Tales from a happy house is my personal blog, a place where I record and celebrate the things that matter most to me. I write about my love of creating things, of our home, of cooking and gardening, getting out and about, and my family, among other things. We are not always a happy house (we are human after all) but we are most of the time, and I believe in seeking out and cherishing.
Every now and then a crafting project comes along that sweeps you off your feet and captures your imagination in a way that nothing else can, and this was one such project. The idea of a room in a suitcase, or a portable dolls house, came from issue 93 of Mollie Makes and was created, along with some patterns for you to make at home, by Bethan of Little Lucciola, who makes and sells these little wonders from her Etsy shop, and you can see the room she created for the magazine in the photo below.
As soon as I saw Bethan's room in Mollie Makes, with the setting, styling and attention to detail, I felt so inspired to have a go at something similar myself. I had a chat with Bella and she wanted very much to get involved so we ordered a suitcase and made a plan.
Would you like a tour? You can hang your bag and coat on the peg rail right there.
Pull up the stool at the desk and switch on the radio. The pencils are sharpened and knitting needles ready, fabric folded and paper rolled.
The standing lamp behind the chair gives a soft light for reading.
Take a seat in the arm chair - your current WIP is in a basket at your feet....
....and there's a lovely soft alpaca throw if you're cold.
Coffee or tea? I'll put the kettle on.
The footstool is a handy spare seat and the rug will keep your toes warm on those floorboards.
Wouldn't you love a craft room like this? Oh, I would. I'd move in if I could. There's so much here I love; the table with the hairpin legs, the chair, the rug, the details like wall hangings and posters, the peg rail, the plants and little copper watering can...
As always with this kind of project, I can hear a voice asking what and who it is for. Is it a toy? Is it for display? Aren't your children a bit old for this kind of thing? (At nine and eleven, NO!) Bella will play with this with her Maileg mice, and she and Angus were very involved in the making of the various parts. Even if they weren't actually cutting or painting or gluing, they were very often sat with me at the kitchen table while I was working on it, asking questions, suggesting things, playing with or making other things. But it's not really robust enough to seriously be a toy, some care does need to be taken with the furniture and tiny parts inside, some of which are sharp. So is it for me? Well the pleasure for me was in the making. Now it's finished, I have no use for it really, it was all about the process, and what an indulgent, imaginative and totally enjoyable one it was.
I've spent a few hours over the last few weeks looking at dolls houses and miniatures online and it is so seductive. Not the period, Victorian style collectables, that's not my cup of tea, but I love it when people create a modern home, like you'd actually live in, in miniature. And when the interior design is beautiful too, even better. It's an internet rabbit hole I quite happily fell down and I could, with enough time and money, get quite obsessed with the miniature world so it's probably best for everyone if I don't. I'll just stick to small projects like suitcases for now.
I tried, as much as possible, to use things I already had. To just go out and buy everything ready made from a dolls house supply website seemed too easy, not to mention expensive. The fun for me is in making these little things, especially if I can repurpose something ordinary from around the house. Over the years I've amassed a reasonable collection of useful crafting tools and kit such as a glue gun, spray paint in various colours, beads and buttons in different sizes, string, yarn etc so I didn't need to buy much. I did spend around £20 on some pieces of balsa wood in various sizes and thicknesses, a small amount of wooden dowel, wooden discs and some more chunky wooden beads. I also bought the suitcase, which at £15 for a set of three seemed good value, and the two smaller cases are already in use in Bella's bedroom. I also, with the children's permission of course, took some small accessories from their Playmobil sets and perked them up a little.
The thing I always want to know when seeing handmade miniatures is how they were made, so below I've listed everything I made for anyone who might be interested. Please ask in the comments if there is anything you'd like to know.
Suitcase: this measures approximately 30 x 20 x 10 cm. I painted the inside with white emulsion and drew on floorboards with pencil and ruler. On the back wall, I used crafting paper to create a half-wall of wallpaper, and used a strip of balsa wood to make a picture ledge that ran above it.
Desk: a small piece of balsa wood and four long hair/kirby grips. I slightly opened each grip and sprayed them copper before gluing them to the underside of the table.
Basket: a plastic lid from a bottle of mouthwash covered with glue and wrapped around with string (and all done, including the rolls of paper, by Bella).
Chair: small squares of foam covered in grey fabric (living room curtain off-cuts) with balsa wood arms and legs.
Bookcase: pinched from Bella's existing dolls house and sprayed white, then stocked with folded fabric and felt.
Lampshade: a plastic roll-on deodorant lid sprayed copper.
Textiles: a knitted throw (some lovely alpaca yarn on 3mm needles) and a chunky crochet cushion (cotton yarn on a 3mm hook).
Coffee table: a wooden disc, bought just like that, and wooden dowel legs glued on.
Yarn basket: wool felt sewn together on each corner with blanket stitch. The balls of yarn are little pieces of plastic straw with wool wrapped tightly around each with a needle, and the knitting needles are tooth picks with a tiny wooden bead glued to the top.
