rosemary and seed sourdough

 

One of the greatest luxuries of working from home is the ability to fit in baking around my sewing….weekends tend to be filled with chores, grocery shopping and if the weather is nice a walk over the marshes or through the woods, so pottering and poodling in the week means I can bake with no distractions.

I’m lucky to have a friend (the delightful Miss Daisy) who is a wonderful cook (she’s off to the prestigious Leith’s Cookery School in September) and last year she gave me a sourdough starter which has really changed the way I bake bread.  I used to put the dough ingredients in to the Kitchen Aid mixer (one of the best birthday presents I’ve ever had) and the machinery did most of the work for me…..I played about with different flours and ingredients but not to the extent that I have done since I’ve used the starter.  I asked her about it last week as she’s making a new one with raisins and she said it was just bread flour and water, nothing fancy.

The bread I make isn’t a real sourdough, I cheat by sprinkling a skimpy teaspoon of dry yeast on to the bread sponge, but I find this helps make for a tighter bready crumb, and the bread then toasts better.  Over the past year or so I’ve found myself becoming more and more intolerant to grains and grasses so no longer can tuck into fat doorsteps of bread, toasted and covered with salty butter and marmalade, so the bread I bake is only eaten by my boyfriend and has to double as both a breakfast bread and a sandwich one….(the raisin and rosemary bread from the other week was thumbs up for toast,  but not quite so much for sandwiches)..

Anyway I liked the thought of a slightly herby tasting bread so this week I made a dough using just the one sprig of rosemary and then a couple of handfuls of assorted seeds (sunflower, linseed and sesame), and used about 200g of spelt flour.  It came out okay,  maybe a bit denser than usual as I’d been out in the morning and forget to leave the starter out of the fridge to get to room temperature before using it, but it smelt amazing when it was being toasted….and I was assured it made for a very nice sandwich.

 

apple and almond afternoon cake

 

Feeling on a bit of a roll, I then made the beloved one, one of the “Sunday afternoon apple cakes” even though it wasn’t a Sunday and used some rosemary in there too….he didn’t mention it as a flavour so am thinking he didn’t even notice it (before Christmas I bought a huge needlepoint/tapestry picture and re-arranged the other pictures behind the sofa to make room for it…not a peep has been heard so sometimes things get by quite un-noticed, but if there is a pin on the floor …well my own personal “Colin”* will see that alright)………….along with the rosemary I also used ground mace and a couple of heaped desert spoons of ground almonds.  There was a grumble when I said I’d baked a cake (he’s trying to “cut down” apparently) however it lasted maybe 3 days, as a packed lunch treat and as a pudding, so figure it was okay.

Me and the delightful Miss Daisy were also discussing the awesomeness of beetroots (I love them, she’s not such a fan) but I told her how they make for a brilliant cake…sadly they don’t turn a sponge cake that beautiful clarety pinky purple (like the edge of your plate when you have them in salad) but more imbues them with a gorgeous ruddy wholesomeness….this is one of my favourite cake recipes for them (the boyfriend won’t normally eat them but I can hide them in cake) but I also find they work really well in my “Crikey that’s nice Carrot Cake”  recipe..(just substitute the carrot with a beetroot), but the icing needs to be lemony to really be perfection itself.

*from The Great Escape…one of my favourite films of all time, I can’t watch it without bursting into tears as Dany and Willie row away in that little boat….in fact just thinking about that scene has made me tear right up ….oddly Colin used to scare me a little when I was small, now I love him to bits and his scenes with James “The Rockford Files” Garner are easily some of the best bits……not forgetting “Good Luck”.”Oh, Thank you”…doh.

first set of star blocks

 

As I said yesterday, the stars for “quilt one” have all been pieced together now but I thought you might be interested to see what they looked like before they’d been joined together…..(the pictures of them below aren’t arranged in any particular order, it’s just how they were arranged in the making pile) …in all I’ve hand sewn twelve stars using three different blocks using a variety of different fabrics……I don’t think I intended to make such a bright patchwork, it’s so sun-shiney and Summery feeling…like a packet of Opal Fruits (showing my age there)…..

It was nice mixing in the new fabrics with some of the ones I already had in my collection, it’s one of the things I like about the old style reproduction prints, they blend in and work with each so well.

 

second set of star blocks

 

A few times I’ve used the same print but in a different colour-way…I always think this adds a little extra interest to the quilt.  I really liked the Alice in Wonderland fabric, it’s been one of my new favourite purchases (I’d love to splurge on a couple of metres to make a dress..) and the blue cherry print by Lecien is rather nice too…..it’s such a great blue, really soft and opaque, almost powdery.

I mentioned before that when I buy fabric I prefer quantity of range than lots of any one fabric (I saw my friend Hugh yesterday who is a big hunky and handsome policeman, and to keep a long story of waffle to a minimum, he asked me “what on earth is a fat quarter”…he’d been on-line looking at fabric for something he wants me to make, and kept seeing it and just didn’t know what it meant, so while we were drinking the best coffee in Norwich I explained with a piece of paper the difference between a fat and thin quarter*) every-so often I fall so in love with a print I splurge and buy half metres in a a few colours, but generally my wallet doesn’t quite allow for what my heart would like.

