Tuesday 30 September 2014

Monthly Round Up - September

September has been another disaster of a month financially really.  Although I was supposed to be taking part in No Spend/Low Spend September, it didn't really work out to be a low spending month as I had some uniform to buy for Little Bird, a school locker and school lunches to pay for , an expense that I never had before, as she took packed lunches.

I was also a bit behind on paying off my overdraft this month, so I needed to put aside a bit extra for that and pay off balances on my credit cards which had taken a little bit of a battering over the summer months.  I'm gradually getting back on track though, but it isn't a quick process.  I just have to take it month by month and try to stick to my goals.

So, it's been a long month of trying not to spend money, which incidentally I didn't have.  I did put a few things on the credit card, but some were things that OH later gave me the money for, such as the shoes for my birthday present and the vacuum cleaner.

I do have an admission though.  I have decided to relinquish one of this year's goals, namely the 100 no spend days.  I had a break from recording my daily expenditure for a couple of months over the summer, the first proper break in ten years, and it was quite enjoyable.  Although I've tried to get back into it this month and record my spending again, I've found that I haven't been sticking to it.  I think in all honesty, that I  just don't enjoy doing it anymore, so I've decided that I'm going to stop altogether.  A by product of this, is that I won't be recording the days I don't spend any money and hence why I'm relinquishing this challenge.

I think that now I've almost cleared my debts (i.e. credit cards and overdraft), the pressure to watch every single penny is not quite so great and the motivation just isn't there to the same extent.  I will, however, still be trying to make the most of any money I have, trying not to overspend and keeping a daily running balance of what money I have in my account, so I know exactly what I've got to spend at any point in the month.  When I've finally paid off my overdraft, I'm hoping to stay in the black permanently and spend completely within my means, all of the time.  This will be a big departure for me and a first in more than 10 years.  It is still a few months away though, so I still need to be careful for the remainder of this year as with Christmas just around the corner, it won't be plain sailing.

So, this October, I'm joining in with the Stoptober challenge,  (not the stop smoking challenge which I found when I googled 'Stoptober', as I did that over 10 years ago now thankfully), but  a blogging challenge whereby participants stop any unnecessary expenditure for the month of October.  In reality, I don't have hardly any spare money to spend other than for food before I start, so it's more a question of necessity really.  There will be one small exception though, which I'm excusing on the grounds that I had already planned it, namely a visit to the Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace this month with a friend.  I will probably give myself a small budget to spend there (i.e. £20 max.).  It is also my birthday this month, so hopefully there might be a few nice surprises as a result, which should also help see me through. 

I'm hoping that by November I should be in a much better financial position and then it's just Christmas to think of and the remaining overdraft balance.  I'm looking forward to the New Year this year, as hopefully it will finally be a debt free one and I can enjoy a fresh financial start, whereby I can start to think about saving money instead of spending it.

Monday 29 September 2014

A Little Extra Through the Post

A couple of months ago, I decided to join the John Lewis loyalty card scheme.  I do shop there from time to time, especially online in the sales after Christmas and a few times throughout the year for both business (they have a great fabric department) and personal items.  I figured what's one more loyalty card, when I already have various others.  When I initially joined up, I received three vouchers for tea and cake in their cafĂ© every month.  I used two of them over the summer on outings with Little Bird.  Very nice too.  I still have one left to use this month, but as I'm trying to avoid spending, I haven't been to the mall, so consequently, I haven't used it, nor am I going to make a special trip to do so, which would probably involve spending more than I should.

Anyway,  Saturday morning and I got a nice surprise through the post.  This £5 gift voucher from JL thanking me for shopping with them.   (We bought our Lewis (Henry) vacuum cleaner from them the other week.)


Thank you very much JL.  I'm not sure what I will spend it on or when, I could even give it away as a gift at Christmas, but I'm not sure I will.  I may save it and treat myself during Stopober, when once again I will be trying not to spend.  It will help to motivate me through another long low spend month.

In the same post, I also received some more vouchers from them for tea and cake.  As more than one of them are for the months in the lead up to Christmas, and it is likely that I will be visiting the mall to finish off my Christmas shopping, I'm certain they will get used.  One can even be exchanged for a tote bag instead, which might come in handy if I'm shopping and haven't got a bag with me.

I'm quite liking this loyalty card scheme.  I don't know if it will make me buy from them if I can find it cheaper elsewhere, but they're certainly trying to make it worth my while.

