Saturday, 9 December 2017

The great blizzard of 2017?

The weather predictions for tomorrow are that we are going to get a big load of snow dumped on us. DH is pooh-poohing this but there's a lot of concern and fuss being created as England doesn't cope well with snow.  My office cancelled two big meetings that were planned for Monday and Tuesday for managers from all around England at short notice over concern that they might get marooned in Leicester. So I wonder what we will wake up to tomorrow?  I just hope it doesn't affect the trains and I can get to work on Monday, I can't afford to lose any more flexi-time.

SUNDAY MORNING WEATHER UPDATE: Well, the forecasters were right and DH was wrong because this is what we woke up to this morning and it's still snowing.


(back to the normal blog)

It's turned quite cold the last few days, so I've been walking to the station in zero degree Celsius temperatures.  I've broken out the heavy knitwear including the windproof hat I knit a few years ago out of stranded chunky wool, both sets of knitted legwarmers, knitted fingerless gloves inside my fleece gloves etc. so I've been staying quite warm.

The fingerless sock wool gloves are the ones I was knitting on the train which are now finished - they're comfy.  I need to come up with a new commuter project tomorrow because it feels a bit naked to be getting on a train with no knitting - what if we stopped in the middle of nowhere and I had no knitting????? It doesn't bear thinking about.

I also finished the second Rainy Day mitt but they're not warm enough for the current weather.  The yarn was DK wool from the Doulton Flock of Border Leicester sheep, which apparently is an endangered breed in the UK.  It's proper woolly wool, quite robust and while it's fine on gloves for me, it would be too scratchy to wear against my neck or face. I even found it a bit abrasive to knit with. The resulting gloves are warm and almost windproof and will last a long time I think as they're very sturdy.

I've finished off a few Christmas projects this week.  While I was looking for something else in my sewing room, I came across the Christmas cross stitch parcel tags I was working on during our Isle of Wight holiday this summer.  I had run out of the red thread that came with the kit but I was able to find a close match in my stash and finish off the second tag.  Apart from m-i-l, I'm not giving gifts to anyone who would appreciate all the work in these so I decided to turn them into a tree ornament by gluing two tags back to back and I think it looks nice. These were a free kit that came with Cross Stitcher magazine a few years ago.

I also finished off the bobbin lace angel that I started on my Alison Winn day course.  She is stiffened with hair spray and I dried her around a drinking glass to make her and her wings a bit 3-D. Even with the hairspray, she is still very delicate so I don't think she will go on the tree, I will have to find a special place to hang her.

The quilting continues.  I've made a start on the Star Sampler which is loaded on the quilt frame.  I'm trying continuous curve quilting around two-inch blocks, which requires a lot of precise steering.  My first few rows look like a five-year-old stitched them, so I might unpick those and try again at the end.  I've improved to the point where it looks like perhaps a ten-year-old is in charge, so that's something at least.

I'm quilting the Snowman quilt on the sit-down machine in my sewing room.  As you can see in the photo, I've created a sort of dam by clamping on a thick bit of wood, which stops the quilt from falling off the side of my sewing table when I'm stitching.  I've got a useful extension table on my left to support the quilt, made by my f-i-l to my direction many years ago.  So far I'm just using the walking foot to stitch in the ditch around blocks to stabilise the quilt.

I finished sewing on the binding on my Japanese fabric wallhanging and both it and the Hawaiian wallhanging are on my design wall until such time as I can build a quilt hanging place upstairs. The texture on the Japanese quilt from the pantograph stitching really shows up from the overhead light and looks good.

For TV knitting I've made a fresh start on an old project which is a kit to make Latvian mittens which I bought a couple of years ago.  I had completely stalled on this project because there isn't a pattern as such with the kit, just a recipe and a chart, and I was having trouble stranding up to four colours in a row. The result was lumpy and too tight, and I gave up and hid it in my knitting room for a time out.  But at the Nottingham Yarn Fest I spotted a beautifully knit example on the stand of The Loveliest Yarn Company run by Michelle, who helpfully pointed me towards her blog post giving tips and pointers on how to knit this type of mitten. One of her tips is to use circular needles instead of dpns.  So I pulled out the couple of inches I had knit, unsnarled the yarn and re-wound it into colour balls, and cast on again with a 2.25 circular needle.  I've knit the cuff as per her blog and I'm heading into the cuff.  So far the knitting looks a lot smoother and better, although I'm concerned that it seems a bit big.  But then I tend to make mittens too snug to fit like gloves, when really they want to be a bit roomy to hold in warm air. We'll see how it goes, it would be good to get this project off my guilt list.  Michelle also sells these kits for about half the price I paid on Etsy for mine.

I've ordered myself a Christmas knitting treat which is the Opal Sock Yarn Advent Calendar, full of 24 mini skeins of yarn.  The last couple of years I've been envious of those who ordered this on time in August/September, because by the time I start seeing them on Ravelry in November/December, they are long sold out in the UK.  The same thing happened this year, only I had a brainwave and started googling German sites as Opal is a German company (I think).  Sure enough some of them still had calendars in stock, then I stumbled across a site selling the 2015 version for 30% off!  Well there are still 24 days in December whether you are in 2015 or 2017 so I happily ordered the cheaper version and I'm just waiting for it to turn up.  I will have to decide whether I open up all the doors at once up to the current date, or whether I stay with opening one a day which will take me into January.  Merry Christmas to me!

Hope you've got some crafty Christmas treats and craft time planned over the holidays as well.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Christmas is looming

Suddenly it's December and Christmas is looming on the horizon.  I've been ignoring the increasing Christmas presence in the shops through October and November, and averting my eyes from the pop-up Christmas shop in the mall. But then we did some Christmas shopping in Oxford last weekend, the Christmas lights were turned on in our town and suddenly the season seems to have rushed upon me.   It does feel a bit like collective madness - I was in the mall on my day off and the pop up Christmas shop was thronged, and women were pushing trolleys around Wilko overflowing with artificial tree boxes and toys while consulting lists and looking harassed.  We're going to try to put up our lights in the front garden tomorrow if it isn't raining.  We don't normally get properly Christmassy until the second week of December but I guess I had better start thinking about writing Christmas cards soon.

