Saturday, 21 December 2013

Festive Crafts

Now that my children are 7 and nearly 5, we've finally reached the stage where they will sit quietly and do craft activities, and the whole experience is a lot less stressful than when they were toddlers. This afternoon they very much enjoyed some craft kits from Baker Ross including paper-chains and colour your own Christmas crackers.

After many years of fretting about doing 'enough' at Christmas, I think I've finally learnt not to get too bothered - as an old friend of mine likes to say, to "let the ash drop off..."

I've bought presents and food, but not stupid amounts. We have some tinsel and lights up. I also had a day off yesterday with the Husband, before the children broke up from school. We both did a big cleaning blitz and got rid of a whole load of junk that had previously spent most of its time being shuffled from place to place or ignored completely while we were caught up in working and school routines.

Also this afternoon we 'made' a Christmas wreath. I say made, but what I actually did was buy a plain fir wreath from the local florists for £4 and then add a few bits and pieces from the craft stash. I used thin wire to attach some holly sprigs from the garden (much swearing, fiddly *and* prickly - yay!). The 'berries' are red wooden beads attached with more wire, along with some little gilt bells and a scrap of fabric for a bow. Just hoping it doesn't get blown away - it's pretty wet and wild here tonight.

And tomorrow some friends and their children are coming round for Christmas drinks and nibbles. I'll happily serve up shop bought snacks and crack open the mini-keg of Bath Ales that we've bought for the occasion.

Today is the winter solstice, which means lighter days are on the way. Have a wonderful and peaceful Christmas wherever you are. See you in 2014 for more making and wittering. Thanks for reading :)

Monday, 18 November 2013

Goodbye Autumn

I feel a bit rusty on the whole blog front at the moment. When you haven't posted for a while it feels a bit embarrassing to get started again, consider this first paragraph me clearing my throat and taking a sip of water.

So I thought I'd put a couple of photos up instead, which I think show what's been going on Autumn-wise with me.

Apples featured heavily, as @BristolGardens invited us round on a sunny afternoon to help pick apples from his back garden. Good to see my urban urchins getting a bit of fresh air. Youngest ate so many on the day that she ended up with a raging belly ache. Both children were fascinated by getting apples from a tree rather than in a plastic bag from the supermarket.

Since then we've had countless apple crumbles, I've made huge batches of chutney, a couple of Dorset Apple cakes (the loaf cake pictured is half size version of this recipe from BBC website) and there's stewed apple in the freezer. I still have a box of cookers in the garage that apparently should keep well. Good job they're so tasty, as a whole lot of peeling has been involved.

And I've decided that I'm only knitting socks, a jumper feels like too much commitment at this point. I can finish a pair in about a fortnight and I find it soothing to wind down with an hour or two of knitting in the evening.
 In other news, I've joined the WI (well it was pretty much inevitable wasn't it...) and at some point I seem to have become a cyclist rather than just a person on a bike, as I use my bike most days and have new panniers on my Christmas list.

I have a couple of Christmas Fairs booked in, so am making a few bits an pieces for that. Will try and put some more pictures up soon.


So in summary: Autumn - apples, well mostly apples.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Rainbows Again

Just a quickie post to show off my latest completed project - rainbow wrist warmers! They're made from yarn left over from my son's socks and are lovely and snuggly warm. They're not as long as some armwarmers I've seen, but that's mainly because I knitted right up to the last scrap of yarn, and that's how much there was...

They were knitted in the round on 2.5mm double-pointed-needles. Basically just tubes with thumb holes. They're for keeping me warm whilst sewing/knitting/internet noodling on cold winter evenings. Photography credit goes to my other half, as couldn't work out a way to take a picture of both my hands and still hold a camera.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Make Sunday Special


You'd be proud of me, we did a proper Family Outing today. It involved raincoats (at first) and interaction with the children and everything...

Make Sunday Special is an initiative dreamt up by Bristol's elected Mayor. Several of the streets in the centre of the city are closed to traffic one Sunday a month - or as one of the signs put it, the streets were 'open for people'. All sorts of free street entertainment and activities were laid on.

We took advantage of a (for once) bargainous bus ticket - FirstBus are offering a family bus ticket for just five quid on Make Sunday Special days (usually it's £8). This means that it's starting to be comparable to paying for parking.

When we got to town we had a wander. It felt really strange walking down the middle of a road that's usually full of cars, particularly as the traffic lights were still cycling round as normal. Which reminds me, there were *loads* of bikes around too, and lots of cycle-related activities. A quick shower of rain sent us scurrying under the nearest gazebo which happened to be one offering a rosette-making workshop. The children set to work and Youngest wore her rosette all day.

