Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Our decorated home

Been busy the past week finishing things for Elsie May and Bertha, wrapping presents and decorating the house. Here's some pictures from the latter. Apologies for some of them being a bit dark, you can't see the lights with the flash on.

Living room mantlepiece
Living room tree

Sitting room



Kitchen tree


Bedroom tree

Have a great Christmas and a prosperous New Year


Sunday, 12 December 2010

Making things for your home - a couple of book reviews

With the current economic situation and people wanting to be more eco-friendly a lot of people are turning to making things for themselves, making use of second-hand and pre-loved items, seeking out artisan and handmade makers (like myself) and shopping locally and seasonally. To help cater for this phenomenon a number of TV programmes (e.g. River Cottage, Jamies 30 minute meals, Kirstie's Homemade Home and the BBC's Cracking Antiques) and 'how to' books have appeared, some of which I've bought for myself. So here's my views on a couple of them.

Kirstie's Homemade Home.

This book was written following the first successful series of the same name that followed Kirstie Allsop as she restored and decorated Meadowgate, her house in north Devon.

This is a good book for anyone who hasn't done one or all of the crafts that are included in the book. These include the more simple things that are easily done at home such as knitting, sewing, cake decorating, creating a herb garden and making candles, to the more specialist ones of glass-blowing, blacksmithing, pottery, spinning and weaving and working with stained glass.

One of the things on my 'to do' list is to learn to crochet and the clear and easy instructions in this book were really easy for me to get started and give a good foundation for moving onto more complicated things.

In the first part of the book 'Room by Room', Kirstie goes through all the rooms in a home, talking about her views on making a home and suggesting various ways of using second-hand and handmade items within the rooms.

The second part of the book, 'Getting Stuck In', concentrates on the various crafts. As well as instructions on how to get started, there are patterns for you to create some things of your own. These include, lavender bags, an envelope cushion cover, a rag rug, a patchwork cushion cover and a knitted tea-cosy to name but a few. There's also a section called 'The best of the rest' that covers blacksmithing, glassblowing, pottery, spinning and weaving, stained glass and willow-working, giving a glimpse of what's involved in each of the crafts.

The final section, 'Search and Find' gives suggestions on where to find pre-loved items and also has a comprehensive directory of makers, auction centres, courses and lots more.

Homemade - gorgeous things to make with love by Ros Badger and Elspeth Thompson.

Again, following the fashion for all things homemade, this book has a lovely selection of things to make.

The book is divided into four chapters, Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, as the authors  consider that "nature remains one our greatest resources". Although the projects are based around the seasons, there most of them can be done at any time of the year. For example, the heart made out of buttons and wire, may be suggested by Valentine's Day, but it would also make a lovely token for a birthday.

This book covers all types of crafts from sewing a little girls summer dress, to making scones and the jam to go on them, to knitting fingerless gloves to keep your hands warm as you hang your Christmas wreath on your front door. This book tells you how to make them all.
As well as the projects themselves, there's a 'Homemade Basics' section that covers what equipment you need to have and basic 'how tos' for crafts, sewing, knitting, crochet, the garden and cooking. This section also has the patterns you need for some of the projects.

There's also a useful directory to point you towards suppliers and useful books and websites.

Again, a great book to get you started on making your own.


Monday, 29 November 2010

A very Russian Christmas

With Christmas soon to be upon us, my other half was concerned with the sourcing of the pork (we've always had pork rather than turkey) for the main event (i.e. the Christmas dinner) by my Mother (she's the caterer for the occasion) so he had arranged a visit to the farmshop at Chatsworth. The farmshop, although part of the Chatsworth estate, is actually at Pilsley, a couple of miles away from the house.

With the snowy weather being about we were a little concerned that we wouldn't be able to get there (Buxton, which is on the way to Chatsworth, is very good at getting 'cut off by snow), but fortunately, the snow kept to the other side of the Pennines so the journey was easy.

Having taken refreshment (there's a great restaurant) and purchased all of the necessary items for a culinary delightful Christmas (if you've never been to Chatsworth's farmshop, do go if you have the opportunity to) we drove to Chatsworth House.

In the time running up to its closure on 23rd December, the house is decorated for Christmas. This year was the theme is 'A Russian Christmas'. There's too much to see for me to describe it all here, but here's some of the high-lights.

The first is decorated with sweets and cupcake glass decorations and a huge 'sugar plum fairy', with the netting of her skirt going all around the room.

