2011: the iced gem moments

It's January 4th and even now it feels a little belated to write a post looking back on 2011...one has been swirling around in my head for much of the Christmas, but in reality my thoughts about the year don't fit into one blog post...or even two. The big picture of 2011 for me is that it was a fairly grim year, and yet the smaller details that I've picked out and shared here throughout the year, and those which I haven't but which stay sparkling and cheerful in my memory, tell me that 2011 was also a rather super year.

When I was small, my grandmother used to give us little bowls of iced gems - did you have these? - I used to pick off the rather dull biscuit bases and put them into her kitchen pedal bin, so that I was left with a little dish of pastel coloured sugar drops. I never saw this as a waste - starting with a dish of the lone sugar drops wouldn't have been nearly so exciting - it was the presence of the biscuit bases that made me savour the tops all the more; and in this way blogging is a little like eating iced gems. It seems important to say this, as I have no wish to present the false illusion of a 'perfect life'; there was more than a fair helping of biscuity bits this year, but the fact that they were there only makes the other bits seem yet more brilliant. And so, in the interest of being concise and not mawking publicly over unwanted biscuits, I've decided to whittle my 2011 down into 30 bite-sized iced gem pieces - 10 general, 10 sewing-related and 10 aspirations for 2012 (oh, and above are some of my favourite makes from 2011).

My top ten general moments of loveliness from 2011

1. After ten years without a shower, standing in our sparkly new bathroom looking at the fabric of our blinds (one of my favourite fabrics ever) and feeling water beating down on my shoulders has been something that I'm yet to take for granted: I still feel delighted by it every single morning (for those worrying over what went before: we did have a bath, just no shower).
2. Following a post in August, where I'd nervously left my children to bake alone, my daughter has catapulted herself into independent cake-making with a proficiency that has left me feeling surprised, delighted and with a cake tin that is rarely bare. I can't believe that post was only five short months ago.
3. In February, taking the first tentative press of my snow mobile's accelerator pedal, because I so didn't want to take it, but something inside me overrode my fear and propelled me into an adventure that will be etched on my and my family's memories forever (precis: -40 degrees in a dense Swedish forest after nightfall having lost our instructor, with a child suffering from the first stages of frost bite...but we were fine, all was well and elation and delight quickly flooded our cold extremities as soon as we were safely back in our cabin that night).
4. Lying in a very deep bubble bath at The George in Rye, cocooned by happiness and a feeling that all would be well. And from the same weekend: treading across a smooth wood floor in my bare feet, feeling the course grits of sand between my toes brought back from the beach; watching my family eat ice creams on a bench in the sunshine; racing the tide with my daughter to get off the island we looked up to find ourselves on in the minute before it was entirely cut off from the shore; lying on the grass in a graveyard watching a plane cut through a perfect blue sky; sharing paper bags of fudge; listening to music from our student days in the car.
5. On one of the bleakest days I've ever lived through, I sat in a cafe with my sister drinking deliciously good hot chocolate, laughing about something random that I've now forgotten the details of, and knew that life still tasted very good.
6. Waking up on the first morning my husband worked from home after leaping from the life of old and seeing that he was putting a shirt on with his jeans, rather than a cosy jumper. A subtle, unexpected choice, but one which said so much about his attitude and intentions. Whoop! Actually, everything about that day was a highlight in my year.
7. For the first half of the year, watching my father take my little boy off to his swimming lessons on a Monday night, knowing that he had cycled all the way over to us and given up two hours of his time, just for the joy of spending what amounted to about twenty minutes with his grandchild: that is being loved.
8. The cosiness of playing board games with family.
9. Sitting around a table with good friends, warmed by their singing and silly drunkenness and wishing the evening would go on forever (and hurrah for 2012 when every one of the people at that table will be living closer by).
10. Lighting candles in Exeter Cathedral for my father-in-law as a visiting choir began to sing. Their singing was so perfect and ethereal that it left us with goosebumps.
10½.  Listening to my husband read to all of us: it has been the backdrop to 2011 for me. This year he has read aloud all of the Harry Potter books and much of Michael Morpurgo's vast back catalogue as I've sat sewing and the children have draped themselves over beds or sofas. After one rainy weekend extravaganza of Enid Blyton's Famous Five we came up with the rather jolly hockey sticks and tongue-in-cheek phrase of 'Oh, do read on, Daddy!', which has been said over and over in chorus whenever he claims his throat is beginning to feel dry or he wishes to stop reading for the day. And invariably he always has read on.

