Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Mutton stew

fry 1 onion and 2 cloves garlic
add chunks of mutton
season with salt, pepper
add crumbled stock cube
"enough" hot water (I've never measured -- I guess about a pint? A lot gets absorbed by the lentils)
~8 carrots chopped
3 tbsps green lentils

I really like the lentils as thickener. I've never had much success with using cornflour, and the flavour of the lentils works really well with the mutton. I've also added leftover chicken to this and it was great. 

eta: d'oh, forgot to say how long to cook it for. I start about 2 hours before I want to eat, and simmer with a lid on once everything's in

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Advent calendar

I've wanted to make an advent calendar for years. I seem to follow this pattern where every now and again through the year I think about making one, but it seems too soon to start, then I start making halloween costumes, and suddenly advent has started and it's "too late". Well this year I didn't let "too late" stop me:

There are 24 pockets, 15 in the tree, 2 in the trunk, 6 in the base and 1 big one in the star. Each pocket is made of standard English paper piecework shapes, drawn on squared paper. The "hexagons" are actually a close approximation*; they're slightly taller than a real hexagon, which ended up working better for the form of the tree -- the base is shorter than the sides.

Each pocket is lined with the same shape, so it requires 34 hexes, 6 truncated hexes (that's what I'm going to call the top pockets of the base), 6 rectangles, and 12 small diamonds as well as the background fabric (which I cut to shape after having attached all the pockets).

I used English paper piecework to sew each row of pockets together, the linings together, the pockets to the linings, and then the whole lot to the backing fabric:

I love the handmade look of the stitching.

I only bought a metre of bias tape (I needed 1.75m), so I cut the bias tape in half along its length. It worked really well, and in fact the original would have been too broad. Normally I'm quite lazy about these things, but I was so glad I took the time to sew the back of the tape down to the fabric

 before trying to sew down the top:

I would have absolutely wrecked my head trying to sew that sucker down and catch the fabric between. Too many curves!

It's hanging from a plastic hook I saved from some kind of packaging

The final detail is the embroidery around the star:

I'm not usually one for repeating a project like this, but I really enjoyed it, and I'm delighted with how it turned out. Maybe the kids will have one each by the beginning of advent next year!

* You can't make a real hexagon the right size from the squares I was using (1cm). After some trial and error I came up with a shape I'm happy with.

I'm finding it very hard to describe in words, but it's made of a rectangle of 10x6 squares with two triangles 10 squares wide and 3 squares high. Still not very clear, but if you'd like me to have another go at describing it leave a comment.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Easy lamb burgers

1 lb minced lamb
2 slices gluten free bread, crumbed (you may need to adjust the amount if you use normy bread)
a splash of soy sauce (I'd guess I used 5 - 10 ml)
1 onion finely chopped
1 egg

mix everything together by hand
form into patties (I got 12 smallish burgers)
bake at 200 degrees C for 25 minutes

K refused to give them a proper try, but P ate 2. C declared that if he'd been served these burgers in a nice restaurant he'd have been delighted.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Lwaxana's dress

In case you haven't been following along I made myself a costume based on Lwaxana Troi's first appearance in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

I had so much fun making this dress, and I'm delighted with the outcome. 

The first task was finding a suitable fabric. I didn't want to spend €100 on a one-off dress, so I scoured the fabric shops looking for something suitable. To be honest, I didn't even find much that I wished I could buy but couldn't afford. Next stop, home furnishings. There were a couple of curtain sets that I considered, but the texture was either much too heavy or much too stiff. In the end I found tablecloths that fit the bill pretty nicely (though as you can see from the fall of the train, it's still a bit stiffer than Lwaxana's dress). 

I bought a large rectangular tablecloth, but I wasn't certain I could get the train out of it as well as the rest of the dress, so I bought a circular one too. I was really glad I did, because I was able to use the scalloped edge for the hem (is it a hem, if you don't hem it?) and the circular table cloth meant I had a nice round scalloped edge for the train.

