Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Introducing... Barrington, Vladimir and Benedict bears!

Earlier this year I had a go at making knitted bears! Several of my close friends have had babies this year, and I have got a bit addicted to knitting them the King Cole Cuddles Chunky bears! These little dudes are knit from a pattern by King Cole specifically for the Cuddles Chunky yarn made by King Cole, and they take hardly any time at all.

The yarn itself is a furry yarn, which definitely lives up to the "cuddles" in the name! It was initially horrible to knit with, and I used much more yarn for the first bear than you need as I kept getting lost and confused, and having to start again as it's not very easy to "unknit". However by the time I finished Vladimir, the second bear, I was quite used to it, and I think if you are careful you could probably knit two bears out of one 50g ball. 

I started with embroidered eyes and nose, but switched to felt features out of pure laziness on the second two. I'm pleased I did as I like the effect and it takes some of the stress out, as I'm often on a tight deadline with these little guys.

So... meet Barrington! He's the first little bear I knit, and he is in his new home with his new friend Noah who arrived at the end of March. I used the blue "mottled" yarn for Barrington, as I knew Noah was a boy baby, and I liked the colour pattern.

Barrington Bear!

This, is Vladimir! He is now in his new home with his new friend Zoe. I used the brown yarn for Vladimir, who was so named as Zoe's Dad was threatening to name the new baby Vladimir (if Zoe had been a boy), so the girls at the baby shower christened the bear so he couldn't use the name for the baby! I think I like the brown yarn the best as it looks just like "proper" bear fur. 

Vladimir Bear for Lorna 1305 (2)
Vladimir Bear!

And finally, this is Benedict! Benedict lives with his new friend Esme. I used the cream yarn for him as I needed a unisex colour and wanted something different to the brown I used last. He was named after Benedict Cumberbatch, as Esme's mum and I are both fans, and it's almost like "Benedick" after one of our favourite Shakespearean characters!

Benedict Bear for Emma 1305 (2)
Benedict Bear!

I'm sure there will be more of these little guys - they're super quick and easy to make, and I just love how different they look depending on how tightly you stuff them, the position of the ears, and the facial features. And it's so lovely giving a new person a nice snuggly new friend you've made yourself.

Have you made any snuggly friends for anyone? I'd love to hear about them.

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Great British Sewing Bee - Tea Dress

I really loved watching The Great British Sewing Bee earlier this year, and when my Mum asked if I'd like a copy of the book they brought out, I jumped at the chance to get hold of some new patterns to try (Thanks Mum!). It's a lovely book, and has step by step instructions for a number of techniques, from the most basic like sewing straight seams, to more advanced such as fitting invisible zips, buttonholes, attaching bias binding, and using boning (amongst others).

The projects in the book are a range of really nice, simple, classic items, and I am planning to make at least 4 of them. I decided to start with the Tea Dress, which is labelled as a level 2 pattern, so for someone like me who has made a few things before, should be fairly straightforward. One teeny drawback is that the patterns need to be either blown up on a photocopier by 500% or downloaded and printed from the website. This particular pattern printed 34 pages, all of which have margins to cut out. Bit of a tip here (which I only discovered with 5 sheets to go when my boyfriend suggested it) - don't cut all the margins off. Use the margin to lay the next square onto, and cut the side margin of the next square which will lay on top of the margin, and can be used to line the squares up. I know I'm not explaining this well though, so just go with whatever you find easy!

A few weeks ago I had experimented with a Full Bust Adjustment on a pattern, but due to illness I was unable to complete the project, and then had no need of that particular garment, so this seemed the ideal opportunity to put my new skill to the test. A Full Bust Adjustment (or FBA), is a useful technique for any lady whose bust is larger than a B cup, which is the cup size most patterns are designed for. I followed the technique shown on Lazy Stitching because I found that I could do it from the pictures alone. To do this on my dress, I made a horizontal cut across the waistline, and then once I'd done the adjustment I taped the pieces back together and drew a diagonal line from the underarm point to the original waistline point. It might look very odd at this point, but trust me, it works!

