Saturday, 29 December 2012

New Year, New Projects

I hope you've had an enjoyable Christmas. We stayed at home this year and so was just the four of us, which was really lovely. For the first time it seemed that our children (now 4 and 6) were young enough to be excited about Christmas, but old enough not to be such bloody hard work.

For the past six years, broken sleep, nappies and all the day to day slogging of looking after young children sort of takes the shine off the festive period. And being woken up after a night of too much mulled wine at sparrows fart was too much to contemplate.

But this year I sat with my excited children at 6.30am on Christmas Day as they competed to show me what Father Christmas had brought in their stockings. Oldest had been asking some awkward questions about the existence of the big man, but this year was convinced as he'd got a Hexbug Nano in his stocking which apparently showed that "I think FC really knows me, because he knew I'd like a Hexbug and I hadn't even said anything". I'm not about to mess about with icing sugar footprints or any other kind of glittery shit, but I'm glad that the belief was still there, at least for this year. I can just about remember the pant-wetting excitement of feeling a lumpy stocking at the foot of the bed and just knowing that 'he's been!'.

I had a few crafty presents among my gifts and also rather excitingly, a digital radio. This will go up in the study so that I can listen to Radio 4 as I stitch - bliss! This is traditionally the time of year to think about plans for the new year, resolutions and all that jazz. I'm planning to kick off 2013 with a bit of a crafting detox. Basically I have banned myself from buying anything new in January, any projects will have to use materials already in the house. And trust me, there's plenty in the stash to be going on with...

I have a couple of birthday presents to sort for January (I think knitted gifts may feature) and I have a box of card blanks left over from Christmas so I have no excuse not to make the cards as well. I'd also like to make a little dolly bed for Youngest and am eyeing up a handy-looking shoebox. But for now my presence is demanded at the great Lego contruction (as it is of course still raining, this being Bristol and all).

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Sparkly Things

Youngest child is back to full health, and was badgering to go to preschool this morning (thank god for that - I'm not great at sustaining patience during the 'getting better but still really whingy' stage of illness). So it was time to fight my way past the piles of Christmas presents in the study and get making. We're also hiding two bikes in there, so it was a little cramped.

I found out yesterday that I didn't get shortlisted for a job that I really wanted a shot at. I also found out that they had 170 applications for the post - talk about stiff competition! I just have to be grateful that at least we can manage on one salary, and that whilst I would love to be working at the moment, others are in a much worse position employment-wise. As a SAHP it's hard not to feel the fear that I will be financially dependent on my husband forever, but I just have to trust that we'll find our way through.

I'm also trying to see it as an opportunity, as going out to work would mean less time for other things. So I'll keep doing the worthy bit, volunteering on committees, helping out at the school etc. After all, someone has to keep the Big Society going, eh Dave? Then of course there's all that shopping, lunching and making myself purty for my man, that takes up a fair amount of my time...

Nah, not really. I'm off down the pub now to meet up with my craft group. Cheers!

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Change of Plan

I had plans for this weekend, not grand plans mind, just normal ones. Go to the dentist on Saturday morning, run a few errands, bake a cake, do some sewing for the stall next week, and on the slightly more exciting front, go out on Saturday night and meet a bunch of strangers from the internet (aka a Mumsnet meet-up). But that's not actually what happened... of course not.

The run-up to the weekend had begun with the three year old being too poorly for childcare on Friday. But no matter I thought, I'm going out on Saturday night. I'll get my reward for mopping up sick and trying to force calpol into a recalcitrant preschooler, with chat about the Mumsnet scarf and Centre Parcs. And things on sticks and plenty of booze. Lovely.

On Saturday morning my daughter was no better, and my spidey senses were starting to shift from the default position of 'If you take her to the docs now they'll give you the anxious mother look' to actually being, well, an anxious mother. So off I bombed to the GP surgery before 9:00am, thinking I'd just get them to have a little listen to her chest, give me the look and send us home with instructions for clear fluids and calpol as usual. And hopefully make it to the dentist by 10:00am. My first clue that things weren't going down that route was when I turned up the surgery and the receptionist politely informed me that the surgery was only open for pre-booked appointments and that I should really go to out of hours. She then took a closer look at my slightly unkempt state and the sad child on my hip and said she would ask the GP on duty if we could be seen.

The next sign that things were really not so ok, was that the GP not only agreed to see us straight away, but then listened to my daughter's chest and started to do the serious look. And then hooked my now very pale sad child up to a nebuliser while she went to phone the children's hospital.

So we had a rather too eventful morning in A&E with more nebulisers, oxygen masks and chest x-rays, before being admitted to the short stay ward for observation, and nurses started muttering things about an overnight stay. I can tell when my children are properly ill, by the way that they lose all their fight, and submit to people doing necessary but rather unpleasant medical procedures with only a sad little whimper. Plenty of that this weekend.

There's been a fair amount of media coverage recently about compassion and caring in nursing, and whether it's missing. Speaking from my recent experience I'd have to say not. I was incredibly impressed by the care that my daughter received, and the attitude of the staff towards her. Sure, there was one slightly brusque antipodean nurse, but I think they're obligatory. And her main concern was to get the children better so they could get out of there, something that all of us would agree with.

But of course the main thing about our hospital visit is that for us it was a rarity. Barring the odd visit to check out possible broken limbs or swollen appendices (they weren't), we've had minimal contact with hospitals. So I didn't take offence at being referred to as 'mum' by all healthcare professionals. Because if you're at hospital with your children long enough for the nurses to learn your name, then you've got bigger things to worry about....

I'll stop now as I've gone on too long already. I don't even have a lovely picture to cheer up this post either. Back to cupcakes and bunting soon I promise.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Chutney Time

Behold the golden goodness of a jar of homemade spiced carrot chutney. There's plenty more where that came from too... It's fairly garlicky, with a little hit of chilli, just right with cheese and biscuits.

I was given this recipe by my lovely friend Jo, I checked with her and she is more than happy to share the love, so the recipe is below. Just a few words of warning before you start, especially if you haven't made chutney before.

Firstly, you will need a REALLY big pan, as this is quite a lot of chutney that we're dealing with here. If your pan is a bit on the small side, stirring will be tricky (and messy). I was lucky enough to be given a Maslin pan for my birthday last year which does make things easier.

Secondly, your house will reek of vinegar while you're cooking this, and possibly for days afterwards, sorry. Best to keep kitchen doors shut and open a window if possible.

Finally, and most important, do make sure that you sterilise your jars and lids properly. You don't want to spend hours over a hot chutney pan to discover mouldiness when you check your chutney stash later on. I give my jars a good scrub with hot soapy water and then put them into a low oven (about 110) for 30 mins. Fill the jars while they're still hot from the oven.

Ingredients
(makes about 10 x 454g jars)

1.8kg carrots (grated)
110g fresh root ginger, peeled and grated
1 litre cider vinegar
8 dried red chillies
4 cinnamon sticks
2 tbsp coarsely crushed coriander seeds
2 star anise
60g coarse sea salt
3 heads of garlic
500ml water
1.5kg granulated sugar

How to make
1. Put carrots in a bowl with ginger, vinegar, spices and salt, mix together and cover with a tea towel and leave overnight.
2. Next day separate heads of garlic and peel all the cloves.
3. Put carrot mixture in a big pan and add garlic and water, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 mins.
4. Stir in the sugar and bring back to the boil, stirring occasionally, until the chutney is thick and jammy. 
5. Remove the larger items (cinnamon sticks/star anise and its up to you re: chillies) but leave the garlic in.
6 Let it settle off the heat for 3 mins before ladling into sterile jars and screwing the lid on tightly.

