Friday, 30 August 2013

Quilted patchwork wall hanging - tutorial

As regular readers will know, I am hoping one day soon to make some money by crafting.  In the meantime I am making as much as possible, building up experience, learning from mistakes, and learning what works, what might be viable as a craft to sell and what is just too time consuming.

My niece is four on Monday.  Her family has just moved into a new house, where for the first time she has her own bedroom and isn't sharing with her big brother.  I wanted to make her a birthday present for her bedroom, tied to the colour scheme, which is apparently pink with a hint of green.

I learnt plenty along the way with this project.  First, make sure that you have everything you need before you start - I bought the fabric for the patchwork, but not the backing or the bias binding, and my race into Perth on the way back from somewhere else yielded colours which are okay, but not exactly what I was looking for.  Then I got home and found I still didn't have any fusible webbing or pink thread for the bias binding - so I ended up managing without.  Which brings me to the second thing I learnt:  Leave yourself plenty of time.  I started this with under five days before it needed to go in the post.  With so many other things going on, it was a real struggle and I think the quality of finish shows it.

So here goes:
1)  Cut out the pieces of fabric for the patchwork, baste them together (I used a card template to ensure they remained 12x10cm) and then stitch.
2)  Iron the seams.
3) Cut out the letters for the name (using card templates), and fix on.  Ideally you would use fusible bonding web for this, but...
...I didn't have any, so carefully folded under the edges and hand stitched.
4)  Add the wadding and the backing, baste together and then quilt around the letters, leaving a large space.  I did this with the machine, but I hadn't basted very well, so the fabric ended up a bit bumpy.
here's a closer look
5) press, pin, and then stitch on the bias binding, making sure that you catch both pieces of fabric and the wadding within the binding.
6) stitch on a couple of hanging loops in matching ribbon.
7) Press the finished article, and then it's ready to hang on your wall, or in my case, to be wrapped up and rushed to the post office!

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

How's the model railway progressing? Trees

Slowly slowly...
We've now added some trees to our scenery.  These are Noch mixed trees.  I've just glued them on with PVA, but as the scenery is sloped, and neither the "roots" nor the bottom part of the trunk bends, they are bent at the top instead.  They've made quite a difference to the look of the scenery.
As you can see from the bottom corner of the photograph, I've also started work on the fence.  It's quite intricate so I'm taking my time, and at the moment I have about 25 washing pegs attached to it to hold the wire in place while the glue dries - not that clever as it turns out, as the washing pegs are now glued to my very delicately held in place fence!

To add to the fun, Hubby has decided to completely change the layout of the track, and double the size of the model.  The pieces of scenery I've already got started on won't be affected.  I made them mobile, as he gave hints that this layout wasn't the final one right at the beginning - but it does mean I'll have to get a shift on to fill in all the scenery on such a large model.  I'm trying to complete one thing every week...  but at the same time, I've still got two small children, do a lot of Scouting, have a house and garden to look after and am trying to earn some money working from home (and keep being reminded not to try to do too much!).

Saturday, 24 August 2013


I’m writing a series of blog posts exploring the books “How to be Free” and “The Idle Parent” written by Tom Hodgkinson.  I enjoyed a lot of the ideas expressed in these books, and think that exploring them further will help me to explore the principles behind my own way of living and parenting.
Chapter 22 – Stop worrying about your pension and get a life – SAY YES TO LIFE
A pension is supposed to be security for when we are older and can no longer work.  Or is it?  In actual fact we work all our lives, putting money “aside”, which actually means into the pockets of the pension firm executives, and to be “invested” on a perilously unstable stock market (gambling).  Would it not be better to look after ourselves?  Whether this means investing by ourselves in something a little more secure (property / gold / under the bed), choosing an occupation from which we don’t want or need to retire because we are so busy enjoying ourselves, or cultivating a more caring attitude amongst our family – didn’t the older generation used to live with and be cared for by their working age children in their dotage?

Stop worrying about the future (which after all, we may never see) and enjoy life now.

