Monday, 16 October 2017

Rags, Paint and a Desert Wind

Gosh, that was a weekend that came and went in a flash. Busy as ever but in a good way. I took advantage of the good weather on Saturday morning to do a couple of hours tidying up in the garden after breakfast. Not that you'd know... it's looks just a messy as ever although I filled the wheelie bin with garden rubbish. Inbetween I managed to rustle up a batch of flapjacks before anyone noticed there hasn't been much cake in the house lately.

Although I took half of them away as in the afternoon I was teaching my first ever rag rug class... nothing like a bit of homemade baking to get your students on side!

My venue was a quaint little coach house near Hitchin where I let myself in and made myself familiar with everything. This is the Ragged Life HQ, home of all things  rag rug related! Before long a group of five lovely ladies gathered for the class and were soon stuck in with a project designed to teach them the basics of rag rugging.

They were each making one of these flower trivets... I made a sunflower as my demo piece! I'm not sure I want to stand pots on it though!

Saturday evening saw a night of good food and operatic entertainment in our village hall no less. Village life is far from sedate and never boring!
Then first thing on Sunday I called for my Mum and we went on another painting day together, this time with Jamel Akib. In our first painting we were learning how to paint gold. I think this was my favourite of the five I managed to paint throughout the day.

Next we got to paint dancers using dramatic strokes in the background to create the illusion of movement.

Because I paint quite quickly I had another go at a portrait with a flash of gold... can you recognise her? I don't think she is quite finished yet so I'm hoping to fit in some time this week to work on this.

After a delicious lunch, all provided as part of the course, we learned techniques to give the impression of crumbling brickwork. I'd like to work into this one some more too, straighten things up a little... but not too much

And finally Jamel demonstrated how to get the effect of feathers on birds. I wasn't very happy with my robin  at the time having churned it out in about 15 minutes but he doesn't look so bad in the photo! It was a fabulous day where we learned so many techniques and laughed a lot... Jamel is very entertaining. But it was also completely exhausting, so I was good for nothing last night and thought I'd sleep like a log (How do logs sleep? It's okay you don't have to answer I was thinking aloud.) Instead I lay awake until about 2 am... what was that all about!

So I wasn't good for much today either although I did have a long very windy walk with Hector and took photos of the rather amazing sky. Sand from the Sahara blown in by Ophelia... or alien invasion? Zombie apocolypse? Whatever, it has turned the dog into a lunatic... he's tearing around and leaping about like he's got a rocket up his bum!

So how was your weekend?

Friday, 13 October 2017

A Bustle Skirt

This is a story that starts almost a year ago at our Embroiderers' Guild branch Christmas lunch. Back in December, Gill returned from deepest darkest Norfolk to join her old friends (friends of old or friends who are old... read it as you will) for lunch and with her usual panache she was wearing a fabulous skirt with a bustle that of course she had sewn herself. I confess I had serious bustle envy, after all who wouldn't want to wear something so stunning. Fast forward a couple of months and I spent a couple of days up in Norfolk with Gill and she kindly gave me a length of her left over fabric so I could make my own bustle skirt... all I need to do was buy a zip and some suitable lining fabric.

Fast forward even more months and despite searching my stash and keeping an eye out here and there nothing was deemed suitable and so the skirt was never made.  Then, this week I happened to be at the Knitting and Stitching show at Alexandra Palace, demonstrating rag rugging for Missenden School of Creative Arts. I had a quick look round the show over my lunch break but was left feeling it doesn't seem too special any more. I used to love going but now I don't find much that is inspirational and I certainly don't need to buy anything new to add to my stash... although if you are there this weekend check out the exhibition by Hue, and in particular the three stunning panels by my friend Marian. So I wasn't really prepared to do any shopping until I spotted this gorgeous Liberty Lawn fabric.

I had absolutely no idea if it would look okay with the fabric Gill had given me but I bought a couple of metres anyway and as luck would have they look fabulous together with the print picking out the burgundy stripe in the woven fabric.

