Friday, 30 October 2009

Buttons and bubbles

You may remember that a little while ago I started making a bubble skirt for Princess Bunchy here, which I actually managed to finish in the nick of time for the big party here. As you have had only glimpses of fabric and finished item, I felt impelled to share with you the whole creative process. After all, the show and tell is the fun bit of blogging, and even more fun, it's not confined to once a week like a primary school.

The pattern was from Samantha at The Handmade Dress, and is called Miss Iris;  I think I would buy her patterns for their lovely names alone: it is so much more exciting to buy a name than a number.

The fabric is from the Arcadia range by Sanae for Moda - patchwork fabric again, which I found in an Aladdin's cave of a shop in Canterbury called J.E.M.'s: it is the tiniest shop but has the most compendious range of all sorts of things crafty, from fabric to yarn to buttons to beads to ribbons to sewing machines ... I don't quite know how they fit quite so much into such a small space.

As I have said before, Samantha's patterns are a delight to work with: they are so simply constructed, with such clear instructions that they are well within reach of those of us who are a little challenged on the dressmaking front. They are also multi-sized and printed on lovely thick paper, so that they can easily be used again and again.

Samantha helpfully advises you to trace the pattern onto some more paper to avoid cutting the original, and you will see that I used some very fetching pink tissue, which was all that I had in the wrapping paper drawer, having mislaid the tracing paper, which I am sure that I have bought on numerous occasions, in the certain knowledge that it is a useful thing to have in the house, but tracing paper is one of those things, like graph paper, which defeats my effort to locate it in an emergency, having burrowed itself into the furthest reaches of the darkest cupboards, and however many times I buy it, I never have it to hand when I want it.

As Princess Bunchy would say, I think it is the Borrowers, of whom there are at least two in my house. (Which was why I lost a skirt for six months, someone having absorbed it into the morass which was their sartorial storage facility, and only returning it anonymously when a new wardrobe was bought, which necessitated a certain amount of delving into festering heaps under the bed and on the floor, and thus unearthing my skirt, which I had come to the conclusion, after months of searching in vain for it, had spontaneously vaporized whilst my back was turned. And no, it wasn't actually a Princess what did it, and no, it wasn't even worn, and it was probably my fault for buying a skirt from Oxfam, in a fabric and style which faintly resembled the sort of shorts that an adventurous boy might keep uninvestigated in a heap for six months, all the while denying all knowledge of said skirt, because such things are of no relevance to his ilk.)

Where was I? Oh yes, cutting out Miss Iris. Note that I ironed the tissue paper first, as one should do with patterns in the quest for accuracy, and I have to say pink tissue was much more pleasing to work with, on both aesthetic and practical grounds, being slightly stronger than that self-destructing palest buff-coloured pattern paper favoured by the giants of dressmaking, and certainly a much prettier colour.

For those of you who are even more unskilled than me on the dressmaking front, I should like to recommend a grid ruler and cutting mat: I bought these some time ago in the vain hope that they would make a patchwork quilt for me, but although there hasn't been much progress on that front (I think it is like buying fancy mops and dusters from Lakeland: I have the feeling that they will suddenly bounce around the house unaided, just like in Cinderella, and in a trice I will have sparkling floors and shining horizontal surfaces. Unfortunately they don't come with a cleaning fairy, and thus languish accusingly in dark cupboards, probably playing Sardines with the tracing paper.). Sadly, the mat and grid didn't come with a quilting fairy, either, but they, in company with their friend the rotary cutter, make cutting out straight a lot easier.

Except if you get a cutting mat, please don't do what I did. In fact, it all started with the Head Chef, who in an unaccustomed fit of orderliness stored the mat vertically, propped up against the spare leaves for the dining room table, which also lurk in various dark corners around the house, because there is nowhere to put them when we don't have a dozen people to dinner. By the time that I in my housewifely inefficiency noticed that the mat was not lying safe and flat under the sofa, the damage was done, and an unsightly bulge had appeared in the middle of the mat, which makes it a little awkward to keep things straight and even. (And I do admit that I possibly compounded the damage, by trying to iron the mat straight again. Please do not attempt this in your possibly more well-regulated home.)

But zip, zap, the skirt was finished at least two hours before the party: the pattern was so straightforward that I didn't make any mistakes, or have to unpick any seams, and I even managed to get the elastic into the waistband without twisting it at the first attempt.

