Saturday, 19 July 2014

Festival Survival Guide

I love a good festival, although I've found that the increasing prices and their increasing restrictions means sadly I'm not attending as many as I used. However, that said, I've been windswept in a muddy field, with drunken people tripping over my guy-ropes with the best of them. Therefore, it is only fair to share my top festival survival tips, gleaned from 15 years of festival experience with you good people out there.

1. Have a practice run with your tent before you go

The Boy and I pretty much have a ritual when we arrive at festival campsites now. As seasoned campers, we can put up a tent quickly and in all conditions. So we like to arrive early, get our pitch sorted, then crack open a beer and watch the ensuing chaos as a thousand camping virgins rock up who cannot even begin to figure out how to pitch a tent try to establish their 'home' for the weekend. 

It's brilliant. Especially the groups of lads who decide to drink first, and make themselves somewhere to sleep later. So, spare yourself some time, the potential of ending up with a rubbish pitch, the potential of it raining before you've got somewhere dry to stash your stuff and the potential of your tent having a massive hole in it that you didn't know about by having a trial run at home in the garden, or even on the pavement. You don't have to peg it all down. Just have a go at putting it up, make sure you've got all the bits you need, and make sure you know how to get it all packed away again.

2. Take big fat candles

Candles are great in the evening. Even in inclement weather you can usually get big ones to work and in high winds, the flame will eventually carve out its own protection in one side. Candles are light, don't need batteries and just bring an all round more attractive feel to your camping pitch. Just be careful with them around your tent. Obviously.

3. Take a torch

Candles for your pitch, torch to find your pitch. You're in the middle of nowhere. It's dark. Take a torch and then you won't go face first into someone else's tent in the middle of the night.

4. Familiarise yourself with your environs

If, like us, you don't drive, the amount of stuff you can take to a festival is limited. You definitely don't want more than one small-medium backpack each and your tent. This makes getting to the festival much easier. However, this does mean that you will need to replenish stocks of beer, food and beer. Some festivals are actually far away from everywhere, so you will need to plan a bit better, but with some, like Guilfest, you are within easy walking distance of a commercial hub which will fulfil your every need. Know where stuff is, and be prepared for shops to be closed on a Sunday. Which leads me on to point 5...

5. Buy a disposable BBQ

Nothing tastes better at a festival than a cooked breakfast. Don't pay the earth, or have to search for it though. Bring a disposable BBQ, or buy one from a local poundshop. Get a pack of sausages and some buns and away you go. Hell, you could even 'acquire' some sachets of sauce from a local hostelry and keep those in your backpack too. You will be the envy of the site and set up for the day. 

Disposable BBQs take up minimal space in a rucksack so you can even take a couple to cover a few meals. If you have a cool bag to protect your food, so much the better - they are also pretty lightweight and easily squishable these days. This is our absolute festival must have.
6. Make a flag

Flags are awesome and making flags is a fun thing to do. However, it also serves a practical purpose in that it helps you find your camping pitch at night. Shiny materials, reflective material and neon/luminous materials are awesome for this purpose. Just don't put it somewhere that it's going to flap on the outside of your tent and let all the water in if it rains or in the morning dew.

7. Keep your cash safe

You will want to have plenty of cash in case there aren't free cash machines around, but if you are worried about keeping it all on your person, then you can make it more secure. For the ladies, the best tip I ever got was to take a pack of sanitary towels - unwrap one and fold your notes inside and then replace it in the packet - not a likely place for a wouldbe thief to look (well, not before I wrote this anyway). But if you can keep your cash on your person, that is the ideal. Not in your pocket - preferably in a seperate, secure, zipped, internal pocket in your day bag. Just have a bit of what you need in your wallet and move it out as you need. That helps you keep track of what you're spending too.

8. Take weather appropriate clothing

If like us you cycle, you probably already have a selection of lightweight waterproofs that you can take. If you don't, buy a poncho from the poundshop, or even just take a bin bag that you can punch armholes in to protect your clothes when the inevitable deluge comes. Also retain carrier bags from your earlier mission into town, that way if you haven't brought a camping chair, you can still sit down to watch bands without getting your botty all damp.

Conversely, also take a hat and suncream. Even if it's not blisteringly hot, you are still going to be outside, probably for a lot longer that you would be on a regular day. Sun burn isn't fun and hats are ace. Look at mine, I love my hat, it's brilliant.

9. Pack practically

As you can see, bowls are excellent not just for eating from, but also for drinking from. They can also be used to hold tealights if you've taken me up on the candle thing. You don't need to take the kitchen sink to festivals - minimal changes of clothes, a small selection of materials for food and a bottle opener will usually suffice, but do think about whether you can double up.

