Saturday, 20 May 2017

Nice weather for ducks

The garden was previously suffering as it has been a pretty dry winter and spring, but now we've swung the opposite way and it's been raining almost every day for over a week.  The lawn now looks lush and needs a cut but it's too wet to cut it. At least it's a lot warmer. Tomorrow I'm going to plant out the plug plants I've been growing on because hopefully we aren't going to have any more frosts.

Last year I took part in a seed distribution programme and tried to grow several things from seed.  Some were a qualified success: I had several salvias that bloomed and some have survived the winter, I've got three Hydrangea Paniculata growing in pots, and the Mexican Fleabane has been a delight.  I also had a single Lily Martagon which survived the winter and started growing quite vigorously over the last several weeks.  I was quite pleased and looking forward to some lovely flowers. It kept growing taller and throwing out more stems with no sign of flowers, until it was about three feet tall.  I was still hopeful, until I noticed the exact same plant growing out of cracks in the pavements in the neighbourhood and in rough verges and I realised I had been tricked - it's a weed.  I doublechecked online and sure enough my plant looked nothing like Lily Martagon. So I pulled it up. It must have snuck into the pot somehow while the real seeds didn't grow, and I've been carefully nurturing it like a cuckoo in the nest. DH thinks this is quite funny.

Today we dug three post holes in between rain showers, and cut the first three pergola posts to length.  Tomorrow if the weather cooperates we will have a go at concreting them in.

I did some bobbin lace this morning, trying out a pattern for a Christmas snowflake, but I had to undo everything because I realised my thread is too thick for the pricking.  I've enlarged the pricking now and I'll have another go.  A few days ago I finished my sample of Bucks Point gimp fingers.  It looks nice but each 1/4 inch took about one hour so I can't see myself ever making anything usable in this pattern. I have mixed feelings about Bucks Point lace. I really like how it looks - to me it looks much more like 'lace' than the more geometric laces like Torchon.  But it is so incredibly slow to work, at least for me anyway.  It's also very complicated, I've only done simple patterns so far and there is so much more to learn, and I do not have a good memory.

After finishing this sample, I took the cover off my styrofoam pillow so I could wash the cover before moving it onto the replacement pillow I bought at Peterborough last week.  I was amazed at how shredded the old pillow had become. The middle, which takes the brunt of the lace pins, was basically loose crumbs.  I've realised Bucks Point lace must be particularly hard on these cheap pillows because you use so many pins set so close together.  But the advantage of these pillows is that they are very lightweight and portable.  I've got a better one which is the big circular pillow I bought for making the Idrija doiley, but it's quite heavy.

I joined together the pieces of my machine knit baby dress successfully, and I just need to knit the collar on now.  It looks alright although it would have looked better if I had done fully fashioned decreases along the raglans instead of just leaving them plain.

I've also sewn all the diagonal rows now of my William Morris grid quilt so the next job will be to sew them together into a top. I had originally planned a random mix of blocks but the value range is so wide, from very dark to relatively bright. In the end I decided if you can't beat them, join them, so I arranged some dark blocks into a square on point and filled in the middle with the brightest blocks.

At my age I need good light to see things, and I've struggled a bit with the light levels around my sewing machine because the overhead light fixture casts shadows.  I've got a clip on IKEA light which helps, but then I saw a great idea online to fix self-adhesive LED lights inside the throat of the sewing machine.  I ordered from the same supplier here.  It's hard to take a picture of because the camera is reading the light levels and darkening the machine.  It's almost too bright now under the machine, I've actually had to put some black electricians tape along the glossy machine
bed because it was reflecting the bright LEDs into my eyes. The LED strip cuts to length to suit your machine and then has its own power cord.

I'm still knitting my Reaverse slippers. I couldn't knit for a few nights because my RSI flared up in my right hand after all the pergola painting and stained glass renovating last weekend. I forgot to blog last week that I finished my Outlander socks. The designer based these on the books by Diana Gabaldon which are set in Scotland, which is why I chose a tartan-like colourway and have finished the cuffs off with stag's head buttons.  These fit well and the cuff actually helps them to stay up.

The stained glass panel had to cure for a week lying flat after I applied the cement last weekend.  So today I put it into the frame I made for it and mounted it in my bedroom window.  I really like it.  Yes there are some broken panes but I feel like I saved it because it was in pretty bad shape when we bought it at the Newark Antiques fair.  As well as looking pretty, this gives me some additional privacy as there are flats to the left that have an oblique view of this side window.  Now that the light is streaming through the glass, I can see some areas where I need to do a bit more cleaning and tidying but overall I'm quite pleased with it. Something a bit different which is what I like. I don't think I'm much of a decorator but it seems that if you keep buying things you like, somehow they mostly look good together.

