… the family have eaten leftovers for a week, my allotment’s a weedy mess, the house is a tip, we’re back in lockdown again, I have 101 half-done or not-even-started projects lying around, and what am I doing?
Weaving shirt-seams, of course! I have 3 big bags of little strips of fabric cluttering up my sewing room, from dismantling lots of shirts/jeans/pyjamas/tablecloths & tea-towels for quilt fabric & other projects, and there’s only so many you can use as plant-ties. I’d been keeping them for a course on Weaving with Waste that I’d booked onto last September, which sadly couldn’t take place. There’ll be another one, of course, Once All This Has Blown Over (OATHBO in certain online quarters) but just imagine how much more I’ll have accumulated by then. Though my New Year’s resolutions, as usual, include putting myself on a Fabric Diet ; no more fabric will be acquired (new or otherwise) until at least half of what I currently have as been used up or sold on.
I have done some things: my Other Half has a second pair of cosy PJ bottoms made from an old flannelette sheet. They were cut out months ago when I made the first pair, and put aside in my enormous “to do” pile. DD2 has mended PJs and a new pair too, from some soft but sturdy brushed cotton found in a charity shop last spring at £3 for about 4m of 60″ wide fabric in a cheery red & white plaid. And I’ve finally managed to make a pair of what my great-aunt would have called, in a breathless whisper, “Underthings” (i.e. knickers) from an old t-shirt; not rocket science, I know, and of course I could just buy a pack of new ones, but it pleases me to re-use pretty & still-decent fabric & keep my money safe from those who peddle poor-quality “underthings” that fall apart in a few weeks. I’m pleased to report that they fit well and are very comfortable!
I’ve also cut out & attempted to sew a warm top from blanket-type fabric acquired new, as a treat, a couple of years ago. Needless to say, I struggled with this. My overlocker didn’t seem to “like” the fabric & kept breaking one specific thread. At first I thought the thread must be weak, so changed it, but the next reel also broke every few stitches. Then I thought I must somehow have bent the needle, so changed that. But now I’ve realised that it was “pilot error”; the loopers & needles need to be threaded in a specific order, and once one thread had broken & been replaced, that order was undone and the machine was struggling to form stitches correctly. I’m hoping I still have enough fabric to sort it out, as I may need to re-make the sleeves entirely, I’d chewed so much off them before stopping to read the instructions… oh dear. You can’t cure stupid, as they say, by changing the needle!
So yes, plenty going on here, and there are still about 98 projects in the “to-do” pile, so I’m looking on lockdown 3 as a chance to clear as much from that pile as possible. Let’s see if I can end up with a chance to see the floor of the sewing room/spare bedroom once more…
… add an Ikea cushion cover and a strip of old duvet cover, mix well, and :-
I had a gorgeous, but sadly very stained, 1950s embroidered tablecloth sitting in my stash, and I’ve been determined to do something lovely with it since I first found it. It was so bright and cheery, yet it would never have been put for sale at a charity shop; thanks to those stains, it would just have gone into the rag-bag. I could have made umpteen cards from the motifs – and have made a few – but didn’t want to dissipate the prettiness too much. So it seemed a good idea to base the last little lockdown stashbuster quilt on what was left of it.
I also wanted to do a little bit of actual piecing, rather than haphazard flinging together of strips. As you can probably tell, it’s not my natural medium; far too painstaking, but it suited the subject matter! I’m a LOT happier with this one, though it’s a tad undersized at 2½’ x 3’2″; this was dictated by the size & number of motifs available. Perhaps a crib, pram or pushchair quilt?
Oh, and the batting’s a bit – different. Cotton “Bump” interlining extracted from some fabulous but badly light-damaged old curtains; it’s been washed before re-use, to control any shrinkage, but it still seems soft, fluffy, & lightweight, not unlike the “official” batting I used in the others. Just a tad less inclined to pull apart, so now the hunt will be on for old interlined curtains…
Anyway, time for a break from the sewing machines now! As lockdown comes to an end, and we gear up for the festive season – well, as festive as it can be in these socially-distanced days – I need to concentrate on sorting the house, the presents and the food out for a while. Time enough for stitching, or spinning, or weaving, when the excitement, and the workload, have simmered down…
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.
