Beautiful things for you and your home!

Lots of homely thoughts on sewing, baking, papercrafts, gardening and all the things that go towards making your house a home

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Making Sun Blush/Sun Dried Tomatoes in the oven

Normally around this time of year I am busy picking tomatoes most days and looking up more recipes to use them in along with my tried and tested Delia Smith tomato soup, and a yummy and very useful roasted tomato and mascarpone sauce recipes.

This year, I'm not sure what's gone on with the tomato crop but it's been a little on the pathetic side. And it's not just me. My Dad has an allotment and hasn't had much success either. Looking around the internet it seems to be a bit of a phenomenon this year. Bearing in mind all the effort that goes into growing them from seed, potting on and feeding and watering, it's pretty disheartening but there's really not a lot that can be done now.

I have had a couple of pickings and one lot I set aside to make some sun blush tomatoes. I'm quite a fan of these in recipes, more so than the sometimes too intense flavour of sun dried. However, they're really flippin' expensive in the shops, so if you have some tomatoes you want to use up, and a clean jar, then you can easily make your own.

First, sterilise the jar. This can be done either on a hot wash in the dishwasher or in the oven. It's the same process as you would do if you've ever made jam or chutney, etc. Put the oven on to warm up on the lowest setting. My one starts at 80 degrees centigrade so that's what I left it on.

Next, chop the tomatoes in half, and lay them skin side down on a baking tray. I use a magic liner from Lakeland on my trays as it makes cleaning up so much quicker.

Now, drizzle a little olive oil over the cut halves, followed by a teeny sprinkling of salt. It should now look something like this...

Next, pop them in the oven and just leave them alone. For sun blush at this sort of temperature, I'd say about five to six hours. Mine was a little over five but I was going to bed so had to turn it off. I did leave the oven door closed so they would have still been warming in there for a while. Of course it depends on the size too. If you only have cherry tomatoes, then just keep an eye as you don't want them all shrivelled up to nothing.
After this time, you can pull them out and leave them to cool. They should look something like this...

Ooh I'm blushing!
Once they're cooled, grab your jar and just pop them in. Pour in olive oil. Do this gradually to give it chance to seep into all the nooks and crannies and then just make sure it's covering the top. Pop the lid on and you're finished!
I keep mine in the fridge and they last a good while. You can sometimes find that the olive oil sets in the fridge but it's not a problem, just get them out a few minutes before you need to use them and it'll soften enough to get them out.
A much cheaper alternative to shop bought jars and if, like me, you don't spray any of your plants, then also a much healthier way to have these super flavoursome ingredients. Of course you could do this any time of the year with shop bought ones, but I do tend to find a lot of tomatoes in the shops don't always have a lot of flavour, so although the drying will concentrate the flavour, they won't be as tasty as the ones from your garden.
Happy Blushing!

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Simplicity 2497 - Cynthia Rowley dress - Complete

It's done! I finally got over my fear of the invisible zip and the dress is done and has even been worn a few times. So I'm going to call that a result, if even it did take me longer than I'd planned. Although, to be fair, that was just due to other things happening and not the fact that there were any great issues with the pattern.

