Monday 28 February 2011

More New Fabric and (briefly) the Evils of Multi Tasking

I love my kids. I had a great week 'up north' with them. They make me laugh. They fill me with joy. And today they are back in school and I am all by myself. Do not cue to sad music though. I am loving my 'me time' too. I am pottering. Doing a little of this and a little of that. The inevitable - laundry, dishes, cleaning, etc. The procrastinating - reading blogs, writing emails, playing solitaire, etc. The fun stuff - admiring my new fabric and baking.

While I was away the much anticipated fabric order arrived. John was here and paid the duty owing on it. Great timing, thank you. I just had to come home and admire it. Any quilters out there will surely be aware of this new line of fabric. It is being much talked about and the official release date is April. BUT there are some pre-cuts out there and I searched online and found a bundle of fat quarters. Yippee! Woohoo! And all that stuff. Now it is mine, mine, mine.

Here it is - TaDa!

Who can resist those girls on the swings? The scootering children with the puppies? I love it. Lots of people love it. What makes it even nicer is how lovely the person who designed it is. Aneela at comfortstitching has been really kind and welcoming to me as I enter the blogging world. I hope to see many more fabric lines from her creative imagination because she designs fabrics that are useable and so unique that they beg to be bought and turned into lovely objects.

Now all I need is the courage to actually cut the fabric. I can visualise what I want to do with it but what if I get it totally wrong and then have to wait until April before I can buy some more? That would be a waste and a tragedy so, for once in my life, I think I ought to do a little forward planning, draw the pattern out and do the maths so that I don't waste a square inch of my hoard. Graph paper awaits.

Of course Sherbet Pips is not my only purchase. I did mention in an earlier post that I did a quick visit to a yarn shop while at my mother's. Keep in mind that quick does not equate to less bought. I just had to make up my mind very quickly. It can be done. Not often, but it really does happen.

The first thing that caught my eye was this cotton yarn because of the jewel like tones it was available in -

- and I have already started playing with it.

I bought this...

... because it was (a) super soft; (b) made with soya which I found intriguing; and (c) on sale. Have to like that!

I added a couple of new colours to my bamboo stash because they were beautiful, and some fine white cotton because I have a project in mind for it, but not for a while so you will forget all about it and then months from now I shall spring it on you. And if you never see it again then you will know that I failed at my task - those of you who even remember that I bought it in the first place.

Finally, I couldn't leave the shop without buying something for the girls. That would be mean. And it would give them something for themselves and hopefully they would keep their paws off my stuff. (Ulterior motives can be good at times - really and truly.)

Just in case you think they have been short changed, there is this little haul that they got from their grandmother, knitting needles included. They have plenty to play with, and have already started.

Now, I am a woman. Therefore I can multi task. Correct? Apparantly not! I can bake and do the dishes. I can bake and speak to my father on the phone. I can do all sorts of things, quite often simutaneously. But I cannot bake and photograph my new purchases at the same time. Nope. Not me. Look and see for youself. The first photo are the cookies I made while doing dishes and then talking on the phone. The last are the ones I baked while being totally distracted with the joys of my new fabric. They are now in the bin.

For those who are curious, they are chocolate chip cookies. I have been using this recipe forever and was under the impression that I had taken it from my mother when I left home but she begged to differ when I asked her about it a few years ago so I have no idea where I got the recipe from and have since tweaked it myself. They are really good (if I say so myself) and different from the usual chocolate chip cookies in that they have oatmeal and coconut (optional) in them. If you want the recipe please ask. I am not going to put it in today because I think that today's blog is long enough. I have paper and pencils waiting for me translate my mental visions into a viable quilt pattern.

Enjoy your day.


Saturday 26 February 2011

Returned from our Half Term Holiday

Well the girls and I have returned home today from Newcastle and a stay with my mum and stepdad. We go two or three times a year and always have a great time. The weather wasn't great but, then again, it is February and it could have been a lot worse. We fit in lots within the five days we were there.

My mother took Helen, Emily and their cousin, Dana, swimming on Tuesday and then we had a lovely walk on the beach in the afternoon. Some enjoyed it sensibly...

... and just did some photography.

Their cousin, Dana
Others cannot go to the beach without going for a paddle...

... even if it is February and the North Sea is absolutely frigid!

We went and saw Gnomeo and Juliet - which was great. Took a trip to the Centre for Life which, if you have never been, is a fantastic museum - just perfect for children as it is very hands on. Exhibits on the human body, electricity, the solar system, and lots more.

