Sunday, 31 January 2010

The quick-slow quilt

My quilt is finished.  Once I got down to it, the rest of the quilting only took me a few evenings, and it was all done by Friday afternoon.

Yesterday I set about trimming and binding it.  This is my favourite part of quilt making as you finally see the whole thing coming together for the first time.

I laid the quilt out and trimmed all the edges.

Then I cut seven strips from this Michael Miller dot fabric, and made the binding.

With every quilt I make (this is my third) I get much better at making neat mitred corners.  But something I never learn is how l...o...n...g... it takes me to hand sew the back of the binding on.  I started off claiming it would take me an hour before tea, and then a couple of hours later I started revising my estimates downwards.  I finally finished at 12:55am. 

But of course it was worth it.  I slept under it and this morning took some finished photographs out on the railings at the front of our house.

Details: The three fabrics which make up the quilt top are all by Kaffe Fassett, and the binding fabric is by Michael Miller.  The backing fabric is a small white-polka-dot-on-red fabric from my local fabric shop.  The pattern is broadly based on one in Last-Minute Patchwork and Quilted Gifts, called Six of One and Half a Dozen of Another.  I started it last May, made the top in a day and then left it half quilted for nearly seven months before finishing it over the last few weeks.  It would have indeed been a last-minute quilt without that seven month hiatus.

I love it!

Friday, 29 January 2010

Ten things

  • One of my most favourite Radio 4 programmes is finally a podcast.  Just I'm sorry I haven't a clue to go, and my podcasting life will be complete.
  • I'm feeling rather guilty because I inadvertantly locked the hens out of the eglu last night.  They had to sleep out in the run and this morning Beatrice had to lay her egg in the dust bath. I made them a bowl of hot porridge to say sorry (and warm them up).
  • I made crumpets last weekend.  They were so good and we used nearly a whole pot of jam when we ate them.  You can buy crumpet rings from here. They come with their own recipe but I used the recipe in the new Hairy Bikers Mums Know Best cookbook.
  • I'm loving their new BBC2 series on Tuesday nights.
  • G ran in the Benfleet 15 cross country race last Sunday.  He said the mud was of biblical proportions.  Here are his trainers afterwards.
  • I really love Dottycookie's and Silver Pebble's idea of a skills swap.
  • But at the moment I am concentrating on my existing skills.  And my existing to-sew list and to-knit list.
  • Seeing so many people finish beautiful quilts recently has given me a much needed nudge.
  • I've finally finished quilting my own bright quilt.  The top was made in a morning last year and then has sat in my sewing basket since then, half quilted. But I got my needle and thread out last weekend and finished it this morning.

  • And if I bind it this weekend, I can then move on to O's strawberry quilt, which has also been languishing since last year.  I think she has been patient long enough.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

This took much longer to photograph than it did to make

With the dreary, rainy gloom we were left with after the snow melted, I desperately needed to inject some colour into my life.

I bought a metre of Kaffe Fassett fabric in my favourite pattern, but in a colourway I'd not had before - a crazy, mad red.  I used a pattern from Amy Butler's In Stitches which I have wanted to do since I first got the book - the sash with beaded fringe.  John Lewis couldn't provide me with a beaded fringe, but I had some giant ricrac at home, and I liked the way the curves of the ricrac echoed all the spots in the fabric, so I went with that instead of the beaded fringe.

It is an incredibly simple pattern, and so very quick to make up.  The whole thing - cutting pattern pieces, measuring and cutting fabric, attaching trim, sewing sash and slipstitching the gap - took a couple of hours.  After supper and before bed.

But my goodness it took a long time to photograph.  The next day there was no sun, and our house was very dark.  So where to take the picture?  The colours of the fabric are so vivid and luscious that I couldn't have them looking dull and washed out - that's not Kaffe's style at all.

I tried wearing it and taking photos in the bathroom mirror - but the mirror was too dirty.  I tried in front of the sitting room mirror but there was too much stuff in the way.  I tried hanging it in our bedroom window.  That was pretty good.

