Craftiness, baking and other lovely things.

Sunday, 29 July 2018

Post pattern limbo

 Whirligan, a cardigan made with Scheepjes Whirl
Whirligan in Scheepjes Whirl Dandelion Munchies
Yesterday I published my latest design, the Whirligan Cardigan.  A new launch is always very exciting, especially when you see your pattern on the Hot Right Now list on Ravelry.

But this morning, I feel a bit flat and in limbo.  This is the moment when I doubt myself and wonder if I have any more designs in me.  I start to worry that I've used them all up and this latest design was also my last design.

I've been here before, after the publication of each new design, and each time I get past it and find lots of new ideas bubbling up.  The trick is not to force it, to give myself a little time.  Tidying up all the mess I create when I create helps - all the notebooks, sketchpads and yarny mess that slowly builds around me as I work makes it impossible to focus on anything new so the first thing to do is to have a good declutter and sort out, open my sketchpad to a new page and arrange it neatly with a sharpened pencil.

After that, the best thing I can do is something completely different.  I hear that Mama Mia 2 is out at the cinema and I have a teenager who would love to come and see it with me.  Nothing like a couple of hours of Abba songs to clear the mind!

Monday, 18 June 2018

Monthly make: June 2018 - planning

Earlier this month, after looking at my wardrobe and my fabric stash, I started to make sewing plans and set myself the goal of making an outfit a month; that is, to sew a dress (or top and skirt) and crochet or knit an accessory for it.  That'll likely be mostly cardigans as I am a bit of a collector.  The dress and cardi combo is my go to.

My June makes are underway.  My stash gave me a metre of Cath Kidston cotton duck, bought quite some time ago with vague plans to make seat pads for the kitchen chairs.  That never happened, probably because I sensibly decided that with my messy lot they'd be ruined in about a week.

A metre isn't very much, even for a wide fabric like this, but with some clever and economical cutting, and accepting that I might have to add a contrast band at the hem (I'm not a fan of the super mini), I can squeeze out a Colette Hazel.

Photo is by Colette Media - find the pattern here 

I'll use a lightweight cotton for the facings and pockets, but that's a good thing as the cotton duck is quite weighty.  It's mostly cut out and I'm hoping to start sewing later today.

To wear with it, because every day needs a cardigan companion, I'm working on a new design (with pattern to be published later) and using gorgeously sunny Sirdar Pattercakes in shades of yellow, with perhaps a little hint of that fabulous pink.

Updates soon, I hope.  Is anyone else making outfits this summer?

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

I made my clothes

Wearing summer at the moment - sunshine cardigan and flowers on my dress

Anyone following the crafty side of social media knows it's Me Made May.  I say anyone, it passed me by for the first three weeks of the month, but when I finally looked up from life long enough to notice, I realised that I've been wearing me-made quite a lot this month. 

The dress above is my go to at the moment, but when it's in the wash I have a few others that get an outing.  And, of course, I have a small stash of 3m lengths (the 'dress length' cut) of some quite lovely fabrics waiting for me to sew them up into something delightful.  I think that might have to happen next week during half term, when my youngest is going to have a couple of days with nanny.  (The other two don't need me during school holidays except as a food provider and occasional taxi driver.  They seem to have gone from needy toddlers to almost independent almost adults in less time than it takes to sew on a button.)

Anyway, back to what I was saying before I digressed and lost several minutes pondering how fast children grow.  What I don't have is beautiful me made cardigans.  Well I do, I have one, but it's in an odd colour that doesn't really work with anything else in my wardrobe.  It got me thinking about how I plan (or obviously don't) plan my making of clothes.  Ideally, I would make a dress at the weekend and then knit up a cardigan to wear with it during the evenings of the following weeks.  But knitting takes quite a lot longer than sewing a dress and I already have a lot of WIPs in my basket.  Still, I really like the idea and as I've got older my patience with projects that are more long term has grown.  I also, rather excitingly, have the possibility of crocheting a cardigan, even designing one myself.  I'm a crochet designer.  I can do that.

Watch this space.  But don't hold your breath whilst you're watching.  Like I said, knitting and crochet take a bit longer than sewing.

Friday, 23 March 2018

Friday... time to make ice cream

A tea cup is perfect for serving ice cream and now I have the
perfect  excuse to buy more beautiful little tea cups.
So we started a very sweet tradition here, making ice cream to welcome the weekend. 

Of course, I know that lots of the ice cream at the supermarket is absolutely fine for a gluten free diet, but I stumbled across the most simple and delicious ice cream recipe on Pinterest.  I'm not linking to one particular version here because there are so many of them.  Instead, I'm sharing my version of it. 

