Archive | July, 2013

Doggy draught excluders

26 Jul

You know how it’s scorchingly hot at the moment?

Dog draught excluder

Brrrr, feel the breeze from under that door…

Well, in a moment of topical genius, I’ve chosen today to talk about cold weather. About draughts, to be specific. Remember them? The whistling cold wind burrowing its way under your doors to negate any good your central heating is doing…

Sounds quite pleasant right now, in this sticky, muggy weather, but, no, dragging my brain back to wintertime I can just, just, remember that draughts are no fun whatsoever.

Draught excluders, on the other hand, are very huge amounts of fun.

Always one to overstretch myself, when I learnt to knit three years ago, one of the first things I made was not the obligatory scarf, but a dog draught excluder for my dog-obsessed sister. Did her doors have draughts? I neither knew nor cared when I came across the knitting pattern.

knitted dog draught excluder

Guarding the door like any good knitted dog would

Project details on Ravelry, for anyone interested: Dog draught excluder.

She has since got a real dog, but the draught excluder still has pride of place on her bed (he was never allowed onto the floor, he was too nice for that, she said…)

Then, a few months later, I found that my flat had a genuine draught under the door of my sitting room. It was like the arctic was entering the room under that door and the little tiny radiator could do nothing in defence.

The draught excluder had, of course, taken me a very, very, very long time to knit. (I think this was my introduction to all my homemade presents always being late.) So I decided to have a crack at sewing for the first time since I was a teenager.

I bought what I believed to be a legitimate vintage sewing pattern on eBay, which arrived and turned out to be an illegally photocopied pattern, with some greaseproof paper pattern pieces drawn in pencil. I would complain, but boy oh boy did I love the dog it made…

Dog draught excluder

Woof, woof. What a noble doggy face…

His body is from some gorgeous V&A quilts exhibition fabric (sadly no longer seems to be available online). Then I used an old red top to make the underside of his ears. It took me an hour or so and I couldn’t believe how quickly and easily I could rustle something up compared to the hours needed for a knit project.

The little dog got lots of compliments, including one from a friend who had always been tempted by a Cath Kidston version but never wanted to pay the money for it. When she got married last year, I made another dog as a wedding present, just the same as this one, but with the bride and groom’s initials in felt stitched under one ear and the date of the wedding under the other…

And I’ve just completed a third doggy too, this time for my niece, another fan of the original mutt. This one is made from a different pattern from the same V&A quilting fabrics collection (this brown leaf design). He looks a little more genuinely doggy with the brown fabric, but I’ve put that lovely red under his ears as well.

Here he is snuggling up to a radiator.

Dog draught excluder

The warm sun, the warm radiator. This is a happy dog

Here is a glimpse of his ears:

dog draught excluder

What beautiful ears you have, my dear…

And here he is with his older, wiser friend…

Two dog draught excluders

Two friends together, just hanging out…

They’re cute aren’t they? I don’t think he’ll be my last one…

I wish I could even point you in the direction of the genuine pattern, but my photocopy is so bad I can’t tell where it is from. If by any weird and wonderful chance someone knows the answer, please do post a comment!

Related articles:

  • I’ve got to say, I think this is my favourite sewn thing ever, but if you want to take a look at some others, there’s a whole bunch of things in my sewing category

A horse for the wall

25 Jul

There’s nothing nicer than knowing that a handmade present was well-received, so I was delighted that this horse T-shirt was such a hit that the recipient’s Mum requested a bigger version for his recent third birthday…

Horse wall hanging

Another horse, what will he be turned into I wonder?

I’m such a dab hand at the iron on transfer paper by now that I actually – regular readers, hold onto your hats – managed to have the new T-shirt ready in time for his birthday party! (Okay, the party was about three weeks after his actual birthday and I had seen him in between times as well, but let’s ignore that trifling piece of information.)

As the present wasn’t exactly unexpected, I also thought I’d try and make something else as a surprise. The whole family recently moved house, so I thought an equine-related something-or-other for his room might be a good call.

Since my love for Spoonflower is yet to wane, it seemed like a good idea (theoretically, rather than financially) to get some fabric printed with a horse picture and turn it into a nice wall hanging.

And this was the result:

horse wall hanging

He’s a fine beast, no?

He’s rather glorious isn’t he?