Rug: now this is ingenious and, like the yarn and knitting needles, one of the patterns that came with the magazine. You draw your circle shapes onto a sheet of paper, then stick clear plastic over the top. You gradually glue your spirals of string until you have the desired shape then wait for it to dry, them simply peel away the plastic sheet. It's ingenious.
Footstool: just dark grey wool yarn in DC, stuffed with toy stuffing.
Standing lamp: the base is three lengths of dowel glued together and the shade is a section of the inner tube of toilet roll covered in fabric.
Plants: chunky wooden beads, sprayed copper or left natural, and filled with small bits I snipped off any fake plants I could find in the house. The trailing plant is just embroidery silk threaded with tiny random pieces of felt.
Desk accessories: the needles sit in the lid from a spray bottle of leave-in conditioner, while the pencils are in a Playmobil bucket that I spray painted copper. The knitting needles are toothpicks topped with beads as before, and pins. The pencils are toothpicks snapped in half with their tips coloured with felt pen. Angus made those.
Other accessories: all Playmobil parts taken and repurposed. I especially love the little copper watering can. It was purple before.
Wall hanging: a curtain ring sprayed copper and hung with small lengths of cotton yarn.
Stool: a plastic milk bottle lid, four hair grips and an off-cut of fake sheepskin. As with the desk, the hair grips were stretched open and sprayed before being glued to the sheepskin-covered lid.
Pictures: possibly my favourite part. I found photos on my computer and edited them so that they were tightly cropped and with exaggerated colour and contrast, so they showed up well. I cut and pasted them into a Word document, played around with size, then printed them onto white card. The frames are just crafting matchsticks.
I do hope you've enjoyed looking around this tiny room. If you have a favourite corner or item I'd love to hear it.
My choice for June's cookery calendar challenge was The Hairy Dieters Make It Easy, the most recent title in the successful Hairy Dieters collection of cookery books. I quite like watching these two on TV although I've never bought any of their books before, but John saw this for £4.99 on Amazon and bought it on a whim. A few Amazon reviewers complained that this was too similar to the previous books, with too many old recipes re-hashed or tweaked and presented as new ones, but being new to these books I have no complaints.
The "diet" part of the book is the calorie counting kind but I ignored that part and just looked at the recipes, which are really good. As soon as this arrived in the post I'd already found ten things I wanted to cook and so it was the obvious choice for June. While neither John or I are on strict diets we are both making an effort to eat less rubbish and more fresh fruit and vegetables, and I always want to cook and eat more lightly in the summer anyway. This isn't what I'd call a coffee table book; there's no beautiful jacket design or velvet ribbon bookmark, but the inside is well designed and simple with crisp photography, clear recipes and instructions in a font that's easy to read, and useful suggestions for alternatives or substitutions.
Our first recipe was Roast Cod with Lentils from the "half dozen winners" chapter of recipes with few ingredients. You season the cod and roast it in the oven, then while that's cooking fry diced chorizo in a pan, adding cherry tomatoes and a pack of pre-cooked puy lentils towards the end, stirring it until the lentils are hot and the tomatoes about to burst, before serving with vegetables. The only thing I changed was not using a packet of pre-cooked lentils because I think they're too expensive. We both love puy lentils so I buy them by the box and cook them myself in stock, which did make this recipe take a little longer but still the whole thing only took half an hour from start to finish.
John and I liked it a lot, the kids liked most of it apart from the lentils, and Angus told me off for buying cod. Actually, we ate puy lentils again last night in a salad with feta and beetroot with a basil vinaigrette over the top. So delicious. I told you we like those lentils.
Next up was John's choice and a bold one: Pork Stroganoff from the "15-minute fillers" chapter (those guys love a snappy chapter title!). I say bold because John, much to my extreme disappointment, really dislikes mushrooms so the fact that he'd choose this recipe surprised me.
You fry mushrooms and onions, remove them from the pan before frying off the pork, then return the vegetables to the pan to simmer with paprika and a little stock, before stirring through creme fraiche and chopped parsley at the end. The recipe suggests just serving this with "a big pile of greens" (aha, so that's how it's 228 calories a serving!) but I cooked wild rice as well which was a hilarious crash and burn decision with the children. "What are these weird black bits in the rice?" "Are they seeds?" Cue much pushing of food around on the plate and sulking. The stroganoff was ok but not amazing but the wild rice meant that it's not exactly a family favourite. I will persevere.
From the same chapter, I cooked myself "Quick Mexican Eggs" last Sunday morning and ate it as a late breakfast/early lunch on a very hot day with a large iced coffee. John was at work and the kids were having something else so it felt very indulgent and lovely, just cooking this for me.
You cook tinned black beans (drained but not rinsed which adds a wonderful stickiness to them) with garlic, oregano, cumin and tomato puree and leave it to simmer while doing the rest which is an assembly job really; warm a tortilla, fry an egg and make the salsa, which should be avocado dressed with lime juice but I didn't have an avocado so chopped fresh tomatoes and added lime and coriander.
