Archive for April, 2011

More Flowers

Last week when I blogged about summer and the gorgeous roses my mum gave me, I recalled another bunch of flowers she bought me that I took photos of and forgot to post about on here.

Just check out those chrysanthemums –  they’re like giant pom poms!!!!!!!

I got them just before Christmas, so huzzah for autumn/winter flowers!  And they definitely added to my Yule-tide cheer: every time I saw them, I kept giggling to myself at how big and funny and cute they were.

This has begun a bit of a love affair with fancy chrysamthemums for me, and I’ve since found out that they’re the flower for those born in November (according to certain lists), which includes me!  How have I only just found a love for them?!

Hee hee - more pom-pom-esque flowers! From The National Chrysanthemum Society.

And now I’ve begun a search for chrysanthemum fabric.  I did find these two pieces of reclaimed kimono silk on ebay, but couldn’t afford them:

I’ll keep looking for more chrysanthemum pretties.


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Food for the eyes:

An Afternoon Tea, Federico Andreotti

I usually have sour cream with chilli, fajitas and the like, so when I read about this recipe I was a bit sceptical, but it was actually delicious.  There’s sour cream in the cake and the icing and it works really well with the sharpness of the blueberries (which are also in the cake as well as on top of it). I’m not sure what it is, but something about this cake makes it really impressive when you serve it – the Gent and our flatmate both said “wow!” when it was served up – and considering it’s actually really easy (and with those blueberries, it stays wonderfully moist, so it’s quite hard to mess up!), it’s a great cake for serving up for friends and family.  Of course, a day doesn’t go by without us Brits having afternoon tea (hehehe!) and this would be ideal for just such an occasion.

I followed this recipe from Good Food: 101 Cakes & Bakes – I’ve tried a few recipes from here and they’ve all been good so far, so I recommend it. I also often use recipes from here as a basis for my own variations and so far so good!  A variation of the recipe (the icing/frosting is different) is also available online: Blueberry Soured Cream Cake with Cheesecake Frosting.

I wish I’d taken a photo of the cake after it was sliced, as the inside looks lovely with all those purply cooked up blueberries.  Oh well, just an excuse to make it again!!

And speaking of baking – if you ever get the chance to bake/taste the coconut and lime cupcakes from the Primrose Bakery recipe book, take it!  They are my favourite cupcake combo, all zingy and light and lovely!  In fact, this is my main book for cupcakery and I heartily recommend it!

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So, last week (week commencing 11th April).  No sewing.  But I did have a big uni hand in on the Friday, and pretty much all my time at home was spent working on this, lesson planning, eating or sleeping.  I didn’t even do any cleaning or load the washing machine (and you could tell from the state the of apartment!).  The weekend was spent applying for jobs and writing something else uni-related.  In short, it was a stressfully busy week.

It’s now the Easter holidays, so no uni or work (teaching placement at a college) this week or next.  But, plenty of homework – meh.  So far this week I have had a day of well-earned relaxation (after weeks of stress with that uni project and covering teaching), watched The Other Boleyn Girl, bought the notions for a dirndl skirt made with fabric from The Textile Workshop (for £1!!!!), shortened the straps on my summer dress (it was gaping a bit at the front and I wanted to wear it in this lovely spring weather) and I began the Grand Clearing of the Store-Room of Doom.

I’ve been putting off sorting out the store-room for a loooong time because the enormity of the task made it so overwhelming (I could barely get the door open) and I thought it would take be a good couple of days.

It didn’t.

It actually took me most of Wednesday and I still had time to cook a yummy dinner (meatballs and roasted vegetables in a tomato sauce).  It’s very nearly finished – I just need some wall shelves putting up and for the guys to go through some stuff found in there.  And it looks amazing (but pictures another time – when it’s completed) – I can’t believe I’ve managed to cut down the junk and fit so much into such a small space.  I’m pretty proud of myself (and thankful to Ikea!).  It’s inspired me, in fact – I’m rearing to go and can’t wait to get a desk in there where I can leave my machine set up all the time, below a pinboard covered in fabric scraps and inspiration images.

