Chunky hats

I’m still knitting hats in chunky acrylic. I’ve made four in all and, together with a dozen or so more knitted by others, they’ll be tombola prizes at a local beer festival. Similar woolly hats apparently proved popular last year – but then, none of them were made by me.

Brioche hatIt takes Two scarfI’m most pleased with the brioche hat. I haven’t knitted brioche since I made a little keyhole scarf, and it felt like time to refresh my knitting memory. I love the way brioche is reversible, with both sides equally interesting but different.

When it was time to decrease for the crown, I worked 3-round double decreases at five equally spaced positions around the hat, with five plain rounds (ie two and a half brioche rounds) between each set of decreases. This seemed to work, but it has made the hat a bit too long and pointy in the crown area. I just hope some of the beer festival contingent like their hats on the slouchy side. If I ever make another hat like this I’ll work an increase round every six rounds (ie three brioche rounds) instead of eight. And I’m not convinced that the added complication of decreasing over three rounds instead of one is worth the effort.

The final hat of the four used the same pair of yarns, but was a simpler knit with a bobble. The variegated yarn (Woolyhippo’s Baby Chunky) has pooled into camo-ish patterns that might appeal to the mostly male beer festival attendees.

Grey and white hat




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Black leading a fireplace

The weather has been quite wet this week. Thankfully, we avoided the flooding that cut off villages and washed away roads and at least one bridge in dales to the north of here, and we haven’t been evacuated like the poor people of Whaley Bridge a mere 50 or 60 miles to the south. But it has been too wet and thundery to do much outdoors. Instead, I cleaned the carpet in our spare bedroom. That meant clearing out all the furniture temporarily, which brought the fireplace into focus.

It looked a mess. The paintwork has seen better days and the cast iron parts that haven’t been painted, like the grate, front bars and ash pan cover, were rusty. While the carpet was drying, I decided to clean up the removeable ash pan cover for a start to see if it was worth doing any more.

After attacking it with a wire brush in the drill, and then lots of elbow grease and wire wool, it looked a lot better. I popped out to buy a tube of old-fashioned black grate polish – thanks to the popularity of cast iron wood-burning stoves and fancy barbecues the stuff is still available, albeit no longer called black lead. I polished up the ash pan cover with it and achieved a subtle, gunmetal gleam that reminded me of my grandmother’s range.

Polished ashpan cover

Shiny ashpan cover, rusty front bars

There was no doubt about it, I was going to have to tackle the front bars too.

Polished grate

All shiny now

The bars took longer because they’re fixed to the fireplace so had to be de-rusted carefully by hand, using wire wool only, to avoid dirt going all over the newly cleaned carpet. (Memo to self: next time, do the dirty jobs before washing the carpet.) I reckon the whole job, including the ash pan cover, took me five hours.

Now I need to decide whether to strip the gloss paint off the rest of the cast iron fire surround, de-rust and polish that too, or just repaint it. I worry that so much black will look out of place in a bedroom that’s decorated in pale colours. Also, I discovered that no matter how long I buffed the ash pan cover for, some black still comes off it if it’s rubbed with a clean cloth. I suspect that the polish contains powdered graphite.

Maybe it’s not a good idea to have a fireplace in our spare room that could deposit black on guests’ clothing. The fire surround is very plain with no surface detail, so nothing that a gunmetal gleam would enhance. It presumably once had tiles around it to provide some embellishment, but I’m not sure I want to go down that route as any colour I introduce will only limit future decorating options. For now, I’m going to leave it as it is. It looks a whole lot better without the rust anyway.

Tombola hats

I should have finished my St Rémy jumper by now but I’ve been distracted by hats. A friend asked if I’d help her knit some to give as prizes in a tombola at a local beer festival this autumn. She had chunky wool for them, and I jumped at the chance to knit something quick instead of plodding away at stocking stitch on 3.5mm needles.

There was yellow and blue acrylic yarn that looked, near enough, like Leeds United’s colours. I’ve made a couple of supporters’ hats with it.

