Sunday 12 October 2014

Felting Fun - Shetland Wool Week 2014

Amongst other things Shetland is famous for its sheep, its wool and its distinctive Fair Isle knitting which come together every year for wool week. Shetland Wool Week has been running for 5 years now and coincides with national wool week. This year I had visitors for a long "wool weekend". Wool week seems to be getting bigger each year and this year was a real treat. There have been classes and exhibitions dotted all over the islands. As I have mentioned before I am not a knitter but I loved the idea of doing something new and different so I signed myself, my friend and her mum up to a needle felting course. None of us had ever done it before so it seemed like a fun idea.

We had all tried our hands at spinning with mixed success earlier in the week and I soon discovered that I am just not coordinated enough to pull it off, in fact I feel I am so uncoordinated that I should be proud of myself for being able to walk. On the night of the felting we set out in a gale with crazy rain and went to the class in the Peerie Cafe in Lerwick. I was not sure how well the cafe would work as a setting, it is always bustling in the day and has a lovely atmosphere, so it was odd going at night but it actually worked really well. We were upstairs and there were just enough people to fill the tables. Everybody was really friendly and chatty.

The class was ran by Ana and Amy who were friendly and very approachable. They started with a short demo and then let everybody get stuck in. The principle is very simple, we were provided with prepared felt rectangles and there was a table full of prepared coloured fleece. The course information said to take an image with us and they provided books with extra. You place the fleece on the felt and stab with a barbed needle until the fibres fuse. In principle this is very straight forward and anything you are not happy with you can remove.

I had found it difficult to choose an image but when I saw the box of  beads and embellishments I decided on Mousa as the postcard I took along had flowers in the foreground. The difficulty for me came in the fact that you just have to "go with it" as its not marked or traced. I started out trying to draw and realised I had to just do it and see what happened. Initially I tried layering colours on top of each other but it was looking too stripey so I took it off. I then pulled it into little pieces and mixed it back up. It is a huge advantage that you can put something on with a few stabs of the needle and if you are not happy you can lift it back off. I loved the way that you can build up the colours and picture and I marked out my fallen walls with thin wool and felted over them to give texture.

I felted my broch separately to try and get the shape and then I felted it onto my hill. I had been quite aggressive with my felting and some of the colour was showing on the back - this was easily solved by adding another pad of felt to the back and felting it on. I added in my beads in the foreground and suddenly felt comfortable again with a "normal" needle in my hand. I blanket stitched around the edge to neaten it up and down to curiosity as much as anything I wrote 'Mousa' in local wool on the back and felted it in. I took a few minutes to decide what to write as my first thoughts were longer words and I imagined me trying to scrunch the letters in like a badly designed poster at school.

I was impressed that I had produced something in just under 2 and a half hours. It was fun to do and my piece was neat and recognisable even if I had taken a little artistic licence with proportions. What amazed me was the array of fantastic pieces around the room although I got broch envy at a much larger more detailed broch!

My friend produced a fantastic postcard based of St Ninians with a stunning moody sky. She was far more bold in her approach and balanced colour and texture with well placed embellishments. My friend's Mum excelled despite also being a beginner, she chose a Ram that she had found in the wool week promotional bag - the original design was a bright watercolour. She translated the head with fantastic accuracy and added detail to the nose, eyes and horns and it was looking lovely. She then took it a step further and padded it creating a 3D rams head that made it pop. She backed it on darker felt and blanket stitched the edge. This gave it a fantastic professional finish.

It was a lovely night to spend a night and everybody was friendly and shared ideas and designs. I will most certainly be looking out for any more classes next year.

St Ninnians by Maria Bell on the left, Wool Week Ram top right by Glynis Bennison and bottom right is my Mousa.

Saturday 27 September 2014

Weighted Pin Cushion and Scrap Bag

A friend has just got a sewing machine and completed a dress making course so for her birthday I wanted to make something to go with her new found hobby. I decided to make a weighted pin cushion with a scrap bag. It is a design that I have made once before and I love it because it is well thought out and practical, it can go on the arm of a sofa for hand sewing or next to a machine; I found the pattern for free on Sew mama sew. There is a felt patch to put your needles in to and the scrap bag can be detached. There are also divided pockets to put in scissors, seam rippers, pencils etc.

It takes three different fabrics to make but you use less than a fat quarter of each. I chose some really different Dashwood Studios fabric. My friend loves orange so I chose the 'sienna orange mushrooms' fabric with a complementary red fox and a wildwood leaves designs. I felt these complimented each other really well and if I am mixing fabrics I like to use a range of print sizes. The leaves are very busy, whilst the foxes have a larger pattern that is more spaced out and the mushrooms are a small print close together. The three fabrics also had varying amounts of colour on them with the leaves being multicoloured compared to the orange and white on the mushrooms. There was a fantastic tip in Sewn Toy Tales by Melly and Me which states that if you are matching a lot of fabric they need to have one colour in common with another piece of fabric that you are working with; she also recommends that you experiment with the size of prints.

The pattern is easy to follow with lots of useful pictures. There were two parts that I needed to get my head around - the first was how the scrap bag came together and the second was how to fold the pocket in on itself to assemble the pincushion. Overall it was straightforward. I was pleased with the result and may someday get round to making myself one!

Weighted pin cusion with scrap bag and organiser.

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Hama Time (Lord)

My craft obsession really started with cards, mostly cross stitch cards. Now I tend to spend more time on the gift and less on the cards so cross stitch tends to be for when I am only sending a card, or when it is for somebody who has a sense of the work the finsihed card has taken. I find embroidered cards can be as effective but I am always looking for new ways to personalise a card in a quick and fun way. The easiest way for me to do this is to get my husband to draw a card, the other is to go a little bit retro.

I loved Hama beads as a child and often "help" my friend's little ones with theirs. When I started using pinterest a lot I found that there are a lot of patterns out there for Hama bead designs. Some of them are crazy A3 sized works of art complete with shading, but a lot are small quick projects. I had a few birthday cards to make in a short space of time as the presents had taken a little longer than planned and I decided to do a Tardis and a tree frog. Both designs matched the recipient well and both were bold and fun. They probably worked better in Hama than in cross stitch as it made them larger and stand out more.The Tardis pattern was adapted from a pinterest post and the tree frog pattern is originally from the perler website. I had great fun doing them and I believe they both brought a smile to the face of those receiving them. It can be difficult at times wanting to do it all but I think sometimes it's nice to do something a bit different even if it is a bit whimsical.

Tardis Hama Card

Tree Frog Hama Card

Monday 22 September 2014

A Bowl of Unicorns

In recent years there has been an increase in the number of patterns with phrases on them. The most common and abused has been the "Keep Calm..." signs although I don't tend to get the appeal as it seems forced and somewhere between only mildly amusing and very annoying; and certainly not worth the sewing. I have also not been inspired by the "make do and mend" adaptations. Many other saying are too saccharine sweet or cliched. Then, however, I found this fantastic pattern by Alicia Watkins on etsy. Not only did it make me smile I knew straight away who to send it to. I bought the pattern and i was very impressed with the quality and detail. The charts came in black and white and colour for a rainbow option. The instructions were clear and it had been thoughtfully laid out.

