On Wednesday of last week, I was so pleased & proud of the contents of my little greenhouse that I even took a couple of pictures; it all seemed to be going so well this year, after last year’s cool, damp spring when half the seeds I’d sown didn’t even bother germinating. I’ve had much better luck this year, even from the same seed packets.
On Thursday – devastation. Utterly wrecked. It looked as if a bunch of pirates had held a wild, wild party in there; the little plants had been trampled, been pulled up & strewn around, had their heads bitten off & left lying, grazed off. Random holes had been dug in seed trays, pots knocked over and tray lids sent flying in the quest to consume or just obliterate the contents. I could have wept; the devastation was pretty much total, except for the peppers & chillis on the top shelf & for some reason, the peas & beans. 2 trays of beetroot seedlings (my husband’s favourite) more than half of my tomatoes, aniseed, Russian Blue chives, Tuscan egg onions, Magentaspreen, Russian Tarragon, agapanthus, agastache, my daughter’s spinach & named-variety sunflower seedlings – all gone, or damaged beyond hope of survival.
But it seems it was very much my own fault, if not my own doing. We’ve suspected for a week or so that we might have an unwanted rodent-shaped guest, as well as our friendly local hedgehog population; an ominous hole has appeared down under my work shed. Since the lockdowns began, I’ve picked up the poultry food bowls at night & keep them in a heavy-lidded metal box (not that there’s usually anything much left in them) so as not to attract trouble. But the seed for the wild birds is much harder to round up; it gets dropped all over the place, not necessarily just below the feeders, & there are sunflowers springing up in every crack in the paths. There’s a heavy-duty sonic deterrent on its way to us , but it hasn’t got here yet; I won’t use poison, because of the cats and the hedgehogs.
So why did the rascally rodent run riot in my seed pots & trays? My younger daughter pointed the finger firmly at me when clearing up the fallen bird seed. “Mum, did you deposit a load of cooked rhubarb under the apple tree?” No, I didn’t – but I did empty a bucket of last year’s failed rhubarb champagne there, then got distracted, went off to do something urgent and failed to remove the vastly over-fermented “fruit”… My tiny plants have paid the price for my failings; they’ve literally been danced on & devastated by an inebriated rodent! I can’t help hoping he had the mother & father of all hangovers…
I do know that this is no laughing matter, and that I need to take serious & urgent action to protect our friends and neighbours & our pets; if the sonic deterrent doesn’t work, I’ll be straight on the phone to the pest controllers. But I have to say I’d never have realised just how much damage could be caused by a rat-arsed rat…
Well, spot the sometimes-blogger who completely lost her blogging mojo… I don’t know why , I just felt that I didn’t have anything interesting to say. Or, for that matter, do… But having just annoyed myself intensely, please forgive me if I give myself an online talking-to!
So I decided to make a rag rug for our eldest son and his lovely partner, who are about to move into their own first-bought home. I know that they will be choosing their furniture & decor carefully, and of course it’s hard to gauge what might “fit” until you can see how their plans are working out – and if they’re anything like us, things don’t so much go according to the masterplan as just fall into place. They’ll do… I thought I’d just go along with something completely practical, which can be used anywhere – a bathmat, a door mat, a sleeping mat for their adorable dachshund, a boot-liner for the car. There was already a warp on the loom; I’d intended to make a mat for the back seat of my van, but kind of lost my way over winter with that as well. Anyway, to cut a long story short, the warp was made from leftover bits of an old sheet that had been cut into strips for a completely different project, several years ago.
I should have known that a cut warp was never going to be as satisfactory as a torn warp for a twined-weave project; it hadn’t been cut completely straight on the “grain”, so the warp was constantly “shedding” threads, which stick up in the finished weaving. And enough came away as I went along that I became slightly anxious that it wouldn’t be as strong in the middle as it needs to be, to take the ferocious tension. Luckily – it sufficed.
The weft strips were a few bits of my husband’s old, torn jeans, an old, frayed turquoise seersucker tablecloth and two-and-a-half reclaimed duvet covers from the recycling warehouse. Total expenditure, £2; 50p each for the 4 bought items, with half of one duvet cover and a few strips left over.
