Thursday, 18 September 2014

August's Garment: Dress 'H' from the Stylish Dress Book

August's garment wasn't supposed to be a dress - I have a blouse that I started and have abandoned for the time being.  It seems that I have to take into consideration my size 12 hips even when making a top - I cut out a size 8, after taking bust measurements and comparing to the given dimensions - after getting to the point just before putting the zip in, I decided to try it on . . . shoulder seems hang off my shoulders, very roomy around my bust and then very tight across my hips.  This pattern is going to need some adjustment before I try again.  It's a good job I was only using a bargain piece of fabric that I found in a oddments bin at Abakhan in Chester (although I will have a little weep as I loved the fabric and don't have enough left to try again - perhaps I should start making toiles . . . )

I bought this month's fabric in preparation to make a second Chinello Maxi Dress - ah well, I will just have to go fabric shopping again when I get round to that!  A couple of months ago I bought Yoshiko Tsukiori's Stylish Dress Book as it looked like the type of book that would have everyday clothes patterns.  I wasn't disappointed - there are 26 different garments to sew.  After carefully looking through I decided to make dress 'H'.  The patterns are on full size sheets tucked in an envelope at the back of the book - it took a bit of looking to find all the pieces for my dress, but it was fairly easy to trace, despite the many different colour coded lines.  Just remember that you need to add a seem allowance to the traced pattern pieces, I only realised this after I had traced out my pieces -thankfully I just about managed to put a half inch seam on every piece.

I cut out a size 10 and added a half inch seam allowance - I probably could have cut out a size 8 - but not sure if this is because the sizes come up big or that I didn't make full use of my seam allowance.  The instructions look very minimal, especially when compared to multiple guideline sheets of traditional paper patterns.  However, they were logical and easy to follow - particularly helped by the accompanying line drawings.

I decided to add a complete lining to the skirt part of the dress as the fabric was lightweight.  To do this I stitched the two skirts together along the top raw edge before sewing it to the outside yoke piece.  Then the inside yoke piece was hand stitched to cover the raw edge.  The result being that if I really wanted to I could wear the dress inside out and nobody would know!

Garment number 9 out of 12 complete!

Monday, 1 September 2014

GBBO Week Four - Baked Alaska

Apologies for those eagled eyed readers who have spotted I have missed out Bread Week - I wasn't particularly inspired to make any of the bakes, especially after a previous year's 8 plaited loaf, ciabatta bread just didn't have the same draw . . .

However, this week was 'Dessert Week' and my husband convinced me to try a Baked Alaska - he even offered to buy me a blow torch! (I so should have taken him up on that offer)  Instead I decided to bake it in the oven, as I thought this was the whole appeal of making a baked Alaska - putting ice cream in the oven to bake.

I found my recipe inspiration from the very first Great British Bake Off Book - it is for individual ones, but we wanted a huge one.  This recipe suggested Swiss Roll for the sponge base, I'm afraid I cheated and bought Swiss Roll.  I bought an extra large one and cut it into pieces an inch in length and carefully squashed it into a cake tin.  This was then weighted down and left in the fridge overnight to make sure it was very cold.

On top of the sponge I put a layer of halved strawberries, with a generous layer of ice cream on top.  This was then piped with the meringue from the recipe: to partially cook the meringue it was whisked over a pan of simmering water for 10 minutes and then whisked off the heat to bring the mixture down to room temperature.  I painted a couple of lines of food colouring down the inside of my piping bag to add some colour to the swirls piped onto the ice cream.

Then it was popped in the very hot (230C) oven for 3 minutes - it probably could of done with slightly longer, and also more meringue, as I had a few tiny gaps which meant the ice cream leaked out in places.

The pudding was a success, and the middle of the ice cream was still fairly cold when we sliced it up!

Thursday, 21 August 2014

GBBO - Week Two - Florentines

So week two of the Great British Bake Off was Biscuit week - I decided to attempt the technical challenge of Florentines.  I found my recipe on page 98 of The Great British Bake Off: How to Bake The Perfect Victorian Sponge and other Baking Secrets.

