Saturday, 14 October 2017

Almost a shower

The bathroom re-model has reached the point where the shower is mostly installed and the plumber wants us to test it tomorrow (when various goops have set hard since he applied them on Friday).  Ominously he said "and then you can let me know if there are any issues, like if you notice any leaks".  I felt like questioning this statement because it seems to me that there should categorically not be any leaks, but he does seem to have a bit of an Eeyore personality.  He's very nice but we've had all sorts of mini dramas with things not going quite right or bits missing from boxes and it is getting a bit tedious because he wants to tell me all about every small setback in great detail.  I'm trying to tell myself that probably lots of other tradespeople have issues that crop up and they just know better than to tell the owner about every little thing that goes wrong and it doesn't necessarily mean that he isn't a good plumber.  He was recommended by our neighbours who have used him several times.

So assuming the shower doesn't leak, and that he fixes the currently leaking toilet installation, he could be finishing up in this room mid-week and moving on to the bedroom ensuite where he will be replacing the existing leaking shower (lots of leaks here). Hopefully the second shower will go quicker because he doesn't have to move the sink or toilet or anything electrical.  I'm hoping he will be done by the end of the month or early November at the latest.  I've stripped out the bedroom of all decoration, pictures, vintage linens, and extraneous furniture in preparation for the dust to come. It's not going to be much fun having a builder traipsing through the bedroom every day but I guess no pain, no gain, eye on the prize yada yada.

On my day off this week I reminded the plumber that he had offered to drill a hole through the brick shed wall for me, which he did first thing.  Then I was able to wire up our new water feature.  It makes a lovely sound as the water trickles back down into the basin.  We were able to sit out on our new patio today because it's actually quite warm this weekend, and enjoyed drinking tea and watching the fountain.

I was knitting on a new pair of half-fingered gloves in sock yarn.  I've moved all my yarn back into my knitting room (although mysteriously it doesn't seem to all fit back into the shelves it came out of) and was struck by how much nice sock yarn I have waiting to be made into things.  So that's my new commuter knitting project, because I finished my Debbie Bliss Cotton Denim Cowl and have been wearing it.  The picture's a bit dark, sorry.

I also finished knitting the rest of the baby girl layette.  I'm just blocking the cardi so I can sew buttons on it.

I also picked up stitches and knit the thumbs longer on a pair of Fetchings that I made three years ago. They are nice and warm but my thumbs would get cold because the knitting didn't come up as high on the thumb.  I didn't have any matching yarn so went with a navy wool.

On the quilting front, I loaded the William Morris grid quilt back onto the frame and stitched out the outer borders.  Annoyingly, I failed to notice that my thread had jumped out of the upper tension disks on my machine, so when I turned over one border to look at it, I discovered lots of loops of upper thread poking out the back.  I debated whether to pull out all of that border strip but in the end I did a repair job by pulling the loose thread loops to remove the slack and burying the slack in the quilt.  I'm keeping this quilt for my guest room so if any loops pop out, I can always fix it again.  I've washed that quilt and it's drying at the moment.  When it's dry I will finish it with binding.  I did find that as I hadn't been able to do much frame quilting for almost a month what with the holiday and the electrician, I've slipped back down the skills ladder which is frustrating.

I had a nice visit to see the dollshouses of my three club members last weekend.  Although most of their houses weren't to my taste, it's still interesting to see what other people have made or collected.  It wasn't quite as nice for DH who had to visit with two elderly husbands while I looked at houses, one of whom who was sitting in a fug of pipe smoke but luckily decided to show DH the garden so he didn't suffocate.  It was very noble of DH and the three older ladies enjoyed themselves.  One of them had been to Miniatura and bought a new kind of hand clipper which uses Stanley knife blades.  I was quite interested because the standard hand clipper is more like a pair of garden shears and once it gets dull it is impossible or difficult to sharpen or replace the blade.  So I sent off for my own cutter which should be useful for cutting small wood strip. I haven't done any dollshousing for weeks now, what with all the gardening, quilting, holiday and building work.

