not a creature was stirring

appliquing the banner

Well, this little design has pleased me so much I’ve made it twice in the last week – with plans to make it again :-)  Once for an Instagram Christmas swap …. and once for someone’s present – shshshsh! And I’ll certainly make it again :-)

I just adore those little sleeping faces tucked into their quilty bed.  I think when I make it next, I’ll make some more faces – it could be a pattern with a variety of many faces and you could choose your own!  There could be all different sorts of boys and girls.  Teddies!  Dollies!  Dogs!  Cats!  Racoons!

It could be a veritable Ten in the Bed!  Hey – now that’s a fabulous idea!  Oh yes!  A much bigger quilt for a child with 10 in the bed and then words embroidered in blocks throughout the quilt.  Cute.

I got the idea for the little faces from a dolls quilt I’d seen on Pinterest where they embroidered the faces using a simple running stitch.  Here it is

And the felt applique – well, I just adore felt applique.  I often dream of making children’s books with felt applique.  I would love to do one of the animals we live with at Merimbula.  And then stories about children in Merimbula at times over the last 150 years …

I dream big.  I just need the organisation and discipline to sit down and do something about it.

adding the lace

You don’t need to know this wee quilt was pinned onto a vintage blanket, do you?  Because you know of course it was.

pin pin pin

And each room I worked in – piecing it on the little green Husqvarna in the front room – appliquing in the dining room – quilting in the spare ‘oom – my dearly loved sweetheart followed me round with her laptop.

Reading funny things out to me.  Working on her drawings.  Showing me what she’d designed next.  My, how I do love her.  I am especially grateful that even though she is a teenager and all, she still loves to spend time with me.

We have a lovely relationship.  We are both very blessed :-)

my companion

Unfortunately, one thing I’m not is Anne from Green Gables.  Do you remember how she reckoned she never made the same mistake twice.  She always learnt her lesson.  I don’t.  I regularly make the same mistake over and over and over.

Just this afternoon, as I lay on my bed tired and having one of those silly moments when I didn’t know what to do next (cooking supper would have been a good thing), I noticed my skirt was covered with little bits of thread.  They’re from all the unpicking I do.

Mmhm.  I am the queen of unpicking.  I looked at that minty strip of green with its red balls the first time I sewed it and thought – I could quilt it with a contrasting red and it would look really pretty.  Well it didn’t.  So I unpicked it.  Second time – I thought, I can DEFINITELY quilt in that green stripe with red – I just need to do it nicely.  Aaaaaaaaand I had to unpick it.

Same with the appliqued band.  Abby said warned “No!  Mum! It didn’t work the first time! Remember!  The foot kept butting up against the felt heads!” I cheerfully replied “Yes, but I know what to look out for this time so I can do it better.”  I didn’t. Unpick! Unpick! Unpick!

Tonight, I’ve got 4 rows of top stitching to unpick on two pillowcases.  The first one didn’t work.  Did I stop and reevaluate.  Nope, I just kept going.  Sigh.
quilting

tulip

But squiggly-wiggly?  It’s a bit hard to go wrong with that – I do love it so.

red tulip

Now here is Lily-Anne trying to learn … I thought maybe I could fit more of the verse on if I wrote the words out on paper as I guide to how big to make the letters.  It didn’t work.  Oh well.  I’m hopeful that the letters will become finer and smoother with practice.  I’m a huge believe in Practice :-)

I’m thinking of doing a Christmas carol next.  I just can’t decide which one – We Three Kings?  O Come All Ye Faithful?  I love both of them.  No! No!  O Little Town of Bethlehem.  With little appliqued houses.

didnot help

closeup of ginger

Look at the sun hitting the felt – doesn’t it make the texture so utterly beautiful.  And I love perle thread.  I know I said it above, but I adore felt applique.  It is my hands down favourite stitchy pursuit. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love.

close up of coco

writing

tulips

the whole

There you go.  A wee quilt of little people dreaming of Christmas.  That will be us in just 13 short nights !

And it was pure bliss making it.

 

the teachers’ presents


crafting table

Hmmm … it’s just occurred to me, as I uploaded these photos and thought back to the crazy busyness of last week, that this is my second last season of teachers’ presents.  It truly is so unbelievable it gives me a jolt.  Surely it was only yesterday that I cross stitched a Prairie Schooler Christmas Sampler for the lovely Mrs. Solomon and sewed it into a little hanging quilt as a thankyou for a wonderful Year 1.

That’s one of the curses of just one child.  There’s no second and third etc. go round.  Nope – only one chance to get it as close to right as you can.  And no time for savouring.  But I also know how privileged we are to even have one go and for that I am grateful.

We’ve always given teachers’ presents.  Maybe because I spent so many years working in education, I know just how lovely it is to have a student and her family recognise the contribution I made to their year and present me with something sweet and thoughtful.  I’ve always wanted to pay that forwards.

And I want Abby to understand how important it is to show gratitude – it’s a sign of respect and affection.  Maybe I’m just getting old and crotchety, but gee whizz, I think there’s a little less gratitude bumping around every year.  I want her to be one of those lovely people who are remembered and appreciated for showing gratitude.  It’s not hard or expensive – just a bit of time and effort.

Also – I am so very grateful for all that my Abigail has been given by her teachers.

She’s not the most straightforward of students and, apart from a couple of grim years half way through primary school (the Year 3 teacher – we seriously wanted to present her with the dirtiest lump of coal we could find – she was a drunk and a bully), has been blessed with lovely teachers who have always recognised her strengths, enjoyed her quirks and cheerfully walked the extra mile.

As for her high school teachers – my goodness, they regularly reduce me to misty eyes and choked up throat they are so wonderfully thoughtful, compassionate and encouraging.  No matter how grey and wobbly I become, I will never forget the incredible contribution they have made to our lives and will cheerfully sing Star of the Sea’s praises to all.

However, with the plethora of teachers Abby has in highschool, we’ve whittled down the handmade gifts to those who are TRULY marvellous.  For the rest we whip up a more generic but still homemade gift.  This year Abby chose her Japanese teacher – Mrs. Devine, her textiles teacher – Mrs. Pearson, and her Legal studies teacher – Mrs. Maraschello.