The main hall was decorated with two huge Christmas trees and turrets representing the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Red Square, Moscow.

The dining table in the dining room had been beautifully set for dinner and was lit by candlelight.

The final room on the tour through the house is full of statues, and the room had been decorated with arches made of fir tree branches and baubles. The lighting was low with a projector playing snowflakes all around the room.

There's a really good gift shop at the end of the tour. This year you can buy Russian-style Christmas decorations and Russian dolls. There are further shops, including an interiors one, in the Stables, along with two restaurants. All well worth a visit.


Friday, 12 November 2010

On knitting a scarf

I love knitting. I like the fact that you can take a single thread and turn it into a fabric. It's also easy to do anywhere. When we were in Scotland last month I easily knitted a washcloth a day, just when we were out and about in the car.

There's almost too much choice when it comes to 'wool' (be it thread made out of wool, cotton, or any other fibre that can be spun for that matter) though. Not that I'm really complaining, but I do have much more 'in stock' than I could possibly knit with for the foreseeable future. This fact, however, doesn't stop me buying more!

When we were in Oban last month, I had to pop into Whitmore and Hamilton to see what they had and, of course, I came out with something! I bought two lots, one being pastel multi-colour cotton (see picture above), which, as I'll be using it to make washcloths for my Elsie May and Bertha shop, can be construed as a legitimate business expense (especially as it was on offer), but the same cannot be said for the baby alpaca, silk and cashmere blend I also came away with (see picture below). I've not the foggiest idea of what I'm going to do with this as yet.
I had the same problem when we went to the Unlimited Colour Company, which is a wonderful shop on the High Street in Ullapool (we went there during our May Scotland trip this year - a beautiful trip from Invergarry). They had such a beautiful array of wool, so I just had to buy some didn't I? I bought a couple of hanks of a Manos del Uruguay (the name mean the Hands of Uruguay) silk blend in cerise purples and oranges (see picture below). I do try to buy British when it comes to wool, but as this is from a not-for-profit company that gathers artisan's work together and brings economic and social opportunities to rural women, I'm more than happy to make an exception. The alpaca blend I mentioned above is another one of their products.
The other wool I bought that day was actually 100% silk and was produced by Collinette Yarns in Wales. This one is multi-coloured pinks and purples as well (see next picture).
Fortunately, I quickly found a use for the Manos cerise purpley one, as a couple of days after buying this we went to the Mallaig Art Gallery where they sold some Ness handbags. To my delight there was one in just the same blend of colours as the wool. If I had the handbag, I could knit a scarf to match. My other-half, kindly agreed to my buying the handbag as my wedding anniversary present (21 years and still counting).
So as well as my other making activities, I've been knitting my scarf, though as I am making other stuff at the same time it's still a work in progress. I'm using a really simple pattern, K1, yarn forward, K2tog, that gives an open loop effect without too much hard work. This scarf could be knitted at any width, you just need to work in multiples of three. Work four rows in garter stitch at each end to get a neat start and finish.

It's about five foot long at the moment, so I'm just going to add a couple more feet worth and then call it done. I don't want to end up with a Dr. Who (Tom Baker) scarf! But, you can make it as long or short as you desire.


Sunday, 7 November 2010

On the joys of a cold, bright November day

Don't get me wrong, I like a warm, sultry summer's day, but you can't beat the clarity of a bright, but cold, day. The problem with the heat of a summer's day is that it creates a haze, which makes viewing distances especially, fuzzy. Whereas when it's cold and bright the clarity is much better. We take much better landscape photographs in Scotland when we go in October, than when we go in May. Today we took a walk along the promenade to New Brighton.

One of the advantages of living on the Wirral side of the River Mersey, is that we have an excellent views of Liverpool. As well as the world famous Liverpool three graces (the Liver, Cunard and Port of Liverpool buildings), and the new buildings, such as the Liverpool Echo Arena and BT Conference centre and the Museumn of Liverpool building, we also have a great view of the Liverpool, Bootle and Seaforth docks.

Not very exciting you might think, but you'd be wrong. As you look up the river from the Pier Head, you first come across the tobacco warehouse in Stanley Dock, it was claimed that it was the largest brick built warehouse in the world when it was built in 1901 (it's amazing the bits of information you can pick up from the internet!). Unfortunately, a new use still hasn't been found for it as yet, so it stands in decaying splendour at present.

