Sunday, 24 April 2016

Deadline pressure

The dollshouse shed I'm building is for a group project that my club is undertaking, and the next meeting is this week, so I am experiencing deadline pressure. I don't think I blogged that at the last meeting, almost everyone except me dutifully produced their completed shed kit. Without exception, they had all assembled the provided brown cardboard pieces into a brown cardboard plain shed, and were all that evening applying the provided brown paper 'clapboard' and sandpaper roofing.  This was after being given a brief to 'use your imagination' and 'think Shed of the Year' (TV programme showcasing unusual sheds).

So my bright yellow confection is going to be the cuckoo in the nest, and I want to make it look as complete as possible in its own defense before two dozen pairs of baffled eyes are on it.  I've fitted out the inside trim now and glued on the other part of the roof. DH brilliantly drove over to the dollshouse shop in Kettering yesterday (while I was supervising the guy fitting the new floor in the study) and picked up some handrail for me. So last night I was able to construct my porch railings using the same jig that came with my other porch kit, and today I glued up the railing assemblies and applied coats of paint. Tonight I glued on the porch ceiling which will support the porch roof.

I've also done two lots of painting on the real-life garden corner arbour this weekend. I finished off the third coat on the roof bits on Friday before the floor guy came, and yesterday we put the first coat of green/blue on the side walls and trim. The base is done as well, so soon we will have to figure out how to build some kind of concrete pad for the whole thing to sit on.  The corner it will go in dips down by about a foot or more from the level of the lawn, so it needs to be a raised pad.  There's also a large shrub in the way which we will need to murder because there is nowhere else for it to go. It's just about to bloom (I think it's a Viburnum Burkwoodii) so I am letting it have one last hurrah before the axe falls (actually, probably a saw).

The study floor is looking great, apart from he ran out of tiles because it turned out he had been sent one box of the wrong colour tiles.  So he will be coming back on Thursday to finish the bit near the door.  The rest of it is done and we were able to move the furniture back in last night. I'm gradually moving my office back from my temporary camp here in DS's bedroom, but I am procrastinating about moving the old-fashioned desktop PC with its maze of cables which will all have to be re-snaked through the desk cubbies while lying awkwardly on the floor, bleah. It's very nice to be able to walk around the study without shredded bits of Victorian floorboard snagging my slippers, and I'm sure it's going to be a lot warmer now that the drafty gaps between boards are covered over.


This week I resuscitated a hibernating project which is the Que Sera Cardigan in Shilasdair cotton which I started last summer.  The fronts and backs are knit all as one up to the armholes, and I had completed around six inches.  I worked out where I was in the lace pattern and knit another couple of inches before I realised that the new knitting did not look like the old knitting.  Turned out that I had started in the wrong place, so I had to rip back to where I had re-started, then work out picking up all the stitches and yarn overs and getting my stitch markers back into the right places for repeats.  Which all took ages.  But I am back on track now and have recovered my ground and knit onwards.

I heard from Daisydaisydaisy that she received the little cotton bolero I knit for her little girl and posted last week. This is in Sirdar Ella DK which is a cotton/acrylic blend with a strand of sparkle. Daisydaisydaisy is a much better knitter than I am so it was a bit of sending coals to Newcastle but still I hope the bolero will come in useful on cooler summer days.  It is size 6-12 months.

I dug out all the squares I have knit for my 20-square Great American Aran Afghan (GAAA) to see how bad the blocking job is going to be.  I have made a rod for my own back by using the same needles for all the squares, because I liked the fabric I was getting and didn't want to have to keep swatching and switching.  It turns out that I accidentally knit 21 squares but it's just as well because one of them is hugely bigger than the rest.  I measured along the row gauge as follows:

One square at 15"
Six at 13"
Six at 12"
Four at 11.5"
Four at 11" down to 10.5"

So I think I am going to discard the 15" square (or turn it into a pillow) and try to block the rest to 13 inches.  If it looks like the smallest ones won't stretch that much then I guess I will have to pick up and knit a border around them. One advantage of being a loose knitter is that the squares have a lot of stretch in them.  I think I will have to block them in batches because I don't have room to lay out 20 13-inch squares all at once to dry.

Commuter knitting is now the Lallybroch Socks.  This is a sock pattern inspired by the Outlander series called Lady of Lallybroch by JavaPurl Designs, which I bought at I-knit Fandango a year ago. Where I also bought the sock yarn from SparkleDuck, Galaxy in the Autumn Leaves colourway (75% superwash merino, 20% nylon, 5% stellina) which I thought looked suitably tartan-like. The pattern is toe up, which I don't like doing as much, but has a pretty cable pattern on the top of the foot. Apologies for the fuzzy picture.

