Sunday, 18 March 2018

Deja vu all over again

There is once again snow on the ground and I am once again home sick with a cold.  Grrr, there ought to be a law against getting two colds so close together.  Plus my manager is probably going to start wondering if I am just avoiding having to travel to work in the snow.  It's supposed to be spring, I was enjoying seeing all the bulbs poking out of the ground and now they are hidden under a blanket of white.  Ironically we are shifting to British Summer Time next weekend. This weather is so bizarre.

I've been snuggling under my new GAA Afghan while I work on my oldest outstanding quilt UFO, the Hawaiian applique quilt. This was hibernating in a cupboard for several months while I did other things waiting for me to make some templates for the flowers.  I've stitched down all the stems and leaves so it's only the ring of flowers  left to do on the main part of the quilt.  There's supposed to be a border after that but I may stop while I'm winning.

This week I was back at work (possibly where I caught the new germs) but in the evenings and on my day off I was working on the Japanese dollshouse, mostly on the extensions to the bathhouse and kitchen.  Although not very big, these were surprisingly involved with lots of steps to complete for interior and external detail.  I've also made a few accessories, and jumped ahead to complete the ceiling to the bath house.

The new spa ceiling, and some little stools

The kitchen sink - looking online I think these were made from stone so I've painted mine accordingly.  The weighing scales are for the spa changing room.

Then it was time to attempt to hinge the extensions onto the house.  I'd taken heed of the struggles of the original blogger who said the screws were horrible and the heads stripped easily.  I ruined two  screws (luckily they give you two spares) while I worked out the best combination of drill size and mini screwdriver, then managed to hinge on the two extensions.

This is what the ground floor of the house looks like with the extensions closed. The clapboard is now in place, and the changing room has a shoji rice paper screen.

The ground floor with the hinged extensions open

The changing room extension to the bath house with sliding doors

The kitchen extension

Train knitting has been the 10-stitch triangle shawl which is slowly growing in size.  You could probably use it as a head kerchief now.  And I've been doing some cross-stitch in front of the telly while I'm sick.

This weekend was supposed to be a lace weekend with an outing to the lace day in Oakley yesterday and getting together with lace friends today, but I had to drop out of both due to germs.  The thing today has been cancelled anyway because of the snow.  I should try to do some bobbin lace on my own but I just don't feel like concentrating on it.

I had a bit of good news last week, I'm getting a small raise at work which will be backdated to June so this month's pay cheque should have a small windfall.  I think I'm going to spend it on a mini disc sander to help with the dollshousing.  I already own a fairly vicious belt sander but it's both inaccurate and overkill for small dollshouse items: more likely to tear them out of your hand, destroy them, and spit them out into a far corner of the workshop than to reduce a bit of material like you intended. 

Sunday, 11 March 2018

An historic finish

Or 'A' historic finish, depending on your style preferences.  Anyway, I have finally finished The Great American Aran Afghan!

This was a series based on a design contest run by Knitter's Magazine in America and subsequently published as a pattern booklet of 24 squares.  According to my Ravelry page, I started my first squares in spring 2012. I finished my 20 squares in spring 2016, then it's taken me another two years to crochet join the squares and knit the twisted border.  So six years of intermittent work.  Most of the squares were quite fun to knit and also developmental for me as a knitter.  I couldn't afford to knit it in wool at the time, so I bought several big skeins of Hayfield Bonus Aran (80 acrylic, 20 wool) and thankfully did not run out, and it actually wasn't bad to knit with at all. The finished afghan feels nice, it's got a good weight to it and it's warm.  Probably not as warm as a wool afghan would be.  And despite the wide variation in my square size, it is lying reasonably flat.  It feels really good to have finally finished this long term project.

Minor alarm on the Japanese dollshouse front when I realised two of my instruction booklets had gone missing.  I couldn't find them anywhere but as DH had earlier done his usual Saturday morning rubbish collection around the house, it seemed an obvious possibility.  Sure enough, they had somehow ended up in the recycling bin outside the house, along with a parts diagram sheet that I hadn't even realised was gone.  So alarm over, although I don't know if I accidentally knocked them into the bin or if there was some overzealous collecting going on.  We've now had a refresher session on 'in the bin' versus 'near the bin' and which lot to leave alone.

Otherwise the house is proceeding along nicely.  The bathhouse is done now apart from I haven't glued the entrance wall in yet, and I've now opened up to Chapter 25 as I work on the two bay extensions for the bathhouse and kitchen. 
The finished bath house, with sliding wooden shutters. There will be
an internal wall along the edge of the floor which diverts bathers
into the front bay extension where the changing room is.  I really like
how 'watery' the water is.  I've got to make a bunch of little
wooden stools to go in here as well.  You sit on the stool and use the bucket
to completely clean yourself at the faucets before getting in the bath.

The two bay extensions, kitchen on the left and bath house on the right.
These hinge onto the front of the house.
One of my lacemaking friends came to visit and I was proudly showing off my handiwork on the house.  She looked at the massive box of almost 100 unopened chapters and announced in a nice way that I was obviously insane.  I don't know, I like building things and I like following instructions to build things, and I like the positive reinforcement of the many 'wins' as I complete each room or piece of furniture.  I think that's the reason many of us do crafts - unlike tasks that constantly have to be re-done like dishwashing or ironing, you have a concrete achievement that waits patiently until the next time you can give it some attention.

