Sunday, 22 March 2015

World Book Day Costumes

Our school is one of those enthusiastic ones that goes in for fancy dress on World Book Day. Now, I know the cool parent response is to roll my eyes at being asked to come up with an outfit, but the fact is, I *love* making costumes, although having been a working parent I appreciate that finding time to do it is always an issue.

And never forget that you can get canny and develop a range of 'costumes' which are basically normal clothes plus some accessories. Step forward Charlie Bucket (t-shirt and jeans plus a golden ticket) and honourable mention to Harry and his Bucketful of Dinosaurs (t-shirt and jeans plus... well I think you can fill in the rest). Last year I'd primed youngest child to go as Little Red Riding Hoody, minimum effort from me, only to be disappointed when the school decided they weren't 'doing' WBD that year...

This year we had a theme, which was SciFi or Superheroes. Oldest is really into Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy at the moment and gave consideration to being Zaphod Beeblebrox, but this was dismissed for practical reasons of having to manage an extra head and arm during the school day. So instead we went for Han Solo, which I refuse to be apologetic about (there are Star Wars spin-off books, deal with it). Mainly though, I think he looked pretty cool. He wore his jeans with red bias binding tacked down the outside seam, with a white long-sleeve top from H&M (which I did buy specially, but he will wear again). I then made a little waistcoat from black cotton twill fabric, with a few pocket and loop details. Husband made the belt out of brown leatherette fabric and duct tape, decorated with Sharpie pens. He also made a blaster out of cardboard, and I tried not to be all liberal hand-wringing about my child playing with a toy gun.

Youngest was keen to be Catwoman, and to be honest the choices for female superheroes are a little limited, some of them are a little bit on the sexy side for a six year old. When she was younger my daughter spent quite a bit of time 'being' a character called Red Cat, so anything feline was always going to be popular. I made her a little velvet top with stand-up collar and an over-the-head mask complete with ears stiffened with cardboard. I have to confess that I mucked up the top a little. The zip was supposed to be at the back of the garment, but when Youngest tried it on it was just too tight across the shoulders (even though the velvet had a bit of stretch to it. But when we flipped it round so that the zip was at the front it was a much better fit, and even looked quite cool that way round.

I like making costumes because of the freedom it gives me to create, but also I often find I learn a new technique which helps in my other sewing. This time for example, I created my own bias binding to finish the neckline of Han's waistcoat. And Catwoman's costume taught me some useful things about accuracy in measuring and making patterns (ahem), as well as more practise with accursed zips.

And now that World Book Day is safely out of the way for another year, I can focus my efforts on sewing for ME! I've got a few projects on the go and will update soon...

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Make a Pencil Skirt

So being unemployed does have its compensations, more time for sewing - yippee! I have made a bit of headway with my unfinished objects basket (finished off a denim pinafore for my daughter) been knitting squares for a blanket, plus getting costumes ready for World Book Day. So now time to start blogging about what I've been making...

I made this pencil skirt for my birthday night out in half term. These are definitely *not* the shoes I wore for the night out, that was a plenty of pints on the sticky floor kinda venue. But they look good with it I think.

So I started off by googling 'make a pencil skirt' and there are lots of great tutorials, this one on What the Craft particularly appealed to me How to make a Pencil Skirt.  Then I took my measurements. First my 'natural' waist - bend sideways as if you were singing 'I'm a little teapot' and that's where your natural waist is, seems quite high doesn't it? Then 'low' waist, which is sort of level with your belly button. Then hips, at the very widest part. Then I measured around my knees and added a little as I didn't want to be actually hobbled by this thing (more on that story later). Final measurement was from natural waist down to the point I wanted the skirt to finish, for the length of the skirt.

I made a basic paper pattern using these measurements (adding generous seam allowance) and then used this to make a practice skirt out of cheap lining material. Which was very fortunate, as the prototype turned out a little too snug (translation: it wouldn't go over my arse). So I let out all the seams equally (thanks to the generous seam allowance) and had something that basically fitted. I ended up needing to adjust it again over the hips as they then came out too big. But finally I was happy with it.  I then ripped the seams of this skirt and used them as pattern pieces for my real skirt. I found that I didn't need to add any darts.

