Saturday, 29 August 2015

Toft Manor; Alpaca farm and Cute Crochet HQ

The very lovely Sam from Betsy makes had a giveaway last week on her blog for any comments made on her charming Dave Scuttle and I was the WINNER yay!!! The prize was a family ticket to the Toft alpaca shop near Rugby, where Kerry Lord was running demonstrations, workshops and a farm tour as part of the launch of her new crochet book 'Edwards Menagerie: Birds'.  Dave Scuttle was based on a seagull from Kerry's new book which is packed with beautiful variations of birds.  A novice to crochet and a county neighbour to Warwickshire, this was an opportunity not to be missed and so off I went with my sister and our 4 children in tow.

We set off early but traffic it took us over an hour and a half so we arrived after Kerry had begun her workshop.  The cheerful and kind staff happily entertained us with pom pom making before we had delicious cake and coffee in the swish cafe.

The children then did some wet felting although they didn't have the greatest of patience or perseverance in the presence of hunger and so we hastily had some lunch before a tour of the farm.  I can't stress enough how important the staff were in making our day so memorable as our tour guide Caroline was superb with the children .  They held her hands as they walked around and asked questions and she was patient and kind to them and Monica was super with making the pom poms which all made me calmer and more relaxed, thus enjoying the whole experience a lot more.
 We arrived back after the tour as Kerry was beginning to discuss her journey into crocheting and how her 2 books came about.  I have seen her on create and craft previously and knew a little about the luxurious Toft Alpaca wool that she uses in her patterns but also enjoyed listening to her talking about the books.  She was friendly and engaging throughout the day and even signed my book which I purchased with my sister after seeing the demonstration pieces in the shop.  We also bought some alpaca finger puppets for the children which were packaged in lovely totes; very useful for future yarn projects such as the panda called 'Fiona'.  That is an intermediate pattern so may not be attempted for a while yet but along with the book, I received an additional 10 patterns by email which includes a reindeer, sloth and badger.

The quality of the Toft products are certainly luxurious and can sell themselves. I'm really keen to get started but the main thing I took away from the day was that it would not have been what it was if not for the staff.  I will definitely revisit Toft Manor, perhaps without the children so I can really focus and improve my crocheting, but Kerry did mention another open day in December 19th where there will be more opportunities to visit the farm, see demonstrations and further activities for children which I fully intend to attend.

Huge thankyou again to Sam as I would never have done this if not for the giveaway you did :D

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Knight School at Grey Friars

Our nearest National Trust site is Grey Friars which is a medieval house in the centre of Worcester.  They have been holding activities on Friday's during the Summer holidays and so off we went to become knights for the day.  I only had my mobile so the pictures aren't great quality but I think they give an insight to our experience.

There was a gentleman who demonstrated the difficulties of putting on armour (especially without a squire) but was very good at developing rapport with the children and also very patient as he was bombarded with questions and comments from some of the more vocal little ones.  He performed this task and told stories in the main hall which was beautifully preserved and simply decorated with tapestries, paintings and floor coverings sympathetic to it's medieval roots.  Upstairs there were more rooms laid out appropriately but we headed straight to the children's room where there were dressing up clothes and toys.  Whilst the children were occupied, I had a quick look around.

Unfortunately it was raining so the mock battle outside was brief although the children really enjoyed engaging in war shouts and bashing their foam swords against their foe's.  Without the aforementioned entertainments, the site has little to offer youngsters however these activities made it very accessible and timely for my niece who is learning about Medieval Britain in school in September.  It occupied us for a couple of hours and I would definitely consider returning again soon.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Homebody Quilt

I follow a couple of other blogs and was delighted to see that Jo Avery from myBearpaw blog has posted today about a new quilt she has made that is featured in Issue 25 of Love Patchwork and Quilting.

Homebody Quilt

I have been working on a 'home sweet home' quilt and this is hugely inspiring and I thought I'd share it with you.  Hopefully I'll have my own quilt to share before Christmas perhaps!  I have shared these pictures on here before but include them again now as a glimpse of my take on the theme.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Jane Austen clothing exhibition at Berrington Hall

I have mentioned lots on here lots of times that we have a National Trust membership and I was delighted to see that there was an exhibition at Berrington Hall which is one of their sites and therefore we had free entry.  The exhibition included clothing from various film and TV adaptations of Jane Austen's books including Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth and Emma with Gwyneth Paltrow.  Austen is one of my 3 favourite authors and this was a very exciting opportunity to see the clothes in an appropriately beautiful setting.

