Monday, 19 December 2011

Winter jaunts

I genuinely can't believe that I had comments on my last post - I really thought I'd be posting into an echoey void! It's a lovely reminder of why the internet is such a great place; I have so many friends through blogging that I might never otherwise have met.

So it's the week before Christmas, and we've just had a 6th birthday for a small boy. A small boy who, with a week's notice, decided it was imperative he had a party rather than a family outing to Big Pit as he'd planned. I must admit, I was a little relieved about big pit. I'm fine with heights, but give me an enclosed space, or maybe a coal face 90 metres down a mine shaft, and I'm not at my happiest. And anyway, I've been before, on a lovely school trip and feel one 'real underground experience' in a lifetime is probably enough. Ask Joanne, I couldn't even go in the giant badger sett in Kew Gardens, I'm really a total wimp.

I prefer to do my sightseeing strictly above ground, and goodness knows there are some lovely places right on our doorstep in Monmouthshire. You can't walk a few feet without tripping over an ancient monument or recognising a backdrop from Merlin, hence Monmouthshire's boast of having more castles per square mile than anywhere else in Britain.

Tintern Abbey
Raglan Castle

And the children are partial to a bit of history and a rampage around a ruin too, hence their hilarious comments in the visitors' book at Raglan Castle on our latest visit:

Raglan Castle

The girl, 8, writes: 'Beautiful views and outstanding history'
The boy, 5, writes: '2000 times better than an ordinary human house'.

Now that's what I call value for money.

Monday, 24 October 2011


My new sewing space; welcoming, huh?
I see this as symbolic of my mental state after the fun of moving house.

Goodness this blog has been neglected lately! And it feels a bit now or never coming back to it. To be honest, the more time has passed, the more I've felt like letting it die a quiet death. I'd been feeling a bit boggled and blah about the whole thing, and then a few days ago happened upon a lovely email in my inbox which really touched me and made me miss all the things I love about blogging.

It's been a long-haul few months. Around a week after my last post we sold our house to a buyer who wanted us out just over three weeks later, which didn't leave much time for blogging, taking stock, or even packing. I did briefly consider just taping myself up into a box marked 'fragile' and hiding when faced with the task of packing up an entire house with just a 13-month old to help. But somehow it happened, our stuff went into storage and after a short spell camping at my parents' house (whose patience must be limitless to have put up with us and our three children as well as a good deal of our clobber for several weeks), we moved in to our new home. Some headaches along the way, not least finding our children had been allocated two different schools, around 1 mile to the first, then 2.5 miles on to drop off the next in 10 minutes time with some crippling hills in between ... I mean, I like walking, but I can't fly. Thankfully we've finally sorted that one, and after a busy couple of months unpacking and decorating, along with parenting (which has slowed down the first two), I'm finally turning around, taking stock and thinking about blogging again.

We're loving our new life in Monmouthshire, although missing the friends we've left behind. The countryside around here is beautiful, our new home town has its very own castle, and we have a fabulous view of the Severn bridge as we walk to school. Oh yes, we've gone over to the other side (that's to say the Welsh side, and back to the homeland for me). The house is great, with so much more scope for swinging cats. And guess what, there's even a sewing room for me. My husband is intent on calling it a 'study' for some reason, but he'll soon learn that I don't really intend this to be shared space.

This week marks me finally unpacking the sewing machine, and some actual stitches sewn. I feel 100 times better about most things when I'm making stuff, and I've felt positively joyous this week stitching in the ditch and handsewing the binding onto a baby quilt for my new nephew. Now to try and keep up the momentum.

See you on the ice.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Multi-coloured block shop

My workspace (because it sounds grander than 'the desk in my bedroom') is being overtaken by glorious colour. I now have 8 scrap vomit blocks completed and another 4 blocks' worth of string-pieced strips for the remaining 'A' blocks. Then there's the little baby boy quilt which started making itself last week on a whim.

baby boy quilt

As much as I'm trying to pare everything down and keep the house as tidy as possible for viewings, I'm not hiding these completed blocks out of sight because they make me happy when I see them. Partly because it's satisfying to see the 'completed' pile grow, but also because we're living in a completely abnormal way at the moment, with all our clutter hidden from view, so it's nice to have a bit of chaos creeping in!

scrap vomit blocks on a rainy day

scrap vomit blockage

I have, however, stopped short of leaving them laid out on the dining table for the delight of potential viewers -- yes, I'll buy the house immediately, but only if you throw in that beautiful patchwork! --
no, probably not going to happen.

