Thursday, 29 December 2011

Fabric Stash

Look what I got for Christmas! (thanks mum...) Some lovely fat quarters to add to the stash and a handy ruler specially for patchwork. What to make with it though... I have a few ideas.

I am really pleased with all my presents this year, some of the consumables have already been consumed - can't leave chocolate around for long (oops), but have a few nice bottles of wine, plus my brother gave me The Help which I have been flying through. Best of all my husband gave me the gift of warm feet, some sheepskin slippers - bliss. But of course he'll get the benefit of my not plastering my icy cold feet on him...

What was your favourite present?


Saturday, 24 December 2011

Christmas Eve

So I made it - twenty-four posts in twenty-four days. This is our Christmas tree, as decorated by the children. I played no part in it as I was busy cooking the world's biggest fish pie for our Christmas Eve lunch.

In fact the day has had quite a lot of cooking in it what with vast quantities of extra mince pies and ginger biscuits, but I did get a lovely little nap this afternoon (and a sneaky gin at lunch...).

I'll be quite relieved to go back to blogging when I feel like it. Once or twice a week is about enough for me I think. But I have enjoyed the challenge of writing everyday, and I think a bit more of 'me' has come over. Although looking back over my posts, there has been not so much sewing. Looking forward to getting back to that in the New Year and starting some new projects.

I'm off to make some mulled wine and hopefully do some knitting/dozing in front of the box. See you in 2012, and wherever you are, have wonderful Christmas...

Friday, 23 December 2011

Christmas Home Birth

Today is my daughter's birthday. This time three years ago we were in that hazy newborn blur where you spend a lot of time staring at tiny fingers and amazingly long eyelashes. Very conveniently I managed to go into labour just after midnight and she was born at 5.50am, while her older brother slept upstairs.

Whilst I'm sure my daughter won't thank me for her very nearly Christmas birthday as she gets older, that Christmas was one of the happiest I've ever spent.

Happy Birthday Tiny Girl!

Thursday, 22 December 2011

A Birthday Cake

This time three years ago I was watching Dirty Dancing  (I know, I know!) and trying to ignore the fact that I appeared to be having Braxton Hicks every ten minutes. I then headed off to get some sleep as I thought it might be a long night...

Fast forward three years and my daughter has fairly strong opinions on what makes a good birthday cake. She has been definite in her requests for 'Raa Raa the Noisy Little Lion' for months, despite me trying to change her mind in favour of something that I'm good at, but to no avail.

The cake is a Victoria sponge, and I have to say there was a bit of collapsing, so judicious amounts of buttercream were applied and I think we got away with it. The acid test will be tomorrow morning when the birthday girl gets sight of it...

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Happy Solstice!

Well before the whole business of the baby in the manger, people living in countries with cold dark winters have had some kind of shindig at this time of year. Today was the shortest day, tonight is the longest night, which means that from tomorrow things will be getting just that bit brighter. Can't wait!

Family are starting to arrive at around lunchtime tomorrow, meaning we've been busy trying to get the house in order. Today we went to the Farmers Market and bought a mahoosive piece of beef for Christmas dinner. I've come a long way from that strict vegetarian I was once upon a time - who knew that cows were so delicious!

We also had a internet shop delivered (quite a few clinking bags) and tomorrow will be heading off to the local greengrocers to pick up our fruit and veg order. We will have nine people round the table for Christmas dinner, many of whom have sizeable appetites (not me of course...)

Also tomorrow I have to decorate the Christmas cake, bake and decorate a cake for youngest's birthday on Friday - she has requested 'Ra Ra the Noisy Lion'. There are also still some presents to be wrapped, both for the birthday and for Christmas. Oh and I really should make some mince pies, finish the crackers and make some more gingerbread to hang on the tree.

I do love all this stuff really though, it's just clearing up the mess afterwards that's not so great. Now, where did I put that bottle of gin...

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Out After Dark

On day 20 of my blog challenge there was more Christmas cracker making and repeat viewings of The Snowman. Lego and crayons were strewn liberally about the house by 4pm so I invoked the Tiger Who Came To Tea defence and we went down the road to a café.

For those of you who don't know Judith Kerr's classic 1968 picture book, the Tiger comes to tea and eats everything in the house, leaving the place in a right mess and nothing for Daddy's supper. So the family goes out after dark when all the street lamps are lit and all the cars have their lights on, to have sausage and chips in their local caff. Sounds to me like Mummy had her feet up reading a novel and neglected her housewifely duties so had to come up with an excuse...

My children had a great time being out after dark tonight. On the way to the café we were busy spotting Christmas lights and Christmas trees. Great excitement all round. That's the true meaning of a winter festival for  me, twinkling lights in the dark, a little reminder to the sun that he'd better come back soon...

Photo thanks to wikimedia commons as I didn't get chance to take any photos (too busy making sure my two didn't hare off into the road in thrall to fairylights)

Monday, 19 December 2011

Christmas Crackers

Today was the first proper day of the holidays (weekends somehow don't count as I'm not on my own...) Not too many fights, but quite a lot of telly watched this afternoon, whoops! But I did make some Christmas crackers with the Boy, who is five. The Toddler mainly contented herself with putting stickers in unexpected places. I put a stop to it before she reached the good bits of furniture.

I'm fed up of paying £££ for crackers that are landfill-in-waiting, so it made sense this year to make our own. Inside the Boy's personal cracker were a made-to-measure paper hat, a chocolate coin and a joke: What do you get if you cross an apple with a Christmas Tree? A Pineapple (yes he did make that one up himself, and apparently has 'loads' more...). It was looking fairly tasteful when I took this picture but then when my back was turned he got hold of the really tacky stickers and now it's looking properly bling. Pimp my cracker if you will...

If you'd like to make these top-quality items at home, you will need:

cardboard tubes (i.e. inside of a loo roll or half the inside of a kitchen roll)
crepe paper in festive colours
ribbon
stickers to decorate
bits to put inside such as hats, sweets, jokes or other novelty items

There is no snap in these crackers, so when you pull them you just have to do that bit by yourself and shout bang, as in the classic Christmas episode of The Good Life.