It was not the easiest piece to stitch as the unicorns are all over the place. I found it best to do a unicorn at a time even if it was just a series of legs as it kept the tension set for each unicorn. If you had just put all the stitches in a 10 stitch by 10 stitch square in and then moved on I think it would have shown and been disjointed. It was also a good way of keeping the back neat. This was important as I was using even weave so you see more through it than when using Aida.

I was really pleased with the outcome, it was bold, fun and very different.

Saturday 20 September 2014

Wedding Sampler

To go with the wedding tortoises I decided that I should also make something sensible and classy and stylish. This is where I tend to come unstuck though, as bags made out of loud fabric, slightly mad soft toys and ideas that grow and evolve to become more elaborate (to the point where I find myself embroidering a potato sack) is all normal. To try and do something minimalist is hard. I worry that there is not enough on it, that it will look bare or that I have made no effort. Thankfully those that know me know that minimal is the hardest thing for me to do and my husband was determined to keep me true to my aim.

I wanted to put together a sampler. I decided to use blackwork as it is a method of stitching that I love and it can be very stylish. I decided to move away from tradition in that I wanted to add in colour. I was eager to stick to the tartan colours and keep it with the theme. Blackwork lends itself really well to Celtic knots and that seemed perfect for a Scottish wedding. I also played a lot with the idea of blackwork thistles. The problem with this idea was that it took a lot of space to get anything that resembled a thistle. This was throwing the balance off and if I carried on with a thistle border the lettering would need to be about 10cm high. This was moving swiftly away from my ideas of "minimalist" and into the realm of "epic eyesore". So I took a step back and decided that I needed three colours of thread, writing, boarder and something for the middle. I loved the idea of a Celtic knot heart for the centre. I found a lovely design on pinterest and it seemed perfect. It was designed in cross stitch but I just used the outline in backstitch to give it a blackwork feel.

The border was a simple knotted chain which I have seen a lot and used a few times before. The lettering took my husband and I some time with graph paper and getting some inspiration from online alphabets. I chose to do the lettering in the dark green as I felt that too much black would be overpowering. The green was a good match with the tartan and I felt it helped keep to the theme. I used a pale green to mount it just to add another dimension. I also think trying to match card and thread is almost impossible so using a contrast is far better than being a couple of shades out.

I managed to keep it simple but I feel that it was stylish in the end and acted as a good contrast to the tortoise!

Wedding sampler

Friday 19 September 2014

Wedding Tortoises

For my friend's wedding I decided to make wedding Tortoises. There has been a long running joke between them about owning a tortoise to the point where a tortoise made it onto the invitations! I therefore decided that it was appropriate to make a pair of tortoises. I love making things for weddings as you get a theme and a colour range set as soon as you get the invitation. Last year I made my sister and her husband wedding mice to match their blue shabby chic theme. I used a pattern from Sewn Toy Tales by  Melly and Me. They were fun and went down really well.

The wedding mice

The pattern for my tortoises came from Mariska Vos-Bolman on her fluffels website. It was marked as an advanced pattern. I really liked the pattern and the expression on the tortoise's face. I had some experience of making soft toys mainly from 'Melly and Me' and my confidence had grown with each toy so I decided to give it a shot even though I would say I was more 'intermediate' than 'advanced'.

The pattern layout was different as you had to add in your own seam allowance. There were a lot of pattern pieces and some very new techniques to learn. By far the most difficult section was the eye as it involved making an eye socket which had to be turned in on itself leaving a good seam. The eye was made separately out of three fabric pieces and a felt pupil. The eye was then stuffed and stitched into the socket. This required precision which is even harder when sewing a circle. Getting the seams correct on the head was also difficult. Apart from these two stages the main difficulty was constructing it to hide all of the seams initially put in on the band and the base.

The fabric was easily chosen as I knew the groom's tartan and the colour of the bridesmaid dresses. I decided to use the same mottled green fabric on both of the tortoise. For the bride tortoise I used the burgundy to match the bridesmaids in the center and ivory satin backed crepe for the side panels. I decorated it using lace and seed pearls to add texture and lift the design. The ivory and peals were left over from my wedding dress which I thought made it more personal. I ordered a sample of the grooms tartan for the grooms tortoise with the co-ordinating colours for the side panels and I liked that it co-ordinated so well with the theme and colours.

Although it took a little bit of getting used to a different style and method I enjoyed the detail in the pattern and the result had a good finish. I feel it is only a matter of time before I own her new book Sew Cute to Cuddle.

The tortoise went down well with the happy couple and the biggest compliment came from the groom himself who did not realise I had made them until he spotted the tartan!

Mr and Mrs Tortoise - pattern by Mariska Vos-Bolman

Wednesday 17 September 2014

"Blast from the Past" bags.

I was organising a hen party for my friend and decided on an 80s theme and, as well as making her dress, I decided to make tote bags for the hens all with an 80s theme. This was, admittedly, a thinly veiled excuse to trawl through 80s TV reminiscing and coming up with cool icons to add to bags. I love to embroider tote bags, I think it is becasue they are practical, very easy to personalise and you can match the technique to the design. I found images online, in old colouring books or by getting my husband to draw them. I discovered that I am not very good at getting the dates right as I wanted to do Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles but they were 1990. I filled them with 80s sweets and neon goodies. They seemed to go down well and hopefully will get more use.

Pacman was a 'must do'. This turned out to be one of the larger designs but I loved the hint of colour and how well it fitted accross the top of the bag. 

Pacman tote bag
Smurfs were originally created and published in the 1950s but the cartoon was fully 80's and Smurfette seemed so iconic of the decade that she was also a must. I did a thin black outline and added the lines of colour to lift the design.

Smurfette tote bag

I think Danger Mouse was my favourite design, peaking with Penfold from the bottom corner of the bag. It seemed fun and cheeky and the sketch style was really fun to do. This was using a really dark grey thread. The eyepatch, glasses and nose was filled in using satin stitch.

Danger Mouse tote bag
Ghostbusters celebrated 30 years so I felt it needed a bag. This was all satin stitch with the features added in black. I think this stood out most as it is so bold.
Ghostbuster tote bag
This Walkman is a wild olive design from her old school set. The set was so fun, although I was dissapointed that I could not use the Gameboy as originally intended as that was 1990's. I love the wild olive faces and how fun the designs are, plus they were easy to buy and download. I used backstitch to do the outline.
Walkman tote bag - wild olive design

My little pony needed an outing as I remember my big sister having this exact one and being very envious. Again I used an outline but gave some extra attention to the eye as it was getting lost without it. 

My Little Pony tote bag

Tuesday 16 September 2014

I've got love for you if you were born in the 80s

My friends got married recently (hurrah) and I got to be head bridesmaid (double hurrah). This left me with the task of organising a hen weekend. After much chatting with the other hens we decided on an 80s theme. I started searching for an outfit worthy of an 80s prom and came across some issues.

1) Vintage clothing sizes are all over the place and some sellers adjust to current sizes where as some don't.
2) The price for vintage clothes is crazy when you are looking for fancy dress.
3) My friend is shorter than "average" and has boobs - something a lot of the dress do not account for!

This lead to me scratching my head as to how I could adjust a dress without showing it to her.

At this point I decided to make a dress, this would allow me to make it to fit and select the fabric I wanted and it would be truly unique. I found a fantastic McCall's "Brooke" pattern that had been released in 1983. I loved the idea of an authentic pattern.  This still left me with two problems:

1) I have never made a dress before.
2) She lives 225 miles away.

I decided that I had plenty of transferable skills from bags and toys and after a brief pep talk from my Mum I convinced myself that I could indeed make a dress.

As for the distance I decided that the solution was simply to make a mannequin of her shape. I found a fantastic tutorial on line and followed it step by step. It was very effective and after a bin bag and 3 rolls of duck tape the measurements matched my "live model". I found it sturdier than I expected and used the insides of pillows to stuff it. My only point on this is that it is best done if you know the person well as you do have to spend a lot of time touching them.

The first task was to decide on fabric. I loved the idea of a black velvet bodice as so many of the dresses that I had looked at used it and it seemed very 80's. I had thought about flocked taffeta but I was worried that the fabric would be so heavy it would pull the bodice out of shape. I needed something that was bright and light and screamed 80's so I settled on some fantastic printed chiffon with a rainbow paintbrush effect. To quote my husband "It looked like the 80s had been sick on it". It was perfect. I decided to do a bias binding strip on the layers which half came from the skipping skirt and also meant that I did not have to roll hem such light fabric.

This then came down to the actual making. The pattern itself came in 3 massive sheets and was rather daunting. I knew I had chosen tricky and indeed slippy fabric, plus I had some reservations about inserting the zip and the idea of boning petrified me. I also knew I was going to have to adjust the pattern to fit. With all this in mind and yet more advice from my Mum I decided to make the bodice out of an old sheet to get the size right. Initially I thought that I could just add or subtract a number of cms from each section evenly to get the fit. I soon realised that this was going to send it all out of shape - the front piece sat lovely but the back did not. After some alterations and tacking, and more alterations. I got to a place where I was happy. I used all the adjustments to alter the pattern and cut out the pieces of the real fabric. Oh and the lining fabric. I had never done any lining before but 'hey ho'!

With all of the pieces cut I got on to the bodice which, after making out of a  bed sheet first, came together nicely. The straps went in OK but were quite an odd shape. Inserting the boning was a bit of a pain as it has a mind of its own. It was difficult to leave the right amount of fabric to make the boning cases but it worked fine in the end. I then had the dreaded zip. With yet more advice off Mum (yes I was on the phone A LOT) I went for an invisible zip. I found a you tube tutorial and it was great. I would recommend invisible zips really highly. I liked the ease of putting it in and it gave a really good finish. I put the skirt together with no real issues except the fabric sliding and making the hem a little tricky. The tiered frills took vast amounts of fabric which slipped all over the place and was evil to cut. With some wresting I got them edged with biased binding by tucking the fabric into the fold of the binding. I put the gather stitch in by hand and spent what seemed like hours trying to pin it into place and get the gather correct. It was really difficult due to the movement of the fabric and the amount of it. At the point where it was about even I put it through the sewing machine. The first time I had not used enough pins which resulted in so much movement that it had to be unpicked. Unpicking chiffon is a thankless task as it almost ripped on more than one occasion. I made sure I got it right after that. All that was left to do was add a massive bow and a press stud. The bow was really simple to make but took an amazing amount of fabric.

I was pleased with the result, it was fun and bold and most certainly 80's. Had it been a dress I was making to wear time and time again I would have liked the waist better fitting but the bride to be had lost weight and I was nervous of making it it too tight. As far as a fancy dress piece goes it ticked all the boxes. It was also a fantastic learning curve and improved my confidence. She pulled it off well and may one day forgive me for making her wear it!

80's themed dress modelled by the "Hen"

Fair Isle Sheep

Having done the baa baa blackwork sheep card earlier in the year I was eager to have a play with the design. I have quite a few friends who collect sheep so it was a good opportunity to personalise and adapt the design. For a friend's birthday I decided I should try and make a "Fair Isle" inspired blackwork sheep. I love Fair Isle knitting and it is something I see done with ease at the craft group I attend. As somebody who can barely knit I am envious of this skill. I decided that blackwork has the consistency to give the idea of the pattern.

I realised that the sheep were a little small to get a full pattern in so instead of doing 3 and a caption as in the original design, I decided to make a big one twice the size. I simply doubled the size on some graph paper and then set to work. I wanted quite a bold colour pallet without it being too bright so I started with a burnt orange and autumnal red and took it from there. I opted for simple blackwork rows and boarders as there was not a lot of space for elaborate designs. I managed to design it so there was two rows of each pattern. This helped give the feel of repetition. and enhanced the Fair Isle "feel".

I was worried that using black against it would seem a bit harsh and dramatic so I opted for a very dark grey as not to detract from the sheeps "jumper".

"Fair Isle" Blackwork sheep.

I was really pleased with the result and thought it was a fun way to personalise a card. I loved stitching in multicoloured blackwork and I would be tempted to try more fair Isle inspired stitching in the future. I think the technique would lend itself well to stockings for Christmas cards too.

Monday 15 September 2014

Vagabond Bag

I found a bag pattern in my Simple Sewing with Lola Nova book and after the success of the skipping skirt I decided to give it a go. It is the perfect market bag as it folds away easily and I had a friend's birthday in mind as an excuse to make it. It is a simple design with one continuous piece of fabric for the outside and one piece for the inside, which in theory gives the handles a nice finish; however I chose to use a fabric with a large sheep pattern on it and therefore needed to cut two pieces so that the sheep were not upside-down on one side. This was easily changed by sewing it along where the fold line would be.

I liked the finish on the bag and it was a good size with handles that are comfortable to hold. My main issue with it was the bias binding. The bias binding is used to seal up the bottom of the bag. This does give a nice clean finish but it also means at times you are sewing through 8 layers of fabric and bias binding. This is a lot of layers and makes it harder to get a straight line. It also runs the risk of some of the fabric not being caught in the stitch. Had I been using a thinner cotton or another fabric it may have been easier to sew, but then I would worry about the strength of the bag as it needs to be practical. Overall, despite my frustrations, it looked good and seemed strong. If I did it again I may just use the bias binding for the handles and add a simple panel in the base.

