Knit your own Christmas tree…

December 6, 2016

Not really! But surely I’m not the only person dismayed by the price of “real” trees and the profligacy of a society that just throws out perfectly good imitation trees just because they’re not this year’s colour or shape, or don’t fit the space available any more?

This week it became apparent that a small, pre-decorated Christmas tree might make a nice surprise for someone. So off I went to my favourite emporium, the local Tip, where needless to say they’ve been inundated with redundant Christmas trees over the last few weeks. A few pennies secured me a promising well-taped-up box, which said it contained a 6′ “Woodland Pine” tree. As the box was only about 3′ long, I was fairly sure that this would be easily re-jigged into a smaller tree, and so it proved when I got home; three graduated trunk sections, with lots of slot-in “branches”, taped with different colours according to size. It just took a minute with a pair of pliers to move the fitting that the top piece of the tree sits in from the middle to the lowest section of the trunk, and a small bit of masking tape wound round to make it stay put in the larger tube, making a 3-4′ tree. The smaller branches slot into the lower trunk perfectly well, and the plastic stand was unbroken. It’s not a thing of beauty, but I’ve tied a festive-coloured scarf around it so it’s not visible.

I happened to be visiting the city this morning, and visits to £land and W!lko’s secured me two small sets of battery lights, one clear and one coloured. The intended recipient doesn’t bend too easily, so I thought battery lights would be easier for them to cope with. I’d already bought some pretty acrylic “jewel drops” for our own tree; there were more in the box than we’ll need, so I put some on the little tree to scatter the lights. And I’ve made some felt hearts out of old, moth-eaten blankets, stitched round with gold thread rescued from old needlework boxes, and some of those have found their way onto the tree too.

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However I did bust the budget when it came to topping the tree; it had to be an angel or a star, and I didn’t have anything suitable, or enough time to make something. So off we trotted to a town up the road which has a an all-year-round Christmas shop, where I invested in a pretty little glass angel, which gives the impression of being lit up with an LED or two underneath her. But she is not in any way begrudged; I’m just glad that saving money on the tree itself has allowed me to buy the loveliest tree-topper in town!

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Farewell, Tino…

November 16, 2016
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Tino just before she sat on the Christmas cake…

Some years ago, just before Christmas, my youngest announced that she wanted a cat, a long-haired black cat called Valentino. As we already had several cats, it seemed necessary to gently discourage this idea, but she is a young lady of great determination…

At about the same time, I became aware of a little dark shadow, flittering around the edges of the garden at dawn & dusk; a very nervous cat. If I looked directly towards it, it would whisk away behind the nearest shrub. But not very fast; the poor little soul seemed to have a heavy limp, and never jumped, and seemed to be reduced to eating scraps that we’d put out for our handful of backyard chickens. Gradually it seemed to decide that I wasn’t much of a threat, and made itself more visible, and I could see that it was very thin, with a long black matted coat. On Christmas Day it seemed unfair not to leave a saucer of chopped-up turkey giblets down beside the shed that it seemed to be living under, well away from where the chickens could get at it. I never saw the cat, but the giblets had disappeared before the washing-up was done.

From then on, I took to leaving a little saucer of food out once the birds had gone to bed at dusk or before they came out in the morning. The cat slowly gained confidence, and came out to eat as soon as I produced the goods, or even sat & waited for it, up by the pond. It was still very shy, but more & more at ease with my presence; I talked to it and it seemed to listen. We were into the early summer before I casually reached out to stroke its head one day. Mis-step! It was horrified that I would take such a liberty; hissed, spat, swiped my hand,  and wouldn’t come near me for days. But offerings of food gradually won it back over, and we were eventually allowed to stroke its head – but only its head; a hand straying anywhere else was clearly a diabolical liberty.

