The best things in life are free







Yesterday I got a phone call at school from a local interior design shop asking if we would like some scraps of fabric they were chucking out. As Art and D&T coordinator I was very excited to get free stuff to supplement my budget so I arranged to go round and pick it up. I arrived at the shop to see three bin-bags full of off-cuts and scraps, and a huge box full of old sample books (and that was only the stuff she had brought upstairs!). As we were chatting about what the kids could use the fabric for, I mentioned my personal crafting obsession and she said I could take stuff for me…

I felt a bit like the candidates on The Apprentice when they have the shopping challenge and have to get items and return to the boardroom in time – I looked at my watch and realised school would be locked up in 15 minutes and we had to grab what we could and get it in the car asap. We took five large sacks back to school, and they are sat in my classroom awaiting sorting next week (well being hidden in the cupboard until I have time to sort them). I was desperate to rummage but I could hear the caretaker’s keys rattling so all I had time to grab was…Liberty

Two Liberty home furnishing sample books. They are pretty heavy and were a pain to carry on the tube, but it was worth it as inside are lots of samples of Liberty fabrics. They all have little pictures to show how the whole width will look.PicMonkey Collage

Some of the pieces look like they could just about make a side of a cushion (maybe with a little border) but others might need to be cut up and panelled or patched together to be big enough to be a cushion. I had been thinking of doing some patchwork quilting this year, so this might actually be the inspiration to do it (once I work out how to open the sample booklets) as it probably my only change to have Liberty silk cushions judging by the price list below…price

The designer said she had at least five more bags in the basement so I am very tempted to go back once I’ve sorted (and worked out where to store) the first lot!


Quick cosy crafting

I have been struggling to keep my eyes open this week and haven’t been awake and out of work long enough to edit the photos of my weekend baking, so instead here is a quick picture of the only crafting I’ve managed to do.
Take one favourite over-sized cardigan that accidentally got in the washing machine, shrunk and felted, and has been in a “I can’t throw this away so will do something with it” pile for almost a year. Fold the sleeves in and the top down, blanket-stitch along the edges and fill with a cushion. Easy-peasy and makes a cosy place to rest your head for a nap.

Retro recipe #2 – Lemon Bakewell tart

Last weekend I had a lovely Sunday lunch and afternoon watching football/cooing over a friend’s 3 and 19 month old boys. Lots of energy was spent playing peek-a-boo with the toddler and running after him so it was a good job we had a hearty lunch.

For starters we had a very thick tomato, pepper and chorizo soup* with garlic and rosemary focaccia bread. Next we had a lovely chicken, ham and leek pie with a puff pastry top with piles of roast potatoes and veg. After a short interlude was dessert, made by my fair hands.

retro recipes

Flicking through the Radiation Cookbook yesterday the recipe that jumped out was Bakewell Tart. Lots of the recipes in the book are quite different from what I/we eat nowadays so it felt safe to start with a recognisable dish.

lemon bakewell pastry

The recipe suggested using jam or lemon curd, and also gave a choice of ground almonds or cake crumbs. I chose lemon curd** and so decided to use cake crumbs so the flavours wouldn’t be in competition with each other. It was pretty straightforward to make and was a resounding success – we did the Great British Bake Off pastry test and the base was perfectly cooked. When I asked my friends for a quote, M said something along the lines of “I don’t really like eating puddings, but I think I’m going to have thirds.”

lemon bakewell success

Radiation Cookbook Lemon Bakewell Tart

8oz short crust pastry (made with 8oz flour, 4oz marg,

pinch, 1 tsp sugar and 1/4 tsp baking powder)
Lemon curd (maybe a generous 1/3 of a jar)
1/4 lb marg
1/4 lb caster sugar
1 whole egg and 2 egg yolks
2-3 drops of lemon extract
2oz cake crumbs

Line a 8 1/2 inch pastry tin with the pastry, press into the fluted edges and spread lemon curd all over the pastry case.
Cream the butter and sugar together, then add the lemon extract and unbeaten eggs, one at a time. Beat well then add the cake crumbs. Spread this mixture over the lemon curd to three-quarters fill the pie. Bake on a hot baking tray in the oven for 40 minutes at 180ºC

To decorate like a traditional Bakewell tart (when cooled) cover with a thin layer of water icing (icing sugar and enough water to get a good consistency). Immediately drizzle with lines of melted dark chocolate, then run a skewer through to create the traditional feathered effect.

lemon bakewell

*Hello daddy, yes I did eat my first ever full bowl of soup because it was very thick and chunky. For people who don’t know me in real life, I should explain I have a real aversion to liquid foods – I don’t eat custard or gravy because the consistency freaks me out. But I tried it because I ate sushi in December and so was feeling brave!
** another food I have only recently appreciated after avoiding it due to memories of my big brother taunting me we lemon curd when we were younger.