Vagabond sheep bag - Lola Nova pattern

Sheep pocket in vagabond bag

Thursday 10 July 2014

Alpha Papa

Like a lot of popular culture I was late being introduced to Alan Partridge. I found that after a few too many references that I just didn't get I bought my husband the original series on box set. He enjoyed revisiting them and I had a giggle watching them for the first time. It was not the funniest thing I had ever seen and it did not come close to Father Ted or Spaced. It was however clever, enjoyable and not too taxing.

When they announced the film I had some reservations, I was unsure if they could string out a long enough plot and if they could maintain and stay true to the characters. I was worried that it would all come down to Steve Coogan's ability to "BE" Alan Partridge and everybody else would get over shadowed. I think there is always a risk taking a small production and making it a film which you are trying to sell an idea to the world and not just the BBC.

I should not have worried at all. It was better than the series but it stayed very true to itself. Along with some very funny slapstick there was a good plot. It was filmed in a way that felt very old fashioned and "British". The cast were incredibly strong and funny and supported Coogan perfectly. The plot is based around a hostage situation at the radio station where he works. This has come about after the station is bought by a new company. I think one of the main strengths that comes from Alan Partridge as a character is that although he is over the top you recognise him. You cringe because you have met people like that and you can even identify traits in yourself. Or at least I can - Alan Partridge is what happens when you speak before you think. The scenario itself is also over the top but the responses of the characters are normal and awkward.

This is a comedy, and a silly comedy at that, but it is grounded in a decent plot with a strong cast. It is more than just slapstick and although Partridge grates on you as a character you can't help but like him a little. There is an element of 'feel good' about it without too much saccharine sweetness.

Pamper Pack

I think there is something lovely about sending a birthday present that is all about pampering and luxury. It has to be the kind of thing that you would not buy yourself but love receiving. I decided to make my Auntie a pamper pack for her birthday. I made a brown sugar and honey body scrub, bought some pretty candles and little candle holders and then I made an eye mask. The scrub recipe came from Beauty Scrubs and Masks by Elaine Stavert; it's a really easy recipe and uses everyday ingredients from the kitchen.

For the eye mask I used the template from a lovely blog full of really fun things to male. I found the instructions helpful and the quilting lifted the design and gave it a nicer finish. I used a soft brushed cotton on the inside so it felt better against the skin. The outside was a really pretty turquoise fabric with tiny roses on. I love the fabric as it has a vintage style but the bolder background colour gives it a modern feel. I added pretty ribbon ties and made a mirror card to match.

Eye mask made using the tutorial from "dog under my desk"

Body scrub and lovely candles

Co-coordinating mirror card

5x50 - Now it is Over

I am finally sitting down to write about my 5x50 challenge. I could not decide how often to blog and I didn't want to bombard people with blow by blow accounts throughout; in hindsight I should have written more along the way. It does however feel like a good time now to sit down and look back on it all. It is fair to say that it did not go as I had planned, but I did complete 5K a day for 50 days. I also kept a diary throughout along with distances completed, and the crazy messages I sent to friends, so it is nice to use that to reflect.

The Good

I got off to a really strong start. We had 10 days of clear dry weather and I started by beating my personal best. I managed quite a few jogs that had a timed mile in the middle. My best being a 10 minute 9 second mile. On Day 46 I beat my Personal Best time and dropped below 33 minutes with a 32:50.

I am lucky to have had some pretty routes and due to circumstances there were quite a few night walks. There is something quite soothing about wandering around a quiet village at night, and there were some stunning nights with really bright moons and shooting stars. There were also nights with cheesy music on my MP3 player when I pretty much danced down the street zig-zagging to add distance to my pedometer. I am still hoping that I was not spotted!

I also managed to get the weather to do some fantastic family walks. These were over 5K in distance and had the added bonus of  my daughter in the carrier on my back to add to the workout! The two of these that stood out were Eshaness and Hermaness.

A walk around Hermaness was the most Northerly UK 5x50 at that point in time.

The Bad

On Day 16 I woke up with a start and pulled a muscle in my neck and shoulder. This caused me a lot of pain and I felt rubbish having taken ibuprofen. I managed to alternate between gentle walks and slow jogs but felt awful if I did too much or didn't move it enough. It is amazing how much of your body you use when you jog. I thought I might be okay because my legs worked but I was very wrong!

I then managed to catch a really nasty cold which just would not leave my chest. It was the most frustrating thing as I would jog so far and then just end up coughing and unable to breathe. I felt like it was an excuse but I just could not do it. This is where I got really frustrated with a lot of the motivational posts by 5x50 as they often spoke about the biggest battle being in your mind, where as at that point in time my battle was most certainly with my lungs!

The Ugly

It is hard to write about the "ugly" bits without talking about the Shetland weather. I was incredibly lucky for the first week and a half to get calm dry jogs. There were days where the weather was far less kind, although this year I only got caught in one hail storm compared to four last year. I find really windy days the hardest. At times Shetland seems to have magical wind because if you are jogging and the wind is in your face you think 'Well at least it will be at my back soon'. Then you turn in the run and it is somehow still in your face - magic!

There were also days when we had really strong gales. There was one weekend when I decided it was too windy to jog and walking in the wind was so slow that I managed an average of 17.5 minutes a mile, which is slow by any standards. Although there were wet days, I didn't mind them as much as windy days. In some ways I prefer a rainy jog, it feels like a bigger achievement and there are less people about. The other thing is that if I am jogging on a bright calm day I think how lovely it would be to be walking. If  I am jogging on an awful rainy day then I am pleased to be going as fast as my little legs will carry me!

There were also days where it came down to factors beyond my control and they are frustrating especially if you have started strong. For me the worst of these was getting caught out by road works and having to cross the road and jog through dust. It is hard to keep going when you know that your time is slipping and there is nothing you can do about it.

The hardest part of it all was after being ill/injured knowing that I could not make my targets. I was feeling better but deflated and demotivated. One of the most difficult parts of this years challenge was to get back up and finish the way I started, but I managed the final push and I am really pleased that I did.

The Stats

330 Km in total
23 jogs
37 walks
Personal best 5K time
Most Northerly 5K in the UK done.

And now....

I am focusing on the fact that I did 5K every day for 50 days. I did not beat last year's number of jogs or total distance but I did beat times. There were days where I walked and I should have jogged but without the challenge that time would have been spent curled up in a ball feeling sorry for myself. I did it and I am glad that I did. Next year I will do it again and I will try again to beat targets. Since finishing I have made sure that I am active every day although some days the 5K has been replaced by other activities. I am also training for a 10K and time will tell how that goes. It would have been nice to write a blog ticking off all of my goals but life does not work that way. I am however, writing a blog as somebody who can run faster and is healthier than I was 4 months ago.

Saturday 31 May 2014

Skipping Skirt

For my birthday a friend bought me Simple Sewing with Lola Nova by Alexandra Smith. It is great book full of lovely ideas and different techniques. It give comprehensive guides on how to go about things and the skills needed. This allows the project pages to focus on the instructions without getting too bogged down by the technique. the book mostly contains projects for around the house and children's clothes. The book itself is pretty and contains an inspiring array of fabrics. I was instantly drawn to the skipping skirt, I think this was partly as I was looking for something to make for an 8 year olds birthday and because at that age I would have loved one.

