again, folding the grey fabric over the edge and stapling into the recess around every two inches. The pins held the top in place, so I just needed to smooth the grey fabric over the bar without having to tug at it.  The final step was to trim off the grey fabric on the reverse so that it was even with the wooden bars, easy enough to do by running sharp scissors along the inside of the bar.

Then the exciting part:  taking out all the pins and lifting the frame up to reveal the finished 'artwork'.

I wasn't sure where I was going to display this, but while I was working on it in our blue-painted living room, I realised how well it fit in there.  Then I discovered that it would fit perfectly into the alcove, so it seems that's where it belongs.

Hanging it was easy:  just get your helper (DH) to hold it up in the desired position so that it's level, then make a couple of light pencil marks along the top edge.  Remove the frame, and measure down the width of the stretcher bars (1.75" for mine) from your marks and drive in two sturdy headless nails, as perpendicular as you can.  The lightweight frame will just sit on the two nails quite well and stay flush to the wall.

Ta da!  I'm really pleased with how the blues pick up the wall colour, and the yellows pick up the gold mirror and touches of brass in the room. Plus I can see it all the time from the sofa instead of it being quilted and hidden in a cupboard with all my other quilts.

[ignore the very ugly TV and cabinet - one day it will live in a bespoke cupboard to conceal its hideousness]

I hope this is a useful mini-tutorial for someone - leave a comment if it's helped you!

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