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Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Weird Notebook Giving Auntie


Hello friends. This is a short post, as I have just put the children to bed, and intend to spend the evening making some presents. But, I thought I'd share a couple of simple ideas you could use for your own home made Christmas if you're feeling in the festive mood (I have had little choice but to get in the festive mood since the girls started coming home several weeks ago singing carols they'd been practising at school).

Alison is friend of ours, and ex colleague of my husband, and she and her husband Roger make chocolate houses at Christmas. Actually, I think it's mainly Roger who is the genius behind the ever impressive structures - one year, he even wrote a how to guide, in response to all the positive comments he got about the chocolate houses (I'll ask Roger if I can share this, if you'd be interested..?).

Last week, I thought I'd make a chocolate house to give to my nieces and nephew, as they were coming up for a pre-Christmas visit. I took a few pictures, before sending it away with them still in tact (much to the noticeable disappointment of my girls, who would have dived in and helped themselves to all the raspberry bonbons, given half the chance).

The walls are made out of After Eights (well, the fake Aldi version), and the roof is Matchmakers (from Aldi, too). You melt a load of chocolate on a tray of greaseproof paper, and make your walls and roof that way, and then assemble it all once it has set. 

I found I had to carry out a few emergency building repairs during construction, but extra Matchmakers with melted chocolate do a pretty good job of sticking things back together and holding them in place long enough to set again. 

Then for the fun bit, of choosing favourite sweets and going over board on decorating the house. I got all the sweets for this one from the old fashioned sweet shop in the arcade in town (known in our house as The Saturday Sweet Shop).

Thinking of what to give my nieces and nephew - and all the other family members who I want to give something to without either bankrupting myself or plumping for dull vouchers - is a challenge. I could - and arguably should - just go for vouchers, especially now they are all getting older. It avoids just giving stuff for the sake of it, and they can have the enjoyment of some spending power in choosing something they genuinely like. But. I just didn't want to do that.

There lies the thing. It isn't just about them. It's about me feeling good about the thing I am giving them. Selfish, perhaps, I know. I didn't want to just give them another thing any one else can give them. So... I came up with these naff covered notebooks! Ha, ha. I have turned into Weird Notebook Giving Auntie. In my defense, naff as they may be, these notebooks are personal to them. I spent a happy few hours making them, and thinking about my lovely nieces and nephews in the process. A bit like the Welsh lady on this year's Sewing Bee (gosh, I have forgotten her name!), who said in the opening credits each week that making things for her grandchildren felt like she was giving them her love. That. 

All three are super stars in their own ways, and I feel immensely proud of them, even though they are not my children. One example (and this happens to have been my nephew, but it could easily have been either of the girls) is when we were at the park together, and the boy overheard some other kids swearing in front of my girls. `Watch your language, there's little girls around,' he said, in a calm and confident manner. I could have hugged him with pride. 

So that is why I have given three cool kids some notebooks. 

I am not expecting them to be excited when they open them, compared to the genuinely exciting things they will probably open on Christmas morning. It's the nephew's birthday a few days after Christmas, and for that I shall be throwing cash in his direction. He wants a BMX for doing stunts. 

So, I am going all out on the notebook giving front. I'm putting all my eggs into one basket, and not shying away from the title of Weird Notebook Giving Auntie.

I feel slightly bad now, as since making the first three notebooks, I've got hold of a free motion foot for my machine, and can do a better job of writing with my sewing.

Oh my goodness. This thing is so much fun. Okay, maybe lots of fun for me. Not necessarily my teenage nieces and nephews. But seriously, guys, get Father Christmas to buy you one of these toys.

Liberty print pin cushion, made for my tree - using this tutorial
I'll also make some more chocolate houses to give away, too. In my head, it balances out the cool stakes a bit. I'm a bit deluded, I know...

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Hibernating (with Liberty and Ric Rac)

Days like today make me feel like hibernating.

The weather outside is drizzly and grey. Not proper rain, where you put on wellies and join the children in puddle splashing, but the annoying just damp with no fun attached variety. In fact, the very opposite of fun, as Charlotte howled the whole way to and from school this morning. She strongly dislikes being underneath a rain cover, and felt the need to share this with the world in the way she knows best.

And so, we are not going out. We have played inside, listened to music, banged drums, and emptied cupboards, and stopped for tea (for me, not her) and toast and jam.

Now that she's in bed, I'm getting on with my own indoor fun, and putting together kits ready for my workshops. I've finally finished fiddling about with different combinations of fabrics and trims, and have my samples ready.

