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

Bird watching January 31, 2010

Filed under: Nature and wildlife — lauravw @ 3:27 pm

This morning saw us sitting in our kitchen in our pyjamas, staring out at the garden and looking for birds, while eating our breakfast. We’ve taken part in the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch for as long as we’ve had a garden – although even if you don’t have your own garden, you can participate by bird-watching in a park. In our designated hour, we saw:

  • 4 blackbirds
  • 2 blue tits
  • 1 chaffinch (male – we’ve seen a female one out there this afternoon)
  • 1 collared dove
  • 2 dunnocks
  • 2 goldfinches
  • 5 magpies
  • 3 robins
  • 6 starlings
  • 6 woodpigeons
  • 1 jackdaw

…but then this afternoon the long-tailed tits arrived – they’ve visited our garden a few times already this week, and I love to see them. We also had a visit from some great tits. And on Friday, a female sparrowhawk landed on our shed – we often see one circling overhead, but it’s rare to see one actually in the garden.

This year I’ve also enjoyed following the garden bird watch on Twitter – I’ve seen a lot of people having the same experience that we’ve often had: unusual birds landing in the garden once you’ve already submitted your results. My results from previous years are here: 2007, 2008, 2009.


Sundaes on Wednesday January 29, 2010

Filed under: Food — lauravw @ 2:12 pm

Before we set out for the ballet on Wednesday night, we ate sundaes. I think the sundae is a perfectly formed pudding: cold vanilla ice cream and hot chocolate fudge sauce, with perhaps some cream on top, maybe chopped nuts and a cherry. The first time I can really remember having them is at this diner on the Gulf of Mexico in Florida. I was there on holiday with my parents, and we went there for dinner most evenings. I’m pleased to see they still have sundaes on the menu today. I think I must have been about 14 years old when we visited the Gulf of Mexico, and I can still remember the Gulf Drive Cafe pretty clearly – it’s right by the water, and the food was really good.

Here in England, it’s not often that I spot sundaes on the menu anywhere – there is a restaurant near us that does an upmarket version with pistachio ice cream and melted Toblerone, but in general sundaes are under-rated over here! Not by Nigella Lawson though: there is a recipe in Nigella Express for a chocolate peanut butter fudge sundae (and the recipe is online if you don’t have the book). I made the recipe on Wednesday and we all enjoyed it – as you can see by this empty sundae glass!


Sugar plum fairies January 28, 2010

Filed under: Places to go — lauravw @ 3:03 pm

Last night we went with my mother to see The Nutcracker, at the Theatre Royal in Nottingham. It was performed by the Moscow City Ballet, and the performance was wonderful – there are some good photos of the show we saw on their website. Some of the ballerinas were improbably thin – particularly the lead – and it was hard to understand how they had the energy to dance for so long. Their dancing skills were amazing though – we were seated near the front and so had a good view of things. The backdrops were very pretty, with tiny twinkly lights and paintings of snow-covered houses.

And the costumes! They were amazing – I think there were perhaps 40 ballerinas, and a few costume changes. Someone must be very busy laundering and caring for everything. While we watched the dancing I thought about how it had been someone’s job to design and create each costume – and to sew on all the sparkly bits and the layers and layers of tulle. I’ve found my recent sewing projects quite daunting, and so it’s hard to imagine that the person who created those costumes must also have started out with the same basic sewing work that I do.


Buying fabric – part 2 January 24, 2010

Filed under: Sewing,Shopping — lauravw @ 4:56 pm

Ali made a good point about my last post, something I’d forgotten to mention: buying sheets or duvet covers from Ikea and cutting them up is sometimes an affordable way to get a large amount of pretty fabric (like this one!). Of course Ikea also sell some nice cotton fabrics, usually at a low price – I’ve used theses for a couple of projects and they’ve been nice to work with.

I also forgot to mention charity shops. Round here, most of the clothing for sale in charity shops is made from synthetic fabric, and doesn’t really merit re-purposing (I blame Primark, amongst other shops, for this). But I do have a brown and white duvet cover that I bought second-hand, and have good intentions to chop it up and turn it into something new one of these days.


Where I buy fabric January 18, 2010

Filed under: Sewing,Shopping — lauravw @ 4:21 pm

I’m sure I’m not the only person who struggles to find the right fabric for the right project. Where I live, there’s not much choice in terms of where you can buy fabric: there is John Lewis, which has a wonderful selection of upholstery fabric, an OK selection of craft fabric, and a rather dismal range of fabrics that you could turn into clothes but only for people you don’t like. There is also an indoor market, which has a couple of fabric stalls – mostly selling shiny, metallic numbers for saris; interesting to browse but not the most practical choices for me. And just a few steps from my house, there is a curtain shop that sells upholstery weight fabric by the metre, but about half of it is very dated (not vintage – just dated), and the shop often smells of cigarettes because the owner is a smoker. So it’s rare that I find anything I want in there.