You can eat this straight away, or it's even better if you leave it for a few weeks. Still time to make some for Christmas - and good for a gift too, especially if you pair it up with a nice piece of cheese and some crackers.


Sunday, 2 December 2012

Fabric Advent Calendar

Fabric Advent Calendar
It's done! I have made my children a fabric advent calendar in time for the start of advent. And despite the grumbles about lack of chocolate or Moshi Monsters, they seem fairly pleased with it. Of course it's not really finished, as I've only made the little decorations up to about day seventeen... But the remaining pieces are all cut and I've embroidered most of the numbers. Now just a case of sewing them all up.

We celebrated the first day of December yesterday by watching our Snowman/Father Christmas DVD straight after breakfast. Now I love Raymond Briggs (we have the Father Christmas books too), but this particular DVD did get watched rather a lot last year. By  February I was begging for relief so did tactically 'lose' it for a while until they'd forgotten about it. There's also the fact that my sensitive six year old bursts into tears at the end of The Snowman. Every. Single. Time. My hard-hearted three year old couldn't care less.

Husband was also despatched yesterday to buy a Christmas tree, and returned with a dinky little pot-grown one. I like to have one with roots as we tend to get a couple of year's use out of a tree like this, it goes out into the garden in a gert big pot in between Christmasses.

Hopefully now I can get on with making a few more bits and pieces to sell, as I've booked a stall at the Ematingz Christmas market on 15 December. I have a lovely bundle of retro style fabrics from Seamstar that is just begging to be fashioned into some patchwork stockings. If you're in Bristol that weekend, do pop over to Easton Community Centre.

Update - I've just added this post to the Mumsnet Craft Round-up. Check out this link for more festive craft ideas.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Work in Progress

This is a little update on the homemade advent calendar front. I've nearly finished the backing sheet, just have a few more buttons to sew on, and have made a start on the little decorations. The first three are shown here, I have another seven done, so still a way to go before I'm finished. Something tells me I may spend a few evenings during advent frantically sewing to have one ready for the next day.

I'm just using these three colours for the decorations, keeping the design simple... and it was also the colours of felt that I had in my stash. Each decoration is cut out of a doubled over piece of felt - I made myself a pattern for the star but the baubles are freehand so a little more 'organic' in their form (or skew-whiff if you're being uncharitable). I then use a few stitches to secure the hanging ribbon on to the back  piece of the decoration, and embroider the number onto the front piece.  I then used blanket stitch to join the two pieces together. As suspected, I am cussing slightly for committing to blanket stitch rather than a much less labour intensive running stitch, but I do think they look rather lovely.

And I'm getting quite good at blanket stitch now... If you fancy having a try, this tutorial on Cherry Menlove's blog gives step by step instructions.

I didn't manage any stitching or blogging this weekend as we were hosting a bit of a family shindig. Roast dinner for a table of eleven was served up to an appreciative audience. It was an emergency chairs and bedsheet for a tablecloth type of occasion - I love that sort of thing! Just great to have so many of us around the table.

The weekend also saw the tasting of the first of the carrot chutney that I made a couple of weeks ago. I'll share the recipe on here when I get a chance. Ta ta for now.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Cupcakes and Bunting

Photo credit: Anna Gordon
This post has been mulling since Saturday night, when I crawled into my bed just before midnight, after spending the day at Mumsnet Blogfest.

Which incidentally was bloody marvellous!  From the opening keynote speech from Miriam González Durántez right through to Caitlin Moran's hilarious closer, and in between with useful sessions and best of all loads of other inspiring women to talk to, and later swig fizz with. It was great to put faces to internet sprites stitch this and Dillytante

I've always had an appreciation for Mumsnet, I discovered it just before I got pregnant with my first baby, seven years ago now. I felt that as 'Mum' was in the title of the site, I couldn't actually post until I got pregnant and so had a valid connection with parenthood. Luckily I got the little blue line shortly after this and jumped into an ante-natal thread where women who were due at the same time talked about pretty much everything to do with early pregnancy. I can remember ranting about my super advanced pregnancy sense of smell and the awful reek of fellow travellers on public transport. And because I was talking to other women who were going through a similar experience, I didn't have to bore any of my 'real life' friends (who weren't pregnant or mothers) with the minutiae of gestational gossip.

Since then Mumsnet has given me plenty of support on all aspects of parenthood and on a more flippant note Mumsnet is also the reason that my husband and I can't talk about Centre Parcs with a straight face... (if you're curious, google Centre Parks Mumsnet, but maybe not at work).

So apart from having a marvellous time, yakking and swigging, what did I learn from Blogfest?

1. That the best way to get better at writing is to get on and write
2. That there really is such thing as a sisterhood
3. That if you hang around talking until the bitter end when chairs are stacked on tables, they'll probably run out of goody bags... oh well

And I'm not really bothered that a certain Daily Mail columnist is scornful of my type of blog, mainly because I'm a desperately earnest woolly liberal Guardian-reading type. I like knitting, so shoot me. And cakes are tasty. Blogging is my hobby, not my life, it's just something I try to fit in with all the other things that fill my days. And my life is full, and I am grateful.

Update:
I've submitted this post to the Mumsnet Bloghop, click here to see more posts about the day.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Bundting Marvellous (well sort of)

Photo of failed Bundt cake
I think one of the important thing about a craft blog is sharing the things that didn't go quite to plan. Hence the photo here...

I've always wanted to make some kind of Bundt cake, but didn't have a tin - it's one with a hole in the middle. Then what should I find in Aldi on Wednesday but a half size Bundt tin, with lovely swirly patterns on the top. Thus equipped I set about making a cut down version of Nigella's 'Snow-topped Spice Cake' from Domestic Goddess. I reduced the recipe by half. It is a little faffy as you have to separate the egg yolks and whites (and whipping egg whites to a soft peak is a bit of a bastard when doing it by hand) but the texture of the finished article was really fluffy and tasted delicious.

However, when I came to turn out the tin (with lots of shaking, poking and muttered curses) a bit of a disaster occurred. Half of the cake remained stuck in the crenellations at the top of the tin, leaving the less than impressive item that you see above. Oh and I realised that I'd left out the ginger, which was kind of the main flavour of the cake. Oh well...

Of course we had to gobble it up as quickly as possible to hide my baking shame. If you'd like to have a go, the recipe is below. And apparently the proper lubrication (smirk) for such fancy cake tins is the impressively named Cake Release. Other baking supplies retailers are available, but I'm happy to tart myself for a free sample if anyone from Lakeland is reading this ;-)

Ingredients
2 eggs separated, plus 1 extra egg white
62ml vegetable oil
62ml water
1tbsp runny honey
100g dark brown sugar
38g ground almonds
75g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp all-spice (although I didn't have any of this)
good pinch of ground cloves
zest of 1/4 of an orange
50g caster sugar

How to make
1. Preheat oven to 180 (conventional) or 160 (fan)
2. Grease your tin *thoroughly*
3. Whisk together the yolks and oil in a large bowl, then mix in the water, honey and dark brown sugar.
4. Add the almonds, flour, baking powder, bicarb, salt, spices and zest and fold in gently
5. In another bowl beat the egg whites into soft peaks then gradually add the caster sugar
6. Fold the whites into the cake mixture in the large bowl.
7. Pour the mix into your Bundt tin and bake for about 35 mins or until the cake is springy on top and starting to shrink away from the sides.
8. Leave to cool in the tin for half an hour before attempting to turn out.
9. If you like you can make up some Royal Icing to decorate, but I think it was perfectly good un-iced.