Oh, and thanks to all you enablers who commented on my last post, and a twitter exchange with Kate from M is for Make, I've taken my Japanese 'Dress and Camisole' book down from the shelf and traced out a pattern for a pretty - but, crucially, simple - top.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Delusions of being a dressmaker

Will someone please remind me that I am a rubbish dressmaker? I lay before you the evidence (well, the remaining evidence that I haven't disposed of under cover of darkness):

Exhibit 1
The gauzey, wear-with-everything, it's-going-to-be-the-best-top-I've-ever-owned top.

Simplicity 3887

Verdict: Never worn. Looks great on the hanger, but the fabric was itchy, the neck was too wide, and the cap sleeves were voluminous. Attempted remedial work, but banished to the scrap bin as a lost cause.

Exhibit 2
The shoplifting dress.

the one-sleeved sack

Verdict: Really, need I say more??? Wrong fabric, wrong size, unsalvageable.

Exhibit 3
A stash of fabrics and patterns bought specifically for dressmaking, languishing unused in an underbed storage box.

Verdict: Quit while you're ahead and still solvent.

So why is it that I am yearning to make a Beignet Skirt (Colette patterns)? I've been haunting the flickr pool for Colette patterns and have found some lovely examples there. I've even chosen my fabric - this organic crossweave cotton from Raystitch (there isn't a colour I don't like).

I just need to remind myself that the finished skirt, knowing me, will be unwearable. So if you see me hovering over that 'add to cart' button, please save me from myself.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

The small stuff

We've had a busy week of house-hunting this half term, with a trip across the border to the Wye valley to begin our search for a new home. Daunting is not the word - co-ordinating house sale and purchase, new schools for children and the husband's new job is going to be no joke. Then there's the packing. I'm trying not to think about all that for the moment, but gradually plugging away at all those little sorting jobs that will make the whole thing less painful.

cutting scrap vomit squares

I'm counting as one of those little jobs going through my fabric scraps at long last. There doesn't seem to be much sense in transporting huge carrier bags of tiny offcuts and fabric strips when we have a whole 5-people's-worth of stuff to think about. Of course, cutting and sewing means making a mess, but it's a pleasant diversion tactic. In a flurry of activity after returning home from Wales, I finally cut my 965th 2.5 inch square ready to start on scrap vomit. I'm thinking of changing the pattern slightly, and using a dark charcoal grey or even a navy for my B blocks, with the outer ring in grey, the next ring in scraps, then the inner ring in grey again, taking inspiration from this lovely quilt I found over on flickr.

scrap tangle

The process of cutting up those little squares has put a considerable dent in my scraps collection, and now I've got the momentum going, I've been grabbing handfuls of fabric strips to finally get going on some projects I've been thinking about for ages. It's so satisfying string-piecing little blocks and odd shaped patchworky pieces. Once I've zipped through a few more, I'll post some pictures of what I'm making; I have lots of different scrappy plans!

piecing scraps

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Good things come in 2 ounce packages

scrap vomit

This last couple of weeks I've been driven by a new obsession - to reduce the two carrier bags full of fabric scraps I've been hoarding into 2.5" squares. Oh yes, bring on the scrap vomit. I loved the idea of this quilt ever since I saw Katy's post and mock up over at I'm a Ginger Monkey, and the finished quilt is beautiful. Then there's the name, of course, which seems to have inspired admiration and revulsion in equal measure, for me it's a complete winner; how could anyone not want to make a quilt called 'scrap vomit'?