Sunday 28 September 2014

A Series of Mini Makeovers

Saturday afternoon and back home after the Give and Take event,  I decided to crack on with making over the mug tree and a couple of other items I'd been meaning to paint for a while.  I got out my new pale grey chalk paint, that I bought last time we were in Yorkshire and gave everything a couple of coats of paint.

The mug tree after it's paint job.

And how I intend to use it.

The kitchen roll holder I bought for 50p at a Car Boot Sale in Norfolk after it's paint job.

And how I intend to use it.

My washi tape fetish seems to have abated of late, thank goodness.  Probably just as well.  I have more than enough as you can see.  I am hoping to attach this to a wall eventually, but I haven't yet found exactly the right place for it.

A couple of empty coffee tins after their paint job (this paint can be used on metal too).

I'm not entirely sure what I'm going to use these for just yet, but I'll find a use.  I may embellish them a little too with some washi tape or fabric.

The mini printer's tray I bought on eBay after it's paint job.

And how I'm going to use this too.

The small items in here are all things that are quite sentimental to me for one reason or another and that I don't want to throw away or lose in the bottom of a drawer.  It will be nice to be able to see them on a daily basis.  I still need to find a few more small items to put in it.

I was pleased with my afternoon's work and at least I have some knowledge of the finish with this paint, for when use it on my linen cupboard.  I'm pretty impressed so far as it only takes a couple of coats and dries quite quickly.  It also seemed a little less expensive than some of the more famous brands.  I can't comment on whether it does as good a job though, as I've not tried any of the others.

Saturday 27 September 2014

Give and Take Tales 2

I think I did a similar post to this the last time I attended a Give and Take Day event. These events take place in our borough, are organised by the recycling department of our local council and aim to redistribute or recycle people's unwanted items to people within the borough, rather than things being put into landfill. They are usually quite well attended and there's usually quite a collection of items donated.  The best things, of course, go within the first hour and at past events I've seen people taking home wooden ladders, armchairs, all kinds of things.

This one was held in a local primary school, a different one to the last event, as they move the event around the borough in the course of the year and in an area not far from me, but that I'm not very familiar with.  I went along, as I had a few bits to donate that were clogging up the landing.  The aim is for people to give things they don't need or want anymore at 11am, or alternatively give and take at the same time (if they see anything that they want) between 12 noon to 3pm.  You don't have to give to take, nor take if you give, if you don't want to. 

I like to go along to these events in the afternoon, donate whatever I can find and have a quick look around to see if there's anything I'm specifically looking for at that moment. I already have so much stuff in my house that I'm not really looking to accumulate much more, but sometimes you can get lucky and find something that you have been looking for for a while.  Quite often I pick up a few books, as there is always a large amount donated.

It's a great event.  A super way of donating things to other people that you no longer need and spreading the love.  It's a bit like a totally free car boot or jumble sale.  Possibly not something everyone would like to do on a Saturday afternoon, but I just find it interesting to see what people donate and take. 

I arrived pretty late to this event, almost 2pm.  Little Bird had been late coming back from her sleepover the night before and was then heading out again with her friends, so I was hanging on until she left.  I then got lost trying to find the place.  (Told you it was in an unfamiliar area!)  I parked in the school car park and a very nice gentleman, who was passing on his bike, helped me into the event with the things I'd taken, as I couldn't quite do it in one trip on my own.  Very kind of him.

I must admit there was very little left by the time I got there.  Just as well really, as I don't really need anything.  I took a look around anyway, but just came away with one item.  This wooden mug tree. 

I had given it a good clean by the time this photo was taken, as it looked a bit grotty.  It's cleaned up okay though and then I'm going to paint it.  I'm not using it as a mug tree.  I'll show you my plan in another post.

To be honest, there are probably many other people out there with greater need than I have, but if I turn up late and there's bits and pieces still left, I do like to enter into the spirit of things.  I wasn't exactly sure what happened to the things that don't get taken, but I was reassured that they get taken to the next event in a few months time, which is good.   It's a good idea and I always like to support good ideas, otherwise they tend to get discontinued due to lack of interest.

Do you have any similar events in your area?

Friday 26 September 2014

Cupboard Filling Delivery

Yesterday, my latest Approved Food order arrived.  I had virtually emptied the overflow cupboard of things that had been hanging around for ages.  Here's what was left.

