Friday, 24 June 2016

Make, Bake, Sew, Grow

Thank you for your kind comments on my clutch bag. I am really glad you like it. You find me pretty shaken this morning by the the EU Referendum results here in Britain but as always life goes on. Today felt like a good time for a Make, Bake, Sew, Grow post, my little meander through all the things that are going on in my home and garden at the moment. My comfort blanket.

{ Make }

Two current obsessions: French plaits and peonies.

I have - until recently - never been able to master the French plait/braid.  This annoyed me greatly as I don't like not being able to do things. Many of my colleagues wear their hear in a variety of styles - full French plait, a little side plait going into a bun, a dutch plait/braid - and it always looks so pretty and I just kept thinking, it can't be that flipping hard. If I can crochet and sew, surely I can plait hair?

So, using my nine year old daughter and her waist length hair to practice, I have been working on Operation French Plait this week. These two pictured are a little wonky, but the two plaits she went to school with today (which took twenty five minutes and meant I didn't have time to make the beds or empty the dishwasher) looked pretty good. 

Next objective: learn how to do a Dutch plait and fish tail plait and - even better - do one of these creations in my own hair. If you need me I'll be in holding a hairbrush with aching arms.

Peony season is short and sweet and they must be bought and appreciated. I also like them against the grey wall in the dining room, but I like anything against that colour if I'm honest. 

{ Bake }

From the kitchen, rhubarb shortbread. Thank you for the idea CJ

I made a batch on Saturday and it was so good that I made another on Sunday. 

 Fish pie for a meal with my parents on Father's Day. 

I poached cod, salmon and smoked haddock in milk then, when the fish was cooked, strained it and used it in the white sauce. 

I flaked the fish into large chunks and then added some leeks I'd cooked for a while, plus lots of king prawns and sweetcorn. I like sweetcorn in fish pie, it is a good match -  it reminds me of chowder. I also chucked in loads of freshly chopped parsley, then topped it with mashed potato and baked it. I nearly forgot the prawns and had to push them in, one by one, under the mash, then cover it all over again. 

I made a separate one for the kids without the prawns, leeks or parsley and served theirs with just broccoli on the side. They both asked for seconds. Veg on the side of the plate is acceptable to them - even tasty - but veg mixed in with fish in a sauce is still regarded as Highly Suspicious.

It's a bit of a faff, fish pie, the kind of dish that uses four saucepans, but it's so worth it. 

{ Sew }

I made a start on my sampler and now that I've started, it's all I want to sew. Those little motifs are just the right size - small enough to be quickly completed without getting bored, and big enough that you feel satisfied when you complete one. I'm going to enjoy this project.

I continue to crochet the odd row here and there on Angus's blanket. 

It's still at the stage where it looks like a scarf though. I've got a long way to go yet.

{ Grow }

Everything is decidedly very green in the garden at the moment, but a little lacking in colour. The riot of pinks, reds and purples in May has gone over now, and I remember from last year how May was the best month in the garden. I need to figure out this colour-through-the-summer thing. Find plants that flower in June and July. 

We remain on hollyhock watch and they grow taller and taller, well past the top of the six foot fence.

I very much hope these are buds, as they run up the stem in clusters with their odd, slightly geometric shape.

The redcurrants are reddening.

The blackcurrants have a way to go yet.

Funny how I am suddenly very interested in these, since ice cream became a possibility.


I wish you all a very happy weekend. We are going camping. It's probably going to rain but there will be much laughter and friendship, chatting around a campfire with wine and putting the world to rights - just what I need today.

Monday, 20 June 2016

A Chevron Clutch Bag

This is my crocheted clutch bag.

I'm really happy with how it came out. I love the starkness of the monochrome stripes and the simplicity of the chevron pattern. I like how it goes with lots of things in my wardrobe. 

I took care with this, thinking about the construction, adding a zip and even lining it and I'm so glad I made the effort.

You could just hold it in your hand or under your arm, or use the handle to wrap it around your wrist where is can be clutched in your fingers...

...or hang from your elbow. 

Thank you to my sister Katy for modelling it in the above two photos, and also for doing my pretty blue nails and lending me curling tongs, heels and half her wardrobe.

