Monday, 21 March 2016

Fancy dress / theatrical fun!

I read an article in the trade press about making theatrical head pieces so I'm afraid I rather hijacked World Book Day with my ambition. The good news is that theatrical headpieces should be within reach for most budgets and most people's skill.

Disclaimer: this is an involved process not for beginner, it comes from the strange mind of someone has always loved discovering how things are made (lace making aged 9?). A shape made from papier-mâché over a balloon is a more classic approach, but this is comfortable to wear and way more cool! The photo was taken at the end of a long day of wear ;)

if you need a dramatic headpiece for a school play or fancy dress costume here is a step by step guide.

Polystyrene display head
1/2 m panne velvet (I had tonnes left so you may get away with 30cm if you can buy less)
25cm - 1/2 m contrast material
Fake hair - I found cos play wigs are in great colours from around £3
Fat quarter / 25cm lining material in any colour
wire (about 0.4mm thick - ideally cotton covered)
1m woven buckram or heavy weight woven interfacing.
Optional, holographic gold hair extension hair

The pickle is almost ten, and her head measurements are an almost perfect fit for standard polystyrene display head (for adult ladies I have found that a male display head is a better fit, as we all know how small seems to be beautiful when it comes to display models). It is definitely worth taking a measurement! Display heads are available on line from about £2.

Cover the head with cling film then start to layer up with iron on buckram or the heaviest fusible interlining. Get something that is woven then you can use the bias effect to get a lovely smooth edge around the curves of of the head.

I used 10 - 15cm wide bias strips of buckram then ran the strip and the left over corners under the tap briefly before rolling them up and it and popping them into a polybag for about 20 minutes to make it really malleable. Cut another bias strip of a lining material, any only material will do but it will help make a soft barrier so you do not get a mess welded to you display head.

Pin the start of the lining strip at an angle so that when you wrap the strip around the head you do not cover the pins. Pull the strips firmly as you go and you will get a beautifully shaped finish. Once you have a base layer repeat with the first layer of buckram. Once you have a section that you are happy with pin (at an angle) cover with a damp cotton cloth and iron buckram into place. The iron I am using was a cheap steamer iron that I got from Lidl for well under £10 (I put a silicon cover on so I don't need to use an ironing cloth). The left over corners of buckram so are great for covering the crown of the head where the strips don't reach.

The general rule with shaping materials over heads ('blocking' is the millinery term) is think about the compass. Start by securing the main directions, where the fibres of the material are in a straight line (North and South then East and West) then go for the diagonals which have more give due to the bias effect (NE, SW then NW and SE).

I did three layers of buckram and this was beautifully firm. If you have difficulty making the crown section smooth and you have some bits that look as if they will stick up you can just trim away any excess and iron it all flat. A covering layer will make it look neat later. Also you will trim the edges so don't worry if you are covering the ears and forehead unduly.

When finished draw on where you think the edge of the headpiece should be. Once it has dried, ideally overnight, gently prize it off the display stand. A flexible piece of plastic may be needed (for example a ruler to a plastic plant tag). Trim the edge, erring on the side of caution if are not sure as you can always trim back further later. Check to see if the lining has stuck, if necessary a bit of clear glue such as UHU can finish the job neatly. When you are happy withe shape blanket stitch the wire around the edge of the headpiece.

Next draw on the correct shape for the horn. Ours was about 40cm long, so I started by drawing the 40cm line and the arc around the tape measure to make a another 40cm line about 20cm away resulting a narrow pizza slice shape. Draw on an extra 2cm along one long edge and along the bottom arc shape as seam / sticking allowance. Cut in along the bottom arc seam allowance to allow you to fold it outwards to stick onto the head when you are ready.

The next bit is fiddly. You need to roll up the horn into a spike then gently iron it together. I had a paint brush that I covered in a cloth and held it down the inside as I ironed the outside of the buckram to stick it all together.

I stuffed the horn for added stability then I ironed the horn onto the head shape. I cut a few scraps of buckram into strips to act like a type of buckram sellotape to keep it really stable.

Repeat the cutting out steps but this time in the contrast material. Fold over then iron one long edge of the contrast material flat then wrap around the horn. You can pin along the horn, then sew it all together, with an invisible stitch. Here is a link if you are unsure:

Next do the same for the ears. Start by cutting out a 15cm radius semi circle of buckram the cut this in half. Cut a 7cm straight line from the outside of the 1/4 circle towards the middle, then fold the straight sides inwards. This is your ear shape. Fold out ear so that the outer third of the circle is folding outwards and you you have a flat bit to iron/ stick onto the head shape and the pointed end you can fold up into an upright position. If you want to take if one step further I sewed some of the wire along the edge of the ear so that I could manipulate the shape a little more.

Following the shape of the ear sew a little triangular shape of velvet with a little contrast material in the centre and pop over the ears.

