Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Bit of Summer Fizz....How to make Elderflower Champagne

I missed out on making this delicious fizz last year. Gutted? Just a bit! Seriously peops. If you haven't tried this before then you're missing out! This is the most delicious summer tipple you will have ever tasted. Scouts honour.

The flowers of the Elder tree can go from being white and creamy (ie perfect for making champagne) to brown within a few days. Last year it happened so early (due to a heatwave in April) and quickly, that it caught me on the hop and I totally missed my chance. So I was determined not to miss out again this year.  The recent weather had nearly scuppered my chances again. The elderflower blooms in my neck of the woods are on the turn already and the persistent strong winds have blown alot of the delicate flowers from the trees already. So there were slim pickings today but I managed to get enough (I think) to make a good size batch of the stuff this afternoon.
So, if you live in an area where these blooms are still plentiful on the trees (depending on how far North you live in the UK you could still have some well into July but you may need to be quick if you're down south), then here's what you need (these quantities can obviously be downscaled or upscaled according to the amount you wish to make)...

  • 8 Large Elderflower heads (freshly picked, preferably on a sunny morning when they are at their most fragrant)
  • 4 Lemons (unwaxed is better)
  • 1.5 kg White Granulated Sugar
  • 4 tbsp White Wine or Cider Vinegar
  • 5 litres of Boiling Water

The method couldn't be much more straight forward...

  • Put the sugar and boiling water in a sterilised plastic bucket (I use Milton or homebrew sterilising powder to sterilise). Stir to dissolve the sugar and leave to cool.
  • Meanwhile, shake the flower heads to dislodge any bugs. Remove flowers from the main stalk. (Doesn't matter about the tiniest parts of stalk that the flowers are actually  attached to. Just remove as much as poss)
  • Slice the lemons (I grated some of the rind and squeezed some of the juice for good measure too)
  • Once your sugar solution has cooled to hand hot, add the flowers, lemons and cider vinegar.
  • Stir and cover with a clean tea towel then leave for a few days, stirring once a day.
  • After a few days, strain the mixture through a sterile cloth (muslin is good), pour into sterile bottles (see below) and seal. Leave in a cool, dry place for at least a fortnight before drinking. The longer the better. We had a bottle a full 18 months later and it was even more beautiful for the wait.

A few words on bottling...

The high level of natural yeast present in the flowers will react with the sugar to start fermentation. It's worth bearing this process in mind. One, because it means the finished drink is slightly alcoholic (cheers!) Two, because when you come to bottle it you will need to decide if you use glass or plastic bottles, because these babies can have a habit of exploding! It's not happened to me personally but I have read alot on the forums about it. So it's worth doing your research. (Just google "exploding elderflower"!) However, I suspect the reason I had no such problems with my last batch, was due to the length of time I left it in the bucket before bottling it. Most of the recipes you'll find online will tell you to leave it "overnight" or for 24hrs, then bottle it. The recipe I followed for my last batch instructs you to leave it covered for 5-7 days before bottling. I suspect this is key to avoiding explosions, since the fermentation process is significantly slowed down after this time.
I really wanted to use traditional glass lemonade bottles when I last made this, and I'll do the same when this batch is ready for bottling.  (I like to give them as gifts to family and friends) So to be extra cautious I leave a good gap at the top of each bottle when filling, to allow for a little more expansion from the remaining fermentation. I also fill a plastic squash/cordial bottle with some of the liquid. Again leaving a gap at the top. This acts as my "gauge".  As the weeks went on it gave me a good idea of how much expansion was going on. The plastic bottle became firmer and firmer over the next few days as the gas from fermentation filled the space left in the bottle. If it had started to bulge (which thankfully it didn't) it'd tell me that there was potentially an excess of pressure in my glass bottles and I may have had to release some of the pressure by opening the tops up, letting some of the gas out, and resealing them. This wouldn't of course be ideal, as it would risk compromising their sterile environment. But it would be a preferable to shards of glass from exploding bottles! There would have to be an awful lot of pressure for a glass bottle to explode, but it's best to take a few precautions anyway. Otherwise, if you're more fussed about the fizz that the bottle it's in, use plastic fizzy drinks bottles. But most importantly, ENJOY!!!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Refashioned - Nautical Sundress

One in the bag for our upcoming week in the Isle of Wight! Nautically appropriate of course, but whether I'll have the opportunity to wear it without wellies and an umbrella, well....we live in hope! As you can see from the before photo (forgive me the unstraightened hair!) it started out life as a vintage Laura Ashley denim dress. The length didn't really suit me (a bit swampy) and it cut in under the arms so I played around with it for a couple of days and came up with the revamped version on the right....

