A Tidy Space Oddity

A few weeks ago I was feeling poorly, so for something to do I backed up this blog. Well, not in the usual way. Looking at the backups WordPress does, I couldn’t see how I would ever access the entries if I ever needed just the contents. So I cut and paste the contents of every month into a Word document – which is how I used to back up when this was a Blogger blog.

When I was done I skim read through the blog from the start. That was… interesting. It’s easy to feel like I am some kind of crazy person obsessed with making stuff when I read an entire year’s entries in one sitting! The blog has seen lots of changes, from RSI forcing me to give up knitting to passing phases of craft-related internet phenomenon (blogs, podcasts, ravelry, pinterest).

It put me in a strange, fed-up mood, so that once I had a little energy again I began tidying up and finishing things. The Taupe Jacket lining got sewn so I could put the machines away. Materials I’d gathered for a talk at the Guild that was cancelled got packed away as I was sick of them taking up space waiting to see if it would be rescheduled. I finished spinning the banana fibre after not touching the wheel for many months, to see if I should pack the wheel away.

I decided this mood might be good for culling so I started halfheartedly tidying the craft room. I started with jewellery supplies, moved on to refashioning projects and finally tackled the accumulation of carry bags around the house. In the middle of it I wound up in the garage, where I made the biggest impact – all the basketry materials I accumulated early last year went into the green waste bin.

Other than that I didn’t get rid of much. Mostly I put stuff away or stored it better. While the result was satisfying, I suspect if I had more energy and time I could have done a lot more.

I have the WIP list down to just three items now, but I’ll be starting a few weaving projects soon so that isn’t going to last long!

Greta Cape

I’ve finished my second post Sewing for Handwovens class project.

Using one of the Style Arc patterns I bought.

I made it in calico first, which I’m glad I did as the instructions are a bit scant in places so I was able to work it out without risking the small amount of handwoven fabric I had. I’d done so because I suspected the collar would be in contact with my skin, and being sensitive to wool that would force me to wear a high collar underneath. I was right, so I made the collar from the lining instead.

Though I used interfacing, the only black I had was a bit thin and the collar could be a bit stiffer. I should have doubled it or bought a thicker one. But the collar hasn’t come out too floppy, just a bit softer than it’s meant to be, so I’m not unhappy with the result.

It’s made from the fabric from the Handspun, Handwoven, Handsewn Jacket, which was already the third garment the main yarn in this had been made into.

The only change I’m thinking of making now is to put trim along the lines where I pieced together the handwoven fabric strips. I’ll do that if I happen across the perfect trim. In the meantime, I’ll call the Greta Cape done!

Pattern Practicality

After the Sewing for Handwovens class a few weeks ago I reviewed my approach to clothing design with handwoven fabric. Until then, inspired by Saori, I’d been looking at patterns that didn’t require cutting the cloth. But to be honest, my taste in clothing has always been toward more fitted pieces.

I have cut my handwoven cloth before. A few years back I made a vest out of fabric I’d woven then felted. I wasn’t really entering the danger zone of fraying, however. Felted fabric doesn’t fray.

But I learned something else from that project: don’t download patterns.

Of the three patterns I’ve downloaded, carefully printed, pieced together and cut out, all came out too big. Sure, I printed out the little one inch square, measured it and changed the scale I printed at, but the square is much too small to really get the scale right.

I’ve now tossed those three patterns in the recycling bin, deciding that I will only buy paper patterns from now on. My local Lincraft is closing down, so I popped down there to buy some commercial patterns.

Ugh! I’d forgotten how time-consuming it is to buy patterns in store. Flicking through six or seven big books, writing down the brand and number, queuing up at the counter and discovering they don’t have the pattern you want in stock. I could have gone back and started again, but Paul was waiting in the car.

Once at home I did some searching on the internet. I wanted a classic denim skirt pattern. An image came up that looked right, and it led to a small pattern company, Style Arc. I expected to find it was in the US or UK and post would cost a fortune and take ages – but no! It was a local company in my home city! So I bought the pattern, and a few others.

I love how they contain a little sample of suggested fabric! I’ve sewn one of them now, and I found the instructions a little bit scant in places, but otherwise it worked just fine. Not for beginners, though. More on that project in another post…

Kitchen Ventilation Patch Mosaics

I’ve done the last of the mosaic patches in the smaller ventilation holes for the old central heating.

