Sunday, 23 April 2017

Enjoying the outdoors

When we drove south for the funeral a few weeks ago, we really noticed how much more built up the area where we used to live is, on the west side of London, with fewer green spaces and so much more traffic. When we lived there I guess we just accepted it because it seemed normal. It made us appreciate even more where we live now, in a much quieter town which has a defined edge beyond which is so much lovely Northamptonshire countryside.  In a very short drive we can visit so many lovely places in a 360 degree direction, without London sitting like a massive blockage over an entire eastern quadrant. I suppose the flip side is loss of easy access to one of the most amazing cities in the world but we can still visit on the train.

Yesterday we went back to Coton Manor to see their acclaimed bluebell wood.  Their nursery manager told us that it is 'patchy' this year and not as good as they are usually, but the effect was still pretty amazing.



The blue haze floating in the dappled sunshine was hard to capture in photographs although lots of people were trying.  There were other signs of spring in the garden, with this swarm of 13 baby ducklings attracting much attention and cooing.


From Coton Manor we drove on to Oxford to take DS back to uni.  We took him for dinner then said goodbye and went off for a leisurely walk in the early evening sunshine. It's such a lovely place. This is his last year and we are almost as sad as he is to be anticipating his time there coming to an end.  Looking back from Christchurch Meadows I snapped this unexpectedly bucolic scene with a herd of longhorn cattle grazing.


Crafts

I finished up the new bed for the Gamekeeper's Cottage dollshouse. I prepared the coverlet part ahead of time, then cut the bedframe in half and reassembled it in the room. Once that was dry, I added the prepared top part.  The coverlet is a authentically woven cloth that my aunt sent me decades ago, she bought it at an American colonial village but I can't remember which one. I had never used it because it was too big and too glaring white, but now that I am older I felt comfortable with cutting it down in size and tea-dying it to mute the contrast in colour.  I like it in here.  This room is difficult to photograph as it is a mezzanine tucked under the roof.


My gamekeeper spent the last year or so standing stiffly to attention at the back of the main room, so I took pity on him and made him more comfortable in the leather armchair in front of the fire, and gave him a beer. I think he looks a lot happier now.


I've done a few more hours on my Bucks Point lace bookmark and I'm about 2/3rds done now.

I've sewn several more blocks for my William Morris grid quilt, I'm just starting the heel on my second Fair isle sock, and I've just joined in the round under the arms on my second attempt at the top down leaf yoke sweater.  I've also cut out the penultimate applique block for my 25-block applique quilt and have made a start on it.

On my day off I knit the V-neck trim for my denim machine knit tee, then sewed it down in the evening in front of the telly.  I didn't do a great job on this. I forgot to mitre for the 'v' on one side but thought I would be able to fix it by sewing the other mitred side on top, but it doesn't look very tidy. Also I discovered far too late that I had somehow knit two stitches together (much harder to do accidentally on a knitting machine) and it really shows. I suppose/hope that non-knitters won't notice.


Today I linked on the sleeves and closed the side seams on my Hague linker, so I just need to handsew the seams of the hems and rib.  I've given it a quick try on, it fits although with slightly less ease than I prefer, so I may have to steam it a bit bigger. Also I think it would have benefited from being knit on a looser tension, the fabric is a bit stiff.  This is Yeoman Panama which I knit on a Brother 881 machine on T7dot. Being a cotton/acrylic mix, it may relax a bit more with wear.


I happened to look out the window to see a very odd bird sitting on our bird feeder.

Yes, that's our cat, and I'm not even sure how she jumped up there without knocking the whole thing over.

Our new bamboo arrived and has been planted in its little playpen.  Eventually it will grow into a clump which will fill the area up but hopefully staying corralled.

I'm not much further ahead on procuring a pergola. I tried a local company who didn't acknowledge the web contact form I submitted, so I called and they took my details for a custom quote but still haven't called me back over a week later. I think we are going to have to do it ourselves.  We are not great at DIY but I suppose a pergola doesn't have to be 100% right angles and vertical like a building would need to be, it will just add to the rustic quality if it's a bit wonky.

Monday, 17 April 2017

less haste, fewer piles of sticks

We're just coming to the end of the four-day Easter weekend here in the UK, and as usual for a bank holiday weekend the weather has been overcast, cool, windy, and even managed to rain yesterday. We had our guests all weekend so didn't get much time to relax, because we were either taking them out places, or cooking for them then washing up afterwards.  I find guests stressful for any length of time as I am the kind of person that needs quiet down time to regroup and re-energise, and of course when they are staying in your home they are always there. The evenings were the most difficult, because as well as not liking any of the same TV programmes we do, they both wear hearing aids.  We tried watching Gardener's World but after an hour of  "what did he say?" or having the TV talked over with anecdotes about how some old neighbour used to grow loganberries, I had to give up before I was driven to violence.  DH tried to hide in the other room with a book but I made him come back.  DS is home as well and put in stalwart service last night explaining to them how to operate Skype on their tablet and helping them with their new secondhand iphone which they find very mysterious.

Meanwhile I was occasionally sneaking downstairs in stolen moments trying to glue together a replacement bed for my gamekeeper's cottage dollshouse.  I've never been happy with the commercial bed I had in there, so on my day off I had mocked up a design for an Edwardian-type bed and cut out lots of wood segments and stained them. On the weekend I tried gluing together the headboard and footboard quite unsuccessfully. As all the joins are just butt joints, and the stain slightly repels the glue, the construction was extremely fragile. I was in a hurry when I tried to remove them from the glue jig as I only had a few minutes while the guests were doing something else, and unfortunately the headboard stuck down a bit then disintegrated into its component sticks.  I glued it again and over the next few furtive visits, I got the bed glued together. Unfortunately when I tried to quickly see what it looked like in the house, I discovered that it wouldn't fit in under the rafters as it is slightly taller than the commercial bed. In attempting to 'twist' it in, the bed once again disintegrated into a pile of sticks.  Aaaaarghghghggh!

