Thursday, 23 November 2017

Preparations


I've been busy here, these last few weeks. Not the usual school/work/life kind of busy, but a pleasant weekend pottering sort of busy. I've been baking and preserving, stamping and crocheting - trying to get ahead of myself for what is coming over the next few weeks.


I made our Christmas cake. It's only John and I who eat it, and I make a much smaller one than I used to, but it's a tradition that I really cherish and enjoy. I also made one for my mother and father in law and nine mini ones, cooked in little 200g baked bean tins.  I baked them for one hour at 150°c using my usual recipe (from Nigella Christmas - I'm sure it's available online somewhere) and they came out better than I could have hoped. The only tedious part was lining nine individual tins. They will all be individually iced and wrapped in cellophane closer to Christmas to be given as gifts.


And, another tradition in which I like to indulge - making preserves for Christmas. I usually make cranberry chutney but this year I fancied trying something else, so I made chilli jam


Compared to chutney is was wonderfully simple; no mounds of fruit and vegetables to peel and chop, just chillies and red bell peppers blitzed in the food processor before being cooked in sugar and cider vinegar.


It's so good, like sweet chilli sauce but not quite so sweet and a lot thicker. Jammier, you might say. And then I thought it would be fun to buy a little chilli stamp and got rather carried away stamping fabric jar toppers and labels. 


I used a white tea towel and heat sealed the ink with an iron. 




The end result is rather pleasing though. The only problem I foresee with this gift is that I do not want to give it away, and may have to make more for myself.


And the crochet. The first gift isn't for Christmas, but for my goddaughter who turns five tomorrow, but her birthday is close enough to December to feel like festive present making and I was on a tight deadline this week, frantically hooking this up at the last possible moment. What can I say, I work well under pressure.

This beauty is from the brilliant Edward's Menagerie: Birds, a book I know I've mentioned here before lots and cannot recommend highly enough, or it's predecessor Edward's Menagerie.



I also bought some delightfully squishy balls of Drops Andes yarn to make some chunky colour block cowls for gifts. I am thinking about this pattern, or this one, or I may just make up something of my own. 


Please don't be fooled into thinking that all this industry equates to any kind of organisation. In fact I am behind in just about everything else in life; housework, emails, washing, Christmas shopping, buying and posting gifts, blog reading. But hey, I crocheted a flamingo!

Happy thanksgiving to my American and Canadian friends and readers - I hope you all enjoy a calm and happy day with your favourite people.  






Friday, 17 November 2017

A November Cowl


Some crochet projects require a lot of planning, some a lot of yarn, some a lot of money. Most require a good amount of time. And then sometimes, a wonderful little crochet project pops into your head that requires the smallest amount of planning, a little yarn, no money (yay!) and only a short amount of time and, since it's an easy project, it's the most relaxing kind of crochet that can be done in front of the TV when you've had a glass of wine or two and you're actually a bit sleepy and really should go to bed, but, you know, just ten more minutes....


I began this project a couple of weeks ago when I was going through my stash of yarn. While I haven't exactly been on a yarn diet this year, I have made a massive effort to reduce the amount I buy and, particularly, to use up or give away half used balls that I know I don't want to use again. While sorting the yarn out, I came across a bag full of cashmerino scraps (I never throw that stuff out - too blooming expensive!) which I had collected and added to when my mum gave me a load leftover from a cushion she made. Mostly grey, with some pink, yellow and pale blue, they weighed together around 200 grams, the same as four new balls. Definitely enough for a project.


I decided on the simplest of patterns, a granny square cowl. I used this pattern from the brilliant crochet blog Annaboo's House as a starting point, but shortened the starting chain quite a lot, and used my own colour selection.


I don't know why, but I find it inordinately satisfying when a project uses up every last scrap of yarn. It's so pleasing, and with this in mind I decided not to break the colour changes at the end of each row, as you usually would, but to continue them up into the next row, and use them until they were completely finished, knotting in the next colour as I worked. 


This brings differences in the colour play, as some colours are next to each other for a short amount of time before another is introduced. The only real planning I did was to make sure I kept back enough black yarn for a final round at the end of the cowl to balance the black starting chain and first round at the start.

I love it. It has just the right amount of drape and the colours all came together really nicely. Plus that cashmerino is a dream to work with, and to wear, and it's neither too light or too chunky.


The colours feel quite November-ish to me, dark and grey with the odd pop of colour, but nothing too light or bright, just rich autumn tones. I think of it as my November cowl. 

Monday, 13 November 2017

November Days


I feel like the days are racing past us at the moment in a blur of school, work and dog walks. I can't believe we're almost half way through November already. Bonfire Night, with it's fireworks and parkin cake, already feels like a long time ago. 