How does this match up to the ink-spots-and-grass-stains life?
Having opted out of a “career path” I think my pension provision is pretty non-existent.  Hubby has a pretty good one.  I’m not too worried.  I figure I’ll just squirrel a bit of money away, keep working, spend less and hope for the best.  So I think my attitude pretty much squares up with Tom’s.
Having said that, I know that I have family approaching retirement age in the next decade who are very worried about how they will manage when they can no longer work.  I hope very much that I’ll be able to ease their worries and take them in.  I would certainly prefer that to seeing them worry about how they’ll pay their heating bill, or seeing them scratching away at a job just because they can’t afford not to, when they would prefer to be enjoying their old age.

What about you?  Do YOU have a pension?

Friday, 23 August 2013

Leftover Lunch

As a mum with little beans at home, I want lunch to be both nutritious and appealing.  One can't live on bacon sandwiches alone more's the pity.

This lunch is an ideal for using up bits and pieces around the fridge, is very easy and equals absolutely no fussing.

Simply get a large plate and put lots of bits and pieces from your fridge: leftovers from meals, bits of fruit and salad etc.  Try to provide a mixture of protein and salad and fruit items to keep things nice and balanced.  Today our plate had on it:

  • leftover pork chop from Tuesday night (chopped)
  • cucumber
  • leftover risotto from Wednesday night in a bowl
  • cherry tomato quarters
  • leftover chicken thigh from last night's Paella (chopped)
  • grated cheese
  • salami (chopped)
  • grape halves
Then give each person as many pitta pockets as you think they are likely to eat, and get them to help themselves.  You don't have to use Pitta bread, other types of bread or jacket potatoes are fine, but my offspring really enjoy filling pitta pockets so it keeps lunchtime fun!

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Cooking with little ones

We cook together a lot in our house.  Every week the children are each “in charge” of one meal. 

They decide what they are going to cook, which they’ve started to think about now the previous week.  Favourite meals include Paella and curry from Bug, and Chinese Soup and Tuna Pasta Bake from C.

Depending on what day they are cooking and what else we are up to, they may get a picture shopping list to find the relevant items in the supermarket. 

They then get to cook the meal.  We bought a mini stepladder from B&Q before we had children, and it is in constant use in the kitchen.  They are still not at the point where they can follow a recipe themselves, but C is certainly not far from being able to cook some of his favourite meals from memory.  They are only two and four, so I tend to do most of the chopping, but C is getting pretty good at that too.  I also do much of the hot work, but they put ingredients in, and stir.  Bug loves to taste her ingredients, from chunks of ginger, chilli and garlic, to lumps of chorizo, raw noodles and a snippet of spices.  Basically, if it’s safely within their capability to do it themselves, then I try to get them.

While the dinner is cooking they then set the table.  In Bug’s case this often means that we sit down with three knives each, because she’s got distracted in the process, but C is pretty consistent at getting the right cutlery in the right place, and making sure that everybody gets a cup and a plate.

At the end of the mealtime, the “Thank you for my dinner, please may I get down?” is always directed at the person in charge of the cooking, and they are proud to be able to say “Yes”.  Hubby has told C that he always looks forward to coming home for dinner when he knows that he’s making Chinese Soup, and Bug will always begin the meal when she’s cooked it by demanding to know “Is this a nice dinner?”

I’ve heard on the radio recently that there are adults out there who wouldn’t know where to start in home cooking, who couldn’t even peel an onion or a carrot, and wouldn’t be able to identify garlic or ginger in the supermarket.  I can say with absolute certainty that will not be the case with my children!

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Easiest Craft Ever - Mask

C has now made the leap to pre-school, so for three mornings each week Bug and I are having a bit of time on our own.  On his second morning away she was feeling a little lost without her playmate, so I quickly rustled up some materials and made this:

You need a piece of A4 card, glue, elastic, scissors and bits and pieces to stick.

I folded the piece of card in half and cut out the mask shape and the eyes.  I went for a jagged top edge, and a rounded bottom to sit against her cheeks.  To begin with I had the eyes spaced too widely, so I extended them towards the nose.

