Monday 26 May 2014

Cushion makeover part 4: vertically striped crochet cushion

So how do you like my clutch of cushions?

I'm quite pleased with how they've turned out: a nice combination of stripes and textures in a constrained two-way colour scheme. They're perfect for relaxing on the terrace on mornings like this when the sun forgets to shine and there's just a little bit of a nip in the air.

It's taken me a while, but I've finally finished the last one - the one with the vertical stripes over on the left of the sofa. It's been hard to find the time to crochet recently with all the little bits of nonsense that life's been chucking in my direction.

If you fancy making them you can find the patterns for the others here:

Crochet lime loopy cushion (front left hand side): Loopy cushion

Knitted horizontal striped cushion (back right hand side): Horizontal striped cushion

Crochet Astrakan cushion (front, right hand side):Astrakan cushion

As with all of the other cushion patterns that I've written about, this one is dead easy. I've worked the striped pattern on the front only, and kept the back plain double crochet so that I could bomb through it as quickly as possible.

I used Sirdar's Bonus Chunky wool for all of the cushions, worked with a 5 mm crochet hook so that the work was quite tightly woven. This one took about 150 yards of grey wool, and about 80 yards of lime wool to make.

I started with a cushion that measured 24" x 15" (61 cm x 38 cm).

How to make the front of the cushion:

This striped pattern repeats over 8 stitches, with one stitch for turning. Each stripe is made over 4 stitches. You should start by calculating the number of stitches you need to make the size of cushion you require and then fine-tune that number so that you can work it to a multiple of 8 with the single stitch for turning. It's best to do this by chaining the length that you think will work for the width of your cushion, and then checking after a couple of rows that you've got your calculation right.

I chained 73 stitches, which gave me 18 stripes (plus one stitch for turning). As always I like to knit or crochet covers slightly tight as the fabric will stretch with wear, and if you're not careful you can end up with a sagging cushion that doesn't look great: think Nora Batty's tights.

Row 1: Using the grey wool I worked a row of double crochet stitches (American single crochet stitches), starting with the second chain from the needle (72 doubles in total).

Row 2 (right side row: that is a row with the right side of the work held facing you as you crochet):  I chained 1 stitch to turn, and then worked 4 double crochets into the last 4 double crochets of the first row. With the last of those four stitches, I changed the colour of the wool by not completing the stitch with the grey wool. On the last stage of the stitch, when there were two loops remaining on the needle I drew the lime wool over the needle, and finished the stitch ending with a lime loop on my needle. Then I worked the next 3 stitches in the lime wool, and repeated the process with the grey wool on the fourth stitch.

Let me show you that fourth change-colour stitch with some step-by-step photos:

Insert the needle as normal to work a double crochet stitch ...

... wrap the wool around as normal ...

... and draw it through, so that you have 2 loops on the needle ...

... then take the new colour (the grey wool) and loop it over  ...

... and draw it through ... so that you have only one (grey) loop and you're all set to go with the new colour ...

 ... and then just carry on with the new colour until it's time to change again.

You keep going like this, working four stitches in one colour, and then four in the other until you reach the end of the row. The change-over stitches for this row are easy as the wool will naturally fall on the wrong side of the work, so you don't have to think about where it is.

Row 3: This is a wrong side row: that is a row with the wrong side of the work held facing you as you crochet. This row is a little bit trickier as you have to remember to flip your wool over so that it's carried on the wrong side. It's not a big deal, and you'll soon see that you've made a mistake if you forget. The wrong side, with all the loops of dormant wool that are being carried across, will look like this when you get going:

Anyway for row 3 you need to work one chain to turn, and then 3 double crochet stitches normally.

For the fourth double crochet stitch work insert your needle as normal ...

... throw the wool over and pull it through so that you have two loops left on the needle ...

... and then pick up the new colour wool (grey) from the bottom: do not throw it over the needle in a loop. Instead draw it through the two (lime) loops on the needle, catching it with the hook from below ...

