Thursday, 26 November 2009

Cake, not sewing

There has been much sewing this week. But everything has been a Christmas present for somebody, so I'm not showing any pictures. Instead you will have to imagine me surrounded by piles of fabric, grinning at my delightful new machine and listening to endless Radio 4 podcasts. It has been a very good week.

But I think you still need something nice to look at, so here's a picture of this week's cake instead. The marvellous mocha cake from Rachel Allen's Bake. Just look at all those reviews on Amazon - it's clearly not just me who loves this book! Go and get yourself a copy if you haven't already.

Oh, and you can have a look at some knitting as well. Last night I finished the second baby kicking bag of this autumn - the second new nephew is due in just about a month's time. This is such a lovely gift for a winter baby - he will be toasty and warm in this brightly coloured bag. The pattern is a free one from Ravelry, and it's very straightforward to knit.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Sunday Marketing

The children and I have a happy new Sunday morning routine. While G goes for a run or a swim, we get on the bus and go a couple of miles up the road to Walthamstow for the weekly farmers' market.
C, on the bus to Walthamstow, doing his impression of a teenager

Walthamstow has a famous daily market which is a wonderful madness of stalls selling fruit and veg, clothes, toothpaste, buttons, sweets, handbags, shellfish, CDs and herbs. The stallholders are all local Eastenders and they bellow their prices at the top of their voices to the crowds squeezing past.

But the Sunday farmers' market is very different. It is part of the London Farmers' Markets organisation and is much smaller and quieter than the weekday version. The stallholders just sell food and drink and are all producers. Many are from Essex and Kent but others come from eye watering distances to sell here. They don't bellow as loudly as their midweek counterparts.

The first stall the children and I always stop at is The Giggly Pig Company who are there every week (their website gives details of their shop and all the other markets they sell at). I love their slogan: "No fat or crap in our sausages!". The women manning the stall each week are so kind and offer the children endless free samples. I often buy their sausages but the highlight is their faggots, which are the best I have ever tasted - savoury, meaty and not too salty. Ask C what is favourite food is at the moment and he will say faggots.

They're an old fashioned and rather unfashionable food I think, but I'll keep singing their praises and so will my children. Are any of you fans?

The next stop at the market has to be a cheese stall. The cheese producers vary each week; last week we had a buffalo cheese producer from Gloucestershire and this week the Lincolnshire Poachers were there. Yet again they were very understanding about my greedy children sampling every single one of their cheeses. But maybe the stallholders are wiser than me, because pretty soon I had O asking for this one, C asking for that one, and I ended up buying both.

The last stall was one at which I got to do ALL the sampling - the Millwhites Cider stall. So good.

And actually doing all the sampling myself didn't make me any more decisive. I bought one of each type of cider on the basis that G would need to try them all as well.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

White plastic parcels all tied up with string

A package, from a favourite shop, so beautifully wrapped up. That's very exciting! What could be inside?

I'd better have a look...

Oooh! Could it possibly be a new sewing machine?

I have been dithering over whether to buy myself a new sewing machine for at least a year. I have been very attached to my old machine, which was a 21st birthday present and has served me very well for many years. But after a day frustratingly unpicking mangled seams alongside a zip and failing to get the old machine to sew through three layers of linen, I decided enough was enough. I got on the tube, went up to Oxford Street, and bought the machine I have been secretly coveting since I used it on a Make Lounge course last year.

And I love it. It does everything I want it to, and more. Even the air vent on the back is beautiful!

The first thing I have made with it is a small, fiddly bit of doll's clothing. A type of sewing which the old machine used to really struggle with. Fine lawn fabric and tiny seams? It used to end up in mangled fabric, ripped seams, much swearing and eventual hand sewing.

I've made a pinafore dress for this young lady:

This is Harriet. And she is one of two identical purple bears that O has loved since she was a baby. This is the oldest photo I have of O with one of them (like proper twins, only O can tell them apart). O is about 18 months old in this picture.

Harriet is getting really quite threadbare, and O is very worried that one day she will just disintegrate.

We talked about patching her, but that didn't seem quite right. She is threadbare mainly on her tummy, not on her paws, and tummies aren't easy to patch. I thought a little pinafore might be better. And a pinafore, being removable, wouldn't compromise the essential Harriet-ness of Harriet.

So with tiny scraps of fabric, thin seams and miniature bias tape, I used my new machine to make Harriet a pinafore. I shirred around the waist to make it look less sack-like and Harriet seems very pleased indeed with her new dress.

But now I can tell Harriet and her twin bear, Charlotte, apart. That seems all wrong. I think I am going to have to make a matching pinafore for Charlotte now as well. What do you think?

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Sunday morning in Regent's Park

What we saw on our walk from Camden, around to the south side of Regent's Park this morning:
  • People heading home and other people heading out in search of hangover-curing brunches.
  • Barges nestled into the banks of the Regent's canal. Most moored and with their curtains firmly shut, but a few were pottering up and down the canal already.

  • Hyenas pacing up and down and warthogs rolling around in the mud. We were hoping to see some giraffes but they had wondered over to the other side of the zoo.
  • The London Central Mosque. Its brass dome matching the last few autumn leaves still on the trees after last night's storm.
  • Canada geese being greedy and noisy. Flocks of pigeons being even greedier and noisier.
  • Serene swans, looking rather disdainfully at the rabble of Canada geese and pigeons.
  • A heron, right by our feet as we crossed a bridge, and my boy taking some photographs of it.
  • Plenty of other Londoners out for a morning stroll, or jog, or bike ride, or scooter ride, or photography session.
  • And elegant regency houses to live in, when we win the lottery.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

A citation

This week I renewed my subscription to Ancestry, to help me with part of the work I need to do this autumn for my Open University course on family history.

