Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Fabric doll's bed

Sewing is something that I love to do, and I will often take on projects that will take a while to complete. I am fairly motivated to complete larger projects (like quilts) when I have a deadline. However, when I'm sewing something that doesn't 'have' to be finished, it often doesn't get completed for way too long. (There are two completed quilt tops sat in the drawer next to me, waiting to be backed and quilted. I started one of them a year ago!) Therefore, I am often on the look out for ideas of things to make that will be quick, so that I am less likely to lose momentum.
A few weeks back, I decided to make a little bed for Ruby's doll. I knew that this should be fairly straightforward, and looked for a tutorial online. I tend to be pretty hopeless at following a pattern, or tutorial, and after a quick browse of Pinterest, I decided I couldn't go too far wrong by winging it, and so that is what I did. The process was very simple. I cut out four rectangles of fabric (two for the base of the bed and two for the top) and two pieces of wadding. I quilted each pair together, then sewed the smaller rectangle on top of the larger one, folding down the edge so that the grey fabric would be slightly visible. 

I trimmed down the edges, then used some bias binding I had made for a previous project to finish off the edges neatly. And that's it. No need to do any kind of sewing right sides together, turning, faffing, etc. It has a good few imperfections, because I was wanting to finish the sewing before Ruby woke from her nap, but I doubt that Ruby has noticed.
What you can't tell from this picture is that this is the first time Ruby had seen her new doll's bed, and she was in the process of whipping the baby and rabbit from it, then launching them across the room and discarding the doll's bed on the floor. I'm sure she'll love it one day....

Sunday, 22 February 2015

The 52 Project: 8/52

'A portrait of my daughter, once a week, every week in 2015.'

Dear Ruby,
A few weeks ago, we bought you a Little Helper fun pod (which is now fondly referred to as your turret), I think this might just be the best purchase we have made for you, aside from the sling I carried you in as a newborn. For a long time, you had been desperate to see what I was doing on the working surface in the kitchen, whenever I was cooking, baking or cleaning, and now you've got a turret to stand in, you can be part of the action too. This week, you have spent a lot of time at the kitchen sink, playing with the water. Mostly, you like to fill up your glasses from the running tap, and drink from them. In an effort to avoid doubling our normal water usage, I set a timer for you to play with the running water for five minutes (I am pretty certain you would have liked to have had the tap on indefinitely). This was the face you pulled when I turned the tap off, and your expression was accompanied by much squawking to let me know you really did want the tap back on. 
In other news, you have suddenly started to sign a whole range of Makaton signs that I have used with you since you were a few months old, which is just amazing to see. You can sign friend, milk, good, spider, cat and swimming. You, my little one, are brilliant. 
All my love,
Mum xxx 

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

self portraiture part one

I have always loved photos and the way they tell stories without words. When I was pregnant with our daughter, I was so excited at the prospect of having a growing family to photograph, and you don't have to spend much time scrolling through my blog to see that fourteen months in to having Ruby with us, I still love to take photos of her. Sadly, for all of the thousands of photographs I take, we have very few of me with Ruby and / or John, because I am always the one behind the lens. This is something I am hoping to remedy a bit this year with the help of my shutter remote for my camera. I realise that the photos I take using the remote won't have the same candid quality that I like in photos, but at least they will provide some record of me with my family. Here are a few shots from my first attempt. I tried to take advantage of the golden light that fills the back of our house in the morning, and while they are far from perfect photos, they still tell a story.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

The 52 Project: 7/52

'A portrait of my daughter, once a week, every week in 2015.'

Dear Ruby,
I took this photo of you on an impromptu walk we went on in Easter Compton. It's only fifteen minutes away from where we live, but I have only recently learned of this little village. On Friday, we went to the local deli to deliver some of my cakes, and you were not at all keen at the idea of going straight back in the car so soon after we had arrived. You love to be outdoors, and so I followed your lead, and we went exploring to delay the car journey home. Much to your delight, we discovered a play park. You let go of my hand and eagerly set off across the muddy grass to try and find the way to the swings. To me, this photo speaks of your independence, your love for the outdoors, your wild hair and your willingness to get muddy knees when it comes to exploration. I am both excited and terrified at the prospect of where these characteristics might lead you over the years, but I am coming to realise that is part and parcel of being a parent and having a precious piece of your heart walking around freely in the world. It is my prayer that I will be able to teach you and guide you without holding you back from wonderful adventures as you grow up. (Remind me to tell you the story of when I went sky diving in New Zealand, and how excited Grandad was about it, when you're wanting to do some adrenaline seeking stunt, and I am freaking out about it!)
All my love,

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Valentine's Cupcakes

Earlier this week, I had a request for some cupcakes for Valentine's Day. I suggested a couple of flavours, and the customer liked my idea of a light chocolate sponge with chocolate fudge frosting. I decided to host an impromptu pop up bakery day, and baked 30 cupcakes for a few people who had been wondering what to do for Valentine's Day, and liked the sound of cupcakes.

