March seemed to last forever, but April, for me at least, has flown by. Like last month, many of the things on this list are now impossible, but I'll leave them there as things to aim for when the world changes again (although I suspect some of them won't happen at all this year now).
Anyway, this is where we are with the list.
20 things mended (5/20)
I don't seem to be doing much mending at the minute, but I did sew a button on to a fleece wraparound scarf/hat, so that's one extra thing added this month.
19 letters written (6/19)
I was enjoying writing letters, but somehow April has whizzed past without me having written any at all. I've had replies from a couple of friends to the letters I wrote in March though, so responding to them, and maybe writing a few more, can be a nice task for April.
18 days without internet (2/18)
No more this month, but I'm definitely in need of one in May.
17 books read (25/17)
More good progress here, again mostly with audio books from the library, although there were one or two paper books as well.
16 household items or pieces of clothing made (13/16)
Progress here too. I made some beeswax candles of course, using the kit I found. And I made us a couple of masks to wear to the supermarket (not that I've been in a supermarket myself since all this started, but I was experimenting). We're not required to wear masks in public places in this country at the minute, but I've found this review of existing evidence, published in the British Medical Journal, convincing. There's an easier-to-read summary here.
The authors argue that, while home made masks aren't suitable for medical situations, and would be unlikely to prevent someone from catching the virus, they would restrict the flow from an infected person to others - my mask protects you, your mask protects me. They argue that
Masks are simple, cheap, and potentially effective. We believe that, worn both in the home (particularly by the person showing symptoms) and also outside the home in situations where meeting others is likely (for example, shopping, public transport), they could have a substantial impact on transmission with a relatively small impact on social and economic life.
Anyway, making a mask for wearing to the shops seemed like a small, practical thing to do. I used this pattern (tweaked a bit) after seeing it recommended on The Snail of Happiness blog. They were quite quick to make (although I used very thick elastic for one of them, and it was a nuisance to sew through), and Peter reports that his fits well and feels perfectly comfortable, for a short shopping trip at least. I might try adding a nose clip to his. They'll be useful after all this is over for dusty jobs like cleaning out the chicken run and DIY.
As well as masks, I made some more cleaning cloths from an old piece of stained tablecloth (but I won't count those as I've already counted cloths in this total), and I made two drawstring bags (using this 15 minute tutorial) to hang them on door of the temporary kitchen - one for clean cloths and one for used ones. Very excited about this - I'm hoping it'll make it much easier to find a new cloth when you need one.
And here we come to a big string of things that haven't been possible this month (or rather some of them have, but I haven't done them anyway).
15 meals with friends (5/15)
14 meals from home grown produce (0/14)
13 evening lectures (0/13)
12 donations to the foodbank (2/12)
I donated what I would have spent on commuting in March to the local foodbank at the start of April, and I'll likely do the same with April's commuting costs. As this was a reasonably hefty amount, I've done it through their online appeal rather than trawling round the shops to spend it.
And some more things I've not done.
11 solo days out for me (0/11)
10 loaves of bread made (0/10)
9 bike rides (0/9)
8 organised runs (2/8)
7 new places visited (1/7)
6 attempts at cheese making (0/6)
5 'No Quibble' weekends away (0/5)
4 pairs of socks made (0/4)
3 days volunteering (0/3)
2 LAND centres visited (0/2)
1 holiday (0/1)
Oh dear! Still, some of things I could do, so I might turn my attention towards those in the next few weeks. Letter writing, making bread and cheese, knitting socks, maybe even a bike ride or two.
I wonder what May will bring?
I was forty yesterday, and I confess that in all that time my baking skills haven't improved much.
Or perhaps it's my decorating skills that aren't quite up to scratch - the cake itself (a whole orange cake I spotted on the Down to Earth blog) was extremely tasty. Basically you whizz a whole orange in the blender and add it to a sponge mix for a deliciously orangey, slightly squishy cake.
It doesn't really need icing - the muffin-sized versions I made the night before were fine on their own - but a combination of a silicone loaf tin with no structural integrity and our tiny and slightly inadequate temporary oven led to a cake that definitely needed covering up with something.
It might not win any competitions, but it went down very well with a nice cup of tea.
