Friday, 25 April 2008

Giveaway winners and notes from my week...

After a difficult sewing session mid-week my machine stayed under its cover harbouring troublesomeness - its tension was all over the place and the perfect stitches that I have come to expect from my lovely machine during the four years that we have known one another seemed to have disappeared. In the 1980s my sister and I used to watch a sitcom called Girls on Top, featuring Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, Tracey Ulman and Ruby Wax - at the time it seemed like one of the most amusing and brilliantly scripted pieces of comedy that I had ever been permitted to watch - in one particularly memorable episode Dawn French falls ridiculously (and unrequitedly) in love, and wafts around her flat dreamily, eventually crashing onto her bed melodramatically declaring: every song on the radio seems to mean something. This used to make my sister and I howl with laughter, perhaps because who hasn't listened to a song at some point and self-indulgently related the words to their own situation? Anyway, I won't reveal which particular mournful line it was that Damien Rice sang that I managed to relate to my sewing machine not working, because that would simply be too humiliating, but the fact that I was able to do it at all perhaps suggests how distressed I was feeling about this loss of service and reliability! Part of me wanted to rush it to the sewing machine repair shop, the other wanted to delay this inevitability in case they told me that it was beyond repair, but yesterday I did finally take it in, if only to avoid having to listen to Leonard Cohen, which would have been the next logical step. What a wasted week, one turn of a screw and it was fixed, and the lovely man in the shop even gave me a new spool stalk when he saw that mine was bent....and all without charge (although I was so grateful that I wouldn't need to be without it for a week that I did feel compelled to leave a small amount). On the music front, I am now listening to Josh Ritter...who is our new favourite singer and I can reveal that I have applied none of the lyrics to either myself or my machine (the link is to one of his most hectic Dylanesque songs, but this one is a little more subdued if you have a headache).

So, during my almost stitch-free week I turned my attentions, with dinosaur-boy and Zebra-girl as my assistants, to cake-making. Recently I've noticed that food manufacturers have been forced into stating in brackets the origin of their gelatine on the listing of ingredients. As children, probably due to not being able to face the consequences of her offspring being ostracised further by having to refuse jelly at birthday parties, as well as the mini-sausages and ham sandwiches, my mother happily encouraged my sister and I to take part in a little self-deception ("I think gelatine is made from the dripping of melted down horse hooves, which makes it more of a by-product - like eggs or milk), but now that the word 'beef' appears after the word gelatine (so WHAT were the horse hooves all about?!) this trick no longer works for me. I called a crisis meeting with Mr Teacakes and a gelatine policy was decided upon. "What do you mean no jelly lemons and oranges?" Zebra-girl squeaked, aghast, when I broke the news to her at the start of a cake decorating session. It is for this reason that I allowed the children to make a consolation Everest cake, overloaded with Chocolate Stars and Smarties... I'm not sure there is a mouth big enough to nibble its way into that strange mountain, but they had fun creating it and the loss of jellies has thankfully been forgotten.

Anyway, onto my tiny giveaway...how lovely it was to hear everyone's best loved words! I was reminded of some of my own forgotten favourites: Eiderdown, Bumble bee and Marshmallow (yes, they of the gelatine-derived loveliness...oh how I shall miss them!) and I especially loved reading and learning about the words that had been chosen from different languages...I also learnt from the emails that were exchanged following one of the comments that there are a lot more rude words beginning with S and ending with M than you might first think...but perhaps it's best not to ponder on that for it worries the spam filter and causes an unhealthy amount of filthy laughter).

Some of you - those that haven't been squirrelling the discloths away already - asked where I'd bought them: Waitrose and Sainsburys and I can only implore you to rush to the cleaning ailse immediately and stockpile the floral loveliness in a way that leaves my own stash looking completely sane and rational in the eyes of Mr Teacakes.

This weekend has been so busy and full of lovely visitors that I haven't managed to find a time to get my little Teacakes to do a draw with me, so instead I have used a rather dull and soulless 'random number generator'...it said it was picking pseudo-random integers, whatever they are...so it feels doubly random to my mind. By the time I'd tried to count around some of the commenters who very sweetly left their favourite words, but asked to be excluded from the draw on the grounds that they too had been doing their own bulk-buying, I think that Bec of The Small Stuff and Jo of French Knots are the winners, so do please email me with your addresses, and I will try and get myself to a postbox at some point this week!

