Sunday, December 30, 2012

On Gifts

Hello friends,
I hope you all had a good Christmas. We had the usual mixture that is the kiwi festive season: some highs, some lows, best behaviour most of the time, too much eating and drinking, lots of time at the beach, and some lovely gifts.
We had a low-key Christmas in terms of gifts- one $20 present each, and it was awesome. Unwrapping my drink bottle, my lovely soap, and my nice sharp kitchen knife from my children and husband was a total highlight. There were also some totally unexpected gifts that were so practical and/or so unexpected and lovely that I thought I'd show them to you.
1. Some plums from a friend's tree, and a bag of apricots. I bottled them, quick as a flash, because I'm so excited to mark the beginning of a new season of preserving. Don't they look sweet on the kitchen shelf?

2. A bag of patchwork fabric that a friend's mum was throwing out. There are about a gazillion pieces of 100%  cotton in there. This was a windfall gift for my 7-year-old daughter. We sorted them into a suitcase, her and I, and agreed that these are her special fabrics and I have to ask her if I want to use them. This will be awesome fun for, oh, the next 10 years or so. She sighed and said "this is the best present ever". I will remind her of that when she is pestering me for an ipad or some such.

3. A framed print from my super clever nephew. I've always loved his cartoons and for the longest time I've wanted a framed one to hang in my office. Now I have a framed one to hang in my office. It makes me so happy to look at it.

4. My degree! I hadn't seen it for years. Since the day I got it actually. I thought I'd left it lying around somewhere and didn't expect to see it again. had been lurking in my brother-in-law's art studio all this time. He framed it and gave it to me and it made me laugh out loud to remember that I even have a degree. But now there is proof, see?

So how about you? Did you have a nice Christmas?

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Little Red

Our wee girl just turned 7, which is amazing because it was only 5 minutes ago she was just a little baby. Handwringing over aging aside, we offered her the choice of a dolls house or a sewing machine as a present. She chose the sewing machine, which I was very happy about, because I remember having a lot of fun with my sewing machine when I was little, and it was not the same as using my Mum's. We bought her a little wee machine that's light enough for her to set up herself, but with all the necessary functions (straight, zig-zag, and reverse stitches). Here it is: The Elna Mini.

As her first project, we decided we'd make something for her hallowe'en outfit: a hooded cape made of stretch lamee velvet, lined with seersucker, with tricky bits like gathering along the neckline, ribbon closures at the front, etc. (Kwik Sew 3723) Perhaps a little ambitious for a first project, but with the very significant advantage that it was something she actually wanted to make.

Actually, I have to say, I'm a big fan of the run-before-you-can-walk learning strategy. There's nothing like doing something you're really interested in to make you learn the skills as and when required. She did lots of the pinning of pattern pieces onto the fabric, some of the cutting out, pinned some of the pieces together, sewed along the straight seams, and mastered the reversing at the end of each seam. I did the rest. In a time-honoured tradition, she learned some new swear words as I caught my fingers on the pins. Essential to have a good range of expletives for sewing, you know it as well as I do. We finished the cape in an afternoon, and she wore it out trick-or-treating as Little Red Riding Hood.

At each house she said "I MADE MY CAPE" and she got A LOT of chocolate. Awesome. 
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Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Sweet Kitchen

The relative inactivity on my blog this year has been due to some major renovations at our house. Would you like to see what's kept us so busy? I'll just do room by room hey. Not too much all at once.

This was our old kitchen: funny old cupboards, not much storage space, appliances higgledly piggledy where ever we could squeeze them in. It looked better when it was tidy, but that hardly ever happened because there was nowhere to put things away.
I now show you, with much pride and excitement, the new kitchen. Lots of cupboards to put things away, drawers, and proper spaces for appliances. I tell you, I am living like a grown up at last. The tiler sighed as he did the white butcher tiles on the splashback "I haven't done one like this for years" he said "everyone's going with mosaic tiles or glass these days". Not us Mister. We like the old-style stuff.

We had some open shelves made out of plywood to go in the new kitchen, because I have *special things* that I like to look at. These shelves are among my favourite things in our new, old, house.

Along the window sill are some old bottles and jars. Some of them were found under the house when we ripped up the floors. Some were gifts from my late Dad, who also had a fondness for jars, like me. I wish he could see our new, old, house. He would think it's cool (although he would cringe at the thought of spending money, also like me).

