What do you get for your niece and nephew when you’re the coolest aunt in the world? Why, handmade teddy bears, of course! It’s a project that has been six months in the making and now the bears are finally wrapped up and flying across the sea to reach the little ones in Ireland in time for Christmas. Now, I’m not saying that it took me six months to actually sew the bears – the making part is quite a simple process (thanks to the new teddy bear pattern I used) – it was all the planning that went into the project that took some time and I’ll tell you why.I wanted to make a keepsake teddy bear for each child, so I wanted them to be personalised in some way. When I first opened up the pattern I could see that it would be easy to make the pattern pieces fit into items of my niece and nephew’s clothing. What better way to make a personalised gift, and to upcycle old clothing at the same time, than to reuse their baby clothes to make them a teddy bear? I asked their parents if they had any of their tiny outfits left, and luckily they did. I asked for non-stretchy items (which are easier to sew) and it wasn’t long before a bag of baby clothes arrived. I got the newly launched Charlie teddy bear pattern from Amazing Craft and studied the instructions from front to back before getting started. There’s only a handful of pattern pieces and the construction seemed so much more straightforward than bear patterns I’ve used in the past. I was eager to get started and see just how the pattern worked. I’m pleased to report that this is the most simple-to-use set of instructions, and having fewer pattern pieces meant much less tacking, pinning and fiddling. I whizzed up the arms and legs in no time at all. The body is the only piece that has any darts in it, and even then there’s only two small darts so it’s really uncomplicated to construct. I guess the pattern does what it says on the cover – it truly is ‘bear making for beginners’ and it couldn’t be easier to follow. It’s available as printed instructions (which I got, at £6.99) or as a digital download to print at home for only £4.99. The little trousers were the perfect base to make the arms and legs of the teddies – the linen fabric wasn’t at all stretchy and I could make a feature out of the details on the trousers. I positioned the pattern pieces so that my niece’s bear would have the spotty trim from the trousers around the outside of the paws, and my nephew’s bear has tiny pockets on the legs. I could even reuse the lining of my nephew’s trousers to make a soft inner arm, and I added little monster designs from his tiny t-shirt to make contrasting paws and feet. I used a floral baby-grow to make the insides my of niece’s bear’s arms and even the bears’ ears have a patterned underside. I wanted the bears to be safe for the little ones to carry around, so I got some safety eyes and plastic safety joints from Amazing Craft. This means that the head, arms and legs are poseable and the eyes can’t be bitten off because they pop together and clamp into place. In fact, I couldn’t even get the joints apart again if I tried! My tip for using these is to get the position of the arms and legs right first time, because you won’t be able to take them off again if they’re in the wrong place, so double-check the position before pushing the joints together. Soaking the joints in hot water for a minute will make them a littler easier to pop together. The plastic joints are also safe to go in the washing machine, which is good news because we all know how mucky kid’s teddies get!
I have some very exciting – and much anticipated – news to tell you today. The latest novel from award-winning writer Amanda Addison has finally landed on Kindles all around the country. An Amsterdam Affair was launched on Amazon on Thursday and I’ve been lucky enough to interview Amanda to find out her inspiration behind the novel and how she likes to work. Having thoroughly enjoyed reading her first novel Laura’s Handmade Life, I couldn’t wait to see what Amanda would come up with this time!Supported by the Arts Council, An Amsterdam Affair is a bitter-sweet family saga about searching for lost love and how families come undone and are re-made. At the heart of the story is a family secret. If you enjoyed the inter-generational themes of romance and second-chances in Last Tango in Halifax; or the artistic and seaside motifs in Notes for an Exhibition this may be the book for you. I’m sharing an extract from the novel below so have a read and see what you think! In the meantime, I’ll crack on with questioning Amanda about the inspiration behind her art, crafts and novel.
Whereabouts in the country are you based and how does the location inspire your art and writing?
I live in the countryside in South Norfolk, not so far from both the Norfolk and Suffolk coast. My favourite all-time place to be is beside the seaside. I’ve always had a real ‘call of the sea’ – my mother now lives a few minutes’ walk from the sea in Cornwall – so it must be in my blood. I love to paint and write about the sea – it’s a constantly changing subject and therefore one I never bore of! As an art student I made an artist’s book – entitled The Sea for my final show at Chelsea School of Art. It included paintings and poems and I covered it with blue silk. I’m a great admirer of the artist Maggie Hambling, who painted the sea every day for a year. Her shell sculpture, on the beach in Aldeburgh, is a key location for a romantic tryst in An Amsterdam Affair.
