I won’t lay claim to this genius idea; that credit goes to Something With The Kid. But this is definitely one worth stealing. Using shapes cut out from craft foam and a pot of water and a paint brush kids can make pictures on patio doors, or even bathroom tiles. Give the older ones some scissors and the foam and they can cut their own shapes out which extends the life of this activity. The foam sticks to the wet glass, and makes surprisingly little mess, assuming your patio doors are usually as smeared as mine anyway. This is a great rainy day activity and the shapes can be used over and over again.
Yes, those are my little darlings in the picture, and yes one of them is wearing pajamas, and the other a baggy bottomed leotard with a yellow cap. We’re a classy household.
I’ve spent a lovely morning at my fortnightly Friday morning knitting group. But instead of being at Kristina’s gorgeous house it was at her pop up shop which she is running with her partner in yarn Julie. These ladies have impeccable taste and a compulsion for buying vintage goods. They are also fantastic crafters, and they fund both these habits by selling their wares at craft fairs and other stalls under the name Yarnit.
They are spending a week at the old fruit and veg market along the Bath Road in Cheltenham and will be there till end of Tuesday (not Sunday).
They are selling all sorts of vintage and retro kitchenalia ( don’t call it bric-a-brac!), fabric, haberdashery, and homemade gifts and Christmas decorations.
If you pop along tell them Dilly sent you. They will probably look at you blankly at that point as neither of them are social media addicts like you and me, but tell them it’s the one what yarn bombs and who has two delightful daughters and they will know who you mean. If enough of you go and buy stuff they may give me a discount on the blue flower jug I was eyeing up!
I mentioned that I had plans for the dominoes that I recently bought from a charity shop. Well I got this idea from Lulastic, a blog that is basically a cooler version of mine, with a bit more lentilly parenting thrown in for good measure. Anyway, she had the idea of sticking magnets on the back of thrifted (now there is a wanky word du jour – just trying it out!) dominoes and sticking them to the fridge.
I had some strips of sheet magnet that I ripped off something before I threw it away, can’t remember what, but I left them on my fridge waiting for the right project. This was definitely it. I just cut up the strips and glue gunned a piece onto the back of each domino. It took 5 minutes in all and looks very cool. The kids love it and just make patterns with the dominoes, but I think it will be a good game for Betty to play, when I figure out how the rules myself…
Early readers of my blog might remember my Meditation on Tea post. Well, the one thing that can can make a cup of tea even better is a good biscuit.
I fancy myself as little bit of a biscuit connoisseur actually, and I think the British do biscuits rather well. Yes, America has given us the large, chewy cookie; Italy has given us the biscotti, which I don’t particularly like; but we Brits are the champions of the humble biscuit.
“What’s your favourite biscuit?” became a common question posed to the politicians who swarmed Mumsnet during the last general election. Gordon Brown’s seemingly innocent overlooking of the question might have lead to his undoing. It certainly lead to a new biscuit smiley on the site which has come to represent a passive-aggressive “no comment”. Last year, Sainsbury’s conducted a survey of people’s favourite biscuits. Inexplicably, the overall favourite was the dry and bland digestive. Readers of the Guardian apparently chose ginger and chocolate cookies as their biscuit of choice, and Sun readers like a pink wafer. While I am all for freedom of choice, I fear I may struggle to remain friend’s with someone who chooses a custard cream as their favourite biscuit.
What is my favourite you ask? Well, that’s rather a complex question. I love a good luxury biscuit, like a chocolate chip shortbread from the bakery. or our family favourite, Fox’s Shortcake Rounds. But they are more chocolate than biscuit, which perhaps defeats the object. Surely anyone would chose a lovely rich chocolatey fancy biscuit over anything else? Perhaps more revealing is the everyday biscuit barrel choice you make. In that case it would have to be a Bourbon Cream every single time. Admittedly they taste less of chocolate than you might imagine, and they, like most biscuits, can be quite dry (this was initially the point of biscuits, the word biscuit comes from the Latin words bis (twice) and coquere, coctus (to cook, cooked), and, hence, means “twice-cooked”) and therefore it is imperative that it should be dunked in a cup of tea. For even more biscuity trivia and reviews check out Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down.
