oh Bernard what big paws you have

 

Happy birthday my beautiful beautiful boy……..8 years ago this wonderful naughty, sometimes smelly but always beloved cat mended a very broken heart……after my last cat passed away I was so full of grief, she’d been such a cherished companion, full of cuddles and comfort when my dad died, and helping me through a stage of my life that had left me feeling bewildered and ill and really not able to cope with a situation I didn’t want to be in……..she was so vocal and sing songy, all prurps, chirps and squeeky mews….she used to like sleeping under a gas heater ’til her fur smelt scorchy and I’d have to move her, she was a lap stretcher outer and although she had no teeth she was always on the rotund side.  She used to snore really loudly (over the telly!) and her tummy smelt of Weetabix and warm milk.

When she passed I said that was it, my heart felt so torn and empty and I cried and cried and cried…that was on a Monday, by Friday I found myself looking at cats on the local animal shelter’s website….not because I had stopped loving her but, I hope this makes sense, because I’d loved her so so much that I still had all this cat love in my heart, and no where to channel it.

 

stretchy

 

After a few more weeks of just looking, me and my boyfriend went to the animal shelter and there I met a rather whiffy, dreadlocked and dirty cat called Brutus… I asked if I could pet him and when his door was opened he leapt into my arms, rubbed himself against me (he was an un-neutered tom so I totally reeked), and purred so loudly.  I started crying (I’m a bit daft when it comes to animals) because I just loved him straight off…….after a home check I went back the following week and bought home a rather different looking cat (he’d had his operation but had also been shaved as his fur was so matted and tangled and fur sausage-y so looked most peculiar with a furry head and tail and then had a haircut that looks like your mum has done it).  We changed his name to Bernard because he made me think of Bernard Cribbins, all whiskery and grey and mutton choppy.

 

wriggling on the patio

 

That first night he waited at the bottom of the stairs ’til we called him up, he galloped up into the bedroom, jumped onto the bed and after a quick prod of the covers, settled himself down with a long sigh and the start of a lullaby of purring and paddy paws against my side.

We think he was 3 when he came into our life so he’s 11 now and is still incredibly kitteny…he loves crochet blankets and balls of wool are pounced on and played with…he’s also a cheap date and likes chasing round

a ball of scrunched paper….favourite foods are broccoli (he’ll jump up and pinch it off our plates) the soft inside of brioche or croissants, mini cheddar biscuits and Whiskers Temptations or cheap cat treats from the market (they smell horrific like scampi Nik Naks but he loves them)…he’s a milk-jug-paw-dipper and stares right at you when he’s being naughty……now he’s getting older he’s become proper windy, sometimes there’s a trumpety sound mostly we just get “treated” with a nose wrinkling aroma”……..

 

nap time

 

He doesn’t like being brushed, he’ll just about tolerate it if he’s fed treats while the other one of us carefully brushes his coat. He loves being coased and stoked and paid attention to.  He’s very good at supervising and generally when my sewing table is full of carefully laid out patchwork pieces he’ll jump up and re-arrange it to suit himself…or will throw wool or pin cushions onto the floor to make room enough to stretch himself out so he can watch me working.

 

garden end of april 027

 

He’s pretty sociable and when we have guests he rubs round their legs, will even jump onto their laps (especially if they sit near where his treats are kept)……he likes tummy rubs during the night, this involves us getting up, half stumble down the stairs just to coo and fuss round him, rub his tummy, then we’ll be ignored while he buries his nose in his food bowl.  Quite why he does this is a mystery, but then he’ll come back upstairs, jump on the bed and settle down all cuddled up next to me and I fall back asleep to the soft vibration of his purr.

 

a pink nosed poppet called Bob

 

But who’s this pink nosed poppet?  We have new neighbours and although I can’t remember the peoples names, their cats are called Bob and Izzy.  This little sweetie is Bob (Izzy is a gold and amber eyed, black furred cutie)….they’re only young, 8 months and are both quite curious and keep appearing in our garden.  Bernard isn’t quite sure what to make of them and when he’s in the garden spends half his time ignoring them, or chasing Bob who then chases him back.  There was a little washing and rubbing of noses so I think a friendship is slowly being formed.  Every so often the cat flap makes a noise and when I go to see what it is, there is Bob’s little face peering at the cat window with a “is Bernard coming out to play” expression….I open the door and he bolts up the path then peeks round a flower pot.  It’s not a great photo, in real life Bob is so adorable and cute and just …..too too sweet.

