The Lost Gardens of Heligan

We spent last week in Cornwall, the first nights we’ve spent away from home since All This Began in March last year. We saw three sets of friends/family in total by spending a night en route in each direction, and it was very good to see people we don’t live within 10 miles of for a change.

On a lovely, sunny day we visited the Lost Gardens of Heligan, somewhere I’ve been wanting to see since it opened in 1992. There was a glorious harvest festival display of produce in one area, but little sign of autumn in the gardens themselves. The old trees were looking magnificent …

… but my favourite area by far was the Jungle. It has its own microclimate which allows relatively tender plants to flourish here which wouldn’t survive elsewhere in the gardens, and certainly not in Yorkshire.

I loved the rope bridge across the Jungle’s steep valley, and the place was quiet enough for me to have it almost to myself.

Heligan rope bridge

But there were plenty of interesting spots in the rest of the gardens too.

We took a grieving dog with us, whose 13-year-old companion had had to be euthanised a couple of days earlier. She enjoyed her lengthy walk and meeting all the other dogs so much that she started acting like her old self again and forgetting to look around for her missing canine friend.

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The latest light shade

There’s something about light shades. I see them as an opportunity to introduce a sculptural element into home décor while still being functional. (Being an engineer, I disagree somewhat with the famous William Morris quotation: I prefer to fill my house with things that are both useful and beautiful.) And the fact that illumination is involved makes it all the better, somehow.

Plywood light shade

This time a couple of years ago I was working on a light shade design for the pendant fitting at the top of our staircase and learning how to use the CAD/CAM software Fusion 360 in the process. The end result was this shade based on a 60-sided polyhedron, and it continues to make me happy whenever I see it lit up. Should you wish to make an identical one, or just something like it, all is explained in my Instructable, Polyhedron Light Shade.

Old cane light shade
This must go

There’s a second pendant light on our landing and, I’m ashamed to say, it still has the same shade that the previous owners left behind in 1986.

It’s made of a woven cane and very dated. I don’t much like it, but we’ve never got around to changing it.

I’ve been working on a replacement. I could have just made another of the polyhedron ones, but where’s the fun in that? And this light is round the corner from the top of the stairs so you can’t see them both at once. I felt that something less tall than a 38cm globe was sensible, given that it doesn’t have the ceiling height of a top-of-the-stairs light.

I started playing around with torus (doughnut) shapes and discovered that, hidden within every ring torus are oblique circles called Villarceau circles (after the mathematician of the same name) in addition to the move obvious circles that define the cross section of the torus and its overall diameter. It’s explained  very neatly in Wikipedia’s Villarceau Circles article. This discovery opened up the possibility of creating a torus shape in a more interesting way than simply cutting a bunch of cross section circles and arranging them in a ring of the right diameter.

I squashed my doughnut to stop it from being too tall, which makes my Villarceau circles into ovals. I used the design software to explore how to form a torus from the crescents created by overlapping Villarceau ovals, and how many such crescents would best give enough bulb coverage to prevent glare while still allowing plenty of light to escape. The first attempt, rendered using Fusion 360, I reckoned was too squashed.

Rendered image of squashed torus light shade

I settled on a more moderate degree of squashing with 5 crescents sloping to the right and 5 to the left. Each one intersects with 5 of the other variety, at 3 different angles, which means the slots by which they fit together have to vary in thickness from a narrow one in the middle to the widest ones near the tips.

Well, it’s all very well designing something but sooner or later you have to find out whether it’s actually buildable. Having modelled it to suit the 1.5mm thick plywood I want to build it from eventually, I then re-sized the slots to suit some thicker corrugated cardboard I retrieved from a large wheelie bin outside a convenience store.

Corrugated cardboard isn’t an ideal material for laser cutting, it can catch fire very readily and the burning isn’t obvious if it’s within the layers. I watched it like a hawk with one finger on the pause button and a damp cloth in the other hand, which I did need to deploy a couple of times. The end result was that several of the 10 crescents were slightly charred in places, but good enough to use.

