OK, so, back to the discussion from yesterday.  I really hope you’re not bored of my bread nerdiness yet!

To recap: we tried both Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day and No-Knead Bread, and No-Knead is definitely the superior bread.  It has a longer rise, and that out of the fridge, which means superior development and thus better flavour.  It is cooked in a cast iron pot, which works better than any amount of fuss with steam and a domestic oven.  But it’s still just great white bread, and I won’t bother baking for anything less than sourdough.

There is a lot of unneccessary mysticism around sourdough, and I think that’s why people give up on baking it at home.  So here’s the essential information:

Sour ferments are lactobacillus cultures — not born of yeast, but great neighbours. There is no magic trick to them.   They’re useful because they taste good, and because they impart a little rise by producing gas: this is how rye breads, which have little gluten, can be cajoled into lightness. The starters used for breadmaking are a convenient double-bill of yeast and tasty bacteria. 

Like yoghurt , sour cultures are an ingredient that you can keep alive in a jar in your fridge.  They need less than 30 seconds’ effort each week, less than it takes to find an ingredient in the supermarket.  Trust me, you CAN fit a sour bread in to “five minutes a day”.

To sum up:

  • Simple bread = (flour/water/salt) + lots of yeast + a little time.  [“5-minute Artisan” method].
  • Elegant, tasty bread = (flour/water/salt) + a little yeast + a lot of time.  [No-Knead method]
  • Delicious sourdough = (flour/water/salt) + a little yeast + lactobacillus culture + a lot of time.

With only one more step, you can have no-knead, no-babysit sourdough loaf that’s every bit as good as a fancy-pants $5 deli bread.  You can have it warm with butter.  It is so good.  I’m hungry again just thinking about it.


Make, buy, beg or steal a sourdough culture.  There are lots of different starters  for sale on the internet and for a few dollars, you can pick and choose the one that you like best.   If you’re in America, specialists sell a range so get something great — my Californian friend Tammi would kill me if I didn’t recommend a San Francisco lactobacillus.  For Aussies, there is a baker in Tasmania that sells a great one online.  You can also start your own if you have the patience, but I won’t go into that here — I bought mine because I’ve started a number of sours myself and they’ve never tasted as good.  Stands to reason: the guy who sold it to me is a master baker and had already done the hard work of finding a great tasting culture.

Stick it in your fridge and feed it once a week: a purchased starter will come with instructions for “waking up”.  Mine also came with a long and complex recipe for bread, with several rises, which is awesome if you don’t have a job, children, or anything else but bread in your life.  If that is you, good luck to you.  You don’t need my help!!

This is our starter –getting a bit low.  This photo was taken just before I took out all but 50g, and added 200g each of flour and water — which is the full extent of necessary starter maintenance and should be done weekly — more often if you bake every day and need more starter.

Every time we want a loaf, we break off a heaped tablespoon from the starter and mix it into some of the water required for the recipe.  From that point, the recipe is exactly the same.

Sour No-Knead Bread

  • 1 heaped tablespoon sourdough starter
  • 1.5 cups water
  • 3 cups white flour (if you can, buy a bag of organic flour from a health food shop with good turnover — it’s not only better for you, it develops into a better tasting bread.)
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt

Put the starter into the water and break it up with your fingers.

Add everything into a container:

Make a shaggy dough:

Wait 12 to 18 hours and turf it out on to a floured surface.  Stretch and fold (see the video from my last post: I’m not a star at this so I’m not going to show you my sad efforts!)

Wrap it up to rise for two hours in a well floured tea towel.  At one hour, pop a cast iron pot in your oven and turn it up to about 210C.

Invert your dough into the pot (be careful with the hot cast iron!).  Bake 30 mins lid on, then brown with the lid off (around 15 minutes more).  Clean your bench with one of these, it’s a pastry or dough scraper and is worth every cent in a quick cleanup.

Compose smug face.

(The same guys who sell the starter I recommend, also sell scrapers, but kitchenware stores do stock them also.)

After I uploaded these photos, I realised that this last shot is of the rye version*, and I didn’t take photos of the white loaf from folding until after it was baked — here they are side by side.