I actually did some work on my Bucks Point hexagonal edging this week and have reached the halfway point.  I really like how it looks but I do feel a bit bored with it now as I know how to do it and am not really learning anything new. It's taken me about eight months to get this far so probably another six or eight before it's finished at the level of attention I am giving it.  Obviously if I worked on it more often then it would go faster.  I like lacemaking but it's not something I want to sit and do for hours and hours, generally after a couple of hours I've had enough, my eyes are tired, my pin pushing finger is getting sore and my back aches from bending towards the pillow even though I try to sit up straight.  I know a lot of lacemakers who go to the courses at Knuston Hall which is relatively local, and I've felt tempted, but at the end of the day I don't think I would enjoy sitting doing lace for several days.  On a quilting course, say, you are moving around a lot more as you sew, cut, press, lay out blocks etc. so it's physically more varied.

The garden seems to have survived the snowfall although it remains to be seen if we've lost any herbaceous plants. Suddenly it is driving fast into spring, and the first daffodils are starting to appear.  The crocuses I rescued from the old hedge when we replaced it, then replanted in the new bed, are all blooming away. Although it turns out I missed several bulbs which are also blooming now around the new lavender hedge.  I went out with the claw thingy yesterday and loosened the soil around the plants yesterday - we have quite sandy soil so I don't think it needs proper digging.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Snow bound

It's been a strange week.  Weatherwise, the Beast from the East brought days of snow and sub-zero temperatures, very unusual for this part of England and for this time of year.  I don't think I've ever known it to be so cold for so long since I arrived almost 30 years ago. Normally I would have been struggling to get to work with my two mile walk through the snow, but Monday night I went down quite suddenly with a rotten head cold and I've been home sick ever since.  With the terrible weather, there was no attraction to go out even if I had felt well enough so it was sort of a mixed blessing.  DH was home as well on Thursday and Friday after his journey to work took four hours on Wednesday (normally one hour) due to accidents and road closures.  So we were all snowbound together like being shut up in some big log cabin.  Luckily we had enough food and milk for the first few days and of course lots of hobbies to do.  I was feeling on the mend by Thursday night and if the weather had been better I might have gone back to work on Friday, but the scene outside killed any motivation.  I even had to stop washing paintbrushes in the basement sink because the external waste pipe had frozen solid and the water wouldn't drain any more.  It felt like a long extended limbo, punctuated by lots of nose blowing  :)

The cat had the right idea for the weather.

But suddenly it's all thawing and the temperatures are rising fast.  Some green is showing on the lawn after days of being blanketed with white - I just hope we haven't lost too many plants.  We went out today in the car for the first time in days, to do some shopping with DS who has just been offered his first proper job. He'll be working in London with an accountancy firm on their graduate trainee scheme starting in a few weeks.  So it was off to the mall for a new suit and all the accompaniments that go with it, with DS being visibly torn between his loathing of shopping and his slightly terrified recognition that he will need all these things soon.  I'm very proud of him but secretly a bit sorry for him as well to have to leave his relatively carefree student life behind and join the daily working grind of adult life.  But on the other hand I don't want him still living here in his 30s!

So apart from the first few days of being ill, I've been spending a lot of time down in the basement working on the Japanese dollshouse.  I've been trying to keep the fan heater running a lot more frequently, even though it's annoying, in case the cold down there contributed to my illness in the first place.

My trolley arrived (Amazon were seemingly unhampered by the snow) and DS put it together for me.  It's holding all the tools and paints brilliantly, leaving me much more working area.

After doing a couple of the new chapters, I became impatient with the partwork approach of doing a wall (or maybe just part of a wall) plus a bit of furniture in each instalment.  This results in a lot of instructions such as for example leaving 2mm gaps when you are gluing on rafters, because a couple of chapters later the next wall has to fit into that 2mm gap.  But inevitably you didn't leave enough gap, or too much gap. Multiply this by three sides on every wall and ceiling, and no wonder the other bloggers were complaining that nothing fits together properly.  I gave up on that approach, and jumped ahead to cherry pick all the chapters which had the walls, floors and ceilings for the ground floor so that I could work on all structural elements sequentially.  While raising the risk of losing tiny bits of not-yet-required furniture or shutters, it meant that I could trial fit all the walls and floors that were meant to fit together and adjust notches or sand off excess as required, and see exactly where gaps needed to be left in decoration.  It became fairly intensive as I ended up working on around eight chapters at the same time but I eventually achieved a complete ground floor structure.  So now I can go back and sweep up the extraneous bits of decoration and furniture one chapter at a time.  I have little piles of partly-opened chapters all around the room with numbered post-its stuck on each one waiting for me to get to them.

I really like this entrance hallway, with the Mt Fuji window and its shoji sliding rice paper window screens.  I added some lasercut paper decoration I found at Colemans on the outside of the rice paper.  The overhead opening is awaiting the stairs which get constructed later.  The tatami mats in the corner are the first of many to be built  throughout the house, you make them out of real tatami so not exactly in scale but they feel very authentic.  The cabinet was built over two chapters and had especially fiddly sliding doors but I got there in the end.  The two beckoning cats are both souvenirs from our trip to Japan a few years ago.

The spa is still under construction.  The round wall mural is actually a coaster which we bought in Japan but it looks good here.  The decorative ceiling gets built many chapters later so I've decided to wait for that to turn up.

The kitchen has a ceiling now, another shelving unit, and both a sliding outside door, and sliding doors into the central hallway.

A picture for scale, and showing one of the tiny spa buckets that are in the kit, you have to wind wire around them, I've got another half dozen to do.

