Saturday, 30 December 2017

Down the rabbit hole

My post title is a bit of a pun, because I've spent the last two days putting together a miniatures kit with a rabbit theme :)

In early December a random Facebook theme led me on to a whole new world of miniatures that I had never come across before.  The manufacturers are in China and/or Japan and the first series I stumbled across was called 'Theatre in a Box' consisting of incredibly detailed scenes that fit into small decorated tins.  The more I looked, the more I found, as it seems they have been churning out entire series of these for years, and it really was a rabbit hole.  The kits are readily available on Amazon and other online English sites, but also from Chinese sites that ship internationally.  There is obviously a big collector's market and there are many Youtube videos showing unboxing and assembly of the  kits.

I was intrigued but also sceptical as the prices are low, about £8.50 for one kit/one tin and the photos were generally too small to make out much detail.  I took a punt and ordered a trio of tins from Amazon (this one) which turned up before Christmas. Yesterday I felt like a change from quilting and lacing and decided to start making up one of the kits called 'Roaming around in Winter'. Inside the box were many bags full of a daunting number of components, and the pictorial instructions accompanied by a version of English required much study.  I was amazed at the detail in this kit and I have no idea how they are doing these so cheaply.  Everything you need apart from glue and tools is provided, including the lights and battery pack, and even a wooden display stand.  There is a lot of clip art to cut out and glue onto laser cut components, various terrain materials, and various findings and squares of material for making up the contents.  Although some of the components are a bit primitive, the final effect is quite good and when you turn the lights on, it's magical. I got sucked right in and ended up spending 12 hours over two days (including glue drying time) and quite enjoyed myself. Although you are assembling a kit, there is scope for personalisation and a fair bit of dexterity needed for the tiny components.

the tin

The Inn partway through the build, showing some of the internal detail including 3D fireplace
with decorated shelf inside the archway.

The finished tin on the display stand.  The switch controls the lights,
the battery pack is hidden behind the sign plaque. The little book is 3-D and
you can turn the pages.

the finished effect with the lights on. The kit includes the
pendant light and the LEDs around the rim.

 So not much quilting got done the last few days!  I have two more tins to do as well but I think I'll leave those for a while.  This one was very seasonal with its wintry theme and all the snow.

I did finish knitting the Parlour Cat,  it isn't fantastic but it is recognisably cat shaped.  The real cat doesn't think much of it.

I've worked on my two Bucks Points lace projects on several days, read through a book about Bucks Point by Alexandra Stillwell which was quite interesting, and quilted on both my frame and at my sit down machine.  I've progressed on my Latvian mitten as far as creating the thumb opening, and knit several more inches of twisted rope border onto my GAA Afghan.

On Thursday we had a family outing to the Warner Brothers Studio Tour Harry Potter exhibition.  DH and I had been before but it was the first time for DS.  A lot of the sets were themed for the season which was nice, plus there was a new exhibit about the Forbidden Forest featuring Aragog and Buckbeak. It was a fun thing to do as a family and since we all build models, we were all quite interested in the behind the scenes information about the modelmaking and artwork.

A recreation of the Yule Ball centrepiece in the
Great Hall at Hogwarts

Also this week I have finally built the hanging rack for displaying quilts that I've been planning for some time.  I've re-used the pulley and rope system that I had in the stairwell at the last house, but this time have mounted them underneath a wooden shelf.  The display area is only 146cm between two door frames, but it's enough for large wall quilts and I can display bed-size quilts folded in half.  We had the usual problems with drilling into the masonry walls, it seems inevitable to hit something that you can't drill through in an old house and we had to buy a new sharper drill and resort to the gigantic hammer drill which I originally bought many years ago to drill a cat flap with and is so heavy I can barely lift it. But we got there in the end and the brackets are pretty secure.  As the first quilt, I unearthed my doublesided bookcase row exchange quilt which hasn't been on display since 2012.  It's been folded up since we moved in three and half years ago so the creases need to hang out, which makes me realise I should get all the quilts out of my storage cupboard and give them an airing before refolding them on different lines. It will be nice to see some of the old favourites back on display now that I have a place to hang them.

Two more days off then back to work.  Hope you've had a good week of holiday and have a happy new year.

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Merry Christmas and home for the holidays

I'm on holiday!  Not back at work until the new year, it's so nice to be home.  Especially since DH was off all last week so I was the only one heading out into the cold early each morning.  So there has been a fair bit of this:


And baking: I've made a batch of gluten free lebkuchen, a batch of christmas cookies, and today we made a gingerbread house.  This meant that we could have a Christmas tea tray for our Harry Potter moviethon.

We've made it up to film six of eight, two more to go.  I'm getting lots of knitting done on my GAA Afghan and Latvian Mitten.

I've also been trying a pattern called 'Parlor Cat' by Sarah E Kellner.  It's been a bit of a tough knit because the pattern calls for worsted weight yarn, a rare commodity in the UK.  I didn't have anything suitable so I am using two strands of DK acrylic held together, which resulted in a very board-like fabric at the pattern tension and thus difficult to knit. Also the pattern is a bit mysterious as the cat is knit all in one piece by holding stitches, increasing/decreasing and knitting in two directions. But I've persevered and have something vaguely cat like. I took it to the in-laws when we paid our Christmas visit on my day off, and was being mocked by my family for how odd it was looking at that point, f-i-l really didn't think it was going to be a cat.