Other stuff

Strip cutting of quilt scraps continues.  I had a bit of a win when I discovered that part of the bulk in the box was an old pair of jeans I must have been cutting up  for something, and a felted cardigan that I had turned into a bag. I've also found a few bits of yardage that I actually want to keep, not sure why they were in the box but it may have happened in the move.  So the box is about half empty now and the strip baskets are filling up.

I have been a major procrastinator about bobbin lace lately. It's just not as much fun now that I'm not meeting up with my lace friends every week.  I have soldiered on to finish the first length of shelf edging and I've started the second. I'm taking a day course on lacemaking in May so that might inspire me to do more.

I've also spent a fair bit of time working on our Japan holiday. Having amassed a long list of Tokyo sights from guidebooks and websites, and more importantly of Tokyo craft shops, I have been trying to whittle the list down and group them by area to try to work out some kind of feasible route that we can complete in our limited time there.  Tokyo is so huge, 61% bigger than London I think I read somewhere, and it seems quite complex to actually find locations which the language issue doesn't help. I know we can't see everything (and I know DH will get grumpy if I try) and also I can't bring it all back in my suitcase either.

I picked our first rhubarb from the garden today, so it was rhubarb crumble for pudding tonight, yum.  The weeds are sprouting busily so I've sent off for some 'Strulch' which the speaker at my gardening club recommended.  It's composted straw which he said makes a really good weed-suppressing mat once it gets wet. It's also quite lightweight and is supposed to deter slugs and snails because of what it's been soaked in. He was a great speaker and went through all the different methods for propagating plants from cuttings, many of which I hadn't heard of.  Did you know you can stick a leaf cutting into compost and it will root?  I didn't.  I didn't know you could shave a bulb into slices and that it would produce new little bulblets either. The only thing is that you need some kind of giant greenhouse or coldframe to accommodate all of these rooting things for months while they are growing  bigger.  I've had enough trouble finding sufficiently sunny windowsills for the seeds I am trying to grow onwards, and the cat keeps walking on the seed trays so she can look out the window.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

A weekend of many seasons

The English weather is showing off its fabled contrariness this weekend.  The inlaws arrived on Thursday for a visit and that afternoon was so nice and warm that we were sitting drinking tea out on the sunny patio in late afternoon. But Friday it started to spit rain, and it wasn't looking good yesterday morning when we set off to drive north to visit a big garden.  Shortly after leaving home it started to sleet, and then to actually snow. We made an interim stop at Uppingham Yarns, a mecca for machine knitting yarns, Italian fancies, all kinds of unusual fibres plus a fair bit of hand knitting yarn. M-i-l bought some wool/acrylic blend for a cardi and I found a yarn winder that will wind cakes instead of cones.

By the time we came out, it was so cold that f-i-l was looking quite miserable (he won't wear a hat) and although the snow had stopped, it was decided to abandon the expedition and head back to more local sights.  We visited Sywell aviation museum where we saw a Spitfire revving its engines and a helicopter landing on the airfield, then had a lovely lunch at Beckworth Emporium before visiting a plant nursery. I then introduced m-i-l to the delights of the Coleman's Craft Warehouse that I have previously blogged about, while f-i-l fell asleep in the 'husband room' and DH chafed at being stuck there for 40 mins.  In their bargain bins I found some parachute cord in blue and white which will make good project bag cords.

And today it is gloriously sunny, not a cloud in the sky, but there was a heavy frost this morning when I had been thinking that spring had come and it would be safe to prune back the fuschias etc.    The garden still thinks it is spring though, our magnolia has a lot more blossom this year, the pear tree is starting to blossom, the tulips are coming out, the photinia has nice red growth, and the forsythia is bursting into yellow brightness.

So will all the hosting of guests, not a lot of crafts this week although I have been able to knit in the evenings.

I finally finished the Basket Check socks and they are on the blockers. These are in Regia Arne and Carlos yarn and the pattern is from the Little Box of Socks which I had forgotten Swooze had  kindly gifted me until I was looking at my 2010 blog posts and rediscovered that fact - thank you Swooze!

I also finished what I think/hope is the final square of my 20-square GAA Afghan.  Now the nightmare of trying to block 20 squares to the same size looms on the horizon. This is a modified version of a pictorial block with a church, tree, sun and birds.  I changed the church to a house with a chimney and omitted the sun. Once all the squares are joined, there are about 80 miles of border to knit.

