Saturday, December 31, 2011

A year of reading

I've nearly completed my first full year of my photo a day project and along with documenting everyday events, I've also kept track of every book I've read this year...

There were good books and bad books amongst my selections this year. Some which were published years ago and which I've only just got round to reading, and others (like The Land Of Decoration which I've just started) which aren't published for another couple of months.

If you're looking for some good reads for the new year, may I humbly recommend a few of my favourites from the last 12 months...

The Glass Castle - Jeanette Walls : The true story of the author's unconventional, poverty-stricken upbringing at the hands of their deeply dysfunctional parents. Eye-opening and page-turning, but not depressing. Both this and The Help were recommendations on another blog I follow.

The Help - Kathryn Stockett : African American maids working in white households in America's deep south during the early 1960s. Recently made into a film.

Fire Season - Philip Connors : Something different! An autobiographical tale of 10 summers spent at a remote outpost in the Gila National Forest. I got a preview copy of this as part of the Amazon Vine program and would have been unlikely to have discovered it on my own.

No Great Mischief - Alistair McLeod : The first of my Atlantic Canada books to read before our trip in April. Part set in the Scottish Highlands and part set in Cape Breton. It's beautifully written and incredibly poignant. 

Unsurprisingly my husband thought it a wise idea to buy me a Kindle for Christmas. I've still got seven paperback books to read before I can switch formats, but I'm intrigued to discover how I'm going to find reading on it. A wise friend told me that everyone hates the idea of them until they try one!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Christmas quilt

Millie's Quilt

With all the festivities out of the way, it's time to share my "secret" Christmas quilt project with you...

Last year I made a quilt as a Christmas present for my then 8 year-old niece Millie. I wasn't entirely convinced an 8 year-old would really appreciate a quilt, but she loved it, so much so she announced in November this year that the "number one thing" on her Christmas list this year was another quilt!


To be honest, I was part delighted and part horrified. I could have done without the pressure of a small person really wanting a quilt for Christmas when I was having enough trouble juggling dogs and baby on my own while Jim was away! However I got there in the end (hurrah!) mostly thanks to the brilliant quilt design book Dare To Be Square.

If I'd had a month more time for the project, I would have made the owl quilt in the book, but for simplicity's sake I opted for the wiener dog design with an added border. At the beginning of December I hadn't even cut a single square of fabric, but once I started the quilt top came together in one weekend.

And one final thing to finish the year. I am honoured that my applique circles quilt from earlier this year has been featured on the excellent Quilt Story blog. Click on the link below to visit the site...

Fresh Poppy Design

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas treats

Chocolate Eclairs

Forget the presents! Isn't one of the best things about Christmas eating all the wonderful food? And doubly so if you're not the one cooking!

I'm at home on the south coast of England for a few weeks enjoying longer daylight hours, time with family and filling myself up with my mother's cooking (I've eaten two of these chocolate eclairs already today!) I hope wherever you are you are also enjoying festive treats and spending time with the people that are important to you.

Things may be quieter than usual here for a bit (and elsewhere in blogland I suspect!) but do pop back after the big day when I'll have some photos of the secret Christmas project quilt to share, until then Happy Christmas!

Friday, December 16, 2011

My lovely Harris Tweed bag

My lovely Harris Tweed bag
Look what I got in the post yesterday!

I'm not usually the kind of girl who gets excited about bags, but this is no ordinary bag, it's a Harris Tweed bag!

For those of you who aren't familiar with this very Scottish fabric, Harris Tweed is handwoven in the Outer Hebrides. Its famous for being the fabric that Miss Marple's suits were made from and is a favourite of Vivienne Westwood (whose logo looks a little similar) and as you can see from my bag, Harris Tweed isn't all browns and greens anymore, they've released some really beautiful modern cloths in recent years...

Harris Tweed - Pinks & Purples

I've wanted a Harris Tweed bag for ages and I eventually got round to ordering one in October, but then had to wait two months for just the right shade of tweed to be available. My bag was eventually made by a lady on the Isle Of Lewis, which is off the north-west coast of Scotland.

Now all I need is a coat to match...

Saturday, December 3, 2011

What a difference a year makes...

2nd December 2010...