... so that you have only one (grey) loop, and then ...

... flip the old wool (lime) over so that it's lying on the wrong side of the work, facing you. This is really important as you want the loops of dormant wool that aren't in use to be carried on the wrong side of your work. You can see in the photo below how I've pulled the lime wool towards me so that it's going to be carried on the wrong side.

And then you just carry on that like this, changing your wool colour every four stitches until you reach the end of the row.

Carry on repeating rows 2 and 3 until your work measures almost the correct length to fit your cushion. Then work one last row in plain double crochet with the colour that you used in row 1 (grey in my case).

Cast off.

How to make the back of the cushion:

For the back cast on the same number of stitches as you did for the front (73 in my case)

Work a double crochet into the second chain from the needle, and then keep on going all the way across the row (72 double crochet stitches).

Chain one to turn and work another row in double crochet.

Carry on until your work measures the desired length. Then cast off and sew the two sides together.

Ta-dah! You've made a striped cushion.

Now stand back and admire your handiwork,

Bonny x

Saturday 24 May 2014

Another mad dash through France ...

On Thursday afternoon we picked Emi up as soon as school finished for the half term holidays and headed straight for le tunnel to make our customary dash through France to get home to Spain for a week in the sunshine. Traffic on the M25 was bad. We counted three accidents along the way. Thankfully no one seemed to have been injured.

This jolly little caravan caught my eye as we zoomed past in the fast lane:

It looked like a tear drop, and was perfectly colour-co-ordinated with the car that was pulling it.

We missed our train with all the shenanigans on the motorway, but they allowed us to catch a later one and we made it to France only half an hour behind schedule.

Driving around Paris was tricky. The police seemed to have closed all the exits we wanted to take, which mixed things up a little more than we were comfortable with. It's not totally straight forward driving around the French capital in a right hand drive car, but finally we made it to our hotel in Orléans, and collapsed exhausted into bed.

The next morning we breakfasted on more of those delicious French croissants than we ought to have done, and bombed off to the south.

By lunchtime we were in the Auvergne, admiring the peaks of their now-extinct volcanoes.

We ran into some interesting weather along the way, but the great thing about heading south is that the weather blows over and, if you wait for half an hour, something else comes along.

By the time we got down to the Languedoc things had settled down a bit. The sun came come out again, and we decided that we needed an ice-cream and coffee break, so we pulled into Perpignan.

When we'd sampled the ice-cream menu we went for a stroll to stretch our legs after all those long hours in the car. Maxi seized on the opportunity to check out the locals. They seemed to be friendly.

Bonjour! Do you speak Schnauzer?
Perpignan is a lovely little city. We're always tickled to see any mention of Catalan in France. It makes me think how arbitrary some of our international borders are. This one, between France and Spain, seems to have cut the Catalan nation in half.

Perpignan, France

We discovered this little gem, which used to be the old Sea Consul's house. They told us it had been built back in the fourteenth century.

Perpignan, France

Isn't it a beauty? I have a soft spot for the original gothic.

Perpignan, France

At the other end of the spectrum we also liked the funky, modern theatre. It's great when a city has the confidence to mix things up a bit as between the old and the new, and the traditional and the avant garde.

Perpignan, France

Then we took a turn around the citadel in the middle of town.

Perpignan, France

We went for a walk down the side streets, but the rain seemed to be following us, so we cut it short and took refuge in our car.
Perpignan, France
Views of Perpignan
And then we sprinted the final stretch across the border to Spain, playing catch-up with the rainbows as we went.

Have a great weekend,

Bonny x

Tuesday 20 May 2014

How to make potpourri

Are you a little bit blown away by all those beautiful roses growing in your garden right now? Do they smell divine? Would you like to capture a little bit of their summery wonderfulness and store it away in a glass jar for the gloomy, grey days of winter? Well I've got just the trick if that's something you're tempted to do: you could make your very own potpourri. If you've got some aromatic herbs like rosemary, bay or lavender you could add them to the mix as well.

