Wednesday, 30 January 2008

A little more at the bottom of the basket...

For well over a decade my mother's laundry basket has been lined with a large thick white plastic bag that has slumped down to the bottom of the basket whenever one attempts to deposit any clothing into it, so from the moment my mother finally brought it into the house and started using it, after struggling across London with it on rush-hour buses, tubes and trains, her relationship with it was troubled. I think it is these small irksome things that can grind down your spirit on a bad day, when everything is going wrong and even your linen basket seems out to get you.

So making a proper liner that stays in place has been on my list of things to do for a long time...supposedly simple but the hinges were a problem that I hadn't thought of - it needs to be removable for washing, but somehow fitted neatly in place around the hinges at the back...a long strokey beard moment (more metaphorical stroking than literal....or at least I hope so!), some muttering and a necessary amount of furious chocolate chewing and my plan was hatched (I won't bore you with the details, but feel free to make enquiries if you find yourself in a similar predicament and I may be able to save you from the above list of problem-solving aides). But, problem aside, the whole project seemed a little dull and utilitarian...so I decided to sew in a message for my mother to see each time she had worked her way to the bottom of the basket.

A blurry photo - but it says 'Well done Mama! An empty basket.'

P.S: Thank you so much for all your kind comments on my new kitchen - the cup & saucer may look familiar
Louise, as I thought that when I first saw it too (I wonder whether there's a childhood book that a similar design was featured in...) - I'd been on the trail of the teacup for some time, after seeing a photo of it and developing an obsession with actually possessing it, and it has only recently found its' way into my happy little mitts...but more on that later in the week as suddenly I feel like doing a whole post on the subject of teacups. I also loved hearing how everyone sorts their books (and am getting the message that colour-coding is a BAD thing! Ian thanks you all wholeheartedly, but has implored me not to alphabetise either!), so thank you again for all your commenty goodness!

Monday, 28 January 2008

And now for a big lie down...

Apart from the splash-back (which is still the wrong colour, but I'm hoping that by the end of next week it will have been replaced with something more creamy-coloured), the kitchen is finally finished and I have so enjoyed being able to get out all my treasured things and choose a home for them knowing that they have reached their final resting place...I so dislike feelings of temporariness and transience. Above is a favourite teacup.

I have had requests for before-and-after pictures (before are the small ones on the left, after larger and in the centre)...and actually it has been rather fun looking at them for me, as it makes me to realise that we have done quite a lot over the last year...sometimes it has felt like swimming through mud, there was just so much to do in every room (what you see here is only the tip of a luridly vinyl wallpapered & aertexed covered iceberg). The before pictures were taken only two days after we'd first moved in, so it's all quite a happy mess. So, eyes left for the green and blue kitchen, complete with wooden cupboards impregnated with a special brand of grease completely immovable even by sanding...now eyes down for what I accept could be viewed by some as being a little dull and unadventurous...but to me, well, I can never tire of looking at all things cream-coloured.

The breakfast bar is finally in and thank goodness it doesn't too closely resemble the iceberg that we'd thought it might!

How pleased I am to have an oven that works and a sink that isn't brown....yes, I know the splash-back below doesn't look too horrific...but it's so far away from what we ordered...and bluey-white doesn't really cut it for something of a cream-obsessive.

After much indecision over features and specificiations, the oven ended up being chosen soley on the basis of it being endowed with this digital analogue clock that we had fallen in love with...thank goodness we have subsequently found that it also seems to be capable of cooking food!


And here's the utility room....we replaced everything but the floor...suddenly the idea of trying to hack that up (because it would have been us that ended up doing it...because wherever we can do something ourselves, we have done) seemed just too exhausting and expensive.


The kitchen and dining room are one big room...so here's the other side, home of more green and blue. I'm so pleased it's all gone now, but what living in it for over a year, with brighter colours and grubbier carpets than I thought I could cope with, has made me realise, is that this house has felt like a home to me from day one, whether the walls are green or cream...so actually it finally being the way we'd envisaged it looking is a nice cherry on top of a cake that was far more edible than we'd suspected on first viewing.

Ian and I are rather united in our desire to paint the world cream, even if our children aren't joining us on that (harrumphs of disappointment have accompanied every tin of paint that has been prised open). However, these doors that lead from the dining room into the playroom were a sticking point - Ian was determined that they should be left wood coloured...at one point they were even taken off all together and spent a week in the garage so that we wouldn't have to think about them at all. The picture below speaks for itself - I got my way!

