ground almonds and sweet almond oil

 

I’m still a bit snuffly and have “ear hiccups” but I think the head cold has finally begun to pack it’s bags…..while I’ve been feeling somewhat under the weather (and needing to spend a lot of time under a blanket on a make shift poorly bed) sewing small pieces of patchwork and watching an embarrassing amount of period dramas, I’ve been making some kitchen cupboard cosmetics or as I like to call them ….pantry pampers.  I have to be quite careful about which products I use on my face, especially when I’ve had a cold and my nose feels particularly delicate, however my skin and face always seems to benefit (and not break out in angry retaliation) and respond well when I’ve made face scrubs and washes from things I have in the kitchen cupboards.

My favourite face scrub smells more like a light Madeira sponge cake than something you’d think to put on your face.  It gently exfoliates while at the same time moisturizes so after washing off you can just pat your face and you’re ready to go…..it also helps remove all that horrible “post cold” lizard skin around your nose.

Lemon, orange, bergamot and cypress are all nice essential oils to use in the morning as they help you feel all wakey and fresh, in the evening I like to use rose, neroli, chamomile or jasmine.  The evening oils are all a bit on the pricey side but are wonderful to use on the face and have a more calming effect on my mind rather than the perky “up and at them smelling” citrusy morning oils.

It’s important not to over do it when you are using essential oils, a little goes a long way and if you use them neat on the skin then they can irritate and inflame sensitive skin.  I tend to use this scrub more in the winter or when I have a cold, but it is still used a fair bit in the Summer, so to avoid being heavy handed with the oils I like to prepare a couple of bottles of different oil blends in advance so they are all ready to use…. just pour a little almond oil into a smaller bottle (a 30 ml or 50 ml will be about the right size) and then add a few drops of whatever essential oil I want to use….I often mix a few oils together so I get the benefit of them working together, they also smell wonderful.  Don’t forget to label it and keep out of sunlight.

 

Oil and almond face scrub

1 teaspoon of ground almonds

1/2 teaspoon of sweet almond oil (though I’ve used grapeseed oil before and that is a good substitute)

1 drop of essential oil of your choice

(or 1/2 a teaspoon of your prepared oil and then you won’t need to add any extra essential oil)

Into a small bowl, mix the oil with the almonds.  Carefully pat the mix on your face, avoiding around your eyes. Gently rub the mixture over your skin.  Wash off with handfuls of warm water until the scrub mix is all gone.  Pat your face dry with a towel.

 

When I have a cold my face often breaks out and I feel somewhat like a teenager again, I keep a tiny bottle (I use an old essential oil bottle as they are 5ml or 10 ml sized) and mix lavender and tea tree essential oils in equal parts, then apply 1 drop neat to the offending spot.  This is pretty much the only time I’d apply an oil neat to my skin and was a recipe given me by a friend who used to work in a Natural Beauty and Remedies shop. (the only other time is when my chilblains are bad or I have blisters from too much walking in shoes that rub, then I carefully dab on neat geranium essential oil and find this gives some much needed relief.

 

pestle and mortar, ground rice and rolled oats

 

If I don’t have any ground almonds to hand then I substitute porridge oats and some rice , I just put a desert spoon of each into a spice grinder and then give them a whizz for a few seconds so both are a nice fine powder…..this is also good to use if you have nut allergies.

 

Oat and Rice face scrub

1 teaspoon of ground oatmeal and rice (it’s easier to grind a desert spoon or so of each and then mix them together and keep in a jam jar)

1/2 teaspoon light oil (grapeseed is good if you have nut allergies)

1 drop of essential oil

(or if you have some prepared oil then use a 1/2 teaspoon of that and then you don’t have to add any extra essential oil)

Into a small bowl, mix the oil with the ground rice and oats.  Carefully pat the mix on your face, avoiding around your eyes. Gently rub the mixture over your skin.  Wash off with handfuls of warm water until the scrub mix is all gone.  Pat your face dry with a towel.

 

Tired feet treat

I find the oat and rice scrub also very good to use on my hands when they are particularly dry or tired feeling, and it’s also good to use on my feet and ankles, though then I like to make up double the amount and add a couple of drops of peppermint or tagettes essential oil to the blend.  (making up a bottle of almond oil/grapeseed oil and adding a little peppermint essential oil or tagettes is nice to have to hand as it makes for a good massage oil for feet after you’ve had a bath)

