The Mothers’ Day Blanket – at last!

This is the second of my Mothers’ Day posts.  I was very excited about this one, because I don’t often have an actual finished object to show anyone.  But at last, the blanket for my lovely Mum is all sewn up and ready for snuggling in! Here it is, draped over my bed.

Happy Mothers' Day, Mum

Happy Mothers’ Day, Mum. Spot the deliberate mistake(s)

This blanket has taken me a year to make. I gave my mum the very first square a year ago, on Mothers’ Day.  And I’ve worked on this project all year – in my sunny little porch, in springtime, and then in the summer, when I was in bed after surgery.  In the autumn, when I was going through rehabilitation, I had to buy in even more yarn  – a very yarn-hungry blanket, this one!   And in winter, when I’d started back at work and the nights drew in, I began to knit the edging squares.  Sewing up all the squares and darning in all the ends has taken me a month.  But it’s worth it!

Lacework edging

Lacework edging

This blanket is by no means perfect – in fact, I believe there’s a deliberate mistake in every square! But it has been such a pleasure to make it for my mum.  And woohoo, I’ve finally finished something!  I have a sneaky suspicion my mum will ask me to back it with something, so it might actually come back to me before long.  But I did it!  I made something!  A whole thing, just by myself.  Hopefully the next project won’t take me a whole year..

Yes, it is as heavy as it looks.

Yes, it is as heavy as it looks.  But hey, warmth is good, right?

A project with heart…

What do you think of these fabulous labels, produced by Katrina who runs our local ‘knit and natter’ group?

Hatherleigh Hooker

Made with Love by a Hatherleigh Hooker!

Quite special, aren’t they?  This little label was put to very heartfelt use this week.  My bestest friend, my lovely bridesmaid, has breast cancer. We have known one another since we got stuck in a cupboard together at the age of 7.  Our parents discovered us after a couple of hours, and we emerged unscathed, but friends for life.  I have no idea how to say how much I care, without sounding pathetic.  There’s no unpatronising way to say I want to wrap her up in love and make it better.

I can’t do that – but I did find a little project that might help, and I wanted to share it because I thought there might be some people out there who would find it useful and inspiring.

The heart pillow project was developed by a breast care nurse who wanted to make life post-mastectomy more comfortable for her patients.  It’s a specially designed pillow in the shape of a heart, which patients can place so that the ‘dip’ of the heart is under their arm.  This eases discomfort associated with post-operative swelling and makes life more comfortable in bed, in the car and so on.

Even for a total beginner for me, it wasn’t hard to make.  It takes just two fat quarters, and I used two different patterened fabrics in 100% cotton.

Pretty pretty fabric

Pretty pretty fabric

So here is my effort.  It’s not perfect, but it’s made with all the love in the world:

Heart Pillow!

Heart Pillow!

Have you spotted the deliberate mistake yet?  Yes, I sewed the label on upside-down (doh).

At least it's readable when the pillow is under your arm..

At least it’s readable when the pillow is under your arm..

Heart pillow projects are starting up in lots of places, with the aim of supplying as many breast cancer patients as possible with pillows made with love.  Organising networks of people to make pillows and donate fabric seems to be key to all of this.  I wonder – is this something that UK craft bloggers can help with?  I know there are lots of crafty people out there (much, much craftier than me).

I can’t do the breast cancer Race for Life – hell, I can’t even walk it!  But I can sew (badly) for life.  Could you sew a pillow every once in a while?  If you’d like to help me think about how we can work on this together, let me know.

I don’t think I’m ready for this Jelly: My first sewing project

My colour-addiction continues. Check out the beautiful contrasts in my very first sewing project!

Stripes!  I love stripes!

Stripes! I love stripes!

For Christmas, Irish gave me a sewing machine, and I’m sew (geddit) excited! Unfortunately for the poor sewing machine, I am a total novice. The last time I used a sewing machine, I made a bag for my mother. I was so proud – it had a picture of a bunny rabbit on the front, and a pom pom on the back (bunny rabbit tail, see?). I gave it to her for mother’s day when I was twelve years old. She opened the little package, took one look and said to me, uncertainly, ‘Oh darling! A pair of panties! How sweet of you’.

This time, it will be different. I will crack sewing. I will produce something that doesn’t look like a playboy bunny wears it in Hugh Hefner’s mansion. But. It took me four hours to wind the bobbin on Sunday. I swore more than Irish does when he’s watching the six nations rugby.