While I appreciate that they aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, my favourite quilts are those that are made using a wide old variety of colour and prints…I’ve seen some beautiful quits made just using two colours, but they don’t tickle the tastebuds enough to make me want to piece and sew one myself.

 

third set of star blocks

 

I’ve fallen in love a bit with the top green star, the print was even nicer than I was expecting….a couple of metres of this and I’d be over the moon…..The orange and blue print was the only one where I really had to watch how I cut the fabric, the print looks much better when it’s all running in the same direction, with an all over, in any old direction print are on the whole much easier to work with, but when it’s just the odd fabric it’s not too much of a problem. (and even being careful I still managed to cut a couple of pieces out wrong so have put those into the scrap bag for a rainy day)

 

corner of patchwork with background fabric

 

I’m thinking to use some of the background fabric to create a simple and skinny width border around the patchwork before sewing the binding…..it’s quite yellow and is rather muted in tone to the rest of the patchwork, however I know once it’s all been quilted then colours blend in together more than you’ll realize or expect. (I’m thinking to quilt it using a baptist fan pattern but can’t quite make my mind up…it’s somewhat more time consuming so I’m really having to think carefully before I commit myself to it.)

 

Uppercase patchwork

 

And I completely forgot to mention a purchase made a few weeks ago now, it really did feel like a delivery of sunshine through my letterbox….I was so excited about this publication ever since I knew this issue of Uppercase was going to be about textiles and quilts…..when I opened it, it really was like opening up Summer…page after page of beautifully photographed patchwork and articles that I actually wanted to read.  Some quilters I’d heard of but there were a couple of new ones to me in there too.  Each page was just a real treat to read and even going through it again now I’m still being inspired and thinking “oh, what about if I do…” or “I’ve not tried doing that, perhaps I’ll …”

There’s a great interview in there with Denyse Schmidt , and a really good piece by Cheryl Arkinson about scrap quilts…and a wonderful article about feedsack quilts (be still my beating heart….a couple of pages of pages of tiny feedsack prints) then there are pieces about tattooed artists and weavers and a very useful piece about how to fit creativity into our daily lives by Christina Crook…. and a lovely piece about darning (yes darning can be lovely) anyway, it’s a brilliant read and I like it so much because it’s not all one thing, the magazine always ends up covering a few other things as well as it’s main issue subject…totally worth the price as it’s something I’ll keep coming back to to get my creative batteries charged up.

I bought my copy from Housekeeping (their mail order service is excellent)

 

 

fabrics from Tikki

 

The last little collection of fabric arrived this week from Tikki in in London, and within minutes of the parcel being opened the fabric was being washed (I fill a sink with warm water and some Ecover fabric conditioner and then give the cloth a nice soak in that….any size is washed off and the conditioner leaves the fabric really soft to hold and nice smelling….any quilting cotton is treated this way as I find hand sewing fabric that hasn’t been washed pretty hard going on the fingers)…….

 

evening star pink and blue prints

 

This star combines a blue fabric from Tikki with a pink print I’d bought last Summer from The Eternal Maker.  There’s a tiny little bit of pink in the blue fabric and I thought mixing it along with the pink picked that up.  I do like Lecien, not all their prints but some of their reproduction fabrics really make me sillily (if that is even a word) happy to use…they make me smile and just feel happy and I hope Peggy and Pearl will feel the same way.

 

eight point star, green and blue prints

 

I liked the pink print so much that I decided to buy it in green (Lecien do produce lovely greens)….and then combined it with another Lecien print….it’s a very soft blue and although not quite the same colour used in the green print I still think they work really well together.

The patchwork for “quilt one” is now all sewn up, all the stars are joined and there was only a wee bit of unpicking when I realized I’d sewn a strip of blocks in upside down.  I need to wash the backing fabric as I’m thinking of using a little of that for a skinny border around the stars…..and all the fabric for “quilt two” has been chosen and cut out….piles of tiny pieces all set for 6 inch star blocks now wobble along a side of my work table….many are all pinned and I’m trying to make use of the earlier sunny mornings to get a few pieces stitched in that lovely light my room is filled with this time of year (my work room is East facing so in the Spring and Summer it’s often flooded with beautiful soft mellow light…it doesn’t last long though and afternoon light can seem quite gloomy when in fact it’s all sunny outside…our bedroom though is West facing so the light in there in the afternoon is really incredible.

There have been times when I’ve taken small pieces in there and have sat on the bed with plump pillows behind me, little pieces of patchwork all scattered around my lap and legs… however I am a pin dropper and pins found in the bed oddly cause someone to really grumble so I have to be extra careful when I’m in there……we talked about changing rooms over as the light in the afternoons is really bright but I think I’d miss these first part of the day moments.

Once the clocks change I find myself waking up earlier and earlier, (by the end of June I find I’m getting up around 5.30)…I creep downstairs trying to be quiet, boil a kettle and make a cup of tea, then come back upstairs and sit and sew until it’s time for the rest of the household to get up…sometimes I’m joined by Bernard who’ll jump up on my lap or on the table, he’ll stretch out, sigh, and fall asleep, cat napping ’til I hear waking and stirring from the bedroom, bedsprings creaking as my boyfriend gets up and sleepily walks across to the bathroom.  That’s then my cue to down needles and stitches, and prepare breakfasts and packed lunches.

