Sunday, 30 July 2017

Proud parents

We had a very proud day this week when we attended our son's graduation ceremony at Oxford University.

He is now an MChem, or Master of Chemistry, after four years of study. It was such a lovely day, the atmosphere with all the excited students and families milling about was really joyful, and the threatened rain never materialised.  We had to leave home early to make the drive to Oxford and get the Park 'n Ride bus into town, then we joined the crowd inside his college where students were collecting the ceremony tickets for their visitors and queuing up to collect their gowns.  The grandparents joined us as well and of course we were taking lots of pictures.  Then we left DS behind and headed over to the Sheldonian theatre for the ceremony, where we had to join a long queue of several hundred parents and guests snaking its way inside.  We were very lucky with our seats, right up at the very top of the building where we ended up looking directly down at DS as he sat with his college, and we had a clear view of the ceremony. (we also had a cushion to sit on, unlike most of the guests!)

Afterwards we rejoined Grandad (DS was only allowed three guests so Grandma came in with us) and headed back to his college for a reception with prosecco and nibbles.  A distinguished academic in full robes came up to chat politely with us and congratulate John, and afterwards we found out it was the college Principal!  I guess he thought we would know who he was, lol.  We had the official photos taken of DS on his own and with the five of us, then headed over for a late pub lunch.  It was such a nice day, we all really enjoyed it but were so tired by the time we got home.

So that's it, he is no longer a student and is officially unemployed and living on our bounty.  He is helping out around the house and cooking on my work days which is a treat for me, and job hunting of course.  He is hoping to get something in patent law but it is quite a difficult field to get into apparently.  I expect he is going to be living with us for some time.


I can finally show you the picture I thought I would be posting last week, which is my machine quilting frame  fully assembled and operational at long last.  Yes, we found all the pieces. We put it together in stages over the week, and I gave the machine a good clean and oil and installed it on the carriage.  It took me a while to re-familiarise myself with it, and there was a good 20 minutes where I couldn't get it to sew which turned out to be because the needle threads from left to right, not right to left like my sit-down machine!

I loaded a test sandwich and did an hour of practice stippling to get the feel for the motion again.  I'm basically starting almost from scratch and need to re-learn what skill I had four years ago.  Luckily my past self wrote a bunch of useful notes on how it all works, knowing that my future self wouldn't remember.  Useful tips like keeping track of how many passes you can make before your bobbin runs out, so that you can anticipate when the next bobbin will run out.  I also took a lot of photos four years ago before I put it away, of how everything was set up, which really helped this time around.  As you can see, I have my first quilt loaded.  This is my lowest priority top, and I am doing the most simple medium stippling while I get my hand back in.  The snowball blocks were from a rescue top I bought on a junk table at the Sisters quilt show in 2007, and I rearranged them and added a border in 2015. I've done about five passes so far, each pass being about 5" of the surface, so I have a while to go yet.  I'm concentrating on trying to get my stitches smaller because at the moment it's hard not to start rushing while concentrating on steering.  One of my tracks has a four inch split in it and there is an ominous cracking noise as the heavy machine passes over that part, so I may have to cut that out and splice in a bit of spare track if it starts impeding the carriage travel.  As you can see, the frame takes up one end of the dining room so the table has had to be crowded to the other end of the room.  I envy people whose workroom is big enough that they can keep a frame set up year round.  I'm just hoping I can get through all my tops and get the frame disassembled and stowed away before Christmas.   Stupid job taking up all my time, grrrr....

Commuter knitting continues to be the Debbie Bliss Cotton Denim Cowl.  I'm making a shorter version than given in the pattern, so have already switched to my second tonal colour of yarn.  I've got the pattern memorised now so it's a straightforward knit.

TV knitting has been sewing up the GAA afghan squares.  After crocheting around all the squares with the same number of chains, the sewing up is really straightforward and is creating a nice flat seam.  I've joined all the squares into rows and am just starting to join the rows. Despite carefully pre-blocking all the squares to the same size, I'm finding that several have reverted to being too small/large/peaked, probably because the yarn is a wool/acrylic blend rather than pure wool. But I think once they are all seamed, the inherent stretchiness of knitting will let it all drape out.