I've moved my bobbin lace angel project down to the dining room in the hopes that it will get more attention and get finished in time to go on the tree.  The quilting frame is definitely staying in the dining room through the holiday so the tree is going to go in the hallway this year.  DS and DH are being very supportive and assuring me they are perfectly happy with that and that they know I will be doing a lot of quilting over the holiday.  Friends have suggested I decorate the frame with some tinsel to make it festive.

Instead of quilting the Star Sampler quilt that I loaded on to the quilting frame last weekend, I've had to do some surgery on my frame.  It turned out that my new metal rods must be slightly shorter than the previous plastic tracks, because my sewing machine carriage was hitting the back of the lower travelling carriage.  It was the brackets that support the handlebar superstructure that were hitting, so I took them off, used my Dremel multitool to turn the bolt holes into slots, and bolted them back on a bit higher to solve the problem.  Although in order to do that, I had to dismantle the frame that I had just loaded my quilt onto.  I unpinned the takeup roller to take it out but left the other rollers as they were.  Since I baste down my top to my backing as part of the loading process, I was able to re-pin to the takeup roller after the surgery and be back in business.

On my day off I spent a lot of time waiting for the flooring fitter to turn up to fit the floor in the ensuite, and I used some of the time to pin up my Snowman quilt.  This has jumped the queue as I realised I should be working on it over the Christmas season as it is a Christmassy quilt.  It couldn't be basted on the frame as the snowmen are made from bulky wool felt, so I pinned it up on the dining table instead. It will be quilted on the sit down machine downstairs.

I finished quilting the diamond borders on my stack and whack hexagon quilt and ran it through the washing machine so it's ready to have binding sewn on.  While it was drying, I sewed binding onto my Japanese fabric wallhanging and stitched that down in the evenings although I still need to make a hanging sleeve.

It's been a bit of a lace weekend so far, because Friday night was the Nene Lacemakers christmas meeting and today I went on their coach trip to attend the Makit lace fair in Solihull.  I was trying to work on my Bucks Point edging at the Christmas party but they kept us so busy with party games that I lost my concentration and went wrong, and had to unpick everything I'd done. But I did win the Bingo. I enjoyed the Makit fair, it was similar to their Peterborough fair in that it was a mix of lace, knitting and fabric.  But a bit bigger than the Peterborough fair I think.  I met up with a couple of my friends there so it was nice to see them, and I picked up a number of things on my mental shopping list.  I got some duplicate tools because my tool bag always seems to be on a different floor to me, some beads for spangling bobbins, a length of pretty vintage crochet lace, four divider pins, a lovely Margaret Wall bobbin painted with an orchid (on the left)  and a gorgeous Sarah Jones bobbin  (right). Lace equipment is so pretty, much more attractive than the tools of my other hobbies.

Tomorrow I'm going do to what will hopefully be the final paint job on the ensuite, and then the DIY tools can finally be put back in the basement.  We just need the plumber to come back to install the cosmetic panel around the shower now and it will be finally finished.  No more DIY or renovations for a while I hope!  It's been a busy year with building the pergola, having the patio installed, digging new flower beds, and the two bathrooms done. (also very expensive). Time to rest on our laurels I think.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Happy St Catherine's Day!

Today, the 25th of November, is St Catherine's Day, the patron saint of lacemaking. The Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford marked this with an event including historical talks about lacemaking around a display case full of antique lacemaking equipment, and a display and demonstration by the Isis Lacemakers.  There were also slices of Cattern Cake available, which was traditionally baked by lacemakers on this day.  It had an interesting taste, sort of like honey cake flavoured with caraway seeds. I found a recipe here on another blogger's page if you want to try it out.

Historical talk around the antique lacemaking equipment

After visiting the event, we had a pleasant day out in Oxford, which included several secondhand bookstores, dropping into the wonderful Oxford Yarn Store on North Parade, having lunch from the Vietnamese stall at the North Parade Saturday market, enjoying a hot drink and treats at the new Bodleian cafe, and some Christmas shopping at Marks and Spencers.  It's such a beautiful city.

I've continued to work on the ensuite decoration this week.  The green paint is all done and I've cut and screwed on the dado rail, and I'll do the final coat of paint tomorrow.  I've put back up all the hardware now (towel rail etc.) and purchased a bathroom cabinet which DH has put together for me. The floor is being installed next Thursday so I'll wait until that's down before doing the final coat on the white portion, in case the flooring guy unavoidably makes marks on the wall while he is wrestling with vinyl flooring in a confined space. Even though it's not finished, it looks so much better than it used to.

On the quilt frame, I finished pin-basting the 25 block applique quilt and now I'm getting ready to load on the Star Sampler quilt.  I'm a bit intimidated since the plan was to up-skill on the simpler quilts before tackling this more complicated quilt, but what's actually happened is I didn't use the frame for weeks because of holidays, the electrician, illness and replacing the tracks.  So not too sure about the skill level however we'll see how it goes.

On the knitting front, I have finished the first Raindrop Mitt.  I knit it a bit longer than the pattern as I don't like having cold fingers.  I've started the next one now.

In commuter knitting, I'm on the second finger of the second sock yarn glove and I was knitting a bit on that on the way to Oxford today before the roundabouts starting making me feel car-sick.

Now that the bathroom renovations aren't taking up quite as much time, I've actually done some sewing this week.  I sewed up an oilcloth apron for DS as a Christmas present.  And I made six fabric storage boxes from this free tutorial: one for me and five as Christmas gifts for my lace ladies.  These are quite straightforward to make but I'm pleased with how they turned out and they are a useful size, about four inches square.  I made mine out of 10-inch Moda Layer cake pieces left over from a previous project (I think probably the Star Sampler above) and wadding scraps, so it was a 'free' project. They are made completely by machine including sewing on the buttons. I hope the recipients like them.

I've been pulling out the heavy duty woolies this week as we've had a cold snap, down to about 1 or 2 degrees Celsius in the mornings. So enjoyable to wear handknit hats, gloves, jumpers and indoors some of my felted slippers in the colder weather!

