It’s a boy!

Well, there was a 70% chance that it would be, but it’s interesting to know for sure…

Yes, the first flowers on my monkey cup have finally opened and revealed themselves to be male. Only having one plant I knew I would never be able to have babies, but the flowers are interesting to see.

I noticed this morning that one of the best places to see this plant from is in the shower, so I climbed back in the shower once it was dry and you can see how many lovely new leaves are appearing.

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growing some new leaves

It’s currently not forming new pitchers, but hopefully we’ll have lots more later in the year once the flower is done.

Making, but not excessively

By Patricia Collins

Dorothy was 89 when I asked her how she spent the long dark evenings of winter. “Jigsaws’ was her answer. “Do you knit?” “I love knitting, but I’ve no one left to knit for”.  Her family of children and grandchildren were grown up and fending for themselves and her great-grandchildren had reached the age when they would not be seen in hand made clothes. Now there’s a topic for discussion!

Dot’s rather plaintive cry was something that I could relate to though in s slightly different way. I love making things, sewing in particular, but I’ve reached the stage where I have everything I need – sufficient clothes, accessories, curtains, aprons and the rest.  From now on my sewing life could easily be confined to repairs and the making of an occasional pot holder.  Any more would be surplus, excess.  But I still love sewing and have a box of material just waiting to be used.  How do we make stuff without making more stuff?

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Dot, at her knitting group, models a fleece hat!

There was a simple solution for Dot. A few of us started to meet regularly in our village tea shop and exchange news about local projects needing hand knitted items. Now well into her 90s, Dot is keeping the local premature baby unit in exquisite tiny clothes. Others in the knitting group have produced hedgehogs for the local rescue, blankets for homeless people, warm bed socks to welcome refugees to the county.

There was a solution for me too and a chance to get back to that stash of fabrics and enjoy my sewing again. Shoe bags for the women’s rescue, incubator quilts for the hospital, Little Dresses for Africa and my easy favourite Morsbags for the food bank. There are projects galore on the web wanting and needing our sewing skills.  We can make more without making excess. Any favourite sites anyone?

All an illusion

Somehow there has been much more doing than writing going on at Chez Snail in recent weeks Having completely failed to manage a scrappy project in time for the March ScrapHappy, I am determined now to do better in the coming month. I’ve been busy with some scrap-based things, but I’m saving posting about those so I don’t miss another SH on the 15th. I have completed the crochet for the sofa seat covers, but I’m dithering slightly about the finishing as I have a choice to make about the backing… I think I know what I’m going to do, but I don’t want to post about that until it’s complete.

Much of my time, however, has been taken up with a blanket that I’ve had the pattern for since last summer, but hadn’t quite got round to doing anything with. Originally I was going to make this for Mr Snail to take to Reading whilst he’s working away, but then I decided to make him a snuggly hexie blanket from scraps first. However, having discovered that he’s got two sofas in his rented flat, it seemed appropriate to make him a second blanket. The squares are now all finished, and probably don’t look very promising at first glance:

Dull squares

However, when laid out, look a bit more interesting:

some depth

I rather like how different this design is from most crochet patterns – the simplicity and the optical illusion were very appealing to me, and it will look even better once the squares are joined and edged. The Pattern is Cubine by Magdalene Lee and you can find it on Ravelry. The wool is aran weight and all British: the brown is natural Zwartbles produced by my friend Val; the blue is from Woolyknit; and the cream is from New Lanark.

In the limelight

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Excellent books – especially if you don’t want to make huge quantities.

Since Friday I’ve been very busy, on and off, with lime-related activities – zesting, juicing and freezing quite a lot of them. I loved the suggestion (from several of you) about making lime curd, but then dithered over which recipe to use. Finally, I settled on one from Marisa McClellan’s book Food in Jars (which I’m pretty sure was recommended to me by one of you two or three years ago). I chose this recipe because it suggests using a boiling water bath after putting the curd into the jars to extend the life to as long as four months, compared to the usual week or two (not that it’s likely to last four months in this house). Whilst looking for the recipe I browsed through Marisa’s other book Preserving by the Pint and discovered an interesting recipe for something called Caramelized Meyer Lemon Syrup – a sauce that she suggests drizzling over yoghurt or waffles. Basically you caramelize some sugar and then stir in lemon juice and zest – I decided to have a go at a lime version.

