Sunday, 2 November 2014

Friday, 17 October 2014

A peek at the studio

I am in the process of setting up a new studio, which is very exciting, but first I thought I would share my little studio space I have in my small flat.

My first studio was a large summer house at the bottom of the garden, I was studying at the time and my children were teenagers so it was the easiest way to find sanctuary to write my essays! 
It was featured in Prima Magazine and I was very proud of it. 

This beauty holds zippers, sequins and metallic embroidery threads.

When I moved to my little flat I decided that the second bedroom would make a great studio. 
I had a magnificent find in a charity furniture shop, three large Ikea bookshelves for £30! 

They run almost the whole length of the wall, 
but it makes it ideal to keep lots of things close and handy. 

I love books, here is a small part of my crafty ones

I have a large selection of crafting books, the oldest one is from the 1930's 
I love to be inspired by craft books although I struggle to follow a pattern
Usually I adapt it in some way. 

I am a huge fan of beautiful boxes, I like everything neat and tidy 
but labels are essential when the boxes all look the same! 
these contain paper, birthday cards and embellishments 
the wooden case holds pastels.

You can just get a glimpse of the wicker picnic baskets at the top of the shelves, 
I have a whole basket of felt. 
I love jars, and embellish them with glitter and glue before storing 
buttons and bows. 
The vintage quality street tin contains a lot of crayons
and the basket has a lot of cherry blossom 
flowers for a project I have in mind. 

This little wicker basket set is perfect for all the clutter bug stencils 
and the boxes alongside hold computer leads for my embroidery machine, 
and pots of acrylic paints.

The big oval contains a huge muddle of bias binding and ribbon
the suitcases contain zips, Rubber stamps, embroidery wool, 
felting fleece, gadgets and gizmos. 
The pretty shoe boxes contain some vintage sewing items and metallic pens. 

The large box at the bottom is where I keep magazine cuttings of inspiring pictures, 
the two books store all my sewing machine accessories like feet, bobbins and frames. 

Button tins, sewing boxes and cutter bug all jumble together. 
The small tins store buttons, cable needles and feathers! 

I like to keep things in boxes so that they are handy when I am in the middle of something. 
I have most of my fabric and other larger items in storage, 
so I am able to work in a clear space. 

The walls of the studio are white and the wall opposite has a large mood board 
for things that inspire me. Photos from holiday, quotations 
together with postcards and cards that are like small works of art. 

I also have a large corner desk that takes up about a third of the little room, 
with a lovely northern light. 

I would be interested to see your little workspace... 

ttfn xx 

Monday, 13 October 2014

Book Review - Sweet Shop of Dreams

Oh the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful.... its the time of year for snuggling down with a good book. We have spent a couple of Sunday afternoons companionably reading; the ticking of the clock being the only sound to compete with the beating of the rain on the windows. One of us will break to make a pot of tea - usually there's some cake or other. 

I read many books at once: a lot of spiritual development books that simply cannot be read in one go, sometimes it is nice just to read something that is not to taxing. 

This book is a lovely read, the main character, Rosie, is very endearing, she leaves behind a rather grey existence in London to travel to a remote village in Darbyshire to tend to her elderly aunt, Lillian. 

Alongside the Rosie's tale is Lillian's story of lost love, a wartime romance that was never given the chance to grow. I found Lillian's story deeper and somehow more substantial than Rosie's comical exploits as she comes to term with living in a strange place. 

There appears to be a quotations from a 'book about sweets' with most of the chapters having a page dedicated to a particular type of sweet - old fashioned ones, fudge, liquorish etc. It is never quite clear if this is Lillian's writing or simply quotations from an old book. With all three being separate it made it rather difficult at first to get into the story, but by the middle I became used to the disjointed nature. 

While it is a fairly satisfying read, I felt that it could have been better. I was waiting for Rosie and Lillian to bond, but oddly enough they never really have a good conversation. I found it most odd that Rosie arrived at Lillian's house late in the evening and the following morning Rosie simply gets up and leaves the house to explore. I found that a little unbelievable, it would be incredibly rude so the relationship between these characters never really establishes itself. Rosie does nurse Lillian, but they are kept apart, the writer even resorts to conversations held on a child monitor. 

I imagined some form of connection between old and young, with Lillian tutoring Rosie in the art of sweet making, but all that happens is that Rosie simply orders sweets from suppliers. The sweetshop could have been far more magical. The sudden emergence of another character to help run the shop so that Rosie can spend time with her man seemed a bit too easy. 

