23 December 2014

Practising kindness

This time of year can be hard for many people for so many different reasons. There is the stress of added financial pressures, of keeping up appearances, adjusting to the end of another school year (at least in our part of the world) and the uncertainty of the year ahead. Perhaps we are spending Christmas apart from our nearest and dearest or we have lost someone close to us and it is felt more keenly at a time when traditionally, family comes together. If you're feeling overwhelmed, whatever your reason, be kind to yourself, and if you are able to, surround yourself with people you love and those who love you back, who value your friendship and who's company you treasure. Be grateful to have this choice. If you know someone who lives alone or is just feeling lonely, reach out. Just reach out. You may not know exactly what is going on in their lives yet a simple act of kindness is a great gift if it comes from a place of selflessness - and it costs nothing. Be kind. Always be kind. We cannot control the thoughts and actions of other people, but we can control how we choose to treat others. And I choose kindness. Every time.

I chose this photo to share with you so you can see how Christmas Day is going to look at our place. It must be strange to people reading this on the other side of the world to see that it is summer here. It has been such a gloriously hot day today that I have the doors flung wide open at the moment to let in some of the breeze.
Those photos up on the shelf are special to us, not least of all because two of the people in them are no longer with us and I think having them with us in our little dining area makes me feel like they are not forgotten.

Don't let the tranquility of this photo fool you though. My husband's extended family and some family friends are coming to spend the afternoon and evening with us on Thursday and with around 25 people here, this place will be filled with wonderful food, noise, mess and chaos (and probably a broken glass or plate if my sister keeps up her record - heehee) which is how we do Christmas. This is our first time hosting for Christmas so we've had to do a little bit of furniture rearranging to accommodate everyone, but we love the idea of having everyone all together at the one table. See all the gaps on the kitchen shelves? That's not due to tidiness - we have reached our crockery and cutlery (and seating) threshold hosting this number of guests and every plate and glass we own is on the table.
Our family went on a little outing up into the hills a few weeks ago to collect some pinecones to decorate our table. Spray-painting them was a fun little activity for my husband and the girls. The hydrangea were foraged on another little outing yesterday. I did have a little laugh to myself while gathering them as some other people must have had the same idea since it was quite obvious that the bush we chose had already been "pruned" and only the topmost, hard-to-reach heads were left.

Merry Christmas, dear readers. Thank you for reading. Thank you for your comments, support and advice throughout the year. I have loved sharing parts of my creative and family life with you this past year. You can expect more of the same from me for as long as I feel I have a voice to lend to this community of bloggers. This is my last post for 2014 as I will be devoting my time and attention to my family and friends over Christmas and the summer holidays. I will still pop in and read your blogs when I can and will no doubt share a few pictures of my view on the world over the next six weeks on Instagram. Or I may not. In any case, I won't be far away and I will see you all again in 2015.

19 December 2014

Fleur - a vintage-style cloth doll

In a complete departure from my usual sewing projects, I got to pattern-test Big Little's newest creation, Fleur, a vintage-style cloth doll. She is simply too beautiful for words. I don't think the photos do her justice to be honest. She is so robust yet lovely to hold and at around 38cm tall, she is an amazing size. My 5 and 7 year old daughters just love her to pieces.

If you are visiting here from Big Little's blog tour this week, you may notice that my version is a little different to the lovely ones that have been showcased so far. It was not because I disliked the original pattern, but simply because she was created based on what materials I already had in my stash.

I've sewed one other doll before, but I just made it up as I went along and it was very rudimentary. This doll has quite a number of components to her, including jointed limbs, and the pattern has a very comprehensive tutorial to accompany it; to see it all in one file may actually a little overwhelming for a beginner or inexperienced sewer. The testers were dripfed the tutorial, which I think was a really good approach so it felt more manageable.

I think to do it in stages and only when you have complete focus on the task at hand is key. I had a little bit on my plate last month when I worked on this doll and so I snuck a few hours here and there and always with the nagging in my head that I really ought to have been doing something else, so I think I rushed her a bit and lost enjoyment because she didn't come together as well I had hoped she would. I really struggled with a number of areas, and my frustration only grew when I could not achieve a nice, balanced look to her face. I don't even know why - all the other pattern testers seemed to manage it without a problem. Perhaps it was because I used polyester fill where others had used natural fibres? I just could not achieve the lovely rounded look in the example pictures when I started stuffing her and it caused so much frustration! She had no other features at that point, she was just a bald-headed, faceless creature with no arms or legs and I just wasn't feeling it.

I also found stitching and turning out the ears and making clothes that are this small an issue - I must have man-sized hands or something but finesse is required to work with these little details and plenty of patience is needed because you cannot rush through the stages unless you want it to show in your craftsmanship.

I had a ball of sea foam green wool in my stash and this is what guided me in the colour choices for the doll clothes. I followed Lisa's tutorial to braid the hair, which was surprisingly easy, and then I decided  my doll needed a more relaxed hairstyle, so I rolled the hair at the side, swept it around to the other side and then braided it.

Having struggled to stuff the doll, I made the decision to tackle the clothes instead. I figured it would be a good idea to have a break from the doll and play with some pretty fabrics instead to rekindle the enjoyment. For me, there is no point sewing if I'm not having fun doing it. I made a kimono dress and regretted my fabric choices so I opted for separates instead. I love how it all turned out, with her little leggings made from a pair of one of my daughter's old holey leggings. They are simply longer French knickers without the elastic in the legs and sewn with a tapered leg so they fit more snugly. The denim jacket is adapted from the bodice pattern and made using a pair of old jeans and I snuck in some of Sarah Jane's florals for the lining. The teeshirt is made from a stretch knit and I handstamped it with one of the girls' stamps for a street wear look.
So fash-un.

