Sunday, 27 March 2016

Chocolate for breakfast

Chocolate for breakfast so it must be Easter. It's nice to keep some of our childhood traditions alive  :)  Classic spring weather with high wind conditions keeping the clouds moving fast so bright sunshine alternating with spitty rain showers.  We're enjoying having a four day weekend thanks to the two bank holidays, and for me it's five days thanks to having Thursdays off anyway.

On Thursday I put the first coat of primer paint on  the outside window beading and the first coat of gloss white on my dollshouse porch, which totalled about four hours of painting white onto white.  The porch looks good but needs another coat. It was incredibly fiddly to paint thanks to all the nooks and crannies around the railings.

Friday we headed up to Peterborough in brilliant sunshine, really looking forward to a day at the Peterborough Antiques Festival. Unfortunately it turned out that thousands of other people had the same idea. We were stuck in a stationary traffic jam for 30 minutes before finally escaping at a roundabout. We took ourselves off to do some shopping for an hour then tried again coming at the fairground from a different direction. We got trapped in another traffic jam as all the roads were still choked for miles.  DH was getting extremely grumpy so we gave up and were headed home - I heard later that some people were in the jam for 2.5 hours before they made it into the fair. Luckily I remembered reading about a big antiques centre in Ely, the Waterside centre, so we diverted that way instead and ended up having a very pleasant afternoon in Ely.  After touring around the centre (and picking up a brass toasting fork, an Edwardian cut-glass drinks glass, a Victorian wrought iron lantern frame and a book) we had lunch in a cafe then enjoyed a stroll in the sunshine around Ely cathedral grounds and the attractive town. Lots of lovely old buildings and a few more antique shops and bookstores to poke around in.


In the evening I finished my dollshouse bell pull, adding its sterling silver end (which miraculously hadn't disappeared in all the years I've been working on this project) and a little tassel. It looks good in the dining room of my Vict-war-gency house.



Yesterday I spent six hours at a 'bring your own projects' day at a quilt shop. I took along what is probably my oldest quilting UFO (although I've got older projects that aren't started yet).  This is a Bear's Paw quilt using a white on white batik background and indigo dyed African fabrics, which I think I started about 15 years ago.  I needed to make 20 blocks and a sawtooth border, and I soon discovered that making a kazillion half square triangles and repetitive blocks was not my idea of fun.  In fifteen years I managed a total of three blocks! Pretty disgraceful really, although I did sew up most of the half square triangles using Thangles papers and I had previously made up some block kits. So yesterday I just got on with it and managed to produce five blocks before I got bored, so a huge improvement on the last fifteen years.  It felt good to be tackling this particular guilt burden. I think I will save it to take to future sewing days, but meanwhile I could prepare more block kits.


I showed the ladies there my Let it Snow quilt and the consensus was that it does need a border of the red sashing, and then blue binding. So I need to do a bit more work on it. In the last few hours of the day, I stitched on another older UFO: my Hawaiian applique quilt which I think is about five years old. I hadn't worked on it since we were living in the rental house a couple of years ago and it took me a while when I was getting ready for the sewing day to remember where I had stashed the thread and tools that go with it.


Also on the hand applique front, I finished what I think is Block 19 of my Grandmother's Last Quilt 25 block applique quilt.  Quite sweet this one.  I've chosen fabrics for the next block, having my usual laugh at my ambitious list for 2007 which proposes that I would make two blocks every month and be done in one year.  Just 10 years or so off the count. The next block is a Rose of Sharon variation and I've traced most of the templates but still need to make bias stems.

I have actually done several rows on my Hooked Rug Kit while watching TV (resulting in several battles with the cat on whether the rug is in my lap or she is - she has grudgingly settled for crawling under the rug canvas to curl up to one side of me). There are just over 100 'stitches' in a row so it is pretty slow going and of course it is using up knitting time.  I have done some more rows on the next GAA Afghan square, and I've started a little baby item. I finally sewed the ties onto the Rowan Summer Tweed Cardigan so it is actually wearable now - I will probably give it an inaugural run at work next week.

Today I spent an hour or so painting the inside and outside of the window in the shed which we had repaired back in the Autumn but the weather has never been nice enough since then for painting on a day when I was available to do the painting. I did the first gloss coat on the cellar windows Friday morning but they will need another coat and so will the shed so more painting next weekend I think. We also headed over to Lamport Hall for their antiques show which is always a pleasant venue. We've got some nice things in the past, and came away today with a 1930s oak-framed barometer, a print of a hunting scene, and a 1940s oak gateleg side table. DH also managed to find a plastic Napoleonic model kit which I don't think is technically an antique but he was pleased. The side table is for the lounge and is a cheap placeholder until we find the perfect table.  Although it's pretty sturdy so we will probably own it for years now.