Remember the tiny nativity scene I bought in France?  DH has painted it for me now.  I need to make a little stable to finish off the scene.  He did a great job as you can see.  The actual sculptures aren't very precise when it comes to facial features but they are so tiny that the overall effect is quite good.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Touring the Alsace Wine Route / Alsace Route des Vins

I'm doing an extra post about our 8-day break in Alsace in September, which combined a visit to the Carrefour Europeen du Patchwork  quilt festival with a tour of the Alsace Wine Route.  I will be up front and state that we are not wine buffs, in fact we know next to nothing about wine, but we do love history and old buildings and exploring new regions.  A wine buff would probably have a completely different holiday to the one we had.  There are around 1,000 wine producers along the route of over 100 villages, many of them offering degustation (tastings) and most of the villages have one or more trails around the vineyards to discover.  We were primarily there for the scenery and architecture although we did do one tasting near our hotel and bought a couple of bottles of delicious local wine.

We had a great holiday, it's a lovely area with so much to see and I highly recommend it. It throws comparable English spots such as the Cotswolds or York rather into the shade by comparison.  The sheer quantity of fairytale-like rambling old half timbered buildings, smothered in huge quantities of flowering baskets, wandering on for street after street, or hanging over ancient rivers, or sheltering under the ruins of medieval chateaux, punctuated by massive fortified gate towers, is almost overwhelming. Plus it is all in the shadows of the long range of  forested Vosges mountains which themselves are decorated with various ruined castles. I took about 600 photos and by the end we were getting almost jaded because we had seen so many beautiful things.

We flew into Strasbourg from the UK, picked up a hire car and based ourselves in a hotel in Obernai.  Obernai itself is very attractive and worth a morning to walk around the historical trail, and perhaps a visit to the many tourist shops or enjoy a snack in one of the patisseries.  As well as being a good base for exploring the northern part of the Wine Route, Obernai offered easy access to the A35 fast road to travel south for further explorations (Colmar in around 40 minutes), and made for an easy day trip back into Strasbourg to see the sights there.

A priority is to pick up the tourist map of the Alsace Wine Route. I actually ordered mine online in advance of the trip but unhelpfully I can't remember from which website, sorry.  Our hire car had GPS but we found we couldn't entirely rely on it for two reasons:  either it would steer us by the most direct route which went on fast roads and missed all the pretty villages, or, it would steer us by the most direct route which turned out to be virtual tracks over vine-covered hills between villages often marked sternly with 'no access except for residents' signs which I don't think we were meant to be using.  We also found we couldn't rely solely on the actual 'Route des vins' signs - in some areas these were plentiful, in other areas quite scarce - plus they kept changing in size and colour which made them even harder to spot.  So we found a combination of map/GPS/signs/common sense made for the best navigation.

Another tip is to tick off on the map the villages you have visited. Also aim to take a photograph of the town name on arrival (on a sign or on your map) before snapping photos there.  You think you will remember these stunningly beautiful places for the rest of your life but after a few days of endless half-timbered houses covered in flowers it becomes difficult to remember which village was which.

We found the driving fairly easy once we got used to being on the right hand side of the road.  Traffic was never that heavy and the roads are good.  Strasbourg was a bit nerve-wracking to drive into even on a Sunday, I think on any other day it might be a good idea to use the park and ride which connects to the local tram service. Parking can also be an issue: there seemed to be never-ending variations on free/not free (not to mention trying to find a parking meter), how spaces are marked, or they're not marked, when you can park on the pavement and when you can't, and how to fit cars into small medieval courtyards that were never meant to be parking lots. Try to always have some euro change with you for the Payant parking meters, we had to go and buy an ice cream a few times to break our notes. A lot of the smaller medieval villages have one-way systems which the driver needs to be on the alert for. It can also be confusing as to which roads are only for pedestrians and which are shared between pedestrians and cars in the touristy towns.  But everything went smoothly and we only got lost a few times (including taking the wrong exit out of Strasbourg which was a bit tense for a while!)

