Thursday, 11 May 2017

Blueberry and lemon tray bake

This delicious cake is a lovely twist on the lemon drizzle that seems to be a favourite in our family.  The original recipe, from the Tesco magazine, included thyme in the cake and maple syrup was added to the topping.  I used thyme in my first attempt and it was a nice addition however I wouldn't say it was a necessity.  I also used half the amount of topping that was in the original recipe (minus the maple syrup) - it just seemed far too much and even cutting the quantity by half gave me some left overs which are absolutely gorgeous mixed with flavoured or natural Greek yogurt.

The tray bake serves 12

200g unsalted butter or baking margarine
200g caster sugar
4 eggs
200g self raising flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 tbsp thyme leaves (if using)
50g ground almonds
75g Greek natural yogurt

250g blueberries
1 lemon, juiced
1 tbsp caster sugar
2 tsp cornflour

50g unsalted butter or baking margarine
100g icing sugar

Set oven to gas 4, 180 deg. C (160 deg C fan oven), grease and line a 20cm square cake tin with nonstick baking paper.

In a large bowl, beat the butter/margarine and caster sugar with a wooden spoon until soft and combined, then add the eggs, one at a time, together with 1 tbsp of self raising flour per egg, beating well.  Using a metal spoon carefully fold in the remaining flour and baking powder then stir in the lemon zest (and thyme if using), lemon juice, almonds and yogurt, ensuring ingredients are well mixed.  Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and bake for 60-75 minutes until a knife inserted into the cake comes out clean.  Leave to cool in the tin on a wire try for about 10 minutes and then poke holes in the top of the cake with the handle of a wooden spoon ensuring you go about 1/2 to 3/4 deep into the cake each time.

Whilst the cake is baking add the blueberries, lemon juice and caster sugar to a pan and gently bring it to a simmer, partly covered, and cook for 4 minutes.  Mix a little water with the cornflour, stir to make a runny paste and add to the pan cooking for a further 2 minutes.  Remove from the heat and cool. When ready, spoon about 3/4 the blueberry mix over the cake, making sure the mix runs into the holes.  Leave the cake in the tin and cool for a further hour, then remove from the tin to continue to cool completely.

Beat the butter/margarine and sifted icing sugar together and carefully spread this over the top of the cake.  At this stage you can add the remaining 1/4 blueberry mix, if you feel you need to, otherwise keep it in the fridge and use to mix with natural or flavoured yogurt.

Carefully cut the cake equally into 12 squares.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Story behind the batik wallets

I'll never tire of looking at and using these gorgeous fabrics when sewing pretty wallets for Ellie's Treasures.  Not only are they all such excellent quality materials, vibrant in colour and design and a true joy to work with, but they have a bit of history behind them too.

My mother and father-in-law spent time in the Far East during the 1960s and early 1970s, returning to the UK in 1972 and during that time, my mother-in-law began to collect these wonderful fabrics with the idea of using them to make clothes.

From the fabric swatches in the photo, the green and black fabric was turned into an elegant dress and the yellow with spotty black pattern was a bolero.

The remaining three beautifully patterned swatches have been cut from yards of Batik, designed and hand printed in Malaysia and Singapore.  I feel honoured to have been given these to use in my work, it makes each hand cut and hand sewn wallet all the more unique.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Open for business with 2017 goals

Ellie's Treasures has started selling through a third online platform - nuMonday.  Set up as a UK based marketplace for creative individuals and small businesses, it is very new, having begun its journey in December 2016.

I've only managed to list a few of my items so far, but hopefully in a short time my store will be fully stocked giving customers the choice of which marketplace they'd like to purchase from.

It finally feels like Winter is behind us as we experience a few pleasant Spring like days.  Today has been glorious, so I grabbed the opportunity to taking my cuppa and planning diary outside to work in the sunshine.

Trying to plan a little and set some goals is really helping to keep my motivation going.  I did a blog post on this last year and have referred back to my 2016 intentions, goals, achievements quite regularly.  So I've started planning a few events for 2017 - taking part in the Etsy Makers Spring Market a couple of weekends ago has opened my eyes to online craft events - it was hard work but great fun and I plan to do a few more during the year.  I've also applied for a well known Norfolk Christmas market - a little daunting, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed I'll be accepted.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Spring Makers Market - this weekend on Facebook

Commencing this Friday, 3rd March (8pm) and all weekend (finishing 10pm on Sunday, 5th March) is the Etsy Makers Spring Market taking place on Facebook.

Click here to have a browse at all the fantastic items that will be available during the market, many of which will have a discount applied throughout the weekend (code to be released at the start of the market), with some sellers applying the discount code to all or part of their Etsy shop, not just those items showcased for the event.

