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Friday, 29 August 2014

Super simple baby (& older sibling) gifts - PART 2

Hello again.

Today's makes have a splashy bath time theme to them. I figure you can't go wrong with flannels and towels as gifts.

Bunny flannels and matching hooded bunny towel
I took one metre of ridiculously soft white Terry towelling and basically had a bit of a play about making a hooded poncho type towel, that I thought would be a nice thing for a slightly older baby.

The towelling came from Plush Addict and is definitely soft enough to be used as a gift for a newborn. The make went together pretty well - it was fun working out how to bring the image I had in my mind to life. It's just a shame my model (Charlotte) wasn't remotely playing ball on the day, and just kept wrenching the thing off and crawling off at top speed in her bid to climb the stairs (naked as the day she was born).

Here's how I made it:

1. Doubled up the towelling, and folded it over again to create a rectangle 38cm wide by 50 cm long (this length is nicely long with room to grow for a one year old).
2. Measured round the baby's head, and added a bit for the hole to be cut (52cm is what I went with - with hindsight, I'd make it a bit smaller, as the hood seems to make the hole appear more generous).
3. Measured from the base of the neck to the crown, and from the crown to the forehead to get a sense of how big the hood should be. My initial measurements were both 16cm - but bear in mind you need to add to this quite generously (about 5 cm all round) so the hood is nice and comfy.
4. I sketched out a hood shape, with the front and base forming a simple right angle, and cut double thickness again, folding the fabric on the line of the front of the hood.
5. Sew the open side seam to make a tube (the other side will be folded, from where you are working with doubled up fabric).
6. If you are going down the bunny ears route with your make (and why wouldn't you?!), now is the time to make your bunny ears, and position them onto the hood.
7. Cut the hole for the head, centre the hood, and sew it to one layer of the hole.
8. Finish all raw edges with home made bias binding to match the fabric you've used on the ears - a big circle for the hole and where the hood is attached to it, and, both bottom ends of the poncho. I'm afraid I didn't measure the exact amounts I used - but 1.5 metres of binding should do it.

When you've finished making the poncho, you'll have plenty of towelling left to make little bunny flannels. Perfect cute little gift for the baby and any siblings, no? My tip here is to make the opening of the flannels wider than you think they need to be. The first time I made flannels like this for my girls, I ended up with them being too narrow to fit their hands into comfortably - d'oh!

One bunny poncho and a pile of matching flannels for the price of a metre of fabric feels like pretty good value to me. Using pretty little scraps from other baby projects means the gifts can all coordinate nicely if you want them too, and turns this simple sewing into something that looks really special and is a pleasure to give as a gift.

Where's Bunny? Matching flannels and baby blankies (Michael Miller fabrics from Plush Addict)
The poncho took me an evening to make - but I think I would be a lot quicker making it a second time, as I wouldn't need to do so much head scratching (yes, it is a simple thing, but it felt like I had to think hard about how I wanted it to be size/finish wise). I hope the instructions are clear enough for anyone wanting to have a go - I'm not sure whether others reading this would want to make one, but I'll put together a proper tutorial if it seems it would be useful to people.

The flannels were delightfully easy to do - and, as you can tell, I took a `wonky is good and part of their home made charm' approach. Again, another nice quick and simple little thing to make that I think would go down well as a new baby/sibling gift.

Do you have a favourite thing to make for little ones?

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Super simple new baby (& older sibling) gifts - PART 1

Hello, everyone!

The school holidays are coming to an end. Today, we've been out to the dentist and got hair cuts sorted. I am gleeful about this last fact, as the new shorter hair cuts should save me about ten minutes in the mornings. The four year old had her first ever proper cut (she's been resistant until now) and has made me go all gushy "Oh, don't you look all smart and grown up ready for school!" with her. 

My Lilou dress fabric is sitting neglected. I don't have the energy for sewing something new and enjoying the challenge, and so, with a couple of new babies on the scene, I thought I'd make something simple that required little thinking instead.

There are several things I made over the course of a couple of evenings, and so I have split showing them to you into two posts, as I'll talk about how to make them yourself (if you want to).

Item number one is almost too embarrassingly simple to share. But, I am going to, because it might inspire other time pushed people with something pleasing to sew and give.