I spent a lot of time getting the bodice right. I made fewer mockups of my wedding dress! I think I got the shape right, but the drape of the fabric is different enough that it sits a little differently. Similarly with the sleeves, I don't think they're actually too long, but Lwaxana's fall more softly.

After a lot of staring at screenshots I concluded that the sleeves on Lwaxana's dress are made of two pieces, sewn top and bottom. This realisation sorted out a niggling issue I was having with the sleeve pattern, because I knew I needed to add slope to the top as well as the bottom.

If I was doing it again I'd make the sleeve holes a little smaller, but they're not terrible. That rope sure did take a lot of hand-sewing to make it sit where I wanted it though. The belt is a separate piece of rope, sewn on from just under the zip up nearly as far as the waist; it's also sewn on for about an inch from the top edge. The rest hangs loose until the zip is closed.

The skirt is amazingly simply constructed, a rectangle on the front, and two rectangles on the back with the train inserted into the back seam. I tried that construction in a mockup because that's what it looked like to me, and I was a bit surprised when it gave exactly the shape I was hoping for. I cut the skirt pieces long enough to fold the top over to make a channel for the waist elastic. I did think to attach the skirt to the bodice before inserting the elastic, but then discovered that the bodice was too long so ended up working with an elasticated waist anyway. It would have made sense to remove the elastic before adjusting, but I didn't, and I suffered for it.

Still, one of my greatest sources of pride in the dress is that waist. I could see from some of the screenshots that her dress is elasticated, and I was delighted when I figured out that combining an elasticated waist with a zip would hold up the skirt and allow the bodice to sit loosely.

The other great source of pride is the train. I wasn't sure how to do a train, and for some reason I didn't go look it up. I had decided to install the zip, and then see how much length was left in the back seam. It was about 32"*; the diameter of the circular tablecloth I had bought was 70". That meant that if I took a semi-circle I'd have 3" extra length at the centre of the train. That seemed like too much to me, and I must have spent an hour on the geometry of circles trying to figure out where to make the cut. In the end I cut it in half, sewed from the bottom edge to near the zip on each side, and added a few neat tucks **. The train only got stood on twice, so if it's too long, it's not by much :)

I'm so delighted with this outfit, and I had brilliant fun wearing it at Shamrokon. If you've ever considered cosplay I'd encourage you to give it a go, and feel free to get in touch if you could use a helping hand (or indeed, the services of a seamstress).

* I am completely in favour of the metric system. I realise that the imperial system makes no sense, but for some reason inches is what I gravitate to when dressmaking.

** Which I somehow managed to not lose my wits over

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Shamrokon photos

I just got back from Shamrokon and I want to post the photos I have of the whole costume. I'll put up a post about how the dress itself was constructed soon.

And for reference:

Not bad eh? What do you think, Lwaxana?

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Lwaxana's jacket

The jacket was actually the first thing I finished. While I was still at a loss for what fabric to use for the dress I found a curtain in a charity shop that looked good for the jacket. It was the wrong colour, but it looked like it might take a dye and be a reasonable approximation.

I don't have a really good photo of it, so this will have to do for the moment.

I'm very pleased with the construction of the jacket, even if the colour isn't quite right, and it's not quite long enough. After careful study of screenshots, I'm pretty confident that this is very similar to the way the original was constructed. If you can't tell, it's a rectangle of fabric with the bottom corners brought up to the side of the neck, then sewn to the top edge from collar to cuff.

Now, I have about a metre and a half of rope to sew on by hand, so I'd better get back to it.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Lwaxana's hair

I have short hair, as I'm sure Majel Barrett had when she first swanned onto the enterprise. Lwaxana, however, has a beautifully arranged wig.

I found a hair piece I could justify the cost of, that was a pretty reasonable approximation of my own hair colour. Having spent a couple of hours arranging it and sewing on a trim, I realised I had split it to the wrong side :(

But you know what? It will do.

I'm actually very please with the effect. It's not exactly the same styling, but I think it captures the spirit of the 'do.

