New ironing board cover

I have been doing a lot more sewing lately, as I start making gifts for people, and repairing items I would normally stuff in a box and forget about. The other day I was trimming apart some Half Square Triangles (quilting! I will post on this project soon πŸ™‚ ) and I put the point of my scissors straight through my elderly ironing board cover:

Old ironing board cover

Isn’t that hideous? I have had this cover for as long as I can remember, and … ergh! Not only is it tired, faded and stained, it now has a hole that is rapidly getting bigger! So this was the kick-start I needed to finally re-cover this puppy, which has been on my Todo list for about a year.

I knew I wanted a fabric I would like to see more of … a lot more. So I pulled out a lovely neutral print I scooped for a bargain at the local thrift store. This fabric was made up into some curtains and I’ve used it as part of various projects already. The backing for Evie’s Christmas quilt was made from it, for example. I already love the fabric because of the previous uses, and it goes nicely with the warm tones in the lounge room (which is where the ironing board is kept). Great!

I took off the old cover and kept the cord so I could use it again. The old cover was pretty crinkled and it was difficult to lay it out on top of the new fabric, but I managed it after giving the cover a quick iron. How, you ask? I put three cloth nappies on top of the ironing board as a makeshift cover. πŸ™‚

I cut around the old cover, then overlocked the raw edge, just like the original. If I didn’t have an overlocker I would have followed this technique, folding the edges over twice to make a pocket for the cord. Having an overlocker is a boon, sometimes. It made this job a lot easier!

Threading the cord through the stitching was easy enough using a tapestry needle.

20140117-161913.jpg

Finally, I cut a new piece of batting to go on the board using the previous foam as a template. The old foam is still there, but the new batting gives it some more pouff, which was sadly lacking after all this time. Now it feels nice and squishy. πŸ˜‰

After a brief wrestle to get the old cover on, I realised that some of the edges of the cover were too loose. It was sagging around some of the sides where the cord wasn’t pulling the extra fabric in. So I flipped the whole ironing board upside down, got down and tucked up the slack using a needle and thread. I would have used little safety pins if I had any, but thread tacks did a great job.

Thread tacks

The new cover looks a thousand percent better and I can’t believe I waited this long to fix it!

Draining yoghurt for extra yum!

Hi all. πŸ™‚

Today I’m taking it a bit easy because I have some new glasses, and I’ve been getting some eye-strain. Meh! It’s also still pretty hot, although not as bad as down in other parts of Australia (hi Melbourne!), where I think they are frying eggs on their car bonnets. Keep cool you guys!

So I’m doing some work inside today, and that includes draining the yoghurt I made the other day (here’s how I make it). If you are like me, and don’t enjoy yoghurt that leaves little pools of yellow whey when you dig it out with a spoon, then draining your yoghurt may be for you!

Basically, hanging the yoghurt so that the whey drips out will give you a thicker, stiffer yoghurt. Greek yoghurt is made this way. The longer you hang it, the stiffer it gets, and you can even get it to soft cheese consistency! Which is the yummiest of all. πŸ™‚

If you want to try this, all you need is a bit of cloth to use as a filter (cheesecloth is perfect, and designed exactly for this). The fabric wants to have an fairly open weave so that the liquid will pass through without it taking half the week. You will also need some string, and a way to hoist up the yoghurt over a bowl.

Choose a bowl that can hold the entire volume of the yoghurt you are draining. I did 1 Litre this morning, so I used my 1 Litre measuring jug. Line the bowl with your clothΒ (I doubled over my cloth because the weave is pretty loose). Β Then bring all the corners and edges of the cloth up into your hand and tie it off with a long string. You will use the long end to hang the bundle, so don’t cut it off too short!

I use chopsticks to make hanging the yoghurt easier. Wrap the string a bunch of times around the centre of a chopstick and it will hold the weight of the yoghurt without slipping, so long as you use a string that isn’t slippery. Tie a knot if you need to! Then you can quickly hoist the yoghurt up out of the bowl and balance the chopstick in place on your stand. A square chopstick works better than a round one, because a round one can start to roll about.

I used a jelly strainer stand on top of my bowl, but in the past I’ve used a couple of kiddie chairs, or the racks inside my fridge. An oven rack would also be handy. Any place you can securely suspend a chopstick will work, so long as it doesn’t slide off, and you can fit your bowl underneath.