On Thursday I heard a short but violent cat fight in the garden then our cat streaked in through her cat flap. I looked out and saw a much bigger cat strolling off.  Our cat seemed fine but then she went off her food on Friday and still didn't eat anything today. I suspected she had an infected wound so we hauled her off to the vet who confirmed the cat had a fever and also a bite on her back. The vet shaved a patch around the bite so we can keep an eye on it, and jabbed the cat full of £75 of antibiotics.  And of course the excess on the pet insurance is £80 so we can't claim. That cat needs to get a job. At least she hasn't gotten trapped in next door's basement for a while.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Dial-a-builder advice line - why doesn't this exist?

I've spent a lot of time this week researching online trying to figure out how to put up our pergola posts and I'm still not there yet. I need some kind of dial-a-builder advice line that I can call. The problem is basically how do you install metal post supports into concrete-filled holes resulting in three posts that are all vertical, in a line so the slot-tops all line up to accept the top beam, spaced accurately within 1cm so the trellis panels will fit in between the posts, while at the same time achieving an appropriate height for each post on sloping ground so that the top beam comes out level - and I can't just chop off the tops of the posts to achieve level because they have slotted tops.  Added to that is the question of whether the metal sockets should be flush with the future patio surface or sitting above the future patio surface [which would result in having to pour concrete in mid-air which isn't going to work, duh]. Sigh...

Meanwhile we continue to paint the second coat of dark brown stain onto the components, which is a form of productive procrastination I guess.  DH is just off to buy the fourth can of stain from Screwfix and that will be the last one we need.

Crafts are so much simpler.

I've sewn all the triangular setting blocks for the William Morris grid quilt and have begun sewing diagonal rows together.  Once the middle is all sewn together then I will work out how to do the four corner block and which fabrics to use.

Last week I did some research online on how to restore a stained glass panel.  Cutting glass to replace the broken bits is outside my technical abilities (and comfort zone) but I did watch a useful video on how to secure the glass inside the leading with 'stained glass cement' so I sent off for some of that and the accompanying 'whiting' which helps the cement to set.  On my day off I cleaned up the panel, brushing down the lead and scraping off old paint and putty. Then I applied the cement which is basically oily black goo that you force into all the cracks and crannies between the lead and the glass.  You let it set for several hours and then you clean up by scraping along each lead line to neaten the result.  I've done both sides and now it needs to lie flat for a week to finish hardening before I can mount it.  Already it feels much more like a solid panel, instead of a wobbly framework of rattling glass pieces, and it looks a lot tidier.

I knit up the faux fur headband kit earlier in the week, and have worn it a few times on the days where it's too warm for a full hat but there's still a biting wind making for cold ears.  It's knitted in Wendy Eider and creates a convincing and extremely soft faux fur.  The yarn was easier to knit with than I expected, I just had to keep the stitches well separated so I didn't accidentally k2tog, but inevitably I dropped a stitch which just vanished into the pelt and took some doing to recover.  This yarn might make a nice cowl as well.  It is rather static-y, I usually get a few sparks when I take off the headband.  I can see this yarn used as a trim for a collar on a garment knitted in some other yarn.

After the headband was finished, TV knitting went back to the Reaverse Slippers.  I've knit both soles and knit the first sock but haven't done the laces yet.  You can start to see what they will look like if I pin the sole on. These are knit in Aran merino wool.

I had another go at the machine knit baby dress and to my relief the sleeves were fairly straightforward.  I've blocked the pieces then will need to press out the hems, button bands and waistband to 'kill' the acrylic so it lies flat.  Then there is a two piece white collar to knit.

Also to my relief, when I got out the super-duper illuminated magnifying lamp and sat down with my Bucks Point gimp finger sample of lace where I thought I had gone wrong, it turns out that I hadn't and things were ok. So that was good.  Less good is trying to work out how to do the tapered end on my bookmark.  I've made several attempts at puzzling it out and keep having to undo.  I was sort of getting it on one side but that's gone wrong as well.  This is where a teacher might come in handy.  I know I need to throw out pairs as the bookmark tapers, it's just working out which pairs that is the problem. I shall persevere. I think you learn more if you try to work it out yourself, within reason. I've met lacemakers that just obediently wait to be told what to do next by their teacher and wouldn't dream of tackling things on their own in case they make a mistake.

I've spent some time this week typing up short explanatory notes to accompany my dollshouses, in preparation for the club visit. I am thinking I will print them out onto either cards or, for the bigger houses, A4 sheets in plastic sleeves, to go with each house. DH has accused me of over-preparing for this visit.

Remember patio guy?  He did actually come back after a week or so with two quotes. Unfortunately neither of them is what I asked for.  I had showed him pictures of patios  in aged pinkish brick, laid in various patterns and edged in black brick - the idea being that it would match our existing Victorian brickwork and look a bit interesting and vintage.  He has now quoted for a patio in modern black sandstone (???) and for a patio all done in one colour of terracotta paver with a border around the edge in black.   It's a bit like dealing with Baby Groot if you've seen the sequel to Guardians.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Use it or lose it

I just did a quick Google on my title to make sure it didn't have an off-colour meaning, and a whole bunch of sites came up linked to 'cognitive decline'. Yup, that would about sum it up, lol.  I've had two examples this week where I tried to use a skill after a long break and found the skill wasn't there any more.  Go figure.  It is annoying though when you used to know how to do something, and put a lot of work in to acquire that level of skill, and then find it was all for nought and your cognitive has declined.

