Tuesday, 29 November 2011

A happy/hexie giveaway

As some of you might recall, my handmade Christmas looked like it was about to hit the buffers with a resounding crash when my hand decided to give up the ghost and go into retirement just as I was about to embark upon a mass manufacture of Ruched Happy Bags.

But luckily my friend Amy of During Quiet Time, whose pattern it is, chose that moment to line up some ruched bags of her own making neatly upon the shelves of her Etsy shop which quickly found their way into my shopping basket. These came winging their way over the oceans to arrive on my doormat and save me from much weeping and wailing and frothing at the mouth at my temporary incapacity.

Such beautiful bags they are, the recipients can't fail to be pleased with them, and I am most please also with the little Kokeshi Doll ornament which kept them company on their journey to Old Blighty. She is such a sweetie, and there are a whole bunch of her friends in Amy's shop if you fancy one yourself.

Now Amy, the kind soul that she is, has offered two of her patterns as prizes in a giveaway to you, dear readers, so that you may have your own handmade Christmas. One prize is a Ruched Happy Bag pattern (and to prove how easy it is to follow, here is my own version).

And the other prize is a Hexiecase pattern - here, in best Blue Peter tradition, is one I made earlier:

All you have to do is go to the During Quiet Time Etsy shop and come back and tell me which item in the shop you would put on your Christmas list (and also tell me if you have a preference as to which pattern you would like to win).

The giveaway is open to all, wherever you live, and I will find some unsuspecting rustic to pick the winner at the weekend - so that's a guarantee of howling gales and teeming rain, as is the tradition when I pick winners. For the weather today, I will refer you to the first paragraph of Jane Eyre.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Popping up all over the place

I am quite taken with the concept of the pop-up shop (little one-off shops that pop up in obscure locations and exist for only a very short time). I went to two last weekend - both quite different but equally entrancing.

The first was Design Den in the Curve gallery in the Barbican foyer - modern, design-led, with an interesting range of products ranging from the supercool to the quirky - and the source of one or two interesting and unusual presents for me to tuck into the family Christmas stockings.

And the second pop-up shop couldn't have been more different: in a private rather than public space, and with a beautifully mellow and seasonally rustic feel.

This shop was hosted by my great friend Francine Raymond, of Country Living magazine fame: you may know her as the 'Chicken Lady', although her talents extend far wider than that epithet would imply. It was held in Francine's new house in Kent, which she has transformed in her inimitably stylish way since she moved from Suffolk earlier this year.

Princess Bunchy and I were quite overcome with the delights and ticked off a good few names on the old Christmas present list.

There was a wonderful array of original, reasonably-priced gifts - it is always good to find things that you have not seen anywhere else.

There were Francine's beautiful handmade wreaths and garlands, which were featured in the Sunday Telegraph on 27 November and are also going to be in a forthcoming issue of Farmers' Weekly. She also runs courses where you can learn how to make your own wreaths - information here.

Francine sells her distinctive books and cards through her website, Kitchen Garden Hens (there is a special offer on, as you will see). Princess Bunchy and I were rather taken with her new children's book, Three Little Hens (and we bought one of her other books, too, but we can't tell you which, as that is classified information).

And we also loved the painted wooden decorations from L'Atelier de Pascale  - to be honest I could have bought every single one of them, they were so perfectly beautiful and stylish, but had to restrict myself to one as a present for someone very special. (If you fancy one of these for yourself, email pascalem [at] tiscali [dot] co [dot] uk for details.)

I always encounter this problem when I am shopping for Christmas presents - I can find a hundred and one things that I would love to find in my very own Christmas stocking, but you will be very glad to hear that I am quite strict with myself, and resolve to allow myself just one modest present (although often I don't even have the decency to wait until the big day to open it).

And I have already bought my present for myself, if I see anything else I like I will have to buy it for the Head Chef. Only last night I was discussing with friends the concept of the 'house present' for husbands  .  .  .  and with that 'handy hint' I will leave you.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Pausing for thought

But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? Yes, it is the seasonal light show flashing on and off in a street near you. The countdown has truly begun, the days roll on apace, and time snaps at the heels of the unwary laggard.

