Out!

We have been in our latest lockdown for over 10 weeks now. It’s less stressful than it used to be and people have got used to wearing masks when they go shopping. We certainly have a “new normal”, but it can be terribly depressing and it’s easy to feel glum and lack motivation. So, when there is an opportunity to have a change of scenery, it needs to be grabbed with both hands. And that’s why I ended up in Aberystwyth yesterday… Mr Snail had an appointment with the optician and the sun was shining, so I had a trip out. I did do a little bit of food shopping, but we also had a walk on the prom which was quite busy. It feels like quite an adventure these days.

However, one of the best bits was that I was able to get Mr Snail to take a few photos of me in my new outfit, without the backdrop being the curtain over the front door or the contents of the limery. The Southern Pines crochet sweater you have seen before on Mimi, but here it is on me, complete with my adapted version of The Brumby Skirt by Megan Nielsen. I didn’t have quite enough fabric as specified in the pattern, but with a little jiggery-pokery I managed to cut it out at the length that I wanted. There wasn’t enough to pattern-match, but I cut the front as a single panel rather than two, so this didn’t matter and I can live with it not matching at the back. One of the best things about the design is that it has lovely big pockets. Hard as I tried I couldn’t pattern-match even the small exposed part of the scooped out section of these. They are not visible on the picture to the left, but as you can see below I managed to get them looking ok. The other thing that I changed about the pattern was the back zip. The original uses an exposed chunky metal zip as a feature, but I didn’t fancy this, so I inserted an invisible zip (not quite as invisible as intended, but that’s ok), which is much more in keeping with the cotton fabric I used… the fabric design, by the way, is called “Crop Circles” – I love it. I found a rather modern-looking vintage mother of pearl button in my button box which seemed to match the general theme. I really like the result and I will certainly be using the pattern again.

I suspect that without the excursion I probably wouldn’t have got round to photographs for a while. Now I think about it, I’m sure that a lack of inspiring photographs is one of the reasons I haven’t been blogging so much recently.

Mend It Monday, 1 March 2021

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi hapus*

Today, I’m reviving my Mend It Monday posts. I dropped them last time because I was sure everyone was getting fed up with seeing another sock that I had darned. There is a sock today, but I also mended something else this week, that Mr Snail thought was beyond repair, so I wanted to share it.

We enjoy feeding the birds in the garden. We don’t see anything especially stunning, but it is nice to watch the sparrows and other small birds enjoying the seeds we put out. We’ve got several feeders designed for birds that hang on, but were short of something that those who like to perch could use, so in the autumn last year, Mr Snail ordered what looked like a suitable feeder – it’s plastic, but since you are supposed to wash them regularly, that seemed like an ok option. Online ordering is fraught with risk and when said feeder arrived, he was rather disappointed – it’s fairly flimsy and difficult to fill. In fact, the design could have been much, much better. However, once it had arrived, we decided we’d use it rather than send it back, and, to be fair, all the birds did seem to like it. We take the feeders in at night to avoid unwanted nocturnal visitors and, unfortunately, one morning when putting them back out Mr Snail dropped this new one and it shattered. There were rather a lot of pieces – mainly the tray that the seeds sit in – and some were very small. As I mentioned, Mr Snail thought it was too far gone to be mended, but I decided to get the Sugru out and give it a shot.

The tray required some reinforcing, so I found a sheet of clear plastic that I used to use for paper-making (something I haven’t done for ages) and cut out an appropriately sized circle. Then I pieced the fragments together on top of this plastic, joining and anchoring them with Sugru. It turned out that one piece had completely disappeared, so I filled the hole with Sugru. We left it to dry for 24 hours and then hung it out once more. It’s been fine for the past week, so fingers crossed it will hold together for another season or two.

My other recent mend was a pair of long-forgotten socks… ones that I didn’t actually knit myself, but someone else did. These got very holey some years ago and had been languishing with the walking boots ever since. I came across them a week or two ago and decided that they were repairable. I didn’t try to colour-match my mending yarn because they are bright and stripy, so I wasn’t going to be successful no matter what. There were actually quite a lot of holes, but I worked on them all and now I can wear them again. There has probably been other darning since I last wrote a Mend It Monday post, but I’m sure you believe me without seeing the evidence (I have got very lax with my photography of late).

