Sunday, December 18, 2011

Home-made Christmas Gifts, Part Two: **Spoiler Alert**

I recently bought a job lot of antique bone china teacups,

with the view to doing something with them other than drink tea. Though, I have to say, drinking tea out of a bone china teacup is really the way to go. It tastes better and forces you to sip it elegantly, rather than gulping it down the way I tend to do when drinking out of a mug.

I did think it would be cool to make something along the lines of these fabulous teacup chandeliers from Domestic Construction

Picture source found here
and I may, at some later stage, have a go at making a similar kind of chandelier (I quite fancy Marmite jars). But for now I decided to make some teacup candles and give those as Christmas gifts.

Home-made Christmas Gifts, Part Two: Teacup Candles.



1. I prepped the teacups by placing the wicks in the bottom of each cup, and balancing them in the center by taping two pieces of a wooden skewer either side of the wick.

2.  Next I tipped my wax into a saucepan placed on top of a saucepan filled with boiling water, and kept stirring until all of the wax had melted. (All wax has a flash point, so a double-boiler/bain-marie is essential to prevent it bursting into flames.) I got through 1KG (two 750g bags) of soy wax flakes to make 13 teacup candles. When the wax was almost melted, I chipped some of the concentrated candle scent into the mix. I used an orange blossom scent.

3.  When the wax was melted, I carefully poured it up to the halfway mark into each teacup. I found it was easier to pour the wax by transferring it first into a measuring jug, as the saucepan tended to slosh the wax over the side of the teacups.

4.  Once the first layer of wax had cooled, I melted some more wax and poured the rest in just beyond the rim of the teacup. Wax shrinks as it cools so a crevice will develop in the centre, but the second pour helps ensure an even surface.

5.  The last step is to let the candle cool and harden thoroughly and then trim the wick to 1cm before lighting. And once your candle has burned down to nothing, the cups can be washed with soapy liquid and water, and re-used.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Home-made Christmas Gifts, Part One: **Spoiler Alert**

Today is a sick day from work, and I'm home with the flu. I'm feeling pathetically useless and a tiny bit sorry for myself. Having spent most of yesterday sending emails to the wrong people and mailing out incorrect forms to patients, I'm pretty sure the people I work with are rather relieved that I'm staying at home too.  So, in order to feel a bit more like a functioning, capable human being, I decided to make the most of this impromptu time-off by making some Christmas gifts. Yes, I'm going home-made this Christmas.

Home-made Christmas Gifts, Part One: Home-made Chutneys.

David and I recently bought a slow-cooker with the intention of making hearty winter stews ahead of time so that we could come home from work to a steaming plate of deliciousness. To accompany this new purchase I bought a recipe book, and in it discovered that I could make chutney in the slow-cooker. Probably not much of a discovery, I'll admit, but I've never thought about making chutney before. That thought then moved on to another thought that I should make some for Christmas presents, and so last month I made two kinds of chutney, and today I made the pots look pretty.

Spicy Plum and Apple Chutney

1 garlic bulb, peeled and sliced
Thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and thinly shredded
2 large onions, thinly sliced
1kg cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped
3 star anise
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 cinnamon stick
225g golden caster sugar
1kg plums, stoned and quartered
250ml cider vinegar

1. Mix garlic, ginger, onions, apples, star anise, cumin seeds, cinnamon, sugar and 1 tablespoon of salt in the slow-cooker. Cover and cook on high for 2 hours until apples are tender.
2. Stir in plums and vinegar, cover and cook on high for 2-3 hours until pulpy. Stir once in a while.
3. Discard cinnamon stick and star anise before ladling chutney into sterilized jars.

Tangy Onion Chutney

8 red onions, sliced
100g caster sugar
100ml red wine vinegar
100ml red wine
dash of grenadine syrup or cranberry juice.

1. Mix onions and sugar in pot, cover and cook on high for 2-3 hours, stir occasionally until the onions are soft and caramelized.
2. Add red wine vinegar and red wine, cook uncovered on high for another 2-3 hour. Stir occasionally until sticky. Add in grenadine or splash of cranberry juice. Leave to cool, then transfer to sterilized jars.

L: Spicy Plum and Apple Chutney, R: Tangy Onion Chutney

Decorating the pots

First I cut out large circles of fabric, using a pair of pinking shears to prevent fraying of the edges.

Fabric from Piglet's Pincushion

I then cut to size some brown card parcel tags,

named and dated them,

and tied them around the lids, securing the fabric.

I'm going to give them as gift sets of two. Aren't they cute?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Magnetic Distraction

On a previous post I mentioned that I had an appointment with a recruitment agency, that appointment has since resulted in a job with the NHS. The job starts next week, and I'm already planning what tools to buy with my first paycheck. In the meantime, to fill my days, I've taken my little Singer sewing machine in for a service, emailed a company about sourcing an industrial sewing machine, started collecting some vintage fabrics, and um... watched a lot of daytime telly. Don't judge me, I haven't had a television in over a decade.