Enter, the blankie! This is two pieces of fabric - quilting cotton and flannel - sewn together. Yes, that really is it. I promised you a simple baby gift idea, didn't I?!

Why do I think this makes an excellent baby gift? Because babies produce a lot of mess that needs wiping up, that's why. Be it sick, dribble... you get the idea. I made half a dozen of these before Charlotte was born, and they have genuinely become the most useful things I have ever made for a little one. More absorbent than ordinary white muslins, and way nicer to look at, I challenge you to find me a new parent not pleased to receive a set of these. And, for Charlotte, a soft home made blankie is the very thing to calm her and settle her off to sleep independently. I don't go anywhere without one (you could probably have a rummage through my handbag on a child free night out and still find one in there).

I've given all sorts of baby gifts over the years - ranging from little boxes of sweetly packaged outfits from GAP when my niece (now fifteen) was born, to all kinds of home made stuff in the years since I've been sewing. Lots of the home made stuff has been pretty fiddly to make, and, to be honest, much of it probably limited in its practical use.

Now, with my mother of four trying to find space for all the stuff that comes into the house with children perspective, I personally have grown to loathe being given things that take up lots of space for little practical value. It may sound ungrateful, but another soft toy is now the last thing I feel delighted to receive into the house, however much my children might like it. So, I limit my giving to being simple, small and practical. Oh, and some yummy food for the new parents to gobble, too, of course.

Michael Miller Rose Tree Delights from Plush Addict
As for sizing, it is up to you. I tend to cut mine so I can get nine blankies out of one metre of fabric. As the home made versions are much more absorbent than shop bought muslins, you don't need to make them as big. I use a large cutting mat and rotary cutter, as I find this speeds things up massively. Once sewn, I chop off the corners, turn the blankie out the right way (remember to leave a gap!) and top stitch all round the edge, before giving it a final press. It takes about an hour to make a set, and this is about the time I can/want to spare on making baby gifts (so I have sewing time for me!).

You know me, I do love me a good vibrant print (or ten). This time round, I got my supplies from Plush Addict. Rather than committing to a metre of one print, I chose four fat quarters. I thought the prints were cute, and appealing to little girls, although they have tons of other quilting cottons to suit all tastes. I was particularly impressed with the Robert Kaufman flannel - thick and soft, it is probably the nicest I have come across, so I will definitely be going back for more the next time someone I know has a baby. They stock it in tons of colours, too (news to me that you could get flannel in so many colours!), so I will try and overcome my attack of indecisiveness next time and branch out into colours for the back.

With the leftover scraps from the blankies, I planned to make something to give the older siblings. Well, this was the plan, any how. What actually happened, was that my own girls saw the fabrics, loved them, and talked me into making something for them instead. Indulged? Yes. I can't help it. At moments when I am reminded that they are little girls, who still enjoy innocent play involving clothes for their toys, and so on, something in me goes weak and I give in to whatever they are requesting. It is my own inner desire to be super mum in their eyes, I suppose.

Michael Miller Rabbit Repeat and ABC Toss from Plush Addict
 Ignoring the fact I have created more work for myself (all three girls have asked for toy clothing/bedding), I find sewing stuff like this very gratifying. And fun. It is quick and easy. It uses up little scraps. There are no rules (more is more with trims and ribbons) and generally, the recipients fall over themselves with pleasure at what you have produced (before going off to wave it under the nose of whichever sibling they fancy making jealous).

It is the first time I have made a shirred dress for a tiger, but I am rather pleased with the results! I know this is a daft thing to sew, but, well... it is almost the end of the school holidays. My brain is a bit frazzled, what can I say?

If you've never tried using shirring elastic, do it! And, what better way to practise than on something like this that doesn't matter if you muck it up? All you do, is hand wind the bobbin with shirring elastic, pop it into the machine, with normal thread up above, and sew. Easier than you would think.

Goodnight, tiger! See you in the morning for more home made baby gift fun.

And finally, I've had a sudden surge in people using my PE bag tutorial - must be the start of term, eh? If you haven't seen it, here is the link - and, here is the fabric I have lined up for my littlest big girl's version, ready for when she starts school in another week or so. (Were her sisters jealous when they saw the fabric? Er, yes, you could say that...)