I am a big lover of chocolate, and have a few different chocolate frosting recipes I love. For these cupcakes, I decided to go with one that is not too sweet (it doesn't have any icing sugar in it), and is beautifully smooth in texture. If I'm completely honest, this frosting is a bit of a faff to make as it has three different stages to it, but John and I love it, and as I enjoy the process, I don't mind the faff!

ingredients fpr the cupcakes (makes 12)
200g / 7oz unsalted butter
200g / 7oz caster sugar
155g / 5.5 oz self raising flour
40g / 1.5oz cocoa
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

1) Pre-heat oven to 180C / gas mark 4 and line a cupcake tin with cases.
2) Beat the sugar and butter together until well combined and smooth in texture.
3) Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. If the mixture looks like it is curdling, add a spoonful of flour too.
4) Beat in the vanilla extract.
5) Sift the flour and cocoa into the bowl, and stir until combined.
6) If the mixture seems a little stiff, add a small amount of milk (a tablespoon at a time) until it has reached a slightly more 'dropable' consistency. (I'm sorry for making up words - it's the best way I can think to describe it. I realise that photos would be more helpful....)
7) Using two dessertspoons, dollop a scoop of mixture into each cupcake case (or until the case is two thirds full to leave plenty of space for the cakes to rise.)
8) Bake in the pre-heated oven for 15 - 18 minutes. To check if the cakes have baked, insert a skewer into the centre and if it comes away clean, they are done.
9) Remove the cupcakes from the tin and transfer to a wire cooling rack immediately. (If you leave them in the tin, they will develop condensation, which could lead to soggy cakes.)
10) Once the cakes are cool, frost them. If they have domed a little, it will make frosting easier if you cut off the dome.

chocolate frosting
For the method, I'll just link to the original recipe, as the process is very clearly explained, and has more photos. However, as it's an American recipe, I'll convert the cup measures to grams to make it a little easier if you'd like to try it but don't have cups.

ingredients (if you're piping your frosting, this will make enough to pipe 12 cupcakes.)
250g unsalted butter
250ml milk
150g caster sugar
40g plain flour
3 tbsp cocoa powder

The method for the frosting is here.
Frosting tip: If you make the icing and find that it probably isn't going to stretch far enough, you can add a little cream, or sieved icing sugar, or both, to help it go a bit further.

Friday, 13 February 2015

brownies revisited

Way back in January 2012, I shared the recipe I used for baking brownies. I had just discovered that it was very straightforward to make them gluten free, simply by substituting the plain flour for rice flour, and wrote about this one cold Winter's day from the comfort of the flat we were renting at the time. (In all honesty, that flat was freezing as it didn't have central heating, but we had a plentiful supply of quilts which made it warmer than being outside in the snow.) Fast forward to the present day, and a lot has changed since I first started baking these brownies. We no longer live in our freezing, rented flat. We have a daughter. I am no longer teaching, but I am most definitely still baking. While a lot has changed, the way I make these brownies has remained the same, and I feel privileged and honoured to bake these brownies for other people to buy.

This week I hosted my monthly pop up bakery that I started last August. I offered a choice of brownies and carrot cake cupcakes, and the brownies were very popular. It was such a joy to deliver brownies to Mum's on the cusp of giving birth, Mum's who are in the thick of life with a newborn, hard working Mum's who balance careers and parenting as beautifully as they know how, and Mum's who just want to have a little treat. On my pop up bakery day, I posted a photo of my brownies to my Instagram account, and as a result of the photo, I ended up editing the original recipe to include cup measures so that the lovely T who writes the blog, A seed inspired and lives in America, could bake my brownies.

I love the internet and social media for so many reasons, but especially for this. When I shared the recipe, I never envisaged that I someone who I have connected with via Instagram, would then make them for her husband and eight children, and then tell the world about them. I am honoured to say that T loved the brownies, and wrote about them here.

If you like the idea of baking, but never actually get around to making something from a handful of ingredients, I think brownies are the perfect starting point. They only require one pan, two bowls, no frosting and no faffing. So simple, but they bring a lot of people a lot of happiness.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

The 52 Project: 6/52

 'A portrait of my daughter, once a week, every week in 2015.'

