Not doing that again in a hurry…

How to mangle denim… but Poppy approves!

Well. Lockdown Stashbuster 4 is finally here, but I’m not exactly pleased with it. Best, I think, to describe it as a learning process!

For a long time I’ve wanted to do something with denim; I suppose I have, but never anything I’ve been proud of. The idea I had in my head for my “quick & dirty” use-it-up cot quilt no. 4 was a variation on denim “bricks in a wall” – basically 2½” wide strips, cut in random shortish lengths, joined seams-up & chenilled, with a few contrast stripes. (The eagle-eyed who know us well will spot the edges of our old kitchen curtains playing the part of the contrast stripes.) I didn’t think it would take very long…

1st lesson: most modern jeans are woven with a degree of stretch. I thought I’d specifically excluded any stretch denim when choosing the old jeans to chop up, but it turns out that most of them stretched a little in one direction or the other. Which caused the finished top to skew frantically, though I’d have sworn all my seams were straight whilst I was stitching them. In the end I had to cut about 3″ off each side, one at the “top” and the other at the “bottom”, to make it look remotely rectangular but there was no way I could get rid of a marked “bowing” effect in the middle.

Lesson 2: some jeans are fairly lightweight, others are – not. The difference in fabric weights means some “bricks” are “dominant” when it comes to chenilling, and look bigger in the finished article. And the heavier-weight fabrics are just that – heavier – and my shoulders were aching like mad with all the pushing & pulling by the time I’d finished quilting it very roughly. Next time I have an urge to use denim in an actual quilt, it’ll be lightweight, non-stretch shirt & skirt fabric only!

Lesson 3: choosing a fairly heavy calico for the backing wasn’t a particularly sane move either, though at least it “balances” the top. This quilt would work well for a restless toddler; it’s too heavy for an actual baby.

However, it’s not all bad news, because lesson 4 is that I’m no longer terrified of appliqué. I wanted some brighter splashes, and kites somehow floated into my mind (as they often do!) so I just ironed some double-sided interfacing onto some scrap red cotton, cut out some little kite shapes, ironed them on and using a very tiny zig-zag, stitched them down. The tails are just a double line of red lockstitch, going over some red frayed selvedge scraps.

Teeny tiny kites…

The centre contrast stripe has a strip of old hand-woven braid stitched on, rescued from an old sewing box that came in on an auction-won job lot. I had no idea whether it would wash well; it might have shrunk or bled colours, but I thought it had probably been washed many times before, & luckily it had & it didn’t.

At this point, the big Pfaff decided it had had enough for now and wanted to go off to see its friends at the repair shop for a service. Fair enough, we can cope without it for a month, and to be honest, it’s high time; having your sewing machine properly serviced every now & then is worth every penny, in my estimation. So Stashbuster 4 was bound with strips cut from an old shirt-back, then quilted on the old treadle. Very badly; I was getting rather fed up with it by then. I spent the next few days snipping the seams in every spare moment. Take it from me, denim is tough stuff. As well as hurting my hands & defeating my little chenilling scissors, forcing me to resort to spring-loaded shears, this caused a lot of fluff on the floor and knackered one of the heads of our hoover. Hopefully mended now!

So today I snipped the last seam with a sigh of relief & popped it into the washing machine. Needless to say, it wasn’t done with us yet; the washing machine pump blocked, so it failed to drain. But luckily I managed to clear the filter, which mysteriously contained 9 hair grips, a large scrunchy, and rather a lot of tiny fragments of denim. This seems to have put it right, thank heavens. We could do without having to call the engineers, just now.

Needless to say, I didn’t get the landing curtains finished. They really should be the next project, if only because that will clear a LOT of space in there, and make the landing look a bit less 1995. And we are getting close to the end of Lockdown II, though like most people in England we’ll be moving into Tier 2, so still fairly constrained, although the incidence of Covid-19 here is actually pretty low. But so is the hospital provision…

Anyway, end of lockdown notwithstanding, I have another idea; not sure if this one will be Lockdown 5, or Tier-2:1, but I’ve hardly made a dent in my stash yet…

Lockdown stashbuster 3…

Whilst sorting out the blue/green strips for Stashbuster 2, I realised I had a lot of smallish rectangles (or thereabouts) in the scrap drawer. So my plan for Stashbuster 3 was to use some of those up gainfully, trying out a different technique. So this time it was foundation-pieced onto some random lightweight cotton; I took the rectangles and placed them randomly on the foundation cotton, then swapped them round until I’d a) achieved coverage of the foundation piece, and b) something vaguely pleasing to the eye, provided that eye happens to like chaotic brightness.