However, there was no cause for complacency - I had bought a plain white T-shirt to match, and as Princess Bunchy robed herself, I decided that this was all too boring, and started rummaging in my button box.

You can see the end result, which was all sewn on with contrasting coloured threads, whilst the General hovered in the doorway berating me for telling him that we would leave half an hour before we actually drove out of the gate (it was all part of the finest calculation: aim to leave half an hour before you need to, then although you will be half an hour late leaving, you will actually be on time, and be able to do something inefficiently time-consuming while the clock ticks on, like writing a blog post as I am doing now, when I should be driving out of the gate ten minutes ago.).

One day my ambition is to write a simple tutorial from which you will learn something useful, but I think that is something towards which I must work, crabwise probably. In the meantime, under the What I Learn heading (my first physics teacher at secondary school had this as the final heading for each lesson, and I found it so useful: you could just skip the rest and remember the What I Learn) is:

1. Don't apply heat to a self-healing cutting mat as it will melt and deform,

2. Pink tissue paper makes life more fun, and

3. It is very difficult to cut a straight line without a ruler.

And, 4. The application of buttons will always improve anything you care to make, so keep your button box well topped up.

Have a good weekend, and I hope for your sake that it is a buttony one.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Up and away

I don't suppose anyone noticed, but we took the opportunity provided by half-term to take a couple of days' leave of absence from the homestead. Things are generally slowing down in the garden, and my laissez-faire, it's such a mess because I garden for wildlife, attitude is, I am glad to say, paying off. The dead sunflower heads are alive with sparrows, and all that weedy undergrowth provides cover for them to sit under my kitchen window and chew on the husks. So at least I needn't feel guilty for not getting round to deadheading and weeding the flowerbeds.

We left the General in charge, fortified by a fridge full of pizza (he did request ready-meal lasagne, but that was a step too far for the food police), and a hefty financial incentive. Ensconced as he usually is in his digital eyrie, I suspect that he barely noticed that we were gone, and as we had emailed his tick list upstairs, he was very methodical regarding the animal husbandry.

We headed up north, and up hill, to the most wonderful bed and breakfast in Weardale - at 400m above sea level it seemed quite a dizzying height to us: we are marsh-dwellers who reside a mere 6m above the rising sea. But this area of the North Pennines is a most beautiful part of the country, with a wild, untamed air, vivdly-coloured hills and dales, and a frighteningly low stocking density for sheep.

We stayed at Slackhouse Farm, off-grid, but amazingly well-supplied with electricity from a wind turbine, and ate the most delicious food cooked by fellow-blogger Ellie, who is a feltmaker extraordinaire. Her felt has to be seen to be believed: she works mainly in the natural palette of wool colours provided by different varieties of sheep, some from her own flock. Sleeping under one of her blankets ensured the cosiest night: it was like a blanket from a fairytale, light as gossamer, but beautiful, too. I also rather covet one of Ellie's fantastic floor rugs, but I am afraid Kep might try to herd it into a corner.

So if you fancy a little holiday with a difference, or want to learn how to make felt, do go and visit Ellie at Fleece with Altitude - I love the picture of where she keeps the children, and also the rather manic-looking animal in the header!

But as fellow smallholders and self-sufficient types will know, a short trip away might mean the bliss of some late and animal-free mornings, but the work doesn't go away, it just piles up, and the shortening days and general slow-down in the garden have been focussing my mind on winter supplies. So I have been a bit manic, too, madly stewing apples for the freezer - I thought when I had finished a wheelbarrow full that was the last of it, but then I turned and saw this big box as well. It looks like more chilly hands from peeling and chopping are in the offing.

And then there are the quinces, and there is still another tree's worth to pick, which are beginning to rot balefully under my gaze every morning when I open the shutters. But they look and smell so wonderfully golden and historic, that possibly I can forgive them their plenty, if we can just find the time to preserve them. And if not, we will just feel guilty.

And to compound our problems of storage over winter, the extra freezer which we were given this summer has proved to be the most greedy consumer of electricity, so I must address myself to some sort of cost-benefit analysis regarding the purchase of a new, more efficient one. (It is at times like this that I start wondering why I don't just give in and buy ready-meals from the supermarket.) But they wouldn't taste so nice, so I think I will just have to get back to my chopping board and saucepans.