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…
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.
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?
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.
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…
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…
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.
Stashbusting cot quilt no. 2 completed… My self-imposed challenge this time was only to use fabric from my scrap drawer for the top. Whenever I have a scrap of suitable fabric either left over from another project or come in on a job lot but much too small to sell on, I stuff it into my scrap drawer for using up another day. Well, that day is this day.
There’s a slight cheat in that one of the fabrics hadn’t quite made it into the scrap drawer (from a damaged “New Look” cotton skirt, which I hadn’t quite got round to dismantling) but that’s where it was bound. Not all the scraps go into quilt tops; there are 1001 uses for a small bit of decent fabric, like – oh, lavender sachets, bunting, test-stitching a newly refurbished sewing machine, lining a woven bag – they’re always useful.
My elderly mother got quite excited when she heard I was making cot quilts, pointedly wondering whether there was any news from the assorted offspring. It was hard to break it to her that actually I’m just making them for practice, to use stuff up & experiment with simple techniques, and because that size is so eminently do-able in short bites of time!
But I had thought that actually using up a whole cot-quilt’s-worth would clear a fair bit of space in there. Sadly, not so! I think there’s still enough for a couple of king-size quilts in there. I do have an intriguing idea for the next one, but this may go on for longer than a month…
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.
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!
Summer has gone away now… always a bittersweet moment, as the landscape settles down to doze gently through the winter down here in the soft southern English hills. And the rains have come; not just the odd grey day of gentle drizzle, but hammering squalls and vicious gusts tearing the beautiful autumn leaves from the trees. Not quite the weather I was hoping for, to tidy my allotment up for the winter.
So it’s time to put some of those crafty ideas into practice! Something I’ve been gathering resources for for a couple of years: a twined-weave rug made from moth-eaten (literally) & felted old blankets, on a warp of discarded polycotton duvet cover. It’s taken forever to get round to actually starting it; once I started, it just took the odd hour here & there over 3 days. The pile of holey old blankets has shrunk considerably (sorry, Remi, my miniature dachshund “grand-puppy”, who loves to sleep in them) but there are plenty more where they came from!
The loops of warp visible at the ends will disappear in a day or two, as the tension “relaxes” & evens out. I could use them to anchor a fringe, but I decided this rug should be “crisp”, with the stripes just speaking for themselves, if that makes sense. Although there seem to be about 5 different colours going on, there were actually only 3 blankets; the effect of any given “thread” depends on how I cut the blanket up; all 3 were plaid/check patterned, with different colours criss-crossing. Luckily I have a hand-cranked American strip-cutting machine, which makes light work of demolishing them, as it would have been a nightmare to cut them up with scissors. The bedding for the warp can just be torn into 2″ strips.
I finished it in between making our Christmas cake & pudding (slightly experimental, as I added home-grown quinces into both of these) baking some hob-nobs and cheesy flapjacks, making some “pink” soup (i.e. with home-grown beetroot) from leftover vegetables & gravy, and concocting dinner from what was left of Sunday’s roast. Tomorrow, I may do nothing at all… or I may escape to the allotment, weather permitting!