That's all from me for today. I've also been doing some 'real' work, and making carrot chutney, so I'll be spending the evening washing the smell of cider vinegar out of my hair and getting ready (otherwise known as fretting about my outfit) for Mumsnet Blogfest tomorrow. Going to be on a train at stupid o'clock in the morning <yawn>

Monday, 5 November 2012

Countdown

Photo showing green printed fabric with a white button
Having packed the children off to school and preschool this morning, the house is suddenly quiet, perfect opportunity to update the blog. Since I started sewing again, I've had a fabric advent calendar on my to do list. Last year I got as far as thinking about it, this year I've actually made a start. Based on this timescale I may have it finished in about 2014...

I looked at various designs with little pockets that you can put chocolate in, but I wasn't feeling inspired. Then I came up with the idea of making a Christmas tree shape that we can hang numbered decorations on, so last night I got out my Big Scissors and made a tree shape with this lovely green and gold fabric and sewed it on to a plain calico backing sheet. I now have to sew on twenty-four buttons to give the ornaments something to hang on, I did some last night in front of Downton Abbey.

I then plan to make twenty-four felt decorations, all hand stitched. It's at this point that the swearing will probably set in, but it's good to have a plan, right?

And I make no apologies for planning for Christmas in November, as I like to have things organised ahead of time so that I can enjoy lazing around nibbling snacks and sipping gin when the school holidays start (yeah, ok that's a bit of a fantasy, probably should say something worthy about having some quality time with the children yada yada). Also some genius decided that it would be a great idea to host a family get together and present swap at the end of November (yes, it was me, why do I do these things?!) so a fair amount of shopping and wrapping has to happen before then.

I have however put the first of the festive snacks in the 'Christmas' cupboard, a pack of savoury biscuits in case you're interested. This tradition started when we were incredibly skint and tried to spread the cost of Christmas food over a few months, but now I feel all domesticky to have some bits squirrelled away.

Watch this space...

Friday, 26 October 2012

Little Star

Photo of yellow felt star decoration
Had a lovely time at craft group last night, and ended up making this little felt Christmas star as I fancied doing some hand-stitching. Didn't start out with definite design in mind, more like taking a line for a walk.

But then for some reason insomnia struck last night and I'm consequently feeling zombie-like this morning. Thankfully Nana (my mother-in-law) is staying, so snapping at the children due to knackeredness has been kept to a minimum.

I've had a few disturbed nights recently, so probably time to get back into good sleep habits, and possibly cut down on the coffee again... how dull

And of course 3am is the time you let those nagging little voices have free rein, doing a good old character assassination on yourself. In order to cheer myself up, I looked back at my Make List post from nearly a year ago, and found that I've actually made quite a few things on there. Thinking about updating the post to link to some finished projects.

But a nap first I think...

Thursday, 25 October 2012

The Weird Kid

Photo of hand-knitted rainbow coloured socks
When my son started school two years ago, my main concern was not how quickly he'd pick up phonics or get to grips with numbers. No, my main concern was that he wouldn't be the 'weird kid'. You know the one, home haircut, cord dungarees, general air of social awkwardness coupled with an embarrassingly precocious vocabulary. Yes, it was me... I was the weird kid, and occasionally I feel like I still am.

But naturally my son has surprised me by being completely socially at ease, and the fact that his school has a uniform means that fashion faux pas opportunities are thankfully limited. He has two (male) 'best' friends - the three of them have been a tight unit since they started in Reception, and he is also seemingly very popular with the girls in his class, judging by the volume of party invitations he receives...

So I think I'm safe in hand-knitting him some rainbow socks (pictured above). He chose the yarn himself and was trying them on this evening, they were pronounced 'comfy' and 'really warm'. There's a bit of room for growth in the toe area as he's shooting up alarmingly at the moment.

The only problem is that now I've finished them I have nothing to take to craft group tonight, might just have to take some Christmassy fabrics and see where that takes me.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

General Witterings

Photo of craft stall with baskets
I really enjoyed myself on Saturday at the craft fair. It was maybe a little quiet in terms of visitors, but I still managed to sell enough to cover my table fees and make a reasonable amount on top - hurrah! I also had lots of nice comments about the stall. I just happened to find these baskets in one of the local cheapy shops (think Primark-ish). I think it helps to give a bit of height to the display and shows off my products well.

The standard of products on the other stalls was generally high, and there was a good mix. There was one stall selling sock monkeys which were very cute and quirky, and the stallholder was busy making throughout the afternoon (she had a little pile of socks by her side).

Since the the weekend I've been tackling some of the jobs round the house that haven't been done in the past few weeks as I've been in a flurry of threads. Excitingly we've even got round to putting new shelving in the study, so even my sewing stuff is looking pretty tidy (it won't last...)

I've also been catching up with reading other blogs, something I really enjoy doing. It's seems that you're supposed to hand-wring and clutch your pearls every so often about the encroachment of modern technology into all aspects of life. The tyranny of devices yada yada. I disagree, I think it's incredible that I have a little machine that fits into the palm of my hand that lets me communicate with people all over the world, just with a few characters on a screen. I love that Twitter is there when I fancy a conversation, or just pointing me towards some interesting articles.

When I started my career (pre-children I worked in PR & Marketing) in the mid-90s we had one PC in the office that had dial-up internet access, through which we would receive the odd email. The rest of us had PCs on the desk, but they were basically for word processing and the odd spreadsheet. When we produced a new piece of print, for example a brochure, the designer would courier round the proofs and my boss would mark up any changes with a pen. The proofs would then be couriered back to the designer and the process repeated until a satisfactory outcome was achieved. Today you could do the whole thing in a couple of emails, if the brochure was printed at all. Newsweek just announced that it will stop producing a printed version in the new year and I wonder how long printed other printed newspapers and mags will be around for...

I'll also soon be meeting in real life some of the people I've met online, as I'm going to Mumsnet Blogfest on 10 November. I'm particularly looking forward to meeting Dillytante and Stitch This, fellow crafty bloggers.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Stitch Fever

Photo of dark blue denim bags
The trouble with writing a craft blog is that you have to balance making things with finding time to write about it. Recently I have been sewing in every available child-free hour as I get ready for the Ematingz craft fair on Saturday. This means I should have had plenty of blog fodder, but as I've been sewing so much, I haven't found time to write - doh!

When I'm making products for a craft fair I tend to make in batches as this speeds up up the process. So for these mini denim bags I did all the cutting in one go, then all the sewing, all the finishing etc. This bag developed from a larger shopping bag, then I experimented with making a mini version for my daughter. However, I've found that these bags are just as popular with with adults as they are about handbag size.

As you can see I like my bright colours, I particularly like the lime green dandelion print which I dug out of my fabric stash. Fingers crossed that I sell a few bags on Saturday and so can buy some more bright prints. It's all about feeding my fabric addiction... I reckon there are worse vices, right?

