Cycling and walking

Saturday, March 3

A weather report from Oxfordshire.........definitely no cycling....

It's beginning to seem like a rather long winter.............. which takes me back to the winter of 1987, when I sat by the fire growing Bump No 3 and reading "The Long Winter" by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I can't remember if that winter turned out to be particularly long, but as you had to sit as close as possible to the open fire in that house to keep warm (in the years before we installed a woodburner, which vastly improved matters) every winter seemed long! I remember the words of the Indian in the book who warns Pa Ingalls of the long winter to come by saying -

"Big heap snow!"

The snow we've got here now is in very big heaps in places.

But to go back a bit, on February 6th, I'd ridden into Wantage in the afternoon to do some shopping. I pootled home,  the hour being slightly later than usual but not mattering as the days were getting longer. I was thinking "Oh isn't this lovely! The evenings are drawing out and it feels like spring has sprung!".

However, I had a little niggly sore throat and slight tickly cough, and two days later, while sewing, shivering took over, and that night I went early to bed, only slightly warmed by a hot shower, thinking that this was it - the Aussie flu had flown somehow to rural Oxfordshire. I had been due to go to Scotland to stay for a week with my daughter and baby granddaughter, as her Marines husband had had to go away for a month, but that had to be cancelled.

The next day it didn't seem to me that it was bad enough to be flu (I've had it several times in the past and I remember it as being worse than this) and over the next couple of days I just felt generally unwell and very tired. I thought I was just being rather lazy when all I wanted to do was - nothing. I looked at some boro hand stitching I'd been doing and couldn't even be bothered to lift the needle and thread to do that. However the cough got so bad that when I suddenly developed a sharp pain in the rib area, worse on breathing in, I thought I had cracked a rib, and I then saw the doctor (last patient in the surgery that night) who took my temperature and said -

"You've got flu".

Well I never.

The rib pain lessened and went away after about a week. After sleeping downstairs for several nights so as not to disturb Husband with my coughing, plus having laryngitis (my voice is still not right) and a smattering of conjunctivitis, I finally felt well enough to go out on the bike again two weeks and two days after that last shopping trip. Once again I was gaily pootling along thinking the same Springy thoughts as before.

But the weathermen had warned us that winter was coming back, and it certainly has! My bike remains in the garage, where the snow has blown in under the door. Husband's shift at work meant he had had three days off, but was due to go back to work today. He set off at 5.45 am, about 40 minutes earlier than normal, to get to work 12 miles away, but despite trying various routes he was back home an hour later as it was impossible to get there from here. A neighbour who works at the John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford got stuck about 200 yards from here about the same time and Husband and another neighbour helped her get her car back closer to home.

Yesterday I went out for a short walk in the morning, and the wind was biting.

Cold weather gear, with the 1898 hat (see below)

Sheep in nearby field

Husband and I went out again later in the afternoon. This time I had all the layers on that I'd worn in the morning -

4 (yes 4)  thin layers of wool
1 layer of thickish cotton/acrylic
Primaloft jacket
2 Buffs
Warmest hat (1898 hat - brilliant pattern, I'd printed it off years ago but only got round to trying to knit it this winter)
Winter lined Craghoppers
Over the knee socks
Bontrager lobster claw gloves (recent acquisition, warmer than the Pearl Izumi ones I have on in the first pic)
Leather walking boots
Husband's Rab softshell with hood.

This morning we both went out again, passing Mr and Mrs Range Rover who had got stuck and were being towed, and then went part way up a track to the Ridgeway.

I wore wellies this time, but they're not so warm. Husband's gear of Rab waterproof/windproof trousers with leather walking boots were a warmer combination.

The drifts were amazing and very beautiful.

Looking back down the track that leads up to the Ridgeway.

We didn't go much further up than this! I am walking on the side of a track which is about the width of a narrow road, so you can see how much the snow has drifted.