I sat down to machine-knit a baby dress last Bank Holiday Monday, for a work colleague. The pattern is cute but not overly difficult, although it does contain some errors which tripped me up. Then I made several rookie mistakes like using waste yarn too similar in colour to my main yarn - making it extremely difficult to pick up stitches for hems and waistbands, dropping stitches while decreasing/increasing, losing track of my rows, etc. etc.  I eventually managed to achieve a front and back which are fairly similar in size - thank goodness knitting is stretchy.  I still need to do the sleeves, hopefully they will go better.

Then yesterday I attended a small lace day where I was working on my Bucks Point bookmark. I'm near the end and I am having to decrease pairs for the tapered point, and it wasn't going very well, so after a few hours I decided to park that project and instead work on my Bucks Point gimp finger sample that I had started in Scarborough and hadn't touched since.  I got it out, undid the bobbin holders and then just sat looking at it and realised I had no clue where to even start.  There are no written instructions, just a diagram.  I made a tentative start on some of the easier parts like the ground stitch, and then started trying to puzzle out what was happening with the gimp.  Why didn't I write down what I was doing??? Probably because at the time it seemed obvious. After an hour I realised something was wrong and I had an extra pair in the wrong place but I couldn't figure out where they should be. I may well have to undo everything I did. I felt clueless which made me depressed, I thought I was progressing and now it seems that I am not.

Nevertheless, I was off to the Makit Lace and Needlework Fair in Peterborough today, which is a lovely fair - mostly bobbin lace but there were also several quilting stalls, some knitting stalls, and a few other crafts like cross stitch or silk ribbon embroidery, plus guild stand and displays.  I went with a shopping list and managed to get everything on it: two more cheap styrofoam pillows because I've worn out the two I started with, threads, a couple of pretty painted bobbins, a pretty divider pin which wasn't on the list but I liked it, some spangling wire, a plastic bookmark sleeve for when I finish my bookmark, and a secondhand book of Bucks Point patterns. From one of the knitting stalls I got a little kit for a knitted headband in furry yarn to keep my ears warm, in a navy yarn.

I had lots of fun looking, plus I bumped into several people I knew from previous Lace days or courses. I found out that there is a Northampton lace group, the Nene Lacemakers who in addition to a weekday meeting, meet on a Saturday once a month so I might try going to that and see what it's like.

Other crafts this week have included turning the heel on my second Fair Isle sock, reknitting the incorrect cuff on my Outlander socks which just need decorative buttons sewn on now, getting distracted by a new slipper project the Reaverse Slippers, and building/painting a wooden frame which is going to hold the Edwardian stained glass panel we bought at Newark last year when I get the leading refurbished. I've also been piecing triangular setting blocks for my William Morris grid quilt - I can just squeeze one triangle out of the scraps left from each colourway, albeit with the directional prints not all orientated the same.

The knitting shop Knit One in Leicester, which used to be inaccessibly located out of the town centre, has now re-located to a position very near to where I work. So I popped up on my lunchtime this week to see what they're like.  They have a good range of basics in acrylic plus some nicer wool yarns, and a good range of notions including Knit Pro interchangeables which will come in handy as I have a long history of losing or breaking mine. The display system is somewhat idiosyncratic - usually shops display yarn either by weight, fibre content or brand. Her yarn is all jumbled up into broad categories such as 'baby yarn' to include all weights and fibre contents, and the cubbies aren't labelled with the brand name, just the gauge and price, so it took a bit of exploring to find what I wanted for my slippers.  There is no knitting group at present but she said she might try to find a nearby venue (the shop isn't big enough to host one). It's good news to have a shop I can get to so easily.  There are shops near where I live but they only stock lower end acrylic yarns.

This afternoon after the fair, we spent a couple of hours painting various bits of pergola with wood stain.  There are still two huge pieces of trellis to do, and then they will all need a second coat. This is a picture of the wood pieces drying in the garden.

Patio guy did eventually turn up (see last week's post) and seemed nice enough.  He said he would get a quote to me in two or three days and of course I haven't heard from him all week.  Perhaps 'builder time' passes much more slowly than real world time.

Saturday, 29 April 2017


I'm writing this post while I wait for a patio/landscaping guy who may or may not arrive tonight. He was supposed to come yesterday evening, but as usual it seems with any tradespeople I try to engage, he never showed up. I waited three hours before giving up on him, couldn't reach him by phone, he didn't reply to the text I sent until later in the evening when he apologised and said he'd had a day.  They always seem to be so busy that they can't let you know that they won't make it. He asked if he could re-arrange for today, I texted back that we could do that if he could let us know a definite time window.  Didn't hear from him all day until mid-afternoon when he said he would come at 6-6:30pm.  Then he texted at 5:45pm to say he's going to have dinner first so will supposedly get to us at 7pm which is when I was planning to have our dinner.  Sigh...

