Cushion the blow

In one of my very earliest blog posts I wrote about sewing – how I wish I’d learnt more from my grandmother while she was alive, and how I’d recently read a novel by Amanda Addison and been inspired to try some simple sewing projects.

Well, fast forward nearly a year, and not much sewing had happened. Somehow there always seemed to be something else to do – gardening, writing, launching a book, looking after my daughter, and sewing never got a look in.

However, I recently bought three old wooden chairs from a local furniture recycling project, and was inordinately proud of successfully sanding and painting them, and re-covering the fabric seat of one. I now have the eclectic, mismatched dining furniture I wanted, for  a bargain price. I also had some blue spotty Cath Kidston fabric left over from the seat re-covering, and when I found some spare cushion pads in the loft, I had a lightbulb moment and decided that the two could be combined to give me both a nicely manageable sewing project and some extra cushions for the dining room sofa.


I haven’t got a sewing machine – I did contemplate buying one last year when I started thinking about sewing, largely because John Lewis had such pretty ones in gorgeous shades of duck egg and scarlet, but common sense intervened and I realised that given my level of skill and time commitment it wasn’t going to be even remotely good value. Sewing two small cushions by hand seemed manageable, but I didn’t feel very confident about zips, so decided to look online for a pattern which didn’t require them. And I found one.

My husband was away for work on Monday night, so instead of watching something rubbish on telly I decided to employ my time in a creative and fulfilling way by getting cushion number one underway. I am not a particularly patient person (I hope if my parents and husband are reading this they aren’t eating anything at the time, I don’t want them to choke), and I do slightly tend to take the view that instructions are for wimps and just getting on and doing something is the best way to get it done. Can you see where this is going?

The thing is, although this approach serves me pretty well with a lot if things, cooking for example, I did have a feeling that I needed to be a bit more precise with sewing, so I really, really tried to measure carefully and think before I cut anything. And it seemed to work. I had three carefully hemmed and pinned pieces of fabric, which did combine to look something like a cushion cover. So I started stitching them together. Yesterday afternoon I only had one seam to go, and, being as I mentioned naturally impatient, I decided to turn it right side out to see what it was like. Oh dear. I’m still not totally sure what I’ve done wrong, but it certainly doesn’t look quite like a cushion cover. I think that I’ve sewn the little flappy bit on the wrong end. cushion coverBut it doesn’t look big enough for the cushion either. I can’t really see a way around it other than unpicking everything and starting again (which doesn’t hugely appeal, to be honest), but if you’re reading this and you can sew, do let me know if you can suggest a solution! Otherwise, I’m thinking that I could just do a rough hem and then give it to my daughter as a doll’s sleeping bag.

Onwards and upwards as they say. A positive is that in my garden, which is my other new project, the runner beans, strawberries and herbs are thriving, the tomatoes and sweet peas are at least still alive and we perhaps don’t need to discuss the courgettes or the marigolds in any detail.strawberries


Book Launch

Helen Chandler Two for JoyWell, it’s happened! I am now officially a published author. Two for Joy came out last Thursday, and I had the most amazing publication day.

My husband had taken the day off work, so he took Anna to nursery (lovely for both of them), while I went to get my hair washed and blow-dried. I always say that if I won the lottery one of the luxuries I would definitely treat myself to would be very frequent professional blow-dries. My hair somehow manages to be both thick – there’s a lot of it, and it’s heavy – but also fine. Left to its own devices it tends to look limp and nondescript, it takes a proper blow-dry to inject some much-needed volume.

After the hairdressers, we had coffee in the Deli Cafe; our very local cafe which just happened to be where I wrote quite a lot of my book. The staff in there were excited about the book and the launch, and I got my first ‘author’ moment of the day when I signed a copy for the cafe. Then down to Waterstones Walthamstow to chat to the manager there about Two for Joy, where it would be placed in store, and about the signing I will be doing, after their re-furb, in the early autumn.