At the last minute, chuck a handful of spinach into the beans and let it wilt down slightly.
I cannot say enough good things about those beans; they were delicious, a perfect combination of spice and seasoning and full of flavour. I absolutely loved this meal. It felt like a substantial plate full of food but also light and healthy too.
Finally I made Mango Fool from the "easy peasy puds" (I'm rolling my eyes a little here) chapter. Puree half a mango with lime and dice the other half then whip up double cream and greek yogurt before layering up in a dish.
It was good, but would have been better if my mango had been riper, but that's my fault for being impatient. But a nice light dessert which, because it was in a pretty glass, felt more exciting to eat than a yogurt.
There is still so much I want to try in this book. There's a lot of inspiration and some really good recipes in here for the price, I just need to avoid wild rice for a while.
Thank you for your nice comments about the Mollie Makes feature. After a long break from that magazine I've recently started buying it occasionally, and have just had the most wonderful time making one of their projects: a miniature craft room in a suitcase. It captivated me in a way that no project has for a really long time, and I cannot wait to show you all in a blog post soon, a really long one with lots of photos.
It's really, really warm today. It has to be well over 30°C and there is no breeze, just a grey, headachy sky. I just popped up to Tescos (wine) and spent much longer in there than necessary enjoying their air conditioning. All the doors and windows at home are wide open and...nothing. I'm sweating just sitting here typing. I know those of you who live in warmer climates are probably laughing at me but the struggle is real. Our homes, schools and offices just aren't built to withstand very warm weather and so we all wilt. (It's like when it snows a tiny bit in the UK and everything grinds to a halt; our transport system and cars are not designed for seriously cold weather and so it's safer just to stay at home, light the stove and drink hot chocolate. Safety first.) I am trying really hard not to complain though because we have been enjoying such beautiful weather over the last month with day after day of warm, sunny weather and hardly any rain. A storm would be good right now though, for my temper and for the garden which is looking a little parched.
Poor Ziggy is not coping with the heat. Lethargic all day, he wakes up late at night when it's cool and suddenly needs letting out in the night again. He doesn't know what to do with himself and can't get comfortable on his bed. Our south-west facing bedroom is cool and airy all morning but by the time we go to bed it's an oven, even with the windows and balcony door open to cool it. I sleep with the windows wide open despite the pollen. (Other hayfever sufferers - do you also think this year has been particularly bad?)
We went down to the beach after school on Friday and I swam in the sea for the first time this year. It was glorious.
The garden is just about holding up in this dry spell, although my erratic watering system probably isn't helping. It's all or nothing. But the sweet peas are slowly climbing and the redcurrants and blackcurrants are almost ready to be picked. I never know what to do with those currants but every year I enjoy thinking about the possibilities.
I have the most ridiculous Saltwater sandal tan lines on my feet now. How is it that my legs don't really seem to tan but by feet are brown year round? It's getting to the point now where I can't really wear any other shoes but I have a wedding to go to in four weeks and I may need alternative footwear! I love my Saltwaters though. I have three pairs and wear them daily, and they last for years. What other shoes can I wear to work then to swim in the sea after work? Brilliant.
We're watching a lot of football and I'm quite enjoying it. I'm not a huge football fan but I do like a sporting event where it takes over for a few weeks, like the Olympics or Wimbledon, and you get quite swept up in the whole thing. John says it's really open this year and anyone could win. (Except England, obviously...)
Our fruit intake has rapidly increased in this weather. We've been eating watermelons, mangos and Galia melons like they're going out of fashion, not to mention the British soft fruit season, and it's heavenly. A slice of watermelon, fresh from the fridge, is my current after school snack. We've been barbecuing lots more too, and I have some chicken breasts marinating in the fridge right now in a mixture of white wine, olive oil and herbs. We'll butterfly and grill it, and eat it with a tray of roasted vegetables I put in the oven a while ago. Actually, the kids probably won't eat half of those - I'd better stick a tray of oven chips in too.
One last thing - something rather lovely happened. Our home is in this months issue (94) of Mollie Makes. I shrieked when I read the email from them as I think they feature really interesting, lovely homes and their home tour is always the first part of the magazine I read before the patterns or anything else. I'm a fan. Anyway...
Right, we need to light the barbecue, and I need to open that bottle of white wine. Have a great week!
Welcome to my Making the Seasons post for June. Everyone ok? We are all good here but hot, tired and busy. We are of course enjoying the beautifully warm weather but also clinging on until the end of term in three weeks. I feel that, at home and at work, we're reaching that point in the school year where each day feels incrementally busier than the one before, until we reach a final week crescendo of lists, gifts, performances, things to remember, things to do, places to be. It's the same each year and my daily dog walks are a welcome escape when life gets like this. I never really want to take Ziggy out until I'm out, and then I always wish I could walk further and for longer. The heat has meant that I've been going out much earlier in the morning and later in the evening than I usually would, and as I walk I have been noticing all the wild flowers that are growing on the paths around us. I am always confused by the difference between a wild flower and a weed but am happy to appreciate them both.
