Thursday, 31 December 2009

Slicing cake and other things....

Gosh, I really hadn't meant to leave it so long and had intended to stop by at least to wish you all a lovely Christmas...but that seems to have come and gone, but I'm just in time to send you my happiest wishes for the new year, although perhaps that will be belated too by the time many of you read this post.

Anyway, I thought I'd allow cakes and sugary goodness to dominate this post as I seem to have baked my way through the festive season.

We made these little bags of Zimtsterne (that's lemon cinnamon stars) and Peppermint Hearts for our local friends and the little teacakes and I delivered them on Christmas Eve...we walked for three hours and finally stopped for a cup of tea and the warmth of a radiator at the final delivery destination.

The peppermint creams recipe can be found here. The Zimtsterne are easy to make and deliver a powerful lemony almond hit...I saved a bag for us to eat on the final leg of the walk home as I felt that nearly five miles walking in the snow had earnt them...or mostly on perilous ice actually as the snow had nearly gone.

But anyway, onto one of my Christmas gifts. I had asked my Mama if she might find a copy of Red Velvet Chocolate Heartache for one of my Christmas gifts and it's just as dreamy as I hoped it might be (yes, that's right, it has over a billion positive reviews on Amazon...well, maybe not quite a billion). The book is utterly, utterly lovely. The premise for the book is that Harry Eastwood loves cake. She loves everything about it and wants to find a way to eat it daily without turning into a Victoria sponge herself. So while she embraces piling on butter cream atop the cake where you can really taste and appreciate the lovely naughty butteryness, she chases away the calories that are less consciously and less enjoyably consumed - namely the butter inside the actual cake. Here the butter is replaced by grated courgette, butternut squash, carrots or beetroot. Oh and did I mention there's no flour in them either...for she also can't bear the idea of people with gluten allergies missing out on the fun, and so rice flour is used throughout - another thing that really appeals to me.

Mr Teacakes was dubious about the cakes and asked that I make courgette-free cake for him to take into work when it is his birthday next week. My best friend told me that she couldn't imagine they'd be edible and others nodded sympathetically when I gushed about the idea of it. I have to admit as I whisked together the ingredients for Mint Chocolate Cupcakes this morning I felt incredibly nervous, but I kept Harry's warm words in my head and tried to remain confident. I've read the book cover to cover and it's hard not to bake with an absolute certainty that these cakes will be magical, simply because it comes across so transparently that Harry has nurtured and brought each cake recipe to life with as much love and attention as one might with one's own child - the recipes are interspersed with diary entries where she shares her delight and disappointment during her days of perfecting and tweaking the recipes.

The verdict...these cakes taste just like cakes...only more wonderful. There is not a hint of vegetable to them in look, texture or smell. Mr Teacakes happily gobbled back his earlier cynicism with every bite and declared them to be amazing...and yes, could I please make some for him to take in to work. The children adored them...but tonight will be the real test for we are taking them to a new year's eve party and the host happens to make the best apple pie I've ever tasted, so I know that his taste buds will winkle out any oddness.

That aside, the text that I sent my friend about the book this morning sums up my feelings on it: Dear Doubter, cakes are DIVINE and am bouncing off the walls with vegetable-fuelled happiness. Bugger, book will make a cake Evangelist of me. Big love, F x

Actually, no it doesn't quite sum it up at all...not nearly enough words and babble. Did I mention that I actually think this book could be life changing?

The children are just as delighted by their very own Usbourne cookbook and they made these delicious fairy cakes last week - they really were scrumptious.

Finally, I must share with you how delighted I am to have all my digits as I go into 2010. The week before the schools broke up I was working at something of a breakneck (or should that be finger-slicing) speed on some last minute presents and accidentally sliced through my finger with the rotary cutter (for those that aren't familiar with one, its a tool that can cut through thick layers of fabric using an incredibly sharp circular razor blade). I am of a rather squeamish disposition and had to hide the bloodied finger from myself so that I might avoid fainting. After wrapping it in swathes of toilet roll while looking the other way I managed to telephone Mr Teacakes who I was told was in a meeting. I managed not to cry as I asked if they wouldn't mind interrupting the meeting to let him know that his wife had sliced part of her finger off. After asking me to send a photo of it to him (I'm sparing you that, but actually I'd cleaned the bathroom that morning and even in my traumatised state I couldn't help noticing that the blood looked somehow very christmassy against the perfectly white porcelain of the sink - I'm imagining holly berries, robin redbreasts and crisp white snow here...but somehow that just sounds a little weird...oh dear) Mr Teacakes quickly put his pants on over his trousers and whizzed home to bandage the whole thing up properly and assess whether I needed stitches (the verdict was that it could have done with some, but that some Steristrips might save us from sitting in casualty for hours with merry pre-Christmas daytime revellers).