There's just one thing that's troubling me...years ago Ian came home one night to find that I had ordered our books by colour. He's one of the most relaxed people I've ever met...but something about me doing this made him, for want of a better expression, as mad as a lorry, and an hour later I was frantically trying to de-colourise our book collection...but no matter how hard we tried to randomise them, for the duration of the time that we lived in that flat people would walk in and say: 'have you colour-coded your bookshelves?' in a slightly scandalised tone. I can feel the desire to colour-code burning inside of me again after being reminded of it here and here...but in doing so I would face the wrath of Ian and the possibility that to de-colour-code we would be forced to move house...I'm just not sure I can face that, so I must accept that the books will continue to taunt me with their technicolour disarray and that harmony will only reign in this area with the banging in of the estate agent's board...but I do hope that's not for a very, very long time, so long may the jumble continue.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Morning Haiku

Some time ago, when my sister was in the midst of editing her poetry anthology, she woke up one morning, picked up the notepad that lay next to her bed, and was overtaken by an irrepressable desire to write down the haiku that came bubbling out of her with no prior warning, almost as though she had the poetry equivalent of a magic porridge pot inside her. As the morning wore on my inbox filled up with more and more of these perfectly formed bite-sized three-line poems. Haiku, traditionally a Japanese form of poem, is written in three lines with a syllable count of five, seven and five, with a pause at the end of the first or second line. The Japanese would traditionally only have termed it haiku if the poem also contained a reference to the seasons...but English haiku writers seem to place less importance on this aspect and simply enjoy the cadence and the minimalism of the poetry form. My sister's haiku were something I quickly came to adore, rapidly compiling a Word document of them that I would open every now and then and pick over in the same way that I might a box of chocolates (i.e. meaning to only have one...but actually ending up gobbling most of them). But this Word document as haiku storage seemed all wrong. So for one of Laura's Christmas presents I thought that I would try and put them down in a form that did them a little more justice and so decided to have a go at creating a professionally-printed book of them.

I chose to lay the haiku on a background of two different Florence Broadhurst fabrics (an Australian fabric designer who is now deceased, but whose book I also bought Laura for Christmas, knowing that she had been coveting it), with the pattern muted for the box that would contain Laura's words. On the opposite page I, again, muted the fabric down on the whole page and in the central box put a picture that I felt reflected the feel or subject of the poem. The pictures took over a week of late evenings to compile, and then many I chose to photograph myself after failing to find everything that I needed on Google Images. The next week I spent rather frustratedly learning an awful lot about Fireworks, as Ian was so busy at work that he couldn't have helped continuously with all the image editing and page layout.

I was so pleased with the end result - the book was sent off for printing in Paris in the middle of their strikes, which led to a nail-biting wait, but thankfully it was delivered just in time. The pages are thick and the print quality is beautiful. Its only downside is that, as each spread is 16", it is virtually impossible to photograph the whole page and retain any visibility for what the actual words say. So I'll write a couple of my favourite ones here:

The picture above depicts a burnt cake being brought out of the oven (thank you Mama for helping me and allowing your front to be liberally sprinkled with flour that morning!) and here is the haiku that it is meant to reflect:

After a morning
Of aproned, floury effort:
One burnt offering.


And another...

Why is the moth dead?
She asks. Her parents flutter
Between truth and tears


And another...

She asks Grandad if
He was born with a moustache.
It seems who he is.


Do you remember?
He shakes his golden head and
Smiles at who he was.

He protects his side
Of the bathroom with cunning:
This is his empire.


No matter how old
The first sight of her means that
You're home and loved safe.

My favourite, which I intend to put up over my sewing table is one that my sister wrote for me:

She dreams of fabric
And patterns; at dawn she wakes
To stitch their childhood.


To go with all this I also wanted to make Laura something using Florence Broadhurst fabric. I had requested a sample some time ago, before realising that at £68 per metre I wasn't going to be able to afford to make anything with it...so after some initial disappointment I thought for a long time about what I might be able to create with the small sample of the precious fabric that I did possess (about 8"x8").....and eventually came up with a sunglasses case:

I bought a very cheap glasses case from SpecSavers and then removed the little metal bits that allow the pouch to be squeezed open and put them into my Florence Broadhurst version. On the side is a small suede tab...because I like to sew tabs on everything (run, Ian, run!!!)...within reason!