Luckily one of the ‘yarn Ho’s’ from my local knit and natter group came to the rescue, and recommended I get started by sewing ‘jelly roll’ strips together to make a quilt. And in so doing, I encountered a whole new world of sewing terminology – of jelly rolls, charm packs, fat quarters, and other mind-boggling and rather intimidating phrases.
Anyway, jelly rolls look like this:

Click on the photo to buy this one.

Click on the photo to buy this one.

They consist of 2.5 inch wide strips of fabric, bundled together so that they co-ordinate. And, as my friend points out, they’re a great way to get to know your sewing machine. It turns out that straight lines are the easiest thing to sew.

The other reason I love them is that the strips of fabric are all so well put-together. The colours co-ordinate beautifully and it looks like you’ve spent hours in a fabric shop working out what goes with what – but oh no, you’ve just bought a jelly roll for £30 from eBay or similar.

So pretty..

So pretty..

You can tell from the close-up that I didn’t pin these strips (tsk tsk) and I’m not that good at sewing in straight lines – yet. But hey, in two days I put together all 42 strips in my jelly roll, and they look so cute. Next step – working out how to add a middle layer and a back!

Oops – I appear to have made another blanket – or at least be on the way towards it. But hey, a girl can never have too many works in progress, right?

A woolly hug from my friends..PAO recovery week 4

I don’t know whether it’s the furious bouts of video game action, the increased confidence I have in my crutches, or the occasional sunny day that we’ve had recently, but week 4 sees a big improvement in my mobility and pain levels. It’s easier to get up and down the stairs, and I can sit, stand, and move about for longer. I am far less reliant on painkillers, although paracetamol still features rather heavily in my life! I celebrated my progress with a tentative glass of wine – and enjoyed it.

Highlight of the week was a visit from my my rudest and funniest friends from the local knit and knitter group, and we had a wonderful cup of tea and a gossip. It felt GREAT to be back hearing all the village gossip, and for the first time I could envisage myself knitting again.

And look! My friends brought with them a beautiful, hand-crocheted present! All my friends clubbed together and made squares for this beautiful blanket.

A woolly hug – definitely the best medicine!

I love how the use of red contrasts with the pastel tones – I would never have thought of doing this, but it really works. In fact the colours remind me of my favourite flowers, which are currently all over the house. I like to put little posies of them in vintage bottles. They brighten up dark corners of bookshelves and look gorgeous clustered with a little pile of books.

Who doesn’t love sweet peas?

Best of all though, my blanket has a secret message in one corner:

I did not cry at all when I read this, oh no.

‘Made with love from all your friends at Knit and Natter’. Oh, I wanted to sob! I’m so, so lucky to have such loving, and clever friends. If ever I needed some motivation to get moving and get back to my rather raucous and sweary evenings with the Hatherleigh Hookers, this was it. And with my first physiotherapy and rehabilitation appointment coming up next week, I think this motivation is going to come in rather handy…

Is this the Ultimate Comfort Food Cake?

Well?  Is it?  I think so.  It is Nigella’s Butterscottch layer cake.

Comfort Food?

Don’t let the butterscotch title put you off.  I don’t think it tastes of butterscotch at all. I passionately dislike butterscotch – it reminds me of Angel Delight (seventies flower children might remember this).

This cake is sweet, because of the fudgey drizzle over the top, but importantly, not too sweet because of the cream-cheese frosting.  The sponge is substantial, but moist and fluffy.  It is possibly the Queen of Cakes (although I will be blogging about another contender for that title later).

Here’s how to make it.

Don’t mind if I do…

For the Icing and Drizzle, you will need

  • 300g caster sugar
  • 300g cold water
  • 250ml double cream
  • 400g cream cheese.

For the sponge, you will need

  • 225g unsalted butter, soft
  • 125g light muscovado (or brown) sugar
  • 100g golden caster sugar (you can use ordinary)
  • 4 eggs
  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 2-4 tbsp thickened cream

Preheat the oven to 190° and line two cake tins with greaseproof paper.  Then get on with making the icing.

Add the sugar to the cold water and heat gently until all the granules have dissolved.  Then turn up the heat and bring the mixture to the boil. Do not stir! This is the trickiest part – if only because you have to watch the mixture, without stirring, until it turns golden (perhaps 10 – 15 minutes).  Take the pan off the heat and slowly whisk in the cream.  Keep whisking until the mixture is  smooth, then put back on the heat for a minute and then leave to one side.

