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Saturday, 22 April 2017

๐ŸŒŽ Happy Earth Day 2017! ๐ŸŒ


Happy Earth Day, fellow Earthlings!

Every year since 1970, on the 22nd day of April, a group of like-minded folk, who love this wonderful planet that we all call home, have been celebrating its biodiversity and trying to draw attention to environmental issues.  It all kicked off back in the USofA, but the movement has grown so much that Earth Day is now the largest non-religious festival in the World with over a billion of us getting involved.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Oh Bluebell ... what's in a name ...

Now I have to 'fess up to feeling a tad proprietary about the bluebell. You see I was born at the end of April, when, as my mother still likes to tell me, the bluebells were in flower. And every year I have enjoyed my birthday with a side order of beautiful, fragrant bluebells. For me birthdays and bluebells have gone together like fish and chips or Fred and Ginger. As I've watched the bluebells sprout out of their winter hibernation, unfurl their long slender leaves and swell into bud I've felt the cycle of the year come around another turn, adding another year to my own personal tally in the process. In the old days I used to get quite excited. Do you remember how we used to lie to make ourselves older? Crazy times! Nowadays I'd really rather not dwell too much on all that cycle of the year mathematics, thanks all the same.


Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Bias Binding ... it would be wrong not to ...

It's so easy to make ... it would be wrong not to give it a go.

Everyone who sews has bits left over when they cut out their patterns, and everyone who sews can put some pretty bias binding to really good use. Think of all the things you could trim with a little injection of colour in a fabric that you love ... . If, like me you, enjoy clashing colours and patterns, then this bias binding gig is totally for you.

Jazz up the neckline of a plain white T-shirt, or the edging of a pillow. Use it in your dress-making to add interest to your creations. The possibilities are endless, and it's always an especial delight when you get to use something that might otherwise be thrown away.

The thing about bias binding is that it has to be cut at  45ยบ to the selvedge of the fabric. Woven fabric has threads that run lengthwise, parallel to the selvedge, the warp threads, and threads that run across the fabric at right angles to the selvage, the weft threads. If you pull it lengthwise or widthwise it's pretty sturdy; the warp and the weft are woven to work against one another, holding each other in place, and it doesn't stretch very much. If, however, you pull it at a 45ยบ angle to the selvedge, the warp and the weft scissor up and down, and it stretches beautifully, which makes it perfect for edging curves or corners, around which it can be mitred.


Monday, 10 April 2017

It's all about the Agapanthus ...

I have to confess to having a soft spot for a good Agapanthus.  I bought my first one over 20 years ago (yes, I am that old). At the time I was enjoying a hipster lifestyle in trendy Notting Hill. I had a little apartment on the top floor of an old town house, which had a huge roof terrace. And that roof terrace used to make my heart sing. I'd given it a country house feel by covering it with gravel and planting up some sturdy perennials in a mismatched assortment of enormous planters that I'd bought at auction. I had a bust of Mozart on a plinth, and a little wrought iron table and chairs out there. It faced away from the traffic, and I used to go out every morning with my first cup of coffee to enjoy the relative calm of my tiny oasis.


Sunday, 2 April 2017

Makey Makey March ...

Happy April! I hope you got through April Fool's Day yesterday without falling for any pranks.

I've been looking back over everything that we've got up to in March. It's been a very makey makey month, packed full of baking, sewing, knitting and gardening. There's been the odd afternoon when I've managed to escape for some dog-walking, but it's been pretty full on with projects galore.



Some old pins and a broken necklace got recycled into a swanky set of stitch markers. Barcelona Bears were given smart tweed waistcoats for spring, my never ending spring stole complete with chains of hearts has got longer and longer - it seems to grow like Rapunzel's hair, and I've been sewing up a whole new wardrobe of spring dresses in the prettiest lawn cottons.

Do you ever wonder what to do with all those bits of fabric that get left over when you've finished making whatever it was you set out to make? They always call out to me, and, terrible hoarder that I am, I can never manage to throw them in the bin. This week I was working on a little gingham number. Someone told me gingham is very in this spring, which is lucky as I just happened to have some in my stash! I've got big gingham paired with smaller gingham in a nice, clashing sort of summer dress combo. I decided to not bother with the elaborate flappy facings that the pattern thought I should make. I'm not a big fan of facings; I much prefer to use some bias binding for finishing off.  I'd bought some bias binding for the job earlier, but when I looked at it ... well it just looked a bit work-a-day dull ... plain red binding ... snore ... zzzz.

