Thursday 31 July 2014

Teacher aprons (yes, I know it's summer holidays!)

I know the last thing anyone is thinking about at the moment is back to school...but a friend of mine is a teaching assistant in the primary school’s Reception class, and a while back she had a request. A little summer project.

She needed some sort of carrier for the flotsam and jetsam of Reception class – pencils, stickers, cards (and I suspect the odd chocolate treat for mid-afternoon pick-me-up?). A little bag on a belt? An across-the-body satchel?

Then Sandra from Cherry Heart posted about a gardener’s apron she had made, and I knew I had the solution!

This is a teacher’s apron, in jolly primary colours and fabrics that appeal to 4- and 5-year-olds.

I sewed a pocket slim enough for pencils, with two other pockets for stickers and whatnot/chocolate. You can see the contrasting turquoise thread above...

Sandra’s tutorial was very clear and super-easy to follow - this apron was made in under an hour, including breaks to fetch children snacks and towels for paddling pool play. You can find her original post here.  

Late last night Bunny had a night terror; I heard her crying at 2:45 a.m. She was burning up and delirious, shaking and scared. I cuddled her and comforted her, then she came into our bed for the rest of the night. Cool washcloths and a soft breeze from the window settled her, and a dose of Nurofen helped with the fever. She woke this morning sleepy but absolutely fine, like nothing ever happened. Such a universal parenting situation; I remember cuddling up to my mother after a nightmare, there is nothing quite as comforting. I don’t know which feeling is better: being the child being comforted, or now being the mother, and knowing that wonderful, deep happiness of being the one who can provide such comfort.

But I digress because I'm sleepy...

This morning I woke weary and bleary, with a foggy mind and rattled nerves. I decided a spot of creativity first thing would sort me out and start the day on a positive note. So I made a second teacher’s apron, for the Reception class teacher, using the remaining fat quarter fabrics.

For these aprons I used an inexpensive fat quarter pack of fabrics found on eBay, which fit the bill perfectly.

I matched up some ribbon and bias binding, including a bright orange shade from my grandma's stash, which I used for the pocket trim and apron ties.

I had wondered when on earth I would ever use that orange!
This time the apron was finished in 45 minutes, including yawns and a break to make more tea.

I have some scraps of each fabric leftover – I think I’ll make some little bunting for the classroom. Little Flower will have a very colourful and coordinated Reception class!

Enjoy the weekend!
Chrissie x

Monday 28 July 2014

Bronze fennel embroidery

After some lovely emails and kind comments on my latest herb bouquet, I thought I would share some of my favourites from my garden and their uses.

But I also have started a new, herb-themed embroidery project, so I'm combining the two in this herb + craft blog post...

I am making a set of herb placemats, using the gorgeously rough-textured linen I first used here.

This is bronze fennel, a striking statement plant in the garden. The bronze fennel in my garden is nearly five feet high, a full and frothy feature in the corner of the herb border.
Bronze fennel towering over the lavender

I cut it back to the ground every year, and it shoots up so quickly and fully each summer. As it matures, the leaves turn bright orange, with yellow stems.

I love the colours, from cool white-green stalks on the young shoots to the rich, burnt orange of the feathery larger leaves. Sunset colours.

The Work-In-Progress
It then turns more coppery bronze, hence the name, but I wanted to capture the fiery shades of early summer leaves.

I matched the embroidery floss to the leaves (thank you, Sublime Stitching, for such vivid hues!). I turned to a beautiful Japanese embroidery book for some inspiration:

Herb Embroidery on Linen - that's fennel under the title!

The book features the common fennel in an embroidery pattern, so I adapted it to suit the bronze fennel’s palette.

How stunning is this?
Fennel has a cultivation history spanning thousands of years, used by the ancient Greeks and the Romans to suppress hunger and enhance food flavour. It was used as an insect deterrent in the Middle Ages, and today fennel seed is a common herbal remedy for indigestion.   

