7 edwardian chairs :: a mother daughter tradition

beautiful detail

Late last year, just after I’d had one of my huge and infamous rearranges – where the front room was dismantled, its furniture redistributed about the house, the living room shoved into the front room, the dining room recreated in the middle room, and the kitchen transformed into a working kitchen divided by a sideboard with a lovely cosy study / armchair area set up in the nook – I decided what I “really needed” was a lovely armchair to sit in the corner of the dining room, in front of the bookcases.

I scoured the opshops, the footpaths … and a long time favourite, good old eBay.

At first, my imagination was filled with those extravagant French styled armchairs with their ornately carved backs, rolled arms, Queen Anne legs, and outrageous floral velvet upholstery.  I found a lovely pair in Sydney – green and cream velvet floral – awesome price – but they were in Sydney.  I even considered driving up and fetching them – what an adventure that would be!

Hmmmm … I would have had to have a towbar installed on the car and bought a trailer.  More then possibly a wee bit extravagant.  But Julian was away for the month and anything seems possible when Julian’s away :-)  However, when I ran my grand plan past Abby, she merely raised her eyebrows and went back to her books.  I took that as a no.

In fact, there were heaps of lovely armchairs in Sydney and all at good prices.  Here in Melbourne – no, no, no.  I rarely saw any, and when I did, they were way out of my price range.  So I loosened up my expectations and quickly found a gathering of seven Edwardian chairs – two armchairs and five dining chairs – in various stageses of reupholstering – that were an incredibly reasonable price, right here in Melbourne.  No one else bid on them and a few days later, I was the gleeful “winner”!

the chair

Now, there were six more chairs than I had originally anticipated buying but I figured a pair of armchairs was always better than just one lonely one.  And five gorgeous dining chairs would always come in handy.  Most extraordinarily, I bought the whole lot for just $120.  Can you believe that?!?!?  Seven beautiful Edwardian chairs for less than $20 each.  Oh my goodness.  I felt like I was robbing the previous owner, but that’s the spin of the eBay wheel, isn’t it.

However, it did mean two trips to bring them home which turned into an all day adventure whereupon I also got to meet a sweet family and hear a lovely, lovely story about my new chairs.  And as I’ve mentioned before, I always love furniture that comes with a good story, and this one is especially touching because it describes just the kind of relationship and adventures I have with my lovely mum.

tricky bits

In the late 1960s, a young woman – recently married and hoping to start a family – hunted through the antique stores with her mum for Edwardian dining and arm chairs they could restore.  Her mum had been taught upholstery by an elderly aunt – the young woman vividly remembered going to visit her great aunt in the countryside where she would play whilst her mother and great aunt would work away at their antiques and upholstery.

Eventually she too learnt the skills and when she was setting up her own home, she and her mum knew just the chairs they wanted.  They found these seven, brought them home, and set to work.

Their work was slow, meticulous and employed traditional techniques.  The chairs were carefully webbed.  Their springs were handstitched with jute twine.  The backs of the armchairs were buttoned through hessian that covered carefully layered and stitched coconut fibre and upholstery wadding.  Calico lining and upholstery fabrics were perfectly stretched and tacked into place with blued tacks.
beautifully webbed

But then the young woman fell pregnant with twins and it was hard to find the hours needed to keep working on the chairs.  Nevertheless, they kept at it, bit by bit, and her little girl (one of the twins) was now making her own memories of playing in the garden on weekends whilst her mum and grandmother upholstered chairs.  She thought it was just what mums and grandmothers did!

This bit made me laugh – that’s exactly what Abby thought when she was little.  When asked what she got up to on the weekend, she would answer “Oh stripping with Mum and Nan as usual!”  People were always a little bemused by just what “stripping” was.

However, life became busier and busier.  Eventually the great aunt – bestower of all upholstery knowledge – passed away and then so did the young woman’s mother.  The chairs moved further and further into the dark corners of the garage and were almost forgotten.

Then, decades later, the time came when the young woman was now becoming older and more frail herself and needed to sort through a lifetime’s belongings and move into a smaller, more easily managed home.  And there – in the garage – were the seven chairs.

gathering of tools

The chairs brought back so many lovely memories and she was in a quandary about what to do with them.  She felt sad that she and her mum had not managed to finish them.  But she no longer possessed the skills required to finish them off, and even if they were finished, had nowhere to put them in her new home.  Nor did her children need or want them.

No antique dealers were interested.  She couldn’t imagine giving them to an opshop – even less putting them out for hard rubbish.  So her son-in-law offered to put them on eBay where hopefully someone would see that same beauty and promise spied by her and her mother all those years ago.

tapemeasure

Well, I think the perfect person did ;-) Together, the older lady and I examined the chairs – ooohed and ahhed over the lovely woodwork, and delighted in the still excellent upholstery.  I described my experience with upholstery – I spent two years attending weekend classes at the Holmesglen TAFE here in Melbourne – and we discussed fabric and braid options.

We talked embroidery, knitting, patchwork and antiques.  And I shared funny stories about the furniture adventures Mum and I have had, our methods for restoring furniture, and the lovely treasures we have found over the years, and filled our homes with.

It was a lovely day, and the woman, her daughter and son-in-law were all delighted that the chairs had not just found a very suitable home, but a much valued tradition of mother and daughter, working together, would be continued.

positioning the roses

measuring

So this weekend, with my Mum newly returned from her Christmas adventures in Canada, we tackled the loveliest of the chairs.  Look at that carving on the back – it is so beautiful!  I wonder whether it was intended as a dining chair or whether it sat on an altar in a lovely old church.  You know how in Catholic and Anglican churches you often see beautiful chairs lined up for the different attendants to sit on during mass, yes?  Now, this one sits at my desk in the kitchen.  It’s just perfect.

fiddling with corners

tacked corner

And I found the perfect toile in the sewing shed – bought for something else of course, that never eventuated, but that’s the way things go sometimes.  It’s a linen/cotton blend with a lovely firm hand.  Just right for upholstery and such an appropriate pattern for chairs that have elegant, swirly flowers and leaves carved into their wood.

tucking in the edges

flattening the tacks

I daresay, Mum and I too will take our time with these chairs :-)  Let’s face it – we’re no professionals and every step taken is checked against my notes and books, then ummmmed and ahhhhhed over and carefully tested before we settle on the best way to move along.

And who knows, maybe one day soon, Abby and I will be finishing off a couple for her future home.

pondering the back

adding some blanket

And of course, there are funny mistakes that need to be ripped out and redone.  After doing such a careful and satisfying job on the seat and front of back, we completely lost the plot on the back of the back.

We were so engrossed with getting the rose perfectly centred and balanced along the edge, we failed to notice we had moved the fabric 3 inches up and after tacking it down, it had no HOPE of reaching the bottom!  What silly billies!

Another moment that had us in fits of laughter was when we finally realised – after a whole afternoon of wondering why the staple gun was not working properly – all the staples were loose, no matter how hard we pushed, and had to be banged in the last few millimetres with the hammer – that the setting had been bumped from 6 (nice and tight) to 2 (hopeless).

loose staples tight staples

However, that’s just the way mother-daughter restoration rolls.  Don’t you think?  Full of experiments and victories, flops and giggles, hours of pleasure, the creating of wonderful memories, and a life-long, shared appreciation of the old and lovely.

