3 items in wood

Small blackboardThis week I’ve made a little chalkboard which I’m quite pleased with.

The chalkboard itself is just an offcut of plywood painted with two coats of blackboard paint, and I made the frame from yet more offcuts of engineered oak flooring from last year’s floor project.

Bird boxI’ve also been finishing a bird nesting box made from the same flooring material, using an RSPB design. I’ve treated the plywood edges that are exposed to the weather with 3 coats of Danish oil, and varnished the ply on the inside in case there is anything in the glue holding it together that could be harmful if it comes into contact with birds. The oak itself is already oiled and should stand up to the outside for a year or two before it needs re-doing.

I should have finished this birdbox months ago but I lost enthusiasm when I made a few mistakes, like this deep gouge where the saw slipped.

Cut in bird boxHalf the problem was, I was over-ambitious, choosing to avoid any visible screws or nails. Instead, I made the joints using small dowels, and it was difficult to get them to line up perfectly with holes drilled in the inside face of each joint. But I figure the birds won’t care, and it is still a very solid, sturdy home for them. There’s no point putting it up until the Spring, which gives me time to decide how best to attach the lid in such a way that it can be easily removed for annual cleaning while being predator-proof when the birds are in residence.

Toe of a stripy sockI’ve started a pair of socks for my dear husband too, using the same yarn as the pair I knitted him earlier in the year. Now that the weather is getting colder he is very glad of that pair, his first hand-knitted socks, and started dropping hints that he’d quite like more of them. I’ve started the new pair at a different place in the colour sequence to make mix-and-match socks rather han two identical pairs.

As for last week’s mystery project, I now have a stack of plywood shapes but I need more, 60 in all.

Several plywood deltoidsAnd they all need painting white on one side – fortunately, the Wickes flexible paint I bought recently for a new plasterboarded (and skimmed) ceiling is perfect for the job.

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A mystery project

I’ve been too busy with DIY jobs to blog for a while. It’s always the same at this time of year – the sudden realisation that the weather is getting steadily worse, the hours of daylight are reducing, and I’d better get on with things or they’ll have to wait until the Spring.

In the last couple of weeks my dear husband and I have:

  • replaced the old grey-plastic-with-peeling paint soil pipes running down the outside of the house from the bathroom with shiny new white pipework
  • cut two square holes in the tarmac in our back yard and filled them with cement, ready to take an aluminium supporting structure for a covered walkway
  • put a mist coat and two top coats on a newly plastered ceiling, then touched up the walls around the top edge
  • fitted new plinths under the kitchen units

The last item has been on the “to do” list for two years, ever since we painted all the doors of the kitchen units white. Now we have white plinths to match, made from melamine faced chipboard. That’s not my ideal material, aesthetically speaking, but it’s fine for a surface down at floor level that needs to be hardwearing. The old plinths, installed in 1995, were made from two standard plinth boards stuck together – we are both above average height and wanted our kitchen surfaces higher than normal – and weren’t fit to paint.

I have made a start on something more crafty though. I’ve cut these shapes from paper to test my design, before I use a laser cutter to make the same shapes from thin plywood. Can you guess what it’s going to be?

6 identical paper shapes


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Knitted Christmas decorations

It’s far too early to be thinking about Christmas, but I want to get ahead of myself. I still remember three years ago when a bunch of relatives all dropped hints, very late in the day, that they’d appreciate (variously) a knitted hat, cowl and handwarmers from Father Christmas.

The 2016 handwarmers

In case that sort of last minute knitting rush should happen this year, I’ve begun knitting small tree decorations for a local Christmas tree festival which raises money for charity. Visitors admire the trees that have been decorated by local community groups and charities before, hopefully, dropping a few coins in the collecting tins of those they like best.  Meanwhile, choirs sing or musicians play, tea and mince pies are consumed and a jolly festive time is had by all. Small children like it, anyway.

I’ve made a star, a couple of stockings and three snowmen so far. I’m putting off embroidering the snowmen’s features for now, because whenever I add a face to anything it ends up looking like a character from a horror film.

I have some green yarn that will make a mini tree, then that will have to do for this year’s tree decorations.

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Wine cork wreath

Cork wreath on door

A warm welcome for wine lovers!

I’ve always wanted to make a Christmas wreath, and I’m hoping that this year I’ll actually get around to it. I’m holding off pruning a holly hedge and a sprawling conifer so that I’ll have some suitable greenery in December. While idly flicking through internet pictures of festive wreaths to see what else I’ll need, I came across a rather expensive but very attractive version made of wine corks. Now, I just happen to have a large collection of wine corks, and my dear husband has been on at me for months to do something with them or else throw them out. The plan was to make a bathroom mat by lacing them together in rows, but frankly, a wreath looked like a lot more fun.

