Beautiful things for you and your home!

Lots of homely thoughts on sewing, baking, papercrafts, gardening and all the things that go towards making your house a home

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Charity Make - Zipped Box Style Make Up Bag

If you're in the UK, you have probably seen the posters and adverts for the Macmillan Big Coffee Morning. It's a great cause and last year the coffee mornings raised £20,532,000 which can all be put towards helping people, and their loved ones, through cancer.

I was lucky enough to be invited to one this year that a friend and her neighbour were holding as a joint venture. This was a great idea, as it meant more numbers, a shared workload and the opportunity to meet and have fun with new people. The 'big day' as it were, was officially the 26th September, but this one, and many others around the country, had been pushed to the 28th. A Saturday morning meant that more people were able to attend.

As well as donating for your cup of tea/coffee and cake, there were various guessing games to play, through posters supplied in the Coffee Morning Kit and a raffle. As I was travelling by train, taking a Victoria sponge or a batch of delicious (hopefully!) cupcakes didn't seem the best option - and when the train pulled in to the station already absolutely packed to the rafters, the decision was proved to have been the right one. It would have been cupcake carnage. Instead I had decided to put my effort into a prize for the raffle. I pondered on what would be a good thing to take. As it was going to be mostly women, and bearing in mind the festive season is already being hailed in supermarkets across the country (something I wish we could legally change to ensure no hint of Christmas is allowed before November at least), I thought that perhaps a make up bag might be just the ticket.

I had some Makower fabric in cream called 'Boutique Accessories' that I thought would be perfect, covered as it is in little drawings of handbags, shoes, etc. (I tried to find a link to this for you, but because it's been in my stash a little while now, it seems that it's no longer sold). I also wanted it to be in a boxed style, rather than just flat. I don't know about you but I always find it much easier to find things in my own box shaped make up bag than I did in a previous 'flat' one.  Of course, as is always the way, nothing went to plan and I ended up poorly for the best part of last week.

Friday came and I still had no gift to take for the raffle. This is when Melanie at I Heart Stitiching came to the rescue. Without the time to spend rummaging through my patterns, I did a quick search on You Tube and found her channel. Melanie's box pouch tutorial is one of the best I've seen. She makes it really easy to see how to do things, gives you the measurements you need and just makes the whole thing seem less intimidating, especially if you are a) a beginner or b) under the weather - or even both.

This is how mine turned out:

I was pretty pleased with how it turned out, especially for a first attempt. I have pretty high standards, especially when it comes to gifts so things going to plan with it meant that I avoided the last minute dash to the shops to find a raffle prize to take!
I deliberately went with a contrasting colour for the zip as I felt it added a little bit of zing to the project but you could of course have one that matched the base colour of the fabric.
The bag was quite fun to make and came together quite easily. The longest part was cutting it out I think. I probably lost a bit of time changing feet on my machine, not that they take that long, but I did change back and forth between the walking foot and the overedge foot a certain amount. Luckily even that doesn't take too long on my Janome machine  I previously had a Toyota which was a nice little machine but the walking foot was quite fiddly to change so I was very pleasantly surprised when I first changed to a walking foot on the DSK.
If I make another one of these, I will probably match the thread to the lining fabric (sorry, no pics of the inside on this one as hubby took them for me whilst I got tea ready and I didn't specify an 'interior shot'). In this one the lining is pink and the stitching is cream, to match the base colour of the exterior fabric. My brain was still a bit fuzzy from being under the weather and once I realised, I made the decision to carry on. I actually quite like that the stitching contrasts inside as it's neat and makes it a little quirky. I'd match the next one just to see which look I prefer most.
Hopefully the lady who picked my bag as her prize enjoys using it as much as I enjoyed making it, fuzzy brain and all!
Did you go to any of the Big Coffee Mornings? Did you make or take anything - I'd love to hear so do leave me a comment below!
Happy Crafting!
Love, Maxi

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Jam Session

No, not the cool, hip rock star kind, but the rather yummy produce-something-you-can-eat kind, which I think is indeed still cool and hip - rockstar or not.

During the past few weeks I have been keeping an eye on my Dad's allotment whilst they were away. Luckily it wasn't during the heatwave this time so a lot of the time it was looking after itself. It was in the meantime, producing a tonne of tomatoes, in addition to my own plants at home. But more of that in another post (suffice to say, there was some tomato soup in their fridge ready for them to have for lunch when they got back!). The allotment was also offering up the odd bit of fruit as plants started to head for autumn.