To the left are things left over from last Christmas and bits I've collected for next Christmas that I intend to use this December.  To the right are the remaining things that need using up.  Some more longstanding than others.  Much of what is left I use pretty regularly and especially so during the winter months, i.e. casserole mixes, dumpling mix, pastry mix, tortillas for fajitas.  These will be used up pretty quickly, so really there isn't much else left save some green lasagne sheets, chicken stock cubes and chicken gravy tubes, which I'll get around to using eventually.

I've recently become much more careful with regard to what I buy from AF.  I used to buy lots of things that I'd never had before to try them out, but I found that by doing this some things got wasted as no one liked them and as I hate waste I didn't like this, so I now stick to tried and tested things that will definitely get used.

The main part of the order was as in this photograph.

Lots of store cupboard items.  Chick peas, tortillas, Peshwari naan breads, a case of crumble mix, a case of Panna Cotta mix, a case of buttered, sliced Soreen, several cakes, Beef bourguignon mixes, icing sugar, gingerbread mixes, small packets of raisins, teabags, olives, Tikka Masala sauces, etc.  All pretty normal stuff, but at the usual great prices.  I decided this order to buy some skimmed milk powder.  Mainly because now I don't have the milkman delivering my milk, I often seem to find myself without any milk for a cup of tea or coffee (like this morning!).  Skinned milk powder wouldn't be my first choice, but I'm happy to be able to use it, as opposed to having nothing.  It might also come in useful for the odd recipe.

I bought a few bits and pieces for the Food Bank.  I really need to get an order together for September/October (I've taken to taking an order every two months now). I still spend the same amount of money each month, but just deliver every two.  As I haven't had much spare cash this September, I haven't really been collecting things together for them.

There were a few household items in the order.  The Surf cost 50p when you spent over £25, so I took advantage of this.  The kitchen roll is for Christmas, it's got these cute reindeer on it.  How could I resist?

So sweet and for 99p I treated us.  Little Bird loves this sort of thing and always nags me to buy these in the supermarket, but I usually don't succumb as they tend to be overpriced.  I also got some BB cream.  I've used this brand before but in a darker shade, so I'm trying a lighter one for the winter when my skin has less colour.

There were a few treats that I didn't photograph.  Mainly low fat crisps and rice snacks for myself and Little Bird plus a few small chocolate bars (i.e. treatsize Milky Ways and Chomps) for when nothing but chocolate will do.

Plenty there to keep us going.  Needless to say, once the Approved Food order had been put away, the overflow cupboard was looking decidedly full up again, but hopefully this time with things that won't linger so long.

Thursday 25 September 2014

Business Matters

I've been a bit preoccupied of late, trying to get back to grips with running my small business from home, hence the lack of posts for a few days.  It's not actually easy trying to make money from a small business, I've found.  Despite not having any overheads to take into account, I find it quite difficult to make it pay, so I can imagine how hard it must be for people who rent premises and have all the accompanying bills to pay.  Running your own business is certainly not an easy life.

I got a bit of a shock when I did my accounts the other week.  It turns out that I hadn't been including some of the fees I have to pay when selling and when taken into account this meant that I made even less money than I thought.  I'm philosophical about it though and am hanging in there, in the hope that I can continue to grow things and start making more money.  Not huge amounts, although currently any money made does tend to get reinvested in new stock.

Part of the reason for my not making it pay so well, was that I splashed out on a new filing cabinet to make my work area at the kitchen table much more organised and tidy.  I don't regret it at all, as it does make life easier to have things properly organised, but even this small expenditure can make a difference and has to be thought about carefully.  In addition, I've had to start paying bank charges each month on my business account, which I've never had before.  I'm not trying to gain sympathy with this post, and neither am I trying to drum up more business, as I tend to keep blogging and business quite separate, I'm just pondering on a few facts of life I've learned in the process of trying to become self-employed.

I know this is not an unusual scenario and many businesses struggle to make a decent profit and pay themselves a decent wage.  Even some big businesses can take years to get to a point where they are profitable.  Nothing worth having comes easily I guess.  I'm trying to put it all down to experience and appreciate the huge learning curve I have experienced.  Even if I don't continue the business beyond a few more years, I've gained valuable insight into the process and hopefully won't have ended up in any debt either.

With any retail business I think the difficulty is in the buying.  I always find that buying the right products, i.e. ones that sell and are profitable is the challenge.  I, however, have no professional buying experience, so have to go with what I like and what I can identify with my limited experience, as potentially 'good sellers'.  I learn more with each purchase and find myself constantly having to be flexible in my approach, that is what makes it so enjoyable and interesting, ergo the challenge.  It would be different, however, if I desperately needed the income to live, if it didn't earn me enough money then, I would have to give up and get a job.