Wait a couple of hours, or until it starts dripping instead of dribbling. I waited a little longer until the drips had stopped, and this had reduced the volume by half. I got 500 mL each of yoghurt and of whey. Exactly the thickness I love! If you want to make it cheesier, just keep on draining! You might want to do this in your fridge, though, because it gets very slow once half the volume is drained. Giving it an occasional stir or poke can help.

Store the whey in your fridge and you can make delicious silky bread with it by swapping out the water or milk in your recipe. My favourite way! Or if you don’t make bread, you can water your plants with it to give them a nutrient boost.

Enjoy your yoghurt with a dollop of honey or your favourite fruits!

A simple dinner

“Simple Living” is a strange description for what we do. Each task in my day is broken up into many small parts, each of which is simple in and of itself, but the whole is typically a complex dance, sometimes shrouded in mystery. πŸ™‚

Satisfying, though.

Take tonight’s dinner, for example: I decided to try a new recipe I came across whilst surfing the internet researching healthy lunchbox options that don’t involve bread. Impossible Quiche Recipe. I was drawn to the “impossible”, and stayed for the easy-to-make part. What got me hooked was I had a bunch of leftover zucchini still on the bench. Maybe the kids will eat it! >.>

The recipe calls for “1 zucchini” which is a little woolly for me, since our zucchinis come super sized (Costa Romanesco variety). This one has been sitting on the bench since we picked it, maybe two weeks ago? I’ve lost track. This is the last bit left from our plants which have succumbed to Powdery Mildew (the fate of all Cucurbits in Sydney Summertime). We have more baby plants in, but it will be a while before we get more fruits. I figured this would be the equivalent of a large zucchini. Easy peasy.

Costa Romanesco Zucchini

I had no onion left, so I needed to find an alternative if possible. Solution: some smalls leeks now going to seed in the garden! These never got as big as a typical supermarket leek, maybe because of a lack of water, or inattention on my part. Regardless, the plants have all decided at once that they’ve had enough, and are starting to put up a little flowerhead that will grow into a great big showy beautiful flower:

If I leave them for much longer, the leek will become woody in the centre, but they are just fine when the flowerhead is still small like this. So, I grabbed two and ducked back inside.

I used the butter in the recipe to sautΓ© the leeks, and added the mushrooms too, to bring up the flavours a little. I had no bacon to use, so the mushrooms are going to do the job of the meat, in terms of flavours. Then I used the oldest of the eggs in my basket and proceeded to assemble the quiche.

20140116-210630.jpg

The basil in the recipe was a nice fragrant touch. I used some leaves off the plant I have growing in a jar on my bench. Believe it or not, this basil came as a cut herb in a polybox from my organic veggie supplier. All I did was put it in the mason jar to freshen the leaves. That was the day before Christmas Eve! It has since rooted, and is flowering quite happily in my kitchen. Talk about convenient!

I prepare my quiche dish in the same way as I do for other baked goods: with a bit of butter rubbed on, and then dusted in flour. I hate the stink that the spray oil makes (it makes me cough too) and it leaves a sticky residue when it bakes. So now I do it the old fashioned way, and avoid using disposable baking paper too. πŸ™‚ Isn’t it a beautiful quiche dish? I was given it by my mother-in-law and it has made a lot of quiches in its time.

20140116-210652.jpg

Once the quiche was in the oven I cleaned up a huge pile of tiny new potatoes we had sitting in the bench covered in a tea towel. They will start turning green and going soft if I let them sit too long, so it’s potato salad time! I also put the tops of the leeks into the freezer, so it can be made up into vegetable stock at a later date. I keep a box in there to catch scraps like leeks, celery leaves and stumps of carrots. These make great stock!

All in all, it took a long time to prepare the dinner, but it was pleasant time working quietly without interruptions. The kids were resting quietly, there was a nice breeze coming in the kitchen window, and I was making it up as I went! It’s surprising how much enjoyment I can get by doing something myself, varying a recipe here and there, and knowing that the ingredients I’m chopping have come from my garden, from our own hard work, from seeds we planted, and from weeks and weeks ago!

