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Christmas Confectionery Cavalcade!

9 Jan

Some days at work are better than others…

A few weeks ago, I was informed by my manager that I would be taking the Eurostar to Brussels for the day, for a Conference. As I have never been on the Eurostar before, I was delighted at the prospect, and spent the preceding week before the trip, bouncing around the office like a kid at Christmas.

I have visited Brussels briefly, once before, when my lovely friend Charlotte and I were stranded there overnight after a disastrous Belgian music festival. We were tired and had tents and sleeping bags to carry, so had been in no mood for sightseeing – perhaps this trip would give me a chance to see the city in a different light!

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My excitement slightly wore off when I discovered how much of a flying visit my time in Brussels was going to be – we would have around an hour an a half to sightsee, and the rest of the time would be spent in meetings. Oh well, ninety minutes was better than nothing! I certainly didn’t waste my time, and used it to visit Brussels Old Town. The two things that the city is famed for (besides sprouts, of course) are chocolate and waffles, so I thought it was only right and proper that I sampled as many of these tasty treats as I could in the time I had.

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Delectable liqueur truffles and chocolate-covered cakes, biscuits and waffles…

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…adorable solid chocolate characters and exquisite fudges and caramels…

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….every imaginable chocolate-based spread, sauce and dip. I was in heaven!

Although my trip was short, my chocolate tasting inspired me to have a go at making some confectionery as gifts for Christmas this year. My creations may not be quite as classy as those I tried in the artisan confectionery boutiques of Brussels, but it’s the thought that counts!

I had been lucky enough to receive a book on making confectionery from my brother and sister-in-law for my birthday – Sweets Made Simple by Hope & Greenwood. Some of their recipes looked so mouthwatering that I nearly ate the pages! I decided to give some of their truffle and fudge recipes a try.

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Firstly, I tried making delicious, refreshing Gin and Lime truffles. The recipe was really easy to follow, and recommended chilling the mix, and then rolling into small balls and coating in cocoa powder. However, I found that the mix was a little too soft, so I opted to coat the balls of truffle mix in milk chocolate to make the truffles a bit more stable. This obviously involved melting large quantities of chocolate in a bain marie, and generally making a chocolatey mess. It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta go it! to decorate the truffles, I finely grated a small amount of lime zest, and used it to garnish the top of each truffle before the chocolate set.

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After the success of the gin and lime treats, I attempted a second truffle recipe from the book. I tried the recipe for white chocolate and limoncello truffles, which I thought would be perfect as my brother Alex and his new wife Kate brought me some limoncello back from their honeymoon in Italy earlier in the year.

Again, I found the ganache a little too soft, so I painted tempered white chocolate into a confectionery mould, and painstakingly filled each chocolate cup and left it to cool, before sealing with a layer of white chocolate and popping out of the silicon tray.

The finished result was glossy, pyramid-shaped truffles, with a pleasing snap as you bit through the chocolate, to reveal a creamy, citrusy centre. Divine. Painting the moulds took a fair bit of time, but the finished confection was certainly worth it.

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For my last sweet treat, I decided to make a non-boozy option, for a change. A recipe in the Hope and Greenwood book had caught my eye – Black Forest Fudge. Well, with dark and white chocolate and the addition of morello cherries, what’s not to love?

It was my first time at making fudge, and I’m pleased to say, the result was really successful. I followed the instructions very carefully, using a sugar thermometer to remove the fudge mix from the boil when it hit 113 degrees exactly. I then combined the grated chocolate, poured into a silicon case, and liberally topped with halved morello cherries.

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I found that the first attempt was absolutely delicious, but a little too crumbly. However, on successive batches I got better at mixing the chocolate through thoroughly, easing the melted mix into the corners of the tray before it sets, and using a hot knife to cut the squares more neatly.

Ever reluctant to waste anything I have produced, I collected up the crumbs from the crumbly fudge and refrigerated them – perhaps I could use these as an ice cream topping, or better yet, maybe they could be churned into an ice cream of their own? I will make a note to try this as the weather warms up!

In sucessive batches, I also increased the quantity of cherries, as they were simply too delicious. My favourite thing about the fudge is that it’s sweet and creamy, but not too sickly – once you’ve had one square, it’s hard to resist another! So, next time you see me and I’ve gained a stone, blame the fudge.