Anyway, it also happened to be the coldest week imaginable and I suddenly found myself with a finger the size of a large Cumberland sausage that didn't have a hope of wriggling its way into gloves. So how fortuitous that Helen sent me these beautiful wrist warmers the very same day - I couldn't quite believe it.

They are the most perfect shade of grey and I am utterly in love with them...and I can now tell you that they look even lovelier with my equally sized sausage fingers in them (recovery is almost complete...phew!).

Just look at all this knitted loveliness - what a clever and very kind bean she is.
Anyway, wishing you all the loveliest of new year's eves and the sparkliest and happiest of years to follow,
Florence x

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

On kimonos, 'strides' and waiting...

Firstly - thank you so much for all the lovely comments on my last post listing UK online fabric shops - for those of you who subscribe through bloglines, for some reason it cut half the post off, so if you click through to the actual post, you may find a great many more shops listed than were visible in bloglines.

Anyway, kimono. About a year ago I started getting requests to make kimonos in a wider range of sizes (they currently cover UK sizes 6 -10) - an idea which I found overwhelming due to never having graded a pattern before...which bits would need to be bigger or smaller...does one just increase all the pattern pieces or make adjustments only to certain areas? So many baffling questions that I simply said no, as I couldn't bear the idea of sending it off to someone and them finding it too big...or more distressingly too small - I didn't want to be responsible for anyone's bad dressing room day.

Anyway, I finally met with someone persuasive enough, and more importantly, local enough that they were happy to stop by for any necessary fitting and adjustments, to finally begin drafting a kimono pattern in a larger size - this one will fit UK sizes 14-16...(which leaves me with a 10-12 gap in my range...perhaps I will brave that one day too). Anyway, the girl in question picked out this scrummy Denyse Schmidt print, which is perfect for a kimono as Denyse's fabrics tend to feel a little lighter, with more of a sheen to them than standard cottons.

When the girl in question visited and tried on the pink kimono in a smaller size there were things I wouldn't have instantly thought of that needed adjusting...for instance, as well as the belt needing to be longer, it also needed to be deeper. I loved finding out what details it is that makes a garment look 'right' on whoever is wearing it. Anyway, after many days worth of strokey-beard moments the final fitting revealed that, apart from needing to shorten the arm length a little, all ended up fitting perfectly and I felt so relieved that I hadn't just cut up 5 metres of Denyse Schmidt on a misadventure that would have no hope of ever fitting man or beast, let alone the lovely songstress in question (for she is a singer).

Sticking with the garment theme, Dylon emailed me recently very kindly asking if I'd like to try any of their dyes. I'd already been eyeing their Wash & Dye range, which dispenses with the need to buy vast quantities of salt and simply lets you...yes, wash and with a normal wash cycle. Anyway, I have a small sub-wardrobe of brown cords as it amazes me quite what different personalities brown cords can have, some slouchy, some a little more pair simply can't meet every chestnut-hued corduroy mood or occasion. Anyway, my most beloved pair had become washed out, faded, tattered and slightly more lo-fi than I ever intended them to look.

I think when Dylon first contacted me they may have meant that I use the dyes for crafting purposes, but as these trousers being wearable are essential to my general equilibrium and are worn on especially happy sewing days (and that isn't meant flippantly...sewing always seems to go right when coming from a starting point of feeling happy in one's 'strides' - this is my Papa's bizarre term for trousers, which is actually a far superior word and one which I would use all the time if I thought anyone would understand what I was talking about), these were the things that instantly sprang to mind as 'dying candidates'. So anyway, the dye came, not in a box, but in a thick black sachet bearing a chestnut brown leaf in exactly the shade of 'final trouser' that I was hoping for. I know from previous experience that the more garments you put in the wash, the more thinly the dye is spread and, to me, it seems the colour tends to be more natural and less of a block-colour this way, so I added an old pair of camel-coloured gardening cords into the machine as a sacrificial lamb.