The guests left at lunchtime today, hurrah, so I was able to spend the afternoon blissfully crafting.  I glued the bed back together (AGAIN) and this time braced it with a cardboard internal frame so it's a bit stronger. I've realised the only way I will get it into place under the rafters will be to cut it in half, then re-glue it once it's in position, so I left a gap in the cardboard.  Meanwhile I've started assembling the mattress and coverlet which will go onto the bed once it's in place.




Earlier in the week I sprayed four metal miniatures with black primer ready for painting.  I had a horseshoe, a wagon wheel, and a brace of pheasants.

The horseshoe was easy to paint, with a little metal paint and a touch of 'rust', and it is now over the door in the Gamekeeper's cottage.
The wagon wheel I painted to look like wood, with a metal spoke and rim, some more rust, and then added some 'moss' with green flock so it looks like it has been abandoned in the garden for a while.


The pheasants were a lot more difficult. I painted them this afternoon when I could have a couple of hours of quiet time, using an RSPB portrait as a painting reference.  The metal miniatures were not well modelled at all, resembling flamingos more than pheasants, so to a certain extent I had to ignore the metal detailing and just paint features on top.  I'm not much of an artist but you can see what they are meant to represent. I hung them outside the gamekeeper's cottage on a nail.



Two crafts I could do while the guests were here was to knit or to work on my hand applique.  I finished the next block in my 25-block hand applique quilt including embroidering the stems with stem stitch. Only two more blocks to go!


I knit some more on my Fair Isle sock, some more on my Outlander sock, and picked up stitches and knit a lot on my leaf yoke sweater.  Before the weekend I had done a rough block of the replacement yoke, and it fits a lot better in this smaller size. I've now finished the leaf motifs and have done an inch of short rowing at the back of the yoke for a better fit.


On my day off  (while I was waiting for a delivery which never turned up, grrrr), I re-sized my William Morris quilt block to 1.25" grid bars and made a third sample block. I decided I like the proportions now, so I took apart the first two sample blocks and re-cut them to the new measurements and re-stitched them.  Then I cut out 30 block kits and today I have started sewing blocks.  I tried the grid on point and I like it a lot better that way. I'm aiming for a double-bed size quilt. The blocks are around 11" square but of course wider on point so there will be a certain amount of trial and error to arrive at a layout.


I've done a few hours on my Bucks Point bookmark this week but not very much. I did receive a couple of deliveries in the post:  I won a pair of painted bobbins on eBay (on the right) and also ordered a turned pair from resin-laminated wood on etsy (on the left).  Having pretty bobbins is fun.



I hope you had an enjoyable and relaxing long weekend if you are in the UK, and a happy Easter.  I have to confess that I did eat some chocolate on Sunday, but a fairly restrained amount as I was worried about repercussions from a massive sugar high after being low-sugar for over a month now.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Itinerary for a first visit to Japan - extra Japan post number five

As mentioned in my initial post in this series, I did a lot of research before our trip to plan out the itinerary. This was our first and possibly only visit to Japan and it is a long way to go from the UK (flights c 11.5 hours) so I wanted to do as much as possible.  My starting point was reviewing the locations visited by a number of commercial tours and also specialist quilting tours, then reading through three guidebooks: Lonely Planet, the Japan by Rail guide, and the DK Eyewitness Guide to Japan. After that I did a lot of online research as there are tons of sites out there about Japan, and blogs and YouTube videos on everything from fabric shopping in Tokyo to the etiquette for using a Japanese onsen (communal hot baths).

One of the challenges as a first-timer is figuring out where things are within a city to try to put together a logical progression for visits. Guides tend to name the top sights and perhaps group them by neighbourhoods, but don't give you much clue on how to get from one to another, or how long you will need to visit them. Not to mention crucial factors such as many museums being closed on a Monday or what time the fabric shop closes.

My eventual itinerary was based on our middle aged preference to spend a bit more money on comfort, my wish to visit craft related stores, our mutual interest in heritage and period buildings, my liking for Japanese gardens, and my attempt to see a bit more of Japan than just Tokyo and Kyoto.

We took three weeks off work in total, and had the weekends before and after the trip to prepare/recover, so we were away for 18 days in total.  After framing out my initial itinerary, I decided to use InsideJapan to make hotel bookings, book the JapanRail passes and IC cards for local transport, airport transfers by bus, and to book the bus travel from Kanazawa and our Geisha Dance tickets. I probably could have done most of this myself online but it would have taken a long time and I don't speak Japanese, and I might not have got as good rates on accommodation. The agent suggested a few tweaks to my itinerary order. I booked my own flights online with British Airways, flying direct in and out of Narita airport (for Tokyo). I also booked online a guide for our first full day in Tokyo because I expected to be jet lagged and needing help to get the hang of transport options etc. I booked a pocket Wifi online through PuPuRu which was delivered to our first hotel and worked brilliantly throughout our holiday so that I could always get online with my tablet to look things up, skype, email and find out where we were on GoogleMaps if we got lost. Since we would be arriving back in the UK in the wee hours by Japan time, I booked a Heathrow hotel for the first night back so that we could get some sleep before driving home.  We left the car at Heathrow while we were gone because the cost was similar to what it would have been for us to travel by train and it meant we didn't have to fight our way across London in either direction.

