Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Meet the Aspirational Mouse.

The Aspirational Mouse came about like all good things. By accident.

When stetting up my business Mountain & Molehill I wanted an image that was more interesting than a logo but gave something of what I do for designers who are just starting out. An early name for the business was Mice & Molehills so it naturally evolved from there.

But I needed a mouse. Fortunately one of my Matey's friends is an illustrator Benjamin T Mills so I gave him a budget he was happy to work within and we had a chat. I wanted a mouse who was thinking big, no hiding in shadows. My best description was 'He needs to be Aspirational'. Ben was very polite about this frankly useless description of what I wanted and gave me lots of sketches to choose from. But the aspirational mouse was born.

Why did I choose to call this blog 'Aspirational Mouse'? Because I liked the name and at a feisty 5'2 could well be described as an Aspirational Mouse. (Or possibly a Pixie Pirate.)

I am about to embark on the first trade show under the Mountain & Molehill banner and my very lovely cousin offered to make me a perspex cutout of the mouse for the stand. Isn't he lovely?

I'm trying to decide where to put him post show. It feel wrong to just pack him away. He is quite large though.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Re-stringing a vintage necklace the easy way.

Some time ago I was seduced by a fabulous vintage pearl bead necklace in my local charity shop. I'm not a massive bling wearer but I loved the size of the fake pearls which had faded to to a gentle cream. It also passed my quality test as it was very heavy and had been knotted between each pearl. A few quid later and it was mine.

A few months later it broke. The silk thread just gave up. Probably having been in a drawer for so long it just couldn't take being worn every other day.

"I'll mend it" I thought.
Initially I planned to just string the beads onto a string and leave it at that. It just wasn't right. Half the quality lay in those knots. I tried to get a knot to sit in the right place between each bead. It looked rubbish!

I resorted to google. An hour later my fingers were tied together and it still looked rubbish. The proper way was beyond me trying to work it out from some pictures. I went do some painting instead. Whilst sploshing blackboard paint around I had a brainwave of how to make the whole process a LOT easier.

SO! All I needed was re-stringing silk, available at most haberdashers/craft shops and some fine wire. Note you will need three times as much silk as the length of the necklace. I  bought silk with wire attached, opened it up and cut it in half.

Take the wire and bend it half. Thread the end of the silk through the wire as though it is a needle and twist the wire until it has created a fairly sturdy needle-like point. Then do the same on the other end of the silk.

Hold the two 'needles' together so the silk length is halved. Take the clasp of the necklace and thread the loop at the end of the silk through the clasp. Then thread the needles through the loop to create a hitch which will hold the clasp in place.

Tie a reef knot (left over right and under, right over left and under) to hold it all in place.

Take your first bead and thread it onto the silk. It is easier to do this one side at a time.

Tie a reef knot. Keep on going until all the beads are threaded. Getting the tension right is the fiddly part with this. I found that clamping it between my knees and using the weight of the beads helped me. Not the most elegant of positions!

Once all the beads are threaded tie the other side of the clasp to the end. A small drop of glue on the knot will keep this final knot in place and stop it from unraveling.

Cost: £3:50 for the silk.

Time taken: About an hour, once I knew what I was doing!

Good as new!
This works well for costume jewellery. Anything of real value really should be done by a professional who would probably sneer at my mish mash of a technique.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

A jolly good stab at a patchwork quilt

There is a collection of children’s books called 'Green Knowe' by Lucy. M.Boston. The BBC dramatised the first ’The Children of Green Knowe' when I was just the right age for it. Being a bookworm I then read the series of rather spooky tales. There are a number of images that spring to mind when I think about the books, some that I was too scared to always read as a child. But there is one in particular. The patchwork quilt that Tolly's great-grandmother Mrs. Oldknowe mended while telling him tales about the house.

For our wedding in June I undertook the frankly mad project of covering 100 cushions for the seats. It took 5 days and on the final day I actually felt slightly sick at the thought of doing the final 15.

Post wedding I realised that I really do not need 100 cushions.

So I resolved to sell them. The problem was that our choice of fabric was so specific that nobody wanted them.In the end I sold the pads and pondered what to do with all the fabric I now had in the shape of square cushion covers. A patchworkquilt! 

So I pondered on this. Do I really have the time? No. But when has that ever stopped me? I googled it. To my dismay it appears to be a really, REALLY popular thing to do right now. Did I still want to do it? In the end a friend gave me belated birthday present of a book from the 70's about patchwork making.I was committed.

 First I chopped. Yes! I chopped the cushion covers that had taken so long to make into usable strips. My matey was silently watching me and clearly holding his tongue about this.

Then I realised that much as I wanted to use all the fabric some just wasn'tgoing to work. It was a pain in the bum for the cushions. I was not going to re-inflict the pain again for a quilt. This left me with only three striped fabrics indark blue, pale blue and pink. I had a brainwave. We had embroidered tablecloths on the tables and there was one that I couldn't sell because it was stained. Snip snip.

Next problem. I had enough squares to make a single quilt. I wanted a double. Of course I could have cheated and added more fabric from elsewhere but that wasn't the point. I could have chopped up the three tablecloths we decided to keep but that wasn't the point either. I had an idea. In the attic were the sweet pea bedsheets I had as a teenager, rather faded and suffering from an attack of the moths. We got married in my parents garden and the only flowers we had at our wedding were SWEET PEAS!

