Friday, 31 July 2015

Berty's crashing the party

Another page for my embroidered story book, and this time it's a naughty bird called Berty who crashed, and then trashed, the party.

This bird was one of the first things I ever embroidered free-style, and I had no idea what to do with him. That's why I like this project. All the bits of embroidered doodles have a place now. I can do anything really, and it will fit as a page in the book. I really like collages, and this is very much like making a paper collage. Anything goes. The party lights that the bird is pulling down, cheeky bugger, are made of paper, and the bunting is just scraps of material.

For my next embroidered page I'm thinking of doing something architectural. I have a few really old books on Venice with amazing colour-saturated photographs in. I could maybe take one of the photographs and embroider straight on to it. Just thinking out loud. Not sure how I would bind that into my embroidered book. I'll work it out. Anyway, I'll let you see when I've finished it.

The basic sketch for my Berty bird

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

A cautionary elf tale

Inviting elves to live in the garden seemed like a good idea, unfortunately they invited smurfs to join them and all hell broke loose. Last year, after being inspired by Pinterest, I decided make a delightful elf garden. After spotting a little pottery house in a charity shop in Deal, I couldn't wait to get started and went straight to the garden centre for an enormous plastic pot and pretty, delicate plants. I knew I wanted a lawn outside my little house, so I also bought a roll of turf (big mistake). Perfect, I thought. I carefully made my little elf garden complete with little wooden fencing, a chair on the lawn and stepping stones. It looked fab. Easter came and we decorated it with easter flags and hid mini eggs in the flowers. Oh how pretty it looked, how enchanting. My daughter loved it.

Very quickly it became annoying. Seriously annoying. I was having to cut the elf lawn (with scissors) more than I had to cut our actual full-size lawn. Leave it a week and it grew taller than the elf house, leave it two weeks and it started to go straggly and a bit dead. I cut it back week after week. Until I forgot about it, and got a life of my own. Then the lawn went brown. So, as you do, I just left it. "Those elves can do their own gardening", I said to my little one.
Weeks later, I noticed the elves had put their washing out, and just like me, left it there all summer. It rained and they didn't bother taking it in (Oh, the neighbours did talk). Then the lawn went seriously bad, so they gravelled it. Sensible I thought. They put in a veg plot and planted greens. Lovely. 
And then at some point they invited smurfs to stay. These are some of the photos I took today of the beautiful enchanting elf garden, complete with drunk or stoned smurf, trashed veg plot, mysterious precious stones, shells and pom poms??????? Moral of the story: Never leave an elf garden unattended, and keep away from smurfs.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Broidered buttons

Sometimes easy, colourful and quick projects are the most satisfying, and these embroidered buttons are just that. Please give them a try, they're so much fun to do. 
Doodles often grow into things, and these buttons began just like that. Watching TV and doodling - brilliant. Watching TV, doodling and drinking wine - perfect. But add in a tin of felt tips, to colour in your doodles, and you'll never want to do anything else. Seriously give it a go. I think my doodles began as designs for Christmas baubles, but they just looked like buttons to me. So I embroidered some and voila! Instant joy! Plus, I can use them on any dressmaking projects I manage to get round to. You just need a hoop and some button backs. I used scraps of silk material I came across in a drawer - a little treasure waiting to be found. Again sorry about the rubbish photographs, I'm new to bloggin' so I need to research some photo editing apps. Anyone got an suggestions?

My cartoon days before children

Last year we decided to sell our house. So we decluttered and packed up all the extra bits and pieces, you never need, into the loft. Well, we waited, and we waited and we waited, but five months later we hadn't even had one offer on the house (ho hum). So we did the sensible thing and decided to stay put and just get a new kitchen. I mean, who needs a new house when you can have clean drawers. Those things in the loft, we never needed before, were suddenly the things I couldn't exist without. "Where's my box full of buttons?", "where's my small embroidery hoop?", "where's my knee bandage?".

