Friday, 23 December 2011

Melting Moments provoked nostalgia

Last week I made these with my little boy. He'd been asked to take in some biscuits at short notice. 'I think normal people just have packets of biscuits and crisps in their cupboards all the time' he told me, when I broke it to him that we didn't have any. I wonder who these normal people are and what it's like to be one of them: I want to see inside their cupboards (actually, I have. I think by my little boy's definition this would make own mother entirely normal, for she is prepared for any eventuality on the biscuit front). In the absence of normality in our own pantry, we decided to bake and a tub of glace cherries was our inspiration.

The moment I saw them for some reason I was transported straight back to arriving at my grandmother's house. When we were small she lived alone in a little row of terraced houses beneath the care of an enormous church whose bells chimed every quarter of an hour, even through the night. As we neared the end of our four hour car journey and drew closer to her house my insides would feel like they had butterflies in them as I imagined actually seeing her and being in her lovely little house which smelt of baking, furniture polish and grandmotherly goodness. I genuinely believe that she had butterflies too, because no matter how delayed our arrival was, as soon as our car pulled into her street, her front door would fly open and she would dance up and down in one of the half-pinnies from her huge collection and the moment our car doors were open she would gather me and my sister up and say over and over: hello my little poppets, hello my treasures, in her high-pitched, squeaky voice. And once inside, I knew that cooling on the baking rack there would be Melting Moments with glace cherries on top along with Crunch or Sog (her name for flapjack).

I must have made Melting Moments with her several times, for when my little boy had pressed them onto the baking tray and topped them with cherries, my chest felt tight with how deliciously familiar they looked, even in their unbaked state. We didn't make these using my grandmother's recipe, but found one on the internet as we were hurrying. I must ask her for a copy of her own recipe at Christmas. She no longer bakes, which makes me feel rather sad as for so long it defined her, but she does revert into that lively ball of wonderfulness the moment she's around my children and I can tell that my little boy feels the same way that I did as a child whenever he sees her.

Anyway, the cushion in these photographs is for her, made the day after the Melting Moments on the last day of the school term. I loved picking out the fabrics for it and piecing them together as I sorted through old memories of midnight feasts, playing horses on her Chesterfield, daubing talcum powder from a huge powder puff (deliciously exciting because we didn't have talcum powder at home) and snuggling to either side of her to listen to stories told from her head and then later, because we were essentially tasteless and she indulged this with wild abandon, racing to the television after bath time to watch Dallas and Dynasty by her side.

This will probably be my last post before Christmas, so I really want to thank you so much for reading this year. Thank you also to those lovelies who take the time out from the busyness of their own lives to leave comments, email photos and links to interesting things, buy my patterns and generally make sewing feel very much like a group activity.

Wishing you the merriest of Christmases,
Florence x

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Sewing with the small ones

Yesterday we spent almost the entire day sewing blankets for my children to give to their bears as Christmas gifts. By rights it should have been a pyjama day, but unfortunately I was already dressed by the time I realised that the day would take on such homebound levels of cosiness...meaning that it was all conducted with an unusual air of respectability and a lack of fear over potential parcel delivery and knocks at the door.

It's a while since I've sewn on the machine with either child and in the interim my daughter has developed a strong perfectionist streak and I knew that she'd no longer be satisfied with making something with mismatched seams. However, it ended up being a completely stress free and happy sewing session for everyone, partly because the following made everything so much easier:
  • It was only a day earlier that I'd read about Lynne's daughter making a wonderful pinwheel cushion and had remembered that Lynne had brought out her Accuquilt cutter so that all the pieces could be cut by her daughter with total accuracy. This is such a good idea for children, and the appeal of laying the fabrics on the dye and then cranking the handle round to send them through the machine doesn't seem to fade with repetition and it made short work of cutting the fifty 2.5" squares used for these blankets.
  • They used a 1/4" foot as a seam allowance guide, so their seams matched up really well.
  • We changed the footplate on the machine to one with a very small needle aperture, to eliminate any potential problems with the tiny fabric pieces being sucked down into the feed dogs.
I was shocked to find that my daughter's general approach to sewing has naturally become one that I've always aspired to: fabrics were packed away as soon as they'd been used, pin cushions were taken along to wherever pins were being removed and thread tails were cut off only when near a bin. What a strange and delightful creature this child is to me!