There is something immensely satisfying about trimming down all those offcuts of fabric and being left with a towering, multi-coloured, pile of fabric squares. That's the beauty of scrap vomit, all those mismatched squares come together in a glorious riot of colour. If there's pleasure to be found in lining up those edges on the grid of my cutting mat and ruler edge and neatly cutting them to size, I'm even more delighted by the 100-square stacks I've been making. And, I discovered a stash of little ziplock bags, the perfect size to accommodate them, each package weighing in at around 2 ounces; the husband has been wildly amused by my bagging them and weighing them at the dining table!

scrap vomit

At 623 squares (and a full 342 - or 7 ounces - short of the 965 I'll be needing to complete even the lap-sized quilt, there's a danger I'll be compelled to reduce all my yardage to 2.5 inch squares, which is really defeating the scrap-busting point of this quilt.

Any one else scrap vomiting? There's a scrap vomit appreciation society group over on flickr, and the finished quilts are all looking gorgeous. I can't wait to get sewing now, once I've carved up the remaining squares.

Sunday, 15 May 2011


It seems I picked a bad week to blog daily, as blogger had a bit of a wobble and went into read-only as well as deleting various posts and comments. Though the venture was probably doomed to failure, it's nice to be able to blame the technology instead of myself for a change.

So let's draw a line under last week. Back to today. It's been a busy Sunday, as Sundays always seem to be. It started with a frantic tidy-up ready for a house viewing. A house viewing where I managed to speak Welsh with the viewer (there's a lot of us ex-pats up and down the Thames valley). I also distinguished myself by saying 'this is the front door' after coming back through the house from the garden. It was as if I thought he might have become disorientated having walked through the whole house. Let's be clear, we haven't got a West wing or anything, we live in a very compact house (I mean, err, very spacious, light and airy blah blah). I managed to giggle only slightly before regaining estate agent-like composure.

boy hair cut

Today I also cut a small boy's hair (the resident small boy, not a random small boy from the street) and the husband's hair. I upset the small boy by using a wet comb on his head and unnerved the husband by laughing most of the way through his, but they both seem to have come through unscathed.

avant garde baby dinner

This afternoon, I defrosted some ice-cubed portions of food I had made up for the baby. I thought she was getting pasta bolognese with a side order of sweet potato, which was maybe ever-so-slightly not masterchef. It transpired she was getting pasta bolognese with a side order of cod and sweet potato: definitely not masterchef.

bread surgery

This evening I performed bread surgery, making incisions in 3cm thick slices to make Bill's ham and gruyère French toast. It was very very good. A bit radical serving a breakfast dish for dinner, but I'm nothing if not radical (witness the bolognese and sweet potato with cod).

Tonight I ignored the ironing pile for so long that the husband is now working his way through it as I type.

Hope you had a good weekend.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Start them young!

I really love seeing my children getting excited about making things. Over Easter they suddenly both had a burning desire to sew. The girl wanted to make a pretty lavender bag for the tooth fairy (she chose a fairy-flimsy Japanese gauze) and the boy wanted to make a little purse (Japanese car print fabric and precisely 5 blue buttons). They were very definite about their ideas and choices, and they were totally focused on their work.



It seems the whole stitching thing and a general appreciation of things handmade has been seeping in to them through some kind of osmosis for some time. Witness my 7 year old's homework over Easter: sentence 3 "I knitted a tea cosy". Atta girl!


Then I found some abandoned sheets of paper featuring her designs for purses:


You will need
gold (thin) t[h]re[a]d
Any lov[e]ly fab[r]ic
Flower lining
Any nice but[t]on


Got to love "Any nice fabric (not shown)"!

There was also my 5 year old's homework a little while back. He chose to draw his oldest teddy in her handknitted dress.

a 5 year old boy's homework, Jan 2011

Let's be honest here, the reason he chose Nee Nee was that she's white, so he thought he'd have less colouring in to do (ever the pragmatist!), but I did grin when I read his text:

This is my teddy bear
Her name is Nee Nee
I got her from my Grandad
My Great Nana knitted the dress
Sadly she isn't alive any more

We're building up quite an archive of the cute stuff! Gold stars all round!

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

AOB: A make a month in 2010

Phew. Day 2 of tying up those loose ends and I'm still here. I nearly forgot, but not quite! Thanks so much for the quilt appreciation, I really enjoyed working with a different colour scheme and definitely need some more orange in my life now.