Best fabric ever?

Monday, 25 August 2014

Trying to keep on top of the mess

With just over a week to go until the school holidays are over, I have to be truthful and say that my house is a total mess.

Not a lot of sewing is being done at the moment. Most days are pretty full - keeping on top of the basics that must get done (clean clothes and dishes, and, children), heading out to the park so everyone can let off steam, before coming home for more play, food and bed. After that, I am ready to flop onto the sofa, watch TV, and, maybe crochet or read a bit.

If I had a magic wand, Mary Poppins would pop round to teach my children how to tidy up properly, before whisking them off to the park for an hour. The only thing even better than that, would be if, upon waving them off to the park, a squad of professional cleaners turned up to deal with my grubby house, sending me off out on my own for an hour so I didn't get under their feet. We can dream, can't we?

I have made a couple of simple, but useful things. Bibs!

Fellow Cath Kidston fans will spot the strawberry print. It was one of the ones I picked up when I made the trip out for fabric for my picnic bag. I christened my walking foot with this project. It made sewing the otherwise tricky laminated cloth a dream. I kicked myself a bit for not putting the walking foot on to make my bag, but it seemed like an effort to try something new. How silly, with hindsight, as I'd have made the bag handles really easily with the walking foot.

The pattern is still available as a tutorial from Craftiness Is Not Optional - I traced it when Jess first produced it three years ago, but I notice she is now charging for it. I made a couple of alterations, in that I used two pieces of laminated Cath Kidston prints and clipped them (and the bias binding) wrong sides together using my bag making clips and then whizzed it all through the sewing machine using my walking foot. I wanted the bibs to be easily wiped down so they'd last a few meals before needing washing. They wash fine, by the way. If you do decide to buy the pattern, I'd recommend making a slight adjustment to the lengths of bias binding recommended, as I think the arm holes are a bit over generous in size. That aside, I really like the design of the bib, as it is harder for a messy eater to pull up and smear food everywhere.

Now if someone could invent something to prevent tons of food landing on the floor three times daily, or, failing that, to fast track Charlotte's hand to mouth coordination so that she could feed herself properly (and not just awkwardly refuse to have me feed her), then my day would be made. The stage of watching her fail at keeping food on a spoon seems to be going on for ages!

These are a few of my favourite (sewing) things...

It is a wet Bank Holiday Monday here.

In a bid to wear the girls out, we've been to the local swimming pool, and are now settling down to another viewing of Frozen.

It is exactly a week to go until the first of my sewing classes start. September is going to be all about taking complete newbies to sewing and making simple projects together that will build their confidence and sewing skills - starting with a cushion, and then a bag like this one.

October onwards will be focused on intermediate courses for people who want to tackle more challenging projects, such as more complex purses and bags, and, the fun and excitement that is making clothing.

I often get asked about what to buy for starting to sew, and, where to buy fabrics (especially jersey). So, I thought I'd put together a couple of shorts posts about both of these subjects, beginning with kit.

While I am a bit tight at heart, and reluctant to spend loads on gadgets for anything, including sewing (I'd rather be spending my money on fabric), there are some things (beyond my sewing machine that is) that I use all the time and would miss if I didn't have.

Working my way round the picture, starting at the top left corner:

  1. Sheep measuring tape - my eldest daughter bought this for me for Christmas, using her own pocket money at the school fair. Cute, huh? And we all need a measuring tape. A novelty one means no one is walking off with mine by mistake.
  2. Super sharp scissors (that everyone in the house has been repeatedly nagged not to ever use on paper).
  3. Quilters ruler, rotary cutter and mat. Massively useful and time saving way to accurately cut. I didn't get on with my rotary cutter until I started using the quilters ruler with it (I'd been unsuccessfully using a steel ruler on and off for ages, and, put off by the price of a quilters ruler, couldn't see the need for one). It holds everything nice and steady, as it has little bumps on the under side that stop things slipping, and makes cutting out loads easier. Cutting out accurate strips needed for home made bias binding is simple with these bits of kit. Mine came from Hobby Craft and I like all three.
  4. Sewing clips - these are like little bull dog clips (I'm sure they'd work just as well, to be honest), and I bought a big bag of them from U-Handbag ages and ages ago. They are excellent for using instead of pins, when you are holding lots of layers together (as in bag making), or making something with oil cloth and don't want to pierce it.
  5. Walking foot. This is my newest sewing toy (thanks, Mum!) and it is fab. I wasn't convinced of what all the fuss was about, and, in my usual tight way, managed without one until now. I used to use tissue paper to help stop oil cloth and laminated fabrics from sticking. Not any more. This clever little thing makes zipping through tricky or bulky stuff super easy. I would definitely recommend one of these. Some machines come with them, and others (like mine) don't.
  6. Decent pins - and a pretty pin cushion to put them in. I seem to be death to sharp pointy pins, and blunt them pretty quickly. It sounds like a daft thing to say, but don't hang on to duff pins. It took me ages of tightly refusing to admit how annoying repeatedly picking up blunt pins from the pin cushion was before I chucked the duffers out and bought new ones. The current ones I am using are nice long quilters pins (from Hobby Craft again) that show up pretty easily when I drop them on the floor. I made a handful of the apple and pear pin cushions ages ago, using this tutorial from Mollie Makes, and still like having them handy for people to use when they come to my classes. You need tons of stuffing, shoved in with brute force and a chop stick, to get these things firm. 

And that's it.

Got any favourite pieces of sewing kit you held off buying for ages and now couldn't be without?

Back to Frozen (and a bit of cutting out) for me...

Monday, 18 August 2014

Man cannot live on bread alone (but my husband's having a bloody good try)

I do like a project. 

wheat sheaf loaf
On the way back from Devon, I decided a project was what was needed to prevent any end of holiday blues kicking in. Something other family members could join in with (if they wanted to).

Enter the daily bake. 

This was part inspired by my friend giving me a copy of Paul Hollywood's 100 Great Breads, the fact that GBBO has returned to our screens, and also our general love of eating bread. I thought it would be fun to sample a different bread each day (or as many as possible) for the rest of the holidays.

So we started with the first bread in the book - the wheat sheaf loaf. Paul reckons once you've made this (and mastered it) you are ready to attempt any of the breads in the book. 

The girls certainly enjoyed plaiting the dough as per the instructions (even if our sheaf ended up being very well tied with three plaits instead of one). One small, but significant point was lost on me - and that is this is meant to be a display bread, and so contains a heck of a lot of salt. How my husband chortled when, with mouths full of extremely salty bread, we referred back to the recipe and realised the error of my way. Still, was fun to make, and looked nice (even if only a third got eaten).

wholemeal soda bread
Next up was wholemeal soda bread. Nice and easy to make, as it doesn't contain yeast and doesn't require kneading. From this loaf, I learnt the importance of making your cross cuts deep so the bread cooks through to the middle. Uncooked dough isn't all that appetising, who knew.

"Sophie" bread
The following day saw the basic white loaf. This has been voted as the best bread of the week by our children. As it was the biggest girl's birthday, I tried to honour her with her name in bread. If you're doing this at home, my advice is to do the letter shaping just before the bread goes into the oven. I did it before the final half hour rise, and the name is a bit obscured.

basic white loaf
Oh, and the other thing. Take the bread out of the tin as soon as it comes out of the oven. Don't lazily leave it in the tin to get a soggy bottom crust.

crumpets (Delia's Classic Cookery Course)
Now onto some negatives about St. Paul of the Bake Off's book.

First things first. The title. Sorry Paul, but apple pie (and all the other desserts included in this book) is not a type of bread. Either change the title to acknowledge this fact, or include some of the great breads that have been over looked by you (in your haste to cash in on your GBBO fame and dash out a recipe book). 

Crumpets and English Muffins are two obvious traditional yeast based snacks that have been forgotten by Paul. So are bagels. How can you have a book about bread and not have instructions on how to make this hugely popular food?

My next criticism of the book is the section on traditional breads. I decided to try the paratha. The instructions were vague, and with no pictures to go by, it was hard to tell if I was on the right lines or not. At this point, the cynic in me started to wonder whether the author had even tested out/ developed all the recipes. 

My friend Sang came round the following day, and after casting her eye over the chapter, told me I'd be better off consulting with her mum if wanted to know how to make some authentic Indian breads.