To finish they backed their bear quilts with a deliciously soft Anna Maria Horner flannel - they sewed the backing and the top face-to-face and then turned them right side out, rather than worrying about bindings (I don't think they would have actually found the bindings's more that I'd run out of energy by that point and so didn't present it as an option).

My little boy chose fabrics almost identical to those that I used in the oak tree quilt that I made for my husband last year, while my daughter chose fabrics that remind me of Opal Fruits (now called Starbursts).

After hours of such careful, thoughtful work, both children became completely loopy as soon as they'd completed their quilts and the photo at the top of this post is the only in-focus vision of the finished quilts that was captured. Unfortunately they can't be modelled with the bears in case they detect the softness of the flannel backing and guess what their own Christmas presents are. Obviously.

It's not yet 7am, but I'm already excited about our plans for today. It is a rare thing to force your children to watch television, but today I will be pinning them both to the sofa and insisting that they watch Freaky Friday with me. As children, my sister and I watched this repeatedly and for a while it was our favourite film. Today they are showing the original and very wonderful 1970s version. For my English readers, it's on today at 11.30am on C4...for everyone else, I would implore you to go to great lengths to snaffle a copy out if you haven't already seen it*.

Florence x

* It should be said noted that this is a recommendation from my ten year old self - having not actually watched it for nearly 25 years, it could be dire, but my memories of it are of it being a cinematic masterpiece. A girl wakes up to find herself in her mother's body and the whole day (yes, it's a Friday) becomes totally's a wonderful premise for a film, no?

And just in case you missed it the first time, my PDF sewing patterns currently all have 20% off, which will automatically deducted at the checkout. This runs until midnight on Christmas Eve, for those doing any last minute sewing.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Cushion-making & a board game guide

Last Friday I started making a cushion for my grandmother who I'll be seeing on Christmas day. I chose tiny floral prints that, to me, feel wintry and snow-speckled, but that I'm hoping will look fresh and spring-like later in the year: I'm full of changeling perceptions and I'm hoping she will be too. The darker turquoise print that you can see is part of Denyse Schmidt's Hope Valley collection and is one of my favourites and a print that I'm hoping gives this collection of colours a bit of I fear that without it they could be rather wishy-washy.

Friday was one of those days when I loved the different processes of everything I was doing and revelled in the fiddliness of the tiny pieces from cutting them out, to piecing them together, snipping the loose threads away and pressing the seams. Notable, because some days I just feel frustrated by these things and race through them burning my fingers on the iron as I go: pressing the seams open on 2" squares has ample digit-burning potential in the wrong frame of mind!

Unfortunately, the light had gone by the time this last photograph was taken, hence the rather hideous colours. I've always pressed seams to the side in the past, but pressing them open has been something of a revelation. It seems to give a neater finish and, once sewn seams have begun intersecting one another, also makes a smaller task of unpicking a small area to realign things. And yes, it makes me post photos of things from the back instead of the front (those are photos for another post, as I haven't got around to photographing the finished cushion yet).

Which leads me to board games (yes, something of a non sequitur to cushion making). In the winter we tend to play a huge amount of them and I'm always on the look out for new suggestions. I thought I'd put together a list of some of our own favourites, just in case, like me, you're trying to winkle out some new ones to play over Christmas.

When our children were much younger my sister-in-law bought us what we refer to as 'The Crow Game' but which is actually called Orchard and is made by the wonderful Haba company. The playing pieces are small, coloured wooden pieces of fruit, dispensed from tiny wicker baskets. It's a wonderful game for colour recognition and counting and, because you work as a team against the crow, there's none of the tension associated with other games if you're playing with a very young child who is prone to nose-planting their face into the carpet and howling if they lose. We played it often until our youngest child was about 6. It feels like a very special heirloom quality game and it's now been safely packed away into the loft to be brought out if and when we have grandchildren. A miniature, more inexpensive version is now available too, but as an indulgent gift, the larger set is will be very much treasured.

