Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Let The Countdown Begin...

Season-wise, right now I'm in a state of bliss.

Waking up to frosty foggy mornings; listening sleepily as my 3 year old recalls his monster-bashing dreams over a bowl of hot, maple syrupy porridge; crunching our way to the park through fallen leaves;  the anticipation building as Christmas comes into view...

It certainly has been an eventful Autumn for me.  Events that shall not be named - certain exciting new business events that remain a secret, and certain difficult personal events that have thankfully now been resolved - combined with all the love and joy (and a little exhaustion...!) of raising a very spirited boy have made for a more emotionally concentrated few months than usual, with circumstantial highs and lows fighting to dominate my mood.  But despite the testing moments, it seems that life's little pleasures always win.  And I have been moved to be able to enjoy those little pleasures that have always pleased me so much, but now with my not-so-baby boy, who, for the first time, is really taking notice.

As we move into wintry territory, and what feels like a new chapter in my life, I find myself filled with hope, excited not only for the coming month, but for the coming future. And in the meantime, I am trying to remain mindful of right now.  Always looking forward, but remembering to slow down and squeeze every last drop out of the build-up.  Like most things, the time spent leading up to the climax is what should be savoured most of all...!

So, in order to squeeze every last drop out of the Festive Season, I made an Avent Calendar using an(other!) old frame and pockets to be filled with ideas, plans, reminders, the odd treat - anything and everything to inspire us to make each day leading up to Christmas count.

~ Advent Calendar ~

I started by rummaging through my scraps of felt to combine with a completely adorable Japanese cotton from The Eternal Maker, and made 24 pockets (10 x 12 ish cm) with a tunnel loop across the top so they could be strung and hung across my frame using the same method from my last frame repurpose.

Planning the layout before embroidering and appliquéing the numbers... To be honest, I found this part pretty tedious.  While I love the idea of embroidery, I simply don't have the patience.  Sort of how I feel about knitting with ultra fine yarn... Hopefully one day I'll have more time for endlessly intricate projects!

Definitely worth it though, and now the fun part: filling each pocket with notes, things to do on each day, a wishbone I saved from the last roast, a lucky penny for his money box, odd treats and trinkets... you get the idea.  

P.S. My apologies for dingy shots, to be blamed entirely on dingy weather!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

The Wall Of Accomplishment

In my studio there is a big, blank wall.

When I finish a piece I like to hang it some place so I can admire it/rethink it.

Today I put 2 and 2 together...

Butterick 8949: a cropped overblouse.  For this first version, I elongated the waistline so it could be worn with jeans.

My second version of Butterick 8949 I made cropped as the pattern intended using a soft plaid brushed cotton.

McCall's 5081: a slim pencil skirt.  This is a long-standing favourite pattern of mine, having previously made a woollen black and white houndstooth version and a green Indian silk version.  This one was whipped up using the remaining red poly crepe from my Vogue 8820 still in progress.

A sewing first for me - a neat hand stitched hem!  The grosgrain ribbon adds a lovely weight to this skirt, but I probably would never have bothered in the first place if I hadn't been neglecting my sewing machine in favour of snuggling up to my poor sick child on the sofa these last few days.

Another half circle skirt, this time in a dusty pink ribbed wool jersey.

And I've just noticed that all four finished pieces hanging on my wall all feature my latest discovery - pearl snaps!  Forget tedious zippers, buttonholes and hooks & eyes, these beauties work on everything, are super satisfying to hammer into place, and look so neat and pretty.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

So Little To Show For So Much Going On

I guess it's only to be expected at this time of year.  I feel like I'm doing so much, being so productive: Christmas presents, home improvement, personal stuff, commissions... You name it, I'm working on it.  But why then, when a day like today presents itself, golden sunshine illuminating the fallen leaves, the perfect window to photograph some blog-worthy projects, I realise that nothing is actually in a finished state ready to be photographed.  I feel like I'm treading water in an ocean of WIPs (Works In Progress).  No land in sight.

OK, this one is actually finished.  But I'm in the process of making a second in a plaid brushed cotton (see sewing table shot), and planning a third, so until the trio is complete it still feels like a WIP.  The pattern is Butterick 8949 and I hope to have all three done by tomorrow evening.