I've ordered components to build a pergola and I think we are going to have a go at doing it ourselves.  Think Leaning Tower of Pisa made out of treated softwood  :)   Hopefully the delivery will match up with my day off.

Today we spent most of the afternoon emptying our chaotic and overstuffed shed, sorting out better storage, and being very selective about what we put back.  It was in a terrible mess and most of the time I either couldn't find something or couldn't actually reach it over all the things in the way. We built a sort of potting table out of a dining table frame with plywood on top, and a shelf made out of scrap wood, and hung a lot more stuff on the wall. All the things I use regularly are within easy reach now. I forgot to take a Before picture but here is an After picture and a picture of all the stuff that is going to the dump.  Mostly bits of chipboard left over from when the kitchen was put in almost three years ago that we kept in case they would be useful - they weren't.

Thursday night I triumphantly finished my Outlander Socks at long last, they were such a pain to knit because the yarn was fine and I found the colouration made it hard to distinguish the stitches so I often knit two together by mistake.  I wet blocked them and it wasn't until I was putting them on the sock blockers that I realised one sock had a cuff that split on the side, and the other sock had a cuff that split at the back.  Grrr.  I will have to unpick the cuff on the one split at the back (the second one) and re-knit.  The pattern actually tells you to skip some stitches on the right sock but I didn't even read that, I thought I knew what I was doing.

I finished all the 'whole' blocks for my William Morris Grid Quilt.  The burgundy print is what I am considering using for the border.  It's not matchy-matchy but it is part of the fabric range and I am wavering between enjoying the contrast and wanting it to match better.  I was debating what to use for the setting triangles to fill in around the edges, but I think I can just about manage to make them out of the scraps I've got left over from cutting the main blocks. I haven't arranged the blocks yet, I've just bunged them up on the design wall to get a general idea.

On my day off I decided to investigate the lights on my Rik Pearce dollshouse which hadn't been turned on in several years.  One of them had even fallen off the wall and was just hanging by its wire.

I couldn't remember anything about the installation because I did it so long ago, but looking underneath the base (tricky to do without tilting the house too much which would knock everything inside over), I found that I had taken the wires from all five lights into a central circuit board which was wired to an earphone type jack - I must have bought the circuit board at a show. Unfortunately the jack was smashed in half and hanging partly loose, presumably a casualty of the several moves during the house buying process.  I improvised a metal bracket which I screwed on to hold the jack back up against the circuit board, and plugged in the transformer with fingers crossed.  To my relief all five lights still work. There are two downstairs and a glowing fireplace, one out on the dock, and one upstairs in the bedroom. I glued the downstairs casualty back onto the wall with silicon adhesive.

I had made a little wooden stand for my model yacht but then found out the boat was too tall to display on top of the dresser.  I had been planning to use a little metal set of coathooks to make a coat rack by the door, so I added a shelf to that so I still display the boat.

You can see the light and the fireplace glowing in this picture.

This house is almost done enough now for the club visit, I've just got to do a bit of dusting and I am painting a swan to go out on the river in front of the house.  

During TV watching I've mainly been working on my next block for my 25 block applique quilt.

Well it's 10 past 7 and the patio guy is still a no show but he has texted to say he is 10 minutes away.  Meanwhile my dinner has come out of the oven and is sitting there cooling down while I wait for him.  Grrrrr.  He had better be like the world's greatest patio layer.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Enjoying the outdoors

When we drove south for the funeral a few weeks ago, we really noticed how much more built up the area where we used to live is, on the west side of London, with fewer green spaces and so much more traffic. When we lived there I guess we just accepted it because it seemed normal. It made us appreciate even more where we live now, in a much quieter town which has a defined edge beyond which is so much lovely Northamptonshire countryside.  In a very short drive we can visit so many lovely places in a 360 degree direction, without London sitting like a massive blockage over an entire eastern quadrant. I suppose the flip side is loss of easy access to one of the most amazing cities in the world but we can still visit on the train.

Yesterday we went back to Coton Manor to see their acclaimed bluebell wood.  Their nursery manager told us that it is 'patchy' this year and not as good as they are usually, but the effect was still pretty amazing.

The blue haze floating in the dappled sunshine was hard to capture in photographs although lots of people were trying.  There were other signs of spring in the garden, with this swarm of 13 baby ducklings attracting much attention and cooing.

From Coton Manor we drove on to Oxford to take DS back to uni.  We took him for dinner then said goodbye and went off for a leisurely walk in the early evening sunshine. It's such a lovely place. This is his last year and we are almost as sad as he is to be anticipating his time there coming to an end.  Looking back from Christchurch Meadows I snapped this unexpectedly bucolic scene with a herd of longhorn cattle grazing.