I just haven’t been able to write anything for the last few months. I’m not sure why; it’s not as if I haven’t been doing things, and plenty of them, but it’s seemed somehow like time apart from the mainstream of life. Part of me desperately wanted to record the sheer strangeness going on all around, but a larger part of me felt that committing it to type might make it real, somehow. A sort of feeling that if I held my breath, didn’t do anything, didn’t acknowledge the situation, it might kind of just fade away…
Anyway, the spell has been broken by the necessity of getting a newsletter out; there wasn’t much to put in it, so I ended up writing an article-ette to bulk it out, then suddenly, Bingo! The brakes in my head came off. And I have to report, it is real. At the start of all this, back in spring, I think we all hoped that in a few weeks, it would all be behind us, just another something-and-nothing. But it isn’t; it’s becoming apparent that that was just the start and we have a long & sometimes rocky road ahead of us. There have been many moments when it seemed that someone somewhere was playing a gigantic joke on us (drive 30 miles to test your eyes? You cannot be serious, that could actually be lethal) but no, it’s for real, the lunatics are in charge of the asylum and they’re not about to fly away over the cuckoo’s nest.
Where I live, we’ve been relatively lucky in that the virus has yet to gain much of a foothold. By and large, people have done what our leaders asked them to, and it’s easy for us to get out into the fresh air and stay socially distanced. But the price has been not seeing our families; we had a wedding in the family, the bridegroom being one of our sons, and my Other Half and I had to stay elsewhere so that he could be with his siblings before the ceremony & not break the Rule of Six. (All kudos to the bride & groom for staying calm and switching their arrangements several times at the drop of a government diktat, at considerable expense.) My mother had a spell in hospital and decided that she couldn’t bear to live alone any longer; we’ve found her a wonderful care home, which she’s enjoying hugely, but we can’t visit her except to yell up to her balcony, and we certainly can’t give her a hug. These are small sadnesses, and we know we’re very lucky in the great scheme of things, but they are also little rips in the social fabric that binds us all together, and we all know what happens to little rips that don’t get mended swiftly.
There are – undercurrents – that worry me. More and more places are refusing to accept cash, ostensibly because coins and notes may harbour the virus. But as our banks & government have been flying the kite of a cashless society for a long time now, this seems to be playing into their hands. Then what happens to those who are refused bank accounts, often for reasons beyond their control, like debts run up by a previous partner or occupant of their home? How can markets, independent traders, workshops & studios flourish without cash where the mobile connections aren’t reliable, i.e. anywhere outside major population centres?
It’s getting harder to get hold of big things that you really need. I won’t bore you with my greenhouse saga, but it took 5 months to actually acquire one, having originally ordered (and paid) in early April, and it was a nightmare to put together. In the end, though, I’m very pleased with it. It took 2 months to get hold of a new & much-needed freezer, which isn’t the make or model I wanted, but at least it’s the right size and actually here; the one I wanted is still unavailable. Apparently it’s equally hard to get hold of a new TV now too; “supply chain” problems. Interesting…
You can’t actually see a doctor or dentist unless you’re on the verge of expiring. Phone consultations are better than nothing, but they can’t see the lump on your eyebrow that you hadn’t noticed or the fact you’re rather yellow. And so much blame is being misdirected – “NHS” Track & Trace, anyone? – which has nothing to do with the NHS itself and everything to do with money-grubbing super-corporations trying to dig their fingers into our pie, with appalling incompetence that would have got any public servant sacked & disgraced. But how can we hold our “leaders” to account when they’ve made it absolutely clear that they simply don’t give a damn what we think?
How do we know who to listen to? We’re told that policy decisions are “following the science” but whose science? Who’s paying for that science? It does rather seem that those with the highest responsibility are cherrypicking the science that they want us to follow, but have no intention of following it themselves?
Anyway, enough! What have I been up to? (Apart from growing stuff, failing to earn anything much (there are no vintage markets going on down here, and all the summer festivals & events were cancelled, and look likely to be next year, too) and trying to find ways that our family can celebrate things like weddings more or less together?) Well, not as much as I would like to be able to say. I taught myself to knot netting at the beginning, so that my peas could have something tough but soft to scramble up. The wild rabbits that infest our allotment site ate my peas. The rabbits also ate my carrots, my runner beans (including most of the ones that re-sprouted from last year’s roots) and nearly everything except beetroot & chard. (Which did give me the chance to learn to appreciate fresh home-grown beetroot, which is actually quite yummy.)