And then this afternoon, we thought we'd go out for a longer walk!! It was snowing  again and when it blew into my eyes it really stung. This time I put thick cotton tights on under the Craghoppers and warmer socks, again wearing wellies, which are hard work to walk far in. We walked about 3 miles, along roads which were wonderfully quiet, and across fields, and by the time we got home I was well and truly warmed up!

I don't think I can remember a winter when temperatures have remained below freezing for so many days. Typical has been -4 degrees C. We have stayed warm in our little house, lighting our inset multi-fuel stove early in the morning. The inset stove was not our choice though works very well. If we ever own our own house it will absolutely have to have a stove! At least then if you lose your central heating for some reason you have some way of keeping warm. Although we have kept our (oil fired) central heating on as well for longer than usual these last few days it is only on very low, and is turned off in the bedroom. We sleep with the window open throughout the winter, although Husband sometimes wants it shut if it is windy as the noise keeps him awake.  We also have a wool duvet which is the best we've ever had! Previously, even with a high tog down duvet, we used to have a thick blanket over the top and tuck a sheet in over the whole lot, in order to keep warm. If you live in a cold house, or just prefer a cold bedroom, I would highly recommend one. Their only slight disadvantage is that they are heavy to manhandle. But apart from the convenience of a duvet when bedmaking, I sometimes wonder why we ever abandoned blankets.........


Friday, January 26

Harris Family No 2, transverse shuttle machine, Part 1

I am currently struggling with this Harris Family No 2 transverse shuttle machine (long bobbin). I was given this one, along with a Jones Zig-Zag (which remains upstairs until I decide whether it's worth spending money on parts for it) many months ago. Eventually I removed a lot of parts from it, cleaned it all, put it back together, oiled it, and removed it from the kitchen table while Christmas came and went, and sewing jobs did too. This week it was time to get it out again and attempt to sew with it. By the way the clean up job might not look that fantastic compared to some, and indeed if I'd had the time maybe I'd love to have got everything shinier, but for now it's a perfectly good enough job for it to function.

I have come across one TS machine before, which was this smaller Harris K - (in our old kitchen, which I miss!)

This had belonged to my father-in-law's mother. I got it stitching without too much trouble, but even if it had been mine to keep I wouldn't have bothered, as I didn't think it was a particularly good machine. Harris did not make the machines themselves; they were made by other companies, such as the German companies Haid and Neu, and Stoewer, who made the one I have now. This one is worth persisting with I think, which is why I am, despite the struggles! I wouldn't normally write a post about a sewing machine job until it was finished, but I decided to with this one.

Transverse shuttle struggles!

The struggles are caused simply by my not knowing as much about these TS machines as the other machines I have worked on, which either had long bobbins but had vibrating shuttles, rather than these transverse ones, or had round bobbins. Things are different behind that flat face plate too. It takes time to learn something new and I wasn't sure if I ought not really to be spending my time on other things, as this job probably won't earn me any money (although you never know....). Having said that, I felt sure that this machine was essentially in good order and it seemed such a shame not to get it working. It is also rather lovely to look at in my opinion, and, I'm no expert, but to me the engineeering is amazing. It is different to Singers in that all the metal rods underneath, and the needlebar and presser bar are rectangular as opposed to round. I find it amazing how these rods fit so accurately against each other, or inside a hole, and then with just a little oil between them they move smoothly. I like just turning the handle and watching everything move, and listening to the lovely sound it makes. 

This was the order of work - 

1  Insert the needle

The needle is completely round and not flat on one side as most domestic sewing machine needles are nowadays. These needles are not manufactured any more but it is possible to get something which does the job. Inserting it is not as simple as it sounds as with this machine you have to "set" it. Normally you just push the needle up as far as it will go and then tighten the clamp, but with this machine you have to gauge it by eye, making sure that when a mark on the needlebar is at a certain point, the eye of the needle is just entering the needle hole. I came across a comment on a post in Lizzie Lenard's vintage sewing blog on these TS machines, which proved very helpful. If you scroll down to Petrushka's comment on August 15th, he posts a link to a very good PDF with photos of a TS machine - a different make but still useful. It was only when looking at his photos that I was able to find the mark on the needlebar.