I chose a poly cotton gingham because, although I love the look of this in silk, this was my first attempt at making something from a pattern in quite a long time and I wasn't really keen on using something more expensive in case it went horribly wrong! I'm also a big fan of easy care clothing - I don't really do dry clean if possible. Making it out of something I can just bung in the washing machine is much more in line with my aesthetic. It also meant it was eminently more wearable than something in a 'fancier' fabric because the cotton lends an element of casualness. When I press it I tend to let the steam 'flop' the frills a little, just so that they don't stand up loads but that's an entirely personal choice. 
The pattern itself went together fairly well, considering it's the first I've done in a long time. I was a bit worried about a couple of aspects but once I started to actually try the different steps, they tended to come together quite logically.
I did have to look up how to do an invisible zip because it was the first I've ever done. I found this blog post really helpful and only got it on back to front once! It was in all honesty supposed to be a black zip but when I came to sew it, I realised I only had a white one. There's nowhere local to just nip out and get one so I went with what I had. It really is invisible for the most part - the most noticeable bit is where the waistband is as the thickness of the fabric there forces it apart a little but not enough to bother me.
There were a few alterations I made to the pattern - I took in both the bodice and the skirt a little as it was too baggy for my liking - I know the style is 'paper bag' but I found that it just wasn't suited to me so just pinned and stitched where I felt it looked better.
I also omitted the pockets, partly because I was pretty sure I was going to have to take it in at the sides anyway so that, combined with the side zip was just a bit too daunting for my first delve back in. I don't tend to put stuff in my pockets anyway so it was no great loss. I'm not a big fan of adding extra width to my hips anyway!
The skirt length was from the shortest view, rather than the one that went with this bodice. I held up the pattern against me initially and it just didn't look a flattering length on me so I chose this length instead.
Overall, I'm pretty happy with how the dress turned out. If I made another, I'd likely raise the neckline just a tad. It's fine as a 'standing up' dress but once you're sitting or leaning, you're likely to show off a little more than you aimed. I just solve this by popping a slip underneath - a cami would do the same job. It only shows a little but clings so bending is no longer an issue!
Just an aside, if you're a fan of making garments similar to those in films, etc, having watched 'Confessions of a Shopaholic' the other day, it struck me that the purple silk dress the main character wears for her first television appearance has definite similarities with this pattern!
I've got a huge list of things I want to make - all of them next so it's a case of picking one! If anyone follows my other blog ( you'll know that I'm madly writing and working on several writing competitions, but I'm hoping to get time to create something else soon. Now I've made this dress, it's really got me enthused to get back to it and do more.
Thanks for reading and I hope I have something new to show you very soon! Until then, Happy Sewing!
Love, Maxi

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Simplicity Cynthia Rowley 2497 - In Progress

I'd really wanted to up the amount of sewing I did this year but, between concentrating on getting a serious amount of writing done, and an ongoing health problem, it's not entirely worked out that way. I've decided to try not to stress about that too much. It's unfortunate but there's not a lot I can do to change it right at the moment so I'll just enjoy the sewing I do get to do, when I get to do it. That's the point really, isn't it?

I'm currently in the middle of making Cynthia Rowley 2497

I've had it in my stash for a while and have been wanting to make it for a while. I'm doing it out of a poly cotton gingham for two reasons really - one, because it's a bit of a practice garment. It's a fair while since I made a garment from a pattern, and really, I'm a bit out of practice. The second reason, is that using a cotton, rather than something like a silk, it makes it a much more wearable garment.
I'd originally planned to have this ready for a party but as that was a few weeks ago, that obviously didn't happen. 
There are a few changes I've already made with this. I didn't add the pockets - partly because although I love a pocket, I don't think I need any more bulk on my hips, thanks very much. Also, as the zip is on the side, adding the pocket in was just a step too far for my first foray back into Pattern Land. I also shortened the skirt, using the cutting line for View, rather than View C (the ruffle version I'm making). It just didn't seem a very flattering length on me as it was.
Another change that many people seem to have made is putting the zip at the back and I can see why this is a good move. It would certainly make fitting alterations easier. As it is, I've had to take in a bit at the sides so it's a bit more fiddly with the zip placement there.
Yesterday I  finished the waistband inside, and tacked the sides as to where I need to take them in to. It's about another centimetre each side, to reduce some gaping at the armholes and more fabric in the skirt than I like. It's not a 'fitted' dress by any means, but it's looking a little better. I'm not sure if it is going to suit me after all this but it's all experience!
Hopefully it will be wearable - that's the main thing - and I'll have learned something. I'm really eager to get this done as I have plenty more things in the queue to make. I'm looking forward to being able to update you all soon with a finished garment!
Has anyone else made this? What did you think of the 'paperbag' style - did you find it flattering? I'd love to hear.
Happy Sewing!

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Sewing a Case for a Kindle Paperwhite

Apologies for the gap in posts on here. I am in the process of completely overhauling this blog so hopefully soon it's going to look much better, and be updated more frequently. I have to admit that I'm not the most technologically gifted person in the world, so I rely on hubby's help for this sort of thing. He's always up to his eyeballs with his own work, but we are trying to find some time to do this, so do please bear with me and stay tuned!

My most recent make was for a Kindle Paperwhite for my Mum in Law. The Kindle was a birthday present but we weren't entirely sure as to whether she was going to use it so, apart from keeping the receipt, I also held off on making a cover in case we ended up returning the item. As it turns out, she loves the Kindle and is using it all the time! So, time to make a cover!

