Hardwick Squash and Pumpkin Festival

Welcome banner - Squash and Pumpkin FestivalAfter what felt like weeks of constant rain, the sun broke through and we made our way across the other side of the Thames Valley to feel the warmth on our faces and to visit Tolhurst Organic Produce’s annual Squash and Pumpkin Festival, set in their farm in the Victorian Walled Gardens of the Hardwick Estate.

Thames ValleyWe sat in the sun on the valley sides and drank locally brewed beer, ate locally grown foods, admired the most magnificent array of squashes and enjoyed some local bands.

Local beerThe Tiny Overlord practiced some serious toddling.

Toddling on the farmAnd we explored the farm. I often underestimate how much food is frown locally. Maybe I often mistakenly (or lazily) assume that we must rely on big supermarkets for our food. But these fields were bustling with tasty things to eat. I really want us to try to eat more seasonally, at least, and support more local growers like Tolhurst. Fresh, tasty and surely better for all of us? I am inspired.

Tolhurst Organic FarmThe festival was a real joy. I’m not too fond of commercial Halloween, but this festival felt like a proper celebration of the seasons – of truly appreciating what comes from the ground and the passing of that growing season to the winter. Do I sound like a hippy? Maybe. But good food, beer and music in a beautiful setting floats my boat far more than ‘trick or treat’.

One

And then the Tiny Overlord turned One. So to celebrate what has been equally the greatest, but also the hardest and most chaotic, year of our lives, we decided to celebrate. And naturally, my first thought when it comes to any celebration is ‘what to wear…

But it isn’t always as easy as that. I struggle with baby clothes, I really struggle with them. I don’t want to dress my little boy up as a tiny man, I want him to look like a baby, in baby clothes, wearing baby clothes that he can easily play in. However, sometimes this seems to be too much to ask. And having baulked at rails of tiny suits, shirts and bow ties, I decided to take matters in to my own hands and make him something special to wear myself.

Front of upcycled baby sweaterThe Tiny Overlord’s birthday jumper cost me a whole 50p in my local charity shop. I can not resist a good stripe. And armed with a fat quarter of Hungry Caterpillar print cotton from Etsy, I set about personalising it for him.

It really was rather simple – I traced the backwards shape of the ‘Ones’ on to some bondaweb, ironed it on to the ‘wrong side’ of the cotton and cut out the shapes. I then removed the back of the bondaweb and ironed the Ones in to position. Then, during an episode of Strictly, I secured them by stitching around the edges with a little embroidery thread. Above, is the front and here is the back…

Back of upcycled baby jumperAnd here is it worn by my cooperative model…

Baby wearing upcycled birthday jumperThe bondaweb and cotton was already in my stash, but the jumper and fat quarter came to about £4.10. A bargain for a special and unique  celebration outfit, if you ask me. And the result was something bold, bright and beautiful. A bit like the birthday boy himself.

The tale of two chairs

As mentioned in my last post, fuelled by a heady combination of Pinterest and ‘Fill Your House For Free‘, I’ve taken to upcycling in rather a manic way. Why upcycling? Isn’t it just a fashionable pursuit for the privileged with too much time on their hands? Well, maybe. Though being a full time carer of a small child, I’d dispute having too much time on my hands…

But I also rather believe in conscious consumption (I blogged about it here). I worry about our disposable society and what kind of environment the Tiny Overlord will inherit. And well, I just like old things, I love things with quirk and charm and character. I love things that are unique and if I can achieve some of those things through a good old bit of re-loving, then that’s just fine with me.

school chairs Made in Britain

The chairs came from a playgroup, via a reclamation yard in sunny Margate for a whole Four British Pounds (tip: avoid the ridiculously overpriced ‘vintage’ shops in the Old Town and head up the hill past the Shell Grotto to the real thing).

Covered in rust and grime, but proudly Made in Britain, I bequeathed them a stay of execution from the scrap heap and after lugging them home on the train (that lovely parquet floor above is in Ramsgate station), set about transforming them for the Tiny Overlord.

Chair makeover in progress Chair makeover in progress

It took me HOURS to sand all the flaking plastic paint and rust off the metal legs. It took me ages to scrub the plastic clean with sugar soap, so they could be primed and painted. But, after a lot of hard work, a couple of emergency trips to Wilkos for more cans of paint and a lot of cursing, they were transformed in to my primary coloured dream.

Yellow upcycled school chairs Play area

Can I be honest with you? Was it worth it? In principle, yes. These perfectly useable chairs have been saved from landfill and given a new lease of life and I love the colour of them. But, to get this finish on them took two cans of Plasticote paint (not including a coat of primer and lacquer) and two cans of spray Hammerite on the legs. That’s not only a huge amount of money to spend on £4 chairs, that’s an awful lot of VOCs released in to the atmosphere! Someone with more knowledge on these matters than I will have tell me if they really have better environmental value than new chairs.

Even though I have upcycled furniture many times before with a brush, I found the spray paint very hard to handle. I wasted loads of it spraying the thin chair legs. It didn’t dry in the time stated on the the can, the paint is uneven from where they were knocked over on to the grass by rampaging cats (that never happens to Kirstie Allsop…) and one chair has an amazing imprint of my finger prints for prosperity from where I had to pick it up, wet. Which is useful as a crime deterrent as there is absolutely no mistaking they are mine, but it wasn’t exactly the Pinterest perfect polished finish I was hoping for.

However, despite the resulting costs and imperfections, we really do love them. And paired with a slightly less ethical table from IKEA (I had planned to upcycle a table but this one was just too perfect. And it cost a lot less than all that spray paint…), we think they make the perfect pieces for the Tiny Overlord’s play area. And that’s really all that matters. Quirky, colourful and uniquely ours.

