Wednesday, February 24, 2010

the cold case of the fireplace

Once upon a time, some newcomers to Winipeg had a lovely old house, built in 1914. Said house needed a lot of tender loving care. It had some things that worked splendidly. It had some things that done broke a darn long time ago.

We have a chimney. It is your average chimney for our neighborhood. It has corbelling but not too much corbelling. (Yes, this was a word I've learned since moving here. It's in the dictionary...) It was built in a sturdy way, back in 1914. However, we now have a chimney where the bricks just rest gently on each other, touching intimately. No mortar between the bricks. At all.

This is complicated by the fact that we have these lovely original cast-iron coal burning inserts in the fireplaces. Two small fireplaces. Gorgeous. Limestone in the living room, and brick in the professor's study. Totally impractical for today's world. No, we do not burn coal. We do not burn anything, because if we did, we'd burn down the house...cause remember, no safe chimney, shallow fireplace, etc.

We've been doing research on how to fix all this. The options are ridiculously varied. Take down chimney. Rebuild chimney. Get a woodburning insert/woodstove/gas fireplace insert/gas logs/gas stove/etc. Put decorative flowers in there, put a note on the mantel that says NO FIRES and call it a day... All suggestions people have offered us.

Some things will not work. For instance, new gas fireplace inserts will not fit in our fireplaces, so we've had more than one person suggest they just cut up the masonry surrounds (from 1914) to make those new things fit. Does. Not. Sound. Safe....or historically respectful.

We've got lots of advice, including some from an architect (professor's father) and an engineer with experience in natural gas (my father) and several tradesmen in the area. However, neither father has ever been here, so I've put up these photos for them to see the fireplaces. Please, join in the fun! In my best case scenario, by next year this time, I'd still be admiring these cast iron coal inserts. I'd be sitting next to a gas fire. It would feel warming, and I could shut it off before going to bed. (a woman can dream, right?!)

Have I mentioned that all of the above options will cost something between $9,000 and 15,000 to come up with a solution? Oh, and that if we don't fix that dang chimney this spring, it's likely to just fall off the roof and kill a passerby in a stiff wind?!

Now, if the above scenario causes you hyperventilation problems like it bothers me (and believe me, this is just one of the interesting problems we've encountered this year, between new/old house, immigration, work, etc.), you might need to calm yourself. Quick. Look at this spindle. Breathe. Think peaceful thoughts.

The professor bought me this as a treat and it arrived yesterday. It's made of Walnut, 33grams, and it comes from this kind man:
Ray's Spindles
It doesn't replace the one I loved that snapped in my bags while travelling to write Fiber Gathering. However, it's a nice spindle, and if you look at that webpage? I have pretty much every variety of spindle he makes. I especially like the Turkish and Bedouin spindles. The kind that broke, a "hi-lo" spindle, is one I think he might no longer make. I do miss it.

I also have been weaving to "beat" the band. Or at least, beating the heck out of these roving rugs I've been learning to do. Here are a couple of pictures of my efforts. I've done 2 twill rugs, one plain and one striped. I've done 2 plain weave rugs, one plain and one striped. All the rugs are roughly 2 by 3 feet, with the striped plain weave one maybe a few inches longer. The wools used are Icelandic, Romney and Cotswold. The warp is cotton.

I haven't quite finished off these rugs yet, but well, warp #2 is off the loom and I'm fixing to start warp #3 with the start of the new month. As soon as I figure out how to use a warping board. See? I'm definitely learning something new at least every day. Good to keep the brain active. It sure does seem like a lot of work some days. Especially the hyperventilating while trying to make expensive house decisions part...

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Blogger Deb said...

I wish I had some great solution for your fire place fix - they are beautiful to look at and I can understand your wanting to preserve their historic nature. I hope you find a solution that doesn't cost you a small fortune!

I also weave rugs from roving and absolutely love them. They wear so well and are beautiful.

Good luck with your warping board - it's not as bad as it appears to be :)

February 24, 2010 at 7:14 PM  
Blogger Willow said...

I will read with interest all the recommendations and solutions to your fireplace dilemma and suffer/rejoice vicariously. And be thankful it's you and not me!

Seeing those rugs, I really really really want to put my loom up and learn to weave!!!

February 24, 2010 at 8:00 PM  
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February 25, 2010 at 12:25 AM  
Blogger Freyalyn said...

The one with the brick surround I can really see with a little woodburning stove in front of it, neatly flued up the (new) chimney behind and the fireplace itself unspoiled. I really don't like to see flowers permanently in fireplaces - only in summer.

February 25, 2010 at 2:03 AM  
Blogger Alison said...

Scene: Loma Prieta quake. Chimneys belonging to several people I know spewing bricks. (Nobody was hurt.) I hope you find a solution that doesn't cost too much.

And it sounds like I don't need to mention this, but do not ever ever ever put coal in that leaky thing--from a survivor of carbon monoxide poisoning from a coal stove, if it's not airtight, or even if it is but there's a downdraft, the risk is beyond horrendous. CO detectors are a start, but if you're passed out you can't hear them go off.

A hot button issue here.

--AlisonH at

February 25, 2010 at 1:08 PM  
Blogger Jody said...

Ray also makes lovely wool combs...I have a pair of his 4 pitch large english combs.
Sorry I can't help with the fireplace. Old homes like yours always cost alot of money in the long run.

February 25, 2010 at 3:39 PM  
Blogger PghCathy said...

Ahh, the joys of home ownership. Hope something works out. It will, I just hope something not terribly expensive works out.

February 25, 2010 at 3:48 PM  

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