Merry Christmas

25.12.10 - 10:10
Yes it's true I gave up on my advent calendar. I know, I'm bad. I got distracted by Christmas parties and shopping! And I got a Hello Kitty calendar with chocolates in it :) Maybe I'll finish it next year.

So anyway - here is picture of our Christmas tree. I think it gets better every year, if I do say so myself ;) Or it might just be that I have a better camera than last year and the year before.

Hope everyone has a lovely Christmas and I'll see you next year for more sewing, baking, crafty things, a wedding and whatever other amusements take my fancy in 2011.

Merry Christmas! xx



Advent calendar challenge: day 7

7.12.10 - 21:24
Experimental shrinkies icicles.

Yeah, I'll admit, not that successful.
Shards of broken glass? Not so festive.

I've not used the shrink plastic stuff before, but it seems to have potential. A snowflake might be pretty, maybe something a bit more delicate.

There's some new pictures of real icicles on my flickr. Much more appealing.



Advent calendar challenge: day 6

6.12.10 - 22:21

Behind door number six is a super sweet candy cane. I'm going to go ahead and suggest you don't eat this one though as it's made from fimo.

I've not used fimo for a long time, but I really enjoyed making this so I might try it again soon.



Advent calendar challenge: day 5

5.12.10 - 22:38
We put up our tree today. I love having the twinkly lights on in the living room, it makes it so cosy. The fifth decoration is a present from Santa, all wrapped up ready to go under said tree.

I think it still needs a gift tag to finish it off properly.



Advent calendar challenge: day 4

4.12.10 - 21:08

Today's inspiration is Christmas wreaths - I'd like to make one of these, but I have no idea how I'd attach it to my uPVC front door. So here is my tiny tribute to Christmas greenery.

I nabbed this way of making a wreath from Whipstitch, though I've bulked it up a bit by using two rows of plaits and twisting them together. I was going to add some little red berries but I like the texture as it is.

This is a pretty rubbish picture of it - but here is the fabric I'm going to use as the background for my calendar. I've had it for so long I'd totally forgotten about it but I found it right at the bottom of my fabric box. Apparently I bought it in 2008!



Advent calendar challenge: day 3

3.12.10 - 21:19
I've been out and about in the snow today. It seems to take twice as much energy to get anywhere and that coupled with a very long week has left me feeling totally wiped out.

Therefore tonight I bring you: The Extremely Low Effort Snowball.

I made it by cutting out a circle from fake fur then sewing a simple running stitch around the edge. Next I pulled the loose thread to draw the edges in together, and stuffed it with poly filling. Finally I sewed over the gap and added the ribbon. (This also a great way to make Tribbles.)

I'm looking forward to putting the tree up this weekend... after a good long lie in.



Advent calendar challenge: day 2

2.12.10 - 22:08
When I found a shiny red bead today whilst I was looking for buttons, I knew right away what I would be making. What else could it be except Rudolph's nose?

The rest of him is made from scraps of gold silk and his antlers are twisted jewellery wire.

Did I mention that I also challenged myself to make all 24 decorations from materials I already have?

It's probably for the best as there was 14 inches of snow outside my front door this morning and it's been snowing all day... again.



Advent calendar challenge: day 1

1.12.10 - 23:30
Where did November go? I had every intention of making an advent calendar this year and the time has just raced by. Suffice to say we don't have one. And I've seen some lovely designs on various crafty blogs and look at this one on Etsy... So when I saw this post on Whipstich about how she (also) hadn't got round to making her calendar and was therefore having a sew-along - I was hooked.

So from now until the 24th I'm going to try to make something for my advent calendar everyday.

Here is a bit of a rough sketch of how it will work - the 'dots' will all be buttons with a number sewn next to them. Then I'll make little ornaments to hang on each one. The bit at the bottom will be a 'bag' where they can all live next year until it's their turn. It's somewhat inspired by this idea from inchmark. What do you think?

Here is my first decoration. It's a letter to Santa :) I'm quite pleased with it. My embroidery is not so amazing but the envelope actually opens and it has a little letter inside.

Hopefully I'll have time soon to make the backing as well or they might all end up pinned to the curtains. eep.

1 down 23 to go. What shall I make tomorrow? 