The cork wreath that was my inspiration has a straw base wrapped in hessian (burlap). That’s all very well for an indoor wreath, but I’d like to hang mine on the front door to welcome in dinner guests and friends coming round for a glass of wine. So it needs to be waterproof. I looked around for something that could be bent into a ring and found a length of foam pipe insulation that was just under a metre long – I must have cut a bit off the end of it last time we had pipes to insulate, which was last autumn when we did our best to lag all the pipework under the house before it was rendered inaccessible by a new hardwood floor.

Underside of cork wreath

Rear view

After some trial and error I hit on a way to curve the insulation into a ring without it kinking.

Then I just stuck corks all over it using hot melt glue. I was quite surprised to find that the glue sticks well to the foam without melting it much. Three hours and two hundred or so corks later, I have a wreath.

I love it. Every cork is a memory of a wine, and in many cases a holiday to a wine region where the bottle was bought. Now I just need to invite people round for a drink so I can show off my make.

I may well use the pipe insulation for the base of my Christmas wreath too. If only it came in green instead of grey.

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Blanket rectangles

I’ve run out of things to knit for myself, friends or family. I’m filling the void with charity projects, starting with blanket squares. Actually, they’re blanket rectangles.

Blanket squaresI’m knitting my way through one ball of yarn at a time, which means that last week was all white and this week will be all grey. Rectangles of single colour acrylic in garter stitch are very boring.  I’ll be glad to move on to the next project, which is items for a Smile Train stall. Apparently, small items like mittens, hats and tea cosies do well.

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50s-style dress

Front view of wax print dressThis dress is a lot bolder in colour than I would usually wear. I was seduced by a market stall selling African wax prints, and this was by no means the boldest design. In fact it was one of the few with only two main colours in it. Until I saw the 2016 edition of the Great British Sewing Bee (GBSB) in which the contestants tackled Ankara fabric, I would never have thought of sewing with it, but that episode demonstrated that these large, exuberant prints can look great in a modern, western style as well as the traditional, West African be-peplummed dresses and head wraps – which, let’s face it, would look ridiculous on a white woman in Yorkshire.

Back view of wax print dressI took advantage of the fact that, being a dyed, batik fabric, the underside is indistinguishable from the face side. This meant that, even though the fabric design has no axis of symmetry, I could create one to give a symmetrical back to the dress by cutting the left side of the back bodice and skirt with the fabric one side up and the right half the other side up. The front bodice and skirt, being in a single piece each, are necessarily unsymmetrical.

The pattern I used was published in Prima Magazine in August 2016 called simply Dress for All Ages – it contains a separate girl’s dress too. Bearing in mind that this was published only a few weeks after the GBSB Ankara episode, I wonder if anyone else has used it with an African wax print? It calls for 140cm wide fabric, but my 111cm cotton (after pre-shrinking) was enough for the smaller sizes and even allowed me to widen the skirt by a total of 12cm (almost 5”) to make it look more generous, as well as lengthening it to below knee level. I used the extra width to add a pleat near to the side seam in each quarter of the skirt, adjusting the existing double pleats so that all three were now 6cm instead of a double pleat of 7.5cm. This has given me the full-skirted, 50s-style shape I wanted without the bulk of a gathered waist.

The neckline was supposed to be faced, but the older I get, the less tolerant I am of flappy facings. You almost never see them on a purchased garment. They are a pain when it comes to ironing as well as having a tendency to slide into view during wear despite understitching and being firmly anchored at the seams. I’m particularly unhappy with faced V-necks because it’s impossible to stitch down the facing at the point of the V without it showing, and consequently putting on such a garment requires a lot of fiddling about to get it lying smoothly where it ought to be.

Instead of a facing, I’ve bound the neckline with plain black fabric. I planned to do it in such a way that it showed on the outside to leave a visible trim, but when I was sitting in good light to hand sew it down on the inside, I realised to my horror that the black bias binding I’d made was not at all the same black as in the batik fabric. Can you see the difference?

Detail of neckline bindingIn fact, I think the wax print may be a very dark navy. So off came the binding and I had to cut a new strip (I’d already trimmed it at the bottom of the V) and turn it to the inside instead.

I have more than 2 metres of fabric left from the original 6 yard length, as well as several large scraps that would make a collar, cuff or other small garment piece. I’m thinking that I might make a matching edge-to-edge, collarless jacket with bracelet-length sleeves to wear over the dress when the weather is doubtful. (That’s most of the summer in these parts.) It could be reversible, with plain fabric on one side. I’ve put a scrap of the wax print in the bottom of my handbag in the hope that I may happen across a plain cotton in the perfect shade of green or violet. Failing that, it’ll have to be dark navy.

For anyone wanting to try African wax prints for themselves, I’ve discovered from a former Meltham resident that there is a supplier of the genuine article here in Yorkshire, the African Fabric Shop. They sell mainly online, but have regular open days at their Meltham premises and will see customers at other times if they ring to make arrangements in advance. They stock lots of other traditional African fabrics too, as well as different goodies like buttons, beads and baskets, all sourced by the shop owners in Africa. And no, I don’t have any affiliation whatsoever with them, just a personal recommendation from someone who used to live nearby.


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