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To complete the repertoire of Christmas edible treats, I bottled up some sloe gin (reprised from last year’s success) and also baked a few more batches of the Swedish sugar and spice cookies. Never let it be said that I would let friends and family go hungry (or sober) at Christmastime.

 

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Kat’s Wedding Crafternoon

5 Dec

Two of my lovely friends are tying the knot! Regular readers will know my mate Kat, who has featured on this blog before as my glamping buddy and blanket aficionado.

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Kat is marrying her top man Owen next year in Wales, and wants as home-made, rustic feel for their special day. The ceremony may be 8 months off, but the crafting starts now!

Last weekend, 5 of Kat’s friends (including myself) assembled to begin creating table decorations. Of course, all this crafting also gave us the perfect opportunity to partake of a few glasses of fizz and lots of delicious edible treats too! Kat had made some quiches, and Hannah brought her wonderful home made honeycomb. You may spot some of my Scandinavian biscuits on the table!

Over the past few months, Kat has amassed a huge collection of glass jars, as well as buttons, hessian, ribbons, and beads, in order to make unique centerpieces for her wedding. Kat was also lucky enough to get hold of a big bag of surplus lace trimmings from a wedding dressmaker, which were perfect for this crafting activity. I can’t speak for my fellow attendees, but I couldn’t wait to get started with this haul of crafting treasure!

The six of us each selected a jar, and began decorating the outside, with the help of some pva glue.

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It took us a while to settle on our first design, but soon enough, we had all come up with something we were happy with. It was great fun inventing designs using the materials Kat had collected.

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As we finished the first jar, we moved onto another, until we had decorated over 30! I’d like to think that equates to us each making 5, but I think SOME people spent more time drinking fizz and less time crafting (I’m looking at you Kathryn!). Hannah was by far our most prolific jar decorator, and managed around 8 – I think I completed 5 or 6 before I completely ran out of inspiration.

 

It was great experimenting with the materials – using the hessian strip as a background really brought out the detail in the lace trim. We were also able to add to the designs with buttons, faux pearls, or some hearts cut from vintage print. Some of the jars will be filled with wildflowers, to grace the centre of each table, and some will be used as tealight holders on the day. Until next June, Kat and Owen will have plenty of time to get used to the designs, as they now fill most of the shelves in the living room!

 

Some of the designs were so pretty! I think one of my favourites is the three pearls threaded onto twine, in the picture above, which I think was one of Danielle’s wonderful creations. I also thought that the one that uses mini wooden clothes pegs (in the picture below) was really inventive! Kat will probably need a few more jars, so we are all now collecting our own, for recycling into wedding decor.

Kat and Owen are getting hitched in a country house in North Wales, and their ceremony is taking place beneath a tree in the beautiful grounds. To make the place look even more magical, our Bride-to-Be plans to make some decorations to hang over the branches of the tree. After our success with the jars, we couldn’t wait to get started – Crafters Assemble!

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Kat had spotted this wonderful tutorial on Pinterest which captured her imagination. Artist Kathryn Godwin used air clay to make mini cups, which were then threaded together to make a simple, elegant curtain of ‘pods’ that could hang from a tree. In the picture on the tutorial, we estimate that there we would need approximately 600 of the little cups to recreate the look.

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Of course, everything is possible when you have a team of super crafters on hand! (the prosecco helped too). Using some Das air clay, we took small balls of clay (around the size of a 10p piece) and worked them into cup shapes, before leaving to dry on trays. We tried to keep the cups quite uniform, although it’s not too problematic if the cups are all slightly different sizes. Once they had been drying for a few hours, we pierced holes in the centres, and left them set. The cups should take approximately 48 hours to completely harden.

Using two full packets of clay and some positive team work, we managed to produce 150 cups in just a few hours. Only  450 to go! We are each going to buy some clay and make some more cups, to give to Kat next time we see her.

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What a lovely day of crafting, good food and good company – I can’t wait for  next June!