-oOo-

  • Happy Saint David’s Day

Something new

Those of you who read Mr Snail’s recent ScrapHappy post will know that we have a had a new oven. When we moved to Chez Snail at the end of the last century the house was about 10 years old and it already had a fitted kitchen complete with oven. This was very useful since we moved from a house with a gas cooker to one where the kitchen was only supplied with electricity. And, thus, we di not need to buy a new one. Sadly, having reach an age of about 30 years, the poor thing was struggling to do things like reach the required temperature – in fact the temperature dial was so worn, you had to guess what temperature you were selecting anyway. Mr Snail was reluctant to replace it as it still got hot, but was finally persuaded one evening when it took an hour and a half to produce some roasted vegetables for dinner… hunger is a great motivator.

Mr Snail had liked the oven in the flat that he rented down in Reading, so we decided to go with something similar and thus it was ordered, arrived and installed in less than a week. After some discussion, we were amazed to realise that this is the first brand new oven either of us has ever owned – when we were younger, we both rented flats that had ovens in them and when I moved to an unfurnished rental, I inherited an electric cooker (along with a house full of furniture) from my nan. That cooker was then passed on to another friend who used it for a few more years. The first house I bought came with a gas cooker already installed and then we moved here… and 20 years later we have a new oven!

It’s a bit of a revelation, to be honest – the thermostat seems to be very precise, so when a recipe says to cook something at 170C for 18 minutes, that’s exactly what is required. Pies and cakes are coming out beautifully – done to a turn – plus is can be used as a proving cabinet, so when the house isn’t warm, the bread dough can still rise. Whilst I’m glad to have avoided buying new up until now , I really am loving our new purchase… I bet it doesn’t last 30 years like the last one, though.

ScrapHatty February 2021

As I have mentioned before, over the periods of lockdown (we’re currently in #3, which started before Christmas) we’ve come to know people in our immediate community much better than we did before… after all, they are almost the only people we get to talk to in the flesh. This means that a 45 minute dog walk can take anything up to an hour and a half if it’s a dry day and people are in their gardens or out for a walk themselves.

So, what has this got to do with scraps? Well, all this chatting means we get to know each other better – to find out about each other’s interests and hobbies – and to let each other know if we need something. Which is why, as we were passing the other day, Beryl (who lives on the corner of our road) asked me whether I might have a knitting pattern (knitting, mind you, as she doesn’t crochet) for a hat with both ear flaps and a visor. I told her I’d try to find one on-line (she does not use the internet at all) and came home full of confidence. I settled down and searched and searched, but to no avail. I did find a nice crocheted version, but not one knitting pattern. Mr Snail suggested that I could write one for her, but I just couldn’t face that, so I bought the crochet version, rummaged about in my scraps, located a hook of the correct size and “voila!”

The plain red yarn was left over from making Mr Snail’s first pair of long socks to wear in his wellies, and the scrap of slightly variegated yarn for the edging has been hanging round, unloved, for ages.

So, a quick make, that has been an immediate hit with its recipient… I do love creating something useful from my scraps.

-oOo-

I’ve been inspired to write this (and future) ScrapHappy posts by Kate,  Tall Tales from Chiconia. On the fifteenth of every month lots of folks often publish a ScrapHappy post, do check them out:

KateGun, EvaSue, Lynn, Lynda, Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy, Tracy, Jill, Claire, Jan (me), Moira, Sandra, Chris, Alys, Kerry, Claire, Jean, Jon, HayleyDawn, Gwen, Bekki, Sue L, Sunny, Kjerstin, Vera, Nanette, Ann, Dawn 2 and Noreen

If you fancy joining, contact Kate and she’ll add you to the list. It would be lovely to see more non-sewing posts, but any use of scraps is welcome.

