Tuesday, 20 October 2015

A post of good things

I don't have any sewing to show today, so I thought I might share some other things. I should clarify that the scene above is completely unrelated - it was taken while I was doing my tax return yesterday. The chocolates were provided by my husband as the perfect fuel for an activity that I've put off doing for the last six months. So good to finally have it done and to have eaten so many delicious chocolates while doing it. So...this post will tell you about (this sentence is written retrospectively, as I had no idea what I was going to tell you about when I sat down to write, but I really love thinking about all the things I've enjoyed recently or are new to me, and assembling them in one place - one of my favourite types of posts to write, so I hope you enjoy reading them just as much): new-to-me fiction and sewing books; a companion book to shopping in London; a fantastic TV series; a site that will help you decide whether something is suitable to watch/read with children; the best salted caramel sauce recipe; a few useful sewing tutorials I've had bookmarked; our latest Squeebles app; sewing your own knitwear; and finally, dressmaking fabric from Paris.

  • Let's start with the books that would be on my bedside table if I had one (I actually have a wardrobe next to my side of the bed so, instead of a table, I have a drawer in that and it pulls out at perfect arm-height when I'm sitting in bed. As I keep all my to-read books and magazines in there, it always feels like quite an exciting treasure trove of a drawer, full of possibilities). You might remember earlier in the year, I fell in love with Nickolas Butler's debut novel, Shotgun Lovesongs. Beneath the Bonfire is his follow-up, a collection of short stories that I'm looking forward to diving into. The other fiction picks are both ones that I bought at Waterstones having researched them on Amazon and I don't know much about either, aside from that Room was Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and tells the story of a five year old who lives his life in a single room. I initially dismissed it as the premise for the book sounded as though it may be gratuitous and mawkish, but then I read a review by someone who'd had similar fears, which had proved unfounded, so I'm going to risk it. Finally, Jack. I haven't read any A.M. Homes and I think this was her first book, written back in 1989. I picked it purely because it was in the 'Other Readers Bought' recommendations section when I typed in the title of one of my favourite novels - I'd love to hear your thoughts if you've already read any of these. In non-fiction, I finally invested in Aldrich's Metric Pattern Cutting for Women's Wear (I did buy this one on Amazon as it costs substantially less there), it's such a staple that I've always felt slightly guilty about not owning a copy, having put off buying it because it's expensive and I knew it would be very dry. It's still expensive and very dry, but an excellent reference bible if you do any of your own pattern drafting and I've referred to it several times already in the last few weeks.
  • I've just added this book to my wishlist! This looks like a must if you sew or knit and live anywhere near London or intend to visit and have money burning a hole in your pocket (I'm currently missing the latter, having spent it all on the things in this post, but I tick all the other boxes).  
  • A few months ago, my sister emailed me and told me that I had to watch a series called New Girl, as I'd love it. I said I'd watch an episode, but never quite got around to it. Two weeks later, she wrote again saying that she didn't want to pressure me, but each episode was only twenty minutes long and I really should try and fit one in. I think one more request followed and when I finally watched the first episode it was partly to stop her from prodding me further. I'm now so grateful that my sister did apply viewing pressure as an episode of New Girl is one of the most joyful things imaginable and an average month's quota of laughter will be spent in just twenty minutes. It's that good. If I had to describe it, I'd say that it's a little like Friends, but probably a lot ruder, several times funnier and with better developed characters. The show has been nominated for five Golden Globe Awards and as many Primetime Emmys. For your own viewing reference if you haven't already seen it, I've now watched every episode from the first two series with my fourteen year old daughter, who loves it as much as my sister and I do, but I'm not sure I'd let children any younger than that watch it. Have you heard of a site called Common Sense Media? It's a brilliant resource if you're thinking of watching/reading something with a child and aren't sure it's going to be suitable. Reviews and suggested age ratings are submitted by both parents and children and it will also tell you exactly which aspect of the programme may be inappropriate for certain age groups (for example, while some parents may object to any swearing, others may be more keen to avoid violence than swear words and it's really informative in this way). Here are the reviews for New Girl (the site also suggests 14+ for that). 
  • It was my daughter's birthday a few weeks ago. She'd requested a salted caramel chocolate birthday cake. I used this recipe for a salted caramel sauce to go in the middle of the cake. Tanya had told me it was amazing and she was right - my husband and son both ate spoonfuls of just-cooled sauce and said they'd never tasted anything quite like it. For the cake I used the chocolate mint cupcake recipe from Red Velvet Chocolate Heartache (a book that I talk about in this post back in 2009!), but minus the mint flavouring and in layer cake form, rather than cupcake form. I put a regular chocolate buttercream on top and then sprinkled crushed Dime bars over it! The cake was gluten free and my daughter loved it and my husband has already requested an identical cake for his birthday. My son bakes (and actually cooks whole meals too - lucky us - I love seeing how confidently he moves around a kitchen and how intuitive his cooking is. He rarely follows recipes for savoury food, but still manages to teach me new tricks, such as no homemade tomato sauce being complete without a large glug of balsamic added in while simmering) so frequently now, that it's actually a really long time since I've baked anything myself - it was a lovely treat to be filling the air with icing sugar again.
  • I've had some useful tutorials bookmarked for a while and thought I might share them with you now, in case you'd find them useful too. Here's one from True Bias about sewing a side-seam slit and another from Jen of Grainline about how to match plaids/checks
  • Our latest app has just arrived in the app stores after nearly eight months in our office-cum-clockmaking workshop! I know some of you use our Squeebles educational apps with your children already, so I thought I might share the latest addition to the series, Squeebles Tell the Time. I ended up discussing the way that we tell the time with some fellow instagrammers several months ago and it quickly became apparent that everyone has very specific ideas about how children should be taught to read the time and that this varies not only from country to country, but region to region in some parts of the world! So on the basis of that feedback, we've made the app totally customisable - parents or teachers can choose the format - whether that's 2.45/quarter to three/quarter 'til three - that their children will see appearing in the app (thanks so much if you joined in on this discussion!). The app also has interactive audio lessons that teach everything from which way is clockwise, to how to read the minute and hour hands; it has four different game modes for practising; and it's customisable in so many different ways to suit each individual child. Children's work is rewarded with stars that can be traded in for different rockets, for use in a mini-game within the app, called Sky Dash, as well as the usual pull of collecting Squeebles. The app features several Squeebles designed especially for us by children at a fantastic primary school in London as well as three rockets (which feature in the Sky Dash game) that children designed as entries to one of our competitions earlier in the year! It always feels really lovely to launch an app that has so much creative input from children in it. 
  • For those who sew, but can't successfully knit no matter how hard they try (like me), but who would still love to create knitwear, Sonja from Ginger Makes interviewed Olgalyn several months ago about the earthy-coloured non-GMO knitted fabrics she designs, that you can then sew with (fascinating and well-worth reading, even if you don't want to sew with knits yourself)! You can go and drool over the fabrics here, which suddenly seem perfect for this time of year. 
  • I bought some wonderfully drapey rayon/cotton fabric (and non-drapey stationery) from Anna Ka Bazaar in Paris. The whole site can be viewed in French or English, postage to the UK doesn't incur any charges and my package arrived relatively quickly. Irritatingly, I didn't look at the fabric width when I bought this black and white rayon, and it's just 100cm wide, so I'm hoping that I can actually squeeze another one of these skirts (below) out of it without forgoing the pockets (what would I do with my hands? There may be a real risk of them flapping about aimlessly and hitting passersby!). I have worn the skirt below almost constantly since I made it, so am quite desperate to make another. 

