Sunday, 30 December 2012

Hello Kitty Hat

I'm not really much of a fan of cats (or rather they're not too fond of me!), and am definitely more of a little-dog person. Having said that, in a twist of logic, I am rather fond of Hello Kitty, and have a mini collection of things with her cute little face on.

My other half's neice is also a fan of Kitty, so when I stumbled upon a knitted Hello Kitty hat on Ravelry, I knew it would make the perfect Christmas present.

The hat itself is knitted in the round in chunky wool, making it super quick and easy to do, and I had it finished in one evening. Ears and now were done in another couple of evenings, and that just left making up. I must admit I put off making up til Christmas Eve (I started the hat in October), mainly because I was terrified I would mess up the little face and embroider an eye on wonky or something. As it turned out it wasn't as tricky as I thought, and I'm really happy with the way it turned out.

As is Ruby, who as you can see was delighted with her new hat! 

Kitty Hat ready for wrapping!!!
Ruby in her new hat (best photo we could get of both!).

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Merry Christmas Cake!!!

I like love cake! Most of you will already know this, and many of you will also know that this year I decided to formally expand my skills by joining a Cake Decorating course at Trafford College. It was a 10 week course which gave us the basic skills needed for cake decorating including piping skills, covering a cake (properly rather than my bodge job!) and some modelling.

It was a practical hands on course, and during the ten weeks we developed the required skills to design and ice a Christmas cake. First job though - inspiration!

I had a couple of ideas, and I gathered the inspiration around my ideas on this Pinterest board. I started with the idea of recreating this year's Cath Kidston Christmas Tree and deer design, but decided the legs on the deer might mean I struggled to get the little guy to stand up. (However, since then I found the final pin on my Pinterest board which shows a lovely little model deer which I may have to try next year). 

My next idea was to keep with the theme of animals and Christmas trees, but this time maybe a rabbit. I must admit my inspiration for this one was memories of the gorgeous bunnies in "Wallace and Gromit and the Curse of the Were-Rabbit" and so I pinned a couple of pictures of these to my Pinterest inspiration board. 

I also found a few cakes with ponds or ice rinks on, and as we'd done inlay work on the course (a new trend in cake decorating) I decided this would be the direction I would go in. I also decided to use this idea to demonstrate my piping skills.

I've previously blogged about making the cake so you will know it is a large cake. I thought about adding a design to the side of the cake, but in the end decided to go traditional, so I crimped the board, added holly and berries, and crimped the top edge of the cake too. Once I'd finished the design on the top, I decided it was a bit plain, so I painted the crimp red to balance the colours out.

And there we have it. My cake! I hope you like it. How on earth will I bring myself to cut it!?!?

Merry Christmas bunny!

Giving the "Dancing on Ice" celebs tips on how it's done!
Merry Christmas Everyone!

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Candy melt buttons

I was recently asked to bake a cake and cupcakes for a friend's God son's christening. She had no requirements other than the amount of cake, so I had free reign to come up with an idea. I had seen (and bought) some lovely chocolate buttons that looked like real buttons, and thought it would be lovely if I could make some coloured ones. (The ones I bought before were from Vintage Chocolate buttons by Hotel Chocolat, and they make lovely gifts.

So, with my friend's approval, I ordered a silicone mould tray from eBay to make my coloured buttons and two bags of Candy Melts - one blue, one bright green. Candy Melts are super easy to use - just melt them like ordinary chocolate. I did mine in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. The first batch I made I used a teaspoon to put the melted Candy into the mould, but this meant the first few had bubbles of air trapped at the bottom/top of the button. 

You can see the air bubbles in this first batch.

So, the second batch, I used a paintbrush from my cake decorating kit to fill the mould slowly, making sure the Candy Melt went to all the edges of each button leaving no bubble holes. I used the back of a dinner knife to level each button off, as some of these will sit flat on the top of the main cake.

I'm really pleased with the results of these buttons. I've used silicone moulds before, but individual ones, which I've pressed sugarpaste into and turned out to leave to set. This way is so much quicker, especially as the Candy Melts only take a matter of minutes to set. Highly recommended. 