Also take loo roll. TAKE LOO ROLL. Or if you forget, take extra loo roll from the portaloo the FIRST TIME YOU VISIT and stash it in your bag for later. They will run out. And drip drying is for losers who forgot to take bog roll. I usually end up with it in my bag and the pockets of every item of clothing I took with me, but I've never been caught short and I always have some to mop up a particularly unpleasant toilet seat if needs be.

Oh, and bring a good sleeping bag. You can use clothes folded underneath as a pillow, but make sure you have enough thermal protection for the time of year. In early September you can still nearly freeze to death even though the weather is summer-like in the day. You will not get any sleep if you are cold. Here speaks the voice of experience. Your sleeping bag is likely to take up the most space in your rucksack and it should. You can do without nearly everything else except this.

10. Wear Ass-less Chaps

 Best festival outfit ever.

What are your favourite festival survival trips? Do you pack nothing and let the Universe provide or are you a hardcore camper-van, all mod cons type of person?

This post is my entry to the Universal Textiles Strawberry Fields festival blog competition. I hope they deem my musings worthy and #GetMeToSFFestival

Learning to Sew

If you've been keeping up with my blog, you'll have seen I recently got out my sewing machine for the first time in years to create a clutch bag for a blogger competition. I've never been much of a sewer... sew-er? (ah, now I see why the term 'seamstress' was invented) but this time round I've been determined to really get to grips with this craft.

It's been an interesting learning curve on this one. I'm still really trying to handle the basics - cutting out my fabric properly, learning exactly where to put your foot on the machine pedal so that it doesn't just hum and not run or suddenly head off at warp speed, that sort of thing. Basically, I'm understanding (as you might expect) that sewing requires patience and practice. And ironing, lots and lots of ironing. For someone who doesn't iron a single piece of clothing, except perhaps a dress on VERY special occasions, this is a new world to me. I currently have an old towel on the floor with the iron next to it for this purpose as we haven't used the ironing board for so long that we're not really sure where it is. My money is on The Garage of Ultimate Clutter.

Anyway, there are a million free sewing patterns out there, so it's easy just to dive in and have a go. I've been playing around with patterns I can actually use - to give as gifts mainly - and although what I have produced so far is no means perfect, I think that they are of an acceptable quality, with a nice homemade feel.

I made a reversible tote on the advice of some sewing friends who said that would be a good place to start. That actually came out with the best finish, but I can't post a picture yet as it will hold a friend's birthday presents in the near future! I used this pattern from Skip to my Lou's blog which was really well illustrated and simple to follow.

As we are going to visit friends with a new baby soon, I have been creating some baby items too, which have the benefit of being small, so you can put an item together in an evening, which helps with a lovely sense of achievement as well as not being to overfacing. The little hat was created from the pattern by Merriment Design, but I decided not to go with the ruffles - let's not run before we can walk! It came out well, even though I had a lot of issues with the stitches going weird - I think it was the bobbins running out of cotton before I expected or something. So, after a great deal of seam ripping, I got there in the end. I think that I am underestimating the seam allowances at the moment as it is less round, more domey at the top. I reckon I shall have another crack at this pattern and the next one should be better.

Yesterday I threw together a baby bib with a snap fastening using the super easy pattern from Liaspace which took no time at all. This one taught me that my steady top stitching skills will definitely benefit from more practice, but still, all in all a pleasing result and something that I can again have a couple more goes at to try and improve.

I also had a go at creating my own pattern to make a knitting and crochet needle case - just essentially a big Toblerone shaped thing with a zip on. The wadding I used was too thick for the job really, so now I have a needle sleeping bag, but it does the trick, even if I haven't quite matched all the edges properly!

I'll keep you updated with my sewing progress. I'd like to make myself some clothes eventually, and I have an idea for a simple top that I should be able to work up without a pattern... We'll see if that manifests itself, but in the meantime it is practice, practice, practice!

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Awesome scotch eggs, at the Queen of Bradgate Leicester

So simple, yet so beautifully formed
 Thanks for all the great feedback on my review of Leicester's Queen of Bradgate. It's nice to know how many of you there are out there that read my blog posts and, occasionally, take me up on a recommendation. The Queen of Bradgate has been open for about 2 months now and I thought I would post you a little update. This is not someting I would normally do after a review, but there is one simple reason for it - they have scotch eggs!

