Wednesday, 25 April 2012

The button lady

Every month at the church hall behind my house there is a vintage / antique / craft fair that takes place. I always try to pop along on a quiet Saturday just to see what treasures I might find! There's a nice lady who always has a stall, I have nicknamed her the button lady. She has a table full of vintage buttons, brooches and sewing memorabilia and there are always sweet gems to be had. She says her kitchen is full of buttons that she can't move! I like that thought.

This week I went along with my husband and his parents. It turns out my mother in law also has an eye for a good button. She is a counsellor and apparently they are very useful during her sessions with clients. She asks them to pick out a button that represents a certain person or emotion - it could be the colour, texture, size or feel that relates to them. Interesting fact!

So we went along and these were the buttons that caught my eye. The first set are so lovely and vintagey while these ones just had a lovely colour to them. I'm not sure what I'll do with them but it was nice to come home with a treat. There was also another lady who sells handmade chutneys, cooking sauces and jams. We picked out an amazing sweet potato chutney but we've eaten it all so I can't show you! All the more reason to take a trip back next time!

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Celebrating Stationery!

I am a huge stationery fan. Remember back in school, at the beginning of term when you got to buy a new pencil case? I was the one carting around the matching binder, pen, pencils, eraser and stickers! Then, when I started taking exams I so enjoyed creating colour coded revision cards, revision timetables and mind maps... whether I ever did any revision is a different matter!

Anyway, it has come to my attention that today is National Stationery Day, so I thought I'd do a quick round-up of my favourite paper goods on the web. And because I like to shop locally, they're all from amazing artists and crafters in my home town on London! Ready? Let's Go!

**WARNING: Reading beyond this point may cause damage to your bank balance!**

Cherry Notelets from Marby & Elm
The meaning of my family name is 'Cherry' in German so I've always liked cherry motifs (don't like real cherries though - yuk!). I like the idea of sending cherry notes!

Ideas Notebook from Typescale
Everyone needs a little notebook to jot down their creative ideas, and this one will do nicely! Love the yellow (does yellow encourage creativity?)

Printable Thank You Note Cards from lfhstudio

I'm not normally a fan of printables - I don't have a decent printer and am not that savvy when it comes to resizing etc etc so what should be really simple and quick seems like quite a stressful and daunting process! But for these designs I could be tempted! Lilac was the colour of my wedding and I would have loved to have sent these to our guests had I have seen them five years ago - although the advantage of printables is that you can choose your colours!

Sweet Tulips from Valeasc
These are a little bit retro but I love the precision and simplicity of them. Makes me want to write some nice little notes to my friends for no reason!

Typewriter Greeting Card from I Love Paper Heart
And because I'm a writer I love retro typewriters. This is a card that I not only would love to send, but I'd love to receive as well! Just wish I had a real one!

Know of any other amazing stationery designers out there? Would love to see!

Friday, 20 April 2012

How to... Make the Perfect Latte at Home

My Starbucks addiction habit has been going for about 10 years. It started when I was in college - not quite old enough to go to the pub (legally), but a bit too old for hanging out at McDonalds. It was also a pretty good place to bunk off a 9am English class when I bumped into a friend on my way there! Now, I'm a bit of a contradiction because I'm not a big coffee drinker, so I began with hot chocolates. Then about 6 years ago my friend introduced me to the wonders of the Chai Tea Latte, and that's when the habit kicked in - there have been periods when I would buy one on the way to work every day and at £3.35 a time, that's not cheap!

In the last year I ventured into the world of coffee (one day, my local Starbucks ran out of Chai!) and now my special order is a Grande Half Shot Soya Vanilla Latte. Bliss.

Anyway... my Starbucks habit was getting expensive. Over the last 10 years I have probably given near on £7000 to that big corporation and so we decided last week that enough was enough! If I can't live without lattes, then we'll make them cheaper at home. Now it did require a bit of initial outlay, but in the long run I'm hoping to save millions. :)

So, off we went to John Lewis and we bought a DeLonghi ECO310.R Icona Espresso Coffee Machine in Red. (I'm in love with the red, it matches my red cupboards.)

And because I know you're all dying to know how it works, I'm going to show you how to make the perfect latte!

1. Once you've filled up the water tank at the back, switch the machine on and place your pretty mug on the mug warmer at the top (Mine's from Anthropologie). Apparently it's important to warm your mug first and I'm happy to oblige because I think it helps!

2. I'm a big vanilla fan, so I popped down to my local Starbucks and got some of their lovely syrup.

Funny story: We recently moved house within East London which meant I changed my local Starbucks. After about four months, I went in and a barista from my old Starbucks had started working shifts at my new Starbucks... she remembered me and my order! That gives you an idea of how much of a regular I was. I wonder if when I bought the syrup they realised they were losing one of their best customers!

Anyway, I find that you don't need a lot of syrup, (you know in Starbucks they do two pumps?) just pour a little bit in, enough to cover the bottom of your mug.