Prospects

This is one of my favourite times of the year – no, not the biting winds, incessant rain and sodden garden, but the fact that this is when we invest in the future. From little paper packets, we extract tiny packages of potential. That unassuming, dry disk is filled with magic: given a little moisture and heat, life will spring forth. Life, in the form of tiny green shoots that will immediately start using light to grow. Life that will provide food, beauty and oxygen.

On Saturday, after a trip to pick up some compost from a friend who had arranged a bulk order (much saving of money), I planted the first seeds of the year – tomatoes and peppers. Into the propagator they went and now we wait. They are the first of many this year – lettuce, rocket, beans, peas – as well as some plants not from seed – potatoes, shallots and garlic. Not all of them will thrive, but I know that in months to come I will be able to pick fresh food, all of which started from those tiny seeds that I put my faith right at the beginning of the year.

So, if you are feeling glum about the prospects for the coming year, plant a few seeds and just see how much joy and hope emerges with every little shoot.

Making: no waste

One of the things that irks me about making my own clothes is the fact that I often end up with lots of scraps that I can’t bear to throw away. There are sewing patterns for clothes specifically designed to use every bit of fabric, but I have not yet come across one that I’m burning to make. Knitting and crochet also leave waste yarn, although I tend to be better at using this up than I am with fabric. However, some approaches lend themselves to waste minimisation, for example working top down when you are crocheting or knitting. Starting at the bottom of a garment means that you have to be sure you have enough yarn to finish it – you can’t decide that you can stop 10 rows from the end or that it doesn’t matter if you only have one and a half sleeves. On the other hand, if you work from the top down, you can do all the fiddly bits with the neckline and armholes, plus the sleeves (to your desired length) before you get on with the body. Then, you can make the body as long as your yarn lasts. And if there isn’t enough for it to be long enough for your requirements, you can always add a band in a contrasting colour at the bottom and look like it was intended.

I’m pleased to say that the top-down approach worked perfectly with the Southern Pines jumper that I have just finished. I completed to well below the armholes first, added the sleeves and worked the neck border before finally moving on the the lower body. With some careful tension adjustment in the last round, I was able to get to the end with just a few centimetres of yarn to spare. The pattern is worked so that there are no seams, so the only finishing that is required is working in the ends… all that was left as waste was these few ends.

But my waste-free crafting didn’t end there. I have been waking up recently with a stiff neck and I think at least part of the problem is my pillows, which have got rather flattened over the years. I have read that wool-stuffed pillows are very good – lots of support and with natural anti-dust mite properties) and I have a large bag of wool stuffing. I rummaged around for some suitable fabric and came across a remnant that originated from the same place as the patterned stuff I used to make the dog bed inner a couple of months ago (which means I’ve had it since the mid-1980s). A bit of measuring and I discovered that there was exactly the right about to make two pillows, and not a centimetre of fabric left over. Actually, I’ve only made one so far, because I want to sleep on it and decide how comfortable it is, and whether it’s got the right amount of stuffing in it. I’ll make the second once I know… and there will not have been any waste.

I quite enjoy using scraps, but it really is nice to complete some projects that are scrap-free.

Undercover research

For those of you of a delicate disposition look away now….

A long, long time ago, some of you may recall, I decided that it would be a good idea to make my own underwear. Looking back I discover my first attempt was in 2016 and I was (with hindsight) excessively optimistic about the whole project. I started by experimenting with fabric from old t-shirts, but it soon became clear that, because we generally wear our clothes to destruction, I wasn’t going to have much joy taking this route… and in addition ordinary cotton t-shirts just don’t have the stretch required after they have been worn a lot. I quickly moved on to new fabric and that helped, but I hit two snags – my old sewing machine struggled with the zigzag stiches required and the original pattern I selected was not, in fact, as comfortable as I had hoped. The sewing machine problem was rectified by buying my lovely old Bernina, which has absolutely no problems with stretchy jersey fabric, elastic or zigzagging. The second problem turned out to be much more of a challenge.