Top Ten Moments of Sewing Happiness of 2011

1. My year began making a Colette Patterns Negroni shirt for my husband. It's still my favourite pattern I've ever worked from and I often recall how much I enjoyed pressing every seam and checking and rechecking every crease and fold during the making of it. Making another is one of my priorities for this year.
2. Making the Love Emblem quilt for dear friends represented new, more challenging adventures in quiting for me, as well as being bolder with colour. It's one of the things I've made that I love the most.
3. Free-motion quilting a throw that I made for one of my nephews (yet to be shared here) was one of the most exhilarating sewing highlights of my year...it's something that had foxed me for so long and although the results weren't perfect, they were good enough to make me feel giddy with the avenues opened up by learning this new skill.
4. Somehow I haven't written an official review of it yet, but Jane Brocket's The Gentle Art of Quilt-Makingsticks with me as one being one of the most inspiring books I opened last year and I aspire to use pattern and colour with a fraction of her flair.

5. Working with different fabrics: 2011 has been the year that I've worked with more non-quilting weight fabrics than cotton quilting weights....and it's something that's delighted me every time I've felt the luxurious hand of silk, the soft drape of a knit, the fluid butteryness of a voile or the thin crispness of lawn.
6.It was spine-tinglingly lovely to find that my own blog was in the recommended websites section at the end of the wonderful Colette Sewing Handbook- I didn't mention it when I reviewed the book for fear of it seeming boasty, but it goes down as one of my most surprising and unexpected moments of sewing-related happiness for 2011, because for me Colette is the ultimate dressmaking pattern company. It was one of those moments when I felt instantly transported back to feeling rather geeky at secondary school: um, me? Are you sure?

5. Making a fully-lined winter coat (again, yet to be shared). Something that's long been on my list of things to do, I found the whole process from drafting the pattern to hand-stitching the lining utterly enjoyable. The only flaw with it in retrospect is that I made it using a navy wool coating...just at a time when suddenly the only colour I want to wear is black with a hint of grey.
6. Working my way through the Desert Island discs archive as I sew...a combination of things that sometimes makes life feel as though it couldn't get any better.
7. Seeing the things people have made using one of my patterns or tutorials - it never fails to make me stop what I'm doing and feel more than a little touched that someone has invested their trust in following my instructions. And then seeing how it's been made in very much their own style...I feel that others have more than made up for my own lack of glorious Heather Ross fabric prints.
8. Discovering Frixion pens could double as iron-away fabric markers - their precision lines have transformed marking things out for me.
9. Changing the feet on my sewing machine...from piping feet, to applique feet, from zipper feet to 1/4" feet...even though many of them I've had for several years, it never fails to delight me how much easier the right foot makes everything feel.
10. Sewing with the Edwyn Collins Ornithology Liberty fabric print - it's the most wonderful china blue that I never tire of looking at, the drawings are exquisite and the story behind the fabric leaves me feeling inspired. I made my father's Christmas presents from this fabric, but am yet to share them with you here. 

Top ten sewing-related aspirations for 2012

I am one of those people who runs in the opposite direction when tied down by resolutions, so instead these are my aspirations, a term which, to me, seems more hopeful and open-ended.

1. When I look back at previous years, I realise that I only get around to blogging about half of the things that I actually make - it would be nice to document a little more of this as my blog is very much a record of my year and it feels odd to have so many gaps and holes in it.
2. Ditto, thoughts and inspiring things that I've seen elsewhere that I'd like to post about, but that get swallowed up and disappear into a space in my head filed under 'to be blogged about': it's an imperfect filing system and things get lost. So I'm hoping to make more on-paper lists and to write posts that are (sometimes) shorter and more concise to make sharing those things more possible.
3. I'd love to make another Negroni shirt for my husband and another Miz Mozelle for me...and one for my sister too.
4. I've worn a kingfisher blue silk dress over Christmas a lot that I'm absolutely dotty about - I'd love to try and create my own version.
5. I already have a few lined up that are nearly finished and just waiting to be tested, but I'd love to add many more patterns and tutorials to my blog in 2012.
6. At the beginning of 2011, Katy inspired me with her stash pact resolve (clearly I'm like a moth to a flame when it comes to sticking to other people's resolutions). While I didn't embark upon a complete fabric-buying ceasefire, my attitude to purchasing has been very restrained - I've only bought fabric I'm about to use when I didn't have any other suitable alternatives already sitting in my drawer and this more frugal, less consumeristic approach means that I've had a guilt-free year of sewing when it comes to fabric purchases. I'm hoping to continue with this in 2012.
7. I'd love to make more time to use patterns written by others - every time I do this I learn something new and it shows me that I don't always have to be a control freak and oversee every aspect of each sewing project I undertake from beginning to end: sometimes it's relaxing to be led by someone else.
8. Having sewn with my daughter at the end of the year, I'm aspiring to tidy as I go. I could scarcely believe how little tidying up there was to do when we got to the end of making their bears' patchwork blankets. It would seem there's a way of working that doesn't leave one covered in thread.
9. More clothing, more quilts, more things for the home using delicious upholstery fabrics. I want to do more sewing of everything. It's a source of delight to me that sewing still feels like an addiction that I will never have had enough of. We watched Bridge to Terebithia over the holidays. In one scene Leslie's parents paint a room gold and try to finish it in time for the setting sun to cast its glow over the walls. I'd also love to paint a very small wall gold in between sewing things.
10. This may seem to contradict point 9, but actually, I think it's just about using my time in a better way. Last year my working hours were split between sewing and blogging...this year I'd love to split my time three ways between sewing, blogging and non-sewing-related writing. I find it difficult to make time for the latter, as in many ways it feels like a self-indulgence, but it's something that means a lot to me and which I think is entirely possible if use my time more efficiently.