And the close ups came out well.

But the window frames kept getting in the way and the brown of them clashed with the scarf.  So I tried hanging it from our bedroom lampshade.

And that was okay, except for the clutter and the doorway in the background.  Taking all those photos meant that I was running late to pick up the children for school (I know - can you imagine the feebleness of that excuse? so sorry I'm late for the children, I was trying to photograph some Kaffe fabric in the best light possible) so I took the car rather than the tube and as I parked I saw that the bright red of the sash sash (worn as a scarf) against the slightly faded mauve of my old Boden coat was wonderful.  So I took another picture for good measure:

And then ran down the road and through the school gates, just in time.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Inheritance :: photographs

Inheritance :: possession by transmission from past generations
Chambers Concise Dictionary

The essay has been submitted and my OU course has now finished.  I'm now reflecting on everything I learned and thinking particularly about photos.

I have a great many photos in albums - pictures from my childhood, from when I was at school and university, from when G and I had romantic holidays and drunken house-parties together, and then huge numbers of pictures from when the children were born.   But suddenly at the end of 2004, the photos stop.  If my future great-grandchildren were to look back at my collection of photos, they would speculate as to what what horrible catastrophe had suddenly decimated my family life.In January 2005 the photographic catastrophe was that I bought myself a digital camera and the records of my family life moved away from albums and onto hard drives, backed up CDs, Flickr and eventually this blog.  The pictures exist, but not in a physical form.

The children love looking through old photos.  Particularly the pictures of them as babies.  When C saw the first photos (via email) of his new baby cousin two weeks ago he exclaimed "He looks like me!  There's a photo of me looking just like that!" and went off to rummage through the photo albums (and he found the picture he was thinking of and indeed he looks just like his cousin in it).  O will sit on the floor and flick through the albums for just general amusement.  She likes to point out to G how much hair he used to have, and says to me things like 'didn't you look young!'.

On my family history course we learnt how photographs can help us gain a better understanding of our family history, and how to find out important information from them.  I find old photographs incredibly moving.  Photographs bring my ancestors alive in a way that census returns and birth certificates never can.

This is a photograph of my grandfather's uncle.  He was born in 1876 in Yorkshire, and died in America sometime in the late 1890s.  I have inherited a vague story about him, told by my grandfather, but I'm still trying to support the story with facts. This photograph is of him as a teenager and would have been taken just a year or two before he sailed for America.  Possibly as a memento for his family, soon before he left.

And below, is a photo of my great-great-grandparents, taken around the turn of the twentieth century, probably to mark their silver wedding.  I love this photo because they look like a calm and contented middle-aged couple and I can't get enough of their wonderful clothes.  My great-great-grandfather was a tailor, and I think he would have been wearing his smartest handmade suit for the occasion!  I have the same first and last name as my great-great-grandmother and this photograph just strengthens that connection I already feel with her.

Photographs online are a great historical resource and a good way to preserve and share fragile pictures, but I want my great-great-grandchildren to have something physical to look through too.  I wonder what they'll think of my different hairstyles and clothes throughout the years.  Just like O, will they remark on how young I look in the pre-children photos?

The basket in our sitting room, with some of my photo albums in it. C and O like to rummage.

So I ordered a fairly random selection of fifty of my photos from 2004, 2005 and 2006 and started a new album.  I'm going to add to the album bit by bit each month until we're completely up to date, and then there will be a proper inheritance for my great-great-grandchildren.  Perhaps one of them will even share my (and my great-great-grandmother's) name.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Coffee break

I have a week and a half left of my short OU course, and I am writing my final assessment. In some ways I am just like the student I was nearly twenty years ago when I started my degree in American Studies at university.  I still like to do my essays in one intensive burst of enthusiasm, close to the deadline.  I still work on a cluttered desk and I still like to write in longhand on a pad of A4 paper and then type it up later.

But these days I drink coffee rather than herbal tea, and I have much posher biscuits.  These are the oat and vanilla shortbread biscuits from Rachel Allen's Bake.  I also no longer have to interrupt my essay writing to go to the launderette or drink the night away in the student union. 