The thing with underwear is that it’s very personal – both in terms of it being private, but also with respect to what each individual likes. Just because a design suits one person, does not mean that it will be right for another. Thus, personal recommendations are useless, apart from giving an indication of whether the pattern is well drafted. So, having decided that the original pattern I bought wasn’t right for me, I tried a kit – that was better and taught me quite a lot, but still wasn’t right. Then I tried a self-drafted pattern, using an old pair that I liked. Again, it was better, but still not exactly what I wanted. Finally, I bought another pattern and it turned out that this was “the one”.

It wasn’t just the pattern, though. The whole process of finding it meant I spent time experimenting with different sizing (don’t believe the patterns) fabrics and elastics. The latter was quite a learning experience, but I now have the skills and understanding to use stretch lace, fold-over elastic and various sorts of lingerie elastic. Width is an important characteristic of lingerie elastic – too narrow and it digs in, plus it’s really fiddly to work with, too wide and it’s uncomfortable around the legs. But, again, it’s very personal and really trial and error is the only way to find out what suits you. At one point I was making one pair of knickers one day, then wearing them the next day, so I could improve on the design the following day. As a result, even when I was very focused on getting it right, it wasn’t a process that could be rushed.

However, I have finally settled on a design that I like, fabric that I like and trimmings that I like. As a result I have been able to make a pile of new underwear that’s comfortable and functional. I can still wear some of the prototypes – they aren’t perfect, but they are acceptable. I’m sure that I could have learned some of the techniques more quickly and with less experimentation, but the process of working through different designs, materials and techniques has been very satisfying.

And now, at last, I can get on and make some clothes that other people will actually see!

-oOo-

Resources:

I got some great cotton lycra from TFG Fabrics; they also sell picot-edged elastic (although it’s not my favourite).

The Bra Shop stock a range of good lingerie elastic. I would avoid anything less than 10mm wide.

Flamingo Fabrics sell some colourful scalloped-edge elastic that’s nice to work with (the blue and red in the last picture came from them).

Minerva crafts are good for fold-over elastic and elasticated lace.

The first pattern I tried was from Scrundlewear – it didn’t suit me, but others rave about it

I had a go with a Flo-Jo Boutique stretch knicker-making kit bought from Cloth Kits which was ok but not perfect for me. There’s also a non-stretch version, which I didn’t try, plus Flo-Jo sell various sorts of elastic.

The pattern that I finally settled one was Kwik Sew K3881, available from various suppliers, but I bought mine from Minerva. It works with various sorts of elastic and there’s instructions for these included.

Supporting small

Over recent months many small businesses have found themselves in a precarious situation – unable to open shops, sell at markets – making it all the more important that we support them now to ensure their future existence. We Snails have done our very best to buy from small traders over the past 10 months and have managed to source the majority of our food that way – luckily in our part of the world there are many, many small food producers and an abundance of independent retailers. In addition, we’ve been able to access direct from some producers via the internet. I know that people who cannot go to the shops have found the big supermarkets to be a lifeline, but those of us who are able to shop locally can play our part in making sure that people in our community who have small businesses continue not only to survive, but to thrive. Plus, many of our local small businesses have gone the extra mile to support the vulnerable in our community – delivering emergency supplies at short notice, for example – something that you simply wouldn’t get from big companies. In addition, many small businesses, despite suffering themselves, have donated to local food banks and other charities supporting the needy.

Aside from shops that sell food, other retailers have found the last year even more of a challenge. Even well-established companies are being affected. I noticed that Baa Ram Ewe, producers of fabulous British wool (including the stuff I made my latest fingerless mittens out of), have had to resort to crowd funding to give their business a chance of surviving (here is the link). Whilst I have been at home, I have tried to make the majority of my on-line purchases of materials for making things from small, independent companies, but I also keep an eye open for very small enterprises who are crowdfunding. And this is how I came across Midwinter Yarns, who were trying to collect enough money to produce a Welsh wool to add to their range. They are based in Scotland, but have Welsh connections and their wool sounded lovely (you can read about it here, although their crowdfunder was successful and closed last summer).

