Monday, 29 September 2008

10 things

  1. Jane from Petticoat Lane suggested I buy an orange cardigan from Boden to match my yet-to-be sewn skirt, so I did. I am weak. She is a very bad influence.
  2. I have tweaked my cycle route to work. I now cycle through the Barbican complex and when I win the lottery I shall be buying myself a nice little penthouse there. It is my dream home, and I’m ignoring that little inner voice that says “what about the hens?” Sorry, girls.
  3. I have just 10 more 6 x 6inch squares to complete for my monster quilt, before I can start the fun part of piecing it all together. And yet I am involved in endless diversionary tactics it seems. Why? It’s only 10 more squares, and I’ve already sewn 110 squares.
  4. My tomato plants are now straggly and yellow. I need to cut them down and tidy up the back yard before any wet autumn weather really gets going.
  5. My children have reached an age where I can sit in a coffee shop on a weekend with them, all of us reading sections of the same newspaper and drinking cappuccinos/fruit juice/cups of tea in a very civilised manner. Hurrah for the Saturday Guardian’s Comic section!
  6. The excitement of handing out birthday party invitations in the playground is almost as great as the party itself.
  7. Chocolate brownies made with ground almonds in place of part of the flour, will always have that lovely dense dampness to them. The lovely Annabel has a genius recipe in her After School Meal Planner book which I have been re-reading recently.
  8. I think I need to grow my hair long again, so that it withstands the trauma of being squashed by my cycle helmet more elegantly.
  9. I am wondering whether I should learn how to knit. See endless diversionary tactics under point 3 above.
  10. C is taking guitar lessons at school. He completely loves it, and sings along to whatever he is playing so sweetly. I didn’t even know he could sing! I’m so proud of him that I made him a ‘Clever Hands Pie’ which tasted great, although looked possibly a little bit creepy.

Friday, 26 September 2008


I am itching to make skirts at the moment. Yesterday I saw this post by Soule Mama, and thought, if she can make a skirt before dinner, then I'm sure I can make one for O in an afternoon. I underestimated myself! In the last hour before I had to go and pick up C and O from school, I made the whole thing, from digging out the fabric to finishing the hem.

The pattern is the free Lazy Days Skirt from Oliver + S - look for the link to the pdf on the right hand side of the blog. I love this pattern because there is just one line to cut at the beginning, and no hand hemming at the end. Super quick and super easy.

Oh, and it looks good too! Most of the Oliver + S patterns are sized for toddlers and I wondered if this skirt would work as well on my very tall, nearly-6 year old, but it suits her well.

Fired with enthusiasm after this small burst of creativity, I decided to make up this funky chicken skirt from Clothkits, which I had ordered a couple of months ago and left languishing in my 'to do' pile.
I cut out the fabric and then read through the instructions and noticed that I had to sew two buttonholes. I'm glad I was daft enough to cut out the fabric first, as I may not have embarked upon this otherwise. Buttonholes are very scary!
But I didn't have much choice, so I started practising.

After half an hour or so I felt confident enough to do it for real on the skirt. I held my breath, kept my nerve and it worked; I ran around the house whooping with relief. After that the elastic held no fear and the skirt was completed nearly as quickly as the Oliver + S one. It has a nice, straight shape, and in the 7-8 year old size comes just above the knee for O. I am now on a mission to find some tights as bright as the skirt.

And next on the list? A skirt for me, made at the A-line skirt course at The Make Lounge next week. My instructions said to bring along fabric, matching thread and a matching zip. So I bought fabric (a lovely dark denim), contrasting thread and a contrasting zip. Hmmmm....making up my own rules before the course even starts is a bit cheeky. But I'm going to claim its creative!

And the whole reason I went with the vivid, orange contrasting thread and zip is that I fell in love with this vintage orange ribbon in The Cloth House and fancied it sewn around the hem of my denim skirt. I am trying to forget that this much ribbon cost almost half as much as the denim cost, because I will just be so proud of myself when its made.

Sunday, 21 September 2008


An illustration of how summer melds into autumn, so gently that you don't notice until it's well underway.

Fresh, sweet, summertime strawberries on cold-weather porridge.

This boy LOVES his porridge.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Reading, thinking and planning

My favourite part of sewing anything is finishing it. The cutting out of fabric drives me to distraction, the sewing part I enjoy, but the finishing is just wonderful. Seeing something unique, that I've made, all pressed, neat and ready to use for the first time gives me such satisfaction.