Scotch eggs are possibly my favourite ever snack. Having been vegetarian for about 5 years in my teenage days, scotch eggs and not bacon (as I believe is traditional) were the thing that brought me back to the dark side. I just love them in all their anti-vegan goodness and I think it could also stem from them being a very occasional treat in my packed lunch that would be a real, appreciated surprise as my mum was a Weight Watchers leader and before that always trying to lose weight, so lunches could be a little, well, uninspiring (sorry mum).

Imagine my joy then, when the pub just 3 minutes walk from my office decides to start doing scotch eggs for £2. And not just any scotch eggs - these ones have black pudding blended into the meaty exterior. So they are fullsome and filling and lightly spiced with a lovely fresh crunchy breadcrumb coating and a locally grown, perfectly boiled egg in the centre. Mmmmmm.... *Homer drool*

I guess that's all I have to say about that really. They're ace. Get one. But I suppose I can't very well just write a blog post as an ode to a scotch egg, although now I've phrased it like that I can see that it could be a very fine idea after all. I'll tell you a bit about the offers that they've started running at the QoB since I reviewed them, as they have instituted quite a number and they are all excellent.

My favourite is Happy Hour, currently a triple threat running from 5pm-8pm, which is hugely convenient when you fancy a quick beverage after work. Our most used offers are get a large glass of wine for the price of a medium (bargain) and £1 off draught ales (also tres convenient). I'll let you find out the rest of the offers that run on Happy Hour for yourself, but it is worth stopping by.

They have also instituted the 'Worker's Dinner'. This is a great little offer if you are looking for somewhere that does good quality food at lunchtime but doesn't cost the earth. In short, selected dishes on the menu are 30% off between 12pm and 7pm. Not only does this mean you can get a really tasty lunch for somewhere in the region of £6-£9, but you could also combine it with Happy Hour if you fancy eating early and really save yourselves some mega bucks.

So I am still loving this pub a lot. And no, they haven't paid me to say this - this blog post is written of my own volition. I'll see you there.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

REVIEW: Hectares Sweet Potato Crisps

The revolution is coming! Apparently snacking is on the move and things are changing. I was sent some Hectare's sweet potato crisps to try and I really enjoyed them. Team Hectares have a bold aim - they want to convert 1% of the UK's crisp eaters into sweet potato fans. 1% might not sound like much, but when you consider we eat about 6 billion bags of crisps in this country, it puts things a bit more into perspective.

 Vegetable crisps have become increasingly popular over the last few years. Hectares are taking this trend forward by just using sweet potato and also having a range of three flavours. Each of them have the characteristic sweetness of the vegetable in them, with an additional flavour punch. I think the simplicity of the lightly salted is probably my favourite, but if you love a strong taste hit, then go for the sea salt and black pepper - it is absolutely incredible the amount of strong, fragrant pepper taste they have wrapped into the packet. I enjoyed these with my lunch at work one day, they are a great snack or mealtime element. Obviously the sweet potato is vitamin packed, but these are deep fried, so treat them as with any other treat in part of a balanced diet.

 The piri piri flavour I tested on some friends at our BBQ. I made some fresh aubergine dip to accompany them and put them up against another crisp alternative - the prawn cracker. The Hectare's were the hands down winner, with the whole bowl being hoovered up in record time! This was accompanied by general murmers of approval and expressions of 'mmmm' so I think I can record Hectare's the victor in the Alternative Crisp Off.

I can't really fault these crisps. Look out for them stocked by Brew Dog along with others. If you fancy something a bit different, then this is the snack for you. A fabulous discovery. Do you think you're ready to be weaned off white potato crisps?

Country Baskets: Fascinator for the Races

Did you see my entry into the Country Baskets blogger competition last week? I got back on my sewing machine and made a little clutch bag. I've since used my box of Country Basket goodies to create a little fascinator for my Day at the Races. It was just a thrown together little thing, but with enough pins it stayed in place all day and really did the job.

I really enjoyed a bit of on the spot experimentation to create something simple, yet statement. It was a simple combination of artificial flowers, mirror crystals and a simple ribbon to tie it all together. I fixed it with a bobble and then pinned my hair around it to cover the base. Simple!

What do you think? Have you experimented with making your own accessories? I reckon this is a really cheap way to jazz up an outfit for a special occasions - Ladies Day, a wedding or a summer party. Thanks again to Country Baskets for my box of goodies, they're already coming in really handy!

Monday, 30 June 2014

Accessorize Yourself: Wedding Clutch Bag Sewing Project

I have been selected to enter this year's Country Baskets craft challenge and was sent an absolutely beautiful box of crafty goodies to inspire my entry. The theme that we had to make for was 'Accessorize Yourself', with specific regard to wedding accessories. 