Four Go Glamping – update

23 Nov

You may remember that, earlier in the year, during the blissful, balmy Summer, my friends and I went glamping in Oxfordshire, and had time to visit a pottery studio during our stay. We painted mugs and jugs at Aston Pottery, using stencils and a stippling effect, and left our masterpieces here to be glazed and fired.

 

After a long wait, our items have finally arrived! Hannah, Kat and I met up recently, and opened the parcel to reveal our works of art. The patterns have come out really well and the colours have deepened during the firing. The glaze is smooth and even across the mug, and the finishe piece feels really professional! Katie painted a jug during the weekend, which has also come out really well.

It was wonderful to finally receive our items and remember our fantastic weekend. Katie wasn’t able to join us, but hopefully she will feel the same when she sees her creation!

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My mug is now bringing sunshine to my morning coffee and desert heat to an evening cocoa on these long winter nights. I’m really happy with how the design turned out, and would defnitely try stencilling on pottery again – perhaps I may try this effect on something at my pottery class!

Pottery Butter Dishes

25 Oct

Don’t let my recent blogging hiatus fool you – I’ve still been trying my best to build my pottery skills to a point where I can make useful items!

One of the projects I started at the end of the Summer term of classes was a series of butter dishes. The kilns at the college reach a relatively low heat of  ‘only’ about 1200 degrees celcius, which means that the glazes are not fired enough to become either waterproof or frost-proof. This means that when you are planning your projects, you have to bear this in mind.

I hit on the idea of butter dishes, as the surface of the dish will be sufficiently non-porous to protect the butter, and will look great on the counter in the kitchen or on a shelf in the fridge.

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My first butter dish was a total experiment. I rolled out a slab of clay, and, using a longish jam jar covered in paper as a rough mold, I shaped the slab into a butter pat shape. I had to leave the clay to firm up for a little while, and then I was able to fold the edges together to make the end result look a little like a block of butter in its original foil packaging. It was a litle tricky working with a slab in this way, but I was determined to see if it would work! I then used slip to seal the joins, and rolled a second slab to form a base.

To ensure that the top and the base dried evenly without warping, I slotted them together and allowed them to dry slowly, wrapped up in polythene for a few weeks. It was then fired, and painted in a high gloss. I’m delighted with the result! Ok, so it’s a little wobbly around the edges, but surely that’s part of it’s charm!

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I learned a lot from making the first butter dish, which came in really handy when I moved onto making more.

For the second butter dish, I wanted to recreate that classic design of a loaf of bread. Learning from my previous difficulties of shaping a single slab of clay, I decided this time to cut one large slab to wrap across the top, and two, smaller, end slabs to fit in at the sides. I let all 3 slabs firm up, and afterwards, it proved much easier to assemble. The structure felt much stronger than it had on the orignal butter dish, as it had been fitted together properly! I made a slightly more decorative base for this one, and again, let them dry together, slowly, under polythene.

Painting this one was fun! I wanted to give the effect of a lovely, golden brown, freshly-baked loaf. I’m really happy with the crust colours, although I was hoping for a slightly less yellowy shade for the bread on the ends. I still think it looks great though. This butter dish is going to be a gift for someone, but I won’t reveal who yet as they might just be reading (I don’t think they read this blog, but I’ll keep quiet, just in case!).

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The third and final butter dish for the time being was one that I had wanted to make for my Mum. I remember us having a cow-shaped butter dish when I was a kid, but I felt that my skills weren’t quite up to making  a cow at this point! Therefore, I decided on a simple design, accented with a giant curl of butter as a handle on the top.

As you can see from the pictures, my skills are definitely improving by the third attempt! Again, I made this one by cutting several slabs and assembling them once they had firmed.  For this one, I kept the base really simple, with a slight lip around the edges.

I’m not sure what you can see from the photograph, but the glaze on this one is gorgeous! It’s a sort of shimmery, iridescent variety of blues, swimming about. I had this idea to paint the base blue, and paint the top in graduating blues, moving up into white at the top. I got started, and was quite happy with how the work was progressing. I wrapped it up to continue work on the following week, but when I returned, the paint had all dried to a uniform colour and I couldn’t see where I was up to!

