Monday, 29 July 2013

The city girl goes rural

An intriguing title...well, kind of.

It's been ages since I've posted anything.  Life has been rather hectic and not a little busy to say the least.  I left the cosmopolitan metropolis of Worcester and I was quite sad, excited and nervous all at the same time, for I became a Homeowner.

I own a home.  In Kidderminster, the historic carpet making and sugar processing capital of Worcestershire.  Not exactly rural but distinctly quieter than Worcester.

Those of you who know me well will have heard me say countless times that I don't want to own property; that kind of commitment is not for me.  Pretty much like any other grown up, long term commitment.  And then I heard that the letting agents who see £ signs only and simply don't understand the cost, stress and logistics of moving a solid mahogany upright piano amongst a myriad of other belongings, had fibbed me into settling into the new Little Worcester House, knowing full well that the landlord was intending to put it on the market in 6 months time.  I'm sure you can imagine how that felt.

Once I've set my mind to something I tend to want to get it done quickly.  I started casually looking in mid June, saw the house I liked mid August and signed the contracts a very short time later.  A few weeks after that I left LWH II and moved into a lovely little Georgian terrace.  At the moment it doesn't have a name and is a state of constant change but also hiatus, much like this blog.

With so much to do I haven't had chance to do any blogging and have spent a lot of time simply watching.  Moving to a place that will be my home for the foreseeable future gave me the urge to do everything all at once to make it mine.  Get rid of magnolia walls, paint the glosswork any colour but white, cover the walls with gold leaf to counter the dismal autumn and winter; that kind of thing.  Daily life has conspired against me in that way but it has given me the chance to just observe for ten months, experience the seasons and changes in light, and get used to the character of the building before stamping my claim on it. Being watchful and stopping is all very well but the summer break is now here and it's time to make and do.

Here goes.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Making and doing

A break from good intentions.  I have so many and clearly achieve relatively few, certainly not enough to sustain a blog.  But I do 'make and do'.

Sometimes I'm not very focused.  I've been told that I have Islands of Chaos but I prefer Pockets of Creativity.  I am a creative butterfly spending a little time on many things until they're complete, occasionally years (see The 5 Year Coat).  For some people that may seem like a nightmarish way to work, and the super organised studios of friends and people in magazines seem to support that.  For years I felt like an untidy, disorganised pariah who never finished anything, and people would say that when I had my own place I would realise how messy I am and change my ways.

Now in my second LWH I have realised that I'm not, I already knew,  and I haven't felt the need to.

Being in my own house means that I can have knitting by my arm chair, dressmaking on the plan chest, a To-Be-Done box for each area I'm interested in, and a bed surrounded, and sometimes covered, by other little bits and pieces that are on the go.  I know that I get things out and don't put them away again, so occasionally I have an Extreme Tidy Up.  It may look like chaos but I generally know where everything is and I swear that any burglar peeping through my windows would be deterred, and perhaps even give up a life of crime, just by viewing the interior.

Here are a few things I've done since I began blogging but have never posted.

The Knitting Roll for LSF
Everything the knitter of distinction needs, in one place.



The knitting roll was made from an old brushed cotton nighty, calico and leftovers.  It has a space for 2 pairs of each size of needle including Very Big Needles (L), crochet hooks, pins, scissors, tape measure and sewing needles.
It took blooming ages to make.
One day I will make one for myself.
One day.  


I needed a new purse so I made one.

Then I made a few more.

Mostly from old jeans, off cuts, lovely bits of fabric, reclaimed zips, buttons, self-covered buttons and ribbons.  So far I have sold two, which isn't going to make me a millionaire anytime soon but has been   nice none the less.



Velvet and silk, courtesy of a Laura Ashley pinafore.

Purses for sale can be found on my Folksy shop and also at the next W.A.V.E. Flea Market on Sunday 6th May 2012

The Winter of Good Intentions: The one where Miss Bertie and the Little Worcester House part company.

This is the penultimate post on good intentions as I'm almost fully up to date, and fully intend (ah ha ha) to   work and produce rather than intend and catch up.  So far, I'm up to October/November of 2011 and so many things change here....

