Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Opinions please

I have to confess to loving my Traffic Jam bunting. It was one of those designs that worked just as I'd imagined and I enjoy making it. I don't, however, particularly enjoy batch cutting and sewing, and the vehicles are pretty fiddly given the number of windows. So, I've been trying to rejig the pattern to reduce the amount of cutting and sewing involved but I wonder if the quality or design is suffering because of this. Could you give me your opinions please?

This is the bus as I currently make it:

and these is my proposed new design. Please bear in mind that I did this in about two minutes flat, so the zigzagging would be more even:

Thanks for your help!


OK, following all your really helpful comments, here's my compromise which I think might do the job. I've taken on Martina's suggestion of the strip of felt under the zigzag and next time I cut some bus shapes, I will take on board the comments from my big sister about making the bus "chubbier":

Monday, 9 November 2009

The genius that is Kitschycoo

They say sibling rivalry or envy is a bad thing, but I'd like to disagree on this occasion.

It's all down to my niece, who celebrated her first birthday this weekend with three (yes THREE!) parties. So this time a year ago I had a lovely time cruising round Folksy looking for presents for the first girl to be born in our family for 13 years. And after eight years of only buying clothes for boys, it was such a treat to look through Kitschycoo's shop, selecting just the right tunic and booties for a girl.

Obviously they were a hit with my sister as she has now bought a coat pattern from Amanda at Kitschycoo so that her mother-in-law can make a funky orange bird-patterned coat for my lovely niece.

Which is all lovely for my niece and my sister, but frankly I was feeling a bit left out. After all, Amanda is my friend (albeit only in an on-line-y, twittery kind of way) and it was unfair that my family didn't have any of that amazing Kitschycoo style in our house.

The best thing about Amanda is her great talent for rooting out the most amazing fabrics. I'd seen this one (left) on a t-shirt in her shop, but I wanted MORE.

My Littlest Helper has huge blue eyes, and I knew that this was the fabric for him. So for only the second time in my life I commissioned a piece of clothing (the only other item was my wedding dress) and it is truly gorgeous. Really I don't have words for it, so just look at the pictures. All I need to say is that it arrived on Friday lunchtime, and although it hasn't been worn in the bath or in bed, it has been worn at all other times and with great pride:

So please, if you have boys or girls, go to Kitschycoo's website. This lady has a huge designing future ahead of her, I'm sure (I hear that ladies' coats are in the pipeline) and I can't wait to see (and maybe buy!) more of her designs.

Sunday, 30 August 2009


I have just returned from delivering Charlie to my mother-in-law. She lives 160 miles away in Bath, so we arranged to meet half-way in Hampshire. Charlie's excitement grew as we got closer to the rendez-vous point, as did his worries about how he might change cars in the middle of the motorway. It was lovely having him to myself for a couple of hours and we chatted about how I had been to stay alone with my grandmother at about the same age. My children are at the age now that events such as this will remain with them, as similar experiences have stayed with me.

I imagine that my parents dropped me off at Grandma's house in Hertford, although I know that when my older sister went to stay there she travelled by Grandma's favourite mode of transport: the Green Line Bus. We didn't see Grandma very often; this was in the days before the M25, so circumnavigating London to get from Sussex to Hertfordshire was quite a trek, although I imagine the trips might have been more frequent if my grandmother and mother had got on better. Whichever grandparents we were visiting, we were always wearing our best clothes and would always stop in a layby just before we got there to have our hair combed and our faces cleaned with lick and Kleenex.

I do remember feeling rather nervous about staying there on my own. After all, this was not someone I knew particularly well; I did know that Grandma was quite bossy and I certainly wasn't sure about keeping up my good behaviour for several days. But the memories of that visit are happy. I remember that we walked into the town centre to buy my birthday present from Woolworths. I chose a red, blue and yellow plastic saxophone. How Grandma must have loved me serenading her for the rest of my time at her house!

I stayed in what had been my father's bedroom and remember lying there looking at the wallpaper covered in trains (or were they planes, perhaps?) trying to imagine Daddy as a boy. It seemed such an impossible and funny idea.

I clearly remember Grandma asking me if I liked custard and I must have pulled a face, thinking of the thick-skinned yellow slime of school. But the tinned Bird's custard she extracted from the larder was a revelation: smooth, creamy, sweet and delicious. Grandma's larder was a wartime hoarder's dream. In those days which predated "best before" dates, it was anyone's guess how long those tins had been there.

