Friday, August 30, 2013

Half a Transformation

Today my study/workroom went from this

to this

I'm liking the minimalist look. It's almost a pity I have to put everything back, but now my guest room looks like this

On Sunday Value Village is having a pre-Labor Day, 50% off sale for members so I'll be there as soon as I can drag myself out of bed in the morning to buy them out of baskets and storage boxes, and hopefully I'll have a good portion of this back where it belongs by the end of the long weekend.


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Tale of a Chair

I stalk furniture-makeover blogs. I admit it. I'm a stalker. There's nothing I like better than a good before-and-after post. So I'm making my own contribution to the genre here with this little gentlewoman in distressed circumstances.

Her story is a sad one, but it has a happy ending, as you can see.

Unfortunately I don't have any of the before-before pictures, as I bought the chair sometime while we were in California at a flea-market and I wasn't planning on blogging about it. Originally it was actually three chairs - well, parts of three chairs. One was nearly complete, one was about half a chair, and the rest were various bits and pieces from at least one other. I bought it for, I think, $5 (it may have been $5 per chair, but as I said it was a while ago). I left it with my parents, since they had a lot more storage on the farm than we had in our apartment, until not long before we had to pack up to move back to England. One weekend while I was visiting I got all the bits out and Dad helped me make one solid chair out of the wreckage. We salvaged the best pieces and I seem to remember that the seat and one arm/leg combo went together, we took the other arm/leg from the second chair and the back was one of the loose bits from the "third" chair that came with it. I really wish I'd taken pictures of it all the way I found it. We had to do a lot of drilling, hammering and gluing but I finally had a chair. Sort of.
When I bought it I had in mind that it could be a chair to take to SCA events but it's solid wood, and not a light-weight. It also needed a lot of cosmetic work as it was pretty bashed about, and ripped black vinyl is so not me.

The first thing I did was unscrew and pry off the padding from the back and seat. What was left wasn't pretty. Glue and grunge.
I filled a few holes and then sanded the wood just enough to knock off the remnants of glue and to take down the shine.
Then I gave it two coats of chalk paint made from Plaster of Paris and a $2 quart of oops paint I got from Home Depot. It wasn't the best to make chalk paint out of as it was a paint/primer combo enamel rather than a flat paint, but it was $2 so I went with it.
I only distressed it a little as David hasn't got his head round the whole "shabby chic" thing yet. I sanded it in places where it would look natural so it's fairly subtle. I finished it off with a coat of Minwax Finishing Wax and buffed it up.
I have been wanting to try upholstering with painters' drop cloth, as everyone in DIY-blogland has been doing. I also wanted script fabric, but not in French, which is the rage, because I don't speak French and, beautiful as it is, I wanted something that means something to me. So I found a font I like (based on Jane Austen's handwriting no less) and printed out a large "Rest" for the back. I traced the word onto freezer paper and then cut it out as a stencil.
I wanted it to look like old ink on parchment so I used chocolate brown fabric paint and dabbed it over the stencil.
For the seat I found a number of quotes I liked about rest and relaxation, typed them up in the Jane Austen font, and then printed them out onto four sheets of paper, which made it just about the right size to cover the seat cushion.  To get the words onto the fabric I printed them backwards and then used the Citrasolv transfer method. I started at the top and by the time I got to the bottom I was pretty tired of rubbing that spoon over the paper so the ink didn't transfer very well there. I then went over the transferred letters with a fine paintbrush and the brown fabric paint so it would match the back.
I'd ripped the vinyl off the seat and the plaque that screws into the back so I stapled the dropcloth over the existing foam and screwed the back and seat on.
 And here she is in all her impoverished-gentry glory.
Everything you see in this photo, with the exception of the lampshade and the alabaster bowl, was bought from a thrift store/flea-market/charity shop/car-boot sale or was a gift. (The bowl was bought at the Khan el-Khalili in Cairo and is a souvenir of our trip to Egypt last year).

I still have to make piping to go around the seat and the back plaque but my sewing machine is somewhere in all of this -

and I needed the seating when we had guests over so it will have to wait until I can get the dumping ground my workroom organized. Sigh.

