Where growing, making & good living come together

Taking Stock – May 2015

Posted by on Thursday 28 May 2015 in growing, making, meta | 1 comment


*taps mic*

“Is this thing on?”


(Hope you’re all fine and dandy.)


I’ve been spending a lot of time at the allotment recently and to make myself feel better about its still somewhat weedy paths, I wanted to look up the “before” pictures – from before I started reclaiming the plot last summer. Wow, I have come far! Still a long way to go and everything but cor, go me! ;)

While I was here, I noticed a Taking Stock post from just about a year ago and was surprised how much is the same! I thought I’d update that as a catch-up!

What I’m…

Growing: oh so much! My greenhouse has been full of seedlings for ages, but it’s only been this week or so that I’ve been happy to start planting things out. About 40 sugar snap pea plants went into the ground on Tuesday at the plot, along with a handful of runner beans & a couple of courgettes at home.

At home, I’m pretty much restricted to container growing for annual veg so it’s a lovely novelty to have beds. In typical fashion, I had to wait nearly five years on the waiting list to get my first plot – and then was offered a second* about four months later! (* We’re only allowed one plot each so the new one is officially John’s). The second plot is on the same site and is also a small one, so I’ve just over a full plot all together – maybe a plot and a third. The second plot has lovely big beds, with better soil, and lots of well established fruit – rhubarb as well as the usual berries & currants. I hadn’t planned to grow any broad beans this year but the soil was so welcoming when I went to turn it over last October that I had to plant a load – and how they’ve grown. This picture shows them against the spring sown addition.

broad bean plants

All my broad beans have been spindly in the past so I planted them close together – regretting that now!

I also overwintered onions and garlic, and sowed some early round lettuces which are nearly ready to harvest.

It’d take too long (and would be boring) to list everything I’ve got growing in the greenhouse ready to go to the plot – but if we get a mediocre crop from half of it, we’ll be very happy and swimming in veggies!

Cooking: Fancy dancy meals! Our lovely neighbours have been trying one of those not-at-all-frugal delivery services which send you exactly what you need for, say, three meals for two people – I think they’re aimed at people relatively new to cooking (though that doesn’t really describe our neighbours), to show people how easy fancy food can be. Anyway, due to a timing mishap, our neighbours had a box they couldn’t use so they gave it to us – we never say no to free food! We have most of the ingredients in the house already but it’s been fun putting them together in slightly different ways.

Away from that, I think I might have to make up a big vat of “Polish sausage and dead veg soup” at the weekend – a delicious way to clear out the fridge ahead of a shop :)

Learning: I’ve continued taking ceramics classes at a local pottery studio. I’ve been focused on decorative clay techniques this year – taking courses on a full range of techniques, then another course specialising on glazing and most recently, I’ve been learning about Coloured Clay and associated skills like inlaying and laminating. You never stop learning with ceramics!

Also, over the last few weeks, I’ve also been pressing ahead with a bit of language learning. I discovered Duolingo in the depths of winter and got stuck into learning German and refreshing my long neglected schoolgirl French. That went by the by as spring and other fun hobbies kicked in, but I’ve been pressing on of late – though focusing on the French more now. French at school was mostly focused on vocab and simple grammar – Duolingo is somewhat the reverse, focusing on sentence building, which I find more useful and I find the independent learning/gamification a lot more acceptable than the rote learning/being picked on to answer in class.

Making: Pottery aside, in typical Louisa fashion, I’m about 80% of the way through a few projects. Last month, I crocheted all the granny squares for a blanket and have whip stitched about half of them together – I need to finish the joining and edge them. Sticking with crochet, I’ve another ripple stripe blanket that has been sitting at about 80% since New Year – I’m procrastinating because it’s a variegated yarn and I can’t decide if/how to edge it. I also need to finish the last few leaves on a Jacobean crewel embroidery project.

Jacobean crewel project

Wanting: it to be a bit warmer and sunnier (just a little) – I’ve got washing on the line and the grey clouds aren’t inspiring me to head out to the plot for a cheeky session this evening.

Looking: at all the seed packets around my desk. Everything was super organised at the start of the year and is now .. not so organised.

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Making a little more progress at the allotment

Posted by on Wednesday 9 July 2014 in growing | 7 comments

2014-07-09 18.53.04Taking Jono’s advice on reclaiming overgrown allotments (do it little and often), I grabbed a sneaky hour and a half at the allotment this evening.