Here's the apron I made last week - I'm wearing it almost constantly because I love it so much. Even C admitted that it isn't too embarrassing if I wear it to pick him up from school sometimes.
The pattern is an old favourite of mine from Lotta Jansdotter's Simple Sewing. As well as a brown one for me, I've also made it in various colours for Anna. You can see it being beautifully modelled by her here! The fabric on this new one is a luscious deep indigo and purple Martha Negley print on one side, and lilac with lime green polka dots on the other.
Doesn't it go well with my tights!
The other aspect of sewing which I love, is that of being inspired by other people. There are so many blogs that I read and get inspired by, but there are also many books that I go back to time and again. Sometimes for the patterns, sometimes for the pictures and sometimes for both. My two latest acquisitions are these:
Sew Fabulous Fabric by Alice Butcher and Ginny Farquhar and Country Garden Quilts by Kaffe Fassett. I've had the Sew Fabulous book for a week now, and my eyes have been greedily taking in all the projects. I keep coming back to the one for those flowers on the front through - I want to make a whole plateful of flowers just like that! And there are not just one but two gorgeous apron patterns in it. I may never have enough apron patterns.
The Kaffe book is more for gazing at than sewing from. Although one day I've promised myself I will make one of his quilts. It may be a five year project, but I'd love to do it. The photographs in his book are so wonderful, I could gaze at them for hours. That man will drape a quilt over anything!
This latest book of his has Jane Brocket as his guest designer and there are instructions in the book on how to make her allotment garden quilt, using some other Martha Negley fabrics. Maybe I'll make that one as well!
And then as if that wasn't enough inspiration for one week, my copy of Selvedge also dropped through the letterbox today. A Selvedge subscription was a Christmas present from my sister-in-law last year, and each issue is filled with unexpected and quirky articles and photos. Sewing books make me fizz with excitement and enthusiasm, and Selvedge counters that by making me feel more sophisticated and knowledgeable about my fabric.
What's inspiring you at the moment?

Monday, 15 September 2008

The new commute

The children are in week three of the new term, which means I am in week three of my new cycle-to-work regime. My daily commute is now very different to the one I wrote about earlier in the year.

On days that I cycle to work (so far not everyday, but two out of the three days I work) I now do this:
  • 8:15 – put bike rack on car
  • 8:25 – leave the house with children, bags and bike. Wrestle bike onto bike rack.
  • 8:30 – drive to school – remembering to slow down even more for speed bumps now that I have the bike on the back of the car.
  • 8:45 – park the car at the childminder’s house ready for that evening. Wrestle bike from bike rack. Dismantle bike rack and put it in the boot of the car.
  • 8:50 – walk 5 minutes from the childminders to school, pushing the bike and testing everyone on their spellings. Lock the bike by the school gates.
  • 9:00 – drop off C and O
  • 9:05 – put on pink high vis jacket (thank you Anna!) and bike helmet and set off down the road, amid the school run traffic madness.
  • 9:25 – nearly back where I started, two blocks from home!
  • 9:30 – cycle past London 2012 Olympic Park, dodging concrete mixer lorries
  • 9:35 – arrive at the Homerton side of Victoria Park.
  • 9:50 – leave Victoria Park and cycle down the Hackney Road, dodging delivery vans
  • 10:00 – turn off Old Street and head down Moorgate into The City, dodging pedestrians and being overtaken by bike couriers.
  • 10:05 – arrive at work, slightly tardy. Lightning fast change of t-shirt and brush of hair.
  • 10:08 – arrive at desk, drink pint of water and change shoes, hoping nobody notices I am 8 minutes late and a little bit flushed.

Just as with my commute by tube, I love the growing familiarity of all the tiny details of the journey. The brightly coloured hoardings around Olympic Park, the pretty park-keepers’ cottages in Victoria Park that look like Hansel & Gretel houses, the enormous fountain over towards the Bethnal Green side of the park that I never knew was there. A warehouse near Columbia Road Market called Boris’s Bags Emporium and a fantastic set of cycle lanes that take me past a whole row of tiny Italian coffee shops (complete with Italian waiters lounging in the doorways…) as I reach the final few backstreets before work.

I now arrive at my office from a different direction. No more St Paul’s Cathedral to lift my spirits, but instead I zoom past the beautiful and empty Guildhall courtyard and cross the end of the sweetly named Prudent Passage.

Cycling has changed my perspective on how big London is. Hackney has always seemed like a bit of a trek from our house, because to get there by car or bus is such a performance. But it takes me barely 10 minutes by bike and I’ve realised it is almost literally just around the corner from us. On the other hand, from the children’s school, which is close to the border with Essex, into The City really is quite a long way. I appreciate the tube a whole lot more now!

Friday, 12 September 2008

Must do versus want to do

Since C and O have gone back to school, and I've got plenty of time to myself once again, I've been struggling to organise my days. I'm finding that with so much more time than I've had over the summer, my mind is overflowing with things to do, and I flit between them all.
There are 'to do' lists everywhere - in my diary, on post-it notes on my desk at work, on pieces of paper grabbed from the printer, on the back of till receipts stuffed into the bottom of my handbag, and even on the back of my cheque book (cheques to write: milkman, school dinner money, window cleaner). So many lists, scattered around my life, is doing the opposite of what I intended and merely leaving me feeling disorganised and unproductive.

I was flicking through all my lists last night, trying to make a 'list of lists' - ha! - and just getting myself in more of a tangle. I noticed that my jobs were split between things I want to do and things I need to do.

Must be done:
  • washing
  • cleaning
  • gardening (and there are at least three sub lists under this one - its anarchy out there right now)
  • cooking
  • clean hens
  • find jiffy bags and post office

Would like to do:

  • sew (again, many sub-headings here)
  • write
  • read

So this morning I took a deep breath and raced through my 'must' list as fast as I could before I settled down to my 'want' list (except the gardening, which really needs the whole of Sunday devoted to it).