So although I had set aside a day yesterday to cut out my new coat instead I made my bustle skirt!

The design is very simple but so effective and is essentially a rectangular length of lined fabric cleverly joined at the back with a zip to create the bustle.

The trickiest part was inserting the zip and even that wasn't that tricky... but look at those gorgeous folds and that fabulous fabric!

And because the woven fabric has a beautiful fringed edge I only had to hem the lining.

I commandeered youngest son to take some photos of me actually wearing the skirt... he grumped a lot and was very reluctant and this is the best of a bad lot. I wasn't going to ask him to try again and as he was the only person I was likely to see while it was daylight these photos will have to do!

It is not quite as long as it appears and is just below knee level at the front, although sweeps down to mid calf at the back.

I love the skirt but was a little disappointed that I had made it too loose on the waist. The instructions advised getting a friend to help with the pinning and measuring. I certainly wasn't going to get youngest son to help stick pins in me so fiddled about and did it myself with the result I was a bit cautious and too generous with my measuring. My heart sank a little as I thought I would have to adjust the back seam and re-insert the zip but then I decided to add a couple of little pleats in the front instead. And although I say so myself it was just a little bit genius because not only does it fit much better now it also sits better over my tummy. Let's face it who actually has a completely flat tummy... not me that's for sure!

So although the fabric for the coat remains untouched I do have a lovely new skirt to wear when we go out tomorrow evening. I'm also off to teach a rag rug class tomorrow for Elspeth who runs Ragged Life and  next month on 18th November I will be teaching a whole day at Missenden Abbey to make rag rug Christmas wreaths... which was why I was demonstrating at Ally Pally this week. Whatever you are doing I hope you have fun this weekend! (And I apologise for actually mentioning Christmas twice in one post... it just sort of slipped out!)

Monday, 9 October 2017

A Book Exchange

Back in the summer when I was bemaoning the lack of creativity in my life my blogging friend Lesley threw down a gauntlet and suggested that we might come up with some sort of creative challenge to kick start some activity and get the creative juices flowing. We've a bit of a history of swaps and challenges that started back in 2011 with a postcard swap. We have also exchanged books and prints in the past, both things we enjoy making and so a challenge involving a printed book seemed a good starting point.

During August we both got busy printing sheets of paper which we then made up into books.

I stuck to a palette of black, grey and green and had lots of fun printing a couple of large sheets of paper using a variety of mono printing techniques.

I then tore the sheets into smaller pages which were bound together to make a book.

I used some of the prints to cover the book too and it was a good opportunity to practise some forgotten binding methods.

Then at the begining of September I posted it off  to Lesley and she now has the task of working into the book for three months before returning it to me in January.

And likewise I received a book of prints from Lesley into which I can work.

We can draw, paint, print, collage, cut and stick... anything goes with the original book providing the starting inspiration.

The strong red and black graphic pages of Lesley's book suggested urban landscapes to me and I was thinking buildings and graffiti.

But everytime I picked it up I couldn't get started... until this morning.

Out walking with the dog I was inspired by all the signs of autumn around and especially by a fabulous bush covered in rose hips. So I made a ten minute start into my sketchbook and painted this quick sketch of rose hips, which is not the least bit urban!

I've a lot to do until I send the book back to Lesley in the new year but starting is often the hardest part.

At least that is what I'm telling myself... especially as I've not started that coat yet either!

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

My Quiet Weekend

Okay, I know the weekend seems a whole life time away and no doubt you are all looking forward to the next one but in my head this was scheduled for Monday... it just never happened. Is it me or does the pace of life just seem to get crazier and crazier? I am in desperate need of a holiday!The weekend just past however was at a slower place than usual. No, of course I didn't just sit and relax but I did things at my own pace and for us. It would have been good to fit in some painting or other art work but another time maybe.

