Monday, July 06, 2015

Day 3 of Tour de Couture - All about the bunts

More bunting.  I am giving in and calling this week bunt marathon.

I have all of this to break down - 1 dress, 1 shirt, 2 sheets and several metres of mauve and white gingham (not pictured).

I would love to be in a position to say the cutting is done by the weekend.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Day 2 of the Tour de Couture - more bunting

A busy day with family obligations meant that today's Tour de Couture achievement was again bunt cutting.

A need a lot of bunting - this may become a common post.

Today I broke down two shirts and some scraps of fabric donated by a friend.

To maximise the number of bunts per garment I am happy to have some evidence of the fabric's former life showing.  I find it quite charming, really.

In the photo below you can see part of a shirt pocket and some of the sleeve stitching in two different shirts.  In other bunts there are seams and buttonholes.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Tour de Couture

While many of my fibre friends start the Tour de Fleece today, I have too much sewing to do.

Welcome to the Tour de Couture.

Since 2007, spinners have been participating in the Tour de Fleece.

The brainchild of blogger Katherine Matthews, the tour is immensely popular with spinners and knitters (hand –cyclists) alike.  The organisation is now in a Ravelry group .

I have been intending to participate for years but there is always something to prevent me.  This year it is wedding preparations.  I have WAAAAY too much sewing to do to indulge in spinning.

So I am the sole entrant in the Tour de Couture.

Every day of the Tour de France I will sew or engage in sewing preparation.  A majority of this sewing will be related to our wedding which is 5 months away.

Today I cut out more bunting.

Our decorating colours for the wedding reception are purple, green and white.  I have been gathering old textiles in those colours.  Many donations have come from friends, but most have come from the free clothing bins at our tip shop.  I am choosing mostly cottons in all shades of purple green and white, laundering the (mostly) garments and sheets and cutting out bunts.

When all the bunts are cut which will be when all the fabric runs out, I will sew the bunts onto strips of old white sheeting.

The larger scraps left from cutting the bunts are becoming other wedding decorations but they will wait for later posts.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Vic's singlet - further adventures in knitting in public

Yesterday I met Vic.

Vic was the best kind of taxi driver. Chatty, interesting and interested who didn't feel the need to lecture me or patronise me or tell me his political opinions.

We discussed lots of things. Smoking and giving it up. Drinking - he doesn't doesn't drink, just a glass or two of red wine with dinner. Football - he barracks for my AFL team's traditional rival. We were in Melbourne so football is the easiest topic of conversation unless you encounter a Collingwood supporter. We don't talk to Collingwood supporters. On this, Vic and I agreed.

Anyway, after we had exhausted the topics of smoking, drinking, veggie gardens and footy, Vic noticed my knitting.

What was I knitting? A sock for my husband.

"Oh!", he said, "just like my Mamma."

Vic is 67 years old and was born just outside Rome. He emigrated from Italy 40 years ago and is the youngest of six boys and the only one of his mother's sons still living. He owns his own taxi and now works only 4 days a week.  His brother-in-law does the other three days.

He told me his mamma knitted socks for all her boys and her husband and also jumpers and undershirts. "Dio", he said, "how itchy those undershirts were the first time you wore them! But mamma said wear them or freeze, so we wear them."

I am so grateful to have the privilege of hearing Vic's story and tonight he is going home to his family and will tell them of his Mamma and her handknitted singlets. He has never told them before.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

I like it long and slow

TOF and I have been experimenting.  We are making it long and slow.  And it's delicious.

The newest addition to our toy cupboard is a slow cooker.

Mum had a crock pot in the 70s and I remember fatty and flavourless stews.  But the slow cooker has made a comeback in recent years and there have been definite improvements to the technology.  Ours was $52 from Target and has three settings - warm, slow and fast.  I chose it because you can set the timer and when it's done automatically changes to warm.

We are time poor people with food issues.  Drive through and take away is not an option for us. Well, there arechips at the Maccas - freshly cooked in vegetable oil, gluten free - they suit both of us, except that they aren't particularly healthy and are delicious sometimes foods.  But I digress.

When you have Food Issues or Dietary Requirements, forward planning is essential. We like meals that are full of fibre and flavour, but which are not dependent on fat and salt for the flavour content.  So that combined with our other Dietary Requirements - home made suits us best.  The slow cooker means on the days when we are home for 45 minutes between work and community involvement stuff, a healthy and satisfying meal is available and we still have time to walk the dogs.

Middle Eastern Lamb Stew

(Heavily adapted by a recipe of the same name by Sally Wise (St Sally in our household) published in her book Slow Cooker : Easy and delicious recipes for all seasons.  ABC Books, 2009.)