The shoes are made from a small piece of suede and were really quite fun to make. I cut out the soles from the supplied shoe pattern and to make the boots, I drafted a slightly wider pattern using the contour of the doll's leg as a guide.

I was especially hesitant to embroider her eyes; having come so far through the doll-making process and lacking confidence in my embroidery skills, I feared I would completely ruin the doll and not be able to disguise any mistakes. Lisa came to the rescue with a simplified eye design, which is just perfect on this doll.

There were so many emotions at play constructing her. I oscillated between excitement, to frustration to ambivalence and finally to falling completely in love with my creation. It was a total incarnation of the creative process diagram I wrote about last month. I could never give this girl up, so I am so glad that my children play with her and adore her too. As soon as her face was stitched on, it was my eureka moment and I just fell in love with her.

If you are ever given a doll that someone has carefully laboured over for hours, feel special because these dolls are definitely not a five minute project and if someone has carefully crafted something as detailed and beautiful as a Big Little Fleur doll for you, know that you are loved.

Lisa was incredibly patient with me as I worked through the various stages asking a barrage of questions along the way. She has also generously offered 15% off the pattern until this Saturday 20 December only which is now listed here in her Etsy store. Just enter the code FLEUR15 at checkout.

Unless you put all the dolls being showcased this week side by side, you mightn't realize that they were created from the same pattern, which is the beauty of it - it is such a versatile pattern and you are only limited by your imagination. I am having all manner of difficulty adding links and uploading photos to my blog at the moment, so if you would like to see more versions of this doll and to visit the remaining blogs in the hop, please do click through to Lisa's blog for a list of all the participants.

Aimee from Small Steps Big Noises has made a doll to give away to one lucky little person. Knowing how much work goes into creating these dolls, this is such a generous thing to do and captures nicely the spirit of this time of year. Please do go and enter for your chance to own your very own Fleur doll.

14 December 2014

Dr Seuss novelty prints winner

You do realize that the odds of winning something in the Sew Mama Sew Giveaway Day are pretty slim, don't you? Just think, of the 245 prizes up for grabs for international participants, there were hundreds more people in the group that missed out. But still, you gave it a shot and I admire that. If it's any consolation, you're in some fine company. Natalie Portman didn't win anything either.
Better luck next time, Nat.

My last giveaway winner was from the United States. This time, the fabrics will be winging their way across to western Australia. Congratulations, Janeta!  Thank you so much to you all for taking the time to enter my giveaway. A big hello to my new readers and likers on Facebook and Instagram, it is a good feeling to know people think I am worth a follow. I've also found one or two new (to me) blogs which is a nice bonus (that's just something us losers like to say).

Only six months until the next Sew Mama Sew Giveaway Day, maybe some of us will be lucky next time round.

08 December 2014

{Giveaway} Obseussed with Dr Seuss

Oh the places you'll go!
There is fun to be done!
There are blogs to visit and fabric to be won.
And the magical things you can do with this haul will make you the winning-est winner of all.

Go on, just leave me a comment telling me what you would do with this set of five Dr Seuss cotton fabrics. That's it. These are "Dr Seuss fat quarters", meaning they are slightly wonkily cut, but they are more or less 44x55cm/18x22" - and you may end up winning them all for free so who's going to complain about that?

Existing followers of my blog will qualify for two chances to win. New followers are always welcome, but this is not a requirement to enter the giveaway. If you are a follower (and I have come to know many of you quite well through our behind-the-scenes chats), please just leave a second comment telling me how you follow - (i.e. Instagram, Facebook and/or via Bloglovin or Google Friend Connect. As you can see from my GFC tally, this is an extraordinarily popular blog so why would you want to miss out on all the action?

A winner at the close of the Giveaway Day will be drawn randomly and announced on my blog. In the unlikely event of being unable to reach the winner after three days, I will redraw.

Open to international entries.

Giveaway closes at 2pm Saturday 13 December (NZDST)/5pm Friday 12 December (PST).

if you comment anonymously, I will be unable to contact you and your entry will be invalid so please leave an email address in your message. I reply to everyone who gets in touch with me, provided there is an email address link in their profile, but Giveaway Day can get a little crazy, so please take this as my personal acknowledgement to all you fabric hounds for stopping by.

Giveaway Day runs for the whole week so there is plenty of time for you to head to the other participating blogs and enter their giveaways. To view them all, go here. Have fun!

03 December 2014

Dairy | Egg | Nut-free recipe: Banana muffins

Here's a handy recipe to have to use up all those bananas. This can easily be made soy and gluten-free too without any trouble and they also taste great. Another variation I have made with success is adding chopped up chunks of Whittaker's dark chocolate to the mixture after the vanilla essence and milk has been added.

2 mashed bananas
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup oil
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
1/3-1/2 cup milk alternative

Line muffin tin with oiled paper liners or spray oil on non-stick muffin tins.
Combine mashed banana, sugar and oil together. Mix well.
Sift baking powder, cinnamon, flour and baking soda together.
Add dry ingredients to banana mixture alternately with combined vanilla essence and milk. Mix well.
Pour into muffin cases. Bake at 180°C for 20-25 mins (15 minutes is sufficient with the muffin tray size I use, so when making these for the first time, test your muffins with a skewer at this point).
Makes 12.