I’d been working at my computer all day and my John was off to his singing lesson, so I thought I’d take Lily to the allotment for a while rather than for her usual walk through the woods – and I think it worked well.

I managed to get my first bed cleared of most of its weeds, concentrating on annoying deep rooting things like dandelions and creeping buttercup (of which there is more at the allotment than I first though, but nevermind, I will conquer it, I will!). All it really needs now is a proper digging over, then I can start planting in it. (I’m tempted to plant through a weed barrier, to discourage anything I’ve missed from growing back.)

I also spent a bit of time clearing the weeds around the bed – I’ve got some new scissor shears (ones with a rotating handle) so I tried cutting a DMZ around the bed – I did it rather patchily but it’s a start.

2014-07-09 19.06.19

And while I was there, I also picked our first harvest from the plot – a litre of blackcurrants. There were more but my tub was full and my “helper” wanted to go for to the park for the rest of her walk, so I’ll have to leave them ’til next time. (I might get another sneaky hour in tomorrow as John’s doing a talk in the evening. And also I left my headphones in my shed.) My blackcurrant bushes at home are desperate to be harvested too, so I think some jam making may be on the cards for the weekend, yay! :)

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Allotment, end of round 1 (ding ding)

Posted by on Saturday 5 July 2014 in growing | 9 comments

While the rest of the county was watching the cycling in the sunshine, I had a few hours at the allotment this afternoon.

(I’m not going to document every second I’m down there but this visit had lots of “making big progress” picture opportunities and I thought I’d document it for my own record :) )

Though John and Lily-dog did visit me halfway through my session, I was flying solo today – and that meant the tools I could take were limited too — I didn’t fancy walking down the road with a massive scythe ;) I also thought I’d struggle with a spade & fork, and doing a lot of digging on my own would probably be unwise, so that shaped my workload: focus on hacking down the tall weeds to get a better feel for where to properly begin. I’m in no doubt that this is just round 1 of many rounds of weeding clearance before I can start using the plot in earnest!

I decided my first job should be clearing the path across the plot to the shed, else it’d get in my way for the rest of the afternoon. With a little sickle and secateurs for the thick dock & (possibly) willowherb stems, I had it passable in less than ten minutes – not perfect, but a good start!


(Ok, it’s kinda hard to tell from the photo since the path is still pretty green – but trust me, it’s a lot clearer. For starters, you can see the bamboo divider fence – though between that and the path, there are some narrow little beds. I’ll probably use that area for perennial herbs – there is already a healthy oregano plant at the end, and some chives too. I’ve got some rosemary, lavender & lemon balm ready to go, and will probably be able to rustle up some mint & sage as well.)

With that clear, I took a step back to look at the bigger picture. This is the greenhouse end of the plot (with the freshly cleared path to the left):


This is where the main growing veg growing beds seem to be (though I think there are some, or could be some nice ones under the grass in the immediate foreground) so I decided to focus my attentions down there.

I – kinda – worked in a systematic way: after clearing around the pond (so that I could see it and thus minimise my likelihood of nearly falling in it again!), I cleared the metal frame area (which I’ll probably leave up as a structure for beans/peas) and then looped around in a clockwise direction. I dithered back and forth a bit but got most of the tall stuff down in the end.

There is a little bed of fruit bushes between the metal frame and the greenhouse, including the blueberry bush I found the other day. I thought its neighbour was a gooseberry bush but when I was clearing the weeds from its base, I found a label – it is in fact a rather ambitious (for Yorkshire) goji berry bush. Next to that was an even more ambitious kiwi fruit vine (which had, unsurprisingly, died) and another as-yet unidentified bush. There were no flowers or fruit on it, but its leaves look like this – any ideas? (It looks a little like wild grape, but it’s not really vine-y. Or wild.)


All of the fruit bushes – these ones and the raspberries & blackcurrants which run along the edge of the plot up to the greenhouse – should be able to breath a bit easier now I’ve whisked away their smothering weed blankets. (I stupidly forgot to take containers to collect the ripe berries & currants – I’ll go back tomorrow or Monday for them.) I’ll continue to weed around them but otherwise won’t do much with them until pruning time.

