Monday, 30 March 2015

Creating A Bridal Button Bouquet

 Today is my second wedding anniversary so I thought I would share with you one of my favourite makes ever - my wedding bouquet.  I'm not really that into fresh flowers - I like them don't get me wrong - they're just not something I was particularly fussed about when planning my wedding.  I'm not an especially conventional person and I just pick things I like, whether they're traditional or not so our wedding did end up having a few unexpected turns.  Well unexpected for other people anyway!

My bouquet in action!

I ended up making a button bouquet which quite frankly I would NEVER do again ha ha.  I absolutely love my bouquet to pieces and it is utterly perfect in my eyes but making this was far harder than I expected and if we're being completely honest here (which we are because erm, that's what I do!) no one else is going to think it's perfect.



If you look at the button bouquets for sale from the pros you may well get a bit of a shock at the price.  Well let me tell you I think it's completely justified.  Not only do these things cost far more to put together than I expected (they need A LOT of buttons), getting that rounded shape is clearly a skill only possessed by the chosen few.  This little crafter is not in the chosen gang and neither it seems are a lot of other people who give this a whirl.  The pros offer rescue services for those that have attempted colanders, sieves etc as support!

My bouquet is mostly buttons with a little bit of jewellery that belonged to my Grandma and a few sparkly beads.  It was important to me to try and incorporate subtle references to my grandparents in the wedding as they have all long since died.  For my Grandma that meant being in my bouquet.

A pendant belonging to my Grandma, you can just see the pendant dangling to the right
One of my Grandma's brooches
I used jewellery wire for the stems which I wouldn't recommend as it isn't rigid enough to hold the weight of the buttons.  I think quite a few people use floristry wire but I was adamant I didn't want green stems.  I thought the silver jewellery wire would be perfect but to get more rigid it would have been too thick and unmanageable for turning through the button holes.  That balance between strength and manoeuvrability eluded me.



I knew another bride getting married in the same month who had bought a brooch bouquet and she helpfully showed me pictures of the underneath of her bouquet to help me understand how the individual stems worked together to get the right shape.  This did help although mine still doesn't have a very smooth appearance.  I didn't mind though.  Very few people knew I was making this and it had quite an impact on the day.

Running repairs after being given an unexpected bear hug and my poor bouquet getting stuck in the middle
For the bridesmaids I bought foam peonies and some bargain Christmas decorative twigs with glass beads that I pulled apart to get the right size and length to sit between the peonies.  Unfortunately I don't have any decent photographs of these so you'll just have to trust me that they looked nice!  I also made a miniature button bouquet for my gorgeous niece who was my flower girl, again pictures appear to be elusive.

These pin heads were exceptionally sparkly although you can't tell from this photograph

All of the bouquet handles were wrapped in ribbon with quilt batting underneath for comfort and then pinned in place with crystal headed pins.  I was so pleased with them all and so glad that I made the effort to do this.

What about you readers?  Did you or would you DIY your bouquet?  What about other aspects of your wedding?  I would love to hear your stories.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Come Fly With Me - New Look 6891 Top



This loose fitting top was my second completed garment and I must admit to being ridiculously pleased with it when it was done.  Of course it still has some foibles but nothing I can’t live with or feel the need to go back and correct.  I sort of like having those things to chart my sewing progress, or at least I hope it’s progress!


I tried French seams for the first time and absolutely love the way they look.  In fact I didn’t find them hard at all which was a surprise, they just take a bit longer but surely it’s worth it to have your seams neatly tucked away.  I’ll caveat that though by saying that I only did the side seams with this technique.  Let’s gloss over the fact that I completely ignored the need to finish the centre back seam, shoulder seams or armholes.  Having disliked the finish I got using a zig zag stitch on my McCalls 3341 skirt seams and without pinking shears or an overlocker in my sewing arsenal I simply just did nothing.  Not cool.