Anyway I wanted to write a special piece about my most beloved boy because he totally means the world to me……this dustbin find* kitty is truly magical and although I still miss my “madam oh lait”** he mended a very broken heart.

*yes, he was found in a bin, one of those big catering ones by a take away restaurant and was eating kebabs and chips, pizza…that kind of thing.  He now turns his nose up at a lot of cat foods and is a proper fussy eater.

**this was her secret name as all cats have at least three don’t you know.

bright little grany squares

 

I’m well over half way with sewing in the woolly tails on my crocheted nine square patches (it’s a name of a patchwork block which they resemble) and to give my fingers a bit of a rest from sewing, and must admit I was also getting impatient to start joining the patches together, over the weekend when I wasn’t working on designs and colour-ways for a quilt commission I found some time to crochet some blocks together…….

 

more nine square patches

 

All the yarn ended up being sprawled out on the carpet so I could see all the colours at once, while I sat on the sofa with a pot of tea half watching old movies. To begin with I joined the the patches together with a 3.75 crochet hook but afterwards decided the central cross of new squares all looked a bit chubby so I dropped a couple of hooks in size and found a 3.25 hook made a smaller and neater little square.

I used Brittany hooks as they are my favourite crochet hook to use (their knitting needles are also lovely to hand and knit with…..I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a particularly knitter but I’ve got some very fancy knitting needles which I believe will help encourage me to be a better knitter.  I have some pretty coloured vintage needles but my knitting just sticks to them so they are more of a window display than something I’d actually care to use anymore.)

 

layingtwo strips together

 

Just because the joined patches were getting a bit cumbersome to work I found it easier to make up halfsies (two patches crocheted together) and then to join those two parts together to make a big square (they come up about the size of a decent sized cushion cover).

Some colour combinations I’m not too sure about but rather unravel any I’m just plowing on (though am trying to be as considerate as I can with my colours.)  I think some of the oddness comes from trying to repeat groupings of colours I used when I was making the grannies paperweight pattern in tapestry wool.

I’ve written so much about this, that the colours available when working with tapestry wool just blend in so well and although some choices didn’t quite sit right, most really glowed and came alive.  I’m really not finding that with the acrylic yarn*, and when I laid my granny scare scarf next to what I’ve made here, the difference was to me very noticeable.  (I will take a photo so you can see what I mean)

 

joining two strips

 

Once the two half sides were crocheted together it was much easier to then join those two parts.  Crocheting in the little central squares was actually pretty easy, and I only missed the join a couple of times which meant a quick unravel and then re-crocheting the square in (oh so much less complicated than knitting).  I didn’t mind if colour combinations get repeated at all but do try to make each square sits next to one of a different colour.  This is made much easier by having all the yarn spread around me with a pile of tiny two round squares next to me on the sofa, ready to pick up and join in straight away.

Obviously balls of coloured yarn spread out on the carpet is seen as a great game to some, so when Bernard came strolling in and saw the carpet covered he thought I’d provided him with an afternoons entertainment…….pouncing on and then unravelling around himself** balls of yarn is the very greatest of larks in his book…..

 

four patches joined

 

This is one of the finished joined together four patches…..you can see the “chubby” central cross of squares which I’m hoping will pull into shape and not be quite so noticeable once all the squares are joined together.  This was made before I switched to a smaller hook so I think the other ones I’ve made will look better.  I’ve got 5 of these joined so I’m over halfway (though I have more woolly tails to sew in)……I’m really trying to keep this as my evening “something to do” thing, where I can just pick something up while we watch a film or listen to music….evening light downstairs isn’t good enough to sew by (sewing in the tails is done with a big fat needle which is easily spotted if it is dropped) I’m trying not to get distracted by it to work on at other times when the light is more suitable for embroidery or sewing.