Farther along, there's the docks where the great liners used to leave the Mersey for America.  Admittedly, the next bit isn't pretty, as it's tanks of some description. What follows is a mixture of sheds, and other buildings in a mixture of blue and beige. They look especially good next to a blue and sunny winter sky. The colours match perfectly. Eastman colours, my mother calls them (Eastman produced film from the fifties onwards that had soft overtones).

On our side of the river, just before you get to the end, you walk past Vale Park. There are some lovely autumnal trees there at the moment.

Though, with the windy weather we're having at present, I'm not sure how long the leaves are going to last on the trees!



Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Who needs New England in the Fall?

Having left the boys (the cats Jack and Ollie) at home in the care of their temporary guardians, and with the dead certainty that there wouldn't be a massive rush on the new web emporium that is Elsie May and Bertha, my other half and I are on the second of our usual bi-annual visits to the Glengarry Castle Hotel.

Set on the shores of Loch Oich, and next to the ruined caste from where it gets its name, the hotel is our second home.

We normally come up at the end of May (for our wedding anniversary) and the end of October (for my birthday, unfortunately they're not open for the other half's birthday in November).

In May the rhododendrons fill the air with their heavy scent, the leaves are green on the trees and, if you're really unlucky, the midges venture out. Unfortunately, I attract these horrible little insects like bees to honey, and get bitten remorselessly, whereas the other half doesn't attract a single one and wonders what all the fuss is about.

Anyway back to nicer things - Scotland in May. The sun, more often than not, shines most of the time. In fact the weather can be a lot better up here than in the rest of the country. On the spring bank holiday this year it was gloriously sunny here, but in London it was pouring down with rain! 

At the end of October, the trees turn into a multitude of different hues of red, gold, and brown. These are shown beautifully in the sun when the reds are high-lighted. And when its dull or raining the yellows and the darkness of the tree branches and trunks come to the fore. Another difference during the autumn is that when it's sunny you can see farther and more clearer, as you're not hindered by the heat haze of the warmer weather.

The Glengarry Castle Hotel itself is a great place to stay. Gorgeous rooms, great food and lovely staff. I'd recommend it to anyone.

Must finish now as there's a scone with my name on it awaiting.


Sunday, 24 October 2010

Website launched

Following frenetic activity over the past couple of weeks (hence there being no posts here), I've launched my Elsie May and Bertha website onto the world wide web (i.e. at
I've been busy sewing cushion covers, christmas decorations and scented hearts and knitting washcloths (I can complete one of these really quickly now) and adding these to the handmade section of the site. I've also had the excuse of being able to go out shopping for vintage items, though I have got to be strong and make sure that all the vintage stuff goes onto the website and not into the house! Visit the vintage goods section of the site to see what I've got available (including this Avon Ware dish below).
 The next job is publicity. I think that this is going to be the hardest bit of the whole enterprise. I can make stuff at the drop of a hat, and managing the website is the same as type of stuff I've done when I was working for the council, but advertising is something completely new.
There's simple stuff to be done, submitting the site to search engines and starting a word of mouth campaign by sending the link to everyone I know and encouraging them to pass it on. But the real hard bit will be the advertising campaign. Saatchi and Saatchi I ain't. So wish me luck as I delve into the dark and mysterious world that is advertising.


Friday, 8 October 2010

Knitting washcloths part deux - or shower gel verses soap

Having a sister that is currently popping over the pond on a regular basis, she was able to enlighten me on the American fascination for the washcloth. Apparently, they don't use shower gel anywhere near as much as we do, but use soap instead, using the humble washcloth to distribute the same over their bodies.

This started me thinking, why do we use shower gel as opposed to soap? There are plenty of shower gels etc on the market, but there are equally just as many soaps. Type in 'soap shops' to any search engine (don't just type in 'soap' - you get lots of links to the soaps on TV rather than the washing kind) you can see the wide variety of soaps available. These include many handmade soap sellers from large ones such as Lush, to smaller business, such as the Isle of Skye Soap Company. I came across the latter whilst in Scotland last May and I bought bath bombs (I chose the beautifully scented geranium rose, that smell just like the scented geranium we have in our garden and the lavender varieties). But I didn't buy any soap. And why not? Well, there's shower gel in the shower and liquid soap by all of the sinks, when would I use it?