Whilst not making excuses, working from home can have it's difficulties, I don't always apply myself as much as I should really and if I did it could probably make a big difference.  It's very easy to get distracted by domestic life.  I'm making a determined effort to really knuckle down at the moment as it is the lead in to Christmas, my busiest time and I'm trying to take steps to make sure I capitalise on this and maximise sales.  I'm hoping this year to finally pay back a small personal loan I made to the business when I set it up.  At least once I've done that, I will be much closer to making a genuine profit.  Keeping it small suits me because of the freedom it gives me, but it definitely isn't an easy option.

Has anyone out there had a similar experience?

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Loving on TV at the Moment

I must admit that I'm watching very little television at the moment, which is no bad thing but when I do there are certain programmes that I have been really enjoying of late.

Gardener's World - BBC2 Friday 9.30 pm - I love this programme, it is always a favourite.  I  am secretly quite happy about it's new later time slot, as I'm often not back from Zumba until 7.30pm on Fridays.  I love getting a weekly reminder of all the things that I can and should be doing in the garden. Whoever decided to air it on a Friday night was a genius, as it sets the tone perfectly for the weekend.

The Great British Bake Off - BBC2 Wednesdays 8pm - I couldn't miss this one off the list.  I enjoy sitting and watching this with Little Bird, whose favourite contestant this year is Martha.  I don't have a favourite, I must admit, I just enjoy the show.

Hotel India -  Wednesdays 8pm  (Can't remember the channel) - I had to record this programme in order to watch it, on account of it clashing with the programme above.  It has been well worth it where I have remembered. Although this series has now finished, I did managed to catch a couple of episodes and loved it.  It took a look inside the infamous Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai, a favourite  haunt when in India, of many famous and influential people.  I was fascinated by the insights it gave into this amazing establishment and this beautiful country.  I have a very lucky friend who is going to be staying at this hotel later this year, courtesy of the company her husband works for.  I'm very envious, but in a nice way.

Strictly Come Dancing - Okay, it's not back on our screens just yet, but coming very soon.  I love watching this programme and get really excited around this time of year.  I know, I'm incredibly sad.  It's just such a pity to hear of so many relationships breaking up after celebrities have taken part.

Don't tell anyone, but I'm a also a secret fan of Come Dine With Me on a Sunday afternoon/evening.  Not sure which channel, but there are usually several back to back.  It's an entertaining accompaniment to the huge pile of ironing I usually have to do.

I asked OH the other day if we could subscribe to Netflix this winter.  I fancy getting my teeth in to the US series Orange is the New Black, which I've heard rave reviews about.  We loved watching Breaking Bad last winter when the nights turned dark.  I got a lot more quilting done too whilst watching it.  I don't seem to be picking it up at all at the moment.  I'll let you know how I get on if we ever do subscribe.

Saturday 20 September 2014

Jumble Sale Tales

Today, my favourite jumble sale was taking place at our local hospice.  I've been attending these events for the last couple of years and they are really worth a visit.  The hospice jumble sale is a very popular event, with hundreds of people attending each one.  I haven't actually attended one so far this year, as I missed the last one back in March, due to us having visitors, and due to building works they haven't had one since, until this weekend that is.  Needless to say, when I heard that there was one taking place, I just had to go along.

As I'm in the midst of Low Spend/No Spend September, I only allowed myself to take a limited amount of money, just £15.  This was all I could afford at the present time, but I went with the view that I didn't have to spend it all if I didn't see anything I liked.  For the 50p entry fee, it's a fun morning and if you find a bargain or two, even better.  Plus, of course, all proceeds go to a very important charitable cause.

My first port of call when I get to one of these sales is always the linen stall, which often has vintage bed linen and occasionally fabrics.  Many of the items for sale are thrown into large laundry bins, so it is always fun to dig down and see what is in there.  It's a bit like a lucky dip of sorts.  (Not everyone's idea of fun I realise).

Subsequently, I always take a look around the rest of the stalls.  I particularly like to check out the shoes and bags, bric a brac, nearly new shoes and clothes, books and various other areas of the sale. 

Here's what I came away with this time. 

First stop, linen table.