In many ways the settings in An Amsterdam Affair are almost characters in themselves, reflecting the main characters’ changing moods and emotions. Sam, one of the story’s narrators uses a beach hut as her studio. I write about East Anglian big skies, the sea, windswept beaches and flat landscapes both sides of the North Sea. Great Yarmouth, a town on the edge and Amsterdam, a city I lived in briefly many years ago, with its warren of streets, canals and cosmopolitan galleries.
We’re mid-way through the summer term and that means one thing – a sunny half term break with nothing to do! This is one of my favourite holidays of the school year, because it’s warm enough to get outside and enjoy last days of Spring, yet it’s not the over-priced days of the summer holidays when you’re likely to burn to a crisp if you venture out into the midday sun. I’ve shared a few ideas for fun days out on my blog this year so here’s my round-up of things to do during the half term holiday.1. Go to the coast and enjoy some cheesy fun at the great British seaside. Eat ice-cream while sitting in a deck chair, feed 2ps into arcade machines and enjoy fish ‘n’ chips on the pier. Read my review of Southwold Pier and check out my ideas for a day out with the kids at Blackpool too.2. Stay indoors on rainy days at a museum. Check out photos of my recent visit to the National Railway Museum in York and my tips for surviving a visit to the museum during the school holidays! If you’re planning to visit a museum during the holidays I’d recommend checking the website before setting off as they often plan special workshops for children during the school holidays and it can be a free way to get your kids interested in the exhibition. I visited the new ‘Shaping The Body’ exhibit at York Castle Museum and blogged about it at Easter. It’s a really fun exhibition (I loved the Victorian Street!) and they even having a dressing-up area for children.
Ever since I first wrote about my ‘lucky find’ of a Picquot Ware tea set last year I’ve been inundated with comments, emails and information about the brand. It’s been amazing to learn more about this British company and to read everyone’s stories about their own Picquot Ware collections. Who knew that so many people were fans? The comments section on the original post is packed full of information from knowledgeable readers and I’ve since posted a second article about the Picquot Ware guarantee and instructions, after Lesley kindly emailed me a copy of the original documents. Be sure to check that out as it shows the complete collection of Picquot Ware designs available.After publishing this second article, another Picquot Ware collector got in touch with me to share photos of their rare find – a coffee percolator. In the original tea set there is a tall pot that many people mistake for a coffee pot. This pot was more likely to be used for extra hot water to add to the teapot – it is a tea set after all! But on this occasion the pot in question actually IS a coffee pot, and is a particularly rare example. Robyn kindly sent over some snaps of the coffee percolator and told me the story behind it:“I bought it as a set about four years ago, on the Gold Coast in Australia. I thought it was from the 70s because of the coffee percolator so I did some research and realized the coffee pot was quite rare. I have not been able to find a picture of another one so thought it would be nice to share these photos. Picquot Ware is still quite affordable and available here in New Zealand so I’ve since bought another set, which I use regularly at our holiday house, and a few of my friends have also bought sets too.” Sounds like I need to go on a Picquot Ware hunting trip to New Zealand then, eh?! It’s so kind of Robyn to email these photos of the percolator so that we can all see it and admire the design. A regular contributor to the original blog post, Peter, tells us that only 300 percolators were made before production was discontinued. Picquot Ware discovered that manufacturing them was a “production nightmare” and put a stop to this design. So if you find one, hang on to it! If anyone else has further information on Picquot Ware or would like to send in photos of their collection please do email me firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below. Thanks!