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Decorating instead of crafting

At long last, three weeks later than the original estimate and almost two months since starting the whole job, the plumber has finished in the ensuite as far as he can go without a new floor being laid. We had a celebratory dinner out on Tuesday night in appreciation at getting the house back.  This was after I had done 90 minutes of hoovering up dust in the hallway from every horizontal surface including the cornice, and retrieving all the furniture and pictures from where they had been squirreled away.  Wednesday night I repeated the process for the bedroom. It's so nice having all our things back and reclaiming the space. Then it was the turn of the ensuite and the decorating could commence. 

The ensuite was basically a white box beforehand, and after the plumber left it was a scarred, dented and filled-in grubby white box.  So it's been a week of priming and painting woodwork in which DS helped out as well, painting several coats of white over the new lining paper until it matched the original walls, and deciding on a decorating scheme.  I've gone with a two tone effect, I've cut dado rail to fix along the wall and I'm painting the lower panel white for a faux wainscoting effect, and the upper part of the wall in a seafoam green.  Painting is a pain because there are so many items to be cut around, and because the ceilings are so high yet there isn't room to manoeuvre a ladder properly.  It's also surprisingly difficult to paint a smooth line of seafoam green along the top of an old wall which wobbles as it meets the ceiling, especially when you can't reach properly.  However it's all going fine and I've got the first coat of green on in this picture. I'll do the second coat today.  The shower is cool to use, like getting into a teleportation pod in the corner, so much nicer than the old leaky box.

I've chosen a new floor of tile effect vinyl and they're coming to do the estimate this week, but they warned that fitting might be three or four weeks as they are very booked up in the run up to Christmas.  Who knew that November/December was a prime time for a new floor?  Perhaps people feel the need to spruce up before the relations arrive.

So not a lot of crafting this week.  On my day off when I was having a break from decorating, I did load another quilt on to the frame.  This is my 25 block applique quilt which I'm just basting on the frame, and will quilt either at the sit down machine or possibly by hand.

I ordered a cheap £20 flatpack metal rack off Amazon, which arrived yesterday and DH put it together.  This is so that I have somewhere to store my bobbin lace pillows in progress, which need to lie flat so the bobbins don't get all muddled and be out of the way so the pillows don't get damaged.  DH said it was a bit of a pain to put together but the end result is surprisingly sturdy. It's plenty wide enough for my 24" pillows and about a foot deep so I've placed it a little away from the wall to get more depth.

Other than that I've been knitting:  still knitting the twisted rope border on my GAA Afghan, still knitting my second fingerless glove in commuter knitting, and I've started the Raindrop mitt from the pattern and skein I bought at Nottingham. And I've done a bit more cross stitch on my long term UFO.

I have to share a photo of my new beauty, which was an impulse buy yesterday at the antiques mall in Market Harborough.  We'd actually gone into Harborough to visit the secondhand bookstore but spotted the antiques mall on the outskirts and stopped in to see what they had.

This was on display and I instantly fell in love, it's so different than the normal vintage machine, with its leonine curves and fiddlehead base.  The wooden stand has a marquetry inlaid ruler and a little drawer.  The dealer said that it's in working order but I haven't tested it yet.  I loved all the gilt decoration even though it's completely worn off on the arm where one would naturally carry the machine.  With a torch you can see where the word 'Robina' used to be on the arm.  I did some research on the internet and this machine was made in Germany by the Hengstenberg company, probably in the 1880s.  It does a lock stitch and should have a long thin bobbin inside a shuttle case, which can be wound with the mechanism at the lower right. I haven't had time to investigate yet, I can see I have the shuttle so hopefully there is a bobbin inside.  Apparently this machine is similar to the Singer 12/12k model so I've found that manual online and printed it off. It's a beautifully made piece of engineering and I feel so connected to the women who have owned it in the past.  I'm looking forward to playing more with it and cleaning up its case once the decorating is done. I'm not really planning to use it, it will be a display item, but it would be great if it worked as well.

We have a new garden ornament as well, which oddly was found on an antique dealer's stall even though it's not an antique.  It's a windmill in the shape of a large sunflower, constructed in coppery/rusty metal that glints in the sun.  We have a windy garden, so this will be in almost constant motion.  Both the inner and outer petal rings rotate, and the head pivots as the wind hits the fan tail, so it is constantly in motion.  I've positioned it where we can see it from the kitchen, it's a real focal point in this winter season when not much else is growing.  I'm not sure what the cat thinks of it, she spent a long time sitting on the fence staring at it.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

I thought we were done with this

As my son is now a university graduate, I thought the days when germs travelled home from school to infect the family were long over.  It turns out I was wrong.  DS went to a group event in London a few weekends ago and then complained he felt coldish a couple of days later.  After a few days of being ill, he came out in a magnificent crop of spots which we thought was an allergic reaction to giving him sinus medication.This was the weekend of course so on Monday he went off to the doctor who immediately identified it as a contagious childhood complaint called hand, foot and mouth disease. I'd never even heard of it and had to look it up online. To cut the sorry story short, DH and I both caught it and I've been home sick since  Tuesday afternoon.  I started feeling better on Friday which is when the spots starting coming out.  I've been lucky though, my spots are mainly on my hands and feet.  DH had them all over his face and scalp as well and DS had them so badly that they are still healing over a week later.

I had little to no energy while I wasn't well, but I could knit.  So when I was awake I worked on this sitting Santa doll from the King Cole Christmas Knits 4 book by Zoe Halstead, and finished him up by Friday night.

He's supposed to be weighted down with plastic pellet toy stuffing but our local craft shop didn't have that and neither did Hobbycraft. However I did find a jar of crushed mica at Hobbycraft which worked just as well to give him some stability.