Selection of green and blue Candy Melt buttons.

Update: I thought you'd like to see the buttons finished on the cakes. I used the bigger ones on their own on a cupcake, and the smaller ones as toppers for the larger cake. I think they look quite effective, and I'm very pleased!

Chocolate cupcakes with vanilla buttercream, and a Candy Melt button!

6 inch chocolate cake with cherry jam and vanilla buttercream filling, sugarpaste icing, and Candy Melt button decorations. 

Sunday, 11 November 2012

The 2012 Christmas Cake

For the first time this year, I have baked my own Christmas cake. This year, I am doing a cake decorating class at a local college, and the end result is to have our own Christmas cakes iced to our own design. This will show off all the techniques we have learned, and I have lots of ideas for mine (which I have to have settled on by this Thursday! I'm not good at decisions!).

But the first thing we had to do, was bake our cake. Our tutor gave us a recipe, but I found another I wanted to try which was the Bettys Tearoom recipe. You can find it online here along with their Christmas pudding recipe.

I altered the recipe slightly, because I fancied putting in some different fruit, and I also wanted to use rum. Partly because this is mine and my boyfriend's preferred spirit, and partly because I already had some in! (I originally wanted to use amaretto but didn't have any). So, I soaked figs, dates, raisins and glace cherries with the zest and juice listed, and quite a lot more than the amount of alcohol stated! I left this for a few days before using it.

The rum soaked fruit added to the cake batter

I'll be truthful here - this was the second cake I made. I had a baking disaster with the first one. I was reading the recipe off my netbook screen, so had to keep scrolling up and down to get the quantities needed for each step. Which was fine, until I forgot to check when I got to the instruction "add the beaten egg" and only added one. There was meant to be three. Suffice to say it was very thick, and didn't "set" properly even after 3 hours of baking! So I had to chuck that one out and start again.

Here it is before baking:
All ready for the oven.

Unfortunately I forgot to take a photo of it once I took it out, but it went a lovely deep brown colour, and very shiny on top. Quite moist looking too. Yum!

Last Thursday we covered our cakes with marzipan, and some of the girls had to trim their cakes flat. Most of them had used the recipe our tutor had given them, but not one of us had followed our recipes to the letter, and everyone had used different fruit and alcohol. All were delicious, and we had to stop ourselves scoffing all the scraps. Our tutor has taken the crumbs away to make us some christmas cake truffles, so we're looking forward to Thursday!

So for now, here is my cake. I will post again once I've fully decorated it, and maybe, if you're lucky, I'll post a picture of once it's cut!

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Holidaying on the Leeds-Liverpool canal

I haven't had a holiday in AGES (literally years!) so when Mum and Dad offered to pay for me and Andy to go away with them this year, we jumped at the chance. And so, in the first week in September we set off on a narrowboat from Snaygill, Skipton, on the Leeds to Liverpool canal.

Day One: Snaygill to Gargrave.
The first day was really just an afternoon once we'd picked the boat up. We had some lunch at the Red Lion Pub in Skipton (delicious, and the pub is a very lovely old place on the High Street), then went to pick up our home for the week, Caraway. After a quick lesson on how to use the boat, plus how to work swing bridges we were off!

We moved north west through Skipton and off negotiating the swing bridges up towards Gargrave. We were in a mini convoy with some other boats from Snaygill Boats, which meant we took it in turns on the swing bridges and we only did one that day before getting to work the locks. Along with the other boats from Snaygill we had a lesson in how to use the locks from Richard, a friend of Snaygill Boats, and his doggie companion, Charles.

Learning the locks at Gragrave. Charles the dog is on the left overseeing proceedings!

After three locks we reached the village of Gargrave, where we moored for the night, and had a nice meal in the Old Swan Inn before an early night, ready to tackle the locks up to Foulridge.

Day Two: Gargrave to Foulridge.
The next morning was drizzly and wet, so my wellies and cagoule got their first (and only) outing for sorting the locks. Locks are much easier to operate if there are two boats in the lock. This makes it easier for the driver of the boat as well as those operating the locks as the work is shared. 

