Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Cushion Mission

You might remember my last instalment on the subject of cushions - I was going to use my new cotton tape yarn to attempt a replica of a design I had seen in a magazine.  Well, that didn't work out.  No particular reason, just didn't look that good.  Such is the hit and miss nature of ideas!  However, it has started me on a bit of a cushion mission. 

Sometime last year I made these two crochet cushions - just a simple granny square - but instead of doing the right thing and making a cushion cover I could actually remove, for some (stupid) reason I decided to simply crochet a grey granny square for the back and basically sew the cushion pad into the cover!  Lordy knows why I did this because after only a few months they were in desperate need of a wash and it then became apparent that I would have to completely destroy the seams in order to do this.  Doh!

So this weekend I decided to put this right.  I started by removing the cover (I had to cut the last round of crochet to do this as it was nigh on impossible to unpick it!) and washing the (by now, filthy) crochet fronts. 

 I then had the cunning idea of using old pillowcases as a slip cover for the feather cushion pads (again, laziness had ensued last time and I hadn't bothered doing this, resulting in me picking feathers off the settee on a daily basis).  I just turned the pillowcase inside out,  stitched a line at 16 inches (the size of my cushions), zig-zagged the seam edge and turned it back through.  Simple!
However, making the backing for the crochet cover wasn't quite as simple.  I used Lucy's tutorial on the subject - I pretty  much followed it step by step, starting with acquiring an old jumper from a charity shop, which becomes the cushion back.  I managed to filch a man's jumper, so I had enough for my 2 cushions (hurrah, for £2.49!).  After washing, I cut out my backs

 I pretty much eyeballed this bit.  You can't be too accurate with stretchy knits anyway ;-)  For each cushion I needed basically a piece 2/3rds the size of my front and then another one 1/3rd the size, but with a good overlap PLUS a good inch all the way round EXCEPT on the rib of the jumper which you will use for the finished edge on the biggest panel (as above).

First, zig-zag around all the raw edges, and finish one long edge on the smaller panel by turning under a 1 inch hem.  This will be where the buttons will go.

Then you overlap your two jumper panels (with the rib on top) and pin together (right sides facing up)  Now place your crochet on top with right side facing DOWN (i.e. right sides together).  Pin all the way round and

using some matching wool, over sew the two together.

You can now use the enclosure to turn the cushion the right way round.  Next, Lucy advises to use a small crochet hook to work a line of single crochet into the ribbed edge.  Well, a) I didn't have a small hook, and b) my jumper was pretty fine knit, so I simply placed a line of blanket stitch along the edge, using a large sharp needle.  I then worked a line of single crochet into this.

When you get to the end, you will work another line back, this time placing button holes (I strongly recommend you see Lucy's tutorial if you want to know how to do this properly!!).  It does involve some mathematics, which is why mine are not evenly spaced (ahem).

Then just add some colourful buttons!

Hurrah, a proper, removable cushion cover!  Or 2, as it turned out.  This basically took me an entire weekend, I have to say (including the washing and drying), but I am really chuffed with myself for putting this right and now I can whip off the covers, no problem.

Next up I am going to attempt Lucy's ripple pattern for a cushion cover and if that goes okay, possibly progress to a blanket.  Nothing like a bit of ambition, eh?

P.S.  Don't forget the Sewing Bee tonight!  BBC2, 8pm.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Making Space

Warning! Today's post is not really sewing, knitting or crochet related!  Instead I'm sharing one of my other passions with you and that's home organisation.  I know, it's a bit of a weird one, but for some reason I can't stop reading blogs on the subject and there's nothing I like better than a good before and after story!  So I'm going to attempt my own here, even though I don't have any before shots.

We are, for various reasons, currently renting a house until we can sell our own.  It came with a little conservatory on the back, overlooking the garden, which at first I thought was very nice indeed.  Unfortunately, it was more of a greenhouse last summer with those unbelievably long hot days.  I would open the sliding doors from the dining room and the wall of heat would hit you and practically take your breath away - it was so absolutely unbearable and totally useless for sitting in, even with doors and windows open.  Then, as soon as the hot weather went it seemed to turn itself into a freezer :-)

So, not much use as a conservatory, basically.  But the one thing I was desperate for was a utility space.  The kitchen is pretty small and there was no space for a dryer or any kind of laundry area at all.  Even finding a home for the ironing board was a challenge. Having a room which was unusable seemed such a ridiculous waste of space in such a small house, so .... the thinking cap went on ...