Some crafting based around wildflowers seemed like a nice idea for this month's Making the Seasons post, which is a monthly project my friend Lucy of Attic24 are enjoying. There's no real point or end result to it other than just trying to make some time in our busy lives to focus on small and seasonal creative projects, activities which are achievable yet fulfilling, and in tune with the months of the year. I have a lot of crochet on the go at the moment (blankets) and so a small embroidery project seemed like a refreshing change.
One morning this week I picked a selection of flowers and greenery from our local area and brought it home. My rules around picking wildflowers are that I pick very sparingly and only where something is growing abundantly and what I've picked won't show.
I found some ferns and grasses, daisies (possibly oxeye), an umbellifer of some kind, purple toadflax and a pretty little yellow flowered plant that I couldn't find in my Observer pocket guide.
I love all those different shapes and textures together, the varying heights and colours, and think they look especially lovely in this old earthenware pot. The umbellifer was quickly removed as I was worried it might be poisonous and also it smelled of wee.
A few weeks ago I'd purchased this miniature embroidery hoop necklace kit but couldn't decide what to stitch, so it had been sitting in my craft basket, but suddenly a tiny wildflower design seemed like the perfect use for it. Remembering this cross stitch and how good the flowers looked against a black background, I found some black cotton in my stash and decided to use that.
I roughly sketched out a design on paper then copied it onto the fabric, before putting it in a larger hoop as the 4cm is just too small to work with.
Working on something this small is quite fiddly, but not so much as to make it impossible. I actually quite enjoyed the challenge of trying to make my stitches as small and neat as possible, and the whole thing only took a couple of hours from start to finish.
When you're happy with your design, you cut the fabric roughly to size and place it over the central disc of wood and then fit the hoop edge around that, then you glue the fabric to the back of the disc.
Next you cover the messy back of the work by gluing down the back board....
before finally screwing in the bolts and tightening.
I quite like how it came out. It reminds me a little of a botanical illustration, although not a very accurate one, and the colours really pop against the dark fabric.
But more importantly, the whole process - the walking, picking and arranging the flowers, sewing the tiny stitches - gave me a chance to pause and appreciate the beauty that is around us in midsummer.
I recently finished this baby blanket for a friend at work who's soon to have her second child. When I say recently, I mean that I was darning in the ends on Thursday night ready to give it to her yesterday, on her last day. I am nothing if not motivated by a deadline...it was the same when I was a student, always writing my essays the day before they were due in and leaving things until the last possible moment.
This blanket was a dream to crochet, providing that elusive balance between being easy enough to work on without much concentration, but with enough colour changes to not be too boring. My friend was equally easy going, not minding what the colours were so long as it was neutral and with a preference for grey. (Some have expressed consternation about the presence of pink in a blanket that might potentially be for a boy and I'm afraid I have no time for this. Are we really still doing all pink for baby girls and all blue for baby boys in 2018?) So I was able to choose my favourite palate of colours; light and dark grey, white, blush pink and mustard yellow.
I worked the blanket in double crochet (UK terms) all the way through as I just love the subtle texture it creates, and the border is two simple rows of the same stitch
I worked this is cotton yarn which has quite a weight to it, so I didn't need to block this blanket. It has a lovely drape already and folds pleasingly. I'm hoping it be useful for baby to lie on in the summer months, and be wrapped up in as the weather gets colder. And being cotton, it's machine washable and can go in the dryer - very important!
The overall size is 70cm x 100cm. I worked a foundation chain of 100 stitches and then 36 rows in each colour, which was about two and a half balls of each. I used a 4mm hook and Drops Paris cotton DK yarn in the following colours: 16 White, 23 Light Grey, 24 Dark Grey, 41 Mustard, 59 Light Old Pink.
And yesterday I sort agreed to crochet two blankets for two more colleagues who are leaving and moving away at the end of term. Yes, two blankets in four weeks. It can be done, yes? I'm thinking throw size, chunky yarn, big hook. Stripes or ripples, but something without too many ends to darn in. Wish me luck.
I've mentioned a few times lately how hard we've been working on the garden over this spring and early summer, and I thought it was time I finally got around to writing a post and showing you some of what we've been up to. You have to bear in mind that our budget is small and our free time is very limited. There isn't much money for new plants, never mind the kind of serious landscaping I would like to do and, given that we have two active children and a very active dog, we are never going to have a perfect lawn.
The first thing I wanted to do was rescue this sad corner of the garden, which is the most visible from the kitchen window (somewhere I spend a lot of time), and try to turn it into somewhere lovely to look out on.
The trampoline is much used but very ugly, and I knew that we could move it to the opposite corner of the garden where is it screened by some large cordyline plants and palms. At nine and eleven, the children are no longer at an age where I need to be able see them in the garden, and so I was all for hiding the trampoline.
The other issue was the two rotten fence panels behind the trampoline which badly needed replacing, so that was the first job.
Although they don't perfectly match the colour of the existing ones, they are a huge improvement and will blend in over time as they weather. Next, my mum and I cleared away all the wood chip under the trampoline and dug out more flowerbeds, extending the border which runs along the bottom of the garden into the corner.