My contribution was sufficient to receive six skeins of their hand-dyed yarn. The wool arrived a few weeks ago and so I needed to find a pattern that would be suitable for the amount of yarn available. Having gone out of my usual comfort zone and chosen a sludgy green colour (the photo on the left below is closest to the actual colour), I wanted to make something appropriate, which I think I found with Southern Pines by Dora Does.

It’s worked top down, all in one piece, so there’s no sewing up at the end. I had a bit of an issue early on in the pattern, but Michelle, the designer. was amazingly helpful, even though it turned out that the problem was me being dim rather than an issue with the pattern itself. It will have long (or at least 3/4) sleeves, and I’ll make the body as long as uses up all the yarn – this is one of the joys of top-down garments. I plan to make a skirt to wear with it out of some grey and white fabric I have with a design called “crop circles” (the fabric was from an independent on-line store, but more on that in a future post). So, a new outfit in hand all from small, businesses – long may they survive.

ScrapHappy January 2021

In mid-December I came across a lovely pattern that I just had to buy a copy of because it looked like a prefect way to use up some scraps. I optimistically thought that I would have it completed for Christmas, but it took much longer than that and so, I give you my New Year ScrapHappy Wreath. All the yarn was left over from other projects and there are some antique mother of pearl buttons nestled in there too. The ring it is constructed around was given to me by my mum years ago and has been sitting unused on a shelf ever since, awaiting inspiration. In fact, I didn’t follow the pattern exactly, and just used the elements that I wanted. Indeed, because I had a shaped ring already, my version is much more three-dimensional than the original, which is mounted on a cardboard ring.

In fact, it didn’t use up a lot of yarn, as each component is small, but it has certainly inspired me… I envisage making some collages and plan to start a box of small crocheted things made from scraps, to put together, perhaps in an old frame, when I have a large enough collection. In fact a rummage around has yielded a few crochet flowers left over from old projects, so I already have the beginnings.

-oOo-

I’ve been inspired to write this (and future) ScrapHappy posts by Kate,  Tall Tales from Chiconia. On the fifteenth of every month lots of folks often publish a ScrapHappy post, do check them out:

Kate (me!)Gun, TittiHeléneEvaSue, Nanette, Lynn, Lynda,
Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy, Debbierose, Tracy, Jill, Claire, Jan,
Moira, SandraLindaChrisNancyAlysKerryClaireJean,
Joanne, Jon, HayleyDawnGwen, Connie, Bekki, PaulineSue L,
Sunny and Kjerstin

If you fancy joining, contact Kate and she’ll add you to the list. It would be lovely to see more non-sewing posts, but any use of scraps is welcome.

A nose for the past

It’s often said that dogs live in the moment… that they don’t tend to bear a grudge, that the last thing they did is their focus. However, I’m beginning to think that it’s human beings who are so focused on the “latest thing” that they completely forget about what happened in the past – even the recent past. Ever since it was brought to my attention (by Terry Pratchett, in fact) that dogs can detect the history of a location because, unlike sight, smell can last for days, I have been intrigued about the idea. In the blink of an eye, our perception of a place or an incident is replaced by a new one, so it is all too easy for us to dismiss past experience because of the overwriting of it by our present perception. Not so if you are a dog. With smell as a much more important sense, life must be lived in a world of past and present – always being aware of incidents that have gone by, but have left their signature and evidence in the olfactory world.

Spaniels’ noses are very important to them

I’d love to be able to see the past…. for example when I pick up a discarded piece of crochet, realise that I removed the hook for another project and then wonder exactly which size it was. If I could just see the project in an earlier stage, I’d know exactly what hook to use to make progress. What a lot of time that would save

But can you imagine what this sort of overlaying of events from different times would do to our interpretation of the world? No longer would politicians be able to dismiss an incident with words, if we could still see a shadow of it for days or weeks or months to come. Our memories distort the past and unscrupulous, or even well-meaning, people can seek to take advantage. History, as they say, is written – or photographed, or painted, or sculpted – by the winners. What a different world we might live in could we see more than those inevitably biased descriptions. Just a thought.

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: