Saturday, 12 October 2019

A Feral Weekend

Last weekend I headed up to the English Lakes for a spot of feral spinning (I didn't know it was a thing either!) and rustic camping. I admit I hadn't the faintest idea what I was letting myself in for and I decided to go on a bit of a whim. To be honest the lure of the Lake District was enough - it's been far too long since I was last there, plus the weekend was being organised by the lovely Lucy Locket, a long time friend and blogger and the chance for a get together sounded too good to miss.

After a long seven hour drive I eventually arrived at the beautiful Dodson Wood on the east side of Coniston Water. Our home for the weekend was this amazing off-grid eco barn. No electricity, no washing facilities and compostable toilets but surprisingly cosy and comfortable. After depositing my bags and picking out my mattress I headed back to the lakeside with a couple of the other women where we paddled in the cool water as the sun set. After a delicious meal and an evening getting to know each other (I had only met Lucy before) we put out the candles and turned off our solar lights and settled down in our sleeping bags to cries of "Good night John Boy..." , each of us hoping we might make it through the night without unzipping, finding a torch and venturing outside for a wee. None of us managed it!

In the morning we split into two groups and I went out with the amazing Debbie Zawinsky author of In The Footsteps of Sheep, who took us on a circular walk foraging for dye stuffs such as lichen, heather, gorse flowers and oak leaves etc. We cut our own hazel sticks to make spindles and gathered sheep's wool from the fences. We also climbed a few gates and stiles and let's just say I'm not as young and agile as I used to be!

It was great to be out with someone so knowledgeable about the trees and countryside.

In the afternoon we swapped groups and I had an afternoon soap making with Maria from the Soap Dairy and came back with a bag of deliciously scented natural soaps.
In the evening after another hearty meal Debbie showed us how to cut and whittle our sticks to turn them into spinning sticks, nostepinnes, spindles and niddy noddies!

The next day Debbie demonstrated how to use our collected dye stuffs to make dye baths for the fleece we had collected and we produced a range of colours from yellows, to olive greens and browns. At lunchtime we ventured on a short hike up the hillside where we were rewarded with magnificent views.

At the top of the hill we arrived at Low Parkamore Cottage, a grade II listed 16th century farmhouse where gathered around the wood burning stove and Debbie demonstrated spinning using our hand made tools. It was like taking a step back in time.

On our last evening a few of us ventured back down to the Lake where three brave souls actually went for a swim. I was very tempted, never having tried wild swimming before but I didn't have a cossie with me and although I would have happily swum in underwear more importantly I had no cosy towel to dry off with. My small hand towel just didn't really feel adequate. Plus my niggly cough that I had come away with felt like it was building into something more than just a niggle! So I rolled up my trousers and made do with another paddle.

The rest of the evening was spent eating and singing when Debbie and her friend each a produced eukulele  and entertained us all evening with their songs and playing. We joined in and sang, we knitted and spun and there was even some basket making but most of all we laughed. I can't remember laughing so much.

I came home on Monday after a much better journey armed not only with a new skill - I have never tried spinning before - but also with new friends and lovely memories. I have spun two tiny skeins of yarn but I think it might be a while before I manage enough to knit a pair of socks. At least I have Debbie's book to inspire me.

I also treated myself to a couple of Lucy's beautiful knitting kits

And of course, I have my lovely soaps to try too.

I might have left my voice behind, it was full blown laryngitis by the time I arrived home, but it was a wonderful weekend and I am so glad I went. Although I have to admit the flushing loo and a hot shower at home were heavenly!

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Mending, Upcycling and Random Stuff!

I can't believe that it is October already. The weeks are whizzing by with no time to write blog posts, nor read them either lately. I managed to get through September without buying any new clothes which really wasn't much of a hardship, but it did make me take a look at what I already own. I decided I would mend a small hole in a favourite pair of jeans by adding some Boro style stitching.

The hole was patched with a square of cotton fabric and then I added the running stitch with a variegated thread to add strength to the patch.

 I like it so much that I was tempted to add extra patches where they weren't needed and I'm now on the look out for more items that need mending.

I thought that if I am going to spend a whole year without buying anything new it might be a good idea to browse the charity shops now and then to see what bargains might be had. I didn't expect to find anything I wanted to buy but then I spotted this red cotton cardigan that still had an original label attached so had never been worn. I have been looking for a plain red cardi for quite a while so I snapped it up and all for a bargain price of £4!

I wasn't over keen on the black ribbon trim or black buttons but an evening with a seam ripper and my button box soon fixed that.

I didn't quite have seven matching buttons but I had three of one type and four of another so I've alternated them down the front and don't think anyone will notice... well, not unless you've read this blog post of course!

I was slightly tempted by a soft shirt for sale in the supermarket. Although I don't buy that many new clothes it is the sort of thing I might have happily popped into my shopping basket without a second thought... but I resisted. Then just a couple of days later I spotted this lovely soft denim shirt in the charity shop for under a fiver instead. It has a really unusual cut on the back with a diagonal pleat. I tried photographing it but it looked rubbish, not helped by the fact it needed ironing. I wasn't going to get the iron out just so I could get a decent photo so you'll have to take my word for it.

Once again I decided to add my own twist and so have embroidered the pocket flaps. Actually no, I have embroidered one pocket flap and I'm half way through the second but they will get done because I like them. I was thinking about a single little yellow daisy on each collar point too but maybe that is too much... what do you think?

In other news we have had Stewart's Mum staying with us for a long weekend which was lovely... a bit like a mini staycation for us with lunches out and a punt tour on the River Cam courtesy of son no. 2. I know I have sung his praises before but he really does give an amazing tour with a full hour of humorous embellished commentary on the history of Cambridge,  the university and its inhabitants. You don't just have to take my word for it... last month we had a punt trip with our reading group where Sam wasn't our guide for reasons I won't embarrass him with (although I'm thinking of buying him a diary!) When the guide we did have found out that I knew Sam his reaction was "Sam, he's a legend on the River, he gives an amazing tour."

So if you want the best trip ever on the River Cam... book with Cambridge Punters and ask for Sam (just remember to send him a reminder in the morning!)

We almost dodged the rain but not quite!

I also finished the blinds for the bedroom. It took us almost as long to put them up as it did for me to make them but here we are three months after moving and we finally have some privacy in our bedroom. I think the neighbours are probably relieved!

This week the garage has been demolished to make way for a studio for me, which should be ready by the end of November. |I am just a little bit excited. And at the weekend I am off on a wild retreat... no electricity, no hot water in the middle of a forest by Lake Coniston. It seemed like a good idea when I booked it but I'll let you know!

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Tulips in Amsterdam

I mislead you... there weren’t any tulips (except for masses of artificial ones in the flower market) but we have been in Amsterdam for the weekend. On Friday morning we were up at 4.30 am to catch a five o’clock train into London. Is it just me or is there something exciting about getting up in the middle of the night to go on holiday. I’m sure it goes back to my childhood when we would be bundled into the back of the car before it was light to make an early start down to the West Country for our annual camping holiday. As children I’m not sure we arrived any earlier but on Friday we were on a direct train from St. Pancras by 7.15 and in Amsterdam by midday. So much easier than flying.

I had pre-booked tickets for the Anne Frank house as we missed visiting on our one and only other trip to Amsterdam. I read her diary when I was at school probably at the same age as Anne when she went into hiding but I'm not sure how much it meant to me at the time. However actually seeing where the family spent two years hidden made it seem so much more real. I am always concerned that visiting somewhere like this might feel a little voyeuristic but it was certainly interesting and worth doing, if only to serve as a reminder of the atrocities of the past and how easily it can be for a society to embrace racist and fascist beliefs. A lesson for today I feel.

As with any city break there was also much walking, eating and drinking. Amsterdam is such a picturesque city that there are plenty of spots just to sit with a drink in hand to watch the world and boats go by!

