Sunday, 31 March 2013

lately

I've managed quite a few posts over the last week, which is surprising as writing-wise, I've never been busier. I've been to Statford-upon Avon (and Stratford, London, incidentally, but more about that later...) to research a feature, I've been to some art galleries and museums for a future blog post, I've been crafting up a guide to scrapbooking, and I've been crafting my little heart out for a few different places.


What I haven't been doing much of is gardening, which has given me the right hump. It's April (tomorrow), the sun should be shining, the birds should be singing, and I should be transporting all my seedlings out into their pots and beds in the garden. Instead, I've spent the last week peering under my polytunnel desperately to see if there's any sign of Spinach or Kale (I think I might have seen a shoot on Friday, but in all honesty, it could be the start of a dandelion. Sigh), and stomping around the patio crossly, cursing the weather which seems to have forgotten what it should be doing. I bought some garden mint a couple of weeks ago, and so far the closest it's gotten to the garden is my desk in the conservatory. Humph.


I've been doing a lot of crochet; hats, blankets and other bits and pieces for a new baby, and also starting to work on my range of bits and bobs made from recycled yarn. I've got loads of hastily scribbled designs in a tatty notebook, and have grand plans for things with lovely colours and patterns. Chevrons and stripes and ripples, oh my!


I was quite happy to stumble across a range of treasures over the last couple of weeks, from charity shop plates to antique store tray cloths, and the most beautiful coffee pot you'll ever come across. I've also done that thing where you find a box of stuff, that for whatever reason has been forgotten, and inside it's a little like Aladdins (tat filled) cave. I rediscovered my folk-y pots this week, and seriously could not have been happier, especially with the larger one - I've had them for so long, I can't even remember where they came from!


A while back I mentioned I was going to be doing a post using old milk tins - I'm still slogging away, painting, sticking, drilling and stacking them, but I live in hope that one day I'll actually be able to share the DIYs with you. Until then, here's a picture of my two favourites - the paper on the left is proper decopatch paper, which I got in a total mess with, and the paper on the right is ordinary wrapping paper, which I didn't. I think you can see what I'm saying. Ahem.


I had a bit of time away from the computer lately, and now seem to have several books on the go - I've got a pretty big bookshelf section absolutely stuffed with books I've never read, and I'm a bit crap when it comes to choosing just one. I can take one down, settle on the sofa, and almost hear the others whispering, "what about us? What about us?" I usually have about three or four books on the go at any one time, which is rubbish really because I get the stories muddled up, and nothing ever gets finished. Ahh well. I've got stuck in to Kate Morton's latest novel, The Secret Keeper, and I'm happy to report that just like the others, it's a corker. If you've never read her stuff, you really, really should - they usually hop between eras, and there's always a huge, tangled mystery that needs solving. Her books are great big tomes that work best on a dark night, on a comfy sofa, under a blanket with a huge mug of tea. Bliss. In an attempt to keep myself motivated along the growing-my-own route, I'm reading Spotted Pigs and Green Tomatoes, about a journalist-turned-farmer - it manages to be hilarious and thought provoking all at once, and I'm hopeful of actually finishing it soon. Lastly, I've only ready three pages of I Capture the Castle, so I can't actually tell you what it's about yet. Ahem.
To accompany all this reading, I've been drinking a whole load of tea - firstly because it's still sub-zero outside, and what's better to pick yourself up with than wonderful, hot, restorative, soothing tea, and secondly because I bloody love it. Twinings were kind enough to send me some of their English Breakfast loose-leaf tea bags, which are marvelous - I've been wanting to try loose leaf for ages, but my teapots are strictly ornamental, so these were perfect. No fiddling around with tea strainers, or fishing tiny bits out of your cup, just the extra flavour. Slurp. We buy a lot of Twinings organic tea anyway - the Husband is a huge fan of their spiced blend, and I love the brand because of their ethical, social and environmental commitments. They've even teamed up with Alice Temperley to create a range of beautiful products including  an amazing silk scarf. Lovely!