It's a funny thing, spending money. My Dad spent his whole life modelling thriftiness and I am so grateful to have had that upbringing. I found it so hard to agree to spend money on the house because it seemed to work well enough as it was, but I love it now that it's so functional and so consistent with my aesthetic. Ha! Who even knew I had an aesthetic?! I don't think I would have appreciated how nice the house looks now if I had always expected it to be so. Contrasts are a wonderful thing in life. Happy and sad, disappointed and proud, heartbroken and in-love: you can't have one without knowing what the other feels like.
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Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Sweet Suite

In many ways, our quest for a nice lounge suite has mirrored our quest for a nice house. We bought the lounge suite 12 years ago, it was imperfect but very cool in a retro kind of a way, it fitted well in our little house, and it was comfy.
We used it every day for 12 years, the kids bounced on it, made huts from the cushions, lay on it and watched telly when they were sick. It was an old friend, but it was a tired old friend, and it needed replacing.
We scoured the shops and felt disheartened. The new suites were incredibly expensive and just too big for our small house. The other old suites we saw in the junk shops had the same problems as ours. The more we searched the more we realized that reupholstering was the best option in terms of cost, aesthetic value, and ecological conscience. We searched for nice fabric and bought a roll of beautiful, loud reproduction barkcloth from Tonic Living. They posted it over and we took it to our local upholsterers who resprung, recushioned, and recovered the suite. Badabing badaboom: The suite is sweet. 

I love seeing it all nice. I also love people's expressions when they see it: some people love it, others can't quite believe that two people in the world would both choose this fabric. Another reason why we just had to marry each other.
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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A very big project

Hello friends. It's been a long time between blog posts because I've been awfully busy with a very large project. The House.
We own a very old house, pre-1900. It has many of the flaws of old houses, it is small, poorly insulated, and the layout is odd. However, it is full of character, it's quirky, it's in a great location that is sunny and close to town, and we have the most lovely neighbours a person could wish for. For a long time, it's needed work. I don't mean "needs work" like "oh the kitchen just wasn't my colours", I mean "needs work" like "the wiring was dangerous and illegal and there was scrim on the walls which is a terrible fire hazard and the lack of insulation made it cold, even though we paid a lot for heating." Really, it needed work. This kind of work:

Anyway, when we packed our stuff to move out and let the builders in I packed all of my craft things away, except for one small knitting project which has not had a single stitch added to it in weeks. My fingers are too exhausted from writing cheques. I'll show it to you when it's all done. The house, and the knitting project.
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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Even excellenter loaf, now with feijoas

Good morning friends,
Last post, after asking about feijoa chutney, a kind reader directed me to this excellent feijoa website with all manner and means of good looking feijoa recipes. Well I'm going to try that feijoa chutney recipe for sure, but I decided to make a feijoa loaf in the mean time, to have with cups of tea while I get organized. There were some great looking feijoa loaf recipes on that website, but I decided to adapt another one, since I was in the mood for a no-nonsense, whole-meal, granny-style loaf that you slather with butter, rather than a cakey fancy pants one. When I want no-nonsense baking recipes, I need look no further than the League of Mothers Cookbook, one of my personal favourites in my retro collection.
A quick browse of the gingerbreads and loaves section was all I needed to find the sort of recipe I was after. Excellent loaf. How could one go past Excellent Loaf, with its wholemeal flour, bran, and absence of eggs or butter? I hoped that the addition of 6 peeled and diced feijoas make it Even Excellenter. (Click to enlarge if you need to read the entire recipe).

The Excellenter Loaf turned out very well indeed. It's sweet but not too sweet, and it definitely tastes of feijoas, which go very nicely with the golden syrup and the raisins. It's not too fancy and it's not too plain.
It's Even More Excellenter with butter on it.
And Even More Excellenter Yet with a cup of tea. I think I'll go have one now. Tell you what, I'll go have a cup of tea while you have a laugh at this. (Thanks Amy). Cheerio.

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

The DIY letter set

Hello friends,
Lately we've all reminded ourselves how fun it is to catch-up with far-away friends old-school style, you know, off-line. So we made our own letter set, since we like writing letters so much.

First, the lad drew a cute, small picture in black-and-white, thusly:
Next, I printed a page of lines of full stops (with double-spacing between the lines), with a wee blank spot in the corner:

Then the two were put together and photocopied. Voila! Writing paper!