My fennel grows in a bright sunny spot, and the leaves and young stems can be added to salads and fish dishes with tasty results. The flowers have a bit of crunch and add texture and gorgeously sweet aniseed flavour as well. The bulb of Florence Fennel is the variety used in cooking; I may grow some of that next year!

For my first herb placemat, I stitched the stalk with chain stitch side by side with stem stitch, in two shades of green. The young bronze fennel plant has tan-coloured flower stems, and tiny yellow blossoms – these open wider with greener stems as the summer goes on. I stitched the flowers with French knots and straight stitch.

The leaves are simply straight stitches with the occasional stem stitch to add slight curves.

I want to keep the mats very simple to focus on the embroidery. I backed this mat with a neutral vintage linen fabric I bought at a fete earlier in the summer (from Sarah Moore’s stall, read more here). I thought the placemat looked a bit stark with nothing but the herb in the upper left section, so I added a little bee in the bottom right corner, as the bees love the bright fennel blossom.

Teeny tiny bee!
I already have more wee insects in mind for the other placemats, you’ll have to wait and see!

Chrissie x

Friday 25 July 2014

A Kaffe Coco Dress

What do you get when you cross some wonderfully funky fabric from Kaffe Fassett with the perfect Coco dress pattern?

A Kaffe Coco Dress!

(I’m not having a good face/hair day. Sunglasses aren’t enough; I need a hockey mask.)

Thank you once again to Bunny, who happily photographed me in the back garden, adding an artistic off-centre angle to the image above when I said I only wanted the dress in the shot.

The fabric is Kaffe Fassett Paperweight, in the pastel/grey colourway. It reminds me of a Gustav Klimt painting.

This time the Coco pattern whizzed off my sewing machine in an evening; it was an absolute delight to make. When I was finally able to make it, that is. Sometimes WIPs are worked on in half-hour increments...or ten minutes...or less!

For my Kaffe Coco Dress, I spread out the fabric on the living room floor one evening, weighed down the pattern with some tinned tomatoes, and cut out the dress pattern. Then it was time to pack lunches and tidy the kitchen and whatnot.

The next evening came and went, then the next...I was so anxious to get this dress sewn up! Finally, on Wednesday this week a very dear friend was coming over for the evening, and we decided to get our sewing machines involved. Perfect opportunity to finish my dress, which had been sitting in pieces on the back of a kitchen chair, waiting to be sewn.

Sometimes I don’t dare to put something away, even if it’s just moved to the utility room, for fear that it won’t see the light of day for another year.

We poured some Pimms, switched on the machines and stitched and nattered all evening. It was utterly wonderful!

And look, Grandma, my shoulder seams are getting neater!

How do you fit it all in? I am asked that question often, and now I ask the same of you: How do you squeeze in creative time when life is so full of caring, childrearing, working, nurturing, cleaning, cooking, washing, playing, driving, organising, etc. etc. etc.!?! How do you do it?

Now there’s a blog hop topic I’d like to see! Hmmm...

Chrissie x

Tuesday 22 July 2014

The end of an era, and teacher gifts

The dust is settling here as we wind down from the manic weeks that built up to the end of the school term. Both my girls have finished their time at their schools, I can hardly believe it. Little Flower will be donning a school uniform for the first time this autumn when she starts Reception; Bunny is stepping up to the more serious uniforms worn at secondary school. But for now, they are enjoying their summer dresses and playing all day in the sunshine!

But each of them had special gifts for their teachers before they left. Ages ago I found a lovely quote on Pinterest that I knew would be ideal for the 10 teachers at Little Flower’s pre-school. I used the quote for a card matched with a pretty vintage flower print, then printed 10 copies on printable card stock.

Inside each, my four-year-old wrote her name, drew a picture, and taped a packet of seeds, so the teachers will have pretty flowers in their gardens as a reminder of how greatly they are appreciated.

And of course we brought them a cake! But I forgot to take a photo. I was too busy baking cookies for Bunny’s teachers...