Below is the final result - I couldn't quite believe the change - they look like new, but still slightly vintagey and the colour is perfect. They really are the most scrummy colour and I feel that I've fallen in love with them all over again. Hurrah! Thank you, Dylon.

Today, amongst other things, I have been planning out Dinosaur-boy's quilt that I'm hoping to make him for Christmas. He has long bemoaned his lack of snugly handmade warmth and I couldn't bear letting one more present-giving occasion whizz past without giving him this. He appreciates handmade things just as much as Zebra-girl and treats them differently to shop-bought lovelies, which makes me feel even sadder that he hasn't already got a quilt.

Partly the delay has been in never quite managing to find the right fabrics - Dinosaur-boy's room is incredibly tiny and so for this reason I've tried to keep the colours to cream, white and pale blue to make the room feel airy and light. I longed for something that fitted in with this scheme, but that was more boyish and with more longevity than a baby-blue gingham, which was the only thing that sprang to mind when I'd thought about it in the past. So how happy I was when I spotted the new Monaluna Mingle range of fabrics, which goes perfectly with the older Robert Kaufman 'apples' print.

I also have very particular ideas about quilting this time too - the quilts that I've loved recently have all had straight quilt lines running horizontally across them, which somehow gives such a different effect to the chequerboard look that I went for with my last quilt. I can't wait to get started...which was why I paid a little extra for speedy delivery...and why I will be spending tomorrow with the doorbell next to the sewing machine, and perhaps even checking that the doorbell is working properly every half hour until it actually rings. Yes, waiting for fabric to arrive takes me back to waiting for a boy to call as a teenager. I wonder what my teenage self would have thought to that...actually, I'm sure she would have loved it.


Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Shop Update

I always feel a little pained by doing shop updates on my blog, for the whole 'selling' side of things (as in door-to-door pushiness) makes me feel horribly uncomfortable, so if reading shop updates has a similar effect on you as it does on me when writing them, then please avert your eyes and come back another day when I am feeling less like a wizened peddler woman (and please do try to forgive me for donating a whole post to shamelessly plugging my own shop).

The week before last I made up a couple more framed fabric pictures. I wanted to try the Cinderella picture using different fabrics.

I think I like the colours on this one a little better.

For the girl on the swing picture...well...I actually really loved the colours in that the first time around and so made another, almost identical, one. They are both in my shop here.

I also decided to make some more hair accessories boards - I have changed the design of them since the first one I made (which is now nearly 18 months ago...time has gone so fast!).

This blue one is already in the post on the way to its new home. But the pink one is waiting happily in my shop here.

I love this print, and just looking at it makes me feel quite excited because more Heather Bailey loveliness is now available as she has just released her new fabric range: Nicey Jane - I can't wait to get my paws on it.

You may remember that I've made a couple of children's glasses cases as custom orders. I decided to add some of these to the range in my shop.

My own little Teacakes have tested the flex frames for me and they are just right for smaller hands to open and close. You can see more here.

And finally, when lovely Joanne had her little boy I wanted to send her an old fashioned layette of baby clothes.

As both herself and Mr Joleo are more than a little cat-obsessed I knew instantly what I wanted to decorate the clothes with. However, this is the last time it will be referred to as a layette, due to the word unexpectedly enraging Mr Teacakes who claimed it was a ridiculous sewing term amount of Googling could convince him that it was actually a proper non-geeky word, albeit a rather outdated one. I have added the 'Baby Set' to my shop here (yes, it's a baby set now), available in pink or blue, as a design-it-yourself item, so that it can be ordered with whatever theme of decoration that might most please the particular baby and parents in question.

Mr Teacakes has also added a Christmas section to my website, where there are wreaths, bunting and stockings available. There are a mass of new teabag holders, pin cushions and doorstops on there well as the Honeycomb bag, as I am still trying to decide whether to keep it for myself or not, so I suppose whether it gets snaffled up will help make the decision for me.

Anyway, I am now going off on a brief adventure, one which I am very excited about, so I shall report back as soon as I have returned. Wishing you your own fun-filled Wednesday. x

Sunday, 6 December 2009

We Make London fair...we make too much...