My first idea had been to make something in slate, since the floor was slate. I bought a couple of tiles and did some experiments, and was mostly confident that I could make it work. However, when I sat down to actually put together a mosaic, I found I hated the material. There is absolutely no control over how it breaks, so I wound up with a whole lot of pieces nibbled into shape with my tile nippers, and it looked crap. Even then, I couldn’t be sure they’d stay in that shape, as they kept crumbling.

So I brought out some of the smooth-edged tiles I’d worked with already, fiddled around a bit and either didn’t like anything I came up with or worked out I’d have to buy more tiles. When I considered how much trouble I had buying enough of the right colour of these tiles in the past, I just didn’t have the energy to pursue them.

But I’d have to buy something. And I realised that if I wasn’t going to use anything I had already, that freed me up to use any tile that took my fancy and was available. I recalled how I’d seen simple leaf shaped tiles on a mosaic shop website, and loved the sinuous pattern they formed en mass.

I wasn’t going to spent a pile of money without working out if I liked the effect in person, and I didn’t want to discover I hadn’t bought enough tiles only to find they weren’t available any more. I’ve learned that you have to work quickly from concept to finished piece, to make sure the latter doesn’t happen.

So I mocked up a tile in Illustrator, printed it out and confirmed that I’d probably like the effect. I counted the tiles and bought what I thought was enough. However, the tiles I wanted came in batches of two colours. I couldn’t be sure how much of each colour I’d get. I paid extra for fast shipping and when they got here I discovered there were less burgundy tiles than black. I simply reversed the pattern I’d come up with. Then I divided the tiles into three equal sets for the three patches. Laying out the pattern on a cement sheet backing, I worked out that I needed more black tiles, and ordered those straight away.

When they arrived I got to glueing. After a couple of sessions over a few days, I had my patches ready to insert. Then it was just a matter of filling the holes with layers of mdf to get them to the right height, glueing down the mosaics, grouting and sealing.

Another lesson I’d learned from previous mosaics was that I should test the grout colour beforehand. It always dries lighter than I expect. It was worth doing. This time I got it spot on.

There’s one more possible floor mosaic to do: the larger patch when the intake grille for the central heating was. It’s quite a big area, and needs more than a simple filler. But before I do that I have the clock to finish, and I want to do a glass mosaic bowl.

A Phoney Life

Late last year I came to the conclusion that I was addicted to my phone. Gosh, that’s a statement that would have made no sense fifteen or twenty years ago!

Earlier in the year a friend had shut down Facebook for three months because she was spending all her time there and not interacting with her family. Ironically, this is the same friend who insisted I sign up because I’d be left out of social events otherwise. At the end of the three months she reactivated her account. She said it didn’t make a lot of difference, as she had spent the time she used to waste on Facebook in other apps on her phone.

It seems like the phone is the problem, I thought.

After eye surgery, while I was sensitive to light, it became really obvious that I spend too much of my time looking at screens. I’d wake up and check my phone, get up and shower, look at my phone while eating breakfast, sit in front of the desktop computer, check my phone in every break, settle down at night to watch tv and check my phone during the ad breaks or if the show was boring, then go to bed and listen to podcasts, read on the phone and, most often, look at social media before going to sleep.

If I put my phone out of my reach at any of these times of day, I’d find myself reading for it without thinking. If I set it down next to me and told myself I wasn’t going to look, I’d find myself scrolling through Facebook minutes later.

That sounds like addiction to me.

Was this a bad thing? I loved my iPhone when I first got it. It replaced my watch, diary, Melways, notebook, book, torch, ipod Nano and camera. It connects me to the world and my friends. But was it having a detrimental effect, too? Like my friend, I tended to blame the apps for making me anxious or distracted. I hate the nervy feeling that I’ll lose friends and become dangerously uninformed if I don’t keep being a slave to social media.

So I decided to see what would happen if I cut back my phone usage. I decided to:

– charge my phone away from my bed
– remove Twitter, Instagram and Words With Friends from my phone
– leave my phone in the kitchen during the day, unless we go out
– during breaks I can check my phone, but I must spend as much time not looking at it
– go back to using analogue versions of a notebook, diary, and watch, and even books

After a few weeks I noted I was feeling calmer. I fall asleep faster and have had less and milder insomnia. When I wake in the morning I think about the day ahead and make plans, and don’t forget what they were so easily.

