Thursday, February 26, 2009

Fruit cake, cheese and a jolly good book

I have listened to adaptations of Mapp & Lucia's escapades on Radio 4 a number of times and occasionally seen the books pop up on some of my favourite blogs so it was high time I got around to reading one of E F Bens
on's novels. I tucked in eagerly last week and over the last night or two I found that I was purposely rationing myself for fear of it all being over too soon. This book may be light hearted in nature but it is still worth slowing down and savouring. The residents of Tilling are brought vibrantly and humorously to life in these pages, warts and all and my goodness, what a lot of warts there are. They really are a despicable and over-privileged bunch and yet one warms to them and their adventures. The role of heroine is dubiously provided by the marvellously accomplished Lucia, with her gift for Italian, knowledge of Greek mythology, talent for acting, organisational abilities and social skills her arrival in Tilling provides much for its residents to get excited about and in particular they get very excited about the impact her arrival makes on their resident queen bee, Miss Elizabeth Mapp.

Thankfully another book in the series arrived this morning although, to quote Georgie, "it is simply too tarsome" to find that Lucia Victrix: Mapp and Lucia; Lucia's Progress; Trouble for Lucia
contains not only Lucia's Progress and Trouble for Lucia but also Mapp & Lucia, the book I have just read. Oh well, I suppose that is the trouble with buying books sight unseen and indeed, pressing that "buy now" button rather too hastily.

I am very much looking forward to settling into my book this evening and I will be accompanied by a slice of fruitcake, made from Jane's excellent recipe as found in Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer: A Golden Treasury of Classic Treats
, some strong cheese and a glass of wine. Incidentally, if you should doubt my combination of fruit cake with cheese then I must urge you to just give it a go, I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

As the say in Tilling, "au reservoir" for now.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Welcoming colour

The light has changed so much over the last few weeks, for one thing there is rather more of it. It is beginning to warm a little and becoming less watery. I am still wearing plenty of greys and browns but I am adding brighter scarves, last year's green feather and fan is around my neck more frequently and I find myself consciously seeking out and taking pleasure in colour.

I am buying more colourful flowers and applying brighter lipsticks rather than my usual neutral pinkish brown. I feel like a Spring bulb turning my face towards the light and waiting to blossom. Ready to embrace, eager to unfurl.

I visited my local yarn shop yesterday with an eye out for something tweedy, something to knit this gorgeous pattern which I have been dying to get my hands on but I suddenly found myself unenthusiastic about tweed and completely unable to resist this relentlessly cheerful, candy coloured yarn.

Sublime Soya Cotton in pomegranate and I am knitting the Little Red Smock from this book It is a lovely soft, luxurious feeling yarn and very satisfying to work with.

Monday, February 23, 2009

tea and toast

I was so excited when I first saw Leslie's pattern for Toast. As a long time fan of Toast clothes, I had seen the wrist-warmers in their catalogue and gasped at the price, thinking, "but, I could knit those"; but of course I didn't. I kept flicking through the catalogue and my eye would keep straying to those wrist-warmers, I loved how they looked and could see how useful they would be. Then wonderful Leslie posted her pattern and I said "hurrah, just what I have been waiting for" and all winter long I kept meaning to knit them. They kept turning up on all my favourite blogs and I would think, "must knit those" but still I did not get around to it.

A few weeks ago I finally cast on for Toast and I think I finished them in the space of a day. What's more, they are just as pretty and useful as I hoped and now I cannot believe I have only one pair. Why have I not knitted more of these? What am I waiting for? So if for some reason you have been meaning to make these but just haven't got around to it yet then I urge you, get up now, go and look through your stash, grab a ball of yarn and get to it, you will not be sorry.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

First stitches

I am always thrilled when one of my children shows a particular interest in something I am making. Being able to show and share a craft you love with a child makes you feel 10 feet tall. Once in a while one of my offspring shows an interest in knitting but it usually wears off a day or two later. It doesn't matter, the best part is always when your heads are bent together whilst you patiently guide and encourage. The enjoyment is very much in the moment of sharing an activity together.

Tilly's teacher left school on Friday, she had been covering maternity leave and had quickly become popular. Tilly wanted to make her something but was not very impressed by my suggestion of drawing a picture or making a card. So we compromised, she drew a picture and wrote a message and I helped her turn it into a decorated pocket for a tote bag.