Retro Recipe #1 – Apple Cake

retro recipesThe first recipe in my recipe challenge was an apple cake from my Grandma’s recipe binder as I had lots of apples that hadn’t got eaten in the holidays.

recipe I had all the ingredients in my kitchen except for the lemon so I substituted a few drops of  lemon essence. Three regular eating apples came to approx 8oz after they were peeled and cored. The recipe seemed a little odd at first – making a breadcrumb texture with the flour, sugar and marg felt more like I was making biscuits or pastry – but when the egg was added it came together really nicely and made a good thick batter.

apple cake mixThe recipe didn’t give instructions for tin size and after some trial and error the best fit I had was an 8inch round tin. I lined it with foil as my greaseproof paper got used up making Christmas gingerbread, which allowed me to pick up the cake mix to put it in another cake mmmm

The recipe sai to cook for 60-90 mins at gas mark 4. According to my conversion magnets this is 180ºC, however after about 45 minutes I could smell cake, it looked golden brown and the skewer test showed the cake was cooked. The cake was a little bit shorter than it probably should have been, which could have explained why it cooked faster.

This cake was a great Sunday afternoon cake (yup, back-to-school has left me too exhausted to blog this until today). Normally I would automatically add some cinnamon or spices to an apple dish so it was refreshing to have a tang of lemon in this cake and it added a nice depth to an otherwise fairly simple cake. The apple stayed in chunks and the sultanas were well distributed around through the cake (helped by the method of mixing perhaps?). This cake doesn’t have the wow factor of some cakes, but I would definitely make this again for an afternoon tea.

apple cakeHere is the recipe:

Apple Cake
8oz self-raising flour
4oz margarine
4oz sugar (I used a mix of caster and light brown)
pinch of salt
3oz sultanas
8oz chopped apple (cut into approx 1cm cubes)
Grated rind and juice of 1 small lemon OR 3 or 4 drops of lemon essence
2 medium/large eggs

Rub the margarine into the sifted flour until it forms breadcrumbs. Add the salt, sugar, sultanas, apple and lemon rind and mix well. Lightly beat eggs in a small bowl and add to mixture with the lemon juice/essence. Using a knife mix the egg into the cake mixture and fold in gently until all ingredients are combined. Grease and line a 7 inch round cake tin and place mixture into tin. Place in middle of oven at 180ºC and cook for 45 to 50 minutes, or until cake is golden brown and a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool on a wire rack – tastes good slightly warm or cooled the next day!

If you make this recipe please link back to this post or get in touch so I can see your pictures!

Completed: Crafty Resolution 2012

On 4th January 2012 I said:

So here it is – my little crafty resolution for 2012 is to make a blanket!

And at around 11pm last night I darned the final tail of yarn to complete my blanket. Hooray!

blanket!So how did I do in relation to my initial goals and ideas, and what did I learn (other than crochet)?

I was thinking about knitting or crocheting a square a day (too much pressure) or making a square a week (not enough for a big blanket) so after some maths I have decided to make 10 squares a month (for a 10×12 blanket) or 2.5 squares a week. Hopefully this will be enough of a challenge, but also manageable.

My blanket is 10×12 squares and making 10 squares a month was a bit of a challenge. Some months were easy, but in others my time was filled with other crafts. If I had more self-discipline I suppose I could have pushed other projects to the side in order to keep on track with my crochet, but the lure of finishing the hems on a jacket or knitting another sleeve were too tempting for me. The lesson learned here is to have just one big travel/tv watching project on the go at a time!blanket! 083

I am planning to make some traditional crocheted granny squares, knit some different textures and patterns, learn some new stitches and techniques, and maybe sew or patchwork some pieces too.

This project ended up being pure crochet. I enjoyed having crochet to do when my fingers were tired of knitting my Miette, and it was good to use yarn instead of fabric again. I definitely learned lots of new stitches, (special mention to the loopy sheep and popcorn/bobbles) how to read crochet charts and I even designed a couple of blocks myself. blanket! 088

As much as possible all the yarn will come from my growing stash and be a reminder of other knitting I have done, starting with left overs from Christmas, and will probably feature a few buttons from my collection.

Haha! I don’t think I quite realised how much yarn it takes to make a full sized blanket. I used 240g just on the five rows for the border! Lots of stash yarn was used up but lots more was bought and most of the yarns are natural/wool (in the autumn I gave in and started buying wool blends to lower my spending, but they are still mostly wool not acrylic). The blanket weights 2.1kg so if on average each ball of yarn was £3.50 for 50g that means which is pretty heavy (I could feel the extra weight when I went to sleep last night and woke up feeling a bit too warm!).blanket! 089

 I hope that there is a bit of a story behind each square, and I shall document their stories and my progress (when I can work out how to make a special button on here!)

Some of the blocks have obvious stories (can you find the ones made during the Jubilee, the Olympics and Vixie’s Christmas birthday?), others are less obvious (the blocks I made when bed-ridden with tonsilitis or when sitting on “the beach”) and some are just pretty. No buttons were added as that would make it less snuggly, but the little scottie dog has a nice ribbon round his neck.My year in crochet

Now if you’ll excuse me, my toes are getting chilly so I am going to curl up on the sofa under my blanket and resume knitting my red cardigan.

