Saturday, 28 November 2015

More Deer Cushions

This week has been up and down. The pithy, easy to recount lows being a dodgy handbrake leading to a car stuck in the mud, and an escaped snake - again! And the corresponding highs - a very helpful neighbouring farmer who towed said car out of the mud, and a snake finally (after 3 days!) back in the tank! (And that sentence really does not begin to do justice to the efforts we went to in order to retrieve that stupid snake!) Another, not to be underestimated, high was Theo washing his own PE/Games kits of his own accord - straight from bag to washing machine and then, drum roll please, also hung up to dry, with absolutely no prompting from me at all. Those with teenage boys (girls too?) may appreciate the enormity of this. I think perhaps it may be connected with the escaped snake and his extreme contriteness at the snake-on-the-loose stress it caused!

Anyway, in amongst these ups and downs, and the many others too long winded and boring to recount, not a lot of sewing has happened. But I still have a couple more deer cushions to share.

A simple silhouette...

And the same silhouette, but also with simple circles sewn onto it...

Christmas is now under a month away, and my Christmas Fair is just a week away - aaagh! I'm off to sneak in a bit of making!


PS I actually did a bit of dreaded 'Black Friday' shopping yesterday! Big Little are having a sale over on Etsy all weekend, 30% off with the code BLACK, so if you fancy making some pixie hats or wild thing scarves as Christmas presents, then now's the time to go and buy the pattern. Very quick, easy makes! I might have just bought the slippers, childrens' cape, and possibly even a grown up coat pattern too!

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Doves of peace

I've been struggling to motivate myself to post anything here this past week. Since events in Paris last Friday, the thought of posting pictures of more deer cushions or more mice related making has felt a bit too trite. As much as what happened on Friday itself was horrific and sickening, it's been the growing response to it over this last week which disturbs me even more. Part of this is obviously the calls for 'war' and revenge. Clearly a very predictable response. Isis appear to want to polarise the world into 2 sides and propel us towards war, and their tactics seem to be incredibly successful in this. I have no idea what the answer is as far as military intervention or not is concerned, or what kind of intervention, any which way it's a mess. But it's the hatred and fear which the attacks have invoked which disturb me the most. And particularly the hatred and fear of the refugees fleeing Syria.

It feels more important than ever at this time to show our compassion and common humanity and love, rather than deepen lines of division. And if we don't do this, how much more will we fuel the conflict which seems to be building alarmingly fast? How much more will we push others into taking the path of the extremist 'side'. Take a minute to watch this short video: Don't forget Syria.

This video is from a year ago, I have no idea how genuine it is. But I have no doubt that there are thousands of boys and girls this hungry and hopeless both in Syria, and fleeing their homeland. Here are some statistics from the charity 'Save the Children'.
  • 11,000 children have been killed in Syria and 7.5 million have been affected by the conflict. 
  • 2.1 million Syrian children are now refugees, living in overstretched camps, cramped temporary accommodation or on the move. 
  • More than 10 million people have been forced from their homes and 13.5 million need humanitarian aid. 
  • More than one fifth of the country's education buildings have been either destroyed or damaged, or are being used for military purposes.
These are the children we seem to be turning our backs on, persuading ourselves that they're not our problem, or that it's too dangerous to reach out to them. Even apart from their desperate need right now and how it's incomprehensible that we can ignore that, lets think about the future, not just their future but ours too, and our children's future. As they grow up, these desperate children, full of fear and unwanted, which side of the conflict will they choose? Which 'side' will give them the most hope? Which 'side' will offer them the most appealing future? At the moment I don't feel our 'side' is really offering much at all to them. What will they have to lose? Surely we are creating perfect conditions for increased and continual radicalisation.

I didn't really mean to go into full political rant mode here, it's just kind of hard to restrain it! But this space is more for making. So before I get round to posting more deer and mice, I have a couple of other cushions today.

Some doves, hopefully a fairly universal symbol of peace and love.

They're made from beautifully soft, repurposed wool, and they've been surprisingly calming and comforting both to make and just to look at now. I say 'surprisingly' because they don't actually change anything, or provide any logical reason for comfort or calm. And yet I feel the need to have one on my sofa for their irrational comforting and calming properties!