We had no idea whether it was male or female, but it sprayed, so we assumed it was male. And needless to say, it acquired the name Tino, being suitably black & long-haired, and did seem to answer to that, although it was always clear that its hearing was not all a feral cat’s hearing needs to be; an approach from behind would cause utter panic, to start with. The poor creature also had a great big wodge of felted fur under its chin, almost from ear to ear and down to the top of its legs, which I periodically tried to loosen, thinking it must be very uncomfortable, but the cat simply wasn’t going to allow that until I introduced a pet-comb, which was evidently much safer than a hand. I was allowed to run that down its back, and tease away at the edge of the tangled beard-mat, which eventually fell off of its own accord, and with regular food and combing the long black coat became fluffy & luxuriously soft. Though in summer sunshine, it became chocolate brown, rather than black, except the head, tail & paws.

It was just about two years before she finally set one cautious paw on the threshold of our conservatory. And one paw was all it was, until the next day, when two paws & a head came in before nerves got the better of her; by then, a brave and knowledgable neighbour had managed to pick her up briefly and get a glimpse of her rear end to establish she was actually a female, something we’d never managed to do. A week or so later, as the January cold set in, she found a nice box with a wool blanket under the table in the conservatory, and took up residence indoors. Our other cats didn’t turn a hair… it was as if she’d always been there, and maybe she had been, tucked away quietly in the margins of our garden and our lives, invisible until she needed our help, and no threat whatsoever to our motley crew of resident moggies.

More cautious steps of the paw, and she started to turn up in the kitchen at mealtimes along with the others, who seemed to accept her as one of their own from the word go; she seemed to watch and copy them to work out how to behave in such as strange environment. Then one evening, a little head poked around the door into the living room; it was several months before she’d come up onto a chair with a human occupant, but eventually she did, and discovered that we possess the odd horizontal surface when sitting down. So she would slowly advance onto a lap, paw by cautious paw, then sit bolt upright in case the owner tried to commit any liberties. It was months before she relaxed enough to lie down & curl up, and the jumping-up never came easily to her.

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Tino on the sofa, bolt upright…

We took her to the vet, who pronounced her definitely female, pretty much healthy, possibly a bit arthritic given her trouble with jumping, and probably about ten years old. She showed no sign of ever having had kittens, so may have been rounded up & spayed as a kitten, as there’s a known colony of feral cats not too far from us. I will always think that she might have been rather older than that, but she’d evidently had a hard life before coming to us, and I don’t think she had ever been someone’s pet; when she first appeared, I checked with all the local vets and charitable organisations, and no-one had reported losing a cat of her description.

She brought many moments of sheer delight into our lives; watching her adjust to domesticity was a joy. Especially her little start of surprise & delight every time she wandered past the food bowl and found something edible  in it, though she was never greedy. And the moment when she inadvertently sat on the Christmas cake will always be a treasured memory.

A couple of weeks ago, we noticed that weight seemed to be falling off her rapidly, and her lovely soft coat was becoming thin; we took her to the vet, who diagnosed kidney problems. Sadly there was nothing much anyone could do, although she wasn’t in any pain or distress. But yesterday she lost all interest in food, something we never thought we’d see. So this afternoon we took her back and held her as she went to gently off to sleep; the final kindness. She’d spent the day either dozing in my daughter’s lap in front of the fire or tottering out to the pond to drink; she was never impressed with tap water and by the pond, dozing gently or watching life go by, was where she really loved to be best, weather permitting.

So, to anyone out there who is thinking of giving a home to a feral cat – it can be done, if that’s what the cat wants and you can be patient and win their trust. And it’s very, very rewarding; our lives have been the richer for having this small, cautious, fiercely intelligent & determined little soul under our roof for the last few years. Farewell, Tino; it’s been our privilege to share our lives with you for a while…

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Tino soaking up the sunshine by the pond…

There are times…

September 29, 2016

…when I have neither the time nor the heart to make much. September’s been a full-on month, with several commitments that I felt I couldn’t try to wriggle out of, whatever else was going on, a couple of vague attempts to make some money towards the festive season, and another heart-lurching health challenge for my elderly mother.