Since I've started knitting wash cloths and trying one out myself, I'm becoming converted to using them and soap. This means the next time I come across some handmade soap, I'll be buying! 

A couple of years ago, whilst on holiday in Scotland, I'd bought a bar of soap

Sunday, 26 September 2010


I've had the urge to bake again. This time I plumped for Parkin, again another from Sue Lawrence's 'On Baking' book.
One of the advantages of Parkin is it's easy to do, basically sieve all the dry ingredients, add oatmeal

Add the melted butter and black treacle.
Now, when you've mixed everything together you're supposed to put the mixture (which smells lovely by the way) into a 2lb loaf tin, however, I must have checked mine a while ago so had to use a square cake tin. I really must start to check I've got everything I need before embarking on anything in the baking line!
As it was a lot thinner than it should have been I had to guess how long it should have be cooked for. I found I've got a timer on my phone, which  was useful. The end results were delicious though.
I think fairy cakes next.


Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Knitting the washcloth

When I've been meandering around the internet looking for knitting patterns, I've often come across those for knitted washcloths (or facecloths). We're cat sitting at the moment and I wanted something that I could easily take with me and would be quick and easy to do. What ever I decided on would also have to be saleable as I'm still trying to get back into the work habit! So,as  I'd got some knitting cotton left over from a throw/afghan I made a few years ago I thought about having a go at a knitted washcloth.

As this was my first attempt I used a pattern I'd found on the Lion Brand website called the Bluebird Beach washcloth. The pattern is over four rows and easy to remember and only took a couple of hours to complete.

 Having completed my 'prototype', I went in search of some more knitting cotton (I'd not got as much left as I thought) and found some organic cotton made by Twilleys of Stamford at John Lewis'. It's from their freedom sincere range and comes in a lovely range of colours.

I've now started on my first washcloth using a darkish pink (see below) using a simple basketweave and seed pearl pattern I've put together myself.

I did wonder why people (the Americans in particular) used knitted washcloths as I'd have thought they'd be a bit soggy compared to a towelling facecloth, but having used my prototype in the shower I'm converted. It was easy to use, 'felt' better than a towelling one and dried just as quickly. I foresee a few people getting these as birthday/Christmas presents! 

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Displaying jewellery

I’ve got quite a large collection of jewellery, and I have a number of jewellery boxes to keep it in, but I was finding that I couldn’t remember what I’d got and, consequently, I tended to wear the same few pieces over and over again.

In a few of the magazines that I read, I have seen various examples of the way different people display their jewellery, including using hooks, mirrors and picture frames etc. And I thought by doing something similar I’d be killing two birds with one stone, I would not only be able to see what jewellery I actually owned, but also create a great display.

For displaying these, I bought a lovely glass-topped triple hook in amethyst and matching door knobs that I’d seen in the Graham and Green catalogue. The hook went on the wall and the door knobs onto the front of a glass cabinet, both in our bedroom. I use them both to display my longer and chunkier necklaces.

Last Christmas I was given a Laura Ashley table mirror as a present, and I now use this to drape my finer, shorter necklaces, including an aurora borealis one I inherited from my grandmother.

I borrowed another idea I’d seen, using pressed-glass cake stands, for my bracelets. I’ve got two, both generously donated by my mother, one that is flat and the other more bowl shaped with a crinkly edge (this one was also my grandmother’s). The flat-topped one I use for my chunkier bracelets that can stand up on their own, including a lovely red kitsch one I’ve recently bought from Primark.

I use the other on from my more delicate and drapey bracelets as I can hang this over the edge, using the crinkles to stop them falling off.

I use an old-fashioned idea for these, a pressed-glass ring tray with the sticky-up bit in the middle to slot your rings on. These are easy to get from Ebay or charity shops, mine only cost 75p.

Again, I use a conventional way of storing ear-rings, my jewellery boxes! As everything else is now visible, I’m wearing different jewellery every day, and if you put on a necklace or a bracelet you have to have ear-rings that go with it. The only problem I have now is that I can’t always remember which ear-rings are in which jewellery box!

I'm steadily building up a collection of brooches. I find them on Ebay or in charity shops and as well as using them pinned to jackets etc I also add them to handbags when I go out etc. Again as I like to see what I've got, I display these on a brooch cushion.  I made mine using cream silk and embroidered it with flowers.

None of my jewels are hugely expensive, but displaying them as well as wearing gives me twice the pleasure.

Louise XX