Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Maple... Pecan... Cookies.

Is there anything more delicious than maple syrup? I'd be hard pressed to think of something yummier... And these Maple Pecan Cookies from Xanthe Milton's -aka Cookie Girl- adorable book Eat Me, do not disappoint.  Chewy, just the right amount of crunch, and, mmmm maple syrupy... I might even add an extra tablespoon of syrup next time, or maybe drizzle some over the cookies while they're still warm... My only complaint (of my cookies, not the recipe) is having had to substitute the soft dark sugar (which the recipe called for and I have run out of) for golden caster sugar, resulting in a somewhat albino looking cookie.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Preparing for Autumn ~ part IV

Coming back to my list of Autumnal projects, I am finally ready to get a shimmy on with my long-awaited Herringbone Cowl from the one and only Purlbee.  I'd made a start on unravelling the unwanted Maxmara cardi back in July, but like a lot of things, it had to be temporarily put on hold as I went on holiday/made various birthday presents/did some sewing for Self-Stitched-September '11 (still haven't made any trousers and only two days to go...).

the original unwanted Maxmara cardi

beginning to unravel before summer

It's been feeling already very Autumnal these days, and I haven't had the pleasure of feeling some delicious yarn slinking through my fingers in an uncharacteristic length of time, so I spent a recent rainy afternoon unravelling the rest - while watching Ice Age 3 for the millionth time - and gently soaking the skeins in my bathroom sink (warm water and Ecover Delicates handwash liquid) to get out the kinks.

washed, dried and ready to be balled up

This has been a really wonderful process.  As with most things, I like there to be several different parts to a project; different skills applied, different rhythms, a diverse and prolonged experience to keep things interesting.  This idea of unravelling an existing garment to re-knit into something new certainly adds a few more stages to the handknitting process, but also feels very cyclical, and lends a greater sense of purpose to the craft (rather like a more accessible version of shearing your sheep-dyeing the fleece-spinning the yarn-knitting warm jumpers for your family).  I think that knitting can definitely be seen as a dated craft; relevant to a Make-do-and-Mend philosophy.  Quite the opposite in fact, knitting is a very expensive hobby.  Unless you go down the squeaky acrylic yarn route, good quality, natural fibres don't come cheap.  Charity shop jumpers, on the other hand, will probably cost less than a measly 100g skein of good yarn.  This method of unravelling thrifted knitwear to re-knit could well be my answer.  Inexpensive, interesting and re-creative.  Just bear in mind these prerequisites when sourcing knitwear to unravel: the bulkier the yarn the better, the bigger the garment the better, and always go for quality.

And now, to cast on.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

The Swing Series

...or, Putting The Sorbetto Series Slightly To Shame

In the interest of bulking up my self-stitched wardrobe as SSS'11 approaches, I have been wasting a significant amount of my precious me-time traipsing the internet for more sewing patterns, trying to focus on tops, trousers and jackets.  As always, my first ports of call being Lanetz Living and Etsy (for vintage patterns), and BurdaStyle (for free downloadable PDF patterns).  I am now impatiently awaiting the postman for a couple of delicious Etsy finds, and meanwhile getting a teensy bit carried away with a free pattern I found on BurdaStyle which can be found here.  

off-white viscose jersey with off-cuts of floral cotton

Similar to the Sorbetto Top in its clean simplicity, but, in my opinion, Dixie DIY's "Loose Fit Knit Top with Cuffed Sleeves" is eminently more wearable with its flattering swing shape, capped sleevelets and infinite possibilities of colour and fabric.

grey marl viscose jersey with off-cuts of paisley rayon

The only alterations I made to the pattern were to slightly reduce the volume of the swing and I found I had to lengthen the hem by a good inch.

the first one I made - a little too swingy and a little too short

This top was so lovely to make, immediately satisfying and at only half an hour (after cutting) they were super quick to make.  They look just as great tucked in to a high-waisted bottom as they do loose; I've been wearing them already and I know this will be my go-to pattern when I need a quick top fix.

blue striped cotton shirting always seems to feel quite nurse-y...