If you are a friend of mine that lives far away, perhaps you will get a letter on it. 

On an unrelated topic, do you have a good recipe for feijoa chutney? If so, would you share it with me?  I made some and it looked like blanketty blank blank and it tasted like blanketty blank blank too. But I've had it at other poeple's houses and it was fantastic, so I know that good feijoa chutney exists and I need some to call my own.

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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Tena koe

I know it's ingrained to love your own children's artwork but lately I've been so impressed, wildly impressed, by the cool pictures my kids are doing. This is one that Harry did at school and brought home the other day. I love this chap's expression and I thought it was ripper and beaut and New Zealandy that he's saying "Tena koe", which is "Hello" in the beautiful Maori language.
Since this picture was so friendly and cordial I got it made into some all-purpose cards at the local printers. This is a craft project that is very easy because I didn't have to do it myself. I like those. I like making stuff too, but I'm busy, you know how it is.
Awesome hey? I bet you know a small person who makes cool pictures too.
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Friday, April 20, 2012

Wheat bag. Old bag. Making amends.

Hello All, today I will waffle on about making wheat bags, since it's that time of the year. There are some very silly instructions on the internet from those who assert that you could put a zip in them. This is a terrible idea, because it would spark in the microwave, and it would also leak wheat grains from the top, even if you are a very good zip putter innerer. So please do not make a wheat bag with a zip, or you will be sorry.
Here is the way that worked best for me. Get two pieces of strong cotton fabric, a good size is about 35 x 25 cm. Not cotton with something spandexy in it because that will go funny in the microwave over time. Then sew your fabric pieces together, right sides facing, on three sides using little stitches. Big stitches will pull over time and you'll get wheat in the bed, which is even worse than sand or crumbs. Turn the bag right-side out, press it, and then run another little line of stitching around the wheat bag just inside the edge. That will make it nice and strong. Make sure you turn under a 1 cm hem on each side at the top edge for sewing up later.
Then add your wheat. I bought culinary wheat because all the poultry wheat had sold out from Bin Inn, but you just use what you fancy. Use about 500-700 g for a wheat bag the size mentioned above. Sew up the end, leaving no gaps. Run another line of stitching over the top, just for good measure. Then, if you like, spread the wheat evenly into two halves of your wheat bag, and run a line of stitching down the middle. This stops it from all falling to one end when you put it on your cold feet or whatever. You may have to pin either side of a central "channel" to keep the wheat from getting in the way of your sewing machine foot. When you come to use it, microwave for 1 or 2 minutes to heat it up. That's it.
On the topic of bags, this morning I caught myself being a total old bag. I lost the lid from my daughter's special pen, then refused to help find it because I was busy doing something else. I was rather unreasonable about the whole thing. This afternoon I popped into town and got her some new pens to replace the one I broke. It was only fair. She is a sucker for gifts, love hearts, and pink, so I totally smarmed up to her by presenting the new pens as a pink-love-heart-adorned gift. She forgave me. We're sweet again.
 Another day in the life, hey.
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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Unseasonally warm blankets and feelings

Hello all, today I am very pleased to show you a completed project, a nice warm, toasty, crocheted blanket.
It's a bit unseasonal to be working on a blanket, after all, it is still officially summer (for another 10 hours or so). However, most of the work on this blanket was done last winter, when it sat on my lap keeping me cosy through nights and nights of serious tv viewing (Game of Thrones, if I remember rightly, and what a lovely contrast it was to be doing something so incredibly sweet and wholesome to the soundtrack of extreme violence and 'adult themes').
I had almost finished the blanket when suddenly, inexplicably, I ran out of puff. I didn't much like the colours any more. I was kind of disspointed that I'd wasted all that effort on something so 'meh', and I cast it aside, rather unkindly. Well a summer of doing other things can soften a person, and when I was fossicking around for a project to take away on holiday with me last weekend, I saw this blanket with new eyes. Suddenly, I loved it again. I loved the colours and the Granny-ness of it, and I was inspired to finish it. So, that's what I did. I just had the shell border to finish and some ends to sew in, and that was it. I was finished in an hour or four. Best of all, I gave it to little Sylvie, and she said with big, wide, honest, 6-year-old eyes, "Mum, I just want to tell you that this is my favourite blanket ever."