I used the instruction sections of the book to help with insertion of the invisible zip, and although the first attempt was a bit bodged (I was rushing as dinner was late and I had a hungry boyfriend to feed), the second attempt was almost perfect, and certainly the best attempt I've ever done.

I spent two evenings prepping, and an afternoon and evening stitching, and I have to say I'm rather pleased with the end result. 

Me in my lovely new dress, squinting into the Manchester sunshine!
Oh, and the gorgeous fabric is from B&M Fabrics on Leeds Kirkgate Market.Gorgeous pink with tiny white bows, and beautiful grey and turquoise hummingbirds. An absolute bargain (as is all the fabric here) at a total cost of £13.50!

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Noah's ark cake

After successfully completing my first ever self-designed "big cake" at Christmas, I was itching for an opportunity to get making one without the supervision of my college tutor. Most of my friends are now married, so a wedding cake seemed unlikely. Luckily, the married folk are now having babies, so an opportunity arose to make a cake for my friend Susie's baby shower.

Being the prepared sort, Susie already knew she was having a boy, and had already revealed that he would be called Noah, so the cake really designed itself! I decided to make a Noah's ark cake, and created a secret Pinterest board to capture pictures of inspirational cakes. Now, if you haven't done an Internet search for "Noah's ark cake", let me tell you there are LOADS. They vary from pastel colours to bright colours, one tier to many tiers, water or no water, Noah or no Noah (animals only), waves or calm, rainbow or plain, etc. I decided to stick to my style, which appears to be - plain and simple! I like clean lines, with not much fuss, and having only done a little modelling, decided I wasn't ready for people and stuck to animals.

I chose to bake a chocolate cake, and used the chocolate truffle cake from the Great British Bake Off Showstoppers book. This was partly because the recipe in the book gives you the quantities and timing to bake a 6 inch, 8 inch or 10 inch cake, and I used the 10inch and 6 inch cakes. The 10 inch is my base, and the 6 inch I used to make the Ark itself. I was lucky enough to find a 6 inch long oval cake board, and this made the template for the ark, and then I used the trimmings to fashion the cabin of the ark. The pieces were glued together with ganache, and then I covered it with Renshaw's chocolate flavour and colour sugar paste.

Noah's ark

The main cake would be covered in Renshaw's baby blue sugarpaste, and with that in mind, I wanted to choose the animals to give a good mixture of colours. I decided on - giraffes, tigers, lions, elephants, pandas, and a dove, complete with olive branch. It was very daunting modelling the animals, but in the end I just went for it, starting with the lions, and finishing with the dove (because I was most scared of him!). The key was to get the heads just the right size, and in the end they only just fit on (and even then some of the heads were partly hidden).

I used dowels in the base cake to make sure the ark and heads didn't sink into it, and although I'd never done this before it was pretty easy. It was tricky marking the plastic dowels without marking the icing with the knife (I didn't manage it, but smoothed the marks out easily enough), but once that was done, they snapped no problem.

Once the ark was in place I made up a little royal icing, and coloured it blue to match the sugarpaste as closely as I possibly could! I then used this to pipe shells around the based of the cake, and around the ark base. Then it was time to add the animals! I used spaghetti in the giraffe necks to stick into the ark to strengthen them, and the other heads were just glued in place with a little royal icing. Unfortunately, the giraffe's strengthening spaghetti insides were not quite strong enough, and they snapped overnight, but there was limited damage to the ark, and they stayed up long enough at the party for photos.

The finishing touch was to add "NOAH" in green icing, to break up the blue and add that little personal touch to the cake. The girls loved the cake, and Susie did say she wasn't sure she could cut it, but I made sure we did as I wanted some of that lovely truffle cake! (I tasted the trimmings and it's a properly gorgeous tasting cake - my new favourite go-to recipe I think).

Noah's ark

Noah's ark

Noah's ark

I loved making this cake, and can now add "tiered cakes" to my list of skills! I'm currently doing another course, so another big cake is on its way. Watch this space...