I finished up the new bed for the Gamekeeper's Cottage dollshouse. I prepared the coverlet part ahead of time, then cut the bedframe in half and reassembled it in the room. Once that was dry, I added the prepared top part.  The coverlet is a authentically woven cloth that my aunt sent me decades ago, she bought it at an American colonial village but I can't remember which one. I had never used it because it was too big and too glaring white, but now that I am older I felt comfortable with cutting it down in size and tea-dying it to mute the contrast in colour.  I like it in here.  This room is difficult to photograph as it is a mezzanine tucked under the roof.

My gamekeeper spent the last year or so standing stiffly to attention at the back of the main room, so I took pity on him and made him more comfortable in the leather armchair in front of the fire, and gave him a beer. I think he looks a lot happier now.

I've done a few more hours on my Bucks Point lace bookmark and I'm about 2/3rds done now.

I've sewn several more blocks for my William Morris grid quilt, I'm just starting the heel on my second Fair isle sock, and I've just joined in the round under the arms on my second attempt at the top down leaf yoke sweater.  I've also cut out the penultimate applique block for my 25-block applique quilt and have made a start on it.

On my day off I knit the V-neck trim for my denim machine knit tee, then sewed it down in the evening in front of the telly.  I didn't do a great job on this. I forgot to mitre for the 'v' on one side but thought I would be able to fix it by sewing the other mitred side on top, but it doesn't look very tidy. Also I discovered far too late that I had somehow knit two stitches together (much harder to do accidentally on a knitting machine) and it really shows. I suppose/hope that non-knitters won't notice.

Today I linked on the sleeves and closed the side seams on my Hague linker, so I just need to handsew the seams of the hems and rib.  I've given it a quick try on, it fits although with slightly less ease than I prefer, so I may have to steam it a bit bigger. Also I think it would have benefited from being knit on a looser tension, the fabric is a bit stiff.  This is Yeoman Panama which I knit on a Brother 881 machine on T7dot. Being a cotton/acrylic mix, it may relax a bit more with wear.

I happened to look out the window to see a very odd bird sitting on our bird feeder.

Yes, that's our cat, and I'm not even sure how she jumped up there without knocking the whole thing over.

Our new bamboo arrived and has been planted in its little playpen.  Eventually it will grow into a clump which will fill the area up but hopefully staying corralled.

I'm not much further ahead on procuring a pergola. I tried a local company who didn't acknowledge the web contact form I submitted, so I called and they took my details for a custom quote but still haven't called me back over a week later. I think we are going to have to do it ourselves.  We are not great at DIY but I suppose a pergola doesn't have to be 100% right angles and vertical like a building would need to be, it will just add to the rustic quality if it's a bit wonky.

Monday, 17 April 2017

less haste, fewer piles of sticks

We're just coming to the end of the four-day Easter weekend here in the UK, and as usual for a bank holiday weekend the weather has been overcast, cool, windy, and even managed to rain yesterday. We had our guests all weekend so didn't get much time to relax, because we were either taking them out places, or cooking for them then washing up afterwards.  I find guests stressful for any length of time as I am the kind of person that needs quiet down time to regroup and re-energise, and of course when they are staying in your home they are always there. The evenings were the most difficult, because as well as not liking any of the same TV programmes we do, they both wear hearing aids.  We tried watching Gardener's World but after an hour of  "what did he say?" or having the TV talked over with anecdotes about how some old neighbour used to grow loganberries, I had to give up before I was driven to violence.  DH tried to hide in the other room with a book but I made him come back.  DS is home as well and put in stalwart service last night explaining to them how to operate Skype on their tablet and helping them with their new secondhand iphone which they find very mysterious.

Meanwhile I was occasionally sneaking downstairs in stolen moments trying to glue together a replacement bed for my gamekeeper's cottage dollshouse.  I've never been happy with the commercial bed I had in there, so on my day off I had mocked up a design for an Edwardian-type bed and cut out lots of wood segments and stained them. On the weekend I tried gluing together the headboard and footboard quite unsuccessfully. As all the joins are just butt joints, and the stain slightly repels the glue, the construction was extremely fragile. I was in a hurry when I tried to remove them from the glue jig as I only had a few minutes while the guests were doing something else, and unfortunately the headboard stuck down a bit then disintegrated into its component sticks.  I glued it again and over the next few furtive visits, I got the bed glued together. Unfortunately when I tried to quickly see what it looked like in the house, I discovered that it wouldn't fit in under the rafters as it is slightly taller than the commercial bed. In attempting to 'twist' it in, the bed once again disintegrated into a pile of sticks.  Aaaaarghghghggh!