(Please excuse the floral wallpaper as the backdrop. As I mentioned recently, we have not a single bare painted wall in the house at the moment, but this horse does look especially incongruous against such a chintzy background…)

I made a couple of other Spoonflower designs at the same time, for yet another ridiculously late birthday present, so as soon as I get them seamed and made up, I’ll write up a little how to for making a present like this. It’s very straightforward to make, but a nice idea, I think. (She says, modestly…)

I’m in a frantic making mode at the moment, since we’re celebrating the sproglet’s first birthday on Saturday and a few of the guests are yet to receive presents from me for birthdays already been (oh dear, honestly, how can I be so utterly, utterly useless?!) so there’ll be a couple more makes up here over the next few days…

Til then, happy end of the week everyone.

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The story of the asparagus pea

24 Jul

Like most back garden-vegetable growers, I can’t resist the lure of the unusual.

Asparagus pea plant

What is this horticultural marvel? It’s none other than an asparagus pea. (Plus a few aphids because, you know, it came from my garden and that is aphid central…)

We’ve all heard innumerable times about the quest of the evil supermarkets to stamp out choice and offer us only the same few varieties of veg (those that store well and grow uniformly) whereas we (the elite! The vanguard! Those sticking it to the man!) with our allotments, our vegetable gardens, our peas growing in pots on a balcony, well, we have the option of growing every variety on offer in nature. Which is a pretty huge choice.

Not for us your orange carrots in plastic wrappers. Oh no! I’ll have a purple haze carrot, please, freshly pulled this morning.

Your prosaic beetroot is purple, pickled and in a glass jar? Ha! Mine is striped white and pink and still has a little bit of soil on that I just can’t shift…

And don’t even talk to me about your imported, rock-hard, bland supermarket tomatoes. Tomatoes! I don’t even know if those tasteless things deserve the name. Mine are heirloom and eaten as soon as I pull them off the stem.

Now, I say all this with my tongue firmly in cheek, but it is of course also true. The reality of veg growing is that you’re going to spend ages – months in fact – lovingly tending a seed to a seedling, planting it out into the soil, watering it every flipping day in this insanely hot weather, fighting the good fight to prevent it being completely devoured by slugs and finally, hopefully, getting a small crop from it, which is probably enough for a meal or two. Well, you don’t want to go through all that just to get a bog standard crappy variety of carrot that you could have picked up from your corner shop…

So, my desire for the unusual meant that I found a marketing email from Suttons seeds completely irresistible earlier this year. The email offered me the chance to buy some seeds from a wonderful veg I’d never even heard of before. A vegetable called the asparagus pea.

I love peas. I love asparagus. You’ve pretty much got me sold by the name alone.

As if the seed description had been written entirely to appeal to me, after saying the veg tastes like a cross between peas and asparagus, it went on to say that it is popular throughout Southeast Asia, a particular favourite spot of the world for me (though I have to mention that in the two years I spent living  / travelling there, I don’t think I ever came across one of these little beauties…)

And the joy of growing this amazing sweet, delicious-sounding vegetable that I couldn’t buy in any shop was the cherry on top of the cake.

So a packet was ordered and I cared for the little seeds lovingly.

I photographed the progress of my plantlings, already certain of success and the amazing blog article I would write, outlining my new discovery and the wonders of this magical plant.

The flowers are undeniably attractive, starting a dark, dark red:

asparagus pea flower bud

Oooh the excitement when I first saw a flower…

And then turning a bit lighter when they’re fully in bloom:

asparagus pea flower

I think they’re quite attractive with the flower peeping through the green leaves

And after the flower, they produce some wonderfully frilly and odd-looking “peas.”

Asparagus pea

Have you ever seen an odder looking vegetable?

But it was at this point that the story of the asparagus pea becomes a sad one. My first sign that all was not quite as I had imagined came when I went to check how I would know they are ready to pick. The seed packet told me I should harvest them while they are still less than 3cm (or 1 inch).

This seemed so ridiculously small that I thought it must be a misprint. I checked online. I found hundreds of florid descriptions of this wonderful vegetable, all ecstatic about its delicate taste and all saying that yes, indeed, it needed to be picked when they were less than 3cm long “otherwise they will taste too stringy.”