So I got to thinking about how much nicer my (fairly plain) dress would look if I made some contrasting bias binding out of a lovely floral print that I'd got left over. To be honest it's the second round of left-overs for this particular print. I'd bought the material to make a dress, and then managed to s-q-u-e-e-z-e a sleeveless top out of what was left over from the first time around. So now, second time around, I've cut it on the bias at a 45ยบ angle to the selvage and made the loveliest binding to finish off my neckline and armholes. It's not difficult to make. I cut mine at 2"/ 5 cm wide, so it was easy to turn in the sides with the iron to get it into the proper bias binding configuration without one of those binder-making gadgets.

It's been a real light-bulb moment for me, as I can now think of a hundred other things that would look so much better with some of my home-made binding. And the lovely cherry on the top of my cake is that it's costing me nothing - nada - not a centimo! Happy days!

Anyway, whatever you're up to, have a ball!

All the best for now,

Bonny x


Friday, 31 March 2017

The Snuff Mills of Morden Hall Park

Once upon a very long time ago snuff was all the rage. It started with the indigenous tribes of Brazil, and was carried back to the Old World by the Spanish, who established the first European snuff mill in Seville in the early 16th century.

The French ambassador, Jean Nicot, is credited with bringing snuff to the attention of his Queen, Catherine de Medici. Poor old Catherine had been plagued with headaches, which she was persuaded to treat with snuff. Miraculously it  seemed to work! And the grateful queen promptly declared that snuff should henceforth be known as Herba Regina, the Queen's Herb. Having won the royal seal of approval it quickly became popular with the French aristocracy.

From there the fashion for snuff soon jumped the Channel to take hold amongst the great and the good here in England. Soon snuffing was all the rage, with many extolling its excellent curative properties. It was sniffed into the nose, delivering an instant nicotine hit, and leaving a lingering smell. And back in the day, when the world tended not to smell too sweet, that scent in the nose would have been a welcome relief from the everyday malodors that otherwise assaulted the senses. Often snuff was blended to secret recipes with other spices, herbs and floral essences. Famous blends such as Scotch and Welsh, English Rose (supplied free of charge to MPs in the House of Commons after smoking was forbidden in the Chamber in 1693) and Lundy Foot gained popularity. Before long there was a huge selection of blends delivering different scent sensations to appeal to just about every olfactory caprice; some were dry having been roasted and then ground very fine whilst others were more moist.

  The Snuff Mill, Morden Hall Park, London
The Snuff Mill, Morden Hall Park, London
George III's Queen Consort, Charlotte, was known as Snuffy Charolotte, thanks to her devotion to the stuff. She had a whole room at Windsor Castle devoted to her stash of snuff and her collection of snuff paraphernalia. George IV had his own exclusive blends.  Lord Nelson, the Iron Duke (of Wellington), Alexander Pope, Benjamin Disraeli and Samuel Johnson were all keen snuffers. With the growth of 18th century coffee house culture, the nation's enthusiasm for snuff grew in tandem with its addiction to caffeine fad to become a firm fixture in the daily lives of the chattering classes.


Sunday, 26 March 2017

Teddy Bears with waistcoats ... ๐Ÿป


Here in the UK our clocks have moved on to British Summer Time. Personally I wish they stayed on BST all through the winter months. It would be great to have that extra daylight into the winter months. The sun is shining down here in London, the mercury has risen and the spring bulbs are bringing bursts of colour everywhere.

In the meantime I've been busy getting a project ready for the lovely ladies who are going to be my guests in Barcelona over Easter. I'm so very excited to be hosting them in one of the greatest cities in the world.

We're going to be working on some Barcelona Bears as our holiday project. This pattern had its first incarnation to celebrate the wonderful one-day wool fair that is Festiwool back in the autumn, but it's making a come-back with a splendid new spring waistcoat to keep the bear warm in this chilly weather.

I've shared the knitting pattern here: Festibear, and if you'd like to learn how to make his waistcoat just read on for my paper pattern and instructions.


Wednesday, 22 March 2017

March ... and using flower apps ๐ŸŒบ

March had been shaping up nicely, but it's all gone a bit downhill recently. I  had got used to blue skies and sunshine, but it's turned all cold and rainy and blustery here in London, and I'm not enjoying the change. ๐Ÿ˜ซ


I'm s-o-o-o-o predictable at this time of the year. As soon as the sap starts rising I'm out to dig up all the mistakes that I made last year. Shrubs that I've miscalculated on are a recurring theme. Do you ever plant something, that looks really good in the garden centre, forgetting to read the disclaimer about how tall/ wide it will grow? I'm a sucker for that one. My back garden is modestly proportioned, and there isn't a lot of room for bamboo glades and shrubberies, but, thanks to my gormless lack of forward planning, that was exactly where we were headed.