So they picked up the keys today. And I really wanted there to be a parcel for them on the doorstep, so I carried on “over, under, twist!”-ing ’til late at night on Tuesday. I was aware I’d made a bit of an error at one point, but thought, it’s never going to be completely symmetrical, it’s in the nature of the beast to be a little bit chaotic – it’s a rag-rug, it’ll do. So I carried on.
I came down on Wednesday morning, took one look, and oh my goodness – NO!!! It would NOT do. The error shrieked and glared at me; I knew I’d have to undo half of what I’d done the evening before and put it right. If it was anywhere in my sight, the wrongness would just leap out at me, even though I’m no perfectionist. So I spent a merry couple of hours twisting backwards.
The moral of this story being – STOP when you’re tired, and start making mistakes! I have known this for many years – go off & do something else, sleep on it, come back to your project when you’re refreshed and not before! But once again, I carried on long past the point where I should have stopped… Despite the setback, I still got it finished and posted in time, and it arrived today – the day they picked up the keys for their own first lovely home. Phew…
Just asking – has anyone else out there struggled to get going with projects lately? In the unforgettable words of a dear friend – are you feeling, like I was, somewhat oomph-lacking?
Mending is a thing right now, and that makes me very happy! For a very long time I haven’t wanted to support the fast-fashion industry, partly because of the horrendous level of waste engendered, partly because of the chemicals and processes used, and partly because of their exploitation of desperate workers . Yes, I know, those workers do need to support themselves & their families, but our addiction to cheap “disposable” clothing has forced their employers to push prices, and therefore wages, down to the minimum, and their hours up to the maximum, leading to people becoming economically enslaved & working in dangerous & demeaning situations. There has to be a better way, for all concerned.
I do try to buy well, when I have to buy at all, but I don’t have the kind of money to buy the clothes I’d ethically approve of, and, to be fair, they’re probably not designed for people like me anyway. (What looks good on a 6′ size 6 model drifting through a field of sunlit daisies looks quite silly on a short, round lady of a certain age trudging up a muddy allotment path.) So when I do invest in something I like and that suits me, I want it to last. Especially when I’ve bought it secondhand; chances are I won’t be able to find a replacement easily.
So mending has been part of my way of life for a long time (I grew up in the 60s & 70s, when it was quite mainstream, if not something to be proud of) and I’m beginning to see it not as a chore, but as a creative process. I learnt early in life how to do more-or-less invisible mends, but thanks to those indefatigable engines of creativity, the Japanese, and the public’s growing awareness of our looming environmental predicaments, “visible mends” have caught people’s imaginations lately and have even become saleable. My skills are suddenly in demand, with the added twist that I can start to have some fun with the idea now!
So I thought I’d share the process of retrieving a rather nice polo-necked jumper; not a top-notch “designer” garment, but a respectable make and made from cashmere, a rightly-expensive fibre that I’d struggle to justify buying new for myself. I found this one at the recycling warehouse, for 50p, well-nibbled; one of the main problems with cashmere is that clothes moths simply adore it. (The other is its tendency to shrink & felt if not treated with the utmost respect.) Luckily they’re not good at surviving very low temperatures, so it spent a month in my freezer before being assessed for mending or upcycling; if I’d judged it too hard to mend, it could have become fingerless gloves, or possibly leg-warmers, or any number of smaller, useful items.
There were lots of holes around the hem, and on one cuff. Apart from that, there were very few holes on the body, arms or neck, just a few tiny nibbles. So I machine-stitched around the ribbing (thank you to my friends on the Fashion-on-the-Ration thread on the MSE forums for the idea!) above the worst of the damage, and cut the lower bits away, then stabilised the few mostly-tiny holes left by stitching all round them with cotton, tightening & tying-off. Both cuffs were stitched & cut off, for symmetry’s sake, even though one had been undamaged.