But I made these 2 for my Christmas Fair stall, and, if they sell, the money from them will go to the Save the Children Syrian Crisis Appeal.

Hopefully, even if we are incapable of resolving this conflict, our children, and all the children across the world, will manage better in the years ahead and they will get it right. We just have to get it right for the children, right now.


Saturday, 7 November 2015

Take 5

1) Did you know that the collective noun for mice is a 'mischief' of mice?

Following very wise advice from Penny and Sarah (thank you both!), to try and have some small things on my Christmas Fair Stall, I've been making lots of mice finger puppets from scraps of wool. I could be slightly addicted to them!

2) I really don't know what the collective noun for pixie hats would be. Perhaps a posse? But there have been lots more of those made too. Some plainish...

And a couple with some applique...

Difficult to see in a photo but the wool for these stars has a lovely sparkly metallic look to it, and they're sewn on with silver thread.
3) Things in the garden have changed a little since the last update (quite a bit tidier, all the blueberries planted, lots of leaves gathered to compost...), but my garden is not pretty enough, nor my garden photography skills good enough, to merit more photos. Instead, I thought I'd share a recipe. We're not generally big fans of butternut squash or pumpkins here (except the seeds, love the seeds roasted!), so I've been searching for inspiration for using them. Last week we had Shepherd's Pie, and they worked really well chopped up finely in that, but at the same time I also made an Indian version of Shepherds Pie and apparently (I'm a traditional Shepherd's Pie kind of person so I'm taking the non traditionalists' word for it here!) they were delicious in that. The original recipe is from 'Curry Easy' by Madhur Jaffrey, here it is:

3 tbsp olive oil
2 cinnamon sticks
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
1 tsp peeled and finely grated fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
900g minced lamb
3 tbsp natural yogurt
3 tbsp tomato passata
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
2 tsp salt
285g potatoes, peeled and cut into 2cm cubes

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat, when hot put in the cinnamon sticks and let them sizzle for 5 seconds, then add the onion, stir and fry until it just starts to brown at the edges. Add the ginger and garlic, stir for 1 minute. Add the lamb, stir, breaking up the lumps until the meat loses its redness. Add the yogurt, tomato passata and the remaining herbs/spices. Stir for 1 minute. Add the potatoes and 475ml water. Stir and bring to the boil. Cover, lower the heat and cook gently for 30 minutes.

I've made it just like this before and it's always been really popular. It's actually a very mild dish and even I, a complete non curry eater, can manage a mouthful of this, though I much prefer a non spiced version personally, but the curry lovers in the family appreciate it. This time, with several butternut squashes from the garden to use, I did half the potatoes and half cubed squash, and the curry lovers were very happy with it.

And since I have no photos of that, I'll pop in a photo of a few of our pumpkins. If you ever have a green pumpkin that won't turn orange before Halloween, then the girls reckon the perfect thing to do with it is to carve it into a frog.

You knew that middle one was supposed to be a frog, right?

4) Maria has had some thank you cards to do for a while, and there's been a serious lack of motivation to get them done. So last week, I decided to tempt her into doing them by suggesting some sewn cards. Of course it worked!

Perhaps with echoes of Halloween still in our heads, we went for a black cat design. Happily it was also very simple and effective.

Just some green felt eyes cut out and sewn on to the black card with matching green thread. You might be able to see 2 triangular ear shapes sewn up the top in metallic black thread, but they do show up better in real life. And then some white whiskers. Possibly easier to see the sewing on the reverse actually.

I had to work the pedal (Maria's legs aren't long enough!), but with the sewing machine on its slowest setting Maria managed all the turning and guiding of the card herself. It felt like an excellent, simple introduction to machine embroidery skills. We did a few cats and now Maria has plans for some different designs.

5) Near the end of the Summer we had a lovely day out, swimming and picnicking, at a place called 'Salmon Leaps', near Castle Drogo, on Dartmoor.

The river was dammed back in Victorian times to create a large, deeper fishing stretch, and 3 graduating pools were then built into the drop in level, to help the fish when it came to swimming back up stream in the Autumn for spawning.