Well – no surprises who this cushion is for :-)  I am always a little dubious about themed presents – we can blame my Year 10 Music Teacher for that – she told us at the beginning of the year she HATED musical gifts.  But Abby assured me Mrs. Devine loves Japanese looking things so I dug this piece of simple sweet fabric out of the stash – I like to think it’s quite elegant and not at all corny – and found some pretty calicos to go with it.  I worked up the patchwork on the computer and quilted it with one single large chrysanthemum. It just seemed to need a yoyo in the middle.  Mrs. Devine was delighted.

japanese cushion

little people

The lovely pink and red fabric and the floral used for the binding are MADE in Japan – so that was an extra bonus!  And the blue check made me think of all those lovely indigo woven fabrics to be found in traditional Japanese textiles.

corner

yoyo

The crazy tote went to Mrs. Mara.  We gave her a cushion that last time Abby had her in Year 9 – Abby thought a bag would be a nice alternative for this year.  This was a truly last minute gift.  I had been mulling over the design for a few days and the night before Abby wanted to give it, even DREAMT about how it could go together.

So, Tuesday morning I was up at 5 knowing just what to do.  I cut and sewed the strips, used a dinner plate to make the circular bottom, added a heavy piece of cardboard (chopped out of the back of a large drawing pad) that I covered with the same red lining as the bag, lined it, added the strap and catch, sewed the two cylinders together and voila!  A tote.  I adore it.

And the funny thing – Abby left the Christmas card on the dining table.  Then popped the present on Mrs. Mara’s desk without a note.  Yet, that afternoon Mrs. Mara sent a lovely email saying as soon as she unwrapped it and saw the colours and lovely sewing, she knew exactly who it was from and loved it.  That brought a happy smile to this mum’s face … and the daughter’s too.
the bag

side on

the toggle

princess

lined

flat bottom

Mrs. Pearson’s cushion.  Same pattern as Mrs. Devine’s.  A few different fabrics.  Same chrysanthemum.  And yet it looks so utterly different!  So busy and hot and energetic compared to Mrs. Devine’s cool, quiet elegance.  Hmph – amazing what colour can do, huh!  I used precious Owl and Pussycat fabric because Mrs. Pearson is a fabric guru and I knew she would recognise and love it.  She did.

owl and pussycat

close up quilting

looking across

pink corner

For all my cushions, I use Ikea feather inserts – they just keep their shape soooooo well.  They can be completely flattened to pancake thickness by a sleeping dog, then with a few punches, be brought back to looking plump and gorgeous.  And, hating zippers like I do, I always use a simple envelope back – but I like it to cross over by a good 20cm.  That way there’s no gaping.

cookie jar

The rest of Abby’s teachers – and darling Bob, the lollypop man – each received a jar with the layered ingredients to make Donna Hay’s Choc-chip and Cranberry Oat Cookies.  Recipe included.  They were a big success.  Highly recommended.

Next year – our last year of teachers’ presents – will probably bring more presents for the same lovelies.  But there will be an extra special one for Bob.

Apart from my grandad, Bob is the loveliest gentleman I have ever known.  From the very first day he has shown Abby such friendship and enthusiasm for everything she does.  He waves to me every morning when I drop her off.  And I make sure to come at least 10 minutes after the bell rings every afternoon, because sure enough, Abby will be standing there with Bob and they’ll be chattering away about what they’re both up to, flipping through Abby’s drawing books, carefully inspecting her latest doll, or he’ll be nodding enthusiastically whilst she tells him her latest story.

He’s like her grandad.  (Apart from my dear old grandad, poor Abby completely lucked out in the grandad stakes).  I’ve got those teary eyes and a lump in my throat just writing this.  Words cannot express how grateful I am to Bob for being there for Abby everyday.  I know that she knows that even when some days are a bit hard, there’ll always be Bob in the afternoon.  He’s a school treasure.

So next year, for Bob, there’ll be a quilt – with stars of course.

 

pointy little Christmas hats

Well hello there!  Goodness – the last two weeks have just zipped by.  In a flurry of making.  Mostly Christmas making.  A little bit of birthday making.  Busy fingers indeed, with many hot creamy coffees to kickstart early morning stitching (one morning I made a bag between 5 am and school drop off!), and steamy cups of tea to keep the fingers moving into the wee hours.  So much to show!

looking down

But first … the dreaded GRAD YEAR!  I realised the other day – well, actually I was reminded by a lovely reader’s concerned email- that whilst I had blabbed all over instagram about the grad year applications, I hadn’t written about it here.  So, here it is! On the 14th October – an hour later than I thought was the designated time – I received an offer.  My first preference – The Alfred.  And last week I finally received my contract – I will be working a 4 day week (phew!) in the Renal, Endocrinology and Rheumatology Ward.  Also a first preference.  All that fretting ….

I really like more complex nursing where the patients have conditions that affect them systemically – where you’re constantly assessing and caring for the whole person not just one thing (I’m not at all cut out for the likes of orthopaedics – too production line).

I also like patients that hang around for a bit (not so good for them of course) because I really like building relationships with people and their families.  And Renal and Endocrinology – well that’s a growth industry in our western societies at the moment so the skills and experience I gain will stand me in good stead.

I hummed and haahed over these preferences.  I really really really would have loved to work at the Children’s and initially made them number 1.  But then … they are on the other side of town – so dreadful travelling – horrible public transport – no train, only tram with a change in town that requires running helter skelter down two blocks and up 1.  Car is no better – shocking traffic coming home from earlies (can take up to 2 hours to travel less than 10km) and often bad starting lates as well – and difficult, expensive parking.

Secondly – when I spoke with people in the know in Bega they said that if I applied to the new Bega hospital having done my grad year at the Children’s they’d be all “oh how nice.”  But if I applied having done my grad year at The Alfred, they’d be all “Woo-hoo!  Sign her up quick!”  Even my pharmacist yesterday was excited by the Alfred – it’s such a big hospital – and the state centre for so much, that I will see HEAPS.  And I loved working there in the ICU.  It’s a great place – especially for a learner like me.

So – as of the 12 January, 2015, I will be Lily Boot, Registered Nurse (Grade 2) at The Alfred.  Extraordinary really.  Really.  I arrived in Melbourne 5 years ago, with a basic BA, years of tutoring and boarding school work behind me, a smattering of retail experience and my horizons extending only as far as the dear little bookshop I worked at up in Elsternwick.  And I loved it.

