Rug Repair Saturday, Jan 12 2013 

Slowly and patiently.  Repairing an oriental rug so badly damaged, and of relatively little value, is perhaps a ridiculous thing to be doing.  Every few weeks I get around to doing a fair piece of it; for awhile I was bogged down in fiddling with an interior section, but right now I am recreating (essentially free-hand) an entire end with three sections of patterning.  It is a thought provoking experience.  I don’t think that we do enough work with our hands these days; it is so easy to simply go buy a new rug and done.  The material object is devoid of any meaning, the process is devoid of meaning  I’m not saying that we shouldn’t sometimes just buy a new one, and certainly being able to simply run out to the store is an awesome choice.  But I am not sure that time spent hand-making something is necessarily lost time.  This rug, I know the physical value of it as opposed to simply the monetary price tag.  As I work on it I have plenty of time to think, but you can’t be angry or tense.  It isn’t nearly as bad as working with animals, but if you’re tense than the thread tension is wrong and that won’t do.   Most people could do with that sort of hand work…

Being a perfectionist and working by hand does slow one down a bit.  If three inches have to come back out because you didn’t get it quite right, then three inches have to come back out.  There’s no compromise on getting it right, either it is or it isn’t.  Right doesn’t have to equate to perfect, because ‘perfect’ in this case would be ‘new’.  Right this instance not only includes the stitching, the colors, the tension, and all that, but also the age, previous repairs acknowledged and either removed or worked with, usually both.

Jackstraws Saturday, Dec 29 2012 

or projects.  About this time of year, we tend to start eyeing the house as much as the garden.  Reorganization seems to be this year’s theme.  Partly because we are, again, completely and utterly out of shelf space for books and partly because the sunniest room in the house is currently being ill-used for art storage.*  However, in order to move something somewhere else…first one has to move something else…  So in order to reorganize room A, room B has to be cleared, to clear room B one has to reorder (cue ominous music) the Barn.

   This leads to a number of projects in and of itself, for example: anybody got nifty ideas on how to attach dust catching curtains to bookshelves which are 10 feet tall, 20 feet long and are in a barn?  They have to keep dust out, but let the books breathe to avoid moisture buildup, and have to be easily operable…I’m thinking my Ag. supply company has something….roller shades for dairy barns perhaps?

And for the bibliophiles having heart attacks…those bookshelves will be used for the older technical or professional volumes, horribly written mysteries, and that ilk.  Excess encyclopedias, dictionaries, so forth.  Anything written pre-1900 or bound in leather is automatically excluded. It still won’t solve the bookshelf problem of course….because the shelves in question are already mostly full…. (and no the answer is not to stop buying or collecting books!)*

*better there than the barn, but the room needs to be usable again.

*in case you’re wondering the last estimate was about 10,000 to 14,000 volumes.  Which might be a bit high, since that was a rough guess based on a rough guess of shelf feet.  or not, on writing this I just looked at the library, that comes to a bit over 2,000 volumes right there… and the library is misnamed, for other areas have more books…and all rooms have some books…

Inventories Saturday, Dec 8 2012 

While rearranging my desk the other day, I came across two inventories for the house dating from the 1950’s and the 1960’s.  Neither are especially complete nor are they especially trustworthy, with several egregious errors on the first page alone of the professionally (?) done one from the 1960’s.  Deciphering them is made more difficult by the slow movement of objects so that none of the rooms match the descriptions of the inventories.

Inventories tend to go almost immediately out of date if they are organized by the object’s location, unless it is a static house museum.  But even there, every object has been given its own tracking number if the museum is serious about its work.  Ideally, every object gets its own card with a description and picture.  Every object.  Not sets.  This used to be a formidably expensive undertaking in paper and ink; the digital age has helped with that, though arguably it has meant an over-abundance of information without selection.

Still, both are very useful.  Most useful is the personal one compiled by Lucy Creevey in the 1950’s.  Uninterested in price, her inventory frequently gives the history of the object.  Unfortunately, figuring out which object she was discussing can be difficult.  The other one is mostly concerned about the price of the object and has those aforementioned errors; but still is interesting.

