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Harris Tweed Handbag

My handbag finally gave up on me after three years of daily use. The handles had been fraying for months, the lining had torn, the out fabric was wearing thin, but I still carried it with me every day. When the handle broke away from the bag, there was no way I could keep using it. I had to accept that it had come to the end of its life.

The good thing about losing a handbag is getting a new one, and I had been looking forward to owning a handbag that wasn’t falling to pieces. As my old bag died at the end of January, there were still sales in the stores, so we went to have a look. I didn’t like any of the bags I saw at the shopping centre, they were mostly made from plastic and covered in gold fixings, not to my taste at all. I knew I could make something for myself that I would like a lot better, and it would also be much cheaper.

I had an ample supply of organic cotton for lining bags, but the rest of my fabric stash wasn’t sparking my inspiration, so I headed for pinterest and browsed handbags. I fancied a clutch bag, and I saw a few that were quite nice in tweed fabrics. I searched for tweed on google and many of the links were about Harris tweed. I had heard of this before but didn’t know what it was.

Harris tweed is the only fabric protected by its own law, the Harris tweed act of parliament. It is handwoven by self employed weavers in their homes on the isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides. It must be made in accordance with traditional methods to be approved as Harris tweed. It is 100% wool, and it’s very durable. It sounded perfect for me, I like natural fibres, craftsmanship and supporting small businesses. I found a section on the Harris tweed website linking to small producers, and had a look.

I found Butt of Lewis textiles which sells Harris tweed for just £16 per metre including shipping, which was less than the price of most of the plastic handbags I had seen in the shops. I just needed to pick a colour. I’m not keen on the tartan patterns, but the bright pink and purple tweeds they offer were tempting. I headed back to Pinterest to browse more bags while I considered which colour to order. I noticed that the bags I liked best were not the brightly coloured ones, but grey or brown herringbone tweed. Butt of Lewis had a brown herringbone tweed, so I ordered a metre of it.

Harris tweed

The Harris tweed I chose.

When my tweed arrived in the mail a couple of days later, I was pleasantly surprised. I had expected that the tweed would be rough and scratchy, and quite stiff. When I opened the package, I found a soft, flexible, blanket like fabric that was not scratchy or stiff in any way. My plans for a clutch bag went out the window and I decided that a slouchy shoulderbag would be a better fit for the fabric.

By this point, I had thrown away my old handbag and was using a Sainsburys carrier bag to carry my belongings around in, so I didn’t have anything to use as a size reference when cutting my new bag pieces. I don’t sew bags using a pattern any more, I just cut the fabric to the appropriate size and sew it together, but I usually have an idea of how big I want it to be before I start cutting. I couldn’t visualise how big a handbag should be, so I took a deep breath and hoped for the best as I cut through the fabric.

The only things I knew for sure when I was cutting the pieces out was that I wanted a pleated top to give plenty of room inside the bag, and I fancied corners at the bottom rather than my usual round bottomed bags. I wanted the main fabric to continue inside the top of the bag rather than having the lining on show. I needed a small pocket for my phone, and I like bags with two handles rather than one.

I bravely cut out pieces that felt about the right shape and size, and by sheer coincidence everything lined up really well with the herringbone pattern running the right way through each piece. I have less than a quarter of the metre left which I plan to use to make a matching purse. I cut the lining pieces too and began to sew.

I started out with the straps as they were the easiest to sew. I searched for a tutorial for a single welt pocket as I have never sewn one before. I found a few, but this one from Pattern Runway seemed like the neatest method and that is the one I followed. My pocket is quite wide so it gapes a bit more than I’d have liked, but it is the perfect fit for my phone, which I used as a size reference whilst cutting and sewing.

I used the herringbone pattern to line up the pleats for the top of the bag and tacked them in place. This was much easier than measuring them out as I have done in the past with plain fabrics. I stitched the outer pieces of the bag together. The lining needed to match the shape of the pleats, so I ruched the top of each piece. I sewed the lining pieces together, leaving a gap to turn the bag the right way out.

