Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Can we fix it? Ummmmm, no.

So, yesterday we embarked on Operation Gingerbread House. We had our walls and roof pieces. We had half a ton of sweets. We had two little builders with clean hands. The one thing we didn't have was royal icing cement. Hmmmm. I nearly made real royal icing from scratch with eggwhites but I have to confess raw eggs still make me irrationally nervous so we decided to try extra thick glace icing instead.

At first it was all looking peachy - walls stood up, sweets stayed on, we made a little garden.

But hang on a minute, is that a sign of subsidence?

Not to worry, the roof may have slid gracefully down but the walls are still up and Bob the gingerbread builder reckons he can have it fixed in a jiffy. Assuming we don't eat it first.

The one advantage is that we just started to scoff it straight away rather than admiring it for a few days and starting to eat when it had already gone stale. Yum.

Right, I'm going to sign off and wish you all a hugely Happy and safe Christmas, but before I do, a few more things to tell you:

Laptops don't like being dropped, but it's amazing what a bit of Araldite and a handy husband can achieve.

Please make sure the memory card on your camera is working - we found out this week that ours has packed up, and while I'm very glad we realised before Christmas Day, I am peeved that we've lost all the photos from last weekend's snowy trip to the Teddy Train. It could be worse.

PLEASE be careful on the roads - around 9 last night we heard a huge crash and rushed outside to find a car had spun off on black ice and hit the telegraph pole 15 feet from our front door (and about 7 feet from our car). There were three terrified children inside, and a very shocked driver. Fortunately no-one was hurt, they had friends in the next village who came to fetch them, and the AA came to take the car away promptly. The reaction of all the neighbours was exactly what you'd hope to see - hot sweet tea was made, phones were provided, torches were waved and approaching traffic slowed down and turned away (I think I frightened one pair of lads as I approached them in my pyjamas and overcoat), the children were taken into warm houses and the car was moved off the road. The police said the corner was very dangerous and they gritted it - but why exactly did it have to take an accident and the police to do that rather than the council? OK, I'll stop ranting.

So, take care, keep warm, and see you on the other side!

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Just-in-time quilting

(Geekery) When I was working we ended up doing a lot of just-in-time design - coding what was needed to complete a task there and then and not worry so much about future requirements. It's a pretty scary concept but was underpinned by a lot of very carefully designed code so most of the time it worked out OK. (/Geekery)

Anyway, it seems I've carried this into my crafting life too - we had 3 inches of snow by yesterday morning and fortunately I had managed to finish stitching the binding onto our two new Christmas lap quilts earlier in the week - because when they came in from this my little snowbabies certainly needed them:

The green one is a simple nine-patch with a couple of maverick stars and a couple of sawtooth stars thrown in:

And the blue one is based on this pattern and features my first attempts at fussy cutting. I do love silly Christmas prints!

Keep warm!

Tuesday, 8 December 2009


I don't generally have the storage space (or indeed the finances) to run to special Christmas crockery - a couple of very cheap plates for mince pies and otherwise it's down to candles decorations and homemade napkins for festive cheer. This year I did spot an idea here for etching glasses with snowflakes which really appealed to me. Only I couldn't get hold of etching cream in Cambridge so instead these are made using Pebeo glass frosting medium and some stickers from the local craft shop, applied inside a circle masked off with book covering film. The glasses are some very cheap Value ones (4 for 79p!) as I wasn't sure this would work so didn't want to wreck decent ones just in case. I applied a good thick coat of the medium and left it for the recommended 24 hours before peeling off the stickers. It dried gratifyingly matt and not too streaky, though I did need to neaten the edges slightly where the medium had leaked under my masking circle. Pebeo claim the frosting is dishwasher safe after drying and baking but I think I'll handwash these anyway!

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Snow angel tutorial

Ah, sorry to have teased you. This is what I've been working on - think of her as an early Christmas present from me to you and a thank you for reading. She's inspired by a little angel I saw on a Christmas tree in a local shop, and I couldn't resist her. Obviously, she's not a toy - if you make one please don't let tiny people get hold of her as she won't stand up to extended tugging.

If you do make one please post a picture and let me know so I can come to have a peep at your handiwork. I don't mind what you do with her: keep her for yourself, give her as a gift, make her to sell, but PLEASE don't pinch my pictures or instructions and use them as your own - that would not be in the Christmas spirit and would make me very sad.