Corrugated cardboard trial

Assembly was a nightmare, especially by the time I’d got 7 or 8 of the crescents slotted into place. I’d taken the precaution of orienting the corrugations to give a little flexibility in the tip-to-tip direction where it’s most needed when trying to interlock each crescent with its 5 neighbours. I don’t think you could build this from a completely stiff sheet material. Fortunately, my plywood is also slightly bendy in one direction.

Rendered image of final torus shade design

This does seem to have worked and, holding it up near the existing light, it looks to be a suitable size and shape.

I still need to decide how best to suspend the shade from a pendant fitting but I have the confidence to go ahead and cut the real thing from plywood now.

It should look something like this rendered image when I do.

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Autumn is here

The weather has turned, big-time. One minute it was still relatively warm and sunny, the next it has become cold, dark, wet and windy. We have turned the heating on and it feels right to be knitting a woollen sweater.

Talking of heating, I don’t know who our energy supplier is at the moment. Why? The rise in wholesale gas prices in the last few months has driven a number of smaller UK suppliers into insolvency with more expected to fall over in the next few weeks. Our cheap, fixed-price contract with such a supplier ended in mid September so, a couple of weeks before that, I signed us up for a new deal with another company. Unfortunately, both company no.1 and company no.2 went bust in the changeover period and, although alternative suppliers have now taken over their customers, I don’t know whether the transfer of supply actually took place. The successor of company no.1 was certainly supplying us for a week, until the date when company no.2 was due to take over, but I’m waiting to hear from the successor of company no.2 as to whether it is now our supplier. Since at least 2 of these four companies owe us money – our account with company no.1 was in credit and company no.2 had taken the first payment in advance of the contract start date – this is going to take a while to sort out.

Yellow jacket

The Yellow Peril advances. I’ve knitted the back and both fronts, joined the shoulders and am now knitting the collar. I’ll stop when the front opening, from hem to collar edge, measures the same as my open-ended zip.

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The yellow peril

Finished passover hat

In a moment of madness I bought a kilogramme of acid yellow merino DK at a show in 2018. I made this hat from a little of it, for my SIL who wanted to make sure she would be seen by traffic when walking narrow country lanes. The yarn was being sold very cheaply for such lovely, soft, machine-washable merino – I think I know why. The colour is startling, like a hi-vis jacket. Which is what I’ve called my current project using the yarn on Ravelry.

Blue zipped jacket

I’m copying some of the elements of a bought cardigan with a zip up the front. I’ve had it for 15 years or so and it’s worn out, but I do like the shape, especially the front princess-line shaping. I’m basically making it up as I go. I can’t just count the stitches and rows in the original garment because it’s made in a thicker yarn and the tension is quite different. I’m on the second front at the moment and able to relax a bit because all I have to do is reverse the shapings from the first front.

My yellow-peril version has a different hem to the body and cuffs. I’ve gone for a folded-over hem because I thought the soft merino needed something more substantial than either the narrow hem on the original or a simple ribbed welt.

Start of bright yellow jacket

As a consequence I’ll have to use an applied I-cord up the opening edges to hide the zip rather than the integral I-cord edge I was planning – it would have been too bulky to double the I-cord edge along with the rest of the hem. Actually, this should give a better result at the top of the garment too, because I can apply the I-cord all the way up the opening edges, collar and all, after picking up stitches round the neck and working the ribbed collar.

Getting an open-ended zip for this wasn’t easy, and I’ve had to settle for one that’s not a great colour match. Hopefully a chunky I-cord on 4 or 5 stitches will cover it well.

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A leather glasses case

The spring that kept my glasses case closed broke the other day. It’s a cheap case that came with my distance glasses and I’m surprised it’s lasted as long as it has, I must open and close that case many times a day. I know from past experience that there’s no point trying to mend it, because to get at the hinge and its spring involves removing the stuck-in plastic liner, and it will just break. In fact, it’s already cracked and broken in places.