Disclosure: This was a sponsored post by Twinings, who did not pay me, but did send me three boxes of tea bags. Thank you!
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Wednesday, 27 March 2013

on clothes

After I wrote my Spring wishlist post, I got to thinking about the tonnes of clothes I've got in my cupboard; my old favourites, those things that I only dig out on the odd occasion, and then the few random bits and pieces that I grabbed in a charity shop and haven't been out of the cupboard since the day I brought them home (you know the sort of stuff I mean - the 99p top that you're sure is a bargain, or the dress four sizes to big that you have to have because you love the print, and you'll definitely adjust it to fit you).


My wardrobe is a double one, and as you can see, it's literally rammed. In fact, it's so full, that things may possibly have started to creep across into the Husbands wardrobe...


There are clothes hanging up on a rail in the airing cupboard, three coats by the door, four more coats in a drawer under the bed, and an entire drawer dedicated to knitwear.


Yet, when it comes to getting dressed, I still reach for the same things, day in, day out. I've got literally tonnes of lovely things that have never even seen the light of day - what an absolute waste (and I do really, really hate waste). I'm always banging on about the environment, and I suddenly realised that even though I'm buying second hand, it's still adding to my consumption levels, and as you can see - completely unnecessarily. 
So, I've put myself on a shopping ban - I realise a lot of people do this, but they're often buying nothing new, where as I'm literally buying nothing. Nil. Nada. Zilcho. When it comes to clothes, for the entire next year, I'm wearing only what I've got. Which means no more charity shopping (for clothes anyway, home-y stuff is totally allowed!), no more eBay bargains and no more wishlists - if I don't own it by now, chances are, I don't need it. Obviously, undercrackers and tights are allowed, but only when replacing something that's beyond mending (can you mend pants? I've never even considered it....), and shoes are a bit of a grey area, as I actually don't have many shoes. Possibly as I spend most of my time in slippers or Converse. Ahem.

I started my adventure in clothes by digging out an old favourite knitted vest, popping it over a new dress, and then topping the whole lot off with an aztec cardi from eBay. 

Really need to work on my smile.

The dress is from lovely ethical brand Seasalt Cornwall (you can read about their environmental aims here), and it was a birthday present from my parents - I've been hunting for a denim shirt dress for absolutely ages, and this one popped up at just the right time. The mustard yellow sleeveless jumper-vest-thingy came from a charity shop a couple of years ago, and it's one of my most loved knits. The aztex cardi came from eBay and was a bargain £4 including postage - I love it for its softness, but wish it had pockets. I do love a pocket.

So there's the first of (hopefully) many outfit posts. If nothing else, at least the Husband will see me in something other than pyjamas, or the same jeans-jumper-converse uniform - and all the money I'm saving will be able to go towards something useful. Like craft supplies. Or teapots. Ahem.
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Tuesday, 26 March 2013

paper doily garland diy

I was an incredibly lucky girl at Christmas when it came to presents; lots of books, some clothes, some crafty bits and bobs - everything I could have asked for. One of my best friends got me the most amazing pack of paper doilies (she knows the way to my heart!), and as soon as I saw them, all nestled in their pretty retro packet, I knew they were destined to be more than crumb catchers.


After a bit of staring, some pondering and little fiddling around, I came up with a highly complex process to create something fabulous that would last longer than the time it takes me to eat a cupcake (i.e. about thirty seconds). Ladies and gentlemen, flex your fingers please, it's the paper doily garland tutorial!


Now, you're going to have to pay attention to this one, as it can be tricky to follow all the steps. 


1. Gather your materials.
You could use any doilies really, plain or patterned, and you can find a gazillion of the little blighters on eBay (look at these ones! Look at those colours!). To string them up, I used bakers twine from Papermash, but if you don't have any, crochet cotton would work just as well - I just prefer the look of bakers twine. Apart from that, you need some glue - I used spray mount, because it was at the front of the cupboard, and it's quick, but any kind of glue would work.


2. Measure the space you want to hang your garland in.
Obviously, the length of your twine depends on how much of a dip you want your garland to have. Cut your twine to the required length.

3. Prepare your doilies.
Lay out your length of twine, and work out how many doilies will fit along it, and what order you want them to sit in.

