28 October, 2014

An Artful Owl

Spring has well and truly sprung here in New Zealand. Hip hip hooray. I have been wanting to make the owl pattern from Abby Glassenberg's The Artful Bird since I first got hold of the book a few years ago. Things take time to percolate in my world :)

The wren was my first attempt. Abby recommends starting with this pattern, to get some practice with the techniques. I was really hanging out to make the owl. The owl looks a little more complicated (due to the feathers) but actually that turned out to be quite straightforward. I struggled a lot with getting the body to piece together correctly... I just couldn't get my head around it for some reason. There was a lot of swearing and unpicking at one stage, but once I figured it out it seemed so straightforward! I had a lot of fun with the embellishments, sewing the eyes and the feathers together, putting the ears on. Giving the bird its character is the best part.

I've been watching the birds around our house recently, and I'm thinking about trying a couple of NZ natives. Maybe a wood pigeon or a tui. For the tail I used an old skirt that I bought in Sydney at Glebe Markets years ago, that I just couldn't bear to part with but was long past wearing. And the feathers were the remnants of a peplum shirt I made a while ago, with a kind of painterly design that I love. Re-using these adds another layer of meaning when I look at this owl now, bringing back fond memories. Sometimes as I'm drifting off to sleep I recall old fabric patterns from my childhood that seem to have made a lasting impression on me. I wonder if anyone else does that.

06 September, 2014

The Gap

I'm not sure what to call this object. When I bought it home, the consensus was that it would be the perfect vessel in which to serve a huge bunch of asparagus. I'm not sure that it needs a purpose.

I was thinking today about the process of trying something new, creatively. Over the years I have dabbled in various things, mostly drawing, painting, sewing, bookbinding and printmaking. All of those things have a considerable learning curve, some of which take quite a lot of practice to get good results. Ira Glass talks about this, in his talk on storytelling and creativity. He discusses "the gap", when you're first starting out, between what you know is good, and what what you actually produce. It's worth a listen, if you're ever feeling discouraged about your creative efforts.

I've always loved printmaking, especially etching. I love the quality of the line and the embossed image on the paper. But I find there's quite a big gap between what I know to be good and what I can actually achieve. I know it's a matter of practice and perseverance, and I'll get back to it one day, but it's going to be quite a process I think.

One thing I'm enjoying about ceramics is the lack of expectation that comes with being a beginner. I'm making plenty of mistakes, but man it's fun just playing around, learning what is possible with the medium. It's pretty cool to see what emerges from the kiln, and seeing how the different processes will transform the clay often in totally unexpected ways.

The other cool thing is that you can achieve some really satisfying results even as a beginner. What starts out as a lump of clay is transformed with different processes, starting with an idea, then sculpting, moulding and manipulating, using tools or your hands. Then you work with glazes to create the surface patterns. I think it brings different skills into play, and provides opportunities to use your own strengths. I'm enjoying my wonky results, rather than needing the results to be perfect. And as my teacher says, you can buy perfect.

My friend Heleen told me about a South African ceramics studio called Wonki Wares. Their work is beautiful, and not at all wonky. But don't you love the name? Embrace the wonky.

31 August, 2014


I'm not sure I set foot out of the house this weekend. We were all a bit under the weather and needed a weekend in. It was a lovely quiet rainy weekend spent sleeping, recuperating, watching movies and making stuff. Some of us spent the entire weekend in our PJ's. I must have watched close to the whole of season 2 of The West Wing, or should I say, listened to, while I was sewing. I must be getting pretty good on the in's and out's of American politics, with the number of times I have watched this series. I never get tired of it. How about this.... West Wing quotes!

I've have had the book "The Artful Bird" by Abby Glassenberg for a couple of years and even got so far as cutting out the wren pattern and buying the materials (wire, cutters and floral tape), before setting it aside. I think that my fabric was fraying a bit and I was put off by the tiny pattern pieces. I got it out again this weekend and decided to have another crack at it. Funny, I must have been easily put off back then, because it was super easy to remedy and I really enjoyed putting this little bird together. I'm pleased with how it turned out and have plans to make another, maybe the owl next time. I have loads of fabric scraps, which would be perfect for this project, along with some cool printed fabric from a bag of basmati rice. I love this book, there are so many lovely birds to make, with such a lot of character. There are loads of beautiful birds on the Flickr pool and on Pinterest. Looking forward to starting the next one.