As suggested I swapped in crystallised ginger instead of the mixed peel, but apart from that I followed the recipe exactly.  The first batch were a complete disaster, even after cooling until completely cold I couldn't prise them from the greaseproof paper.  I can't decide whether it was something wrong with the recipe or that I shouldn't buy baking paper from Home Bargains.  In the first batch I probably didn't chop my almonds finely enough, but I wanted I bit of a crunch to them and found it difficult to judge as the recipe asked for 'fairly finely'.

first batch
I decided that I'd have another go, so weighed out everything for a second batch (my this is an expensive recipe to go wrong!)  This time I just buttered baking trays and forwent the baking paper.  The second batch were marginally better: I chopped the almonds a bit finer and manage to spoon the mixture out more evenly.  They were still tough to get off the tray when they came out of the oven - most of them broke and I had one complete casualty.  I'm not sure they were baked for long enough, or maybe the oven wasn't hot enough as they certainly didn't crack but had a bend to them.  Perhaps I shouldn't of tried to bake two trays in the same oven?  I didn't even attempt to try and cover the backs with chocolate as they were just too fragile - they will be used a fancy ice cream topping.

second batch
Perhaps the recipe isn't quite right: alongside the fruit, the recipe calls for 25g plain flour, 75g butter, 75g golden syrup.  Looking up other recipes online the amount of flour seems low and there is no sugar, which can be found in other recipes.  I may have a go with another recipe, or I may just go back to baking cakes!

Monday, 18 August 2014

July's Garment - Summer Maxi Dress

Although slightly on the late side - July's garment was started and finished one Saturday in July.  My sewing machine and I trekked down to London for a sewing class with Chinello from the second series of the Great British Sewing Bee.

The class was a lesson in free hand cutting to make a Maxi Dress (I booked through Kazoova - there may be more classes in the future).  Chinello was a fab teacher and after making lots notes and taking various measurements we could start folding and cutting.  It was a new experience not to have a paper pattern and to seemingly just cut into the fabric - but it all worked and by the end of the workshop I did have a lovely maxi dress to take home.  Perfect for the hot sunny weather.

Whilst in Birmingham last week I picked up some fabric to make a second dress - so fingers crossed I can decipher all my notes and diagrams!

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

GBBO - Week One - Swiss Roll

So Great British Bake Off was on our screens again last week - hurrah!  I am again going to try and bake something GBBO inspired every week, fingers crossed I can keep up.

Week One's signature bake was a Swiss Roll - as the number of series increase I find this concept of the signature bake more bizarre, does the name not mean that this is one of the contestants 'go to' recipes rather than the creation of something spectacular to impress the judges?  As I have never baked a Swiss Roll, first challenge was to find a recipe in one of my many cook books - after a bit of looking I found a recipe in James Martin's Desserts book.  A rather good collection of pudding recipes, that I have made quite a few from (roasted crab apples being rather delicious).

I didn't have a Swiss Roll tin, so just used an ordinary baking tray which fitted the measurements given. As i tend to get my ingredients out as I bake, I only realised half way through that although I had 3 bags of SR Flour, I had no plain flour.  A quick run to the shops didn't seem to harm my egg and sugar mixture.  With only 10 minutes needed in the oven, I almost didn't have time to drink my cuppa!
Swiss Roll Cooling
James Martin states that you should let your sponge cool on a caster sugar covered piece of greaseproof paper on top of a damp tea towel - all rolling is done when the sponge is cold.  As I was making this for the first time I thought I better follow instructions, although I really wanted to roll whilst it was warm.  Once cool I layered up seedless raspberry jam and cream, before rolling and leaving tucked up in a new piece of greaseproof paper over night in the fridge.

Layering up with Jam and Cream

Rather pleased with the outcome and the fact I got it to swirl nicely . . . next time I think I am going to experiment with a nutella filling or maybe home-made Arctic roll :)

Monday, 7 July 2014

June's Garment - Holiday Shorts

I decided that I wanted a bit of a challenge for June - so thought that making a pair of shorts would be suitably challenging (zip fly, button hole, pockets).  I found this Burda pattern for ladies shorts and from looking at the photo thought that I would be making the knee length view as the shorter version looked too short for my pasty legs.  However, one evening with the inclination to start a new project and the fact that I hadn't bought my chosen linen for these shorts, I decided to cut out a pair from some fab ikea fabric that I had left.  As I didn't have that much left and I wanted to have the birds in particular places, I had to cut the short view.