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Therefore, I had to use a damp cloth to gently wipe as much as possible of the existing glaze off, and start again. I then mixed up some blue, white and transparent glaze and painted the whole item, base included, in the same colour, attempting to cover any existing traces of the original glaze work. Finally, I glazed the lovely butter curl in primrose yellow. The result is really fantastic! The blues swim about and catch the light, looking like water. Sadly, even if I put my mind to it, I could probably never mix that same colour again, but anyway the finished effect was a lovely surprise. Pleased as punch!

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Every time I open my fridge, I get a tiny spark of delight when I see my hand-made butter dish on the shelf. I think it’s a great way to personalise the kitchen, and I’ve reconciled myself to the fact it’s a bit rough around the edges – perhaps, once my skills improve, I’ll make myself a better one! I’m definitely going to be making more of these, as they are really good fun to plan and create – I would imagine that there’ll be a fair few butter dishes as Christmas pressies this year!

 

Scottish Craft Adventure Part 3 – Orkney

1 Oct

 

Finally, I have found time to tell you all about the last stint of my Scottish road trip – a visit to the Orkney Islands.

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Orkney is an archipelago around 8 miles north of the Scottish mainland, made up of around 70 islands, less than a third of which are inhabited. It is an amazing, mystical place, where it can be seemingly sunny, rainy, windy, overcast and foggy all at the same time. Orkney is popular with fans of ancient history and archaeology because of it’s UNESCO world heritage status for the neolithic structures you can visit there.

I took a ferry from John O Groats, past the Old Man of Hoy, to the town of Stromness on Mainland (the largest island in the Orkneys). The sun was setting as I made the crossing, giving the most amazing light as I took pictures of the Old Man, a huge, ever-changing sea stack which uncannily resembles a figure, stood in the crashing waves, guarding the islands from trouble.

On my first morning on Orkney, I drove out to see the Ring of Brodgar, a 5000 year old stone circle, which I thought would be very much like Stonehenge. Not so! Not only is the Ring of Brodgar the most northerly stone circle, is is also utterly enormous, at over 100 metres in diameter. It is also positioned on a stretch of land between two lochs, which means the light reflecting off the water makes the whole environment feel utterly magical.

The Vikings invaded Orkney around 1000 years ago, and believed that the stones were actually Gods who, after a night of revelling, stayed up too late and were turned to stone as the sun rose. The stones are so large, that as you look up at them, with the clouds moving quickly in the background, you can almost imagine that they are coming back to life.

 

 

I also visited Skara Brae, which is a neolithic village that was completely covered in sand until a freak storm in 1850 ripped the coast line apart, revealing the untouched stone dwellings beneath, perfectly preserved. I’m not even going to try to describe the place – suffice to say, this is Bucket List stuff: one of those sights you simply must see before you die!

I also had the once-in-a-lifetime experience of stepping inside a number of neolithic burial tombs, not least the Tomb of the Eagles on South Ronaldsay, and the world-famous Maeshowe on Mainland, which pre-dates the Pyramids (!). The experience was certainly something that I will never forget, not least because I was following a long line of visitors to the ancient site – the first people to discover the site were the early Viking warriors, who used Maeshowe as a shelter during their raids. So, amongst the amazing stone carvings almost 5000 years old, you will spot lines of Viking graffiti, written in runic alphabet. Simply amazing.
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Of course, my trip wasn’t just about neolithic adventuring – I also made sure I found time to sample some of the best that the Orkneys had to offer. Not least, ales from the Orkney Brewery, and a wee dram from the acclaimed Highland Park Distillery. Well, it would have been rude not to…

I also, predictably, immersed myself in the arts and crafts heritage of the islands. Orkney makes this super-easy for visitors, by promoting an annual Orkney Craft Trail, which signposts you to artisan workshops, galleries, boutiques and exhibitions.  I found myself on a virtual treasure hunt across the islands, looking for the next Craft Trail sign, leading me towards some of the islands’ hidden treasures.

I spent a lot of time on South Ronaldsay, a large island to the South West of Mainland, which is reachable by road bridge. It was here that I visited the Tomb of the Eagles, and also had the chance to visit the beautiful Italian Chapel, a stunning place of worship built and decorated by Italian POWs during WWII. You can still sense the blood, sweat and tears of the POWs that went into building it – the Chapel was a real labour of love that gave the prisoners something to focus on, and deserves a blog all to itself really!

