Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Sweet dreams are made of this: adventures in quilting

As the temperatures fall, and now that I have two socks and an almost legwarmer on hand to keep those stocky legs cosy, I have been wondering how to counteract the chilly nights. The Head Chef and I have been married so long that our duvet contains only a memory of goosedown, and thus needs some supplementary layers to ensure that I at least wake rosy with the dawn rather than blue and shivering under the eaves.

Thus some years ago, before I knew a layer cake from a jelly roll, I bought one of each in the misguided notion that I would have to  do barely more than untie the ribbon and hey presto! a king size patchwork quilt would appear before my very eyes (at least that is what the woman in the shop led me to believe - and she showed me one that she had whipped up herself in an hour or two).

The fabric (Sanctuary by Three Sisters for Moda) also caught my eye, jumping out as it did amongst the bolts of midnight blue printed with gold pharaohs and tabby cats sitting amongst daffodils, and so when I signed up for the Learn to Patchwork Day I also took possession of a selection of matching fat quarters, without any clear idea of how it would all come together in a quilt. Then six months later in the sales I pounced upon some half-price end of rolls in yes, you have guessed it, Sanctuary (there is a theme emerging here, you may say to yourself [remember also that I was quite innocent back then regarding the temptation inherent in the concept of the online fabric store]).

And there things rested, getting dusty under the bed rather than keeping me warm on top, until I had read the prettiest quilting book and practised on some baby quilts here and here, and graduated to Princess size here, and spent some time as a Farmer's Wife (yes, it's still a WIP, but I am getting there very slowly).

And hey presto! here is a very large (by my standards) quilt top made from the jelly roll and some of the yardage. The pattern is Blue Lagoon (which as you might have guessed is a blue and white quilt, so perhaps I should call mine Pink Pond), from this excellent book by the talented Lintott mother and daughter team. I just added a double border to increase the warmth factor.

I am now on such a roll that on Sunday afternoon I cut up the Sanctuary layer cake and have laid out the pieces for a companion quilt in order to be extra cosy. (I did make the mistake of using the largest dog-free floor space in the house, which is in the B&B sitting room, and no, I don't mind potential guests ringing up at 4pm on a Sunday and saying are you vacant, could we be with you in an hour, we'll ring you right back. It is no trouble at all to pick up 196 squares and transport them upstairs and tidy the floor and plump up the cushions and move it all upstairs and then find the squares can't fit on our bed and bring it all down again when you realize that they are not going to ring back, no trouble whatsoever, says she smiling sweetly.)

Dog-free zone

And did I say dog-free? Well, except for a Little Black Dog who shall remain Nameless who sneaked in while no one was about and scuffed up one corner, and I know it was you Little Stranger because of the nature of the discombobulation and the little bits of black dust and grit scattered so artfully on the white sheet.

This quilt is also based on a Lintott pattern from here - a very simple one called Charming Flowers, but I am afraid I had to line up the asymmetrical stars. (Such is my need for order in my life that I can't cope with too much asymmetry and had to arrange them evenly.)


There is just the sticky question of backing and quilting a big double quilt - a bit too big to hand quilt, I think, and I am feeling slightly nervous about the whole thing. I have a walking foot, unused, and occasionally eye it with trepidation.

Maybe a bigger sewing table and more space in which to manhandle the quilt and pin it out would jolt me out of my impasse ...

Hence my latest project for the Head Chef: turning our luxury shed into a bijou super-deluxe office (which can of course be used as a sewing studio when no one is feeling officious).

But knowing the Head Chef's capacity for procrastination (which puts my efforts on that front into the shade) I have a feeling that I will be shivering quiltless in my bed for some time ...

He promised to take me for a walk last Wednesday ...
There are some newbies on the block to welcome to the jolly band - hello to Gilly at Gilly Makes (she has just done some very pretty quilting), Bee at The Linen Cloud (very nice granny blanket on the go), Su at Living on the Edge (I love her beachy textile creation),  and Sweet Posy Dreams (who is busy decorating) - Blogland is such a hive of industry that I think we can all pat ourselves on the back.

Now what shall I make next ...?

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Sock issues

Captain Lurgy has been in residence at the cottage and his requirements for bed and board have been quite tiresome, but I decided that I must drag my frail frame from its indolent habitation on the sofa in order to prove that I still exist and that some days I manage to achieve something.

