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Crochet Winter Warmers

13 Feb

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Anyone residing in the UK for the past few months would be aware that it’s been, well, rather parky out. I won’t be the only one who should have spent much all of January and much of February, shrouded in blankets and refusing to leave the warm environs of my flat for any non-essential reason.

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However, the course of my life has never been sedentary. I was back in my seaside hometown of Southport during the cold snap, so I decided to hibernate at my Grandparents house – until cabin fever struck. I decided to take a stroll along the deserted beach, which gave me the perfect opportunity to play with the settings on my new camera.

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For those of you who know anything about the North West coast, you won’t be surprised to hear that the wind was whipping up in every direction which made the chilly temperatures feel even colder! Eventually, I retreated back into the town to seek retail therapy and hot chocolate. It was then that I discovered a gem of a place: the Yarn Fairy on Wesley Street.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA It was inevitable of course, that an addicted crafter such as myself would succumb to the lure of independent boutique yarn shops and the prospect of lovely new crochet projects. As I was wearing my deliciously warm new winter coat, I decided to try and pick out some colours to create some cozy accessories.

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Unwittingly, I selected some yarns which perfectly matched the shades of the seaside, where I had taken my stroll and where my mind must have still been wandering. The yarn was from Rico studio, and was 50% acrylic, 50% wool, so I thought that would be a good choice. Both the blue and the cream yarns were variegated, and contained all sorts of different shades from my coat. Perfect!
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I’m not really a fan of crochet patterns – I’m much happier just setting off and discovering where the stitches take me. However, I had recently seen a tutorial for making a hat from brim to top, rather than the other way round – I decided to give that a go.

I began by making a loop in the pretty, blue yarn, which fitted snugly around my head, and then hooking a row of double crochets to get the hat started. Onto row 2, I began a row of treble crochets, doing a hooked treble stitch every 4 stitches. A hooked treble is where you push your crochet hook crosswise, around the post of the stitch below, rather than putting it through the top of the stitch below. I hope that makes sense! It is the same technique used when doing the basketweave stitch.
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After a few lines, I switched colours to the cream, but continued doing 3 trebles, 1 hooked treble for the first few rows -then as I wanted to reduce the stitches, I began doing a hooked stitch for every three, then for every 2 and so on, so that the raised columns were preserved, and the hat began to form into the correct shape. For every two rows I completed, I probably unravelled another, as I worked out how the hat should fit me.

I wanted slouchy, beret style to the hat, so I tried it on after every row or so, checking that I was progressing how I wanted. As I reached the top  of the hat, I got to a stage where each stitch was a hooked treble, and then for the next row, I began hooking two raised ridges together, to close up the hat at the top. Finally, once the hat was completed, I used a spare strand of blue yarn to make a simple bow at the top.

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Next, it was time to get started on the hand warmers. I have a track record with handwarmers, and have made a whole series of them for myself and others over the years (a few examples are below). They are a quick and easy make, which doesn’ use up too much yarn, and can be embellished in countless ways.

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Again, the easiest way to get a good fit for your handwarmers is to begin with a chain of around 34 stitches (depending on the dimensions of your hands and wrists), and to try on the glove after completing every row, to check they are fitting well. This time, I began with the cream yarn, and instead of producing ridges around all of the handwarmer, I just created two ridges, 3 stitches apart, which would run along the top of the item.

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When I reached the bottom of the thumb, I began to alternate rows backwards and forwards, leaving a gap. Once the gap was sufficient, I added a chain of 3 and then began doing circular rows again – this technique gave my glove a thumb hole.

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To match the design of the hat, I switched to blue yarn when I reached my knuckles, to give a blue border to the tops of the handwarmers. Once I had completed the glove to a desirable height, I then began building the rows around the thumb joint, using a selection of slip stitches, double crochets and treble crochets, to mould the shape. This is a little fiddly in explanation, but is very quick in reality!