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Whilst there, I chanced upon a fantastic studio which was a yarn shop, gift boutique and art gallery in one. It was called The Workshop and Loft Gallery, and it was hidden down a street in the village of St Margaret’s Hope. The Workshop is a craft cooperative which was set up 35 years ago by local artisan producers. It stocked knitwear, textiles and yarns, as well as jewellery, ceramics and wonderful art work from local artists.

It will come as no surprise to you that I ended up buying some local yarn as a souvenir of my trip – especially as it was lambing season whilst I was there. Across the islands you could hear the bleat of sheep and watch the gamboling of cute fluffy little creatures as they learned to use their legs for the first time.

 

I bought some skeins of yarn which had been transported down from North Ronaldsay island, of an aran weight. The rare breed, North Ronaldsay sheep are unusual, due to the fact they live on a diet of seaweed. I don’t know if this adds any special quality to the yarn!

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Also on South Ronaldsay was the Hoxa Tapestry Gallery, which was filled with the impressive, large scale tapestries of local artist, Leila Thomson. If you are lucky (sadly I wasn’t), you can watch Leila work from the gallery. Her tapestries are moving (emotionally not literally!) depictions of life, death, nature, family, memory and the Universe….pretty big themes! If you make it to Orkney it’s definitely worth seeking out this gallery –  the pictures on her website simply do not do the works justice.

Anyway, with time being short I also spent as much time as possible exploring mainland and some of the other neighbouring islands. Mainland is home to many artists and craftspeople, with one notable one being potter Andrew Appleby, known locally as the ‘Harray Potter’, after the name of the Mainland Parish in which he works. Andrew runs Fursbreck Pottery, which has shops in both Kirkwall and Stromness. I throught the items were beautiful, and I couldn’t resist buying some handmade ceramic buttons to remember my trip by.

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I also visited countless other studios and galleries, but I don’t want to bore you completely! Suffice to say, the heady Orcadian combination of ancient historical sites, wild landscapes, and creative outlets left me fizzing with creativity and ideas.

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I took hundreds of photos of natural textures, which hopefully I would like to recreate in some craft project, using my North Ronaldsay yarn, my Fursbreck ceramic buttons, and a few other things that I picked up along the  way.

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Hopefully I will be able to incorporate some features that remind me of the fascinating layers of history I encountered across the islands – Neolithic burials, Viking graffiti, and WWII buildings.

DSCN3033As we know, all good things must come to an end. Eventually it was time to begin the 14-hour, 580 mile journey South, back to Doncaster which I have always affectionately thought of as ‘The North’. This holiday taught me that it is anything but! Thanks for being patient in waiting for posts from my adventure, I hope they were worth the wait. I promise to be a little quicker in writing up the results of my makes from the items I picked up along the way!

12 days, over 1000 miles, and an unforgettable adventure.

Alex and Kate get Hitched!

19 Sep

It’s been quite an exciting time in the Mau household – my brother Alex married the lovely Kate this Summer, so there has been much crafting and celebration taking place.

The couple wanted a hand-made, vintage  feel to their wedding. Kate and her bridesmaid, her sister Louisa, made all of the beautiful invitations and table decorations, whilst Mother of the Bride, Pat and Grandmother, Nana Flo assisted with the favours. Even one of Kate’s work colleagues, Kathryn, made the amazing wedding cake They all did a fabulous job!

Alex and Kate’s invitations for the wedding had been made using a variety of yellow fabrics, ribbons and buttons,  so the couple asked me if I would make a ring bearers cushion from the leftover scraps.

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I had some white linen conveniently lying around, so I cut out two identical rectangles and got to work. I had an idea to have a wide border on the cushion, so to ensure I left sufficient material around the outsides, I tacked a green line around the fabric where the border started, so that I could space out my embroidery correctly.

DSCN4130DSCN4131I thought that I would use some of the fabric to applique Alex and Kate’s initials onto the cushion, so I made some paper templates to test out the design.  I finally hit on a design that I liked – two simple letters, with some script flowing from top left to bottom right across the front of the cushion.