Lovely French seams
Not so lovely back seam - unfinished lol

I did make an alteration to this pattern as I didn’t want to have a centre front seam cutting through my balloons and I also wasn’t a fan of the gap at the top that’s intended by the pattern.  There was absolutely no chance of me attempting any pattern matching so I cut the front as a single piece, remembering to remove the seam allowance.  I can’t actually remember how I did this now but I’m pretty sure I didn’t do it by cutting on the fold which now seems to be a perfectly obvious and easy solution.  No doubt I did something complicated like tracing half, turning over and tracing another half.  Whatever, I still got there.

The gathering at the neck and armholes was another new technique for me and I took my time with this and was very happy with the results.  I used the basting and pulling technique which I think was included in the pattern instructions.  I could improve on my efforts with this I think, particularly in the armholes as my gathers probably weren’t really close enough to the seams so they got a bit uneven once through the sewing machine.

 I promise there is gathering there, not loads but some!

The bias binding and tie at the neck was yet another new technique to me and generally this went pretty well.  I’m already in love with self binding but I might not be when I’ve tried it with a less forgiving fabric ha!  My stitches fell off the binding at times but it’s all secure so who cares.  My machine did struggle a bit towards the ends of the ties so I did get some thread breakage there and my stitches are nowhere near the edge.  I took a bit of a sledgehammer approach and just made sure they were joined together, regardless of good stitch placement.  Again who cares, it’s my second make!

Very happy with my bias binding

The bow is together even if the stitching isn't perfect

There is one thing I don’t like about this top and do care about and that’s the sleeves.  The fabric is a medium weight cotton from My Fabrics and I sort of anticipated that it might not be drapey enough for the sleeves and it wasn’t.  I wanted the balloons pretty badly though so I just ignored that and ploughed on.  They stand a bit proud and I’m not sure it’s going to improve a lot – the cotton has got softer with washing but I think it’s kind of done with that now.  So stiff sleeves it is, ah well.

Still no attempt at pattern matching and I'm just fine with that

This top has seen a fair amount of wear although I wouldn’t say the fit is that great (my fault not the patterns I’m sure).  I paid a lot more attention to the pattern sizing this time and cut based on my bust measurement which I knew would mean taking in at the waist later.  I figured I could just do this once it was on me before I sewed the side seams and I did do this but I found it fiddly without a buddy to help.  (My dress form was a distant dream at the point I made this top.)  And I stabbed myself with pins quite a bit L  Fortunately it’s a loose top so it’s easier to get away with this.

New achievements for my portfolio:

  • Bias binding - both making and attaching
  • French seams
  • Inserting sleeves
  • Gathering
  • Staystitching

Overall a definite win and I’m still totally in love with those balloons!

Sunday, 15 March 2015

My Very First Sewed Garment (As An Adult!) - McCalls 3341 Skirt


 

 It’s more than a 18 months now since I made my very first garment since taking up sewing again and despite the fact that I’m not a frequent sewer I really do feel I have come a long way in that time.  My portfolio of techniques whilst still small is growing and that’s all I ask of myself really.  When I was deciding what to make all those months ago the idea was mostly born out of the fact that I had seen a dress I loved made from a Russian Dolls fabric.  I am a total sucker for anything with Russian Dolls on it!  Not the cheapest of dresses, I hadn’t taken the plunge to purchase when I began to develop an interest in learning to sew and decided to see if I could find the fabric.


After trawling the internet for quite some time I managed to find the exact same fabric!  Winner.  Next stop finding a pattern to go with it.  As a complete beginner I wanted to start with something I actually thought I could achieve and a line skirts seemed to come up repeatedly in blogs and sites suggesting beginner projects.  I find a line skirts extremely flattering on me so I was very happy to go down that route rather than holding out to make a dress and potentially buggering up with my precious fabric.

I spent ages assessing patterns and trying to get my head around the line drawings that are shown on the packets.  OMG talk about confusion reigns.  To my eyes it was like learning a whole new language, I simply wasn’t used to looking at clothes in that way and found it difficult to visualise those drawings in fabric.  Of course most packets show photos or at least illustrations of finished garments too but I vividly remember thinking that pattern packets were a rather weird concept to get used to.  I mean what the heck are all those numbers on the back?  I was about to learn!