Whilst the icing is cooling, make the cake.  This is shockingly easy.  Just put all your cake ingredients, except the cream, into a food processor (I used a Magimix 4200) and whizz it all together until fully combined.  Then add the cream, one tablespoon at a time, until the mixture reaches a dropping consistency (you know, when the mixture isn’t quite liquid but would happily ‘drop off’ your mixing spoon in lumps).

Then spoon the mixture into your two tins and put them into the pre-heated oven for 25 minutes. Use the ‘skewer in the middle’ test to see if it’s ready, and when they’re done, remove the sponges from the oven and leave in their tins to cool for about 10 minutes.

While they’re cooling, beat the cream cheese until soft and smooth, and then whisk in half of your caramel icing mixture. Use this cream-cheese caramel mixture to sandwich your two sponges together, and then to ice the top layer.  Drizzle the remaining caramel icing over the top of the cake using a teaspoon.

Final instructions:  Feel extremely smug.  Try not to eat before anyone has an opportunity to comment on your domestic prowess.

Like a hug, but tastes nicer. Cup of tea optional.

‘I need a PRIVATE wee’…

At your convenience..

…announced my gorgeous stepdaughter (aged 8) the other day.  And quite right too – every girl needs to maintain her mystique, after all.  Unfortunately chez HipOptimist, this is not as easy as it sounds.  Locks do not fit easily onto 300 year old cottage doors.   On top of which, bathroom doors which lock are not really do-able since Irish sustained his head injury doing ‘military things’ in the desert.  Having a blackout in the bath or shower could be really dangerous so we need to ensure we can get easy access to the bathroom in an emergency.

Hmm – what to do? Visitors always look rather nervous, when they ask how they will know if the bathroom is occupied, and the response ‘just knock’ doesn’t seem to reassure them. Our littlest has always been sensitive about her privacy, and now that her lovely older sister is fast approaching her 13th birthday, the House is in dire need of, if not locks, then at least some kind of system.

I stole the idea for ‘door hangers’ from our visit to Southernhay House in Exeter for a dirty weekend. Instead of ‘Do Not Disturb’ door hangers, the hotel rooms had wooden baubles dangling from the doorknobs for you to put on the front of the door at night – that is, if you want the dirtiness to continue in the morning (we did).

The hanger on the left appropriately says ‘laugh often, talk much, sit long’. It costs £4.50 from Designs on Pine.

Enter at your own risk..

I picked this fish-shaped one (right) up from King’s Garden Centre in Exmouth for a similar price.

And this one (below) is the best value of all – just 99p from Country Bumpkins Gifts..

Translation: Watch out! Private wees taking place inside..

So far, the system has worked really well.  A hanger on the outside of the door means somebody is
inside. If there’s no hanger on the door, the bathroom is empty.  Our eight year old has cracked it – and remembers to put the hanger back on the inside of the door again when she leaves.  But whether it stands up to the ‘nervous visitor’ test is uncertain.  It’s looking like the in-laws (due for a trip to Devon soon) will be the first guinea pigs! Time for nervous hosts, rather than visitors, perhaps..

Work-in-Progress Wednesday!

Knitting is one of my big pleasures.  I love the idea that this is a timeless skill that has been passed on through generations, just as my grandmother taught me. I’m not very good at it yet! For a long time, all I managed to produce was…well, really long pieces of knitting.  Here (below) is a blanket that I’ve loved working on.  I would like it to be a kind of heirloom picnic blanket so when I’ve decided it’s big enough, I’ll probably back it with a kikoy towel or perhaps a brushed cotton sheet or some fleece to make it even cosier.

The ‘TOGETHER’ squares came about because ‘together’ was the theme of an exhibition of my local ‘knit and natter’ group.  Of course I didn’t manage to get the blanket done in time for the exhibition!  But through my friendship with the knit and natter ladies – also known as the Hatherleigh hookers – I’ve also got something even more special out of my favourite hobby.  A sense of belonging and community – togetherness indeed.

And woop – now it seems like knitting is actually cool – well, relatively speaking!   Perhaps it’s a way of rejecting the smash and grab consumption trends of the noughties, and tapping into the ‘grow your own’ ethos.  In that way it’s like seeing your garden come alive in springtime.  The pleasure is in the gradualness of it, the anticipation of seeing it come together (that word again).

I’m not the fastest or neatest knitter in the world, but since I love to look at other knitting blogs, I will try to share my progress once a week. Let me know what you think!

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