Thursday, 30 April 2015

An Ombre Wall Hanging

Goodness, what a wonderful glimpse into homes around the world you gave me with your tales of what you can hear from your open windows! Hawaiian birdsong, Canadian Geese, American train whistles, church bells, chattering swans, croaking frogs, boat masts clinking in the wind, owls, tractors, even power stations - so evocative, all of it, thank you so much. And thank you for sharing your rituals too, with me and with each other. The conversations and comments made me smile. We are all very similar, it seems.

Now, I have another question for you: how do you pronounce the word "ombre"? I am quite confused - I thought is was a one syllable word and that the "e" on the end was completely silent, but I have since heard it pronounced "om-brer" to rhyme with "somber", "om-bray" and "om-bree". However you say it, l like it very much, and I have a ombre wall hanging to show you today. 

I am completely delighted with this little project because, as well as liking the look of it, it marked a crochet achievement for me. I finally mastered the crocodile (or scale as it's also known) stitch. I tried this last autumn and just couldn't get the hang of it, but after looking at this great tutorial I sat down and had another go and, for some reason, this time it clicked and I was off. I love, love, the shape of the scales, the way they lie on top of each other, the way you can quite quickly create a piece of fabric with so much depth and structure. 

Once you're done the foundation chain and get going it's actually a lot easier than it looks and I really want to work with this stitch again. I have a feeling it would look brilliant as a bag, perhaps a big clutch with wooden handles. 

I had an idea that I wanted to make something for the blue wall in our bedroom, something like a wall hanging, and upon looking in my stash of cotton yarn I realised that not only did I have a lot of blue, it was the right blue for the wall. I had a good range of shades and they looked really nice running from dark to light, and so the ombre seed was planted. 

I really don't like it on the blue wall. I don't know why but it just doesn't work for me. Too much blue. It's lost at sea.

It definitely works better for me on a paler background. It's actually hanging in our hall at the moment but I think I may move it again. 

I had a bit of a conundrum working out how best to hang it. It needed something straight along the top to stop it bending and flopping everywhere, something the size and length of a crochet hook, really. After much rummaging and experimenting the perfect thing turned out to be a wooden skewer like the kind you'd use for kebabs on barbecues. 

I sawed off and sanded the pointy end and just inserted it along the top row, behind the stitches, wrapping yarn tightly around each end to keep it in place.

I love looking at this and I enjoyed making it which counts for a lot too. It was quite a fast make once I got going, maybe a week or so. I really want to make more of these. Imagine, a white wall covered in ombre wall hangings in all different colours! Oh my word, I want to do that right now.


For those who like to know such details, I used a 3 mm hook and I think most of the yarn was Rico Essentials cotton (which I like a lot as it comes in a cracking range of colours and has a nice, subtle sheen to it) with maybe some Annell cotton in there too. Also, the blue wall paint is Princeton Blue by Valspar and the off-white is Heathcliff's Castle by Crown. Aren't paint names just ridiculous?

Monday, 27 April 2015

Little Rituals

The last week has been all about settling in again. Settling back into our new routines, our new life here in this house. It felt like my first real week of normality, now that we have finished unpacking and the children are back at school after the Easter holidays. Just me on my own, going about my day, as the house and I quietly get to know each other. Routines are being established and honed as we find slightly different ways of doing our usual things. The children's bedtime seems to have crept forward half an hour and yet they seem to be up earlier, but I think that's the lighter days. But it's all quite lovely and I'm very happy, if a little absent from this blog, something I fully intend to rectify as soon as I have a minute.

I have been thinking a lot lately about what I do to make a house feel like a home, and why I do it. Which little habits or rituals I enact on a daily basis that I only do in my own home, rather than on holiday or when staying with family or friends.

:: My mid-morning coffee. This has to be the most important to me, my favourite and my best. A punctuation mark between chores and errands, a small pause.

I do this when I'm on my own in the house, and make a single stove top pot just for myself. I grind the beans in a grinder my good friend Kate gave me before she moved to Australia (and every time I use it I think of her and our many coffees together) then brew it in a little Bialetti pot I bought on holiday in Milan in 2005. 

There are lots of happy associations and memories in that one cup of coffee. I top up the espresso with just boiled water and a dash of cold milk, nice and simple. I'm not really a fan of frothy, milky coffees, give me a white Americano any day. Then I drink it in a nice cup, usually standing up in the kitchen leaning against the counter while reading stuff on my phone.

:: Watching where the light falls. This is how you really get to know a house. Here, the kitchen and dining room benefit from morning sun, while the living room faces west and is flooded with light in the afternoon.

:: Changing the sheets. 

This is a chore I don't mind, I even enjoy choosing the bedding and making the bed look nice...but that feeling of getting into a freshly made up bed at the end of the day, with the smooth, cool sheets and crisp, freshly ironed pillow case. Always a pleasure, always.

:: Flowers in the house. I'll happily buy them, but finding some growing in the garden or wild to bring into the house feels extra special somehow. 

On the sideboard this week, supermarket daffodils and some grape hyacinth picked from the garden.