You can just about see the dart and very clearly see the side seam

Eventually I settled on McCalls 3341 and purchased the pattern, fabric and the listed notions including an invisible zip.  Cue extensive research online as to how to insert an invisible zip and a lot of faffing around delaying before I finally started my project.

It took me about a day to make this skirt from start to finish and I slogged at it pretty much non stop.  I cut a size 12 which was based on my RTW size rather than taking any notice at all of the measurements on the pattern.  Rookie mistake!  It sort of worked out OK in the end more from blind luck than any judgement.  If I’d cut according to the pattern guides I should have cut a 16 but that clearly would have been ridiculously huge on me in the end.  I’ve since learned that the so called big four pattern companies are notorious for adding stupid amounts of ease to patterns so in this case that really worked in my favour :D

No attempt at pattern matching whatsoever!  DGAF

Absolutely every single thing I had to do in the construction of this skirt was new to me - understanding pattern markings, understanding grain lines on fabric, laying out the pieces and cutting them, marking and sewing darts, inserting the invisible zip, adding a waist band facing, finishing seams and attempting a blind hem.  Reading that it sounds like A LOT of new things for just one simple project but when each part is broken down it’s not so bad.

I am super proud of this skirt.  It is miles from by no means perfect and I am totally OK with that.  I know if I did the same pattern again now it would be better but ultimately I made something I can wear and I am so not going to beat myself up for being a beginner and producing something that makes me look like one.  It’s been washed, it didn’t fall apart, job done.

A very visible invisible zip

My invisible zip is far from invisible (I had to use a standard zipper foot – there are only so many accessories I’m prepared to buy when I have no idea if my interest in something is fleeting or not), my blind hem is very visible in places, my zig zag stitches on my raw edges look really weird to me – definitely not my preferred finishing method if I had enough experience to have a preferred method yet J

A not quite blind hem - visually impaired hem?
Really not loving those zig zagged edges

Eurgh, just eurgh
I wish I’d known about Craftsy when I made this skirt.  The free tutorials on there are awesome and would have given me a big head start in achieving this skirt.  Having said that there’s a lot to be said for not spending too long researching stuff – sometimes you just have to dive in and learn as you go along.  I’ve noticed lately I’ve spent a lot of time reading sewing blogs, dreaming of patterns I want to buy and generally not doing enough sewing.  Never going to produce new clothes that way!

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Spiced Pumpkin Cake With Cream Cheese Frosting



Today I've got a recipe for you that was sort of born out of a desire to have just a little bit less wastage when it comes to food and I'm sure it's something that quite a few of you will have had hanging around in your kitchen in the last week or so.  Yes it's pumpkin!  I adore carving pumpkins but I don't really know what to do with all those innards that you end up scraping out.  Mr Normal Kitchen and I went totally over the top as usual and bought the biggest pumpkins we could lay our hands one - one each of course - so by the time we were done there was an ice cream tub full of flesh looking a bit lonely and in need of a home.

Originally I thought about making a pumpkin pie but I didn't have a huge amount of time so I would have needed to buy a pastry case to do this.  I didn't really fancy that idea much so I started searching for pumpkin cake recipes.  I adore carrot cake and figured this was in the same arena.  I found a few recipes but none of them grabbed me completely so I took my favourite bits from a few, cobbled them together and basically made it up as I went along.



I am so pleased with the result!  So now I'm sharing it with you so you can also find a good home for some of your scrapings.  And I say 'some of' on purpose because unless you make a few of these cakes you're probably going to still have some leftovers!

spiced pumpkin cake cream cheese frosting Ingredients:

Spiced pumpkin cake
4oz butter
8oz dark brown soft sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5oz plain flour
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon bicarb of soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
8oz grated pumpkin
3 1/2oz chopped dates

Cream cheese frosting
3oz butter
8oz cream cheese
3oz icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat your oven to 200C or 180C fan

2. Put your dates in a bowl and cover them with water to soak.  I just left them as long as it took me to make the rest of the mixture so it's only a few minutes but worth doing.