Something I find that always helps make me feel better when I’ve got a cold or just feel all tired after a day in town, is soaking my feet in a big bowl of warm water (I like it quite hot so keep a kettle nearby to top the water up) with some big flattish pebbles at the bottom.  I spread out a couple of big towels, then place the half dozen or so pebbles in the bottom of the bowl, then pour on the water and add whatever essential oils I’m using…(I like peppermint and lavender combined so just a couple of drops is enough, and geranium and lemon is another favourite blend)…..I can sit like that with my feet in the warm water ’til the cows come home…it’s so relaxing and I have nodded off like this on many occasions.  Once I’ve let my feet relax for about 15 minutes, I then use the foot scrub, rubbing it in around the ball and heel of each foot, and also rubbing it over each ankle.  Rinse it off and then dry thoroughly before putting on a pair of clean socks……I used to be friends with a rather manly gentleman, and when he stayed over and had had a really tough day at work, I’d prepare one of these foot bathes for him and the days troubles would just disappear (the first time I suggested it there was some eye rolling and a deep sigh but within minutes someone was all smiles and completely chilled out.)

re-making a pin wheel block

 

The other weekend I had a bit of a tidy up in my studio/work room and sorted through the 120 some blocks I’d sewn for my “dear ethel” quilt……as I looked through them there were a few that I felt weren’t quite right…..a couple were a bit too brash and bold, and a couple I was no longer happy with the fabric choices I’d made….I know I could have just left them be…but this quilt is intended as something special for me and I know what I’m like, I’ll be in bed and won’t see all the blocks that are perfect and beautiful and which make me happy….I’ll just see those blocks that don’t sit right…even if I try to hide them in corners or edges I’ll know they are there, so decided to put to one side the blocks I wasn’t liking (they can be made into pot holders to use near the stove) and made a list of what needed re-sewing…..

 

piecing patchwork to re-sew a pin wheel block

 

The first block I’ve sewn is this little pinwheel…I love the bright combination of orange and pink, but I wasn’t careful enough when I cut out the gingham, the pattern doesn’t lay true across the block…I’m thinking to make the quilt a bit bigger than I had first intended (so I think I need to make another 24 blocks on top of the half a dozen or so I’m re-sewing) so will use the pink/orange combination again, maybe use a different pink rather than the gingham…..

For the new block I’ve used a couple of the fabrics I bought recently for the twins quilts….the tiny tulip fabric is so delicate, and I particularly liked how it combined with the more robust orange bow-tie print.

 

early morning shadows

 

Now we have the lovely light mornings, I’ve set my alarm a little bit earlier so I can get up and enjoy the soft light that floods my work room this time of year…..early mornings are my favourite time, the house is quiet and not yet woken, if Bernard is on the table there is the gentle sighing and soft snore of him sleeping…shadows cover my table and as the sun comes up they move across my work…..

 

re-sewing a pinwheel block for my dear ethel quilt

 

Later on I’ll put on some music, or listen to the wireless but before anyone else stirs and gets out of bed I prefer the quiet….I open a window and my room is filled with the early morning call and sing song of the birds in the garden…..in the distance there is the low rumble of a train……the gentle sighing as the day itself seems to wake up and stretch into being…….

This is the time I try to use for sewing for myself, no commissions, no sewing for shops or craft fairs, but simply sewing for myself whether it’s patchwork blocks for “dear ethel” or darning socks…..a cup of tea near my elbow and I’m eased into the day.

 

re-sewn pinwheel block

 

The new block is much softer in colour than the one it’s replacing but it doesn’t jar and it sits in well with the other blocks sewn…..a couple of the blocks I’m re-sewing I’ve un-picked because I liked one of the fabrics used in the block and didn’t have enough left to re-make again….maybe I’m being a bit precious but I want this quilt to be just right so am happy to spend the time it needs, unpicking, re-cutting, hand sewing……. slow stitching indeed.

Japonica

 

Yesterday it seemed like we had half a dozen tasters of English weather, overcast and cloudy skies, a light shower of rain, followed by wild winds and then a proper downpour…finally the sun came out and it was a perfect sun-shiney afternoon…..tiny, delicate blossoms opened out and I even saw a few fat bees bumbling and buzzing around….Although there isn’t much going on out in the garden (we’ve still to plant out vegetables and salad crops) there’s still a whole wealth of colourful treasures dotted around……

A couple of years ago we were given a little cutting of a Japonica from my boyfriend’s parents.  It didn’t blossom last year, but I think it’s now making up for it…it’s covered in tiny buds and the flowers are a beautiful deep coral with bright yellow centres.  This is one of my favourite colours and combined with the dark green leaf it’s a perfect mix.

 

Japonica blossoms and flowerng buds

 

Indoors I’ve got a small oil painting of a Japonica and hadn’t really made the connection between that painting and this little cutting…before I thought to take some pictures there were a couple of bees tumbling around the flowers, getting themselves all covered in dusty yellow pollen….sadly it doesn’t seem to have a scent though that may be because my nose is all blocked up and I can’t really smell anything.