Still waiting for rain

2nd December 2011...

The morning walk

I have been doing the photo a day project for the last 15 months. Its not always easy to find something to photograph and sometimes the pictures I take can seem boring and mundane at the time, but become interesting with distance. Now my first year has elapsed I'm finding looking back at events a year ago fascinating. Photos often trigger memories of a day which are far broader than what is captured in the frame.

This time last year we were living in Cyprus. Whilst the UK had snow, we were having a drought. I remember walking round our estate on the dry ground and praying for rain so the grass would grow and the dogs would stop getting the spiky seed pods stuck in their paws and now just look at the difference in the view of the countryside this year - All that greenery!

 Last year we were living in houses like the ones you see on the left of the top photo, and despite what Jim's wearing it was actually very cold inside them as they had no central heating and temperatures dropped to single figures at night. This year we're living in a modern house with central heating - so its warmer inside, but definitely colder out.. as you can see from my gloves!

And of course there is another really big change. This time last year I was pregnant just, but still a week away from a positive pregnancy test, so I think the view on the dog walk yesterday would have surprised us both last year!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

WIP Wednesday (November 30th)

Last time I contributed to WIP Wednesday 3 weeks ago I was midway through three quilts and owing to being a little distracted by making things for the local craft fair I am now still midway through three quilts!

In fact I'm actually further behind on one than I was last time I posted. So quick update...

Bow Tie Quilt (my keep me occupied during Jim's deployment project) : No progress, which if you think about it is actually a good sign!

Triple Dresden Plate : Two Dresden plates completed and pieces for the outer plate cut and ready to be sewn (above.) I have also found appropriate fabric for the fussy cut centre. All I need to do now is sew that last plate, back it on Kona Snow and whack a border on... easy... in theory.

Secret Christmas Project : This has been a bit of a disaster. I bought a pattern (for £9, not cheap!) and started work, then discovered that the pattern had some pretty big miscalculations in it. Although I'm capable of working round miscalculations, you tend to buy a pattern so that someone else can do the thinking on your behalf! After lots of frustrated non-sewing, I have now sent it back to the shop I bought it from, and I'll be very interested to see their response! So finding myself back on square one I bought this book...

Dare To Be Square

And I have to say I'm already delighted with it. Simple, quick easy to read patterns and some more simple, but pleasantly time consuming patterns. So my Secret Christmas Project will now be coming from this. Please no one mention the fact that it's December tomorrow, I'm trying not to panic about the fact I haven't even cut a single piece of fabric...

And finally, because it's the last WIP Wednesday of the month, here's a look at some of the (mostly quilting) images that have been inspiring me on Flickr this month...

1. Summer Scrapbook, 2. Wiener Dog, 3. Owl Purse, 4. owls in quilt patterns 2, 5. owl quilt, 6. Finished another bookshelf mini - for a tutorial!, 7. Deer quilt top - Blue, 8. Farmer's Wife Quilt, 9. Rainbow New Wave Quilt, 10. coin quilt, 11. Rugby Stripe for Ben, 12. London Tube Quilt, 13. All or Nothing - Alternate Colorway, 14. Pillow Talk Swap Round 6, 15. Pillow Talk Swap Round 6, 16. DSC01712, 17. Train quilt back, 18. Logan s Train Quilt, 19. 1600 Jolly Rancher!, 20. Color Study: Log Cabin 2 ~ 2007

Blogged as part of Freshly Pieced's WIP Wednesday...

WIP Wednesday at Freshly Pieced

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Up to my neck in it...


I've been a little absent from this blog recently, and I just wanted to pop in and explain why. A few weeks ago I discovered that our local craft group was having a stall at a Christmas coffee morning this month. They asked if I'd like to sell anything and for a hundred and one reasons I discounted it. I have a quilt to make for Christmas for a small person who says "it is the number one thing on their Christmas list" (the pressure!) a Christmas box to prepare for Jim, the small matter of a baby and two dogs to look after every day and a lot of the time at these kind of sales people aren't prepared to pay the money that handmade goods are worth (which is another debate entirely)

But sometime after deciding I definitely wasn't going to take part, I had a change of heart and thought I could just dabble and do a couple of bits just for fun, completely forgetting that I don't really do dabbling...