3. Scoop ground coffee into the filter. Don't overfill it, but make sure it's filled level to the top. On the side of the machine there's a disc that you can press it against to pack the coffee down. Again, don't pack it too tightly. Too tight and the water won't be able to get through, too loose and it will pour through without filtering through the coffee.

4. When the green light shows, press the button. The machine might grumble a bit but the coffee should come out. When you've got the desired amount, press the button again to make it stop.

5. Now's the fun part - frothing the milk. You'll need a stainless steel milk frothing jug for the best effect (I don't know the exact science behind it but it just doesn't work as well in a ceramic or plastic jug - plus it gets pretty hot as the steamer heats the milk as well.) You don't need a lot of milk, it triples in volume as it froths so don't fill up the jug to the top! 

A barista friend recommended for perfect latte milk, stick the nozzle right down to the bottom, as it froths up bang the jug on the sideboard - this pops the bigger bubbles and makes more room. Gradually move the jug up and down to make sure the froth gets heated too. When the jug is just a little bit too hot to touch (probably takes about 30 - 40 seconds) then the milk should be hot enough for your latte.

6. Pour the the frothed milk into your mug about two thirds of the way up. Then pour in your coffee and top up the drink with any leftover frothed milk.

7. Curl up on the sofa with a good book and your perfect latte!

The cost of a perfect latte:
Tesco Colombian Roast and Ground Coffee 227g £2.99 (lasts about 3 weeks)
Alpro Soya Milk £1.19 (lasts about 1 week)
Starbucks Vanilla Syrup £3.75 (lasts about 4 weeks)
Total: £138.04
(obviously once you've bought the machine it's pennies per latte!)

So, say I have to replace the machine once every 5 years (is that optimistic?), over 10 years I will spend:
Alpro Soya Milk £618.80
Starbucks Vanilla Syrup £450
Total: £1853.73
(Assuming the cost of milk doesn't drastically increase!)

Which makes a daily latte about 50p a time!
So over the course of 10 years I save... £5146.27

Cost of the early morning coffee spent with the husband... priceless.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

I'll bring you flowers...

It was recently my birthday and I received four (yes four!) lovely flower bouquets. It made me want to have flowers in my house at all times...

... So I am! My husband has been lovely and allowed me to buy flowers for our lounge.

My favourite flowers are roses - even when they're on their way out, they still look lovely all opened up like this. My other favourite flower is the tulip, but is it me or are they really expensive this year? Is there a tulip crisis in the world?

If you also like tulips, or pictures of any type of flower, check out Jane Brocket's blog. She has the most amazing photography and lovely crafty, yarny, quilty goodness. When I first happened upon her blog a few years ago, I read the whole archive in one sitting... yes, it's that lovely! 

Friday, 13 April 2012

How to... Dye a Klippan Sofa Cover (without failing miserably!)

When we moved into our flat in December it was unfurnished, and well, we had nothing. We've always lived in furnished places, and not necessarily nice furnished places either so we were looking forward to putting our own stamp on things. However, like most people, we can't afford to go out and purchase our dream furniture all in one go, so when a friend offered to sell us her old Ikea Klippan sofa for £40, we were very thankful.

However, our friend has young kids so by the time this sofa reached us it had had its fair share of mess and dirt, and being cream, it was grubby to say the least! We didn't mind though, cover it with a few quilts and you're good to go. But this Easter we started making a few home purchases and I wondered whether dying the sofa would be a viable option. After a quick google, I found that other people had done the same thing here and here, but I couldn't find much UK based advice, except for this useful thread.

To be honest, I still embarked on my experiment with a fair amount of trepidation! It seemed like everyone was asking the same questions and some people were experiencing great success whilst others were failing miserably. And of course there's so many variables! Is my washing machine big enough? How much does my fabric really weigh? What colour is the safest option? Will the stains dye the same as the clean(ish) bits?

I figure at the end of the day, you just have to jump right in. I will say, you probably won't get absolutely perfect results, but you'll be able to brighten up your home and save a few quid rather than forking out on a new cover (which is almost as much as a new sofa!).

So, without further ado, let's get started! Here's how my sofa began its colour change journey. You can't really see it in the photo but it was pretty grubby.

You will need:
Dylon Fabric Dye - Machine Use
I was a bit scared of filling my bath with dye and the washing machine kind seemed like the easier option at the time. I chose Antique Grey because firstly, if I were buying a sofa new, I would choose a grey one, and secondly, I thought a darker colour would be more likely to cover up the grubbiness.
According to the Ikea website, my sofa cover weighed 2.2kg. For 2kg of fabric, Dylon recommends four boxes of dye. As I was particularly nervous about it coming out patchy, I went for five to be on the safe side.

You only need 500g of salt, however much dye you're using. Don't buy over a kg of salt because you think you need 500g per box of dye (like I did!).
I didn't bother with this because my sofa was cream, but if you're dying fabric that's already a darker colour, you'll need this to first dye it to a more neutral shade.

Things to think about:
Normal colour mixing rules apply, so if you have red fabric and you dye it blue, you'll end up with purple.