So, this morning I set to and zested, juiced, stirred, boiled and bottled and produced two small jars of Caramelized Lime Syrup and two of Zesty Lime Curd:

I was devastated to realize that I’d got slightly too much lime curd for the jars, so I was forced to consume the left-over bit on some toast for my lunch.

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Homemade bread and homemade lime curd, using eggs laid by our own hens.

I still have a dozen limes unprocessed and I think a lime drizzle cake is on the cards for the weekend.

ScrapHappy Update

I simply can’t wait until next month to share my completed February ScrapHappy project with you. I used a pattern from etsy called the Carina Satchel and, apart from a few places where I scratched my head a bit, it all went quite smoothly. I took Kate‘s advice and used a denim/jeans needle and didn’t break a single one – thank you for that tip. In addition, I worked almost entirely using the walking foot on my sewing machine, which coped well with multiple layers and ‘sticky’ vinyl.

In the end I used a few new things: the hardware (a magnetic clasp, two D-rings, a slider and two swivel clips), some waistband interfacing (to make sure the strap was nice and tidy) and a small amount of ready-made piping (which I could have made myself, but decided to buy). Working with vinyl meant that the bag mostly couldn’t be pinned, because pins leave holes in the plastic, so I used the sewing clips that I’d bought specifically to use for bag-making. Of course these are going to be used time and again. All the fabric and most of the interfacing as well as the fleece, which helps to give structure, were scraps.

And here it is completed:

Now, I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t look at that and think ‘scrap’. I’m now on the look out for other old vinyl tablecloths, although I have lots more of that one to play with still.

You can’t always get what you want

… or even what you expect.

For several weeks now I have been planning a Friday market trip, with the intention of buying winter vegetables to make some soup for the freezer. Two weeks ago we had torrential rain, so I decided to give it a miss; last week I had so much editing work on tight deadlines that I didn’t have time; but this week the weather was good and there weren’t too many piles of work to get through. So, I set my alarm clock and was leaving the house just after 7:30… before arriving back three minutes later because I’d forgotten to pick up the insulated cup of tea that I’d made to take with me in lieu of breakfast.

When I got down to Newcastle Emlyn, I was a little disappointed to discover no nets of leeks or parsnips. I could have bought a huge sack of swedes, but I really could not think of anything I might want to make with 20 of the things. So, I browsed around and discovered lots of nice veg in smaller quantities (they sell both big boxes and small amounts), so I selected some sweet potatoes and squashes (both always good for soup), some onions, six big fat red peppers and a couple of cauliflowers (Mr Snail loves cauliflowers and I’m rubbish at growing them)… and then my eye was caught by some boxes of tomatoes. Since, in my experience, it’s not possible to have too many jars of passata in the cupboard and it’s nearly six months since I last made any, I though I couldn’t go wrong at £2.50 a box, and bought two. And throughout my visit, I kept being drawn back to the boxes of limes (another thing that Mr Snail loves). What could I possibly do with a box of limes? We don’t like marmalade and even I can only drink so much gin. But I simply couldn’t resist – and for the same price as a box of tomatoes.

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My haul of not exactly winter vegetables

When I got home the tomatoes were quickly sorted (there’s always a few bad ones, which is why they are so cheap), washed, halved and the first batch put in the oven to roast. I made a big pot of soup – spicy squash and sweet potato (eight portions) – and I counted the limes – 59. And then I had to do some paid work.

On Saturday I got the passata mill out and processed all the roasted tomatoes, then bottled them: 11 half-litre jars and five quarter-litre jars. I made a second batch of soup: roasted red pepper, sweet potato and squash, with chilli, ginger and garlic. And I finally decided what to do with four of the limes: a lemon surprise pudding; the surprise is supposed to be the sauce that forms in the bottom, but I provided a second surprise by making it with lime not lemon.

So, today I’m going to zest and juice some of the limes and store the results in the freezer for subsequent cooking. I’m also going to quarter some of them and freeze then for use in g&t and other drinks and for (defrosted) squeezing over Mexican food, plus I’ll keep some in the fridge to use for cooking over the next couple of weeks. None of them will go to waste.

So, my winter veg shopping trip turned into something completely different, plus when my alarm clock went off on Friday morning I woke to a bedroom filled with orange light, and when I looked out I was greeted by the most glorious sunrise:

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good morning sunrise

So, it’s quite true – you can’t always get what you want, but sometimes, instead, you get sunshine and limes.