So here I am 6 days away from the sale, up to my neck in fabric and sewing. You probably think I'm crazy, BUT there was one very good reason to be doing this that I overlooked and it is this... There is nothing quite so good at making the time pass as a looming deadline!

So excuse me if I'm quiet for a little while, I am (fortunately) not weeping over my absent husband or crossing off the days till he returns on my chuff chart, but rather sweating over fabric combinations and unpicking stitches... The sale is next Wednesday, I shall emerge from my bubble then if not before, and if anything is leftover it shall be going in my Etsy shop, so you lovely people can sample the products of my labour...

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Houses with secrets...

I've been on the south coast for the last two weeks visiting my parents. This part of the country tends to get the best weather in the UK anyway, but for the last few weeks they've had particularly unseasonably warm weather, with highs of 15c and lots of sunshine, perfect weather for winter walks and a good opportunity for me to show you some of the sights at the other end of the country from where I'm normally based.


This morning we headed east along the coast, and took a walk along Selsey seafront. Many of the houses on this stretch hide a fascinating secret. After the First World War when housing stock was in short supply, surplus railway carriages were used as housing. The idea spread in popularity and hundreds ended up along the south coast as holiday homes. The carriages were originally purchased from the Brighton Railway Company for as little as £10 each and sometimes as many as five were used to form accommodation in an H shape layout.

Selsey train carriage house

Over time modern facades have grown up around the old trains, but with a keen eye you can still spot signs of their existence. Houses with a single story and wide frontage are nearly always built from carriages and you can still see the original windows and doors amongst the fabric of the new homes.




Some of the houses are pretty rundown...


And others have been beautifully restored to make the most of the original features...

Many of them, like the one above, are available as holiday rentals or B&B accommodation and if you want to buy one, these days they'll cost you anything from £250,000 to £500,000 or more. Not quite the cheap housing solution they were intended as, but undoubtedly wonderfully unique homes!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

WIP Wednesday (9th November 2011)

Double Dresden

This week I have some progress to show on my wall hanging. The first two Dresden plates are now complete, and I'm cutting fabric for a third. Having always been put off making Dresden plates because I thought they were difficult, I was pleasantly surprised by how easily they came together and how much I enjoyed sewing them.

Unfortunately I hadn't really taken into account how much the plate would shrink during sewing though. It's now 17" across and the intention is for the inner part of the quilt to be 24", hence the need for a third larger plate. I'm also planning to fussy cut a design for the centre of the plates, but I'm quite enjoying muddling along and letting this quilt evolve of its own accord...

For the next two weeks I'm down at my parents home on the south coast (600 miles from the Scottish highlands) and amongst other things, I'm  getting the chance to indulge with a little shopping at my favourite fabric store, The Eternal Maker.

I've been here for less than 24 hours and already picked up this pile. Far too many projects on the go at the moment really, but isn't that always the way just before Christmas?

Eternal Maker fabric pile

Talking of WIP. My parents lovely minimalistic house is starting to look a little less minimalistic since my arrival, although actually my sister (also visiting for the day) is about 50% responsible for this mess... My mum, my sister and I have 7 sewing machines between us.

Sewing bits and bobs

By the way if you are a crafter, tomorrow I'm hosting a GIVEAWAY on this blog for My Memories digital scrapboooking software - please pop back for a chance to win...

This post is part of WIP Wednesday, click on the button to see other quilting works in progress...

WIP Wednesday at Freshly Pieced

Monday, November 7, 2011

Theo - 2 months (and a bit)

Over the shoulder

First of all thank you so much for your comments on the last post. I think I ticked the box of "needing a space to vent" a little earlier than I was planning on this deployment, so I thought to even things out I should also tick the "babies" box too.

Having read this post over at A Jennuine Life, I realised that I really should be using this blog to document Theo's development and although no one likes to be deluged with baby photos, I think there is room for a little monthly update, so this is his slightly late two month progress report...

We are still following Gina Ford's Contented Little Baby routine (loosely) and Theo seems to be quite happy with the amount of sleep he is getting and when in the day he is getting it. In fact from 5 weeks old (he's nearly 10 now) he has slept from 7pm to his late feed at 11pm and then solidly from 11:30pm - 8am. He has a morning nap on the dog walk and has (within the last week) finally got the hang of his two-three hour lunchtime sleep.