Hmm… there are still a lot of holes!

Then I pinned the pieces into position, rolled it up & took it through to my big computerised (secondhand) Pfaff, and zig-zagged the pieces into position. Needless to say, a fair few had fallen off by the time I got to them, and I managed to stab myself with the pins umpteen times. I wonder if a dab of PVA in the centre of each scrap would have worked better?

Scraps zig-zagged on…

If I weren’t just stashbusting, I might have used some of the Pfaff’s enormous range of stitches and some interesting thread. However, in the cause of using stuff up whilst I actually have some time available, I just went for fast & furious. After cutting & sticking on some wadding & backing (which also did duty as the binding, folded over, ironed & stitched down) with that miraculous 505 spray, I transferred operations to my REAL sewing machine, the 1909 Jones treadle.

If I could only keep one machine, it’d be this one. Never skips a stitch or sulks.

It took a lot longer to quilt this one; it’s much more closely quilted. I chose to more-or-less echo the shapes of the rectangles and their overlaps. So if quilts got names, I’d call it “Corners” as I turned an awful lot of those! But the joy of working on an old-fashioned treadle is total control; it never runs away with you. Anyway, by this morning I was very nearly there…

Hours & hours of turning corners later…

All done by lunchtime! And has been washed, dried & stashed away with Stashbusters I & 2, waiting for small owners, should those days ever arrive! Mind you, I’m not saying they have to be human owners…

The finished article.

Stashbuster 4 will be somewhat of a change of direction… but there are a couple of large alteration projects to shift first, to make more room in the “Sewing studio” aka the spare bedroom. So I’ll allow myself at least a week to get this one done & dusted.

Actual practice…

I’ve been tidying the “sewing room” (aka the spare bedroom) in preparation for some serious stashbusting. I have far too much fabric, nearly all reclaimed, and all of it utterly gorgeous, so I’m choosing to see the current 4-week lockdown as an opportunity to do something with it! My plan is to make a handful of little quilts; nothing fancy, just scrappy strips & squares, according to my resources. Then I’ll have a stock of things to give to any new humans that might appear on my horizons, our assorted Offspring being of an age when that kind of thing may begin to happen. I’m seeing it as a rainy day project, because there’s a lot of work to do up at the allotment and in the garden, but at this time of year I’m a bit of a fair-weather gardener.

Random strips of torn-up bedding, converted into a “fuzzy” cot quilt

Many a slip, of course; the proof of the pudding will be in the quilting, to muddle several metaphors. One finished already, though! And some mending done, too.

I was intrigued to discover, at a Zoom meeting of our Guild last weekend, that other people had also mislaid their creative mojo during the spring & summer lockdown. I wonder if it will be different this time? We’ve had a bit more of a run-up at it, this time, and have a better idea of what to expect. Also, there isn’t that feeling of “anything might be about to happen, any time” that kept so many of us feeling almost paralysed, in a creative sense, last time. But whether very much creativity will actually happen this time is anyone’s guess.

I wandered into a couple of charity shops earlier in the week & was intrigued to see people making a beeline for the bookshelves, then scooping up several books at a time, almost without actually looking at them. The sad thing that struck me was that in all the shops, the books on the shelves were more or less the same. Same authors, same best-selling thrillers & bonkbusters, same prices. I do know they have to concentrate on what they know will sell, but there’s precious little actual choice out there now.

Anyway, shan’t witter on for too long; there’s plenty more stash to bust, and an allotment to tidy up & mulch for the winter. But look what I found hiding under the Jerusalem artichokes; a very tiny Turks’ Turban squash! I thought someone had dropped a satsuma on our plot, but it’s smaller than that; it’s next to a quince & a pomegranate in the pic, and about equal in size to the clementine behind it. It’s quite heavy, but I suspect there won’t be too many seeds in that one!