LUFC hatsWith the remaining yarn, a plain black and a white/grey/black variegated yarn, I’m knitting two-colour brioche.

Brioche hat in the roundI’ve never done brioche in the round before and I’m finding it plain sailing.  Instead of having to remember where I am in a four row sequence – rows 1 and 2 in each of the main colour and the contrast – there are only two rounds, one in each colour. But you do have to remember whether to leave the yarn to the front or the back of the work at each changeover.

I haven’t worked out yet how to end this hat, but there’s plenty of time for that. Brioche, like the similar fisherman’s rib, is slow to grow.

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The finishing touch

After making the cushions for our new window seat earlier this year, I was left with a small amount of fabric left. There was a rectangle of the striped linen union and a couple of small triangles of green velvet remaining after cutting bias strips for piping. Since then, I’ve been looking for a rectangular cushion pad of the right size, to make a scatter cushion. I finally found one during a trip to see friends on the other side of the country last week.

From the two triangles of velvet I was able to cut four more bias strips to make enough piping to go all around the cushion cover. It fastens with Velcro in one of the short ends.

Window seat scatter cushionNow I can finally call the window seat complete. I wish I had enough fabric for another cushion or two though. Maybe I’ll find some more of the green velvet – which was a remnant – if I keep my eyes open when I next visit The Shuttle.

Bent wood update

Soaked strips after bendingWhen I took the clamps off the strips of oak I experimented with last week, the pair of laminated and glued strips that I’d formed around a dustbin lid stayed exactly the same, no discernible “springback” at all. That’s them on the right hand side of the photo. But the ones that I’d bowed in the jaws of sash cramps didn’t do nearly as well, and I suspect that they’re still gradually unbending. All of these strips were soaked in water overnight with no heat applied during the bending process.

So, I’ve learnt two things from these experiments. Firstly, it seems just as easy to bend these 6mm thick strips by soaking them as it is to steam them. Despite that, my view is that steaming is the way to go. It’s a bit more effort to mess about with a wallpaper steamer, but the coat stand I’m planning to make requires a bend in the mid part of a 1900mm long strip and I don’t have a vessel that long that could be used for soaking. Also, steaming is a lot quicker.

The second thing I’ve learnt is that laminating two strips makes the bent strips hold their new shape very effectively, as well as making the laminated component much stronger and more rigid. I aim to use three strips for each leg of the coat stand, which should make it heavy enough not to topple when a winter coat is hung on one side.

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Bending wet wood

My experiments with bending strips of oak continue. A friend-of-a-friend who is a guitar luthier was kind enough to give me some advice over the phone, based on his experience of bending veneers around the body of a guitar. But his advice did come with the caveat that the veneers he uses are generally around 2mm thick not 6mm, and he doesn’t often use oak.

He suggested soaking the wood overnight in the bath and then forming it by hand around a metal pipe heated by a hot air gun, placing a wet rag around the pipe if the wood dried out too much. I asked about using fabric softener to make the wood temporarily more pliable, something I’d read about in online forums. The luthier had heard of this method but never used it himself; he thought it was worth a try though.

First problem: finding a vessel long enough for soaking my test strips, some of which are nearly 80cm long. The bath wasn’t going to work because the plug leaks a tiny amount, and I didn’t want to waste water by filling the bath to the brim to ensure there was still enough left in the morning. I found a length of rainwater downpipe that was long enough, but I didn’t have anything that would seal one end. Likewise with a length of half-round guttering (except that I would need two end caps for that). Looking around the house, I came across a long, narrow drip tray in which my dear husband stands pots containing seedlings on the windowcill. Happily, it’s just over 80cm long. I managed to fit all the strips into it bar one extra long one. I let them float – perhaps I should have weighted them down, who knows.

Soaking the oak stripsI painted neat fabric softener onto the middle section of the final strip and then wrapped it in clingfilm.