So, remember back in January 2010, I had this bright idea, A Make a Month in 2010. I set up a flickr group and had a blog button and everything. Anticipating a bit of a setback in my creative output after the birth of my daughter in May, I thought this might keep me on the crafting straight and narrow; the guilt of keeping up with everyone else would surely keep me going! I even managed to keep it up until around June ... I am quite possibly the worst sewalong starter in the world. Thanks to Ruth for taking the reins when I was off snoozing, rocking and feeding! I have to say though, even though I fell behind in the blogging and flickr uploading, I was still with you all in spirit and managed, by the skin of my teeth to complete my 12 projects. It's been fun seeing everyone else's makes too.

Here's my finished mosaic of makes. If you click on the pic, you'll go to my flickr where you can see all the individual makes. Anyone else fancy sharing a mosaic of their 12 (total or favourite!) makes in 2010? You can link in the comments and upload to the group. I'm going to close the pool by the end of the month, so a bit more time for late finishers like me!

Monday, 9 May 2011

Finishing what I started

I've been so neglectful of my blog just lately. There are 101 things I'd meant to blog, but somehow time passed and I hadn't got around to it. I don't like leaving things unfinished though; witness my recurring nightmare of being in the final year of my degree, a week before my final exams and realising I have neither chosen my special authors, nor read any of their novels. I can feel that deep dread in the pit of my stomach just thinking about it. I think the dream is born of an anxiety about not finishing things (as well as not starting things I said I'd do!). So in the spirit of starting and finishing, I'm planning to post each day this week just to tie up those loose ends, like the AOB section of an agenda.

zig-zag baby quilt in bright oranges and pinks

First up is the 2010 zig-zag quilt piece-along I signed up to 16 months ago. I'd been inspired by Lina's gorgeous zig-zag quilt in sunny yellows. Evidently, I failed to sew a zig-zag quilt in 2010, but I had the perfect excuse to start one this Spring for a best friend's new baby girl. All I knew was that there must be lots of orange, as it's always been her favourite colour, and I thought I'd throw in some bright pinks for extra zing, though steering well-clear of the classic baby pastel pinks.

zig-zag baby quilt in bright oranges and pinks

I've seen a great tutorial by crazymomquilts on how to make a zig-zag quilt without piecing any triangles, but in the end went for a different method, piecing pairs of two triangles from two 5" squares, then assembling the zig zags in horizontal rows.

And here's the finished quilt

zig-zag baby quilt in bright oranges and pinks

It was made with 5 fat quarters of fabric (all used, almost to the selvedge), a metre of fabric for the backing, and a few inches of solid quilting cotton for the doubled binding which I had leftover from a previous project. The whole quilt is playmat-sized, using a craft-sized pack of warm & natural wadding. All materials were ordered from the lovely Jo and Fran at Saints & Pinners (all the dolce fabrics are now in the sale).

zig-zag baby quilt in bright oranges and pinks

I'm very happy with this one, and as ever, enjoyed handstitching the binding on to frame the finished quilt and seeing it become a thing rather than a pile of fabric squares. My friend's baby (who is totally gorgeous!) has already tried it out for size and had a lie down on it on a picnic-in-the-park meetup, and I hope it'll hold up to lots of use (the beauty of such a brightly patterned quilt is that you can throw pretty much anything at it!).

Sunday, 1 May 2011

new things on the horizon

Once again, I find myself apologising for a long blog absence. There's been a whirlwind of activity around here, since, a few weeks ago, my husband got a new job. He's a teacher, so at least the timescale is a bit kinder than it might be, but even so, having to be moved out and moved in by the beginning of September means that we've been under pressure to get our house onto the market as soon as possible.

I may have mentioned on more than one occasion what a poor housewife I am, so it's going to be quite a struggle keeping the house in order for viewings! For the time being, I'm trying not to stress about chains, new schools for the children and saying our goodbyes here, but taking one step at a time.

The move is something we'd always planned in the longterm; we're heading West, back to the homeland for me, and nearer to family in South Wales and the West country, which has been the main reason behind it all. Of course, there's all the guilt about uprooting the children, but so far so good, they're excited about having castles, mountain centres, seaside and grandparents on their doorstep and seem to think they're going to be permanently on holiday. So far, I'm the only one who's disgraced herself by shedding tears at their classroom doors when telling their teachers we'll be leaving!