Right now I've got a bamboo forest, hacked out, dug up and sworn over lying prone on my front forecourt waiting to be carried off to the local council's composting facility. Several too-big for the plot shrubs went the same way last week. And now I'm all set for a perennial border in the very finest of English country traditions.


Friday, 17 March 2017

☘️ Chocolate Guinness Cupcakes☘️

☘️Happy Saint Patrick's Day!☘️

Back in God's Own Country they watch out to see whether the good Saint has turned the sunny side of the stone up. If he has, and the sun shines on our National Day, it means that spring has arrived. If he hasn't, then we'll sadly have to wait. I've got everything crossed for a sunny side up day.

Now on to our own little celebration here at Talk-a-Lot Towers. As is apparent from the recipes that I share I'm a big fan of the black stuff. I love Guinness for cooking. I'm also rather partial to the odd glass of it to wet my whistle with as well, but, then again, I'm not Irish for nothing ... ๐Ÿ˜œ

To celebrate St. Patrick's Day this year I've made some Chocolate Guinness cupcakes, which are devilishly tasty, even if I say so myself!



Just read on for my recipe:

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Beaumaris Castle ... 8 centuries and still not finished ...

Work on Beaumaris Castle, the castle on the fair marsh, started on 18th April 1295 … and they still haven’t got the place finished.

It was to be the last of Edward I’s mighty castles guarding the north Wales seaboard. As I've mentioned before, I'm very grateful to dear old Ted the First for building all these wonderful castles within easy striking distance of the Dublin ferry. They make perfect places to stop-off and kick back for a few hours when you show up too early for your crossing.  See for example my thank you note for the wonder that is Conway Castle.


Beaumaris Castle, Anglesey, Wales
Beaumaris Castle, Anglesey, Wales


Friday, 3 March 2017

Knitting jewellery ...

I'm just messing around, enjoying the early spring sunshine (NOT - more like waiting for Noah and his ark to sail into sight ๐Ÿคฃ), and cutting the points off my favourite pins - as one does ...

No, I haven't entirely lost the plot.

I've been making stitch markers. My Aran pattern of the moment is a bit involved, and I like to mark the beginning and end of each panel that corresponds to a specific chart to help me recognise where I am. It's less of an issue as I learn to recognise how the pattern hangs together, but at the beginning those stitch markers are a life-saver.


Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Ode to February ... how was it for you?



I grew up in Northern Ireland, where we have proper winters with frosts and sometimes snow and cold, cold nights. And I like it that way. I like having seasons. Life would be boring without them ...

And this February we've had a flavour of full-on, proper, old-style winter weather. In London we've had some wintery cold courtesy of weather systems blown in from continental Europe, and then we upped the chill quotient with some skiing in Andorra. The ski season in Europe this year has been really good. They told me in Andorra that it arrived a bit late, but, when it came, it really delivered.

It's been fun muffling up for lots of outdoors activity. I skied with Emi, up and down, those lovely mountains every day. In the late afternoons on the way back to our hotel we'd stop off by some snow-logged fields and play. We built snowmen, we made snow angels and we waged snowball wars. None of it was wildly new or out-of-the-mould, but it was totally brilliant. And it carried a sense of doing exactly what we were supposed to be doing in this season of the year.

Indoors I've been curling up with my needles, enjoying some really good drama on television.  Did you watch Taboo? Whaow! We've enjoyed comfort food, and celebrated the simple pleasures of the everyday with bowls of steaming soup, spicy chai tea (Twinnings - delicious) and cupcakes aplenty.

So here's to March, and the simple pleasures of the everyday!

All the best,

Bonny x

Friday, 24 February 2017

The quiet after Storm Doris ...

Yesterday we really had to batten down the hatches and lie low while Storm Doris passed through town. She was a bit of a hell-raiser, old Doris. Normally I find windy days rather exhilarating, but Doris was on another level.

After the school run I normally take the WonderDog for a run in the park. Yesterday the sky was that steel grey colour that always comes before rain, and I decided to give it a miss. The WonderDog came into the kitchen with a hurt expression on his little doggy face, but within 2 minutes the heavens opened. I offered him an open door to the back garden, which he shrugged his shoulders at and immediately thought the better of his sulk.