(The pear at the top of this post is a pincushion that I made for Ian's mother some time ago that seems to have previously escaped being blogged! Pesky pear.)

Hope you have all had lovely weekends. x

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Bumpy crochet

Yesterday, Zebra-girl and Dinosaur-boy returned to school. The night before, I had gone into the understairs cupboard to retrieve Zebra-girl's school shoes for polishing and was struck by how quickly the last two-weeks had passed. It seemed like only a few days ago that I had gleefully hurled the shoes into the darkness, a symbolic act, representing long-lazy days, freedom and perfect happiness...while conversely, getting them back out again seems to sink my spirit slightly.

So I was really pleased to have something wonderful planned to distract me from that awful first day back (unfortunately there was no such distraction for my little Zebra, although thankfully I think I miss her far more than she misses me). I had booked myself and Ian's mother onto a all-day beginners crochet course. I have previously invested in relevant books, watched and re-watched videos of crochet manoeuvres on U-tube, sent crisis emails to Joanne (she of the lime-coloured crochet) calling for assistance, but despite all this specialist help, still I was unable to create anything other than a foundation chain. It seems to me to be something that needs to be taught in person. However, twenty minutes into the course, with my yarn wrapped around my fingers and my hook creating knots seemingly all by itself, I was suddenly overcome with a sense of absolute panic: a realisation that this may be something that I was not going to be capable of doing and a very real feeling of wanting to run from the room. It made me realise that as adults we are very much in control of choosing whether we expose ourselves to challenge, and also reminded me of the sense of powerlessness, that so often overwhelmed me as a child, at being required to do things that I simply did not feel capable of doing, either on the playing fields or in the mathematics lessons.

Luckily, as an adult, I managed to stay sitting on my seat and somehow crocheted my way through my feelings of panic, to eventually be rewarded by the production of a wonky, bumpy, but hard-earned motif! Horay! By the end of the day I was absolutely amazed to have partially mastered slip stitches, double crochet, half-treble and treble crochet, and to have the skills to vaguely follow a pattern to such a degree as to produce a tangible 'thing'. Once the children were tucked up in bed (Grandmama had kindly looked after them for the day)I decided that I would add to the motif and make it into a round cushion for Dinosaur-boy's room and so began to add another shade of blue to its circular self.

The picture above is taken from this amazing book that Mr Teacakes mother bought: 200 Crochet Blocks, it is full of inspirational little blocks like this one and the patterns look clear and well-written...even though I'm not sure that I personally would be capable of following them! She also purchased the yarn at the top of this post and shared them out so that we had half a ball of each colour - what kindness.

On a completely unrelated and uncrafty tangent, I saw something in the JoJo Maman Bebe catalogue a while ago...and somehow I haven't been able to get it out of my head. It has disturbed me. Its name is seemingly innocuous: a Time Out Pad, but as I read the description for it I found myself waiting to get to the bit where it reveals that this bizarre little invention is also capable of administering electric shocks should the offender move from the pad (don't worry, thankfully it doesn't). At first I couldn't put my finger on why I found the sale of this (from a company whose children's clothing I adore) so offensive and worrying, so when Ian came home I discussed it with him, and we both thought that it is fundamentally flawed on many levels, for using this seems to represent a conscious decision to hand your role as a parent over to a machine and takes away any element of parental trust in your child's ability to do what you've asked (and building this trust is surely the eventual aim of a child taking a moment out of a situation?), but more than either of these aspects, I felt really anxious that some poor child might happen to shuffle around during his 'time-out', or may sit on just the wrong side of the sensor, or may even be the victim of a malfunctioning machine, all of which would result in the screeching of a false alarm, mistakenly telling the parents that the child had dared to move. I cannot imagine being a child living in an age where rather than just a momentarily spiteful older sibling, you actually have machines that can 'tell' on you. This seems sad.

Anyway, I shall now hold back from making any more weird observations on discipline devices and instead say that it has been so lovely to hear all your favourite words - I can't tell you how much I have been delighted by reading through them! If you still haven't entered my very small giveaway, and want to, it's in the post below...I will probably draw a pair of winners a little later in the week.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

A really tiny giveaway....