I had to recut the armholes which meant removing the existing binding. I replaced in with self made French navy bias used as a kind of reverse facing; rolling the entire width of it to the front and topstitching it down; so that it's"edged" with the original denim. I added a matching band to the empire waist, created a matching faux button placket and added some gold nautical buttons from my stash....

I re cut the hem to scoop low at the back and higher at the front so the overall effect is kinda tea length. I mean...the general public can only handle so much pale and pasty leg activity...I'm considerate like that ;) It's a lovely full skirt and I'm pleased the finished dress has retained that vintage vibe whilst having a more on trend feel to it as well. At least I hope that's what I've achieved, ha ha!

By the way, has anyone else been massacred by mosquitoes? You can just about see a large dark patch on the front of my right ankle. That's the remainder of a monster mosquito bite (one of many but I won't show you the one that bit THROUGH my jeans right into my buttock...!) that went a bit nasty. They do seem to love pale skin. Maybe a bit of fake tan will fool 'em.....

Friday, June 22, 2012

Trousertastic - Trouser Refashioning Tips

It's fair to say I'm developing a bit of an obsession with refashioning thrifted jeans and trousers. The light tan and baby blue pairs below were used in heavy rotation during Me Made May, and it made me realise that a few more pairs of narrow cropped jeans would be a welcome addition to my arsenal of wardrobe basics. Enter stage left the dove grey pair (my current faves!) and second from right, the softest pair of khaki jeans I've ever found. (The hems are actually even I promise. It's just the weird way I have of standing in photos!)
I managed to refashion both pairs one afternoon last week whilst Elliott was at pre school, and both pairs have been worn and laundered 2 or 3 times already......

As I was refashioning away, it occurred to me that although I've covered trouser refashioning here and here before, there are a few details of how I go about it that I hadn't quite covered in previous posts. So I thought I'd share a few tips that I've developed that make this type of refashion (narrowing and cropping jeans or trousers that already fit in the waist/hips) super quick and hassle free.

Firstly, establishing where to take jeans in is worthy of some consideration. Jeans in particular will often have a Flat Fell Seam on either the inner or outer leg seams, and sometimes (though rarely) on both. Taking jeans in along a flat fell seam, in my humble opinion, is one of those "life is just to short for that kinda faff" situations. In order to blend the new seam with the old, you'd have to unpick and press flat the entire flat fell seam and re-sew it once you've finished. (Unless someone has some stroke of genius to share then I'm all ears and would be very happy to be proven wrong!) I always take mine in along the standard straight seam. Whether that be on the inner or outer seam, I let the existing construction dictate to me which will be the simplest seam to sew....

In order to sew and blend the new seam cleanly, I like to press it completely flat. The existing hem prevents me from doing that....

So I lop it off....

I mark where I want my new seam allowance to be, (see here and here for how to establish that) and sew a straight stitch along my chalk line....

Followed by a zig zag stitch right next to it....

This part is pretty important in ensuring the new seam blends seamlessly with the old once you turn the jeans/trousers right side out again. As I approach the point where the new seam is about to intersect with the old,  I gradually reduce the angle between the two as I am sewing. Once my new line of stitching meets the old seam line, I'll continue sewing completely in line with the old seam for a fraction of an inch, before gradually running my new line of stitching off into the seam allowance. Exactly the same principle applies when sewing the zig zag too  (you can just about make out the new zig zag where it meets the original overlocked seam finish)...

Then simply trim off the excess close to the new zig zag line...

Turn right side out, press the length of the new seam line on a sleeve board or pressing mitt (I find the pressing mitt works best, with my arm up inside the trouser leg, gradually working my way along the seam). Then all that remains to be done is hem them to the desired length.
This type of refashion usually takes me about 40 mins per pair. So, easy to squeeze in between toddler taming sessions as a means of staying sane!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Nifty Tip - No Bias Maker? No Problem!