Monster snow

- 22:10
Today the 'festive dusting of snow' we had, turned into 'monster snow'. Monster as in it's now above my knees. That doesn't happen here very often and in the past few years it's been more likely to snow in March than November or December.

I'm caught between the idea of taking some great pictures and not actually wanting to go outside unless I really have to!



1,2,3, Cookies

29.11.10 - 21:11

This is my very own recipe. Okay, so you can't really invent a cookie since they're all made from essentially the same elements but this is mine. I'd love to write my own cookbook one day and take all the lovely foody photographs. I'll probably need more than one recipe for that though -so it might be a while...

Anyway, I've called them 1,2,3, Cookies mainly because they are super easy to make! They are made from a mixture of 1oz sugar, 2oz butter and 3oz flour. I've not made an attempt to convert it into volume yet so it's time to get the scales out if you want to have a go.

This amount makes six cookies. That's not very many you may say, but when you live in a household of two people, baking 24 cookies at a time is not such a great idea.


1oz Granulated sugar
2oz Butter/Margarine
3oz Flour (plus a little extra)
6 Glacé cherries
Heaped tablespoons of candied, chopped, mixed peel
1 tsp Golden syrup
Pinch of salt


- Preheat oven to 180c (350f, gas mark 4) and line a tray with baking paper.

- Cream together the butter and sugar and then mix in the syrup.

- Chop the cherries into quarters and mix with the candied peel and about a tablespoon of flour.

- Mix the 3oz of flour and the pinch into the wet mixture until it is starting to resemble dough.

- Gently mix in candied fruit and flour and squish into a ball of dough.

- Separate into six equal balls and space them out on the baking tray - press each one down into a cookie shape. Make sure there is a bit of room between them as they might spread a little.

- Bake for 8 minutes until the edges are just starting to brown.

- Let them cool a little.

- Consume with a nice cup of tea. I'm not a big fan of tea, but Mr Fiancé has to have a cup when tasting experimental baking projects.

Next I'm going to make them with some different flavours like cranberry and white chocolate chunks. If you try this recipe I'd love to know what you think.



Feeling festive

27.11.10 - 12:07
I've started feeling quite festive this last week. Christmas markets are popping up and the lights have been switched on in town. It's also helped that it was first a little frosty in the mornings and then today we woke up to snow.

I took all of these pictures within 5 minutes walk of my house, well, except the lights - they are within 5 minutes of my work instead. The last one really makes me think of Christmas cards. 





Happy Halloween!

31.10.10 - 22:21

Happy Halloween everyone. This year we did his 'n' her's pumpkins. What do you think? Mine is the 'Other Pumpkin'. If you listen carefully you can hear it whispering, "Stay with us in the the Other World where it's Halloween everyday". Mr Fiancé said it was too cute. I actually think it's kinda creepy to have buttons for eyes... and how can anything be 'too cute'?



Making Macarons - attempt 4

24.10.10 - 21:07
Success! Yay!!

After my macaron 'revelation' the other day I was dying to have another go and see if I'd found the final piece in the puzzle. They came out of the oven really crispy again (blagh) but I filled them anyway and left them in the fridge. 24hrs later - beautiful smooth macarons. I'm so pleased, I thought they had me beat! Mr Fiancé also got to finally try a proper macaron and see what all the fuss is about.

So this time I followed the David Lebovitz recipe again (except I only made half as much in case they were wrong... again).
I left the egg white out while I went into town, so only an hour or two.
I whipped the egg whites until it was shiny but not really stiff.
I did all that tapping on the counter and waiting for a skin to form stuff then I baked them for 15 minutes with the oven open a bit.

I used my favourite chocolate sauce recipe for the filling instead of chocolate ganache then left them in a box in the fridge for 24 hours.

In honour of them finally working out they got their pictures taken on my cake stand with the pretty roses.

Thank you for all your helpful tips!



Flower Market

23.10.10 - 12:03
Have you ever been to a flower market? I visited one this week to see what flowers might be available for our wedding.

The name conjures up images of row after row of pretty stalls offering a rainbow of beautiful flowers. Unfortunately that's not the kind of market I've been to. This kind of market is more like a wholesale point for florists and grocers. You have to be there at 5am for the best choice and the setting is a lot more industrial estate than market square!