I knew this was an excellent opportunity to finally get my sewing machine out. It has been languishing for a good five years, mainly because I had no space to put it out in the house. The Boy has been promising a re-arrangement of the studio for some time so that I can have room for it there, but so far that has not been completed. So in the meantime I knew I needed to bite the bullet and get back on the old sewing horse. 

The goodies I got from Country Basket had a whole range of possibilities - definitely terminators (or fascinators as the rest of the world calls them) and all manner of brooches and hats, but I knew that learning the necessary millinery skills in the requisite time was possibly a tall order. I had one day off work with no plans to speak of, so I knew my project would have to be possible in that one day.

I set to work searching out suitable patterns (my sewing experience is, at best, limited, so there was no way I could launch in with my own pattern) for clutch bags. I could see the potential in the shiny red-pink organza I had been sent, as well as the delicate white lace for creating a statement clutch that was both practical and pretty.

I hit upon this lovely, yet simple clutch sewing pattern on Noodlehead's blog. It's an old pattern of hers but I'm truly greatful for the excellent tutorial. And so my plan was born. I started sifting through my stash of fabric to find some colours which would match the materials I had and would make a lovely wedding clutch, for a guest, bridesmaid, or even the bride herself!

I was keen to put some 'little extras' in there because I know that statement bold colours are a big trend for weddings in SS14, so I chose a bold flower patterned fabric for the lining, as well as having the richly coloured organze to use. Happily for me, another SS14 wedding trend is embellishment so I was absolutely quids in with the materials I had been sent.

With some trepidation (at times my hands were actually shaking! I clearly need to become WAY more practiced at using a sewing machine) I put the clutch bag together. Of course you should go to Noodlehead's blog if you want the pattern, I will not claim any right to this little beauty. Although I will point out the little touches I added to make it my own....

Cut out your fabric and iron on interfacing. I used an old zip that I had rescued from a threadbare garment some years ago. This was another reason for my massive fear - I have never (ever) sewn with zips before. And my machine does not have a zip foot....

  • At the second attempt, the first seam was sewn, making a (nearly) straight centre panel for the front of the bag.

  • Another first - machine gathering - who knew it was so simple? I was starting to get a strange wave of euphoria as it was all going well. I was still primed and ready to go back to my original idea of paper mache-ing an old music score to make a hat...

  • Here's where I added a little Country Baskets magic - instead of just sewing on the centre piece, I added a strip of organza and also a dash of that lovely white bridal lace I mentioned earlier. They complimented each other beautifully and really gave that wedding look I was after.

  • The front piece was complete. It was time for a mop of the brow and a little sit down, for next I had to conquer both the zip, and the lining.

It continued to go surprisingly well. Apart from nearly forgetting to iron the interfacing on to the back panel of the bag (not sure if I missed the instruction or it wasn't there). And all of a sudden, I had a wonderful little clutch bag! Absolutely couldn't believe how nicely it turned out!

But it was too simple, although the contrast lining does everything I had hoped for. It needed that special touch to make it a statement piece. Bring on the fire!!

In order to create an organza flower, I followed a very simple, tried and true method. I have no idea where I learned it from, it's just a method I have deep in my bones:

  • Cut yourself some rectangles of organza in a variety of sizes. Fold them into little cones and then snip the top to make rough circles. It doesn't matter if they are not exact.

  • When you are happy with your range of circles, snip a row of slits around the outside. I went for 8 as this followed the eighths I had made when creating the circles.

  • And now for the fire! I took it outside, because I'm all about sensible crafting. Hold the disc in the centre and lightly run the edge over a candle flame. You have to be a bit careful and use common sense here. The organza will melt quickly to make delicate petal shapes, but there is also the possibility that it will set on fire and disappear completely, leaving you with a lovely patch of molten plastic on your skin. So be careful and pay attention!

  • Once your petals are all formed, you can assemble the flower and put a quick stitch or two in the centre to hold them all in place.

  • While I was doing this, I took the opportunity to sew on a tail of the lovely decorative heart ribbon that I had received for this challenge.

Then I had a rummage in my button stash for something suitable to finish it. I wrapped three wire butterflies around the middle layer of the flower - the silver stems making a pleasing extra heart to the flower which gave a really nice finish - and sewed it on to the bag with the white button nodding to the white lace and really bringing the whole thing together.

Finally, I finished the bag by using a jewel from the mirror garland that I received and used the wire to twist it on to the zip to create a more practical fastening with an additional touch of glamour. I finished the back of the twist with a blob of PVA to seal the twist and to stop the sharp edge from poking through.

