Sunday, 30 June 2013

Great British Sewing Bee - Tea Dress

I really loved watching The Great British Sewing Bee earlier this year, and when my Mum asked if I'd like a copy of the book they brought out, I jumped at the chance to get hold of some new patterns to try (Thanks Mum!). It's a lovely book, and has step by step instructions for a number of techniques, from the most basic like sewing straight seams, to more advanced such as fitting invisible zips, buttonholes, attaching bias binding, and using boning (amongst others).

The projects in the book are a range of really nice, simple, classic items, and I am planning to make at least 4 of them. I decided to start with the Tea Dress, which is labelled as a level 2 pattern, so for someone like me who has made a few things before, should be fairly straightforward. One teeny drawback is that the patterns need to be either blown up on a photocopier by 500% or downloaded and printed from the website. This particular pattern printed 34 pages, all of which have margins to cut out. Bit of a tip here (which I only discovered with 5 sheets to go when my boyfriend suggested it) - don't cut all the margins off. Use the margin to lay the next square onto, and cut the side margin of the next square which will lay on top of the margin, and can be used to line the squares up. I know I'm not explaining this well though, so just go with whatever you find easy!

A few weeks ago I had experimented with a Full Bust Adjustment on a pattern, but due to illness I was unable to complete the project, and then had no need of that particular garment, so this seemed the ideal opportunity to put my new skill to the test. A Full Bust Adjustment (or FBA), is a useful technique for any lady whose bust is larger than a B cup, which is the cup size most patterns are designed for. I followed the technique shown on Lazy Stitching because I found that I could do it from the pictures alone. To do this on my dress, I made a horizontal cut across the waistline, and then once I'd done the adjustment I taped the pieces back together and drew a diagonal line from the underarm point to the original waistline point. It might look very odd at this point, but trust me, it works!

I used the instruction sections of the book to help with insertion of the invisible zip, and although the first attempt was a bit bodged (I was rushing as dinner was late and I had a hungry boyfriend to feed), the second attempt was almost perfect, and certainly the best attempt I've ever done.

I spent two evenings prepping, and an afternoon and evening stitching, and I have to say I'm rather pleased with the end result. 

Me in my lovely new dress, squinting into the Manchester sunshine!
Oh, and the gorgeous fabric is from B&M Fabrics on Leeds Kirkgate Market.Gorgeous pink with tiny white bows, and beautiful grey and turquoise hummingbirds. An absolute bargain (as is all the fabric here) at a total cost of £13.50!

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Noah's ark cake

After successfully completing my first ever self-designed "big cake" at Christmas, I was itching for an opportunity to get making one without the supervision of my college tutor. Most of my friends are now married, so a wedding cake seemed unlikely. Luckily, the married folk are now having babies, so an opportunity arose to make a cake for my friend Susie's baby shower.

Being the prepared sort, Susie already knew she was having a boy, and had already revealed that he would be called Noah, so the cake really designed itself! I decided to make a Noah's ark cake, and created a secret Pinterest board to capture pictures of inspirational cakes. Now, if you haven't done an Internet search for "Noah's ark cake", let me tell you there are LOADS. They vary from pastel colours to bright colours, one tier to many tiers, water or no water, Noah or no Noah (animals only), waves or calm, rainbow or plain, etc. I decided to stick to my style, which appears to be - plain and simple! I like clean lines, with not much fuss, and having only done a little modelling, decided I wasn't ready for people and stuck to animals.

I chose to bake a chocolate cake, and used the chocolate truffle cake from the Great British Bake Off Showstoppers book. This was partly because the recipe in the book gives you the quantities and timing to bake a 6 inch, 8 inch or 10 inch cake, and I used the 10inch and 6 inch cakes. The 10 inch is my base, and the 6 inch I used to make the Ark itself. I was lucky enough to find a 6 inch long oval cake board, and this made the template for the ark, and then I used the trimmings to fashion the cabin of the ark. The pieces were glued together with ganache, and then I covered it with Renshaw's chocolate flavour and colour sugar paste.

Noah's ark

The main cake would be covered in Renshaw's baby blue sugarpaste, and with that in mind, I wanted to choose the animals to give a good mixture of colours. I decided on - giraffes, tigers, lions, elephants, pandas, and a dove, complete with olive branch. It was very daunting modelling the animals, but in the end I just went for it, starting with the lions, and finishing with the dove (because I was most scared of him!). The key was to get the heads just the right size, and in the end they only just fit on (and even then some of the heads were partly hidden).

I used dowels in the base cake to make sure the ark and heads didn't sink into it, and although I'd never done this before it was pretty easy. It was tricky marking the plastic dowels without marking the icing with the knife (I didn't manage it, but smoothed the marks out easily enough), but once that was done, they snapped no problem.

Once the ark was in place I made up a little royal icing, and coloured it blue to match the sugarpaste as closely as I possibly could! I then used this to pipe shells around the based of the cake, and around the ark base. Then it was time to add the animals! I used spaghetti in the giraffe necks to stick into the ark to strengthen them, and the other heads were just glued in place with a little royal icing. Unfortunately, the giraffe's strengthening spaghetti insides were not quite strong enough, and they snapped overnight, but there was limited damage to the ark, and they stayed up long enough at the party for photos.

The finishing touch was to add "NOAH" in green icing, to break up the blue and add that little personal touch to the cake. The girls loved the cake, and Susie did say she wasn't sure she could cut it, but I made sure we did as I wanted some of that lovely truffle cake! (I tasted the trimmings and it's a properly gorgeous tasting cake - my new favourite go-to recipe I think).

Noah's ark

Noah's ark

Noah's ark

I loved making this cake, and can now add "tiered cakes" to my list of skills! I'm currently doing another course, so another big cake is on its way. Watch this space...