To make simply cut a piece of crepe paper that's about twice the length of your cardboard tube and wide enough to wrap around the tube twice.  Roll up your tube in the crepe paper, then use a bit of pritt stick to secure the loose end. Tie the up the ends with ribbon, but not before you've added in your groan-worthy pun and hat/sweets etc. Liberally apply stickers to decorate and tada! Home-made Christmas crackers.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

RedFestive

I spent the afternoon in a disused carpet showroom hawking my wares (the stitchy kind, I haven't taken to a life of vice).  All part of RedFestive, a Christmassy fundraiser for our local arts festival. It got a bit parky at times as there was no heating, but wearing woolly socks and 24-hole Doc Martens at least kept my feet warm.

The unit looked really cool, decked out in shiny stuff and fairy lights. There was a Narnia-themed grotto for the children, which you entered through a wardrobe. And in keeping with the theme a bare-chested Mr Tumnus, on stilts. He was bravely battling the elements, and hordes of small children.

I sold some robins, some purses and a few other bits. My retro-style aprons were picked up, admired, tried on, but no sales - boo! But I chatted to loads of people I know, some of whom I haven't seen for ages, so a good afternoon all round. And now only a week until Christmas, eek!

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Mince Pies

Today I gave in to the badgering from my son, who wanted to help make some mince pies. Now it is a truth universally acknowledged that having a five-year-old assist during baking must double the time spent making the baked goods.

But, hey that's what the school holidays are about, actually interacting a bit with the little blighters. As it happened he got bored half-way through and wandered off to chat with his Nana on the phone, having only filled about half the pies. Slack!

These pies were made with home-made pastry (mmmm buttery) and shop-bought mincemeat, as I'm not that much of a domestic goddess. I do like the little stars on top, and a brush of beaten egg before they go in the oven gives then a lovely golden shine.

I have a jar and a half of mincemeat left, but am going to hold off on making more pies until about Friday as they don't hang around long in this house...

Friday, 16 December 2011

It's Friday, I'm in Love

Day 16 of my self-imposed challenge and I've had a lazy day. Until recently on Fridays I was volunteering for Studio Upstairs so had arranged for the Toddler to go to a childminder whilst the Boy was at school. My husband finishes at lunchtimes on Friday so he then picks them up from childminder/school, giving me a whole working day.  Sadly, because Studio Upstairs has had to reduce its opening hours due to limited funds, they are no longer open on Fridays.

And as Fridays are the only days where my husband has any flexibility, I can't really afford any more childcare than the five hours for the Toddler that we already pay for, not for an unpaid job. But for the moment I'm keeping up the Friday arrangement, mostly because in the back of my mind I'm aware that I will need to start job-hunting again in the new year and having a relationship with a good childminder will come in handy. But also there is the (slightly luxurious) aspect that I get to have at least five hours to myself in a week.

Today I could have used the time to blitz the house before the school holidays. I could have sat up in the workroom furiously making more bits to sell on Sunday. I could have gone into town and picked up the last bits of Christmas shopping.

But none of those things seemed that important, so instead I did not very much at all. I read a trashy novel, did some knitting while listening to the radio. I flicked through Twitter. I drank coffee while it was hot and munched some biscuits without having to share them with anyone.

It was lovely...

And I'm pleased to say that one part of my normal Friday routine is still in place. I'm typing this as the delicious smell of home-cooked curry wafts out of the kitchen, and my other half is hard at work making chapatis.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Craft Night

Sneaking in late to post today as I've been too busy enjoying myself. Tonight was craft night at my house. There's a small group of us who meet up regularly to chat and work on our latest projects. Usually it's strictly a tea and biscuits affair, but it being Christmas meant time to mull some wine, and eat a mince pie or three.

And I made this much of a sock...

...well it's a start!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Lovely Lentils

I stashed a few more things away in the Christmas cupboard today. The corner cupboard in my kitchen is currently playing host to lots of wine, beer, fancy chocolate biscuits, and many many snack products from ALDI. Then of course there's the cake, the pudding and mincemeat, plus sweeties and a selection of chutney and pickles.

And today was the toddler group Christmas party so more nibbling on mince pies and cake. Shame they don't have a 5-a-day guideline for confectionery really... But sometimes, just sometimes, all this festive food and drink feels a bit much. Over Christmas week I find myself craving fresh fruit and veg (as I plough through the tin of Celebrations - no self-control). Probably my favourite meal is on Boxing Day where it's all leftovers with a bit of salad and some good bread. Oh and pickles of course...

Also I was a vegetarian for many years and the amount of meat I end up consuming often makes me feel a bit queasy (although it is very tasty at the time.) So sometimes it's a relief to eat something a bit more basic, and Lentil Soup was on the menu tonight. It's also a helpful store-cupboard recipe for me, and is cheap. I tend to keep the cayenne pepper to a low background hum as the children are gradually building up their spice tolerance, but you can add more if you like it hotter.

Ingredients:
400g dried red lentils
1 large onion
a couple of carrots
1 red pepper, roasted
several large cloves of garlic (depending on how garlicky you like things - for me VERY)
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 - 2 litres of cold water
salt and pepper

How to make:
1. The roasted red pepper is optional, but does add a bit more interest. I usually chop it up into big pieces and roast it in the oven for about 20 minutes while I'm cooking the soup
2. Finely chop the onion and fry in a little oil in a large pan until soft
3. Chop the garlic and add to the onions. Then chuck in the spices and mix well
4. Add the lentils to the pan along with at least 1 litre of cold water. Mix again and turn the heat up to bring the pan up to the boil
5. Let the lentils bubble vigorously for 10 minutes with the lid off. Keep an eye and give it the occasional stir to stop it burning on the bottom. You may need to add more water.
6. While the lentils are bubbling, peel and chop the carrots. When the 10 minutes are up, add the carrots to the pan.
7. Turn the heat down until the soup is just simmering and cook with the pan covered for another 20 minutes. Stir occasionally.
8. Throw the red pepper pieces into the pan and blend the soup until fairly smooth
9. Season well with salt and pepper
10. Serve with chunks of bread and butter

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Home-made Christmas Cards

And breathe....

Yesterday was Not A Good Day. It was one of those ridiculous days where everything seems to go awry, to the extent that you expect someone to pop out with a camera crew announcing that it was all an elaborate hoax.