And it’s harvest time; my absolute favourite thing to do, ever, is to go foraging in our hedgerows, with the sun on my back, birdsong in my ears. Yesterday I managed a short run out to the woods, and came back with a basket half-full of little yellow crab-apples, a handful of blackberries (which, sadly, have started to rot on the vines, thanks to the rain & grey skies) sloes & rosehips. There are apples & quinces coming down in the garden, too. Yesterday evening & all day today, I haven’t been outrageously busy, so I’ve managed to carve out the time to chop & boil up the two quinces that had split, the crab apples and the little blackberries. Then to let the mush drip all night, add sugar and boil up until “wrinkly” today. Luckily I had a lot of clean jamjars to scald, too, with new lids.

So now there are 8 jars of lovely deep-pink Quince & Crab-Apple Jelly (recipe here) cooling on my kitchen table, and I feel as though my feet have touched the ground again… but there’s a good chance that I’ll need to make a quilt soon, too, as a house-warming  present! Fingers crossed for them…

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I have no idea why this pic has “tiled” itself… Good job it’s not a face!

Just a quick laugh…

September 7, 2016

Overheard whilst restocking my stall at the lovely Toad Hall last week…

“Oooh look, that looks just like Mum’s old one! You remember, the one we threw out last month?”

“Oh yes! But hers was filthy… shall we get this for her, to replace that one?”

Oh yes they did… sigh!

 

Why wouldn’t you…?

August 8, 2016

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It was crumpled up inside a plastic bin-liner at the market on Saturday, but something about it caught my eye… on closer inspection, it was part of a quilt. And looking closer still, probably part of a painstakingly hand-made quilt; the only machine-stitches I’ve been able to find were those joining the backing piece. It cost me part of £3, along with a number of other items.

At some point, someone has hacked a fair bit of it off, hopefully to do something intelligent with; I think it was probably king-size to start with and is now about 4′ x 6′; the pattern has been interrupted both lengthways and widthways. They’d left one edge with the original binding, zig-zagged roughly down another, but left the last two raw. An interrupted project, from an unwanted gift, maybe? At first I thought it was probably one of the lovely Marks & Spencers’ Indian-made quilts, but when I realised that the piecing was all hand-stitched as well as the quilting,  I decided that hand-made was more likely.

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Anyway, to cut a long story short, I knew I’d have some suitable plain fabric to make a quick American-style binding with, in a not-unsympathetic colour. So I bought it, and told the stallholder (whose wife knows her quilts & exactly what they might earn them) what I was planning to do with it. As I walked away I couldn’t help overhearing,  sotto-voce, “But why would you…?”

Why wouldn’t I?! If I were making a quilt (well, I usually am!) it wouldn’t be my first choice of colours or styles. Far too much like hard work! But the colours fit into my draughty little living room like a hand into a glove. Binding’s not hard, and doesn’t take long; it was done by Sunday evening, sitting outside in the sunshine, fitted around other everyday tasks. And I absolutely respect the work and the skill that’s gone into this one, even if it’s just a remnant of what it once was.

I love being surrounded by, and using, lovely things that have been made with skill, care and love, which have often survived the tests of time. And I love “rescuing” things that others consider beyond consideration. Sometimes I use them in “upcycling” projects, sometimes I sell them on, but sometimes they just make themselves at home here…

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Rescued from an old, stained linen petticoat…

 

A very quick update…

April 26, 2016

I’m kind of busy just now… Sadly I’ve decided to close down the stall at Molly’s Den, and re-open one at Toad Hall here in Wimborne instead. I got into this lark as a maker/recycler, rather than a dealer, but seem to be quite good at sourcing resources that other people want to use, too. Gradually I’ve stopped making things and was spending all my time hunting up things to sell, and it wasn’t making me very happy. Not to mention the fact that it was making my home very cluttered, which wasn’t making my family very happy.