The front is one piece and the back is in two pieces, as I needed to put a zip in as my fabric wasn't stretchy. I also planned a slit in the back for walkability reasons.

There is an invisible zip in the back of the skirt. I don't have an invisible zip foot for my machine, and although Youtube tutorials told me confidently that I could use a normal zipper foot, it didn't seem to work for me, so I ended up sewing the zip in by hand so that it truly was 'invisible'. I also machine hemmed, which I wouldn't normally do on clothes I make, because I think hand-hemmed looks nicer. But time was getting short and that red fabric frayed like a bastard...

To make the slit at the back I simply stitched around the seam that ran up the centre of the back of the skirt, up to the point I wanted the slit. Then I popped the seam up to that point with my seam ripper and removed any loose threads.

And there we have it, one party skirt, that I can walk in, and dance in.*


*but not as it turned out, go to the loo in, stairs also presented a bit of a challenge


Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Busy Doing Nothing

You know how at the beginning of the year people make resolutions and decisions and all that jazz? Well, this year I actually did.

Seeing as I've been decluttering my personal possessions since Christmas (love a good clear out), I decided to have a bit of a life overhaul as well, which led to me handing in my notice 6 weeks ago on my day job. Now, if you know me in real life I've probably been bending your ear about exactly why I wanted to leave my job for quite some time, so I won't go into the exact reasons.

But the short version is that I'd become increasingly frustrated that I was juggling everything else (family, voluntary work, creative stuff) for a job that was making me (just a bit) miserable. So after discussing with my other half, and due to the fact that we are fortunate enough to manage on one salary for a while, I took the plunge. I felt like I wanted to leave before I became truly miserable - going into job interviews reeking of bitterness is not a good look...

My first official week out of work was last week, which was of course half term, so not much time to think about anything but entertaining the troops.  This week I'm trying to adjust of this strange new routine of time on my hands (between 9 and 3). School runs have already felt less stressful in the morning as I'm just focussing on dropping the children off, rather than seeing the school run as an irritation in the middle of my route to work.

There's been some dull housework stuff, sure, but also time to ride my bike, go for a swim and catch up on my knitting. Plus I've really been able to give some time to some voluntary projects, without guiltily having to squeeze it into my lunch break.

I finished a lovely new pair of socks (above) in time for my birthday last week, I made a pencil skirt from scratch (and without a pattern), I went to a foot-stomping Ska night on Saturday and have seen plenty of friends.

I feel like I'm still exhaling with relief, as my shoulders loosen up with the realisation that I have some time to decide what to do next.

Friday, 2 January 2015

Learning to Let it Go...


Firstly, apologies for the pun in the title, I just couldn't resist it... Even if you haven't spent any time recently  in the company of a girl under the age of eight, the Disney film Frozen has probably entered your conciousness on some level. But more of that later.

I hope you had a peaceful Christmas. Ours was very enjoyable, and although I hadn't made a Pinterest board of all the things I was going to make for Perfect Christmas, a fair amount of handmade festive things happened anyway, now I come to look back on it. I also completely relaxed about the children eating rubbish and watching telly, which has made the holiday particularly peaceful. I've warned them that it's back to gruel and strictly educational programmes for just 15 minutes a day come Monday.

Home-made stuff that I did this year included: Damson Gin (dead easy, just put damsons, gin and sugar into a big jar and leave in a cupboard for months), Christmas cake (easy to make in advance), and Gingerbread Houses (this was a bit faffy, but the children really enjoyed it). I also had a couple of lovely table decorations that were made by a very talented fellow WI member for our Christmas night out in mid-December. As the foliage was fresh it was looking a bit sad by Christmas so I headed out into the garden with a pair of scissors for new supplies. So I kind of made it myself, and will definitely be stealing this idea (and saving the pot & ribbon) for next year.