OK, here we go - warning, there are lots of photos:

You will need:

* a piece of felt about 3" x 6" - I've used white but she'd be equally lovely in red or blue with white embellishment; or glitter felt, oooh!
* two pieces of stretchy plain fabric, each about 3" square- I used jersey but old T-shirt, or even tights would work too
* scraps of felt
* wool to match felt
* embroidery thread in eye, mouth and hair colours
* a small ball of stuffing, or bits of old tights
* a length of narrow ribbon for hanging, about 8" long
* needle and thread
* scissors
* knitting needles - whatever you have will do, as you'll see

First, make a template from paper:

Fold your felt in half, short ends together to make a 3" square. Pin and cut out the template - note where the template lines up with the fold! You'll end up with a piece like this:

Now cut out two little mitteny hands, which you will fold to make them double thickness - I don't use a template but fold the mitten felt in half and cut an appropriately sized paw, and then another:

Fold the hands in half as in the left hand example, and sew them around the edges with a tiny running stitch, as shown in the picture below.

Now is the time to embellish your angel's dress. You could applique a felt heart, as in the top photo, or embroider a snowflake, a heart, a mitten - whatever you like. Beads might be a pretty touch too:

Time to make the head. Stitch a circle around 2" in diameter in one of your pieces of stretchy fabric - I've used red here to show what I mean, but in reality I use thread to match the fabric.

Put the ball of stuffing in the middle and draw up the threads. Secure with extra stitches. If you can, gather most of the fabric to the back of the neck,

and leave the front as smooth as possible - this improves the end appearance. At this stage you could stitch a tiny gathered circle in the face to make a nose, but I generally don't.

Lay the second square of head fabric over, secure with a couple of stitches through the neck:

and then wrap the edges in and stitch them down, again trying to keep the front smooth and wrinkle free (if only skin care were really that easy). Wrap the thread a couple of times round the neck to tighten it all up:

The bulky straggly edges will help to give shape to the body, so leave them alone.

You now need to cut a neck hole. This needs to be only just large enough to insert the 'body' through, so go cautiously or you'll be darning up the neck hole afterwards. The easiest way is to fold the body in half at the shoulder seam, and then in half again, and then trim the tiniest sliver off at the corner you form:

You should end up with something like this:

Carefully feed the neck layers through, one at a time if necessary. Secure the head to the body by over stitching the edge of the dress to the base of the head - this isn't a toy so you don't need to go overboard.

Stitch the edges of the skirt together with a tiny running stitch.

Now, starting at the underarm seam, start to stitch round the arms, inserting the mittens as you get about halfway up the cuffs and letting your running stitches go through all 4 layers of felt. I actually then stitch back down over the mittens to secure them:

Hair next. Cut 6 strands of hair coloured embroidery floss, each about 8" long. Stitch them one by one to the head, starting at one ear, then over the top of the head, and finally out at the other ear. There's no need to tie them, but do pull all the strands so they're level and even on both sides of the head.

Now you need to plait them. This is the fiddliest part of the whole operation but I think it's my favourite feature in the finished angel. So take a deep breath and perhaps anchor her to your jeans with a pin before you start plaiting. Tie the ends of her plaits with thread, then trim them neatly. If you can tie a bow here I'll be green with envy. Take some time to make sure they more or less match up!

Embroider a face - or you could use fabric pens if you find that easier. You could use tiny French knots for the eyes as I've done here, or single stitches as in the heart-tummied angel at the top of the post. For the mouth you could do a single knot, or perhaps an "o" shape, or a single plain stitch, or catch the centre with a tiny stitch to make a little rosebud mouth. Attach your narrow ribbon, folded in half to make a hanging loop, to the top of her head.

The hat is made from a small piece of knitting. If you hate knitting you could also crochet, or even make it from felt, but I think the knitting looks good and it is about as simple as it gets.

You need to make a stocking stitched piece that's about 3" long by about 1.75" wide. I used bulky wool and 4mm needles, and that was 14 stitches by about 10 rows for me. You'll need to cast on what looks like a good number (stretch them out a bit and measure) then knit and purl a row or two and re-measure - you'll only be dealing with a few stitches so if your first attempt is the wrong size it won't take long to try again. Knit/purl in alternate rows to the desired length, then cast off and leave a long end for gathering. You'll note my piece is curly - and that's exactly how I want it:

Stitch the short edges together then fit the tube to her head, pushing the ribbon loop up through the middle and having the hat seam at the back. Secure to her head with little stitches and let the curly bottom edge curl up to be a sort of cuff. Use the remaining long end to gather the top edge with a running stitch, pull tight and secure the end.

