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.

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