I'm sorry if you are reading this blog for the quilting or lacemaking because there has been very little of that this week!  I did pin my Snowman Quilt  up on the design wall to see how much more I need to quilt.  It's probably about 75% done now. Ironically it's been very seasonal this week.

I did a bit of work on my Bucks point hexagonal edging but it was halfhearted.  In the evenings I've been knitting on my GAA Afghan twisted cable edging, I am slowly approaching the final corner.  And I've moved on to the next little ball of yarn on my 10-stitch triangle shawl.

So it's back to work tomorrow for the first time in a week, if I can remember how to get there and what it is I actually do...

Sunday, 25 February 2018


The cold spell not only continues but is predicted to get much worse this coming week.  Parts of our old house are quite cold even with the heating on 24/7 and I am routinely walking around with a cowl and heavy jumper, augmented with a hat and sometimes a jacket when I go down to the basement to work on my dollshouse.  Consequently I just don't feel like doing anything, my biological need to hibernate has obviously kicked in and all's I want to do is stay still, stay warm, and eat lots of sugar  :)

However I have been putting in major time on my Japanese dollshouse, spending hours down there all day on my days off and a few hours each evening.  My DS has started referring to me as the 'basement dweller', as in 'How's the basement dweller tonight?'   As you can see, it is a hive of mess and activity.

I have a bad and longstanding habit of covering every available surface so that I end up actually working on my lap, but I've ordered a cheap rolling trolley off Amazon which should hopefully be coming this week so that I can offload the items I am only using occasionally like the paint bottles. I've also ordered some more clamps as it is becoming obvious that there will be a lot of sanding to fit and clamping on this project.  As it is built in small steps, the potential for small errors to creep in that disrupt later combination with subsequent walls/floors is large although I am trying to keep everything flat and accurate.

The first few days of time were spent rectifying the previous owner's bodge job on Chapters 1-6.  Luckily they used some kind of inferior glue so I was able to break apart the front porch, completely repaint it, then glue it back together.  I also broke out the sliding doors and fixed them so that they actually slide now, and repainted them as well, and repainted the 'cobble' frontage. The lower part of the walls is left unpainted for now as there will be clapboard siding later.

I repainted their kitchen walls and repainted the beams in a darker brown, I had no choice as they had already been painted with a rust brown so I couldn't stain them.  Now that I've moved on to subsequent steps, I've stained the later beams with Georgian medium oak colour, sealed with matt varnish.  In this picture of the kitchen, you can see the dark brown beams on the rear wall, and the stained beams on the left hand wall.  I'm trying to decide which I like better, to do the rest of the house the same.  I think I'm leaning towards the stained beams because the wood grain, although not in scale, looks more lifelike than the flat painted beams.  But staining/varnishing does take more time to dry.

 I waxed the dais in the kitchen to improve the finish and textured the kitchen floor to look like a tamped dirt floor, and repainted the traditional kitchen stove (after prying the glued-on lids off the pots so I could paint them as well).

They had really done a number on the lower section of this kitchen cabinet, I think in despair they had just given up and glued or forced in the drawers and glued in the lower doors which were meant to slide.  I managed to pry their pieces apart without too much breakage, and spent a long time scraping glue out of the sliding grooves and sanding things until it all fit together properly and the doors worked.  I built the top part of the cabinet (with two further sets of sliding doors) in one of the new chapters, then put it all together.  As they had painted the lower half, I had to repaint their half and paint my top half so it all matched, plus I aged the whole cabinet to look well used.  I'm pleased that everything is operational on it now.

The new chapters 8-10 are now focusing on the hallway, including building a three sided traditional entrance, which I've almost finished.  So far I'm taking a couple of chapters at a time, so that I can stain and paint in batches without risking losing things.  I'm using a couple of bargain store baking sheets to store the chapter pieces on.  I'm really enjoying the build, the kit quality is much higher than I had expected, with a lot of pieces precut or pre-routed to size, I can sort of see why the series was so expensive to begin with as it would be a massive job to retro-engineer and assemble all these components into mailable chapter packets.  I've only had one piece that was too short so far, and I was able to cut a replacement from my stash. The instructions are very detailed and I'm starting to recognise some Italian words that are being used frequently like right/left/piece/glue etc. I don't always do it the way they say because sometimes from experience I  know it's better to do things in a different order.  I do feel a bit pressured by having a box sitting next to the table with 100 more chapters in it, but I just need to take it a few at a time.

I'm continuing to knit on my 10-stitch-twist shawl and have just joined on my fourth little ball of sock yarn.  The sides are getting much longer now so one little ball doesn't do a full circuit any more.  I've knit a bit more on the twisted rope edging of my GAA Afghan, I'm on the fourth and final side now so the end is in sight although several feet away.

With all the dollshousing going on, I haven't done any bobbin lace this week and almost no quilting!

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Goodbye Christmas

I spent an hour this cold morning going up and down a ladder to unwind two sets of Christmas lights from the two trees in front of our house. For some reason I had wound them around every branch I could reach when we put them up.  While this means that they survived Storm Eleanor and Storm No-name, it made the job of taking them down fairly difficult especially as I kept losing feeling in my cold fingers then having painful pins and needles as the circulation returned.  But we had to do it because we're getting the trees trimmed hopefully soon.  At least it's done and off my guilt list, and I did not yield to temptation and take the scissors to the wires to speed the job up.

The knitted doll reached its destination and has been ecstatically received by its new young owner.  Apparently she has a thing for hats so is delighted that I included a hat with the outfits. I've been sent some lovely pictures of her obvious happiness - I wish everyone I gave handmade things to was that pleased!  I think all of us hand-crafters have been burned in the past by people who weren't impressed by things we put a lot of work into.