This is so simple to do and of course I wondered why I don't do this more often but then life is so much like that and until I do that deal with the devil and negotiate some more hours in each day I guess there just isn't time to do all the things we want to do.

This really did not take long though. I traced Tilly's picture and used that special embroidery transfer paper to transfer her picture on to a piece of linen. She used a special fabric pen to write over her words, I'm really hoping those words are spelt correctly but know from experience that they probably are not quite right. I speak hardly any Welsh and have to take spelling instruction from the children and as I know Tilly's English spelling still needs a lot of correction I am pretty sure her Welsh spelling is of the same standard. Hopefully her teacher will finding the spelling mistakes charming rather than haunting!

I embroidered the flower for Tilly but she did the little running stitch all by herself and naturally, as creative director of the project, the colour choices were all her own work.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Something in the air

There is a change in the air. Oh yes, it is still dark and grey and here in my corner of North Wales there has been a steady chilly drizzle all day long but there is a change. Each day this week I have been very conscious of this change but unable to put my finger on it and then it suddenly struck me. Birdsong. The birds have been singing all week long, once or twice I thought it was coming from the radio, really! It's not just me, on reading blogs today I have noticed several other people mention it too.

There are green shoots appearing all over my grassy hillside promising daffodils in the weeks ahead.
There are snowdrops, how I love snowdrops. Their brave, fragile little heads gently nodding above the rain sodden ground. I knew as I picked these that I was wrong to do so, I know they won't last, I know they look better drifting across my grassy banks but I just could not resist. It is so long since the garden offered me any sort of bloom to bring inside. These snowdrops are like a little jar of promise. The promise of longer, warmer days, the promise of time spent outside, the promise of renewed energy and life.

To go with my jar of snowdrops I made Madeleines. Why have I not made these before? They are as lovely as their name sugests. Light, fragrant, drops of sponge, heavenly with a cup of coffee. Dangerously more-ish and the perfect visual accompaniment to snowdrops.

I initially followed the recipe in How to be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking and quickly decided I that I needed to make more as it would seem that these little things fall into your mouth before you get to put them in a tin. A quick google brought me here and I like this version even better.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Blanketed in love

I really don't make as many things for Dylan as I do for Tilly. I find it harder to make clothes for a 9 year old boy, I can't really sew cool t-shirts and hoodies and the trousers he likes to wear have dozens of pockets. Dresses are mostly simple to sew and the fabric choices are so much fun.

Yes, my poor boy misses out somewhat on the sewing front. However, he does possess the highest number of knitted socks in the household and he certainly is a pleasure to knit socks for. That boy really appreciates his handknitted socks, I've discovered him sweating in a pair during the height of summer and he often wears them to bed. He wouldn't dream of a sleep over or Cub camp without his knitted socks. Dylan says that he knows handmade things are special because they are made with love. I know, he really says that. He is such a gorgeous boy, so kind and considerate, thoughtful and loving. When he says things like that my heart feels like it will burst, so full of love that it gives me that sort of ache that comes from loving so much.

So I guess the fact that it has taken me such a very long time to make him this quilt makes me a pretty shocking kind of mother! I've lost count of the number of times this quilt has been put aside in favour of a liberty print or some pink corduroy. What a fickle sewer I am. I sort of alw
ays knew how I wanted his quilt to be but as usual I procrastinated like crazy. The fabrics were gathered but I couldn't bring myself to commit to cutting. Finally the cutting was don and the piecing of the blocks was quick enough. Dylan enjoyed working with me on putting together the layout, he gave it a lot of thought, he carefully moved pieces, stood back to examine and then moved the blocks again. It was fun to work together, I was eager to see him wrapped in this quilt. I quickly sewed the blocks together and then I could not choose a backing so again the momentum waned and it went back in the basket and sat there for weeks. Months in fact.

Eventually I spotted a suitable backing and enthusiasm gathered once more. The backing attached and it was time to begin the hand quilting. That was a job of fits and starts, Dylan watched patiently but anxiously, I think he was worried that I would put it do
wn again. Finally it was quilted and there was just the need for binding. This time I forced myself not to procrastinate, not to be distracted. I chose quickly and finally the quilt was done. I was glad to be finished with it, glad to no longer feel guilty about it and so, so cross with myself for not finishing it sooner because truly, the gratitude of my gorgeous boy is just unbeatable. He loves this quilt, every night he tells me how warm it keeps him, because of course it is made with love and that is a very warming thing.