I'm working on a refashioning project at the moment and needed some slightly wider bias tape than my bias maker could make. Buggar I thought. I really didn't want to waste time trapsing into town on the off chance that the meagre haberdashery section of our local hardware store might have a bias tape maker in the size I need, if at all. I was on a roll. I needed that bias tape NOW!! Then, somewhere from the dark recesses of my mind I remembered this little trick.....

I had to fold and press the first inch by hand (mind your fingers on that iron!) Then the pin acts as a makeshift guide, pinned snug to the width of the bias you are making. Then you pinch the sides of the bias strip together centrally just before the pin, just to keep things even and steady; pressing as you pull it through the other side.
I cannot take credit for this little stroke of genius. I read it somewhere, on someone's blog (for the life of me I can't find it again  now) about 2-3 years ago, and it's been sat unnoticed in my memory banks until just the moment when I needed it, when it popped up with a cheery little "here I am!". You gotta love how helpful the dark recesses of your mind can be!
Incidentally you can check out an easy way to make bias strips here; and if you think it was your blog/tutorial that provided me with this genius little trick, please do contact me so I can provide you with proper credit and a link :)

Friday, June 15, 2012

Nifty Tip - Large Thread Cones

If you're like me and regularly rummage through the haberdashery drawers of your local charity shop (or if you have an industrial machine or overlocker, which I don't, sniff...) then you will no doubt have come across supersized cones or spools of thread. I bagged a job lot of these last year (for a mere £2!) in really useful colours like cream, white, navy and black. I thought my thread needs would be sorted for the next 5 years, such was the massive volume of the stuff. I was a wee bit scuppered though when I came to use them. The holes in them were way too large for even the extended thread spool on my machine. They would just rattle around in a scary manner and come flying off.  Hmmm. B*****ks!  I tried sitting them in a tea cup behind my machine which kinda worked but not brilliantly....

Then the other day I had a eureka moment. It was a double whammy eureka moment in fact. (oh yes peops, value for money on this blog!) Not only did I sort out my huge thread cone problem challenge ;) I also found a use for one of the many empty cotton reels that I just can't bring myself to throw out. It wedged up in the base of that cone nice and snug, which meant it now sat perfectly safely on my machine, and I was stitching away happily for the rest of the afternoon without fear of running out of thread until at least 2013...

I wish I could say the same for my bobbin thread. When oh when will I learn to check the amount of thread on my bobbin before embarking on a 2 metre hem....

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

My Sketchbook (and why I've started drawing again!)))

Today I thought I'd share something with you that I alluded to at the end of this post. I've cracked open my sketchbook and pencils for the first time since I was 17. (Yes, 20 years ago friends! Where has that time gone for goodness sakes?!) I haven't done any "proper" drawing since I dropped out of my A levels all those years ago. Art & Design, Textiles, Communication Studies and Business Studies. The aim, after I had finished my A levels, was to go on and study for a BaHons in Fashion & Textiles with a view to teaching, or working within the industry. Well, it never happened. Life took it's twists and turns and it became more about paying rent and bills than pursuing passions and dreams.

 Fast forward 20 years and I find myself contemplating going back to work having spent the last 3 years being a full time Mum. This time, I've decided that when I go back to work, it will be in a field that I am passionate about. So a few months back after talking it over with my other half (and him telling me I had to "go for it" or I'd regret it forever) I arrived at a decision. I've decided to apply for that BaHons in Fashion & Textiles as a mature student. I know that it's the right decision because the mere thought of it gives me butterflies.

There's just the small matter of having to submit a portfolio of work as part of my application. (Er, what portfolio?!) What's more, a portfolio weighted down with plenty of evidence of drawing skills in a variety of media. (Erm, drawing, it's been a while!) To add to the challenge, I don't have the required amount of UCAS points (dropped out of A levels, remember?) so MY portfolio will have to be particularly strong to convince them that UCAS points aren't the be all and end all. Oh, and I aim to do all this by the end of the year at the latest in order to get my application in early girly for next years intake. Talk about giving myself a mountain to climb right?