 

wallflowers

 

The wallflowers near the apple trees are coming into bloom, deep, dark colours and thick velvety petals…actually even with a cold I can still smell them, their perfume is heady and spicy and bees and butterflies seem to love them.  Out the front the flowers are flecked more with yellow but these back garden ones are more crimson hued.  When I was little I never particularly thought much of them but as I get older they are one of my favourite flowers in our garden.

 

cowslips

 

Under our three little apple trees we planted some alpine and wild strawberries…they’ve spread out and now cover everything in sight, peeping up amongst the green of the strawberry leaves are some of the cowslips I grew a couple of years back…I love their soft petals and” lemon posset” coloured blooms…. these spring flowers have always been a particular favourite and are one of the first flowers I learnt the name of.

Sunday afternoons we used to go for a walk after we’d had our lunch….my dad used to point out flowers and help us learn their names….back then the banks of the lanes would in turn be filled with cowslips and primroses, pink campions, and ragged robin….old walls would be home to wisps of pale blue harebells……we also used to go for walks with my Primary school class.  A lovely old chap from the village would take us out and we’d be asked in turn to identify particular flowers and trees….we’d pick a few of the flowers we’d see and then go back to school, put them in water then draw and paint them.  I used to love doing this and it was probably the class I loved the most.

 

comfrey growing around the apple trees

 

 

 

We’ve also got clumps of comfrey growing up in clusters around the garden…this is by the apple trees but it’s also shot up around the compost bins and in one of the raised beds….even on still days when there is no breeze the plants will move and sway as fat bumble bees buzz in and out of the blossoms…….we regularly cut it back, chopping it up and making a stinky plant food or just putting it straight into the compost bins (it makes the peelings and cutting in there “compost” and break down quicker)

 

strawberryblossoms and a rogue raspberry plant

 

The blossoms of the strawberries are such an intense white, tiny and perfect little petals surround a yellow centre…..these particular plants are now a mix of alpine and wild strawberries, they’ve cross pollinated and slightly different varieties appear all around our garden, growing haphazardly as and where they set their runners….some berries are incredibly sweet others are a little sharper…none are ever very big maybe the size of a thumb nail, but the flavour and scent of each one is really intense.

 

dandelions growing on the side of the path

 

Along the path where I should have been weeding are growing some dandelions…when the leaves are small I’ll wash them and use them in a salad…I know you can batter and fry the flowers but I’m not sure what my boyfriend would say if I gave him some of those for his tea….I’m happy to let them grow as they are such a beautiful burst of bright yellow….when it’s overcast they pull in all tight but at the first sign of a little sunshine then they open up so wide and always gladden my heart.

 

yellow blossoms

 

Along the back of our garden is a fence where the shrubs grow…this bright yellow blossom is a real treat in the sunshine, when I go out and  fill the bird feeders, the birds all sit on it’s branches and patiently wait til their breakfast is set out for them…a few cheeky ones like the robins and blue tits sit in the branches of the cherry tree or on the washing line and will fly down to the feeders as soon as the lids are put back on….. in front of this shrub is a buddleja, it’s now been cut right back but in a month or so it’ll be growing like billy-oh and come Summer the air will be full of the scent from it’s deep purple blossoms……on days like this when it’s sunny and warm, then Summer feels like it’s just waiting round the corner.

 

unwaxed lemons

 

We’re both suffering with Spring time coughs and colds….what started off with a tickly throat over the Easter weekend has become a real stinker of a cold…my nose is puffy and I sound all croaky……Every time the seasons turn and there is a noticeable change in the weather, we find ourselves sniffling and coughing and feeling all miserable and grumpy.

My favourite remedies for coughs, colds and sore throats are pretty much all natural ones…they aren’t so fast working as over the counter ones but I find my body and self responds better to them, no unpleasant side effects and they taste and smell much nicer…..just about all the ingredients are found in a store cupboard or can be purchased

My boyfriend’s late grandfather was a chemist in the brilliantly named town of Pill (it’s just outside of Bristol) and he used to make this lovely tasting syrup for sore throats.

 

golden honey

 

Grandpa Keen’s soothing throat elixir….

200 ml of boiled water

50 ml (about 3 desert spoons) good quality honey

50 ml lemon juice (I generally use the juice of one lemon)

25 ml vegetable glycerine

Dissolve the honey in the boiled water. Allow to cool a little and then add the glycerine and the lemon juice.  Allow to cool completely before keeping in a covered jar in the fridge.  Take a tablespoon or so as required.  Keeps for up to a week.

This is really soothing and seems to benefit sore throats where there is a constant tickle.  When I’m suffering from a bout of laryngitis then this is made up in double quantities and seems to live in the fridge.

(Glycerine can be easily purchased from chemists or somewhere like Neal’s Yard Remedies…don’t be tempted to use more than suggested, it’s a laxative.)

I try to buy a locally sourced set honey as I think it seems to taste nicer in this than the runny kind.

