Where growing, making & good living come together

Taking Stock – May 2015

Posted by on Thursday 28 May 2015 in growing, making, meta | 2 comments

*cough*

*taps mic*

“Is this thing on?”

Ahem.

(Hope you’re all fine and dandy.)

—-

I’ve been spending a lot of time at the allotment recently and to make myself feel better about its still somewhat weedy paths, I wanted to look up the “before” pictures – from before I started reclaiming the plot last summer. Wow, I have come far! Still a long way to go and everything but cor, go me! ;)

While I was here, I noticed a Taking Stock post from just about a year ago and was surprised how much is the same! I thought I’d update that as a catch-up!

What I’m…

Growing: oh so much! My greenhouse has been full of seedlings for ages, but it’s only been this week or so that I’ve been happy to start planting things out. About 40 sugar snap pea plants went into the ground on Tuesday at the plot, along with a handful of runner beans & a couple of courgettes at home.

At home, I’m pretty much restricted to container growing for annual veg so it’s a lovely novelty to have beds. In typical fashion, I had to wait nearly five years on the waiting list to get my first plot – and then was offered a second* about four months later! (* We’re only allowed one plot each so the new one is officially John’s). The second plot is on the same site and is also a small one, so I’ve just over a full plot all together – maybe a plot and a third. The second plot has lovely big beds, with better soil, and lots of well established fruit – rhubarb as well as the usual berries & currants. I hadn’t planned to grow any broad beans this year but the soil was so welcoming when I went to turn it over last October that I had to plant a load – and how they’ve grown. This picture shows them against the spring sown addition.

broad bean plants

All my broad beans have been spindly in the past so I planted them close together – regretting that now!

I also overwintered onions and garlic, and sowed some early round lettuces which are nearly ready to harvest.

It’d take too long (and would be boring) to list everything I’ve got growing in the greenhouse ready to go to the plot – but if we get a mediocre crop from half of it, we’ll be very happy and swimming in veggies!

Cooking: Fancy dancy meals! Our lovely neighbours have been trying one of those not-at-all-frugal delivery services which send you exactly what you need for, say, three meals for two people – I think they’re aimed at people relatively new to cooking (though that doesn’t really describe our neighbours), to show people how easy fancy food can be. Anyway, due to a timing mishap, our neighbours had a box they couldn’t use so they gave it to us – we never say no to free food! We have most of the ingredients in the house already but it’s been fun putting them together in slightly different ways.

Away from that, I think I might have to make up a big vat of “Polish sausage and dead veg soup” at the weekend – a delicious way to clear out the fridge ahead of a shop :)

Learning: I’ve continued taking ceramics classes at a local pottery studio. I’ve been focused on decorative clay techniques this year – taking courses on a full range of techniques, then another course specialising on glazing and most recently, I’ve been learning about Coloured Clay and associated skills like inlaying and laminating. You never stop learning with ceramics!

Also, over the last few weeks, I’ve also been pressing ahead with a bit of language learning. I discovered Duolingo in the depths of winter and got stuck into learning German and refreshing my long neglected schoolgirl French. That went by the by as spring and other fun hobbies kicked in, but I’ve been pressing on of late – though focusing on the French more now. French at school was mostly focused on vocab and simple grammar – Duolingo is somewhat the reverse, focusing on sentence building, which I find more useful and I find the independent learning/gamification a lot more acceptable than the rote learning/being picked on to answer in class.

Making: Pottery aside, in typical Louisa fashion, I’m about 80% of the way through a few projects. Last month, I crocheted all the granny squares for a blanket and have whip stitched about half of them together – I need to finish the joining and edge them. Sticking with crochet, I’ve another ripple stripe blanket that has been sitting at about 80% since New Year – I’m procrastinating because it’s a variegated yarn and I can’t decide if/how to edge it. I also need to finish the last few leaves on a Jacobean crewel embroidery project.

Jacobean crewel project

Wanting: it to be a bit warmer and sunnier (just a little) – I’ve got washing on the line and the grey clouds aren’t inspiring me to head out to the plot for a cheeky session this evening.

Looking: at all the seed packets around my desk. Everything was super organised at the start of the year and is now .. not so organised.

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Do it better

Posted by on Wednesday 5 February 2014 in making | 2 comments

I’ve been trying to do things better recently.