Just waiting for the roast lamb to finish cooking for our Easter Sunday dinner.  Happy Easter everyone!

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Remember when


Ah, 1972. The fashions, the flares, the plastic yarn...  I was looking through an old issue of an American magazine, McCall's Needlework and Crafts, and the pictures were so amusing I thought I would share a few.

Crochet was hot.  And in 100% acrylic yarn, think how really hot these poor people would have been in their crocheted outfits. Check out the crocheted pedal pushers.



Or how about these stylish hot pants, and that fringed vest?  Still all acrylic.


You could crochet your own.




And this ad isn't sexist at all.  Check out the crocheted bikini.


Glamorous crocheted evening gowns, complete with white bra flashing through the navy mesh.


There was a minority of knitted patterns in this issue. How about a cabled trouser suit? I feel too hot just looking at this picture.


I wonder if 45 years from now we'll be laughing at the fashions in magazines from 2016?



Resurrecting old UFOs

Delving into my own past, I was clearing up my desk and came across a little petit point project which I started many years ago. It's a Janet Granger Designs bell pull kit for a 1/12th scale dollshouse room, done on silk gauze with one strand of embroidery floss.  I had limped my way to within an inch of the end. I think I stalled out first because two of the greens were so similar that I kept getting confused, secondly because I can't count so have trouble with stitched charts, and thirdly because I kept getting lost on said chart. Roll forward to modern technology and I could convert the chart into a PDF and track my progress using Goodreader on the iPad.  I found that if I did one row at a time then I didn't get lost and didn't get too confused with the colours, although it did mean a lot of threading and unthreading. It still took a year or so but since taking this picture yesterday I have finally reached the last row of the chart.  Of course, when I started this project I could do it with the naked eye in a good light, but I have finished it using my magnifying Optivisor so that I can see what I'm doing.



Another UFO, only a few years old I think, is this knitted telephone box.  I was very disappointed at the time because the finished sample in the book correctly showed a three-pane-wide window like the classic British telephone box, but I didn't notice until well into the project that the chart in the book was for an incorrect four-pane window. Also it is not small and cute like it looked in the photo, but big and unwieldy.  After I finished knitting it, I never stuffed it because I had no source for foam rubber.  But when I was cleaning up the workshop last week I came across some cheap decorating sponges and realised I could use them instead.  I just had to cut them to fit, add some toy stuffing at the top and sew the roof on.  So it's done.  And as DH said, now what do I do with it? I suppose it is a conversation piece. Or a really big pincushion.



I think I'm on a roll because I went up to the attic and rescued my Readicut hooked rug project which I last worked on a couple of years ago when we were renting, in between houses. Going on the rag rug course a few weeks ago made me feel like I want to finish this rug but we'll see how long that impulse lasts against the tedium of hooking.  There is a reason why things become UFOs.

Quilting

Today was Worldwide Quilting Day and I celebrated by excavating some of the cobwebbed corners of my sewing room where I had piles of things waiting to be put away, waiting to be mended, waiting to be completed etc.  After four hours of putting away fabric, ribbon, buttons, cardmaking stuff, rugmaking stuff, framing three pictures, changing the buttons on a waistcoat, returning items to other parts of the house, hanging two mirrors, sorting out a two foot high stack of magazines, clearing the remains of the last several projects I've completed, sticking cuttings into inspiration books and sorting out more storage - it really doesn't look much different.  But I feel better for having done it.

I topped out the Let it Snow quilt on Thursday when I needed to stay in the sewing room within earshot of some workmen replacing windows in the woodshop and dollshouse room.  I proudly hung the top to take some photos, then sat back to admire it. That's when I noticed that I had sewn the bottom panel of snowballs on upside down.



I fixed the mistake yesterday afternoon after work. I'm going to piece a back out of the leftover snowman fabrics I collected. I decided not to put a border on the quilt, I like it the way it is and it's about five feet wide so big enough to be a throw. I like all the cheerful scrappy colours and the plaid squares dancing with each other.  The snowmen are all made from white wool felt so look realistically 'snowy'.