When I get a bad head cold with ears that pop and feel muffled then I find nothing seems to relieve it better than sitting with my head over a bowl of hot water, covered with a big towel…breathing in the steam really helps me feel I can breath again…I generally set a timer for 5 minutes, if not I find I lose track of time and end up all drowsy and spaced out……

 

Clear head steam inhalation

eucalyptus essential oil

lavender essential oil

bergamot essential oil

Drop just 1 drop of essential eucalyptus oil in to a bowl, and pour on a little hot water. Carefully lean over and cover yourself and the bowl with a big towel.  Breath n the steam for about 5 minutes.

In the day time I also add 1 drop of bergamot essential oil as this has a wonderful uplifting smell to it and helps me to feel not quite so grumpy.

When I make a steam inhalation before bed then I substitute lavender for the bergamot, but again only use 1 drop.

If you use too much essential oil then it can be too harsh for your delicate nose membranes (they’ll be feeling super sensitive as it is with having a cold so you need to treat them gently)

If you don’t have the essential oils then a small sprig of rosemary from the garden, crushed a bit in a pestle and mortar will be just as good,  pour over a little hot water and use it in the same way as the oils.

 

Red and Puffy sore nose balm

One of the worse things about having a cold is the runny nose, and the constant having to blow it….before long, your nose is all red, puffy  and very sore and even the softest tissues feels coarse and rough…I use a little of this balm on my nose to protect it and also a little on my lips as they tend to dry out really quickly when I have a cold.

beeswax

cocoa butter

almond oil (or a light olive oil)

lavender essential oil (if you are using this as a lip balm you may not want to add the lavender, it’s not to everyone’s taste…)

In a bain-marie carefully melt about a teaspoon of beeswax.  When the wax has fully melted add a teaspoon of cocoa butter and allow to melt thoroughly. Finally stir and mix in a desert spoon of sweet almond oil or a light olive oil.

If you have vitamin e oil capsules then you might like to pierce one and add the oil from that in as well but if you don’t have them then it’s not the end of the world. Add just a few drops of lavender essential oil (3 or 4 drops is plenty) and stir.  Rose essential oil is also very good, 1 or 2 drops will be plenty.

Transfer to a small clean jar and apply as and when needed.  Keeps for about 3 months.

(it also doubles up as a nice hand or foot balm once your cold has gone and your nose is back to normal)

 

crocheted cosy

 

I’m a big tea drinker, and tend to drink a couple of big pots a day, however when I’ve got a cold I find that tea tastes a bit yucky so I then drink lots of lemon and honey, so much so that I make it in a big tea pot, cover it with a tea cosy and sip that instead.

A tea I really do like when I have a cold is “morning time” by Heath and Heather….it’s made with hibiscus, rosehips, and spearmint and tastes lovely and refreshing.  My local health food store has stopped selling it but I think you can buy it in Holland and Barrett.

I’m off to make a poorly bed on the sofa (some plumped cushions and a big crochet blanket) and am hoping the sight of Colin Firth in his lovely Georgian trousers will make me feel all better very soon.

finished patchwork for quilt one

 

Trumpety trumpety fanfare ………the main patchwork for the two quilts is finished…I’ve still to sew around a skinny border (I was a bit in two minds about this but think it will give a softer edge to any quilting before the binding is sewn on, and it will also guarantee I don’t lose any star tips in the binding.)

This is the patchwork for “quilt one”…..I love how the stars blend into each other…I’m really pleased with my colour and fabric choices, and while I know I spent a fussily long time choosing fabrics, feel my time was wisely spent when I look at how the patchwork has come together.

The blocks are pretty big for me, 10 inch square, the size meant lots of pattern detail in the character prints hasn’t been lost.

Looking at both finished patchworks, I can’t help but remember those long school holiday Summers…endless days of sitting out in the garden on an old blanket with my sisters, heads all buried in a book, the scent of Ambre Solaire (the brown sticky oil kind that was at most factor 3) and syrupy lollies that melted all too quickly, days spent at Southwold when we’d grumble about getting sand in our sandwiches and sometimes get spoilt and be bought a proper treat….a “99” from the little tea kiosk.

 

finished patchwork for quilt two

 

And this is the patchwork for “quilt number two”….again, I still need to sew the skinny border, but right now I’m just happy to have this taped up on my wall and feel Summer has arrived (it’s all grey and murky outside so looking at this is much nicer than looking out the window)….

The blocks for this quilt (ughhh I’m already calling these quilts rather than the patchworks that they are…it makes me get cross with myself..in my mind they don’t become quilts ’til they are at least basted)…are all six inches wide.  I felt too much detail with some of the larger printed fabrics would be lost cutting them up, so used them as bold blocks of colour alternating around the stars.

I know my colour choices aren’t for the faint at heart, but in real life rather than pictures, these colours are much more subtle, also, once they have been quilted over, then seams and changes in colour will begin to blur and blend, soften and become a whole rather than lots of small sections.