(We went Out-Out, my bag and I, a couple of weeks ago with a group of friends from school and we had a lot of fun. I think that mums with young children, when they get a chance to get dressed up and go out and go dancing...well, it's like we've all been let off the leash a bit. Or maybe that's just me.)

Anyway, below I have put together a tutorial explaining how I made it.


Make your length of crocheted fabric. You could create any pattern but I chose a zigzag/chevron design with stripes of equal thickness, using this tutorial. I chose cotton DK yarn as it's strong, durable, washable and has great depth of colour. I also used a 3 mm hook rather than the 4 mm suggested, to create a very tight pattern. It was quite hard work to crochet but makes for a more substantial-feeling end product. 

My piece of crochet was around 50 cm long by 30 cm wide. Darn in the ends.

Fold over and stitch down the zigzag points on the two shorter ends, so that you have flat edges on all four sides.

With right sides together, fold the fabric in half and stitch the sides together, using white cotton yarn for the white stripes and black for the black stripes.

Try to match the stripes as closely as possible while sewing together. Any threads carried up or down along the inside of the work can be hidden inside the bag. 

It should look something like this, a bit sack-like but definitely starting to resemble a bag.

Pin the zip in place just under the opening at the top of your bag. I chose pink for the contrast, but you could use black or white. Securely hand stitch the zip into place with strong cotton thread, taking care to really stitch into place the top and bottom of the zip, so that when you pull it open and closed you don't see threads pulling underneath.

I wanted to be able to fold down the top half of my bag and so I needed a magnetic bag fastener. Decide where you want to place this and then insert it into the fabric.

Next, add the handle. I bought a cheap fake leather thin belt for £2.99 and cut it up with a pair of scissors, using a hammer and nail to add holes to stitch it to the bag. Where on the bag you position your handle is up to you, but I chose the point at which the bag would fold downwards when closed.

Using cotton yarn and a tapestry needle, firmly stitch the handle into place.

Now for the lining. Take a piece of lightweight fabric a little larger than the total area of your bag. (I chose plain black cotton.) 

Hem the two short ends, then fold it in half right sides together and sew together along the sides. Turn it the right way out and insert it into your bag. Hand stitch it into place along the bottom of the zip.

This sounds a lot more fiddly than it actually is, trust me. You don't have to line the bag but I think it makes a massive difference to the overall look and finish. The finished bag is around 17 cm tall by 30 cm wide when folded and fastened. 

And there you have it, one handmade clutch bag.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Thursday Night Happies

:: A beautifully tiled splashback behind the cooker. (Also, a harmonious DIY experience, a husband who is handy with jobs around the house, and a finally finished kitchen.)

:: This amazing chicken and lentil curry, of which there was plenty leftover so the freezer is filling up again. The spices were fried and the paste made from scratch. The rice didn't come out of a packet in the microwave. It tasted of, well, flavours. Lots of flavours. Also eaten this week: chicken fajitas, barbecue pulled pork with buns, coleslaw and salad, spaghetti carbonara. Tomorrow night I'm going to attempt some kind of hash with the leftover pulled pork and some potatoes and beans, chuck a fried egg on top. Ah, cooking! 

:: The discovery of a really, really old iPod in the back of a drawer. It's practically vintage, but it works, and Angus is very taken with it. Because it's full of John's music, I think he was listening to The Clash here. (Also, I just think Angus looks really cute in his little vest which he has been wearing as a pyjama top lately.)

:: Herbs on the window sill. The lovely pots were a kind gift from my mother in law.

:: The arranging of stuff. It was like unpacking all over again, as I got things out of boxes and dusted them off. Comments were made about having too many vases. I'll just say that I am adequately prepared for any flower-giving situation and that's very sensible of me.

:: Tiny baby ranunculus seedlings. I doubt I'll get flowers this year, they're too small, but I'm proud of them. I might plant them out this weekend.

:: Peony season. How I love watching these unfold.

:: This one who, when he wants to, can melt my heart. Especially when he does "helping". Look at his concentrating face. 

