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!


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!  

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

The very crafty Christmas tutorial link-up

If you're looking for some pretty Christmas craft projects, you've come to the right place, as all the posts from Crafty Christmas Tutorial link-up are now live! That's 30 free Christmas craft tutorials just a click away!

Christmas Trinket Hoop Mobile – Carina’s Craft Blog
Felt Polar Bear Ornament – La Creature and You
Christmas Hoop – Claire Payne
DIY Christmas Ribbon – Adventures & Tea Parties
Embroidered Mistletoe Ornament – Bugs and Fishes
Scented Salt Dough Ornaments – Retro Delicious
Crochet Christmas Tree Decorations – Homemade@MyPlace
Polymer Clay Christmas Tree – Little Creatures
Felt Christmas Tree Toy – Pinwheels and Stories

Let it Snow Embroidery Pattern – A Little Happy Place
Holiday Ribbon Pillow – Mrs. Saint Nick
Felt Gingerbread Man Gift Tag – Grace’s Favours
Edible Christmas Ornaments – Hydrangea Girl
Cross Stitch Christmas Trees – Made by Mrs M
Applique Love Christmas Card – Halcyon Threads
Christmas Mini Mitts – The Crimson Rabbit
Felt Reindeer Ornament – Pickle-Lily
Christmas Carousel – Aura Verde Crafts
Stencilled Christmas Embroidery Hoop - Angharad (that's me!)

Happy Christmas crafting! 

Monday, 18 November 2013

Christmas tutorial: festive embroidery hoop decoration

Christmas tutorial_stencilled embroidery hoop

Today I'm joining in with Laura's festive blog hop of Christmas craft tutorials over at Bugs and Fishes by Lupin. This is a quick and easy project using freezer paper stencils which gives ample opportunity for raiding your stash of embellishments! This tutorial makes a great project for little stitchers, as no advanced sewing skills are needed, especially if you stick to decorating the Christmas trees and omit the embroidered text. You can get small children to draw their own simple tree shapes (the wonkier the better!) for you to transform into stencils, and they will really enjoy picking out shiny buttons and trims to personalise their designs.

Freezer paper, a coated greaseproof paper, is a fantastic thing to have in your stash for making stencilled designs - once you've cut out your design, you should be able to use it several times over by simply adhering the shiny side to your fabric with a dry hot iron. You can buy freezer paper by the 50 foot roll over at Cotton Patch, but if you just want a small amount to experiment, try The Village Haberdashery for 1/2 metre lengths at 50p a pop. The fabric paint I've used here is made by Dylon - they do a great range of strong colours and give a nice even finish. The paints were sent to me to try out several years ago but are still going strong many projects later! The principal investment I made this time with my freezer paper stencils was a new cutting knife - the X-ACTO knife is far superior to the basic plastic craft knife with the snap off blades I used last time around, and essential for cutting nice crisp edges. 

Equipment list: 
  • A 10" square of calico or other plain fabric
  • Freezer paper
  • Pencil or pen to mark your design
  • Craft knife
  • Cutting mat
  • Fabric paint and brush
  • An embroidery hoop large enough to accommodate your design.
  • Erasable fabric marking pen
  • Needle and stranded embroidery thread in festive colours
  • A selection of trims/ribbons/sequins or buttons - whatever takes your fancy! I used guipure lace daisies, silver sequins and red ribbon and ric-rac.

1) Start by drawing your design onto the non-shiny side of the freezer paper, or trace from a drawing, then carefully cut out the design using a sharp craft knife and cutting mat. My design is three simple child-like Christmas tree outlines, which is about my level when it comes to drawing skills.

2) Place the stencil shiny side down on top of your fabric and use a hot dry iron to fix the stencil in place. Make sure your stencil is firmly stuck to the fabric to avoid the paint bleeding around the cut edges. 

 3) Lay your fabric on newspaper to protect your worksurface, then using a fairly hard brushpaint the stencil with a stippling technique

(hold the paintbrush vertically and, without loading the brush up too much with paint, dot the paint all over the cut out sections and overlapping the stencil edges, reloading your brush with paint as needed). If using multiple coats of paint, you should leave each coat to dry and 'fix' the paint with a hot iron before applying the next coat.

4) When completely dry, peel off the stencil.