We've also passed many happy weekends playing Post the Most from Orchard Toys, a game where you take on the role of a postmaster or mistress and race your way around a 3D island delivering letters and parcels. At first the rules seemed very complicated, but they're worth persevering with as once you've learnt them it's a wonderful game and is loved by everyone in our family. It's recommended for age 6+, but we've played it from about 4+ and it's only recently that it's started to feel as though they've outgrown it.

The game that I remember playing with my own father, right through childhood and the sulky teenage years, is Othello. It's a wonderfully simple game, but one which, with age, can be played with increasing levels of strategy and planning, thinking several moves ahead. We have our own set now and our children love the black and white shiny counters, which somehow make me think of after dinner mints, as much as I did at their age. Unfortunately my husband won't play this game with me, as my years of training have made me unbeatable and I tend to take on my father's highly-competitive and high-spirited persona when I play against him.

Our most recent board game purchase is Harry Potter Cluedo. We bought this in September for my daughter's birthday and the fact that we are now photocopying clue sheets, having worked our way through those that came with it, I'm guessing that we must have played this nearly fifty times. It's played in the same way as the traditional Cluedo, but has been fully Potterised in a way that works wonderfully. Players apparate through fireplaces to get to different locations, paying to do so with pinches of flue powder and a whole host of other Pottery details have been added in to the way that the game is played.

For times when I'd really rather curl up with a book and have some peace and quiet, I suggest playing the traditional Chinese Checkers.We all seem to get caught up in our own strategy during this game and the room becomes an oasis of calm. Perfect. In the same vein, several years ago, my sister bought my daughter Mice and Cheese Peg Solitaire. It's the perfect game to play alone, but we frequently play together too by taking it in turns to eliminate a mouse. It's the most adorable set and I believe there are other animals available too.

By contrast, noisier games that we love are Don't Say It, which I believe may be similar to Articulate (does anyone have both and know which is better? And is the adult version of Articulate playable for children?), Pass the Bomb and Pictureka Game, which we play a lot.

Every Christmas Eve, I give my family a pre-Christmas gift - a small something that the three of them can share. This year, on Nancy's recommendation, I'll be giving them the award winning game Carcassonne. I'd love to hear what your own favourites are.

Florence x

Friday, 16 December 2011

My PDF sewing patterns: 20% off until Christmas day

Thank you so much to everyone who took part in my small corner of Sew, Mama, Sew's giveaway week where I gave away six copies of my patterns - it was so lovely to have so many entries and to hear who you might be sewing for, as per the SMS rules, winners have been announced on the original giveaway post.

For those who didn't win, you might like to know that from now until midnight on the 24th December (just in case there are any elves working up until the last minute) all my patterns will carry a 20% discount that will automatically be applied at the checkout.

Reductions are as follows:

Tabitha Bag - was £6.50 / now £5.20
Lis iPhone Holder - was £6.50 / now £5.20
Cocoon Laptop Cover - was £6.50 / now £5.20
Three Bears' Sleeping Bag Pattern - was £5.00 / now £4.00
Nesta Herb Teabag Holder - was £4.50 / now £3.60
Sesame Doorstop Pattern - was £3.50 / now £2.80
Slouchy Make-Up Bag Pattern - was £3.50 / now £2.80
Happy Morning Hair Accessories Board - was £3.50 / now £2.80

If you'd to buy, or see more of my patterns, simply go through to my patterns page and either purchase directly, or click through to the relevant place for more information about each pattern. The discount won't be mentioned on the individual pages, but as soon as you are taken through to PayPal you'll see that it has been automatically applied and the reduced price is the only thing you'll see.

Thank you so much to anyone who has bought one of my patterns this year - I really appreciate it! Wishing you a lovely weekend (and after my low-level grumblings yesterday about lack of festive weather, snow is now swirling as I type! I hope you have whatever weather you have been hoping for outside your own window),

Florence x

Thursday, 15 December 2011

An apron for my daughter

You may remember that I'd been bemoaning the lack of time to make my daughter an apron for her Christmas stocking (as she has outgrown her old one). It was an idea I'd decided to put on a shelf for another time, but then we had a conversation about bags, which wouldn't naturally make you think of making an apron, but read on, because in my head it became the only adequate response to such a conversation).

