Back to the Beginning

I had some big plans at the start of the year. Photo albums and refashioning lists were going to be tackled. So what happened?

1) I could only work on the albums on my computer, which is in the workroom, which is impossibly hot in summer.

Actually, we finally finished the Japan album and sent it off to an album printing company last weekend. Pics to come.

2) Refashioning Neon Safire is kicking my a**.

I knit a new waist in mistake rib, then added the yarn for the old waistband as plain knit thinking it would curl up a little. But it curls up a lot. Ignoring that, I knit the new neck band… twice because I picked up too many stitches the first time. When I put it on, I found that separating the front to make it a cardy had widened it around the middle, which was good except that the fronts now wouldn’t stay over my ‘assets’. But I ignored that, too, and started knitting new sections on the arms. Arms that are really too tight… WHAT AM I DOING THIS IS A DISASTER?!

I think it’s time to concede defeat, acknowledge that nothing is going to make it fit right, and frog the dratted thing.

3) Lack of sleep from the hot weather meant I couldn’t get my head around the more complicated sewing refashions. And it was too hot to try on stuff.

Fair enough, I suppose. But I did get some refashioning done…

4) … until I got distracted by weaving and that crazy Mystery Box Challenge.

Well, there’s a reason this blog is called Creative Fidget.

Okay, so I’m determined to get stuck into the refashioning pile again, especially as I’ve added more to it since the beginning of the year. There’s a Craft Day coming up, so I’ll be bringing out the sewing machine and dress form and tackling some refashions at that.

That is, unless I hear the siren call of the loom, or the embroidery hoop, or…


March the 9th 2006. That’s the day I started this blog. That’s eight years ago. Eight years!

The blog has gone through a few incarnations. First it was called “Knitting & Chocolate” and was only about knitting, with a few other crafts tossed in now and then. Then on November 5th 2009 I changed it to “Creative Fidget” and started blogging about all my creative projects.

That was also when I changed to WordPress. I looked back through my posts recently, gathering information as I added old weaving projects to Ravelry, and boy did I have a lot of grief using Blogger. WordPress isn’t perfect, but it is such an improvement.

I’ve had the same WordPress theme since then. I did try changing it once, but it resulted in a blank white page and I had to restore the old version from the backup. I tried again a few weeks ago and it worked (obviously). A different website host that supports the most recent version of WordPress probably helped.

Though I looked at a pile of other themes, I settled on the one that failed to load last time because I still like it. It’s simple and clean. The only big change is I can put an image up as a header.

And the blog content? No plans to change. Lots of craft, art, DIY, Recycling, home and wardrobe improvement, holidays, and occasional baking and gardening posts.


When the week ahead involves four days over 40 degrees C there’s no point making firm plans about anything. Staying as cool as possible was the priority. Being self employed means I can declare the days a ‘holiday’, though it does make for a pretty unpleasant sort of holiday.

It meant abandoning the upstairs and setting up downstairs. We slept in the guest room and I spent my days crafting, or attempting to, at the dining table under the aircon. I planned to tackle the refashion pile, and even wrote a long post about all the projects on it. But as good as aircon is it’s not good enough for trying on heavier clothing, and after three warm nights not quite cool enough for good sleep, in a less comfortable bed, my brain wasn’t awake enough for challenging refashions.

Pfft to plans, anyway.

On Wednesday I finally got to a Handweavers and Spinners Guild summer school workshop. Since I’ve broken my feet (have I mentioned that I have a pair of strained fascias from all the walking I’ve been doing in order to combat osteoporosis?) I’m not supposed to walk much and pressing the foot pedals in the Mini for long is painful, so Paul drove me there and picked me up later. Thankfully the guild is air-conditioned now. It was a Miniature Tapestry workshop and a great way to make another unbearably hot day pass faster. I’ll write a separate post about it later.

While I was there I succumbed to temptation and picked up one of the guild’s mystery challenge boxes. You grab a little chinese food box full of stuff and have to use at least 50% of it to make something. From the moment I started looking through mine I knew I wanted to make a figurine, and in the evening began sketching ideas.

And I spent half of Thursday staring at the contents in a state of dazed sleep-deprivation, the other half picking up and putting down refashioning projects. I did attempt to felt a figurine body, but that was a complete disaster. At least getting my hands wet did help to cool me down. All I made that day was a very simple leather bracelet.

Friday I was more awake and managed to finish a couple of crafty projects before tackling the mystery box again. This time I managed to make something – mostly by deciding I’d work out how to make a body later and concentrate on the clothes for now.

So I did craft during the heatpocalypse. In a bit of a stupor, and half of it on a completely new project, but at least the days weren’t completely wasted.