Anyway, I so loved doing this little project. I also loved looking through the Florence Broadhurst book with my sister at Christmas time and picking out our favourite fabrics. Unfortunately though, the story that went with the book suggested that Ms Broadhurst wasn't the easiest or most likeable of people...which very nearly put us right off the fabric as it's so hard to like something, even something beautiful, when you feel it hasn't come from a good place...so thank goodness that on further reading my sister discovered that actually, it's thought that Florence Broadhurst wasn't independently responsible for many of the designs and that she was more often credited with the work of her studio team. Ahhh, the relief!

Monday, 21 January 2008

Seven weird things...

First huge thanks to the lovely Lina for nominating me for the Amazing Blogger Award...the recipient of which has to detail seven weird things about themselves...it's taken me a while to get round to doing this as I couldn't actually think of any, so I asked Ian to come up with some instead that I could then elaborate on...the first 6 are his...the last is just my own odd thought that I thought I'd share with you, failing Ian being able to come up with a seventh weird thing about me ("You're just not that weird"...oh the relief!). But really weirdness is so subjective...Ian thinks these things are weird about me, but maybe you all do them too! (Do let me know!)

1. I am terrified of driving, but especially going on motorways. I force myself to drive, and so have got substantially more confident in the last year...but I secretly wish that we could go back to using horses & carriage...or just all agree to use bicycles...because I’m even too scared of using those when I have to share the road with a car. My two most feared vehicles are any American looking lorry (after watching Dual) and any lorry bearing an alcoholic drinks logo on the side...I have a completely unfounded and irrational fear that the driver is more likely to be drunk. Hmmm.

2. I can fold myself in half (or at least I used to be able to do it completely pre-children...it's more that I can fold myself into some sort of triangle now!). This involves getting into the Lotus position (much better than just sitting cross-legged as it secures your legs more tightly into a smaller space) and then rolling backwards so that your knees are on the floor to either side of your head (this is the bit that I now seem to be less capable of doing!). Years ago after three months in a job that I loved, my boss said to me as an opening line in my appraisal: ‘Well, Flossie, why should we keep you then?’. A quick ‘folding demonstration’ on the boardroom floor and the job was mine to keep....even though my job description required no gymnastic ability whatsoever. (Other than my two bosses at that job and my sister and mother still, no one ever actually calls me Flossie...and I’m pleased about that.)

3. When it comes to playing friendly sport with Ian I have inherited my father’s awful hyper-competitive streak. I would risk knocking small children’s heads off in my desire to hoof the ball past Ian when we play ‘penalties’ in the back garden during the summer. In every other way I am the least competitive person I know.

4. I can turn myself off when I’m being tickled. A moment or two doing what feels like distancing my mind from my body and I am no longer ticklish. Ian thinks this is the kind of quality that one might share with a psychopath. Oh dear.

5. I have been vegetarian since I was four years old. Near the bus shelter where my mother and I used to wait for the bus to take us into town there was an abattoir and to pass the time I would watch the comings and goings of the snorting, clucking and mooing vehicles that arrived...she made the big mistake of telling me what the snorts were and what their final destination was. Within a year the rest of our family stopped eating meat too, which in 1982 was something of a rarity (particularly when our extended family were farmers). Ian became vegetarian within months of us meeting...which I always find really embarrassing as I would never try to convert anyone and feel incredibly uncomfortable if anyone tries to have ‘the vegetarian debate’ with me. I shy away from having conflicting views with others as it makes me feel anxious.

6. I’m incredibly inpatient when it comes to completing any sort of housey project and tiredness, or lack of materials, is not an acceptable excuse for leaving a task half-finished to be returned to at a later date – unfortunately for Ian he doesn’t share my need to get things done RIGHT NOW. Last year we decided to lower the level of one of the long flower beds in the front garden – this involved shovelling the most incredible amount of earth onto the driveway and then planting all the new plants that I’d chosen and laying a couple of old stepping stones so that the children could hop through the flower bed easily. At 10.30 at night we were still out there, in complete darkness trying to move all the earth round to the back of the house, plant the plants with some vague nod to a colour scheme and do it all so quietly that the neighbours wouldn’t be disturbed by our late-night horticulture. At 11pm when we finally realised that the wheelie bin that we’d just had the brainwave of putting much of the earth into said: ‘no soil’ on the lid...well, we both sat down in the flowerbed in absolute hysterics, suddenly very aware that this nocturnal gardening was not necessarily normal...it suddenly felt as though every curtain in the street may have been twitching at the view of our complete ridiculousness.