I dust my cupcakes with icing sugar once cooled but they are just as tasty plain, or you could add your own icing if preferred.

Recipe adapted from The NZ Food Allergy Cookbook and printed with permission from Allergy New Zealand. The cookbook retails for $40 and is available to purchase here.

27 November 2014

This is why we never go to restaurants

Blurry photo to match the haze of parenting these three.
For her birthday, Sienna asked to go out for dinner to a restaurant. This type of request is not ever undertaken lightly. We very rarely do this as we know that children + any eating establishment that requires reservations and that uses glassware and has carpet on the floor = exponentially high stress levels for the parents. This place even has tablecloths and no play area so you know it's classy. For a few days leading up to the event and even as we were getting out of the car on the night, we reminded the girls of how we expected them to behave otherwise someone was going to get it. We arrive at the restaurant with the plan to finish dining before we can disturb all the childless couples arriving to enjoy a quiet/romantic/insert-any-adjective-that-is-the-polar-opposite-to-dining-out-with-children dinner and, ideally, before anyone recognizes us. We sit down to our table but only after the children have run around it and under it several times and tested out all the chairs to see which one they want to sit on. The seating arrangements last just for a few minutes until they decide that actually, that other chair furtherest away from them does look more comfortable. I'm feeling pretty good having made it to this settling in phase using only my mildest hushed threatening voice.

Once they are all sitting nicely and can leave the cutlery and empty wine glasses alone, we offer the girls something to drink. From glasses. With bendy straws. I told you this place was classy. To their credit, they do remember to speak nicely to the waiter taking their orders, and only need reminding a few times to say please and thank you. We tell them several times to make that solitary drink last because it is the only one they are getting, but there must have been some deaf tonic thrown into the fizzy drink because they are emptied within minutes, so with nothing more to occupy them, I sit back and wait for the slippery slope of boredom to come beckoning while we wait for the other dinner guests in our party to arrive.

I love it when I can sit back and observe my children causing mayhem in the restaurant. It's delightful. I really feel like I have done my job as a parent. Because if children cannot behave decorously in public, then that surely is a reflection on how they have been parented, and usually the finger of poor etiquette points directly at the mother. You know it's true. We all know that Dads are just put on earth to teach them all the bad manners and that brushing your teeth only needs to happen the day before you have a dentist appointment. It's the yin and yang of parenting. So, when one of the girls lets out a burp at the table, my husband laughs, stopping short of giving her a hearty "That's my girl' pat on the back, but only because he sees my death stare. So, yes, these little cherubs sitting in the middle of a restaurant with straws shoved up their noses clearly learnt that trick from him, but I will be the only one at that table being silently judged by onlookers. With drinks downed, and straws banished, I wait for my favourite melody "When can we eeeeeaaat? and its harmony "I'm hunnnggrry" to start on repeat.

At this time of the year, this restaurant is offering Christmas-style buffet dinners, complete with sparkly Christmas crackers. After they have eaten their fill from the all-you-can eat buffet, the children are finally allowed to open them to play quietly with the treats that lie within - ha! The stuff of fairytales. Of course, someone wins a toy that the others all want so then there is a mad rush to ransack the remaining nine crackers at the table to see if there is an identical toy. There isn't. Never mind that we are on a rare outing on a school night with their younger cousins and they have just filled their tummies with some delicious food and a single flavoursome beverage, the measure of the success of the evening rests on whether we are going to leave with three tiny plastic soccer ball yo-yos.

So, once the bill has been settled, there is the small navigational issue of herding all the children back into the same lift simultaneously while correctly remembering whose turn it is to push the button and then out to the car without the need for any of them to practice their cartwheels in the hotel lobby or to have to go back up the lift to use the toilet because they suddenly remember they have a bladder or we need to find a missing shoe.

This is why we never go to restaurants. It is all just a bit too hard. We thought we were over the days of needing to bribe our children to behave in certain social settings. We're not quite there yet. We may need to wait another 12 months to see how far along the etiquette path we have travelled. In the meantime, it is strictly McDonalds drive-through for us.

26 November 2014

Easy vegan chocolate cake

This is a delicious never-fail chocolate cake recipe and surprises many people when they learn it is dairy and egg-free. I make this cake regularly and it is always a hit with everyone who eats it. Even if you are not vegan, it is a handy recipe to have for the times when you have no eggs or milk in the house and is very quick and easy to make so there is no excuse not to make it now is there?

1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla essence
1/4 cup cocoa
1/3 cup oil
1 cup cold water
1 tablespoon white vinegar

Combine all but vinegar and mix until smooth.
Fold in vinegar.
Bake at 180°C for 30-50 minutes depending on tin size (30 minutes is sufficient in a 22cm cake tin).

Icing - Combine sufficient icing sugar and cocoa to your taste and mix with hot water to desired consistency. Spread onto cooled cake.

Source: Essentially Food Feb/March 2005. Recipe given to me by our neighbourhood baking queen, Steph.

24 November 2014

DIY - Crochet name cake topper

1. Begin with a slipknot on your hook.
2. Feed the end of the wire through the slipknot and bend the wire back on itself so it stays in place. You may need to hold both the end of the wire and the yarn tail at this early stage while you start to crochet along the wire.

3. Pass your hook under the wire and do a single crochet.
4. Continue to single crochet along the wire until you have enough wire covered to begin forming some letters. (My capital letter is 6cm tall and the lowercase letters are 4cm tall).
Once you are happy with how the name looks, cut the yarn and the wire, leaving enough length on the wire to wrap it around one of the skewers. Tie off the yarn. Using your wool needle weave the yarn tails back through a letter to hide them.
Wrap the wire at each end around a skewer. Stand back and marvel at your amazingness.

20 November 2014

Foxes, bikes and bears oh my!

Our newest family member arrived into the world last month and even though I did not know whether he would be a boy or a girl at the time when I started my projects, I threw all my eggs in one basket and sewed some wee baby boy pants and a gown as gifts. If he had turned out to be a girl, I would have found a happy home for the clothes, I am sure.
Sewing with knits is still something I am still unaccustomed to, so this was a good opportunity to overcome my fear of the fabric and have some fun with some cute organic knits, especially the bike print which is a little joke for his cycling-obsessed Dad. I drafted a pattern for the pants and added some cuffs mainly because I wanted to hide the ugly crooked seams - ha! They turned out better this way so hooray for happy accidents. Of the three, my favourite item is the gown. Love the bear print, love the softness of the garment and love the envelope neckline. Love, love, love. The pattern I used for this one can be found here. I added some binding to the neckline and sleeves using some offcuts rather than turning down the seams and stitching. I would also say that the pattern size is on the generous side, and would probably fit a 3 month old as opposed to a newborn.

Welcome to the world, nephew. We had better pay you a visit before your Mum sees this on here and you've outgrown everything.

Come and see what other creatives have been up to over at the Queen of crochet's place.

19 November 2014

Dairy | Egg | Nut | Gluten-free recipe: Sables

This is a sweet recipe but come on, people on a gluten, dairy, egg and nut-free diet are already living a joyless life, so cut them some slack.

175g dairy-free margarine
75g caster sugar
1 pinch of salt
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
250g gluten-free flour

Put the margarine in a large bowl, soften and whisk until smooth.
Add the sugar, salt and vanilla. Whisk until fluffy.
Add the flour, mix well with a wooden spoon.
Using your hands, press mixture together to make a ball.
Remove from the bowl and press the mixture into a large sausage shape. Wrap it in cling film or tinfoil and cool in the freezer until firmer.
Unwrap, cut into slices about 6mm thick. Lay the slices on an oven tray lined with baking paper.
Bake for 10-15 mins at 200°C in top third of oven.

Melt 50g of dairy-free dark chocolate and drizzle from a spoon over the tray of cooled biscuits.

Makes 30 approx.

Recipe adapted from The NZ Food Allergy Cookbook and printed with permission from Allergy New Zealand. The cookbook retails for $40 and is available to purchase here.

17 November 2014

It's my blog and I'll be a nepotist if I want to

November is all about family. Two of my daughters have their birthdays, my husband and I were married and two of my close family members also have anniversaries this month. It's hard to believe that it is nearly a year since one of them got married. It was such a special day, made all the more so by the involvement of many friends and family putting their individual talents to good use. Take, for example my brother-in-law, Chris. He is quiet, very unassuming, and also very creative, having trained and gained qualifications in video editing. His skills have been put to use filming and editing the wedding of one of my other sisters and he also enjoys dabbling in surfing videography. 

He designed the invitations for his nuptials and tied in items of significance to the couple. Music is hugely important to them, and the fish symbolism represents their star signs but also Chris is a keen fisherman and surfer. Butterflies also have special significance to them and they featured everywhere, from the cake to the floral arrangements down to the guests seating plan. Being a self-confessed font geek, I really love the use of the different typefaces and the colours that he chose.
You may have noticed a little bit of a spruce up around here too. There's nothing like a bit of a banner change and injection of subtle colour to make a blog feel fresh and new again. It's looking more and more how I imagined this space to be when I first started blogging here over a year ago. While I've been happy to potter around teaching myself how to alter the look of my blog with the help of the internet and some of Simone's very useful tutorials at Greatfun4kids, I handed the design of my new logo over to my brother-in-law, who came up with this sewing concept - I really like the texture of the crumpled paper and even though I loved the old font, the new typeface is more legible when it is shrunk down into my profiles on Facebook and Felt, which is quite important and something I never even considered when I first started blogging.

I think Chris, like many men (and Kiwis in general), doesn't like to broadcast his talents but I just wanted to say that while his passion lies in surfing videography you need only look at what he created for his own wedding to know that his talents are much broader than that and if anyone was considering a new design concept for business cards or if you were looking for unique wedding invitations, I know he would be only too happy to discuss your ideas with you. Chris, if you are reading this, I hope you're not blushing too much at this unsolicited plug, you are talented and I hope you can live your dream.

After all, isn't that what we all want to do in life?

This is not a sponsored post, although I may receive some whitebait for Christmas lunch *eyebrow waggle*.

12 November 2014

A lesson in the art of perseverance

Thank you to everyone who commented and understood where I was coming from on my last blog post. I don't want people to think I was throwing myself a pity party, in fact, what I meant by being a number 4 was that I was feeling frustrated by an idea that I couldn't execute properly. So many ideas jostle around in my head so when I test something and it doesn't turn out how I imagined, I second-guess whether it was ever a good idea to begin with. Is it just a case of needing more practice? The alternative is to accept that there are some things that I simply cannot do well or at all - like drawing. I wish I could, but I really can't. I will continue to create because I enjoy it, but every now and again the voices plague me, as I am sure they do with everyone who has a dream that they want to fulfill. Self-doubt is such an obstacle; it can cause us to never finish something that may end up being quite good if only we trusted in ourselves more. Which leads me to this question:

How do you know whether to continue to pursue an idea or when it is time to cut your losses and move on?