For some reason, I rushed this and thought I could get away without making a paper pattern first - which is what I had done here and here. This proved to be a bit of a downfall as I ended up making it a teensy bit too small! Lesson learned. That 'mis-make' is probably going to be turned into a few padded lavender bags.

So, back to the stash to find some more fabric. The original version had been from a free fat quarter that had come with a magazine. The next fabric I chose also happened to be a freebie!

I loved this new fabric - it's so sunny and 'Springy'! The only downside is that it was far more mobile than the previous fabric so it wasn't as easy to work with. It also turned out that I was short on wadding. I had some bits and bobs, so I had a bit of a think and decided to 'make do and mend'. I chose one of the utility switches on my machine and stitched a few bits together to make a long enough length for the Kindle cover. 

It's not the prettiest thing in the world, but as it's going to be inside and covered up, I don't think that's too much of an issue.

So, in the end, I came up with this...

As I mentioned, the fabric is a lovely cotton, but it definitely didn't have the stability that standard quilting cotton does so it did move about a bit more than was ideal. Hence, it hasn't come out quite as well as I had hoped, or as the previous ones did. But that's just me. It is at least the right size and looks pretty.
I've now sent it on to Mum in law and she was happy with it, and the Kindle is now nicely protected and cosy in its new home.
Happy Sewing! 

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Great British Sewing Bee -The Positive Effect of Blokey Bees

Like many other sewers, I am so happy to see the return of The Great British Sewing Bee - BBC2, Thursday night is now something really to look forward to!

I've loved all of these series but I'm amazed at how much more demanding the tasks are each time. All of the tasks in the first series were - if you had a basic idea of sewing - probably fairly manageable, although of course you did still have that dreaded time constraint!

However, when Series 2 bounced onto our screens, it was immediately obvious that the challenges were going to be a whole new level of demanding! Last year, at the Sewing For Pleasure show at the NEC, I went to a talk by Stuart Hillard from Series 1. A few of us were a bit early and Stuart was just chatting about things and mentioned how he was rather glad he wasn't taking part in it this year (Series 2) as the challenges were so hard! So, that was a fun little insight!

My husband isn't into sewing but he is very supportive in giving me opinions and helping when I run to him, flapping instruction sheets and crying 'I don't understand!!!!' He's also fabulous in doing the boring bits like cleaning my machine. That is actually good for both of us as I'm pretty accident prone and he is mechanically and technically minded (I am so very not!) so letting me loose on the mechanics is probably safer for both of us!

 However, he thoroughly enjoyed watching Series 2 of the Bee with me and I think this was enormously helped by the fact that a) it's just a super enjoyable programme, whether you sew or not, as my parents also watch it and neither sew either. But I also think the appeal is that there are blokes on it - and 'blokey' blokes at that so it's something he can relate to very easily. Policeman David (also known now as Dizzy Sew and Sew ) was the perfect example in Series 2. I think this aspect really added a huge benefit for viewing figures. On Series 3 , amongst others, we have a Lieutenant Colonel from the British Army - it all shows that you can still be an Alpha Male type but also enjoy sewing! And that's just brilliant! It opens the hobby up to absolutely everyone.

Interacting with other sewers on Twitter such as Jules from Sew Me Something and Heather, who won Series 2 of the Great British Sewing Bee (with the most gorgeous Couture dress EVER!), it sounds like the Bloke Effect of the Bee is filtering down. It seems that boys are signing up for their classes! Yippee!! At last! The stereotype of sewing being only for girls has been around for far too long and it's such a shame, and a waste! We've seen from the programmes that men can have a completely different take on things than women do, and I for one, think that's a fascinating aspect! Men and women do think differently and it's good to accept and embrace and learn from that!

So, to paraphrase 'Footloose' - Let's Hear It For The Boys!

(Apologies for there not being any pics on this post - I'm not entirely sure of the legalities of posting any pics from the BBC website and didn't want to get into any copyright murkiness. Pics next post, I promise!)

Happy Crafting!

Friday, 12 December 2014

Mending Stuff and Putting Sewing Back on the School Curriculum

We all know that sewing is a fun, creative, sometimes frustrating, sometimes relaxing but pretty much fabulous hobby. But, at the risk of sounding boring, it's also flippin' useful!