Can you guess what we’ve been up to recently from the title of this blog post? Last weekend my husband and I set off on a lovely weekend walk in the countryside, planning to find a bluebell wood which (having googled it) we knew was nearby. After a long period of cold wintry weather in April, the sun was finally out so we wanted to make the most of this lovely spring weekend and get outside. We pulled on our boots, packed up our gloves (just in case the wind picked up) and even took a snack with us to nibble on at lunchtime. We were ready to head out into the great outdoors, to breathe in the fresh air, get a bit of exercise after a week cooped up in the office, and drink in the glorious views. Little did we know that all – and I mean ALL – the spring flowers had finally come into bloom. Our amble through the countryside had quickly turned into a botany trip. Spotting different flowers as we strolled along the footpath became a competition between us, almost like ticking off the flowers in an ‘Eye Spy’ wildflower book. Luckily, we’d brought the camera with us in anticipation of getting some pretty shots in the bluebell woods, so we began taking photos of all the flowers we saw on the route. We had soon photographed more varieties of flower, blossom and ‘weed’ than we could count, and that was before we’d even found our way into the wood. When we arrived at Reydon Wood the route had been marked out by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust as a dedicated ‘bluebell walk’ so we strolled through the first part of the wood, still gathering photos of other varieties of flower, and hoping to round a corner and see a swathe of bluebells. You won’t believe it, but as we wandered along the path, the clouds burst open and it started to hail! Luckily, the canopy of the woodland protected us from being pelted with hailstones but we could see it coming down against the sunny backdrop of fields. Could a hail storm produce a rainbow, we wondered? Would it be solid? Thankfully, it was just a quick shower of hail and soon the blue skies were filled with fluffy clouds and sunshine again.
Remember my little vintage caravan? It tends to be more of a focus of my blog posts during the summer, because I seem to spend most of my time out there when the weather is good. When it’s chilly and windy, like it has been this week, I’ve been rather more reluctant to work outside in my little tin can. Without a lot of heating it can be rather unbearable during the winter. BUT the good news is that I have been giving my neglected caravan a little bit of unseasonal attention this month and here’s why…It’s been on the road! Yes, the caravan that I thought would never move again is actually road-worthy! Okay, I probably wouldn’t want to take it all the way from Land’s End to John O’Groats but those wheels do still turn, the tow-hitch is secure and the body is solid. I actually imagined that the walls would just fall down if I ever moved it, quickly turning it into a ‘flat-packed’ caravan. But it didn’t; the walls stayed where they should be and the windows didn’t pop out (quite amazing because one window sometimes slips out when you try to open it!). After holding my breath for about 2 hours while we attempted to move the caravan up the garden, I finally breathed a sign of relief as it smoothly rolled onto the driveway.So, now I know that I actually could go on holiday in my little vintage caravan, I’ve started thinking about the things I’d need to make a trip easy and comfortable. Quite a lot of the usual caravan ‘home comforts’ were removed when I turned it into my home office: all the cupboards were damp and rotten so they were taken out – and this included the kitchen. In fact, everything apart from the bed and table was taken out and we basically started again from scratch. Instead of building in new cupboards I simply found some small cupboards at carboot sales and secondhand shops and upcycled them with a lick of paint.Aside from possibly building Continue reading “My little vintage caravan – On the road again!” »
What better time to celebrate your best friends than on Galentine’s Day? Yes, that’s right, I said GALentine’s Day. If you’ve not heard of it yet, it’s simply putting a name to what we’ve all being doing for years; celebrating our friends. I’ve seen so many more Galentine’s-related treats being shared on Pinterest this year; in fact, I’ve hardly paid any attention to Valentine’s Day at all. Whether or not your pal is loved-up or single, I’m sure you have a wonderful friend who deserves a bit of extra love this February. I certainly welcome the chance to celebrate my girl friends and thank them for all the support they give me throughout the year. And what better way to show them you care, than by throwing a cute Galentine’s party? Today I wanted to share my ideas for a cosy hot chocolate party; a night in with your pals, scoffing all the naughty treats you usually resist during the rest of the year. I know I waffle on about eating healthily, but enjoying a little of what you fancy every now and again is just as important as eating the good-for-you things. Your Galentine’s Day get-together is the ideal time to indulge and provide some tasty treats for your favourite peeps. So here’s a couple of new hot chocolate flavours that I’m adding to my Galentine’s menu:
Salted caramel: Make up a steaming mug of hot chocolate and add a splash of caramel syrup. I had a set of 5 small syrups that I was given as a birthday gift a while ago, but you can buy a similar set at Amazon (such as these Monin Syrups for Coffee). Add one crunch of sea salt (don’t go crazy with the salt otherwise you’ll end up with a savoury hot chocolate). Next is the fun part; stir in chunks of caramel chocolate bar and let them melt for a really indulgent treat. Top with whipped cream, marshmallows and crumbled up flake. Mmm.
