Once again Halloween rolled around and once again it was a week before a party that I started thinking about a costume. I had a little time in central London so wandered around a ‘vintage’ store for some inspiration. I wanted a costume that would work with my teeny weeny Afro. Initially I was thinking Moss from the IT crowd.
As I looked at the dubious vintage items (a bugbear of mine is ‘vintage’ stores that are overpriced and have crappy, samey clothing), I started to feel inspired. I quite wanted to go for an It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia costume but didn’t want to buy a new wig- maybe I’ll go as Ango Goblogian if I stumble across the right secondhand wig another time.
I had just seen the new Joker movie and wondered whether there was mileage in that as a concept. I’ve seen on Instagram (good targeted advertising I guess) that they sell hair wax that’s capable of producing vibrant temporary colour on Afro hair and doesn’t look crispy and awful.
Note: I’ve been meaning to write about the experience of cutting my hair but haven’t got around to it. I definitely surprised myself with how strongly my feelings about my gender were tied up with my long hair. So perhaps it’s unsurprising that I felt much more drawn than usual to dressing as a male character.
Anyway, when I went charity shopping a couple of days later, it was the character of the Joker that appealed to me the most. I spotted a red jacket and went to look at some reference images. What would the odds be that I could find a red suit, green shirt and yellow waistcoat all in my size in five days? Would I become desperate enough to violate my ethics and buy something new?
I visited the secondhand shops near my work and came away feeling a little apprehensive. I made the decision to just buy any item I could find that suited my needs- more on this later. As I returned to my office after lunch, I recalled that nearby Chiswick High Street has a fantastic selection of charity shops. Since I had some containers and could pop into the Source as well, I hopped on my bike and went over that very afternoon.
Chiswick sorted me out beautifully. The first thing I spotted in the Shelter store was a bright red jacket for £15. I tried it on and it fit. I decided not to buy it immediately just in case I came across something better.
The next shop came up trumps with a pair of red trousers- I had to ask the volunteer to take them off a mannequin for me. Not perfect but definitely good enough for my needs, especially since they were £6.50. I bought them straightaway so the lady wouldn’t put them back on the mannequin.
The thing I was most worried about was the waistcoat. I’d hardly seen any waitscoats at all on my search, and is a yellow waistcoat an item anyone would want aside for for costume purposes? But the Barnado’s shop contained a golden floral one. Again I didn’t buy it straightaway. It wasn’t quite perfect and I had a couple more shops to visit.
I wandered down to the shop at the end of the road, where my eye was immediately caught by a green silk shirt. It was more olive than I wanted, but a beautiful silk shirt from Whistles seemed too good an offer to pass up at £20- it’s something that can definitely slip into my work wardrobe when spooky season is over and done.
I quickly walked back up the street to collect the waistcoat and jacket, which was a great match for my new pants. It seemed silly to waste time looking any further. I was irrationally terrified that other shoppers would have snapped my items up, but I needn’t have worried.
The only big misstep I made was with the very first item I bought; another red jacket. For the first time, I investigated a weird junk shop that’s opposite my office. There’s no indication of what it is on the outside, just some rails of clothing. I went in and there are hundreds of poorly sorted items and no lighting. It’s so strange. There were people wandering about using their phones as torches. I wish I knew the story behind it.
I found a red men’s jacket in there and hastily bought it for £15. In the gloom of the shop, it had looked okay if a little big. As soon as I tried it on in a proper changing room, I realised that it wouldn’t do. I looked like a little kid in their dad’s suit. When I bought the second jacket, I donated the first one at the same time. No sense bringing it home to take up space when I have absolutely no use for it. I hope that Shelter will be able to make some money back from it at least.
Overall it felt really serendipitous that I was able to get everything I needed within only a couple of hours. Normally my cardinal rule of secondhand shopping is not to go looking for something specific. But this time, it worked for me. As my friend Cayleigh pointed out, perhaps even the men’s red jacket was part of the magic of that day of shopping. There may be some reason that it needed to find its way to the Shelter store in Chiswick.