Mila recently wrote a lovely piece on her blog about small rituals, and I’ve become quite conscious and aware of the small things I like to do everyday or at certain times of the year….this Summer sewing, waking and rising earlier and earlier is one of them.

painting up background papers

 

When I was deciding on the patchwork designs for the twin’s quilts I kept coming back to this arrangement of different sized stars…..however I soon realized that it wasn’t going to look quite right at the small scale I’m currently working in (the baby quilts will be about 30 inches by 42) …trying to cram too much in I think will just look a bit messy and somewhat overwhelming…..but I didn’t want to give up on the design completely and thought it would be interesting to play around with it a bit more and use some up some of the painted paper scraps that were still scattered around my work table and studio floor….

I’ve found it easier to draw out a measured grid with a ruler rather than to do it by eye, it’s not so quick but you get a better idea of what the patchwork is going to look like….. then I’ve just blocked the squares in with colour (gouache paint) before working over them with colouring pencils to create a variety of different “fabric” patterns….(I’ve left some bits white on the big squares as I knew that was going to be covered by the painted up paper stars because I’m a bit slap dash at time….)

 

adding paper stars

 

I’ve drawn the little paper stars out in two different sizes, 1 1/2 and 3 inches (this was a pretty easy to divide measurement and it allowed me to repeat the pattern a bit in my sketchbook.) …and have cut them out of scraps of painted papers I’d left over from the previous paper quilt designs.

 

paper stars added

 

It’s been really interesting for me to play around and try out different combinations of print and colour…and although these paper experiments have taken a bit of time, they’ve still been heaps quicker than if I’d tried sewing them.

I’ve  found the designs were all much easier to visualise in fabric once I’d made these little testers, they’ve been a good way in helping me decide which size to make the blocks for the patchwork…..painting them up and drawing the floral motifs has been a bit time consuming, but I’m sure it wouldn’t be hard to paint up some papers, scan them and then print them off for future use……however that is somewhat beyond my limited computer skills (and to be honest I found it quite nice and relaxing to make them…but I guess it wouldn’t be too tricky to do if you wanted to make some up for yourselves).

 

glued down paper stars

 

With the stars being separate I’ve been able to play around with colour combinations, see which worked and which bits needed adjusting before gluing them down on top of the painted up squares……(something I’ve become very aware of from all of this has been how much I still love playing around, trying out new ideas and versions of something before I finally make up my mind on “the one”.)

I’m now quite smitten with this design …and am seriously considering making this patchwork up for real….however I have about 4 other patchwork projects for the home* already on the go so think it would be best to get those finished before starting anything new….but at least working it out already in papers I can see how it fits together and works, which is what has slowed down a couple of the other projects. (Well that is my excuse…in reality I know it is because I pfaff and fuss and fanny about, rather than just getting on with the job in hand.)

 

added central small squares

 

I was curious about adding more stars to those big blocks so made some more of the little ones….I think they work best when the central star is similar in colour and tone to the larger square, (I like the purple and blue star and the peachy and pink star.  They seem to work better than the pink and green one, and the mustard and lemon one….)

 

grey floral border added

 

I wanted to try out an edging, really more for curiosities sake then anything else, I’ve just used a strip of grey paper with a floral motif along the bottom…..and although I’m quite happy to not add a fancy border along the design, (and by fancy I’m meaning beautifully pieced flying geese) at the same time I find myself being drawn to the simplicity of a strip of just something to allow the main patchwork a little space, a little room to breathe.

*I say “home” but really they’re all pretty much for me…..

evening star orange and floral print

 

I thought I’d share some more colour choice combinations for “quilt one”, this fruity one combines one of the new prints from the other week with a print I bought last year from The Cotton Patch.  They’re both by Whistler Studios which designs some of my favourite reproduction style feed-sack prints which come out from Windham fabric…..the colours together just remind me so much of long Summer days spent sprawled on the lawn in the garden, laying out in the sunshine on a blanket, eating sticky fruit flavoured lollies….(this was how our Summers were spent when I was a little girl, with the odd days out at the sea side)….

 

crystal star yellow and pink bunnies

 

I’ve already shown this combination last week, and even though the bunny print is a particular favourite (as soon as I saw it I knew I wanted to use it) I found it incredibly hard to team up with another fabric…….. I made a small design board the other summer (just a piece of A1 foam board covered with a couple of layers of old blanket and then a final layer of white brushed cotton) which I prop up against my work table and arrange the fabric pieces on…….it allows me to step back and properly view my choices as well as letting me play and arrange my patchwork…..

I’d really like one of those huge ones, the type that fill one wall but we don’t really have the space for that so I make do with the small one.

 

crystal star pink and teal prints

 

This is one of my favourite combinations , it mixes one of the new prints along with a piece of an old Ikea duvet cover (my little nod to all those thrifty quilts and patchworks made from re-purposed fabrics…..) I’ve written about this duvet cover so many times, it was a true jumble sale treasure, think it was a pound and has easily been one of the best jumble sale bargains of all time.  I’ve used the fabric before in dresses for one of my little nieces, and in numerous patchwork pieces, as well as lining tea-cosies and hot water bottles…it’s starting to run out a bit now. (I nearly used it with the bunny print but felt that might be a bit too pink which I know the twin’s mum isn’t so keen on.)