I'm going to try not to moan about it, but it did start with some yelling at the children, followed swiftly by the realisation that I must have left my purse on the bus on Saturday and so had to scrabble around for dinner money. Most of the rest of the day was taken up by retrieving said purse from the bus station (cue more scrabbling to find the bus fare into town). Finally, and most pathetically, I sliced a chunk out of my middle finger whilst preparing the tea. Oh, and on a day when my other half was working late so didn't get home until after I'd put the children to bed (after a little more shouting). Crack out the tiny violins!

So by the evening I just couldn't be arsed with doing anything, creative or otherwise. So instead I sprawled on the sofa watching other people cook (Hugh Fearnley-Whatsit and Jamie Oliver's mate Jimmy).

And drinking gin...

But, today is a new day yada yada and I took advantage of my daughter falling asleep in the buggy this morning. Did I do housework? Of course not, I got out the glitter and made some Christmas cards. After all, why should the children have all the fun?  It was very soothing...

P.S - this is now day 13 of my advent blog challenge, I'm over half way (small whoop)

Monday, 12 December 2011

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Potatoes and Glitter

Spuds and glitter, a natural partnership don't you think? Well they are if you have small children in the house and you have a hankering for glittery potato prints.  On day eleven of my Advent blog challenge I was feeling a bit guilty about spending so much time making my own stuff and felt I should be doing something crafty with the children. Something involving paint and glitter, the messier the better. Oh and I should do this activity whilst simultaneously cooking Sunday lunch. And while my husband dismantled and deep cleaned the dishwasher...

I have had more restful mornings.

I probably should have prepared the potatoes in advance, using a technique I discovered a few years ago which makes great shapes for printing. Basically you cut a large potato in half and press a biscuit cutter into the cut surface. Then simply cut away the potato outside the line of the shape (easiest if you leave the cutter in place while you do it - stops you slicing the 'stamp' part away by mistake). We had some Christmassy shapes including a star, tree, bell and erm... gingerbread man.

But of course I didn't prepare them in advance so things got a little short-tempered as I carved potatoes whilst two children clamoured to get their hands on the glitter.  We did get there in the end though, and they had a great time.  I should have remembered my first rule of craft activities with children: Have Low Expectations. Although I may be itching to 'help' them make it 'look right' I just have to give them the materials and let them get on with it. Why shouldn't a Christmas tree be blue? And of course there is no such thing as Too Much glitter or paint.

We also discovered you can get a lovely effect by using the biscuit cutter dipped in paint to make a print. If you then shake glitter over it while the paint is still wet, you get a glittery outline of a tree or star etc. Would look good on the front of a card...

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Mini Stockings Again

Day 10 of my advent blog challenge and it's a full moon <insert wolf howl noise here> I managed to get a couple of hours sewing in this afternoon and started work on a batch of mini stockings. This is the first one completed and ready to be filled with sweeties.

The top hem is stitched with a zig-zag stitch just because I think it looks nice. Once I'd sewn the rest of the seams in straight stitch I trimmed the edges with pinking shears before turning the stocking inside out. Pinking shears help to reduce fraying of raw edges and I've also found it helps to reduce bulk in the seams and makes for a smoother curve. The stocking is finished off with a loop of gold ribbon and a button.

I did all the machine stitching this afternoon, and hope to handstitch the rest of the ribbon loops in front of the TV tonight.

See you tomorrow...

Friday, 9 December 2011

Soap House

I'm now on day nine of my advent posting challenge.  The Last Slayer who inspired me to start this is much nearer the end of her challenge, and you can read all about it on her blog, A Hell of a Woman. Although there may not appear to be a connection between blogging about Buffy the Vampire Slayer as opposed to faffing about with fabric, we're both women trying to establish our identity post-children.

The title of this post refers to the Gingerbread House that I bought at Lush today, as named by my nearly three year old. I was hopelessly optimistic today and planned to pop in to town to pick up some Christmas presents, visit the craft shop for supplies, then head back home for lunch and an afternoon of sewing...

What actually happened is that the retail element of my day expanded massively leaving not much time for other stuff. I also decided to get wrapping the presents I'd bought (mainly to hide them away from curious little eyes). But I did pick up some more felt, so more little puddings will soon be underway.

It being a Friday less than three weeks before Christmas, Bristol city centre was heaving with pasty-eating hordes. (One of them turned out to be my husband as he felt a little peckish and we stopped at the fab Royce Rolls in St Nicks Market for him to buy a spicy veg pasty).

Now I really like giving presents to people, and thinking about what they would like, making a list etc (love a good list). But the actual buying of them is not so much fun - why on earth do some people refer to 'retail therapy' as something you might do for fun? And however much on-line shopping I do I always seem to end up on the high street at some point.

But I did it, and now I have some lovely presents for my family. And the Soap House? Well, that's for... well it's for me, I admit it. I'm a sucker for a nice tin...

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Nice buns

No time for sewing today as that's pretty much impossible to do with the toddler around. Sadly we're reaching the stage when she doesn't have an afternoon nap <sob>, so less time for craft during the day. However, we're also reaching the age when the government says we can have up to 15 hours of free preschool provision. After Christmas the toddler, or preschooler I should say, will be attending preschool for two mornings a week. Hurrah!

But one thing she does approve of is baking, so today we made rock buns, from a recipe from my trusty 'Grub on a Grant'. This title was a bit of an anachronism even when I was (briefly) a student as maintenance grants went out in about 1995. I'd just like to explain for any younger readers that once upon a time most students were eligible to have their fees paid by a grant from the LEA, and some (including my husband) received a maintenance grant towards living costs on top of that! What a crazy system eh?

I'm sure today's students are too busy working two jobs to supplement their student loans, but if not, here's the recipe:

200g plain flour
1 tsp mixed spice
100g margarine (but I prefer butter)
grated rind of 1/2 lemon (I never remember to put this in)
100g demerera sugar
100g mixed dried fruit
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp milk

1. Preheat oven to 200 (conventional) / 180 (fan)
2. Rub together fat, flour and mixed spice with your fingertips until you have a crumb-like mixture
3. Stir in the other ingredients thoroughly
4. Place small dollops into bun-cases and bake for 15-20 mins until golden

I find this makes 12 buns, and it's a good one for getting children involved in as you don't have to worry about being too delicate with the mix.

