Sunday, 28 May 2017

Pergola time

This week has been mostly about the pergola.  If you prefer to read about needlecrafts then skip further down the post, I don't mind :)  Last weekend we managed to get all six main posts concreted into the ground, more or less level, and spaced to allow for the trellis panels to be fitted at a future date. We gave up trying to be clever about the sloping ground and just leveled every post to the first post we put in.  The consequence of this is that we now have to manually dig out the slope to level the site.  As it is almost a foot higher at one end, this is going to be a lot of bags of dirt going to the dump.  This weekend is a long weekend, so we got the main beams installed yesterday, and started on a production line of cutting the rafters to size and screwing them in place with four brackets each.  Each bracket has four holes and we have settled on having 11 rafters so that is 176 holes to be drilled and screwed while balancing on a rickety stepladder on the uneven ground.  We've done eight so far and it's looking surprisingly good considering our lack of expertise.

Last night we christened the future patio by setting up our little barbecue underneath the pergola and cooking dinner out there, but it was too windy to actually eat under it.  I never heard back from patio guy so the patio is still a mythical concept.

Meanwhile, on the knitting front, I finished my Reaverse slippers.

They're cute and fit well, but the finishing looks sloppier than the ones in the pattern picture. Now that I've made them once and understand the somewhat sketchy pattern, I know I could do a better job if I ever made them again.  The pattern calls for making 2-stitch I-cord in aran yarn for 1m 40cm for each shoelace. I decided life was too short and dug out my Magicord machine and cranked off two lengths in a crepe machine knitting yarn.  Meanwhile the weather has turned warm and sunny and temperatures have shot up to almost 30 degrees on some days, so I don't actually need slippers any longer until next autumn probably.

I also finished off my Fair isle Socks from Folk Knitting in Estonia by Nancy Bush.  I haven't blocked them yet  - blocking will help even out the stitches. They fit well, although you can feel the difference from having stranded yarn for fair isle in terms of reducing stretch, even though I was careful about not pulling too tightly. These are in Lion Brand Sock Ease that somehow found its way into my stash.

I managed to finish the machine knit baby dress in four-ply acrylic.  Basically I made a pig's ear of this but managed to camouflage the many mistakes so I think the non-knitting recipients will be happy with it.  I took it into work on Friday and handed it over to the husband. I was disappointed that he just thanked me warmly and didn't take it out of the bag to look at it but DH said that's a man thing and doesn't mean he didn't appreciate receiving it.

On the bobbin lace front, I started over on the silver snowflake decoration and it's going ok.  The thread I am working with, which is a DMC metallic embroidery cotton for the workers, is probably not the best choice as it is very stiff and a bit rough so it's hard to tension. But the colouring is effective.This is an earlier pic and I am about 3/4s around the snowflake now.

I've sewn most of the diagonal rows together for the William Morris grid quilt but not all of them.  I've also printed off descriptive labels for all my dollshouse collection and mounted these on card, ready to display for the club visit.  It looks like around a dozen people may be coming, which will be easier to deal with than all 20 or so members while still making it feel like my effort is worthwhile.  DS has announced he is coming back from uni prior to the visit so I've had a discussion with him about a) keeping the house tidier than normal once I've cleaned up for the visit and b) assisting on the day.

Yesterday I got my summer clothes out from under the bed, and swapped them over with my heavy winter clothes and jumpers.  Does anyone else do this?  It's not that I have a huge number of clothes as I'm not much into fashion, but I never have enough room to have a full four season's worth of clothes out at once, plus I don't like having things in the way that I won't be wearing for several months. I want to be able to grab things quickly and get on to more interesting things like crafting.

The cat is still under the weather.  We had an interesting few days where the cat bite on her back, which got infected, was 'weeping' which was pretty disgusting.  Particularly as she thought she would do me a favour by keeping me company at my sewing machine and rolling around winsomely on her back so I would pet her stomach - leaving behind disgusting smears which I had to immediately wipe up before anything got on my fabric.  And the last few days she has started sneezing and snuffling like she has a cold and her eye is watering so it's back to the vet she goes this afternoon. I like having a cat round the house but sometimes I do feel a bit ambivalent because of the expense, the maintenance, the paperwork, the cat hair, having to keep all the internal doors shut, not to mention trying to get pills into her etc. I feel like most of this sort of responsibility falls on me, although DH does more of the day to day work like feeding and cleaning up after her. In theory she is DS's cat, and he loves her dearly, but of course he's not here most of the year.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Nice weather for ducks

The garden was previously suffering as it has been a pretty dry winter and spring, but now we've swung the opposite way and it's been raining almost every day for over a week.  The lawn now looks lush and needs a cut but it's too wet to cut it. At least it's a lot warmer. Tomorrow I'm going to plant out the plug plants I've been growing on because hopefully we aren't going to have any more frosts.