There are so many villages on the route that it can be tricky to decide how long you need.  We had about six and a half days in total (leaving out two travel days at either end, and a day and a half at the quilt show), which in retrospect was probably about a day and a half too long as we were getting a bit aimless by the end of the holiday.  On the other hand, it meant we never felt rushed and could take as long as we wanted at every place.  In the end we walked around or drove through  32 towns and villages plus a day trip to Strasbourg.  It's a good idea to hit the town tourist office for a walking map in each place if it is open, but we found offices weren't always open at lunchtimes, nor on weekends in smaller places.  If you are trying to pick the highlights, these are some of the places we particularly enjoyed:

- Eguisheim (just south of Colmar) - exquisitely beautiful, not as touristy as Riquewihr
- Kayserberg (just to the north west of Colmar) - lovely
- Riquewihr - lovely but heaving with tourists, go early or late
- Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg - a reconstructed medieval castle, impressive and great views
- Mont St Odile - a former monastery on a hill, lovely to walk around and fantastic views
- Colmar - a city with a beautiful historic core and lots of interesting shops (proper shops, not just touristy shops)
- Ribeauville  (between Colmar and Selestat) - long main street lined with historic buildings and towers
- Scherwiller - pretty village on a river
- Bergheim (near Ribeauville)
- Obernai (near Strasbourg) - nice town with lots of historic buildings
- Strasbourg - a bigger city, the boat tour is a good introduction to the sights, not as pretty as Colmar but we really enjoyed the Alsatian museum which is a labyrinth of converted medieval Alsatian townhouses

There are so many others I could list here but probably once you've seen the highlights, the best strategy is to fill in the free parts of your day visiting other villages nearby to the highlights, or nearby to your hotel base.  As you drive, admire the many ruined castles on hills along the route, but be aware that most of them are not accessible.  We hiked strenuously for 30 minutes up a steep hill to visit the ruined Chateaux d'Ottrott, only to find that not only were they fenced off and 'interdit', but that you couldn't even see the ruins through the thick woods, very disappointing.

There is a lot of information online about the Route des Vins and recommendations for destinations.  You will probably find that, like us, your pace will become progressively slower and more relaxed until in the end you are almost drifting from one flower-bedecked cafe to another, all overlooking beautiful historical squares, and it is all merging into one gigantic medieval disneyland. Highly recommended.

I took so many photos, but here are just a few.
 Mont St Odile
 Boersch (I think)

 Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg
Bergheim (I think)

Vineyards, with chateaux in the background

 (above) Strasbourg



 (three photos below) Eguisheim

Sunday, 8 October 2017

As I was going to St Ives

Well, no, I didn't meet a man with seven wives.  But I did enjoy the Makit Fenland Lace Fair at St Ives in Cambridgeshire yesterday which DH kindly drove me to.  It's a smaller fair than Peterborough and as this is my third visit I did wonder if I would be less engaged.  But there seemed even more traders this year and they had rearranged the layout in the main room, plus there were some interesting exhibits, so I ended up quite enjoying my visit.  Here is my loot:

The pretty hand embroidered Victorian tablerunner is from an antique textiles stall that I can't see in the programme so don't know their name.  I bought a pair of spangles from one trader for £1 each because he showed me how to neatly attach them to a bobbin, but I found another trader selling spangles six for £2.25 so bought six more there plus some spangling wire.  I got some more pins and a pin vice for pricking patterns from the Makit stand plus a kit to make a Christmas decoration and an ergonomic plastic thimble; a pretty painted bobbin from Margaret Wall, and another Margaret Wall bobbin which I bought from the Lace Society stand as I am a member and wanted to support them.  I found an interesting secondhand book on making flowers from lace on the Lace Guild stand.  I looked a lot at Bucks Points patterns to see if I could find an interesting mat edging but nothing caught my eye.  Although in theory I guess you can make almost anything from lace, in practice the available patterns seem largely confined to bookmarks, motifs for cards, small mats, wedding garters/cake ruffles, and hankerchief edgings.  I suppose because lace is such a slow labour intensive craft, which isn't portable (at least, not in the sense that knitting is where you can knit on a bus or a train), and isn't as useful in every day life, it hasn't attracted as much innovation as, say, knitting has in its current ascendancy.

Afterwards, we had a nice lunch in St Ives on a terrace overlooking the river and ancient bridge (tasty food but rather chilly sitting outside) and visited the antiques mall where we had fun looking and came away with three little Edwardian sherry glasses.