The instructions weren't as detailed as I would have liked - especially after the support and instructions of my Sew Over It tea dress - I had to read some of theses steps more than twice and there was a fair amount of unpicking to get things right!  I also learnt how to use the button hole feature on my machine - I really don't know what I've been avoiding it for, as the process was very simple and the machine did everything for me.

I added some extra appliqué birds in  a couple of places, as I didn't think there were enough.  I also used a contrast colour for the waistband and pockets, which I was really pleased with.  At one point I was going to have the contrast colour on the turn ups, but glad I decided against this, as I think it would have looked a bit odd.

This was technically curtain fabric, but they make a comfy pair of shorts - I'll be on the look out to add to my fabric stash next time I'm in ikea :)

Monday, 2 June 2014

May's Garment: Sew Over It Tea Dress

I seem to be keeping up with my 12 month garment challenge (okay, April is still in progress - but I have a couple of work trips coming up, where hotel stays mean I can knit all evening!) and have even managed a bonus garment in May.  The main garment of this month was a Sew Over It Tea Dress - I had wanted to do this with the sew-a-long that they had back in February, but it didn't fit in with my crafting schedule! But I earmarked it for later on in the year when I had the time to spare.

After measuring myself and debating which size to cut out - I decided to err on the side of caution and traced and cut out a size 12.  I also thought that the skirt looked a bit short, so I added 3 inches to the bottom of each skirt panel.  I found some fab floral cotton on ebay (and also some cool teapot fabric that I shall make a second dress in the Summer) which was a bargain of £6 a metre.  I also decided to add pockets to the pattern and used the pocket pattern piece from my Sewaholic Crescent Skirt - cutting these and the contrasting cuffs from some sky blue polka dot fabric.
Ready for Tea Dress Number 2!
The pattern comes with a detailed (with drawings) booklet that takes you through step-by-step the construction of the dress, I also used it alongside the blog posts from the sew-a-long, which go into even more detail.  The bodice was a little tricky in places and I had to unpick the bust panels two and half times before I got it sewn in without any huge puckers or catching material in the seam.

However, by some fluke, I managed to set my sleeves first time.  I put this down to a combination of using lots of pins (as the instructions suggest) and I also used my machine to do the gathering stitches rather than hand sewing.  This meant that the tiny gathers stayed in place, rather than moving about.  I set my stitch length to the longest I could and then gently pulled on one of the threads, moving the gathers along so that it was even.
Sleeve details - buttons & ric rac
All those tiny gathers
I added some ric rac to the sleeves, by sewing it on to the main fabric just over the seam allowance, before I sewed the contrast cuff to the main fabric, making sure I was to the left of my ric rac stitches.  This was a bit of an experiment, but one I shall do again.  I also added buttons to the turn ups, although only sewn on afterwards, not quite ready to conquer the button hole with my machine.

The one thing that really bugs me about women's clothes is the lack of pockets - so I decided to add some to this dress - it was a bit of an experiment, as I didn't really have any reference points.  The pocket pattern piece had a notch in where it was matched up on the skirt pattern, so I decided to match this to a similarly placed notch on the skirt of the Tea Dress.  It worked and although you probably couldn't put much more than a handkerchief in them, at least I've got somewhere to put my hands!  As the pockets where not sewn into the waist line - I added some supporting ribbon, so that they would lie flat under the skirt.

Pockets view from the inside

I did managed conquer the invisible zip on this dress - I decided that buying a new foot for my machine was a good investment and although I could have got a cheaper one, I went with an official Brother foot.  As I decided this would be better in the long run.  As I had made a size 12, I did have more fabric that the 1.5cm seam allowance, thankfully I had my husband on hand and he was tasked with pinning me into my dress to get everything sitting nicely at the back.

My invisible zip - first time!
He pinned me in and then drew chalk lines on the fabric where it should meet in the middle.  I then used these lines to fold the fabric over and pin in the zip to try it on before ironing in the creases and sewing in the zip.  It took a bit of faffing about, but the resulting fit was definitely worth it.  The Sew-Over-It blog has a great tutorial on how to insert an invisible zip - I managed mine first time!!

Button detail on the bodice
I think next time I think I will add a fourth inch to the skirt, as I only put the tiniest hem on the skirt.  I zig-zag stitched the raw edge, then I turned it up half a centimetre and stitched it on the machine.