Speaking of the Down to Earth blog, you might notice Rhonda's Down to Earth book in the background in that picture. This was my birthday present to myself, and I've spent the last couple of days happily flicking through it and wishing I was retired so I could spend all of my days making cakes and sewing and pottering in the garden.
Today it's been raining, so I've ignored the dry stone wall that has been taking up quite a lot of my energy for days, and stayed inside. I had a vague feeling of time just drifting away, without me actually achieving anything, so in the spirit of following the book's advice, I decided to tackle a household job I'd been putting off for a while - sorting out the utility room.
This is the entrance to our home, and acquires the usual household detritus that is either on its way in or out of the house. Wellies, recycling, dishes that have been used for chicken treats, rubbish bags, tools, all congregate here, and if we don't keep on top of it, getting into the house becomes a perilous navigational exercise. Yesterday Peter put all the shoes away and took the rubbish bags outside, and today I've spent a happy few hours washing dishes, cleaning walls, decanting slightly damp powdered cleaning stuff (borax substitute, laundry bleach) into airtight containers, and giving the place a good hoover. It felt good.
In the course of all this sorting, I discovered a bag of soap I'd made - I never got the texture right, and after goodness knows how long sitting in a bag under the sink, it feels slightly oily. I've left it on the newly cleared side to dry out, and if it doesn't work as hand soap, I'll grate it to mix with the washing powder.
I also discovered this candle-making kit that I had as a present some years ago and which got lost in the house move. Again I made use of my newly cleared surface to play with the beeswax.
I like this picture on the box. It looks achievable - nothing fancy, nothing requiring endless patience, just a bit of rolling and cutting. I can't say mine look exactly like the pictures, but they're not far off.
The instructions said the beeswax sheets would be pliable at room temperature but I had to hold them up against the radiator for several minutes to get them to bend without snapping - not sure what that says about the temperature of my house...
Anyway, I didn't come in here to waffle on about all that, I came in to waffle on about turning forty, but as I'm not sure how I feel about that, perhaps it's best that I don't. Tis only a number, after all - and after hearing of the death of a friend's daughter this week I'm grateful I've lived to see it.
I will be sitting down to make some plans for the next decade soon though...
The weather has been lovely these past few weeks, and I've been taking every opportunity to wash things so I can hang them on the line. In our old house I always lamented the lack of a washing line, and now I have one (with an excellent view) I use it at every opportunity.
I bought this pack of six cotton handkerchiefs in a charity shop, probably well over a year ago. I couldn't bring myself to use them as hankies though, and so they've sat on a shelf waiting for me to decide what to do with them.
Now that I'm without a commute and many of the activities that filled my time before, I'm finding myself turning back towards making and mending and pottering - things I've always done, but that have been slowly crowded out while I've been running around. I've missed them.
I decided I'd use these hankies to cover the cushions on the sofa in my study. The sofa is actually a sofa bed that we got from Freegle when we moved here, and it's a rather dull shade of reddish-pink. When I decorated my study last year, I found a white cover in a charity shop, and together with the patchwork blanket my auntie made, it looks rather pretty.
The cushions, though, remained dull and red, and it was about time I covered them up. But what to do? Stripes, or squares? Should I alternate with the plain hankies, or only use the patterns?
The answer came when I was about to go on to yet another video call for work, and on a whim draped two of the hankies over the cushions, which were visible in the background. I liked it so much that I decided to keep things really simple.
The hankies were the perfect size, and I literally just sewed one plain and one patterned together on three sides, and left the bottom open.
Sometimes keeping it simple is the best option.
I hate wasting food, but sometimes things get ahead of me and I find myself with a wrinkly cabbage or an onion going soft. Usually, if it's too far gone for soup, the compost heap benefits, but this time faced with several dried out tangerines (that weren't very nice to start with), I thought I'd have a go at orange curd (like lemon curd, but with oranges).
I confess I don't know now which recipe I followed, and in any case, as usual, I didn't follow it very closely (the batteries had run out in the kitchen scales, and I never was much good at following instructions in relation to food).
The general gist is that you melt butter (or in this case margerine, as that's what we had), sugar, orange juice and zest until it's all combined, then stir in several whisked eggs (I've seen a few recipes just calling for yolks, but this one had whole eggs).