This has been a bit of a word-heavy post, so I'll leave you with a few pictures taken by the children on a recent idyllic day out at Kew Gardens with Joanne and family. We had a wonderful time roaming the vast gardens, exploring the giant badgers' set (actually Joanne and I sat that one out; the advantage of taking husbands along is that they can do all the gung-ho, crawling around in small dark spaces things!), and admiring the giant compost heap (it takes a considerable amount of time for a small boy to appreciate its splendour).

From the viewfinder of my daughter, budding nature photographer ...

by my 7 yr old girl
by my 7 year old girl
by my 7 year old girl
by my 7 year old girl
by my 7 year old girl

And Joanne mentioned 'extreme closeups', so I just had to post this picture my boy took here.

close up peacock by my 5 yr old boy

Somehow, I forgot my son was only 5 and didn't anticipate quite how close to the peacock he would go to take his shot; there must have been a number of people that day who took photos of a beautiful peacock and the back of a small boy holding a canon powershot about a foot from its beak!

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Weekday evening carnage

If my head ever explodes, it will be between 4 and 6pm on a weekday evening.

Then there was the cat with a bird in the back garden, me running out in socks spraying her madly with a water spray, resorting to the hose when that didn't work, baby screaming in her high chair due to me being outside, oh, and the pervasive smell of haddock from last night's dinner. I keep a well-ordered house, me.

Monday, 28 March 2011

A patchwork week

It seems that I may be becoming a quilter. As anyone with a young family knows, day-to-day life is lived in pieces. It's all very well my being able to go a day without a proper meal just fuelling myself with the odd cup of tea and slice of cake or chocolate bar, but it is very much frowned upon if you don't feed your children. There's also the small matter of clothing them, getting them to school, settling babies down for naps (in an ideal world), and all that housework (ok, I'm lying about this one). Thus the day is broken down into little pre- and post- chunks - where windows of time and opportunity arise in between the necessary tasks for the day. I thought I didn't have any time to sew during the week, but as it turns out, if I'm in the right frame of mind and organise myself I can make a tiny quilt top in a week's worth of naptime sewing sessions!

I started out with the beautiful bundle of squares which I won from Florence in her blog giveaway last year, 16 4.5 inch squares from the Grandmother's Flower Garden range by Rosalie Quinlan. They'd been sitting in my to-sew pile for some time, and I periodically got them out to play with but had been hampered by indecision about how to use them. Then suddenly (maybe because it's Spring) I found myself in a yellow kind of mood and seized with the impulse to piece the squares together with this printed gingham from Tanya Whelan's Darla collection. I allowed myself just one day of procrastination as I rearranged the squares into their most pleasing configuration and then cracked on, and lo and behold, the baby sister slept for long enough that week for me to cut and piece a small quilt top.

playing with layouts


Rosalie Quinlan quilt top

Quilting is the ideal pursuit for anyone who has a fragmented day. Cutting, piecing, sashing, sandwiching, quilting and binding are all very satisfyingly methodical, and more importantly, they are tasks that can be picked up and put down when time allows. This week I shall be starting the process again with a little baby quilt for my friend's new baby girl. I've become oddly decisive in the wake of completing my thrown-together quilt top last week and plumped for these 5 fabrics from Saints and Pinners after only a small amount of deliberation. And you know what, I'm even going to cut into them tomorrow! Hopefully the end of the week will bring another completed quilt top, zig-zags this time (ticking off another outstanding to-sew from last year's list!).

And next week and the week after? ... I intend to apply the principles of patchwork to my unwritten patterns and get them done bit by bit. Then again, I should probably apply those principles to a bit of Spring cleaning around the house.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Small-scale sewing endeavours

I'm slowly limbering up to sewing more regularly. As ever, my problem is that when I do get some free time, instead of sitting straight down to sew I ponder all the projects I've been planning, then decide what I'd planned probably would have ended up being a disappointment, and pack everything away again for another day. I have a sketchbook brimming over with (poorly drawn) ideas for bags and tea cosies, aprons and quilts and yet none of them ever get made. There's also the small matter of two almost-finished patterns, one for this bag and the other for these wallets that just need that final push to get them finished and ready for sale.