I know the answer is going to be different for everybody. I experienced this very thing this morning when I spent two hours trying to get a woven label printed on my home printer so I could sew it on one of my buntings. I was forced to persevere because it is heading off-shore soon and noting its origin is necessary given where it will be displayed. There was little choice but to keep feeding fabric through the printer in the hope it would suddenly produce a clean label.

All I needed was one label. Just one.
It really did come down to me saying a few Hail Marys and telling myself that I'd have just one more go before resorting to Plan B (finding a good supplier who could make me some labels within a tight timeframe) or very unappealing Plan C (to send it without a label on it).I was just about to admit defeat, but then I asked myself: Would Tom Cruise give up? No he would not because he is the best of the best and keeps cool in crisis situations. So, I took that snippet of encouragement and gave it one more go.I really could not believe it when I saw this one come out of the machine. I stared at it, a little bit amazed that it had worked. I may have danced around the dining room with the Top Gun anthem blaring in my head. Thank you washi tape, thank you printer, thank you Tom Cruise.The lesson in all of this is that perseverance can pay off. This is all well and good for a one-off project like this one, but logic dictates that the smart thing to do is to pay someone to make the labels for my items. Would anyone have any recommendations for good quality woven labels that preferably are made here in New Zealand?

11 November 2014

I am number 4

Creatively speaking, I am feeling stymied. Sty. Mied. I lay awake into the small hours for two nights last week excited by the prospect of some creative ideas and then I check the internet and see that they've already been done and so I start to wonder if I will ever come up with a truly original concept. So, I forge ahead with one idea because I am stubborn like that, and I spend a whole day drafting a pattern and then another two days sewing it up. And still I am not happy with it. And I begin to wonder what is the point of reworking it at all when the cost and time to make it is going to chew into any idea of a profit, meaning the price would need to be raised so high that few would consider buying it. Hmmm. So, I quietly pack it all up and go back to the drawing board. It reminded me of this:
Sorry about the swearwords grandparents, my children and any future grandchildren.
So that was my week. I'll eventually arrive at number 6. Perseverance and all that.

I know two of your fridges are going to feel some love because Ellen Giggenbach's magnets are coming to live at your place. One set is off to Elizabeth in Sweden and the other (drum roll) is going to Amy at Love Made My Home *tickertape and rainbows streaming from the sky*.

Congratulations my EU buddies and thank you so much to everyone else who entered. I am so glad you love Ellen's work too. Renee and I spent a few hours on Saturday making up some of the projects, and I thought you might like to see how they turned out:
These are a definite 6 on the creative process continuum.

Enjoy your week everyone and come and say hi on Facebook too if you feel inclined. I just set it up last week and the Facebook strategists have cunningly decided that a minimum of 30 likes are needed before I can access my stats. Just sayin'.

06 November 2014

In love with Ellen Giggenbach

Browsing away on the internet the other day in my quest for unique birthday gift ideas, I stumbled across this amazing paper craft designer who is based in Eastbourne, near Wellington. She has an online presence - a website and Facebook page - but I had not come across her work before and I only live a stone's throw across the harbour. It always amazes me to discover such clever people right under my very nose. I spent so much time on her website in complete awe of all of the incredible work that this talented woman produces that I wanted to share my discovery with you as well. She has published books, moved into textiles with her own fabric line and has some homewares as well. I was reminded of some European influence when I saw them so I was not surprised to learn that she was born in Germany. I am so excited to know that there is someone living on this side of the world who makes such profoundly eye-catching and distinctive art. I really want this horse art, and some of the paper craft would look so great in my children's rooms.
Image reproduced with permission from Ellen Giggenbach.

I bought one of her books, Animals, which arrived too late to gift to my daughter on her actual birthday, and I have had to hide it for an extra day just so I can photograph it for you before it gets massacred.
My first impression is that it is a quality paper craft book. The cover lifts off and converts into a sturdy envelope in which to store half-completed projects or the pages that are still to be attempted. The paper is deliciously thick and hours of enjoyment shall be had transforming the pages into 3-D creations.  There are also stickers included to further embellish the various creatures such elephants and giraffes among many others including this pony - I'm in total love with it all!
The age guide is specified as 6+ which I think looks about right, although I suspect I will still be needed to assist with cutting some of the trickier curves. I have my eye on Ellen's other titles, where an entire zoo and town can be made and used for interactive play. I'm thinking they'd make amazing gifts for someone this Christmas.

This is in no way a sponsored post, I just love Ellen's work and I even emailed her to tell her so. This does not happen very often but I think that offering words of encouragement especially to independent designers who may feel isolated at times, is just nice for them to know that someone out there is looking at and admiring their talent. Not only did Ellen send me a gracious reply but she offered to send me some fridge magnets, which are like six pieces of miniature art. I have two sets to gift to my readers. I will have one giveaway on this blog and another on Instagram.
Magnet art may vary from those depicted here.

This giveaway is open to my international readers. I will draw a winner randomly next week. Good luck everyone.

03 November 2014


Somebody turns 7 this week. We had a small party over the weekend for her with just a few of her friends, which was all about bubbles. The party guests made their own bubble wands using straws and string and even got to experience what it's like to be inside a bubble.