In the end I paid £49.50 (not including the stupid second jacket) for my costume, which I know is far from cheap. The silk shirt I know will go into my normal wardrobe. And, in fact, I felt really fabulous in the red suit. I wonder if there’s a viable market for renting a single costume only suitable for a size 10 woman. Actually, two costumes since I still have my Wonder Woman dress from last year. I feel grateful that I am fortunate enough to be able to pay a premium to live according to my principles.
The one thing I bought new was the hair wax for £11. I had to use around 1/3 of the pot to get decent colour on my hair. I quite liked the definition that it gave my curls, though it did make my hair quite hard.
Yes I did go out for dinner dressed as the Joker. And yes my two companions were wearing normal clothes.
It was so much fun to dress up in a completely different way to normal. I’ve never worn a trouser-suit before and actually I was living for it. In fact, I don’t think I’ve worn a suit as an adult full stop. I will 100% be looking for any excuse to wear my red suit again. The biggest surprise was probably how hot I was! I suddenly have a new respect for men in three-piece suits on the tube. Continue reading
Unsurprisingly, given how ubiquitous halloween has become here in the UK, last week’s OddBox contained a pumpkin.
I think this is my first experience of having a whole pumpkin in the house. I’ve carved one before but I normally substitute butternut squash or pumpkin in recipes.
I decided to try a new pancake recipe that Anna tagged me in on Instagram.
The batter is fantastically smooth and these are much more like traditional pancakes than the egg and banana ones I normally have. I wasn’t crazy about the flavour but I steamed enough pumpkin to try again. I’ll try adding more cinnamon and using more exciting toppings. Maybe a berry compote and some soured cream.
I actually hate pumpkin spice lattes so maybe I’m just not a fan of that flavour combination.
I was also invited to a Halloween party and in a bit of a quandary about what to do about wearing a costume. I’m generally quite lazy when it comes to fancy dress. I’ve never been able to see the point of buying things to wear only once so my costumes have tended be assembled from things I already own or can re-use. For example, a few years ago I dressed as Super Mario.
I can’t believe I used to post such terrible images on my blog! I bought the dungarees and top secondhand (on eBay, but still). The top and hat entered my regular wardrobe, the box was used to package a gift and I upcycled the dungarees into my Cateralls.
I have a pink wig, a shameful leftover from the year I dressed as Nicki Minaj and I had to buy a second wig because I’d accidentally ordered the first from China). I was quite keen to wear that but didn’t have much to go with it. I looked around a couple of local charity shops for inspiration and found this Wonder Woman costume for £6. It was a no-brainer.
After looking at some images of WW online, I was very tempted to buy a headband to finish the costume off. I’m pretty sure the costume had a horrible wig with it- thankfully the charity shop employee didn’t realise. It was much more fun and empowering to be a brown Wonder Woman with my own hair out.
Anyway, after nearly purchasing an official Marvel headband on Amazon I decided instead to get a metre of gold ribbon and make my own.
It’s funny to realise how I still feel drawn to buy things in order to make experiences ‘more fun’ or legitimate. Luckily I hadn’t had the idea sooner or I would have probably bought an expensive handmade head piece on Etsy and justified it by saying I’d ‘saved money’ on the costume so it’s okay to splurge on the accessories. Capitalism is so deeply engrained and pernicious.
In the end I was thrilled with my costume and thoroughly enjoyed wearing it. I’m so grateful to the person who donated this perfectly good item to be loved again rather than going to landfill.
A disadvantage of trying to reduce waste is becoming hyper-aware of how wasteful society is. Here I share things that have bothered or worried me.
I still haven’t found a way to compost my food waste. I’ve started saving some veg scraps in the freezer to make stock but this only works for a small proportion of vegetables. I’m researching community composting but it’s quite slow going. I’ve tried emailing some local parks with greenhouses. I’m on the verge of wild composting (aka collecting the scraps and dumping them in a park).