:: Dusting off  - I mean literally wiping the dust - off my sewing machine to make a tunic for Bella to wear to Anglo Saxon day at school. Then I sat in front of two episodes of the Great British Sewing Bee while I hemmed the dining room curtains. A happy evening of sewing. 

:: My Anglo Saxon girl. She was particularly proud of her plaits. I don't think the long sleeved t-shirt, leggings or trainers worn under the tunic were historically accurate, but I saw one boy in her class dressed as Hercules and another as a Roman solider, so I don't think we need to worry. 

:: Salads shaped like faces.

:: Our first dinner (chicken fajitas) in our new kitchen-dining room on Sunday night. One of those lovely harmonious family meals when no-one moans and everyone likes what they are eating, although Angus continues to refuse to eat peppers or the salad, and both he and Bella eye the guacamole with something resembling fear. 


The world is a dark and scary place sometimes, is it not? The senseless killing of innocent people, political wranglings  - at home, in Europe and further afield - that leave me worried about the future, plus so much more. But let's remember that the world is mostly made up of nice people. Be kind. Take joy where you can find it and celebrate the things that make you happy, however small. 

Sunday, 12 June 2016

All Go

Oh, it's all go on the crafting front lately and it's making me so happy. My head is bursting with ideas and my crochet mojo (crojo?) has returned with a vengeance. 

As you know I started a granny stripe blanket for Angus a couple of weeks ago. I don't think I've added any rows since I last showed it to you, but that's ok, it's going to be a slow burner, this one - something easy to work on between other projects, or for those evenings when I just want something relaxing. I know that I can't work continuously on projects like blankets and that I need to alternate them with other things. 

While thinking about colour planning for this blanket, I thought I'd try this trick I keep seeing everywhere of wrapping yarn scraps around clothes pegs. I wondered it it really did help, and it does; it is much easier to visualise the next few rows this way rather than waving balls of wool around as I usually do, holding them up against each other and squinting. I found I had a much better sense of how the colours would work next to each other by using the pegs. 

I am loving the ease and simplicity of the pattern and, while summer is not an ideal time to begin a heavy woollen project, I hope it will simmer along nicely in the background before I work on it in earnest next autumn. 

In other crochet news, I became consumed recently with the making of a clutch bag, finishing it a few days ago. This length of chevron fabric was sew together, lined, zippered and taken Out-Out on Friday night. 

I need to write it all up into a proper post now but trust me, it's a beauty. It came out better than I could have hoped. 

My other current obsession, cross stitch - in particular cross stitching napkins - continues. I found four plain green napkins in the sideboard recently that I'd forgotten I had and thought they'd benefit from some flowers, it being summer and everything. (And yes, I am well aware that I possibly have too many napkins.)

I kept the stitches larger here, working over two holes in the soluble canvas, not one, as I did for these, and I like the more pixelated effect. 

I keep thinking about starting my cross stitch sampler but I seem to be having trouble. It's too dark, I'm too tired - plotting that first central stitch is tricky.

Also, I had some trouble locating the exact kind of linen the pattern specified - Zweigart Belfast Linen in Stone Grey - so I just ordered Cream, thinking it would be a good neutral colour. But when it arrived it was much too light, more of a pale baby yellow. Pretty, but not right for the colours in the pattern which are designed to be worked against a grey background. 

So I ordered more in Linen Raw, below, and it's much closer to the one in the image on the pattern. 

You can see the difference in the shades better below. Subtle, but important. I'll find a use for the cream fabric, it wont go to waste. 

I'm already kind of winging it with this pattern, as I refused to go out and buy the exact shades for every thread specified, given that I already have so many. I matched them as closely as I could by eye, and just bought two more when I really didn't have anything remotely similar. so I thought I should try and get the fabric right. Anyway, I'm really looking forward to starting this. It's a nice summer project.

The other thing I really want to do is make some hanging planters trying a macrame or knotting technique. The furthest I've got is buying this yarn and staring at images

What are you working on at the moment? Any crafting obsessions? 

I hope you've had a nice weekend. Ours was spent working on the kitchen (what else?) but those last jobs are done and the house is clean, the dining furniture is now where it should be and normality is slowly returning. It feels so good.