Monday, 21 April 2014

UnFinished Objects

My study-o has been in drastic need of a sort-out for a while now. There are more UFOs in there than in area 51. Poor old scrap vomit has been sitting in there for almost 3 whole years (more chronic heartburn than projectile vomit). Then there's the quilt my sister commissioned for my nephew around 6 months ago. And a baby quilt top, finished but in need of backing and binding. Before starting anything new, I resolved to embark on a Spring quiltathon to get these three finished, buoyed on by the arrival on the weekend of a newborn niece, for whom the baby quilt top is destined, and the necessity of first finishing the big boy bed quilt for her big brother.


scrap vomit quilt
scrap vomit


baby girl quilt top
baby quilt top
So first up, the big boy bed quilt. This one was all but finished, but I'd been procrastinating over binding choices. Polka dots, my go-to binding choice, had been ruled out, so what to do? Solids, stripes, checks or patterns? I'm not good when faced with too much choice. But then I stumbled upon this lovely denim-coloured narrow stripe fabric by Makower over at the Village Haberdashery, and bought a metre with a view to cutting it on the bias for a candy-stripe effect.

binding fabric
pinstripe binding fabric
 
It really is an ideal fabric choice for binding a child's quilt as it's super soft - much more so than usual with quilting cottons. Annie has it in 6 different colourways, so I might just have to add a few more to my stash (especially coveting the lime green and red pinstripes).

I cut 2 1/4" binding strips as I find 2 1/2" just a bit too wide usually, cutting on the bias. Having machined the binding in place to the right side, I spent a few hours later that evening handstitching the binding to the reverse of the quilt whilst watching some recorded episodes of the Great British Sewing Bee with my eldest girl. Binding and mother-daughter sewing-bee viewing was a great bit of distraction while waiting for my husband to return from the hospital with my son, who needed his chin gluing back together after an argument involving a bike, a boy, and a subway wall.

Sewing Bee binding evening
Great British Sewing Bee bindathon
 
By 4am, I had a fully repaired boy, a finished quilt binding, and an urgent appointment with my duvet. All finished just in time to drive up to visit my sister and her partner in London the next day and meet my lovely new niece! Luckily she's not quite old enough to realise her aunt has been too remiss to finish her new baby quilt yet.
 
 
big boy bed quilt
 
finished quilt and robot
Robot softie stowed away in the package and elicited a very excited 'wow' from my nephew.
 

 

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The Great British Sewing Bee

Oh Great British Sewing Bee, you have a lot to answer for. In showing those contestants artfully draping fabric and stitching seams week after week, you have made me think I might be able to make an actual wearable item of clothing for myself.

We have been down this path before. I've made plenty of clothes for the children, but never seem to pull-off adult sized garments. I think the problem lies in the fact that basically everything looks cute on a small child, whereas on a full-grown adult, handmade can easily translate into twee or homespun.

Still, I'm throwing caution to the wind yet again, and armed with a few metres of this pretty green cotton floral from Ditto Fabrics, as well as Wendy Mullin's Built by Wendy Dresses, I'm all set to stitch up a Summer frock. Or a floral smock for the children's dressing up box, depending on how it all works out!

Dress fabric
 
Built by Wendy Dresses 
If you have any dressmaking resources to share, please leave a comment - I need all the help I can get. I'm really enjoying The Sewing Directory's week by week guides to the Great British Sewing Bee, which provide everything from links to fabrics used to sewing skills tutorials.

Do you have a favourite online supplier of dressmaking fabrics in the UK? I'm not so keen on using quilters cottons for dressmaking as I don't find them drapey enough, but I really struggle to find a decent selection of lighter-weight cottons online. My current shortlist of online stores includes:


The holy grail, of course, would be a bricks and mortar fabric emporium close to home in South East Wales, Gloucestershire or Bristol. Had we still been living in Slough, Fabrics Galore would have been top of the list, but having moved back to the South Wales marches, I'm not really sure what's on my doorstep.

I'm deeply saddened that the Sewing Bee is now over and done with for this year, just as I'm getting up my enthusiasm for dressmaking. On the whole, I think the challenges were a lot harder this year! What did you make of last night's verdict?



Sunday, 30 March 2014

Spring forward

I like a bit of rain, me - after all, hailing from the South Wales valleys, I am semi-amphibian. I must admit, though, that this Winter has been a bit of a long (and wet) haul. But now, at the tail end of March, it feels like Spring has finally sprung, the clocks have gone forward, the sun has been shining, and we've blown away the cobwebs in the great outdoors.

Untitled
The winks taking in the blossom on our way out to lunch today

It's mother's day today, and the google doodle seems especially apposite as we've been out cycling the past two weekends.


It's been so lovely to get out on two wheels again. Last weekend saw us cycling along the Wales coast path through the Newport wetlands. Next weekend, we hope to try the Monmouthshire and Brecon canal. Hopefully sticking to the towpath rather than the waterway, obviously.

