(Alas, the twig is the only thing in the picture that doesn’t represent a new beginning: it’s the end of its kind. I took it from one of the dozens and dozens of trees that have been felled around here in the past weeks. I was hoping for it to last a bit longer in a vase, but it’s already losing its needles. Soon nothing will remain of that very old tree but this humble photograph. Heartbreaking.)
It seems a bit silly to change direction when the blog hasn’t even properly taken off yet, but I’ve been thinking. And pondering. And cogitating. And ruminating. And the long and the short of it is, that this blog here will be focused on sundry creative projects, and everything else that happens to catch my fancy. As originally intended.
However, the history content will be transferred to a separate blog, called The Dragonhound. (The dragonhound itself will also migrate there from the sidebar!)
I’ve also been thinking – and pondering, cogitating, etc. – about the nature of my creative projects. On the one hand, I’d like to find joy and relaxation in this hobby of mine. I like sewing and stitching to be fun, and I’d also like to teach myself to crochet and knit, even if my progress is uneven and sometimes embarrassingly backward. On the other hand, I do like a bit of ambition; and more than that, I like it when the things I’m doing seem meaningful in some way. I like having a sense of direction.
I’ve been sewing for a few years now, but – inspired by my growing collection of vintage patterns and sewing books – I’d really like to re-learn the way I do things. It would be fun to make a 1930s’ dress with Dressmaking Made Easy by Laura I. Baldt, and a 1940s’ dress with Making a Dress at Home, a little booklet issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1945. But I’m most inspired by my near-complete collection of the navy blue sewing books in the picture above, from the Woman’s Institute of Domestic Arts & Sciences in the 1920s – beginning with First Steps in Dressmaking. These short books cover just about every sewing-related topic imaginable – with a perfectionist attention to detail that is rarely seen nowadays.
There was a time when the most basic home-sewn came close to tailor-made. I’d like to see if I’m capable of that, with the basic tools that were available back then. My sewing machine is a simple Singer Tradition; I’ve got patience enough for hand-stitching. I don’t care if it takes a longer time to finish each item. I’m in no hurry.
First Steps in Dressmaking has a lovely little project to start with: called the ‘Magic Apron’, it seems to be entirely hand-sewn.
With this in mind, I thought I’d join the Vintage Sewing Pattern Pledge 2015. I’m not going to declare that I’ll use an X number of vintage sewing patterns from my collection; I’ll just say that I’m going to make some, and the ones I make will be made the way they ought to be made.
Do forgive the silly title. This post isn’t really about crewel embroidery, but I couldn’t resist that delicious Middle English pun. (Please don’t tell me that it isn’t all that delicious: I prefer to think that it is.)
What with A Certain Important Event fast approaching, I wanted to make a white boar livery badge of my very own design. I drew my boar, and transferred it onto fabric with my hi-tech embroidery equipment (that is, an old glass frame, some adhesive tape, and a pencil). I picked out some nice old materials from my stash, including beige linen thread and absolutely lovely off-white vintage German yarn. I don’t believe in using fancy-schmancy embroidery floss for embroidery: I stubbornly use whatever random threads and yarns I find at flea markets, and this doesn’t always give the best of results, as you will see.
I was actually quite proud of that design until my mother dampened my spirits by pointing out that the boar looks like our dog Tara. Tara looks slightly offended at the comparison, but I do see the point. For some reason, all animals I draw end up looking like dogs. Funny, that.
The plan was simple. I would make the outlines with split stitch (mostly with the main cream-coloured thread, and partly with the beige thread, to accentuate certain parts) and fill out most of the body with long-and-short stitch, with the occasional satin stitch for emphasis. The direction of the individual hairs was to be as follows:
As I was stitching away, it didn’t take me long to realise that the colours I’d chosen resulted in a blurry mess, but by that time it was too late to turn back: my ferocious white boar was becoming something vaguely resembling a fat cream-coloured poodle, or a sheep with some anger management issues.
Distracted by this thought, I pricked my finger with the needle and bled all over the boar’s snout and tusks. (You may see a light remnant of a bloodstain on the canvas, if you look closely enough. . . ) I didn’t feel like starting all over again, so I tried to disguise the blood with further layers of thread, and that was a big mistake, as you can see in the image below. Far too much bulk on the face. Not to mention an eye that seems to be bulging out of its socket. And a bulging red tongue that makes the poor boar look like it’s suffering from a major allergic reaction.
Yeah. . . no. Just no. The only thing I’m satisfied with is the texture of the fur (apart from the bristles on the back: not sure what I was trying to do with those, but whatever it was, it didn’t succeed). Practically nothing else turned out the way I’d planned. Oh, well! Better luck next time, I suppose.
