Friday, 11 July 2014

Sewing Station


 Constant Craft


When I first got my sewing machine, I used it whilst working on our very big and beautiful Oak kitchen table. The only problem was that it was difficult to work on when it needed to be cleared every time! I'd like to think we're not the only ones who tend to dump place things on the dining room table that need putting away... and seem to stay there for a number of weeks days!! It is a natural surface to get things out the way, but then seems to become invisible once you've done it!lol!

On Facebook I follow a number of people who have their own businesses making various crafts and handmade things. One of the ladies who makes bags posted a picture of her workshop and I immediately became jealous of such a wonderful space to have everything out and within reach. Now obviously she needs this to run her business but I thought, "That is what I'm missing in my life"! So I searched online to see if anyone else had a space to call their own for sewing, to find a wide range of "sewing station" ideas.

I decided that the best thing would be to get myself a desk I could use as a sewing station - somewhere that was always ready to go, or at least could be if I was in the middle of a project, and could then leave set up until I'd finished days or weeks later. Google image searching "sewing stations" opened up a world of amazing spaces people had created and I most definitely wanted!!

So, a gorgeous new desk or table was needed, with a smooth work surface, some storage space, and of course it had to be a little different and personal to me - could I find something perfect within my very tight budget - most certainly NOT! Back to the drawing board! Upcycling was my only option. Having searched Freegle and Ebay, I came across a desk on Gumtree for £15, and having watched a few things on ebay going for around £25 decided this would be a great compromise, drawers for storage and not too big as to overpower the room.

It was going in our bedroom - the only place we could feasibly keep little hands away from if needed! I had looked at all sorts of furniture with the view that I could paint or get Mr Strong to make changes if needed, if we could get something cheap. Turns out that actually buying a desk that was almost identical in colour laminate to our bedroom furniture, and didn't need any work at all, was the cheapest option!


The laminate on top was slightly damaged but add in one of our old dining chairs it certainly would serve it's purpose. Next job was to find some PVC fabric to cover the top, not only to brighten it up but so that I would have a smooth surface to work on without fear of snagging fabric etc.

After looking online, again thinking that was the cheapest option, I popped down to The Range and found that I could buy fabric to the nearest 10cm that I needed, and also saved paying postage. For less than £3.50 I bought the following and with the assistance of Mr Strong just tacked it in place.



Finally, after looking all over the place for nice but decently priced handles (and choosing some but sending them back!) I got these for £3.30 each. The original ones I ordered were £2.99 each and were very cheaply made, but these are well worth the extra 31p each!!!



So, for less than £30 total, I got myself a wonderful and personalised sewing station when I would have spent far more than that doing up an old piece of furniture!


When I first used it, it was full of all my sewing things but as things have changed and I've had less time to sew recently, it's now full of all our stationery and is much more of a desk. However, it is still perfect when I get my sewing machine out and I still love it! I never did get around to getting a cushion, and every time I sew think to myself "I MUST get that cushion sorted!" as the wooden chair isn't great after an hour or so! Perhaps eventually I'll get myself a nice desk chair - better get hunting!

Have you ever tried upcycling - making something new out of something old, or something that was created for a different purpose! It's great fun, and if you haven't already - find something and have a go! Not only are we sending less to tips and dumps, we are saving money creating something that no one else has! That's got to be a winner!

Homemade No Sew Car Seat Blankets


 Constant Craft


This is a nifty craft I found online, and was something we used last winter when we visited my family in the midlands. A three hour car journey when it's cold and miserable, and when you just want to go to sleep means blankets all round, however as those of you with children know, NOTHING ever stays on a child in a car seat! Toys, blankets, shoes, snacks - the ability to keep hold of something seems to magically disappear the minute you put your child in a car seat!lol!

I didn't want to make anything too complicated, purely because I didn't have the time and so I made these after seeing the idea on another page. They fit over the buckle of the car seat (5 point harness) with plenty of room so they don't get caught up, and are then just put under their legs when they don't want them! Simple!






How to make my car seat blanket

I used a piece of fleece fabric, bought off the roll from a fabric shop. I measured the rough length I would need by measuring from the shoulder section of the car seat, down the back to the base, from the back of the seat to the front, and then down to where their feet came (I did this on Erin who is our eldest child, then added some for growth so they last a number of years!). It's worth noting, if you want them to be used regularly and your children are likely to have dirty shoes or boots, it might be beneficial to have them shorter so the blankets don't get dirty too. The width was the car seat width plus extra for wrapping around when they are snuggling into it! (I've lost my original measurements but it would vary across car seats and age of children.)