5) Place the fabric piece inside your embroidery hoop and mark your text with an erasable fabric pen, if desired. Use a neat backstitch and two or three strands of embroidery thread to stitch your lettering, with French knots to dot the 'i'.

6) To complete your design, use buttons, sequins or other embellishments to decorate your trees. I have used individual flowers cut from a length of guipure daisy trim to represent snowflakes (try Ribbon Moon for a great choice), but you could just as easily embroider these.

 couching sequins
i) Secure the thread at the back of the work, then bring to the front through the central hole of the sequin. Make a stitch vertically, inserting your needle close to the top edge of the sequin and pull through to the wrong side.
ii) Bring the thread back to the right side of the work again by drawing your needle through the central hole of the sequin, then take a second stitch a third of the way around the circle, inserting your needle near the right side of the sequin's edge. Pull through to the wrong side.
iii) Bring the thread back through the central hole to the right side of the work, then take a final stitch a third of the way around the circle, inserting your needle at the left side of the sequin and pulling through to the wrong side.
iv) Your couched sequin. You can continue zig-zagging the thread on the back of the work to attach the rest of the sequins to your tree, securing when complete. Use a new strand of thread for each tree to avoid the trailing lines of thread being visible on the front of the work. 

7) Take lengths of ribbon, trims or ric-rac and stitch in place to form your forest floor leaving an inch or so extending beyond the edges of the hoop at each end. I've used a herringbone stitch to couch the ribbon in place and a simple forward and back stitch over the ric-rac trim.

couching ric-rac

i) Make a stitch to the right from the trough of the wave, inserting your needle underneath the crest of the next wave of the ric-rac.
ii) Bring the thread back to the front of the work above the trough of the next wave along, inserting your needle into the fabric alongside your last stitch to make a backstitch. You will then bring the needle back to the front of the work alongside your last stitch in the trough of the wave. Continue in this way until the ric-rac has been stitched in place along its length.

couching ribbons with herringbone stitch

i) Make a long diagonal stitch to the right from the top of the ribbon to the bottom. When you insert your needle, push it through the fabric from right to left to make a small stitch. Pull the thread right through on the right side.
ii) Take the thread up and to the right now to make another long diagonal stitch, inserting the needle into the fabric from right to left to make another small stitch, pulling the thread right through to the front. Continue in this way to attach the ribbon with criss-crossing herringbone stitches.

When you have stitched the trims in place, remove the fabric from the hoop and replace it, ensuring that the loose ends of ribbons and trim are now trapped between the outer and inner hoop at the reverse of the piece. 

8) Having finished embellishing your piece, simply trim the excess fabric away from the reverse of the piece, preferably using pinking shears to prevent fraying, leaving around an inch of fabric outside the hoop. Then, sew long running stitches all the way around the edge of the fabric, and gather the stitches up and secure so that the raw fabric edges are concealed at the back of the work.

I then finished my embroidery hoop with a small bow made of red satin ribbon and stitched in place at the top of the hoop (it's a good idea to stitch right through the middle of the knotted part to ensure the bow stays perky and doesn't come undone).

Sit back and admire your handiwork! These embroidery hoops are a great activity for a Christmas crafternoon - a selection of festive designs would make a pretty decorative feature displayed in a group on the wall.

And if you fancy a bit more festive stitching, try my felt decorations tutorial with free pdf templates over at Sew, Mama, Sew.

Felt Christmas decoration tutorial

Edited to add:
The crafty Christmas tutorials are all  now live - have a look at the very crafty Christmas tutorial post for links to 30 free tutorials for festive makes - thanks for hosting, Laura - plenty there to keep me busy into next Christmas!

Sunday, 17 November 2013

China blue: Stash Sunday

As much as I love red, I've been dreaming about making a quilt for my bedroom from pretty blues and whites for ages now (sorry, Red). I've got this idea in my head, something along the lines of Wedgewood china or Willow pattern plates.

China blue fabrics
I really want to do something as platey as possible (in case you're wondering, 'platey' is definitely a word). Dresden plates spring to mind, of course, though Swoon is also in the running due to its plateyness (also a word).

The fabrics are mostly from the Chambray Rose collection by Rachel Ashwell for Shabby Chic fabrics (it's rare for me to buy so many prints from the same collection like this), with the exception of the top right Liberty Lifestyle print and bottom right which is from the Tempting Tonals range by Fabric Freedom, and which just so happens to be a willow pattern print.  