I will end this post with a sandal party, to mark the last day of the Southern Hemisphere summer.
See you in Autumn!
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Monday, February 6, 2012

Fruit salad, in pink

It's that time of the year when I bring out all the jars I've had in hiding in every cupboard around the house, and fill them with bottled fruit, jam, salsa, and pasta sauce. My husband is tormented by my self-congratulating exclamations, "It's a good thing I kept all those jars, isn't it!" and the kids can't get me to do anything because I'm always at a crucial moment with fruit and hot syrup. Ah, good times, good times.
I've done the usual stuff: bottled apricots, boysenberry jam, tomato salsa, plum jam. However, this year I also had  a hankering to do a few jars of that unlikely fruit dish, "bottled fruit salad". The recipes I see in old recipe books call for bananas as an ingredient. The idea of a bottled banana both amuses and disgusts me, so that part I left out. Instead, my bottled fruit salad became a mixture of equal parts of pineapple, pears, plums, peaches, and apricots, cooked in a light sugar syrup (1 part sugar, 4 parts water). I thought the mixture of colours would be rather pretty. It's pretty alright. Pretty damn pink. But still pretty.

And the tea towel underneath is pretty and pink also.
And here is something else pretty. It's something pretty funny, which we spotted in Mitre 10 on Sunday.
Because what else would you use, if yours needs dusting?
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Thursday, January 26, 2012

May I introduce you to some old friends

I have some lovely old friends: my vintage dresses. We've been friends since I was a teenager. The first vintage dress I ever bought was at a fair when I was 14. It was a size 8 chiffon 1950's dress in light pink and I wore it all summer. By the time I was 16 I couldn't fit into it anymore, but it was the beginning of something beautiful.
This is one that I bought 16 years ago when I was 23. I've been too fat for it several times over the years since then but I can just squeeze back into it now and the excitement of that event has led to this blog post. Hey there Red, good to see ya again.

Little Miss Sparkley Pink Paisley Lurex is another old friend from those days. I can just squeeze into this one too but breathing, eating, or drinking would be extra. Oh well. Another few kilos down and I'll celebrate by wearing it out and having a thimble full of champagne while breathing shallowly.
This blue house-frock is a little more age and life-stage appropriate for me- definitely has a hausfrau feel to it and it does so love to be worn while I mop floors and peg out laundry. I had a feeling this dress missed her old owner when, of all the strange things, a woman in town stopped stunned in front of me the other day and said "That used to be my dress!". We had a wee chat about it and since then I've felt like it's made itself more at home with me.

The thing about vintage dresses is that really, they're happiest hanging out together, so when you have one you seem to attract more to join in the partay. The green one below was a gift from a woman who I see when I drop the kids at school every day. I hardly know her, but she shouted across the playground, "I have a dress for you!". I've really enjoyed wearing this, it's so soft and it's a shape I wouldn't normally wear, but it feels exciting and different. 
 I like modern clothes too, really, I do, but there's no friend like an old friend.
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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Finishing and Starting Again

I've finished two things since we last met: the year, and The Quilt.
I was glad to finish the year because there were times that it sucked. I'm sorry to be so blunt, but there it is.
I was glad to finish the quilt because it was so nice and I was so proud of it! There are some things it might amuse you to learn about this quilt. First, I didn't choose the fabrics. They were throw-outs from Melissa, who makes very beautiful things. I think the fact that my taste didn't come into it too much is a major reason in it turning out so well.
Second, I made two rules for myself in sewing it:
1. I would remember that I was sewing it as a gift of love for my daughter. Therefore, if she came and wanted my attention while sewing it, I was to be nice and not tell her to leave me alone.
2. I wasn't to buy any fabric for this quilt at all, in keeping with its status as a scrap quilt.
The first rule I broke about 50 times because I love to be left alone while sewing. In the end I decided it wasn't so bad if she remembers that I was sometimes a bad tempered mother. Everyone I know remembers their mother as being bad tempered at times, it's just how it is.
The second rule I broke when I needed a border. I chose the pink because it was girly and cute. I broke it again for the backing- I was going to use seersucker from my stash, but ended up buying some lovely soft pink thing from the sale table at Spotlight instead. Because I wanted to.
(No it's not your monitor, my camera is MIA and I am using crappy photos from my phone instead).
Anyhoo, here's to a great year of breaking rules and being bad tempered at times! Hooray!
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