I suppose after 50 years…what an appallingly large project.*

*yes I know, First get the book/art one finished and off the non-working computer.  Pitfalls of digitized information….I can read the 1954 inventory, I can’t read the 2010 one because of the computer it is on…and yes I should have backed it up.

Experiment fail Tuesday, Nov 6 2012 

An interesting exercise.*  Spruce clearly splits with reasonable ease from the butt end, if the length is less than the distance to the next whorl.  That is, it splits with no more or less grace than red maple.  Nowhere near as easily as ash or birch, nowhere near as impossible as elm.  This means you could, if you liked sparks, create billets for a stove or campfire without killing yourself (you wouldn’t be having fun though). 

What spruce does not do is split lengthwise for rails.  Splits stop at the whorls and the sufficient number of crossing fibers makes getting the wedges back out a bit of a nuisance.  There is a reason you always, always keep one wedge free.

I think we shall now go hack it up into movable hunks.

*I’m sure you all reading think I am bats!

Fencing experiments Monday, Nov 5 2012 

Fences are Expensive.  Wood that has to be cut up anyway? Well, that has no cash outlay at least.  The fence by the highway is an interesting mixture; the north end is composed of old snow fence and a brushpile outside of it; the center section is composed of increasingly solid brush piles of pine/spruce/other slow rotting wood.  This is carefully stacked so it is no more than four feet wide at the base, tied together using its own weight and branches, and if the pointy ends stick out they stick out towards the road.  The last section, which has drawn admiring comments, is a modified zig-zag composed of thinned out sugar maple saplings.   Modified because I wired them to T-posts for a five foot high fence. None of the sections are especially fun to climb over, part of the point.  It’s all a lot cheaper than seven hundred plus feet of fence would be.

More interesting is that the fence actually does cut wheel noise and there has been a noticeable increase in the health of the plants behind it.  Apparently, the reduced light level is more than countered by the removal of the constant scouring by road debris.  Nor does the fence appear to block animal movement, it was specifically designed not to, actually. *

In any case, I hope to add a new section.  Theoretically, spruce splits.  Whether it splits by hand in long enough sections to be turned into rails or palisades?  We’ll see, I’ve got about 160 feet to play with…

*I have other more effective ways to control munching critters, and no desire to cause roadkill.

Croci! Thursday, Oct 18 2012 

Around about a thousand or so….Actually, I only got 500 in the ground today.  This is a continuation of the fence-line project, which is about 120 feet of fence at the top of the meadow planted out with daylilies.  Last fall I put in a 1000 crocus, but I soon determined that wasn’t enough.  So double it…  It appears that daylilies and crocus will happily coexist; but that the common violets, which hitched a ride with the daylilies, are greedy buggers.  Anywhere there was a mature clump of violets, I could count on there not being any crocus directly underneath.  And I do mean ‘clump’, violets form a solid ball of rhizomes about the size of a base-ball if they like the spot.  I am letting some violets continue, of course, for the butterflies; but I’ll be keeping a closer watch on them.  I am also planting the spine of the bed with white daffodils, of the poeticus and tazetta types.   We will see how they behave.  In the daylily/daffodil bank they have overtaken the lilies quite completely.*

Hopefully, it will eventually be a river of lavender with points of white and blue, and a rare flash of gold from a mixed crocus vernus collection.  Of course…one does wonder,  why?  There are only three people likely to see it in person. Our infrequent guests never appear in March!  But then, one doesn’t garden for that reason.

*Those however are the mystery daffodils: I dug several bushels of what I was sure were Poeticus type (judging by the very few flowers) from the woods, but were mostly clumps of over-crowded bulbs planted well over a century past….I ended up with a bank of pure gold trumpet daffodils, nary a Poeticus in sight.  They may be true King Alfreds, so no complaints.

Commentary on rug repair Tuesday, Oct 2 2012 

I am, slowly, repairing an oriental rug.  Now this repair goes far beyond a simple whipstitching of the edges…there are Holes, some actual ‘stick your hand through and wave’, some simply where the only thing left is a fragile patch of warp and weft looking a bit like screening.  I don’t know what on earth was done to; most are clearly places of heavy foot traffic, but there is one place about an inch wide and spanning the entire rug that is worn through…did someone fold it up and take a razor to it??