Monday, 22 August 2011

Plum Yum Jam

I'm slightly ashamed to admit that this was my first ever attempt at making jam... What stopped me before??  After talking to my Mum and Step-Mum, and looking over various jam-making methods online, I did it like this... and it came out pretty damn good, if I do say so myself.  Must be Beginner's Luck.

~ Plum Jam Recipe ~

2 kgs whole plums, washed
1 pint water
a squeeze of lemon
1.5 kgs golden granulated sugar
3 clean jam jars

To begin with, put a little plate in the fridge.  This will come into play when the jam's about done, to see if it's set.

In a big pot combine plums, water and lemon and simmer gently over a low heat.

Meanwhile, place the clean jars (no lid) on a plate in a cold over and turn on to 160 degrees to sterilise them.  To sterilise the lids, place in a small pot covered with water and boil for 5 mins.

Put the sugar in the warm oven for 10 mins.

By now the plums will be softening and once the skins have started splitting, add the warm sugar and stir, still over a low heat, until the sugar has completely dissolved.

Turn the heat up to max and keep on a rolling boil, stirring occasionally and removing stones, for about 10-20 mins.  After 10 mins, you need to start checking if the jam has set... Take the cold plate out of the fridge and drizzle on a little of your hot jam.  Put it back in the fridge for 2 mins, and if when it comes out, it is feeling gloopy and gooey when you run your finger through it, it's done.  If not, keep boiling and cold plate testing every 5 mins.

When it's ready, skim the foam off the top of the jam, take the jars out of the oven, carefully spoon the jam into the jars and screw the lids back on tightly.

Done.  Leave to cool before eating, and store in a cool, dry place.

oh hell yeah

Thursday, 18 August 2011


As I gear up for Self-Stitched-September '11 (SSS'11), I thought it would be useful to compile an inventory of my 'self-stitched' wardrobe and organise it on a rail separate from the rest of my clothes, not only to make self-stitched dressing in September (and hopefully thereafter) more accessible, but mainly to identify what garments I'm lacking so I can start filling in the gaps.

16 skirts
5 dresses
3 tops (all Sorbetto's)
2 snoods
2 pairs of socks
1 pair of slippers
1 nightdress
1 altered pair of Capri pants
various pairs of shoes from my label Nina Dolcetti

Points to Consider ~

  • So the first thing that's pretty clear is that I need to make more trousers.  The pair I have aren't even made from scratch, just a pair that I altered.  I think two more pairs would do me just fine.  I have some great purple needlecord that I found on eBay (over 4 metres for £3!) that would make a mega hot pair of 70s high waisted flares, and some delicious beige and cream houndstooth wool for a pair of smart 60s straight leg 7/8 type trousers.
  • The other thing that screams out at me as I look at my rail is that I could really do with more day wear...  It's just always so much more exciting to make a cocktail dress or an amazing silk tulip skirt for example than practical stuff you'd wear on a daily basis.  So to rectify this, I will have to make some more exciting evening plans in order to get the most out of my existing smarter clothes, and make some more casual bits to work with my everyday life.
  • More tops would come in very useful, and a chance to do some more sewing with stretchy knits.  
In the interest of sticking to my pledge (to wear at least one item of clothing I have made/repurposed myself, and to make more clothes for my son and my husband, for the duration of September '11) I have also compiled a list of wearable things I have made for the boys in my life.

For the Boy:
2 hats
1 snood
1 pair of mittens
1 pair of cotton checked trousers (they look like chef pants, and he doesn't really like them...!)
1 pair of slippers
1 quilt (does that count if he sleeps with it every night?!)

For the Man:
2 pairs of Thai fishermen type trousers
1 pair of gloves
1 pair of socks
1 pair of slippers

Well, it's raining today... a perfect opportunity to make a start on the purple cord trousers and get some things ready for a top or two.  Got a nice idea for an autumnal day dress too.  And let's not forget about my Preparing for Autumn list...

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Lavender Angel's Food Cake ~ Recipe

This was my first time baking with lavender, and also my first time baking Angel's Food Cake, so I was a little unsure as to how it would turn out, especially being a relatively improvised recipe.  The result, however, was divine... so deliciously light, and airy, and fragrant, and summery... 

