Monday, 31 January 2011

A temporary return to normality

I'm feeling a little disorientated today, as for the first time in over two weeks I have not put on threadbare, paint and glue splattered clothes and traipsed across the road, but have spent the whole day in our own house, doing the things I normally do!  

 Miss U-t-B and her boyfriend have now moved into the flat across the road, though they are having to put up with the fact that the kitchen isn't finished and that, although the new boiler is making it nice and toasty-warm for them, it has decided not to let them have any hot water!  Good thing Dad's next door for showering facilities!

So back to normal.  First of all I tackled an enormous pile of ironing, whilst I caught up with 'Lark Rise to Candleford'.  I do love Twister and Queenie, and so hope that Dorcas finally finds love (even though I'm sure no such thing happened in the book!) Ironing done,  I then felt justified in returning to the Snapdragon Quilt. When I last did any work on it, it looked like this... 

Today I added a plain and pieced border, so it now looks like this...

Sorry about the quality of the photo and the hopeless colours - Mr U-t-B has 'sloped off' for the weekend, with the decent camera.!  I am quite pleased with it, though I need to improve my ability to stitch a 100% accurate 'scant quarter of an inch' seam at all times. My measurements are a wee bit out, and therefore the block border is off at the corners (which, you may have spotted, I have squeezed out of the photo!)  Live and learn!

I also made a big batch of watercress soup, as everyone here loves it, and as the newbies across the road are without any cooking facilities, it's a useful standby.  It always looks so lovely and green - you just know it's doing you good!

Then I put a load of dried fruit to soak in tea, to make a couple of 'guilt-free' teabreads (no fat or eggs - though we won't think about the sugar!) one to welcome Mr U-t-B home tomorrow, the other in case the kitchen-less ones need a small smackerel of something tasty.

The smell of those is currently wafting up the stairs to the attic office so it must be nearly time to take them out of the oven! A spot of tea perhaps?

With Mr U-t-B back tomorrow, I guess I will have to get back to the scrubby clothes and join in with the final push to finish the kitchen,  But at least today has been an oasis of calm in the middle of the renovations!

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

It's eight o'clock in the evening...

...And Mr Nick Knowles is on the telly, doing DIY SOS.

Doesn't he know he's meant to be doing up the flat over the road with me?

And to add insult to injury, the boiler has now turned up its toes and keeled over, never to be resurrected, and we have to replace it! 

 PS: We did at least get a better quote.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Where, oh where, is Nick Knowles when you need him?

We are feeling a teensy-weensy bit bogged down.  

Well, I say 'we' but actually Mr U-t-B is being relentlessly positive and optimistic, in spite of rather too many evenings DIYing or driving home from IKEA till way past a sensible person's bedtime.  The flat decorating, especially the kitchen, seems to be taking forever.  I know that in actual fact it has only been ten days, but...

Capable though my husband is, I think even he would be really delighted if Mr Knowles and the DIY SOS crew...

...just appeared (minus the TV crew) and said, 'Well, you've been working very hard at this, and it's all looking pretty fantastic, but could you use a few extra pairs of hands to finish the job?'  At which point, we would weakly mutter 'Yes' and put the kettle on to keep them supplied with hot drinks.  I could even bake a cake or two - though actually I'd probably find that the middle Miss U-t-B would be happy to oblige on that front, in the hope that Nick would be suitably impressed. (It seems that his appeal encompasses more than my own age group!)

But as all this is unlikely to come to pass, and as I can't do anything this afternoon as I'm waiting for new plaster to dry out, I will try and regain my own positive, 'Can-do' approach by sharing progress so far here!

 This (above, boring, with blu-tak splattered brickwork) has become this...

A feature wall - a good way to hide the less than perfect paint finish underneath.
Sadly, the wall directly opposite this has gone from this...

'A lick of paint will sort it', to this...

'Help!  We need a plasterer!'  

(Good thing that's a hat that fits Mr U-t-B's head!)

On a more positive front, this grubby corner, whose skirting board had been lost to rot...