The Veggie Patch Diaries: June & July

Strawberries from the Veggie PatchOur last installment left the veggie patch in the midst of a mollusc-related crisis. I’m going to be honest with you from the outset, we haven’t really recovered. Despite really helpful advice from readers (thank you so much!) something about all the plants being eaten seriously dented my grow-your-own mojo. I want to grow these veggies with love and care for my family to eat, not for the benefit of the chunky slugs and snails of the Thames Valley…

Armed with this feature from Gardener’s World (Hello there middle age!) and really rather inspired by Artemis from Junkaholique’s gardening endeavours, I’ve been putting a lot of work in to bolstering our flower bed with mollusc-proof hard perennials. In the hope that, 1, they will be pretty, 2, they will not get eaten, and 3, that they will pretty much look after themselves, so I can get on with the serious business of the veggie patch.

Which is really the point, that I do so so want to make the veggie patch succeed. It is so important to me. I love the idea of the Tiny Overlord being able to eat food fresh from the ground, packed with vitamins and antioxidants, with, literally, metres between patch and plate. I really want him to understand where food comes from – that his food doesn’t come from the supermarket, it comes from the soil. And I know gardening is good for me, and far more interesting and rewarding than going to the gym. I just need to re-find my spark, to overcome my slithery shelled oppressors and get stuck back in to the earth.

In the Ground:
Beetroot
Courgettes
Plums
Rhubarb
Salsify
Sweetcorn

In The Growhouse:
Nothing…

 

101 Uses of a Vintage Sheet: The Playmat

At the moment I have incredibly worthy crafting intentions. Naively I thought was going to fill the Tiny Overlord’s world up with lovingly handcrafted playthings, crafted while he slept, but the reality of life with a six month old isn’t quite like that (sleep alone is often an enigma, let alone finding the energy to craft). So my crafty intentions remain just intentions for the time being.

Fortunately the Tiny Overlord does kindly allow me to scour the local charity shops for treats and trinkets. I originally bought this lovely geometric patterned vintage* duvet cover for pennies with the intention of turning it in to a patchwork playmat, inspired by Hannah’s in Mollie Makes Mama. But y’know, best intentions and all that. Instead I decided it would probably make a mighty fine playmat of its own accord. So stuffed with a thin summer duvet – tada! A large soft playmat, perfect for my little roller. Quite possibly the easiest make ever, no?

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He seems rather pleased with it, maybe pleased enough with it to let me make some of my crafty intentions more of a reality one day.

*I’m a bit of a hoarder of vintage linens, normally I go towards the lurid 1970s floral variety, they are used throughout our home and you can see some of my creations here. I have to confess that I spotted this amongst a bundle of vintage bedding and grabbed it as well. It is not actually vintage, it is originally from IKEA. None the less, it is spared the landfill and put to good use. And we think it is pretty groovy. And, really, that’s all that matters.

A Mini Fashion Protest: Reading

Cast your minds way back to last Autumn, to a London Fashion Week held in the aftermath of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh and the Craftivist Collective and War On Want’s highly inspiring Mini Fashion Protest campaign.

Heavily pregnant and armed with my hand stitched mini protest banners, I headed to Reading’s bustling Oracle shopping centre, in the hope that my tiny embroidered words might make someone think twice about where the clothes they are buying might be coming from and who might be making them.

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This banner reads “Please show respect to the women who make your clothes. Let’s pay a living wage to all garment workers“.

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Exploitation: It’s not okay here, it’s not okay anywhere” This one was stitched not only in solidarity for those exploited abroad, but also in solidarity for many British retail workers who are paid minimum wage (not a ‘living’ wage) and have unfair working contracts.

One thing I have learnt about display mini protest banners is that it is hard to feel inconspicuous when putting them up there. My heart always pounds, my hands feel a little clammy. Add to the mix being eight and a half months pregnant (and unwisely wearing bright pink and red stripes) and these feelings double. Triple even.

But I really believed in this campaign and believe in conscious consumption, safe working conditions, fair wages, human rights and thinking about the environmental impacts of our consumer choices and we’ve not even touched on the emotive issues around child labour yet.

Maybe someone saw my stitched words by the Oracle riverside and briefly thought about some of those issues? Someone definitely saw them, as nearly five months later the cable ties holding my ‘exploitation’ banner to the bridge are still there.

Oh Christmas Tree

Every year I look towards Christmas with the best of homemade intentions. The level of consumption we are encouraged to undertake at Christmas makes me extremely uncomfortable. For Christmas 2012 I managed to make (nearly) everyone’s Christmas present. But 2013 a combination of the crazy weather, nothing growing in our garden as it should and having a baby (had I mentioned that we’ve had a baby? Baby, baby, baby…) meant I managed to rustle up a mere 4 jars of jam and chutney. So I bought everyone books and framed photos of a very smiley Tiny Overlord in fairtrade photo frames instead.

But I felt a little peeved that my gifts, whilst lovingly chosen from the best shop in Reading, lacked the homemade touch. So I’ve started a new tradition of at least making people a handmade decoration each year. Hopefully this is something the Tiny Overlord and I can do together in the future. But this year, with him only being 2 months old, I went it alone and made a selection of hangable Christmas trees from my button stash and felt.

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I must confess that my birth-and-baby-addled brain didn’t entirely come up with the design on my own, and I took more than a small amount of inspiration from these decorations I’ve had pinned forever by MissyMaddoxDesigns. But I was mightily pleased with the result. I wrapped the books up in brown paper and string (saved from our vegetable boxes – never knowingly overlook an opportunity to recycle) and a button tree on each one was the finishing touch. Now all I need to do is to start scouring Pinterest for this year’s decoration inspiration.