Take the panne velvet and work out where the horn will fit, trying to keep the grain line of the velvet going from the back of the head directly over the head to the forehead. Make a slightly too small hole for the horn(as the material will stretch and you don't want a gaping hole). Fit the velvet over the head and over the horn. At this point when it is almost in position mark out where the ears fall and carefully cut out the ear holes. Sew velvet to the ears and horn, folding over the edges of the main velvet then pulling over the ears and horn before stitching it all together.

The wig is made up of strips of hair attached to a mesh cap. Unpick or cut the strips of hair off. Sew the strips of hair into place, with a fringe and swooping over to one side with plenty to swish down the back. Once it is done you can be a unicorn hair stylist and trim for effect. I also sewed a little of the main hair over the base of the fringe hair to over up the plastic roots.

Once the mane is in place I trimmed the panne velvet and using the compass theory (first North and South then East and West before other points) I folded over the edge and pinned into the wire at the edge. You can pull the diagonal edges firmly to get a smooth edge that does not look like a shower cap!

As a final indulgence you can take som holographic fake hair and use a darning needle to thread if through the hair and tie it into place.

Result - one very happy unicorn, you can call her Candleberry!

Friday, 15 January 2016

Puff pastry for Epiphany

I love our village shop, down from four pubs to one part time it is the centre of the village. It stocks a range of local produce as well as everything else you would expect, occasionally, then they change it all around.

As French Club coincided with epiphany I felt duty bound to tackle a Galette des Rois - and felt stuborn when I could not buy the puff pastry.

Things I have learnt about puff pastry. I has shed loads of butter in it, yes really. I know, it should not be a surprise but when you have to measure out 550g of the artery blocker you do marvel; double what you need for your standard short crust. Secondly, it takes time, tonnes of it. Start it in the morning don't even think of leaving it to the afternoon if you want it that evening. Besides that it is simple, Father Dan of Elasticated Waists (my Guru Dan Lepard) naturally has the perfect recipe in this bible. I failled slightly as I ran out of time, but in the 6 hours I had I made a passable attempt. in the future I will stick with rough puff!

Galette des Rois had always passed me by, when I lived in Paris I was a student with limited exposure to family traditions. I just noticed that after Christmas there were slim pickings at the patisseries as they were taken over by a family sized pastries wearing limp paper crowns. Having made it I definitely would repeat - I played round with the recipe, but this version is what we like.

400g puff pastry
2 rounded tbsp apricot or damson jam (I had some delicious tart damson jam, which is rather off piste but worked a treat)
100g softened butter
100g caster sugar
1 lighly beaten egg
100g ground almond
1 tbsp dark rum
1 tsp vanilla extract

Heat oven to 200' or have a smug Aga moment.

Find a bowl or plate that is roughly half way between side plate and main course size (25cm). Roll out the pastry and make two discs by cutting around the plates.

Spread the jam on one disc leaving a 2cm rim around the edge.

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, adding the egg towards the end. Stir in the almonds, rum and vanilla. Carefully dollop on top of the jam.

Don't forget to hide as many whole almonds in the mix as sovereigns required! If necessary to avoid civil war make a suitably large nick in the circumference of the pastry so know where they are 'hidden'. The puff pastry will rise so you can't be too subtle and you still have the top layer to disguise your diplomacy.

Brush a little water on the rim around the edge then sandwich on the top layer. Squish the rims together with a fork. Use a knife or fork to make a funky geometric pattern across the top of the pie.

Baked until golden (25-30 mins) in hot oven.

Use your time to make a crown / crowns.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

French Club

Moving school is a big deal - we have quite a full score card of ticks with the new school: OFSTED good: tick, personable form teachers: tick, walking distance: tick. One thing that we left behind was French and the Pickle was not impressed. So there was one things for it: French club.

I lived in France many many years ago but it should be within my grasp but the first task was to find a format. With a little help of our frenemies at Amazon I found a book, and to that we will add food and cooking.

I feel like an old crone when I think back to my days in Paris when we used to go out for a Menu Prix Fixe for 5 Francs that normally included a pave steak and frites.

I challenged the village butcher to supply me with a pave - it was a last minute idea and I had not thought it through, he had to check on line and came up trumps, or I guess that should: be he came up rumps, because that is what it was.

We had the French CD uploaded and a menu from Paris of old:
Pave, frites et salad
galette des Rois - because it is epiphany.

Lesson 1: Au Zoo
Allows au zoo et j'aI vu un kangourou...

I could say the proof is in the pudding, but I have waffled on too long so the pudding will be in my next post. But in terms of the success of the French Club will be if the little ones will still be as enthusiastic next week.