Maybe a present would stiffen my quavering resolve - I have just seen that there are giveaways at Lululiz and Lydia's Treasures, so I might just have to go and enter: perhaps I might be lucky. I have also managed a little therapeutic yarn-winding of a beautiful dove-grey skein from the Skein Queen - knitting it up into some toasty handwarmers would be just the thing for chilly, workworn hands, and certainly good for the soul.

And to all those lovely people who have been in touch and sent me such nice comments, I will get round to you all, I promise - I just have to finish off the apples first!

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

A joy for ever

The rain is teeming down outside today, so much so that I have left the hens shut up for their own good, just as William Cobbett advises, but last Sunday was a sunny day for us all, both literally and metaphorically.

As I think I may have mentioned before, my dear papa, the Commander-in-Chief, and my dear mamma celebrated their golden wedding anniversary last week, and held the loveliest party you could imagine at the weekend. As the Commander-in-Chief mentioned in his speech, my mother is quite sure that she deserves a gold medal for putting up with him for fifty years - my view is that medals are deserved all round for anyone who remains happily married for that long.

And what a beautiful day we had, in spite of some early morning flurries at Pomona's cottage. I had finished Princess Bunchy's Miss Iris skirt in plenty of time, well, certainly by 11am. And then I had the idea of adorning her new white T-shirt with some buttons, which only took half an hour or so.

 There was much huffing and tapping on the part of the General because I had asked everyone to be ready to leave at 11.30am and I was still sitting stitching in my jeans at that hour. (I was about to say that the General was tapping his watch, but I think he was probably tapping the new Ipod that he has acquired, which seems to operate by tapping. I also say acquired because I think it came free, or nearly free, with my new computer, but I was told that it would be wasted on me in my digitally-challenged state.)

I had at one point gazed longingly at the Toast catalogue, and hankered after a new party dress, but that was before taking on the Dottie challenge. So I was a good Pomona and hauled my existing going-out frock from the cupboard, which is, to be honest, a perfectly pretty little number I bought from People Tree two or three years ago. And really it was a Good Thing that I was not wearing something too precious in its newness, for I spilt brown sushi sauce all down the front within minutes of arriving, in a fit of my usual cackhandedness. And luckily this frock has a disruptive pattern of greys, so it didn't really show too much, and someone complimented me on the prettiness of my dress after its embellishment with sushi sauce - to which, of course, I could reply with a clear conscience and polished halo that it was certainly a most ethical dress. And maybe brown sauce improved it.

It was also a very happy weekend because the Ploughboy returned for the party and so I was able to reassure myself of his industrious enjoyment of the academic life, as I heard about his 4am starts (or was that finishes?), and general busyness on all but the intellectual front. But he emailed yesterday asking for pictures of our pigs for a project, so I can comfort myself that it is not all cakes and ale, there is some pork in there as well.

But, as my papa would say, I digress. We arrived at the party one minute before my sister, so we weren't late. My large people acted as car park marshals (although it appears more little and large in the picture above), and little Princess Bunchy had a real live baby to play with, and enjoyed being nursemaid for the afternoon. And I have come to the conclusion that the reason that the finished blanket was not entirely satisfactory to me before was that it needed a baby underneath - that was all that was required to complete the picture of perfection.

And now we come to the presents, or rather present. My parents had said on the invitation 'No presents', but I made an exception for myself and was able to come up with the perfect present which also fulfilled, and indeed excelled, the criteria of the Dottie challenge. It was handmade, it was the most beautiful piece of work that you could ever envisage, and I wrapped it in reusable packaging, namely a tea towel. Yes, the assembled guests also laughed when I mentioned that point - but I blame Sarah at Red Gingham, as she has set my mind running on the potentialities of tea towels. And they make very good, very pretty, and eminently recyclable wrapping paper (it was duck egg blue with spots to match my mother's kitchen).

And having dealt you a few hints as to the magnificence of my present, I now present my present in all its complete and wondrous glory.

You may remember that I wrote a post here about the fantastic work done by my friend, the artist Tom Meek, and as a thank you to my parents for all those years of care and education meted out to children and grandchildren, I commissioned a very special piece which consisted of a little extract from Vita Sackville-West's long poem, The Land, embellished with flowers, apples, cherries, hops, wheat: all things green and growing and special to my mamma and papa.