But once that began to wind up – and Abby was settled into high school – and Julian busy with his work – and dreams of moving to the country/beach and building our own straw bale home began to take shape – I needed something else.  Something to fill up those long empty hours.  Something to challenge my mind.  Something to give me skills that would allow me to both contribute meaningfully to my community and give me a decent living so that our country/beach/strawbale dream could become a reality.  And nursing just ticked all the boxes.  I still can’t believe I did it!

I think back to that first year – travelling into town 4 days a week, sitting in classes, grasping exactly how they wanted me to write an essay (scientists are so different to humanists!), picking my way through the throngs of noisy teenagers I shared my classes with.  It was so weird.  I was really scared about losing my sense of being – of stopping being me – stay at home mum to Abby, wife to Julian, stitcher, knitter, home potterer.  Still am a bit.  And the end goal of BEING a nurse seemed ridiculously far away.  Oy!

But the take home message dear reader – do it!  Doesn’t matter how old you are (I was by far the eldest in every class and on almost every ward).  Doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past.  Just do it!  Pick that thing you’ve always thought might be good and jump in feet first.  It will be scary and overwhelming and make you think you’ve utterly lost the plot sometimes, but if you just keep plodding away, it can happen.  I failed Biology in high school – which was 25 years ago – and yet I topped my University Physiology and Anatomy class.

Honestly, I think as adults – especially creative adults like us, who enjoy a challenge, learning something new, keeping busy – we are so well suited to starting something new.  We’ve sorted almost everything else.  We’re know we can’t afford to stuff around – time, money, family, responsibilities and all.  And we know how time flies.

We’re so much more efficient and capable than those lovely, ditzy teenagers (said with complete affection – I made many lovely friends amongst my young classmates! – and they’re only just like I was when I was their age) and we’ve just had so much more experience at LIFE, that so many things make so much more sense to us than them.

So – if you want to make a change, come over here so I can wholeheartedly throw my arms around you, give you a big hug, and say “Of course you can!!!!!!!”

Okay …  onto pointy little Christmas hats …

pink one

So Mum’s gone to Canada for the holidays – we have family in Vancouver – and at the last minute – of course it was last minute – I thought it would be nice to knit each of the little cousins – there’s 5 of them now – a pointy elfy hat for Christmas.

I could just picture them all at Aunty Mary’s, the snow falling outside, the lights twinkling inside, and all five of them lined up – in height order – with their pointy knitted hats.  What a cute photo, huh!  So a couple of days before Mum arrived (her flight left from Melbourne), I began knitting and at first I was able to use wool from the stash.  Awesome way to finish up leftover bulky yarn and I didn’t even have to leave the house.  That’s my kind of crafting.

Biggest first – for my dear little 8 year old nephew Oscar.  Thank goodness I did the biggest first.  I would have hated knitting the biggest at 1:30am the morning Mum left.

one hat

Then I knitted the littlest – for my cute little 3 month old cousin James.  That was a blitz.  One episode of Zen, on iView, at my desk, and it was done.

2 hats

Then there were three middles starting with my busy little 3 year old cousin Caleb.

3 hats

But then there were no new colours for the next two – only rehashes of the previous three – bit ho-hum.  I just had to go down to Wondoflex and for some reason, there never seemed to be a good time – until 2 days before Mum left.

Which meant I knitted one for my sweet little 18 month old cousin Frankie before I cooked Abby’s birthday supper the day before Mum left.

funny little points

And finally knitted the last one for my funny little nephew Sam on the Thursday night AFTER Abby’s birthday supper. I think I cheered when I reached the decreasing rounds.  And danced about as I cast off.  Well staggered’s probably more accurate.  It was very late.

However, I can now tell you, dear reader, that if you need to knit a heap of presents in a very short space of time – the Fuzzy Little Shapka Hat is the real deal.  Awesomely easy, quick, lovely, doesn’t even use a whole ball of bulky … ticks all the boxes it does. Ravelled here.

5 hats

And when the fam send me that photo – of all 5 little heads lined up in their stripey pointy elfy Christmas hats – I’ll be sure to show you :-)

 

better than malted milk :: a cross stitched chair

before

I had a wee bit of the glums today.  It happens.  Usually a week or so before my period.  Must be a huge hormonal swing of some sort.  I feel it creeping up, find myself feeling very sad, wonder why life is so hard, then remember to tell myself … ah, you feel glum because it’s just that time of the month.  So I stood in the pantry doorway and ate malted milk powder from the jar.  It didn’t really help.  And it made my mouth gummy and I choked a bit and had to dash down a glass of water.

Much better to text Julian in Las Vegas so he knows you feel glum and will call (which he did, straight away, he’s lovely like that).  Then find something simple to do that will let you just be with the feeling but also allow you to find some sweetness. Tried and true recipe for beating the glums.

So today, I vacuumed.  It wasn’t especially sweet, but it did make me feel virtuous – I loathe vacuuming – actually, I loathe all housework.  This allowed me to look at the bathroom with a critical eye – the bath tub had the blue bentwood chair and the clothes hamper sitting in it.  Not exactly conducive to bathing.  So I pulled it all out and cleaned the bath.  Again – big ticks on the virtuous scale – I loathe cleaning the bathroom.

Then I had the blue chair to do something with.  And as I looked at that lovely blue rattan … I thought of something I’d seen on Pinterest!  Check it out … cute as! Simple.  And something that would definitely provide a bit of sweetness :-)
book and fabric

So I got out some red gingham … I bought this gingham at the Vinnies in Bega on our spring break.  It was 5 metres for $3.  Only it was half price day.  So I got 5 metres for $1.50!  I made a skirt with a floral reprodepot trim, now I’ve cross stitched a chair, and I still have heaps left!  That’s a sweet bargain.