PS - on the plus side, I recently found this desk for $10, which also needs an overhaul, to use as a sewing table (if I can ever get to it).


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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Two Different Kinds of Pilgrimage

Holywell, Flintshire

My mother wanted to name me Katherine Elizabeth and call me Katie Beth. That would have been OK - I could see myself as a Katie. My dad, bless him, had other plans. He decided I was a Wendy, and, because he thought it was a nickname for something, came up with Winifred. So, tiny baby girl, in the late 60s, named Winifred. Wendy was unusual enough in California growing up, despite the Beach Boys. There was only one year at school that there was another Wendy in my class (or in the whole school in fact) and she was Chinese (go figure). The only other Winifreds I ran across were in obituaries - elderly Victorian-born ladies going to their eternal rest.

Thanks to baby naming books I've always known I was named after an obscure Welsh saint, but it wasn't until I was in college in England that I learned her story and that her shrine is a small spring, in a tiny town in North Wales. It was in fact due to the Ellis Peters' "Brother Cadfael" books that I became not only resigned to my name, but actually rather fond of it, and have wanted since then to visit Holywell in Wales.

According to legend, St Winifred (or Winefride or Gwenfrewi) was a beautiful, 7th century Welshwoman, who became the object of lust for a Welsh prince named Caradog who, when she rejected his advances and fled from him, cut her head off on the steps of the church, to which she had run for sanctuary. Her uncle, the abbot St Beuno cursed Caradog (who dropped down dead), replaced Winifred's head on her neck and instructed all gathered there to pray for her restoration. Miraculously she came back to life and where her head had fallen sprang up a well of clear water.

She remained more or less obscure until the 12th century when her relics were translated to Shrewsbury Abbey in England (an event chronicled in the Brother Cadfael book "A Morbid Taste For Bones") and a biography was written by Prior Robert of Shrewsbury a few years later. The well had developed a reputation as a place of healing and became, and still is, one of the most popular shrines in Wales. Henry V made the pilgrimage in 1415 before his victory at Agincourt, as did Edward IV before Towton Moor in 1461, and the future Henry VII may have made a secret visit before winning his crown at Bosworth in 1485.The present building,dates from the late 15th century and was probably built on behalf of Margaret Beaufort, Henry VII's mother, replacing an earlier structure,

The water is amazing clear, and bone-chillingly cold, even in the height of summer.

David got a picture of me bathing my feet and hands in the water. We weren't there during the official bathing times but I thought I'd dip my poor arthritic extremities in the pool outside. We were lucky enough to be there at noon, when there was a short service in the shrine. We aren't Catholic, so declined to kiss the relic, but the liturgy was moving and there really is a holy feeling about the place.
Perhaps one day I'll be able to go back with my bathing costume and participate in the full experience (if I can endure the icy water!).

Trefriw Woollen Mills, Conwy Valley

David is pretty good about traipsing along with me when I want to stop at potteries, yarn stores, antique shops, etc. On the road to Conwy is a hydro-electric woolen mill/museum I had to stop at, once powered by water wheel, and now by water turbines dating from the 1930s and 40s.
 The working mill museum features the process from fleece to fabric on carding engines, spinning mules, warping mill and Dobcross looms, most of which date back to the 50s or 60s.

The Weaver's Garden outside has specimen plants which provide fibres, natural dyes, textile tools, soaps, and moth repellents.

The spinning machines weren't working due to lack of staff that day, but there was plenty of evidence that spinning was done there.
After dyeing, the wool is wound onto cones and then threaded through this torturous looking device to create the warp for the looms, which you can see below wound around a large drum.
The weft threads were wound from the cones onto bobbins to be used in the shuttles - we actually saw this being done for the one loom that was being used that day.
Below is one of the looms they have on display, with one of their distinctive woven patterns.

There were also displays of historic fabrics and patterns - these were from the 60s and 70s.

The shop in the front of the mill is very large with a great selection of items, including cloth, rugs, blankets and throws woven right there in the mill. I wanted to buy a bedspread but didn't like the colours that were available so I made due with a grey and pink throw, and some purple wool cloth, from which to make David a waistcoat.