Well, every climb to the top of a mountain starts with the first few steps, and I've started. Now drawing doesn't come naturally to me. I'm not one of those people who can chuck a few lines down on paper and make it look like something fabulous. I draw, rub out, draw again, rub out, draw again and so on. I'ts a tiny amount of ability and a whole lot of stubborn perseverance. I'm sharing these pictures so that I can hopefully look back in a few months and be satisfied that I've progressed! Opportunities for me to draw from life are limited, and in any case I'm too slow as yet, to get a satisfactory rendering of the subject down on paper in the window of time a class would offer. I thought I'd practice "getting my eye back in" first by sketching from photos and the like. (Hopefully speeding up in the process!) They're not gonna move and I can put them down and come back to them a couple of hours later and they'll still be there! The one on the right is ok (ish) except for the eyes, and since they are the "windows to the soul" they're pretty crucial to get right! No matter how hard I tried I couldn't get the highlights in the right place to stop her from looking a wee bit boss eyed, lol! I'm not even attempting to get a "good likeness" at this stage. Rather using these sketches as practice at getting everything in proportion and in the right place. (plus I was working from a teeny tiny magazine cutting!). Not the worst start but definately room to grow.

This next picture is an improvement in my view. Though still not an accurate likeness of the source image, as a stand alone drawing, I'm pretty pleased with it overall; and it will probably make it into my portfolio (albeit alongside the hopefully better stuff that I have yet to draw!)
cutting sketch

One of my biggest weaknesses with figure drawing (pretty important for a fashion and textiles degree, no?) is getting everything in proportion. So I decided to practice getting body angles, perspective and proportions right by replicating the poses I found in fashion magazines....
figure1a figure1

You can just see the gridlines I use as a guide to get everything in the right place. Numbered 1-9 down the left hand side of my sketches....
figure2a figure2

A human figure is on average 8 times the head size high. In a fashion drawing this elongated to 9-10 heads high to achieve that unrealistically long limbed effect....
figure3a figure3

I hate drawing hands so I particularly liked this pose, lol ;)
figure4a figure4

So there we are. That's the plan. Of course that means that the content of this blog will widen even further to encompass more art and design based stuff. But I fugured being the creative bunch that you are, you probably wouldn't mind; and anyway, I'm hoping (pretty please!) for lots of advice, guidance and feedback from you guys along the way. If you don't mind of course!

Friday, June 08, 2012

Using a Narrow Hemming Foot

The last couple of weeks I have had a baptism of fire in respect of narrow hemming. My inability to say no led me to agree to shorten a friend's sister's wedding dress for her to wear to someone elses wedding, without looking like the bride herself. (Are you keeping up?) The latter aspect was easily remedied by making a gathered chiffon cumberbund and matching flower corsage in vibrant shades of pink. Wedding appropriate but no longer "bridal". The biggest hurdle for me was the hemming. Three layers each almost 3metres in circumference. Silk chiffon, silk satin, and a lining fabric from hell. Slippery as anything AND I've ended up with some of it welded to my ironing board cover! Aaaargh!

Anyhow, EVENTUALLY, after some practice scraps (and alot of swearing), I got there......

Ths is the machine foot concerned. A narrow hemming foot. (available in a few diffrent widths) It's comprised of a narrow shaft with a guide"curl" of metal over the top. The idea being that as you feed the fabric through the curly bit guides it over and under the shaft where it is promptly stitched in place; creating a clean narrow (or baby) hem. After a bit of practice, it really does beat turning and stitching a hem yourself and as you'd imagine is much quicker...

Starting and finishing is the trickiest part. And I can't say I've mastered either perfectly, but after digesting a few online tutorials, I opted to start off by turning and pinning the first inch by hand. Then edge stitching close to the innermost fold, as if this were a standard machine foot....

With the first inch sewn, and the needle in the down position, raise the foot and gently manouvre the raw edge of the fabric over and round the shaft like so...

Then lower the foot back down. The width of the "hem" as you feed it through the foot should sit within the "open" part of the foot. (There are grooves on both sides of mine to help with this but other models may differ.) Essentially the folded edge should not be allowed to slip under the the right side of the foot; and the raw edge should not be allowed to cover the left side of the foot. I found the only way to avoid this was to work steadily and carefully.  I worked my way along the hem about 2" at a time. Finger folding the hem and gently holding it in place (being careful not the stretch the fabric as this can result in a "curly" hem) as I fed it through....

This is how it emerges on the other side as you feed it through. (Make sure you trim raw edges before starting. Can you see the loose threads poking through on the finished section here?)