This lovely brand new Night Owls Tea Towel for 50p.  I've decided to stick to dark coloured tea towels from now on.  They seem to stay looking better for longer and food stains don't show up so badly.

This lovely retro single quilt cover for £4.  This will be added to my vintage linen collection.

Another lovely retro double sheet to go into my vintage linen collection.  This cost £2.

A fleece zebra print throw.  This looked brand new and cost £2. Great for throwing over yourself whilst watching TV in the winter.  Little Bird has already bagged this.

From the Bric a Brac table, I bought these two ramekin dishes to match some I already had.  I've needed a few more for a while, for making separate small crumbles with.  They looked to be in immaculate condition and at 50p for the two were a bargain.

I went a bit mad on the book table, despite the fact that I'm not supposed to buying any more books.  How could I resist them at 3 paperbacks for £1 and an amazing amount of choice?  I bought a total of 9 books, which worked out at approximately 50p each, as a couple were hard backed.  Many of them are by familiar authors that I enjoy reading, but there are a few new to me names in there as well.  These should keep me going well into next year.


Finally, I  bought  a couple of small bits of costume jewellery.  This lovely silver coloured acorn pendant charm.  I'm going to stick this on a silver chain and wear it this autumn, it is just so cute.  (Apologies for the quality of the photo).

I also bought these star earrings, which are a bit wacky and which Little Bird thinks I'll never get away with wearing.  We'll see. 

Bought to wear with my star print skirt, which incidently, I was wearing today.  Here's a reminder of the fabric.

 By this time, I'd run out of money completely, so it was time to head home.  Just as well really as I'm sure I could have come home with much more.  As always, I was super pleased with my purchases and the fact that I kept within my budget.  Here's to the next one, which is usually just before Christmas.

Friday 19 September 2014

Making Do and Making a Change

The other night I was scanning the Argos catalogue.  (Sad, I know).  The reason being, that I had some money left over on a voucher I was sent to replace my iron, and I was wondering what I might use it for.  I was drawn to the kettles, as ours was looking well past it's best.  It was covered with a layer of grime, scale was creeping over the rim and out of the bottom of the handles and I was thinking maybe it's time for a new one.  Then I got to thinking how it still works perfectly, and I could end up with a kettle that lasts a year and then breaks.  We've had ours a good few years, and as a consequence, it is indeed a bit scaled up inside, but I figured a bit of work and it could be made to look a lot better.  I decided to give it a good clean.

Out came the brillo pads, descaler and a bit of elbow grease and it got a good old makeover.  I couldn't believe the transformation.  I didn't take a before shot, as I was too keen to get on with the job in hand, but here's the after shot.

I did get a bit carried away with the Brillo pad and some of the brand name rubbed off, but I think you'll agree that it's shiny like a new pin.  If you look very closely, you can even see my reflection in it taking the photograph.  Sometimes it feels so satisfying to actually look after something that you already have and make as much use of it as possible.  Lets hope it lasts a good few more years.

Having potentially saved myself from spending most of the voucher on a kettle, I went back to looking in the Argos catalogue again.  This time I decided that I was going to spend the money on a new kitchen bin.  And yes, we do have a functioning one already, that we could make do with, but in this instance, I fancied a change and a bit of an upgrade from this

to this.

I checked the reviews on the website before purchasing it and to be honest they were mixed, with quite a few complaints about the lid.  I decided to take a gamble though and I'm glad that I did as I  like it.  I'm not sure how it will fare in relation to the rigours of constant daily use, but we'll soon see.

Part of the reason for this change was that the current push lid style bin  has a lid that when the bin starts to fill up it doesn't close properly, allowing smells to leak out.   In addition, the opening isn't particularly large and sometimes I have to lift the lid off to get larger items of rubbish in.  With a touch top bin I'm hoping these problems will not occur to the same extent, as the aperture will be larger and the lid will shut until it is fully full.  The other reason is purely aesthetic, in that the new bin is generally more attractive.  I like that it is the same size as our current bin, so I can continue to use black bin liners in it and then take them straight outside when full.  This size is perfect for us and just big enough for a week's worth of our rubbish, so I don't have to change the bags too often.  I'm all for an easier life where possible.

The current bin, which has served us well, I will be hanging on to for the moment (just in case) and has already been repurposed in the garden (I'm using it to store clean plant pots in, to keep them from getting dirtied by dust and weather).  Just in time really, as there was massive storm last night and they were kept snug and dry for once.