I was also not there at 5am. To be fair it's a half hour drive away so I thought 6.30 was pretty good. I picked up some white roses to have a go at some flower arranging. They didn't look great at 6.30 on a chilly autumn morning, but after they had come out a bit in the warm they looked gorgeous.



Making Macarons - attempt 3

22.10.10 - 10:36
Third attempt at the macarons! If you've ever had a go at making macarons (or you've seen my previous failures) you'll know there are a lot of variables which can affect the final product including the humidity in the kitchen.

This time I used a recipe from David Leboviz for chocolate macarons. I only aged the egg whites for an hour, I made sure that I didn't over whip the egg whites, I let them set before I baked them and I cooked them with the oven door slightly a jar.

They look a lot better than last time. A little flat maybe - perhaps I was a bit too cautious with the whipping! The taste was okay, but the texture was still the problem. Instead of being soft and fluffy in the inside they were really chewy. I was starting to think I would never get this right, until someone sent me this post from Not So Humble Pie. It includes a quote from Hermé:

"As soon as they're made they're not ready to eat, but they're really at their best after 24 or even 48 hours," he says. "An osmosis takes place between the garnish and the biscuit. When freshly baked this is hard and crisp, but it absorbs some humidity from the filling and its inside becomes more tender while the crust on the surface stays intact."

So maybe that's how they are supposed to be when they come out of the oven?! I didn't bother doing the filling as I thought they were all wrong! Next time macarons, next time.



Pretty tape round up

17.10.10 - 20:12
Who doesn't love decorative sticky tape? It's great for scrap-booking, journalling, card making and gift wrapping; as well as just looking pretty. It's popping up in lots of independent internet shops at the moment, so here is a little round up of the self-adhesive beauties I've come across this week.

Add lace to everything non-fabric! I also got some tape similar to this from John Lewis recently.

Nonesuch things, where this tape comes from, has lots of nice things that would make great gifts. I especially like the porcelain keys, but as you may know I have a bit of a key problem.

Owl tape
Papermash has a whole tape section! But I've included this one as I've not seen it elsewhere.

Masking sticker set
Yeah, okay, not technically a roll of tape. But these sheets of stickers come cut into stripes and circles and they are in a tin. Super cute. The site is even called 'cute tape' and they ship internationally. yay.



Mood Fabrics discount

5.10.10 - 09:33
I always watch Project Runway when it's on TV here and I love it when they go to Mood to get their fabrics. They seem to have everything; especially compared to my nearest fabric shop which is half material and half lino and carpet. Nice.

Now they are finally online!
Yay! And you can get a 30% discount* until the 6th October using the code BurdaStyle30 at checkout. 

*Offer valid only on Mood Fashion Fabrics and cannot be used on Fashion Fabrics beginning with PV, home fabrics, notions, buttons, trims and accessories or in combination with Mood gift cards. Just so you know.



Making Macarons - attempt 2

3.10.10 - 18:00

I had another go at making macarons. It was a total disaster.

Last time they looked okay, but the consistency was wrong. This time I tried a chocolate recipe and I aged the egg whites, which is supposed to help; but as you can see they are not even right on the outside.

I think I made the eggs too thick and I didn't leave the oven door open. Why are they so frustratingly tricky?



New project: Camera bag

19.9.10 - 11:56
I've been carrying my camera about in a really boring protective case which takes up half the space in my bag.

Seemed like a good time to start work on a camera bag. It's going to be shaped like a messenger bag, with added padding. Hopefully I'll be able to carry my digital camera and one or two of my film cameras and still have space for other essentials like my phone and wallet.

I'm using a thick grey fabric on the outside which doesn't draw too much attention - then on the inside I'm going to use a pretty printed cotton.

It's only pinned together at the moment. I've still got to decide what kind of fastening it should have before I really get on with it.



And the winner is...

30.8.10 - 19:48
I think it's about time we had a winner in the Brand Altering competition.

I really enjoyed going through all the entries (over 80!) and as I said before, there were some lovely ideas. They ranged from adding a button here and there, to making brand curtains! There were also some beautiful ideas with halterneck designs.