There is a plough, for my father is a farmer; there are hops as he is the grand old man of hop-growing in this country (you may have heard him on the radio, or even seen him on the television recently, talking about hops).

The owl is partly for wisdom, but also the environment is very dear to his heart, and one farm has won an environmental award, partly because of the care taken to maintain habitats for birds.

The cornflowers and roses were particularly for my mother, and the robin, as messenger from heaven, also has a particular special significance to us all.

Tom has such an amazing talent - the Ploughboy and I put our heads together and made suggestions as to some of the elements, and Tom produced this wonderful design, which appropriately enough includes gold in the lettering, and he also organized the most wonderful green and gold frame to show this piece at its best. Just look at that ladybird, and his trademark Meadow Brown butterfly - I am in utter awe at such skill, and such draughtsmanship.

This is the first time in my life that I have done anything so grown-up as commissioning a work of art, and (unusually for me) words failed me when I first saw it in all its breathtaking beauty. I really feel quite honoured that an artist of such skill and talent has made something so special for me and for my family, and this truly is a thing of beauty which will be a joy for ever.

And now it is back to scrubbing floors and hauling logs, but Sunday was an enchanting interlude, a gathering and a creation of memories, and I am so grateful that we were all able to enjoy such a happy time together, a time to treasure for ever, too.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Winter warmers

A little while ago I showed you one or two little hints as to how my knitting needles had been occupied recently. Well, now I can show you what I have been doing. It is a long(ish) story as most of my stories are, but it all started when I joined the Rainbow Swap organized by Lululiz, where we all had to choose the colour of the parcel we would like to receive, and then we were all randomly matched. I chose red, by the way, and I was partnered with Bekimarie, who chose pink.

Lululiz very sensibly sent round a questionnaire about likes and dislikes for us all to fill in, and together with the hints I gleaned from reading Beki's blog, I had a good set of clues to lead me on. I decided that with winter coming on, some cosiness was in order, and Beki used the word cosy in her likes - so I decided to knit her a tea cosy to go with her vintage china. And here it is above.

The pattern is from the August issue of Let's Knit magazine, and uses Twilleys Freedom pure wool. The cosy itself is a very simple pattern, quick and easy to knit. The flowers, however, took me a quite a while, as it took me some time to work out quite how to do them. Possibly because I had a cold and a thick head. You might have spotted that the flowers on top of the little hats here have a certain resemblance: that is how many I had to knit before I got it right.

I did buy the yarn, because my provisos for Dottie Angel's Utmost Challenge allow me to buy supplies for specific handmade projects, and in fact I realize now that my yarn stash is not as large as I thought. I tend to buy yarn with specific patterns in mind, and although the projects are queued up, I rarely buy yarn just to stash away. I have a lot of tiny amounts left over from previous work, which I save for mending or sometimes brooch-making, but nothing suitable for this pattern. The flowers are made with Patons Diploma Gold DK - bought purely because this was the only yarn in the colours I wanted. My local yarn shop has a fairly limited colour palette I found, and only a few colours are stocked in each range. I do buy quite a bit of yarn online, but I prefer to be able to feel the yarn beforehand, so it is not ideal, especially it is also not easy to colour-match when buying online. Beki told me that she liked red very much, too, so I went for red and pink flowers, and red gingham ribbon, which I had previously bought from Lupin's supplies shop.

Beki likes fingerless gloves, so I knitted a pair for her, and another pair in a brighter pink colourway for her daughter - once again in the Sirdar Crofter yarn I have used before, here. Cupcakes were on the list of likes, so I made a felt cupcake brooch for Beki's daughter using the kit I received from kind Sarah at Paper-and-String, which you might remember from a previous post.

Beki likes sewing and collects fabric, so I thought a little haberdashery might be in order: some vintage buttons in pinks and reds, some beads and scraps, handy for embellishing some of the fabric hearts she makes. She is about to start up a blogshop for her wares, and the little swiss roll of fabric might come in handy for these two - some Laura Ashley, Cath Kidston and Liberty-style florals I had in my fabric stash (which is much bigger than my yarn stash).