Hmmm. At a quick count, I am growing nine plants. Each of which has produced four or five peas. So, a total of 45 peas, tops. Peas that are less than 3cm long. I think if you ate the whole lot as a side with one meal that would probably be a reasonable amount to eat. For one meal only.

Still, not to worry, not to worry, for this one meal will clearly be a spectacular delicacy.

I picked the first five when they were ready and – following instructions from the internet – put them into a plastic bag in the fridge to wait for some more to be ready. Vigilantly, I checked the little asparagus peas every day. After a few days, a few more were ready. I picked them and went to add them to my bag…

…but the asparagus peas in the bag had wilted away to nothing.

Right, I thought to myself, time to eat these eight asparagus peas and see how wonderful they taste.

Asparagus peas

Ready for eating. A meal for a giant! (Excuse the iPhone pic…)

As the seed packet had instructed, I lightly boiled them, adding nothing else in order not to risk spoiling their delicate flavour (again, the pedant in me would point out that Southeast Asian cuisine is not world renowned for lightly boiling things and not adding flavour, but hey ho…)

Now, if only I had seen this article (and comments) on the cottage smallholder’s blog in advance, I would have been prepared for what awaited me.

The vegetable tasted neither of asparagus nor pea. Neither my partner nor I could put our finger exactly on what it did taste like.

He said, “It’s not quite as bad as unpleasant but it’s certainly not nice…”

Cardboard seems a little harsh, but there certainly wasn’t a distinctive flavour I could recognise. Perhaps the hard outside of a bean that’s grown very large would be the closest I could venture. Fibrous and green, but not, exactly, tasty.

So the lauded, beautiful and unusual asparagus pea spectacularly failed to live up to expectations. Often the way, isn’t it? Poor asparagus pea.

Ever the optimist, I’ve now taken to a daily examination of the cucamelons instead…*

Cucamelon

One day he’ll be a grown up grape sized cucumber-watermelon mix

*Not a euphemism

Related articles:

  • My (tried and trusted) rhubarb is a far greater success: bounty from the weekend
  • And though I don’t necessarily recommend these seeds, my method of planting seeds in loo rolls has probably saved me a far bit of money over the course of this year…

A sewing spot

20 Jul

This was the scene in my sitting room last night.

Sitting room sewing

The famous bins peeping into shot on the right. I also feel I need to point out that what appears to be a cage in the left of the photo is just a fire guard…

Friday evening, the baby’s asleep, my partner’s home from work for the weekend: the perfect time to get on with sewing some of that quilt I’ve been working on forever* while having a chat and watching some Attenborough on the TV**.

The trouble is, my sewing machine doesn’t have a permanent spot in the sitting room. (Room too small, baby too rambunctious.) It has a lovely dedicated permanent spot in the third bedroom upstairs, but therein lies the rub. It’s in the third bedroom upstairs.

It’s great for nap-time sewing, but in the evenings I don’t want to sequester myself in a completely different part of the house.

So instead I resort to this little makeshift affair: the machine precariously resting on an extremely wobbly upturned waiter’s tray that was my Granny’s, wires trailing across the floor because it doesn’t reach a plug socket, a fold-up uncomfortable Ikea chair to sit on as the sofa is too low down…

And it takes a good 15 minutes to create this little set up (okay, hardly the end of the world, but an offputting amount of time, nonetheless).

As a result, I do far less machine sewing than I would otherwise like.

As a relatively new convert to the joys of the sewing machine after a few years spending all my time knitting (a very portable, chattable and TV-watchable activity) I’m not sure if I’m missing a trick somewhere along the way.

So tell me, more experienced sewers, what is the answer?

What’s your set up? A permanent space for your machine in the sitting room? Less square-eyed TV time than this goggle box? Sewing reserved for day times only?

Any advice gratefully appreciated!

*Yes, that is the same quilt that I started as a 2012 Christmas present for my sister and her husband last November and still haven’t finished this July… What of it?

** If that all sounds a bit hopelessly Stepford Wives, I should mention that the sewing / Attenborough-watching / chatting was rather aborted by getting into a short-tempered row for about 30 minutes. Or perhaps that just makes the whole thing even more Stepford Wives-esque?

Easy baby bib pattern and tutorial

15 Jul

About, ooooh, five months ago I decided to make my sproglet some bibs. He was six months old at the time and I wanted a bib of a decent length to actually catch all the food he was spilling down his front as I was weaning him.