I decided to bring my (arguably short) session to an end soon after I’d cleared around the fruit bushes – my hand was cramping from tightly grasping the sickle and the compost heap looked like this:


(It’s a pretty bin heap – at least a metre deep and wide, and as tall as me – but still, filled it.)

I looked back again at what I’d done:


Not too bad!

Next time I can go down, I’m going to start working a little closer to the ground. I identified one bed – a nice one, about 1metre wide and 4m long, in the middle of the plot – to clear properly and dig over.


I can just picture a few courgette plants in there, and some nice round lettuces, and in future years, maybe some sweetcorn…. Mmmm, so many possibilities!

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Yay, allotment!

Posted by on Friday 4 July 2014 in growing | 1 comment

I’ve wanted an allotment for about ten years.

For the first five years, I was constantly, mentally, a year or two away from moving from our house in Leeds so I didn’t think it was worth getting on a waiting list, then doing all the heavy work of getting a new plot, only to move away. When we finally moved to our new house in 2009, one of my first to-do items was to get on the mammoth waiting lists over here – and only five short years later, here we are, I’m an allotmenteer!


There are two allotment sites near our house and my plot is at the closer one – it’s a smaller, less well-equipped site (eg, no piped water on site) but I’ll be walking there most of the time and I’m lazy, so swings and roundabouts ;)

I visited the site last week for a quick look around but we got to see it properly for the first time yesterday.


The plot itself is rather weedy & overgrown at the moment, and it’s pretty small too. It is officially a full plot but based on the sizes I’ve seen elsewhere, I think it’s closer to being a half-plot – I’m happy to start somewhere though.


And aside from that, I’ve been really rather lucky – it’s got both a little greenhouse and a little shed — and when we opened the little shed door for the first time, we saw that the previous holder had even left behind some useful goodies.

(Amongst other things, two sets of shelving/staging, an assortment of hand tools, some spare roofing felt (for the shed), plenty of different netting/wire trellises, and some cute metal boxes with kittens – kittens! – on them holding labels & pens.)

Poking around amongst the weeds, I also found it’s got other useful things lying around – a good plastic storage chest, established compost heaps, materials for cloches, and four full water barrels (having water for this year was a major concern for me).

And what growing treasures I found amongst the weeds!



Ripe raspberries, heavily laden blackcurrant bushes, strawberries, what I think is a gooseberry bush and what I’m pretty sure is a young blueberry one (the picture at the top). They’ve been busy by themselves but I’m sure they’ll properly thrive with a bit of love and a bit less smothering.

There is also a little tiny pond in the centre of the plot – I found that in typical-me fashion (ie, I nearly fell into it).


I’m going back tomorrow to start clearing the weeds. From what I could see, they seem to be “good” weeds – dock and grasses mostly rather than anything too invasive or spiky/stingy – and underneath them, there are some defined slightly raised beds. Time will tell if it’s all as good as it looks!

I’m sure Lily-dog will join me for some of the day – she was already helping with weed clearing yesterday:


“Weed clearing? You mean you weren’t just growing these grasses for me to munch? Nom nom nom!”


After that … well, I guess I have to get growing! Our allotment agreement stipulates that we’ll have half of it cultivated/planted-up within three months. It’s obviously a bit of an awkward time of year right now – too late to sow summer crops, too early for autumn sowing – but I’ve got some plants put by to transplant and if I can get some nice, weed-free beds sorted soon, I should be able to get some salad leaves and whatnot growing there as well. I will keep growing at home – it’s useful to have things like herbs close to hand when I’m cooking – but I’m looking forward to having better beds and being able to plant in proper rows.

Exciting times!

Any other allotmenteers got any hints or tips for a newbie like me? Or anyone got any suggestions about what I could start growing at this point in the season?

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Taking stock – June 2014

Posted by on Tuesday 3 June 2014 in meta | 3 comments

first-carved-bowlsLike last time I did one of these, I’m totally copying from SwirlyArts ;)

What I’m…

Making: a crochet blanket very much like this one; a stitched memory map of the dog walks we take around our local woods; and amongst other things at pottery, a pair of ceramic wall planters (because my plastic one fell about 12ft and broke) and a series of carved terracotta pots.