In the Summer, everyone swam, but Theo in particular loved tumbling down the pools. 

Personally I tried out the pools once and hated being in them. Despite the fact that they were only chest deep at most I really struggled to find my footing in them with the torrent of water knocking you around, and I felt a momentary panic that I could drown in them. Needless to say the girls were not allowed to give them a go!The rest of the stretch of river was lovely for swimming and perhaps I would have enjoyed the pools if the river had been a little less high and fast. But the thing I most wanted to do was to visit again in the Autumn and see if we might be lucky enough to spot salmon leaping up the pools.

So we headed off that way again last week. And there aren't many places I'd say this about, but it was even more beautiful in the Autumn than the Summer! The leaves were just gorgeous.

The water is beautiful and clear, but it has, in the Summer as well, a very rich, peaty brown look to it. Which just seemed to emphasise the reflections of the amazing colours. And the leaves floating downstream really shone out of the water like jewels. There was something quite mesmerising about watching them drift down the current, and dipping a hand in every now and then to pluck out a particularly special one.

A heart shaped leaf!
Theo contemplating a swim!
He couldn't resist, but it was proper cold!

But best of all, we did see salmon leaping up the 3 tiered pools! I found it such a magical sight. I'm afraid they were far too quick for my photography skills, but they were pretty big fish, and there was a steady succession of them as we sat and watched. The river was quite a bit higher and faster than in the Summer when I found it so hard just getting down the pools, so I was full of admiration for those salmon getting up them! Of course gills do give them a huge advantage over me, but even so they were seriously impressive!
There's a slightly camouflaged Sam sitting and watching the salmon leaping in this photo.
It's definitely going to become a regular Autumn outing from now on.


Thursday, 5 November 2015

Wool Patchwork Cushions

This isn't the most exciting post ever, but I do quite like these cushions even so!

More Christmas Fair making

All repurposed wools.
I think that's mainly just down to the choosing and significance of the colour schemes. The first one makes me think of driftwood on the beach, and the second, heather up on the moors. So what colour scheme would you choose for a cushion and why?

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Take 5

1) I'll kick off with a garden update. There has been quite a bit going on out there still, and it has been repaying us with lots of beans and courgettes, a reasonable supply of tomatoes and cucumbers, a good few squashes and pumpkins, and some very delicious sweetcorn. But this week we seem to have pretty much reached the end. 

Our biggest pumpkin stayed stubbornly green, we've picked it now and it's sitting in a warm, sunny porch at this moment and becoming increasingly orange speckled, but there is talk of carving it before the end of the month and I don't think the speckles will have spread all over by then - happily the children were far more interested in size than colour.

The beans, courgettes, pumpkins and sweetcorn all lasted really well but need taking out now.

The last of our sweetcorn from the weekend, Venetia was very happy with her baby corn (they were huge for baby corns), she grew them from seed herself.

Other parts of the garden are still happily producing though. The raspberries are looking far too wild but giving us lots of sweet, red treats every day still.

And I planted some late (a bit too late really!) spinach and salad leaves at the end of August/start of September in my newest bed.

The lettuce, in the middle, proved the most popular with the slugs and I don't think it's going to recover properly, but the rocket and spinach are now giving us a good supply of leaves - albeit tender, baby leaves! And I was very excited to find an old, unwanted plastic tunnel type thing at the Recycling Centre the other day, which I'm hoping may extend the season for it a little.

Next year I'll definitely be getting a couple of rows in earlier in August to make more of this Autumn season of growing. I almost feel like a proper gardener, already thinking about plans for next year!

I planted some garlic a couple of weeks ago (as per 'Gardeners' World' instructions - which has been regular viewing for the last couple of months!) but I need some advice on onions. When I bought my garlic bulbs they also had onions sets for sale next to them, of varieties which were suitable for planting in the Autumn to over Winter, just as garlic does. So I got some of those too and planted them at the same time. I was expecting them to follow the same kind of growing pattern that garlic does - ie to do all their growing underground initially and then pop up in the Spring. But I seem to have little, green onion shoots coming up already in my veggie bed. It feels to me that this must be wrong, and that they won't be happy throughout the Winter like this, but none of my reading about Autumn onion planting is giving me any clues on the subject. So if any one has experience of this and could please give me some advice that would be wonderful.

