Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Potato Madness

I finally got hold of my Ulster Sceptre seed potatoes thanks to the 2011 East Anglian Potato Day. It was the first time I've been to one of their events and it was an education! I envisaged a market stall type set up and as I only wanted a small number of one variety I thought it would be fairly easy to quickly drop by and pick up what I wanted.

It was a shock to the system then, to arrive at Stonham Barns and be faced with actual queues of traffic waiting to get in. I finally parked and was directed to the marquee by a helpful car park attendant who admired my parking spot and cheerfully exclaimed "At least you won't get stuck in the mud like the others!". Outside the marquee, I tagged on to the end of a huge queue of people in wellies with that outdoorsy sheen of mud and rude health about them and shuffled patiently towards the door. Apparently those in the know get there early and start to queue before the tent's even open.

Inside I was faced with a frantically busy potato jumble sale, complete with steely eye glints and sharp elbows. Rows of seed potatoes were laid out in alphabetical order, punters fill paper bags with their required varieties and then commence the arcane payment procedure which involves a two stage tally ("Did you not count them?") and pay ("Did you not write the name on the bag?") system.

I paid 12p per potato plus my £1.50 entry fee. For my small haul that worked out at roughly the same as garden centre prices but clearly, further hauls would have yielded greater savings. Indeed, I was mildly surprised to see people tottering under the weight of bags of life stuffed to the brim. The only reason I was so restrained quantity wise is the gift of two bags of seed potatoes (Arran Pilot and Nadine) I was given by a fellow allotmenteer which I already have tucked away at home.

It took much longer than anticipated to make my small purchase but what a great event! I love the fact that there are so many people out there who are obviously bonkers enough about potatoes to stage the event, to queue happily in the mud and to eagerly anticipate Potato Day each year. And thank goodness they do, I've no idea where I would have got my Ulster Sceptre otherwise.

I'm going in for potatoes in a bigger way than I'd planned this year thanks to the seed potato presents I've got but it'll be interesting to test the Ulster Sceptre against a more standard variety and see if there's any taste difference. It would be even more interesting to test them against Ulster Sceptre grown in Cheshire to see if there's any truth in the claim that it's the salty Cheshire soil that makes them taste special.

I'm especially happy to have got through a whole post about potatoes without once saying "the humble spud". Cliche neatly side stepped I think.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

How far can a straight line take me?

That's not an entirely rhetorical question. You may remember that over the winter, while the veg patch sleeps, I've been exploring the world of the haberdasher. My sewing skills are limited, I've never followed a pattern, never sewed in a zip or made a button hole. In fact my one and only skill is my ability to sew in a straight line. It's true I've dabbled in a three stitch zig zag on prone to fraying raw edges but, to be honest, it makes me anxious. So straight lines it is.

Sewing is supposed to be a thrifty activity but it doesn't take long to discover that the mainstream approach of purchasing fabric and patterns from the local haberdasher is more expensive than you might think, so I've been rather enjoying the challenge of finding alternative means of sourcing cheap materials.

Charity shops are an obvious first stop. My local Oxfam sells bundles of about 5 roughly fat quarter sized pieces for 99p as well as cards of buttons presumably snipped from clothes destined for the rag bag. Zips (which are beyond my capabilities) seem to be a perennial charity shop favourite too at 50p a pop. It's also worth keeping an eye on the Lidl website for their twice weekly specials which a few times a year throw up bargain sewing machines, boxes of thread and well stocked sewing boxes.

I'm also lucky enough to live relatively close to the heart of the silk weaving industry. (Sudbury, seeing as you ask, it was news to me too) I know of two silk mill factory shops, Vanners and Stephen Walters. I drove over to Sudbury just after Christmas, unfortunately Vanners was closed (Thank You chap on the phone who assured me they would be open on Tuesday but he actually meant Thursday. Still, they both begin with 'T', an easy mistake to make, what's a two hour futile round trip between friends? Tsk) but, happily, I unwittingly walked in on the first day of the Stephen Walters January Sale. I came away with about 6 meters of brightly coloured silk destined for tie making plus a couple of bumper patchwork bags of satisfyingly heavy, seriously good quality fabric for £19. If anyone knows of any other silk/fabric mills with factory shops, please let us know.

Oh, and I think we all know Ebay is our friend, especially for bulk buying ribbon, cord, buttons, trimmings etc. And another obvious one, there are lots of free patterns and tutorials out there on the net.

So, how far have I got with my bargain materials and a straight line?

I'm quite proud of myself actually. I mentioned in a previous post that I made 2 fleece backed patchwork quilts for the living room. I have also made a crazy patchwork table runner, a curtain to hide the toy shelves in the living room, Christmas stockings, a dog glove puppet, 2 drop bags and 2 drawstring bags for the children to keep their toys in and a series of 'pockets' to go along the side of Xanthe's new bed to keep her treasures in. Next on the list is a Nintendo DS pouch for Willow. Then we bring out the big guns - an actual pattern (eek) to make some soft toys and cushions for the kitchen chairs with (bated breath) zips! Does this mean I've come to the end of the straight line??

Update! Talk about timely, Lidl are stocking some sewing materials, yarns, needles etc on Monday 10th Feb.