Have you read of anything good around the internet? Or discovered something wonderful and new to you? Or do you have a series that you'd recommend? I'm on the look-out for something new. While I'm still watching season 3 of New Girl with my daughter, my husband and I have just finished watching Doctor Foster (the first episode in the five-part series had already gone from iPlayer when we discovered it, so we had to buy that one from iTunes for £2.99) - it was really gripping, if slightly disturbing, although not disturbing in the same vein as the danish drama, The Killing, which was similarly gripping, but I ended up choosing not to watch the third series as it felt too gruesome (Doctor Foster was about the aftermath of adultery), so I'd love to hear recommendations of the non-murderous variety, preferably on Netflix/Amazon Instant Video/iPlayer/4od.

Florence x

Ps. The Amazon links in this post are affiliate links. That means if you buy something, Amazon share a tiny percentage of their profit with me. Obviously, they don't pass on any of your details to me though. If you'd rather I didn't share in Amazon's profits, you can type the book title directly into Amazon instead. Or buy it at your local bookshop :)


  1. NEW GIRL! Boyfriend and I are big fans but feel embarrassed about it - mainly because when I suggested it to *my* sister she said, in a slightly appalled tone, "What?! You watch that?!" (She and her boyfriend are obsessed with Strictly Come Dancing so she really has no room to talk...) Just to prove that I am also a viewer of Serious Television, did you see The Ascent of Woman on BBC4? 3 of the 4 episodes are still on iPlayer, but the first one was really good - perhaps it's on Youtube?? And you really should watch series 3 of The Killing, it was soooo good and well worth sticking with to the end. We've just started watching Mr Robot (on Amazon) and I'm really enjoying it so far - the lead actor is fantastic.