Luckily I had some tiny sample skeins of cashmere in sympathetic colours, so I crocheted round the cut edges (straightforward double-crochet, or single for our American friends, basing each stitch just above the machine-stitched line) in one direction in a lighter blue, then the opposite way in a darker one. The last step was to felt round the edges slightly to bond the different yarns, by dipping them in hot water & soap & rubbing them gently between my fingers for a few minutes. Then it was washed & dried.
I’m going to wear this one myself, mostly underneath other garments, and am perfectly happy that it now has what looks like a little lacy trim!
As a “vintage” market trader, I’ve always mended worthwhile items to sell on, as well as for my own use, and have never considered wearing mended clothes to be a sign of moral deficiency. We have to stop shopping ’til we drop & throwing or giving stuff away after a couple of uses. Instead we need to buy carefully & consciously, and take proper care of what we have, wherever it come from. Part of taking care is mending when necessary, visibly or otherwise. Learning to mend could save you lots of money, or make it possible to buy things of a quality that would otherwise be out of reach. It’s a better use of precious time than endless binge-watching TV, and can even be combined with it once it becomes automatic.
And when things go beyond the point of mend-abilty – upcycle. Felted jumpers make wonderful cushion covers!
A long time ago, in the early days of the WWW, I was a member of an inspirational American website & online community, Frugal Moms. There didn’t seem to be anything like it UK-based, although that, of course, has changed since. Everyone’s favourite book was Amy Dacyczyn’s Tightwad Gazette, and our battlecry rapidly became her iconic phrase “Do the math!” Just as appropriate here in the UK, even though we’d need an extra “s” – meaning, always sit down & work out whether it is actually worthwhile to do or buy something.
That doesn’t simply mean, “Can we afford it?” That’s a sensible question in its own right, but this goes further; I’d interpret it as, “Is it worthwhile affording it?” whatever it may be? As a very simple example, when we were looking for a new cooker, I insisted on quite an expensive make, rather than just one that fitted the space, did what we needed (to be fair, given a larger family, most modern cookers don’t) and looked the part. I put my foot down & insisted on a make that’s known for reliability and ease of acquiring & fitting spare parts, supplied by a firm with a good reputation for customer service. Which we’ve never needed so far, touch wood. We’re about 10 years down the line now and it continues to do the job well and without fuss; previously, no cooker had lasted us more than 5 years, and most had had engineers called out several times during their stint with us. Time is an important element in deciding whether something is worthwhile; your own time surrendered in paying for it, but also saved in using it, plus the length of time it’s likely to last you set against the initial cost.
Two more examples have come into focus lately. The question has been asked, post-Covid, whether it’s worthwhile for me to continue with my market & emporium stalls; after all, we “coped” without the extra income during lockdown. And they do take up some of my time & energy, and of course, there are costs involved. But as far as I’m concerned, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” – psychologically I need to have a little independent income, and I enjoy what I do, despite the hauling round of heavy stuff and inevitable mess while I clean and restore it. As far as I’m concerned, reclaiming worthwhile tools and materials is an excellent use of time, and I have lots of lovely, creative customers who I very much enjoy meeting. We couldn’t live on what I bring in, but it has for some years paid for extras. There will come a time when it’s no longer practical or possible, but – that day is not this day, to paraphrase a well-known fantasy film.
And is the allotment worthwhile, in purely financial terms? This has not been the most productive of years, thanks to a very dry spring, a mud-bath in May leading to a weed explosion which I’m still battling, and a cold grey August which led to stalled growth for the leeks and cabbages, the dreaded tomato blight, and an almost total lack of female flowers on my squash plants. However, quoting from a post I made on MSE’s forums:
“Another 850g of raspberries brought home this morning, along with a bag of just-popped-up spuds, enough beans for a meal for 5 and a courgette, plus a load of cabbage outer-leaves for the Girls (the chickens, rather than my daughters) from my neighbour, who’s clearing his plot for the winter – he will be rewarded with half a dozen eggs! I keep my plot producing over winter where possible, feeding the soil with mulches rather then resting it, and am currently planting mooli, overwintering onions and broad beans, with garlic yet to go; the kale, leeks (if they ever get any bigger!) and chard will keep producing right through.