See you all tomorrow, as it's Friday I'm hoping to get some sewing done...

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Mini stockings... (maybe)

I thought I'd try for a second post today to make up for yesterday. Of course, the problem with posting everyday is that I have to find something interesting to say everyday. Preferably something about something crafty I've made...

Today I started having a muse about preparing for my stall at Redfestive. As it's the weekend before Christmas I think little bits and pieces would be best. I'm planning to make some more felt puds and robins and also thought I'd have a go at a mini stocking decoration. I thought I could fill them with chocolate coins or other appropriately festive sugar bombs.

I'm not entirely happy with the prototype but I'll work on it and post a better picture soon. I also want to get back to the 12 Days of Christmas bunting and am working on some sketches for the next flag. At this rate I may have it finished by about 2022... Oh and I'm supposed to be knitting some socks for a present in early January. Better get off the internet and start doing some work!

Sick Day

It was all going so well yesterday, I woke up brimming with energy after an unprecedented eight hours uninterrupted sleep (a rarity in this house). The morning was taken up doing errands, taking plastic bottles to the the recycling bank, a quick trip to ALDI, all the glamorous SAHM stuff. I even managed to put the finishing touches to a bobble hat and wrap a couple of presents.

Then I started feeling really queasy while cooking tea. I sat with the children while they ate and then caved and put them in front of a DVD while I waited for my husband to get home from work and hoped that I wouldn't puke in front of the kids before he got there. Luckily he was home by 6.30 and I was able to go to bed with my sick bucket (sorry!) while he sorted them out.

So instead of writing a tutorial about pom-poms I'm taking the easy way out and directing you to another site  with a pom-pom tutorial here  And the photo isn't mine but from a blog called Inspiration for Home, alongside lots of other creative ideas for wrapping presents. I was making my pom-pom for the top of a bobble hat, but I thought this was quite a cool idea...

Hopefully normal service will be resumed tomorrow - see you then.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Christmas Traditions

Day 5 of my advent blogging challenge and I'm on a bit of a post-event comedown. All that planning and preparing and fretting and now it's all over. So in an effort to cheer myself up I've been reading blogs and have seen lost of posts today about getting the decorations up, but in our house the tree won't be in the house until Christmas Eve.

There are a couple of reasons for this, it's not that I'm all bah humbug and purist. One is that this was always our tradition at home, we would buy a living tree a couple of weeks before Christmas and it would be dragged into the house with great ceremony on Christmas Eve. Very early on I bagged the bossy boots role of arranging the decorations, assisted more or less willingly by my two younger brothers. It's only recently that my mum has revealed the more prosaic reason behind our family tradition - mainly that putting the tree up so late gave it the greatest chance of surviving unscathed until the Big Day with three hyperactive children in the house.

The other reason is that our youngest child has a birthday on 23 December and it feels right to keep her birthday festivities separate. The year she was born we put up the tree a few days before my due date as it was unlikely that we would get round to it once we had a newborn in the house. She was pretty much born by the light of the Christmas tree, but that's a post for another day...

This little tree is part of a set of felt decorations that I made last year. This year I'll be adding a fabric robin to the branches too.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

The Aftermath...

I am completely knackered due to a busy afternoon at our local Christmas Fayre, but due to my self-imposed Advent blogging challenge I am typing this before hitting the gin.  The photo on the left shows my last lonely Christmas cupcake, I'm sure I can find a home for it soon...

This afternoon I was there with two hats on (not literally, and anyway I'm not really a hat person - what looks jaunty on a born hat wearer looks a little odd on me, but I digress...) Firstly I was there in my capacity as part of the management committee of the community centre, and one of the main organisers of the event. And secondly I was sharing a stall with the lovely Anna and Jo from my craft group with a selection of festive stitchy wares.

So how did it go? Well, from an event organiser perspective we noticed that numbers were definitely down on last year, and this did have an impact on our fundraising. Final figures are still being hammered out, but rough estimate is about £250 profit.  But that's better than a poke in the eye, and the Community Centre was full of families enjoying themselves, which is a good thing in itself. And I was working with a lovely team of (mostly) women who it is always a pleasure to spend time with.

On our stall we took nearly £70 between us. My top sellers were my fabric robins and the little pudding badges which I was pleased with as they were new products. I'm sharing a stall again with Anna at on 18 December at RedFestive, a Christmas pop-up happening on our local high street in an old carpet show-room, which sounds intriguing...

Anyway, I'm off to sink a G&T. I'll sort out all the unpacking in the morning.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Last Minute Bunting

I'm going to admit something, inspired by A Hell of a Woman's blog, I'm trying my own challenge. Basically I'm trying to post for every day of the advent calendar. Every year I mean to make a fabric calendar for my children and this year, as always, I haven't managed it. So this is my advent calendar this year.

So far we've had spiced apple chutney and ginger biscuits, and today was more frantic activity ahead of tomorrow's Christmas Fayre. I baked and iced a marmalade cake and some Christmas cupcakes and of course decided that what my stall was missing was some festive bunting.

This was the opportunity to get the pinking shears out, which is always a good thing. The triangular flags are zig-zagged stitched onto some simple woven tape. Another trip to the Nylon Shop yielded some lovely festive fabric.

Tomorrow morning I'll be busy getting everything ready for the Fayre. Lists will be made... Wish me luck and I'll try and keep up the challenge by posting when the dust has settled tomorrow evening.


Friday, 2 December 2011

Ginger Biscuits

I'm in the middle of a baking frenzy at the moment, preparing for the Christmas Fayre on Sunday. Posts about sewing will resume when I actually get time to make something (also my mum is staying for a few days and is sleeping in my sewing room - otherwise known as the Spare Room). 

Today it was the turn of ginger biscuits, as one of the craft activities for children will be biscuit decorating. I say decorating, it's more dowsing liberally in runny icing, releasing an avalanche of sprinkles and then consuming immediately.