And after a while I realised that such a division - between must do and want to do - is fairly pointless becasue the lines are too blurred. Cooking a tray of chocolate brownies and a raspberry cheesecake to take round to friends' for lunch tomorrow is a very pleasurable chore. Chatting to the hens as I scrub out their water bowls is enormous fun, but sewing four long apron strings,turning them right side out and then pressing them, is rather tedious.

One of the last jobs on my list, which I am going to do after I've posted this, is to order prints of this photo:

It was taken a couple of weeks ago by my sister-in-law, whose awesome photography just gets better and better. There are very few pictures of G and I which I truly love, but this one has just gone right to the top of that list. If we were ever to get married I can't imagine we'd get a better photo than this. Ordering prints and arranging for them to be mounted and framed is a chore on the face of it, but it will give me and G years of delight. You see - sometimes the lines are just too blurred for everything to be put neatly into categories.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Or alternatively... could show your love by baking.
Look what C and O made while I was at work today:

And of course, credit must also go to the marvellous G, who I think spent the day washing up, wiping tables and digging out more and more cake tins.

After all that he doesn't deserve to have the photo of him wearing my Emmeline apron, posted up here, so instead here's a picture of him with some of the baking. Note how the meringues are being washed down with a glass of beer - what a guy!

Friday, 5 September 2008

Show your love with pie

I have to work this weekend, and after a long summer of being with my family far more than I was at work or by myself, that feels hard. So for tea tonight, I made a pie.

Pie is about the most homey dish I ever cook. When I bake a pie, the children and G stop in the doorway when they get home to breathe in deeply the smell of baking pastry. That moment when they come into the house and realise what is for tea gives me so much satisfaction. When I've baked a pie, I feel as though I am at the heart of the home.
Tonight's pie was an old favourite: sausage and sweet potato pie.
Sausage and Sweet Potato Pie
For the filling:
  • 6 good quality pork sausages, skinned
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 1 clove of garlic, sliced
  • 1 pepper, deseeded and chopped
  • 2 sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into chunks
  • 1 tin of tomatoes
  • big pinch of sugar
  • sprinkle of black pepper and dried thyme or other herb

For the pastry:

  • 200g plain flour
  • 100g fat (I use 50g butter and 50g vegetable shortening such as Trex)
  • splash of ice cold water

Gently fry the onion, garlic and pepper in some olive oil until starting to soften. Add the rest of the filling ingredients except for the tomatoes. Continue cooking, whilst stirring to break up the sausagemeat. Once the sausagemeat is cooked through (no more pink) then add the tomatoes.

Let the filling bubble away over a gentle heat for about 20 minutes until the sauce is thick and reduced, and the sweet potatoes are soft. Put the filling in the pie dish and leave to one side to cool while you make the pastry.

Put the flour in a large bowl and add the butter and trex, chopped into small pieces. Rub lightly into the flour with your fingetrips until you have a mixture which looks like fine breadcrumbs. Add ice-cold water a spoonful at a time, bringing the mixture together with a knife until you have a firm dough. Chill the dough in a plastic sandwich bag in the fridge for half and hour or more before rolling out and topping the pie dish. You don't need to be neat, or fancy at this stage - as you can see from the picture at the top, I rarely am. It will still taste amazing.

Bake at Gas 6 for approx 40 minutes. Serve to your family with love.

I lived in Virginia, in the USA, for 10 months when I was at University, and I think one of the reasons I love this dish so much is that I get to say "sweet potato pie" in a Southern Belle accent and make my children howl with laughter ("You sound like the cook in Tom and Jerry!" said O).
In fact, tonight's version had squash in place of the sweet potato. I picked the squash at the PYO last week and had forgotten just how much I hate peeling squash and pumpkins - it takes forever! If anyone knows of a way of preparing squash that is less hateful, I'd love to hear about it.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008


This week I've been making the most of the last few days off school with the children; going out and about, lying in, flexible bedtimes, not making packed lunches.... This free-form part of the school holidays is something to relish because it will be over way too soon.

I woke up yesterday, at a very indulgent hour of the morning, to discover O's bedroom floor littered with drawings of a Super Hero Shop that she and C were dreaming of opening together. They'd been up for hours already, drawing, planning and discussing. They wanted to know if I could sew them some Super Hero capes.

Sure - why not?

I didn’t want to sacrifice any of my Kaffe Fassett fabric, I mean I didn’t think my Kaffe Fassett fabric would be heroic enough for my super-children, so we went to Hobbycraft and C & O chose the fabric for their capes. O was enchanted by a pale green cotton printed with little cupcakes, and C wanted a classic red/gold combination.

I used this great tutorial, found by a search on the Sew Mama Sew blog. The only alteration to the pattern I made was to adjust the length of the cape to knee length rather than floor length; both capes were whipped up in an afternoon. There has been much charging and twirling around the house, fists aloft, since then. I think they're ready to face the new school year now.