*I totally understand peoples reasons for using acrylic, it’s very easy on the purse or wallet as it’s generally cheap as chips, it washes, and I’m pretty sure it’s good if you have a wool allergy, but I really do prefer working in wool. Reading this back I do sound very fussy and maybe I am, I’ve just gotten to an age where I know what I like and what I don’t.  I much prefer the feel of wool, it’s less sticky on a needle or hook, it doesn’t squeak and also my hair always get very static-y when I’m handling acrylic yarn so in part it is also a vanity thing.

** he also grabs a ball of yarn and runs off with it, it’s then found later all bedraggled in the hallway or wrapped round the legs of chairs and tables.

twin star

 

Stupidly I didn’t check my phone yesterday and just before I went to bed I saw a message with the exciting news that the twins* have arrived.  Yippee….but I still haven’t decided on a design for their quilts yet.

I’ve been playing around with “twin star”, working it on white (but then hesitate as I wonder if that is such a practical colour for babies), mixing it with different coloured nine patch blocks.

I love scrap quilts but at the same time I’m trying to restrain using every colour (or fabric)  under the sun, I want the quilts to be bright and cheery but not so bright they just become a big old mash of colours.  The quilts aren’t going to be huge so I don’t want the colour to overpower the design.

 

variation on twin star

 

I then tried out using nine patch blocks which would be the same repeating colour/fabric combination…..and tried it at the same time as colouring the “twin star” background rather than leave it white……. maybe if the background fabric was very pale, but right now I’m preferring the white.

 

twin star patchwork

 

 

Then I decided to go a different way and work the twin star as a block quilt with sashing in between…I love this style of quilt (it’s what I’m slowly planning for “dear ethel”  though she’s more of a sampler being made up of different blocks rather than one repeating.

Last year I made the “churn dash” quilt for baby Ivo, it comprises a series of small “churn dash” blocks and then I used white sashing and assorted fabrics for the intercrossed squares, and that still looks nice in pictures I’ve seen with baby Ivo cuddling it (he’s nearly two so not really baby Ivo anymore).

I had a little play in the margin, colouring the “twin star” in different ways, seeing which combination worked better…and I’m still undecided.  It’s really difficult designing for twins.  I’d like both quilts to match, but look different…but I don’t want one quilt to look nicer than the other.  The fabrics for each quilt will mostly be the same (reproduction fabrics from the 30’s) with a few unique to just one quilt so whatever I make they’ll have those fabrics in common.  It’s a really tricky dilemma.

Being told “make what you like, any colours will be fine” is both the nicest thing to be told but when there is such a variety of blocks and fabrics and colours suddenly it makes designing a quilt feel difficult.  I’m sure this is just me having a bit of one, and if you are reading it are then thinking “what is she on, this sounds like a wonderful commission, she must be nutty”……

*their names are Peggy and Pearl.

rosemary and raisin sourdough bread

 

I was inspired to bake this Rosemary and Raisin sourdough after seeing some on Phoebe Wahl’s instagram page….it looked really good and as we have a huge rosemary bush in our garden (though it’s flopped over on it’s side now from all the snow we got a few years ago) I thought I’d make use of it and add it in some baking.  I didn’t see a recipe mentioned on Phoebe’s page so made up my own and I think it came out pretty good, smelling both fruity and herby.

I used my regular soughdough recipe which is my starting block now for all sorts of breads (I made a focaccia style loaf last weekend which was salty and oily, with springs of rosemary and fat olives squished deep into the dough) and just made sure it got a nice long prove……the beloved one seemed a bit sceptical when I told him I’d used raisins and rosemary together, (I don’t think he thought the flavours were going to work) however after happily eating two slices for toast this morning for a second breakfast it received praise so guess I can make it again.

The only thing I’d change next time is using a little less rosemary, to be honest I just cut a couple of sprigs and then happily snipped the leaves into the dough with some kitchen scissors….so maybe one sprig would have been plenty (this is at my sweeties suggestion so maybe try it once with one sprig and then if it’s not herby enough add more next time)

sometimes I add more oats, up to 150 g, and then use a little less flour.  I find this helps to keep the bread nice and moist but the bread only lasts a few days before it’s all eaten so doesn’t get much chance to really dry out.

