My hopes for the second series of The Great British Sewing Bee

I can’t believe it’s been nearly a year since the first series of The Great British Sewing Bee. It never hit the dizzy heights of The Great British Bake-off, did it? I’m hoping this year’s series will be better: maybe they were just finding their feet during the first series. These are my hopes for the second series (on tonight!):

  1. An obvious one: more Patrick Grant, the dishy Saville Row designer
  2. More explanation of the actual sewing. That section ‘5 minutes to show how to make a 3-piece suit’ or whatever it was, was confusing and too fast. Even my sewing teacher said she couldn’t keep up.
  3. Give the viewer some understanding about cut and colour in choosing cloth.
  4. The Great British Bake-off goes into the history of Eccles Cakes (!) or whatever it is, can they do the same for fashion? Or did they do that and I just went blank.
  5. Bring the lovely Claudia Winkleman’s personality out more. I love Claudia – she’s quick, witty and intelligent.She does that faux clutz thing well too. I can’t understand what happens to her on TGBSB. She becomes a simpering bore.

That’s it. Not much to ask for, n’est-ce pas?

The Guardian’s Do Something supplement

DoSomethingMagJan2014Did you see The Guardian’s Do Something supplement last Saturday? I was excited to see it. It contained some crafty ideas including how to knit a winter scarf (is there any other kind?) and an article on upholstery. I’ve fancied doing upholstery for a while and I reckon one of this year’s resolutions to try 5 new crafts is going to be upholstery.

What I enjoyed the most about the magazine was that it wasn’t another one of those ‘New Year, New Me’ articles. It wasn’t suggesting you could change your world completely, just enhance it. The introduction – what they called their Manifesto which I must say I like the sound of – talked about learning new skills, breaking out of a routine and adopt a ‘spirit of experiment’. Although I don’t think it mentioned it, surely the key to getting the most out of Doing Something is being active rather than passive in all these activities? And that means throwing a supper party rather than going to a restaurant or joining a choir instead of going to a concert.

The tips and easy steps to making the most out of the ideas were inspiring. I thought the ‘get fit without noticing’ at home or at work was a nice contrast to all the usual January articles and resolutions about going to the gym. Maybe I should have made a resolution not to go to the gym this year…

My New Year’s Resolutions

So it seems I should get down to my new year’s resolutions. After all, I’ve been back at the gym this week (loving all the newbies struggling through the spin classes) and have just about finished off all the Christmas food…

I started this blog a year ago and definitely haven’t updated it as often as I would have liked so my first resoution was easy. The others I wanted to make sure were fun and achievable. My New Year’s Resolutions are:

  1. Blog at least once a week
  2. Try at least 5 new crafts
  3. Sew 3 of the patterns from Burda magazine

Let me know what your sewing or craft new year’s resolutions below!

Plum and cranberry chutney

I haven’t had the chance to make as many crafty bits for Christmas as I normally do but I have at least managed to make my usual plum and cranberry chutney. The recipe came from Sainsbury’s magazine from November 2005.

bottle of chutney

My homemade cranberry and plum chutney with my ridiculous effort at decorating the jar

Makes 1.6kg.

225ml cider or wine vinegar
350g caster sugar
2×2.5cm cinnamon sticks
4 star anise
900g red plums, halved and stoned
450g fresh cranberries

Sterilise your jars either in the dishwasher or by putting clean, dry jars in a low oven for 5 minutes, then leave to cool.

Put the vinegar and sugar in a large saucepan or preserving pan with the cinnamon and star anise. Heat gently and stir until the sugar dissolves. Add the plums, simmer gently for 15 minutes, then add the cranberries, simmer gently for 15 minutes, then add the cranberries and simmer for a further 10 minutes until the plums and cranberries are tender and the liquid is syrupy.

Remove the cinnamon and star anise and pour the chutney in the jars. Cover with wax discs and lids and keep in a cool place for up to 2 months.

I’ve made this recipe about 6 years in a a row now and give it out as little foodie presents. It’s pretty easy – I don’t think you can go wrong although don’t tell anyone but the first year I didn’t know what star anise was and put star fruit in it instead. The star anise and cinnamon gives it that Christmas taste and the colour is a wonderful Christmas red. The hardest part, now I know what star anise is, is pouring the chutney into the jars. I managed to get it around the rim.

Although the recipe stipulates that the chutney keeps for up to 2 months, mine’s lasted longer than that. Sometimes you don’t see cranberries in the shops until well into December which is frustrating, especially if you want to make it to give away as presents. You could try decorating the jar if you’re giving it away although I couldn’t make any recommendations here. Mine looks amateurish at best.