I actually wanted to get started on the dirndl earlier in the week, but I was put off by getting the sewing machine out.  Yeah, lazy or what?  I also didn’t really want to leave the sofa, where I was spending time with the Gent.  Yeah, pathetic or what?!  Because he works nights/evenings and a large part of the weekends, our timetables aren’t exactly hamonious.  Some days I only see him when he gets home at 4am and when I get up for work a few hours later.  So sometimes the idea of getting up and going off to to the table to work at a noisy machine with my back to him isn’t exactly appealing when we could be watching a film together or putting the world to rights.

What I did do instead, was adjust those dress straps – it was hand-sewing, so I didn’t have to leave the Gent, or the sofa and I could carry on half-watching the film.  Result!

The Other Boleyn Girl was an OK film – I like Natalie Portman (though not Scarlett Johansson) and I’m generally predisposed to like historical dramas – though not great.  But the costumes, however accurate or otherwise were rather lush.  I’ve found myself warming to Tudor style lately (the earlier Henry VII stuff, not so much the Elizabethan ruffs) – I think it’s the square necklines of the gowns (such a lovely shape) and that triangular silhouette of women with those wide sleeves and skirts.  Oh dear, sewing attention deficit strikes again!  It was pretty late at night and I was planning to go to bed after the film, but it did get me thinking of stitching and costumes and even thinking about designing modern clothes with a Renaissance influence.

What I’ve Learnt (so far)

Scaredy Cat!

I psych myself out of projects.  I was overwhelmed at the thought of clearing out the store room and put off doing it.  I still haven’t made the Gent’s waistcoat: truth be told, I’m scared of cutting up the lovely, expensive wool I bought – and especially on a pattern I have made up myself.  I’ve got some silk taffeta and vintage brocade pre-washed and ready to go for any project I want, but I haven’t used them yet: perhaps I’m just too scared to cut into that pristine, lovely, expensive, difficult-to-get-hold-of fabric.  Ah-ha.  We might have hit upon something!

How to solve it, though?  Well, that’s the tough part and I don’t really know how I’ll solve it until I try, but I do know what I’m going to try.  I already prepare and plan copiously (I always make a toile, adjust the pattern and read the pattern directions over and over) to try to minimise mistakes, so I’ve already done all I can and everything else is just worrying.  And the biggest lesson I’ve learnt in life (but seem to have failed to apply to sewing) is that worrying doesn’t help anything.  Except for anxiety and no one wants that, right?  Right?  Right!  So, if you’ve got the fear, then do your prep and then get over it.

A Bird in the Hand …

I should always have a hand-sewing project on the go.  If I didn’t have those dress straps to sew, I probably wouldn’t have done any sewing that day with the dirndl skirt, even though I really wanted to.  Sometimes it’s a matter of practicality (getting a noisy sewing machine out when a group of you are watching a film is pretty anti-social) and other times it’s just my mood (I just want to relax and be productive, is that too much to ask?!).

Monkey See, Monkey Do (or make)

Seeing pretty gowns on The Other Boleyn Girl had my mind full of ideas.  Seeing pictures and films with lovely clothing inspires me.  Perhaps the problem is that a lot of the time, those pictures come via the internet and we all know that if it isn’t the Root of All Evil, the internet most definitely is the Root of All Distraction and Destroyer of Productive Intentions.  Damn you, internet!!!

Only joking, but it really can be a problem.  Even if I go online meaning to just look this up or do that one little thing, I will invariably find myself saying ‘oh, is it bedtime already?’ hours later.  Perhaps I can harness that inspirational power of pretty pictures and channel it away from the internet.  As a teenager, I used to have an inspirational notebook full of pictures from magazines (before the days of widespread internet use!  Yes, there was once such a time!  Yes, I am that old!).  Maybe I should start one up again and print out those inspirational pictures I find online and sketch my ideas and stick in fabric and trim samples.

And this is definitely a very good reason to add to my collection of films with lush costumes.  Huzzah!