When I think of Grandma, she is a tiny, old, rather querulous lady. And yet she had the patience to have small girls to stay with her. She let me choose my own present, even though she must have hated it. She always made us tangerine jelly with segments in because we loved it. And most of all, she sent me letters like this:

In this one she hasn't signed off with her usual XOXOXOXOXOXOXOX (dozens of kisses and hugs) but I love the way she has stuck all those shapes on, licking and sticking each one individually, in those days before sticky stickers.

I hope that my children will have dozens of memories of all their grandparents. The way they interract with them is so different to the formal, best-dress, best-behaviour relationship I had with my grandparents. I am sure that it helps them to feel an integral part of a huge family of all ages and better equipped, therefore, to communicate with all generations.

Friday, 3 July 2009


I am gradually coming back down to earth after the last week of June. It's the same every year. My middle son turned 6 on 23rd:

and my oldest turned 9 on 29th:

(do you think they were excited about their presents?!)

and of course they're still at the age when presents and cake are paramount, so a huge amount of energy has to go into thinking about presents for us and wider family to give them and then buying them and wrapping them and then baking cakes for school and cakes for home, and organising parties........

so you can see why I've needed a bit of a break. And oh, did I mention we had the school fete in the middle there somewhere? And I had a stall? Which went pleasingly well, incidentally, particularly as I was selling bags and bunting rather than my normal cushions and hot water bottles.

Just in case you haven't seen enough of my children's tonsils, here's the youngest, not wanting to be left out:

And finally, a useless piece of personal information following on from these revealing photos: my favourite word in Spanish is Otorrinolaringólogo. Sounds great, actually it means Ear, nose & throat doctor. So now you know who to ask for when your child inserts a peanut up their nose on holiday (no, that's not how I know!).

Saturday, 6 June 2009


There is a divine smell in my kitchen - we are making elderflower cordial. My helper today is Charlie, and so far we've picked about 150 heads of flowers, enough to make litres and litres of cordial. Slightly worrying is the 10kg of sugar we've used, but it all gets diluted and the smell and taste of the elderflowers is so pungent that we never need use much of the concentrated cordial in each glass to release the heady memories of late spring.

We'll leave the elderflowers and citrus fruits to steep overnight and then strain and decant the syrup into the many plastic bottles I've been hoarding over the past weeks. It's lovely to know that we'll be enjoying this delicious essence of spring for months to come.

Friday, 22 May 2009


I've been "tagged" by Amanda from KitschyCoo (just the coolest kids' clothes around) and so I have to fill in these lists of eight things and then tag another eight bloggers. I'll happily do the list, but I don't really read that many blogs, so I'm afraid I won't be passing it on. Here goes:

Eight things I am looking forward to.....

1. Having the children at home for half-term next week.

2. The children going back to school after half-term (see – I’m thinking ahead).

3. Thai take-away from the van for supper tonight.

4. The philadelphus (mock orange) on the drive coming into bloom. The most divine smell on earth. First bud spotted today.

5. Going to the Heathfield show tomorrow. Pigs and tractors. Yay! (such a country girl).

6. A dry summer (ha!)

7. My lovely friend Penelope coming to stay in July. I miss her and her beautiful family.

8. Going to see Joseph with my family next Saturday. Reminds me of driving to family holidays in the 70s – no car stereo, just three girls singing the entire musical from the back seat… our parents must have loved it….

Eight things I did yesterday...

1. Made a pitiful attempt to clear up my sewing stuff.

2. Started making a mobile version of my traffic jam bunting.

3. Pretended that using a foot pump to pump up car tyres and bike tyres was as good as a work-out. Yeah, right.

4. Ordered 40 bags of horse manure for the garden.

5. Queued with the children for delicious ice-cream at our village’s new sweet shop. Proper strawberry ice-cream that tasted of strawberries. Yum!

6. Spent two hours trying to find a babysitter.

7. Went to the Charlston Festival to see David Lodge speak. Felt very young compared to most of the audience. I’m not a great fan, to be honest, but it was good to do something cultural.

8. Got lost on the way to and the way back from Charlston, but it was such a beautiful evening – East Sussex lanes and the Downs at their best – that it didn’t matter. Must get a new map that WORKS! (or practice map reading).

Eight things I wish I could do....