I've also been sneaking downstairs away from the in-laws to cut up some more fabric scraps.  I've probably done five hours altogether since I started this and I haven't even reduced the pile to the level of the top of the box yet. But the bins are slowly filling up.

And I've also been sneaking off to the cellar to quickly paint dollshouse bits for my garden shed, which is coming on.  I'm currently working on the door wall, I've custom-made a non-opening door which is just propped up in this photo.  I was thinking last night about how I am going to build the verandah and I think I shouldn't have given the roof such an overhang. I may need to see if I can trim it back in situ without breaking anything. Hopefully.

I am working on the next block of my 25 block applique quilt and m-i-l wanted to see the other blocks. So I spread them out on the living room floor where they made a lively sight. This project is eleven years old now but at least it is slowly getting done. It's probably a race now between finishing the quilt and deteriorating eyesight making it challenging to do so, lol.

I also finished the baby item I was working on, and got it in the post, but I won't blog about it until I hear it has been received.

The only other item of note this week was that Monday, when DH was working at home, he fed the cat and let her out at 7am and then didn't see her the entire rest of the day. Normally she is in and out and always present for meals. By the time I got home from work at 6:30pm he had written her off for dead.  We searched the entire house twice, even getting silly about opening cupboards that she couldn't possibly be in without developing opposable thumbs, and DH searched the surrounding streets. It was also pouring rain and dark by then. My main thought was that DS has big exams coming up at uni in six weeks and that we couldn't tell him in case it distressed him, but that the in-laws would notice and never be able to keep their mouths shut about it, although of course I was worried about the cat.  Who showed up around 8pm, dripping wet and chirruping, with no apparent harm. If only they could talk and tell you where they have been.  We kept her in for a few days and she hasn't pulled a disappearing act again.  Yet.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

You wait ages for a hexagonal turret and then two come along at once

Like last week's post, life was again mirroring art rather strangely this morning.  I spent a couple of hours out in the garden painting the hexagonal roof segments, roof struts and finial of our new garden corner arbour.  Meanwhile the hexagonal roof of my miniature dream shed with its own finial was drying inside in the workroom after I had glued it on my mini turret.

After trying out various tester pots of Cuprinol Garden Shades paint, we've gone with Urban Slate (dark grey) for the roof of the garden arbour, and the walls will be Seagrass which is a rather attractive blue-green. This is the first of three coats on the roof and we haven't even started the walls yet, it's going to be a long haul.

Meanwhile I've spent a lot of time this week on the mini shed and it's coming along fairly well.  I'm decorating as I go to avoid having to reach into awkward spaces after construction.  The tower is together but not finished yet and obviously the roof and a few walls are still missing. I don't have a pattern, just a picture from the internet that I am using for inspiration, so I'm kind of making it up as I go along.  Before I closed in the tower, I improvised a little window seat where the writer (this is going to be a writer's retreat) sits in the sun.  I will make some throw pillows later.

Between painting, and the mini shed, and having to spend about five hours this weekend deep-cleaning the house ready for the in-law's visit this coming week, I haven't had as much time for other crafts this week.  I did do some more on my cross stitch which is inching sloth-like down the canvas.

I have also done more on my bobbin lace dollshouse shelf edging, which is about five inches long now.  About another inch to go and then I can start the second one for the second shelf.

I spent a few hours on Thursday unpacking one of the last boxes from the move (yes, we still have a few kicking around, two years later) which is my fridge magnet collection.  This used to be crowded onto two metal boards on a wall in our old kitchen.  I picked up a couple more cheap magnetic boards from Wilko and DH sprayed all four boards dark green for me, although we ran out of spray paint before we had a really solid colour. After hanging those on a spare wall in the attic, I unpacked all the magnets, which had survived their multiple journeys fairly well: only one breakage and two more with detached magnets.  DH counted them because he likes to do that, and apparently I have 140 magnets.  I like them because they remind me of places I've been, and some of them are really cute.  At the moment they are just grouped by nationality or style but I'm thinking of arranging little villages and perhaps painting roads and ponds.  Yes I am very sad.

At one point in England these house-shaped magnets were very popular and in all the souvenir shops. But they must have gone out of fashion because you rarely see any now that are free of defacing typeface announcing their home location. I've hardly acquired any new English ones for years but I picked up quite a few in the Netherlands on business trips and some in France, even a few in Italy. And I have a nice little group of gingerbread houses from New England.