In response to a question from my Other Half, I was also working out whether allotmenteering is financially worthwhile; the plot rental is £50 per annum. But I don’t think a single week has gone by over the last year without me bringing home at least £5 worth of produce, at normal prices, and actually I’m growing without chemicals, so organic prices might be a better comparison. I’ve brought home over 5Kg of raspberries over the last few weeks; at W8rose prices of £3 for 300g, i.e. £10 per kilo, that’s the rent paid even if I hadn’t grown anything else! Of course there are some other expenses; I’ve bought some netting, some secondhand water pipes & a few seeds this year, but most of the tools & equipment I need have been sourced secondhand or free.”
Well worthwhile, in my view. Add in fresh air and exercise, meaning I don’t have to pay gym fees to stay active & relaxed, and for me, it’s a winner, though I’d still rather be growing it all in my own garden! (But sadly, that isn’t big or sunny enough.) I know I’m very lucky to be capable of maintaining it, albeit not all that well or quite as the site managers would like to see it (i.e. bare earth, neat rows) but I’d urge anyone who has the opportunity & the time to take one on to get stuck in & give it a whirl.
I’d also urge them to “do the math” – everyone’s situation is different. What pays off for me might not pay off for you, if you paid the plot rental but then weren’t able to keep it going. (Or if you bought lots of expensive tools and equipment, then gave up after a couple of years, which does seem to happen quite a lot.) The right cooker for our reasonably-sized kitchen and more-than-reasonably-sized family wouldn’t be the right choice for a singleton, or for someone producing food for sale. Some tools pay for themselves very quickly, in financial terms like a sewing machine can, or in terms of time saved, and some add so much to your quality of life that they’re worth every penny spent, but others – don’t. I’m reminded of the expensive food processor that just moved the work from before the meal to afterwards, because it was such nightmare to clean!
Anyway, enough rambling. I’ll leave you with some pictures taken at the allotment today…
For several years now, I’ve been working on a one-woman challenge: to find as many uses for old shirts as I can! Every quilter knows there’s a whole lot of good, still-useful fabric in a decent gent’s shirt, often in lovely colours and nicely understated patterns, and so many of them just get chucked away when something frays, or a button falls off, or the owner gets larger or just goes off that colour. I’ve been paying 50p for superb quality cotton or linen shirts down at the recycler’s warehouse-shop, chopping them up and using the fabric in little quilts, and weaving the side-seams into bags and rugs, and making hanging “pockets”, needle books, mending kits and laptop covers, to name just a few of the ideas that have occurred to me. A few of the resulting items have even been sold.
Yesterday I experimented with some cuffs; I’ve been steadily selling lavender hearts made from the embroidered bits of old stained table linen, but they are delightfully feminine when all’s said & done. I wanted to make something that a guy would be happy to hang in his wardrobe to make his clothes smell fresh & deter moths, too. So now I’ve invented the Lavender Cuff! Time will tell whether anyone will ever actually buy one, but it’s got to be worth a try…
But the thing that I really, really wanted to make was a hat. It struck me some time ago that the stiffened bits of a formal shirt, i.e. the collars and cuffs, would be ideal for making a hat, if I could just get them joined together somehow. But before I had my big Pfaff machine serviced, all my attempts came to nothing; I broke a number of needles and wrecked several collars trying. It could always have been done by hand, but that might have taken rather a long time, so it didn’t happen.
Anyway, I tried again yesterday, and to my delight & surprise, I succeeded. The machine ran perfectly, I squared the collars & cuffs off to make even joins, and found an elegantly simple pattern to try (pattern & instructions here) and – it worked! I am now the proud possessor of a shirt-collar-and-cuff hat… This one’s a bit big; I made the bigger size because lots of hats feel too tight for me, so there’s another, slightly smaller, version in the making, but I’m actually really rather proud of it and will certainly wear it!
So, a couple of days ago, I started idly twisting a couple of old cut-off shirt seams round my fingers, and before I knew it I was twining & stitching a tiny basket, which is ideal for keeping odds & ends of thread in… I was ridiculously pleased with myself, although I know perfectly well that in days gone by, or on this day in other places in the world, any child can make these; it’s definitely not rocket science!