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The big task then was to make an identical twin for the gloves! This is always easier said than done, but it’s manageable as long as you continue to check and compare the work as you go along.

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I”m really happy with my new creations, and especially like the silver flecks in the yarn that makes the items sparkle. My new makes came in handy last month, when I spent the weekend in Cologne, Germany. My trip coincided with a giant snowstorm, and I was grateful for my warm accessories whilst sightseeing in a blizzard!

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Charlotte – Style Icon and Craft Muse

1 Feb

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My lovely and immaculately stylish friend Charlotte, who has featured in my articles on many occasions, has started writing her own fashion blog here at http://fashionvictim88.blogspot.co.uk.

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Imagine my surprise when she published an article all about me – I couldn’t quite believe it!

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I feel it is my duty to confess that in 6 of these pictures, I am wearing clothes donated by, or stolen from, Charlotte herself. However, the observant of you will spot me wearing hand-made pieces in 3 of them (four if you count my purple mittens)

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In order to repay the favour of featuring me in her blog, here are some of my favourite pics of the two of us generally getting up to no good. Charlotte is the best!

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If you are into fashion or travel, please check her wonderful new blog out – http://fashionvictim88.blogspot.co.uk/734044_10151208360576947_1066353311_n

Road Trip to Royal Worcester

20 Jan

I’ve been spending quite alot of my time travelling up and down motorways for work recently – I usually work in Yorkshire, but in the past few months I have also had a few projects in the South West of England. Although the long drives on congested motorways have left much to be desired, it’s been great to have time to explore a different part of the country.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have been taking pottery classes for the past few months. A tiny proportion of readers may actually think I am slowly improving at pottery…but the jury is still out on that one!

Anyway, on a recent trip to Bristol, I had the chance to visit the Royal Worcester museum on my way back to sunny Doncaster. Royal Worcester ceased production after nearly 260 years in 2009, but some of the finest works have been put on display at the Royal Worcester Museum, which stands on the site of the original factory.  I thought a visit might give me some pottery inspiration, and I would learn a little bit about design trends and production methods.

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Whilst I was there, there was a presentation by one of Royal Worcester’s professional ceramic painters. Ken Russell. As I visited on a quiet afernoon, I took my opportunity to ask Ken lots of questions, and he did his best to answer all of them!

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Ken was working on some very intricate painting on teacups and saucers. He explained that the plate was fired then gilded, and then he needed to use a resin to painstakingly build up dots across the piece, which could then be painted when they reached the desired height.

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Ken explained that the glaze used would sit proud on the resin, giving the exquisite texture on the piece, but without the resin, the colours would not have any height. There were so many stages in completing a plate, and Ken explained how the process needed huge amounts of focus and concentration, as one mistake could mean starting the whole plate from scratch again.

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The pattern that Ken was imitating was from a famous Royal Worcester collection called the Dudley Service, which was made for the Countess of Dudley in the 1860s. The original set was so admired that a replica was made soon after, for the public to view. This replica set was on display at the museum, and I was amazed to see how fine the porcelain work was – when a cup was held to the light, the porcelain was so thin that the portrait painted on the outside was illuminated!

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Given the concentration needed, I decided to leave Ken in peace and have a look at some of the other exhibits. The items on display were beautiful, intricate, and faultless. Although I have no realistic hopes of ever being able to produce a pottery item like those on display, I was at least able to get a few ideas for techniques I could use in my evening classes.

I especially liked the neat beading around the top edge of this pot (above) – this would certainly be something I could incorporate into an item. I also thought the Japanesque tea service was interesting, with its lozenge-shaped cups and saucers and raised flowers on the surface.

However, my favourite item of the day was a small, novelty tea pot, which Ken suggested I check out. This little teapot was produced by James Hadley in 1882, and is based on the characters from a Gilbert and Sullivan comedy opera. It is called the ‘aesthetic teapot’, and one side depicts a foppish man, eaching a green jacket ornamented wiwth a sunflower. On the reverse, you can see his female counterpart, also wearing green, but this time it’s a smocked blouse, decorated with an arum lily.