The weather has turned cold. It's often frosty in the morning and the wind is biting. We light the stove most nights and we've all put blankets on our beds. Ziggy has a very smart new coat, a dark green waxed jacket with sheepskin lining. He's snug as a bug in it, but it is a little on the large side, so he looks like he's been eaten by a well dressed monster, but at the rate he's growing I'm sure it will fit him perfectly in a month or so. Our weekend walks have been a pleasure, if a little muddy, and it's wonderful to take Ziggy to all our favourite places and let him sniff and greet other dogs. The woods are beautiful at the moment, especially when we go out for walks late in the afternoon and the light is low and golden.


I feel a bit better about Christmas. I've written some serious lists (with sub-headings and everything) and feel more in control. I mean, if it's written on a list, that's half the job done, surely.


I finally made that pumpkin pie cheesecake. The recipe is from the first Smitten Kitchen book, The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, and is a cheesecake base filled with pumpkin pie filling, then dotted with cheesecake mixture. You swirl the two together and bake it. I found it lighter than the more traditional pastry-encased pumpkin pie although I suspect it probably contains just as many calories. I really do love pumpkin pie. I'm not American but it's become something I'm starting to seek out and and bake every autumn. I just love the way the pumpkin puree is the perfect carrier for all that ground cinnamon, ginger and clove. Autumn spices. 


Thank you so much for your warm reception to my last post and the Making the Seasons idea. I love to know what you all think, whether you agree with me or not, because I know that crafting is probably as important to you as it is to me.





Thursday, 9 November 2017

Making the Seasons: November


Over the past couple of weeks, my friend Lucy (of Attic24) and I have been emailing back and forth, hatching a plan to start a little crafting project over the coming months. It was sparked by the discovery of the most wonderful craft boxes that come through the post, by Craftpod


I decided to treat myself to the autumn box and loved pretty much everything about it; the fact that it fits through the letterbox, the modern feel of the contents, the attention to detail, the way the two projects had been so beautifully planned, designed and put together. I cannot begin to tell you how much this little box of creativity lifted my spirits in an otherwise busy and nose to the grindstone kind of week. 


The box contained everything you needed for two projects; a framed embroidery hoop designed by Carole of Maggie Magoo Designs and a kit for two little stuffed owls by Jo of Craftpod herself.


Lucy and I decided to make time to do a little crafting last weekend. Nothing so special about that, you might think, but knowing that we were going to do this together forced me to push some domestic tasks aside and make some time for myself. My mind wandered as I stitched and I thought about Lucy, about how lovely it is to find friends through blogging, about how much I used to enjoy our coffees together at Salts Mill when I lived in Leeds. I listened to The Archers and just let my mind drift and wander while my hands were busy.


 Something I especially liked about this embroidered mushroom hoop in the box was what a great beginner project it was. By stitching on top of an already printed design, you quickly create a effect that you'd otherwise have to get with hours and hours of stitching. 



The pattern was clear and very easy to follow and I would love to think that someone who perhaps had never embroidered before, or who was nervous about it, might discover that actually sewing is really fun and easy. It was a good reminder to me, especially after my France Holiday Diary, that an embroidery project doesn't always have to be this huge undertaking - it can be small, simple and just as rewarding. I also love the way embroidery hoops make such great, cheap frames.


The two little owls are completely adorable and came with a brooch clasp, in case you wanted to turn one into an accessory. I had initially thought that I might give them to a some small people I know, perhaps for Christmas, but I find I am rather fond of them and they are currently sitting on the shelf with my autumn bits looking down on me.


But again, the beauty is in the size of the project - it took maybe an hour or two to make these from start to finish.

I believe the autumn Craftpod box is no longer available but you can order a very similar toadstool embroidery design from the Maggie Maggoo Etsy shop and the winter Craftpod can be pre-ordered now if you like the look of it. 

Two months before the end of the year might seem like a funny time to start a seasonal crafting project, but I know that when the days get shorter and colder my thoughts turn to crafting. (Ok, and cake.) The aim, if there is one, with Making the Seasons is to follow the months and the turning of the year with small, quick and fairly easy crafting projects. It's about making in the widest possible sense: crochet, sewing, knitting, papercraft, cooking, gardening - whatever is your thing, as much or as little as you like. Perhaps you might like to try something new. 

If you feel inspired to celebrate the seasons and share you crafting projects with monthly posts then we would absolutely love that, and you can also tag your images #makingtheseasons on Instagram. You can read all about Lucy's experience with November's making here. Happy crafting! 

(And yes, as you can imagine, I am already pretty excited about whatever I may make for my Christmas Making the Seasons, and have already shoved all thoughts about the Christmas presents I said I'd make to one side while I distract myself on Pinterest....)