But it brought a long-forgotten memory to mind; I was probably about 8, and had made something very similar at school. I trotted home fairly bursting with creative pride, and handed it to my mother. “Very nice, dear,” she said, distracted, as mothers-of-many so often are. “But what did you learn today?”
So, making stuff isn’t learning; that’s what I learnt that day. Learning is words and numbers, facts, and figures. Learning is ideas and abstractions; making stuff is just – child’s play. Something to be put behind us so that we can enter the glorious adult world of using those ideas & abstractions to earn money & buy stuff, playing our rightful part in The Economy. Making stuff, if you really have to, should just be a hobby, involving buying lots of new stuff to make it with, in your “spare” time, or perhaps it should be monetised, if you’re more than competent; you could sell those! But what’s the point in bothering, if you can’t do it cheaper than a oriental wage-slave & churn out enough to supply the high street giants…? Not many of us crafters could support a family on what we could earn, any more then I can feed my family solely on what I can grow on my allotment. Yet somehow we are still driven by something inside to do it anyway.
I know I’m not the only one to be dismayed by how creativity has just fallen out of our educational system; it’s simply not valued in any way by those who make the decisions unless they can see it as a way of gaining a competitive edge in the world. Music, drama & textiles are hanging on by a thread, but very few adults follow through with their interest once they realise they’re not going to be the next superstar or “designer” name. And children only have a basis to explore their potential talents if one of the adults around them happen to be interested in & actually doing such things, and is willing to help that child learn. You won’t do something if you think you might get it wrong or look a bit silly, but especially not if you don’t even know that it can be done.
There are massive commercial pressures to keep people a little bit helpless, a little bit stressed and anxious, because then they’ll keep right on buying stuff, which keeps The Economy ticking over. Also, why put sweat and effort into learning to make something when you could just buy one, or 3D print it? So gradually, our collective competence is dwindling away…
Making or growing stuff, actually manipulating matter with developing skill, applying and combining ideas, and ending up with something genuinely useful and quite possibly beautiful too, is deeply satisfying, even on the level of a tiny basket made from rags. It doesn’t have to win a Turner prize to be worth doing. Why are we allowing future generations to be deprived of this delight?
… to July, and any day now I’ll be a Grandma! A little quilt has duly been produced:
I even got to use some of my tie-dyed fabric on the back. All the fabric is reclaimed, rightly or wrongly.
They have a night-sky theme going on in the nursery so the shapes & colours were chosen to fit in with that; they look darker in the pictures than they actually are, thanks to the seemingly never-ending gloom in June. It’s not meant to be an heirloom but a totally practical, wash & wear everyday item. There are a few touches that I hope will please the little man; some chenilled seams to intrigue little fingers, and it’s bound with satin ribbon, remembering how much his father loved labels and other smooth textiles as a baby & small child. That and some of the thread – I ran out! – are the only things bought new.
In the meantime, our house has filled up with stuff again; we had a massive last-minute panic to empty my mother’s bungalow. It had sold previously, but the chain collapsed at the last minute and the sale fell through. The estate agents marketing it asked us to leave her stuff there, as it’s easier to sell a home that looks lived in. But as the Stamp Duty Land Tax holiday tottered towards its end, we suddenly got a really good offer for it, provided the sale could go through within a week. Legally it was entirely possible; the new buyer didn’t need a mortgage and the paperwork was all ready to roll, but it was still full of a lifetime’s possessions; you can’t fit that much into her room at the care home, lovely though it is! So some of those possessions have ended up here with us; some will be sold, a few bits used (proper glass lemon squeezies! Oh yes!) but others I will have to make space for until various offspring have homes of their own to house them in. And yes, the lawyers pulled it off and the sale went through a day early.
The weird weather has left me with another space problem; things that should have come out by now over at the allotment are still in the ground, only just starting to go over. So I have several sets of plants ready to go into the ground, but no ground to put them in! And my “first early” potatoes & my maincrops are clearly all going to be ready at the same time. Needless to say, the weeds have galloped away; one minute they were tiny, hardly worth hoeing off, then it rained for weeks and now they are thigh-high. Some serious work called for over there! But some actual potential crops are thriving; I planted Greek Gigantes beans for the first time, and despite the deluge they seem very happy & are racing up their wigwam.
