The first fifty little boats are now hanging in the bathroom. Sailing boat bunting really does improve the start of each day (even if it is almost impossible to capture properly with my slightly slapdash approach to photography).
Although our seasons are no longer reliable, November is heading towards the end of autumn. Next month, regardless of the temperature, it will be winter. I decided to spend today doing a little autumnal baking. First Nanaimo Bars, for which a friend gave me the recipe, saying they were amazing. They are a Canadian speciality and have even been featured on a postage stamp. Since Canadian trees are famous for their autumn colour, this clearly counted as an autumnal recipe. Called a dessert bar, I’m not sure whether they should be eaten as a pudding or at tea-time. They are a sort of unbaked traybake and staggeringly good. I think elevenses, lunch, tea or supper would all be suitable times.
I am the generation that prefers Guy Fawkes Night to Hallowe’en and my childhood Guy Fawkes Nights were always accompanied by toffee apples (as well as jacket potatoes cooked in the embers of the bonfire and the obligatory burnt fingers). I wanted to make an apple cake and reasoned that the addition of toffee would only improve my standard recipe. I was afraid the toffee would melt and run out of the tin so I added most of it about ten minutes before the end. The result was apple cake with an almost impenetrable layer of toffee on the top. It’s very good but needs a little refinement.
For the last few weeks I have been treading water as far as these posts are concerned. When Ann Wood first wrote about the Hundred Day Project, way back in March, she warned that it was important to have a plan for the bad days. Recently there have been a lot of days which have been busy rather than bad but the end result has been the same. The plan for these weeks was to make boats and bunting and castles, improve my drawing and push my making. Instead of which I have relied on patchwork to fill the posts.
My job as the Shop Scribe at Hatchards is always uneven; the year is split into times when I work long hours and other times when I barely do any work at all. Now I’m used to this, I love it. The past few weeks have been taken up by the Christmas Catalogue, which is now done. It is in the shop and has been sent out and is, I trust, solving everyone’s Christmas list problems. It’s full of lovely books, is very pretty and I hope there will be something for everyone in it. If you’d like to be sent a copy, just email the shop (email@example.com). If you’re after recommendations Philip Pullman’s The Secret Commonwealth was, predictably, my favourite book. The runners up were Dr Seuss’s Horse Museum, Restoration Stories by Philippa Stockley and Scent Magic by Isabel Bannerman. The first is fun and the second two are full of houses I’d like to live in and ideas from Isabel Bannerman’s garden that I want to incorporate into my, admittedly much smaller, plot.
I now have almost six weeks of only working in the children’s department one day a week and I want to make the most of the time. Here are the next six boats for the bathroom bunting – numbers 41 to 46.
I would obviously like readers to visit Hatchards and buy the books but I appreciate that may not be practical for everyone. If you can’t come to Piccadilly, please buy them from your local bookshop. Without your support it might not survive.
For about three years this partly-made patchwork has hung over the door. Originally, when I was going to move to the seaside and have a proper spare room it was going to be one of a pair on the spare beds. There would be a countryside counterpart to the seaside quilt to reflect the dual aspects that my life would have. The seaside patchwork was great fun to plan and was finished comparatively quickly. I quilted with waves and I like the back almost as much as the front. Slightly embarrassingly, I have enough sea-sidey fabric left to make at least one more quilt, if not two. I appreciate the photos would look better if I had ironed the quilt but I had pushed the cat off the bed to take them and if I then took this quilt off, ironed it and turfed her off again (she is sitting pointedly very near the bed) I would have been even more unpopular than I already am. Think well-used rather than crumpled.
The meadow quilt was more problematic. When I decided not to move I tried to convert it into a bedspread for my bed but the central panel was the wrong shape and as I had run out of the background fabric I couldn’t alter it. Every few months I would get it down, replan it, add a few more patches and then hang it back on the door when it didn’t really improve. Today I finally faced the fact that it will never work as it is and unpicked the central part, leaving me with a future meadow-patterned picnic rug or tablecloth and four much more useful strips of patchwork which have the potential to be joined together into a far better quilt. There are a lot of ragged edges but can be fixed. I’m regarding the whole thing as a step forwards rather than back.
This week Lily, my god-daughter, came to make papier mâché. As we only had an afternoon, I realised that the drying times were going to need to be speeded up. I discovered that wallpaper paste dries beautifully in a low oven (Gas ¼) cutting the time from several hours to about thirty minutes. Research revealed that it isn’t possibly to dry acrylic paint the same way as it bakes rather than dries. A slow speed on a hairdryer works here, drying the paint in minutes.