Rosemary and Raisin Sourdough

Ingredients for the sponge

1 tsp of dry yeast (if you use fresh yeast then I guess you’d need twice that amount)

1 desert spoon (like you’d eat pudding or cereal with) of good quality honey

150 g of starter (natural leaven)

400 ml of warm water

200 g bread flour (I always use Shipton’s bread flour)

100 g whole rolled oats (I like Flahavans or Mornflake jumbo oats)

a big handful of raisins

a sprig of rosemary

Rest of Ingredients

200 g bread flour

200 g of spelt flour

(or just use 400 g of bread flour if you don’t have spelt)

a good glug of sunflower oil

Maldon sea salt (or similar), ground fine

some extra bread flour for when you are kneeding

Method

First of all you need to make a sponge, so in a large bowl, add the yeast, honey, starter and warm water to the bread flour and rolled oats.  Mix and cover with a clean tea towel.  Leave for 30 – 45 minutes until it’s nice and bubbly.

Then add the rest of the flour, the salt, the raisins and the glug of oil.  Snip the rosemary leaves in too.

Begin to knead and add more flour if you need it.  Turn out on to a work surface and knead until the dough becomes silky and supple. While you are doing this it helps if you can fill the bowl with warm water so you can get it clean and ready for when the bread proves.

Lightly oil the clean bowl and pop in the dough.  Cover with the clean tea towel and leave to prove (or rise) until it’s doubled (around 3 hours)

Once the dough has doubled, gently knock back and place in a round floured proving basket or banneton (I bought an extra large one from Shipton Mill and it’s brilliant) cover with some floured muslin or a tea towel and allow to prove for a further 40 minutes or so….

After 20 minutes, turn your oven on to gas 7.  Allow your oven to get nice and hot, about 20 minutes.

Turn the dough on to a baking sheet (I tend to line mine with a sheet of baking parchment) and bake at gas 7 for 20 minutes, then turn down to gas 6 and continue to bake for another 35/40 minutes.

Remove and stand on a cooling rack, allow to fully cool before eating. (very good with salty butter)

colouring blocks

 

Last Summer when I was going a little patchwork crazy hand piecing six inch blocks for “dear ethel”, I found myself repeating a couple of the blocks that I had previously sewn.  I’d planned (planned makes it sound like there was a method to the madness….there wasn’t.  I just picked blocks that I like in somewhat of a willy nilly fashion) for all the blocks to be different so rather than keep unpicking doubles I began to draw out and colour in blocks I’d made so I had a record of what I’d pieced so far…..

 

a record of dear ethel blocks

 

I’d bought the excellent 5,500 quilt blocks the other October (this is such an air punchingly awesome book….it’s often available second hand on numerous internet book sites and prices do seem to go up and down a lot, there is a paperback edition as well as a hard back, and if you live in the UK you should be able to rent it out from your local library.  It’s in the system in Norfolk, so if your local library doesn’t have it then they can order it in from Norfolk…it costs around £4 I think to do this but it’s worth it as it is a fantastic source of blocks)………

So I knew what I was doing and didn’t get confused by what is a very simple system, after making around some 40 or so blocks, I worked through the above mentioned tome and drew out any blocks that I thought might work well, writing down the number of the block underneath the block.  I’d noted down which blocks I had already made and drew them in numerical order so I could keep track of what I’d sewn so far.

(I used the numbers from the above book for my blocks)

 

coloured blocks for dear ethel

 

Most of the blocks I used are based on 9 square grid (3 x 3)….a few are 16 patches (4 x 4) but as the blocks are quite small being 6 inches square I thought that the 9 patch size would be the easiest for dividing and hand piecing.  I think the smallest square or half triangle is like 1 inch, which I felt was small enough for my patchwork (and my eyes).

 

dear ethel blocks

 

Something I did find by working in a book was how I was able to keep track of colours used….when the sewn blocks are laid out I am aware of some repeats of colour combination (pink and yellow just kept being made together again and again) but it’s more subtle as the shades change, the fabric patterns are different….when I was looking at the coloured blocks it was more noticeable and it made me start thinking about moving away from old favourites and to try out new palettes and blends.