Above: my sewing table right now.  A bit of a nightmare, but sort of an inspired nightmare as I'm deeply enjoying everything on there - the second in my Butterick Top Trio, and possibly the most outrageously elegant dress I've ever made: Vogue 8820.  I'm doing View A with the scoopier neckline, but the longer sleeves of View B.  I love a good slinky long sleeve.  I had planned to make this in wool crepe or a heavy, drapey silk, but found nothing I liked.  Then, and I'm really quite ashamed to admit this... I saw the perfect thing: fire engine red, crepey, drapey... But on closer inspection it revealed itself to be Polyester Crepe.  Not something I would ever buy, especially not new.  But... it was only £3 a metre, it was the last 5 metres on the roll, and it was exactly what I was looking for.  So I'm considering this first attempt at Vogue 8820 a glorified toile, and am still on the lookout for a fabric more deserving of this delectable dress.

Below: a pile of crocheted snowflakes which will eventually be strung and hung to make my home all festive-like.

And finally (but actually not finally at all, because I still have plenty of other stuff on the go...), something which I'm still not allowed to talk about, but lets just say that it's coming along beautifully, and working on it is proving to be a moving and humbling experience.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Repurposing A Frame

from this...

...to this ~

For a while now I've been wanting to figure out a decent display solution for all the cards that seem to be accumulating on my fridge and the increasing number of masterpieces my son is churning out these days... But I've been feeling a bit let down by Blu Tack lately - not only is it eating away at my walls but it seems to be a lot less sticky than it was back in the days of heart-throb posters... 

So I found a big wooden 2nd hand frame, removed the dodgy watercolour, glass and back board and repositioned the hooks to make it hang portrait...

...then marked out 7" intervals on either side of the frame where I wanted to place the strings for hanging stuff from...

...pushed, but not all the way, drawing pins (thumb tacks if you're Stateside) into the marked intervals...

...and finally, tightly knotted some strong cotton twine across the frame, held in place by the two corresponding drawing pins on either side, hammered the drawing pins securely down and snipped off the excess string.

And after a 10 minute fixer-upper project I now have the perfect little gallery for my son's works of art,  the ideal place to display on rotation all the cards that ever meant something, tickets to a certain upcoming Gillian Welch gig, and I'm sure the odd shopping list will find it's way there soon.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011


It's amazing what can be achieved when presented with an unexpected evening alone.  Not knowing when I might next have a chunk of uninterrupted studio time, I put Christmas present making aside and indulged in some selfish stitching... Skirts and snoods are usually my go-to projects if I want a quick fix - both quick and satisfying to make, not too fiddly, and always a welcome addition to my expanding wardrobe.

I started with a curtain that used to be in my Grandparents' house, but since losing its partner found its way into my stash.  A beautifully heavy floral cotton, too heavy for pleats or ruching, not enough fabric for a full circle skirt, but just enough for a 1/2 circle - something that's been on my to-make list for a while.  Drafting it was quick and easy, I didn't even bother making a paper pattern, which actually I'm slightly regretting now as it came out so perfectly that I'm on the brink of making a whole family of 1/2 circle skirts.  I only had enough fabric for a slightly awkward above-the-knee length, which I embraced by sewing an amazing vintage trim my Mum gave me years ago that's been waiting for the perfect opportunity to be used, to add a few extra inches to the hem.

After the success of my skirt - and I really think this one is up there with my favourite skirts ever made - I settled in for the night and cast on for a chunky ribbed snood, which I had every intention of saving in my Christmas Present Bag...

But hell no, my friends, like so many other things I make intended for others, I am so keeping this one!  I can always knit more...

An evening well spent I say.

10 Days In The Life Of Herman

10 days ago my neighbour gave me a little tupperware containing "Herman" - a sourdough cake mix that has been fermenting, growing, being divided and passed on since I really don't know when.  Apparently these things can keep going for years.  As long as the batter is kept "alive" - at room temperature, stirred every day, added to on days 4 & 9, then divided into 4 equal parts, 3 of which are then passed on to friends and the remaining quarter kept, added to a little more and baked.  It's basically a batter consisting of flour, sugar and milk.  The milk ferments and that's what makes it bubble, what gives it that stench (which I've actually come to quite like now), and what essentially makes it a sourdough batter.