Cherry bakewell: There are two options for this hot chocolate flavour – saintly or boozy! Add a splash of vanilla syrup to a mug of hot chocolate and then decide whether you add a splash of amaretto-flavoured syrup or a shot of Disaronno! Stir it into the hot chocolate to get that really cherry-marzipan flavour before topping with cream, chocolate and cherries. If you have a bakewell tart hanging around you could crumble some of the cake onto the cream too. Yum!
How cute are these smiley mugs? I got them from Continue reading “Galentine’s Day party & flavoured hot chocolate recipes” »
If you’ve ever browsed my blog you’ll know how much I love a nice cup of tea and I think it’s important to stop work and have a tea break at regular intervals. Can I tempt you to take a break right now? Go on, put the kettle on and have a read of my blog post today, which is all about my favourite mugs, cups and treats – essential for creating the ultimate tea break.
Do you have a favourite mug that you use every day? Or a particular mug that is ideal for hot chocolate, and hot chocolate alone? Perhaps you have a special cup that you save just for weekends? I can’t be the only person who has favourite mugs for different types of tea break, can I? Surely you’ve wept over a broken handle after your favourite mug slipped out of your soapy hands while you were lovingly washing it? Just me then…It might seem over the top but I honestly have a real passion for these tea-holders and I want to share photos of my top 4 mugs with you today. Not least because I want to record these cups while they’re still with me, so that I can look back at the photos and reminisce if they ever end up chipped, cracked or smashed. I am a clumsy person and I lose cups like other people lose socks in the washing machine. And every loss is devastating. So I took these photos this week and am just going to write a little about why each mug is special to me. Continue reading “My favourite mugs” »
Last week I introduced you to my cats, Cookie and Muffin in a blog post all about how they came to join our family. Well, this week I want to share more photos of the fluffy little critters because they’ve been very cheeky and have been hogging the bed all week long.
I’ve only really noticed how much the cats like to snuggle up on our bed during this week because it’s the summer holidays and we’ve been waking up a little later and are at home more. So I now realise just how keen Cookie and Muffin are for us to leave the house and go to work in the morning because they immediately take over the whole bed.
Firstly, they are becoming more and more persistent about waking us up in the morning. They have become accustomed to us waking at 6am and feeding them breakfast before 6:30, so that extra hour of sleep that we’ve been enjoying during the holidays has been bugging them. They’ve been coming into the bedroom, nudging us, purring loudly and even clawing at the duvet to pull the sheets off us so that we wake up. It’s likely that they are simply getting hungry but, in my mind, I think it’s because they want us out of the bed so that they can hop up and take over the comfortable duvet.
This week I’ve also found out about a competition that Carpetright are running to win an upgrade to a king-size bed for pet owners whose cats, dogs (or even rabbits!) have taken over their beds – and it’s the perfect opportunity for Cookie and Muffin to earn their keep! I’m going to enter the photo below into the competition by tweeting the pic and including the hashtag #PetStoleMyBed and keep my fingers crossed that they win the giveaway so that there will be room in the bed for all of us this summer!
Check out the competition details if you too have pet that has been hogging the bed. The closing date is the 13th August so get tweeting your photos now.
This week marks the birthday of my cats Cookie and Muffin. Okay, it’s not actually their birthday – I have no idea when they were born – but it is the anniversary of when we adopted them, so I always like to call it their ‘birthday’ and mark the occasion with a big bowl of kitty-milk! You may have spotted my little fluffy bundles of joy in occasional blog posts over the years as they ‘help’ me with my craft projects (I’m secretly suspicious that they just want to be in every photo ever taken) and you can probably guess out much they mean to me. I’m been their ‘mummy’ for the past 6 years and I wanted to share the story of how they came to live with me.