The guests left at lunchtime today, hurrah, so I was able to spend the afternoon blissfully crafting.  I glued the bed back together (AGAIN) and this time braced it with a cardboard internal frame so it's a bit stronger. I've realised the only way I will get it into place under the rafters will be to cut it in half, then re-glue it once it's in position, so I left a gap in the cardboard.  Meanwhile I've started assembling the mattress and coverlet which will go onto the bed once it's in place.

Earlier in the week I sprayed four metal miniatures with black primer ready for painting.  I had a horseshoe, a wagon wheel, and a brace of pheasants.

The horseshoe was easy to paint, with a little metal paint and a touch of 'rust', and it is now over the door in the Gamekeeper's cottage.
The wagon wheel I painted to look like wood, with a metal spoke and rim, some more rust, and then added some 'moss' with green flock so it looks like it has been abandoned in the garden for a while.

The pheasants were a lot more difficult. I painted them this afternoon when I could have a couple of hours of quiet time, using an RSPB portrait as a painting reference.  The metal miniatures were not well modelled at all, resembling flamingos more than pheasants, so to a certain extent I had to ignore the metal detailing and just paint features on top.  I'm not much of an artist but you can see what they are meant to represent. I hung them outside the gamekeeper's cottage on a nail.

Two crafts I could do while the guests were here was to knit or to work on my hand applique.  I finished the next block in my 25-block hand applique quilt including embroidering the stems with stem stitch. Only two more blocks to go!

I knit some more on my Fair Isle sock, some more on my Outlander sock, and picked up stitches and knit a lot on my leaf yoke sweater.  Before the weekend I had done a rough block of the replacement yoke, and it fits a lot better in this smaller size. I've now finished the leaf motifs and have done an inch of short rowing at the back of the yoke for a better fit.

On my day off  (while I was waiting for a delivery which never turned up, grrrr), I re-sized my William Morris quilt block to 1.25" grid bars and made a third sample block. I decided I like the proportions now, so I took apart the first two sample blocks and re-cut them to the new measurements and re-stitched them.  Then I cut out 30 block kits and today I have started sewing blocks.  I tried the grid on point and I like it a lot better that way. I'm aiming for a double-bed size quilt. The blocks are around 11" square but of course wider on point so there will be a certain amount of trial and error to arrive at a layout.

I've done a few hours on my Bucks Point bookmark this week but not very much. I did receive a couple of deliveries in the post:  I won a pair of painted bobbins on eBay (on the right) and also ordered a turned pair from resin-laminated wood on etsy (on the left).  Having pretty bobbins is fun.

I hope you had an enjoyable and relaxing long weekend if you are in the UK, and a happy Easter.  I have to confess that I did eat some chocolate on Sunday, but a fairly restrained amount as I was worried about repercussions from a massive sugar high after being low-sugar for over a month now.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Itinerary for a first visit to Japan - extra Japan post number five

As mentioned in my initial post in this series, I did a lot of research before our trip to plan out the itinerary. This was our first and possibly only visit to Japan and it is a long way to go from the UK (flights c 11.5 hours) so I wanted to do as much as possible.  My starting point was reviewing the locations visited by a number of commercial tours and also specialist quilting tours, then reading through three guidebooks: Lonely Planet, the Japan by Rail guide, and the DK Eyewitness Guide to Japan. After that I did a lot of online research as there are tons of sites out there about Japan, and blogs and YouTube videos on everything from fabric shopping in Tokyo to the etiquette for using a Japanese onsen (communal hot baths).

One of the challenges as a first-timer is figuring out where things are within a city to try to put together a logical progression for visits. Guides tend to name the top sights and perhaps group them by neighbourhoods, but don't give you much clue on how to get from one to another, or how long you will need to visit them. Not to mention crucial factors such as many museums being closed on a Monday or what time the fabric shop closes.

My eventual itinerary was based on our middle aged preference to spend a bit more money on comfort, my wish to visit craft related stores, our mutual interest in heritage and period buildings, my liking for Japanese gardens, and my attempt to see a bit more of Japan than just Tokyo and Kyoto.

We took three weeks off work in total, and had the weekends before and after the trip to prepare/recover, so we were away for 18 days in total.  After framing out my initial itinerary, I decided to use InsideJapan to make hotel bookings, book the JapanRail passes and IC cards for local transport, airport transfers by bus, and to book the bus travel from Kanazawa and our Geisha Dance tickets. I probably could have done most of this myself online but it would have taken a long time and I don't speak Japanese, and I might not have got as good rates on accommodation. The agent suggested a few tweaks to my itinerary order. I booked my own flights online with British Airways, flying direct in and out of Narita airport (for Tokyo). I also booked online a guide for our first full day in Tokyo because I expected to be jet lagged and needing help to get the hang of transport options etc. I booked a pocket Wifi online through PuPuRu which was delivered to our first hotel and worked brilliantly throughout our holiday so that I could always get online with my tablet to look things up, skype, email and find out where we were on GoogleMaps if we got lost. Since we would be arriving back in the UK in the wee hours by Japan time, I booked a Heathrow hotel for the first night back so that we could get some sleep before driving home.  We left the car at Heathrow while we were gone because the cost was similar to what it would have been for us to travel by train and it meant we didn't have to fight our way across London in either direction.