Also this week I have continued to tackle my quilting scrap box. It's incredibly slow going, I can spend a couple of hours pressing and cutting and the scrap pile is not going down at all.  I picked up five small washing up bowls for .95p each at Wilko to use as sorting bins for the various widths of strips and squares:  1.5", 2", 2.5", 3.5" and bricks. Because they are white, I could just write the numbers on the outside in Sharpie.

I will just have to keep plugging away at it and eventually it will get done. Not the most exciting job in the world. Once I finally finish the pile, going forward I will aim to cut up the scraps immediately and add them to the bins.

Live and learn 

Remember the Victorian button-back chair that I picked up as a bargain at the Peterborough Antiques Festival in November?

One of the reasons I chose it, besides liking the look of it, was because it felt fairly comfortable to sit in, even though the ancient upholstery was all rather deflated and squashed down.  So I was very excited when it finally came back from the upholsterer a few weeks ago, looking all new and refreshed in crisp blue velvet.  It looked great when they unwrapped it from its plastic protection, and I was really pleased... until I sat down in it.

I kid you not, it was like it had been stuffed with bricks.  Not only was it absolutely rock hard, but the back had been completely resculpted to a horrible wavy shape that was about six inches forward at the base (purportedly a lumbar support although it was hitting my tailbone) and then sloping  backward as it rose. So you were pushed forward on the rock hard seat until your knees were hanging off the front, and the only way to lean back was to arch your back like you were curving back over a small medicine ball to assume a position akin to a terrified roller-coaster passenger. Competely uncomfortable and with all the extra padding they had added, it was so snug I could barely fit in between the rock hard arm pads.

It was terribly awkward because they had obviously worked hard on it, and the finish was good, but the result was totally unusable as a piece of furniture. It was someone we had hired before on a simpler chair and I guess this chair was just beyond their skill level. They are a one-person band so I didn't feel I could demand my money back, and my tentative approaches about reducing the pneumatic lumps and inserting some softer padding were met with upset and a total lack of willingness to do anything. Their position was that this was how you upholstered a traditional chair using traditional materials (some kind of fake horsehair), end of story. And it looked great but I wonder if they had even tried sitting in it, plus I would have thought that before you totally changed the shape and inner dimensions of a chair, you would at least discuss it with the client.  All very embarrassing and a complete waste of money on the job and the fabric, but nothing to be done.

So now it's gone off to the shop where we bought our sofas, and their upholsterers looked at it and said they will have to completely take it apart to deconstruct all the brick hard lumps, reduce the extreme padding on the back and sides which has made it so snug fitting, and introduce some modern comfort.  So we've had to buy more fabric and have to pay for a second, more expensive upholstery job.  Certainly no longer a bargain and I am trying to keep out of my conscious brain the thought that added up this chair is costing more than a cheap car.  La la la la.  The only good thing is the second lot of fabric is going to look much better with the new sofas than the first choice of fabric, I've gone with a cream damask this time.  Sigh...  Hopefully my middle-aged memory loss will come to my rescue and in a few years I won't remember the expensive mistake of the first attempt.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Life imitates art

I am currently creating a 1/12th scale dollshouse shed as part of a group project for my dollshouse club. They told us to use our imaginations and to channel 'Shed of the Year' which was a TV programme showcasing unusual sheds.  I decided to cut mine out in wood and create a clapboarded writer's retreat with a hexagonal tower.  So far it is going less than precisely (see table saw woes below) and I'm sort of making it up as I go along.  Hopefully it will turn out ok and I won't embarrass myself in front of the other kids  :)  It doesn't look like much yet.

Meanwhile, we took delivery today of our own fantasy shed for the garden.  It's actually a corner arbour with a fancy roof, and it is flatpacked so we will have to assemble it ourselves. It will be a focal point for the garden.  First we need to paint it, so I trotted out to Wilko and picked up some tester pots in Cuprinol Garden Shades in blues, then painted up a board and put it in the garden so we could look at it from the house. We've decided blues look too beach-hutty so will have to try again - perhaps cream and brown? We also need to create a level base for it in a corner of the garden which currently has a huge dip and a slope, not quite sure how we are going do to that but it may involve concrete.

More dollshousing this week as I put the second coat of paint on the dollshouse porch on Easter Monday and then assembled the roof on my day off.  It looks pretty cool and I can already imagine myself sitting on the verandah with a tall glass of something nice.  However as you can see, the original microporch on the house is sitting inconveniently above the roof line.  I am considering options for disguising that. The original design has what it calls a 'cricket roof' which is basically a shallow dormer over the entrance. I was wondering about scaling the dormer up so that it sits in front of the existing porch to hide it. Will have to do some mock ups.

