Monday, 28 January 2019

Making lotion bars and trying to keep warm

Gosh that wind is bracing - it strikes right through to your bones.  What is the forecast this week I ask myself? Well a bit of everything by the look of it but cold, so cold......

Well I'm grateful for lovely central heating! Will and Alex have a wood burning stove which was blasting out golden heat yesterday.  Quick pick of Will cutting kindling outside in the arctic blast.
Little Zula was stretched out in front of the fire purring gently completely oblivious to the cold outside.

The lotion bars! I've been looking forward to making them for a while now and looking forward to making them with Sal, Alex's friend  -  who was as lovely as she sounded. I've been trying to add her  blog  ( to my list but am having a few technical issues. Her lifestyle is a shining example of caring for ourselves and our world.

We gathered all the ingredients together (as it turns out not that many),

  • Equal parts of Beeswax and Shea Butter or Coconut Oil
  • a few drops of essential oils - my favourites were orange and lavender
We also tried some with a little olive oil added.  
The oils and wax were simply melted (in saucepans from the pound shop, dedicated to the purpose) and poured into little moulds, again set aside solely for lotion bars and maybe soap. But that's for another day!
They began to set almost immediately
 So we quickly added some essential oils

and left them to harden.  Then we got a bit adventurous and added some cocoa powder and orange or peppermint oil to another batch.
We were excited and impatient to see how they turned out

They actually looked like little chocolate truffles.  The tea tree oil was quite strong but I loved the orange, especially with the cocoa. The rosemary was lovely too but quite strong. I think the volatile oils will disperse quickly so it'll be a matter of experimenting to get the right balance.  You wouldn't mistake them for sweets, luckily.

The shea butter bars set a bit harder than the coconut oil bars but they are designed to melt on contact with warm hands thereby dispensing the correct amount of lotion. We'll have to find little containers to hold them in the summer otherwise we'll have little puddles rather than pretty shapes.  In this weather though, warm hands and sunny windowsills are few and far between. It's hovering around freezing point at the moment, but that wind makes it feel much colder.

We had a lovely roast lunch, chicken for Will and nut cutlets for the girls. Alex makes amazing roast potatoes and has a steamer which makes perfect vegetables. I'm spoilt.

My hens only got a quick refill of food and some mealworms and a quick hello before I retreated into the warmth of the house. It's amazing how much cold you can tolerate when there is no wind but how uncomfortable it is when the wind is howling straight off the North Sea! The hens were fluffed up in the warm corner but came down for mealworms and sunflower seeds before retreating back to the warmth. Sensible girls.

I was spoilt again at tea/supper time with steak and chips cooked by John, served with pea salad and broccoli.
I'm not a big meat eater so I was pleased I'd had nut cutlets at lunch time! After washing up (John uses every utensil available) I settled down to a lovely evening of knitting.  It was a really lovely weekend with the family.

Now I'm sitting in the quiet of a Monday morning after the mad rush to get children ready for school and peeps ready for work. (I was keeping out of it whilst Steph and John went through their frenetic morning ritual).  The sun is shining brightly from the east on a gunmetal grey sky to the west but I can see bright blue emerging too, highlighting the skeleton trees a beautiful bronze.

It has been much easier than I expected having an extra four people in the house.  Steph spent a few hours on Saturday with her mother, cleaning and washing at the new house whilst John and I were at work. We went there after work and John pulled up carpets and I took Max home for some quiet time. He gets upset when it's noisy. It is going to be another couple of weeks before it is decorated and new flooring is put down.

I finally got the Sew Demented Bag sewn together and, after spending most of the construction time cursing it, I love it and, dare I say, am going to make a couple for presents?

I'm really pleased with the colours of this - choosing them from my collection of Sandy Gervais Autumn designs which I'm gathering together for a quilt.
It's about the size of a pencil case with a zipper that extends over the sides to form handles.
Inside there are three zippered compartments which then create four other spaces

You can make the outside plain although I chose to add a strip of squares.
Once you've made one and can see how it is constructed (the pattern is not good for this but there are a few tutorials on YouTube), the next attempt should  together quickly, but you need a strong machine to do the side panels. Joanne at the class broke two needles on her Brother machine. I didn't attempt it on my Singer but went straight to the Bernina which sailed through the thick parts with ease. I did put a larger needle in to be sure though.  I think I'll make one for Karin in Japanese fabrics and a linen and lawn version to go with the other sewing things I've made over the past few months

Well I've got three hours before I need to set off for work. So I'm going to give the washing machine some wellie and take a shower with maybe knitting a couple of rows of my cowl added in for good measure. I want it finished this week as Alex, Carol and I are going on a Natural Dye Workshop on Saturday. Socks are on the agenda for this yarn. It's something I've never knitted before but Carol assures me are really good to knit and wear.  Somewhere I need to fit in some time to write a pattern for the class this week. OMG - where will that come from!