Growing: not much veg wise this year – just courgettes, runner beans, green beans and cucumbers so far (I did have some lettuces but between slugs and a cat-related mishap, I doubt we’ll see many of them) – but our perennial fruit plants/shrubs/trees look to be doing well. (We added new plum and cherry trees to the garden over the winter – we won’t get any fruit from them this year but they’ll be adding to the harvest next year). I’ve kept to my long-ago decision to fill nearly all the beds with perennials so the garden is still well stocked and productive even if I can’t be bothered doing m/any annuals – I’ve added more flowers than I thought I would but this plan seems to be working out. Also, excitingly, I’m apparently at the top of the allotment waiting lists – it only took four and a half years! – so I think I’ll be grateful for a slightly lower maintenance garden when that finally comes through!

Cooking: Nothing at the moment … for dinner though, I want something packed with pulses and veggies – maybe a daal.

Drinking: Orange and mango squash

Reading:The Marriage Plot” by Jeffrey Eugenides, and re-reading “Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America” (the Parks & Rec tie-in book)

Wanting: my camera battery to recharge: I got all set up — lighting, fabric backdrop etc — for taking some nice pictures of the things I’ve made in the last 18 months and the battery died after one picture!

Looking: out of the window, at the trees that need to be cut back – if the holly bush was trimmed, I could see down the hill into the woods, which is currently dabbled in sunlight and rather pretty. Wish I could see that rather than something that reminds me of a prickly chore that needs doing!

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Do it better

Posted by on Wednesday 5 February 2014 in making | 2 comments

I’ve been trying to do things better recently.

It’s not particularly a New Year’s resolution or anything like that because it started towards the end of last year but I am going to try to stick to it all year. In 2013, I learnt a lot of new skills and as I started to see myself level up*, I wanted that to continue – and spread out to other areas. (Perhaps even blogging ;) )

I guess it started with the sewing course that I took last term – I’ve sewn, on and off, since childhood but I’ve always been a bodger. The epitome of that was the costumes I made for a drama production last summer – the craftsmanship on them was APPALLING. They only needed to be seen from a distance and if they hung together for the three performances, I would be happy. They served their purpose but it didn’t exactly give me much confidence to, for example, make my own clothes. The sewing course – at the wonderful Hive Studios in Shipley – took me back to basics but showed me how to do them right, and while I still consider myself very much a beginner on the sewing machine, my lines are a lot straight, my hems neater and I have infinitely more knowledge about construction techniques and what my machine can (and can’t) do.

Practise stitching

Since my decision to refocus, I’ve been taking the time to do basic samples of embroidery stitches simply to practise stitch lengths/angles/blending techniques (the first ones, above); my pottery** work is now slower and is gradually – in fits and starts – becoming more refined; and, my spinning has become more even and finer (while remaining strong). I’ve also started keeping better track of things – documenting what I’m working on (with swatches/photos as appropriate) and the tools/materials I’m using — a core learning technique but something I’ve never made the time to do.

Given my love of doing EVERYTHING, I’m always going to be a generalist rather than a single hobby specialist but that’s no excuse for perpetually shoddy work. I think I’m enjoying the process more than I did now as well – I’ve always liked the crafting journey but now I’m slowly down, I think I’m getting more of a meditative pleasure from it too.

Coincidentally, this video turned up in my Pinterest stream today. He’s talking specifically about writing (hence the reference to “one story”) but it actually applies to any creative activity. I’m definitely in the gap with a lot of my activities but slowly, very very slowly, I’m seeing it shrinking.

* I’m already a Level 34 in Confusing Video Games with Real Life.
** I took a course at Hive last term and am doing another one now but I’m probably doing more at “drop-in” sessions. It’s so much fun!

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Stitching etc tips from the Knitting & Stitching Show

Posted by on Thursday 21 November 2013 in making | 2 comments

I’ve been at the Knitting & Stitching Show in Harrogate today.

As I’m not particularly one for just browsing shops (especially at the moment) or just wandering aimlessly, my main focus has been on the workshops. I did four today and have another four lined up for my return visit on Sunday.

Today I did: the Shibori Blues (indigo/cloth resist dyeing), Intro to Crewel Embroidery, Japanese Embroidery & Embellishing Quilts. They were all interesting but were rushed trying to fit everything into an hour. Embellishing Quilts was the one I was least excited about going into it but I think has been the most valuable (since I want to start quilting); the Japanese Embroidery had the steepest learning curve (having to twist our own threads from the thinnest silk!). Shibori Blues & Crewel Embroidery largely went over things I’ve done before (the former on a general natural dyeing course in February, the latter from a kit I did around the same time) but the latter especially was useful because I had a chance to ask questions about refining my techniques etc.