Then this morning, in a moment of perfect blue-sky calm, we went for our usual jaunt around Walpole Park, and this is what we saw :

I'm so glad that I wasn't under that tree when Doris split it in half.


Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Heart Yarn Bag

Why not use some of your left-over yarn to make yourself a Valentine's Day gift with this heart motif yarn bag? You could use it as an extra small handbag, or make it for a little girl. I'm sure she'd love it in pink!

I designed this bag to hold my ball of yarn when I'm working on my feet. Often when I'm at yarn fairs, or teaching, I find myself walking around trailing yards of yarn in my wake as I try in knit on the go. I noticed that many of my clever neighbours at the yarn fairs get around this problem by using little yarn bags, suspended from their wrists that neatly hold their yarn as they pace around. And this is my take on the yarn bag.


I decided to combine the knit panels with some tweed that complimented the colour and texture of the stitch-work, and then I made an acetate lining to go inside to keep everything ship-shape. If you're not keen on sewing you could simply knit the side and bottom panels and forego the lining. It would still totally work. Just read on for my pattern:

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Steamy, Moonlit Andorra la Vella ...

Now, at the risk of leading people to believe that I've morphed into a vampire, who only ventures out a night, I have to 'fess up to being out and about in the moonlight here amidst the snowy mountains of Andorra. To be fair I've been up since the crack of dawn piste-bashing with Emi. But after a hot bath and a good dinner it's quite magical taking to the merrily lit streets of Andorra la Vella for a spot of nocturnal sight-seeing.

Many of the hotels still haven't latched onto the idea that Christmas has long since been and gone. There are Chrimbo trees and fairy lights aplenty. What is it with ski resorts and their year-round Christmas obsession? I love Christmas as much as the next girl, but by the middle February I'm more than ready to move on.

In Andorra La Vella, the capital city of this tiny principality,  you never get very far away from the sound of rushing water. Rivers tumble down from the snowy peaks, and race through town with a thundering velocity. And every now and then you come across a hot spring sending up great plumes of water vapour into the chilly night air. As you stand and admire the scene you begin to notice just a hint of sulphur hanging in the breeze and adding to the atmosphere.


It's an amazing thing to see a steaming river, especially as this one is just a skip, a hop and a jump away from Meritxell Avenue, the main shopping street where luxury label boutiques vie for position, and the cool crowd parade around in their designer finery.

There's a hot spring further down the street that feeds a huge stone trough where the water temperature is a constant 70ยบC. You can stop and dip your hands/ feet/ whatever you want cooked in it, but it's uncomfortably hot - and that's coming from someone who likes her baths lava hot!


I understand the science behind hot springs, but I still find myself standing back and marvelling at the incongruity of steam in a snowscape. It's easy to imagine how delighted our early ancestors must have been with places like this. In a cold, wintery climate, where everyone spent their lives balanced on the edge of hypothermia, it must have felt like a gift from the gods to come across a steaming hot spring rising out of the frozen ground.

All the best for now,

Bonny x



Saturday, 11 February 2017

Boulogne-sur-Mer in the moonlight ...

Do you ever go out for a moonlit stroll? Do you like to wander solitary beneath the stars?

It's one of those activities that you could be forgiven for opting out of. But for me, travelling as I do with the WonderDog, it's a bit of a necessity. When a dog's got to go, a dog's got to go ... if you get my drift.

Sometimes I negotiate r-e-a-l-l-y hard to see if someone else will step up to the plate and do the honours. On Thursday we pitched up in Boulogne-sur-Mer shortly before midnight. It was a cold, joyless night with a cruel wind whistling around the empty streets. After a late room service dinner the others pleaded various (lame) excuses for not venturing forth, and I had to take the WonderDog for his post-prandial ablutions. But here's the thing: the moment I stepped out into the moonlit streets I realised what a HUGE favour they'd done me. This little city by the sea is so atmospheric after dark.

La Porte Neuve, Boulogne-sur-Mer, France
La Porte Neuve, Boulogne-sur-Mer, France

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Carrot Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Today, a dull, bitterly cold, grey day in February, I'm all about brightening up the outlook with some yummy cupcakes topped with cream cheese frosting and the very brightest sprinkles I could find.




Carrot cake is a really easy cake to make. It's pretty much guaranteed to turn out deliciously moist due to the water content of the carrots. You could make this recipe as a sandwich cake with the cream cheese frosting serving as a sandwich layer in between, and on top. Alternatively you could make it in squares. 