Anyway, I thought the pink complimented the pretty minty print.  Looking at these fabric choices I’m seeing a definite Summer feeling theme coming through with both the fabrics I’ve just bought but also with how I’ve combined them with fabrics from my stash.

 

eight point star, yellow and blue prints

 

I’m just sewing this one together at the moment, the floral print is one I bought last year from The Eternal Maker.  It’s a lovely teal coloured print by Riley Blake Designs and is called Sidewalks/October afternoon…….sorry but that seems such a silly name for such a lovely Summery looking print.  Anyway, I’ve teamed it up with a new print (I also bought the little bow tie fabric in a juicy orange colour and am just waiting for some in a green version…..)

 

evening star blue and yellow floral prints

 

Another very floral combination, again mixing up a new print with one from last year (the very yellow floral design was from The Eternal Maker)…I really like blue and yellow together, it always looks nice and fresh.  At first I was planning to use one of the pink prints with this yellow but as there is already a bit of blue already in the design I decided to just go for it, and use another blue and yellow print to mix with it.  Hope you don’t think it’s a bit too much.

 

crystal star red and pink prints

 

This is another combination of new and old (well, purchased last year at any rate)…..the red print is another one from The Eternal Maker and it’s a Lecien print.  Once again there’s a Summer feel or theme going on, looking at this combination of prints brings to mind strawberry split ice-creams, or sweet lollies that melted everywhere…..I used these colours together a few times in “dear ethel” and they were some of my favourite pairings…..(actually I find when I take a bit longer choosing fabrics and then longer still teaming them up and choosing blocks, all my patchwork then seems to be a favourite)……..

I’ve still got a couple of blocks to team up and cut out but I’m still waiting on some fabric to arrive (thank you Royal Mail) but thought I’d show you the combinations so far.

I’ve hand sewn and pieced together seven blocks so far and have three more pinned and ready to go so if I finish those before the other fabric arrives then I’ll just put this aside and start work on “quilt two”.

cornflower,oatsa nd ground rice

 

Now it’s all officially Spring and the weather here has warmed up some, the layers are slowly being peeled off to reveal a pair of rather neglected and tired looking hands much to my shame…..generally I’m very good about applying liberal amounts of hand cream in the evenings but I’ve been a bit of a slack Alice of late and my poor old hands are really showing their age.

I  much prefer making my own hand balms and treatments, mainly because I then know exactly what goes into them, but also my budget never seems to stretch very far for anything too fancy…..and if I can make an effective and pretty cheap (we’re talking pence) cleanser, scrub or general balm from ingredients I’ve already got in the cupboards then so much the better.

This is one of my favourite hand cleansers, it’s nice and gentle and takes as much time to make as a kettle takes to boil to make a cup of tea…..it’s a real store cupboard recipe and if you don’t have vegetable glycerine then you can use a runny honey (it’s a bit stickier but the smell then more than makes up for the goopyness)

I use a spice grinder to grind up the oats and rice really fine, it’s always best to give the grinder a wipe before using it if not you end up with a spicy or curry scented  hand cleaner.  I try to avoid making up too much at anyone time, it doesn’t keep for long just a few weeks (up to two months in the fridge).

 

rose water

 

Store cupboard hand cleanser

Ingredients

vegetable glycerine (or you can use runny honey

cornflower

ground rice (you don’t need to use posh carnaroli rice, plain long ground is fine)

ground oats

rosewater

almond oil (a light olive oil or sunflower oil if you don’t have almond)

Method

In a bain marie (I’m not fancy so tend to use a glass bowl sat on top of a saucepan filled with a half inch or so of water on a medium heat), gently heat a couple of dessert spoons of vegetable glycerine (or the runny honey) in the glass bowl, slowly stir in a couple of heaped tea spoons of cornflower to make a thick runny paste…remove from the heat.

Now add a little rosewater, just a splash and stir, mix in a couple of heaped tea spoons of the ground oats and then the ground rice.  Mix and add a small dribble of oil.

Continue to mix, if it’s too much like stirring a Christmas pudding then add another splash of rosewater.  Once it’s at a nice gloopy consistency then scrape it into a small sterilized jar and if you’ve used honey then it’s better to store it in the fridge.

To use, just scoop out a marble sized bit, and gently rub all over your hands and fingers, pay particular attention to the skin between your fingers as I find this gets the most dry.  Wash off with warm water and pat dry…..it’s like a lovely soft massage for your hands and fingers so is nice to use any time of day.

Don’t forget to label it so you remember when you made it…..

Another excellent hand scrub, (though one a tad more abrasive so if you have very sensitive skin then maybe don’t use it,) uses a slightly heaped tea spoon of coarse sugar, a splash of olive oil and a squirt of mild washing up liquid… mix the ingredients between your fingers and hands, you want to really rub it in and spend a good couple of minutes rubbing around knuckles and finger joints…it feels like a proper work out for your hands..wash off in warm water and gently pat dry.  This is great for using if you’ve been out in the garden and gotten all grubby. or if you’ve been mending a puncture on a bike…I’ve read that the sewers in the Haute Couture ateliers use something similar to keep their hands soft and smooth to prevent snagging fine silks and fabrics…..

 

cocoa butter and beeswax

 

Queen Bee hand balm…..