She was then set loose with pipe cleaners, pompoms and feathers, as well as glue, and had a great time sticking.

If you wanted to you could go with a theme here and make a pirate mask, an animal mask, a parrot mask, a clown mask or any other type of mask you can think of.  We just went bright and colourful.

Once the glue was dry I made a hole in each side and tied the elastic through.

She’s delighted!

Monday, 19 August 2013

Family Fun in the Cotswolds

This was our fourth annual "Youth Hostel Trip" - me, my two sisters, my mum, and our seven children (seven children under the age of seven - honestly, if our husbands had any clue what that's like then they'd soon lose and twinges of jealousy they might be feeling about not being invited!
 This year we headed to YHA Stow-on-the-Wold.  Stow-on-the-Wold is a picture postcard little town and the Youth Hostel sits right on the square.  It made a great base for our explorations.
We arrived at lunchtime on the Friday, me from Scotland (with a visit to the lovely in-laws in Stoke-on-Trent on the way), and the others all from Devon.  Lunch was in The Old Stocks next door to the hostel.  After lunch we made ourselves comfortable in our rooms and then headed off for a self-guided "town trail" which my Auntie had picked up from the TIC when she had visited.  It was about the architecture, but we were able to interpret it to maintain some interest for the children, and the promise of an ice-cream at the end of the "explore" helped those who lost interest.  Bug decided that sleep was for the weak, and kept her brother and two of her cousins awake long into the night, but overall we got more sleep on that first night than we have managed on previous trips.
 On the Saturday after a self-catered breakfast we headed to Cotswold Farm Park, where we spent a happy day playing, feeding animals, riding on tractors, a picnic lunch, bouncing on giant pillows and all the things that little children like to do.  A great day.  Pizza for dinner and then thankfully more sleep for everybody.
 Sunday morning, after clearing out our rooms we headed off to Bourton-on-the-water to the model village.  While it's beautiful, and inexpensive, I confess that spending a lot of time examining models lately with our railway in mind, this one didn't inspire me - there could have been a bit more attention to detail I think.  Still, the children enjoyed it, despite needing to be shackled to us to prevent them climbing over everything and running all over the model.  We headed for a cafe after this, and then I bundled the children in the car and made the long motorway voyage back north.
It sounds like a hectic weekend, but there was plenty of space for relaxing, and it was nice just to see the cousins running about and playing together and to have a chance to chat with my sisters and my mum.  We're looking forward to our next Family Hostel expedition, which we are planning for Boggle Hole in North Yorkshire next year.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

How to be Free: DISARM PAIN

I’m writing a series of blog posts exploring the books “How to be Free” and “The Idle Parent” written by Tom Hodgkinson.  I enjoyed a lot of the ideas expressed in these books, and think that exploring them further will help me to explore the principles behind my own way of living and parenting.

Chapter 21 – Disarm pain – EMBRACE HARDSHIP

Tom has a good rant about Glaxo Smith Kline, and about how they relish pain, because the more pain there is in the world the more profit they get.  He talks about their motto “Do more, feel better, live longer” and how it’s utter relative nonsense.  Doing more – is that really a good thing?  Feeling better – better than what?  Living longer – with what quality of life?
A little pain is okay.  It’s okay to feel pain because it’s part of life.  Fear of pain leads to fear of living.
Could we embrace a little hardship?  The warmth of the fire or a hot shower is all the better if you’ve been out giving your body some grief running around in the cold.  Perhaps it’s the same with all life – the contrast between pain and pleasure is more intense than a numbing mediocrity.
How does this match up to the ink-spots-and-grass-stains life?

I completely agree about the pleasure of life being all the better after a bit of hardship.  I fear that I’ve become a bit middle of the road since I’ve had children.  The heating is on, and it takes a bit of stirring to get me out of the house and running with the dog, especially in wintry weather.  When I do make the effort, I always feel better for it.