A very dinky but fully-formed squash.

From bunk beds to raised beds…

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Missy, Norma & Daisy inspect the “new” raised bed

It’s been an interesting few weeks… I’d have liked to document the Covid-19 lockdown – not that it’s over yet – but somehow hadn’t the heart for it. And I’ve been pretty busy, despite not being able to do my usual markets, fairs & festivals, or visit my family; the allotment suffered a fair bit of neglect last year, thanks to my less-than-ideal health, so there was some very hard work to put in over there; I never, ever want to see a creeping buttercup again. Luckily the weather was excellent so I could just head on over there & get on with the job. And there was lots of fun to be had raising seedlings!

It was very difficult to get hold of seeds for the things I’d run out of, because after the Great Loo Roll & Pasta Panic of 2020, the next thing the general public around here did was strip the garden centres bare before they had to shut their doors. The big online seed companies didn’t seem to know what had hit them & many only “opened” their websites for an hour or so each morning, in order to try to keep up with demand. However, the gardening magazines came to the rescue with packet after packet of “free” useful seeds; not always the varieties I’d have chosen, but there when they were needed! And some of the less well-known seed sellers – smaller companies, or enterprising individuals, mostly on Ebay – helped me acquire the things I really couldn’t be doing without, like Red Russian kale & Orelia courgettes.

I don’t have a greenhouse (sore subject – I should have one, having paid for one that was allegedly in stock back in April, but there’s no sign of it yet & no word from the vendors despite many queries, although they still seem to be trading) so most of this year’s seedlings were raised in half a small dilapidated polytunnel, which was bought in a panic to house my bantams in during the Great Bird Flu Panic. The cover was in bad shape, having been cut to make roll-up “windows” to keep the birds well-ventilated & healthy during their confinement, but the frame is OK (as we’re only using half of it) & I managed to roll & tie the damaged cover so that it basically did the job.

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The “half-baked” polytunnel

It’s all well & good raising seedlings to go into the allotment, but we may be unable to access our crops if we get a localised total lockdown, which I believe is a distinct possibility as the epidemic progresses. So I wanted to create some space somehow in our small urban garden, which is already pretty full of fruit & nut trees & bushes, roses, day-lilies, a wildlife pond, a 6m chicken run, bantams, a small lawn, 3 cats and all their friends, & what seems like several acres of drying washing. A small raised bed running alongside the chicken run seemed like a good idea, until I priced them up & realised that, complete with a kit to make a cover, a necessity with free-range bantams, we were looking at £150 & I still had to put it all together myself.

So – what had we got that might be press-ganged into doing the job? An inspection of the lengths of wood lurking in the garage rafters yielded 4 x 2m sturdy pine “planks” that were once the sides of our elder boys’ bunk beds, a number of rickety pine shelves & some sturdy bits of 2×2. There was half a pot of green stain to take the edge off the orangey colour of the varnished pine, and plenty of long screws & staples left over from reconstructing the Gumtree’d freebie shed at the allotment. I did need to buy some heavy-duty ground cover to line it, and some butterfly net to make the cover, plus some compost to top off the home-made & reclaimed-from-dead-pots stuff underneath, but altogether I’ve spent less than £25. It won’t last forever, but if it does us until next Spring, I’ll be happy and so will my plants. Then if we’re staying put for another year (we’d like to move to somewhere with a bigger garden) we might invest in something a little sturdier.

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A pumpkin flower in a wombled cold frame, and borage for pollinators – and Pimms – at the allotment.

I’m going crackers…

Having just finished dealing with the less-than-perfect apples, and making a batch of delicious medlar jam, I’ve found myself plunging headlong into Christmas again, about 6 weeks before I’m likely to be ready for it…

I’ll add more later, but for those of you, like me, bewildered by how time suddenly seems to speed up as the year turns towards its end and new beginnings, here’s the home-made cracker tutorial I promised you – about a year ago!

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Denim strikes again!

