Tuesday 29 June 2010

What to wear?

Sometimes, when you've got nothing to wear because it is so darned hot outside, the simplest solution is to sew yourself something new.
  • This is a version of the trapeze sundress from Heather Ross's Weekend Sewing.  I made the original dress in the book during the last hot spell, a few weeks ago.
  • To make it into this top, I shortened the pattern to fall at mid-hip, and left off the pockets.
  • I didn't put in pleats, as the pattern instructs, instead I put in gathers.  You just need a very small bit of gathering at the centre front and centre back.  I find gathers much easier than pleats.
  • The main fabric is from the V&A quilt exhibition collection.  I started with a metre length, and ended up with a fair amount leftover.
  • The contrasting fabric is some linen from my stash - I first used it for O's cropped trousers here.  I think it originally came from IKEA - they often have good linens in stock.
  • I added some fancy stitching to the shoulder straps - and I'm very pleased with how it turned out.
  • I thought the front needed something as well, but more fancy stitching might have been a bit much, so I sewed on two little flower buttons.  I'm really pleased with this addition too.
  • Made in the evening.  Worn the next morning.  Excellent.

Monday 28 June 2010

Milkshake, chocolate and jam

We're nearly done with the back garden cherry glut.  There are just a few left on the tree now - so dark that they are almost black; teasingly dripping sugary juice directly into the hens' run on the ground below.  The children and I went to our favourite PYO very early on Saturday morning and picked six baskets of strawberries and bought a couple of big boxes of gooseberries as well - creating our very own strawberry and gooseberry glut instead.

Everyone had their own ideas of what do do with all this fruit.  Cam made endless strawberry milkshakes all weekend - about ten big, juicy strawberries, a large dollop of vanilla ice cream and half a pint of milk, all blitzed up in my blender and then gulped down, while lying prone on the sofa watching the tennis. 

Livvy wanted to make strawberries dipped in chocolate.

She's now tall enough to be able to stand at the stove to cook, so I showed her how to melt the chocolate over a pan of water, and then dip the strawberries in the chocolate and gently lay them down on the greasproof paper.  She loves the fact that she is now tall enough to cook by herself, and wants to do it all the time.

And I knew that most of the rest of the strawberries would end up as jam.  I made the jam yesterday afternoon - as the temperatures climbed relentlessly upwards. I was tired, hot, headachey and sticky by the end of the evening.  As I cleaned up the kitchen and all the jam making kit, I never wanted to see another strawberry again.

But when I saw all the pots of jam (all eighteen of them!) gleaming in the sunshine this morning I was delighted.

Livvy's right.  Strawberry jam rocks.

Tuesday 22 June 2010

Faces next....

They thought hands were a bit tame, and did their faces next.

Cherry hands

The sights and sounds of midsummer in our garden - two children, home from school, with cherry stained hands and faces.

Monday 21 June 2010


I've found a new, favourite sewing pattern.  And it will not surprise anyone in the least to learn that it is from my favourite sewing book - Heather Ross's Weekend Sewing.

These scarves are incredibly quick - and so satisfying to make.  From opening the book, to putting on the scarf, the total time it takes me to make one of these is barely more than 30 minutes.

I made the first one from a blue polka dot quilting fabric.

Using the measurements in the book, it was just ever so slightly too tight for my freakily-big head, so I gave this one to my sister and made another one for me.  As always with Heather Ross's patterns it is very simple to see how to adapt the sizing.

And I love them so much, that I ended up making four more altogether, only stopping when I had run out of wide elastic.

These look so good in any leftover scrap of fabric you've got lying around.  Have a look at all the other wonderful scarves made using this pattern in the Weekend Sewing Flickr pool, here.

Wednesday 16 June 2010

10 things

There is a great deal happening around here at the moment.

