Hands-on stuff…

February 2, 2020

The dark evenings and winter chill made me determined to finish the small rug/shower-room mat that had languished on my big twining loom since last spring was sprung.

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Our new shower mat – still needs a little tidying up!

That, plus the fact I’d agreed to run a little workshop on the subject of “simple forms of weaving” for our Guild’s Skills Day at the end of January. I got stuck in and finished the shower mat within a couple of evenings – it’s now in use – and warped the loom with torn-up sheets ready for the workshop. My “students” seemed to enjoy themselves and between us we did several inches of  a new, full-size rug in warm shades of brown, orange & light green, still ongoing here at home. However, during the day, it did occur to me that it would be good to have some smaller looms available for people to learn the technique on and hopefully complete something small but useful within a day.

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New rug under construction!

So I started looking around for some suitable wood, ordered a batch of beechwood pegs and raided a DIY superstore for eye-bolts, wing-nuts and stainless steel rods, as we also needed to buy a sander for our younger daughter’s latest project. (Which is possibly THE most expensive way of acquiring eye-bolts, all beautifully but individually packaged & priced to match!) We did have some old bed-slats in the garage roof, but eventually I decided that they were too wide to handle easily and too shallow to fix the pegs into securely. Then my eye fell on a batten that had once held a 6′ wide Roman blind… although it’s technically a soft wood, it proved to be very sturdy and quite hard to drill into, so I think it’ll stand the strain. So I chopped it into 18″ lengths, bolted those into a square, then drilled holes & inserted the pegs along the top & bottom. Once I’d sorted out a way to fix the rod down the side – random washers & wing nuts to the rescue – I had a slightly eccentric but entirely workable loom.

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Home-made 18″ twining loom

However it took me a couple of days, on & off round Real Life, to weave an 18″ square, which made me think it’s a little too large for what I was aiming at. So the next construction project will be a 12″ version. In the meantime I’ll be weaving a new top for a little old footstool, not to mention working on a set of matching chair pads for our mis-matched kitchen chairs. And then – I might just go 3d with it and maybe try a small basket to keep yarn in?

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A footstool in need of a twined makeover…

That’s one way to make a dent in my fabric stash! And there are plenty of others…

Putting a resolution into action…

January 4, 2020

Last night I woke with a start at 2am, as a random thought suddenly clicked into focus. I’d wondered a couple of times lately why the elderly chest freezer in the garage, which I’ve been meaning to defrost for months, had been switched to “super”, so I grumpily kept switching it back to normal. Maybe one of the girls needed to cool something rapidly & forgot about it? Maybe one of the cats trod on the switch?

No. In the dark of the night I realised that it was so iced-up it was running constantly, on “super” because normal just wasn’t maintaining the temperature any longer as warm air leaked in around the iced-up seals. So defrosting it suddenly leapt to the top of my “to-do” list & first thing this morning I was out there, hauling the contents out & stuffing them into a vast assortment of cool-boxes and insulating wraps – mostly old wool blankets. Luckily everything was still absolutely solid.

Then it struck me; oops, I had no idea how long some of the contents had been in there. It was high time for a good sort out… This freezer’s been great at keeping things very, very cold, but it is reaching the end of its expected life & showing the strain somewhat; I should be running the contents down & saving up ready to replace it within the year. So whilst it was defrosting enough to scrape the rest of the built-up ice off gently, I ran down to the market and invested in a notebook.

As stuff went back in, I logged it. I thought I only had a couple of packs of meat or fish in there; actually, there were 20-odd items. There’s cheese and butter. I thought I’d used the last of our home-grown beans up over Christmas, but there were 3 more bags in there. I’d completely forgotten the bags of grated golden courgettes, intended to bulk out soups & stews. There’s enough apple & pumpkin in the bottom to sink a battleship, and several bags of roasted butternut squash chunks. All of it carefully, lovingly & organically grown…

There’s no huge rush to use up the things I know only went in there a month or two ago, especially not as we still have trays of wrapped apples and several large squashes to eat up first. And the meat, not to mention the cheese, will see us through the next couple of months with very little need to visit a supermarket; the idea will be to use something from the freezer every other day at least. If I had a New Year’s resolution at all this year, it was to use up stuff that we already have; admittedly I was thinking of fabric & yarn, but it works across the board really. Here’s my chance!

