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Blog : Post Category : Being Crafty : Page 2

Yet another crafting project (part two)

Things slowly take shape

There are lots of ideas I’ve had for things to write on this blog, that are slowly building up, and that I haven’t written about—in fact, I’ve added two more whilst drafting this paragraph in my head. They all involve lots of effort, though, lots of planning and drafting and assembling ideas; and right now all my energy is being taken up by work and by various other things. So when I sit down in an evening, I don’t have enough process space left in my head to write anything in-depth on here. Instead, I’ve just been getting out the cross-stitch project I wrote about last week, because it’s nice and easy to get it out of its back and sit on the sofa methodically counting and sewing and counting and sewing.

Last time, I said I’d let you guess what it might be, when it was basically nothing more than a blue banana shape. Now, if you ask me, I think it’s much much more obvious.

Now that has to be a bit clearer than before

However, I’ve spent hours poring carefully over the pattern that came in the kit, planning which part to work on next and double-checking I’ve put all the stitches in the right place. To me, it’s inconceivable anyone wouldn’t be able to recognise what it is, but I’m rather biased.

The other posts in this series are part one, part three and part four.

Yet another crafting project (part one)

Some more cross-stitch

Attentive regular readers might remember that in the lead-up to Yuletide, our office held a Christmas Craftalong, in which everyone who was interested got together in a remote meeting and did the same small cross-stitch kit together. After I’d finished it, I said:

Will I go on to do more cross-stitch? Well, it was a fun way to spend a few evenings. Maybe if I can find some more kits that aren’t irredeemably twee, I might do.

It didn’t take me long, really, before I was on the internet searching for cross-stitch kits or just patterns that I’d be happy to put up on the wall when finished. However, a few weeks later, everything has arrived and I’ve been able to make a start.

The start of some more cross-stitch

I won’t say what it is for now, although you’re welcome to try and guess. The design, when it arrived, suddenly looked much bigger than it did on-screen, so this might take me a little bit longer to finish than the Christmas robin did.

The other posts in this series are part two, part three and part four.

Just like clockwork (part one)

Time for a building project

Back in the mists of time on Boxing Day, I posted a clue as to what one of my Christmas presents was. A model tram from UGears, which I have been slowly assembling since.

It’s been a fun project, but I’m not completely sure it lives up to the promise on their website that “no glue, special expertise, tools or equipment are required”. With a fair wind and if everything goes well, then maybe. When I opened the box, the kit consisted of:

  • Various laser-cut plywood sheets.
  • Two rubber bands.
  • A small square of fine sandpaper.
  • A number of cocktail sticks, individually wrapped.
  • A glossy and comprehensive instruction book.

The instruction book is very good and very clear, with each step being shown as a 3D-rendered diagram. However, it starts off listing the extra pieces of equipment you need which aren’t supplied:

  • Candle wax, to lubricate the moving parts.
  • A knife, to cut some of the cocktail sticks to length.

With those to hand, you start off by assembling various gear shafts. Each of these assemblies consists of the gears themselves, four wooden wedges that are inserted through the gear centres, and a cocktail stick that has to be squeezed through a small hole left right in the middle where the four wedges meet.

The first gear shafts

These are the first ones in the instructions; gears, but also the main “wheels” that the tram sits on. The instructions say the cocktail stick should be inserted symmetrically, with the same length protruding from each end, so it’s very helpful to have a small steel rule to assist with doing it by eye. If the “axle” isn’t symmetrical, a measuring tool is included in the kit to indicate how much the stick should project from one end.

Inserting the cocktail sticks was the first big hurdle. Making the kit in the advised way—assemble the wedges into the gears then slide the cocktail stick down the middle—is very hard to do without accidentally blunting the sharp points at the ends. Unless you’re dealing with one of the gear shafts which needs one or both ends trimming short, this is a problem, because it’s very easy to blunt the sticks to the extent they won’t work any more. I found for most it was easier to assemble the shafts in a slightly different order: take one gear, insert the wedge pieces and the cocktail stick into that gear alone, then squeeze the wedges together at the other end and slide the other gear over the wedges’ clip-shaped ends.

The tolerances of the cocktail sticks don’t help, either. Some parts require sticks to be inserted into holes in the plywood parts, and these are all supposedly a push fit. What quickly became clear is that the cocktail sticks are made to rather looser tolerances than the laser-cut parts: some sticks will be a reasonable push-fit in the holes, and some will have no chance of going in. With these parts, I ended up picking which stick I was going to use, then opening out the hole with a broach to fit. If I went a bit too far and made it a sliding fit, I used a little dab of Resin W to glue the stick in place.