The clothes were created using authentic fabric and dyed to colours which would have been available during the early Victorian era and whilst beautifully romantic, it was easy to see how they were also impractical.  Recent programmes like Downton Abbey and Mr Selfridge have addressed the influences that changed fashion and clothing to what it is today but seeing these dresses in the flesh illuminates these reasons even more so. All this said, I will still take great joy in the escapism that Austen's books provide, now with further illustrative ammunition to fantasize about being a wealthy Victorian d├ębutante reading and sewing all day with balls to entertain me in the evenings (without actually booking myself into Austenland).

The dashing outfits and costumes for the males were equally effective in prompting thoughts of living in that earlier era *swoon*.

I do recommend the exhibition for historical fashion fans and Austen readers alike although Berrington hall is also worth a visit anyway.  It has beautiful gardens and they were offering several trails for in addition to dressing up opportunities for children (and brave adults).

Monday, 10 August 2015

'Who do you shout?'

'When your tooth falls out, who do you shout?'
'The tooth fairy!'
Ah the momentous occasion in any child's life where their tooth gets wobbly and then comes out. As a parent, it was also my first time as a tooth fairy so I tried to take my role responsibly. I looked online for Photoshop packages to upload a picture of Fiona sleeping and then place a fairy in the picture digitally and print off for her to see but they all seemed to be American sites asking for subscriptions so I settled on a mini note in an envelope instead.

She was so delighted at this simple thing from being told her tooth was beautiful to the fairy being called Spritz. She is such a wee darling that she decided to spend her money on a packet of ice lollies from the supermarket so that everyone could have a treat rather than simply getting something for herself. I feel very privileged to be her momma and have a little tiny toothy treasure to hold on to now.

Happy gummy girl post tooth extraction (no time to wipe face in all the excitement!)

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Domestic Days and lemon drizzle

I realise that I have been posting about the summer holidays a lot recently and whilst I am inclined to apologise, I also realise that it is not just me whose life is almost on hold during these 7 weeks as normal routines go out of the window.  Better weather does mean washing clothes is easier but then the house gets messier as the children are home (and our garden still isn't done!)

Amidst all the lovely days out and picnics there must also be the mundane domestic days although, whilst I do not relish cleaning and tidying, yesterday, I had a lovely domestic day.  It was a satisfying day of cleaning, clearing, sorting, cooking, baking and crafting; the kind of productive day that makes me wonder why life seems so hard sometimes as clearly those days are attainable.  But then, see, that's why those days are treasured, as they are so few and far between, at least in our household.

Here are a few images from my happy domestic day:

Last weekend we did some feet and hand painting in the garden which left me with a lot of pictures and reluctance to keep them all but guilt over chucking them the day after.  We had folded some hand and foot print ones to make Butterflies so I cut out the shapes created and decided to bring the butterflies to life a little.  I added a straw to create the caterpillar body and threaded some string through it so it could hang.  The children decorated them with sparkly bits stuck down with a glue stick and then threaded buttons and beads onto the hanging string to further pretty them up.  Michael was able to get involved and kept his concentration for longer than usual and the kids love the end result.

I made another Lemon drizzle cake but took pictures this time!  The ingredients are really easy to remember for this and it is my new go to quick cake along with the banana loaf.
225 g self raising flour
225g caster sugar
225g butter
4 eggs
2 lemons (one for the zest in cake, one for juice in drizzle)
Granulated sugar for drizzle

Cream the butter and sugar until smooth and creamy.
Gradually add 4 eggs one at a time.
Sieve in the flour and fold.
Add zest of 1 lemon and mix well.
Pour into a grease proof paper lined loaf tin.
Cook for approx 45 mins of 180
Remove from oven once cooked (do the knife test of putting into cake and if it comes out clean it's cooked)
Juice one lemon and add sugar until you reached your preferred consistency.
poke holes through top of cake and pour on the drizzle which should crystallise almost immediately.
Serve and enjoy.

I made this without fully realising that Great British Bake off was starting last night and then it was cake night.  I sat eating cake and watched the new series with the hopefuls making sponge cakes and felt very proud of myself!  This was the desert to a lasagne that I also made last night which is in the bottom left hand corner picture.  

I even managed to fit in an hour of sewing in this domestic day of accomplishment and I am itching to share my make but I will wait until it is finished (however what started out as a cushion may turn into a quilt as I am enjoying it so much!)