You can see how the rye is a little more dense.  That’s how it’s supposed to look — as mentioned above, rye flour has little gluten and benefits from the sour ferment for even this more modest rise.

Allow to cool, at least most of the way to room temperature, before slicing.  All sourdough breads are tastier the next day, if you can wait that long.  The cracked surface is made by baking seam side up, the smooth by baking seam down.  You can also make fancy slashes with a kitchen knife, should artistry strike.

And that is how you make sourdough bread, as good as any you can buy, without killing yourself or sacrificing your marriage.

I got Dan to watch the No-Knead video and he got really excited about making it himself.  From a man who watches my baking as if I’m performing some magical voodoo rite, this is great.  (He told me yesterday that he’s never separated an egg.  What??  Is it even possible to live 30 years and not separate a yolk from a white?).

Sometimes it’s frustrating to live with a city boy.  Other times — like seeing him pick fresh berries for the first time in his life as I did on our honeymoon, or listening to him tell our friends how easy it is to make sourdough bread — it’s awesome.

Anyway.  Time for me to leave you alone.  You could have set some bread on in the time I’ve been blathering on.

*For a rye loaf:

  • 1 heaped tablespoon sourdough starter
  • 1.5 cups water
  • 2.5 cups white flour
  • .5 cup rye flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds (optional)

You can use the starter with either No-Knead or Five Minute methods — if you want to use it in the latter, I’d recommend substituting one cup of starter for one of the packets of yeast, and baking in a cast iron pot.

I love making bread.  I do.  I get really nerdy about it, too.

I love mucking around with sourdough cultures and yeast and trying stoneground flour X versus organic flour Y plus Z percent of rye… watching it rise… smelling the starter and the dough develop from a puddle of flour and water into something truly complex and sour… sitting next to the oven waiting for the magic to start.

I am also a total bread snob which means that I don’t bake regularly.

How does that work?  In my experience, quick breads — overnight bread maker jobs — aren’t worth it.  I live in the inner suburbs of Melbourne and  there are three artisan bakeries within walking distance of my house.  If I can’t make a bread that’s equal to or better than theirs, I’ll buy.  In the same line of reasoning, I don’t make croissants or pain au chocolat, though I love them dearly, because the French guy down the road is better at it.   (Besides, I like not knowing how much butter there is in my pastry).

But every year I have a baking spree, a wild, no-holds-barred, up-until-3am-because-the-dough-isn’t-ready-yet crazy-lady bakeathon in which the kitchen is dedicated to all things yeasty.  Because it’s so much fun that I can’t resist it.  I go nuts.  I experiment and buy new equipment and drive everyone insane.  I don’t go out because I have to mind the bread.  Sooner or later the sink gums up with excess flour, my friends are sick of pizza, ciabatta, and rye, and I  too have had enough.  Truly artisanal bread is a hard taskmaster.

When the bug hit this year, I tried a different tactic.  In this I was inspired by Gina’s success at making bread regularly.  Instead of trying for absolute perfection, I took two quick-and-dirty methods and tried to turn them into worthy bread.  10 kilos of flour later, the results of my mucking around have changed our household — not just me, but Dan too — into one that regularly bakes.

Our two contestants are the quick-bread big guns:  Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day and No-Knead Bread.

The Artisan method  is certainly easy. Throw a whooole lot of flour, water, yeast and salt in a big bowl — enough for a number of loaves.  Give the huge, sticky mass a quick first rise of a couple of hours.  You use tons of yeast so it puffs up quick as can be.  Then put it in the fridge and, over the next two weeks, pull a ball of dough out every time you want bread.  Let that dough come to room temp and rise (they say 40 minutes but it can take up to two hours.)  Then bake.  If you have a strong stomach for cheesy all-American smiles, herewith the video:

This is a good way to get fresh, hot bread without being stuck to a timetable: all you need in the way of babysitting or planning is to be in the house for 3 hours.  The recipe makes good looking bread with a high loft, but for me it just didn’t hit the spot.  It was tasty when hot, but most of the heartiness  was gone by the time it cooled.   These breads certainly look like artisan loaves but the taste is just slightly better than your average Brumby’s or supermarket loaf.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s only a failure by the standards of someone who can buy a fantastic loaf around the corner.  If you love plain bread (or have kids who won’t eat new and ‘weird’ foods — hi Gina) then it should work pretty well.  It makes fresh, hot bread without preservatives, and it’s fun.  You know, for those of you who live a ways out from a real bakery, what a great substitute for sliced supermarket loaves.