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Personalised Bunting

Photo of handmade name bunting
Just a quickie tonight as it's late and I'm blogging from my bed. I've signed up for Ematingz craft fair at Easton Community Centre on 13 October (which is not that far away - eek!) so have been busy making.

This is some sample personalised bunting which I will have on the stall - happy to take commissions ;-) It has my daughter's name appliquéd onto it, and she has announced that she 'likes the bright colours'.

Hopefully there'll be a few more posts to show you my wares over the next two weeks...

Friday, 14 September 2012

Patchwork Cushion

Just a quick post today as the sun is shining and it's too nice a day to be hunched over a laptop. This patchwork cushion has been on my ufo list for a while, and I'm really pleased with how it's turned out (and just to have finished something at last!).

This was a kit given to me by a friend, bought from the Sally Army shop for a quid. Now, I know what you're thinking, somebody mugged Laura Ashley circa 1983, but although the fabric isn't my usual kind of style, I still think there's a value in this kind of kit.

For a start, the kit had everything in it that I needed to complete the project (bar thread and a cushion pad). It also had full instructions, and I learnt some new techniques while doing it. The patchwork went together fairly quickly as it was all straight seams.

For the quilting I just followed the seams, making concentric squares. I started from the centre and worked out to keep things even.

The back is one piece of a rather surgical limb pink fabric. I hand stitched all the binding which goes round the edge of the cushion, which didn't take as long as I expected, and has given a lovely neat finish.

Now I can give myself permission to throw myself into some new projects. Currently on the go are some rainbow socks for my son and developing some new stock for Christmas craft fairs...

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Dolly Nappy

This was one of those spur of the moment quick makes, but I took a few photos so thought I would stick it on here.

When I was at the craft shop I remembered that I wanted some velcro for a project, but couldn't remember what the project was (head like a sieve). So I chucked some in the basket on the off-chance. When I got home started chatting to my 3 year old, which jogged my memory for the forgotten project - a nappy for 'Baby Dolly'. This is the same doll I knitted some clothes for a while ago.

I used cloth nappies for about 50% of the time with my real children (yes, I'm one of 'those' mothers, lentils, cloth nappies, homebirth, it's a pretty damning picture), and disposable nappies for dolls seem even more wasteful than those full of real shit. I am informed that there is a doll that you can buy baby 'food' for  that will consequently produce dirty nappies - the mind boggles...

Anyway... this is how I did it:

I used two old face flannels and cut two matching t-shapes from them. Accuracy wasn't my main concern here, as this nappy wasn't going to have to deal with containing anything. It was just a case of a bit of hacking with the fabric shears.

Then I used my machine to sew round the edges (about 1 cm from the edge), leaving a gap at the top of the T.

Then I turned the nappy inside out, and quickly sewed the open seam shut. I stitched a fuzzy strip of velcro to the front of the nappy (the bit that goes over the doll's belly) and then the corresponding hooky bits onto the tabs.

And there you go, a nappy that a 3 year old can do/undo as many times as she likes. There's a high level of curiosity about babies in this house at the moment, mainly I think because a couple of friends have newborns, and it's quite interesting to see how my children deal with their 'babies'...

Friday, 7 September 2012

Freewheeling

After writing about getting back on my bike, oh, ages ago, I then didn't really get on it again. The thing is, I live in Bristol, which may be a 'Cycling City'  according to Sustrans, but does go up and down a hell of a lot. Not so good for the slightly less fit among us.

But then one sunny afternoon a few weeks ago, a friend invited me for a ride along the Bristol to Bath cycle path, and what a revelation! For a start it's pretty flat, and secondly it's a whole track just for cyclists and pedestrians, so no cocks in Audis trying to force you into the gutter. Result. In fact, it's a bit like riding along a country lane should be, except nicer because you don't have crazy locals speeding round blind bends, or tractors...

So spurred on by my positive experience I decided to ride the other way today, and go into Bristol city centre. I  used the excuse of needing some stocks from the craft shop, but really I just fancied a ride on a sunny day while I had some child-free time. The cycle path isn't the most direct route into town for me, but it's certainly the most scenic. It was definitely quicker than getting the bus, and I had the pleasure of depriving First Bus of  four quid (take that - The Man). I did a few errands and then returned home the way I'd come, stopping in for a cuppa with a friend who lives conveniently close to the cycle path.  And I picked up some more double-pointed needles whilst in town, so Autumnal sock knitting can begin in earnest. Hurrah...

If you live in Bristol or Bath and haven't been on the cycle path (it's nice for a walk too), then find out more here, it's got a fancy clickable map and everything.

p.s. The frog photo has no link with the post at all, my husband took it this afternoon in the garden and I just liked it

Friday, 24 August 2012

Fairy Cakes

When I was a kid these were the sort of cakes you had at birthday parties, a little sponge with a splodge of luridly coloured icing, maybe topped with a bit of dolly mixture or some sprinkles. Recently they seem to have mutated into something called cupcakes, which usually look beautiful but are often a bit of a letdown on the taste side. Cupcakes also usually seem to have mountainous swirls of buttercream on top, which I find just too icky.

It being the school holidays, and with the odd wet afternoon, we decided to indulge in a bit of baking yesterday. This is a really basic recipe that always seems to work. You could use soft butter, but I find the marg gives a nice texture to the sponge, and also is a bit lighter for everyday (for making biscuits I would always use butter...). A few drops of vanilla essence in the mix is good too but not essential.

Basic Fairy Cake Recipe
125g margarine
125g caster sugar
125g self-raising flour
2 eggs
2 splashes of milk

Decorations:
Icing sugar and a little water
Food colouring
Sprinkles, sweeties and all that jazz

To bake:
1. Preheat oven to 170 (fan) or 180 (conventional)
2. Line a 12-hole muffin tin with paper muffin cases
3. If you're doing this by hand, cream the fat and sugar until light and fluffy before beating in the eggs. Then gently fold in the flour until well mixed. If you have a food processor then just bung all the ingredients (except milk) in the machine and whizz it up.
4. Add a couple of splashes of milk to the mix and mix in
5. Divide the mix evenly into the paper cases
6. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the cakes have risen and are golden brown
7. Leave on a wire rack to cool before decorating

To decorate:
Glacé icing is just icing sugar and water mixed up together until smooth and glossy. Separate the icing out into some little bowls and add a drop or two of different food colouring to each. Lay out icing, sprinkles, sweeties and cakes on a covered table and let your little blighters loose with their creativity. Resist the temptation to try and direct them...

Monday, 20 August 2012

Christmas in August?

Judging by the amount of traffic to my Patchwork Stocking post, there's a hell of a lot of people already thinking about Christmas. Now this may seem like a crazy time to think about Christmas, especially as I write this at the end of a day that has earned the right to be called a 'summer' day. All ice-creams and long clinky drinks... <sigh>

But if you're planning to make stuff by hand, either for gifts or for sale, now is actually a pretty good time to start planning. In a couple of weeks it will be all 'back to school' shenanigans in this house, then time seems to gallop away as the nights draw in.

I'm hoping to have a stall at a craft fair or two in the run up to Christmas, so I need to come up with some fresh designs, buy more festive fabric and get stitching. I'd also like to knit a few presents, and I'm not a particularly speedy knitter, so starting in August doesn't seem so daft.

