Last year was one of flood and drought, when it came to creating and craft. Mostly that was because I also had intensive periods of work and travel that left little time for crafting, then relaxed stretches where I could dedicate weekends and evenings to creativity.

The year started with Bagapalooza, a big bag review and refashion project.

I also made a whole lot of plans to sort out my photo collection… and that’s as far as that went.

The AKL got a bit of action, as I wove up a few things out of oddments of yarn:

And snuck in a little forbidden knitting with rocket needles and velvet fabric cut into a long strip:

And whipped up some jewellery:

Time to dust off the Bond Sweater Machine:

After picking up a free old Bond machine I made The Mega Bond:

More Bonding:

Until I had to clear the table for some sewing:

I made map coasters:

And tried out a few more methods in the inkle book:

And tried some embroidery:

And started the Fast Diet.

The beginning of a new obsession, perhaps:

I made an envelope clutch for a themed party:

I dabbled in cross-stitch:

But for most of July I was in the crafty doldrums.

Got my act together. Started tackling the problem of the back of the house falling off. Solution: better engineered verandah. Bonus shade panels and new balustrade. (Completed in November.)
I finished a portrait:

And decided to tackle six to-do list categories over six weekends, and some projects I could do while watching tv.
I started with jewellery:

Moved on to tackle accessories and clothing refasions:

Plus dyeing:

Some simple quilting:

I made a bag out of a painting and another out of an upholstery sample:

I tried solar dyeing, and made gifts to take overseas:

I finished weaving a scarf and wove another, and did more inkling:

It was also the month for learning I had a small heart condition, osteopenia and confirmation I’ve reached menopause. Or peri-menopause. Whatever. But I’d lost 4kg on the Fast Diet, so I was feeling pretty healthy.

I spent most of October overseas.

Craft Day on the first weekend back kick-started my crafty brain.
I made a necklace:


And framed some cats I’d stitched over the winter:

I got the cards done early:

Though we only used a few, as we didn’t find the time for the write & mail part.

I ended the year stitching:

I also went camping and painted ‘in plein air’:

I made a cover for the day bed:

And made a door mat for Dad:

And I finally finished weaving the paua shell ruanna after a year and a half on the loom:

I stitched a heart, and a pair of eyes:

Then we went to Japan!

All in all a good creative year. The craft category challenge proved very effective, so I might do that again in future. Half of the garments I made on the Bond I’ve decided need frogging or adjustment, however, and it wasn’t a great year for weaving. But I seem to have found a replacement for knitting with embroidery. I’m not as obsessed, though. Yet.

Daybed Cover

So, as I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve removed the daybed from the workroom and put it in the lounge. It took me less than a week to stain the calico cover with chocolate icecream, driving home the need to make a cover.

When I removed the daybed I also had to empty the boxes I had kept under it and find other places to store the contents. One of the boxes contained several old pairs of jeans, leftovers from when I’d woven the denim rag rugs. It occurred to me that it would be a neat solution to use them up making a cover.

So I started cutting up the jeans. At first I thought I’d just open up the legs and sew them together in strips, but only a few were long enough to cover the width of the bed and I was worried the thick seams would be a bit uncomfortable to sit or lie on. Instead, I settle on a simple patchwork of squares.

I made a template and got cutting. 119 squares would be needed, and thanks to Paul seeing what I was doing and giving me another worn out pair, I had enough jeans to make it with a leg and a bit spare. I wound up cutting more than 119, though, as I decided to use the holey bits of jeans with another non-holey square of thinner denim behind. This cover is going to come into existence pre-distressed.

The sewing of the squares and rectangles together got done in batches, an hour here and an hour there:

I’d bought some topstitching thread for sewing the seam edges flat, but changing tension across the different kinds of denim meant it went all loopy in places. I eventually gave up and had to spend an hour or two unpicking it all. Red cotton topstitching looked pathetic, so I unpicked an experimental row of that too.

Finally I settled on the navy thread I’d been using already. So the holes looked more deliberate than simple wear and tear, I zig-zagged around them.

Then I lined it with black calico:

So now have a cover that matches the handwoven floor rugs which can be tossed in the wash and I’ve used up most of my stash of old jeans. Two items crossed off my to-do list!

Hobbit Doormat

So the day after my Silhouette Portrait arrived I set it to work cutting a stencil for me. You see, Dad requested the first of The Hobbit films for Christmas and that gave me an idea for a handmade gift.

Having done my research on paper cutters, I knew that the cutting mat tends to be too sticky when first used. I did a test run with normal office paper and it stuck so firmly I had to scrape it off. I then followed the suggestion of patting an old tshirt over it to deposit some lint. It still gripped overly firmly, but the paper I switched to for the stencils was glossy and resisted the stickiness better.