There was just one row of stitching left, attaching the lining to the outer piece of the bag, and the handles needed to be sewn in at the same time. At this point, my mind went a little blank and I began attaching the handles with the bag and lining the wrong way out. Luckily I noticed my mistake before I had done any damage, and unpicked a bit of stitching to start over. I finished attaching the pieces together the correct way out, turned the bag out through the hole and marvelled at how well it had turned out. I hand stitched the lining hole and tried the bag on.

The pocket and lining on the inside of the bag.

The pocket and lining on the inside of the bag.

My last handbag was a little on the small side, and only just had room for my everyday essentials. The new bag was much bigger, and even with everything I usually carry it seems almost empty. This will probably lead to me carting around more than I did before. The larger size is offset by shorter handles, so the bag itself sits further up under my arm. The phone pocket is perfect, it’s snug enough that I’m not worried about my phone falling out if I put the bag down at the wrong angle, but it’s easy to get the phone in and out quickly, and much better than it getting lost in the depths of the bag.

The best thing about the bag is the fabric itself. The tweed is so warm and soft, it’s lovely to carry. Although it’s super soft and comfy, it feels very strong and thick, so I’m sure it will be durable. I love the brown and cream colour of the tweed, and I love that it is speckled with green and orange fibres so each stripe is slightly different. I love that it’s hand crafted, both by me and by the weaver. I’m so glad I didn’t find anything I liked in the January sales, because I love my new handbag.

My new handbag.

My new handbag.

Moroccan Chickpea Stew

We were a bit short on cash this weekend, but our cupboards were well stocked with essentials, ridiculous amounts of flour and an immense amount of spices, I took the opportunity to challenge myself to feed the family for the weekend using mostly what we already had at home.

I usually plan recipes and shop for them, leaving the kitchen full of left over bits and pieces of store cupboard stuff, oddments of vegetables and a small collection of living herbs on the windowsill, but we never keep things that are used once in their entirity such as jars of sauce, cans of beans or most vegetables that are usually purchased in the amount required for a dish.

On Friday evening we had friends over for dinner and I raided my cupboards and found we had just about enough stuff in to make a vegetable biryani from my one and only cookbook, River Cottage Veg. We also had ingredients on hand for onion bhajis and flat breads. After a lot of cooking involving four people in my crowded kitchen, the bread failed to rise, so we replaced it with indian breads from the local grocery store and enjoyed the biryani and bhajis very much.

By Saturday evening the dough had risen nicely, having been in the fridge over night, so we made the flat breads and a delicous lentil dhal, again courtesy of River Cottage. It was a really nice meal.

Sunday evening was a bit more of a challenge, I didn’t want to make yet another indian dish and I didn’t want to repeat the rice or lentil staple. I didn’t have time to bake more bread so our shopping consisted of a couple of fresh loaves and some chickpeas, and I raided the cupboards to throw together a Moroccan inspired stew off the top of my head. The result was a tasty and filling meal without a hint of curry. Here’s what I did:

Moroccan Chickpea Stew

Ingredients

  • 1 glug olive oil
  • 1 carrot, minced
  • 1 stick celery, minced
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 2 cans chickpeas
  • an equal quantity of carrots, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • pinch saffron strands
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 100g red lentils

Method

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan and fry the onion, celery and carrot over a high heat until browned. Add the cumin seeds a few minutes before the vegetables are ready.
  2. Add the carrots and drained chickpeas to the pan and cover with boiling water.
  3. Stir in all the spices and the tomato paste and bring to the boil.
  4. Turn the heat down to a simmer, add the red lentils and cook, stirring every now and then, until the lentils have broken down and the carrots are soft, adding a little extra water if necessary.
  5. When the lentils and carrots are cooked, remove from the heat and serve with a chunk of bread.

Variations

I used the carrot, celery and onion base to give the stew a bit of flavour as I had no stock made up. The tomato paste was all I had to give the stew a tomato flavour, and I used the red lentils to thicken it up. Had I not been confined to what I had on hand, I would have replaced these parts of the recipe and fried an onion with the cumin seeds, then used vegetable stock and passata to make a thick, flavourful stew. You could also vary the vegetables used, butternut squash or sweet potato would go equally well.