Recently my little van needed to spend some time in “dry dock” having a spot of surgery. When I emptied her out – well, mostly – I was struck by the sheer amount of junk I’d been carrying around, particularly in my “beach” bag which used to hang over the back of the front passenger seat. There certainly were things appropriate to last-minute dashes to the beach – we live 20 minutes drive from Sandbanks, and it’s always pleasant to spend a sunny evening down there, usually on a whim – but also things I might need when I’m running the stall or doing a car boot sale. One or two tools, some for the van, but some in case I should come across an elderly sewing machine in distress. And a number of miscellaneous items I can’t imagine I’d ever need at all! All tangled up together so that I could hardly ever find what I actually needed & knew was in there somewhere

So, it was high time to rationalise, and tidy things up a bit. I had An Idea… our local recycling firm have recently opened a warehouse-shop where they deposit most of the rejected textiles they collect; some items (brand-new-with-tags, “quality” and “designer” stuff) are sorted onto hangers, which they charge a bit more for, but mostly you fish about in builder’s bags & pay 50p per item. I already had a fair bit of reclaimed denim, left over from making quilts & other things (including the old beach bag) but knew I wouldn’t have enough of the bits I needed for this job, so I popped down there & rescued 5 pairs of jeans to chop up.

A bit of cutting, twenty minutes or so of stitching, a bit of “chenilling” round the edges just because it pleases me, a quick wash, and lo & behold, my van now has pocketses! And there were still some pockets left, so I made another, different set to string across the rear of the back seat too, from headrest to headrest, to carry things that aren’t used so often but are still useful to have on board. With a bit of thought, I could have included a “secret” pocket in the front one, or one big enough to carry maps, but I’m happy with the result.

Now, of course, I have 10 cut-off legs, some waistbands, and some side-seams to stash away for the next Idea-with-denim that drifts my way!

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pockets2

One person’s patina…

…is another person’s dirt!

I didn’t rush to the Minster’s annual Fair yesterday. Having been unable to trade for the last six months, I have a backlog of stock to shift before I can start acquiring new pieces for my customers’ delight & delectation. But I couldn’t quite resist the lure of the bric-a-brac stall, and who doesn’t need a look through the secondhand books? You never know where you’ll find hidden treasure, even when you’re half-an-hour late…

I looked at it more than once; a little old – ladle? pot? measure? – with a long handle which looked as if it might be brass. It was mostly black and quite revoltingly greasy to touch; there was a space on the tabletop around it where other people had removed items but left this well alone. It looked as if it had spent the last 50 years in someone’s garage, accumulating a heavy coat of engine oil. But the feel was more – many years of chips, bacon and burgers – i.e. heavy kitchen grease, which is a bit more amenable to cleaning than engine oil.

“I think that’ll clean up OK,” I said as I handed over my 50p. The man behind the stall looked shocked. “But won’t that destroy the patina?” he asked, without a trace of irony.

From my point of view, there’s a big difference between patina – the honourable dings, scratches and scars of everyday use, the subtle sheen from years of handling – and sheer filth. And what’s right for an old oil-can that has spent years on a dusty garage shelf is just not appropriate on a culinary tool. People are simply not going to buy something to display (or just possibly use) in their kitchen, café or bar that looks and feels filthy, however “authentic”. I hope I’ve managed to clean it up & do it justice so that its cheeky-but-competent character shines through, along with that lovely coppery glow.

I can’t help wishing now that I’d taken a “before” picture so it would be obvious why no-one else had spotted this sweet little old handmade beauty, but here it is after half an hour with a toothbrush, a tiny quantity of 00-gauge wire wool, a cleaning agent intended for human skin, an Irish crochet hook and a lot of gentle scraping with a human thumbnail… It isn’t going to earn me a fortune, but it has earned a little place in my heart.

 

 

A silver lining?

I’ve been somewhat subdued this winter for health reasons (full story here should you wish to know more) and not actually able to do the things I’d planned, as my hands, not to mention my poor brain, just wouldn’t – couldn’t – work properly, thanks to peripheral neuropathy. So I was rather glad to have the time to get to grips with yet another simple form of weaving whilst demolishing a large pile of old bedding that had gone beyond reasonable use or otherwise become surplus to requirements.