What with the gammy hand and the dicky neck and the tender ministrations of Captain Lurgy, my output has not matched my aspirations, but I am distinctly conscious that there is a nip hovering in the air, and the season to be cosy approaches nearly.

Nice socks

So my creative efforts have been concentrated on things warm and comforting. Hence the stripy socks. Hand-knitted socks, as I am sure that I have said before, are like cashmere cardigans - one encounter and you are ruined forever (I am still in hopes that Brora will suddenly email me, begging to sponsor my blog and offering copious amounts of things cashmere to review).

Thus I try to knit one or two pairs of cosy socks a year, and you may look at and admire my Jubilee Socks. (Yes, I was a Bay City Roller fan when I was a mere scrap of a girl - why did you ask?)

Heavy duty winter warmers

I cast on these jolly numbers on the Jubilee weekend in June - we had fled the country in honour of the celebration and as I sat in sunny Brittany I was quite bemused to see that the French were quite over-excited about the whole event (little union flag logos on the TV screen and hysterical TV presenters in the rain on the riverbank interviewing equally bemused Brits in their waterproofs), so we didn't have to miss anything.

I knitted my very patriotic socks, quietly satisfied that for once the weather in the country in which we had chosen to holiday was sunny and dry, and that it looked pretty grey, wet and cold at home. The converse is usually true and it has become something of a holiday essential for me to be out searching the shops for heavy-duty Goretex.


Unfortunately I have still not solved the problem of how to photograph myself in my new socks without my ankles thickening before my very eyes, or my thighs appearing to be of titanic proportions (I hear my sister sniggering as she reads this, and muttering 'stumpy' ...)


In my defence, I would like to say that these have been made as top-layer winter socks, extra-roomy to accommodate an underneath pair, for those months when my circulation comes to a halt mid-calf. The pattern is my usual favourite from Ann Budd's book, and the yarn is Regia 4-ply sock yarn - I now find out that it is Flusi Das Socken Monster yarn (colour 1807) especially for small children with small legs. I was not warned about this in the shop. Perhaps that is why my ankles are so rotund in appearance?

Hmm, they are a bit on the thick side

And I have also just cast on some super-cosy legwarmers (free pattern here) to ensure that my legs look equally thick the whole way along.

It is also of some comfort to me that the Little Stranger likes my socks - I know this because she jumped on my stomach and licked my face and my camera. The lens will probably never be the same again.

Thank you for all of your lovely comments on the previous post. I will come and say hello to you in return as soon as I can get round you all. Perhaps you could also say hello to the lovely new followers who are Kay at Deep in the Cornish Countryside,  Sarajan at Fleachic, Pattypan at Tarragon & Thyme, Debby at Cozy Blanket, Geraldine at Sophie Belle Designs, Cheryl at My Little Piece of England,  Maggie Moore at Pretty Flowers in the Window, and Kaylagking.

From a health and safety point of view you will be pleased to hear that no socks or black dogs were harmed in the manufacture of this post, but unfortunately a party of ants hitched a ride and are only now emerging from their hiding places about my person. With skin crawling I salute you and depart ...

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Vitamin therapy

The summer seems to have slipped by in the twinkling of an eye, the admirals have sailed off with the tide, and I remain, beached, almost wondering what to do with myself, so much have they filled my days over the past few weeks.

Dear readers, I would love to tell you that I can manage to edit a book, run a B&B, be a good mother, and keep my house and garden tidy at the same time.

But sadly if I did I would be lying.

Catching up with the laundry mountain

I would love to be the sort of blogger who leads a life to which other bloggers aspire, in a house filled with sunlight whatever the season, where the dogs sleep on clean blankets of patchwork and crochet, with a garden where one can take a photograph anywhere and be confronted with a vision of loveliness and distinguished plantings.

Did someone mention a crochet blanket?

And yesterday I could have started on that route to the pink and pineapple of perfection by addressing the dog-hair, ankle-deep in the sitting room, or polishing the windows to improve the light-levels indoors. Maybe I could even have done a little light weeding in the aim of getting to grips with the bindweed, creeping buttercup and ground elder which threaten to overwhelm my flowerbeds.

