Thursday, 30 November 2017

What's in a Name?

Some people take their time to consider their options taking a measured approach, but me? I dive straight in, make a decision and go with it. I hate waiting, biding my time. So when I decided to start a blog I spent a quick half hour looking at the different blogging platforms, decided against the couple that I would have to pay for just in case I didn't stick with it and opted for Blogger. Then I had to pick a name for my blog. A couple of my favoured options were already in use (including my name) so I took the name of one of my favourite pieces of work "Fan My Flame"

It is still one of my favourite pieces made from silk paper that I dyed and made myself and decorated with free machine embroidery. The name Fan My Flame however did not remain popular with me for very long. Almost straight away I started to read it as Fanny Flame... which of course sounds more like a porn star than a textile artist!

I'm not entirely sure in what order things evolved but as part of my degree we did a Professional Practise module which was all about branding and having a portfolio... all very grown up! So in an attempt to be a grown up I threw off my Fanny Flame image and became Gina Ferrari, Textile Artist and opened up my Facebook page under the same name. However when I tried to open a Twitter account under my own name again I found it already taken so I resorted back to old Fanny! It doesn't really matter because I don't find Twitter something I really engage with... I still don't understand how to keep track of conversations and not being someone who is on my phone all the time I seem to miss half the action in the Twittersphere. But I digress.

Then of course there was my Etsy shop. I really couldn't bear the idea of my shop being called Fanny. As it happens I had just embroidered the fairy above for my blogging friend Mrs Moog (now there's a name!) who doesn't really blog anymore but is now active on Instagram. She always referred to her daughter as Minx and the fairy was based on one of Minx's drawings. Although I'm not entirely sure how any of that is relevent anymore my Etsy name became a combination of Gina and Minx and became Ginxie, which now of course is now meaningless! I think maybe I was going to fill my shop with embroideries of Minx's drawings!

Now roll forward several years to the launch of my baking business and another name was required. Ignoring all suggestions that contained the name Tart by my dear friend Gill I actually took my time until I finally happened upon "Apricot & Fig"... one of those early hours of the morning inspirations. And despite numerous people telling me they think that everything I make contains apricots and figs I've been quite pleased with the name. I even called my Instagram account apricot_and_fig

But now of course, I'm giving all that up and want to ditch the Apricot and Fig image and so I'm thinking I should consolidate everything under a single name as I concentrate more on my textiles and painting... Gina Ferrari Textile Art... or just Gina Ferrari, Artist? It won't matter of course because now you will all just think of me as Fanny Flame forever more!

How and why did you choose your blog name? 

You know that impulsive side to my personality I was talking about at the beginning... I impulsively decided to do my advent count down to Christmas again. Starting tomorrow a short post every day until the 24th because I really have nothing else to do... will you join me?

Sunday, 26 November 2017

All Change... again

You may have noticed from my last blog post, which felt as jumbled and incoherent as my brain at the moment, that I seem to be doing too much. Trying to juggle too many balls at once with the result that I'm making mistakes, I'm constantly tired and I hardly ever seem to finish things when I start them. It has been clear for some time that something has to give and for many reasons it has been on my mind that maybe it was time to wind up my little baking business.

Started two years ago, it was something I had dreamed of doing for a long time, having always loved baking and I have had lots of fun. I started it when I did because there seemed to be a natural lull in my textile teaching and to be honest I need to supplement my income. But I seem to have reached a point where it has stopped being fun. I have been churning out cakes that I haven't enjoyed making, trying to meet the demands of customers which somehow seems to defeat the point of working for myself. Nor was I prepared for the absolute exhaustion and chronic back pain after a day on my feet baking all day. Not to mention the endless cleaning, shopping, and book keeping that had to be done too. And although I have never stopped teaching machine embroidery people seem to have assumed that I'd given up, so it will be good just to focus on textiles again. I think it brought it home to me when someone on Instagram commented "Back to the textiles then?" I never stopped!

I thought I could just cut back so at the end of September I stopped supplying the Farm shop and cafe but this week I decided to stop altogether... no more new cake orders. And the relief is huge. I will do some Christmas baking for friends and family over the next few weeks but after that my baking will be solely for pleasure and I can regain that joy of making a cake for us to eat, of experimenting with recipes that I want to try.

I don't regret that I've done this over the past couple of years and if I hadn't tried it I think it would have been a bigger regret but now I'm looking forward to spending more time being creative with my textiles and artwork, possibly incorporating painting... and of course teaching. But I know I don't want to fall back into old comfortable ways. I will be looking at new ideas and fresh approaches... at least that is the plan.

The two cakes here were my last two made to order and I was pleased that they were both for friends... despite the drama of the doctor figure falling off and breaking the night before it was due to be delivered!

And you know that thing I said at the beginning of this post about doing too much... this week I added Nordic Walking to my list of things tried. It's just a four week introductory course and I've wanted to try it for a long time... so don't judge me okay! And like my baking business it's a sixty x sixty... and you've got to try something to know whether you like it or not.

I guess somethings don't really ever change!

Thursday, 23 November 2017

And in the Meantime...

The highlight of our week last week was obviously Jacob's graduation but meanwhile life seems to hurtle by at quite a pace and I seem to lurch from one thing to another without actually finishing anything very much and barely having time to catch my breath.