But of course I'm also desperate to be the kind of mother who just whips up a fancy dress costume with her sewing machine, so I did add a little stress to myself by promising youngest child a Frozen dress for Christmas. I used McCalls Costume pattern M7000, ended up going for the smallest size (3-4 years) as any bigger and it would have swamped my daughter, who has just turned six. Fabric came from trusty Fabricland, a slippery blue/silver slightly stretch jersey type stuff for the main dress and the net curtainy gauzy stuff (shown at the top of the page) with printed snowflakes and glitter for the top layer. There is a bit of lining on the bodice, I just used some grey cotton fabric I had in my stash. I muttered a bit about whether I really needed to do the lining at first, but it really does pull the costume together and make it more comfortable to wear.

Although I started at the beginning of December I was *of course* still sewing on Christmas Eve. All was going well until I buggered up putting in one of the sleeves and had to unpick it and re-do. But instead of stressing like I normally do (well, ok, there was a teeny bit of tension) I made a list of jobs that needed to be done and handed them over to husband. So he made mince pies while I sat and sewed, then the children decorated the cake (with Nana's help) while I sat and sewed. But by about 8pm the dress was done and I could knock back the mulled cider with abandon.

So was it worth it?

Absolutely YES! Smallest child is delighted with her dress and has been wearing it and twirling round the house in it pretty much constantly since. And I learnt a lot whilst making it (not least putting in a zip properly). Settling down on the sofa to finally watch the film on Christmas Day with her is a memory I will definitely treasure.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Spicy Ginger Chocolate Brownies

Was browsing through a book from the library last week called 'Christmas Cupcakes & Cookies', looking for inspiration for some Christmas baking. We also had an event to raise money for our local community centre, so I thought I'd grab the chance to bake something new (on the basis that chocolate always sells well). This photo represents the only one left, didn't get a good photo of the whole batch piled up in all it's gooey glory.

Is it embarrassing to admit that I mainly wanted to make these because I'd found some edible tiny gold stars and *needed* an opportunity to use them? A bit probably, but never mind... Tiny gold stars, yay! And on with the recipe:

For the brownies:
275g dark chocolate, broken into small pieces
175g butter, diced
125 plain flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
Generous grating of nutmeg
A pinch of cayenne pepper
A pinch of salt
25g crystallised ginger, finely chopped
175g dark muscovado sugar
2 tbsp golden syrup
1 tbsp treacle
4 eggs
50g flaked almonds

For the ganache:
125g dark chocolate, broken into small pieces
125ml double cream
1 tbsp dark muscovado sugar
A pinch of salt

To decorate:
More finely chopped crystallised ginger (about 25g) and edible gold sprinkles

Method:
1. Line a 20cm square baking tin with baking parchment
2. Preheat oven to 170 degrees
3. Put chocolate and butter for the brownies in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Stir until smooth and thoroughly combined. Leave to cool slightly.
4. Sift together the flour, spices and salt.
5. Lightly whisk the sugar, syrup, treacle and eggs in another large bowl. Add the melted chocolate mixture and fold in until combined.
6. Stir the almonds and the chopped crystallised ginger into the bowl. Fold in the sifted dry ingredients
7. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking tin, spread level and bake on the middle shelf of the pre-heated oven for about 30 minutes or until the brownies are set (I did for 30 mins and they were still pretty squidgy in the middle, they were devoured without complaint, so I'm guessing they were ok... I'm never sure what constitutes a properly cooked brownie)
8. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely in the tin. These brownies are best made the day before you decorate them, just make sure you wrap them up in clingfilm once cool.
9. Prepare the chocolate ganache - tip the chocolate into a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream and sugar in a small saucepan until the sugar has dissolved and the cream is just boiling. Add the salt. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and leave to melt. Stir vigorously until smooth, then leave to cool and thicken slightly before using.
10. Spread the ganache over the top of the brownies, score with a fork to make a diagonal pattern, then cut into 16 squares. Scatter chopped crystallised ginger and gold sprinkles over the top to decorate.