20140116-210753.jpg

Like I said, complex. And mysterious. πŸ™‚

Cloth nappy system

I have a good friend who (I hope!) is about to have a baby any day now. She plans to use cloth nappies, which is great news! Whenever I hear of someone choosing a re-usable solution over a disposable one, I give a little cheer inside. Not only will she save a whole load of money, but she will also greatly reduce her environmental footprint. Where we live, drying nappies on the clothesline in the sun is something we can do year round. It’s also a lot easier to wash nappies than it used to be.

Cloth nappies are becoming increasingly popular and there are about a gazillion options to choose from. It’s actually really daunting to try and work out what nappies you should use when you are first setting up your cloth nappy system. I was going to send her an email which shows what I’ve settled on, but I decided to put it up here instead so that other interested people could also take a look! πŸ™‚

Without further ado, here is my change table I have at home (yes, that is my front door! Turns out this is an excellent spot for a change table in our house):

Cloth nappy change table systemI have a four year old boy still in night nappies, and an about-to-turn-two year old girl who is not yet toilet trained. I think I have two packs of eight coloured nappies (LOVE!) which I bought from Target for $20 each pack. I also bought some regular white flats; they came in packs of twelve, I think. I can’t remember what I paid for them, but it would be about $25, I would guess. The nappy flats are folded into quarters and stacked onto the middle shelf.

I do use disposables as well as cloth – it’s much nicer to take a pack on holiday than carry a whole bunch of wet / dirty nappies around, for example. I also use disposables when I need to refresh my wool nappy covers (more about wool covers in a separate post). Because I do all the covers at once, I have nothing to stop the nappies from wetting everything my baby sits on, so I use disposables until the covers are ready again. And, they are useful when you have a babysitter, too. πŸ™‚

Wipes are located in that basket. To use, I squirt the wipe with water, then add a dollop of Sorbolene Cream and then wipe it where it’s needed. Used wipes and wet nappies go straight into that bucket.

If I have a dirty nappy, I set it aside and get a new nappy onto my baby. Then once she has toddled off I take the bucket round the corner into the toilet where I have the best nappy system invention ever: a high pressure squirter attached to the loo! This thing is a lifesaver! I place the nappy into the toilet pan and squirt off all the dirty bits, leaving a very wet nappy. Then it goes straight into the white bucket too.

Squirter attachment for the loo

Every two days I take that bucket into the laundry, stuff it into the front loader and then set it for a hot wash overnight when our electricity goes to off peak pricing. The next morning I hang it all out on the balcony where the sun dries everything nicely.

There’s no need for me to soak the nappies, or to disinfect them. This method is called “dry pailing” if you want to look up the details of how to wash nappies in this way (and I might post on that too, if there’s interest).

As for how to fold and put the nappy on the baby? That’s a topic for another post altogether. πŸ™‚

Tutorial: Pillowcase seam repair

After our recent holidays I found myself with a lot of washing and sorting to do. This morning I came across this pillowslip, which had torn open where the pillow is inserted:

20140114-142042.jpg

This has been bugging me for a while, because it’s such a lovely pillowslip (I used this when I was growing up and it came in a bag of hand-me-downs recently). The closure is like a cushion, with a slit across the back that the pillow goes through. It tends to bulge open at the best of times, and the torn seam has rendered it pretty unusable. So, time to fix it!

When you have a torn seam, the fix is usually a simple case of turning it inside out, and then sewing over the old seam line.Β If you have never done any sewing before, and you want to try your hand at it, this type of mending is a great way to start! You only need a few tools (a needle and thread at the most basic, but a sewing machine is a great help).

First up, turn the item inside out, and iron the seam allowance flat. This makes it easier to see exactly how the pieces are supposed to fit together, and to pin them into place. In my case, the pillowslip had two flaps that are supposed to sit on top of each other (I used the other end of the flaps to work out which way to lay them on the seam).Β I also spotted that the seam edge was still raw and starting to unravel after all these years. It’s very unusual to find a pillowslip like this one! They are all overlocked inside, now.

20140114-150445.jpg

Pin the seam pieces together and give it another quick press to help the layers stay put when you are at the machine. A quick backstitch at either end of the new stitching will secure the existing seam and the new one. If you are sewing by hand, use a backstitch and be sure to go over some of the existing stitching to make sure the old torn ends are secured.