7. When I was younger I was in my parent’s house alone making my tea. I put a potato onto the work surface ready to scrub and it rolled off and then bounced onto the floor in such a peculiarly jaunty way that it made me laugh out loud....I then realised that my own laughter ringing out into a space where I am completely alone feels like the strangest thing on earth. It’s different if it’s prompted by reading a book, listening to the radio or remembering something funny that happened....but creating your own incidental comedy and then laughing at it...that just feels weird to me.

Anyway, weirdnesses revealed I do hope that you still want to be my friend! I think that I am now to nominate others for this award (although I've no idea who has had it or not, so I'll just do it on the basis of who I think are wonderful and lovely bloggers...but will limit myself to five, otherwise I could just go on all day. If they care to participate, the Amazing Blogger award will be handed over to:

Helen from Angharad, Jo from Today we are..., Ginny from The Flour Loft, Kelly from Notes From My Nest and Alice from The Magpie Files.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

To sleeve or not to sleeve...

Above is a picture of the black dress that I showed you my plans for last week. I so enjoyed making the bib - I love the bits of a project that are detailed and will be visible in the end result, I also liked putting in the concealed zip, because it was easier than I thought it would be and involved using my new 'concealed zip foot' (have you got one of these? I think it may be a must have item, so very satisfying and more importantly, fool-proof, to use), and I also enjoyed putting into practice the 'ease-stitching' technique to insert the sleeve that I'd picked up from Heather Bailey's Bitty Booties pattern (yes, there is thankfully at least one pattern out there that is vaguely comprehensible to me!). I don't know whether this is quite the way that one should put in a sleeve, but I'd thought and thought about how it might be done and this was the only way that I could come up with that might give me some of the puffiness that I was after. Things that I did not enjoy were working with that vile fabric, which becomes a nightmare when a seam ripper is needed - the stitches just sink into the weave of the fabric and I came so close to creating a million little holes all over it...or just throwing it in the bin as it was so frustrating trying to see to unpick the countless amount of faulty stitches that I made along the way.

Dinosaur-boy helped me choose the buttons for this dress and I love them - they are more perfect than what I had in my mind when we set off to the shop, don't you love it when that happens? Anyway, you'll notice that something strange has happened to the puffy sleeves in this last photo...well, they were just a little too puffy was Ian's opinion and he thought a pinafore dress would be more simple (he just hasn't watched enough period dramas to get quite where I was coming from on that one...but actually, maybe they were a little more puffy than even I'd intended...I could have tried to take them out and reinstall them with less puff, but while unpicking them I made a great big hole in one of the sleeves and so I thought: 'yes, how right he is! It will be a pinafore dress!).

How's the fit? Well exactly as I want it everywhere, apart from being a smidgen tighter than I'd want it across the bust. Grrr. Lady V was no help at all...while one of my drapier dresses was fine on her I quickly realised that there are fundamental differences between us...namely she has an extra 3 inches on the bust (there's a theme here...too big and too small all in one post!) which I'd blithely thought wouldn't make that much of a difference...it does...and such deep shoulders that I can't actually get any of my non-drapey dresses onto her. Such a disappointment.

We had a lovely Sunday today. I finally got round to writing Christmas thank you cards with the children, we played some of the games on this website (obvious, but I'd never noticed there was a next step up from Cbeebies games...it's fantastically educational and is designed to be in line with what your child is being taught in school....perhaps everyone else already knew about this though?), and Ian pretended that he was running an Italian restaurant and made pizzas and doughballs for us all from the Pizza Express cookbook. The children loved it and Dinosaur-boy went all smiley and giggly just like he does when they pinch his cheeks in a real Italian restaurant. If only you could capture and blog smells - I love the smell of the yeast fermenting under a tea towel. Here's one made up just before it went into the oven.

The children were allowed into his kitchen to help...yes, that's a small blurry peek of some new work surface there...but unfortunately no pictures until next week when the rest of the floor is going to be fitted...and by then we may also have a large hole in our wall. Unfortunately the glass splash-back company have sent us the wrong colour splash-back...and I didn't realise this until it was up and siliconed to the wall...and it finally dawned on me that there wasn't a plastic film over it...that really was the actual colour of it...and it's awful!

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Making wonky plans

Firstly, thank you so much for all your input into the naming of the formerly known Lady Valet! I have almost settled on something, but want to discuss it with Ian tonight before finalising...yes, he's in for a fun evening - I'm sure it's the type of conversation that he relishes...and if he reads this first he may even dawdle on the way home!

