Wednesday, 30 March 2011

A Simnel Tale

Homely Matters

"I’ll to thee a simnell bring
'Gainst thou go'st a mothering
So that when she blesseth thee
Half that blessing thou’lt give to me."

Robert Hendrick 1648

             On Sunday it's Mother's Day in the UK. I decided in the spirit of my emerging homemaker, to bake a Simnel cake so I too could go a'mothering. So I have been reading up a little about Simnel Cakes which are now mostly a symbol of Easter but were originally given for Mothering Sunday. There are many different accounts about how the Simnel cake came into being but it would seem to have been around since the middle ages originally as a cake which was given to the church on the 3rd Sunday of Lent. In the 1600's this Sunday became a rare day off for servant girls and they would be allowed to take flowers and maybe a simnel cake to their mother. There are myths regarding where the name Simnel came from and you can read about that on Wikipedia if you are particularly interested.
            Never having made a fruit cake or marzipan I thought it would be fun to try and might be a welcome change from the usual gifts I give my mum, who incidentally is the best mum in the whole wide world! So here are the results of my efforts.

It was actually quite easy except the marzipan (made with ground almonds, sugar, eggs and almond essence) was really sticky and I had to add lots more ground almond so that I could roll it out. The recipe said to divide the marzipan into three, cut out two rounds and make 11 or 12 balls. The balls represent Jesus' disciples (not including Judas as he betrayed Jesus) and a 12th larger one can be added in the middle to represent Jesus himself.

Next you cream the butter and brown sugar and add the other ingredients - flour, eggs, mixed spice, mixed fruit, mixed peel and lemon rind.

Then you put half the mixture in a cake tin and one of the marzipan rounds on top.

 In goes the rest of the mixture and it's baked in the oven for about 1 hr 50 mins. Once cooled apricot jam is spread on the top, the marzipan round is placed on top and it's decorated with the marzipan balls around the edge.

If you want to make one there are many different versions of the recipe on the internet. Hope you enjoy Mothers Day however you decide to celebrate. xx

Monday, 28 March 2011

Saturday's Sewing

Hope you had a wonderful weekend. Mine was quite an adventure. As its Monday I'm talking textiles.

It was with great fear and trepidation that I embarked on my next mission- to learn how to sew a skirt. It wasn’t without its challenges. Firstly when my gorgeous Amy Butler fabric arrived it looked completely different to how it looked online. Yes, I probably should have realised it might, but it was a rookie mistake. Anyway it was a gorgeous pattern but I felt it was just toooo bright (looks lovely on the screen but the green is less lime and more fluorescent), rather too busy and would probably make me look several sizes larger. Oh well .. it’ll make a gorgeous apron. Better put that on my list. So I had to go fabric hunting again at the last minute.
I love fabric shops but I don’t get them. They are full of such incredible possibilities and yet I have no clue as to what each fabric is suitable for. I need a tour guide to point out what the properties are of each fabric and so I plumped for a fairly standard cotton (printed with a cord look and little flower print) even though what I really wanted was a thicker fabric more akin to what I guess to be upholstery fabric.

Armed with my supplies, the nervous feeling was replaced with one of anticipation and excitement. Off I went to my class at The Ministry of Craft in Manchester. On arriving, I was pleased to see we were a select few – just the four of us, which meant lots of personal attention. The tutor was very personable and made us feel relaxed. We watched as she demonstrated all the basics on the machine, the placing of patterns, cutting fabric and marking the darts. We all had a go at each step and then it was on to the sewing.

I was particularly scared of using the fancy machines. I have a bog standard Toyota machine and theirs were Janome machines (All electric buttons and fancy stitches). Once I got the hang of it, it was ok. We sewed our darts, our back seams and then it was zip time! The bit everybody dreads. It was a little tricky and I will be practicing some more this week just to make sure I can do it without guidance, but we all managed it.