I need to make more things for my beautiful boy because to see how happy it makes him just fills me up with that incredible feeling, the one that hurts a little, the feeling that reminds you how precious and fragile our lives are, you know that feeling don't you? The one that keeps us all going, the one that makes us want to care for our loved ones, either with a kiss or a love note, baking a cake, beans on toast, a handmade gift. It doesn't matter how small or how big the gesture but just make sure they know you love them.

I used a log cabin block and a variety of fabrics gathered over time including some of The Technical Advisor's shirts (old shirts I hasten to add, or rather they are now!). I continue to be hugely inspired by the beautiful examples in Asa Wettre's book, Old Swedish Quilts I'm afraid I cannot find a better link than that, it seems rather expensive, I think I may have found my copy on Ebay.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Something red

Something very red indeed.

Red is such a difficult colour to photograph and some might say a difficult colour to wear. Red features in my wardrobe from time to time, there was a hooded red poncho/cape many years ago (actually if truth be known I still have that red poncho somewhere, just in case I ever feel the need to dress up like Little Red Riding Hood). Red is not a regular in my wardrobe, more an occasional feisty visitor.

Lately I've been drawn to red, maybe it is a subconscious reaction to all this cold weather and those grey skies. I keep fi
ghting the urge to paint my nails in fire red. I am in love with the idea of painting my nails but in practise I find the process of waiting for them to dry intolerable, it is so hard to sit with my hands still, unable to knit or stitch. Such a waste of an evening and of course painted nails don't really suit my lifestyle, they are for special occasions only; not my daily life of dishes, clay, baking, dogs and children.

This red hat is is knitted in the rather gorgeous RYC 4ply Cashsoft. A rich, bright red which perfectly satisfies my scarlet urges. The pattern is Robin by Kim Hargreaves and can be found in her Thrown Together book which I bought with a view to possibly knitting Rosa. It is sort of teasing me but I have some doubts, there are all those frills and there will be plenty of seaming, the complete opposite of my last seamless top down raglan.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Two into one

The first Thorpe hat I made was for Dylan. I used, the sadly discontinued, Rowan Magpie yarn in a gloriously bright shade of blue.

There was a little left over and neck warmers have been on my mind. I lost an evening on Ravelry, there are a lot of neck warmer patterns out there. Eventually, feeling overwhelmed by choice, I decided to make my own. I took my inspiration from the lovely Tudora pattern by Cheryl at Simple Yarn, I wanted something similarly neat fitting.

It is just a rectangle of ridge stitch with a nice big button. It took no time at all and I love how it sings against my orangey red dress.

One skein equals two accessories, goodness, I feel positively thrifty.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

February excuses itself

February surely is the worst of months, grey, dark, cold, often wet and windy and firmly standing in the way of Spring. Thankfully it is a short month and this year it has redeemed itself somewhat by rushing in with the flutter of snow.

Up here in North Wales we "do" weather but it is mostly of the gale force wind and rain variety. Surrounded by hills and valleys it can be fun to watch the weather rolling in but, fascinating to see how quickly it can change direction and mood. We get plenty of frost and really suffered in the ice a
few weeks ago but all too often we seem to miss the snow. Even the mountains of Snowdonia, or Eryri as it is known in Welsh, do not always boast snow covered caps throughout the winter months although this year they have had a fair share of snowy topping.

Although we have had a decent snowfall we didn't actually get a snow day at school, thousands of schools across Britain have closed but our tiny rural school bravely stayed open, children made their way across fields or in farm ready 4x4s and this morning were greeted by the sight of a snowboarder careering down the hills behind school. Yesterday it seems they spent most of the day outside building snowmen, sliding and throwing snowballs, no crazy
health and safety bureaucracy for our little school, the children had a wonderful day. On their return we took to the hill in the next field and spent the rest of the afternoon sledging.

Of course all that hill climbing is very hard work so it is just as well I made marshmallows this week, no food colouring this time; snowy white seemed more appropriate. Marshmallows made from The River Cottage Family Cookbook
recipe, perfect for floating in hot chocolate on a cold snowy day, perfect for getting through February.