Learn to thread the shuttle. The diagram in the manual I've got is not all that clear, and despite there being videos on You Tube showing how to do it,  none of them are 100% clear, particularly with the last step of the threading. Perhaps I will take photos when I am certain that I know how to do it correctly, but I'm not at the moment. (By the way, I was over the moon to unwrap a new camera at Christmas - thank you children! - so I don't have to use the Ipad all the time or an old smartphone!) Anyway, once I'd done that, the next thing was to try to draw up the bobbin thread, which I succeeded in doing, but after some unsuccessful attempts at stitching I removed the shuttle, and then couldn't get the bobbin thread to come up again, no matter what I did. 

I needed to see what was going on in the shuttle area, so I removed the throat plate and right hand side plate, and watched the shuttle as it moved towards the upper thread. I could see what was going wrong, and that if I held the upper thread in a certain position then it stopped getting caught up where it shouldn't and went where it was supposed to and then drew up the bobbin thread. Whether it is supposed to be that tricky or not I don't know.

Here are the stages of picking up that upper thread -

Point of shuttle begins to pass in front of the upper thread

Thread has now gone over the shuttle, round the back, and over the bobbin thread

Upper thread is now picking up bobbin thread

Et voila! Mission accomplished!

3  Try and stitch again

No joy - the bobbin thread was not being caught with the upper thread....... so there were no stitches underneath. That's as far as I've got. One other thing - it may not help that that the needle is the only one I've got for this machine, and it is quite a thick needle; I haven't got the right weight of thread for it amongst my collection. Getting the right weight of thread for the needle and fabric is another important thing I've learnt over the years. Incidentally the needle itself has no markings on showing size or make, but as it came in this box......

.....I am assuming therefore that it is a Torrington needle. On the paper in the box are the numbers 339 and 2. I don't know if they mean anything. It is so easy to get sidetracked in this hobby, as I just had to google Torrington, never having come across their needles before. I then found out that it is a town in Connecticut (where my daughter-in-law is from and where Eldest Son worked for a few years) which is famed for its industry -

 "Soon, Torrington was producing a variety of metal products, including needles, brass, hardware, bicycles, and tacks." (Wikipedia)

Needles and bicycles - how appropriate!

Another blog with a useful post on the famous Singer 12 TS machine, and needles that work with it, is here. I say famous, but although I'd come across them before I didn't realize how famous until a friend had one for sale in her shop (the Arbery Emporium in Wantage) and asked me to have a look at it. I did some googling and then I knew....... 

Here's one more pic showing the amazing engineering. Actually it might not be amazing to an engineer but to someone who isn't - it is! Looking underneath from behind the machine, you can see that there is a groove that the needle passes down. The shuttle passes over the needle while it is in this groove. So smooth and with such precision!

Hopefully there will be a Part 2 to this which will not say "I've given up...." but instead "success!"

Other distractions lately are a book called "Stitches in Time" on the history of clothes by Lucy Adlington, bought in a charity shop and very interesting, a fascination with the clothes that George Mallory was found to be wearing when his body was discovered on Everest in 1999, and leading on from that a blog called Well Dressed Dad, and last but not least a programme on BBC 4 called A Stitch in Time.

I'm now off to do a bit of boro.

Monday, January 15

Two people's plastic waste for one month

With all the news about plastic in the oceans and the news of possible attempts by the government to cut down on this waste, this blog post is quite timely. At the beginning of December I had decided that I would save all the plastic waste that our household of two people produced, in order to see just how much we ended up with. The piles in the photos below are the evidence. It was just starting to overflow the "bag for life" that I had kept it in.

During this time I didn't attempt to reduce the amount of plastic waste that we produce. I just bought what I normally do, although having said that, I have been attempting  to reduce the amount over the years by not, for instance, putting loose vegetables in Sainsbury's into the bags provided. When buying biscuits I had also started noting which ones were excessively packaged, i.e. a plastic tray, wrapped in film, inside another plastic wrapper, and chose ones instead which had less packaging. Have you noticed how it's the particularly yummy ones that come in lots of packaging.........