...has been stripped back and treated and now looks like this...

It's actually a nice stoney, mocha type colour, not the grey it looks here.
We're going to build a tall but narrow (because the radiator and bedroom door are in the way) cupboard in the back to create a bit of storage and hide the fuse box thingy.  We got bargain doors for a tenner a piece at IKEA last week!

The chimney breast in this bedroom held a secret which was revealed when I took that yucky grille off to do a 'proper' job painting the wall - a dead bird! Oh er...To prove I am a proper grown-up now, I removed it myself, even though Miss U-t-B's boyfriend did the gentlemanly thing and offered!

This room was awash with blu-tak stains and numerous holes in the walls, plus it was a rather mustardy colour - not quite the ticket.  We had to paint it with stain covering paint first, and then 'Aged White' plus a feature wall of a lovely linen-textured wallpaper.

The enormous bay window has been cleaned (something that didn't appear to have been done for the last several years - I'm not that house-proud, but mould on the glass -yeuk!), sanded and painted.  All that's missing are the right hooks to hang the curtains - they are proving rather elusive.

In the kitchen, which looks strangely quite nice in this photo, but really wasn't, this...

 ...became this...

And this...

...became this...

... which is going to be an 'interesting feature'.  We thought the new boiler might get hidden in here, but after finding out that the old one is fixable, and getting a quote for just shy of three and a half K for a new one, and being told that the boiler couldn't go in there anyway, 'interesting feature' it will be.  More plastering for you-know-who.

We finally got started on putting in the kitchen units on Sunday late afternoon, after a few minor skirmishes with the 'easy, click together' flooring.

Miss U-t-B is very good at putting together flat-packs, so she had got most of them ready last week, which is speeding things up enormously (thank heavens).

Tonight four more units need to go in, but there are a few pipes to be taken into consideration, so a bit of hacking into all that MDF before we see a complete run of units. As Friday is moving day, we need to get a wriggle on!

Who's got some matchsticks?  I think I need them for my eyelids...

Friday, 21 January 2011


Busy times mean that the only way I was going to make some progress with the quilt was to 'seize the day' when I found myself awake at five am and get on with it in the lovely calm of the early morning.

So now the quilt looks like this...

There are a couple of bits I would do differently next time, such as trying not to use the strips with the obvious stripe to them.  

Next stop, borders.

Not much chance of that this weekend though, as we have a kitchen to fit in the flat my step-daughter is moving into.  Mr U-t-B is very confident that it will go smoothly, but with the discovery late last night that the boiler is leaking, I think we may be held up by that needing sorting (replacing?)  And if it does need to be replaced, it will mean that my design could have been much more straightforward, as we would put the boiler in a more suitable place to free up floor space.

Off to phone the British Gas people!

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Snapdragon Quilt - Day Three

No visible progress today!  

So instead a peep at a very nice magazine I slipped into the trolley at the hypermarket when we were in France.

Love the little birdhouse!
I love red embroidery on natural linen
There are lots of lovely designs in it, complete with charts, and the language isn't really a barrier.

Definitely worth looking for if you're ever in France! 

Snapdragon Quilt - Day Two

Thanks to two sneaky half-hours yesterday, the rest of the snowball squares are done.

A bit of reducing bulk and thread trimming required today, then I can piece the nine-patch and snowball squares together.  Might just achieve this today in spite of being at work!

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Snapdragon Quilt - Day One

Thought I'd show progress so far.  When books say that something is quick to make, I never really believe it, but this is what I've done so far, with just an evening's on-off sewing (some bits of 'One Born Every Minute' being too watchable to miss - makes me laugh and cry!) and about an hour squeezed in today between more pressing jobs.  I think it's pretty fast progress...

Hidden in the piles are all 18 nine-patch blocks, 5 of the 17 snowball blocks, a few short strips to go towards the border and all the cut squares for the rest of the snowballs.  Boo hiss I'm working tomorrow, but I'll try to squeeze a bit more in all the same.

