Monday, 22 December 2014

Woodland Creatures

Ah, there's nothing like a last minute Christmas gift panic to really get the festive spirit going, is there? I present to you Mr Fox and Miss Doe, finished in the absolute nick of time before the big day. They don't have names yet, as I want to give Bella and Angus that pleasure when they unwrap them. 

The animals were entirely their own choosing. I bought the patterns from Alicia Paulson's shop, and I would really recommend buying the patterns over the kits as they're such good value and you can use whatever fabric you like. Also, I ordered a kit for a friend for Christmas and was charged £12 import duty. £12!! Outrageous. The only thing I would say is make sure you use really good quality, pure wool felt. I meant to order this but think I actually ended up with acrylic, which looks fine but is nowhere near as strong. It meant I couldn't stuff either toy nearly as much as I wanted to as it just splits. Grrr. I've learnt my lesson.

Anyway, here is Mr Fox. I think he is my favourite.

His scarf is alpaca yarn, nice and soft.

His shirt is made from an old shirt of mine that I cut up long ago. A shirt made from a shirt, I like that. 

And his jeans are an old pair of mine, also relegated to the fabric drawer when they wore out. I had a bit of trouble getting the needle through three layers of the denim on the pockets, but otherwise they're good.

Brown felt lace-up boots complete his dapper outfit. I want to make him a jumper now.

And here is Miss Doe. 

Her headscarf is knitted in the same alpaca yarn as Fox's scarf. I had some, err, difficulties, with this pattern and my mother-in-law helped me enormously with it. 

Her dress is made from a piece of Liberty fabric I've had for ages with a repeating parrot design. I'd have gone for something more floral, but Bella was insistent this was the fabric she wanted for the dress.

I love her boots most. They were such fun to make. I'd quite like some slippers like this I think.

All in all, a very enjoyable project. Machine sewing the tiny clothes was fiddly, although not impossible, but hand sewing the dolls and boots was my favourite part by far. I love making things for my children, I really, really do. 

We are now at my parents' house, temporarily free from boxes and the disruption of a house move, and enjoying time with family. Contracts have now been exchanged (phew!) and the whole process moves slowly forward. I love this time of year; in the next five days we'll celebrate both my sisters' birthdays, my nephews birthday, and of course Christmas Day. I hope you are all enjoying this sweet time in the festive period.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Friday Happies

1. Time. A small respite, an unexpected free day before Christmas. The moving date has been postponed until very early in the New Year which is a huge blessing as it gives us a bit of breathing space, but means the children can still start their new school at the beginning of term in January.

And with that precious time, I baked mince pies. 

Isn't the holly beautiful? Look at all those berries. It was a gift from a gardener friend and is our sole Christmas decoration on the mantel along with some cards. I'm not sure if it's lonely or minimalist.

2. This week we celebrated Bella's eighth birthday. Her party was last Sunday afternoon, and her birthday yesterday. The big day falling on a school day didn't seem to dampen her excitement in the slightest. If anything, it added to it. 

She said that one of her best bits from the party was blowing out her candles. My best bit was watching her blow out her candles. Every day, every year, just gets better and better. I think "This is the perfect age" and then the next age surpasses that. She is interesting, funny, bright and perceptive, full of thoughts and questions.  A joy.

Her cake was one I'd seen here and here recently and stashed it away in my head as an idea for a potential cake that was big on impact and low on effort. I showed it to Bella and she loved it, thank goodness, as I had my heart set on it. I like the way the banner adds height and impact. It's just two paper straws which hold up a length of yarn over which small pieces of washi tape are folded.

I made the cake from three round tiers of plain sponge covered in buttercream icing, with a little animal tea party arranged on the top. We raided the toy box for animals, made them hats from crafting paper and bows from ribbon and yarn scraps, and sat them at a table we borrowed from the Sylvanian Family cafe.

The little cake on the stand is three Love Heart sweets sandwiched together with dabs of buttercream. Bella ate it after the party. Eugh.

3. These beautiful contrails which caught the morning sun earlier in the week were spectacular.

4. It's been a week of farewells as we start to say goodbye to friends in Leeds in readiness for our move. I have a very secure and solid group of women friends here up here in Yorkshire, most of whom I met through the NCT and other baby-related things, and they are good eggs, all of them. I have been given some very thoughtful and generous leaving gifts and feel quite bowled over by it all. I am liable to cry at any moment.  I loved the way all these different people wanted me to take some of the best of Yorkshire down south with me, and they have all independently given me some brilliant things which I thought you'd like to see. 