I won the eBay auction for the little table for my dollshouse room that I will be building the Japanese house on, and DH kindly went and fetched it for me.  I think I might keep it afterwards, it fits in nicely and will add extra display space.  So I bought a plastic tablecloth today to protect it which I put on after taking this photo.  This shows the table and the huge box of all the part-work kits which DS and DH struggled down three flights of stairs with.

I've had a look and the original owner had completed the first six steps but not very well.  He's painted the wood instead of staining like I am planning to do, which is unfortunate as his wood won't match mine.  I've got a day off tomorrow so I will have to look at what he's done so far and consider how to go on. I spent some time typing the Italian from the books into Google Translate which is very tiring but gave me a general idea of what's going on. The accompanying booklets are very detailed and also include historical information about Japanese houses in each one.

Meanwhile I made a push to finish the third Chinese box theatre miniature scene to clear the decks for the new project.  This tin is 'In a happy corner' and the instructions were in English again which helped.  This was definitely the hardest to build, the buildings are made up of several separate components that just sort of balance on each other while the glue is drying. You can't clamp because it's inside the tin  It's cute and I'm pleased with it, but I think three of these kits is enough.  I'm staining the bunny stand this time so still waiting for that to dry. Due to the inclusion of the telephone box and pub sign, I think this is meant to be an English scene - or a Chinese idea of an English scene.  Looks more like New York or Boston to me apart from the telephone box.  Lots of cute detail again, including tiny cakes in the bakery, and books for the bookstore.

I've been sewing the binding down by hand on my big Blue and white china quilt, although the quilt fought back and had to have a time out for a few days.  I machine sewed most of one long side only to discover that my needle had unthreaded at the beginning of the seam, so by the time I noticed, the thread was all fouled and hooked inside the head of the machine. I had to unscrew the top cover and side cover to pull out all the stuck thread.  Then when I re-sewed that long seam and started the next side, my bobbin thread ran out.  I re-wound a bobbin and started sewing again, then realised that back when the original foul-up had occurred, my seam width had reset to default and I hadn't been stitching a 1/4 inch seam since the original problem.  Since I cut my binding to 1 1/4 inch, it isn't wide enough to wrap around the default seam allowance.  So after some bad language and a time out for a few days for me to get over it (aren't hobbies supposed to be fun?), I ripped out the two offending wide seams and re-sewed them AGAIN to finish the machine part of the binding.  Grrrr.

I had an enjoyable day out on Saturday at the Fenny Fiddlers Lace Day in Fenny Stratford. It's a good sized lace day that I've been to before, well organised and with lots of amenities like suppliers, a raffle, tombola, and a secondhand stall.  One amenity it didn't have this time was heating, it was absolutely freezing all day and I had to keep my coat wrapped around my legs to block the icy draft at floor level.  They had some portable heaters going, and a few inadequate wall mounted heaters, but it only started feeling a bit warmer in late afternoon before we went home.  It was also fairly crowded, the tables are not very deep and we had nine people clustered around our double table, so my elbows were occasionally touching the lacemakers on either side of me.  It was like making lace on a really cold aeroplane.  I took my new travelling pillow so I wasn't taking up as much width as usual, but still the same depth so I was extending well into the opposite person's table space due to the narrow table.  Luckily she only had a little pillow which just fit on as well.  But otherwise I quite enjoyed it, I sat with some friendly people, I got lots done on my Bucks Point edging with almost no reverse lacing, and I cleaned up on the secondhand stall to the tune of about 20 pairs of very reasonably priced bobbins.  I bought a couple of new painted bobbins by Sarah Jones as well, very pretty. Afterwards DH was a star and took me to the nearby and excellent Thread and Patches quilting shop, which is like a small version of an American shop with its wide variety of stock.   I enjoyed looking at the fabric but it's so expensive now that I didn't even feel tempted to buy any.  I think my brain is stuck in the past when it comes to the cost of quilting fabric, I can't believe that people are paying £17 a metre for it now.  I did buy a bottle of purple dye for a UFO knitting project I need to finish, and a packet of tiny white buttons I could have done with when making the knitted doll.

On my day off this week, I spent some time watching some excellent free video tutorials on repairing vintage Singer Featherweight sewing machines, on the Featherweight Shop site which was mentioned on Facebook. My 222 has always had erratic tension so I want to try some of the tips from the videos to see if I can improve it.  It will also benefit from some of the cleaning and polishing tips if I can acquire similar products to what they used. It's very generous of that shop to share so much knowledge to help owners trying to troubleshoot their old machines.  Mine dates to 1957.

Most of the rest of my time this week has been spent on my new knitting project, the Ten-Stitch-Triangle shawl by Frankie Brown. It's like a log cabin triangle: you start with a small garter stitch triangle in the middle of the back, then knit a 10-stitch wide garter strip around and around until you make a triangle big enough to wear as a shawl.  I'm knitting it with the little balls of Opal sock yarn from my Advent calendar so it's quite fun to see what the next colour will be.  It took me a long time to get going on this project, I had to rip back several times because I wasn't happy with my joins or corners.  After watching some YouTube videos on the related 10-stitch Blanket, I tried out a few different things and finally got going.  By that time my first ball of yarn was getting a bit matted from being re-used so many times!  I'm doing the corners as given in the pattern, but I'm joining at the sides using the join shown in the Nervous Knitter video , which is a flatter join more suitable for a shawl. My triangle is growing but still a bit wobbly which I think blocking will help a lot with. it's rather addictive knitting, mindless and yet not mindless because of the short row corners.  When I'd had enough of lacemaking yesterday at the Lace Day, I pulled this out for the last hour, and I'm knitting it on the train there and back to work.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Next big project

Having got the quilt frame out the way and significantly reduced my mountain of unfinished quilt tops, I'm now gearing up to tackle the next big project that's been waiting in the wings: my 110 chapter part work to build a Japanese style dollshouse.