  • I finally finished the remaining clothes for O's boy Clothkits doll (renamed Bob, by O.  Love it!).  He now has this wonderful hat, a man-bag and a very natty pair of bright red, owl-festooned pyjamas to go with his jeans, check shirt and waistcoat.
  • Thank you all so much for the good wishes for Cam's and Graham's races last weekend.  They read all your kind comments and were delighted.  They're planning to do another parkrun this Saturday.
  • I made a lightweight summer outfit for Livvy (hoping for some seriously hot weather in France and Switzerland this summer) using two favourite Simplicity patterns.
The top is made from Simplicity 2986, using a really luscious (and precious) metre of Amy Butler Belle fabric, and the cropped trousers are based on Simplicity 3669 (modified quite extensively), using linen from IKEA.  Both the top and trousers are hemmed with thick velvet ribbon that my Grandmother gave me.  I fully expect these to get worn and worn all summer long.
  • I'm finally reading The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters - she is one of my most favourite writers.  I love it, and am racing through it far too fast.  Up next will be this one, or maybe this one.
  • I have really enjoyed considering all your suggestions for small, portable sewing projects.  Currently on the go are small bits of embroidery, sewing suffolk puffs, and little felty projects,  How could I have forgotten about felt?  And my favourite felt book?  Great fun.
  • I've been baking biscuits, using a delicious recipe in Rachel Allen's Bake.  I have written about this book before, but it really is excellent, and I keep going back to it.  The recipe I used was the Basic Cookie recipe, with added orange zest.  A lemon version is on the cards for this weekend.
  • I got Debbie Bliss's book Simply Baby out of the library last week, and I am knitting the two tone baby socks, which are just too sweet for words.
  • I have such a large stash of Debbie Bliss's Baby Cashmerino yarn that I might have to buy this book and start up sock production for all the babies I know.
  • This weekend I am planning on making my own bagels.  I've been meaning to do this for months and it is time to stop promising to do it and have a go.  Any tips?
  • The other thing happening this weekend is a return trip to the quilt exhibition at the V&A with my sister.  Very exciting!

Saturday 12 June 2010

Our weekend of sport

Well, there is no doubt this is a very big sporting weekend for us.  No, not the Canadian Grand Prix.  Not the tennis championship, at Queen's Club, either.  Not even one of those football matches happening in South Africa at the moment (Graham claimed it was totally necessary that he watch the tantalising match that was France v Uruguay last night, and then fell asleep on the sofa after 10 minutes.  I felt horribly righteous.).

No; for us, this big sporting weekend is all about running and triathlons. 

A while ago Graham and I found out about the parkrun organisation, and last month Graham went along to their inaugural run at Hackney Marshes, on the edge of the Olympic site, just a mile or so from where we live.  Parkrun is a wonderful organisation that arranges and hosts free, timed 5km runs every Saturday morning around the country (you can find your closest one here).  The races are truly open to everybody of all ages and abilities, from complete beginners to Olympians, and everyone in between.

This morning Cam ran his first ever 5km race at the third Hackney Marshes parkrun.  He is not a fan of PE at school, and hates football with a passion, but has been hankering after doing something sporty out of school for a while.  He asked if he could have a go at this after hearing G and I talking about it. 

So Graham bought him some proper running shoes.

And he had a little practise in the sitting room, wearing his pyjamas.

I printed off his race barcode and laminated it.  The barcode is effectively your entry ticket and it enables you to get an official time for your race.

And that was all the preparation we needed to do. 

This morning we all headed over to Hackney Marshes. Graham to help out with the marshalling, me, Livvy and Uncle David to be cheerleaders, and Cam to race.  Cam borrowed Graham's sat nav watch, so that he cold see how far he'd gone at any point and how fast he was running.  It looked so big on his skinny little ten-year old wrist!

There was a quick briefing from the race organiser, and off they all went.  Uncle David and I looked at each other with a little trepidation and wondered how Cam would get on.  How far can 10 year olds run? we wondered, not entirely sure.  Hopefully at least 5km.

Pre-race briefing; Cam at the back wearing a red top, blue shorts & looking very small.

And of course, as is always the case when children decide for themselves that they are ready to do something, it all turned out very well indeed.  Cam ran the race in just under 35 minutes, much faster than he expected to.  He had a great time, he didn't get lost, he didn't get a stitch, and he finished ahead of several of the adults.  He didn't even mind me squealing with excitement as he came up to the finish line.

You'd think after all that early morning activity we'd all head back home and have a nice cup of tea and a sit down.  But instead our race excitement then switched to Graham who left from the parkrun to drive to Snowdonia, where he is competing in a half ironman triathlon tomorrow morning.  In all the understandable excitement about Cam's first race, we've all completely taken for granted Graham's entry into only his second ever half-ironman race (you can see photos of his first one here).

And we really shouldn't be taking such a ridiculously long, involved race for granted.  Apart from anything else, just look at all the clobber he has to take with him.

Here are just some of the things he packed:
  • running shoes
  • wetsuit
  • trisuit
  • bike shoes
  • bike
  • spare inner tubes (lightweight - makes all the difference)
  • bike pump
  • a great deal of carb and protein laden food
  • posh sunglasses
  • a woolly hat
  • at least three water bottles
  • a blanket to keep the bike snug while it is in the back of the car
He will start off with a 2km swim in Bala lake, then a 90km bike ride through the foothills of Snowdonia, and then finish with a half-marathon run (21km) back to Bala.  He is aiming to do the whole race in around five and a half hours.  I won't be there to squeal with excitement when he finishes, as I did for Cam's race, but I've promised Graham that as a gesture of solidarity I'll be up tomorrow morning by the time he starts on the bike section of the race.  Abut 10am.  And I'm planning on baking him some coffee and walnut buns for when he gets back on Monday.

