Saturday 29 March 2014

A Little Bit of Spring Sewing

I don't know what it is, but there's been a very infectious Spring sewing bug in the air, this last little while and some lovely sewing makes going on in blogland - here, here, and here, for starters. Perhaps it's the arrival of sunlight and the fresh colours in the garden that makes the idea of fiddling about with Spring fabrics so delightful and may be the contented murmur of the bees, newly busying about among the blossom and the daffodils, that has been subconsciously reminding me of the absent thrum of my sewing machine.

Anyway, be that as it may, a little light dalliance with fabric and thread, this week, seemed a good idea, imperative and I found just the right pattern to satisfy my craving. It's this one offered for free (always good) by the American outlet JoAnn's Fabric And Craft Store.

I don't know about you, but Easter fabric baskets in Spring colours strike me as hugely appealing and practical to boot. I think they are designed to hold a stash of Easter eggs (always good again!) but I thought they would make great containers to give homemade cakes, biscuits or hot cross buns in. And off the culinary front, these babies would make perfect yarn containers - big enough to be useful but not too big to cart about and open enough to see a range of colours for those happy projects where colour choices need to be made every row or two.

The only snag with the pattern is that although it's free and the assembly instructions are reasonably clear, the measurements are a bit sparse and the lining piece is incorrectly drawn on the pdf when you download it. To resolve this, make sure when you print it out, that you check the measurements that they do give you, against those in your printout. If you are printing to the correct scale, you should find that the measurements they do give are half what's on your bit of paper. So, simply double all the others on the diagram when you draw it out. The error in the lining pattern piece is at the bottom. For some reason it doesn't come down far enough. When you draw it out just make sure it's going to correspond with the bottom section of the outer part of the bag or you'll find yourself in a difficulty when you come to assembly.

Hopefully JoAnn's will correct this as I'm sure I'm not the only one to have found this, I did email them about it and it's just such a lovely seasonal pattern that doesn't take long to run up. Anyone wanting to give these a go but wanting a helping hand in the meantime, feel free to email me and I'll do my best to help.

I used a variety of Springy fabrics from my overflowing fabric stash - a good use for a remnant of a fun cupcake print that I picked up on impulse and some other flowery and polka dotty oddments together with some plainer contrasting fabrics that seemed to work well for the linings. If you are in the US, check out JoAnn's Easter fabric prints - they have some gorgeous ones here. I especially adore that pale blue Eggcellent Prints Fabric "Easter Egg Dot Multi" and the "Rick Rack Stripe", but sadly JoAnn's do not ship outside the US : (
If anyone in the US fancies some of my cupcake fabric, I'd be happy to offer a bit of it as a swap for a bit of that pale blue Easter Egg Dot Multi! Email me, if you fancy a little transatlantic fabric swap! : )

You can trim the baskets, as the picture in the pattern shows and as I did, with ric-rac - a nice retro touch. Or use any other trim that's in your sewing box. I seem to hoard things like that and it's lovely to have a project that actually uses some of it. I wondered about adding some decorative buttons but felt they might be gilding the lily slightly with the level of patterning on the fabric but on plainer fabric you could use buttons at the base of the handles, as decoration and for additional strength.

I managed to cut out the pieces earlier in the week in odd pockets of time and yesterday had an unexpected window of opportunity to sew them together. They've worked rather nicely - I love them! I love them so much I shall find it hard to give them away at Easter with Easter goodies in but hopefully they will find happy homes and be used for much longer than the excessive, cardboard corsetry that seems to be de rigeur for upholstering Easter gifts these days, in the UK anyway. And I shall keep one to serve my hot cross buns in over Easter before washing it to remove any sticky hot cross bun-glaze and turning it over to some nice new Dutch yarn that I've ordered and which I am awaiting with bated breath.

In the meantime they are holding a few hooky Easter eggs that I made last year. They are polystyrene eggs underneath and have nice stripy hooky covers. The pattern was in one of the Spring 2013 issues of Simply Crochet. March I think. Here they are in their pre-hooky treatment state last Spring.

I know it's not quite Easter yet but one can't run up Easter makes when Easter has already arrived so I don't feel too bad about posting about these now - they are waiting in the wings, so to speak!