20140114-142103.jpg

Repair complete! If you also want to finish any raw edges, you can put a zig-zag stitch over the top, or use an overlocker if you’re lucky enough to have one. If I was repairing this by hand, I wouldn’t have bothered to finish the edges, as the rate at which it was ravelling was pretty slow.

A simple repair like this one helps to get as much use out of your things as possible. Now the pillowcase can go back into rotation with the others, and have another twenty years of service! (Maybe!)

Repaired pillowslip

Native Frangipani seeds

Last night at dusk we found a lovely white egg in the chicken coop, right where Matilda had been huddling moments before. I quickly got in there before the chooks had time to investigate because we thought it might have a soft shell. It was just hardening up! What a wonderful surprise in the evening. πŸ™‚

I also found a rather rushed white egg in the nest box today, so I think she may have laid again. This one is also very white, and was obviously more soft shelled. Hopefully she will get the hang of the nests soon!

Meanwhile, out in the garden I discovered that the fruits on the Native Frangipani we have growing in a pot have done the most amazing thing!

20140113-122922.jpg

The bottom of each small pear shaped fruit has opened up, revealing these papery seeds. Each one is like a really big parsnip seed. I wonder if they will float down and start sprouting in our lawn?

20140113-123638.jpg

Some new girls for our flock

Boss chook gives the camera a steely eye
“You want to do WHAT?”

We have been running with two chooks in our hen-house since last summer. Raven (a pure-bred Australorp) has been the boss of the house, but she has only had Harriet (our Barnevelder hen you can see in the background of that shot above) to keep in place. Now we have introduced two new young hens to our flock! Please welcome Matilda and Rose:

Matilda is a White Leghorn. Isn’t she beautiful? Her comb and wattle are quite well grown and nice and red, so she may start laying soon, if she isn’t already. We think she could be about 24 weeks old. Rose is a Rhode Island Red, and a bit camera shy. She looks a bit like a kiwi at the moment because her tail feathers aren’t grown in. Her wattle and comb are less well developed, but she is possibly older than Matilda. We will see!

It’s lovely to have new additions to our flock, which was just too small with only our two grown hens. Whenever Harriet goes broody it was quite lonely for poor Raven, who would go adventuring in the orchard all by herself. This morning we heard a positive chorus of good mornings when the chookies all woke up together! The new girls found their way onto the perches all by themselves, which was great.

We also introduced two new coop items: a PVC pipe feeder, and a drum waterer with nipples. The new girls know how to use the new features, but the older birds are suspicious, so it means the young hens are avoiding being pecked at the water and feed stations. Win!

Matilda checks out the orchard
Matilda checks out the orchard.

So far we have let them out a little and Matilda has ventured into the orchard with the others (they weren’t terribly impressed at being followed!). Rose is perched up in the nest box at the moment, chilling out, and keeping a wary eye on the floor below. Hopefully she will feel comfortable soon.

Update: I’ve already had to scoot Matilda back into the enclosure with the broom! Only out for a few minutes, and already she has found the weakness in our orchard covering! I’m still shaking from the fright. It’s not the same when your regular chooks get out, you know they will come back! Eep! Time to pull forward the plans to build a hoop-house over the orchard to cover the gaps!

Handmade Christmas 2013

This year I managed to create more handmade gifts at Christmas time, and over the year for various birthdays. The idea is for me to replace a gift I would normally have purchased (using a budgeted amount) with a personalised hand made item. I have a lot of nieces and nephews to buy for, and although it can be easier to go into a shop and just plop down some cash, I find I want to avoid gifting gifts made from plastic, or with batteries, or that just add to a meaningless pile of junk that goes in a drawer, or a pile under the bed.

So, sounds great in principle, but the first year I tried this, it was harder than it sounds! At least, for me. I spent the last week before Christmas madly sewing and stuffing toys, but I managed to give one softie to every niece and nephew on my list!

This year I started earlier, and avoided (some!) of the craziness. These are some of the projects I completed for various people. All of these I am very pleased with, and I think they were well received. Evie loves her lap quilt! And I totally desire Izzy’s pincushion and needle book. It was quite hard to give that one away!