Friday, 30 November 2012

Get Festive with the MIAMI lifestyle

Make It and Mend It, aka MIAMI, is a way of life conjured up by Clare Flynn, Hilary Brufell, Anne Caborn and Clare O'Brien in their book of the same name. The core belief behind this approach to life is that human beings were designed (or evolved - Ed) to make things. "It is," say Flynn et al, "wired into our DNA. Yet all those years of the consumer society have caused many of us to lose this capacity and some of us have never even experienced the joy of making something." 

Making Good
If you have never had a bash at growing vegetables, making a Valentine's card or repairing clothes, you are missing out. Being creative and making things is good for us in so many ways. Not only is MIAMI better for the planet and better for your friends and family (who will soon find themselves on the receiving end of top notch handmade gifts), "it builds our self-esteem," says Brufell, "helps us feel more capable and in control, reduces depression and generally lifts the spirits." My own experience bears witness to this. Whether you choose to knit a draught excluder, make salt dough decorations or concoct your own mincemeat this Winter, you will save money and feel happier and more fulfilled.

Think Outside the Bin
I also applaud the authors' philosophy of "thinking outside the bin" - coming up with ideas to re-use, re-fashion or re-define things we might otherwise throw away. Old sweatshirts, as they suggest, most definitely could be turned into a patchwork quilt or a hot water bottle cover, but I'm not so sure many of us have an  "old fire grate" knocking about just waiting to become "a garden herb planter."

Festive spirit
Make It and Mend It (£14.24, David and Charles) contains over thirty ideas to make, bake, sew and grow, and is split into seasons, which means you can adopt the MIAMI way of life all through the year. I thought I knew all there was to know about avoiding food waste, but the top tips for cooking with leftovers was very helpful, and despite my general avoidance of all things Christmassy, even I am tempted to make my own festive foliage wreath this year. I have always known that a wire coat hanger comes in to it somewhere, but the instructions and photos included in this book are so clear and encouraging that it would feel rude not to give at least a couple of Winter projects a try. 

Looking for more Christmas stuff to read? Click here

A Journal for the Passionate Sewist

The Workbasket Sewing Workbook (Krause Publications, £7.49) is a beautifully put-together combination of some of my favourite things: sewing, money saving, and notebooks. Although it was published in March earlier this year, it has the feel of a vintage journal, with its heavier than usual wood-free pages, sturdy flexibind cover and illustrations from yesteryear. Even the pages have a cleverly "aged" look, and the fonts and colours used are just right harking back to Butterick and McCall patterns of the post-war era. With its muted, classy, drawings of women in dresses, the workbook is a perfect representation of The Workbasket magazine's heyday. 

The Workbasket is not a magazine I was familiar with but perhaps it is better known to my American readers. Apparently it specialised in featuring ideas for the "Bazaar, the Home, Gifts and Sparetime Money-makers - with Many Inexpensive, Easily Made Articles that find a Ready Sale." Reflecting this, the workbook contains inspirational "Women Who Make Cents" stories, which are interesting not only because of their sewing-related ideas which are, essentially, a pre-cursor to Etsy, but also socially and historically. One extract - "Little Coats from Big Ones" - begins "While recovering from a nervous breakdown, I thought of a new way to earn some money without having to work away from home." I can relate.

The best of the magazine's material from the decades 1940 - 1960 are included in the workbook, as well as sewing tips which just show the high standard that many women must have been sewing at, in those days. Picot edges, shell hems, felling stitch: it's all there. The workbook also contains charts to help you organise your sewing projects, create designs, keep track of fabric purchases and plan home-made gifts. There are pages to keep swatches of fabric and list your sewing triumphs. It's a lovely way to get all your ideas down in one place and make you proud to be a passionate sewist. 