We were able to take some large shrubs - two pink toned Red Robin bushes and a euphorbia - from my Grandpa's garden before his house was put on the market, and the others were moved from other parts of the garden. Large plants are so expensive, and I wanted to plant as much greenery as cheaply as possible.
Finally, John laid turf over the remaining patch of bare earth. This has all been happening slowly as you can tell from the plant growth; the fence was replaced at the start of April, the border created at the end of that month, and the turf was laid at the start of May.
I took these photos at the end of May during half term, when the rain had made the grass greener and the beautiful rhododendron bushes were in bloom. As you can see, I have a hard time keeping that straight border straight and I might make it more deliberately curved over time. There is no scheme or idea behind the planting here, I just want to look out on as much green and as little brown as possible, so I'm hoping that the shrubs will grow to cover the earth and fence. I did buy a few Verbena Bonariensis plants as I think they add fantastic height and colour, and the flowers last for a long time.
The other job we really wanted to tackle was the decked area directly outside the patio doors from our kitchen-diner. We use this space so much, when the weather is warm it really is like having another room. But it was in really bad shape; the decking was unfinished, wobbly in places, covered in mildew and slippery; the parasol cover had torn in high winds; the table and three chairs were so rickety that the chair arms actually fell off when you sat on them; and no-one ever sat on the pink bench as you get spiked by the cordyline and it's also really uncomfortable.
We began by jet washing and staining the decking with some wood stain that would protect the wood and make it less slippery.
We also finished off the edges of the decking, something we'd been meaning to do since we moved in three years ago.
We were able to order a replacement shade for our parasol which I was really pleased about. I love that cantilevered parasol because it provides so much shade and also gives a nice enclosed feeling to the decked area, making it feel even more like a room outside.
We also built a new table and benches. Now, good quality outdoor furniture is really expensive and we just didn't have the budget to go out and buy new everything. But this time last year I saw this amazing table and, the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like this would be an affordable solution. Plus, John was really up for making it. We didn't feel to bad about getting rid of the old garden furniture - it was given to us by some friends when they moved to Australia and was only ever meant to be temporary - so it will become firewood.
We bought seven scaffolding planks - three for the benches and four for the table - and some hairpin legs from here, choosing four heavy duty white ones for the table and eight smaller yellow legs for the benches.
John cut the planks and glued them together, then fixed them on the underside of the table and benches with batons and screws. Then he sanded the top.
Next the legs were screwed on, then it was all sanded again and given three coats of wood oil to protect it from the elements a little, although I want it to look quite weathered and beaten up over time.
The finished result is so lovely. It is such a sturdy, solid table but the hairpin legs make it look lighter than it is, and the benches are brilliant for seating lots of people.
We eat outside so much more frequently now that we have somewhere roomy to sit and don't always have to carry outside a fourth chair, or wobble bottles precariously on the old sloping table top. It has genuinely made a difference to how we use the garden.
Now, you know I love a before and after photo. Even in the rain, even with a grainy photo taken on my phone, you can see the difference.
It's still evolving though, as the sweet peas I planted in the large grey planted start to grow up the canes. I'm so happy with what we've done and I really hope you enjoyed seeing it come together here.
I finished the My Sweetiepie ABCs sampler at last, and finally got around to framing and hanging it over half term. It took a long time - two years - which is unusual for me as once I've started a project I usually complete it fairly quickly, but this one was picked up and put down many times over two holidays and lots of evenings.
I like this kind of project because it's large enough to be interesting, but not so huge that you can't ever imagine finishing it, and the many different motifs and pictures stop you getting bored.
It would usually take me a few hours - spread over days - to complete one letter and image, which is nice because I can usually remember where I was and what I was doing when I stitched it. That octopus, for example, I mostly stitched while staying up late with John one night watching Invasion of the Body Snatchers. And all the other letters below were sewn while on holiday in the Loire Valley in August 2016; I can particularly remember sitting in the shade after lunch one very hot afternoon and sewing that little white envelope.
Most of the house was stitched in the car in February when John and I drove up to Yorkshire and back to celebrate our friend's birthday.
The kettle and daisy below are two of my favourites, lovely to stitch and and to look at.
And the quilt! I love the quilt. I found that there was something very charming and nostalgic about these little pictures and that they really reminded me of the books of my childhood. I think I like the quilt so much because it reminds me of one in one of the Brambly Hedge books, which I adored as a child.
I do wonder though if three cross stitched samplers is enough, and maybe it's time for something else, and by that I just mean more embroidery. I have recently become fascinated by embroidery art, most of which I've discovered through Instagram, and there are so many crafters and artists out there producing the most incredible images and patterns with needle and thread. Not all of it is for me, but it's made me realise how much you can do with embroidery and how many different stitches there are which I've never tried, and just what you could do with them. I would like to explore that more.