I pegged up my sadly deficient dog blankets that seemed to have taken on the appearance of ragged old bathtowels, splotched with sinister-looking stains which are highly resistant to the boil wash, and sighed.

Dreaming of a tartan blanket to sleep on

I looked at the bedrooms of my absent boys: the Ploughboy's is merely grubby and unkempt, whereas that of the General one could categorize as a health hazard and threatening to the fabric of the house. There is very little floor space available for standing in, even if I wanted to attempt some sort of fumigation.

A strong aroma of mouse
But when they do come home, I want to be a welcoming, glad to see you, sort of mother, and not one who berates them with the amount by which their disorderly nests reduce the value of the house (£8,000 per mucky children's room apparently).

Then I heard the caressing tones of Dr Mark Porter on Radio 4 (trust him implicitly, he is a doctor) recommending the benefits of vitamin D as an anti-inflammatory (this is why TB patients were made to sunbathe in winter).

I need such treatment, I thought. So I took up my knitting, heaved a chair onto the grass,
and I sat and basked in the sunshine, in order maximize my intake of anti-inflammatory vitamin D.

Very soothing

And I thought that you might like to know that the result of my experiment was to feel very much better, so I can highly recommend its efficacy, and anti-inflammatory nature - the experience of such therapy was distinctly healing.

Sunning oneself

However, it does not seem to work for dogs. As two out of the three were sick on the grass,  I cannot affirm its effectiveness in canines.

I think I am going to be sick

So the moral of the story is that if you are feeling a little inflamed, then go and expose your body to sunlight (trust me, I am a doctor).

But don't forget your knitting ...


And if you would like to see some pretty pictures of far better regulated households, then do go and visit some of the new faces at the cottage, who are:

Ada at Vintage Sheet Addict, Lush at Diegoagogo, Nancy McCarroll at Art, Crafts and Favourites, Jane Sorgetz at Atelier de Artes, Gillian at Tales From A Happy House, Gigibird, and Ellimay (I couldn't find your blog, so do let me know if you have one).

A genteel good afternoon to some lovely new friends and charmed to meet you, I am sure.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Scarlet and black

As a granny fashionista, I feel that it is my duty to dispense the occasional handy hint regarding matters sartorial, and this weekend I felt that I learned a lesson worth sharing.

And my advice is, please don't listen to those grande dames of decluttering, and ladies of high fashion who insist that if an item of clothing has not been worn for a couple of years, then the only thing to do is to toss it smartly into a bin bag and consign it to history.

No, the granny fashionista knows better - and in fact, I have come to the conclusion with matters of fashion and style, then the older the better, and even better if it is so old that you have forgotten that it belongs to you.

Many moons ago

Last Friday I found myself in the unusual situation of deciding what to wear to a party more than one hour in advance (mainly because those dastardly admirals were keeping me waiting, and I had time on my hands) and I stood in front of the mirror gazing sadly as this year's party frock purchase, and finding it sadly wanting.

I made the mistake of buying a new dress in the spring, thinking that three rather exciting parties in the offing justified such impulsive extravagance and would of course reduce the CPW to a mere nothing (fashionista-speak for cost per wear, a concept about as useful as that of investment dressing which somehow implies that spending large amounts on clothes is akin to putting the money into the bank or a pension. Take it from me, the more you spend on fashion, the more you spend and the less you have in the bank, whatever the CPW).

And as for my little piece of investment dressing, it has not stepped up to the mark for any party as yet. 'It is a very pretty dress,' said Princess Bunchy kindly. 'I think I might be cold,' I replied as I tried leggings and a variety of cardis, and every single pair of shoes to my name, and felt the sinking feeling that this fatal frock was not really up to a Hollywood theme in a rather lovely venue in the Great Wen, or anywhere else for that matter. In fact, this dress came under the category of Big Mistake, and contrary to the effusive affirmations of the shop assistants, it was not a dress for me but a dress for somebody else. I am not sure quite whom, but definitely not for me.

So Princess Bunchy went exploring in the back of the wardrobe and emerged with three party frocks from many moons ago, including the one I wore to my twenty-first birthday dance. 'It's rather revealing,' she said in a shocked voice, and I tried to explain about the 1980s and strapless ballgowns with boned bodices, not that my frock was strapless or boned, or revealing as I explained as I shifted the waistband up six inches to the 1980s, and pulled the laces tight, so this was only marginally relevant. 'Whalebone,' she said knowledgeably, and then I had to explain that actually I am not that old and plastic had been invented by the time I first donned a ballgown.