26 August, 2014

Ceramics 101

Gosh it's been so long since I posted on this poor neglected blog, I wasn't sure I would remember how to do it! Behind the scenes, there's been lots of making. Always.

I've been attending a ceramics class at a new ceramics studio that has opened on the north shore in Auckland. It's housed in a former Anglican church, complete with church pews, hymnals (if that's what they're called) and a church bell. I've been wanting to take a ceramics class for a long time, and it seems to have filled some inner need to just create something intuitively, without thinking too hard about it. My teacher gave me some good advice recently. She said that if you don't know what to make, just get on the pottery wheel and make a mug. And from that, things just flow. And it's so true. There's something about just getting out of one's head and just allowing yourself to enjoy the materials.

So far it's been mostly bowls and platters, both thrown on the wheel and built by hand. I did have one project that didn't quite work out, which was a large water jug which cracked right down the side before I fired it. I'm still not sure what I did wrong, maybe it was a bit ambitious for a first project but it's still on my list. I'm determined to try again.

11 March, 2014

Street Art of Newtown

Last weekend I visited my old home of Newtown, Sydney. Spent a nostalgic few hours wandering around the streets, looking at old and new street art. I did go looking for the Banksy work on the side of the Alfalfa House food co-op in Enmore Road, but it was nowhere to be seen. Found a good Vietnamese street food place next door though.

Spent some time looking on my phone for the whereabouts of the White Rabbit gallery. Only to look at my photos later and discover this...

06 March, 2014

The Life Changing Raw Brownie

I think I may have stumbled across the best chocolatey dessert/snack ever. It's from the same lady as the Life Changing Loaf of Bread, and I think this might just be in that same category. It's the Raw Brownie from Sarah Britton of My New Roots. I've been trying to minimise refined sugar for a while now, so I'm always excited to add to my repertoire of sweet things that are made of good, healthy ingredients. I guess the goal is to cut down on desserts overall, but making sweet treats out of real food ingredients rather than fake, manufactured crap is a good transition step. And more realistic for someone like me with a pretty good sweet tooth.

These brownies are a delight. They only have five ingredients: walnuts, almonds, cacao powder, sea salt and dates. Six if you sub with a few prunes like I did. They're pretty hard on the blender. I overheated my Vitamix twice and it stopped working for a bit, which was a bit of a worry, but eventually I realised it hadn't completely died, and it was just a failsafe mechanism in action. Phew. So basically, you just whiz all the ingredients together until they form a fudge-like consistency, aside from the almonds, which you just roughly chop. Mix it all up together and press into a baking tray and freeze to set. Then just cut into small cubes and try not to eat too many at once.

And judging by the hundreds of comments, they're obviously a hit with others as well. And if you want to feel even better about it, read Sarah's description of all of the health benefits of the ingredients. I had a laugh about how she cannot accept any marriage proposals (as thanks for this life changing recipe) because she's already taken.

Apparently Sarah Britton has a cookbook in production, which I'm pretty excited about. The photos on her blog make you want to crack out the kale and green peas, so I'm sure the cookbook will be something to behold. I just noticed a recipe there for raw chocolate too, that's going to be next off the block!

05 March, 2014

Happy dance china

I've gone a bit op-shop crazy of late. I can't seem to walk past a secondhand shop without going in. But I've had some pretty good finds recently, so I'm making a concerted effort not to feel guilty about it. This dinner set was a little pricy for an op-shop find, but I do a little internal happy dance every time I use one of the plates, so I figure that makes it worth it.

The markings on the bottom indicate that it was made by Wedgwood & Co Ltd (with a little unicorn), which indicates that it was made by Enoch Wedgwood, a distant cousin of the more famous Josiah Wedgwood & Sons. Enoch Wedgwood (1813-1879) was an English potter, founder of the pottery firm Wedgwood & Co of Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent. Wedgwood & Co was renamed Enoch Wedgwood (Tunstall) Ltd in 1965 and in 1980 it was taken over by Josiah Wedgwood & Sons, who renamed it Unicorn Pottery. I'd love to find out more about the vintage of this particular set. And I'd love to know how it came to be in that shop on that particular day I walked past.