After a very perfunctory Google, I couldn’t find the right kind of pattern online, most seeming to cater to smaller dribble-catching baby bibs, so I decided to make my own.

bib tutorial

Now, I’m not claiming in any way to be any sort of sewing maven, but since I’d made the pattern I thought I’d share it here, in case it was useful for anyone else. Five months later, here it finally is!

The one good thing about my ridiculous delay in getting this ready to post is that I’ve had time to trial (and repeatedly wash) my original bibs, so I’ve made a few alterations to improve their durability.

The bib has a nice cotton fabric on the front, backed with terry towelling, which I’ve found really useful as all the food spills down the front and then you can use the back to wipe your baby clean once they’ve finished eating.

These instructions look amazingly lengthy, but it’s really a very simple process. I’ve just included lots of detail because I can’t help waffling that I thought might be useful to someone who is new to sewing. Ditto with the seemingly excessive number of photographs…

Supplies

Baby bib sewing supplies

Also, bib pattern, sewing machine scissors and all that malarkey too

  • This pdf of the pattern
  • Terry towelling fabric (this makes the back of the bib)
  • Cotton fabric, either plain or patterned (this makes the front of the bib)
  • Sewing machine or a lot more patience than I have and a needle and thread
  • Pins
  • Iron-on velcro or some sew on poppers
  • Scissors

What to do

      1. Print out the bib pattern onto two separate pieces of A4 (don’t use double sided as you need both of the pieces separately), cut out and sellotape together along the dotted lines.

        Baby bib template

        Look at that template all ready to go…

      2. Pre-wash both of your fabrics so that they’ve done any shrinking in advance of being sewn together. Iron them flat. (I know, I hate ironing too, and am always tempted not to do it…)
      3. Cut out one piece of the pattern in terry towelling and one in the cotton fabric. If your cotton fabric has a design on, make sure you line up the template  so that you have the parts of the design where you’d like them to be in the bib… In the photo below, I had inadvertently cut off one of my cowboy’s heads, so I started again with the design  aligned better (see the later photos).  As a side note about the towelling fabric, it tends to shed hundreds of tiny little white bobbles everywhere when you cut it, so I find it useful to cut out over something I can easily shake off into the bin afterwards. (ie Not the sitting room carpet, like I did the first time I used it.)

        Two pieces of baby bib fabric

        Two pieces of fabric

      4. Place the two fabrics together, with the right side of the cotton facing inwards…

        Right sides of fabric facing for baby bib

        Right sides of fabric facing (of course, the towelling doesn’t have a right side…)

      5. …and pin around the outside

        pin the outside

        Notice my little tomato pin cushion? I had one left over from the tomato garland and this was a perfect use!

      6. Leaving a small gap to turn the bib inside out, sew around the outside, with a 1/2 inch seam allowance. (NB, I’ve found with the other bibs I’ve made that the terry towelling tends to fray a little, hence the slightly large seam allowance.)

        sew the bib pieces

        Sew around the outside of the bib pieces

      7. As an optional extra, you could also go around the seam with a zigzag stitch as well, just to prevent any fraying in the future…

        Zig zag

        Stitch the seam in zig zag, just outside your original straight line

      8. Turn the bib inside out, pushing the material through the hole you left

        Turn bib right way

        Push it through the hole. You might need to use your finger or a wooden spoon on the neck pieces

      9. You’ve now got a slightly puffy version of the finished bib.

        Baby bib tutorial

        A slightly puffy version of the bib…

      10. Iron the bib flat, making sure that your gap matches the rest with seam allowance.

        Baby bib tutorial

        Nearly there…

      11. Leaving a 1/4 inch seam allowance, and starting and finishing with a small backstitch, sew all around the outside of the bib, which creates a neat-looking edge and closes the gap at the same time

        Baby bib tutorial

        Neat edges!

      12. Cut all the loose threads.
      13. Now for the fastening. Cut a piece of Velcro the appropriate size for your neck edges. Position it in the right place and hold both sides of the neck fast.
        Baby bib tutorial

        Make sure the velcro fits just on the tip of the neck pieces

        Baby bib tutorial and pattern

        Position the velcro fastening so that the neck closes as you’d like it to

      14. Then iron it into place, following the instructions for your brand of velcro. (Usually, this is something like, don’t iron directly onto the velcro and don’t use the steam settings. Leave the iron on place for about a minute to seal the glue.) Leave it to dry.