Today after doing my stint on the quilting frame, I applied the 30s decorative paper to the hairdressing salon.  I haven't done anything about covering the edges yet, but already it is looking better. I applied the paper with Mod Podge, once that's dry I will apply some sealer for protection.  I also need to create a pavement/sidewalk in front, I need to look up what those were made out of in the 1930s - presumably concrete?

Yesterday I had my annual outing to the FibreEast knitting festival over in Ampthill.  It's a nice fair and I'm lucky that it's not too far from me.  However, I didn't feel as engaged with it this year as in previous years.  I don't know if it's because I've been several times now, or because it wasn't so crowded in the afternoon (I have generally gone in the mornings in past years when it's a lot busier).  It felt like there weren't as many traders but I don't know if that's true or not.  I was looking for Blacker Yarns but they weren't there.  I went round everything twice in a little over an hour but only bought one skein of charcoal sock yarn.  I was tempted on a couple of other stands but they were stands where I had bought things in previous years that I'm not sure I've used yet.  Still, lots of nice yarn to fondle and things going on to look at.

I've done a bit more bobbin lace but obviously there hasn't been as much free time with the quilting frame to put together.  My new lace pillow arrived: after consulting with a few experts, I've invested in a moveable block pillow from Harlequin Lace.  Moveable blocks let you keep the work closer to you and do away with having to physically un-pin the work and move it back up the pillow when you are doing a long strip of lace, always a risky endeavour. I've also picked up some more secondhand bobbins so I have enough that I could start another project to work on the side while I am doing the long term hexagonal edging.  I'm a sucker for gear, I admit it.  In fact I've felt quite attracted to some hobbies like weaving just because of the great gear and gadgets, and not so much because I think I would enjoy weaving, lol. I have a particular weakness for secondhand gear that is selling at a huge discount compared to what it cost new - which is how I ended up with over a dozen old knitting machines at one point in my career (now passed on) because I kept coming across them at boot sales.

And that's about it this week.  Hope you've had a nice week and got some crafting done too!

Sunday, 23 July 2017

The purloined letter

The big exciting news that I thought I would be sharing with you in this post was going to be a picture of my machine quilting frame assembled for the first time in four years.  However, due to stupidity that has not happened yet.

I did try.  I unearthed my binder of instructions and started reading through it on a couple of my journeys to work. Then Tuesday night I asked the DH and DS to carry up the heavier boxes of components and the long box containing the poles.  I scrabbled around my sewing room trying to remember all the hidey holes where I had stashed the various bits. There was a bad ten minutes where I just couldn't find all the long table supports until I remembered a cranny behind my fabric shelves tucked in beside a bookcase. Wednesday night DH nobly volunteered to help me put it together.  By then I had realised the plastic tracks that carried the carriage were missing, but I thought I had everything else.  Following the instructions, we put together the end leg assemblies and then we were ready for the frame ends.  Only, they weren't there.  They weren't in any of the boxes or bags.  A long depressing search  ensued.  I went through the sewing room multiple times, we excavated the junk room in a hot and sweaty search involving much banging of my head on the low slanted ceiling - which did produce the plastic tracks stowed away in our plasma TV screen box - but no sign of the frame ends anywhere. I  trawled through every other room where they might be, but no sign of them.  As these are the main supports for holding up the poles that support the quilt, they are absolutely essential.

The only thing I could think was that somehow, somewhere, during one of our multiple moves three and a half years ago in and out of self storage, the removal company's storage, and the trip up to our new town, they went missing.  I even contacted customer service at the Grace Company in America to ask if they by any chance have two frame ends for a Next Generation quilting frame tucked away on a back shelf, and they said they would look.

Here comes the stupidity part.  I had snapped a photo early in the process of all the components on the floor of the dining room, for the blog.  It was only when I was loading the picture into this post, in preparation for a good moan about missing parts, that I spotted in the picture the metal bits to the left of the box of poles.  Yes, those are the missing frame ends. Mystified, I went back to the dining room and moved the box of poles, and there were the frame ends underneath it!  So the missing parts had been in the dining room during all the hours of searching.  We had looked in the box of poles a couple of times, but never thought of looking underneath it. Duh. Now I have to email Grace again and call them off. (smacks head several times).  At least we can finish putting the frame together.