There's some old favourites making a comeback (puddings), some designs that I've tweaked (trees, houses and stockings for chocolate coins), and a new comer (cheeky robin). The common thread this time is that all the decorations feature Liberty of London prints somewhere in them.

I am developing a thing for Liberty fabrics. I won't admit this to my husband, but I dreamt about having a room filled with bookshelves stacked with tana lawn. Not wishing to remortgage my house, I am happy to settle for a few Christmas decorations with these pretty prints instead.

My eldest girl spied the samples over breakfast this morning, and we've agreed on a Sewing Club after school today. When you are 8 years old, an activity can be doubly exciting if you declare it to be a club. (The reality for me will be different, I know, as I will be trying to help thread needles and soothed pricked fingers for three girls with a baby keen to join in too.)

Here's the link if you'd like to come along to a workshop.


Sunday, 23 November 2014

Chevron Sofa Snooze Quilt

It's Sunday night. In this house, that means crumpets for tea, bath and hair washing, the Strictly Results Show, and ushering the girls up to bed. I'm currently lying on the sofa underneath a blanket, with the Antiques Road Show on in the background. It is not cold enough to put the fire on. Apparently.

Enter this quilt, which I finished a couple of weeks ago. Having almost finished sewing all the triangles together, it then got bundled up and spent six months unfinished, taking up space in my fabric cupboard. Who wants to make a blanket when it's warm outside and there are summer dresses you could make and get satisfaction from wearing instead? When the weather got colder again, I felt motivated to get on and finish it.

I didn't really follow a pattern as such - although I was in part inspired by a triangle based quilt in Mollie Makes, but that one didn't arrange the triangles to form chevrons.

With no fixed plan beyond a vague idea of chevrons and colours to blend in with what we already have in the front room, I set about ordering a selection of prints that took my eye from Fabric Rehab. The back of the quilt is made from some soft needlecord I spotted at half price in John Lewis.

I was probably drawn to the glasses print because some of the frames are a bit like my own that I wear (I am as blind as a bat without them). 

This cheeky photo bomber has discovered the fun of reaching and grabbing my glasses off my nose. She's becoming much more interesting in general. One of my current favourite things she does is to enthusiastically call my husband "Mummy!", with the kind of knowing grin that demonstrates she is probably doing it to wind him up (she can say `daddy').

But the real headline news in her world is that she can now walk. I am sure part of the reason it has taken her so long is that her sisters would cheer her every time she stood up. She took this as a sign of success, promptly bumped back down onto her bottom, and soaked up all the attention she was getting. Why bother walking when you have adoring fans, who will fetch things for you if you point and grunt, she no doubt concluded.

I think the experience of coming into contact with others her age at various groups, and having them dash and grab toys from under her nose, is what pushed her to be convinced of the value of walking. She is tremendously pleased with herself!

Anyhow, back to the quilt. I'm pretty happy with how it has ended up. Some of the points on the triangles are better than others, but the few blunt corners don't bother me. I am pleased it is finished and in use, and no longer making me feel guilty for abandoning it into the cupboard unfinished for so long.

Burda 7020
Last weekend, I met up with some sewing girls I'd met at a bloggers' meet up earlier on in the year, and we had fun fabric shopping together on Berwick Street.

At midnight the night before, I ordered a pattern to make that coat I'd been telling myself I'd make for ages. And the following morning, having arrived a bit early, I wandered into the first shop and ended up seeing some green wool and Liberty silk that matched that were discounted as end of rolls, and bought them both. Eek!

Watch this space.

Actually, don't do that, as it'll be ages before I even take the pattern out of the packet, let alone cut into the lovely (and still frighteningly expensive) bundle of cloth. I have Frozen outfits, and a few more samples and preparation of kits for my Christmas workshops to get going on first. Talking of which, both are getting nicely booked up, but with a few more spaces still going spare, should you happen to be in the Bedford area and like the idea of festive hand sewing over seriously good cake...

Fancy Bakery, Roff Avenue, Bedford - location for my Christmas Workshop
...or getting cosy in a great local pub, with mince pies and mulled wine included in the price of the sewing workshop (will this help our stitching or not, I wonder...). I'll be posting pictures of the different decorations available to make - so if you're booked on either workshop, and have a favourite, just let me know, and I'll make sure I reserve you the kit of your choice.

The Burnaby Arms, Stanley Street, Bedford - location for the second workshop
That's it for now. I hope you have a happy start to the week!

