Monday, 24 December 2012

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Mum's Christmas Present

Well, here it is!  All finished except for one last seam and my name and the date.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Micromys Minutus

Today I received what is probably the last birthday present I shall get this year.  My friend Julia recently attended a straw plaiting course at Acton Scott Historic Working Farm in Shropshire.  As a beginner Julia learned how to make a 7 strand plait for hat making and although Julia didn't make these Harvest mice herself the plait she learnt is the same as is used for the bodies of the mice.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The Things We Do For Love

It's our wedding anniversary tomorrow so in honour of the occasion and because I'm always being moaned at for making cakes for other people and none for Rob I have made Chocolate Brownies.  This has meant the ultimate sacrifice has had to be made - I've had to use the only bar of dark chocolate in the larder (stocked purely for medicinal purposes of course).  I shall have to hope for a bountiful chocolate harvest at the weekend to make up for it.

The brownies are made from a Lakeland recipe no longer extant on their website meaning that I had to go searching through the pile of printed out recipes in the kitchen, peeling the pages apart from where they'd been spattered with ingredients from long-ago-consumed offerings (there is a chocolate brownie recipe on there but it's not this one).

If you want to make some too the ingredients you'll need are:-

225g soft margarine
110g dark chocolate
400g caster sugar
2tsp vanilla extract
4 beaten eggs
100g walnut pieces
170g plain flour
pinch of salt
1/2tsp baking powder

Melt the margarine and chocolate together.  It's best to do this in a large Pyrex bowl in the microwave.  Once the chocolate has melted add the sugar and mix well then add the vanilla extract, eggs and walnut pieces.  Measure out the flour, salt and baking powder and fold them into the chocolate mixture.  If you can resist the urge to eat the raw mixture, pour it into a lightly greased brownie tin and bake at 160C for 50 minutes.  Be careful not to overcook the brownies, the top should have just a slight crust while the underneath remains soft.  If you can bear not to scoff them straight from the oven, leave the brownies to cool in the baking tin.  The recipe says the mixture makes 36 brownies but here in the real world mine are divided into 12 because there's just no point in making them any smaller for Rob.

The first time I cooked this recipe I'd run out of table salt and used sea salt from the grinder instead.  The salt sank to the bottom of the cake mix making an interesting contrast between salty base and gooey chocolatey cake.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Nobody Here But Us Chickens!

Today I have been to my friend Sylvia's house.  She has helped me to cut fabric to make patchwork chickens.  It's easiest if you cut all the pieces you need before you start to sew the chicken so you don't have to keep stopping and starting.  Here's how I made them ...

To start with here are all the bits of fabric cut up ready.

Each chicken takes a surprising number of pieces!

Begin by sewing two tiny squares right sides together ...

 ... once you've sewn the seam you need to press it open to reduce bulk as you sew the next pieces.

Continue sewing pieces on until you have used up half of the pieces.  Once you have completed one side you need to repeat this process until you have two mirror-image squares, one for each side of the chicken.

Next you need to prepare the chicken's tail by cutting the large square across the diagonal and sewing the two short sides together before turning them right sides out.  Then cut a comb and a beak from felt.

Now you need to pin the two sides of the chicken together ...

 ... you need to fit the two squares together accurately and insert the comb and the beak.  Sew along the top edge and down the side so that the beak and comb are secured then sew along the bottom edge but leave a gap between the two red pins so that you can turn the chicken right side out.  Don't sew along the 4th side at this stage.

The next stage is to stitch along the 4th side but in order to do this you need to open up the fabric and line the two "side" seams up so that they are in the middle.  You then need to find the centre of the long side of the triangular tail piece, insert this into the seam and stitch into place.  Your chicken will now look a bit like a humbug!  Once all this is done you need to turn the chicken right side out through the gap you left in the 3rd side and press.  Stitch some tiny buttons or beads on for the eyes then fill the chicken with lentils, dried peas or lavender and finally stitch the gap up by hand to keep the filling in.

Ta da - chicken!!!

So far I've made a small chicken and a large one but I've got lots of pieces cut ready for a middle size one too!

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Using Up Scraps!