And I flipped through one of my all time favourite cross stitch books for a pretty pattern that had just the right number of stitches – couldn’t be more than 24 squares.

the pattern

Perfect!  And making this snowflake on that beautiful blue with the red and white gingham would look very Nordic.  Sweet and perfect!

the strips

I cut (hacked) my strips (just with the scissors) 3 squares wide.  Man do I love fabric that comes with self cutting lines.

fu

Settled onto the hallway floor with my sweet companion.  The only thing she won’t do with me is vacuum.  She’s a sensible dog.

stitching

And set to work.  As more and more of the pattern appeared, I felt those glums subsiding.  I felt stronger, more cheerful … content.  Especially when Abby came home.  There’s nothing like the lovely company of my Abby, Julian, or Mum to shove those glums away.

done

And in less than 2 hours … voila!  I must add … this is a hard rubbish chair.  Picked up from the footpath on the Nepean Highway on our way to Southlands one day.  It has a pair – the pair doesn’t have a seat.  I’m now inspired to finally buy that rattan and fix it just so’s I can cross stitch it!

Can you imagine a farm house kitchen with these lovely bentwood chairs in all different colours pushed in around a scrubbed table, all with red gingham cross stitch?  Oh I can.  It will be an immensely popular photo on Pinterest (hee! hee! hee!) And the best bit is – I see these chairs on the side of the road regularly – yes!

seat

closeup back

texture

Sigh …. look at that nubbly texture … so pretty.  And I love how, with a wee bit of distance, the gingham makes it look like wonderfully thread variegated yarn.

sideon back

And the  colours …. swoon!

side on

Yes, a quick bit of gingham cross stitch was a lovely balm on what was shaping up to be a pretty flat day.  And for that I am very grateful.

 

a wooden spoon :: sugar plum fairy

a hand for holding

Oh my!  Have I been having fun!

Now, I’ve had a Pinterest account for a while – if you’re interested, there’s an icon for my account in the left hand toolbar – but it hasn’t been until recently that I’ve really practiced the fine art of spending hours and hours trawling through the amazing creativity of others and pinning all my favourites onto an ever increasing number of boards.

Oh the things I dream of doing!  I need an indoor staircase so I can wallpaper the risers. I’ll need a couple of kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms so as to use up all the loveliness I find.  Hundreds of quilts – of course.  Exotic things in the garden that will require far greener thumbs than I possess.  Then there’s the new skills I need to acquire – lino cutting, print making, papier mache sculpting … I almost begin to hyperventilate and I can’t decide between sitting and looking, or rushing away and doing.

Sunday morning saw us gathered in the cosy corner of the kitchen; Julian home (for just 30 hours – can you believe it! – home at 3.30am Sunday and gone again Monday at 9.30am) – sliding fresh expressos and creams across the desk every 1/2 hour or so, Abby by my side – saying “Oh! There! There! Pin that! That one!”; and me having a blissful time looking at so many beautiful handmade dolls …

Until I could bear it no longer and simply had to make a doll of my own.  A lovely amalgamation of so many dolls I saw and loved.  A wooden spoon doll with pipe cleaner arms and a little bit of corriedale roving for the body and hair, a wee crocheted bodice, a gathered skirt …

And because Melinda is so lovely and asked how … here is a little demonstration of how I made my sugar plum fairy.  Hope it makes sense … and inspires you to make one of your own!

one spoon

So I started with a small wooden spoon – bigger than a teaspoon but not a dessert spoon – the sort you buy in a packet at party supply stores.

wrapped pipe cleaner

And one long pipecleaner – also in a packet from Winterwood – it’s about 12 inches long.  I used the technique of wrapping the last  2 inches of each end of the pipecleaner (as perfected by the incredibly gifted artist Salley Mavor) with embroidery floss – I used DMC perle cotton no. 8 – in your skin colour of choice.  Start 2 inches in, winding the thread firmly and neatly – make sure you check both sides so that you don’t leave any gaps – to the end of the pipe cleaner.  Then fold the wrapped end in half so that a little hand is made from the the bend and wrap the raw end to the pipecleaner so that it is covered.  Fasten and trim.  I leave an inch of floss which I’ll later cover with the arm wrapping.

wrap it around spoon

Now – position your pipecleaner evenly on the spoon with its 2 wrapped hands out to each side.  Twist the pipe cleaner around the spoon handle, making sure your arms are at an even height – you don’t want wonky shoulders.

2 arms

Next – because I am in a crochet mood – and because I saw an amazing bird cage made from a large whisk which had had its wire loops crocheted over, crochet a single row along each arm – from the wrist to the back – making sure to keep the stitches firm (not tight) and neatly lined up.  There are your sleeves!  This was a bit fiddly and really, the end result was pretty much like blanket stitch – which will be precisely what I do next time.
supplies

wee bit of crochet

Crochet a little bodice.  I used 4 ply cotton thread and a size 2 mm crochet hook and followed the same stitch layout I am using in Attic24′s Stripey Blanket CAL.  You should check out Lucy’s tutorials – they are so incredibly clear and helpful and Lucy is the Queen of Colour.  I made my bodice 18 chains long after deciding on how rounded I wanted my doll’s bodice.

four planes

wrap some wool around the body

Pull the Corriedale roving into long thin strips and wrap the upper half of the spoon handle, making it the most rounded around her bust and tapering it off past her waist.  I then pushed the doll’s arms through the crocheted bodice – there’s always a gap somewhere – overlapped the back and sewed it shut.

dress

I used a scrap of quilt binding – cut at 2 3/4 inch – for her skirt.  I machine sewed my skirt’s ends together (1/4 inch seam) then pressed up a quarter inch hem and machine stitched it.  I handstitched a gathering thread around the waist and pulled it in to fit my spoon doll with her roving bodice – tie the gathering thread ends together, push them through a needle, and then pull this through the roving and trim.  Use a few hand stitches to fasten the waist of the skirt to the roving and pull the bodice down over the top of the skirt waistband.

Night fell, and dim light precluded any more photos so now we jump to the finished doll!

Next, I added a bow to the waist – I just cut the ribbon to the desired length, tied a bow and stitched it onto her bodice/waistband/roving body with a button.

The hair.  I used more roving to create a beehive.  I started by covering the top 1/3 of the spoon’s bowl with white glue which I wrapped the roving round.  I tried needlefelting but really, I just kept hitting the wood with the needle, so I just lightly poked it until it was all attached.

Then I added this lovely single ply yarn that has a lightweight wire centre.  It’s kinda smooshed on.  Nothing flash – poked the end into the roving best I could.  Then I added the sequins – each one attached with a little crystal bead.  I mostly used these to attach the yarn to the roving.  I added a button with a sequin and bead – piece de resistance! – to cover the still visible end of the yarn/wire.