Yes, these seven Edwardian chairs have settled into our home beautifully.  It was meant to be.

pitch :: a cardigan

front on

It was just meant to be.  If you follow along on Instagram, you might have seen a cardigan I knitted up whilst on Christmas holidays.  It was one of those serendipitous knits.  There I was, with almost four weeks of lovely peace and pleasure stretching out before me, and I’d forgotten my knitting basket.  Which, I might add, meant I forgot dear Sacha’s Christmas present – a rich plum coloured version of Kate Davies’ iconic “Owls”.  And it was almost finished – oy!

right corner detail

However, Mum now has a sizeable stash of wool, courtesy of dear old Nanny.  No need to visit the local yarn store.  There were kilos and kilos of wool, in all imaginable colours, neatly stacked in Mum’s/Nanny’s downstairs dresser. And there amongst them, was a bundle of navy Cleckheaton Country Naturals that I had foisted upon Nanny, a couple of decades back, when I was completely bamboozled by a herringbone vest pattern.  All frogged and meticulously wound back up into balls.

back detail

I could just picture Grandad winding the little Toyota wool winder whilst Nanny unravelled my knitted pieces.  Nanny would probably have been sitting on one of the gold velvet armchairs.  Grandad would have been at the nearby dining table.  Nanny would have a fresh cup of tea in front of her.  Grandad would have the paper opened beside the wool winder, weighted down with his glasses case.  They were probably watching an obscure old movie that Nanny recorded in the wee hours of the morning.  That wool would have wound up so quickly – winding wool was a dance the two of them had long ago memorised the steps to and they never missed a beat. It made me smile, and I took the balls upstairs to find just the right pattern for 10 balls of 8ply wool.

front corner detail

That wasn’t hard – I’ve had Pitch at the top of my list for a few months now!  A truly lovely pattern – such a pleasure to knit and so simple to follow – by Susan Mills, for Classic Elite.  It knitted up nice and quick.  A few rows in bed as I watched the sun rise over the sea.  Another few on the front porch with my coffee.  Several in the car each day as we drove round and round the Bega Valley looking for land.  More at the beach.  Back to the porch.  In bed at night as I listened to the thundering waves of Tura Beach.  I do so love knitting.  And this had the extra special sweetness of being wool with family history.

front yoke close up

I cast it off just in time to wear home – a cold and drizzly journey that turned into!

cobargo button

Then today, I popped it on and asked Abby to take some photos so I could share it with you here.  Now, I must confess, I can be a tad difficult when I get Abby to take photos of me in my handcrafts – I remind myself of Dawn in our all time favourite film “Hope and Glory” when she smacks her little brother Billy on the head when he draws the stocking seam up the back of her leg crooked.

No! No! No! I grizzle.  The light’s all wrong, take it again.  Oh no – the composition’s all wrong – you’re supposed to be taking a photo of the cardigan not the rabbit hutch with a scrap of cardigan.  And on it went – with a few giggles but a fair dose of exasperation on both of our parts.

Until finally, Mum appeared and demanded “Give me the bloody cardigan to wear and YOU take the photos just how YOU want them and let poor Abby get back to what she was doing!”

shoulder detail

Awesome solution.  Abby was delighted and quickly disappeared.  Mum buttoned up the cardigan.  I fiddled with the camera.  And what do you know?  The cardigan looked so lovely on Mum that by the end of our little backyard photo shoot, I said “You simply have to keep it – it can be another Christmas present – it looks so good on you!”  Mum was very pleased.

It will be perfect for her in Merimbula, especially through the often chilly Autumn and Spring months when she’s out and about – gardening, walking on the beach, reading on the porch, sewing downstairs – and doesn’t need long, heavy sleeves getting in the way.  Something that snuggles her back and shoulders will be just right.

reading from side

So there you have it – the wool that travelled from me to Nanny, from Nanny to Mum, from Mum back to me, then from me back to Mum.  From an unfinishable vest to a lovely cardigan.  And a sweet side effect of all this wool swapping – I can now buy some more wool, guilt free, to knit another Pitch for me!  I’m thinking a nice grey.

Actually, I can just picture one of my gardening Aunties wearing one too – what do you think Auntie Jacqui?  Do you too need a Pitch for those cool Dunedin summer days?  What colour would you like?  We could all be matching!reading

We will be the family of Pitches :-)

p.s. the lovely buttons are repurposed cedar from a Cobargo artisan who sells at their local co-op.  The perfect buttons for a Bega Valley Cardie!

 

looking for land

bega in the distance

As a regular reader here at block-a-day, you would know by now that almost from the time we arrived in Melbourne five years ago, we’ve been making plans to leave.  Whilst the past five years have granted us some blessings – a wonderful school for Abby, a chance to gain my nursing degree and train in one of the country’s most highly esteemed hospitals, and the opportunity for Julian to really push his career a long way – Melbourne just isn’t our cup of tea – and so we’ve been …

Looking for land … getting ready for the big move … turning dreams for our future into reality …. oh yes!

We’ve just returned from a wonderful summer holiday, full of trips to the beach, snorkelling for our breakfast, visiting our favourite lakes, national parks, and local features, gathering of bountiful local food and cooking up a storm, and hours of wonderful chilling out on the front porch just revelling in the beauty and freshness of the Bega Valley and the sparkling Pacific Ocean.  I can truly say that in 22 years of being with Julian, the last 4 weeks is the closest and loveliest we have ever shared.

And much of this time was spent driving up and down, and back and forth across the Valley.    Each adventure would start with a gathering of addresses, plotting them in Julian’s map app, collecting hats, water bottles, camera, occasionally children (they were much keener on lounging about at home!) and off we’d go.

At first, there was great enthusiasm and excitement.  We were quite sure there would be lots of land out there and we’d find that piece with our name on it in the first week of looking.  Ha! HA! As all you experienced land/house lookers out there know, it was bloody hard work!  And we quickly became the Goldilocks of land lookers.

Some were too small.  Some were too big.  Some had no trees.  Some had too many.  Some had no water.  Some had so much we would have spent our lives in gumboots.  Some were too close to the main road.  Some were so far off it, we gave up and did 30 point turns on narrow, windy, rocky dirt roads and quickly scampered back to something a bit easier to traverse.

walking down to the lake

gentle slopes

cows

We quickly befriended a real estate agent, learnt about subdivision law, water rights, tree protection, the beauty of a well built dam, the obvious signs of a dodgily built one, the magic of spring fed gullies – Bega is blessed with an abundance of these – and easements.  By the end of the second week, we could recite for you the list of available land in the Bega Valley – and point out all the positives and negatives.  We visited land where the only positive was catching a glimpse of the local wildlife.

echidna

We visited land where you stood looking back and forth from the photos on the iPad which really looked inspiring – to the heavy tangle of bush in front of you – that was perched on a sheer cliff with absolutely no sign of the supposed dam, shed, fencing, and gentle cleared slopes.