As well as the subject specific things I learnt in the sessions, I also picked up a lot of general stitching/quilting/misc hints and tips. Some of them may be obvious but they’re new to me. I thought I’d post them here in case they’re new to you too – and to remind me of them, because I’ve not exactly got a lot of processing/practising time these next few days (normal sewing class tomorrow, a comic con on Saturday then back to Harrogate on Sunday – and a novel to finish, as well as everything else that needs doing as usual!).

  • If you can’t thread a needle, try approaching the hole from the other side – the eyes are punched out so the hole on one side is usually bigger than the other. (This is not a trick I need as being able to thread needles is one of my superpowers. I am Needle Threading Girl!)
  • Don’t lick thread to seal the ends to thread it through the needle’s eye – it apparently swells the fibres
  • Use self-threading needles for sewing in the tiny ends – this was an in-passing tip so I didn’t get all the details but I think it would be useful for sewing in the ends of crochet motifs, maybe?
  • The waste knot method is the best way to start (crewel) embroidery – though it takes some mental rewiring!
  • Start the waste knot method about a centimetre along the stitch line (for line work) so the anchor stitches will be hidden – the waste knot can be anywhere in the same colour space for space work
  • Wrap embroidery hoops (both the inner and outer) with bias binding tape or strips of calico to improve the grip – it means you don’t have to over-tighten the hoop and does less damage to the fabric
  • Take shower caps from hotels to protect embroidery work – didn’t quite hear the start of this so not sure if it was just while travelling or during reworking…?
  • Shower caps are also good for swimming costumes post-pool – rather than wrapping the costume in a towel
  • Long and short stitch in crewel embroidery should really be called Long and Longer Stitch – I asked how to make it look good and the simple answer was ‘practise’. The longer answer was:
  • Don’t work in just one area at a time when doing long & short stitch – working across the whole area to be filled, sew in the (first round) long stitches to give you an idea of shape/angle before starting on the shorter stitches. Also don’t be afraid to mark the fabric first to plan where they’re going to go.
  • Practise was the main repeated advice throughout the three sewing-y workshops – I think of the kits I do as practise/learning new techniques but I think there is a lot of value in doing very small pieces (max 6×4/10cmx15cm) that are nothing more than doodles.
  • There is not enough time between Knit & Stitch workshops to either get a cup of tea or eat sandwiches – I thought there was time for tea but there was not and I was late. Plan accordingly!
  • Carbon paper is much more effective for image transfer than I thought it would be – I really should try more image transfer stuff
  • Everyone tells me Colonial Knots are better than French ones – not sure why yet, will check it out!
  • Lakeland do rubber gloves with a cuff at the wrist end – useful for dyers etc – stops the liquid from the hands running up your sleeve
  • I saw several examples of quilting/stitching with the design in negative space – just something I hadn’t thought of doing before and something I want to try now.
  • Ribbon flowers – do a running stitch along the top of the ribbon (rather than the middle) – they’re easier and more ribbon efficient
  • Use a darning foot for machine quilting – can’t remember why, was just told that by someone from a Quilters’ organisation so I believe them ;)
  • Use deliberately different shapes/lines for crazy patchworking – just easier!
  • Iron-on wadding is good for quilting beginners – one less thing to worry about – it isn’t good for blanket quilts (it’s too stiff) but it’s fine for small decorative pieces/wall hangings
  • Iron-on wadding needs to be bubble side up – that’s the glue side
  • Make sure all the iron-on wadding is covered before you iron it – the glue will melt and will NOT come off the iron
  • Don’t use plastic headed pins for quilting – they melt when you iron over them
  • Use a piece of velvet as a mat while doing (seed) beadwork – it makes the beads easier to pick up and stops them rolling about too

Think that’s it – though I’m sure to learn more random stuff on Sunday! (If anyone else will be there on Sunday, I’m doing the Silk & Spindle workshop, then ribbon embroidery, pieced patchwork bowl and Japanese padded fabric pictures, and I might try to fit in a little drop-in batik as well. Basically, I’ll be in Hall E!)

Do you have any favourite stitching tips?

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