As a crafter I hate to throw anything away and usually end up saving even the tiniest scrap of fabric or card or whatever in the fervent belief that it will be just the ideal thing to complete a future project.  I also have friends who share this philosophy.  We keep (or give away to the like-minded!) mountains of what other people would consider to be rubbish!  Consequently a few months ago I was given some scraps of fabric.  My friend Dawn had made some bunting and these were the bits left over.  Common sense would have dictated that they went in the bin but I looked at them and an idea started to come together in my head.  These scraps would be perfect to use in crazy patchwork.  I dragged out my fairly ancient and frankly rather unloved sewing machine and set to work.  Now, over the years I have had a difficult relationship with my sewing machine.  I dream up wonderful ideas of the things I could make, my sewing machine throws a wobbly, spewing out yards of knotted thread rather than the perfect stitches other people seem to achieve with their machines and I get cross, put the machine away and give up.  Despite having to do lots of unpicking and resewing, the crazy patchwork gradually came together although my machine let me down on so many occasions.  After listening to yet another tirade of swear words and sewing machine related abuse my husband finally took pity on me and we went shopping for a new machine.  Rob was keen that I have a machine that would allow me to do the things I wanted to be able to do but he also had a budget in mind.  We set off to see what Sewfine in Watford had to offer.  I took my patchwork along with me along with another project I'd been working on and showed the sales lady what I wanted to be able to do and she pointed me in the direction of a Janone machine which she said would be perfect for me.  She spent ages with me going through all the features, the whole experience was revelatory.  I never knew such machines existed.  The only snag was that I knew it far exceeded the price Rob had set.  With a heavy heart I left the shop muttering that I would have to think hard about it and would get back to them with my decision.  When I got home I did some research on the internet looking into other machines and seeing if I could find my dream machine at a better price to no avail.  It was all very depressing.  Rob and I chatted about the situation and he said I could phone Sewfine up and order the dream machine if I really wanted it.  Well, since then I have had an epiphany as far as machine sewing is concerned.  I love it!  I never thought it could be such fun.  I completed the crazy patchwork and decorated all the seams using one of the many new fancy stitches at my fingertips then I made it into a cushion front and found some pink fabric to match in my stash for the back of the cushion cover.  Although I must admit I was very tempted to keep the cushion myself I decided to give the cushion to Dawn a few weeks ago and I believe she now has it in her bedroom along with the bunting.

The cushion front made from crazy patchwork using scraps.

The back of the cushion.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012


We spotted these signs during our stay at the hotel over the weekend.  Nothing out of the ordinary as far as the first one is concerned .....

 ..... but it's not every day that you see one of these ..... !

Monday, 23 July 2012

A Very Special Weekend

Over the very dim and dingy Easter weekend while Rob, my husband, was fiddling around with work stuff I started to browse various pages on Facebook.  One of these was Lakeland!/ who, I noticed, were running a competition.  Being rather bored I thought I'd find out a bit more.  You had to find lots of special eggs that Lakeland had hidden and each egg had it's own unique code.  I gradually found more and more eggs and entered the codes in the box on the website as I found them.  By the end of the weekend I'd found quite a few.  The deadline for the end of the competition started to loom and I found I was missing only two or three codes so I put in a bit more concerted effort and managed to find them all.  I filled in the final codes, clicked enter and settled back thinking I might be lucky enough to win a recipe book or something.  What happened next was a bit of a shock!  I received an e-mail late on the following Friday afternoon telling me that I'd won - no, not the cake book - the 1st prize.  This was a luxurious weekend in a very posh hotel in Yorkshire.  Thinking we would have to get there under our own steam (who reads the fine detail?, you never expect to win anyway!) I gingerly broke the news to Rob that he'd have to drive us up to Yorkshire. As it turned out our travel was also included so we arranged a date with Coralie from Lakeland and she made all the arrangements for us and sent us our train tickets.

Last Friday morning we set off on our big adventure to the Devonshire Arms Country House Hotel  We got a taxi to Watford Junction station.

Watford Junction Station

When we got there we found our train was slightly delayed due to a signalling failure.  We needed to go to Euston then transfer to Kings Cross but we had plenty of time to do this so we weren't too bothered about the delay.  Shortly after an announcement came over the tannoy - due to a vehicle hitting a bridge near Watford station they would be holding all the trains until they'd assessed the damage.  This caused a bit of mild panic as our minutes drained away but it wasn't too long before we were on our way so it couldn't have been too serious.  It wasn't long till we were slowing into Euston station.

Euston Station

We decided to walk between Euston and Kings Cross as we still had enough time and we thought it would be good to stretch our legs before the journey north.  We reached Kings Cross with 5 minutes to spare, located our train, bundled our luggage into the rack and settled into our seats.