For a long time I’ve been intrigued by twined weaves, and also by rag rugs; my great-aunt Bet had a wonderful collection of “slip-mats” of one sort or another, so-called because if you jumped on them at just the right angle, you could slip & slide all the way down her highly-polished hallway floor! I loved the textures, the patterns & the colours, and I’m sure some of them were twined, some hooked and some prodded, though no-one now can remember where she got them or indeed, whether she’d made them herself.

Anyway, this was my first effort, woven on a Libbylula twining loom, following instructions found on YouTube, entirely from old bedding torn into 2″ strips, including the warp:

Firsttwinedrug

It’s just done with very simple blocks of colour, working from alternate ends inwards. Joins are very random, occurring wherever the previous colour ran out or I just decided to change colours. I’m not sure about the “fringe” but it’s staying put for now.

And for my next trick, I decided to experiment with colour & pattern a bit. But I wasn’t the only one enjoying the simple, manageable rhythms of over, under, twist…

Poppyweaving

Poppy “helped” every inch of the way! And here she is, staking her claim to the finished article:

Poppysrug

It won’t stay in the living room; it’s not the right colours and to be honest, I went overboard with the patterning a bit! But it’s shown me how it works, and what’s pleasing to the eye, and what isn’t, or just doesn’t show up on that scale.

As the pile of our own deceased bedding diminished, I found that one of our local charity shops was very happy to dispose of donated bedding, which they don’t sell, for a better price than the ragman would give them. So I now have an even bigger pile of bedding to rip into strips, but it’s in “better” colours for my purposes. I’m also planning to experiment with 3-D weaving & weaving without a frame, which are also possible with this technique; most willow baskets are woven this way. Not to mention trying out alternative materials; English Bullrushes, packing tape & baler twine spring to mind.

So a period of less-than-perfect health and enforced “leisure” have opened new horizons for me. Every cloud has a silver lining, eh?

Harmless fun…

I’m still running a little below my full operating speed, though pretty well all things considered. I’m very happy to have been told that all of the problem has been safely removed, but not quite so happy to find out that a little “mopping-up” treatment is advisable, just to be on the safe side. However, the safe side is where I’d infinitely prefer to be, in this instance! So I shall be mostly at-home for the next few months; oooh, this is my chance to use up some of my enormous and wonderfully-varied crafting stash…

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Origami stars…

It seems that handmade is enjoying something of a resurgence; those of my friends who sell their lovely wares have been astonished & utterly delighted to have been mobbed at the various craft fairs & shows this year. People have finally realised that something unique and special is worth paying proper money for. I’m not disparaging the efforts of those who slave away in third-world sweatshops, many of whom are highly skilled and deserve much, much more than the pittance they’re getting under our “globalised” economy, but please do support your local craftspeople too, who can’t afford to match the prices of giant corporations but are usually offering something vastly superior, as they’re driven by the need to create something wonderful, rather than the need to produce identikit items at the lowest possible cost in order to cream off vast sums of money.

I’m happy enough reclaiming, recycling, & selling on resources for other crafters & artists to use; I can & have sold things I’ve created, sometimes even on commission, but I find that that seems to place a demand on me that suppresses my creativity. So now I tend to make for myself, my family and my friends only.

So… it’s going to be a handmade Christmas, chez nous. Again! And although we’re wading through a small tide of handmade origami stars already (instructions here) this is the effort that’s made me smile the most so far:

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… a doorway decoration made from the crocheted edging of an old, stained tablecloth, two broken necklaces, two pairs of earrings and some random reclaimed beads & bead-lacing from my stash. The “junk jewellery” came mostly from a jumble sale yesterday; 20p per item (or pair of) items. The tablecloth came in a £10 job-lot of old linen, some of which was saleable as is, and some even usable (6 high-quality, pristine linen & Egyptian cotton pillowcases) but much of which has seen better days. I like to think that the ladies (well, probably) who sat & painstakingly crocheted these lovely edgings so many years ago would much rather see them loved and used, even in pieces, than sat in drawers or worse still, landfill. Full credit to my darling elder daughter for this lovely idea!

doordec1

Off now to assess my considerable resources and come up with some other off-the-wall ideas!