The skirt itself was really easy to make, I cut the pattern according to instructions and the set about finding the fabric. It is an amazing "stash busting" project as it uses quite a small amount of fabric for each panel. Choosing the fabric was a lot of fun and I took quite a bit of time to play with different combinations. I was eager to include different fabric types as well to give it more texture. I started with a very pretty woodland critters panel and a complimentary leaf pattern, this  fabric was used for an apron. I then added in the buildings as the colours matched and I liked the urban/rural contrast. The small square fabric picked out key colours without being overpowering. I decided to pick out one of the colours and use that to tie all the fabrics together. I had some fantastic orange shot with different shades so it matched the fox. My last two fabrics were a dark dusky pink cord and a chino fabric. I love using cord as it gives a texture and the colours change as the light catches it, although I was careful to not put the heavy fabric together so it sat right. It was very forgiving to sew as the most exposed seam is in the waist band, which is not very exposed at all.

The one thing that is does show up, however, is fabric cutting. I took quite a bit of time on this as any pattern with a vertical line would be obvious if cut incorrectly. I also tried hard to minimise the number of animals that I cut in half! This is always a struggle with character fabric. On the plus side I managed to avoid any blatant decapitation.

Pretty Skipping Skirt from a Lola Nova design.

I finished it off with some pretty pink bias binding. I think the bias binding gives a neater finish and again it ties all of the panels together. It is a great gift as all you need is a waist measurement which is easy to get.

I was pleased with the end result and it seemed to go down well, she looked lovely in it and it flared out when she twirled. I am planning another two - I just need to decide on exact fabric combinations.

UPDATE - Skirt number two in turquoise and purple. Again I felt it was important to mix colour, pattern and texture. This one was made even quicker after the experience of the first.

Skipping Skirt made using pattern from Lola Nova Designs.

I will be making other things from the book and keeping a close eye on her blog.

Adjustable apron

I have always liked the idea of making aprons as gifts. If somebody bakes I think it is a fun and practical thing to give them and you can go crazy with the fabric and it doesn't matter. The downside is getting the fit right. This may seem rather silly, as it is just an apron, but it is frustrating if the top hags down or it wont go over your head. I thought about straps to tie behind your neck but it seemed clumsy and awkward. Then I found a magical pattern in Sew Quick Sew Cute by Fiona Goble. This is a lovely book made up of projects that can be made in no more than a weekend with lots of projects that could easily be made in an evening. It uses a really simple way of adding a little bit of facing and having the neck loop determined by the waist strap. The pattern is very simple as it is a piece that you cut out of folded fabric. I was making this for my niece so I scaled it down a little and it worked fine.

Apron made out of Woodland Critter fabric using a pattern in "Sew Quick Sew Cute" 

I used amazing woodland critter fabric and complementary leaf pattern fabric for the pocket. I think an apron should always have a pocket. The last one I made had a dish-towel loop as well. I would have added one in this case but I was worried that if I did my sister would make my niece wash up the dishes more...

I had never put facing in before and I was slightly anxious about it though I am now unsure why. It went really well. It just takes time and pinning to match it correctly and it gave a lovely result. The only problem with this method is that you do not line the apron so the hem is exposed. I put in a simple roll hem and used a contrasting thread to set it off.

Thursday 29 May 2014

A Taggy Owl for a Little Lady

Finally a friend had a baby girl!

I have been loving making taggy owls and dinosaurs for little boys but I was delighted to hear that a friend had an adorable little girl. This gave me the perfect excuse to dig about in my stash of pink and purple fabrics.

Now - I know some people are groaning at me reaching for the pink! I have lots of female friends who dislike pink and wont wear it. I agree it is a stereotype to assume that a girl would like pink. My little girl is now 2 and loves her sparkly shoes and Thomas the Tank Engine in equal measure so I don't stick to gender specific toys. She is now expressing lots of opinions on what she likes and what she does not and we encourage that. As a baby however she liked colour and lots of it. I also found that if I dressed her in neutral colours or lots of blue it led to that awkward conversations where you realise the person you are talking to can't tell or remember if you had a boy or a girl. So with great excitement I drew up a pattern and made a pink and purple owl - if only so my friend doesn't have to smile politely and say "She" a lot.

I made it in the same way as my first two. I had cut up the previous patterns so drew another. This means the shape is a little different but I love that there are no two the same. I used cord and velvet and selected lots of fun ribbon again. The main difference is this owl has her eyes open. It occurred to me that this would give a good area of light and dark contrast which babies love and I was pleased with the result.

Girly Taggy Owl
Pretty Cord Fabric On The Back

Saturday 3 May 2014

Trying out a Tee shirt - Top Transformation!

After a few years of making bags, soft toys, book covers and even a quilt I am starting to get to the stage where I should try making clothes. Most people already seem to think I can and it would be a welcome challenge. I think this is also the feeling of those around me as I received two books with clothes patterns in for my birthday. My main concern about making clothes is that they need to fit. If I make a bag and it turns out bigger or smaller than I planned then I can just pretend this is what I wanted to do. Clothes are harder and I worry if they go wrong I waste a lot of fabric.

I am, however, planning to make myself a few things as then I can check the fit throughout and I am not working to deadlines. I decided to start with a major alteration as opposed to a patterned piece. This was because
 a) I found a fun looking pattern and method
 b) It used a tee-shirt that only cost me £3.50 
 c) It felt a bit like the Great British Sewing Bee 

I found the pattern on a fun blog. It has really clear instructions and photos of each stage. There are also extra blog posts that show different variations. I would really like to play with the idea of using lace as a trim. although I feel I would need a pastel tee shirt as the red is too bold to take lace without looking over the top, or giving too much contrast between delicate lace and a block colour. 

Me in my XXL tee shirt 

The method is simple and the fact that you can keep putting it back on and measuring it all again is great.I used an XXL tee shirt for mine to give me length to work with and plenty of space. Tee shirt fabric is nice to work with in that it does not fray, however it is stretchy which is a challenge especially if you want to add hems. In a lot of the ideas on pinterest the fabric is just cut and there is no hem, but I decided to do a small hem around the neck as I preferred the finish it gave. Sewing in the elastic is also difficult as you want to aim for quite an even gather. I am pleased with the end result and I might be tempted in the future to experiment with different sleeve styles. I could have made the elastic under the bust tighter and I would be tempted in the future to look for tee shirts with thinner fabric.

My transformed top.
It is quite obvious that I hate having my photo taken but the coat hanger really does not show the shape in the top.