The Gilbert and Sullivan opera on which this item was based was apparently a satire of Oscar Wilde and the aesthetic movement – art for art’s sake. Despite the obvious stylisation of this item, it is still a fully functioning teapot, fusing art and function. However, I’m sure if James Hadley were alive today he would be horrified to learn that his satirical teapot had become the very thing it once mocked – art for art’s sake, as its sole purpose now is for visitors to view it and marvel at its design.

Despite what Hadley would have thought, I still loved it, and am glad I had the opportunity to view the beautiful creations at Royal Worcester. If you happen to be in the vicinity of the visitor centre, I would highly recommend a visit!

 

Scandimania Pt 4: Gothenburg

14 Jan

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After a few busy days in Oslo, I arrived in Gothenburg in need of some rest and relaxation. Fortunately, the next 48 hours were not going to be another bustling city break – after a quick sightseeing tour of the city, I would be taking a ferry out to the Southern Gothenburg archipelago for some much needed peace and quiet.

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Gothenburg is fast becoming one of the hottest places to visit in Northern Europe. It’s cuisine, music, art and nightlife is attracting visitors from across the world, and after spending the afternoon there, I could see why. Despite the weather being overcast at best during my time there, the city felt buzzing, with lots of amazing independent boutiques, record stores, coffee shops and bars.

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In order to escape the inclement weather, I retreated into a wonderful coffee shop in the traditional Haga district, where I sampled a mouthwatering apple and almond cake, topped with pumpkin seeds and candied walnuts. It was absolutely delicious, and gave me the energy I needed to make the next stage of my journey, to the island of Hono, about an hour away from the centre of Gothenburg.

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I arrived by ferry, late at night, at the home of Sarah and Graham, which I found via AirBNB. The home was previously Sarah’s grandparents, and her grandfather had built the home himself. I had a beautiful, peaceful apartment on the top floor of the house, and Graham thoughtfully provided me with home-made bread and freshly-laid eggs. My R&R was off to a good start!

After the miserable, drizzly weather the day before, I was amazed to wake up the next day to sunlight streaming through the windows. Somehow, the fates had decided to grace my island stay with glorious, uninterrupted sunshine. I decided to make the most of it, and borrowed a bike from my lovely host Sarah, so that I could explore the island of Hono, and the neighbouring islands of Foto, Ockero and Halso, which were reachable by bridge.

The weather was perfect for cycling. Equipped with some bread and cheese in my rucksack, I set off on my adventure. The entire day was so peaceful – the island itself is home to breathtaking, unspoilt scenery and surrounded by deep blue waters.

The islands seemed almost deserted, with the exception of the areas around each harbour. At the first harbour I passed, I noticed a small shop was selling delicious local preserves, which I felt obligated to sample! The fig and hazelnut was to die for, and became a perfect accompaniment to my picnic on Hono beach.

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Being on the islands allowed my thoughts to easily unwind and settle, leaving me with space and energy to appreciate the simple things in life – sun reflecting off the water, the sound of the breeze filtering through the trees.  Life doesn’t get much better than this!

Soon enough, as with all the other stages of my trip, it was time to move onwards to a new destination. I felt so relaxed that I was actually ready to head home, but this would have to wait for just a few more days. It was time to travel towards my final stop – Copenhagen. This little creature did his best to accompany me on my journey, but sadly I had to leave him behind! Until next time, little kitty.

 

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.

 

Scandimania Pt 3: Oslo

3 Jan

After the tradition and tranquility of Trondheim, my arrival in Oslo was a jolt to the senses – as soon as I stepped off the train, I felt like I was in an entirely different and exciting city. I arrived after dark, and was dazzled by an impressive display of lights from every building. This is a beautiful city by night! I strolled along the waterfront, and simply tried to take it all in.