Monday, August 12, 2013

The Last Castle and a Town-House

Chirk Castle

This is the last castle we visited in Wales. Completed in 1310 it is the only Welsh castle from Edward I's reign that is still being lived in. Since it has been a residence for 700 years it shows evidence of renovations and upgrades from varying centuries. Since by this time I was getting pretty tired of climbing stairs I skipped the medieval tower and dungeon but I did see the 17th-century Long Gallery, grand 18th-century state apartments and servants' hall.
It is built around a large courtyard, which houses outdoor seating for the teashop. It was quite a warm, muggy day and it was a bit of a hike from the car park so the first thing we did was stop and get something cold to drink.
The 17th & 18th century apartments were lovely and had some unusual touches. The harpsichord was a beauty.
This was my favourite room. I wish I could have captured the colours correctly but I think the middle picture is the closest. The green was a celedon and the pink was the colour of the inside of a shell.

I'm really crushing on chandeliers right now.
These lovely young ladies were the daughters of the house in some bygone generation and their portraits flanked the fireplace at one end of the Long Gallery. I think they are late 17th/early 18th century and their decolletage would have been shocking a hundred years later. Apart from the lady at the top left (sorry she's a little out of focus) who I think is simpering too much, these sisters would be considered beauties even today.
 I think this picture was of one of the King Georges as a child (who slept in the bed below when he was there) and his sister. I'm sorry it's so blurry but I had to take the picture without a flash in a particularly dark room. Aren't the colours gorgeous though?
The royal bedchamber - red and gold. And look at that red/black wallpaper! I wish I'd got a closeup of it.
And from the king's bedroom to the servants' hall. I love the leather fire buckets hanging from the beams, the long trestle tables and benches and the edifying inscription above the fire - "No noise, nor strife, nor swear at all but all be decent in the hall".

Plas Mawr

Plas Mawr is a gem of a Tudor town-house in the middle of Conwy. Built in the last quarter of the 16th century it has been restored to look much as it would have when it was built.

I loved this rough, studded oak door, with its snaky hinges.
One of the highlights of Plas Mawr was the plasterwork which has been restored and coloured to the brightness the Elizabethans would have demanded. This was the hall on the ground floor, originally the for the family, but when the new great hall was built upstairs this became the servants' hall.
The kitchens weren't particularly large but beautifully set out, with carved wood cupboards filled with pottery and utensils. As I may have mentioned at some point, I have a kitchenalia fetish.
You can see some traces of the wall paintings above the cupboard here.
The cook space was very well set out and equipped, with a small bread oven on the left, spits for roasting meats, a flat griddle for cooking over the coals and a cauldron.
More utensils, including some wicked looking skewers.
Next to the kitchen was the room where game was hung and prepared. It probably has its own name but I don't know what it is. [ETA - it's a larder, of course]
The trough below was used to salt the meat, and next to it is a very large mortar used to grind spices.
Upstairs was more restored plasterwork, left unpainted this time to highlight the craftsmanship.
All the modern conveniences.
My Lady's bedchamber, with Welsh textiles lining the (incredibly) ornate bed. Note the large bed-warming pan on the bench at the foot of the bed. Colder climate and no central heating...
On the way to Conwy is a woolen mill (more on that next time) that produces rugs and blankets very like this.
My Lady's chair, complete with warming footstool and seat cushion with the family coat of arms.
I had to get a closeup of the foot-warmer. The museum's attention to detail is amazing - you can just about make out the coal in the brazier, which would have sent heat up through the holes in the top to warm one's resting feet.
This was the Great Hall, with brightly painted plaster and sumptuous textiles. For all you DIY enthusiasts out there - that mantle is actually wood, painted to look like marble. The flooring is rugs over rush matting, over the wooden floor.

A closeup of the wall hangings.
Up more stairs and we came to the attic.
Originally this would have been the arched roof of the Great Hall but halfway through building it they realised it wouldn't work structurally so they put in a plastered ceiling in the Great Hall, and floored over to create an attic. Since the wooden arches wouldn't be seen they didn't bother to finish off the pegs holding it together so you can still see how it was all constructed.
Plas Mawr is an amazing place - I would highly recommend it to anyone visiting North Wales.

Next time (the last Wales post) - the woolen mill and a pilgrimage.



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