Real house

Nothing much happened on the dollshouse porch kit this week because I had to spend one evening clearing out the study so an estimator could measure the floor for fitting Amtico over the rough floorboards, and two more evenings clearing out the dollshouse room/putting everything back in the dollshouse room so that the windows could be replaced.  We had a broken window in the workshop (inherited) so needed to replace that one, and while we were at it we had the two windows in the dollshouse room beefed up with laminated glass. It took them about three hours of hammering to get through decades of paint and get the beading off and clear out the channels, then a mere 40 minutes to fit the new windows.


Knitting

On the knitting front, I finished the Salpeker square from the GAA Afghan. After sewing on the cabled border, I disguised the seam by crocheting a chain over it. Then I picked up all around the cable to knit on the garter border.


I've now started what I think is the 20th and final square of the afghan.  In commuter knitting, I am in the middle of turning the heel on the second Basketcheck sock. Progress has been slow because I tend to read on the train in the mornings now instead of knitting. Bad knitter.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Getting my life organised

I have been feeling anxious for a while because my desk was getting more and more covered with things waiting to be sorted out, the box of bills and receipts was overflowing awaiting entry on our financial software, my in tray was full etc etc.  Working four days a week instead of three has made a surprising inroad not just on my available time but on my available energy.

On Thursday I headed off to work as usual on the train, but after a while the train started to slow down in between stations which is always a bad sign.  They announced a total signal failure in the Leicester area which was my destination, no trains going in or coming out.  They had no real suggestion on how one would reach Leicester so I got out at Kettering which was chaos, people milling around, unintelligible announcements, virtually every train cancelled.  I made an executive decision that life was handing me an extra day on a plate so I hopped on the first train coming southwards around the diversion and was back home two hours after I started. I then had the luxury of an entire day to sort out my life in paperwork which felt really great (although I probably worked harder than I would have done at the office!).  The best thing about it was that I already had Friday booked off and had been thinking I would have to devote a day over the long weekend to the paperwork, and then I had three days free with no guilt!  Well worth losing a day of my annual leave allowance.

One of the things I did was sort out a motorhome hire for a week's vacation this summer in Yorkshire. We've never driven a motorhome before but it costs about the same as staying in a hotel and I really like the idea that we can be pretty flexible on where we go. Also that we can relax in the 'living room' in the evenings and knit, read etc. and we won't have to eat out all the time as we can self-cater.  DH developed a passionate loathing for camping in our days of owning a folding camper several years ago but I'm hoping the motorhome will be comfortable enough (and dry inside if it rains) to win him over.

So I've had much more time than usual this weekend for crafts, although we did do three and half hours of gardening yesterday spreading manure and soil improvers which hopefully will yield results as things start to grow.

Dollshouse porch

I've been doing a lot on the dollshouse porch kit. In the week I assembled the railing substructures  using a spacer jig that came with the kit, and then did some preliminary painting on the posts.  As my porch will be removable, I've tried to make it a bit stronger by drilling a hole in the base of each post so that I could insert a cocktail stick 'dowel' to glue into a corresponding hole in the porch.

Of course, trying to get the holes in just the right position that the posts are in the right places to avoid gaps between the rails, while keeping the posts vertical and the rails spaced correctly, was enough to make me wish I had eight arms like an octopus.  The straight sections were bad enough; the octagonal gazebo was a saga.  But eventually after using up most of a roll of masking tape I achieved a result which wasn't too bad.



The next task was to assemble the ceiling, cut it to fit round my house (which is different that the house the kit was designed for), prep it, attach the trim, and then glue it onto the posts. I gingerly weighted it down with paint tins, holding my breath in case the whole thing collapsed like a pack of cards.


Somewhat to my surprise, the structure held up.  After the glue dried I was able to drill through the ceiling and dowel into the tops of the posts for added strength.  Then today I glued on the trim around the floor edge, and glued in the gingerbread trim between the posts - more sanding and tweaking and lots more masking tape.  It's starting to look really nice.


Although I did have a conversation with DH about the fact that 15 years ago I would have thought it looked great, whereas nowadays I know that any closeup photo with a digital camera is going to highlight any number of flaws, gaps, lumps and bumps. Sigh.  The next big job will be to finish priming the bare wood then carefully paint the final white paint coats on the entire structure before starting on the roof.

Another rescue operation

Remember the cross-stitch pictures from the 80s that I framed a few weeks ago?  Well I've 'rescued' another cross stitch which turned out to be quite a find.  When I spotted it in a bric-a-brac store, it was sealed in a packet and folded so that only the house portion was showing.  I could see that the house was already stitched  and it was priced at only £4 so I thought it was worth a punt and might be something I could frame or cut up to use to cover a box or something.

