Monday 29 February 2016

February Fabrications

So here is a round-up of February's Crafting Activities
Top row - my patches bag, my yarn stash organiser, Bob's office chair
    Bottom row - the gidday cardi, Prayer Bear's new jumper [and smile] and a cable sweater for Rosie [for next winter! it seems I was wise to avid knitting newborn sizes as she arrived weighing over 9lbs]
    The cable sweater is yet another from that lovely Sirdar Book. The buttons - which are the same as the ones on the Gidday Cardi- are from the massive bagful which cost me 50p a few years back in a CS. The yarn is Stylecraft Special, which washes and wears well.

Today is Leap Year Day - and my Son-in-Law is celebrating his eighth birthday today. Many happy returns, Mark!

Sunday 28 February 2016

Pause in Lent #3

You created every part of me;
    you put me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you because you are to be feared;
    all you do is strange and wonderful.
    I know it with all my heart.
When my bones were being formed,
    carefully put together in my mother's womb,
when I was growing there in secret,
    you knew that I was there—
you saw me before I was born. [Psalm 139]

Overwhelmed right now by God's grace and gift of new life. Happy to announce the birth of our first granddaughter, Rosie Jean, on Wednesday 24th. Her arrival was late, long and very laborious - but mother, baby, and father are now all doing well. I am not posting any photos until I get the OK from Liz. But here is a picture of the Prayer-Bear which I was given when Liz was born, now sporting a new cable knit sweater and re-embroidered beatific smile. Last seen sitting by the crib in St Thomas' Hospital.

Saturday 27 February 2016

Poker Work

The Victorians were very fond of a craft known as pyrography - poker work.Wooden ornaments were decorated by burning in a design using a hot poker. These days you can buy electrical gadgets similar to soldering irons for the same purpose. I have two pieces of pyrography - a box on my desk, which holds stamps [a gift from my cousin Gill] and in my sewing box, a small screwtop needlecase [a gift from some Baptist Ladies from Bulgaria]

I needed a poker - now we are frequently enjoying looking at the flames and feeling the warmth of our open fire, a poker seemed important.

Bob, being Bob, went off to the garage to see what he had in his Great Stash. We used to have, till it died, a metal clothes drying rack like this...
When it collapsed beyond repair, Bob used his bolt croppers to cut the metal rods into re-usable pieces.

He took one of these, fixed a bit of old broom handle to the end - and voila! we now have a poker. And it works.

We think we have found a solution for our crumpet dilemma - once the helpful lady at Cozy Stoves contacts us to say they are in stock, we shall have a toasting fork too!

Yes, you can buy TFs through the internet - but by buying it from her, we pay the same basic price, do not have delivery charges- and we help a local business. Win-win all round.

Friday 26 February 2016

Gidday Baby!

This is an Australian pattern - Liz got it, with the yarn - but then passed it on to me to complete. It is knitted all in one piece, with the sleeves done on 4 dpns. I confess that I didn't enjoy knitting it at all! But sheer obstinacy meant I could not give up on it!

I don't think I shall do this pattern again!

Thursday 25 February 2016

Bag Lady

I saw the Cath Kidston "Doctors Bag With Patches" and I wanted one. So 4 years ago, I made my own, using an ancient corduroy bag, and badges from my Stash. I have been very pleased with it. It holds loads, it squashes down nicely and has a small zip pocket inside to hold keys, pen and phone.

But the original bag is well over ten years old, and has started to disintegrate.The suede piping round the edge covers a metal wire, and that has started to come out. It is not a good idea to have sharp wires protruding! The buckles keep unfastening too, which is inconvenient. I was reluctant to discard it, as it is so useful. Then I went into our Cancer Research CS, where they were having a sale - everything £1. I got a Fat Face Bag for just £1!!

I have always hankered after something from FatFace, but it's a bit expensive to buy new. Anyway, I removed all the patches from the old bag - discarded some of the tatty ones, added in a few others from my Stash. I moved the two school badges to the sides [not teaching there anymore] And now I have a new Patch Bag all ready to go.

Wednesday 24 February 2016

Just Once!