I’m sure there was something serious I wanted to witter on about, but I’ve entirely forgotten what it was, thanks to finding most of a treasure at the recycling warehouse earlier this week. A 1979 Rappard Wee Peggy spinning wheel, originally from New Zealand, but alas, she’s missing her flyer, whorl & bobbins. So that will be a Quest for me over the next few months; I either need to track some “orphan” parts down, or find something that can substitute for them. Without them, sadly she’s just expensive firewood; with them, she’s a beautiful and genuinely useful tool.
So now I’m wondering how to gently tell the house clearance people that sometimes, bizarre-looking bits of wood & metal with odd protrusions, often stashed in baskets of brittle, age-old, moth-eaten fluff, are actually vital parts of something. And remembering the lady who found one merrily chucking parts of a loom into a skip, because he couldn’t work out how this “bookcase” fitted together…
…and I’m going flat out in the garden and at the allotment again. It’s still too cold put much out, and now what I have planted out is in danger of drowning, but our little greenhouse is full to bursting of tiny plantlets waiting to gallop into their full potential when conditions allow. There’s plenty of infrastructure work still to do up at the allotment to get ready for them, but I’ve hurt my back so will have to wait a few days more before I can get on top of that. In the meantime I’ve been cooking up an idea for a self-built “tomato-house” in an under-utilised space round the front…
But whenever I’ve wandered over to the allotment to tend the potatoes and brave seedlings that have poked their tiny heads up (Yay! Parsnips! For the first time ever!) I’ve been saddened to walk past several “landscape gardeners”‘ pick-ups parked outside people’s homes, with shredders going full blast and branch after blossom-laden branch being fed into the chippers. Rootballs & whole shrubs chucked onto the lorries, bag after bag of rich topsoil going to the dump & sterile sand being barrowed in, followed by rolls of astro-turf. Massive, expensive plastic-rattan suites & flimsy “gazebos” are being delivered to take up half the outdoor space and blow-up hot-tubs to cover the rest. And the big new “executive” houses going up in the new estates all round our little town have tiny pocket-hanky gardens. It’s left me wondering how most people see gardens these days; do they just want their outdoor spaces to be a place to “be” in, or entertain in? Our local estate agents seem only to see gardens as potential building plots.
I do know that people are very stressed and don’t want to have to bother with “work” in the garden when they finally get home after queueing in traffic for half an hour to get through all the roadworks caused by the new builds. I know that the supermarkets have plenty of fresh produce you can buy for pennies, so why bother to grow your own? I know that to many, wildlife is something that lives “out there” and any living thing that shows up in your space is a pest or potential danger that should be got rid of; toads are slimy, hedgehogs prickly, bees, wasps and anything that looks vaguely like them might sting or bite, birds may poo on your expensive rattan suite, bats get stuck in your expensive hairdo, and so on. But don’t people have any idea what they are missing out on?
When the sun shines, our little garden is a bit of a sun-trap, and there’s no greater blessing than to doze gently in a chair, listening to the hum of next-door’s bees coming in to drink at the pond and pollinate my crab-apples. We have a small solar-powered fountain, bought for a few pounds in an online sale, to keep the water clear & fresh for the tadpoles that will grow into frogs and toads that will keep the slugs at bay. The antics of the two hedgehogs whose “range” includes our garden amuse us hugely after dark, and we’re privileged to have one of them “nest” regularly in the lesser-visited recesses of the garage. The scent of the pittosporum at dusk in spring, and the roses all day in summer, are a constant delight. And the taste & texture of home-grown produce just beats any samey-same affordable supermarket vegetable hands-down. Ah well, perhaps I just belong in an older & kinder version of the world…
In other news, I’ve been making-do & mending as usual, and would love to share a little project with you all. Elder daughter had a favourite pillow-sham for many years, one of those nice M&S patchwork ones in pretty shades of blue & pink. I forget where it came from originally, but it’s lived here for at least ten years. However since about Christmas it’s languished at the bottom of the “putting-away” pile of clean washing, and when I looked more closely at it, I realised that it had actually disintegrated past the point of no return. But she couldn’t quite bear to rip it up for rags or just chuck it out.