We travelled in late October/early November. The first day in Tokyo it was 23 degrees C and felt quite hot.  Hakone was cooler and in Kyoto we were wearing light fleeces in the morning and evening. By the end in Takayama, it was quite cold, down to single digits, and it actually snowed lightly on the day we headed back to Tokyo. So we had to pack a range of layers, and took sunhats as well as woolly hats.

Day 1/2 (Monday/Tuesday) - fly from Heathrow to Narita, arriving the next morning. Transfer to hotel in Shinjuku (we stayed at the Sunroute Plaza which we liked), check in c 2pm.  Headed out to explore Shinjuku - there is a Tokyu Hands store on the other side of Shinjuku station, a Kinokuniya  bookstore in the same building, the Okadaya fabric store within walking distance, a small Yuzawaya fabric department in the Takashimaya department store,  Lots of options for dinner if you are still awake.

Day 3 (Wednesday) - Tokyo. We used this day to take a six hour guided tour around the Shinjuku area, with a sushi lunch in Shibuya, then on to the Meji-jingu Shrine in Harajuku followed by a stroll down trendy Takeshita-dori. We also went up the free Tokyo Metropolitan Government building both on the tour in the morning (when we were fortunate to see Mount Fuji in the distance) and in the late evening to see Tokyo lit up from the 45th floor.  After the tour we headed over to the brilliant Edo-Tokyo museum which took about 35 minutes by subway but we still go there in time to have about 80 minutes which was enough time to see most things. We found another good bookstore in the walkway from Shinjuku west exit to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building.

Day 4 (Thursday) - Tokyo - an early start to be at the Tsukiji outer market for around 7:30am, to stroll around the stalls of fresh seafood and many other items. Easily reached from Shinjuku on the Oedo line to Tsukiji Shijo station. Then we hopped back on the subway to head up to Ueno park which contains several interesting shrines and some museums as well as cafes and restaurants.  We visited the Tokyo National Museum which was labelled a 'must-see' by guidebooks but honestly we didn't find it very engaging. We enjoyed much more the smaller Shitamachi Museum where we recommend the free English volunteer guide who will point out many things we wouldn't have noticed otherwise about the recreated shops and houses. Afterwards we visited the huge covered Ameyoko market under the train tracks before getting back on the subway to Nippori station where we grabbed some lunch. Then it was on to Nippori Fabric Town for a few hours of shopping, before heading into the scenic neighbourhood of Yanaka on the other side of Nippori station.  We headed back to Shinjuku to walk around some of the neon craziness east of the station, then chose a restaurant for supper.

Day 5 (Friday) - Tokyo - Back on the Oedo line to the Shiodome stop to be at Hama Rikyu Garden for its 9am opening time. After exploring the pleasant gardens and having a traditional tea and sweet in the central tea pavilion, we got the 10:30 water bus from Hinode Pier (booking opens at 10:15) to Asakusa. In Asakusa we shopped our way up the Nakamise-dori Arcade which is an odd mixture of tourist tat and high class galleries to visit the Senso-ji Temple.  After lunch in a nearby arcade, we visited the Amuse Museum of traditional clothing, which also has a roof terrace with a great view back at Senso-ji. Two stops on the subway to Asakusa-Bashi took us to the doll shop area where we visited the prestigious Kyugetsu doll shop, and the great Sakura Horikiri craft shop as well as some other doll and bead shops.

Day 6 (Saturday) - Odawara/Hakone - we sent our luggage on to our Kyoto hotel, and caught the shinkansen to Odawara, where we left our overnight bags in a locker and walked to see the impressive castle.  Then it was a crowded train ride up to Hakone Miyanoshita to the faded but still impressive glories of the Fujiya Hotel.   After walking around town, we enjoyed the Fujiya gardens and went for a swim in the pool and tried their onsen.

Day 7 (Sunday) - the Hakone Loop - you can look this up, basically it is an enjoyable day looping around the volcano on a variety of transport. In Hakone-machi, we enjoyed the historic Hakone checkpoint, and walked through the Detached Palace Garden and on into MotoHakone, before getting the bus back into Hakone Yumoto for supper.  After supper we tried out another Japanese onsen.

Day 8 (Monday) - Kyoto - travelling via Odawara.  We left our overnight bags in a locker in the station and went up the Kyoto Tower for great views over Kyoto to get our bearings, then walked over to the impressive Toji temple with its pagoda.  Collecting our bags, we visited the pretty Shoseien Garden on the way to our hotel. In the evening we took another private tour through the back streets of Gion but I didn't feel this short tour was value for money after how good the Tokyo tour had been.

Day 9 (Tuesday) - Kyoto - we got an early bus to Kiyomizu temple to beat the crowds, then walked down through the cobbled streets of Zannen-zaka and Ninenzaka to visit the Kodai-ji temple and its beautiful garden. After lunch we visited more temples including Chion-in, Shoren-in (another lovely garden) then into Maruyama park. I had planned the trip to coincide with the Gion Odori Geisha dances and we had tickets to the afternoon performance at the Gion Kaikan Theatre which we really enjoyed. It included a traditional tea ceremony conducted by a geisha and maiko (apprentice) beforehad.  We spent the evening wandering the covered shopping arcades of Teramachi-dori and surrounding areas.