So I did my bit, loving the process - I always love to prolong any project with a process - waking each morning to see how my little Herman was bubbling and expanding, talking it up at the school gates to get some potential takers for Herman's next foster home.  And so, yesterday, three quarters of the litre of Herman I ended up with went on their way to three loving mothers, and this morning I completed the final stage of my task...

Adding yet more flour, sugar, eggs, oil, apples, sultanas, cinnamon, etc Herman was transformed from a putrid, bubbling slurp to a mouth watering, appropriately Autumnal, apple sourdough cake!

But what I want to know is, where did he get the name Herman??

Monday, 7 November 2011

Preparing for Autumn ~ part VII ~ Finale

It's done!  My Swing Jacket is finally done!  And actually, it was done a week ago, I have just been really slack about taking pictures of it.

(skirt by From Somewhere)

This has been one hell of a process, believe me.  Not because it was outrageously challenging to sew or anything, just because somehow, one thing after another, it was one of those projects that got done in little bursts of motivation, and kept having to be put down for one reason or another, and don't even get me started on the lining... I love silk, but it can be such a slippery pain to work with, especially when it has to be oh so precisely blind stitched by hand... I tell you, I was ready to take that fiddly little pesky needle and do some damage on more than one occasion.

But I'm thrilled with how she's turned out - and she really feels like a she, you know?  Strong, confident and capable, a real woman of a jacket, oozing with understated feminine elegance.  Sort of like how I feel on a good day!

The details came together beautifully - which I must confess are usually an afterthought for most of my projects, but I knew that this one deserved so much better (and actually so will all future projects from now on - sewing resolution) - the perfectest buttons narrowed down from a selection of already perfect buttons, the cape's original label which I kept and replaced, my Grandmother's diamond harp brooches (they really make music!) taking pride of place on her lapel.

And one last confession - the real reason it took so long to getting round to taking pictures is that I was initially a little disappointed... When I first tried my now beloved Swing Jacket on, I felt swamped.  I hadn't expected her to be so big; I guess I'd ignored the generous width in the sleeves; I wondered if, after all that, I'd made her too big.  I re-checked the pattern and not only was the size fine, I noticed that the elegantly drawn lady in the picture looked equally swamped by her illustrated jacket.  And she looked great.  So I tried mine on again.  I fiddled with my hair, I took off my jeans and put on a pencil skirt, I stood on tip-toe.  I got into character.  And then I started feeling it: like the best things in life, this jacket is a real grower.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Meet Me At Oxfam

I am excited, delighted and proud to announce that I have been asked to contribute a series of guest posts for no less than the Oxfam Fashion Blog!

Focusing on creative DIY and sustainable knits, I get to spend the next couple of months researching and putting together tutorials, how-to's and any other resources I can muster to (hopefully) inspire the Oxfam readers to discover the joy and satisfaction of putting in the time and love (and minimal monies) for a homemade holiday season.

My first post is a tutorial on how to make the above intricate fairisle hot water bottle covers, with not a knitting needle in sight!  I don't think any household can have too many hotties, and these are so easy peasy and super quick to make, and always an appreciated and useful gift.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011


Those of you who know me, will have noticed a little penchant I've developed over the last year or so for making fruit infused vodka.  So far I've dabbled in blueberry, blackberry, raspberryfragola grape and tonight, lemon.  Being half-Italian I figured it would be outrageous for me not to give this traditional Italian digestivo a go, even if I do prefer the sweeter end of the liquor spectrum... Maybe I'll just up the sugar a smidge.


the rind of 5 lemons, none of the white pith though
1 litre of vodka, or 98% proof alcohol is better (hic) if you can find it
1kg sugar
750ml water

Place the lemon rinds (and a little bit of the juice) in a sterilised sealable container and pour over the vodka.
Seal and keep for a week in a darkish, dry place, giving it a shake every day.


Bring the water to the boil and add the sugar, stirring until it has dissolved.
pour in the vodka and rinds, stir, and return to the container (or a bigger one if need be).
Keep it infusing for at least another week, shaking every now and then - I'll be leaving mine until Christmas - then strain into a bottle and serve chilled.

And if anyone was wondering about that Raspberry Vodka I made back in June, I'm afraid it's getting drunk faster than I can photograph it/write about it.  But it was very good.

what's left of my blueberry vodka (left) and raspberry vodka (right)

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