Fairy cakes? Or cupcakes?Not by Mr Kipling, actually.

I made some more cakes with lurid green icing. It's very therapeutic, with measuring, mixing and a time of patience. I like the alchemy of cooking when you take flour, eggs and sugar and change them into fluffy gold balls of fun. So do my children, a plateful never lasts more than a day.

Making cakes (whatever you call them; unhappily, 'fairy' has overtones nowadays that I am sure would have horrified Fanny Craddock so that the simple epithet has the power to elicit a nasty giggle off older children. Perhaps the magic of life truly has disappeared for them) is such a simple activity, yet it is one of those activities that Others seem to regard as 'odd'. Why would you want to bake cakes, they seem to say, when you can buy them for pennies? It's the same argument as when I tell them I'm crocheting a blanket, or making a bag, making clothes for myself or a child, planning to make seat covers, re-painting a desk or rescuing something that someone else has deemed unnecessary or unusable because it needs repair. Why bother?

Well, it is possible that economically there is an argument to be made that to have handmade can cost more than to purchase cheaply. Especially material for clothes, which in recent years seems to have increased in price as supermarkets have flooded the country with cheap clothes so that it is more expensive to make a skirt than to buy one from Tesco. But I never liked the idea that I would go for handmade just from economy. I make what I can because I like to make things, so I see it as a good use of my skills. I like the individualism of a homemade creation; no one else will have the red, orange and yellow patchwork skirt I will make for the Princess next year. Mind you, possibly no one will ever see hers, because she didn't pick the colours and would have had pink and orange from choice, so that I either leave the skirt untouched or take it to pieces and start again.

I like making things because I can. It is one of my talents, and not to use it for reasons of economy or conformity would strike me as a waste. I like sitting in the evenings and fiddling (all my life I have fiddled... I should have learnt the violin, instead of the saxophone) and not to have a project on the go somewhere would be, well, boring. I breathe, I read, I craft, my great trilogy for life.

Making things also grounds me. I can buy materials until my house overflows and the bank manager coughs politely as I go past (head down; avoid eye contact and keep away from the telephone banking; you don't need an extension on the overdraft, just an extension on the wages you don't get during the summer) but to make the things means I have to slow down. Even a small flat doll can take a couple of hours. My blanket (I must show you my blanket) has taken me about 2 1/2 months of evening crocheting (not all at once, I hasten to say, but spread out and separated by about 5 months off for the summer) and now is ready to warm my feet and my heart as it lies (with tuck in) on my bed. I know it doesn't have a 'name' attached (apart from mine) and I know that, come 40 or 50 years time its resale value will be zilch in a charity shop, but I hope that my descendants will not idly pass it on, but will stick it in a chest (cedar wood, lined with ticking and with heirloom lavender hearts, of course) and pull it out to use now and again or that, when the next passion for vintage comes around, it will have a resale value on the next generation of ebay. Perhaps I should attach a label to it, in case Angeljem ever hits the headlines as a name, but I doubt it. That's the other part of handmade by me that I like. It doesn't pander to names for names sake. I don't need a label to show that I like the lifestyle, it's not a manufactured idea of life promoted by any magazine editor's personal image of a rosy, fire-lit country life. It's my life and I make what I think will fit into it.And that is, of necessity, limited by what I think I can make. Three years ago I would have loved to be able to crochet... now I have three blankets under my belt (no, not literally... although that would be a very good excuse for my waistline!) and a dream of two more (one for every bed we use everyday) but even as I plan my next ripple or granny marathon (for December) I know I want to make a rug for the living room..... a length of Christmas bunting.... a selection of hearts for the tree and a patchwork cushion from the squares that didn't make it to the stockings.... I know that I will be able to do something next time I have a spare ten minutes and the inspiration strikes, and that I will probably this year try something new. I really fancy ceramics... or rug making... quilts.... or ( which I actually used to do in my twenties) fimo clay modelling.

Or perhaps I'll just get the extra wool and begin my stripy blanket.

Who said coward?


  1. Well I have some very nice Christmas fabric if you need any for your bunting! Oh and call them fairy cakes and do it at the top of your voice! Don't give a fig what anyone else thinks!

  2. I'll tell you why I make cakes at home, apart from the fact that they taste better - have you looked at the ingredients list on those cakes with the spookily long shelf lives? If I don't recognise the name of it, I don't eat it ...

  3. Since I've recently started knitting, I know I'll look after and treasure what I've made, yes because it's taken me so long to make it. Where as something knitted shop bought will just end up on my bedroom floor and trampled on. Also if I get bored with what I've made I'd probably unravel it to use the wool on something else, due to it's original expense. Where as if I'd bought the item from a shop it would just go off down to the charity shop !

  4. Oh and cupcakes don't exist in our house, that's what the Americans say isn't it and I'm British, so it will always be fairy cakes for me. (Sorry Americans !)


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