Serves 4

  • 750g diced lean lamb
  • garlic oil
  • 1 large carrot chopped into rounds
  • 1 cup chopped pumpkin (optional - tends to disintegrate and add sweetness, fibre and thickness to the sauce)
  • 2 tablespoons marmalade
  • 2 teaspoons chilli powder (we like it hot - reduce by half for a moderate heat)
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 700ml  (veggie, chicken - whatever you have)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon grated ginger
  • juice of one lemon
  • 1/2 preserved lemon finely chopped (or 1/4 cup olives)
  • 4 spring onion tops - the green bits only - finely chopped (or half spring onion tops, half garlic chives)
  • 2 teaspoons cornflour
  • 1 cup natural goat, sheep or buffalo yoghurt (you can use whatever yoghurt tolerable to you - optional)
  • 3 teaspoons finely chopped mint

  • Brown the lamb in batches in the garlic oil.
  • Place all ingredients except the cornflour, yoghurt and mint into the slow cooker.
  • Cook on low for 7-8 hours or on high for 3-4 hours.
  • Take a little of the sauce and make a slurry with the cornflour.
  • Return to pot for a little longer to thicken sauce.
  • Just before serving stir through yoghurt if preferred and sprinkle with chopped fresh mint.
Serve over rice or mashed sweet potato with steamed veggies or a salad.

Sally Wise also has a set of gluten free recipes on her site.  Most of them are adaptable to be low-FODMAP as well.  Hmm, I feel a challenge coming one.  She is also blogging recipes for those with food intolerances and allergies on Health For Life Kitchen.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Teryaki Chicken Meatballs - low FODMAP style

This recipe is lifted in the main from Kate Scarlata's website.  Kaye is a dietician specialising in IBS and FODMAPs and her site is worth a read if you are interested in that sort of thing.

I found it when we had to deal with a bulk buy of chicken breast mince.  What can I say, breast of chicken is high protein, low fat and one of the few meats my delicate digestion can cope with.  When it's 70% off at the supermarket, of course I'm bringing it home. 

I made it as described the first time but the sauce was too sweet and didn't have the balance of flavours we expect from Asian-style dishes.  The meatballs themselves, though, are delicious and quite versatile.  I make them small for better portion control and quicker cooking.

Great tossed through a tomato/marinara sauce and served over gluten free pasta, or served on rice with steamed veg and a little gluten free sauce.  Also good with salad ingredients in a corn tortilla.

Goes well on a toothpick with a dipping sauce for parties.

Teriyaki Chicken Meatballs 

serves 4-6


  • 500g chicken breast mince
  • 1/4 cup rice crumbs
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon fresh minced ginger
  • 2 teaspoons of ajvar or sample ole
  • 2 spring onion tops (the green bit), very finely chopped (or a mix of spring onion tops and garlic chives)
  • 1 tablespoon gluten free soy sauce
  • 1/2 tablespoon toasted sesame oil or garlic oil
  • Preheat oven to 180C.
  • Line an oven tray with baking paper, a silicone baking sheet, or spray with vegetable oil.
  • Mix all ingredients in a bowl.  I use my hand to get a good distribution of ingredients.
  • Using a teaspoon of the mixture at a time, roll meatballs.  I get 40-45.
  • Bake for about 20 minutes or until cooked through.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Tonnato Spread - naturally low FODMAP

I'm always looking for sandwich style fillings which are protein rich and fit my low FODMAP diet.  They also have to be tasty or I'd really rather not.

I saw this one demonstrated at a local food show recently by a previous Masterchef contestant, Courtney Roulston.  OK, she demonstrated it as a traditional Italian sauce usually served with poached veal (Vitello Tonnato), but take out the oil and presto-change-o, a spread.

I serve this in sandwiches or spread on cruskit type biscuits for lunch with slices of fresh tomato and cracked black pepper.  If I am keeping the carbs low, I dollop into iceberg lettuce leaves with grated carrot, seeded and chopped tomato, some chopped parsley and more black pepper.

It could also go into vol-au-vent cases for a retro party nibble.



  • 185g tin tuna in olive oil (I use Sirena brand.  I also use the chilli flavoured one because the chilli works well for us but it's not traditional)
  • 4 boiled eggs
  • 2 anchovy fillets
  • 2 teaspoons baby capers (rinsed*)
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice (or to taste.  About 2 tbsns juice and 2 tspns zest to start)  OR  1 tbspn lemon juice and 1 preserved lemon rind (rinsed*)
  • 1 tbspn chopped chives or garlic chives


  • Bung the lot in a blender, including the oil from the tinned tuna.  Blend to a smoothish paste.  I prefer it just shy of utterly smooth.
  • Taste and adjust seasonings.  I tend to add more lemon juice but remember the flavours develop over time.
  • This will keep in the fridge for a week or so.