Some of the other things had definitely been in there for longer than I cared to remember – raspberries, blueberries, & blackberries from 2018 or before, all of them market bargains or foraged from the hedgerows.  So I decided to make “Freezer Jam” with them, rather than let them go to waste.

I weighed the bags of fruit, then an appropriate amount of sugar – a little less than the total weight of the fruit; I don’t like my preserves too sweet – then chopped up the very last of this year’s quinces, hoping they’d provide at least a little pectin to set the jam. I chucked it all into my preserving pan & let it all melt down together. At this point I realised that some of the “blueberries” were in fact sloes, so had to stop & push the whole lot through a colander to remove the stones. But the taste was really gorgeous; deep, dark & tangy, well worth the extra work!

So now we have 5 full-size jars and 2 small ones of “Freezer Jam”. And yes, it seems to be setting just fine. When I made the Medlar jam, I said I hadn’t expected to be making jam in December. Well, I really hadn’t expected to be making it in January too!

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That said, there’s a bag of Seville oranges in the conservatory awaiting my attention…

Wishing you all…

December 24, 2019

… some calm amidst the mayhem, some things to smile at, some to laugh at, a chance to be merry, a chance to rest, a chance to create, enough to eat & drink, and special people to share it all with.

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Happy Christmas! 

I’m going crackers…

December 21, 2019

Having just finished dealing with the less-than-perfect apples, and making a batch of delicious medlar jam, I’ve found myself plunging headlong into Christmas again, about 6 weeks before I’m likely to be ready for it…

I’ll add more later, but for those of you, like me, bewildered by how time suddenly seems to speed up as the year turns towards its end and new beginnings, here’s the home-made cracker tutorial I promised you – about a year ago!

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Enough already!

November 2, 2019

I’m shattered. We’ve been lucky enough to have had a wonderful apple crop from the two big trees (an elderly Blenheim Orange and a Russet) this autumn; I remember worrying in Spring that it wasn’t getting pollinated, as I couldn’t see any bees on the blossom. However a couple of months later the kiwi fruit plant was humming with pollinators, so loudly that you could hear them from the road, so they are still out there somewhere.

IMG_3767 A huge apple crop is a mixed blessing; they need to be dealt with as soon as they fall, especially if they don’t have a soft landing, as many of ours don’t, and circumstances just didn’t allow that this year. So a young friend’s pigs benefited from quite a few sacks of windfalls.

We’ve filled all our wooden apple trays, and the freezer’s bursting at the seams. Some have been dehydrated, and many turned into chutney or a base for other jams. Those neighbours who didn’t see us coming in time have been issued with carrier bags full. The garden’s littered with windfalls again and I still have a big basket of undamaged hand-picked apples to process. It’s amazing how many interesting apple recipes there are out there to try; Toffee Apple ice-cream is a new favourite! But the best news is that the windfalls have attracted a hedgehog back to our garden, after several years of not seeing any evidence of them.

So the arrival of a large crop of tree-quinces too has not been greeted with unalloyed joy, delightful though they are! We had just started picking them – they’re usually a little later than the apples – when a gale hit last weekend and brought most of them crashing down. They may have been ready, but I wasn’t! Believe me, quinces are much harder than apples to peel & chop, even assisted by a food processor. My hands are aching! But the taste of Quince, Pineapple & Rosemary marmalade makes it all worthwhile… And I’m almost out of re-used jamjars again, despite a kind friend donating 3 large bags full.

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I’ve been up to some interesting projects over the summer and will post more about those shortly. I’ll also do a d-i-y Christmas Cracker tutorial, as promised last year. Now the evenings are dark again, I can mysteriously find time to sit at the computer again, rather than going for lovely long walks at the riverbank!

 

 

Denim strikes again!