It’s not particularly a New Year’s resolution or anything like that because it started towards the end of last year but I am going to try to stick to it all year. In 2013, I learnt a lot of new skills and as I started to see myself level up*, I wanted that to continue – and spread out to other areas. (Perhaps even blogging ;) )

I guess it started with the sewing course that I took last term – I’ve sewn, on and off, since childhood but I’ve always been a bodger. The epitome of that was the costumes I made for a drama production last summer – the craftsmanship on them was APPALLING. They only needed to be seen from a distance and if they hung together for the three performances, I would be happy. They served their purpose but it didn’t exactly give me much confidence to, for example, make my own clothes. The sewing course – at the wonderful Hive Studios in Shipley – took me back to basics but showed me how to do them right, and while I still consider myself very much a beginner on the sewing machine, my lines are a lot straight, my hems neater and I have infinitely more knowledge about construction techniques and what my machine can (and can’t) do.

Practise stitching

Since my decision to refocus, I’ve been taking the time to do basic samples of embroidery stitches simply to practise stitch lengths/angles/blending techniques (the first ones, above); my pottery** work is now slower and is gradually – in fits and starts – becoming more refined; and, my spinning has become more even and finer (while remaining strong). I’ve also started keeping better track of things – documenting what I’m working on (with swatches/photos as appropriate) and the tools/materials I’m using — a core learning technique but something I’ve never made the time to do.

Given my love of doing EVERYTHING, I’m always going to be a generalist rather than a single hobby specialist but that’s no excuse for perpetually shoddy work. I think I’m enjoying the process more than I did now as well – I’ve always liked the crafting journey but now I’m slowly down, I think I’m getting more of a meditative pleasure from it too.

Coincidentally, this video turned up in my Pinterest stream today. He’s talking specifically about writing (hence the reference to “one story”) but it actually applies to any creative activity. I’m definitely in the gap with a lot of my activities but slowly, very very slowly, I’m seeing it shrinking.

* I’m already a Level 34 in Confusing Video Games with Real Life.
** I took a course at Hive last term and am doing another one now but I’m probably doing more at “drop-in” sessions. It’s so much fun!

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Stitching etc tips from the Knitting & Stitching Show

Posted by on Thursday 21 November 2013 in making | 2 comments

I’ve been at the Knitting & Stitching Show in Harrogate today.

As I’m not particularly one for just browsing shops (especially at the moment) or just wandering aimlessly, my main focus has been on the workshops. I did four today and have another four lined up for my return visit on Sunday.

Today I did: the Shibori Blues (indigo/cloth resist dyeing), Intro to Crewel Embroidery, Japanese Embroidery & Embellishing Quilts. They were all interesting but were rushed trying to fit everything into an hour. Embellishing Quilts was the one I was least excited about going into it but I think has been the most valuable (since I want to start quilting); the Japanese Embroidery had the steepest learning curve (having to twist our own threads from the thinnest silk!). Shibori Blues & Crewel Embroidery largely went over things I’ve done before (the former on a general natural dyeing course in February, the latter from a kit I did around the same time) but the latter especially was useful because I had a chance to ask questions about refining my techniques etc.

As well as the subject specific things I learnt in the sessions, I also picked up a lot of general stitching/quilting/misc hints and tips. Some of them may be obvious but they’re new to me. I thought I’d post them here in case they’re new to you too – and to remind me of them, because I’ve not exactly got a lot of processing/practising time these next few days (normal sewing class tomorrow, a comic con on Saturday then back to Harrogate on Sunday – and a novel to finish, as well as everything else that needs doing as usual!).