What is that approaching over the horizon?
It is the first Sunday in Advent and Floss is encouraging us all to take a pause and ponder as we wait expectantly for Christmas.

Free decorations
I am well aware that my readers come from all around the world, and that many of you may not celebrate Christmas, through choice or custom. There are many paths to enlightenment and who am I to presume upon the efficacy of one over another? But the reality in this country is that Christmas has become more of a consumer festival than a religious one, with all the attendant stresses and strains associated with an impending deadline, impossible expectations and not inconsiderable financial outlay.

So while some wait in eager anticipation for the long wished for day, others watch its advent with a sense of impending dread. The last payday in November has arrived, and with it comes the shopping for presents and the draining of the bank account.

So perhaps it is time to think about what we can give for free. Given confidence by a lovely little present I received from dear Ang who spends her time Tracing Rainbows, I have in my pocket some pearls for my readers.

I have been lucky enough to be the recipient of a couple of gifts of wisdom over the course of my life, and in the spirit of giving I will hand them on to you.

The first is that a smile costs nothing at all, so of smiles you can give many, and such is human nature that you will receive an abundance in return.

And the second is that 'sorry' and 'thank you' are two of the most important words in the world - sometimes it seems that they cost a little more dear, but remember that your purse will remain unscathed.

And my further thought is: forget about the tit for tat, and the matching of gifts, which means that the wealthy receive most, and the poorest the least (and that goes for the poor in spirit, too). Give only what you can truly afford, but give it without thought of return, and with a generosity of spirit which can make small things precious.

And the most precious things of all are kindness and love: I know that love can be a bit of a tall order at this season of surfeit, especially when the surfeit is of relatives, but kindness is easy - just try it. It is quite possible to be kind to someone you don't like or don't know, and it will certainly make you feel better, and might even make them feel better too.

And then we come to that old saw - give and you will receive. The oldest ones are the best ones - give a teeny tiny bit of kindness, give a teeny tiny bit of joy, such a small amount that truly you will hardly know it is gone, and my oh my, you will be quite overwhelmed with the return, which will come scudding back to you some time, somehow, and in a way you cannot anticipate, but such are the mysterious ways of the universe that one day as you scan the horizon you will see a ship coming in carrying an enormous gift back for you.

And if you still feel stressed about Christmas, then try reading this. It certainly helped me to put things in perspective . . .

Friday, 25 November 2011

Have a crafty weekend

First of all she says thank you, thank you most kindly, and curtsies awkwardly. Quite, quite touched, I am sure, and positively overwhelmed by all the kind thoughts.

And now she will set you some homework for the weekend.

Time to get crafting

This rather beautiful book, Christmas Crafting in No Time, by Clare Youngs, dropped through my door this week, courtesy of Cico Books, and in my incapacitated state I thought that I would only be able to look at the pictures and dream of next year.

But I was quite excited to find that there are quite a few projects in here to entertain me and Princess Bunchy over the coming weeks, even with a gammy hand.

Admittedly, I had to resist the urge to set to on some lovely sewing projects such as these little felt owls which would make sweet little presents, or folksy decorations for the Christmas tree (if you want to see some real life examples of the owl pattern in practice have a look at Andamento blog, where you will see some beautifully crafted versions in lots of different colours).

There is also a pattern to stitch some rather sweet owl fodder (not that one should call to mind nature red in tooth and claw when looking at such cuddly cuties).

Actually, I personally am going for the edible owl fodder - there is a recipe for sugar mice, which have been something of an obsession of mine since reading The Tale of the Kittie Poosies when I was a just a little scrap.

The Kittie Poosies have been a seminal influence on my life from the days when I marched my poor mother around every sweet shop in every place we visited in search of sugar mice, and Mama Pudditat's house has had a lasting influence on my decorative style - not to mention the feminist ideas encapsulated in this proleptic tale of a single mother becoming an entrepreneur in order to support her family with not a father Pudditat in sight. So we are definitely making sugar mice in order that I can surf towards Christmas on a wave of nostalgia.