It starts with just two ingredients, a 300ml pot of double cream (not the extra thick stuff, just regular double cream) and a standard 397g tin of condensed milk.  Don't stress if the ones you buy are a slightly different weight/volume.  This isn't one of those precise recipes.  This is a what-have-I-got-in-the-cupboard kind of a recipe.

Whisk the double cream to soft peaks.  Mix the condensed milk with your other liquid ingredients and then mix that gently into the double cream.  Add your other ingredients and mix gently.

Resist the urge to eat more than a little scrape of the bowl and spoon it all into a plastic tub.  Freeze for at least 6 hours.  You can churn it if you like and you have the equipment, but it doesn't add anything except perhaps to speed up the freezing.

Now for the best bit, adding flavour.  So far, we have made peanut butter ice cream, Nutella ice cream, lemon meringue ice cream and mint choc chip ice cream.

For peanut butter ice cream:
Add about a cup of peanut butter and a tablespoon of golden syrup to the condensed milk.  Add a couple of chopped up Snickers bars (chop them quite small) and some chocolate chips at the end.  We added in Cadbury Caramel Buttons too and it was beyond delicious.

For Nutella ice cream:
Just mix about a cup of Nutella with the condensed milk.  That's it.  If dietary restrictions allow, I imagine this would be incredible with smashed up Ferrero Rocher in it.  We can't have them but I like to think of someone out there scoffing it on my behalf.

For lemon meringue ice cream:
Add about half a jar of lemon curd (I used Sainsbury's Taste the Difference) to the condensed milk.  Add smashed up meringue (I used 4 regular nests from the supermarket) at the end.  Put a third into your tub, swirl over some more lemon curd, repeating twice more with the remaining ice cream.  Sprinkle over another smashed meringue.

Lemon meringue ice cream, ready for the freezer.

For mint choc chip ice cream:
Add 1 tablespoon of peppermint essence to the condensed milk.  If you like it green, add a few drops of green colouring as well.  Add a couple of crumbled Flakes and about half a box of finely chopped mint Matchmakers at the end.

And please, don't be limited to the flavours we've had time to try.  If salted caramel hits the spot for you, stir some in.  If you crave chocolate ice cream, melt some milk or dark chocolate as preferred and stir in the condensed milk.  And don't forget cookie dough, vanilla choc chip, honeycomb... so many flavours to try.  Up next for us is raspberry ripple and Bounty bar coconut and chocolate.  Yum.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

My grandma was a WAG

I've been looking through some old stuff that I wrote and I found this post on an old blog that I wrote briefly when I was working as a freelance audio typist and virtual assistant.
My company name, Vera and Bess, is the name of two nans, both very creative and skilled at many crafts.  They were both amazing too, loving, funny, strong, clever, kind.  I miss them both.
This is what I wrote:
Yesterday was my nan’s funeral.  She was a week shy of her 94th birthday and she died quietly, in her sleep.  It doesn’t stop those of us who loved her from feeling bereft, from mourning the loss of the woman who’s been in every day of our lives.
As is traditional, during the ceremony at the crematorium, we heard about her life, about the woman she was.  And as I listened, I realised two things: that I only knew her as my nan, that our relationship was that of a child to a grandparent; and that we had more in common than I ever imagined.  I knew that my nan could sew and knit and made beautiful patchwork cushions, that I had inherited her cake baking skills (although I will never, ever be as amazing with a whisk as she was).  I didn’t know that she adored Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, as do I, one of many little details of her life that were shared with us.  I didn’t know that she was scared of thunderstorms, that she loved motorbike racing, that she was once a WAG.
My nan was my nan.  And sadly, looking back now, I can see that I never got to know her as an adult, I only knew her as my nan.  I was always a child in our relationship, despite being 43 now and a mum of three myself.  I never made the leap from you’re my nan, I know who you are, to who is Bessie, the woman who is my nan.  I so wish I had.  I think we would have been good friends.
Why am I telling you this?  Because it might not be too late for you to look at your nan, or your grandad, or your aunt, or your dad, and say who are you?  It’s not to late to get to know your family as people, individuals.  You’ll be surprised, delighted, intrigued.  And your lives and relationships will be enriched, I promise you.
As for me, I’m going to dig out my Ella Fitzgerald CD and remember the amazing woman that was my nan.

Friday, 16 March 2018

Craft (in)sanity

There's been a lot in the news this last week about knitting (and other crafty endeavours) being good for your health, but I think the craft community already knew that, didn't we?

