Wednesday, 16 April 2014

A Visit to Torre Abbey Gardens

A beautiful day today, and my hubby having some free time in the middle of the day, he took me on an outing to Torre Abbey in Torquay. The beautiful gardens are looking their best in the fine spring weather.

Here are the Abbey ruins from the reception area inside the house.

01 Abbey Ruins

Some bluebells growing by the garden gate. You can see the tropical house beyond.

02 Bluebells and the Tropical House

Along the fence some fruit trees were trained, and I was fascinated by this twisted branch.

03 Twisted Branch

One of Torquay’s most famous daughters, Agatha Christie, is celebrated in the centre of the gardens with the “Potent Plants Garden” full of poisonous plants yielding the deadly toxins so favoured by this writer in her detective novels.

04 Agatha Christie Potent Plants Sign

A corner of the Potent Plants Garden. Around the garden were signs with clues and questions to answer about Agatha Christie’s stories. In which one do the “cockle shells all in a row” appear?

05 Agatha Christie Potent Garden

Another sign in the Potent Plants Garden. I am so glad that the Elf & Safety Brigade haven’t muscled in on this act and demanded that this garden be dug up – it is a lot of fun!

06 Agatha Christie Potent Plants Sign

A mirrored sculpture. I love reflective surfaces, and it is fascinating how the “wing” on the right hand side seems to disappear into the background greenery as it reflects the greenery underneath.

07 Mirrored Sculpture

The house and gardens.

08 The House and Gardens

The gardens with the ruins of the Abbey beyond.

09 Gardens and Ruins

A corner of the garden with trees and spring flowers.

10 Flowers and Trees

One of a network of arbours around a central fountain. My hubby enjoying the sunshine. (Note the patches on his elbows – I’ve never known anyone with such sharp elbows, which go through his sleeves so quickly! Most of his jumpers have these circular crochet patches that I’ve made, picking out the colours of the jumper. They look like targets in a shooting range!)

11 N with Arbour and Fountain

The fountain. Beautiful reflections in the water.

12 Fountain

Finally, another picture of our naughty kitties trying to get a bite of my hubby’s supper – not salmon fish cakes this time, but pizza! If you look carefully, you can see that a couple of hours after their own supper, Phoebe still has some gravy on her nose. I’ve never known a kitty so keen on her food that she literally buries her face in it!

Going After Daddy's Supper 2 - Gravy on Nose 16-4-14

By the time we’d had lunch outside the cafe at the Abbey, and been round the gardens, I was a bit too tired for anything else, so we decided to postpone a tour of the inside of the house till another time. A lovely day all round.


Hop over to Julia’s blog (click on the WOYWW link in my sidebar) to join in the fun and see how messy our work desks are this week!

You find mine just as I was starting to put things away after making the card you can see on the left, inspired by a wonderful design by Helen Allen. I’ve done a post about this where you can see how I made it step by step.


The rest of the stuff consists of bits of card used in the project, some acrylic paints and gel mediums (including the iridescent one which is simply gorgeous), a bottle of Dylusions spray ink, some Distress Inks and a jar of dirty paint water! You can also see the gorgeous little pincushion Lunch Lady Jan made for me when we did an ATC swap with WOYWW a couple of years ago – it’s not used for sewing pins, but pins for unblocking glue bottles, and generally poking holes in things. It lives on my desk close to hand at all times! You can also see my deluxe Bosch hot glue gun, and on the left, the little cream tin bath that had a teddy and some soap in it once – nowadays I use it for bunging odd bits and pieces in, and it’s useful for keeping miscellaneous gubbins in one place.

In case you are wondering where the teabags are this week, there are some stacked up on the far right at the back, underneath a piece of tea-dyed wadding fabric. The others are stashed elsewhere while I was working on the card.

Elsewhere in my ARTHaven this week, I’ve done a bit more dyeing. The first batch I did came out too dark for what I wanted it for, so I mixed up another dye bath with the same colour proportions but this time, half strength. Here is the result – the two skeins at the back are the new colour, and the ball at the front is the old – I can use this in other projects. It’s a gorgeous colour but just not right for my current knitting project, which is more subtle. This chestnut brown is made up of equal quantities of dark brown and red dye, with half the quantity of yellow. Colour mixing is Funnnn……

Chestnut Brown - 2 Shades

Now I have got my stock solutions all made up, it’s a quick and easy process to dye any small quantities I want, of any colour. It’s great having the table right by the sink and microwave.