Chocolate cooling on the macaroons
The staff room got coconut macaroons drizzled with dark chocolate. These are exceptionally moreish, so much so that the first batch I made didn’t make it to the chocolate drizzle stage.

I stored them in this tin, with the gentle statement that these were for the primary school staff, so please don’t eat all of them. This sentence was obviously open to wide interpretation.

So when I made the second batch (and believe me, the recipe makes loads, I can't quite believe how many were snaffled away), I resorted to a stern warning and a formal label on the tin:

It is this batch that made it to the final, chocolatey-striped image above. (Though the Head Chef had to test one..or two...for quality.)

A few months ago Bunny asked if she could make gifts for her two classroom teachers this year. I was happy to oblige, especially when she said she wanted to sew tote bags for them! She found out their favourite colours, then chose fabric...

...ironed them neatly...arranged them into pleasing patchworks...started sewing...and ta-dah!

How proud am I? All I helped with were the handles, because the seam allowances are so narrow. She did the rest! Even lined them, clever gal:

Those of you who’ve been visiting her a while may remember when she made the nine-patch cushion last year. I think this gave her the confidence to make these pretty gifts.

And because we simply can’t let an occasion go by without giving cookies, we made melting moments for each teacher, filled with lemony buttercream:

These are delicate biscuits made with icing sugar and a mix of cornflour and plain flour, which all give the cookie a tender, melt-in-your-mouth texture that is rather special.

The lemon buttercream filling is perfect for the hot summer weather, fresh and zingy, but believe me, I envisage some of these little babies in a nice coat of Nutella...a friend suggested jam and clotted cream, reminiscent of scones...I’ll take more ideas!

Thus we’ve ended the school year and a school era. At Bunny’s Leavers Assembly, the teacher handed out packets of Kleenex as we parents all filed into the school. The boys performed a play, the girls did a dance, then individual pupils shared their talents with everything from an electric guitar to a drum solo! Bunny played the piano accompaniment for a friend who sings; they finished the piece by breaking into a harmonious duet of ‘Let It Go’, which Bunny had learned the chords for all on her own! (And I thought she was just playing around on the piano when she was practicing, she kept it all a big secret, you see!) Then she played the harp, which had everyone in the hall, including all the young schoolchildren, silent as she played. I was soooo proud I could have burst! (Yes, I teared up. Of course I did!)

Golly, I’ve rambled on today, thank you for reading! Oh, I will just share with you a photo of the end of that day, a little reward a few mums signed up for a while back, knowing we’d need a fun evening after a very emotional day:

We went to a Champagne & Cheese Tasting, as you do!

Chrissie x

Tuesday 15 July 2014

Book review: Rustic Modern Crochet

I’m well on my way to finishing the Driftwood Shawl I showed you in my last post, but given the end-of-term activities, I know I won’t finish it for at least another week, and I’m dying to share this book with you!

The Sea Turtle poncho
Rustic Modern Crochet, by Yumiko Alexander, features elegant, tactile patterns that are as beautiful as they are quirky.

The Sand Dollar wrap
Many of the items are unlike anything I’ve seen. The various scarves, shawls and accessories are completely unique, which gives the book a very contemporary feel, but without losing its warm, relaxed vibe. I turned each page wanting to wear an item, cuddle beneath a shrug, touch a tactile scarf.

Sophisticated yet not entirely refined.

The Sea Glass scarf on the right
The table of contents gives an idea of the nature-based ethos of the book. Titles like Sand and Shells, Coral Bouquet and Beach Pebbles evoke earth and water.

The wrap I’m making is aptly named Driftwood Shawl, with colour and texture, lines, nooks and crannies like something careworn by sea winds. I love it!

Sunset Waves shawl/shrug
Each pattern is clearly laid out on three or more pages, with photographs of the item at different angles. The beginning of the patterns feature a materials list that gives not only the yarn weight and amount required, but then lists the name of the particular yarn used in the photos, its fibre type and number of skeins used. I like this feature – often a pattern will just list the brand used in the photo, then it’s up to me to find out the yarn weight, amount per skein, etc.