I have an addiction, not just to buying every conceivable flavour of herbal teabag, but also to buying dishcloths. The first time that I laid my eyes on a packet of these lovelies was nearly a year ago and I can't tell you quite how much their existence has revolutionised washing and cleaning up for me...I love that something so utilitarian is so perfectly lovely and pleasing to look at. I have come to see these dishcloths not as an indulgence...but as an essential, for their happiness-inducing qualities are dizzyingly large! On this basis, over the past months, I have felt compelled to buy a packet with some regularity, just in case they should ever disappear from the shelves. However, I have now accumulated such a quantity (you are given 3 identical dishcloths in every pack...and really one needs a sample of each pattern, so you can see how the trouble has arisen) that Mr Teacakes has begun to notice: he has told the little Teacakes that they must stop me from buying any more if they see me hovering in the dishcloth aisle. He says that we have enough.

And when I look in the drawer...and see just how many packets we seem to have...I think that maybe we do indeed have enough...and that I would like to share some of my dishcloth stash.

So this is my giveaway: from my four favourite prints I have made up two identical little bundles to be sent to two people whose names are picked randomly after commenting on this post. If you would like to have your name entrered into the hat I wondered if in your comment you might share a couple of your favourite words. This is a running game that I have with quite a few of my friends (although I don't give them dishcloths for taking part in these discussions) - although often the focus is on our most loathed words, but please DON'T tell me which words you dislike as it might end up as one big unreadable list of hideousness and then I would have to keep all the dishcloths myself - I really want to hear which words you love the sound of (for me: inclement), which words roll around in your mouth in a pleasing way (discombobulated), or a word that has lovely connotations for you (textiles, matryoshka, babushka, vanilla...I love all these words). I also love hearing my friend refer to his Bonne Mama....this somehow sounds so much nicer than grandmother.

The commenty goodness of lurkers, bloggers, non-bloggers, those across the seas, or first-time visitors is all most welcome, but do make sure you either leave an email address, add this to your Bloglines, or call back after the draw to check if you have won, as Blogger is often quirky in whose email addresses it will allow me to see!

We have had a nice quiet couple of days with Mr Teacakes off work toward the end of last week - we spent our time creating a board game with the Zebra-girl & Dinosaur-boy, holding our own Sport's Day with a focus on hurdling (stopwatches and a competitive spirit were present), baking cakes and visiting National Trusty gardens and, most delightful of all, eating Honeycomb ice-creams in the sun. This wasp (above) very kindly chose not to sting me while I took a picture of him, despite the fact that I interrupted its drinking by putting my camera about an inch away from its stripy little body.

Dishcloth winners will be drawn at some point next week.
(p.s....did I mention that they are washable?....and so their loveliness lasts for months!) x

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Happy like barnacles

At the start of our second week of the delicious school holidays (for they are just like an ice cream that one doesn't want to end...and similarly our time does indeed seem to be melting away frustratingly quickly!) we all awoke with a craving to be beside the sea. The little Teacakes gathered buckets and spades, warm clothing...and some Top Trump cards as their random choice of play-thing for in-car entertainment.

Who could tire of the feeling as you first glimpse the sea? Or the game of offering up a shiny new penny for the first who shouts to announce it. After lunch in a wonderful cafe, where the waiters and waitresses wore the most gorgeously-styled plain black aprons (my notebook came out within seconds so that I might try and capture the detailing and recreate some of the loveliness with my own more pinky-toned fabrics), we went and sat on the beach....

...and looked at the limpets and barnacles that clung to the tide breakers...

...and then built waterways that the rising tide might travel up, which proved to be a hazardous activity resulting in wet shoes for some. This is my favourite time of year for visiting the beach...because you rarely have to share it...except with these seagulls that made the most endearing noises as they followed one another across the pebbles...

until they became silent as they looked out to sea.

In the late afternoon, very suddenly the sun went in, the temperature dropped and the sky began to change colour, which was all the incitement we needed to go off in search of cake. Slices of flourless chocolate cake (far less puritan than its name suggests) could be found in one of my best-loved buildings: a beautiful art deco pavilion, also home to an art gallery and stunning sculptures like this one below, that hangs in the well of a spiral staircase.