I wrapped some rose handmade soap and some seeds in more pink fabric, and reused the calico bag that held my wonderful Brittany salt from Elizabethd, embellishing it with some felt and a button. I filled the bag with lavender from my garden, which you might remember from here and here, so that perhaps Beki could make some lavender bags from the fabric scraps. The spotty ribbon was from Paper-and-String, and the pink gingham from Lupin. So all the wrappings and bows were reused or reusable, and all were already in my copious stores: I am always very grateful for the opportunity to draw on these stores, and demonstrate that my propensity for hoarding is justified!

Lululiz emphasized that this swap should not cost a lot of money, and encouraged us all to be thrifty and look in charity shops for treasures. I have also to keep in mind the Utmost Challenge, but I think that I have kept to the spirit of this, and proved that present-giving can be fun and rewarding without reaching for the credit card. I really enjoyed thinking what to give Beki, and making things for someone else is always more fun than making for yourself, I find.

And if you would like to see some more exciting parcels in all colours of the rainbow, go and have a look at French Village Life for blue, Lululiz in Lalaland for beige, and Red Gingham for, yes, red. And I am sure that there will be more coming soon in a wonderful riot of colour, all for you to feast your eyes upon.

And before I get back to my knitting, some thanks are due to all of you who sent good wishes for Princess Bunchy, who still has a hacking cough, but I think will survive. And also to Sophie who very kindly gave me an award recently - I would like to pass it on to all of you who have read so far, as you certainly deserve it!

Monday, 12 October 2009

Another one done

One of the rather encouraging side-effects of writing a blog has been the powerful incentive it has provided for me to get on and finish some of my little works in progress, or rather works come to a halt. It is as if there is someone out there who is going to hold me to account - a sort of Weightwatchers effect. You know exactly what is required to lose weight, and you have the scales to prove it, but you just need somewhere else to go and stand and be weighed each week, with someone hovering alongside with a tick list to act as your conscience.

So this weekend I finished knitting a jumper for Princess Bunchy. Or, rather, I finished the knitting way back in the summer, but clutching at any excuse for procrastination on the sewing-up front I had put the pieces, little ends and all, back in the pending basket because it was, of course, far too swelteringly hot for anyone to want to wear a jumper.

But then I was standing next to the Princess last week (who, by the way, is REALLY ILL, in fact so really ill that tidying her room is really too much) and realized that she was growing apace, and that if I didn't sew up the jumper pretty soon I would have to adopt a nine year old to fit into it, or possibly even an eight year old.

The trouble is, this project has been slightly over a year in gestation. It all started when last year we went to the Permaculture Convergence in Ilkley, and, finding myself in the home of Duttons for Buttons, skived off for a bit of Saturday morning shopping. The Convergence was actually very good and very interesting, but the buttons were calling me, and because it had turned out to be the wettest weekend of the century I had quailed at the thought of camping on site, and we ended up in a most delightful B&B on the other side of town, so Duttons and the buttons were on the way.

The Head Chef was rather bemused by Duttons, which is a tiny little shop with an even tinier back room, stacked floor to ceiling with cardboard boxes full of buttons. I began to find his sentry-like presence, all armed with Barbour and golf umbrella (he probably had his holiday hat on as well), rather inhibiting, so I sent him off to Betty's tea rooms for a little refreshment, telling him that I would ring him when I had finished shopping (I had also spotted a rather promising-looking yarn shop called the Create Cafe on the route from Duttons to Betty's).

In fact, I spent so long in the yarn shop (which had a sofa - can you imagine anything more wonderful than a yarn shop with a sofa?) that the Head Chef was convinced that I must be horribly lost, probably wandering around the moors, and I received an anxious phone call in an attempt to reel me in. So I missed out on the delights of Betty's, but I gained The Sublime Children's Double Knitting Book 613, and enough balls of Sublime Cashmere Merino Silk DK to knit Princess Bunchy a rather sweet-looking cardi called Phoebe. Except, when I returned home, the Princess told me that she didn't like cardis, except Esme with a big collar, or Constance with a lacy pattern - for which I didn't have enough yarn. After some months of rapprochement, and ineffectual attempts at persuasion on my part, we finally settled for a jumper called Smuggler Girl (but not stripy, for I didn't have enough of each colour for stripes, either. Nor did Princess B want stripes.).

