Kassel

And so a new series starts here on Highball Emy’s! I wanted to share my travels and mini adventures with all of you. I must warn you in advance that I won’t be jetting off to Tokyo or Los Angeles every other week, but I hope I can still drum up a few interesting, exciting, and beautiful photos and stories.

We’ll start in Kassel. That’s a little German city. In fact, it’s almost slap bang in the middle of Germany – if you take a map of the European Union’s most populous state and point at the centre, you’re probably not so far off. This is a country close to my heart: I studied German at university, and I lived there for a year-and-a-half, first in Hamburg and then in Ludwigsburg. And Kassel? Well, my boyfriend lives there, so there’s my motivation.

The Kassel Orangerie was built in the 1700s – it’s a fancy building with a fancy garden, where a fancy man used to live. I really loved all the statues on the roof. There were so many I thought it looked like a bit of a party up there. The colour really reminded me of when I used to live in St Petersburg, Russia, where the buildings are like huge cakes in pastel pinks, blues and yellows.

The walk down to the actual building was very pretty too, although as you can see, the weather was not our friend.

Sneak preview of a skirt that might be getting its own post sometime soon…

The city sits on the Fulda, which you can see glinting in the background of one of these photos. I love water: from a brook to the ocean, I can happily stand and stare out over the ripples and waves for a long time. In fact, I’d love to live in a house somewhere around here…

Unfortunately, Kassel was bombed pretty seriously in the Second World War (sorry about that, guys), so most of the buildings are not exactly beautiful – unless you are a huge fan of ’50s and ’60s rush jobs. The market hall and this church are both still intact – and both still lovely.

And, perhaps most importantly, it was easy to find a good White Russian.

Flower Power – Simple Sew English Tea Dress

It’s funny, when I took this photo, I didn’t notice the stack of fertiliser or the cat in the background. I hope you can forgive me and understand that I was transfixed by how amazing my friend Nina looks in her dress.

The pattern is the Simple Sew English Tea Dress. I got it free with Issue 15 of Love Sewing, which you can order here. Nina picked it out of my pattern collection straight away. I had been um-ing and ah-ing about it because I wasn’t keen on the way the bodice looks on the envelope cover – but as it turns out, Nina was right and I was a fool.

The construction was super simple. I think this would definitely be suitable for a “first dress” – and you more experienced sewists could knock one out in a couple of hours for a last minute event! The most complicated part is the sleeves, but thanks to the gathers, you shouldn’t have any kind of easing nightmare. (For you non-sewers – there is more fabric in a sleeve than in the armhole it’s going into, so it can be hard to make it look neat and flat. From now on, be impressed whenever you see a sleeve.) The pattern also includes three sleeve lengths – I used the shortest one.

The fabric is from John Lewis, a fancy department store here in the UK. They’re one of the few high street chains that still have a haberdashery, and I love going in there – but unfortunately, they can be quite expensive. This cotton was in the sale (I think at £8 a metre) and isn’t available online any more. If you have a John Lewis near you, run, quick! They may still have some. I think the blue and the lilac is a really lovely colour combination.

As well as being a little English rose beauty, Nina is a teacher, and when she “commissioned” a dress, we talked about how it had to be suitable for work: not too revealing, smart but comfortable and easy to move around in. I think this really hits the mark.

Guest starring George!

Shorty get down – Simplicity 1370

Are you ready for some more wax print? I first wrote about this type of fabric in my Matilda visits Cameroon post – but you haven’t seen the end of it on this blog.

The pattern is Simplicity 1370, and I really like it – the shorts are nicely high-waisted, with a back zip. I searched for an awfully long time to find a pattern with a back or side zip – I think the shape it creates is SO much more flattering, especially if, unlike Simo here, your stomach isn’t the flattest. I also think the legs of the shorts come out at a great length (Simo is about 5’7″, or 170cm, for reference) – they’re definitely short, but they don’t become indecent as soon as you dare to sit down.

And the construction? Easy! The fiddliest part is getting the waistband neatly attached so the side seams line up, and for me, doing the lapped zip at the back. Why oh why can I not sew a neat lapped zip? Is there some secret? (Non sewers –  that’s the kind of fastening where a little bit of material hides the zip.)

I have to say, I don’t understand what skorts are about. Do you?? I also haven’t used the skirt part of the pattern because I think it will be a super awkward length on me and no one else has “commissioned” it yet!

Look at that fabric! I love the super vibrant colours. As with the fabric for my Matilda dresses, this one comes from Middlesex Textiles – they don’t have the same print any more, but they have some other corkers, so go and check them out. I also think their prices are very reasonable.

This pattern – and this fabric – will feature again in future posts, so keep your eyes peeled! Oh – and please forgive me the terrible pun in the title.

