Making Merry

Happy New Year!

What a a great Christmas break
!  Despite my earlier postings of my potential meltdown, I had a fab time, even though:
 My Christmas Puddings were an absolute disaster (consistency of stew rather than pudding)
We had our Christmas dinner on a lovely piece of fabric that I had not hemmed -it still looked lovely.
I did manage to enjoy all the decorations without my bunting, heart felt garlands, handmade stocking,  etc etc.

So… note to self, (when the magazines and shops are revving up their ‘best ever Christmas’) it doesn’t matter! What matters is having fun with your nearest and dearest without throwing a wobbly over the handmade thingamy that is supposed to be the pinnacle of the celebrations but you feel you have to finish like a sweat shop sewing machinist on Christmas Eve. Everyone just wants a glass of wine and play a game or two! (Luckily I ditched all the ideas of the handmade thingamys way before Christmas eve and was happily playing a word game with my beloved over a glass or two snug as a bug).

January is nearly over; I  kept up a new year’s resolution to take regular exercise – (I have managed wii fit plus now for 6 days running – (with the exception of Saturday)) so the plan to be fitter and healthier is on its way. Although the healthy eating is postponed until all the Christmas Chocolate is eaten.. (hopefully it will be Easter by then!)

My resolve was further enhanced by creating my body double for my dressmaking… oh la la.. all those curvy bits that have become even curvier!

Yoga is proving to be absolute bliss..

I had a fabulous birthday,  whisked off to a famous London store to spend a little credit card! Needless to say it was well and truly swiped clean of the credit in under half an hour in the fabric department! See photo above and try and guess which store… (I am the one in the middle) the shop is  famous for bodices, fabric, (did I mention fabric?) the arts and crafts movement.

Oh.. the shop itself is absolute bliss, little fireplaces tucked away with exquisite tiles! It looks like a tudor building but really isn’t that old… Of course delightful Mr D, did recognise that I do have certain endearing qualities. The way I strolled through the jewellery department without a second glance, my eyes fixed on another one of my passions… stationery. Notebook (with cream pages) the latest edition to my growing collection.

cheerio
 (that used to be a way of saying goodbye before the breakfast cereal!)

Is it me?

My inbox gets a round up of all the blogs I follow, a daily flow of inspiration and ideas but recently I have found my heart sinks when see the email. Rather than feel inspired I end up feeling overwhelmed, everyone seems to have been really busy while I find I can’t concentrate on what I was doing. 
Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy reading other people’s blogs, or looking at what other people are up to, but it is as if someone creeps up behind me and whispers in my ear …. and I have that sense of failure, or that I am not doing as well as this person or my projects that up until that moment I was proud of, suddenly seem poor in comparison to the ‘wonderful photography’ or the ‘staging’ or a host of other reasons why something seems to shine out more. Or there is an idea I have for a project, just when I think it is uniquely mine, I find there are already several websites that are way ahead of me. 
This is a strange time of year, the run up to Christmas, a few weeks ago I was excited, all the projects I would do, how wonderful it will all look. I would see cooking programmes and have an urge to make my own marshmallows, or Christmas cakes, or mince pies, handmade stockings, bunting, Christmas decorations, beautifully wrapped presents. As the weeks progressed the picture of my Christmas was becoming more sparkly, and rich but this week reality hit me. None of the projects are even started let alone completed, I simply don’t have the time. 
My children have plans for their own Christmas Day, while I will be seeing them, it won’t be like the fantasy I have in my head. There is a huge sense of loss when I realise that the dream will never be a reality. That isn’t to say it won’t be wonderful, it just won’t materialise  as I imagined it would be,  I feel like a child who sees a toy in a toy shop but never gets to touch it. It is still there tantalising me, this fantasy Christmas that might have been. 
While I am already putting myself under so much pressure, round the corner is the New Year, with the resolutions to be thinner, fitter, healthier… more creative time, more organised, more more more! 
The internet is brilliant, there is no denying it, so is the Television, there are some fantastic creative people around – but there comes a point when I have to step back for my own sanity. I have rest from the computer for a while – disengage with the whole Christmas machine that we are caught up in from September onwards, and simply be. 
It is then that I am able to work out what I really want for Christmas: that is simply quality time having fun with those I love. 
Merry Christmas 

When the red red robin goes bob bob bobbin along!