When I logged on last night I saw that since I was last there, Ancestry have made available the British Army service records from World War I. I started rummaging and searching and without really noticing I lost a whole evening reading the records of my ancestors who had fought in the war.

By far the best document I found was this citation for a DCM, or Distinguished Conduct Medal, awarded to my Great Grandfather in 1920.

My Great Grandfather was awarded the medal:

"For gallantry and devotion to duty. He served at Ypres from June to December 1915, on the Somme from July to September 1916, at Nieuport in August and September 1917, during the operations at Passchendaele from September to December 1917, during the enemy offensive and our subsequent advance in 1918."

That reads like my old school history textbooks. He fought in every major offensive of World War I. And amazingly, despite two separate injuries (one of which was a 'gunshot wound to the head') he returned to the front again and again, survived the war, and lived on to be an old man, dying in the mid 1970s just a year or two after I was born. The things he must have seen and experienced don't bear thinking about.

I looked up from my computer screen at nearly half past midnight and saw that the date was November 11th. I told C and O about my finds when we got up this morning, and as we walked to school we tried to imagine how Ray Renwick felt this time ninety one years ago. Very, very thankful I think.

As are we all.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Another mat - but towelling, not linen

So it turns out that this week is all about mats, not really about appliqué after all. I've made my third mat in three sessions of sewing this week.

This time, there was recycling going on. I've made a bath mat, using the pattern from Amanda Blake Soule's Handmade Home, a pillowcase saved from my childhood and some cheapo hand towels from IKEA (and being IKEA, the handtowels are a bizarre, Swedish size - long and thin - not good for a hand towel, but perfect for transforming into a bath mat). G and the children all refused to entertain the idea of using this marvellously retro pillowcase as a pillowcase, so I figured they can see it when they step out of the bath each day instead.

I love the Handmade Home book. This is the second project I've made from it, and there are so many more that I want to try. When I spread my mat out to photograph it, I realised that I've ended up using very similar colours to the one in the book.

Let's just hope that my family embrace the wonderful hand-crafted, repurposed, retro nature of the bath mat with the same enthusiasm as Amanda's family do hers. I live in hope.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

This week's thing: appliqué on linen

My sewing machine has been busy since everybody else went back to school and work. On Monday, I cut up an old IKEA linen curtain that Miss Moss Stitch had given me over the summer (the gift wasn't as strange as the fact that I squealed with excitement when she gave it to me; her boyfriend gave mine a knowing and sympathetic look as I stroked the fabric).

With most of it I made another hallway mat. Inspired by the recent Scrap Buster Month at Sew Mama Sew, I quickly, and not too carefully, appliquéd a selection of pink and red scraps onto the linen, and then lined and backed it with flannel to make it stick to the carpet. I like the cheerful reds and pinks, and the easy going, not-too-neat, nature of the mat. Although I'm now thinking I should probably have given it a quick iron after I washed it. Certainly before I photographed it.

Then with two small pieces of the leftover linen, I made a drinks mat for my Mum. She has had her operation, and is walking again, but still in hospital. The recovery for hip replacements is long, and I am sure she will be drinking many cups of tea as she does plenty of knitting and takes things easy for the next couple of months.

This time I wanted a crisper, less rumpled look to the mat so I used bondaweb to fuse the appliqué onto the linen, and also the label onto the mug, before zigzagging around the edges. I like the way bondaweb appliqué ends up looking so well finished and just a little bit stiff. Which is exactly what you want for things like this.

I put leftover quilt batting in the middle and another piece of linen on the back. I made some bias tape to finish around the edge and did some outlining of the mug in running stitch. I'm still massively into embroidery and will embroider anything if it sits still for long enough.

The mat will be delivered in person tomorrow, when I go up to Oxford for the day to see how Mum and Dad are getting along. Rumour has it the hospital may even let her come home tomorrow. In which case, I shall make her a well deserved cup of tea.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

That was half term

So that was half term. For a whole week we planned to be as lazy as possible, and do as little as possible. But now I am at the end of it, I see that we managed to fit an awful lot in.
  • A trip to the new, local ice-cream parlour. They had bubble gum flavour ice cream which the children thought was amazing. G and I were boring grown ups and stuck to raspberry ripple and cappuccino flavours.
  • A sunny couple of hours at the local city farm.
  • A very exciting visit to Oxford to see my brother and his family, and meet the new cousin. I was very greedy and cuddled the baby for more than my fair share I think.
  • A trip to the shops to spend birthday money.
  • Plenty of good food and lazy meals.
  • A trip to Kew Gardens with friends on the mildest, sunniest October day I can remember.
And tomorrow the children go back to school and my attention will turn back to sewing. I have a list of things to sew that is raging out of control. I'm going to come back at the end of this week and show you what I've been making.

The sewing will be a good distraction for me from my mother's adventures this coming week. I made her a 'no more sticks' badge to wear after her operation. She is wearing it already, which I think is an excellent illustration of her determination to get rid of the sticks at the soonest opportunity. Go Lady Hip!