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.Β  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 beganΒ Β  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 πŸ™‚




19 thoughts on “Bricks, mortar, a yard of stone and, oh, a dresss”

    1. Wonderful job! Thanks so much for showing us some of your house projects. I’m fascinated by house re-do’s, and perhaps others are, too. Please feel free to let us know about some of your others, too. πŸ˜€ Great dress for your patio ~ I’d never have guessed it was stage wear.


      1. Know what you mean! It’s very vicarious as I’ve always been in apartments of varying ages. You’ve done marvelous work here & I hope to read more. (hint-hint!)


      1. BTW, I had to check tree of heaven – and found that it has been renamed tree of hell by botanists as it is a wickedly invasive species. Good riddance! Have you killed it thoroughly?


      2. I know now, it’s a terribly invasive species. The stumpgrinder did his best to grind the stump and all the surrounding roots. I will have to pluck new little trees as they pop up. That shouldn’t be a problem.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I love the dress, who cares what the insides are like, it looks so elegant. Good job on the garden too, I know only too well what it is to deal with those roots as thick as your arm .


    1. Gosh, Jay, thanks. As always, it seems to be the fabric that makes something or ruins it. I found about 10 metres of this at a thrift store and still have enough left over for a long, full skirt — if I should ever have an occasion to wear such a thing. Here in Vancouver, people climb a mountain and then attend the opera without having changed their clothes. A very casual place it is. I bought a reciprocating saw to deal with the roots. Now I wish I had more things to cut πŸ™‚


    1. Yes….. I wished there was a neighbour around to take a pic when I was standing atop the pile of crushed stone in my truck, shoveling. I would have put on a dress πŸ™‚


  2. The dress is a grand success, and so is the garden work. What can I do to score an invitation to the garden party? (I’m working on my outfit.)


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