Apron making

On Monday, given the bank holiday weekend, I went along to our local market to buy some off-cuts of fabric.  I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking for or what I was going to make but soon found a variety of lightweight, pretty prints. I chose three colours of gingham, a beige polka dot print, pink floral and a nautical boat print.

By chance, the next day I was looking through the kitchen drawers for a tea towel and found a number of old aprons (long and short) from around the 60s which got me thinking… would the floral print work as a short apron?  It would need to be lined as the material was so flimsy, but it would be a relatively straight forward and personalised project for would-be crafters.

So here is the result: a few hours of measuring, cutting, pinning, ironing, sewing and finishing:

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The materials and skills required to make this apron will be covered in the very practical Sewing (garments and gifts) course. SCH

Renovation of the linen press: before/after shots of pine drawers

I decided this is the week to begin work on the linen press… the sun is shining and there is no chance of rain!

The overall condition of the wood wasn’t too bad but there were certainly bits of veneer falling off and a couple of front strips that had come off altogether (although thankfully they had been left inside the furniture). Oh, and a small case of woodworm that needed treating.

The first thing to do was give the draws and box frame a good clean with a damp cloth and a bit of elbow grease; after that I used wood glue, clamps and masking tape to fix back the veneer. Having left the glue to dry overnight, I then waxed everything so that the wood was better protected and shone.

The drawers also needed cleaning inside as there was a warn blue lining in each made of paper. I used a similar method to removing old wallpaper while trying not to make the wood too wet. I am very happy with the result; the wood has a zebra-like grain running through it which makes for an interesting effect! SCH

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Learning new cookery skills

I love food… everything about it.  I love to eat it, I love to look at it, and I NOW love to cook it.

I say ‘now’ because until recently I was a pretty bad cook. I used to grab whatever was called for (if I even bothered looking at a recipe), hack a few things into smaller chunks and then spend 80% of my time in front of the cooker moving whatever was in the pan around in circles until it looked vaguely warm enough to eat. The end result: something uninspiring, usually coldish, and nine times out of ten, tasteless.

That was until I booked myself on a five day course in Devon to learn the basics. The course was aptly named: ‘Foundations in cookery’ and was run by Ashburton Cookery School. I took myself off with the aim of having a bit of fun, maybe meeting some nice new people and perhaps even taking home a few tips and tricks.  What I found when I arrived was far beyond my expectations: an extremely professionally run operation where tutors are former (and existing) chefs and the kitchens are state of the art. Each person has their own work station and you quickly learn how important discipline is in the kitchen… from dealing with knives to keeping your area clean to working with others.

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Seasonal herb salad with edible flowers

During the week I counted some 25 recipes that we tackled, mostly in pairs. That’s around five a day (and we mostly ate what we made)! I learnt numerous invaluable skills such as basic knife handling, ideal cooking times for vegetables (and the different ways you can cook them), sauce bases, stocks, preparing and cooking meat and fish, as well as how to make different types of pastry.

I wouldn’t say that I am now an amazing cook, but I have the confidence to look at a recipe and actually know what the words mean. I can experiment a bit knowing that certain flavours go together, all the while tasting and seasoning and tasting again so I can achieve the perfect result. In essence, the whole experience has got me back into the kitchen and it has helped me to improve my timings… I now understand that around 80% of my time should probably focus on preparation and, if I’ve got that right, the rest should be much easier.

Simply put, the team at Ashburton have de-mystified the art of cooking and have taught me an invaluable skill that I can continue to use and practice in the weeks, months and years to come. SCH

Tuesday’s tip no. 1

Cut up an old (white) yoghurt pot to create cheap and quick labels for your herb garden

1. Cut strips vertically from the top (about an inch wide)

2. Cut a point at the end (for inserting into the soil)

3. Use a pencil to write the name of the herb (pencil is better on plastic)

4. Insert your new labels, and, ‘voila’!


Yoghurt pot herb labels

Auction finds

It hasn’t quite been a week yet since I left Dubai and already I’m feeling the excitement of having thrown away comfort and stability to start my dream project!  I feel impatient to find the right property and start putting together a schedule of courses.  My first £65 investment has bought me The Little Grange URL which means I can start to give the project an identity… take a look at the About section in this blog for what I have planned.

So over the past few days I have been back to tending my little seedlings which have done rather well over the May bank holiday weekend so we might have a good crop of fresh herbs this summer.  The tomatoes are coming on too as are the spring onions, summer bulbs and a little Chestnut sapling I’m determined to grow into a rather large tree!  I may even place it centre stage in the new garden as a symbol of these first few steps to a more fulfilling way of life.


Fab find: two stone planters

On Thursday I went to a local auction which sells household items as well as fruit and veg and outdoor furniture/tools/equipment, etc.  Outside, I spotted two old oblong stone planters and just had to have them; I have since transferred my herbs to them.  Inside the auction house, I fell upon a huge wardrobe made of pine and covered in satinwood/walnut veneer that seemed so versatile in its function I thought it would make a great statement piece in the future barn/workshop: a chest of drawers on the bottom; slide-out linen shelves hidden by two doors on top; both flanked by thin wardrobes (one of which contained the lidded box of an old chamber pot!).  All four pieces sit on a plinth and are finished off by a decorative top panel.  Individually easy enough to transport: together a whacking piece of furniture!  Again, I just knew I had to have it!  It will need a very good clean and some work on the veneer which is peeling off, as well as a bit of woodworm treatment… just to be sure!


The linen press on its way home

Bidding on each started at a reasonable £5 and before long I was walking away with three new prize possessions for very little money at all: x2 stone planters = £34 / x1 four-door pine satin walnut linen press = £130 (bargain).  I’ve since been online to learn more about the linen press and can’t seem to find many four-door varieties so I may have something of an original; complete with spiders and an inch of dust!

I loved the whole atmosphere and experience and will be heading to another auction soon. Next time I will be looking for old paintings with carved and gilded frames as well as board games, catering equipment, mix and match vintage china and garden tools/pots, etc.  SCH

New beginnings

The Little Grange is born!

The concept is firmly planted in my head… now to articulate it and make it a reality. I remember my cousin saying to me two years ago: “please be the one that actually does it!” . How exciting: to begin the process of setting up and running a B&B of sorts; something I have been dreaming of doing since I was about eight year’s old.


Time to get outdoors

The concept, then, is a boutique retreat set in a rural location with rambling farm buildings where people can spend time indulging their passions or learning new skills: from baking to sewing to DIY to kitchen gardening. All those essential skills our parents and grandparents knew so well… ones which are at risk of disappearing as technology takes over and reduces our leisure time. I want the space to be beautiful and inspiring; somewhere you can totally switch off. Food needs to be grown either on-site or grown locally. Guest bedrooms need to be fresh and comfortable with an element of surprise.

Until very recently I was working in Dubai running a PR training academy. I plan to use the course management skills I gained there to set up a schedule of exciting courses based around modern crafts and artistry as well as practical, everyday skills courses.

At the moment I’m busy sorting finance, spending hours trawling websites for the perfect property as well as sourcing items that are going to add to the overall atmosphere of the The Little Grange. Until Launch Day I will be documenting my thoughts and inspiration via this blog, as well as seeking ideas and advice. As the project materialises, I will be sharing practical experiences too (the good, the bad and the better)!

If, as you read this blog, you have creative inspiration or practical advice to share – please do!  If you think an idea is crazy, I would like to know. Similarly, if you love, love, love what I have planned, do comment… that will give me the courage to keep going! SCH