The words on the stencil needed to be quite large, so I had to cut seven pieces of paper and tile them together. Once I had my stencil assembled, I took it outside…

… got spraying with black spray paint…

… to add a famous The Hobbit quote to a doormat to go outside Dad’s hobby room:

Sturdy & Straight

The back of our house is no longer in danger of falling off. You can see the extra supporting crossbeams – one across the building and three connecting each sides the vernadah – and the bit of morning shade the side panels cast on the house here:

The shade covers more in the early morning and late afternoon, after which the verandah does it’s thing.

As a bonus, we have a new balustrade to replace the rotting, badly-made old one:

It all looks sleek and modern. And it’s actually square. And best of all, it won’t need oiling each year.

But as usual, one fix leads to another. The extension was painted to match the original part of the house, but all the windows, the garage door, the new garage and now the balustrade framework are powder-coated, and the closest colour available is a paler cream. The verandah posts need repainting – to match and to treat the rust coming through the old paint. Which means getting in a painter, which means we may as well give in to the relentless restrictions of ‘available Colourbond colours’ and get all the pale areas of the house, like the weatherboards, repainted as well.

Well, next year anyway. Along with new carpets, as they needed replacing ten years ago and are really showing their age now.

Bonsai Travel

Way back when I first started travelling I assumed that the three sizes of suitcases were a guide to how much to pack. The big one was for international travel and the medium for domestic, and the small one for weekends away. Then I started working for Lonely Planet Publications as a designer and one of the many wisdoms I picked up is that you should never pack more than you can carry at a run for a kilometre.

By the time I stumbled on OneBag.com I thought I had mastered the art of travelling light. Half of what I read on the site made me feel smug that I’d already thought of it, but the other half was new and inspired me to pack even lighter.

On this last trip I travelled for most of the month with only a carry-on bag and a large handbag, knowing I’d have to haul them off and on of planes and trains with a bad back and no Paul to help. It was only at the convention at the end that I acquired more stuff than I could fit in my bag, but at that point we knew we could relax because we we would be taking a friend’s bag home with us.

So how do I manage with one carry on sized bag? Here’s some of my rules of bonsai travel:

* Make a ‘template’ packing list of essentials to copy and modify for each trip.
* Dress in layers and choose separates that will go with all other pieces. Sticking to a neutral and one colour helps. Avoid light colours if you’re travelling for a long time, as you might not have time or products to deal with food and sweat stains, which dark fabrics hide.
* If you do take light coloured clothing, remember to take a light coloured bra. Otherwise, take dark underthings.
* Choose clothing that will dry quickly and does not need ironing. I have fast-drying jeans and you can get ironing-free shirts.
* Wash clothing every few days with the hotel shampoo, using a travel towel to wring as much water out as possible, then hang on hotel coat hangers, traveler’s washing line and bathroom rails (it’s great when they’re heated, but take care not to melt delicate synthetics!).
* A shawl or sarong, depending on the climate, can be used as a scarf, skirt, jacket, shade cloth, bag and blanket.
* Reversible clothing, or clothing that can be worn more than one way, is great for travelling. It’s hard to find so keep it only for travelling.
* Shoes should be comfortable, hard-wearing and will survive being squished in a suitcase (with socks inside to hold the shape). I like to take one nice pair in case we go to a swish restaurant, but not heels as they take up too much room. I found my perfect travel shoe for this trip – black leather mary-sues with a runner-style sole. But I’d still need waterproofed runners as well if I anticipated walking in wet grass. At least one pair you take should be easily removed and without metal embellishments, for getting through security.
* Use jewellery to add interest to your wardrobe. Rigid circular necklaces and bracelets might bend and take up more room, so avoid them. Thread chains through straws to keep them from tangling. Perhaps take one chain/leather cord/ribbon and interchange pendants. Avoiding metal jewellery also helps avoid hold ups in security.
* Buy flat or small souvenirs as they are are easier to pack. I’ve often bought A4 sized artwork on holidays. It can slip inside the inevitable souvenir book. Otherwise, plan to buy things you’ll use or wear straight away. I nearly always buy a souvenir t-shirt, and like to buy socks, jewellery and scarves. I’m also a sucker for little travel-sized perfumes – non-aerosol of course.
* Work out how much you’ll use of bathroom products and decant into smaller containers. I’m always on the lookout for small plastic containers that don’t leak. Just to be sure, keep them in zip lock bags with a tissue to absorb moisture.
* Keep a lookout for products you use in travel sizes. I’ll often find they are only available outside of Australia, so I pop into pharmacies and supermarkets to see what they have.
* Choose a restricted make-up colour palette to match your clothing. For this last trip I bought lip-liners from the Body Shop and sawed them in half. (Cover your whole lip with liner before applying lipstick and you’ll still have some colour left after eating.) I also took an old, emptied blush compact and squished some lipstick colours into one compartment and cream eyeshadows into the other, then bought mini makeup brushes. Another trick is to buy foundation with sun-protection in it already so you don’t remove or have to reapply make-up when using sunscreen. Moisturiser can double as make-up remover and shaving cream.
* On some long-haul flights you can gamble on receiving some useful items, like moisturisers, lip balm, toothpaste and bed socks. If you’re travelling business or first class you might get pajamas, depending on the carrier. If your gamble doesn’t pay off you can always buy some when you get there. Resist taking what you won’t use. Don’t worry, the airlines recycle what isn’t opened or worn. (And I still haven’t found a use for multiple sleep masks.)
* IPhones are brilliant as they can be camera, torch, alarm clock, book, guidebook, phrasebook, notebook and computer as well as phone. During the parts of a flight when devices must be turned off, or when the battery is running, I have a crossword puzzle book and tear out the pages as I complete them, and a small novel or anthology that I don’t mind leaving behind when I finish it. A top-up battery is well worth having on hand, too.
* On trips where you need clothes for one kind of trip then move on to another kind (business to pleasure, warm to cool climate) or when you really want to buy something large and/or heavy, post things home or to a friend or family member. I print out slips of paper with the address on it to take with me, so there’s no chance my terrible handwriting will cause mistakes.