The No-Knead recipe is similarly easy, except that you need to know in advance when you’ll bake the loaves.  Not that hard for me: I mix just before bedtime for a bake sometime the next afternoon, even after work.

Put your flour, water, salt and a tiny bit of yeast in a container, and leave it for 12-18 hours.  Form it into a ball, let it rise for two hours, then bake it in a hot cast-iron pot.  The baking method is, for me, a revelation.  It works incredibly well for a high-loft, caramel loaf.  I do recommend you watch the video, because this is seriously easy and good.

No-Knead beats Five Minutes hands-down on crust, crumb and flavour.  The slow growth of the yeast makes a delicious, yellowy dough that smells like heaven, and I have never made such good bread since trying this cast iron baking method.  The first bread I made tasted like a seriously good ciabatta.  And lo, it looked every bit as good as the one in the video!  That never happens!!

But of course, it wasn’t sour.  And here’s the magic missing piece of the quick-bread puzzle.

The 5-minute Artisan people claim that if you slow the growth of their non-cultured dough by refrigerating it, you will get some sourness.  You could almost certainly achieve the same quality by slowing the growth of a no-knead loaf even further.  But essentially you’re just encouraging some minor native bacteria that was already hanging around in the flour, to grow a bit.  They’ll never truly sing: yeast is the star.

So, to sum up — No-Knead is the superior method, and gives good bread with less effort than making a cake.  But you can’t make sourdough bread with plain baker’s yeast.  It doesn’t matter how long you store the dough.

I’m writing this up as two separate posts, because I can sense your eyes are getting tired,  so stay tuned for tomorrow when I’ll share the tweak that makes all the difference.  (And it’s still quick).

I’m just going to warn you, straight up, that this is a loooong post with a lot of pictures.  But it covers something that I wanted to know how to do, and I couldn’t find a good enough tutorial on the Web so I figured it out myself by trial and error.

One thing I knew about my wedding dress — before I even sat down to draw, before I looked at fabric — was that it was going to have a row of tiny little buttons with loops.  They’re so romantic and dreamy — and even though I wasn’t going the white wedding dress, romantic was definitely on the cards.  It’s like wearing a veil: sure, I could do without it, but when else am I going to wear a dress that can legitimately require assistance just to get it done up?

The buttons needed to be about 11mm wide — that’s 7/16 of an inch to those of you over the ocean.  And every time I went to cover one in the silk dupioni, said silk unraveled and puckered and was just generally dispiriting.  I asked around and had a play  — here is a better way.

Draw your motif on a clean sheet of paper, in black pen that can be seen through your fabric. The motif should be at least 2mm (technical term — a smidge) smaller than your button.

Cut a piece of silk three or four times the button’s size — this is not the time to be stingy with fabric.

Trace the motif ever-so-lightly with a pencil (you may need to use a lightbox or a window) and thread your needle with one strand of embroidery floss.

Of course you can use any stitch to embroider your button, but I used ol’ reliable, chain stitch.  For this one, you bring your needle up, wrap the floss around the needle at the front, pull tight, and repeat (it’s easier to understand from the pictures.)

Huzzah, done!  Sorry about the weird colours.  My camera, it seems, cannot deal with tiny macro shots of shiny silk.

Self-cover buttons will almost always come with a cutting guide on the packet.  Cut out the appropriate size and push a pin through dead centre — find it by folding the circle twice.  Now rest the pin on the dead centre of your motif and push the cutting guide down.

Trace around, leaving a smidge of room because you’ll be cutting well inside the line.

Take a scrap of lightweight, iron-on interfacing and iron to the reverse side.  It’s best to put a light cloth between the iron and the silk/embroidery.  You don’t want to burn the silk or squash your stitching.