Finally after too many where's-my-explosions I clambered up the ladder and decided to reclaim my 'treasures'. Only now a band of lawless wasps, smoking cigars and drinking sherry from pint glasses no doubt, have decided to reclaim the loft. These are the same wasps that come back year after year (they must put an advert in Guardian for a time-share in what is obviously our five-star wasp loft apartment). so the 'treasures' had to stay in the loft until a 'man' came to have a polite word with them. Then he killed them dead. Right, back to the point of this post, sorry. I got some of my stuff back and I found an old sketch book, which I had before my little girl was born. It's a cartoon diary of my life, and I thought I'd share some of the panels with you. It's amazing how much time I had on my hands, and how lazy I was. Hope you enjoy. Sorry abut the rubbish drawing and photos.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Rainy Days and Mondays

It's raining on my parade. The three-metre swimming pool we bought is full of rain water and holidaying thunder bugs. Our new swimming costumes and beach towels are sitting in the airing cupboard moaning to each other. The mini bouncy castle, I blew up cheerfully last week, is sagging and full of water (who knew bouncy castles cried). And our wellington boots have jumped out from under the stairs and are laughing at us and calling us names. My raincoat is smug and the house looks like it puked up toys. We are having a day of playing indoors, and it's taking its toll. Everywhere I look today there seems to be a puddle of water, a mountain of cushions, lego scattered like seeds, jigsaw puzzle pieces under chairs, marbles resting in all corners of the house and just general chaos. I'm not a clean freak. I'm as messy as the messiest person, but this house was pristine at 10am this morning. Pristine. I unexpectedly (it's unheard of) got up early to tidy up. You'd never know now. I've just noticed, as I write this, that there is a mashed up biscuit in the rug too. Let's ignore that for now. So yes, a total mess has developed because of the lousy rainy weather. And it looks like we're in for more rain. So the wellington boots get the last laugh as we try and head out tomorrow to the park, and our raincoats can have a nice day out. The swimming pool will have to wait for us, and for now it can entertain the insects. But I do have a happy little girl (who, by the way, has just put her t'shirt on her legs, and her leggings on her head - looks good). She's enjoyed her day of chaos, so I suppose that's all that counts. But, please let it be sunny soon. Don't rain on my parade.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Embroidered (and painted) lady

I had a whiff of inspiration that I could paint onto fabric with acrylic paint, and then embroider over the top to create a really colourful effect. This resulted in my embroidered and painted lady. 
By painting the dress with splurges of colour, it almost looked finished before I'd even got a needle near it. Once I started embroidering, the paint just gave it an extra layer of detail. I love a project where I can embroider free-style and this was perfect for that. I couldn't really go wrong with this one. Once I 'd finished the lady, I thought she needed a sense of humour, and that's where the mice in trousers came in. Don't ask me to explain, I have no idea why there are mice all over her trying to scare her with fake spiders. That questions will be answered, hopefully, by my daughter as this will be one of the pages in my embroidered book project. Now I just have to think of more things to embroider, that's the hard bit. If you have any ideas, please let me know.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Ahhhh it's a toddler

I'm a jumpy sleeper, always have been. Night terrors, I suppose they call it. Before having my little girl, I would regularly sit up in bed, see my sleeping husband and scream the house down. It would take a few minutes before I realised where I was and stop screaming. It became so regular that my poor husband got used to it, and would say grumpily 'for goodness sake it's just me' before I even got a scream in. Who knows what the neighbours thought.
When we had our daughter things changed. During the first year, I would wake up EVERY NIGHT searching the bed for my baby convinced she was lost in the bed clothes. My daughter at this point had never shared our bed, so I have no idea why I thought she was in the bed clothes. Oh, and instead of waking up screaming at my husband, I would wake up screaming at the sight of the mirror hanging on our bedroom wall. I think in my dream-state it looked like an intruder ready to snatch my little girl. But all of this was manageable, and my husband could calm me down in seconds with a simple 'it's just the bloody mirror' or 'the baby's in her cot'.
So now my daughter has a bed instead of a cot, and she often wakes in the night to come and get into bed with us. Any excuse she can think of, she makes her way to our bedroom. This has been a bit difficult for me. I'll be happily sleeping when I hear the bang bang banging of loud little monster feet on the floorboards, and then I see this terrifying vision running towards me. Hands outstretched, often shrieking with terror, with a large halo of curly unruly hair. This 'thing' then wildly lunges at me and paws its way on top of me, wiping its snotty nose on my forehead. AAAaaaaaahhhhhhhhh what is it! AAAaaaaahhhhhhhh! 
"Oh for goodness sake woman, it's just baba". 
I feel sorry for the neighbours, oh, and my husband of course. 

Friday, 24 July 2015

Our top five toddler days out in east Kent

I love living in Canterbury because it's central to all the attractions of east Kent. Most of our favourite places are less than 30 or 40 minutes' drive away, making it the perfect base from which to explore. Here's a list of our Top Ten favourite places to go, where we are guaranteed a happy day of smiles and giggles. 