…which leads me to the overwhelming range of fabric shops that are available online. A couple of years ago, British shoppers could make out like bandits when ordering fabric from the US: the dollar to pound exchange rate was in our favour, and it was easy to get a bargain, even taking into account the cost of international shipping. These days the exchange rate means the bargains are for the shoppers who live on the other side of the Atlantic.

Late last year Flossie Teacakes shared a most useful list of British fabric stores, which I’ve been referring back to often. Another list that I have bookmarked is Tree Fall’s post about how to buy fabrics and what the rules are for importing from the US to the UK.

I’ve bought from a few US websites now, and not had any problems. Here’s where I’ve shopped:

And in the UK, I’ve used Get Knitted a few times, to buy Amy Butler fabric and patterns – they are very helpful too (I seem to remember having to ring them to alter my order once and they were able to help). If you’re able to get to London, Melissa’s post about fabric shops looks very useful – as does her map.

There are a few other sites I’ve not used yet, but check on quite regularly to see what’s new:

I read the True Up blog, and find that really helpful – they do a weekly post about sales and discounts at fabric shops, and any kind of discount is useful when the dollar is so strong against the pound.

Happy shopping!


Could you sew ALL your clothes? January 15, 2010

Filed under: Fashion,Sewing — lauravw @ 9:06 am

Now that the new year is here, I have been window-shopping on my favourite clothes websites to see what’s new and if there’s anything that would suit me. (I would do this in person if it weren’t for the big freeze of 2010.) I’ve not spotted much so far, which is no bad thing, but the odd thing here and there has caught my eye.

But then I stumbled across Mena’s new project, Sew Weekly:

“By the end of 2010, I hope to have a closet filled only with clothes that I have sewn myself (with a few exceptions).”

WOW! My favourite so far is this pretty green dress, and it’s interesting to read about how she’s sourcing vintage fabrics and patterns. I’m not sure this would work as well in the UK (outside of larger cities like London, at any rate), but I suppose I do find the odd bit of fabric or a handful of pretty buttons in the charity shops every now and again.


Sewing in 2010 January 10, 2010

Filed under: Books,Crafts,Sewing — lauravw @ 12:11 pm

What with the snow and an injured foot (woe is me!) I’ve not been getting out much so far this year. But this means I have had time to leaf through the sewing books I was given for Christmas, marking the pages of the things I’d most like to attempt.

One project in particular called out to be tackled first, because the book it featured in (Sew! by Cath Kidston) also contained a pocket with all the necessary supplies: fabric, buttons and a little label. And the fabric had been precut into the necessary shapes, making it very easy to get started. I’ve not quite finished the bag yet (I had to stop sewing due to my afore-mentioned injured foot), but I’ve not got much left to do – and it really does look like the bag in the photo on the front cover. I’ve already got plans to make a few more of these using my own fabrics, and there are patterns in the book for a few other bags, including a similar one which is lined. One step in the instructions did not work for me: you have to make a little loop to attach to the front in place of a button hole. The book has you make a very narrow tube, which you are then supposed to turn inside out. I found this to be impossible, and it soon reached a point where I had to throw that bit of fabric away. I found another fabric in my collected that was vaguely similar in terms of colours, and used that to make an alternative version (no turning inside out required). Pictures to follow, once I’ve completed it!

As well as books, I got two sewing patterns for Christmas: Amy Butler’s Liverpool shirt dress, which I plan to make once I find the right fabric, and Anna Maria Horner’s study hall skirt – which I’ve already ordered some fabric for. I’ve chosen a print that features both orange and brown, colours I love and that I think also suit my colouring. The main fabric is Meadowsweet Splashy Rose Pumpkin, and for the contrasting bits I’ll be using Meadowsweet Henna Garden Brown, both by Sandi Henderson. I’m looking forward to getting started on this skirt once the fabrics arrive – though with all the snow they may take a while.


Winter white January 8, 2010

Filed under: Nature and wildlife — lauravw @ 11:07 am

All week it’s been the same story: snow everywhere. I didn’t realise just how thoroughly the snow had covered the whole of Britain until I saw this Nasa photo on the BBC website. (Visit the BBC website for a much larger version of this amazing photograph – and you might also spot that, over to the left, Ireland still looks green.)

Even before this week, it felt like we’d had our share of snow this winter. I have been going everywhere in my wellies, and I’ve seen children being taken to school on their sledges (that was while the schools were still open, many are now closed).

The weather has brought unusual visitors to our garden (fieldfares and redwings), and we’ve been doing our very best to try to keep the birds fed – I’ve had to keep ordering more bird food. If you have a garden, please try to put a bit of food out for the birds – the RSPB have some good advice on helping Britain’s birds through this cold snap.

Wherever you are, I hope you’re keeping warm!