This change has been part of a gradual de-cluttering and subtle revamping of some of the smaller details of our kitchen.  More to come in a later post.

Thursday 18 September 2014

A New Little Helper

Little Bird had a friend coming for a sleepover last night, and as a consequence, I needed to get the house into some sort of order, and more especially Little Bird's room.  So, yesterday afternoon was spent cleaning and hoovering, etc.  I did have a bit of assistance on this occasion, from the new 'man' in my life.

Before you get completely the wrong idea, the man I'm referring to is my new vacuum cleaner.  Yes, I have finally been treated to a new vacuum, after several years of complaining to OH about our current one and how difficult it is to handle.  OH (who had chosen said vacuum) had been promising me for a while that I could buy another one, one that I find easier to use, so a few weeks ago I kept him to his word and we bought one.

I wasn't sure at first what to get.  I eyed up the Dysons and other makes in John Lewis and was tempted by the cord-free rechargeables, until that is, I found out that they could only be used for 30-40 minutes at a time, before needing recharging.  This was no good for me, when I use a vacuum cleaner, it tends to take me a lot longer, as I'm usually blitzing the whole house.  In addition, I didn't think that the heads would fit under our sofas, which also helped to rule them out.  I looked at other vacuums too, but after reading the reviews online, I kept coming back to Numatic's Henry.  It may not be of a latest new fangled designs, but they have made some interesting technological innovations lately.

By way of a coincidence, my brother in law, over from Australia this summer, had ordered a new model to take back with him.  The wattage has apparently been halved in the new models to 580 watts, making it more energy efficient, but without losing any of it's suction power.  It worked out significantly cheaper for them to buy a new one here and pay over £60 to ship it out to Australia, than wait for the new model to come out there so they could buy it.  I figured that it must be a pretty good vacuum for them to go to the trouble, made a mental note, but kept looking, despite having already noted that online reviews were virtually 100% positive.

A second coincidence occurred when we were away in Norfolk, the hoover in house we stayed in was, you guessed, a Henry.  I had to try it out of course and found it to have very good suction and was pretty easy to handle, with the added extra of sturdy parts, which was a bonus after my experience with our current one.

By the time I'd got back to London I had virtually made up my mind - a Henry hoover it was going to be, but at the last minute my head was turned.  John Lewis, in celebration of their 150th year of trading, were selling limited edition Henrys, this year.  There's one called John (he's green) and one called Lewis (he's purple).  Call me a sucker, but yes, it was Lewis I bought, seduced by the colour purple, and very nice he is too.  I got to know him quite well yesterday, and we got along just fine.  His suction is great and he's quite a quiet unassuming chap, far less noisy and challenging than his predecessor.  I think we'll rub along very well indeed.

Here he is, isn't he cute? 


A couple other positives were that he was manufactured in Britain and didn't come with a massive excess of packaging.  Both pretty rare occurrences these days in my experience and both helped to reassure me that I had made the right choice.

Please note that this is NOT a sponsored post.  I am purely giving my honest opinion about a product I have researched, purchased and like very much.

Tuesday 16 September 2014

A Few More Small Sewing Projects

Following on from my bookmark making at the weekend, I decided to have a go at making some fabric key rings for myself and to give as gifts.  Now I know these will probably not be the most sturdy type of key ring you can have, but they were fun to make, cost nothing, brighten up any bunch of keys and if they do disintegrate, well, I can just make more.

I didn't actually have any rings to attach them too, so rather than buy any I decided to thin out my own bunch of keys, which seemed to have far more than was actually necessary attached to it.  By doing so, I managed to glean these three rings and got to work.

Whilst making a key ring for myself, I also decided to make myself a matching cheque book cover, as my cheque book tends to get a bit dog eared and shabby looking, being carried around in my handbag.   I'd seen some for sale on Etsy, but thought rather than buy one, I'd have a go at making one.  I chose as sturdy a fabric as I could find, settling for a grey wool fabric sample.  I acquired quite a few of these samples from a fabric warehouse I used to visit a couple of years ago.  They were throwing them in the skip and told me I could take as much as I liked.  I just took a couple of bin bags and then detached all the wool samples from the sample books, so I could use them for projects such as these.

The wonderful thing about wool, apart from the fact that it is beautiful quality and a natural fabric, is that it is very forgiving.  It quite often hides mistakes, doesn't fray easily and edges can be left pinked when making small items like this.  Otherwise to turn things out can cause them to look bulky.