Now cut around your circle, inside the guide line.  Thread your needle with regular cotton and make small running stitches all around it.  Leave a considerable tail at either end (I could have used more in this example — at least 10cm or 4″.)

Pull tight, making sure that your motif remains centred.  You may need to wrap the thread around the shank to get it tight enough.  This is fiddly work.  Be patient.

Place the backing on the button. Use a fingernail to make sure all the edges are sitting underneath the backing, then push down firmly all around the sides.

Congratulate yourself and take a photo!

Now go find some other places to take photos.  Admire how pretty and how tiny it is.


Now you can get married!

Today is Dart Day!  Hooray!

OK, now that I have that out of my system, I want to share with you a couple of little tricks I’ve picked up at night school.  Some of you will undoubtedly already know them but they’re not common knowledge.

Pattern makers don’t bother with time saving measures for home sewing.  However I’m yet to meet a home sewer who liked making darts.  There are many ways of marking them, and all are tedious.  All involve a lot of fiddling around, visually checking from one side of the fabric to another to make sure that all the marks line up.  Or thousands of pins. And it can be so hard to get them to the same length.

Professional sewers don’t have time to spare and they can’t afford to unpick and start again, so they use a combination of notches and drill holes.  It takes much less time, and it goes together better.  You should try it too!  You will need a tailor’s awl.  They’re very, very cheap.

First of all: what are you doing cutting around those crazy little diamonds in your patterns?  It’s not accurate and it slows you down.  Just cut clear around your pattern and then make notches no deeper than half the seam allowance.  Seriously.  Don’t be scared of damaging your garment.  Unless you’re using a flimsy fabric like silk chiffon, you won’t.

Try it, really.  In all your sewing.  Notches are awesome.  Diamonds are annoying.  OK, on to the dart.  First notch the tops of the dart.

Then get your tailor’s awl.  Stick it in through pattern and fabric, 1cm (1/2 inch) above the apex of the dart.  Really, it’s OK!  The awl is so sharp that it won’t tear your fabric.  It might break a thread but more likely it will just push threads out of the way and make a mark that will slip back into place with a little bending of fabric.  Besides, you are using the awl inside the dart.  The marked fabric won’t ever be under stress and it isn’t part of your garment.  It’s more like seam allowance than anything else.

Now the fun part!  Fold the dart over on itself as usual.  Isn’t it easy to line the tops up?  And all you need to do to make sure it’s lining up straight is to get the awl mark sitting flush with the fold.

Sew the dart as usual, starting with the notches and sewing past the awl point by that 1cm or 1/2 inch.  The last few stitches should only catch one thread.  I could have done better in the example below, but it’s good enough.  Tie the threads off and press.

Now, go forth and conquer!

Plenty of quilters will fussy cut to get geometric patterns happening in their hexagons, but I’m going to show you something with a twist:  how to use large prints and motifs.  Such as this beautiful bird print.  I wish I could remember the name of it so I could get more, but as I have only a tiny amount left I want to preserve it in my quilt.  However the birds are each twice the size of my patches.

Though I haven’t shown it here, this is a great opportunity to use print motifs that have been sliced in half when your length of fabric has been cut from the roll, or are near the selvedge.  It also creates a sense of movement and difference, when it’s sewn in with plainer flowers, that I like a lot.

First, lay a patch over one motif.  You will need two motifs so two opposite halves, or one half and one whole, work nicely.  Consider carefully where the edge will go and how the patch will sit in your overall design.  Cut around the patch, leaving a generous — and I mean generous, like half an inch — seam allowance.

Pin the patch to the back of your paper and baste with your preferred method.  Then lay it over your second motif.

Nice!  You can hardly tell there’s a patch on there.  OK, now you need to lay a second paper patch nest door and pin it in place. 

Cut again, using another generous seam allowance.  With the pin still in place, finger press the fabric around the paper to mark placement.  Then remove the pin and move the paper to the back.  

The next step is the trickiest stage.  You will need to reposition the paper exactly, which usually means a couple of tries for me.  Take care that the sides match up as nicely as the long side.