3. Beat together the butter and sugar until totally combined and light and fluffy.  Then add the eggs and vanilla extract and beat again.  The mixture shouldn't curdle but if it does add a little of the flour to help.

4. Add the flour, spices, bicarb of soda and baking powder and fold in until completely combined.  I say this because it's the proper way to do it but honestly I carry on using my hand mixer and my cakes turn out perfectly well.

5. Drain the water off your dates and add them to the mixture along with the pumpkin.  Fold in.  (I didn't use my mixer here, ha!)

6. Line a brownie tin with baking paper and add your mixture to the tin, spreading it flat and evenly into the corners.

7. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 25-30 minutes.  The cake will be a gorgeous golden brown colour and slightly sticky to the touch, mmmm.  It also fills the house with an amazing aroma while baking so if you're selling your house here's an alternative to fresh bread!

8. Leave to cool in the tin then use the baking paper to lift it out.




9. For the cream cheese frosting beat the butter until fluffy and then add the cream cheese, vanilla and icing sugar.  Beat together until well combined.

10. Spread the frosting over the cooled cake before cutting into slices.

The cream cheese frosting is optional but I found it a great addition to the cake.  Alternatively you could serve the cake warm with thick custard for a delicious winter dessert.  It's a surprisingly light cake and very moist.  Not too rich and dare I say it a nice alternative to sticky toffee pudding occasionally.

In case you're interested here's a little pic of the pumpkin I carved this year too.  Happy Hallowe'en everyone.




Friday, 8 August 2014

Sewing Blog Land - Part 1

gutermann sewing thread

Now that my life involves spending several hours a week on train journeys I have endeavoured to find useful and interesting ways to pass the time.  The tablet I bought a year ago as a treat to myself has proved to be one of my best purchases ever and something I would sorely miss should it not be available.  BBC iPlayer has become a very good friend and given my new found love of sewing (and the fact that it's not exactly straightforward to sew on a train) I've also launched myself wholeheartedly into the world of reading sewing blogs.

There must be gazillions of new blogs springing up on a daily basis but way before sewing became so fashionable again (fashionable, get it? Ha, I amuse myself at least) there was already a strong community of people out there making gorgeous garments and blogging about it.  There are plenty of established and hugely informative blogs to read and believe me when I say I have been reading A LOT of them.

It doesn't seem to matter what you're struggling with or want to learn about SOMEONE SOMEWHERE will have written a blog post telling you how.  Oh, and probably linking to about 10 other lovely sewing blogs also explaining it, but in a slightly different way.  You know, in case that way is more your thing.  It seems to be such a lovely community and I am absolutely loving dipping my toe into it.

floral satin fabric

As a total beginner to sewing who hasn't been on a course at all, these blogs have provided an absolute ton of useful information.  I may have only made two finished garments so far but frankly I think that's bloody good because I can, and do, wear them both.  Without getting arrested for indecent exposure.  They have been through the washing machine and survived as garments as opposed to the mangled mess of fabric and thread I expected, they have allowed me to learn a heap of new skills which I can use again and again, and they have empowered me to think about my wardrobe in a whole new way.

As I've mentioned before I'll be changing things up a bit around here and you can expect to see a lot more sewing based posts from me.  Effectively if I make it, there's a chance I'll blog about it, be it cake, clothes, greetings cards, Christmas decorations, papercut art, whatever.

What about you?  What do you make outside of your normal blogosphere?

fat quarter collection

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Chocolate and Raspberry Tart - Michel Roux Desserts Challenge Recipe 4

chocolate raspberry tart

Following hot on the heels of recipe number three from the Michel Roux Desserts book comes recipe number four – a gorgeous looking chocolate and raspberry tart.  With my paté sablée already chilled in the fridge for a good hour I was finally ready to move on to the tart proper.