It was while out on one of my dog walks recently that I noticed just how charming ivy is: the leaf shapes are so elegant, the deep rich green with its darker veins are so pretty creating a lovely patch of  green while all around me the trees are becoming bare. I love the way it flows and softens the lines of the fence where I was walking – the way the leaves grow smaller along the vine. I also spotted some gorgeous variegated ivy in my own garden! 
Nature always has beauty, no matter what the season – frosted ivy was a wonder to behold. It has been there all year, but my focus has always gone to the scented lavender or the bright geraniums, but at this time of the year I begin to see the structure and beauty of those plants who remain the supporting cast in the garden. 

I was inspired by my walk to create a winter wreath, and decided to give ivy the star treatment! 
I really enjoy using needle felting as it allows me to create more realistic natural patterns, I combined them with the multitudes of tapestry wool -I purchase in vintage shops – often a whole abandoned kit can be bought for as little as a few pounds – I keep it in a small suitcase that resembles a box full of colour! 
Christmas Roses or hellebores, are so lovely too – but overshadowed most of the time by the more colourful varieties. However, they flower when winter has its grip and june roses are a distant memory or promises of summer to come while the branches of the roses look stark like winter skeletons of summer plants. 

The robin adds a splash of colour to the wreath, alongside some small red berries. He is created with a combination of felt, wool and merino floss.

It is easy to use the wool to create the wings on the robin, laying them across the body, using the felting needle to fix it. The beaded eye gives a brightness to the robin and gives him a little sparkle.

The felting gives a fluffiness that gives the robin his plumage, and softens his shape a little.

As you can see some of the ivy leaves are simply cut – with the variegation created with simple use of a felt tip pen!

I also laid several different colours of wool to make up the vines of the ivy, fixing all the elements with a hot glue gun. The leaves lay across the wreath, using a pen to push the centre of the ivy leaf to give it a natural shape.

If you want to have a go yourself you can purchase the wreath here, they are from Gisella Graham who I really love. Heidi feathers does a great beginner felting pack here which includes everything you need to start creating your own wreath. If you would like pattens for the ivy leaves and robin just drop me a line or you can sign up for the course I am running at Clothkits on Saturday 30th November.  

Merry Christmas

Living in a flat I did not have the room for a large tree, so I decided to make this little area my Christmas decoration. It is hard to photograph but with the little lights twinkling around the mirror and along the top. The little house has a little tea light holder and I love the snow globes. I like this gorgeous retro blue, instead of the traditional reg and green. 

This is a close up of the little tree decorations, the cotton reels are no bigger than 2 – 3 inches, (you caught a peek of them early in November) I hung a few beads, some lone earrings,  I just love the little kissing doves. 

This might just seem a rather modest little decoration but after living with other people for the last couple of years, it is so nice to finally have a space of my own to decorate. I look back to last year when I had just moved in and was living on my own I am in such a wonderful place now I feel truly blessed. 
Wishing you a very Happy Christmas and a year full of health, wealth and happiness for 2013. 

Perfect Christmas?

December is always busier than I realise, I get lulled into a false sense of security the shops start selling Christmas goods in September so I learn to ignore them until suddenly its the second week of December and Christmas cards drop through the letterbox which gives me a sense of alarm as I have not written any yet! 
I do enjoy Christmas it gives a tremendous focus for creativity, not just present making but decorating the house and cooking special food. It has taken me a number of years though to get the balance right. When I was first married with a young baby, I would try to create the ‘perfect Christmas’ which often left me worn out, stressed and not great fun to be around. I would put so much pressure on myself, mostly fuelled by the magazine articles of ‘create the perfect Christmas’ or ‘The best Christmas dinner menu’ or ‘wonderful party food’ that I somehow lost all the fun. 
Now I put on my filters remembering that Christmas is just one day and it is all about having fun with those you love and care about. I plan a menu of what we are going to eat, not because I want it to be the best turkey ever, but it means that I don’t overbuy, in turn meaning I don’t over eat. I have lost count of the number of times I have filled my trolley with Christmas essentials, nuts, chocolate, fruit, cakes etc, so that my home is a constant buffet. I eat chocolate thoughtlessly, fruit very often turns because I have overbought, and I don’t enjoy the lovely meal because I am full of chocolate! 
I learnt to let go a little, the children got far more pleasure out of decorating the Christmas tree than I did with my careful arrangement, sometimes it was a case of balancing it up a little when they were asleep but I began to take pleasure in subverting the ‘Christmas perfection’. It was revolutionary not to be perfect; less stressful and a whole lot more fun.
I am far more competitive than I realise, but the competing that is going on is not against anyone else it is against this ‘illusion’ that is created by magazines usually in August! The competitiveness is from my desire to reach that ideal, re-create the perfection for my family, and it begins to sound rather like a nasty critical taskmaster in my head, pointing out the faults in my home crafted imperfections against glossy illusion. I have taken part in a magazine shoot and seen behind the glossy images, now when I look at the stunning home ‘set’ I look for the practicalities, yes it may look beautiful but you cannot live that way. 
This taskmaster voice that suggests everything should be ‘home made’ so that I have very little energy to enjoy visits of friends and family. Now I just decide what is more important? To impress someone because it is made from scratch, or simply to relax and enjoy their company. 
I found the same was true for the rest of the year, I used to hide the cake that sunk in the middle, or the biscuits that had gone a little too ‘caramelised’ but now I laugh with my friends about these things;  it helps to shatter the perfection illusion and allows them too to be imperfect. I think that is the greatest gift of all. 