Above are my plans for a dress that I'm currently making...I've had some thick black jersey in the cupboard waiting to be made into a shift dress for a while now. My starting point is a dress that I bought from Gap when I was about 18 (pictured below...not very clearly as that photo was actually taken ages ago to display the bag, rather than the dress, but you get the impression: it is very simple and plain and I love it). So that gives me the shape of the dress, but I am rather a fan of clothing that has a bib or a yoke at the front...preferably with little pin tucks or pleats to it, so I've put that into my design with a slightly wider central pleat, onto which I can add a vertical row of sparkly black buttons. The other problem with the Gap dress is that it has short sleeves, but is very much a winter dress, so I normally have to wear a long sleeved T-shirt under it...however, I want my new model to have long plumey sleeves, slightly puffed at the shoulder and then draping down over narrow little cuffs at the wrists...more sparkly buttons. Darts at the bust to give a little shape, a zip at the back to allow me to wear it, rather than just look at it and....that's about it! You'll notice that my plan shows one arm being somewhat longer than the other...that's my wonky drawing rather than a feature of the dress, although I've nothing against asymmetrical dressing as a concept.


Apart from my kimonos and some altering of existing garments, I've never made a garment from scratch before, and after inflicting on poor Jo my internal dialogue over the merits of first buying a Simplicity pattern so that I could perhaps learn something about the art of dressmaking before launching into creating the aforementioned dress, I decided that this may be a very good idea indeed and headed off to the shop, ooohed and aaahed over the pattern catalogue and eventually chose something from their 1960s retro range. I trotted happily back to the car with the pattern in my bag, just in time to pick Dinosaur-boy up from nursery, with visions of me being like a 'real seamstress' who can actually buy patterns and make fabulous-looking things from them. Maybe this was relying a little too heavily on the 'I buy, therefore I am' principle, because the illusion was shattered yesterday evening when I nearly wept on taking all that thin paper out of it's packet. A million lines intersecting one another, confusing codes, a presumption that I can actually understand the sewing terms that they throw around willy-nilly in the instructions...it was awful and confirmed the very reason why I had worried about buying one in the first place: that it would reveal my incompetence. It is now back in it's packet with the picture facing the wall so that I don't have to look at it and I am ploughing on with the dress I planned to do in the first place...and actually I am having so much fun making it, even though I am doubtless doing everything in a slightly odd way! But either way, I now have so much admiration for anyone who can actually follow one of those patterns - I was truly out-foxed by it!

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Be gone, awful name!

Pictured above is the latest addition to the Flossie Teacake house...she was very kindly bought for me by my dear Papa. For the last couple of years I (and I have found out more recently, my sister and mother too) have been looking for an antique hessian-covered mannequin, but unfortunately I am just too oddly sized to come across one that vaguely replicates my height and shape....so I finally decided (when making the kimonos at Christmas...for it was so irritating trying to pin the whole thing together whilst dangling shapelessly from a hanger on our picture rail) to invest in a new one where you can alter the dimensions of the body in about 12 different places. We now have our shoulders in the same place and a vaguely similar sized rib cage and waist...the hips and bottom area look a little odd, but actually when I dressed it in one of my dresses (which felt a bit weird...sort of pervy!) it fit really well and looked oddly just like me (only I have a head, thank goodness).

So everything is fantastic...I have fabric waiting in the cupboard just waiting to be turned into a dress, the children have a new plaything (yesterday she could be found wearing a cat mask, plastic across-the-body bag and a shawl...Dinosaur-boy has a touch of the Galliano's, I think)....but one thing is not quite right...for she is officially named Lady Valet (and after missing the delivery man I had to suffer the embarrassment of having to go and pick her up from a neighbour with her name emblazoned over the box and a picture of her posed next to a stuffy table-clothed round mahogany trestle table!). I think this is quite the most ghastly name I've ever heard (I feel I can say this safe in the knowledge that there are almost certainly no real-life Lady Valet's reading my blog at the moment)...so she needs renaming immediately. The children have helpfully suggested 'Lady Without-a-Head'...and my mother continued in this vein and put forward Lady Anne (as in Boleyn...because I believe she ended up without a head too)...but I'd really like something that reflects better the character which I believe she may actually have, which is this: I think she is probably quite a chaste creature; sensible and reliable, but one who is also something of an eccentric and who will sit primly, but silently enjoying, the various different garments that may be draped over her.

