Things that are good to hear

I heard two nice things about my book this week. One in the form of a note from one of my parents’ friends, who has read and enjoyed it (and thought I sounded like “a very practical person”, which pleased me). The other was a PS to a business-type email about something else altogether, saying that they too really liked it. It’s reassuring to know that it’s hitting the spot!

Most of the rest of the week has been spent recovering from mastitis, which I do not recommend as happy fun times. All hail the modern antibiotic.

Knitting merrily along

I’ve just realised that while I blog occasionally about sewing, I virtually never blog about knitting, despite the fact that I always have at least one (usually more) projects on the go.

Leon, from behind, wearing mitred baby jacket and playing with something at a table

Leon wearing his jacket

Recently finished projects:

  • a mitred baby jacket for Leon’s Christmas, which used up lots of ends of sock yarn*;
  • a couple of spa cloths for my Mum’s Christmas;
  • [SECRET] (another Christmas present that still hasn’t reached its intended recipient);
  • and these socks for me, for the second time. (Pro tip: do not put your non-superwash expensive-handdyed-yarn socks into the washing machine with everything else. I now own a very nice pair of felted booties, suitable for Leon in a couple of years.)
My feet propped against a dark wood wardrobe, wearing blue knitted socks

My feet, this morning, with Jeeves Socks: The Return

The only thing I actually have on the needles right now is another [SECRET], but I’m about to cast on for a sock knit-a-long, about to start this gorgeous shawl for my sister-out-law for her wedding in December, and have a bag full of skeins of yarn to knit some samples (so I can decide on a yarn substitution) for the cardigan I want to knit for myself. Perhaps I’ll leave that last until I’ve finished at least one of the others…

Also, I am fed up of winding skeins into balls, and am about to splash out cash on a ballwinder, thus freeing up valuable time for knitting rather than winding (and untangling, which is what always happens when I DIY).

* Particularly good as I am attempting to destash**.
** Since deciding to destash, a further 7 skeins/balls/cones of yarn have mysteriously*** arrived in the stash.
*** I bought them.

Snowy plants

Four or five inches of snow on my raised beds earlier this week, but looks like the beans, peas, & garlic at least are trucking along under there. I got my tiny garden apprentice to help me take a look under the snow, although he did try to pull up one of the beans when we located them (they’re quite firmly rooted, so it didn’t work). Garlic shoots are visible in the bed in the background.

Then he tried eating the snow, face-first, before climbing right into the bed to play snow-plough.

Last week, before it snowed, we spent half an hour out in the garden with Leon pottering around investigating things (and, um, eating dirt) while I dug in the first half of the wooden edging for the western bed, along the fence. I’ve used a couple of nice solid 2″x4″ lengths of wood from the scrap pile, as I wanted something that will be easily visible when weeding or cutting the grass. I’ll add a photo next time I’m out there. The bed edges are looking good, but more enjoyable was the sense of pottering round the garden with Leon, undertaking our own projects alongside each other. More of that when the growing season starts, I hope.

Sewing beyond my means: halfway through

Back in November, I decided to have a go at a quilt-as-you-go patchwork version of Amy Butler’s Weekender Bag. Since then I’ve been steadily ploughing onwards a bit at a time, and now I’ve finished the piecing, and am halfway through putting the bag together. Pics after the jump…

Continue reading “Sewing beyond my means: halfway through”

Travel busy bag for a 10 month old

We travel by train quite a bit, and Leon is getting beyond the age where just waving my keys in front of him will distract him. Today I constructed a travel busy bag for him, with ideas from a couple of places online.

I made two quilted texture cards: one pieced from differently-textured scraps from my scrap box, the other from a curtain sample. One of them has buttons on one side, and a zip and a suspender clasp (it was kicking around in the bottom of my bits box & I thought he’d like it) on the other. The second has little scraps of fabric of different types sewn onto it, secured only at one end so they all flap like little tags.

Two quilted 'cards' with bits sewn onto them

The other side of the 'cards', one with buttons, one with fabric tags

My new headphones have a carrying bag, but I won’t use it, so I used it to hold a bunch of twisted metallic pipecleaners, and a small string of beads, in, for taking in & out & playing with. (Though he’ll need help with the bag.)

I threaded beads onto another pipecleaner, and a metal spring and split ring I found in my bits bag onto a second one.

Busy bag pieces all spread out

(The pencilcase to hold it all also came from my box of bits. The carabiner clasp visible there I ditched in the end.) I also tucked in a couple of bits of card, one for folding/playing with, and one with the names of a handful of nursery rhymes & songs written on, for those moments when my brain goes blank.

Small zippered bag, with pen-holders on the front

All zipped up and ready to go! When Leon’s a bit older, I could tuck a couple more bits of paper in, and a couple of pencils into the front pen-holder part. (And, of course, swap out a bunch of the activities for something else.) You can’t see in that photo, but there’s a piece of ribbon attached to the zipper, and most of the activities have a ribbon loop on them, so I can tie the ribbon through the loop while Leon’s playing with them, and hopefully spend less time fishing under the seat for something he’s dropped.