Regular readers may remember I bought this on Italian eBay almost exactly three years ago. It was originally issued by De Agostini as a very expensive partwork, and published in Italian, Japanese and apparently Korean.  I found out about it when a finished example was featured in a British dollshouse magazine, and when I looked it up online, I found I could buy a complete set in Italian for about one tenth of the original price.  We were in the middle of house renovations at that point so the kits have been sitting in the attic ever since. Meanwhile we visited Japan ourselves in 2016 so I now have a ton of photos to draw on as visual references. The main stumbling block now is my inability to read Italian but I am placing great hopes on Google Translate and explanatory photos in the instructions.

As a preliminary step, I am hunting on eBay for a cheap small kitchen table that will fit into my dollshouse room to serve as a temporary work/building platform.  I can do the messy stuff in the unfinished basement room, but I can't leave the dollshouse in that room as it's really damp and I think the dollshouse would probably warp. This build will likely take months (possibly over a year) so I think it needs to be located in the much-less-damp dollshouse room.  Unlike my previous big dollshouse kit builds, I don't think I am going to blog this one specifically as the construction has already been well documented by a couple of other bloggers here and here.  So you may have to put up with the occasional post on this blog!

You may have noticed I slipped in an extra post this week about how I made my travel lace pillow, and on my day off this week I moved my Bucks Point edging onto the new pillow.  Yesterday I worked on my edging for a few hours at the Nene Lacemakers Saturday meeting, and the new pillow seems to be working really well.  The padded surface has a nice feel to it, I have enough room for my bobbins and the roller pillow is holding pins well.  I received several predictions that I won't be able to make a new pricking that exactly fits around the roller so it seems likely that I will have to leapfrog my original two prickings instead, but that's fine. The new pillow, when folded up, is so compact and easy to carry that as I headed out the door to go to the meeting, I had a strong sense that I was forgetting something - because normally when I travel to lace events I have a huge bulky bag of 24-inch pillow and accoutrements that makes it hard to even get out the door. This new pillow just hangs over my arm like a 1950s handbag! ! The club members seemed to like it anyway.

Also this week I finished my Knitted Doll.  As well as replacing the buttons with smaller buttons that I found at the haberdashery, I finished a two-part playsuit and a hat, so she has a change of clothes from her original dress and cardi. I've used up almost all my four colours of cotton yarn that I bought for this project so I am going to stop there.

I've offered her as a gift to a knitting friend for her toddler, recognising that the toddler is probably too young to manipulate the buttons and clothing yet but Mum could help with that. I've sewn the buttons on very securely and the toddler is over two years old now so I think the doll is sufficiently play-safe.

Today I have cut some binding strips and I'm planning to machine the binding on to my Blue and White China Quilt then I can stitch the other side of the binding down by hand in the evenings this week.  

I've been tackling a few outstanding items from my projects list (I have lists for everything because my memory isn't very good) so yesterday I spent a few hours cleaning up and re-waxing the antique sewing machine I bought a few months ago.  The beautiful machine is now on display in the upstairs hallway where I can admire it every day.  The wooden cover looks a lot better after a clean and wax but it is going to have to go into the attic for storage because I think it will get damaged if left in the hallway. And last night I sat down to re-spangle a bunch of old bobbins, something I've been putting off for months.  I get almost all my bobbins secondhand, and some of them come with some pretty weird spangles, or the wire ends are sticking out, or they've used some huge inappropriate centre bead like a 1.5inch crystal drop, or there is no spangle at all.  [The spangle is the ring of beads at the bottom of the bobbin that adds some weight and prevents the bobbin from rolling.]  I went through my two pillows in use and mended various spangles on those bobbins, then I sat down with a box of all the other bobbins needing attention and worked through about half of them in front of the tv last night. I'm not the world's best spangler but even my attempts are better than what was on them.

The unusually long cold snap continues here, it's been hovering around 3 degrees C for several days with heavy frosts every morning. But my garden is now bedecked with several clumps of pretty snowdrops, some pink hellebores, and a couple of primroses are trying to bloom despite being voraciously attacked as usual by slugs. The magnolia tree is covered in buds which promise much bloom in a few months, and the corkscrew hazel tree has catkins all over it.  Meanwhile the rosemary bush at the front of the house, which is supposed to be a Mediterranean plant, has decided to bloom which is just crazy.  Maybe it felt left out!

Thursday, 8 February 2018

DIY Travel lace pillow / folding lacemaking pillow instructions

I've made myself a fold-up bobbin lacemaking pillow for my Bucks Point lacemaking, so I've written these notes in case they might help other lacemakers. I was inspired and motivated by some tutorials I found online - see the section below on Resources.  This is what my version looks like.  It has front and back working aprons stiffened with card, and when folded up into a tote bag, there are fabric sides for security.