So I was very surprised when I got home and opened the packet to find a huge and elaborate reproduction of an antique sampler, 95% finished and exquisitely stitched on evenweave linen.  The back is almost as neat as the front. To give some scale, the letters are about half an inch high.


Presumably the expert stitcher who created this is no longer with us, and somehow it ended up at the bric-a-brac store. The top lines are a quote from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and the bottom quote is from a poem called Endymion by John Keats (thank you, Google).  I will probably try to finish it but I will be worried my stitching will look crude next to the original work.

Other crafts

I've gotten started on the miniature lace shelf edging but it's slow going: each 'zig' is taking about an hour which shows my inexperience.  But it is looking nice, I'm pleased with it.


I've done a few hours of blanket stitching around the Let it Snow quilt snowmen applique corner blocks. It's quite time consuming as there are a lot of thread changes and also I'm having trouble seeing what I'm doing.  My glasses aren't quite the right focal length and the Optivisor is too short a focal length so I end up hunched over the machine. To complicate matters I've somehow managed to lose one of the lens of my glasses and will have to get a replacement.

I finished knitting the cabled frame for the GAA Afghan square. and have started to sew it onto the central square.

I forgot to mention last week that I finished the Rag Rug Christmas Wreath. The teacher's sample had the edges of the hessian turned in on both the inside and the outside, but I rather like the look of the hessian filling the centre of the wreath. It gives  more of a sense of how the 'rug' was made and I think will help the wreath hold its shape. I could use it as a table centre perhaps under a candle, but I also sewed on a ribbon loop so I can hang it on the wall. Fun to try a new craft.



Parrs-Reel Rulers for guided free motion stitching 

I also meant to talk about a new gadget I saw at the Duxford quilt show, which was a set of rulers which can be used to guide freemotion quilting on a domestic machine.  Rulers have been around for quite a while for long arms but weren't previously suitable for use on a domestic machine because the free motion foot is shaped differently and wouldn't safely follow a ruler without hopping over the edge and breaking needles etc.  The Parrs-Reel Ruler comes as a set with a special deep free motion foot, a slippery table mat and thick acrylic rulers with channels cut out of them in various shapes. Their website has videos I think and I watched the vendor demonstrating. Basically she was holding the ruler down to the quilt's surface and moving the quilt so that the foot travelled along the channel. It looked cumbersome and as the rulers are not that long it required frequent starting and stopping to adjust the ruler. By aligning the ruler in different ways, you could turn a serpentine curve into a chain of circles for example by moving the ruler and stitching back along a previously stitched pattern.  Or you could pivot the ruler after stitching a half-oval to stitch the other half of the oval.They had stitched examples of all their ruler patterns but most of them seemed to be patterns which could be stitched free motion with a little practice.  The basic set costs from £49.95 and each ruler after that is £12 I think so it is not cheap.  And it will not work on a quilting frame as unlike a long-arm, a domestic machine on a frame lacks the supporting 'table' surface underneath the quilt to apply the ruler onto.  So an interesting idea but not something I feel I would invest in.


Sunday, 6 March 2016

Hurrah for an empty nest

Although our nest is only sporadically empty while DS is off at university, I do appreciate the relative freedom I have to enjoy myself all weekend compared to some of my younger colleagues who complain about never having any time to themselves. (Although I do believe that you make time for the priorities in your life).

This weekend we took the cat to Fat Camp for her monthly weigh in, she's slimmed right down and the vet is much happier with her. Then we went to B&Q and picked up a car load of soil improvers for the garden which I will spread next weekend. The afternoon was the gardening society, where I listened to a talk from the keeper of the national Euphorbia collection with lots of pretty pictures of gorgeous plants. He also had some plants for sale so I bought a pretty blue shrub that I can't remember the name of but hopefully it will live to be big enough to plant out.

Then I headed down to the workshop to make a start on my dollshouse porch kit.  It is freezing in the unheated basement (not quite literally, but pretty close) which necessitates bundling up in hat, cowl, and bulky jumpers. I've decided to construct the porch as a stand alone assembly, because it is way too big to try to attach to the dollshouse. I'm also going to try to retain the existing porch of the house so it still looks ok with out the add-on porch, so I had to cut out the kit to fit around the house. I've also had to shorten the side wing as my house isn't as deep as the house it was designed for.  Lots of gluing and nailing and filling, then today some sanding and priming. It feels good to be building something again. I haven't built anything since I 'finished' the Fairfield kit in 2012. And now I have the luxury of building in a workshop which, although very cold,  has electricity after a somewhat grumpy electrician installed some extra powerpoints for me this week.




