Sunday, 30 June 2013

Patchwork Quilt: 1. A Kick Start

As we may have mentioned before, we both come from families full of creative people. When we got married Joe's mum started talking about making us a patchwork quilt. We love patchwork quilts and currently own four of them (one made by each of Jenny, Joe, Jenny's mum and Joe's mum). However these are all single quilts, and this time the offer was to make a double quilt. At around the time of our second wedding anniversary (the 'cotton' anniversary), the idea was brought up again and we looked at some patterns and chose some material, but the busyness of life took over. Too many things to do, too little time.

Our current quilt collection.

Getting close to our fourth wedding anniversary we decided it was time to act. A few weeks ago Joe and I made the drive to Hampshire, trusty sewing machine in tow, for a weekend of sewing to kick start this project.

It ended up being a slower start than we'd hoped for as we all scratched our heads over the complicated paper piecing idea that we'd not looked at for years. Each square is made up of four identical quarters, each of which is also made up of four smaller triangles. There isn't a nice angle in the lot of them and our first set of templates had printed slightly skew. We do like a challenge.

Once the templates were all sorted we ploughed in with enthusiasm and then tripped over again and again as we lots of made little discoveries. We realised that this design is fairly sensitive to the direction of the pattern on the material, and that if you cut out the pieces through multiple layers of fabric then you don't end up with four identical pieces - but with two correct pieces and two mirror images. I'm sure if we'd (read "I'd"!) been slightly less enthusiastic we'd have spotted these sooner - but hey ho. Stitch unpickers at the ready!

Finally we got into the swing of it though. With a rhythm of work between the cutter, the presser and the sewer we produced our first three squares.

We've split up the jobs to be done before we next meet to sew and the project was, at last, started.

Apologies for the lack of photos - we were far too absorbed in our sewing!

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Friday, 28 June 2013

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Google Reader, Bloglovin' and Feedly

Joe and I both spend our day jobs developing software in our different ways. We both enjoy playing with technology and announcements such as the closure of Google Reader at the start of July send us straight to the internet to dig out alternatives.

Not heard of Google Reader? Its a very nifty tool that goes to all the blogs you like to catch up on and checks to see if there's any new posts. If there are then it puts them all on one website for you to read at your leisure. It makes it much easier to keep on top of blog life and means you don't miss that vital post when it comes. Both Joe and I were big Google Reader users.

So what next? Fortunately Google Reader is not the only option out there, and Joe and I have gone our separate ways in a bid to find something that suits our reading habits. I thought I'd deviate a little from our normal posts and share with you here what we've chosen and why in the hope that it might help those of you trying to make a similar decision, and maybe encourage those of you who haven't used a blog reader before to give it a go.

This isn't a comprehensive review of all the alternatives, just the ones we picked (both of which seem fairly popular). Both AOL and Digg are launching their own readers soon but we didn't want to hang around waiting!


Personally I decided to make the switch to Bloglovin. I liked the clean layout, and at first glance it looked a lot like Google Reader to use. Then I discovered the thing that made me like it most. A lot of blog readers take the post you're wanting to read - the text and the photos - and put it onto their own site. Google reader does this, and the end result looks something like this:

You end up with the essence of the blog - but you don't see the blog itself. If you want to leave a comment, or explore other areas of the site you have to follow the link through to the original site. Don't get me wrong - I used Google Reader for years without thinking about this so it can't be that bad. Bloglovin takes a different approach though. It takes you to the original blog for each post you want to read - you get to see all the effort the different bloggers have put into making it look good and its easier to leave comments and see what else is going on. When you're ready to look at the next blog with a new post you can use the toolbar that Bloglovin puts at the top of the screen to jump straight to it which is really handy.

One interesting side note is that while they do have a set of apps I still choose to visit the website as the app versions don't take you to the original blogs in the way I've just been describing. Instead they pull the content from the blog into their own simpler format, which for me looses the point.

I read a lot of personal and lifestyle blogs and find that Bloglovin lets me do that in a really nice way, but there are other alternatives out there. I'll let Joe say a little bit about why he has chosen to use Feedly:


I went for Feedly. Easy integration with my Google account meant no fussing with registration. The overview has 4 levels of detail, from a list of titles to whole articles on a summary - I tend to run in "magazine" mode which you can see above. I like to see the pictures - several of the blogs I follow are either webcomics or do single photo posts. The reading mode works quite well - click on an article and it smoothly expands its section (below left). It doesn't always work but for those times there is a full preview mode that tries to load the site in a window (below right), or if that fails the usual link to the original (use your imagination).
When on holiday I discovered the perks of its quite nice iOS app (but then everyone has an app).