Since we were both home, DH drove me over to a steel stockholder and we picked up the 1/4-inch stainless steel rod to replace the plastic tracks on my Grace Next Generation quilting frame.  I got two 3m lengths for the main bed and they kindly cut two shorter lengths for the carriage rails.  This is what the stuff looks like:
It was way cheaper than replacing the crappy plastic tracks (and by the way I found my carriage tracks were cracked as well when I took them off, which explains the occasional hitch in movement on that) and hopefully is a permanent solution.  The metal rods sit on top of the channels where the plastic track used to snap in, and the carriage wheels roll along the top of the metal track.  I've only had a trial push around but it feels so much smoother.  Strangely heavier as well, I suppose because the machine now has momentum to keep going whereas before the friction would immediately drag at it. I didn't have any energy when I wasn't well but hopefully I can get my next quilt on soon.

Update: I subsequently discovered that the metal rod must be slightly shorter 
than the plastic track because the brackets bolted on either side of
the sewing machine carriage (the brackets that support the handlebar
superstructure) were hitting the back of the lower travelling carriage and stopping
the machine from travelling fully backwards.  My fix was to use my Dremel
handheld tool with a round cutting burr to turn the bolt holes in the
sewing machine carriage into slots. That meant I could bolt the brackets
back on but higher up by a good 1/8", enough so that they clear the 
end stops on the lower travelling carriage.

Earlier in the week before I fell ill, I did some work on the new Bucks Point lace edging that I was stuck on last weekend.  I think I've worked out how to do it now. I'll have to see what more knowledgeable lacemakers in my club think when they see it, but I think it's ok.  The plan is to make a long length that I can sew around a mat. It will be a more straightforward project to take to lace days than my more complex hexagonal edging.

I finished knitting the first of my fingerless gloves and started the second one, which was my knitting project over the weekend.

I was glad to feel better by Friday because I had tickets booked to attend the inaugural Nottingham Yarn Expo over the weekend.  I went up by train yesterday morning after a bit of painting in the ensuite.  The venue was the Nottingham Conference Centre, quite a new and light-filled building, and the large amount of traders were spread out over two floors in what would normally be atriums and public spaces. There seemed to be a good buzz and lots of attendees.  There was live entertainment - on Saturday a string quartet and on Sunday a harpist, both playing clever covers of modern pop music as well as classics, and both of very high standard.  There were a couple of free talks - I went to a talk by Marie Greene of Olive Knits, a charming and perky American designer who talked about slow fashion and its importance to both the maker and the wider community. The traders seemed to be mostly small independents.  There was a fabulous array of fibres and hand-dyes, in fact if anything there was too much yarn (gasp, I can't believe I just wrote that sentence) as opposed to other goodies.  I was looking more for kits and patterns but I enjoyed fondling some of the beauty on offer.  I bought a kit from Marie Wallin to make the gorgeous Scalloway Fair Isle Tam, which came in its own tote bag of yarn, with needles and the pattern, and I also succumbed to her book 'Shetland' because the fair isle patterns are so beautiful.  And I bought a pattern and skein from Border Leicester Yarn to make fingerless mitts. And that was it. I did have a try of the Addi Crazy Trio on one stall that everyone seems to be talking about (a hybrid between circs and dpns with a flexible join) but I found the needle length too short for my big hands.  I get on fine with dpns anyway.

I stayed overnight and this morning I attended a workshop on knitting techniques, also with Marie Greene, which was good fun.  She talked us through picking up stitches smoothly for button bands and necklines and her tricks for those, showed us how to do Russian grafting and a neat buttonhole.  So I had a good show, I hope the traders did as well.  I think there are things that could be improved for next year, like having maps of the floor plan to find exhibitors/toilets/lecture theatres and having a cloakroom to stash heavy coats (it was November), but it was easy to get to and I think possibly bigger than Unravel, maybe a similar size to Fibre East?

Back to work tomorrow although I feel a bit like a typhoid mary as I am possibly still contagious even though I feel fine.  I will have to try to keep my germs to myself and not touch anything/anyone.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Remember remember

Tomorrow is Guy Fawkes day (Remember remember the fifth of November) so there should be a lot of fireworks going off.  It's still legal in the UK to buy and let off fireworks at home so lots of people have a few in their garden once it gets dark.  I saw a brilliant display on Thursday evening which I think was from a local school, who were probably rolling Diwali, Halloween and Guy Fawkes into one celebration.  I heard the bangs going off and went up to the top floor of our house, where I could just see the display over the roof tops. It lasted about 10 more minutes and was quite good.

Halloween was fine. It was fun at work because people brought in sweets  for Diwali.  I wore a Halloween waistcoat I knitted donkey's years ago (it's lasted well as it only gets worn once a year) which was well received and I wore my knitted witch's hat to and from work.  At home we set up shop with the pumpkin lit out front and waited to see if we would get anyone.  It was really quiet until about 7:30pm when suddenly  people started coming.  In the end we had half a dozen groups of visitors, ranging in age from tiny tot up to teenage girls with brilliant face makeup.  So not a lot, but at least it felt worth doing.

I finished quilting the Japanese quilt so it has gone downstairs waiting for binding.  I finished hand sewing the binding onto the William Morris grid quilt so that is completely done now.  I'm not quilting on the frame pending the acquisition of the new tracks, but I did load on my Indigo Bear's Paw quilt and basted the three layers together with a combination of safety pins and my Microstitch gun.  I find the tacks from the gun have too much play in them to be used on their own, so I'm hoping the safety pins will stabilise the layers.  I'll be quilting this in a grid downstairs with my walking foot.

I still need to quilt the border that I left unquilted on the stack and whack hexagon quilt. I've decided on a pattern of diamonds so I traced that onto some Golden Threads tissue paper which I will adhere to the border using 505 spray then stitch through to create the quilted pattern. I traced one complete pattern strip then stapled that to a stack of all the other tissue strips and stitched along the pencil line without thread in the machine, to create a set of duplicates.

On my day off I decided it was time to do something about the jumble of lace pillows and projects.  I've been cannibalising tools and cloths from one project to work on others and it was all getting in a big mess now that I had four pillows on the go.  I organised all four pillows, assigned them all a tool bag and a document folder, then headed to the sewing room to hem three large cover cloths in patterned quilting fabric and four smaller plain blue working cloths.  Now every project has a cover and sufficient working cloths to protect the pillows.  Why is it that hobby equipment seems to mushroom in size from small beginnings to large stash?  It felt good to get it all organised.  Now I just need some kind of rack for storing pillows in progress.