Speaking of my knitting – I have now started decreasing down the first sleeve, so it shouldn’t be long before the number of stitches becomes appreciably fewer and the work should progress more quickly.

04 Beginning Sleeve Decreasing

Last week I said I might have some exciting news for you this week. Unfortunately it has been delayed but hopefully I’ll be able to share it with you next week! Here’s hoping, anyway.

Have a great week, everybody – full of creativity and fun. Happy WOYWW!

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Card Inspired by Helen Allen

My lovely blogging and Youtube buddy, Helen, is in full creative mode at the moment – you could say she’s In the Zone!! Her work is totally inspiring, and this week I decided to try my hand at a card inspired by one of her recent projects, Arty Card Tutorial. Hope you like it, Helen, and thanks yet again for sharing your wonderful creativity with us!

I’m afraid I had some problems with my camera during the making of this project, and some of the photos seem to have come out quite out of focus, for which I apologise – I did not notice at the time – the auto focus seemed to be working OK at the time, and it was only when I came to edit them that I noticed the problem.

Here is all the stuff I got out at the beginning of the project. I didn’t use all of it, and also added in a few things along the way that weren’t in the picture.

01 Materials and Equipment

Helen worked her two examples on plain card, but I decided I wanted a bit of a background to work on first, so I took some A5 white card and cut it down by an inch on one long and one short side, and shooshed it into some Milled Lavender and Dusty Concord Distress Inks spritzed with water on my non-stick craft sheet. The Milled Lavender proved too pale so I didn’t bother to use any more of it during the project. I added a small amount of Spiced Marmalade with an Inkylicious Ink Duster.

02 Smooshed Background

The offcuts from this piece of card I smooshed with Spiced Marmalade Distress Ink, and mopped up the rest with another piece of card which will eventually form a background for another project. The strips would be used later in this project.

03 Smooshed Strips and Extra Background

Now came the fun part – making ink splats! I love doing this. Distress Stains come in a bottle with a fabric applicator and if you strike this firmly down onto some card, it makes a fabulous Splat! Pow! Zap!! Good for working off one’s aggressions. In this case I used Picked Raspberry and Seedless Preserves Distress Stains, the lighter and darker splats respectively.

04 Distress Stain Splats

I then took some sequin waste and used this as a stencil, pouncing acrylic paint with a foam applicator – I made a mixture of Permanent Magenta and Ultramarine to produce a dark rich purple colour. However, I felt that this was a bit too strong, so I made a wash with Titanium White acrylic paint and toned it down a little.

05 Sequin Waste Stencilling with Acrylic Paints

Following Helen’s instructions, I took my bottle of Pure Sunshine Dylusions spray ink, and unscrewed the top. I pulled the tube out of the spray bottle and used this to “scratch” some ink onto the card, parallel to, and at right angles to the design. This is a great technique.

06 Scratching with Dylusions Ink Spray Tube

After this I took some of the purple mix acrylic paint and spattered some of it over the card, concentrating on the design part but also adding some spatters to the background.

07 Paint Spatters

I chose a script background stamp to add a bit of texture to the background.

08 Background Script Stamp

Using the rubber stamp without an acrylic block, I applied some of the acrylic paint to part of it and gently laid it down repeatedly over the design, not always applying more paint between each application, so that some of the impressions came out fainter.

09 Background Script Stamping with Acrylics

I then mixed up a small quantity of Vermilion and Cadmium Yellow acrylic paints and stamped this onto the design using a pen cap.

10 Stamping with Pen Lid and Acrylic Paint

Returning to my offcut strips, I added some Dusty Concord Distress Ink. Some of this would be used as the background for the sentiment.

11 Smooshed Strips for Sentiment

Stamping the sentiment. This is a “Happy Birthday” clear stamp that I have had since I started several years ago, and I have no idea what make it is, or where I got it.

12 Stamping the Sentiment

I matted the sentiment strip onto a strip of purple cardstock and rounded the corners using my corner-rounder punch.

13 Sentiment Matted and Layered

I rounded the corners of the main card piece, and then cut narrow strips of patterned card – odd scraps I have had for ages – you can see them in the first photo. I cut the ends obliquely and stuck them down with soft matt gel medium, and trimmed off the excess around the edges of the card.