    If you can't get pockets out of your annoyingly narrow fabric, try carrying gifts for people wherever you go - my grandmother always refers to a Tamil saying about arriving somewhere as a guest "with your hands flapping" - i.e., without a gift for the host. x

  2. I love common sense media, it's such a useful website, I'm always checking stuff there. We are currently OBSESSED by 'Friday Night Lights' it's on Netflix I think, it was on years and years ago when our 8 year old son was a baby and we totally missed it. I don't think I have engaged with characters and cared so much about a TV program since I watched ER. Obsessed :)

  3. Room was excellent - I thought it was wonderful and not at all mawkish. In terms of TV, I tend toward The Killing end of things rather than New Girl (which I found charming enough, but not charming enough to remember to record the next series). But, if you haven't seen it already The Newsroom is really completely fantastic - funny, and very clever and really well written.

  4. I recently discovered Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries on Netflix. It is utterly indulgent viewing but it makes me happy :) and is perfect to watch with a bit of hand-sewing!

  5. @nina: I’m so pleased you and your boyfriend love New Girl too, although I think it’s a shame that you must hide your love for it. I think it’s so wonderfully silly and fun. Our favourite episodes were Naked Guy and also the one about the landlord - the bit near the end where they’re dancing and he’s pretending to play a flute feels like pure comic genius (I’ve watched that episode four times now…but have only watched one episode of Strictly in my entire life, so I think it probably balances out in the low-brow viewing stakes!). I will attempt to up my quota of Serious Television with your suggestion though.

    I LOVE your grandmother’s saying - that’s perfect and will solve all my problems. It reminds me of a time shortly after we’d moved to Australia in the early 1980s though. We were invited to a barbecue and the hosts told us to ‘bring a plate’. Thinking they must be short of crockery with so many people going, my mother arrived with four empty plates for us to eat from (although her arms were full of plates, I’m sure your grandmother would have seen her hands flapping, as this was obviously not what they meant at all). My mother was mortified and it only confirmed to our hosts that Poms were indeed quite idiotic. I do wonder if socialising was not such a polished thing back in England at that time though, as it would be completely out of character for my mother to arrive anywhere without flowers/wine/gifts/well-occupied hands now.

    1. How could I forget: Detectorists! If you're quick you can still catch it on iPlayer. Best thing we watched last year, I reckon - and no blood or guts as far as I recall. x

  6. @Kate: Ah! Thank you so much - my sister texted me after seeing your suggestion and said that one of her friends is similarly obsessed with FNL! We will give it a try. x

  7. @MooneyBeams Thank you so much for the suggestion! I found that for the whole time I was watching The Killing (it took us about a month to work our way through one series), I felt disturbed and on edge even while I wasn't watching it, so I think it's that that I'm avoiding as I did think it was utterly gripping and wish that I could watch it and feel less detached from it!

  8. @thimblesandteapots Ah! We watched a few episodes of that a few months ago! We both enjoyed it, but I fell asleep during it (tiredness, not boredom!), so we kind of lost the flow of watching it!

  9. Sorry for all my replies being down at the end of the comments - the 'reply' button to reply to individual comments doesn't seem to be working for me today. x

  10. Lovely to read! My brother just gave me the first 2 books in the Southern Reach series. I'm very lazy with reading books lately. I'm slowly reading a wonderful coffee table book called Nautical Style, which is a history of the influence of maritime wear on fashion (the Officer, the Sailor, the Fisherman, the Yachtsman etcetc). It's fascinating and I am utterly obsessed with stripes so it's perfect for me to dip in and out of.
    In terms of interesting reads on the net I thoroughly recommend the blog Sew It or Throw It. Eliza is a Hollywood costume maker and has amazing sewing skills, and she is working her way through her vintage pattern and fabric stash. She is hilarious but so skilled. Very entertaining.


Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a message - it's always really lovely to hear from people.

I now tend to reply within the comments section, so please do check back if you've asked a question or wish to chat.

Florence x

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