When I’ve spent a long day piecing or hand sewing or crocheting then my fingers can get a bit cramped feeling or twitchy, it’s not arthritis they just have done a good days work…to reward them and keep the skin in best condition I like to make my own hand balms, it’s a recipe I’ve used on and off for nearly 20 years…when I’ve had a lot on and have been somewhat neglectful of myself and my hands look a bit worn and aged then a few days of using this religiously morning, noon and night soon has them looking and feeling heaps better….although it keeps quite well, I prefer to make just a small amount at a time so I can vary which essential oils I use in it (though it works just fine if you don’t add them)…

Ingredients

cocoa butter

beeswax (I prefer the golden almost orangey kind rather than the white)

almond oil

essential oils*

Method

In a bain marie (again I tend to use a glass pyrex bowl in a small saucepan that has about half an inch of water in it, and have it on a gentle heat) slowly melt a heaped teaspoon or so cocoa butter and a heaped teaspoon of beeswax…..stir gently with a small metal spoon.

Pour in a little almond oil, about 2 dessert spoons and gently warm…..remove for the heat and stir well.

Carefully transfer to a small sterilized glass jar.  Add your chosen essential oils if you are using them and stir with a clean wooden skewer or cocktail stick.  Allow to cool thoroughly before using…..

Rub in to your hands and fingers, pay particular attention to your fingertips and nail bed, and the skin between your fingers…rubbing this in is lovely and relaxing…the smell of the beeswax is just mmmm eye closingly nice, and it’s good for your fingers and hands as the heat from rubbing allows the oils to penetrate while encouraging the circulation in your hands to speed up a bit.

* I love using rose maroc oil (though it’s a bit pricey, a cheaper option is the gorgeous rose geranium oil…it’s fantastic smelling.  I also use lavender and thyme.  Another nice combination is regular geranium and lemon (although ladies of a certain age will recognize this as the smell of those little flat tubs of hand cream so beloved of Nanny’s in the seventies.)

spring blossoms

 

Yesterday was Ostara, the first official day of Spring, but in fact the first signs have been slowly becoming more noticeable around my neck of the woods over the past couple of weeks…(brightly coloured swathes of crocus’s and violets, glorious sunshiney daffodills all growing on verges or in people’s front gardens) ….we went for a walk last Sunday, and although it was a bit chilly (so felt the benefit of numerous layers , my Tif inspired scarf and beautiful Ella Gordon gloves which get compliments everytime I wear them out) the sun was out and it really felt like Winter was leaving out the back door while Spring was springing through the front……

 

first of the blackthorn blossoms

 

The hedgerows are full of beautiful snowy white blossoms, the most delicate floral petals bursting out over branches that a few days before were bare and miserable looking…..it’s always amazing to me just how surprised I am at how different everywhere looks once things start blooming and poking up out of the ground or bursting out from tiny brown buds……This is blackthorn blossom, hawthorn (or may) won’t be out for another month or so, although it’s been such another mild Winter here in Norfolk that flowering times have gone out the window from what they were……a good way to know what they are is that blackthorn will blossom before the leaves are showing, and then hawthorn waits for the leaves to come first and then bursts into flower…..

For years we’ve had snow in February, even if December and January have just been a bit nippy, but for the past two years we’ve had no late spring snowfall…..and I really miss it.  Last night I dreamt it had snowed and was so happy in my dream, and had planned to go for a walk down over the marshes with my boyfriend because everywhere was going to look so beautiful…when I woke I fully expected outside to be covered in white drifts of snow…and felt really down hearted and disappointed that it had been a dream, which I appreciate is quite daft, and if I’m honest I’m glad it hasn’t snowed as it’s a bit harsh on the plants and wildlife after the warmer last couple of weeks…..

 

blossoms in spring

 

I was quite excited about the eclipse yesterday morning, I remember the one back in ninety nine and how everyone was outside and looking through holes in paper as the sun was slowly covered and changed in shape…. by comparison yesterday wasn’t much to write home about….the morning was really overcast, and cloudy, so the sun wasn’t really viewable at all, but still when the eclipse happened the light dimmed somewhat and it felt a little like the air pressure changed, how it is before it starts raining or there is a storm.

While it was happening all the little birds that only moments before had been a bit sing songy but mostly concentrating on eating the food at the bird feeders, all started twittering and chirping in unison….it sounded like twilight or dusk when they begin to get ready to roost down for the night….and then most bizarrely, Bernard and the two cats from next door all crouched down low on the patio and began to mewl most pitifully….it was very eerie to see them so upset and restless…I went to stroke and coase Bernard but the look I got given made me think twice about that……. this all lasted for about 20, 25 minutes and then the birds quietened down and began feeding again, and the cats began to wash each other and then chase each other round the garden like nothing had happened……

 

blackthorn blossoms

 

I don’t know if this was regular cat and bird behaviour but it certainly felt very strange to experience….. I needed to go into the city and chose a different route in (with the sole mission of checking out a couple of charity shops I’d not been in before)…it was pretty cold still when I set out and then as the morning got under way, the sun indeed came out and it was a glorious and warm Spring day…..in fact by the time I returned home I was glad to remove some layers and take off the thermals……

 

alder tree near the riverside

 

Back to last Sunday though, we walked by a different part of the river (we walked along here just after Christmas when the trees were so bare and stark, and we saw the “bottoms up” trio of swans)…….. and everywhere there was signs of Spring being heralded in..the alder trees by the water’s edge were covered in fluttering yellow catkins…they looked like tiny prayer flags dancing in the wind….

