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).

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Mad knitter in Carriage D

Last week I had an incident on the train which has probably done nothing to increase the credibility of knitting in public.  I was happily knitting away on my Selbuvotter glove when the train cleaner suddenly popped through the door of the train carriage calling out for any rubbish. I hurriedly pulled my discarded newspaper out of the folding tray on the seat back and put it into her rubbish bag, while she picked up a bit of litter from the floor.

She moved rapidly on down the train carriage as I knit a few more stitches, until I realised that my knitting pattern (which had been propped up on top of the seat tray) was now missing. Followed quickly by the realisation that the pattern had been the litter she picked up off the floor.  As the pattern had my only record of my carefully recalculated stitch counts for each finger, I had no choice but to grab up my knapsack and knitting  and run down the carriage after her. I caught her up and tried to explain that my knitting pattern was in her rubbish bag, but she didn't speak much English. So under her baffled gaze I used my free hand to fish around in the rubbish bag until I found my pattern. Luckily there wasn't anything sticky dropped on top of it. When I turned around to go back to my seat, several people were staring at me.  The icing on the cake was to find that I'd dropped several stitches in my mad dash.  At least I didn't lose any of my needles.  I have now taken a picture of the mods as a record in case I lose the pattern again.

A completed toadstool

I've now finished the toadstool pincushion that I was debating in my last post.  It's come out quite well, firmly stuffed and with some 2p coins inside the stem to give it a bit of weight. I do think it's cute, but then I am generally a sucker for miniature houses in any form.  I was looking at the companion storage box and I just don't think I would use it, but I'm wondering if I can use the kit materials to make something like a zipped sewing tote. So I've been doodling a few ideas for that.





Other stuff

My Frisee Shawl is finished and had its first outing today when I wore it to the Fenland Lace Makers Lace Day in St Ives, Cambs. It looked quite striking over a navy cardigan and several ladies came up to me to comment upon it during the day. Although it isn't bobbin lace, it's still lacy and was appreciated.


I was working on sample 6 of my Bucks Point crash lace course, plus I took my second pillow and also made a start on sample 7 which is a little hexagonal motif.  Conventional wisdom would say that I should repeat each sample until I can do it perfectly, but I'm just motoring through them mistakes galore so that I can grasp the principles. It was good to have a few hours to concentrate on it.

Unlike previous lace days I've attended, this event was on a much larger scale with probably around 175 attendees.  The tables were arranged in long banks of some 40 seats to a side, which didn't feel cosy and made it harder to get to know neighbours. The lighting also was not great and by the end of the day my eyes were quite tired.  Many ladies who had been before had brought portable lights and also thermoses of coffee or tea since unlike other events, tea/coffee was not included in the ticket price and had to be paid for at £1.50 a cup.  I had been looking forward to the advertised speaker but instead of speaking about lacemaking, she turned out to be a mildly humorous raconteur telling little stories about her life.  Although I met some nice ladies at my end of the table, I don't know that I would go again to this particular event.  I prefer the smaller events. There were quite a few traders and I bought a nice pin lifter with a turned wooden handle, and some sets of spangles on wire ready to spangle some of my naked bobbins.


After the event finished at 3pm, DH picked me up and we went into St Ives itself, which turned out to be a lovely historic former riverport with some attractive streetscapes and a surprising number of shops selling crafts or craft materials.  We found 'Dolls House Number 9' which is a toyshop selling a lot of dollshouse miniatures. As well as the usual Dolls House Emporium type tat, they did have small displays of nicer wooden furniture and various handmade accessories.  I bought a little hot water bottle in a knitted cover, and a pretty little china teaset.  There was another little shop selling a bit of knitting wool, a couple of artists' galleries and as it happened, an arts and crafts show on at the main church building on the high street. We enjoyed walking around the town and just as we were getting ready to leave, we stumbled across a good-sized antiques emporium near the bus station where I found a nice big damask cotton piece which was advertised as a large tablecloth but at 70"x80" I think it may have started life as a bedspread.  I will size it to fit our dining table where I think it will look very nice.



I think I've mentioned previously that my dollshouse club gave everyone a plastic punch bowl to make something with for a group display/exhibition we are putting on in April.  I was conscious of the approaching deadline so this week on my day off I sat down to put something together.  I knew I wanted to do a seaside scene and I had bought that driftwood wreath at The Range. So I pulled the wrreath apart and hot glued pieces back together to make a stand for the bowl. Then I went through my vast stash of dollshouse bits to see what I had that could go into a seaside scene.  This was the end result, a bit childlike but I expect the visitors will enjoy it. It makes me smile.



Where's the goldfish?

Dietary preferences

I have a huge sweet tooth, and have never eaten very healthily.  The last few years I have been getting increasingly spooked by all the infomercials and health articles warning about diabetes and how unhealthy it is to be 'apple shaped' like me etc etc.  So when I watched a documentary on Amazon called 'That Sugar Film' a few weeks ago, about how we are all addicted to sugar and how much sugar is hidden in everyday foods, it did freak me out a little even the film was a bit corny.  Enough to do more research and to find a more scientific documentary called 'Sugar: The Bitter Truth', a 90-minute video on YouTube by Dr Robert Lustig of the University of Southern California, which has gone viral and been viewed more than 7 million times. Dr Lustig actually calls sugar a toxin, and in the video debunks the last 40 years of nutritional dogma which has vilified fat and created the highly unhealthy Western diet that we all eat now.  So DH and I decided to try an experiment and cut out sugar for two weeks to see if we felt any different.  Not just obvious sugars like sweets and cookies, but hidden sugars like fruit-flavoured yoghurt, ketchup, stir fry sauces, tinned soups, baked beans etc. It has meant a lot of label-reading at home and at the supermarket as you are looking for products that have 3g or less in 100g which is the classification of low sugar.  It is absolutely astonishing how much sugar is in things like fruit juice or most cereals, and even  a lot of bread. You wouldn't sit down and eat 10 teaspoons of sugar (40g) as a snack but that's how much sugar is in some supposedly healthy smoothies. It's also felt counter-intuitive to be eating a lot of things like nuts that previously I would have avoided as fattening.  But Dr Lustig explains how fat makes you feel fuller because it doesn't block the signal called leptin that tells the brain you are full (which is blocked by sugar) so you end up eating less.

The first few days were hard, I had headaches for a couple of days which just shows how sugar dependent I was.  Then I had several days of feeling pretty tired, and craving that instant hit of energy that sugar would give me.  Finally after about 10 days, I realised that I felt better.  I felt more alert, and I found I was feeling quite full on much smaller amounts of food than I would have done in the past.  Tomorrow will be the end of the second week, and I am encouraged enough that I want to go on with the experiment.  DH has not seen as dramatic a result, I think partly because he never ate as much sugar as I did anyway, and partly because he is still eating several pieces of fruit a day. I'm not doing this to lose weight but I think I could eventually lose weight because I don't feel that I want to eat as much as I used to. I'll see how it goes.

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