In the current economic climate, the mantra 'reduce, re-use, recycle' is everywhere. And that is a good thing. But I have noticed another one recently becoming more popular

Buy It Once. Great minds clearly think alike - Morgan has just posted about this too!
The reasoning behind it is this - if you do have to buy something new, then think very carefully about how you are going to spend your money. There are some items which it is worth spending a little extra on, because that way you will only ever buy them once and they should last you a lifetime.

Many products even come with a 'lifetime warranty' - although it is now always clear whose lifetime that refers to. And there are loads of websites now that offer these products, or review the ones they consider worth purchasing.
[here, here, here...] I have been looking at these lists, and checking out to see if any of these items have found their way into this household.  
Yes - we do have Le Creuset Casseroles and frying pans dating back to 1979, still in regular use. They were wedding gifts - we could never afford to replace them now!
Pyrex- yes, those dishes are the best for freezer to fridge to oven [or microwave] to table to dishwasher. Some of my stuff is vintage - but there have been some smashing moments down the years.
I have a Mason Pearson hairbrush from the 1990s, I think both my daughters still have theirs too. 
And my Tilley Hat, purchased in a downpour of Biblical proportions on a holiday in Oban in the last millennium, is still in constant use. In terms of cost-per-wear, it passed the 1p rate ages ago. I love my Sabatier kitchen knife and my Swiss Army Penknife. Bob's original Black&Decker Workmate [1981] remains an excellent tool. My Kenwood Chef [1994] has never had any problems. 

Some things inevitably do wear out - and technology becomes obsolete very quickly [betamax video tapes, CRT Tvs] but I think buying to last is a good idea, if you can do it. 
My general principle is to ask questions about each purchase - 

  • is it worth it?  
  • do I really need it? 
  • how and when will it be used? 
  • if it fails, can it be repaired? 
  • are spare parts available?

Are there items you feel have been worth purchasing because of their usefulness and longevity, and are there others where you have regretted spending 'all that money'?

Tuesday 23 February 2016

Who's Been Sitting In Bob's Chair?

Being very tall, and long of leg, Bob finds many office chairs a little uncomfortable after a while. So some time ago, he purchased a relatively expensive one which was just the right size. It has proved very comfortable. But the seat fabric had worn and shredded.
He took the fabric off [it is attached with hooks and springs to the underside] and brought it home from the Church Office.
 As you can see, there are quite a few holes, and some of the yellow foam was coming away.
I had a small amount of denim left after the ottoman recover 
So I made a pattern using the old cover, and cut out a new piece. The colour matches pretty well, and he is very pleased. 

That's saved us £200 for a new one!

Monday 22 February 2016

Mockingbirds, Monks And More

Two well known authors died over the weekend - Harper Lee, [1926-2016] who wrote 'To Kill a Mockingbird'  - all about prejudice and discrimination in the American South, and Umberto Eco,[1932-2016] who came to fame with 'The Name of The Rose' - a murder mystery set in a 14th Century Italian Monastery. 

Lee's book was published in 1960, and filmed two years later, with Gregory Peck playing the great Atticus Finch. She said at the time that there would never be a sequel. Last year, the sequel "Go Set A Watchman"  was published - bizarrely, Lee had written that before TKAM. It has not had good reviews, and I have yet to read it. Somehow I feel it would make me sad. I loved Atticus' style of teaching reading to his daughter Scout - he reads with her, and to her, and is not afraid of using an extensive vocabulary - so she goes to school fully able to read and write. My parents took this approach with me, and we did it with our girls [to the despair of all teachers concerned - not that we cared much!!]