*It is important to rinse the capers and the preserved lemon rind as the salt can be overpowering

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Turkey Sausage Rolls - low FODMAP version

I've been pretty ill for a few years.  Diagnosis was a 15 months ago and it's taken all that time to find an effective treatment that didn't try to kill me.

I have Crohn's Disease, which is an Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), as well as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Neither is curable and one does not cause the other. Strictly speaking they are not all that related.

The treatment for Crohn's is heavy duty chemotherapy drugs, rest, removing stress from my life and being as healthy as possible in all other ways.  

The treatment for IBS is identifying food triggers and removing them from the diet while have a balanced diet, getting enough rest, exercise etc..

So far the best way of controlling the IBS has been following a low FODmap diet.  Now that the Crohn's is stable, my dietician (whom I adore, and that's a statement I never thought I'd make!) has me challenging the different types of FODMAP.  I'm failing most challenges.  It's REALLY complicated.

There is a shitload (that's a Crohn's pun - we find it hilarious) of stuff I can't eat, or can't eat a lot of, or can't have in combination.  Then we combine that with the restrictions placed on my diet by the immuno-suppressant drugs (pregnancy restrictions) and TOF'S Non-Coeliac Gluten Intolerance and my inability to process beef or cow's milk products, we end up making most of our own food.  I leave for work most days with more food than Hannibal did for his Alps crossing.  

So I'll be putting some of the recipes that TOF and I develop on the blog.  I use Pinterest for keeping track of recipes etc, but it doesn't really accommodate the modifications I make.


Adapted from's Turkey Sausage Rolls

Serves 4 if you add a salad or veggies, but let's face it - they will only last the two of us one footy match.

  • 1 cup rice crumbs or other gf breadcrumbs
  • 4-6 spring onion tops (the green bits) very finely sliced
  • 500g turkey mince (or chicken or pork works well, too.  A mix is nice)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 small carrot, grated
  • 1/2 small zucchini, grated
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons ajvar or 1 teaspoon chopped fresh chilli or 1/2 teaspoon dried chilli*
  • splash of garlic oil*
  • 1 box Simply Wize Gluten Free Puff Pastry Sheets
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 teaspoons sesame seeds*
  1. Preheat oven to 220C or 200C in a fan-forced oven.
  2. Line a baking tray with baking paper or spray with vegetable oil spray.
  3. In a large bowl, mix rice crumbs, spring onion, mince, thyme, carrot, zucchini, tomato paste and seasonings to combine.  I find it most effective to use my hands.
  4. Taking one sheet of pastry at a time, roll out on a floured surface.  Don't try and roll too thinly or it will stick like you know what to a blanket and be about as useable.
  5. Make a sausage of a fifth of the mince mixture the length of your pastry and about 1/3 the width.
  6. Place along one edge of the pastry sheet.  Brush opposite edge with egg.  Roll pastry to enclose filling. cut the roll into two or three even pieces at this stage depending on preferred serving size
  7. Repeat for all remaining sheets of pastry.
  8. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden on top and cooked through.  I find GF pastry requires a little longer to cook than standard pastry.
The sausage rolls are great straight away, or we like them warmed, wrapped in foil and transported to the Bruce Stadium to eat at half-time when the Brumbies or the Raiders are playing at home.

Sometimes I have mince mixture left over.  I take teaspoons full, roll into balls and bake for 10 minutes or until cooked through.  They are great lunch box treats in a corn tortilla with salad or served with steamed veg and rice.

*optional depending on tolerance and preference

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Strays - an opinion

The StraysThe Strays by Emily Bitto
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher's blurb:
On her first day at a new school, Lily meets Eva, one of the daughters of the infamous avant-garde painter Evan Trentham. He and his wife are attempting to escape the stifling conservatism of 1930s Australia by inviting other like-minded artists to live and work with them at their family home. As Lily’s friendship with Eva grows, she becomes infatuated with this makeshift family and longs to truly be a part of it.

Looking back on those years later in life, Lily realises that this utopian circle involved the same themes as Evan Trentham’s art: Faustian bargains and terrible recompense; spectacular fortunes and falls from grace. Yet it was not Evan, nor the other artists he gathered around him, but his own daughters, who paid the debt that was owing.