Later in the day I sat down and finished off the second metallic thread snowflake and sewed it onto its bangle ready for gifting at Christmas.  So that reduces projects to three pillows: 1) my large Bucks Point hexagonal edging; 2) the smaller Bucks Point edging I've started, and 3) the Angel decoration I started on Monday on the Alison Winn course.  This is what the angel will look like when it's finished, this is a picture of Alison's sample.  It's made of two pieces of lace: a body and separate wings.

On the day I managed to complete half an angel and half a wing.  Today I worked some more on the wing and it's about two-thirds done. It was fun to spend a day doing lace in company.

The plumber is still with us, I'm beginning to wonder if he will be joining us for Christmas dinner.  He's working on the ensuite shower and is slowly progressing:  the tray is in and he's got tiles on the wall. I'm hoping he might finish up in another week or so.

I spent a lot of time this week repairing the floor in the main bathroom: making the floor good and filling holes, putting a coat of primer on, then several nights cutting vinyl tiles and fake plastic grout strips to size to fill in the holes where the floor was pulled up during the works.  The final piece took me about a full hour to whittle to shape, because it had to fit round the toilet, butt up against the skirting board, and accommodate the water pipe that feeds the toilet.  Once everything was dry fitted, I labelled all the pieces as if they were quilt blocks, removed them, applied the adhesive and let it go tacky, then re-laid all the tiles.  It had to dry 48 hours and today I gave the whole floor a good scrub.  It has turned out pretty well, I feel proud of the result.  Some of the other tiles have been scratched and marked while the plumber was working in there, but it all looks fine from the doorway and will last us out while we are living in this house I think.  The ensuite is going to need a completely new floor because that's where we harvested the replacement tiles from.  That's beyond my skill level so we will probably be going to a local carpet place for a vinyl floor.

I  can hear more fireworks going off up the hill.  Luckily they don't seem to bother our cat, I think she's downstairs guarding her cat flap.  It's got a magnetic catch so other cats can't get in (plus we lock it at night with her inside), but from time to time they seem to try.  We call it 'flap wars' and occasionally there will be a tremendous banging  and crashing from the basement as they head-butt the flap trying to get in, and presumably she head-butts it from her side trying to get at them.  It only lasts 10 seconds or so then detente is resumed.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Putting the garden to bed

I've spent a lot of time the past week getting the garden ready for winter, as they are predicting a frost very soon.  Our brief enjoyment of our new water feature has finished until next year as I have drained the water and packaged the fountain up in hessian and a fountain cover to protect the cast stone over the winter.  I've drained and brought a couple of birdbaths and a second fountain into the shed for protection, earthed up vulnerable plants like our fuschias to protect their crowns, moved a few containers into a sheltered corner, and cut back various perennials and brought their wire supports into the shed.  We also moved the patio furniture into the shed as well.  It is a very full shed now.

I've been enjoying my walks on the way to work through the crisp autumn air with the leaves swirling around the pavements, I really like this time of year.  Our garden is looking increasingly bare as most of my plants are perennials, but I like the thought that it will all slumber through the winter (hopefully without dying) and come back to life in the spring.  I planted out a bunch of crocus bulbs in the new bed and some more daffs, despite my perennial bad luck with bulbs I always seem to try again each autumn.  I've also got the tulips I lifted from last year, which I will be planting out in containers in a few weeks - they looked really nice last spring.

It's been a week of bobbin lace.  In addition to the lace day last weekend in Letchworth, I attended a lace morning at Knuston Hall on Thursday, went to the Nene Lacemakers lace day yesterday, and on Monday I've got a day off from work to take a one-day lace class to make an angel with Alison Winn.  I've got a new pattern for an edging which the teacher gave me on Thursday, so Friday night I was busy winding 25 pairs of bobbins so that I could have a go at starting it yesterday.  It's not a complicated edging but there are no instructions so I spent most of the morning trying to make a start on it.  I eventually realised that it wasn't working but it was fun trying to puzzle it out.  Last night I undid half of what I'd done and tried again and it still wasn't working.  I went and looked in my lace books until I found something similar in a Geraldine Stott book and realised the mistake I was making (doing the wrong stitch on one row of holes) so now I know what I need to do.  Just need to undo it again and start over.  My plan is to make a length of lace that I can sew around a mat or a hankie, so it will be a simpler project to take out to lace events than my more complex hexagonal edging.  I haven't taken a picture of it because it doesn't look like anything yet. The teacher on Thursday encouraged me to try more samples of different kinds of Bucks Point lace so that I can keep learning - there is a danger having started the long-term project of the hexagonal edging to just stagnate until that's done.  I agree, but on the other hand as a time challenged person, starting a new project in bobbin lace is very front loaded in terms of effort because you have to prepare the pricking and wind all the bobbins.  It's a bit like needleturn applique which I enjoy doing but is a complete faff to get ready. So I don't know that I will be able to get a new sample ready and worked every couple of months but we'll see.

On the quilting front, I've almost finished quilting the Japanese lap quilt on the frame.  I've also identified a potential solution for my broken tracks.  I found conversation threads on the Grace Yahoo group about replacing the plastic tracks with 1/4" stainless steel rods. I found a steel-stockholder in Northampton that stocks these so DH is going to go collect some in a few weeks when he is home on a week day.  If they are the right size, they should sit on top of the grooved channel (which currently contains the plastic track) and allow the machine carriage to roll smoothly.  If it works, it should be a real game changer as I always feel like I am fighting against my carriage's tendency to suddenly yaw in various directions when I am quilting on the frame.  Then I will only have myself to blame for any wiggles in the stitching line.

I trimmed up the raw edges of the William Morris grid quilt and machine stitched the binding onto the right side, so that will be my evening project this week to hand-stitch the binding down around this large double-size quilt.

And the Hawaiian wallhanging is completely done and even has a label on the reverse side about our trip. It feels good to have finally finished this after eight years of it sitting around.

For binding on the Hawaiian quilt, I used a wicker-like print on the diagonal so it looks a bit like bamboo or woven thatch.  I rounded off the two bottom corners which I like as it makes it look more like a picture.