:: Baking a cake. I remember reading Nigella say somewhere that she didn't consider a kitchen really her own until she'd roasted a chicken in the oven. That's how I felt about making this cake. This made me feel like the kitchen was really mine; making a mess, cleaning it up, the smell of baking. (And look, a utensil rail and shelf above the cooker! Storage!)

I made lemon syrup loaf cake, one of my favourite bakes. I probably make this about once a month and it is ludicrously easy, very tasty and keeps for ages so it's a popular one. 

:: Listening to the radio. I have the radio on all day long and used to listen to Radio 4 constantly but have lately switched (defected?) to Radio 2. Even if it's just background noise, and I'm not actually listening that closely, I like it. It makes me feel connected to the world beyond my four walls. (And spot the open kitchen door - I would have that door open all day long if the weather permitted.)

:: Selecting clean tea towels from the cupboard and hanging them on the oven door, ready for use.  These are Good tea towels and must not be used on things like roasting tins. I have old, faded ones for that job. 

:: Sleeping with the window open. The nighttime sounds here are different to the ones we heard in Leeds. No airplanes, but the distant hum of motorway traffic instead. No buses or trucks rattling along the bottom of our street, but instead car traffic. Lots of cars and not many buses - one of the downsides of moving from a city to the suburbs.

And in the morning, birdsong and the sound of seagulls. They go mad in the morning. Actually, that is something I like to do on holiday too - listen to those outdoor background noises and compare them to home.

:: Hanging the washing on the line. Never a chore, this task, especially when I can feel the warmth from the sun on my face while I peg things out. I don't like rotary lines, such a faff to put up and down, and instead have two long lines reaching right across the garden from the house to a tree in the corner. Items must be pegged from the bottom or else you get peg marks on the shoulders, and I have re-pegged things that were incorrectly hung.

What about you, what rituals do you have when pottering about the house? What makes your house feel like home?

And - I'd really, really love to know this - what can you hear outside your open bedroom window? I wonder what it says about where you live, how rural, coastal or built up it is, and if the sounds you hear differ wildly from what I hear on the south coast of England. 


I enjoyed reading your comments about Tunnocks Teacakes so much. They hold such a special place in our hearts, don't they? And not just in the UK, but also abroad, where it seems they are quite expensive but no less popular. 

Thursday, 23 April 2015

The Colour Collaborative: April: Red

I set myself a challenge with this months prompt: go and find red things in the house. I had to look hard but half an hour spent wandering around the house, camera in hand, looking for a particular colour is pretty good fun and I enjoyed seeing what I could find. It's not a colour I seem to choose. I like it in very small amounts I would say. I like the punch it brings to pastels and neutrals, I like to see a pop of it in pattern, and I especially like it with white and pink.

A glance in my wardrobe revealed the same - a few red and white striped nautical style tops and that was it. No red dancing shoes. No slinky red dress. Navy blue, pale blue, white, mustard yellow, pink, grey - these are the colours you'll find in my wardrobe, along with about thirty Breton tops.

I did find a lot of red in my kitchen cupboards though. Some of my favourite products (Heinz Tomato Soup, for example) or household names, like Oxo stock cubes, have built brands around the colour red and it's successful because it's so eye catching. Our eyes are drawn to red and there's a good biological reason, it being the colour of fire, poison, danger and all that. 

But my favourite red product - to look at and to eat - is the Tunnock's Tea Cake. We all love them in this house and I buy a box almost every week. It's nothing like what I would call a tea cake (a fruit bun which is usually toasted and buttered) but is a soft biscuit base topped with gooey marshmallow and covered in milk chocolate. I am told the navy blue and gold wrapped dark chocolate ones are also good but I will always be a milk chocolate girl at heart, try as I might to make myself like dark chocolate. One is never enough and I reckon I could fit the whole thing in my mouth in one go if I tried. Ok, I have tried and I can. I bite straight into mine. Bella, who says she likes them "because they're super yummy", likes to carefully nibble all the chocolate from the marshmallow before eating the rest.

And the packaging! It's perfection. I like to take off the foil wrapper quite slowly and then smooth it out with my finger tips, starting at the centre and working outwards, following the red and white lines to the edge. If you haven't ever done this, try - it's unbelievably satisfying.

I believe the design has remained the same since the 1950's and there is a strong retro look to the colour and pattern, similar to the equally appealing Brasso polish. Scottish artist Gillian Kyle has created some fantastic and very succesful products based on this packaging, drawing on the affection people have for this...biscuit? Cake? I don't know what I'd call it but I do like to eat them.

What about you? Do you like Tunnock's Tea Cakes? Do you like the colour red? Even better, are there any slinky red dresses in your wardrobe?

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.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Still On Holiday Time

We are being treated to a spectacular spring so far down here on the south coast, with blossom everywhere you look, blue skies and temperatures in the low twenties/mid seventies. We've enjoyed a really magical, carefree Easter break, with late starts, long sunny days, relaxed bedtimes, time with family and empty diary and no agenda, no plans. The children had Maundy Thursday and Good Friday off school as well as the two weeks following Easter, so it feels like a we've all had a really long rest. Spring, I love you.

Mantel update (because I know you've all been worried): I picked some forsythia and kerria from my mum's garden and displayed the stems in a a huge glass vase. 