This is more a response than a review.  I'm very tired this week and have not the patience or energy for a better structured or thought out review.

Emily Bitto's first novel is a well written  exploration of intense female childhood and adolescent friendship. A bit long through the middle; some editorial pruning would have helped.

This passage, for example, while it spoke to me and I was delighted to find it, was not really necessary for Lily's mother's character development.

For the information of knitters reading this - the following passge is the only reference to knitting.

p. 117

My mother began to knit again, a pale yellow jumper she was making for me.  We had picked out the pattern together; it was to have a pearl button at the neck and slightly puffed sleeves.  Over the following days my mother knitted almost without stopping: while she ate; while she talked to the nurses; while she sate by my father's bed.  She fell asleep knitting in the chair beside him, woke up, continued to knit.  She was like one of the fates, sullenly, determinedly knitting out the griefs of the world. Somehow my mother's anxiety, and my own, became entangled in the wool of that jumper, caught up in the purl of its weave so that it would always be tainted for me, as if it had absorbed the medicinal stink of the hospital, the image of my father, ashen, with his eyes closed, the thick sheets drawn up under his arms, the knobbly cotton blanket tight across his chest and over the bulky casts encasing both his legs, his toes protruding from the bedclothes so that their colour could be monitored - my mother and I had to fight the urge constantly to pull the blank over them to keep them warm.  I would never wear that cumper.

In the end I didn't really care about any of them. Particularly the cruelly manipulative Trenthams but not even very much about Lily.

Was going for 3 stars - really it's 3.5.

My 7th book for the Australian Women Writers' Challenge 2015.

Source: Libraries ACT

View all my reviews

Monday, March 16, 2015

Heat and Light - a review

Heat and LightHeat and Light by Ellen Van Neerven
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Beyond knowing that it is shortlisted for the 2105 Stella Prize, I knew nothing of this work.

I deliberately didn't read the blurb or go looking for reviews.  I want to have as few preconceived notions about what I am about to read as possible.  I want to allow for the possibility of being surprised.

I was captivated on page one.

Structurally, this work of fiction is interesting.  It is not a novel.  It is divided into three sections, the first and the last being sets of short stories, the middle being a novella.

"Heat" is the first section and explores a single family from many points of view.  It is heat fanned by wind. Part fable, part imagined documentary; I enjoyed this section immensely.  The slow and unflinching unfolding of layers of family history was hugely satisfying.

The second section, "Water", is near future speculative fiction exploring issues of colonialism.  It is infused with a sense of historical de ja vu, and hasan urgent pace.

The third section, "Light", is the least optimistic of the three sections. There is truth here. The stories are not without emotion, but difficult themes of belonging and the desire to escape are explored without overt judgement.

Smoothly written and eminently readable, all of the stories show a steady, honest gaze.  Indigenous and queer voices should be heard more often. I look forward to reading more of van Neerven's work.

This is the sixth book read and reviewed for the Australian Women Writers' Challenge 2015. I have completed the challenge I set myself, but there are oh so many more to read.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

Source: LibrariesACT

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Adventures in KIP - an intermittent series

Bal drove me from my office to the ANU yesterday.  In that 15 minute trip he enthused over my sock and told me about the garments his mother knitted for him as a child in India and that he still has many of them.  They are in India at his mother's house but he will not let her part with them.

He remembers, in particular, a cap she knitted him when he was about three.  It was knitted in beige wool, with a little peak at the front.  He wore it all the time and it made him feel special.  He has a photograph of himself wearing it standing in the middle of a wheat field.  He was young, before he started school.  One of his uncles took the photo.

He kindly allowed me to take this photo with the sock I had with me.  Before he handed me back the sock, he gave it a squeeze, to feel the fabric and smiled at the texture memory.

Knitting in public is a bit like being obviously pregnant.  Members of the public who would normally be steadfastly looking anywhere but at you suddenly become transfixed and can't help but comment on your state.  It is an excuse the break the bubble of isolation in which we often encase ourselves in public.  Even when I am wearing the universal symbol of leave me alone, headphones, some people can't help themselves.

Some knitters find this intrusive and offensive.  Sometimes it is.  Occasionally the commenter is trying to belittle me or my craft and are usually dealt with by The Look, eyebrow slightly raised.  The message is "Really?  You think you are being funny?"  Usually works.  Occasionally I have to bring out The Other Look - really steely return gaze with just the hint of a sneer. Years of public library work teaches a thing or two about silent communication.