Want your Etsy shop, website, book, or product featured/ reviewed in Mumtopia? Click here for more details.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Five Ways to Handle A Non-Lego Building Project

After more than a decade of cursing our electricity and gas providers, the King and I have decided to take matters into our own hands and fit a multi-fuel stove. During the past week, this mammoth task is what we have been preparing for and undertaking with the help of our builder, Sam Long, and our roofer, Nick Graves. As luck would have it we have also endured the break-down of our boiler, meaning that we have had no heating or hot water for three days. Hence the lack of blog posts.

Lego I can handle, but having building work done is something I find extremely stressful so here are my tips for a successful building project. 

1. Pick tradesmen you know or whom friends have recommended, not who are the cheapest in town. Having a husband who works "in the trades" and belongs to BNI is a distinct advantage here. The King knows both the people we employed, and knows they will do a good job as well as be civil and considerate when working on-site, which is particularly important when your family is living on-site at the same time. 

If you don't have any direct connections with builders etc, ask neighbours and friends who've had work done, and get more than one person in to do a quote. Or, if you know an electrician, he or she might know a joiner, for example, so ask around. Don't just Google it.

2. Get your hands dirty. In the past I have tended to take part in the planning process but not actually do any physical work. With this project I found it far less stressful to get involved in the donkey work and offer my services as a labourer, which meant helping the King remove plaster from the chimney breast, take away a trailer's worth of bricks from the bricked-up fireplace, and generally cart rubble about. 

This made the job go more quickly, it ensured I was on-hand to join in with any on-the-spot decision-making, and it gave me a good work out too. It's also interesting because you find out that your house bricks were made in Leeds for example, or that the chap who bricked up the chimney smoked Embassy (we found an old packet in the rubble). In addition, I was able to suggest we cleared up as we went along instead of working knee deep in soot and brick dust, and I also ensured we had plenty of coffee breaks. Hopefully it is the closest I'll ever get to having to wear a gas mask.

3. Get your shopping delivered, even if you don't normally, and put foods which are easy to cook - and filling    - on your shopping list. You will have earned pie and mash, for example, after a day replacing carpet, shifting furniture and washing down paint work. Also make sure you aren't going to run out of tea, coffee, milk and sugar. And stock up on ginger nuts and custard creams.

4. Communicate. It's a good idea to warn neighbours on both sides a week or two in advance that you are having building work done and when you anticipate the job starting and finishing. I do this by writing a short note and popping it through our neighbours' letterboxes. This means I don't have to answer questions straight away about noise levels or access, and it's less face-to-face hassle. 

In addition, remember to ask for help. This may mean asking your neighbours if you can use their shower one evening, or planning in advance to spend a whole day at a friend's to keep the kids out of the way when the chimney is being re-lined (thanks Cagey). People often take pity on you if you have no heating or hot water, I find, and you are sure to be able to return the favour some time.

5. A fabulous way to gain some perspective in the midst of chaos is to watch a film or read a book about a time of great poverty. Cinderella Man, which I watched via Lovefilm when recovering from a stomach bug, sitting down, doing the ironing, in an unheated house on Monday, really did the trick. 

Not only does it star Russell Crowe as an underdog, it is set in the Great Depression. Between a quarter and a third of the American population were unemployed. Millions of families without enough money to pay the gas and electric, with not enough to eat, desperate for work and not much hope on the horizon. All I had to put up with was a couple of days without the radiators on. 

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Put Down the Handbook of Self-Esteem

There's so much information out there about taking care of ourselves and being healthy, yet we mums continue to have a really hard time giving ourselves permission to actually do these things. Most of us know that we need replenishing, nourishing and nurturing - just like our children - but we just can't allow ourselves to take that step. Or if we do, it's short-lived, like an annual trip to the Turkish Baths or a yoga class. 

Overwhelmed by information
It's not the information that we're missing. In fact, we suffer from information overload. What we need is the permission to do what a best friend would do in an instant; we need to tell ourselves: "Take a break, love; take care of yourself. The rest can wait." Just the kind of thing we would say, no qualms, to any woman. We would encourage her, support her, hold her in our thoughts. But doing that to ourselves? It's just not cricket.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Guilt over Hand-made Gifts

Every year it's the same. In true Bah Humbug style I vow to reject consumerism this festive season. I will have a Make Do and Mend Christmas, I promise myself. It will be simple, tasteful and different this year. 