Lace Reflections gloves with a top layer of lacy crochet
The instructions include a sidebar listing any specialty stitches for the pattern, such as lace stitch, clusters and popcorn stitch. One thing to note is that the book is written in US terms – beware the double crochet mix-up! But as long as you keep this in mind, the patterns are easy to understand. The author also includes helpful diagrams as well as written instructions, which transcends any language barriers!

Overall, I really enjoy this book. It has the odd item that I raise my eyebrows at, wondering who would wear something like that out of the house (is that a requirement for every crochet book?), but for the most part, the patterns are a fascinating exploration of texture in crochet. With such an old craft, it really is refreshing to see crochet being used in such new ways!

Happy crafting!

Chrissie x

Monday 7 July 2014


The race to the last day of school is on! Life has become a whirlwind, with performances, meetings, assemblies, parties, exams, sports days, picnics, new school visits...oh, and there are teacher gifts to sort, school uniforms for next term to buy, cookies to bake, nerves to calm...whirlwind!

I’m sure I’m not alone when I say blog posts may be fewer these next few weeks, and though I’m still reading all of your blogs, comments may not make it to the keyboard. Time is so precious, and my first priority is to be there for my girls as they prepare to leave pre-school and primary school.

Wow. They are both moving on to their next big stages of life! Friends have asked me if I’m sad that they are leaving their schools, but honestly, I am really *excited* for them! Of course I’ll miss my Little Flower being home much of the time, but she is so ready for primary school, anxious to read more and write more and explore life and learning. And my Bunny, how I’d love to hold her close and walk her to each class of secondary school, but she, too, is ready for a bigger challenge. She is quick to make friends, easygoing and friendly, and I can’t wait for the new adventures ahead for her.

But enough of my emotional ramblings, I have some crafting to share!

I think, possibly, that I’m finished with this heart. I’m not sure I want to embellish it more, so I’ll put it aside for a few days then return to it and see how I feel. Hmmm.

I added a few silk ribbon roses, using a variegated pastel ribbon, to complement the more textured ribbon that came in the hand-dyed skein from Stef Francis. I wanted a few lighter touches of colour, and the pastel blossoms dotted here and there achieves that.

Here are French knots, straight stitches to make the green leaves – the buds beneath use the lazy daisy stitch made with the ribbon, which gives a very different result than the same stitch done with embroidery floss.

This project was simply an experiment to see if I could use the various threads that made up the skein. Now I have more useful ideas...the rough linen would be perfect for a summertime picnic placemat set, and I already have the embroidery design in mind...

On the crochet front, I’m more than halfway through a summer wrap:

I am fascinated by this new crochet book – Rustic Modern Crochet – it is full of quirky, textured, interesting makes. I love it!

I was drawn to this wrap, and it gave me the excuse to buy some Rowan Savannah yarn, a gorgeous linen-y cotton wrapped in thin silk thread.

The long lines of the design are simply chains, so this project is working up quickly. I have half a mind to display it as a wall hanging, though, it is more like a textured artwork! I will write a little book review when I’ve finished this project.

And finally, (my my, she is going on and on and on today, isn’t she?) for those of you interested in my edible bouquets, I will share the book that got me started on my passion for herbs:

Jekka McVicar is the expert on herbs, what she doesn’t know isn’t worth knowing! I attended her herb workshop at RHS Wisley a few years ago, and I subsequently transformed the borders around our patio to herb gardens. She and her books are incredibly inspirational, whether you have a patio container or acres of land.

I use my herbs mostly for cooking, but some are grown for teas, scented sachets, mild medicinal use, and simply for the sheer beauty they give the garden. Soon I’ll do some posts featuring my favourite herbs and what I do with them!

Happy crafting!

Chrissie x

P.S. Thank you all so much for your very kind comments on my last post! The fabric I used is from Gutterman, it’s called Leaves Hill. It is a cotton with a teensy bit of stretch – I erred on the side of caution with my fabric choice rather than using a true jersey cotton for my first Coco top.