Thursday 26 September 2013

Happy the Flowerpotomus

Goodness its been a bit of a manic little while. Visit to the parents, unwell baby, big sort out and clear outs of the spare room, making some changes in my life too, all for the positive of course, and the beginning of the boy attending infants full time, the slow roll in now over. So its been somewhat chaotic. Especially as missy's birthday is in just over two weeks and needed to get that sorted too!

The subject of missy's birthday is apt, because this project is my birthday present to her. As a stay at home mum I don't have my own income, and while hubby's pay will easily stretch to big fancy presents, I still want to give my children something a little special too. This is why I have been working on a gluten free red velvet cupcake recipe to be her birthday cake (watch this space, the recipe is coming!), and I tend to look for those special presents on my very limited budget throughout the year, or I invest what I have more freely available. Time. Though the availability of time has been questionable lately!

I knew that as soon as I saw Heidi Bears' pattern that I had to make it for missy, and while she was young enough to appreciate it. I am lucky that her brother has always appreciated the hand made things I have made him. He has a special blanket I made for his second birthday that he still adores, I've made him several pairs of socks that he loved over all others, several hats, a stegosaurus, a chicken, a hand sewn sock monkey and a sweater. The sweater is now getting too small and he sweetly asked me to make him another... so guess who bought yarn for said sweater this week?

And missy seems to be following in his footsteps. She's worn little outfits I have made her since birth as you can see here:

And I made that blanket too. Its actually the back you can see there. The photographer loved the texture as a background. That blanket is now the cuddly and I live in fear of anything happening to it because I think her little world will implode if it vanishes or dies!

So she appreciates the hand made, and I was more than willing to put in the effort. So in a little under two weeks, I created 44 african flower motifs in various geometric shapes from squares to octagons and everything inbetween. I have to say this. Heidi makes the most amazing patterns. They are not just visually stunning, and you really must check out her blog, but her patterns are so well laid out with step by step photo tutorials. It makes them very long pdfs, but they really are worth it. I never felt lost once. I even learned her join as you go method. And the only deviation from the pattern  aside from my own colour choices, was to embroider eyes instead of using safety eyes.

So here is Happy, in progress to the finished beastie, all waiting to be wrapped for her birthday!

The first motifs

And our finished hippo!

I am most biased and think he is wonderful. If missy doesn't like him, I think I shall claim him for me! He is cuddly and squishy and definitely made for cuddles. 

Till next time!


Monday 16 September 2013

Elastic Hair Ties

I am sure I am not the only one who burns through the traditional hair ties at a remarkable rate. I have long hair, and traditional hair elastics have been bought in bulk and it doesn't take much use out of each one before it starts stretching too much, and not much longer before they become useless or snap. And my hair wraps round them in nasty snarls. So when I came across the 'no dent hair elastics' that seem so prevalent these days, I was intrigued. I didn't know that wearing them on your wrist was a 'thing' either. But the more I looked, the more they were everywhere, like some kind of revolution that had passed me by. But I have never been a dedicated follower of fashion. 

Some of them even come with sparkly bling on them. Gorgeous. But thrifty me baulked at the price. One retailer was selling a sparkly beaded version for £6 a tie. For a single tie. I asked myself 'surely I can make them cheaper than that!'. Well of course I can, otherwise they wouldn't be doing it and making a profit would they? Or the masses on Etsy selling them for £5 for five plain ones. Plus postage. My beef being that that's basically £1 a throw for what is basically a 20cm length of elastic someone spent 10 seconds tying a knot in. I know that because I made those in the picture above! Of course, said retailer is probably using very expensive and exclusive high quality beads. And any crafter using beads knows how expensive good beads can be. So I am not claiming their price is unreasonable. Just that I don't feel like paying it.

A note here, I appreciate most of us don't have the time or will to make these things, which is why we are willing to pay a premium for the convenience. That's absolutely fine, there is a market for that. But my point is that the sky is the limit and you can with very little time, effort, and cost (depending on whether you are buying super expensive supplies or not), make something that is unique to you and suits your style and wardrobe without hunting for the 'perfect' one amongst all the ones on sale.

So thrifty me goes looking for supplies. If you are like me and want to make them yourself, what you are looking for is 'fold over elastic' and its made in a ridiculous amount of colours. There are a number of ebay sellers with listings for 3 metres for 99p. Plus postage of course. But still. Most will combine postage, and save you more money. I bought two colours so six metres. Enough to make 30, for a few pence under £3. That's more my style to say the least. Especially when I will lose them, break them, go through them at a rate of knots anyway. I did choose to bead mine too. So making them. 

You can literally make them with the elastic, a pair of scissors, and a tape measure. If you want to use beads, buy and add beads. It goes a little something like this. 

