Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Take 5

1) I'll kick off with a garden update. There has been quite a bit going on out there still, and it has been repaying us with lots of beans and courgettes, a reasonable supply of tomatoes and cucumbers, a good few squashes and pumpkins, and some very delicious sweetcorn. But this week we seem to have pretty much reached the end. 

Our biggest pumpkin stayed stubbornly green, we've picked it now and it's sitting in a warm, sunny porch at this moment and becoming increasingly orange speckled, but there is talk of carving it before the end of the month and I don't think the speckles will have spread all over by then - happily the children were far more interested in size than colour.

The beans, courgettes, pumpkins and sweetcorn all lasted really well but need taking out now.

The last of our sweetcorn from the weekend, Venetia was very happy with her baby corn (they were huge for baby corns), she grew them from seed herself.

Other parts of the garden are still happily producing though. The raspberries are looking far too wild but giving us lots of sweet, red treats every day still.

And I planted some late (a bit too late really!) spinach and salad leaves at the end of August/start of September in my newest bed.

The lettuce, in the middle, proved the most popular with the slugs and I don't think it's going to recover properly, but the rocket and spinach are now giving us a good supply of leaves - albeit tender, baby leaves! And I was very excited to find an old, unwanted plastic tunnel type thing at the Recycling Centre the other day, which I'm hoping may extend the season for it a little.

Next year I'll definitely be getting a couple of rows in earlier in August to make more of this Autumn season of growing. I almost feel like a proper gardener, already thinking about plans for next year!

I planted some garlic a couple of weeks ago (as per 'Gardeners' World' instructions - which has been regular viewing for the last couple of months!) but I need some advice on onions. When I bought my garlic bulbs they also had onions sets for sale next to them, of varieties which were suitable for planting in the Autumn to over Winter, just as garlic does. So I got some of those too and planted them at the same time. I was expecting them to follow the same kind of growing pattern that garlic does - ie to do all their growing underground initially and then pop up in the Spring. But I seem to have little, green onion shoots coming up already in my veggie bed. It feels to me that this must be wrong, and that they won't be happy throughout the Winter like this, but none of my reading about Autumn onion planting is giving me any clues on the subject. So if any one has experience of this and could please give me some advice that would be wonderful.

And some other planting that's been going on is blueberry planting. Back in September we went blueberry picking at a farm up on Exmoor. We took my Dad with us and he was extremely impressed with the quantities which the children consumed just whilst picking (vast!), and extremely unimpressed with the state of the 'road' we had to drive along to get there (it was possibly the worst 'road' I've ever driven along!). So the upshot of it was that he decided we should have some blueberry bushes in the garden instead, and he very kindly bought us a few. But my Dad's memory is (and, as he himself says, always has been!) a funny thing. Some things just won't stick in it at all, some things stick pretty well, and some things get well and truly wedged in there! The interest in buying blueberry plants got well and truly wedged, and, for a few weeks, every time he went shopping he came back with another blueberry plant, or two (there's a Garden Centre next to his favourite supermarket!). The children, predictably, thought this was brilliant! Being the one who'd be doing the work to plant all the blueberries I was more keen to keep the numbers manageable. We got to fourteen plants before I managed to impress upon my Dad the idea that we had enough (or quite possibly the Garden Centre just ran out of stock!), so I have been busy planting them all. The first few went into tyres in the veggie patch easily enough, but as they kept coming in I had to come up with another plan, and have ended up creating a couple of 'beds' elsewhere.

Number 2 bed under construction.
Here's hoping we get plenty of blueberries in years to come!

2) As well as loving the Pixie Hats from Big Little, I had a go at making one of the Wild Things Hooded Scarves a while back. There are lots of options to choose from, but I went for a fox initially. I was surprised at how quick and easy a sew it was, with lovely, clear instructions to follow.

But if you're going to give it a go, watch out on the sizing. I used the 3-5 year old sizing and it's much too big for Venetia (nearly 9 now) never mind the 4 year old for whom it was intended! I wasn't completely happy with the ears either, I think I should have made them smaller. Could be a great Christmas present make though.

3) October is a big birthday month for us. It was mine at the weekend and Venetia made me a gorgeous chocolate roulade, filled with fresh cream and raspberries. It was delicious.

I also got my sewing machine back from a very long overdue service the day before, so that was perfect timing! There have been lots of ideas over the past few months that I've been itching to start, but which really needed neater, more even stitches than my machine was managing, so I squeezed in a little sewing at the weekend just for the excitement of starting something new!

It's going to be a baby quilt, I've nearly got the background quilted (lots of wavy lines), ready for a big applique picture in the centre. It felt such a luxury to be sewing with a machine which fed the fabric through smoothly rather than me constantly pushing/pulling it through!