The colour, as I said, was a pretty close match, but when I put it on it looked very "wiggy". I've dyed my hair to more closely match and it's wigging me out a bit (see what I did there?). No-one, not even me, would look at me and think I'd changed my hair colour, but when I put the wig on it looks *much* better. Weird!

You'll have to wait till the costume is done to see it on me though.

Daughter of the fifth house, holder of the sacred chalice of Rixx, heir to the five rings of Betazed!

I have decided to cosplay as Lwaxana Troi for Shamrokon. I am very excited, because I have never been to a con before, and while I have wanted to cosplay since I first heard it was a thing, I've never had a real opportunity before.

I was originally thinking of going as Nausicaa (from the Studio Ghibli film), but I wasn't super comfortable dressing as a young girl. I'll save the notes and fabric I had gathered for that costume for an actual little girl.

I briefly considered a Star Trek uniform but then I realised Lwaxana would be much more fun. She's a brilliant character full of life and flaws and complexity. And her clothes are amazingly bonkers.

I decided to go with her first appearance in Star Trek: The Next Generation. A first season episode called Haven (see also the hilarious summary at Fashion It So) . It has a ludicrous plot, and Lwaxana completely steals the show.

I chose the outfit she arrives in, because the one she changes into is a bit less interesting, and the back is completely open, which looks like it might get cold.

I found this pattern (which to be I honest, I kind of suspect was actually cogged from Lwaxana here. Check out the belt and shoulder gaps on the long blue one, and compare to the two screenshots below). It's been useful for inspiration, but I have a little bit of buyer's regret because I've had to alter it so much. It's also forced me to do a mockup of the dress, which goes against my lazy-ass-maker principles.

Making a full costume like this is an expensive business, even though I've made the jacket from a dyed piece of a second hand curtain, and the dress is made of tablecloths. Fake hair, contact lenses, rope for that wonderfully off-the-wall trim. It adds up. I was seriously tempted to buy a suitcase that was a bit like this one, but I have no Mr Homn to carry it, and Lwaxana would never carry her own suitcase.

Screenshots are from the fabulous http://trekcore.com/ (except the one of her back, which isn't on trekcore and I had to get from a youtube video).

Stay tuned for photos of the costume.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Like you

That is not quite your walk,
But for a moment
Wishing overcame remembering.

That is not quite your car,
But for just a moment
I really thought it might be.

That is really very like
Something you would wear
Very like your hair.

I felt a jolt of hope
Slip suddenly into disappointment.
I fooled myself again.
So briefly, so achingly like you.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Burn baby burn

I mentioned in a previous post that I had made a skirt from a fabric of unknown composition. Since I wanted to list it in my Etsy shop I really wanted to know what it was made of. A little Googling led me to this wonderful site. I followed their directions and was delighted to get fairly definitive results.

They point out that fibre blends are often simply constructed of one material as warp and the other as weft. So I separated the two in my sample, and sure enough the first one burned and charred, gave off an odour of burning paper, and left soft black ash; indicating linen or mercerised cotton. I already suspected linen, and the fibres are matt rather than shiny. So linen in one direction.

I couldn't see an obvious difference between the two directions of fibre, but I decided to burn the second set for completeness. Well I'm glad I did, because the second set burned and melted, gave off an odour of vinegar, and left hard black ash; indicating acetate or triacetate.

It was rather exciting to be able to get so much information from such a simple test.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Making bias tape

I've been making circle skirts lately, and one very important thing about circle skirts is the flow. If the hem is too heavy it will stiffen the bottom of the skirt and it just won't fall well. My favourite solution is bias binding. I've been making my own, and today I got really detailed about it, so I thought I'd take some photos and post the process.

Tip 1: Use bed sheets
First, you need wide fabric, or you'll have to cut lots of short strips. I've been saving old bed sheets (and sometimes buying new flat sheets on sale) for making stuff out of, and they're a great source of much-wider-than-usual fabric.

Tip 2: Check your angle
Then you need to fold your fabric along the diagonal. If you want to avoid puckering you need to get this angle right. The grain should be at 45° angle to the folded edge.