14 Narrow Strips of Card Attached

Using an old credit card dipped into Titanium White acrylic paint, I added the white lines across the design. This is an exciting touch that Helen added to her cards, which really lifts the design.

15 White Acrylic Lines Applied with Credit Card

At this stage, I added some more scratched lines with the Dylusions ink, as the original ones had been somewhat obscured by subsequent layers. After this, I painted on some iridescent gel medium randomly, mostly on the background but a little on the design, which really makes the surface of this card shimmer. This is gorgeous stuff, and can either be painted on direct, as I have done here, or mixed with acrylic paint in any colour and then applied. It has a lovely silky finish.

16 Iridescent Gel Medium

The card base was formed from a sheet of heavy white A4 card which looked a bit stark against the card, so I inked the edges with Spiced Marmalade Distress Ink which toned it down nicely and made it co-ordinate with the design. I also inked the inside in the same way, adding some Dusty Concord in the centre part.

17 Inked Card Base and Matting and Layering

I matted and layered the card topper onto some gold mirror card and the same purple cardstock that I used for the sentiment.

I took some rayon seam binding and smooshed it around in some Dusty Concord Distress Ink spritzed with water on my non-stick craft sheet. I kept screwing it up and then applied some ink direct from the pad, to give a nice uneven colour, continuing to spritz and screw it up until I was pleased with the result.

18 Inking the Ribbon

I added a small amount of the Spiced Marmalade Distress Ink, using an Inkylicious Ink Duster.

I tied a shabby chic style bow using three lengths of this ribbon and fixed it in place with hot glue, before highlighting it with some gold gilding wax applied with my finger.

19 Gilding the Ribbon

The sentiment attached to the card topper.

20 Sentiment Attached

A set of decorative brads that I’ve had in my stash for several years – I chose one with a purple and yellow colour scheme.

21 Decorative Brads

I cut off the fasteners from the back of the brad and attached it to the centre of the bow using hot glue, and then used more hot glue to attach the bow to the card.

22 Ribbon Attached

The final step was to attach the card topper to the base card, which I did using quite a large quantity of double sided tape glue from my ATG – the card topper was a bit wrinkly from all that had been done to it, and it is now nice and flat. I rounded the corners of the card base, and here it is.

23 Finished Card

Thank you, Helen, for an inspiring design! I think there is a lot of potential in this technique – as Helen says, it is reminiscent of art journal pages with the building up of the layers.

P.S. Can you spot the deliberate mistake? A real “duh” moment!!

Saturday, 12 April 2014


One of the essential features of my new ARTHaven when I was designing and planning it, was to have a sink with running water, and a microwave. This picture was taken before the work was finished.

03 Microwave on Shelf

I now have a table in front of the balcony door from which to work – this is moveable and can also take up residence in my ARTHaven proper if necessary. My intention is to fix a drying rack above the sink – the previous owner of the house left behind a steel saucepan rack (Ikea, I think), and once I have sawn the rails to length, I shall fix a bracket over the microwave and the rails will enable me to suspend skeins of yarn by hooks so that they can drip into the sink. In the meantime, I can use the airer in the utility room.

Many years ago I did some experiments with acid dyes and woollen yarn, but this remained very inconvenient to pursue until I had a better setup, so it all got set aside and packed away. Ever since I got established in my new ARTHaven I have wanted to revive this activity, and this has now become more urgent because I am running out of the chestnut brown yarn for my knitting project. I am now in frugal/recycling mode and if I can dye some yarn to the required shade rather than buying it, I shall be well pleased. A while back I bought a large cone of unbleached 4-ply machine knitting wool just for this purpose.

I have set out my acid dyeing equipment on the table:

01 Dyeing Equipment

I also have some Procion (reactive) dyes for use with cellulose fibres (vegetable fibres, e.g. cotton) but for the moment I am concentrating on acid dyes which work best for protein fibres such as wool.

You might ask why I am using chemical dyes rather than natural dyes which produce such gorgeous subtle colours. The answer is that chemical dyes are very much more convenient to use, and it is possible to get repeatable results, which are not possible with natural dyes. Also, the process of natural dyeing is more complicated, with the addition of different mordants (dyebath additives that enable the dyes to “bite” into the fibres and become fast) for different materials, and to produce different colours from the same materials. The dye materials have to be sourced and gathered, often in quite large quantities in order to produce sufficient colour, and the whole process is a lot more messy and takes up a lot more room. Chemical dyes are very sophisticated these days, and while the basic unmixed colours can seem very harsh, especially at full strength, with careful blending and at greater dilutions, the most beautiful and subtle shades can be created, every bit as attractive as the colours produced by natural dyes, without the hassle.