Then of course the sun came out, which makes wandering about with the children much more enjoyable. The Ambling Band provoked much jiggling in the children, and they also enjoyed playing with a musical instrument maze set up by Acoustic Arts.


We even managed to fit in a bit of Gromit Spotting...

Friday, 16 August 2013

Mothballed

This really is a poor neglected blog. A steady trickle of visitors find it every day, so if you're reading this - hello, how's things with you?

I suppose that it's a bit of a cliché that I pretty much stopped blogging as soon as I started paid employment, because before that the blog filled the little slot marked "it's not all about the kids y'know... what about meeeeee!". But there you go, it is what it is.

So what have I been up to in the last 3 months or so? Well, there was a *bit* of sewing and creative work. I organised a pop-up tea room as part of a local community festival and made an appliqué banner out of stash oddments and an old bedsheet. I also did some quick tablecloths by buying cheap gingham from Fabricland and hemming it fast and furiously. And then made a squillion scones and a couple of cakes.

It was a lovely day and we had an amazing team of volunteers serving teas. We completely sold out by the end of the day and made over £150 for the local community centre.

And talking of the community centre, another thing that has made me very happy was finally getting round to putting up a new website for the place. It's pretty basic (uses Blogger) but is sooooo much better than what we had before, and can be updated much more easily. It's here if you'd like to take a look (probably only relevant if you're in East Bristol, but hey!).

I'm also very excited about a new Women's Institute group that's setting up locally. Amazing group of women with lots of plans, we're having a launch party in September.

The fabric at the top of the page is a lovely print from the aforementioned Fabricland that I'm hoping to make into a blouse very soon. This may actually happen, as I have a completely child and husband free weekend coming, where I'll have the house to myself to strew bobbins with abandon. Anyway, my tea's ready, better go...

Monday, 27 May 2013

Made to Measure

It's been nearly six weeks since my last blog post, and it's no co-incidence that I started my new job about six weeks ago. But I've finally managed to produce something worth blogging about - hurrah! I said in my last blog post that I'd been inspired by the Great British Sewing Bee, and something I've wanted to do for ages was make some clothes for me.

So I bought myself a pattern for a tunic blouse (it's Simplicity pattern ref 2365, if you're interested), trotted to Fabricland for some cheap bright cotton fabric, thread and interfacing and then did absolutely nothing with it for about three weeks... I found that by the time I'd done my stint in the office, picked up the children from school/preschool, cooked tea and sent them bedwards I felt a bit brain dead and more inclined to slump in front of the telly than start whipping up a blouse.

Phwoar, look at the sleeves on that!
However, I gradually got up the courage to start reading the instructions on the pattern and start cutting fabric. This seemed to take approximately a week, but eventually I had all the pieces I needed. It took about another week before I started to actually sew one bit to another, and when I started to do that, something really exciting happened...

You see as I followed the instructions to stitch piece X to piece Y, to clip notches, press seams, baste this that or the other, an actual piece of clothing started to emerge! And quite quickly I had a torso of a blouse to show for my exertions. The sleeves were quite anxiety inducing, particularly fitting them to the body of the blouse, but I got there in the end.

Headless model shows off blouse
I probably should have started with something a little simpler for my first project, like a nice A-line skirt, but something bloody-minded in me wanted to make something a bit more challenging, and I'm most proud of the fiddly detail bits like the tucks along the front (I think they're called pin-tucks?) and the tab detail on the sleeves. And although there are some small mistakes in it, it's a style that I would have been happy to spend money on in a clothes shop - some of the clothes patterns in 'simple' sewing books are a bit floaty hippy for my taste. I don't like patchouli either...

Anyhow, I'm pleased with it (you can just see the traces of smugness playing about my mouth in the photo) and it's made me keen to make more clothes. I'd definitely encourage anyone with a sewing machine and a gap in their wardrobe to give it ago. With a little bit of sewing skill and a lot of muttered swearing, who knows what might happen?

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Buzzing

I'm approaching the end of my last week at home full time with the children and I've been sure to fill it with stay at home mum clichéd activities. So there's been home-made houmous and flapjack, a promise to make bunting for a friend's wedding, meeting old friends for coffee, a picnic in the park, feeding the ducks and supervising countless artworks by Youngest. 

I even bought some shoes - ok so they're sensible Clarks ones for work, but y'know, all those Yummy Mummy points have to add up somehow...