I bought the pattern from here and the linen from here. I didn't go and buy all the different threads in the pattern (too many!), I just matched them as closely as possible to ones I already had at home unless I really didn't have anything in that colour. I think I bought maybe ten. And isn't it funny how the linen looks quite grey until it's on the grey wall, then it looks much more brown.
I decided to have a go at framing this sampler myself and while it was fiddly, it wasn't hard, so I've put together a little tutorial below if case you wanted to try it yourself.
How to frame your embroidery
Before you start, iron your embroidery on the reverse side so that you don't crush or damage any of your stitches. You will need a frame (any kind, nothing fancy - mine was an old IKEA Ribba frame), foam board or foamcore (I used this), a sharp knife or scissors, and pins.
Cut your foam board to the size of your frame. I found that drawing around the glass panel or back board is the easiest way to do this. Then position your foam board over the back of your embroidery in roughly the right place.
Flip it over and start tacking pins around the sides, gently pinning the fabric to the side of the foam board. You will want to leave a little room to alter or tighten the pinning.
You should be able to push the pins all the way in the the foam board so that none stick out around the edge.
Now go all the way around the edge, adding more pins, smoothing and pulling tight the fabric as you go. You want to pull it was tight as possible without distorting the pattern, so it looks nice and even.
When you're happy, flip it over, tape the excess fabric to the back of the foam board and then put it in the frame.
I chose to remove the glass from the frame, which is just my personal preference; I like being able to touch the fabric - I'm weird like that.
It's certainly not as beautifully done as a professionally framed picture in a made to measure frame, but it saved me money - around £50 I think - and I think it looks pretty good.
Hi lovely folk! Well, here we are already well into June and so it's time to review my choice for May's Cookery Calendar Challenge. This is a monthly project in which I, and anyone else who fancies it, joins in with Penny of The Homemade Heart to select a cookery book and try out a couple of new recipes. I tend to choose titles that have been sitting on my shelf unopened for a few years because opening them up is like being reunited with an old friend, plus it helps me justify my ever expanding cookery book collection.
For May, I chose Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros, a book I've had for about ten years. I cooked from it a lot when I first bought it but for some reason it's fallen out of use which is a shame as it's a really nice book. You may remember that I wrote about one of her other books, Falling Cloudberries, in my June Cookery Calendar Challenge post last year. As with that title the emphasis on this collection is family and memory, with recipes that have been handed down through the generations, full of history and heritage. It's another covetable book, a great heavy hardback with a gorgeously photographed dust jacket, a ribbon bookmark (so important!) and page after page of recipes and the most beautiful photography, interspersed with sketches, memories and family photographs.
The only issue I have with this book is the unusual chapter layout, in which recipes are grouped together by colour, rather than anything sensible like "salads", "lunches", "cake" etc. It's charming and whimsical - all the tomato and strawberry dishes in the "red" chapter for example, pumpkin in "orange" - but really irritating when you're looking for inspiration for just one kind of meal. However, It does encourage prolonged browsing of this book though, and that's enjoyable, because it makes you slow down when you're in a hurry.
Our first dish was Pasta with Tuna, Tomato and Olives, something that appealed because it ticks all the boxes: it's easy, quick, convenient (who doesn't always have chopped tomatoes and tuna in the cupboard?), healthy and economical.
You begin by frying some garlic and a couple of chopped celery sticks with their leaves attached, and adding a tin of chopped tomatoes, letting it cook for a while. When your pasta is almost ready, add the tuna and olives with some chopped parsley and basil.
I served this with fusili pasta but penne would go really well too. I was a little wary of cooking this dish because I remember doing something similar for John and I some years ago and while I loved it, he was really not keen. (I think that dish may have been more of a pasta puttanesca with lots of capers and anchovies, so quite strong flavours.) But this one was a huge success all round; the kids loved it and inhaled it, Angus made those "mmm" noises he makes when he's really enjoying something he's eating, and the olives where large enough for him to pick out and pass over to Bella, who loves them. And John and I both enjoyed it a lot. It's not a fancy dish but so easy and really full of flavour and great for a week night meal.
Our next meal was less successful: Escalopes with Ham and Cheese. You bash pieces of steak into as thin a layer as possible, stuff with ham, cheese and a dollop of bechamel sauce, then roll over. Then you dip this little meat sandwich into first flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs, before frying.
This is not a healthy meal, dripping as it is with double meat, double dairy, and some bread too for good measure, but I like how the author made no apologies for that in the introduction, and just mentioned how much her children enjoyed eating it. There was no talk of this being a treat or an indulgence, no cautionary word about how we should only eat it now and then with a large salad for "balance" (I mean, we did eat it with salad, but I made some oven baked chips too). I like the way she just trusted the reader/cook to have a brain and figure that out for themselves. Everything in moderation, I say. Anyway, it was ok, but not amazing, and didn't justify the amount of washing up it created.
Finally I tried Berry and Buttermilk Cake, which the recipe suggests we make with blueberries or strawberries. Having half a pack of strawberries in the fridge which were starting to look quite withered and sad, I decided to use them up in this cake. It's a fairly low sugar and butter sponge cake recipe, and the buttermilk (or plain yogurt mixed with milk which is what I always do as a substitute) makes it very light and moist. You scatter the berries over the top of the batter before sprinkling a couple of table spoons of sugar on top and then baking.