~ Lavender Angel's Food Cake ~

for the cake:
140g plain flour
12 egg whites
1 tbsp warm lavender water (see below)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cream of tartar
300g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
a 25cm ring shaped cake tin, ungreased

for the lavender glaze:
icing sugar
lavender water

for the lavender water:
fill a ramekin with lavender flowers, then add boiling water and allow to steep for an hour or two.

ramekin with lavender flowers steeping in boiling water

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.
Sift the flour four times, set aside.
Using an electric whisk, beat the egg whites and warm lavender water on a low speed until foamy.
Add in the salt and cream of tartar and increase the speed until you get soft peaks.
Add in the sugar gradually and continue to beat until your mixture is stiff and glossy.
Beat in the vanilla essence.
Using a metal spoon, gently but thoroughly fold in the sifted flour.
Spoon the mixture into the ungreased cake ring, there should be enough to completely fill the tin.
Bake for 35-40 mins, or until a skewer inserted comes out clean.
Now the cake needs to cool for about an hour... upside down. Invert the cake tin over the neck of a bottle.  Don't worry, the cake won't fall out, this is so the cake can cool without sinking down and losing its airy-ness.

my ring tin didn't actually have a hole all the way through, so here it is, balancing quite precariously on the top of a bottle...

Now when the cake has cooled, loosen the sides by running a knife inside the edges and invert onto a wire rack.  It doesn't come out so easily so you need to gently ease it out of the tin without breaking the sponge.

To make the lavender glaze, simply add the rest of the lavender water from the ramekin into a mixing bowl, and slowly go sifting some icing sugar in and mixing until you get a drizzlable glazey consistency.
Drizzle over the top of the cake, and finish by scattering some lavender over the top.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011


Summer holidays in the city with kids.  Unless you're prepared to spend a small fortune on so-called family days out (100 quid family outing to the zoo* anyone?), there's only so much time you can spend at the park.  And when it rains, which in London it does a lot, what then?  Trying my best to keep to a one-dvd-a-day limit, and keeping unnecessary spending to a minimum, these days my brain has been working overtime thinking up fun, free and stimulating things to do with my incredibly active almost three-year-old son.  Today: making playdough.  

All kids, toddler aged and up, will love pouring out the ingredients, choosing the colours, mixing it all up, adding glitter, marbling two or more colours together... and that's just the making part.

Inspired by a conversation I recently had with a close friend (and very creative mother of two), I really think the key when planning kids' activities is to have more than one part to the process.  For example, you spend one afternoon in the park/garden/heath picking blackberries (in season now).  Some you eat there and then - a fresh pudding for your picnic, some you take home.  The next morning you spend making something with the berries you brought home - a pie, lollies, jam, anything simple that kids can help with.  And finally you get to enjoy what you made altogether.  With older kids you could even set up a little stall for them to sell the jam/pie to passers by.

Not only does staggering an activity prolong the fun, but simple step-by-step projects like this will instill a sense of process and continuity, will teach children about seeing something through from start to finish, and of course, will stimulate their creativity and increase their skill and capability, as opposed to simply playing with something that is put in front of them (and inevitably getting bored or frustrated pretty quickly).

~ Playdough Recipe (no cooking required) ~

1/2 cup plain flour
1/4 cup salt
1/2 tbsp cream of tartare
1/2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 cup boiling water
a generous splash of food colouring
Optional: a few drops of essential oil, glitter

In a bowl combine dry ingredients and oil.  Add the boiling water, food colouring and essential oil and mix thoroughly.  It will feel very pasty to begin with but keep mixing and it will quickly turn doughy as it cools.  Store in tupperware or sealable sandwich bags.  This recipe is enough for one little batch weighing about 300g.  I made three batches - one red, one green and one blue (with gold glitter!).

the mixture at first, soft and pasty

the finished dough

* Free alternative to an afternoon at the zoo?  Take the kids to a pet shop and as long as you don't mind pretending to the staff that you are seriously in the market for a new puppy/kitten/iguana, you will be able to pet and cuddle baby animals to your heart's content.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Riot Cake

Unaware of the hideous events that were beginning to unfold, I spent last Monday afternoon blissfully baking away in the safety of my kitchen.  It was only later that evening, boy sound asleep, that I turned on the news as I dusted my Chocolate Zucchini Cake.  Like most Londoners (who weren't either out on the streets or rioting) I spent the best part of Monday night watching the news, calling friends and family in affected areas and packing a just-in-case bag.