Catching up on some blogs on Sunday evening this post made me laugh for its utter accuracy as to the 'morning after' feelings that can come about after a fair. Luckily for us, we came somewhere in between the 'not a sausage' and the 'selling the whole stall out' varieties. I covered my table and travel costs and made a little extra on top of that...but ultimately (like I didn't already know this before I did it) it made me re-realise that I really don't enjoy doing fairs, even when in a beautiful building, surrounded by the nice people. I had the most lovely day with Joanne (pictured above lovingly arranging a doorstop) and Helen, and was utterly delighted to meet throughout the day with my sweet-laden sister, greatly-missed Lisa (who had the sweet surprised look of a mole to find herself out after being holed up writing her book for so long) and her lovely Al, Mary and her lovely little girl, Mr Joleo and adorable baby Fitz and Helen's husband and then her sister, who stole all the height in their family. Rather it's the lead up to a fair that I really dislike and which makes the whole thing feel a bit too much.

I find that in the run-up to a fair I feel that I've never made quite enough and so am constantly pushing myself to make more and thinking 'oh gosh...and I really ought to make a few of those too'. Whereas, in my shop I fill it with the things that I'd want to buy and for custom orders I love thinking about what the recipient might find most lovely, with a fair I lose all my confidence and spend much of my sewing time trying to imagine what might sell well in those few hours that my things are on display for and my thoughts on second-guessing what this well-selling item might be fly around my head wildly making me feel quite dizzy...and because I don't normally think in such a salesy way the whole thing feels most discombobulating. Does that make sense?

What's so funny about this feeling of needing to make more is that when we arrived at 10am and attempted to arrange our combined stock onto the table, we realised that we had an obscene case of overcrowding and many duplicate items had to be removed. We had somehow forgotten in the run-up that we'd taken a table together so that there would be no need to make things in such vast quantities. Oh dear. However, what I did delight in was that with Joanne and Helen to provide some balance, I reverted to sewing almost entirely in red and pink; something that I forced myself not to do at my last solo fair in an attempt to avoid looking insane and like I should have plaits in my hair that reach down to the floor (which is how I imagine the freaky lady who wants to sew everything in pink would look...oh dear, that's me without the hair length or plaits then...sometimes I want to run away from myself).

Anyway, moving swiftly on, I am delighted to have a tutorial of mine featured in the winter edition of the online UK Handmade magazine - their layout is always so crisp and minimal that to have something of mine in their lovely pages feels quite magical to me. It's a simple tutorial for this matryoshka needle case, which can be made either by hand or on the sewing machine and which I was hoping might be a nice Christmassy gifty thing that people would hopefully enjoy making. I only saw it on Friday, so haven't had a chance to read it, but I did see that lovely Pipany is being interviewed, so can't wait to sit down and read the whole thing cover to cover.

I also appear (I'm sorry, I shall go to ground shortly, I promise) in the rather wonderful Sew Hip magazine (December edition) this month - they asked if I would like to be the subject of their 'Introducing...' feature on the back page and I was delighted, not least because I love answering either/or questions (although some of my words have come out a little muddled, so I come across a little oddly at times, but really what's new there...I've just been talking about having floor length plaits). I will hopefully have a tutorial featuring in there the following month...and perhaps an article sometime after that - thankfully both were written and handed in last month, so now I'm left with just the fun part of waiting to see if they really will appear in print.

And finally, Saints & Pinners, who I mentioned at the end of my last post, saw the wreath that I'd shown and asked if they could feature it on their homepage and 'Make This' section of their website...which is most flattering. Hurrah! Bizarrely, both magazines that I appear in this month also feature one of these wreaths on their pages, so they are obviously becoming a very popular thing to make (if you haven't already, do give one a try as they are really easy and are a nice break from the sewing machine). Here's one on my living room door, with newly decorated Christmas tree twinkling in the background - yes, it's entirely silver and white...Mr Teacakes tactfully suggested that this might be the year when I chill out a little and permit myself to invest in some colour, an idea which both appalls and delights me in equal measure. I'll let you know how I get on.

We've had the most lovely relaxing Sunday, full of decorating, funny poems, making things, Christmas carols (replaced quickly by Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker as the whole family seems to have a low carol threshold), mince pies and Clever Polly and the Stupid Wolf Stories, which make us all howl with laughter. It has been most restorative and, for me, went some way to making amends for the distracted half-mother that my children had been left with in the couple of days before the fair.