On the home front, there has been a lot more gardening.  I've been planting up the new borders around the patio, with a planting scheme dictated largely by what plants I have found on the end-of-season sales tables that might survive in partly-shaded well-drained soil.  We also invested a chunk of DH's recent long service award from work in a water feature.  The water feature isn't plumbed in yet as I have asked our shower plumber to drill a hole through the shed wall to feed the pump wire through. We also got a couple of garden sofas in the end-of-season sales so we feel very posh.  It's all starting to look much more like it's always been that way, and hopefully everything will survive the winter.

I worked late all week trying to build up my flexi-time, so not a lot of crafting this week.  I've done a bit more quilting on my Hawaiian wallhanging.  To be honest this is not my best work, I threw the wallhanging together after we got back from our trip, trying to incorporate all the things that we saw, and I'm not doing a great job on the quilting.  But it feels good to be finally getting it done and to have nice memories of the trip.

My cross-stitch has been languishing because TV knitting time has been working on a little girl baby set for a younger colleague at work.  I'm copying a set I saw on Facebook which used free patterns, starting with this All-in-One Baby top by Marianna.

Next I'm going to knit the Tegan Hat by Julie Taylor and the Hug Boots also by Marianna.

When we got back from St Ives yesterday, I happened to be looking out the window just in time to see our little cat getting into a brawl with a larger orange cat in the churchyard next door.  I thought I had seen cat fights before, where they have a sort of stand off and the occasional swat, but this was more like something from a children's cartoon:  a literal ball of orange and white turning over and over while they both screamed.  With the vet bills from the last infected bite looming large in my mind, I started banging on the window then opened it and shouted.  Both cats just looked at me like 'yeah, and what are you going to do about it?' as they were some distance off in the garden.  By the time I had got downstairs and unlocked the door to the garden, the orange cat had run off and our cat came stumbling back into our garden looking rather shaken.  We shut her in the rest of the day and she seems fine today with no obvious tender places, so hopefully no trips to the vet this time.

The shower project stumbles on.  Not a lot happened this past week because two shower trays in a row were delivered with damage, so the plumber wasn't able to get on with very much.  A third tray turned up on Friday but the plumber didn't.  I hope to see much more progress this week.  Meanwhile we are still vacuuming dust off every surface and the cat still looks pink a lot of the time because she loves sitting up on the windowsill in the bathroom looking out at the garden - usually she can't because the blinds would be blocking the view.  On the bright side, the electrician came twice and is now mostly finished so I have my knitting room back and am gradually moving back the furniture.  Unfortunately I managed to smash a surface-mounted electrical box off the wall when I was pushing in my big bookcase, so I had to do some repair work yesterday.  I've brought most of the yarn bags back into the room but it's going to be a big job to get all the yarn back onto the shelves in the right order (I had it sorted by weight/thickness).  I've also got my quilt frame back in place and set up again, although I haven't actually had time to use it yet.

Today DH is kindly driving me to Desborough to visit three of the ladies who came on the club visit to my house in July, they all offered to show me their houses so we decided to make an afternoon of it.  Should be interesting for me (not so much for DH!).

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Don't treat a gift as a burden

I occasionally listen to a podcast called 'Happier in Hollywood' which is hosted by two established screenwriter/producer women in Los Angeles. It's an interesting blend of tidbits about what life is like in the Hollywood stratosphere, what it's like to earn your living as a writer, how TV shows get made, and a dollop of LA new ageisms.  They are fond of creating and/or quoting aphorisms, and one of them is 'Don't treat a gift as a burden'.  So I am trying not to treat my ongoing bathroom remodel as a burden, because I am grateful to have our lovely house, to have finally found a plumber to do the work, and to have the money to pay for the project.

However.  Not a whole lot of crafting this week because of the chaos. I've also had to stop using my quilting frame pending the as-yet-unscheduled arrival of the electrician - since we will need to partially disassemble the frame to reduce weight so that we can move it out of the way of the fuse box.  I did complete the pantograph across the complete middle of the William Morris grid quilt, so I just need to put it back on the frame to do the borders once the electrician has been.  I have continued to work on my cross stitch UFO in the evenings, in commuter knitting I am close to finishing the Debbie Bliss cotton denim cowl and I've started to quilt on the sit-down machine on a Hawaiian wallhanging that I put together after our trip to Hawaii back in 2009.