‘Helping’ with photographing my sewing projects
They were, in fact, mine and my husband’s 5th wedding anniversary ‘gift’ to each other. We’d finally got to that age and level of commitment that we thought we could finally adopt a cat together. When I talk about commitment, I actually mean in terms of looking after an animal, paying vets bills, having to consider them when booking holidays, buying pet insurance, cleaning up after them, keeping them safe, getting them micro-chipped and not leaving them alone for long periods of time. Even though we are both massive animal lovers, it wouldn’t have been fair to adopt a pet any sooner, as work and university commitments took us away from home and meant long distance travelling during university breaks. We’d love to have a dog too but even that is too much of a commitment – at least cats are fairly self-sufficient most of the time – and we couldn’t commit our time to the daily demands of dog-ownership. Plus, I’m sure Cookie and Muffin would just move out if we brought a puppy home!
Anyway, once we’d given each other the go-ahead to adopt a cat, I first spotted Cookie while browsing the Animal Care website in Lancaster (near our home at the time). I was drawn in by her beautiful black-and-white face and I quickly clicked through to see more photos. The Animal Care centre is a great place to go if you’re thinking about adopting an animal because they really look after the pets that arrive and they get to know them so that they can confidently match them up to a suitable home. Cookie was fine with children and other pets with a playful kitten-like temperament – purrfect, you might say! I looked at photos of her playing and my heart filled with love. At the bottom of the page I noticed this sentence: ‘Cookie must be rehomed with her lifelong companion Muffin’. Oooh! I clicked onto Muffin’s ‘profile’ and there was my fluffy little princess – beautiful tortoiseshell colours and (I was later to discover) the soppiest cat ever. What a bonus! No cats for 10 years, then two come along at once! I thought it was lovely that Animal Care insisted that the two cats needed to be rehomed together because it really shows how much they care about the welfare of the pets and I arranged for us to visit the pair as soon as possible.
Cookie & Muffin’s photos from their Animal Care profiles
On the day of our visit to Lancaster, my husband and I agreed that if we were unsure of anything with these cats, we would need to talk it over before going any further, and we carefully avoided looking at any of the other cats in the home as we approached Cookie and Muffin’s private ‘room’. As soon as we went in, these little balls of fluff were all over us, rubbing around legs, purring, nudging our hands and jumping up on our laps. A cynical person could say that we must have visited before feeding time, but I think it was just meant to be. These cats knew that we were their parents and we were certain that they were meant for us. After spending a long time with the girls in their room, we gave the animal shelter the big thumbs up and a ‘yes, please’. But it wasn’t as easy as that… We needed to be checked, someone would need to visit our home to make sure it would be okay for the cats, we couldn’t take them with us there and then. They were ‘ours’ but not until all the boxes had been ticked. It was heart-breaking to walk away but we whizzed home and I immediately sent Animal Care photos of our house – every room, the garden and even the quiet country lane outside our home. Thankfully, this was enough reassurance for the shelter, who agreed that we were suitable candidates to adopt Cookie and Muffin.
On the day that I went to collect them I was so excited but certain that a mistake had been made and that someone else had swooped in and rehomed them before me. I only let myself believe that it was real when I’d strapped both of their cat carriers into the back seat of the car and was driving them to their new home, phew! I talked to the cats all the way home and thought that Cookie was such a good girl because she didn’t miaow during the journey like Muffin did. But when I got them home and let them out of their boxes to explore their new surroundings I realised why… Cookie is mute! it’s like she’s never learned to talk. Even now, 6 years later at the ripe old age of 7, she’s silent and plays like crazy with a feather attached to a piece of string.
We’ve always thought that Muffin might be Cookie’s mum, because she’s a year older than Cookie and she tends to groom Cookie but it’s never reciprocated. She’s also a lot more calm, ‘floppy’ and cuddly, you can pick her up anytime and she’ll sit still when having her flea drops applied. She sleeps more, loves lying in the sun and rarely rises to the challenge of chasing a laser pen light. She’s very loving and likes to rub against my chin and sit on my lap. She reminds me of the saying “Cats leave paw-prints on our hearts and nose-prints on our glasses”! Maybe it’s just the wisdom of an older age rather than being Cookie’s mum, and it’s possible that they are sisters from different litters. Either way, I’m so pleased that the animal shelter thought to rehome them together, because it’s clear that the two cats love each other and it would be so sad to take one away from the other.