The long haul

I first started making a cover for my sofa more than four years ago. My interest in the project has fluctuated over that time, but I have always been determined to get there  eventually. I don’t think I’ve updated you on progress for a while, so I here’s what I’ve achieved recently:

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seat cover

This was photographed draped over the sofa (and you can see bits of the back cushions) as it still needs the edging that will allow it to be fitted over the seat. Once it’s done, I will need to think about covering the arms and making a piece to go across the front of the base… perhaps it will be done in another three years!

What I am really delighted about is how hard-wearing the cushions that I made first have been – no pilling, no sagging and the colours have not faded. The wool comes from New Lanark and I can highly recommend it for this sort of project, as well as for warm sweaters.

Pitching in

Back in 2015, when the limery was first built, getting some carnivorous plants seemed like a really great way to control the burgeoning fly population, and so it proved (much more pleasant than fly paper). One of the carnivores that I bought, however, was purchased mainly because it was a type of plant that I had always wanted to own – a tropical pitcher plant, otherwise known as a monkey cup or Nepenthes. I knew virtually nothing about these amazing plants other than that I had always admired the collection in the botany gardens at the university in Aberystwyth – a collection put together by an amazing gardener called Don Parker, who had trained at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh amongst other places. Don collected all sorts of species and was very proud of them and I used to admire his new acquisitions whenever they arrived. Don is no longer with us, but his collection lives on in the tropical house at the university botany gardens (I’ll go and take some photos one day)… and his inspiration lives on in the one specimen that I own.

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Then: Nepenthes ventricosa x talangensis when I first bought it

I just wish I’d taken the time to learn more from Don about these amazing plants; as it is I’ve had to read up about them as I don’t know another expert. The specimen that I bought in 2015 is, it turns out, a hybrid of two relatively compact upland species of tropical pitcher: Nepenthes ventricosa and Nepenthes talangensis. This upland origin is fortunate because it means it is more suited to surviving cooler conditions than its lowland relatives. It has, however, taken me a while to discover a location for it over the winter that allows it to thrive. But I have now discovered that it loves our bathroom – bouts of high humidity, dispersed light and (it appears) just the right temperature. As a result it has started to produce new pitchers and, for the first time, a flower. Nepenthes plants are either male or female and you don’t know which until they flower, so this event will allow me to find out whether it’s a boy or a girl – probably the former as they are more common (70:30 ratio in the wild, apparently). Here it is now:

Many of the plants I grow have a real practical purpose, but the job of this one is mainly to bring me joy… and it does.

ScrapHappy February 2019

This month’s ScrapHappy is very much a work in progress. Once I got used to the new/old sewing machine, I gave some thought to what I would like to make and the answer (as you have seen here and here) was bags. As a complete beginner with bags, I started off by buying a couple of kits, but now those are finished, I want to progress on to using up some of my old fabric, much of it left over from long-completed projects. However, I was also interested in working with charity shop finds. When I was trawling Aberystwyth, unsuccessfully as it turned out, for old handbags to cannibalise, I came across a very large vinyl-coated cotton tablecloth and thought that it might be a cheap and useful source of waterproof fabric. A bit of research later and I settled on using some of it to make a satchel (designed specifically with this sort of fabric in mind). However, I wanted this to be a scrappy project, so I found a nightdress that I made but hated and had only worn a couple of times, to use for the lining and some left-overs from my gardening apron for the strap and handle. Not only that, but I also found some very tatty, but salvageable interfacing to use, as well as part of a fleece blanket that my mum gave me after she had used some of it to make soft toys, but then decided that it wasn’t ideal.

So, all the main bits and bobs are scraps (or scrapped!):

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Old tablecloth (hearts), old nighty (spots), fleece blanket scraps (cream) and scraps left over from my gardening apron (dark)

I have had to buy some hardware, but I don’t mind a few new things in such a scrappy project:

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the new bits

So, now it’s all cut out, I’m ready to sew… wish me luck!

-oOo-

I’ve been inspired to write this (and future) ScrapHappy posts by Kate, who provides links to other (mostly sewing) ScrapHappy bloggers at Tall Tales from Chiconia on the fifteenth of every month… do check them out.

A chilli day

I’m always excited when the first seeds of the season germinate. As always, the first crop to be sown here is chilli, because they really benefit from a long growing season – which we can easily provide in the limery. So here they are:

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it’s chilli in the limery

So far we can see seedlings of jalapeno (standard and purple) and lemon drop (just):

My heart is singing (and it’s nothing to do with the date).

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