I just saw a video about Germans being legally obliged to compost and I really wish that our government would start taking the health of the planet more seriously. Instead, my taxes are wasted on Brexit nonsense. I’m at the point where I would pay to have my food waste composted but no one seems to be offering this service in London.
When, ten days ago, our mutual friend announced that his wedding would have a cat theme, Cayleigh and I knew we had a sacred duty to dress her baby as a cat. My part in this was, of course, the hat. I think we did pretty well!
That is one foxy baby. Arthur was preoccupied with chewing on my water bottle for much of the wedding. Way to use those new chompers, kid!
As you can see, the hat turned out a bit big. I used knitting maths to calculate the correct number of stitches to cast on, which was 90. However, since I like my hats to be knit in multiples of 12, I decided to round up. I would say this hat would be a good fit for someone with a head circumference of 20 inches. This is a downside of my motto ‘go big or go home’.
Changes I would make if I made this again:
- Knit the brim in rib, so it is fully reversible
- Knit a slightly longer brim
I didn’t use a pattern, but this is what I did.
Using 4.5mm needles, CO 96sts, join to work in the round
Knit in garter rib (or any rib) for about an inch
Switch to 5mm needles and knit… for a bit. I think I knit until the hat was 5.5″, which was probably a bit too long. The decrease portion adds around 1.75″ to the hat.
Decrease as I did in the baby bear hat
Add ears following Official Kittyville Hat, which is in Stitch ‘n’ Bitch. The only change I made was to knit the ears in the round
Okay, I’m sensing you’re sick of the knitting chat and dying to see more chubby baby cheeks.
Yarn: 1 skein Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino
These pumpkin cupcakes turned out to be a great way to use up the pumpkin I had left over from my previous Halloween baking exploits. The pumpkin makes the cupcakes nice and moist with a hint of spice, and the cream cheese frosting adds a great tang (as well as a second hit of sugar). Again, I think they would be much improved by a few nuts.
I don’t have any great pictures of these. Because the frosting was a bit loose, I decorated them at work, where there is no natural light.
Makes 12 cupcakes
- 1 1/2 cups plain flour
- 1tsp baking powder
- 1/4tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/4tsp ground ginger
- 2/3cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup light olive oil or butter
- 2 large egs
- 3/4 cup pumpkin puree
- 1tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup chopped nuts such as pecans (optional)
For the frosting
- 8oz cream cheese, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
- 2 3/4 cups icing sugar (I used muscavado icing sugar)
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
This will leave you with some leftover frosting. I made my frosting with about 3/4 of the ingredients stated but it came out a bit loose and I’m not sure why.
1. Preheat oven to 180C/350F
2. In a large bowl, cream both types of sugar and your butter or oil, until well combined.
3. Add the eggs one at a time, beating in between
4. Add pumpkin and vanilla
5. Slowly sift in the dry ingredients (including spices), continuing to mix between additions.
9. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Meanwhile, make your frosting. Cream together the butter and cream cheese until smooth. I used an electric hand mixer.
10. Mix in the vanilla and then the icing sugar until thick and smooth. If the frosting is a bit slack, chill in the fridge while your cupcakes cool.
11. Once the cupcakes are cool, pipe or spoon on your frosting. Combine them any way you like, I don’t judge.
I’m getting quite into my autumnal baking, so I decided to try this bread flavoured with the increasingly popular spiced pumpkin. As I learnt, plain pumpkin doesn’t have much of a flavour but it does give this bread a lovely colour, and add moisture. As it’s an American recipe (upcoming stereotype warning), it’s incredibly sweet. I’ve dialled down the sweetness in the recipe below, but you can find the original here. The result is very similar to a cinnamon roll, with an added kick from the glaze if you use it. If I make this again, and I definitely will if I see pumpkin on sale, I would add some pecans because nuts make everything better. Everything.