I need to create a place where I can display quilts like this.  I think I've said before that there isn't a good place to display quilts in this house because the walls are very broken up by doorways and windows.  But I've decided to make a hanging place in the main hallway which will take small quilts the size of the Hawaiian one, or a larger quilt folded up.  The pulley and rod system I was using in the old house worked effectively but isn't very nice to look at, so I think I am going to try to make something simpler that blends into the wall better.  Watch this space.

I've almost finished my first fingerless glove so will start the second one this week.  It's been a fun knit, along the lines of making a vanilla sock, I like being able to tailor the pattern to fit my own hand. I also like using my short glove needles to knit the fingers with, it's always nice having the right tool for the job.

We've decided to have a go at tiling the repaired bits of the main bathroom floor ourselves, because the tiler I contacted is booked up until Christmas and also expressed strong doubts about re-laying tiles that we had lifted from the ensuite.  We've cleaned up several tiles by soaking them in water and scraping off the guck on the back. The bare parts of the floor are mostly along one wall rather than in the main traffic area, so if we don't get it perfect then it's not the end of the world.  So the job this weekend is to get the bare floor bits ready by scraping off the loose bits of adhesive and fraying plywood, filling holes, and getting a coat of primer down.  Then it will be  case of cutting tiles to fit around the sink and toilet and getting ready for the final step of sticking them down with adhesive.  Hopefully it will work and the generic adhesive will work on these tiles.

It's Halloween soon.  I have put up some decorations but it has felt half-hearted.  The first several years I lived in the UK, I maintained the custom of celebrating Halloween as a fun holiday despite the Scrooge environment around me.  Back in the 80s and early 90s, I think Halloween was seen as an unwelcome American import and the Brits didn't get it at all, I even saw a letter in the paper denouncing it as promoting Satan etc.  It's now much more embedded and most shops now stock some Halloween decorations and costumes, or have window displays.  I'm still not sure they get it though as the emphasis here seems to be very much on the gore and horror aspects rather than the fun element I remember from my childhood in North America.  But maybe that's what it's like in North America now as well, who knows.  But it almost seems more of an adult holiday here than something fun for kids. Meanwhile over the years, my enjoyment has been eroded by the lack of enthusiasm, by DS being  squeamish about carving pumpkins so I have to do it alone, by having my pumpkin kicked down the street like a football (twice), having jerks in their twenties show up with just a face mask as a costume trying to freeload on sweets, and in our new house having virtually no trick-or-treaters at all.  However my family have grown accustomed to the event being on our calendar so after a few iterations of 'when are you going to put the decorations up', I have put some up - although hampered by having to keep the hallway clear for the plumber's comings and goings.  I've even got a large pumpkin which I shall carve today in readiness and some tubs of sweets ready for any trick-or treaters. 

So Happy Halloween if you are celebrating!

Image result for halloween pumpkin

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Reclaiming the bathroom

I have to get up 10 minutes earlier every work day now so I can cover the remaining bedroom furniture with dust sheets in preparation for the plumber/builder who is now working on the ensuite shower. Then when I get home, I have to vacuum the bedroom to remove the worst of the dust before I can unshroud the furniture and get changed.  Fun times.

The plumber has gotten on quite well considering he was sick Wednesday and had a half day off on Friday.  This is what it looked like after day one, and by Friday afternoon he had removed the remainder of the tiles and the rest of the enclosure.  I am relieved to find out that the leaky shower hadn't done much damage to the subfloor.

He's supposed to be finished in the main bathroom now and I spent time on Friday and Saturday filling in dents and smoothing over the channels that were cut in the wall for electrics. DH and DS helped to give it all a really good clean, which felt like reclaiming the bathroom back from the plumber.  There was still a surprising amount of brick dust hiding on top of door and window frames and in every crevice so we basically had to vacuum every surface except the ceiling.  Today we have painted two coats of paint on the two walls which were damaged during construction.  Then we can get the blinds back up tonight and stop feeling like we are on show to the neighbours.  I think the rough spots around the electrical channel that was chiseled out in the wall need more attention but that can be a subsequent job which won't affect the blinds.  And I'm pleased to report that the new shower does not leak, thankfully.

The floor is proving more of an issue.  I contacted the previous owner of our house and he told me what brand of tiles he'd used on the bathroom floor but they seem to be discontinued (not surprising as he bought them about eight years ago).  So we've pried up several tiles from the ensuite in the hopes that we can clean them off and re-lay them in the main bathroom.  They seem to have brought the top layer of plywood floor with them so cleaning them could be difficult.  I need to contact the tiler this week to see if he can come.  The plumber can't finish sealing in the newly relocated units until we have a floor in place and I want to get him to do it before he disappears off to his next job.  I also need him to go back to the main bathroom and improve the very obvious join he made between two bits of skirting board so that we can paint that as well. Plus we'll need a complete replacement floor in the ensuite.

Meanwhile the weather has turned abruptly autumnal (not to mention a bit hurricane-y as we get the tail end of various storms) so I've been hurrying to frostproof the garden: draining and moving fountains and bird baths into the shed, mulching various plants such as my fuschias, and bringing in a few tender plants which I am hoping will survive indoors until the spring.

Coupled with a very demanding month at work, I haven't had a lot of time or energy for crafting, grrrr.  I did finish quilting on my Hawaiian wallhanging, added a  hanging sleeve and am currently pinning on the binding.  I also got a fair bit of knitting done on my fingerless glove during the lecture at gardening club, and more done on it during a lecture at a Lace Day I attended yesterday in Letchworth.

It wasn't great timing to be out most of the day at a  Lace Day when we have so much on, but it was a ticket I had booked months ago and I had a ride arranged with some ladies I had met at the St Ives Lace Day, so I decided to go.  It was a nice event, well organised and in a lovely historic hall which used to be a Temperance (non-alcoholic) pub called the Skittles Inn.  There was a raffle and I won a little resin figurine of a lacemaker sitting at her pillow, and a fantastic secondhand table with loads of good stuff.  I picked up several books I thought would be useful, all for the princely sum of £10. Bargain.   This included a quilling set which I bought for the paper because you can use quilling paper to make dollshouse things. So I've got lots of reading ahead.