I have to confess though, that when it comes to real pain I’m pathetic.  A swollen foot from an insect bite has me off my feet for nearly a week.  A hangover (from one pint of cider – I’m such a light-weight!) has me swearing off alcohol for life and reaching for the paracetamol.  A twinge in my calf and I don’t do any exercise for a month.  I don’t like pain.  It makes me feel faint and nauseous and I’m sorry – I do not embrace real pain.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Learning the craft - crochet!

So I undertook my first ever piece of crochet at Christmas - a flower using simple chains of crochet.

I'm planning to develop my skills by gradually working through the items in "First Crochet" by Lesley Stansfield.

My second attempt was a baby hat.  I'm not sure what went wrong but it definitely didn't look like the one in the picture.

This time I think I've got the hang of it.  It's a tiny tote bag.  I think the finish would have been better if I had used Cotton DK as suggested, rather than the wool I had sitting in my wool basket, and it's a little wonky and uneven in places where I've lost and then regained a stitch in the rows, but it's definitely double crochet, which is what it's supposed to be.  And I am proud of it.  

More importantly, C loves it.  It's purple which is his favourite colour, so I've given it to him.  

I won't tell you what the next crochet project is going to be.  If it turns out well then it's going to be a Christmas gift for somebody.  I have another knitting project to do before then though - I'm going to learn a new skill, and knit an Aran Cable jumper for Bug - CABLE??!!!

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Mrs Tiggywinkle lives on

Anybody who has ever been away for a week-long family holiday will know exactly what I mean when I suggest that these three photographs sum up my Sunday.
 We had a fantastic week with the caravan in Gairloch (Wester Ross - North West Scotland).
 The weather was kind to us, the midges were not horrific (thank goodness, my legs are still suffering from the five wasp stings a week and a half ago!), the scenery was breathtaking, the activities relaxing...
what more can you ask for from a holiday?

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Children's craft - cardboard shields

Who doesn't love a castle?
1, our little ones getting the tissue stuck on
For some reason castles seem to really fire the imagination of young children, and I decided that we should get creative, and add something special to our dressing-up box, with the hope that we might visit a castle on a sunny day to allow for a bit of role-play.  We made our own shields.  Here's how to do it:
2 - Bug sticking her kitchen roll over her design very carefully

  • cardboard box card (for the shield)
  • newspaper and sticky tape
  • kitchen roll, PVA glue, brushes
  • paint and brushes
  • cereal box card (for the arm loops)

  1. Cut out a simple shield shape from cardboard box card.  It doesn't have to be perfect.
  2. Roll up a sheet of newspaper at a time and stick it around the edge of the shield to create a raised border.  This isn't strictly necessary, but it does make a nice finish.  Depending on the age, ability and attention span of the children, you can do this bit for them.  I was working with four under the age of five - so I did!
  3. Next roll up and tape other pieces of newspaper to create a raised design.  Bug wanted to make a daisy, so I made the petal shapes for her and helped her stick them on.  Cousin Bea wanted to make a zig-zag so again I made the shape and helped her stick it on.  C wanted a foxglove design, so I rolled and taped the flowers and stem but he wanted to stick his on himself.  Big Cousin E decided he didn't want any design in relief, he just wanted to paint his design on.
  4. This is a very important step, and must not be left out.  Photos 1, 2 and 3 all show the work in progress.  Tear or cut plenty of kitchen roll paper into squares about 5cm square.  Mix up 50:50 PVA glue and water.  Brush this mixture over the whole shield including the edging, the design and all sticky tape.  Stick the kitchen tissue all over the shield and brush more glue mixture over the top, brushing right into all the nooks and crannies until the whole shield is covered with glued tissue paper.
  5. Leave to dry thoroughly.  This will take about 18 hours, maybe more.  
  6. When the shield is dry, paint your design.  Photos 4 and 5 show a couple of ours.
  7. Leave to dry.
  8. Cut out your cereal boxes and stick in loops to the back of the shield so that the child's arm can go through.  If you want it to look really good, you can repeat the glue and tissue paper exercise and paint the back too. 
3 - C covering his shield with PVA/water mix

4 - Bug's finished shield

5 - Big Cousin E with his crusader shield (to match the armour he already has at home)
What have you been making lately?