So here we are, after deciding how big they needed to be, 4 pieces of fabric the same size - three intended for our children, and one for the passenger in the front (no alterations need to be made to this other than it being cut to size) - the driver will have to wear a coat!lol!

Next, you need to work out where you want the holes for the car seat buckle. The idea is that the small piece of fabric that is between the slits you make will fit between the child and the buckle to hold it in place.



Fold your fabric widthways making sure you've got about 8 inches more of fabric on the bottom and then fold lengthways to find the middle (see below picture).



With your fabric folded as above (test you've got it right with a scrap of fabric first!), cut a small slit about 0.5cm from the bottom through all 4 layers of fabric. The open out the fabric width ways (so you've got two snips in the fabric on a horizontal line) then cut between these making your first slit for the buckle.



Repeat this by completely unfolding your fabric, and refolding so that you will make a second slit exactly halfway on the fabric (so you should have a few inches between your two completed slits).


You are finished!! If you fancy adding pocked to it, or appliqués of shapes, animals etc then you now have plenty of creative freedom to do what you like!

How to fit my car seat blanket

Once the blanket slits have been cut, it will attach by bringing the Harness Buckle up through the lower slit from the back and then clipping the Harness Straps into the Buckle by bringing them through the upper slit from the back. Once it’s done up the middle piece of fabric between the slits will be between the Harness Buckle and your child, with only the Buckle visible (see below).



Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Basic Vanilla Sponge Cake


 Constant Comfort - Food for the Soul




When making cake, I find that if you weigh the eggs you get a much better cake. It's not much more effort and the results are worth it! A good sandwich cake mixture is usually based around 225g of Flour, Marg and Sugar. Weigh your eggs until you get around the figure of 225g (more is better than less!) and use the same amount of self raising flour, marg and caster sugar in the recipe as follows.

Basic Vanilla Sponge Cake

Ingredients:

225g Self Raising Flour
225g Marg (Stork or equivalent)
225g Caster Sugar
225g Egg (See comment above)
Note: Medium eggs are usually around 50g each, large eggs around 70g each.
2 Teaspoons of Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon of Vanilla Flavouring (will need more if using Vanilla Essence)

Cake Release Spray or extra margarine to grease tins

2 x Round Sandwich Tins (approx 8in diameter), greased with marg and lined with greaseproof or baking paper. (You only need to line the bottom of the tin, not the edges.)

Method:
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C Fan).
  2. Weigh eggs into a mixing bowl and add same amount of marg and caster sugar.
  3. Mix with an electric mixer if you have one, then add the self raising flour (same amount as the eggs), the baking powder and the vanilla flavouring. Do not worry about sieving the flour.
  4. Mix until the mixture has gone from a warm creamy colour to a pale cream and is a smooth consistency.
  5. Grease the tins and line the bottoms.
  6. Split the mixture roughly equally between the two tins.
  7. Cook in oven on the same shelf for approx 22-27 mins, or until a cake tester / skewer comes out clean. Do not worry if they are not particularly brown, as long as the skewer comes out clean in a few places then it will be fine - the lighter the sponge, the more moist it will be!
  8. Leave to cool for 10 mins and then run a palette knife or spatula around the outside of the tins to release the cakes.
  9. Turn the cakes out onto a cooling rack and leave to cool completely.
  10. When cool fill with buttercream, chocolate spread, jam, or whatever you fancy and ENJOY!
Tip: You can freeze this cake. Once it is cool, wrap it in clingfilm and then in greaseproof / baking paper, and store in an airtight container. Put it in the freezer and it will keep for up to one month. Leave to defrost for a few hours at room temperature and then ice or decorate. It tastes just as good as the day you baked it!

You can also make muffin size cakes or cupcakes with this recipe, just reduce the cooking time.
Half of my Buttercream recipe will fill this and cover the top.

Buttercream (Vanilla and Chocolate Versions)


 Constant Comfort - Food for the Soul


Buttercream is so easy to make, although I do confess to buying it bought when I am particularly pressed for time but it's worth the small amount of time taken to make it yourself. This amount will generously fill the inside and cover the top of two sponge cakes (4 layers) following my basic vanilla sponge recipe.