The rest of the week I have been doing a lot of bobbin lace. I had signed up for one day of a local Bucks Point lace course tutored by Jackie Poulter, who turned out to be an energetic and excellent teacher.  I wanted to have a decent amount of my edging done to show her when I got to class, so I spent some hours this week pushing on with it. The class itself was very good and I learned a lot, but I was absolutely exhausted by the end of it.  I'm not used to making lace so intensively for a whole day, plus I felt pressured to get to a certain point with the pattern so that Jackie could show me how to turn the corner.  I'm also finding doing this pattern is making my eyes very tired and I'm not sure if it's because my prescription has changed or if the focal length between my eyes and this large 24" pillow is a challenge to my bi-focals. Anyway, I got on well and enjoyed seeing what everyone else was doing.  This is what it looks like so far. It's quite a pretty pattern.  I hope it isn't too many years before I finish it and have a completed mat!  But this segment, which is perhaps three inches long, has taken perhaps 18-20 hours so far.

Even the sewing this week has been about lace.  I made a large round cover cloth for the 24" pillow I am using, the cover that I am holding open in the picture above to reveal the lace.  The cover cloth protects the pillow surface from the movement of the bobbins and from getting dirty.  I also sewed a large bag to hold the 24" pillow because it was too big to fit into the bag I made in the spring to hold my smaller cookie pillows.

After making the 1930s decorative paper last week for the hairdressing salon, I was having a look at it on Thursday.  It's in pretty rough shape.  Eileen was only partway through it and then it suffered neglect while she was ill then got tossed about on its journey to my house.  I've decided to glue the front on and cover the top of the salon with plexiglass to let the light in. So after taking these pictures, I glued and clamped the front onto the three sided room box.

And that's about it this week. I'm still crocheting around knitted GAA squares, and have done about five repeats on the Debbie Bliss cotton denim cowl during commuter knitting.

Sunday, 16 July 2017


The first part of this week was spent regrouping after the holiday and the in-laws visiting: laundry, unpacking, retrieving all the clutter from the hidey-holes where I had concealed it, hacking back the garden, unpacking DS and getting him back into his room (which doubles as the guest room), moving furniture back into the proper rooms etc.  So not a lot of energy for anything major craftwise.

I did block the Rose Window hat and it is now finished and handed over to DH. It fits fine and he quite likes it. I haven't wound the skein of yarn yet into a cake for the second hat for me.

I've started the Ciao! cowl by Gretha Oceann using the Debbie Bliss Cotton Denim I bought on the Isle of Wight.  I will knit roughly one-third in each of the three denim tones I bought.

TV knitting has mostly been crocheting around the 20 squares of the GAA Afghan. I've done about half so far.  It is slow going as it involves lots of counting (something I'm not good at) to check I'm getting the right number of stitches on each side. Hopefully this is all going to pay off with an easy seaming job at the end. Then there is a knitted edging to make.

This is the sewing-themed wall clock I bought on our holiday. It's just a budget clock with a machine embroidered fabric circle inserted.

I didn't like the black frame so I took the clock apart and sprayed the plastic base with primer and then a nice blue colour.  It looked really good so I glued the embroidery back in and added a few buttons as an extra touch. The final step after adding the clock, or so I thought, was to click the plastic face back into the frame and I would be done.  However, I hadn't reckoned with the very tight fit of the plastic face.  It basically scraped the blue paint off the frame in several places around the inside rim of the clock. As well as being unsightly and filling the clock interior with shavings, through some quirk of physics many of the shavings were attracted by static electricity to the inside of the clear cover and almost welded themselves to the plastic.

I glued a ribbon around the inside of the clear cover to hide some of the damage, then a farcical 20 minutes ensued where I would (*) brush out the shavings and try to un-static the shavings sticking to the inside of the clear cover, then try ever so carefully to slide the cover on without scraping, but without success then have to take the cover off again (*).  Repeat the directions from * to * approximately 10 times. Eventually everything that was going to scrape off had done so, and I was able to get the now rather beaten up cover on with just one paint crumb sticking to the inside which I have decided to ignore.  I then had to touch up the frame a bit where it had become damaged. I've hung it on the wall and called it done.  It looks fine as long as you don't look too closely, lol.