Most interactions, however, are very positive.  They range from comments on the difficulty of knitting (not difficult but does require an awful lot of practice), amazement that women still knit (I steer away from gender based replies lest we fall into a discussion about the "proper" roles of women and respond with general comments about fashions in hobbies and the value of the handmade), how lucky my husband is to have someone to knit him socks (well he does the cooking and the driving, seems a reasonable time swap) to my favourite response - stories of the knitters in the commenters life.

Most taxi drivers in Canberra have a mother, aunt or grandmother who knitted for them and they sometimes share precious memories with me.   I consider this sharing a privilege and a lovely way of connecting with other humans.  With their knitting memories I get glimpses into different cultures and ways of life, I connect with our immigration history and I get to peek into family histories I would not otherwise see.

So I thought, as an intermittent series, I would share some of these stories with you.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Madame Bovary's Haberdashery - a review

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Funny, subversive, the point in the universe where Emma Bovary and Jane Marple intersect.

I was worried, at first, the author Meehan knew a little bit too much about how I spent my 20s - overweight knitter with a penchant for op shops in a co-dependent, not particularly healthy relationship with a promiscuous, artistic best friend.  Fortunately the similarities end there.

Everyone in this charming, engaging and darkly sly humourous novel is delusional, narcissistic, criminally manipulative, misogynistic, fraudulent or many of these in combination..

Odette, the beautiful free spirited potter who, "lurching unreflectingly from one style to the next, one man to the next, saw herself as living in wild freedom, just like any male artist" shares a house and a lover, Zac, with her friend Cicely.  Odette and Cicely have been best friends since primary school.  Their relationship is fractured by the manipulative, jealous and intellectually fraudulent Zac.

"Cicely has opinions, but she keeps them to herself".  Cicely has published a mildly successful erotic novel and keeps herself in tea and wool by creating knitted pieces to sell in Miss Ball's Haberdashery.  Cicely is overweight and suffers from hallucinations brought on by her failing vision and later by her dependence on pain medication.  It is through her hallucinations that Miss Marple assists Cicely solve the mystery of Odette's disappearance.

All of the male characters are unpleasant, misogynistic manipulators; while the women are competitive and manipulative.

I worry that Odette is returned to Cicely and is "redeemed" through murder and childbirth to, presumably, be held captive in Odette's dream haberdashery.  But perhaps that is the joke at the heart of the book.

While I enjoyed the novel (not least for the primary role of the fibre arts and the confirmation that crochet is evil, or at least created under hallucinogenics) I might have understood it better if I was more familiar with Flaubert's Madame Bovary.  I suspect I shall read it before long, even if it is written by the antithesis of an Australian woman.  I am better acquainted with Miss Marple and loved how Maurilia Meehan imagines her for Cicely.

I am also glad that Cicely achieves her dream of owning her own shop, the haberdashery of the title, and a room of her own.  But are we all such manipulators and are all our dreams realised at the expense of others?

SOURCE: Libraries ACT

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Who We Were by Lucy Neave - a review

Who We WereWho We Were by Lucy Neave
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On finishing this book - my initial notes read:
Sparse and elegant prose but for a novel about passion and betrayal, strangely devoid of emotional connection.  I gave it 3 stars (out of 5)

Nearly a week later and I am back on Goodreads changing my score from 3 stars to 4.  I continue to think about this novel and divine why I couldn't connect.  I talk to friends and colleagues about it and wonder out loud to them why that was - should it have been a series of novellas to explore the effects of the political environments in which they find themselves and the significant issues such as scientific ethics, the effects of the Depression, WWII and the war in Asia in particular.

It's a very, very accomplished first novel.

I keep comparing Bill to Dorrigo from Flanagan's Narrow Road to the Deep North.  Similar experiences, similarly flawed but Bill just isn't sympathetic.

Also, the suspense which might have built in the Cold War period just didn't get there.

Perhaps I wasn't meant to connect.  Annabel and Bill save their passion for each other and their work, and in Bill's case, a political cause.  Annabel is a perpetual outsider, even in her marriage, and theirs is a very exclusive club so maybe I was meant to feel excluded.

I would recommend this book, but if you enjoy the emotional connection to character, you might not find it.  You will, however, have much food for thought.

This novel is shortlisted in the ACT Book of the Year Award.  For the first time this year you can vote in the People's Choice Awards, but get your skates on, voting closes soon.

For information on previous awards, a committed and passionate librarian has created this resource.