I spotted a little mouse running along the top of the first lock gate we went through at Gargrave! Very cute, but unfortunately I didn't get a picture.

Life is very slow on the canal and it really does feel like you've left the modern world behind. Well, unless you count Andy's iPad and things! At one point we saw the steam from a steam engine which must've been running on the mainline according to our map books.

There was a very bendy section between Bank Newton and East Marton, and it was very pretty with lots of open farmland. We stopped at Foulridge, which is just in Lancashire, and moored overnight ready to take on the tunnel in the morning. 

Dinner that night was a nice meal in the New Inn, Foulridge, where I had a gorgeous Sticky Toffee Pudding.

Day Three: Foulridge to East Marton
Day Three started with some drama! The plan was to go through the one mile long tunnel, turn round and come back. The tunnel is controlled by traffic lights as it's only wide enough for one boat at a time, and was open for 10 minutes on the hour. Just as we were ready to go through at 9am, Andy spotted steam coming from the engine. The previous day we'd had a loud beeping noise coming from the engine, so it was decided we would call Snaygill for help.

In a quirk which shows you just how slow life on the canal is, Jo from Snaygill was with us in 15 minutes in her car from  the boatyard where we had started out a day and a half earlier! The engine wasn't broken, just overheated, so once the water for cooling the engine had been topped up, off we went through the tunnel just an hour behind our vague schedule.

The inside of the tunnel is very cold and wet, with water dripping constantly from the ceiling. The effect of this is that there are beautiful stalactite formations on the ceiling/walls.

The walls of Foulridge tunnel.
Once through the tunnel, we turned round, and headed back towards Gargrave. It was a lovely sunny day, and we stopped at my favourite spot on the canal, East Marton. Here we had a lovely meal onboard the boat, and Andy and I walked up the hill to the Cross Keys for a drink and couldn't resist some pudding! A fabulous day and evening.
Our beautiful mooring position at East Marton

The inviting glow from the Cross Keys, up the hill at East Marton.  SO going back here,
Day Four: East Marton to Skipton
Day four saw us heading back through a very picturesque section of locks through Greenber Field Locks, Bank Newton Locks, and Gargrave back to Skipton. Twelve locks in total, although having done all of the locks so far, I let Andy and Mum have a go on a couple without me today. One of my highlights - I had spotted an honesty box with eggs on our way up at Gargrave so I made sure I went to get some for our lunch. Love it!

Greenber Field Top Lock getting more water.
Lock Keepers Cottage at Bank Newton
Honesty eggs!
Mooring at Skipton for the evening.
Evening dinner was some gorgeous fish and chips from Bizzie Lizzie's restaurant in Skipton, overlooking the canal. 

Day Five: Skipton to Bingley
Today was a lovely day of countryside, and wooded areas, with no locks at all. However, this was a bittersweet victory, as the locks were replaced by what felt like 450 swing bridges. Most of which have to be manually swung. One of the most memorable was the Polish Airmen memorial bridge, which was erected to commermorate the crash of a bomber carrying a crew of polish airmen returning from a training flight during World War II. The people who arranged for the memorial managed to track down some of the families of the crew, and the memorial was unveiled by one of the widows, who had only been married for a matter of weeks when her husband died. 

 Just after the memorial, I saw my first ever Kingfisher, to add to Mum's from earlier in the trip. You don't see them closely, just a flash of bright turquoise blue flying away in front of the boat and into the trees.

We arrived at the top of the Bingley Five Rise half an hour too late to descend that night, so moored up, and went for a curry in Bingley. Bingley was a rather depressing town, with loads of boarded up shops and pubs, but our curry was delicious. and we returned to the boat ready for our descent and following ascent up the five rise the next morning.

Day Six: Bingley to Riddlesden; Keighley and Worth Valley Railway; Haworth.
Day six was our busiest day. First up, a trip down and up the Bingley Five Rise locks. This is a staircase lock, so called because each lock opens into the next creating a staircase down/up the hill.
Heading into the bottom lock
Me driving along to Riddlesden
Once we reached Riddlesden, we moored up and got the bus into Keighley for a trip on the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway up to Haworth.
Oakworth Station. Beautiful.
At Haworth, Mum and I walked up Main Street to see the Parsonage where the Bronte's lived. We didn't go in, but I am thinking a road trip with the girls might be in order to go another time.
The Bronte Museum and Parsonage

Top of Main Street, Haworth. The Black Bull, on the right, is where Branwell drank, and the Apothecary on the left is where he bought his laudenum.
A fabulous day of vintage splendour - just the kind I like!