And if you fancy feeling all virtuous and store-cupboardy, you always could go ahead and make a Christmas Cake, as they're said to improve with age...

Friday, 17 August 2012

Smooth Running

Your sewing machine is probably the most expensive piece of your sewing kit, so it it pays to look after it. So I thought I'd jot down a few top tips for keeping your machine running smoothly... Experienced crafters can look away now, this is all basic stuff I wish I'd known about when I started!

And it should go without saying that before doing any fiddling about with the innards of your machine, do unplug it first. It's also worth remembering the old IT maxim - RTFM (read the fucking manual), as it should have a section on maintenance. I'm lucky that I still have the manual that came with the machine, not always the case with second-hand. If you don't, it's sometimes possible to find a copy online with a bit of judicious googling.

Top Five Basics of Sewing Machine Maintenance:

1. Needles
Replace the needle on your sewing machine regularly. It's good for your machine, and should mean better stitching too. Most things I've read suggest starting each project with a new needle, a good habit to get into.

2. Thread
With needles come thread, and you should always use a decent brand - Coats or Gutermann are good and available in most sewing/craft shops. The bargain bin stuff is really not good for your machine, this article shows why. You should have seen the look of disdain on the man's face who came to service my sewing machine as he removed the cheap thread, it was like I'd just crapped on the carpet.

3. Keep it Clean
An article I read recently suggested cleaning out the fluff from the sewing machine after every project (sense a theme developing here?). I'll hold my hands up and admit to not being so great at this one, as the photo shows, plenty of fluff there. But as with all machinery, keeping them clean does help them run better and hopefully last longer. I did have a little brush that came with the sewing machine, but all the bristles have dropped out. A small paintbrush does the job just as well, but best if it has nice stiff bristles. An old toothbrush with a small head is a good addition to the maintenance kit too. And if you were thinking you could just blow the fluff out, stop right there... Apparently the moisture in your breath can encourage rust inside your machine, so don't do it!

4. Oil
Some modern machines are apparently self-lubricating, so don't need oiling. Mine is an older model and has a little diagram in the manual showing where to put a dot of oil. If your machine does need oiling, the main thing to remember is to use proper sewing machine oil (I buy it in my local fabric shop). It usually comes in a little bottle with a long thin nozzle. Remember to do some test stitching on scraps after oiling just in case any oil comes out onto the fabric.

5. Servicing
Most stuff I've read suggests getting your machine serviced by a professional every two years. If you're in Bristol I can recommend a really good chap who will come to your house (although he will tell you off about cheap thread and not changing your needles...). He also has one of the best marketing techniques that I've seen for a small business. Forget social media, this man puts a small sticker each machine he's serviced with his name and contact details - genius!

Happy sewing :)

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

The Problem with Homemaking

I'm cracking on with hand-quilting my cushion cover, can't wait to have it finished so that I can show it off here. As I haven't any completed projects to write about, I've been musing about how some of the craft stuff that I do fits with this whole '50s housewife shtick, and how that sometimes makes me feel a little uneasy...

I like to sew and make things as it gives me a sense of satisfaction, a creative outlet, occasionally a little money if I sell something. I'm not in paid work at the moment as I'm at home looking after my children. I'm not particularly ideologically wedded to the vocation of housewife. So when I read this article I was pretty dumbfounded, and naybe just a little bit scared.

Basically it tells of how a woman is 'rescued' from the evil world of paid employment, so she can go home and be a 'keeper at home', she even lists her husband as her new employer on her exit questionnaire from work. Seriously odd.  I'm all for valuing childcare and all those things that need to be done to keep a household running smoothly, but I happen to think that these tasks should be valued regardless of the gender of the person undertaking them. Just because I have a vagina does not make me any better at hanging out washing or cooking spaghetti than my husband.

So to clarify - housework has to happen so that we don't live in a shit-tip, childrearing has to happen so that the blighters don't run feral through the streets, and sewing is just a bit of harmless fun. And all members of the household contribute to its smooth running, no one should be married to a house in 2012.

Glad we got that sorted out...

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Back Home

We flew back into Heathrow on Sunday morning after two sunny weeks in Nova Scotia, spent a day recovering at my parents and then hotfooted it back to Bristol on Monday ready for The Boy's birthday yesterday. We had a small tea party with plenty of hula hoops and a swimming pool birthday cake. Phew!

Naturally I have come back from holiday full of good intentions to make the most of my leisure time and not just slump in front of whatever shit telly is to hand (all though I reserve a bit of slumping time for Olympics). More crafting less faffing!

While we were away I saw some amazing examples of quilting, pure textile art, and so I thought I'd get stuck in to something from my UFO pile (see here for my List of Shame). I managed to spend a happy hour in my work room with a genuine 1970s patchwork cushion kit - the photo is what I've done so far, but the later fabrics promise a serious world of brown style. This is sort of Log Cabin (I think...) and I love the effect it gives and would like to try this technique with some fabrics that are a bit more contemporary.

I'm trying to do it properly and follow the instructions and everything - wish me luck!

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Holiday Yarns

Summertime, and the living is easy... Well it is if you're on holiday staying with friends in sunny Nova Scotia. We're in the ridiculously picturesque town of Lunenburg, all colourful painted shingled wooden houses and tall ships. It's a UNESCO World Heritage site and everything.
Some of the older houses down in the main town have a traditional feature called a 'Widow's Walk', which is a sort of balcony/platform up on the roof where fishermen's wives could see out to see and await the return of their menfolk (or not, hence the name).

We're staying with some old friends who emigrated from Bristol a couple of years ago and are now fully rooted here with their young children. Their kids are the same age as mine, all four are sleeping in the same room (well mostly sleeping) and are having a ball. And after what seems like months of rain at home, it is hot hot hot and sunny. Big shock to the system, I've been chasing after my two with the sunblock, which hasn't played a major part in the UK summer so far.

This morning we went to the Lunenburg Farmer's Market where there was some wonderful produce for sale, including some amazing pastries. I had a massive sticky cinnamon bun thing, in true North American style it was of course enormous. There were also a couple of craft-type stalls, my husband was casting covetous glances at the woodworking stall - beautiful rocking chairs but a bit tricky to fit in the suitcase...

But a skein of hand-painted rainbow yarn slips in perfectly, hence the photo. Of course it's too hot to actually knit anything, but a little addition to the stash never hurts!

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Fabric Baby Book

After having a bit of a sort out of my stash I came across a bundle of fat quarters that I bought from Fabric Rehab ages ago. I think I had grand plans of making a baby quilt for a friend, but as with so many projects it stayed as a daydream.

I decided I needed something a bit quicker, something I could finish off in an evening, that would show off the cute fabric. I decided I wanted to make a little fabric baby book after flicking through an amazing book in Foyles called How to Make Books. It was lovely but I couldn't justify buying another craft book just now, so I've put it on my wishlist.

As I didn't have the book in front of me, I had to make it up a little, but it's a pretty simple idea. I started by laying out the different fabrics and working out what I wanted to have on my 'pages'. Some of the prints were fairly illustrative, with lots going on, so I tried to pick out some nice 'pictures' - on the first page I have a cat looking at a bird in a tree, that's a story right there... For the front cover I found a plain beige fabric with a pale blue pinstripe, backed with a plain sky blue cotton.