I am a really big fan of the roses. I love them more than anything else that grows in my garden. I love how they look, I love their scent and I love their romance. Everyone from Robbie Burns to Shakespeare has written about them, they're a favourite heraldic device and here in England the lovely rose is, of course, our national flower.

They are remarkably robust plants. You can find one that will grow happily in just about any awkward spot in your garden. Got a dark corner? Got clay soil that sets like concrete in the summertime? No problem: there's a rose out there that will happily flourish in whatever conditions you have to throw at it.  They're great for security: burglars don't like to climb over a thorny, rose-covered wall.

And the modern hybrids are impressive in terms of how disease-resistant they are. The beautiful pink bloom in the bottom right hand frame above is my very favourite rose of all. It's a Sweet Hermione by David Austin. I bought two of them to go on either side of my gate, and they have bloomed faithfully for the past five years producing a profusion of big, opulent flowers that smell like heaven. Every time I go in or out I have to pause, inhale and admire them. I wish I could attach a scratch-card to give you a whiff of how beautifully they smell today.

Sadly the lighter coloured roses tend not to make such great potpourri. The problem is that they go a bit brown and grungy when they dry. You're much better off choosing the deep reds and burgundies, which keep their colour better. Avoid the light pinks, whites and yellows.

What you need to do first is gather as many rose petals as you think you're going to need. Pick them on a dry day when they're free from dew or moisture. Choose the blossoms that make your heart sing: the really perfect ones that don't have any brown leaves or imperfections. It's a good idea to try and keep a few roses whole to dry in one piece. They will add an interesting texture to your mix.

I also gather sprigs of rosemary and some bay leaves.

You need to lay everything out on sheets of newspaper somewhere dark and dry where they won't be disturbed by snuffling pets or football-playing children. Sunlight will fade the colours, and dry them out too quickly. Your attic might be a good spot or a well-aired basement room where there isn't much traffic. You'll need somewhere, where they can be left undisturbed for several weeks with good ventilation so that they won't mildew.

I collect some rose and geranium flowers with everything intact. I also collect some rose and geranium petals. I've got a lovely scented geranium with interesting leaves so I snip a few of those off too for good measure. This year I've spied a lovely deep cerise peony rose, which I'm going to dry as well. I've not used peony petals before, but I'll keep you posted on how they fare.

Everything gets laid out to dry on sheets of newspaper. It's a good idea to take a look at them every few days and stir things around a bit so that it all gets a chance to dry out evenly, although if you have reasonable ventilation that shouldn't be an issue.

The flowers, petals and leaves are ready to use when they're brittle and papery. It will probably take the better part of a couple of months for them to reach this point, although much will depend on the temperature of the room that you're using.

When you're satisfied that your flowers are dry you can move on to the next stage. For this you'll need a very large mixing bowl or a bucket, depending on how much stuff you've got. Please choose one with a lid as you will need to seal it. Maybe a huge biscuit tin or some catering-sized pickle jar would do.

Place all the dried flowers in your mixing bowl and mix them around so that they are evenly distributed. At this stage I plan to add some lavender flowers that I've dried overwinter from last year. If you want to dry your own lavender, just cut long stalks on a warm, dry day. Remove the green leaves, and tie in bunches. Then hang the bunches in a dark, dry room until they dry out. Mine were hung for a few months in my laundry room. They could have stayed there for less time, but to be very honest I forgot about them. When they were totally dried I rubbed off the small buds, and stored them in a huge, catering-sized, glass jar that a local cafe owner very kindly let me take away when it was empty.

Now you need to add some fixative to keep the mixture stable. I use orris root powder, which is made from dried iris roots. You can buy it on-line or from a health food shop. You will need 1 tablespoon of orris root powder for every quart (about 5 cups) of dried flowers that you use. 