So this is the month where the LWH and I part company.  I loved my little house because it was my space; it was quirky with winding stairs and hidden cupboards, a wood burning stove in the front room, it had a beautiful little garden, and a fantastic view of the cathedral from my workroom, and the spires and rooftops from the top bedroom.
I loved it dearly for all of these things, but it also had lethal stairs; what seemed to be a fridge-like micro climate interior; horribly depressing black, ex-office cord carpet all through the house from top to bottom including a 'patched' area which had clearly gone round a open plan column, no insulation, draughty windows, damp, an odd layout making the ground floor like a big corridor, and only one usable room during the coldest months.  I regularly went to bed wearing a hat, hoody,  thermal underwear, as well my pyjamas, and regular guests brought extra layers just to have a cup of tea in the front room.  The LWH needs care and attention to make it completely beautiful and lovely which my landlord was not willing to spend, and I was resenting paying for my love hate tenancy.  So I moved.

I knew that it was going to take a while to pack up everything.  I'm a 'one size fits all' kind of girl in that my belongings expand to fit.  Also, I swear I must have been a squirrel in a past life; anyone who knows me is amazed/appalled by how well I can pack things away.  It's the unpacking and moving that is troublesome, so I started packing and streamlining about 6 weeks before I knew I had to leave.  Bearing in mind that at this point I didn't actually have anywhere to move to, this is quite advanced planning for me.  However,  I still had a massive amount of stuff, I wasn't fully packed on the day of moving, transport didn't work out as expected, and it all took an exhausting amount of effort.  All pretty usual.

Before everything was packed I tidied the house to look beautiful and took photographs of every room.  I had loved living in the LWH and the idea of simply leaving with no record of somewhere so important seemed sad.  In an interview Michael Winner said that people don't take pictures of things that really matter, such as houses and rooms, but leave it to memory which often fails them later on.  So here are some glimpses of the LWH.

The time capsule parlour

The secret stairway illuminations and gallery.

The first room I ever owned for myself :-)

Sunday, 15 January 2012

The Autumn of Good Intentions

  Summer was delightful in many ways: camping, cooking, walking, seaside holidays and much more including the return to work and that's when everything stopped for a while as it always does.  Apart from babies.  They never stop and once you start one, well, the inevitable is...inevitable.  Let me stop you before you think I have had, am having, or am going to have a baby.  I am not but many other people are popping them out with increasing frequency.  As with my friend Sue.
Amidst all the chaos I had an intense 48 hours of calm.  Making things for babies is thoroughly enjoyable.  The items are so small that although sometimes a little fiddly there is a sense of gratification that arrives much sooner than when making an adult sized equivalent.  What is more you can choose the most expensive wool and the softest fabric knowing you will only need a small amount and that the indulgence is justified.  Babies look lovely in almost anything and can get away with wearing items that would look ridiculous or even suspicious in a size 10, however much one might want to wear similar.

The original idea was to appliqué some animals onto a blanket.  It was simple and not very time consuming.  However, anyone who likes making things may also have experienced the giddy pleasures of coming out of a creative desert and gorging on making.  It's like the first piece of chocolate after lent, or a bank holiday weekend when you think you can fit far too much into the extra 24 hours.  I overdid it.  Big time.

The appliquéd blanket became a brushed cotton backed coverlet which developed into a grassy scene, a few more animals and suddenly there was a tree with owls in it, and individual leaves cut out of different fabrics.

By this time there was fabric billowing out of boxes and bags, threads making their way along the carpet from room to room, offcuts and fluff stuck to everything, and the double bed was the hub of creativity.  Once I start something like this I work until I'm too tired to move and so in the early hours I  crawled into a sleeping bag on the single bed and fell ecstatically to sleep.

Evening two.  Having blagged my way through the day and telling my students they'd get their essays back in the next lesson (oops), I hurried back to the LWH and realised what a huge amount of work I'd created for myself.  This is always the case.  There have been very few journeys to parties, dinners, college and even school when I haven't been finishing something off albeit painting my nails, sewing on buttons, putting up a hem or writing a 3,000 word essay.
Consumption of tea was at an all time high and I worked solidly until the late hours of the early morning when it was finished.  No 'I'll just do this bit on the way' or 'It doesn't matter if I safety pin it.'  It had to be finished, perfect and as bright shiny new as the person it was made for; and to the best of my ability it was.
There are morals to this story which I know by heart but will probably never learn.  The obvious being don't leave everything til the last minute but despite my best intentions this has never worked. Don't overcomplicate things is also a good point. But perhaps the most important is not to leave it so long between making things.  It's a bit like crash dieting: everything else might seem better, clothes fit, jobs get done, students' essays get marked but bingeing on anything is not healthy.