It was delicious, especially when freshly baked and still warm. It was still good for a couple of days after that but the moist strawberries mean that you need to eat it up fairly quickly.
So, overall, another lovely Tessa Kiros book, and definitely one recipe that I will make many times in the future.
I hope you're all having a great weekend. We've had a pleasant day today, seeing family, going for a long walk with the dog, and pottering around at home. I am flying through a small crocheted baby blanket for a colleague and friend and will mainly be doing that tonight while watching Netflix.
Every time we go to the beach, Ziggy ventures just that little bit further into the sea. Today, he went in up to his armpits. Some of the things he loves the most - Bella and Angus, other dogs - all go in the sea but he is very wary. I can't see him doggy paddling any time soon.
I think its still late spring, but the weather feels like summer, and I bought my first bunch of peonies this week, always a sign that summer is on it's way. It's been gorgeous here this weekend, just the right amount of warm and sunny without everyone feeling like they're wilting. In fact, as I sit here at the end of a week off with such a sense of contentment, I think that it's been a pretty successful half term. Our friends from Yorkshire, old and dear friends, came to stay this weekend and it was such fun. We ate and drank a lot, chatted, stayed up late planning holidays, went out for lunch, to the woods, to the beach. The weather has been mixed but good when it needed to be - the bank holiday and this weekend - and the rain midweek meant that I haven't had to water the garden much. We've completely worn out Ziggy and he's now slumped on the rug in the living room, out for the count.
We've eaten well; barbecues, ice cream-cookie sandwiches, pavlova, plus a few lunches out for half term treats. There was also Nigella's chocolate coca-cola cake to celebrate John's birthday. I went a bit overboard with the icing but I don't think anyone minded.
There are nineteen candles on the cake because that's all I had left. Add another twenty one and you'll have his age. His gift was a shiny new coffee machine which he's having fun getting to grips with. I'm having fun drinking all the coffees he keeps making.
We have spent every moment we could in the garden and it honestly has been like having another room. Fed up with our hard wooden garden bench which is crippling to sit on for more than ten minutes, we bought a new one. John happened to see it was on offer and before you knew it we were discussing which colour we should get.
It's the most comfortable bench I've ever sat on, like a sofa, and everyone wants to sit on it all the time.
John sanded and painted the railings that encircle the balcony at the front of our house. They're a lovely period feature of our 1960s home but not the most fun DIY job to do, and one we'd been putting off since we moved in over three years ago. The whole job was hot, dirty, fiddly and awkward, and John worked really hard on them. Everyone else around us has painted theirs black so of course we went for mint green. They are glorious now, and the colour goes with the grey roof tiles and hot pint flowers I planted in the hanging basket by the front door. Every time I drive down the street towards the house and see them it makes me happy.
Meanwhile, I was sanding and painting something else indoors: one of our chairs, which Ziggy had chewed really badly. (Incidentally his chewing is much better now, although don't ever leave a pair of sunglasses lying around, and he hasn't really destroyed anything for a while. He's moved on to digging. So that's good.) Anyway, the ends of the chair arms were so badly chewed that we just sawed them off, then sanded the rest of the chair.
I then painted it white (three coats of water based undercoat, two of water based eggshell) and I feel like we have a new piece of furniture! It's not an expensive piece of furniture but one we like, and I see no reason to get rid of it when it can be salvaged.
As well as all this DIY and gardening, there was lots of craft time this week too and I got a few projects finished, including this large floor cushion for Angus's room.
It's based on a pattern I saw in Supersize Crochet but I just couldn't follow the pattern exactly because it called for ten balls of t-shirt yarn and at around £9 a ball that's one expensive floor cushion. So instead I found some super chunky acrylic yarn and played around with hook sizes until I was happy. Actually, the design is really fun - you crochet a kind of square cushion shape and then, when you're ready to sew it up, you lie it flat, then pick up the centre of the front of the top row and match it to the centre of the back row and then make that your seam, creating a pyramid shape. It's hard to describe but really effective. I made an insert with cotton to hold all the beanbag filling - my, that stuff is hard to work with, it wants to go everywhere, and any you drop on the floor pools together like mercury - and I'm happy with it, Angus loves it, and so we're calling it a success.
This stitch sampler from the Spring Craftpod is another addition to the hoop wall. I enjoyed the reduced colour palate of just a few shades of green, and the simplicity of the design. I also enjoyed sitting in the garden quietly working on it here and there.
So yes, a good week. It's back to school and work tomorrow for seven more weeks. Deep breath, dig deep - it's going to be busy. But I am hoping for lots more good weather and time in the garden between now and then.
