I hope you’ve had an excellent Christmas and holiday season. I had a very restful time – unfortunately I wasn’t well over the Christmas weekend, but at least it forced me to have a proper break, and we had a lovely peaceful time.
I am planning some changes… I’ll write more about them over the coming weeks, but my first step is to have a big declutter at home and a destash of my fabric hoard. I have a real sense that I want to sweep the decks clean!
So, if you are interested in a fabric bargain, I am selling via my Instagram destash account – veryberrydestash, and this will take at least a month to do, so don’t despair if you’ve missed out so far. I know not everyone has an IG account and I apologise for working from there, it’s just the easiest, cheapest way. You could always set up a private account on IG on a temporary basis if you’d like to do some shopping…
Before and after in the destash area:
As usual, at the start of the year, I want to say a big thank you for all your support in 2017 – and let’s look forward to lovely, absorbing creative adventures in 2018.
There’s a massive cross-over, I know, between fabric obsessives and stationery obsessives… Pretty notebooks, washi tape, cute paperclips, fun stickers and most of all, fabulous pens, so I know a lot of you lovely readers out there will be fans of uni-ball pens. Personally I absolutely love my Posca pens – they’re great for writing and drawing on fabric, and such fun for other projects too.
Have you heard about the Painted Rocks phenomenon? People decorate rocks then leave them for other people to find – then exchange sightings on Facebook groups like this one in the UK. I decorated these pebbles with Posca pens for my garden a couple of years back, but I’m definitely planning to make some more and use them to join in with the giant hide and seek game.
These are really nice pens – I am already a big fan. They seem to encourage neat handwriting somehow, they are such a pleasure to write with, and there’s a good range of colours too so they are great for bullet journalling, for designing and for keeping sewing project notes.
To be in with a chance of winning just leave a comment on this blog post before 6pm on Monday 18th December. I’m very happy for you to just type ‘pick me’, or alternatively you could let me know what you’d use your pens for if you win. UK-based entrants only please (sorry to overseas readers). Good luck!
Disclosure: uni-ball very kindly sent me some pens in return for promoting their competition and giveaway.
My Listens of the Week have so far have been quite cerebral in their tone, so before you get the wrong idea about me… this week I want to recommend something a bit different for your Podcast time.
I always describe Dear Sugars as a sort of extended Agony Aunt (and Uncle) column (which I think was how it started originally, in the New York Times). It pitches itself as a podcast for ‘the lost, lonely and heartsick’, but you don’t have to be any of those really – you just need to enjoy listening to the thoughtful, well-considered responses to listeners’ dilemmas about love, friendships, relationships and life in general.
The topics are really diverse – recently they have covered the impact of early bereavement, the ending of friendships, sexless marriage, body weight and romance, and owning pets…!
One of the things I really enjoy about the show is the dynamic between the two presenters, Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond. They don’t always agree, and they aren’t at all predictable in their responses, which always makes it an interesting listen. They also have special guests who often have some insight into the problem being discussed. I absolutely love this episode -“My Best Friend’s Wedding” which has the novelist Ann Patchett as a guest. More recently they have had Oprah Winfrey on the show, and Hillary Clinton too in an episode intriguingly titled “The Double Bind of Female Ambition” (I haven’t listened to that one yet, I’m saving it for over Christmas).
As well as being intriguing and entertaining, I also really appreciate the opportunity to challenge some of my rather middle-aged values and and preconceived ideas about relationships and friendship. I don’t always change my mind, but I really value the opportunity to reflect on it all whilst I’m working away at my sewing machine.
If you have a listen, do let me know how you like it.
At this time of year, it’s so useful to have some recipes for quick sweet treats that you can turn to, when needed, for a unexpected get-together, surprise guests, a bring and share party, or a quick foodie gift. These blondies, which if you don’t know, are a kind of non-dark-chocolate-brownie, with all the deliciously fudgy sweetness that that implies, exactly fit the bill. They take about 10 minutes to stir up, are out of the oven in 25 mins, max (20 in my fan oven), and are pretty much foolproof.
I am not going to apologise for the fact that these are super super sweet – my solution to this is to cut them into very small pieces – no more than a couple of inches square, or you could even cut them to petit fours size. Of course, then you have to really work on the temptation to scoff more than one…! Feel free to play around with the additions – next time round I am going to try dark chocolate pieces and chopped apricot – and there’s definitely potential for chopped roast hazelnuts and sour cherries…
A word about crystallised ginger – a few years ago I discovered Crazy Jack’s crystallised ginger – which I fell in love with because it was so much more spicy, gingery and seemed to bear much more relation to actual ginger than other available versions. Sadly, Crazy Jack stopped doing this wonderful stuff and I have been searching for something similar ever since. Finally I have found it – Whitworths Fiery Crystallised Ginger is absolutely brilliant – spicy and quite definitely fiery, and here it makes a brilliant contrast with the soft creamy flavour of the white chocolate, so if you can get hold of it (and most supermarkets seem to stock it here in the UK) then do give it a try.