I’m warning you in advance – I didn’t have time to do any crafting whilst in Oslo, I was too busy immersing myself in everything the city had to offer. To be honest, I feel like I fitted so much in to 4 days there, I barely know where to start…

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Taking my cues from the bronze tiger at Oslo Centralstasjon, I decided to spend my first morning prowling around the city, getting lost and finding treasures. I started my day at the Akerhus fortress, which, from its imposing position on the waterfront, has defended Oslo for hundreds of years.

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I was really lucky with the weather – every day was cold, crisp and sunny. Many of the locals I spoke to asked me why I had chosen to visit Norway in November – most tourists either come in the warm Summer months, or during Christmas. At this time of year, the city is relatively uncrowded, and the colours of the leaves turning added to the gorgeous surroundings.  From the walls of the fortress, you could get a fantastic view of the city, and a great perspective on the Radhus, Oslo City Hall (below).

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It’s free to visit the Radhus (a welcome fact when you’re staying in one of the most expensive cities in the world), and the building is simply magnificent. As this is the City Hall, it’s a focal point for the city, and I learned that the Nobel Prize ceremony takes place here every year.

I was really impressed by the amount of decoration on every surface within the hall. As well as the enormous murals that make up many of the walls, there are also huge friezes of geometric patterns, whose colours shift as they travel across the walls. I visited the City Hall in the late afternoon sun, so light was illuminating different parts of the artwork as I looked around. Amazing!

In particular, I loved the stylised birds in the staircase, and and the sheer scale of the murals. I learned that Henrik Sorensen was responsible for the beautiful images on the wall of the main hall, with othern Norwegian artists contributing to the works in other parts of the building, such as the one below, taken from the Festival Gallery, designed and painted by Axel Revold.

I could have spent hours looking at the art and the murals here, but sadly I arrived only 40 minutes before closing. I would definitely visit here again, especially as I didn’t get a chance to look at some of the tapestries on the walls, which were also made specially for the City Hall. 

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As I had just seen the home of the Nobel prize ceremony, I thought it would be a good idea to have a look round the Nobel Peace Centre next, before continuing my exploration of the city. It was really informative, giving lots of information on who has won the peace prize each year, and even walking you through how a candidate is nominated and selected for the prize.

There is art everywhere you look in Oslo, which adds to the feeling that it is a vibrant city. Despite the fact Norway is much colder than the UK, all the outdoor artworks encouraged me to spend more time outside, rather than cozy and warm inside.

With this in mind, on the second day I decided to hire a bike and cycle up to Vigelandsparken, one of the main tourist attractions in Oslo. The park is home to the sculptures of Gustav Vigeland. It is is the world’s largest sculpture park by a single artist, and it contains 212 sculptures of men, women and children, all produced by Vigeland himself during the 1930s and 40s.

The sculptures are all made of either stone or bronze, and some are life size, whilst others are absolutely enormous! My favourite work was a fountain, with bronze trees around the perimeter, which each had a person sitting inside the branches. Around the walls of the huge fountain were bronze tiles depicting all sorts of relationships – parents and children, siblings, friends and lovers.

It’s inspiring to see one artist’s vision in its complete form – the whole park is a testament to Vigeland’s work.

The next stop on my Oslo expedition was the place that kickstarted the whole Scandinavian journey: ever since learning about the Oseberg viking burial ship on a BBC documentary a few years ago, I have become fascinated by Viking culture, and have been reading Viking sagas and learning as much as I can. It was this interest in Vikings that inspired my Orkney adventure earlier in 2014, and it was a desire to see the Oseberg ship which got me thinking about planning a trip to Norway. Words cannot describe how excited I was to be here!