We travelled in late October/early November. The first day in Tokyo it was 23 degrees C and felt quite hot.  Hakone was cooler and in Kyoto we were wearing light fleeces in the morning and evening. By the end in Takayama, it was quite cold, down to single digits, and it actually snowed lightly on the day we headed back to Tokyo. So we had to pack a range of layers, and took sunhats as well as woolly hats.

Day 1/2 (Monday/Tuesday) - fly from Heathrow to Narita, arriving the next morning. Transfer to hotel in Shinjuku (we stayed at the Sunroute Plaza which we liked), check in c 2pm.  Headed out to explore Shinjuku - there is a Tokyu Hands store on the other side of Shinjuku station, a Kinokuniya  bookstore in the same building, the Okadaya fabric store within walking distance, a small Yuzawaya fabric department in the Takashimaya department store,  Lots of options for dinner if you are still awake.

Day 3 (Wednesday) - Tokyo. We used this day to take a six hour guided tour around the Shinjuku area, with a sushi lunch in Shibuya, then on to the Meji-jingu Shrine in Harajuku followed by a stroll down trendy Takeshita-dori. We also went up the free Tokyo Metropolitan Government building both on the tour in the morning (when we were fortunate to see Mount Fuji in the distance) and in the late evening to see Tokyo lit up from the 45th floor.  After the tour we headed over to the brilliant Edo-Tokyo museum which took about 35 minutes by subway but we still go there in time to have about 80 minutes which was enough time to see most things. We found another good bookstore in the walkway from Shinjuku west exit to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building.

Day 4 (Thursday) - Tokyo - an early start to be at the Tsukiji outer market for around 7:30am, to stroll around the stalls of fresh seafood and many other items. Easily reached from Shinjuku on the Oedo line to Tsukiji Shijo station. Then we hopped back on the subway to head up to Ueno park which contains several interesting shrines and some museums as well as cafes and restaurants.  We visited the Tokyo National Museum which was labelled a 'must-see' by guidebooks but honestly we didn't find it very engaging. We enjoyed much more the smaller Shitamachi Museum where we recommend the free English volunteer guide who will point out many things we wouldn't have noticed otherwise about the recreated shops and houses. Afterwards we visited the huge covered Ameyoko market under the train tracks before getting back on the subway to Nippori station where we grabbed some lunch. Then it was on to Nippori Fabric Town for a few hours of shopping, before heading into the scenic neighbourhood of Yanaka on the other side of Nippori station.  We headed back to Shinjuku to walk around some of the neon craziness east of the station, then chose a restaurant for supper.

Day 5 (Friday) - Tokyo - Back on the Oedo line to the Shiodome stop to be at Hama Rikyu Garden for its 9am opening time. After exploring the pleasant gardens and having a traditional tea and sweet in the central tea pavilion, we got the 10:30 water bus from Hinode Pier (booking opens at 10:15) to Asakusa. In Asakusa we shopped our way up the Nakamise-dori Arcade which is an odd mixture of tourist tat and high class galleries to visit the Senso-ji Temple.  After lunch in a nearby arcade, we visited the Amuse Museum of traditional clothing, which also has a roof terrace with a great view back at Senso-ji. Two stops on the subway to Asakusa-Bashi took us to the doll shop area where we visited the prestigious Kyugetsu doll shop, and the great Sakura Horikiri craft shop as well as some other doll and bead shops.

Day 6 (Saturday) - Odawara/Hakone - we sent our luggage on to our Kyoto hotel, and caught the shinkansen to Odawara, where we left our overnight bags in a locker and walked to see the impressive castle.  Then it was a crowded train ride up to Hakone Miyanoshita to the faded but still impressive glories of the Fujiya Hotel.   After walking around town, we enjoyed the Fujiya gardens and went for a swim in the pool and tried their onsen.

Day 7 (Sunday) - the Hakone Loop - you can look this up, basically it is an enjoyable day looping around the volcano on a variety of transport. In Hakone-machi, we enjoyed the historic Hakone checkpoint, and walked through the Detached Palace Garden and on into MotoHakone, before getting the bus back into Hakone Yumoto for supper.  After supper we tried out another Japanese onsen.

Day 8 (Monday) - Kyoto - travelling via Odawara.  We left our overnight bags in a locker in the station and went up the Kyoto Tower for great views over Kyoto to get our bearings, then walked over to the impressive Toji temple with its pagoda.  Collecting our bags, we visited the pretty Shoseien Garden on the way to our hotel. In the evening we took another private tour through the back streets of Gion but I didn't feel this short tour was value for money after how good the Tokyo tour had been.