Oh!  PS  Did you read this story today!

Lovely news, but I have to say that if I was the generous woman who had gone through all that, I don't think I'd be pleased to be called 'our gestational carrier'!  Sounds like some kind of futuristic robot!

Monday, 17 January 2011

A Pause in Proceedings

Well, I don't know if it was the charity tin-shaker (see previous post) who jinxed me, but today I really do feel like the old lady he took me for.  My back, knees, elbows and some of my fingers are complaining with almost every move, so I've decided to take the day off from any further decorating and pursue something a less energetic.  I think it was all the clambering on and off the platform and stepladder for wallpapering and painting duties, plus scraping peeling paint off walls that did it!

Remember this book which I was given for Christmas?

From the very talented Pam and Nicky Lintott, of The Quilt Room blog  or The Quilt Room shop.

Well, last week I received a very nice parcel in the post...

...a Moda jelly roll - 'Lumière de Noël'.  

Sorry about the slightly fuzzy photos - gloomy days and our camera don't mix well.  I got this roll (which not many stockists seemed to have) from Pollyanna Patchwork, by post, and a very quick service it was!  

In spite of its name, it's not overly Christmassy, which would feel all WRONG now, but the warm tones will be great to work with just now.  

I chose the quilts I would like to create.  The reason the book is called 'Two From One Jelly Roll Quilts' is that each section details how to make two small quilts from one jelly roll (obvious really!).  Being an indecisive sort, I have chosen quilts from different sections, but this is still achievable, as one uses 20 strips, and the other 16.

Here are the ones I've chosen...

The Snapdragon Quilt

 The Jigsaw Quilt

I have pondered the strips in my roll and split them up following the instructions for each quilt..

Now all I have to do is decide which one to begin with, and get cutting, then stitching!

I will keep you updated on how things are progressing!

Saturday, 15 January 2011

How to win friends and influence people

Or not, as the case may be...

I've been a tad busy this week, mostly decorating the flat that Mr U-t-B's eldest daughter is about to move into.  It's a long story, but the flat happens to be next door, which is rather convenient.


This morning I needed some paint stripper, some scraper blades, a ventilation grille and a couple of tins of paint, so I headed off to the local Homebase.  I made an effort - changed out of my paint splattered clothing, put a bit of mascara on, brushed my hair, wore my nice olive-green coat and boots with a bit of heel.  You know - I looked presentable (and pretty much how I do every day).

I had a very pleasant browse amongst all that Homebase had to offer and left the till with just what I'd set out to buy (always an achievement) plus a couple of colour chart books and a sample of wallpaper. 

With two large tins of paint in one hand and the bag with the rest in the other, when I saw the man shaking the charity tin at the door, I muttered an apology about not having any cash handy, then suddenly remembered I had a coin in my coat pocket from using a B and Q trolley.  So I turned on my heels and told the man I had a coin lurking somewhere deep in my pocket.

I proceeded to rummage fruitlessly for a moment or two, then, just as I pulled the coin from the receipt- and shopping-list-filled pocket and dropped it into his tin, he said:

"Secret pocket, eh?  Is that where you keep things to hide them from the grandchildren?"

 Luckily for him, it took a few moments for his words to register, otherwise he might have got a sharp kick in the shin!  

PS  I do know that lots of grandmothers these days are extremely glamorous and that one can easily and legally be one around the age of 32 (mind you, I am quite a few years on from that), but I bet the glamorous 32 year old grandmas don't have complete strangers assuming they have grandchildren!

Monday, 10 January 2011

A Knotty Problem

More years ago than I care to remember, when I was in what used to be called 4th Year Junior with Mr Pitson and Mrs Twyman, we 'did' the Victorians.  Aside from studying the pages of our fab Unstead history book...

... we were each allowed to choose our own Victorian-related project.  I became completely absorbed in embroidering a sampler of sorts, using my Mum's old chocolate box full of threads and a small blue Anchor booklet of stitches. 