Finally, I painted the face.  Very simply.  Terrified I would completely stuff it up.  The mouth’s a bit wonky – but then again, I think it looks like my lipstick these days!  Bit of a problem with straightness these days ;-)
finished

sun on hair

close up of bow

wee hand

And here she is!  Miss Plum! My little wooden spoon – sugar plum fairy.  I’m certainly making more of these little sweeties for the Christmas tree.  I was also thinking they’d make a nice mobile.  Oh!  You could stick them in a cupcake – how pretty would that be!  Tsk!  Can’t believe we’re not having a birthday party this year – these wooden spoon dolls would make lovely party favours for the guests – don’t you think?!  Course they would.

in the shadow

in the light
I love how the afternoon light would sometimes glint off her so prettily – clouds scudding by and trees bending in the wind and all – but Abby thought the darker photos were nicer.  So I put in both – Abby’s photo, my photo – Abby’s photo, my photo.


abbys choice

with lavender

One of our last flowering stems of lavender. Miss Plum has the perfect hand for holding a wee bloom.  And said she’ll mind it til next spring.  What a sweetie.

side on close up

I’ve already started the next wooden spoon doll … a bigger version … a Wattle Fairy for the top of our Christmas tree … with a mantle of gum leaves … here’s a glimpse …

wattle fairyAhhh … such delight!

 

pumpkin and blueberry loaf

half a butternut

Julian loves baking with with pumpkin.  Well actually, he likes me to churn out the baked pumpkin goods, with pumpkin pie being our favourite.  Over the years, we’ve fine tuned our recipe to exclude sugar, beef up the spices and often we do away with the pastry all together.  Our pumpkin pie has become a bit of a pumpkin mousse – and is usually gobbled up within 24 hours.

Lately, I’ve been fiddling around with cakes that have no sugar – no brown sugar, raw sugar, organic sugar, unprocessed sugar, honey, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, agave and all those other things that I often find in recipes that claim to be sugar free – and if a little bit of sweetness is preferred, I add a ripe banana.  Maybe that’s no better than all those other substitutes listed above – but it feels noble to us :-0

I’ve also been knocking out the bulk of the wheat flour and replacing it with almond or hazel meal.  I made one of Nigella’s chocolate cakes last weekend – with half the sugar – and half flour/half hazelnut meal and 2 extra eggs for lift and it was fabulous!  And eaten within 12 hours.  Then this weekend, I tried Nigella’s banana loaf – with no sugar, an extra banana, half flour/half almond meal and 2 extra eggs.  It was yummy.  Especially with a smear of cold butter.

Yesterday, with another work trip looming (the poor old thing had a 3.30am departure – ugh!) I baked Julian his chosen farewell treat – a pumpkin and blueberry loaf – using the skeleton of Nigella’s banana loaf.  Now, it certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste.  But if you’d like to try something that is low in wheat flour and only has pumpkin and blueberries for sweetness … well here it is ;-)

Frankly, I think it is all a matter of habit.  We are so accustomed to eating incredibly sweet things that when the sweetness is eliminated we instantly recoil.  We have found that when you cut that sugar and retrain your tastebuds, well there’s another whole world of delicate flavours and much healthier loveliness out there.  And when we do eat a regular biscuit or chocolate – oy!  It’s overwhelming!

So … here it is … the Utterly Sugarless Pumpkin and Blueberry Loaf!

Heat your oven to 160 degrees celsius

1.  Chop half a butternut pumpkin into 2 inch chunks, cover with water, bring to boil and simmer until tender.  (Our butternut half weighed 950g which will result in less once you cut off the rind and remove the seeds and membraney stuff – it doesn’t need to be an exact science) Drain well.

2.  Place the drained pumpkin and 125g of butter into the bowl of a mixer and beat on a medium setting until it is pale and frothy.  Honestly – you know how it says that in recipes when you’re using butter and sugar and it goes all pale and frothy – well so does butter and pumpkin!  Who’d have thought.

whip the butter and pumpkin into a lather

3.  Add 4 eggs – one at a time – beating constantly on a lowish setting until the mixture is light and smooth.

4 eggs

4. In a separate bowl, combine 90g of self raising flour, 90g of almond meal, 2 teaspoons of cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg, and 1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves. Spoon this mix into your eggy pumpkin, with the beaters running on that lowish setting, one spoonful at a time, until it is all combined.

flour and almond meal

5. Add 125g of fresh blueberries …

blueberries

… gently, with no beaters – just a wooden spoon.  Fold them in so that the blueberries stay whole.

gently fold them

6. Pour the batter into a loaf tin, lined with baking paper.  Dust the top with a little extra cinnamon.

into a lined cake tin

7. Bake in your heated oven for 90 minutes – or until your skewer comes out clean.  It is a moist cake – so your skewer will never be completely dry but you don’t want it lumpy moist.  You know what I mean.

bake for 90 minutes at 160

8. Rest in the baking tin until cool – if you try to tip it out warm, it will fall apart.  When it is cool, lift it out using the paper as handles.  Let it completely cool on the bench top, then place in a covered container in the fridge.

slice when cold

9.  Slice and serve cold with a side of yoghurt or double cream.  Now you could drizzle this with maple syrup and that would be delicious but it’s also very good – and strangely refreshing – to eat it in all its sugarless glory, and when you hit one of those blueberries – boy oh boy!  It’s like a wonderful exploding treasure.

serve with yoghurt

If you give it a whirl – I do hope you enjoy it!  We’re totally sold and I’ll be baking that chocolate cake with NO sugar next time.  Well except for that one ripe banana :-)

 

the crabapples of finch street

One of the things that always brings me a lovely sense of “ahhhh …” is driving down Finch Street.  It lies between our place and the little girl’s school I nanny/tutor – well, it does on my carefully planned route :-)

And no matter the time of year, Finch Street – with its grand old houses and magnificent trees is breathtakingly lovely.  The other little girl I used to nanny (who moved to Sydney last year) used to ask me to drive down it specially, and we’d drive slowly, ooohing and aaaahing over our favourite houses, discussing who’d have which room, where we’d put the furniture, and the garden parties we’d hold.

There’s even a truly exquisite old mansion that does high teas – we always said we would go but never did.  That’s a lesson in life, isn’t it – do it now or you’ll miss out.