And I decided to turn the conservatory into a laundry room/utility area.  (The other half of this room is George's little pen and bed area, so it was already never going to be a proper conservatory). 

It was originally a very un-lovely shade of green so I got the brightest tin of pink paint and splashed it on.  Then I got the husband to put a (cheap) worktop across this wall and off I went to Ikea to stock up on laundry essentials (a 5 minute drive from the house, so you can imagine how often I "pop" in).

First were the laundry "bins" which were measured carefully before putting in the worktop, so that I got an extra shelf on the top.  The 2 big bins here are for wet washing in the bottom, it then goes into the dryer and comes out into the top big basket, ready for ironing.  Obviously, the baskets come out and so can be used for carrying washing (wet or dry) around the house, as necessary.

Of course, when the weather allows (i.e. not in the winter) I needed a drying rack but I was really not into the idea of folding, finger-trapping contraptions which take up so much space.  Again, Ikea had the answer ... a wall mounted rack.  This is absolutely fantastic as clothes are up out of the way and you can fit a surprising amount of stuff on there, especially if you use hangers for shirts and tops. I do have a wirlygig outside for summer drying, so this is really just for inter-season use and items that can't go in the dryer.

(These are dry, but you get the picture).  Next came the iron holder for £4!  Ingenious - and you can put the iron away when it's hot.

There is a plug point down behind the ironing board, so I can iron in here too and use the worktop as a folding space. 

The other end of the worktop is a dog feeding area and the baskets underneath house the dog towels and other dog-related stuff, as well as cleaning gear and laundry gear.

Sorted!  I'm really pleased with this neat and cheery laundry/utility area and its been working brilliantly all over the winter :-)  I think it's a good use of the space I had available and makes laundry much less of a chore as everything is to hand.

P.S.  I have no idea why these pictures do not pick up the details, they are absolutely fine on my camera - must be a BlogSpot thing.  Most annoying :-(

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Sewing B!

Image for Episode 1

No doubt you were all glued to your seats last night for the first episode in the second series of The Great British Sewing Bee - I know I was.  The boys (and the dog) were under strict instructions to "Shhhhh!" as I didn't want to miss a minute of it ;-)  I just love the fact that sewing has, at last, made its way into a mainstream, primetime television slot - it's no longer a secretive, nerdy pastime, but something to be proud about!  I think it was Heather (on the show) that said she has been sewing for years but never used to tell anyone about it for fear of being labelled "homemade".  I am absolutely in this camp.  I have sewed all my life but for about the first 35 years would rather have poked my own eye out than admit something I was wearing was made by me.  Now, thanks to the new craft trend championed by the the likes of Kirsty Allsopp, sewing is not just cool but something to be admired and gasped over.  The power of television has elevated it from shame to fame!  At last we can be proud of the work we do and have the confidence to truly enjoy sewing and knitting and crochet and all those other fabulous creative hobbies.  Hurrah!

Phew, gosh, let me just get down from my soapbox a moment ...

And tell you about a little bit of inspiration I clocked yesterday.  It's unfortunate that the school walk takes us past some shops and it's unfortunate that those shops might just, sometimes, be purveyors of magazines.  Apart from yarn and fabric and anything connected with the two, I am totally unable to pass by a rack of magazines without purchasing one.  It's an affliction I've had all my life - from Jackie to Smash Hits, Marie Claire to She and now, sadly, Country Homes and Interiors, Good Housekeeping and the like (what, middle-aged, me?).  Occasionally I will fall for the pages of what I consider to be magazine "porn" such as Mollie Makes or Knitting but they are usually expensive and I can usually find all I want in this department by browsing the internet.

This is all a very long-winded way of saying that yesterday.  I bought a magazine.  Again.  This time it was the new issue of Country Homes and Interiors which I still love to buy even though I no longer live in the country and no longer have a country cottage.  Whatever, we're splitting hairs here.  The March issue has some particularly lovely houses, the sort that I drool over, but it was tucked away in a quiet corner that I spotted this:

Yes, it's a crochet cushion, nothing new there.  This, for example is my crocheted (granny square) cushion on my sofa: 

And this is my crocheted (granny square) blanket (bravely trying to cover up my hideous suite):

What you might notice is GRANNY SQUARE which, until now, I hadn't even thought beyond when it came to cushions.  Aha! I thought.  And then I thought about this again:

My cotton tape bargain from last week.  Surely the perfect thing to use for what appears to be a fairly straight forward crochet cushion made from straight rows of treble crochet!  Hee Hee!  So this is how inspiration works folks, you see an idea and you copy adapt it!  Ahh, the brain works in mysterious ways.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Bagging a Bargain!