Eco's book came out in Italian in 1980,  and three years later in English. I read it whilst expecting Steph! In 1987, it was filmed with Sean Connery playing the monk, William de Baskerville. Unlike Pee, Eco went on to write 6 more novels, the last being 'Numero Zero' which was published last year. Mind you, Eco wrote loads of other non-fiction stuff about the medieval period, and also semiotics. He was a very clever chap.
Although I enjoyed the Name of the Rose [like TKAM, it makes much of the importance of words, books and the sharing of knowledge] I did not get on with the next book [Foucault's Pendulum, 1988] and I gave up. Bob is currently working his way through "The Prague Cemetery". I say 'working his way' because he reads the library book with his tablet beside him, and seems to stop every page or two to look something up. My man is a pretty clever chap - but if he is finding the vocabulary and historical references difficult, what hope is there for the rest of us?
Two weeks ago saw the death of British novelist Margaret Forster[1938-2016] She was a prolific writer, and I have read lots of her stuff- my favourite being 'The Bride of Lowther Fell'. Gifted, and witty, and particularly concerned for family life, and what she called 'ordinary women' she enjoyed a long and happy marriage. She and Hunter Davies got together when she was just 17! There's a great obituary here. Growing up on a council estate in Carlisle, she won a scholarship to the Girls County High School, and then on to a place at Somerville College Oxford [Yes Kezzie - that one!] Melvyn Bragg, a year or so younger, said she was a legend in her teens- people spoke of this brilliant pupil at the Girls School. Maybe her best known book is Georgy Girl [1965], made into a film with Lynn Redgrave in the title, a year later.
I think I need to read some more Forster - I don't feel I have the brainpower to cope with Eco at the minute [and don't have my own tablet to refer to] and just don't want to read Watchman.
Have you read anything by any of these three?
Which books would you recommend?

Sunday 21 February 2016

Pause In Lent #2

"Nation shall speak peace unto nation" is the motto of the BBC. I am always so impressed with the brilliance of the BBC World Service, and regret the budget cuts which government has imposed down the years. I admire the BBC Foreign Correspondents who have such amazing linguistic skills and produce great reportage from all round the world 
- people like Lucy Williamson who covered the Malaysian Airliner Crash when she was in Seoul, then was moved on to Paris, where her coverage of the gun attacks in November was both sensitive and informative. To be able to understand and respect someone else's language is important. A person's 'mother tongue' is precious to them.
Did you know that today, 21st February, is marked round the world as "International Mother Language Day" ? Its origins are very sad- but people were determined to find something good.

The main purpose of celebrating this day is to promote the awareness of language and cultural diversity all across the world. It was first announced by UNESCO on November 17, 1999. Since then it is being celebrated every year. Languages are the most powerful way to preserve and develop culture and to promote it all across the world. In 1947 at the time of partition of Pakistan, the province Bengal was divided into two parts: the western part became India and the eastern part is known as East Bengal which was later known as East Pakistan. At that time there were many economic, social and cultural issues including linguistic issue. In 1948 when government announced Urdu as the national language it sparked the protest among the Bengali speaking majority of Pakistan. The protest got out of control and ended with the death of four protesters from the University of Dhaka who were shot by the police, on 21st February. The students' deaths during the fight for their mother language are now remembered by The International Mother Language Day.

I am not particularly good at other languages - but if I go abroad, I do try to learn the basics [please, thank you, hello, goodbye etc]  and I love finding out about other cultures [and cuisines] There is so much to learn from the others on our planet. And so much we have to share too...
Then I saw another angel flying in the heavens, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people. [Rev 14]

Is English your Mother Language? How do you speak with friends from different cultures?

Saturday 20 February 2016

Put That In Your Pipe And Smoke It!

I really do not approve of smoking - and I notice that Daniel Craig, the latest actor to play James Bond, refuses to smoke in the films [even though he himself is a heavy smoker off set] But in Ian Fleming's books, we learn that 007 is a 60-a-day man. Craig maintains you could not remain fit if you smoked that heavily. 
But I know that the spy is supposed to smoke his own exclusive cigarettes, produced for him by Morlands of Grosvenor Street. The paper wrapper has three gold bands [acknowledging his is Commander Bond] and the tobacco is a Balkan Sobranie mixture. 
Balkan Sobranie tobacco is described thus; Balkan Sobranie Original Smoking Mixture is one of the most legendary Latakia-based blends in history. Dating back to around the 1920s, this is a combination of wonderful Virginias, excellent Orientals and enough Latakia for a robust and flavourful mixture. The aroma has an incense-like scent that will thrill the senses. Balkan refers to the Greek Macedonian yenidze tobacco that gives this blend its characteristic flavour and aroma. It has a peaty, brackish astringency that is unique. To this is added a large quantity of fiery, tenebrific, real, Syrian/Cypriot latakia tobacco, all of it held together by the background notes of red Virginia.
Personally this information is of little use to me - as I I am not, and never will be, a smoker. But I love packaging and tins. Look at this picture from a 1920's B-S tin

Who are the two women? why are they waving cheerfully at the chap leading his wagon load of tobacco leaves to market? A few years later, the design changed- the two women are on the other side, looking at lots of wagons going up the road. And is that lady now not waving, but holding her own cigarette?. 