I started the easy bit of making the strips of squares. The tricky part of making a patchwork quilt is getting it so that all the seams match up. I cheated and put the seams off centre, brick wall style. (I'll aim for perfect next time.)

SO far so good. But I was out of tablecloth fabric and it wasn't big enough. It was also a tad pink and girly, dare I say twee? I was always going to back the quilt with as close a match as possible to my bridesmaids green cotton sundresses so I decided that I would add two borders. One in green and one in the fabrics I did have left.

Not ideal but big enough for me to stick with it. A blanket from the wedding (We had blankets for people to sit on the lawn with.) which had got a bit moth eaten served as the filling and the green fabric went on the back. Time for the tedious hand sewing the border part.

I then attempted to quilt the squares on the machine to make it a proper quilt.This really did not work. The fabric kept rucking up and looking awful. I ripped it all out and decide it was quite nice enough as it. Let's call it a patchwork blanket rather than a quilt.

Time taken. I did it in bits but I reckon that it took around 40 hours to put together.

Cost: The backing fabric was £18 and thread was £3. The rest I already had.

The verdict
Not bad!
All in all it's a pretty good first stab. It's far from perfect but it's nothing to be ashamed of either. Fortunately I do believe that there is no point in making something if it looks like it was made in a shop.

Monday, 21 January 2013

It's Snowing! - French Onion Soup time

I love snow. Yes it can be a pain in many, many ways but I am still to be convinced that it isn't great. Facebook is full of photos of people going out and having fun in the show with their friends and families. Now something that does that can't be all bad. I informed my Matey that Saturday was Snowman making day. So here is our capitalist snowman on his way to work.

This kind of weather calls for warming, comforting food. Soup time methinks.

Between A-Levels and joining the realish world of student life I spent the summer working at Spaghetti Factory, a now defunct chain of restaurants, in Canterbury. Like most jobs of this ilk it varied between fantastic (SOOO grown up!) and just plain nasty. Ultimately I had just upgraded from working in a Fish & Chip shop so my aspirations were fairly simple.

As with most 19 year olds one of the main perks of the job was the free food. One meal of my choice from the menu, no steak! This was then eaten upstairs in the staff area, this was in reality a corridor with a table at the end as close to the open fire escape as possible to get some freshish air in what was an achingly hot summer. Having tried just about everything else on the menu I sampled my first French Onion Soup. Naturally I was a fussy child so all those gorgeous onions at the bottom were left uneaten. Having since had the dish in more salubrious surrounding I am aware, looking back, it probably wasn't all that great. But I thought it was fab.

I have always failed miserably to make it at home. All recipes seem to call for hours of slow cooking over a hot stove and frankly I just don't have the time. But my Matey and I were given a slow cooker as a wedding present so it occurred to me that it might just be time to have another go.

As with the majority of my cooking  I started off with a google and constructed a recipe as I went along based on number of choices that sounded nice and the restrictions of my cupboard. The Delia recipe should probably get a significant nod for being the most referred to.

So! I had about 1kg of onions chopped in half and sliced into to nice thinnish slices. These got thicker as I started to cry.

The onions went into my frying pan with a slug of oil to slowly soften. I also added a slosh of water to help the process along. I am well aware that most cooks would cry in horror at this but I find it works and means I don't have to add too much oil.

I then finely chopped up  4 cloves of garlic, twice as much as Delia suggests, but I like garlic. (Top Tip: Squish the clove on the chopping with the blade of a big knife. It makes peeling them so much easier.) It all went in the pan with a tablespoon of white sugar  and was slow cooked until they looked like this:

I could eat the lot at this stage.Seriously yummy. But I resisted and put the lot into my slow cooker with about 1 1/2 pints of water, a slosh of white wine, ground pepper and some beef stock cubes. (Don't put salt in f you are using stock cubes they have loads in already.) Some recipes say it needs to be cooked for 1 hour, other recipes call for 9 hours. I switched it on for about 2 hours as that's when my Matey would be home.

A note about Slow Cookers. GET ONE! They take the cheaper cuts and make them yummy. You go to work, get home and there is a hot meal all ready and wait for you.

Time for supper! I did sort of do the cheese on toast but the grill on my oven is broken so it was melty but not really golden and bubbling.

Time taken. About 35mins plus cooking time in the slow cooker.

Cost: Around £2.50 including the slug of wine (which you could leave out) Enough for 4 servings.

The verdict

Extra points for being able to take it to work next day for lunch. It would probably be better with a real stock rather than a stock cube but most things would. More trials needed.

Friday, 18 January 2013

In which I start a blog.....

...for which I have no time for and am slightly bemused as to why on earth I have suddenly decided to have one. Moreover I have started to do one at the worst possible time. With two weeks to go before a trade show I have a set to produce, a catalogue to design, a price list to make and a large amount of black rope to hunt down, preferably in a nice shop that doesn't sell naughty things.

However I have put paw to keyboard and here we are. I am an occasional devotee of the creative blog, usually stumbled across while attempting to make something, getting stuck and Googling for advice. I more often than not I come away feeling depressed as how these people are able to whip up a Victoria sponge, finish off a handmade present and have twenty people for for dinner at moment's notice AND still have a house that looks clean and tidy AND they do all this while looking utterly fragrant, fabulous and CALM!

While I love making bits and bobs, albeit in a not too twee kind of way, being fragrant, fabulous and calm at the same time eludes me. Despite my best efforts I rarely have clean fingernails for more than 5 minutes and my natural default is to tuck my skirt into my knickers and get stuck in.

So let's see how far I get.....
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