        Baby bib pattern and tutorial

        Iron straight on the top and it should be hot enough to glue the velcro in place

      15. If you’re planning on putting the bib in the washing machine and tumble dryer (and, let’s face it, I doubt many people want to hand wash bibs) you might find that the iron-on velcro isn’t that sturdy. Just in case, I sewed all round the velcro as well, completing a square around the outside and then two diagonal lines across the main section as well.

        Baby bib pattern and tutorial

        Okay, this isn’t completely the neatest sewing, but you don’t really notice the stitches when you’re not up close…

      16. Tadaaaaa! It’s all finished, and quite professional looking, even if I do say so myself:
baby bib tutorial

The baby bib all finished. Yeeeeeha!

Just perfect to hang out on the line and admire in the breeze…

Baby bib tutorial and pattern

This is where bibs spend most of their time, isn’t it?

 

Embellishing

You could leave the bib like this, or you could embellish the front. In my first bib bundle, I made a few with plain white fabric and then ironed on vintage images using the method outlined here. This gave me such beauties as this cabbage bib:

Homemade cabbage baby bib

I really like the effect of this vintage cabbage…

This time round, I decided to quilt the front of one of the bibs I made. (Since learning how to quilt, I’ve become a bit obsessed with it as a general idea…)

I just roughly went around the outlines of the fabric design, which looked really good afterwards. You can pick out details like this cowboy’s bum disappearing over the fence…

Baby bib pattern and tutorial

It looks like he’s fallen over the fence

…or this cowboy’s head:

Baby bib pattern and tutorial

It tickled me that this was a scene of a meal taking place. Cos it’s on a bib, y’see…

You could also try all sorts of other things, such as applique, or making the top fabric from patchwork. I’ve even seen some bibs for baby girls with rickrack sewn on to them… (Not my personal cup of tea, but each to their own.)

Despite lengthy instructions here, this really is a simple make. In fact, I suspect you could probably make a new bib in less time than it’s taken to read through to the end of this post…

If you do make one, I’d love to hear how you’ve got on. Please do leave me a comment below and let me know…

Related articles:

A study in wallpaper (or Living in the ’50s)

12 Jul

One of my favourite London museums is the Geffrye Museum. It’s a treasure trove of historical domesticity. Set in a stunning almshouse in Old Street,  a series of living rooms are decorated in the style of different eras, from the 17th century, right up to the modern day. If you want to know what after dinner parlour games were played in the 1830s or the types of curtains favoured in 1695, this is the place to come.*

When I lived in Stoke Newington, I visited often. Now, from South London, it’s a bit of a hike. But then again, I don’t really need to visit at the moment…

The house we live in now is still decorated (and fitted) so perfectly from the 1950s it could really be an exhibit in the museum.

I wasn’t planning on posting much in the way of “before” and “after” shots of our house, because, frankly, it seemed quite rude to move in to someone’s home, photograph it and then stick the photos on the internet, commenting on how you want to change it all. (Less honourably, I don’t own a wide-angled lens for my camera, so the great “tadaaaaaa” moment was probably not going to look that great anyway…)

But, since I broke that intention by sharing a little glimpse of Mabel and the cactus outside, and since our building work is finally (finally!) scheduled to start on the house in a month, I thought I might just photograph and share for posterity the amazing wallpaper we’re currently living with.

Every single room in the house has a different floral wallpaper. Even the kitchen.

I think they probably date to the 1950s (can anyone enlighten me with more specific knowledge?)