I used the 45° triangle from a maths set. It's worth fiddling with this to get it right, because small mistakes in the angle will result in puckering when it comes to sewing on the binding.

I have a tool (something like this) for making bias tape, and it requires a strip 48mm wide. I usually bodge this number to some extent, but I really felt like being exact tonight. So I got out my rarely-used rotary cutting tool and cutting mat*. My metal ruler is about 55mm wide, so I added little notches at either end to help line it up with the edge:

I can hardly make out the notch myself in this photo, but there's something I like about the composition so I'll leave it in :)

* my favourite sound in all the world is a good scissors cutting through two layers of fabric on a smooth table. Rotary cutting tools are all very well, but they will never replace my scissors in my heart.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Circle skirt and Etsy shop

I have finally opened my Etsy shop. There are only two items there right now, and the photos are terrible*, but it's a start. The first item I added is a custom wedding fascinator, and the second is a circle skirt.

The skirt was originally supposed to be for me, but I forgot to make an adjustment and ended up with a skirt about 4" too wide. I hope someone gets to enjoy it, it really is a lovely skirt.

It's up for sale here on Etsy. The pocket is made from one of the semi-circles I cut out at the waist, which pleased me no-end. I was going to use the button as the waist closure, but I didn't think it would work well in the long term so I decided to add it to the pocket for interest.

The main fabric is quite heavy (I'm going to do some experimentation later tonight to see if I can identify its composition) so I didn't want to hem it and ruin the flow of the skirt; instead I made bias-binding from a sheet I've been saving for its wonderful colour.

* my daughter tells me the photos are not terrible, so let's just say they leave a lot of room for improvement.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Wedding fascinator

My spell check doesn't like the word 'fascinator', and I don't blame it. It's slightly better than "head thingy", which is what I've been going with up till now.

I mentioned in March that I was working on a crochet project. Now that the bride has had a chance to wear it I'm ready to share photos :)

I learned some basic lace-making for the purpose. I'd be happy to post a tutorial if anyone wants one (leave a comment). The bride's favourite flowers are all very difficult to crochet flat, but I'm quite happy with the amaryllis design I came up with (see the aforementioned post). The design on the other side is not representative of anything in particular; it was inspired by some lovely images of crochet I found on the web. There's a tiny shamrock in one corner for luck.

I'm open to the idea of making these by commission, if you'd be interested please leave a comment or take a look at my Etsy shop.

ETA: photos from the wedding

Wednesday, 23 April 2014


The Art Assignment is an excellent project based largely on YouTube where professional artists give assignments to the audience. I've been following since the beginning, but I've never submitted anything before. This is my poem for the Quietest Place episode.


“Walk to the quietest place” he said.
I would, but walking won’t help.
My whine comes with me
Growing louder as I feed it with attention.
I can go to the quiet places
But I won’t find silence there.

“I would if I could” I said,
But would I?
I didn't meet in the middle.
But here I am doing by not-doing
Because I hear what isn't there.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Sneak peek: crochet amaryllis (flat)

This is a sneak peek at a project I'm working on. I'm very happy with this crochet pattern I came up with for an amaryllis flower, so I want to share it now. I've never tried writing a crochet pattern down before, so please let me know if anything's unclear.

ch 4 and join with a sl st in a ring
sc 9 around ring
ch 15, join with 3rd stitch on ring 3 times (making frame for front 3 petals)
finish each petal:
      sc 12 around ch of petal frame
      ch 1, dc around petal frame, ch 1 (making petal point)
      sc 12 around ch of petal frame
sl st your way to the centre ring, in the middle of the 1st petal
make another 3 petals as above

Friday, 10 January 2014

A brief literacy narrative

I see you reading cereal boxes 
and I remember that desperation for text
First thing in the morning
Give me something to suck into my brain
as I suck the final sugar-frosted honey flakes
up with the sweetened milk.

Anything: the oft-read pulp on the box
Its meaning as nutritious as the contents.
I slide a book over to you
Not the ideal one for the circumstance,
I'll think harder about it next time.

I should probably think harder about the 
contents of the bowl.