Regarding quilting….initially I was planning to quilt these the same as the quilt for Miss Olive, however to create the effect I want, that lovely, old, hand me down and homey feeling, then as far as I’m concerned there is really only one choice….my absolute favourite of quilting patterns...the baptist fan.

Izzy hiding amongst the broccoli

 

As promised from the other week…this is the other little cutie who’s moved in next door.  Her name is Izzy (though I keep calling her Jiji as I think she looks so much like the little cat in Kiki’s Delivery Service)…mostly she likes to sit underneath the broccoli and keep an eye on all what’s going on from there…..or she’s up in the big tree in the corner of our garden…I couldn’t quite believe how fast she can spring up there, compared with how slowly and cumbersome Bernard now clambers about the branches….(when he does manage to get up there he then needs assistance to get down!)

 

little Izzy under the broccoli

 

I’m really pleased with how Bernard is getting along with his new neighbours, I guess in part it’s because they are only quite young so he can boss them about a bit…most mornings they are peeping round the shed waiting for him to saunter out in the garden, then there is lots of nose rubbing between the three of them, followed by a little communal washing….if they get a bit too boisterous he puts his paw on their heads and washes them to calm them down….another bonus is that Bernard spends so much time now running around the garden playing chase with them that he sleeps pretty much right through the night which makes a big difference to us (the constant waking and mewing just for a tummy rub was really interfering with our sleep)……..

Both little kitties are quite jumpy when I’m outside, though Izzy managed to sneak into the kitchen yesterday when I was hanging out laundry…I guess the back door was on the jar and she slipped in…. I don’t know who got the biggest shock when I came back into the kitchen and saw her sitting there….she bolted out through the cat flap and like a flash she was back under the broccoli.

joined stars and squares

 

Pretty much the only part I don’t really like about piecing patchwork is joining the long strips together ( I even quite enjoy laying out and pinning taut the separate layers that make up the “sandwich” of a quilt and then carefully hand basting them all together…it’s hard on the back and knees but it’s the point where the patchwork becomes a quilt…)….partly because I always, no matter how careful I am being, end up pricking myself, but there’s also a little heart pang of sadness too….the beginning of saying goodbye to something that has been a constant in my head and hands for the past few weeks……to make sewing the patchwork for “quilt number two” a little more easier (at least on the fingers), I decided to piece the patchwork in sections rather than long strips which look like fabric scarves….

Sewing the squares and stars together like this made it a lot easier to handle (even though this is a relatively small quilt, handling all those pins can be a bit tiresome with pin pricked finger tips…I favour those small glass headed pins which seem to be particular sharp and pointy)….

 

joining the blocks together

 

As it’s a more sure way of keeping those points on the stars, I prefer to sew with the star block uppermost, finishing my row of sewing a little way along the joining block…..then turn my work over and sew that side with the star on top…it sounds a bit of a pfaffle but it’s really very easy.  And I realize while writing this I should have taken pictures to explain it a bit better.

 

patchwork stars and squares

 

Another thing I do to help keep those star tips sharp is about a cm or half an inch from the point seam, gently pull down the top section of patchwork and come up slightly with my line of sewing while checking to see my stitch line is still level on the back, sewing by hand I can easily unpick and resew it if it isn’t quite right… then as the needle point passes separately through the seams, I bring the sewing line back down again.

When you are joining squares together it’s different because you want to keep your sewing line level on both sides…..a couple of star tips aren’t quite as sharp as I’d have liked them but I know once this is all quilted then everything will look grand.

 

pieced stars and squares

 

I particularly like using prints in different colourways, it adds an extra level of interest to the patchwork, and there are 3 examples of where I’ve used repeat prints above…..a pretty Lecien print in both pink and green…..a Windham floral print in yellow and green and a Chloe’s Closet for Moda floral print in pink and purple.

In part I’m able to do this because I really do try to be quite careful and considered in my fabric buying…. (much to the boyfriend’s disbelief) ..if I like a print I try to see whether it’s available in other colourways, and then if it is (and only if I like those colours) I might buy a fat quarter of a couple of them……this isn’t always the way.  Sometimes I like a print in only a particular colour, and if I like it enough then I buy it, but it does help if the other colour ways are nice too as it makes for happy mixing or matching down the road.  But also, there are many times when what is in my wallet will only allow me to buy just the one fat quarter.

 

selection of pieced stars and squares

 

And sometimes the print only seems to be available in the one version and that’s fine too… I only saw this blue Lecien print in that lovely soft powdery blue, and just fell in love…..I thought it worked brilliantly with the pink fabric (oh yes…it’s the Ikea duvet again…)

When I buy new fabric I cut out a small square (1 1/2 inch square) and sellotape them into a small notebook, and write down the company and studio it’s by, and also write down where it’s been bought from.  I use double sided tape and cut a whole load of inch squares of tape,and pre-stuck some dozen or so pages in a notebook in advance of any future fabric purchases…. This makes me sound very organized (or a bit OCD) but all too often I’ve forgotten who even produced a fabric let alone where it was from and depending on how a fat quarter is cut you don’t always get the information on the selvedge so it’s best to make a note at the time of purchase.