We had already had a delicious rhubarb, strawberry and blackberry crumble...


After that, there was a little bit of odd things - none of it was enough to do much with on its own. I pondered on what I could do with it, and came upon the idea of making some jam.

I don't know about you, but for years, I was always under the impression that jam making generally involved some magic. It just seemed to loiter in my head as some very fine art that the likes of mere mortals as myself would never be able to conquer.

Well, turns out it's not quite so much of a dark art as I thought! I've not made loads of jam and the first batch I made several years ago was probably a bit thick really - but still edible for a first go, even if you did sort of have to cut it into sticky chunks...

I was taking a bit of a risk on this batch really too as I didn't have an actual recipe with quantities or anything and who knew what the mixture of fruits was going to taste like. You know, some mixes work and some are a bit off. Either way, the fruit was just sitting there so there wasn't much to lose.

After a bit of scouting around for sugar quantities, I went for a basic theory on adding the same weight of sugar to fruit, with a good splash of lemon juice for good measure. I then prepared the fruit:

* One stick of rhubarb (fairly thick)
* One bag of frozen gooseberries, thawed (these had broken down in the thawing process but going in a jam, it didn't seem as if it would matter too much
* About three blackberries (I know!)
* A small handful of yellow raspberries - these are delicious and a much softer flavour than traditional red one. I think they are called 'All Gold'
* One punnet of plums
* A few bits of pear

Everything but the pears, which had started to turn a bit soft and the plums were from the allotment. These two items had come in my veggie box. Dad doesn't use any sprays up at the allotment and the box is an organic one so there was a distinct lack of nasties to go in my jam mix - marvellous!

I cooked the fruit down, probably a little bit further than I intended because I had forgotten completely that I had it on the heat and got distracted doing something else! Scooting out to the kitchen when I remembered, the fruit was fine and hadn't stuck or anything. I splashed in the lemon juice and added the sugar, stirring it all the time until it dissolved completely.

This resulted in loosening the mixture quite a lot. I turned up the heat until it was boiling but only slightly and then turned it down again for a little longer. I know various recipes say to 'boil rapidly' but frankly, as soon as it started to boil, the stuff was flying out in all directions! A lower heat seemed the best option. I kept stirring for a while, until it started to get to a more 'jammy'* consistency (*technical term), and then popped a blob on a cool saucer and quickly placed it in the freezer for a few minutes.

When it came out, I could push the jam and make it wrinkle a little, before it scooped up onto my finger. Obviously I had to taste then, and gosh, it was delicious! I think it probably depends a bit on how you like your jam. If you like quite a runny (not liquid!) jam, then this stage is fine, but for a slightly thicker jam, you could leave it to cook a bit longer. I quite like a 'loose' jam as I find it is easier to spread. So, take the pan off the heat, grab a couple of sterilised jars and a jam funnel and...

Ta Dah!
As I say, I didn't have loads of anything so it only made two pots, but that's fine with me. The one on the right has been jazzed up a bit because I couldn't get the label off properly originally and I'm giving it to the parentals (it was mostly their fruit after all!) so a bit of pretty paper and double sided tape later - fit for presenting!
Excuse the munching marks on this one, I forgot I was supposed to be photographing it before I dived in! There was a little too much jam to fit into both pots, so we had to each have a bit of bread and jam for supper. What a shame! 

I'm really glad I overcame the 'fear' of making jam. I may well have just been lucky with this batch and the next one might be awful but who knows? It seemed to work this time just fine. Obviously the fruits I was using had enough pectin to make it viable - something with a lower level like strawberries, might be a bit more tricky. The key thing is, just to try! I'm really glad I did.

I'd love to hear about any jam making you've been doing, or any recipes you've just come up with to use up leftovers that have turned out great!

Happy crafting!

Love, Maxi

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Craft Space Overhaul...again

***I have just glanced back at my posts and realised that I had already done a sort of blog about this subject, which goes to show just how long I've been away from the blogging scene and how manic things have been lately. So! Apologies that this may repeat certain things and please forgive me my scatterbrain moments. Next time, I'm checking, honest!***

Hello all!

After having an epiphany of the interior design variety a couple of months ago, during a sleepless night, we have had a fairly major change in the room that was being used as a sort of study, come craft space. It never seemed to quite work really and I couldn't put my finger on it as to why. I suppose part of it was that one side was hubby's with his desk and the other side was my desk and various craft gubbins. I will freely admit that during crafting sessions, my side pretty much always invaded his side; a situation I have heard from many other crafters. Luckily, my hubs didn't mind this and happily put up with the encroachment. But I still wasn't really happy with the room. I didn't feel inspired to be in there, despite it being very light and sunny in the mornings.