This is just one of the many reasons why sewing should be put back on the school curriculum And when they do, they must ensure that it's done in the right way. A lot of people I've spoken to about this, who were in the last few years of having sewing taught at school (and even then it was an 'option', so not everyone did it), were more put off by sewing in class than encouraged. Had I not had a pretty firm background of loving fabrics and sewing, obtained by osmosis of having a Nan who was a professional seamstress, I would probably have been one of those who never picked up a needle again. As it was, I didn't look forward to the class - which says a lot about how it was taught.

There are so many fun things that children could make in the process of learning these skills in an appealing way, that I really hope the powers that be don't insist on the same old boring oblong shaped apron that we were all started on. Textiles are fun. Sewing is a sort of magic - that something 3D appears from what a short time before had been just a flat piece of fabric. Something that you can wear. Something that when someone says, 'Oh, I love your coat/hat/skirt/dress/bag (etc), where did you get it?', you can reply, 'I made it.' I guarantee that they will be impressed. And the buzz that you get from a compliment on something you've made is fabulous - and addictive - but in a good way! And, of course, with the increase in interest in sewing, the amount and variety of fabulous fabrics has increased exponentially!

I'm planning a WIP bag for the fabric on the left and probably a skirt for the one on the right

So, on to the more boring, but useful stuff I have been doing. I have to say I'm not a great fan of mending things. It's not really what I want to sew for but there's no doubt that it comes in useful and just sometimes has to be done.

I believe I mentioned in another post that a couple of months ago I got a dress at M&S in the sale. It was £21, down from £55 (I'd looked at it previously non sale, and loved it but it seemed pretty pricey!). I tried it on, it fitted perfectly. That in itself is a miracle. But then I noticed that the waistband was coming away from the embroidered band above it. I mentioned this at the till and asked for a little bit more off as it was damaged. So, off came a few more pounds and yes, it was a little fiddly but didn't take me much more than half an hour and I then had a lovely, easy to wear dress for £18 instead of £55.

Next, I was back with the M&S clothing but this time far less impressed that the coat I'd bought there at the beginning of the year, and had barely worn was coming away at the sleeve lining!

Sleeve lining (on the left) coming away!

This was not a cheap coat so I wasn't happy. Obviously they don't stock it anymore and the actual coat I love so it was out with the needle again. A bit fiddly, yet again but I muddled through and did a fairly neat job I think, bearing it mind it was trial and error.


On to some gloves now. I made these gloves many moons ago and they really have been well used. Being fleece they dry so quickly and as I used to use them all the time for walking a large dog in an often muddy forest, they have seen the inside of a washing machine plenty of times. No longer having a pooch, I dug these out the other day when it was a big nippy for a trip out on the bicycle. Which is when I noticed a hole, and then another, and then another! Oops!

Holey moley!

Still, a needle, some thread and a bit of telly and the problem was soon solved.

Added to that I finally got around to plumping up the square beanbag pouffe I made a few years ago when we moved in here as it had started looking decidedly sad. The original was made pretty easily because I refused to pay the £50-£75 the shops were charging for the same thing! I found some gorgeous faux suede from Croft Mill and went to work. Yes, you do end up finding the odd polystyrene ball for the next several weeks but any shop bought one would go flat too and if you can't plump it up, that's a lot of money wasted.

I realise I should have snapped a pic of the item in question, now fully returned to plumpness, but it's just been one of those times so please forgive, and I'll grab one later. In the meantime, take it from me that it's once more returned to squareness, with a little squidgy thrown in for good measure!
This also got the plumping up treatment. I use it in the car, in the small of my back to help against backache. It really helps but had got so flat that it was getting to be of little use. As this was a shop bought one (in which I clearly had no choice of colour!), I just snipped a hole near a seam, poured in some beans and hand sewed it up again with little stitches. It's not that noticeable and really, for shoving behind my back in the car, it really didn't matter if it wasn't a masterpiece anyway.

My last 'mend' was more of an adaptation. I'd popped into Boots for some powder puffs and it wasn't until later I thought that having a bit of ribbon on the back would make them much more user friendly so that's just what I did. If you're anything like me, you have ribbon to spare and as only a tiny bit was needed, it didn't take long. I even tweeted a photo to Boots of my adaptation which they kindly responded to, and are having their sales team look into the modification.

1 mushroom + 1 pair of lovely warm tights with a thin toe + a few spare minutes = fixed + money saved

So, whilst it's without a doubt totally fabulous to whip up a dress, it's good to remember that sewing skills are useful for the little things too. Getting my coat fixed would have cost me and if I'd bought the damaged dress without the ability to fix it myself, getting someone else to do it would have meant that it was back up around it's pre-sale price.