Monday, 6 May 2013

My first ever cardigan!

I've been a little absent from the blogging world this year. I hadn't realised just how much until I had a glance at the list of things I meant to blog about and noticed my last post was in JANUARY!!! 

I think the main thing stopping me is that I seem to always have some knitting on the go! Considering that a year ago I didn't knit at all, I actually can't imagine not having some knitting on the go now. 

Anyway, before Christmas I started my very first "big" thing - a knitted tank-cardigan from Let's Knit magazine. I was a bit daunted, but bought myself some budget wool from Leeds market, and off I went.

The completed back! Very proud moment!
 Early on I suffered a bit of a setback when I noticed I'd dropped a stitch in the ribbing. Thinking on my feet, I popped it into my bag and took it along to Purl City Yarns in Manchester to ask for help. They were more than happy to help and a couple of seconds later I was back in business!

When November hit, I stopped to make way for Christmas making, and picked it up again in January to finish the fronts and sew the whole thing together.

As this was my very first big project, I learned a few new skills in the process of making my cardigan including:
  • making a tension square
  • fairisle - OK, so it was only a polka dot, but it counts right?
  • blanket stitch
  • joining shoulder seams.
All in all I am very pleased with the results, but I've not yet managed to wear it for more than the modelling shots Andy took for me! I blame our temperamental English weather for either being too cold or too hot!

Me in my finished creation. Proud!

Thursday, 24 January 2013

My first fondant fancies

Earlier this month, we went to visit some friends in their new house, and as they'd helped me out with some graphic design earlier in the year, I'd promised them some cake. I usually bake cupcakes, but this time I wanted to try something new. 

Earlier this year, I enjoyed watching the latest series of the Great British Bake Off, and one of the challenges in the final was fondant fancies. Even though the technique they used for the icing looked a bit faffy (slightly dissolving a block of fondant icing so it became runny), I decided I'd really like a go at making my own, and when the GBBO book came out, I just had to try the recipe for the fondant fancies.

The recipe is for a delicious orange and cardamom flavoured cake with a delicately flavoured orange icing. I'd never made a genoise cake before, and other than the time it takes to get the eggs nice and fluffy, it was pretty simple to do. I ended up with a few lumps of flour because I disobeyed one of the instructions, but they weren't noticeable to eat, and I've learnt my lesson to follow the recipe more closely!

The cake was made on a Friday evening, as I'd read a tip from Mary Berry on the BBC Food website to make the cake the night before so it was less crumbly. I then prepared the marzipan for the top in the morning, and iced on Saturday afternoon. The only trouble I had was I made the icing slightly too runny. This meant that once it had dripped off, it was quite thin and you could see the cake through it. Next time I will trust a thicker icing to spread over the cake more slowly.

My little fondant fancies iced and ready to go.
But, once they were in their paper cases, packed in to a box (12 of these fit perfectly into a 6 cupcake box without the holder in), they look really lovely.

All boxed up and ready to go!
The basic recipe seems like it would be easy to adapt to other flavours, and I'm already planning my next batch. Watch this space...

Sunday, 6 January 2013

5 things for 2013

I have borrowed the idea for this post from my friend Helen, who's blog you can read here. Helen has been writing some blogs recently about the 5 good things that have happened to her recently, and this format really inspired me. Rather than copy it directly, I thought I'd use it here to look forward to 2013 and log some of my *whisper it* "resolutions". 

I know some people are not really big fans of resolutions, or using the New Year to re-evaluate what's going on, so if this is you, you might not want to read on. Personally I think that any time of year is great to do this, but a new calendar year just feels like a good excuse to do it. It also gives you a fixed timeframe to look back on to see how you got on.

So. What do I intend to refresh or start this year? Well...

1. Get healthier.

Yeah, yeah, I know. This is pretty standard, and probably the one I will fail at the most. But hey, I felt I should give it a go at least. I have put weight on this year. Quite a bit of weight. This I realised when I saw this photo of myself taken at Andy's graduation. Not good. 