While “dear ethel” is about using my favourite fabrics and making a quilt for me (it’s not for a quilt show or competition, it’s for me…there’s no deadline and if it takes how ever many years to make then that is fine….slow sewing indeed) I didn’t want it to be just a yellow and pink quilt or a orange and grey one….so some combinations of colours aren’t ones that I normally use…and I think it’s looking all the better for it.

 

dear ethel variations

 

Once I’d drawn out around 175 blocks that I felt happy with, I coloured in the blocks that I’d already made then began working through and sewing up the other blocks.  I made a note of how many colours each block had, and what they were called which sometimes made a colour choice very apt.

Mostly I just played around with a few fabrics before deciding on particular choices, fabrics that were appearing time and time again were kept to one side, it’s always hard with favourite fabrics to keep using them but I’ve got a lot of favourites and wanted them all to have their chance to shine….

Some favourites I realise are because of the fabrics used, they hold such a high place in my heart (the striped bed sheet from Nanny, the faded pink pillowcase from the car boot, the tiny scrap of red fabric of flowers in plant pots*), other blocks constantly make me smile, whatever the fabrics used (churn dash and variable stars particularly make my heart bet that much faster)

 

keeping track of blocks used

 

Some blocks once drawn were made and then coloured in but on reflection weren’t used, they get unpicked and are used in other blocks.  I noted which these were as a reminder for another time…..(you’ll see a couple of these if you click twice on the above picture…they just looked odd and jarring compared to the other blocks……even though I made other blocks all of one colour, these particular ones really weren’t doing it for me.)  But a couple of minutes unpicking, a press with an iron and the fabric is fine and dandy, all ready to try again in another block.

Flicking through this has been really helpful while I’ve been planning the quilt’s for Olive’s sisters…it’s reminded me of blocks I particularly liked, and of blocks that I liked but for various reasons didn’t get chosen for “dear ethel”…I think (and I really do need to re-count them) that I still need one more block.

 

recording which blocks are used for dear ethel

 

I wasn’t fussed about trying to reproduce the fabrics I’d used, just noting the colour was more important…when required I show stripes or spots but that is as fancy as it gets….it’s really a resource for me to keep track of what I’ve made and which blocks I liked.

I find working in a sketchbook really does make a difference to how I come to an idea (it generally involves a lot less un-picking)…not everything is planned out first (and I’ve had more than my fair share of successes by just going with what feels right) but when I take the time to have a play around with some colouring pencils then I inevitably come up with something that I wasn’t able to see in my head….and often what looks shimmery almost dancing at the edge of my vision, but the best quilt in the world, looks completely pants once I start drawing it out and trying to understand how the pieces fit.

*being super cheeky, if you have any of this or know where I can get it then please please do let me know….I think I bought it about 10 years ago and it’s possibly a Lecien print but really I’m just guessing.

almond and apple cake

 

Last weekend it was my sweeties birthday and there was a request put in for birthday cake…..most years I make a chocolate cake but of late our oven has started playing up (we really need to get a new one) and about the only cakes that seem to come out nicely are slow baked light fruit ones or a Sunday apple cake…..

I’d also made some flapjacks the day before and had an open bag of ground almonds and thought to try a couple of spoonfuls in the apple cake (actually I just gave the bag a shake over the cake mixture and guessed what was going in)…other changes included using freshly ground mace blades and using all the apple in the cake rather than saving a little to slice and place on the top……the results very very good (almost exceedingly so if I wanted to pretend to be Englands most famous baker of cakes!)

 

apple and almond cake

 

Everyone agreed it was very light , more so than normally and it certainly felt moister when I was cutting it for driving home snacks the next day.  The cake lasted a few more days as evening pudding (I’m not sure it even got to touch the sides of the beloved one’s mouth…one blink and the cake is gone)…..

I used ground mace as I wanted it to have a nice fresh citrusy taste and the mace compliments the lemon zest really well, though in the past I’ve used cinnamon and a little star anise……it’s always tricky for me to judge because I don’t actually like this cake (cooked apple makes me pull those faces children make when eating sprouts or broccoli) but it’s one of the sweeties all time favourites* so I’m always quite happy to make it for him.

*this gets picked more frequently than a chocolate cake so I guess it must be okay as he is a complete chocolate fiend!