We stayed at an AirBnB, a lovely apartment to the west of the city but withing easy walking distance of the centre. On our first evening we ventured out to a bar for our supper, recommended by our AirBnB hosts. The meal was lovely but we probably raised the average age of the rest of the clientele by about twenty years. We felt particularly old when the waiter asked us if the music was too loud for us! We actually enjoyed the mostly 1960s/70s music and watching the crowds of young people out relaxing and enjoying themselves on a Friday night. When I sent a message to our hosts to tell them we enjoyed their recommendation the response was "Ah yes, Friday night is party night at Cafe Thuys for young people - but typical Dutch experience". Perhaps the fact that our hosts looked no more than early thirties from their photos should have given me a clue, but we enjoyed our evening so much more than if we had gone somewhere touristy.

The following morning was a slow start and after brunch and a vist to the Oude Kerk (Old Church), rather ironically situated in the middle of the Red Light District, we met up with our friends Janet and Pete who moved to the Netherlands about a year ago. With them as our guides we spent another delightful afternoon wandering along canals, exploring markets, stopping for the occasional beer and just generally enjoying a sunny afternoon in the city. 

On Sunday morning we caught the bus out to Janet and Pete's home in Edam, a beautiful small city just 20 km north of Amsterdam.

After sampling some rather good Dutch apple cake, we spent another fine day wandering down to the lakeside, via their allotment, past many typical Dutch homes.

After a refreshment stop we returned via a different route and found ourselves back in the city with time to vist De Knijp (The Nip) a tiny little pub full of character, only open seven hours a week.

Whilst there we sampled the local liqueur... the Dutch way. The little tulip glasses are filled to the very top so full that the only way to move them is to slurp some off the top first... Proost!

On our last day we had a very leisurely boat trip around the canals of Amsterdam and another little wander before catching our train back home. It's been a while since we had a break and it was just what we needed... nothing like some walking, eating, drinking and time spent with good friends to recharge the batteries!

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Second Hand September

You may recall that a couple of weeks ago I mentioned I was signing up for Oxfam's Second Hand September - A month of not buying any new clothes. But as I don't buy that many clothes anyway it didn't seem much of a challenge for just a month. So a friend and I have pledged to not buy any new clothes for a whole year, except for necessary underwear. Second hand knickers are a no, no! We both like to do a little dress making so we are allowing ourselves that luxury, although I only intend to use fabric I already own, but other than that is is only going to be second hand clothes or maybe even rediscovering items I've not worn for a long time. I thought it might be fun to document my progress here each month.

The idea behind the campaign is to support a slower and more sustainable consumption. In the UK alone 11 million items of clothing end up in landfill every week - that's 300,000 tonnes every year. More new clothes are bought in the UK than in any other European country. The carbon footprint of producing new clothes is huge, just that of all new clothes bought in the UK each month is the equivilant to flying a plane around the world more than 900 times.
There is also a huge impact on poorer countries (where their carbon footprint is much lower than ours). Their garment workers are not paid a living wage and the textile  industry uses precious water resources making life tougher in poorer areas. And if all that isn't enough the textile industry creates more pollution than aviation and shipping combined.

Something has to change. So I kicked off on September 1st by wearing a new top that I made from fabric from my stash. It is the Camber Set pattern from Merchant and Mills.

To be honest I don't buy much in charity shops but then maybe that's because I don't usually go in looking for clothes. Mostly I go in to take bags of my own things and will usually browse the books or DVDs. I sometimes look at the clothes if I am looking for AmDram costumes or fabric I might use for projects, which is how I ended up with this T-shirt. I bought it for the fabric to cut up for rag rugging as it was reduced to £2 and a nice bright colour. But after giving it a wash I tried it on and liked it and have been wearing it all summer.

But I currently own only two other charity shop finds - a black patterned dress that I love. I wear it in the summer on its own with sandals and in the winter with thick tights and a cardigan. And a Phase Eight skirt that I bought just for the label and because it was only £5. I didn't think it would fit me but reckoned I could sell it on ebay if not. As it happens the sizing is generous and I have worn it for several summers now.

So I shall be perusing charity shops over the next few months, learning to mend and using up my fabric stash... although I probably have more than enough clothes already  as I don't throw much away!

So who's up for joining me in September... or even for the year?

Friday, 30 August 2019

Finding Joy in Painting

After writing three blog posts in the space of a single week I thought I might actually get back into a routine of regular blogging but alas I have been distracted. Instead of  all the things I actually need to be doing such as making blinds for our bedroom (We've been here nearly two months now and no one has actually complained about being able to watch our nightly ablutions... yet) or preparing for forthcoming embroidery classes this autumn, I have been painting.

