Sunday, 28 January 2018

Crafting and crafty days out

It's been quite a crafty week although paradoxically I don't have a lot to show you because it's mostly been putting time in on existing projects.

I delivered a workshop to my dollshouse club one evening this week, so had to spend time the past week putting together 30 kits, writing instructions and making a sample.  I was worried because of the wide range of skill level but people seem to enjoy themselves on the day. I'm glad it's over with though.

I've put a lot of time in on my project to build a travelling lace pillow.  I've now got a complete central box holding the roller pillow with two lidded storage compartments flanking it.  It's extraordinary how long it took to get this far, there are multiple layers of matboard glued together so it's fairly sturdy. But my hat goes off to people practicing the art of cartonnage (box making) because it's really difficult to accurately cut all the box pieces and think about how they are going to fit together and be covered with the finished layer of fabric.  I've used up quite a lot of my only jar of Aline's Designer Thick Tacky Glue which appears to be either discontinued or just not available in the UK, but it's the best thing I've found for gluing fabric to cardboard.  I've ordered a replacement jar of Aline's Super Thick Tacky Glue from America which I gather is not the same product and is a bit runnier, but we'll see.  I've been trying to decide what I want to do for the working apron surface that the bobbins will rest on.  I was originally following the French example I posted about last week until I realised that unfolded it was going to be wider than my lace pillow currently, and since the whole point is to come up with something more portable, that didn't make sense.  I've done a mock up of an apron using old sheeting fabric to experiment with how I will close the sides in, I think I'm going to stiffen the front and back aprons with card but have floppy sides so I can tuck them out of the way when using the pillow.  Here is the main box and roller so far:

The main evening project this week  has been my knitted doll. I finished all the body pieces and steam blocked them, and I've been assembling them according to the directions in the book. This is the first time I've knit a toy in cotton yarn. It's more difficult to knit with (for me anyway) but the finished knitting feels and looks much nicer, it's firmer than acrylic yarn so holds the stuffing shape better without stretching so much.  In commuter knitting I am now tackling her clothes, starting with her dress.

I've done several more passes on the quilt frame, passing the halfway point on the Blue and White China Quilt and I even forced myself to do an hour or so of sit down quilting on the Snowman quilt last weekend. I've been evaluating what's left in the queue, only two tops left on my hanging rack.  One is a Lone Star which really deserves to be quilted on the sit down machine rather than have an all-over design on the frame, but I could baste it on the frame.  The other is the vintage top I bought at the European Patchwork show and I need to think about whether I want to quilt it this time (it may need borders adding on to it) or leave it until the next quilt frame cycle in a couple of years. So there is a real chance that the quilt frame could be coming down in a month or so.  It will be nice to have the dining room back.

Yesterday I spent a pleasant day making lace at the Crafty Bobbins Lace Day in Rushden. All attendees were given a gift on arrival of a felt needlebook embroidered with the club name, which was a nice thought, and there were two suppliers selling bobbins and spangles, refreshments, a raffle, quiz and of course cake.  I got lots done on my Bucks Point hexagonal edging while enjoying the company on my table,  One of the suppliers had brought along a suitcase of their personal antique lace and textile collection and was showing it to interested parties.  She had some gorgeous antique fans, some antique lace parasols, and many examples of different kinds of lace. It was a real treasure trove as she has been collecting for years and I really enjoyed seeing and handling some of her finds, especially as I just finished reading the book on Identification of Lace that I bought in Brackley a few weeks ago.

Today I headed down to London to visit the City of London dollshouse festival, held in a hotel conference room right next to Tower Bridge.  So I had a lovely walk around the Tower of London and out to the Thames to admire the iconic bridge before heading inside.  At first I felt rather like an imposter, I haven't done much dollshousing since the summer, and nothing was really catching my eye.  But then I found two stalls that I really liked. Michael Mortimer had some unusual furniture pieces, including a few variations of this attractive Moorish Cabinet.  I bought the corner cupboard version.  He also had an exquisite bobbin lace pillow on a special table with its own upholstered footstool which he said was by a Spanish maker, but out of my price range unfortunately. The other stand was Chriser Miniatures from Barcelona in Spain, with some really interesting suitcases, steamer trunks, and vintage marvels such as a suitcase containing a foldout camp bed, or a trunk with a fold out ironing board.  I chose an aged trunk with hangers, and a battered suitcase. I'm not sure where I'll put them yet but I really liked their work.  I bought a little oil lamp from Country Treasures to go on the table in my Gamekeeper's cottage, and from CJ Miniatures I fell for a 1:48 scale kit to make a scene in a book - in this case a Regency scene from Pride and Prejudice.  Because I needed more kits....