1. Be tidy (or at least tidier). What I wouldn’t give to have Mary Poppins’ finger-clicking skills.

2. Control my hair. I think my sisters & I keep Frizz-Ease in business in this country. Any other recommendations?

3. Raise one eyebrow. My younger sister can do this brilliantly. She is a barrister and uses her eyebrow lifting to very good effect, I am told. I am very jealous and have spent years practicing, but it’s no good. I just can’t do it.

4. Recognise different birdsong. I think I’m a bit dyslexic about this. Currently cuckoo, owl and pheasant are about my limit.

5. Somehow clone each of my children so that they can continue to grow, but I could also have them stay just as they are right now, aged 2, 5 and 8.

6. Learn to live by the maxim “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” I am a terrible prevaricator.

7. Successfully persuade my children that not EVERYONE needs a Nintendo Wii, Playstation, PSP or whatever the current favourite is. This is a losing battle, I know.

8. Have lunch like this every day – eggs Benedict made with bantams eggs.

Eight shows I watch....

1. Seinfeld. Probably the best sitcom EVER made.

2. Eastenders. What a terrible admission. Sorry.

3. Location, location, location. Middle class property porn.

4. ER

5. Desperate Housewives.

Er… that’s it. Does radio count?

6. The Archers

7. Woman’s Hour

8. Open Book

Sunday, 17 May 2009


I've never really been one for hand sewing: too fiddly, too many knots to tie, never sure if I can see better close up with or without my specs. However, I had an idea in my head last week - you know, the sort of idea which makes your fingers itch to get started in case the idea floats away before you've captured it. And you know what? I think I love hand stitching.

This week I went to visit three of my friends' new babies and deliver the mobiles I've been making (see here) so I thought I'd like to make a little something for the older siblings to make them feel special too and so it wasn't all about the babies (even though it was really!).

It started off with a little friend of mine who had her 4th birthday last week. I wanted to give her something she would love, I knew it had to be pink and shoes are a bit of a theme with me at the moment (more on that later). I'm pleased now that I've been hoarding all those tiny offcuts of fabric and felt:

I'm really pleased with how this has turned out. I love how the tiny seed beads mimic the cut-out pattern of Startrite shoes. I made another of these (but with turquoise shoes) for the sister of one of the babies but knew I needed something for the boys too. And show me a three-year-old boy who doesn't like tractors:

I'll be making more of these soon (definitely a space rocket one) but first I need to invest in a thimble. Ouch.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

The traffic these days....

Look at all the vehicles I've been cutting out today, queueing up to be made into bunting and mobiles. Now think about all the button wheels I have to sew on...... toot, toot!

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Boy meets bluebells

I grew up in an area renowned for its bluebell woods so for me this is a special time of year. That nature can produce such intensity of colour and scent takes me by surprise every bluebell season. We love to walk in bluebell woods in the late afternoon when the flowers seem to glow in the dimming light.

This year our Little Helper noticed them for the first time. He's already showing some of his Daddy's love of wildflowers (lots of daisies and dandelions proffered in his grubby chubby fists) but witnessing his first awareness of bluebells was a special moment.

Sunday, 12 April 2009


I've been sorting out the children's clothes drawers and tackling the Mount Everest of laundry that lurks in our house in preparation for going on holiday tomorrow. Now, I'm confident that I've washed and sorted everything that needed washing and sorting and yet there are still these...

...the Little Helper's odd socks. 15 of them! How did this happen? Where are all the others? I suppose it doesn't help that clothes in our family have been handed down and down and down the children (my nephew is now 16 and I'm fairly confident some of these were his) so the Little Helper is the sixth child to own these socks. Nor does it help that I am congenitally incapable of throwing anything away, but.....15! My husband confidently tells me that he's sure some of them are in the garden. Hmm. I wonder what it will take for me to finally accept that I am never going to find the other half of these pairs and actually throw them away.

We're going to Cape Cod tomorrow, so off to find some actual pairs of socks to pack.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

The cutest thing on my ipod

This is a story about a tractor making hay in the snow as told by my middle son just before his 3rd birthday. He is now 5 and this reminds me that I should record them more often. They grow up too quickly.

Friday, 3 April 2009


Following my post earlier this week, this is what I have been doing with my lovely fabric haul.