As I lay awake that night, turning all sorts over in my head, the idea for a whole repurpose of the room emerged. As to whether it was possible was another matter.

I am a total book lover. I love my books - just looking at them makes me happy! In a previous house, we'd put shelves up in our dining room that covered one wall entirely. Those shelves were then in turn covered with books.

However, when we moved to this house, after a stint abroad, house prices had gone crazy and the same options weren't available. I had donated a lot, and I mean an awful lot, to charity and to the local library before we moved abroad but I still had a substantial number of books. We ended up having a couple of good old Ikea Billy bookcases  dotted around the house, and another older half height bookcase holding my recipe books. I've lived with it for a few years but it was far from ideal, especially as most of my books were still in the loft, which I knew wasn't the best environment for them.
It had also been playing on our minds that we didn't have a dining table. Well, we did, but it was still covered in shipping wrap and sat in the garage. Having a smaller house we just didn't have the space for it. Most of the time, this wasn't an issue. We aren't the type to throw posh dinner parties and we eat in the lounge, chatting and catching up on any series we've recorded. I know purists will gasp in horror at this, but it's what we do, and we're happy doing it. If you have children, then that's a whole different deal and I'd agree that sitting together and having the opportunity to talk about your day, etc, is important but we don't have that situation so we do what works for us. Anyway, back to topic! Mostly our friends were happy to eat as we did, and if the parentals visit, we used some fold out 'tv tables'. It worked. But I was aware that if I went for this whole transformation of the room, then we could also incorporate a dining table, making it a real multi purpose room but still look chic and tidy - the current design had open shelving for a lot of craft bits and I wasn't happy with it entirely. Yes, you can see what you have, but I still wasn't using a lot of it, and it was a pain to dust! And honestly, I'm not a fan of open shelving in general. I like things behind doors and the clean lines that tends to give. I know some people love open shelving and all power to them. It's just a personal choice - there isn't a 'right or wrong'.
So! After pulling all my books out of the loft (yippee!!!!) I also took down all the shelving in the room, piling up the craft goodies and sorting out exactly what I was going to use and what, in all likelihood, I wasn't. I went through all my scrapping paper and donated a tonne to my beautician's Mum, who runs a childcare service. Other craft items mostly went to the British Heart Foundation and a couple of bits that were brand new sold on Ebay.
Eventually, we got there. Trying to condense the contents of two desks, two filing cabinets, and drawer sets, eight shelves and two cupboards into just the two cupboards was no easy feat. The cupboards themselves were ones already existing in the room but in need of a makeover to blend in. One tin of Annie Sloan chalk paint later...
transformed! I've yet to put the handles back on this one in the above photo. The other cupboard was pretty much the same sort of mdf wood veneer colour but neither matched each other, and as the bookcases were slightly off white, I really wanted to paint them to make the room look more cohesive. It's amazing what a difference it makes. I didn't both with the top of this one as it's pretty tall and no-one tends to look up there! Plus it's now home to a few things that don't need accessing too much (including the big box that holds my wedding dress! Not an easy size to find space for). Ideally I wouldn't have anything up there but needs must and to be honest, I don't tend to notice the things stacked up there tidily.
I have to admit, there were a couple of moments when I thought I had taken on an almost impossible job as  I sat surrounded by 'stuff'! But we got there. And I now have a view that makes me smile and inspires me when I sit down to sew or scrap or make a card.
New inspirational view from my sewing machine
I wish I had taken photos of the process along the way, but there was a lot else going on at the time and the idea of blogging the transformation hadn't really occured to me, so apologies if it's all a bit 'wordy' for you.
We have a print waiting to go up, but need to find a frame for it first and the wall behind the machine is currently bare. We haven't decided on what to put up there yet but I'm sure I'll know when I see it.
I'm really pleased with the outcome. We did have to choose a different dining table as our original is too big for the room but the pine one we got, again from Ikea, is just the right size and was a great price. We knew we wouldn't be eating in there loads so it made no sense to splash out on some beautiful, but pricey, solid oak one. It does the job and looks great, with the wood adding a bit of warmth to the white walls and bookcases.
Hope you enjoyed the 'tour' and would love to see some pictures of your rooms - especially those that have to be multi purpose!
Love, Maxi