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

Blackberries and sheep September 28, 2008

Filed under: Food,Tuesday Night Craft Club — lauravw @ 3:50 pm

These fairy cakes were somewhat of an experiment: I needed a gift for a relative who can eat eggs, but not cow’s milk or butter. Browsing through 101 Cakes and Bakes I found a recipe for blackberry fairy cakes that contained oil rather than butter, and also used yogurt. With some trepidation I used sheep’s yogurt instead of the usual cows’ milk yogurt, and it was a great relief when the finished product came out of the oven looking good and tasting yummy. Both the icing and the cakes have a little orange zest in them, which is a good flavour to have alongside the blackberries.

(I had been a little nervous of using the sheep’s yogurt because, although I’ve had only limited exposure to it, I’ve found the milk and yogurt from goats still smells overwhelmingly of the goat from whence it came… Happily these cakes don’t have any unwanted scents or tastes!)


Heather Bailey pin cushions August 16, 2008

Filed under: Sewing,Tuesday Night Craft Club — lauravw @ 3:22 pm

Using Heather Bailey’s free pattern, I made these little pin cushions. I’m so pleased with how they turned out, and found this a great project to work on for several reasons. I like projects where you can use up those tiny bits of fabric that are left after other projects, and I also like being able to make something from scratch in an evening.

Because the pin cushions are small they are a little fiddly, but the instructions are clear. It is difficult to get the ribbon to go right through each pin cushion – we found that using a crochet hook helped with this (and using narrow ribbon speeds things up a lot). For a long time I have had an old and mis-shapen pillow stashed away just in case I made a project that needed some stuffing. I have almost thrown in out several times, but I’m glad I kept it as it was ideal for this – I still have plenty of it left and would have to make a few dozen more pin cushions to get through it all. I’m going to make a few more for Christmas stocking stuffers, and I’m keeping these two for myself.

In the post this week I got a copy of the latest Quilt Room catalogue, and was pleasantly suprised to see they have Heather’s new fabric collection – so if you are in the UK and shopping for Pop Garden or Bijoux fabrics they might be a good place to start looking. It can be tricky to work out whether it’s cheaper to buy from US or UK websites – the shipping from the US over to the UK is expensive, but even taking that into account if you’re buying 3 metres/yards or less, the US websites are often a better deal. Once you go above that it seems you’re better on the UK ones – particularly so because of the customs duty you’d have to pay on larger orders from the US. And with the pound falling to new lows against the dollar this month, shopping on American websites for Brits is less appealing financially.


Tuesday Night Craft Club: The Boden July 10, 2008

Filed under: Sewing,Tuesday Night Craft Club — lauravw @ 8:10 pm

On Tuesday night I worked on my A-line Barcelona skirt. It was all going pretty well, and late in the evening I got a bee in my bonnet about trying to finish the skirt before I went to bed for the night. This I managed to do, and then I was able to wear my skirt the next day.

The skirt-making process went pretty well, and there’s only one aspect I’m not happy with: the muslin lining. I’m not sure if ‘muslin’ fabric means the same in the US as it does in the UK, and I suspect that might be the issue. John Lewis only had one weight of muslin, and so that was what I bought – very fine, slightly stretchy fabric. The stretchyness makes it hard to press back into shape after laundering, and so cutting out the pattern neatly wasn’t as easy as it could have been. I noticed that a fabric shop sales person advised Domesticali against muslin, I should have asked someone who knows about these things before I bought mine. The end result is perfectly acceptable, but if I make a second skirt I’ll switch to something more solid for the lining.

The finished skirt fits well, and I’ve already ordered some of this Erin McMorris fabric to make a second one. I’m not sure if I’ll make the apron overlay again though – it’s beautiful, but the pleats around the hips add a good couple of inches to my silhouette, and not in the sort of place a girl wants to add inches to.

The highlight of this project was when someone at work asked me if my skirt was from Boden. I see this as a compliment for Amy Butler and somewhat of an endorsement of my developing sewing skills. Plus it means I have sort of saved money – the fabric I bought was certainly cheaper than buying anything from Boden (although their sale is on, and there are pretty things reduced…).


Tuesday Night Craft Club: Barcelona Skirts June 29, 2008

Filed under: Sewing,Tuesday Night Craft Club — lauravw @ 3:09 pm

Last weekend I was busy cutting out pattern pieces to make the A-line skirt and the apron overlay, from Amy Butler’s Barcelona skirt patterns.