I know I managed to master chain stitch, as I used it for my whole name (all 23 letters of it) in a rainbow of colours . I also used stem and satin stitch, though I remember lots of unsatisfied unpickings with these.  But the stitch that was a yearned-for mystery to me was the French Knot.  I would read the instructions and follow the diagrams, but with every attempt I would watch my 'knot' transform itself from the nubbly bobble it was meant to be into a plain and simple running stitch!

And so it continued for year upon year.  In the end I learnt to do something that looked quite a lot like a French Knot. But I knew it wasn't the real thing, looking a bit too 
sausage-like, not a perfect rosy circle.

Finally, just before Christmas, I decided to call upon the magic of the internet in a last ditch attempt to learn where I was going wrong.  And through the wonder that is Google, I stumbled upon the brilliant 'Stitch School', with an oh-so perfect posy of French Knotted flowers as its logo.

I followed the photographic instructions - you can find them here.

And lo and behold!  It worked!

Rosy roses at last!

Friday, 7 January 2011

The Longest Christmas Ever and a Return to Stitching

Having begun our family Christmas celebrations on December 10th,
 we finally concluded matters on the evening of the 5th January with a big present exchange!  This wasn't in an attempt to be alternative, but just because two of the offspring were abroad for Christmas and this was the first chance we had to all get together.

So the night before last (and because ripping, not dainty unpeeling, was the order of the day) this was the scene in our sitting room...

With lots of happy squeals and exciting presents!

For me, a bit of Hugh, plus some X-Factor related music, some delicious smelling Molton Brown and Lush goodies, a Jodi Piccoult and a half-share in Kevin McCloud's 43 Principles of HOME (good thing it's only a half-share - it's such a weighty tome I might need help to lift it!)

I like Principle 38.

"Buy some tools and learn how to mend things. Learn to repair, to polish, stitch, paint and refinish.  Repair and reuse what you own and invent new uses for things."

The 'Used-to-Bees' principle, no less!

Along with pressies from Christmas Day itself...

My lovely and much worn felt hat from Hyde Park Christmas Market
Because Miss U-t-B's knows how much I love University Challenge
Can't wait to get started on a project from here...
Lots of lovely ideas in here!
And the prettiest of coffee cups!
What a lucky girl I am!

So that was Christmas!  It's all packed away now, so the house looks a little bare and forlorn, especially given the grey and miserable rainy weather. Never mind - I've got those books to lead me into new and exciting projects!

So the return to stitching!  For that I need to go back in time, to earlier in the day of the 5th.  Did you spot the vintage gondola basket in the corner of the first photo?

 This was one of my 'bright' and 'that'll be quick' present ideas.  You can probably guess from the inverted commas how it turned out...

I began bright and early in the morning with a selection of 4 half metre lengths of Cath Kidston fabric and an old woollen Witney blanket (for cosy lining).  The idea was to make 6 pairs of guest slippers for the girlfriend of Mr U-t-B's son, who is mad about CK and has just moved into a house with chilly floors!  

I was using a pattern, but couldn't find any reference to whether it had seam allowances included, and seemed unable to engage my brain in the bleary early morning to make a sensible decision about this based on the size of my own foot.  I zoomed ahead and cut out a pair from each fabric.

So all morning I toiled happily.  

How sweet and DAINTY they looked...

Slippers fit for a Jane Austen heroine, I was thinking.

Hmmm...Even the men's version (my own pattern) look rather , dare I say it, small...

And with my (grubby- sorry) slipper beside them the full truth dawned. The pattern obviously didn't have a seam allowance.

So I made a new pattern and started over, on just two pairs this time!

By about six o'clock (offspring due at seven), the gondola basket contained three pairs of slippers, only one of which will fit adult guests, and my ironing board was littered with the detritus - two more nearly-finished pairs for children (or Jane Austen heroines) and one enormous pair that would do well for the Incredible Hulk.

Good thing the recipient is a lovely girl, who appreciated the effort and is happy to wait for the remaining pairs, once I've made them!

So back to the sewing machine!