 

Defining Magic

Recently, I attended a fascinating discussion about the definition of magic and how it fits in with scientific investigation. I found it really interesting and I’d like to share some of the points here.

When we talk about magic, most people have some idea what we mean by this word. Images of wizards, witches or stage magicians come to mind, and we understand magic to be some form of manipulation of the physical world by means that cannot be explained by the usual laws of physics. Whether we’re talking about magic tricks or magic spells, we’re generally looking causing some effect that seems to be physically impossible. We also tend to expect that if we perform the same trick or spell, we’ll see the same physical result.

If we define magic in this way, we come up against an issue when we also try to define science. Science is the study of the world around us, and scientific investigation involves observing the outcomes of an action or force to try to form a better understanding of what is happening.

If magic is defined as performing a trick or spell, an action, that results in a particular outcome, this can be studied and investigated until we can understand how and why it works. Therefore, this idea that magic is outside the realm of scientific explanaition simply doesn’t make sense. Either the trick or spell isn’t magic, or this definition of magic is incorrect.

The group discussed the idea that it’s not the act of performing the spell or trick that creates the magic, it’s the frame of mind of the practitioner. If you perform a spell whilst believing it’ll work, you are more likely to see results than if you don’t believe that what you’re doing actually affects anything. This idea brings us to a better definition of magic, in which the beliefs or will of the practitioner are able to influence the physical world.

Perhaps the best example of this kind of magic is the placebo effect, where a patient believes they are taking medicine, when they are actually taking a useless substance, yet their condition improves. We see this effect in all sorts of other situations too, if someone attends a job interview with confidence and self belief, they are more likely to perform well and win the job than someone who believes they won’t do well and won’t get the position.

This idea that a person’s frame of mind can affect the physical world exists in our lives in many ways; prayer, the law of attraction, cosmic ordering, positive thinking, affirmations, creative visualisation, superstition, making a wish and so on are all forms of using the power of being in the right state of mind to affect change in our lives.

Perhaps this definition of magic too could be studied, understood and quantified by psychologists, in which case we would no longer call it magic, it would become something that was understood in a scientific way. However, looking back at the history of magic and science we can see that many things that were once considered magic have been investigated by scientists and are now understood. Perhaps the best example of this is the magic of alchemy which became the science of chemistry.

My personal view is that the practice of magic is a tool to help the practitioner focus their will and create the right state of mind to bring them confidence, happiness or whatever else they seek. The act itself carries no magic, but the belief of the practitioner is powerful beyond our understanding.

Observations and New Perspectives

Since my life has been turned upside down I’ve started to look at a lot of things in a different light. It’s been enlightening, unsettling and really quite great.

I’ve spent most of my life thinking that good things happen to other people, and that I’ll always be stuck or trapped or held back in some way. I’m not sure why I felt this way, sometimes it seemed like I didn’t deserve any better, other times it seemed like I just didn’t have the resources to get any further. Either way, it wasn’t a very useful or fulfilling mindset to live with.

Since setting up in business for ourselves, I have helped create a thriving young company. We have built something from nothing. We have created a better situation for ourselves with nothing but our own skills and hard work. This brought several realisations and a whole new perspective on life.

I have always understood on an intellectual level that anyone can acheive anything if they put their mind to it, but I have never felt that it applied to me. I didn’t really believe it was that simple. Yet, I have begun to prove to myself that it is in fact the case. All you have to do is take the leap and give something a try. It will either go well, or teach you something about yourself that you can use to do better the next time.

Another thing that has always been lurking around at the back of my mind was the idea that people who are in it for the money are greedy, that it’s immoral and wrong to hope for personal gain and that rich people must be inherently bad in some way. I guess when you don’t have something, it’s comforting to imagine that you’re somehow better than those who do have it. Since starting the company I have learnt that I actually enjoy making money and that there’s nothing at all wrong with that. We need money to live, and having more of it makes life a whole lot easier.