04 March, 2014

The Great British Sewing Bee - series 2

I'm totally loving that The Great British Sewing Bee, series 2 is screening again in the UK, on BBC Two. If you haven't seen season one, it's a British reality show, devoted to finding Britain's best home sewer. (If you haven't, go and find it. Really!) It's not being broadcasted here in NZ, so I'm having to wait patiently for each episode to be posted on You Tube. Last time I didn't find out about it until the whole season had aired, so I binged on the whole series in one night. Only four episodes though! Great background watching with a project in hand. This time the series will be twice as long.

I'm so in love with this show... it could almost be my new favourite. It's my kind of reality TV. The contestants seem to be a supportive bunch, giving each other little high fives along the way, kind of quirky and quaint, with none of the bitchiness of other reality shows like Project Runway. I love that it's actually about sewing, rather than about personalities! And that the person with the best overall skills wins.

As much as I love Project Runway, and the drama of it, I wish they would cut out some of the back stabbing and petty disagreements and show more of the detail about how they actually construct a garment. The Great British Sewing Bee gets down to the nuts and bolts level. In series one, the projects ranged from some pretty straightforward stuff like making an a-line skirt to some more difficult things like constructing a jacket to fit a live model. Of course there are the some of the usual reality TV scenarios like having tight time constraints to make something. I admire the contestant's ability to perform under that kind of pressure. When I get stuck, I often just leave it a week (or longer) or start something new.

I enjoyed getting to know the judges in season one, the lovely Savile Row tailor Patrick Grant has the swoon factor and sewing teacher May Martin, from the Women's Institute, is so knowledgable and they both have such a wealth of experience. It was interesting to hear their take on all of those little details that are so important in getting a home sewn garment just right.

My least favourite part of the first series were the tutorials, which were a bit rushed and not all that practical. This time they seem to be adding in little clips on the history of fashion and tailoring in Britain in its place, which I find a bit more interesting.

I'm not the only one going on about it either! Gertie is also a fan.

I've heard that they are casting for series 3 already too, so that's something to look forward to. Apparently a similar show is in the works in the US too. Ring a ding DING!

27 February, 2014

We should have bought more ladybirds though

Baking is really not my thing. If I really have nothing to offer prior to someone coming over, I might throw together some Anzac biscuits, but that's one of about two things in my baking repertoire. So I find the thought of baking a fancy birthday cake more nerve wracking than the birthday party itself.

Last year I got sucked into the idea of making a cake from the Woman's Weekly Birthday book. Luckily, my favourite 5 yr old chose what looked like the easiest cake in the book. A ghost cake, with some white icing, smarties for the mouth and egg shells with blood red veins drawn in them. Even the recipe called for a packet mix cake. Sweet.

I have a cunning new plan. No cakes from books. From now on, the kids can help me shop for cake decorations and they can decorate/help decorate it themselves. This is our first attempt.

26 February, 2014

Herman the German Friendship Cake

Herman, the German Friendship Cake is currently not that photogenic. He is a sourdough cake, so, in his current form, he is a bubbling mass in a plastic container. Maybe he will be more photogenic as a cake, in 10 days or thereabouts. I am very excited to have been gifted this sourdough mix from a new friend. I have tried making sourdough mixes before, but the couple of times I have tried it, I haven't got any further than day 4 or 5. The last time I used spelt flour, but it fizzled out (no pun intended) after a few days and went a bit greenish. So this is a living, breathing sourdough mix that has been going for who knows how long!

The idea for Herman is that you keep the sourdough stirred and fed until day 9, when you divide it into four, give three portions away to friends, with the instruction sheet (for feeding the sourdough and then making the cake) and make the cake with the fourth portion. I might be greedy, give two portions away, make the cake and then see if I can make sourdough bread with the fourth part. I am wondering who might be a willing recipient of Herman. I'm thinking, maybe Heleen and Angela? I'm also wondering, since we're going camping this weekend, if I have to get a babysitter for Herman? I'd hate for him to die on my watch.

On the home grown front, the tomato plants have suddenly realised it's summer and are ripening with wild abandon. I was diligent about getting the little seedlings planted and watered, but promptly forgot about them and went out one day to find them all about four foot high and growing horizontally. By that point it was too late to stake them, so they are happily lying all over the top of each other, on the ground and ripening. It doesn't seem to have slowed production at all. Harvesting is a bit complicated by the fact that I put bird netting over them at one point to keep the cat out so half the tomatoes are under the netting and half are on top (since the plants grew right through the mesh). It seems to have kept all pesky critters out though.