I may lose followers by revealing this questionable habit, but I couldn’t write a blog post on biscuits without giving you my ultimate biscuit tip. Make a cup of tea. Take a Twix (which for the purposes of this post I am considering a biscuit product, it’s that grey area along with the Kit Kat). Bite off each end of the Twix, then, ensuring your tea is not too hot, use the Twix to suck up the tea. Finally, carefully eat the remaining melted, soggy goodness, taking care not to drop it into your tea. This, my friends, is a Twix Fix. Your life will never be the same again.
Sadly for me, my years of eating biscuits with gay abandon have caught up with my waist line so I steer clear of the biscuit tin unless it is a very special occasion. Fortunately, biscuity appetites can be satisfied calorie free with these fantastic hand-printed biscuit cushions from Nikki McWilliams:
Based in Dundee, there is a strong Tunnock’s focus to her product line, but she still pays homage to the humble bourbon.
In our house, to my friends’ amusement, Mother’s and Father’s Day involves absolving yourself of all parental responsibility. After all, every day in reality is Mother’s Day or Father’s Day; the continual drudgery of bottom wiping, cooking and cleaning is never ending. It’s nice to have a day off for a change. And a nice present too. Yes, I know I should be helping the girls to make something nice or taking them out to pick something, but really, life is busy enough. In fact, DH got his present last week when I took the kids away for the weekend to Grandma’s. He had two whole nights of child free bliss. I won’t embarrass him by publically revealing what he watched all weekend Gilmore Girls.
I still wanted to get him a present. I originally wanted to make him this lens cap case. I love the camera print fabric, but it is about £16 a metre and I only wanted one square. I don’t love DH that much so I had to come up with an alternative solution.
I’d been admiring this polaroid cross stitch by NerdJerk for a while, but when I looked into it I realised she is selling it as a kit, and it is in the US so too expensive to send to the UK and not enough time for it to arrive. So I tried to construct my own one. Now using someone else’s idea is Not Cool, and really, if you want to do a similar one yourself and you are in the States you really should buy her kit because it is ace. I hope she forgives me for copying her by directing you all to her cool etsy shop.
I got my fancy gridded paper out and a picture of a Polaroid camera in order to devise my own pattern. Here, I’m a regular Da Vinci, right?
I used the tutorial linked above to finish off the pouch. Now I’m an intelligent person, I’ve got a Mater’s degree. I’ve passed visio-spatial reasoning tests, I can ride a bike, I can drive. But for some reason it took me three goes to put the pouches together in the right right way. Ok, four goes. That’s after sewing them together. For reference I also took three goes to pass my driving test. Ok, four. Anyway, eventually I managed to put the inner and outer pieces together in the right inside-out/right way combination. I managed to procure an unused lanyard from work from which I recycled the clip. The idea is that DH can clip the case to his camera or his camera bag instead of invariably misplacing his lens cap. The linked tutorial recommend either a magnetic clap fastening or elastic. The magnetic clasp looked a bit too difficult, and I wasn’t sure the elastic would work with the aida, so it currently doesn’t have a closure, but I’m not sure how much of an issue it will be. If it is I might try Velcro. And here is the finished product:
I’m pretty pleased with it. Hope DH is.
Also this week I managed to remember that I didn’t only have DH to think about, but my own dad too. I don’t see him very often so I find buying him a present really difficult. I struggle to find the balance between cool, pointless and childish. I know for a fact he has the same problem with buying presents for me but he gets around it buy giving me money, which is great for me, but you can do that when you are a dad. As a daughter it’s just weird. So I settled for a homemade card instead. I already know he likes it despite drafting this post on Saturday night because he is incapable of delayed gratification and already opened it!
He is an excellent juggler and can juggle with lit clubs you know [proud smiley]!
So, after a lie-in and breakfast my wifely Father’s Day duties will be disposed off and I can settle down for the long wait till my own day off next March!
On Friday the Guardian reported the latest from the trial of Anders Breivik, the man killed 77 people in a gun attack in Norway last year. One of the motivations he has given for the attack is the “feminisation” of Norway. He said “Suddenly boys are supposed to start knitting and doing crochet and cooking,” complaining that gender roles were becoming reversed.