Now part way along Finch Street is this pretty little roundabout which looks nice enough most of the year, but in spring it is glorious.  ’Cause in the middle is a beautifully shaped crabapple and it puts out the prettiest spring blossoms ever.

Oh they are the perfect shade of pink with those vivid but soft green spring leaves making the rosy blossoms leap out even more.  And when you stop and peer closely, the blossoms are filled with funny little black flying insecty things.  I’ve no idea what they are – but I have checked other crabapples in my neighbourhood and they have them too.

Clearly funny little black flying insecty things are especially fond of crabapples.  We’re kindred spirits, me and those insects.

finch

So when I was playing with this Storybook charm pack the other day, it was crabapples that sprang to mind.  I had two charm packs so I laid them out on my bed – in that carefully random way we all strive for – and because that wasn’t going to make a very big quilt, added a very pretty pink 1930s repro I had – as crosses.  Maybe it’s a nursey thing, but I do like crosses lately.

piecing

Might add, it wasn’t until I was pinning the finished quilt top out that I realised the Storybook range is baby fabric!  There’s onesies and bibs on the wee clotheslines!  Never mind – it’s still very pretty – and the castles and birds and pirate ships are just lovely.

pinned

close up of pins

Found the loveliest blanket for backing – it is so thick and fresh – methinks it’s hardly been used.  And such perfect colours for my crabapple quilt.

reels

My original intention was to quilt alternating crabapples and blossoms in the simple squares.  However – this here apple was the only one of 13 that turned out – boy that was some serious unpicking.  Didn’t matter how much I practiced I just could NOT get any other apples nice and rounded.  Hmph.

the only good apple

So blossoms it was.  Lovely crinkly edged, smooshed layers just like those on the crabapple tree.  With leaves of course.  I do so love that about the crabapple – how it bursts forth with its leaves and blossoms at the same time.

quilting the flowers

blossoms

with bug

serendipity

close up pink circles

They came up especially pretty on the back of the blanket.  I reckon I would cheerfully use this quilt face up or down.

sewing in the last threads

Like Orlando’s Blue Oaks from last week, all this quilting was an excellent adventure in free motion quilting!  There are 110 crabapple blossoms, 4 slightly wonky but okay apples in each corner, inner borders of squiggly-wiggly – representing the bluestone walls of the Finch Street roundabout, and outer borders of funny little black flying insecty things – joined together on a meandering flight path with leaves along the way.  It was a make it up as I went along kind of thing.

And I did unpick quite a bit – anything I wasn’t pleased with got the pick – sometimes it felt like I was spending more time on the sofa flicking those errant stitches out than I was at the sewing machine!  Some of the flying insects are a bit wonky but they’ll get better with practice.  I’m especially fond of the “wings” in each of the blue and white triangles – I can imagine doing something that incorporates lots and lots of them very soon

apple and wings

closer the back

pink buds

lots of bugs

Isn’t that sky amazing!  When a lovely spring day comes along here in Melbourne, it is seriously lovely.

reaching for the sky

the whole quilt

top left corner

bottom right corner

on the garden bench

pegs

apple

on grass

blew onto ground

As I mentioned the other day, crabapples are on my list to plant when we move to our land in the beautiful Bega Valley.  But no matter where we venture, this sweet little quilt will always remind me of Finch Street.  When we tuck it round us on a cold evening, or lay it out under a summer’s tree for a little one to play on, I’ll remember the beauty of Finch Street and its exquisite roundabout crabapple – the very first time I met this dear little spring sweetie.

doneLove!

 

truly spring

the reward for plodding through a long, grey winter … spring flowers …

lavender with bee

lavendar against wall

closeup of lavender

the lavender at our front porch with its butterfly wings ever more purple than I remember from the year before

peach

oh the fruit trees, mum’s fruiting nectarine … promising so much more than the delicate here-today-gone-tomorrow blossoms of the delicate prunus around the corner

white to top left

illuminated against dark

reaching to the blue sky

hanging basket

bar beach kiosk

little wee suns pointing their faces to the sky

red gum

rainbow lorikeet

tantalising flowering gums and grevilleas

clover

in the grass

weeds, weeds, lovely weeds!

through the ruin

wisteria through the fence

the exquisite wisteria that drapes the burnt out ruins of the old Bega Hospital

avenue

with the clouds

burning red

tangle in the sun

for majesty, nothing can rival the African Flame trees of Bermagui

in our back garden

thick with flowers

oak is opening

buds still to open

our own luminous back garden beauty .. which is a Mecca for our dear little busy compost-hive bees!

look at those bees

now as spring quickly slides into summer, the trees lining our street have burst …

mass of tiny flowers

footpath tree with leaves

closeup

… with delicate sprays of lilac and purple popping out of little mustard coloured balls.

crabapple

… but my favourite of favourites is the ornamental crabapple.  Oh – after sighing with delight over all the specimens in our neighbourhood for the last few weeks, I’ve decided that our Bega valley garden will include a little croquet pitch – bordered by crabapples.  It will be so sweet.  We’ll have to don white dresses with puffed sleeves and coloured satin sashes for playing.

come back tomorrow to see how I’ve recorded these beautiful wee clusters!

orlando’s blue oak :: a quilt

beginning

I ventured out to the sewing shed yesterday.  A brave heart is needed when facing the sewing shed.  I cannot remember the last time it was possible to sit at the table in there.  For so long, I’ve simply stood at the door and hurled the fabric in.  Isn’t that dreadful.  It is.  I’m a little bit embarrassed – thank goodness you cannot see it.

Anyways … I opened the door, peered in, thought about starting yet another grand clear out of said sewing shed – with a view this time to only ever using it as a neat and orderly fabric storage area – gave a deep sigh and thought, oh well, you have to start somewhere so pulled out this incredibly plain quilt I pieced together one night several years back.   Squares of blue pinned to a vintage blanket and a few blocks of straight line quilting.  Like those fabulous Indian quilts – so tactile.  However, interest had waned – how many hours would it have taken to finish this?! – oy! – and this poor quilt had wound up buried under so much else, just its corner poking it.   So I pulled it out.  Pushed the escaping fabric back in with my foot, and slammed the door.