40g crystallised ginger, chopped into small pieces
50g white chocolate, chopped into small pieces
Preheat oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4 (170/Gas Mark 3 for a fan oven) and line a 8 inch (20cm) square baking tray (or equivalent-ish – I have used a 7 inch tin with no problems) with baking parchment.
Melt the butter over a low heat in a large pan.
Remove the butter from the heat and add the sugar straight to the pan. Beat the sugar into the butter for about a minute, the texture of the mixture will change a bit and stick more to the sides of the pan as you beat it – that’s what you are aiming for.
Beat in the egg until the mixture is nice and smooth.
Stir the flour and ground ginger into the mix, quite gently, until everything is thoroughly combined.
Stir in the milk and then the ginger and chocolate pieces.
Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 20 minutes in the first instance. The blondies need to be just barely set when you take them out of the oven and it’s always best to err on the squidgy side (they will firm up as they cool), but you can add an extra couple of minutes if you need to.
Leave to cool for 10 minutes or so in the tin, then transfer to a cooling rack. Cut into slices when cool.
These blondies keep for 3 or 4 days in an air-tight tin, or they freeze very well too. I freeze them between layers of greaseproof paper in a plastic box, which means you can sneak one out and quickly defrost it when you are in need of a boost (don’t tell anyone…).
Mug rugs are such cute little projects and make lovely gifts. If you’re not a quilter, you might not have encountered them before – the idea is that they are larger than a coaster and smaller than a place mat – ideal for a cuppa and a side order of festive treats…! If you are gifting a mug rug, I love the idea of including a label with a bit of explanation of what it is – something like this perhaps, although probably with some washing instructions too.
‘Mug rugs’ make really nice wall art too – in fact I’d say that quite often there’s a very fine line between quilted postcard and mini-quilt and that line goes straight through the middle of a mug rug..!
I developed this pattern for my Christmas stitchy club, and even the beginners finished their mug rugs with in the 2 and a half hours we had available, so I’d say this is a nice quick project (especially if you are already good with patchwork, Bondaweb etc.) and also very achievable for a new stitcher.
This is a self-binding project, so the backing will also form the binding – make sure that the fabric you choose for the back will work well as a binding on the front.
The finished mug rug is 6.5 inches by 8.5 inches.
The seam allowance is 0.25in throughout.
You will need
Strips of fabric at least 1.5in by 7in for the tree and the patchwork
At least 6.5in square of background fabric (the dotty fabric on my mug rug)
At least 8.5in by 10.5in fabric suitable for the backing and binding
Small piece of Bondaweb (at least 4.5 inches square).
Spray baste (optional)
For the patchwork strip and the appliqué tree cut 6 strips measuring 7 inches by 1.5 inches.
For the appliqué background and side strip cut one piece measuring 5in by 6.5in and one piece measuring 1.5in by 6.5in.
For the back and binding cut a piece of fabric measuring 10.5in by 8.5in.
Cut a piece of batting measuring 8.5 by 6.5 inches.
Make the patchwork strip and appliqué tree
Stitch the six 7in by 1.5in strips together and press the seams open:
Cut this patchwork piece into 2 sections measuring 3 inches by 6.5 inches and 4 inches by 6.5 inches.
Draw an isosceles triangle measuring 4 inches high and 3.5 inches across the base on the paper side of the Bondaweb piece and cut out roughly.
Iron the Bondaweb triangle onto the back of the 4in by 6.5in piece of patchwork.
You can position the Bondaweb however you like, but avoid having any very narrow strips at the top or bottom of the tree. Cut out the tree shape:
From the left-over fabric cut out a small rectangle to form the tree trunk/pot and back with Bondaweb.
Making the mug rug top
Decide which way up you want the patchwork strip to be. Pin the 5in by 6.5in piece of background fabric right sides together with the left hand long edge of the patchwork strip.
Stitch (you don’t need to reverse stitch), then press the seam towards the patchwork strip.
Repeat the above with the 1.5 inch by 6.5 inch piece of background fabric to the other side of the patchwork strip:
Rocky Road is such a great make for party/treat season – packaged up, it would also make a fabulous gift. It’s versatile too because you can fancy it up to make it rather sophisticated, or you can add all kinds of colourful goodies if you want to go to town with the festive cheer.
It’s also a really useful recipe if you are baking for someone who is gluten-free. All you need to do is to take care to make sure that the biscuits and any other ingredients that you add are gluten-free – easy! Of course, if you are baking for someone with Coeliac disease, you need to be incredibly strict and make sure that the chocolate is also gluten-free (i.e. not have a ‘may contain’ listing on the packaging) and it also absolutely vital to make sure your kitchen surfaces/tools etc. are spotless too – there’s loads of advice about what you need to do on the Coeliac UK website.
For UK readers, I also wanted to give you a heads up on how deliciously tasty Sainsbury’s Freefrom Rich Tea biscuits are, and how well they work in this recipe. They are lovely and buttery, and not too sweet, which is absolutely perfect for a recipe which is unapologetically rich. I also added Freefrom Ginger Crunch Cookies – these give a hint of ginger and a lovely bit of chewiness too. Perfect!