I've also been using this time to work on some craft projects.
Starting over in a new country (new in that I've not lived here in 12 years), and starting over in a new career is a bit of an expensive venture, so this holiday season I'm going all out on the thrift front and I'm making my own gifts. I can post one of them now, but only because I got too excited about hiding it away for the next month and have already given this particular gift to David.

So here it is - A Guide to Making London Underground Line Magnets.

I chose this particular theme because David is a transport nerd, so we have a bit of a London Underground thing going on in our hallway,

London Underground Map and Station Clock

and in the hallway we have a notice board with rather rubbish magnets that only cost £1.00 but are incredibly useless at holding themselves up, let alone single pieces of paper:

Multiple magnets needed for each piece of paper

Close-up of rubbish magnet
I was inspired to make our own magnets by Jessica Jones' blog "How About Orange" and her Pantone Chip Magnets. Instead of using Pantone paint chips, I cheekily google searched an image of the London Underground Lines, printed out the coolest looking ones,

Cut-outs of Tube Lines

cut out strips of foam board to size and chamfered the edges,

Foam board strips

attached stick-on magnets to the back of the foam,

Roll of stick-on magnets

placed double-sided sticky tape to the front of the foam strips, and attached the cut-out Tube line names:

Double-sided sticky tape

Following Jessica Jones' lead, I used some Aleene's Paper Glaze to give the magnets a nicer finish. The glaze makes the paper look like ceramic tile:

Couldn't find a paint brush, so used a make-up brush instead. Oops.

See? Shiny.

Mmmm. Shiny.

Several coats are recommended to make the magnets look like ceramic tile.

I'll post the finished magnets, smugly holding up multiple pieces of paper, once the paper glaze has dried.


Dec 4th, 2011.

I finally got around to taking a photo of the magnets on the board, even though they have been doing a magnificent job of holding up various scraps of paper for several weeks now.

So here they are:

And here are two sets of Boston subway magnets, requested by my friend Nealia, which are now winging their way to America by post.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Inspiration for Beginners.

Source of quote here

I recently saw this Ira Glass quote on the wall of a Facebook friend, and I would like to share it with you. I've been reading it every day since as a source of comfort and inspiration. You know, I'm not one to wake up every morning looking to "seize the day" or pump my fist into the air with a "Go get 'em, Buster" attitude. My own personal style is usually one of scathing self-doubt and hesitation, mixed with an unrealistic and annoying dollop of impatience to be brilliant first time at everything I do. So I really dug this quote. It strikes at the very heart of my anxiety about starting over in a new venture, and the dreaded possibility that I might fail or not be good enough, replacing fear with enough perspective to get out of my own way.

Thank you, Ira.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Time-Out and Tea-Towels

I just got back from visiting my home town of Woodbridge in Suffolk, getting some fresh air, visiting my parents and catching up with some childhood girlfriends. It was a nice break from staring desperately at my computer screen whilst I rummage through online employment agencies, sending out the odd application and blindly hoping that my CV gets picked out from the pile of thousands that look just like mine. It's a bit of a depressing time in the UK right now, unemployment has hit its highest level in 17 years and I know that I'm not going to have my pick of jobs. Not to mention that I'm not really sure how to get employed in this country. It's been a long time. Converting my American resume into a British curriculum vitae has taken me longer than it should have, though to be honest, that's mostly because I spent ages messing around with different fonts and borders trying to make it look pretty.

I know, I know... why get a job when I'm going to be a brilliant upholsterer and make sad chairs feel happy again? Well, I do need capital to get started. And for that, I do need a job. Preferably one that will give me enough time and energy left over to begin work on my upholstery business. I have an appointment with a recruitment agency tomorrow, so that's a step in the right direction. Which leaves me plenty of time to daydream about which hand-tools I'm going to buy, and fabrics and piping, and all of the world weary chairs that are out there, looking for a new lease of life. I'm pretty excited to get started.

I'm also excited about my new sewing machine. It's not an industrial machine, which is ultimately what I will need, but a really sweet, basic Singer 337. It was built between 1964-65 and is still in perfect working order. It just needs a bit of a tune-up. The best bit about it is that it's not only a joy to look at (the colour is duck-egg blue!), but it only cost me £10 at the Moss End Car-Boot Sale in Bracknell. I'm going to use it for piping and making small cushions. Doesn't it look jolly?

Bit of a blue theme going on here. I swear it was unintentional.

And look, it has its own carrying case. In DUCK EGG BLUE!! I can tell you're jealous.

My lovely Singer 337. It's much more duck-eggy blue in real life. 