I make stuff for a couple of reasons, although they're kind of the opposite sides of the same coin so you might call it one reason, or not.  I make stuff because if I don't make stuff - if I'm forced to focus on non creative, non making for too long -  I go a little bit crazy.  And I make stuff because that creativity, that all consuming focus on yarn or fabric, takes me away from the stress and craziness in my life and stops me losing the plot all together.

To really calm me down, whatever I'm working on needs to be challenging enough to completely absorb me.  The granny stripe blanket for my son that I work on in the evening whilst hubby and I watch Lucifer, although relaxing and useful for keeping warm on a chilly night, doesn't quite hit the spot.

The backpack I made myself at the weekend, with no pattern, no instructions and just a vague idea that I wanted lots of pockets, that's the kind of making I'm talking about.  Working out the order in which each piece of fabric needed to be attached to the next piece of fabric, which pocket would go where, when to insert the zip, how the straps would work...  for me, that required complete focus.  I was astonished when I lifted my head from the sewing machine for the last time to realise that five hours had passed.  I was very hungry; I forgot about lunch because it wasn't a pocket and therefore didn't need my attention.  I was also much more relaxed than I had been at the start of the day and I had regained much needed perspective on all sorts of things, but especially the things that I was tying myself in knots about unnecessarily.

Designing is the same.  Focusing on each individual stitch, row, round and element of a design takes all of my conscious thought.

For those times (and they are many) that I sit in waiting rooms at hospitals and clinics, keeping my hands busy with a simple, repetitive piece of crochet can be a godsend.

And remember, when challenged on the size of your stash or the amount of money spent on yarn, the appropriate reply is "It's yarn or madness and I choose yarn."

Monday, 11 September 2017

Gluten free wraps - an easy win

It's taken three attempts and a lot of research, but I finally made a gluten free wrap that looks like a wrap, tastes like a wrap and stays soft like a wrap.  This is a big win for my family - our almost-Mexican-chicken-wraps are a favourite and (like the GF bread) the wraps in the supermarket have met with a definite thumbs down.

If you Google gluten free wrap recipes, you'll find variation after variation after variation, from the very simple (little more than a pancake in truth) to the fairly complex.  In the end, I turned to the dark side and played with a recipe for wheat flour wraps. I swapped out the water for milk, which seems to be key in GF breadmaking, and I increased the amount of liquid.

This recipe is also great for making sandwich squares.  Just roll the dough out a little thicker than you would for wraps and cook for a little longer.  I roll out as thinly as I can for wraps (not too thin though or it's just too fragile to move) and for sandwich squares not quite 0.5cm.  I should also add that I'm using the term 'squares' very loosely.  My squares have very rounded corners, I just made sure that I had pairs that would fit together to make a good sandwich.

As always, I recommend Doves Farm white bread flour and I always add extra xanthan gum.


250g gluten free white bread flour
1tsp xanthan gum
1tsp dried instant yeast
1tsp salt
1tbsp soft brown sugar (or caster sugar if that's what you have)
20g melted butter (veg or olive oil would probably work, but I haven't tried it yet)
200ml milk, warmed to just lukewarm (I used skimmed because that's what I have)
rice flour or bread flour for rolling out
olive oil for frying


Put all the dry ingredients in your mixing bowl and mix on low speed while you melt the butter and warm the milk.  Add the milk and butter and mix on low speed for a few seconds then on high until you have a completely smooth dough.  It will be sticky.  Cover the bowl with clingfilm (oiled if you are using a smaller bowl and think the dough might reach the top).  Leave for about 2 hours.  If you want to leave it for longer, once you've given it 2 hours at room temperature you can store it in the fridge for a few hours or overnight before cooking.

This quantity makes about 8 wraps - make them smaller or larger as you wish.

Take about an eight of the dough and quickly shape it into a ball.  You may want to dust it with flour first as it may still be sticky, especially if it hasn't been chilled.  Roll out thinly.  Heat a tsp of olive in a non stick pan.  Cook the wrap for about 2 minutes on each side, making sure it doesn't brown too much.  You want it lightly coloured.  Once cooked, put it into a folded tea towel to keep warm whilst you cook the rest of the dough.

For sandwich squares, roll out a little thicker and cook at a lower heat for about 4 minutes each side.

Serve the wraps warm.

I make a batch of wraps (double the recipe) and whilst they're still warm and pliable I fill them with sliced ham, roll them, wrap them individually and freeze them.  It makes filling three lunchboxes every morning much, much easier.  I also freeze the sandwich squares in pairs for the same reason.

Questions?  Comments?  Suggestions?  Leave me a comment.