Last night I made this deliciousness, Spaghetti with Roasted Tomatoes and Pea and Goats Cheese Pesto. Pip Lincolne's Same Old Crap from over at hellokateberry. I was rather taken with the "Same Old Crap" description, because if my 'same old crap' meals were this good, I'd be doing pretty well. Unfortunately I had to take the best part out of the recipe, ie, the pea and goats cheese pesto, due to fussy little eaters. But I was inspired. And the roasted tomatoes were a hit. For me, at least.

23 February, 2014

A Day Out

The Auckland Botanical Gardens is one of those places that we don't often visit, as it's quite a trek from our house. But when the annual sculpture exhibition is on, it's well worth loading everyone up, snacks and sunscreen, to make the hike.

It was the last day of the exhibition and I'm so glad we went. There were some fabulous sculptures, and some pretty cool crafty activities for kids, including making some sculptures of their own with flowers, sticks, ribbon and leaves, which were hung from the trees as part of a community sculpture. Plus there was the opportunity to try mono-printing. The kids got to ink up a plastic plate, create a little sketch in the ink with a paddle pop stick and then run it through the press. Pretty impressed that they had a full printing press on site! Plus it was a great starting point for getting kids interested in trying printmaking. It gave me some ideas about things we might be able to try at home too.

Mia Hamilton - In fill housing

Jamie Pickernell
Oh Crabby, I do believe we're rather lost

Todd and Karuna Douglas
Alien Invaders

Jane Downes
Rusted Mild Steel

21 February, 2014

Taking Stock

Taking stock with Pip, again.

Making: or rather, thinking about making raw lasagne from Little Bird
Cooking: pizzas
Drinking: calendula tea.
Reading: about the health benefits of calendula tea and feeling virtuous
Wanting: a few uninterrupted hours of craftiness
Looking: for obits for Blossom Dearie, New York jazz singer
Playing: Blossom Dearie and reminiscing about a quiet caberet performance in New York at Danny's Skylight Room in 2006
Realising: that we must have seen one of her last performances, aged 79
Deciding: to say yes more often
Wishing: I could get the balance right between online reading and creative action
Enjoying: the Goldfinch. Page 768!
Waiting: for another little nip on the arm from Sammy the cat
Liking: the slow ambles to and from school, hunting for cicada shells
Wondering: if I can find an outdoorsy activity to inspire us all this weekend
Loving: cuddles from Sammy
Pondering: my next read
Considering: making some things to sell
Watching: Manor Houses
Hoping: to make time to catch up with an old friend
Marvelling: the wealth, opulence and history in the walls of those English manor houses
Needing: an early night
Smelling: cups of tea
Wearing: my fave t-shirt with a vintage style crochet on the front. Looks better than it sounds.
Following: the progress of my fellow bloggy friends
Noticing: how the kids fight less when I play with them more
Knowing: that I need to appreciate these pre-school years
Thinking: about teaching some stuff
Feeling: worried that I won't pursue it
Admiring: people who take daily, active steps to shape their reality
Sorting: UFO's and op shop purchases
Buying: Chinese checkers and kitchen gadgets
Getting: organised
Bookmarking: recipes, as always
Disliking: tantrums and moodiness. And opinionated radio hosts.
Opening: a box of patchwork from the op shop and discovering a whole bunch of completed squares
Giggling: Remembering what my 5yo said recently, when presented with tofu and veg. "You are not the mum I know and love".
Feeling: like I need a long, uninterrupted sleep.
Snacking: on medjool dates. delish.
Coveting: vintage combies on George Clarke's Amazing Spaces.
Wishing: I would remember to pause and relax.
Helping: little people get to sleep
Hearing: possums on the roof. I think. And moreporks.

07 February, 2014


Last year I was lucky enough to experience the awesomeness that is Little Bird, the eatery in Kingsland, Auckland, also known as "the Unbakery". This amazing cafe serves up all raw, organic food and has gained quite a reputation in Auckland for its delicious healthy fare. The thing really stuck in my mind was the blueberry cheesecake. So rich, but so good. When I discovered that Taste magazine published a recipe for the cheesecake, I was keen to give it a go.