First of all I had to roll out my pastry to approximately 3mm thick and use it to line my tart tin.  Enter problem number one.  If you’ve read my last post about making the paté sablée you’ll know that I had to add extra flour to get it to a rollable consistency.  Once I started working with it however I wondered if I needed to add yet more – that pastry was just soooooo delicate.  I could roll it but as soon as I tried to move it, it just fell apart.  The chances of getting it into the tin without it not only ripping but darn near crumbling were exactly nil so I needed a new plan.

pate sablee ready to roll


Rather than adding more flour and going through the chilling process again I decided to get a little creative.  I wasn’t at all sure that adding extra flour would be the right thing to do anyway so instead I removed the base from my tart tin, laid it on the worktop and rolled the pastry directly on to it.  Once the pastry was just over the edges I lifted the whole thing and dropped in back into the outer of the tin.  Voila!

pate sablee pressed into tin


Well sort of anyway.  I still had to faff around with the sides of the tin, pushing the pastry up the sides and trying to make it vaguely even.  There will surely be no prizes for this technique but in my defence I did stop short of using a pepper pot as a mini rolling pin to work inside the tin.  I absolutely guarantee the lid would have fallen off and the whole thing would have ended up in the bin if I had.

Once the paté sablée had been pressed into submission I had to bake it blind, finally my baking beans got an outing.  I swear I bought these two years ago after having them on my wish list for about five years before that and they’ve never made it out of the tub before.  Ridiculous.  I need to make more tarts.

pastry case baking blind


The rest of the tart came together easily with the raspberries being pressed on to the base of the pastry case before covering in the chocolate mixture and then chilled for at least two hours.  I opted for 70% dark Lindt chocolate for this – a sort of compromise between the Valrhona that Michel Roux recommends (ouchy expensive) and the Sainsbury’s own dark chocolate I often use when I’m baking less intentionally impressive things if you see what I mean.  (In fairness it’s much nicer tasting than you might expect, but the cocoa content is low.)

completed chocolate raspberry tart


So was all that pastry faffing worth it?  Oh yes, it most definitely was; this tart is absolutely divine.  Not the most complicated thing to make pastry aside but my goodness the results make it seem as if you slaved for days.  This is probably partly down to using good ingredients and it wasn’t cheap to do – I think I spent about £10 altogether using the Lindt and proper butter.  There’s also one ingredient you might not have to hand quite so readily as you need liquid glucose.  I happened to already have some and it’s not that hard to find.

completed chocolate raspberry tart


I was actually hugely proud of the taste and texture of my pastry in the end.  Somehow I managed to end up with a very crisp and even pastry case that tasted really good.  Absolutely no hint of sogginess whatsoever and an impressive sound and crumbliness when I cut through it.  Maybe my odd technique isn’t quite to be sniffed at after all.

completed chocolate raspberry tart

completed chocolate raspberry tart


The tart is quite rich with that dark chocolate and the sharpness of the raspberries is a wonderful, juicy refresher cutting through the richness.  If you wanted to balance it even further you could serve with cream or ice cream but either way I found a small slice perfectly satisfying.  I would definitely make this tart again for an occasion.  It’s impressive to look at, impressive to taste and you can easily make it in advance of a dinner party.  Another hit for me from this very impressive book.

flapjacks coating oats flapjacks pressed in tin

Friday, 13 June 2014

Pate Sablee - Michel Roux Desserts Challenge Recipe 3

flour mountain pate sablee

I am often inspired to bake more when I have more people to feed and as my parents came to stay for a couple of days I thought it was about time I dusted off my Michel Roux Desserts book and cracked on with my personal challenge of making every recipe in the book.  I’d already earmarked a chocolate and raspberry tart as a ‘must try this soon’ item so obviously it was essential that I went through the whole book, assessing every recipe before finally deciding on the one I’d already stuck a bookmark in.  Yeah I like to waste time that way.