Day 10 (Wednesday) - Kyoto - travelled by subway to Nijo Castle (more nice gardens) then back to visit the Nishiki food market.  We visited the Nishijin Textile Centre (very touristy) to see the kimono show, then went to a pre-booked lunch and tour of the historic Tondaya Merchant's house where we got to wear kimono ourselves.  Afterwards we got the bus to the Ginkakuji temple (the silver pavilion) then strolled along the Philosopher's Walk (which must be so much more stunning when the cherry blossom is out in the spring). Finished off with dinner on Pontocho alley.

Day 11 (Thursday) - Kyoto - got the train out to Arashiyama and visited the famous bamboo grove, then into lovely Okochi Sanso garden which was one of our favourites. We saw some lovely autumn colour here. There are more temples to visit including the Tenryu-ji temple with its stroll garden.  We took the tram and a longish walk to see the spectacular Kinkaku-ji temple (Golden Pavilion) which presented perfectly with a shaft of sunlight illuminating the jaw-dropping scene.

Day 12 (Friday) - Nara - Day trip to Nara, stopping on the way to visit the striking but hilly Fushimi-Inari-Tasha shrine.  We walked quite a way up the mountain but not all the way to the top.  In Nara the day-pass for the buses is a good buy as sites are quite spread out.  We enjoyed the Nara-machi old town and visited some of the historic homes there, before heading over to the lovely Yoshikien garden, and the larger Isuien garden where we benefited from a free volunteer guide in English. After admiring the tame deer, we headed into Todai-ji temple to see the immense Daibutsu statue, before getting the bus to the Kasuga Taisha shrine which features hundreds of stone lanterns.  After tea in an owl cafe where we both got to hold a bird on our arm, we headed back to Kyoto.

Day 13 (Saturday) - Kanazawa.  We travelled by shinkansen 2.5 hours to Kanazawa, another historic town. We visited Omi-cho food market, then after lunch got the bus to the Nagamachi former samurai quarter where we visited the Nomura house and a few others which are open.  We enjoyed the higashi district of former geisha tea houses, and visited the former Ochaya or tea house of Shima.  The Gold Leaf museum isn't very big but worth a visit if you are in the neighbourhood.

Day 14 ( Sunday) - Kanazawa - we started the day with a leisurely stroll in the Kenrokuen landscape garden, which is so big it feels more like a public park. The pretty villa of Seison-kaku is a nice visit within the garden.  We crossed over the large bridge to visit the impressive reconstruction of the  Kanazawa castle walls.  I had made a reservation at the tourist information office to visit the Ninja-dera (ninja temple) which was quite good fun. Afterwards we wandered around some of the shopping streets before heading back to the hotel to ship our main suitcases back to Tokyo.

Day 15 (Monday) - Shirakawa-go/Takayama - we travelled by pre-booked highway bus up into the mountains to the remote world heritage village of Shirakawa-go to see the famous gassho thatched houses.  There is a lot to see here, we started up at the look out point then walked down into the village and over to the open air museum.  Then by bus to Takayama where we stayed at a traditional ryokan - which I have to say we didn't really enjoy but at least we tried it. Takayama has many wonderful historic streets for strolling around and interesting shops to visit.

Day 16 (Tuesday) - Takayama- visited the Kusakabe heritage house and walked through the two open air markets, then walked out of town to the brilliant hida Takayama Museum of Art to see the Art Nouveau and Art Deco glass and furniture, which we both really enjoyed.   Then we walked onwards to visit the Hida Folk Village which is a large open air museum of historic Japanese structures, set in pretty forested grounds.  Bus back to town for a late lunch then enjoyed a relaxing stroll through the Higashiyama temple district, which we had to ourselves. We visited the town museum, which had a lot of interesting exhibits.

Day 17 (Wednesday) - Tokyo - train to Nagoya then shinkansen to Tokyo (with nice views of Mount Fuji on the way), arriving mid-afternoon.  We left our small bags in lockers in Tokyo station and walked over to the pretty Imperial Palace East Gardens although we didn't have much time before they closed.  A last delicious dinner in Tokyo. Our bags were waiting in our hotel along with a few other bags of souvenirs I had been shipping back as we travelled, so had fun going through everything and consolidating our baggage for the trip home.

Day 18 (Thursday) - Airport bus back to Narita, and headed for home.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

A one-sided fish

I've spent most of my free time out in the garden this week so not a lot of crafts to show off.  Usually I am very productive on my day off, but this week I had a dentist appointment in the morning and then most of the rest of the day was taken up with driving south  to Surrey to attend the funeral of a former member of the quilting group I used to attend/run.  She lived to be 100 years old, and was sewing until near the end, an inspiration to us all.  I was particularly touched that one of her lovely hexagon quilts was used as the pall over her coffin during the ceremony at the crematorium, and in the eulogies they mentioned all the baby quilts that are treasured by her family members and will be handed down.  A kind of immortality in a way.

It made me feel guilty that I don't give away more of my quilts.  However I've learned from experience to ask first, and preferably show them the quilt, because everyone has such different colour preferences and not everyone likes handmade or even textiles. I know you are supposed to enjoy making the quilt then 'set it free' but I can't help taking it personally if the reception is lukewarm, or the quilt is never seen again (or in one case, when I was informed it was the dog's favourite place to sleep and could I make the dog another one as well?)

Anyway, back to the one-sided fish.  I've done a few more things for my Rik Pearce dollshouse this week, one of which was creating a taxidermy scene for the mantel.  I had purchased a one-sided fish intended for display (or for the kitchen) some time ago, so I mounted it on a painted backdrop and added a few pieces of lichen for underwater plants. I built the box out of some of the wood strips I bought at Miniatura, and cut some 'glass' from a plastic lid.