When I made my initial foray into dyeing all those years ago, I bought this excellent book which explains how the different types of dye work, and how to use them in the small, non-industrial craft-room setting. As far as I know it is no longer in print, but there are many similar books on the market.

02 Dyeing Book

These are the dyes I bought at the time – a good representative selection of colours. It is possible to mix the three primaries (blue, red and yellow) to produce every colour, and with black, to create deeper tones (in this selection, black is called “toner”) but the addition of a turquoise blue, brown, pink (a crimson red with a higher blue content than the basic scarlet red) and violet, it is possible to create the full range of colours more easily and with less risk of “muddiness.”

03 Acid Dyes

These dyes come in powder form, and are extremely concentrated. In industrial quantities, they can be accurately measured and added to bulk quantities of fibre, but in the craft room setting, where one is dealing with much smaller quantities of yarn, it becomes impossible to weigh out the small quantities (minute fractions of a gram) that are required, so it is necessary to make up stock solutions of the powder with water – the standard is a 1% solution, which is 1 part dye to 100 parts water, or 1 gram to 100 ml of water. This basic solution of known strength can then be added to the dyebath with much greater accuracy with the use of small measuring cups and syringes, the quantity being governed by the exact weight of yarn being dyed, and the depth of colour required.

Unfortunately some of my original stock solutions have dried up, and I am not sure of the concentration of the ones that have not, so I am going to have to dispose of them and start again. It is not a problem because each stock solution uses such a small quantity of the powder and I have plenty more of each colour.

The amount of water required for the dyebath is known as the liquor ratio and is commonly 20:1, i.e. 20 parts water to 1 part fibre, or 20 ml water per gram of fibre.

The most astonishing thing I discovered when playing with this before was that if you measure everything accurately, however intense the colour may be with the addition of the dye to the dyebath, after the dyeing process has completed, the dyebath ends up absolutely clear, with every molecule of colour having been taken up by the yarn! This is very impressive to witness.

To aid the colour take-up and the fastness of the dye, certain dyebath additives are required. With acid dyes, the acid is acetic acid, or vinegar. Glauber’s salt, or sodium sulphate, is a white powder which can be made up into a stock solution of 10% (100g powder to 1 litre of boiling water), and is added to the dyebath before introducing the fibre. Its purpose is to block the takeup of the dye by the fibres at the initial stage of dyeing; as the temperature is increased, this effect is reduced. This enables the dye to be taken up by the fibre in a more controlled way, resulting in a more even colour.

04 Dyebath Additives

Here is my measuring equipment. The simple set of metric scales is very accurate; you simply slide the black bar along in the stand until the black lines line up with the weight you require on the scale, and when the correct weight of dye or fibre is placed in the white cup, the scales will balance on the stand which has a curved underside. I have several ice cream tub spoons, syringes in various sizes for measuring small quantities of liquid dye, measuring cups and glass and plastic stirrers. I also have a dairy thermometer (not pictured). With microwave dyeing, the temperature is less critical.

05 Weighing and Measuring Equipment

The great advantage of microwave dyeing is that it is easy to dye small quantities, which is probably what I shall want for most of my projects. Also, you can dye several batches at once, as they are in separate containers. The heat is very uniform and without the “hot spots” you can get on a conventional hob, which helps keep the colour uniform. The book says that there is no danger doing dyeing in a microwave primarily used for cooking, although the utensils used for dyeing should be separate. In my case, of course, the microwave in my ARTHaven is exclusively for art and craft use and is not used for food preparation anyway, and the equipment never finds its way into the kitchen.

From the beginning I decided to keep an accurate record of my experiments, and I used an A5 ring binder, and created a series of pages made from card with punched holes through which I could inset a small sample of dyed yarn, together with the recipe, and the description – e.g. Single colour, half strength (5% solution), so that all the colours could be accurately reproduced when required. This photo shows some of the darker colours, with the full-strength basic, unmixed colours on the left, and half-strength on the right.