As well as the joy of a freshly serviced machine, my friend Emma, gave me such a lovely, thoughtful present. A beautiful children's picture book about a home made quilt:

It's full of bright, colourful pictures and words which capture the magic of a scrappy quilt, and one of the main 'characters' is even called Sally - perfect!

4) I'm getting slightly better at remembering to keep my camera handy, and this week captured a few pictures of my most photographically elusive child - Sam.

5) Autumn has been pretty kind to us, it's been largely dry and sunny so far. And, as much as it could never rival Summer for me, it is a beautiful time of year  The leaves are all looking gorgeous right now and we are loving them. Here is my favourite for the year so far!

Such a tiny one and yet still so perfect, with amazingly vivid colours. I was making some driftwood Christmas wreaths the other day and as I was threading the pieces of driftwood on to the wire, it occurred to me that making a leaf wreath in the same way would be incredibly easy. So I cut some wire and bent a very basic loop at the top and we just threaded on leaves.

You can use thinner, more pliable wire than you'd need for driftwood.
We made fairly small ones since obviously it takes lots of leaves to fill them up, but actually it didn't take as long as I expected, leaves are, after all, so plentiful right now! And it would be a lovely thing to take and do on an Autumn walk.

Such an easy and satisfying craft for small hands in particular.

Happy Autumn to you!


Thursday, 22 October 2015

Reindeer Cushions - 'Ho, ho, ho' sewing.

It's 'Ho, ho, ho' time of the month again, this time it's being co-hosted over at Ella and Nesta and at Sandra Sews. Last month I was just starting to get some making done for a local Christmas Fair stall, and, as part of that, I had this Reindeer cushion:

Little Rudolf brooch perched on top of the cushion in this photo.

But I couldn't decide whether or not to add eyes/nose as I had with the little brooch from last year. Thank you very much for all your ideas and advice for stall making generally and on the specific reindeer issue - in the end I decided he was a bit too basic and lacking in character as he was so I did add the buttons. Here he is now...

But I have also made a couple of other, maybe slightly more sophisticated, stags/reindeer - with no buttons - to try and sell.

I love the fabric on this one - repurposed wool of course, this fabric used to be a kilt...

And then another with a patchwork of repurposed wools...

And as well as Christmas sewing there's even been a bit of Christmas cooking going on round here - Maria and I made our first batch of mince pies today!

I know, I know, October is a little early for those, but I got the mincemeat done at the weekend, before our apples all disappeared, and once you've done the mincemeat you have to make one batch of pies (or maybe two...) to sample it properly!

It may be a little early for the pies, but surely not for other Christmas making now, there are, after all, only a couple of months left to go, so what have you got underway? And if you need a bit of a boost to get you finishing something, then the 'Ho, ho, ho' linky is open to the end of the month and the giveaway this month is some gorgeous Liberty fabric - definitely worth being in the draw for that.


Thursday, 15 October 2015

Rainbow Snail Cushion

I've been doing more making for my upcoming Christmas Fair stall, some holiday themed items and some that I'm hoping might just appeal to people as presents. One of the downsides of making to sell is that you're very conscious of how long things take to make. Which I find can have 2 main consequences - maybe you don't make intricate, detailed things, and/or you don't make things that take thinking time to figure them out.  Both parts of the making that often appeal to me - plus you have to watch the quality of your 'finishing' - which often doesn't appeal to me!

One way round the need to avoid 'thinking time' is obviously to make something you've already made before, or perhaps adapt it in some way. My Rainbow Snail has come up in various makes before, but here it is a little larger on a cushion...

As speedy as I now am with these snails, it doesn't take away the fact that there's quite a bit of sewing in them so it's still not the quickest of makes. But they are also a very enjoyable make and there's the added advantage that if it doesn't sell then Maria will be extremely happy to keep it for herself!

Monday, 12 October 2015

Take 5

1) Back awhile, I did mention, after making vintage sheet circle skirts for the girls, that I wanted one too. It felt like the swirliness and the pretty, floral, vintageness should not be reserved only for the littlies. Well, whilst thrifting recently I came across a largeish, circular tablecloth, made from fabric that was very vintage sheet-like. And it occurred to me that this was crying out to be converted into a circle skirt just for me. It even had the bottom hem all beautifully finished already.

Difficult to take a photo of it in the whole but here it is folded up into a quarter, just before I cut out the waist 'circle'.
And a close up of the design.
 So basically this was an incredibly quick and easy make.