Anyway, here's the cheque book cover and matching key ring I made for me.  I made up the pattern by cutting around the cheque book itself.  I used some bee print ribbon I'd bought a while back to embellish the both of them.

The final two key ring rings I made were these two, which I think are quite sweet.  I may make a few more as Christmas stocking fillers.  I may need to order some key ring rings after all!

Sunday 14 September 2014

A Few Small Sewing Projects

This weekend, I've been taking it easy and doing a bit of recreational sewing and dabbling in a bit of fabric printing, using these fabric paints that I was given by a friend a couple of years ago.

I revisited the Zakka style sewing I blogged about a few months ago, using up tiny fabric scraps that I can't bear to throw away.  It's amazing what you can do with them.  I made some more fabric book marks.  Many of the fabrics are offcuts of vintage Laura Ashley, Liberty, Sanderson and other well known makes.  Just too lovely to throw away.   I use one of these bookmarks, that I made a while back, on a daily basis and find it lovely to use.  It makes me smile to open my book and see it there.  I have made several as presents to pop into books that I'm giving this Christmas.

Here's a picture of some of the ones I made this time around.

I also made this one for Little Bird to use now, as she took a liking to it and was pestering me to give it to her.  How could I not?

She liked the bird that I printed onto plain white cotton.  This was actually the blank selvedge cut from another fabric, so provided another opportunity for practising Zero Waste.

I decided to try to make a small pencil case for her too, from some pretty left over fabric and a zip I had in my stash. I hand printed a bicycle patch to embellish it with.  I'm not sure how well it will stand up to the rigours of the school bag, but she really liked it which I was pleased about.

I've enjoyed pootling about on these small projects this weekend, as it allows my imagination to run free.  There's no pattern to follow.  I just make it up as I go along.  None of the things I make are perfect either.  I like that about them though, it makes them more special and individual. 

I've particularly enjoyed the fabric printing  and can see myself doing a lot more of this in the future.

A Productive Week

I feel like I've had a productive week this week.  I've put my head down and got on with a few tasks that I've been avoiding for over 6 months now.  It feels good to finally tackle them, particularly the calculations for this year's tax return, which I'll be filing a bit later in the year.  It shouldn't take long to finally complete and file it now and I've even gone so far as to get started on organising my paperwork for next year's return too.

I've finally got around to ringing the National Insurance office about some queries I had and resolved some issues I was unaware of.  Without wanting to sound smug and self satisfied, sometimes knuckling down and getting your house in order feels very liberating.   I think after the summer holidays, where I got virtually nothing done, I am feeling a new zest for getting on with outstanding tasks. Long may it last!

There's plenty still to do, of course.  The allotment will need my attention towards the end of the month and into the next, to tidy it up at the end of the growing season. The garden is sprouting weeds again and needs some work and in addition, I will need to prune my apple and cherry trees before the weather turns cold.  The greenhouse also needs clearing, once my tomatoes have ripened up and there's always a pile of dirty garden pots to wash.

Inside, I've got a few small things that I want to paint with my new tin of chalk paint.  I've got a pair of curtains to make for the kitchen, the kitchen floor needs sanding/painting and various other tasks I need to do relating to my small business.  I'm hoping to keep up the momentum and finally get on top of things for once.  I'll keep you posted, but in the meantime, wish me luck!

Saturday 13 September 2014

Market Day

On Thursday, I decided to pay a visit to a favourite haunt of mine, a good old East London market.  It's a proper East End market, one of the few left and has stalls selling all kinds of things from fruit and vegetables, home ware, books, clothes, shoes, fabric, sewing trims, etc.  It's been a few months since I've managed to get there.

It's quite a big market, stretching virtually the length of the high street and it's great to saunter up and down and take in the stalls and their merchandise.  The market opens on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, to my knowledge. (It may be open on other days, but these are the only days I have ever visited). 
Today, the market was very busy.  The weather was a bit grey, but at least it wasn't raining, as the number of stalls sometimes reduces with bad weather.  To me, this is the real London, it is busy, diverse, down to earth and real.  Normal people going about their daily business.  I enjoy the buzz and listening to the banter of the stall holders, which often makes me smile.

Now, I know you might be thinking, that I'm supposed to be participating in No Spend/Low Spend September, but I was very good, honest.  I had a short list of a few vital things that we needed, such as fruit and vegetables, snacks for school, a birthday card, etc. and I stuck to it, well almost. 