Last year I took part in a seed distribution programme and tried to grow several things from seed.  Some were a qualified success: I had several salvias that bloomed and some have survived the winter, I've got three Hydrangea Paniculata growing in pots, and the Mexican Fleabane has been a delight.  I also had a single Lily Martagon which survived the winter and started growing quite vigorously over the last several weeks.  I was quite pleased and looking forward to some lovely flowers. It kept growing taller and throwing out more stems with no sign of flowers, until it was about three feet tall.  I was still hopeful, until I noticed the exact same plant growing out of cracks in the pavements in the neighbourhood and in rough verges and I realised I had been tricked - it's a weed.  I doublechecked online and sure enough my plant looked nothing like Lily Martagon. So I pulled it up. It must have snuck into the pot somehow while the real seeds didn't grow, and I've been carefully nurturing it like a cuckoo in the nest. DH thinks this is quite funny.

Today we dug three post holes in between rain showers, and cut the first three pergola posts to length.  Tomorrow if the weather cooperates we will have a go at concreting them in.

I did some bobbin lace this morning, trying out a pattern for a Christmas snowflake, but I had to undo everything because I realised my thread is too thick for the pricking.  I've enlarged the pricking now and I'll have another go.  A few days ago I finished my sample of Bucks Point gimp fingers.  It looks nice but each 1/4 inch took about one hour so I can't see myself ever making anything usable in this pattern. I have mixed feelings about Bucks Point lace. I really like how it looks - to me it looks much more like 'lace' than the more geometric laces like Torchon.  But it is so incredibly slow to work, at least for me anyway.  It's also very complicated, I've only done simple patterns so far and there is so much more to learn, and I do not have a good memory.

After finishing this sample, I took the cover off my styrofoam pillow so I could wash the cover before moving it onto the replacement pillow I bought at Peterborough last week.  I was amazed at how shredded the old pillow had become. The middle, which takes the brunt of the lace pins, was basically loose crumbs.  I've realised Bucks Point lace must be particularly hard on these cheap pillows because you use so many pins set so close together.  But the advantage of these pillows is that they are very lightweight and portable.  I've got a better one which is the big circular pillow I bought for making the Idrija doiley, but it's quite heavy.

I joined together the pieces of my machine knit baby dress successfully, and I just need to knit the collar on now.  It looks alright although it would have looked better if I had done fully fashioned decreases along the raglans instead of just leaving them plain.

I've also sewn all the diagonal rows now of my William Morris grid quilt so the next job will be to sew them together into a top. I had originally planned a random mix of blocks but the value range is so wide, from very dark to relatively bright. In the end I decided if you can't beat them, join them, so I arranged some dark blocks into a square on point and filled in the middle with the brightest blocks.

At my age I need good light to see things, and I've struggled a bit with the light levels around my sewing machine because the overhead light fixture casts shadows.  I've got a clip on IKEA light which helps, but then I saw a great idea online to fix self-adhesive LED lights inside the throat of the sewing machine.  I ordered from the same supplier here.  It's hard to take a picture of because the camera is reading the light levels and darkening the machine.  It's almost too bright now under the machine, I've actually had to put some black electricians tape along the glossy machine
bed because it was reflecting the bright LEDs into my eyes. The LED strip cuts to length to suit your machine and then has its own power cord.

I'm still knitting my Reaverse slippers. I couldn't knit for a few nights because my RSI flared up in my right hand after all the pergola painting and stained glass renovating last weekend. I forgot to blog last week that I finished my Outlander socks. The designer based these on the books by Diana Gabaldon which are set in Scotland, which is why I chose a tartan-like colourway and have finished the cuffs off with stag's head buttons.  These fit well and the cuff actually helps them to stay up.

The stained glass panel had to cure for a week lying flat after I applied the cement last weekend.  So today I put it into the frame I made for it and mounted it in my bedroom window.  I really like it.  Yes there are some broken panes but I feel like I saved it because it was in pretty bad shape when we bought it at the Newark Antiques fair.  As well as looking pretty, this gives me some additional privacy as there are flats to the left that have an oblique view of this side window.  Now that the light is streaming through the glass, I can see some areas where I need to do a bit more cleaning and tidying but overall I'm quite pleased with it. Something a bit different which is what I like. I don't think I'm much of a decorator but it seems that if you keep buying things you like, somehow they mostly look good together.

