Replacing kitchen worktops

Two and a half years ago we spruced up the kitchen by painting the varnished beech doors of the units and fitting new handles to them. Then last autumn we replaced the beech-effect plinths with gleaming white melamine-faced chipboard, leaving worktop replacement as the only major item on the kitchen to-do list. The coronavirus pandemic has delayed things somewhat – we had the new worksurfaces delivered just before the lockdown, but then we were unable to buy all the other bits and bobs we needed to do the job. Having two 3m lengths of heavy wooden worksurfaces laid out across the sitting room floor (the only downstairs room long enough) for several weeks wasn’t exactly convenient, but it did mean that we had plenty of time to give them repeated coats of linseed oil to protect them in use. They got 6 coats on both sides and all the edges before the bottle of oil we’ve had for donkey’s years ran out.

Replacing worktopsUnfortunately, I ricked my back early in the process, helping my dear husband to carry a worktop. He found a way to manhandle them without assistance after that, despite the fact they each weighed nearly 40kg. One corner of the kitchen has the built-in oven mounted at an angle on the worksurface, which means that whole oven unit had to be removed and replaced later, as did the cornice above it and a lot of ancillary stuff like the extract hood ductwork. And then holes had to be cut in each length of worktop for the hob and sink to slot in. All in all, a lot of work and I did almost none of it, being occupied with making visors and scrubs.

Now it’s all done and I’m very pleased with the result.

New worktops and plinthsWe just need to decide how to seal the new worktops to the tiled wall at the back. They are slightly thinner than the old chipboard worktops we bought from IKEA in 1995 – goodness knows how anyone could lift them if they were any thicker – which means we’ve had to put in extra grout beneath the bottom row of tiles, and that needs covering with something that will fill the small expansion gap at the back of the worksurface and hide the fact that the bottom grout line is thicker than the others. We’re testing a Polycell sealant strip to check it will stay stuck to oiled wood. So far, so good.

Sealed worktop tile gapThe old worktops are currently stacked in the garden, like a lot of other large rubbish items, because our local tip remains closed. Quite why is anyone’s guess, it’s not as if it’s busy except on sunny summer weekends when everyone is getting rid of gardening waste, and it should be easy to “socially distance” in a large outdoor space to which access can be controlled.

An unrepairable iron

All the scrubs sewing I’ve been doing has obviously overtaxed our iron because it failed the other day. I’m used to taking it apart whenever the flex wears through where it rubs on the edge of the ironing board, a few inches away from the iron. I buy a 3m length of heat-resistant flex of the appropriate rating and then just cut a few inches off it and re-make the connections every time it gets worn. By the time it becomes too short to use, it’s usually time for a new iron. But this time the flex was still plenty long enough, and sound. When I took the heel off the iron and checked the mains connections, they were too. I dismantled the whole thing, and found it was rather dusty inside, to put it mildly.

Inside iron before cleaningOften I find that electrical and even electronic equipment will magically start working again after a good clean, even when I haven’t been able to identify the fault.

Inside iron after cleaning

Clean, but still not working

This iron didn’t, unfortunately, so I set about testing it more throughly. I soon found that it was the heating element itself that had failed, not just a loose connection or the thermostat or rotary switch. With modern irons that is a death sentence, the elements aren’t made to be replaced and, even if they were, buying one and getting it delivered would almost certainly cost more than the £8 I paid for a new iron. Tracking one down was a challenge, given that most shops other than food shops are shut and my scrubs schedule didn’t allow for an internet purchase, but thankfully I was able to buy one in a supermarket as part of my regular shop. Now I have an old iron cluttering up the place too, until such time as the Council pulls its finger out and reopens all the waste disposal and recycling facilities.

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Corona – but not the virus

I finished the second of my pair of crocheted tray cloths last week, and I’ve subjected them both to a light bleaching to get rid of the fugitive dye. They are still brown rather than the pink that I know heavy bleaching of this yarn produces. I shall see how much colour leaks when they get their first wash and be ready with more bleach if necessary.

The knitting project that has replaced them is a Corona Capelet.

Corona capeletI’m doing fewer stitch repeats than the pattern calls for, partly because I’m using larger needles and partly because I don’t want a flat, circular capelet, rather something that fits more closely around the shoulders. The neckline is still somewhat wider than I would have liked, but I think I can live with it. As I’ll wear this over a sleeveless or short-sleeved top on summer evenings, something that fits tightly round the neck would probably be too warm.

Pink may blossom

Pink Hawthorne

Not only is the name of this pattern particularly appropriate at the current time, but the yarn is too. It’s Stylecraft’s Senses Lace in a colourway called Hawthorne, and the may blossom is at its peak now. Most Hawthorne trees are white, of course, but the pink may is especially pretty.

The yarn is a little more purple than the blossom, but the colour is lovely nevertheless.