Handmade doesn’t really “work” at Molly’s Den, except for upcycled furniture, which I don’t have the space to do. So I’m going back to somewhere where it does, cutting down what I sell to what I sell best, i.e. vintage & reclaimed sewing & crafting supplies, and going back to having some fun playing with all the lovely fabrics and trimmings that I find. I’ll be spending part of the summer haunting the local car boots, offloading any stock I can’t shift in a massive sale before closing the stall at Molly’s at the end of May. So that’s my “news”- there’ll be a return to normal posting very shortly!

Baking, 1950s-style…

March 13, 2016

In amongst the acres of vintage knitting patterns in the last job lot, I found these:

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At first glance I thought they were from the 1970s, but no…

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1949 & 1950. Older than me! I can’t resist a vintage recipe, and when I came across this page, being a good West Country girl, I had to try the brownies…

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I have to admit to a little bit of doctoring; I don’t have any margarine, so I used butter, which of course would still have been on “ration” in 1950. I doubled up the quantities, realising that the amounts given weren’t likely to feed seven, and I used 4 eggs, as they were bantam eggs. Both sets of my grandparents kept poultry right through WWII and the 50s, as did many, if not most, rural – and some urban – households, so egg-rationing never applied to them. They received poultry feed, which was bulked out with vegetable waste & peelings, instead of shop-bought eggs, and by the end of the War, a quarter of the country’s supply of eggs were home-produced.

And energy use was an issue for our forebears too; I’m afraid I cheated & made the brownies the American way, by melting the butter & sugar together, beating in the chocolate & eggs, then mixing in the other ingredients at the last minute. Much easier on the arms than creaming the butter & sugar, but a few pence more spent on fuel…

But I’m delighted to report that they tasted exactly as I remember brownies at our parish teas, back in the early 60s; much less sugary & gooey than modern ones, but very pleasant in their own distinctively chocolatey, nutty way. I rather think they’d be wonderful warm, with rich West Country cream…

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West Country Chocolate Brownies, from Good Housekeeping’s More Cake Recipes, 1950  – with my own updates/adjustments!

3oz (85g) walnuts

2oz (60g) chocolate

3oz (85g) margarine or lard (I used butter)

2oz (60g) sugar

1 egg (or 2 bantam eggs!)

4oz (115g) flour (I used spelt, which I think is closer to the flour available in the early 1950s)

¼ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

A little milk

Chop the walnuts and melt the chocolate in a basin over a pan of hot water. Cream together the fat and sugar until soft and white, then beat in the egg. Sieve in flour, baking powder and salt and mix well together. Add the nuts and the melted chocolate, and a very little milk to give a soft consistency, Spread into a greased tin and dredge the top with a little sugar. (I forgot this last step, but vouch for it being there in the 60s!) Bake in a moderate oven (350℉/180℃/Gas Mark 5) for ½ hour, or until cooked. Cut into squares while still warm, using a sharp knife, and allow to cool in the pan.

And eat with rich West Country cream…

Next one up will be the dough cake, which looks suspiciously like Lardy Cake, without lard!

 

Rainy days…

March 9, 2016

It was quite tempting, this morning, to pull the wool over my my eyes and stay in bed… I have a lovely cosy wool duvet, which has proved to be a sound investment as it’s lasting really well and seems to keep me at the perfect temperature, winter or summer; no mean feat, with a lady of a Certain Age. Anyway, the wind was howling through the holly tree and the rain was hammering against the window panes; not exactly conducive to leaping out of bed with a happy smile and a willing heart.

But rainy days, like the clouds that spawn them, have silver linings. It’s a chance to catch up with some cooking – a batch of hob-nobs, some chicken stock & soup, and an aubergine bake all got done this morning – a little light housework (though it’s far too dark & grim for spring cleaning) and one or two projects that have been sitting on the back-burner for a while.