So here are the possibilities: Lady Penelope who historically did some clever weaving, and even unweaving, in order to stay faithful to Odysseus (full story here...this one is a suggestion from my sister, Laura...yes, rather like the naming of a new baby, I have involved the whole family!). I am fond of Miss Celeste myself, for no other reason than I think it suits her. Other favourites include Miss Guinevere/Genevieve, Mademoiselle Hartnell, Lady Christabel, and finally Miss Elveclue (this last one was independently suggested by both my mother and sister, she is something of a folklore figure in our family...an imaginary character created by my sister when she was about 2 or 3 years old; she would often regale my parents with wild tales of what Miss Elveclue got up to...most notably weeing in her own dinner!).

Anyway, have you any suggestions?...I would so appreciate help with finding the perfect name, for I feel that working around something named 'Lady Valet' is sure to stifle any possible creativity or fun (or is this just me who thinks this is awful?). I need something that suits her so well that I can eradicate this from memory once and for all!

And I must say how very touched I was by all your happy anniversary wishes! Thank you so much! x

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Lazy anniversary...

Ian and I have now been married for seven years (and together for twelve)...however our celebrations this year have been foiled somewhat as the result of over-celebrating (read: drinking a little more than may have been sensible) a friend's birthday last night...so we woke remembering our very happy wedding day with the help of some paracetamol.

My parents dropped these beautiful birds round for us - I love that my mother places such importance on always buying things in pairs to celebrate our anniversary - they are painted metal and I can't stop looking at them: I love both their shape and their patterns. She told me that she bought them from the Lavender Room in Brighton when she went visiting there for a day.

I tend to do a lot of looking at photos anyway - the ones that we have up never seem to become part of the furniture for me - but on anniversaries I tend to go around the house throughout the day and spend a bit longer looking at the photos of Ian and I together. This one above was taken when I was 18 and Ian was 19 and it's still one of my favourites. Ian gave it to me in a battered frame that he'd found in a charity shop that had no glass in it...and then decorated it with silver swirls and wrote a message down the side of the frame in silver pen...because that's the kind of gift you give when you still have a 'teen' on the end of your age. It's also the kind of gift you can't get rid of, even though everyone else who visits may look at it and wonder why we don't at least buy a frame that has some glass in it. I look at this photo and can't believe it was actually taken nearly 12 years ago...it feels like yesterday...

And this is my favourite photo of Ian...party because I don't think he knew I was taking it and I think you get more of a sense of what the person's actually truly like when there's no self-consciousness. A bit like that odd thing that has only happened to me a handful of times, but is so wonderful when it does - does this ever happen to you? - where maybe you're waiting for your husband/partner to come and meet you somewhere and suddenly they come into view and you see them in a crowd before you have a chance to separate them out and realise that it's actually your own partner...and as you watch them come towards you for a split second you get a sense of what they look like to everyone else, an independent being without all your own connotations of your everyday life together that you attach to your usual vision of them. And it's so perfect when this happens and you actually like what you see; a person who looks kind and that you'd like to know and who even looks a little bit scrumptious to you and it reaffirms that you have very definitely made the right choice!

Friday, 11 January 2008

Baking Grandma

After enjoying making the Amy Butler In Stitches half-pinny as a Christmas present for my grandmother I decided to try and alter the pattern to make it into a bibbed apron for Zebra-girl's & Dinosaur-boy's grandmother (named Baking Grandma because she is the most fantastic cake and biscuit maker and we never spend time in her company without lots of lovely homemade sugaryness). For the front pocket, I embroidered 'Baking Grandma' onto it and then made a cupcake, using some pale green fabric for the cup and a flower from some of Heather Bailey's Freshcut material for the cake.

As my mother-in-law is so much taller than me I couldn't model this one myself as it drowns me and the waist tie is in entirely the wrong place...but Ian agreed to do the honours instead in our pre-christmas-photographing-the-handmade-gifts-for-the-blog session...and both of us agreed that a man's body does not set this floral apron off well. I had cut it to accommodate something other than a man's flat chest and so it looks weirdly shapeless...so upsetting when one's pictures are not satisfying to look at!

I wanted to work in the tea-towel holder that's in the Amy Butler half-pinny pattern, so I got that in on the side and then put a few flowers next to it...because sewing them on is something I love doing!

I ended up deciding to line the apron, as the very pale yellow cotton I'd bought (because it matched the Heather Bailey fabric) was a little too thin for an apron. It always makes my head hurt when I've got to incorporate tabs and ties when I'm making something inside out....

Anyway, Baking Grandma seemed to like her apron and Zebra-girl designed a beautiful gift label for it, but I really should have photographed my mother-in-law wearing it instead of Ian...but the bustle of Christmassy family time doesn't really lend itself well to modelling opportunities (time with my sister aside, when the foolishness of arranging poses becomes an integral part of the Christmas fun).