Theo 9 wks 6 days

He's steadily putting on weight at a rate of about half a pound a week and is now nearly 13lbs and 62cm in length which puts him on the 98th percentile for height (that's his tall daddy's genes) and the 75th for weight. Unsurprisingly all that growing means he's almost out of his 3-6 month trousers already!

He does love his food too and takes 210ml five times a day, but rejects the bottle with an appalled look if I dare offer milk that isn't warm enough! I think we will probably have to consider weaning him early (after 4 months) at this rate.

Entertainment comes mostly from his baby gym (the expensive plastic one I didn't want to buy) but what he enjoys most is a room full of new people, faces and sounds, and as the Tesco disaster proved, as long as there's something to watch, he's a happy chap.

The dogs have had very different reactions to him since he came home. Macy acts as though he doesn't exist, shows no interest in him or his possessions. Bella on the other hand is fascinated and will cautiously approach and sniff around him when he's on the playmat. She has taken a fancy to a small orange monkey which hangs from the play gym and consequently I am constantly finding in obscure places after she has stolen it!

His next milestone will be sitting up, something I am very much looking forward to as it will allow him to use a door bouncer and I'll be able to put him in a backpack on the dog walk and have both hands free.... oh and he'll be taking his first flight tomorrow, wish me luck!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

WIP Wednesday (November 2nd)

Normally I'm strictly a one-quilt-at-a-time girl. I start them, work obsessively, finish and then pack away all the fabric. However with Christmas on the way there are about 100 different projects on the go at the moment and with no husband to reign me in, I confess that things have become a little more chaotic than usual with quilts in progress in several rooms in the house.

My first work in progress is a Christmas present, so frustratingly is going to have to remain under wraps for a couple of months, but I will say this much, it's from a pattern (for I think the first time ever!) it has an animal theme and (most importantly) I love it...

Bow Tie Quilt in progress (3/10)

Quilt number two is my go-slow project. A bow tie quilt intended for the bed in the spare room. The idea behind this is (1) to use up scraps and (2) to take a really long time doing it to keep me out of mischief while Jim is in Afghanistan. I've completed 15 squares so far and I need over 100 to finish it, so one way or another you'll be seeing a LOT of this quilt slowly coming together over the winter.

WIP - Double Dresden Plate

Quilt number three is also new territory, for the first time I'm making a quilt as a wall hanging. The completed quilt will be 35 inches square with a double (or possibly triple) colour wheel Dresden plate at the centre and something else (I'm undecided) around the outside. I'm waiting for more fabric in the mail at the moment which is why it's looking a bit patchy.

The right kind of quilt hanger for the finished quilt (or in fact ANY kind of quilt hanger) has proved difficult to source in the UK, but I did find this woodwork tutorial for a hanger which was exactly like I wanted, so I sent it to my dad and I'm hoping he might whip it up for Christmas. The last thing I asked him to make was a sound-proof booth for a home studio... He likes a challenge!

And finally, a look at some of the (mainly quilting) images that have been inspiring me in the last month on Flickr. I'm going to do this at the end of every month now as part of my WIP Wednesday post, wouldn't you love a sewing room like the one top right?

1. Color Study: Log Cabin 2 ~ 2007, 2. [workinprogress], 3. Pillow Talk {Swap} Received, 4. sewing space 2, 5. The (not so) Scrappy Mug Rug, 6. Zoomy Dresden Plate, 7. Dresden plate mini quilt, 8. [workinprogress], 9. The Pillow Talk { Swap } Round 6, 10. Applique tote bag, 11. bow tie quilt, 12. bow tie quilt, 13. do.Good Stitches--June BLISS circle., 14. go! baby. mini quilt., 15. Laura's Wedding Quilt, 16. 5 x 4 Blocks - Hive 12

This post is part of Freshly Pieced's WIP Wednesday. Click on the button below to see more inspiring quilters.