Day Seven: Back to Snaygill.
The final day was a short one, as we trundled back to Snaygill Boats. I drove again, and saw my second kingfisher (Andy saw this one too). It was colder, but it was a very pleasant last day on the canal. Andy and I bought Mum and Dad a couple of brass plates that people screw to their canal boats as badges to say where they've been as a little present to say thanks. (Dad has put them up over the garage door in the absence of a narrow boat!)

I really, really loved our canal boat holiday, and would love to do another one, maybe this time in Shropshire or Cheshire, or... I just don't know! A great holiday. Thanks Mum and Dad!

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Our Olympic review

So, with the Paralympic Games only days away, and finally with some time and a decent internet connection, I thought I'd write a post about my own experience of the Olympic Games.

When it was announced that the Games were to be held in London, I didn't give it too much thought to be honest. I thought we would maybe watch on TV, and perhaps see if any tickets were affordable, but never thought I'd actually make it to the Games! I registered for tickets along with everyone else last year, and was lucky enough to get two of the four we applied for - artistic gymnastics, and judo. Later in the seemingly endless rounds of ticket resales and new events, we also got tickets to sit on Henman Hill (yes - that's it's name!) at Wimbledon, but more on that later.

The Torch Relay
The Olympic Torch Relay went all over Britain, and on Sunday 24 June it came to not-so-sunny Salford, a mere 20 minute walk from my home. So, I got up at 5:30am and went to see it. I chose a spot where I would see Sir Bobby Robson running his leg of the relay, and was rewarded by a smile, a wave and a "Morning" from Sir Bobby in reply to my "Morning Sir Bobby!" It was well worth getting up that early (even in the rain!), and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Sir Bobby Charlton carrying the Olympic Torch up Water's Reach towards Old Trafford.

Team GB
Like a lot of people in this country, I was really looking forward to supporting our Team GB athletes on their home turf, so I wanted to make sure I was branding myself a Team GB supporter. To do this, I chose to wear the Team GB friendship bracelet from Links of London (I bought one for my best friend for Christmas too), and I also made a Team GB scarf top, using the small scarf from the Next Team GB collection.
Links of London Team GB Friendship Bracelet.
Team GB Scarf top made with Next Team GB scarf.
I posted details of how to make the scarf top in a review of the pattern on 

Artistic Gymnastics, North Greenwich Arena
Of all the sports at the Olympics, this was the one I was most keen to see - women's artistic gymnastics. At the time we bought our tickets we had no idea which teams would be competing in the session we were bidding for, and because we aimed to combine this session with the judo we picked the morning session. This was Sunday 29 July 2012. As it turned out, this was the session with Brazil, Italy and independent competitors qualifying. We saw some fabulous competition, including the European champion - the fabulously named Vanessa Ferrari. Below are a handful of pictures captured on Andy's camera.

The competition layout at North Greenwich Arena (aka the O2!).