One of the greatest joys of visiting Oslo out of season, was that I had the Viking Ship museum almost entirely to myself! It was just me, three Viking ships, and a handful of other stunned visitors, for the few hours that I was there. As soon as I walked in, I was brought face to face with the elegant bow of the Oseberg ship, the most preseved Viking ship to have ever been found. It is a myth that Viking burial customs meant that the dead were deposited in boats, which were then set on fire as they sailed into open waters. In fact, many boats were buried beneath the ground, containing the dead and any objects that they might need in the afterlife.

The Oseberg ship was found in a field around 100km south of Oslo in 1904, and the fascinating thing about its discovery was that it did not contain a King or Warrior, but a wealthy woman and her younger servant. Little is known about the pair, but aboard the boat with them were slaughtered farm animals, chariots, caskets and valuables. Considering the ship is over 1200 years old, the quality of the carvings is exceptional. I learned that these originally would have been brightly painted, and when the boat was originally unearthed, the colours were still visible. However, in order to preserve the ship, scientists had to use chemicals that did not save the paint.

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This was absolutely a bucket list activity for me – I’m so glad I got to see it!

I needed to come back down to Earth after my Viking ship adventure, so I spent the afternoon strolling around the Norsk Folkemuseum, which is five minutes’ walk from the Viking ships. At the Folkemuseum, you will find buildings from different eras from across Norway – a sort of medieval theme park! It was really relaxing wandering through the various farmsteads and traditional villages.

 

Just as the sun was fading, I found myself walking towards a genuine Norwegian stave church, on the top of a hill. It had been transported from a town called Gol, an hour North of Oslo. The church was built in the 1200s, but was transported to the Folkemuseum in the late 1800s when the people of Gol proposed demolishing it to make way for a new church. It was mind blowing to be standing in the doorway of a building that was over 900 years old! I nabbed a passing tourist to take a quick snap of me, but I realise the pictures don’t do it justice. Fortunately, for this one, I don’t really need pictures – every time I think of the stave church, I can still smell the incredible scent of 1000 year-old, smoky, pine sap coming from the walls of the building.

I can’t believe one city held so much excitement! I wanted to get every last drop of experience out of Oslo before I had to leave, so on my final afternoon, I had time to quickly take the train North, out of the city, to Holmenkollen,  the famous ski jump used in the Lillehammer winter Olympics in the 1990s. Despite my fear of heights, I bravely made it right to the top – the views were totally worth it.

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After a thrilling week in Norway, it was time to wave Ha det! to Oslo, and return to Sweden. However, I wasn’t sad to be leaving, because I know I will definitely return to this amazing country.

Scandimania Pt 2: Trondheim

28 Dec

Right, I know I’m taking my time in posting blogs at the moment – life has been frantic and I’ve hardly known whether I was coming or going. I’ve really been looking forward to spending an hour or so, casting my mind back to my amazing Scandinavian adventure, and sharing my memories here on the blog. Here goes!

So, after waving a fond farewell to Stockholm, I took a flight North West, to begin 6 blissful days in Norway. It was my first visit to this beautiful country, and I divided my time between two places which couldn’t be more different – firstly, the historic city of Trondheim, in Central Norway, and then onto the capital city, Oslo, in the South. It truly  was a tale of two cities.

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I am lucky enough to have friends that live in central Norway – Emily is originally from England, but teaches at an international school in the historical city of Trondheim, and lives there with her Norwegian boyfriend Magnus. When they heard I was visiting Scandinavia, they kindly said I could stay a few night with them, and see what Trondheim has to offer!

It’s a beautiful, traditional city, which actually used to be the capital of Norway until 1217. It was founded by the Viking Olaf Tryggvason, and there is a tall monument to the man himself in the centre of the city square.

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I only had 2 days to spend in Trondheim, so I tried my best to fit as many sights as possible. The city itself is peaceful and picturesque, especially the idyllic Old Town area, with its brightly coloured buildings.  I had the opportunity to visit the spectacular Nidaros Cathedral,  as well as walking all the way up to the Kristiansen fortress overlooking the city.
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I was happy to see that the city was not immune to guerilla crafters! Many of the statues had been adorned with handmade orange scarves, which I’m sure the statues were grateful for, given that it was just above freezing!