Emi's school is having a cake sale this afternoon, so I'm going down the cupcake route to max-up the number of units for the punters.  

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Selfridges rocks the Granny Square ...

I'm not sure what's going on down at Selfridges on London's Oxford Street, but it looks like they're doing a homage to the Granny Square!

This gloriously colourful window caught my eye this morning as I was scampering past (late) for a meeting.


Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Ode to January ...



We've made it! We've survived January ... and in the end it really wasn't too bad. Cold and chilly, but with lots of blue skies and sunshine; it was a lot better than the murky, grey month I'd been expecting.

So - onwards and upwards - let's move bravely on to February.

All the best for now,

Bonny x


Friday, 27 January 2017

January blues banished ...

I've been known to bleat on about how much I hate January. But you know it hasn't been so bad this year. I've been embracing January, enjoying its cold frosty days that have opened out into blue skies and sunshine. I've enjoyed getting the big coats out of the closet, muffling up in multiple layers of woolliness, snuggling indoors in front of the fire and tucking into winter comfort food - stews and soups and curries and cakes - with gusto.

Walpole Park, Ealing, West London
Walpole Park, Ealing, West London


Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Moebius infinity scarf

Have you ever tried moebius knitting? It's a bit of a maths challenge. As it knits out from the centre it's hard not to marvel at how it works.



Once you've mastered the moebius cast-on the rest of this scarf is pretty straightforward. It's worked in seed stitch so that it's the same on both sides. I think a moebius works best when the twist reveals a consistent pattern on both sides.

It's been knit using Costa Brava Knitting's Double Knitting Pure Merino in Buttered Caramel with a contrasting trim knit in their Heather Mist using 4 mm circular needles with a 100 cm cord. It's taken about 75 to 80g (150 to 160 metres) of the main colour and about 15g or 25 to 30 metres of the contrasting colour. The finished scarf has a diameter of about 40 cm.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Shoulder of lamb with date and pomegranate stuffing

Did you know that this is Blue Monday? Officially it's the lowest point of the year. With all the fun of Christmas been and gone, but the bills still lingering for payment it's the day when we're all supposed to be feeling the most bleugh!

Looking on the bright side: things can only get better after today ... ๐Ÿ˜œ

And one way to make everything happier is to cook up some soul food indoors. So I'm comfort-eating with hearty winter fare to get me through Blue Monday. Mr B has a partiality for roast lamb, and  I'm rather keen on rolled roasts. I love the contrast of the meat and the stuffing. In this case I've added some dates to add a little sweetness, which works nicely with the lamb and some pomegranate seeds for a little extra zing.


Just read on for my recipe:

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

January ... bleugh!

At around about this time of year, every year without fail, I pause and think that I'd really like to do a re-wind, and go all the way back to the beginning of December again. You see the thing is I really enjoy Christmas with all the excitement, the getting together with family and friends, the parties, the fairy lights, the simple pleasure of time spent in front of the fire, happy and cosy, with loved ones. And so it follows that I'm always pretty reluctant to let the good times go, and get back to business as usual.



Sunday, 8 January 2017

Sant Pere de Rodes ... a flashback to the middle ages

The other day we headed off on a little pilgrimage to the ancient monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes. Once upon a (very long) time (ago) it was a really popular place to go. It was a hot spot, a must-see on the Pilgrim Trail.

According to the legends this is where they took the remains of Saint Peter, the father of the Western Church, after Rome was sacked by the Visigoths in 410 A.D. Rome had fallen to the heathen hordes and the elders of the church wanted to protect their treasures so there was an exodus of precious things such as the mortal remains of the saints, the Relics and the Holy Grail. They were carried off to far flung Christian lands, where the elders prayed they would be safe.

Sant Pere de Rodes
Sant Pere de Rodes


Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Arrival of the Royal Pages ...

Tonight, 4th January, the Royal Pages who precede the Wise Kings for the Feast of Epiphany have arrived in town. They came by sea with drums beating, and torches blazing, as fireworks exploded all along the waterfront. It was spectacular.

Arrival of the Royal pages on the eve of the Cavalcada of the Kings
Fireworks to herald the arrival of the Royal Pages on the Eve of the Cavalcada

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Cami de Ronda Rock Safari ...

It doesn't have quite the same ring to it as going on a bear hunt, but on New Year's Day we headed out on a rock safari around the Cami de Ronda from Platja de Sant Pol to Cala Sa Conca.

Cami de Ronda, S'Agarรณ, Catalonia
Cami de Ronda, S'Agarรณ, Catalonia