Sunday, 20 January 2019

Craft Polygamy - it's everything you could wish for

My real love is quilting and has been a constant for more than a quarter of a century,  since I discovered the first issue of Popular Patchwork at the supermarket in 1993. The cover had a sampler quilt in brown. I was in love.  (well maybe not with the brown).  I went for blue and yellow which was the colour of my bedroom at the time (good old Laura Ashley). Each little triangle on this tree of life was sewn individually - I think there was nearly one hundred pieces in this 12" block.
 The Strawberry was my introduction to curved piecing.
 And this rose design ignited an interest in Amish Quilting and then, naturally Durham Quilting.

All hand stitched from the piecing and quilting to the binding. Not a machine in sight. I was mindful that the quilting should look the same on the back as it did on the front. It was mostly cut with scissors and homemade templates.
I was having trouble getting points to match and my mother suggested going to a quilting shop she'd seen whilst in Newcastle. This was new to me as fabric had to be bought from Laura Ashley or other haberdashery shops, it was the first specialist quilting shop in the area.

I took the trip and it was the best thing that ever happened in my creative career.  The lady, called Pearl, had a massive supply of 100% cotton - about sixty bolts! Unheard of luxury. Now of course shops stock hundreds and even thousands of bolts. She showed me how to mark the fabric and match up the points; how to sew the little quilting stitches and what to put in the 'sandwich'.  I'd made clothes for me and for my dollies, lots of cross stitch and knitting but nothing like this. I was totally beguiled.  Over the months that followed I got a ruler, rotary cutter and mat. I loved the rhythmic nature of the stitching which somehow must have been in my blood. My paternal grandmother and her twin sister had been seamstresses at Harrod's, making bespoke silk underwear.  They used to knit and crochet beautiful fine jumpers and shawls too.
I've loved craft painting too, and had a wonderful teacher in Sandra from the Crafts House (now very sadly retired from her teaching). I saw some of her work at a quilt shop nearby and called in to see about learning her craft. It was magical. She is a talented and creative artist and a patient teacher. (Not to mention a very lovely person). Her husband would cut any shape you wanted from wood. Now I have to get them laser cut which produces exact shapes, but they don't have that organic nature which only hand-cutting can produce. I particularly loved the way you could create painted fabrics. This has led me to dabbling in fabric design which is something I will definitely pursue when time allows - it is a much longer and more complicated process than I ever imagined. That and I have had to learn how to use design software at the same time, although it often starts as a watercolour.
I know many people are monogamous to their passion but I'm a bit of a tart when it comes to creativity. I've loved knitting since I was a young teenager but when cross-stitch came along my knitting needles fell silent for a while.
Knitting was briefly re-ignited when the boys were willing to wear hand knits (and machine knits when my father decided to buy me a knitting machine and then a spinning wheel).  I didn't keep up with the machine knitting - it didn't have the same fascination as the slower, mesmeric counting that goes with hand knitting and crochet.  I still have the spinning wheel and intend to dust it off when I retire.  When I first got it, sourcing fleece was more difficult. I lived on a farm at the time and had some sheep of my own,  but with two young children and a little farm shop to run, preparing fleece was low down on the agenda. Now you can buy a huge variety of fleece in different stages of preparedness and more particularly, lots of different blends.

Latterly crochet has taken a big chunk of my crafting time and I have loved discovering the gorgeous yarns - the choice is incredible. Thanks to Barbara at Ring-a-Rosie in Whitley Bay I have access to an incredible range of yarns.  Visiting Yarndale in Skipton and UnRavel in Farnham means I have a super collection of Indie-Dyed Yarns. It also spurned a love of smaller items like wrist warmers and cowls which are much quicker to knit up and don't depend on getting the right tension. This is good considering the vast array of different yarn weights which don't translate like they used to do when I was first knitting. 4 ply, double knitting, aran and shetland lace yarn were the only weights then - you could use any manufacturer for any pattern.

The fascination with the hand-dyed yarns made me want to try that, which I finally did with Alex a couple of weeks ago.  We're booked on another workshop at the beginning of February to learn how to use natural ingredients to dye the yarn.  Coming home with a skein of hand-dyed yarn re-ignited my knitting mojo - back after a couple of decades or so.  I've sat up late at night and knitted early in the mornings.
The thing that I'm pleased about the most is that I haven't really given up on any of these crafts. There's nothing really stored "under the bed" (apart from my embarrassingly large stash of fabric). There are quite a few things that I don't use so much now like my Sizzix Cutter but I do use them occasionally.