 

the cake hasn't lasted long

 

 

Almond and Apple Cake

ingredients

1 large cooking apple or 2 smaller ones.  (You need about 225g of prepared apple)

225g self raising flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp of freshly ground mace

125g cold unsalted butter

125g caster sugar plus 1 extra tbsp

2 medium sized eggs

zest of a lemon

a couple of heaped tablespoons of ground almonds

method

Preheat your oven to gas 5, lightly butter a 20cm spring-form cake tin, put in a circle of baking parchment and then flour the sides.

Sift the flour, baking powder and ground mace into a large bowl.  Try not to use too much of the spice as you want to be able to taste the apple.

Dice the unsalted butter into cubes and then rub it into the dry ingredients.  It sort of looks like fattish breadcrumbs.

Stir in the sugar and the lemon peel.  Peel and core your apple.  Chop the apple up into small pieces and add them to the flour and butter.  Lightly beat the two eggs and then stir this into the cake mix using a fork.

Spoon in to the prepared cake tin and gently level the surface with the back of the spoon.

Bake in the oven for 40 – 45 minutes until springy to the touch. Test with a wooden cocktail stick to check that it is cooked inside. It is a moist cake so a little will stick but if you need to give it a little longer then it should be none the worse for it.

Allow to cool for a rack for a few minutes before easing around the sides with a metal palette knife. Open the tin and then gently ease the cake off the bottom section, again with the aid of the palette knife.

Sprinkle a little caster sugar over the top before serving.

Ideally this needs to cool for at least half an hour but if you are careful you should be able to cut it with a sharp knife after 15 minutes.

This cake is really simple, it’s quite old fashioned and is the sort of recipe that you can find hand written on butter stained writing paper and folded in  cookery books in charity shops.

It’s a nice cake for Spring as the citrusy flavours of the lemon peel and ground mace are nice and uplifting.

red cross patchwork

 

At the moment I’m in the middle of designing two very special quilts…..Miss Olive (who has her own quilt) is having sisters so I’m working on a pair of quilts for the new arrivals.

The quilt I made Olive the other year was made up of lots of small squares and I thought to try out something different for her sisters.

 

red star patchwork

 

I really like the idea of a star quilt and I keep trying out different compositions using a  “variable star” block.  I plan to use reproduction style fabrics and have trawled through lots of fabrics and now have a good idea of the main fabrics I’m going to use…..

 

variable star pattern

 

I like placing the blocks on the diagonal as this gives lots of extra movement across the patchwork pattern, I’m still somewhat undecided about sashing though and whether to piece round a border.

Olives quilt was just bound with binding so I’m wondering to do the same again…though I really do like quilts with borders…they always look that little bit extra special.

 

variable star variations

 

Generally when I’m plotting and planning a patchwork top I make a lot of sketches, heaps and heaps of tiny thumbnail scribbles and then going through and working the patchwork slightly larger so I’m able to see how it fits together.

Using paint tends to be brighter and more vibrant but colouring pencil means I’m not getting myself covered in paint  (generally being too impatient to allow one colour to dry before trying to work on top or near by)

 

working on the diagonal

 

Because these are quilts for twins I want some similarity between the designs (the fabrics for both quilts will be pretty much the same, although I thought it would be nice to have some fabrics unique to just each quilt)…however it’s proving to be quite a challenge.

I’m happiest when working small but at the same time sewing fiddly pieces is somewhat hour intensive, so I’m trying to balance designing quilts that are carefully hand pieced but which won’t take me for ever to sew.

The blocks I made for “dear ethel” are all 6 inches square and that’s a size I’m happy working with so I’m thinking of blocks that size for these but maybe with a 3/4 inch sashing between.  I’m trying to avoid blocks that are made of lots and lots of tiny pieces (though those are the ones that truly own my heart).

Colouring small geometric shapes takes me back to weekend afternoons when me and my youngest sisters would sprawl out on the carpet, pencil cases full of felt tips and colouring pencils spilling out everywhere while we meticulously coloured in fancy isometric books my mum would buy us.  I’ve not seen any for sale for years which is a bit sad as I used to love spending whole afternoons trying out patterns….my sister Rachel always was much neater in her colouring (I always seemed to go over the lines and make a bit of a mess)…however the process and planning is very similar to designing your own patchwork top.

cycling hat and vintage threads

 

On Saturday it’s my boyfriend’s boyfriend and as his big present* won’t be published til maybe Summer I thought to make him another little cycling hat.