I had to trim both the flatter roofs to length so for the first time ever I fired up my secondhand Proxxon table saw. As previously mentioned I have a table saw phobia dating back to childhood but I was pleasantly surprised at the quiet 'whirr' of the motor.  I made the two cuts without any problems and started to feel more confident.

So I thought I would use the table saw to cut out the pieces of my dollshouse shed as they were mostly long straight cuts. It all started to go downhill, first of all when I noticed what appeared to be smoke coming out of the machine after the first few cuts.  I still don't know what was happening, whether it's just that it hasn't been used for over a year or because I didn't have the hoover connected up for dust extraction. But it started tripping the circuit breakers which can't be good.  Then I found that if I tried to make a long straight cut using the ripping fence which came with the saw, I was actually ending up with a shallow curved cut. Needless to say this made a mess of my tower pieces, so in between having to dash upstairs to put the power back on, smoke misting the workshop, DS complaining because I was interrupting his video games, DH getting cut off in the middle of a call to his mother, and trying not to cut off my fingers, it was all very stressful. I gave up in the end and cut the final pieces out with the jig saw.  I have a lot of badly cut edges to hide now.  DH thinks it's because I bought secondhand but the man I bought the Proxxon  from said he had used it and been quite happy with it so I don't know what to believe now.  Maybe it's something I'm doing wrong.

I went to a couple of miniatures show this week.  On Easter Monday I went to the Newport Pagnell show which was very small - perhaps 15 traders? And some of them were people selling off excess stash rather than being in the business.  I did pick up a few bargains including a Janet Granger needlework stand kit with floss and canvas for only £2.  Than I had  a trip to Miniatura on Saturday at the NEC.  I used to go every year but have rarely been the last several years. It's a lot smaller than it used to be but still an enjoyable show.  I took a list of things I would like to add to my existing houses but didn't find much on it. There was very little 1:48 stuff available, mainly houses and some furniture but I was looking for accessories.   I did get a few 1:24 accessories for various houses.  For my Mulvaney room box I picked up a gorgeous handstitched firescreen and a turned Corion vase. And I got a few more needlework accessories with a view to making a window display for my quilt shop. I haven't taken pictures yet, will try to remember to do that for next week.


On the quilting front, I pieced my leftover snowman fabrics into a back for the Let it Snow quilt and I cut some narrow red sashing to add a final border - which I haven't done yet.  When I cleaned up my fabric pieces after this quilt, I was adding a lot to my already overflowing scrap bin.  Yes, somewhere under that mountain of fabric scraps is a bin.

I have to do something as it is taking over the sewing room floor.  I was looking at Bonnie Hunter's scrap using system where you cut up all your scraps into pieces you can use in scrap quilts so I might try that. I am not looking forward to pressing and cutting all of that stuff though.  She also had a good idea for using up stash by cutting it into 10.5" squares and piecing squares from one colour family into quilt backs.  Some of those bags on the floor are old stash that I keep for piecing into backs but they are in odd sized pieces so I might cut them up into squares for easier handling.

Other stuff

This week I have:

  • Finished turning the heel of my Basketcheck Sock and am almost ready to do the toe. I was knitting on this on the train to/from Miniatura and also to/ from Newport Pagnell.
  • Completed about another inch and a half on my Bobbin lace shelf edging and took my pillow to a lacemaking friend's house for a nice visit while chatting and lacemaking.
  • Finished painting the cellar windows and put another coat on the shed window.
  • Knit most of the pieces for a little baby item I'm working on.
  • Started appliquing the stems for my next block of my 25 block applique quilt after preparing the rest of the pieces for the block kit.
  • Enjoyed a visit from DS who came home from Uni for a week.
  • Experimented with a gluten free recipe for brownies which rose to three inches and turned into a chocolate cake which wasn't bad at all.

And suddenly it's April. The garden is starting to bud and bloom, with a little blossom peeking out on the pear tree and our little magnolia throwing out several gorgeous flower heads.  Some of the tulips are just about to open, some grape hyacinth that I don't remember planting has appeared, and the euphorbia we got in the 70% off sale a few months ago is flowering away in the front garden.  There are still daffodils but the crocuses seem to be finished now.  And the paeonies and rhubarb are poking up fat heads through the soil.  How is your garden looking?

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