On Thursday I heard a short but violent cat fight in the garden then our cat streaked in through her cat flap. I looked out and saw a much bigger cat strolling off.  Our cat seemed fine but then she went off her food on Friday and still didn't eat anything today. I suspected she had an infected wound so we hauled her off to the vet who confirmed the cat had a fever and also a bite on her back. The vet shaved a patch around the bite so we can keep an eye on it, and jabbed the cat full of £75 of antibiotics.  And of course the excess on the pet insurance is £80 so we can't claim. That cat needs to get a job. At least she hasn't gotten trapped in next door's basement for a while.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Dial-a-builder advice line - why doesn't this exist?

I've spent a lot of time this week researching online trying to figure out how to put up our pergola posts and I'm still not there yet. I need some kind of dial-a-builder advice line that I can call. The problem is basically how do you install metal post supports into concrete-filled holes resulting in three posts that are all vertical, in a line so the slot-tops all line up to accept the top beam, spaced accurately within 1cm so the trellis panels will fit in between the posts, while at the same time achieving an appropriate height for each post on sloping ground so that the top beam comes out level - and I can't just chop off the tops of the posts to achieve level because they have slotted tops.  Added to that is the question of whether the metal sockets should be flush with the future patio surface or sitting above the future patio surface [which would result in having to pour concrete in mid-air which isn't going to work, duh]. Sigh...

Meanwhile we continue to paint the second coat of dark brown stain onto the components, which is a form of productive procrastination I guess.  DH is just off to buy the fourth can of stain from Screwfix and that will be the last one we need.

Crafts are so much simpler.

I've sewn all the triangular setting blocks for the William Morris grid quilt and have begun sewing diagonal rows together.  Once the middle is all sewn together then I will work out how to do the four corner block and which fabrics to use.

Last week I did some research online on how to restore a stained glass panel.  Cutting glass to replace the broken bits is outside my technical abilities (and comfort zone) but I did watch a useful video on how to secure the glass inside the leading with 'stained glass cement' so I sent off for some of that and the accompanying 'whiting' which helps the cement to set.  On my day off I cleaned up the panel, brushing down the lead and scraping off old paint and putty. Then I applied the cement which is basically oily black goo that you force into all the cracks and crannies between the lead and the glass.  You let it set for several hours and then you clean up by scraping along each lead line to neaten the result.  I've done both sides and now it needs to lie flat for a week to finish hardening before I can mount it.  Already it feels much more like a solid panel, instead of a wobbly framework of rattling glass pieces, and it looks a lot tidier.

I knit up the faux fur headband kit earlier in the week, and have worn it a few times on the days where it's too warm for a full hat but there's still a biting wind making for cold ears.  It's knitted in Wendy Eider and creates a convincing and extremely soft faux fur.  The yarn was easier to knit with than I expected, I just had to keep the stitches well separated so I didn't accidentally k2tog, but inevitably I dropped a stitch which just vanished into the pelt and took some doing to recover.  This yarn might make a nice cowl as well.  It is rather static-y, I usually get a few sparks when I take off the headband.  I can see this yarn used as a trim for a collar on a garment knitted in some other yarn.

After the headband was finished, TV knitting went back to the Reaverse Slippers.  I've knit both soles and knit the first sock but haven't done the laces yet.  You can start to see what they will look like if I pin the sole on. These are knit in Aran merino wool.

I had another go at the machine knit baby dress and to my relief the sleeves were fairly straightforward.  I've blocked the pieces then will need to press out the hems, button bands and waistband to 'kill' the acrylic so it lies flat.  Then there is a two piece white collar to knit.

Also to my relief, when I got out the super-duper illuminated magnifying lamp and sat down with my Bucks Point gimp finger sample of lace where I thought I had gone wrong, it turns out that I hadn't and things were ok. So that was good.  Less good is trying to work out how to do the tapered end on my bookmark.  I've made several attempts at puzzling it out and keep having to undo.  I was sort of getting it on one side but that's gone wrong as well.  This is where a teacher might come in handy.  I know I need to throw out pairs as the bookmark tapers, it's just working out which pairs that is the problem. I shall persevere. I think you learn more if you try to work it out yourself, within reason. I've met lacemakers that just obediently wait to be told what to do next by their teacher and wouldn't dream of tackling things on their own in case they make a mistake.

I've spent some time this week typing up short explanatory notes to accompany my dollshouses, in preparation for the club visit. I am thinking I will print them out onto either cards or, for the bigger houses, A4 sheets in plastic sleeves, to go with each house. DH has accused me of over-preparing for this visit.