July 20, 2019

Recently my little van needed to spend some time in “dry dock” having a spot of surgery. When I emptied her out – well, mostly – I was struck by the sheer amount of junk I’d been carrying around, particularly in my “beach” bag which used to hang over the back of the front passenger seat. There certainly were things appropriate to last-minute dashes to the beach – we live 20 minutes drive from Sandbanks, and it’s always pleasant to spend a sunny evening down there, usually on a whim – but also things I might need when I’m running the stall or doing a car boot sale. One or two tools, some for the van, but some in case I should come across an elderly sewing machine in distress. And a number of miscellaneous items I can’t imagine I’d ever need at all! All tangled up together so that I could hardly ever find what I actually needed & knew was in there somewhere

So, it was high time to rationalise, and tidy things up a bit. I had An Idea… our local recycling firm have recently opened a warehouse-shop where they deposit most of the rejected textiles they collect; some items (brand-new-with-tags, “quality” and “designer” stuff) are sorted onto hangers, which they charge a bit more for, but mostly you fish about in builder’s bags & pay 50p per item. I already had a fair bit of reclaimed denim, left over from making quilts & other things (including the old beach bag) but knew I wouldn’t have enough of the bits I needed for this job, so I popped down there & rescued 5 pairs of jeans to chop up.

A bit of cutting, twenty minutes or so of stitching, a bit of “chenilling” round the edges just because it pleases me, a quick wash, and lo & behold, my van now has pocketses! And there were still some pockets left, so I made another, different set to string across the rear of the back seat too, from headrest to headrest, to carry things that aren’t used so often but are still useful to have on board. With a bit of thought, I could have included a “secret” pocket in the front one, or one big enough to carry maps, but I’m happy with the result.

Now, of course, I have 10 cut-off legs, some waistbands, and some side-seams to stash away for the next Idea-with-denim that drifts my way!

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Following on…

June 20, 2019

… from “Another Cautionary Tale” where I acknowledged that many people are – somewhat cautious – about buying second-hand supplies and equipment, I’ve recently had a classic example come exploding into my own life. I was cruising our local charity shops looking for a little black cardi with ¾-length sleeves when I spotted something interesting hiding on a low shelf. An ice-cream maker… one of the very best makes, a Gaggia Gelatiera, not new but obviously not much-used, at about one-tenth of the original cost. PAT-tested, and that shop will refund without a fuss if things don’t work properly.

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Raspberry Sorbet under construction!

On a list of all the kitchen gadgets that are simply not necessary, ice-cream makers must come close to the top. But long ago I blew up my trusty Kenwood Chef, terminally, trying to make ice-cream, because I love good ice-cream, made with fresh ingredients that I can actually spell. We’ve made it a few times by dashing out to the garage, where the big chest freezer lives, and whisking frantically every now & then, but somehow we’d never achieved the smooth creamy deliciousness that I craved. I did consider saving up to buy a machine, but it certainly wasn’t a priority – and oh boy, did we need to prioritise! – and most of them didn’t make nearly enough for a family of seven plus the odd guest. I wanted one which did the whole job, rather than one where you need to freeze the bowl in advance; I knew I’d never be organised enough to put it in in advance, and if I left it in the freezer full-time, it used up space that could have been used to store food…

But now there are only four of us at home full-time. There’s a bit more space available, and I’m lucky enough to be in a position where I can frequently get brilliant bargains on fruit, thanks to our local market. So I barely hesitated; at that price, it had to be worth a try…

It’s wonderful. We’ve made loads of ice-cream & sorbet, and are about to start on the frozen yogurt. The web is a fantastic resource; there are loads of recipes out there, but most have to be adjusted to the size of our machine, which can only handle 600ml of contents at a time, though it came with two spare bowls & paddles, so we can always do several batches, one after another. So far we have made Stracciatella, Chocolate, Strawberry, Strawberry & Prosecco, Gin & Tonic, Cherry, Cherry & Mascarpone, Pineapple & Mango Sorbet, Raspberry Sorbet, Blood Orange & Star Anise Sorbet, & Kiwi Sorbet, many of those more than once! Kiwi sorbet is the only one that hasn’t been that popular, and I think I may try a different recipe next time I can get about 20 kiwis for £1.

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A batch of Cherry Ice Cream ready for the freezer…

Last Sunday I was given, for free, a huge bag of very ripe cherries “for your chickens” as my favourite greengrocers were starting to pack their stall down. About a quarter of them were “going over” and did go straight to the chickens (who love them) but the rest were perfectly acceptable provided I could use them up swiftly. Luckily I have an old tool for removing the stones from olives; it also works on cherries. I froze a large tray of them for future reference, gave some away, made another batch of cherry ice cream, and turned the remainder into jam, along with a few strawberries that needed to be used up, the next morning. The ice-cream has been stashed away in the big freezer, and hopefully one winter’s evening it will tickle our tastebuds into believing it’s summer once more. That said, there are lots of autumn/winter ice-cream recipes out there (blackberry & apple, quince & pear, lovely spicy things) and we’re beginning to get confident enough just to try things out for ourselves.