Some buildings make you love every part of them, for me this is one of them. I love its fluid, relaxed feel, its clean lines, chrome curves and huge sheet glass windows and sea view that is visible from every window. If you climb to the very top of the spiral staircase you may go out onto the roof, where the view seems even more breathtaking. From the roof I photographed the horizon, which after an torrential downpour was awash with moody blues and turquoises.

Once I had caught up the with the Teacakes, who had gone back inside with Grandmama, having grown chilly out on the roof, Zebra-girl and I went off for a closer look at the beautiful white domed shelter that we had looked down on from the pavilion.

Is there any more perfect happiness than being at the seaside on a quiet day when the weather see-saws between extremes providing an ever-changing colour-scheme to the horizon, safe in the knowledge that your dress is adequate to cope with this inclemency? It is second only to being in a fabric shop with money to spend, I think....or maybe it even beats that.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Stained glass butterfly loveliness tutorial!


Thank you for all your lovely comments on my last post about the industrial quantities of tissue paper we had been purchasing...I hadn't intended to create a crafting cliff-hanger...I was just too tired to write the rest of the post at that moment! Anyway, you may remember that for Mother's Day Zebra-girl had made me a card at school, holding the most beautiful detachable heart for me to hang in my window... I have loved looking at it, and she very much enjoyed making it, so we decided to create a collage for our glass playroom doors using similar techniques...and a few others, as the project took on a life of its own! We schemed to create a butterfly garden...but it soon became a home to ladybirds, caterpillars and flowers too. It was such fun that I've decided to make it into a proper tutorial in case you find yourself craving gluey fun that spans a couple of days. But before we start, eyes left for what our final collage looked like, just so you have an idea of which direction the tutorial is going in!

Step 1:: Use a paintbrush to cover a thin plastic bag with PVA glue.

Step 2:: Tear up different colours of tissue paper to cover the bag. The important thing to remember is that although you're not purposely trying to overlap the pieces, you don't want to leave any gaps!

Step 3:: Once you've covered your bag, go over everything with another layer of PVA glue. Don't worry overly if it crinkles up your first layer slightly...this will only add to the lovely textures on the final piece.

Step 4:: Now use more bits of tissue paper to create a second layer. You don't need to match the colours to the ones beneath...the loveliness of the final creation is that you can see lots of different colours layered on top of one another. Remember though...no gaps!


Step 5:: Now go over that layer with a final layer of glue to seal it all in...and then leave it overnight to dry. (At this point on the heart that Zebra-girl made for me at school they sprinkled glitter on...we didn't do that as it was feeling messy enough already!).

Step 6:: Step 6 is so much fun that I forgot to photograph it. Peel a tiny corner of your dried paper up and then pull the bag away from it (rather than pulling the paper away from the bag, if you see what I mean...it's just easier that way). Amazingly it comes away all in one piece (that's the reason why not leaving any gaps is so important) and is intensely satisfying and very quick to peel off.

Step 7:: We chose butterflies for our stencil shape...but obviously, you can choose literally anything! We used felt tips to draw around our stencils (yes, the stencils are biscuit cutters...now thoroughly washed and disinfected!).

Step 8:: Once you've traced around your stencil you can cut your shape out. The paper you've created is quite strong and so won't break under the pressure of little hands grasping it tightly as they wield their scissors around it.

Step 9:: Place your creations somewhere where you get lots of natural light shining through them. We stuck our butterflies onto the glass with blu-tac...but you can also thread them with cotton and have them dangling if you have hooks to do so. We put our blu-tac in a thin line down the centre of our butterfly so that it would look like the darker centre of the butterfly's body.

There are cathedral doors leading to our playroom and so we were able to create a 3D collage by sticking some things on the first pane of glass for the foreground and some things on the second for the background.

To complete our collage I cut out large flower shapes for Zebra-girl and Dinosaur-boy and they scrunched and glued on small balls of tissue paper to create colourful, vibrant loveliness.

They made stalks, leaves and grass from green sugar paper and the children each made a ladybird to go on their own leaf.

In the long grass Zebra-girl placed a caterpillar.