Cut your elastic into 20 cm lengths

Pick your beads if you are opting to bling them up a bit. I bought a surprise mixed bag of glass beads that would fit the Pandora style bracelets, again from ebay, for a few pence over £6 including postage. For 50 beads. Because they have a wide bore and that is important because you need to get your elastic through it! And I like them. That's all the reason I need. The fact I am sucker for a pretty surprise made the random selection element all the more fun.You can use any wide bore bead you like. They can be rhinestone, diamante, crystal or whatever. Buy whatever you want to wear in your hair, the sky is the limit!

Aren't they pretty? So quite simply, if you are using beads, thread one on.

Fold in half and tie a good, tight  knot:

and if you want tidy up the ends with a pair of scissors. Voila, a finished tie

Of course you can also be very clever and seal the ends of your hair tie to prevent it fraying. The best way to do this is by passing it very close over high heat to melt the ends, i.e. with a lighter. Depends how good you are with such a thing or a candle whether you want to attempt that!

In half an hour I had this finished pile:

And enough hair bands to keep me going for a while. And pretty beaded ones too. I did the whole lot, 30 hairbands for a few pence over £9 and have spare beads for next time. Now that's more my budget ;) And makes me wince less if I lose one! It really is that simple, and something you could do in front of the TV if you wanted to one evening. And as you can see from my initial picture, wrapped around a piece of card, you could quite easily join the other sellers out there and sell your own. Completely up to you all though!

Till next time


Life casting

The topic of this post should be very obvious at this point given the title and the bronze hand in the picture above. This is simply about capturing how small your little one was, capturing a moment in time. let me explain how I came to do it.

When my son was born, I knew of a place that did life casts of hands or feet of your little ones, or even the paws of your dog if you so desired, or took hand prints or fingerprints and cast them in jewellery. What mother doesn't want a momento of when her child was tiny? The thing is, paying someone to cast a replica of your child's hand does not come cheap. So at the time, when it came to christmas, I asked for my son's handprint to be captured in a heart shaped pendant. but my husband longed for a cast. when we had the spare money we said. That time never seemed to come.

Our son grew and grew, and three and a half years later (nearly to day all bar a week and 12 hours), our daughter joined our family. Once again, the christmas following I wanted a watching pendant. Given she was a few weeks old we did her foot as a hand would have been very difficult to do. I have my matching set, but again I saw that longing. Fast forward to May and I was considering what to do for my husband's birthday in June. I had cooked up some handprint impressions in salt dough for a little something for father's day so the children had something to give him, but wanted something special for his birthday.

Just a side note here, I thought of these hand impressions as a cheap nothing really, as they were made with things already in the house. Gifts on a budget kind of thing. I painted them gold and he adored them and they now sit framed and hung in our kitchen. It just goes to show doesn't it. By that time I had already done the casts but at least I knew he was going to love it!

Back onto the point. As I was hunting round the internet I came across this casting kit. I thought at £16 including the postage... well it was worth a shot. It was very different from the £110 wanted by the professionals. I am a stay at home mum, so I had the time. So I took the plunge, bought the kit and started to work in secret. I don't have pictures of the entire process since I was working alone and in secrecy, but here are my thoughts on the process.

The kits come with bags, dental alginate to make the moulds, casting stone or very fine plaster of paris to you and me. Also mixing stirrers, toothpicks, different sized bags, a small paintbrush and a pot of acrylic paint in your chosen colour. Its a fun and messy process. Top tips before you start if you are thinking of doing it:

* messy clothes that you don't mind getting ruined for you and baby. That alginate does NOT come off if it gets on you and your clothes. So cover your surfaces too.

* baby lotion on the appendage to cast is your friend.

* Have everything ready to hand to make your mould because you have to act FAST once you add water to that alginate. It changes colour to give you an idea of when its soft or hard, which is useful.

* the younger your child the better. They are stiller / more cooperative when small. Katy would just about sit for a hand cast with a small amount of protest. I got ONE attempt at a foot and then she destroyed any further attempts at making a mould. She HATED having her feet done. She was seven months at the time. Just things to consider.

* expect to spend ages scraping alginate off the container you mixed it in, the thing you mixed it with etc.

If you are okay with all of the above let's get on to the process.

I sucked at using the bags to cast. I confess, I did so many attempts at moulds I even ordered extra alginate (amazingly found on ebay rather cheap). I could not get the bags to work. It does work for some people though so its not the kit, it was me. I wound up using an appropriately sized beaker for doing her hands and it worked beautifully. Its trickier than it sounds to get their whole appendage covered but not touching the sides you know! And even when you get a successful mould you have no idea how it is going to turn out until you cast it. And you have to do that quickly as the mould starts to degrade in a couple of hours.

Across all my attempts I got a near perfect right hand, an okayish left with a dodgy thumb and a foot that could have gone better. It IS possible to mix up a little plaster and sculpt any dodgy areas, and sand at the end. Emery boards are your friends here.