Isn't this paper lantern wonderful? It shows a view of Whitby Harbour and is by the artist Kate Lycett, who is based in Hebden Bridge. 

This basket of Yorkshire produce made me smile, especially the tin of biscuits from Betty's, a real institution in this county, although John refuses to set foot in there as he says it's overpriced and full of tourists. I love it.

Soap. I do love a new, prettily wrapped bar of soap and the name of this one pleased me no end. 

These coasters show famous Northern landmarks. The top one is Salts Mill, one of my very favourite places to visit locally. I'm saving them for the new house. 

And how fantastic is this Leeds cityscape tea towel? Obviously I wont use it, no, but it will be draped over the oven handle and admired and I'll think about those landmarks and this city, and of course the people who gave it to us.

So, there ends my round up of this weeks happy things; mince pies, birthdays, cake, sun, friendship,'s been a good week.

I always breathe a sigh of relief when the autumn term ends and the Christmas holidays start. These December weeks are always so busy, no matter how hard I try to find some balance. But I'm not complaining, I love it all really. The packing continues. The house is chaos and it doesn't feel much like our home now, which is as it should be as it will be someone else's home soon.  We'll be spending Christmas with my family at my parents' house and we are all looking forward to it hugely, a whole week to forget about packing, just concentrate on being together and celebrating Christmas. Fairytale of New York is playing on the radio right now, my favourite Christmas song. Life is good. Chaotic, but good. 

I hope you have a wonderful weekend. 

Thursday, 18 December 2014

The Colour Collaborative: December: Spice

This time of year is all about the spice, isn't it? The oranges studded with cloves, the cinnamon sticks and star anise bobbing about in the mulled wine, the little glass jars of powdered ginger, cinnamon, cloves and mixed spice that we add to our Christmas baking.

So much of the pleasure I take in this time of year lies in our rituals and traditions, in the slow festive build up to the big day. Some are inherited, others ones I've started with my own children. Like hanging the wreath on the front door. (The only red out there right now is the sold sign.)

Decorating the tree.

Baking mince pies. I like to make small ones with a star shaped top.

Buying poinsettias.

There are more: flicking through my copy of the Radio Times, watching favourite DVDs, reading Father Christmas to the kids, listening to Christmas music, buying stollen and lebkuchen, attending school nativities and carol concerts. I'm sure you have your own traditions too - and they are probably very similar to mine - but one thing the children and I always do at Christmas, and have done since they were very small, is bake gingerbread.

We eat a few straight away while they are still warm and some might be given away as gifts, but most of them are hung on the Christmas tree as decorations. They're never perfect and that's the point. Some are a little wonky, some a little overdone, but it doesn't matter. It's tradition

Spices of course come in an earthy rainbow of colours - I'm thinking of bright yellow tumeric, fiery red paprika and all the other shades in between. But Christmas spices seem to be brown, both before and after cooking.

And the thing about brown, whether it's gingerbread biscuits, wooden decorations or simply wrapped brown paper parcels, is that is all looks so very good with the traditional red, green and white of Christmas, and provides such a neutral base for some festive sparkle.

What are your Christmas traditions? Do you make gingerbread tree decorations too? Or a gingerbread house maybe? That's on my list for next year. 

* * * 

Don't forget to visit the other Colour Collaborative blogs for more of this month's posts, just click on the links below:

Annie at Annie Cholewa
Sandra at Cherry Heart
Jennifer at Thistlebear
Claire at Above The River

What is The Colour Collaborative? 

All creative bloggers make stuff, gather stuff, shape stuff, and share stuff. Mostly they work on their own, but what happens when a group of them work together? Is a creative collaboration greater than the sum of its parts? We think so and we hope you will too. We'll each be offering our own monthly take on a colour related theme, and hoping that in combination our ideas will encourage us, and perhaps you, to think about colour in new ways.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Friday, I Mean Sunday, Happies

Hello! I meant to post this Friday, then yesterday, and now here I am on Sunday night. Life is relentless at the moment. I feel slightly spaced out tonight, as this afternoon was Bella's birthday party. I decided (wisely) to not try and do everything myself, as I usually do, and so they went bowling and then on to an American diner-style restaurant for tea. You can book this converted yellow school bus for parties, and it's all decked out with red and chrome tables and chairs. It's absolutely fantastic, they loved it. And no work from me, either. I just made the cake.