Entering an Art Competition - Shetland Open

I decided to enter the Shetland Arts Open Competition. In some ways this is odd as I have never classified myself as an artist, but they do have a craft and design section. It is a local competition for those with a connection to Shetland so as a resident I could enter. I was expecting the competition to be fierce as there are a lot of incredibly talented crafters on the Isles and it is open to all abilities. It is also only ran every two years. With all this to consider I wondered a couple of times why I was putting myself through this and the answer was simple - I wanted the challenge. Not of winning or even competing but of making something that I am pleased to put my name to and happy to have hanging on the wall of a gallery I love.

The entries are displayed at Bonhoga which is one of our frequent haunts. It is a converted Mill on the West mainland of Shetland. It has a lovely modern gallery with a wide variety of exhibitions, a charming gift shop and a fantastic cafe with a conservatory that looks out over the burn. The cafe has the best cheese scones and onion chutney as well as being very child friendly. This years competition is celebrating the conversion of Bonhoga 20 years ago and as Bonhoga means 'spiritual home', the theme is 'home'.

I approached the theme in my usual way which was to jot all ideas down for 3 days until something stuck. To stick it has to be true to the theme, I had to be able to visualise it, it had to be a little arty and different and I had to be happy to put my name to it. I find it hard to get the motivation and drive to make something for the sake of making it or to appeal to a lot of people. So I had to design something that I knew at least one person would love and that was a little personal to me. One of the conditions for entering is that the piece has to be offered for sale, but if it does not sell then I know where I am sending it, although if it does sell I may have to use some of the techniques and do another piece!

My ideas ranged from obvious sayings like "home is where the heart is" to movie references - I wanted to stitch red sparkly shoes. I thought about playing on the theme of bringing home the bacon or home sweet home. I spent time thinking about spiritual homes and places that matter. I almost used the stained glass windows in our library as a starting point as I think libraries are where I have always felt at home and the one in Lerwick used to be a Church.

Mirror Mirror on the Card.

I love making cards but I sometimes struggle with how to make them different and original. I like the idea of making something that has a use after the card comes down. I decided to make small handbag mirror pouches with pretty designs that could go on a card and look good but could then also be taken off. The first card was for my niece. I embroidered a small teal turtle onto some calico fabric. The pattern came from Little stitches by Aneela Hoey which is a lovely book. It comes with big sheets of patterns to transfer by ironing and I love the ease and simplicity of iron on transfers. I lined it with a piece of teal striped fabric then  made the outer and inner components and put them right-sides together, one inside the other. I left a small turning gap and top stitched it after it had been pulled through. This is how I normally put bags together, however the only issue was that because I was working on a small scale it was really difficult to top stitch and it was hard to get a crisp finish. I added a press stud so that the mirror doesn't fall out in the handbag.

Turtle Mirror Holder

The second Mirror card was made for my Auntie to go with her pamper pack. This time I chose to embroider a pink rose from the sublime stitches book and I co-ordinated the fabric with the pamper pack. This time I left the turning gap inside at the bottom which I feel gave a better finish. It means you have to leave a generous amount of fabric but in terms of pattern I measured the mirror and added seam allowance and popper allowance to it. The fabric used on the inside of the pouch was chosen to match the pamper pack.

Rose Mirror card

I attached the mirror to the card by sticking on a mini wooden peg. I felt this was a nice touch and kept things simple.


I came to the Superman franchise later than most people, being first introduced to Smallville I then went back and watched the 4 original films. I liked the cheesy take on superman but felt it had been explored as much as it needed to be. I was therefore looking forward to Man Of Steel. I wanted something edgy and different. I had some reservations about yet another 'origin story' but I put that behind me and got ready to watch the film. I enjoyed the start of the film, the mood was darker and bleaker and I loved the idea of Clark Kent going from place to place to try and find himself. There was a dark crisis of confidence and a muddled adolescence that came out really well. The depiction of Krypton was well done, although I felt there were similarities with the machines in The Matrix trilogy.

The decision to crowbar Lois Lane into the story as knowing Superman's identity from the start was an interesting one. I think it saves some of the questions over how anybody can be so naive that have always popped up in other versions. What it also did was to make the story unnecessarily convoluted in a different way. Her presence at each point in the plot, especially in the Arctic, made little sense, and for me the chemistry was not there and Amy Adams gave a weak performance throughout. She was not as feisty as I felt she should have been but that is just a personal opinion and I can see how the relationship could develop in future films.

My biggest problem with the film was the switch just over half way from being an interesting take on the story to being one big fight scene. The length was an issue for me, the repetitive nature was dull and more than that it was one big Matrix rip-off. I have seen people fighting through skyscrapers before, I have seen it in slow motion. There is nothing new offered here. The first fight was visually interesting but after that it was just too much. This is not the only film guilty of this, I would put Transformers and indeed the end of Star Trek: Into Darkness into the same category. The most unforgivable aspect of the film to me is the fact that Superman kills. He should not kill, he should not wipe out a city. He should have fought in space or even flown to a desert. After such a long and protracted fight scene that has wiped out Metropolis he kills Zod. If that really was the only solution then he should have killed Zod  if the first place and spared the civilian life.

There are many small pointers that bugged me in the end to due with continuity and plot but if I am honest then they only annoyed me because I was so angry with how rubbish the film turned out to be. I will not nitpick at those as if the second half of the film had been like the first then I would not have minded at all. Despite me not being over-awed by Amy Adams I felt that the rest of the cast did a good job. It was let down not by performance but by script and production and an inherent need to crash through skyscrapers. This film was made by people who watched The Matrix trilogy and are big fans of Alduos Huxley's A Brave New World but who forgot to research Superman.

I am intrigued by the next film. Like most people I want to see the Superman/Batman interaction and I have some hope for Lex as the villain. I do have a concern that they will mess it up again, although I think it will be one to watch on amazon prime and not worth a cinema ticket.

Sunday 30 March 2014

One Down, Forty-Nine to go - 5x50 Begins

Today was my first 5x50 day. The Shetland weather was kind to me bringing a glorious spring day with bright sunshine and no gales.  I had completed Week 8 of my 'Couch to 5K' and Week 9 was to run for 30 minutes, so I decided to jump full force into my 5K as I was feeling ready - or as ready as possible. It was my first full Sandwick route this year; the Sandwick route is the harder of my two routes as it has a slight hill. I say 'slight' as  if you are driving or walking you don't notice it, but running up it gets you right in the calves. I think that Day 1 is both the hardest and the easiest. It's difficult because it is the point of no return, and is also a long way from the end, but on the other hand it is exciting to start a new challenge and the ache from lots of consecutive runs has not set in.

The jog itself was good, the hill section hurt but I found about a minute in my last stretch where everything came together and I felt like I was running without thinking about it, and it felt faster than normal. I have no idea how to recreate this feeling tomorrow but it gives me some hope that my legs can move faster. I am not comparing my times with the end of last years challenge as I am not yet back up to that standard of jogging, but I will be comparing my times to the equivalent day last year. Today's time was 36.08, so still a 12 minute mile, however looking back at last year it was 40 minutes the first day. With a good head start on last year I am hoping to get a few personal bests this time.

