Saturday, 28 December 2013

News from Reno

Thats's reno as in renovation, not Reno as in Nevada!

When I last mentioned our study renovation, we had just knocked out a fireplace opening in the wall.

Quite a bit has happened since then. We have had all the old blown plaster removed, except the plaster cornice around the ceiling which our plasterer was able to preserve.

After that, he replastered the walls, and skimmed the ceiling.

 Then, a couple of weeks ago, we had a wood burning stove fitted.

We've been enjoying beautiful cosy fires in our as-yet undecorated room!

We have asked the joiner to make replacement skirting boards as some of the originals were missing, and other parts were wrecked when they were removed prior to replastering. Here is what it currently looks like. We have chosen paint, carpet and a new light fitting and will be spending some time over new year painting and decorating. It is really coming together.

Another small finished project is the reupholstering of our dining chairs. When mum changed her dining suite a couple of years ago she passed her antique chairs onto us. These are the chairs from my childhood home, but I have always hated the mustard coloured velvet seats which looked too much like the 1970s for my liking.

It has taken me a while to pluck up the courage to have them reupholstered in a style more to my liking, but now that that are done I love the mix of old and new. We used them for the first time in their new incarnation on Christmas Day.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

RIP Mr George

A few days after Mr Q and I got married, we went to the Freshfields Animal Centre north of Liverpool to find a couple of new additions for our family. We came away with Bonnie and Mr George - two beautiful black and white cats. For the last seven years, the four of us have lived together happily with plenty of love, laughter and quite a bit of attitude.

Sadly on Sunday evening, Mr George was taken very poorly and had to be rushed to the vet (luckily less than a 10 minute walk from our house). Although he seemed to improve a little on Monday morning, his heart was too weak to make it through the rest of the day and he passed away in the afternoon. Despite regular checkups, we had no idea that Georgie had a heart condition. It seems he was very like my father - able to hide it until it was too late :-(

Georgie was about 12 years old, but acted a lot younger. He had a huge range of meows and chirrups, and a habit of waking us up in the middle of the night for a cuddle. He was always around when fabric was around, and spent many hours "helping" in my sewing room - he was particularly good at arranging blocks for a quilt or testing a newly knitted garment for comfort. He would meet me on my way home from work everyday, sitting patiently under the hedge for me to arrive. He followed me around the house, trotting along with his tail in the air, and giving me furry headbutts at every opportunity. All this from a cat who wouldn't tolerate being picked up and fussed when we first met him.

You will leave a large cat-shaped hole in our lives, Georgie boy. We will miss you immeasurably.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Bags for a cause

My mum belongs to a quilting group which meets in Nelson, East Lancashire. Every other year they have an exhibition in a local church, with a craft sale and refreshments in the church hall. The exhibition was this weekend, and Mr Q and I have just been up to have a look and to treat my mum to lunch.

The church was a riot of colour with quilts hung along the aisles and draped over the pews. We found my mum demonstrating North Country Quilting (beautiful traditional hand quilting for the uninitiated) to interested visitors. We dragged her away for pie and peas, cake and tea, and a chat with some of the other members of the quilt group.

I've been busy over the last couple of weeks making fabric flower brooches and lots of bags for the craft stall and the bag tombola. Here's a selection of what I've made.

jewellery pouches in a range of fabrics

shoulder bags using the Phoebe Bag pattern from Rebekah Lambert

Proceeds from the exhibition will go to Pendleside Hospice. It was busy at the show today, so I hope they've managed to raise plenty of cash.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Hole in't wall

Since Mr Q and I moved into our house almost 7 years ago, most of our restoration efforts have been directed at making the place weatherproof and watertight. We've had a new roof, new windows, and a new front door along with a new boiler and central heating. We've done a little emergency decorating - who can live with a pink bath and a sage green bathroom carpet? Or a spare bedroom with metallic khaki wallpaper? - but on the whole we have coexisted with the 50s/60s decor that we inherited.