I haven't made any hot cross buns yet but I must, if only to fill a basket and see whether these work as nicely as bun-baskets as I think they will!

Wishing you all a happy and Springy weekend 
(with a little Spring sewing on the side, if that's where your fancy takes you!)
E x

Wednesday 19 March 2014

Spring Flower Bag

Thank you so much for all your kind comments on my last post, especially for your sympathy vis à vis the depleted-in-number bantams. The few remaining chickabiddy girls seem a bit lost and lonely but otherwise have settled back to normal life, post-trauma. I expect we will get some additional friends for them as the Spring wears on and once we have installed some more robust perimeter fencing (searchlights and watch towers optional). For the time being, I am trying not to be paranoid about checking their whereabouts in the undergrowth every time I can't spot them and enjoying the Spring sunshine and the bright hopefulness it gives everything.

As in nature, so in craft. My shawl in soft pink and grey continues to grow gently, a row here and a row there, but it's taken a back seat this last week against a bit of brighter hooky work that has somehow seemed in keeping with what's outside, where the daffodils and primroses, violets and scyllas have turned their faces to the sun and smiled happily. Like a peep?

It's a smallish bag - the body of it measures approximately 29 cm by 23 cm / 10" by 9". So not really big enough for yarny projects on the go, or for holding a lot of clobber, but a frivolous Spring sunshine handbag. Big enough for keys, purse and a handkerchief and not much else. When the days are as Spring-like as this, I find I don't want always to carry a lot of stuff. Sometimes it's nice to travel light and feel unburdened.

The front and back of the bag are similar but not identical. I love the way the different colour combinations seem to evoke the flowers that are out at the moment so effectively.

I got the idea for the bag from Dragana's lovely version here and, like her, I've used Karen's gorgeous lily-pad flower pattern that you can find here , converting the original hexagons to squares as Dragana did. (You can find Dragana's instructions for how to do this, in her post that I've linked to.) The flowers were such fun to hook up and I love the three-dimensionality of them. They're made in a nice light-weight acrylic / cotton mix yarn, on a 4mm hook.

Originally, (and with some considerable trouble, I have to say!), I inserted a lining with a recessed zip in it and it all looked quite professional and fixed up but I got cold feet about not being able to see the lining properly and so I replaced it with this simpler version, without any fastening, that you can see here.

I've kept the zipped lining though and might just make another bag to give away in which to use it. We'll see.

To go with the bag I fancied making a flowery coin-purse to match. (As you do!)

This is based on Cécile Balladino's pattern in Crochet Bohème but I had to adapt it a bit, partly because the pattern was not all that clear in places, (although it may be my inadequate French that's at fault rather than the pattern). The original purse does not have a lining but I wanted one (to match the bag, of course!) and actually, it needs one because the layered flower is quite gappy and you'd quickly lose your money through the crochet, without it. The clasp came from here and although it was a mite tricky to sew the purse edges into the frame, it's worked nicely in the end. You can get glue-in purse frames too, if you prefer to avoid the sewing, but I felt the sew-in frames gave more control. Mrs T and tubes of strong glue are erratic partners (to put it kindly!) so trying to glue the fiddly edges of crochet and lining to the metal, I felt, I could have come unstuck, if you will forgive the pun!

And if you are thinking my coins are exceptionally clean and shiny, you would be right because, yes, I confess it, I have indulged in a little money-laundering and put them through the dishwasher! I know, I know! But I have a thing about filthy lucre and the idea of my pale green Spring lining becoming blackened and stained with greasy, dirty coins was a step too far! Goodness knows what will happen when anyone gives me any change! I fear, my shiny, clean coins will have to be only a temporary fixture!

Pro tem however, everything is clean and pristine and bright and Spring-like to boot!

Wishing you a bright and happy week too!

E x 

Wednesday 12 March 2014


Life has not flowed quietly in the last few weeks here. It has disturbed and jolted - as it sometimes does. I've found myself seeking out softness in colours, tones and textures to store up in the soul as a kind of buffer zone against the harsher, rawer realities of life.

I thought I'd gather a few of these soft snippets together here - less colourful than my usual hunting ground; perhaps even heading towards bland, but bland is occasionally good, I feel. If bland doesn't do it for you, at the moment, skip ahead to the recipe - the colours and textures fit with my "soft" focus but these little cookies are, though I say it myself, something of a knock-out. Anyway here are my snippets of "soft" for what they are worth:

March sunrise:

Pink and grey yarn ...

