Sunday, 26 December 2010

happy holidays

Hope your holidays have been as joyful as ours! We're continuing our celebrations by traveling to see family tomorrow, but I'll be back in the new year to share our little handmade Christmas with you. And to introduce you to the newest member of our family. A baby, yes. But one of the four-legged variety. Until then, wishing you a peaceful and joyful New Year!

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

just eight straight lines

About four months ago, I bought some very inexpensive green and red gingham fabric, with the idea of using it to make reusable Christmas gift bags. We have hardly used any wrapping paper in our present-giving throughout this year (except for gifts outside of our family, and that is almost exclusively recycled wrapping nowadays), and though I adore the look of a beautifully-wrapped present, I hate how long it takes to do it. Today, with the deadline for getting my presents wrapped looming, I started making cloth gift bags. Not that I'm prone to procrastination or anything.

I've made a variety of sizes - some with gussets, some with ribbon already attached - and I thought I'd share the how-to bit with you (not that it's at all difficult, but I know by the time we get this close to Christmas, my brain's ability to work anything out for itself is waning quickly, so a photo-tutorial can save a bit of head-scratching). I used French seams on my bags for neatness - you could do without them to save time, but in all honesty they only add about two and a half minutes to each bag.

 Cut your fabric a little more that twice the size you want your finished bag to be. I didn't do any measuring - just made a selection of sizes. If you use a fabric such as gingham, you can just cut along the lines - super speedy!

 Working with one of the short edges, fold over twice, press and pin. Do the same with the other short edge.

 Sew a straight line along the folded edge, ensuring you catch the folded-under bit of fabric. My hems were about 3/8 inch - you could make them as wide or narrow as you please. I didn't bother backstitching at either end - the ends will be caught in the side seams anyway.

 Fold your hemmed fabric in half, hemmed edges together, wrong sides facing. Press along the folded edge.

 If attaching ribbons, tuck 1" of the ribbon in between the layers about 2" down from the hemmed edges. Pin all three layers together. Do the same on the other side. Sew straight lines down each edge, using a 1/4" seam allowance. When you've sewed both sides, you will have a bag that looks as though you've sewed it wrong side out as the raw edges will be on the outside. Your long pieces of ribbons should be on the outside of the bag.

 Now turn your bag inside out. It should look like the above photo, with 1" of ribbon sticking out of the neat edges. Press the sides of your bag so they're nice and flat.

 Sew down each side again with a 3/8" seam allowance - this should ensure that your raw edges are now encased inside the new seams. As you approach the ribbon, check that the long tail is laying flat inside your bag.

 Fold the short tail of ribbon over the fabric, so that as you continue your seam you sew down the tail. This keeps the inside of your bag nice and tidy and should stop the ribbon from fraying.

 Do the same for the other side. This is what the inside of the bag will now look like.

 If you want to add a gusset to the bottom of your bag so that it will stand up, pinch the corners of the bottom of the bag (whilst it's still inside out) and pull out so that you get a point.

 Sew a straight line so that you have a triangle. Use your judgement as to how large your triangle should be - mine were about 1 1/2" wide.

 This is what the bag looks like now, inside out.

 Here's a close-up of the gusset corners.

 Turn your bag right side out and admire your clever handiwork!

 Pop a gift inside, wrap the ribbons round the top edge and tie. Beautiful!

I managed to make eight bags in an hour, using about 1 1/2 yards of fabric. I didn't actually do any measuring or pinning - just pressed my seams and hems. I used bits of ribbon from my could easily make the bags without ribbons and tie them up as you wrap your gifts. Amanda has instructions for a slightly different way of constructing her bags and attaching the ribbons - her bags certainly look more elegant than mine! I love her red and white theme. And if you like the idea of using cloth to wrap your gifts, but don't have a sewing machine or the time to make bags, have a go at the Japanese art of Furoshiki, as demonstrated by the Lazy Seamstress.

Monday, 20 December 2010

it's been a while

...but we are beginning to feel settled in our new home. And not a moment too soon! With the holidays looming (in the nicest possible way, of course) and a new little one (more on that later) joining our family in the new year, we've hardly stopped for breath. The house is still full of unopened packing boxes, but I've managed to create a little calm in one half of the living room. The Christmas tree is twinkling, there is snow on the ground, and my sewing machine is seeing more action than the all is good in our little house.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

on thanksgiving

Today, on this day of Thanksgiving, I have much to be grateful for:
  • my family's good health
  • a new home, which gives us the stability and security we have been seeking for two years
  • secure, family-friendly jobs for both myself and my husband
  • a school community that supports us as a family would
  • close ties to family, in spite of the great distances that separate us
  • friends who have rallied round as we prepare to move house
  • and hopefully, good weather for the big move tomorrow.
But mostly, I give thanks for the life of my eldest daughter, who was born six years ago today on another Thanksgiving morning. Her entry into the world was a very traumatic one - one which nearly ended very sadly. But she emerged from her difficult birth perfectly healthy. I have never before and never since been as thankful as I was that day six years ago.