Day 9 (Tuesday) - Kyoto - we got an early bus to Kiyomizu temple to beat the crowds, then walked down through the cobbled streets of Zannen-zaka and Ninenzaka to visit the Kodai-ji temple and its beautiful garden. After lunch we visited more temples including Chion-in, Shoren-in (another lovely garden) then into Maruyama park. I had planned the trip to coincide with the Gion Odori Geisha dances and we had tickets to the afternoon performance at the Gion Kaikan Theatre which we really enjoyed. It included a traditional tea ceremony conducted by a geisha and maiko (apprentice) beforehad.  We spent the evening wandering the covered shopping arcades of Teramachi-dori and surrounding areas.

Day 10 (Wednesday) - Kyoto - travelled by subway to Nijo Castle (more nice gardens) then back to visit the Nishiki food market.  We visited the Nishijin Textile Centre (very touristy) to see the kimono show, then went to a pre-booked lunch and tour of the historic Tondaya Merchant's house where we got to wear kimono ourselves.  Afterwards we got the bus to the Ginkakuji temple (the silver pavilion) then strolled along the Philosopher's Walk (which must be so much more stunning when the cherry blossom is out in the spring). Finished off with dinner on Pontocho alley.

Day 11 (Thursday) - Kyoto - got the train out to Arashiyama and visited the famous bamboo grove, then into lovely Okochi Sanso garden which was one of our favourites. We saw some lovely autumn colour here. There are more temples to visit including the Tenryu-ji temple with its stroll garden.  We took the tram and a longish walk to see the spectacular Kinkaku-ji temple (Golden Pavilion) which presented perfectly with a shaft of sunlight illuminating the jaw-dropping scene.

Day 12 (Friday) - Nara - Day trip to Nara, stopping on the way to visit the striking but hilly Fushimi-Inari-Tasha shrine.  We walked quite a way up the mountain but not all the way to the top.  In Nara the day-pass for the buses is a good buy as sites are quite spread out.  We enjoyed the Nara-machi old town and visited some of the historic homes there, before heading over to the lovely Yoshikien garden, and the larger Isuien garden where we benefited from a free volunteer guide in English. After admiring the tame deer, we headed into Todai-ji temple to see the immense Daibutsu statue, before getting the bus to the Kasuga Taisha shrine which features hundreds of stone lanterns.  After tea in an owl cafe where we both got to hold a bird on our arm, we headed back to Kyoto.

Day 13 (Saturday) - Kanazawa.  We travelled by shinkansen 2.5 hours to Kanazawa, another historic town. We visited Omi-cho food market, then after lunch got the bus to the Nagamachi former samurai quarter where we visited the Nomura house and a few others which are open.  We enjoyed the higashi district of former geisha tea houses, and visited the former Ochaya or tea house of Shima.  The Gold Leaf museum isn't very big but worth a visit if you are in the neighbourhood.

Day 14 ( Sunday) - Kanazawa - we started the day with a leisurely stroll in the Kenrokuen landscape garden, which is so big it feels more like a public park. The pretty villa of Seison-kaku is a nice visit within the garden.  We crossed over the large bridge to visit the impressive reconstruction of the  Kanazawa castle walls.  I had made a reservation at the tourist information office to visit the Ninja-dera (ninja temple) which was quite good fun. Afterwards we wandered around some of the shopping streets before heading back to the hotel to ship our main suitcases back to Tokyo.

Day 15 (Monday) - Shirakawa-go/Takayama - we travelled by pre-booked highway bus up into the mountains to the remote world heritage village of Shirakawa-go to see the famous gassho thatched houses.  There is a lot to see here, we started up at the look out point then walked down into the village and over to the open air museum.  Then by bus to Takayama where we stayed at a traditional ryokan - which I have to say we didn't really enjoy but at least we tried it. Takayama has many wonderful historic streets for strolling around and interesting shops to visit.

Day 16 (Tuesday) - Takayama- visited the Kusakabe heritage house and walked through the two open air markets, then walked out of town to the brilliant hida Takayama Museum of Art to see the Art Nouveau and Art Deco glass and furniture, which we both really enjoyed.   Then we walked onwards to visit the Hida Folk Village which is a large open air museum of historic Japanese structures, set in pretty forested grounds.  Bus back to town for a late lunch then enjoyed a relaxing stroll through the Higashiyama temple district, which we had to ourselves. We visited the town museum, which had a lot of interesting exhibits.

Day 17 (Wednesday) - Tokyo - train to Nagoya then shinkansen to Tokyo (with nice views of Mount Fuji on the way), arriving mid-afternoon.  We left our small bags in lockers in Tokyo station and walked over to the pretty Imperial Palace East Gardens although we didn't have much time before they closed.  A last delicious dinner in Tokyo. Our bags were waiting in our hotel along with a few other bags of souvenirs I had been shipping back as we travelled, so had fun going through everything and consolidating our baggage for the trip home.

Day 18 (Thursday) - Airport bus back to Narita, and headed for home.

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