Any suggestions for expanding my selection of blues? I'm looking for dainty prints and small scale designs and not modern or stylised geometrics, and I'm always grateful for an excuse to expand my stash! 

Thursday, 31 October 2013

The sewing machine with no name

doodling embroidery stitches Janome 5900QC 

Oh Janome 5900QC, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I've been window shopping sewing machines for some time now due to having outgrown my old, more basic machine, as well as hankering after the bells and whistles of a computerised machine. I'm a great researcher of purchases - never knowingly bought anything without spending hours on the internet beforehand - so when I had the opportunity to purchase the Memory Craft 5900QC with the bundled quilting package for a really competitive price, I knew this would be the machine of my dreams.

What the Janome 5900QC has going for it:
    Stitches: standard, embroidery and fonts
  • A LOT of stitches (from 30 on my old machine to 500+ on the Janome).
  • A memory (which is more than can be said for its owner - see below on names). 
  • Alphabets! Including a lovely italic font which I'm itching to try out properly. 
  • A drop-in bobbin. I can see how much thread is left - no more running out half way through a seam.
  • The best-ever 1/4" piecing foot
  • A 1/4" foot bundled in which has an actual fabric guide for the raw edges - revolutionary! No more wonky patchwork points.
  • Width as well as length adjustments for the patterns.
  • A hard cover. Not that I really cart my sewing machine around, but I've always considered a hard cover to be the hallmark of a 'proper' machine.
  • A speed limiter. Although I'm a self-confessed speed merchant, this one is really useful for tasks like topstitching the finished edge of a bag, or other fiddly tasks, as it gives a much more even speed than using the full range of the foot pedal. 
  • Feet, feet and more feet. More feet than I know what to do with, to be honest, but I'm looking forward to testing them all out (bundled in I got the following: regular, satin stitch, zipper, cording, automatic buttonhole, button, darning/embroidery, even feed/walking foot, hemming, overcasting, overedge). 
  • Cubby holes for machine feet and needles
  • Well thought-out storage for the feet and other sewing paraphernalia - I like the dinky marked compartments. A place for everything and all that (this machine might be the making of me, the world's most chaotic worker).
  • Needle up and down button. The best thing of all, in my opinion - so much easier for those stop-start projects like tight curves and applique work where you need to stop and adjust the fabric as you sew.
  • A knee-lifter - going to be very useful for quilting, I think. 
  • Stop/Start button - easy as pie, just press and sew. Look, no feet!  
  • shiny red buttons
  • Shiny red buttons for direct stitch selection
I've been putting the 5900QC through its paces over the last couple of weeks, throwing multiple layers of quilting fabric, wadding and interfacing at it, and it hasn't baulked at all. No snarled up threads. No skipped stitches. In fact, the most perfect lovely even stitches that I've always longed for, and one of the main reasons I decided on a Janome. I'm absolutely delighted with my machine. The only negative point I've found? The fact that the sewing machine extension table is see-through so I can't hide all my clutter under it as I used to on my old machine! Then again, I've already found myself tidying up around my machine so that the clutter doesn't detract from its loveliness, so this is going to have a positive impact on the study-o.


And finally, a confession: I do not name my sewing machines. I know, this will probably go right against the grain (ahem) for a great many stitchy types, but I have my reasons. I mean, I struggle to remember and call my three children by the correct names at the best of times, so it would be a bit of a kick in the teeth for them if I was suddenly on first name terms with my sewing machine!

Working together with Janome.jpg

Wednesday, 23 October 2013


cherry tomato crop from the garden

Ever wondered what to do with that end-of-Summer glut of cherry tomatoes? Well, after a last ditch harvest of all the ripening fruits from our vines, I wondered too. And wondered. And wondered. I leafed through recipe books and browsed the internet. Meanwhile, as the days went by, those shiny cherry tomatoes sat abandoned on a baking tray awaiting their fate and looked at me accusingly every time I went into the kitchen to make a cup of tea (and I make a LOT of cups of tea during the course of an average day).