I also put together a little kit for newspaper spills for lighting the fire.



Otherwise this week, I'm still knitting on the replacement Leaf Yoke sweater in which I am over halfway on the yoke; I'm stitching on the next block of my 25 block hand applique quilt; and I've done a couple of hours on my Bucks Point lace bookmark that I started in Scarborough. We've also spent several hours tidying/cleaning the house because the in-laws are coming to visit for Easter weekend, and there's still more to do. DS is coming home as well for Easter.

Out in the garden I've been combatting the weeds, continuing to tidy up from the winter and bringing out things that were stored such as the water feature and the bird bath. My tubs of tulips are starting to open up and the first one looks lovely. I always admire planted containers like this when we visit other gardens, but this is the first time I've tried it myself.


The weather has been gorgeous but very dry so we've even had to water a couple of times. Our soil is sandy and dries out quickly even with the mulch of compost we've applied. I'm wondering if we should invest in some drip hoses for the beds. The grass we've seeded at the front is coming up patchily and in competition with the weeds which have self-seeded and are growing much faster than the grass is.  The lawn is sporting many dandelions and other weeds, so yesterday I tried watering in a weed killer which is supposed to kill those but leave the grass intact - I hope it works and I haven't just killed the lawn just before the in-laws come...

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Back home again

I was tempted to title this post 'I survived' but that seemed a bit unkind, lol.  It's good to be back home though.  I spent Monday to Friday in Scarborough on a lace course with Jean Leader, who was absolutely lovely and is a world renowned expert and author. I worked on three different samples during the week from her designs, and it was great to have help and advice when I needed it.  There were 12 women in the class, all much more advanced than me. Most of them were working floral Bedfordshire patterns but a couple were working floral Bucks Point designs.  Jean had brought along large portfolios of her own work which were all lovely plus antique examples.  I picked up some secondhand lace book bargains on the sale table and also acquired a painted bobbin commemorating the week. There were two other classes so there were about 40 people altogether plus a few husbands. As usual on these types of events, there were a number of shall we say characters, some of whom were a bit trying, but most people just look on the week as a holiday I think rather than as a school so it was all quite good natured.  The weather was fairly good so on our free afternoons we could enjoy walks to the nearby seaside plus I went into Scarborough for shopping with a friend.
On the beach at Scarborough, looking towards the castle on the hill


The workrooms were open all the time so you could do lace before breakfast and after supper if you wanted. Otherwise there wasn't a lot to do as the venue was fairly isolated and didn't have a bar, so it was a fairly quiet week.  This is a shot of our classroom - as you can see the light wasn't great but the hotel had provided glare-y little lights to help and most of us had also brought our own supplemental lights.


These are two of the samples I started.



I got on fairly well and didn't embarrass myself so all the preparation doing samples definitely paid off.  I doubt I will ever put in enough hours to be as accomplished as the other more advanced students but it was great to see what they were doing.

On one of the afternoons I visited the Sewing Centre on Aberdeen Walk in Scarborough which stocked an impressive amount of quilting fabric. Mostly lower end in terms of quality and price but a huge selection and usefully arranged by colour or by theme.  I came away with six half-metres, five of them in red to use as backgrounds for a Piece of Cake applique pattern I bought years ago that I might make some day, and a sixth that I just liked.


During the week I occasionally knit on my Fair isle Sock and I finished the first one on the train journey back, then cast on for the next one. It's a good fit.


When I got home I went straight out into the garden to see what had changed in my absence. Our pear tree is in bloom now and the magnolia is opening up its magnificent flowers.  Most of the tulips I planted in the autumn have not appeared, apart from the ones in containers which are just starting to open and promising to be very pretty. I underplanted with muscari which are looking very nice already. We put down more compost on the borders this weekend and also did a lot of hard work finishing off the digging on a massive hole where I am planning to plant a bamboo.  DH was traumatised in the past by a clump-forming bamboo which went rogue in our last garden, so has demanded preventative measures this time round. I bought some root barrier and we dug down as deep as we could manage, about 80cm all around, and put down the root barrier before backfilling. I'm going to order a Fargesia Robusta which is supposed to be pretty well behaved, and will grow tall in the corner to block the view from the next street into our new patio (if we ever get a new patio).

This is a picture when the hole was half-filled back in.

Today we went to visit Coton Manor Gardens, which is an absolutely lovely private garden around an old stone manor house. The sun was out and the spring blossom was looking lovely. We've bought season tickets and plan to go back several times over the season to see the garden developing. In a few weeks they will open their bluebell wood which is supposed to be stunning.


The dollshouse exhibition finally took place. I was disappointed that they didn't put all the sheds together so that my cuckoo in the nest would show up more.  So I couldn't get a good shot of the sheds. This is a general picture showing the mix of sheds (about 19 altogether) and decorated plastic bowls. I was the only person to put the bowl on its side (for my seaside scene). Two people put it upside down over their scene, but everyone else used it the right way up.  Attendance was not huge but they managed to make over £250 for charity so that's good. I bought a few small things at the sales tables which contributed to that.  It feels a bit anticlimatic after all my work to finish the shed and fishbowl, and now it's all over, but people liked my work which was nice.



Saturday, 25 March 2017

Hello Birmingham ... again

Yes, I was back at the NEC Arena in Birmingham today, deja vu from last weekend.  At least I knew exactly where to go in Birmingham New Street station this time, and that it was faster to walk alongside the travelator at the NEC than to get stuck behind the people who get on it and then either walk slower or stop walking altogether.