Rob on the train to Leeds

Me on the train to Leeds

The weather was overcast but fine as we left London but as we travelled northwards it began to deteriorate and by Grantham there was heavy rain.  As we raced through Lincolnshire and into Nottinghamshire the rain persisted and at one point we were actually in cloud.  As we cleared the cloud the weather dried up again but there was still a bank of cloud in the distance and we were amazed to see a tornado spiralling down from it!

After whizzing through the countryside for a few hours we made our way more slowly through the built up areas of Doncaster and Wakefield and finally into Leeds where we needed to change onto a local train.  With a quick change of platform we were on the Ilkley train for the final leg of our journey.

Leeds Station from the Ilkley train

On the Ilkley train

From Leeds we were on the Wharfedale line which took us through some beautiful countryside past rugged hillsides, a canal, a wide fastmoving river, the ruins of Kirkstall Abbey and the villages between Leeds and Ilkley.  The hotel sent a car to pick us up from Ilkley station

Ilkley Station
and we were whisked swiftly through yet more beautiful scenery to our destination.

When we arrived at the hotel we were checked in quickly and shown to our room, the Crace, one of the Old House rooms which overlooked the Italian garden below and had views over the hills.  A bottle of champagne was on ice for us but we decided to leave it for a while in favour of a cup of tea!

The Crace room

Our bed
Champagne on ice
The Italian garden
The view from our window

Once we'd had time to gather ourselves and do a bit of unpacking we wandered downstairs to the lounge for another cup of tea and a delicious cake to nibble on before heading outside for a quick walk to get our bearings and a bit of air before returning to our room for a glass of champagne.  At the alloted time we found our way to the Brasserie restaurant for a very enjoyable meal.  Rob chose the chicken liver parfait, pear and orange chutney and melba toast for his started then followed with beer battered haddock, crushed garden peas, fat chips and tartare sauce while I began with mozzarella, fig and avocado salad with red pesto dressing which was delicious.  As the only vegetarian main on the menu was a curry which is not to my liking the chef very kindly prepared me an omelette instead which I had with saute potatoes, a mixed salad and seasonal vegetables.  We both finished our meals with the white and dark chocolate parfait and hazelnut ice cream which was so yummy.  Feeling replete we made our way back to our room and had some more champagne before settling down for a good nights sleep (once I'd managed to clamber into bed - it was rather high up!).

We woke refreshed on Saturday morning and trotted downstairs for breakfast.  An amazing array of foods were available; cereals and toast, pastries, a superb yoghurt concoction which was glorious, English breakfast, kippers and so on .....  With just enough time to allow our food to settle a little we headed over the road to the Devonshire Health Barn for our treatments.  We had both selected massages which were so relaxing, something we would never normally do.  Feeling well chilled the rest of the day was our own to explore the area.  We walked the short distance to Bolton Abbey in glorious sunshine and spent some time amongst the ruins of the once splendid monastery having watched people having fun crossing the river by stepping stones along the way.  We were unable to go into the church as there was a wedding taking place but that was a spectacle in itself as we saw the guests and the bride arriving.  We walked up the hill to the tearooms before retracing our steps back to the hotel.  During our walk we were thrilled to see the ethereal remains of the monks ridge and furrow ploughing in the fields and we spotted several waterbirds that we did not recognise so we looked them up on the hotel's computer when we got back.  They were oystercatchers, goosanders and gadwall.  We don't get them round our way or if we do I've never seen them!