Although there are still a few external jobs that could be done, we've decided to turn our attention inside and start turning this place into our dream home. Phase 1 is the renovation of our study. It's quite a dark, north-facing room with a window that looks out onto the side return. With a cellar underneath, it gets pretty cold in the winter.

Here's what it looked like last Saturday morning...

Home to our computer, stereo, books, piano, guitars and other miscellaneous stuff, it is the one room that managed to escape my New Year possession cull!

Want a closer look at those wall lights?

Groovy, man!

A few hours later, and we'd emptied the room and ripped off some of the wallpaper...

We were looking to see if there was a bricked up fireplace behind the plaster. You can make out the brick arch at the top of the original opening in the next picture...

Half an hour with the sledgehammer and we'd made a bit of a dent!

At that point, we had to call it a day. Fast forward to this weekend when I spent most of yesterday with the sledgehammer and a shovel removing all the rubble from the original builders opening and throwing it into a skip. Once that was finished, we took the old carpet up too. I was so grimy at the end of the day that the water in the shower came off grey!

I can't believe the difference already. We're planning to install a wood burning stove, lay a plain new carpet and paint the walls. Exciting!

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Family ties

Mr Q and I are back from Australia where we've spent a little over three weeks visiting family and friends around Queensland. We managed to time our trip to coincide with Mr Q's nana's 95th birthday and our niece's 18th. We try to head back to Australia every couple of years so that Mr Q can catch up with everyone and reboot his Australianess. This usually involves eating plenty of prawns and tropical fruits. This time it also meant eating two years' worth of Golden Gaytimes and Weis Bars.

Mr Q eats the first of many Weis Bars
We also decided to taste-test the pies. Aussies are very proud of their meat pies, as are Wiganers. I have to admit (with some sadness) that the Beefy's pies we tried in Queensland beat any Wigan pie I've ever tasted hands down. However, the pies we sampled at the Gabba (where I witnessed my first Aussie rules match) weren't nearly as good as those we regularly eat at Wigan Athletic home games.

The best tasting pie
enjoying my first Aussie rules game (and not really understanding it)

As well as the aforementioned cultural phenomenon that is Australian rules football, I also managed to coax my mother-in-law down to Brisbane to see a quilt exhibition that was originally staged at the V&A in London. We both really enjoyed the quilts and the setting in the Queensland Art Gallery.

on our way to the quilt exhibition
the gallery cafe - tranquil and tasty!
In Mr Q's hometown of Maryborough, we spent some time tracking down the service records of some of his ancestors at the Military Museum, before a photo opportunity with Maryborough's most famous resident, Mary Poppins. It turns out that the author of Mary Poppins, P L Travers was born in the building (and perhaps even the room) where Mr Q's dad had his office for most of his working life!


We also spent time enjoying the scenery - walking on beaches, climbing Mt Cooroora where we had to compete with people practising for the annual King of the Mountain race, marvelling over rainbows and sunsets, and watching humpbacked whales frolic in the waves.

We also found some time to be a little bit silly and embarrass our young family members!

...clap clap clap clap... deep in the heart of Texas

posing with Percy the Pelican

We've been home a little over a week now, and we're both back at work. I feel in need of another holiday.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Somewhere over the rainbow

Before my new sewing machine appeared on the scene, I started putting this quilt top together. I really like chevron quilts, but wanted the look without the triangles, so drafted a simple pattern that used rectangles set on point instead. Simples. I also sized the blocks to efficiently use strips cut the width of the fabric. No waste. 
how simple are these blocks?
All the fabric in the rainbow array came from the remnant bins at Abakhan in Liverpool. It is possible that I stalk that place - spending (too) many lunch hours delving through their fabrics by the kilo to find the hidden treasures. I used 1/4 metre cuts of each colour along with 2 metres of background - that's a whole quilt top for around £20!

As usual, Mr George was VERY helpful in assisting with block arrangement. I don't know how I would manage without him.

