Felt-inspiration

On Boxing Day we all embarked on a family walk. Halfway down the drive, Dapper pointed out the roots of a huge, old tree, overlooking the pond. The tree was tilting over, and the roots starting to lift from the ground.

The tree had to come down that very afternoon – or risk ripping up the entire driveway! It was quite an exciting spectacle! It fell into the pond with an almighty splash, creating waves of water that lapped into the meadow. It was left there for the time being, and soon became a favourite roost for the ducks.

Last week, the winch finally came to lift the tree from the pond. It had disturbed the natural balance of the water, and needed to be removed, although some larger branches were left behind for the ducks, moorhens and heron to enjoy. Dragged out into the meadow, it quickly dried in the hot sun. Dapper and I took the boys out to inspect the remains.

I was amazed by just how much the dried pondweed resembled felted wool and fibres! It was utterly beautiful, and naturally, I took a bazillion photos. Here are some of my favourites!

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Posts on a theme – more gardening news!

I’m afraid the garden is more or less my life at the moment! Between the boys and the veggies I don’t have a lot of time for much else, and as I have commented to Dapper more than once, the garden is a little like children, in so far as she needs tending if you want her to thrive – even on the days you really don’t feel like it!

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This photo was taken before I lost all three tomtato plants to blight. Gutted, but it happens to the best of us!

In fact, in the week since I took this photo things have gone a little nuts up top. The marrows are now in full bloom and trailing above the pallet frame I put in for them to climb. The bags of potatoes you see to my right in the photo have been harvested and eaten hot with butter (I don’t remember planting reds, but there you go!) The canes to the my left are now half-high with dwarf beans, and behind these, my repurposed gate-framed bed is green with borage and marigold, turnip, beetroot, radish, chicory, lettuce and nasturtiums.

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The tomato hanging baskets and various patio veg are also doing spectacularly well – we’ve been eating red tumbling toms this week, with various other bush varieties on the vine yet to ripen. The alpine strawbs have been delicious from my hanging basket by the front door, and my first carrots are nearly ready to lift. And of course, we’ve been living on salad radish – and radish tops in salads too.

CIMG0034CIMG0080And I’ve just started preserving the produce. My elderflower gin is frankly delicious (I water mine down with lemon juice, and obviously tonic water) and following Monty’s advice last Friday, I cut back my chives to encourage a second crop, making a delicious chive and walnut pesto as a result!

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My next job is to get the two large beds in and the green manure underway ready for autumn planting for my winter veg plugs. I’ve inherited a pile of fence slats and telegraph poles for this, and have a pile of pallets on the way as well. These, I’m hoping, will provide planters for my saffron crocus, an early birthday gift from Grams, and due to arrive late August!

I’m really very excited about the whole thing – the idea of being so in control of what we’re all eating appeals to my inner control freak in rather marvellous ways!

And now I’m off to read James Wong’s Homegrown Revolution, to see what wonders I can add to my patch next year…

 

 

Quick gardening update…

IMG-20140601-WA0013Progress in the veg patch – not great, but at least we should have tomatoes, potatoes, radish, lettuce, beets, turnips, butternut squash, pumpkins and marrows.

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More potatoes – the first earlies I planted, in fact, all in flower this week. 

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I also have strawberries in pots and hanging baskets, bush tomatoes in hanging baskets, an array of herbs, and red and yellow peppers. So we won’t starve!

I have really got the gardening bug of late. I’ve tried to grow vegetables and herbs before – even in the tiny flat in Newcastle I had pepper plants on stakes covering the window in the spare room – apparently it was rather like sleeping in Sleeping Beauty’s castle!

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The squirrel, munching on one of my strawberries. Shortly after taking this photo I retrieved an old net veil I bought in a charity shop and a broken clothes horse from the shed to make this anti-squirrel net tent!CIMG9958But this year I’m really excited at the prospect of just how much I could potentially avoid buying if I could only produce it myself. It is also proving great exercise – after a few hours in the garden I can guarantee I’ll be aching all over and sleep like a baby!

This week I’ve also been foraging for elderflowers (not much of a forage really - there’s a tree halfway up the drive!). I’ve made elderflower cordial, frozen in portion-sized ice-cubes for summer drinks, elderflower frozen yoghurt, and started elderflower gin, which I’m especially excited about!

Waste not, want not

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I’m on a bit of a waste-not kick of late. I don’t know whether it’s the lack of money in my bank account (I’ve yet to be paid for a single job I have done since going freelance at the end of March) or the cost of compost for my veggie garden that has done it, but I’m suddenly aware of every single thing we throw away. I’ve started a Bokashi composting system (these guys are good, if you’re interested), so I can finally compost my leftovers, post-stock bones, and the various other food bits that can’t go into the regular compost bin or out to feed the friendly ducks that seem to have adopted us. Everything we throw away is subject to the three Qus before it hits the rubbish bin: can it be re-used? IF NOT, can if be upcycled? IF NOT can it be recycled? I have a sizeable collection of homemade mini-greenhouses for my seedlings next year, all neatly paired up with a plastic meat-tray for the base and a salad/stir-fry tray for the lid. And thanks to pinterest I have a supply of funnels, shovels and storage containers made from empty milk cartons.

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The ducks, sitting on our front door step

This weekend, I bottled up this year’s sloe gin. I was left with a pile of gin-soaked sloes, which I decanted into red wine to make sloe port. Before making the port, though, I removed the stones, to make the third stage of the process, sloe truffles, easier at the other end. I was left with a pile of sloe stones, and no clue what to do with them.