My bubble pun was inevitabubble.
If you want to try this activity yourselves, you will need plenty of bubble mixture. We bought a one litre bottle from Moore Wilsons and probably could have gone through twice that amount. It's a German brand (so you know it's quality, right?) called Pustefix. We tried out several other cheaper bubble solutions too and made our own with dishwashing liquid, but this product gave the best results. We used the lid of our compost bin as the tray to pour the mixture into and laid down some timber to give a platform for the children to stand on. A hula hoop was dipped in the tray and formed bubbles large enough even for me to stand in.

If you decide to try this, the weather needs to be absolutely still. Also, try to set it up on grass. Calm days almost never happen in Wellington so we brought the activity indoors. Bubble solution + slippery platform = parent skidding in ungainly fashion on the concrete kitchen floor when stepping out of the tray. This happened just seconds after the same parent warned her children of the inherent dangers.

Shame-o. Shame-ifying. Shame-adelic.

What another big year you've had, Renee. Looking back on all the photos, I can really appreciate how much you have grown and that you lost both your front teeth along the way.

The year hasn't been without its worrying moments for your parents too, of course.
The last part of the year has been about that arm. It took several months to heal and prevented you from taking part in some after-school activities, but we know it won't stop you from taking on those monkey bars again, nor would we want it to.

Earlier in the year, you took part in a few activities for the first time including rollerblading, skating, the vertical bungee and running in the Magic Mile. You are now old enough to enter the Weetbix Tryathlon next year too, and it is something you are excited to be participating in with your older sister.
Ever the animal-lover, it has been decided that you shall get that pet rabbit that you have been wanting now for over two years. One day. When the hutch is finished. Lucky you're patient. Still, you couldn't contain your joy when the power tools came out of hibernation because you knew it was finally going to happen.Keep being that gorgeous little soul that you are, Renee. We love that you'll try anything at least once even if it might take you some convincing at times. Our twirler, loom band hoarder, gastronome and adoptive parent to the neighbourhood cats, we love you. A million times we love you.

23 October 2014

Baby doll dress and my new BFF

I am rewinding a month to show you the dress I made for Aimee to wear on her birthday. In amidst all the party preparation and baking, I decided to make her something to wear. Because, yanno, what's one more job to add to the to-do list? Admittedly, it was very tempting to just go and get her a store-bought Minnie Mouse dress-up costume, but then I remembered that I had a lovely pale pink cotton polka dot fabric sitting on my shelf. I sketched something that would be relatively simple to make but that would resemble a Minnie Mouse oufit - puffed sleeves, fitted bodice, full skirt. In the end, my design looked nothing like a Minnie Mouse costume at all but it is something she has happily worn since on a regular basis.
Heard of ironing? Me neither.
I sewed the dress with an elasticated neckline, which is quicker for me to do than sew a yoke and insert a button or zip at the back. The top part of the dress is effectively a peasant top with a shortened waist. There were many trial fittings to check that the dress would fit and after the patience of my model started to wear a bit thin, I decided to leave the elastic out of the sleeve casings and quickly hemmed them. The whole project was completed within an hour after dinner one evening.

What I was most pleased about was getting a chance to road-test my new gathering foot for my overlocker and discovering that it is my new best friend. I've owned a Huskylock S21 for a little over two years and still don't really know what it is capable of doing but it does look pretty sitting on my table and that's the most important thing. Using the gathering foot was either going to be a huge timesaver or I was going to end up spending more time than I wanted to hunched over my machine in frustration learning to make this contraption work properly.
Say hello to my little friend.
It is kind of scary-looking and I wasn't even sure which way round it was meant to go on the machine at first. I've put some fake sewing in to demonstrate some fake gathering so you can see how everything should look if you are as technically-challenged as me.
Before making this purchase, I had been doing the usual two parallel lines of basting stitches on my sewing machine first, then gathering and finally sewing the skirt to the bodice. The gathering foot does this all in one step and sometimes quicker is just better, I find. I need more practice to get the ruffles more even by adjusting some of the settings and needle tension on my overlocker but I am so happy to know that this machine can perform this function.
Aimee wears the dress to school the minute it has been washed (but not ironed) and put back in her drawer and it is slowly getting covered in paint and felt-tip stains, which only proves the point that she lives in it, and I kinda like that she likes it that much.

What have you been making lately? Come over and see what everyone else has been up to this week at Leonie's Show and Tell link-up.

15 October 2014

Tantrums and sore shins - and a flow-chart

Look guys, I don't want to sound like I am a doomsayer, but man, I just knew that kick in the teeth was coming. Except it wasn't my teeth, it was my shin courtesy of a surfboard with flailing arms and legs that looked suspiciously like my daughter. Far out. Fresh into the new term and I have borne the brunt of some rather spectacular hangry meltdowns outside the school gates two days in a row. Character-building stuff. But, please, for the love of my shins, let there not be a third time. Please.
Well, I didn't say it was a good flow-chart, but hopefully it gets my point across.
Having been so well-behaved for six hours, she just could not muster another 10 minutes of doe-eyed goodness. We only live about 50 metres away from the school, and she simply decided that was about 49 metres too far to walk. I could feel the judgey eyes of parents on me as I disciplined my child for hurting me (albeit accidentally), and guess what? It did not bother me at all. People can assume all they want about my parenting abilities; the bottom line is I have been tested far too many times to actually care what other people may think of me. Maybe I am just jaded from nine years of parenting, or maybe it can be put down to my star sign (sure, why not?), but if you mess with the bull, eventually you're gonna get the horns.