Two lambsI’m really enjoying my permitted daily exercise at present, even if the local footpaths are busier than usual with other walkers. The roads have been busier too this week, after the government encouraged more businesses to open and people to go to work if they could do so safely. But once away from the roads, there are lambs gambolling in the fields, wild flowers everywhere and lots of tree blossom. The weather has been mostly dry for a couple of months now, which means there are no muddy, boggy patches underfoot. I am so thankful that I no longer have to commute by train to Leeds every day, I would hate to have to sit on a train surrounded by other people, wondering if any of them were infected. I used to get colds galore in the winter from my fellow passengers on those trains.

I’d much rather be admiring the may blossom and the beautiful Dales countryside.

White hawthorne

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Back to crochet, and DIY blocking pins

Yarny crafts have been neglected lately, while I’ve been sewing scrubs and face masks and 3D printing visors. But the washing machine mangled a crocheted tray cloth last weekend which means I need a replacement.

I’ve had this rather unattractive brown cotton yarn for years. Someone gave it to me after his wife died, along with some much prettier green and yellow Lyscordet that I used for granny-square tray cloths the Christmas before last. They have survived, I’m pleased to say, so I opted to make a pair of similar ones from the brown yarn which is somewhat thicker than Lyscordet.

Brown crocheted tray clothWell, the first one is done and it’s definitely a functional rather than a decorative piece of household linen. On the plus side, it won’t show coffee stains.

I tried bleaching a length of the yarn, in the hope that it would end up white or off-white. But it bleached to quite a pretty pink. I’m going to leave the tray cloth in its current state for now, at least I know it will look reasonably OK if I get fed up of brown and feel the need to get the bleach out.

I ought to be getting on with the second tray cloth, but I’ve developed project envy from seeing what other members of my knitting group are working on during this period of lockdown. We now have a WhatsApp group to share photos and advice, and it’s actually working very well although it’s no real substitute for our usual weekly get-togethers to catch up on local news (and gossip), drink coffee, squidge and stroke each other’s latest yarn purchases and admire everyone’s works-in-progress. After my unsuccessful poncho test I spent some time working on a revised design with allover lace, but making PPE and doing my fair share of our maker group’s admin and deliveries is taking up too much time to progress it at present.

Instead, I had another search on Ravelry the other day and I think I’ve found a pattern that will work for the two balls of Senses Lace I want to turn into a poncho. It’s called – coincidentally in this time of coronavirus – the Corona Capelet. As soon as I get chance I will cast on.

DIY blocking pins

While I’m giving house room to a borrowed 3D printer in order to make visor headbands, it seemed like a good opportunity to try making a few things I’ve had in mind for a while. One of them is blocking pins of the comb type, ie an array of pins in a straight line that can be used to pin out the edge of a piece of knitting on a blocking mat more quickly, and evenly, than using individual pins. The ones made by Knitter’s Pride were my model.

Pins for blockersI have a mixed bag of pins in my pincushion, but I seldom use anything other than the glass-headed ones. The plain ones are mostly quite rusty just under their heads, where they protrude from the pincushion. It struck me that I could use these pins held in a custom-made holder to create blocking pins, and the rusty area would be hidden within the holder.

The first thing I did was have a look on Thingiverse to see if anyone had had the same idea and put up a design. Thingiverse is a wonderful site of free digital models for 3D printing and/or laser-cutting. It has a lot of craft-related models, probably because people who enjoy crafting are often often into digital design nowadays too, but alas I could find no blocking aids. That may be because blocking pins of the comb type, such as those I wanted to make from ordinary dressmaking pins, would need to be designed to suit the precise dimensions of the pins. So I set about doing just that.

Model of blocker parts

The model

The problem was that it’s hard to measure dressmaking pins accurately without a micrometer or Vernier calliper, and I have neither. I wanted to make the 3D-printed, 2-part “carrier” so that the pins would be a tight fit in it and not wobble about in use. I had no choice but to use a suck-it-and-see approach and design the carrier with undersized holes to take the shaft and head of the pin, then drill them out if necessary. It did prove to be necessary, but I was quite pleased with my first attempt. The pins are fed through holes in the lower part then held in place by the upper part, the two being stuck together with superglue.

Prototype blocking pinI printed it less tall than the actual design, to avoid wasting filament if it didn’t work. The proper, deeper version will hold the shafts of the pins more firmly and make it easier to get them all parallel. Now I just need to make a few more before the second tray cloth is ready to block.

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A sewing machine cover

As I’m sewing most days at the moment, I’ve made a fabric cover for my sewing machine, to avoid the need to keep putting it away in its carrying case. I found I was leaving it out all evening and overnight, knowing I’d be using it to make scrubs again the next day, and that’s not ideal because dust can then fall through the gaps in the case.