Googling was not helpful. No-one was offering advice regarding how to use sloe stones after the gin-making process - most folk seem to just add them to the compost. But I did read that the stones themselves release a lovely almond flavour, if left to soak long enough. Which went a long way to explaining why my instincts had led me to add almond essence to this year’s sugar syrup prior to sweetening my gin. (I used this recipe this year, rather than my usual all-in recipe, which can produce a sickly sweet gin.) I decided to try something out, just to see what happens: I added the stones to a half-empty bottle of wine vinegar.

Anyone have any suggestions as to what this might produce? I’m hoping for a slightly fruity vinegar that I can use in winter stews. I know I might have to reduce it with some sugar after steeping to achieve this, but that’s fine! I’m going on an elderflower forage as soon as the sun comes out, then when the berries come in, I have plans to make elderberry vinegar. So if this doesn’t work out, I’ll still have plenty of fruity vinegar to be going on with…

Stash-busting nightdress – a make-do make!

A couple of weeks ago I picked up Conall at a funny angle and heard a distinct ripping sound. With a sigh, I retreated to the bathroom mirror, to inspect the enormous tear that had appeared across the back of my nightdress. It wasn’t something that could be fixed without replacing the whole back panel. The nighty had had it.

Not having the cash for a new one, I delved in my stash for some suitable fabric. This lovely lightweight blue and yellow stripe is wonderfully sunny and summery, and was given to me by my Grandma in a parcel of materials she felt sure I’d use. I had no pattern, so I used the existing nightdress. I replaced the elasticated waist with an adjustable cord-threaded lace, leftover materials from an adjustable-length petticoat I made a few years ago…

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I was so happy with the result – a lovely new nighty for an hour’s sewing, and much prettier than any I’ve seen on the high street!

Easter in pictures

Because I’m rather short of time just now, up to my eyeballs in freelance and trying to prepare for fairs…

So, I wore this:

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To go here:

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To see this:

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It was brilliant.

Also, the boys had their first taste of real chocolate. Conall wasn’t keen, but Hal…

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We learned to play peekaboo:

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And monkeying about:

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As well as playing outside:

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Mummy wore this:

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40 minute stash-buster: tea-towel organiser

I’m sure I’m not the only person who spent Easter have a jolly good sort-out. Amongst other things, I found a stack of tea towels, set aside as just too nice to be used to dry dishes, and amongst them were a pair of Hope and Greenwood tea towels I was given as a gift. As I wondered what I could use them other than dish-drying, inspiration struck.

Since the boys arrived, we have constantly found ourselves scrabbling to find a handy home for their shoes, socks, hats, bubbles – general outdoorsy bits and bobs, as well as our own slippers, my gardening gloves, welly socks, etc etc etc. I thought an organiser to hand beside the front door would answer all our needs, and look pretty to boot!

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To make your own, you will need:

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2 tea towels and some doweling or cane cut to size. You don’t have to have two identical tea towels – one plain for the back and a patterned front would work nicely!

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Scissors, cotton, some cord or ribbon, pins, and not shown: a tape measure/ruler and sewing machine.

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Begin by unpicking the top of your backing towel. If you have two identical towels, check the size, and use the slightly narrower of the two for the back.

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Once you’ve unpicked the top, fold the hem back over the cane, and pin in place. Machine across, leaving the ends open to slide the cane through.

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Now, measure your top tea towel and divide into three roughly equal sections. If, like mine, your towels have a pattern that looks better divided up slightly unevenly, go for it! Unless you’re making your divider for a particular purpose, in which case you’ll need to stick strictly to your measurements.

Unpick the side and bottom seams – leave the top in place. Hem the top of the two lower sections.

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Measure and mark the base tea towel with three equal sections, line up the three sections you’ve cut and hemmed, and fold downwards to pin in place. Sew with two rows of machine stitch approx. 1/4″ apart.

Now pin the side seams and machine top-stitch up both sides. Where you’ve unpicked the seams you should find you’ve a pressed-under edge, which will give you a neat finish. You should also have bought yourself a little give for the pockets – line up the edges at this point and don’t worry about the top lying flat against the back.

Now measure across the tea towel and split into three again (or, again, more/less if you have a different or particular use in mind). Machine top-stitch up each of the two dividing lines to create three pockets for each section.

Finally, push your dowel through the seamed top. If you’re using dowel you may want to drill a couple of holes to feed your cord through for a professional finish, or create grooves with a file to hold your cord in place. I used cane, and used a hand saw to create a split in either end, then slid the cord through before knotting.

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And voila – one organiser!

I think this is great for storing the odds and ends we need daily by the front door, but it could also be used in pretty much any room in the house…

  • Hang it on the back of the bathroom door to hold toiletries or make-up…
  • Or in the kitchen to hold your most-used cooking utensils.
  • Make one for a new mum, to hang on the cot end/cot-top-changer for nappies and paraphernalia…
  • Or use a single tea towel, fold up the bottom and weight the top to create a handy remote-control store.
  • Hang one in a wardrobe to keep your flip-flops and ballet-flats in pairs…
  • Or to hold rolled-up belts, socks and ties.
  • Make one for a crafter to hold their haberdashery goods…
  • Or for a knitter, with dedicated pockets to hold needles, yarn and patterns.
  • Use twine in place of cord and make one for a gardener to hang in the shed holding their twine, secateurs, gloves, a trowel and hand-fork, seed packets, a dibber…
  • Or find a tea towel with a herb theme and make double pockets to hold seed packets alongside herb plants – could be hung outside or inside depending on space, for a handy vertical kitchen herb garden!

Let me know how you would use it!