Next came sewing up the side seams and using the over locker on the pressed edges. If you think a sewing machine is scary, it's nothing in comparison with the over locker. It's much faster and cuts the fabric so one wrong move and you could destroy your garment. I think after a few goes you could really get to like it though as it gives a very professional looking finish.
Then came the first fitting, which was another nerve wracking part of the process. Apparently after measuring we all had to make a size larger than we would normally wear due to the outdated measuring system on patterns. I always think my hips are humungous and was dreading the skirt not fitting but it fit nicely and I was sooo proud of myself. I can’t show you the finished article until next week as I’m doing the second part of the course next Saturday but please come back so I can show off a little bit! x

Friday, 25 March 2011

Heskin Hall

Our latest trip out and about was to Heskin Hall near Chorley in Lancashire. It is a place full of contradictions. A beautiful old hall alongside a modern build- a contemporary art gallery and a plethora of antiques – period meets present-day.
         Initially, I was disappointed as we entered the modern building first. There were about twenty different retail units but there were less makers/crafters and more repro gifts than I imagined there would be and I was hoping it would have more character. There is a little permanent farmers market and a tea room with a wood burning stove, but for me, it just lacks something. We had a little browse round and then decided to check out the Hall itself. We walked a few yards down a path and were met by the stunning, grade 1 listed manor house. It was well worth a visit after all. Inside it is in need of a little TLC but if restored to its former glory it would be wonderful.

Each of its rooms are crammed with antiques and vintage ephemera for sale. So much so that it sadly takes away a little from the beauty of the hall. Still, there were some good finds to be had if you looked carefully enough. I fell in love with this little chap. He looked like he needed to be hugged and given a good home but his £110 price tag meant he was out of my league! Doesn’t he look forlorn? Oh well, I guess he’ll have to wait a little longer to be rescued.

This cash register also caught my eye and Mr K was very taken with a beautiful vintage child’s bicycle. (He has quite a penchant for bicycles especially vintage ones and we have two in our lounge at the moment!!) I would have been quite happy to take this one home but I think we need a suitable house first – it would look out of place in our modern home.

I dread to think what we’ll be like if we ever get our Victorian dream house. For now we appease ourselves by buying lots of lovely old books. I love them – the smell of them, the history they bring with them and the character they give to a room.
As well as my growing collection of home management books, Mr K has bought me several old craft books which I adore. They take me back to another time and they are precious to me. Through them, I feel somehow connected to the women who have owned them before me.

 This weekend  we won't be visiting any halls or vintage fairs as I am going on the first day of a two part course in Manchester to learn to sew a skirt. I am quite nervous as sewing is pretty new to me and I will be using a machine I’m not used to. Wish me luck and I’ll be back on Monday to let you know how it’s gone. Enjoy your weekend however you are spending it. xx

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

My First Try at Pie

I did it. I made pie.

Wednesday again and I'm talking 'homely matters'. I have only made pastry once to my knowledge and that was over 20 yrs ago at school when I apparently made a quiche. I've always been a little daunted by the science of pastry - keeping it all cool and not touching it too much etc. Why make pastry when you can so easily buy the ready roll? Well, just because it's on my list of things to master and it's so much cheaper.

If you want evidence of my efforts, read on. If you are an expert pastry maker forgive me for being so basic. Hopefully I will progress to more exciting things.

So, the pastry making - I took a few hints from the interweb and put my ingredients in the fridge first to cool them. In retrospect, I probably should have kept out the butter as it was so cold that it took a long time to rub in to the flour.

Once rubbed in, I added the water. It looked really soggy and I thought it was a disaster but when I used the knife to draw it into a ball it seemed better. I wrapped it in clingfilm and bobbed it into the fridge for 30 mins.
Next came the apple cooking – that bit I could manage as I make apple sauce often. In went the cinammon and the sugar and then came the scary part, the rolling out. I made sure there was plenty of flour on the counter top and rolling pin and then I rolled. Miraculously – it was ok. I think the pie dish was a little big for the amount of pastry but I rolled it quite thinly so there was plenty of overlap.

Now the tricky part – transferring the pastry to the dish. When I’ve seen other people do it, it always looks so easy – just roll it gently round the rolling pin and unroll over the dish. Mmmm … not so easy but I did manage it after a couple of tries.

The filling went in along with some berries (Mr K doesn’t like plain food so it needed a little extra something to go with the apple) and then the lid went on. It was a relief to get to that stage but the fun wasn’t over yet.  Let's just say that pinching the edges is an art that I need to practice some more!

I popped the pie into the oven feeling very pleased with myself and my brother rang to tell me he had an interview this afternoon with St John’s Ambulance. Now my brother doesn’t ring very often so I gave him my full attention and I was on the phone for a while. The pie was in the oven slightly longer than it should have been and when I took it out of the oven it quite dark on top. Still, it looked like a pie (not a dainty girlie apple pie – more like a manly meat and potato pie but a pie nevertheless)

So pie number one was made and my fear of pastry conquered but as they say, the proof of the pudding ….