There is, however, the blog to distract me now.

And these daffs from Cornwall, slowly opening on the mantelpiece.  Can I finish my essay before they are all in bloom?

Friday, 15 January 2010

Still listening to my father's advice

It took me a long time, but a few years ago I finally realised that I love gardens but really don't like gardening.  Low maintenance but pretty is my idea of a good garden.  Until I can afford a gardener, however, I do have to do some care and maintenance in the garden if I want it to look nice each summer.

This morning, with the snow melted and the temperatures reasonable again, I stood in the garden and wondered where to begin.  It was very tempting to go back inside and curl up on the sofa with a pot of coffee, but I asked myself 'what would Michael do?' and I decided that he would definitely start by tackling the monstrous ivy and jasmine hedge that runs the full length of one side of the garden.

Ivy and jasmine both seem to thrive on neglect - perfect for our garden.  But this means they need hacking back keeping in check on a regular basis.  For the first ten years we lived here, we trimmed the hedge painfully and laboriously with a bluntish pair of secaturs.  Last summer, our kind neighbours could stand it no longer.  They leant us their hedge trimmer - what a revelation!  The whole hedge took a couple of hours to trim and clear up, rather than the two weekends it used to.  After we had finished, we bought a hedge trimmer of our own and stowed it carefully away in the loft.

This morning, I got it out and laid waste to the hedge.  The hedge trimmer is a very malevolent looking piece of kit.

Those sharp teeth are pretty scary.  But I love how they bite through the thick tangles of vine-like stems. The hedge is so tall that I had to get the ladder out to reach the top.  And even then there were a few bits I couldn't safely cut.  I will need to lend our hedge trimmer to the neighbours on that side and suggest they give their side of the ivy some trimming too.

I filled our big garden waste wheelie bin with all the trimmings, and gave a little private cheer for our local council, who are very good indeed at recycling and composting. 

And after I had cleared the garden and put away the ladder and the rake, I went to put the hedge trimmer away too.  But as I picked it up I saw how filthy it was and asked myself again 'what would Michael do?'.  I decided he would probably clean it and oil it to stop it rusting.  I phoned him to check, and indeed that was what he would do. So I found an old rag and some WD40, carefully cleaned those crocodilian teeth, and put the hedge trimmer back in the loft ready for the next time.

And after all my hard work, I went inside to make myself a strong cup of coffee and eat a chocolate brownie.  Because Michael would definitely do that.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Inheritance :: the fireplace

Inheritance :: possession by transmission from past generations
Chambers Concise Dictionary

The house we live in was built sometime in the late 1880s - so it is now over a hundred and twenty years old. Over those many decades so much has changed in this part of London - and in the house itself.  But there are a few little bits and pieces we live with every day that are still original.  The doors downstairs, most of the floorboards, the ceiling roses, and the fireplaces.

The front foom fireplace is still used by us, in the same way and for the same purpose as it was by the first owners when Queen Victoria was on the throne. The chimney sweep tells me that we have the original flue, grate, chimney stack, ironwork and tiles - everything about it today is just as it was in 1880.

The fireplace is really very small - about 30cm across and 25cm deep - and designed to burn coal, not logs.  For such a tiny fireplace it gives out an immense amount of heat.  Coal burns very slowly and intensely, glowing with heat rather than giving off flames; and the fireplace is made with cast iron which radiates heat extremely well back into the room.  So we don't just get the heat from the hot coals, but also the heat from the cast iron.

Back in 1880 the owners of the house would have had their coal delivered by a horse and cart.  What is now our under-the-stairs cupboard and home to all our camping equipment, would have been a coal cellar back then.  A cole hole in the path leading up to the front door would have been opened, and the coal poured down straight into the cellar.  Nowadays we have to burn smokeless fuel which we buy in bags from the local coal merchant. The Clean Air Act was passed in 1956, mainly as a result of the Great Smog a couple of years earlier, and as a result we are not allowed to burn wood or coal in London. The smokeless fuel that we used is derived from coke, and burns in exactly the same way as coal but without the smoke.