I love seeing the tree reflections in the water below, in the picture it almost looks like the catkins have been reflected but in facts it’s the willowy slim tree trunks……

 

alder catkins by the riverside

 

Alder trees are quite easy to recognise as they have the yellow catkins along with lots of tiny little cones on the branches…..the cones are in fact mature female catkins, and the dancing yellow and much more showy catkins are the male ones…..I’ve always liked picking the tiny cones, they are so tiny and perfect.

 

alder catkins

 

Alders grow in abundance along the riverside and this time of year they look fantastic, the yellow catkins dance and move about in the slightest of breezes…..

 

alder cones

 

It’s no wonder we want to decorate trees and branches in the Winter, it’s almost like paying homage to how the trees are naturally adorned in the spring, with cones,and seed pods and catkins….. (though I love seeing sycamore tree seed clusters and London plane tree seed balls in the Autumn)

 

fluffy catkins by the riverside

 

Along with the alder trees there are clumps of willow growing, and right now they are covered with fat little catkins, furry and velvet feeling and as soft as kitten fluff or a furry bunny…I can never resist a little feel of them, so walks in Spring are slow as I have to keep stopping for just one more rub between my fingers…..these ones were lovely, the catkins were still tight and quite firm so I could really “pet” them…. in parts where the sun shines more and they aren’t so covered then the catkins have already started to open up and sprout bright yellowy green stamens which will keep forming until they become proper long yellow pussy willows (the word catkin is actually old Dutch and was the word for kitten)……

 

a little tinker's cutie

 

This adorable fellow (though they may well be a lady) was the reason for Sunday’s walk, normally we tend to ramble around over the marshes behind our house, oh, and I totally forgot to mention how the other weekend we’d been walking along a hedgerow that borders the railway track and I’d said to my boyfriend as I could begin to hear the rumble of the train approaching, “When I’m by myself I always wave at the trains and then pretend I’m Jenny Agutter in The Railway Children…..” (being a forty something woman I hope you will appreciate I do know any resemblance that may ever have been is strictly in the dim and distant past) and he said “well I’m not stopping you if you want to wave today”…so I climbed up on the stile and began waving as the train came into view….and what a treat…it was a proper old fashioned steam train, whistle blowing and lots of “toot toot tooting”…I couldn’t believe it, and waved like mad at the people on the train (they probably thought I was a right loon though they were all waving back) actually I was so amazed that I was crying and laughing all at the same time as it was just completely unexpected……

Anyway (apologies as I know I jump from one thing to the other (it’s the way I talk so it ends up being the way I write) we decided to go see the little ponies, and donkeys at the Little Tinkers pony sanctuary….it’s not that far from where we live and the residents are always happy to have their ears scratched or tickled, and their coats patted…..this angel was so gentle, I think they were a tad disappointed that I didn’t have an apple or bag of carrots but was still quite content to let me give them a good old fuss….

 

a little tinker's sweetie

 

 

And then this cheeky character stepped in and decided they’d like some fussing so lots of ear scratching and telling them how beautiful they were followed…..we don’t always do this walk as the trek by the river gets really boggy and damp when it’s wet and in the Summer it’s full of mosquitos and other flying biting things…but at certain times it’s just right, and really when you see these poppets then it’s always always worth it…..

pinned patchwork

 

I’ve finished the first pieced block for “quilt one” and I decided to use the most difficult to match fabric (so that way if I wasn’t happy with how it looked I could always unpick it and still have the full range of fabrics to team up with it)……oddly it’s the fabric that as soon as I saw it thought “yes yes yes, though not quite in a Meg Ryan eating that sandwich way…… yes it’s that sweet little bunny fabric….the yellow is quite bright and the pink bunnies aren’t really for the mild of heart, but I’ve used brighter prints before quite happily.

For whatever reason though I just found it really hard to  team this print with that many other prints….the only fabrics that I felt happy with was this teeny tulip print or some pink fabric that started life as an Ikea duvet cover.

 

pinned star point pieces

 

As I knew the twin’s mum isn’t big on pink I decided to go with the tulip print and actually was still having doubts ’til about half way through the piecing, however once it’d all been sewn and smoothed out I felt a lot happier, (I also laid out some of the other pieces of patchwork around it and then it really seemed to settle down and not get a frown when looked at.)

 

pieced central square

 

These star blocks are 10 inches wide (plus seam allowance) and it’s quite nice sewing this size after sewing the 6 inch blocks for “dear ethel”…… of the chosen star blocks this is the most complicated and even then it’s not that hard, just a bit fiddly getting the star points to match up…but the prints chosen don’t really have an up or down to the pattern so I was able to sew and pretty much zone out while listening to some music……..

 

pinned pieces

 

As with nearly all my patchwork, I like to sew by hand, and while I know that using a machine would be quicker, I prefer the softness that hand stitching gives, there is something about the feel of the fabric in my hand and the repetition of the tiny stitches made by the needle and thread that I find incredibly relaxing…..it gives my mind a chance to wander, to think about who the patchworks are for, and also to think of ways patchwork and quilting has been a part and necessity of women’s lives for so many years…..