Once I'd decided which fabrics looked best together, I set about cutting squares with my rotary cutter. I was using a quilting ruler which is marked in imperial, so ended up cutting 5 inch squares with a quarter inch seam allowance, it just seemed about right. I had three 'pages' inside my book, so used six squares of contrasting patterns. I paired up fabrics right side together and sewed around top, right hand side and bottom, leaving the an open edge on the side that would eventually be in the spine of the book. Then I turned it inside out and pressed it. I repeated this for the other pages.


For the cover I cut rectangles from the beige and blue fabrics which measured 5.5 in x 11.5 in. I sewed them along all edges (right sides together) leaving a small gap so that I could turn it right side out. I then slip-stitched the gap closed.


Then it was simply a matter of slipping the pages into the cover and sewing through all the layers of fabric about a quarter inch in from the spine. I back-stitched at beginning and end of the seam to make it stronger. This was a bit of a bugger going through the sewing machine, but I got there in the end!


I quickly sorted out the loose ends and ta-da! If I was doing it again I might personalise it by embroidering or appliquéing an initial or name on the front. Hope you like it... 


Update - I linked up this post with Faith Hope & Charity Shopping's Ta-Dah Tuesday, lots of interesting posts to check out.

Little Doers

This is one of those posts I've had in the pipeline, and it's not about my craft stuff, instead it's about what my children have been up to. I was moseying about on Mumsnet a few weeks ago and noticed a post from Beth at Little Doers who was looking for bloggers to review their children's craft boxes. The idea behind the scheme is that you get a box through the post once a month with all the materials you will need for a weekly craft activity.

Excitement was running high when the box arrived, and Youngest was very impressed to have a parcel with her name on it. We opened the envelope marked week one and were pleased to find two different activities, which was handy as Oldest decided that he wanted to join in too. Youngest took her time making a queen mask on a stick, with plenty of glitter and sparkly sticky bits and Oldest made a crown. The only thing that I had to provide was a bit of PVA glue. Everything else, including all craft materials, an apron and glue spreader was included.

There are different levels of membership for the scheme, starting with the Basic package which is £15 a month on a rolling basis. That's £3.50 a week which I think is pretty reasonable. If you sign up for longer then the price drops accordingly. I thought the materials were good quality, there were some nice little touches like pre-applied sticky dots on some of the pieces to make it really easy for the children. I think this is a great scheme for anyone who doesn't have the space for lots of craft supplies, and it's good for inspiration. It definitely made us do more craft together, which was lovely. 

Little Doers was set up by Beth and Ed who are parents themselves, and work from home in Hampshire Check out their site Little Doers to find out more.

N.B. I received a free Little Doers box in exchange for writing this post

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Missing In Action

Poor little neglected blog, over a month since my last post. I promise to remedy that very soon, have a couple of proper posts in the pipeline.

I can't even put it down to the beautiful summer weather keeping me out of doors, because let's face it, the rain should have kept me indoors and crafting. But instead all the day-to-day domestic stuff has taken over, how dull.

See you soon...

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Mission Accomplished

I'm happy to report that I managed to produce thirty metres of bunting in time for my friend's wedding today. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, and a stiff breeze kept the flags fluttering bravely (in fact it was tricky to get a good photo as they were flapping about so much!).

It was the kind of wedding I like best, a whole bundle of family and friends just hanging out in the garden. There was plenty of tasty food (I may have had a few glasses of wine too...) and in a genius move, a children's entertainer who certainly earned her fee doing everything from singing and dancing to balloon modelling and temporary sparkly tattoos.

Bunting is really simple to make, and really adds a festive air to parties and events. With the Jubilee coming up next weekend you ^could^ make some patriotic red, white and blue bunting, or maybe your tastes run to flags embroidered with republican slogans, it's entirely up to you. I chose three different fabrics, a sage green with white polka dots, a lighter green with pink roses and a cream with small floral print.

Then I simply marked out some triangles with my magic fabric marker and a ruler, then cut them out with pinking shears. I read somewhere that it's not worth buying expensive pinking shears as you can't sharpen them (unlike normal scissors, where it's worth investing in a good pair). By the end of this mammoth effort I can tell you that my pinking shears were definitely the worse for wear, but luckily just as I was cutting the last few triangles.

The tape I used was 13mm woven tape from the mighty Fabricland, it's 12p a metre or you can buy a 50 metre roll for about a fiver. I pinned the triangles at regular intervals and then used my sewing machine set to zig-zag stitch to fix the triangles onto the tape. I use zig-zag stitch mainly because I like the way it looks. Leave longer lengths of tape at either end of your string of bunting so you have something to fasten onto your fence, tent or what have you.

This kind of bunting won't last for that long as it isn't hemmed, but the flutter factor on a breezy day is high, which is what makes good bunting for me!

I'm off to swigs some Pimms now, maybe watch a bit of Eurovision. Just want to finish by saying congratulations to the happy couple, it was lovely to see you and your little family today. Enjoy married life :)

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Clear the Decks

Just a quick post this evening. Turns out that the thing I need to motivate me to get sewing is a deadline, who knew? I have a lovely friend who is getting married in 10 days time (waves at H) and I had airily promised to make bunting. Today I woke up to the fact that there's not much time left, eek!

So this afternoon I cleared the decks and unearthed my pinking shears in preparation. I've also been hurting my brain working out how many flags I can get out of a metre of fabric. Tomorrow I'm on a mission to buy some cool fabric (Fabricland here I come). And at the weekend I will become the Terminator of bunting, I absolutely will. not. stop... until I've come up with the goods. It's going to be Buntamagedon.

Wish me luck!

Friday, 11 May 2012

Fairies are a Feminist Issue

This is not a craft post, just a general rant about stupid gender stereotyping of preschoolers... Look away now if you were expecting something about 101 clever ways with bias binding.

Let me start with a little story. I recently took my children to the dentist. Prior to the event I had been doing the usual whooping up to encourage co-operation. Oldest is very good about opening his mouth for inspection, but youngest (who is only three) has so far clamped her mouth firmly shut and refused all pleadings.

The dental nurse knew how to deal with this of course, and held out the promise of a sticker for good behaviour. Anyone who has had any experience with the under-fives will know that stickers are practically currency, and my children are no exception. Wonderfully, both children opened wide, teeth were counted, all was well. So on to the stickers...

Now this is the bit that gets my goat - my son was presented with a Spiderman sticker, all good, happy child. Then the nurse turned to my daughter and offered her a sparkly fairy sticker, because 'all little girls like fairies'. Really?

Now don't get me wrong, my daughter was happy with the sticker, despite a general indifference to fairies as a whole. And of course I shouldn't get my knickers in a twist over such trivialities should I?

Except I do... because the fairy sticker thing is a symptom of this whole crappy categorising of things for boys and things for girls. Which is the start of telling our children what stereotypes we expect them to play along with purely due to their gender. It's the reason people make comments about my daughter liking 'boys toys' when she plays with toy cars. Because of course little girls don't grow up into women who drive vehicles do they?

Now I grew up in the shadow of 70s right-on parenting, where there was a strict list of banned toys: Barbie (too sexist) Action Man (too violent), any kind of film/tv tie-in merchandising (too commercial - although I was allowed a Muppets lunchbox, wonder how that slipped through...). My mother considered that there were no such things as boys or girls toys, just toys with good play value. I think I agree with her on that one...