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1/2 cup milk
- 2tsp (1 sachet) instant yeast
- 3/4 cup (half a tin) pumpkin puree*
- 1/4 cup sugar (granulated is fine)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 1/2 cups strong white flour
For the spiced sugar
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
- 2 tbsp butter
For the glaze
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1/8 cup brown sugar
- 1 1/2 tbsp milk
- 3/4 cup icing sugar
- 1 tbsp rum (replace with more milk if you want to make this non-alcoholic)
*Yes, I used tinned pumpkin. There was no way I was going to mess around with a pumpkin myself, and I had some left over to make another autumnal recipe. It does look funny, though.
1. Brown 2tbsp butter in a small saucepan over a medium heat. Browned butter seems to be very fashionable in America at the moment. You allow the butter to melt and turn frothy…
2. Remove pan from heat and gently add milk. Return to the hob and heat through.
3. Allow to cool until just warm. Add the yeast and 1/4 cup of sugar, and leave to stand for 5 minutes.
4. Add the pumpkin, salt and 1 cup flour. Stir until combined.
5. Add the remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time until you have a slightly sticky dough.
6. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for about 6 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. It will still be a little sticky, try not to add too much flour.
7. Transfer the ball of dough to a lightly oiled bowl. I put mine back in the saucepan to save on washing up.
9. While the dough is rising, make the cinnamon sugar that will flavour the bread and create the tearability of the loaf.
Brown another 2tbsp butter. Add the sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg and mix well, making sure the sugar absorbs the butter evenly.
16. Cover and leave to rest for 30-45mins.
17. Preheat your oven to 180C/350F.
18. Bake your risen loaf for 30-40mins. The top will be a deep golden brown. Leave to cool in the tin for a few minutes, before removing to a wire rack.
19. Prepare the glaze. Heat the butter, milk and brown sugar in a small saucepan. As soon as it comes to the boil, remove from the hob and stir in the rum and icing sugar. Pour over the loaf while it’s still warm.
Another of my Knitting and Stitching Show purchases was a kit to make a pair of pumpkin earrings for Halloween. I decided to dig out my old jewellery making stuff and turn them into jack-o-lantern earrings.
You will also need small jewellery pliers
This is a really cheap project. I bought my kit for £1 and you should be able to pick up the materials for this amount or less.
‘Carve’ your pumpkins
You can simply draw faces on with black marker or nail varnish and a tiny brush.
If you fancy more of a challenge, use yellow and orange varnish to give the design a shining light effect. Starting with the yellow, roughly fill in the areas you want to look cut out.
If you have orange too, blend it in with the yellow. I used a crisp packet as a palette to help me. I also looked at reference images on Google to help me get an idea of how the light shines through pumpkin carvings.
Next, outline with black to neaten the design. I used a striping brush, which was extremely fiddly. A marker would be much easier I think.
Thread a seed bead, and then the pumpkin bead onto the headpin. Thread on two more seed beads, then make a loop above them.
Put your pumpkins together
Attach the complete pumpkin to the end of one length of chain.
Put each leaf bead onto a jump ring. I actually made my jump rings from cut-off lengths of the headpin as I couldn’t find any.
My natural cynicism makes me unreasonably grumpy about most holidays, but I do quite like Halloween. In particular, I like to dress up and have a reason to eat and drink to excess.
I also relish any excuse to try out a new craft, so I was very excited to try out a friend’s rather snazzy pumpkin carving tools. I started out by looking for inspiration on Google images and settled on Boo from Mario as my design. I started out by sketching it onto the pumpkin using dry wipe marker.
This gave me an outline to trace using a Stanley knife. Next was the fun part, using a tool I called ‘the gouger’ to dig out the sections where I wanted light to come through. You have to be careful if you have a complex design because it’s very easy to accidentally remove bits you’re not intending. Technical language: you have to be aware of the positive and negative space (this is also important in papercraft).