Wednesday, December 29, 2010

hand-dyed hand-knitted wool

These lovely handknits had been through two kids and all their puke and spills - they were really stained and were about to head to the 'bottom drawer', meaning they would only see the light of day again as a bedtime cardigan, or worse, never be worn again. Sorry, there is no 'before' photo.
 'After' - Different shades of cornflower blue. 'Before' they were (from left to right) taupe, cream, torquoise and mint green. With LOTS of stains.

Mum had shown me some store bought knits she had dyed a lovely burgundy colour, and I thought I should try dying these baby clothes.

The brand is Rit. The colour is a denim shade of blue (I can't recall if it was Royal Blue or Navy Blue), suited to boys or girls, since I didn't know what I was having, but all our children have to get blue eyes since that is what we have (remembering fifth form science).

So in a bucket of hot water (about 50 degrees C) I followed the instructions on the packet and you can see them here on the website of Rit dye.

They turned out so well. I will always wash them separately though as a lot of dye leaked out while rinsing, A LOT. The process was easy, the bucket didn't stain, the sink didn't stain. The clothes are like new again and I only had to change two lots of buttons.

Do try it (sounding like the Dilmah guy).

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas sago pudding

My aunty has made this pudding for years (though not in recent years, I guess that's why I'm craving it) so at long last I have made my own. Usually called 'Sago Plum Pudding' for reasons unknown to me, as there are no plums or prunes in it - I included cranberries and almonds to make it a little more festive.

Sago Pudding
2 TBL sago (found in the jelly crystal aisle of the supermarket; it is just tapioca starch)
1 cup milk
(Wash the sago then stand it in the milk overnight so it absorbs)
20g butter (1 1/2 TBL)
3/4 cup sugar
1 scant tsp baking soda
1 cup day-old bread, broken into small bits
1 1/2 cups mixed dried fruit (raisins, cranberries, cherries, currants - and I guess you can use prunes!)
a handful of sliced almonds
1/4 cup brandy
pinch salt

Cream butter and sugar. Dissolve baking soda in the sago mixture then add to the butter mixture.
Fold into bread, fruit, salt and brandy (alternatively you can soak the fruit in the brandy overnight).
Grease a pudding basin and pour in the mixture. Any size will do - the cooking time is important.

Wrap the pudding basin:
Here's the interesting part - get a piece of cloth long enough to wrap under the bowl then back around to twist the end to make a handle. Tie the top with string then tie the handle to the top at both sides.
This is a good tutorial for tying up a pudding. I guessed at it and it turned out fine. The handle is just to get the pudding out of the pot once cooked.

Steam the pudding:
In a large soup pot (big enough to fit the basin with a little room) place a saucer in the bottom and fill about one third of the way. Bring to the boil and place the pudding in so the water comes halfway up the side of the basin (roughly level with the pudding mixture). Cover.
Steam for 2 1/2 hours. You should be able to hear the saucer jiggling in the pot the whole time, but not so vigorous that the lid jiggles as well.

Serve with ice-cream, fresh cream, or brandy cream or sauce.

It really is delicious. You can eat it right away or it will keep in the fridge for about 2 weeks, if well wrapped. Not sure about freezing.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

a new corner

Painting was finished the day before yesterday. The colour is Resene Double Spanish White, and the woodwork is White Opal. We're pleased with the new space, it looks much bigger, cleaner, more modern and fresh. As you can see, the red is gone (but remains in the main room until further notice). We haven't put the couch back in there, leaving it as a proper dining room.
We also have a new addition in the form of this awesome 1970s(?) NZ made table and chairs. The vinyl seats are padded and comfortable. The wood matches the Rimu floors. It extends to a very useful approx 3.5 metres. Perfect for our growing family. A birthday/Christmas present from Mum.

to celebrate not having a party

So the weather has turned bad here. The forecast for Sunday is rain and wind. So I cancelled my birthday party. I couldn't be happier!
It's such a relief, now I can focus on Christmas and getting the house ready for the holidays, even though we did paint the dining room and trim the hedges in preparation for the party.
I did have big plans to cook up a storm in the kitchen in the days leading up to the party. I've been reading books and magazines and storing up recipes for the big day.
A few days ago I made some of this homemade lemonade (or Mead, as it is called in Sweden). Lotta Jansdotter's new book, Handmade Living, has a set of excellent Nordic recipes in the back.
These are close to my heart, as my Dutch grandfather has often made this sort of food for celebrations (such as cured salmon, potato and anchovy bake, and basically a sort of cooking that doesn't use garlic (I love it but not in everything) but does use lots of salt and sugar!).
I tried this Mead two weeks ago. We drank the last bottle at the weekend so I made a fresh batch for the party. For the first lot I used Muscovado sugar and the result was a darker brew. It wasn't very alcoholic, maybe enough to give a slight muzz after a couple of glasses. I took Lotta's advice and gave some to the kids. It's certainly fizzy and quite syrupy in flavour, better than other homemade lemonade I've made. We saved 750ml bottles from Barker's fruit drink concentrates (made in a South Island town called Geraldine and it's by far the best of its kind) and also used our wine decanters, but lids didn't fit in the fridge so were replaced with glad wrap.