I had a recipe which always produced perfectly good biscuits, but the dough was really crumbly and tricky to work with. Given that I like to make these with my children I decided to do a bit of tweaking. So I added more butter (the original recipe asks for 50g), and to my mind more butter = better. It also helps if you rest the dough in the fridge for ten minutes or so before rolling out.  If you make a little hole in the top of the biscuit you can make them into tree decorations, not that they will hang there for long...

Ingredients:
25g dark brown sugar
75g butter
1 tsp ground ginger
1 rounded tbsp of golden syrup
150g plain flour

How to make:
1. Preheat oven to 170 (fan) or 190 (conventional)
2. Cream the butter and sugar together until smooth
3. Add the ginger and golden syrup and mix well
4. Add the flour and mix until a dough forms - this is sometimes easier to do with your hands.
5. Rest dough in fridge for 10 mins (optional)
6. Roll out dough on a floured surface and cut out biscuits in suitably festive shapes.
7. Put on a greased baking tray and bake for about 10 mins or until just slightly browned at the edges.
8. Cool on a rack and then ice them if you fancy it or just scoff as they are...

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Gran's Spare Hand

My Gran kept her spare hand in the bread bin...

When I was small I didn't question the fact that one of my grandmothers had a right arm that ended just above her elbow and so wore a prosthetic arm to which various hands could be attached. She had an everyday hand, one for best, a driving hand (that worked with the adapted steering wheel in her car) and odd-looking claw thing which she could hold a knife in - or a crochet hook.

She had bone cancer in her hand when she was in her early fifties and the treatment included amputation of the affected hand and part of her arm. Being a right-hander she then had to relearn how to do everything with her left hand. She was a great cook and baker, and used to have a store cupboard brimming with home-made chutneys, jams and jellies. She also made many of her own clothes and was skilled at embroidery and crochet. She never managed to master one-handed knitting, but could crochet very effectively by using wedging the hook in her 'claw'.

Sadly she died when I was ten, and there are many things that I didn't get chance ask her about. I spent a wonderful few days staying with her on my own in what turned out to be her last summer (although we didn't realise that at the time). I was actually a little scared of her as she stood no nonsense and certainly wasn't given to gushing displays of affection.

So I was thinking of her today as I stood in front of nearly three kilograms of apples preparing to make a batch of spiced apple chutney. I wish I could say that it is an old family recipe that she passed down to me, but it's actually from the BBC Good Food website. I'm sure she didn't end up with quite so much chutney slopped onto the worktop, cooker and over herself but I like to think she would be pleased to see the chutney-making tradition upheld...

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Rockin' Robin

I had one of those longed-for days on Friday where I had the whole day at my disposal for sewing. So I put the time to good use by getting stock ready for my stall next weekend.

I have some felt decorations already made, but wanted to try my hand at some robins too, especially as I still had some lovely fabric left over from a bundle from Fabric Rehab.

The Demonic Pincushion was my first attempt at a robin, using a pattern from a magazine. I didn't think it really worked as a tree decoration, and anyway the pattern was not for commercial use. However I did like the fabric combination I had chosen so I set out to make my own simple pattern. The robin is stuffed with a little polyester toy stuffing and decorated with a yellow felt beak and sequins for eyes.

I was initially a little concerned that the bird was looking a little more chicken-like than robin, but once the stuffing was in I was much more happy with the result. Once satisfied with the prototype I set up a bit of a production line to make a little batch for the stall.  Doing each stage in one go (i.e. cutting fabric for 10 robins, then doing all the pinning, then the sewing etc) does make the process a lot quicker than making one item at a time.  There was a bit of hand-stitching at the end to close up the seam, as well as adding the sequins.

My stock list for the stall currently looks like this: felt decorations, patchwork stockings, fabric robins, little pudding badges, mini bags and shopping bags, purses in varying sizes and a few retro-style aprons. Should be enough to fill my section of the table.

Now I just have to get my act together and bulk buy mince pies and mulled wine for our hordes of hungry punters...

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Hibernation...

Knitting - a good thing about winter...
I was having coffee with a friend this morning and she happened to mention that she'd been reading my blog (blush) and we were laughing about the wording that I'd used to describe myself in the 'about me' section. However, I have to admit that the 'old hag' part of my personality is definitely uppermost at the moment, as the shortening days of winter make me really grumpy and I'm feeling a strong urge to pull the covers over my head and not come out until spring.

But of course I can't, so today I've been trying to think of enjoyable things to get me through this miserable part of the year. On the internet somewhere there's probably a list of '10 Steps to Happiness', I think it includes things like growing stuff and seeing friends. If I was more organised I would look it up but I'm typing against the clock trying to get this post finished before the snoozing child in the buggy wakes up... So, my list:

1. Sleep - I am even more grumpy when short on sleep, so I'm having plenty of early nights, often not long after the children. My youngest wakes for the day at around 5.30am so early nights are also a matter of survival.

2. Reading - I have been devouring novels recently as TV is by and large rubbish. I have a Kindle and also been frequent visitor at the local library. Kate Atkinson's Jackson Brodie novels are great for curling up on the sofa with.

3. Knitting - I can never get into knitting in the summer, feels wrong to have wool in my lap when it's warm and sunny. But in the winter I find it really soothing, and I have some great yarn from the Sock Yarn Shop calling to me - but at the moment all making time is dedicated to Christmas Fayre products, so the socks will have to wait.

4. Growing things - I impulse bought some hyacinth bulbs from the greengrocers last week and have them on the kitchen window sill. They smell amazing and it's lovely to have something growing in the house.

5. Craft Night - Whilst it's great talking to people on the internet about craft and other stuff, it's even better to do it face-to-face. A couple of friends and I have a regular craft night every 3-4 weeks and although I often can't face dragging myself out of the door I'm always really glad that I did. We all take a current project to work on and sit and chat over tea and biscuits (we may daringly have a little mulled wine at the pre-Christmas meet...)

So those are my winter treats - what are yours?

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Little Puddings

I'm helping to organise a Christmas Fayre (got to have the 'y' in there...) at my local community centre on Sunday 4th December. I'll be sharing a stall with some friends so trying to get some bits and pieces ready.