This visit was to attend Miniatura, which is still my favourite dollshouse show. It was a decent size, although not as big as it used to be half a dozen years ago or so. I heard a couple of traders talking about business and saying to each other that not enough new people are coming into the hobby. And yet I think there were no less than five stands selling enormous dollshouses cut from MDF so someone must be buying them.  I was there for three hours which was enough time to go around once with a break in the middle to eat my packed lunch.  I enjoyed it although I did feel a bit nostalgic for the days when it was really hard to get particular things for the dollshouse and we all pounced on things like the one wallpaper that had printed panels of scrolls and musical instruments because it seemed so unusual and special. One of the general traders (possibly Jennifer's of Walsalls? can't remember) had four or five different panelled papers this time, and of course there were two or three stalls selling the gorgeous digitally printed period papers with matching fabric.  And the days of creating ceilings by sticking on buttons and carefully cut out pieces of embossed anaglypta wallpaper are long gone: multiple stalls were selling elaborate ceiling mouldings. Seems like if you throw enough money at it, you can do almost anything in dollshousing now.

Anyway, what did I get?  I took a list but couldn't get much on it. I was looking for accessories in 1:24 and 1:48 but didn't find much. There were several stands with areas of 1:48 furniture, food and house kits, but not much in the way of general accessories. I did get the drill pinvise that I needed because my old one has gone walkies.  I did get a 1:24 fire surround which was on my list, and although I couldn't find small picture moulding, I did get several sticks of wood in various sizes from J&A Supplies.  From Jane Harrop I got some 1:48 pots and pans, and three tiny beach huts which I will paint, and then went off piste by falling for her shadow box kit for an antiques store.  From Dream Homes I got a little silk rug for my thatched cottage, and also a plastic bucket for my seaside scene.  The Making Dolls' Houses book was secondhand on the MacMillan Cancer stall, and the 'Designing to Decorating - a step by step guide to creating beautiful rooms' was from the Miniature Mansions stall (mainly because he was giving such a great sales pitch to another woman who wasn't buying and it sounded interesting).


The little bag is from Ottervale China and is a tiny little china basket filled with flowers, 
which has gone on the dressing table in my 1:24 thatched cottage. It's about
the size of a large pea.


I watched an LED lighting display from John Kilner of No1 Elite Designs. The LED strips give a nice warm bright light and he's built a little control board that lets them be dimmed as well. But the apparatus is clunky and the strip of LED lights has to be hidden behind wooden coving at the front top of the room, so only suitable for front opening houses or room boxes.  Interesting anyway. He sells a kit of the control board, a metre of LED strip, and a certain number of wired 'plugs' that grip the LED strip to conduct power, and some cove moulding for £50. A transformer is extra. 

I was very taken with the furniture from Alison Davies, who has applied high tech to the miniature world. They 3-D print an original model produced using CAD after 3-D scanning the life size article, then use the model to create moulds and cast in resin. The furniture is lovely and the prices more reasonable than, say, Bespaq, and there is a lovely range of coordinating wallpaper and fabrics.


I haven't been dollshousing this week as I've been procrastinating instead, but I did make some faux taxidermy by cutting off the head of a plastic animal bought some time ago, and mounting it on a plaque that I cut from some mahogany sheet.  This is for my Rik Pearce Gamekeeper's Cottage, which is the next house I am going to try to finish. I was hoping to find a bed for upstairs today because the one I've got is pants but I didn't see anything suitable.


On my day off I got the bus to my LQS to try to find some replacement fabric for my William Morris quilt blocks.  I thought I wanted a glowing golden yellow but they didn't have anything like that. Reluctant to give up, I spent a while auditioning other fabrics and eventually came away with a small print in a greeny-blue which picks up another colour in the fabrics. I will make another test block and see if I like it and if there is sufficient contrast.  I was back at the bus stop in good time for the once-an-hour bus back to town, only it never turned up.  I ended up waiting over an hour until the next one, which was very annoying.  I tweeted Stagecoach Northampton to try to find out why, but they seem to run their social media like their buses as I didn't get a reply for 50 minutes by which time I was on the next bus anyway.  Grrrr.

I haven't done any quilting this week but I did tackle tidying some of the glory hole piles in various corners of my sewing room: like the pile of clutter at one end of my ironing station and the three-foot-high pile on my spare chair, and the bag of clothes waiting to be altered.  I did a lot of tidying and having reviewed the clothes, I've decided it's not happening for some of them so they are going to charity.  Of the others, I bound some edges on a fraying denim jacket, shortened a t-shirt, decided another t-shirt wasn't too bad after all, and I'm halfway through shortening two skirts and taking in the waistband of one of them. I also emptied out the dust bunnies and clutter from the drawer of my sewing table where I keep my machine feet and accessories, and re-organised the feet into labelled trays. So it looks a bit better in the sewing room now.

On the way to and from Birmingham today, I turned the heel of my Fair Isle socks and am now decreasing for the gussets.  I'm halfway through re-knitting the Leaf Yoke sweater's two rows of leaves around the yoke for TV knitting.  But last night instead of knitting in front of the telly, I wound about 35 pairs of lace bobbins instead in preparation for packing for the Lace Guild Spring School next week in Scarborough.  I'm off on Monday for that, and it runs through until Friday.  So no work for a week - yay!  I will take the samples of Bucks Points I've completed, warts and all, to show my teacher. I'm going to take a couple of pillows so hopefully I can try a couple of different things.

