Finding work for idle hands: making, baking and more.

Spring flowers January 30, 2007

Filed under: Shopping — lauravw @ 9:39 pm

cowboys.jpgIt’s getting lighter in the evenings, and yesterday I got the new Cath Kidston catalogue in the post – so Spring is definitely on the way.

There are some lovely new things in there – my absolute favourite things are the brown cowboy-print wellies. They’re not outrageously expensive, but they cost more than I could ever justify spending on wellies (I think the last time I wore a pair must have been when I was in my early teens and used to go horseriding, so they are clearly not an essential item for my lifestyle). But look how nice they are! Cowboys!!

The washed roses print is lovely, and it comes in a beautiful dress. The main new selling point seems to be the bubble rose print, which I find amusing – it’s like they sat down and realised that their most popular prints are rose prints and spots, and so decided to combine the two. Anyway, their cunning plan worked, because I love it.

Finally, if you like things like this, you might be pleased to see these pictures on Print and Pattern which show homewares at Asda – they are amazing, especially when you consider that they will be selling at a low price. I hope to make a trip there soon to see the rest of the range.


Have you made your Valentine yet?

Filed under: Paper crafts — lauravw @ 9:15 pm

Black and white and red all overOn Sunday afternoon I made a little card for the Craft: Valentine contest, and it was a lot of fun. It’s such a good idea for a competition because you can do something quickly and without spending money on materials. I wonder what else I can make from the bits and bobs in my recycling bin?


Birds January 28, 2007

Filed under: Flowers and plants — lauravw @ 4:26 pm

Today we took part in the RSPB garden birdwatch, an annual event where you watch your garden (or a park) for an hour and keep track of the birds you see. You only count the highest number of each kind of bird you see at any one time.
It’s the first time I’ve taken part (because it’s the first year I’ve had a garden), and I really enjoyed it. I am disappointed that our garden doesn’t attract more birds, but that’s because there are very few established plants in it – the people who lived here before pretty much just had a lawn. But it’s getting better all the time!

All the results are being recorded online here – we saw:

  • 4 blackbirds.
  • 1 collared dove.
  • 1 dunnock.
  • 2 great tits.
  • 8 goldfinches.
  • 1 magpie.
  • 20 starlings (they appeared from nowhere, ate lots of bread, and then left just as quickly).
  • 1 wood pigeon.
  • 1 redwing.
  • 1 rook.
  • (and 1 squirrel, but you can only record the birds)

I hope that if we take part next year we’ll count even more birds. While watching the birds we did see something funny: a local cat carefully squeezed his way through the cat door on our neighbours’ house. We’re not sure what happened next, but their two cats will not be impressed if this other cat has eaten all their food.


iPod bags January 25, 2007

Filed under: Sewing — lauravw @ 8:18 pm

Quite recently I became an iPod owner – something I’d always wanted to be but couldn’t justify buying. Thanks to a trial of podcasting lectures at the university I’m taking a course at, I got given one – the best freebie I’ve ever had (although I really should download some of those lectures some day…).

I’m so worried about it getting damaged, so I bought one a hard case for it from Paperchase, which is quite pretty (mine’s the floral one on the right). But I would also like to make a bag for it so that the headphones and cable can all be safely stashed away. I’ve been looking on Flickr to see what other people have made for their iPods, and I’m so impressed – this one in particular, made by Rooruu is great because it’s made from scraps of fabric that look as though they’d be too small to make anything from. And I’m smitten – this one at Crafty Daisies is made from inexpensive felt and has a bird on it.


Valentine January 23, 2007

Filed under: Paper crafts — lauravw @ 10:00 pm

Just enough time to say that I love the sound of this make a Valentine from recycled materials contest, spotted at Not Martha (who is a judge in the contest, so let’s all be nice to her).


Candy Freak January 21, 2007

Filed under: Books,Food — lauravw @ 6:17 pm

Over the last few days I’ve been reading Steve Almond’s Candy Freak, and I’ve really enjoyed it. In the book he spends time visiting some of the independent chocolate factories that still operate in the US. Much the same as over here in the UK, a lot of the companies that used to make chocolates on a small scale have gone out of business, or been taken over by larger companies.

