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

New recipes day January 29, 2008

Filed under: Food — lauravw @ 10:16 pm

LinguineOn Sunday I finally got round to trying a couple of recipes from Nigella Express. We started bright and early(ish) with pancakes. The book has an excellent recipe for homemade instant pancake mix: you mix flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and vanilla sugar up and store it in a big container. Then whenever you feel the urge to have pancakes, you can simply measure out 150g of the dry ingredients, and mix in an egg and some milk. We made one batch of pancakes (some with chocolate chips) and we now have enough pancake mix stored in the cupboard for two or three more batches. The pancakes themselves are somewhere between thinner English pancakes and thicker American buttermilk pancakes.

In the evening it was pasta for dinner: linguine with chestnut mushrooms, thyme and lemon. I even bought fresh thyme, which is somewhat extravagant for me. I did alter the recipe a little: the book directs you to simply mix the mushrooms in with a mixture of oil, lemon juice and other seasonings. Something about eating raw mushrooms with pasta did not appeal to me, so I put the mixture in a hot pan for a couple of minutes before mixing them with the pasta. The end result was pretty tasty and I think I’ll cook this again later this week (because I have quite a lot of fresh thyme to use up!).


Housewarming gift January 28, 2008

Filed under: Gifts — lauravw @ 9:26 pm

My parents will be moving house in a month or two, and I’ve been gathering bits and bobs for the housewarming present I’m giving them.

It’s a collection of useful household items, presented in a pretty container and tied with ribbon. I tried hard to think of all the things a person needs when they move house, and think that if I had had all of these supplies gathered together in one container it would have been very helpful.

Housewarming gift

The metal pail is from a little gift shop near where I live, and I’ve filled it with:

  • Key tags to help them label all their new keys
  • Plasters/band-aids
  • Antiseptic cream
  • Ibuprofen
  • Sellotape
  • Glue
  • String
  • Scissors
  • Blue tack
  • Matches
  • Cloths
  • Plastic food containers
  • Postage stamps

Other things I thought might help people in a new home included: menus from local takeaway restaurants, leaflets about things to do in the local area, a torch and batteries, address labels, a notebook and pens, candles, and an emergency bar of chocolate (or six).


Garden bird watch 2008 January 27, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — lauravw @ 12:55 pm

We spent a quiet hour this morning (whilst making some chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast) watching the bird activity in our garden – because this weekend is the RSPB’s annual big garden bird watch.

We didn’t do too badly, but I was a little disappointed that some of our regular visitors didn’t make an appearance. For the last 12 months or so, especially during the spring and summer, goldfinches were often on our bird feeders. But today, not one of them came to see us during the designated hour. The robin did appear though – he’s not been visiting us for that long, so I don’t think he would have been on our figures for last year’s bird watch.

Did you take part? I hope you saw some interesting birds.

UPDATE: Two hours after my hour of birdwatching, two goldfinches did arrive and eat some sunflower seeds. But they were too late to be counted – I hope they will be more punctual next year.


Tuesday Night Craft Club: table runners January 23, 2008

Filed under: Crafts,Sewing,Tuesday Night Craft Club — lauravw @ 7:41 pm

Table runnerAt this week’s Tuesday Night Craft Club I made another set of table runners. This time there was sewing involved, but it was still very easy. I got some black and white fabric at Ikea this weekend – it looks really good on our oak dining table, and fits in well with the overall colourscheme of the room.

Luckily the fabric’s width was ideal as the length of the runners – and I made them 45cm wide. This is a bit narrower than the ones I made from the oilcloth, and I think it gives them good proportions. (Of course, if I want to make the oilcloth ones narrower, all I have to do is get out the scissors and cut.)

It is such a quick and easy project to do, and yet the end result really makes you feel you’ve achieved something. Plus, I think these would make good gifts, if you knew what fabrics would suit the recipient’s home.

I’m so enjoying having a designated craft night: it means I know I’ve always got a few hours each week where I can get on with things. I’ve been reading a little more of Bend The Rules Sewing, and I think my next project may be to make baby bibs for the four (!)friends of mine who are currently expecting babies. One is due in about four days, so I don’t think I’ll have them ready in time for that one, but I guess that people don’t need bibs for newborns anyway.


Duvet cover (3) January 22, 2008

Filed under: Crafts,Sewing — lauravw @ 9:47 pm

Over the weekend I went back and forth on the whole duvet cover idea: the cost of the project is giving me cold feet. At some point I realised that, for roughly the same amount of money, I could buy a Cath Kidston duvet cover.

But then I read a couple of things that changed my mind, and reminded me that, although making things yourself can sometimes save you money, that’s not the main reason we craft. In Grand Designs magazine (I didn’t even know there was a Grand Designs magazine – my mother lent me a copy), I read a quote from a man who was has built his dream home:

“Try not to get upset if you go over budget. Your project should be a passion, if you are worrying about money then it’s probably not worth doing.”