The one thing I currently miss on feedly is the lack of a notification icon for chrome. There is a full feedly plugin that is nice but no notifier for the number of unread items!
It is rumoured to be in development and given the mass exodus from google they have been working hard on new features!

Both Feedly and Bloglovin make the transition from Google Reader really easy with one click "import" buttons to move all your subscriptions over, and to make it even easier to add The Urban Cottage to your reading list I've found a couple of buttons for you.

Follow on Bloglovin follow us in feedly

I really hope all this helps :)
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Sunday, 23 June 2013

The Mechanical Doorbell, Part One: Ding

I have been scheming this doorbell for quite a while. As you may know I scheme quite a bit. This one has finally come to fruition for one reason: I decided to scrap the plan to buy the expensive bits and decided to build the whole thing with stuff we have stashed around the house. 
This doorbell handle releases a marble that rolls down a run, making a noise on the way. The first half is completed - enough to get it to chime! 

The bell pull is an old road bike brake, pulling a tensioned chord to the marble release. 

The release mechanism is an angled hole drilled in a block of scrap wood. It is held under tension by a bundle of elastic bands, all mounted on a bit of old Ikea desk. Enamelled copper wire provides the feed mechanism and stabilises the release.

From here part of a toy marble run (yes I know, definitely cheating) transfers the marble over to the rest of the bell.

When I say bell, I really mean acoustic bass guitar. It had been gathering dust in the back of a cupboard for too many months. No modifications have been made to the guitar - it hangs from the bracket (a pair of old shelf supports) and everything else is suspended around it.

To catch the marble a plastic scoop is made from an old water bottle, upturned and supported by a length of wire coat hanger.

This then feeds into a section of bamboo sushi mat (used once for making felt) that directs the marble onwards.

And that is it for phase one. A single "ding". Keep an eye out for part two!
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Friday, 21 June 2013

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Knitting for Small People

I'm going through a knitting phase at the moment. I love knitting to unwind of an evening, usually accompanied by whatever our favourite TV show of the season is. I've discovered that I'm most productive if I can find a pattern that's of the right level - simple enough that it can be mostly memorable, but complicated enough to keep my interest - I tend to get bored by line after line of garter stitch!

One of my recent projects was this baby jumper. The seed stitch combined with the shaping required provided a good level of interest and I whizzed through the pattern (comparatively - I'm very slow at finishing a project). Rather than buying buttons specifically for this knit I decided to use some I had lying around - resulting in a rather colourful flourish!

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Sunday, 16 June 2013

A Tale of Two Tables: Part 5b

We have caught up with ourselves! The first table is finished, the second is mostly assembled and waiting a lot of sanding. Sundays will switch to a few other bigger projects until we can bring you the final part. Here is a sneak preview of the finish:

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Friday, 14 June 2013

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

A-line Skirt

Following on from last weeks jumper post I thought I'd tell you about another foray I've had recently into the world of making my own clothes. On a few occasions Joe has made things for me to wear, including a couple of very pretty dresses. We often keep an eye out for fabric bargains to make use of, and earlier this year we came across this purple velvet at £2.50 a metre and for a bargain like that decided to get a couple of metres for skirt making. It got shelved for a rainy weekend.

The twist in this tale is that I've decided that maybe it's time I made my own skirt, rather than waiting for Joe to do it for me (he's building a table after all). I've used sewing machines before - mostly for patchwork quilting - so making a skirt should be a simple enough process, surely?

To Google! I went hunting for patterns and instead found lots of blogs detailing how to make your own. For an a-line skirt all you need is your waist measurement, your hip measurement, the distance between the two and the length of your skirt. There are plenty of these out there, but I ended up following this one.

Once I'd sorted out the basic pattern I cut out two pieces - front and back - and then also cut out a waistband. For this I used the length of top of the pattern piece, plus 5cm to create overlap for a button as per this design.

After this it was just a case of assembly.

First I sewed the right hand side seam together - simple running stitch and then overlock the edges.

Then I added a couple of darts to the back piece. This was to help the side seams run straight up and down - basically taking into account that my waist measurement from hip to hip is larger across my tummy than it is across my back!

Next I sewed in the invisible zip using this very handy tutorial. I'm really pleased with how well this turned out.

And then finished off the left hand seam. It was suddenly starting to look like a skirt!

 Next I had to attach the waistband. First I folded it in half - wrong sides together, ironed it flat, and then sewed up the ends that weren't going to be attached to the body of the skirt. Then I turned it the right way round and ironed it again.

Then I sewed it to the top of the skirt, wrong sides together.