Stir up Sunday

I thought I would try and make a Christmas pudding this year; it needs about 6 weeks to mature so I am a little late, Stir up Sunday is usually the first Sunday in November. It is called this because of the tradition where all the family members gather round and stir the mixture and make a wish before the pudding is steamed for the first time and then put aside to mature. 
I am not sure it is something that is known outside these shores, one of my very dear Au Pairs came all the way from Hungary, and she shuddered at the thought of eating Christmas Pudding, mostly because she believed that over the year all the scraps of food would be collected and boiled up to make Christmas Pudding. Of course when she ate the real thing it was something she loved. It really is one of my favourite parts of the meal, and I have been known to stock up on puddings for the year ahead. 
I remember doing this for the first time when I was twelve I used to visit a teacher in her small cottage not far from our home. We lived in a modern house where my mother believed cooking was a necessary evil, however under the quiet guidance of this teacher I learnt the alchemy and bliss you could gain from cooking. I remember her telling me all about stir up Sunday and I helped her measure out the ingredients and making a wish. I also remember making candied peel which tasted sublime and is much better than any type shop bought. It was a completely different lifestyle from my own, she had no television and her house was tiny in comparison to ours, but I would have swapped homes anytime. 
I thought of those days of bliss in the small victorian cottage, and my pantry has large labelled jars holding herbs, jewelled cherries, jam and marmalade. I think I am happiest of all in the kitchen, cooking is the most satisfying easy nurturing activity, right now it is full of the aromas of fruit cinnamon and nutmeg and will remain a day or two as it needs to soak in. 

Place in a bowl, (110g) – 4oz shredded suet, 2oz – (50g) of self-raising flour, 4 oz – (110g) white bread crumbs, 1 teaspoon each of mixed spice, ground nutmeg, ground cinnamon. 8 oz (225g) soft dark brown sugar, 4 oz (110g) each of sultanas, raisins, currants and 1oz of candied peel. 1oz (25g) of almonds, 1 small cooking apple finely chopped, Zest and juice of a lemon and an orange. In a separate bowl, put 2 large eggs, 3 fluid oz (75ml) of barley wine, 3oz (75ml) stout, 2 tablespoons rum, mix this together then add to the dry ingredients. Mix thoroughly, this is when the family is supposed to gather, each takes a turn to stir making a wish. Leave the pudding to rest for a day. 
 Spoon the mixture into a pudding basin, and make a tin foil lid. It is important to have a pleat in the lid so the pudding has room to rise. Tie the string round the edge of the basin and create a little handle over the top which will help you to lift out the pudding from the steamer. 
 I slowly steamed my puddings in a slow cooker for around 6 to 7 hours on a low setting. Slow cookers are perfect for steaming, as you can leave them to bubble away without worrying about the water boiling dry. This is how the pudding looks after its first cooking. 
I thought I would make some simple little covers, similar to the jam pot covers. Just an elasticated edge round the circles, but the lovely bright fabric makes them look very nice and festive. It is important to feed the puddings with your favourite tipple weekly, either brandy, vodka or liqueur, the pudding will soak up the alcohol.
 All they need is to be steamed again for about an hour or two on the big day, once again the slow cooker is the best way to let it slowly bubble. 
This is how they look when they are finally cooked, serve with cream or brandy butter. (Butter whipped with a couple of tablespoons of brandy). 
Update: These were really delicious, far superior to the shop bought ones even the ‘luxury’ brands! Despite feeding two adults not fans of the traditional pud, they proclaimed the puddings ‘delicious’. I saved the second one for my birthday, (on the 4th January) and it was still tasty, you can keep one by for the following year topping with alcohol, but I could not wait that long! 
As requested, I have updated this post with the recipe if you want to make them yourself. 
Enjoy, Happy Christmas!