With a sunny beach walk in the afternoon I added a 3.3K walk to my tally. They have changed the website for logging this year and I like the extra information given but it is still easy to fill out the activities. The bonus of starting on the day the clocks change to BST is that I found the time to jog, and log... and indeed blog on a day with only 23 hours so the rest will be easy - right?!?

Wednesday 26 March 2014

On a Roll

There are two types of people that are very difficult to sew for; males and teenagers. Teenage boys have no hope! I needed to sew something different for my 17 year old niece that was quirky and fun, plus there are only so many bags that you can send someone.

I found out that her foundation brush was in desperate need of replacement so I decided to replace the brush and make a brush roll to put it in. I had some fantastic aqua fabric with pandas in cars, aeroplanes and teacups. I bought the fabric on-line at Fabric Rehab which has a lot of fun and unusual fabric and great customer service.  I had made a few rolls before for pencils, although these were easier in some ways as I had a whole set of pencils to use for sizes.

To make the brush roll I used twice the length of the brush that I bought and added 4cm to get the height of the fabric. I used the brush in the packet and measured approximately 10 times the packet width to get the length of the fabric. As you can see this is a really rough way to do it, but it really depends on how big you want it and how much you want to put in it. I cut both rectangles the same size, using plain white cotton to line it. I placed both rectangles right side together and sewed the top and bottom seams and one side. On the other side I put a short row of stitches in the top and bottom of the side seam and left a turning gap. I turned it right side out, added in a folded piece of ribbon and closed it all with a row of top stitching. I folded up the bottom so it covered the handle of the brush then pinned it all in place. I stitched the edges in place and then added 11 rows of stitches to make 12 pockets. These got slightly narrower in size. I was quite generous with the width as I though that it could easily be used for mascara, lip gloss and eye liner as well. I tucked the lose ends in with buried knots, and when complete the top folds over and it all gets rolled up and tied with a pretty bow.

Open roll with brush

Closed with ribbon

Tuesday 25 March 2014

Baa Baa Blackwork Sheep

I love blackwork, the designs are strict and regimented yet it is somehow amazingly versatile. Cross-stitch uses variations of a cross and backstich, so the stitch type is quite uniform but defined by colour. Embroidery uses an almost unlimited number of stitches as well as colour to create different effects. Blackwork uses very few colours; traditional blackwork uses black and gold although I have seen some beautiful coloured designs. It only uses backstitches. They are used to form different patterns which depict different areas of a design. A single thread used in blackwork can make a delicate and intricate design, thicker stitches over a large area can create a fun and bold design. A different number of threads can be used to build up areas of shading with thicker thread looking darker. Blackwork is very unforgiving because the pattern is repeated so any mistake is noticeable. I also find it helps to plan out how to stitch a pattern beforehand; consistency will give a better tension so the order in which you stitch can effect how a pattern looks.

I found a fun pattern to use for my mum's card. It is a simple but effective pattern and plays on the rhyme 'Baa baa black sheep'. My Mum taught me to sew so this seems like a good idea and as my sister is very good at cross stitch I wanted something different. I chose to use a 14 count aida for the fabric as I wanted a "chunky" effect. I think that patterns with a lot of cross stitch lend themselves to thick thread, though I am sure there are exceptions to this rule. I chose to use 2 threads for the backstitch and 3 for the cross stitch and I gave a good close block on the head. I think the design could be altered to give a "Fair Isle" effect but I have yet to try that. The other thing I do without fail is underestimate the time that it will take to do a border. I know I do this and yet I fail to correct it every time!It is far more stitching than it looks so give yourself lots of time.

The pattern was really clear and easy to follow, it was enjoyable to do and it bought a smile to Mum's face.

Finished design

Monday 24 March 2014

Count down to 5X50 and What is running anyway?

It is now 6 days until the 5x50 challenge starts. This is my second year so in some ways I feel better prepared and I know that I can do it. On the other hand I remember the pain, the weather and the "I just want to hibernate" days from last year. It is a fantastic challenge and the beauty is that you can tailor it to your own goals. I know some people questioned why I needed the challenge; Why not just do it off your own back? I am quite a motivated person but for me having to write down activity and distance on my form pushed me on the really hard days. The on-line system of tracking what you do encourages you to do something and allows you to look back and see how far you have come. I made my challenge about running and walking and added extras on for fun. Felling like you are contributing to a big total helps a lot. The £5 entry fee goes to Sport Relief so you are doing for a good cause too. The forums and social network pages are really fun. There are lots of very fit people doing it but there are even more people that just want to be fitter and that comes across.

I am eager to beat last year so this year :  I want to run more than 30 days and walk the rest.
                                                               I want to cover more than 400Km in total.
                                                               I want to reach 250Km before day 37.
                                                               I want to do a 5K in less than 33 minutes.

For a lot of people this might look easy but they are my goals. I would also like to do the UK's "Most Northerly" 5K as part of my 5x50 challenge. This does depend on the right weather at the weekends. I am also guessing that someone else might have the same idea (if you are reading this - hello).

When I started talking about this last year it opened up a discussion about what running is. I was told by a friend that running is "going under a 10 minute mile". Another friend argues that it is simply "moving faster than you can walk" though that asks questions about speed walking. This was cleared up by a third friend (yes I am that popular...) that said it "is having both feet off the ground during a stride". Laura from the NHS C25K plan said that I was a runner at the end of week 6 when I did 25 minutes without stopping.

I know that this a roadrunner but the rest is confusing!

File:Roadrunner DeathValley.jpg
Roadrunner  by Wilson 44691 - Sourced from Wikimedia commons 

I am now working on preparing for my challenge. As well as all the obvious things like checking my trainers are okay and that I have good high-visibility clothing I am doing a few things that I found helped last year.

I have been using the NHS Couch to 5K plan to get up to distance. I found it really helpful and I am on week eight now (despite my blog updates being behind). It would be a great plan for anybody that wanted to be able to jog 5K at the end of the 5x50 challenge as the rest days would allow walking or 30 minute activities. I think the two would be easy to combine.

I found it important to plan what I wanted to achieve and stick to it. It is nice to have some flexibility but I didn't want to look at my pedometer and think that thanks to a busy morning walking about at work I didn't have to run that day. If you are doing classes or group events then it would be easy to plan and give it a little bit of structure. I also found reaching little goals a good way to break down what felt like a daunting challenge.

I set up a couple of routes depending on where I would be for my run so I have one in Sandwick and one in Lerwick. I used walk jog run to set my routes and check my pace. It is a really easy site to use and free. It took me a little while to get a route just the right length but that was going to be the same no matter how I measured it. I also wear a pedometer during the 5x50 to measure my walking every day and I log that separately.  I find my pedometer is good for my mindset, if I am wearing it I am more likely to park further away from the shops, or vacuum for that matter, as it all adds up.

Clickimin Loch, part of my 5K route in Lerwick

p.s I am pretty sure that I am not a runner ..... yet.