And a quick postscript: thank you so much for all your well wishes for my kitchen! I am hoping that after the weekend I will be able to post some before and after pictures, but for now I'm just dreaming about where each plate, pot and pan should go! As with most things in life, it has taken a little longer than expected, and so there is still the sound of banging and drilling to be heard coming from downstairs...but as it is a happy sound of progress and things being 'done', I am enjoying it very much! The iceberg has yet to be installed, but apart from that I am feeling a bit like I can breathe more easily for I am very happy (no make that ecstatic, as I am desperately having to contain my squeals of delight each time they bring another part of it through the back door) with the way it is looking...phew! x

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Marbles...

Our new kitchen should be finished tomorrow...and the whole thing has been almost completely stress-free...apart from the stress that my head seems to create! Before Christmas our oven was delivered...and it was too large to go through our garage door (the up and over door isn't particularly usable due to the large wall of boxes we have pressed up against it inside, so that just leaves the side door) and so it spent the Christmas & new year sitting in the garden wrapped in towels and plastic sheeting, with instructions from the delivery men that when we eventually did get round to moving it inside it would be a nightmare; that we would almost certainly twist the frame if we moved it with anything less than an entire army of men and some specialist oven-moving straps and that no refunds or repairs would be offered once we'd inevitably ending up damaging it. This idea rolled around my head like a marble in a moving car for the whole of the festive period.

The day that the men fitting the kitchen arrived I woke at 3.30am after only 3 hours sleep and stayed awake for the duration. At this point I started trying to 'block out' my worries...which worked, although in a bid to break out somehow they then manifested themselves physically in the form of a left eye that twitched uncontrollably, making me look like a complete loon! But as with most of the things I worry about, it turned out to be a completely pointless waste of time...for the oven was moved in, unnoticed by me, without a hitch, the frame retaining perfect 90 degree angles at each corner and I saw no sign of hoards of men running away from the house following its installation, so I can only assume that two men was adequate. Everything else has gone perfectly and I've even enjoyed washing up in the bathroom sink as it is such a positive sign that the filthy, ancient, impossible-to-clean brown kitchen sink (below) is finally gone! For the year and a half that we've lived with it I've been telling myself it was 'vintage' (and therefore vaguely desirable)...but have to admit to having found it difficult to buy into such depths of self-deception!

So what is the picture of at the top of this post? Worktop samples. For the main work surfaces we are having oak and for the island unit, Corian, so that the children can still do their felt-tipping and gluing on it. Both were chosen by Ian...but it seems that he's had his own marbles rolling around in his head. He turned to me in bed last night and said: What if the Corian looks like a giant white iceberg in the middle of the room? Mmmm.

Monday, 7 January 2008

And for my dear Mama...

Above is a tab made from some scrummy blue suede that I bought on my trip to London specifically for...making a tab with! The tab is a small part of the bag that I made for my mother's Christmas gift. I hunted high and low for some minky coloured suiting for the main body of the bag as so much of her wardrobe is in lovely muted shades of brown...and eventually I found it at the top of a very high tower of fabric bolts in Borovick's on Berwick Street. I have lined it with blue silk and then, because my mother is all about the detail, I edged the pockets that will hold her mobile phone and purse with brown velvet.

This was my first bag snap...very satisfying to install...but I did feel a little nervous as I cut the required hole in my material, but it was fine! It has an incredibly strong magnet...perhaps a little too strong. I think next time I may try and purchase something that will keep one's arm muscles in proportion with the rest of one's body.

Here it is in full (above)...it appears to be gaping...but that's just the way I positioned it (easy to do as my mother likes her bags with a very heavyweight interlining to accommodate the enormous array of items that make up her survival kit - who else carries a karabina in their bag?...and she is very much a city sort of girl, just in case you were thinking that this may be justifiable, had she a penchant for rock-climbing/camping - as well as the small library she likes to carry around under her arm). And here she is modelling it for me....

I have piped around the bottom to give some more shape...and space. And when you get a bit closer you can see that, as I did last time when I made this style of bag, I've done contrast stitching on the outside that matches the lining on the inside. Thankfully the lining is much more subtle than my previous disaster (when the lining was too coarse, too lurid and just generally too hideous to be viewed by human eyes without the aid of sunglasses...whatever possessed me!).