1. Leeds Castle
This 900-year-old castle is set within 500 acres of parkland and gardens, and during its fascinating history has been a Norman stronghold, the home of six medieval queens, Henry VIII's palace and the private home of Lady Baillie. It is described as 'the loveliest castle in the world', and I think that might just be true. We love visiting this amazing place and there is plenty to see and do. I always take my daughter's scooter, so she can zoom along the lovely paths through the gardens. Along the way we can feed the ducks, geese and swans which are very tolerant of toddlers on scooters and mothers running along after. Our first port of call is the coffee shop, of course, and there are a few to choose from. Then we zoom to the playgrounds. There is a large adventure play area for older children, and another for younger children. The latter is the play area we prefer as it has everything a toddler needs - sandpit with buckets and spades, slides, various swings and zip lines with toddler seats. After an exhaustive couple of hours (yes, I said HOURS) we have lunch at the picnic tables where there is a coffee shop, and then on to the unfathomable maze and underground grotto. The maze is not a pretend maze, it is full-on tricky. We have got lost every time we've been, and we've visited many many times. We walk around for ten minutes and then shout for help to a member of the castle staff who keeps guard on the mound above the maze. They give directions and we hide our embarrassment by scuttling down to the grotto as quickly as possible. The grotto is magical and eerie complete with shell sculptures and dripping echoes. After that we scoot to the castle where we enjoy a good nose around the fabulous rooms. My favourite is Lady Baillie's suite, and it is here that my daughter likes to try and get into the roped off areas! If we have the energy we go to the shop and scoot back to the car, but if not, there is a land train for 50p, which is quite exciting for a three year old. For those with crazy energy you can also take a punt around the moat and enjoy falconry displays. At various times I have also seen tents with face painting and craft activities for children! Leeds Castle is amazing, and there is always a full programme of events throughout the year including Easter egg hunts, food festivals and beautiful decorations at Christmas. Tickets: Free for children under four and £24 for adults (this ticket grants repeat visits for a whole year from the date of issue with exception of special ticketed events). You can get a discount when you book online. Opening times: 10.30am until 4.30pm (3pm from October to March).

2. Lower Leas Coastal Park in Folkestone
The award-winning Lower Leas Coastal Park is the largest free adventure play area in the south east and consists of beautiful flower gardens, thoughtfully laid-out paths, pine avenues, picnic areas where barbecues are permitted and the most amazing play areas. The play area is extensive and separated into four parts, as far as I can see. There is a large pirate ship (the best one I've ever seen); a spider net and climbing wall; various sand pits including mini diggers; and a huge network of wooden climbing frames, tube slides and zip wires. We can easily spend a day here with a break for lunch at the nearby Mermaid Cafe, and a walk along the seafront. We also like to explore the charming Leas Cliff, the artificial cliff-side gardens, which were laid out in Victorian times and now carefully and thoughtfully maintained. If you follow the path up the cliff you will find a little mouse carved into the concrete, and we always like to give him a raisin. I love the fact that there is never a problem parking and once we're out of the car we are in for a lovely day. There are toilet facilities, plenty to do, it's a friendly well-kept place and there are always park staff around. We can take a scooter and a picnic and just enjoy the day.

3. Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway
Running now for over 88 years, the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch railway is a special treat for us. It is world-famous for its one-third full-size steam and diesel locomotives, which run regularly from Hythe to Dungeness stopping at four stations along the way. The locomotives were all built between 1925 and 1937 and are utterly charming. My daughter is always thrilled when we board our little carriage and travel to the traditional seaside town of Dymchurch. Here we visit another vintage little treasure, the very retro Dymchurch Amusement Park, where there are little rides for children. The railway has played a big part in my daughter's life since she was a year old. At Christmas we board the Santa train to New Romney where we see santa arrive on his sleigh, visit his grotto, get a special gift and enjoy festive refreshments while watching the children play in the 'snow'. There is also a full programme of events throughout the year for adults as well. We love this wonderful railway. Click here for full timetables and fares.

4. Viking Bay in Broadstairs
Broadstairs is a quintessential seaside town situated on the Isle of Thanet, and Viking Bay is the jewel in its crown. This blue-flag sandy beach is perfect for little children because it's sheltered, has excellent facilities, clean sand and ever-watchful life guards. Here you can rent deck chairs, parasols and wind breakers from a cute little hut on the beach. When you need refreshments there are plenty of places to find a coffee, ice-cream or chips. When the children have tired of swimming in the sea they can bounce on the bouncy castle or have a turn on the swing boats. The best thing, I think, are the traditional gelato ice-cream parlours which serve the best ice-cream in the world. I have often insisted that we drive to Broadstairs from Canterbury just so I could have a nutella-flavoured ice-cream the size of my arm. Delicious! If you haven't got a car, you can go on the train. You must go, even in winter we LOVE it.