I start the fire with a pile of kindling over a firelighter.  G's grandmother taught him how to light a fire and then he taught me when we moved into this house.  She did not use firelighters though.  When she was in service she twisted old newspaper into tight knots and used that to start the fire; piling the coal carefully on top once the flames were going.  Then once the first coals are glowing you can give the whole fire a big poke with the poker and shovel more coal on top.

An open fire needs to have its chimney swept every year, to keep it clean and free from bird and coal debris.  The chimney sweep of the twenty first century still wears black clothes and still uses the big old round brushes you know from the Mary Poppins film.

But now he very carefully lays out thick (black) dustsheets and hoovers up all the soot from the chimney with a bright yellow hoover.  I'm always amazed and impressed how he comes and goes within half an hour, but leaves no mess behind at all.

I love our fire. Mainly because it just works so well, and for something so functional it is also beautiful to look at.  I like to imagine the very first owners of this house being whisked forward in time a hundred and twenty years to meet us and look round the house as it is today.  They would be astonished at the computers, the electric lights, the inside toilet, the washing machine, the plastic toys, the iPods and G's wetsuit.  And I think they might also be surprised that amongst all this modernity we still use and love their old open coal fireplace.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Ten things

  • I love the bright white-blue January sunshine. So cleansing and uplifting after the dark, sluggish fug of Christmas.
  • Hard to believe that vast amounts of snow is headed our way. Again.
  • Is it really? Or is it just the BBC weather forecast being neurotic again?  For a wonderful article on the pessimism of the BBC weather forecasts, see here.
  • But if it does snow, the children will get to use these snow pans I bought from Muddy Puddles, just too late for the last lot of snow.
  • Our new car has an outside temperature reader.  I love it and spend all of the journey to school exclaiming at how the temperature is still -1 outside!
  • The children are very bored with this, but I am not.
  • I cooked a rabbit stew at the weekend, and it was delicious.
  • I have black salsify in my veg box this week and I only know one black salsify recipe.
  • Rabbit and black salsify in the same week is quite impressive I think.
  • G doesn't like this cold, clear winter weather as much as I do.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

A handmade Christmas

I managed to sew almost all the Christmas presents I gave to my family this year.  A handmade Christmas felt good and very much in the spirit of these frugal, crafting times.  It also felt very good to reduce, though admittedly only slightly, my scarily tall pile of beautiful and unused fabrics.  Now there's some room I can buy more!  Very frugal.

I made these stationery wraps for my mother, my sister and my sister-in-law.  The pattern is a free one on Amanda Blake Soule's site - she calls it a gratitude wrap. I was appropriately grateful for the pattern.  It was straightforward and the end result looks lovely.

The wrap holds a small moleskine cahier, a packet of postcards, or other 6x4" notecards, and a book of stamps.

I made great use of the reinforcing stitch on my new machine.  Each stitch is sewn three times, making for a very strong line of stitching.  Perfect for defined folds like these.

I bought some great cards from Etsy to go in the wraps.  These knitting ones for my Mum were from Local Gringos - she has an Etsy shop full of fine and quirky knitterobilia.

I also made an adapted version of the stationery wrap for a good friend, with just two pockets - one for pencils and another for a bigger notebook.  But then I posted it without photographing it, so there is no proof of my creativity with that one. 

Next were some cushions for my niece and two nephews.  My niece, Alex, who is six, got my favourite cushion - the one I would have most liked to keep for myself!

I think this daisy fabric is so pretty, and a field of flowers would definitely have some butterflies in it.  Did you spot the secret pocket?  After making O's cushion last autumn, I decided that all cushions for small children need secret pockets in them.  And of course secret pockets need small, secret things to go in them. 

Alex got two tiny felt matryoshka dolls to hide in her cushion pocket.  Unrelated to a field full of daisies and butterflies I know, but I was in love with these little Russian dollies.  Originally I planned to make her a felt butterfly to go in the pocket, but when I made the matryoshka, their sleeping faces suggested night-time friends to me, and in they went instead.