You're meant to stir it until it goes thick, like custard, but I kept stirring, and stirring, and stirring, and it never really got much thicker, and eventually I got bored and put it in jars anyway, figuring I'd deal with it the next day.
After a while it started to set at the top, which looked hopeful (if you ignored the liquid underneath), so it went into the fridge overnight.
The next morning it was still the same, so I separated the set part into a tea cup, thought for a minute about trying to make the rest set, and decided instead to just leave it as a rich orangey sauce to pour over ice cream, rice pudding or whatever (or sneak the odd spoonful out of the jar).
We ate the curd itself on some home made scones.
And a couple of days later I mixed the rest of the sauce in with some cake batter and made slightly orangey fairy cakes.
So I think I'd follow the recipe a bit better next time, but an experiment that ends with rice pudding, scones and fairy cakes can't be all bad, right?
I've not done anything crafty for a while, so when we decided to hold a virtual Easter egg hunt for my nephews, I took the opportunity for a bit of crafty messing around.
Have you blown eggs before? I don't think I have, and it was harder than I thought. Still, eventually they were all done, and an omelette and a sponge cake made with the leftovers, and a skewered them all ready for decorating.
How to decorate though? I stumbled across a tutorial for marbling using nail varnish - I've not linked to it because I can't find the actual one I used, and there are plenty of them out there. First, assemble your nail varnish (is it just me who attracts old pots of nail varnish in colours I swear I never bought).
Next, take over the entire tiny temporary kitchen with your paraphernalia.
The process itself is quite simple. Tray of cold water, and nail varnish. You have to move quickly - the nail varnish sets within a couple of seconds. Drop it onto the water, quickly swirl, then dunk your egg.
I think in the tutorial I saw, only the front half of the egg was dipped - I tried to coat the whole thing, which was far more difficult.
The first couple I did weren't great. The nail varnish was setting too quickly, and the colours were too pale to show up properly on a brown egg.
Once I got the hang of it though, and found some more vibrant colours, things improved. Metallic seemed to work well, but not glittery - the glitter made it too heavy on the water and it just sank.
I was pretty pleased with the final results, although my hands were a mess.
Six small eggs is not quite enough for an egg hunt, but I'd had my fill of marbling, so decided to try something a bit more straightforward, and paint some cardboard egg shapes. I found a tray of old children's paints in a drawer (why do I have those?) and set myself up in the garden. After a ropey start (I'm no artist) I remembered Peter bought me a book about how to paint roses and castles, as in traditional narrowboat art.
It's actually more straightforward than it looks, although I struggled to get the required swoops and swirls with my dried up paints and cheap brushes.
I fared a bit better with my castles.
Overall I was pretty pleased with my efforts after my initial uninspired start.
Our virtual egg hunt was fun, and later in the afternoon we found ourselves on a real egg hunt - our ladies have found a new, exciting laying spot. Can I take you to the back of the lean-to, where the hay bales have all fallen in an undignified heap?
Yes, it seems the ladies have been scaling the dizzy heights of that bale, and laying in a little depression in the top.
It's probably a pretty good vantage point up there (although there are better views than the inside of this outbuilding, which is full of furniture and garden tools). Finding an egg round here is pretty impossible though - the only way we manage it is by first following the clucking chicken...
I can't tell you how excited I am about this. I made a hat! I proper hat! And not just a knitted bobble hat either, but a several-panelled, properly sewn hat! (Not that I'm knocking bobble hats, but they are more within my range of normal skills - although come to think of it, I'm not sure I've ever made one...)
Anyway. Peter often wears a hat like this, and as he has a rather large head, and is extremely particular about his hat preferences, they are usually sourced from a firm in Poland. Sadly, when the time came to replace the most recent hat, the Polish firm had none available.
We waited several months with him still wearing the battered old hat, but eventually we had to admit defeat, and since our searching for a new supplier was not proving fruitful, I offered to make one. How hard could it be??
I found several patterns online, but they all seemed to involve things like measuring, and as I lean towards the slapdash when it comes to sewing projects, I opted to just vaguely draw round the old hat (without taking it apart, just in case) and hope for the best.
Peter found an old blind that had a water stain in one corner and I set to with the scissors.