And you're done! Phew! Well done if you got all the way to the end, and have fun. These take about an hour the first time but they get faster after that.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Rainbow goodness!

I received my Rainbow Swap parcel all the way from sunny Australia a couple of weeks ago, but have been having a bit of an unplanned blogging break so this is the first time I've managed to get my camera and laptop and any light together to post about the gorgeous goodies sent from Calidore - there were sweeties too but they're long gone!

An array of fabulously colourful cloth and wool goodies - from gorgeous stitching on a little bag to a wonderfully warm scarf that's been doing sterling duty this week on the bitingly cold walk to and from school. I don't care what the thermometer says - the wind is making it flipping cold here!

I'll leave you with a teasing glimpse of something I'm hoping to make a tutorial for if I can get my camera to cooperate ...

Friday, 13 November 2009

Kitchen Poetry, Friday

OK, so this is sort of cheating for my last Kitchen Poetry day. These aren't strictly speaking photos of my kitchen, but they were taken *near* my kitchen - there's been nowhere near enough light in there today to take a real kitchen based photo. One of Tall Small's spellings this week was kitchen - does that count?

These are the little things I made for Trashy's Rainbow swap; I'm fairly sure my swap partner isn't a regular reader and even if she is, she doesn't know I'm sending to her yet so I should be safe.

First of all a little bit of rainbowy-crystal necklace goodness, because who could resist such cheery sparkles?

And then a felty rainbow covered notebook that gave me such a lot of pleasure while I was making it. I know it's supposed to be bluebirds over rainbows, but my bluebirds looked more like dying ducks so I went with a butterfly instead.

I also included rainbow coloured thread, fabric, buttons and a mini stack of felty squares - hope it arrives safely and that she likes it!

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Kitchen Poetry, Thursday

This is a tiny little tin that I have hanging from one of my cabinets, and it was given to me by Emma from Silverpebble, maker of fabulous jewels and scourer of vintage fairs par excellence. I love it, it cheers me up hugely - as does Emma :-) I'm lucky enough to live close to her and get to go bead shopping and tea drinking and giggling and gossiping; the next best thing is reading her blog, and if you haven't, you should!

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Kitchen Poetry, Wednesday

There was an interesting post over at A Commonplace Life recently dealing with the idea that maybe in blogging we should try to reflect real life rather than always editing out the messy bits and cropping the untidy corners out of our photos. While I can sympathise with the frustration induced by viewing other people's seemingly perfect houses and immaculate children and endless talents, I'm not going to post pictures of the six empty milk cartons waiting to be recycled into the school swimming pool (dump in a handful of gravel and put them in the water and they theoretically prevent it freezing over in winter). Likewise you don't need to see the three sacks of logs waiting in my kitchen because I haven't yet stacked them and there's no room in the shed and I don't want them to be rained on overnight.

But I am happy to share with you this evidence of my hopelessness:

This is our weather tree. A lovely idea stolen from some inspirational parenting blog that I cannot now recall, the idea is to colour in a leaf each day to represent the prevailing weather - blue for rain, gold for sun and so on.

Well, daily colouring went by the by after about a three days, and we finally gave up even the weekly 'catch up' colouring sessions by February. We made a brief attempt to restart in April, but since then, nothing. And have I taken the wretched thing down? No, it's still there, reproaching me daily for being both a forgetful parent and a lazy housekeeper. Humph.

Oh well. Hope that makes you feel better!

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Kitchen Poetry, Tuesday

So, having showed off our (not very shiny) coffee machine yesterday, I thought I should come clean and reveal what I really drink most of the time. I used to have a serious Lady Grey habit - a couple of pots per day, easily, plus frequent cups of coffee = a lot of caffeine. I've given up caffeine many times in the past - when I was pregnant, when I had just had the babies, and when I realised that if I missed my morning coffee I had the most appalling withdrawal headaches that it made me wonder whether it was such a good thing to be drinking so much.

The thing that triggered me this time was a friend whose sister is a nurse telling me about a patient who had such seriously high blood pressure he was about to be medicated, but was given one last chance. "Try giving up caffeine for a couple of weeks and see what happens," suggested the doctor. So, he tried, and lo and behold his blood pressure came back down to normal. Now, obviously this is second or third hand, and we don't know how much coffee he had previously been drinking, whether he had to gave up chocolate too (unthinkable) or even whether he actually existed, but it did make me stop and think about what I was drinking all day, every day.