The parts for a pawl

You can see this under way with these parts for the pawl which holds the “rubber band shaft” tight after it’s been wound. You can also see that here I’m reusing a cocktail stick whose end I have already wrecked, in a position where it will be trimmed off short. As the lowest of the three holes in each pawl piece is rather close to the edge, I found one of the narrower sticks in the kit for that position, so it wouldn’t need opening out at all. You can clearly see the different widths of the supplied cocktail sticks, and on the right-hand pawl piece you can see how much I’ve had to open out the uppermost hole, compared to the unmodified bottom hole, in order for the fat stick at the top to be a push fit into it. Using a broach for this, it’s easy to roughly remember how much of the broach’s cutting length is needed to get the hole to around the right width before you start testing for fit.

Assembled pawl awaiting trimming

Once the parts were pushed onto the sticks, the ends of two could be trimmed off, leaving a single shaft for it to pivot on.

Completed pawl

Building all the various gears and related parts took quite a few hours, so it was rather pleasing how easily the main framework of the tram fitted together, and how straightforward it was to slip the ends of each shaft into their appropriate hole in the frames. It was rather pleasing, too, to find how well the initial gear chain rotated. It links the wheels together, and also includes a shaft which seems to be in there purely to make a clicking noise.

You might notice that the pawl from the previous photos hasn’t been fitted to the main assembly yet. That comes later, and was a little bit more fiddly. We’ll come on to that another time.

To be continued.

Christmas craftalong (again)

In which the shocking news is that I have finished a craft project

The other day I mentioned a Christmas social event at the office: an organised crafting event for any colleagues who were interested to do a small cross-stitch kit together. Amazingly, in just over a week, I’ve managed to finish it. I would say that’s a personal record at finishing some sort of craft project for me, but it’s rare enough for me to complete one at all.

Christmas robin

Personally I think it’s a bit scrappy; I can see lots of uneven and slightly wonky stitching, whole patches where the threads are making strange knots insted of neat crosses.

Moreover, if you compare this to the previous “in progress” picture, you can see I did get annoyed enough to go back and redo an entire section. Misunderstanding the instructions and the nature of the thread, when I started I started off stitching the red breast with only a single thread, not doubling the thread up as I was supposed to—my excuse is that each of the “single threads” are actually spun from two threads twisted together. Unpicking all the red also involved accidentally unpicking some of the orange too, so if you know where to look you can see a few places where stuff has been redone a few times.

Will I go on to do more cross-stitch? Well, it was a fun way to spend a few evenings. Maybe if I can find some more kits that aren’t irredeemably twee, I might do.

Christmas craftalong

Or, Yule enjoy some sewing

The other day I mentioned losing the Office Party and gaining various remote seasonal events instead. For example: someone thought it would be a nice idea to all have a seasonal crafting session together. Everyone who volunteered an interest was sent a small-but-festive cross-stitch kit, and then we spent a lunchtime getting together on a video call to sit and stitch for an hour, whilst the organiser explained how to get started and the rest of us found various ways to make mistakes.

Festive crafting

Full marks if you can spot everything I’ve got wrong so far. This represents quite a bit more than one hour’s work, because I’ve spent a while working on it since. You never know, I might even get it finished before Christmas.

Putting things into practice

Or, time to get the model trains out

A couple of times recently I’ve mentioned my vague model railway plans and projects, including the occasional veiled hint that I’ve already been building stock for the most fully-fleshed out of these ideas. At the weekend I had some time to myself, so I unpacked my “mobile workbench” (an IKEA tray with a cutting mat taped firmly to it) and had a look at which projects I could move on with.

The other week I’d been passing my local model shop and popped in to support them by buying whatever bits and pieces I could remember I needed. I’ve been wondering the best way to weight some of my stock, so bought a packet of self-adhesive model aircraft weights. I wasn’t convinced they would be ideal because they’re a bit on the large side for 009 scale, but the 5g size do just fit nicely inside a van.

Wagon and weights

Yes, I know I didn’t clean off the feed mark on the inside of the wagon; nobody’s going to see it, are they. The weights are very keen to tell everyone they are steel, not lead. I wasn’t really sure what amount to go with especially given that (like most Dundas wagon kits) it has plastic bearings; it now has 10g of steel inside it and feels rather heavy in the hand.

Another project that’s been progressing slowly is a Dundas kit for a Ffestiniog & Blaenau Railway coach, which will be a reasonable representation of the first generation of Porthdwyryd & Dolwreiddiog Railway coaches. The sides were painted early on with this kit so that I could glaze it before it was assembled; it still needs another coat on the panels but the area around the window glazing shouldn’t need to see the paintbrush again I hope. In my last train-building session I fitted its interior seating; in this one, it gained solebars and wheels and can now stand on the rails. Its ride is very low, so low that, given typical 009 flanges, it needs clearance slots in the floor for the wheels.