At first, things went reasonably well. I didn't have a grand plan, I just added a bit at a time to see what would happen, accepting that I'd probably have to do quite a bit of unpicking. First I cut out the eight panels, and sewed them together in a circle, and then cut and sewed on a band.
This fabric frays really easily, so I ended up having to buy some iron on mending tape to sew over the seams. Obviously I had to press them first - and of course the lessen here is that I should have pressed the seams and ironed on the bending tape before sewing on the band, because things got really rather awkward.
Still, it was manageable, and I hand sewed over the edges of the iron on tape as I wasn't sure the stickiness would hold up to the abuse of being worn every day.
Look, it's started to look like a hat! Just needs a brim.
Actually, first it needs something solid inside that band, and for this attempt I did butcher an old hat (not the most recent, but a similar style).
This had clearly been sewn into the old hat using an industrial sewing machine, and while my sewing machine is pretty heavy duty (apparently it will sew through eight layers of denim - not sure why), by this point the hat was getting a bit awkward to manipulate through the machine, and I was doing everything by hand instead.
The little holes were very small, so I spent a rather grumpy hour poking a needle through to make them slightly bigger before I put the whole thing inside the fabric.
Easily the most tedious bit of hat making by far, and I wouldn't do this if I was making a hat from scratch. However since the holes were there, it seemed daft to try and make new holes through the fabric. The whole thing was quite awkward though, and of course once I was sewing through the fabric, I couldn't see the holes so had to feel for them with the end of the needle. Yawn.
Far more cheerful was making the little button for the top. Just a circle of plastic I found lying around (I'm hoping it wasn't from something important...) and covered with a bit of the gathered fabric, then sewed onto the top to cover the hole where the eight panels were joined. Very jolly.
Finally the brim, and another nuisance that I don't even seem to have taken any pictures of. I drew round the one on the old hat (sadly the brim from the ancient hat that I butchered for the hat band had already disappeared), and cut out a piece of orange plastic folder. This fabric is quite thick, and quite loosely woven, so getting a tight fit and a tight seam was a complete nuisance. I even glued a bit of iron on mending tape to the plastic, then ironed the fabric onto that, but it still isn't quite right and moves around more than it should.
Still, finally it was done, and I'm delighted to say it does actually fit! I'm less delighted that the combination of the thicker fabric and the pleats I put in (because I hadn't properly measured the 8 panels, and cut a bit too much seam allowance which I didn't use) made the whole thing stand up rather than the old one, but I'm hoping that will settle with use (or rain).
Altogether pretty good I reckon for a first attempt, and I've learned an awful lot about hat making (hattery??) in the process. Next time I'd use thinner fabric, iron and cover the seams of the panels before adding the band, and perhaps even use a narrower band. I think I'd also make more use of iron on tape - I think the band would look better if the fabric were stuck more closely to it (maybe thinner fabric would help there too).
Anyway, I'm still too close to it and can see all the flaws, but the fact remains that I made a hat, and except for about 3 metres of iron on tape, it's made entirely of reused materials. Not bad at all.
I don't know whether I'm counting this as a Christmas present to myself or not, but after years of procrastination, I finally caved in and bought an overlocker.
It's very exciting, because it means it's a lot easier to make my own clothes. I've made a few straightforward items of clothing before (circle skirts and the like) but I've never used a sewing pattern before.
I decided to start with something small, relatively straightforward, and that can be worn with a few imperfections as it's not on general display. I made my own pants!
I was inspired by this blog post (which I filed away for reference several years ago), and bought the Scrundlewear pattern from Etsy - it seemed easy and well thought of, and good for a first try. I also bought some organic bamboo jersey from the Organic Textile Company - one advantage of making your own clothes is that you can choose exactly what you make them from.
Apparently you can whip up a pair of these in less than an hour, but as I'd never used either an overlocker or a sewing pattern before, it took me closer to two, which is still pretty good. Shall I show you the first finished pair?
Don't look too closely (at either the pants or the state of my office). I have no intention of pressing them, and there are a couple of wonky seams. But they do actually look like knickers, and they are SO comfortable. Not exactly glamourous... but extremely cosy - they almost reach right up to my waist.