I’ve made him a couple of Winter weight ones recently (one for Christmas and one last weekend for Valentines which he’s been wearing each day this week and looks right posh as he cycles off to work)….I’d been saving this fantastic raspberry tweed for a Radclyffe Hall inspired waistcoat but then thought it would suit as a cycling hat as it’s really bright (so nice and noticeable to car drivers).

 

inside seams

 

As always I used one of the patterns from The Little Package company, this style is the three panel hat.

The fabric was from Sylvia, it’s a lovely soft tweed, and is pretty thick.  It was very prone to fraying though so even though I cut it out with pinking shears(which is supposed to help with that) I then covered the inside seams with some fantastically shocking pink bias binding….the binding was from a great little vintage clothes shop on St Benedict’s Street in Norwich which sadly wasn’t open for long, it was a tiny little shop but as well as some nice clothes they also sold packets of binding, sewing threads and buttons for repairs in keeping with the age of the item.

 

raspberry cycling hat

 

To begin with I was going to sew this on a machine as I’ve got a pile of other sewing that is currently taking up a lot of my time……

I’m working on two new quilts (Miss Olive of the The Little Red Roaster is soon to get the best present in the world ever……sisters! Her mum is having twins and her dad has ordered two quilts for the soon to be arriving twins.  I made a quilt for Olive the other year and the ones I’m working on now will have more of an old timey feel to them……once I’m totally happy with the designs then there will be pictures)

I’m also designing a new dog coat (one for a whippet this time so quite a different shape to the ones I’ve been making…..it’s a bit like trying to design a dress for Mae West, all chest and then tiny waistline and hips.)

…..however I ended up sewing it by hand, I just love the soft feel of hand sewing, and yeah, it took me a little while longer, but as it was for my sweetie I certainly don’t begrudge that time spent.  I’m very fortunate as although he doesn’t sew himself he can tell when something is hand sewn. The Dewhurst Sylko threads are, as always, a joy to use, in part their names are lovely and smile inducing (frivolous pink never fails to cheer) but the thread has such a nice feel, it’s really silky and strong.  In my experience it rarely tangles and is my go to thread for handsewing.

 

( I’ve got sisters so can only say for me how great it is to have them however I’m sure brothers are just as nice)

* the big birthday present will be the new Cyclecross book by our favourite photographer Balint Hamvas.  In case you don’t know what it is, Cyclecross is like cross country but on a bicycle.  Now when I was at school cross country was just the worse thing ever (I didn’t like PE at all and would have much preferred to spend my time reading)..however watching other people get cold, muddy, wet is just fine……to begin with I wasn’t so fussed but then I looked up from a book and said “oooh who is that” and promptly fell in love a bit with Niels Albert (who sadly had to retire due to heart problems….he was an amazing cyclist and very easy on the eye)….so thank you Niels for first turning my eye to the charms of Cyclecross……there is also women’s Cyclecross which is even better in my book (Sanne Cant is my absolute favourite cyclist…..) Balint is an amazing photographer, he goes to all the races, gets as cold, wet though maybe not so muddy as the cyclists and takes the most fantastic pictures.  So a huge huge huge thank you to him.

 

peeky leeky soup

 

Peaky* Leeky soup is what I make when I feel the beginnings of a cold starting or when it’s just nippy outside and I need something easy to make that will warm me right down to my toes.

It’s brilliant this time of year as leeks taste best in the winter months (it’s when they are cheapest to buy as well so an extra bonus).

This makes enough for two but throw in a couple more leeks and open another tin of chick peas and it will feed four.

Ingredients

2 medium to large leeks

1 can of chick peas

1 medium potato (if you are making for four then use a bigger one)

olive oil

butter

seasoning

a bay leaf

fresh thyme

vegetable stock (about 500 ml)

Method

Peel the potato and chop it into small cubes, place in a saucepan and cover with water, allow to simmer until the potato is soft.