Here then, is the full set. A study in wallpaper, if you will…

Let’s start at the beginning. When you first come in, we’re in the hallway. Here, we’ve got a double wallpaper affair, of a faded orangey, pinky metallic variety. The wallpaper above is a sort of pale orange, while that below is a pale metallic pink. Both have faded down to almost look grey. (Though perhaps I should be grateful for that):

Retro hallway wallpaper

Orangey pinky metallicy grey. Just my favourite colour

From there, we’ll head into the sitting room. This is the room I spend the most time (especially over the last freezing cold winter, when the lack of central heating meant I was holed up in here with the heater plugged in for about three months). It faces out onto the street and our front garden (and has my blogging view that I showed you before). It also has the least pleasant wallpaper in the house. Take a look:

Retro wallpaper

Oh good. More orange

Next door, is what we’re currently using as a dining room (though it will become more of a playroom once we’ve knocked the walls down between the two front rooms…) The wallpaper is one of my favourites. It reminds me of the sort of wallpaper you’d have in children’s rooms when I was growing up. Perhaps of staying overnight at my Granny’s house, waking up in the morning and watching the rays of sun come in through the window onto the perfectly pristine floral wallpaper, unadorned by drawings or snot, unlike in my own bedroom at home…

dining room wallpaper

Dining room wallpaper. Nice, isn’t it?

Then we go to the back of the house to the kitchen, where there’s another corker. This is my favourite in the entire house. We were contemplating simply keeping this in place (in a section of the kitchen at least) but unfortunately it’s also in the worst condition, peeling off the walls in places. (Unfortunately, it’s paired with some very lime green tiles, which are a little dazzling on the eyes.)

retro kitchen wallpaper

Kitchen wallpaper. Slightly more simple than the rest, and all the more appealing for it

Back into the hallway now (don’t worry, I won’t show you that one again) and up the stairs. You reach the third bedroom first at the back of the house. It leads directly on to our only bathroom, so nobody can sleep in there at the moment and consequently it’s got my sewing machine, wool, fabric stash and so on in there. Along with lots of boxes and things like that. The wallpaper is quite pleasing as well. It was quite hard to photograph as it’s slightly iridescent and the light bounces back from it:

third bedroom wallpaper

Third bedroom wallpaper; this scene is a bit more woodlandy than meadowy, I think.

I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed when we reach the bathroom. There’s no floral wallpaper at all on the walls. But! We do have these floral tiles:

Retro bathroom tile

I’m not really sure what decade this harks from. Any ideas?

And, that’s not the best bit. We also have wallpaper on the ceiling, along with this (genuinely) amazing ceiling light:

Retro bathroom light

Well, why wouldn’t you wallpaper your ceiling?

I’m going to keep this light in the new bathroom, once it’s built.

So now to the two front bedrooms, where, once again, we find some of my least favourite walls.

This is in our room, similar to the hallway and landing, but subtly different:

Retro wallpaper

Shiny, iridescent, metallic and orange all over again. Oh, and floral, of course…

And this is the second bedroom, aka the toy-strewn sproglet’s room:

Bedroom wallpaper

Orange? Orange.

So, that’s the lot. What do you reckon, should we keep a patch of it somewhere for memory’s sake?

*If you’re close enough to visit the Geffrye Museum, I really recommend it. Aside from all the amazing rooms, the traditional herb garden there sets my heart racing a little bit. If London is too much of a schlep, though, you can see photos and virtual tours of all the different rooms online: Explore Rooms. Which is your favourite? I particularly love the 1910 drawing room…

Spiffing elderflower cordial recipe

8 Jul

Elderflower cordial is one of those drinks that make me feel that I’m a character in an Enid Blyton book.

You know how the Famous Five went on endless picnics and every time someone drank a bottle of ginger ale, they’d proclaim to the other four, “I do declare this to be the best ginger ale I’ve ever tasted in my entire life…”

Homemade elderflower cordial

Life is better with elderflower cordial. Fact.

Elderflower cordial is a bit like that for me. I love the stuff. And I feel an overwhelming urge to use words like “spiffing” whenever I drink it.

But despite my great love for it, this is the first year I’ve ever attempted to make it.

For some reason, I always had it in my head that elderflower cordial was really, really tricky to make. Despite being a prolific chutney, marmalade and jam maker, I’ve never branched out into drinks – fearing, perhaps, making something as unpleasant as my grandfather’s notorious home brewed wine used to be.

But I met up with a friend last week, who not only gave me a bottle of elderflower cordial she’d made, but also shared her recipe with me. And it turns out, it’s super simple.

The last elderflower blossoms are still on the tree, so if you’ve been similarly put off giving it a go in the past, head out and pick some now and make yourself up a batch to keep for the summer.

