Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Spring Miscellaneous

There's nothing and everything going on here at the moment. I feel like I never stop, but I also don't have a lot to show for my busyness. Recent weekends and evenings seem to be spent constantly driving children to and from various parties, clubs, activities. But the weather has warmed up, the garden is emerging from its winter slumber and we have a weekend of gardening and DIY planned which I am happy about. I'm at that stage with the garden where I'm genuinely delighted by it, by what I see each time I go out there, so happy to be out in it pottering around after a long winter and interested to see what's growing, what's new. This will be our fourth summer in this house and I'm still getting to know the garden, as we've done quite a bit to it since we moved in, creating borders, moving plants etc. I still get a thrill when something new blooms. The daffodils are fading but the tulips are just about to open and are looking very cheerful indeed.

 The rhubarb has shot up in the last two weeks, along with the weeds...

 and I spied a tiny pink carnation flower in a sorry looking pot.

I filled the wooden planter on the decking with a mixture of daffodil bulbs again last autumn - it's right in front of our kitchen patio doors so I like to make an effort with it - and it's bursting with yellow, white and orange flowers. I am loving these ones below, although I have no idea what variety they are - some kind of multi-headed narcissus, maybe?

I am really, really looking forward to the Easter holidays. That two week break in the middle of spring always feels like a treat, especially if the weather is good. It's often a holiday we spend in the garden and doing DIY, and I can't see that this one will be any different. I'm looking forward to getting stuck in to the spring Craftpod. I have a few projects that I've saved from previous boxes and I might do some embroidery over the Easter holidays, add a few more hoops to the wall in the dining room. 

Crochet-wise, I decided to start with the Ombre Shawl as it's something I can wear during the spring and summer. I had a bit of a wobble about the brightness of the pink but I've done a few more rows since then, and it's starting to subside. I will like it more when the grey comes in, I think.

Last weekend I made baked doughnuts from this recipe and they came out really well. You have to accept that they are not really like a traditional doughnut, since they don't contain yeast and aren't deep fried, in fact they're really just a doughnut shaped cake. But they are so light, and once they are dipped in melted butter and coated with cinnamon sugar...so, so good, and a lot nicer than the stale jam doughnuts I bought from Tesco's a few weeks ago.

My after work dog walks have been lovely lately. It's light until seven pm now, although I usually walk Ziggy between four and five, and the blossom everywhere is such a pretty sight, especially the magnolia.

We had a really gorgeous walk at the beach on Sunday afternoon. I was hot in my boots and coat and it truly felt like spring had arrived.

I love this time of year. The longer days give me such a boost of energy, and I am full of plans for all the things I want to cook and paint, sew and crochet, plant and make. There are cupboards to be emptied, rooms to be spring cleaned (and of course rearranged) and flowers to pick from the garden. Lovely spring. 

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Crochet, plain and fancy

Thank you so much for your comments and suggestions around children and cooking. I have written them all down and will be returning to them. This week, Bella has been much more involved in the preparation of meals (lots of chopping vegetables) and I think something really simple like pasta or baked potatoes will be a good starting point for her. Lots of you mentioned spaghetti bolognese as a good starting recipe, but John prides himself on the ragu sauce he makes (it simmers in the oven for hours - it is incredible) and I think we'll have some difficulty wrestling that one from his grasp.

Anyway, crochet. It's been all go here lately with yarn and hook, and I've been making some very practical household items for bathroom and kitchen. They've proved to be the perfect in-between project after the jumper and blanket, and now I am ready for something a bit more challenging.

I wanted to learn how to crochet waffle stitch, and a few simple square facecloths seemed like a good way to start. My skin care regime - if it could be called that - consists of removing eye make-up then washing my face with soap and facecloth, so I wanted the cloth to be soft but exfoliating too. I found a really great video tutorial for waffle stitch here and bought my yarn. I wanted 100% cotton, unmercerised (so non-shiny) in neutral colours, and in Hobbycraft I found some 25g balls of cotton called Ricorumi - small balls of coloured cotton and DK yarn aimed at amigurumi crochet, but ideal if you need a little bit of one colour but don't want to buy a big ball. (I wish I'd known about these when I was making my crocheted fruit and vegetables a few years ago, it would have saved lots of leftover yarn when I only needed a tiny bit of, say, green for a stalk or something.)

I bought two 25g balls each of white, cream, light grey and silver grey. Using a 3.5mm hook, one and a half balls made a facecloth and with the rest I made washable make-up remover pads, or scrubbies, to replace the ones I buy to remove my eye make-up. There are lots of very similar patterns online but I liked this one.

I was starting to find all these cloths quite relaxing to make, so whipped up a load of new dishcloths using some cotton yarn in aran/worsted weight and a 5mm hook. 

Just rows of double crochet for these, nothing fancy. 

Now for the fun stuff: all the new projects I have to look forward to this spring! My mother-in-law kindly gave me some Wool Warehouse vouchers for my birthday, and I spent a very enjoyable couple of hours last weekend choosing, downloading and printing out patterns and spending my vouchers on yarn, without any guilt about the cost. 

I chose this basket by Lakeside Loops perfect for holding yarn or a plant. Like blankets and cushions, there is always room for another basket in this house, and another houseplant to put in it.

Next, I felt like making another lightweight shawl. I wear my shawl so much, and for a long time have wanted to make the Ombre Shawl by Sarah Shrimpton, especially as she recommends a ball of Scheepjes Whirl for the yarn. 

For a long time I've hoped to try crocheting with one of these colourful yarn cakes and eventually chose the colourway Raspberry Rocky Road.