This pattern certainly tested my sewing skills and it was certainly nice to stitch it over a few weekends and have the back up of the blog posts to understand the different steps.  Although it required huge amounts of concentration at times, the Sew-Over-It patterns are ace and I shall certainly be purchasing some more.  I really hope that they bring out a pattern for their Mad Men Joan Dress!

Friday, 30 May 2014

April's Garment: Bette Top with Keyhole Neckline

April's garment was another top out of the fab Knit Vintage book.  Because of my experience of knitting January's garment, I decided to check with the publishers before I started knitting that there weren't any mistakes in the pattern before I started; with the pdf I was sent, comparing it to the book it seems to all match up!  As I knew this project was going to take me longer than a month to complete, I may have started knitting back in February . . . it's 4 ply wool (Stylecraft - beautiful wool that doesn't cost a fortune, I am amazed at how soft it knits up) so I knew it was going to take me a while.  I was right, and now at the end of May I am still knitting.

I currently have the front, back and one sleeve.  Once I finish the second sleeve, I then have to block everything to allow the lace pattern detail to look its best.  Any pointers on good blocking practice or any blog tutorials would be most welcome.  Once I've blocked it, I then need to stitch it together and pick up many many stitches to add the cuffs and neck band.

Fingers crossed it will fit.  When I started knitting on the recommended needles (2.25mm) it just looked far too small, so I frogged it and started again on 3mm going up to 3.25mm and it seems to look okay.  I was glad to find out that the back piece didn't have the complicated lace sections - although I am amazed at how something that looks complicated on paper, even I started to remember the stitches after knitting for a while.  It has a 10 row pattern repeat, so enough to help it grow quickly, but also not too many rows in a pattern repeat to take forever.

I shall keep knitting and keep you all updated .. .

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Bonus May & June Garment - Sew Mag Drape Top

This top certainly wasn't planned and if I had stuck to my April's resolution it shouldn't have even happened! In April, I decided that as crafty magazines are so very expensive, that instead of treating myself to the occasional magazine I would instead buy a crafty book from Amazon that was probably the same price as a magazine (I bought The Meringue Girls and have made this rather scrummy afternoon treat!).  However, I hadn't taken into consideration that joyful notion of perusing and buying on impulse a new magazine (I am especially swayed by 'freebies' on the front cover!)

Last week in Sainsbury's I went to do a quick shop for essentials but 'happened' to have a quick peek at the magazines and really couldn't resist the latest Sew magazine.  It had a cute free pattern for dolls and also I really fancied making the top on the front cover, so breaking my own new rule I bought it (I think I will also buy next month's as the 60s inspired dress pattern that comes free with it looks like my cup of tea).

I was determined not to spend (too much) money on making the top and found some lovely material I had bought on our trip to Chester a couple of months ago.  The only problem being that it was rather see through and I didn't have anything to line it with.  So I bought 1 metre of pale yellow cotton, in hindsight it's probably a bit too heavy a fabric and maybe I should of bought lining instead, but I didn't want a synthetic material underneath.

There is only one size to the pattern and I wasn't convinced it was going to fit, especially the back piece, as I thought it might gape.  The fit however is lovely (I'm a 8-10 size on top, so you would have to grade this pattern up if you wanted to make a bigger size), although I may add an inch to the bottom of the top if I make it again.  But that's probably as I prefer longer tops.  The instructions are clear and I made the top in a few hours - Having the two fabrics didn't help matters as I had to tack the pieces together so that it would sit nicely together.  The top fabrics frayed terribly, so it was probably a good thing I had the cotton underneath as there was something for the zig-zag stitch I did around the edges of every piece to hold on to!

I really should be getting on with my April knitting project and also the real project of May, which is a 1940s inspired Tea Dress that I am planning to wear to a wedding at the end of June!  I better get sewing.

I worked from my mum's last Friday, so I could dog sit her pooch, on the way I passed (okay maybe took a little detour) the amazing fabric shop in Birmingham called Barry's.  After finding the material that was on my list - I had a quick glance at their Crepe & Georgette fabric pile and picked up a metre of this beautiful blue and red pansy print - at £3.95 a metre I couldn't resist!