Background and resources

This project came about as I became increasingly annoyed by working a one inch wide Bucks edging on a 24 inch pillow, and wondering if there was a more portable option that still gave me enough room for my bobbins. Of course, googling ‘lace travel pillow’ finds all sorts of wonderful constructions, including this tutorial by the Edinburgh Lace Club .  Via Pinterest, I found this tutorial on a French blog by Christiane which looked more like what I wanted.  As helpful as her tutorial is, my computer doesn't seem to like her website as I couldn’t find any way to pause the slide show nor easily print off the photos, plus the steps seem to be displaying out of order  And it’s in French.  Several  other French bloggers have used Christiane's tutorial to make their own versions which will also appear in your google results and might inspire your fabric choices.

I decided to build my own travel lace pillow based on Christiane's photos. I initially planned to create a detailed tutorial in English, but I soon found that it was more complicated than I expected and that I was having to improvise on many steps.  So instead I have written these notes as a record of what I did.

I also realised partway through that if I stiffened all segments of the apron surrounding the pillow as the French lacemakers have done, I was going to end up with a pillow which was actually wider than my 24-inch pillow! Perhaps with continental bobbins, you need the stiff apron all around, but for making Bucks Point I think I only need a front apron that is wide enough/deep enough, and a back apron for stability where I can rest bobbins I'm not currently using.

So having got to the stage of a finished central box holding my roller, I mocked up an apron out of scrap fabric with inserted boards at the front and back, and experimented with methods of folding up and fastening the pillow while keeping the sides closed in for security and cleanliness. I decided to have ‘floppy’ sides that I can tuck out of the way while I’m using the pillow, but which can be securely fastened in transit to keep dirt out / possessions inside.  The following is a description of how I made my lacemaking pillow, with a huge debt of gratitude to Christiane's tutorial  for getting me started.

 I apologise for the mixture of imperial and metric measurements, I'm of an age where I have never fully converted to metric.

A note on materials: Throughout this project I used Aline’s Designer Super Thick Tacky Glue (then when that ran out, Aline’s Super Thick Tacky Glue) which is superb for gluing fabric, and normal Aline’s Tacky Glue for the middle of larger card areas where I applied it with a brush. The fabric I have used is quilt-weight 100% cotton fabric. My roller is made from a pool noodle padded with strips of good quality wool felt. You will see in the notes that I used picture framing matboard for most of my card sections (scraps obtained for free by asking at my local framing shop), but heavier card cut from an office box file lid and base for my front and back working aprons. I used a metal ruler and a Stanley knife for cutting the card on a self-healing cutting mat, being careful to keep my fingers well out of the way of the blade. I stitched most of my seams by machine. I padded my working surfaces with Hobb's 80/20 Heirloom quilt wadding (batting) which is a needlepunched 80% cotton/20% polyester wadding that is thin but denser than thin polyester wadding/batting. As I had all of the above in my multi-crafting stash, this project did not cost me anything to make beyond what I had originally spent on these supplies in the past.


Start with the roller.  The size of your roller will determine all subsequent dimensions.  I made my roller out of a segment of pool noodle, wound round with long strips of wool felt that I had in my stash. I wanted a wider roller than some of the online examples, in case I get better at lace and can make wider projects later on.  I added a cover (seamed into a tube on the sewing machine), then gathered in both ends of the tube tightly with strong thread and pressed the gathers flat with my iron.  I neatened the ends of the roller by cutting two card circles slightly smaller than the diameter of the roller, covering them in fabric, then gluing them on either side of the roller and clamping until dry. My roller ended up measuring around 16cm long by x 10cm in diameter.

Make the outer box.  The box will be the bottom of the tote bag in transit.  I made mine slightly higher than the radius of my roller measurement so less than half of my roller is visible above the box. The box needs to hold the roller snugly so the roller doesn’t spin when in use. I allowed space on either side of the roller for two equal-sized storage compartments.   My finished box measurements [after adding the final bottom piece] are around 7cm high x 10cm deep by 32cm long.  I constructed my box in the way shown in Christiane's tutorial: by sewing a tube of fabric, folding it in half, and stitching seams partway across to divide the tube into segments for the sides while leaving a generous flap of fabric free on the open sides. I inserted picture framing matboard pieces into the segments for stiffening but subsequently found that this card is too ‘bendy’ for the long sides of the box which have to stand up to the roller pushing against them.  I also found that this construction method is not very rigid since the card pieces don’t actually connect to each other and are only held together with fabric.  If I were doing it over, I would use heavier card for the long side pieces, glue the card side pieces directly together and reinforce the corners with tape, then cover this construction with fabric, then add the bottom by gluing the flaps from the inside and from the outside the same way that Christiane does.    When you are gluing down your fabric flaps, be sure to cut away the excess at corners to reduce bulk for a neat result. At this point I still thought I would be making freestanding storage boxes like Christiane did, so I cut a piece of card for the bottom of the box, covered it in fabric and glued it inside to neaten the interior bottom.  The exterior bottom of the box stays unfinished until the very end of the project because you will be gluing your straps to it.

Make the storage compartments – Christiane makes free standing storage boxes that you can lift out.  I didn’t think I would need free standing boxes, also by this point I had realised how bendy my outer box was and that I needed to reinforce it.  Therefore I chose to make inserted boxes that are glued in place which helps add rigidity to my structure.  I again used picture framing matboard but I used a double thickness on the side facing the roller for additional strength.   Construct a box of matboard by gluing card sides to each other and to a card bottom, as per Christiane's tutorial, sizing it to fit snugly into your outer box.