Our other day out was to Howick Hall - which was the home to Earl Grey and where Earl Grey tea was developed (please don't ask me more) and has a snowdrop walk going on right now. It was muddy, but fun. And there were snowdrops in abundance.

Helen and Emily did the snowdrop challenge which was a treasure hunt to find the answers to the twenty questions they were given at the beginning of the walk.

Sometime in all the things that were going on I did manage a (quick) trip to a yarn shop near Mum's. Couldn't be helped. It would have been so wrong to go so far and come back without something to add to my stash. And I have returned to find my much awaited fabric on my desk - Yippee! I will photo my new purchases when the girls are back in school on Monday. And then I am going to start sewing with a vengeance. My theoretical plan is that sewing will be for the daytime and crochet for the evenings.

My goal for this upcoming half term. That the girls have less than the sixteen sick days they accumulated between them last half term. I have not seen such an abundance of germs since they were born. And that I complete at least three small quilts and two more crocheting projects. We shall see if I accomplish this. Watch this space!


Monday 21 February 2011

Tangled Wires

I am taking the girls to Grandma and Grandpa's for the rest of the week and leaving John in blissful quiet. How packing has changed over the years and what is deemed necessary for survival (on the girls' part mostly). Yesterday I put the following on to charge for our trip...

1 x mobile phone
1 x blue tooth ear piece
2 x cameras
1 x iPod nano
2 x Nintendos
2 x Kindles
1 x iPad

... and let's not forget the toothbrush as well.

Let's hope they last the duration!

For myself I have packed one quilt requiring a lot more hand stitching, some bamboo yarn, a couple of crochet hooks and the addresses of several yarn shops near our destination.

Talk to you in a week.


Sunday 20 February 2011

Bread - made the easy way!

If any of you have made bread before you know that sometimes it works, and sometimes it  just doesn't. Some have a natural knack for producing all sorts of yeast risen breads, and some (me) struggle to make an edible loaf. Well, I have a new, not so secret (after this post), ingredient that has made bread making a much easier process.

First, take your bread recipe and then insert one -

Emily - Age 8
Ta Dah! Better than my Kitchen Aid. Far more patient than me in all matters to do with bread. Capable of kneading a dough to slendid elasticity. What more could a person want? One enthusiastic child is all you need. Helen had an ice skating party to attend and Emily had time on her own.

So she measured,



and produced some lovely bread.

Anyone got a a better way of spending a Sunday afternoon? Nope, me neither.


Saturday 19 February 2011

Where did all my sunshine go?

There is one time of year in England when we here can gloat at those over there - Canada to be precise in my case - about the weather and this is that time of year. When new snow storms gather on the other side of the Atlantic fresh green shoots are pushing up through the earth here. Right now snowdrops dance by the roadside and purple crocuses are popping up in sheltered spots. They're gorgeous. They give hope for the springtime coming. They make me smile. Daffodils are pushing leaves up too, though it will still be a little while before the nodding yellow heads see who in the family can be the first to spot them. I love this time of year when the odd mild day makes you think that the cold dark days are finally done.

Of course it is usually all a lie and the weather continues on cold, dank and miserable for several months to come. Sometimes we wait for summer and that doesn't seem to come either, frustratingly so. Then it is time for those in Canada to gloat over me. Tell me about hot days, swimming pools and barbeques that go to plan. So this is my time to make the most of things. Therefore the fact that all these flowers are blooming despite the decrepid weather that is making outdoor photography something for the professionals, not me, has also meant I do not have one photo of a snowdrop, or crocus or any other green budding thing to show off to you. You'll just have to believe me - they are out there in all their glory, right now, as the rain falls - yet again.

This weather also makes taking photos of my finished projects and works in progress less than appealing. But it had to be done anyway because it is half term here and keeping children occupied will mean less time for me to look for just the right light and the best angle to make my 'things' look their very best. I need to do it now, while I can. So, despite the wierd unnatural colours due to atrificial lighting and the flash, here is what I have been up to -

One finished size small granny blanket...

... with an oversized border.

When I finished the granny blanket and looked around my sitting room which was a sea of remaining yarn, I made this -

It is not, as was the guess hazarded by  more than one person, a rather poor attempt at a Rasta hat. It did not involve a pattern. Now there is a surprise! But it was fit for purpose.

Now, I think that is an improvement on plastic bags and general disaaray. If only it was that easy to tidy up the rest of my life.