Coach underside

This made it a little awkward to slot the wheels into place, but when I did it all fitted together rather nicely, with little lateral slop in the wheels and a quick test showing everything was nice and square.

Standing on a perspex block to check for squareness

To show just how low-riding it is—like many early narrow gauge carriages—I used a piece of card and a rule to measure how much clearance there is above rail level.

Height measurement

This shows rather harshly that I’ve let this model get a bit dusty on the workbench.

It needs couplings, of course, so I made a start on folding up a pair of Greenwich couplings for it. I’m still trying to find the perfect pliers for making Greenwich couplings. They don’t need any soldering, at least, but they do need folding up from the fret and then fitting the two parts—buffer and loop—together with a pin. These small flat-nosed pliers are very good for getting a crisp fold.

Greenwich coupling fret

Part-folded Greenwich buffer

I should give those pictures a caption about the importance of white balance in photography, given how differently the green cutting mat has come out between them. By the time I got to this stage it was starting to get a bit too dark to fit two tiny black pieces of brass together with a black pin and get them moving freely, never mind wrapping ferromagnetic wire around the loop tail. Still, all in all, I think everything seemed to be coming along quite nicely.

The only perfect railway is the one you invent yourself

Or, some completely fictional history

The other week, I wrote about how there are just too many interesting railways to pick one to build a model of, which is one reason that none of my modelling projects ever approach completion; indeed, most of them never approach being started. Some, though, have developed further than others. In particular, I mentioned a plan for a fictitious narrow-gauge railway in the Rhinogydd, and said I’ve started slowly aquiring suitable stock for it. What I didn’t mention is that I’ve also put together the start of a history of this entirely invented railway. I first wrote it down a few years ago, and although it is a very high-level sketch, has a fairly high level of implausibility to it, and probably needs a lot of tweaks to its details, I think it’s a fair enough basis for a railway that is fictional but interesting.

Narrow-gauge modelling general does seem to have something of a history of the planning and creation of entire fictional systems; rather, I think it’s something that has disappeared from British standard gauge railway modelling, partly due to the history of the British railway network. This, then, is my attempt at an entry into this genre. If you don’t know the Rhinogydd: they are the mountain range that forms the core of Ardudwy, the mountains behind Harlech that form a compact block between the Afon Mawddach and the Vale of Ffestiniog. The main change I have made to real-world geography is to replace Harlech itself with a similar town more usable as a port; all the other villages, hamlets and wild mountain passes are essentially in the same place as in the real world, and if you sit down with this fictional history and the Outdoor Leisure map that covers the district, you should be able to trace the route of these various railways without too much trouble.

The primary idea behind the railway is that profitable industry was discovered in the heart of the Rhinogydd. Not slate as in Ffestiniog; the geology is all wrong for that. The industry here would be mining for metal ores, and it isn’t really too far from the truth. There genuinely were a whole host of mines, largely digging up manganese ore, in the middle of what was and is a very inhospitable area; all of them were very small and ultimately unsuccessful. The fiction is that an intelligent landowner realised that a railway would enable the mines to develop; so, using part of an earlier horse-drawn tramway, a rather circuituous route was built from the middle of the mountains down to a port at the mouth of the Afon Dwyryd. The earlier tramway, also fictional, would have run in a very different direction, from the Afon Artro up to the small farms in the hills overlooking Maentwrog. Why you would want to build a horse tramway over such a route I’m still not entirely sure, but it means that my Porthdwyryd & Dolwreiddiog Railway can be a network, a busy well-trafficked main line in one direction, and a half-abandoned branch line in the other. This is of course not too dissimilar to the Welsh Highland Railway, with its Croesor and Bryngwyn branches, originally both main lines but both later superseded.

I did, a few years ago, draft a whole outline history for the railway, trying to explain quite why such a thing would and could exist, and how it might have at least partially survived through to the present day. It was an interesting exercise, although I’m not sure it would be a very interesting piece of writing to post here. I do like the thought, though, of writing it up as a full history, complete with some unanswered questions; and then, when I do build models of the line, I can claim that it is at least an approximately accurate model of something that actually did run on the railway. I quite like the idea of steadfastly maintaining that it is actually a real place—what do you mean, you’ve never heard of it before?—and that I am trying to model, however imperfectly, trains that really did exist. I can always be very apologetic when my model “isn’t as accurate as I’d like”, or when I “haven’t been able to find out” exactly what colour a given train was painted in a given year. I wonder how persuasive I will manage to be.

Too much to choose from

Or, why are there so many different trains in the world

Yesterday I said that having more blog posts about trains than about politics would be a good target to aim for by this time next year; and regardless of how frequently I post here overall, that’s probably still a good rule of thumb to aim for. So today, I thought I’d talk about model trains, and how I end up never building any.