As I said earlier, I've hacked the garden back a bit this week, cutting back things that had finished like the geraniums and campanula.  We had decided some time ago that our attempt at growing a box hedge around our central feature had not worked. I think it's just too dry and exposed there, and the Japanese Ilex I had planted was not growing at all.  I'd been thinking about replacing it with a lavender hedge when fortuitously Aldi (a budget supermarket) brought in a bunch of good-sized lavender pots at only £2.49 each.  So I bought 15 of those, potted up all the Ilex in case we can use it somewhere else, and planted the lavenders instead.  It instantly looks much better and hopefully they will thrive there.  I don't know what variety they are as it doesn't say on the label, some lavenders don't like exposed sites. It will probably be alright for the summer, it's the winter that might do for it, but the price was cheap enough that I am prepared to take a punt on it. As you can see, our lawn has suffered in the hot weather.

On the sewing front, I've trimmed all the blocks for my 25 block applique quilt to size and have sewn them into five rows so far.  On my lace, I finished winding all my bobbins and have finally started my Bucks Point hexagonal edging.  This is a picture of what I'm making. It's a mat designed to have fabric inserted in the centre.

Inline images 1

It's the biggest project I've tried so far, and I will probably be working on it for quite some time.  I've successfully started (after one early false start) and have all 42 pairs of bobbins in play now - so far it's going ok.  I'm going to take a day course soon on Bucks Point, and this will be the project I take with me, hopefully the teacher will approve of what I've done so far.

I haven't done any dollshousing this week but I've started to think about one of my remaining UFOs which is a model of a 1930s hairdressing salon. I inherited the project from my older friend Eileen who has since passed, it recreates her father's salon where she also worked.  She talked me through what her plans had been for it so I have something to go on.  Today I was working on creating some decorative paper to cover the plain wood on the outside of the room box.  I scanned in advertisements from some genuine 1930s needlework magazines that I own, then cropped them and collaged the ads together to fill an A3 sheet which I can get printed. I think it will look cool and in keeping with the theme of the box.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

And it's finally happened

Regular readers will know that I've been preparing for several months for a visit by my dollshouse club to view my houses.  Having a deadline has been a driver to complete many long-outstanding projects as well as putting right niggling issues with older houses.  The last few weeks I've been preparing signage for the houses and for our house to direct people towards toilets/garden/ downstairs room etc, not to mention doing an unaccustomed amount of housework.

And today it finally happened.  I imported my in-laws to handle the catering side of things, and my m-i-l made three cakes and two kinds of scones in preparation for visitors.  DS was on go-fer duty and bussing tables, while DH was co-host and also helping get people up and down the basement stairs.

I set up the back opening houses in the dining room for easier 360-degree viewing, and added a few small tables for teas.

I re-arranged the main dollshouse room so that everything could be seen clearly and had its write-up nearby.

As recently as last month's meeting, it wasn't at all clear how many people were coming so we didn't know whether to expect 6 or 20.  We prepared for 20 and just prayed that somebody would come. We were joking that if it were only a few people then we would have to hold them hostage until they ate several pieces of cake each.  But to my relief we did eventually have 12 people in total turn up.  They all had a really good look at both displays and were very complimentary. In fact they have now asked me to give a talk on next year's programme about how I got into dollshousing and about some of the projects I have completed!  Then most people repaired out to the garden for refreshments although a few people preferred to stay inside in the dining room.

I alternated between visiting all the groups and chatting and answering questions, while the in-laws took care of top-ups and the catering side.  It was a very jolly group and they stayed for a few hours enjoying the sunshine in the garden.  I hadn't asked for anything for hosting but they very kindly had a whip round for charity and raised an impressive £50 which I have donated to MacMillan Cancer Support.

And now it's over.  It feels funny when something you have been preparing for over a long period is suddenly over.  Now I have no excuse not to tackle things like getting my quilt frame out or starting one of the many dollshouse kits awaiting my attention.