With that little project out the way I turned to my new bamboo yarn. I went online and looked at photos of crocheted flowers and thought 'I can do that', so I did.

The way I really impressed myself (rather easily done at times) was to remember how I made this flower because when I looked at flowers online I didn't look at patterns. I just looked at photos and then made my own up from there. This was not the first attempt. To prove that I remembered how to make it I made four more...

... and now I am looking at ways to incorporate said flowers into a little blanket, hense the off white bamboo being hooked on. Not sure if this is how I will eventually do it but it is a sight better than the first way I tried! No photo of that. Not a pretty result. Thank goodness crochet is so easy to pull out.

So rainy days result in less than favourable photography but do provide more hours indoors to contemplate puzzles like why I don't write down how I make things so when I do make something I like I can replicate it more easily. But that would be the simple way of doing things. No one ever said I was simple. Did they?


Wednesday 16 February 2011

Survived the mob scene, just!

I am very pleased to announce I am still alive and kicking. There were moments yesterday that I wasn't sure I was going to make it to today. Yesterday was my local quilt shop's annual sale. It is a one day event and by the time the shop opened there was a very orderly British queue of quiet quilting ladies waiting to get in. The orderliness ended immediately after entering the shop doors and all those sweet ladies threw themselves at the fabric. What a frenzy! I was almost taken down by a lady with a zimmer frame. Really!

I wish I had had a hidden video camera because it had to be seen to be believed. I went there with a goal in mind. I wanted spots, dots, stripes and non-busy fabric. I sorted my stash after Christmas and was left sitting in a mass of floral fat quarters and wondering where it all went so wrong. I mean, I like flowers. There are some very nice floral fabrics. But when all you seem to have left is flowers it just doesn't compute. Everyone quilts what they like and I prefer to go for a slightly more modern look these days. One lesson I have learned is to stop buying those great deals online where you pay $25 for 25 fat quarters but let the shop choose what you receive. Their taste isn't my taste and vice versa. One day I am going to have to do some fabric swaps and find someone who loves florals. Am I the only person who started quilting relatively recently, bought lots of fabric and then found her preferred style afterwards?

Anyway, back to the sale. I made it to the fabric, found some dots I liked and found a serving lady waiting to measure and cut who was not yet serving anyone. Woohoo! That was the break I needed. I asked for a metre of each of the two and then while she cut I did a quick circuit of the room and pulled all the fabric bolts that I could that were in my remit. I piled them up, she cut, I grabbed some fat quarters, I paid and I fled. Job done.

One last word about the sale. Those who brought your husbands with you - don't! I have never seen such looks of abject fear on men before. Talk about 'the rabbit caught in the headlights' look. These few poor men were shaking in their boots at the spectacle they witnessed. They may never be the same again.

I haven't just being buying fabric yesterday. I have ordered a number of pieces online in the past couple of weeks. Not all of it is here yet and the postwoman has failed to deliver my most coveted order - yet. I will show you that when I get it. Meanwhile here is what I have got in the post so far -

Max & Whiskers, Westminster charm squares and Japanese fairytale charm squares
Next came these Heather Ross fabrics. I know I am not unique in wanting these but I thought I should go from wanting to having because they are just getting more and more expensive as they get harder to find. I am still waiting for a yard of the gnomes on blue.

I didn't know until I received these that there was a fish named Helen. What should I make for my Helen with one of these Helen fish then?

Then there is yesterday's haul -
I came home and looked to see if any of this stuff went together -

I think I did pretty good, so don't tell me if you think it is a night of the colour blind - thank you.

Then I remembered I had also ordered a large pack of red, pink and blue charm sqaures. These are them with some of the fabric they go with -
You would think I was done after that. But no, not me. I hopped in the car, and after I got my heart rate back to normal post sale scrum, I went off and bought some more yarn. I topped up on my acrylics to finish my granny blanket and bought more bamboo (yippee!) -
I don't think I have had a shopping spree like this in years. It's great!

Suppose I am going to have to make something  now. So I had best stop blogging and start figuring out what to make first. What an amazing dilemma to have.


Monday 14 February 2011

Learning from my mistakes

Happy Valentines Day! I got a lovely card from my husband and that has put a smile on my face. Just the fact that he remembered it was Valentines Day is enough. And yes, I remembered too!