4. Fold your doilies in half and glue them down.
Make sure you don't glue them too far up - you're aiming to just get the edges to stick together. (The further up you glue, the harder it'll be to thread them afterwards.

5. Thread onto the twine or string.
You might find you have to use a wool or tapestry needle if it gets caught up inside the doily.

6. Hang up.


Ta-dah!

Erm, that's pretty much it. It's not exactly ground-breaking craft work, but it's a) quick b) easy and let's face it, who doesn't love a garland around the house? 

Happy folding!
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Sunday, 24 March 2013

preparations

When I think back to this time last year, there were two huge differences (literally, in one case. Ha!); firstly, the weather was glorious. I distinctly remember sitting on our balcony (we were still living in our little flat then, all squashed up with nowhere to put things) with a book while Ben was at pre-school, sunning myself and getting lost in a whole heap of different novels. Looking out of the window now, it's greysville, and I know it's absolutely freezing because I stuck my head outside earlier. Secondly, I looked like this:

I was smiling on the inside. Ok, I wasn't.
This time last year, little Daisy was still on the inside, and we had no idea exactly how she'd transform our lives. I always thought a second child would just sort of 'slot-in' to the routine we already had with Ben - after all, that's what all the books and websites told me. I was stocked up on cloth nappies (never used them), was adamant that this time I WAS going to crack breastfeeding (failed, yet again. Still can't talk about it without feeling bitter) and just knew that everything would fall happily into place in our new little house (it didn't - we had to do loads of repairs, couldn't live there for several months, and almost came to blows with our rental agency). Funny how life never seems to turn out quite how you plan it.



But then she came, and nothing was how it had been planned, and I found I didn't mind because she was delicious and beautiful, and her head smelled like heaven, and her brother adored her (if sometimes a little too exuberantly), and instead of worrying about the perfect house, and being perfectly dressed, and having everything perfect, I just buried my nose in her hair and kept her with me all the time. And I found that nothing else mattered*.
And now, my tiny baby is about to turn one. A whole year. I get a bit of a lump in my throat when I think about it - where has the time gone? I look at photos of her and Ben as tiny babies, and feel wistful and nostalgic, missing the days when they would fit in the crook of my arm, but also looking forward to seeing their personalities evolve and develop. Ben is suspected to have Aspergers, and some days are difficult - there are times when he and Daisy wind each other up, and he can't quite communicate as well as other children his age, so we've had some fraught moments. But then there are times where they sit together and Ben will chat to her about anything and everything, and I just know they're going to be as thick as thieves. And I wouldn't have it any other way.**


So here we are, approaching the first birthday at the rate of knots (two weeks tomorrow exactly, eek), and we all know what birthdays mean - presents. I've been having some problems deciding on what to buy Daisy, as we already have a ton of toys (probably not as many as some families, but in my eyes we've already got way too much plastic tat to consider adding more), and at the moment she seems to think books are more of a snack than entertainment. We have bought some, though - 'How to Catch a Star' by Oliver Jeffers, in a board book version, and some of those 'touchy feely' books, as well as a couple of classics like Elmer and Maisy the Mouse - but we kept all of Ben's books, so her library is already pretty well stocked.
I decided to just bite the bullet, and do the practical thing - asking for clothes, and buying things she actually needs. There's a whole array of bright new threads on order for her, courtesy of us and my parents (including some amazing jazzy trousers, but that's another post entirely), and I'd quite like to get her some little leather slippers or moccasins - she's not walking yet, but she's a nightmare for taking her socks off and chewing them, so I'm thinking soft baby shoes might discourage her. I've got plans for some homemade rattles and jingley toys (I'm very excited about this - I've dedicated a whole post to it), some crochet garlands and I'd quite like her to have a nice knitted blanket to replace her sad looking crochet one (she could do with some more cellular blankets for her cot, but I think that's a bit too practical!) I was pondering on knitting one myself, but considering my Mum's knitted cushion cover is still sitting unfinished in a basket in the lounge (meant to be a, err, Christmas present. Ahem), I'm thinking this might not be the best plan.