Buttercream (Vanilla and Chocolate Versions)

Ingredients:

250g Unsalted Butter
500g Icing Sugar
Vanilla Flavouring
Milk (No more than 100ml)

Note: For Chocolate Buttercream add 75g Cocoa Powder and 4 Tablespoons of Nutella as well as the above!

Method:
  1. Leave the butter to come to room temperature or melt a little in a mixing bowl in the microwave for about 20 seconds.
  2. Whisk using an electric mixer if you have one, or with a spatula.
  3. Gradually add the icing sugar, if you find it doesn't mix well add a couple of tablespoons of milk. (Add Cocoa and Nutella too if making Chocolate Buttercream).
  4. Keep mixing until it is combined and a smooth consistency.
  5. Add a vanilla flavouring to your own taste and add more milk if you want a runnier consistency.
  6. Ice your cake and enjoy!
Tip: You can freeze this butter icing, I tend to use half and freeze the rest in an airtight container. It will keep for 2-3 months in the freezer. Defrost at room temperature the day before you want it. Makes it easier when you need to make a cake quickly!

Triple Layer Chocolate Cake


 Constant Comfort - Food for the Soul




When making cake, I find that if you weigh the eggs you get a much better cake. It's not much more effort and the results are worth it! A triple sandwich cake mixture has three slightly thinner layers than my normal double layer cake, and is usually based around 350g of Flour, Marg and Sugar. Weigh your eggs until you get around the figure of 350g (more is better than less!) and use the same amount of self raising flour, marg and caster sugar in the recipe as follows.

Triple Layer Chocolate Cake

Ingredients:

350g Self Raising Flour
350g Marg (Stork or equivalent)
350g Caster Sugar
350g Egg (See comment above)
Note: Medium eggs are usually around 50g each, large eggs around 70g each.
100g Cocoa Powder
3 Teaspoons of Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon of Vanilla Flavouring (will need more if using Vanilla Essence)
150 - 200ml Milk
4 Tablespoons of Nutella

Cake Release Spray or extra margarine to grease tins

3 x Round Sandwich Tins (approx 8in diameter), greased with marg and lined with greaseproof or baking paper. (You only need to line the bottom of the tin, not the edges.)

Method:
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C Fan).
  2. Weigh eggs into a mixing bowl and add same amount of marg and caster sugar.
  3. Mix with an electric mixer if you have one, then add the self raising flour (same amount as the eggs),the baking powder and the cocoa. Do not worry about sieving the flour or cocoa.
  4. Gradually add the milk (a little at a time until smooth but not runny consistency), Nutella and vanilla flavouring.
  5. Mix until the mixture has gone from a dark brown colour to a paler brown and is a smooth consistency.
  6. Grease the tins and line the bottoms.
  7. Split the mixture roughly equally between the three tins.
  8. Cook in oven for approx 22-27 mins, or until a cake tester / skewer comes out clean.
  9. Leave to cool for 10 mins and then run a palette knife or spatula around the outside of the tins to release the cakes.
  10. Turn the cakes out onto a cooling rack and leave to cool completely.
  11. When cool fill with buttercream, chocolate spread, jam, or whatever you fancy and ENJOY!
Tip: You can freeze this cake. Once it is cool, wrap it in clingfilm and then in greaseproof / baking paper, and store in an airtight container. Put it in the freezer and it will keep for up to one month. Leave to defrost for a few hours at room temperature and then ice or decorate. It tastes just as good as the day you baked it!

You can also make muffin size cakes or cupcakes with this recipe, just reduce the cooking time.

One portion of my Buttercream recipe will fill this in both layers and on top.

Optional Extra: If you want to really impress and have a mega chocolatey cake, make another batch of buttercream and completely cover the whole cake. You will probably only need another half amount of my buttercream recipe, but it depends how thick you want your icing! Add some chocolate curls and voilà! Alternatively, put some strawberries on top of a triple layer vanilla sponge cake with vanilla buttercream!



Monday, 7 July 2014

Homemade Christmas Sacks


 Constant Craft


Last year I finally got around to finishing the Christmas Sacks I had made the girls, and made Caleb one so we had a matching set. I like nothing more than a little craft project, and this was something I'd had in mind for a while. It also meant that I got to have fun with my sewing machine, which doesn't come out as much as I'd like it to, and being self taught, I feel a little limited to what I can make at the moment.