After the show I headed along to the V&A museum for my annual pilgrimage to educate myself while getting some value out of my membership.  I've stayed a member even though I don't work in London anymore, and I probably did get the cost back today as I visited three exhibits:  Opera, the Power and the Passion, which gave an interesting insight into the origins of opera while you enjoyed an operatic 'soundscape' on headphones created especially for the exhibition.  There was even a piece of 17thC Venetian needlepoint lace in one of the cabinets about the origins of Opera.  The Balenciaga exhibition had many beautiful garments but also interesting films and display boards about how they were created and the artisans who worked on them.  I came away with a free template for making his famous one-seam coat which reminds me of the Baby Surprise Jacket and I'm wondering if you could do something like it in knitting.  My final visit was to the Winnie the Pooh Exploring a Classic which was mainly about the collaboration between the author AA Milne and the illustrator EH Shephard. This was labelled 'sold out' but they still let members in, but it was packed and hard to look around, not to mention all the small children treating it all as a big playground - which it did seem to be designed to be, with special children-only playrooms and doorways. I was interested to learn that many of the illustrations were drawn from life, in places where AA Milne was living with his family.  Afterwards I had a cup of tea in the new members' room which I didn't think much of.  The old members' room, although shabby, was a quiet haven where you could take a relaxing break from the effort of museum visiting, and it was up to you if you wanted to enjoy a cup of tea while you sat or not.  The new members' room is entirely a busy, noisy cafe, you can only sit if you buy an expensive cup of tea, it was packed, and the tables are close together - no more relaxing sofas.  It seems pointless, if you want to be crowded into a noisy cafe, you might as well do it downstairs where there is more choice, the whole feeling of benefit and something special is gone.  I filled out a visitor's comment card but I'm sure it will achieve nothing.

On the way back to the station I stopped into Loop knitting, in Camden Passage.  I wanted some metal straight needles for knitting the doll clothes but they didn't have any, only wooden straights or dpns.  I did pick up a few balls of yarn for a future project, but I've had trouble with their service before and it was much the same this time.  Although I didn't have to stand there with money in my hand while two shopclerks had a nice chat about their weekend like on one of my past visits.  But I did stand there with my wallet in my hand and my basket on the cash desk for several minutes while the woman faffed about with her computer till and ignored me.  Eventually she looked at me and asked if I needed any help?  I suppressed my immediate sarcastic impulse relating to why else would I be standing there with my basket on the counter, and just asked if I could pay now please.  Guess I'll have to try local charity shops for metal needles in the 2.5mm size I want.  Afterwards I walked along Camden Passage and was a bit sad at how gentrified it is now.  I visited several times in the 90s to pick up bits of vintage crochet from amongst the many antique stalls and shops, but those are almost all gone now.  They've been replaced by lots of upmarket cafes, a sushi bar, a sofa shop and the building that used to have lots of dealers in it is now a Reiss clothing shop.  There were still a few shops and outdoor stands clinging on - perhaps there are more on another day that isn't Sunday afternoon? Anyway, it was nice being back in London, it seems so long since I used to work there and it's such an amazing city.

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Snowing inside and outside

It's actually attempting to snow as I type this, a light almost-rain that is frosting the garden.  If we hadn't had the heavy snow at Christmas time, I might have been excited and even taking pictures.  It's been cold and damp travelling to work this past week, although I am encouraged that it's much lighter in the mornings and when I leave work, so you can imagine that spring will come eventually.  I need to get some more weeding done before that happens though.

It's been nice to stay indoors and work on crafts in this weather.  I finished sewing the binding on the Star Sampler Quilt and have hung it up in the hallway so I can enjoy it for a while.

I've done several passes on the Blue China Quilt. Even though I can only roll on three inches at a time, it feels like light speed doing this simple panto compared to the painstaking continuous curve quilting on the Star Sampler. It feels really good to finally be quilting this ancient UFO.

I'm trying to overcome my procrastination and get back to quilting my Snowman quilt on the sit down machine but I really do not enjoy pushing layers of fabric around under the machine and the constant re-adjustments of the quilting area.  I've got to get it done though, I've got two more quilt tops sandwiched up waiting their turn after this one.