I miss Mauve Binchy, she would have really brought the characters alive, I used to end her books feeling I was saying goodbye to dear friends, but I did not have that connection with Rosie or Lillian. 

Its an enjoyable quick read, like eating a boiled sweet, nice while it lasts but not really substantial, but then that is what Chick Lit is after all. 

ttfn x

Friday, 10 October 2014

Oops! Darn it!

There I am in the middle of my current project for a workshop at Eternal Maker, when suddenly I realise that I have cut through the largest piece of my project! Accidents happen and while it might be frustrating (the perfectionist in me says buy more material and start again) the realist in me says that its repairable. Ok so not perfect, but then its an opportunity to share a repair technique with you. 

I have used it on clothing and it has been surprisingly invisible, one of my favourite gypsy skirts got caught up in the chain of my bicycle and ripped. After repairing it this way, I was able to wear it again and as the fabric was patterned, no-one noticed (or if they did they were too polite to say!). 

The important thing is to prevent the ragged edges from fraying. 
Thankfully, iron on interfacing includes a heat activated glue that will seal off the edges nicely. 

Match your interfacing colour, use black on dark colours and white on light colours. 

Cut enough so that the piece has at least a 1cm allowance all around the cut. 

Iron the wrong side of the fabric, drawing the edges together as closely as possible.

Lay the interfacing on top, then a pressing cloth (if you prefer your iron to be free from glue)  

Press the iron firmly and try not to move it around. (movement will shift the frayed edges). 

Allow to cool slightly before moving the item so that the glue can set. 

This is the stitch display on my sewing machine, look for something similar. 

Stitch 22, 23, or 24 are all forms of darning stitches. 

If you don't have multiple stitches then use a zigzag stitch set to a medium width and short length. 

The important thing is to get the right matching thread. 

I find it easier to use an appliqué foot
so I can see the edge and ensure the stitches bridge the cut.

If you use a normal foot just make sure the cut edge runs along the front groove guide. 

Allow the machine to go at its own pace, it will be slower than a straight stitch. 

While this close up shows the stitching its not quite so bad as it looks. 

I will post the project later and you will see for yourself. 

ttfn x 

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Ode to Autumn - Make your own Harvest Wreath

I really enjoy walking my dog, we follow a path along a hedgerow and it is a real pleasure to see how much this changes over the seasons. It reminds me of school projects, collecting leaves from the nearby woods, the seasonal displays that seemed to create a wonderful rhythm with nature. 

Last year I was enthralled by the pretty shapes of the ivy leaves and they inspired me to make a winter wreath. This September the hedgerows are full of fruit and berries, the hawthorne berry looks so bright and cheery, blackberries abound but its the shapes of the foliage that catches my eye. Filigree leaved ferns, the flowers of the ivy, the marvellous variety of shapes of the leaves from oak to maple. 

These tiny crab apples simply spill from every branch, in clusters of tiny apple perfection - 
they seem like food for fairies. 

The wheat has gone, leaving behind stalks and dry earth but I felt inspired to pay homage to Autumn and create my very own Harvest Wreath. Salt dough is the perfect medium, as bread distorts the shape as it proves. It also means that I can keep the wreath to display next year if I want. 

Make a dough using half salt to flour, (I used two cups of flour and one cup of salt) 

Add enough water to make a dough and then divide it into three. 
Put two lumps of dough in a plastic bag until needed to prevent the dough drying out. 

Roll out with a rolling pin until about 0.5cm 1/2 inch, thick
Use a saucer or side plate to create a circle template. 

Then add a handle, (you can use the plate edge to create smooth curves) 
cut away the excess dough.
 Place the plaque carefully on a baking tray lined with parchment. 

Roll out sausages of dough in long thin strips and cover the 'handle' area. 
dampening the area with a little water to stick the strips to the base. 

Make a little bow at the curve and add a little mouse if you like. 

Place two paperclips with their closed end overhanging the base 
at the 11o'clock and 1 o'clock positions. 
Place a little dough over the top to seal them
ensuring there is enough visible to allow you to hang the plaque

Make the ears of corn: make a small sausage about 1cm half an inch long, 
snip along the sides with small scissors. 
Dampen the base a little with water, lay the corn down starting from the outside and 
working towards the centre. 
You can make bigger/smaller ears of corn if needed to fill gaps. 