Elderflower blossoms

Lovely and frothy blossoms

Ingredients

  • 20 heads of elderflower
  • 800g white sugar
  • 3 pints water
  • 4 lemons, zested and sliced
  • 50g citric acid

What to do

Zested, sliced lemons

First, take your lemons…

  1. Boil the water and pour into a large bowl.
  2. Put the sugar in to the freshly-boiled water and stir til it has dissolved.
  3. Leave to cool
  4. When cool, add the lemon zest and slices and the citric acid
  5. Check the elderflower heads for bugs and put the flowers in to the bowl. (I could have spent a little longer doing this, judging by the amount of black things that were floating around at the end, but at this point,  you’re making something that looks and smells so delicious, you don’t even care if it’s got bugs in. Bugs? They probably taste just like roses…)

    homemade elderflower cordial

    I know, it looks too good to be true, doesn’t it?

  6. Leave, covered with a tea towel, for 24 hours. (I forgot mine and left it for 48 hours. It was fine…)
  7. Strain through a fine sieve ( muslin would be even better) and pour into sterilised bottles. (I didn’t bother to sterilise my bottles, because I was feeling lazy and I knew I’d drink it all before it would have a chance to go off anyway… I also put some in a plastic bottle and just stuck it into the freezer. I’ll let you know if that worked when it comes to taking it out.)
Elderflower cordial

Enjoy in a completely uncontrived situation like this one…

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A trio of teeny, tiny trousers

3 Jul

My very lovely friend Laura (who blogs over at Circle of Pine Trees) gave birth to her third son recently. I wanted to make something nice for him. (I also wanted it to be ready on time, but you know how that’s going to end, don’t you?)

Before my sproglet was born, I came across this wonderful free pattern at Made by Rae for what might be, quite possibly, the cutest baby trousers in the world. They were so adorable that I thought I’d try the pattern again for Laura’s new baby.

Handmade baby trousers

Awww, seriously ickle

He’s baby number three, so I thought he deserved three pairs. Plus, I couldn’t quite settle on which of these fabulous fabrics would be best, so I decided to go for all of them.

This one is a Liberty fabric from the V&A quilts exhibition. I know Laura saw the exhibition, and likes Liberty print as much as I do, so I’m pretty sure she’ll like these. (Let’s face it, clothes for a newborn baby are really for their Mum, aren’t they?)

Liberty fabric baby trousers

Everything, but everything looks nice in Liberty fabrics

I made these rocket men into a burp cloth last year and liked the fabric so much I immediately bought some more. It’s been sitting in my stash since then and this seemed like the perfect project.

Handmade baby trousers

Little space children, off to explore the 1950s moon…

And I can’t quite remember where these red elephants were from, but I do think it’s nice to have boys not only in blues, so this was added to the mix.

Elephant fabric baby trousers

Stomp, stomp, stomp, I’d quite like some elephants marching across my trousers

Of course, since they were made by me, all of these trousers are far from perfect.

I decided to sew a French seam for the crotch seam because hey, I watched Sewing Bee and I now know what  a French seam is I thought it would be less scratchy on the baby’s legs.

French seam

Is that a french seam I see before me?

This was a definite case of a little knowledge being a bad thing. When making this decision, I totally forgot that babies tend to be wearing this little thing called a nappy most of the time, and therefore the likelihood of a seam scratching their bottom is pretty slim.

In fact, all the French seam did was add extra sewing time, make the waistband a little too tight and make the crotch area needlessly bulky.

Bulk baby trousers

Bulk, bulk, bulk.

Of course, the sensible thing would have been to make one pair of trousers completely and then go on to the next one, in which case I wouldn’t have repeated the french seam mistake. But I didn’t do that. I did each part on all three trousers at once, like my very own little assembly line. So the bulky seams are in all three…

I also decided to use a white thread for all the seams, which I thought would look quite nice and contrasting to the busy fabrics. Unfortunately, this rather showed off my wibbly sewing and the way I haven’t cut the pattern pieces out very intelligently. Ah well, the baby won’t notice.

Wobbly seams

Wibbly seams and unintelligent fabric cutting have these little elephants marching off a cliff…

Despite the flaws, they’re pretty sweet and diddy, aren’t they?

And Laura sent me the cutest photo of them in use by baby E yesterday. Such adorable feet!

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Garden moodboard: July

1 Jul

One of the nicest things about moving to a new house is discovering all the different flowers that appear across the course of a year.