Finally, something else I planned to make this year was some more crochet socks. I have a couple of pairs of crocheted bed socks that I wear all the time, but I wanted to try making some finer everyday socks in a smaller stitch, and went for this pattern by Vicki Brown.

I treated myself to some beautiful variegated sock yarn - Arco Iris sock yarn by Malabrigo - and now have the fun task of winding this into a ball. Buying yarn this way always feels like a bit of a novelty to me. 

So now I have three projects, all nicely organised in those bags Wool Warehouse send their yarn in, ready to go. Trouble is I just don't know which one to start first. 

Friday, 15 March 2019

False Spring

I think we have experienced all the weather over the last week, except perhaps snow. With two big storms here, we've had rain, hail, sun, cloud and exceptionally high winds, and it's often felt very cold. It seems like February and March got their weather mixed up - remember those few days at the end of February when it was positively balmy? I'm looking forward to the weather settling down a bit so I can peg out the washing without fearing that it will all blow away.

The garden feels like it wakes up a little more every day and over the last week suddenly more daffodils and tete-a-tetes have popped up, hyacinths and muscari too, and the tulips are a few weeks from opening. The euphorbia flowers are suddenly bright greeny-yellow, gorgeous against their dark blue-green leaves, and I even noticed the shy beginning of some rhubarb. 

Thank you for your kind comments on my recent sewing and crochet projects. I know that I need to get my sewing machine out more often, I actually surprise myself by how much I enjoy it when I do. I've really been enjoying this year's Great British Sewing Bee, anyone else? Especially the last episode on reusing and repurposing old fabric and clothes. Things are pretty quiet on the crochet front here apart from a few face cloths, but I've just downloaded three patterns and ordered a lot of yarn, so I'll show you those soon.

We've been cooking a lot. Angus really enjoys baking at the moment and helped me make peanut butter and chocolate cookies last weekend. We made thirty, and I had to freeze half as there were so many. Bella is becoming increasingly independent in the kitchen and her latest thing is to make the Saturday morning pancakes for us, which of course I absolutely encourage. I'd like her to start cooking a meal one night a week, something straightforward. I want to teach her that cooking is more than just making the fun stuff, like pancakes and cupcakes, but actually getting the dinner on the table too. She is a pretty mature and independent twelve and a quarter year old, and I think she'd be more than capable, but wasn't sure what recipes to start with. I wondered if any of you lovely readers have teens or pre-teens who cook, and if you could recommend any recipes or recipe books? Thank you.

Sunday, 10 March 2019

Blankets and baskets

Hello! Everyone ok? I hope you've all had a good weekend. Ours has gone in a blink, I honestly don't know where the last 48 hours went. I feel like I spent most of it cooking or doing washing, which can't be true. I'm sure I slept. Thank you so much for your comments on my last post. I really enjoyed thinking about how time passes on a usual Saturday in our house, and it definitely made me more mindful and present than I normally would be.

Today, I have a few finished projects to share with you. First, the rather beautiful super chunky rainbow blanket, by Lindsay Newns at her blog Lottie and Albert, This blanket has proved popular on social media because it's gorgeous, fast to work up and inexpensive to make. The idea is to use six strands of DK yarn and a 20 mm hook. to create chunky, squishy rows of crochet. 

You begin by winding your six balls of yarn into one huge ball, which you work from, rather than having six bobbing about by your feet, getting all tangled up. 

Then it's just a case of working out how large you want your blanket to be and buying the required amount of yarn. I used twelve balls together to make a blanket that is 70 cm wide by 230 cm long. I deliberately wanted it long and skinny, so that I could use it as a blanket on the sofa, or to throw over the foot of our bed. 

For the six-stranded length of yarn, I used Stylecraft Special DK in the following colours: two strands of Grey and one each of Black, White, Mustard and Raspberry.

The pattern suggested decorating the blanket with pompoms, but I felt these might be a little too tempting to the whippet, so made tassels. I bought a third ball of DK yarn in Grey and made fifteen each for either end of the blanket. 

A bit of an afterthought, those tassels are actually my favourite part now. I was a bit worried about the darkness of the colour combination of the yarn at the start of this project, but now that it's all finished I'm glad I didn't go paler. It's incredibly soft and squishy and has quickly become a sofa favourite. 

Last weekend I got around to doing something I have been meaning to do for about four months - make a fabric liner for our black wire log basket. Unlined, bits of wood are constantly falling out through the gaps of the basket, creating loads of extra mess to be vacuumed up every day, and I have enough of that already. We've been using an old pillowcase safety-pinned to the basket all through the winter as a stop gap, but it just looked so sad and ridiculous that I finally made a liner. As always with my sewing machine, I need to build up to using it, mentally clearing my head as I physically clear the kitchen table. I measured the circumference of the basket top and bottom, and the height, then worked out a pattern in my head including a seam allowance. Miraculously it fitted, and I sewed on some black grosgrain handles to hold it in place.

Because I always do these sorts of things in a rushed, half thought out fashion, I had bought much too much of the linen-cotton blend fabric and there was plenty enough leftover to make a couple of simple pillow-back cushion covers.

The fabric wasn't cheap, but I will always happily pay more for natural fibres over man-made, and I needed the durability linen would provide to this fabric to prevent a sharp piece of wood tearing the liner. It also makes the perfect cushion cover: soft, practical, washable, and the linen giving it that beautifully rumpled look when it's creased.

And look how well they work together! I didn't really think about how they would match - I never think about how anything will match, but just go with it - but the cushions and blanket are firm friends already.