Today I have working on these little felt Christmas puddings which I'm planning to make into badges (when does a badge become a brooch? not sure...). They are quite quick to make but I'm pleased with the effect. You can't really see it on the photo but the white felt is slightly glittery - love a bit of glitter, especially at Christmas.

The puddings are hand-stitched and are padded with a little toy stuffing to make them a bit more three dimensional. I need to buy some more red sequins as I'm running low.  I've nearly finished another patchwork stocking and want to make more.  Combined with some felt tree decorations, a bit of bunting and some denim bags from my stash, I think this will fill my corner of the table...

Monday, 14 November 2011

Why I make stuff...

Last week I bought a new mobile phone. As it involved signing up for a contract there was the obligatory box ticking exercise where my employment status was called into question. It was a choice between 'Unemployed' or 'Housewife', neither term appealed much or represented what I actually do all day. On other forms I am described as SAHP (stay at home parent) which I flippantly reject as I don't spend that much time actually in the house with the children...

This is not a parenting blog, but a post on the excellent Free Your Parenting has had me musing about the nature of parenting small children and finding time for yourself. And it got me thinking that the main reason I am determined to create things (and why I write this blog) is because it is something that I do for me as a person.

Whilst I absolutely believe that being around for my children's early years is A Good Thing, the day-to-day intensity of being with them is sometimes overwhelming. So many of the things that I do for them are mundane and repetitive. I am constantly preparing meals, snacks and drinks. I wipe bottoms. I wash hands constantly (mine and theirs) I sing songs. I have the same conversation on the merits of next door's cat over and over again. I read their favourite books again and again until I can recite them by heart. I break up fights using negotiation skills that would put Ban Ki-Moon to shame. You get the picture...

When I'm sewing I call the shots. I love the colours and textures of fabrics, finding the right combinations. I love working out how to best to make something. Things don't always turn out the way I expected but I often like the results anyway. And when someone else asks 'did you make that?' it gives me a real kick to be able to say yes.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Partridge in a Pear Tree

I've had a productive weekend. Not only did I manage to finish the patchwork stockings, I also made a start on my 12 Days of Christmas bunting.

I decided to edge the flags with some festive fabric, I think I will alternate red and green. I think this gives the flags a bit more definition (especially as the bunting will be hung on a white wall).

So this shows my interpretation of partridge in a pear tree, with the pear being my very first attempt at proper appliqué - i.e. turning the fabric edges under and doing tiny hand-stitches. Previously I have reached for the trusty bondaweb and basically stuck the fabric down and machine-stitched as close to the edge as I dare. And I know that the pear/partridge ratio is a bit off, but I was going for abstract representation rather than botanical and avian realism.

The rest is done in felt, stitched with DMC embroidery silks. I put a bit of gold stitching on the pear because I fancied it. Really enjoyed just doing some freehand embroidery rather than following a kit. The trick I think is knowing where to stop and not to overwork it. Next up is two turtle doves...

Friday, 4 November 2011

Work in Progress

I'm hoping to escape to my sewing room this weekend and make a start on some festive bunting based on the Twelve Days of Christmas song.  I've recently joined Pinterest and have started a board there to record all the lovely things that I've found to inspire me.

My plan is to make twelve pennants out of unbleached calico, one for each verse of the song. I'm aiming to use a mixture of appliqué and embroidery. I was wondering whether you can get metallic embroidery threads and was delighted to find that yes you can! This afternoon I picked up some felt, threads and these dinky little bells from the fab craft shop in St Nicks Market

I've been busy sketching partridges and also discovered that it's four colly birds not four calling birds as I'd always assumed. Apparently 'colly' is a corruption of 'coalie', an old word for blackbird.

Also this weekend I am making some patchwork Christmas stockings for a friend, think that the gold embroidery thread might come in handy there too...

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Make List

Inspired by Stitch This (which is a marvellous blog by the way) I thought I would put together a Make List of my own.

It's a combination of things I'm in the middle of, things I've sort of promised to make plus some stuff  from daydream territory...


Bobble hat for my brother
Finish Erhman tapestry kit
Patchwork stockings
Felt Christmas decorations
Peg bags
Christmas apron for me
Knitted socks - lots
Christmas bunting
Lavender bags
A quilt for The Toddler
A hobby horse for The Boy
Arm warmers
Fabric advent calendar
Learn to crochet
Knitted dolly

Think that's enough for now, better head upstairs as the sewing machine is calling...

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Where's Wally Costume (part two)

I bet you've been on tenterhooks since the last thrilling instalment... so here is the Where's Wally costume in all its glory! Things were all going well on Thursday night, I had been in a knitting frenzy and had nearly finished the hat at my craft night round a mate's house.  I was also looking forward to a very rare child-free day on Friday with my husband; my parents were visiting and were booked in to look after the children.

But then I woke up at 5am yesterday feeling as sick as a dog, and not because of a wild party either.  So instead yesterday was spent horizontal in a darkened room with a bucket by the bed. I am so rarely ill that it was a bit of shock.

Luckily my lovely mum finished off the hat, I'd already done the bulk of it and had started the decreases, and The Boy and his dad had made an excellent pom-pom. The walking stick is also husband's work, made out of the cardboard tube from the inside of wrapping paper and LOTS of parcel tape (the man is a genius). Add in an old pair of specs with the lenses removed and the outfit is complete.

Felt much more human this morning so had time to tack up the sleeves of the t-shirt, but this project really has been a family effort. And considering that the hat was a bit of a guestimate, the sizing is just right (phew).

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Where's Wally Costume

My children have been invited to a birthday party - it's fancy dress... It's also Halloween on Monday and while I am not quite convinced about the whole Trick or Treating thing, my five year old is desperately keen to go out. The Toddler is a bit of a diva and will probably refuse to wear anything apart from maybe a bit of face-paint, so I'm focussing my energies on the child that will most appreciate it.

So he would like to be Wally, from the Where's Wally books (I believe he is Waldo in the US). I am secretly pleased about this as the costume would also come in handy for World Book Day.  I have been scouring shops for a red/white striped t-shirt but no joy, and then today most serendipitously I happened to be talking about fancy dress with a friend over coffee. It so happened that she had a suitable t-shirt in a bag of stuff to go the charity shop - perfect!  It's a woman's long sleeve top so is a little big, but I'll tack up the sleeves and put a few stitches at the neck. The Boy has a new pair of jeans and from the illustrations Wally appears to be wearing blue trousers so I think we're sorted there.