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I began by using the letter templates to cut out some fusible interfacing. I then ironed the interfacing onto my chosen applique fabric, and cut out the shapes, leaving a 5mm border around each letter.

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I then carefully ironed the fabric edges onto the back of the shapes, and pinned them into place on the linen. I was then able to neatly applique the letters onto the material.

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Once the shapes were attached to the fabric, I then chose a contrasting embroidery silk and decorated the letter edges with blanket stitch. The colour palette for the wedding was lemon and grey, so I chose a lovely, light, silvery thread for this work.

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Onto the back piece of fabric for the cushion, I neatly embroidered the wedding date. It was then time to press both pieces of material and attach them together on the sewing machine.

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I then removed the green tacking and neatly sealed the two sides together with a lemon embroidery silk, leaving a gap to stuff the pillow and attach the ribbon before completing the border. I also made a small incision on the front of the cushion where the rings would be held. Kate had used a lovely natural twine on the invitations, which I thought would look great here. So, I looped a length of the twine onto a flat button, and slid the button into the centre of the cushion stuffing, before pulling the twine out through the incision on the front. This ensures that the rings are held safely and the fabric isn’t strained.

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I attached lemon, heart-shaped beads to the ends of the twine, after first checking that the rings would still slip on and off easily!

The final job was to attach twinkly, transparent seed beads across the front and back of the border. I’m not sure if you can see it from the pictures, but I attached half of them with a lemon thread, and half of them with the silver-grey thread, so that the transparent beads take on some of the theme colours.

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Kate’s nephew Callum was ring bearer, or ‘Official Ring Dude’ on the day, and did a great job of carrying the cushion to the front.

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It was an utterly lovely wedding and all that remains to be said is, congratulations Alex and Kate!

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Crocheted Baby Blankets 2

1 Jun

Spring is in the air, and there seems to be rather a lot of new arrivals being announced, all at once! This time, not one, but two of my friends at work are both going on maternity leave at the same time – I guess that gives me the perfect excuse to get my crochet hooks out!

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Firstly, I decided to make a coverlet for my friend and colleague, Hayley – she has just gone on leave to have her second child, a little boy. Using some white Sirdar Snuggly and a number 5 hook, I made up 3 rows of trebles, then did a row of puff stitches to give the coverlet some interest. For the edge, I used some lovely blue lambswool from Kingcraig Fabrics to make rows of alternating shells.  This was really quick to make, and I think the edging looks really effective!

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Secondly, a fellow member of my team at work, Sian, is also starting maternity leave for her first child this month. This blanket is larger than the coverlet, for no other reason than I carried on crocheting for ages before realising how large it had become!

Again, the main work of this crochet was simple rows of trebles, but every few rows I did a series of  *three trebles into a single stitch (to make a small fan), skipped a stitch, a single treble, skipped a stitch, all the way to the end of the row. On the next row, I would do a treble into each of the first three ‘fan’ stitches, but for each stitch, I would keep the last loop of the stitch on the hook. Once all three were looped on, I’d do a yarn over hook to close the stitches. Then I would do a single treble to complete the post in the middle of the motif, and begin on the next three trebles into the fan. I hope that made sense! This made the lovely flowers/windmills/crosses pattern you can see below.

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To finish this blanket off, I simply did a row of *treble crochet, single crochet, skip a stitch, followed by a row of a *treble crochet, single crochet, treble crochet, single crochet into each loop created on the previous row. This meant I could thread ribbon throught the first row and produce a gentle frill on the outside row. I’m really happy with how this blanket turned out!

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Once I had finished these two, I was in full swing and ready to make a third – I don’t know who is going to be the recipient of this one yet, but I’m sure it will find a home soon!

I wanted to try a more intricate stitch, and I had spotted this great tutorial on Sandra Cherryheart‘s blog – the clamshell stitch. In Sandra’s blanket, she uses a different colour for each row of clamshells, but I thought it would look interesting if only occasional shells were picked out in a colour. Again I used Sirdar Snuggly, will remnant balls of primrose yellow and dark blue lambswool from Kingcraig.