  • If you can’t thread a needle, try approaching the hole from the other side – the eyes are punched out so the hole on one side is usually bigger than the other. (This is not a trick I need as being able to thread needles is one of my superpowers. I am Needle Threading Girl!)
  • Don’t lick thread to seal the ends to thread it through the needle’s eye – it apparently swells the fibres
  • Use self-threading needles for sewing in the tiny ends – this was an in-passing tip so I didn’t get all the details but I think it would be useful for sewing in the ends of crochet motifs, maybe?
  • The waste knot method is the best way to start (crewel) embroidery – though it takes some mental rewiring!
  • Start the waste knot method about a centimetre along the stitch line (for line work) so the anchor stitches will be hidden – the waste knot can be anywhere in the same colour space for space work
  • Wrap embroidery hoops (both the inner and outer) with bias binding tape or strips of calico to improve the grip – it means you don’t have to over-tighten the hoop and does less damage to the fabric
  • Take shower caps from hotels to protect embroidery work – didn’t quite hear the start of this so not sure if it was just while travelling or during reworking…?
  • Shower caps are also good for swimming costumes post-pool – rather than wrapping the costume in a towel
  • Long and short stitch in crewel embroidery should really be called Long and Longer Stitch – I asked how to make it look good and the simple answer was ‘practise’. The longer answer was:
  • Don’t work in just one area at a time when doing long & short stitch – working across the whole area to be filled, sew in the (first round) long stitches to give you an idea of shape/angle before starting on the shorter stitches. Also don’t be afraid to mark the fabric first to plan where they’re going to go.
  • Practise was the main repeated advice throughout the three sewing-y workshops – I think of the kits I do as practise/learning new techniques but I think there is a lot of value in doing very small pieces (max 6×4/10cmx15cm) that are nothing more than doodles.
  • There is not enough time between Knit & Stitch workshops to either get a cup of tea or eat sandwiches – I thought there was time for tea but there was not and I was late. Plan accordingly!
  • Carbon paper is much more effective for image transfer than I thought it would be – I really should try more image transfer stuff
  • Everyone tells me Colonial Knots are better than French ones – not sure why yet, will check it out!
  • Lakeland do rubber gloves with a cuff at the wrist end – useful for dyers etc – stops the liquid from the hands running up your sleeve
  • I saw several examples of quilting/stitching with the design in negative space – just something I hadn’t thought of doing before and something I want to try now.
  • Ribbon flowers – do a running stitch along the top of the ribbon (rather than the middle) – they’re easier and more ribbon efficient
  • Use a darning foot for machine quilting – can’t remember why, was just told that by someone from a Quilters’ organisation so I believe them ;)
  • Use deliberately different shapes/lines for crazy patchworking – just easier!
  • Iron-on wadding is good for quilting beginners – one less thing to worry about – it isn’t good for blanket quilts (it’s too stiff) but it’s fine for small decorative pieces/wall hangings
  • Iron-on wadding needs to be bubble side up – that’s the glue side
  • Make sure all the iron-on wadding is covered before you iron it – the glue will melt and will NOT come off the iron
  • Don’t use plastic headed pins for quilting – they melt when you iron over them
  • Use a piece of velvet as a mat while doing (seed) beadwork – it makes the beads easier to pick up and stops them rolling about too

Think that’s it – though I’m sure to learn more random stuff on Sunday! (If anyone else will be there on Sunday, I’m doing the Silk & Spindle workshop, then ribbon embroidery, pieced patchwork bowl and Japanese padded fabric pictures, and I might try to fit in a little drop-in batik as well. Basically, I’ll be in Hall E!)

Do you have any favourite stitching tips?

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My winter to-do list 2013

Posted by on Wednesday 30 October 2013 in admin, growing, house, making | 1 comment

(I wrote this last month but for some reason it didn’t get published – I only noticed when I came to tick stuff off — I’ve actually been powering through it compared to my normal slow productivity speed!)

Every year for the last few years, I’ve written myself a “preparing for winter” list for all those jobs that have to be done before the weather turns for the worst. I’m glad I can say I’ve FINALLY finished all the ones on my 2010 and 2011 lists now – well, except for the things that need doing again — it’s only taken me two or three winters!

Garden

The garden ones are similar to previous years – the routine stuff – though an afternoon in the garden last week has already ticked off some of the usual low hanging fruit (eg, tie up the low hanging fruit bushes!).

1. Tidy up the greenhouse & take any remaining tender plants into house for overwintering – I don’t think there is anything too tender in there but I’ll check.

2. Pop all terracotta containers or plastic ones holding delicate herbs into the greenhouse (and fleece if necessary) – this is a bigger job than in previous years as I bought lots of terracotta pots in the spring.

3. Add extra chippings to chicken run – John’s dad brought a load of chippings a few weeks ago but I’ll top them up again this month. Will hopefully stop it getting too muddy and/or freezing quite so solidly.

4. Sort out the wood pile, cut more “easy grab” logs & fill kindling bins inside and out – I’m out of my Sunday morning routine of clearing out the chicken coop and chopping the week’s kindling. I need to get back into that but a kindling buffer would be good too. We also need to shuffle our logs between the different stores – some of the ones further down in the garden should be seasoned enough now to come to the near the house store. (30/10/13 -Kindling bins are full for now, and we have quite a few “easy grab” logs – just need to keep the piles stocked up.)

5. Arrange for the tree surgeon to come over – we need to trim/cut down some trees but it isn’t safe for us to do it all by ourselves. We’ll do some and he can do the rest.

House

1. Fix cat flap in the kitchen so it isn’t so draughty – the magnet that holds the flap shut has gone. Should be fixable.

2. Fix the downstairs stove – a John job rather than one for me — something needs fire cementing again. We should also replace the cracked firebrick in the upstairs stove too. (30/10/13 – John has fixed the downstairs stove. Still need a new firebrick for upstairs though.)

3. Clean out gutters at front – after the leaves fall.

4. Wash the thicker, winter duvet – I really wish I’d thought to do this over summer but even the washing involves a trip to the laundrette and summer was rather chaotic. (30/10/13 – a kitten “accident” ensured this happened at the start of October. I washed the thin summer duvet at the same time.)