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

First stab (sorry) at felting and my new best friend

Hello. Okay, I know this will sound shallow, but I am going to come out and say it anyway. We bought a dishwasher about a month ago. It has made me a happier person. I think of it as my new best friend.

Little did I know that this lamb stew was destined to be so unpopular

There. I said it.

I used to silently cringe when friends declared they could not live without their dishwashers. How spoilt they sounded, I thought. I used to feel a weird sense of superiority about shunning dishwasher ownership, thinking that hand washing everything somehow made me a little bit more virtuous than those machine dependent women. Ridiculous, I know. And then came the dreary rainy day when it hit me. I spend a lot of my day stood at this sink, washing up - either with small riots breaking out in the other room because the children were left to their own devices for a bit too long, or, at a time when I'd rather be flopping on the sofa - and I am thoroughly fed up with it. Time to consider a conversion, I thought.

Boy, has it freed up a LOT of my time! Although if asked directly, I am sure I will calim I could easily live without it, I have kind of unashamedly joined the Dishwasher Fan Club nonetheless.

It's meant a bit more time for other things. Like decorating. I know, I know, I am becoming a decorating bore. But I am not even sorry. I popped to Homebase the other day, and was filled with joy to discover a BOGOF offer on Crown emulsion. So promptly chose colours for the dining room and the kitchen. Ready for some paint names? Cloud Burst, Gold Leaf, and (for the kitchen), Classic Duck Egg.

After a mini revamp of the coat pegs on Monday, and a break from decorating to be Chief Cuddler to a sick baby yesterday, today's decorating efforts saw a return to the woodwork. I think I have come to view sanding and painting door frames and skirting in a similar way to marking books in my previous life as a teacher. Okay at first, in fact, quite novel and fun (in the case of marking, you read what the kids you teach have written, realise some of what you've tried to teach them has sunk in, or enjoy an original answer to a question, and feel good). But then it all gets a bit samey samey. And dull. Dare I admit it, your standards slip a bit as the boredom kicks in, and you just want the job finished?

Enough decorating talk. After a day as Chief Cuddler to Grumpy Sick Baby, and the chef of the lamb stew that actually provoked tears and sustained periods of wailing from two out of four children, I decided to try my hand at a new craft. Sounds odd, I know, but after they were all tucked up in their beds, I opened up the felting kit my friend Imogen gave me for my birthday back in July.

The verdict? Felting is fun! A craft involving repeatedly stabbing a piece of fluffy wool until it looks like a petal was an ideal way to unwind from the day I'd had. And I now have a (rather large) funky looking flower to cheer up my winter coat. I went to bed happy, dreaming up all the other things I might make out of felt (there is a lot of merino wool left from the kit).

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Suit you, sir!

Some satisfying decorating milestones were reached this week. I rollered over the last of the dirty finger print ladened lavender coloured paint that graced the hall ways, and, I finished painting the spindles. Hurrah. The job is a long way from done (chipped paint all over the upstairs woodwork quickly gives the game away that time and energy needs to be found for a lot more decorating TLC) it all looks a whole lot fresher around here. And the colour of the walls now? Jurassic Stone. I love the names they give paint.

A sewing milestone was also reached. I've gone and made something for the men in my life! Pass the smug cake, please, for I now have a finished anniversary present for my husband, with over a month to spare. His is the tie on the left (and, if he knows what's good for him, it'll become one of the ties he reaches for regularly).

The other one is for my step Dad - and I know he'll wear his with pride. I made his one first - using a kit from Sew Over It. I hadn't planned to make the ties from a kit. But, when on a special trip to Liberty to buy the tana lawn for the ties, I noticed they had kits, and thought I'd give it a whirl for the first tie, and use it as a template for the second.

Like lots of people, I am sure, I got the inspiration for making ties from watching the Sewing Bee. Remember poor Chinelo crying over the instructions? She should have used a Sew Over It kit - mine came together nicely, he, he. That said, I am pretty sure this method is a lot simpler than the one they used for the programme. Maybe I'll graduate to the more complicated version if I make more, but I think these do the job for now.

My two top tips if you make a tie would be to use a rotary cutter, quilters' ruler and mat for cutting out, and, to run your thread through beeswax for a tangle free hand sewing experience (there is a lot of hand sewing involved). I sat and sewed these two ties whilst round at my friend Amanda's sewing night yesterday. Hand sewing is not remotely boring to do when you're chatting away to your friends - the simplicity of the task meant I could chat and sew, and still finish by the end of the night. Very pleasing, as you can imagine...