We treated ourselves to lunch out (agent/mother-in-law had collected Anna from nursery), and I had the most amazing crab and avocado salad at Eat 17 in Walthamstow Village. With chips, of course. During lunch I got a text message from my dad, on his way down for the launch, showing rows of Two for Joy displayed in WHSmiths in Liverpool Lime Street station. Cue much excitement. I was particularly impressed at my dad successfully sending a picture message as mobile technology is not normally his strong point – it seemed rather like those cases you read about where a child becomes trapped under a car and the mother suddenly develops the super-human strength to lift it clear. Under the impetus of seeing his daughter’s first novel on sale for the first time, my dad developed hitherto unknown capabilities.

I became increasingly nervous as the afternoon passed on, but my mood was lifted by the arrival of a gorgeous bouquet from my publishers, and another from a friend who couldn’t be there for the launch.

We’d chosen Penny Fielding Gallery and Interiors for the launch – a very local shop and gallery selling modern collectables and showcasing local artists. One of the huge advantages of this venue was the gorgeous back garden, and, amazingly, the weather obliged and we were blessed with a warm, sunny evening. Soon everything was set up – cupcakes displayed on stands and plates, books arranged in the shop, wine ready to pour, and an author’s signing station under the fig tree. The only thing that remained was to wait for the guests.

And they came! The nicest thing about the whole launch period was the enormous amount of support and enthusiasm I received from friends and family, and from my community more generally. My aunt and uncle, both teachers in the middle of the exam season, made the four-hour round trip to be there. My mum’s cousin, who I’ve met only a handful of times, not only came to the launch, but is recommending Two for Joy to her book group. A large group of my husband’s colleagues, who all work on the other side of London, were there. We’d put invitations through the doors of all the houses on my road, and I was incredibly touched by the number of my neighbours, many of whom I was meeting for the first time, who came along to support me and (crucially!) to buy the book.

The party was a happy blur for me. I meeted and greeted and signed. My editor made a short (and sweet) speech, I mumbled some heartfelt but slightly inarticulate thank-yous (I’m better with the written word, really), and my husband launched into full marketing director mode and urged everyone to go forth and tweet. After the main event we then adjourned to the pub,  I got to chat to people in a bit more depth, and we sat happily around in the beer garden until well after my usual bedtime.

The whole thing felt incredibly reminiscent of my wedding day (right down the making the cupcakes beforehand!), and I was left with the same feeling of being so incredibly lucky to have such amazing family and friends, and, particularly such a loving and supportive husband. Now I just need the books to sell…

The icing on the cake

As promised (threatened) last week, the subject of this week’s post is the production of a very large number of cupcakes for my book launch tomorrow night. Did I mention, by the way, that my first novel IS PUBLISHED TOMOROW!

It is Anna’s full day at nursery on a Wednesday (9am-3pm) and so when it became clear that my original carefully considered plan of making the cakes a few at a time and freezing them hadn’t worked out, then I decided to just blitz it today in the six hours I had to myself. When I woke up at 2am this morning I realised that I actually had no idea at all how long it would take to make, ice and decorate 12 batches of cupcakes. A long time, I can now confirm is the answer.Just looking at the pile of ingredients was a little daunting.ingredients

However, I set to work. I discovered with the first batch that my top oven emphatically does not work for sponge cakes. OK, fair enough, I would just have to stick to doing them two trays at a time. It was fine. Unfortunately I burnt the last twelve – rookie mistake of checking, deciding they needed a couple of minutes longer, not setting the timer and then…twenty minutes later, hmmm, what’s that funny smell?photo-3

I’d had a lot of fun deciding how to decorate the cakes. The convention with cupcakes at the moment seems to be for swirls of buttercream, which looks amazing, but I’m pretty terrified by piping bags, and decided icing 12o cupcakes like this would be several steps too far. I therefore got inspired by Nigella – in How to be a Domestic Goddess her fairy cakes are iced with fondant style icing, and they look fabulous. I also decided to follow Nigella’s advice on aesthetics; she suggests pale pistachio green with a pink rose, and as that chimes with the colours of my book cover, it seemed an obvious choice. I wanted two different styles for contrast, though, so eventually I decided on pale blush pink with white daisies.

pretty cakes

I got the last tray iced with just minutes to spare before going to pick Anna up, and when we got home we road-tested a couple as a post-nursery snack – funnily enough my daughter was far more willing to help mummy out with this than with tidy-up time -and feedback was extremely positive. lots of cakes