The near perfect one had unfortunately had an air bubble trapped in the tip of her little finger. But with care, some wet plaster, and concentration, I filled it in so you couldn't tell. Anything bigger than that... well you'll see. If you get a good cast, you are golden, and I was thankfully. So I painted mine in my chosen bronze, hunted the depths of the internet for a frame deep enough, (ebay again) and when it arrived, wrapped the cast, put it loose inside the frame, wrapped the frame and handed to my husband on his birthday.

He was over the moon. He was shocked, surprised and so incredibly happy. All in all I think the entire thing with frame cost me £35 (including extra alginate). And for his happiness it was worth it. Mounting it was a new challenge but good old Araldite in copious amounts and a steady hand and I had succeeded in giving my husband what he had always craved. A tiny momento of babyhood.

So what of the other two casts. I decided to work on them this week and see what I could make of them. Here they are out of the moulds:

They were nowhere near as good as the one that was selected for my husband's present. However, I spent some time smoothing, sculpting a bit, especially the bad thumb on the hand, and then painted them yesterday.

They are far from perfect, but lovely enough to be saved in a cabinet, even if they don't take pride of place on the wall like the other.

So what do I think of these home kits? I think they are great. They are fun, inexpensive, definitely better if two people are doing it rather than one, but possible to do alone. And they do capture something so very special. So if you fancy it, give it a go. Be prepared to be a little frustrated with the process, but you really can get something wonderful from it.

Till next time


Tuesday 10 September 2013

Quick post - Birthday present and WiP

A very quick post today. Not because I haven't been crafting, but things are taking a bit longer at the moment, what with the slow roll in to school for my son, and I have a slightly more complex project on the go. But I shall share later.

The picture above in the the scarf I made for a friend for her birthday that she celebrated yesterday. She has fabulous pink and purple hair and it should match a treat. Very funky!

Also on the go, just what is this?

No clue? How about now:

Still no idea? What about now?

Yes, that's right, you in the back. Its the beginnings of some kind of toy made from flower motifs. Top marks. In fact it will be a hippopotamus that looks like it belongs in the sixties. Bright and colourful to stimulate the missy's eyes and brain. Currently working on it for her first birthday next month. How she got to be a year old I don't know. But in the last two days she finally cut her first tooth and moved beyond rolling by figuring out crawling forward.

I also have a cardigan on the go for her and some spinning, but haven't had chance to photograph. And experimenting with a gluten free red velvet cupcake recipe, trying to perfect it. So rest assured, I am juggling many balls at the moment. So watch this space for more crafty goodness.

Till next time


Friday 6 September 2013

Tomatoes, tomatoes, everywhere!

As the title suggests, I have a lot of tomatoes at the moment. The hubby likes growing fresh cherry sized tomatoes to have on pizza's in various pasta dishes he cooks and the like, but in previous years has had real trouble dealing with leggy plants. Some of it has been planting too early, some of it the mystery that is the British weather, but its been driving him barmy. So early this year I found him seeds for a bush variety of tomato. Red Alert if anyone is actually interested. The picture on the packet showed bushy plants with a lot of fruit. I never expected them to be so prolific for us. But... boy was I wrong.

So here I am with a lot of tomatoes, about the size of small plum tomatoes, much bigger than cherry sized, and what am I going to do with them? Given how much pasta my husband eats and the amount of Dolmio stir ins he goes through there was only one answer to that. Pasta sauce. I have a sauce that freezes and have been making in batches and freezing in portions. We aren't going to be buying pasta sauce for quite some time, but its lovely sauce with nothing I an leery of, so I feel happy making baby food out of it. Yes I make baby food. A lot. My almost 11 month old has yet to have a jar of baby food. Keeping up with that does keep me busy but I am happy doing it.

Back to the pasta sauce, what is my recipe then?

1-1.5 kg of fresh tomatoes. if you are growing like we are, slightly green is fine as they are going to cook out.
large handful of basil, about 30g or so
1 onion, red or white doesn't matter
garlic - 5 or six fat cloves
olive oil, about two tablespoons
1 tablespoon italian dried herbs - or any other herbs of your choice
a few drops of tabasco sauce  - completely optional, but I am not putting in anywhere enough to give this much sauce heat. its just giving it a little something.

* Warm the oil in a large pan while you chop the tomatoes, garlic and onion. I will note here that we put the whole tomato in, seeds and all. If you wish to deseed, its up to you, but you will need extra tomatoes to make the quantity of sauce.

* Fry with the dried herbs until the tomatoes start to stew while you take the basil leaves off the stalks and chop.

* Once its starting to look like a rough sauce, add the basil and the tabasco if using.

* Stew until you have a sauce you like the consistency of. A couple of hours is fine to develop the flavours if you want! But you don't have to wait an age either!

* Blend with a hand blender, split into portions and freeze.

And that's it, a simple sauce that can be used as a based for others if you like, or used as is. Nice, tasty and fresh! And looking at the tomato plants... its about time I did another batch this weekend!

Till next time

Kat xxx