Did you catch a glimpse of something else in the hall way? The Middle Girl was twirling around in the chiffon that the postman bought the other day. No prizes for guessing what has been requested for her - and the Littlest Big Girl's - mummy made Christmas present this year.

Luckily for me, the day after the conversation (in which I somehow managed to promise to make an Elsa ice queen and a young Anna outfit), my sewing magazine came through the post, complete with a free pattern on it. It's as though the clever peeps at Love Sewing know there is a massive Frozen craze going on at the moment. I've followed their recommendations, and bought the fabrics from Minerva. All looks good to me. Let's see if my sewing lives up to the (very high) expectations of my children...

...but judging by how much fun was had prancing and twirling in the fabric as it arrived (and how reluctantly it was given up and put back into the bag) I am half tempted not to bother doing anything else!

Are you sewing any gifts for Christmas this year?

To avoid stress and general loathing of sewing in the run up to Christmas, I will stick to my self-imposed only sewing one thing for each daughter rule. Two are on the way, now, Charlotte might just get a hand made stocking, and as for the Biggest Girl, well she needs to hurry up and get her order in,.!

Saturday, 25 October 2014

A velvet Megan, a near disaster of a purse to match, and, my digital detox

Autumn's definitely here. Beautiful golden leaves falling from the tree outside our house (volunteers to sweep them up once they go mushy, anyone...?), crisp cool air and bright sunshine. 

Having had a break from sewing, a couple of weeks back I took a new project with me to keep me busy while I babysat for a friend. Enter the velvet Megan.

I swooned over the fabric the instant I saw it - and pretty quickly started to picture it as a dress for moi. I'd say a dress for special occasions, but, my philosophy is to enjoy wearing favourite clothes whenever you fancy looking fabulous, and not just to keep them in the wardrobe only to be worn once in a blue moon. Besides, as a mummy to four little ones, I am not forever going to parties. That said, it is my friend's 40th in a few weeks, and I will wear this outfit for that occasion. There's even talk of us going out dancing, and I think this will be perfect.

The dress is fully lined, making it feel extra warm, and luxurious, too, if I may say so. I hand finished the hems and the bit where the lining meets the sleeves whilst watching Strictly Come Dancing last Saturday night. Are you enjoying the series, by the way? We are. Unsurprisingly, in a house with four little girls, the show is a big hit. And a big incentive for good behaviour, so they are allowed the treat of staying up late to watch the first hour.

My friend Emily took these pictures for me. We'd headed out to our favourite cake shop for a mid week treat and catch up. The day time life of a housewife cannot be all DIY (still making slow but steady progress on my hall and stairs), piles of washing, scrubbing floors and chasing after a baby, can it? Admittedly, Charlotte is an age where she will not be fobbed off with whatever healthy baby snack I pull out of my bag for her. She might not be able to form sentences yet, but her "Loli-loli-loliiii!!!!!", accompanied by a pointed finger in the direction of my cake is pretty easy to translate.

Do you like the purse I made to go with my dress? I love it when there are enough scraps to make a little accessory, don't you? The pattern for this was taken from Lisa Lam's A bag for all reasons. I have just one top tip and warning to share with you on this subject. Never use masking tape (usually handy for protecting your purse fabric from getting glue over it in the tricky framing process) with velvet. You guessed it, I know from bitter experience, that masking tape damages velvet. The result was that I had to completely unpick and replace one side of my almost finished purse. Argh. I am always telling the beginners who come to my classes not to worry about making mistakes - you learn your best (and most memorable) lessons that way. Too true!

Lastly, if you like reading my blog, and tend to find me through Facebook or Twitter, it might be worth signing up for an email update on posts, as I'll be using those things less from now on.

Over the last month, I've had something of a digital detox. That is, a deliberate step back on my part from the time I was spending with frequent checks on social media, and, also evenings spent browsing Twitter and so on counting for evening entertainment once the girls were in bed.

I had been feeling glum at the start of September, and decided to make some changes in my day to day habits to see if that had an impact on my sense of happiness, starting with my ever growing social media habit. I think that my digital detox  - along with some other changes - has made me happier. Now that I have broken the habit, I am going to set myself more sensible boundaries - perhaps just ten minutes once a day for a quick check on email and interactions and the like. I'm also going to buy myself a watch, as I think part of the distraction comes from using my phone to check the time.