I’m always looking for new ways to pack light. One product I want to get hold of for my next trip is a couple of hooks that can clip onto those annoying anti-theft hotel coat hangers so I can hang clothes in the bathroom to dry. Clothes nearly always dry faster in the bathroom than in the wardrobe.

One product that is impossible to transfer into another container and I can never find in a travel size is a hypo-allergenic deodorant, so this time I made my own using this recipe. I’m tempted to try making other products now – especially if the result is solid and dry so I don’t have to put it in the liquids bag to go through security.

But while seeking out and trying products for bonsai travel is fun, the most effective way to achieve it is to simply take less stuff. I nearly always find I didn’t wear or could have done without one or two items of clothing, and only occasionally wish I’d brought something else. Usually the latter is something I couldn’t have predicted, to do with the local climate, and in that case what I need is usually available there. The only garments I wouldn’t gamble on finding at my destination are wet/cold weather gear and a bathing suit.

Not every travel tip will suit every traveller, too. The OneBag.com site advises against using a bag with wheels, since the mechanism takes up space and adds weight. But my back won’t stand up to carrying a 7-8 kilo bag round, so it’s a compromise I’ve accepted I have to make. Fortunately, wheely bags are getting lighter and lighter.

Cats I Have Known

I wrote this post ages ago, while I was stitching the cat portraits. Now that they’re finished and framed I can go ahead and post it…

We adopted Frosty from a great aunt of mine, who couldn’t see anything wrong with starving a pure white angora cat so she would ‘keep the mice down on the farm’. Frosty’s hard start in life meant she hissed when people went near her at first, but she softened up a little (except to Mum, who called her ‘that little bitch’ in moments of frustration). She knew she was a stunner, and would sit inside the front gate, just out of reach, to attract attention – only consenting to come forward for a pat after much admiration and coaxing. She’d greet me there when I got home from school, and ride on my shoulders into the house.

Pepe le Pew was one of many cats dumped up the top of our street, where the greenbelt farms began, usually a few months after Christmas. We found him under the playhouse. He was the cat that turned my Mum from a cat hater to a cat lover. He would come inside and call ‘Mum! Mum!’ until he found her, then if she was napping come up and gently touch his nose to hers. He couldn’t purr, instead making a kind of husky pant that caused much hilarity during quiet pauses in conversation. Being such a pale cat, he developed skin cancer and despite our attempts to remove and prevent it he died at eight years old.

Peri Peri was my first cat. Well, my ex picked him at the shelter because he had ‘attitude’, and I suspect his mood swings were the reason his previous owners reject him. He nearly died a few months later from a blockage in his urinary system caused by the additives in ordinary cat food. Once no longer in pain, his ‘attitude’ changed into affection and playfulness and he became very talkative. We used to play a game where he’d chase me around the house – I’d hide and he’d race around to find me. When I split with the ex I Peri Peri behind, thinking it unfair to drag a cat from familiar surrounds, but adopted him again when the ex moved to an apartment. He soon won Paul over with his doglike ways.