  • I made a quiche for lunch - I've made one every week for the past year or so for our farm shop and as a result never seem to make one for us anymore. Last week thay had a mushroom and pesto tart with pine nuts that I really fancied keeping for us, so I made another one. With some crunchy homemade coleslaw it it di the job both Saturday and Sunday!
  • I bought some ridiculously expensive fabric. I have never spent this much on fabric before but I couldn't resist this beautiful boiled wool and it is destined to be a coat. The pattern is relatively simple but I'm still terrified to cut into it! I need a day when I'm not preoccupied with other things... so watch this space.
  • I made bread.... mostly because we had run out and it seemed preferable to a trip to the shops.
  • I filled my new biscuit barrel with cookies. Of course it is now almost empty again and I am reconsidering the skimpy outfit. Something with a bit of room for movement seems more appropriate.
  • We spent some time with this gorgeous little chap who is now very mobile. He is climbing, crawling and pulling himself up to standing... and becoming very vocal! He is absolutely adorable. Where did those ten months go.
  • I finished off some off these poppies for my friend Liz (They will be with you by the end of the week I hope... once I've got the ends sewn in!) We met very briefly in a group when we both attended the Build a Business day last year. Sometimes you just connect with someone and that was the case with us. If like me, you like food and fabrics with a bit of Italy thrown in then I'm sure you'll enjoy reading Liz's blog and you can read about her Remember Me project here.
There were also dog walks and lines learned with a fair bit of mooching about so a good weekend. Since then of course there has been teaching, rehearsals and a birthday with cake... no rest for the wicked but I guess it is better than being bored! Off to ice another cake now but will be back soon I hope!

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Since Last Time...

  • There has been lots of teaching and my regular weekly class is back into the swings of things. We've lost a couple of people... well, not lost exactly, I know where they are they just didn't re-enroll... but we've gained a couple too which is the way this class has been for the past ten years or so. I can't believe I have been doing it that long but they still delight me with what they make. These little book jackets were just some of the results of our first project. I think that I would like a little book of magic.
  • It was caramel week in the bake off and although I didn't make stroopwafel I did make millionaire's shortbread and two caramel cakes. They weren't all for us I hasten to add... I have a skimpy outfit to get into by the end of October, but more about that later.
  • No sooner than we'd eaten all that cake, it was pudding week. I went back to making the technical bake which was a molten pudding filled with peanut butter. It was so wrong... I love peanut butter but in the middle of a pudding it was dry, claggy and too salty. Won't be making those again in a hurry, which seems to be the theme of this year's bakes. Just for the record I did make them in under the specified time of one hour whilst also making dinner for four and under the influence of a couple of gin & tonics!
  • I've been rehearsing twice a week because at the end of October I'm in a play... Funny Money, a farce by Ray Cooney. I play the wife of the main character, Jean Perkins and there are lots of lines to learn. I thought it would be good for the old grey matter but it's not as easy as it used to be and some days it feels like my brain is mush. All other reading has gone out of the window for the time being. It is also the reason I have to fit in to a skimpy outfit. To be fair it's not that skimpy just a size too small... but I also have to change into a nightdress and fall about on the floor a lot. Do you think I might be getting too old for this lark?
  • Another day teaching and this time it was in a village hall in Acton, Suffolk. It is about an hour and half from where we live and straightforward journey. I left in plenty of time but was still an hour late arriving... because I got lost! For nearly twenty years I have travelled all over the country teaching or giving talks, I have arrived in city centres in the dark - Bristol, Derby, Birmingham, I have gone to every county you can imagine but I have NEVER, ever got lost before. I was listening to the radio, took a wrong turning and drove on for another ten miles before I realised, by which time I didn't have a clue where I was. I know, I know I should have a satnav or even use my phone but  I stubbornly stick to old fashioned maps because I prefer them. Phone calls were made, the map consulted and I arrived eventually. A cup of tea was thrust into my hand and I hit the class running, which was actually quite amusing. I do have to say all eleven ladies in the class were delightful, very understanding and all made the most amazing landscapes... I could show you all eleven but they are all up on my facebook page so I'll just show you mine.
  • The dog has recovered from his operation. His cone of shame lasted two days before he learned how to remove it and started to eat it. He could reach his stitches anyway so it was a bit of a waste of time. On the plus side he has saved the vet a job and has removed his own stitches. He has also taken to carrying his blanket around all the time which is quite cute, except he has started to eat that too... pink poo, that's all I'm saying! As for his behaviour... well I'm optimistically telling myself it is early days yet but I wasn't very impressed by the regurgitated sock I found on the kitchen floor one morning at 6.15 am. I swear I thought it was a dead rat and did have a moment of panic (environmental health... my five star rating!) before I discovered it was a dead sock.