We live in a throwaway world but many are gradually coming around to the idea that this isn't always the best option, thanks to the renewed interest in sewing and knitting, and crafting in general. A generation or two ago, most women could sew - at least the basics. We need to get back to that, but not just for women, for men too. It's useful and it's fun! What more could you want?

Happy creating!

Love, Maxi

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Padded Case For Laptop Or Tablet

My Dad had recently got a second hand laptop/tablet type thingy (to be honest, I'm not entirely sure of the distinction, but either way, he's got one). It didn't come with a case and, although he doesn't really have plans to be carrying places, he looks after his stuff and I knew he'd want a case to keep it safe and tidy.

I had a rummage in my stash, thinking this would be a good opportunity to use a bit of it up. After diving around in it for a while, it became clear that really, nothing I had would be suitable. Most of it, to be honest, was a bit girly. So - oh dear - I *had* to go fabric shopping!

My Dad is a keen gardener and has an allotment too, so something that tied in with this seemed a good place to start and a short while later I discovered this rather fun print from Michael Miller. It also comes in a cream colourway too.

The actual cover for the tablet was a fairly easy, envelope sort of design. I just laid the laptop on the fabric and folded the fabric up until it made a sort of pouch, and then folded the top down enough to make a flap that could be fastened with Velcro (hook and loop tape) - if that makes sense. It will. It was what I had originally planned to do with this tablet cover before I made a booboo and had to replan rather suddenly.

I used the vegetable fabric for the outer cover, and upcycled a cotton pillowcase that we no longer use. This was a great option as it's nice and soft from many washings, and its soft lilac colour complemented the main fabric colour, picking up the purple shade of the mushrooms in the design, and doesn't scream 'girly fabric' when you open it.


For the padding, I used two layers of a thin-ish wadding. I probably could have got away with one but I knew from previous use it can sometimes get a bit flattened out in items like this, and even with the pressing during the making up, so I stuck to the two layers. I also switched to the walking foot on my machine which made things a lot easier.

I made a sandwich of the fabric, wadding and lining, stitched around the edge, leaving a gap for turning and then turned it right side out. So I now had a padded oblong - veggie one side and lilac on the other. If you wanted to quilt the fabric, this would be a good time to do it but I didn't plan to so I carried on.

Taking the measurements from before as to how big the pouch bit needed to be, I popped a couple of pins in, one each side to mark it. Then I took the edge that was going to be the top of the pouch, the bit you'll see when you open the to flap up, and top stitched across just to make it look more finished.

Next I folded the bottom edge (the bit just topstitched) up to meet where the pin markers were and clipped the fabric in place, ready to sew. You can use pins of course, but I'd recently got some of these Clover Wonder Clips so it seemed a perfect opportunity to try them out. Have to say, on squishy fabrics like this, it was so much easier than trying to wiggle pins in which can sometimes result in the bits shifting. I've also seen people use just cheap hair slides - the kind that you slide in and bend to close - for the same purpose which is just as good.

So, a quick stitch up each side of the pouch bit and it was looking more like a case, rather than a changing mat!

Obviously doing things this way means the seams are exposed, so I had got in some bias binding to edge the whole thing with. That was a job in itself! I couldn't find the right brown to match the base colour and the only other matching one I could find was a deep lilac, which toned with those mushrooms beautifully but also pushed it a little too much back into the 'possibly-a-bit-girly' realm again. A bit more hunting and I found a green binding that matched.

Putting it on took two goes as I wasn't very happy with the first attempt. The second attempt still isn't perfect but I couldn't risk unpicking it all again and stretching it or putting another hole (I slipped!) in it. After that it was just a case of marking where the closure was to go on each side and lining them up. I box stitched these on both sides as it needs to withstand a lot of opening and closing.

The Velcro could have done with being a few millimetres over  really

 A quick stitch on of a 'Love, Maxi' label and it's ready to go!

I made this out of one Fat Quarter, and there's a little strip left. I realised when it came that I couldn't get the amount I needed in one go, staying in the direction of the print, but I don't think it's an 'obvious' directional pattern so I was happy to use it in the best way I could and I'm pretty happy with the way it's turned out. Hopefully my Dad will like it, and I hope you do too!

Thanks for reading!

Love, Maxi