Friday, 19 August 2016

Fruitfulness

It's the jam season.  The trouble is - we don't eat that much jam in our house so I'm always on the lookout for alternative ways to enjoy the fruit we grow.  Whilst I'm partial to a little homemade jam on my pancakes...
...and perhaps on toasted fruit bread or a hot cross bun, I usually end up giving it away!  
However, I do enjoy making jams, jellies and chutneys.  There's something very satisfying about picking our fruit and preserving it to be enjoyed long after its season in the garden is over..
I love seeing rows of jewel coloured jars with their pretty labels.

I printed these myself after finding a lovely selection of free downloadables on this site for jar labels.  The ones I used were created by Yours-Is-The-Earth and The Elli Blog.  As well as blackcurrant jam and jelly, I've made several blackcurrant cakes, so tangy and moist using ground almonds instead of flour and lovely, plump berries.  I followed this recipe by Sarah Raven from a lovely book my Mum has.
Whilst the blackcurrant bushes were prolific, our strawberry crop was poor this year - too much rain I think - or possibly the plants are just getting old.  This photo is of last year's fruit!  Berries which maybe aren't as pretty but still taste fine are ideal for this cake.  It's called Fantasy Cake and I made a couple of these.
Let's not forget the rhubarb - I've been cropping our rhubarb since May.

I prefer to bake my rhubarb - it holds its shape better being baked in the oven rather than stewed on the hob - and I've made lots of rhubarb pie.  Pastry is not at the top of my list of kitchen triumphs so I'm not ashamed to admit that I use bought pastry cases - sweet for fruit pies and savoury for quiche.
We've just started eating the batch of rhubarb chutney I made a month ago.  Now chutney is something we really do enjoy.  I've also made some gooseberry chutney for the first time this year. Our gooseberry bush was only planted two years ago and produced little in its first year.  What a difference a year makes - gooseberries galore!
 This puree is in the freezer now in batches to be brought out and made into gooseberry fool at some future date.  I can also heartily recommend this gooseberry crumble cake - an excellent way to enjoy this often underrated fruit.  My recipe was taken from a well-thumbed 1980's recipe book by Katie Stewart but here's a Gooseberry Crumble Cake recipe by Nigel Slater which is pretty similar.
Really delicious!
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Tuesday, 2 August 2016

I Heart Cushions!

This craft project grew from a desire to brighten up a dull corner in our dining space.  We live in an old croft house and the thick walls and low ceilings which characterise cottages like this also tend to make it rather dark.  I love this Ercol chair, which my parents bought as newlyweds in 1959, but its most recent visit to the upholsterer left me as flat and dull as the serviceable beige fabric I'd chosen.
I also wanted to find a use for this hand felted piece I created at a local class last December -
but not as a piece of wall art.  (Our house definitely doesn't need any more textile wall art!)
When my husband chose this jolly picture for my Christmas a few years, we positioned it above the Ercol chair where it would be bright and cheerful.
The chair, though, badly needed a cheery makeover - so I thought I'd make a cushion.
I trimmed up my hand felted piece.
Then chose some lovely batik fabric from the specialist quilting shop in our village - Rainbow Fabrics.  It is a deceptive tardis for needlecraft fanatics - to see inside look at this Rainbow Fabrics by Google Maps
A bad experience in secondary school sewing class has meant the sewing machine and I haven't always been friends.  I searched for an on-line tutorial and found this one by Womans's Weekly entitled how to sew a zip on a cushion cover.  I liked that this guide included an instructional video as well as the same instructions in written form.  Some cutting, pinning, tacking and pressing later...
...the only bit I struggled with was sewing round the zip.  This happened...
Hey - that's what the seam ripper is for!  My second attempt was better...
...and I managed to insert a zip reasonably neatly into my cushion cover.  Funny thing is, after all my  efforts with the sewing machine, you don't even see the zip as it's on the under side of the cushion!  
I heart this cushion <3.  How about you?







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Sunday, 24 July 2016

Loving the land I live in

Yesterday I climbed to the top of our local hill - Bennachie (pronounced Ben-a-hee!)
This is not remarkable in itself but the land and the landscape are.  Though here in my home county of Aberdeenshire, we talk of climbing Bennachie, this is not one but a range of hills with several peaks.
Most prominent and rugged is Mither Tap with its iron age fort but Oxen Craig is higher.  Craigshannoch is the third peak with Millstone Hill an outlying spur.
Though not particularly high at 528m - Ben Nevis, Scotland's highest mountain is 1346m - the mountain is very prominent  and dominates the skyline.  The range of hills is isolated from other high ground and the surrounding land is relatively flat so Bennachie tends to dominate the skyline.
Here's how it looks from the village of Oldmeldrum.  Bennachie features on lots of local logos.
Climbing Bennachie is a favourite family outing - this was taken on Boxing Day 2006 when 9 relatives made it to the top with four of our neighbours. 
I created my own embroidered landscape from this photograph.  This became a present for my sister-in-law, Fiona, who grew up seeing Bennachie everyday but no longer lives nearby.
So it was a joy to climb to the top yesterday in the company of my daughter, Eilidh, who remarked what beautiful countryside we live in.  I couldn't agree more!