As we also had to fit lunch, chatting and afternoon tea into the time, her box only got its first layer of paper but it has joined the ranks of my half-made pieces to be finished at a later date. I sewed (and ate scones) while she pasted and the sewing room / studio felt like a gentle hive of creative activity – apart from Matilda who spent the entire afternoon asleep in the only comfortable chair.
As a child I loved playing shops with Mum’s sewing basket. As this was a ‘basket’ which actually consisted of a basket, an old wooden chest and two huge wicker hampers full of fabric, a cabinet of cotton reels and an extensive button box, there was plenty of scope for stock. I would set everything out on the table and then solemnly ‘sell’ her whatever she needed. Transactions were carried out with buttons as currency so, while it may have been the deciding factor in my spending much of my life working in shops (a fabric shop as well as all the book shops), it didn’t make me rich.
When I moved on from playing shops, Mum taught me to sew. She made most of my clothes and, more importantly for me, clothes for Dodie and Betsy, two rabbits who were called after my god mother and her twin, and accompanied me everywhere. I passed them on to my god daughter and recently got them back as she had (long since) outgrown playing with rabbits. Here they are modelling summer and winter dresses, everyday coats and party coats. Dodie, the favoured rabbit also had a ‘Little Grey Rabbit’ dress, and a velvet party frock but she also had to undergo an operation to have her tummy fur replaced when I wore it out with too much affection. Betsy had a simple summer frock. Aged four, it is easy to see the importance of child and rabbits wearing matching dresses.
Mum sewed beautifully and was adamant that the back of any project should always look as neat as the front. I couldn’t see the point of this; after all, the back was nearly always hidden. It was only when I started quilting that I realised the importance of her lessons. I have finally finished quilting the patchworks I made during the summer – yes, I have been eating off a half-made tablecloth and sleeping somewhat precariously under a quilt held together with pins rather than stitches. While the backs are not quite as neat as the fronts, they aren’t bad. And now I can leap in and out of bed without the risk of impaling myself on a pin.
I went away last week and I wanted a portable project to take with me – and the papier mâché boats are not portable. It’s a great palaver just to move them to the garden as every stage involves lots of bits. I wasn’t sure how keen my friend would be if I arrived with masses of ripped-up newspaper and a bowl of wallpaper paste. Also she has four very large, extremely inquisitive cats. Matilda has at least established that the boats are boring and best ignored.
The little patchworks were the perfect project to take. The hexagons don’t quite come out at 6×8 inches but I’ll worry about that later, once I’ve worked out what I’m going to do with the mini quilts.
Originally patchwork quilts were an economical way of keeping warm. Old scraps of fabric were used and often the paper templates were left in for additional insulation. My fabric cupboard is testament to the fact that, for me at least, patchworks are not an economy. I don’t think I’ve ever made a quilt without buying some fabric, in most cases far too much. Rather than run out at a crucial stage, I buy ‘a bit extra’ and every time I go into a fabric shop I am seduced by a something. Often by several patterns, which then form the basis for a patchwork to be made at some unspecified point in the future. At the end of every patchwork there are always bits of fabric left, often too small to be of much use but far too precious to just throw away, which are pushed back into the cabinet. I’m not complaining, far from it, I love my fabric cupboard but every so often it needs a bit of a clear-out.
I am now making little patchworks. I’m not sure yet what I’m going to do with them as I don’t know that many miniature people (they’d need to be about 8-10 inches tall) but they are using up the scraps brilliantly and are also an unexpectedly good way to experiment. Each pattern is 6×8 inches with a 1 inch border. So far, I haven’t bought any extra fabric for them.
A couple of weeks ago Ann Wood had a free tutorial for applique bats with very pointy wings. I’ve been fiddling with pointy boat sails so I read it with interest (thank you Ann for the tutorial – it was great). Stage 1 specified ‘freezer paper’. Being a Brit I had no idea what this was. Frozen baking paper? Waxed paper of some sort? A little research revealed that it is paper that is plastic coated on one side and that Empress Mills stock it. The problem is that Empress Mills’ website is very well laid-out and full of all sorts of enticing fabrics, some of which were even in the sale. Of course I bought more than the freezer paper.
The wavy lined fabric will be perfect for the sea, the green stripes for sails and the boats were in the sale and looked useful. The blue and white pattern, complete with beach huts and a light house was too charming to leave.