I did complete one new project which was to make a storage box for the growing collection of kits and patterns awaiting their turn in the queue.  This is an upsized version of a free pattern on Craftsy called Sturdy Fabric Basket (I don't think I can link directly).  I added a handle of thread spool beads from my stash.  After taking this photo, I pressed a better crease into the corners so it looks more rectangular.  I used Peltex heavy fusible interfacing for stiffener but you can also use fusible fleece.

I've been using some of my downtime to tidy up some of the glory holes in my sewing room, and it seemed like a good opportunity to make a pretty storage basket.

While I was tidying I found both a hexagonal frame I had picked up at a boot sale quite cheaply (because it contained a hideous faded pressed flower arrangement) and the completed cross stitch houses I bought at a de-stash sale last year from someone's deceased mother's collection.  Fortuitously one of the house pictures fit beautifully into the frame so I now have a pretty picture for my bedroom.

Otherwise I've been doing a lot of gardening this week.  DH and DS finished digging out the new bed last weekend, so on my day off I spent three hours digging up several plants from around the garden and moving them into the new bed.  Hopefully with the current warm and damp weather they will become sufficiently established to survive the winter.  A lot of work but it doesn't look like much yet.  I've left a big gap over on the right for a rose bush that I have on order.

Yesterday I spent another couple of hours ruthlessly digging up plants that haven't worked out, including the difficult job of untangling a thorny rambling rose from the fence support which was awful because it kept snagging on everything around it including my clothing. It was in the garden when we bought the house so I moved it and gave it a chance but it vastly outgrew its allotted area and had only a meagre white flower.  That all got chopped up and went to the dump. Today we are going to go plant shopping to start planting up the borders around the new patio.  I've also ordered a little water feature.  I find it very difficult to design borders, I wish there were recipes for flower beds like they have in America so you could just pick a picture you like and it would tell you the plants to buy.

On a more prosaic note, I've been meaning to blog my new spectacles.  I've been increasingly suffering from middleaged vision issues, and lately my bifocals (chosen to allow me to knit and watch TV at the same time) have not been letting me focus on things within about 18 inches like threading needles or working at my sewing machine.  I was at Specsavers for something else and discovered that I could buy a pair of close up prescription reading glasses for £25 all in - frames and lenses!  They are brilliant for using the sewing machine, working bobbin lace, or if I am just doing cross stitch without watching TV.  On a tip from a fellow dollshouse club member, I've also invested in a few pairs of £1 reading glasses that are 3.5 magnification, from the pound shop, which are great for one-off situations like reading the fine print on a medicine or to read the stamped-on size on a sewing machine needle. Her optician had actually recommended them to her for similar reasons, for ad hoc situations where your normal glasses don't cope.

I hope you've had a good week and can see to do your craft work!

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Loot from France

I hope you've enjoyed the extra posts this week about my trip to the French quilt festival in Saint Marie aux Mines, with quilt photos.

This post is back to  business as usual with the added bonus of revealing some of my craft loot from France.  I didn't actually buy a huge amount as fabric was way too expensive and I was conscious that we were flying back into London City airport and travelling home by public transport so I didn't want our bags to be too heavy.  As well as craft stuff, I found a few other things like a calendar featuring the local houses, two vintage champagne cups, a vintage metal and wood box decorated with decoupage, a Clover chalk marking pen, some lengths of lace and ric-rac from a haberdashery, a ceramic christmas decoration and some birthday and christmas gifts.

At the quilt show, I discovered 'cartonnage et broder', which is basically the French art of making useful household objects out of heavy card and covering them in fabric and embroidery.  I bought a couple of patterns on one stand which turned out to be not as good value as I thought since they don't actually have the fabric or card in the 'kit' but they are still really cute, like something the Victorians would have made for their parlours.

I found a cute kit for a little coin purse made out of yo-yos.

and a couple of applique kits for needlework-themed and embroidered items.

This is a vintage little embroidered mat, with some ceramic ornaments I found. The smaller heart button has embossed decoration moulded from actual needlework.

My biggest purchase was an unfinished quilt top from the Mary Koval salesroom which is marked as dating to c.1870.  It's in really good shape apart from a bit of sun fading in places.  I will probably think about adding a border to it. I just loved the colours in it.