Split leap on floor.
A gymnast mid-layout on the floor.
A Brazilian gymnast on beam
A gymnast performs a catchev
Judo, ExCel
I had never been to a judo competition so I didn't know what to expect, but it was fantastic! The biggest revelation of my Olympic experience. We picked a session which included finals (and therefore a medal ceremony), and this was for the lighter weight fighters, both male and female. We were delighted to find out that a British judoka, Colin Oates, was through to the repecharge, meaning he had a shot at the bronze medal. Sadly he lost, but I am proud to say I cheered on a member of Team GB at the London 2012 Olympics! 
The Cuban Yanet Burmoy (in white), winning her place in the final. 
Colin Oates on his way to losing to Jun-Ho Cho of South Korea. "COLIN! COLIN! COLIN!"
Lasha Shavdatuashvili in white, on his way to the Gold medal.
Medal ceremony for the Women's 52kg judo - Gold to An Ka of North Korea , Silver to  Yanet Bermoy of Cuba , and Bronze to Priscilla Gneto of France and Rosalba Forciniti of Italy.
Medal ceremony for the Women's 66kg judo - Gold to Lasha Shavdatuashvili of Georgia , Silver to Miklos Ungvari of Hungary, and Bronze to Jun-Ho Cho of South Korea and an athlete whose name I don't have, from Japan.
And finally... in the corner are a group of rowdy Georgian fans - we LOVED them! All dressed in the George cross, and walking round singing patriotic (I assume!) songs like a football crowd. And when their boy got gold they went CRAZY!
Tennis, Wimbledon
My final experience of the London 2012 Olympics was sitting on Henman Hill at Wimbledon watching the tennis finals in the rain on Sunday 2 August 2012. Or at least, it did rain for a while. At this point I should probably confess that during normal tennis season, I'm not a massive Murray fan, and would much rather cheer Djokovic to victory. But as Murray had despatched Djokovic in the semi finals, I had no choice but to sit on Henman Hill and listen to the crowd cheering every point Djokovic won (and lost as it turned out he didn't get a medal).

But still, we had a great day cheering on Team GB, and at least I got my Wimbledon fix for the year, having not been successful in the ballot this year.

Mum and Emma emerging from our "rainproof" (ahem!) nest on the Hill.
Enjoying a Pimms on the Hill watching the ladies doubles final on the screen.
And the Hill goes WILD!!! Andy Murray aka Team GB wins Gold!
Final thoughts
I had a great time at all the events I went to for the Olmpics at London 2012 - I'm only sorry I didn't get any more tickets for some of the more obscure sports. But equally I loved watching on TV. My highlights were:
  1. Greg Rutherford's long jump Gold - in particular his fabulous "I've got the best life ever" interview afterwards!
  2. Team GB Men's gymnastics get bronze - fantastic! I was leaping around my living room screaming and crying as the final result came in.
  3. Beth Tweddle's bronze on bars. Such a high standard of competition, but finally Beth has the Olympic medal to top off her collection.
  4. Mo Farah 10,000 and 5,000 metres. (I was so happy to hear his twin girls were born this weekend too!)
  5. Team GB cycling - so how will Sir Chris Hoy be bettered? King? PM? President of the World? Any would do!
  6. Dressage - horses dancing to music. Too cute.
  7. Opening Ceremony - particularly children's literature with JK Rowling, and Sir Kenneth Branagh reciting Shakespeare.
  8. Closing Ceremony - particularly Take That and The Spice Girls.
And now to Rio... anyone got a couple of grand to lend me?

Friday, 3 August 2012

Sewing fun from May to August

I've let the blogging slip a bit recently, but now I have a day at home I thought I'd catch up with telling you about the sewing I've done in recent months.

May: Simplicity 2599

Best of Patterns

Whenever I complete a sewing project I always upload a review of the pattern to I love this website as it's a really useful place for getting tips on patterns you're already using, or for finding the perfect pattern in the first place. 

One of the things they do as well as publishing reviews for people, is run contests throughout the year. By pure chance, this May they ran a contest at the same time as I intended to make a couple of tops from a pattern which was eligible for the contest. This was because the pattern I use the most for tops to wear to work has previously been voted a top ten pattern of the year.

Anyway, I decided to enter one of my tops, so I did. The top I entered was the one below, featuring a beautiful bird print cotton-silk mix fabric I bought (well, went halves with Mum on) at Cloth House, Soho, London. 

You can see more pictures on my project in the flickr album for the project available here. You can view the full review for this project on here.

I was very proud of my efforts, and ecstatic to get 8 votes in the contest! I will definitely be entering more contests soon. Watch this space... 

The other top I made from this pattern was a slight variation on the pattern. I used the base pattern, this time with the sleeves, but instead of the ruffle front I added a pair of guipure lace collars I bought on eBay. This top is probably one of the biggest bargains of my home sewn collection - lilac polycotton £2.50, collars £3! I wear both these tops to work, and the picture below shows my lilac top taken by my friend Shareen during the lovely British heatwave back in May.