The book made me wish that I had had the idea first – I would have enjoyed, as he did, visiting all the chocolate factories and accepting large amounts of free samples. I have visited three chocolate factories in my life though, which is a pretty good record. I went with my grandfather on a tour of the Rowntree’s (now owned by Nestle, sadly) factory in York – this was wonderful, as the factory is not open to the public but Grandad worked there for over 50 years and so was able to pull a few strings. We had to wear big white labcoats in the factory, and every time we passed any of the production lines, Grandad grabbed a few samples and stuck them in the big pockets on my labcoat. There was a small exhibition room showing products that had been made by the company and its partners and sold around the world – Grandad took a few liberties here too, re-arranging the displays so that he could remove one or two items. This meant I got to try American sweets, which, to my 10 year old mind, was about the most awesome thing in the world.

The second factory I visited was the Cadbury/Bournville one in Birmingham – on a school trip. (I’m not sure why my convent school thought a tour of a chocolate factory would be of benefit to our educuation, but I am grateful.) Again there were many free samples to be had.

49732720_3940c1cdb7.jpgFinally, in 2005 we went to the Caillers factory in Switzerland – this was a lovely old building out in the countryside, and you could see happy dairy cows munching on grass in the fields all around. The tour was a bit weak in that you couldn’t get close to anything, but they had mocked up a few big vats of melting chocolate and had big windows you could look through. They compensated for the tour by having a large – and mostly unsupervised – tasting room in which you could eat as much chocolate as you liked. (There are some pictures of the factory and the free chocolate on Flickr.)

I don’t know how many small confectionery firms still operate in the UK – I would love to read a book about them all. Candy Freak was great in that it made me feel nostalgic for all these candy bars that I have never even tried (and probably never will, since so many of them are confined to being sold in small geographical regions within America). Anne at I Like has written in the past about the Tunnock’s factory and bakery, and that would certainly be one to put on the list for a UK tour. While in York the other week I went past the Terry’s factory, and was sad to see it’s all been sold off and will be converted into flats and offices. Terry’s now get their chocolates made elsewhere, and this always affects the taste – there’s definitely something different about a chocolate orange these days…


Gift journal January 19, 2007

Filed under: Gifts — lauravw @ 10:22 am

Just before Christmas I started doing something I had been intending to do for a long time: I began a gift journal. I bought myself a lovely Jill Bliss notebook a few months ago with this purpose in mind – I wanted a beautiful book that I would enjoy using, because this is a project that I hope will last a lifetime.

In the journal I’m recording all the gifts I give and receive. I’m also making notes about things I might want to buy for people in the future, so that when their birthday comes around I’ve already got some ideas down.

So for Christmas I wrote down the details of all the parcels we sent out to people – the thinking behind this being that I want to keep track of what I’ve sent because I don’t want to keep sending the same person the same thing. When I have a good idea about what I think someone will like, my bad memory means there is a very real chance that I could keep repeating that same good idea, year after year – which would ruin it. I also made a note of everything that we received, and put a tick next to it once we’d sent out a thank you card. Again this is important to me because of my bad memory – there are a few special presents like books and so on that I was given as a child and am not quite sure who gave them to me – I don’t want that to happen in future, so this is the best way round it for me.

And in the back of the book I’ve written a Christmas card list, with plenty of space so that I can add (and remove!) people over time as necessary.

My only wish is that I’d started this a few years ago – but at least I’ve made a start now.


In praise of Chronicle Books January 17, 2007

Filed under: Books,Gifts,Shopping — lauravw @ 8:11 pm

In the last few weeks I’ve been particularly appreciative of Chronicle Books – they publish such interesting books by knowledgeable people, and what’s more is that they design them so nicely. For Christmas I was given Amy Butler’s In Stitches, and Elinor Klivans’ Cupcakes!, and I also started using a beautifully designed journal designed by Jill Bliss, which I bought sometime last year – the interior pages all have prints of native (to the US) flowers on them. I can see they also do notecards in the same print, so perhaps I will set up a wishlist on their site and remind myself of them another day. The site also mentions that Jill’s work has featured in ReadyMade and gone-but-not-forgotten Budget Living. Last but not least I bought, for about the price of a magazine (I’ve no idea why it was so cheap, it was the only copy), The Big Book of Vegetarian, which is excellent. The recipes in it are both unusual and easy to follow, and even though I’ve only had it for about a month it is a firm favourite.

