Sunday, 27 April 2008

Small nice things

Some small nice things that have happened this past week.

  • Good friends, who are moving to Vietnam later this year, bringing back these exquisite and tiny dolls for O from a pre-move fact finding trip. I want to go to Vietnam as well now!

  • Finding out that our lovely family doctor, who had been my GP for twelve years before retiring last summer, is bored of retirement and has come back to work. Hoorah!
  • Baking a delicious plum cake from Jim Fobel's Old Fashioned Baking Book - a recipe book that I've had in my collection for over two years, and which I love reading, but which I had never cooked from because it is all in American imperial and cup measurements which I can't get on with at all. I need grams! Recently I got hold of a copy of this little pamphlet, which is going to enable me to try out every single one of Jim Fobel's amazing recipes. Hoorah again!
  • Finding out what Marimekko is all about.
  • Having a go at screen printing for the first time. Here is a sample of the results, which will be embellished and then turned into a pocket on a lined tote bag I am going to make for O.

  • Seeing so many different Pleated Beauty Bags for the BTRS Swap going up on the flickr group. I think they are all beautiful and can't wait to see which one is headed my way.
  • The first flowers of the year on my african violet. I love african violets.

  • Sewing more quilt, whilst watching the snooker World Championships on tv. I love snooker. O seems to like it too and spent the afternoon building a playmobil world while I sewed.

  • Working out that the reason I couldn't open the new window locks was not because they been installed incorrectly, but was because I was using the wrong key. Obvious really, and yet somehow not.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008


No matter how lovely it may be, by this time of the year I am always thoroughly sick of my winter coat, and I long to be able to put it away until the autumn. But what to wear during these 'in between' seasons when it is too warm for a thick coat and scarf, but too chilly for just a t-shirt? What you need is a poncho!

Now I just LOVE ponchos. I remember even as a small child thinking that they were surely one of the best and weirdest items of clothing ever. Other than a brief few weeks about five years ago I don't think they've ever been fashionable, and once Ugly Betty started wearing a particularly hideous one to work I think even more people went off them. But I don't mind - they are great!

When I wear mine I feel as though I am wrapped up in a blanket. They are cosy and comforting. They're easy to wear. Throw them over your head and go. They have a slightly dashing air about them. They twirl out when you turn a corner. Small children like to stroke the fringes. At the bank where I work, my poncho makes quite a startling change from the more sedate suits and belted macs that people are used to seeing.

I have two ponchos now. The black one is crocheted cotton, bought a few years ago from Topshop. It is very light, and drapes beautifully. The pink one is a recent purchase from Sweetbrier's Etsy shop and is much thicker and warmer. Perfect for the weather right now. I love how something so beautiful and handmade, all the way from Kentucky, now travels on the Tube and hangs around the school playground!

The only downside of wearing my poncho is perhaps an inevitable one. I love them, so O loves them too. I bought her one last year that is still much loved. When she saw me putting on mine this morning, then she decided to wear hers too. We were having a twee 'Mini me' moment in the playground that did make me squirm slightly.

But it was worth it, because after I'd dropped her off I got to travel into work, wrapped in my own blanket of cosiness.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Making and giving

I've been in a sewing mood lately, but I think it goes in fits and starts for me. I'll sew madly for a couple of months, and then put it down for a couple of months while I do other things with my free time.

Yesterday I finished a Pleated Beauty Bag from Amy Karol's Bend The Rules Sewing book. It is for my first ever swap. I will be sending this bag off to Missouri in the US and someone else, somewhere, is making a bag for me. This is the first swap I've joined in, as its taken a while to find a swap for something I was confident making in the time allowed. I've enjoyed this one so much, that I know I'll be joining in others the next time I am in a sewing mood!

I love the whole concept of swapping - such a nice idea. Its been great to make a bag, but now I've finished it I am more than happy to give it away and get something different through the post in return. I hope to goodness my swap partner likes it - that's the most nerve wracking part of doing the swap. I've tried not to think about her too much to be honest, otherwise I could easily have had a crisis of confidence half way through making it ... Arrgh - she's going to hate this linen...she's going to notice that part on the inside seam where I went slightly wonky... etc. etc.

I've made plenty of other things from the Bend The Rules Sewing Book, but this is the first time I have made this project. I made it over a couple of sessions, which is not my usual style of sewing, but I think it was a wise move. There are many steps to making this bag and I would have gone wrong if I'd not taken it so slowly.

Things I would do differently next time:
  • the interfacing I put in the base of the bag didn't end up being very stiff - next time I'd hunt out a MUCH stiffer interfacing
  • I would line the pocket

Things I would do the same next time:

  • I would make it in several steps again - this is a great way to approach sewing.
  • I would sew the strap linings right-side together and turn inside out. The instructions say to iron 1/4 inch seams and then topstitch, but I know I would have burnt myself trying to do this - the way I did it looks just fine.

I used a printed linen from Laura Ashley for the main outside fabric. The pleats and inside handle fabric is Kaffe Fassett's Paperweight in grey. The lining was a late night Etsy purchase and I think is a Robert Kauffman print called Carnaby Street.

Close up of the outside and the pleat:

Close up of the lining fabric:

Close up of the straps:

My other recently finished sewing project was a scalloped, quilted baby blanket - also from Bend The Rules Sewing. I was so keen to get it in the post to my friend that I forgot to photograph it. Durr. I will have to ask my friend nicely to take a photo and email it back to me so that I can put it up on flickr.