SOURCE: Libraries ACT

View all my reviews

Friday, January 30, 2015

A Draft from the Past - Toddler's Romper and Bonnet

This size 2 years, McCall's romper is made in one piece and has a matching sun bonnet.  It also has a matching doll and doll outfit.  Be still my desiccating ovaries!
McCalls 2322, vintage pattern for toddler's romper, bonnet and matching stuffed doll
In these days of sun awareness, the bonnet is perhaps ironic in contrast to the bare legs, arms and back of the romper. 

It is an impractical garment on so many levels.  Ties in the front because you totally trust a toddler with a self tie in front - yeah, right.  Solution - knot the buggery ties so hard that you lose all traction on that toilet training when the "Mummy, I need to gooooooo!" moment comes, as it so inevitably does.  That tie would definitely have to be extended to wrap around to the back.

The pattern instructions suggest lining the romper but state that it is optional.  It therefore gives no  instructions for how to go about lining the garment which is quite at odds with the over-engineering of the doll pattern.

Transfer for decorative stitching on doll

The doll pattern comes complete with original transfer to mark the decorative stitching.

This pattern is completely intact down to the transfer paper. It was never made by the original owner.

I am tempted to make this in a bright gingham or sweet Liberty print just because I can and not because it would be useful to anyone.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Draft from the Past - half circle skirt

Madame Weigel does it again. 

This pattern is for a half circle (in one piece) skirt with faced waistband. 

It adorable but not even the slimmest of my adult friends, has a 24 inch waist.

The instructions and pieces are intact and I doubt the pattern has been used.

It would look so cute in a print with a crisp shirt and cardie or matching bolero.

As much as I love it, this one will be going on eBay - or speak up in the comments and we can do a deal if you'd like it.  That might keep me in pattern money for a little while.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Improvised thread cone holder

So I thought I needed one of these which cost about $80 and have to be mail ordered.

commercially available thread cone holder with heavy base

What I really needed was to identify the function of the item I desired and look around me.

So I made this, for nothing, and don't have to add another unitask object to our home.

Lazy Kate threaded through the loop of a safety pin on the sewing machine's reel holder

Large sewing projects just became more efficient by not having to change the thread.  And this weekend I have half a house of curtains to make and then there are 14 or so tablecloths and several hundred metres of bunting for the wedding to sew soon, too.

Here I was winding bobbins and taking photos.  It sews better when the Kate is on the floor.

The old Husky has been serviced and is such a work horse for jobs like this.

Another improvised thread cone holder is documented here.  May give it a go as well.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Fig at the Gate

"I used to love nightclubs, now I love nurseries."

That quotation from Kate Llewellyn's "A Fig at the Gate", is a good summary of the book.

Published in 2014, it is subtitled "The joys of friendship, gardening and the gaining of wisdom".  The memoir documents a several years in Kate's life in the creation of a new garden, spending time with the oldest of friends and gaining new ones, and the consolations of age.

I wavered between enjoying very much being directly addressed by Llewellyn and reading her personal diary and having an uncomfortable feeling of TMI.  I suspect it is because I am starting to feel my age as well.  And while I am considerably younger than Kate, I am past the half-way mark by a few years now.

"It may be that gardening creeps up on one when some of the fury of youth falls away."

Some of my discomfort I experienced initially with this work is not the writing or the format (a series of diary entries), but that we see the joys of gardening differently. Llewellyn, initially, sees gardening as a subsitute for sex, I see it more a channelling of the nurturing impulse.

I became less uncomfortable as the years pass (she chronicles 2009-2012).  Perhaps the because really we have a simile for a relationship.  The initial obsessive and physical joy gives way to the creation and nurturing of new life and the grief of death.

Llewellyn explores the joys of the flesh through her garden as well as the more emotional connection of the company of her family, her oldest friends, creating new life, and making new friends.

I loved that this book made me think and address some of my own assumptions and it gives me hope for my own future.

My third book of 2015 and number 3 in the Australian Women Writer's Challenge.  Earlier reviews here and here.

SOURCE: Libraries ACT

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A Draft from the Past - Overall or Sunsuit

I suspect that most of the patterns I bought in the bargain bundle were from the same family.  If I could put them in date order, I might be able to work out how many children and of which gender.  There's a lot of supposition in that sentence.

The second pattern I opened was another Madame Weigel's pattern.  This one for a child's overall or sunsuit (for Boy or Girl), 1 year.

Madame Weigel's pattern for child's overall or sun suit, age 1 year

There was no instruction sheet or illustrated list of pattern pieces for this one, but the instructions are on the back of the envelope and the pieces listed.  The only bit missing is the trouser patch pocket.

The pattern advises creating a waistband facing but provides no instruction.  A lot more assumed knowledge than on modern patterns.