Just spending a few minutes on the Chronicle Books website brings up all kinds of treasures that I suddenly find I can’t live without – it’s a good place to spend a few minutes while on lunchbreak at work, but perhaps I need to avoid it for a little while longer until pay day.

This book looks like it will be similar (yet different enough) to the Amy Butler book – Lotta Jansdotter’s Simple Sewing, out in February.

UPDATE: Amazon UK will be shipping the book from 30 April 2007, while if you live in the US it seems you’ll be able to get it much sooner – Amazon US says 1 March 2007. At least the delay for those of us on this side of the Atlantic means I can ask for it as a birthday present. I’m so looking forward to seeing the book!


Dressing up a dressing table January 14, 2007

Filed under: Interiors,Sewing — lauravw @ 6:08 pm

In our guest bedroom we have a plain brown wooden set of drawers. It’s somewhat like a dressing table because it has an attached mirror and a glass top. We’re working on making the room look nice at the moment, and yesterday bought some fabrics to frame and hang on the walls. This afternoon I made a quick and simple cover for under the glass on top of the drawers. Here’s what the fabric I used looks like.


First I measured the fabric by laying the glass over it and drawing round it with tailor’s chalk. I allowed 2cm for the hem on each side.


The next part of my plan was to press the hems and then sew round the whole thing, but since the completed project will spend its life with a big heavy piece of glass pressed on top if it, I decided sewing wasn’t really necessary. I did fold in (mitre?) the corners and hand sew them together to held it holds its shape.

And voila:



Making a rollerblind

Filed under: Interiors,Sewing — lauravw @ 2:24 pm

After traipsing round looking at dozens of roller blinds made with boring fabrics, we spotted a small kit to make your own.

The kit includes a roller, a baton (to weight the bottom of the blind down), and a small pull cord. You have to buy fabric, and some PVA glue in a spray/pump to stiffen your fabric and stop the edges from fraying.

Below are some instructions, and on Flickr you can see a before and after picture to give you an idea both of what you’d be letting youself in for, and what the finished results look like.


1. Cut your fabric to a size that is a few inches wider and longer than you’ll need in the end. (It shrinks a bit when you spray it.) For the length of the blind, you want to allow for a hem at the bottom, the length of your window, and a few more inches (say 10) to allow for the roller.

2. Hang the fabric so that the reverse side is facing you. Spray it all over with your PVA glue – when you think you’ve added too much glue, spray it all over again and then leave it to dry. (You will get glue everywhere, so either cover the space that’s behind where you’re spraying, or do this in a room with horrid peach walls so that the sprayed on glue is actually an improvement to your decor.) (Or do this outside, so you don’t have to clean anything up afterwards.)

3. When the glue has dried – most likely the next day – take down the fabric and cut it down to the size you really want it to be. This is the size of your roller – so to really measure this properly, you have to have put up your brackets on the sides of the window, and measured and trimmed your roller. (It’s a bit of a fiddly process, but not impossible.)

4. Try not to panic as you cut the fabric. And try to cut in a straight line…

5. Make a hem along the bottom of your fabric – just big enough to allow you to insert the wooden baton. Insert the baton, and if there are screws supplied, use these to secure it in place and to attach the pull cord.

6. Attach the top of the fabric to the roller – our kit used double sided tape for this part. This is a scary moment as you want it all to be perfectly straight.

7. Roll the fabric around the roller by hand, and then put it into your brackets. Raise and lower the blind a few times, and just generally fiddle with it until the tension is correct.

8. Step back and admire your work, and be proud that your next door neighbours can no longer see in.

Updated to add that, now we’ve had our blind up for a few months, there are a couple of stray threads appearing down one side. They are minor though – and I have had similar threads appear on shop-bought roller blinds in the past, so I don’t think it’s entirely possible to avoid this happening. They are easy to trim though. I would definitely recommend making your own blinds rather than buying them, because this way you can choose any fabric you like, and it’s not that difficult to do.

Note: this is an updated version of a post I made on my old website – more info here.



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