There you go, migraine on a plate, but verrrry tasty. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Work in Progress

Exhibit A - un-finished objects (ufo) basket
So what a weird October huh? So unseasonally warm I was almost relieved to finally dig out my woolly tights and fuck-off big boots this week. So what have I been up to? I've been offered extra hours at work during term-time, which is great in some ways, but does mean I have less time for creative stuff - boo!

Just before half term we made a magnificent family effort and created a Anglo Saxon warrior outfit for my 8 year old for a school 'wow' day. If he's not too embarrassed I will post some pics, as he did look pretty cool (although his main interest was the weaponry - he's normally a very gentle soul, honest...). Then during half term we had a big family wedding, which involved lots of travelling but was so much fun, and we now have an Official Auntie C. Managed to squeeze in a visit from my parents too, which even meant a bit of babysitting so that husband and I could go out at the weekend and watch 1930s horror films.

Eldest child (he of the Saxon warrior fame) then celebrated his exciting half term break by suddenly vomiting late on Sunday evening, just as we were all due back at school and our respective workplaces after a week off - timing could have been better. So another day off on Monday then, oh well, better use the time to tidy up the craft stuff, in between providing weak glasses of squash and dry toast of course.

Exhibit B - frog it don't slog it
I discovered quite a few unfinished projects, which I've now gathered together in one place (Exhibit A), in the hope that I might get on and finish them. There's a couple of things that are virtually finished already, so no excuse really. But one thing I've learnt about creative work, sometimes it's better to rip it up and start again, no point slogging away on putting work into something that you don't even like. Which brings me to Exhibit B, which was half a baby blanket that I just lost enthusiasm for, and then ran out of yarn, and then the baby graduated from university (sort of kidding). You know the story... So I frogged it, and now the yarn has the chance to be something lovely.

Or maybe sit in my stash for a while longer, let's not do anything hasty ;-)


Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Good Enough

Having been lulled into a false sense of security in the holidays, where all I had to do was drop the children at holiday club and then go to work, it was a bit of a shock to get back into the swing of everything that primary school brings with it. So now there's lunchboxes, after school activities, listening to reading, checking spellings, dressing up days, coming up with an Anglo Saxon village crafted from weetabix and string. Possibly...

It got me thinking about my life, and whether I am 'good enough' in different areas. It's something I've also spent time talking about with other women recently, and there seem to be common themes emerging. For instance, it feels like it's not enough to just hang about at home with a toddler and a baby doing the stay-at-home-parent bit. Oh no, now you have to do that (making sure that you're doing all sorts of worthwhile and enriching activities with them, *not* mainlining Cbeebies into their eyeballs) plus setting up your own business on the side, probably involving upcycling vintage milk churns.

My children are older and at school, and as I *only* work part time my tiny little brain seems to think I should have plenty of time for not just paid work but unpaid stuff sitting on committees, helping out at school, attending *all* school events (after all, I have flexible working, there's no excuse!), cooking delicious and nutritious meals from scratch every day. Preferably using ingredients either foraged from the hedgerows or shopped for daily from chi chi la la independent retailers with whom I have a deep and personal connection.

And then there's the creative side. A quick glance at Pinterest informs me that I'm probably slacking in the homemade gift department please don't mention fucking Christmas.  And I'm not drawing enough, sewing enough or or or or...

Except of course, this is ridiculous.  I'm doing this to myself, and I'm sure there are some of you out there who do it too. So I'm trying to say to myself that I really am good enough.

My children go to school every day - big tick
I go to work and get paid - big tick
We finally have new signage outside our local community centre - big tick
I'm going to WI tonight - big tick
I've just finished a pair of socks - big tick
We will eat tea tonight - big tick

And breathe...

Apologies for the rant, I have a cold and may be a little grumpy.