I’m all too aware that hand-sewing like this is now seen as a luxury item (why not just buy something in one of the shops in the town…it’ll be heaps cheaper) when in previous years it was not only a source of extra income for the household, but also meant if you were making it for the home then you could have something pretty (creative…I’ve seen enough vintage scrap quilts to know quilting and patchwork was a rare outlet for creativity and self expression…) and warm to sleep under.

 

block in strips

 

The majority of fabric I use in my quilts is new (some is vintage but it’s still “on the roll” as it’s left over from Sylvia’s dress making days), very rarely do I use clothing from charity shops or things I’ve out worn, and generally the reason is that the quality of fabric for clothes over the past few years has become so poor (fabric that in Victorian times would have been called “shoddy”…….”shoddy” was a particular wool fabric made from recycled fabrics and rags, it wasn’t a very good quality fabric.  But it was also used used to describe other fabrics that were also of inferior quality and wear.) that it doesn’t have a lot of wear and doesn’t tend to stand up to a lot of washing and rubbing……although my quilts are made as heirloom quality pieces I don’t want to think they’d just be hung on a wall, saved for best (like when the doctor used to make house calls)…..

I want to know they’ve been cuddled and snuggled, thrown in the wash (I suggest a gentle wool wash and they always come out fine…just don’t tumble dry them…let them dry flat and keep them away from the iron…and they’ll look lovely)….the best compliment is being told “she won’t go to bed without her quilt” or “she wraps it round herself and gets herself all cosy and settled”…I fully expect baby quilts to get sicky and wee’d on, to soak up dribble and be thrown on the floor in a tantrum….but they are also there when a little security is needed, something soft and warm is needed to be pulled round shoulders and helps make the world feel a nicer place….

 

pinned and pieced

 

Over the years I’ve sewn and made various things, somethings to sell, somethings as gifts, swopsies, spontaneous presents…. (I even made a little tweed coat for Susan Calman’s cat Oscar when I saw her do stand up last Christmas,, she’s incredibly funny and lovely and even better than Helen Mirren….and whenever I hear her on the radio I’m always happy and think “yay, it’s Susan Calman”…her stand up show was just brilliant and the little coat was a thank you for all the times she’s made me smile when I’ve heard her on various radio 4 programs)…but always quilts are my favourite, (it’s really hard because I love making Christmas stockings and being told how people’s children’s faces light up when they see a stocking with their own name on it, all filled with presents under the ftree or at the foot of their bed, never fails to make my nose go all tickley and then I feel silly and have to go and blow my nose…..but that is just one day a year and quilts are forever, so quilts win but it’s a photo finish)…and baby quilts like these give me the greatest pleasure to sew…..

 

finished bunny block

 

 

It’s always incredibly special being commissioned to make a quit, and even more so when it’s for someone’s baby….it did feel a bit overwhelming this time with making the two quilts …..with no real design restrictions or preferred colours given but I had to keep telling myself “they trust you to do a good job” so after fretting and fpaffing and fannying about the patchwork is slowly but most surely and steadily coming along…..one and a half blocks in and I’m already thinking of this pile of patchwork pieces as a quilt rather than fabric in a work-basket.

I don’t know yet whether this will be for Pearl or for Peggy but whoever’s name is embroidered on the back I hope they have a lifetime of sunshine and smiles, warm ones with picnics and the sound of laughter, bunny snuggles and the whole world of cuddles…….it’s the greatest compliment thinking my little quilt will be part of those memories they’ll look back on when they are older, even if it ends up to line the dogs basket…………

 

evening star teal and green

 

After lots of playing around with different colour and print combinations I’ve finally made some pleasing team ups and have cut out the patchwork pieces for one of the new quilts…

“Quilt one” will be made up of a selection of twelve star blocks in a variety of colours and prints…each star block will be made up of two contrasting colour fabrics.  Most of the patterns are lovely reproduction feedsack style prints (these are my favourite prints to work with and I love mixing them as they compliment each other so nicely)…..

This blue and green pairing is one I’m very happy with…I love wearing blue and green together (and like to add in a little purple to the mix)…the green floral print is a Windham fabric, it combined really nicely with lots of the other prints but this was the one that made my heart beat a little quicker….

 

eight point star, yellow and dot dash daisies

 

There’s quite a few yellow prints, so hope the final quilt will be all sunshiney and bright smile feeling…….I really like this Alice in Wonderland fabric teamed up with the Aunt Grace print…..

I topped up my fabric stash the other week so a lot of these fabrics I’m using for the first time, but I’m also including some older favourites…..

 

crystal star orange and yellow prints

 

This lovely bright orange fabric was some I bought last year from The Cotton Patch…it’s by Windham fabrics (another one by my favourite Whistler Studios) …the print is Storybook Classics #19….I used it a few times while I was sewing blocks for “dear ethel” last Summer…it makes me think of sweet sticky lollies eaten at the sea side…….

 

eight point star, pink and green prints

 

This green Aunt Grace print is one of my all new favourites…the print is more delicate than I’d expected and it’s a really nice vintagey green background colour……this print also looked particularly good with the “dot dash daisies” so I’ll most likely use them together when I’m choosing the combinations for “quilt two”…..