Unfortunately I can’t have dairy or gluten so it was up to Mr K to assess my efforts. The verdict was very positive. Apparently the pastry on top was lovely and light but I think the bottom pastry sort of disappeared into the filling.  Mr K liked it that way but I would have prefered it to be a little thicker. Anyway a second piece was called for so I was happy. In order not to be left out, I made a little batch of gluten/dairy free pastry and a little pie of my own! The pastry was far more crumbly but I managed in a fashion to get it rolled out and into the dish. It tasted deeelicious! It's literally years since I last had apple pie. How could I have gone so long without it? There's some left for tomorrow too and I think that custard is on the cards. Hope you're having something tasty today. x

Monday, 21 March 2011

Knitting Therapy

Today I'm talking textiles again. Knitting is one of my favourite crafts. It calms me down when I feel stressed and I love the gentle rhythm of it. I also love the fact that there are so many types of stitches I can choose whether to knit something challenging or something relaxing depending on how I feel at any given time. On my needles at the moment is a tea cosy in the making. I have long admired the vintage tea cosies I've spotted in little cafes or at craft fairs and was really pleased to come across this pattern. It's been an enjoyable knit after I procrastinated for quite a while in fear that it was too complicated for me. The stripes turned out to be far less difficult than I first thought and it's been fun to see it take shape. It's just garter stitch throughout which means I can watch my favourite programmes at the same time. The ridges are made by pulling the yarn tightly across the back of the other colour on the wrong side. My only fear now is that I will run out of yarn before its finished and as it was bought as a kit I'm not sure how easy it will be to get more.

I also want to share with you one of my completed projects which I knitted on really big needles and I mean big. I bought these from Ingrid Wagner at  The Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair. (There is a photo of her knitting with them on her website.) She makes some really amazing things. I decided to start with a bag so I bought some different fabrics and cut them up to make strips, then sewed them together to make a ball of yarn ready to knit with.

The bag knit up really fast but the size of the needles made my arms ache after a while. I was really pleased with it in the end although it is a little on the heavy side. I think the big needles would be great for making cushion covers or rugs with. You can see the finished bag on the right in the side bar.

My next project will be to try to knit this lovely pair of snuggly socks. I've chosen the pattern from my gorgeous new Knitting book 'socks' by Chrissie Day and have ordered my needles and some lovely lilac wool. I have never knit 'in the round' before so I have picked some long slouchy socks in order to get plenty of practice before tackling the heel. I will definitely need some help to work out how to do that!

I will leave you with this true story I read recently about some knitters from Sedburgh, Cumbria. Apparently in the early 1900's knitting was a good form of income and in order to earn extra money Dalesman Farmers began to take up the craft. To increase their output they made special knitting tools called 'pricks' which they wore in their belts. These acted as a second hand, freeing up their own, for farm work such as milking the cows or churning the butter and they would do two jobs simultaneously. I couldn't believe it when I read it. Knitting with one hand sounds hard enough, without trying to do something else at the same time. Obviously, other people at the time thought the same, as these knitters became a tourist attraction and eventually gave up due to being too self concious. Their wives and children continued with the knitting. Several of the women were renowned for the speed of their knitting and became known as the Terrible knitters of Dent. 'Terrible' didn't refer to their bad knitting but to their quick pace. I certainly won't be winning any records with my knitting speed but I will show you my tea cosy when I eventually finish it. If you haven't tried knitting yet - watch one of the many utube video demonstrations and give it a go and I'm sure you'll love it once you get the hang of it. xx

Friday, 18 March 2011

Farfield Mill

Out and About

Hello. It's Friday again - nearly weekend and I don't know about you but I'm ready for it. Its been a long week but I'm really enjoying my new adventure in blogging and was very excited to get some lovely comments especially from marmaladerose whose blog I absolutely love. Thankyou to all my readers x
          Last weekend Mr K and I went out and about to Farfield Mill. If you have any interest in textiles, either making or buying and you live within travelling distance of Cumbria, I heartily recommend you do the same. It was a wonderful little trip. The building is beautiful in itself and is full of history as well as contemporary work.

The bottom two floors house traditional looms and an exhibition which shows the history of textiles in the area. During the week the mill is a work place to several designers/makers and on the higher floors you can see working looms, demonstrations and artisans at work. We were lucky enough to see Mr Paul Girling (Greenwood Chairmaker) making cleverly fashioned bespoke chairs using only traditional tools and techniques.