Guinness and treacle bread
Things picked up with the next loaf. The Guinness and treacle bread smelt fantastic as it was cooking, and it is truly a `hearty loaf'. It makes great toast the following day, too.

brie and basil loaf
I had another friend visiting on Saturday, and so went all out and made two things. The brie and basil loaf was good. Although, I couldn't really detect that much flavour of basil. Maybe more was needed. We ate this warm as part of lunch, and the melted brie was lovely. By happy accident, the way the brie was spaced meant only every other slice had the brie in it, and this worked out nicely for those who didn't want cheese in their bread (weird, I know).

sultana scones
I don't for a moment think scones are a kind of bread, but they are included in the book, and well... who doesn't like a good scone, eh? This is probably the best recipe for scones I have come across. Even throwing the ingredients together as I did (in a rush and with little people tugging at my ankles), they were pretty darn good. Maybe it is the strong bread flour. Who knows. Credit where it is due - this seems to be a fool proof recipe.

We scoffed our scones with clotted cream and home made strawberry jam which my friend bought round. Oh my goodness. Such a contrast to the burnt strawberry syrup I made earlier in the season. When made by someone who knows how to make it, home made strawberry jam quite literally tastes like summer in a jar. Don't tell anyone, but when friends had left, and the girls were tucked up in bed, I kept dipping my finger in the jar each time I went into the kitchen over the course of the evening. 

cheese and onion soda bread
Not to be disheartened by the doughy soda bread, I decided to try out the cheese and onion version. Yum, yum, yum. And, extra smug points, as I got to use a home grown onion. 

focaccia pugliese with mozzarella
I've already given away which bread was the unanimous favourite for the girls. But, as they have yet to sample the latest bread, this might change. We love it. Totally unnecessary consumption of bread, as we ate it fresh out of the oven after the girls were in bed (and we'd already eaten a family meal). But so good dunked in olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

There are quite a few more Paul Hollywood bread recipes I am looking forward to trying, along with several from other well known chefs. If this project isn't a motivation to keep running, I don't know what is.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Summer Picnic Bag

One good thing about returning home from holiday is seeing friends again.

Within a day of getting home from Devon, my pal Emily mooted the idea of a sewing night at hers. My thoughts soon turned to what I'd like my first post holiday sew to be. A summer picnic bag seemed the perfect one night project. This particular pattern is nice and simple to sew (I teach it on my Complete Beginners' Course), and so I knew it would make an ideal thing to sew sociably, when chatting and eating (on this occasion it was warm from the oven chocolate brownies with clotted cream - YUM!).

For the record, I already have a bag or two (or ten) that would do for this purpose. But, well, a girl can never have too many bags, right? And, I justified my need for a bag by assessing that I didn't have any that went well with my favourite Megan Dress of the moment.

I've been meaning to check out the Cath Kidston factory outlet shop near St. Neots for ages.

Embarrassingly, I've been recommending it as a place for discounted pretty prints for the last three years that I've been running my sewing courses from home, and have yet to actually go there myself. On a regular basis, people have come to the courses with stuff from this shop, and I have had to close my mouth to stop me from dribbling over the fabric loveliness being produced out of the familiar light blue carrier bags.

The sewing night invite, along with a desire to treat myself to something nice (to make up for the lack of sea for me to swim in now we are at home) spurred me on to take a trip there. It being the school holidays (and husband at that point had yet to head back into work), I had the luxury of taking just one girl with me. Okay, arguably a bigger luxury might have been going alone, but the four year old was keen to seize upon some one to one time with me. This is a thing I try to make a point of doing with each of the girls as regularly as I can - although I love it when we are all together, there is something special about leaving the house with just one child. Like the calmness of only one - and the lack of (the sometimes relentless) sibling rivalry, for starters. It should be noted that the rivalry starts up again the second the child that has had the parent to themselves walks through the front door, and they blurt whatever they consider to be the most jealousy inducing highlights of the outing to whoever will listen.

 Anyhow, if you live within reach of St. Neots, I'd recommend a visit to the shop. About a dozen or so rolls of different `duck' fabrics, some oil cloths, and a really good box full of off cuts to rummage through. I let the four year old choose a few of these - the red spots you see being one of her choices (and a bargain at £2.90 for a 0.4 metre piece).