Welcome to May's Making the Seasons post, a monthly project between myself and my friend Lucy. I know that, throughout this series, I have been championing the delights of the small and seasonal project, something achievable and easy to do around the demands of everyday life, but not this month. This time, I found myself with a new book and a half term break coming up, and so I deliberately set aside some hours to myself to experiment with dyeing with indigo. I know that there is nothing particularly spring-like about dyeing fabric, but it is something best done outside and so the beautifully sunny and warm weather we had over the bank holiday weekend was perfect.
I have never dyed anything before. The tie-dye craze passed me by, and while I've seen lots of crafters dye with natural materials, or dye their own yarn, it never really appealed quite enough for me to want to learn a whole new skill. But then, on a whim really, I bought this book, and I think I am hooked. I'd really recommend it as an introduction to Shibori dyeing as the stages are set out very clearly, and the sewing projects inside are an inspiring way to see how Shibori patterns could be used on various garments or household items.
I didn't use the sewing projects though in the book though. Having already bought the book and then spent £25 on an indigo dye kit, and wanting to keep things as simple as possible, I decided to dye things I already had in the house rather than buying metres of cotton and linen, tempting though that was. I rummaged around for some unused plain white tea towels I knew I had somewhere and an old cream pashmina/scarf. I also bought a plain white linen table runner and some new cotton pillowcases and took it from there. (Indigo does not adhere to synthetic fibres so I had to make sure everything I used was a natural material.)
Making up the indigo dye is like following a recipe really; various things have to be weighed, combined and mixed to a paste, then something else is weighed and added before it's left somewhere warm for a little while. Then you get your water ready and add the dye concentrate to the water, then leave it again. I am not going to do a step by step tutorial here as I don't feel nearly expert enough, but there are loads online if you want to find out more.
Earlier that day, I had prepared my fabric. First I tried Shibori Kanoko, which is very similar to the Western tie-dye style. Sections of cloth are bound with string (or elastic bands - so easy to snip off afterwards!) in different ways. You can create a lovely sunburst pattern by folding the fabric into a square and then tying sections from a central point going outwards towards the edge, as I did for the scarf above. Or wavy stripes can be made if you concertina the fabric and place the bands or string at regular intervals along the length as I did in the tea towel at the top of the picture below.
Next was Shibori Itajime, which uses wood to create pattern, like these pegs in the tea towel above. The two pillowcases, below, I folded into triangles then sandwiched between two pieces of wood, tying the elastic bands as tight as I could.
Finally I tried Shibori Kumo, which I think is my favourite. Found objects, most often pebbles, are placed and secured creating lots of rings of different shapes and sizes, and this is what I used for my table runner.
The folded fabric needs to soak in water for a couple of hours before you can dye it.
The actual dyeing process happened much more quickly than I thought it would. It seemed to take less than a minute for the colour the take and deepen really quickly. I am curious to see what would happen if I left fabric for much longer, or even just for ten seconds, but for all that I dyed, it was no more than thirty seconds to a minute. While the fabric is in there, try to wiggle it around a bit to get as much dye into every section as possible, but don't splash it around as indigo does not like too much oxygen in the water apparently. No idea why, but it said so in the book and everything else I read online.
As soon as you remove the fabric from the dye vat, have a bucket of water ready. I removed my bindings at this stage, although you can also do it later if you like, but I just thought it would be easier to rinse. I had a few buckets and the hose lined up next to me in the garden to I could rinse and change the water quickly. When most of the colour seems to have gone, you do a final rinse with fresh water and some vinegar, then hang it on the line to dry.
After they'd dripped on the line a bit, I put them in the washing machine on a normal wash with some detergent, and dried them. This instantly faded the colour a little from the deep purplish blue to a softer, more denim blue which I much prefer.
Shall we look at the results? Oh, go on then. So the Itajime technique, where the fabric is folded between wood, created the most beautiful triangular pattern with a small amount of blue over a large white area. I really like this, it's ideal for these pillowcases as it's not too much.
The pegs create small, uniform white rectangles on a predominantly blue background as you see in the tea towel on the left.
While the one of the right has the wiggly stripes from the concertinaing and tying of the Kanoke technique.
With my scarf, I folded it in half before then folding into two squares which created a beautiful double sunburst pattern which is stunning.
This scarf was sat in the attic until last weekend, not worn for two or three years, and since dyeing it I've worn it every cloudy day this week. I feel like I have a whole new item of clothing!
And finally the table runner with the Kumo, or pebble, technique. Those irregular circles create a beautiful effect and it looks lovely on our outdoor table. (John made it a few weeks ago - I still haven't had time to put together a proper garden post but I will soon, I promise.)
There end my adventures with indigo dye. I absolutely loved it, and really want to do it again. I am very tempted to try a white duvet cover, and a t-shirt, and maybe some fabric so I can make things like cushion covers. John is threatening to stage an intervention if it all gets too out of hand. But the moment when you take the item out of the vat, undo the ties and see that it worked is so exhilarating, I can see how it would become addictive. I was giddy with excitement and dragged everyone out to the garden to see what I'd made.
I hope you've enjoyed reading about my dyeing fun. Please pop over to Lucy's blog, Attic24, to see what seasonal and creative wonders she has been creating in this beautiful month in her post.