Our current cat, Slinky, is another rescue cat. He was supposed to be 3 years old, but from his kittenish behaviour and his growth after we adopted him we reckon he was about one to one and a half. A former stray, he is freaked out by rain and garbage trucks, but likes people. He’s fast when playing, and easy to train though hard to dissuade from chewing power cords, scratching carpet and swiping at toes. He is a very talkative cat, and twitters at birds through the windows.


We’re back. We’re jet-lagged and glad to be home, with our own bed, pillows, shower, hair products…

There are stories to tell, photos to sort through, and a lack of craft to talk about since I had barely any time for more than a few hours of embroidery over the whole month. But I did do a little sketching here and there – moments of creativity that were like therapy at times.

Of course, when I got back I eyed my workroom critically and made some changes. I’ve come to expect a mood for change after a time away from home. It’s much easier to spot the source of problems when you’re not in the midst of them. In this case, I considered how the space I’m meant to create in was so cluttered that I end up doing everything on the dining table downstairs, and realised that there was only one large thing in the room I would be able to remove without having to get rid of it completely and/or giving up a craft: the day bed.

So I pulled it out of the room, moved the knitting machine and drawing board to the walls and suddenly there is SPAAAAACE! And I decided to swivel the drawing board top so it lays flat to use it as an extra, though high, table.

I will store the daybed mattress under our bed and slide it out if I need to lie flat to straighten my back. We’ll put the base in the garage – since I made the daybed I want to keep it. Though there’s a chance we can fit the daybed in the lounge room, perhaps under the window – which Slinky would approve of.

I’ve also looked at my crafty to-do list. There are some WIPs to finish, projects-in-waiting, and new things to try. Thanks to tacking a pile of projects before I went overseas I feel I can now pick and choose as the mood takes me. The only pressure is to make cards and presents for a certain fast-approaching time of year. (Don’t mention the ‘C’ word.)

In other news, the back of our house isn’t falling off any more. The metals supports have been added to the verandah uprights, so the wall is much less creaky when it’s windy. The shade panels and centre panels of the balustrade are still to be installed, so I’ll wait until then for pics.

Six To-Do List Challenge Conclusion

Well, the six weekends have passed. I managed to defeat only four of the craft categories (if you include TV Craft as a category), but I’ve made a lot of things and got some projects done that have been hanging around for a long time.

The Categories:

TV craft – lots of jewellery projects tackled: Best project: gemstone choker (had lots of compliments)
Dyeing Day – category defeated. Best project: overdyed socks. I’m wearing them at last!
T-shirt Printing Day – category defeated. The t-shirt printing project was a dud, but I wound up spending four half-days on solar dyeing scarves.
Jewellery Day – the only item on this list was to try making something with metal clay, but it needs time to dry thoroughly before firing so I knew I’d have to abandon that category when the last weekend came around.
Overlocking/Accessory Day/s – not defeated but certainly reduced. I wound up combining the two categories since some of the overlocking projects were more easily done on the sewing machine. I probably wound up spending four days on various projects. Best projects: Yarn Shade Card Blanket, Painting Bag, Tweed Purse and Lazy Quilt. Didn’t finish the Fair Isle Hat, Passap Cover or get to the 2 seam 50s top.
Shirt Conversion Day/s – never got to this one. That’s fine – refashioning tends to be a warm weather craft for me.
Bookbinding Day/s – a category I added later, perhaps foolishly because I never got to it.

And the awards go to:

The Yarn Shade Card Blanket for Best Project

The Lazy Quilt for Best Make It Up As You Go Project

The Painting Bag for Most Unexpectedly Awesome Result

The Solar Dyed Scarves for Most Addictive New Craft

The Cook Islands Tshirt Replica for Greatest Anticlimax Project

Winds of Change

A few weeks ago we had an engineer come to look at the big verandah at the back of our house, and a balustrade and fencing company came to do a quote for a new balustrade and shade panels for the verandah.

The fact that the back wall of the workroom flexes in and by about an inch during windy weather had always made me suspect there was something dodgy about having the veranda attached to it. But then, there was a lot of dodgyness about the house extension. When I told the engineer about the flexing he looked horrified. On closer inspection, it looks like the weatherboards are becoming detached from the frame. Also, having the verandah posts bolted to the brickwork lower down is really bad, because brickwork is just cladding – it doesn’t actually provide support. The verandah’s swaying could be detaching the bricks from the real support structure – the framework inside – and the wall could fall down.

Baaaaad idea.

The engineer suggested we keep the verandah attached to the house above the brickwork, but have bracing beams welded between the verandah uprights. As luck would have it, the balustrade company guy said they could do that for us, as they often have to weld supports on to attach a balustrade to anyway.