I've been working on my "perfect tote" pattern for a while now. When I say "perfect", I mean perfect for me, i.e. that it is big enough for my stuff and a nappy change for the little helper, the handles are long enough to go over my shoulder even when I'm wearing a coat, that I can open it wide enough to actually see what's in it. I find with a lot of bags that I have to scrabble about blindly without being able to see the bottom. So I knew I needed something with a gusset (I have a friend who would stop reading this blog this second just because of that word!) but that wasn't too tricky for me to sew. Also, I now know from experience that bizarrely I find it easier to make a lined bag: I am not one of life's neat sewers, and the lining lets me hide lots of mess (can I somehow employ this technique in my kitchen, I wonder?)

The most enjoyable part has been choosing which fabrics and linings to use together. I love this bird print with the red polka dot lining:

I've been really careful about cutting the gorgeous shoe fabric as it's just too good to waste, so I've made these little bags for girls - maybe not quite big enough for everything I haul about with me, but certainly big enough for a purse and some lip gloss.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009


This is the bottom of my ironing basket. I hadn't seen it for months.

Tuesday, 31 March 2009


I had such a lovely time in the fabric shop today. We popped in to look for curtain material for the middle cheeky boy's room and came out with a bag full of totally inappropriate (for him) fabric instead. We also bumped into two friends, so the Little Helper was happy hiding behind some curtains with his little girlfriend. I had to pretend not to see the Bob the Builder fabric he was so interested in.

So, tea, shoes, polka dots, pink.....I reckon if I throw a few buttons into the mix I could make most of the female population happy with this haul!

Saturday, 28 March 2009


It was always going to be a difficult meal.

Our lovely pigs went off on Monday: a journey we always knew they were destined for but tough to deal with nonetheless. They looked rather bewildered in the trailer but not upset and they left together, unparted since birth.

The pigs when they first arrived

These pigs had the best life we could give them: a varied seasonal diet - apples, acorns, garden cuttings, grass and vegetable stalks and roots supplemented with pig nuts; ample room - their enclosure is about 60 square metres with a lovely sty, plenty of straw, logs to rub against and lots of tree roots to snuffle around; and company - it was the boys' job to feed them after school in the afternoon and they would hang around with them, scratching their backs and chatting to them (the pigs probably found out more about their school day than I did). The only thing the pigs didn't like was the electric fence, but they learned to respect it, particularly after the Great Escape when we put it on a higher setting.

Look how tiny they were!

It was only once they had gone that I realised how often during the day I watched them from the window: opening my curtains in the morning, getting the boys' breakfast, while talking on the phone or sewing. And I really miss them. It's only been a week, but they had become an important part of our lives. I grew up with pets (a donkey, hens, cats and goldfish) but we've never wanted pets here. I don't have time for a dog and we have too much lovely birdlife to risk a cat. And now, given the choice of any pet, I'd choose the pigs.

The Piggies three weeks ago

We never lost sight of the reason for keeping them. From the start we decided not to name them. They were simply known as "Piggies". We explained to the boys early on what would happen to the pigs and they have been fine about it. It's been interesting exploring our feelings about animals and food and the ethics of meat-eating while keeping the pigs. The other aspect we're really proud of is the food miles of these pigs: they were born 3 miles away, went to an abbatoir 5 miles away and then to the butcher 1/2 a mile up the road from us. So in total they have travelled less than 10 miles.

This morning at 7am my husband spent two hours in the role of butcher's boy and arrived home with boxes and boxes of pork. Half is now in our fridge and freezer and the other half is currently being delivered to friends and family. We have been staggered by the demand for our pork. It just shows that, given the opportunity, people do want to buy fresh, local meat from animals that have led a happy life.

So, back to lunch. Sausages. While my husband and I were still gearing ourselves up to eating a bit of "our piggies" our 8 year old just tucked in. He loved the pigs. He looked after them. He was sad when they went. But they were the best sausages he has ever eaten.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Happy Birthday

Happy Birthday to my beautiful little helper, 2 today. Presents, friends to play, endless love from his brothers and cousins, Daddy at home for the day, party tea and not a proper meal in sight. He's had the perfect day.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Something I have learned from my mother

My mother has a "less is more" approach to bringing flowers from her garden into the house and it is a tradition that I love to follow. Next to the chair where she sits in the evening is a table with a notepad, a coaster, often a dish with sewing essentials in, some chocolate and usually a small vase with a single flower stem. It is a lovely way of focusing on one flower, looking closely at stamens and petals and seeing details that would be lost in a bunch of flowers.