After ironing this seam so that from the outside the skirt looked finished I tucked in the raw edge along the back of the skirt and sewed along it through all the layers of fabric.

Next I made a button hole and attached a button.

Finally I finished off the hem.

Ta da - one finished skirt. I'm quite chuffed with this as a first attempt. What do you think?

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Sunday, 9 June 2013

A Tale of Two Tables: 5. It's Got Legs

A solid base is key to the functionality of any table. A lovely top will be ruined by an uneven, twisted base or one with legs in the wrong place. For our small table we went for four legs in a square, 20" apart leaving an 8" overhang outside the frame. Traditionally the cross pieces would be mortice and tenon joined into the legs. This is a fiddly process but if done right is immensely strong. We do not poses the skill of years of practice at mortice and tenon joints so ours would neither be accurate nor straight! I am very grateful however for the research of John D Wagner who showed that biscuit joints can be stronger than mortice and tenon or other methods. Although the research was limited it provides some armour to fight those traditionalists who think biscuits are no use in structural elements.

Enough design - onto the doing. As we were biscuit jointing all we needed were square legs and straight ends to the cross pieces. As the legs were already square that left us with cutting the cross pieces to length in a square manner. This was another job for the router to try and get the ends square and allow millimetre precision. If you had a decent table saw you may be able to use it instead but there are only a few power tools in our garage!

Having cut the ends we then used a curved bit for the router to round the underside of the bar. The biscuit jointer then came out again to put the slot in for the biscuits. We aligned this slightly off centre to ensure the biscuit didn't show at the bottom (I am sure this probably sacrifices a little strength but it only came out the top a fraction).

With the frame cut, rounded and slotted the attention shifted to the legs. We needed to choose the outside faces, check for any cracks or deformities where the biscuits would need to sit and mark which end to remove the waste from (in a straight manner). Lacking a power saw this was a time for hand tools. The router would not have the depth to cut this one. I used a tenon saw for better control of the cut, the 2 1/2" legs just fitting on the blade. 

To ensure the legs were all absolutely even we strapped them all together with a large quantity of elastic bands (many of which we snapped in the process) and sanded the ends flush. Two slots per leg later we were ready to sand all the parts of the frame and glue it.

To assemble we glued the legs into pairs, let that dry enough to hold itself, and then brought the whole frame together. A webbing clamp held it all together and we used the sash clamp on the diagonal to apply very slight pressure to pull it all square.

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Friday, 7 June 2013

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

A Matter of Correction

When I was learning to knit I decided that I didn't want to knit a scarf or granny squares or any of those other beginners items: I wanted to knit a jumper - and one with lots of pattern to it. I picked this one and set off with enthusiasm.

I followed the pattern to the letter and the result was a jumper that I never felt comfortable wearing because the body and the sleeves were shorter than I'd normally go for. I tend to like my tops to come down well below my waist and, to put it bluntly, this didn't.

Three years on and a with a little more experience I dug it out wondering if I could modify it. I had plenty of the wool left over so I decided to try picking up the stitches around the body and add a few inches of chunky rib - and then to do the same to the sleeves. I knew this wouldn't look as seamless as if it has been ribbed from the word go - but I figured I wasn't wearing it as it was so I might as well give it a chance.

A quick search on Google suggested that I'm by no means the first person to have done this and that the solution is not to just pick up the stitches as you would for a border, but to unravel the bottom edge completely.

Doing so for a cast on edge is more complicated that you'd think. You can't just detach an end and pull - it simply won't unravel. Instead you have to cut a stitch just below where you want to unravel to, and then unweave this loose end manually, picking up each stitch as its revealed.

The jumper had a hefty lump of pattern in it with stitches added, subtracted and switching places regularly; needless to say I found the process of identifying which bits to pick up as stitches hard work. A considerable amount of time later though and I had 95 stitches sitting on my needle and a completely loose piece of knitting that had been removed. Success!

I put in one row of knit and then started on a 2/2 rib.
With six inches of ribbed knitting added to the bottom I started to get quite excited. The whole jumper felt so much better for it. However, I did spot one potential problem. I couldn't just take a jumper that finishes at my waist, extend it straight down and expect it to fit over my hips - my body doesn't work like that. So I planned out a little triangular section to put over each hip so that it didn't have to stretch too much. Here was my plan:

I finished off the second half of the body quite quickly (becoming a pro at picking up thoses stitches!), and then added one inch of ribbing to each sleeve just to complete the job, and ta-da - one jumper that fits and is comfortable. Maybe next time its cold and wet this will be my jumper of choice.  

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