Then today, we were so hungry and the shopping hadn't arrived, so I made a batch of cinnamon buns. I was going to make these on the day of the party so they've been on my mind for a while now. We only needed a half batch, makes 12 buns.
They are so delicate and smooth, completely different to store bought buns. Don't they look like a bunch of roses?
So we drank mead and ate buns on this damp afternoon to celebrate NOT having a party!

PS Lotta has made the recipes available on the preview of her book on Amazon.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Last year I was talking about my interest in making things to my Oma. We got talking about the old-fashioned art of reusing old materials in times of not having much. She was born in the Depression and lived through the second world war, and learnt a great deal about thrifting from her mother, who could add the first world war to that list (as every other old person out there can!).  They lived on a farm and didn't go to the shops much. Her brothers even knitted their own socks!  Needless to say Oma can never throw out anything that could be useful to someone 'one day'. She has an attic and a basement stocked with things. I love going through these unused possessions and actually enjoy the musty smell.
Getting back to the subject of making things, I mentioned buttons. Naturally she can't dispose of an old shirt without first cutting off the buttons and any other feature that could be used again. She gave me her stash to sort through. I made many jars of different colours and saved my favourites in separate jars, taking pairs and sets into even further separate jars. It took weeks, but was a lot of fun.
Around the same time I had been browsing crafty books at the library. I came across this gorgeous jewellery making one by Erika Knight. She is a master knitter (knitting pattern writer) and for this book has lent her skills to making necklaces. The book is filled with really great ideas, with something for everyone.
I had some small black and grey buttons, similar but not all the same. Using some turquoise embroidery thread I made this necklace.
I've worn it with everything and to all occasions (even a wedding). It can really dress up something casual or make a more formal outfit that much more cool. Had loads of comments. Love it and can't wait to make another button necklace.
Of course, the buttons have been used on all my knitting and sewing. Here's a lovely example of what buttons can do for a garment - mother of pearl on some natural linen yarn (baby now a few months older!)

And the baby surprise jacket, which took on a vintage Miami flavour with the old swirly cream buttons from Oma's stash.
To my surprise I have found perfect buttons for every project from that stash (which I think I'm in charge of now).
So I have joined the button brigade and cannot throw out a shirt without first cutting off the buttons!

Friday, December 10, 2010


We are in a spin during December. Two birthdays, end of year everythings, Christmas and the tail end of spring cleaning. It's all go, and I've gone and bitten off even more to chew.
My brother (16 years old) is on a three month holiday from school. No part time job so we thought about putting him to good use. He and I are currently painting our dining room. Two days down, 4 hours each day. The red is no more! and I have headache from breathing oil-based paint all day.
I will post a photo soon.
I also made my first Christmas pudding and just couldn't resist eating some right away because it smelled so good and it was so easy to make. I'll definitely make at least one more for the big day. More on that soon, too.
So here's another retrospective for you.

I made this outfit for Adelaide a few weeks back. I made the jacket actually 2 years ago for Hugo but the buttonhole maker on the machine chewed the fabric. I stored it away, not really liking the colours on him anyway, then thought of this idea to cover up the mistake.
The pants were easy to make, with double seams (since I have no overlocker) and I hand-stitched the sleeves into place with matching embroidery thread and a blanket stitch. She should fit this by winter. It's a lovely, soft and stretchy merino wool. Always a must for baby clothes.
The pattern is Butterick, but I gave it away to a friend and only have a copy of the templates to work from, so I can't give more details than that, sorry.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

baby shoes

My second pair of baby shoes. These made again with this pattern. It's great, detailed, lots of steps. I'm very happy with the results! 
I lined them with a piece of wool felt, a vintage offcut. The pink is also second-hand.

You fasten with a piece of elastic and pull it through to be invisible.