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What I love about this stitch is how the different rows catch the light – I didn’t notice this on the gorgeous, multi-coloured one on Sandra’s page, but I think the white really shows them off! I just wanted to keep on crocheting this one, it was a  struggle to stop! For some interest, I hooked some of the central rows of  stitches in blue, which means you can see the point where the clamshell spike stitches overlap it at even intervals.

For the edging, I was perilously close to running out of wool, so I simply did a row of V stitches, followed by a blue row of Vs, followed by a final row of white chain stitches, held onto the blue Vs with double crochets.

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Et voila, the finished blanket. I guess, as it contains blue, it really should be a boy’s blanket. However, the combination of blue, white and yellow seems quite nautical and fresh to me! Perhaps it could work for a boy or a girl. What do you think?

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Two of their blankets have already been delivered to my friends, in time for their own special deliveries. The third one awaits a recipient, but I’ll keep it to one side until one of my friends has wonderful news!

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Making Silver Jewellery

15 Apr

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to try my hand a silversmithing, thanks to a Groupon offer that I manage to catch in the nick of time!

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Say it with Embroidery!

10 Mar

There are so many exciting things going on at the moment. Birthdays, weddings, fresh starts in life. Some of my friends had special occasions coming up so I decided to embroider some greetings cards for them.

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The trick to embroidering on card is to draw out your picture lightly in pencil, and then before you begin to sew, prick the lines you have drawn evenly with a needle. Obviously, the fewer holes you make, the better really, as you will preserve the strength of the card more. The last thing you want would be for the card to tear between stitches, so that you would have to start over.

The birthday cake is a really simple design and one that I’ve used many times. In fact, it’s a great one for making a few cards in advance, which can just have the message written on as and when you need to send them. Above are a few I made earlier!

As the recipient of the card is going to be able to see the working on the back of the card, it’s worth trying to be as neat as possible. Instead of knotting or weaving the ends of the thread in, I used a little bit of sticky tape so that it was as flat as possible.

Then, all I did was add to the image with coloured pencils. Easy peasy! I’ve only ever embroidered really simple stuff for greetings cards in this style, but I’d be interested to know if any of you out there in blogland have used this method for larger-scale projects – would it be possible to embroider with ribbon onto card, for example, for a piece of wall art?

Icelandic Craft Adventures

25 Sep

So, despite our Icelandic misadventures, Louisa and I had a brilliant time in gorgeous Iceland. It really is a place like no other – there are only 320,000 inhabitants of the country, making it only a little bit more populated than Preston, but across 40,000 square miles, rather than Preston’s 55.

Iceland’s landscape is impressive and constantly changing – in the space of a half-hour drive, you’ll be traversing over volcanic terrain that looks like the surface of the moon, and suddenly you’ll see waterfalls and glaciers, black beaches, and creamy blue, geothermal lagoons. Totally amazing!

One of the most obvious avenues for creativity and crafting in Iceland is anything wool-based – I saw lots of lovely, fluffy-looking sheep on the South-coast of the island, which produce gorgeous Icelandic wool, available in lots of shops in Reykjavik. I also found lots of handmade felt items and, of course, dozens of varieties of the eponymous Nordic sweater! Icelandic wool is unlike any other natural yarn in the world – due to Iceland’s geographic isolation, the sheep here have evolved differently, to produce a rain-repellant, highly insulating, lightweight and breathable yarn. The most well-known brand is Lopi. I read on Cookie A‘s blog that you can actually visit the factory, which I’ll definitely have to do on my next visit!

Unfortunately, after our car getting totally totalled early on in the trip, I didn’t get an opportunity to visit the craft shops which were kindly recommended to me by UKCityCrafter– but I did find plenty of creative places in central Reykjavik that I could get to on one good and one rather wobbly foot.