So we made it home finally, with only a few fence posts being apportioned some child rage at the injustice of the world and it was off to her room to calm down before she could join the rest of us for some afternoon tea. I wonder if martial arts are in her future? I should look into some lessons.

Now, my clearly amazing parenting skill-set and ability to handle pain aside, I've been thinking about the best way to handle a child whose temperament makes it much harder for them to deal with frustration and contain emotion. The key is to stop a tantrum before it gets started. So, this afternoon, I am going in prepared. There will be a small conciliatory bag of snacks ready to offer on that obviously exceedingly taxing 50 metre walk home. I could be setting myself up for more calamity because naturally, they will not be the right kind of snacks. I have completely scaled back after-school activities for this term and there will just be quiet time at home instead in preparation for the next school day.

So, if you see me on the school run today, smile, give me a wave and tell me I am doing a good job. I probably won't acknowledge your kind comment since I don't actually care what you think (remember??^^^), but inwardly I'll be crying tears of joy that at least someone is validating me on this thankless parenting journey.

24 September 2014

Sweet {stall} success

I'm going to let you all in on a little secret. One week into a new routine and I've discovered that there is no such thing as a routine, especially in a family of five. Between physio appointments for various ailments affecting different people, bugs and such-like, it is still in a state of flux around here that I am really looking forward to the school holidays next week just for the chance to enjoy some of that boring predictability.

On the plus side, Aimee has settled into school with ease. Alarmingly so. This is the child who cried almost every day for 18 months when I dropped her off at kindy. I would have to extricate her little arms from around my leg and quite often not succeed so would resort to walking across the room John Wayne-styles with her koala-fied to my leg to get the help of a teacher. It's funny now but so unpleasant at the time. I braced myself for something similar to happen at school. I don't want to sound all glass half-empty, but the transition has been just a little too easy and I find myself wondering when the curveball is going to be thrown in my face and smash a couple of my perfect teeth. By the end of the day, I have one very tired little five year old but each morning, she is the first one dressed and ready to go get 'em again. I hope that enthusiasm continues.

You might be wondering how a parent who has no preschoolers at home fills her days. I say quite easily, thanks for asking. Especially when one of my children announces she is going to have a fundraiser to help raise money for the new school playground. Our slightly abridged conversation over breakfast one Friday morning went something like this:

Her: "Mum, I've got a meeting with the principal this morning".
Me (vaguely alarmed): "What for?"
Her: "I want to have a lolly stall to raise money for the new school playground".
Me (quietly impressed): "Oh, that's a good idea. When are you doing it?"
Her: "Tomorrow".

Bless her. We managed to reschedule a more achievable date, which was Election Day and then set about purchasing sweets and sourcing donated goods for our stall. After chatting to a few knowledgeable people within the school community, we were able to use some surplus cellophane bags, lollipops and treats left over from the school discos, which helped to minimize our expenses. My sister and her husband also very kindly contributed two tins of sweets they received from the current Resene paint promotion. We used them for a lolly jar competition, and it was a very popular addition to the stall. Thanks, sis *mwah*.
We woke on Election Day to the sound of hail hitting our roof, and the weather did not improve at all throughout the day so I was surprised (but glad) to see so many children out and about with their parents as they passed through on their way to the polling booth around the corner. I didn't even realize that my husband had taken this photo, but I am glad he did because it's the only one that shows our stall before it was pillaged.

A number of other stalls were lined up with us underneath the school verandah, including a sausage sizzle, bake sale and lemonade stand. We all managed to make a combined total of about $1200, which was such a great achievement given the terrible weather.

Leading up to the event, I spent a few days huddled over the kitchen bench with the curtains pulled in case Nigel Latta showed up making all kinds of treats from quite possibly the most versatile sweet of them all, the humble marshmallow. Some were successful and very quick to make, like the Hello Kitties. I stumbled across a blog that showed how easy and effective marshmallow flowers are to make. Instead of skewers, I used a fruit stick so the whole flower was edible. Once I started making them, I couldn't stop; these are very addictive.

We also made lolly necklaces, cars from Moro and Crunchie bars with edible axles and marshmallow wheels, Jaffa flowers and the girls sat down with a friend one afternoon after school and created monsters using different types of lollies joined together with toothpicks. They had unique painted facial features using food colouring. These were a surprise hit. The fact that each individual monster was concealed in a plastic egg was really appealing to other children and they quickly sold out. In fact, everything sold within a couple of hours despite the miserable weather so my husband gallantly made three trips home to whip up some more bags of treats to top up our stall.
I didn't stop to think about photographing the stall items so these are the ones that I took throughout the week with my phone. In fact, if it weren't for my husband and the school principal, we would not have even had a photo of the stall itself on the day.

This was most definitely a team effort, a fun family activity and a very important lesson for all of us to see exactly how much is involved in fundraising. The whole exercise was very worthwhile even just to see my excited daughter and her friend proudly marching into the school office earlier this week to hand over the proceeds. Plus, we made it into the school newsletter. Ticked that puppy off the bucket list.

16 September 2014

Big Little Pixie Pants pattern and blog tour

This week is shaping up to be a goodie. I am one of several bloggers taking part in a week-long blog tour showcasing the latest children's clothing patterns from Lisa of Big Little. It is a good opportunity to discover other like-minded creatives - unless you're like me and following them already anyway. Even if you read nothing else I've written, be sure to read the last couple of paragraphs *eyebrow waggle*.