Next up, I’m making Nigella’s Christmas ‘Puddini Bonbons’ which are basically cooked and cooled Christmas pudding, a touch of alcohol, and chocolate. They’re delicious and the recipe comes from her booked called Christmas.

A jumper for squally weather

Jumper laid out on the floor

My finished jumper

A few weeks ago, I noticed the weathermen kept predicting ‘squally weather’. Love that word – it means brief periods of wind or rain – and this jumper I made earlier this year is just the right thing to wear during squally weather.

It’s made out of some sort of knitted wool material that I inherited from my grandmother, and to begin with, I couldn’t work out what to make.

My sewing teacher suggested a skirt but I thought that might look a bit old-fashioned and I don’t really wear wool skirts.

My fallback for finding the best patterns is the American designer Cynthia Rowley. I find some of the Burda, Simplicity, New Look etc patterns look old and my aim at least, is to make cool, stylish clothes. It could be the pictures on the front of the envelope packets are just styled badly or are old photographs but it’s hard to envisage what it could look like using a modern material or styled well.

Does anyone out there have any recommendations for where to get current-looking great patterns? Thanks to Tia Dia’s recommendation I have started buying Burda magazine on a monthly basis and have found loads of patterns I’d like to try.

CynthiaRowleyPattern2192Anyway, back to my jumper. The material has 3 or 4 colours woven into it so I wanted to keep the style simple. The Cynthia Rowley pattern is pretty simple and straight forward. The material meant I didn’t have to use facing as it was thick enough, but I did include the top-stitches around the neckline, sleeves and bottom of the top even though the material means that you can’t see it very well. This must have been one of the easiest sewing projects I’ve done!

A Review of Craftseller Magazine

Craftseller magazine frontcover

Front cover of October’s Craftseller magazine

I was sent a copy of Craftseller magazine when Cloth magazine, which I had a subscription to, stopped publishing. I didn’t have high hopes to be honest and it’s taken me a couple of months to actually get round to reading it.

For a start the twee squirrels on the frontcover put me off. I don’t know about you, but I don’t suddenly get to October and think, I must get some little stuffed squirrels.

But now I’ve actually had a proper look at the magazine, I think it’s got some interesting makes to try and some useful marketing tips if you were going to try to sell them.

Woman wearing collar

Pearly Peter Pan collar

For example, I can actually imagine making this pearly Peter Pan collar and reckon a lot of women would like it. Craftseller advises what it would cost to make each product and what you can sell it for, to make a profit. The Peter Pan collar they say you can make for £3.50 and sell for £20. I can believe this, but I’m not convinced that you can sell those squirrels for £20 a go!

They appear to count food as a craft, and the October issue had recipes for chutney and cupcakes. I particularly like the look of the blackberry and elderflower cheesecake. I love elderflower coridal (as my friend Victoria said to me, ‘you’d make a very good 60 year old’).

Marks & Spencer currently has a paper stag head which you can use as a Christmas wall decoration and there are instructions here to make one which looks similar. I much prefer the idea of making one than buying one. Interestingly, the M&S one is on sale for £19.50 and is included in their Christmas 3 for 2 offer, whilst Craftseller advises that you can sell the one in the magazine for £30.


Pebble ladybirds – would you buy these?

These ladybirds made out of pebbles are just awful though. Much worse than even Cath Kitson could come up with. And they’ve titled it ‘Mummy makes’ which is just vomit-inducing. Craftseller says that you can make the set for £4 and speculates that you can sell them for £15. The idea of turning the smallest pebbles into fridge magnets is a useful one, otherwise surely they just clutter up your home?

Have you made anything from Craftseller magazine, or do you subscribe to it? Please let me know by commenting below.

Blue dotty top

Blue dotty top

Wearing my blue dotty top in my mum’s garden

Lauren Laverne’s style column on Sunday in The Observer about polka dots being fashionable was interesting as she used the same hackneyed ‘joining the dots’ title I made with my blog post about making my blue dotty top, which I’ve just finished.

This is one of my favourite sewing makes. After getting over the trickiness of lining up the dots so they were straight, it was fairly easy to finish and I only struggled a bit inserting the sleeves.

I’ve only worn the top with jeans so far but I reckon it would look good with a black leather skirt. The wool material is warm and I would have preferred to make it with long sleeves but unfortunately I didn’t have enough material – one of the hazards of upcycling and using inherited material. The necklace is one of those fake pearl ones, which I hope complements the black in the top.