A related belief that I carried with me was that getting other people to spend money was also greedy and wrong. Other people should be free to do what they like and not be coerced into spending money on things that they don’t need. Of course, this is completely silly. We’re not bullying people into giving up something that they don’t want to part with, we’re offering them a service in return for fair payment. If they don’t want to spend their money on our services, they’re free to walk away. In fact, most of the clients we’ve billed have been delighted with our services, and happy to pay us for them. That’s not greedy or evil, it’s just business.

The observation that affected me the most was that there is no reason at all why our company can’t be just as successful as any other company. We’re good at what we do, and our clients agree with us. I found this idea quite surprising. Whether or not you succeed has nothing to do with what you deserve, and everything to do with what you put in. When you use the skills, knowledge or resources available to you, you can acheive anything. And “you” means everyone, including me.

Find something you’re good at and find a way to share it with people. Charge a fair price for it. Don’t allow yourself to become trapped by a situation or a belief. You really can do anything you set your mind to.

A New Direction

Until recently, I was a stay at home mum. I spent most of my time taking care of the house, picking the kids up from school, cooking, and doing the odd bits of knitting and sewing. I was getting a bit restless and was bored with being in the house all day. I don’t drive, and there’s nowhere very exciting to go near to my house by yourself, so I felt a bit stuck in the same old pattern. This year, that all changed.

My other half, also known as his lordship, decided to leave his job and become self employed. He is a talented web developer and has always wanted to work for himself. He was also feeling stuck in a pattern in his job. A window of opportunity opened to him and we thought it was worth taking.

For the first few days after he finished his job, we had fun being at home together and not being restricted by my lack of driving ability or his old job’s office hours. It was lovely having some time to ourselves and being free to go out for lunch together or not start work until after lunch. Sure enough though, we settled down into a new pattern and he actually got some work done.

We started looking into some options for his business, including becoming a limited company. This was always something he had wanted to move towards, but we didn’t know much about it and we weren’t sure it would be cost effective, at least to begin with. We were referred to a friendly accounting firm who gave us some great advice and suggested that we become a limited company together. This was the first time I had considered the possibility of becoming involved in his business, but it made sense for us.

As work started to pile up, it became clear that I could be more than just a company director who made the ocassional cup of tea. I took on the bookkeeping and administration, but his lordship was starting to struggle with the amount of incoming communication he was receiving. It was interrupting his workday to a point where he was hardly able to get any work done. I was glad to find something I could help with, and I began to take over dealing with incoming emails.

The first couple of weeks working together at home went well. I was enjoying having something new to do, and it was great to be able to choose our own hours and come and go as we pleased. As the novelty wore off, we began to feel a bit restricted in other ways. We were working from a couple of desks in the corner of our bedroom below a beam in a sloping ceiling, as this was the only space in the house they would fit in together. We banged our heads several times and the view of a wall was less than inspiring. Also, being upstairs while working left the kids downstairs by themselves, which was clearly not going to work on a long term basis.

We started wondering about the possibility of getting an office to work from, and trying to figure out how we could make that work with the school run. We also worried about whether it would be affordable as we are still a very new company and we’re just finding our feet. As it happened, another opportunity opened up to us out of the blue.

Whilst visiting one of our clients to discuss a new project, we mentioned that we were considering looking for office space, and by pure coincidence this client had an office unit that was about to be vacated. We had a look around and it seemed to be just the kind of place we could see ourselves fitting in nicely. We would also be able to take on more work from that client which would help to offset the increased outgoings we would have. We went for it.

I’m writing this post from my new desk in our new office, in a quiet moment between answering emails and bookkeeping. We’ll be leaving early to pick the kids up from school until our nanny starts in a couple of weeks time. In the last six months, I’ve gone from being a bored housewife to a company director. It’s been fun, exciting and unexpected. I’m looking forward to the future. Who knows where I might be a few more months down the line?

If you’d like to find out more about our company, you can visit the website at http://qweb.co.uk.

QWeb logo

QWeb Logo

Getting Back Out in the Garden

The weather in the UK has finally cleared up and warmed up enough for us to get back out into the garden. Hurray!

