Points for Perfect Pastry

Points for Perfect Pastry

A couple of weeks ago, I attempted to bake my grandmother’s famously delicious raisin bread. I’d actually been meaning to for ages, because my family has the notebook she wrote her recipes and cooking notes in, as well as an envelope full of recipes she clipped and saved from magazines, food packaging, pretty much anywhere.

The raisin bread was a giant flop. First it didn’t rise at all, then it did, then not again – in the end, the bread was too tall, too brown, and completely raw in the middle. Grandma clearly knew stuff about bread that I don’t know, and trying to bake from her handwritten recipe proved difficult in ways I didn’t expect at all. I don’t really know that much about baking bread anyway, I’m still in the early learning stages, so questions about yeast cakes vs. dry active yeast and the like had me confounded.

I tried again the very next day, having adjusted the recipe based on the first try, and it was wonderful! It made me want to dig through the rest of my grandmother’s recipes and, doing so, I found some real gems to share with you all. I have a little pile set aside that I’ll get through eventually, but first up is these super helpful hints on making the perfect pastry, brought to you by Robin Hood Flour (the pre-sifted flour, of course). (Click through to Flickr for a bigger version.) Not that I know anything about making pastry, the tips might be useless – but look at the fabulous artwork. They just don’t make ads like this anymore!

Vintage sticky ribbon – #6!

Vintage ribbon - Duo Sheen #6!!

I don’t know about yours, but my local charity shop tends to sell crafty stuff in a sort of grab-bag style – for a few pounds, you can pick up (when available, of course) a ziplock bag full of … stuff. Lots of stuff. Maybe buttons, old needles, thread and floss, aida or evenweave fabric, bits of yarn – I once found a completely dull and beat-down pair of folding embroidery scissors. I always buy them, because, hey – there could be anything in there! I probably throw away or re-donate at least half of what I buy, but the stuff I’ve found is totally worth it.

This ribbon was in the bottom of one of those bags – Duo Sheen!! Doesn’t that just sound like the 50s-est thing ever? A Google search for Duo Sheen turns up nothing, but searching for the phrase “sticks to itself when moistened” (something I’d never have guessed I’d type into a search engine) shows that this self-sticking ribbon was apparently a popular thing back … well, I’m not sure when, but I’m going to stick with my 40s – 50s guess. There seem to have been tons of brands selling this same thing, all in different widths and colors (mine’s #6, clearly a nice choice). I had no idea such a thing ever existed, but just looking at it conjures up visions of beautifully wrapped chip-n-dips and the like. I have to wonder why and when this product was phased out – for someone like me, who prefers the band-of-ribbon style of wrapping over bows, this self-sticking stuff would actually be quite convenient.

And yes, I did check to see if it still sticks, and indeed it does. I’m sure this ribbon will make its way into my Christmas wrapping later this year!

Gift round-up: thrifted

Christmas is now long over, thank goodness*, but there are still some gifts I’d like to show off before we put away the holiday spirit for another year. These were all gifts to me that came from local charity shops and I thought crafty types would enjoy them as much as I do.

Xmas Gift: thrifted Hornsea jars

Brother might’ve realized I’d love these even if I hadn’t been there to nudge him in the right direction (it’s what we do), they’re so very me. They’re a Hornsea set, Heirloom pattern – I have the coffee set in the Brontë pattern and love they way they match but don’t match. Lovely.

Xmas gift: thrifted knitting needle case

This one was all him, I wasn’t even there, and I’m always kind of touched just by the fact that someone knows so clearly what I’ll like. He apparently saw it a few days before going back to buy it and had the staff digging through mountains of knitting needles behind the counter until they found it again. This knitting needle case is clearly old, but there’s no date or company or markings on it in any way. Isn’t it beautiful, in that really ugly sort of way? I just adore it – and it’s full of my straights already!

Xmas gift: thrifted knitting needle case
Xmas gift: thrifted knitting needle case

This next one might be the winner of the whole day, handcrafted gifts and all, simply because it is such an insane find. From my mother, a bag stuffed full of various embroidery ‘stuff’. I say ‘stuff’ because when she bought it, she didn’t know exactly what was in there. She shoved it all into a box just as it was:

Xmas gift: thrifted embroidery floss and wool
Xmas gift: thrifted embroidery floss and wool
Xmas gift: thrifted embroidery floss and wool
Xmas gift: thrifted embroidery floss and wool

I was completely stunned when I opened that box and so much thread just same spilling out. But even better was sorting it all out – it took the better part of the entire Lord Of The Rings trilogy, untangling and winding, but it was hugely inspiring. I just kept daydreaming about what I could stitch with all that thread in so many amazing colors. I felt like a little kid cracking open a brand-new box of crayons. When it was all sorted and cleaned up, here’s what I ended up with:

Xmas gift: thrifted embroidery floss and wool

A whole bunch of tapestry wool in various amounts – looks like some came from a kit of some type.