That’s a start, right?

where it was at

The straight line quilting was ripped out – I became so efficient at it – the quilt was pressed with a lovely hot, steamy iron – it lightly felts the woollen blanket onto the back of the quilt top and makes it sooo easy to pin – repinned it and got straight to quilting.
closeup of tree

Now I’m not a huge fan of the all over patterning you see with some long arm quilting.  To me it lacks a bit of individuality – looks a bit too computer programmed.  But my quilting skills are limited so I pondered what to do.  No squiggly wiggly.  No straight lines – or crooked ones.  Something that would fill each square but would also allow me to move onto the next one without having to break the thread.

I did spend a while trying to do this with paper and pencil – and a wee sailboat.  It was a complete failure.  Then, as I stared out the window at our messy back garden, it came to me … the oak!  Our lovely huge old oak that fills our back garden with prettiness, shade and colour.  Which made me think of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, the oak poem that he holds close throughout his journey, and the tree – first young, then ancient – that was one of the constants in his life.  No matter what happens in our lives – where we go, how we go, when we come back … there stand our trees.

Always growing but never changing.  Little oaks it was.

last row

There are 90 squares – that’s 90 oaks.  By the third row, they’d really morphed into very curvy little oaks.  I unpicked a couple and redid them – but on the whole I’m very pleased with how they turned out.  They’re all slightly different and certainly not perfect but I was sooo into the groove of it by the time I got to the end.

Now I’m planning apples and pineapples and crowns.  I daresay I shall stick to straight lines of them at first … but as my confidence grows I hope to plan more imaginative layouts.  We’ll see.  It’s a slow thing, this getting of quilting :-)

binding

Found a lovely 1930s reproduction for the binding.  Spent last evening hand sewing it down.  So satisfying.  Then into the washing machine, onto the little indoors line for drying – we had a humdinger of a storm last night – hours of lightning and thunder and rain – I was transported back to spring evenings in south east Queensland -

sewing it on

- and finally, when there was more than 30 seconds of blue sky – a brisk dry to finish off in today’s blustery wind … and a wee photo shoot.

wild and windy day

closeup bottom right corner

even closer

floral closeup

I really do love the effect!  Now thinking of gathering some more of those lovely orange and yellow and pink and red spots, piecing more squares, and quilting pineapples.  That would be fun.

with pegs

And on the back – ta-da! – why it’s a vintage blanket – the only one I’ve ever found in these colours.  Very cheerful.

backing blanket

binding on the line

 

So blue!  So utterly unlike anything else I’ve ever made.  So sweet.  And that quilting!  Huh!  I can’t believe I did it.  I asked Abby what she thought we should do with it.  ”What we do with all the rest,” she replied, “Huddle under it!” For now, it’s hanging on the back of my desk chair.  I’ll have to think about it.  Hmmmm ….

In my dreams, our strawbale house has a lovely big guest room with huge windows looking out to the forest. The room has a sweet old bed in each corner and on each bed are cosy colourful quilts with pretty pillows, a wooden chest at the foot of each bed for bags and shoes, a small potty cupboard with a reading lamp beside each bed for clothes and books and spectacles, and a woven rug on the floor.  There’ll be quilts on the walls and quilted curtains too.  We might need to have two rooms like this … or more …

middle

kicking out from the side

bottom with chair

Isn’t it a grand thing, this learning and growing and changing and adding … I love it.

 

the secret hattifattener society discovers licquorice allsorts

 

See, I found this beautiful range of dotty fabric at Gail Bs.  It comes in about 30 different colours.  Of course, I would have loved some of every colour, but the purse was light so I bought just a few of my favourites – reds, oranges, yellows and pinks.  I adore these colours – they are so full of rich and cheerful life.  They sing of happiness and warmth – two things I know I thoroughly enjoy and you probably do too.  So the more I stitch with them, the more I have around me, the merrier I feel :-)

I chopped them up into little squares with the black for the teacloth quilt and oh they looked so pretty – like licquorice allsorts – and there were a few leftover – so I kept chopping until I had enough for a nice square of 11 by 11.  I stitched them up then tucked them away into the “currently-working-on” basket, unsure of what to do with them next.

A little mat would be quick and easy but there’s a limit to how many spots they can be used – specially since Julian’s not a big fan.  A centrepiece, on point, for a larger quilt would be lovely but would require so more fabric.

And then, this week, I decided to just throw on some lovely spring green borders and turn my luscious little squares into yet another cushion.  I love cushions – don’t you ?!

quilted hattis

Then there was the quilting.  I am trying to break out of the squiggly-wiggly.  I love how it looks and all, but it is nice to be a bit adventurous and try to expand the skills.

So I did … big squiggly wigglies!  Which – when I looked at them from the back, look just like Hattifatteners!  Without the arms.  And thus the Secret Hattifattener Society Discovers Licquorice Allsorts cushion was born.

close up of hattis

It needed a crocheted edging – of course it did – that’s my latest fetish :-)  So, once the binding was sewn down, I added a row of blanket stitch …
start with blanket stitch

… picked my crochet colours …
so bright

… and picked up those pink loops through the blanket stitch.

crocheting through the blanket stitch

The crochet took longer than the rest of the cushion.  Round and round and round.  But totally worth it … and finished just in time to catch the last of today’s sun – which, I might add, didn’t make an appearance until after 4pm this afternoon.  Fickle thing.

with the last beams of sun

finished

top corner

all those hattis

Oh I know I’m blowing my own trumpet – but aren’t these colours just beautiful!  Last week’s Spring Meadow cushion has that lovely soft spring look – like a delicate English garden just peeping out from the frosty cold.  This cushion is hollering a tropical gardening tune at the top of its lungs!

bottom corner

across the top

plain back

And here it is, in its new home, on my rocking chair, in the newly arranged front room – which I mightily adore  …

insitu

Of course, I wouldn’t fit onto the rocking chair with it :-)  That’s the funny thing about me and cushions.  I don’t actually like sitting with them.  Abby loves them – squishing them up under her elbows or hips, or behind her head, or resting her drawing pad on them.  Mum wodges them behind her back for extra support.

Lucy would carry them around with her, if she could.  Fu – she likes to prop herself up against them – as if she’s posing for a French classical portrait.  Julian – he’s the king of squashing them up.