Earlier in the Spring, the back garden was a riot of bright orange, pink and yellow rhododendrons, so I’ve been pleasantly surprised (that’s an understatement, actually, I’ve been really flipping delighted) to see that as the year has progressed, it’s developed into a more muted cottage garden affair.

This is a little snapshot of what’s going on out there right now:

July garden moodboard

Frothiness, pinks, blues and purples. Mmmmm, English summer

That lovely frothy white flower in the middle is colonising the edge of the pond, spilling out over the sides. It’s utterly good cheer-inducing to see it there.

The pink rose, I have to confess, is not from my garden, but is forming one of the boundaries of my front garden, spilling over from my neighbour’s side. I pruned it back earlier on this year, which seems to have resulted in a profusion of blooms on my side of the fence.

Cornflower

Another cornflower picture

I know I showed you my cornflowers in my last post as well, but really, how could anyone have too much of these beauties? I’ve under-planted my potted bay tree by the front door with a whole bunch of these. I say “under-planted” but the bay tree is still small, and these are now gadding about much higher up than it’s little round head.

There’s another pot of them out in the back garden, too, which I had grown as a post-wedding present for my sister, but I haven’t managed to give them to her in time and the blooms are almost over now. Next year, perhaps…

Sweet pea

Sweet, sweet, sweet pea

Also from the front garden, this glorious red and white sweet pea. I think I’ve planted them in a slightly too shaded spot, in all honesty, thinking they’d grow taller than they have, but they’re heavenly to look at, even though there aren’t quite as many flowers as I was expecting.

Verbena bonariensis

To bees, this photo is like crack…

One last one from the front garden, I planted five verbena bonariensis plants back last autumn and they are having an absolute riot out there now. They’ve grown really tall and are constantly covered in bees (that sentence reminds me of the Eddy Izzard beekeeper sketch, anyone else?) I think I’d be so bold as to say that they’re my favourite in the garden at the moment.

Blue flower

Anyone know what this is?

Out the back, the geraniums that I showed you last month are still going strong. They’ve taken over most of a flower bed down one side and look heavenly. They’ve been joined by lots and lots of this lovely delicate little purpley-blue flower. I don’t know what it is, but it reminds me a bit of the dreaded bindweed’s beautiful flowers. It’s not a climber, though, so I’m pretty sure it’s an intended flower…

Another unidentified plant is this pink one. I thought it was growing from the top of a euphorbia, but a quick google tells me I must be wrong…

Pink flower

Looks a bit like echinacea or a daisy, but I don’t think it is…

And I was really pleased to find a scraggly little lavender bush underneath one of the gigantic rhododendrons. It’s leggy and really too old, so I think I’ll need to replace it next year with a younger specimen, but it has bravely put out a few little flower stalks, nonetheless.

Lavender spike

A garden wouldn’t really be a garden without lavender, would it?

They’re stunning on their own, aren’t they? But even better all gathered together and stuck into a jam jar…

Flowers in a jam jar

Is there anything quite as jolly as a jam jar with a few flowers stuffed into it?

Verbena in a jam jar

Ah hello Mr Verbena, you hold your own nicely against those more blowsy blooms

I was reading somewhere recently (a Gardener’s World magazine, perhaps?) that people generally think they can grow flowers for a nice display in their borders and to provide cut flowers for the house, but that the sensible thing to do is have a specific cut flower section hidden away at the back of the garden somewhere, just to provide you with nice vases.

I understand the logic (if I cut all my sweet peas out of the front garden, it’s a bit futile having put them in such a prominent position) but, in fact, I think if you judiciously take a snip here, a chop there, from a few different plants, you have a much nicer display in a vase anyway, and the main mass of flowers is left to be admired in the garden as well.

There you have it, folks, a top gardening tip for the start of the week, ha ha. Jam jars at the ready…

As a brief, final, aside, I had also wanted to show you the last little flower from the solitary aphid-infested aquilegia I had out the back. I picked the flower, put it in the jam jar along with the others, and it disintegrated into a mass of floating petals. Luckily, I photographed it in situ outside last night as well, so here it is, for your viewing delectation.

Aquilegia

I’m off outside to collect the seeds from this solitary aquilegia later on, in the hope I can produce a few more next year.

Joining in with Karin A

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