We've also been out in the garden, I've moved a few plants from the site of the future patio and put down more manure and plant food in various places.  Our forsythia is now blooming away and the magnolia is just starting to come out. The pear tree is showing lots of flower buds so by the time I get back it should be looking pretty.  I've been looking into whether we need planning permission to put up a pergola over the future patio but it should be covered by permitted development.

The clocks go forward tomorrow night, always a challenge for me so I hope I'm not too tired Monday morning when I set off on the train for Scarborough.  Monty Don on Gardeners World was enthusing about how it's an extra hour of daylight but I think that is overlooking the minus hour of sleep  :)

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Hobbies can be harmful to your health

I am slumped in front of the PC waiting for the tablets to kick in to dull the pain in my back sufficiently that I can face going to make lunch.  It started to hurt yesterday when I spent four hours doing the zombie shuffle walk on concrete floors around a huge show at the NEC arena in Birmingham, and today we have spread 20 bags of compost on the garden so all the bending and stooping has finished me off. Done in by my own hobbies...

The NEC show was a combination of four shows: Sewing for Pleasure, Fashion and Embroidery, Hobbycrafts, and Cake International.  I wouldn't have gone for any single show but was tempted into attendance by the combination of all four for the price of one.  It made a massive show continuing through four or five halls all joined together in an L-shape.  I quite enjoyed the sewing show, which had plenty of quilting stalls, several acrylic yarn stands, fabric stalls catering to dressmakers, patterns, haberdashery etc. There was a transitional area of cross-stitch and other needlecrafts before phasing into the hardcore embroidery and modern textile art which is of less interest to me.  There were many interesting exhibitions, including an impressive   giant knitted cardigan created in 2011 as a community project in honour of the 900th anniversary of the town of Cardigan in Wales.





The Hobbycrafts area was a sort of catchall of several hobbies: beading, jewellery making, six dollshouse stands, lots of scrapbooking and rubberstamping, diecutting, decoupage etc. I was rather taken with a stand which specialised in attractive carved stamps you could dip in fabric paint and stamp patterns with onto teatowels and tablecloths -  but the kits were really expensive: £30 to make a teatowel? Cake International was just a bit strange but was absolutely mobbed, a sign of how popular baking is now in the UK I guess. Loads of stalls selling elaborate tools, systems and ingredients for decorating, and a large exhibition area. The emphasis seemed to be on sculpting out of edible ingredients, which I am sure represents all sorts of challenges. But to me about 80% of the 'sculptures' were just really unattractive as sculptures and very few of them looked like they would be inviting to eat - but perhaps that's not the point. Garish colours, some really bizarre subject choices (like giant wrinkly heads, and weird hideous monsters) and very little actual 'cake' in evidence.  Perhaps I was just feeling grumpy because I can't eat any of it anyway on my low-sugar diet.  Interesting to have a peep into another hobby though.

I didn't actually buy very much but I enjoyed looking.  I got a quilt panel to go with a quilting book that I bought in Tokyo.  I bought a lovely art glass pendant. And I bought a bobbin lace book as a gift for a friend.

There and back I was knitting some more on the Fair isle socks. This is actually the second go, I ripped back about three inches because I wasn't happy with how unsightly the 'jog' between rows was looking. The sock is essentially a succession of one-row stripes, so the two usual tricks of slipping the first stitch in the previous colour, or knitting into the stitch below, really aren't helping much.  I'm trying hard but I still have a very visible join line which doesn't look a whole lot better (not visible in this picture).


Ripping out seems to be the theme this week.  I broke off all three yarn balls and wet blocked my leaf yoke jumper.  As I had feared, it was enormous and the armholes falling about three inches lower than they should.


So I've ripped all that out and started over again in the next size down.  Due to the construction of the yoke, I couldn't just rip back a little, it had to be a clean start. According to the measurements on the pattern, the original size should have fit me. I checked my gauge and I'm actually getting a tighter gauge than the pattern so that wasn't it. The next size down should be around seven inches smaller at my gauge so hopefully that will do the trick.  I think next time, once I get the lace yoke re-knit, I will wet block it right away before I go any further.

I haven't had the energy to do much dollshousing this week, but I did tidy up a roombox last weekend.  This is a room I constructed on a weekend course with Mulvaney and Rogers a few years back. I've basically sorted out the furniture and stuck it in place with tacky wax, decorated the desk with appropriate paperwork and ornaments, and hung a Lucy Askew mirror that I ordered after seeing her stall at the Tower of London show.


I finished the bobbin lace hexagon which is sample seven from the Bucks Point book.  I did go wrong a few times trying to turn the corner as I worked in a circle, so it's not perfect.  I am now contemplating trying to hide 34 thread ends and wondering if it is worth the trouble when it's just a sample.


I also did some sewing this week.  Last weekend I picked up a couple of quilting magazines in a charity shop and spotted this pattern called 'Fujita Maze' by Susan Guzman, in a March/April 2013 issue of McCall's Quilting. I thought it might be a good choice to use with the William Morris layer cake and jelly roll I bought at Duxford last year, because the block is designed to work with directional patterned fabric

The quilt as designed required pieces too big to cut from a layer cake so I had to do math (yuk) to downsize it into pieces I could cut horizontally from the jelly roll, and vertically from the layer cake.  That resulted in the top block in the photo.


To me, the gold maze paths looked too dominating in the first block, so I did math again (double yuk) to reduce the maze paths from 1 3/4" wide to 1 1/2" wide - resulting in the lower block in the photo.  I think this is an improvement, but to me the maze paths are still too dominating.  I want to see the lovely William Morris fabric, and I don't like how the maze paths are turning it into an 'orange quilt'.  I spent some time at the show yesterday looking at all the fabric on the Doughty's stand, wondering if another colour would look better instead, but I couldn't decide.  I might downsize the stripe a third time to 1 1/4" or maybe even 1" wide to see if that lets the background fabric speak more.  I chose the gold fabric because it is a common colour across most of the fabric range but perhaps I should try again.