All in all a pretty good week, the sun even came out several times, miraculous! I've also done all the practical stuff, including sorting out a rota of people to pick up Youngest from preschool, as although the job fits into a 9-3 school day, preschool sessions are only from 9-12, meaning a bit of juggling before we get to the school holidays (and the wonders of holiday club).

Yesterday evening I caught up on the most recent episode of The Great British Sewing Bee, where one of the tasks was to make a child's sundress. I've always wanted to make clothes, and this project seems simple enough for a beginner. I happened to have some shirring elastic to hand, so spent 10 minutes earlier doing some test runs on scrap fabric. I've found a piece of eye-wateringly bright floral fabric that was approved of by my daughter that should be just big enough for the job. I'll have a bash at it at the weekend (may not do such faffy straps as on telly).

I even managed to score a few buttons to add to the button jar at my friendly local charity shop. It did feel a little like buying something a bit 'specialist' as they keep them under the counter for the discerning customer...

If you're inspired by the BBC's Sewing Bee, A Hell of a Woman is running a Great Twitter Sewing Bee Challenge over on her blog, which would be great to link up with. Happy sewing :)

Monday, 8 April 2013

Ch ch ch changes...

Image of patchwork quilt draped over a chair
This post has been swirling around in my head for the last week or two. I've not been focussing on the creative side of life so much recently and there's been a few reasons for that. One prosaic one is that it's been the school holidays and I've been a DIY widow for most of it whilst my husband and his brother fitted a new kitchen in their mum's house.

As my children get older and theoretically more able to entertain themselves I find that they often seem to want more of my attention when we are together. Riding bikes is more fun if a parent is there to see how proficient you've become, even better if they're happy to get on their own bike and ride alongside. I think we're all aware that we're moving out of the baby/toddler/preschool stage, as Youngest will be starting at full time school in September. I watch my fiercely independent daughter as she masters such tricky things as putting on her own socks, and tackling the fiddly zip on her coat. She's so proud of her achievements, but also needs the reassurance that she is still little enough to be looked after when she needs it. "I want to stay with you forever Mummy" is a fairly constant refrain.

The other thing that's been occupying my time is job hunting, and I'm pleased to say that this time it appears to have been successful. I've been offered a part-time admin job with a small local charity which should fit round school hours (bit of a holy grail post-children). It's my first step back into paid employment after nearly four and a half years at home full time. I'm nervous but excited to make a start on something new.

I should probably insert a cliche about new beginnings/springtime here... (but I'm sure you can provide your own).

The picure about shows the one creative project that I have on the go at the moment. It was a bit of an experiment with a couple of cheap rolls of fabric strips. It's pretty much done, I just have to finish sewing the binding around the edges. It's not huge, but should keep toes warm whilst curling up on the sofa of an evening (as it's still pretty nippy around here).

When I started this blog two years ago, one of the things I wanted it to be was a creative scrapbook of projects I've worked on.  I think I've managed to achieve that, and it's satisfying to have a record.  I'm not sure how much time I'll have for sewing and blogging over the next couple of months, but I'll check in when I can.

Thanks for reading :)

Sunday, 17 March 2013

New Crayons

Do you remember how exciting it felt to have a new packet of crayons? All arranged in beautiful hues, neatly ordered, sharp points, endless possibilities...

I got these soft pastels as a birthday present last month. I've not really used these for drawing (they are the chalky kind), but the sun came out on Thursday morning and I decided to give them a try.

Rather than idly flitting on the internet during my coffee break, I decided to draw a picture instead, and this fruity sketch was the result. Sometimes I find it best to crack on and just make a mark on the paper, rather than worrying about setting aside lots of time or effort.

Here's to snatched moments...

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Presenting Mr Wonka!

Fancy dress outfit of Mr Wonka from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

It's done, phew! Ok, so maybe a cardboard top hat of unusual size is not the most practical of headgear on a rainy day in Bristol, but we got there...

Willy Wonka

Hat: made from A2 piece of black card, lots of sellotape and swearing
Bow-tie: yellow spotty ribbon hastily stitched to a piece of elastic
Coat: purple velvet, lapels and everything, hurrah
Waistcoat: silky gold dragon fabric, made from my old dressing gown
Golden ticket: model's own

Very Hungry Caterpillar

And not wishing to be left out, youngest was happy to reuse a Very Hungry Caterpillar costume that I made a few years ago (we made a new hat together, so that cutting and sticking ain't faux naive it's just plain naive). The body bit is basically a sack with an elasticated neck and seams popped at judicious points to make arm holes. Thanks to Aunty C for coming up with the idea in the first place.

Next year I'm totally stitching gert big leaves to this costume and calling it a Beanstalk...