2014 Art & Craft

So, looking ahead, what do I see in my arty-crafty-diy future?

More portraits
It took only a few hours to finish Cat’s portrait – close enough to say I did two portraits in 2013. Just two, however. I’d like to increase that and I think the key is to work on two at once. I’ve got to get around to pinning subjects down so I can take reference photos.

Photo albums
I really need to get on top of these. I have trips back as far as 2011 that I haven’t made albums for. I’d like to set up an easy way to do it and start making a regular yearly ‘everything else’ album.

Refashioning & Sewing
It’s currently my biggest to-do list. I want to make use of my new-ish customised dress model, too.

I’m doing a mini tapestry weaving course in a few weeks and I’ve arranged to fly up to Canberra at the end of the month to teach a friend how to use a 2nd hand 4-shaft loom she bought last year. And now that the ruanna is off the loom it’s free for a new project.

Papercraft & Printing
My new Silhouette cutter is calling, as is the stamp making kit that I bought for it.

I’ve had a metal clay kit for over a year now. Well past time I tried it!

Machine Knitting
The Bond and Passap have been neglected for some time, and not for lack of yarn. I don’t want to forget how to use them!

So I’ve already lined up two new crafts to try (tapestry weaving and metal clay) and a big project (photo albums). There’s plenty of sewing to do and urge to not let established crafts languish. So business as usual, really!

No ‘Poo Hair Cleaner

In the middle of last year I tried the ‘No ‘Poo’ method to wash and condition my hair, and I haven’t looked back. It works like this:

Take around 1/4 of a cup of bicarbonate of soda and, parting hair in a few places, pat onto scalp. Rinse through, combing hair gently with fingertips.

Then mix a tablespoon or two of apple cider vinegar with water and pour over hair, letting it run out to the ends. Rinse lightly.

The way it works is quite simple. The bicarb removes oiliness, the vinegar, which is mildly acidic, then neutralises the alkalinity of the bicarb. You need to adjust the amount of each to suit your scalp oiliness/dryness and length of hair, too. It takes a little while to wash away the waxiness of commercial conditioners, so you have to give it some time – maybe six weeks – to judge the results.

Why’d I try this? Well, 20 years ago I started to look into why my scalp was always itchy, sometimes even sore to the touch. I learned that commercial conditioners coat your hair with waxes, and the shampoo has to be strong enough to remove the coating or it builds up, which dries the hair, so you need a strong conditioner… and on it goes. Also, your scalp tends to produce more oil to counter the dryness or simply from all the stimulation from scrubbing at your hair.

Using gentler products made from coconut oil and not washing my hair every day made a huge difference, but I still occasionally had some irritation. Later, when I moved away from products containing sodium laureth sulphate/sodium lauryl sulphate, I stopped getting mouth ulcers from toothpaste and my scalp stopped itching completely.

But it’s hard to find such products, they go out of production and change their formula. Sometimes well-meaning but clueless manufacturers include essential oils in the belief that they won’t give anyone allergic reactions. By the time I heard about the “no ‘poo’ method” I was attracted by the knowledge that nobody was ever going to stop manufacturing bicarb and vinegar or add things to them.

My hair is now soft and shiny. The natural curl is stronger, which I love. I no longer have an itchy scalp or split ends. Once my scalp stopped overproducing oil I was able to cut hair washing down to once every four or five days.

The only problem I have is incorporating this with my carry-on only travelling philosophy. Customs and security might regard travelling with vinegar a little odd, and taking a jar of white powder on board a plane somewhat alarming.

Animal, Vegetable, Mineral

Last week I had a bone density scan. The result? My back is fine but my left hip (they test one, not both) has some loss of density. Not osteoporosis but the milder, early stage called osteopenia. As I said to Mum on Saturday night, I might look fine on the outside, but I’m getting old on the inside. (Well, except for that whisker I discovered a few days ago and promptly yanked out!)

According to the government health site, women lose 10% of their bone mass in the few years after menopause. The only non-hormonal way to slow it down is to consume heaps of calcium and vitamin D and do lots of weight bearing exercise. Fortunately, the up side of menopause is that I have more energy so feel more like exercising, and the female problems that made me feel drained aren’t cramping my style (pun intended).

If anything, the energy I have has led me to exercise too much too quickly. We went for an hour long, hilly walk on Thursday and it left me sore and exhausted the next day. I still have achy hips, thighs and back two days later.

Slowly. Must take it slowly.

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.

Dem Bones, Dem Bones, Dem Hormones

My doctor finally looked me in the eye yesterday and said “you have early menopause”. Suffice to say, it was not news to me.