But the funniest expedition of all – one that I know we will be retelling for many years to come and laughing until tears run down our face – was the “too good to be true land”.  The agent gave us the address and off we went.  Dirt road – but pretty good condition – with a lovely looking collection of neighbours along the way.  Exquisite northerly aspect.  A big dam.  A grove of trees.  Heaps of cleared pasture.  A wee cottage.  Two sheds.  Established fruit trees and a grape vine.  Solar.  Water tank.  Holy moly – we were beside ourselves with excitement – and it was all within our price range.

We raced back to Bega – debating all the way what to offer – should we just give them the asking price – let’s face it, there were no negatives on which to quibble.  We were planning our first morning there … and the next 30 years worth.  We plonked down with the agent and expressed our delight.  He looked a bit cautious.  I added – “There was even an Atomic coffee maker on the stove!”  ”What stove?” he asked.  ”In the little cottage!”  I answered, amazed he hadn’t noticed it.  ”What cottage?”  he asked, looking more perplexed.  ”Where were you?”

Turns out there are two properties on this road with the same lot number and both for sale.  The dream property – at double the upper end of our budget.  And another – a rather inhospitable, south facing, steep, heavily forested one. Yeeeeeees.

 

west view

old school

small dam

view north


under the ree

looking out from the grove

grapes

letterbox huddle

magnificent gum

After that debacle, we re-grouped.  Revisited our lists.  Reprioritised the list of essentials.  By week 4 we were planning on making do.  But still we ventured.

We visited more duds – and mused over the tendency of some land holders to subdivide the useless corner of their property that they were never able to do anything with, clearly in the hope that some city folk who only needed a house with a view would snap it up.

And cursed and praised the NSW state government for changing the legislation a few years back that blocked the further subdivision of valuable rural land, post a report that declared the regular chopping up of food producing land into hobby farm/house blocks would eventually put the state’s ability to sustain itself at risk.  Totally support this.  But it does make finding a smallish property just that bit trickier.

We walked across fields in hot sun and pouring rain.  Our car was befriended by 4 young steers who licked all our windows and used our side mirrors to scratch their heads.  We counted wedgetail eagles on the prowl and redesigned the chicken run.  We fed a horse that then traipsed along behind us for the rest of our exploration, nudging us with her head every now and then.  Shared supper with a farmer as we watched the clouds catch amongst the tree tops and rain settle in for the evening.  Ate blackberries and collected weather worn animal skulls.  Watched kangaroos casually lope across the garden.  Sat quietly by a creek as a wombat trundled out of his den and down to the water’s edge.

Our budget grew as did our plans.  We visited beautiful blocks of land and met some truly lovely people.  I have to say – it certainly left us with the knowledge that we will moving to a strong, friendly and forward thinking community when we finally close the door on Melbourne life in January 2016, and head north to the Bega Valley.  All three of us are so excited.

I don’t usually like saying “I can’t wait!”  I always feel as if it sounds impatient – totally failing to live in the moment and make the most of what we have now.  But folks we can’t wait.


more valleys

fence with lichen

trees and clouds

purple flowers

through the shed

walking with the farmer

bunnies and blackberries

apple gum

a glade on a hill

wombat den

hoppy visitors

So, without wanting to jinx ourselves – because this land buying is tricky stuff – we hope to have very exciting news soon.

For now – we have so many lists – opshop trips, dump trips, shopping lists (well, for the imediate future, this really only has two things on it – a Hilux and a trailer), to-do lists, and planting lists.  Julian is filling notebooks with plans and ideas for our strawbale home.  We are both reading and re-reading our books on planting and growing and raising.  We’re regular visitors to the NSW Department of Primary Industries online Fact Sheets.

And of course, I’m working hard at my nursing – hoping to learn heaps and develop my skills so that the Bega Hospital will snap me up!

This weekend just past – we started!  One trip to the opshop.  We’ve dismantled our raised garden beds.  And investigated stove options.  Such good stuff!

Only 50 weeks to go :-)

the Roslyn quilt

front

Ages back when my quilting machine was on the blink, I went through a phase of tying my quilts.  This coincided with a period of feeling rather overwhelmed by machine quilting.  Nothing I attempted ever looked good enough to my super critical eye.

I decided – with a humph! – that I would tie everything with perle cotton.  A sure fire way to turn the mounting pile of finished patchwork tops into cosy quilts for our laps and beds. However, I also remember writing that one of this method’s benefits was that later, should I want to – or should my confidence with the machine increase – the little cotton knots could act as basting and I’d be able to machine quilt the piece, pulling out the ties as I went.

Well, guess what!  That’s exactly how it worked :-)  This here little quilt – made from charm squares my Mum bought home from her last trip to Canada – was tied a couple of years back and popped onto the back of our sofa.  Its lovely woollen blanket backing cosied our laps and its very cheerful colours warmed our shadowy living room.  But there was something extra special about this quilt.

Its blanket backing is a New Zealand Roslyn Health blanket – you can read all about it here – woven literally down the road from one of my sweet Aunties.   She needed a special quilt this year – or last year now, I should say – so it seemed very appropriate that I share this little one with her.  I gave it a gentle wash and set to requilting it – with my funny flowers and swirls – just in time to send it home to her for Christmas, with my uncle who was in town for a conference.

She just loves it – especially the provenance of the blanket – and they were going to take a drive to see if they could work out where the Roslyn Woollen Mills once stood.  Isn’t it amazing that such a vast establishment, one that made the most of all the beautiful wool produced by New Zealand and its many sheep (they even wove woollen bathing suits!), one that employed so many hundreds of people, one that then shipped their lovely products all around the world, could then be quietly subsumed by a growing town, and one day not be there at all.  My Aunt and Uncle, who have lived in Dunedin for many years, did not even know of its existence.

the label

the back

close up of quilting

After thinking about this requilting for most of the year, it had to be done lickety-split in the week after finishing the teacher’s Christmas presents and sending Mum off to Canada – and us preparing to travel up to Merimbula for Christmas.  A bit of a rush to be sure.  And the weather wasn’t at all compliant – lots of rain and grey days – so there was a last minute, frantic gentle pressing with a warm iron to remove the last vestiges of damp! Ah well, we got there in the end.

I’m very pleased with my little flower trees, but my border quilting still needs a quite a bit of refining.  I think I’m pedalling too fast which means there are a lot of “whoops!” and “oh dear” and “bugger, that wasn’t where I meant to go”.  Practice, practice, practice, hey?!

so windy

left hand side

bottom

closeup of yellow

So now this sunny little quilted blanket has journeyed all the way back to the small town on the chilly southern coast of New Zealand where it was originally woven many many decades ago.  It lives folded neatly on the back of my Aunt’s sofa and she’s already sent photos of it being put to good use on their regular chilly nights, draped about her knees as she sits before her fire, planning her beautiful garden beds.

Such a lovely adventure for one little quilt.

portrait

not a creature was stirring

appliquing the banner

Well, this little design has pleased me so much I’ve made it twice in the last week – with plans to make it again :-)  Once for an Instagram Christmas swap …. and once for someone’s present – shshshsh! And I’ll certainly make it again :-)

I just adore those little sleeping faces tucked into their quilty bed.  I think when I make it next, I’ll make some more faces – it could be a pattern with a variety of many faces and you could choose your own!  There could be all different sorts of boys and girls.  Teddies!  Dollies!  Dogs!  Cats!  Racoons!