As traumatic as her birth was for both of us, I am also grateful for it. It changed the course of my life, leading me to meet some of the most amazing women I know, leading me to take more responsibility for my own parenting decisions and healthcare choices, leading me to support other women during their journey to motherhood. It made me a stronger person.

Happiest of birthdays to my dear daughter, Eva.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

moving house

We are moving. We have been in the process of moving for a week or so now, and we will hit a crescendo of motion on Friday, when we actually obtain a moving van. I thought the two-week overlap we will have had between getting the keys to our new house and surrendering the keys to our rented house would give us plenty of time to paint, make some changes to the layout of the kitchen cupboards, install a dishwasher and new oven, and pack in an orderly fashion. Boy was I wrong. This has been the busiest fortnight we've had in a long time: Martinmas Lantern Walk, Advent Fair, Eva's birthday and birthday party, Advent Spiral Walk....

So far I have painted half of one room. And I have packed about four boxes. But it will happen. We will be in our new home by the end of the weekend. By the end of the weekend, we will be Home.

Friday, 19 November 2010

this moment : checking out our new back garden!

A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week a couple of weeks ago. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

inspired by amanda soule

Wednesday, 17 November 2010


Our Martinmas celebrations took place a few days late, due to the very stormy weather last week. Last night, however, was clear, crisp and awfully cold. And magical. We took our little lanterns and joined the other Kindergarten, Class 1 and Class 2 families for a moonlit lantern walk through the school gardens. The teachers had placed lanterns around the gardens and the girls were delighted to find a tableau of fairies dancing round their own tiny lanterns. We came home to a supper of baked potatoes, eaten by candlelight to prolong the warm glow that will sustain us through winter.

Friday, 12 November 2010

this moment

A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week a couple of weeks ago. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

inspired by amanda soule

Thursday, 4 November 2010

the elves are busy

Eva has begun work on her Christmas gifts. I couldn't believe how quickly she took to embroidery. The little green bird was originally intended to be a gift for the wonderful teacher who taught Eva's and Imogen's class whilst their regular teacher was recovering from an operation, but it was so lovely I couldn't part with it! I know that's a bit mean, but it was her first ever embroidery, and like her first pair of shoes, I felt I had to keep it.

We based the drawing on some paper birds we made last Spring, and Eva decided to add the word 'LOVE' to her second and third design. I have to thread the needle for her, but other than demonstrating how to stitch over the drawing, she has done all this needlework herself. I've so enjoyed watching the concentration and care she bestows on this handwork - she is very methodical and particular about where she pokes the needle, which colours she puts together, and how large or small her stitches are. I think the results are rather beautiful, and I'm sure the recipients will, too.

Friday, 29 October 2010

this moment

A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

inspired by amanda soule

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

beeswax walnut candles

The girls and I made candles as part of our handmade Christmas preparations. Many of these little treasures will become gifts, and yet more will light our home through the darkest nights of December. This is an easy craft that little ones can help with (although most of the tasks will need to be undertaken by a grown up).

You will need:
beeswax pellets or a solid block of beeswax, grated
candle wick
walnut shells (or other small containers for the wax)
double-boiler (for ease of clean up we used a clean tin can - I also squished the sides of the can to create a pouring spout)
metal baking tray
bowl of very cold water (in case of a burn)

1. Gather walnut shells, large acorn caps, hazelnut shells, seashells...any small, natural container. You could make double-wick candles in peanut shells! The shells should be empty, clean and in complete halves. Ideally they will have a reasonably stable base.

2. Put your beeswax pellets in a double-boiler. Bring the water in the larger pan to the boil and supervise the wax, stirring occasionally, until liquified. Do not let any water get into the wax. While the wax is melting, arrange your shells on a metal baking tray (any wax that spills onto the tray can be popped off once cooled - stubborn wax spills will pop off if you put the tray in the freezer for a couple of minutes). I added some leftover wax from an orangey harvest-scented candle stub...the scent complemented the beeswax smell nicely and deepened the natural golden colour.

3. When the wax has melted, take it off the heat and allow to cool for a couple of minutes. Stir again before using.

4. We found that dipping the wick into the hot wax and letting it cool until hardened (only takes a few seconds) made the wick much easier to handle. Once the wax has hardened, you can snip the stiffened wick into approximately 1 inch lengths (or to whatever length is suitable for your container).

5. Slowly and carefully, pour the hot wax into each shell (this is a job only for adults - the wax will be very hot and will stick to skin). I filled about 5 shells at a time before stopping to insert wicks.

6. Gently push a piece of wick into the centre of each wax-filled walnut. The more liquid the wax is when you push the wick in, the less likely you are to get an unsightly air bubble rising to the surface. There is an art to getting the wick in at just the right moment - too hot and the wax won't support the wick, too cool and you'll disturb the surface - but after a few attempts you'll figure it out.

7. Allow the walnut candle to cool. Ours solidified within a couple of minutes and took about 15 minutes to cool completely. The wax changes colour slightly as it cools (you can see this in the above photo).

We have only burned one of our walnut candles so far and it lasted about half an hour. I can't wait to give these to loved ones for Christmas!