If you are lucky enough to be visiting Reykjavik soon, then you’ll soon discover that you would be hard-pushed not to discover a craft shop – the streets are bursting with creative outlets, from ceramics to hand-made jewellery, from really interesting vintage clothes to knitted garments and home furnishings. Here are just a few that we visited in an afternoon:

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Kolaportid Flea Market, Tryggvagotu 19, Reykjavik Harbour, 11am-5pm Saturday and Sunday

Even the novice rummager is bound to find a bargain here – I saw intricate lava jewellery being handmade by artists, perused vintage maps of Iceland, and browsed rail upon rail of Nordic knitwear amongst the hundreds of stalls at this weekly flea market. A word to the wise, stock up on Icelandic Krona before going, as the ATM queue has to be seen to be believed. One thing in particular caught my eye – a vintage, hand-embroidered table runner in beautiful, fresh, Spring colours. You can see a swatch of it folded up in the picture above, but the full item is 48×16 inches in size. Expecting it to cost me at least an arm and a leg, I cautiously queried the price, and was astonished when the stall-holder said it was just 500ISK – around £2.50. Ker-ching!

The Nordic Store, Laekjargata 2, Reykjavik – this place is quite pricey (and get used to it – this is Iceland!) but you can buy the best that the country has to offer here – again, beautiful knitwear, but much of it was in a more modern style which I completely fell in love with. The Nordic Store also sells oils, creams and potions from the famous Blue Lagoon, as well as unique jewellery items made from lava and silver. The store had a great selection of Lopi colours, so I bought a few which complemented my fleamarket find. Wool is the only product I found all weekend which didn’t break the bank – even at the Nordic Store, Lopi was 360 Icelandic Krona for 50g – about £1.80. Also, many of the stores in Reykjavik are tax-free for tourists, so by submitting your receipts at the airport, you have an additional 10-15% of the cost reimbursed. Bargainous! Next time I’m bringing an empty suitcase…..

The Handknitting Association of Iceland, Skolavoroustigur 19, Reykjavik and Laugavegur 53b, Reykjavik

The Handknitting Association stocks beautiful, handmade jumpers, scarves, blankets and even onesies, all made from 100% Icelandic yarn. You can also buy all kinds of Lopi, which is good as you are bound to feel inspired after a few minutes here!

There are simply endless second-hand and vintage clothing stores, my favourite two being Spuutnik, where you buy items by the kilogram, and the Red Cross store, where I bought a weird and wonderful Icelandic jumper, which is essentially two snoods looped together, in a sort of Mobius strip formation – it takes as much concentration to put on correctly as it does to complete a Rubik’s cube! There are plenty of great bloggers out there who have already catalogued the wonder that is Icelandic vintage shopping, so rather than duplicate, I’ll strongly recommend you to The House that Lars Built for more info.

As well as all of these awesome places, Iceland seems to be the sort of country which attracts lots of wonderfully creative and talented people! Almost everyone I met was in the middle of some amazing project! All very inspiring.

Staying at our hostel was American knitting designer Stephen West, founder and creator of WestKnits. Stephen was in the middle of creating a sort of technicolour dreamcoat out of various yarns, collected on his travels. I hope he doesn’t mind that I’ve borrowed the picture above from his website to show you what fantastic items he produces! You can also check out Stephen’s patterns here at Ravelry. What a talented guy.

I also met Jen from Burnley, UK, who had not only brought her crochet to get on with at the hostel, but in fact had also brought along her own handmade weaving loom! Now THAT is creative travelling!

 

Jen sent me a message a few days after we left the hostel, to say she had finished her crochet beanie – looking good!

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After the drama of the car accident, Louisa and I decided to spend our last evening in Iceland doing some crochet – we were too shell-shocked for any more high-octane activities! This was Louisa’s first foray into crochet, but she picked it up straight away. Of course, the enormous tankards of Arctic berry cider from the hostel bar helped.

 

Louisa texted me this week with a picture of her progress on a lovely, striped scarf, made of snuggly Icelandic wool. I think we’ve got a natural-born crocheter on our hands here!

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One of my closest friends, Julie, is celebrating her 30th birthday this week, and she utterly adores Iceland, so I thought I would make her a crocheted evening bag. I did intend to complete the item with a button made of lava, but unfortunately that was one of the casualties of our car smash! I hope Julie doesn’t mind the replacement. When I returned home, I beaded the primrose-yellow shells to give the bag a bit of birthday sparkle.

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I guess I’ve written quite a lot, considering we were only there for 3 nights! My bank balance is going to need a bit of TLC after the trip, but then it will be going into intensive training so that I can afford to go again – hopefully in the next 12 months.

 

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