So, with only two weeks to go, I'll probably be strapped to the sewing machine most evenings. If I don't see you before, have a lovely Easter!

*I would have quite liked not to have been so anaemic that walking upstairs made me pass out, but hey ho.
** Apart from the days where they're both moaning and bashing each other, and I think that I might have been better getting a couple of cats.


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Friday, 22 March 2013

spring wishlist

I haven't written much about fashion and clothes recently, mostly because having two children under five (one being a new baby) means I'm constantly coated in a wide variety of stains, from paint and glitter glue to vomit in one of several different hues. But now the baby is almost one (one! Can you believe it? Oh, Daisy, my tiny baby, where has the time gone?) and Ben seems to have left his paint-phase behind for the moment, I've found myself looking at more style blogs and fashion magazines, and pondering on what I might look like dressed in something other than my jeans-knitwear-coat-converse uniform. Oh the possiblities....

If you've been reading for a while, you'll know that I a) try to be as ethical and eco-friendly as possible and b) completely steer clear of the high street. Yes, Topshop et al do some wonderfully beautiful looking clothes, but they are incredibly overpriced (well, for my small budget) and made in some of the most horrific conditions. There's actually a really good high street shopping guide over at Ethical Consumer, which has been doing the rounds, and it's got some pretty surprising results. For example, I never would have imagined New Look to come in at number two, with a not-bad score of 10 out of 20 (I suppose it is actually quite bad, all things considered, but not when you take into account George Clothing by Asda scoring a shocking 0), nor would I have thought Marks and Spencer would score so poorly, considering they have a whopping great website dedicated to their corporate responsibility and ethical awareness. So when I look around for new clothes (which isn't often, I usually just look in charity shops and on eBay), I rarely leave the house, and instead spend my shopping time curled up with a great mug of tea, a packet of biscuits healthy rice cake snack and the laptop. I've got a serious attack of the wanties lately, and have already decided my plan of fashion-attack for the Spring (please, cold weather, hurry up and bog off - I'm sick of coats and boots!). Behold, my Spring wishlist!


Clockwise from top left: Marianne Tunic, £115, Toast //  Maitri Organic Cotton Temple Knack Rucksack Bag, £44, Fashion Conscience // Cable Linen Cotton Pullover, £125, Toast // Edith Blossom Collar Dress in Green, £63.75, People Tree // Fine Stripe Jersey Tee, £59, and Leni Necklace, £39, both Toast // Lalesso Fair Trade African Print Ballet Pumps, £30.00, Fashion Conscience // Organic Cotton Tote Bag with Peacock Print, £5.99, Global Seesaw.

When it comes to clothes, I always find myself searching out things that are a bit quirky, but at the ripe old age of thirty (HOW has this happened?), I can't be trotting off down the road in some of the crazy outfits that I used to put together. I've sort of worked out that in the warmer months, I get along best with simple clothing with a nice print - a nice loose shift dress with flats, oversized t-shirts with chunky accessories, the odd tea-dress here and there. All quick to put on and easy to wear, which is pretty much a necessity when I have to get dressed in 0.05 seconds in the morning. And I might possibly have been eyeing up the Lotta from Stockholm website again...


I found the green highwood clogs a few months back, and nearly, nearly bought them. Now I'm torn between those, the new aubergine t-bar delights and the practicality of the apple-green low heels. (Plus, apple green! What a colour!)

What's on your Spring wishlist? Do you know of any ethical or eco-friendly online stores I should check out?
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Tuesday, 19 March 2013

the great shelving makeover

I've been planning this post since last year now, (since September to be exact - where does the time go?) and I am sooooo pleased to be able to finally write it. It's probably literally my most anticipated post (for me, anyway. Possibly not for you lot!).

On a thrifting trip last year, I stumbled across an old, tired set of shelves - at the time we were looking for something to make into a toy shop or market stall for Benjamin, which for various reasons didn't quite work out the way we planned. I ended up with them stuck in the conservatory, in their sorry state, and spent quite a long time considering sending them to a furniture charity shop just to be shot of them.