Sewing machine coverI’ve re-purposed an old curtain that was in our bedroom until we redecorated in 2017, made from a Sandersons linen union I bought soon after we moved in in the mid 80s. It’s a testament to the quality of the fabric that the parts of the curtain away from the sun-bleached opening edge are still sound despite three decades hanging in a south-facing window.

Bottle cap pincushion

Bottle top mini-pincushion

The cover is very simple – no lining, padding or stiffening, just a long pocket to take the Bernina’s clip-on sewing platform so that the overall package is as small as it can be. It’s tall enough to cope with a reel of thread left on the top and my mini pincushion made from a bottle top which is attached with a Velcro dot. I love these pincushions, they’re so useful and practical. I learnt to make them from a tutorial on Jen Segrest’s (aka VeryBigJen) website years ago. It seems to have disappeared now, but she created a Bottle cap pincushion Instructable which shows the basic technique and then you can draw inspiration for embellishments from her Facebook page.

Face masksI’ve also been making some face masks from scrubs leftovers and other fabric scraps. At present the UK government isn’t recommending that they should be worn outside of clinical settings, but that may change as our lockdown is relaxed. Also, some of the domicilliary care providers we’ve given face visors and scrubs to have requested them, for their service users. The carers themselves are protected by wearing full PPE when looking after anyone who has the coronavirus, but some of the elderly service users have an unfounded fear that their positive status means they are presenting a risk to their carers, and are asking for masks that they can wear while there is a carer in their house. So masks that don’t necessarily afford any protection are required, they are just to provide some comfort.

The pattern I’m using is from Craft Passion. It comes in several different sizes and with an option to insert a removable filter. I find that this shape fits me a lot better than the flat, pleated type. The only change I’ve made is that I’m stitching the elastic onto the mask instead of having a loop in a casing for each ear, because it uses less.

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Pink PJs

Seeing as I have my sewing machine in use every day to make scrubs, I’ve had no excuse but to get on with making the PJ bottoms I’ve been intending to sew ever since I made a nightie last month. The nightie has dolman sleeves which means there was a lot of wasted fabric under where the sleeves were cut out. Now, I hate waste, and I needed a new pair of pyjama bottoms after an old pair ripped across one buttock, the fabric was so threadbare.

Making a PJ patternI started by unpicking the waist casing and crotch seam of the old pyjamas, then the seams of the leg that hadn’t ripped. I pressed the pieces flat and drew round them to create paper patterns for front and back, lengthening the leg at the same time – the original PJ bottoms were cropped.

Pink jersey pyjama bottomsI had just enough of the pink jersey fabric to cut out the pieces for a new pair of bottoms, and they were soon made. I’ll be wearing them with the old PJ top which still has – ooh – I reckon five years’ life left in it.

After all this sewing, my trusty old Bernina is in need of some TLC. I’ve found a servicing manual online for a model that is similar, and I’m going to give it a go when the scrubs pressure eases off a little. There’s certainly no hope of getting it to a dealer any time soon,

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An unsatisfactory trial

I’ve completed the trial knit I was doing for a summery cowl/poncho with Shetland lace stitches. It’s in a cheap, synthetic yarn that will pull out easily, which is just as well because I’m not happy with it. I certainly won’t be knitting it in the Senses Lace I was planning to use – not that that is a quality yarn either, but it’s nicer than the yarn I’ve used for the test.

Shetland style ponchoI used some of the stitch patterns I’ve used in the past to make mohair scarves, but I don’t like the large gaps between the motifs.  I need to revise my design to have more of an all-over lace pattern. But at least this test knit allows me to check the shape is right – which it is, more or less.

Apart from that, I’m still sewing scrubs for local medics and care providers. My small group has produced more than 40 sets in not much more than a fortnight, and we have a similar number in production. Obtaining fabric is proving difficult, but the care providers don’t need a totally opaque fabric because they wear the scrubs over their existing uniforms. We have some white and ivory cotton on order which should enable us to keep sewing. The demand is definitely there with multiple Covid-19 deaths in some local care homes.

Detail showing back and side pocketsI’m trying to churn out scrubs quickly, but I find it hard to cut corners. My topstitching on the pockets still has to be perfect. I hope the wearers appreciate it. It’s nice to wear a beautifully made garment though, isn’t it?

The pattern we are using has been made available free of charge by Sew Different. You just have to download the PDF and then print it out on lots of A4 sheets and stick them together. I’ve made a few changes, principally replacing the elasticated waist with a tape in a casing that can be tied. These are unisex garments, so I figure a man who wears size Large will have a very different waist measurement from a woman who takes the same size, and sewn-in, non-adjustable elastic is either going to be too loose or uncomfortably tight. Also, the scrubs will be washed frequently at 60ºC, which won’t do elastic a lot of good.

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