Every fabric I tried this on reacted differently. Some I had to lift slightly and feed them down into the foot. Some I had to maintain a good tension on the fabric for it to work. Some I had to feed through from the front and gently pull through from behind at the same time. Basically, practice, practice, practice on scraps first. When all said and done though, a pleasing finish.....

So, lesson 1 learnt - How to use a narrow hemming foot. Lesson 2? When will I learn to say no to time consuming alterations for other people??!! Gah! Probably never, I'm such a sap!

NB: Thanks to A Perfect Nose for pointing me in the direction of this post which has ALOT of interesting points, and discussion and links in the comment section. Especially about tackling intersecting seams, which I neglected to mention. (essentially I treated these in the same way as starting off. Disengaing the hemming foot, turning under by hand, stitching as normal, then re-inserting the fabric into the hemming foot and continuing on.)  It seems I am not alone in finding this a tricky one to use. When I say practice, practice, practice, I exagerate not! I wish I had kept the practice scraps to show you how much I bodged it before I got anywhere near a decent result!

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Did I mention my son is a loon?

This was Elliott's take on a "nice photo of your new haircut for Nanny"....

No e numbers were consumed for the purposes of this photo. This is his best "scary dinosaur" impression.This is what he is like from the moment he gets up to the moment he goes to sleep. (Which may explain why I'm so knackered all the time!)

Sunday, June 03, 2012

MMM '12 - Weeks 3 - 4

To be honest, the last week and a half of Me Made May saw me running around like a blue arsed fly with no inclination whatsoever to take any photographs. So I struck on the idea of using the previous couple of week's photos as my own personal gallery of outfit options. Each day I would flick through, pick an outfit I'd already photographed and wear that for the day. Thereby dispensing with the necessity to take further photos! Ha! Take that you pesky self photography demon!! Of course, I have had my hair cut and coloured since the start of May so it looks as if my hair has miraculously grown back overnight, but you get the gist!

Monday: Navy refashioned top and blue refashioned trousers
Tuesday: Self drafted Geometric top  Trousers - Thrifted
Wednesday: Thrifted stripe top  and Cropped Jeans
Monday tuesday wednesday

Thursday: Denim Shirt - Thrifted (99p) and refashioned Trousers
Friday: Self Drafted Coral Top and  Cropped Jeans
SaturdayGrey Polka top - Self drafted thrifted Flared Jeans
thursday friday saturday

Monday: (Freshly dyed hair!) Thrifted Cashmere Sweater and Blue Trousers
Tuesday: Self drafted Coral Top and  Bleached Jeans (not blogged)
Wednesday: (no photo) Plaid Shirt and Cropped Tan Jeans
Thursday: (no photo) Geometric Self Drafted Top and thrifted Navy Trousers
Friday: No photo and can't remember!!
Saturday: Newly thrifted Polka Dot Blouse (£1.50) and refashioned Trousers (and the obligatory summer bob cut)
Monday tuesday saturday

Sunday: (Hot day! Yay!!!) Newly thrifted Silk Jersey Top (£1.50) and refashioned Cropped Jeans
Monday: Refashioned Top and Refashioned Trousers
Tuesday: Can't remember!
Wednesday: Thrifted Top and refashioned Cropped Jeans
Thursday: This outfit
sunday monday saturday

So that was that! I managed to wear MM garments every day and at least half of those were entirely MM. Yay!! I did it! What I've noticed is that I rely heavily on cropped narrow leg trousers. Thoe tan cropped jeans being used in HEAVY rotation. I need a couple more pairs in different colours. I have a purple pair lined up for refashioning and a white pair that I intend to refashion and dye a dove grey colour, or maybe lavender if I'm feeling brave!! I'd forgotten how much I like that navy refashioned top. So I'm on the lookout for more skirts to refashion into tops and hopefully replicate  it in a few more colours/patterns. It really is so easy to throw on and feel instantly fab in. My geometric and grey polka tops are good wardrobe staples too. Both made from the same SUPER simple self drafted pattern. So a couple more of those wouldn't go amiss. Of course, my button back top still needs some tweaking and once I've done that, hopefully I'll be able to add a raft of those to my Me Made arsenal too. Overall, this challenge was my easiest to date (apart from the photography part!!). A sure sign that MM items are gradually taking over my wardrobe!

How about you? Has MMM 12 left you with a long list of projects? Has it helped you realise how far you've come? Hope so!