When your dough model is complete place in a low oven until hard. 
Depending on your oven it can take hours or left overnight. 

If it doesn't brown up as much as you like you can use watercolour paints
or felt tips to highlight areas. 
When you are happy, seal with a spray varnish. 

Hang your plaque somewhere you will enjoy seeing it, 
but protect it from excess moisture otherwise it will crumble. 

ttfn x 

Butter whirls Recipe

Oh my! the weather has changed considerably in the last few days, gone are the balmy sunny days of September with all the fruitful abundance, to the chill wet rain of October - I want to spend time in my warm, kitchen listening to the rain and hail splat against the window, enhancing the cosiness of baking and domestic bliss. 

A dear friend of mine was having a coffee morning so I made these butter whirls to take along, they are so easy to make and they look so pretty. 

150g of softened butter
50g icing sugar
2 teaspoons of vanilla paste
100g of plain flour
50g of rice flour (or you can use all plain flour) 

Cream the butter and sugar together until they are light and fluffy, its best done with a mixer to save aching arms! Stir in the flour but teat it lightly otherwise you might lose all the air. 

Place mixture into a piping bag fitted with a large gage star nozzle. 
Pipe onto a greased baking tin, in small swirls. 
Its a good idea to keep the swirls tall, as the mixture spreads out in the oven. 
Put a cherry on the top and bake in a moderate oven (160/325 GM3) around 20 minutes 
or until pale and golden. 

You can be even more indulgent by adding a little jam and butter icing to make a biscuit sandwich, they will look like home made Viennese whirls. Or you can dip one side in chocolate... now that is a thought... ttfn x

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Poppies, workshops and fabulous felting!

I love Autumn; its a time of nesting, gathering ripe blackberries to create jams and jellies, pickling onions and cucumbers: the anticipation of cosy nights by the fire crocheting or knitting while the cold nights stay outside the warm glow of the windows. The summer activities are winding down, my focus turns to creating a comfortable cosy home, and crafting.  

I have been speaking to Clothkits and Eternal Maker about running workshops, the first of which will be needle felting poppies for remembrance day in November. Its the centenary of the start of the first World War this year, the BBC have been running such interesting programmes about the lives of ordinary men and women a hundred years ago.  Yet in recent years, we are still seeing soldiers return home injured or worse, it has begun to feel less like history, and lamentable that we are still engaged in conflict today. I hope to give a donation to the Poppy appeal as it is such a great cause. 

I really enjoy needle felting, it is so satisfying to be able to replicate the beauty of flowers and leaves so easily, blending colours, shaping the wool; it's a pleasurable way to spend half an hour, the projects evolve very quickly and easily. (You just have to keep your fingers out of the way!) 

If you would like to try this yourself, I can recommend Gillian Harris's book Felting Fabulous flowers, the projects are delightful and the step by step instructions are easy to follow. You can purchase a copy on amazon.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

A vintage supper

We attended a pop up restaurant in the form of "A Good Vintage Supper Club" It is a great idea, you never know who you will be eating with and the food was lovingly prepared by Daryl. As it was Goodwood Revival weekend, we were encouraged to dress up Vintage style - I thought I would pay homage to Downton Abbey that returns on our screens this month! (Can't wait!)

The menu was interesting, wild rabbit served in a spicy crust, drunken guinea fowl served with seasonal organic vegetables and a beetroot chocolate brownie! Mr D enjoyed a Selsey Crab macaroni dish which was so generous he was unable to finish. 

The wine was provided by the local wine shop and they encouraged us to taste five different wines over the course of the meal from France, Italy and New Zealand. 

Conversation flowed easily around the dinner table and friendships forged, it is a marvellous idea and was a lovely evening. 

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

What's healthy?

I saw the doctor the other day, I have been struggling with my health for a couple of years but she forced me to get on the scales and I had to face it - I am overweight and heavier than I have ever been - (including pregnancy weight).

I know I am not unusual, Women's hour reported that 61% of the UK population is overweight.

I needed to do something, I could not keep on simply buying bigger and bigger clothes and my health is really starting to suffer.

I started as I love to do, with books. I sat in my favourite Waterstones, with my green tea, thai noodles and a pile of books so high, I could not see above them.