Poor Adam.
Date stamp alert!
Imaginative graffiti.
You might be surprised to know that this hook was the first thing to go.
In the end, I decided that I wasn't going to give into my laziness, and that since I'd bought them, I was going to bite the bullet and clean them up to use in the house. They were covered in scratches, graffiti, chips and gouges, and someone had welded the tackiest (but not in a good way) hook onto the side. Out came the sander, and off we went.

I thought about buying some Annie Sloan chalk paint and almost succumbed to the lure of the ready-made, but when they tried to charge me £7 for delivery, my tightwad tendencies just wouldn't let me pay. I ended up with a tin of paint from good old Wilkinsons (2.5 litres for the same price as 1 litre of Annie Sloan), some tile grout and a baby milk tin to mix it all in - and I made my own stinkingly cheap chalk paint, a la the ace Lucy from Lulastic (honestly, that girl has saved me a packet with her nifty thrifty ways). Three coats of paint and two coats of varnish later, I give you, the shelves......


I'm so pleased with them, I can't even begin to tone down my enthusiasm. I actually kissed them when they were finished. The colour was ace, the paint went on evenly and the varnish sealed the deal perfectly (literally, guffaw). They're now home to various lovely things, namely two vintage tins that I'm planning on using in the garden as planters (this might actually not happen, as the thought of them rusting terrifies me...) and my vintage sewing boxes. This seems like a good time to share the little corner of the conservatory that I've clawed back from the sticky grasp of the kiddos - it was a playroom, but I seem to be amassing so much crafty stuff that I decided I was going to give it all a home. (Just so you know - this side of the camera was impeccably neat, but the other side looked like an explosion in a toy factory. Real life, people!)




It's such a light, bright space, but man alive is it cold in the winter. I've got a little fan heater, but in the depths of Winter I'll probably be curled up back on the sofa with the laptop - it's hard to sew with frostbite.
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Thursday, 7 March 2013

crochet garland tutorial

If you've been reading for a while, you'll know one thing about me; no matter how hard I try, I cannot, cannot master the art of knitting. My fingers get all muddled and I end up with more holes than stitches, gah. I can crochet, though, and lately I've spent some time just playing around with my trusty 4mm hook and some cotton yarn, coming up with patterns for garlands and little decorations.



I'm a big fan of garlands - fabric, bobbles, paper.... for every occasion and in every room. You can make them from almost nothing, and stick them almost everywhere, and they're so quick to do. I usually just sort of  bung them on the wall, in between prints or over the edge of mirrors. Or off of the edge of a shelf. From window handles. Over the top of a door...


This one lives under three little prints that sit above Daisy's cot in the corner of our room (she's still in with us, and will be until she can sleep in a bed, as her and Ben will be sharing for a while - we're only in a two-bedroom house at the moment, and can't find anything we like enough to move AGAIN), and is so simple to make, that you could probably finish it in a couple of evenings.



This motif is such a simple little make - before you know it, you'll have a stack of them, ready to join together in a wondrous garland-y... wonder. You could probably use any type of wool for this, but I always find cotton or cotton blend is best when doing garlands or decorations - it has a cleaner look about it, and tends to hold its shape a bit better. For this one, I used Rico Creative Cotton in an aran weight (by far the best brand of cotton yarn around, and the colour range is immense) and a 4mm hook, but for the tutorial I used a 4.50mm hook so the stitches in the photograph were easier to see. You can work them in as many colours as you like, but I think they look pretty sweet in a simple two-colour combination. Especially if one of them is teal!

One
Two
1. Start by making a magic circle. There's a million ways to do this, but the outcome is always the same - once you've worked into it, you can pull the end of the yarn so it closes up tightly. Chain 3, then crochet 11 trebles into the 3rd chain from the hook (picture one.) Join to the top of the first chain with a slip stitch (picture two). Your first round is complete!

Three
Four
Five
2. Chain 3. Work 2 trebles into the same place, then chain 3 (picture three).Insert your hook between the third and fourth trebles, and work three trebles into the space (picture four). Continue around, until you have six groups of three trebles, then join into the top of the three chains (picture five). Round two is done!