Crikey, that is all true but sounds horrendously poncy. Here's the finished result and long live working to deadlines on adrenaline.

The finished article: animals from matching curtain fabric, brushed cotton backing from House of Fraser, everything else reclaimed or vintage.


In situ :-)

The Summer of Good Intentions: Part 2

'Hang on a minute' I suspect you're saying, 'We're now in January and you promised us more in August.  We'd given up on you and thought you may have come to a sticky end lying in a strawberry wine jam of your own making.'  What more can I say than life got in the way and other things seemed to be more pressing but what excitement and acts of derring do.  So what follows is an edited version of posts I half wrote and I hope you enjoy it but read fast.  There will be more.

It's been a while, and for that I apologise profusely.  Promises of daily updates have been broken, getting lots done has somehow not gone entirely to plan, the new me is still pretty much the old me but with many loose ends, islands of chaos/creativity, and more ideas than I can keep up with.  So, how did the Summer of Good Intentions go? Well...

Pockets of lovely weather this summer gave me great pleasure and an abundance of lovely food.  A fair few posts have been about food because I love it.  Finding it, buying it, growing it, looking at it, reading about it, making, eating, and contentedly digesting it.  It's also a great comforter and way of procrastinating.

I received a lot of home grown stuff from William and Julia at the Walled Garden, from which many meals were made along with chutney, jam, wine and so many other things.  I don't even like jam, I just enjoy making it.  My jam and wine cupboard is full to bursting.  If you know me and receive gifts on auspicious occasions, much of this will be coming your way.

Unfortunately last year, I didn't pay as much attention to my own garden.  As a result the potatoes you see below were the only ones I got from three grow bags!  Enough for two meals. Tossed in a cob nut pesto and served with flower salad - all from my garden and the canal side - they were delicious but it's hardly self sufficiency.

My parents, as usual, had grown enough to fill  greengrocers and one day in the middle of the holidays they gave me some beautiful artichokes.  

I love artichokes.  There's something almost prehistoric about their spiky, sculptural leaves.  These are flowers with survival instincts.  No man or beast will get to their heart easily and once consumed may not sit easily either. These were steamed and served with a herby vinaigrette, homemade bread and flowery salad.  It was delicious and messy and tasted like a tableful of summer.

The purple flower in the picture is one artichoke that flowered in my fridge when I was away for a bit.  How amazing is that?  Roll on next summer :-)

Monday, 1 August 2011

It was strawberry.

Having labelled up all the wine bottles, LSF came to visit, sniffed the wine before sampling and declared it strawberry.  It is strawberry wine.  I am a doofus with no sense of smell.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

All things plum

With regards to the Summer of Good Intentions this definitely counts as Making & Doing and Liking.  All Things Plum.

 Scrumping is one of my favourite pastimes from July to October with a 'bit of a wander' armed with a few carrier bags generally resulting in returning home with some sort of bounty.  This week I have been mainly picking wild plums of the variety that grow in parks, along canal sides, and in other random places.  They look like soft jewels hanging from the trees and at their most ripe fall to the ground in large amounts filling many bags.  But what to do with them?  I love plums but you can have too much of a good thing.  My Mum's answer is always jam; mine, wine but also chutney and pickle too.  So this week I embarked on a making spree involving bottling last years plum wine and making a few chutneys.

Wine from last year has been bubbling and gently popping away in my spare room.  Yellow plum, red cherry plum and a lovely mixed plum  looked lovely and bright in their demijons.  This week the mixed plum amber-rose was ready for bottling and a small amount of sampling.  I can report that it is nice although I think I should probably invest in a hydrometer as it is pretty potent.  The image below really doesn't do the colour justice.  There are 6 bottles, with another 12 to come which should be ready in time for Christmas.

Next is chutney.  So far, I have made two: a sweet and sour mixed plum and a spiced red plum.  I never stick to, write down or remember any recipe so it's different each time.  The spiced red plum below has raisins, dates, apples, all spice, ginger, mace, chilli and pepper, amongst other things.  One of the most satisfying and easy things to make.
            The mixture above becomes the very rich chutney on the right below.
Absolutely lovely with plum wine and salad from the garden.

I have managed to label these ones whilst still being able to remember what they are.  There are many jars and bottles in my cupboard with slightly ambiguous labeling, most notable being 'Spiced Apple Chutney with or without walnuts as I can't remember whether I put them in' and ' Red fruit wine 2008'.  You are more than welcome to come round for literally a random sampling.