However, the clumsiness does make it look more Mediaeval, somehow; perhaps there is a silver lining to be found here, once the initial disappointment wears off. I haven’t bothered to turn this into a proper badge yet, but eventually I might. The original plan was to cut the boar out of the fabric and back it with felt, but I never did decide how I’d finish the edges. (Suggestions welcome. Yes, I know I should have thought of this before I even got started . . .)
I still think the original design wasn’t half bad. A more skilled embroiderer might be able to make something out of it; and anyone might achieve better results than mine if they:
(a) used finer floss, and a better colour scheme with more contrast; and
(b) refrained from bleeding all over the place.
I suppose it is strangely appropriate, though, that blood was spilt in the making of a Ricardian badge.
These gluten free and sugar free peanut butter cookies are simple to make, and they make a great snack or even a breakfast: eat a few and you’re already full. This is partly because using these alternative sweeteners instead of sugar makes for a denser structure. The original is from the Dove’s Farm website, and it turned out to be a good recipe to adapt into a sugar-free version.
From my experience, it’s rare that a 50/50 split of agave and erythritol is successful, but this time it worked out splendidly. The texture was just as it should be, and the crystallised erythritol only added to the crunchiness of these cookies. Win-win!
Please note: the proportions of this recipe are for salted peanut butter, as it was the only kind I could find in my local shops. (I used Urtekram’s organic crunchy peanut butter.) Unsalted peanut butter would call for considerably less agave and erythritol, but that would change the baking time as well. You’ve got to be pedantic about baking times when using erythritol.
125 g butter or margarine (I used Becel to make these)
50 g agave syrup (I always use Biona)
50 g erythritol
125 g salted crunchy peanut butter
1 tsp baking powder
175 g rice flour
1. Cream together the butter, agave syrup, and erythritol.
2. Beat in the peanut butter and the egg. I used a handheld mixer; it’s important that the erythritol is evenly mixed, as it doesn’t really melt like sugar.
3. Mix in the baking powder and rice flour.
4. Roll tablespoonfuls of dough into balls, place them on a baking tray, and flatten each ball with a fork. (The original recipe specified an oiled baking tray, but I used simply parchment paper on the tray; it also specified teaspoonfuls of dough, but in this case tablespoonfuls will work better.)
5. Pre-heat the oven to 150°C and bake for exactly 22 minutes.
Ahem! Argh. Cough, splutter. . . I’ve never been any good at introducing myself, so I took the photo above – of a not-so-random pile of books taken from my shelves – to describe what this blog is going to be about. What ended up in the picture were a few books about 15th-century England; some vintage sewing and needlework inspiration; and an 18th-century novel.
Not exactly an adequate description, I know, so here’s an attempt at a verbal version.
History. The main focus will be very narrow: England in the time period circa 1440-1485, with forays into other places and periods as well. Sometimes these forays are closely related to the main topic; sometimes not. As you can see from the subtle (ahem!) placement of Richard III in the picture, I am a Ricardian, but I’m an equal opportunity researcher: I will look into any question that happens to catch my fancy. To paraphrase Virginia Woolf’s quote about libraries, ‘I ransack historic sources, and find them full of sunk treasure.’ Those small sunk treasures are my passion.
I originally wanted this blog to be a place for me to share some of my findings – whether large or small – that might be of interest to others besides myself. I am not an academic historian, but simply a hopelessly nosey individual who loves to delve into things, to discover and speculate.
Sewing and Needlework. I’m a relative newcomer to the Sisterhood of the Needle, as an old sewing book once charmingly described it, but I like to learn new skills and I find working with fabrics and yarns very soothing. Meditative, I might say. I’m inspired by historic needlework, vintage sewing patterns and books, all kinds of old things, the natural world. . . animals (especially canines) and green things that grow. Everything that’s fun and pretty and fascinating. Oh, and recycled materials: I want my hobby to be as ecological as possible.
Vintage. What can I say? I adore things with a history, and it warms my heart when things are used again and again.
Books. I like reading them; I aspire to write them. Don’t worry, I won’t be talking too much about the writing part. The reading is more interesting.
Gluten-free and Sugar-free Recipes. Well, this part sounds very random, doesn’t it? But I like delicious, sweet things, and as a Coeliac with a sugar problem I struggle to find recipes that are both gluten- and sugar-free (and use natural sweeteners), so I’ve decided to create my own. Whenever I come up with a rare success, I will post the recipe here, as I’m sure there are others scouring the internet for such recipes as desperately as I am. The occasional recipe every few months does not a food blog make, and thus these recipes will just have to sit uncomfortably between the history and sewing posts.
This, then, is the plan – for now. It may change yet, but I’m looking forward to the journey!