I think Clare Youngs must have read the same books as I did, as she also includes a project related to the other deeply influential text with which I engaged most fully as a child - The Tale of the Gingerbread Man, and to this day the eerie howl of a fox at night, or even the glimpse of one running like the wind across the fields, engenders in me a visceral fear. My children always took the most eager and teasing pleasure in biting the heads and limbs off gingerbread men in front of me, as I felt the urge to run, run as fast as you can, for fear of being chased and eaten (I hope that there are no psychologists reading this - I can feel them nodding their heads in a most benignant manner). Luckily these little gingerbread people do not show a gender bias, there is not a fox in sight, and most important of all they are not edible.

 Perhaps it is better to bring light into my darkness by making some pretty teacup candles, which are definitely within reach of the one-handed, and now that all the decluttering upheavals have tossed up my decoupage scissors in the tide of objets swilling from cupboard to cupboard (No dear mamma, I have not seen them, and if I did use them I put them away in the wrong place where no one will find them for a year and a day) Princess Bunchy can cut me out some white tree decorations to go with my tasteful new white-painted house.

So in sum, I am jolly pleased with this book, and can recommend it as a something for everyone type of craft book, with projects ranging from easy to skilled, and lots of potential for family participation, and holiday activities.

And thank you again for all your lovely comments and emails - I am truly grateful to you all.  I am working my way through to reply to all the emails, but sadly I can't respond to the no-reply ones (this happens if you don't have your email in your Profile) as they come without a return address.

Have a very crafty weekend, don't let the preparations get you down, and if you are the Head Chef, I'd love a box of violet creams in my stocking, just click here.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Life's little ironies

A sunny day and all seems calm - but lo, a cloud on yonder horizon . . .

Two women sit either side of a small, white table. The conversation is quietly rational.

So what have you been doing to your hand?
I was wringing out a dishcloth . . .
And how long ago was this?
A few weeks now. I was cleaning windows too. Quite energetically.
I can see that it is rather swollen. And the symptoms would indicate inflammation. You must rest it completely, wear a splint day and night, and then we can begin rehabilitation exercises when there is no pain at all at rest.
But I have to make my Christmas presents.
Not this year - maybe next. No knitting, no sewing, complete rest.
But I am a freelance - no sick pay, you know the sort of thing . . .
Essential computer work only, and wearing a splint at all times.

Of dishcloths be very wary, they are dangerous things
Sunday afternoon. At home. Our heroine paces the room. No knitting, no sewing. She casts about for something to do and growls at her keepers.

Three carrier bags later the contents of her wardrobe and drawers have been turned out. Princess Bunchy has heard a new word: What does dowdy mean? she says. It proves a useful word. Another handy phrase when decluttering: Is it meant to be that tight? She concentrates on the power of positive thinking and takes comfort in the fact that there is now storage space for new clothes. How exciting!

And if she can't make her own Christmas presents, she can buy handmade and support other lovely crafters.

The sewing cupboard must remain firmly shut
And as some of the recipients have been known to lurk on the borders of Blogland, she can tantalize them with pictures of packages with mysterious and beautiful contents.

Feeling festive
So here are two wonderfully enticing boxes from Emma at Silverpebble. I wonder what exquisiteness they contain and who will be the lucky recipients?

The lovely screenprinted fabric from Amy could, of course, be used to wrap presents, but she is not giving everything away and will bide her time because one day she will be able to sit in her newly completed, but sadly neglected, sewing room and stitch, stitch, stitch.

She will use tea towels for wrapping paper, though, and has them sitting all ready in her present basket (you will have to go here to look at them because they are Top Secret).

Little mirrors from Jenny Arnott
And look, there is another enticing little package from Thirtyfive Flowers (who are a new favourite shop on Etsy if anyone cares to buy her a present), together with the perfect little presents for a Young Person to give friends and teachers, which come from Jenny Arnott Textiles.

Word art from Mrs Eliot Books

She never realized until now that knitting was an addiction. I am in recovery, she says to herself, I will have more time for reading.

Motivational apparatus from Dottie Angel

She will be back in a day or two with a giveaway which is a cheering thought.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Small things and shivers

There's nothing like a sunny day in November to lift the heart and after too many days of grey, grim, lowering skies, it seems particularly precious.

And the loveliness of the light impelled me to take out my camera to record a happy moment, a small, mundane moment to treasure for when the world turns grey again.