I also knew that black trays used for ready meals were virtually not recyclable as they could not be detected by the sorting machines, so for some weeks I had been trying to avoid buying these. (I know, I know, ready meals, appalling.......... but we only have them occasionally!). Instead if I can I get them from the Co-op where they do them in green trays. Why can't Sainsbury's and Waitrose then????? Also on that subject, we have tried an EXCELLENT lasagne from Aldi, which comes in a paper case in a wooden box, in a cardboard sleeve. We have a trip to Aldi now and then to buy certain other things too, like their snack bars which are like Nakd bars but even better and cheaper, and also British oilseed rape oil (in a glass bottle) which is about half the price that it is in Sainsbury's.

The only thing that I didn't save was our milk bottles. I'm not sure how much milk we get through in a month, but at a rough guess it must be at least 8 pints for Husband and 4 for me, per week, so that would work out at around 12 x 4 pint bottles for  the month. In fact it would have been more than that as we had our son and his wife staying for a few days. In the days before they were collected in the kerbside boxes, and when we lived in our old house with loads of outbuildings for stuff like this, the only place you could take them for recycling was Tesco's 13 miles away, so I used to store them up and take them when we were going that way anyway. Good job we had a VW van at the time. As we now only have a tiny car I'm glad we can now recycle them at the roadside.

The first photo is the complete contents of the bag -

Then I separated this pile into what is labelled as recyclable, what isn't labelled at all, and what is recyclable but only in shops themselves rather than at the roadside. Having said that, I am looking at the photos and thinking - I haven't been consistent here! Because I have got stuff that isn't labelled in more than one pile..... For instance Holland and Barrett bags in this pic which are not labelled -

and in this next picture - 

plain unlabelled plastic here too, with stuff that IS recyclable. I'm in a muddle myself now! I think my reasoning was that if it's completely plain I will assume (for some reason!) that it might be recyclable and therefore put it in the recycling bin. 

This lot is definitely the stuff that I have to take back to Sainsbury's.

There have long been complaints about how complicated and unclear plastic recycling is, and I think that is one of the issues the government is addressing, and about time too. It just doesn't make sense a lot of the time - I mean why are Sainsbury's frozen peas bags recyclable but Waitrose's are not???? 

From now on I will be attempting to cut down on the plastic we "consume", but to be honest that will be quite hard, partly as I think we probably already consume less plastic than many other people. So much is wrapped in plastic, often unnecessarily, and often only so that it can be hung neatly on stands in the shops. So much comes in multi packs rather than singly. 

I used to continue to buy Ribena in the glass bottles even when they were also doing it in plastic bottles, but they are all plastic now. You can still buy tomato ketchup in glass bottles (it's actually slightly cheaper surprisingly) but how long will it be before that too is only available in plastic ones? Amongst the pile of plastic we had were some tiny bits which I meant to keep separate but forgot, such as the plastic barbs that hold things like socks together. Multiply one lot of those tiny things by all the socks that get sold every year, and that's an awful lot of very tiny weeny bits of plastic probably getting lost in the rubbish or recycling and ending up in those oceans of plastic and inside the fish that swim in them.

I remember when plastic carrier bags first came in. It must have been the early seventies I think, as I was still at school and remember it being rather cool to carry your books to school in one of them rather than one's leather satchel, which had become decidedly uncool....... now look where we are......

Oh and one last thing. I was horrified to learn that there is even plastic in tea bags!!! Actually, for your information, I have been a lifelong user of loose leaf tea, but when Yorkshire Tea stopped doing their hard water tea in the loose leaf version I started buying it in tea bags and then cut them open and emptied out the tea into my tea caddy (which is actually a jam jar). One tea bag's worth of tea does at least two tea pots for me. (Tea making - a post for another day perhaps!!) I put the bags into the compost. Never again. I have now found a suitable alternative loose leaf  tea anyway.

So, that's my plastic confession! What's yours????