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!