I am going to keep my eyes peeled for some vintage fabrics when I'm out and about, so that I can get my feet wet on my new machine by making some fun throw pillows. I did pick up a vintage tea-towel at another car-boot sale, and I think I'm going to turn that into a throw pillow. Something sort of like this:

Photo source found here

The really cool thing about the tea towel I found is that it's from my neck of the woods... well, almost... It's a souvenir tea-towel of an area known as the Norfolk Broads. Norfolk being the neighbouring county to my home county, Suffolk. Which isn't a big deal, unless you are my dad and have been engaged in a life-long rivalry between Norfolk's football team, Norwich City, and his home team, Ipswich Town.

It's just as well that my dad isn't a throw pillow sort of guy.

Awesome vintage tea-towel (£2.00)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Car-Boot Booty

Since my last post, I've been busy trawling car-boot sales looking for local loot. And by "loot", I mean castaway chairs screaming out for a make-over, preferably for under £5.00. Since I left England it seems that the cost of practically everything has rocketed into the stratosphere, but you can always rely on a jolly good car boot sale for a jolly good deal. 

For those of you who do not know, car-boot sales are sort of a British institution and are a rather fun way to spend a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. The Cambridge Dictionary romantically describes them as such: "an event in a public place where people sell unwanted possessions, often from the backs of their cars." Or, as my American friend Nealia queried while we were skyping the other day, "So... it's like a cross between a yard sale and a flea market?" Yes, exactly, but from the back of your car. Isn't that fantastic?

What makes them so fun is you can find anything at a car boot sale, and you can haggle for it too. I'm actually a bit rubbish at haggling as I tend to do exactly as I'm told, so if I'm told something costs £2.50 then I'll pay £2.50. My boyfriend David is brilliant at haggling and is therefore the perfect car boot sale partner. 

David at a car-boot sale
Want to see what we scored? As the old idiom goes: "one man's junk is another man's treasure."

Cast-iron chandelier - £1.00

Detail on chandelier: Bakelite candle holders

Jersey Pottery coasters - £4.00

Bucket-back sprung seat chair - £3.50

Two poorly re-upholstered G-Plan chairs - £2.50 each

Vintage glasses - £0.50 pence for six

1970's pencil holder and sharpener - £0.50 pence

Grand total spent - £12.00. Not bad going.

I'm going to use the G-Plan and bucket-back chairs as my next project pieces for upholstery, and will post fabric ideas soon. They make perfect starter projects because both styles are simple enough that I can wet my feet again with some upholstery techniques, I didn't spend a fortune on them, and their shapes suit my mid-century aesthetic.  Hopefully I can make them look so fabulous that someone may be interested in buying them once completed. The chandelier is another side-project for restoration, and the other bits and pieces...  well, I just couldn't resist.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Chair Love?

It's a bit of an ambiguous title, I'll admit. I don't have a fetish for inanimate objects, at least not in the same way that lady from San Fran who married the Eiffel Tower does, but I do have a special place in my heart reserved for chairs.

Why I love chairs

Beauty and function.
I just find them aesthetically pleasing. And you can sit on them. The basic rule for any design is “Form follows function.” If an object has to perform a certain function, its design must support that function. With chairs however, the sky's the limit.

Each chair could tell a story, from a plastic chair in a school classroom to a King's throne. Chairs hold history, you can track time through their design. One of the most exciting things about carefully stripping a chair down to its frame is to find what lies underneath, whether it's the original fabric, the type of stuffing used, or carvings on the wood frame, all hidden by the new upholstery. It's a form of archaeology.

Why I want to upholster them

When I moved to the United States, I arrived with only a backpack of clothes. When I moved into my first apartment, I had no furniture and barely any funds to buy anything new. A colleague at work told me I could have her old couch and a chair that she no longer used. The chair was an old Danish modern wooden chair, the cushions were falling apart and covered in cat hair, but the frame was solid. I removed the cushions and fell in love. I've dragged that chair frame around with me for twelve years, with every intention to do something fabulous with it. It's currently in storage, but watch this space...

That chair, and subsequent chairs I've gotten my hands on, have all sparked my interest in upcycling old furniture. I've always baulked at spending a lot of money on... well, anything, but in this throw-away culture, how wonderful is it to be able to reinvent something you already have? Freshen it up, restore it, upcycle it, whatever floats your boat. The pictures below are the before and after shots of a Victorian Balloon Back chair I upholstered at Tresithick last year. Transforming that chair restored my soul. But that's a story for another time.



My Grandfathers.
Both my paternal and maternal Grandfathers were craftsmen.

Grandad Lewis, now retired, was a furniture designer and maker for a traditional English cabinet makers called R E H Kennedy. He travelled the world with his designs, one of which, a reproduction crib, is now a part of Plimoth Plantation, a living history museum in Massachusetts, USA.

Grandad Pearce, now deceased, owned a wrought iron works, based in the village of Bredfield, in Suffolk. You can see one of his pieces in the village here. His work also went all over the world, and he was commissioned on several occasions by the Royal Family.

I'm really proud of them. Both were true artisans of their generation, and I would like to carry on that tradition.

Me with Grandad Pearce
Grandad Lewis (standing), on the HMS Mauritius during WWII.