Wednesday, 12 June 2013
I mentioned in this post that I was taking part in this project, one of a hundred participants writing a short hand-written true story. Taking the idea of patchwork as my inspiration, I intertwined several stories of birth and death, and wrote about an emotional journey from the time when my grandmother died last year to the early weeks of my new son's life.
This also brought in other people loved and lost, stretching back into the past - my grandmother's life, my mother's. I tried to catpure the strange interweaving of life and death, the agonsing pain of loss, the vulnerability and joy of life. It is also about family, about the circle of life: the comings and goings that shape us and make us who we are.
It was an extraordinary process, especially writing by hand. I've often written a journal, so it was a little like that, I suppose, except that I had a bit more of an overarching plan: I knew what I wanted to write about. Somehow it fitted into the form of this little book of lined pages. But writing by hand felt raw and intimate in a way that the keyboard just doesn't achieve. At some point it will be digitised, and, if you feel like it, you'll be able to read a little piece of my heart online. I'll let you know.
See this post for more details about the project.
Friday, 7 June 2013
So I was, you know, wandering around with a grouchy baby in my arms who wouldn't be put down and cried if I sat down, and wondering what creative thing I could do standing up with him in the sling. Then I remembered this cute cat stencil I've had lying around, ever since receiving this wonderful box set of Agnès Varda's films for Christmas from my lovely husband. It's the image of Varda's cherished (and sadly deceased) cat Zgougou.
Seriously people, why did no-one tell me how easy this is? OK so my first attempt, on plain fabric (see above) was a bit fuzzy and blotchy, but I still love it. I wasn't sure if the plastic stencil would work (I've heard ironed-on freezer paper is the best bet), but I'm totally fine with the results, even if their is some seepage. Next up: a yellow t-shirt of my son's:
It totally transforms this plain yellow shirt which, frankly, I wasn't too keen on, into something cool! I can't wait to see him wearing it now. In the photo at the top of this post you can see that it even works on patterned fabric. This stencilled vintage material is going to become an appliqué on something - but I'm not sure quite what yet. I love it so much I want to choose carefully.
If you'd like to try, it really is the simplest thing in the world. All you need is:
- a stencil
- some fabric paint (I used Dylon, £2.95 per pot and it will go a long way)
- a paintbrush
- tape (I used some parcel tape that just happened to be on the kitchen table)
- 2 old tea towels you don't mind staining (one for putting behind the fabric while to absorb any paint that seeps through and the other one for ironing the stencil to set it).
I literally want to put cats everywhere now, it's kind of addictive... but I also want to try making my own stencil. Watch this space!
Tuesday, 4 June 2013
Have you ever written a letter without knowing who will read it? Me neither, until I saw an intriguing photo on Annee Apple's instagram feed. There was an envelope on which was written 'Open me... If you find this letter it's for you to keep'. I followed the leads to find a website, www.moreloveletters.com, encouraging people to write letters full of love to strangers and leave them for someone to find. I decided to join in.
I love the idea of finding one of these letters, so it makes sense that I'd enjoy writing them, imagining the feeling of finding a missive unexpectedly, full of warmth and light. Once I started writing, though, I realised it was a little more complicated than I'd first assumed. Leaving the letter for anyone to find is an incredibly open gesture of goodwill. It meant opening up to the idea that anyone, anyone, could read it. I meant wishing everyone well, even those motorists who drive badly when I'm on my bike, even the rude woman who grumbles when I pull my pram up onto the bus, even someone who might not wish me well at all, who even - to take this idea to its extreme - might want to harm me... Anyone.
It took a little inner adjustment but once I'd had this thought it felt really liberating and well, just good. It made me realise how much energy I waste (me - someone who thinks of herself as a pretty easy-going, people-loving person!) feeling disgruntled or resentful towards people I've never met. Try it - you might surprise yourself! Most of us, all we really want is to love and be loved. Let's spread that love around, to people we've never met, to everyone.
I also had to contend with the idea that the letter might not have its intended effect, might not make the person smile or feel warm inside. It might be ripped up and thrown away without a second thought. But then I thought that the one thing it almost certainly wouldn't do was any harm, I resigned myself to letting it go and leaving it to fate: a message in a bottle.
So if you see a woman stealthily pull an envelope out of her baby's pram and leave it somewhere odd, it might just be me! If you'd like to join in, check out the moreloveletters website.
Thursday, 30 May 2013
It was the project that tipped the balance in favour of immediately purchasing a box of 10,000 perler beads. As soon as I saw this post on meaningfulmama.com, I knew I had to make this rainbow-bright plastic bowl with my little boy.
And it looks perfect in the shelves on his new room. I've got an update on that room coming up, by the way, but I really wanted to make the curtains before sharing photographs, and get a few other things finished... it's not ready yet! Anyway, the bowl is a super easy project to do with kids. I was surprised how easily a nearly-three-year-old could get the idea of pushing down the beads to keep a flat layer. We both enjoyed the feeling of plunging our hands into the big box of beads. I have to say, even if I didn't have kids I'd be tempted to make one of these! We started small - I wanted to see if it would work - but the boy has made me promise we'll make a big one at the weekend.
Oh yes, and very quickly he stopped even bothering to call it a bowl, let alone use it as one. It is known as 'my little hat', and is also used as the crocodile's chair in the musical chairs game we are playing at bathtime at the moment (the joy of water-friendly plastic!) I can still keep it on the shelves where it looks pretty, right? (He wants to keep it under his bed...!)
p.s. that fab Humpty Dumpty on the shelf is a 1979 Fisher Price original I found on Etsy... *love*!
p.p.s. here's the link to the post with instructions for making the bowl.