Today, we have got most of the clearing out and setting up jobs done. Here’s what we achieved:

  • Broke up old rabbit hutch, broken grow houses and storage thingies that were of no use to us.
  • Took these and some other things to the tip.
  • Swept and cleared the paved areas.
  • Rearranged plant pots and tubs that had been randomly plonked down when we moved in 18 months ago.
  • Repotted two trees (eucalyptus and twisted hazel) that were in large tubs that didn’t drain, adding drainage holes and fresh compost.
  • Built the new wooden grow house and cleared a pile of dirt out of the place it now lives.
  • Raked over and removed remaining weeds from the area we did manage to rotavate.
  • Rebuilt the kids’ bike storage tent.
  • Packed everything that was left outside into the shed finally.
  • Emptied waterlogged compost bags onto the veg patch to be rotavated in.

What’s left to do:

  • Rotavate the rest of the veg patch.
  • Weed the herb patch and the pots and tubs.
  • Plant some things out that have been waiting in pots all winter.
  • Rotavate the end of the garden where brambles and weeds have taken over.
  • Plant fruit trees at the end of the garden and surround with grass seed.
  • Sow seeds.
  • Chop up leftover wood from the apple trees we cut down last year.
  • Build a circular seating area with chopped up wood and the mound of earth that remains from the lawn we dug up last year.
  • Sow grass seed on the seating area.
  • Remove horrible plants from the side of the path.
  • Transplant rose bushes from the front garden.
  • Grow vegetables.

I’m pleased with our progress, but there’s still a lot to do. I am excited to get this all done, and I can’t wait to share the pictures of our lovely garden when it’s done. I’m really looking forward to gardening this year, and hopefully we’ll have better weather and a much better harvest than last year.

March Madness

I had hoped to spend at least some of March out in the garden sowing seeds and tending to herbs. Unfortunately Mother Nature knew better. We’ve had freezing weather and several snowfalls. There are still snowy patches out there covering large areas of my garden and it’s been trying very hard to snow all day.

Last year’s gardening weather was terrible. Every time I planted seeds or seedlings, we had torrential rain and almost nothing grew. For parts of the summer my garden looked more like a pond than a veggie patch.

Here’s to coaxing spring out from wherever it’s hiding, and hopefully I’ll be able to get everything started out there in April. Fingers crossed!

Tie Knot

Moss Stitch Tie – Free Pattern

My brother asked me to knit him a tie. He chose the yarn (a cheap acrylic) and described how he hoped it would turn out. I had previously knit him a wool tie in stockinette stitch that curled terribly, and he wanted one that wouldn’t curl. I assured him that moss stitch was the way to go and started knitting. A few inches in, he told me he wanted a “flat bit” at the end. He wanted a few rows of stockinette to make a neater edge. He could have told me that at the beginning.

I stuffed the unfinished tie into my yarn storage box and forgot about it. Then his birthday came around and I thought I would be nice to him. I ripped out the original tie and started again with the “flat bit” he had asked for. Here’s the result, along with a free pattern in case you also have a fussy brother who wants a hand knit tie :-)

Tie

Tie

 

The pattern creates a straight tie with square ends, and decreases that will be hidden under the collar when the tie is worn.

Supplies

  • Approximately 50g DK yarn
  • 2.25mm needles
Tie Knot

Tie Knot

Instructions

Cast on 17 stitches.

Knit 6 rows in stockinette (knit a row, purl a row).

Switch to moss stitch (*k1, p1* repeat to the final stitch, k1) and continue until work measures 80cm or 31″ ending on a wrong side row.

Work across to the centre three stitches in pattern, knit or purl three stitches together, work remaining stitches in pattern. Whether you knit or purl the decrease depends on the previous stitch. If you just knit, purl the decrease. If you just purled, knit the decrease. This preserves the moss stitch pattern.

Tie Ends

Tie Ends

Continue another 2.5cm or 1″, decrease as before. Repeat until 9 stitches remain.

Continue working in moss stitch until work measures 140cm or 55″.

Work 4 rows stockinette, cast off, weave in ends.

Linux Mint

Operating Systems and Backups

Linux Mint

Linux Mint

I have been using Linux for almost ten years now. I was a loyal Ubuntu fan until a few years ago when it started changing more than I liked. At that point I switched to Mint, a derivative distribution which kept everything I liked about Ubuntu and cleared out everything that irritated me about it. Lately, however, I was beginning to get frustrated with Mint, so I searched for an alternative.