4b. Re-sew feather pockets as necessary – the feathers have been migrating through holes between the pockets.

5. Move more fragile plants out of the porch – and I guess, ditch the dying annuals from the herb shelf.

Us

I’m pretty well kitted out for winter this year – last year I got a new everyday winter coat, fab new winter boots, and lots of warm socks — in fact, I can’t wait for winter in that respect!

1. New wellies for me – I’ve worn my wellies just about every day for three years now and they’re beginning to show their age – worn soles and inners, and a hole in the shoe part. They’ll be fine for pottering but I’d prefer a new pair for dog walking etc. (30/10/13 – after discovering three new holes when I wandered into the sea at Ainsdale/Southport a couple of weeks ago, I finally got my act together and got my new boots last week.)

2. Scarf (and mittens? and hat?) for John – he has reappropriated my very long scarf but I’m going to make him a little Day of The Tentacle inspired one instead. Will make matching accessories if I have enough yarn left over. (30/10/13 – I started this a couple of weeks ago – not been working on it constantly but it’s nearly there. Another few evenings should do it.)

2b. Make a jumper & cardigan for me, and maybe felted slippers for John – this are maybes more than definitelys. (30/10/13 – jumper is finished, just need to tie in ends, go me! Yarn has arrived for the jumper.)

3. Tidy out our pantry/store-cupboard cupboards to get a good idea of what we’ve got and what we need (for us and the animals) – this is a sooner-rather-than-later one so we can stock up as necessary. We order our cat and dog food online so I’ll make sure we have a spare bag in store in case there are any problems with deliveries. Chicken feed is bought locally – but they sometimes have problems getting their deliveries in bad weather so again, I’ll buy an extra bag.

4. Buy a new stick blender – our old one, which has been a faithful kitchen friend for many years now, is on its way out (think: disturbing electrical crackling from within!) and I don’t think it’ll handle another souping season without dying spectacularly, shocking us or both.

5. Make pyjamas for Mum and a blanket for Mum & Dad’s bed – share the snuggy!

What have you got to do before the cold weather kicks in?

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Plummy solid square crochet blanket

Posted by on Monday 3 June 2013 in crochet & knitting, making | 12 comments

This is the second crochet blanket I’ve made in two months. Yes, I know it’s June and gloriously sunny outside but what can I say? I live in the north of England and I’m realistic.

folded-blanket

While I was finishing up my Ann Perkins blanket* at the end of April, I had a huge urge to make a solid square blanket: one colour per square like Heather’s Elmer blanket.

I used Stylecraft Special DK – I don’t usually like acrylic but this is alright. In the flesh, the colours are quite nice, it’s not quite as shiny as most synthetics and it’s super cheap. I used six colours: plum, grape, mocha, raspberry, parchment (nicely off white), and claret – the latter being my least favourite colour of the set, but I think it adds a nice contrast to all the purples.

close-up-blanket

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Attack of the Crochet Claw

Posted by on Tuesday 2 April 2013 in making | 2 comments

One of the reasons my crafting extravaganza hasn’t gone as planned is because of my hands. Between lots of wet felting, crochet and protecting my super-sensitive new scar over the last month, they’ve been slowly turning into T-Rex claws. But it wasn’t until Friday, when my knuckles were properly swollen and achy as well as stiff, that I actually thought about it seriously.

t-rex-crochet-claw

(Me, on Friday. Except I have curlier hair. And glasses. And a shorter tail.)

When I’m working at my computer, I’m pretty good at taking breaks, sitting in a good chair and doing little exercises to help reduce shoulder/eye strain etc. (I don’t use it any more but when I worked at the university, I used to use Workrave to keep me in line.) But for some reason, I don’t apply the same principle to crafting – I can sit curled up in a ball, on the sofa, for hours at a time, and the only exercise I do to break it up is occasionally tickle an animal or clasp my claw around a cup of tea. (This is a small exaggeration, but only a small one.)

As my dad has pretty bad osteoarthritis and I’ve had joint pain problems in the past (in my knees particularly), I’ve decided to take Claw Friday as a bit of a wake up call so it doesn’t get worse in the future. I’ve started breaking up my crafting like I do my computer time (and like any sensible, normal person would do) and switching between different things (eg between crochet and sewing over the weekend) rather than doing the same thing over and over again. I’m hoping to start going swimming again regularly from the summer onwards which will help things generally but in the meantime, I’ve also started doing some hand/forearm exercises that I remember from my yoga/pilates days – hopefully encouraging my muscles to become a little more flexible again. It’s amazing how just a few days of those has already improved things.

Do you do any particular exercises to help prevent RSI/other injuries during your crafting/making or gardening etc? Do you have any tips?

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