I’ve always wanted a model train of some kind, ever since I was small and had a Hornby “Super Sound” trainset with an allegedly realistic chuff, generated by a sound machine wired in to the power circuity. However, there have always been a few problems with this, aside from the perennial problems of having enough time and space for such a space-gobbling hobby. There are two fundamental ones, at root: firstly, I am perennially pedantic, and secondly, I just like such a broad range of different railways and trains that it would be extremely hard to choose just one to stick with as a project. Given the first point, I would always want anything I build to be as accurate as I could make it; given the second, I can never stick with one idea for long enough to build enough stuff to practice the skills sufficiently and be a good enough model-builder to achieve this. Whilst drafting this post in my head, I tried to think just how many railways I’ve been interested in enough to start working out the feasibility of some sort of model railway project. It’s a long list.

  • Some sort of rural German branch line (I did actually start buying stock for this)
  • A fictitious narrow-gauge line in the Rhinogydd, in Ardudwy (again, this has reached the stock-acquiring level)
  • Grimsby East Marsh or somewhere else in Grimsby Docks
  • Something inspired by the Cambrian Railways’ coast section (although the actual stations are mostly fairly unattractive, apart from possibly Penrhyndeudraeth)
  • Woodhall Junction, on the Great Northern
  • Bala Junction (ever since I saw a plan of it in a Railway Modeller years and years ago)
  • Wadebridge (come on, who doesn’t like the North Cornwall Railway)
  • North Leith on the North British Railway (at 1:76 scale, you could do it to exact scale and it would still fit inside a 6 foot square)
  • Something fictitious based on the idea that the Lancashire, Derbyshire and East Coast Railway had actually finished their planned line east of Lincoln, which was always a wildly implausible plan in the real world.
  • The Rosedale Railway (although in practice this would probably be very dull as a model)
  • Moorswater, where the Liskeard and Looe Railway and Liskeard and Caradon Railways met (ideally when it was still in use as a passenger station, although that means before it was connected to the rest of the railway network)

Even for a modelling genius, or the sort of modeller who can produce an amazing, detailed landscape, then immediately packs it away in a box and starts working on the next one, that’s a lot of different ideas to vacillate between. And some of these would require just about everything on the model to be completely hand-made: Moorswater, for example, would have to have fully hand-made track, stock, locomotives and buildings in order to even vaguely resemble the original. With something like Woodhall Junction or Grimsby Docks most of the place-specific atmosphere is in the buildings rather than the trains, but even so, getting a good range of location-specific locos and stock would be difficult.

Just lately, there’s been another one to add to the list: I read a small book I picked up about the Brecon and Merthyr Railway, and was intrigued. I quickly found it had an intriguing range of operations, reached 1923 without ever owning any bogie coaches, and standardised on using somersault signals. The large-scale OS maps that are easily available (ie, those in the National Library of Scotland collection) show some very intriguing track layouts, its main locomotive works at Machen was an attractive and jumbled mix of 1820s stone and 1900s corrugated iron, and it even had some halts on the Machen-Caerffili branch which were only ever used by trains in one direction. However, on the other hand, the small book I picked up seems to be practically the only book ever written about the line, with very little information available easily about it. I suspect I’d end up writing a book about it myself before I got around to building anything.

I am going to try to build more models, and hopefully the more I build, the better they will get and the happier with my skills I’ll become. I’m going to have to try to stick to one and only one of the above, though, and try not to get distracted. That might be the hardest part.

Stuffed

In which a craft project stays delayed

As time goes on, the list of creative projects I’m working on to some extent doesn’t get any shorter. If anything it grows, inspired by events such as the Zine Symposium and so on. Of course, the more things I start, the slower everything goes.

The “crochet bomb” mentioned in that list, in particular, has been stuck for a while now; partly from a supplies problem. It’s essentially a black crocheted ball, a bit like a cartoon bomb. It’s going to have to be stuffed, at some point, to retain shape; and the texture of the crochet is the origin of the problem. I do like the texture, but it’ll be open enough to show the stuffing, and the white polyester we have in the cupboard just isn’t going to look right. It wouldn’t take dye, either. I’ve looked around for black stuffing, but haven’t managed to spot any in the shops, possibly because it’s too dark and was hiding. Until I work out a way around the problem, the crochet bomb is going to have to stay unfinished.

Break time

In which we produce something

Yesterday was the London Zine Symposium 2009, as a result of which we were up at 6am, straight on the train, and not back until midnight. Hence, I don’t really feel like telling you all about it right this minute.

However, we did try to take part in one section of the symposium: a zine created by symposium attenders, one page each. And this is what we produced:

Zine page

It’s not very good, but it did get done in something of a hurry.