It was fun to make, came entirely of bits and bobs I had lying around, and didn’t take that long. Now we need to go somewhere to test it out!

Shallow growing

In the course of planning both back & front gardens, I need a list of things that will grow in shallow (6-9″) containers, as I have quite a lot of them. Herewith the results of my research thus far.


  • Rocket
  • Lettuce generally
  • Mustard greens?
  • Peas – not 6″, apparently ok in 9″
  • Beans – not 6″, apparently ok in 9″

Other veg:

  • Tomatoes – not 6″, apparently ok in 9″
  • Carrots – not 6″, apparently ok in 9″


  • Strawberries


  • Marigolds
  • Nasturtiums
  • Pansies
  • Poppies

And some things which in my experience don’t do so well:

  • Chard (probably because it’s secretly a root).
  • Parsnips, roots generally.

I’ve had trouble with peas and beans in containers before, but it’s possible they were a bit shy of 9″, so I’ll give it another try. Unfortunately I think the majority of my containers are less than 9″ deep so planting is going to be a bit restricted. My inclination is to plant in the ground in the back garden wherever at all possible (perhaps taking a few more paving slabs up), and to keep the containers for the front balcony and porch). I will return to this at the end of the season with my findings.

Any other suggestions? I haven’t got anything particularly out of the ordinary here, nor indeed anything perennial except the pansies. I’m considering looking into the Plants for a Future database or something similar. On the other hand, time is getting on so I might just try some annuals out for this year.

New year, new growth

I don’t really do resolutions per se (this post by Meg Barker is excellent on the matter). But if you looked out, on a bright, sunny New Year morning, at your patio (or balcony, or windowbox…) and thought about growing food in it, you needn’t put the whole thing off til spring. Sure, it’s not the time of year (in the Northern hemisphere) for doing much planting, but there are still things you can get started on now.

First up is planning. If it gets to March or April and you haven’t given any thought to what you’d like to grow, that’s fine (it’s better to throw a few random seeds in than to do nothing), but even a little thought in advance can make your space much more productive. What veggies do you most like? No point in growing things you won’t actually eat. How much space have you got? Do you need to find some containers? Can you order seeds now? The Real Seed Company are good for seeds (and browsing their website may give you ideas), and nearly anything you can put some drainage holes in the bottom of can become a planting container.

This is also a good time for planting fruit. Blackberry, raspberry, blueberry, blackcurrant, and the rest will all grow happily in pots. Blueberry in particular may be better off in a pot, as it is ericaceous (lime-hating) and needs specific compost or acidic soil. (If you already have a blueberry, in fact, now is a good time to pH test the soil, and add compost, or water with 1-2 tbsp of vinegar in a gallon of water, if needed.) You can buy bare-root plants and get them in the ground over winter, though you’re unlikely to get a crop until summer 2014. I confess I’ve never personally managed to make blackberries or raspberries work in pots, but I am assured that it is possible. Perhaps I needed a bigger pot.

You could also consider a fruit tree (an apple, perhaps), if you have space and ground. Fruit trees too can be grown in (large) pots; I have a satsuma tree in a pot, but it’s not doing so well. Down at Downing Road Moorings, near me, they have a lot more success with trees in containers (of sorts). If you already have fruit trees or bushes, now is a good time to prune. You usually want to lose about 15% of old growth each winter.

Finally, it’s never too cold and dark to try planting a tray of microgreens. Get sme rocket or any other green-leaf seed (mizuna is nice), plant it in a shallow tray on the windowsill, and wait until the second set of leaves (the first set of “real” leaves) appear. Harvest with scissors and eat.

See my book for more detail on any of the above, and ideas for getting going with permaculture container gardening whatever time of year it is. And watch this space for an update on my own plans for my garden this season; I’m planning to sit down with a notebook this weekend.

Winter cooking

The rosemary in the back garden is doing well enough that even at this time of year, I could go out and hack four decent-size sticks off it with no concern:

Four rosemary sticks and a pile of rosemary leaves on a chopping board, knife next to them

When I took that, I’d already put half the leaves into the roast potatoes; I’m going to leave the rest to dry on the back of the worksurface.

They were for this somewhat unusual in-season recipe: Swede On A Stick. I promised to find something interesting to cook with a seasonal vegetable. I forgot to soak the skewers, but hey, it’s been raining off and on for weeks so they were pretty damp anyway. It was very tasty! Not entirely worth the hassle (assuming you like swede anyway, which I do, and would happily just eat it plain), but a nice change.

Swede chunks on rosemary skewers in a heavy orange griddle pan on the stove

Also used from the garden, thyme for this bean and leek recipe (kidney beans worked fine instead of white beans, for the record, and conveniently we had a half-empty bottle of white wine mouldering in the fridge), and a bit of parsley to sprinkle on top. We had roast potatoes with it (is it too soon after Christmas? I thought not.).

Excellent in-season eating all round. Then I left someone else to clear up and went to have a nice bath.