Saturday, 17 March 2012

My Beautiful Bag

The finished article!
I excitedly made my first Etsy purchase a few weeks ago. The purchase was not for a beautiful handmade item, but for the potential of a beautiful handmade item - sewing skills permitting. I’d been looking for a bag pattern for some time, and, there it was, waiting for me in StudioCherie’s shop: The Travel Duffle

Her listing said that the PDF would be emailed to me within 24 hours. I checked my email every 10 minutes for the first hour. I then calculated the time difference between here and the states, realized that it wasn’t, as feared, the middle of the night over there.  I then checked my email every 5 minutes. 12 checks later: you’ve got mail!

The excitement of the email’s arrival quickly turned “The Craft Zone” into chaos, as I emptied my fabric stash out onto the floor and, with the help of the dog, rooted around to find something beautiful. I settled on the crazy purple spot material – the one that I couldn’t quite bring myself to add to my friend’s toddler’s quilt (I shall still stick to my story that the pattern didn’t match the rest of the fabrics…) and cut out the pieces. For the lining I chose another of my favorites, pretty English roses, and started cutting away.

But then I became sad.

The pretty roses would be buried inside the bag, unseen, unadmired. But what I did have was some pink gingham fabric that I’d just bought for, yes, you’ve guessed it, my friend’s toddler’s quilt. Back to the cutting board.

Welly the Helpful...
The next week I set off to John Lewis on Oxford Street for the remaining supplies that I needed. I have very fond memories of trips there as a child with my mum; I’d come away clutching another furry toy kit and we’d spend many happy evenings sewing. So it was great to be back. I spent so much time admiring and stroking the Amy Butler and Cath Kidston fabrics that the staff started to give me funny looks. So on with the shopping. I was disappointed to find that they had no jute webbing and no batting. But undeterred and resourceful as ever (= impatient to crack on with the bag) I substituted some fleece and 2” wide cotton webbing that I planned to zigzag stitch together, and headed back home to the machine.

I’d decided to quilt diamonds, inspired by a rose quilt throw from my childhood. I won’t show a picture of my first attempt because it’s in the bin now, but once I’d found this tutorial on quilting diagonal lines, the smile was back on my face and I was unstoppable. 

Fiddly diamond quilting
The instructions were amazing, with great diagrams and clear step by step instructions. I was so proud of my creation I sent a picture to Cherie, who kindly added it to her StudioCherie blog.

As she points out, my bag doesn’t hold its shape like hers do, which in a way is a shame, because it was the shape of the bag that really caught my eye. But then I do quite like that mine’s a sort of floppy, lug-me-around-with-you-even-if-I’m-not-very-full type of bag.

I think I’ll make the next one with thicker batting. Well, I’ve got to do something with that pre-cut purple spotty material…

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Dog Ears

There was something so lovely about these little off-cuts from the corners of the patchwork triangles that I just had to photograph them. I probably also like them because they’re called dog ears.

Ah, that reminds me: I must cut the knotty lumps out from behind the dog’s ears… 

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

This is possibly the nicest, moistest, moreish carrot cake around. It’s the 'secret' ingredient of bananas that really makes it special. And the cream cheese icing is the right balance of flavours – I’m not a fan of overly sweet stuff. For this one I used half pecans and half walnuts. I also add a bit of freshly grated nutmeg into the mixture, and then grate some more over the top for flavour and effect. And because I like using my teeny tiny grater.

Also, this time I made it it had the added excitement of all three of the eggs (from the farm over the road) being double yolkers! 

Rumour has it that this cake will last for days without going dry, but we’ve yet to test that theory here.

Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 1 ¼ hours, plus cooling

3 medium eggs
175g soft brown sugar
175g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
175ml sunflower oil
175g walnut pieces
2 ripe, medium bananas, mashed
175g grated carrot

75g butter, softened
75g cream cheese
150g icing sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla extract
Chopped walnuts, to decorate

Preheat the oven to 170°C, gas mark 3. Grease a 20cm-diameter cake tin with removable base.
Beat the eggs and the sugar together until thick. Sift in the flour, baking powder, salt and bicarbonate of soda. Mix well then add the oil and walnuts, then the banana and carrot.
Pour into the tin. Bake for 1¼ hours or until a skewer comes out clean. Cover with foil if it begins to brown too much. Cool on a rack.

For the icing, beat the butter and cheese together, then add the sugar and vanilla. Spread on the cold cake. Finish with walnuts.


Monday, 12 March 2012

Springing into Action

Last weekend was glorious. Truly glorious. Spring had arrived and everyone and everything knew it. We sat outside in the sun for lunch, walked the dog without the need for coats and on the boat we dug out the sunscreen before the race. We substituted our Saturday stew and Sunday roast for braais. These weren’t our first braais of the year (I don’t think a month has gone by where we’ve not lit the charcoals at least once), but it was the first one where we didn’t need to knock the ice off the grill first, and where we could sit and eat outside. On the downside, there was no snow around to keep the beers cold.

We patrolled the garden with a combination of excitement of what we could do with it this year, and also with great trepidation at the amount of work needs to be done. Our lawn (I use the term very loosely) is not lawn grass, it is field grass. On a bed of clay soil. It is a textured landscape of lumps and bumps, and humps and clumps. And holes of varying size. Some are tiny, made by the sweet little shrews that live under the bird table. They dart out, glossy and fast, to collect the seeds that the messy birds fling to the floor. Nature’s version of Tesco delivery. This year, however, they’ve started to venture further afield, and the perfectly round entrances to their extensive underground shrew city now cover the entire garden. Hmm. Not overly impressed. And it drives Welly nuts. He’ll run from hole to hole, nose sniffing wildly. And then it gets too much for him, and he digs. So now some of the holes in a lawn are not so tiny. Hmm.

But, as so kindly demonstrated by Welly, the ground was perfect for digging, so we put in a couple of new veg beds. We’ve had to move one of the ones from last year because not only did they not get quite enough sun to be a success, but also because that’s where we’re going to put the chicken coop. (Chickens! Yay! We’re getting chickens! Very, very excited.)

At the end of our day digging and weeding and tidying we sat in the spot where we'd planned to put our deck, beer in hands, loyal hound at our feet. The smell of wood smoke and grilling lamb chops wafting over us as the sun slipped down below the horizon. A noisy flock of starlings murmerated over the tree tops the other side of the vineyard, moving as one fluid organisim, hypnotic and magical. Then day turned to night. The starlings dropped together out of sight at some unseen signal, and the haunting call of the tawny owls replaced their chattering. The red sunset faded and gave way to glittering stars; jupiter and venus were out, bright and close. The wind stirred in the trees and the first bat of the year flitted overhead.

Life is good.