Anyway, I'm so sorry to show you this bag from every conceivable angle, but there's something about making a bag that makes me feel ridiculously proud when it's finally finished. It puzzles me how Lisa and Jo are able to pop out dreamy bags almost daily without the need take to their beds for an entire week after each one....on this basis my children have a lot to be thankful for that I only attempt a bag about every two months...).

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Lazy Sunday afternoon...

Our day started with a flurry of activity...ripping the last bits of our old kitchen out in preparation for the new one being fitted tomorrow, dropping the children over to their grandparent's house, driving around trying to find some Super Unleaded (what's happened...why is there none left?), a quick trip to Sainsburys to stock up on ready meals for our week without a sink or oven, packing the car for trips to the tip, then a hurried lunch for two on the floor in our newly empty room. Over to the grandparent's to pick the children up and then off to take Zebra-girl straight to a birthday party...it starts to rain...I rush her into the party and then we bundle Dinosaur-boy into his pushchair hoping to go for a walk on the common, but we realise we have forgotten his raincover, so we put a scarf over his knees and he looks like a little old man...he grumbles...then suddenly he is ASLEEP and we find ourselves with two hours to ourselves and a pile of Sunday newspapers underneath the pushchair waiting to be read. We scuttle off to a cafe, worrying that our dash across the cobbles will waken the Dinosaur...but he slumbers on...and ahhhh, how lovely; fresh mint tea for me, a black coffee for Ian and papers all over the table. An unexpectedly wonderful lazy Sunday afternoon.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Notes from the librarian...

I was the incredibly lucky recipient of all these lovely sewing books this Christmas! First up is Amy Butler's Sew It Kit - this is a little box of recipe-card-style sewing patterns, including some gorgeous fabric to make a tissue box cover! It has quite a few of the same patterns in as Amy Butler's In Stitches, which I already have, but there are some new ones thrown in and I love the format.

Next was Doodle Stitching by Aimee Ray, which I've been desperate to look through for a long time now. I haven't had a chance to really look at this properly, but the pictures look inspiring and as though it may give good clear instructions on some of the embroidery stitches. Some of the ideas seem more suitable for the younger market (i.e. teenagers)...but it doesn't actually detract from the book as it provides ample inspiration to do my own (more fogeyish) take on things!

Last Minute Patchwork and Quilted Gifts (below) by Joelle Hoverson is the book I was really most desperate to look through, as I'd seen snippets of it on other blogs and become increasingly flibberty to look at it RIGHT NOW! It doesn't disappoint and the photos of the yummy projects do much to increase one's online visits to Purl Soho - the fabric shop co-owned by the author.

After hearing Jane Brocket of Yarnstorm on Radio 4 I really wanted to own her book, The Gentle Art of Domesticity. This isn't a pattern book in any way, but I'm convinced that if you love sewing, textiles and noticing the things around you, this book will be just as inspirational and generate just as much creativity as any book of patterns that could be bought. I was particularly delighted to find the below shot of books published by Persephone Books, as when I saw it I was in the middle of reading Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day...which is a brilliant book anyway, but the experience of reading it is so greatly enhanced by how beautifully presented it is! Persephone publish the rediscovered manuscripts of old authors that were somehow overlooked when they first wrote their novels. The whole concept is just dreamy and so perfectly executed!

Amy Butler's Midwest Modern had somehow escaped the far-reaching grasp of my Amazon Wish List, but when my mother saw it in Liberty and had a look through its lovely pages, she knew that I would love it. She was so right. It is full of lovely pictures of Amy's perfectly-wonderful looking life and is an excellent partner to her pattern books - I love hearing more details and this has it all - the way she works, her home around her. Fantastic! My 'quick look' through it on Christmas day must have been actually quite thorough, for each year Ian does a Christmas Quiz for our whole family and his chosen specialist subject for me (unbeknownst to me) was Amy Butler. He wanted to know who took the cover photo for this book (David Butler), what his relationship was to Amy (her husband) and what her husband's job was (photographer and he also helps her do all the difficult computery stuff like working out pattern repeats)! Weirdly I had taken in these bizarre facts (which indicates the reason as to why I am never able to remember anything that actually matters in day-to-day living!) and got them right straight off (our team still lost though!).

Finally Sew Pretty Homestyle by Tone Finnanger, a(nother!) present from Ian. This book is pink and lovely. It also has some really original ideas in it (see horse above!) and the demonstrated projects use some really lovely fabrics. There is lots of embroidery and applique and nearly everything in there is something I would like to make.

Bedtime reading is quite fabulous this month!