They also tunnelled under the sunflowers, which depressed those somewhat & led to some strange multi-headed blooms. Once I’d realised that I had to defend everything against rabbit incursions, and my second line of beans were halfway up the poles and beginning to flower, we had a late frost – 23rd May – which killed those too, and most of the French beans, gave the potatoes a nasty headache and generally wreaked havoc. Only 4 plots got badly “hit” out of 126; it was then that we realised we’re at the bottom of a very gradual slope and cold air sinks downwards.
But that said, the courgettes went bonkers. We grew just one more plant than last year, when we had – enough, just about – but this year we ended up coming home with anything up to 12 courgettes on every visit, and giving a fair number away. 3 of the 6 plants are still going strong, as are the 3rd planting of runner beans. We only planted 3 tomato plants; the other 14 came up of their own accord. I didn’t keep on top of supporting them & pinching them out, etc., but we had a magnificent harvest before the blight struck, and ended up with a freezer full of ratatouille & passata. There’s plenty of chard, kale & leeks in the ground to see us over the winter and there are a number of “unofficial” Turk’s Turban squashes (i.e. grown from seeds from last year; they’ve come up pretty much like their parent plant & do taste good) sitting in the conservatory as well as a couple of little pumpkins. And the raspberries have been superb. For all the frustrations & setbacks, we still well & truly got our money’s-worth out of our little plot. Now it just remains to clear the beds that will be “resting” over the winter, sow a couple of lines of runner & Iron Age horse beans, and tidy up.
I discovered how to make & drink rhubarb champagne, which is delicious, but I haven’t done a lot of craft-work; I did manage to twine a new cover for a small stool with the remains of a damaged old blanket, but that’s about it. Like with writing, I didn’t have the heart to start anything, somehow. But now I’m looking forward to actually using up some of my fabric, yarn, fleece and other resources in the long dark evenings to come. There are plenty of ideas beginning to bubble away in my head; time to start putting some of them into practise!
The dark evenings and winter chill made me determined to finish the small rug/shower-room mat that had languished on my big twining loom since last spring was sprung.
That, plus the fact I’d agreed to run a little workshop on the subject of “simple forms of weaving” for our Guild’s Skills Day at the end of January. I got stuck in and finished the shower mat within a couple of evenings – it’s now in use – and warped the loom with torn-up sheets ready for the workshop. My “students” seemed to enjoy themselves and between us we did several inches of a new, full-size rug in warm shades of brown, orange & light green, still ongoing here at home. However, during the day, it did occur to me that it would be good to have some smaller looms available for people to learn the technique on and hopefully complete something small but useful within a day.
So I started looking around for some suitable wood, ordered a batch of beechwood pegs and raided a DIY superstore for eye-bolts, wing-nuts and stainless steel rods, as we also needed to buy a sander for our younger daughter’s latest project. (Which is possibly THE most expensive way of acquiring eye-bolts, all beautifully but individually packaged & priced to match!) We did have some old bed-slats in the garage roof, but eventually I decided that they were too wide to handle easily and too shallow to fix the pegs into securely. Then my eye fell on a batten that had once held a 6′ wide Roman blind… although it’s technically a soft wood, it proved to be very sturdy and quite hard to drill into, so I think it’ll stand the strain. So I chopped it into 18″ lengths, bolted those into a square, then drilled holes & inserted the pegs along the top & bottom. Once I’d sorted out a way to fix the rod down the side – random washers & wing nuts to the rescue – I had a slightly eccentric but entirely workable loom.
However it took me a couple of days, on & off round Real Life, to weave an 18″ square, which made me think it’s a little too large for what I was aiming at. So the next construction project will be a 12″ version. In the meantime I’ll be weaving a new top for a little old footstool, not to mention working on a set of matching chair pads for our mis-matched kitchen chairs. And then – I might just go 3d with it and maybe try a small basket to keep yarn in?
That’s one way to make a dent in my fabric stash! And there are plenty of others…
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!