Obviously with this being Michel Roux the instructions do not include laying your hands on a shop bought pastry case.  No no, you must make your own.  This is a first for me but come to think of it I’ve never bought a shop one either, I’ve simply never made a tart like this!  Honestly the more I bake these days the more I wonder if I’ve ever actually made anything other than sponge cakes.

flour icing sugar butter pate sablee

Making paté sablée is one of those glorious recipes that makes a crazy mess of your kitchen.  Not only do you need to make your pastry on a nice clear work surface, said pastry recipe includes icing sugar, that well known coverer of all things within a half mile radius.  And egg yolk, minus the white.  Mmmm gooey separation with fingers, sticky.  I made a right royal mess doing this pastry and once everything was incorporated I was pretty sure my results were not as they should be.

sticky pate sablee

Instead of a pliable ball of dough at a rollable consistency I had a sticky mess which just would not let go of my fingers.  (No pictures of this I’m afraid, I was too busy being covered in goo.)  I’m positive these recipes are rigorously tested before printing so either I did something wrong or pastry making is just one of those dark arts where you need to use a bit of judgement.  It’s not the most complicated of recipes and I followed it closely so my money’s on the dark arts option.

I figured that even after a spell in the fridge this pastry wasn’t going to be suitable for rolling so I added a little more flour and worked it into the dough.  It got a bit better but I still needed to add a bit more again.  I was worried about overdoing it so I only added enough to get the dough to a just combined consistency, also bearing in mind that when it did come time to roll it out I’d be flouring my work surface too.

pastry dough pate sablee

Once the flour shenanigans were out of the way I wrapped my paté sablée in cling film and whacked it in the fridge to chill out.  Even though I wanted to use it for my tart straight away pastry isn’t fond of being too warm and the instructions definitely implied that overworking it would be bad bad bad.  A spell in the fridge was definitely in order to let it recover from my hot little hands.

And that’s it.  Paté sablée done and one chocolate and raspberry tart coming up in my next post.

Monday, 28 April 2014

A Lack of Baking and General Life Stuff

Well my poor blog and blog readers have been well and truly neglected lately.  It's been about 6 months since I last posted and if I'm being completely honest I haven't even thought about my blog much at all in the last three.  It's not because I'm not interested in it any more and have lost the desire to post, it's simply because life has a habit of really getting in the way.

Six months ago my hubby and I made a huge change in our lives when we moved to the north west - back to where I grew up and where I am much happier.  To do this however we have had to face a number of big challenges and establish a new way of living our lives.  Hubby has started a new job up north and I have stayed in my old one in London which means I still live half the week down South - away from my home and my husband - and I spend vast amounts of time and money on travelling between the two.

I'm not looking for your sympathies here (well maybe a little bit!), it was our choice to do this.  But anyone who's ever tried to relocate knows how hard it is for one person, let alone when both of you have careers to try and manage.  I really love my job and the company I work for suits me very well.  I don't want to leave but I do want to be up north so this is the compromise we have reached and we'll do this until it just doesn't work any more.

I won't bore you with all the details of some of the horrible things we've been through in the last few months, suffice to say it's been super challenging and there has been a lot of teeth gritting, tears and the odd total meltdown.  That's life kids, and I really did promise myself I wouldn't waffle on too much in this post.  In amongst it all there hasn't been a lot of baking going on and realistically I can't see that changing a huge amount in the near future.  I still want to carry on with my Michel Roux Desserts challenge, and actually I did make a fruit crumble out of the book a couple of months back, but there isn't (and won't be) a blog post to go with it.  I also made a Tunis cake at Christmas which went down a storm with my picky husband, but see above statement about blogging about it.

I haven't been completely uncreative however as I have been carrying on developing my sewing skills and as well as the lavender bags, make up bags and minor alterations I was doing I have now made two whole garments from scratch.  Yes TWO!  The first was an a line skirt (for those that don't sew this is pretty much the most basic clothing you can make) and the second was a pretty, loose fitting top which I am super proud of.  It's soooo much better than the skirt already and I am patting myself on the back at the progress I'm making in the sewing stakes.

Which brings me (finally) to the point of this post.  I'm going to shake my blog up a little.  I'll still be blogging about baking but I'm also going to write about other creative things I do.  I figure that someone who's interested in baking might also be interested in other creative pursuits so hopefully no one will mind too much.  If they do, well they can skip that post of course!  Let's face it there are no rules to this blogging lark, I can write a post about damn near anything I fancy.  You might not want to read it but that's OK, I won't force you.

So that's it for now.  I hope you're all well and stuff.  Let's not leave it so long next time.