My moments of happiness this last week have mainly involved finding pockets of calm and peace amid the craziness. 

1. Buying the Christmas edition of The Radio Times. It always gives me a little fizz of festive excitement in my tummy. I know that I'll spend longer reading through it than I will actually watching anything on television, but it's a little ritual of mine. 

2. I finished Mr Fox. He is wonky but still rather fantastic and I'm a little bit in love with him. I know making gifts like these might seem like lunacy given our current situation, but I can honestly say that making this toy for Angus has provided me with a very welcome distraction. I do find hand sewing very relaxing, and the process of following a pattern and losing myself in the stitches has been a huge pleasure this last week. Ok, except for the shirt. That was not relaxing, but damn I was proud of myself when I'd finished it. I'll do a proper post on it soon.

3. New slippers = cosy toes. Lovely.

4. These advent calender tea bags were a gift from my friend Debora. They're German, so I never really know quite what I am drinking, but anything that provides a moment to sit and be still right now is very good indeed. 

We've just ordered an Indian takeaway which will hopefully turn up soon as I'm famished. We're trying to run down the contents of the fridge and cupboards before the move, but think we may have slightly overdone it! Tonight I will watch some television and try to finish Bella's doe for Christmas. Tomorrow we'll see Bella in her school Christmas play and pack, pack, pack. I see rolls parcel tape when I close my eyes in bed at night...

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

On The Mantel: December

Ah, December. A month of extremes, of light and dark, activity and rest. It's always a very busy month for us with many family birthdays, and the build up to Christmas Day is inevitably a slightly chaotic rush of shopping, baking, wrapping, decorating, parties and get togethers. All very fun and all very tiring. I always like the post-Christmas lull the best, that golden week between Christmas and New Year when it's acceptable to loll around in your pyjamas all day, eating turkey sandwiches and doing jigsaws. 

My December mantel is a restrained affair, largely because all the Christmas stuff is still up in the loft. There is no point putting the tree up this year, as we'll be taking it down again next week, and there's barely room for it anyway what with all the boxes. But I have permitted myself one small space for festive decoration, one calm and quiet area to fill with prettiness. I was thinking about mountains, sunsets, bare trees and frosty mornings when I did this. Some of the best things about Winter. 

I bought these cable car tree decorations in Asda a while ago and think they are completely adorable. (John said I should put toy soldiers in them and act out Where Eagles Dare.) Imagine, if you will, that they are travelling gracefully up a big grey mountain...

My eBay alpine painting hangs here temporarily, joined by a line of reindeer marching along the top. 

Do they have reindeer in the Alps? I don't know if they do.

Our homemade tea light holders glow nicely. I love these, we light them most days.

I have a thing about snowglobes and couldn't resist this polar bear. I am pretty certain that polar bears do not live in Alpine regions. 

I didn't add the children's stockings this year. They're too red. I know, it's terrible, isn't it? Instead I hung some warm socks.

Here is my mantel last year (on the right) and the year before (on the left). Definitely more Christmas-tastic.

It's just so nice to have one small area of order amid the disorder! John just said to me "What will you do if there is no mantel in our new house?" Don't worry, I'll make sure that never happens.

Monday, 8 December 2014

A Shawl

Thank you so much for all your good wishes for our move. I am glad I'll be able to share it all with you here. I intend to continue blogging throughout the move; it's too much of a habit for me to stop now, plus it's something I enjoy very much, and I appreciate the way it makes me stop and reflect in busy times. However, I will certainly have less time to visit your blogs over the coming weeks so please bear with me there. 

Today I have this beautiful shawl to share with you. (Actually, these photos make me feel quite calm. Do they have the same effect on you? I think it's the absence of boxes and bubble wrap.) I finished this about a month ago but didn't want to spoil the surprise as it was a birthday present for my lovely mother in law. 