A few days later, as I was closing the blinds in the workroom, I noticed a new, very strong and very cold draft coming in around the window frame. We’d recently had some unusually strong winds in Melbourne that came from the west rather than north, which had set the verandah swaying left to right rather than back and forth. I suspect they did some damage.

Our intended fix wouldn’t stop that, but when the engineers report came in it was clear he’d discovered the problem. He’d added a recommendation for a cross beam across the width of the wall which would address the flex in that direction. He’d also bumped up the size of the new beams considerably, too. Looking at the technical diagrams and the degree of likely flex in the uprights, it’s a wonder how the structure got passed in the first place.

Note the honking big metal u-beams required to make this thing safe.

We had to get a new quote from Standrite for the extra metalwork. It’s all going to cost quite a bit, but it’s become a matter of fixing a dangerous structural problem. With the bonus of an attractive new balustrade and extra shade on the house, and no more oiling the slats of the balustrade every year. And as Paul says, it probably would have cost it this much extra to have it done right in the first place.

In that way that house maintenance has, we’ll also need to get the metal parts of the verandah repainted, too. The existing paint is covered in rust spots. Since the painter will probably need scaffolding, that’s not going to be cheap either.

Inspections & Improvements

From time to time I notice Paul looking at houses online and get sucked in, and we start bouncing ideas off each other. Two years ago it led to us deciding to build a new garage and turn the old one into a studio. Lately we’ve been at it again, only this time we’ve gone to a few inspections. Just testing ourselves.

We’ve been looking at the one acre properties on the other side of the freeway. Expensive houses with pools and tennis courts. But many have no fences with houses positioned at the back of the block, back yards quite close to the neighbours’, so despite being large pieces of land they feel even less private than typical suburban blocks. Not enough gain and too much loss for the upheaval and cost of upgrading and moving.

When I ask myself what it is about our house I most dislike it’s how hot the upstairs rooms get in summer even with air conditioning. It seems every summer is less bearable (and not only because of menopause, though hot flushes in hot weather is a whole new level of discomfort). If our climate goes the way that’s predicted it’s only going to get hotter and windier.

When I asked Paul what he most disliked he picked the same thing, so we discussed what we could do to the house to reduce the problem. I already had a mental list that went like this:

* Work elsewhere in the house
* Work elsewhere out of the house (Rent an office? Buy a holiday home?)
* Plan to spend summer not working

Paul’s went something like this:

* Remove all the weatherboards upstairs, triple the insulation and replace them, fixing the dodgy flashing the builder put in at the same time.
* Get double glazed windows.
* Put in more ventilation.

So you can see, our minds were in two entirely different places.

Paul’s first two suggestions would cost quite a bit and require emptying the upstairs part of the house. When I said this, Paul pointed out that it wouldn’t cost as much as stamp duty or cause as much hassle as moving house. He also reasoned that we did the extension fairly cheaply and, five years later, we should think of any money we spend on these problems as the extra money we’d would have spent anyway if it had been a better quality extension.

Still, it would be nice to avoid a big upheaval.

We debated the groovy upward-angled verandah at the back and realised that we have quite opposing views about it. Paul doesn’t like how it looks and thinks it doesn’t work. I disagree. It’s meant to shade the house in summer, but by being angled up and out it allows sunlight below the verandah to warm the house in winter, as you can see here:

What bugs me about it, however, is that it makes the back wall of the house creak and move when it’s windy. Now the reason that happens is because, though engineers had approved it as a freestanding structure, the dodgy builder’s plumbers wouldn’t put the roof on it until it was attached to the house because they didn’t like how it swayed slightly under their weight.

As we were sitting in the back yard and looking up at it, I hit on the idea of detaching it again, adding cross beams to the uprights, then putting wooden slats between the cross beams to shade more of the house.

Paul thought it would be ugly. I reasoned that it could look, from a distance, like a balustrade for a deck on the back, and he didn’t mind the sound of that. Then I remembered that I’d found a company that would do a nice aluminium balustrade that could replace ours.

The one made by dodgy builder is shrinking and rotting where they extended the posts (because they made them too short to pass the building inspection) and when they removed the top rail they splintered some but reused them anyway, as you can see here:

Maybe, at the same time as replacing our balustrade, the company could attach matching panels to the verandah. Panels like this example from their site, but with the louvered slats facing out and down so I can still look between them into the garden from the workroom:

So I rang the engineering company we used for the reno to booked a consultation to make sure what we’re doing is safe, and made an appointment for a quote from the balustrade company.

Looks like we’re heading down the home improvement path again.