WIP Wednesday at Freshly Pieced

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The clocks go back

Sunday morning on the Moray Firth

The clocks went back across the UK last night and here in Scotland we are about to experience the flipside to those wonderful long summer days. This far north our days will gradually shrink as we head towards Christmas, until at their shortest, we will only have light between 9:30am and 3pm.

If we lived in our own house I'd throw money at buying an enormous log-burning stove and the best brightest interior lighting money could buy, and then I'd hunker down and embrace winter. Sadly the closest I'm likely to get to any of that in a military quarter is an electric fire and some strip lights...Oh well!


But it's not all glum, Scotland can still surprise us! Just when you resign yourself to dark winter days, the weather Gods pull something unexpected out of the bag! We spent this morning on Lossiemouth beach, 6 adults, 4 dogs and 3 babies all enjoying the winter sunshine and fresh air, and then we followed it with a trip to our favourite local tea room, the Harbour Lights for brunch Scottish style... Sausages, bacon, eggs, black pudding and haggis. Now we didn't get that in Cyprus!

Hope you've had a weekend of pleasant surprises?!

Friday, October 28, 2011

What we've been up to...

Sunlight through trees

Gosh, where has two weeks gone?! We've spent most of the last fortnight getting ready for Jim's imminent departure to Afghanistan. This has meant furthering my quest to find the answer to the great question How Do You Walk Two Dogs & A Baby? After lots of trial and error, there are many answers, not just one. A coupling lead has made local on-lead walks possible, a twice weekly dog walker gives the dogs those odd extra energy-burning afternoon walks that Jim would normal do, and recruiting other wives to do walks together (more babies, more dogs) makes bigger further afield walks a little less daunting...


We've also been spending some time talking about the Big Holiday which will come at the end of all of this. We're planning to head to the east coast of Canada next spring, to see the part of the country we didn't get to when we were living there. I have 5 months to enjoying planning food, accommodation and places to visit, so I would welcome any suggestions of must dos in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick or Prince Edward Island...


I've also been working on a few projects which should keep me out of mischief while I'm home alone over the winter (don't get too excited there's nothing in the Etsy shop yet...) 3 years ago when Jim went to Kenya for six weeks, he bought me a sewing machine to keep me busy and as chance would have it there's a second one on its way for this trip, but more on that in a later post...

And we're preparing to put a family tradition on hold for a while. This evening we're having our last Friday Night Pizza Night with heaps of fresh toppings some wonderful foccacia on the side. Jim will miss his homebaked bread while he's away, there really is nothing to compare to it.

And finally some of us have spent the last fortnight just hanging out in the house and relaxing... It's a hard life being a dog!

Curly beagle

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Another quilt for Theo!

Fiona's gifts for Theo

How many quilts is too many quilts when you are just seven weeks old?! Personally I think it must be a pretty high number, as there's always somewhere to use them... One for under the play gym, one for over the back of the nursery chair (lovely to run your baby fingers over when you are being burped) one in the pram, another to kick about on in the sewing room (naturally) and a couple of spares for when the others are being washed...

Fiona's quilt made for Theo

And Theo is an amazingly lucky boy (again) because Fiona, another of our friends whom we lived near in Canada sent us this quilt last week, along with some burp cloths and some gorgeous sewn gifts.

Fiona will probably kill me for mentioning this, but the funniest part of the story is that after hurriedly completing all her sewing and dispatching it to us, she woke up in the middle of the night to realise with absolute horror that she'd forgotten to sew up the bottom of the fabric book pages after she'd turned them in the right way! So a little hand sewing project for mummy too... perfect!

Fiona's fabric book made for Theo (back with mini book in pocket)

When I consider the multitude of ways in which quilts have become used by our family, I do sometimes wonder what we did before we had them!?

Friday, October 14, 2011

A few good reads...

Vine reads

First of all, thank you for all the kind messages you sent after the last post they really meant a lot. I found out today about a friend-of-a-friend whose husband has just gone to Afghanistan and who is expecting her first baby in a few weeks, so that was a reality check! At least we have had Theo's first couple of months together as a family...

Today I have decided to add a new page to the blog for books (link is top right.) I've always been a voracious reader and it's the one indulgence I've managed to hang on to since Theo's birth. In fact I've found that by reading when he's feeding, I'm actually getting more time to read than I did before he was born! (But alas less time to sew!)