Instead, I searched for a glasses case I could make and I came across these “groovy cases” from Spencer Ogg Sewing Patterns. The smaller glasses case looked the right size and seemed quite simple to make. I thought the cases had been made in leather but they’re vinyl.

Offcuts of leather

Undaunted, I decided to use some leather from a big bag of dark blue scraps I bought from the Cone Exchange at the last Harrogate Knitting and Stitching Show, nearly two years ago now. The Cone Exchange is in Harrogate too and, like Scraptastic in Shipley and the Scrap Store in Farsley, it sells waste from local businesses that would otherwise be disposed of. I went to Scraptastic earlier this month and came away with a bag of assorted goodies – envelopes, syringes, yarn, more leather offcuts, webbing, you name it. We’re very lucky to have three such places within easy reach. But I digress.

The blue leather scraps have a lot of markings on them. I tried brushing them off and polishing them off, but they stayed stubbornly put. Then I tried a damp cloth which almost removed them entirely. The leather was also rather creased from having been left in a bag for so long, but ironing it (cool, with a sheet of greaseproof paper between it and the iron) improved things dramatically. I found an offcut that was just big enough and set to work.

I didn’t have any fusible fleece so I just tacked ordinary polyester wadding to the lining and only removed the tacking right at the end. For the lining I used a square of Liberty furnishing fabric, cut to go into pattern books and bought from Liberty’s former mill shop in Lancashire, that I’ve had for over 25 years. I bought enough squares in this same pattern to piece together to make a double bed-sized quilt, then decided the fabric wasn’t suitable. I’ve used the squares for all sorts of things over the years and I still have quite a few left.

Sewing through all of the layers at either end of the front opening edge was too much for my machine, even with a walking foot. It skipped a few stitches in the thickest areas and I had to tidy the topstitching up by hand afterwards. I was planning to use one of my new plastic poppers as the closure but in the end I went with a magnetic fastener as recommended and I’m glad I did.

Navy leather glasses case open

When I’d finished the case I polished the leather outer with navy shoe polish, being very careful to keep it off the lining. The polish removed, or possibly just disguised, the residual marking pen lines and also made the creases a lot less obvious. The end result is surprisingly professional.

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Plastic poppers and more on the constellation coasters

I’ve wanted a reason to buy a set of pliers-inserted plastic press studs for some time. I’ve had plastic popper envy ever since I made some lingerie-washing bags using the instructions on the Inspired Wren blog. Not having the kit, I fastened all my bags – one per pair of hand-knitted socks in the household – with traditional sew-on metal press studs or popper tape. But it would have been nice to use the plastic ones in colours that matched the fabric, and far quicker than hand sewing them on or machining on the tape.

Plastic press studs kit

Well, eBay must have thought I’d forgotten them because they gave me a £5 voucher out of the blue a couple of weeks ago. It required a minimum spend of £10, but it brought the price of a plastic popper kit down to a level I felt I could justify. I placed my order and, within a few days, the package arrived. No fewer than 360 sets of T5 press studs in a variety of colours, plus a pair of pliers with interchangeable inserts for T3, T5 and T7 sizes. (The “buttons” of T5s, ie the part that’s visible on the outside, are about 12mm / ½” diameter, which is a good size for most things.)

I tried the kit out straight away on a new sock-washing bag I hadn’t yet got around to sewing press studs onto. It was really easy to apply the snaps and they seem very secure. They’re as neat on the inside as the outside and they give a professional finish – more so than hand-sewn press studs anyway. I should have marked the positions for both of them at the start, then I’d have got them level with each other. It’s harder than it looks to judge where the second one should go after attaching the first one.

Close up of lingerie bag closure

Now I’m wondering what else I can use these fasteners on. I can see them being useful for leathercrafts and my new inner tube obsession, as well as fabric projects.

Constellation coasters tutorial

Drinks coasters with copper inlaid constellations

For anyone who liked my recent coaster project, I’ve written up an Instructable called Constellation Coasters With Copper Inlay which explains exactly how I made them. Enjoy!

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