So the parts that aren’t too worn are now two lavender-stuffed hearts, to scent her wardrobe or pop under her pillow for a good night’s sleep. There are two tiny bits left which might make a pin-cushion. Sometimes you don’t have to harden your heart & chuck out items with fond memories that have “had it” – it’s always worth thinking, what might they be next?
…we have a son returning home! Son no. 3 has spent most of the last ten years studying & living away, though he’s been home for holidays when in the UK. But he’s finally run out of stipend, hopefully having completed his thesis, and will be returning to the family fold imminently. And the bedroom required for a 28-year-old academic is not the bedroom that the 18-year-old student left behind…
It’s a different room, for a start. He used to have the smallest bedroom at the top of the stairs, but now the bigger, downstairs room that’s functioned as the guest room for the last ten years is more appropriate. He has a large collection of academic reference books to accommodate; my poor husband has already remarked many times that our elder daughter & I should just go & live in a library, so there isn’t much spare bookcase-space available. He will be job-hunting and keeping up to date in his field, so the room needs to work as a serious study as well as a bedroom.
He sent through a plan of how he thought it could be laid out, and as a little joke, included a wing-back chair, Sherlock-Holmes-style. It just so happens that I am always rescuing a certain make of old wing-back chair for an upholsterer friend, who re-makes them into the most fabulous, desirable & comfortable chairs going. But alas, all my usual sources are closed just now, so I put a request on Freecycle, not expecting anything as there were several listed locally on Ebay at exceedingly silly prices, i.e. more than my friend asks for them after she’s done them up professionally. To my astonishment, I got a reply within the hour, and picked up a modern, but very comfortable, reclining wingback chair the next day, for free. Joke returned! We may never get him out of there, though…
Then the hunt was on for serious bookcases. I answered an advert on Facebook Marketplace, for a tall painted wooden bookcase from a certain Scandinavian emporium. They did say it needed some TLC, but it was priced very reasonably at £10. We squeezed it into my van & bore it home triumphantly, but on closer inspection, though very heavy & originally very sturdy, it was actually particle-board and had been left outside for too long; the damage to the weight-bearing base was irreversible. But it hasn’t gone to waste; the shelves and one side have gone up into the loft as loft-boarding where there wasn’t any, and the damaged side has been trimmed to size & deployed across two (also Scandinvian) tall bedside tables to make a perfect, and rather stylish, laptop desk for my husband to work-from-home on, teamed with a comfortable office chair that came to us via Freegle. I also rescued the dowelling and other fixings from the shelves; they’re pretty standard across the whole range of their furniture, which we have a fair bit of, some of it even bought new. The only bits that went to the tip were the top & bottom trim and the flimsy back-boards.
I spotted an advert for all sorts of free furniture from a big Edwardian house being cleared only about 400 yards away from us. Old stuff, lovely quality, but mostly much too big & dark for modern homes. But there were two tall bookcases… I dashed off a polite request & heard straight back; the chap organising the clearance was upcountry, but thought they were a pretty standard size, i.e. 6′ tall x 3′ wide, so I replied that we would love to give both of them a home, please. So we went to pick them up from his brother the next day; they’re absolutely lovely in a shabby-chic sort of way, but actually over 7′ tall and well over 3′ wide! Only one would fit into the bedroom, but we’ve managed to make space for the other one in the hallway, replacing two smaller bookcases, one of which has also gone into the bedroom.