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Poetry for Summer

The weather’s been warming up here lately.  Today I enjoyed an ice-cream (two-scoops: one honeycomb caramel and the other tropical sorbet – NOM!) in the market square with a friend in my summer dress.  In recent weeks, I’ve been forced to dig out my sunglasses (oversized, retro red), my mum bought me some gorgeous flowers …

I bought some sandals (at last – I’ve been looking for the past three summers!) …

And I’ve been teaching in classrooms with the windows wide open. Yes, we’re definitely inching towards summer.

This time of year always reminds me of one of my favourite poems of all time, and it just so happens that I recently taught a class on it.  I thought I’d share it here with you.

My top tip – read it out loud to yourself.

Work and Play
Ted Hughes
The swallow of summer, she toils all the summer,
A blue-dark knot of glittering voltage,
A whiplash swimmer, a fish of the air.
          But the serpent of cars that crawls through the dust
          In shimmering exhaust
          Searching to slake
          Its fever in ocean
          Will play and be idle or else it will bust. 
The swallow of summer, the barbed harpoon,
She flings from the furnace, a rainbow of purples,
Dips her glow in the pond and is perfect.
          But the serpent of cars that collapsed on the beach
          Disgorges its organs
          A scamper of colours
          Which roll like tomatoes
          Nude as tomatoes
          With sand in their creases
          To cringe in the sparkle of rollers and screech. 
The swallow of summer, the seamstress of summer,
She scissors the blue into shapes and she sews it,
She draws a long thread and she knots it at the corners.
          But the holiday people
          Are laid out like wounded
          Flat as in ovens
          Roasting and basting
          With faces of torment as space burns them blue
          Their heads are transistors
          Their teeth grit on sand grains
          Their lost kids are squalling
          While man-eating flies
          Jab electric shock needles but what can they do? 
They can climb in their cars with raw bodies, raw faces
          And start up the serpent
          And headache it homeward
          A car full of squabbles
          And sobbing and stickiness
          With sand in their crannies
          Inhaling petroleum
          That pours from the foxgloves
          While the evening swallow
The swallow of summer, cartwheeling through crimson,
Touches the honey-slow river and turning
Returns to the hand stretched from under the eaves -
A boomerang of rejoicing shadow. 

Whatever the season is where you are, I hope you’re enjoying it.

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We all have days (weeks … months … years?) where we’re less than productive, where our motivation is non-existent and where we just can’t seem to muster the energy to do much more than vegetate in front of the TV or computer.  And there are those times where we seem to have been constantly busy, but don’t seem to have actually achieved much.  I hate those times.

Well, the lovely Tilly over at Tilly and the Buttons has come up with a rather interesting idea to see if we can combat this lack of productivity: The Sewing Productivity Project.  Essentially, it involves closely monitoring what you do over a couple of weeks or so, when you sew and how you feel before, during and after sewing and producing a report/series of reports on what you find.

Now, you’ll notice that I have been hugely busy with PGCE work since September (I have two ring binders plus a box file full of uni work, never mind all the marking, the lesson preparation, the meetings, the office politics(!), the reading, the theories, the feedback, the observation …), so I have been horribly unproductive in terms of anything non-teacher-related, including writing (A Thief & a Gentlewoman and this blog!) and sewing.  Though, I suppose that can be expected with all that work for the qualification.  You might also have noticed that I tend to set myself high standards and ambitious goals.  Add these two things together and the lesson for me is that in terms of productivity for non-essentials (that is, anything non-teaching/PGCE-related), I have to be realistic and not set myself unrealistic goals.  At the moment, any sewing productivity is an achievement for me.

In the next few days, I’m going to give some highlights of the past couple of weeks (even thinking back to before the Productivity Project started) and look at what I’ve learnt …

First off, I haven’t told you, dear reader, but I have been taking a ‘mixed craft’ class on Fridays taught by a friend from my PGCE course.  Yes, 2pm to 6pm on a Friday I have allocated sewing and crafting time.  The first lesson was on 1st April and we learned how to applique and she went over some basic sewing machine skills (there are only 5 of us on the course, but we have quite a range of skills – my friend on the course hasn’t used sewing machines before).  It was actually helpful to do those basic machine skills – I found out that somehow I’ve been putting my bobbin in the wrong way round all this time.  Really don’t know how I managed that!