The little notebook means that as longer as I remember to pack it with me, I can check at a glance what’s in my fabric collection…it’s a good memory aid and has often helped me decide whether to buy a fabric (if it has complimented a fabric sitting at home) or whether to leave it on the shelf.

early moning shadows

 

Completed little star blocks are pinned up on my design board….this was the view that greeted me as early morning sunlight cast shadows over one side of my work room…..strings of crocheted flower garlands are threaded and strung across the window and their shadows flicker and dance across the pinned patchwork blocks…..

Spring and Summer morning sewing is always a treat, I never really feel down hearted or lacking in what I’m going to do in this space, it’s often I have too much I want to do and there is just never enough time or pairs of hands to get it all done…..

 

vintage threads

 

Standing back and looking at the patchwork I can see favourite thread colours appearing…and realize how influenced I was when choosing fabric for these quilts by a basket of recent purchases of vintage threads, many of these still had their original wrappings which I can honestly say I had not the slightest qualm or mis-giving about removing….that crinkle of cellophane being removed is one of life’s great (but tiny) pleasures…..for those of us that are of least a certain age, it’s a bit like how the feel and sound of splitting the foil of a Kit Kat bar with a finger nail used to be…..

 

nine litle stars

 

I’ve received some comments about the colours I’ve chosen and am currently writing up a post trying to describe how I chose them….it’s not easy because often it relies on what other colours are in a particular print (last Summer when I was sewing blocks for “dear ethel” I used a lot of pink and yellow together, but not all my pink fabrics worked with every yellow print, it’s often a case of emptying out fabric boxes, spreading everything out and just playing ’til you find that perfect combination)…..really there is only one rule…

Only buy fabric that you love.

I’ve not always followed this myself, and have the “hmmmm what was I thinking” fabrics at the bottom of the baskets to prove it….(also I have been given fabric over the years that people thought I would like…I love cats, just not a fan of cat prints I’m afraid) ….over time making quilts I think I’ve become more confident in what I do like…I’ve read how quilts need balance, light, mid and dark tones, prints of different sizes, plains and patterns….and you know what, I don’t really seem to follow that advice…I don’t use a lot of dark fabrics, rarely use plain, I like to use small prints and tend to avoid big ones.  Maybe my choices wouldn’t always pass inspection by “the quilt police” but on the whole, I use what I love.

 

first lay out of patchwork

 

For this second quilt or “quilt number two”…I wanted to incorporate some busier prints but which because of the size of the blocks I was sewing, knew a lot of the detail in them would be lost.  Also, because the blocks were only six inches wide, it wasn’t really a viable option to sew each one up out of tiny patchwork pieces.  Using six inch squares of fabric helped bring in some of the other fabrics I’d wanted to use, and also allowed me to sew some small blocks but without tying myself down for too long (at the end of the day this is a paid commission and I need to be able to make it in a certain amount of time.)

Because my design board isn’t that big I ended up having to arrange all the star blocks and squares out on my bed, it’s not the end of the world doing it this way, but it’s always easier when you can step back and take a more considered view.

To start I just began laying out the stars, then placed squares where I thought they looked best.  Then when I was happy, went and made a pot of tea, leaving the patchwork for a while to be able to come back to view it with fresh eyes……. (as you can see I’m not a huge fan of ironing the fabric everytime I use it…I’m careful how I cut the fabric out, and by the time it’s been joined in and basted and quilted….,those wrinkles will be gone….. like Keyser Soze.

 

final patchwork lay out

 

Viewing the patchwork again after some cups of tea and playing with Bernard in the garden, I saw too many groupings of a particular colour, too much yellow in one area, diagonal rows of green…so slowly began moving squares and stars until I felt there was a more happy balance.

Then to be double sure, left it alone again, made lunch before returning….this time…felt very happy.