Of course, no holiday would be complete without some crafty purchases, so it will not surprise you to discover that I found a wonderful craft supplier in Trondheim. In the evening, I met up with Emily to stroll around the town. Down a quiet cobbled street, I spotted M. Sommer, which supplied an abundance of ribbons, buttons, trimmings and fabrics. The shop is something of a Trondheim institution, and has been in the same place for 125 years!

It was difficult to know what to pick, when there was so much to choose from! Finally I found the perfect souvenir – some ribbon in the colours of the Norwegian flag. This will be perfect for decorating an item for my flat. I also picked up some lovely blue and green glass beads, as I thought I could probably make a necklace that would remind me of the light sparkling on the waters of the Norwegian coastline.

On my final evening, Emily and Magnus took me to a traditional Norwegian diner in the Old Town. It was called Baklandet Skydsstation and served wonderful, hearty Norwegian food. The diner itself was beautifully decorated with handmade cushions and old portraits and embroideries. I had the most delicious meal of poached salmon in a broth, and I even had a little taste of Magnus’s wild reindeer stew!

I felt refreshed and relaxed after my brief break in Trondheim – the next stage I had to look forward to was a scenic, six-hour train journey through the mountainous Norwegian landscape, towards Oslo.

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Thank you to Emily and Magnus for making me so welcome in your beautiful home city! Onward to Oslo…..

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Souvenir Makes No. 3: Scandi Snacks

12 Dec

Regular readers will know about the recent goal I set myself, to only buy holiday souvenirs that I can use to make lovely things. No more fibre optic Eiffel Towers or Kiss-Me-Quick hats from Blackpool!

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I picked up these fab cookie cutters during the Stockholm leg of my Scandinavian roadtrip back in October, as they were perfect reminders of Sweden – they depict Moomintroll, Little My and Snufkin* from the Moomin stories, and the ubiquitous Dala horse. Ever since returning home, I have been eager to get baking!

I used BJ Reeve’s recipe from AllRecipes.com for Sugar and Spice Cookies. I have copied the recipe below, but if you do try it, please remember to post your feedback on the AllRecipes page so that BJReeve can see it!

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour               1/2 cup softened butter

1 cup packed brown sugar                  1 egg

1/2 tsp vanilla extract                         1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp ground cinnamon                     1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

pinch of ground cloves

1. Mix the flour, the baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves together in a bowl. I also added half a teaspoon of ground ginger at this point, as I love the taste!

2. Cream the butter and brown sugar together with an electric mixer in a large bowl until smooth; beat the egg and vanilla extract into the butter mixture. Add the flour mixture in small amount to the butter mixture, beating each addition until blended. Add any colouring you wish to use at this stage. I ended up mixing up two batches, one in the classic red for the Dala horses, and one plain for the Moomins.

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3. Form the dough into a ball, wrap with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to 3 days.

4. Preheat an oven to 175 degrees . Grease baking sheets (or use greaseproof paper if you have any).

5. Roll the dough out on a floured work surface with a rolling pin to about 1/8-inch thickness. Cut with 2-inch cookie cutters. Arrange the cut cookies onto the prepared baking sheets, ensuring there is enough space for the dough to spread.

At this stage, I found it worked well to chill the shapes again for 20 mins, as it helped them to maintain their shape during cooking. I also found that you had to be really careful when easing the dough out of the cookie cutter, in order to protect the dough shape. A butter knife came in handy for loosening the edges.

6. Finally, bake in the preheated oven until the edges begin to brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet for 1 minute before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. The aroma of the spices will fill your kitchen and you will be tested to the limits of your patience as you wait for them to cool before icing.

Once the cookies were completely cooled, it was time to get on with the fun and messy task of icing them.