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Sunday, 17 July 2016

Giving Crosses a Big Tick

Late May and June were a bit quiet on the blog whilst I undertook my annual stint of full time work as an exam invigilator.  In fact, for the past six years I have been in charge of invigilation for the national exams at my local secondary school here in Aberdeenshire which means I work long days and put in many extra hours over the six weeks duration.

I deliberately planned a crochet project over the exam period which I could pick up easily every evening when I put my feet up.  I spend a lot of time at work on my feet!
So this is the thousand kisses shawl by Sam of the blog Betsy Makes.  Sam also records a video podcast which is one of many I enjoy whilst I'm busy making things.
The yarn I chose is Baby Alpaca Silk by Garnstudio Drops in the colours Pistachio, Wheat, Heather and Green. The cream yarn is pure alpaca from my friend's herd Mainsforth Alpacas.
The pattern is called The Thousand Kisses Shawl because the stitches cross over each other creating rows of 'x's.  As I was in exam mode, I was thinking more in terms of crosses then kisses (though I'm glad to say I don't so any marking!)
On a few occasions after school it was nice enough to sit outside and crochet.
 This must've been a Friday evening as I spy a G&T!
So happy with the result!


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Friday, 8 July 2016

Bye Baby - Bunting

It's my daughter's 18th birthday today.
I made her a card to celebrate all her birthdays as she is due to leave home soon to go to university.
The tags for each year can be detached from the accordion style card and are strung together so they form bunting. Added decorative loveliness!
Now, this is not my idea.  I saw a lovely card on the blog Jennifer Grace Creates which Jennifer designed for her sister's 21st birthday.  I thought it was a brilliant idea and was inspired to try to make my own.  Here's what I did.
First I assembled all the materials I needed: photos, blank cards, pre-cut tags, coloured card, string, glue, scissors double sided tape and my trusty guillotine.  For decoration I used a star punch, printed numbers and strips cut from wrapping paper.  I selected photos at home, saved them to a memory stick and printed them at as 2" x 3" mini-prints at the kiosk at my local Tesco supermarket.
 I glued the photos onto the tags.  I then glued the blank cards together, back to back, so there was a page for each year.  This also helped to strengthen the card booklet.
When I decided to add her age to each tag, I looked to the internet for some free printables.  These numbers were created for a design project to make your own advent calendar and come from the lifestyle blog by queen of organisation, Abby Lawson, called Justagirlandherblog.  I printed the numbers onto A5 paper so they were the right size for me.  Thanks, Abby, for sharing this really useful resource!
I then made a pocket for each page so the tags would fit into the card.  I cut these out of different coloured card (as the red, white and green was making it look a bit too Christmassy!).
The pockets are fixed to the card using double sided tape on three sides.  I found that the backing is sometimes hard to remove from the tape but tweezers helped!
Once the pockets were all fixed in, I decorated each one with a strip cut from wrapping paper and placed stars punched from the off-cut coloured card around the tags.
So far, so good but I realised that the card looked rather bare once the bunting is removed.  I typed up a few memories about each birthday, printed these onto paper and attached them behind the tags so they're only visible when the bunting is up.
I added my most recent photo to the front cover and attached a piece of string under it so the card can be closed.
The button on the back allows the string to fasten around the card.  I got my husband to write the personal message as he's good with words.
It only remained to string the tags together to make the bunting.

There you have it - a birthday card, party decoration and memory book all in one and I got to relive all these happy annual milestones whilst I was making it - and smile!

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Sunday, 1 May 2016

Happy Feet, I've Got Those Happy Feet

The weather in Aberdeenshire during April was, quite frankly, more like winter than spring.

So instead of thinking about lightweight pastel coloured knits for the warmer months, I found myself focusing on one of the projects I bought part of at Edinburgh Yarn Festival -  soles for cosy knitted slippers.
Here I am with Amanda of Joes Toes at the EYF marketplace.  The company sells slipper kits and also the felt soles and other constituents parts needed to make your own.  Amanda was lovely and took time to help me try on some of the sample slippers to ensure I was buying the correct size of sole.  I came away with turquoise outer soles (which have a latex grip) and fuchsia inners, really thinking this would be a perfect project for autumn.
When the days took a seriously cooler turn, I went to my local yarn shop, The Colour Corner in Inverurie, and bought some New Lanark chunky wool in the colourway Gritstone.  It's 100% wool and I thought it would be hard wearing but soft enough for my slippers.  Amanda of Joes Toes provided me with a comprehensive instruction sheet when I bought my soles.  Essentially, the knitted part of the slipper consists of a strip of garter stitch.  Its length is determined by the number of pre-punched holes in the felt soles.  The long side of the strip is then stitched onto the sole and the pre-punched holes make the sewing up really easy and straightforward as well as ensuring a neat job. 
So, a couple of evenings in front of the telly and my slippers were finished - the perfect companion to a pair of hand knit socks!  I'm really pleased with them and they're comfy and warm...
...but - come on May - could we please have some better weather so my next project isn't a fur coat?!
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