Clean the leeks, depending on how dirty they are, strip the outside and trim off any really dark green parts. make sure you clean the leeks really well.  Slice the leeks quite finely using as much dark green as possible.

Pour a good splash of olive oil in to a heavy based stock pot and warm, add a knob of butter…….add the greenest part of the  leeks first and allow to soften before adding the whiter parts of the leek (the green part is fine to use but you need to cut it finer and it takes longer to cook) add the bay leaf to the leeks while they are cooking.

Remove the leaves form the thyme and add them in as well (it is a bit fiddly but gives you something to do while the leeks are cooking)

When the potato has cooked, drain and allow to stand if the leek still needs time to cook.  Drain and rinse the chickpeas.

Add the potato and chickpeas to the leeks, and add some stock.  taste and season….Allow to simmer for a few minutes.

Remove half the soup and blend until it is smooth.  Return the blended soup into the stock pot and stir it all together.  Depending how thick you like your soup to be, add more stock.

Serve with bread and butter.

My friend Anne (who is queen of knitters) came round yesterday, and I made this soup for our lunch.  After soup we went out for a walk over the marshes (not a really long walk as the marshes were a bit muddy as it had been raining the night before) then we came home, got the kettle on and spent the rest of the afternoon with a pot of tea and some biscuits …. I talked while Anne sat knitting socks.

*I’m not sure if everyone uses the expression “peaky”…we used to say it growing up if one of us was at all poorly or sickening for something…… “oh dear, she looked right peaky”…or “I don’t think I should go to school today, I feel a bit peaky”……

green wool tweed hat

 

A couple of years ago the Arpette bought a couple of cycling hat patterns from The Little Package company in Portland and they are my go to item now when I want to make him a present……eagle eyed readers may remember this fabric from last year when I’d intended to use it to make him a birthday hat, but I ended up using other fabric and this was put away in a safe place (only to be re-found during a big tidy up)…it’s a lovely pure wool tweed but the large scale pattern of the cloth makes it quite tricksy to match up….I tried making a three panel hat but it wouldn’t match nicely so that is why I ended up using a different fabric….. anyway, I decided to have another go but with the four panel hat instead, and this time it came together fine….

Myself I like to cycle “naked ” (no, not like that but no hat or cycling helmet)…the Arpette however is a lycra and helmet kind of guy, and generally wears cycling hats underneath the plastic cycling helmet…wool tweed in the cooler months, cotton or linen in the Summer.

Because this is a nice wool fabric, I cut the cloth using pinking shears then once it gets a wash the edges felt up and then it doesn’t fray. It probably took about 5, maybe 6 hours in all to hand sew it (there was a little unpicking so it took a smidge longer) though obviously if you are sewing it on a machine then it doesn’t take long at all to run one up (I just wanted to sew it by hand as it was a Valentine’s gift….)

 

vintage brown tweed hat

 

This is the inside of the three panel hat, I made this one for him at Christmas…….the inside seams are covered with vintage binding which is hand sew in place…I find covering the seams for this hat much easier, I tried covering the seams on the four panel hat and it didn’t really work so well….I’ve used plastic from the front of an old notebook for the hat brim (it’s sturdy but is also quite flexible and gives a good curve)…..

These are really nice and pretty easy to make, they don’t use up heaps of fabric (if you are using quilting cottons or linens then a fat quarter is enough for a hat) and they fit way better than any ready made shop bought cycling hat.

Caroline, who designed the pattern, no longer makes hats to sell but you can still purchase the pattern to make your own.

The Arpette was very pleased (there was also a bag of white chocolate mice and I’d made him these cute little cookies on Thursday, Bernard had bought me the cookie cutter for Christmas….)……….we don’t really go in for romantic gifts or meals out in restaurants, but prefer to cook a meal together and watch a favourite film* (not that much different to a normal Saturday night to be honest) but being at home, quiet and happy with tea and cake is much more up our street than lavish presents and mass produced cards with no genuine feeling or emotion.**

* Last night it was Oh Brother Where art Thou (fantastic film and wonderful music…I’ve got the soundtrack playing now…bliss)

** all our cards for each other tend to be bought from etsy or folksy….this year we bought from I like Cats and Hole in my Pocket.

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