I then made the opening lid by sewing around three sides of a fabric rectangle, leaving loose flaps on the open short side.  I tapered off the closed short side by sewing across the corners at an angle, then ironed on a flap of heavy fusible interfacing before turning the rectangle to the right side and pressing it flat. I then sewed across the ‘flap’ containing the interfacing to make a fold line. Into the open pocket I inserted a piece of matboard to be the stiff lid, then sewed across between the card and the loose flaps to hold the card in place. Now is the time to add a button for opening the box lid – I pierced through the card with an awl, then sewed on a button by going through the hole to a second button on the underneath.  Glue the loose flaps of the lid on either side of the back of the storage compartment, checking that the lid flap tucks in neatly.

I then cut a weirdly T-shaped piece of fabric which did three things:

1) it covered the exposed side of the compartment facing the roller, including flaps that glued under the bottom of the storage compartment and around onto the front and back sides of the storage compartment.

2) it covered the four interior sides of the box, with excess fabric at the top to glue over and down onto the outside of the three bare card sides, and a flap at the bottom to glue onto the interior base of the storage compartment.  I finished in one corner by turning under a hem on the fourth side and gluing it into the corner.

3) I snipped into the fabric in two places so that I could turn down a hem going along the underside of the lid to neatly hide the lid attachment flap.

Needless to say this took a bit of experimentation, once I had a piece that looked like it would work for one box, I cut a mirror image for the other box before doing any gluing.  I'm sorry but I didn't think of taking a picture. There’s probably a better way of finishing these compartments, perhaps by using separate fabric pieces instead of trying to do it all with one piece of fabric. I ended up with some tiny bits of exposed card on either side of my lid but it generally came out alright. Because I was trying to increase my box's structural strength, I didn't want to completely cover my compartments inside and out in fabric like Christiane did or I would just be gluing fabric to fabric.

Then I glued the storage compartments into place so that the finished fabric-covered sides faced the roller, and the lid hinges were towards the back. I pushed the compartments down firmly to glue to my outer box floor and clamped the three sides for a firm join. Once the glue dried, I cut two pieces of thinner card for the interior bottom of the storage compartments , padded them with a bit of quilt wadding, covered them in fabric and glued these into the bases of the storage compartments to finish. The main box is now finished.

Make the ties – before you sew the apron, you need to make your ties.  I sewed six ties, a pair for either side of the working aprons and a pair for the centre.  Mine are skinny bias tape sewed as a double layer using a zig zag machine stitch just because I happened to have a lot of that tape in my stash, but you could also fold over narrow fabric strips to sew c.1cm wide ties. My ties are about 12 inches long.

Make the apron – After trialling a pair of bobbins on the roller, I determined that a front working apron the width of the box, by 22cm deep, would suit my working style.  I made up a half-apron paper pattern by first tracing around the box and squaring this up to create my central opening, then measuring 22cm plus a seam allowance from the centre point of both sides and the front of the opening. I also drew a straight line continuing forward from both sides of the opening to be the sides of my front working apron.  At the 22cm plus seam allowance mark, I drew a line the width of the opening and parallel to it, which represents the front edge of the working apron. To create the curved sides, I pinned on a fabric tape measure to the corner of the opening, and drew an arc at 22cm plus seam allowance to connect  the front apron to the side point.  Finally, I drew in seam allowances within the opening.    This pattern, placed on the fold of your fabric, can be used to cut two full aprons out of fabric. I cut one in plain fabric for my interior working surface, and one in print fabric for the outside.

On the fabric that will face upwards when the pillow is in use, I used the paper pattern to chalk in stitching lines for the sides of the stiff working aprons, and stabilising lines at the centre point and quarter points of the side floppy aprons.

This is a good time to add an optional pocket to the centre of the back apron, which can hold your worked lace coming off the roller, or it could hold tools.  I added an elastic top to my pocket and stitched it on by machine.

To pad the front and back working aprons, I cut two rectangles of quilt wadding (I used Hobbs Heirloom 80/20 wadding which is denser than polyester wadding) and pinned them in place onto the wrong side of the fabric that would be facing up when I use the pillow, over the areas of the front and back working aprons (so that once stitched and turned through, the wadding seam allowance is going to face away from the working area). The wadding rectangles need to be large enough that they will be caught by both the outer seam of the apron and by the stitching you're going to do on either side of the front/back aprons. The wadding should also protrude jninto the opening by about an inch and a half  (we'll tuck this excess in later).   Pin on your ties so that they will be caught by the outer seam (the majority of the tie facing inside, just the tip poking out past the seam), locating two pairs just inside your apron side chalked lines and the third pair at the centre point of the front and back aprons. Apologies but at this point I was going full steam and forgot to take  photos! I'm trying to describe with words instead.

Then with the two fabric aprons rights sides together and the wadding pinned on one side, I stitched all around the circumference of the apron, catching the edges of the two pieces of wadding in the outer seam and reinforcing my stitching when I came to each tie.  Turn the apron to the right side and poke out the seam, pressing flat.  Also turn in the seam allowances around the central opening and press these so they stay inside - you will need to clip diagonally into each corner of the opening so that you can tuck in the seam allowance.

 Check your opening by laying it on top of  your box to make sure the opening is a good fit around the box, not too small and not too loose. Adjust if necessary Pin the two apron layers together so they don't shift while you are stitching the pocket lines., ensuring the wadding is pinned in place where it will be caught by the stitching lines on either side of the working aprons.  Top stitch close to the seam on the floppy curved sides of the apron only (not in the pocket areas where you will be inserting card). Stitch on the chalked lines on either side of the front and back aprons to create the pocket for your card pieces, catching the wadding in each seam. Afterwards I turned out the side seams through the gap in the side of the opening and trimmed the wadding within a quarter inch of the side stitching to reduce bulk but I left the full wadding seam allowance at the outer circumference seam so it will protect the edge of the card. Don't trim the wadding extending for an inch and a half out of the pocket into the opening, we need this later. I also stitched the chalked lines for the side centre line, and the quadrant lines, but I stopped these lines about an inch from the opening to allow for finessing when it came time to join the apron to the box.