On the Better Health Channel site run by the Department of Health, it says premature menopause is before 40, early is before 45. I’ll be 44 next month. I finally worked out, by asking the right questions of my mother (who swears she never got menopause despite me vividly remembering her sticking her head in the freezer during hot flushes) that both she and her mother had early menopause.

The doc wants to put me on HRT. I am doing some serious weighing up of pros and cons.

Why would I not want HRT? Not because of the risks – they are very small. It’s the side-effects which are, not surprisingly, all the cycle-related problems I’ve had over the last five years. Replace the hormones that caused the problems and they come back, funnily enough.

In the last six months I’ve felt better than I have for years. My cycle stopped completely. That didn’t just mean no periods, but no unpredictable three week exhausting and painful heavy periods, no painful and permanently distorting water retention between them, no bloating, no cycle related depression or anxiety.

I’ve had more energy, my mind is clearer and sharper (though my memory is worse than ever), I’m in a better mood most of the time and I feel like exercising and getting outdoors. As someone who had chronic fatigue, that has been wonderful. The hot flushes, dry eyes and occasional insomnia were annoying, but totally worth it.

The trouble is, I should be at this stage at 50. That means I will suffer the long-term consequences of menopause six years sooner than the average woman: my bones will lose 10% of their mass in the next few years, giving me osteoporosis earlier. Being someone who reduced her intake of dairy products for most of her adult life, and who is vitamin D deficient, my risk of osteoporosis is already a little higher.

So do I put up with the side-effects of HRT or get osteporosis earlier?

To help me choose, I’m getting a bone-density test done to see if there are any changes already. My grandmother was a tough old bird who lived into her 90s despite early menopause, so maybe I’ll take after her.

I’m also looking into medical non-HRT treatments for osteoporosis. From what I can tell so far, they are either not covered by PBS unless you are over 70 and have had a fracture, are only covered if you already have osteoporosis (so much for prevention) and some aren’t covered at all. All have their own side-effects.

Of course, calcium and vitamin D supplements are good, as well as weight bearing exercise (walking, jogging, dancing, etc.) and strength training exercise (weights). Which would be good for my heart, too. And it’s much easier to cook healthy food and exercise when you have energy.

Ah, getting old. Yep. That.

A Different Approach

When I looked at my craft to-do list, over the last six weeks, I still wanted to do everything on it, even though none of the projects jumped out and said ‘pick me!’. I was also stuck in a ‘but I shouldn’t start this until I’ve finished that’ rut, which had me picking up one thing, doing a bit, then putting it down and picking up another, and so on.

I tried listing my works in progress and committing to finishing them. A few weekends ago I decided I would work on the Paua Shell Ruanna every day, for as long as a cd played. I kept it up for a few days and made good progress but then I had a day when work took over completely and I haven’t touched it since.

The right side is done, now for the left

Last Sunday I had a free day to dedicate to craft. Instead of tackling a WIP I spent it trying to make gifts for the coming overseas trip. Last year I knitted little sock bookmarks, but since lots of fiddly hand knitting is out of the question now I figured I’d whip up a long tube on the knitting machine, cut it into short lengths and make beanie bookmarks. Except that, well, they looked like little woolly condoms.

As always, I’ve had more success with projects I could do in front of the tv at night. I finished the cat portraits and another inkle band, and next I’m going to tackle this sampler I started for the loom demonstration at the convention last June:

True to my words

After that I figure I’ll take the Art Necklace, paper and a gouache set down there, and paint the inserts.

Just needs filling

But I can’t do everything on my craft to-do list while sitting in front of the TV. Some projects are too messy, some are noisy and some require space and large tools. A few days ago I decided to do something different: divide them into TV Craft, Workroom Craft and Outside Craft instead of by type of craft.

After all, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing while expecting a different result, or so the saying goes.

I found a couple more WIPs that could be done in the evening, and that most of the workroom and outside craft requires a weekend – either a half day, full day or multiple days.

Then I divided them based on craft type, and the sewing projects into garment, non-garment and projects that require an overlocker rather than whether they were refashions or not. I wound up with six ‘days’:

Dyeing Day
Tshirt Printing Day
Jewellery Day
Overlocking Day
Accessory Making Day/s
Shirt Conversion Day/s

The unexpected bonus of this was that I can add some new projects to a day if I have time. Like trying solar dyeing to Tshirt Printing Day, or trying silver clay once I’ve finished my jewellery WIPs.

I figure I can find six weekend days between now and the next trip to dedicate to reducing the to-do list. It’s unlikely I’ll come back to a clean slate, but hopefully to a much diminished list.

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.