And some other planting that's been going on is blueberry planting. Back in September we went blueberry picking at a farm up on Exmoor. We took my Dad with us and he was extremely impressed with the quantities which the children consumed just whilst picking (vast!), and extremely unimpressed with the state of the 'road' we had to drive along to get there (it was possibly the worst 'road' I've ever driven along!). So the upshot of it was that he decided we should have some blueberry bushes in the garden instead, and he very kindly bought us a few. But my Dad's memory is (and, as he himself says, always has been!) a funny thing. Some things just won't stick in it at all, some things stick pretty well, and some things get well and truly wedged in there! The interest in buying blueberry plants got well and truly wedged, and, for a few weeks, every time he went shopping he came back with another blueberry plant, or two (there's a Garden Centre next to his favourite supermarket!). The children, predictably, thought this was brilliant! Being the one who'd be doing the work to plant all the blueberries I was more keen to keep the numbers manageable. We got to fourteen plants before I managed to impress upon my Dad the idea that we had enough (or quite possibly the Garden Centre just ran out of stock!), so I have been busy planting them all. The first few went into tyres in the veggie patch easily enough, but as they kept coming in I had to come up with another plan, and have ended up creating a couple of 'beds' elsewhere.

Number 2 bed under construction.
Here's hoping we get plenty of blueberries in years to come!

2) As well as loving the Pixie Hats from Big Little, I had a go at making one of the Wild Things Hooded Scarves a while back. There are lots of options to choose from, but I went for a fox initially. I was surprised at how quick and easy a sew it was, with lovely, clear instructions to follow.

But if you're going to give it a go, watch out on the sizing. I used the 3-5 year old sizing and it's much too big for Venetia (nearly 9 now) never mind the 4 year old for whom it was intended! I wasn't completely happy with the ears either, I think I should have made them smaller. Could be a great Christmas present make though.

3) October is a big birthday month for us. It was mine at the weekend and Venetia made me a gorgeous chocolate roulade, filled with fresh cream and raspberries. It was delicious.

I also got my sewing machine back from a very long overdue service the day before, so that was perfect timing! There have been lots of ideas over the past few months that I've been itching to start, but which really needed neater, more even stitches than my machine was managing, so I squeezed in a little sewing at the weekend just for the excitement of starting something new!

It's going to be a baby quilt, I've nearly got the background quilted (lots of wavy lines), ready for a big applique picture in the centre. It felt such a luxury to be sewing with a machine which fed the fabric through smoothly rather than me constantly pushing/pulling it through!

As well as the joy of a freshly serviced machine, my friend Emma, gave me such a lovely, thoughtful present. A beautiful children's picture book about a home made quilt:

It's full of bright, colourful pictures and words which capture the magic of a scrappy quilt, and one of the main 'characters' is even called Sally - perfect!

4) I'm getting slightly better at remembering to keep my camera handy, and this week captured a few pictures of my most photographically elusive child - Sam.

5) Autumn has been pretty kind to us, it's been largely dry and sunny so far. And, as much as it could never rival Summer for me, it is a beautiful time of year  The leaves are all looking gorgeous right now and we are loving them. Here is my favourite for the year so far!

Such a tiny one and yet still so perfect, with amazingly vivid colours. I was making some driftwood Christmas wreaths the other day and as I was threading the pieces of driftwood on to the wire, it occurred to me that making a leaf wreath in the same way would be incredibly easy. So I cut some wire and bent a very basic loop at the top and we just threaded on leaves.

You can use thinner, more pliable wire than you'd need for driftwood.
We made fairly small ones since obviously it takes lots of leaves to fill them up, but actually it didn't take as long as I expected, leaves are, after all, so plentiful right now! And it would be a lovely thing to take and do on an Autumn walk.

Such an easy and satisfying craft for small hands in particular.

Happy Autumn to you!