I had temporarily moved the Snowman quilt off my sewing desk for what I thought would be a quick job.  My cross stitch Lapman lap frame has a beanbag cushion in the lid, so that the frame stays put on your lap and feels comfy.  Only the cushion was thinly supplied with beads and they keep sliding to the sides so it didn't feel very comfortable any longer.  I bought some more bean bag polystyrene beads so I could top it up.  I ever so carefully opened up one side of the cushion to create an opening without spilling any beads, but through some quirk of static electricity, found that the beads were defying gravity to leap out of the opening and cling to my hands.  Soon it looked like I was wearing polystyrene bead gloves plus they were getting all over my sewing table.  I shovelled in more beads from the new bag but every time I put my hand near the cushion opening, more beads were jumping out to cling to me.  It soon looked like it had been snowing in my sewing room. Once I had filled enough, I seamed the cushion shut then had to try to collect the loose beads.  Now my hands seemed to be repelling them, as I tried to brush the beads into heaps, they were actually leaping away in all directions.  I gave up and fetched the hoover (after brushing off my hands) and sucked them all up. A waste but then I still have most of a new bag if I ever need any more. I'm still finding the odd pellet here and there.

I did some work on my Bucks Point edging yesterday.  I'm still having trouble at one tricky spot but having finally got it right, I have now drawn myself a diagram which will hopefully help in future.  I've been getting a bit impatient with having this huge flat pillow (24" diameter) to work one narrow edging.  I had a Google and turned up a clever folding travel lace pillow that some French lacemakers have made themselves. 

I found a jumbled tutorial in French here and I've been translating and re-ordering it into something I can understand.  I've made a start by constructing my roller insert, made from a pool noodle wrapped in wool felt.

Also this weekend I have finished my second Chinese Theatre in a Box.  I'm glad I made the other kit first because this one is definitely cruder and less detailed.  It was still fun to do but as a dollshouser I feel annoyed by the non-functional stairs and the crude chairs etc., also the out of scale plants.   As a summer scene it makes a nice contrast with the winter scene I did first and I am still enjoying turning on the light switch.

I'm continuing to knit doll pieces during commuter knitting, and am knitting my second arm at the moment.  TV knitting was taken over by sewing on the quilt binding for a while, but now I am back on the GAA Afghan edging and approaching the next corner.

And that's it this week.  It's still snowing tiny flakes.  The cat has decided it's not worthwhile and has come back inside to sit on the windowsill and stare out at it. There is a little trail of wet muddy footprints across my desk (and paperwork) on the way to the window, yay.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

A quilt off the frame

I finally finished quilting the Star Sampler quilt which has been on the frame since the end of November.  It took a long time because I was doing continuous curve quilting around every piece and meandering in the borders, aiming for a vintage look.  Some of my quilting is pretty wonky but I quite like the overall effect of the stitching on these traditional blocks.  After taking this picture I ran the quilt through the washing machine which has brought out all the texture, and it's drying now. Once it's fully dry I will steam it and then sew on the binding around the edges. 

When I got to the end of the quilt I had to roll back and unpick some of the terrible quilting at the beginning (tension problems and general wonkiness) but not as much as I feared so it didn't take too long to repair.  I've now loaded on the next quilt which is the Blue & White China Quilt.  This is an ancient project which I think actually pre-dates this blog so prior to 2007.  I've never quilted it because it's a framed medallion style quilt and I always felt to do it properly, it should have special border quilting in all the panels and as it is enormous that would take the rest of my life. It's been on my guilt list for years and I've finally decided to just bung it on the frame and quilt an all-over panto pattern and then it will at least be done.

On the knitting front, I've done a bit more on my Latvian Mitten.  I'm getting on alright with it now but still unable to achieve an even texture while stranding four colours in a row, so it's a bit lumpy.  I'm sure once it's blocked and gets worn, it will look better.  It's sure going to be warm because it's so thick with all that stranding. These aren't my colours, they are what came in the kit.

Swooze asked to see my progress on the twisted rope border for my GAA Afghan so here you are.  I'm just finishing the third side then I will have a final long side to complete.

I've started building the next little scene-in-a-tin kit, this one is called Countryside Notes and is a summer scene.  It has fewer elements than the winter scene I did first, so is an easier build. It's a similar theme: a building with furniture, in an outdoor setting with trees and flowers.  This one has a little garden scene which will go on the right of the building.

I finished the little Bliss dollshouse I posted about last week and it looks fine, just not quite like the picture on the kit due to the issues.  I've put it in a room box scene for now but may find a way to feature it more prominently in a future project.