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So there you are; sometimes a secondhand bargain can let you try something out which will turn out to be well worthwhile!

 

One person’s patina…

June 9, 2019

…is another person’s dirt!

I didn’t rush to the Minster’s annual Fair yesterday. Having been unable to trade for the last six months, I have a backlog of stock to shift before I can start acquiring new pieces for my customers’ delight & delectation. But I couldn’t quite resist the lure of the bric-a-brac stall, and who doesn’t need a look through the secondhand books? You never know where you’ll find hidden treasure, even when you’re half-an-hour late…

I looked at it more than once; a little old – ladle? pot? measure? – with a long handle which looked as if it might be brass. It was mostly black and quite revoltingly greasy to touch; there was a space on the tabletop around it where other people had removed items but left this well alone. It looked as if it had spent the last 50 years in someone’s garage, accumulating a heavy coat of engine oil. But the feel was more – many years of chips, bacon and burgers – i.e. heavy kitchen grease, which is a bit more amenable to cleaning than engine oil.

“I think that’ll clean up OK,” I said as I handed over my 50p. The man behind the stall looked shocked. “But won’t that destroy the patina?” he asked, without a trace of irony.

From my point of view, there’s a big difference between patina – the honourable dings, scratches and scars of everyday use, the subtle sheen from years of handling – and sheer filth. And what’s right for an old oil-can that has spent years on a dusty garage shelf is just not appropriate on a culinary tool. People are simply not going to buy something to display (or just possibly use) in their kitchen, café or bar that looks and feels filthy, however “authentic”. I hope I’ve managed to clean it up & do it justice so that its cheeky-but-competent character shines through, along with that lovely coppery glow.

I can’t help wishing now that I’d taken a “before” picture so it would be obvious why no-one else had spotted this sweet little old handmade beauty, but here it is after half an hour with a toothbrush, a tiny quantity of 00-gauge wire wool, a cleaning agent intended for human skin, an Irish crochet hook and a lot of gentle scraping with a human thumbnail… It isn’t going to earn me a fortune, but it has earned a little place in my heart.

 

 

Another Cautionary Tale!

May 24, 2019

It’s been a while… but I am steaming towards fully-restored health now, and beginning to take up the reins of my little business, and feel up to nattering with the world again…

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A stall full of vintage oddities, fabulous old fabrics and genuinely useful stuff!

I know a lot of people are – cautious – about buying second-hand craft supplies and equipment; sometimes things have “moved on” and equipment has been vastly improved, designs are very different to what people wanted 30 years ago, and some supplies may not have been quite as well-kept as one would wish. Moths, for example, do not let you know they’ve invaded your stash…

HOWEVER there are huge savings to be made if you’re not averse to profiting by other people’s mistakes. I’m about to tell you a tale that I’ve heard many times, in one form or another, over the last ten years, the last example only yesterday. Here’s her story:

“I worked hard, all the hours of the day, for many years running my own business, but all along I just wanted to find the time to sit & stitch. I love stitched textiles passionately; my home is full of them, I buy them constantly and couldn’t imagine anything more inspiring than being able to make them myself! So I’d go to exhibitions when I was away on business trips, and buy all the stuff – kits and frames, special needles, scissors and collections of thread – and stash it all away for my retirement. Anyway, I retired last summer, and joined a stitching circle, and started work on a huge project at long last.

I hated it! It’s so darn fiddly and time consuming! I’d work hard all day, then realise that I’d only actually achieved a tiny amount and half of that was wrong and would have to be unpicked. A friend suggested trying a smaller project so that I’d feel it was more manageable, but I didn’t enjoy that any more than the big one. Then I became ill and couldn’t do any more. They’ve sat there in the corner since then, and now we need to downshift and won’t have room for anything we don’t need…”

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Poppy thinks of a use for a large unfinished tapestry…

And there was the lady who’d owned her spinning wheel from brand new, back in the 1980s, and had never actually put it together. Come retirement, again from running her own business, out it came, and was constructed with much delight. But sadly, she didn’t “take” to spinning. Having been someone who was just about instantly successful at everything she turned her hand to, we simply couldn’t get her to slow up enough to fall into the rhythm of spinning, so she became very frustrated and decided not to bother in the end.

