Bricks, mortar, a yard of stone and, oh, a dresss

During the past month, I’ve been engaged in an outdoor project at the same time as struggling with facing silk shells and hemming linen trousers. Rather than soft fabrics, the materials have been what landscapers call “hardscape”. That means bricks, cement and something called “navy jack”. I have to mention I love new vocabulary. Navy jack, navy jack … what kind of name is that?

I thought I’d post about it because, well, I’m pretty proud of what I’ve done, and it’s not that different from sewing. The skills I’ve been learning at my sewing machine — patience, resilience, meticulousness — are all transferable to work with “hardscape”.

Here’s the story in brief (for anyone who might be interested in this diversion from sewing). About a dozen years ago I bought an old, fairly decrepit house in a poor neighbourhood frequented by prostitutes and those hideous people who exploit them. The house, previously owned by a variety of Vietnamese immigrants, contained two Buddhist shrines, several generations of mice, pigeons (in the broken roof), and an abandoned wasps’ nest in the attic. The entire yard was paved in concrete. It took me years to renovate, but at the end of the first summer I borrowed a sledgehammer and a small jackhammer and went at some of the concrete in the back.  Almost immediately a small tree emerged just behind the back porch. It turned out to be a tree of heaven, and I thought I had been blessed.

Fast forward a dozen years and the tree shaded the entire yard and porch so that it was too cold for me to sit outside on hot summer afternoons. Things in the “shrubbery” I was trying to develop stopped growing. The tree’s roots began   cracking and heaving up the porch step foundations, and the brick walkways I’d made and the remaining cement under and around the porch. The tree had to come down.

That happened in April. Here’s what it looked like after the arborist had cut it down, but before the stumpgrinder came.


In the upper right you can see some dirty bricks embedded in mud. That was a small curved walkway I’d laid years ago. My project this summer was to replace it. The first step was to cut away the half dozen or so tree roots that lay under it. They were, on average, as thick as my arm. Then I started the process of laying a curved path the “right” way.

That involved driving my pick-up to a local landscape supply outfit, getting them to dump a cubic yard of fine crushed stone (aka “navy jack”) into the truck’s bed, unloading it onto my property, and then shovelling it into the channel I’d carved for the new path. I stomped all over it for a few days to compress it, and then started laying the bricks.

Here’s a pic of the final product.


Isn’t it nice?? I used an eclectic collection of old bricks that I had picked up over the years from houses that were being renovated, or indoor brick fireplaces that were being removed. I may have placed an ad at one time on a community online board. People are quite willing to give these things away for free. Most are red, a few are grey, and there are a couple of yellow ones too. Some have inscribed writing on them.

Since the house is old, I wanted a walkway that also looked old (but in a good way!). Do you know how to finish a brick walkway or patio after you’ve laid the bricks? I’ve been watching professionals do it, so I know you dump some sand on the lot and then use a broom and a water hose to sweep the sand into the cracks between the bricks. The water, as it drains downwards, causes suction to hold the sand and thus the bricks in place. Then you mix up some cement and line the sides.


You can then push soil right up to the sides of the path to cover up the cement. I tried to wash away the remaining sand, but the bricks are so porous and so textured, that I couldn’t get rid of it all. It will all wash away over time, allowing the colour of the bricks to shine more brightly.

Since I had almost half of the navy jack left, I decided to make another small path/patio at the side. I bought some 16 x 16 inch pavers for that.


You can see the cement I smeared all around the path, and also some cracks between pavers. I did one application of sand and water, but then removed and replaced a couple of pavers to make them level and even with their neighbours. Today I’ll do another application of sand and water.

So now I’m ready for a garden party!


This is not a terribly well-made dress, but I made it a few years ago as stagewear, which doesn’t have to be suitable for up-close viewing. I planned to make it without a pattern, with just a bandeau style bodice, and a gathered tube of fabric. I got into trouble, though, and resorted to taking the bodice from a New Look pattern for very young women. I had to make it bigger, and add a side zip. You don’t want to see the inside of this! I doubt I’ll have any future opportunities to wear it, so I’m archiving it here 🙂



Fisher in a basket

Ever since I reduced the width of my grey fisher pants I’ve been on the lookout for fabric for another pair. I finally didn’t find any! But I made a pair anyway, with a length of fabric I had purchased with another purpose in mind. I’d been waiting to find a drapey fabric, and this linen-and-something in a sort of basketweave is not particularly. It produced a different look.



I whipped these up in a couple of days and wore them, with my tablecloth top, to a business meeting. Bought a new pair of “dress” sneakers for the occasion.

I like these pants a lot. But I fear I may be aiming for a karate master look ….


My camera doesn’t seem to be giving me very good exposures. I’m afraid it may be pooping out on me, which could be a problem. It’s the only one I have that can screw onto a tripod. I’m sorry these pix are a bit dark. They’re the best of the batch, from multiple locations.

I have almost finished another pair of pants, which I’ll post about in a few days, and then — I’ve finally bought a serger (with a mild infusion of cash as a result of a birthday) — so I’ll be whipping up a bunch of tshirts. I’m desperately short of summer tops. But I’ve made some really good scores of knit fabrics recently at various discounters, so I’ll have plenty to practice on with the new babylock. Wish me luck 🙂