And then I started to read Bend The Rules Sewing (a book I’ve only just started on – more on it when I’ve read a bit more), where Amy Karol says:

“Nowadays you can get almost anything you want at a large discount store for less money than making it from scratch. If your main goal for a particular project is to be creative and have fun, you will be happy.”

Something about both of these statements gave me the extra push to just get on with it. What’s the worst that could happen? Yes, I will spend quite a bit on fabric, but I will be creating something new and unique to me, and the Joel Dewberry fabric with the birds on makes me feel happy. If I don’t like the end result, I can unpick it and make it into something else instead.

And so I have started ordering fabrics – ironically, I have ordered all the prints I need except for the bird fabric. It’s out of stock at a lot of US fabric sites, and though I’ve seen it at a British site, that would cost me more than waiting for the US ones to get it back in stock (even if you take into account the cost of shipping from the US).

Here’s what I’ve gone for in the end – the Joel Dewberry Aviary prints on one side:

Possible duvet pattern?

And on the reverse, Sole by Valori Wells for Free Spirit:

Duvet cover- reverse.


Up to January 20, 2008

Filed under: Up to — lauravw @ 7:25 pm

Trying: Sanctuary face wash

More than I usually spend on face wash, but Boots are giving away £5 vouchers for Sanctuary skincare products, which means you can pick this up at the moment for £0.95. I’m enjoying using it, and my skin feels good after using it – though once I run out, I doubt I’ll be able to bring myself to spend almost £6 on what is, essentially, soap.

Eating: Fran’s Deep Milk Chocolate

This is delicious. We’re visiting Seattle later this year, so I’ll be able to pack a few of these in my suitcase on the way back. Which will also mean I won’t be able to eat them all during the flight.

Listening to: The Go! Team – Proof of Youth

I put this on when I’m washing up – it’s cheery, and sounds like it’s recorded by a really enthusiastic and talented group of people.  Plus the music part of their website is set up to look like a cassette player and a stack of tapes, which is fun. You can listen to lots of their music on the site.


Duvet cover (2) January 18, 2008

Filed under: Interiors,Sewing — lauravw @ 10:06 pm

When I decided to make a duvet cover I knew it would be time consuming, but I never thought it would take me THREE HOURS with my graphics software to put together a pattern for the thing. And when I say pattern, I mean it in the most basic sense of the word: a simple grid with different fabric in each square. And also, remember I said my duvet cover would be reversible? Well I’ve only managed to plan for the front side so far, so there is still much time to be spent with pixels before I get near the sewing machine.

There will be either 16 or 8 squares, each either 50cm or 100cm across. I checked a few websites and 200cm square seems to be the standard measurement for a British duvet cover. (Though before I cut anything I will measure just to be sure!)

Joel Dewberry prints.

I had imagined I would use four different prints, all from this Joel Dewberry collection. But I couldn’t get them to sit right with each other – I don’t thinking matching up four prints is my strong point. There are two I love more than the rest (though I do love most of them), and so I’m going with those. Even then there are plenty of options to deviate from this layout – I could have rectangles of 100 by 50cm, for example… We’ll see.

You won’t believe it took me three hours to do this, but here’s the pattern I may go for:

Possible duvet pattern?

Now that I’ve narrowed it down a bit, I can work out the best way of ordering these particular prints. And then I can start thinking about what to put on the other side…


Duvet cover January 17, 2008

Filed under: Crafts,Interiors,Sewing — lauravw @ 7:52 pm

Over the past few days, a rather ambitious plan has been forming: I want to make a duvet cover.

I have never made anything that big before, in part because of the expense involved, but there are so many pretty fabrics around, and so few of the duvet covers I see for sale (even the expensive ones) are anywhere near as nice as the prints you can buy.

I’m doing a bit of preliminary research at the moment, most of which has consisted of me looking at websites that sell fabric and trying to work out the most economical way of ordering enough fabric without being stung for excessive customs duty when it arrives in the post.

Bird fabric. Not cheep!This bird fabric is the key to the whole thing. You can buy it online both in the UK and the US, but I need to do a few calculations to work out which is the better deal: the US websites have it for around $9 a yard, plus about $11 shipping, but in the UK it’s around £9 a metre, and £3 for shipping. When you factor in the possible customs charge, it gets very complicated – plus the whole metre vs yards thing does not help.

Fortunately it didn’t take me as long to notice that rolls of fabric are less wide than duvet covers. To get round this, I plan to make the cover from large squares of material – each one about a quarter of the width of the cover itself – so there will be four squares across and four squares down. I have seen some other patterns for making duvet covers – for example in the Amy Butler book, but they use even more fabric and so would be even more expensive.