And people love to tell me that my daughter only plays with cars and lego because she has a older brother. There may be some truth in that, but I have to say that I played with cars and lego and I am the oldest (have 2 younger brothers). Of course she plays with lots of things, including plenty of stuff for role play, but I really believe children need a whole range of play options open to them rather than the girls = fairies/princesses and boys = everything else (but categorically not fairies/princesses).

So I'll finish with another story. The photo shows my daughter's wings, they were a present and she loves them, often accessorising them with her wellies, style queen that she is. Her recent game with them is to play 'Tooth Fairy', apparently the Tooth Fairy 'fixes things, and then gets the money'.

Make of that what you will...

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

UFOs...

I seem to have a bit of a block about making things at the moment, so to try and counter it, I thought I'd have a bit of a tidy up in the spare room (which I refer to in my head as my craft room). No matter how hard I try I can't seem to keep it tidy, possibly because I know I can bolt the door on it when it gets too bad. I con myself that with the right storage I would, but I'm just kidding myself...

Anyway, in the course of tidying up I discovered an embarrassingly large number of Un-Finished Objects (that's where the UFO thing comes in, geddit?).

Some of the things I discovered, in no particular order:


  • Most of a navy blue sweater for a three year old boy - it just needs a button band, collar and making up. Just a shame that the three year old boy I was knitting it for will turn six in July...
  • A dismembered knitted dolly, with dress, just needs stuffing and sewing up
  • A knitting bag - needs a lining and just two more seams to attach the handles, plus tidying up of ends.
  • A denim handbag that I was half way through and lost enthusiasm for last year, that and I realised that I really should have used some interfacing as it's a bit floppy - can these things be retrofit?
  • A lamp-base awaiting a new shade
  • Patchwork cushion kit - not even started, but purchased for £1 from the Sally Army shop
  • Several tapestry kits, one technically 'in progress', two others that are actually finished but are languishing in a cupboard as I haven't had them framed or made into cushion covers
That's before I started counting the things that my children want me to make (a pair of rainbow socks and a dachshund draft excluder), my secret knitting project that has stalled due to chronic miscalculation on the yarn purchasing front, oh and any number of foetal blog posts that are hanging about in the ether, just waiting for a slide down the metaphorical birth canal.

So what have I done about it? Well to start with I decided that, fuck it, the knitting bag doesn't need a lining, and immediately took to my machine and sewed two enthusiastic if slightly wonky seams to attach the handles. I shall sit in front of The Apprentice later and tidy up any loose ends.

So that's my list of shame shared - what UFOs are lurking in your house?

p.s. thanks to wikipedia for the 'purported' UFO pic


Monday, 30 April 2012

Hello Dolly

I've been craving the soothing click of knitting needles recently. And as I like projects that are quick to finish, I thought I'd try my hand at some clothes for my daughter's doll (the doll's name is apparently 'baby dolly'). The other reason that I like making things for my children is that they are still young enough to be extremely impressed by my efforts - it's rather good for the ego...

I had some lovely Debbie Bliss Cashmerino yarn in the stash. It was perhaps a bit decadent knitting dolly clothes with it, but it felt so lovely and soft. I started with the hat, it's knitted on the flat, a smaller version of the Where's Wally that I made for my son. The dress is all one piece, knitted from the bottom up.  It's basically a tube with holes for the arms, and a seam up the back. I reduced every three stitches to gather in the skirt.

I think it's a much nicer outfit than he/she (completely smooth down there) came in, which was a polyester dressing gown thing. Next up is a coat, as daughter has expressed misgivings about the sleeveless nature of the dress, and is concerned that 'baby dolly might get cold'.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Little Brown Jug

My poor little blog has been quite neglected of late, pesky real life getting in the way again. I wish I could say that I've been in a storm of making, but sadly not. I do have a knitting project on the go, but it's a gift so won't be able to post about it until it's finished and despatched.

I must also mention that if you happen to be an eccentric millionaire reading this, much of my busy-ness recently has centred around fundraising for my local preschool, and if you fancy lobbing a large cheque our way we'd be ever so grateful ;-)  In the non-event of such an occurrence we will plug on with table top sales, cake sales, sponsored scoots and the like. Ever a keener (it's a Bristol word) for voluntary work, I've also got involved in Redfest Bristol, a fantastic local community festival happening this year on 2-4 August.

And the third consumer of time has been spending Fridays at The Vintage Point on Stokes Croft, we now have a sparkly new blog here. After six weeks we finally have internet access at the shop (hence me being able to blog now). If you're in the Bristol area we're at 125 Cheltenham Road, you're very welcome to pop in and have a browse. I'm selling some of my hand-made goods, and we have a good craft section with patterns, buttons, knitting needles, yarn and a range of textiles.

And the little brown jug? It's the result of a little charity shop outing yesterday afternoon. It's marked on the bottom Kernewek Pottery, Cornwall and has a lovely mottled drip glaze, probably 1970s vintage, just like myself...

Saturday, 31 March 2012

I want to ride my bike!

I had such good intentions for this past week. I'd had a lovely weekend at my parents (without children) and came back with a long list of things to do before the children broke up for the school holidays. But on Monday I was woken by a flushed and feverish five year old, so instead the week was taken up with cooking, cleaning and soothing of brows.

By Thursday he seemed to be perking up and so trotted off back to school - he's still at that age where he's keen to go. So I took the opportunity during youngest's preschool session to do something I haven't done for an embarrassingly long time... I got on my bike.

Reader, I have a confession to make. I bought this bike brand new when I was pregnant with my oldest, so about six years ago. And then didn't ride it...

First I felt wobbly and pregnant, then after babies one and two arrived I felt vulnerable enough putting myself in traffic, let alone setting off with a tiny child on the back. But at the beginning of this year I wrote a list of things I wanted to achieve this year, and returning to cycling was on there.

I had forgotten how much fun free-wheeling down a big hill in the sunshine can be, it was pretty amazing. Climbing up the other side was not so enjoyable, and my aching legs did mean that I ended up walking for significant periods. I arrived to pick up youngest from preschool sweaty and red-faced with a bit of wheeze going on.

But I did it, and that feels good. Because tackling cycling means freedom for someone who has a driving licence but no car (and I intend to keep it that way).

And where did I go to on my cycling adventure..? Why to the wool shop of course, where else!

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Fancy a Suffolk Puff?

Is it just me that sniggers at the name 'Suffolk Puff'? Childish I know, the other name for them is a yo-yo, and they originated in quilting. I'm planning to make these into brooches for the shop but you could  use them as an embellishment on a bag or hairband.

If you'd like to have a go at making your own puffs, you will need:

  • Two contrasting fabric scraps
  • A nice button
  • Two circular things to draw around (I used a small tea cup and its accompanying saucer)
  • Fabric marker pen
  • Sharp scissors
  • Needle and thread

First use your smaller circular thing (let's say cup for brevity) as a template and mark out and cut out a circle from one of your fabric scraps. Place the fabric right-side down on the table and turn a small hem (it's easiest to turn over a little at a time). Then just sew a long running stitch all the way round the hem. When you get back to where you started stitching, draw the thread tight and your puff is formed!

Make another larger puff in a contrasting material and stitch the two together. Sew a button in the middle to make it pretty (and hold the two puffs together firmly). Sew a brooch pin on the back if you'd like to use it as a brooch...