You can read more about creating the Wonka costume here. And Mumsnet is hosting a Blog Hop about World Book Day costumes here.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

World Book Day

My son and I have a deal for World Book Day. He's just got into reading Roald Dahl, and one of his favourite books (I've read it at least 10 times mum!) is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. So the deal is... I will attempt to make a Willy Wonka costume for him, but if it doesn't work or doesn't get finished in time then he can go as Charlie Bucket - which is basically your own clothes plus a golden ticket. Excellent.

Having never done any dressmaking (bar a circle skirt for a party last year), it seemed that a purple velvet tailcoat for a six year old was the perfect place to start. I made a paper pattern by drawing round the boy's school jumper, and worked out that one metre of fabric should do the job. Fabricland provided some fab velvet of just the right shade of purple. I cut out the pieces, and was even clever enough to cut out two sleeves.

Then I threaded up the trusty sewing machine with some purple thread and got going on all the seams. It was all pretty quick and dirty, as sewing a fancy dress outfit is all about what the costume looks like on the outside, for one day. Well, that's what I kept telling myself. Turns out velvet frays quite a bit, ho hum.

I re-used the jacket pattern to make a waistcoat from an old dressing gown of mine. Turns out (cheap) woven silk frays even more than velvet.

By this point I decided that velcro was the way to go for fastenings, as I'm not spending hours handcrafting buttonholes for a costume that will probably be trashed by the end of the day. As luck would have it I still had just enough left over from the Dolly Nappy.

Current state of play is that the waistcoat is finished, the coat is just waiting for final touches. When the boy gets home from school we're planning to wrestle with a large piece of black card and make a top hat. Oh and a bit of spotty ribbon has to transform itself into a bow-tie.

Only slight fly in the ointment is that youngest was sent home from preschool today with possible ear infection. Main symptoms seem to be lots of whinging/crying and clutching ears. I do so enjoy craft sessions with the accompaniment of a poorly child. Still, amazing what a dose of Calpol can achieve.*

Suddenly that Charlie Bucket costume is looking very attractive...

*other super sweet kiddie painkillers are available

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

A Bit Sketchy

When I was in paid employment, I used to be sent on training courses. These would invariably start with a session with the flipchart with lots of earnest batting about of words such as 'synergy' and 'facilitating outcomes'. Still, the refreshments were usually good and you'd occasionally meet someone with a really interesting career history (sadly this was not often the person leading the course).

So now I'm one of those 'Stay at Home Parent' types, are there the same range of exciting development opportunities available? Well, not really. .. There is an incredible amount of noise around all the baby stuff I admit, much advice is thrust at you from a variety of sources, some more credible than others. With my first baby I dutifully trooped off to a post-natal group when the boy was about 3 months old. The first session involved going round the room and telling about our terrible birth experiences (no flipchart this time). I was last in the circle and by the time we'd sat through a litany of emergency caesarians, horrific instrumental deliveries and episiotomies, I was a bit embarrassed to mumble that I'd had a fairly straightforward birth and felt pretty much ok about it thanks.

Now my children are past the baby stage there seems to be an expectation that as I've managed to keep them alive and unharmed for this long, I must know what I'm doing. So instead of taking on a training course along the lines of of "7 Habits of Effective Children" or "Feel the Playdoh and Do it Anyway", I decided to do something more fun, which is where the picture above comes in.

I've been saying for ages that I want to do more drawing, but I never got round to doing anything about it. So I've signed up for 5-week 'Learn to Draw' course at Bristol Folkhouse, which is a fantastic adult education centre. It's been going in one form or another since the 1870s, when it was founded to keep working class men out of the pub and give them a chance to learn to read and write instead. These days it's a charity and a co-operative and runs a whole range of arts, crafts, music, languages and fitness classes. I did a pottery course there a couple of years ago and absolutely loved it. I have plenty of wonky pots dotted around the house too.

The first drawing session was yesterday and I really enjoyed myself. It's a really good basics of drawing course, with a wonderfully encouraging tutor. We looked at basic shapes and did some simple exercises before sketching some rosehips. Next week we're moving on to tone.

My youngest loves to draw, and does so with the absolute self-confidence of a four-year-old, producing vast quantities of artwork (Octonauts often feature). Next time she sits down with her crayons I think I'll join her, take a line for a walk and see where it goes...

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Cutting and Sticking

Handmade valentine's card
Lots of projects under way at the moment, but nothing finished, so no blogging from me recently.

Instead here's the Valentine card I made for my husband. An old pair of embroidery scissors, some scraps of pretty paper, a bit of PVA glue and quite a lot of muttering... and ta da!