The exterior is a piece of upholstery fabric. All top layers (minus soles) are interfaced. 
I love this pattern because it makes shoes for left and right feet. The size is for 0-6 months. Adelaide is little and will get some extra months out of them. 
Next time I will make them reversible, I think, and a little bigger!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Horner pants

Hugo has some Horner pants. Made from this lovely pattern in Anna Maria Horner's book, Handmade Beginnings, it was very easy and a good way to use some favourite fabric scraps on a garment.
I had the grey cord fabric from years ago, it was an off-cut and luckily the pattern calls for a shorter piece to be used on the back where the yoke is made from another fabric, so I had just enough of the grey, and just enough of the brown tulips (which I have used before for Hugo pants and it was originally a strange, Asian-label, female shirt!
The size is 24 months. Hugo is nearly 2 and a half and they have some length to grow in, so I'm pretty pleased.

I didn't line them and make them reversible, simply because it's summer and the fabrics were already pretty thick and warm. So I finished with a folded over hem and a waistband made the same way. This actually took off another couple of cm of length, so again, very pleased they fit with some growing room - I was taking a gamble...

Hope to make more of these, so easy and I love the idea of making reversible pants for grubby babies.
And this size will fit Hugo for another year I'd say, and I could easily add some length if he grows longways, as I'm pretty sure the bum of the pants has room for a nappy, which he doesn't wear.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Blogging sluggishly

I have to admit I'm finding it hard to find the time to blog on a daily (or even regular) basis. I don't know how others do it!
Every evening, once the kids are in bed, and I've caught up on the day's events with my husband, I just can't bring myself back to the computer.
Perhaps I need to do this in the mornings, as I am trying now?
Not to mention the poor quality of my writing, I barely even read it through before hitting 'publish'. And my mind isn't really focused, it's distracted by at least a dozen things every minute.
I have a heap of blog posts to catch up on. So, pretty much everything is in retrospect by a few days to weeks (even months). I apologise, but not for putting my family first! haha
Anyway, to make up for the backward looking crafting, here is a present photo, how we enjoyed the weather yesterday and made the most of the outdoors. Yeah! (and still, I'm a day behind, aren't I?)


Here is the final product. I started making the cake weeks ago (it improves with keeping) and a couple of days out from Mum's birthday it was time to ice it.

This time I decided to make it a long, thin cake. Cut in half and put ends together, it ends up like this.
The almond icing was hard to do, as the cake has two extra sides to make (that's right, remembering maths class, the surface area can increase when you change the shape of an object). It was a bit of a patch job, but I made it.
Then the butter icing - added a drop or two of red food colouring and about 1/2 teaspoon of lemon essence and I got this peachy colour.
It has a messy finish because, frankly, I'm a messy person and it seemed to suit it. So there you go.
The russian dolls were part of the 'theme' (though mum insists they were Irish gypsies, as were some of our ancestors) and the photos from the invitations I made here. The flowers are false, couldn't come up with a way to keep fresh flowers fresh, so...
Yes, Mum loved the cake. And it was delicious. And my brothers and co ate it all up within days. Just as it should be! Did I mention the party was an amazing big family do like the old days, everyone, everyone loved it, and we all NEEDED it.
Another two cakes now waiting to be iced for my birthday and for Christmas presents.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

paper pompoms

 Here's a fun and easy way to make some decorations for a party.
You need some tissue paper, a stapler and some way of stringing them together. I used ready to assemble present bows.
The tissue paper usually comes in a pack with 8-10 sheets.
With the 10 sheets I had, I separated 3 from the top and cut them down the middle, joined again to make 6 sheets. With the remaining 7 sheets I just cut them down the middle to have two stacks of 7 sheets. So enough paper to make three pompoms.

Start folding, like making one of those paper fans we all make as children. Fold about an inch down, turn and fold the same amount back on itself.

When you have folded the entire length, put a staple or two in the middle to secure it.

At this stage, if  you plan to join them together with string (or in this case, ribbon), you can staple the ribbon/string to the paper at the same time. I also used cellotape for extra strength.

Now, with strong scissors, cut a petal shape (pointed or round) into the ends of the 'fan'.

When you have a string of 'fans', you can transport them easily this way and fluff them out on location. To do the fluffing out, carefully tease away each layer, trying not to rip the petals. I find it best to do from the middle out.

I haven't got a picture of the final product, it was at my Mum's for her birthday.
Anyway, they look really effective. Give it a try!

Friday, November 12, 2010

the beach

A week ago we took a break at 'the beach'. This spot, Riversdale beach, is on the coast of the Wairarapa. My grandparents bought the section 29 years ago (so I've been going there all my life). For 20 years it was just a couple of caravans. In the 2000s they started building a little village comprising of a bigger sleep-out and a wendy house and a couple of sheds and what not.
Goodbye long-drop (yes!) and hello mod-cons. But not too modern - my family are habitual collectors of old things and cannot, no cannot, throw anything away. So it goes to the beach.
Occasionally someone will splurge and buy something new for 'the beach', and that's nice, but actually I relish in the hodge podge of stuff still to be found there, from 1970s swimwear and shoes and sunhats, to vintage tennis rackets and badminton shuttle cocks, to a 1990s kitchen of hideous colours, and an old formica table and chairs and a pull-out couch with musty old mattress and squeaky springs and beds pushed together that don't match up - that sort of thing. It feels like me, it feels like a permanent memory. Quite simply, it is my favourite place in the world. (Not that I've travelled!)