Forming strips around a bin lidThe next morning, my options for forming the sodden strips were limited because I don’t have a hot air gun.  Instead, I clamped a matching pair of strips around the dustbin lid, like last week, and left them in the sun all afternoon to dry. When I removed the clamps the wood sprang back a bit, but no more than last week’s steamed strips did. Curiously, one of the strips again took a tighter curve than the other – maybe that’s because the lid is quite battered and distorted.

Laminating 2 stripsI quickly PVA’d the outside of the more tightly curved strip and the inside of the second and clamped them back around the lid, one on top of the other, to laminate them. That took every G-clamp we own, it’s much harder to get two strips in contact with each other all along their length than to curve them individually around a former.

With no more G-clamps and no other suitable former, I’ve used our ancient sash cramps to bow the remaining three, shorter strips. This time, I actually remembered to curve one of them with the “good” surface of the oak on the inside, so I can laminate a pair back to back and have a “good” face on both sides.

Forming strips with crampsEverything is drying at the moment – the glued pair around the dustbin lid and the three bowed strips held by the jaws of the cramps. We’ll see what the end result is like, but the soaking process was certainly a lot less of a palaver than getting out the wallpaper stripper and connecting it to a pipe. Not to mention having to dry the steamer, hose, pipe and funnels and put everything away again afterwards. The bending part of the job was less of a race against time too. I imagine that a well-soaked strip of wood will remain pliable for hours whereas steamed wood has to be clamped to its former without delay, because once it starts to cool the lignins stiffen again. The only drawback I can see in using water rather than steam to make the legs of my coat stand pliable is that it will be easier to steam just the middle section that I want to bend than soaking just that section.

I did try another bending method, the hot pipe technique, but it wasn’t entirely successful.  It’s not really the weather to be firing up the home-made wood-burning stove, but we burn things like bank statements in it every now and again, even in the summer – who needs a shredder? The stack of paper waiting to be destroyed was enough to provide a few minutes of heat, and the cylindrical flue soon got too hot to touch, but I’m guessing no more than about 100°C. Wearing leather gardening gloves, I tried forming a rather ropey strip around it.

Broken stripNaturally, I haven’t used pristine engineered boards for this series of experiments, rather offcuts and boards that were rejected by our floor-layer because they had prominent knots or cracks filled with epoxy filler. These rejected boards have been stored outside (but under cover) for the last 9 months, which hasn’t improved them. I’ve found a few woodworm holes in my test strips, and the one I had left for the hot pipe treatment had a long, filled crack in it. The oak seemed to curve quite readily around the flue, but the filler soon began to separate from the wood – epoxy filler is clearly a lot less flexible than hot, wet oak. When the fire lost its heat I took the newly curved strip away from the flue and tried to hold it in an arc with a bungee while it cooled. The force was too great and it split in two along the crack. It has definitely taken on a curved shape though, and I can see that this method – with practice – could be used to produce whatever degree of curvature is required without having to go to the trouble of making a former. It was gratifying to find that it worked, even on 6mm thick veneer.

As for the clingfilm-wrapped, fabric-softened strip, it will have to wait until I have some clamps free. The wisdom of the internet suggests the pliability occurs when the wood has dried, but only lasts for a day or so.

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Experimenting with steam bending

After falling in love with a virtual coat stand made from oak and copper, I’ve been having fun steam bending wood. It turned out to be a lot more straightforward than I’d expected. This is the result of my first trial piece, two curved strips laminated together.

2 bent strips, laminatedThere’s a lot of advice online on steam bending, but one message that comes across loud and clear is that you need to experiment to find the best way to achieve what you want to with the wood you want to use. Even then, apparently, things don’t always go to plan. The wood may break when you try to curve it around the former, or it may spring back unacceptably when you remove it, or any number of other things can go wrong. I concluded it was time to stop reading and start doing instead.