There are several stalls at the market, that I particularly enjoy perusing.  One is a book stall and it is the first stall you encounter when you step out of the car park.  Usually this stall sells hard backed books for £2 and paperbacks for £1, but today for some reason, the gentleman stallholder was selling all of the books at £1 each or 3 for £2.  Amazing value.  I have succumbed many times to books sold on this stall, all of which I've really enjoyed reading.  It's a gem.  
Today, I really couldn't miss the chance to buy two small stocking fillers for Christmas and a book for me, all for £2 in total. All the books are new and it was a bargain that I just couldn't ignore.  Here are the books I bought.  The two on the right are the ones I bought as gifts.  I won't say who they are for, just in case they might read this.

Another favourite stall is this sewing trim stall.  If ever I need zips, elastic, cotton, etc. for my sewing endeavours, I tend to come here for them   As you can see, they are very reasonably priced.  I didn't purchase anything today though, but the colours were wonderful.  This is my equivalent of a sweet shop.
The fruit and vegetable stalls are also good value and you can buy large bowls of virtually anything for just £1.
(Please excuse the fuzzy lines in this photograph.  It was taken through reinforced glass on my way down the stairs of the car park building.)
I bought a bowl of nectarines (14 fruit to be exact), a bowl of avocados (8 fruit) and a bowl of bananas, each for £1.  Very good value.  The avocados need a little ripening, but a few days in the fruit bowl with the bananas should do the job.  Where else could I buy this many for so little money? 
There's usually a stall that sells Clarks shoes that I can never resist checking out.  I have bought some lovely boots here in the past for £30.  Unfortunately, today they weren't there, but there's always next time.

As you can imagine, it is always very tempting when I come here, especially as there are also a myriad of fabric and other shops up and down the high street, some of which I just have to check out, for strictly business purposes only, of course.  It's just as well that I don't get here as often as I used to any more.  In fact, I did make a couple of small purchases of a business nature, from a couple of the fabric shops, but that is a whole other matter and comes from a different budget entirely.

Consequently, for once I miraculously returned home with my personal budget largely intact.  Do you have a favourite place or market where you like to go and shop occasionally?

Friday 12 September 2014

One Week One Pattern 2014 - Day Six/Seven

For the final couple of days of this challenge and in an attempt to reboot my sewing mojo, which seems to have deserted me, I decided to make myself a new skirt or two using this pattern.  I had stacks of fabric in my stash and as this Butterick pattern takes just two hours or so to make from scratch, I managed to find a bit of time, now Little Bird is back at school, to make some new ones.

I decided to use this spectacle-like print fabric for the first one, as it is quite an unusual and colourful print.  It is a very inexpensive synthetic fabric picked up in one of the local fabric shops I often frequent, for £1 per metre.  Not the usual sort of fabric I would use for a skirt of this type, but I like the finished effect.  I'm not sure how it will wash and wear, but I'll soon find out.

For Day Six I teamed it with a black, tightly fitting top, and teal patent leather sandals for a late summer day to evening look.

Here's a close-up of the print on this fabric.

For the second skirt I made this week, I decided to use a very special fabric that I've been keeping for who knows what.  It's a vintage Liberty of London print fabric, probably from the 70's or earlier, called Barnabus.  I bought it in the form of a pair of vintage curtains a few years ago on eBay.  The fabric had perished at the very edge due to sunlight, but otherwise it was in immaculate condition.

I love the jewel like tones in this fabric and as I don't have any need of curtains, as we tend to go for blinds here, I thought I would use some of it for this challenge.

If I'm honest, I wanted something that I could wear with my brown suede knee high boots and this was the most suitable thing I could find in my stash.  In addition, I've been reading in the fashion magazines lately, how dark floral prints are in this winter, probably not prints such as this granted, but this is my version of the trend.

Anyway, it's a beautiful quality fabric, I like the finished result (although it could be argued to look like it's been made from a curtain) and I know I will love wearing this come autumn/winter.  I teamed it with a lovely little black sweater which has little puffs on the shoulders, my brown suede boots (of course), brown tights and a brown necklace.

It felt good to get the sewing machine out again after a hiatus of a good few months, and good too to use up more of the fabric in my stash.  Mental note to self:  MUST DO MORE SEWING.

Many thanks to Jane at HandmadeJane for hosting this challenge.  I've really enjoyed reading the posts of participants and admiring everyone's creativity.  It's been incredibly inspiring.