Baste the paper to the second patch.  Check that everything’s still in place.  If not, you will have to take the basting out and try again — like I said, you need to have a lot of seam allowance and it’s fiddly.  But it’s worth it, as long as you’re not trying to fussy cut an entire quilt!    O_o 

Match them up and…

Sew together as per usual into…

A birdy flower!  Hooray!   Now you may cut away that bulky excess seam allowance.

Try this out for yourself — and please tell me in the comments if anything seems confusing, I’ll edit the tutorial. 

I have been very lax with blogging and I do apologise but on the up side, I have a super-exciting new project which I hope I can share with you soon.  In the mean time, there’s a special post coming up next in which I will share a way of making darts that will change your life for the better!  See you soon…


Remember me?  No?  I don’t blame you.  I’ve been pretty distant from the blog lately, what with night school, homework, *real* work, keeping the house — well, certainly not clean, but at least mostly navigable and waterproof — and starting a small business!  Agh!  Oh, and there’s that wedding thing I should be planning!!

But I do have something to show for myself.  Would you like to make a vintage sheet cushion?  I’ve written a pattern and it’s over in my Etsy store now for the bargain price of $5.  The pattern is suited to any fabric, really, but I’ve developed it with an interfacing method that’s super-good for preserving and making the most of precious scraps that have seen better days.

Oh, and to all of you who are teeming over (yes, that’s the word I want) from tipnut.com — hi!  Stick around and join the conversation 🙂

Edited 24 September to add:  if you like this tutorial, check out my new pattern for matching cushions!  It’s available as PDF or printed pattern, is in my Etsy store now and uses a new interfacing method which is not only quicker than most patchwork, but also super-good for supporting precious but aged scraps of fabric.

As promised, a post that is not about my garden. Nor is it about my wedding, a fact that will surely astound any friends and family who are reading this!

I made a custom order about two months ago from vintage sheets.  Much like my Grandma’s Vintage Sheet Quilt, these matching twin quilts are made from sheets and pillowcases from the 60s and 70s: the kinds of sheets we had in our house when I was growing up, as well as the kinds of sheets I wish we had.  I took pictures along the way and thought that others might be interested in a tutorial.

This is the simplest kind of quilt I’ve ever made and it can be constructed with nothing more than a sewing machine, a flat space, and an iron.  It breathes new life, beauty and strength into sheets that have worn in some places: worn and faded patches can be discarded, and the good fabric kept.  Experienced patchworkers might feel a little impatient to get past the details in these instructions.  I’ve deliberately tried to make it simple, because a vintage sheet quilt is the perfect low-cost, high-reward first quilt for a newbie.

First, cut out your pieces and arrange in a pleasing pattern.  I used a large square cut from an A4 piece of paper as my template, drawing around it with a soft pencil.  Those who have fast cutting equipment will doubtless prefer to use that at this stage.

Then sew some strips together and iron seams flat. In these single bed quilts, I went for eight squares across, so I built in fours. If placement is important, place a pin in the bottom right hand patch.  Then you’ll always know which way is up when you go to replace the strip in your arrangement.

Then sew fours together into eights, and so on…

…until you have one half sewn together! Again, use a pin in the bottom right hand corner.

Then pin and sew the two halves together. At this stage you can lay it over some batting and backing.  When putting your three layers together, tack them together in an all over criss- cross pattern, or use a series of safety pins (this last option is better for everyday use quilts than those you’d like to be *perfect*.  Now quilt it.

Alternatively you can lay it over a second full sheet and tie it together.  A lovely example of a simple, tied coverlet can be found here. I used soft flanelette for these quilts.  With any other style of quilt, I’d use cotton backing because flannelette doesn’t last forever.  But let’s face it: vintage sheet quilts aren’t going to last into your grandkids’ lifetimes.  They’re soft and they’re for enjoying now.

Bind the quilt with commercially purchased bias binding, or cheat by folding and sewing a pretty ribbon around the raw edges 🙂

That’s a whole quilt — or in this case, two quilts — made with no more equipment than a sewing machine and an iron.

Then find yourself a picturesque cat.

And you’re done.

Flickr set is here.

This is the first tutorial I’ve done at pinsandthimbles.  Did it make sense?  I’d be grateful for any suggestions you might have!