Xmas gift: thrifted embroidery floss and wool

15 skeins of regular stranded cotton floss, 4 skeins of coton a broder (which I’ve never used before but always admire at the local Hobbycraft – I don’t even know what you use it for!), a 4″ zipper, and some cute black buttons.

Xmas gift: thrifted embroidery floss and wool

25 skeins of ‘soft cotton’ floss – not really sure what you use this for either, normally, so I’m looking forward to experimenting with it. Deliciously soft.

Xmas gift: thrifted embroidery floss and wool

And the real killer – 54 (FIFTY-FOUR!) skeins of perle cotton. The whole haul works out to around £100 worth of embroidery materials for, Mom couldn’t remember exactly, but she thought about £3-ish. Insane. I can’t wait to start stitching, my head is just swimming with ideas!

* I like Christmas and all, really I do, but I get myself way too stressed out about gifts and everything else and end up enjoying the bit just after Christmas when I can veg out, play Wii for hours, read and fall asleep in the chair way better.

On deciding how to blog

I seriously doubt there’s enough people out there (yet?) to notice that I’ve been on a blog break – I just haven’t been that into it. I kind of avoided it for a bit and then, once I thought about it, I had to admit something to myself: it just wasn’t fun for me. I wasn’t sure why, but I knew I definitely wanted to blog, I just couldn’t figure out how.

Thrifted: pie plate

I’ve known since the beginning that my writing on here just didn’t sound like me. I had the same problem when I first started writing at my other blog, Hangin’ out in 100b – everything came out as some personality-less, academic version of me. It just wasn’t me at all. I say dude a lot, I make up words by adding -y to the end (i.e., Dorito-y for that perfect flaky-yet-crunchy texture – you know what I’m talkin’ about), I’m more likely to explain something using a Buffy-related metaphor than some fancy highfalutin art talk.

So I took a break and had a think on it. I looked at some of my favorite bloggers and thought about why I so enjoy their blogs and look forward to their posts. Turns out it’s because they all have something unique about their craft style that keeps me reading, not necessarily their blogging itself. Hmm. I don’t really have a unique style. Yet. I’m still working on it, still learning how to make things how I want them.

Thrifted: Cookie Jar + Coffee Mug

Then I was talking to a friend, my best friend, about how other bloggers sometimes make me feel … well … inadequate. There’s only a few, and they’re different blogs than the ones my friend mentioned, but reading them always felt like a completely unobtainable level of perfection. I thought it was just for my own personal inferiority complex-y reasons, but it turns out, I’m not alone! She sent me the link to this article, which both made me laugh and confirmed that I’m not crazy. Of course it’s silly, and definitely not the bloggers’ problems – we’re talking about ridiculously talented people who should all scream their achievements from the rooftops. Sadly though, neither my crafts nor my life are quite as photogenically lovely as theirs seem to be. I probably haven’t put on any make-up today, and I can promise you I’m not in a cute outfit. There’s a decent chance I’m eating cookies for breakfast while I type this (true story). My life is a little more … disorderly.

Thrifted: Pirate and, um, Martha Washington?

Then something occurred to me – I’m putting that same perfection-pressure on myself with this blog. I’m approaching it like it too has to be full of sun-mottled crafty loveliness, but since I’m not really like that, it just kind of makes me tired. Sure, I like to take beautiful photos of things I’ve worked hard to make – who doesn’t? But sometimes it’s cloudy and I can’t get the perfect dreamy picture. Sometimes I spend weeks trying to knit a sock idea in my head and I just can’t get it to work (again, true story). Sometimes I spent a whole week doing nothing crafty other than knitting stockinette. The point being: I need to get it out of my head that every post needs to be a fascinating, flawless glimpse of crafty perfection.

It might take me a while to adjust to a new blogging mindset, but hopefully I’m on way way to finding a blogging style that’s more fun for me and more interesting for you. In writing that actually sounds like me.

(The photos above are just fun things I’ve recently thrifted from local charity shops – I don’t think any of these need any explanation, but a post about my thrifted junk in general will be coming along eventually.)

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