My mother made us similar overalls as children, usually cut down from men's suits or corduroy trousers bought at op shops (yes, this apple didn't fall far from that tree).  She would have sewn down the straps to the back of the garment so there weren't buttons sticking into baby's back.  She would also have added length to the straps and sewn three or four button holes along the strap to allow for growth.

The bonus in this pattern is a redraft of the shoulder strap, or it could be a for a different garment.  The original shoulder strap is only an inch wide.  The sewer redrafted the piece on newsprint at half the length and double the width or the original.  I tend to agree with her - a useful strap for kids is quite wide.

Madame Weigel's pattern for child's overall or sun suit, age 1 year with hand-drafted pattern piece
The sewer used a pencil to write her cutting instructions:


Pencilled instructions on hand-drafted and altered pattern piece

The newspaper used is The Herald Sun, dated 1950.  That's as close as I can get and there are tantalising bits of advertisements on the paper.  On the side with the annotation is an advertisement for Ovaltine and on the reverse, part of a shop ad for New Look styled winter coats.

I wonder if the sewer attempted her own New Look coat?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A draft from the past - Carrying Coat

We were at a charity sale on the weekend (I know, how unusual!) where I found a small pile of vintage sewing patterns.

a selection of vintage sewing patterns from the bargain bundle

The price was low for the bundle, so they all came home with me.

I adore vintage textiles and their patterns, and thought I might have a go at sewing some of the children's patterns.

Vintage garments often have such beautiful details which I would love to be better at. Practicing on child sized garments seams a good way of acquiring skills while not investing in a large-woman sized garment's worth of fabric and time.

These old ones are single-sized, so it doesn't matter too much if they are cut.  With more modern multi-sized patterns, I'm less likely to buy cut patterns unless they are cut to the largest size.

The  first task when dealing with vintage or other second hand sewing patterns is to check that all the pieces are there.  This can be challenging as very old patterns do not have the pieces marked, you have to check them against the instruction sheet, if there is an instruction sheet.

This first one, an infant's carrying coat, is incomplete.  It is missing the sleeve which I may or may not choose to attempt to draft.

The pattern illustration gives two suggestions for construction - a smocked front and back below the bodice or a simple gather.  There is no for smocking design provided.  The instruction sheet says "Smock or shirr as desired".  Madame Weigel assumes a lot of skill.  The instructions for the hemming are "Turn hem on collar ... and spoke-stitch, - or it may be a faggoted band of rouleau."

Madame Weigel's pattern for and infant's carrying coat

The illustration also suggests either a peter pan collar or a pointed one, but there is only one pattern piece provided, the peter pan.

Now these patterns are delightful remnants of the past in themselves, but sometimes there are added joys.

There was, though, an added bonus - a pattern piece drafted on brown paper with hand notation.

Madame Weigel's pattern for and infant's carrying coat with hand drafted pattern piece

The piece does not belong to this pattern.  I could tell that by it's size, and by the shape of the piece which did not match the schema on the instruction sheet.  I could also tell by reading the notation:

Handwritten instructions on hand-drafted pattern piece

Bodice for pleated shirt
for Melva 4 years opening down back
1" 2" pleats face right to left
stitch down back of pleat

I get a thrill when I find these whispers from past sewers.  Was it Melva's mother who drafted this piece and wrote these instructions in fountain pen?  The paper from which the piece is cut has been crumpled ironed flat before drafting.  What did the paper wrap before it became Melva's bodice pattern?  There are only a few pinholes in the paper.  Was Melva growing so fast she only had one or two blouses from this pattern? Was the new baby so demanding Mum didn't have as much time to sew?

Yes, I can let my imagination get away with me at times.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Reality check

While I would love my life to be all about reading wonderful, transportive and transformative books, and making useful and beautiful textile creations, sometimes the reality is this.

Table linens, fabrics for new creations and some clothing overflow engulf the ancient Elna Press


A couple of weeks of external commitments and the ironing has rather got away from me.  These photos were 10.30am Sunday and there is also another basketful lurking under the racks.  By 2pm, when we had to go out, one rack and the basket were clear.  There may be less creating and more ironing this week to gain some control.

At least it is organised and prioritised.  That helps. As do podcasts.  I am so grateful to podcasters for helping me through the necessary evils of domestic life.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Crafting from Stash - Christmas Edition

At Christmas, I like to give small gifts to the volunteers and staff teams I work with.  Usually about 20 gifts.  This year, I also had about that number of people in the medical and care teams who have been treating me.

40-ish is a lot of small gifts to buy and the cost certainly adds up.