And then the process is simple:
1. Wash your sofa cover first to get rid of any existing dirt. I put mine on a 60 degree wash in the hope that it would get as much out as possible!
2. Take it out the machine. I would recommend you give it a good shake out. I didn't do this and the creases ended up being dyed into the cover!
3. Empty the dye (it's powder) into the bottom of the drum and layer the salt over the top. Put the cover back in the machine (still damp) and set the machine to a 40 degree cycle. Don't add any detergent and make sure the machine isn't set to an economy cycle.
4. Once finished, add detergent to the machine and wash it again.
5. Hang it up to dry.

I was a bit scared because it came out looking really black when I wanted grey, but it wasn't patchy so I couldn't complain. However, once it dried it was of course a shade lighter.

Because it's quite heavy fabric it took a good three days to totally dry.

6. Give it a good iron. This is hard work because it's so big and heavy, but once you've got the majority of it done, put it on the sofa, tuck it all in and then iron it on.

7. Buy some nice colourful cushions and stand back to admire your handiwork!

Now, don't get me wrong, if you look closely the results aren't perfect. As I said, the creases are dyed in and there are some tiny bits which are either a bit greenish or tiny smudges of cream, luckily they're not in obvious places.

Overall though, I'm pleased with the results. It looks much better than it did and it fits in better with the colour scheme I'm aiming for.

Ikea Klippan Sofa - £40 (Secondhand)
Dylon Machine Wash Dye, Antique Grey - £24.95 (£4.99 per box, Wilkinsons)
Salt - 79p (Sainsburys)
Cushions - £10 (BARGAIN: 2 for £10, Wilkinsons)
Total: £75.74

I think that's pretty good considering the sofa is included in that budget!

Have you ever dyed anything big? Did you use the hand dye method or washing machine? What worked? What didn't?

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

I'm learning...

I haven't been here for a while, you won't have seen me on Twitter either. Sometimes real life takes priority over virtual life and you have to drop everything that you thought was important just to make sure you get through each day - which is, well, more important.

The past few months have been a real learning curve for me and I'm not at the end yet. I don't normally post personal things, but sometimes as a writer, you just have to write, and release it into the world and see what happens. So this is what I'm learning:

I'm learning that sometimes life doesn't work out the way you want it to, the way you think it should,or the way you think is fair. That sometimes bad things happen to good people, and that good things happen to not-so-good people.

It doesn't even work out the way you had planned. That timeline that you had in your head? Not. Gonna. Happen. There will be twists, turns, diversions, bumps in the road, but it's the hope that you might just get there eventually that keeps you moving, because you know you can't stay where you are.

I'm learning that even when you do everything right, it can all go so very wrong.

I'm learning that there are questions that will remain unanswered, and however much you, or anyone else with the best of intentions, tries to explain things away, all that will remain is the gaping sense that you don't know. You can't see the bigger picture as much as you try and as much as you wish you could.

I'm learning that time isn't a healer, it doesn't magic the past away and it doesn't hurt any less, you just, if you're lucky, learn to cope with it better.

I'm learning that grief catches up with you eventually and that thing that you thought was grief at the time? It wasn't. Maybe it was shock, maybe it was survival or just sadness, or just ignorant bliss. But eventually grief arrives, suddenly, without warning, gripping you intensely and unearthing all those feelings, emotions and fears that you thought you had dealt with.

I'm learning that that moment when you think you're ok, is just prior to you realising that you're really not.

I'm learning that just when you think you cried all the tears that there were to cry, another dam breaks and more come gushing forth.

I'm learning that sometimes it's good to be selfish, because you're doing the world, your world, a favour if you look after yourself and try to get back on track, for you.

I'm learning that the world doesn't understand. It carries on spinning with all its inhabitants happily on the merry-go-round. It forgets so quickly and ceases to ask how you're doing. Ceases to offer its support or offer its advice... not that it was any good anyway.

I'm learning that empathy will always be better than sympathy and that no one else has walked my particular journey, neither can they nor will they.

But I'm also learning that there are a few precious angels who are always there, always understand, never judge and are ever-patient.

I'm learning that you're stronger than you think you are.

I'm learning that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and that even when you think you might just collapse and die, you don't. You wake up to another day, you go to work, you smile and you keep on, keeping on and on and on and that maybe the rest of the world is doing exactly the same.

I'm learning that when you're at your end, and you've no more words to utter, that God knows, He hears and He cares and that Jesus intercedes on our behalf.

And I'm hoping that 'God does cause everything, even this, to work together for the good of those who love Him' (Romans 8:28) because right now it doesn't feel good, but maybe one day, with hindsight we'll see the purpose.

I do know that despite all of this, God is good and he does good things, which means He didn't cause this set of circumstances, but that he will use it to His glory.

I'm learning to trust, to hope and to dream. To get up and try again. That, maybe it's true that 'It will all be ok in the end, and if it's not ok, it's not the end'.

I'm learning to stay on the path.

"Stay on the path that the LORD your God has commanded you to follow. Then you will live long and prosperous lives in the land you are about to enter and occupy" ~ Deuteronomy 5:33