Of course, the good thing about neglecting your tomato harvest for a couple of weeks is that by that time, they will almost all be ripe. The bad thing is that the green tomato recipes you had thought about cooking are now no longer appropriate (I had designs on this recipe for chicken thighs with green tomatoes via The Coffee Lady).  So, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall to the rescue with a simple idea for passata made with roasted cherry tomatoes, herbs and garlic, the basis for a delicious homemade roast tomato ketchup which I would then bottle, allowing me to ditch the squeezy plastic variety and feel like a smug domestic goddess.

tomatoes ready to roast

I washed, halved, and bathed the tomatoes in olive oil and garlic with a scattering of dried herbs. Then I roasted them for almost an hour. Then I painstakingly pushed them through a sieve (a surprisingly strenuous activity) to make my passata . Which I left to cool on the side. Which my husband, on returning from work, assumed was leftover tomato soup. Which he microwaved in a bowl and ate. Which was the end of my lovely homemade passata. And the end of my roasted tomato ketchup dreams.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Sunday Stash - The Land that Never Was

Traveler's Blanket, Folkloric and Bunting

I am totally won over by this new collection of prints by Lisa Congdon for Cloud9 - those lovely bright hues, the folkloric cast, and the peacocks are just the icing on the cake. I still can't see a peacock without thinking of the most enjoyable day out I had with Jo and family at Kew gardens and my son's extreme photography!
I'm also thinking that there's room in my stash for the text prints, Fairy Tales. I bet there's room in your stash too, isn't there? I see that Annie has both black and white available at The Village Haberdashery so I'm going to be heading over there to rectify that very soon!

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Double figures

Don't ask me how, but this teeny-tiny pudding person


has just turned 10.

10 kit kat and smarties cake

Sweets for the sweet!

thank you, Charlotte, for the cake inspiration! 

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Memoir of a misspent youth

My parents recently moved house to consolidate the family a bit in Monmouthshire. I'm very fortunate now to have both my parents and my brother, sister-in-law and nephew living in the same town as me. Now, if my sister and brother-in-law could be persuaded to move from London with my other little nephew, we'd be completely sorted!

One of the side-effects of my parents moving after 37 years in the same house (and all of my childhood), is unearthing all the abandoned possessions belonging to me and my two siblings. There's now a positive treasure trove of boxes and plastic crates sitting in my garage, waiting to be sorted. Having delved into one the other weekend, I found a veritable archive of my youth.

First up is this lovely tapestry portrait of an Alsatian, painstakingly stitched from a kit given to me for my birthday. Not so painstakingly that I didn't miss a tiny patch of stitching on the bottom of the tongue. That still annoys me a bit. Almost to the degree that I'm thinking right this minute of finding a bit of wool to finish it off. 

Next is my much-loved pyrography kit. I was so delighted with this Christmas gift, though now an adult, I do question my parents' judgment in giving the clumsiest child in the world an electrically powered red hot burning tool as a toy. Still, absolutely the best present ever.  


Inside the box, there are even some leftover bits and pieces of 'work in progress'. Such as my watercolour name plaque. Don't worry, I've never tried to pass myself off as an artist - despite having a constant need to create, I never exhibited any aptitude whatsoever for drawing and painting. 

Lurking in the corner of a box were two books which I'd actually had my mum hunting the attic for just a few months before they moved. Having turned up a blank, we assumed they had been given away long since, so I was really thrilled to find them again, the Anchor Book of Freestyle Embroidery Stitches and the Anchor Book of Crewel Embroidery Stitches. They are really beautiful books full of instructions for a wealth of stitches, with sample projects to stitch as well. (Long since out of print, there are 'new' editions: The New Anchor Book of Crewelwork Embroidery Stitches: Techniques and Designs (The New Anchor Embroidery Series) and The New Anchor Book of Freestyle Embroidery Stitches.)



I also unearthed a small screen printing sample made at secondary school. This has already been spirited away and put to use as a teddy bed cover. Preparing our screens and printing was one of my favourite activities in CDT (craft design and technology), and I'd love to do some more screen printing at some point. I like to think I might make a tidier job of it second time around.

And last but not least, my thimble collection. Or at least, a tiny part of it.  Because, after all, when you're not actually crafting, you might as well be collecting something crafty-themed.

There are other delights still to find - I know my parents still have embroidered felt cushions and plaster of Paris blown eggs amongst other things. Or at least they did before moving. I wonder if they made the cut? To be fair, I did make a LOT of stuff, couldn't blame them for thinning it down a bit 20-30 odd years on.

I was a proper homebod as a child; while many teens were out on the razzle, I was treating myself to a woman's weekly so that I could cut out and file away the knitting patterns. I'm hoping that I've produced future teens of the same ilk!

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