I chose randomly, picking up one here and there from the shelf right at the bottom of the cooking section, below the bake offs, sweets and pudding books. It seems in order to be healthy one must be able to bend down that far. (I still can so all is not lost!) My pile included, sugar free eating, wheat free eating, healthy living, cleansing, medicinal foods to name but a few. The sugar free one seemed to offer me hope that I could continue to eat cake that would also magically be low in calories, and it looked promising, pages and pages of savoury food, (cheating!) finally the puddings section which included cakes and biscuits. I was surprised until I discovered the recipe included 'dextrose' not sugar... er... isn't that another name for sugar?

Another book substituted sugar for weird ingredients - some of which were unpronounceable leaving me to wonder about the processing and artificial sweeteners have been linked to increasing obesity and cancer.   Coconut sugar? er.. isn't that still sugar? Xanthan gum was proposed as a 'heathy' alternative to sugar, but it is created from the fermentation of sugars, identified as a polysaccharide (poly as in multiple + another word for sugar) combined with bacteria. Call me old fashioned, but sugar looks to me to be the healthiest option.

Another told me that wheat was virtually poison and I should never eat it, suggesting  odd ingredients that were most likely found in health food shops. I struggle to imagine any natural foodstuff to be poison, but rather than point the finger at wheat, maybe the cause of the problem is what happens to the wheat between the field and our plate? Bread can be natural, made simply from flour, yeast and time. The choreley wood method of bread making has been identified as bad for our health while a huge advantage for the stores. It speeds up the process chemically, then introduces chemical retardants, eventually to be heated up in a store giving us the impression that it is 'freshly baked'. Its not made for our benefit, but maximise profits. I can't eat it - the last time I had a tiger loaf I ended up in hospital, but I can eat home made bread.

The debate rages on about Butter, but to be honest why does spread need probotics, or cholesterol lowering plant enzymes? I would rather eat something that has the simple ingredient of churned milk and a little salt than soya lecithins, potassium sorbates, emulsifiers and acid stabilisers.

I glanced at the packet ingredients for my Thai noodles, it was the only healthy option available in Costa. I had ignored the cakes, biscuits, cheese laden toasties, it looked like a healthy choice, feeling saintly for my good intentions which was sabotaged; it contained over 10% fat! It would appear that in order to make the salad more tasty it needed a sauce containing not just fat but sugar!

Call me old fashioned but healthy food to me is as close to its natural state as possible - I am so tired of the manufacturer's spin. Today's nonogenarians ate food in season, grown slowly without pesticides or growth enhancers, they walked. food was expensive, farmers were able to make a living from non-intensive methods, bread was baked locally using local flour, not shipped half way across the world.  Snacking between meals was unheard food was restricted to mealtimes when they sat round a table and concentrated on the taste of what they were eating. 

I am astounded at how many times I reach for food as a matter of habit - a cup of tea seems to need a biscuit, or I grab a few nuts while I am waiting for the kettle to boil. My favourite programme on TV has adverts for chocolate and sweet things - subliminally I want something that I don't really need - I have made a link with comfort and food. I reward myself with sweet things because my parents taught me good children get sweets, sugar is the reward - its embedded in my psyche. I  need to find a way to reward myself with other things. 

We can't have our cake without calories, there is no magic that melts away the food we chump into our mouths and just because a food comes from a health food store it doesn't mean to say that it isn't processed. 

So I am going to follow the doc's advice: eat less move more. 

I'll keep you posted! 

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Healthy chocolate Brownies!

Are you enjoying the Great British Bake off? I have to say I admire all the contestants for entering. Baking is one of those pleasurable activities that feeds the soul as well as body, (my body maybe is being fed a little too much! ) I need a calm kitchen, preferably with a radio 4 comedy playing in the background - while I measure and mix to my heart's content - a long way from the pressures of the bake off tent!  

Unfortunately, I don't have my children at home to eat the result of this soulful activity, so I do turn up to friends houses with my apologetic offerings, (there is usually something that has happened so that the item in question is less than perfect). However, most of the time I just eat it myself... and it must be very fond of me because I believe my cooking has stayed with me - on my hips and waist to be precise! 

The hunt was on, for a way to satisfy my appetite for all things sweet and tasty, without the calories, and I came across this wonderful recipe for low fat chocolate brownies. Most of the fat is substituted by fruit puree, it makes a delicious, rich brownie that is good for you too! Just remember that they do have a little fat and a lot of sugar... or you can simply forget that altogether! 