It could be a veritable Ten in the Bed!  Hey – now that’s a fabulous idea!  Oh yes!  A much bigger quilt for a child with 10 in the bed and then words embroidered in blocks throughout the quilt.  Cute.

I got the idea for the little faces from a dolls quilt I’d seen on Pinterest where they embroidered the faces using a simple running stitch.  Here it is

And the felt applique – well, I just adore felt applique.  I often dream of making children’s books with felt applique.  I would love to do one of the animals we live with at Merimbula.  And then stories about children in Merimbula at times over the last 150 years …

I dream big.  I just need the organisation and discipline to sit down and do something about it.

adding the lace

You don’t need to know this wee quilt was pinned onto a vintage blanket, do you?  Because you know of course it was.

pin pin pin

And each room I worked in – piecing it on the little green Husqvarna in the front room – appliquing in the dining room – quilting in the spare ‘oom – my dearly loved sweetheart followed me round with her laptop.

Reading funny things out to me.  Working on her drawings.  Showing me what she’d designed next.  My, how I do love her.  I am especially grateful that even though she is a teenager and all, she still loves to spend time with me.

We have a lovely relationship.  We are both very blessed :-)

my companion

Unfortunately, one thing I’m not is Anne from Green Gables.  Do you remember how she reckoned she never made the same mistake twice.  She always learnt her lesson.  I don’t.  I regularly make the same mistake over and over and over.

Just this afternoon, as I lay on my bed tired and having one of those silly moments when I didn’t know what to do next (cooking supper would have been a good thing), I noticed my skirt was covered with little bits of thread.  They’re from all the unpicking I do.

Mmhm.  I am the queen of unpicking.  I looked at that minty strip of green with its red balls the first time I sewed it and thought – I could quilt it with a contrasting red and it would look really pretty.  Well it didn’t.  So I unpicked it.  Second time – I thought, I can DEFINITELY quilt in that green stripe with red – I just need to do it nicely.  Aaaaaaaaand I had to unpick it.

Same with the appliqued band.  Abby said warned “No!  Mum! It didn’t work the first time! Remember!  The foot kept butting up against the felt heads!” I cheerfully replied “Yes, but I know what to look out for this time so I can do it better.”  I didn’t. Unpick! Unpick! Unpick!

Tonight, I’ve got 4 rows of top stitching to unpick on two pillowcases.  The first one didn’t work.  Did I stop and reevaluate.  Nope, I just kept going.  Sigh.
quilting

tulip

But squiggly-wiggly?  It’s a bit hard to go wrong with that – I do love it so.

red tulip

Now here is Lily-Anne trying to learn … I thought maybe I could fit more of the verse on if I wrote the words out on paper as I guide to how big to make the letters.  It didn’t work.  Oh well.  I’m hopeful that the letters will become finer and smoother with practice.  I’m a huge believe in Practice :-)

I’m thinking of doing a Christmas carol next.  I just can’t decide which one – We Three Kings?  O Come All Ye Faithful?  I love both of them.  No! No!  O Little Town of Bethlehem.  With little appliqued houses.

didnot help

closeup of ginger

Look at the sun hitting the felt – doesn’t it make the texture so utterly beautiful.  And I love perle thread.  I know I said it above, but I adore felt applique.  It is my hands down favourite stitchy pursuit. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love.

close up of coco

writing

tulips

the whole

There you go.  A wee quilt of little people dreaming of Christmas.  That will be us in just 13 short nights !

And it was pure bliss making it.

 

the teachers’ presents


crafting table

Hmmm … it’s just occurred to me, as I uploaded these photos and thought back to the crazy busyness of last week, that this is my second last season of teachers’ presents.  It truly is so unbelievable it gives me a jolt.  Surely it was only yesterday that I cross stitched a Prairie Schooler Christmas Sampler for the lovely Mrs. Solomon and sewed it into a little hanging quilt as a thankyou for a wonderful Year 1.

That’s one of the curses of just one child.  There’s no second and third etc. go round.  Nope – only one chance to get it as close to right as you can.  And no time for savouring.  But I also know how privileged we are to even have one go and for that I am grateful.

We’ve always given teachers’ presents.  Maybe because I spent so many years working in education, I know just how lovely it is to have a student and her family recognise the contribution I made to their year and present me with something sweet and thoughtful.  I’ve always wanted to pay that forwards.

And I want Abby to understand how important it is to show gratitude – it’s a sign of respect and affection.  Maybe I’m just getting old and crotchety, but gee whizz, I think there’s a little less gratitude bumping around every year.  I want her to be one of those lovely people who are remembered and appreciated for showing gratitude.  It’s not hard or expensive – just a bit of time and effort.

Also – I am so very grateful for all that my Abigail has been given by her teachers.

She’s not the most straightforward of students and, apart from a couple of grim years half way through primary school (the Year 3 teacher – we seriously wanted to present her with the dirtiest lump of coal we could find – she was a drunk and a bully), has been blessed with lovely teachers who have always recognised her strengths, enjoyed her quirks and cheerfully walked the extra mile.

As for her high school teachers – my goodness, they regularly reduce me to misty eyes and choked up throat they are so wonderfully thoughtful, compassionate and encouraging.  No matter how grey and wobbly I become, I will never forget the incredible contribution they have made to our lives and will cheerfully sing Star of the Sea’s praises to all.

However, with the plethora of teachers Abby has in highschool, we’ve whittled down the handmade gifts to those who are TRULY marvellous.  For the rest we whip up a more generic but still homemade gift.  This year Abby chose her Japanese teacher – Mrs. Devine, her textiles teacher – Mrs. Pearson, and her Legal studies teacher – Mrs. Maraschello.

Well – no surprises who this cushion is for :-)  I am always a little dubious about themed presents – we can blame my Year 10 Music Teacher for that – she told us at the beginning of the year she HATED musical gifts.  But Abby assured me Mrs. Devine loves Japanese looking things so I dug this piece of simple sweet fabric out of the stash – I like to think it’s quite elegant and not at all corny – and found some pretty calicos to go with it.  I worked up the patchwork on the computer and quilted it with one single large chrysanthemum. It just seemed to need a yoyo in the middle.  Mrs. Devine was delighted.

japanese cushion

little people

The lovely pink and red fabric and the floral used for the binding are MADE in Japan – so that was an extra bonus!  And the blue check made me think of all those lovely indigo woven fabrics to be found in traditional Japanese textiles.

corner

yoyo

The crazy tote went to Mrs. Mara.  We gave her a cushion that last time Abby had her in Year 9 – Abby thought a bag would be a nice alternative for this year.  This was a truly last minute gift.  I had been mulling over the design for a few days and the night before Abby wanted to give it, even DREAMT about how it could go together.

So, Tuesday morning I was up at 5 knowing just what to do.  I cut and sewed the strips, used a dinner plate to make the circular bottom, added a heavy piece of cardboard (chopped out of the back of a large drawing pad) that I covered with the same red lining as the bag, lined it, added the strap and catch, sewed the two cylinders together and voila!  A tote.  I adore it.