But the Balkan Sobranie mixture was deemed exotic, and interesting - far more esoteric than the Gold Flake that the old men down the pub were putting into their pipes, or rolling into the Rizla papers.

And despite my abhorrence of the evil weed, I am afraid I succumbed and purchased an empty B-S tin this week. My paperclip pot has lost its lid - and the artwork on this tin is lovely, and it did only cost me 20p in a charity shop!

There's a message inside the lid too -I am not altogether convinced that this long cool smoke will calm a troubled world, with an aroma to answer all life's worries.
But it will at least hold my paperclips securely!

Friday 19 February 2016


I have finally worked out how to store my wool stash. I wanted it to be accessible, visible, and all in one place. I love it when you go into a woolshop and there are the little cubbyholes each with their colourful contents on display. Where could I store my wool?Carrier bags in the loft are a little inaccessible. The only available space was the top of a bookcase on the landing - but that was in dire need of tidying up.

And then I had an idea... I used to have drawer dividers in my undies drawer. But when we got Cornerstones, that piece of furniture went to Norfolk, and the dividers are no good for the drawers I use now. 

But they are just the right size for the box from my new clothes airer. I cut out a panel from the front, inserted the dividers, and strengthened the corners with some red gaffer tape.

And now my wool is neat and tidy and ready to use. Thinner sock wool/4ply towards the top, and DK at the bottom. There are a few tiny balls tucked in round the edge. No more wool to be purchased until this is all used up!

Now to re-assess my knitting needle collection!

Thursday 18 February 2016

Two Plus Two

Here are four of the craft books I have been looking at recently
The top two  - Fa-la-la Felt, and Stash Happy Felt came from the Wimbledon Sewing Machine [sadly closed] near to Steph's place. 
I saw the other two recently in Ferndown Library; Super Cute Felt, and Stash Happy Applique I am glad I own the top two, there is plenty in them which has given me ideas for projects. 

I am not so sure about the library books, to be honest! The applique book seems to be mostly more felt ideas. The little gnome is cute [but he is mostly felt] There's a lot of repetition between the books - you can only have so many felt bird garlands hanging around!
But now I am going to get really picky - why do they not use proper proof readers? It is very frustrating when you look at a project in a book, read the list of materials, and think 'I have got all that in my stash' Then when you look more closely, you notice that the picture of the project, the list of materials, and the instructions don't all match up. e.g. bootees pictured with eyelets and ribbons - neither of which get into the instructions or the materials list. Or there is a throwaway line about using a specific technique, but no clear instructions [or worse, a tool you need to buy for correct completion of the task] 

And if you are making a super cute felt necklace, I think it needs to be shown on a model - not draped across a headboard. I could not work out how this would look when being worn [and found myself cynically wondering if the answer was 'lop-sided', hence the use of a bed and not a neck!!] I did like the applique boats babywear - but thought there were few original ideas in the book. Drawstring bags and placemats are easily found on the net.
These bottom two books are definitely borrow not-buy
Sorry, I'm only rating them both at ** 

Wednesday 17 February 2016

No Grounds For Complaint Here

Christmas gifts that are useful, edible, and last well into the New Year [and FairTrade] are great. Such was one of the items which Bob had from Steph this year. A subscription which means he gets a pack of coffee beans [not grounds] delivered for the next few months from CafeDirect
Each pack comes with details about the growers - on Saturday he received some from Peru - produced by a Women's Co-operative. 
There are also notes on the flavour of this particular blend, and a space for you to write your own review.
And because Sunday was Valentine's Day, there was a bonus of two cute Divine Chocolate hearts in the package too!