I've been enjoying the time to do some crafts this weekend:  I've been working on both my Bucks Point lace projects, I've done more quilting on the Star Sampler quilt on the quilting frame, some sit-down quilting on the Snowman Quilt, some cross-stitch and I made up the 'Santa letter' Christmas ornament kit by Trim-its that I bought a while ago at a lace fair I think.  I was impressed with this kit, only £2.75 but it had everything in it including stuffing.

I couldn't resist taking a picture of my improvised Christmas village along the top of our coat bench, some of the houses have lights inside.

And I'm still enjoying my sock yarn calendar.  Since I didn't start it until the 13th, I've now reached the 24th and will have a pause before starting again on 1 January with 12 more doors to open.  Something to look forward to in the new year.

Tonight we are going to a carol service in a local church, and then tomorrow is the main event.  We'll be doing the traditional turkey and accoutrements for supper, with a brunch of  hot bacon and egg sandwiches to top up the high-sugar diet in the meantime. And not forgetting the Queen at 3pm. 

I hope you have a lovely Christmas (if you celebrate it) and happy holidays.  Merry Christmas!!!

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Seasonal interest

Well in the end we had about four inches of snow at my house in Northamptonshire last Sunday.  It felt really Christmas-y and we went out for a family walk in the snow in the afternoon.  So unusual for the south, DS had never seen so much snow.The roads were a disaster so DH worked from home Monday and Tuesday but as the trains kept running, I had to make the arduous trek from home to station/station to work (two miles) on untreated pavements, and then do the reverse in the evenings, trying not to fall.  When I finally arrived at work on Monday I felt like I should be walking in to a resounding cheer and applause for my achievement, but of course nobody cared - they all live locally and had just driven in without much problem because Leicestershire seems to clear its roads more thoroughly.

After some rain on Wednesday the snow has almost disappeared, although we were in Oxford this weekend and there were still some traces plus some large lumpy remnants of snowmen on many lawns.  This year DH and I decided to have a weekend in Oxford instead of giving each other gifts.  We booked B&B in Wadham college, a picturesque medieval college centrally located, which lets out student rooms out of term time.  This was the view of the front quad from our window.

Wadham was founded in 1609 and we had breakfast today in the wonderful great hall with its hammer-beam ceiling, and also visited the impressive chapel and strolled around the grounds.  So much fun to feel like an insider, we'd driven past Wadham many times but this is the first time we'd been inside.

We had a lovely time in Oxford despite some cold rainy weather.  The Christmas market was on and we enjoyed a gourmet marshmallow and bought some more Christmas decorations.  I also fell in love with this handbag shaped like a dollshouse and treated myself, merry christmas to me  :)

On the drive there we stopped in to the big antiques centre in Brackley for a wander around.  We didn't buy any antiques but I did find a whole shelf of lace books, probably someone's former library.  I bought four as they were only a few pounds each.  The foreign book is particularly interesting because I was given a lace picture some years ago by an older friend before she passed, it was made by her cousin in Australia. And there is the picture on the cover of this book! So the cousin must have somehow acquired this middle-european book in Australia and made a picture which then travelled to England and ended up with me. Small world. I always get the picture out at Christmas and it makes me think of my friend.

Today we took the tour of the Bodleian Library, primarily because it also visited the Radcliffe Camera.  We've been walking and driving past the Radcliffe for years because it's near DS's college but never got to go inside because it's restricted to students. So we were excited to finally see the interior with the magnificent domed ceiling above the upper reading room.  We also enjoyed Duke Humphrey's library which was filmed as the Hogwarts library in the Harry Potter films, I think perhaps we might watch those again over Christmas.

After a flurry of decorating early in the week, we are now ready for Christmas.  Due to the quilt frame in the dining room, the tree has had to in the hall this year so the size was restricted otherwise we wouldn't get the front door open.  The cat is enjoying having it there tremendously and I generally find a bauble on the floor every morning.

I'm enjoying opening a door on my Opal Sock Wool Advent calendar every morning and revealing another cute little ball of yarny goodness. Not sure what I'll make with them but there are lots of projects on Ravelry.

On my day off, I took a break from quilting and sewed a Christmas scene using the foundation piecing technique and a pattern from a long-ago issue of Quilter's Newsletter magazine.  I was going to make it into a card for the m-i-l but I came across one of the mini easels I bought from The Works earlier in the year. These come complete with canvas so I stapled the fabric over the canvas then glued the greeting onto the back. It makes an unusual 'card' which she will be able to display as a decoration!

I've been persevering with my Latvian mitten.  This is the third attempt.  The second attempt had to be ripped out again because I just find stranding with four colours in a row so difficult, and it once again became very tight and lumpy.  This time I am really making an effort to keep the strands loose and it's going better.  The downside is uneven stitching but at least the mitten isn't drawing in too much.

I'm hoping to do lots of crafts over Christmas.  I've got to work this week but I'm off between Christmas and New Year so looking forward to lots of stitching in various forms.  Hope you are also looking forward to some craft time, and have completed any Christmas makes.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

The great blizzard of 2017?

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

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


(back to the normal blog)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Christmas is looming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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