As far as cheesecakes go, it's a pretty pricey thing to make. But due to the rich ingredients, the portion sizes are small and it freezes well. Icecream cake! And it's pretty healthy too... cashews and brazil nuts for the base, and coconut oil, cacao butter, strawberries, almond milk and lemon for the top. I made it for Christmas lunch. It was a hit!

31 January, 2014

Simplicity 1873

I have been wanting to make a vintage style dress for a while, with pleats and a fitted bodice but hadn't quite found the right style. Then I came across this Cynthia Rowley pattern from Simplicity. The dress in the picture was a tad too short, so I went for version A instead.

According to the measurements, I am an 8 in the bust and a 16 in the waist, making me seem ridiculously out of proportion! I could see that there were a few inches of ease, however, to be on the safe side I made a toile and cut as per the measurements. Of course I had to remove a few inches from the waist, and even then, it has still ended up being a bit baggy due to the give in the cotton sateen I chose.

I scooped out the neckline which worked quite well, except it's a bit gapey. I may have to do a "hollow bust adjustment", ahem. I mucked around for ages trying to get the fit of the bodice right. It's not perfect, but overall I'm pretty happy with it. The cotton sateen has a lovely weight and doesn't crease much, and I do like the way the pleats come together at the centre. I bought the fabric from Fabric & Co, the shop that has moved in where Arthur Toye used to be in Wairau Park. It's a bit more floral than I usually go for, however, pleasingly, the pattern repeat meant no fussing around trying to make sure the flowers were appropriately placed. I might have to go for the high necked original version next. It reminds me of the dress that Meg Ryan wore to go and meet her online love Tom Hanks at the end of "You've Got Mail". It's my fave in-bed-sick movie. That's how I know.

25 January, 2014

Apothecary Concoctions

I have a poorly child at home today, asleep on the couch, so it's an at-home day for us. I had a long list of chores, number 1 on my list was to clean the bathroom. But somehow I got completely sidetracked by Action Pack: Family Apothecary e-magazine, created by Kathreen Ricketson, of whipup.net. Tragically, Kathreen passed away last year and my thoughts were on her and her children as I spent the morning making things from this beautiful magazine.

I made a shampoo, from castile soap, bicarb of soda, water and avocado oil. I'm not sure how this is going to go, since I've had limited success with natural hair products in the past, but I'll give it a whirl. Next was some lavender and peppermint lip balm, made from beeswax, olive oil, plus lavender and peppermint oils. I've made this before, and it worked really well. I was really scratching around for small containers to put it in so I ended up using a contact lens container. Waste not want not! I also made a deodorant, using cornflour, bicarbonate of soda, shea butter, tea tree, eucalyptus and lemon oils. The last time I made this I used coconut oil. Coconut oil has come a long way, but I still can't seem to shake that sunbaking-on-the-beach feeling every time I use it. So I'm pleased I had some shea butter this time. Despite the smell, the coconut oil version was very effective.

I also made some bath salts, using bicarb (again), epsom salts and lavender oil. And then... natural toothpaste! It contains coconut oil, bicarb, peppermint oil, clove oil and bentonite clay. A small amount of castile soap was listed as an optional ingredient, but I just couldn't get my head around having soap in toothpaste. Funny, because I have no idea what goes into commercial toothpaste. If I did, I probably would have stopped using it long ago. Anyway - the toothpaste is great! Tasty, and my teeth certainly felt clean afterwards. At that point I ran out of steam. There are heaps of other recipes in the magazine to try, including compresses, healing salves, body scrubs and natural cleaners. It really is an amazing resource.

21 January, 2014


I have been obsessively making cushions these past few days. So easy and satisfying. Totally in love with this Ink and Spindle fabric my hubby bought me for Xmas, from Bolt of Cloth. I could spend all day and all my money in that place. I let out a very undignified squeal when I started to unwrap the package, and noticed that it was wrapped with this tiny sliver of Frida Kahlo fabric, from Alexander Henry that I saw in the shop last time I was there. I hit the jackpot with that package... this Ink and Spindle fabric, some beautiful Kokka fabric and a Marimekko teapot. So spoilt.

This naturally led to some re-arranging of furniture and digging out of some old prints.

Printmaking class starts in a couple of weeks. Can't wait!