While I sit and wait impatiently for my new fabric (with ideas of how to sew it growing in my mind daily) I have kept my fingers busy with my crocheting projects. I only picked up a crochet hook recently - to make those animal pillows for Helen's birthday party. It has been over twenty years since I crocheted anything else. The last time I took up the hook it was to make throws for any family and friends who would have them. It was my idea of a diet. If I was busy then I wasn't eating, so I kept myself busy. Only now in my wisdom do I know that I didn't need to lose weight back then.

Picking up a crochet hook again has been a joy. I love the motion of it. The pull of the wool. The quickness with which a project grows. The way I can just make things up as I go along. There in lies a small problem and where I am learning from my mistakes. Picking up a crochet hook after so long and never having looked at a crochet pattern means that my improvising throws up some interesting dilemmas on occasion. Like this -

If you want to put a rectangle into your crocheted baby blanket you have to think of the maths and your corners will no longer grow in that same regimented easy 45 degree angle. This is something I realised belatedly and, having fallen in love with way it looked despite the flaw, I persevered. The bamboo yarn feels amazing and the blanket has a real weight to it (almost 300gr) which makes it drape in the nicest of ways. So what if the blanket will never lie perfectly flat as demonstrated here -
Babies aren't flat. Blankets don't cover them in a flat manner. Now would someone do me the courtesy of having a baby. I have a fantastic gift for a new born!

The other project I have been working on is with all those little granny squares that form the background photo to this blog. They have gone from that to this -

I would like to thank Lucy at Attic24 for her tutorial on how to join up the squares as you crochet because that is just what I did. There are several wonky, misshaped squares because, again, my lack of patterns, practice or planning means I retaught myself how to do granny squares by making the first three or four wrong. I still put them in because I am not a perfectionist and this throw will be for the girls to use and not ever be foisted upon someone who might actually expect it to be make correctly. And, Lucy at Attic24, you have no idea who I am but I am about to put your other tutorial on how to have crinkle free granny square borders to good use. Maybe you can teach an old dog new tricks (or something along those lines). Thank you. This tutorial can be found here and I would like to say that I love this blog because it is fun, colourful with great photography and is well written.

Final word of this post goes to Emily, my eight year old, who can put so much more into a few words by injecting them with a huge amount of skeptisism. When asked if her father could help with something as I was busy she replied, "I don't know. Can he?" Maybe you had to be there, but I laughed long and hard.

Enjoy your own Valentines Day.

Saturday 12 February 2011

Very easy (and quick) chocolate cupcakes

I love to bake. I love to eat what I bake. There are times when an incredible need vague hankering for a home made treat occurs and time is limited. I have a couple of different recipes that fit the bill. Recently though, as I trawled through my recipe box, I stumbled upon this recipe which I copied from my mother's recipe box when I left home. I have no idea where she got it from. For those days when time is of an essence and you don't want to drag out the mixer of choice (Kitchen Aid on my part) for the creaming of butter and sugar, etc then try this recipe.

An added bonus is that, unlike some recipes, it doesn't do a huge amount. I generally get 15 or 16 cupcakes from the batter. Now I have some wierd idea that you would get fewer from the mix in Canada because I think that cupcakes are made bigger there. Since all my Canadian kitchen stuff is stored in Canada (many thanks to the generous use of my brother's basement storage) I am not sure if this belief is true or based on the knowledge that everything was bigger when I was younger (except me). Chocolate bars were bigger. Bags of crisps were bigger (translation for North America - bags of chips). Stuff was just bigger then.

Anyway - however many it makes - here is my quick and easy recipe for chocolate cupcakes for those who want it quick and easy.

1/2 cup butter (4oz)
4 1/2 tablespoons cocoa powder (I kind of heap it up rather than do a proper measuring spoon measure)
1 cup caster sugar
3/4 flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk (4 oz)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350F, 180C or gas mark 4. (Adjust fan ovens accordingly.)
Place butter and cocoa in a small pan and place over a low heat until the butter is melted and ingredients blended smooth.
Combine dry ingredients in a medium sized mixing bowl.
Combine milk, eggs and vanilla in a measuring jug. Stir in cooled butter mixture (if you keep an eye on it when melting the butter then it never gets particularly hot and this step can be done without waiting).
Pour liquid ingredients into dry and stir lightly to blend.
Fill cupcake casings 3/4 full and place baking tray in oven for 15-20 minutes until cakes spring back to touch.

Done! How easy is that? Now you can eat them warm, ice after cooling or they are nice with vanilla ice cream as well.

If you try this I hope you like it. Here's what mine looked like -

There's only one left now and I have a fool proof method of keeping Helen and Emily fighting over it, but I can't let them catch me.