Well, this is a post to celebrate those role reversals. Far from being dismayed at the emergence of men on the craft scene, I am impressed by it. As a feminist, I am keen that men don’t muscle in on a traditional female area and try and take over, after all, far more doors have been closed to women for many years than have been closed to men (and still are – fancy a round of golf ladies?). But the male crafters that I have seen are simply men who craft, carving their own small niche in the crafting blogsphere.
First up is The Crochet Dude, who is rather well known in the US. who even goes so far as to run a Crochet Cruise. Now that sounds like my kind of holiday.
Next up is Michael at State of the Craft. He is a keen quilter and blogs with a sense of humour, and quilts with a keen eye.
Rugged Flair is quite circumspect about his position as a male crafter, but still pursues his main passion, which is for collage:
digibudi is a very talented crafter. I got side tracked by so many cute projects like this cupcake pillow that I had to really search hard to to find evidence that the blogger behind it all was really a man:
My final choice of men who craft is Matthew of One Man Crochet. I must admit that this one is a personal recommendation as his the brother in law of a good friend of mine. But even if he wasn’t, I’d still be recommending you look at his website. He is a relatively new blogger, doesn’t have a shop or a business, he just crochets for the love of it, making gifts for his wife and friends. But most of all I love his little crochet avatar, a wonderful likeness.
So, while we women take back the craft, subvert it and make it a symbol of choice rather than lack of it, we can make a bit of space for the men out there who want to get in on the act. After all, we all know that crafting – the needle, thread and yarn sort – is relaxing, beautiful, practical, and gives us an enormous sense of achievement. Don’t mind the men being a little late to the party…as long as they bring wine.
A few months ago I was inspired by this post from Sally Donovan and for my birthday I requested being signed up to an ‘artisan’ bakery course.
Last Sunday was the day of the course, and I returned full of inspiration, and, well lots of bread! Now, I don’t want get too personal, but I will admit to you all that I am currently following Weight Watchers. Two children, 3 years of breastfeeding and sleepless nights have left me with a bit of a mummy tummy (how cringeworthy is that phrase?). The WW diet is going fine actually, and is not that hard to stick to. But I have spent most of my late 20s with this ingrained belief that bread is somehow bad for you. Cutting out bread as a way of losing weight is a fad that regularly comes into fashion. But how bad for you can a mix of water, yeast, flour and salt be? And therein lies the problem: most breads that people by from shops, and yes, even some bakeries, have many more ingredients, and are produced quickly. The course that I attended was all about slow bread, left to rise for up to 12 hours. This slow rising allows the gluten to open up and break down, making a more delicious, longer lasting, and easily digestible bread.
On the course we did two bakes: we made rolls from scratch, which were left for only 2 hours or so, a quick rise; and a loaf of bread using premade dough which had been left overnight to bulk rise.
The beauty of the slow rise bread is that you have the benefit of time, warmth and sugars in the dough which help the yeast do its job, meaning that you really don’t need to do a much kneading as you might think, nor as much yeast.
First we mixed the ingredients for the rolls, kneading, leaving for five minutes, chatting, kneading again, leaving again, for about half an hour. Leaving aside that dough, covered in a carrier bag – yes, it was all very technical here! In fact the most technical that it got was the use of this natty little scraper to mix the ingredients together without getting too messy.
Next we were given some of the slow rise dough to knead and shape. Taking care not to use too much flour, so the dough still remained moist we folded the dough into a ‘belly button’.
Next we made Mickey Mouse ears to fold in and shape the dough into a longer shape, then pinched the seam like a Cornish pasty. The dough then went into a bread basket for final proving.
Before putting it in the oven the dough was scored to allow the loaf to rise even further in the initial heat of the oven. A slight dusting of flour was followed by a quick spritz with water to ensure a nice crust.
10 minutes at 230 degrees in the oven then turned down to 200.
Out of the oven looking definitely rustic!
Then on to the bread rolls, shaping them and dipping them in seeds, or brushing with egg, or dusting with flour (stops them going too dark). Sorry, I don’t have a photo of the finished rolls. But I do have one of our lovely lunch. Homemade bread, made by Dede (the course instructor), some gorgeous local cheeses, and various pickled veg, delicious!