I took my Bucks Point hexagonal edging to the Nene Lacemakers today and got on fairly well with no reverse lacing required.  I'm about a third of the way around now. I hardly ever have to look at the working diagram now as I can generally figure out what to do next on my own. It's actually nice to see what I've done in this picture: while working on it you only see the little bit under the pins so you don't see the whole pattern.

I've finished my Opal Sock Yarn Advent Calendar, so I now have 24 cute little goodies waiting to be knit into something.  I'm thinking of a pattern called the ZickZack Scarf on Ravelry which is a sort of bargello multicoloured stripe. That can be commuter knitting once I finish my doll.  The doll is underway, I've knit the head and two legs and I'm almost finished the body.  The cotton yarn is very unforgiving of my tendency to 'rowing' (to knit purl rows looser than knit rows) so I often have to stop and tighten up my purl rows so the knitting looks more even.

I received a belated Christmas present in the post today: an exquisite handmade tapestry box from my friend Pauline.  She is a skilled embroideress and stitcher and has made me some lovely things in the past such as tiny lace knitted items.  This box has a scene on the opening lid in full coverage tent stitch, then floral designs picked out on four sides in tent stitch on open canvas.   It would take a normal person ages to make but Pauline is just constantly productive.  I am thinking it's about the right size to be a hassock in a 12th-scale dollshouse. I feel very lucky to receive such a lovely item. It looks very antique, like an old-fashioned thimble keeper.

And that's it this week.  I put in an hour or so of cold and wet gardening, hacking back dead things and weeding - we are overrun with creeping buttercup and I realised there was more of that in the strawberry bed than there were strawberry plants.  

I hope you've had a productive and crafty week!

Sunday, 7 January 2018

January slump

I survived my first week back at work but it all felt incredibly tedious and why-can't-I-win-the-lottery depressing.  My holiday-trained stomach was starving long before lunchtimes and my back hurt from sitting all day.  My first morning was slightly enlivened by stopping at a store on the way to work for bottled water and finding the Easter eggs were all on display - on 2nd January!  Honestly.

Not much to show this week for my crafting as it is all ongoing projects.  I've worked on my cross stitch, I've knit more inches on to my twisted cable border on the GAA Afghan, I've knit a bit more on the Latvian mittens.  In commuter knitting I've started knitting a doll from the 'My Knitted Doll' book by Louise Crowther which is on tiny needles with 4-ply cotton so rather hard to knit.  I've done some more sit-down quilting on my snowman quilt and I'm almost at the end of my Star Sampler quilt on the frame although I think I will probably have to re-do some of the appalling quilting at the beginning of it.

The only new thing I've started is a kit by Cynthia Howe to make a 144th scale Bliss dollshouse, which I ordered some time ago.  It was not cheap, and at first I was impressed that they had taken the time to pre-paint some of the components such as the roofs and base.  However, once I sat down to build it, I was disappointed to find that they had painted right over some rough wood without sanding, hadn't bothered to trim off some sprues sticking out either, and hadn't painted all the edges that would be on show.  Luckily I had some blue paint to match the paint they used so could rectify that. The porch supports were much too long (by more than 1/8th inch) and had to be carefully trimmed rather than 'slightly sanded' as per the instructions. They weren't painted either. And it turns out the dormers supplied are too long to fit under the supplied pre-painted roofs.  By the time I realised that, I had already glued the dormers in place according to the picture. Because they are longer, the dormer roofs will sit much higher up the main roof, thereby preventing the supplied chimney from fitting in place.  So I've had to cut my own new dormer roofs as theirs aren't long enough, which are currently being painted.  So in this picture the dormers have no roofs.  I did wonder if I had glued them on upside down but then the even-longer side would be facing the short roofs so I don't think so. It is a cute little house but given the faults I've had to correct, I'm disappointed in it for the price.

I've done a fair bit of lace this weekend, visiting a local lace gathering yesterday for almost four hours on my Bucks Point hexagonal edging and doing a few more hours today.  I only had to do reverse lacing a couple of times for a short distance, which was a huge improvement over recent attempts, so it felt productive and I am heading into the third corner now.

We took almost all the Christmas decorations down on New Year's day apart from some pine garland on the stairs which looks nice.  Much as I love the decorations, it's nice to have the house somewhat back to normal although I keep finding seasonal stragglers in various corners.

Storm Eleanor brought some very high winds this week.  Our pergola survived but the antique Victorian lantern frame I hung above the shed must have been swinging around very wildly as it has wrenched its support mostly out of the wall.  So that's had to come down until we can re-fix the support. The bird table went over but everything else seems to have survived, although I haven't checked our roof tiles yet!

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