A number of vintage dressmaking patterns have been checked over before being offered for sale, and my neighbour’s handcranked sewing machine has been sorted out – I hope!

And this sturdy but curious little suitcase had been tripping people up in the conservatory for months. I’m not sure what it originally held – a musical instrument, maybe? – but it had a dark red plush lining, part of which had been ripped out. But I couldn’t help thinking that it would benefit from being introduced to some of the leftover sofa fabric… Result!

And here’s my “find” of the week: a set of 5 pristine vintage aluminium pans, most likely from the late 1940s. They came in with a vast collection of old knitting patterns, dating from the 1930s through to the 1970s; it seems from the few letters, etc. amongst them that the lady who collected them got married some time in the 1940s, and these look very much like a wedding present that had been stashed away and never used. They do have all their lids, and were separated by brown paper bags from Bourne & Hollingsworth of Oxford Street, W1.

Off now to sort out the best part of 1,000 vintage knitting patterns!

The last laugh…

March 1, 2016

My fellow traders were pretty good, all in all, not to laugh out loud at me last Friday. A really superb rose-covered 4-piece suite came into the dump, fabulous quality & beautifully made, but alas, huge! Too big for the ex-owners’ new home, or in fact most of the housing stock around here. I pleaded with the manager to give it a day on sale, because someone would have had an excellent bargain there – they can’t charge more than £10 for anything, and this lot would have cost thousands when it was new. Really, really comfortable, too; the back cushions & scatter cushions are all feather-stuffed and it still had all its fire labels and was in very good condition.

But no-one had claimed it by the time I went back, just before closing, so before it went into the skip I “skinned” it. Cue a number of raised eyebrows & knowing smiles from the other traders hanging around in hope of someone throwing out Rolex watches, Wedgwood china or a Hepplewhite chair – which does sometimes happen, around here – but they were very good and didn’t laugh out loud. It was quite easy to strip the covers off as they were all zipped to be removable for cleaning.

There’s a LOT of beautiful fabric in a good suite… Not yardage, but lots of useful sized pieces that people won’t hesitate to pay a pound or two for each; you’d get a good, big, sturdy, long-lasting scatter-cushion or tote bag out of a couple of pieces. I’ll make a reasonable sum selling the larger pieces when I’ve washed & ironed them, and will have the smaller bits to make small bags, needle books, whacky lace-trimmed cushions & lavender sachets for sale. Two of the big back cushions and the scatter cushions have been “claimed” by a fellow-trader,  and I myself have plans for the other three!

Now I need ten minutes alone with a “dead” leather sofa & some sharp scissors… I’ll need quantities of leather, to make bases for the cushions as they become “floor” cushions. But the thing is, I will have more than tripled my money in the space of a few days, in exchange for a little bit of work with scissors, washing machine & iron. I may not get hundreds from spotting, nabbing & selling on one piece, but it all adds up, and I’ll have the pleasure of seeing my Boscombe Vintage Market customers’ faces light up as they spot the roses, feel the quality and realise the pieces are eminently affordable. And I even have some pieces to play with, myself, so I get the last laugh!

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Fabulous fabric – with a rather sweet little “helping hand!”

Don’t mind if I do!

February 17, 2016

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£5 for that big needlework box, and a few other items of interest? Don’t mind if I do, thank you! It’s quite heavy, though – full of books, maybe? But I’m on the run, no time to check…

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Ohmigosh, that’s not a book…

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It’s a rather-lovely little Singer Featherweight Plus 324! Complete, with instructions, looks as if it hasn’t seen a lot of use. Which may well have been due to the lint & old thread stuck in the shuttle race… Now spruced up, brushed out, oiled & stitching well. I gather that’s the original “case” – considering the pretty-awful & not exactly durable black plastic bases with grey plastic covers that they put the late-model 15Ks & 99Ks in, they get full marks for this one!