Healthy Chocolate Brownies

3 oz coca powder
4 oz whole meal flour
4 oz dark brown soft sugar
2 table spoons of melted butter
2 eggs 
2 oz of fruit puree (prune or apricot baby food works or see tip below) 
5 oz dark chocolate roughly chopped
Walnuts or macadamia nuts optional 
Salt to taste 

1 - Pre heat your oven GM 7, 350F or 150 C 
2 -Line a rectangular baking tin (8x6) with baking parchment 
3 - Whisk butter, eggs and prune puree together
4 - In another bowl combine the cocoa powder, wholemeal flour, sugar and dark chocolate until they are well blended. 
5 - Add the butter/egg/prune mix to the dry ingredients but do not over mix
6 - pour into the baking tin and bake for around 35 minutes 
7 - remove from tin using the baking parchment to lift the cake out and allow to cool. 

To make your own fruit puree: soak prunes or apricots overnight in a bowl of water. Then blitz them in a food processor until they are smooth.  

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Chilli Fiesta - West Dean College

I did not know what to expect from the Chilli Fiesta, but it surpassed my expectations, not only were there many stalls selling a variety of sauces and marinades, but also a fun fair, live music, Salsa dancing and the Jive Aces! 

You will know I am a great fan of Rosemary Moon, she is a stalwart of West Dean College, running a variety of cookery courses, but I was delighted to discover that she had an assistant in the form of Wayne Sleep! 

They were a great duo, he told us all about his time on Celebrity Master Chef while Rosemary 
cooked some lovely chillies, a curry and chilli Strawberries. It was great entertainment, I can't wait to see Rosemary again at our Felpham Belles group next month. 

The chilli Fiesta is held every year, including camping areas and live bands it is quite an event! 
 More information about West Dean can be found here

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Book Review - Gifted Mags Kandis

Welcome dear reader....I have a rather large collection of crafting books - some of them could be described as Vintage my oldest sewing book goes back to 1934! It is getting a bit of struggle these days to find really unique ideas - I notice many of the crafting books have the same projects but slightly revamped, so it was a real pleasure to pick up this book and find something new. 

This felted mouse rest is delightfully done - filled with wheat and heated gently will give relief to a tired wrist. I love the apple like quality to this project - so fresh. 

I have never come across this idea before, knitted bangles that it made me want to shrink a jumper straight away! I love bangles but after a little while of wearing them and getting the clack clack clack every time I move my arm, I usually remove them long before the day is out. Somehow I think these just might last a little longer... and they may well manage to be a gift for someone! 

I have a large willow pattern teapot that I use first thing in the morning, I bought about 25 years ago!  Mr D and I need lots of strong breakfast tea to get us going in the morning - it makes a good two mugfuls and several refills of my delicate edwardian tea cup.  Since it is larger than usual it does not benefit from a tea cosy. Seeing this gorgeous simple design has inspired me to take up my needles - of course with my own unique twist! Will show you the finished result when its made! 

This book is well worth buying if you can get hold of it, a great addition to a crafter's library.

ttfn... x 

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Happy Birthday Mr D

Felicitations on this glorious hot July day, it is my beloved Mr D's birthday

The cup cake making the other week put me in the mood for a spot more cake decorating, and despite the soaring heat (for the UK at least) I put the oven on and made a cake.  My kitchen is not the biggest, in fact I could not hold a party because it is too crowded if more than one person is in there at a time.. so you can imagine with the cooker belting out I was not in need of a turkish bath that day! 

In case you were wondering if good taste had finally left me altogether, the colour is Mr D's favourite football team... as much as I love pastels, it was his cake after all and he is not really a pastel shades kind of a guy. Partick Thistle makes his heart leap so it made sense to make a heart shaped cake in Patick thistle colours.... He knew something was up when he spotted the icing in the shopping trolley last week - but his acting skills are improving since he managed to look both surprised and delighted at the somewhat bumpy cake! 

Of course all was revealed when he cut a slice out poured his favourite sweets, (good taste has well and truly abandoned me - liquorish, cake and interesting combination!). 

One thing about us English is that our weather is so changeable we don our sun hats as soon as the sun breaks through the twenties... beaches are crowded and picnics abound

so we headed to the beach nearby for picnic and what a picnic! 
Mr D made prawn noodles, cherry tomato tarts and a fruit jelly made with raspberries and pink champagne - delicious! 

The view behind us was gorgeous, you can just make out the South Downs

the beach is not as developed so it is easy to find a quiet peaceful spot

the sea is warm! something rare in these shores!

Happy Birthday Mr D

Enjoy your weekend, ttfn..x

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