I think both of them have earned a few slices of cake this weekend.

After Cam finished his race. Very proud Dad, very tired son.

Wednesday 9 June 2010

Hanging around

Term-time life with children seems to involve a great deal of hanging around.  At ballet.  In the playground (sunning myself on a bench). At various sports events.  While there is a birthday party on.  Waiting for an after school club to finish.

Hanging around is boring, and I need something to entertain me and keep me occupied.

I always have a book in my handbag.  Currently I'm reading Treasures of Time by Penelope Lively, which is part of a new series called Penguin Decades.  I love these new covers - all of them - and it is always good to rediscover old books that are new to me.

But I can't always read a book when I'm hanging around.  Particularly if I have one of the children with me, or there is good people watching to be done.  Instead I need something to occupy my hands.  A portable craft that can be stuffed in a bag and brought out when there is time to be killed, and then stuffed back in the bag until next time.

I like sock knitting for its portability, and simplicity.  Apart from the heel and toe, it is just a whole load of knit stitches - round and round.  Easy to manage while talking about goodness-knows-what with the children.

But I find sewing is often less portable.  I need to get a good collection of small hand-sewing projects that I can have on the go.  I am hand quilting Livvy's strawberry quilt at the moment, which is a good pick-up-put-down job, but not portable.  Embroidery is a good hand sewing project.  And suffolk puffs are simple and mindless once you've cut up a whole pile of circles.

But what else could I do?  What fun, portable, hand-sewing projects can you think of, which I could carry around with me?

Saturday 5 June 2010

What you don't need when camping

The night before we left London for a week's camping on Exmoor, Graham and I thought we'd be terribly efficient and load up the car and roof box that evening to make a quick almost-dawn getaway down the motorway the next day.  We lugged the enormous and unwieldy roof box and its bars through the house, out onto the street, and discovered that they don't fit on our new car.  We looked at each other in disbelief.  Our tent alone normally takes up almost the whole boot.

The thought of starting our holiday with a 9:30am trip to Halfords, followed by a lengthy morning packing the car and roofbox and then sitting in stationary traffic down the length of the M4 was so depressing. "We don't really need the big tent, do we?" I said.  "We could just take the small one we use for festivals."  And so we culled.

We ended up leaving our lovely, giant three-pod tent at home, and taking three little two-man tents instead.  We would have taken two of the small ones anyway as the children like to have their own tents, so just Graham and I had to downsize - from a vast ten-man whopper of a tent, with spare rooms for storage, to a little cosy two-man one.

I removed two enormous, thick sweaters from my bag, and G nobly left two pillows at home.  I took out every pair of shoes apart from a pair of crocs and a pair of walking  boots.  And then did the same to everybody else and sneaked a pair of Birkenstocks back into my bag. 

We took a deep breath and just took one bottle of cider (for me) one bottle of porter (for Graham) and the two bottles of mead (not negotiable), reasoning that we were heading to the West Country so we could buy more when we got there.

We left the gas stove behind and took the two trangias instead.  In the end we only used one of them.

Two things I was very pleased that did come with us were all the quilts and all the chairs - despite taking up an unreasonable amount of precious space in the car.  They gave us a level of comfort that we appreciated all the more for having to crawl in and out of our tiny tent.  Years ago we ditched our much-hated double airbed and duvet for top of the range self inflating mats and three season sleeping bags - all of which stuff down to virtually nothing, so those could be squeezed under seats and into footwells with no bother.

We left the collapsible table at home and Graham did all the cooking and coffee-brewing sitting cross legged on the grass.  We played games while we sat out on the grass and read books sprawled out on the grass or in our tents.

And you know what - our pared down camping was a delight.  We truly did not miss anything that we had to leave behind. 

There are caveats of course - the biggest one being that we had glorious weather.  Had it been raining all week then crawling in and out of the tents and sitting cross-legged on the grass to brew coffee would have just been grim.  Also, the children are at an age where they don't need many belongings with them, and are happy to sleep in their own, small tents.  They spent most of the week sploshing through the River Exe, which ran along the length of the campsite.

All they needed was a supply of toasted marshmallows, and a change of dry clothes occasionally.

The campsite we went to was beautiful.  Situated in four quiet fields on a working farm slap-bang in the middle of Exmoor National Park, it was remote, peaceful and deeply relaxing.  We woke to the sound of the River Exe (a grand name for the pretty burbling stream) and a cuckoo each morning.  The farm shop kept us well supplied with sausages, milk, cheese, marshmallows and other essentials, so we barely left the site.  There were marked walks from the farm onto Exmoor, but we soon decided that sitting in the shade with bottles of cider was a better option.

And yes.  Of course I took the bunting.  It did sit in a bag on my lap all the way down the M4 though, as there was no more room in the boot.