As you might gather, we were not getting very far: shocking pink and purple chiffon in layers, no, too strappy for granny arms. Pale grey and cream silk with pearl buttons from Singapore - dropped waist and boxy shape far too girlish. The princess dug down into another layer - only twenty years this time - heavy black velvet with a wonderful drape on the skirt. Beautiful - a dress of dreams and probably only worn once, and I still don't regret the purchase because I would wear it again if someone would invite me to a winter party (but I don't get out much, especially in winter). But a touch warm for London in August, even one as chilly as this.

Time was

And then, hiding behind everything, covered by dry cleaner's plastic, the princess pulled out a dress only a year older than she is. Scarlet and black, chiffon and burnt velvet, a whole raft of memories came spilling out with it. A mere fourteen years old, from a time when the Commander-in-Chief occupied a position which required his daughter to have one or two rather smart party frocks. And a sad time for other reasons, and I remembered the other velvet frock in ash grey and dark blue, rather roomy in its cut, which I had discarded because of the sad memories attached to it.

And this one in scarlet and black - bought after the grey one, for a summer party which I can't quite remember, but I remember feeling not quite at ease in the dress, and trying to forget things and be cheerful and graceful in a dress that was a little too tight and a little too bright for my feelings.

Scarlet and black, hidden away for all these years, and from memory, and now not too tight and bold at all, quite perfect for wearing on a red carpet and having its picture taken.

Very old

So this frock did go to the ball after all, and the story had a happy ending.
And the moral is, never throw away a party frock, because they come festooned with memories of all kinds, and far better to wear a really old one, where the cost is historic (and that is a genuine economic concept) and thus more thrifty than buying a new one.

Or you can buy a really old one, older than you are, which has been emptied out of someone else's bin bag, and thus become a genuine granny fashionista. Just like I did last week.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

So many shades of grey

And no, I haven't read the book (and goodness knows what Amazon is going to recommend for me now that I have looked at the link), but the unremitting greyness of the past couple of days is oppressing me as I sit in my north-facing office - even with the lights on.

But the jolly redness of the tomatoes seem to defy the leaden skies, and the taste hints at Mediterranean summers and terrace living - if you shut your eyes quite tight and sit close enough to the Aga to feel the warmth.

Frilly tomatoes

The polytunnel has protected these tomatoes from the blight, and kept them warm enough to ripen up - the pretty frilly ones are Costoluto Fiorentino, a variety which has been consistently successful for us, in spite of our distinctly non-Mediterranean climate.

The Head Chef has been slaving over a hot stove preserving them for winter - we make an all-purpose tomato sauce/soup which is quite easy to do. Just cut the tomatoes in half and spread one layer thick on a baking tray (no need to peel or deseed). Scatter liberally with basil leaves and thinly sliced onions and garlic; drizzle with copious amounts of olive oil and season well, before roasting in the oven for half an hour or so (medium heat/middle of the Aga). Leave them to cool when they come out, then blitz in a food processor or blender. Freeze in portion sizes suited to your family.

Nice green beans

This tomato blend will then do duty all winter in lasagne or vegetable bakes, as pizza topping, pasta sauce, thinned down as tomato soup - the list is endless, and with food prices predicted to rise quite dramatically (and pig feed already escalating) we are eagerly squirrelling away as much as possible.

Tasty but few and far between

It has been a mixed year - the cucumbers are succumbing to mildew after a very modest crop (Marketmore, which is usually quite prolific), and unlike most years we have certainly not been overrun with courgettes - although that could be this pale green variety (I forget the name) which has such an anaemic air that we will be going back to the mix of yellow and dark green stripes which was so much more aesthetically pleasing.

Pale and uninteresting

The good old runners are still running away, and if you look carefully you can still see that everything is coated in thistledown. I fear that next year our little cottage is going to disappear in a prickly green forest and we will be machete-ing our way out.

Machete at the ready

I hope that you have had a sunnier weekend than we have, and if you don't feel up to the famous one, this Shades of Grey was very entertaining, and as far as I can remember, quite decent . . .


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