The classes so far have been brilliant – they take place at The Textile Workshop, which has lots of different teachers, a shop selling lots of bits and pieces and there are even bins full of various scraps and pieces of fabric that are either free or 50p for a small piece or £1 for a larger piece.  The classes have left me very inspired afterwards and I’ve really wanted to get my machine out as soon as I get home, but so far I’ve been too busy with uni work to do anything outside of class.  We will be covering: applique, free machine embroidery, fabric manipulation, making a cushion cover, making a tote bag, wet felting and lots of other fabric-based bits and pieces!

On 7th April, I was lucky enough to win Abby’s giveaway over at Stay-ing Alive – wewt!  I have a $25 voucher for Burnley and Trowbridge – double-wewt!  This got me thinking about sewing, even if I didn’t have the time to do it (see below) and left me plotting and planning what to do with that voucher … I still have decided, but I have some ideas (zone-front pierrot jacket in this lilac taffeta, anyone?).

The craft lesson for that week was free machine embroidery: I made a picture of a tea set for my mum as a Mother’s Day present (sorry, I forgot to take photos before I gave it to her).

What I Have Learnt (so far)

Focus and A Time and a Place for Everything

Thinking back to my free machine embroidery class … I really enjoyed being able to work on one thing for almost the full four hours and our teacher commented that I had my head down and focused for the whole lesson, while others were getting up and taking breaks.  This reflects what I tend to do with uni work and what I used to do when drawing (which I used to do a lot) – once I get started, I keep going for hours with the bare minimum of breaks.  Once I focus, I work and work and work.  However, like clearing out the store-room and writing, it’s starting that is the problem for me.  Doing the mixed craft class means that I have invested money in making and that I have an allocated time and place, set up, ready and waiting for me, complete with friendly people also there to make and chat.  Having that dedicated time and place has made me sew and left me inspired afterwards.

Crafty People

The outside influence and company has also helped, I think.  That’s surprising, because although I’m quite a sociable and friendly person, I do have a tendency towards solitary pursuits.  Since I was a child, my favourite pastimes have been reading, drawing/painting, writing and various crafts.  Pretty much exclusively, these have been done alone.  The reading and drawing are often done with a person in the same room, but they will be doing something else and I will be focused entirely on what I’m doing.  In the craft classes, though, I have been in the room with others working on related projects and, while I’ve been super-focused on my work, I’ve still interacted with them, offering praise of their work, receiving comments on mine or just generally chatting while working.

But maybe I shouldn’t be surprised by being motivated by working with others – after all, am I not constantly inspired and motivated by all those blogs linked to on the right?  And behind those blogs are people, bloggers, sharing their work and themselves with the blogosphere.  Reading and commenting on blogs is interacting with other people, albeit once removed.

I love Paperchase!

New Stuff

It’s probably not very healthy (and is certainly not at all healthy for my bank balance), but I like new things (new to me, that is, not necessarily brand new) and they get me inspired to use them.  I’m one of those people who, when they get new something new, has to use it now.  Really, I put on new shoes straight away.  I rush home from Paperchase to use my new pens and notebook.  I will even sit at home alone, hair unwashed, make-up undone, wearing sloppy jeans (or even PJs!) with my new bright pink lipstick on, just because it’s new and it would be rude not to use it immediately.  So, the thought of spending my Burnley and Trowbridge voucher has me excited and whenever I buy something new and sewing-related, it does get me productive.  Maybe I can harness this in a way that won’t bankrupt me … it’s certainly something I need to think about and work out a way of managing.

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Fed up of boring shoes?  Looking for the ideal 18th century footwear for a Lady of Fashion?  Want to bring a bit of elegance to 21st century footwear?

Now you can!  I am rather excited at the prospect of American Duchess’s Georgiana shoes – today pre-orders open for these pretties:

(And, no, it’s not an April Fool’s!)

They’re silk satin, which means they’re completely dyeable to whatever colour you fancy, and they look quite divine.  I am pining for a pair … let’s see if I can scrape some pennies together!

I don’t get to do reenactments or the like, but I would quite happily wear these for special occassions of the non-historical variety.  LOVE them!


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