They loved doing this project (even down to the smallest things such as sticking on the blu-tac) and spent a long time admiring it once it was completed. Unfortunately taking photographs toward a window is never easy...even with the blind pulled down to try and cut a little of the light out...so the pictures don't do justice to the vibrancy of the colours or how delightful it is when the sun shines through the butterfly's glossy layers of tissue paper....

The tissue paper files...

At the start of our fortnight off school together, the children and I began to make plans about what we would like to do with our days....

One of those discussions resulted in us deciding that we would be in need of industrial quantities of tissue paper.

So we went to the shops....and bought a rainbow of papers....


....shown here.....

I am quite in love with photographing these gorgeous colours that look so divine and different with every angle or shape into which they are bent.

We finished our project today....it has taken hours and hours of cutting, gluing, scrunching and peeling...and our tissue paper is nearly all used up. The children have worked so hard....and much as I love the neat and orderliness of the stack that is shown here, the tissue paper looks even nicer in its new form: I will show you what they have made in my next post.

Sorry for the brevity this week - I am high on pictures and low on words....I wonder where I've put them...

Wishing you all lovely weekends. x

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

The road to perfect head wear...

Today Ian's parents came visiting, bringing all manner of lovelies in their bags...and for me a particularly wonderful and most unexpected one. A while ago I had happened to see the perfect hat on Jane's Yarnstorm blog...it was love. I followed her link to the pattern that it had been created from in a frenzy of premature triple-clicking on my mouse (a habit that Mr Teacakes often chastises me for) as the page slowly loaded. And what delights I found there - the Kim Hargreaves website is wonderful, although unfortunately this only left me even more pained by the fact that my knitting has not progressed past knit one, pearl one. Luckily my mother-in-law is quite wonderful with the needles and was most agreeable to making me one up for next Christmas...so how delightful to be handed a mysterious and unexpected lovely white box today, tied up with ribbed white ribbon...and on opening it to find lovely white folds of crinkly tissue paper hiding an early Christmas present. I am quite in love with it, and my kind mother-in-law has told me that now she has the pattern she is quite happy to make it up in any other colours that it might be needed in (well, that would be one to compliment every colour of outerwear...but I feel that I must rein myself in if her poor fingers are not to be worn away to little wafers).

The pattern even came with a lovely little label to be stitched inside the hat.

It is such a relief to have this hat in my collection now. I find waterproof jackets most upsetting garments to wear, and instead choose to wear a black wool coat that is perfect for protecting one from even the heaviest of downpours as long as one has on suitable head wear (umbrellas being a troublesome accessory when pram-pushing). The Christmas before last, Mr Teacakes bought me the most perfect black angora flowerpot-style hat, that is lovely to wear (doubly so, because clothing feels so much more special when chosen by someone other than the wearer, as though one is walking around wrapped in a particularly lovely cuddle from the giver)...but unfortunately the wearing of it does require very specific weather conditions: any amount of rain is fine, but it must fall without even the slightest hint of a gust of wind or it is off, flying across roads and leading me on wild hat-retrieval missions as the children stand watching open-mouthed.

I knew that a Plan B in my hat wardrobe was necessary when the day came that weather conditions were so severe that I was forced to admit defeat and put on a black waterproof jacket with integral hood....Plan B's finest points are: woolen to repel the rain; a thick band that will keep it firmly in place even in a gale; and roomy enough to contain all my hair should such a thing be necessary (although there's so much less of it now, that this has ceased to be such a problem in hat-buying).

What more could a girl wish for? Bring on the rain! x

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

The need for loveliness

Flowers collected by the children that lay on the kitchen windowsill sent me off in search of seeing more loveliness, leaving the washing up with suds running off it into the sink and toys strewn across the floor waiting to be returned to their places.

I felt possessed by an overwhelming desire to see goodness and record its existence.

So I found myself, temporarily the mad-woman taking photos of the plants in her front garden, purposefully ignoring the footsteps of passersby walking home past our garden gate whose eyes, had they been given the chance to meet mine, might otherwise have raised self-consciousness to a level that halted this activity.



It is one of the amazing surprises of nature that at times it feels as though it blindly carries on growing and blooming regardless of anything else and fails to wither in sympathy or respectfully pause in its growth for a moment to bow its head.