Read about some of the designers that are taking part here.  By learning about each seller and the wonderful array of products that will be available, you'll begin to realise this is the perfect event to purchase for Mother's Day and Easter as well as perhaps a sneaky treat for yourself.

Ellie's Treasures will be one of many Etsy sellers taking part - do hope you can join us.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Browsing and purchasing kind of day

Half term for Ben last week and as he asked to go into King's Lynn to have fun at the fair with his mates, it was a opportunity not to be missed to have a mooch around The Fent Shop in the town centre.  Being perhaps the best haberdashery in the area, with row upon row of colourful fabrics, bundles and reels of ribbons, trims and pretty embellishments, you can forgive me for spending quite a long time browsing.  They were selling mini packs of off-cut squares in just the tiny prints that I need for my work so with the helping assistance from one of the staff member sourcing just what I needed I came away with quite a good selection (together with some ribbon ... of course).

After a stop off at a well known coffee shop, downing two large mugs of tea and a delicious lemon and poppy seed muffin while I did a spot of online work, I headed off to TK Maxx.  I don't usually wander into the home section, but had time to kill so took my time looking at what they had.  Among the many books I found this absolute gem - The Shopkeeper's Home by Caroline Rowland.  Full of wonderfully styled photos of shop floors and shopkeeper's homes, lots of inspiration and a perfect coffee table book.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

From design to product

A new year needs a new product (well, at least one), so trying to build on the ideas behind my brooches, keyrings and bag charms I wanted to move forward with brooch pins that have that kind of casual/boho layered look.  I love colour, and I love the boho chic style, but finding the confidence to design something like this is, for me, quite hard.

As with all new ideas, I started off with a sketch and then have a play with materials.  In the case of my first brooch pin, I had Valentine hearts in mind but I didn't want it to turn out completely pink and too girly.

It took me a while to find the base colour (the adorable light olive green felt) but the other two main layers came together quite easily.  The olive gave the brooch a vintage feel, so choosing lace as part of the trims seemed to be a natural choice.  Using grey lace with the green really highlighted the vintage element, with the gold edged gossamer green ribbon behind the cream lace adding a hint of bling.  I had decided on using the coat hanger charm right from the start, they are very prettily decorated and quite unusual.   Hanging the three felt hearts looked quite cute, although in hindsight I'm wondering if mini button hearts would have looked a little sharper.

Time to add embellishments - the best part! A clear teardrop bead, seed bead and mini heart button really made the brooch look special and that final decision - brooch back or brooch pin - brooch pin it was and I'm really happy with how it looks.

Ideal for pinning to a favourite outfit or jacket - now available at Ellie's Treasures.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Getting to grips with a light tent

Aiming to take good product shots is one (of many) challenges an online seller faces.  When I look back at my first product photo on Folksy I absolutely cringe and wonder how on earth I managed to sell anything!  I'm hoping my shop photography skills have come on a little since then and even, perhaps, since writing a blog post of this very subject nearly a year ago.

Three things have happened in this last year:

(1)  I continually look at product shots from other sellers to get an understanding of how I personally like to see an item presented.

(2)  I took part in a free online "introduction to your camera" course which I found extremely helpful with regard to using the camera in manual mode to achieve good results.  It is my 2017 resolution to actually read the manual for our camera to understand it even better.

(3)  I was given a light tent as a Christmas present.

So this post is about using the light tent.  I'd been thinking about buying a light tent (or even making one) for some time.  I'd read a lot about them, the ups and downs (mostly the downs) and initially came to the conclusion that actually I didn't need one as I take product shots in the conservatory which is flooded with light.  However, I was spending an awful amount of time tweaking my photos once they'd been uploaded to the camera, so something was going wrong.  Things improved considerably once I'd finished the photography course, but my constant whinging before this had obviously gone unnoticed by my son who, bless, presented me with a light box at Christmas ("it's something you said you needed")!  Actually, the light box had to be returned - it would have been brilliant had it not kept collapsing.  I exchanged it for a light tent.

The tent was from a seller on Ebay - there's loads to choose from with this set up and I read some good reviews.  The tent folds up neatly into a carry bag which holds everything, including the background cloths (of which there are four, in different colours), two lights and a small table top camera stand.

The stand is good and sturdy but my DSLR is too heavy for it (I may well be using it incorrectly).  I do already have an adjustable stand so this isn't an issue for me.