We were actually away the past five days on a short break to the Isle of Wight. Although I had booked for three, in the end DS had to go back to Oxford to defend his thesis so it was just the two of us.  We had a lovely time, we were very lucky with the weather and the cottage I had rented turned out to be very comfortable.  We used to go to the island regularly when DS was small, so 15 or so years ago, but hadn't been for a long time.  It was really nice to be back, and we had fun visiting our old haunts such as the fabulous Mother Goose bookstore in St Helens, and the lovely Shanklin Chine and the beach below it, and the beach at St Helens where we used to camp many years ago.  I managed to fit in a visit to Strictly Knitting in Shanklin which is a very nice knitting store.  I bought three colours of Debbie Bliss Cotton Denim DK to knit a cowl, and some Araucania Botany Lace to knit another Rose Window hat.  I also visited the Hellerslea Fabric Store in Newport, which was a good size with a wide range of haberdashery, quilting and home dec fabric but I didn't buy anything there.

I took along the Rose Window Hat as a project and finished it on the drive home, it's blocking right now.  I also took my ancient cross stitch project and did a few square inches, as well as my GAA Afghan Squares  to crochet around in preparation for joining.  And my Victorian Lace Today shawl which I managed to finish the main section and cast off in preparation for the knit-on border.  So yes, about half the car was taken up with my craft projects.  At the book stores I found a secondhand copy of Christine Springett's Lace for Children of all Ages, and a lovely cross-stitch book in French with very attractive designs featuring houses.  We visited several art and craft shops so I also managed to bring home a sewing-themed clock, some art glass, a hanging teacup for the garden summerhouse, some LED garden lights, biscuits for work colleagues, and quite a few books.  It was a job to fit the in-laws' luggage into the car when we collected them on the way home!  It was a nice break, and felt much longer than it was.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Boo housework

Not much to talk about this week as I've spent a lot of time hacking the house and garden into shape ready for the in-laws to visit and the dollshouse club outing. The downside of not doing much housework the rest of the time is it takes a while to get things into shape.

I've done a few more inches on the Rose Window hat and am now decreasing for the crown.  I'm also on the final garter stitch border of the main section of my Victorian lace shawl so will be moving on to the knit on border soon. I've also started experimenting with crocheting a chain around each of my 20 blocks for the GAA Afghan, trying to achieve the same number of crochet stitches on each side no matter what size the block is. The theory is that this will make it easier and neater to sew together.

On the quilting front, I cut the white binding strips for my Bear's Paw quilt then moved on to ironing all 25 blocks of my 25 block applique quilt.  I measured them all to make sure I can trim them to 17", a few are going to be a bit scant but the majority are fine.  I've started the trimming now, my heart a bit in my mouth as I try not to make an irreparable mistake.

I finished pricking the pattern for my Bucks Point hexagonal edging at long last.

I'm still winding bobbins, I need 39 pairs (78 bobbins) wound fairly full, so it is taking quite a while.  I think I have about 28 pairs wound so far.

And that's about it this week. At least the house is looking nice now.  I happened to look out the window while carting stuff around and spotted the cat somehow on top of our pergola.  I think she climbed up the rose arch then jumped across.

Speaking of spotting wildlife, I saw a river otter on the way to work this week.  It was raining steadily and I was walking through a park near a river, when suddenly the otter emerged from a bush and crossed the path about 10 feet in front of me.  It was huge, like a ferret on steroids, and had an odd conical tail.  It was probably at least 2.5 feet long. It didn't look at me, just trotted across the path then slipped into the river and disappeared.  I didn't have time to take a photo so here is a picture from Google.

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We've been getting ready for our plumber/builder to start the installation of the shower at long last in our main bathroom in a couple of weeks. Only now he's not coming, he emailed last week to say that his previous jobs have run over and now he won't have time because he's going on holiday in August. I'm feeling like I can't give my money away when it comes to this shower, we've been trying to get someone for three years now, we keep waiting months and they keep letting us down.  I emailed him back to see if he could start in September instead and he hasn't answered yet. So infuriating.  We've now got someone lined up to install the patio underneath the pergola, he reckons he will get it done in the next month in between bigger jobs but it remains to be seen.  It would be nice because then we could get the plants in and actually use the pergola while it's still summer.

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