Before I made this shawl, I was fairly certain of two things that I definitely did not like. The first was shawls. I think I am more of a scarf or wrap kind of person. The second was variegated yarn. It always tempts me in the ball with it's pretty stripes, but knitted or crocheted the effect can be lost, giving a muddy, patchy effect. Well, what do you know? It appears that I do in fact rather like both shawls and variegated yarn. The shawl - the South Bay Shawlette - is an absolute dream to make. So, so enjoyable - each row works up steadily but is never boring - and while it looks nice as it is, it is transformed by blocking. I won the yarn in a giveaway years ago and I'm so glad I did, or I'd never have tried it. It's Noro Silk Garden in colour way 84, which is a dark pink with reds, oranges, browns, greens and purples running through it. It's not cheap (I won three balls but bought a fourth to finish the shawl) and feels quite rough to work with, but I really liked watching the colours change throughout the project.

So, that's why making things for others is fun and rewarding - it makes you try new things, new patterns, different yarn. Variety is the spice of life and all that. Tomorrow we are off into Leeds to do some Christmas shopping. I'm really looking forward to it. I've done most of mine but have a few last bits to buy, and I'll enjoy wandering around town looking at the lights and making the most of what will be one of our last trips into the city centre for some time. 

Friday, 5 December 2014

Friday Happies

Aghhh! It's all got a bit much; too much to do, too much to think about. Lists. I have a lot of lists, with headings and sub-headings, highlighted sections. If I lose a list all hell will break loose. You see, the thing is, alongside all the usual Christmas mayhem, we are moving house. Before Christmas, too, which is sooner than we'd expected. If not before Christmas then straight after, probably at a date selected to maximise stress and bad timing. This is one of those things that has been rumbling along quietly in the background of our lives throughout this autumn, and I haven't wanted to say anything until we had definite facts and dates, and now suddenly it's all upon us. We are relocating to the south coast to be nearer my family, among other things. It's a big move, a scary and exhilarating one, but also feels like very much the right thing to do for us as a family. I am a whirlwind of emotions right now. So, as well as trying to remember that it was non school uniform day for Bella today, and Angus had a school trip (which I went on too - I'm shatterred), and they both had to take in something for the Christmas fair, and then they had the dentist at ten past four, and to have all John's family's Christmas presents wrapped and ready by this weekend when we see them, and a million and one other things, I am ringing removal companies and solicitors, ringing schools, sorting out the garage, ordering boxes. Oh, and I said I'd make Bella and Angus a fox and doe from here and I haven't even started them yet

I nearly didn't bother writing my happies this week as I thought, honestly, I've got nothing to say. I'm not unhappy, no, but I'm certainly distracted. But in among the craziness there are moments of calm and peace, happiness even, and they keep me sane.

1. Wrapping Christmas presents when the kids were in bed while watching my The Box of Delights DVD. It's a tradition of mine to watch this every year. I loved it as a child, and love it even more now. In an effort to have one less box to pack, I decided to use only paper, tags and ribbon I already had in the house. 

So it's brown parcel paper, any ribbon scraps I could find, and gift tags made from last year's Christmas cards.

It's what's inside that counts, anyway.

2. Mince pies. I love them and would happily eat them year round if it was socially acceptable, and I always do a little happy dance when it's ok to buy them. I don't think there will be time to make any this year so I'm embracing the supermarket ones. 

3. Soups and stews that simmer away on the hob, making the late afternoons less dark and dreary.

4. Watching the children's faces while they watched their Portable North Pole videos. If you don't know of it, you upload a photo and some facts (name, age etc) and a free, personalised message from Santa (or Father Christmas as I insist that he's known in this house - I realise I'm fighting a losing battle on that front) is sent to your inbox. Best of all, I think Bella is still a believer! I've never been one for queueing up in a shopping centre of theme park to "meet Santa" but this is a little bit of seasonal magic that I'm more than happy to indulge in. 

5. Being able to call some homemade gifts "finished".

A scarf for a man, in blokey colours, which by coincidence were all the colours left over from my blanket. This was my first time trying a granny stripe pattern too and I really enjoyed it. It's a satisfying pattern to hook up, and creates lovely tidy edges. 

7. Last of all, Angus has taken to wearing his swimming goggles in the bath and shower. Of course, it goes without saying that they've never seen chlorinated water, but it makes me belly laugh every time. He looks ridiculous. I'll spare you a photo of that.

This weekend will be bonkers. I am going out with some other mums from school tonight, we have swimming lessons then a day with grandparents tomorrow, the school fair on Sunday. Oh, yes, and packing!  I hope your weekend is full of festive joys and that you're not yet overwhelmed by the December rush.