Then I get to November and start to panic. All of a sudden there's a real deadline. With dark days, damp weather and the general "Isn't Christmas GREAT? Why don't you BUY SOME STUFF?" atmosphere in the shops as soon as Halloween is over, I'm at my all-time creative low. This is not the time to start concocting raspberry gin or upcycling winter hats for my in-laws. It is a time to hibernate, as far as I am concerned. 

The lesson I have finally learned this year is to make things when I feel like it, and stock them up. Sometimes, for example, I really feel like making cards or washable sandwich wraps (you know, everyday items like washable sandwich wraps...) and other times I would rather eat a Twirl, drink coffee, and watch re-runs of Sharpe. I ought to jump on the hand-made bandwagon when I'm feeling inspired and stop giving myself a hard time when I'm not.

Books like Gifts from your Kitchen by Deborah Nicholas (£14.99, How To Books) have tended to overwhelm me in the past, because I have mistakenly jumped to the conclusion that I should be making ALL the projects contained therein, ALL in time for Christmas, AND save money AND have plenty of time left over to knit an advent calendar. 

Monday, 12 November 2012

Stood Up by Store Cupboard Stand-bys

At least once a month I have a day when cooking a meal for tea appears to be beyond my capabilities. In fact I need to go and put the kettle on, just writing this. The fact that I slept badly last night and am feeling mighty hormonal (not in a good way, the King will testify), coupled with Monday being Asda delivery day meant that my cupboards were as empty as my mind  this morning. 

According to the menu plan, Monday is spaghetti day. I got some mince out of the freezer before Zumba, and pretended, after a couple of hours, that it was thawed out. While that was cooking in its own fat (Asda had a choice of Lean Mince or Organic Mince on offer last time I shopped - I picked Organic) I realised that I had been stood up by that versatile store cupboard standby: tinned tomatoes. I got my coat.

Having posted off my recently sold Ebay items (don't worry, I did switch the hob off), I traipsed through the rain into our local corner shop, well known for its cut-price alcohol. One tin of chopped tomatoes was 95p.

I then applied my usual logic to the situation and bought two jars of Dolmio for £3. I am not under the impression that this is a great deal, but at least it will be tasty and I won't have to add onions, garlic, mushrooms etc in disguise, and I just can't stand the idea that a tin of tomatoes costs nearly A Pound.

This afternoon, therefore, can be spent searching for Benedict Cumberbatch films on you tube or, perhaps more productively, finishing a little sewing project.

I have enough material - including the very forgiving, non-fraying polar fleece my sister in law sent me for my birthday - to carpet my front room but today, I know that making a hooded top or even a beret is beyond me. 
The project I have chosen is a small and simple one, and it is designed to save waste and money. Yes, Home-Fronters, prick up your ears! 

Courtesy of The Sproutz Store's excellent tutorial, I have succeeded in making a bundle of washable make-up remover pads. The fabric recommended is Minky, which is absorbent, lovely and soft and has a dimpled or plain texture. It's quite difficult to source in the UK, but I found a good range at Plush Addict; it's popular with people who make nappies, I believe. 

The Minky side is the side you clean your make-up off with; the other side, you can use any fabric you want, although, speaking from experience, I wouldn't pick jersey. 

Despite my goth phase being well and truly over (breathe a sigh of relief, Mrs Forward!), I am pretty heavy on the old black eyeliner but I have found that these pads wash successfully at 60 degrees. I just put them in the washing machine with my whites. 

It's quite satisfying to make an item like this which can be washed and re-used instead of buying cotton wool balls. And today I need all the mini triumphs I can get.

For more tutorials and pdf patterns, click here

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Don't You Know There's A War On?