Dala horses are traditionally seen with blue and white saddles, alhough you can see them in a wide variety of shades. I decided to keep it simple with just two colours. As you can see, my icing leaves much to be desired, but I think I am slowly (very slowly) improving. Once the icing had set, I used a cocktail stick to punch a hole in the surface, for added decoration.

I would have loved to decorate my Moomins with cheeky expressions and different outfits on, but I didn’t trust my icing skills, to be honest! I’m quite a novice baker and so I decided to keep them simple with just a light touch of white icing piped around the edge.

I took a batch of the cookies with me to Kat’s wedding crafternoon a few weeks ago. They went like hotcakes! They have a lovely, mildly spiced flavour, and the icing added sweetness.

I made such a lot of dough, that I was able to freeze up some more cookie shapes for baking at a later time! As long as the dough is well wrapped up in clingfilm or in airtight bags, it should last for a few months. This means that I should be able to take freshly baked cookies with me when I next visit my family. Hopefully my icing skills will improve with time.

*PS, anyone who wants to know the names of each of the Moomin characters need look no further than here . I have never known their real names until now!

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!

Scandimania Pt 1 – Stockholm

29 Nov

I am back from my adventure to Scandinavia, and I had an amazing time. I saw so many beautiful places, visited eye-opening galleries and museums, tasted various Scandinavian cuisines, and met so many inspiring people that I barely know where to start!

I guess, in that case, the only logical place to start would be at the beginning. I began my trip by flying into beautiful, crisp, Autumnal Stockholm in Sweden. I had a fantastic few days here, filled with museums, galleries, river cruises, history, art, amazing food and new experiences.

My first stop in Stockholm was Djurgarden, an island midway between Norrmalm and Sodermalm, where many of the main museums are situated. There was one that I had been waiting patiently to visit for ages: Skansen. Skansen was the world’s first ever open-air museum when it opened in 1891, and contains reproductions of Swedish villages and communities from different eras.

 

You are able to visit a 19th Century High Street, replete with a smithy, a potter’s, a bakery and a glassworks. Guides kitted out in historical dress are on hand to answer questions and demonstrate the skills. I was able to watch the glassblower creating beautiful Christmas baubles in her workshop, and also spent some time watching a pair of silversmiths creating bowls.

There are also houses and farm buildings which have been transported from across Sweden for preservation at the museum. It was a bit surreal to be walking between virtually deserted villages, occasionally catching a glimpse of someone in period dress. As you can see, the souvenir headband from my Scottish adventure was getting well worn!

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If you are visiting Stockholm and want some tips for what to see, I would definitely recommend checking out the Vasamuseet, which is also on Djurgarden. It was completely amazing! The museum houses the Vasa ship, which sank in Stockholm harbour on its maiden voyage in 1628 and was refloated and preserved in the 1960s. It’s absolutely enourmous, and the salvagers were able to preserve the ship almost in its entirety. My completely rubbish photo does not do it justice. Maritime history is a huge part of Stockholm culture, and the Vasa really felt like the jewel in the crown of all of the city’s exhibits.

Even when I wasn’t visiting museums, I thought Stockholm was a really cool city to walk around and get lost in. I spent hours strolling around in the old town of Gamla Stan, which is full of gift shops and boutiques, and round the suburb of Sodermalm, where much of the action of Steig Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is set.

One fact that I learned whilst in Stockholm is that The Moomins are some of Sweden’s national treasures! The original stories were actually written by a Finn called Tove Jansson, but were originally published in Swedish – they seem to have an enduring appeal here.

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I spotted some gorgeous Moomin cookie cutters during my wanderings around Gamla Stan, and I can’t wait to use them to produce some delicious Swedish cookies. I also couldn’t possibly leave Sweden without a souvenir of the iconic Dalecarlian, or Dala horse.

My time in Stockholm seemed too short, but soon enough it was time to move on to my next destination – an excursion into Norway for a few days before returning to Sweden. Next stop, Trondheim!

 

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