Dear Ruby,
Our week has been filled with games of Peekaboo with your friends, constant requests to go outside at all times of the day, and eating vast amounts of scrambled eggs. You give constant cuddles and kisses to us, your friends, and your animals, and shut every door that has been left open. Dinner times are characterised by looking at photo books that Daddy and I made from before you were born. It turns out, I took a lot of photos of animals when Daddy and I were on our honeymoon in Barbados, and you particularly enjoy looking at the photo of the deer licking its lips, and imitating it! 
You love books a lot, and I hope this is something that continues to bring you joy throughout your life. Books are wonderful (and so are you).
All my love,
Mama xx

Monday, 2 February 2015

a quilt for Wren

A while back, while searching for quilt inspiration on Pinterest, I came across Crafty Blossom's beautiful quilts. I pinned one of them, and decided to make something similar for our goddaughter. If you are reading this post and hoping for a tutorial, I am afraid I haven't managed to create a succinct tutorial as such, but I have shared some of my planning process, which may, or may not be of help to you! As I wasn't working from a specific pattern as such, I did some calculations to work out how many triangles of each colour I would need. I bought fat quarters of 7 fabrics, and started off by cutting 5x5" squares of each fabric. I worked out from this that I could cut 18 triangles per fat quarter.
In order to calculate what ratio of white triangles to patterned ones I would need, I did a quick count of the triangles on Crafty Blossom's quilt, and worked out I'd need approximately half of the triangles to be white. I knew that I wanted some grey fabrics in the mix to provide a nice contrast, and I found a fabric on M is for Make called Floret Stains Mulberry from the 'Indelible' collection by Katrina Roccella, which I loved, so then I made my other fabric choices based on the other colours. I knew that I wanted mustard fabrics to feature as well, and I already had a couple of the fabrics from the September Blue collection by Dashwood Studios that I thought would work well.
In terms of the process of deciding how I wanted to arrange the triangles, it was very much a case of trial and error. Initially, I tried to follow Crafty Blossom's sequence in terms of repetition of white triangles, but because I had chosen to use a lot more patterned fabrics over solid colours, I found this just didn't look right. So I started again, laying out the squares, then taking a photo to get a different perspective. Each time I have made a quilt, I have found this a helpful strategy - I always notice something different about a design when I look at a photo. For example, I didn't want to have identical fabrics repeating too much in one column of the quilt, and not appearing at all in another column, but I wouldn't always notice the repetition until I stepped away and looked at the photo.
 If you are still reading this blog post, may I congratulate you on getting this far. I wouldn't be at all surprised if you're thinking, 'how on earth does she ever manage to make and finish anything with the rambly way her brain works?!' then I would have to agree. I don't work well with logic and maths, so although I started out by calculating the number of triangles of each fabric I would need, I didn't stick to this, because it just didn't look right. With sewing, I tend to just work by what looks right in terms of light vs dark, patterns vs random, colour vs neutral, and try and get a balance that works. As you can probably tell, I will never be someone who will write a succinct sewing pattern!
For the back of the quilt, I used a cream coloured cotton, and added a little bit of detail with some extra triangles from the front fabrics to make it more interesting. The only problem with this was that I forgot to check if the squares lined up with the equivalent row on the front, and of course, it didn't. So I ended up quilting straight through the middle of the squares / triangles, which was a shame.
I finished the quilt over the Christmas holidays, and was delighted to make use of my Mother in law's sewing room where there is enough floor space to hold a party and still be able to lay out a quilt if you wanted to. In the past, I have made bias binding using a tutorial I found on YouTube. (Video tutorials are a god-send when you are a visual learner - I don't think I would ever attempt to make much at all if I had to follow a pattern in a book!) But I have never managed to neatly mitre all of my corners, so I took a leaf out of my mother in law's book and just cut straight strips of binding. Each strip measured 6 cms. I then folded each strip in half (wrong sides together) ironed it and machine stitched one edge to the front of the quilt. To try and get a neat finish, I hand stitched the other edge of binding onto the back of the quilt. I am certain that my quilts will always be filled with imperfections - slightly misaligned rows, hand stitching that's not evenly spaced and wonky binding, but I am learning not to let the prospect of imperfections put me off from just having a go. I am not sure if I will ever have the courage to make a full sized quilt though, so it's a good thing that there will always be babies around to lie on my little quilts!

Sunday, 1 February 2015

The 52 Project: 5/52

 'A portrait of my daughter, once a week, every week in 2015.'

Dear Ruby,
This week, you have managed to disable the use of my return key on my laptop, rotate the entire computer screen orientation, and reorganise the apps on Daddy's phone. You pretend to talk on the phone, and appear confused when we use the landline to make calls, rather than FaceTime, so you can't see the person we're talking to. When your Daddy and I were your age, mobile phones were the size of bricks, and had only just been invented. You have done a fantastic job of confusing your parents and forcing us to learn new things about our technological devices.
You have helped me to bake bread this week, pouring flour into the mixer and learning how to turn the Kenwood Chef on and off again. I'm anticipating that our kitchen will be filled with many flour and sugar clouds while you master control of the different speeds. 
I often say this, but you are changing so much, little one. You signed 'baby' for the first time today, and have started to lie your soft toys down on the changing mat when it's time to have your nappy changed. As always, you continue to amaze me with your growing understanding of language, and your ability to communicate. 
With all my love,