At 2pm it was time to go, with armfuls of bread and rolls, inspiration for future loaves, and plenty of tips for airy, flavoursome bread.
The fear surrounding bread and wheat products, perpetuated by women’s magazines, the Atkins Diet and faddy food intolerances, neglects the traditions going back thousands of years of bread as a food of life. That’s not to dismiss real medical issues such as coeliac disease, but other complaints of bloating and stomach upsets are more likely to be down to the overly processed nature of modern supermarket breads, even the ones they peddle as fresh.
Bread is part of the traditions of many cultures and religions, indeed bread is seen as the symbol of Christ himself. The hot cross bun is a symbol of his return from crucifixion. In the Bible Jesus fed the five thousand with five loaves and two fishes, not steamed fish and a side of edamame beans. Now, those who know me know that I am an ardent atheist, but you can’t deny it’s pretty hefty symbolism. Bread is prominent in most cultures, the Jewish Challah and matzo, German Stolen, Indian Naan and Chapatti, Italian ciabatta. It’s significance is often religious, but ultimately it is social and familial. Breaking bread together is a traditional way of welcoming people into your home.
It’s no coincidence that ‘bread’ or ‘dough’ are used synonymously with money. Bread is the lifeblood of the world. The same few ingredients can make things as diverse as croissants, pitta bread and steamed dumplings. Bread is amazing, and anyone can make it. So, put away your Atkins book, put down that Kingsmill and go and buy yourself some yeast.
This is Harts Barn Craft Centre, where the bread making course was held (and paid for by DH for my birthday in case you were wondering!) I really enjoyed the course and would recommend something similar to everyone. For details of your local courses and more information on why real bread is so brilliant check out The Real Bread Campaign.
Regular readers might remember that I have contributed squares to a couple of blankets which are made as a group project by a bunch of women who for the most part have never met, for people they have never met. The people who these blankets are destined for have been bereaved in some way, and the blankets are a way of sending a little bit of comfort.
While often derided as just ‘words on a screen’ Mumsnet, and other forums, are places where relationships are formed. I’ve never met most of these women, yet many of them have been there for me in my darkest hours. But my darkest hours have been nowhere near as dark as those who have lost husbands or children.
These blankets are usually hand delivered to these families, bristling with energy; a collective unconscious. I’m sorry to say I didn’t contribute to the blanket pictured above. But there have been others that I have contributed to, and there will be more. I just wanted to post the picture of this piece of work. It’s amazing that scores of disparate people can make so many different squares that come together to look so beautiful. And some of the people who have made these squares are complete novices, trying out a new skill to lend support to a stranger. And let’s not forget the donors provide money or yarn to the cause. You can read more about this blanket here. In the meantime I’m just going to marvel at the blanket, I just need to get this thing out of my eye…
Recently I have been having somewhat of a career crisis. My job is fairly respectable, but I just don’t love it. I like the idea of it more than I like doing it. It is actually the job I wanted to do before I left university, but the reality wasn’t quite all it is cracked up to be. I was always very career oriented and felt like I was destined for big things. Having children tempered that somewhat, but the biggest factor has been a loss of confidence in my abilities. I did really well at school and university. I’ve got a Masters degree you know, and I got a distinction. I don’t get to say that very often, much though I often want to when at work I am having to grapple with a task like trying to get 10 people in a meeting together.
I studied psychology at university, but by the end decided I didn’t want to be a psychologist. After 5 years I didn’t to want to spend any longer at university or in training, I wanted to be getting on with my career. Hmmm. That worked well didn’t it? It turns out actually maybe I do want to be a psychologist. Or a writer. Or a professional crafter. Therein lies my problem. I want to do so many things, I’m afraid to commit.
A few years ago I found a fantastic book in a charity shop. It was pure fate that I found this book, someone had obviously given it away because they didn’t rate it but for me it was like a window into my soul. One man’s trash and all that. The book was What Do I Do When I Want to Do Everything? The basic premise of the book is that some people just flit from one activity to another, never sticking long enough to go deep; never really feeling like they have achieved anything. The author, Barbara Sher, calls these people ‘scanners’, and lists several different reasons why these people behave like this such as fear of commitment, looking for their niche, or simply just a need for novelty. Scanners are sometimes derided as dilettantes (hello, have you seen the name of my blog?) but often they are their own harshest critics, feeling like they are failing or not achieving anything. To read this was amazing, the book described me to a tee and Barbara goes to great lengths to reassure scanners that they way they are is perfectly normal, and can be harnessed. One of the suggestions is to try and combine your passions which is what I have attempted to do.
