Monday, May 27, 2013

Listen To Your Mum!

When my mum gave me some of her special down proof fabric to use to fill needlepoint cushions she cautioned me, "Make sure you fill your cushions outside on a calm, still day because I know from experience that the feathers will go all over the place and make a terrible mess if you try to do it indoors."  Ha, did I listen to her?  Of course not!  This weekend I was determined to fill my down proof fabric and make cushions to go inside my needlepoints and nothing was going to stop me.  It was pouring with rain and blowing a gale so no chance of filling the cushions out of doors.  Well, I can tell you that I ended up ankle deep in feathers and resembled some feather breathing monster as the wicked little things stuck to my nose, my clothes, hair and the carpet.  I did eventually get the cushions formed but I couldn't get the special braid I bought to go smoothly around the edges of the backing fabric to begin with, and I had to draw on my inner obstinate donkey

to complete the projects.  Patience was required and it is not my most obvious character trait where stitching is concerned.  But I am happy to report that the end result was this

(finally the braid submits and does as it is told)

and this

Both cushions were backed with lovely rich moss green cotton velvet, recycled from curtains sourced at an opp shop.

Great, now I can press on with a couple of new projects.

These fabrics are left over scraps and with them I plan to make some cushions for the cottage

I think these ribbons should make good trims for the different fabrics, though red can be a bit of a tricky colour to match.  Having had a sudden yen to do a bit of cross stitch to embellish them I have dragged out an old scrap of natural coloured linen and will do bands of cross stitch to insert into the different patterned fabrics.  Happy times, happy times!

Also during the weekend I couldn't resist making a couple of new squares for the doilies and damask quilt.

 Here is one of them - the wretched photo of the other one is rubbish so you will have to take my word that it is gorgeous.  (The stitching equivalent of the gardening classic, "I wish you could have been here last week, the garden was a picture!")

The rainbow crazy quilt is all ready to go together now but every time I look at the piles of completed squares I can't resist taking them up and adding just a bit more stitching/beading/ribbon.  Next weekend will be crunch time, and hopefully it will go together smoothly and not cause too much grief.  But I am never too hopeful where completing projects is concerned - somehow starting is so much easier and more interesting!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Oh What A Tangled Web We Weave ...

Oh what a tangled web we weave when crafting tasks we do conceive!  I would like to be able to tell you that my crazy quilting supplies were all arranged in this fashion:

But the grim reality is that they look like this:

Finally things got so bad over the weekend that I had to devote some time to untangling the hideous mess and trying to restore some order to my threads, ribbons and laces.  The current crazy quilt is almost ready to be put together now and it would be a shame to set out on the next one with the raw materials in such a chaotic state.

Fired up by that success the next job was to make a valance for the spare bed and what a mission that turned out to be.  I have a long history of disagreements with overlockers (I secretly believe them to be the work of the devil, to tell you the truth) and I needed to first use my long curving tweezers, then my pretty little screwdriver which Lady Raglan gave me.  Eventually I wanted to use my pretty little matching hammer, but managed to hold myself back and be content with some nasty words directed to the overlocker.

(Perhaps I should give said overlocker a name, I think Beelzebub would be an excellent choice.)  Finally the valance was completed 

and the sewing room floor was only ankle deep in scraps of fabric, tortured overlocked scraps and threads. 

Mr Shoestring meanwhile had been faring much better.  Having been shamed by the disgraceful state of the seating when The Duke and Duchess of Ringloes visited last weekend, we bought some fabric to recover two chairs.  I couldn’t resist these chairs because they were so pretty (and so reasonably priced, of course) but the acrylic leopardskin covers were not quite in keeping with the rest of Shoestring Cottage and had to go.  The plan is that in the fullness of time (probably in a decade or so), I will have created needlepoint covers for them, but for now this toile is a good stopgap measure and should look fine with the black and cream ticking we are going to use to reupholster the lounge furniture.  Mr Shoestring made a marvellous job, transforming the chairs from this

Into this

And without any swearing or cursing, either!  What a paragon of virtue that Mr Shoestring is.   

We couldn’t achieve very much in the garden this weekend because of the rain but it has still been very warm.  In fact some plants have been thrown into a state of confusion and this iris seems to have been tricked into thinking it is summertime again.  

Also the foolhardy starlings are building a nest in the nesting box. 

Last weekend for Mothers’ Day I gave my mum a pretty ruby glass piece which had the name of her town engraved on it, made for exposition which was held there in 1920.  I thought I was supremely clever to locate such a thing!  This week in the ultimate example of tit for tat she presented me with this lovely little souvenir from Te Aroha, where Shoestring Cottage is located.