About three weeks ago I signed up for a free week long art course hosted by artist Louise Fletcher. Several simple exercises designed to help find your unique artists voice alongside good sensible no nonsense advice and teaching. I had no idea that in just one week it would have such an impact.

It is no surprise to regular readers that I have always been creative whether through my textiles, baking cakes and even occasionally painting and drawing... most recently joining in with my Mum's classes. I know I can draw but my problem has always been one of confidence. I can follow instructions or copy a painting but have never believed I was any good at doing my own thing, working in my own style or listening to my own voice.

So at the end of the one week free taster I was so impressed by Louise's teaching, I signed up for the ten week paid course. And I literally have not stopped painting in every free moment. Everything you see here is the result of the exercises. None are meant to be finished paintings, most are just on scraps of paper or in my sketchbook, but instead they are explorations of paint and mark making.

And as there is no finished painting so there is no getting anything wrong. Instead it is just a wonderful voyage of discovery. We have painted to music, painted with limited palettes, even painted deliberately ugly paintings but each of them showing us what we do and don't like.

And so blogging may well take a back seat for several more weeks to come as I continue to dabble with paint.

And the neighbours could well continue to see us getting ready for bed every night as I  have no inclination to sew blinds when I could be painting instead. At least the mornings will be getting darker soon so we won't be waking up with the light at 5 am!

Friday, 16 August 2019

Meat Free Friday

One of the major changes we can make as individuals to reduce our carbon footprint is to reduce our meat intake and change to a more plant based diet. There is plenty of information available  as to why this is  not only essential for reducing greenhouse gases but also if we are to continue to feed the ever growing world population. 
You can read articles here and here if you want to find out more.
In particular the biggest culprits are beef and lamb, because of the way they graze and the additional methane they produce. Obviously it follows that if we are reducing our beef consumption then we should also reduce our dairy intake, although dairy farming is not quite so intensive as raising cattle for beef.

I am aware that drastically changing your diet if you have always eaten meat is not easy so as someone who has eaten a largely vegetarian and pescatarian diet for the past 25 years I thought I would share some of my favourite veggie meals in regular "Meat Free Friday" posts.

One of my favourite books for simple, easy to make but really tasty vegetarian dishes is The River Cottage Veg everyday book. I think I especially like it as it is not intended as a vegetarian cookbook but as a book to encourage us all to eat more vegetables. It's not in the least bit preachy but just full of amazing food that you really want to eat

For anyone who grows their own veg getting a glut of courgettes at this time of year is a bit of a given and over the years I have become somewhat of an expert at creating courgette based meals. I could feed you for a week on courgettes without ever repeating a single dish! So one of my favourite recipes from the book is a Greek inspired Courgette and Rice filo pie. You can tell it's a favourite by the amount of splatters on the page!

Admittedly it does involve using filo pastry which can be a bit of a faff but it's really not that difficult and putting the filling together takes just a couple of minutes.  If using filo is a step too far you could always replace it with a couple of sheets of ready rolled puff pastry. My Greek daughter-in-law makes a fabulous Tyropita (cheese pie) using puff pastry

You can find the recipe by clicking on the link here: Courgette and Rice Filo Pie.

I made it this week but didn't have fresh dill. Well, I thought I had fresh dill but when I took it out to use it had gone slimy in the packet (well before it's sell by date)... all the more reason to ditch the plastic and find sources other than the supermarket. I think my new garden needs a herb patch. But I did have some chives so used those instead and it tasted just as good as ever.

It makes a delicious pie that feeds four generously. It is excellent hot as the centre of a main meal and I particularly like it with some steamed carrots on the side. But it is equally good cold with a salad or part of a picnic. Because the rice magically cooks by absorbing all the  liquid from the courgettes it stays lovely and crisp too... No soggy bottom!

Let me know if you give it a try or you have any tips of your own for reducing your meat consumption. Even if everyone started by replacing just one meal a week or maybe had one meat free day per week it could begin to make a difference. And the added benefit is that a plant based diet is better for your health too. Meat Free Friday anyone?