I mentioned that I might actually want to be a psychologist. Well I am considering doing another MSc, this time in Occupational Psychology. I could do it part time and through distance learning, but even so, with two young children and a job I couldn’t do it for at least another year. I also want to give myself time to figure out whether it is what I really want to do.
In the meantime I am spending my time crafting (God, that is such a wanky word, I cringe every time I use it!). But much as I love making stuff, I don’t find it intellectually stimulating. Now before all you other crafters lynch me, I’m not saying its not difficult, there are some amazingly talented people out there. Crafting can be technically and physically challenging, but trying to understand a pattern isn’t the same as trying to understand why someone behaves in a certain way. So I’ve tried to put some psychology into my crafting, I’m combining my passions to create Psychraftology. Craftology. Psychcraftisvism. Psychocraft. I can work on the name.
I have three items to showcase for you as part of my new genre. The first is based on the Myers-Briggs Trait Inventory, or the MBTI. You may have heard or it and even taken it. The results come in the format of 4 letters, E or I, N or S, T or F, and J or P. If want more info about what these letters mean check out this website. The MBTI is a licensed test which can only be administered by licensed practitioners, but this website has an example if you want to find out you personality type. For the even keener reader I recommend the book Please Understand Me II, which is slightly different from the MBTI but maps directly onto it. For the record I am an ENFP, which incidentally is quite commons for scanners.
These are going to be badges, but for now they are just buttons. They are cross stitched MBTI types so you can wear your type with pride! The are cross stitched on 22 count aida which is used to cover self-cover buttons. You can remove the button bit, which I have done, and super glue a badge backing onto the button, which I haven’t done yet.
Exhibit number two my cross stitched interpretation of a Rorschach ink blot. “Why?” you might ask. Well, why the hell not.
The Rorschach ink blot is traditional projection test used to assess personality characteristics and emotional function. Tell me what you see in mine and I will tell you if you are crazy or not.
The piece de resistance in my show and tell today is an embroidered diagram of the brain, showing labelled lobes and some well known areas of the brain. Broca’s area is involved in the production of speech, and Wenicke’s area in the understanding of it. The visual cortex is where we start to process the images that come from our retinas. They travel along the optic nerves to the back of our brain, the parietal lobe. The brain is a marvellous thing, and we should nurture it, look after it, and not take it for granted. There is an excellent documentary on BBC iPlayer about the brain. It’s available for about another week so watch it while you can.
For me, this embroidery is about using a craft that is more often used to depict twee little birds and flowers and fluffy things, and creating something with a little more depth. If you like this you might also like a brain colouring book. It certainly helped while away those hours studying neuropsychology at university.
So, these are the projects that I have been working on for the past couple of months. I’d really appreciate any comments you have. You are probably going to see more and more psychology related stuff, not just crafting, on here. Does that put you off? The main thrust of this blog has been crafting, and it is certainly easier to market a niche blog. I’m debating whether I should branch out into a new blog, but as someone pointed out, the USP for my blog has always been about doing lots of different things. Any comments will be welcomed.
We live in a rented house. Yes we are mature married adults with two children and we don’t own a house. This mostly doesn’t bother me. In the current climate I am glad we didn’t listen to the family members who insisted that we get one of those 100+% mortgages a quite frankly we’d be screwed right now.