5. Jungle Jims at Quex Park
Located in Birchington as part of the Quex Park Estate, Jungle Jims has to get a place in our Top Five places to go. This large indoor and outdoor soft-play barn may not be somewhere adults relish visiting, but children adore it. I love this place because it has given my daughter invaluable experiences which I couldn't have given her myself. She has learnt so much from climbing along the rope bridges, throwing herself head first down the huge four-lane slide and diving into the many ball pits. I have seen her confidence soar every time we have visited. There is lots of seating for adults, children are easy to monitor, there is a friendly atmosphere and it feels clean and safe. You couldn't ask for more from a soft-play centre. Opening times: There are dedicated toddler mornings from 10.30am until 2.30pm every week day in term time. Prices: £3.50 including a lovely lunch for your little one (sandwich, choice of snack and drink) and under one's go free.

My daughter and I love our days out, as there are so many special places to visit here in Kent. If you have any suggestions I would really like to hear them. I will keep you posted on some more of our favourite places too.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Embroidered pages

I had the idea of making a series of embroidered pages after finding inspiration in my grandma's chocolate box of embroidery threads. The idea is to have a book of thread pictures which I can show my daughter and make up stories with her as we explore the book. This is the first page I have finished.

A while ago I watched a tutorial on YouTube showing how to make an origami dress in paper. I made one out of material on a whim and it sat in my tin of unfinished projects for about a month. When I had the idea of making an embroidered story book, the little dress was the first thing I thought of, and so the little girl sprang out of the dress and into a forest of flowers. You can't see from my photograph but I did attempt a bit of stump work by stuffing her head to make it 3D, and also embroidering the flowers separately to stick up. I cut the rabbit from one of the shirts my daughter had when she was a baby (I can never throw away the teeny tiny baby clothes she wore). The face of the girl was inspired by a lovely paper-doll magnet my daughter loves, so the whole thing is really about her.

I'm not sure how many pages I am going to do, but there are endless possibilities with this little project. Plus, I can pick it up, or leave it, at any time - perfect.

Embroidered Adventures

Treasures can be found anywhere, even in an old chocolate box, and this is where my embroidered adventures began.
From an early age I have appreciated embroidery in all its forms. I remember my Grandma and Mum creating beautiful pieces, which were so intricate and perfect. I liked the colours, the textures and the old chocolate boxes filled with embroidery silks and needles. My Grandma embroidered table cloths and sofa arm covers, napkins and doilies, and I loved them for their homeliness and charm. I can remember my mum embroidering pansies in satin stitch, so that they looked almost real; the silky flowers that were so satisfying to stroke. I knew that this was a skill I wanted for myself so I started with samplers. Samplers are a good start for a child and my first one was framed at some point and hung in our hallway. I still have that first bit of embroidery, but now it hides underneath the stairs behind a wooden box tucked out of sight. Samplers knocked the life out of embroidery for me, and it wasn't until I had the embroidery itch in my mid thirties that I decided to ditch kits and just embroider free-style. I started embroidering doodles, and then anything I could think of. First drawing out a design on paper, then tracing that onto fabric using carbon paper, and embroidering free-style. This way of working has kept me interested in embroidery, and the thrill of choosing colours and stitches has never gone away. I now keep all my threads in my Grandma's old chocolate box. I am gradually working my way through her threads and adding to them as I go. Sometimes I pick up a skein and I see that there is a prepared thread of three strands already knotted at the end. My Grandma had obviously prepared this ready for one of her projects, so when I use it in one of my pieces I feel like she's involved and helping me out. A lovely present from her even though she's been gone for five years. It was this magical box of threads that inspired my latest embroidery project – embroidered story pages.

Monday, 20 July 2015

An easy dress for beginners

I found this 'two-hour' New Look pattern while ransacking The Sewing Shop in Canterbury. Yes, I'm sticking to easy patterns for the time being, until I get my vavavoom and try more complex ones. This is easy peasy lemon squeezy, but takes a lot longer than the two hours it says it should take. Nine hours for me - I'm quite slow. There are no button holes or zips, which is a wonderful thing. Plus, the best thing for me about this dress is the pockets. I love pockets! I did two rows of stitching around the pockets for extra strength - I always end up with car keys, dummies, bananas, biscuits and water bottles in mine. The best bit about making this dress is applying the bias binding to the arm holes and neckline. At first I thought this would be so tricky I imagined myself having to glue it in place (blu-tak doesn't work does it?) but I watched a tutorial on YouTube by Liesl Gibson. She says not to bother pinning the binding in place, just use your fingers to guide it through the machine. This made it so much easier and resulted in pretty-much perfect results.