But he also needs a desk. And not the neat little desk that’s been in there all along; it needs to accommodate his laptop, a couple of big reference books plus notebooks, pens etc. and have plenty of space underneath for restless legs. However, add in the bed, wardrobe & a large chest of drawers (with small bookcase on top) and the remaining space is limited; 4’/120cm wide by about 20″/50cm deep is about all that will fit. Suggestions have been winging their way through the ether, but nothing ready-made has yet hit the spot in terms of style or size; he desperately doesn’t want white-on-white. However, a couple of days ago I picked up a Gumtree’d “Freebie” black desk top, also originally from the Scandinavian emporium, may their name be ever-blessed; I knew you could still buy legs to fit it very reasonably. So they’ve been ordered, and the desk top cut to size; it turned out to be easier to cut particleboard than I’ve always thought, given a decent jig-saw. I’ve added a board at the back to stop stuff falling off, as it’s side-on to the doorway. So, there will be a desk, which will have cost next-to-nothing, and ***It Will Do *** until he finds one of his own choosing, or the job of his dreams and moves out again!
After Christmas, when he announced he’d be returning home for some indefinable length of time, I was panicking mightily that I’d have to spend quite a lot of money on new furniture that really needs to be spent maintaining my van, as I’ve earned next-to-nothing over the last year & will need to go out & sell stuff on virtually every fine day this summer. But given time & access to a computer, I’ve been able to assemble bits & bobs that fit the bill for very nearly nothing. Thank you so very, very much, to all Freecycle/Freegle volunteers, Gumtree and Facebook Marketplace!
… or, a lament for the art lessons I didn’t get to go to…
I’ve spent a merry weekend trying my hand at a spot of dyeing. I’ve had an idea for the next lockdown stashbuster quilt; it will be a trial run for one I’m keen to make for another “real” baby. It involves hot air balloons, and hot air balloons generally float in the sky, weather permitting. I don’t have any fabric that would work as a summer sky, but I did have an old sheet I could dye to the right sort of colour.
So I invested in a tub of Dylon’s Ocean Blue, which struck me as a fairly close colour to what I wanted. I decided to quarter the fabric & try tie-dyeing it, in a variety of patterns; I had a fairly good idea of how that’s done, and I was really pleased with the results, despite long ago having had to go & do battle with Latin and Physics in drab classrooms when my friends were having real fun dyeing & stitching in the fabulously-equipped art & craft studios at school. (That still rankles!) But I also wanted to try out stitch-resist/shibori dyeing; I have had a project in mind for years now, involving a LOT of old tablecloths of one sort or another, and shibori dyeing plays a big part in my plan. One of my fellow Guild members is rather expert at this, makes the most lovely things, and runs courses which I am keen to attend; I haven’t actually managed to get to one yet, though. But I have watched her tutorials…
I put out a plea on our local Freegle/Freecycle groups for some more old sheets to practice on, and was delighted to receive a big bag of lovely high-quality cotton sheets & linen tablecloths. I also ordered some more Dylon; I know my limitations and exact weights of chemically-lively substances are not my best starting place, especially not if my indefatigable feline assistant is in attendance. So I cut up another sheet, tied 3/4 of it in one way or another, quartered the remaining piece and earnestly stitched some patterns onto those.
BUT I idiotically ignored Annabel’s advice about which thread to use. I had a big cone of very tough linen upholstery thread, and smugly thought, I’m sure that will be perfect. Not so! I should have realised, because it was very hard to thread needles & tie knots in it; the ply kept splitting, though it certainly doesn’t break easily. But I’m good at knots and thought they’d hold… Of course, they didn’t. My heart sank when I opened the washing machine & saw loose threads visible amongst the now-green cotton. The tie-dyes came out well, but all I have of most of my carefully-stitched patterns are needle-holes in plain green fabric! A few did hold in places, and there are faint ghostly traces of leaves and stars and spirals here & there, but – mostly not. The thread seems to have actually stretched, as well as un-plying & un-knotting itself; I suppose upholstery threads don’t often get wet & just aren’t designed to withstand a soaking. Plus the agitation in the washing machine was probably too energetic and worked the dye in too well once it had started to loosen.
Ah well! A lesson learnt. Learning to listen to people who really know what they’re doing, and take good advice, and also how NOT to do something, isn’t really time wasted. But now I have to think of what to do with 4 x 1/16ths of a large sheet of pretty much plain green cotton…though I do have these to play with as well…
Oh, and that “real” baby? The one I need to make a quilt for? I’m going to be a Gran…