I've started a different reading habit instead. Being the world's slowest reader (my husband and best friend both joke it is incredible I got a reading based degree, and they are right), yet having ambitions to discover some of the classics of literature before I am old, I came to a point of realising this would never happen if all I did in the evening was watch rubbish on TV or read about other people's lives on social media. My head is less busy by bedtime. At the moment, I am growing to love Jane Austin, and am (slowly) working my way through all her novels.

The past two weeks aside - when I've had a rather annoying lingering throaty cold - I've got back into early morning running again. Setting the alarm for Stupid O' Clock is the only way I can fit it in. And I have to give myself a talking to and remind myself how much I enjoy the happy feeling a run gives me for the rest of the day. I increase my chances of getting out of bed when the alarm goes off, by leaving my running kit right next to the bed. The runs mean guilt free cake consumption, and, I know I am more patient, too, for having been out exercising in the fresh air. And this can only be a good thing, when faced with all the many challenges children throw in my path.

A case in point - Charlotte's habit of flinging her food onto the floor in one quick sweeping gesture, that comes in the moment she deems she has had enough of her meal. Grr.

That's about it for now.

I think my next make is going to be something completely new, using a metre of Liberty lawn, and for my husband, Mark. Can you guess what it will be?

What have you been making?

Monday, 6 October 2014

From Beginners to Bag Ladies - Your Makes!

It's midday. Having taken Charlotte to a playgroup this morning, fed her with beans and cheese on toast for lunch (her favourite), she's now down for a sleep. Hurrah. 

Over the last few weeks, this has been my (almost) daily cue to whirr into action and get my painting togs on and continue my mission to decorate the hall. 

But. Today, it is so grim and wet outside that I need the lights on inside. Urgh. I am not feeling the decorating inspiration, my friends. Partly due to the weather, and also because I am reaching bits of the process that are beyond my skill level, and a tactical pause to consider important questions, like, what on earth do I do about all the trunking (and other imperfections I am now noticing), a bit more. In a perfect world, I'd have a team of professionals to come and solve such problems for me. The reality is that I am settling for the best I can do myself, and adopting "It will look a lot nicer than it did" as my mantra. I have also ear marked a sparkly light fitting as my future reward for when the job is finished - it is keeping me motivated to get the job done, now that the initial novelty of doing some decorating has gone.

Enough boring waffling on about DIY. On with the real purpose of this post - to show you some pictures of the bags the ladies made on my two Complete Beginners' Courses in September.

Emma's pretty prints came from Dunelm Mill, and Jane got her Cath Kidston fabric for a glorious discount at the factory outlet near St. Neots. 

Sarah's nautical themed prints also came from Dunelm Mill - and the finished bag looks great with her outfit, don't you agree?
As we were taking the photos, Emma insisted everyone ought to notice how impressively good a job Sarah did of lining up the print on her bag. Nice job, Sarah!

I had a bad case of fabric envy over Rosalina's bag - it started life as a pair of old curtains. A brilliant stroke of charity shop luck, no? It just goes to show you don't have to limit yourself to fabric shops when sourcing materials for your makes.

The final bag for the Monday night ladies was this pretty butterfly one, made by Claire. She's now onto making her next project already, which is a dress for her little girl.

Smile for the camera, everyone...!

Not to be left out, here are the Tuesday girls with their finished bags:

Both groups were so much fun to work with. A lot of tea was drunk, cake eaten, shared laughter over mishaps and, so much delight over everyone's finished makes. From being nervous on week one, to leaving at the end of week four with chatter about what they will make next, I think it's fair to say their sewing journey/addiction has begun. Hurrah to that.

As for me and my own sewing - well, you have probably guessed that not much has been happening. I've put some of the bigger projects I had lined up on the back burner, until I have time and motivation to do them justice. I have indulged in planning a few quicker projects - starting with some purses. I love making purses, and haven't made any for ages - so I thought these would be ideal, both for the amount of spare time I have at the moment, and, for the fact I have some good friends with birthdays coming up.

I am basing my makes on this pattern from Lisa Lam's A bag for all reasons. As framed purses are a popular request on something to include in my courses, I am going to be including this on my Handbag and Purse Course in November. As well as learning how to make a framed purse, we'll be making the oh so roomy For Pleats Sake. Can't wait!

Having settled on a project (and let's face it, that can take me a while), the fun of choosing fabrics and trimmings begins. Now there's a way to bring cheer to a damp afternoon while the baby sleeps. Watch. This. Space. 

If you'd like to join me in some sewing, booking has opened, and there are four places up for grabs. You can book online using the secure link to the right of this post.