Unfortunately only one person can win the dress. The one I've chosen is a very sweet idea, keeping the general dress shape but adding a custom design to transform it into something unique. The whimsical theme and style work well with the dress and the artwork this person sent is also delicious! It's based on the poem 'The Owl and the Pussycat'.

Congratulations: Pandasquid

You've won a lovely (if a little drab) Baby the Stars Shine Bright JSK. I hope you'll carry out your plans and let us see! Good luck with your alterations. (please send me your email address :)

Thank you to everyone else for your hard work. It just goes to show what a bit of creativity can do for a plain dress!

The inspiration for this competition, (the blog redesign) is also nearly complete, what do you think?




Photography experiments

28.8.10 - 17:19
I got some of my pictures back this week from my film cameras, with some interesting results.
Recently I've been using my Fisheye camera and my cute little Diana Mini. I picked also up a really cheap flash to use with my lomo cameras, so I've been able to take some pictures indoors too.

First off these, these are from the Fisheye. It can take a picture covering almost 180degrees. I thought it might come out as a circle but I think this lens might have been made for 120 film, so as there's less room on 35mm part of it is cut off. I love how it bends things to fit them in.

Red filter
For this one I made a DIY filter with red acetate from the stationery shop. It's not a very subtle effect! But I think it looks cool here, like a 70's sci fi film.

Light painting
Another thing I wanted to try was light painting. For this you set the camera to 'bulb' then hold the shutter open for as long as you like. I moved the camera around randomly and this is what happened!

This effect was a bit more hassle. It's called 'redscale' and is achieved by shooting through the back of the film. In a very dark room under a dark cloth I cut off a large chunk of film and taped it back on the wrong way round.

You could do some of this stuff in photoshop, but it's great fun not knowing what is going to turn up on your film.

You can see more of these experiments on my Flickr at: flickr.com/photos/ra_life/



Thank you for all your creative thinking!

24.8.10 - 16:16
Just a quick note to say thanks to everyone who entered the Brand Altering Competition. There were some really great ideas! I want to have a good look through and make sure I don't miss any of the email entries before I make the final decision. I'll be announcing the winner on Monday 30th, so watch this space.



Super macaron review

15.8.10 - 15:35
Om Nom Nom. I tried lots of tasty treats on my trip to the capital, luckily I also did tonnes of walking so I've managed not to put on two stone in the process.

So on to the macarons. I visited four different places and as a 'control' I always chose chocolate as the first flavour and caramel as the second. And I mostly chose the small macarons where I could. I went to Laduree, Pierre Herme, Maison du Chocolat and PAUL.

Laduree Burlington Arcade and Harrods:
£1.50 each 

I found the staff at Laudree quite rude. Maybe they treat you better if you buy more?

I found their macarons to be the most delicate and had a beautiful shape. They have a thicker filling and the texture was slightly lumpy.

Laduree paper bag from Burlington Arcade.

Very uniform and smooth looking.

Pierre Herme Selfridges:
£1.85 each

The staff were helpful at Pierre Herme and talked with me about the different flavours. The macarons where slightly thicker than Laudree and very smooth. They were less cakey and the salted caramel was delicious. They had a stronger flavour.

Packaging from Pierre Herme in Selfridges.

Chocolate macaron with cocoa dusting.

Maison du Chocolat Piccadilly and Harrods:
2 for £3.50

The staff here were very nice, the shop is elegant, well spaced out and air conditioned to keep everything cool.

They like to package things up so they are a real treat.

The macarons were delicate and had a very smooth filling. They are slightly smaller than the Laduree offering, but it's more of an experience buying them.

PAUL many locations:
Large macaron £2.80

I went to the one at Covent Garden - the people are generally nice though the cafe is quite upmarket. Everything is more expensive if you eat in.

I had the large chocolate macaron, not entirley fair since it was a bigger size, but it tasted like the most divine brownie in the world. Very fudgey, but still light.

Paper bag from PAUL.

Tasty giant macaron.

My personal favourite was the PAUL macaron. It wasn't quite as delicate some of the others but it tasted great. Laduree and Pierre Herme had some very pretty packaging if you were buying larger quantities but I prefered Maison du Chocolat as a shopping experience.

I might have another go at baking my own now I know how they are supposed to taste.