I've also been part of the Amazon Vine program since January and I've been lucky enough to get my hands on some great pre-release books, most of which I wouldn't have discovered otherwise. So I thought I'd share some of my reading experience with you and perhaps point you in he direction of some good novels. The page is work in progress at the moment, but if you have a book you love, please share your recommendations too...

And finally the titles on the page are linked to the real old-school paper copies of books on Amazon as that's the way I still read them. However after seeing Jim's Kindle today, I think I could be wavering...

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Artwork for the nursery

Atticus poem in the nursery

The last bit of the nursery was finally put in place today, and it's got quite a story behind it...

Many years ago I was sent home from primary school with a project to write a poem about a cat. Of course like most children with homework, I asked for adult help, and on this occasion got it from my dad. At the time he was renovating the bathroom in our house, and I have a vivid memory of him concocting this poem for me whilst doing the plumbing (multi-talented chap my father!)

The original poem has long since been lost and when I was looking for ideas to decorate the nursery, I thought it would be a good excuse to rescurrect the poem (which I still had in my head) and perhaps see if I could find an artist to illustrate it.

I found the very talented Jane Eccles on Etsy and she created a beautiful picture for Theo at a very reasonable price. It arrived shortly after he was born, but we had a 5 week wait for it to be framed... Today we at long last got to pick it up, and it now hangs in pride of place above his cot. A little piece of family history to hand down...

Atticus poem

Friday, September 30, 2011

Baby trews!

I've been making baby trousers again today. The pattern is a free download from Made By Rae and is ridiculously easy and quick to put together. I made the first pair of these before Theo was born, but I've made a couple more after realising how much cheaper they are than store bought clothes. Even Tesco charges £7.50 for a pair of baby trousers, these cost about a third of that to make.

Today's pair are made from brushed cotton, which seems to be strangely hard to buy in the UK (if anyone knows different, please tell me!) I have also made a pair in lightweight cotton and another which are lined for colder weather. 

Made by Rae newborn pants

One of the really great things I'm discovering about making clothes for children is that the patterns start very simple and get progressively more complex as the child gets older. After baby pants my next challenge is making dungarees... Boden seems to be the only place you can buy them from and they are £24 a pair (!!) Fabric costs will be about half that to make them, how hard can they be?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

WIP Wednesday (28th September)

Theo's play mat quilt

I'm not sure if this really counts as a post for Work In Progress Wednesday, as it's actually very much about finished work... but anyway, it's Wednesday, so I shall jump on the bandwagon!

I have finally completed the playmat which I made to go under Theo's baby gym, it's taken me the best part of 10 days just to do the binding, but I guess that's life with a 4 week old!

As those of you reading in the UK will now, we had unseasonably warm weather today - even amazingly in Scotland! So whilst the boy was resting in the Silver Cross, I took the quilt outside to try and photograph it in the daylight.

No sooner had I laid it on the grass than Bella the Beagle appeared, quite obviously delighted that I had laid it out especially for her to sunbathe on...

Bella and drunkard's path quilt

And when she vacated it, the Big Dog decided she'd try and fit on it...

Macy on the Drunkard's Path quilt

Now obviously I couldn't throw either of them off it, because Little Dog had a tragic start in life and always manages to convey this with very sad eyes, and a recent trip to the vet revealed that Big Dog is a bit bigger than she should be, so I couldn't give her a complex and tell her to move...

But eventually they shifted and I photographed the quilt...


And finally a word about that play gym! When I posted a photo of the quilt in progress, my wise old (but not really old) friend Gill pointed out that the baby would need quite long arms to reach the toys on my nice wooden play gym. It actually turns out there was a far bigger problem, because as nice as that wooden gym was, it was just dull!

Despite the fact mummy likes wooden toys, Theo is a traitor to my cause! He stubbornly refused to be entertained by the wooden gym, but when it was replaced by an obscenely expensive, hideously plastic one with flashing lights and calipso music, he loved it! <sigh> So now the play mat quilt is going to be spending time under a slightly different play gym to the one I envisaged...


Another lesson learned by the amateur parent! Don't forget more quilts to see by clicking the link below!

WIP Wednesday at Freshly Pieced

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