My daughter was trying on my handbag in the mirror one morning (not handmade, but rather, Radley, whose handbags I adore) when we began discussing her compulsion to try it on every time I'm not actually attached to it. I was happy about this as one of her Christmas gifts is a little bag (not Radley, as she's only ten), when she said that she loved the bags that I make myself more than anything else though and dreamt of having a miniature sized one for herself. Ouch (although yes, there's an element of delight in discovering that my child loves the bags that I make, more than those made by Radley). I had considered making her a bag, but then had bought one due to the many other gifts I've made this year and the need to sleep at some point. However, the bag-related guilt induced by this conversation, meant that it suddenly felt absolutely imperative that her apron, at least, should be handmade by me.

She has begun stealing my own apron when she bakes, so I knew that I only needed to scale it down a little to have a perfectly sized one. I considered making it in practical home dec. weight fabric with an intense Amy Butler pattern which would camouflage evidence of baking mishaps...but frivolity won out (not least because that morning a friend had dropped in the Liberty Home Sewing book that I'd lent to her and I remembered all over again the loveliness of an apron with splashes of Tana lawn). So here it is, to my own design & pattern: it uses some Kaffe Fasset green shot cotton, and some Liberty Tana lawn for the bindings. It has little floral-bound welt pockets at either side, a detail that I'm completely loopy about.

I would like to keep it for myself, which is a good indication that she will love it, as over the last year she seems to have developed very similar tastes in clothing.

The above photo gives the appearance of my skulking by a wall....I don't recall actively skulking, but I'm quite delighted to find that it may have happened inadvertently while photographing the apron (purely because I like the word. It also appears that I am skulking in a strange top that causes me to bear a close  resemblance to a human reality it is a soft heathery grey).

In other thoughts, I, and the rest of my family, are feeling distinctly unChristmassy. Having been spoilt by recent Christmases which have had snow to either side of the actual day, the unseasonably warm weather this year is meaning that it's difficult to adopt a festive mindset. We are at the stage when even a morning frost is being longed for. It makes me think of a Christmas from my childhood when my family lived in Melbourne, Australia and my sister and I paddled on our new stripy fabric lilos in the sea at Brighton beach in the sunshine on Christmas day. It was really lovely, but to an English person - used to dark nights and the glisten of frost at Christmas - distinctly odd and unfestive. I don't remember having a tree that year and seem to recall that the presents came from pillowcases, rather than stockings (I'm guessing that this had something to do with us having recently moved there, as I'm sure that Australia celebrates Christmas with just as much enthusiasm as anywhere else might). What kind of weather do you associate with Christmas...and do you think that it does colour your festive spirit?

Florence x

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Sew, Mama, Sew Giveaway week...

For the last few years Sew, Mama, Sew! have run a giveaway week (or day) and on every occasion I've missed it. This year, by a strange quirk of fate, rather than any spectacular organisational feat on my part, I'm delighted to be find that the week isn't yet over and that I still have time to join the many other sewers giving things away.

I've chosen two of my patterns to give away and will be giving away three copies of each. The first might appeal to those with small children in their lives: The Three Bears' Sleeping Bag PDF pattern will help you make either a Baby Bear, Mummy Bear or Daddy Bear sized sleeping bag depending on the size of the creature needing a warm bed! I've given so many of these as gifts, as well as making them for my own childrens' bears, and they always seemed to be received with complete delight. If you'd like to investigate further into the kind of animals these beds will accommodate, you can see this post, entitled Unwieldy Antlers and Other Sizing Issues. Or if you'd like fabric inspiration, then you might like to head over to my Flickr pool, where you can see some of the lovelies that other seamstresses have whipped up using the pattern.

The second pattern being given away is the Slouchy Make-Up Bag pattern - it's attractive enough to be left out on a dressing table and is lovely to give as a gift (or to make for yourself in a moment of self-gifting). Unlike the Three Bears' pattern, I have no post detailing the size of make-up brushes that can be squeezed into this bag, but I find it to be cavernous and that it's slouchy form when opened allows for easy rummaging!

