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).

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Staying on the right side of sane: a reading list

When Karen of Blueberry Park wrote a post 'Next to my bed' about her pile of bedside reading books I took a look at my own bedside table and decided to play along. My books told a very particular story about the latter stages of my pregnancy. You see, for all that I am (ahem) a terribly sane and well-balanced person most of the time, the last few weeks of my pregnancy with the baby sister really got to me. I got to the point where I really didn't want to be on the school run chatting and being all bright and breezy, I just wanted to hole up in my bedroom with a huge pile of comfort reading.

So what books did I turn to in my hour of need, to switch off, immerse myself in someone else's world, and try to forget about the whens/whats/ifs of my due date, but a great big stack of all my favourite children's literature. I never got around to posting (same old story!) but now that it's world book night, I thought I'd join in the fun and post some of my chosen reading for those moments when you're feeling ever so slightly unhinged and need to lose yourself in a book.

Alan Garner books

First up, Alan Garner: The Owl Service, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, The Moon of Gomrath and Elidor (Elidor is absent from the image as I was making someone else read that at the time, I'm like that with favourite books, a total evangelist). I truly love these books and must have read them a hundred times over as a child. I'm Welsh (in case I hadn't mentioned it ;)) as well as being a medievalist by training and these books appealed to both those parts of me even as a child. The sparsness of Alan Garner's prose in the Owl Service (a re-reading of the Blodeuwedd story) really drew me in, and the idea of fantasy otherworlds lying side by side with our own had me hook line and sinker in Elidor. Re-reading The Weirdstone and The Moon of Gomrath as an adult, I was instantly transported back to my childhood, torn between reading on greedily and not wanting to finish the book too quickly! These are books I will make my children read.

I can't move on either without mentioning The Hounds of the Morrigan by Pat O'Shea, also on forced loan (to my mother and she will enjoy it). An epic journey undertaken by 10 year old Pidge and his fiery 5 year old sister Brigit peopled with the characters and landscapes of Irish mythology, it's the quirkiness and humour of this one that grabbed me. Swapping sweets, wolves dressed in people's clothing, the whole concept of a watch frog, it's a total masterpiece. I still can't come across the lines depicting the first attempt to ensnare Pidge without a smile and a feeling of utter contentment:
'This Road is the Winner of the Safest road in Ireland Competition. This road is so safe that a boy can cycle down it with his eyes shut'.
I adore this book; all children should read it.

The Northern Lights Trilogy

Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials triology are books that I discovered as an adult, working in Waterstone's bookshop (what a great job - I bought so many books during those few years!). I used to work mainly in the children's section, and read these having seen so many older children buy them. The Oxford aspect is a real pull as I had the most wonderful three years there as a student, and it makes them feel instantly familiar. I've read these books at least 10 times each and still find myself avidly turning the pages. Lyra's character is so utterly compelling and her Oxford is so vivid, I was a total convert from the first chapter where we saw the Master poison the Tokay!

Harry Potters

I'm ending this post with Harry Potter, not because they're my favourite books of all those in this post but because they're where I ended up. And I say 'ended up', but should rather say 'read in rotation'. You see, I started my 'staying on the right side of sane' reading list a couple of weeks before the big due date just thinking 'one more book and I'll probably have the baby'. The days, then weeks dragged on (the little miss was 10 days late, but after a false alarm a fortnight before my due date, this seemed like forever) and I grew steadily more antsy and fidgety and fed up and tearful. So while the other books got me through the early days (I read each several times over), by the time I'd got to the overdue stage all I could cope with was Harry Potter. What mashed potato is to food , Harry potter is to books - total comfort reading (and lest anyone think I'm damning with faint praise, I'll remind you I've already shared my love of potatoes on this blog, starchy perfection!).

I read them all, one after the other, then again, and again, in order, out of order, starting the next as I put the last one down, starting the same one I'd just finished again. Honestly, I don't even want to think about how many times I read each of them in that final week. It was a lot, and you probably wouldn't believe me. This makes me sound even more crazy than I was, but it was all I could think of doing. I was reading The Order of the Phoenix the night I gave birth to my daughter. I remember at 8.30, with these huge contractions, reading through the pain. When, at 11.30pm, I had to put the book down as I couldn't actually face reading it any longer, that was when I knew I had to go to the hospital!

Thank you, Harry Potter, you really kept me going.

Books really are the best kind of escapism. I sort of wish I wasn't such a devourer of them as I'm always so sad when I've finished, but the books I love most I am incapable of rationing.

Read these books, read them all.

They make me laugh

I'm posting this just so that I don't forget how these two had me crying with laughter last weekend.

We'd just finished lunch when my daughter left the table and I noticed what she'd chosen to wear that day. Yes, my daughter had inadvertently dressed herself as a French mime artist. To say I couldn't stop laughing is an understatement - I must have laughed for about 20 minutes until I was in tears and took my husband down with me. The boy and girl had no idea what was going on, no more did the baby, but they all joined in laughing anyway.

I made her pose like this - they still haven't asked me why and I forgot to explain. No-one thought to ask why I laughed for so long.

The boy wanted in on the photo shoot, so grabbed his lego board and added a few bricks and asked to be photographed. Even more laughter - he's turned himself into the default flickr avatar (he was making a robot face). The thing which had me incapacitated again was him, posed like this, saying in all earnest 'tell me when to say cheese, mummy'.

I think maybe you had to be there.
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