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Free family fun at Sandwell Valley

I find it increasingly difficult to find free things to do with the children as many events although advertised as free, end up having additional costs for activities or parking etc.  We pay for our National Trust membership over the course of the year so although on the day money doesn't exchange hands, it isn't actually free and we often pay an additional £2 for their trails.

Sandwell Valley nature reserve have rebuilt their centre after a fire and Sunday was their re-opening day.  It was a free family fun day and was actually, totally free!
There was so much for us to do.  At the visitor centre there were RSPB workers giving out little rucksacks with an activity sheet on including a map, a pencil and crayon.  If the children completed the activities they received a stamp on their sheet and could collect a prize at the end when all were done.  The activities included bark rubbing, pond dipping, bird spotting, mini beast hunting, den building and toasting marshmallows over a camp fire.  With the exception of the last one, all of these activities can be done without helpers on stand by and our children are 2, 4 and 6 and there were two 8 year olds in our party and they all loved the activities all day.  There were also lots of crafts for them to do in the visitor centre including making masks, badges, dragon flies and peg butterflies.  We arrived at 11:30 and didn't leave until 4:30 and we still hadn't completed all that was on offer.

We managed to spot some lovely aspects of nature although I didn't get to snap that many pictures with monitoring children and pushing the buggy.  Another great feature of Sandwell Valley was that we could take the buggy everywhere and it wasn't an off-road buggy which makes the whole reserve more accessible and appealing for families.

We did take our own picnic but since the children were very well behaved with all the distractions on offer, we did buy them ice lollies but at £1 each, even the ice cream van was cheap.  We'll definitely be revisiting and I highly recommend it whether it's for an evening jaunt or full day adventure, there's lots to do either by foot or on bike and dogs are welcome.  A huge thankyou to all the staff on Sunday and massive congratulations of a successful opening.  We heard that well over 700 people passed through on Sunday which is encouraging to know more people are taking an interest in nature and wildlife.  If you're not in the Midlands, do try looking at the RSPB website for a reserve near to you and even consider becoming a member.  The children each receive a magazine every month and then there's a quarterly magazine for adults.  There are talks, walks and other events taking place regularly and not just bird related but all along the theme of helping to make nature a home for all wildlife.  We have always tried to be quite conservation conscious but these events and magazines help with additional ideas.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Skirts for girls

Back in February when we went to Kings Lynn, I bought some fabric at £3 a meter.  Unfortunately I only bought one metre as I thought I would use it for the comic relief crafternoon event I was organising.  However it didn't end up being used and I decided I would make some skirts for the girls instead.  I decided to attempt pleats and so measured out the intervals and then 3cm for the pleat itself.  I then measured 10cm for the pleat length making up a 15cm depth from waistband.
 Sewing them all up I had what actually looked like the beginning of a garment.  I had measured Fiona's waist and cut out a 6cm strip which would be the waist band.  I pinned it right side to right side and then folded and ironed it down using hemming tape to give a crisp straight edge.

 I also pressed the hem using the tape and then stitched it in place.  Next I added a zip and then closed the back seam together and nearly finished!  I had allowed extra length in the waistband to add a press stud at the back to keep it all closed but asked Fiona to try it on to ensure it fitted.
 There is a little stretch in the fabric and it has a velvet finish so it is very chic for a 6 year old but it's pink and flowery so she's happy!  However I had an additional little lady sulking that she didn't have a pretty skirt.  Lydia's frame is very different to Fiona's and at 4 I'm not sure she's ready for a pencil skirt so I thought I would go for an elasticated waist and a fuller gathered skirt perhaps with layers.
 I measured Lydia's waist and then doubled the measurement for the width of the fabric so it would have a full gather although this did mean a lot more hemming to sew.  After gathering the skirt and doing the hem I realised it was definitely too short to leave it as was and so cut another strip as a longer layer to go underneath.  I also cut out some black tulle and gathered it and then sewed it to the second layer.  I sewed all the layers together and then attached them to the thick black elastic.  I had to stretch this while I was sewing in order for it to hold the skirt up which was a little tricky but it worked.

The overall effect is that of a peplum rather than layers but it's very trendy looking and a huge hit.  My parents happened to bring them each pink t-shirts back from the anniversary trip to Germany which co-ordinated beautifully.

I still have to add the press stud to Fiona's skirt to help secure the fit but I am very pleased with them although I will need to go over them with my machine once it's fixed.  I may even now attempt one for myself in another fabric and although Fiona's style is more appropriate but I'd love one like Lydia's.  Perhaps I will have to make myself one of each :D