Plans and goals for 2013

I have just the one row of scallops (and darning in ends on some squares, I had to sew them together first as they were taking up too much/all of my floor space) so fingers-crossed I will be able to take some proper pictures tomorrow.


In the meantime I thought I should get up and stop sitting around in my pjs (just one more row of crochet is currently a couple of hours!) so here are my crafty plans for the year. The first few goals are what I submitted for the sewlution I posted on Karen’s blog – she is going to check we keep them at the end of the year – and the rest will have to be checked by my lovely readers.

  • I am going to make less but what I make will be better. I’m specifically thinking of seam finishes, precise measuring and cutting, perfect fitting. I have enough cheap and cheerful tops I have made and worn but some of the most recent ones are starting to look shabby – it is okay to make a few fun tops in a crazy print but, after jumping on the blogging bandwagon and reading Overdressed, I think my wardrobe should be built to last. I want to make a proper winter coat by the end of the year and make more hand-knitted items.
  • I will not need to be so sentimental and protective of my creations. If I don’t have a wearable garment I will still have enjoyed myself and learned skills, so I need to stop being so protective of the unwearable garments and actually turn them into something else! At school one of the current trends is how children view learning – do they feel success when they have got 10/10 or is the challenge and learning experience more important for them? Which is more important – the finished garment, or the lessons learned in the process?
  • I will finish what I have started (or get rid of it/recycle it). (see above) At the moment I have 2 blouses, a skirt and some jeans cut and partially made – the jeans were left until I lost a bit of weight before fitting them, the skirt went horribly wrong (how can 2 makes with the same pattern differ so much?!) and the blouses have slight sleeve fitting issues. No wonder my pin-cushion looks rather empty!
  • I will do some of the Craftsy courses I have signed up for! This year I did the Couture Dress and Jeanius courses and they were amazing and I learned SO much. I have other courses lined up in my account that I need to find time to do, plus I have lots of techniques in my pile of Threads magazines and books waiting to be used.
  • I really want to make bunting! I’m very surprised I haven’t actually made any yet, so this year I will get around to making some to jazz up my little flat. I have some crochet books that could be perfect for making little things to hang on garlands, or I could recycle and reuse all the fabric/projects going spare.
  • I am going to learn to take better pictures. The blogs I love reading are the ones with great pictures, and I want that to be true for this little crafty place. I think my pictures have improved, but they are not always as good as they could be, so I am going to learn to use all the settings on my camera properly and make the most of natural light. I suppose I should include taking better action shots.
  • I am going to be a better blog-reader. I LOVE reading comments from readers on my blog but I am not great at commenting on other blogs. I catch up on blogs on my reader apps on my phone or iPad, but there is no comment option on them, and by the time I have got home via the supermarket and made dinner etc then I have forgotten what and where I wanted to comment! I am going to try to star the blogs I want to comment on so I remember when I get home and can have a comment session, however I am finding some blog platforms wont let me comment from the iPad – if anyone has any apps to help me keep in touch please let me know.
  • I am going to explore new recipes. When I say new I mean new-to-me. I acquired some of my Grandma’s old recipe books but haven’t tried any of the recipes yet. Instead of looking online for recipe ideas I will look for inspiration in books! In my snazzy blog button you can see my Grandma’s old red binder (full of cuttings and handwritten recipes) and The Radiation Cookery Book (the 35th edition printed in January 1949, designed for fancy new gas ovens!)

retro recipes



I got some lovely crafty gifts for Christmas, however I have been blind sighted by my blanket since (only 2 border rows to go, so hopefully will be finished before the weekend is over) and have neglected to show you all what I received.


The big thing I asked for (and I mean big, it was a mission carrying it on the train home) was a rotary cutter and cutting mat. I have had a bit of a play with it and my accuracy is improving, but I need to practice how much pressure I need to use before I try cutting anything important.

yarn 242

Another large parcel under the tree was two big balls of soft chunky turquoise-blue-purple variegated yarn. I have no idea what I will use it for, but luckily I got some lovely books to provide inspiration.

books 232

The first book, Knitalong, was from a colleague who, when giving it to me, worried what she might be responsible for! Half of the book is a history of knitting, the other half is a collection of knitting patterns and it all comes with a whole lot of inspiration for social knitalongs. The second book I opened is Knitivity – instructions to knit all the characters in a Nativity scene complete with the story and props to make the scenery. Very cute characters, and the basic dolls could be dressed up in other costumes. Plus, I do love a good cheesy pun! The last book I received was The Liberty Book of Home Sewing. Most of my sewing is dress-making so it will be nice to branch out and make some pretty things for my little flat.

thread spool 236

Finally, I bought myself a little sewing related gift in the sales – it is a spool to hold my earphones! Practical and pretty 🙂 Tomorrow I will tell you my new year craft goals and how I plan to make the most of these lovely presents in the new year…