And the funny thing – Abby left the Christmas card on the dining table.  Then popped the present on Mrs. Mara’s desk without a note.  Yet, that afternoon Mrs. Mara sent a lovely email saying as soon as she unwrapped it and saw the colours and lovely sewing, she knew exactly who it was from and loved it.  That brought a happy smile to this mum’s face … and the daughter’s too.
the bag

side on

the toggle

princess

lined

flat bottom

Mrs. Pearson’s cushion.  Same pattern as Mrs. Devine’s.  A few different fabrics.  Same chrysanthemum.  And yet it looks so utterly different!  So busy and hot and energetic compared to Mrs. Devine’s cool, quiet elegance.  Hmph – amazing what colour can do, huh!  I used precious Owl and Pussycat fabric because Mrs. Pearson is a fabric guru and I knew she would recognise and love it.  She did.

owl and pussycat

close up quilting

looking across

pink corner

For all my cushions, I use Ikea feather inserts – they just keep their shape soooooo well.  They can be completely flattened to pancake thickness by a sleeping dog, then with a few punches, be brought back to looking plump and gorgeous.  And, hating zippers like I do, I always use a simple envelope back – but I like it to cross over by a good 20cm.  That way there’s no gaping.

cookie jar

The rest of Abby’s teachers – and darling Bob, the lollypop man – each received a jar with the layered ingredients to make Donna Hay’s Choc-chip and Cranberry Oat Cookies.  Recipe included.  They were a big success.  Highly recommended.

Next year – our last year of teachers’ presents – will probably bring more presents for the same lovelies.  But there will be an extra special one for Bob.

Apart from my grandad, Bob is the loveliest gentleman I have ever known.  From the very first day he has shown Abby such friendship and enthusiasm for everything she does.  He waves to me every morning when I drop her off.  And I make sure to come at least 10 minutes after the bell rings every afternoon, because sure enough, Abby will be standing there with Bob and they’ll be chattering away about what they’re both up to, flipping through Abby’s drawing books, carefully inspecting her latest doll, or he’ll be nodding enthusiastically whilst she tells him her latest story.

He’s like her grandad.  (Apart from my dear old grandad, poor Abby completely lucked out in the grandad stakes).  I’ve got those teary eyes and a lump in my throat just writing this.  Words cannot express how grateful I am to Bob for being there for Abby everyday.  I know that she knows that even when some days are a bit hard, there’ll always be Bob in the afternoon.  He’s a school treasure.

So next year, for Bob, there’ll be a quilt – with stars of course.

 

pointy little Christmas hats

Well hello there!  Goodness – the last two weeks have just zipped by.  In a flurry of making.  Mostly Christmas making.  A little bit of birthday making.  Busy fingers indeed, with many hot creamy coffees to kickstart early morning stitching (one morning I made a bag between 5 am and school drop off!), and steamy cups of tea to keep the fingers moving into the wee hours.  So much to show!

looking down

But first … the dreaded GRAD YEAR!  I realised the other day – well, actually I was reminded by a lovely reader’s concerned email- that whilst I had blabbed all over instagram about the grad year applications, I hadn’t written about it here.  So, here it is! On the 14th October – an hour later than I thought was the designated time – I received an offer.  My first preference – The Alfred.  And last week I finally received my contract – I will be working a 4 day week (phew!) in the Renal, Endocrinology and Rheumatology Ward.  Also a first preference.  All that fretting ….

I really like more complex nursing where the patients have conditions that affect them systemically – where you’re constantly assessing and caring for the whole person not just one thing (I’m not at all cut out for the likes of orthopaedics – too production line).

I also like patients that hang around for a bit (not so good for them of course) because I really like building relationships with people and their families.  And Renal and Endocrinology – well that’s a growth industry in our western societies at the moment so the skills and experience I gain will stand me in good stead.

I hummed and haahed over these preferences.  I really really really would have loved to work at the Children’s and initially made them number 1.  But then … they are on the other side of town – so dreadful travelling – horrible public transport – no train, only tram with a change in town that requires running helter skelter down two blocks and up 1.  Car is no better – shocking traffic coming home from earlies (can take up to 2 hours to travel less than 10km) and often bad starting lates as well – and difficult, expensive parking.

Secondly – when I spoke with people in the know in Bega they said that if I applied to the new Bega hospital having done my grad year at the Children’s they’d be all “oh how nice.”  But if I applied having done my grad year at The Alfred, they’d be all “Woo-hoo!  Sign her up quick!”  Even my pharmacist yesterday was excited by the Alfred – it’s such a big hospital – and the state centre for so much, that I will see HEAPS.  And I loved working there in the ICU.  It’s a great place – especially for a learner like me.

So – as of the 12 January, 2015, I will be Lily Boot, Registered Nurse (Grade 2) at The Alfred.  Extraordinary really.  Really.  I arrived in Melbourne 5 years ago, with a basic BA, years of tutoring and boarding school work behind me, a smattering of retail experience and my horizons extending only as far as the dear little bookshop I worked at up in Elsternwick.  And I loved it.

But once that began to wind up – and Abby was settled into high school – and Julian busy with his work – and dreams of moving to the country/beach and building our own straw bale home began to take shape – I needed something else.  Something to fill up those long empty hours.  Something to challenge my mind.  Something to give me skills that would allow me to both contribute meaningfully to my community and give me a decent living so that our country/beach/strawbale dream could become a reality.  And nursing just ticked all the boxes.  I still can’t believe I did it!

I think back to that first year – travelling into town 4 days a week, sitting in classes, grasping exactly how they wanted me to write an essay (scientists are so different to humanists!), picking my way through the throngs of noisy teenagers I shared my classes with.  It was so weird.  I was really scared about losing my sense of being – of stopping being me – stay at home mum to Abby, wife to Julian, stitcher, knitter, home potterer.  Still am a bit.  And the end goal of BEING a nurse seemed ridiculously far away.  Oy!

But the take home message dear reader – do it!  Doesn’t matter how old you are (I was by far the eldest in every class and on almost every ward).  Doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past.  Just do it!  Pick that thing you’ve always thought might be good and jump in feet first.  It will be scary and overwhelming and make you think you’ve utterly lost the plot sometimes, but if you just keep plodding away, it can happen.  I failed Biology in high school – which was 25 years ago – and yet I topped my University Physiology and Anatomy class.

Honestly, I think as adults – especially creative adults like us, who enjoy a challenge, learning something new, keeping busy – we are so well suited to starting something new.  We’ve sorted almost everything else.  We’re know we can’t afford to stuff around – time, money, family, responsibilities and all.  And we know how time flies.

We’re so much more efficient and capable than those lovely, ditzy teenagers (said with complete affection – I made many lovely friends amongst my young classmates! – and they’re only just like I was when I was their age) and we’ve just had so much more experience at LIFE, that so many things make so much more sense to us than them.

So – if you want to make a change, come over here so I can wholeheartedly throw my arms around you, give you a big hug, and say “Of course you can!!!!!!!”

Okay …  onto pointy little Christmas hats …

pink one

So Mum’s gone to Canada for the holidays – we have family in Vancouver – and at the last minute – of course it was last minute – I thought it would be nice to knit each of the little cousins – there’s 5 of them now – a pointy elfy hat for Christmas.