You will accumulate a multitude of needles, all threaded in a multitude of colours.

You will find that Plainsong music works best, failing that something in the folk genre that is singable.  So old, genuine folk music. Rock is out.

You will never have enough light.

A square inch an hour is doing well (the rug is about six and a half feet long)

There is a whole repetoire of tricks to get the new thread and knot in just right.

Repairing a warp/weft cord is possible.

If you were being paid, the number of hours you will spend would buy quite the rug.

You’re not sure why you’re doing this, but take a certain pride in it anyway.


The refinishing of floors Thursday, Sep 20 2012 

I am actually not the person that did the work, Jamie did it and well; I just ran off with the rug that was in desperate need of repair…thereby exposing a section of the floor.

Hard to say what the wood is, it may be hard pine.  Originally coated with shellac, making restoration fairly straight-forward.  Shellac is suspended in alcohol (you can actually get shellac in flake form).  Clean it, then rub it down with denatured alcohol which re-amalgamates whatever shellac was left, then two coats of shellac with some areas needing three (heavy traffic, sun, water, or tape from a taped down rug).  No sanding required.

This photo is about as close as we come to a ‘before’ image: the floor on the right is not yet done, the light mark is a where a rug was taped down.  You can see the difference in the quality of the color/light.

The floor refinished.  The circle in the center is a floor outlet.  This picture is also a nice illustration of the standard tendency for old houses to be built less than straight: look at the wall, the plaster is not cracked, the ceiling height really is that different!

Diffuse light Wednesday, Sep 12 2012 

As part of the project which has me working on a rug, Jamie has been beautifully redoing the dining room floor (note: do you realize we didn’t take a ‘before’ picture yet again?).  This is a both trickier and less work than one might suppose.  It is less work than a modern floor for several reasons.  The first is that the boards, long, narrow tongue-and-groove; are rock hard and absolutely not in need of any sanding.*  Secondly, they are shellac floors.  This means that striping them is neither needed nor desired.  Clean them, rub them down with alcohol once or twice, and then a new coat can be put on.  It is tricky, however, because a shellac floor is very hard to get evenly reflective.  In an area such as the dining room, where low angle sunlight is common, and where the eye has a large expanse of floor to look across, any mistake or miss is easily seen.

However, the end result is a floor the colour of dark amber, not a solid colour but a shifting array of hues with a mirror shine.  This of course brings one to the diffuse light thing.  Mirrors are a well-known method of bringing more light into a room.**  I have observed with other rooms that once the floors are redone, the light level goes up: the floor bounces a warm light back up.  It will be very interesting to see what the effect is in the dining room.  It should be even greater than other rooms, because the ceiling is a smooth white plaster, unlike the other rooms which are painted or coloured rough plaster.

*He who sands old floors (beyond more than a light hand sanding to remove) ought to be summarily disposed of. 

**This can be taken to far: there was a memorable entirely mirrored, entirely round bathroom in Graz, Austria that I encountered.  It would have been too much at any time of day…never mind on a night out.

Workspaces Tuesday, Sep 4 2012 

A house such as this requires either oodles of cash or the DIY spirit.  Not even approaching the former, needs must that the spirit be cultivated.  The problem, of course, is that the variety of talents required is quite large, the original quality that needs to be matched is quite high, and I am hardly a talented individual.*  

Be that as it may, there are a few first principles inherent to any job.  One of those is good preparation of the workspace.  A workspace that is cleared of unnecessary items, organized, and contains all the known needed bits is a great advantage.  Taking five minutes to move a chair that is only ‘sort of’ in the way may save an hour of dancing around it, or many hours repairing its upholstery or finish when you bash it with a ladder. 

In the present instance, this means taking an oriental rug which I could work on in situ and setting up to repair it elsewhere.  I suspect I’ll get the job done much faster than the previous rugs, which I have always worked on without moving them.  Importantly, the workspace is dedicated, meaning I can leave the project without tidying it out of sight, maneuverability is increased, and rather than working on the floor I can work standing up.


*I can be defeated by a power drill.  Being something of a Luddite, a standard non-powered drill and screwdriver do not give me the same problems.

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