And the memory improvement was the most surprising. I realised that by stuffing phone use into all the little gaps of time between activities I wasn’t allowing my brain time to remember the small things. Letting it meander before sleep and rising, or during breaks, gives me time to not just recollect, but to see the big picture, rather than bouncing from one thing to another without an overall sense of priority. Also, my subconscious isn’t waking me up through the night to remind me about things I need to do as often as it used to.

I’ve also noticed that friends really do expect me to be checking the phone constantly. It’s not so much that they want answers to questions straight away, but that they leave decisions that might inconvenience me to the last moment, expecting that a Message will reach me instantly. Nobody rings when it’s urgent any more.

Another advantage of putting the phone out of reach is I’m not being constantly bombarded by advertising. Oh, such a relief!

Which has had me thinking… These new devices that you can talk to in your home… How long before they begin to chirp advertising at you? Because the ploy of social media was to get people to think they can’t live without it, then slowly introduce the ads. How long before your internet-connected kettle and washing machine are telling you what coffee or laundry powder to use?

Now there’s a nightmare of a future. Maybe I shouldn’t be spending all that extra time thinking!

I Fixed It!

As I said a few post ago, I took the Glamour Shawl along to the Sewing for Handwovens class to get some feedback on what I could do with it. I was contemplating cutting it up to make something, with the hope that I could make the mistakes disappear.

But the suggestion from the class was to add surface embellishment to hide the mistakes and keep it as a shawl. I was still keen to make it a garment, and I figured if I cut a hole in the middle to make a neck opening, sewed up the sides and added knitted sleeves I’d have a reasonable garment. So I gathered together thrums of the yarns I’d used, the leftover bobbin of gold thread and some black 8ply yarn. Then I hung the shawl over a dowel to examine it and considered what to do…

… and the first thing that popped into my head was “get rid of that awful gold thread”!

So I cut it all out, leaving me with a section of loose warp. Fixing that was easy, I just used the 8ply yarn to weave three rows of leno twists. That one change made such a difference, and suddenly I liked the shawl and was excited about what I was doing.

The next step was some rya knots along the gap where I’d removed threads to fix a mistake and the weft wouldn’t shift in to fill the gap. I liked this, too. More rya knots followed on the other half, to balance. Then I sewed in thrums and knotted those together horizontally, and found other ways to embellish the shawl. When I felt it was fairly evenly covered, I decided it was done.

It’s now a good-looking shawl. I’m not going to push my luck and risk ruining it by making a garment. I like it just the way it is.

Krokbragd Rug

I started this back in September, so it’s been a long project. Partly that’s because each row of the pattern takes three picks, but there’s also my usual fidgety nature to blame. At the time of warping I’d put something on every loom, both in a bout of startitis but also in the hope I’d be capable of doing some of the projects between eye operations. So I worked on a lot of other projects at the same time.

It’s been a cobbled together sort of project. The thick carpet yarn came from a second-hand shop and the Guild textile bazaar, and I used rag shuttles because my boat shuttles are way too small to put the thick yarn on. I had to put clamps on the boards I have my loom raised on so the heavy beating wouldn’t walk off them into my lap again.

If I was to do more of this sort of rug weaving I’d need to find a reliable source of yarn and buy large boat shuttles meant for rug weaving. I’m not 100% sure my loom is up to the job, too. So I was kind of hoping I’d conclude that Krokbragd was fun while it lasted, but I’m not interested in doing more.

Except… I loved it. There was something very fulfilling about watching the shapes form and grow, and it has the same attention-holding effect of knitting self-striping sock yarn – what colour will I do next? It’s very easy to warp the loom, and the strong beating is satisfying.

The resulting rug… wow! I love it. Paul loves it. Everyone I’ve shown (not many people yet admittedly) loves it.

I like the back, too:

Though I have to say, I didn’t love sewing in the warp ends.

So where to go from here? Can I find a good source of rug yarn? Will I order a trio of big shuttles? Is my loom going to stand up to more heavy beating? How am I going to do other kinds of weaving if my floor loom is constantly taken up with slow rug weaving?

Maybe I need to buy another loom…

Sewing For Handwovens Workshop

Until a few years back my writing schedule always had me madly dealing with edits in late December through January. Now that I have to take longer than a year to write a book, edits happen at all times of the year. This means I’ve been able to attend the Guild’s Summer School for the last couple of years. Last year I did basketry. This year I chose a two day workshop on sewing handwoven cloth.