A lovely gift, one we are both enjoying [thanks Steph!]

Tuesday 16 February 2016

The First Scientist, Who Is Truly 'On The Money'

I am perversely excited about the announcement regarding the new Scottish £10 notes. A public ballot was held a few weeks back, inviting votes for which Scottish person should be portrayed, from a given shortlist. There was a clear leader all through the week - then suspiciously, at the very last moment, a load of votes for one person arrived from outside the UK. The Scottish Banks wisely decided to ignore these, and announced the winner to be Mary Somerville, scientist [1780-1872]. Which is brilliant for many reasons [I voted for her]

When I was at Primary School, I was given a "Girl's Annual" one Christmas. Back then, these usually had a few stories, an article about washing your hair carefully, a couple of craft projects, and mini biographies of two or three 'worthy women' who would be good role models. This particular book had a feature about Mary Fairfax Somerville. From the first paragraph, I was fascinated by her. You can read details of her life here.
From an early age, she fell in love with mathematics, spending hours wrestling with algebra problems. Her father wondered if she were a lunatic and should be confined to an asylum. She was skilled at French, loved science, and became an accomplished astronomer. She was a true polymath. She was the first woman to be admitted to the Royal Astronomical Society. In 1834 - before Victoria ascended to the throne, after the publication of Mary's second book, the Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, William Whewell, suggested that the term 'men of science' was now obsolete, and instead the term 'scientist' should be used, recognising both women and men had valued contributions to make. So Mary was truly the first person to be called a scientist
I do not think Mary is as well known as she should be. Somerville College, Oxford is named after her, being founded within a decade of her death. She was highly respected by so many in her lifetime - not just scientists - she was a great friend of the artist JMWTurner. I really must watch that film sometime- Mary is portrayed in it - here she is demonstrating the properties of violet light

Sir David Brewster, the inventor of the kaleidoscope [yes, really] said of her
... certainly the most extraordinary woman in Europe - a mathematician of the very first rank with all the gentleness of a woman ... She is also a great natural philosopher and mineralogist. 

I end with two quotes from Mary herself - one rather wordy one about her faith -
Nothing has afforded me so convincing a proof of the unity of the Deity as these purely mental conceptions of numerical and mathematical science which have been by slow degrees vouchsafed to man, and are still granted in these latter times by the Differential Calculus, now superseded by the Higher Algebra, all of which must have existed in that sublimely omniscient Mind from eternity.

And a second quote that I really identified with as a schoolgirl - and still do even now

Sometimes I find [mathematical problems] difficult, but my old obstinacy remains, for if I do not succeed today, I attack them again on the morrow.

Monday 15 February 2016

When Life Gives You Lemons...

...make lemonade hamad m'rakhad
That is, Moroccan Preserved Lemons. Lots of our generous friends turned up on Tuesday for the Pancake Party bearing gifts, and I had a bowlful of leftover lemons. I decided that they would not keep very long 

It is not as if I am like our late Queen Mum, who was allegedly fond of a regular gin and tonic. I decided I would use a few for puddings etc, and preserve the rest.
There was a helpful recipe in the Guardian and so I followed that. I sliced a little from the top and bottom of each fruit, then cut down into 6 segments but the knife did not go all the way down. I was able to open up the sections like petals of a flower and put in the salt. I had two smallish Kilner jar. I was able to get two lemons in a jar, and squash them down, then I cut the third lemon in half [vertically] and that went in. So 6 lemons preserved. 

I put a double layer of clingfilm on the top of the lemons, which had already exuded a lot of juice. A can of beans and some weights went onto that and I left the jars for a few hours. 
When I came back, the level of juice was above the top of the fruit. Other recipes suggest gently spooning a tablespoonful of olive oil on topas an added air-seal. So I did that. Now they are in a cool dark place until about Mothering Sunday [I will turn them weekly] by which time they should be ready to use. Once opened they should keep for up to a year, if kept in the fridge. 

And then they will be used** in tagines, roasted Mediterranean vegetables, with couscous, stuffed inside roast chickens, over pulses, grated into gremolatas ...  
[**the skins only - before use, it is important to scrape out all the pulp and wash off the brine]