 I used heavy card from the lid and base of an office box file for the front and back aprons, and cut two pieces 22cm deep by a width slightly less than my box width (the card needs to be slightly narrower so you can slide it in to the pocket you’ve sewn).  Trial fit the card and check the apron again on your box to make sure it fits and you are happy. Make sure the wadding seam allowance at the bottom of the pocket is wrapping around the edge of the card  to the outside of the pocket and not bunching up. 

Take out the card pieces while you work on the sides.  I pressed my quadrant lines to create the envelope flaps that will tuck inside when the pillow is folded up.  Then I stitched close to the fold from the outside edge to within a few inches of the opening to create a permanent fold on all four quadrant lines.  Then I stitched half a metal snap to the front and back envelope flaps where they face each other on one side, close to the top/outer edge.  So when I am closing up the pillow I can tuck these flaps in and snap them to each other to hold them in place, then repeat on the other side. Finally I stitched a short tuck at the centre side point top and stitched a small metal hoop (actually a knitting stitch marker) to the top of both centre side lines, through which I can thread one of the side ties when I am closing up the pillow so that the side pieces will be held up tightly and be closed in.

If you are happy with everything and with the fit, re-insert your card pieces into the front and back apron pockets, making sure the wadding seam allowance at the bottom is wrapping neatly to the outside of the pocket.  Carefully open the top of the pocket at the opening and apply glue to the outside of the card piece (by 'outside' I mean the side of the card that is NOT the bobbin working surface), just in the area where the excess wadding that was protruding into your opening will be folded inwards and tucked down onto the card.  Tuck in the excess wadding and press it into the glue., so it is wrapped over the top edge of your card and the wadding is pulled smoothly around the card.  This creates a smooth working surface because the wadding is held at the bottom of the pocket by the seam, and at the top by glue and can't wrinkle or work loose, and the seam allowances are on the underneath..

Once the glue dries, you are ready to close the opening seam by stitching a small neat overcast or ladder stitch all around the opening, keeping your seam allowances tucked in.  If there is any excess fabric, try to bunch this neatly into a corner to keep your working area smooth but there shouldn’t be very much if you’ve  done the above steps accurately. You may also want to stitch a length of ribbon into the  front seam, which will assist in lifting out the roller later.

Attach the apron to the box.  Place the apron over the box so that the finished opening is sitting just on top of and slightly to the outside of the outer wall of your box. Pin the corners and the middle of each side to hold in place.  Using heavier thread such as quilting thread, stitch the apron to the box by pushing your needle through the edge of the apron and then picking up some box fabric from the top of the box wall to make a neat small overcast stitch.  For security, I tied a knot with my working thread every few inches so that if a thread breaks in future, it would only affect one area.  I also stitched through the ribbon again  when I came to it for extra strength.

You’re almost finished!  You should now be able to tuck in and snap your flaps, close your pillow sides and tie them at the top and admire your almost finished construction.

Make and attach the handles.  I made my handles to finish at 1.5 inches wide. I cut two long strips of fabric 4.5 inches wide to my desired length plus four inches. I cut two strips of heavy fusible interfacing 1.5 inches wide and the length of my handles less four inches and fused this down the centre of my fabric, leaving two inches un-reinforced at either end.  I pressed down a hem on one side of my fabric, then pressed both fabric sides over onto the interfacing so that the hem hid the raw edges, then I top stitched down the edge of the  hem to secure the layers.  I further topstitched about a quarter inch in from both sides of the two handles.

 I then glued the two inch non-interfaced sections at either end of the handles onto the bottom of my box, at equal distances from either side, and ensuring I didn’t twist the handle.  Once that glue had set, I then applied glue to the inside of the handle until I could glue the handle up the side of the box and all the way up the working apron to within a quarter inch of the top, keeping the handle parallel to the edge, and held them with clamps at the top until the glue dried.  The final step was to reinforce the handle by machine stitching along the edge of the apron catching in each handle. I also hand stitched on either side of the handle near the seam between the box and the apron for added security.

Finish the bottom of the box. Cut some matboard for the bottom of the box, cover this with fabric and glue it on to neaten the bottom and hide your handles. Hold it in place with masking tape while the glue dries.

You’re done!  You might be inspired by the examples online to make a matching pincushion that will fit into your storage compartment, or perhaps a custom cover cloth to match your pillow.

I haven't been using my pillow for very long yet but I'm really pleased with how it's turned out. I've moved the Bucks Point edging onto the new pillow and I'm working to get more pins in.  I'm pleased to find that the roller is holding the pins well against tension, and I feel like I have enough room to work and that my apron is at a good angle.  I can prop bobbins temporarily on the storage box lid or move the ones I'm not going to use for a while right onto the back apron.  I've placed a cover cloth over the working surface and when I'm done, I put all the bobbins onto stitch holders then wrap the cover cloth around them before fastening the bag. I've made a pincushion that fits in one storage compartment, and my tools (pusher, lifter etc.) fit into the other compartment - so far, so good!

I hope the above explanation isn't too confusing and you can understand my process.  If it helps you make your own version,  I’d love to hear how you got on and see pictures. Good luck and happy lacemaking!

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