Some reviewers commented on how hot the lights became.  Yes, they do, but I try to remember to turn them off during prolonged setting up and fiddling around sessions so they don't overheat - so far, so good.  Another reviewer said they couldn't get the creases out of the backdrops.  This didn't seem to be an issue for me, but I was silly enough to hold the iron on the fabric a little too long and have now got a bit of a hole close to where it attaches 😔.  Luckily my items are so small it hasn't yet caused a problem - but be warned, iron over a tea-towel or something similar so as not to make the same mistake!

Playing with the tent was interesting.  I've learnt that the set up shown above isn't the best way to get a good photo!

The lights need to shine through the sides of the tent giving a diffused light rather than a direct one.

Endeavouring to position my little items correctly to get the desired shot has been quite frustrating at times and at one point I was wondering whether all the faffing around was really worth it.  However, with continuous playing I'm beginning to get to grips with how the tent will work for me.  I use a folded/rolled sheet under the backdrop to get an slanted angle and place a good sized piece of white thin card on top as I find this gives a smoother background for my close up shots.

The following photographs show slight differences in lighting - non have been tweaked at all.

This was taken with the light towards the front, as direct light and with the cloth background.  I was quite happy with this to start with, but after a white I realised I didn't like the soft waves of the cloth and also the shadows.

This shot has been taken without the lights.  It's the kind of shot I was getting before I used the light tent and although it's OK, it would need a fair bit of adjustment before I was happy to use it.

There is a very subtle change in this photo compared to the one above.  The background is very slightly brighter, thanks to the diffused light.  The photo will still need tweaking to bring out the true colours of the item (it is still a puzzle to me why they are muted) but I'm a lot happier with the overall look.

For me, the light box produces the best results for lifestyle shots mainly because of the continuous length of cloth that gives a clean look.  Moving the lights around (and even holding one or both above the light tent) really helps to achieve a nice light.

At times I'm still in two minds as to whether the light tent has been the Godsend I was hoping for, especially when I'm shooting on a sunny day in a room full of windows.  However, on those very dull days, it has made a big difference.

I'm now finding it's hard for me to choose which photo I like best from a batch rather than which one will eventually look OK after lots of additional work - and that's a good thing 😊📷.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Trying our hand at a craft market

One of my aims for 2016 was to have a stall at a Christmas craft fair.  When Ellie's Treasures first opened in 2009, I shared a stall at a local event but didn't have the best of experiences, so this time I put a bit of work into finding something I felt would be well run and appropriate for my items.  I was accepted to exhibit at the Christmas Quality Market in Stamford, Lincolnshire at the beginning of December.

The weeks leading up to the fair were manic - I don't think I've ever put in so many hours of continuous sewing.  Being Christmas, custom orders were competing with my fair stock as well as online sales, but, as is often the case, it all turned out OK in the end and I even found time to make two special shop themed brooches for me and hubs to wear on the day.

I started planning how my stall should look back in the summer, trawling through Pinterest and blog posts for inspiration.  I was aiming for a rustic feel and managed to find lots of suitable things around the house and garden that could be used for the display. "Kitchen & Things" in Newmarket, selling a huge range of very reasonably priced East 2 Eden storage goodies (and blackboards), together with a new white table cloth and battery powered fairy lights from The Range completed the look. I drew how I'd imagined the stall may look and then did a trial run on my hubby's white desk a couple of days before the event.  This really helped because it meant I knew exactly how to set up my table on the day - a big time saver.

The market was inside Stamford Arts Centre and took over three rooms.  The main hall was large, light and airy and flowed really well.  The other two rooms were located off the main hall and we found our room to be not too well lit and very quiet (despite having Christmas music being played on a continuous loop - I think we heard Michael Buble's "it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas" at least 10 times!).  People came along in dribs and drabs and sadly a surprising number didn't stop to look at the stalls in our room, they just continued walking as though it was a through-way.  Those that did stop were very complimentary, with many saying how unique Ellie's Treasures was.  Getting our first sale of the day gave me a very warm feeling and although we didn't make a big profit, it was good to know we had sold some pieces and many business cards had been taken.  I was itching to use my new iZettle for credit card payments, but everyone had come well prepared with cash - I guess that was a good thing really!

I've learnt that we need additional lighting to show off our stall better - it was just too dark to really see the detail of my work. Also, the goods looked lovely displayed in wooden crates and rustic baskets, but buyers didn't seem to want to thumb through to see all that was available, they would look at those that had been pulled out and placed along the front of the stall.   It was also obvious that items at eye level were viewed first, so perhaps a layered card display would prove beneficial, rather than people having to bend over (and often get their glasses out) to take a look.

We took some super photos of our stall set up with our main camera only to find the SD card wasn't formatted properly and therefore wouldn't let us download them.  Luckily the fair organiser had taken a few to put on Facebook which she kindly said I could add to my blog.  Next time, I'll take backup pics with my phone as well.