This year I found a use for several stashes of second-hand and reclaimed supplies to create lavender sachets.

I made about 40 tea-bag sachets from Christmas print fabric that I'd picked up at op-shops during the year.  Each was trimmed with a reclaimed shirt button and a piece of thin ribbon rescued from purchased tops and dresses.  You know - the bits of ribbon that make the item secure on a coat hanger.

The only element I had to buy was lavender, because our lavender is the ornamental French variety rather than useful English. Each bag only needs a decent teaspoon full, so it wasn't a huge cost.

I modified this tutorial by Mademoiselle Chaos.  My teabags are only one sachet, not a folded piece to make two, and I changed the hanging system to create a ribbon loop and lost the silly tag piece.

I figured these are a sweet, seasonal token.  They fit neatly into a small Christmas card making giving them easy as well.  The investment of time is about 10 minutes a piece (not the 5 quoted in the tutorial) and the money invested minimal.  If the recipient threw it away within seconds I wouldn't loose any sleep over it as I would with a knitted item.  Some of my colleagues have hung them in their cars, and others over coat hangers to ward off moths in the cupboard.

Be warned, though - these are addictive, and I have MANY ready to be filled with lavender and finished as little gifts during the year.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

The Engagement

No, not ours, although that progresses well, thanks.

Chloe Hooper's second novel, The Engagement is my second Australian Women's Writers Challenge read of 2015.

It is a modern gothic novel of psychological suspense.

The premise is that Liese Campbell, deeply in debt and working in her uncle's real estate business, begins charging loaded Gippsland farmer Alexander Colquhoun for sex.  When Liese announces her return to England, Alexander invites her to his property for a final weekend.

The novel is not about sex, and certainly isn't erotic, but there are sexual passages.  The novel is about power and control and desire and fear.

The set up is a bit clunky and belief must be suspended, but go with it - the psychological thriller bit is worth it.  And it certainly does prompt thought. 

I read Chloe's first novel, A Child's True Book of Crime (2002), last year and this is, in my opinion, the better of the two. 4 stars from me, and would be a good book for a reading group.

Finishing this presented me with a dilemma, though.  It seems I have become a monogamous reader sometime in the last few years.  I forgot to bring a new library book home - there are two waiting for me - and I finished this book early in the evening. I am reluctant to have more than one novel on the go at a time.  Just as I was about to download a magazine from the library, I found a literary solution with a volume of short stories.  I can read a couple of short stories without fear of cheating on my next book. 

While I try to borrow from the library where I can, in this instance a small number of unread books at home is a blessing.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

I think I am the last person to read this book.  It is justifiably well-regarded and has won 9 literary awards and been shortlisted for as many again.

TOF and I listened to most of the audio-book borrowed from Libraries ACT on a recent journey and I finished it yesterday.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book - it is a "speculative biography" of the last woman executed in Iceland.  Firmly based on historical research, the book reproduces a number of translated documents of the period, which appealed to me as an archivist.

Another appealing factor - the historical detail of women's work, in particular their textile work.  Knitting, spinning and weaving are inherent elements of the text and I thrilled at each mention.  I could imagine a pattern book based on traditional Icelandic patterns for socks and mittens based on this book, just as we have seen other "inspired" pattern books.

The book is a satisfying, fresh, feminist reading of a moment of Icelandic history and you don't need to be a knitter to enjoy it.

If this wasn't enough to make me just a little bit in love with Hannah Kent, this quotation from a recent blog post sealed our relationship.

"If you can't afford new books, buy second-hand books. If you can't afford second-hand books, get a library card. Get a library card anyway." Hannah Kent's Rules for Writing, blogged 26 November 2014

SOURCE: Libraries ACT

Friday, January 02, 2015


For the last two years I have joined the Australian Women Writers' Challenge.  The Challenge was set up to help overcome gender bias in the reviewing of books by Australian women and encourages readers and bloggers to read and review writing by Australian women.

In 2014 I pledged to read 4 books by Australian women writers.  This is the Stella level.  Circumstances were such that, I read 20 books by Australian women writers.

Some were brilliant, others were meh, but it was very much worth the time.

So I'm signing up again this year.  I can't guarantee another few weeks of of bath rest (yes, bath rest - long story), so I will sign up to the Miles level - 6 books read.
Want to join me? The details are on the AWW blog.

Don't know where to start?  The Stella Prize long lists are a very good place to start. 2013 is here and 2014 here.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Resolutions 2015

  1. Marry the love of my life
  2. Kill no-one

These resolutions may or may not be related.