The mill also has textile exhibitions which regularly change and workshops where you can learn a host of skills such as embroidery, rag rugging and spinning. It has wonderfully crammed bookshelves full of textile books and a retail area selling the work of a large range of artists/makers including ceramicists, weavers, felters and knitters.

Mr K and I enjoyed breakfast in the cafe which was adorned with Hannah Nunn's beautiful lamps and I browsed through textile books which were available to be read by anyone who was so inclined. I can't tell you how much I loved the Mill. I could have happily taken up residence in this cosy corner with my knitting.

I will definitely be going back. Have fun whatever you decide to do this weekend and I will see you next week xx

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Homemaking Skills Required

Homely Matters

To some, the words 'homemaking skills' sound terribly outdated and boring and they conjure up an image of a women with no career or outside interests chained to the kitchen sink. To me the words evoke two very different emotions. Firstly they remind me of my childhood, my dedicated, thoroughly wonderful mum and the comfort that comes from being the recipient of such homemaking. The other emotion I experience is less  positive. It relates to my personal lacking in these skills. I get by, but sometimes wonder how I got to the ripe old age of 39 without knowing how to make a good shortcrust pastry, make marmalade or sew a piece of clothing. I know that growing up my mum tried to teach me some of these things but at the time I had no interest.  I'm not sure when this desire began to emerge but it would be a comfort  to me, to know I am capable of such things.
So this year I am making a significant effort to learn, experience and hopefully enjoy these elusive homemaking skills. I will be blogging about my progress as I do so and any advice would be welcome.
Below is a list of some of the skills I would like to try to obtain.

  • Learn to make different types of pastry
  • Make chutney
  • Make pasta from scratch
  • Make marmalade and jam
  • Sew a piece of wearable clothing
  • Learn to darn
  • Make my own soap
  • Reduce waste in our home
  • Go fruit picking
  • Buy local produce
  • Knit a pair of socks
  • Learn to spin properly
  • Make icecream
  • Poach a perfect egg
  • Eliminate processed foods from our diet
  • Find a community of people who share the same passions
  • Grow more vegetables/herbs on my windowsill (no garden)
  • Bake  our own bread
  • Learn to embroider
  • Dye yarns and fabric with natural dyes
  • Crochet a granny square to make a cushion/blanket
  • Sew in zips
  • Learn how to make my own cleaning products

As part of my quest I'm going to try and find some experts to help me out. Next week I will be attending the Women's Institute for the first time and no, before you ask, I will not be signing up for any calendars. I will let you know how I get on.
As for now, I can no longer put off the jolly job of cleaning my oven as it is beginning to rebel by pouring smoke out at me every time I cook and making my freshly washed laundry smell like a chip shop. Oh joy xx

Monday, 14 March 2011

Wonders of Weaving

Hellooo – happy Monday. Hope you had a lovely weekend. Mine was magnificent in no small part due to the weather being distinctly spring like.
As it's Monday I am talking textiles. This is my first attempt at peg loom weaving.

Inspired by contemporary weaving with unusual yarns I had a go at making my first woven wall hanging.
The process was very relaxing due to the monotonous, rhythmic nature of the task and was it was ultimately rewarding to see the piece growing and developing. In the future I would love to weave with fabric and yarns I have dyed myself.
The beauty of weaving is that is can be done at a very basic level with young children or at an extremely high level on very complex looms. This weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting Farfield Mill  in Cumbria. (More about that on Friday) The Mill is a wonderful mix of the traditional and the contemporary and I got to see a traditional Dobcross loom being used. These looms were made from 1861 to 1970 and exported all over the world. They are extrememly noisy when in use and it is impossible to have a conversation when weaving.

There were many different sizes and types of looms to see and you could even try some out.

There was also an exhibition at the Mill called Pairings, by various artists from different backgrounds. These included cross-disciplinary collaborations from 32 different makers/designers. I was especially interested to see the pieces which incorporated weaving/glass and felt/glass. It's amazing what can be achieved by working outside the box. It got me thinking how I could merge different textile techniques in my own work.