So Smuggler Girl I knitted and, as you can see from the pictures, eventually stitched up. But in the interim the smuggler girl herself had grown upwards (luckily not outwards), and with hindsight I perhaps should have made the largest size. But I didn't have enough yarn for that, either. And the contrast colour was so near the end of the ball when I picked up the neck that possibly I was pulling it all a little tight - luckily it is a slash neck.

But after all the trials and tribulations, Princess B is really pleased with it (even though she has been, and still is, really ill, in fact, so ill, that I have just had to go and apply some Vicks). In fact, I have not been able to wash or block it, as she didn't want to take it off after she tried it on for size, so please forgive me any little imperfections on that front. And she is so really ill that it was necessary to wear two jumpers and tights under trousers when she was so ill that she couldn't go to school today (cue hacking cough, remedy Dr Potter's Vegetable Cough Remover), and had to accompany me to work. When she took the jumper off to go to bed, I noticed a couple of yarn ends and stitch markers still inside one armhole, but never mind.

In conclusion, the yarn is truly sublime, as is the pattern book, and the pattern was really quite easy. And I still hate sewing up - especially armholes, which I never feel entirely happy with. But Princess Bunchy likes it, and although the General suggested, with a rather mocking smile on his face (or was it just my imagination?), that the sleeves were quite short, you and I and the Princess know that three-quarter sleeves are fashionable, stylish and practical. And no, it is not my knitting - I have checked it against the pattern measurements.

I was just going to write a short, sharp Monday night post. What happened? Perhaps it is the shaggy dogs at my feet, or maybe a complete inability to say in fifty words what could be polymerized into five hundred. Or possibly more.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Apron chic

I have been following Dottie Angel's record of her progress in the Utmost Challenge with great interest, and love the way that she transforms the act of using the recycled and handmade into a style statement of great originality. She really does demonstrate that reusing and making your own is by no means an unsatisfactory alternative to mass-produced, and shows us all that secondhand is not at all second-rate: on the contrary it is a way of producing something very covetable.

And if anyone is listening, I would love one of her beautiful aprons for Christmas (unfortunately the Head Chef is not familiar with Etsy or Paypal, nor even is he au fait with internet shopping - I did mention to him this morning that I would also love some Skein Queen Squini Balls for Christmas, and he very kindly said that if I cared to buy them he would put them in my stocking. Which is not the point, is it?)

Which brings me to apron chic. You may have read this post where I trace out my life history in aprons, rather than coffee spoons in the manner of Prufrock, and I feel that I have entered a new phase of apron wearing. Handmade waist aprons as a style statement: Mrs B started me on this path with my lovely Mia Casa pinny, and now Charlie at Forget-me-not Fashion has tempted me further, with the beribboned little number below.

 As Princess Bunchy said to me as I strode up the lane to school in my pinny, 'Mummy, that apron is lovely: you look just like a farmer's wife!' It was a compliment, I assure you, farmers naturally being held in high esteem in our rustic residence, and the pockets are just right for keys and mobile phone, as well as the quantity of hankies necessary in this lurgy-ridden household. (I was going to say snot, but I didn't want to be vulgar.) And I think that the combination of wellies, woolly gloves, quilted waistcoat and apron, all worked together to conjure up the effect of agric chic in the Princess's mind.

I don't want to take my usual Gladstone-sized bag on the walk to school, for I have Princess Bunchy's lunchbox and luggage to manhandle, not to mention a naughty dog. So an apron with pockets is just the thing.

And for those of you muttering about how the Utmost Challenge has lasted all of a week before I have cracked under the pressure, I say this to you: my new pinny ticks all the boxes! It is handmade by an individual using recycled fabric, and a student at that, and I am all for supporting impoverished students, being the mother of one whom I fear will be in that state before long. (I can say that in the full knowledge that he doesn't read my blog.) There are also the extra accoutrements that make an apron perfect: the essential pockets, and tabs for tea towels; even a sweet little felt and bead embellishment which is removable for washing.

I am also going to make Princess Bunchy a new skirt for the party that the Commander-in-Chief and my dear mamma are going to hold to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary - gold medals all round for such an achievement, I think, and a new party outfit did not seem unreasonable. (Just in case you were wondering, I will wear a frock I bought from People Tree two years ago. I am debating whether to wear an apron.) So I have bought some fabric to make Miss Iris, the lovely bubble skirt pattern that I won in the giveaway which Samantha at The Handmade Dress held a little while ago. (Under the terms of the challenge, I have allowed myself craft supplies for a stated purpose, but not just for stashing.) The fabric is washed and nearly ready to go - I have only a week before the party, so I had better get my skates on.