My favourite this time of year is the hellebore above - just look at the markings on the petals - but I also love these: the yellow forsythia for its colour, the white winter honeysuckle for its divine scent and the flowering currant for its shape and the beautiful mix of green and pink.

But I am still always bowled over by the cheesy romance of a big bunch of roses! These were given to us by some friends who came to stay last weekend. Thank you J, E, L & J xxx

Thursday, 12 March 2009


Today I have been rustling up a batch of fairy cakes. Obviously these are fairy cakes which don't involve me burning myself on the oven (again) and although I don't get to eat them I find them just as rewarding to make as the conventional edible cakes. This batch here is for the latest batch of friends' babies. I have three friends locally who have produced three baby girls in the past 10 days so I am planning to give each of them a mobile made from these fairy cakes. Sweet dreams Camilla, Hannah and Holly.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

An influential book

I love looking at lists of people's favourite books. I used to swap lists of my top three with people I met, without which I'd never have read In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje or A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, both of which will stay with me for life. Both authors are inspiring story-tellers (and tell inspiring stories) and write beautiful prose. Both write of aspiration and despair but don't leave you feeling hopeless.

So it's strange that the book I write about here, which I love above almost all others, is so incredibly simple. I was reminded of it a few weeks ago; the Little Helper has discovered our family's love of books (he is currently asleep in his cot upstairs with four board books), and the books that we (and my parents) read to him most are the Topsy and Tim books. I don't know how much he understands but he will sit absolutely still and with utter concentration as we read them to him. He loves Topsy but doesn't seem to have much time for Tim and won't mention his name.

My favourite of this series (and by the way I am talking about the books as I first read them in the 70s - not the redrawn and rewritten editions of the 80s and 90s which I find boring and mediocre) is Topsy and Tim's Friday Book. There is just so much to love about this book: a Party invitation! Dressing up! Burnt cork moustaches and pretend earrings! Party tea! Prizes! It sums up the best of my childhood. We did all of these things frequently. My mother organised the most marvellous parties and created delicious teas (oh, the sophistication of party dip and crisps!) with homemade cakes made to look like Dougal from the Magic Roundabout, individual jellies with the colour from the hundreds-and-thousands melting across the surface and tiny pink meringues. My father made up amazing games - eating crisps noisily through a microphone or filling in the noises in a story. And then there was Hunt the Smarties - dozens of small girls in long party dresses (this was the 70s after all!) scouring the house for hidden stashes of Smarties to fill up empty Smarties tubes.

So here are my favourite pictures from the story:

I love this picture - Mummy in her lovely dress at her sewing machine making dressing up outfits for Topsy and Tim and what I like most is the yellow ric-rac she's sewing on the waistcoats (I had an identical waistcoat and matching trousers in royal blue, but with red ric-rac). I like to think that maybe this picture inspired my love of sewing for children.

Here are Topsy and Tim on their way to the party, and there's Mummy, always in her hat and gloves, and look, there's Tony Welch dressed as a box of matches. Incidentally, it is impossible to say the words "Wait for me" to me or my two sisters without us completing the phrase "...called Tony Welch's voice, I'm a box of matches". I know it must annoy everyone, but it invariably makes us laugh.

And my favourite picture, the party tea. See, none of your cut up carrot and cucumber sticks or cherry tomatoes here. This is what party tea should be - sticky, sweet and an unadulterated treat.

I love this book because it makes me happy. It makes my children happy. It is uncomplicated and true and I will never grow tired of reading it.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Taking over my life

More of my current obsession - bunting. I just can't help it, I love it. I love creating it in my mind, I love sewing it, I love seeing it hanging in my kitchen.
I still think the traffic jam is my favourite, but this comes a very, very close second. It just makes me feel happy - lovely cakes without the guilt of eating them! And those lovely shiny button cherries. I've always been a push-over for gooey fluorescent glacé cherries, and the buttons are just like them.
Can I take this opportunity to apologize to my husband though: he waits patiently for months for a button to be sewn on his shirt (and no, he really can't do it himself!) and I keep putting it off, but give me a pile of bunting and my lovely tin of shiny buttons, and I can't get my sewing box out quickly enough. Maybe he just has the wrong sort of buttons on his shirts?