At first I thought that for the reverse side of the duvet cover I would simply use a solid fabric in a complimentary colour, but I think that will work out just as expensive as using nice prints, so I have a new and cunning plan: I will make the cover reversible, with one side in the browns and oranges in the bird print above, and the other in the same style but using completely different prints. It’s still not going to be cheap, but at least this way I will have two options for using the cover once it’s made.

The other option would be to make the reverse side from a flat bedsheet, which would almost certainly work out cheaper to do, but would be a little less fun.



Filed under: Shopping — lauravw @ 7:22 pm

An article in the New York Times about the rise of Etsy and other ways of selling handmade goods (from last month, but I’d not seen it until today on Signal vs Noise).

And also, when I linked to The Laundry the other day, what I meant to mention was that they also have a blog. But I forgot, so here it is. And it has lovely pictures.

And another store I’ve just found this week is Creative Living Online, which has some good craft supplies and pretty fabrics, and it’s in the UK.  And they too have a blog, but it seems they are just getting it started at the moment.


Tuesday night craft club January 16, 2008

Filed under: Crafts — lauravw @ 7:22 pm

For the last year and a half, I’ve been busy every Tuesday night: I worked as a volunteer for a local Brownie pack. It was rewarding work, but I needed a break, and so I stopped at the end of December (and I’m happy to hear they’ve had a few offers from people to replace me, which assuages my guilt somewhat).

So Tuesday nights are now my own – and I’ve decided to designate them for crafting, in the loosest sense of the word: sewing, knitting, papercraft, baking, cooking, and even simply reading about creative people and the things they make (crafting vicariously through others, which is sometimes the best option on cold winter evenings).

Last week was the inaugural Tuesday Night Craft Club, during which I made two table runners (details here). I have now finished the table runners – which is to say that I decided they don’t need hemming after all, and are just fine as they are, carefully cut out with scissors. Which of course means they are incredibly easy to make, so long as you can cut fabric in a reasonably straight line. You can see a picture here.

On the same night I also had a rather bizarre emergency craft project to attend to: earlier that day, our kitten had managed to turn on the hot tap in our kitchen. She is fascinated by water, and usually hovers around the sink when we wash dishes. Our taps have the sort of levers that could be moved by a cat (though in my past experience, cats tend to avoid water, and so this is not a problem I’ve had to deal with before), so I can sort of understand how this could have happened. She’d managed to get a very strong flow of water from the tap – we don’t know how long the tap had been on for, but by the time we got home, the hot water tank was empty and making a lot of noise. The kitten was hiding on top of the kitchen cabinets, looking somewhat anxious.

Something needed to be done: we’d been lucky that on this occasion the plug had not been in, so all that excess water had simply gone down the drain. If we’d left the plug in (or if she’d managed to knock it into place), we could have been dealing with an almighty flood. I used some oilcloth (leftover bits and pieces from the table runners) and some velcro to make some little straps to fasten around the levers of the tap. They work quite well, but for good measure we also tie a sock round them before we leave the house, just in case – I don’t want to come home to a flood.

This week Tuesday Night Craft Club was held on a Monday (we had a friend coming over on Tuesday) – I’m still calling it Tuesday Night Craft Club though…

Garland of dragonfliesMy project was to make use of the many papercraft supplies I have gathered over the years. I’m not letting myself buy any more until I’ve made good use of a lot of stuff I already have. My problem is that I buy nice things, but than am reluctant to use them, because I know that once I’ve used them, they’re gone. I do this with a lot of things: saving candles, fancy tea towels, pretty clothes and other little luxuries for special occasions. I don’t know where I got this habit from: my mother uses the things she loves, and if they run out or break, she’s just happy that she enjoyed them while she had them. I’m trying to be a bit more like that – I’ve certainly got better at wearing the good clothes I have (rather than have them gather dust in the wardrobe until they’ve gone out of style), and I really do use the fancy tea towels I’ve been given. But I need to work on making use of fabrics and papers, rather than simply hoarding them in some kind of mini-museum.

I really enjoy acquiring new papercraft supplies – pretty papers, cards, ribbons, stamps and punches – but am often not motivated enough to do a project because I’m put off by the amount of effort that has to be put in to get everything out, and then to tidy it all away afterwards. In fact, last night it took less than 20 minutes to put everything away, so there’s really no excuse.

I made eight cards: a few of these were not particularly creative, since they simply involved sticking those pre-made card toppers onto cards. (I had two little sets of these in my collection – a fifties one and a baking one – that I’d found very much reduced in price once and so snapped up. But in general card toppers don’t appeal to me – I think because they make things too easy, and not so unique. But also because a lot of them are tacky.)

The others were a bit more effort, but still easy – my best results are usually the cards that take the least effort to make. I’m happiest with this garland of dragonflies, and will try to make a few variations on this theme next time.

You can see pictures of the other cards on Flickr. The little vase with paper-fastener/brad flowers does not look finished to me, so I’ll add something else to that one next time I get the craft supplies out.



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