I could just picture them all at Aunty Mary’s, the snow falling outside, the lights twinkling inside, and all five of them lined up – in height order – with their pointy knitted hats.  What a cute photo, huh!  So a couple of days before Mum arrived (her flight left from Melbourne), I began knitting and at first I was able to use wool from the stash.  Awesome way to finish up leftover bulky yarn and I didn’t even have to leave the house.  That’s my kind of crafting.

Biggest first – for my dear little 8 year old nephew Oscar.  Thank goodness I did the biggest first.  I would have hated knitting the biggest at 1:30am the morning Mum left.

one hat

Then I knitted the littlest – for my cute little 3 month old cousin James.  That was a blitz.  One episode of Zen, on iView, at my desk, and it was done.

2 hats

Then there were three middles starting with my busy little 3 year old cousin Caleb.

3 hats

But then there were no new colours for the next two – only rehashes of the previous three – bit ho-hum.  I just had to go down to Wondoflex and for some reason, there never seemed to be a good time – until 2 days before Mum left.

Which meant I knitted one for my sweet little 18 month old cousin Frankie before I cooked Abby’s birthday supper the day before Mum left.

funny little points

And finally knitted the last one for my funny little nephew Sam on the Thursday night AFTER Abby’s birthday supper. I think I cheered when I reached the decreasing rounds.  And danced about as I cast off.  Well staggered’s probably more accurate.  It was very late.

However, I can now tell you, dear reader, that if you need to knit a heap of presents in a very short space of time – the Fuzzy Little Shapka Hat is the real deal.  Awesomely easy, quick, lovely, doesn’t even use a whole ball of bulky … ticks all the boxes it does. Ravelled here.

5 hats

And when the fam send me that photo – of all 5 little heads lined up in their stripey pointy elfy Christmas hats – I’ll be sure to show you :-)

 

better than malted milk :: a cross stitched chair

before

I had a wee bit of the glums today.  It happens.  Usually a week or so before my period.  Must be a huge hormonal swing of some sort.  I feel it creeping up, find myself feeling very sad, wonder why life is so hard, then remember to tell myself … ah, you feel glum because it’s just that time of the month.  So I stood in the pantry doorway and ate malted milk powder from the jar.  It didn’t really help.  And it made my mouth gummy and I choked a bit and had to dash down a glass of water.

Much better to text Julian in Las Vegas so he knows you feel glum and will call (which he did, straight away, he’s lovely like that).  Then find something simple to do that will let you just be with the feeling but also allow you to find some sweetness. Tried and true recipe for beating the glums.

So today, I vacuumed.  It wasn’t especially sweet, but it did make me feel virtuous – I loathe vacuuming – actually, I loathe all housework.  This allowed me to look at the bathroom with a critical eye – the bath tub had the blue bentwood chair and the clothes hamper sitting in it.  Not exactly conducive to bathing.  So I pulled it all out and cleaned the bath.  Again – big ticks on the virtuous scale – I loathe cleaning the bathroom.

Then I had the blue chair to do something with.  And as I looked at that lovely blue rattan … I thought of something I’d seen on Pinterest!  Check it out … cute as! Simple.  And something that would definitely provide a bit of sweetness :-)
book and fabric

So I got out some red gingham … I bought this gingham at the Vinnies in Bega on our spring break.  It was 5 metres for $3.  Only it was half price day.  So I got 5 metres for $1.50!  I made a skirt with a floral reprodepot trim, now I’ve cross stitched a chair, and I still have heaps left!  That’s a sweet bargain.

And I flipped through one of my all time favourite cross stitch books for a pretty pattern that had just the right number of stitches – couldn’t be more than 24 squares.

the pattern

Perfect!  And making this snowflake on that beautiful blue with the red and white gingham would look very Nordic.  Sweet and perfect!

the strips

I cut (hacked) my strips (just with the scissors) 3 squares wide.  Man do I love fabric that comes with self cutting lines.

fu

Settled onto the hallway floor with my sweet companion.  The only thing she won’t do with me is vacuum.  She’s a sensible dog.

stitching

And set to work.  As more and more of the pattern appeared, I felt those glums subsiding.  I felt stronger, more cheerful … content.  Especially when Abby came home.  There’s nothing like the lovely company of my Abby, Julian, or Mum to shove those glums away.

done

And in less than 2 hours … voila!  I must add … this is a hard rubbish chair.  Picked up from the footpath on the Nepean Highway on our way to Southlands one day.  It has a pair – the pair doesn’t have a seat.  I’m now inspired to finally buy that rattan and fix it just so’s I can cross stitch it!

Can you imagine a farm house kitchen with these lovely bentwood chairs in all different colours pushed in around a scrubbed table, all with red gingham cross stitch?  Oh I can.  It will be an immensely popular photo on Pinterest (hee! hee! hee!) And the best bit is – I see these chairs on the side of the road regularly – yes!

seat

closeup back

texture

Sigh …. look at that nubbly texture … so pretty.  And I love how, with a wee bit of distance, the gingham makes it look like wonderfully thread variegated yarn.

sideon back

And the  colours …. swoon!

side on

Yes, a quick bit of gingham cross stitch was a lovely balm on what was shaping up to be a pretty flat day.  And for that I am very grateful.

 

a wooden spoon :: sugar plum fairy

a hand for holding

Oh my!  Have I been having fun!

Now, I’ve had a Pinterest account for a while – if you’re interested, there’s an icon for my account in the left hand toolbar – but it hasn’t been until recently that I’ve really practiced the fine art of spending hours and hours trawling through the amazing creativity of others and pinning all my favourites onto an ever increasing number of boards.

Oh the things I dream of doing!  I need an indoor staircase so I can wallpaper the risers. I’ll need a couple of kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms so as to use up all the loveliness I find.  Hundreds of quilts – of course.  Exotic things in the garden that will require far greener thumbs than I possess.  Then there’s the new skills I need to acquire – lino cutting, print making, papier mache sculpting … I almost begin to hyperventilate and I can’t decide between sitting and looking, or rushing away and doing.

Sunday morning saw us gathered in the cosy corner of the kitchen; Julian home (for just 30 hours – can you believe it! – home at 3.30am Sunday and gone again Monday at 9.30am) – sliding fresh expressos and creams across the desk every 1/2 hour or so, Abby by my side – saying “Oh! There! There! Pin that! That one!”; and me having a blissful time looking at so many beautiful handmade dolls …

Until I could bear it no longer and simply had to make a doll of my own.  A lovely amalgamation of so many dolls I saw and loved.  A wooden spoon doll with pipe cleaner arms and a little bit of corriedale roving for the body and hair, a wee crocheted bodice, a gathered skirt …

And because Melinda is so lovely and asked how … here is a little demonstration of how I made my sugar plum fairy.  Hope it makes sense … and inspires you to make one of your own!

one spoon

So I started with a small wooden spoon – bigger than a teaspoon but not a dessert spoon – the sort you buy in a packet at party supply stores.

wrapped pipe cleaner

And one long pipecleaner – also in a packet from Winterwood – it’s about 12 inches long.  I used the technique of wrapping the last  2 inches of each end of the pipecleaner (as perfected by the incredibly gifted artist Salley Mavor) with embroidery floss – I used DMC perle cotton no. 8 – in your skin colour of choice.  Start 2 inches in, winding the thread firmly and neatly – make sure you check both sides so that you don’t leave any gaps – to the end of the pipe cleaner.  Then fold the wrapped end in half so that a little hand is made from the the bend and wrap the raw end to the pipecleaner so that it is covered.  Fasten and trim.  I leave an inch of floss which I’ll later cover with the arm wrapping.

wrap it around spoon

Now – position your pipecleaner evenly on the spoon with its 2 wrapped hands out to each side.  Twist the pipe cleaner around the spoon handle, making sure your arms are at an even height – you don’t want wonky shoulders.