I got on quite well with my Bucks Point hexagonal edging and finally finished turning the second corner (only four corners to go....).  It takes quite a while to turn the corner because you reach the corner pin on the inside edge, but then have to make lace all the way around (from say 10 o'clock around to 4 o'clock if the pillow was a clock face) before you continue on from that corner pin.  In fact it had been so long since I did the inside edge that I had to look up how to do it again.

There were also a handful of suppliers at the event and one was selling yarn where I got this very festive red and green acrylic yarn which has a strand of silver glitter running through it.  It's sock weight, so I could make festive socks or gloves out of it, or perhaps ornaments.

On my day off it was too wet to garden so I did get some time on my quilt frame.  I loaded the small top I made out of Japanese fabrics and started stitching a new panto design on it. Love the fabrics in this Japanese top, the designs are so soft and delicate.

I'm having a lot of trouble with my broken front track and actually had to move the longer unbroken bit along so that I can stitch the Japanese quilt without running over the break.  I tried patching in a bit of track from the previous tracks (which I replaced but kept) but no matter what I tried there was a noticeable bump when the carriage wheels ran over the join, which never failed to grab the machine and make it wobble terribly as first one wheel then the other wheel hit the break.  I don't even know if you can still get replacement plastic tracks for this frame because it's so old, but they seem like a waste of money because they wear out so quickly.  I remember reading about one woman who had replaced her plastic tracks with metal strip so I think I need to look into that.  It's going to be a problem if I try to quilt anything wider than a lap quilt.  Either that or manage to win £10,000 on the lottery so I can buy a Handiquilter Avante and frame.  That would be better :)

Signing off from a cluttered and dusty house, hope you've had a good week!

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Almost a shower

The bathroom re-model has reached the point where the shower is mostly installed and the plumber wants us to test it tomorrow (when various goops have set hard since he applied them on Friday).  Ominously he said "and then you can let me know if there are any issues, like if you notice any leaks".  I felt like questioning this statement because it seems to me that there should categorically not be any leaks, but he does seem to have a bit of an Eeyore personality.  He's very nice but we've had all sorts of mini dramas with things not going quite right or bits missing from boxes and it is getting a bit tedious because he wants to tell me all about every small setback in great detail.  I'm trying to tell myself that probably lots of other tradespeople have issues that crop up and they just know better than to tell the owner about every little thing that goes wrong and it doesn't necessarily mean that he isn't a good plumber.  He was recommended by our neighbours who have used him several times.

So assuming the shower doesn't leak, and that he fixes the currently leaking toilet installation, he could be finishing up in this room mid-week and moving on to the bedroom ensuite where he will be replacing the existing leaking shower (lots of leaks here). Hopefully the second shower will go quicker because he doesn't have to move the sink or toilet or anything electrical.  I'm hoping he will be done by the end of the month or early November at the latest.  I've stripped out the bedroom of all decoration, pictures, vintage linens, and extraneous furniture in preparation for the dust to come. It's not going to be much fun having a builder traipsing through the bedroom every day but I guess no pain, no gain, eye on the prize yada yada.

On my day off this week I reminded the plumber that he had offered to drill a hole through the brick shed wall for me, which he did first thing.  Then I was able to wire up our new water feature.  It makes a lovely sound as the water trickles back down into the basin.  We were able to sit out on our new patio today because it's actually quite warm this weekend, and enjoyed drinking tea and watching the fountain.

I was knitting on a new pair of half-fingered gloves in sock yarn.  I've moved all my yarn back into my knitting room (although mysteriously it doesn't seem to all fit back into the shelves it came out of) and was struck by how much nice sock yarn I have waiting to be made into things.  So that's my new commuter knitting project, because I finished my Debbie Bliss Cotton Denim Cowl and have been wearing it.  The picture's a bit dark, sorry.

I also finished knitting the rest of the baby girl layette.  I'm just blocking the cardi so I can sew buttons on it.

I also picked up stitches and knit the thumbs longer on a pair of Fetchings that I made three years ago. They are nice and warm but my thumbs would get cold because the knitting didn't come up as high on the thumb.  I didn't have any matching yarn so went with a navy wool.

On the quilting front, I loaded the William Morris grid quilt back onto the frame and stitched out the outer borders.  Annoyingly, I failed to notice that my thread had jumped out of the upper tension disks on my machine, so when I turned over one border to look at it, I discovered lots of loops of upper thread poking out the back.  I debated whether to pull out all of that border strip but in the end I did a repair job by pulling the loose thread loops to remove the slack and burying the slack in the quilt.  I'm keeping this quilt for my guest room so if any loops pop out, I can always fix it again.  I've washed that quilt and it's drying at the moment.  When it's dry I will finish it with binding.  I did find that as I hadn't been able to do much frame quilting for almost a month what with the holiday and the electrician, I've slipped back down the skills ladder which is frustrating.

I had a nice visit to see the dollshouses of my three club members last weekend.  Although most of their houses weren't to my taste, it's still interesting to see what other people have made or collected.  It wasn't quite as nice for DH who had to visit with two elderly husbands while I looked at houses, one of whom who was sitting in a fug of pipe smoke but luckily decided to show DH the garden so he didn't suffocate.  It was very noble of DH and the three older ladies enjoyed themselves.  One of them had been to Miniatura and bought a new kind of hand clipper which uses Stanley knife blades.  I was quite interested because the standard hand clipper is more like a pair of garden shears and once it gets dull it is impossible or difficult to sharpen or replace the blade.  So I sent off for my own cutter which should be useful for cutting small wood strip. I haven't done any dollshousing for weeks now, what with all the gardening, quilting, holiday and building work.