In the interests of getting back into the swing of things, albeit on a very tiny scale, I've been trying to expand my little girl's wardrobe of dolls' clothes. The doll is one that I bought for her having seen a similar one in an issue of Marie Claire Idees - they're sold through the Marie Claire Idees shop as Marie and Claire dolls, and are made by Corolle in their range of Les Cheries dolls. Ours is a Chloe, purchased here, she's a 30 cm / 13 inch doll with oodles of glossy hair and what's more she's vanilla-scented! I'm all for playing with dolls, and can totally see the draw of the Blythe dolls I've been seeing all over flickr - the possibilities for hairstyles and miniature clothes are endless! With the aim of providing Tulip, my daughter's doll with a range of outfits to rival all the other well-dressed dollies out there, we bought the book of knitting and sewing patterns designed by Marie Claire Idees,Tenues de poupée. It's with some hilarity that I noticed the difference in the style stakes between chic Parisian Marie (in her beret on the right) and the dowdier Marie a Londres (on the left)! On the whole though, there are some very sweet designs.

'London' dolls' outfitParisian doll's outfit

Here's what we've come up with so far, first up, a dress for a garden party, which my daughter says reminds her of Alice in Wonderland. I've been looking for an excuse to use this gorgeous mushroom/toadstool fabric (Willow Shroom from Alexander Henry) for ages - and the best thing about dolls' clothes sewing is there's still plenty left for another day!

Dolls' dress

I also made this Summer holiday outfit, a smock top and some turned up blue jeans for city sightseeing. The blouse fabric is an offcut of Tana lawn I bought in Liberty some years ago, which was made into a gypsy top for my girl (outgrown but ready to be passed down the line to the baby sister!) and also put in an appearance in my Chinese coin quilt. It's a real favourite of mine so it's been nice to put the final scraps to use here.

doll's outfit

Lots more plans are afoot to make tiny fairisle jumpers and hats, a great way of ploughing through my collection of leftover yarn. It's nice to see something through from start to finish in an hour, and even I can't procrastinate too much about fabric choices for a dollswear!

Now would someone please shout at me to do some proper sewing instead of playing with dolls? And maybe I'll get those sewing patterns finished in time for Christmas too.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Book reviews - Learn to Quilt and Crafts with Kids

New Holland Publishers kindly sent me a couple of books to review recently, Learn to Quilt by Sharon Chambers and Crafts with Kids by Susie Johns.

Learn to Quilt is a book I chose for myself having made a couple of quilts more or less freestyle, or with very simple patterns, but wanting to learn more about different styles of quilt blocks. This is a fairly slim volume but it does cover a lot of ground, starting with basic quilting and rotary cutting techniques and moving on to more complicated blocks as the book progresses. There's even a chapter on foundation piecing, which I'm really keen to try having seen all the string-pieced blocks popping up all over the place in blogland and on flickr lately. The book also covers techniques such as 'quilting as you go', hand quilting (with templates) and hand-tying. There are 13 chapters in all with each starting by explaining a technique and then going on to use that skill in a quilt design. The book is a good project-based volume for beginners, with more than enough to keep me busy for some time to come.

Needless to say, Crafts with Kids was immediately pounced on by my 7 and 5 year old and they have been poring over it ever since, choosing things to make.

There are 5 sections inside covering paper craft, recycling, painting and printing, naturecraft and needlecraft. All the projects are very easily attainable for children of this age range with a little adult supervision - no overly complicated or finicky techniques and, more importantly, they end up with a finished object that looks enough like the photo in the book to avoid major disappointment! The big sister had a friend over to play the other weekend and they had great fun making pretty paper heart decorations from the book for their bedrooms using tissue paper, coloured cardboard and some sparkly stickers and sequins. They followed the instructions themselves and were able to assemble the various layers without adult help.

Whilst we have lots of other children's craft books on the shelves, this book is one I could let my children have pretty much free rein to choose projects from - we have most of the materials around the house and they're not too time consuming or difficult, all in all a winner!

New Holland publishers have kindly offered readers of this blog 20% off Crafts with Kids or Learn to Quilt with free P&P (UK only) if you follow these links and enter the code 'angharad' at checkout (Offer valid until 30th June 2011).
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