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Saturday, 2 January 2016

Shooting star

It is dark outside, cold and dark
Dark that consumes, that freezes,
Cold that takes a penetrating hold.
I look up and see the stars
The dark gives up her secrets
The sky seems bigger, the stars brighter.
Big Dipper, Orion and a constellation of ignorance
A tray of gluhwein to thaw the loneliness
Camaraderie in awe and silence
A shooting star
The church bells start to ring in the new year
I can't hear the bells but I have that star
Happy 2016

I am a New Years cynic, once we headed to Avebury for summer solstice. Being contrary it seemed logical to eschew annual resolutions for something more permanent. That sun rise we made promises, promises that I have reminded myself over the years so New Years have been burden free,

This year during quite time we discussed wishes for 2016. Prioritising wishes with the Pickle, nothing required for DB - yes, he was quite definite no clubs...ever. Maybe the need for resolutions can be reconsidered, after all I did not hear the bells but I did see that star.

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Sunday, 4 October 2015

Aga Yoghurt

I had been eyeing up yoghurt makers for a while, but winced at the price. I also quite wanted a cheese strainer but that was £20 more again.

The definition of homely for me is my Grandmother's kitchen, warm from the Aga and always busy; my Grandfather made beer and brick like bread and Granny made everything else, including yoghurt from a half melted ancient plastic yoghurt maker. From that she concocted my favourite pudding of stewed apple and home made yoghurt. Could I recreate this? for a start I would not go out of my way to find a dilapidated germ incubator, so I would have to search elsewhere. Aga recipes tend to go for chapter and verse, with boiling and cooling and standing on your head with a thermometer and to be honest I am too lazy to go that route. Apparently yoghurt makers come complete with a lazy cooks recipe and so far it works brilliantly for me.

The Recipe

First sterilise your jar (I am not sure how necessary this is, but why not as it is easy and all recipes I consulted bandied around the words scrupulous and clean so it sounds sensible). Wash your jar then pop the clean ringed water in a baking tray in the simmering oven for 20 minutes.

As UHT milk has been heated and cooled they had done the arduous work for you.

2 or 3 tablespoons of natural full fat yoghurt (after your first batch you can use your own, just save a few tablespoons from the bottom of the jar)
A tablespoon of milk powder (non essential but apparently this just gives a better texture)
Full fat UHT milk.

Mix the milk powder, yoghurt and a little of the UHT milk thoroughly then add the rest of the milk to the top of your jar. Cover with a sock monkey, or if sanity prevails wrap in a tea towel, then leave on the top of your simmering plate lid overnight.

As personal preference I strain it a little through muslin (to make this easy I just put muslin over the top of the jar with an elastic band and turn upside down in a suitable bowl) then after about ten minutes pop in the fridge and in about an hour or so you will have lovely yoghurt.

Perfect time of year to stew apples to make Granny's special pudding!

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Friday, 2 October 2015

Craft cafe

The Pickle had one request when we moved that we would have special time making things together, probably as the move was fairly relentless as we did the packing ourselves. Special time is lovely but the call of the washing machine or other random but inane essentials of life can seem too loud to ignore; hence Craft Cafe.

The main rule of craft cafe is to have fun, but apart from that we try to model it on an external experience (now that local cafes are just a memory) and have a pre planned craft activity. I hope we will keep it up, but this what we did in the inaugural date.

Menu: home made chocolate brownies
Orange juice for the DinoBoy and Hot chocolate with cream for the Pickle.

Activity: Corn Dollies

Am I the only one who remembers making corn dollies at primary school? Having failed to remember in time to snaffle a few blade of corn from a field before harvest we settled for the rather easier option of craft straws.

Being only 4 DinoBoy had not the patience to take on full weaving but so we just had Tom cuddle time learning how to plait instead. Simple fun!

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Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Let the Aga Saga begin

I was not to an Aga born - instead it crept up on me. I was mildly amused by the prospect, it seems like stepping into a cliche. I was prepared, we saved a battered solid fuel Raeburn from the skip and managed to wrangle it into a van and even more impressively install it. The down side to that initiation is that I have had a close shave with feeding the simmering over with random household waste, absent mindedly forgetting it our Aga does not have an open furnace.

Well, it was love at first bake - I lifted the lid and bathed in the instant warmth. Just as well really as shortly thereafter it petered out. After almost two years it needed a service. Therein is the bummer, on top of its insatiable thirst for oil it needs an £85 service ever 6-12 months. Too late, I was hooked! Could it be the fact that festooning it with damp laundry renders the flat bottomed torturer almost redundant, no ironing required except for a quick glide for work shirts (my children look presentable at school for the first time).

Also Aga toast? Why had I not heard about it? It should by the inspiration myths and ballads. Well, maybe that is going too far but it really is rather pleasing!

I had to refer back to Aga guru Amy Wilcox as at this stage in my life I can't be bothered to learn from my mistakes - a course of action that has made life so interesting up until now. Apparently the rule follow is 80:20: no, not the ratio of wine to tea for a happy life, but I should cook 80% of food in an oven and resort to using the hot plates on top only 20% of the time. So rather than slowly sautéing an onion stove top, I just whack it into the bottom of the roasting oven in an oven dish - potentially saving on a more dirty dishes to be washed, what is not to be liked? Yes, I am still worried about the descent into a twin set and pearls, but at present that is still a way off.

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