I hope you had a lovely weekend. x

P.s. my doors...I find them distressing - why would someone make a door with lovely solid wood for the frame and then use strange infill panes for the other bits? It makes me feel pained whenever I look at them. I'd really like to paint them a very matt Farrow & Ball creamy colour...but I feel overwhelmed by the prospect of sanding them back if it looks hideous...especially when Mr Teacakes is adamant that they look fine just the way they are. Does anyone else have these you have lovely pictures of them looking dreamy and wonderful in shades of milk and mushroom that you could share to give me courage?

Anyway, that's quite enough from me...

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Feeling Christmassy

The 1st December was approaching and, with a surge akin to pregnancy hormones, my desire for all things Christmas was insatiable. I had so many plans of what I still wanted to make to take to the craft fair on Saturday and what I wanted to make as stock for my shop, but suddenly these were all pushed to one side as my pinking shears were wielded in order to make triangles of Christmassy bunting, and my rotary cutter was awarded a new blade so that it might help me cut through hundreds of layers of fabric to produce enough strips to crowd into some wreaths.

The wreaths I have wanted to make for well over a year now, having spotted them in quite a few places. They are surprisingly fabric-hungry things to make and it pained me a little to be using up so much of my red-coloured stash, but I am really trying to become less of a hoarder and to take comfort from the idea that even if one fabric is discontinued, something just as lovely might be printed to replace it. That didn't stop me checking that one or two were still available somewhere online before cutting into them to make the second wreath's so hard to be good!

Anyway, I will be taking these Christmassy goodies to the fair, but I will be quite happy if they don't sell, as we don't seem to have quite enough decorations and the gasps of the littlest Teacakes when they walked in one morning to find that I had temporarily hung bunting on the walls were so gratifying that I can see I will be making some more anyway. Zebra-girl is also requesting that I make some year-round bunting for her bedroom.

I have, however, also managed to sandwich in making more framed fabric pictures, a couple of hair accessories boards, a batch of teabag holders. It's amazing what you can do when you have a deadline for making things...however, like Eeyore, I am feeling apprehensive about the fair. The one that I did one rain-soaked evening last December in a tiny country village was fairly dire and so with this as my only past-experience I feel convinced that fairs (for me, at least) may well be doomed ventures. However, what was unexpectedly lovely about last year was that I then had the most enormous amount of stock for my shop...something which I rarely find the time to I'm focusing on that as a possible good outcome. But even more so, a day with my lovely girls and the chance to perhaps meet Fitz and Helen & Joanne's husbands, whom I've heard so much about. Mr Teacakes asked me if I wouldn't just be happier meeting up with them for cake and not bothering about the craft fair aspect in future...I'll report back to you on that post-fair. Anyway, if you happen to be in Chelsea on Saturday, then it would be so lovely to meet you. We will be in the smaller ante room, away from the main hall (possibly due to the expectation of bad behaviour, but I like to think the stalls were given out on a lucky dip basis), but in closer proximity to the cake room which is apparently due to be stocked by the founders of Patisserie Valerie. Not such a bad compromise after all. Today has been spent on last minute making price cards and swing tags.

Before I go, I wanted to tell those of you that aren't on their mailing list that Jo & Fran of UK-based Saints & Pinners are offering a scrumptious 20% off all fabric. I am trying so hard to exercise some self-restraint due to running out of storage space (we'll see how well I do as the offer is good until 20th much time for me still to crack!), but must implore those of you that have a fabric-shaped hole in a cupboard or drawer to snaffle up the lovelies. Just type in SP2 at the checkout for discounty goodness. Has anyone else noticed quite how many wonderful online fabric shops are emerging in the UK in the last few months? I keep a long, ever-growing list of them in my email drafts (currently standing at 35!)...must share that at some point too.

Wishing you a lovely weekend,
Florence x

ps. I did ask Jo & Fran if it was okay for me to spread their offer in this way, and they were more than happy, so please don't let stolen discount code worries plague you if you're buying. x
pps. Do any other blogger users know what might be the problem with photo quality at the moment - I know that my photos are fine because they're crisp in Flickr...but blogger seems to be compressing them in an odd way so that they look fuzzy and dull...any ideas as to what I or blogger might be up to would be so appreciated. x
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