Stepping stones across the river

Bolton Abbey

Interesting geology

More interesting geology

On Saturday evening we had a table booked in the Burlington Restaurant.  Rob was having the Tasting Menu and I was going to have the Vegetarian Tasting Menu.  At 7.30 we went to the cocktail lounge and began our evening with very tasty virgin mojitos, lots of lovely fresh lime, mint leaves and fizzy soda water.  Shortly after our canapes arrived, for Rob a small fishcake and for me a goats cheese foam of some sort.  A little while later we were invited to our table to begin our meal with grapefruit and basil mojito.  There then followed 7 courses each (see website for details), all beautifully presented but on the whole generally rather disappointing I'm sorry to say.  Although the menu was changed only this weekend I found it to be a rather autumnal selection and I had expected more use of fresh summer seasonal vegetables.  Most courses seemed to consist of some kind of mushroom, often made into foams and/or some kind of cheese made into ice creams.  Now I have to confess I'm not at all fond of mushrooms or cheese, especially goats cheese, so it was never going to be easy but the meal began with goats cheese, then more goats cheese with the gazpacho then mushrooms and more cheese with the asparagus.  The cauliflower mercifully was served without retort to either cheese or mushroom but I shall return to that in a moment.  The next course, Heritage tomatoes were served with Tovey cannelloni.  What that actually is is a mystery but it tasted like mushroom!  The main course was a triumph of mushroom risotto served with parmesan ice cream which sadly I found I couldn't eat at all, it was just too much mushroom and cheese!  Returning to the asparagus and cauliflower courses briefly, sadly they had been cooked with way too much salt and bordered on inedible which was a great pity.  They were only saved by copious quantities of chilled water.  The same could not be said of the tomatoes which would have benefitted from a little sprinkling of salt to bring out their flavour.  The final two courses brought the meal back on track with a very enjoyable predessert of gin and tonic jellied and frothed and lovely followed by the desserts, mine a chocolate galette and Rob's a tonka bean yogurt with fruits.  I don't want to give the impression that the meal was a total disaster, as I said earlier, it was never going to be easy given that I am a fussy vegetarian, but I did feel the chef could have been a little more imaginative and made use of the array of vegetables available at this time of year instead of the repetitive cheese/mushroom theme. 

Our meal was accompanied by an amazing selection of wines, individually chosen to go with each course.  The sommelier was very knowledgeable and had gone for a variety of unusual wines along with the more familiar prosecco, gewurtztraminer and cotes du rhone.  He, along with all the waiting staff, indeed, all the hotel staff, were so friendly and worked tirelessly over such long hours to make our stay enjoyable and relaxing.

After our meal we went back to our rooms for another restful nights sleep then had a late breakfast on Sunday morning before doing our packing.  The breakfast room was full of bleary eyed people from the wedding party the evening before!  We vacated our room and left our baggage in reception and went for a last walk in the sunshine by the river to the Abbey then had a short wait at the hotel until it was time to be driven back to the station.  We retraced our steps back through Ilkley, Leeds, Kings Cross, Euston and back to Watford Junction, arriving home just before 7.30 in the evening.

This was truly a once in a lifetime experience and we are both extremely grateful to Lakeland and everyone at the Devonshire Arms Hotel & Spa for such a wonderfully relaxing break.  Thank you to everybody for our weekend to remember.



Sunday, 15 April 2012

Heritage Sampler

Myself and several friends have been helping Dacorum Heritage Trust with a project over the last few years.  The Trust have a number of samplers in their collection and they were not being stored as well as they could have been.  They asked us to mount some of the samplers so they could be put on display or used as part of their education programme but the two oldest samplers were too fragile to take out and about.  The Trust managed to secure funding to have them professionally conserved and mounted in order to keep them safe for the future but to enable them to still be useful for educational purposes they asked us to make copies of the samplers.  This involved us in many hours of carefully counting stitches working both from the original sampler and from photographs.  We had to make educated guesses of what should have been there when stitches were missing too.  Today I have stitched the last sampler on to it's board and placed it in it's box ready to go into the Museum Store.  If you want to view either the original sampler(s) or the replicas please get in touch with the Curator . 

This is how to mount an embroidery.

First the board needs to be prepared ready for the sampler.  Measure a piece of acid free mount board and cut to size.  Cover the board with cotton batting and pin in place stretching slightly to smooth out the creases.

At this stage it doesn't look too promising but never fear, it will all work out ok in the end.  When you are happy that you have placed the batting correctly begin to sew across the back using long lengths of thread so that the opposite ends are strung together and the batting is under tension.  Once this is done sew the mitres to neaten them.  (see two photo's below)

Once you have done all this foundation work it's time to repeat the process with the sampler.  Make sure the sampler is clean (if necessary wash it in a weak solution of soap flakes and rinse well) and dry (leave to dry on a clean towel on a flat surface, try not to iron the item unless absolutely necessary).  Begin pinning the sampler onto the batting covered board.  Work from the centre of each side. 

When all the pinning is done turn the sampler over to check that it is centred and that you are happy with the result then begin stringing across the back as before.  

The Trust want to be able to take this sampler into schools as an aid to their Victorian education scheme so I shall back it with a piece of calico so that the stringing doesn't catch on things.  I shall also attach some tape to make it easy to get the sampler out of it's storage box.