Me and Andy. Absolutely horrified by this pic so it's my inspiration shot for this weightloss attempt. 

Plan is: carry on cooking yummy things from BBC Good Food Magazine, cut out "little treats", and try new things from Nadia Sawalha's new book Greedy Girls Diet ; exercise more. (Oh and Andy's doing it too, so I have some moral support). Wish me luck.

2. Crafting

I love craft. In particular I love sewing, and more recently knitting and crochet. So my crafty resolution(s) is/are to carry on with more. I need to get back to sewing clothes (not done any since July); knit some more including learning how to knit cables, finish my knitted waistcoat, and knit a gorgeous jumper I found in this months Let's Knit! magazine. I also have some baby stuff to do for this years crop of new little people; and I need to carry on my crochet blanket. I've only got 10% done so far, and I need this to be more by the end of the year or I'll lose the will to finish it!

My knitted waistcoat so far! 

3. Baking

I have been running a small business doing cakes for the last 18 months or so. It's been fun, but it's not really bringing in enough money to make it worth my while. So, my business will close at the end of this month. I will still happily do cakes for people, but it just won't be through my business (if you know me and need a cake/cupcakes then please do ask!). One day when I have more time to spare at weekends, or if I'm ever lucky enough to be able to try it full time I will come back to it, so it's "au revoir" rather than goodbye!

I'm doing cakes for my lovely friends Linzi and Steve for their wedding in May, and very much looking forward to these as there'll be several different batches with more natural decorations than usual.

I'm also hoping to continue with my cake decorating classes at Trafford College in April to develop my skills further. I'm looking forward to learning to make flowers and frills and lots of other things which I can use in the future.

And I'd like to make more bread. Tying in with resolution 1, I'd like to make a good rye or pumpernickel bread, and there is a lovely looking recipe in the latest Great British Bake Off book which I'm going to try, and after I'm happy with the results from resolution 1, then maybe the doughnuts too!

4. Read more

Since I got (addicted to) my iPhone a few years ago, I have gained the habit of reading facebook, twitter, pinterest, and BBC news before I go to bed. Which has totally taken over my traditional reading time. So this year, the book is going to claim back this half hour. I've got a few books I'd like to read to begin with so I'm going to read/reread:

  • The Hobbit (started already)
  • A book about how sewing helped the war effort in World War II I've borrowed off Mum (can't remember the title right now)
  • Something Poirot or other Agatha Christie
  • Some more Philippa Gregory. Not sure where I'm up to in her chronological series' but I'll work it out. 

5. Professional development

I need to get my revalidation for Chartered status done. This is a particularly dull one I know, but I need it to be here. I've started it, but too much of resolution 2, 3, and 4 always get in the way. So I think this is a good one to end my resolution list with. 

So there it is. My plan for 2013. Oh, apart from a sneaky 5a) blog more! I have really enjoyed my blogging so far, so will carry on as much as possible this year. Hope to see you along the way!

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Camelia blanket - part 1: The beginning

Now Christmas is out of the way for another year, and 2013 has arrived, I've started planning some craft projects just for me (I know, I know - crazy!). As well as finishing a sleeveless cardigan/waistcoat I started knitting back in September, and a lovely jumper I've seen to make use of some wool I fell in love with on holiday, I also plan on getting back to a big project I started earlier this year.

Knowing we were going on the canal for our holiday this year, I decided I'd take some crochet to keep me occupied (when I wasn't doing locks or bridges). Rather than take a teeny little project, I decided to tackle my very favourite project from my crochet book (Cute and Easy Crochet, by Nikki Trench), which is... a blanket!!! It's the Camelia Blanket, and will be a gorgeous snug blanket for my bed or snuggling on the sofa.

I started it in August, a few weeks before the holiday, and I'm sure I'll still be going this time next year (and probably even longer), as I moved on to Christmas projects in October!

The blanket has a mixture of 'plain' Granny squares and squares with a three dimensional camelia. I've done about 17 squares now, and as there's 142 squares on the blanket there's still some way to go...