But me – I like looking at them … they are my little feathery seat warmers and then, when I sit down, I push them to one side or prop them on the floor.  Silly huh!

on my rocking chairBut very pretty :-)

 

quilting the teacloths

finished

Some tea cloths are just too pretty to subject to the washing up and scrunched up to lift hot cast iron pans – which often leads me to thinking about what nice wall hangings they would make – and yet, I rarely get around to it.

closeup

Until recently, when I tidied up all the fabric that was shoved in around our little indoor craft table and found this sweet cloth.  I bought it with Mum when we made our epic 3 day drive to Brisbane at the beginning of the year.  We’d deliberately gone well out of our way to visit this little village in the Southern Highlands which had an amazing antique store.  Only when we finally got there – our pennies burning their way through our purses – the store had closed two years earlier after its owners had died.  So sad! We found this out at the Alpaca store – where we also found these lovely tea cloths by the very talented Australian artist – Red Tractor Designs.  I adore her work because it IS so very Australian.  Every piece I see brings a smile of recognition to my face – I can imagine the sun, the smells, the warmth …

I bought this one because it made me think of the future Julian and I are planning – see there’s me off to the left planting some seeds and Julian doing important digging on the right :-)


future lily

future jules

- and Mum bought another lovely one for dear old Nanny.  You can check out more of Rachael Flynn’s wonderful work here. Her Christmas cards are especially lovely – no snowmen or ice skaters in sight! – a girl after my own Australian heart.

cocoa lorax

The bright squares of colour against the black makes me think of licorice allsorts – another sentimental reminder of my childhood.  And the brown – why it’s that Lorax again (I bought metres and metres of him at Darn Cheap one day – I daresay he will keep popping up in things) – ’cause he’s the best gardener of all.

pocket for hangin

On the back there’s a wee pocket for hanging and lots of squiggles … I tried out a few new wobby quilting strategies on this.  Tried quilting round the loraxs – didn’t really work so well.  And made little loopy circles in the licorice allsorts squares.  They worked better and are definitely something I will keep practising. Oh and there’s a pocket at the bottom as well – I’m going to put another wooden rod in there and hopefully it will help it hanging straighter against the wall.

lots of squiggles

trees
first line

second line

And where’s it hanging now?  In the funniest little nook we have between the kitchen and the toilet.  That’s right – our only toilet is off the kitchen.  Let me tell you how much guests enjoy using our toilet when we’re all gathered in the kitchen ;-)  Funny story – sorry if I’ve already shared this – but Abby and I found our sweet little house during a hectic week in October the year before we moved.  It was quite the adventure, finding properties online whilst in the hotel room in the city, then catching trams and trains and walking for miles everywhere to see them.  Was particularly galling to spend 2 hours travelling to view a house that was hideously unsuitable and totally misrepresented online.

Anyways – we found our little house and snapped it up on the spot – without Julian.  He said he trusted us.  Only when he arrived weeks later with the furniture, he called – part bemused, part frantic – because according to him, Abby and I had rented a house with NO TOILET.

Now when he first said this, given all the appalling properties we had viewed, it didn’t seem completely implausible and I burst into tears.  ”Oh no!” I shrieked, “how could it have no toilet.  Surely they couldn’t rent a house with no toilet!”  Thankfully, Julian kept wandering through the house and finally exclaimed with relief “Found it!  It’s right out in the back corner – through a funny little door off the kitchen!” Phew!

tucked in its corner

And where the quilt is hanging – that was a locked screen door into the back garden with no other means of closing it.  Let me tell you how cold that was!  Made you think twice about going to the toilet on a cold night.  It didn’t take long before we whacked up a protective piece of MDF.

glowing

So now, on the way to our funny toilet, you’ll see this pretty quilt and hopefully think of nice things – instead of the fact that everyone in the kitchen will hear you pee.

 

 

rolling beeswax :: a recipe

sheets of beeswax

:: take some sheets of heavenly scented, perfectly formed beeswax
- sigh with thanks & wonder over the hard work
& meticulous nature of the honey bee

wick

:: gather specially woven cotton wick, scissors for wick cutting,
& sacrificial scissors for beeswax cutting

bury the wick

:: lay your sheet of beeswax with the shorter edge towards you
- cut your wick to fit with an extra 1/2 inch dangling from the top – you need something to light
- lay it 1/4 inch in from your short edge – fold the short edge of the wax over it, taking care to squoosh it down good and tight
- then firmly, firmly, firmly, roll away from you, making a tight, smooth, even baclava log of beeswax
- voila! you’ve made a candle

like baclava

:: keep rolling and rolling and rolling until you have all the candles you want
- or you run out of sheets of beeswax – or wick – or time

all those little hexagons
:: understand that if you were  a medieval monk,
your candles would only be used in the stables,
every one of them being a slightly different width and length

from the top

:: but know, that when you light them, they will nevertheless
cast the most beautiful glow
& fill your room with a honeyed scent
you’ll want to soak yourself in

blanket

:: whilst the candles rest, gather a scrap of blanket

mermaids

:: a pretty piece of fabric

with pins

:: & some pins

binding

:: quilt & bind

handsew

:: sew down the binding by hand
- the bees would never machine sew the final edge
of a binding & neither should you

on the tin

:: pin & sew onto a tin

remains

:: gather up the scraps of beeswax stuck in the candlesticks
all round the house

scraps for melting

:: add them to the shards of beeswax sheets
you found under the laundry sink
& put in a bowl suitable for sitting over a pot
of simmering water for melting

ready for dipping

:: gather your rolled candles – in your quilted tin of course
& take then to the kitchen

melting the scraps

:: over a small pot of simmering water, melt your wax scraps

dipping

:: dunk the wick end of each of your candles in the hot amber liquid
- it’s better not to get it on your fingers, but remember
beeswax melts at a very low temperature so it will only smart for a second
then you can peel it off like a spare piece of skin with no harm done

cooling

:: stand the candles to dry, taking care that their soft warm tips
do not touch each other

ready

:: admire the sweetness you have made

on the shelf

:: pop your tin of beeswax candles on a prominent shelf
- easy to get to and pretty to look at

new kitchen nook

:: stand back & shake your head with delight
over how much more you love your house since
the weekend’s huge re-arrange


lit

:: then, when dusk finally falls,
gently push your candles into their candlesticks & light

close up windowsill

:: sigh …