In the late 19th and early 20th century Te Aroha was a spa town and people used to travel from far and wide to take the geothermally warmed waters and enjoy the “pleasure gardens”.  If you look carefully you can see two ladies in what I take to be either late Victorian or Edwardian costume, playing tennis in their ankle length dresses.  (How difficult it must have been to run for the ball!)  The buildings in the background are still used and look just the same, although the tennis court is now a bowling green.  Strangely, this piece was made in Austria.  It is odd to think of it travelling all the way back to New Zealand to be sold but our ceramics industry was still in its infancy then and such fine china was not able to be made.   

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Duke And Duchess Come To Visit

This weekend the Duke and Duchess of Ringloes came to stay at Shoestring Cottage and endured the chaos and confusion which was revealed to them.  The yet-to-be recovered sofa was standing on its end in the sitting room, there was an enormous cardboard box of art deco hats taking up one corner of the room and in the hearth was the "new" gas heater (thank you, Trade Me) which was wrapped in plastic and awaiting a visit from the registered plumber and gasfitter to install it.  (Regulations require that we obtain the services of such a tradesperson, though it goes against the grain for Mr Shoestring who is supremely confident of his home handyman abilities.  Thank heavens for rules and regulations sometimes; Mr Shoestring has a somewhat "near enough is good enough" approach and a large gas explosion might ensue if he attempted the installation himself, but would not be conducive to harmonious domestic life.)

The Duke and Duchess endured all these travails with very good grace, though I fear they must have been comparing and contrasting their own admirably comfortable situation with that they found themselves in.  Of course they were far too polite to comment.  I almost poisoned them by trying out a new recipe on them, which turned out to be far too salty.  It is the first rule of entertaining not to use one's guests as recipe guinea pigs but of course I disregarded this in my enthusiasm to use my new cookbook.

We took them off to the monthly Matamata market and they were very forbearing as Mr Shoestring and I swept about the place, plucking up odd things and exclaiming rapturously over things like this adorable tool for getting an even hem on dresses and skirts

Mr Shoestring found this book, which was first published in 1948 by Reed.  The illustrations resemble woodcuts and are beautiful, simple and strong.  We thought the descriptions of the birds charming, imbuing each one with a distinct (almost human) personality and set of characteristics.  For instance the kiwi (which naturally was the first bird in the book) is "the Dominion's most distinctive bird" and "lives a lonely life, snuffling about in the damp depths of the forest like a hedgehog, coming out at night".  I am not sure whether a wild bird would ever think of itself as living a lonely life, but apparently it is the case.    

By comparison the weka "is one of the friendliest of our birds and will run off with any article it takes a fancy to".  (Perhaps the author had a weakness or peculiar fondness for the weka.  He also refers to it as "the policeman of the forest, waging ceaseless war on rats and mice which rob the nests of small birds".)   

My favourite illustrations were the morepork (for its perplexed expression)

and the wood pigeon.  The illustrator 's name is not recorded, which seems a terrible shame because the attention to detail and the way each bird is portrayed in its environment is wonderful.  

Strangely, though the author casually mentions that the huia is now extinct, there is no concern regarding the kakapo, which is recorded as being "still plentiful in the high forest country of both islands" but which is now 
the world's most endangered parrot and of which there were only 126 left in 2012.  

I found my own treasure at the flea market, namely this wonderful serving dish with holes so that your vegetables won't wit in a pool of cooling water.  

Underneath it there is another plate which will catch any moisture, and which I cunningly planned to use for other purposes as well, such as salads.  It occurred to me afterwards that I am an absolute sucker for anything masquerading as something else in the kitchenware department, for instance
 a biscuit box pretending to be a thatched cottage
 a Savoy cabbage leaf which is in reality a fruit bowl
 a teeny tiny trio of vegetables/teapots
 sunflower and asparagus plates
and leaf serving dish

To my shame, these are only the things which were close to hand in the kitchen.  The whole place is full to overflowing with things which are not what they seem!  No wonder Mr Shoestring gets confused when he tries to help in the kitchen.  