I stitched the blocks using my Lily sewing machine in its last act before trade-in. The rows were sewn on my 25 year old machine, and I finally sewed the whole quilt top together on my brand spanking new, super-dooper machine. Three machines to make one quilt top - thank goodness for 1/4 inch presser foot which made the seam allowances just right on all three.

 That's another top to add to the growing pile that I need to quilt.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Out with the old. In with the new.

Last Saturday morning as I lay in bed planning my weekend, I realised that I wanted to buy a new sewing machine. It was not an idea that I'd been mulling over for a while. Instead the thought popped fully formed into my head. I was surprised. I've been very happy with my two machines - a Husqvarna Viking 190 that my parents gave me as an 18th birthday present, and a Husqvarna Viking Lily, that I'd bought in 2000 when I returned to the UK having lived in Oregon for three years. That was a kind of coming home present. This time, I have no such excuse.

I spent much of Sunday afternoon researching suitable machines and measuring up to check that whatever I picked would fit comfortably in my sewing machine cabinet. On Monday, I took the afternoon off work and headed up to Hobkirks in Blackburn with my trusty Lily in the boot of the car. A couple of hours of sewing machine test driving later, I'd traded in the Lily and bought a Husqvarna Viking Sapphire 875Q.

The machine was delivered on Tuesday afternoon, but I had to wait until I'd finished working before I could get inside the interesting looking box.

Bonnie waited patiently...

Still waiting...

Finally, I finished work, and was able to set up my amazing new machine. The biggest differences are the huge amount of space to the right of the needle which will make it much easier to deal with quilts and other bulky items like curtains, and the fact that it has no presser foot lever which is taking a  bit of getting used to.

first seam on the new machine

It also has more fancy stitches than you can shake a stick at. Some of them will be really useful - several buttonholes for different fabrics; a range of stitches that will be great for crazy quilting, and three alphabets that will be fantastic for creating quilt labels.

first bit of fancy sewing

One of the advantages of buying a Husqvarna Viking machine is that the specialist presser feet that I have collected over the years will fit this machine too. So, the next thing I tried was attaching the darning foot, dropping the feed dogs, and seeing how the automatic tension adjustment would cope with a little free motion quilting. I've got to tell you, I was impressed. The tension was perfect top and bottom.

I'm really looking forward to exploring everything this little beauty can do.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Tweedy granite and granite-y tweed

Donegal is well known for its tweed fabrics and yarns. And if you are a geologist, it is also famous for its granite. Every year I spend two weeks in Donegal, in the northwest of Ireland, teaching undergraduate students geological field techniques. Although very intensive and tiring, I love this class. It falls at the end of their second year, just before they head out on their own to complete 35 days of fieldwork that they write up as a dissertation. The best thing? Seeing a group of people turn from students to geologists before my eyes - it never gets old. Add to that, the fascinating geology, the beautiful scenery... it really is a great way to spend two weeks.

Dolmen near Ardara

some students studying the Ardara granite

For the last couple of years, I've managed to wangle myself a couple of hours off duty during the field class, and have spent the time happily browsing (and spending cash) at either the Donegal Craft Village  in Donegal Town or the Crafter's Basket in Cliffoney, County Sligo.

On my last trip, I spotted this beautiful Donegal Aran Tweed yarn in a shade reminiscent of the Ardara granite, which we get the students to study in some depth. I bought enough to knit a cardigan, although I didn't have an exact pattern in mind.

Donegal Aran Tweed - granite coloured!

After some time perusing Ravelry over Christmas, I noticed that a number of knitters were using their Donegal Aran Tweed to make a short-sleeve, cabled cardigan. I loved it. And the best bit? The name of the pattern - Ardara! Serendipity, or what?

Serendipity - the Ardara pattern with the Ardara granite coloured yarn

I cast on a couple of weeks ago. The cardi is knit in a single piece which means that there are A LOT of stitches making up each row. Even so, I have use up three and a half balls of yarn so far, that's more than a fifth of the cardigan knitted. I'm trying to knit a ball a week, which means that this little beauty should be ready to wear some time in the summer (but probably not before my next trip to its namesake in June).