Remember patio guy?  He did actually come back after a week or so with two quotes. Unfortunately neither of them is what I asked for.  I had showed him pictures of patios  in aged pinkish brick, laid in various patterns and edged in black brick - the idea being that it would match our existing Victorian brickwork and look a bit interesting and vintage.  He has now quoted for a patio in modern black sandstone (???) and for a patio all done in one colour of terracotta paver with a border around the edge in black.   It's a bit like dealing with Baby Groot if you've seen the sequel to Guardians.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Use it or lose it

I just did a quick Google on my title to make sure it didn't have an off-colour meaning, and a whole bunch of sites came up linked to 'cognitive decline'. Yup, that would about sum it up, lol.  I've had two examples this week where I tried to use a skill after a long break and found the skill wasn't there any more.  Go figure.  It is annoying though when you used to know how to do something, and put a lot of work in to acquire that level of skill, and then find it was all for nought and your cognitive has declined.

I sat down to machine-knit a baby dress last Bank Holiday Monday, for a work colleague. The pattern is cute but not overly difficult, although it does contain some errors which tripped me up. Then I made several rookie mistakes like using waste yarn too similar in colour to my main yarn - making it extremely difficult to pick up stitches for hems and waistbands, dropping stitches while decreasing/increasing, losing track of my rows, etc. etc.  I eventually managed to achieve a front and back which are fairly similar in size - thank goodness knitting is stretchy.  I still need to do the sleeves, hopefully they will go better.

Then yesterday I attended a small lace day where I was working on my Bucks Point bookmark. I'm near the end and I am having to decrease pairs for the tapered point, and it wasn't going very well, so after a few hours I decided to park that project and instead work on my Bucks Point gimp finger sample that I had started in Scarborough and hadn't touched since.  I got it out, undid the bobbin holders and then just sat looking at it and realised I had no clue where to even start.  There are no written instructions, just a diagram.  I made a tentative start on some of the easier parts like the ground stitch, and then started trying to puzzle out what was happening with the gimp.  Why didn't I write down what I was doing??? Probably because at the time it seemed obvious. After an hour I realised something was wrong and I had an extra pair in the wrong place but I couldn't figure out where they should be. I may well have to undo everything I did. I felt clueless which made me depressed, I thought I was progressing and now it seems that I am not.

Nevertheless, I was off to the Makit Lace and Needlework Fair in Peterborough today, which is a lovely fair - mostly bobbin lace but there were also several quilting stalls, some knitting stalls, and a few other crafts like cross stitch or silk ribbon embroidery, plus guild stand and displays.  I went with a shopping list and managed to get everything on it: two more cheap styrofoam pillows because I've worn out the two I started with, threads, a couple of pretty painted bobbins, a pretty divider pin which wasn't on the list but I liked it, some spangling wire, a plastic bookmark sleeve for when I finish my bookmark, and a secondhand book of Bucks Point patterns. From one of the knitting stalls I got a little kit for a knitted headband in furry yarn to keep my ears warm, in a navy yarn.

I had lots of fun looking, plus I bumped into several people I knew from previous Lace days or courses. I found out that there is a Northampton lace group, the Nene Lacemakers who in addition to a weekday meeting, meet on a Saturday once a month so I might try going to that and see what it's like.

Other crafts this week have included turning the heel on my second Fair Isle sock, reknitting the incorrect cuff on my Outlander socks which just need decorative buttons sewn on now, getting distracted by a new slipper project the Reaverse Slippers, and building/painting a wooden frame which is going to hold the Edwardian stained glass panel we bought at Newark last year when I get the leading refurbished. I've also been piecing triangular setting blocks for my William Morris grid quilt - I can just squeeze one triangle out of the scraps left from each colourway, albeit with the directional prints not all orientated the same.

The knitting shop Knit One in Leicester, which used to be inaccessibly located out of the town centre, has now re-located to a position very near to where I work. So I popped up on my lunchtime this week to see what they're like.  They have a good range of basics in acrylic plus some nicer wool yarns, and a good range of notions including Knit Pro interchangeables which will come in handy as I have a long history of losing or breaking mine. The display system is somewhat idiosyncratic - usually shops display yarn either by weight, fibre content or brand. Her yarn is all jumbled up into broad categories such as 'baby yarn' to include all weights and fibre contents, and the cubbies aren't labelled with the brand name, just the gauge and price, so it took a bit of exploring to find what I wanted for my slippers.  There is no knitting group at present but she said she might try to find a nearby venue (the shop isn't big enough to host one). It's good news to have a shop I can get to so easily.  There are shops near where I live but they only stock lower end acrylic yarns.

This afternoon after the fair, we spent a couple of hours painting various bits of pergola with wood stain.  There are still two huge pieces of trellis to do, and then they will all need a second coat. This is a picture of the wood pieces drying in the garden.

Patio guy did eventually turn up (see last week's post) and seemed nice enough.  He said he would get a quote to me in two or three days and of course I haven't heard from him all week.  Perhaps 'builder time' passes much more slowly than real world time.

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