2 arms

Next – because I am in a crochet mood – and because I saw an amazing bird cage made from a large whisk which had had its wire loops crocheted over, crochet a single row along each arm – from the wrist to the back – making sure to keep the stitches firm (not tight) and neatly lined up.  There are your sleeves!  This was a bit fiddly and really, the end result was pretty much like blanket stitch – which will be precisely what I do next time.
supplies

wee bit of crochet

Crochet a little bodice.  I used 4 ply cotton thread and a size 2 mm crochet hook and followed the same stitch layout I am using in Attic24′s Stripey Blanket CAL.  You should check out Lucy’s tutorials – they are so incredibly clear and helpful and Lucy is the Queen of Colour.  I made my bodice 18 chains long after deciding on how rounded I wanted my doll’s bodice.

four planes

wrap some wool around the body

Pull the Corriedale roving into long thin strips and wrap the upper half of the spoon handle, making it the most rounded around her bust and tapering it off past her waist.  I then pushed the doll’s arms through the crocheted bodice – there’s always a gap somewhere – overlapped the back and sewed it shut.

dress

I used a scrap of quilt binding – cut at 2 3/4 inch – for her skirt.  I machine sewed my skirt’s ends together (1/4 inch seam) then pressed up a quarter inch hem and machine stitched it.  I handstitched a gathering thread around the waist and pulled it in to fit my spoon doll with her roving bodice – tie the gathering thread ends together, push them through a needle, and then pull this through the roving and trim.  Use a few hand stitches to fasten the waist of the skirt to the roving and pull the bodice down over the top of the skirt waistband.

Night fell, and dim light precluded any more photos so now we jump to the finished doll!

Next, I added a bow to the waist – I just cut the ribbon to the desired length, tied a bow and stitched it onto her bodice/waistband/roving body with a button.

The hair.  I used more roving to create a beehive.  I started by covering the top 1/3 of the spoon’s bowl with white glue which I wrapped the roving round.  I tried needlefelting but really, I just kept hitting the wood with the needle, so I just lightly poked it until it was all attached.

Then I added this lovely single ply yarn that has a lightweight wire centre.  It’s kinda smooshed on.  Nothing flash – poked the end into the roving best I could.  Then I added the sequins – each one attached with a little crystal bead.  I mostly used these to attach the yarn to the roving.  I added a button with a sequin and bead – piece de resistance! – to cover the still visible end of the yarn/wire.

Finally, I painted the face.  Very simply.  Terrified I would completely stuff it up.  The mouth’s a bit wonky – but then again, I think it looks like my lipstick these days!  Bit of a problem with straightness these days ;-)
finished

sun on hair

close up of bow

wee hand

And here she is!  Miss Plum! My little wooden spoon – sugar plum fairy.  I’m certainly making more of these little sweeties for the Christmas tree.  I was also thinking they’d make a nice mobile.  Oh!  You could stick them in a cupcake – how pretty would that be!  Tsk!  Can’t believe we’re not having a birthday party this year – these wooden spoon dolls would make lovely party favours for the guests – don’t you think?!  Course they would.

in the shadow

in the light
I love how the afternoon light would sometimes glint off her so prettily – clouds scudding by and trees bending in the wind and all – but Abby thought the darker photos were nicer.  So I put in both – Abby’s photo, my photo – Abby’s photo, my photo.


abbys choice

with lavender

One of our last flowering stems of lavender. Miss Plum has the perfect hand for holding a wee bloom.  And said she’ll mind it til next spring.  What a sweetie.

side on close up

I’ve already started the next wooden spoon doll … a bigger version … a Wattle Fairy for the top of our Christmas tree … with a mantle of gum leaves … here’s a glimpse …

wattle fairyAhhh … such delight!

 

pumpkin and blueberry loaf

half a butternut

Julian loves baking with with pumpkin.  Well actually, he likes me to churn out the baked pumpkin goods, with pumpkin pie being our favourite.  Over the years, we’ve fine tuned our recipe to exclude sugar, beef up the spices and often we do away with the pastry all together.  Our pumpkin pie has become a bit of a pumpkin mousse – and is usually gobbled up within 24 hours.

Lately, I’ve been fiddling around with cakes that have no sugar – no brown sugar, raw sugar, organic sugar, unprocessed sugar, honey, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, agave and all those other things that I often find in recipes that claim to be sugar free – and if a little bit of sweetness is preferred, I add a ripe banana.  Maybe that’s no better than all those other substitutes listed above – but it feels noble to us :-0

I’ve also been knocking out the bulk of the wheat flour and replacing it with almond or hazel meal.  I made one of Nigella’s chocolate cakes last weekend – with half the sugar – and half flour/half hazelnut meal and 2 extra eggs for lift and it was fabulous!  And eaten within 12 hours.  Then this weekend, I tried Nigella’s banana loaf – with no sugar, an extra banana, half flour/half almond meal and 2 extra eggs.  It was yummy.  Especially with a smear of cold butter.

Yesterday, with another work trip looming (the poor old thing had a 3.30am departure – ugh!) I baked Julian his chosen farewell treat – a pumpkin and blueberry loaf – using the skeleton of Nigella’s banana loaf.  Now, it certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste.  But if you’d like to try something that is low in wheat flour and only has pumpkin and blueberries for sweetness … well here it is ;-)

Frankly, I think it is all a matter of habit.  We are so accustomed to eating incredibly sweet things that when the sweetness is eliminated we instantly recoil.  We have found that when you cut that sugar and retrain your tastebuds, well there’s another whole world of delicate flavours and much healthier loveliness out there.  And when we do eat a regular biscuit or chocolate – oy!  It’s overwhelming!

So … here it is … the Utterly Sugarless Pumpkin and Blueberry Loaf!

Heat your oven to 160 degrees celsius

1.  Chop half a butternut pumpkin into 2 inch chunks, cover with water, bring to boil and simmer until tender.  (Our butternut half weighed 950g which will result in less once you cut off the rind and remove the seeds and membraney stuff – it doesn’t need to be an exact science) Drain well.