I found some beautiful wool/cotton yarn on a Danish stall which was available in many icecream shades, I had a hard time settling on these three cakes.  They might be a shawl.

At the religious-themed gift shop at Mont St Odile, I spotted this tiny creche which DH kindly persuaded me to buy and even promised to paint  for me to use in a Christmas dollshouse scene. I've put a fork in the picture for scale.

This is the official show tote bag, I bought one for me and one for m-i-l.

These are the metal charms I found on several stalls at the show, a group of sewing charms which might end up on one of the stitching projects above, then a variety of useful fretwork and items that could work in a dollshouse.

I had to buy this cute gift box when we did our wine tasting, designed to look like a typical Alsatian house.

So as usual things have been added on to my lengthy To Do list at a much speedier rate than they are coming off it, but I had fun shopping and look forward to tackling some of my new projects.

Meanwhile back on the ranch

The plumber that let us down in the summer has finally started work on remodelling the bathroom to insert a shower.  He actually started the day after we got back from France so I made sure to clear the access route and the bathroom before we went on holiday, so all's we had to do was to remove the blinds and toiletries when we got back. The toilet and sink have now been temporarily removed and he is preparing the site for the new shower against the door wall.  Needless to say there is dust everywhere, and even the cat turned pink one evening after she found some brick dust to roll in.  I also narrowly prevented her from disappearing under the floor boards while I was talking to the plumber one evening after he had lifted some boards for access. The lower hallway is full of bits of wood, and huge boxes that the shower bits are waiting in, and it's all a bit chaotic.

Directly above the bathroom is my knitting and lace room, and my heart absolutely sank when the electrician who will be doing the rewiring work and installing the fan announced he would need the knitting room cleared to lift the floorboards for access.  I didn't think I could face it but DH and DS pitched in like heroes and my much-mocked large collection of tote bags finally came into its own to collect all the yarn off the shelves.  It's all clear now but I feel a bit traumatised at the thought of having to put it all back once it's all over. I'm also feeling stressed because so many things around the house are in the wrong place now so that even unaffected rooms are crowded with displaced items. There is also the danger that he will want me to move my (enormously heavy and huge) machine quilting frame because it's blocking the fuse box. I need to focus on how nice it will be to  have a shower.

While we were on holiday I was doing a little bit of cross stitch on some holiday gift tags in the evenings, and also knitting on my second Rose Window hat which I finished shortly after we got back.  This one is knitted in Paton's navy wool blend and Artesano fingering weight.

 I've been so busy all week dealing with the building works, my physio appointments, the overgrown garden and holiday laundry that I've only just done some quilting on my frame for the first time yesterday, and I haven't done any bobbin lace at all for a few weeks now.  I've done a bit more on knitting the twisted rope edging onto my GAA Afghan and I'm almost finished the first side now.

Just before we went on holiday, I cut an area out of the lawn for a new flower bed and DS kindly cleared the rest of the turf. So this weekend we are digging in some manure to that and around the new patio, in preparation for planting. Our soil is very sandy and stony so I sieved the soil by the pergola where the rose will be planted to try to improve it.  I'm planning to order a climbing rose called Madame Caroline Testout, which is pink and is supposed to cope with exposed conditions like our windy garden. It will come as a bare root plant in November.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Quilt photos from the European Patchwork Carrefour 2017

This is a follow-up post of a few quilt photos, to my main post about visiting the Carrefour Europeen du Patchwork, Sainte Marie aux Mines, France in September 2017.   I took loads more photos but they didn't all turn out or I didn't manage to secure the artist's name.

Voyage au bout du Monde, Japon, JP 2017

Three quilts from the Amish exhibition

Eagle folk art quilt, Berks County, PA, c 1840

Fantaisie Florale
Annik Wiard, Belgium

Vase des fleurs et roses grimpante
Michele Beugnon, Paris
I think this was my favourite quilt from the whole show, beautifully done.

Tentmakers of Cairo, Al Farouk shop

I'm not entirely sure but I think this was from the
Andree LeBlanc exhibition, of France, which was 
all work done in pineapple and log cabin variations

by Aline Joulin of France

by Madeleine Linden, Belgium

by Claudine Kachelhoffer, France
Each square has an embroidered herb in it.

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