I wanted pussy willow but I'm about two months too late for that, but this looks beautiful, a tangled mass of yellow. 

Two pictures (a screenprint bought in Cornwall and my Winterwoods cross stitch) have been propped up there too. I think I like this arrangement for now.

The living room is hard to photograph - it's either in shadow or flooded with afternoon light, which is gorgeous to sit in but impossible to capture on camera. It's all angles, this room. But I wanted to try and show you how high the ceiling is. Only the attic is above this room, as the rest of the upstairs is above the other rooms. It's a funny house. And both the ceiling and the right hand of the chimney breast slope, it's not your eyes. 

We welcomed our first house guests over the weekend. My friend Abigail and her family came to stay the night and the weather behaved perfectly so that we could take them to our new favourite places. On Saturday afternoon we walked on Hayling Island beach. It was cool and quite breezy but the light was so bright and crystal clear it made your eyes hurt. I forgot my big camera but the one on my new phone is a lot better than my old one, so I could snap away quite happily.

I love the way my two fit in with Abigail's children, just getting along and playing, sharing baths, making up games.  I think there was some kind of dolly breakfast in bed scenario going on here.

On Sunday we visited a place I will definitely devote a blog post too sometime, a tiny and ancient church set in the most stunning South Downs countryside.

I'm pretty sure that old cars parked outside old pubs must be photographed. Like good sunsets and interesting clouds, it's in the blogging handbook.

I love my new local area so much, the mixture of coast and countryside just ten minutes from our house. Love it. 

Even the Sunday afternoon homework couldn't dampen the holiday feel.

I fear there may be many more balcony sunset views this summer. Sorry.

This morning, after the school run, John and I had brioche and coffee for breakfast and chatted about this and that. You see, I'm still on holiday time! I'm even drinking a beer from the bottle while I write this. 

I think it's time I came back down to earth.

Friday, 17 April 2015

A Crocheted Stool Cover

On one of my many (many, many) recent trips to IKEA I bought two Frosta stools. One for the dining room to be used as extra seating should we need it and the other for the porch, to go next to the shoe rack. Whenever my children put their shoes on, they like to sit on either the bottom step of the stairs or right in front of the front door while they battle with laces and straps. Both places are inconvenient for rushed morning exits from the house and I hoped that the stool might encourage a happier, less shouty, departure on school mornings. 

I digress.

So, I had my stools (£8 each, a bargain) but thought them a bit dull and for a long time had fancied making some circular covers. I'd seen a pattern in my Granny Squares book and thought I'd have a go. The pattern is essentially a circle working out from the centre (very similar to a mandala I would imagine) with decreases so that it fits around the stool. If you were reasonably good at crochet you could probably turn any mandala into a stool cover by adding a few rows decreasing, then a few more straight rows to create "sides". 

I thought I'd share how I made mine as, while I liked the pattern on the circular stool top, I found the rest of the pattern (you know, like how to make it actually stay on the stool) a bit lacking in details. 

Make your circle, stopping when it is about 1 cm smaller than stool. 

This is so that your cover remains nice and tight. (Baggy, saggy crochet is as appealing to me as a too-short scarf.)

Then make your decreases, following whatever pattern you're using or just making it up as you go along if you're cleverer than me. Your cover will now look a bit like a floppy fabric tray or bowl.

I found that my stool cover would sit on the stool fine like this, but would slip off the minute anyone sat on it, and so I wanted to make mine more secure. 

Attaching the cover to the stool seemed the safest thing and so I placed the stool cover on the stool and, using safety pins like below, marked where the four stool legs would go.

I worked a row of double crochet stitches between these safety pin markers, leaving the ends long.

Then I used the long ends to tie the cover tightly around each stool leg. 

I didn't know what to do about the dangling thread ends and darning them in seemed like a waste of time as I would inevitably want to remove and wash the stool cover at some point. Washi tape secured them neatly to the underside of the legs.

And there you have one very secure stool cover. It might slip and move a little when you sit on it, but it won't fall off and, more importantly, it wont be baggy.

As well as making the covers, I also jazzed up my stools with some paint, spraying the feet of one pink, and painting the other white. 

How to spray the feet:

First decide which area you want to paint, wrapping masking tape carefully and securely around each foot, making sure they're all the same height. Then cover your entire stool apart from the parts you want to spray paint. This stuff gets everywhere. I used a combination of old tea towels, kitchen paper and masking tape to wrap mine up. To get the coverage I wanted, my project took four light coats of paint, with a couple of hours drying time between each one.

When the paint is dry, unwrap your stool and carefully peel away the masking tape on each foot. You should be rewarded with a nice clean line. Ahhh, so satisfying!

Like peeling off a plaster, but prettier.

The pink-footed stool lives in the dining room, while this one below is for the porch. I painted the whole stool white (two coats of undercoat, two of white eggshell) and used the same shade of green as the one on the walls, with white, pink and black for the cover. 

It looks great in the porch, next to that shoe rack, and is so far being used as somewhere to dump stuff like bags and lunchboxes while the children continue to put their shoes on right in front of the door or sitting on the bottom step of the stairs.