It bothers me sometimes. I can’t think of any of our friends who don’t own their own house. Every now and then I have a bit of a freak out thinking “OMG we’ve got no mortgage we are going to be working until we’re 105 or else we are going to be destitute on the street “. But my issues have only ever been financial ones. The last two flats we lived in were fab. The first one was a raised ground floor Victorian flat. It had an avocado bathroom suite, which let me tell you, I loved. As I went blinking and bleary eyed into the bathroom to do my morning ablutions I was soothed by the calming green and wood panelled bath, rather than a glaring white thing. The flat was in a fashionable area of town, with leafy avenues and poncey shops. The alcoves either side on the marble fireplace were bowed with the weight of our books. I loved it. Our last flat was On the first floor of a beautiful Regency villa. The living room was over 30 long and had 4 original 9ft sash windows. The flat was lovely and bright and big, and we had furniture and wicker baskets slung casually around the rooms, and our furniture was just the right side of shabby chic. We bought a massive 4 seater sofa, which conveniently hid all of Betty’s toys behind it. Both these flats were minutes walk from the fashionable town we lived in. In both these places I felt completely at home.
Both flats were sold from under us. The first when Betty was 3 months old. The second when I was 6 months pregnant and had a toddler. We were devastated. We now live in a boxy new build, nearer to the not-so-fashionable city, in walking distance of a Co-op and the school. One the upside we have central heating and double glazing. Our energy bills are next to nothing. We have a garden for the kids to play in. We have two floors; no snotty cow above us stomping around in her stilettos; no slacker below us, filling our flat with the fumes of stale marijuana. But this house feels a small and boxy, we are crammed into a suburban development in the middle of more suburbia. Our 9ft sofa that was dwarfed by our old flat now looks monstrous, and the shabby chic furniture looks shabby shit against the magnolia walls and plasticky doors. But mostly, it has no soul. It’s definitely what you would call a ‘first-world problem’ to feel depressed by a house, especially a brand new one, but I can help but feel a little down about it sometimes. DH feels the same. The house almost sucks the soul out of us. What an awfully trite complaint, hey?
Anyway, there is a point to this soul bearing, and it is that in this house more than any, we have had to work at making it feel like home. We can afford to move. We’d be mad to. Our landlord isn’t going to sell anytime soon, we have a garden, and a garage, it’s near Betty’s school, and needs absolutely nothing doing to it. Flat no.1 that we lived in hadn’t been decorated or remodelled in 20 years. We just have to make the best of it. But making a place feel like home when you have a constant sense of impermanence is hard. Much of it depends on the flexibility of your landlord, but you have to find ways of making the house feel like it is your home, adding your stamp without the stamp duty.
The reason I’m writing this blog post now is because recently I was discussing the issue with another blogger Life of an Expat Parent and she decided to host a link up. We want to have a series of posts about how to make a house a home. Most home style books and blogs rarely take into account renters and the lack of permanence and control we have over our houses. A lot of the crafting I do is to this end. Some of this will be familiar to my die hard readers, but to those who haven’t been following my blog I hope I can offer some inspiration.
Cushions are a really easy way add a bit of your own style to a house. I prefer an eclectic assortment. I say assortment; I have two currently, but am working on more. Cushions are really easy to make yourself, and simple cushions in bright fabrics can be a quick crafting win. These two took a little longer, more details on the heart cushion here and the wolf one here.
This cute chalkboard is great for keeping track of your shopping list, writing messages to other members of your family, or just doing seasonal drawings. It’s easy to make and easy to put up and take down. For the record, toothpaste is meant to be good for filling holes left by nails (caveat: I’ve never tried this!).
We’ve had this stool since we lived in flat number two, where we could afford to have random pieces of furniture strewn around. Now it just gets moved around the kitchen out of the way according to which cupboard I need to get to. Or else the baby takes it so that she can reach something she shouldn’t have. We originally bought it from an antique shop but I expect a forensic analysis of the paint samples would date it to circa 1990. Anyway, I thought it was time to tart it up.
A lick of paint and some easy crochet circles and it looks fresh and bright to match our new, modern and often messy kitchen.
I’ve never been a huge fan of the vintage/retro/nostalgia fashions that are popular now, nor am I a fan of ultra modern or contemporary fashions that will date. I am really inspired by the bright fresh colours and Scandi sleekness of By Frydd, and the eclectic mix of decor in Modern Vintage Style by Emily Chalmers.
And this one is on my wish list:
And finally for cheap furniture and accessories that aren’t completely devoid of style you just can’t beat Ikea. So in essence, renting a house doesn’t mean you cant make it feel like home. There’ll be more from me on this. My home is still a work in progress.