Cutting out the fabric was a lot of fun: my parents’ new house has a gallery above the living room, which my mum always said would be a nice place for me to sit and cut out fabrics. Since I was staying with them last weekend, I took all my fabrics and tools and got to work. It was great to have such a big space to work in (and to not be attacked by a cat while cutting!), but the best part was that my grandfather was staying with them too. He is 92, and has had a lifelong interest in making things. His eyesight has faded to such an extent that he can’t make things himself these days (he used to do a lot of woodwork – he made me a dolls’ house, and even built his own kitchen) but he was very interested to see what I was working on and to understand how it would all fit together. My rotary cutter in particular fascinated him.

This weekend I made the apron overlay, and I think it’s turned out really well. The fabrics I’ve used are from the Midwest Modern collection – when we flew off to Seattle, one of the things on my shopping list was fabric to make skirts from. The prints in the Midwest Modern range are probably too pale to really suit me, but I like them and didn’t want to come home empty handed. (Because back in the UK, Amy’s fabrics are twice as expensive and I can only buy them online – nowhere local to me carries them.) I hope I can find some darker prints I like to make a second version of this that suits me better.

Next up is the A-line skirt – I’m a little anxious about putting in the concealed zipper, but I’m sure it will be fine. I’ve never made a lined skirt before either, but know that once I have I’ll be able to use the technique on other projects.

Digging around online, I’ve found lots of helpful information from people who’ve already used the patterns, and so that has been reassuring:

I’ve taken two pictures of my creation, which you can see here and here.


Tuesday Night Craft Club: Bibs June 10, 2008

Filed under: Gifts,Sewing,Tuesday Night Craft Club — lauravw @ 8:01 pm

I have reached that age where my friends are having babies with increasing frequency, and so I was pleased to find a simple pattern in Bend the Rules Sewing for baby bibs. You need some pretty fabric, some cotton flannel, and little metal fasteners, but that’s all. They were really easy to make, and the budget-conscious side of me was pleased that each one only requires a small amount of fabric, so you can turn out a lot of bibs for very little money.

So far I’ve made nine, and given them away in sets of three. As you can see the fabrics I chose are green/yellow, and I’ve been relieved to see these colours be well received by my friends. (I had worried people would want blue for girls and pink for boys, but that’s not really my taste.)

Someone I showed these to made a good suggestion for a more advanced/complicated version that I think would work pretty well: putting a layer of something plasticky (she suggested parachute fabric, and I can only assume that’s something that can be bought online even if it does sound rather obscure!) so that any spills the baby makes don’t go through the fabric and onto the baby.


Tuesday Night Craft Club: buying a desk May 12, 2008

Filed under: Tuesday Night Craft Club — lauravw @ 2:18 pm

I have been reading Crafters Companion, and admiring the desks and workrooms that the featured crafters have set up. I’ve never had a designated space to practise my sewing and paper crafts – about a year ago we got a fairly large dining table in our kitchen, which has been a big improvement. But still there is the need to tidy everything away once it’s been used, which often deters me from getting out fiddly paper craft things in the first place. And until two years ago, we lived in a teeny tiny flat with no table, so my main craft space was the floor.

But the house we live in now has a little more room, and so the penny has finally dropped: I could actually fit a desk into the guest bedroom. The room’s been used a lot recently by my parents, but they’ve now moved into a new house nearby and so won’t need to stay with us so much. And even with a desk in there, there will still be enough room for the guest bed, it’s just that it will be less than spacious. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing: if guests are too comfortable, they may stay too long!

And so I jumped in with two feet and bought myself a little desk, some drawers and a chair from Ikea. (This was made easier by the new online shopping facility – I’ve not even had to set foot in Ikea itself.) The desk is cheap – the space it will have to fit in is small, and one day I might have more space, so this way I can trade up and get a bigger desk in the future if necessary.

The drawers are ideal for crafters who make things involving lots of small items, fabrics and papers – each drawer is wide but shallow, so you don’t need to stack small items on top of each other. Since this picture was taken I’ve moved my sewing machine onto the desk, and it’s great to be able to leave it there, without having to pack it away when I’m finished.


Tuesday Night Craft Club: Invitations March 27, 2008

Filed under: Crafts,Food,Tuesday Night Craft Club — lauravw @ 9:21 am

InvitationsI turn 30 in a few weeks, and am planning a small party. So for this week’s craft club I made some invitations. I used some pretty patterned card, which I trimmed so that it would fit inside some blue envelopes I had. I printed out the details of the party and then attached those with eyelets to the cards. On the envelopes I stamped little chickens.