06 Recipes and Samples Folder

Later on in the book are the results of a much weaker solution of dye, and some of the colours are beautifully subtle, especially when mixed.

07 Recipes and Samples Folder - Light Colours

With accurate measurement, any colour in the colour library should be easily reproducible. I never got round to finishing the book, but hope to complete the task soon, and also do some experiments with mixing from the colour wheel, which I have learnt more about since those days – for example, it is often better and more subtle to add a little of a colour’s complimentary from the opposite side of the wheel to dull the colour, rather than by adding black. There are instructions in the book for creating a colour wheel from rings of card wound with the different colours of yarn, and it would be fun to create one of these – not only is it a useful reference tool, but it is also highly decorative and beautiful.

When I was exploring the delights of dyeing all those years ago, I created this display board for a craft show I took part in, to show the small sample skeins I made at the time, attached to a cork bath mat with pins and narrow ribbon. Even though it is incomplete, it is still an attractive display! Each skein is labelled with a small tie-on label, giving the colour, intensity, proportions of mix, etc.

08 Samples Display Board

Watch this space for progress with my experiments. It will be very useful to be able to produce any colour I want, in the quantity I want, for any given project.

As time goes on, I am looking forward to experimenting with Procion dyes and dyeing some cotton fabric. I have some wooden printing blocks from Colouricious, and I also recently acquired some decolourant, a substance you can paint onto fabric or paper etc., or stamp with rubber stamps or wood blocks, and with the application of heat, the colour disappears. In my dye box is a selection of fabric paints which can also be block printed. Many moons ago, like my 1960s contemporaries, I dabbled with tie-dye and there’s a lot of potential with that, too. I have huge quantities of old white cotton sheets and it will be fun to transform some of this fabric into something creative and more useful. I feel the time has come to expand my mixed media work into fibre and stitch, and I am very much looking forward to getting going on the sewing machine and introducing free motion embroidery into my projects too, especially the teabag art. Combining all this with paper and card, inks and acrylics, gel mediums, metal, melted and fusible textiles, the boundaries are becoming less and less distinct and anything goes!!

Update – I’ve been dyeing all afternoon and have made up new stock solutions in all 8 colours, and after dyeing a test skein with a mixture of brown and red and a touch of yellow, have now dyed two nice skeins of a rich dark chestnut brown for my knitting! It is cooling in the dyebath and I’ll wash it later, and hang it to dry, so photos in the next couple of days, I hope. I have to report that the setup in my ARTHaven with the table by the sink and the microwave above, with light coming in through the balcony door, is absolutely ideal. I can even plug the kettle in nearby!

Wednesday, 9 April 2014


Goodness, it’s time for the World’s Best Nosey Fest again – What’s On Your Workdesk Wednesday? Come on, take a photo of your creative space and hop over to Julia’s blog (click on the link in my sidebar) and join in the fun.

I’m composing this post on Tuesday night. Not a great deal on my desk this week, although I was quite productive yesterday when I created a card using my melted nappy liner. On my desk today is the second of my diamond-pattern teabag drying sheets, and on the left you can see the large piece of roofing felt that Andy, one of the builders who did all that wonderful work on our new house last year, brought me yesterday. It is not actually Tyvek but resembles Fibertex, the “fabric” type of Tyvek. So far all I’ve done with it is cut off a small piece and melted it with the heat gun, with quite good results. In the centre of the desk, at the back, you can see my super-duper glue gun which I got running yesterday to stick my melted nappy liner onto the card base. Teabags in various stages of drying, emptying and embellishing seem to be a permanent fixture on my desk these days!


I’ve made a bit of progress on the first sleeve of my knitting – here you can see the back, lying on the desk from left to right, with the picked-up sleeve at the top of the picture. The green and grey pattern strip is deceptively difficult – each time I work this pattern I go wrong, and the poor artificial light in the sitting room was blurring the colours together and making it quite impossible! In the end I took myself up to my ARTHaven and knitted it up there, but I still went wrong and had to spend hours undoing the wretched thing! Success at last, though.

03 Early Progress on First Sleeve

Finally, a picture I took this evening of my hubby tucking into a salmon fishcake, with both kitties showing intense interest, with lots of neck-craning and woofly twitchy noses!!

Going After Daddy's Supper

Next time we meet, I should have some exciting news for you. Meantime, wishing you all a happy and creative week.