I think I've mentioned that I go to a knitting group in my local wool shop.  I really love going along because we all just sit and knit and knatter, drink tea and eat biscuits!  What better way to spend the afternoon, especially amidst this horrendous wet weather.  We sit in the warmth, surrounded by knitted bunting with tempting colours and textures all around us and a growing pile of creativeness on the table.

As you may imagine, it's quite a hard job to stop myself from buying up all the wool I can possibly carry home, especially as the table is laden with pattern books and all sorts of fabulous ideas for future projects.  I have to keep reminding myself - one at a time - because otherwise I will, and have been known to, start a hole host of new things and then never quite get round to finishing them.  Ahem.  It's a common problem with knitters and sewers and probably any creative pursuits.

However.  When somebody comes along and dangles this in front of your nose and whispers "it's a pound a skein for knitting group members" - well - it's simply not possible to resist.  Not possible, I tell you!  This is in fact a cotton tape and the skeins were 100g each and as you can see, the colours are just gorgeous.  Goodness knows what you could knit with this yarn, but as quick as a flash, I was thinking crochet.  Just last week I was browsing through a knitting and crochet magazine in the supermarket (before I spotted the outrageous price!) and there was a crocheted circular table mat which was beautiful but was made up in some sort of very thick string-like yarn which probably cost a lot of money.

I also realised that in fact it was just a flat circle, the pattern for which is available on Lucy's fabulous blog - for free (thank you Lucy). Well, within minutes my knitting needles were cast aside and the crochet hook was whipping up a storm!

I got 6 skeins of the green as I'm thinking a nice set of 6 for a Christmas present (plus matching fabric napkins, perhaps?).  I also got 2 pink and 2 of the purple to make little mats for the house, or perhaps little circles as coasters.  The mat above is 12 inches across and took about 2/3rds of the skein - about 70g.

So I got all of this fabulous goodness for the utter bargain price of £10. Simply. Not. Capable. Of.  Resisting.

P.S.  Sorry, did I just mention Christmas Present?!!

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Non-Pancake Day

Something strange happened yesterday.  It wasn't Pancake Day, even though my diary quite CLEARLY states it was Shrove Tuesday (don't know why you can't see it in the above picture but believe me it did)!  I sent the boy off to school with promises of pancakes for tea with lashings of lemon and sugar.  I thought it was a bit odd than there was no mention of it on Radio 2 (which I listen to all day long).  I was very nearly on the point of emailing in, when I thought I'd better just check - and that's when I discovered the horrible truth.  March 4th is Shrove Tuesday this year!!!!  Oh dear.  What will the boy say?  But then I thought - who needs an excuse for pancakes anyway?


When I think about it, maybe yesterday was an illusion.  I must surely have been hallucinating when I looked out of the window and saw a bright blue sky!  Aaah, but it's still very windy, I thought.  HANG ON!  Perfect drying weather - a chance to give my poor, over-worked dryer a day off!  Within seconds the sheets were on the line, billowing in the wind.

Obviously, it didn't last.  Maybe a couple of hours and then the sky blackened and the rain came down.  But they did get partly dry - at least a good airing.

Hey ho.  Time to retreat to the kitchen again.

Flapplejack, anyone?  (That's flapjack with a layer of apple in the middle).  No?  How about a slice of date and banana cake?

Don't mind if I do.  Truth be told, I found some dates that were left over from Christmas (!) but still perfectly edible, plus I had some over-ripe bananas.  The Flapplejack used up some seen-better-days apples from the bottom of the fruit bowl.  Both were delicious and I was able to give myself a brownie point for being thrifty ;-)  Actually, I will freeze half of each so that I have packed lunch fodder on tap.

And as if this wasn't enough for one day, I attempted loaf no. 2.  This time I used a bog standard recipe which was just flour, salt, yeast and water.  This loaf turned out much better - you can just see a nice airy texture which was not doughy, like my first attempt.  So this morning I was able to have homemade bread with homemade marmalade on top!  Just call me Delia ...

Monday, 10 February 2014

Lady Marmalade

As predicted, it was yet another wet weekend :-(  Oh when will this rain stop?  And the wind!  Talk about blowing a hooly!! 