The cherries were the thing that stood out for me. It was only when I got home and cut the bag pieces, that I worked out I had enough leftover (I'd only bought half a metre) to make a little book bag with. As it was the biggest girl's birthday the following day, she seemed like a worthy recipient of this little bonus make. And joy - I remembered the crocheted cherries I'd made from the kit on the latest Mollie Makes, and added them onto the front of the bag. Serendipity, I think.

Book Bag*
The biggest girl is a complete book worm. And, had been eyeing the crocheted cherries as I made them on holiday. I hadn't offered them to her at the time (sibling rivalry), but needless to say she was delighted to end up getting them. And, as it was a birthday gift, no one else complained.

*Please ignore the wobbly stitching - I made her bag after my own (a less selfish mother would prioritise her daughter's birthday present over her own superfluous bag), and it was approaching midnight when I sewed that felt detail on.

I have a few more pieces of Cath Kidston fabric from my little spree - watch this space for some more summery makes before too long...

Are you a fan of Cath Kidston prints?

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Sandy bottoms and grubby faces

We're half way through the school summer holidays. 

Ours started off badly to say the least. 

My husband has been heard to say that when it comes to having children, love is a multiplier. This statement and the spirit of openness towards going beyond the norm of just two children it embraces has generally impressed my female friends when he has uttered it in their hearing. 

Well, if this is true (let's face it, there is no way of testing this claim), and the amount of joy you experience does multiply with each child, then the same mathematics applies when a sick bug strikes. Only swap the joy for misery.

Within a couple of hours of getting the girls back from their final day of school, I started to feel a bit queasy. And it was not long before this materialised into a full on bug that everyone went through. Words cannot really express how grim a 48 hour bug is in a family of six. Dealing with your children's vomit (and diarrhoea if you're unlucky like us) when you are poorly too is definitely twice as bad when there are twice as many of you. We ran out of sick bowls for starters. And, for the record, midnight with a pool of vomit on the carpet is never a good time to discover you are out of Vanish. 

As a result, I didn't finish my pre holiday sewing list.  But I did make the rompers before we all got ill. Charlotte has already had lots of wear out of them - they were ideal for the beaches whilst we were in Devon. 

The fabric for both of these is from KitschyCoo. I go weak at the knees for the prints that Amanda stocks.

As well as being super comfy and practical for a baby to crawl about getting dirty (exploring) in, the patterns are so busy and bold, they do a good job of hiding a reasonable amount of grubbiness, and so I have managed to leave each one on for an entire day. I will admit I have soaked up the compliments I've received about these little rompers - it is nice to have something a bit different, and show me a mother who doesn't enjoy being told how cute her baby looks.

Holiday statistics:

11 trips to the beach and a lot of ice creams.
10 orange granny squares.
9 early morning runs before the rest of the gang were up.
8 swims in the sea in my £5 bikini (because the strap was broken).
7 jars of blackberry jam made (mock if you like).
6 packets of crisps in every picnic.
5 cream teas (with the clotted cream on first then jam).
4 new spades (including a Dad Spade).
3 loads of washing to keep us in clean pants.
2 lots of fish and chips on sea front.
1 wobbly tooth that fell out and made someone's holiday.

The absolute best thing about our time in Devon for me was swimming in the sea. I loved it!

Lots has been written by others on the subject of women (especially mothers) and their bodies and wearing bikinis - here and here for starters - and I echo a lot of the sentiments. But, for me, the biggest reason to get a grip, keep any insecure thoughts about appearance in their place, and put on something to swim in, is the brilliant effect of sea water on my own sense of happiness. If I could bottle the feeling I got when I swam out into the sea, looking at the view ahead of me and feeling free, I would. And then I would take big swigs of it during dull days in January. And, when I am an old lady, I shall (hopefully still be able to) remember the fun of holding my daughters' hands as we ran alongside the shoreline splashing the water as the waves lapped over over feet, and how much it made us smile.

Now we are back in Bedford for the rest of the holidays. Plenty of parks to visit, and friends to invite round for ice creams.

How is everyone else's summer going?