Today was very crafty.  In the morning we headed up to Peterborough for a model show that DH wanted to go to. I went in for a look around, although plastic models are not really my thing. I was interested to see a couple of vendors marketing custom laser cut products: quite elaborate paint storage systems, brush holders, modellers work trays, special stands to hold work in progress etc. It just shows how laser cutters have come down in price so that niche markets can make use of them. There also seems to be more laser cutting going on in the dollshouse world but I haven't seen any for knitters yet. A missed opportunity perhaps because similar assemblies to what I saw today would work to hold needles, interchangeables, sewing tools etc.  There were also vendors selling tools and I picked up a pack of sanding sponges and a set of razor saw blades for my X-acto knife which may come in useful.

After a nice Mexican lunch at Chiquitos which wasn't too crowded despite being Mothering Sunday here in the UK, we headed to the Imperial War Museum at Duxford where Grosvenor was running its Spring Quilt Show.  I'd never been before but I'd heard it was good for fabric and indeed there seemed to be a lot of well priced fabric available. Several stands were selling at £6m which is pretty good for the UK. I  wasn't really in the market for fabric but I did pick up some blue with white circles on it which may work as a 'snow' border for my Let it Snow quilt.

It was a bit of an unusual venue for a quilt show - to get to the entrance you had to walk through a hangar of enormous planes and at one end of the quilt exhibition floor there was a helicopter just casually parked near the cafe.
It was quite chilly inside which was good because I didn't see a coat check and I certainly didn't get too hot wearing my heavy winter coat around the exhibition. I felt sorry for the stallholders though. I was there in mid afternoon and it wasn't busy at all, but it must have been better on Friday and Saturday because some vendors were sold out of patterns and kits.

I picked up some Aurifil thread to try it again for piecing, podcasters rave about it but I tried it several years ago and didn't like it. I also got a replacement teflon pressing sheet because I have managed to lose both of mine somehow in my sewing room.  Janome were there which reminded me that my quarter inch foot has become quite wobbly and inaccurate. I was going to replace it with the same foot but they showed me a convertible see-through quarter inch foot for the same price so I got that to give it a try.

This wasn't a show with quilts entered for competition but it did have various small displays by artists or groups. It wasn't a big show and not that many quilts on display, but a good selection of vendors.  My impulse buy of the day was a very cute pattern and kit for a pincushion, sewing box and scissors keeper in the shape of toadstools from Endless Threads. I was very tempted by her other patterns for house shaped objects but decided to go with this one as it had a kit. They are made from felt and the detail is a combination of applique and machine embroidery.


In the car to and from the shows, I was knitting on my GAA Afghan Salpekar square. I had finished the cabled centre in the week, and now I am knitting a cabled border to go around the centre.  The written instructions for the mitred corner didn't make any sense to me and after two failed attempts I looked on Ravelry to find that other people had also had problems. Luckily one lovely lady had charted out replacement instructions so I downloaded those and managed to turn the corner at last sitting down with a cup of tea while DH was looking around the model show.



While Mr Grumpy Electrician was working on the workshop this week, I stayed within earshot in my sewing room and got on with my final four blocks from the Let it Snow Quilt. They are now all fused down and I just need to do all the blanket stitching and detail stitching. One of them is a snow cat, which is my own version of the original pattern which was more of a snow man with cat whiskers and cat ears. I didn't think it looked very realistic so I re-drew the shape to look more like a cat. There's also a snow angel, a snow boy, and a snow skater.


Otherwise this week I've done some more commuter knitting on the second Basket Check Sock, done some more cross-stitch on my big project, and ordered (and received) some lacemaking DVDs borrowed from the Lace Guild's library. The DVDs are by Christine Springett on Torchon Lace, and Bridget Cook on Bucks Point, and I'm sure I will learn by seeing lace done rather than just reading about it out of books. I did do a few more inches on my miniature bobbin lace shelf edging and so far have not broken the thread, so I'm pleased. I managed to re-draw the working diagram in the book with some Tippex and black Sharpie to correct the errors, and it's going alright now.

Hope you've had a crafty weekend as well!

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