Wednesday, 15 August 2012

first plum jam

We have two plum trees in our garden. These tiny wild cherry plums: sweet and zingy with dark skin and yellow flesh, and Victorias: big, luscious and fragrant.

These little sharp ones come first. They start ripening in early/mid-August and they come and go in a week, so you have to harvest and use them quickly. Some years I miss them all together!

The ground at the "orchard" end of our garden starts smelling fruity and alcoholic as a rain of ripe plums showers down faster than you can pick them up! Some go to the birds and bugs, but lots come in to us. They are best in cooking, so cue lots of cakes and, of course, jam.

My first batch of jam of the year is always a pleasure. Unfortunately this year I happened to be incredibly tired on the night I made it, so I rushed it (dreaming of crashing out in bed) and consequently the consistency is gooier than it should be. It's best to keep stirring a lot - even though that cools the jam down and makes it set more slowly - because you keep the temperature more even throughout the pan.

I always have fun packaging my jam and making the labels. I bought some beautiful labels in France on holiday but they are the wrong shape for these jars, so I'm saving them for future batches.

If you'd like a failsafe tutorial for making plum jam, you can find my mum's recipe on one of my earliest posts on this blog, here. The only thing I'd add is that my mum always says you can't make plum jam with bought plums - it's part superstition, part truth. Before I had my own trees I used to go out in Cambridge with a friend and find trees that were overhanging public paths and take the fruit there!

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

that's not a pumpkin...

At a fair, earlier this year I bought a tiny pumpkin plant. I enlisted my toddler to help me plant it and every time we saw an image of a pumpkin I told him that was what we were growing in the garden. So imagine my surprise when we got home from our holiday to find this:

So not a pumpkin. But it is a lovely-looking courgette (zucchini for those stateside). I guess I've never grown a pumpkin before, so the fact that the plant (and flowers) looked exactly like a courgette plant didn't throw me. It is the same squash family after all.

Tonight, folks, we'll be eating this. And let's hope there are a few more where that came from!

This is pretty much the only thing I've managed to grow in the garden this year (although the plums are ripening - more on that in another post) since insane late May frosts (yes May) killed the tomatoes and slugs ate the carrots. But now we're in August it is time to be planting this:

Fell in love with this exquisite radish while on our Christmas trip to Austin TX. I hope I can make it work in our damp little English garden!

Monday, 6 August 2012

patchwork wall hanging

I've been just longing to share photos of this! I made it last month for my mum's birthday present and although (as somehow always seems to happen) it was a real rush to finish it on time, it might just be the creation I'm most proud of to date!

My mum requested a wall hanging, inspired by something her sister had brought back from South Africa, but with warm colours. With the basic idea of appliqué motifs on a patchwork base, I picked fabrics that reminded me of her and sketched out a pattern in my notebook.

About 1/2 the fabrics I used were vintage, including some from the stash my mother gave me. The border and backing were made from a huge piece of remnant fabric my mother found years ago (the price tag 70p was still attached!)

I decorated it with appliqué hearts and flowers, embroidery, trims, buttons and beads. I decided that with so much colour in the background the letters should be neutral, but I had problems with the machine appliqué stitch for the tight letter shapes, and so I painstakingly hand-sewed overstitch with different coloured embroidery threads instead.

In keeping with the "home sweet home" motif, the project became something almost like a sampler for me, in that I used a whole range of different sewing techniques and stitches. This was very meaningful for me in a gift for my mother, as she was the one who taught me how to sew.

I especially love the little appliqué home I made, with fabric that looks like tiles for the roof, and gingham "bricks" for the walls, while the windows glow with the same orange fabric as the border to show that the homefires are burning.

There is even a little heart-shaped button decorating the door. As with all the appliqué, I used heat 'n' bond iron-on adhesive to fix the pieces, then stitched to secure using a variety of different stitches. I was pleased to see that zig-zag stitch worked nicely on an array of shapes, even though I hadn't managed the proper machine appliqué stitch for the letters.

A touch I'm delighted with is the addition of the vintage pink rick-rack I wrote about in this 'think pink' post all around the border.

I also used pink thread for the top spool and orange for the bottom so it matched both rick-rack and backing fabric. And I was pleased to use one of my little 'handmade with love' tags - free with Mollie Makes magazine (and stitched on quite hastily at the end!)

Using a simple backstitch, I embroidered the month and year at the top so that it commemorates my mum's birthday this year. I had planned to do more embroidery and learn some new embroidery stitches at the same time, but I will keep that idea for another project.

Finally here's my mum holding it up. It was going to hang in her bedroom but when she put it temporarily at the top of the stairs she fell in love with having it there and felt it would be nice to share it with more people. I'm happy that she likes it. Now my husband wants me to make one for our home!

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

floral fabric flower pots

Just before leaving for France I went to my first ever craft evening, organised by some crafty chicks from the Cath Kidston shop in Cambridge. I was excited to see what we'd be making and to meet 2 fellow Cambridge bloggers, Claire of Claireabellemakes (we chatted over a lovely cup of popcorn tea beforehand) and Jenny of Jenny and the Magic Feather.

Needless to say the Cath Kidston shop is a very pretty place to spend an evening making things. As we arrived we saw these sweet pots decorated with fabric and ribbon, plates of biscuits (aka cookies), piles of Cath Kidston fabrics, bags of ribbon, boxes of buttons, spatulas and lots of glue!

There were templates to help us cut the fabric to the right shape, and we were each given two flower pots, one little, one large. As everyone got stuck in I suddenly felt a little nervous. I realised that I'm used to planning craft projects for ages in my head before I get round to doing them, and here I was having to come up with something on the (s)pot!

That's when I realised that it's the process that's important here: these were experiments, and making them was the chance to play with pretty fabrics while chatting with a group of creative women. It was so much fun seeing what other people came up with. I played it simple - only getting slightly more complex with my large pot, to cover up a mistake in cutting out...

Since my main piece of fabric was a tad too small, I covered the rim with some pink polka dot fabric and tied a ribbon around to hide the join (attaching the ribbon was surprisingly tricky and I laboured over this for some time!) For my small pot I sewed a little felt flower with a button in the middle and skipped on the ribbon.

I loved seeing all the pots piled up together in the shop at the end of the evening! It was fun trying something simple and completely new and finishing it in one evening. It was a project that had never occured to me before so it was a nice surprise to come home with my pots.

Here are my pots on the windowsill at home. All that's needed now are some plants to put in them! To read more about this evening, you can find some lovely posts from Claire (where you can also find a link to a tutorial) and Jenny (where you can read more about how she planned the evening). I'll definitely be going next time!

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