... for a pale, rose and silver, two-tone shawl:

(Pattern painstakingly deciphered from the Dutch in this book)

Downy feathers from the bantams:

There are rather fewer bantams than before, owing to a dog invading the garden and attacking them indiscriminately one afternoon last week, leaving the grass strewn with dead and dying birds. I cannot tell you how distressing this was. Nor how much I miss them. I can somehow cope with the idea of fox depredation attempts - they need to kill for food after all - but a dog killing and maiming our gentle, friendly birds for the sake of sport and spoil, I find pretty sickening.

Fragile, pink-tinged blossom against a misty white, morning sky:

Pastel tea-cup:

(on sale, heftily reduced in my local Waitrose - I can't resist big cups like this with pretty flowers inside, waiting like a delightful surprise for when I've drunk my tea, even though I know they're there all along. I know, I know, perhaps I should have entitled this post "soft in the head"!)

Warm and gentle colours and textures in the kitchen:

These Hazlenut Shortbreads are my own recipe and they have all that is good in a shortbread about them. By this, I mean they are tender, yet crunchy; plain but definitely not bland; they accompany a cup of tea perfectly on their own but also play second fiddle elegantly to fresh fruit salad or a homemade ice cream, or sorbet, by way of a more elaborate finish to a meal; they keep beautifully for several weeks in an air-tight tin; the dough behaves itself and rolls out cooperatively and if you cut it into shapes, they retain their definition nicely; they are moreish to a fault. What more can you ask?!

Here's the recipe:

This makes quite a big batch of shortbreads but you can easily halve it, if you want to make smaller quantities.

What you need:

8 oz (225 g) unsalted butter (weigh this out ahead of time - it needs to be room temperature)

4 oz (100 g) caster sugar

12 oz (350 g) plain white flour

4 oz (100g) ground rice (if you can't find this, use semolina, but ground rice is better)

2 tbsps hazlenut oil (you can find this in the salad-dressing oil section of most supermarkets)

2 tbsps Frangelico If you aren't familiar with Frangelico, it's a hazlenut flavoured liqueur that comes in a delightful brown bottle, shaped like a monk, complete with a rope cincture. Have a look here. I'd buy it for the whimiscal appeal of the bottle alone (I told you I was soft in the head!) but the contents are sublime - drink it in tiny glasses after a celebration meal. It's delicious on its own but also worth sparing a couple of spoonfuls to add to these shortbreads.
(If you don't have any Frangelico to hand you could use a couple of spoonfuls of sweet sherry or, if really pushed, milk, but you won't be adding the subtle depth of hazlenut flavour, of course, with these alternatives.)

4 oz (100 g) shelled hazlenuts, still in their papery skins, as in the pic below:

What you do:

First of all whizz up the hazelnuts, still in their papery skins in the food processor until they look like this:

Empty out of the food processor and set aside.

Now cream the softened butter and sugar together until really fluffy as in the pic:

Add the oil and whizz again.

Mix together the flour and ground rice and add to the food processor a bit at a time.

Add the ground hazlenuts and whizz on the pulse setting to mix. The mixture will begin to clump together but will still lack cohesiveness. As you can see:

Add the Frangelico, whizz briefly and miraculously your claggy, clumpy mixture will come together into a nice ball of dough!

Chill the dough for an hour or so in the fridge. If you're short of time you can skip this step but it does help the dough to behave nicely.

When you're ready to roll the dough out, preheat the oven to 150 C and line a couple of baking sheets with non-stick baking parchment.

Roll the dough out on a floured surface quite thickly. Aim for a depth of not less than a centimetre, or half an inch even.

Cut the shortbreads out with a round fluted cutter or in small heart shapes like these:

Simple shapes work best. Sometimes I make them as little crescent moons but nothing too intricate. Bake the shortbreads for 30 - 40 minutes depending on your oven. When they emerge, they should look lightly browned and crisp like this:

Eat one (or two!) as soon as they are cool enough not to burn your fingers! Cool the rest completely on a wire rack and store in an air-tight tin. Enjoy!

Wishing you softness in your week, should you need it.
E x