So that was my last ten days... I didn't intend staying away so long but you know how it is. This weekend we have nothing planned, nowhere to go, no cakes to bake just chilling, seeing the family and not doing anything in particular. I am determined to make the most of some down time... and learn my lines!

I hope you have a good weekend

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Technical Difficulties

I think I should start by saying thank you to all you lovely people who left me such fabulous moral boosting comments on my last post. It does feel a little pathetic that I can so easily doubt myself when times are unsettled but there you go... the creative urge is a strange thing at times and I'm not always as confident as I seem to appear. It's all a bluff!

But I do what I always do when there are deadlines and life seems a challenge, I retreat to the kitchen and bake... and set myself more deadlines and challenges! This year I thought it would be fun, because obviously I have nothing elsle to do, to make the signature bakes as well as the technical bakes for this year's GBBO.

You have already seen my mini rolls which was the technical bake from week one but I also made a signature fresh fruit cake too... an trusted Dorset Apple Cake recipe full of lovely fresh apple. I also made a blueberry cake that week and wondered why some of the contestants found it so difficult to add fresh fruit to a cake.

Week 2 was biscuit week and the technical bake was fortune cookies. The first batch ended up in the bin (the oven temparature in the recipe is too low)... the second lot weren't much better and all I could think was why on earth would anyone want to make these. They burn your fingers when you make them and they don't even taste nice.

Definitely not worth the effort nor the calories! I think my fortune should have read "You will never make fortune cookies again".

The signature bake was to make sandwich biscuits so I made these carrot cake inspired biscuits from a recipe on the Great British Chefs website, which also happened to part of a bake along competittion on Twitter.

Not only did they taste great, they also won me a prize in the competition... this fabulous Emma Bridgewater biscuit barrel which is waiting to be filled with homemade biscuits!

Bread week saw a technical bake of a cottage loaf.

My shaping was a little bit out as I think I made my dough a little too wet but it tasted great and had a good crumb. I used butter instead of lard and I did just about do it in the alloted time but the figures didn't add up in the recipe... 10 minutes kneading, two one hour proving sessions and 35-40 mins in the oven... all to be done in two and a half hours! I managed it by cutting the proving times down to 45 minutes.

The signature bake in bread week was teacakes, something I had never made before. I made an apricot and date version flavoured with orange and cinnamon, mostly because that was what I had in the cupboard.

They were a big hit and I may have eaten a few too many, delicious toasted with lots of butter. If I get the time I may even share my recipe, although I may have to test them again first!

This week saw the bakers in the GBBO tent  having to deal with caramel and attempt a technical bake of Stroopwafel... a thin Dutch waffle with caramel filling. And so ends my journey of baking every technical bake this year because I am certainly not going to invest in a cone waffle maker that I will use once and then consign to a cupboard for the next ten years! I will probably try the signature bake of millionaire's shortbread though.

In other news, I've heard from Joe who had a brilliant four days in Vancouver and is now enjoying Cuba, the painters have finished and have done a great job, and Hector has has a little outing...

He loves going out in the car... but I'm not sure he was so thrilled whan he came home!

It may calm him down a little, it may not (the operation not the cone) as opinion seems to be divided but the vet seemed to think it might stop him running off even if it doesn't dampen his adolescent enthusiasm, only time will tell!

And as you can see I've not stopped blogging... at least not for the moment so thank you for continuing to read and being such a lovely supportive community of people. See you again soon.