I also add 2 cinnamon sticks, 2 tablespoonfuls of green cardamon pods, a dried vanilla pod and 2 tablespoonfuls of dried coriander seeds per quart of dried flowers. If you go to your local Asian grocer you'll get a much better deal on these spices than at the supermarket.

Mix everything so that it's all evenly distributed and then add 3 drops of rose essential oil and 1 drop each of geranium essential oil and lavender essential oil per quart of dried flowers. Give it all a good mix around and seal with your lid.

Leave the mixture to mature for between 4 and 8 weeks in a dry, dark place, giving it an occasional stir, although for the first week I'd advise you to mix it about a bit every day. The longer you leave it in its sealed container, the greater the strength of scent it will have. 

When you're ready to use it just empty it into your favourite dish, taking care to place a few of the prettiest dried roses on top, and ta-dah you've made your very own potpourri! And now you can enjoy those glorious summer roses all through the winter.

All the best,

Bonny x

Monday 19 May 2014

The Blue Anchor, Hammersmith

Wasn't the weather glorious on Sunday? - A perfect English summer day, even though it was only May, and technically still spring.

In the UK we obsess about the weather, and my theory is that all those miserable grey days make us really appreciate how staggeringly beautiful our countryside is when the sun finally manages to put in an appearance. My Spanish family joke about how, after only five minutes of sunshine, half of London will have grabbed their deck chairs, donned their bathers and made it down to the park to soak up the rays.  It's all right for them with their 360 days of blue skies and sunshine every year, but we have to make the most of it when the sun breaks through!

We seized the moment and went for a long walk along the river with our very good friends who'd got rained off the weekend before. The sun beat down, we caught up with one another's news, our children skipped along in front telling their own tall tales and the rowing eights sped past on the water.

Chiswick Eyot, Thames, London

Our walk followed the route of my Boat Race/ Chiswick Tow Path Walk, which you can find here: Boat Race Walk.

Everyone and their dog was out enjoying the rays, and I don't think I've ever seen so little water in the river. It was a super-low tide. In fact it would have been possible to walk across the empty channel to Chiswick Eyot without getting even a smidgen of mud on your shoes if you picked your steps carefully.

Chiswick Eyot, Thames, London

We started from Dukes Meadows on the Middlesex shore, crossed Barnes Bridge and walked along the Surrey shore to cross the river again on Hammersmith Bridge. Walking past the Blue Anchor Pub we spied an empty table on the terrace outside, which we immediately seized upon. It was a little early for lunch, but we reckoned that a bird in the hand was worth more than a long wait further up the river.

Blue Anchor, Hammersmith, London

Being outside seemed like the only option on such a glorious day, and with our children and Maxi, the dog, in tow it felt more comfortable than being inside. Sadly the highish wall along the walkway obscured our views of the river, but as we had plenty to chat about we hardly noticed. Perhaps if we'd gone inside and grabbed a table on the first floor beside an open window we'd have fared better in terms of being able to watch the river go by.

Blue Anchor, Hammersmith, London

The Blue Anchor is a lovely old pub in the very best English tradition. It was first licensed on 9th June, 1722 back in the time of George I, although it had probably been trading for quite a while before they got round to sorting out their paperwork. In fact it may even have had an earlier licence, but, given that the licenses before that time were granted in the publican's name rather than in the name of the premises from which they were trading, it makes it difficult to know exactly what was going on.

Blue Anchor, Hammersmith, London

We had their Sunday roasts, which came with all the trimmings and were HUGE. The children had chicken burgers from the children's menu, which were also on the generous size. Service was speedy and friendly. The food was delicious, and it was a total joy to be outside dining al fresco. Sadly we weren't able to linger over desserts and coffees as we all had other things to do in the afternoon, but I'd definitely recommend this place for a casual, relaxed Sunday lunch by the river. They seemed to have a good choice of wines, although we were teetotal on account of driving and  our later afternoon activities.

If you'd like to check it out, you can find the website here: Blue Anchor

All the best for now,

Bonny x