Dear readers, you may now breathe: it's soon to be over. Perhaps like me, this leaves you wondering at the size of the 'post that never was' if this is the concise option! I hope this is not an indication that list-making won't work for me....

Wishing you a sparkly, wonderful 2012, with your own iced gem tops appearing at every turn,
Florence x


  1. This is such a great post and I'm sure I'll be back to read it again at some point - thanks for sharing and thank you for your wonderful posts. And here's to a wonderful 2012 for you and yours!

  2. Florence, I always enjoy reading your blog and can honestly say that you have been a big inspiration in my own sewing and blogging adventures. I recently bought one of your patterns which is high on my own to-do list. May 2012 have many gem moments for you and yours while the biscuit-y bits turn to crumbs x

  3. I always find it very odd that bloggers apologise for the length of posts. Because for me, no matter how long a post is, it invariably isn't long enough, especially from bloggers that you really enjoy. Sometimes it seems to be looked upon as a penance to read what others have written. Well it isn't! It's actually a pleasure and a joy. I love words as well as pictures so make no excuses for either of them. Where would us lazy bloggless people be without you seemingly tireless and more together people, who manage to both do it all and say it all? To you I say thanks for every word, and even more thanks when there are more words!

    You achieved so much but that is because you are a busy, committed and resolute person. I don't work well with resolutions either. However, I don't work well without them! I have made some this year just to see how I get on. I have already failed one of them - at least 5 rows of my knitting project a day until finished. I haven't touched it. My default position is to do nothing sadly and my inability to latch on, and get on with something regularly disappoints. I actually find it disconcerting if I have the evidence of my own activity in front of me. Weird I know. I like to view the results of others so much more than my own. That is one of the things I would like to change this year.

    Thank you for a year of appreciated blogging. I look forward to this one. I used to eat the biscuit of my iced gems, it served well to show up the iced bits in all their glory by comparison.

  4. Happy New Year, Florence! I hope 2012 will be a wonderful year for you and the other Teacakeses. Thanks for sharing Katy's stash pact - some of my fabric really must be moved from the fabric cupboard to my wardrobe this year (by being made into clothes, I mean; just moving it would be cheating). Very much looking forward to more tutorials and patterns from you, as well as seeing all these things you've made without showing us! x

  5. Oh, and congratulations on being included in the Colette book! Very exciting!

  6. Happy New Year, Florence! What a wonderful post full of happy thoughts and hopes :) Do you know what, I must be a little odd, I always used to pick the icing off the little gems and eat just the biscuit base! Looking forward to more of your usual lovliness in 2012!

  7. What a great post :) It sounds like 2011 was a challenging year for you & yours, and I hope that it has all settled down now and laid the foundations for a fantastic 2012.

    I love reading all your posts and you've inspired me to get into dressmaking (something i've been scared of for a long time)

    I'm looking forward to seeing all your crafty adventures in 2012 - especially any quilting as you made some stunners last year!!!! x

  8. Hi I have been following you for just a year and i am thrilled when you add a blog. I adore what you make and have had equally as much fun making from your patterns.
    Like your husband i cut back on my work so i have more time to sew (i make curtains to earn some extra money)clothes an quilts. It feels all rather decadent at the moment but i have lots that i want to do.
    Sorry that 2011 had its challenging times - one can hope for a better 2012 but i admire the fact that through all that you have good things to look back on.

  9. I've enjoyed reading this post so much!
    I used to separate the tops from the bottoms of iced gems so that I could have a mouthful of tops and a then mouthful of biscuit.

    I wish you and your family all the very best for 2012.

  10. I think what you've done here is count your blessings. It's lovely that it ended up being so many, isn't it? Thank you!

  11. Thank you so, so much for all your thoughtful and kind comments - I really loved reading them. I also loved hearing about the ways that other people choose to eat their iced-gems!

    Thank you for commenting - Florence x


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