paper stars placed on the cake before dusting with icing sugar

Opinions and judgements aside, this last week has made me feel privileged and deeply grateful on so many levels.  The love and support from an unconditionally loving network of family and friends that surrounds me; the wonderful education I feel so lucky to have received; the responsibility and challenge that comes with Motherhood - and the opportunity that brings to pass on values of community and an appreciation of our environment to the next generation.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

My Little Man Cub

Today was the last day of the Lollibop Festival in London's Regent's Park.  I'd thought about going, but hadn't got round to getting tickets and didn't fancy paying extra on the door, so when a friend told me this morning she had two spare, my son and I headed straight to my studio for a rummage, and we quickly put together this lion's mane headdress and tail belt from some scraps of felt.

(Of course, he refused to wear it the whole day, and I had to bribe him with 10 more minutes of Ice Age to get him to sit for the photo!  It now goes in the dressing up box where I'm sure he'll rediscover it in a year or so.)

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Challenge: Self-Stitched-September 2011

When I started this blog not long ago in May, I had a long term goal in mind.  I planned to work towards challenging myself to wear only clothes I had made myself (with a few exceptions...) for a year, and to blogument the process.  A bit ambitious perhaps, but definitely do-able if I allowed myself a set time to prepare by assessing my already existing homemade wardrobe, and then spending the time to make more to fill in the gaps.  But then I kept thinking how much I'd miss all my other clothes...

Then in June I stumbled upon the blog of Brighton based Zoe who sets herself "Me-Made" challenges lasting a month whereby she aims to wear mostly clothes she has made or refashioned herself, documents her month in outfits on her blog, and the genius part is that she calls for other bloggers to take part by pledging to wear at least one item of me-made clothing for the duration of that month.  When I found Zoe's blog, it was bang in the middle of "Me-Made-June 2011" so I was gutted not to be able to take part, but I loved seeing her process, and it opened up a world of amazing creative bloggers also taking part that I probably would never have come across if it weren't for this inspired idea of a blogging community sharing a challenge together.

So you can imagine how delighted I was the other day when Zoe announced the up-coming challenge - Self-Stitched-September 2011 (SSS)!  I have already pledged to take part by wearing at least one item of me-made clothing for the duration of September, and I will also be endeavouring to make more clothing for my husband and our almost 3 year old son.

Over the following weeks leading up to September I will be gathering together all my existing me-made clothes and accessories, establishing what is lacking and hopefully making up a few more bits to fill in the gaps and make everyday me-made dressing more approachable.  SO  EXCITED!

Friday, 5 August 2011

Preparing for Autumn ~ part III

I think it's safe to say that Summer is my least favourite season.  That's not to say that I dislike it; in fact there is a lot about Summer that I love - sunshine, monsoon-like storms, berry-picking, picnics, being able to wear little more than a flimsy dress... it's just that the novelty of Summer wears off pretty quickly for me.  Like a too-hot Spring gone on too long.

So, needless to say, after a hot and very unproductive July, I was practically counting down the days to be back home, back in my studio, preparing for and looking forward to my absolute favourite season: Autumn.

When it comes to the colder months, I find it's the simple luxuries that make all the difference - and a cosy pair of felted cashmere slippers is just about as luxurious as it gets... For this project I followed (and adapted in the case of Papa's not so pointy slippers) a tutorial from Maya*Made, one of my daily blog stops.

Mama Elf

I prepped the cashmere back in July, felting it by putting it through a high-spin hot wash to shrink it, creating a denser knit.  I decided to use some thin camel suede for the soles to make the slippers more durable, and for my pair I used the last scraps of a delicious metallic paisley printed leather left over from my first collection of shoes back in 2008.

Little Elf & Papa-not-so-pointy Elf

What makes a great pattern or project, I think, is the potential for adaptation.  Something quick, simple and a pleasure to make, that can be tweaked/embellished/adapted/personalised until you end up with a whole series of different variations of the same thing.  Jingle bells on Little Elf's pointy tips, glistening soles for Mama Elf and rustic simplicity for Papa.  And I don't think I'll stop at just three pairs...

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