Not to mention the large upright rug loom taking up quite a lot of space in our conservatory… I really, really do want to make beautiful Finnish-style rugs out of reclaimed textiles, but somehow I haven’t even got round to warping it up yet, and it’s been there for over a year. Admittedly I’ve had a few other things on my mind for the last six months, but once I’d got stuck in with my twining loom (which couldn’t be easier to use – you can just tear up old bedding & get straight on with it) the idea of calculating a warp & cutting thousands of wool strips before I could start to make anything with the big loom kind of receded from the top end of my to-do list!

So I’m advising you; if you’re attracted to a particular craft, try it out BEFORE investing a small fortune in equipment or dedicating a large amount of space to it. Most crafts have local groups of people working at different levels in a social setting, like the Guilds of Weavers Spinners & Dyers, or Lacemakers, or Quilters. Often these groups have equipment to try out, lend or hire out, and there are usually ways to acquire secondhand equipment and supplies inexpensively through them. Alternatively, there are friendly general craft & social groups out there, meeting in cafés, libraries and pubs, and experts prepared to share their skills and ideas for a small consideration, who will point you in the right direction for equipment & supplies.

Different equipment suits different users, too; it’s no good buying a spinning wheel just because it’s the same as everyone else has got, if it doesn’t suit your style of spinning, or you’re six inches taller or shorter than they are. Or knitting with standard cold metal needles if you have arthritis in your hands. You don’t need to spend vast amounts on fat quarters to make your first quilt; check out the 99p rails in your local charity shops as many gents’ shirts are made from pure high-quality cotton & there’s much more than a fat quarter in the back alone. As for tiered cotton skirts…

You don’t have to buy everything new. There will come a time when you know exactly what you need and only new will do, but until then, there are plenty of useful & delightful resources out there to do amazing things with; all you need to do is look…

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Fabric postcard being made from reclaimed stained table linen & reclaimed beads from a broken necklace, on a secondhand sewing machine!

 

A silver lining?

March 3, 2019

I’ve been somewhat subdued this winter for health reasons (full story here should you wish to know more) and not actually able to do the things I’d planned, as my hands, not to mention my poor brain, just wouldn’t – couldn’t – work properly, thanks to peripheral neuropathy. So I was rather glad to have the time to get to grips with yet another simple form of weaving whilst demolishing a large pile of old bedding that had gone beyond reasonable use or otherwise become surplus to requirements.

For a long time I’ve been intrigued by twined weaves, and also by rag rugs; my great-aunt Bet had a wonderful collection of “slip-mats” of one sort or another, so-called because if you jumped on them at just the right angle, you could slip & slide all the way down her highly-polished hallway floor! I loved the textures, the patterns & the colours, and I’m sure some of them were twined, some hooked and some prodded, though no-one now can remember where she got them or indeed, whether she’d made them herself.

Anyway, this was my first effort, woven on a Libbylula twining loom, following instructions found on YouTube, entirely from old bedding torn into 2″ strips, including the warp:

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It’s just done with very simple blocks of colour, working from alternate ends inwards. Joins are very random, occurring wherever the previous colour ran out or I just decided to change colours. I’m not sure about the “fringe” but it’s staying put for now.

And for my next trick, I decided to experiment with colour & pattern a bit. But I wasn’t the only one enjoying the simple, manageable rhythms of over, under, twist…

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Poppy “helped” every inch of the way! And here she is, staking her claim to the finished article:

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It won’t stay in the living room; it’s not the right colours and to be honest, I went overboard with the patterning a bit! But it’s shown me how it works, and what’s pleasing to the eye, and what isn’t, or just doesn’t show up on that scale.

As the pile of our own deceased bedding diminished, I found that one of our local charity shops was very happy to dispose of donated bedding, which they don’t sell, for a better price than the ragman would give them. So I now have an even bigger pile of bedding to rip into strips, but it’s in “better” colours for my purposes. I’m also planning to experiment with 3-D weaving & weaving without a frame, which are also possible with this technique; most willow baskets are woven this way. Not to mention trying out alternative materials; English Bullrushes, packing tape & baler twine spring to mind.

So a period of less-than-perfect health and enforced “leisure” have opened new horizons for me. Every cloud has a silver lining, eh?