And there we have it! I hope you like my little effort. I think it would definitely suit a feminine wedding outfit. It has just enough body to hold its shape well and, to be honest, I'm still over the moon that my first sewing project in so many years has turned out so well! I've already started making a case for my knitting needles and crochet hooks because I'm so excited by the whole sewing machine thing. I feel a new obsession coming on...

As a PS, I had many beautiful things that I wasn't able to use on this little project, but that I already have plans for. My gorgeous artificial flowers were too big for this bag, but you can see them photographed with the bag. I also had a string of darling diamante which I nearly hand sewed on to the top of the bag, before the zip, but I thought it would be a bit too much. At the time of writing this is on sale, so grab yourself a bargain, it's lovely. There was a little pack of heart, laser etched place markers which I will have to save for a summer party in the garden! Sadly there was no room for paper in this make.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Extreme Gardening: Carnival Edition

The Men of the House, weeding.
How are your gardens getting on? We're doing OK, although the slugs have taken a huge proportion of my seedlings as ever. This spring we've really got to grips with some new areas of the garden that we haven't really used to their full potential before, and we've also finally removed all of the grass from our premises, so we have more space to grow decent plants and no mowing to do! Hooray! We hate lawns and we hate mowing, such a waste of time and space.

It all started when we decided to paint some things. We have some odds and ends of outdoor paint and wood varnish in the shed from various past jobs and decided to paint things randomly instead of properly. We painted the trellis green and orange (but not the fence behind it), we painted the raised bed that the Boy made for me a couple of years ago. Then I randomly painted some swirly patterns on to this old fence post. You can't see if that well in the photo, showing it is quite subtle, but when it rains the green really stands out, I love it.

Next we (well, mainly The Boy to be honest) dug up the scrappy horrible turf at the front of the garden. We've been trying, a bit, to sort the grass out for several years now, it was time for it to go as it was more trouble than it was worth.
He didn't want to cut it really.

Bye Bye Grass

Once it had all been dug over, we left it to settle for a couple of weeks, as we had turned some of the turf over. Some of it we dumped at the back of the garden, under the cherry tree to rot down.

Meanwhile, I treated myself to a bulk bag of compost. (A late birthday present, this is extreme gardening at its best.) We dug the nasty, neglected hedges out of one border and mixed in some of the new compost et voila! A whole new place to grow veg! Sadly, everything is getting super snail attacked at the moment, so the mandatory relocation programme is in operation, moving them out to the nearby grass verge, but still no luck as of yet. I shall perservere though.

 We also filled a load of large pots using the big bag o' compost and have created a fetching arrangement on the drive, where the sun stays for the longest time. We've expanded it since, but here is the original arrangement for your enjoyment.

 Back to the front garden. Having dug the front over, we reused some old slabs we had hanging around and also some of the conifer trunks we'd saved from the mass conifer removal of a few years ago, tied together to create this fetching arrangement.

I used all the bits of random rock and slate we've collected around the place over the years to create my own mini rockery. I'd bought these lovely succulents from my favourite house in a neighbouring village where they always have a stand of plants to buy out the front and you just pop your money through the door. 80p in total for these beauties and also the long thin one I rescued from off the drive, where it was randomly growing under the fence. I hope it will settle in and be a bit less leggy, but I'm pretty happy with my little rockery for a start.

Then we added the remaining stones we had from doing the raised beds in the back garden. And it looks great! But there weren't as many stones as we were hoping (sad face). I will have to buy another bulk bag at some point. Extreme front garden landscaping fail. Still, you get the idea.

All is going well then, in the land of the garden. I am spending every moment I can out there, pottering. I have been treated to a hose, so I can water everything in one go, rather than making 20 trips to the tap with the tiny watering can. The strawberry patch is taking over the world and all of the fruit bushes are in full bloom.

The pumpkins have started to flower, so much has made it through this far that I am hopeful we will have a bumper harvest this year. The Boy has also been helping me to feed my plant addiction by buying me a beautiful passionflower to grow up the newly painted trellis and I finally succumbed to trying out a rhubarb in a particularly bare, shady area of the garden. I hope that it will get to quite a size and really fill the corner. We also got a bargain 50p pepper, since our seedlings all got eaten. This one is quite nicely established so I shouldn't think it will be too long until it flowers.

And why is this the Extreme Gardening: Carnival Edition? Well, once we'd got a taste for randomly painting things in the garden, we knew we had to recoat the garden furniture. It had been several years since its last treatment and it was looking decidedly shabby. We soon put an end to that.

Those black central patches are chalkboard paint. Chalkboard! We made our garden table so you can draw on it. I am so over excited about it that it could possibly be untrue. Oh, and it looks like a circus. Happy gardening y'all.