2.  Place the drained pumpkin and 125g of butter into the bowl of a mixer and beat on a medium setting until it is pale and frothy.  Honestly – you know how it says that in recipes when you’re using butter and sugar and it goes all pale and frothy – well so does butter and pumpkin!  Who’d have thought.

whip the butter and pumpkin into a lather

3.  Add 4 eggs – one at a time – beating constantly on a lowish setting until the mixture is light and smooth.

4 eggs

4. In a separate bowl, combine 90g of self raising flour, 90g of almond meal, 2 teaspoons of cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg, and 1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves. Spoon this mix into your eggy pumpkin, with the beaters running on that lowish setting, one spoonful at a time, until it is all combined.

flour and almond meal

5. Add 125g of fresh blueberries …

blueberries

… gently, with no beaters – just a wooden spoon.  Fold them in so that the blueberries stay whole.

gently fold them

6. Pour the batter into a loaf tin, lined with baking paper.  Dust the top with a little extra cinnamon.

into a lined cake tin

7. Bake in your heated oven for 90 minutes – or until your skewer comes out clean.  It is a moist cake – so your skewer will never be completely dry but you don’t want it lumpy moist.  You know what I mean.

bake for 90 minutes at 160

8. Rest in the baking tin until cool – if you try to tip it out warm, it will fall apart.  When it is cool, lift it out using the paper as handles.  Let it completely cool on the bench top, then place in a covered container in the fridge.

slice when cold

9.  Slice and serve cold with a side of yoghurt or double cream.  Now you could drizzle this with maple syrup and that would be delicious but it’s also very good – and strangely refreshing – to eat it in all its sugarless glory, and when you hit one of those blueberries – boy oh boy!  It’s like a wonderful exploding treasure.

serve with yoghurt

If you give it a whirl – I do hope you enjoy it!  We’re totally sold and I’ll be baking that chocolate cake with NO sugar next time.  Well except for that one ripe banana :-)

 

the crabapples of finch street

One of the things that always brings me a lovely sense of “ahhhh …” is driving down Finch Street.  It lies between our place and the little girl’s school I nanny/tutor – well, it does on my carefully planned route :-)

And no matter the time of year, Finch Street – with its grand old houses and magnificent trees is breathtakingly lovely.  The other little girl I used to nanny (who moved to Sydney last year) used to ask me to drive down it specially, and we’d drive slowly, ooohing and aaaahing over our favourite houses, discussing who’d have which room, where we’d put the furniture, and the garden parties we’d hold.

There’s even a truly exquisite old mansion that does high teas – we always said we would go but never did.  That’s a lesson in life, isn’t it – do it now or you’ll miss out.

Now part way along Finch Street is this pretty little roundabout which looks nice enough most of the year, but in spring it is glorious.  ’Cause in the middle is a beautifully shaped crabapple and it puts out the prettiest spring blossoms ever.

Oh they are the perfect shade of pink with those vivid but soft green spring leaves making the rosy blossoms leap out even more.  And when you stop and peer closely, the blossoms are filled with funny little black flying insecty things.  I’ve no idea what they are – but I have checked other crabapples in my neighbourhood and they have them too.

Clearly funny little black flying insecty things are especially fond of crabapples.  We’re kindred spirits, me and those insects.

finch

So when I was playing with this Storybook charm pack the other day, it was crabapples that sprang to mind.  I had two charm packs so I laid them out on my bed – in that carefully random way we all strive for – and because that wasn’t going to make a very big quilt, added a very pretty pink 1930s repro I had – as crosses.  Maybe it’s a nursey thing, but I do like crosses lately.

piecing

Might add, it wasn’t until I was pinning the finished quilt top out that I realised the Storybook range is baby fabric!  There’s onesies and bibs on the wee clotheslines!  Never mind – it’s still very pretty – and the castles and birds and pirate ships are just lovely.

pinned

close up of pins

Found the loveliest blanket for backing – it is so thick and fresh – methinks it’s hardly been used.  And such perfect colours for my crabapple quilt.

reels

My original intention was to quilt alternating crabapples and blossoms in the simple squares.  However – this here apple was the only one of 13 that turned out – boy that was some serious unpicking.  Didn’t matter how much I practiced I just could NOT get any other apples nice and rounded.  Hmph.

the only good apple

So blossoms it was.  Lovely crinkly edged, smooshed layers just like those on the crabapple tree.  With leaves of course.  I do so love that about the crabapple – how it bursts forth with its leaves and blossoms at the same time.

quilting the flowers

blossoms

with bug

serendipity

close up pink circles

They came up especially pretty on the back of the blanket.  I reckon I would cheerfully use this quilt face up or down.

sewing in the last threads

Like Orlando’s Blue Oaks from last week, all this quilting was an excellent adventure in free motion quilting!  There are 110 crabapple blossoms, 4 slightly wonky but okay apples in each corner, inner borders of squiggly-wiggly – representing the bluestone walls of the Finch Street roundabout, and outer borders of funny little black flying insecty things – joined together on a meandering flight path with leaves along the way.  It was a make it up as I went along kind of thing.

And I did unpick quite a bit – anything I wasn’t pleased with got the pick – sometimes it felt like I was spending more time on the sofa flicking those errant stitches out than I was at the sewing machine!  Some of the flying insects are a bit wonky but they’ll get better with practice.  I’m especially fond of the “wings” in each of the blue and white triangles – I can imagine doing something that incorporates lots and lots of them very soon

apple and wings

closer the back

pink buds

lots of bugs

Isn’t that sky amazing!  When a lovely spring day comes along here in Melbourne, it is seriously lovely.

reaching for the sky

the whole quilt

top left corner

bottom right corner

on the garden bench

pegs

apple

on grass

blew onto ground

As I mentioned the other day, crabapples are on my list to plant when we move to our land in the beautiful Bega Valley.  But no matter where we venture, this sweet little quilt will always remind me of Finch Street.  When we tuck it round us on a cold evening, or lay it out under a summer’s tree for a little one to play on, I’ll remember the beauty of Finch Street and its exquisite roundabout crabapple – the very first time I met this dear little spring sweetie.

doneLove!

 

truly spring

the reward for plodding through a long, grey winter … spring flowers …

lavender with bee

lavendar against wall

closeup of lavender

the lavender at our front porch with its butterfly wings ever more purple than I remember from the year before

peach

oh the fruit trees, mum’s fruiting nectarine … promising so much more than the delicate here-today-gone-tomorrow blossoms of the delicate prunus around the corner

white to top left

illuminated against dark

reaching to the blue sky

hanging basket

bar beach kiosk

little wee suns pointing their faces to the sky

red gum

rainbow lorikeet

tantalising flowering gums and grevilleas

clover

in the grass

weeds, weeds, lovely weeds!

through the ruin

wisteria through the fence

the exquisite wisteria that drapes the burnt out ruins of the old Bega Hospital

avenue

with the clouds

burning red

tangle in the sun

for majesty, nothing can rival the African Flame trees of Bermagui

in our back garden

thick with flowers

oak is opening

buds still to open

our own luminous back garden beauty .. which is a Mecca for our dear little busy compost-hive bees!

look at those bees

now as spring quickly slides into summer, the trees lining our street have burst …

mass of tiny flowers

footpath tree with leaves

closeup

… with delicate sprays of lilac and purple popping out of little mustard coloured balls.

crabapple

… but my favourite of favourites is the ornamental crabapple.  Oh – after sighing with delight over all the specimens in our neighbourhood for the last few weeks, I’ve decided that our Bega valley garden will include a little croquet pitch – bordered by crabapples.  It will be so sweet.  We’ll have to don white dresses with puffed sleeves and coloured satin sashes for playing.

come back tomorrow to see how I’ve recorded these beautiful wee clusters!