Remember the tiny nativity scene I bought in France?  DH has painted it for me now.  I need to make a little stable to finish off the scene.  He did a great job as you can see.  The actual sculptures aren't very precise when it comes to facial features but they are so tiny that the overall effect is quite good.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Touring the Alsace Wine Route / Alsace Route des Vins

I'm doing an extra post about our 8-day break in Alsace in September, which combined a visit to the Carrefour Europeen du Patchwork  quilt festival with a tour of the Alsace Wine Route.  I will be up front and state that we are not wine buffs, in fact we know next to nothing about wine, but we do love history and old buildings and exploring new regions.  A wine buff would probably have a completely different holiday to the one we had.  There are around 1,000 wine producers along the route of over 100 villages, many of them offering degustation (tastings) and most of the villages have one or more trails around the vineyards to discover.  We were primarily there for the scenery and architecture although we did do one tasting near our hotel and bought a couple of bottles of delicious local wine.

We had a great holiday, it's a lovely area with so much to see and I highly recommend it. It throws comparable English spots such as the Cotswolds or York rather into the shade by comparison.  The sheer quantity of fairytale-like rambling old half timbered buildings, smothered in huge quantities of flowering baskets, wandering on for street after street, or hanging over ancient rivers, or sheltering under the ruins of medieval chateaux, punctuated by massive fortified gate towers, is almost overwhelming. Plus it is all in the shadows of the long range of  forested Vosges mountains which themselves are decorated with various ruined castles. I took about 600 photos and by the end we were getting almost jaded because we had seen so many beautiful things.

We flew into Strasbourg from the UK, picked up a hire car and based ourselves in a hotel in Obernai.  Obernai itself is very attractive and worth a morning to walk around the historical trail, and perhaps a visit to the many tourist shops or enjoy a snack in one of the patisseries.  As well as being a good base for exploring the northern part of the Wine Route, Obernai offered easy access to the A35 fast road to travel south for further explorations (Colmar in around 40 minutes), and made for an easy day trip back into Strasbourg to see the sights there.

A priority is to pick up the tourist map of the Alsace Wine Route. I actually ordered mine online in advance of the trip but unhelpfully I can't remember from which website, sorry.  Our hire car had GPS but we found we couldn't entirely rely on it for two reasons:  either it would steer us by the most direct route which went on fast roads and missed all the pretty villages, or, it would steer us by the most direct route which turned out to be virtual tracks over vine-covered hills between villages often marked sternly with 'no access except for residents' signs which I don't think we were meant to be using.  We also found we couldn't rely solely on the actual 'Route des vins' signs - in some areas these were plentiful, in other areas quite scarce - plus they kept changing in size and colour which made them even harder to spot.  So we found a combination of map/GPS/signs/common sense made for the best navigation.

Another tip is to tick off on the map the villages you have visited. Also aim to take a photograph of the town name on arrival (on a sign or on your map) before snapping photos there.  You think you will remember these stunningly beautiful places for the rest of your life but after a few days of endless half-timbered houses covered in flowers it becomes difficult to remember which village was which.

We found the driving fairly easy once we got used to being on the right hand side of the road.  Traffic was never that heavy and the roads are good.  Strasbourg was a bit nerve-wracking to drive into even on a Sunday, I think on any other day it might be a good idea to use the park and ride which connects to the local tram service. Parking can also be an issue: there seemed to be never-ending variations on free/not free (not to mention trying to find a parking meter), how spaces are marked, or they're not marked, when you can park on the pavement and when you can't, and how to fit cars into small medieval courtyards that were never meant to be parking lots. Try to always have some euro change with you for the Payant parking meters, we had to go and buy an ice cream a few times to break our notes. A lot of the smaller medieval villages have one-way systems which the driver needs to be on the alert for. It can also be confusing as to which roads are only for pedestrians and which are shared between pedestrians and cars in the touristy towns.  But everything went smoothly and we only got lost a few times (including taking the wrong exit out of Strasbourg which was a bit tense for a while!)

There are so many villages on the route that it can be tricky to decide how long you need.  We had about six and a half days in total (leaving out two travel days at either end, and a day and a half at the quilt show), which in retrospect was probably about a day and a half too long as we were getting a bit aimless by the end of the holiday.  On the other hand, it meant we never felt rushed and could take as long as we wanted at every place.  In the end we walked around or drove through  32 towns and villages plus a day trip to Strasbourg.  It's a good idea to hit the town tourist office for a walking map in each place if it is open, but we found offices weren't always open at lunchtimes, nor on weekends in smaller places.  If you are trying to pick the highlights, these are some of the places we particularly enjoyed:

- Eguisheim (just south of Colmar) - exquisitely beautiful, not as touristy as Riquewihr
- Kayserberg (just to the north west of Colmar) - lovely
- Riquewihr - lovely but heaving with tourists, go early or late
- Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg - a reconstructed medieval castle, impressive and great views
- Mont St Odile - a former monastery on a hill, lovely to walk around and fantastic views
- Colmar - a city with a beautiful historic core and lots of interesting shops (proper shops, not just touristy shops)
- Ribeauville  (between Colmar and Selestat) - long main street lined with historic buildings and towers
- Scherwiller - pretty village on a river
- Bergheim (near Ribeauville)
- Obernai (near Strasbourg) - nice town with lots of historic buildings
- Strasbourg - a bigger city, the boat tour is a good introduction to the sights, not as pretty as Colmar but we really enjoyed the Alsatian museum which is a labyrinth of converted medieval Alsatian townhouses

There are so many others I could list here but probably once you've seen the highlights, the best strategy is to fill in the free parts of your day visiting other villages nearby to the highlights, or nearby to your hotel base.  As you drive, admire the many ruined castles on hills along the route, but be aware that most of them are not accessible.  We hiked strenuously for 30 minutes up a steep hill to visit the ruined Chateaux d'Ottrott, only to find that not only were they fenced off and 'interdit', but that you couldn't even see the ruins through the thick woods, very disappointing.

There is a lot of information online about the Route des Vins and recommendations for destinations.  You will probably find that, like us, your pace will become progressively slower and more relaxed until in the end you are almost drifting from one flower-bedecked cafe to another, all overlooking beautiful historical squares, and it is all merging into one gigantic medieval disneyland. Highly recommended.

I took so many photos, but here are just a few.
 Mont St Odile
 Boersch (I think)

 Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg
Bergheim (I think)

Vineyards, with chateaux in the background

 (above) Strasbourg



 (three photos below) Eguisheim

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