I thought you might enjoy this picture. On the way back from  Duxford a couple of weeks ago, we got stuck in an unexpected traffic jam on a small country road. It took us a while to slowly work our way up to the problem area, which is when we discovered that the problem was a herd of sheep being escorted along the road from their field back to a farm about a quarter mile along.  The escorts were just a couple of men on foot, another man in a truck, and a dog which only seemed to be half-trained.  The sheep weren't being very cooperative, one of them was literally being dragged along the verge because it just wasn't budging.  A good part of the main herd (pack? swarm?) spotted another gateway on the right and all ran through it into a field they weren't supposed to be in, resulting in even more delay until they could be extricated. Meanwhile the dog slipped its lead and ran into the road while the owner (the one dragging the sheep) yelled at it.  It was quite the most entertaining traffic jam I've ever been in.




Saturday, 11 March 2017

Sprung

Spring has sprung and the garden is slowly coming to life.  Suddenly we have daffodils, loads of crocuses, and today I noticed the forsythia is bursting into yellow bloom.  I have a long list of 'things to do in the garden in Spring' so I spent a couple of hours working on that on my day off, and today we went to the garden centre to acquire compost, manure and rose fertiliser so I can tackle more items on the list.



Today we also spent a hard couple of hours digging with the help of DS, who is home for the weekend, filling in the enormous holes we had dug in the future patio when we were mining for topsoil.  We've leveled out the surface and also lowered it by about six inches.  So if I ever find someone to do the patio, the surface is much more prepared. Plus it doesn't look like we are planning to bury anyone now.  We still need to smash up a little concrete plinth in the corner because I want to plant some bamboo in its place.

It's been lovely and warm the last few days, I've even shifted into my spring-weight coat and my fingerless gloves. But I did get to wear my newly reconstituted pair of Selbuvotter gloves before it got too warm. The one on the right side of the picture is the replacement.


Last Sunday DH kindly drove me down to the Duxford Quilt show at the Imperial War Museum. I went last year for the first time and really liked it, and it was good again this year. I'm assuming the stand rental must be reasonable, because unlike many other shows a lot of the traders have quite large stands and bring along loads of actual bolts of fabric rather than just precuts etc.  Fabric prices are also fairly reasonable with lots at £5m, £6m and £7m.  I had a good time looking but only bought a Japanese-style pale batik (in the background of the photo below) to back my Japanese wallhanging.  I also got a couple of pincushion kits from The Lavender Patch - one for me and one for m-i-l for Christmas, and some jewellery findings for the dollshouse.


Today I made up my pincushion kit, which I will use on my lace pillow.  All the fabric was in the kit except the denim blue print which I contributed from my stash for contrast. I also found the bow button in my button box which I thought looked cute on my fussy cut toile sheep.


The other big sewing exercise this week was designing and then making up a little toadstool sewing kit, using the materials left in the kit which were intended for a large toadstool thread container. I didn't think I would use a thread container, so I thought about what I would like to include in a sewing pouch: scissors, seam ripper, needle threader, needles, thread reels and a pocket for packets and sundries.  It doesn't need a place for pins as those go in the toadstool pincushion.  I decided to curve the top to make it look more like a toadstool although admittedly it is a bit lopsided in order to let the zipper close smoothly.  I think it makes quite a cute set with the little pincushion, and I enjoyed all the embellishing with beads and flower buttons. I stiffened the case with a double layer of pelmet interfacing.




On my day  off, I finally finished my club shed project.  I cut down the whitewood bookcase I bought at the Tower of London dollshouse festival to make it shorter, then gave it a crackleglaze finish.  I stocked it with some books and the box of rose food I had also bought, put up the map I had bought and made up a picture for the wall using a magazine print. The show is coming up soon, at the beginning of April, so it's good to get this finished and off my list.




On the bobbin lace front, I finished sample six which is called the Peacock's Eye edging.  I quite like the look of it, I think it would make a nice edging to go round a hankie for example. And I didn't make too many mistakes in it, apart from going off piste on the footing for a half inch before I got back on track.  Now I've started a little hexagon motif which is fairly easy in terms of the lace, but difficult in terms of logistics as you are working in a circle and constantly turning your work, with the resulting snags of thread on previous pins, jumbled bobbins etc.


On my day off I also knit the two sleeves for my denim machine knit tee, so I now have the four main pieces knit.  But I need to wet block them before I can join them together and knit the V-neck, which I am procrastinating about because it is such a fiddly job to get all the measurements right.  TV knitting is now a combination of the Outlander socks, in which I am not enjoying knitting the second sock but am persevering; and the top down leaf yoke jumper.  I still can't decide if the jumper fits me or not, I am beginning to believe that I will actually have to block the leaf yoke out so it lies flat because at the moment it is so puffy that it is impossible to tell how the jumper is fitting in the shoulders even with a few inches knitted on the sleeve. It seems like it is really baggy in the body so I am decreasing instead of increasing as the pattern directs.  Commuter knitting is a new pair of fair isle socks from Folk Knitting in Estonia by Nancy Bush.  The pattern is Laila's Socks, and I am using Lion Brand Sock Ease in Grape and White which I found in my sock yarn  stash  (absolutely no idea how it got there but it seems fine to knit with).

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