I took along my mini sewing machine (which seemed to be the noisiest in the group!), a few tools and armful of projects – finished, half-done and a shawl I thought might be cut up and made into something. It didn’t seem likely that we’d sew an entire outfit in the two days and there was a small fee for calico so I was expecting we’d do lots of samples and then just discuss our projects.

I was there for the hints and tips, and Pat provided plenty. Many were ones I knew already, since the class needed to be useful to both new and experienced sewers and I’m more in the latter category, but some of those were good reminders, particularly of good sewing habits. By the end I did find myself wishing we’d used some handwoven fabric for a sample or two, just to get a feel for how it behaves, but overall it was a very informative class.

Projects were discussed as a group. It would have been nice to have individual feedback, too, but it would have taken an extra day for Pat to talk to everyone. What I did get was still invaluable: a bit of general feedback on what was working and what wasn’t, and an environment which stimulated me to think about what I wanted to achieve with my projects – helped by seeing the garments that Pat showed us.

These were the projects I took:

Garment: The Handspun, Handwoven, Handsewn Jacket:

Problems: Too small, scratchy. Hangs weirdly at the underarms.
Solution: Now that I have developed the idea further in the Taupe Jacket I’m ready to pull this apart and try making something else. Something lined, so I don’t have skin contact with the yarn.

Garment: The Taupe Jacket:

Problems: The underarm area doesn’t sit so well, though better than the HHH Jacket. The neckline is okay, but I think it could do with a collar. It’s a bit… square overall.
Solution: It needs a gusset, minimum, but I think I’ll try tapering the arms first. That would give me some offcuts to make a collar, so I don’t have to weave more fabric for it. Perhaps some darts at the waist would make it a little more flattering, but I’ll decide whether to do that at the end.

Garment: Boucle Stripe Skirt

Problems: The folds look good on the front, but add too much bulk to the back.
Solution: Add darts to the back instead.

Garment: A Touch of Glam Shawl

Problem: So. Many. Mistakes.
Solution: Class suggestion was to sew in more glittery thread to hide the gaps and skipped threads. I have only a bobbin’s worth of it (I culled it from my stash in disgust) but I do have some thrums in the purples and black that I could knot and sew in. I could pull threads out, too. I’ll need to do plenty of embellishment overall to make it look like it was intended, not hiding mistakes.

I could also use a recent purchase – a simple circular knitting machine from Lincraft – to make sleeves. Then I’d have to cut a hole in the middle of the shawl for a head opening, but I could knit a collar on the machine too. I’d then sew the shawl up the sides… or not. Hmmm…

Wavelet Scarf

The next technique I wanted to try with the Vari Dent reed was to weave separate strips, alternately joining them with their neighbours, rather than having the weft go right across. So I warped up the four small heddles. I started with threads doubled up, intending to separate them when it came time to do the strips:

Weaving with two shuttles at the same time was quite awkward. When I got to the point of separating into four strips, I started off weaving one row of each strip with each of the four shuttles. It was fiddly and I could see it was going to be very slow. I wished I could just weave one strip at a time, but the reed then would then be able to beat in the yarn for the rest of the strips.

And then I had a ‘duh’ moment. I could simply remove the heddles and use them as beaters:

This sped up the process considerably. I put the heddles back in the reed when doing the joined sections. I also only needed chocks when I was doing joined sections.

When I had finished I knotted the fringe, washed and dried the scarf, trimmed the fringe and started arranging it on my dress model:

It’s an interesting effect. The gaps are a bit long in my opinion, thought when gathered together there’s still plenty of fabric to warm the neck. I’d like to try this again with half as many rows between joined sections – and with six heddles.

Of course, the realisation that I can beat with the heddles led to more ideas, so I doubt this will be the last post on the Vari Dent reed.

That Gardening Review Post I Wrote Before the Hail Storm Last Year

I visited Cloudehill Gardens in the Dandenongs for the first time last year. It occurred to me afterwards that, while it’s a lot larger and more elaborate than my garden, the lie of the land is has similarities. Mine is also a tiered slope, though it faces east not south. Cloudehill also has its buildings on the middle-to-top tier, like mine. Their practical gardens are higher up while decorative ones are lower, as they are in mine… sort of.