Whether you've come over from Sew, Mama, Sew or are a regular reader, just leave a comment below letting me know which pattern you'd like to win and I'll draw the six winners as soon as giveaway week has closed. Remember to either check back to see if you've won or leave an email address if you don't have an active Blogger profile.

As this is a PDF that will be emailed to the winners, it is of course, open internationally.

Florence x

Thank you so much for all your entries. The proportion of people who chose the Three Bears' Sleeping Bag was so high, that it seemed fairer to choose four winners for that pattern and two for the slouchy make-up bag. Congratulations to the winners - your patterns have now been emailed to you (except for Elaine - I'm having trouble finding an email address for you), so please do let me know if you haven't received it for any reason.

The Three Bears' Sleeping Bag PDF pattern:

Tess of Two Hippos
Nikki of Sew Quine
Elaine of Dashasel

The Slouchy Make-Up Bag Pattern:

For those that didn't win, you may like to know that my patterns all have 20% off from now until midnight on the 24th December (for elves working up until the last minute). The discount won't be shown on the individual posts relating to the patterns, but as soon as you click through to pay, you'll see that the reduced price is automatically displayed - no need for a discount code.

Thank you so much for entering and thanks also to Sew, Mama, Sew for a brilliantly organised giveaway week. Comments on this post are now closed.

Florence x

Monday, 12 December 2011

On sweet things...

In between all the sewing, there's been a lot of baking going on in our house. My daughter recently bought The Great British Bake Off Cookbook; a book which she took to bed with her for several nights, so captivating were its pages! She's made several things from it, but when we had some friends coming over for dinner one evening, I snaffled it away for myself and made these chocolate and pistachio smothered brandy snaps.

I hadn't made brandy snaps before and they were featured as Mary Berry's 'Technical Challenge' in the book. There's a lovely process to make them: starting with making the mixture, then baking small flattened balls of it in the oven in small batches....

...before unpeeling the cooked mixture from the tray and wrapping it around an oiled wooden handle before it cools.

And finally, once hard, they can be dipped in melted chocolate and rolled in crushed pistachio pieces. They were simpler and far more fun to make than I'd expected, however, I made them again this weekend and, distracted by having lots of people in the room, I forgot to flatten the balls down and they didn't look as appealing as these ones, so perhaps I had some beginner's luck the first time.

However, taste wise, I'm not sure that the recipe for the Wholemeal Honey Cake that Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall shares in his Guardian column can be beaten - my daughter made this a few weeks ago on Nancy's recommendation and it is a cake that left a grown man nearly weeping with happiness as he ate it. I have bought her the River Cottage Cakes handbook as one of her Christmas gifts on the basis of how well loved this cake was (the recipe was devised by River Cottage's head chef).

In amongst other things there may have also been some chocolate mice...

And some stained glass window biscuits - again, made by my daughter.

Have you found yourself carried along in a floury frenzy of Christmas baking? This time of year always makes me feel particularly kitcheny...

Florence x

Monday, 5 December 2011

A finished quilt and some random thoughts

You know that strange feeling when you walk back into your house after arriving home from holiday and it feels strangely chilled and unlived in? Sometimes it can feel like that when you arrive at your blog to begin writing when you've not been there very much (although the lovely comments that have arrived in between times make me feel as though someone has been keeping it warm, even if it's not me - thank you!).

The last month has been almost solid work (including weekends) and blogging has taken an unwelcome backseat. The lovely old cherry wood chair that I sit on at my sewing machine has a hole in the wicker seat that I haven't had time to fix and I've now been sewing perched on the edge of the chair frame for over three weeks. I'm actually going to inherit the chair above from my daughter's desk soon, but first I have to sand and wax the chapel chair that I have waiting in the garage as a replacement for her. I am so looking forward to finding the time to do this. The other thing that hasn't happened was making the advent calendar - the pieces are still all cut up waiting to be sewn and I don't think that will be finished until January now...I was so excited about what I was going to fill it with that I'm now thinking I may have to think of something that can be counted down to in January. Actually, just writing that has given me an idea for something that I know I definitely will make in January. Hurrah! I love it when inspiration strikes like that. All week I've been using an orange pencil that my friend Jenny bought for me that is embossed with the words: 'all good ideas arrive by chance', and now I'm in total agreement).