And if you fancy making lots and lots of Suffolk Puffs, you can always make them into a quilt. I found this lovely image at All Our Hearts Content.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Cutting Edge

Just a quick post to show off my new purchases... My very generous mother-in-law gave me some John Lewis vouchers for my birthday, and the lure of the haberdashery department was strong, so today the three-year-old and I set off on the mammoth bus trip to the windswept out of town mall that is Cribbs Causeway.

The wall of yarn was tempting, but I plumped for a rotary cutter and self-healing mat, as I'd like to do more patchwork and quilting, and these tools make things a whole lot easier (and more precise). Rotary cutters are notoriously sharp, so I'll have to be a bit careful with my fingers as I'm not the most co-ordinated person in the world.

I was a little saddened by the JL haberdashery department, as it did seem to be a shadow of its former self. As a child I remember gorging my eyes on all the reels of trim and fabric as I waited for my mum to choose the right buttons to finish off a hand-knitted cardigan. They still sell sewing machines, but the expert woman who used to advise customers was made redundant a few years ago. Now you're just handed a photocopied leaflet from the manufacturer with a list of bullet points on it.

I also picked up a couple of packets of machine needles, as it's important to change needles regularly and I've been going through them at quite a rate recently.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Sunshine Tea-Cosy

I've been feeling a bit gloomy recently, and so this is my first blog post in a while. I had an interview last week for a job I really wanted. It ticked all the boxes, but sadly I didn't... My five year old was pleased as he didn't want me to go back to work in the first place. He told me sternly "but you already have a job, looking after us". Now for some people this would be an 'ah cute' moment, but I just wondered if he's secretly been reading the Daily Mail.

So what's a woman to do when she's dejected? Make a quilted tea-cosy with some lovely vintage fabric of course... As a bonus it utilises some of the wadding left over from making the quilt.

The other upside of not being gainfully employed is that I have time to help my friend Ursula set up her new shop, which sells vintage fashion and china, plus some handcrafted items from your truly. If you're in the Bristol area the shop is at 125 Cheltenham Road (just by junction of Ashley Road/Stokes Croft), it's open Tuesday to Saturday from 11am - 6pm. It is currently a shop with no name, but we're working on that...

Friday, 24 February 2012

Sock Rocking Feets

The Sock of Doom is finally laid to rest, check out my lovely stripy new socks. My heel-turning phobia is conquered, hurrah!

They are knitted with a Regia sock yarn purchased from Pip at the Sock Yarn Shop on 2.5mm double-pointed-needles. This yarn knitted up a little more tightly than the last socks I made - although this could just be my stress levels coming through...

I confess that one of the main reasons I wanted to try making socks was that it looked really cool seeing someone knit on what looked like cocktail sticks. Non-knitters are often super impressed as they think it's very complicated, but of course the really good thing about knitting in the round is that you do continuous knit stitch to produce all that stocking stitch (of course there is a bit of purling in the heel). I learnt to knit as a child but didn't learn to purl until a few years ago. Even now I feel I have to concentrate more on a purl row, where as knit seems hard-wired somehow.

What really helped in my heel-turning endeavours was this excellent tutorial on YouTube. It makes such a difference when you can actually see someone doing it, rather than just trying to follow a book or a pattern.

I have quite a few sewing projects on the go at the moment, but my next knitting adventure will be a pair of rainbow socks as requested by my five year old son. I reckon I won't have many more years of him wanting to wear my hand-knits so happy to oblige now. And it gives me an excuse to gaze at some more yarn...

Friday, 17 February 2012

Searching for Inspiration

I haven't touched the sewing machine since I finished my daughter's quilt at the end of January. And now February is whooshing by without any new projects to show for it. This week was half term, so no school or preschool, and the little blighters not unreasonably took the opportunity to demand some parental attention.

We have had one big Day Out, to Bristol Aquarium, plus other closer to home trips such as the library and park. Mostly lots of hanging out at home doing lego, running cars down drainpipes, drawing, flapjack eating, sibling bashing...

I didn't have a telly until I was nine years old (my parents weren't ideologically opposed, just hadn't got round to it), so I know the positive effect that boredom can have on creativity. Although I know I probably (frequently) whined at my parents that everyone else was watching Scooby-Doo while I was a social outcast, I also have some really good memories of reading, playing and making. For this reason I try and limit the telly time, but as my two are still quite young they often want my input. I've explained to them about the theory of Benign Neglect, but they're currently not convinced.

Limiting telly is good for adults too, since I've started crafting more, I watch a lot less. The converse is also true... And for me doing creative things needs boredom space to let the ideas bubble up. So I'm trying to regard the last couple of weeks as a sort of fallow period, to be followed by something a little more productive. These are the things I've been doing to get inspiration going:


  • Talking to other people - a friend of mine is setting up a small shop to sell her wonderful range of vintage fashions and has asked me if I'd like to sell some of my stuff
  • Looking at my stash - sometimes just having a rummage sparks off an idea
  • Doing something different - I've ordered a lampshade kit which means that I have at least one small project to be getting on with
And finally?

  • Giving myself a break - surely this stuff is supposed to be fun, not just another thing to fret about. 
So it's Friday night, husband is out purchasing a large pizza and we'll settle down and watch some comedy on the box with a beer. Cheers!

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Just the Job

I haven't had a lot of time to craft recently, I have a few ideas floating around for new projects but don't seem to have the headspace to develop them. Partly this is because I've been using my child-free time to plug away at hunting for a 'proper job'. Consequently my head is full of phrases like 'excellent communication skills' and 'committed team player' gah!

I have managed to do a bit of knitting in the evenings, there's something really soothing about the action of the needles, helps me relax and stops my mind racing. I have one sock nearly done, but of course the damn things come in pairs - it is scientifically recognised as 'second sock syndrome', describing that sense of ennui and slight desperation that a knitter feels when faced with the fact that most people have two feet to be encased in yarn-based garments.

I've also been reading a lot more, including lots from the local library, as although I love my Kindle, it can get to be an expensive habit. On a recent library jaunt I picked up a slim volume called Sew & Save by Joanna Chase. It is a reproduction of a book first published in 1941. It's full of really useful information about sewing the perfect hem, making a lovely blouse out of hubby's old shirts and that sort of thing. And I'm not being sarcastic, this really is useful! I have a shelf-load of lovely craft books, which have a range of projects in, but many are up the wafty crafty end - apple cosy anyone? It's a reminder that sewing wasn't just an enjoyable past time, but a crucial skill...

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Big Knits

I was babysitting for a friend last night, so took my sock of doom with me and made some steady progress. I will conquer my fear of turning a heel!

But in contrast to knitting a sock in the round on needles that remind one a little of cocktail sticks, I am also doing some BIG knitting. The mug there is for scale purposes, these needles are 20mm, pretty much the biggest you can get, and knitting with them makes me feel like they are an outsize theatre prop.

This was one of those occasions where I was seduced by some lovely yarn (it's by Sirdar from their Bohemia range) then realised I'd have to buy the needles to go with them. But they make me smile every time I see them due to their ridiculous size, and smiling is in short supply around here at the moment. And just look at those lovely blue hues... This is going to be a lovely fluffy scarf to keep out the winter chills.

And of course the best thing about knitting with super duper chunky yarn is that it knits up really fast, meaning you can finish off a scarf in an hour or two...