I started with some pillowcases I'd found in the bargain corner at IKEA, they came complete with a king size duvet cover and the set was reduced because it was missing one pillowcase. I'd picked it up years ago (I love a bargain) knowing I'd use it for something one day. So when I started the Christmas Sacks I thought it would be perfect, one for the girls and a joint one for Mr Strong and I. Glad I didn't get around to doing ours as it was then made for Caleb when he arrived!

My sewing machine is fab, it's a Singer Confidence, and has a number of embroidery stitches that you set at a touch of a few buttons, completely lazy but great for beginners. After putting together some fabrics and getting the right combination, complete with a drawn out design and a little help from an Ebay seller who provided my pre cut and iron on letters (my attempt was terrible!!) they were ready. I have to say, they weren't full to the brim by any means, but they are lovely and I am so pleased with them. Something home made that would have cost me an awful lot more to buy, and can now be used year after year, creating memories for our children.




Now, I know it's only June, but I have already got quite a few Christmas presents, it's the way I work! I like to get things when I see them at a good price, plus it spreads the cost out over the year. What I REALLY wanted last year was some home made Christmas Stockings, which I am pleased to say I am already halfway through. I started them this weekend, having decided I needed a little time to myself. So far I love them, and once I have finished I'll post the results up here with a tutorial of how to make them.

I ADORE Christmas time, and all that comes with it. It is such an important celebration for us being Christians, but I love embracing the family time it brings. As a child Christmas was super busy with family milling around, going to different family members houses and we had so much fun. I want to make sure my children have special memories of Christmas when they grow up too.

I turn 30 years old this December, and in last years sales we bought a huge 7ft Christmas Tree which will be my present this year... I cannot wait to get it up. In the photo above you'll see our little slimline Christmas Tree which we've had since living in a terraced house with not a lot of room. Our new tree is about 3 times the width of it (!!!) if not more, and I am inevitably going to have to make some decorations for it as the ones we have will look a little sparse on their own.

What are your favourite Christmas memories, ones from your childhood and ones you have made creating new traditions as an adult?

Friday, 4 July 2014

Chocolate Brownies


 Constant Comfort - Food for the Soul


This is a friends recipe which she has used for years and it never disappoints! I have baked these for various lengths of time - longer for a drier and chewier texture, but the timing below should leave you with soft in the middle and slighty crispy on the outside.

Do bear in mind that they continue to cook whilst they are cooling down, so if you are worried they are too soft, they will be slightly firmer once cooked. It's best to leave them to cool in the tin completely I find, then remove and divide. Place on a cooling rack once divided for a little while if you want the bottom to dry out a little.

I use a Brownie Tin which is 25cm x 20cm x 5cm (10" x 8" x 2"). It's probably my favourite cake tin (I know, completely utterly sad!) and is a Silverwood anodised one. I have started building up my collection of these over the last few years because they are amazing. They cook more evenly and don't require lining with paper just a light greasing - either with margarine or Cake Release Spray which I have recently switched to in all of my baking.

These brownies, by the way, are NOT diet friendly. This is a warning: They are moreish, they are chocolately, they almost probably bring on "a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips" comments from surrounding people... but once you've tasted them they are so worth it! If you are on Slimming World like me (or similar), I suggest just not counting them and accepting you are going to enjoy a treat.

Chocolate Brownies

Makes about 16 squares

Ingredients:

90g Plain Flour
42g Cocoa
175g Unsalted Butter
350g Caster Sugar
Vanilla Essence or Flavouring
3 Large Eggs beaten (or 4 medium)

Optional: 85g Chocolate broken into chunks

Tip: I find Dark Chocolate best but any works well - and I always use the cheap value chocolate.

Method:
  1. Melt sugar, butter and 3 tsp water in a saucepan. Stir over a low heat until melted.
  2. Remove from the heat. Leave to cool. (Can take 45 minutes to an hour or so.)
  3. Once cool, stir in some Vanilla Essence or Flavouring (1-2 tsp) and the beaten eggs one at a time.
  4. Add the flour (I don't usually bother sieving!) and cocoa, and beat into a smooth paste.
  5. Pour mixture into a greased and lined tin (if you have a tin that requires lining).
  6. If you are using chocolate, press the chunks into the mixture, and smooth.
  7. Bake for 25 minutes (180⁰C Fan or 160⁰C if not a fan oven) until set, risen and the top is crisping off.
  8. Leave to cool completely and then divide.

Note: These will not last very long - they are too delicious!!!

Serving Suggestions:
Served warm with ice cream or cold with a dusting of icing sugar and topped with fresh raspberries - SO YUMMY!