This holiday we found the kids were a perfect age together. Our little Laidey slept or lay on the beds, the other two explored safely within the watch of two relaxing parents. Sometimes we played on the beach.
Sometimes we searched the property and found things like bird nests and pine cones. These we took home for the fireplace. They make excellent kindling!

We have a large patch of tussock grass on the way to the beach. This proved to be the best fun of all, Hugo and Georgia falling down into it for fun. I used to despise the grasses for prickling my feet and legs and harbouring katipo spiders (which I now know don't live this far down the North Island.
The kids topped and tailed in a bed. So much better without a cot!

These wild lupins were Chris' nemesis. As he hacked them down I rescued a bunch of flowers and took them home for Oma. 
Then he cut me a bunch of these geraniums, which also grow as weeds there.

We treasured each moment and felt so grateful to have this place to escape to.
It's lovely to think of Georgia gaining her first memories of the beach. I remember being her age and being afraid of sharks in the sea but going in all the same and getting dunked by the waves and walking the endless 1km to the shop for an ice-cream. Bliss.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Russian doll invitation inspiration

Mum's turning 50 and I wanted to create something special for her invitations.
Several false starts later I fell upon the idea to use my Russian dolls (and they are the real deal from a Kyrgyzstani friend for our Wedding) as a backdrop for photos of Mum.
One doll for each decade.
The hardest part was finding the right photos, scanning and resizing and even colour-setting them to fit.
Tracing paper for sizing, masking tape for sticking.
I photographed them - was quite hard getting the light right to stop a reflection interfering with the images...
Tomorrow we'll be printing them and sticking to orange cards with message inside. Then sending them immediately as the party's a week away!
(I am in two photos, middle and second from right)

Saturday, November 6, 2010


I've been making this bread for a few months since seeing it on a few blogs, firstly at Tiny Happy (thank you so much for posting about this!) then at Angry Chicken. The master recipe is available here (the authors have two great looking books, one is for gluten free recipes!) and it makes a good amount - 3 or 4 small loaves and, here's the trick, it needs no kneading (love that phrase) and it keeps in the fridge for up to 2 weeks!
It rises once then it's ready to use. I generally make two small loaves then use the last of it up in a batch of fruit buns by rolling in some raw sugar and some currants, sultanas, raisins and peel.
I have found that it keeps rising in between uses though. I'd like to use a smaller container to keep it in the fridge to take less space, but it's burst out of ice-cream containers on several occasions with only half the dough remaining. I reduce the salt to one tablespoon too.
I've also tried keeping a little dough to incorporate into the next batch to give it more of a sourdough flavour - it got a little too sour, or bitter in fact, so have gone back to clean starts.
Using wholemeal flour has been ok. I started with that, then have gradually used more and more plain (high grade) flour as it makes a softer and more raised bread.

And sometimes I like to make traditional bread. Using Jamie Oliver's Naked Chef basic bread recipe (and look, there it is online) I made Foccacia the other day. I even used his strange topping suggestions - potato and rosemary, and fried onion. Both were exceptional. Here are two with the potato topping, one with kalamata olives added and parmesan. Better than pizza? Depends how hungry you are. Why did I not photograph the onion Foccacia? We were too busy eating...

a bean bag for the little ones

I made this bean bag a few months ago when I found the kids needed a chair of their own for lounging on.
There was a good tutorial on the net. I followed the instructions pretty fully. Had to copy and trace the pattern onto newspaper. I liked the idea that it has a lining, for strength and safety. There is also a nice tutorial and pattern in Kelly Doust's new book, the Crafty Kid. It has more of a 'back' to it and a traditional bean bag shape.
So mine was easily sewn together with a good spout in the lining for filling with the beans. Boy was it a prick to fill though - the beans went everywhere and on our wooden floors they resisted the broom with static electricity, went under the bed. Had to be vacuumed up in the end. (I was terrified of leaving any trace of them around as I understand they are a pretty bad suffocation risk if inhaled by small children!)
All in all, it's sturdy, attractive, useful, can be tucked away behind a chair easily enough.

Seats two (they're under 15kg each)
or one baby (supervised)
and is Dad's favourite footrest too.

The fabric was a mix of found materials from the op-shop and an auction.