Thursday 10 February 2011

Double Digits

My eldest turned ten just over a week ago. This had been anticipated by her for about five or six years and, thankfully, turned out to be a terrific day. Her best friend travelled up from the Isle of Wight to spend the weekend with her. The bowling party was a hit. All in all a great time was had by everyone.

In my search for party gifts or gift bags I came against a blank wall as I have a general dislike of all those little plastic toys from party bags that collect dust over the years but - for some unknown reason - my children do not like me to toss in the bin. As I trawled blogs and Etsy looking for ideas I came across a terrific site that made crochet animal head pillows and rugs. Needless to say I failed to bookmark the site so can't tell you what it is - but if you ever find it please let me know!

I decided that I could do that and with a mix of their ideas, some twists of my own and some completely original (a frog and Hello Kitty) I bought some yarn. The pillows I produced were a mini size but a fun little thank you gift for Helen to give out at the end of the party. In the end I made two koalas, two penguins, two owls, one frog, one Hello Kitty and a ladybug. Both my girls insisted on one of their own each so here are the ones made for them. The penguin was attempt number one and I have to say that the second one turned out better but still not bad for winging it without a pattern or a clue!

Once I had the party favours sorted I had to think about the cake. This can be difficult because my best friend in Canada makes cakes professionally. And when she comes to visit she creates masterpieces for the girls that awe and inspire. I watch, I learn, but I am just not that good. My cakes look exactly what they are - the homemade by mother cake. They usually taste good - honest - but they never look like one of Francine's cakes. There is only so much I can achieve on this front. This year's cake had a little twist. It wasn't the best tasting but it looked cool - or so I thought.

Amazing what you can do with a little food colouring!

Finally, and most proudly, I love the fact that my creating things at home leads to the girls doing the same. Now that they are eight and ten they are being trusted with more. I let them use my sewing macine, which was a huge leap in faith for me. Lately I have even let them use the rotary cutter. That just about kills me but there is only one way to learn certain things and that is by doing. They both have the same technique. Climb up onto the table and kneel on the quilt ruler to hold it still and then use the rotary cutter. I bite my tongue and watch like a hawk but no incidents to date I am pleased to announce.

They are starting to understand that precise cutting leads to easier piecing and enjoy going through my fabric and combining them in their own ways. Fabric choice goes something like this. "Can I use this please, Mum?" That is followed by either a "Yes", or a frantic "No" as I make a lunge for some hoarded piece of fabric that I have been planning to use for four or five years but haven't got around to it yet. Why do I do this? Note to self - buy fabric then use fabric or why bother buying it?!?!

Both girls are terrific sewers but what I wanted to show you today was what Emily (my eight year old) made Helen for her tenth birthday. The fabrics were chosen by Emily. It was cut by her, pieced by her, quilted by her but (I have to admit) I did the binding. She even sewed some embroidery stitches using the machine, which she seems to know how to program better than me now. You can just see these stitches in the bottom dark pink patch.

Isn't it terrific?

Drat. The post woman just came and no fabric. I am waiting for four deliveries with bated breath. When I get them I will give you a look. Meanwhile there is stuff to be done. Enjoy the day.


Wednesday 9 February 2011

First post fear

First post on my first blog. Scary! So why am I doing it? Well, I have only recently started reading blogs and have been amazed by the creativity, sharing of ideas, humour and abundance of information that exists in blogland. I don't know all the lingo. I don't fully understand how to set up my blog and am not sure that initial posts will be as I want them - but I am going to learn on the job, so to speak, and hope that in time I will have a few followers and hope that they can give me some helpful hints to make this all work.

Who am I? I am a Canadian wife and mother of two girls living in the UK. Even before my marriage I travelled and worked abroad. In the past 20 years I have had a little over two years in Canada. We plan to return there one day but that will happen when it happens.

Meanwhile, I spend my spare time quilting, and crocheting, and sewing, and making, and cooking - I love food. In this blog I hope to share some of the things that I create, and maybe some of our favourite recipes.

Here are a few of the projects I have on the go -

A quilt for my eldest

A baby blanket crocheted out of bamboo yarn

A quilted throw for our sitting room

and granny squares for a granny blanket

There are other things I want to make. Fabric that has been ordered. Quilts crying out to be pieced. All I, or any of us I am sure, need is time. And over time, as they come to fruition, I hope to share them here with you. Maybe the small things I create can help inspire someone somewhere the way I have been inspired by so many others out there. Thank you to all of you who take the time to share your creativity.