In between other things though, my mother's quilt has finally been quilted and bound and eventually found its way up on to the picture rail to be photographed. I have only just discovered the wonder that is the picture rail when it comes to displaying things - you can temporarily stick pins into the wood right at the back, without this activity ever being visible and it's a fantastic way to view something mid-sewing to see what is and isn't working.

This silk was a real delight to work with. It came from The Silk Route stand at the K&S show at Alexandra Palace and for the most part is Indian silk dupion. It is, I think I may have said before, mixed with some Liberty tana lawn bought at the same show from the Fabrics Galore stand.

It's not at all the quilt I'd imagined it would be - the Liberty print was only ever intended for the back, but I found that I hadn't bought quite enough silk and so it was introduced to the front of the quilt, which then lead to the flower head appliques in the centre and it being hand-quilted with flower silhouettes. I feel apprehensive now as to whether my mother will love it when she's already fallen in love with the simplicity of the quilt I made using Katy's Kona Radiance bundle (I took the quilt on holiday with us in October and she admired it covetously at every opportunity - at the time I was secretly delighted as I thought her quilt would end up being very I just feel worried. I know that she'll love it because I've made it especially for her, but I wanted her to also love it because it was a quilt that she'd adore irrespective of who'd made it).

And finally, a quilt patch:

These are the other random things that spring to mind as things that need saying:
  • I commissioned someone to make something for my husband's Christmas gift which I am so wishing that I could share it with you now as the person who made it is so incredibly talented and makes his things with such care - it arrived the other day and I'm head over heels in love with it. I loathe how cloak and daggers things must be - Christmas is most unconducive to blogging (my lovely mother has been asked not to come visiting by the way, just in case you had been wondering).
  • Only days after Melanie told me that her cat had brought a mouse in and unleashed it in her house, my cat has done the same thing. I had thought mousing season was over! This evening saw my daughter and her friend trying to winkle a live one out of the house for me as I stood pathetically on the sidelines. While this makes me feel awful I'm pleased that she's so completely no-nonsense about things in the face of my squeamishness. She actually giggles during an activity like that....oh to be more of her ilk.
  • Finally, after several years of looking, I've found a pair of leather boots that actually fit. After a search that looked like it would end with another bootless winter (well, not entirely as I do have two suede pairs, but they're not overly practical for wintry walks), I came across Duo Boots. Every one of their boots comes in a range of twelve different calf sizes from narrow to wide and the website even tells you how high the boot is so that you can measure whether it will bang into your kneecap when you walk (I'm 5ft1, so this is a fundamental problem with many boots. For a while I bought children's boots, but they tend to only come to mid-calf which doesn't provide the type of warmth that I'm looking for). Oh and every boot has customer reviews saying how it really fits, which I found insanely helpful and appealed to my tendency to over-research every purchase in life.  Do go and have a look as they offer worldwide free delivery! I'm not crazy about the heel on the pair I bought, but I feel my reasons for that are possibly slightly loopy, so I shall just say that in every other respect I like them and they fit perfectly.  
  • This morning I needed to dig out an old video for something relating to another secret Christmas present (yet again, I'd so love to share this with you). When we bought our very first bottom-of-the-range digital camera nearly ten years ago our little girl was tiny and we seemed to use the video function on it a lot to try and capture all her loveliness. It produced silent, jerky footage that even at the time looked magical and old. When I looked through some of the videos this morning I actually kept sighing and gasping out loud (I never talk to myself or even sing out loud when I'm in the house on my own, so it felt noticeably odd, but they were so lovely that I felt utterly overwhelmed looking at them). It suddenly made me wish we took more video footage...I love taking photographs so much that the recording function is almost completely redundant.
I'd love to hear if you have any of your own random thoughts to share,

Florence x
A few of the books/products that I link to on Amazon from my blog contain affiliate links and very occasionally, I'll mention a product that I've been given free of charge. I choose the things that I recommend carefully and my priority is to only share things that I love.