After reading up on various different options, I decided Mint really was the right distro for me, but I didn’t want to have to keep upgrading every six months. This involved backing up my files, formatting my hard drive and installing the newest version from scratch. I like to be up to date, but I don’t like the hassle. I decided to try Linux Mint Debian Edition, or LMDE.

LMDE is a version of Mint that is known as a rolling release. This means that rather than installing a new base version every six months, you continuously update your existing system. It is based on Debian rather than Ubuntu, which means that there are some minor differences from the main version of Mint, but these are mostly behind the scenes and don’t affect general usage. The downside of LMDE compared to the main version of Mint is that it may be less stable, a bit rough around the edges. On the other hand, the regular updates should take care of these.

I downloaded the .iso and made a USB live disk of LMDE 64 bit, to match my computer’s architecture. I backed up my files to an external hard drive and set about installing my new system. The process was a little more DIY than I was used to, I had to set up my own drive partitions, but it was easy enough. Once installed, I booted into the familiar Mint desktop (I like the Cinnamon variant) and copied my files back in.

I noticed some problems right away as I set about installing the programs I use and setting things up how I like them. Firstly, my printer wouldn’t install, and it wouldn’t tell me why. It just popped up an error to let me know that it hadn’t been able to install it. Useful. Next, I had trouble with Skype. I had to download it from the skype website as it wasn’t in the repositories. I was able to install it, although it pulled in over 50 32 bit dependencies so it took a long time. When it finally installed, it wouldn’t play nicely with my sound. It showed me a lot of sound output options, none of which worked. Interestingly enough, it showed the same output options as microphone choices. Needless to say, none of those worked either. I also couldn’t get Picasa to connect to my web albums. It told me I needed a 32 bit library, and offered to install it for me. When I accepted the prompt, it told me that it didn’t know how to handle it on Mint.

There were a few other problems that I encountered. For example, when I closed the lid on my laptop it didn’t always go to sleep, and when I opened the lid after it had slept, the wifi refused to connect to my network. There’s rough around the edges and there’s simply not working properly. I wasn’t satisfied.

I decided that since the bulk of my problems were caused by the software that needed 32 bit libraries, I would try the 32 bit version instead. I copied my files back to the external drive, downloaded the 32 bit .iso and installed a new USB live disk. I went through the identical installation process and once again booted into Mint.

This time, things were a breeze. Skype installed easily and picked up my sound and microphone settings without me having to do anything. My printer installed happily. Picasa didn’t complain about connecting to my web albums. I haven’t had chance to close the lid yet, but if it didn’t work, I would get used to shutting down, I’m sure.

I came to copy my files back over, and at this point I started having real problems. Half of the folders I had copied were empty or corrupt. Thankfully, I had a few of the missing files saved on the internet, and an afternoon playing with testdisk and photorec brought some of the files back to life. I am now just missing one file that I’m bothered about. Typically, it’s the one file I actually can’t manage without. My finances.

I use KMyMoney to keep track of our household accounts, scheduled payments, direct debits and past transactions. I have been using it almost as long as I’ve been using Linux. I depend on it to make payments on time, make sure we don’t overspend and generally keep our finances in check. Without it, I have no idea what’s going on.

Photorec is able to rescue KMyMoney files, and to its credit, it did find my file on the corrupted drive. Unfortunately, the rescued copy was also corrupted. The best I could do was recover a backup I made to google docs five months ago. This means I have the backbones of the data, the payment schedules and transaction amounts haven’t changed much in that time. It also means that to get back up to date, I will have to go through five months of statements from five different accounts and reinput all the transactions. That is not going to be fun.

Lesson learnt. Back up mission critical files properly, regularly, and to somewhere safer than an external hard drive that has been misbehaving for a long time. I’m thinking a weekly back up to google docs should do it. It’s been added to my to do list (another thing I can’t do without, thankfully it’s online).

I suppose I should stop putting off the inevitable and get started on those bank statements.