I'm afraid, typically, I have no good photos of me wearing it though! My assistant photographer (Maria) did try for me, but the results were not great (though, in her defence, the light was pretty poor at the time). Mostly very fuzzy, one reasonably focused but minus any head...

And extremely fuzzy when she instructed me to twirl!

It has got me looking out for circular table cloths in a new light now. They're not uncommon I find, and I'm wondering whether a vintage, embroidered one might perhaps become a lovely, unique circle skirt, not necessarily for me but possibly for one of the girls.

2) We enjoyed creating our own scratch art over the weekend.

We've tried this before but without any particular success. This time though, we followed advice in this post from The Artful Parent (great blog to follow if you have children who love to create artwork).

Scratching off with wooden skewers while the paint was still wet.

I think using good quality but small bits of paper and, most importantly, doing the 'scratching' off part whilst the paint was still fresh and wet were the key elements of our success this time around.

We tried various designs and styles for the crayonning part - and keeping it small made this a reasonably speedy task.
We mostly used black paint...

I think this one was my favourite - great for outer space pictures, or firework pictures too.

But we did try some blue paint as well, unfortunately we used the same brush for the 2 colours and some of the black came through with the blue but didn't mix in wonderfully....

Now we know the technique works, I'm sure this is something we'll come back to again.

3) Taking my camera out and about with me seems to happen very naturally in the Summer, but not so much come the Autumn. I'm out of the habit already, and not posting a regular photo means I don't have the same weekly prompts which have helped me in the past. I'm definitely going to make more of an effort with this again, but in the meantime, here are some more Summer photos to reminisce over...

A beautiful flooded quarry on Dartmoor.

Feeding ponies, also Dartmoor. Can you see the carrot sticking out of the little one's mouth? He'd pushed in, snatched it and then scarpered!

A lovely afternoon/evening by the river on Exmoor...

Lots to enjoy on this outing.

But the sound of Theo and Maria giggling and laughing out loud as they repeatedly came through the arches and down the rapids was the most special part.

Definitely one of my strongest memories of the Summer.
4) This one is a wordy, philosophical one; writing things down often helps me clarify my thought process and follow through with things so this one's maybe for me more than you - sorry! 

I've been thinking quite a bit recently about how we live in such a digital world. Generally I feel fairly comfortable with the amount and type of 'screen' time that goes on in our house. There are times when I feel the balance has tipped too far in the screen direction, but it's always easy enough to consciously tip it back the other way. But I've been thinking more about how radically different our children's lives are and will be, compared to our own earlier lives. This musing has been partly brought on by a message I received the other day from Sam's school about e-safety. It's obviously a big issue for all schools, and for all parents. This year the school has decided to use a different term rather than the 'traditional' 'e-safety' label. Here's how they explain it:

'Whilst it is sometimes easy to focus on the negative aspects of eSafety, we are equally keen to highlight the enormous potential of IT to transform the way in which our pupils learn and communicate. Our aim is to make them confident, informed users of new technology, able to take advantage of its enormous benefits, whilst being aware of the potential pitfalls. In order to encompass this positive vision, we have decided to use the term ‘Digital Citizenship’.'

I'm always all for looking at the positive rather than the negative, so I quite liked this. Then they wanted parents to fill in a short survey, with questions which, I felt, were all focused very much on the traditional 'e-safety' issues, rather than on any more positive 'Digital Citizenship' areas. This immediately made me wonder whether I (or more importantly Sam) will actually see any difference in emphasis throughout the year. Changing a name or term is so much easier than actually changing, but that's a whole other tangent here. Anyway, on the survey there was a section for 'comments' and while staring at my screen wondering whether I wanted to write anything in there, I found myself thinking about a conversation I'd had recently with another Mum.