I've never met Lisa in person, but we share a love of beautiful fabrics and whimsical garments for children and if ever I could find as much beauty in the local secondhand stores as Lisa does with her thrift-shop finds, I'd be making many more garments out of refashioned clothing. As it is, I content myself with admiring her beautiful blog and the clothing she makes and sells in her store and on occasion, am lucky enough to test some of her patterns.

I have mentioned before that most of my girls' clothes are passed down to them from older cousins and so far, they are always excited to receive them. I do buy clothes when necessary, although nothing is more satisfying to me than being able to make something for them to wear. When I was invited to test the Pixie Pants pattern, I was quite excited firstly because I had a valid reason to eschew housework but also because I have never made pants before.

I know.
The pattern is easy to follow; it's a little like having Lisa right there next to you holding your hand which, for someone new to sewing pants, is quite reassuring. I would say a confident beginner would be able to tackle this with ease. To make these pants, I found that I actually had everything I needed in my sewing space, which is a rare thing. It made me realize that, while not very sexy, interfacing, white thread and 2.5cm elastic are quite important sewing supplies to have on hand, would you agree?When I cut out the pattern pieces, I had always intended for the scallop pattern on the fabric to align but it actually wasn't all that easy to achieve. Fortunately, due to the way the pants hang, it isn't all that obvious where the scallops don't line up.

I really love that the pants have pockets, because what little person doesn't like to stash their treasures? The contrasting fabric in the pockets is another detail that I really like on this pair, although there is the option to make them without pockets too.
All told, it took me an afternoon without children around to make these pants and I thoroughly enjoyed the process of putting them together. While they can be made from heavier fabrics for wearing in the cooler months, I opted to use a thin cotton fabric which makes them quite light and summery. Unlike Aimee's expression.
Thank you Lisa for allowing me to test the pattern for you. The pants are adorable and are a relaxed fit which is so important for my active child.

*LAST COUPLE OF PARAGRAPHS - Caution: may contain exciting, wet-your-pants information*
If you are eager to have a go at making a few pairs for your own children or other lucky little person in your life, you can enjoy 15% off the newly-released Pixie Pants and shorts variation in Lisa's store for the duration of the blog tour.  All you need is the coupon code PIXIEPANTS15, valid until Tuesday 23 September.Be sure to check back in on the Big Little blog next Tuesday for a giveaway too. I can't wait to see the other blog tour participants' versions. Tomorrow is the turn of a lovely fellow Kiwi blogger, Jenny at Mend and Make New, who not only makes cute clothes, but also really cute children. See you there.
Just for a bit more overkill, I am showing and telling at Leonie's this week.

09 September 2014

Minnie Mouse birthday party

Thanks for your supportive comments on my previous post. Four days, one birthday party and one official kindergarten farewell later, I'm feeling bouncy again and thought you might like to see how the party went.

For months now, Aimee has been fixated on having a Minnie Mouse party for her fifth birthday. Being reticent about buying items months in advance to tie in with party themes because I know how fickle most children tend to be, I decided to wait until the week before her birthday to hunt for supplies in case she changed her mind. She never once wavered from her decision. This girl knows her mind and I should never doubt that.
Rather than go too crazy with purchasing licensed products which are ridiculously expensive, I opted for the simplicity of polka dots and incorporated that idea in the decorations and food. Fortunately, over the years, I have built up quite a supply of polka dot decorations and tableware that tied in nicely with her theme.

Pink paper lanterns were perfect to hang in the house and I bought a packet of white round stickers that the girls used to decorate our front door.

There were the odd nods to Minnie Mouse in the paper cups and I made the personalised labels on the glass jars using Picmonkey and a free Disney font. Mickey and Minnie also welcomed the guests from their spot at the head of the table. I have had those soft toys since I was a little girl when my sister brought them back from her trip to the States and Disneyland.
In all, nine kindy friends came to help Aimee celebrate and on their way in they were invited to help themselves to some mouse ears that they could take home with them afterwards.

The table was covered in a polka dot fabric that I bought a few months ago from Spotlight and it was laden with Aimee's favourite food - cupcakes, cheese balls, sushi, popcorn, marshmallows, oreo biscuits, grapes, carrot sticks and hummus and lemonade.
At Aimee's request, the cake was chocolate and covered in pink icing with polka dots made from fondant. The cake was polka dotty inside too - this is a variation of the coloured dots cake that was popular on the internet a couple of years ago. I made vanilla balls in muffin trays first and then when they were cooled off, put them in a cake tin and poured chocolate cake batter over it and cooked it again. There's always that moment when you cut into a cake that's meant to have a hidden surprise in it but it turned out well and it was really tasty too.
It rained the whole day but there was a little break in the weather that allowed us to get outside to smash the pinata. Two hours flies by in record speed when there are so many little energetic souls sapping you of your own life source. My older daughters were tasked with overseeing the other games of musical statues, duck, duck, goose and pass the parcel. Now that they are a little older, they relish being given some responsibilities, although I did add an extra couple of layers to pass the parcel in case they decided they weren't too big to join in after all.
Happy birthday Aimee. What a livewire you are. We always joke that you have two speeds - fast and asleep. You are so capable for one so young. My spirited daughter, we are never left in any doubt as to how you feel at any given moment. You are about to embark on a whole new stage of learning. It is bittersweet to see you grow up, but it is time for you to join your sisters at school and I know that with the right guidance, you are going to soar. We love you. Always and forever.