(Margaret Eccleston & Kirsteen Aubrey -reflections on glass through weave structures) 

If you're interested in seeing the exhibition, it is running at Farfield Mill until Sun 3rd April.
Hope you're inspired to try a little weaving of your own. If you need somewhere to start check out this utube video. If you want more weaving inspiration take a look at http://www.sandrarude.blogspot.com/

Share your weaving experiences. Don't be shy. x

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Out and About - Vintage Winners

Last weekend Mr K, our lovely friend Emma and I went to a vintage and craft fair held at the Continental Pub in Preston. There were the usual collection of the vintage (and not so vintage) clothing, bags, shoes and jewellery and a couple of little stalls selling handmade soaps, loose tea and herbs.
One of the stalls was being run by a couple of girls who have just opened a new shop in Preston on March 10th called 'Wonderland' which promises carefully sourced vintage clothing and general wonderment! They were more than happy for me to photograph them and their stall and as you can see they look quite the part.

There was lots of lovely browsing, oooing and aaah-ing but not much spending and then suddenly the major highlight of the outing occurred. Mr K won top prize in the raffle. He won a staggering £25 worth of vouchers to spend at the fair. Sadly for Mr K (and rather happily for me) the fair was quite female orientated and there wasn’t anything he wanted to buy. So I had to step in and help relieve him of the burden of spending the said vouchers. What a hardship! Below is a photo of my gorgeous purchases – namely a beautiful bag (Dottie angel style), 3 wonderfully fragranced bars of homemade soap and a splendid little bag of happiness tea which I had sampled before the raffle excitement but not got round to buying. Not accustomed to winning anything and usually quite careful with my money at these events, I went away a very happy bunny.
 I hope you have a glorious weekend and I will see you here next week to tell you all about mine.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Homely Matters - Pancakes and Perusing.

Hello again. Hope you had a very tasty pancake day. We managed a couple each and I have just finished the rest of the batter for breakfast. Yummy!
According to this website, which is a mine of information on celebrations and festivals, the tradition in the West Midlands used to be, to give the first pancake to the hens as this was meant to ensure their fertility.
Sadly we have no hens yet, so our first one went to Mr K with apple and ice cream, followed swiftly by mine with syrup and lemon.

This week, I am being inspired by a wonderful little book I spotted in a second hand book shop last Saturday (photo)
It is full of household tips, advice on economizing, homemade remedies and recipes, all dated between 1900- 1920.
I had a lovely afternoon perusing its delights including this little treasure that I want to share with you. If you know any men or indeed women who are losing their hair please pass this on… but then keep your distance because I’m not sure that they will smell so sweet after using this remedy.

To arrest falling hair.

1 1/2 pennyworth of rum             20 drops paraffin oil
1 oz beef marrow                        ½ penny of white wax
2 pennyworth castor oil               ¼ cup rosemary

Mix all together, rub in well for 1/4 hr with a flannel. Alternatively rub the scalp with onion juice several times a week.
(Let me know if you try it!)

Monday, 7 March 2011

Talking Textiles - Spinning and Dyeing

In January I was at a vintage fair in Stockport and met a wonderful lady called Judith Beckett. I was looking at her lovely stall and we got chatting. She offered to give me a tutorial in dyeing and spinning yarn. I very quickly accepted her offer and just a month later I went to her beautiful character filled home for my tuition. She has an amazing ‘woolly room’ where the spinning is done, filled with her gorgeous wool skeins, books and equipment. I was immediately impressed and the session was every bit as good as I had hoped.
Judith taught me about mordents (which for anyone who doesn’t know are used to treat the fleece or yarn prior to dyeing it) Each mordent creates a different colour when the dye is added.
We used sheep’s fleece, natural and synthetic yarns which initially looked like this.

They were washed gently and were then added to a hot water boiler which was heated gently. The brazil wood dye was added in a muslin bag and the water heated to near boiling. Every so often we would check the colour and see the differences that the mordents had made.

Finally the wool was taken out of the boiler and hung up to dry. Gorgeous colours from very pale through to vibrant hues.

Whilst the dyeing process was happening Judith taught me to card fleece. It began with fleece looking like this

We first used hand carders which has a knack to it and takes a little practice. Then it was on to using the drum carder.

This produced a soft batt of fleece which is suitable for spinning or felting.

Judith showed me how to use a hand spindle which was really difficult and I was very glad to move onto using her beautiful spinning wheel. It was not as easy as it looks and at first the wheel went backwards when I treadled but I eventually got the hang of it. Ok, so I wasn’t great at it but with help I managed to spin a skein of wool which I was more than happy with for a first go! 

If you want to know more about the process or about Judith’s tutorials take a look at her link here.
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