Sunday 23 March 2014

Jamie's 30 Minute Meals - Amazing Sweet Potato Mash with Fish and Pudding

I decided to cook a 30 Minute Meal on Saturday. They always feel like a feast and this one includes a drink and a pudding. As much as I love the '15 Minute Meals' it was nice to go back to where I first got excited about Jamie Oliver books. I chose to do Sea Bass and crispy pancetta with sweet potato mash, Asian greens and a berry ice cream to follow. The drink is sparkling lemon and ginger. This is a great meal, it has the balance that I have come to expect from a Jamie Oliver feast, although it is very difficult to find sea bass in Shetland so I used local haddock from the fishmongers. They had no fillets with the skin on and crispy skin seemed to help with the cooking, so I chose to buy a headless/gutted haddock and fillet it myself. I am really not great at this but I took my time and got the fillets off. It was a little scrappy in places but did the job. It works out a lot cheaper this way but is messy and a sharp knife helps a lot. 

With my fish prepared I sorted my other ingredients and pans and started the clock. With so much more going on than a 15 minute meal you really have to keep your head, and I also had a 2 year old sous-chef which caused some delays! My little girl loves tasting ingredients as I cook which is generally a good thing when it comes to beetroot but more tricky to explain that a chilli is too spicy to eat and not actually pepper at all. She did chew on some lime flesh just to prove she would eat it after I said she wouldn't like it. As a result it took me 38.35 minutes and I did the ice cream after; although I knew we would struggle to eat the ice cream straight away after such a big meal. The fish was very tasty with just some lemon zest, fennel seeds and salty-crispy pancetta to compliment it. The dressed greens with chilli were really tasty and fresh but the best part had to be the sweet potato mash. It was incredibly easy to do and had fresh coriander, spicy chilli and sweet mango chutney running through it. I could just eat bowls of it. I can see me using this with chicken and maybe even pork in the future.


There are no difficult techniques at all. I know some people find cooking fish daunting but it is really straight forward. The use of a microwave to make the mash is great as it doesn't take up a free hob. The only thing I would say is that the recipes seem to use a bigger frying pan than I have so I end up using two quite a lot and this was no exception.

The drink is made of lemonade, sparkling water ginger and mint. Unfortunately we were not able to get any mint. Although I can see what the mint would have contributed it was nice without it. I think if I did it again I would be tempted to strain the pieces of ginger but that is personal preference.

Haddock, pancetta, Asian greens and sweet potato mash with lemon drink
The desert is berry ice cream/frozen yoghurt. It is incredibly simple putting frozen berries and greek yoghurt together in a blender. It made a bright purple very tasty pudding with lots of fresh blueberries to finish it off. This could work with any fruit and would be great for children.

Berry frozen yoghurt with fresh blueberries

Tuesday 18 March 2014

I Am Not "Phoning It In" - Level 1 of 30 Day Shred

Before Christmas I completed "Jillian Michael's 30 Day Shred". I developed a strange love/hate relationship with it. I felt the benefits and was pleased to have done it although it really pushed me. I did however feel that I wanted to do it on the harder level.

The shred is really well designed, it is broken into 3 levels. Each level has 3 6-minute circuits which are broken down into 3 minutes of strength, 2 minutes of cardio and 1 minute of abs work. There is a decent warm up which is effective and gets your heart rate up without wasting time and then there's a good cool down afterwards that allows you to stretch. It is only 20 minutes but it really pushes you. Jillian demonstrates the moves and has two girls behind her, one doing the harder level and the second doing easier modifications. This is good as it allows you to do the full workout even at the beginning but also gives you something to work towards and keeps you motivated. Some of the moves require hand weights, and this allows a second level of challenge as you can increase the weight size. I am still using small weights but would consider increasing the size of them in the future.

I made the decision to complete 10 days at each level. I worry that I would struggle to consider myself happy enough to move up a level, so the 10 days made me push myself. I found the first circuit of level one the hardest. This was good as once that part was done I knew the rest would be better, however it was difficult to throw yourself into. I really struggled with full press-ups last year, so I did it on my knees but I was determined this time to do full press-ups. I had managed this by workout 6 but at the the detriment of the next move. It took until workout 10 to get all of the harder moves to come together. I think that the yoga helped my strength a lot and all of the chaturanga push ups have helped with the standard push ups.

I feel that the first level is a little 'jumping jack' heavy, saying that they are simple effective cardio and easy to follow. She explains that there is no easy modification for jumping jacks as she "has 400lb people who can do jumping jacks".

The music is nothing special but then I find that I am so involved with the workout I don't pay that much attention. Jillian is pushy and has some amazing sayings including "don't phone it in". She pushes you to exercise arms and legs together to burn more calories. Despite the fact that I often find myself muttering expletives she makes you complete the workout. She is strangely encouraging despite sayings such as "if you think you are going to die, follow Anita".

The frequent changes in exercise keep you on your toes and make the workouts go quicker.  It is very hard and by the end I was sweating and shattered but it does start to feel good. You feel that your muscles have been worked and that you have gotten out of breath. She encourages you to work through the difficult parts as that is when change happens. This is a message that comes across in the couch to 5K podcasts as well.

Sunday 16 March 2014

Having a Whale of a Time

My Mum has always sewn and I think that is where some of my passion/obsession comes from. This makes her the best and worst person to sew for. She knows the time and effort that goes in so appreciates it, however there is always something in my head that says that I cannot just "bodge" it. I like to make different and fun things. She likes humpback whales so when I saw a humpback whale made out of jeans I knew I was going to have to give it a go. Many patterns for soft toy whales are quite "cartoony", I loved the face that this one had definite humpback whale features, I am not saying it is anatomically correct but it gives the right effect.

I found the pattern on an excellent blog. The blog states that "if you love tidy and neat sewing then please monitor your blood pressure".  This is a great disclaimer. There is no pdf or printable template with these instructions. The photos and instructions are really clear, as are the relative size and shape of the pieces. I think it would be difficult to give specific sizes as people will be using different jeans made of different types of denim. I decided to make the top and bottom pieces fit on an A4 piece of paper. I found half way through this that it was too small to get good seams. Part of my problem was that the jeans I was using were slightly elasticated so the stretch made them more susceptible to fraying, which resulted in holes at the seams. I drew up a bigger pattern with an extra 3cm all round,  this would allow bigger seams and I made the throat area a little deeper. I love the detail in the throat, I made it a little deeper just so I could have a bigger seam in the creases. The pattern itself explains that you should take in and adjust as you go, so if in doubt it is best to err on the side of caution and take in. I love the details in this design with the top stitching and details on the fluke being in the coloured thread that you get on a pair of jeans.

I stuffed the whale and used a ladder stitch to close the turning gap. I used a button instead of fabric for the eye because I liked the sewing/recycled connection. I added the eye after stuffing which is a tip I got from Melly and Me as it allows you to add details after seeing the "face" shape.

My denim whale, pattern by Mevrouw Walvis