Untitled
Lighthouse in the distance at the Newport wetlands
 
Hope you have been enjoying a bit of Springtime sunshine too!

 
 
 
 

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Happy New Year!

Ok, so it's already 11 January and I'm a bit tardy with the new year post. The truth is, things are incredibly busy around here. I'm even more covered in bits of stray thread than usual, my long-suffering parents have been drafted in to help with school runs and such, and the study-o is heaped with partially sewn projects and general haberdashery. I've produced more finished objects in a shorter time than ever before, none of which I'm able to show here as they're all relating to a top secret project for 2014.

I am so much looking forward to getting everything done and dusted come mid-February, and becoming a normal functioning human being again. Well, as near to normal as I'll ever be anyway.

Still, at least in the meantime the cat is on hand to help with the laundry.

cat in a tumble drier

See you on the other side.

 

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Tana lawn: Sunday stash

Liberty tana lawn stack

A tiny stack of Liberty tana lawn prints. How tiny, you ask?
This tiny.

Liberty tana lawn stack
 
There is something peculiarly satisfying about their very tininess.
 
Ali at Very Berry Handmade had a 20% off flash sale in her Liberty fabric shop the other day, so I had to buy these to keep my stash of Liberty tana lawn from the Coffee Lady company. 
 
Liberty tana lawn
 
I'm still considering English (Welsh, in this case) paper pieced hexagons, but part of me is wondering whether I have the patience to tackle Anna Maria Horner's Feather's Quilt. As I am stupidly busy at the moment, I won't be setting to work anytime soon, but it's nice to know I'll have the tana lawn sitting there waiting when I have time for a bit of self-indulgent sewing in the Spring.
 
 
 



Thursday, 5 December 2013

A handmade Christmas: the cake

shiny dried fruit in alcohol

There is nothing more evocative than the sweet scent of alcohol-steeped fruits mingled with spices, a heady combination indeed, and one which plunges me headlong into feeling festive. The making of the cake will always be a grand old Christmas tradition for me, and one which I associate with the unexpectedly prompt arrival of my first baby (a story I have already told).

I am still rolling out the same tried and tested Christmas cake recipe from How To Be A Domestic Goddess (if ever there was a book title which didn't have my name on it! One day I'll pen my own, probably called 'Slapdash Annie's Guide to Bungled Family Cooking'. Now that's definitely a book with my name on it). And still using marsala to soak the dried fruit. I stick with the my-mother-told-me-to-do-this-so-it-must-be-right technique for ensuring the sides of the cake don't cook too quickly, or, god forbid, burn - a wodge of newspaper sheets folded into a band to be tied around the exterior of the cake tin with string prior to baking.

Christmas cake in progress

That's good old King Cnut on the newspaper, looking important - he may not have been able to stop the tide coming in, but he definitely stopped the edges of my cake from burning.

This cake is nut-free, so good for my nut-allergic daughter (I just omit the almond essence). Here's the recipe, quantities to fit a 23cm diameter springform tin:

Soak 700g of sultanas, 225g of raisins, 110g each of currants, mixed peel and glace cherries in 120ml of marsala overnight. Then cream 225g of butter and 195g of soft dark brown sugar with a teaspoon each of orange and lemon zest. Beat in 4 large eggs, one at a time, adding a little of the flour if the mixture starts to curdle. Beat in 2 tbsp of marmalade. Sift your dry ingredients (350g of plain flour, 1 tsp of mixed spice, 1/4 tsp each of nutmeg and cinnamon and a pinch of salt) into the dried fruit and stir to coat. Then gradually add the dried fruit and flour to the cake batter and mix until thoroughly combined. Bake for 3 hrs at 150 degrees C, wrapping in foil after removing from the oven. After the cake has cooled, remove from the tin and wrap in foil again and store in a tin for several weeks to mature.

I've evolved the method a little . This makes me feel like a proper baker, the kind that makes pencilled-in notes in the margins of her cookbooks to tweak the recipe (even though I'll never actually do this because we do not write in books!). Casually ignoring Nigella's instructions, I introduce my lemon and orange zest at the creaming stage and not afterwards so that all that pounding of the butter and sugar will release all the oils (see, it almost sounds as if I know what I'm doing). I also, in a great-British-bake-offerly way, coat the dried fruit in the flour before introducing both to the cake batter together rather than each in turn. I'm sure I have read somewhere that doing this stops the fruit sinking to the bottom, although fat chance of that happening with this cake recipe, which is basically a heap of dried fruit glued together with a light coating of batter - if the fruit sinks through the fruit, I can't see too much of a problem arising.

The cake is now baked and waiting patiently in its tin, and I can relax, safe in the knowledge that prising off the lid to inhale that Christmassy aroma can cheer up the most dismal of days!

marsala

And look, there's well over 3/4 of a bottle of Christmas spirit left, which is a good job as this is usually Father Christmas's chosen tipple when he stops at our house on Christmas eve!  
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