The great thing about Rocky Road, of course, is that you can mix things up so easily – swap in different cookies and biscuits and add extra ingredients, like marshmallows, dried fruit or nuts, a little bit of spice, or other sweet treats – just make sure, if you need to, to check EVERY ingredient for gluten. Next time I make these (for people that I know like nuts!) I will add walnuts and maybe some extra stem ginger too.
I prefer a much higher biscuit to chocolate ratio in my Rocky Road than you will find in most recipes… try it, you might find that you agree.
150g crunchy ginger biscuits (preferably with added stem ginger
200g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
2 tbsp golden syrup
1/2 tsp ground ginger
Line a shallow baking tin with baking parchment. The pan I used was 23cm square – but you don’t have to be too accurate about this – if your pan is smaller, the Rocky Road will just be a bit thicker.
Break the chocolate into pieces and put into a large pan with the butter and syrup. Melt them gently together, stirring occasionally. Make sure the chocolate mixture doesn’t get too hot.
Put the biscuits in strong plastic bag and use a rolling pin to crush them. You need to aim for a texture that includes bite-size pieces as well as small bits, you definitely DON’T want a uniform small crumb. You can do this in a large bowl with a
Stir the biscuits and ground ginger into the melted chocolate.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and then put into the fridge for at least 2 hours, until it is set.
Slice into small pieces with a sharp knife and store in a airtight box. These kept really well for 3 or 4 days – they also freeze and defrost excellently.
I’m not that great with self-help books – as soon as I see the words ‘this book will change your life’ on the cover, I am absolutely not picking up that book. So I was mightily suspicious of all the fuss about Brené Brown, whose TED Talks on Vulnerability and Shame were viral sensations, and who has written several self-help-type books which result in reviews like “A mind-blowing, life-changing read … gets to the heart of life” (Red magazine on Rising Strong).
But friends were enthusiastic – and you have to trust *them*, right? And, as a result, I’ve become a bit of a Brené-Brown-on-YouTube addict. Her talks/presentations are like a 25 minute boost of pep talk when you are wondering why you have bothered to leave the house or even get out of bed at all. She’s pretty wise and very sharply humorous, and I get the impression that she is a fairly normal woman talking about her lived experience, which is not the feeling I sometimes get from other Internet sensations….
One of my favourites on YouTube is a lesser known talk she made at a 99U (“The mission of 99U is to empower the creative community”) conference. She addresses the vulnerability of the creative life and how hard that can be, but stresses the importance of ‘showing up and being seen’, encouraging us to welcome our critics and allowing them sit in the audience. But I won’t spoilerise too much – hope you enjoy it yourself, it’s just a 25 minute listen and well worth your time.
Brené Brown: Why Your Critics Aren't The Ones Who Count - YouTube
And if you enjoyed the listen, you might enjoy a post I wrote earlier this year about working with your inner committee – which has some ideas that work really well with Brené Brown’s suggestions about how to deal with criticism.
The quantities listed here are for the seven cards.
5 scraps of colourful fabric measuring at least 1 by 8 inches for the appliqué trees.
Scraps of white/cream fabric measuring at least 2.75 by 3.75 inches (you will need 7 of these) to back the trees.
Scraps of medium-weight iron-on interfacing measuring at least 2.75 by 3.75 inches (you will need 7 of these).
Scraps of fabric measuring at least 3.5 by 4.75 inches to use for the colourful background fabric – I found two-colour fabrics with small print sized (e.g. polka-dots) worked really well for this.
Bondaweb (at least 2.5 by 8 inches)
A4 card (at least 4 sheets)
Make the strip patchwork piece:
From the colourful fabric strips cut 2 strips measuring 0.75 by 8 inches, and 3 strips measuring 1 by 8 inches. Stitch them together along the long edges with a 1/4 inch seam. The 3 wider pieces need to be in the middle, and the narrow strips on either side. Don’t worry about which way up the strips are:
And it definitely doesn’t matter if things go a bit wonky:
Press the seams of the patchwork open – they will nearly meet in the middle, don’t worry about this:
Make the appliqué pieces:
Cut a piece of Bondaweb measuring 2.5 by 8 inches and iron it onto the back of the patchwork piece. I find that the easiest way to do this is to lay a piece of baking parchment on my ironing board, then put the pieced fabric, wrong side facing, on top, then the Bondaweb, glue side down, on top, like this:
Cut out the Christmas trees:
Mark 2 inch intervals along the bottom edge of the patchwork piece (on the Bondaweb side). On the top edge, measure 1 inch along, then mark the next three 2 inch intervals:
Use a ruler and the marks you’ve made to cut out triangles:
You’ll get 7 triangles from the fabric strip:
Apply the appliqué
Cut a piece of plain fabric measuring approximately 2.75 by 3.75 inches and back with a similar sized piece of iron-on interfacing (this isn’t essential, but I found it gave more structure to the cards and also stopped the backing fabric from showing through quite so much).
Peel the back off the Bondaweb and position the appliqué on the fabric and iron into place on the white fabric.