A couple of hours sewing on Sunday morning meant I had a new top - this one was certainly much quicker as I didn't have to line it and it has a lovely drape to the fabric. I didn't use all of my fabric, so have more than enough left over to make the 'Bridgitte Scarf' project in Tilly Walne's new book Love at First Stitch  that has just arrived on my door mat :)

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Baking Round Up

For my Easter cupcakes this year, I made chocolate cupcakes with a concealed mini creme egg inside that were fab and worked really well.  My husband had the crazy idea that we could upscale this to a big cake with normal sized creme eggs . . . so when we had 6 creme eggs left over, it seemed like a good idea to have a go.
I used exactly the same recipe as last time and also froze the creme eggs over night.  The cake took rather longer to bake than the cupcakes and I nearly under-baked it as I was worried about the creme eggs.  After a few minutes cooling I decided to pop it back in the oven as the middle was still rather raw.  Thankfully this didn't upset the bake too much and I didn't get a sunken middle.  I decided that chocolate icing was a better option for the big cake and then topped with chocolate sprinkles.

Well, apart from having a (major) grump after getting it out of the oven, as I was presented with this awesome cake on instagram and suddenly mine seemed rather insignificant, I resisted the urge to chuck my cake!  When we cut into the cake later on, it had partially worked.  The creme eggs had, as you would expect, sunk to the bottom, but they were largely intact.  However, when eating it seemed that normal sized creme eggs can't really survive being baked and the fondant had almost caramelised.

I also baked 'Earl Grey Cupcakes' from the GBBO book 'How to Bake'  for the non-chocolate cake fans.  These are delicious cupcakes and you add the taste of earl grey tea by brewing your tea bag in milk that is added to the mixture.  Perfectly topped off with lemon butter-cream icing too!  

With two different cakes, it was an ideal opportunity to get out the 'tea party' boxes and put some of my stuff into action. I even put some bunting up in the garden :)

Last weekend I got a new recipe book (my failed attempt at not buying crafty magazines by treating myself to something out of my amazon basket - it seems I still can't resist an interesting looking mag) 'The Meringue Girls'. After having a look through I settled on the Cookie Dough Meringue Slice.  I even managed to find some of the recommended egg whites 'Two Chicks' in my local Sainsburys (next to the pastry and butter in the fridge).  Reading through the recipe I quickly became unstuck, the ingredients list clearly only has caster sugar in, but the method talks about caster sugar and brown soft sugar.  It really amazes me when there are such basic mistakes in a cook book - surely at least the ingredients and method are checked through before publication?

After a quick google search I found out the missing quantity of brown sugar was 100g, so I could proceed.  I'm not sure whether I melted my butter too much, but it definitely didn't cream into the sugar as the recipe suggested.  Nor was my mixture 'crumbley' when I took it out of the mixture and tipped it onto the baking tray.  I think next time I will not melt the butter, and maybe cut down on the sugar, as it was very sweet.  The meringue topping is going to take a bit of getting used to making, as I nearly scrambled my egg whites whisking in the hot sugar.  I think next time I will peak the meringue topping rather than laying on a piece of greaseproof paper.  

The book is rather yummy looking and I look forward to making more recipes.  There is even a section at the end with recipes to used up those left over egg whites! I just need an occasion to have a go at the Meringue Kisses tower.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Crochet Challenge: Step One - Hook Holder

One of my New Year's resolutions is to learn to crochet.  I've decided that the optimum time to start this project is during our holiday to Spain.  As we are only taking hand luggage, I thought I should get some bamboo crochet hooks - I didn't want my metal ones confiscated during check in!

I also didn't want to spend a fortune, so found a set on Amazon that looked okay and the number of positive reviews outweighed the negative ones! They arrived in a rather horrible plastic wallet, thus my first step with my Crochet Challenge was to make a hook holder.  I made this up as I went along, cutting out three rectangles to form the back, front and flap of the holder from the lining and cute outer fox fabric.

I decided against lining the holder, maybe some lightweight lining would add a little structure, but it doesn't seem to be too flimsy so far.  Next time I am going to draw on my lines for the pockets - after taking out all my pins, it seems that I really can't estimate 2cm gaps, so I've ended up with 14 pockets rather than the 12 I was aiming for!

I think I may have to make one for my double-pointed knitting needles that float around the bottom of my knitting bag.

I am going to attempt to make Attic 24's Summer Garden Granny Square Blanket - hoping I haven't bitten off more than I can chew for my first crochet attempt! I'm going to use Stylecraft Classique Cotton in 9 different shades with a cream border - which I hope will give a soft but durable blanket.

Step One of the Crochet Challenge Complete!