The baby blanket was a much quicker project than the bag, but no less satisfying. It was great to choose more childlike fabrics and imagine the baby-to-be lying on it or under it and maybe even trailing it around the house when older. Both my two had blankets knitted for them by my mother, that are still treasured and taken everywhere.

Here is O's today - watched over by Dave The Monkey - and C's - lovingly clutched in one sticky hand, when he was about 18 months old.


If the Pleated Beauty Bag and the Scalloped Baby Blanket are adored half as much as these two blankets have been, then I shall be very pleased indeed. Its a great feeling to make things that you know will be loved by someone else.


There were quite a few questions coming out of my geocaching post, so I thought I'd answer them here rather than replying in another comment, which might not get seen.

  • Yes - you are allowed to reveal your treasures. The treasure tends to be the sort of thing that small children relish rather than adults. Below is a picture of a cache we found this week. We tend to leave marbles or small plastic animals when we've visited a cache!
  • Yes - I do have to lurk in the street, trying not to look like a dodgy character, until there is no one close by and I can rummage around for the cache. When I am looking in the City I get paranoid that some security guard watching a CCTV camera is going to think I am up to no good and call the police!
  • If you want to use your car's sat nav as the GPS, then you'll have to take it out fo the car and hold it otherwise you're unlikely to be able to get close enough. I don't have a sat nav myself so haven't tried it, but my mother-in-law hunts for caches this way and assures me it can be done.
  • It is indeed like a more 21st century version of letterboxing.

Please leave a comment here if you do get round to trying geocaching - I'd love to hear how you get on!

Monday, 14 April 2008

Treasure hunt

There is a new toy in my handbag these days.

It clashes a bit doesn't it?

It is my hand-held GPS and I use it for my new hobby of geocaching. A month or two ago I read this article in The Guardian which left me desperate to find out more.

Geocaching is a world wide treasure hunt. People hide boxes, or caches as they are called - some big, some ridiculously tiny and many in between - then post the co-ordinates of where the cache is hidden on the geocaching website. Anyone who wants to find a cache then goes onto the website, downloads the co-ordinates for where it is hidden onto their GPS and sets off in search of treasure.

Each cache will contain a log book, and sometimes some small pieces of treasure. When you find the cache you sign the log book and then once you get back home, you register your find on the website. If you want you can take a piece of treasure and leave something else in its place.

When I first looked into geocaching I wondered if anyone else in East London knew about it. Turns out I am late to the party. Within 20 miles of my house there are 1,332 caches hidden! There are so many hidden near where I work in the City that I can even go hunting in my lunch hour. Here are pictures from today's hunt, which took a little over 15 minutes in total - from leaving the office to getting back to my desk.

My GPS tells me it is hidden in this un-promising looking side street:

Right by this piece of masonry. Can you see it?

Got it!

There are so many things I love about this mad new hobby:
  • The sheer scale of it. Caches are everywhere. We went down to Lewes to see some friends this weekend, and in the park where we had a picnic lunch, there was a cache. There are even half a dozen hidden within 30 minutes drive of my parents house in darkest middle-of-nowhere rural France.
  • The subterfuge involved in finding caches. Its important not to give away a cache location to the non-geocaching public. If you see someone in the street pretending to make a phone call, or dropping their keys suddenly, they are probably surreptitiously retrieving a cache.
  • The surprise of discovering what treasure people have left in the cache.
  • The way it makes even the most mundane of walks or lunch hour strolls into something more exciting and adventurous.

If you want to give it a go, you may not need to buy yourself a shiny new yellow toy for your handbag (because I know yellow is not everyone's colour). Many mobiles and PDAs have GPS capabilities, and if you have a sat nav kit in your car, you can use that. Some sports watches even have GPS.


So maybe now you want to find out more. Here are some good places to start:

Happy hunting!

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Not life as I know it

It started with the snow.

It was really quite bizarre to wake up on Sunday morning and see thick, fluffy snow everywhere. Nothing has seemed quite right this week, ever since that snowfall.


C and O haven't been at home this week. They have gone to stay with my parents for the first half of the school spring break. When G and I have spoken to them on the phone each evening we've heard tales about shopping trips, playing in the park with their cousins, nutella for breakfast and adventures on skateboards.


They're clearly having a wonderful time with their grandparents (and I just loved going to stay with my grandparents when I was small - didn't you?) but G and I feel completely bereft here in our empty, tidy, quiet house.


The fridge is full of un-drunk milk, the shoes are still in the shoe basket, the washing mountain is a much more modest washing mole-hill and bread goes stale before we finish a loaf.


Even O's drawing table is tidy. Its all wrong.


Last night G and I decided we'd had enough of moping and went out after work for a rare treat of dinner and cocktails at Browns, just next to my office. The apple mojitos seemed to do the trick of cheering us up.


And now I'm off back to Oxford to collect C and O, and I can't wait for the house to come alive again. There'll be fewer apple mojitos but more stewed apple for breakfast when they get back. And that's definitely a good thing. In so many ways!

Friday, 4 April 2008

Talking about the weather in a terribly British kind of way

Spring has sprung.

And the chickens and I are most disappointed that there is going to be snow, hail, frost and all sorts this weekend.