I’ve said before that some patchworks I’ve made feel like photo albums, looking at the fabric I’m reminded of friends and family, bags stuffed full of fabric gifted by one sister, altering my Nanny’s pink striped bed linen, a huge fabric hoard gifted by dear Sylvia, scrap assortments given by the lady who taught me to quilt, pieces left over from family quilts……it’s one of the greatest pleasures of “scrap quilts”..incorporating all those happy memories in something handmade……some of my favourite fabrics are here, I hope they’ll become as loved by Peggy and Pearl as they are by me.

sticky and sweet sourdough buns

(sweet and sticky sugar syrup drenched sourdough and saffron Ostara buns pretty much straight out of the oven)

 

For the past umpteen years, around this time in the calender I’ve made spiced fruited buns….even though I can’t really tolerate wheat and grains anymore I felt it would be a bit mean to the boyfriend to not make them and to be honest, I wanted to make them for myself.  Even though I’m not going to be eating them, the pleasure of making certain foods at particular points of the year is incredibly pleasurable.  Even though I could make these any old time of the year, I never do…it’s the same with gingerbread cake and biscuits, once it’s January then I want citrusy smells in the kitchen rather than the spiced warm aroma of sticky gingerbread.  (Unless it’s snowy then in that case a big tray of sticky ginger scented cake seems perfectly acceptable).

I thought I’d experiment a bit this year, normally I use a recipe adapted from an Elizabeth David one, but thought to try and make some using our sourdough starter.

As I’m really only making them for the beloved one, I’m just making a small amount but I’m sure you could easily tinker with this recipe to make a larger batch…….if reading through you think. what a complete and utter palaver and hoo-hah…..let me assure you that these really are very easy to make, mostly they are made up in stages, so you can potter about in the kitchen then leave the dough to do whatever then come back and potter a bit more….

 

Saffron and Sourdough Ostara buns

Ingredients

For the buns

170 ml milk

100 g sourdough starter

40 g soft brown sugar

380 g bread flour

1/2 level teaspoon of dry yeast (barely even that to be honest)

1 egg (I used a large one)

45 g melted butter

50 g currents

25 g mixed peel

1 1/2 teaspoons of spice mix (I used a blend of ginger, star anise, mace and a pinch of freshly ground cumin)

For the egg wash

a little left of the egg from the bread mix

a dribble or so of milk

For the flour paint

a couple heaped tablespoons of plain flour

a teaspoon of castor sugar

couple of tablespoons of water

For the sugar glaze

a tablespoon of castor sugar

a tablespoon of just boiled water

 

sourdough buns after a night in the fridge

(sourdough buns after a night in the fridge…)

 

Method.

Weigh out the sourdough starter, cover with a clean tea towel, set it to one side and allow it to come to room temperature.

Using just a few strands of saffron, scatter them into some milk and gently warm it so that the saffron infuses the milk with both it’s colour and scent.  Allow to stand for half an hour or so.

In a large bowl, mix 100g of the bread flour with the starter.

Warm the milk through a little, and then pour into the starter and flour mix.  Sprinkle the dry yeast over the wet ingredients and then stir in the brown sugar.  Cover and leave to one side for about an hour.

Break and beat one egg, (save about a teaspoon or so of it and keep to one side for the egg wash) stir into the sponge, add the currents and fruit peel, melted butter, spice mix, salt and about 2/3rds of the remaining flour and then stir together before turning on to lightly floured work surface and kneed together, adding more flour as the dough requires it.

Once the dough is ready, place it into a large bowl that has been lightly oiled and then cover with a clean tea towel.

Allow to prove for at least 3 hours and then gently knock the risen dough back down.

Cut the dough into half and then half again, before dividing the dough into smaller walnut or clementine sized pieces.  (I found this was enough to make 16 small sized balls)

Roll out into small balls and place on a baking sheet that has been lined with baking parchment.

With the blunt edge of a plastic spatular, press across the centre of each ball of dough and then across ways, pressing down pretty firmly to make a “cross” pattern in the middle of the bun.  (you might find the spatula sticks a bit, so dabbing it in flour every few buns helps to stop this)…At this point the buns are about the size of flattened walnuts and somewhat doll sized….don’t worry, just let them do their thing.

Place in the fridge and leave overnight.

 

allow the buns to rise at room temp for about an hour and a half

(allow the sourdough buns to rise at room temp for about an hour and a half)

 

First thing in the morning, remove buns out of the fridge.  I know, they don’t look very impressive but they just need to wake up…. allow them to rise for about an hour and a half.

After about an hour and ten minutes turn on your oven to around gas 6 and let it heat up for about 20 minutes or so.

Beat the little bit of egg and a splash of milk to make the egg wash, coat the buns .

 

paint the buns with flour and sugar water crosses

(dribble over the flour and sugar water to highlight the cross pattern in the centre of the buns…)

 

Mix together the flour and caster sugar, add enough warm water to form a paste, try not to make it too runny.  Drizzle the paste over the buns so that you are high-lighting the cross quarters on top.  (you don’t have to do this, Elizabeth David calls it unnecessary fiddling, and I didn’t make up quite enough to mark all mine, so figure if Elizabeth David says not to worry then I’m not going to lose any sleep over 5 unmarked buns…I would suggest still giving the buns an egg wash and then basting with the sugar syrup when they come out of the oven though)

Place the tray in the oven and bake for between 17 and 20 minutes.