And done whilst participating in a fairly mind-bending circular conversation with the four year old, who is seemingly competing for the title of Clingiest Child Alive. Not bad, eh?

Monday, 28 January 2013

January

Let's face it, January is a month that's a bit of a struggle. Christmas is over and done with, it's still dark and cold, and there are a whole thirty-one days of it. I know I shouldn't be wishing my life away, but I can't help feeling glad that January is coming to an end for another year, and the fact that it's getting dark at 5 rather than 4pm is definitely a cause for celebration.

So I'm trying to focus on the things that make January more enjoyable. For me these are:

Socialising with friends - especially if this involves playing games. And I'm not talking about nudge nudge games, I'm firmly in the good clean fun camp of card games and Scrabble.

Craft night - last Thursday I had a streaming cold and the last thing that I wanted to do was to go out in the cold after wrangling children all day. But I booted and scarfed myself and stomped off down the road (a bit of exercise too, bargain). Two hours in a warm room knitting and chatting and I was renewed and inspired. There's a bit of a quilt plan bubbling too, hence the photo.

Volunteering - I know this sounds a bit worthy, but I don't just volunteer because I'm a nice person, I really feel like I get something out of it too. I've been reading at the school three mornings a week and both the girls  I read with have moved up several levels (this is a big deal when you're six) and the pride they have in their achievements gives me a warm fuzzy feeling. Hurrah, I'm useful!

Plans - it's always good to have something to look forward to, so I've booked a short drawing course at Bristol Folkhouse, which starts after half term. And my mum is coming to stay when the children are off school, which always seems to make things run more smoothly.

Whilst mulling over this post I googled 'happiness' and discovered the Action for Happiness site. Now, I've had depression, and I'm not naive enough to think that it can be overcome by thinking happy thoughts, but a lot of it makes good sense. In particular the 10 keys to happier living, and I was pleased to see that my list matches up with theirs pretty well.

How's your January going?

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Hush a bye dolly

So as I posted recently, I've forbidden myself to buy any new craft supplies in January and to instead concentrate on projects that use what I already have. And so I give you... the Dolly Bed. It's for my youngest, who has just turned four. She has two dolls, one called Florence (pictured) and one called Nip Nip. Don't ask...

My daughter is funny and independent and quirky and all those wonderful things, but also at the moment we're going through what I like to call the Farking Horrible Fours. Like the Terrible Twos but more decibels and the fact that distraction no longer works. The paddies are few and far between, but when they do come they are legendary. Last night there was a difference of opinion over walking up stairs to bed and it didn't end well. Well, actually after a considerable amount of screaming, the poor girl admitted between sobs that she didn't know why she was crying and demanded a cuddle and a song, which is quite a sweet ending. Many choruses of You are My Sunshine later she finally agreed to put her pyjamas on and was suddenly back to her sunny self as if she hadn't been screaming and kicking with rage for the previous twenty minutes.

However, she has been very interested in the making process for this project, and has been making flattering noises, so I s'pose she's forgiven.

The bed itself is made from an old shoebox. I cut down the sides a little as when I first popped the doll in, it looked a little (a lot) like a doll in a coffin - not really the look I was aiming for. The header is made from half of the shoebox lid.

The mattress is made from a scrap of old sheet with a few layers of wadding left over from last year's rainbow quilt. Then I moved on to a mini quilt as a cover, which uses fabric I had left over from H's wedding bunting. I settled on a simple patchwork of squares which I machine sewed. I used a scrap of an old fleece blanket in the middle of the 'sandwich' as the wadding I had was too thick.

A fat quarter of mint green from the stash provided a backing.I really enjoyed hand-quilting this project, very satisfying and quite soothing. The edges are bound with some white woven tape, again left over from bunting production.

Somehow it's suddenly 3pm again, so I'm off to retrieve my offspring and maybe run through a few show tunes, we'll see how things pan out.

p.s. this project has just given me the itch to to a proper massive big quilt <plots> Watch this space...


Monday, 7 January 2013

Knitting Frenzy

Hands holding knitting needles
The arty shot is my husband trying to get a photo of me knitting on double-pointed needles. I'm fairly sure that my dad doesn't read this blog, so feel it's safe to report that I have just finished a pair of socks for his birthday on Wednesday.

The children had an inset day today so whilst I frantically knitted right up to the deadline, they made some birthday cards with varying amounts of glue and shiny stuff. Very much their own work... Then we made a special trip to the post office to send the parcel off, so things now are in the hands of the Royal Mail. Fingers crossed.

P.s. Yarn from the excellently named Sock Yarn Shop, natch.