The pattern for these matryoshka comes from Felties by Nelly Pailloux - a really lovely book full of small, quick, felt projects.

Will, who is three, had a bird cushion.  With a not-so-secret bird pocket, and a felt bird to go inside.  I hope he likes birds.

And baby brother, Ben, who is just two months old, got a cushion made from the most tactile, soft, cloud covered flannel fabric imaginable.  Ben is a happy, cuddly sort of baby, so I'm sure he will appreciate this snuggly cushion.  He didn't get a secret pocket, but did get his name embroidered on the air balloon basket instead.

For my brother and my brother-in-law I made some coasters, like the one I made for Mum when she was recuperating from her operation.

My mother-in-law's present was not a surprise.  She had asked me to make her a jewellery roll, incorporating the colour purple, and with some antique lace she had inherited.  Frankly I was terrified.  It has confirmed that I would be no good making commissions for a living - it is far too stressful.  But although it cost me many weeks of angst (which design? how to use the lace? purple - how?), I was very pleased indeed with the end result.

I decided on a simple, pocketed design in the end - a little like a knitting needle roll or a crayon roll, but with shorter, fatter pockets.  In the picture above you can see the three pockets (and the velvet ribbon for a tie - yet to be sewn on), and the picture below shows the beautiful vintage lace in more detail.  The lace was very old, very precious, very fragile, and extremely worrying to work with!

And below is another picture (after so much fretting, this jewellery roll had MANY photos taken of it once it was finished).  You can see the lace peeking out, even when the top is folded over.  I sewed the ribbon onto one side so the whole thing can be rolled up and secured with a bow.

And finally, on my last, quiet sewing day alone (the final day of term), I made G and the children house trousers or pyjama pants (you can read my discussion of what to call them here).

G's were made from some William Morris fabric (and in the picture above you can see my masking tape temporary labels saying 'front' and 'back', 'left' and 'right' - it's very difficult to tell with these trousers until you sew the label in).  The children's were made from some Amy Butler fabric.  I think I love C's acid blue ones the most.

The children's are made from Simplicity pattern 3669 and G's are the pyjama pants pattern from Weekend Sewing by Heather Ross

Next Christmas I'll throw in a soft white t-shirt with each pair to make a complete lounging about outfit.  For more inspiration on handmade pyjama pants from wonderfully eccentric fabrics have a look here and here.  It seems to be an American Christmas tradition that I was not aware of.

I really should have made myself some as well for the full Von Trapp family, weird trousers look, but I ran out of time.  I think that was enough sewing.  Even for me.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Knitting in the New Year

The start of the new year will be celebrated by me spending an entire day in my pyjamas, knitting.  First some pale blue bootees for a new nephew who was due to be born on Christmas Day but who has held on long enough to be a January baby at the start of a new decade. Surely he'll be here any day now?

Then I'm going to start me some socks with this lovely German sock yarn that I bought at a shop in Royston, Hertfordshire in a spare few hours before a friend's wedding last August.

I never like to waste a yarn buying opportunity.

I pretty much ended last year knitting as well.  I finished a hat for C right before New Year's Eve.  He wanted a hat with earflaps so I made him the Roman Earflap Hat by Minty Fresh on Ravelry.

I love the way the hat looks, but it has come up smaller than I wanted, so next time I would make it bigger.  There will be a next time, I want to make it without the earflaps for G.  Just look at the shaping on the crown - so beautiful!

C moaned a bit about the hole in the top, but stopped quickly when I pulled a face at him.  Next time I will pull the yarn tighter before weaving the ends in, but I think part of the reason the hole ended up that size is that I had to really stretch the hat when blocking it to make it fit.  I don't particularly care - I just love the way it looks.

C has bought himself a skateboard with his Christmas money, hence the skater-chic earflap hat. I am apprehensive about the possible broken wrists and skinned shins that are heading his way. Life was harder but simpler ten years ago when he fitted items as small as these knitted bootees.