Friday, 10 May 2013
I'm a big fan of projects that can be made in an evening. I guess I'm a little hooked on instant gratification, and seeing something finished is the ultimate satisfaction. But every now and again I have to make something big, something that's going to take a bit of patience. This is the biggest - and I mean quite literally, in size - project I have ever undertaken: a huge patchwork quilt. It is a work in progress. In the above photo you can see however that I've now finished the top.
Squares?? Again?? Yes, I'm afraid so. But the twist is that this quilt features no less than 208 6-inch squares. That's quite a lot of fabric! The fabric is either vintage, repurposed or new but from bits and pieces left over in my stash. The scary thing about such a massive project is that if I mess it up that's a helluva lot of fabric wasted... it's a little unnerving. I really hope it's all going to come together OK in the end.
The role of this great big piece is to cover a new sofa we have on order (the plan is to finish it in time for the sofa's arrival!) With two little boys in the house we figure the sofa will not stay pristine for long. Enter the big homely patchwork quilt that's designed to be washable and ennlessly washed. Every seam is firmed up with a zig-zag stitch to stop the fabric fraying and give it extra strength and durability. That basically means stitching every seam twice.
I'm also going to be trying two new (for me) techniques: stitching in the ditch (machine quilting very close to the seam) and binding using the quilt backing folded over - the latter will also require some neat mitred corners, so wish me luck! To be perfectly frank I'm not too sure about how it's looking right now, but I'm hoping that when it's all finished up it's going to look just right! Wish me luck...
Saturday, 27 April 2013
One of the advantages of having a French husband (and perhaps particularly, one hailing from the South) is that his attachment to his maman's cooking means he is compelled to recreate it in our kitchen. A case in point is perhaps one of my favourite ever comfort dishes: the classic daube. Since I'm at home at the moment, he persuaded me to try my hand at it, and it was surprisingly easy! I thought I'd share his (mum's) recipe here (with apologies to vegetarians: traditional French food tends to be rather meat-centred.)
500g casserole steak beef, in small pieces
1 onion, finely sliced
3-4 carrots (I didn't peel them - I think the French would though) cut into 2
punnet of mushrooms cut in half
new potatoes, larger ones cut in half
1/2 bottle of cheap red wine
1 tbsp of flour
3-4 tablespoons of olive oil
salt & pepper
2 bay leaves
Warm the olive oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan or casserole dish, on medium heat. Add the onions and cook till they are soft and golden.
Turn up the heat a little, add the meat and turn quickly to sear all over, keeping the juices in. Add salt and pepper to taste. Then add your tablespoon of flour and mix really well.
Cover with a mixture of red wine and water in the ratio 3/4 wine to 1/4 water. I made up about a pint of this but when the Mr got home he added about a glass more red wine - I think it's a case of judging it to your taste really. And it works just fine with the cheapest available wine!
Now add your carrots, mushrooms and potatoes - yep, it's as simple as that, you just plonk them in! And that's 2 of your 5 a day right there.
Finally, add the super-important bay leaves to infuse their lovely flavour. The next instruction is "simmer for hours". My husband's wisdom is that the longer you cook it, the better it is. Just bring to the boil then turn it to a low heat and leave for as long as you can, stirring to stop it sticking to the bottom of a pan.
It's the simplest beef stew you could imagine but there's something about it that is just so heart-warmingly delicious. And yes, we eat this even in Spring and Summer!
Tuesday, 23 April 2013
I love vintage embroidered linen. I started collecting it to make heart-shaped lavender sachets, and now I can't stop. My usual hunting ground is eBay. But I'm not very good at finding real bargains on eBay. The sellers all seem so savvy and price-aware. However at an otherwise disappointing attic sale this weekend I managed to find a couple of pretty pieces for the very reasonable price of £3.
What I love about pieces like this pretty handkerchief and tablecloth (below) is the skill and beauty of the hand embroidery. I can imagine some 1940s housewife (that's my guess at the era they date from) painstakingly stitching the motifs, revelling in the colours of the thread in a time when colour was hard to come by. My mum was born in 1941 and she remembers an age where everything was scarce, including colour: even cars and vans were often just grey. Paint was a luxury, as was fabric. Embroidery was the perfect way to bring pattern and colour to plain linen.
There's a part of me that feels bad about repurposing these lovely linens. But the simple truth is I know I'm not going to use a linen handkerchief or tablecloth. It would be far sadder to keep them folded away in a drawer. Instead I want to give them a new lease of life, and have them used and on display.
I have a great idea for the tablecloth. This Sunday I took my little boys to visit a dear friend of mine and while we were there she was working on her latest patchwork quilt. She is a queen of quilting, handstitching the most beautiful and vast hexagon flower quilts. She is so neat and tidy and patient, whereas I love projects I can finish in one evening! I noticed she was using rather a fine paper bag from Paris to keep her ongoing work in. But I'm sure she'd be even happier to use a large tote made from vintage embroidered linens. I'm planning it out in my head already - another project for my ever-growing list!
And just in case with my £3 bargain I'm giving the impression of being a properly thrifty type, I feel I ought to share a little sneak peek of a very expensive 1970s fabric haul from Etsy, destined to be transformed into curtains for my boys' room. Much as I love the idea of picking these up from some charity shop or car boot sale, it just doesn't seem to happen, and when I find the perfect pieces, I can't resist spending out on them from my favourite Dutch and German Etsy sellers... My love of vintage materials is strong - but I probably should work on my thrifty sourcing skills.