That leaves the catering to think about. There will be around a dozen people in total, coming to our house on a Saturday afternoon – for tea and birthday cake. This means I don’t have to do too much in the way of catering: I’m making myself a big chocolate birthday cake, and I think I’ll also do rice crispie treats and millionaire’s shortbread.

There will be several kinds of tea on offer, plus coffee and soft drinks. I was also wondering about making mint juleps – not that they would go particularly well with the food, but simply because I’ve never tried one and thought it might be fun. Most guests will be driving though, and so wouldn’t be able to have one – so perhaps I’ll make myself one for when everyone goes home.

I’m hoping the weather will be decent enough that we can play croquet and boules on the lawn, but I’m not going to count on that – especially given the Easter weekend wash-out we’ve just had.


Tuesday night craft club: birthday cake March 9, 2008

Filed under: Food,Tuesday Night Craft Club — lauravw @ 3:01 pm

Boston cream pie.I’m happy to report that Tuesday Night Craft Club continues. There’s plenty of variation in the time and date (this was a Saturday morning craft club, if you’re bothered by the details), but the principle remains the same – a few hours doing something creative/reading about other people doing something creative.

It was my dad’s birthday last week so I thought I would make him a birthday cake. I don’t think I’ve made him a birthday cake before as my parents have always lived far away from us, but a week ago they moved to a new home less than half an hour away, so the prospect of making birthday cakes for them is now quite practical.

He requested a vanilla cake with chocolate icing, which immediately made me think of Boston Cream Pie. This is a cake I sampled a few years ago in the US, and love it – it’s vanilla cake, then a layer of thick custardy goodness, then more cake, and then a dark chocolate ganache topping. (I made one last year for my own birthday.)

The recipe I used is from Nigella Lawson’s How to be a Domestic Goddess – and even them I simplified the whole thing by buying some custard from M&S rather than making my own creme patissiere. You don’t really need a specific recipe: just make two vanilla sponge cakes and layer them with custard, then cover them in a mix of melted chocolate and cream. It’s even better if you have extra custard to serve it with. That said, there’s a Martha Stewart Living recipe here.

I gave the rest of the cake to my parents to take home, and my mum dropped the whole thing as she was getting into the car. Somehow she caught it, but I’ve no idea how.


Tuesday night craft club: Kitty Tunnel February 19, 2008

Filed under: Crafts,Sewing,Tuesday Night Craft Club — lauravw @ 10:19 pm

Kitty tunnel. With fake kitty.I made a kitty tunnel! The fabric is from the Sole collection by Valori Wells,* and it’s lined with dark brown faux fur, which I got from John Lewis.

It was all pretty straightforward to make, although I wasn’t able to find faux fur as wide as the one specified in the book. The bolts I looked at were only around 30 inches across. This wasn’t a problem – the tunnel seems plenty big enough.

I should have used sturdier fabric for the outside of the tunnel – it’s floppy like a blanket. I don’t think that’s a disadvantage though, from a cat’s perspective.

After much effort making this I set it out for young Daisy to play with, and was suprised (and a little disappointed) to find that she’s not really interested. Cats are often contrary like that, but she shows so much enthusiasm for all her other toys (cardboard boxes! paper bags! things she has stolen from us!) that I hadn’t stopped to consider the tunnel might not impress her… Oh well – we’ll leave it lying around (at least it looks pretty) and I’m sure some day she’ll realise how spoiled she is to have a fur lined tunnel to hide in.

*This fabric was destined for my duvet cover project. I love it, but now that I’ve seen it with the other fabrics in real life I don’t think it’s the right one to use on this occasion. Which means I need to a) find something good to make from this one, and b) find something that will work with the fabrics I’ve already bought.


Tuesday Night Craft Club: lavender pillow February 17, 2008

Filed under: Sewing,Tuesday Night Craft Club — lauravw @ 10:03 am

Some time late last summer, I visited my grandfather in York, and he let me have lots of the lavender from his garden. I hung it upside down, bat-like, in the airing cupboard when I got home, and it’s lived there ever since. I think you really only need to hang lavender to dry for a few weeks, but luckily its extended stay in our airing cupboard doesn’t seem to have done it any harm. So on Tuesday night I got it out and removed all the flowers from it – the fragrance from that much lavender will make you sleep well.

The next night I sewed a small pouch to put all the dried flowers in, and now we have a little lavender scented pillow to put on the bed during the day. (Picture here – the fabric is a swatch of something I don’t recall the name of, but it’s from John Lewis)
Notes for next time: what looks like a huge amount of lavender doesn’t go as far as you’d expect, so this summer I plan to harvest even more of the stuff.