Which leaves us with the hat... I've never knitted a hat before so it's a new one for me. I did think about knitting it in the round but I don't really have the right size needles. The yarn is some specially purchased 100% acrylic from the local cheapy shop, wasn't keen to use some of my lovely yarn stash for this project!

So the heat is on, can I produce a creditable Where's Wally bobble hat before Saturday afternoon? Tune in next time to find out...

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Toddler Art Critic

This weekend we have been up in Liverpool visiting family. Today featured a trip into town where we visited the new Museum of Liverpool and then moved on to the Tate.

DS enjoyed the 'Little Liverpool' gallery at the Museum, which is designed for the under-sixes, lots of hands-on exhibits (including plenty of water!). In search of lunch we wandered round the Albert Dock to the Tate and popped into their cafe. Despite the shocking news that they had run out of fish and chips, the whole party ate well and suitably refreshed decided to do the decent thing and have a look at some Art.

Now... I remember visiting art galleries and museums before having children. It used to be an experience that consisted of gentle wandering, spending time in contemplation. This is no longer the case. Today I spent quite some time pretending to be a bird, crouching down behind exhibits on instruction from the Toddler "because it's not a good place mummy, we gotta hide". One thing she did like was Dali's Lobster Telephone, which elicited the critical response of "funny".

Sadly I couldn't persuade the group that we needed to get a haberdashery fix at the local branch of Abakhan, so we went to the newly-opened Lego store instead. Maybe next time...

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Patchwork Christmas Stocking

This is a prototype patchwork Christmas stocking that I made last night. I had some bits of festive fabric left over from making bunting last year and just did up a simple patchwork with squares. I made myself a stocking shape template out of stiff card so that I can make more of these.

The stocking is lined with an unbleached calico - I thought that I could embroider a name on the strip at the top to personalise it. The back of the stocking is more of the tartan fabric as I had a larger piece of this one.

The patchwork is a little wonky in places, but this just adds to the handmade charm (keep saying it enough and it might be true!).

I went down to the really inappropriately named Nylon Shop today - they sell loads of fabric, it's a complete Aladdin's cave type place, cluttered but lovely. And it's within 15 minutes walk of my house.  Much of what they sell is not nylon, so why the name I don't know... I found some more of the red/green tartan plus a small green/gold holly print and a red cotton with snowflakes and baubles.  I am however very much coveting the one of the Scandi-style Christmas bundles from Fabric Rehab.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Christmas Cake

If you only bake one thing for Christmas, it should be a Proper Christmas Cake - unless you don't like fruitcake in which case you are let off, but hey, I say make one anyway and give it to someone who does... But I digress, I thought I would share the recipe that we use in this house. I wish I could say that it is an old family recipe but the truth is that it's one I found on the interweb about 10 years ago.

Even if the recipe isn't that old, Christmas Cake is definitely one of our family traditions, with everyone in the house getting a stir and a wish. There is also the element of delayed gratification, as a rich fruitcake like this is best made a couple of months before Christmas.

You will need:

225g plain flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp mixed spice
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
200g butter
200g dark brown sugar
2 tbsp black treacle
1 tbsp marmalade
1/4 tsp vanilla essence
4 eggs, lightly beaten
800g mixed dried fruits (usually sultanas, raisins and currants)
100g mixed peel
150g glace cherries, halved
100g blanched almonds, chopped
Brandy (optional)

Also a 7 inch square tin (or 8 inch round) and preheated oven at about 150 degrees

How to make:

  1. Weigh out your mixed fruit, peel and cherries. To make the cake lovely and moist, soak the fruit overnight in lashings of brandy (this bit is optional if you're not into booze in cakes)
  2. Grease and double-line your tin with baking parchment
  3. Sieve flour, salt and spices into a bowl
  4. In another large bowl (I once made this in a clean washing up bowl as I didn't have a mixing bowl big enough) cream the butter and sugar until fluffy.
  5. Add the eggs to the creamed fat/sugar a bit at a time, with a spoonful of flour with each dollop of egg.
  6. Mix in the rest of the flour thoroughly, add a bit of vanilla essence at the same time
  7. Now time to add the fruit, tip it all in and mix well until all combined
  8. Pour the mix into your prepared tin and smooth into corners
  9. Put in the oven and cook for up to 3 hrs, time will depend on your oven. I find it helps to put a sheet of baking parchment on top of the cake to stop it browning too much.
  10. Swear and realise that you forgot to include the almonds but decide that it doesn't matter too much as who likes nuts in Christmas Cake anyway?...
Store in an airtight tin and forget about it until Christmas Eve when you suddenly remember that you need to decorate it.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Fabric Stash

At the moment I am trying to be good and to use up my growing fabric stash. This little zip-up purse is made from a cotton print from Fabric Rehab. If you've not visited their site before, they have a great range of retro-style and quirky prints - lots of Japanese and Scandi stuff.

And although I'm trying to be good, I'm telling myself that because I have a couple of Christmas Fairs coming up, I have the perfect excuse to add to my stash! So purely in the interests of research I have been drooling over investigating fabric shops.

I'm lucky to have a branch of Fabricland just a bus-ride away. Their website is pretty terrible (in fact I'd say that someone in 1992 probably wants it back!) but the staff in the Bristol store are always really helpful. They have an amazing range of stuff and are very reasonably priced. I nearly always manage to pick up something cool from their remnant bin too, always worth a rummage....

Through Twitter I discovered The Fabric Loft, I haven't ordered from here yet, but OMW (oh my word) some of those prints are cool... some really lovely retro florals and generally tempting bundles. Decisions, decisions!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Best Flapjack in the World (probably)

I was never that bothered about flapjack, too many times I'd had something that was just too sweet and greasy, then I tried making it in school and must have over-baked it as it just welded itself to the tin.

But then I was introduced to this recipe by a friend of a friend and I am converted. I have tried it with several different combinations, but the version I made the other day was particularly tasty...