The Duke and Duchess are wonderfully skilled gardeners and cast their horrified eyeballs over our sketchy attempts at creating a garden.  I have high hopes that they will set us on the straight and narrow path towards redemption of our gardening souls and in the meantime allowed myself to be guided by a few initial suggestions at the market, turning my face away from the brightly coloured annuals and instead selecting a white bergenia (elephant ears) and a couple of nikau palms, which were very well priced and in good condition.  The Duke suggested setting them into the garden into plastic pots so as to be able to move them if that position turned out to be less than ideal, which seemed to be a stroke of genius.  (I shall have to resist the urge to pot up all the garden pleasures in this way and confuse them all by moving them all around every few months though.)  Great changes will ensue, now that we have the benefit of informed advice, you can be sure of that!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Toiling in May

Mr Shoestring and I really earned our cups of tea this weekend at Shoestring Cottage.  We finally got the front porch more or less put together after its facelift, and what a big improvement it is.  (Code speak for, "What a relief that task is finally completed.")  With the new lining, the stained glass windows and the shelves for plants it looks much more inviting.  The plants which lived there formerly were able to return (and free up space in the bathroom).

 Apart from the white flowered geranium and "spider plant" which were unceremoniously plucked out of the garden and plonked into their new home (I was astonished to see they survived) there are white polyanthus, white primulas and Black Prince tulips in the hanging baskets.  (I don't know why I persist in planting tulips, I never have any luck with them and they languish in a morose and despondent fashion always, despite my tender ministrations.)


 No spider webs!

At the front of the cottage we ripped out the plants which were not happy and replaced them with box hedging.   We will need to take a less laissez-faire approach and aim for pinpoint accuracy with our clipping or we will end up with our usual haphazard effect, but Mr Shoestring likes anything where power tools are involved so in the fullness of time he may be able to use a mechanised cutter to achieve symmetry.

In the black pots we put olives to standardise.  We chose Olea Ascolano because it is supposed to have an upright branched habit and respond well to pruning, so should standardise well.  It is also meant to have "large green fruit with a small stone" but I suspect the birds will fall upon any fruit with glee - it will provide welcome variety in their diets.  I once had an olive tree which cropped well and it was quite fun to pickle my own olives, but I have resigned myself to dominance by birds at Shoestring Cottage.  (Yes, I admit defeat, they have broken me.  I put up a good fight but now I am battle weary.)

It was rather perplexing to see my resident favourite bird drinking from the new pond, there had been torrential rain for more or less two days and it had never showed the slightest sign of interest all through the drought.  Perhaps the rain had topped up the pond and provided some fresher liquid refreshment, who knows?

As we had the autumn clean up and cut back I was horrified to discover another bucket full of Jerusalem artichokes practically bursting out of the earth under my trowel.  I almost covered them over and left them there, but then remembered that each of them would multiply in an alarming fashion, so sighed resignedly and dug them out.  Mr Shoestring happened to pass by and notice this, and I fancied I detected a rather mutinous expression on his face as he anticipated another week of Jerusalem artichokes in many and varied guises.  (I didn't know until that they can be pickled, but this doesn't seem very appealing for some reason.  You will be pleased to hear that they are reasonably palatable roasted, as I can attest having had some for my dinner tonight.  I had been transplanting a lot of iris rhizomes which struggled with the lack of sun at the front of the cottage and for one ghastly moment it occurred to me that they look quite similar to the artichokes, but I am sure I kept them all separate and we will have no culinary disasters with human consumption of roasted iris rhizomes.

The craving for white plants continues and this week I was given a beautiful white plumbago.  Even if I didn't like the actual plant (which I do, very much), I think I might plant one of these because of its name.  Plumbago, plumbago, it is very curious and rolls nicely off the tongue.  It could be a nice name for a plum coloured winebago, if one happened to possess such a thing.

In between the Herculean efforts in the garden though there was a bit of time for some stitching.  During the week I struck upon the idea of making some "medals" for girlfriends and this one is the prototype.

You can see the letters "QBO" on the ribbon.  The recipient of this medal adores anything with bling and spends happy times adorning her curtain tiebacks and bedside lamps with crystals, fringes and tassles.  I am sure she will appreciate the honour of being created QBO (Queen of Bling Order) but I won't insist that she wear her medal in public.  Actually I wanted to present the medal to her in a beautiful velvet covered presentation box, but the one I bought for the purpose turned out to be too small  - the medal just seemed to get longer and longer as I worked on it and it will need something more substantial to contain it.

While fossicking around looking for raw materials to create medals out of I unearthed this old skirt.  In a former life it was my favourite tablecloth, but some nasty stains in the very centre resisted all attempts at removal and rather than toss it out (this was in the days before I discovered crazy quilting), I cut the offending part out and made it into a skirt.

Happy stitching, gardening or whatever takes your fancy this week!