And last but not least, I must thank Ruth, my partner in the Letter Writing Swap organized by A Bun Can Dance; just look at the lovely parcel which arrived at my door yesterday. It was a wonderful treat to get, just as I was going off to work. As you can see, it was a really thoughtful package, the contents of which encompass all of my interests: gardening, cooking and creating, all wrapped in crepe paper and ribbon. I had quite forgotten about crepe paper - it fascinated me as a child in its stretchiness, and I always associate it with Christmas, and making your own crackers using cardboard tubes, and crepe paper in red and green.

Ruth is a very accomplished quilter and not only has her own quilt shop, but also a bag shop on Folksy. And she manages to do all this with a toddler still at home, which makes my excuses about not having enough time to finish things rather unconvincing!

And, finally, as they say, since this would appear to have been quite a miscellaneous post, belying its title entirely, here is a little amuse-gueule. Or rather, not so little. Just to turn you orange with envy.

From many of the comments on my previous post, it seems that it hasn't generally been a good year for the squash family, but perhaps the drought here in the far south-east was not such a bad thing, after all. It means that we have had a good deal of sunshine, and although I feared that all the watering in the world would not make up for the lack of rain, I think it was the pig manure what did it!

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Lady Bountiful

I am feeling a bit of a Lady Bountiful today, in the nicest possible way of course, and not a hint of patronage. I have a bountiful harvest of pumpkin and squash to see us through at least part of the winter, and I have the pictures to prove it.

And on the charitable front I spent yesterday evening knitting the dearest little teeny tiny hats, not for babies, but for bottles, which might seem quite bizarre to the uninitiated, but it was all in a good cause.

A couple of days ago I read on Henhouse Homemade about The Big Knit, the idea of which is to raise money for Age Concern and Help the Aged, by knitting little hats to be put on bottles of Innocent drinks. Hen has crocheted the most adorable little numbers, which you can see here, for the group organized by Josie-Mary. So I decided to knit a few myself - not quite up to Hen's standards of exquisiteness, but they do look quite cute by virtue of their small size.

The hats honestly take only half an hour to do, probably less if you are a quick knitter, and there are patterns for all skill levels. I made five in a couple of hours last night, and finished another over breakfast this morning. I had some experimental flowers left over from something I was working on last weekend, so they made a nice little embellishment for the tops.

Josie-Mary's deadline is this weekend, so perhaps time is short for that, but the Skein Queen is also organizing another group, with a slightly later deadline, which you can find out about here. So put half an hour of your time towards a good cause, and find yourself a little spot of amusement in the process!

And here are the bountiful squash - so satisfyingly autumnal in their colours and profusion. I can feel a lot of soup coming on, but they are also delicious roasted, or stuffed or perhaps on a bed of couscous - with plenty of garlic and onion to ward off those seasonal germs.

The yellow and white patty pans are technically summer squash, like courgettes, and not for storing, but unlike courgettes we find that patty pans do keep for a month or two.

The small Jack Be Little are quite decorative - this is the first year that we have grown them, so I don't know what their flavour will be like, but try them we will.

Butternuts are familiar to many, and never disappoint - the beautiful grey-green ones are Crown Prince; I would grow them just for their appearance, but they also taste good, and both keep well.

The not so nice-looking ones below are Anna Schwarz, a Hubbard squash: again, new for us, but I feel that she must taste heavenly, because no one would cultivate her for her looks.

The seeds for all of these varieties came from the Real Seed Company and Suffolk Herbs - and the germination was more or less one hundred per cent, so I can highly recommend them.

And last of all, we must have a fanfare - this beauty is our very first melon, grown in our polytunnel. The Ploughboy tugged at my sleeve when we were buying compost at the nursery earlier in the season, and begged me to buy him a melon plant. He nurtured it carefully, and after his departure we suddenly noticed it looking ripe and tempting, so we brought it in to try.

Absolute nectar! The Head Chef and I tasted a quarter each, and then selflessly offered the other half to our B&B guest for her breakfast. And the hens will enjoy the seeds, what they leave of the skins can be composted, so nothing will be wasted.

Lady Bountiful, indeed!


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