Anyone who tries to tell you that Redbush tea tastes just like "real" tea is telling a big fib - there's a very definite and distinctive edge to it; but I have got used to it and now I rather like it. Don't worry though, there's still normal tea in the cupboard for visitors!

Monday, 9 November 2009

Kitchen Poetry, Monday

Last autumn, I took part in Kitchen Poetry and was surprised at how many things I could find to photograph in my kitchen. This year, it's being hosted by the lovely Mrs Fancy Elastic and I decided to join in again. A week of daily posting is going to leave me very short of words so please forgive me when I post dimly lit wobble shots and not much else!

This first one is our beloved coffee machine. It's older than either of my children, and has been bunged up with scale and cleaned out more times than I can recall, but it's still going strong. These days it's used mainly at weekends or when people come over, though the Smalls have discovered the joys of cocoa made with steamed milk so it may yet find it has a rather active old age!

There's still time to join in if you feel up to sharing photos of your own kitchen and what goes on therein ...

Tuesday, 3 November 2009


It was always going to happen. As soon as I'd made one little felt house picture my mental wheels started churning and I realised I needed to make my own design.

Not terribly original - mushroomy elf and mouse houses abound in blogland and beyond - but I am pleased to have conjured this out of my head and rendered it in felt and thread.

Now I need to try to translate some of the other silly images I have into reality. I have some outrageously glittery felt that is screaming out for festive treatment ...

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Behind the curve, as usual

I hope all that observe it had a lovely Halloween. We went a bit Martha Stewart this year and carved haunted houses instead of scary faces. It always ends up that the children draw their desired patterns on the pumpkins and I end up scooping out the pumpkin guts and wielding a not quite sharp enough knife while they wander off, distracted by shiny things. We even had our own pumpkins ready to carve but in the end they were just a teeny bit small so they'll end up as pie one day this week.

We went to a huge party with my sister and her family, and bagged quite a lot of sweeties, but not so many that Tiny Small couldn't scoff them all while my back was turned. Little monkey. She didn't give me a single one!

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Playing with power tools

For the last year autumn or two, the Smalls have been busy trying to attract wildlife to our garden. We've had toad houses, insecty log piles, stacks of leaves, bamboo canes bundled up for overwintering creepy crawlies, a tiny washing up bowl sized pond for froggies and water bugs, and bird feeders galore. They even tried to make a hedgehog house from an old teabag box - not surprisingly, there were no takers.

We know we have had hoggy visitors in the past - we've seen them late at night trundling about and have fed them, so when I dismantled and old set of bookshelves we decided it was time to make them a proper house and see whether we could entice anyone to overwinter with us. We found a plan on the Gardeners World website, and Mr DC set to with the Smalls.

Much excitement was had with the electric drill (once we had recharged it - why are they ALWAYS out of power when you need them?) and after a couple of hours they produced a stunning yellow abode. I realise the hosepipe makes it look like something out of Dr Who, but it's actually for ventilation - the last thing we want is suffocated hedgehogs come spring!

The girls have been checking it regularly for inhabitants (it's not properly in place so no chance of them disturbing anyone yet) and were excited to find that someone had moved in:

Our visitor was knitted from Julie's adorable pattern, and took less than an hour. We hope his real life cousins will enjoy their new house too - and repay us by eating all our slugs in the spring!

This post is for Julie, who not only designed the cutie hedgehog pattern, but also inspired us to try to attract some spiky friends by her adventures with Herbert Hogwart a year or two ago.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Another year older

Tiny Small turned 5 last weekend. It seems hardly possible that my little baby is now a schoolgirl; a smaller, feistier version of her big sister; a handstanding, cartwheeling bundle of energy. But she is!

She was very specific about the entire menu for her birthday (that's my girl) - a breakfast of pains au chocolat, ham sandwiches for lunch and roast chicken with all the trimmings for her special birthday tea. The chicken gave me a scary moment when I was checking it with a meat thermometer and it spat hot fat RIGHT IN MY EYE. I feared we'd end the day in A&E but I had a lucky escape (though I did leave the rest of the serving to Mr DC and cowered in a corner watching the Incredibles with the Smalls). Fortunately I had already made the birthday cake - a special request for a huge pile of brownies studded with birthday candles and set blazingly alight. And I even managed not to set fire to anyone's hair.