Sorry, already very wordy, but I'll have to give you some background here too. I'm not big on mobile phones, I know they're incredibly handy in certain situations and I really ought to use one, but I don't have one. We got Sam and Theo a very basic pay as you go mobile each when they went up to big, big school, but they've never really used them. In fact when Sam was away on a school trip last year, with his mobile, and we actually wanted to use it, we discovered that the phone company had disconnected it and recycled his number because he hadn't used it at all for a certain length of time. And we realised Theo's had probably gone the same way. But this year Theo changed schools. He wanted to stay in touch with some of his friends from his old school and the easiest way, he felt, was through a mobile phone and swapping numbers. So, just before the Summer, he had saved up some money and we let him buy a slightly more exciting phone, with internet access, and with a very basic 'contract' giving him, among other things, the magic, unlimited texts. And to be fair, he has kept in touch with old friends through this, although whether he'll actually 'see' the old friends again as opposed to just texting backwards and forwards remains to be seen. Anyway, I was chatting to the Mum of one of his old friends last week. Probably the only one of his old friends who doesn't have a mobile, who isn't on Facebook, who doesn't have his own e-mail address - and who also happens to be probably the friend that Theo will actually miss the most, with whom he'd actually most like to stay properly in touch. And we were bemoaning the fact, as Mums, that they'll miss each other and that they really should stay in touch. I happened to say that Theo had mentioned it was harder for him to stay in touch because of the lack of mobile etc. And the other Mum replied, 'Well, you know our telephone number don't you? He only has to pick up a phone!' And as well as feeling slightly stupid myself, it really struck me how alien it would probably feel to Theo, and quite possibly to most teenage boys, to actually pick up a landline phone and dial another landline phone. Probably alien to even properly talk to another person just on a mobile phone. And lets not even begin to talk about writing a good, old fashioned letter. Perhaps this would always have been the case, perhaps teenage boys have never 'talked' on phones (until maybe girlfriends come into the equation?), perhaps it isn't a product of 'unlimited free texts'? What do you think?

But going back to my survey for Sam's school, as I stared at my comments box, I realised what I wanted to write in there - the fact that I'd like e-safety, or Digital Citizenship, whether at school or home, to be more about keeping a balance in life rather than the other, obvious e-safety pitfalls. A balance, not so much simply of screen time or non screen time, but a balance of having a real, live, physical social life as opposed to just a virtual social life. Real, life physical friends, who talk face to face and hug and do things together, as opposed to friends who aren't really much more than names or numbers on a screen. It just feels too easy to stick to the latter these days.

5) Which kind of leads into my last point in a strange, in some ways conflicting, kind of way! Blogging could definitely fall into that latter category. And yet the blogging community is such an amazing one - full of creative, positive and supportive people. Definitely a community I'm happy to be part of, and one which frequently inspires me, so I guess the key element of my previous point is that it's all about 'balance'. And, within that balance, blogging friendships often grow and develop into much more than comments from a 'name' on a screen. I'm lucky enough to have come to know quite a few fellow bloggers over the past year or so, who now feel very much real friends. And the children and I were incredibly excited to receive a surprise parcel in the post last week from one of my blogging friends - Kim over at Mothering with Mindfulness. As much as on screen blogging friendships can be very real and meaningful, receiving an actual parcel, with a handwritten letter and goodies gathered and made by Kim and her family, was extra special and very much felt like a deepening of that friendship.

Just some of the goodies in our parcel. Kim makes her own salves, soap, body butter etc - and I can tell you they smell and feel amazing.

How cute are these gnomes?! I love their hats and they were a big hit with the girls. And Kim's super talented husband made the gorgeous owl.

It reinforced the point that taking friendships beyond the screen and today's technology, whether with a parcel or handwritten letter or perhaps taking the time to meet up rather than just text, is so worthwhile. To put it into screen context, albeit very clumsily, it opens up a whole, new level in your game, maybe a new level you didn't even realise was there!


Friday, 9 October 2015

ATC - My Favourite

The last ATC swap, hosted by Very Berry Handmade, finished way back in August, but my card had to get all the way to Brazil, which takes a lot longer than I'd realised! Happily it has now arrived, so I can
finally post about it here.

The theme was 'My Favourite', which I found really tricky (although, I think maybe that's something I might say about every theme!). I find it difficult to narrow it down to just one favourite in most categories - whether that's food, animal, song, book, film, place etc. Even with something like wild swimming, how could I choose between river and sea? But there is one very clear favourite - Summer is my favourite season.

Next problem though, how to depict Summer in an ATC? There are so many elements of Summer which I love, and most of these might also be around, to a lesser extent, in late Spring or early Autumn. I was finding it hard to come up with one image that specifically said 'Summer' to me. And then one evening in early August, we were walking back through the woods after an evening swim and I 'smelled' Summer. Honeysuckles. It was far too dark to spot them, but it was such a strong, distinct and evocative scent that I didn't need to see them. They grow wild in so many of the hedges around us and I love their smell in isolation, but even more for the associations with happy Summer evenings.

Unfortunately, it's hard to reproduce this in an ATC! But I settled for machine embroidered honeysuckle flowers with a few drops of honeysuckle added to the central layer of the card.

I added a bit more depth of colour to the embroidery with some oil pastels, and the stamens were hand embroidered.

And the gorgeous card I received also had a flower theme - a wild flower meadow.

Made by Bekki

This was a really exquisitely embroidered card - you have to remember these cards are just 2.5 X 3.5 inches, so those stitches are tiny! 

So what would you put on a 'My Favourite...'  ATC?