A few minutes before the buns are due to come out of the oven, mix the tablespoon of caster sugar with a little boiled water and stir well so that the sugar completely dissolves.

As soon as the buns come out of the oven, cover them with the sugar glaze.

Tear the buns open and spread with salty butter.

We’ve just had these for breakfast, they smelt amazing when I took them out of the oven, and the boyfriend said they were so light and delicious that I had to taste a little bit of one for myself (a complete lack of self control found me then eating one all to myself so expect I’ll have an achy tummy later…but it was worth it.)  They really are light, but not in that filled with airy insipidness that the supermarket ones seems to have. Not too sweet and nice and spicy.

This ended up making 16 small sized buns.

piecing tiny triangles

 

I’ve now finished sewing the eighteen little six inch star blocks for “quilt number two”…..this was the last one, mixing a new fabric with some of the Ikea jumble sale duvet cover (it really must be the best bargain I’ve ever bought and I feel quite sad that there’s barely a metre now left)……

While I’ve been hand piecing I’ve been listening to some of my favourite music, no distractions like when I think watching Pride and Prejudice doesn’t slow me down…it does, I’m just too easily distracted by Lizzie Bennet and Mister Darcy…..also I am a bit of a pin dropper so just sewing in my work room instead of all over the house is a bit kinder on my boyfriend’s feet.

 

piecing triangles

 

Listening to the same cd’s most of which I’ve had for ages helps me fall into the familiar rhythms of sewing, my mind can just wander and drift off…..and then I look up and often surprise myself with my progress and the pile of pieces sewn.

Possibly my favourite singer/songwriter to listen to is Vashti Bunyun….her voice is easily one of the most beautiful sounds I think I’ve ever heard…she’s only made 4 albums but each one is wonderful. Her songs are gentle and somewhat melancholic but I don’t mind that….As much as I like her first album (Just Another Diamond Day) I heard her latest one (Heartleap) recently and it’s possibly even more loved…which I didn’t think was possible.  One of the 4 albums is a singles and demo selection which is nice as you can hear her talking.

 

pins and piecing

 

Following very closely is Kate Rusby….I first heard of her because she sang the title music in a wonderful and funny series called Jam and Jerusalem (wish they’d made a fourth series..)….she’s made loads and loads of albums but my favourite would be a tie between Little Lights…The Girl who Couldn’t Fly and Awkward Annie….possibly Little Lights wins it because it features my favourite song by her called My Young Man…it’s a song about her grandparents and it just breaks my heart listening to it…it’s so beautiful and sad and even though it always make me cry when I hear it, it’s one of the most moving and tenderest songs I can think of.

A Kate Bush cd is never very far away from my cd player……Wuthering Heights is my all time favourite song…when my little record player was still working I used to like playing the actual record I had from the seventies and generally dance along, fling myself around the living room to it (I’ve got quite long hair so in my head I really could be just like Kate Bush…..my Babooshka dance is a thing to see indeed!)…..nowadays I just have it on a cd, the sound doesn’t seem quite so warm, so alive, but it’s my desert island disc I’d save from the waves.  I love listening to her 50 words for Snow album (I could listen to Stephen Fry listing words for snow all day long) but possibly The Red Shoes owns a bigger piece of my heart……

 

patchwork piecing

 

Other favourite artists include The Webb sisters, their melodies and harmonies are just amazing….I do sometimes just have to put down my sewing and close my eyes and listen…I can’t sing for toffee so never fail to be overwhelmed by the absolute beauty of their voices….

Another singer who I love to listen to is Enya….my boyfriend isn’t such a fan (generally there is a deep sigh and “is that Enya you’re playing” followed by an eye roll before he walks off…so I tend to play her music while I’m at home in the day time….I particularly like “Paint the Sky with Stars” which is a best of album….I can still remember hearing Orinoco Flow for the first time, it’s still one of my favourite pieces by her.

 

pink and green patchwork

 

I also like Emmylou Harris, mostly her work from the early seventies.  I first heard of her because I like a singer called Gram Parsons and she sang a lot with him before he died in 1973.  Their duets together are just wonderful to listen to…time stands still while they are singing.

A bit of a change in pace…..I can always listen to Johnny Cash, I’m happy to hear those Sun recordings, songs sung with June or his later “American recordings”……and that brings me to June Carter and The Carter Family, Bluegrass music, Nancy Sinatra (especially the music recorded with Lee Hazlewood…..Their Nancy and Lee album is one of my favourites)

Lastly another singer I particularly like is Jackie Oates….her version of Lavender’s Blue never fails to lift my heart….and the little film she made for Young Johnson made me laugh out loud the first time I saw it, and it still makes me smile each time I watch it.

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The Domestic Soundscape

making, listening, thinking

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knitting + sounds from Felicity Ford AKA Felix

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The Visible Mending Programme: making and re-making

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