Last week when I wrote about choosing my fabrics I explained how I’d made several pinterest boards before whittling down to just the one to help me go through my choices and to see how different fabrics from different shops and brands worked together…this all sounded like a lot of extra work, but the time spent making those fabric choices really has made this part of the designing a lot easier, of the umpteen new fabrics purchased only one was a bit of a problem to mix, all the others blended and complimented so well, the only hard part has been which combination did I prefer rather than thinking “yuck yuck yuck just doesn’t go”…it was definitely more a case of “love it, love it, love it……”

 

dodgy cover but well worth a read

 

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned buying this brilliant book from a little pop up charity stall in Norwich….to begin with I was only tempted to look through it because of the hilarious front cover, but actually on browsing through the pages I realised it was actually a proper little gem so for pence have given it a new home……

The pictures inside are in black and white so I’m sure don’t do the magnificence of the clothes made the full justice but let’s just say time hasn’t been kind…this was written in 1980 so we are talking late seventies fashions here….(the little boy wearing a pair of jeans made from an adults denim cast offs is a delight and I’d love to know what colour his tank top is) but the basics are really excellent…….there are a few things that I don’t think any child would wear today (do little girl still wear long party frocks..being a child of the seventies I had a “beautiful” purple one, it had a velvety bodice and long sleeves which puffed at the wrists, and remember wearing it to a party with silver sandals…move over Kate Jackson, I felt like a Charlie’s Angel!)….but there are some nice little dress patterns in there and plenty of information about repurposing your old clothes…..

The introduction is really funny as it goes on about how buying clothing for constantly growing children can eat up a big proportion of the household budget but by making their clothes you’ll have money left over to buy them shoes….or even to buy something new for yourself.  (that made me laugh out loud as I just imagined all these poor little mites running around in some proper odd outfits but mum sashaying around in something that Margo from The Good Life would wear…)

 

inside children's clothing book

 

Each outfit gets its own easy to draft pattern and the instructions are nice and simple, there are some lovely clear illustrations to follow and there’s a section at the front explaining sizes and how to take a child’s measurements….if you aren’t used to making clothes then this is such a nice book as most of the outfits are written for beginners to make (and if you are using something old or from a charity shop or jumble sale then it won’t be the end of the world if it goes wrong…)

It’s probably more suitable as a pattern book for girl’s clothing as there are a fair few dresses in the book, but not so much for boys.   Aside from the afore mentioned jeans for boys (the pattern is okay but I’m not sure how tight little boys wear their jeans or trousers nowadays) there’s a pyjama pattern and a top for wearing on the beach which is unisex and the dearest little pair of bib fronted shorts…..as I’ve mentioned on here before, we don’t have any children (we just have Bernard who in our eyes is our little baby) so I don’t know if children today would wear clothes like this or whether they’d put their parts on and have a strop…..maybe little ones would wear them…I keep thinking of the bib fronted shorts, they are just the cutest….but if you made the clothes small enough you’d certainly be able to make clothing for favourite toys or dolls.

 

patterns are easy to follow

 

The last section of the book  deals with general instructions, and each method and technique is easily explained and has more of those lovely clear instructions to show you what to do…..techniques covered included adding seams to a pattern, using a garment’s existing seams, how to make bias binding, how to sew French seams, gathering, making buttonholes, setting in sleeves, setting in a zip and there are also various ways shown for finishing a hem…..

As far as I’m concerned this really is a proper little gem, reading through it I’ve thought about our two little nieces and am thinking perhaps I need to make them new frocks……actually I made one (miss Maggie) some little dresses a couple of years ago from an Ikea duvet cover (a pound from a jumble sale which was one of the best bargains of all time).  She wore one to her Nursery and a classroom helper misheard Maggie’s mum when she said “it’s from an Ikea duvet”…another mum saw the dress and the classroom helper said “oh, it’s from Ikea”.  The other mum went to Ikea and asked where their children’s clothing was….much confusion ensued….. anyway I made her two little dresses with a ruffled trim on the bottom in different variations of the fabric and even though they were from an old jumble sale duvet cover she wore them loads and loads and they are now possibly being worn by younger sister Eliza.

I’ve had a look on a couple of on-line book shops and this book is available but I think it’s also worth asking at your local library…it’s from 1980 so may still be in the system, but it never hurts to have a look on charity shop book shelves…

Once the quilts are all made then I’ll make at least something from it to show as the advice given in it is really good.  (I guess the only downside is that a lot, maybe most, of the clothing manufactured today won’t wear half so well as clothing made pre- 1980, so the fabric may not be so quite so forgiving, certainly lightweight jersey and t-shirt fabric bobbles like the devil…..but you could always just use and adapt the patterns and make the clothing out of new fabric).

 

v and a fabric and a selection of vintage needles

 

I also bought a lovely little haul of vintage needles (a pound the lot….the needle packets weren’t “new” or full, but the needles in there were all nice and sharp and rust free……and the fabric was from Norfolk Yarn on Pottergate (next to Head in the Clouds) in Norwich…it’s from the V and A collection by Rowan and I bought some last year in a pinky red and just loved the print so much…….I need to recount the blocks in “dear ethel” but think I’m still a block short and thought to use these for that…..

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