Saturday was surprisingly busy, but alas, Sunday was wet, wet, wet.  The boys decided to slink off to the cinema - but luckily, I was prepared this time!  I had assembled the necessary ingredients for marmalade making earlier in the week, just in case! 

As you may know, the Seville oranges necessary for making marmalade are only available for 2 or 3 weeks from the end of January.  Goodness knows why this is the case these days, when you think how long they keep apples in cold storage. However.  Don't bother going to Tesco or a supermarket in search of Seville oranges as they probably will not have them - speaks one who found out the hard way.  By contrast, my lovely local greengrocer had a whole stack of them and they were going fast.

I used Delia Smith's recipe (available online) which really could not be easier.  2lbs of oranges, 1 lemon and 4lbs golden granulated sugar - again, not easily found, but I did manage to dig out a couple of bags from the back of the shelf in Tesco.  The only other thing required is water - and time.

First, squeeze the oranges and lemon and add to the 2 litres of water in your large pan.

Put all the pips and pith in a muslin bag.

Quarter and slice up your skins.

Put into the pan, along with your muslin bag which you have tied up with string and then tied to the pan handle (or you could put a wooden spoon across the pan and hang it from that).  Then you need to boil all this for 2 hours or so, until the peel is soft to the squeeze.

 Then you add your 2 bags of sugar and stir it until dissolved and then whack it up to a rolling boil for 15 minutes.  Next comes the only really tricky part of this whole process - trying to decide whether you have a "set" or not.  To do this, put a saucer in the fridge to cool it down and then after your 15 minutes of boiling, plop some onto the saucer and whack it back in the fridge until it's cold.  Then you basically get your finger and push it against the marmalade to see if there is a sort of crinkly skin.  If there is - bingo - you have a set and you can take it off the boil.  If not, continue to boil and check every 5-10 minutes for a set.

 Once off the boil you will see a sort of white scum on the top of the marmalade.  To get rid of this simply stir in a knob of butter.  Then let it settle for about 15-20 minutes whilst you sterilise your jars in a warm oven (for about 5 minutes - you don't want them too hot to handle!).  Then get a funnel, or spoon the marmalade into the jars.

This recipe should give you 6lbs (i.e. 6 normal size jars) but I got 5, as my 5th jar was a Mason jar.  Then you can sit back, relax and spend some time with your loved one.

Not a bad day's work, if you ask me :-)

Friday, 7 February 2014

A Little Sewing

Despite the name of my blog, it's actually been quite a while since I actually sewed anything!  I seem to have been content with the click-clacking of some evening knitting these long winter nights, but today I had the urge to sew.

And for once, I knew what it was that I needed to do.  I say need - you can see by the state of this apron that it is in fact in dire need of replacing.  Good old Cath Kidston, she kept me going for oooh, lots and lots of years and of course it's been a well-used and well-loved apron BUT every apron has its day and this one is looking really rather shabby atrocious.  Even after washing, it doesn't get much better than this I'm afraid.  Sad old thing :-(

Let's see, what do we have in the fabric stash?

Ooh, that'll do nicely.  And the apron strings?

Splendid.  Let's begin

Cut round the old one. 

Actually, might as well do two whilst I'm at it, as I happen to have this pink and orange stripy material too which I'm quite liking.  Actually, like it better than the bag material, so let's do that one first.  In fact, sewing an apron is pretty darn easy, it's just a case of doing a double hem all the way round and then putting the apron strings on it.

To make it look profesh, I have a little square box trick which I do on the front to make the strings secure.

Now, you can clearly see my seam on the right there - what a mess!!! That's all thanks to my sewing machine which is having some sort of problem with tension in the bobbin at the moment.  Most annoying, obviously I should have sorted this out before I started but that's not me I'm afraid - I have to go diving in, regardless. In the end I needed a new needle and all was well.  As a solution, I just top-stitched the dodgy looking seams.  I know, I know, a good sewer would have unpicked and started again but seeing as this apron is going to live in my cupboard in my kitchen I doubt anyone will care/notice.

So now I have a nice new apron.  Looks a bit better than the old one, I hope you'll agree!  What?  Oh you want to know if it fits? 

Was all sewed out by the time I'd finished (which was only just over an hour!) but hurray for the new apron :-)

P.S.  Must just mention -  THE SUN IS SHINING TODAY!!!