Now that I know that I can make this dress easily and, more importantly, wear it, I can search for lovely material. Two-and-a-half metres of fabric and two metres of bias binding, and that's it. Easy!

Friday, 17 July 2015

About this blog

This blog has been a long time coming, and almost didn't happen because of a massive lack of confidence on my part. Like a lot of people, the confidence and self-belief that I had in my twenties and early thirties just seems to have gradually leaked out of my feet while I was asleep. Everything different was out of my comfort zone, so I just shied away into a comfortable and happy little life. That was until BOOM I found out I was pregnant at 39, since then life just seems to be full of endless amazing possibilities. If I could be pregnant after over ten years of trying, then hip hip hooray what else could happen? This is why I have pulled myself together and started this blog, something I have wanted to do for ages. This blog is about the little treasures in life that we unexpectedly find. I plan to post something everyday whether it's about a sewing pattern, an inspiration for my embroidery, a find in a junk shop or a new place to take my little girl. I hope you enjoy reading this blog and we can be mudlarks and magpies together showing off the shiny treasures we find along the way.

Oliver + S seashore sundress

This easy sundress pattern is perfect for the novice dressmaker who needs a boost in confidence.
After some terrible attempts at making a skirt, which looked like a baggy dish rag, I decided that I was useless at dressmaking and quietly resigned myself to failure. It was only when I watched the Great British Sewing Bee that I realised sewing was a methodical and logical process, which I could 'maybe' get my head around. So, the Oliver + S seashore sundress was the first pattern I tried and it was amazingly easy. It gave me the confidence I needed and made me realise that it's better to try things out than just accept defeat. I made the initial error of picking up the wrong size pattern (what a wally). I was so excited to find this lovely dress that, in the mad dash to the cash till, I didn't check the sizing. My pattern goes from sizes 5 to 12, when really the smaller version would have been better since my little one is only three years old. I decided to make it up anyway in the hope it might fit her. It was really easy. I took my time - traced out the pattern, read through the instructions a zillion times, double checked I had everything and when it was finished I was really pleased. However, it is too big for her now, but soon it will be perfect. There is nothing tricky or confusing about this pattern, but you do need to do button holes. My machine was a bit grumpy about this and was obviously hungover when I attempted them. It managed the first one perfectly, and then threw a wobbly and decided to do the second one in a crazy abstract-pattern-sort-of-way. Four unpicks later (grrrrrrrr) and it was ok, just don't look too close. If you have a little girl who is a wannabe mudlarker (this dress has fab pockets for all the treasures she may find), and you need an easy and quick pattern - then try this one. I'll definitely be making more! 

Burning up

Pyrography is not something that many people do, but you should certainly give it a try. It's easy, cheap and fun and you can create all sorts of different things. I like decorating boxes, but I've seen some amazing designs burnt into chairs and tables, spoons, signs and bowls. My wood burning tool is a little treasure, that I couldn't be without.
You only need three things to start - a wood burning tool, something to burn and, if you want colour, acrylic paints. I made this box at Christmas to put my mum's presents in. It was at a time I was teaching myself French so that's why it says 'Joyeaux Noel Momie'. I drove everyone mad that Christmas. Apparently, it was only me who found it amusing to jam random French words into sentences. I still do it now, but less so after my little girl shouted 'zut alors' when she dropped a toy. Ooops. Anyway, back to the wood burning! Pencil the design onto the wood, trace over the lines with the wood burning tool, and then finish it off by using watered-down acrylic paint to add colour. I find that highlighting with white paint really helps it all pop. You can buy wood burning tools in Hobbycraft, or any craft supply shop, and they are so inexpensive and easy to use. I have seen professionals using more advanced wood burning tools, but for burning the odd box you don't need anything fancy.
I made a special illustrated box for my daughter, which has the date and time she was born. So give it a go and make lots of presents for your family and friends.
Tip: If you want very accurate letters, for a sign perhaps, print out the correct size letters or words you need, using a computer. Then, with a biro trace over the letters onto the wood, so that you get an indent in the wood. Then simply follow the indents using your wood burning tool.

As I find inspiration for more things to burn I'll let you know, but I would love to see how other people use their pyrography skills. If you are a secret wood burning fan will you share your work with me? I'd love to see it. 

The original sketch