I’m aiming to make a freestanding coat rack with bentwood arms – or is that legs? I’ll be using engineered oak floorboards left over from last autumn’s flooring project, with the plywood base layer removed to leave just the 6mm (1/4”) oak veneer.  I expect to have to laminate two or three veneer strips together to give the arms/legs sufficient strength, and to hide the surface that was previously glued to a plywood backing.

I ripped the ply off the back of a narrow strip of board with a saw and then snapped it in half to make two more manageable lengths of oak. Looking around for something that would work as a former, I happened upon the galvanised steel lid of the old dustbin we keep outside to store kindling for the fire. Perfect.

Next, I needed a steam box. Fortuitously, the spare piece of rainwater downpipe that has been in the garage for years was just longer than the oak strips. I taped a plastic funnel to one end of it with parcel tape, and then connected the hose from our wallpaper steamer to the narrow end of the funnel with electricians’ tape. The other funnel fitted reasonably snugly in the other end of the pipe. I tilted the pipe with that end downwards, so condensate could run out. (Actually, steam came out of it and precious little water.)

Steaming set-upThe whole affair looked somewhat Heath Robinson, but I figured there was only one way to find out if it would all hold together. To my surprise, the taped joints performed fairly well, but the downpipe is probably PVC and once the steam started flowing it quickly sagged under the weight of the heavy G-clamp I’d laid on it to stop it moving. It didn’t collapse completely though, and there was still plenty of room inside for the wood.

rips clamped to formerAll the advice on steaming suggests that one hour per inch is sufficient, so I left the strips in there for 15 minutes. Then, with help from my dear husband – two pairs of hands are definitely better than one for this job – I wrapped each one in turn round the edge of the dustbin lid and held them in place with G-clamps. Even with strips that are only 6mm thick, it needed quite a lot of force.

Bent strips before glueingI resisted all temptation to unclamp the strips for 24 hours. In the meantime, I measured the dustbin lid and was pleased to find that its radius is 240mm, very close to the 250mm radius curve I want at the top of the coat stand arms. When I did remove the clamps, the newly bent wood sprang back more than I’d expected, to a radius of about 400mm in the case of the more tightly curved piece. So now I know that I’ll need to use a former with a substantially smaller radius than 250mm.

I’ve glued the 2 pieces together, which resulted in a combined radius of about 425mm.  The laminated curve feels nice and rigid.

Laminating two stripsMy steam bending session was serious fun. I’m sure I’ll be doing more of it. But first, I’m going to try other methods of bending.

Saint Rémy sweater

Saint Rémy sweaterI’ve finished the sleeves on this Knitty design I started back in 2016 and I’m back on the body. It’s slow going, with over 200 stitches on 3.5mm needles. I’m lengthening the section between the waist decreases and increases, and then I’ll probably keep going in the multi-coloured yarn until it runs out, before switching to the stripes.

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Do I really need this coat rack?

Virtual coat rackI’m still playing around with 3-D modelling in Fusion 360, designing various objects to build familiarity with the software. I’m so pleased with a freestanding coat rack that I’m seriously thinking about trying to make it. I probably don’t need a coat stand, but now I’ve seen it I want it. This design package with its photo-realistic rendering is dangerous.

I’ve rendered my model to show it made from oak and copper pipe with black plastic hanging hooks and supports for the pipe ring. To replicate this in real life I’ll need to learn how to steam-bend and laminate strips of wood and bend copper pipe smoothly. I’ll also have to design the plastic components to fit precisely the wooden and metal ones and 3-D print them, then assemble the whole thing. I’ve no way of being sure in advance whether it’ll work, or be strong enough to take a few winter coats. It’ll be quite a commitment.

I’m going to start by trying steam bending, and to do that I’ll repurpose our wallpaper steamer. I might start with thin plywood, like the stuff I made my yarn swift from, it should be an easier prospect than oak. I figure all I need to do is somehow seal a connection from the steamer into one end of a length of drainpipe and provide an exhaust pipe at the other end.  First task: check whether PVC drainpipe is capable of taking 100°C, I can’t remember what its softening temperature is.

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