Six
Seven
3. Change your yarn colour (picture six), and attach into any gap. Chain one, then work the following into the same space: double crochet, treble crochet, chain two, treble crochet, double crochet (picture seven). One of the six little peak-y things is formed (that's a technical term right there, ladies and gents).

Eight
4. Double crochet into the next two trebles (picture eight), then repeat steps 3 and 4 until you've completed the next round. Join with a slip stitch into the first chain, and your motif is complete. Hurrah!

The finished product.
Your motif will probably be a little bit neater than this - because I used a larger hook, everything looks a bit looser than it should do.

Once you've got a stack of them, you can join them together with a row of chain stitches which pass through either one or two points on each motif, and then string the whole lovely thing up pretty much anywhere. On a wall, over a picture, across the top of a mirror.... if you can find somewhere to hook it on, do!

I'd love to see pictures of any other garlands anyone makes - leave me a comment or a link if you decide to have a go! (I really hope this tutorial makes sense - if anything is confusing, please, PLEASE, email me or leave a comment, and I'll do my best to help.)

Happy crocheting!
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Monday, 4 March 2013

mothers day

Mum working a headscarf, sometime in the 1960's
Mum and Dad's wedding day,  25th October 1969
Mum and Ben, November 2009
Mum and I on Ben's first birthday, 19th October 2009
Mum with Daisy, June 2012
Ever since I can remember, my Mum has been the one person I can spend an unlimited amount of time with. Whether chatting, or just sitting in amiable silence, I feel at my most relaxed and happy when I'm around her. She's magnificent; the most selfless person I know by far, and she seems to have an unlimited amount of patience and kindness. She nursed her Mother-In-Law through dementia, and has attended the birth of both of my children. She has encouraged me, nurtured me, mended me and brought me back from the depths of despair. She is everything I want to be, and I'd be nothing if it weren't for her. I love her to pieces, and thank God every day that I was blessed enough to be her daughter.

Usually for Mothers Day, my Mum gets treated to numerous bunches of flowers, a book and a box of fudge (she's not really a chocolate lady). It's a tried and tested method; I know she'll like them and it doesn't break the bank - everyone's a winner.

This year, though, I decided to do something a bit different. My Mum bakes every single week without fail - cakes for lunch and tea, puddings, pies - the lot. As part of her present, I thought it might be nice for her to be on the receiving end of a few baked goodies for a change, so I popped over to the Baking Mad website and looked up a few Mothers Day recipes. As much as I wanted to try a cupcake bouquet, I decided that I probably wasn't quite up to constructing a faux floral display from cake (my cake successes are more banana bread than British Bake Off), so I had a trial run at the Mothers Day cupcakes.



They turned out pretty well, although I have to admit that using an icing bag is a lot trickier than I anticipated. I ended up with pink buttercream that was an awful lot more lurid than I intented, and there was icing everywhere - I tried to go all Mary Berry and do a fancy little flourishy-swirly-thing (that's a technical term right there, folks) on the top, but it just ended up looking like someone had nudged my arm at the last minute.
The cakes themselves tasted pretty good, which I put down to adding some Nielsen-Massey Rose Water to the cake mix. I'd never even heard of the stuff until I read the recipe, but let me tell you, it gives cakes a whole new dimension. It's quite pricey (£3.99 for a small bottle), but a teaspoon of the stuff was enough to flavour the entire mix, so I'm guessing it'll last quite a while. All in all, they turned out pretty well, and I was quite proud once I'd stood them on their little cake stand...



Along with whichever cakes I decide to make, I've found some pyrex plates to give Mum for Mothers Day (she wants them to bake her pies on, but who says you can't eat cake from a dinner-sized plate?!), her usual book and also a little makeshift IOU voucher for a trip to Gilbert White's House, which is renowned for it's tearoom and garden. We decided that it would probably be a more worthwhile visit if the garden was full of blossom and blooms, rather than puddles and twigs. Hurry up, Spring!

Disclosure: This was a sponsored post for the lovely people at Baking Mad. They didn't pay me, but I did receive a cupcake stand, three tea towels and an icing bag kit.
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