I think all these handcrafts I enjoy have been kept alive by the blogs and podcasts of other people as much as my real-life crafting friends. It's a whole new community that you can give you answers to any problem, including how to make a Sew Demented Zippered Bag which would have gone in the bin long ago if it hadn't been for YouTube. They give inspiration and share their passion which is very infectious.

One of the bloggers  - Posie Gets Cozy - has recently been making Hand Lotion Bars. As a quilter and knitter I use a lot of hand lotion and was pleased to see the solid bars which of course don't need plastic bottles.  Alex's friend, Sally, is up from Lancashire next weekend and we are squirrelling supplies to make our own hand lotion bars.
People often ask me what my favourite colours are. The truth is I don't have a favourite colour, I love them all. Colour is the the magic that binds all these crafts together. When it comes to colour I'm just as much of a tart with that too and, at my time of life, it's the only tartage I can get.

Monday, 7 January 2019

Like a child in a sweet shop

The trouble with liking to do creative things is that they keep multiplying. My butterfly brain is flitting again.

On Saturday Alex and I went to a yarn dyeing course (finally found one near us!) near Durham.  Woolaballoo (I tried to put a link in here but it won't work - sorry) was hosting a simple yarn course using an 80%wool/20%nylon mix yarn with food colouring and vinegar.

The yarn was pre-soaked in a vinegar solution (bit pongy) and we went straight to 'painting'
I already had a pretty good idea of how I wanted my finished article to look seeing as I had been drooling over indie-dyed yarn for the past few months.  Alex waded straight in with confidence and after a couple of tentative dabs I got my rhythm, not with a paintbrush but with a fork!
When we were satisfied we rolled the yarn into a clingfilm covered sausage and heated it in the microwave to set the colours.
When it was sufficiently cooled (it 'felts' when the temperature changes too quickly), we doused it in a bowl of washing up liquid and rinsed it.  A quick twirl in a salad spinner, dedicated to this task, and the yarn was ready to hang to dry
We took our damp and slightly smelly concoctions home and they finished drying overnight.
Having used yarn in skeins for quite a while I was familiar with the gentle technique you need to wind it into a ball. Alex, less familiar with the delights of yarn winding,  had a few more problems -
Aarrghhhh... it's a learning curve!  Will says she has made more sense of it now though! Just hope little Zula doesn't get hold of it in this state.
I picked a lovely cowl to make, although I'm just a little nervous that the wool is sock yarn and may be a bit scratchy,  but we'll see.
It is really pretty with cables and lace and I'm currently on Round 16.  The pattern is just beginning to emerge although the sprinkly nature of the yarn makes it a bit more difficult to pick out than a plain colour.

Sunday was a lovely day - the boys stayed until about 11 and then the day was mine! My little white hen laid a double yolker which I had for breakfast as a special treat, as Ben wanted a brown egg rather than a white one for his breakfast
We played with engines and building blocks and decorated biscuits as well as taking selfies -Ben's new teeth are emerging
His speech is tho thweet!  He will be moving to his new school soon - I think they are going to transport him here until half term and then move after the break.  They will be staying with me for a week to ten days to allow a complete re-paint and new flooring to be fitted in their new house.   I think it was a bit manky to judge from their comments. Max will stay at his nursery until September when he moves to school. They don't want too much disruption for him.   Alex says I can go and stay with them if it gets a bit noisy (I really don't like noise)

So - Ben is with me this morning as there is  a teacher training day at his school.  I'll take him to work at lunch time and relieve Steph so she can pick Max up later.  Life is like a jigsaw at the moment.

I did a quick tension sample for the Sweet Pea CAL at the weekend although I'm not going to start this straight away.  I'll be using the hook suggested as it came out the right measurement. Having finished Ben's Corner to Corner I am in need of a simple 'mindless' project and the striped blanket fits the bill perfectly. 
I'm going to get everything out and put it into some kind of order as I have to fit in time to work and time to work on samples and patterns for the class somewhere!
I've chosen some nice bright colours for next week's patchwork class and the pattern is written. I'll cut it out tonight after work and then sew it on Wednesday morning before work.   The trick is to have things prepared so as not to waste those precious moments. Let's see if I can follow my own advice. 
Alex's friend is coming in a couple of weeks and we are going to make some lotion bars as Sally is very environmentally conscious. Lotion bars cut down on plastic bottles which has got to be a good thing. 

Another excuse for me, of course,  to create.