#readingissexy: The Nazis: A Warning From History

I studied German. Of course that meant translation class and a dictionary so big I once bruised myself with it, but we also had a huge choice of other modules, from medieval linguistics to contemporary politics. I focused mostly on 20th century history, so I read a thing or two about the Nazis. Feverishly prepping for one essay (“Mein Kampf reveals Hitler’s deep indebtedness to völkisch ideology.” Discuss), I tore through a few pages of something written by Laurence Rees. I liked his writing style, and the name stuck in my head, so when I came across this in a charity shop a few weeks ago, I decided to give it a go:

I hope I’m not inundating you with too much war – I know my last #readingissexy post featured a book partially set in Nazi-occupied Estonia. But readers, please forgive me and allow me another mid-century recommendation!

The thing that really struck me about this book was how accessible it is. History books can be heavy – physically and metaphorically – and long-winded. This isn’t. It’s quite clear and concise. It also doesn’t assume a vast amount of background knowledge, so no worries if you aren’t au fait with Social Darwinism. That said, the book still managed to be interesting to me – not that I’m a world expert, but I certainly know my way around the topic.

The focus is slightly different from a lot of books on this period of history. We start with the narrative of Hitler’s rise to power, then continue on to the structure of the Nazi party, before looking east to Poland and then to Russia. And a lot of the things we learn might be pretty surprising if the last time you read about National Socialism was at school: Hitler wasn’t in tight control of Nazi policy and the death camps weren’t planned from the start.

Another thing that makes this book a little different is how many interviews are included, with everyone from Communists to Jews to soldiers to ordinary people – including a few who admit to liking at least some aspects of the regime. This provides some really interesting insights, and it’s something that won’t be available to us forever – that generation of people are dying out.

The book was actually written in conjunction with a TV series of the same name. (Far be it from me to recommend watching anything illegally, but you could give it a Google.) I thought the book did a much better job of getting the information across, but the show has lots of footage, and of course you can actually see the people being interviewed.

Beevor it ain’t – no battles – but I still think is a really well-written, accessible history book focusing on one of the most intriguing political movements of the 20th century.

Carrot and sultana scones

Scones are pretty great. And do you know what else I like? Carrot cake. So when I saw this recipe for carrot and sultana scones, I knew I was onto a winner. Do supermarkets give out recipe cards in your country? They do in England (and presumably the rest of the UK?). This one came from Waitrose, which is a pretty fancy place, with correspondingly fancy recipes.

And they’re nice! The carrot taste isn’t overwhelming, but it gives the scones a kind of springy texture that I liked a lot. And I love a good plump sultana. We had them with spread and raspberry jam – delicious! If only the sun had been a little more enthusiastic, it might have been a beautiful British summer experience. So without further ado – the recipe! 225g plain flour 2 teaspoons baking powder 50g olive oil spread 30g golden caster sugar100g carrots, coarsely grated and squeezed to remove excess juice 50g sultanas 125ml skimmed milk, plus extra for brushing 1 teaspoon vanilla extract The recipe also suggests 25g pumpkin seeds, but I didn’t think that would go with the carrots at all – if you try it, let me know how it was!

  1. Heat the oven to 200 degrees C or gas mark six. Sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl, then use your fingers to rub in the olive oil spread – it will all come together, just check the spread is distributed evenly.
  2. Stir in the carrots and sultanas and, if you’re more adventurous than me, the pumpkin seeds. Make a little well in the centre and pour in the milk and vanilla extract.
  3. Fold it all together! The recipe says the dough will be firm, which mine… wasn’t. I added some extra flour at this stage
  4. If you’re neat, do as the recipe says, and pat the dough out to a thickness of 2cm and use a 6cm cutter. Obviously I just grabbed chunks of the dough and patted them into shape
  5. Brush the tops with milk, get ’em on a non-stick baking tray, and put them in the oven for 15-18 minutes.

Voilà! Please do let me know if you decide to give them ago – I’d love to know how they turned out for you.

Quick tricks: the pom pom crop

I love a good pom pom – and that’s not a euphemism. I’ve been seeing them everywhere on ready-to-wear clothes this season, so I decided to do a little experiment. I bought the white crop top – if you’re more dedicated and less scared of jersey than me, you might make your own – from H&M (£1.99!) and picked up the pom pom trim at the market – I think it was £1.20 a metre, and they had plenty of colours. Then all I did was pin in place around the hem of the top, and sew! I did it on the right side because I liked the braid part of the trim, too – but you could always hide that part on the wrong side and just have the pom poms peeping out from underneath the hem, if you preferred. Handily, the braid also hid my stitching! If you don’t have a sewing machine but like the look, you could do this by hand – but it might take quite a long time. You might remember my beautiful model, Simo, from my Matilda visits Cameroon post. I made the top for her because I think it looks darling with the kind of little printed shorts or loose trousers I know she often wears in summer.