Remember the beginning of the War on Terror? I was working in an office at that time and we had notices pinned up all over the place warning us about Suspect Parcels. For a time, we were on alert in the UK, looking out for burn marks on envelopes, strange powders, torn packaging. But you can't really have Terror as the enemy for long.

We all have our own battles to fight. You know who or what your enemy is. It might be depression that's got a firm headlock on your life. Perhaps addictions run through your family tree like Dutch Elm Disease. Maybe you're up against an ex-partner, bad housing conditions, lack of money, ill health. Or there's always Anxiety, OCD, PCOS, IBS, unresolved issues, lurking in the background, ready to attack.

What I've lacked in the fight against my own enemy has not been support or help - I've had as much support from my family and friends as they have been able to give - and I've been taking medication since Secundus was born, as well as tackling my demons in counselling. What I've looked for, and not found, has been inspiration to keep up the fight year after year. Not the fight to banish any battles from my life; that's not possible. Rather, the fight to remain determined that if I can't kill the enemy, I need to manage my life accordingly. 

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Scoff a cupcake, design some bunting

Secundus had been invited to a friend's house after school today, and I knew Prima would be feeling left out. I had planned to take her out to our nearest cafe but fortune smiled on us in the form of a free cupcake and some DIY bunting. The (homemade) cupcakes were given out to each child in Prima's class by a girl whose birthday it was. Serious respect to that mum. The Design Your Own bunting kit arrived from Handmade in Harrogate; Prima and I thought it would be a lovely way to spend an hour together after school.

In the pack (pictured left) which costs around £6.00 ($10), we found seven plain calico flags sewn on to cotton bias binding, and also a box of seven 'pentel' fabric pastels. These are in bright colours and can be blended, and all the fabrics are recycled. 

Having scoffed the cupcake between us, we got some inspiration from it and an ancient tea towel and decided on a cake theme. My plan was to keep it simple, but you can of course make personalised bunting (seven flags is enough for most names but more can be provided if you contact Floss at Handmade in Harrogate), Christmas, or any theme you like.

Prima found it very easy to use the fabric pastels, which are excellent quality, and there is plenty left over so we can use them on other fabric craft projects, like t-shirt designing. This approach is a lot more child-friendly than trying to make bunting from scratch together, but just as satisfying.

Once we were happy with the finished drawings, it was a matter of covering each flag with a piece of plain paper and then ironing to make the design permanent. 

The final result was simple but effective and is a great addition to any room, celebration or not.

You can see more Handmade in Harrogate creations at RHS Harlow Carr Gardens' Christmas Craft Exhibition, starting 10th November. For more details, click here

Find out what else Mumtopia recommends by clicking here

Want your Etsy shop, website, book, or product featured/ reviewed in Mumtopia? Click here for more details.

Simple Pleasures #5: Camp Fire Day

During half term we began what I hope will be an at least annual tradition: Campfire Day. We are blessed with grandparents on both sides of the family who have large gardens and generous natures. The "Yorkies" live much closer than the "Midlanders", and were kind enough to welcome us, plus two other families, our friends the "Forwards" and the "Pasties", to their home for a day, with carte blanche to have a bonfire, build a shelter and generally do all the Cub Scout things the King and the other dads especially like. 

Monday, 5 November 2012

BrocanteHome Life Audit #6

Today I am: utterly failing to tick off anything on the Confident Mom's daily planner but I hope to get back into the swing of things once the children go back to school. 

Feeling: in limbo - the kids had a lovely time at Cagey's today but I still didn't get much done. It's weird with the King off work this week, I realise how much of my own space I need. Very demotivated at the moment and am not sure if I have a stomach upset or am just stressy. 

Reading: Good Housekeeping Wartime Scrapbook - my mum bought it me for my birthday. And Gone to Soldiers by Marge Piercy.

Eating: I'm not really interested in food you know. But we did have some apple cake after tea. The King made it - I never did get round to it. 

Planning: the installation of a woodburning stove - we bought one today and it should arrive in two weeks.
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