Every corner of Cloudehill has a purpose or theme. It got me thinking about some of the ‘dead’ zones here. While weeding the upper embankment a few months back I paused to rest and realised it was a nice place to sit and look down on our yard. Since then I’ve been thinking of putting some kind of rustic seat up there.

I bought Jackie French’s “Backyard Sustainability” at Cloudehill’s garden shop and read-skimmed it over the following weekend. (You know, where you skip the bits not relevant to your climate/garden/ambitions.) I’ve been filled with inspiration and enthusiasm for growing food plants since. Growing more food plants, that is.

After looking through my gardening scrapbook, updating my garden plan on the computer, and plotting future projects, I made some changes to my garden ambitions.

The kitchen garden:

Jackie advocates planting veges all mingled together, forgetting about succession planting and filling the gap the moment something is removed so that weeds don’t get much chance to establish. She claims to spend only about two days a year, bar harvesting, on the garden. I suspect that also doesn’t include making compost, applying it and mulch, buying mulch and seedlings (or raising seedlings), watering, making and applying powdery mildew spray or other natural remedies, putting shade cloth on and off during searingly hot days, and writing blog posts about it all. But still… ways to build a garden with the philosophy of less work are worth noting.

Having successfully grown veges in my wicking beds for just over a year (let’s ignore the failures) The three square cheapie wooden beds we put in the cat run for Slinky to poo in are the most abundant part of the whole block, overflowing with herbs and unintentional potatoes (I added the soil from the old potato drums when I filled the beds, and despite me removing all sign of spuds they sprang up the next year. Don’t worry, the cat only uses one corner of the beds and we cook the spuds well!) I’ve also been growing radish, basil, parsley and peppermint in polystyrene boxes filled with potting mix, as well as two metal drums of mint and another big post of parsley.

Despite all this, there’s plenty of gravel-covered ground in the cat run that could be used to grow more food. So I’m going to add another two square cheapie beds to make a ‘U’ shape herb bed and move the parsley, chives and mint from the polystyrene boxes and metal drums into them. Then I’ll grow spinach and radish in the boxes. When the weather cools I’ll get another wicking bed.

On top of all that, I want to grow pumpkin out near the lemon tree next spring. But tha’t a while away.

The poolside and shade garden:

All the plants I put in the shade garden are going well. Seven of the ten creeping boobialla plants I put under the trees in the poolside garden are still alive, though not growing as fast as I’d hoped. Still, the faster they grow, the sooner I’ll have to start cutting them back.

Down at the end of the house, where the pool pump is, is another ‘dead’ zone. It floods during heavy rain. The ground level needs lowering. The grass there grows through the fence into the gravel driveway, too. I want to replace the grass with a lower gravel area and a higher garden bed behind a retaining wall, containing cannas. Or ginger.

The native garden:

The day before the hail storm I printed a copy of the plan I used to plant out the native garden and crossed out anything that had died. About 20% has gone. Which is not surprising when I planted them into mulch-covered clay with just a bit of gypsum and native fertiliser, and no watering after the first three months. Only two species died across the board however: correa reflexa and chamomile sunray. Others died in one spot but lived in others. The dry spot under the tea tree had the most deaths, but two plants there are thriving. So I know which plants to add more of – and which to avoid. I’ll get some more in next Autumn.

The front garden:

This year we should (hopefully) be able to connect to the sewer system, which means we can cut down two sick trees, plant their replacements, make the garden beds they’ll be part of and finish our driveway. Just waiting for the go ahead… yeah, well they said it would happen in two weeks six months ago, so I’m not holding my breath. If they haven’t given us permission by the beginning of March, I’m going to tackle the tree removal and replacement part.

Also, when the soil is wet and soft enough to dig again we’ll join up the lower garden beds. And some point I’d like to get a barrier type of garden edging in rather than a ditch, but there is so much of it to do that even the cheapest option will be expensive overall. That’s a winter task, anyway.

Since I wrote this post… we’ve put the two new low beds in the cat run and I transplanted parsley and chives. I bought a new mint plant, as the old was looking sad, as well as tarragon, dill, italian parsley and spring onions. I also put a pumpkin plant that was growing spontaneously in a vege bed into one of the old drums, hoping to train it up the cat run supports.

I’d have done more, but it’s been too bloody hot!