I did branch out and make some slightly less matronly underwear - one pair using this pattern from So Sew Easy (which was indeed super easy, although the lace I had isn't quite stretchy enough), and another pair (using different lace) copying a pair I already had - not quite so easy but now I know what order to sew them together in the next lot will be much easier.
It's quite liberating being able to make your own pants. I won't be making any with rainbows or flowers or silly slogans on, but it will be nice to use organic fabrics and make an assortment for under different outfits.
And of course now I vaguely understand how to use the overlocker, and how to follow a pattern, there are all kinds of possibilities! I might start with a couple of vest tops and a few things from the So Sew Easy site but who knows what I'll branch out to!
Gosh it feels good to be making things again!
I can't remember exactly when I started these socks, but it was several months ago, probably before the summer. I got about a third of the way down the first one and then life got in the way.
I picked them up again over Christmas, when Peter was ill and the weather was grey and cold, and I spent many hours watching Call the Midwife and happily knitting round and round and round.
Eventually I finished, and I'm extremely pleased about it. They don't match, of course, and if you look closely you can see I did several more rows on one heel than the other, but who cares about that?
I enjoyed knitting so much that when I'd finished the socks, I was looking round for something to do with the leftover yarn. I settled on a hot water bottle cover - my old one was only ever intended to be a temporary one, and as I've been using it for over a year, it's rather tatty.
I started knitting, but it didn't go well.
Going round in big circles wasn't very interesting, and the pattern didn't look quite so good when spread thinner.
I abandoned my knitting, and settled on something more straightforward - a rectangle of bright blue fleece and a bit of ribbon. Ten minutes with the (rather dusty) sewing machine this evening and I have a cheery new cover. Hooray!
The socks won't count towards my 20 for 2020 list, given I did the last couple of rows on new year's day. But the hot water bottle cover definitely counts as a 'household item' - one down, fifteen to go.
I think I'll make it though - my new overlocker arrives tomorrow...
As usual, I am woefully behind on all the things I intended to write about here. I'm taking a week off work soon so will endeavour to catch up (in between finally getting round to sowing some seeds of course).
In the meantime, here's a cardigan I knitted for a friend's baby. Far too late for either birth or Christmas, needless to say, but there we are. I do love a bit of self-patterning yarn.
And yes, I did finish it off on a train. I can't even remember where I was going, it was that long ago.
Way back in August I picked up my long-neglected crochet hook and started this blanket. I had a choice of recipients - two friends had babies this summer and I fully intended to make two blankets.
Time went on, and the blanket (still singular) spent a lot of time sitting in this cheerful purple trug, ignored in favour of the garden while the weather was sunny.
As the nights drew in my thoughts turned to cosiness, and I admitted that this would probably be a Christmas present, rather than a 'new baby' present. I did a little more, and ran out of wool. I'd bought the three colours on sale as they were discontinued, and hadn't realised they wouldn't be enough for a full blanket.
I managed to get hold of some more yellow, and a dark burgundy colour. I'd been intending just to do stripes, but with my colours now not quite matching, something else was called for. I used the very last bits of pink and blue to make the middles of some granny squares to go round the edge.
This was last week. Can you spot the not-so-deliberate mistake? Yes, that's right. My blanket isn't quite square, and while I'd managed to get ten granny squares down one side, the other side would only hold nine. How vexing!
Still, I wasn't about to unravel the entire blanket, so a bit of imagination (and swearing) was required, and eventually I managed to get ten squares attached to each side, without unravelling any of the rest of the blanket. Hooray! I've attached the granny squares using flat braid join, which I've not used before, but which is flexible enough to hide a multitude of crochet sins. My type of stitch.
It felt like it needed a border though, to hold it all together and make it seem like the burgundy had been a deliberate choice rather than a last minute add on. I decided on the Attic 24 spot on edging pattern, and fortunately there was just enough wool left.
The blanket's spent a few days pinned to the carpet under the Christmas tree, and is now roughly rectangular, as long as you don't try to fold it too neatly. Of course, I now have the problem of who to give it to, as I never did get round to making a second one...
Sit down and make yourself comfortable. I'm Jenni, and I write here about our new foray into country living, which includes growing food, knitting, baking, wandering around the fields, and seeing which local cafe serves the best cake.