Here's to the next year!

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Planning next year's veggies

We've had a good first summer on our very own allotment, so when Julia suggested her Seed Swap I though it would be good fun to join in. I duly packaged up seeds and sent them off to her (you can see what I sent here), and she sent to me a HUGE selection of seeds, gorgeously packaged and even with their own little seed pouch - how cute is that?

I wish I had such neat writing, and such lovely painting skills, but I don't, so I shall content myself with growing and eating Julia's seeds next season, and looking forward to joining in the swap again in a year's time!

Friday, 25 September 2009

Cross eyed in Croyde

In the long distant past when my eyes were sharper and I could stay awake past 9pm, I belonged to a group of enthusiastic bead stitchers in Saratoga Springs. One of the ladies taught us brick stitch and peyote stitch and we made mad earrings and purses and daisy chain anklets from the tiniest seed beads we could fit on our needles. I still have boxes of minute beads squirrelled away - I can't bear to part with them even though my beading tastes have moved somewhat since then.

Then last summer I picked up a kit for making a beaded spiral bracelet, being sold to raise money for two schools in Zimbabwe. It sounded like a wonderful cause and the bracelet was rather enticing; but I foolishly tried to start the pattern after a restorative G&T and couldn't make any sense of it, so it languished in my knitting bag for an entire year. Then while we were away this summer, I tried again and it flew off my needle and onto my arm:

It makes me think of DNA - there's a double helix in there and although strictly speaking the bases are on the wrong side, I still find it appeals to the geek in me! The beading group have produced an entire book of fundraising designs - the Minerva Spirals book. I am tempted to have a go at this one next but going on past performance don't expect to see it before next summer!

Monday, 21 September 2009

Say it with flowers

I'm sure many, many of you saw the tutorial for the Little Pink House picture on Sew Mama Sew recently. I don't know how many of you, like me, squealed with joy and went to ransack the craft drawers for felt and embroidery hoops. And then sat stitching happily in front of The King And I. And then got out of bed at 6.30am ON A SUNDAY in order to stitch some more (no, wait, that was probably just me).

Well, this is what I made.

So, my stitching is a bit wonky, and my photography isn't the best, but I love it. I love it so much I want to cover the walls of my house with felt houses. In fact let's be honest, I want to LIVE in a felt house.

The design is by the supremely talented Melissa at Checkout Girl - go and look but be careful, you'll end up spending your housekeeping money on felt. Speaking of which, I'm off to see Sarah to order some more colours!

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Hanging on to summer

One of the books from my childhood that has left the deepest impression is 'Miss Happiness and Miss Flower' by Rumer Godden. I read and reread it on damp chilly autumnal evenings, and remember being enchanted by descriptions of tiny Japanese dolls, how to make a house for them, sewing miniature futons, creating a tiny weeny living garden. How I longed to have an elegant dolly home with sliding paper doors, and how my own two little girls would now love to have the same.

Well, tiny Japanese houses may not be on the agenda, but we have found out how to make the tiny paper flowers Nona has for the pond in her Japanese garden, that unfold when you put them in water; and more than that, we know how they work too. Yes, it's the return of kiddie science!

Left to right, top to bottom:
1. Take a square of pretty paper
2. Fold it in half with the pretty side in
3. With the fold at the bottom, bring the bottom right corner up and across to make a squashed diamond shape - you don't need to be absolutely accurate here!
4. Bring the bottom left corner up too.
5. Keeping the bottom point towards you, draw a petal shape but make sure you don;t cut through the point!
6.Cut your petal.
7. Unfold the flower and admire your dexterity.
8. Start folding the petals over, bringing each petal tip to the centre of the flower.
9. Tada!

Now you're ready to drop the flower into water and ooh and aah. And make some more, and spend the rest of the day clearing up bits of soggy paper.

The science is pretty simple - as the paper absorbs water the fibres that make it up expand and force the petals open. But simple explanations notwithstanding, these were a lot of fun.

The inspiration for this comes from Usborne's Big Book of Science Things to Make and Do, but we branched out from their four petalled flowers. We experimented a lot with various folding patterns, putting one flower inside another, rolling the petals instead of folding them, refolding soggy flowers. Both girls took extra flowers to school for Show & Tell, apparently with great success.