The Gumtree shed…

When we got our allotment, it didn’t take long to realise that a shed would be an enormous asset. The site is just under a mile away from home; close enough to walk up there, but not to run home to escape a shower. And that’s quite a way to carry tools; if we didn’t want to drive up there all the time, we needed somewhere to store them. In true Permaculture style, it would fulfill other functions, too; where we planned to put it, it could act as a partial windbreak, as we are in the southwestern corner of the site, where the wind whistles in over the river meadows, partially screened by a blackthorn hedge, but partly exposed. The roof would be a raised surface for capturing rainwater to store in our (wombled) water-butts, too.

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New allotment with an “open aspect”…

The maximum size we’re allowed on site is 8′ x 6′, on a slab base; no concrete, no decking. But we didn’t really want to give up that much growing-space, as our plot is an odd shape; triangular, with the hypotenuse facing south-west into the prevailing wind. We don’t have any power tools to store, just secondhand manual tools, so security wasn’t much of an issue. So an 6′ x 4′ wooden shed would be plenty big enough.

But a new shed would cost at least a hundred pounds, which kind of negates the money-saving aspect of allotmenteering, even if it’s a one-off investment. So I started looking round on Gumtree, allowing myself a budget of around £30, thinking there’d almost certainly be money to be spent getting whatever I found up to scratch. But most were far too big, and I kept missing the smaller ones that were offered. Except one, which was offered FREE as “might suit someone for firewood!” Half of one long side was missing, replaced temporarily by the door, but I went to see it anyway as it was only a few hundred yards away. Not great, but surely, salvageable… The lovely young couple giving it away had decided to replace it with something intact and also bigger.

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The Head Gardener surveys a pile of potential shed…

So we hauled it across town, the end bits, the door & parts of the framework inside my van, and the sides lashed to the roof-rack of the Head Gardener’s estate car. It sat for a week or so in a heap, beside where it was going to be put back together again, whilst HG laid & levelled the slabs. Then we spent a merry afternoon puzzling out what should go where, and screwing it all together; it had previously just been nailed. Some bits are a little rotten & have been replaced, and the roofing felt needed replacing altogether, and our allotment just isn’t quite the same shape as the ground it sat on before so the roof just wouldn’t quite sit properly, but hey! we have a shed, all screwed together firmly, and it hardly cost us anything!

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Oooh look, a shed!

It just so happened that a friend had recently had her conservatory roof replaced with something more permanent. It occurred to me that a piece of ex-roof triple-wall polycarb might just plug the gap in the wall and make a rather good window; Head Gardener moved the remaining slats down to the lower half, I cut the polycarb to the right length and lo and behold! it just slotted over the slats perfectly. Screwed into position gently, the windward side that looks towards the water-meadows actually lets the light in now.

The structure was probably never the sturdiest, and strong winds might have been an issue, exposed on the edge of the site. But HG had a stroke of pure genius; why not use some of the pallets that I’d wombled to make composters to brace the shed, inside the structure, instead? So there are three strong & heavy pallets resting on the floor slabs, screwed to the wall supports & each other, and acting as shelf supports & tool racks.

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A pallet serving as a brace and a tool-rack

There’s a triangular shelf made from pallet-wood at the end for all the things you might need a work-surface for, like potting, or making a cup of tea, and two shelves running across the end over that for all those little pots & tins of stuff we seem to need. Like biscuits…

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Pallet-wood shelves, and conservatory-roof window!

There’s a shelf at the bottom of the window; whilst it doesn’t let full daylight in, I think there’s enough light to start the odd window-box propagator-tray of seedlings in there. There are hooks and nails to hang small things like trowels, string, netting and dibbers, and I’ve even cobbled together a somewhat flimsy welly rack from an old curtain pole and a spare bit of wood. It’s not “finished” yet, in that we have yet to trim the roof felt, put up the “bug box” and add the guttering; in fact I’ve yet to source some of that. And it’s far from luxurious, and there are no gingham curtains or bunting (yet!) but we haven’t found a single drip of rain inside, and it’s stood up to winds that have brought branches down elsewhere in town. So, so far, so good!