But what an unpredictable moment of bitter sweetness: Princess Bunchy is counting down to Christmas, and every time she tells me how many days to go,  I feel a small shiver of unpreparedness grip my heart.

It is supposed to be a time of soup and mittens, and grubby root vegetables roasting slowly in the Aga - so how come I was eating salad for lunch in November?

Tomatoes and lettuce growing in the garden - a moment of joy at the sweet summer taste, and a small involuntary shiver at the uncomfortable thought that the seasons have gone awry . . .

Still, I think there are reasons enough to be cheerful . . . and I have found some more over here.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Things to do with fat quarters

I have felt a little unsteady on the calendar front today,  having woken up thinking that it was the weekend. It's not such a bad thing if one does that on a Friday, but a Tuesday . . . ?

Bunting from LittleTreeHouse on Etsy
But things looked up when the fog lifted and we actually had a couple of hours of sunshine, so I was able to take some exciting photos. Well, exciting for me, because they are of My Sewing Room - yes, you read aright, all our decorative upheavals have meant that the orange corridor next to the kitchen now has a name and a coat of paint (as does the Head Chef's coat, but we always have a paint accident when he takes to decorating, and there have been worse ones than this [it was the one I gave him for Christmas last year, but I have already told him that it is a waste of time giving him presents as he doesn't really like what I give him (except for this coat) and if he is going to get paint on his presents, well, then, it really is a waste of time, and I had only just said to Princess Bunchy, mind the wet paint, and he was the one who had actually applied the paint . . . ]).

My New Sewing Cupboard and paint accidents in waiting
So this morning I went into My Sewing Room, and pondered on what I could make from some fat quarters that would enable me to tick off another item in the Polka Dot Daze Christmas Challenge (yes, it is Tuesday, time for me to have to account for my week's progress, hence my presence in My Sewing Room [I am sorry, I am so excited about My Very Own Sewing Room that I am impelled to put it in writing]).

(For Christmas Challenge list, read Princess Bunchy's presents for friends list [I never had this trouble with the boys, you know, they never wanted to give presents to anyone], which grows by the day.)

Dear little Robins from SewSweetViolet on Etsy
I suddenly remembered the Basic Wallet pattern that I bought from Keyka Lou a little while ago (there is a sale on, by the way, and everything is reduced, if you are feeling the urge to be crafty), which, although it has rather a mundane name, makes a really pretty little purse - and what's more you can make them from the heaps of fat quarters in your stash. Isn't that thrifty?

Not so basic wallets
I also decided that it was time to step up the pace on the old making front, and go into mass production - well, three purses at a time.

Making nice things from fat quarters in a very methodical way
I was very methodical, and layered together three fat quarters to cut out three pieces of fabric at a time - the Basic Wallet pattern is very economical on fabric - you can cut out two of these purses from a fat quarter, with plenty left over (the Owl Coin Purse pattern is a good way of using up scrap fabric, and I think I am going to try that one next, as these would also make good presents.)

Oh so orderly
I was also able to use small pieces of interfacing left over from larger projects, so that was also very satisfyingly economical. I used Vilene Firm fusible interfacing on the main fabric, and Vilene S13, a thick non-fusible for the lining, and the combination produced a really nice structured purse - but you could use up any interfacing that you have spare as there is plenty of scope for flexibility. I think fusible fleece could also work well. (And a handy hint here - Teflon ironing cloths are wonderful for ironing on interfacing, and save an awful lot of mess on the iron or ironing board.)

Mass production - interfacing three pieces at once
This small-scale mass production was definitely a more efficient way of working - it does not take much more time to cut out three purses at once, and setting it all out in such an orderly fashion and doing each step for all three before moving on to the next made a lot of difference (I am sure you have all worked this one out years ago, but somehow I never got round to thinking it through).

More presents
Using small all-over prints saves time in terms of cutting, as I didn't have to think about placement as I did with the first purse I made (the pink one with the large roses), and it would have been even quicker if I hadn't had to change the thread to pink to topstitch the spotty one.

Pretty linings
So I can now sleep easy tonight, knowing that I have been able to show my face on the Christmas Challenge blog, and I hope that you have enjoyed the glimpses of My Very Own Sewing Room. I will show you more when it is all finished and all traces of paint have been removed from the Head Chef.


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