 You can read a copy of the review for this top here.

July/August: BurdaStyle Magazine 07-2012

I didn't do any sewing in June, as I was busy crocheting (as you will know from my previous posts), but in the last two weeks I've made up for that by making a top and a dress.

The top in this photo was made especially to wear to my trip to the Olympics last weekend. (We went to women's Gymnastics and Judo, but I'll save that for another blog post...) 

The pattern was in BurdaStyle Magazine for July which was a fabulous coincidence as I'd already planned to make a top out of the official Team GB scarf from Next. I added a blue, red and white gingham sourced from the ever reliable eBay for the back and an extension to the front. 

As ever, I posted a review to, which you can read here. I also have a flickr album for this top, showing some of the detail of construction.

And finally for July (and a bit of August!) I made this lovely dress:

This was made for my lovely friend Gwen's "End of the '20s" themed 30th birthday party, held at a lovely cocktail bar in Manchester last night. I searching for a long time for a pattern for a dress, and by pure fate BurdaStyle July issue had a selection of 1920s inspired dresses to choose from. I picked the godet dress, and made it over the course of the last week whilst watching the Olympics on TV.

If you want to read my review of the pattern you can find it here.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Crochet bear baby gift

We spend more of our time in work than almost anywhere else, so when you have good people around you it really does make life easier.

Today, we said a temporary good bye to a very good person to have around you, as our friend (and colleague) Jen left to have her baby. It only seems about 5 minutes since she announced her pregnancy, but yet here we are, 6 months later and there's only two weeks before the little one arrives.

We did a collection, and really splashed out on some lovely things. But some of us also got our own little gifts, and I wanted to use my new found crochet skills to create something special.

Until now I had been crocheting from patterns I found on the Internet, but I recently bought a book of crochet - Cute & Easy Crochet by Nicki Trench. I got it from our work drop from The Book People for the absolute bargain price of £4, and had a flick through almost every day planning projects.

The bear pattern really stood out, and even though it was in the section with the highest level of difficulty, I had a good feeling about it, as the pattern looked fairly simple.

As Jen doesn't know the sex of her baby, I decided a neutral colour was the way to go, and really thought that a cream bear would be very lovely, so I got some nice soft double knit wool from Leeds Market, and off I went.

Bear was constructed in two main sections for body and head, stuffing each before the crochet is finished. Eyes are added before the head is stuffed, and I bought a bag of safety eyes from Hobbycraft rather than stitching eyes on. The ears were stitched as four individual pieces. Each ear was assembled by double crocheting two pieces together, and then stitching onto the head with more wool (I used the loose ends to do this rather than cut fresh wool). Here is the body and head, once the ears had been assembled:

You can see his little face starting to take shape here, but to complete his personality, he needed a nose and a mouth. My other hobbies helped here. I like to embroider, but also in the past have had a go at making teddy bears. This was during the phase my Mum went through of making jointed teddy bears, and I used one of her books to make a couple of very simple non-jointed mini-bears out of some offcuts of mohair she had left. Anyway, the point is that as part of this crafting I learnt how to embroider noses and mouths on bears. This came in very handy as I free styled this little guy's face. After embroidering the expression on, I drew the thread through his head to come out where the head will be stitched onto the body, so I could tie a knot, and hide it in the join. You can just see the thread hanging down under the head in this picture of his finished face:

Once his head was finished, all that was left was to stitch him together. I had already crocheted 4 arms and legs. This was actually quite tricky. The trouble was that after the bit of instruction for the paw, the leg/arm bit was just left to the crocheter to complete and keep going until the limb was 12cm long. So it was quite tricky to match them up. In the end I tried to match the arms and legs to be fairly even and as luck would have it ended up with two that were slightly thinner and longer (used for arms) than the other two (used for legs).

Then I just had to position the limbs on his body and stitch! I finished him off with a fetching green bow (baby neutral again!), and he was ready to meet Jen and her bump!

I was a little bit sad to see him go, but I know that Jen's little one will be the best parent for him in the future! (And I might make one of my own!)