You will need a largish tin as this makes quite a lot. I have a traybake tin from Lakeland which is about the size of an A4 sheet of paper. Line with baking parchment and preheat oven to 160 (fan) or 180 (conventional)

Ingredients:

125g of butter/margarine
100g of golden syrup
150g of brown sugar
50g honey
350g oats
250g of 'other stuff' e.g. fruit, seeds, nuts (for my latest batch I added 100g of mixed seeds, 100g of raisins and 50g of dessicated coconut)

Making it:

Dead easy!  After weighing everything out, melt the fat, sugar, syrup and honey over a low heat in a large pan. Then stir in the oats and your 'other stuff', make sure you mix it thoroughly. Put the mix into the tin and push down firmly.  Cook for 15-20 mins.

Leave it to cool in the tin.  When it's completely cool, remove from the tin and use a sharp knife to cut it up into squares/triangles or whichever shape you like.

Eat...

p.s. I have a friend who is a flapjack purist and thinks that adding 'other stuff' to flapjack is a desecration.You decide...

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Demonic Pincushion

This little birdie pincushion was one of the unfinished projects I uncovered during The Great Tidy-Up.  All I had to do was finish stuffing him, sew the seam closed and give him some eyes. But the red sequins I used to make the eyes, together with the particularly wonky angle of his head, conspired to give him a demonic look. The pins jabbed viciously into his chest don't help I s'pose...

Still, he is at least complete, and that was the aim of the exercise. He was supposed to be a prototype robin (for Christmas decoration purposes) but I think I need to fiddle with the pattern to make the shape more robin-like.

Next stop on the Finishing Things list are some embroidered bookmarks that need a ribbon backing to cover up all the messy threads. Although I have to ask myself, who uses bookmarks these days? I am the daughter of an antiquarian bookseller and do love old books, but I'm not sentimental about bog-standard paper backs and mostly read fiction on my Kindle these days.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Good Housekeeping

So after all the rush of preparing stuff for stalls, as well as the whole back to school malarkey, things had got pretty messy in my house. To be fair, they are often pretty messy as I have good intentions but rarely the inclination to follow through. There's always something more exciting to do than housework...

But now things have quietened down a bit I've had time to tidy up my workroom (aka The Spare Room). In fact the hoover has been sighted in other areas of the house too, but I'm hoping the family won't get too used to it. Clearing up means more space for making and I also discovered a plethora of almost completed projects that I am determined to finish off. There's a couple of tapestry pieces that just need framing or making into cushions, and a bag that I started (and blogged about) some time ago.

I'm looking forward to meeting up with my craft group tomorrow night (I'm hosting) so might take the chance to do a bit of finishing. And a new project that's been buzzing round my head is some plans for 12 Days of Christmas Bunting. I've started making some sketches and I think it's going to be a bit of a labour of love.

The other exciting thing is that madebytamsin is now in the blog directory at UK Craft Blog, home to all sorts of interesting and useful articles about all things crafty - and how to blog about them! Now I just have to work out how to add their button...

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Retro Aprons

So at the moment I am preparing some stuff ready for a stall I'm sharing with a friend at the weekend. The event is a vintage/retro fair and the rest of the stall will be full of crockery, vintage clothes, old suitcases, 1940s sewing patterns...

I thought that I'd have a go at some retro-style aprons, the picture on the left shows one made out of an old dress with a groovy yellow 70s  floral print.  The dress was too full of holes to fix, but there was enough good fabric in the skirt for my purposes.

I was excited to learn that making gathers is really simple - I just set my sewing machine to the longest stitch length and sewed along the top edge of the fabric. Then you just pull the bottom thread (gently) to make the gather. I fiddled about with it a bit to make sure that it was even, then I sewed the apron skirt into the waistband.

I have a couple more aprons in my collection, including one in red/white polka dots, but I think this yellow one (with natty patch pocket) is my favourite!

And I know I should probably be spending my evenings glued to the sewing machine, but as it's getting darker I feel more of an urge to hibernate. Plus a self-imposed sweat shop regime kinda takes the fun out of making...

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Essential Sewing Kit

So I thought I'd have a stab at creating my Top 10 of essential kit... This is a list of things I think are essential, I'm sure you have your own version...

1. Notebook
So this should be a notebook where I sketch out ideas and plan things, and it is (a bit). But as I am a bit impatient and tend to just jump in and have a go, I tend to write things down after the event to remind myself how I did it. I do love notebooks in general though as I'm a secret stationery fetishist!






2. Sewing Machine
This is my trusty Riccar Reliant 55 - they don't make them like that any more (they really don't, the company no longer exists). It was second hand when I got it as a teenager, which is some time ago now... I've had it serviced recently by a local business who very handily come to the house, not as expensive as you'd think





3. Scissors
I had some John Lewis Vouchers a while ago and treated myself to some really good scissors. These are Fiskars dressmaking scissors and are good and sharp. They are the main reason that I have a (high) bolt on the study door to prevent little fingers getting hold of them.




4. Iron
Well who would have thought it, I've found a use for the iron! It's pretty ancient and the steam bit doesn't work - I use a plant sprayer to mist with water sometimes. It's really handy for pressing seams.








5. Pins
These are glass-headed pins. I've no idea whether that's a good thing or not but the colours please me. I do covet one of those cute little tomato pincushions but feel that I could probably make one (but of course haven't got round to it yet)









6. Magic pen
This is really nifty... You use it to mark up fabric and then simply spray water on the marks after cutting out and they disappear - woo! Before I got this pen I was using whatever manky biro I had to hand, not good.







7. Measuring tape

I have a couple of these because I'm always losing them. They are at least cheap...









8. Spare bobbins
I particularly like the word bobbin, I think it's a Mark Radcliffe hangover. It's also a useful swear-replacement word. When I got my sewing machine all those years ago it came with just one bobbin, took me a while to realise that you could buy more and so have a range of threads ready to go. Must get some more of these...




 9. Sewing Machine Needles
It is with similar embarrassment that I admit that it took me a while to realise that you had to change the needle on a sewing machine (blush). Ideally you should use a new needle for each new project, it really makes a difference to the quality of stitching.
10. Needle threader
I confess that I wanted to put seam ripper in at number 10, but couldn't find it, so instead it's this little chap. Very handy for the sausage-fingered among us!