  • I finally summoned the courage to cut into the wool for my coat. It had to be done, after all a length of wool fabric wasn't going to be much use to me. I've even sewn most of it together and have really only got finishing details to do when I find a spare half hour. It fits but I'm a little concerned it looks more like a dressing gown than a coat but perhaps I should reserve judgement until I've actually finished it.
  •  I've had another day out painting with my Mum at a class at Art Van Go with Heather Miller. It was a lovely day and Heather was a patient and encouraging teacher. We all started with the same source photo of trees but everyone managed to produce something different. I quite liked mine but Mum painted over hers.
  • When I came back I resolved to paint some more at home instead of only ever doing it in classes. I got all the paints out and did actually finish off another painting. But the paints and brushes are still all set out at the end of the kitchen table where they have been all week.... untouched!
  • I then had another day out working in sketchbooks in collage with Cambridge based artist Karen Stamper, whose work I really love. The idea was to encourage me to work more into sketchbooks. I finished the page above and cut out some magazine pages... they are all still piled up on my desk waiting for me to find time to sort them out and use them.
  • I'm almost at the end of term for my machine embroidery classes. We've covered a variety of projects since September including making lampshades. Mostly I don't use the samples I make for class and they end up cluttering my studio but this time I made a matching pair of lampshades and they are now taking pride of place in the bedroom. It's good to know I finish some things!
  • I actually finished a cushion too... a rag rug cushion! I taught a day of rag rug making on Saturday where we made wreaths for Christmas but I thought it would be good to make some samples of other things too. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with this except keep it out of the way of the dog. He's rather partial to ragged bits of fabric!
  • I've had an evening out celebrating a friend's birthday at a pottery glazing party. I've made a platter for Christmas but won't get to see the finished result until next week. It was surprisingly good fun.
  • I've had three birthday cakes to make this week, two of them still to finish tomorrow but these will be the last cakes I make to order... more about that in another post.
  • I've had a lovely long chat to son no. 3 Joe who has been away travelling for nearly three months now. It was great to speak to him and hear all about some of the wonderful places he has been already. And despite travelling alone he's already made new friends.

He's been to Cuba, Mexico, Belize and Guatamala. He's climbed a volcano and camped overnight near the crater.

He has swum in beautiful lakes

and attended Spanish school in Guatamala whilst staying with a local family. Of course he has done so much more too.

I could quite fancy escaping from everything going on here and spending an evening or two by that lake but then I really wouldn't finish anything.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

First Class

This week I attended a very special celebration, the graduation of my youngest son from the Academy of Contemporary Music in Guildford.

Those of you who have been long time readers of my blog will know Jacob has not always had the easiest ride through his young life. He faces daily struggles with anxiety and depression as well as coping with type 1 diabetes. I have written about him before and you can read about his struggles herehere and here. But despite it all he has just graduated with a first class honours degree in Professional Sound Production... what better way to show those people who wanted to write off this young man when he was just eight years old, the ones who told me he would never access mainstream education. They were wrong... mainstream education with its one size fits all approach wasn't ready for this intellegent, talented, caring, funny, articulate young man and I couldn't be more proud of him.

You now need to go out there into the world Jacob and keep proving them wrong. Believe in yourself, believe in your talents and follow your dreams. It won't always be easy and you will no doubt stumble and fall along the way, it will be big and scary at times but you can do whatever you want.
You are amazing!

Monday, 13 November 2017

A Ripping Yarn

On Friday we became tourists for the day and ventured into London for a evening walking tour... but more of that later. Deciding to make the most of the fact that we had a free day and the weather was fine we headed into town at lunchtime and made our way to the National Portrait Gallery to see the exhibition of Cezanne Portraits which runs until 11th February.

For the first time since turning sixty I dicovered I qualified for a concession ticket which only meant a £2 saving but it still pleased me more than it probably should have. There have to be some benefits to turning sixty after all!

The exhibition didn't disappoint and it was wonderful to see so many fabulous portraits, some familiar and some never seen before.
Boy in a Red Waistcoat 

These are just a couple of my favourites... I just love the use of colour and the brushstrokes and as ever it made me want to take up my paintbrushes, which of course I haven't done since my last painting class almost a month ago!

Madame Cezanne in a Red Armchair

Still with a couple of hours to spare we then headed in the direction of Spittlefields and although we hadn't booked we took a chance and went to Ottolenghi. We were in luck and they fitted us in for an early dinner. As ever the service was friendly and the food was amazing. I rarely eat dessert when I'm out as so often I find it disappointing... cloying, synthetic and over sweet. But not at Ottolenghi! Stewart had a passionfruit cheesecake with a spiced pineapple topping which was delicious and I had a less photogenic (hence no photo!) chocolate rum fondant cake which was absolutely sublime. The best dessert ever!

Feeling fully replete we then headed to Aldgate for the start of our tour... and the start of my ripping yarn! Family members have taken on board that we don't really need more "stuff" and also in the spirit of my sixty x sixty project they have been buying us "experiences" rather than things for birthdays etc. One of these was a "Gangster" tour of London, which Stewart's son had bought us because of my Dad's East End gangster connections. Perhaps I should explain... my Dad (in the dark suit) was the youngest of five boys with one little sister. There was talk in the family of one of my uncles hanging out with certain gangs in the East End back in the 1950s but despite looking like they are posing for a mafia mob wedding, my Dad's only real connection with gangsters was that he was in the same regiment and in the army doing his national service at the same time the Kray twins. He certainly had stories to tell about them but no connections!

Neither of us really fancied the Gangster tour of London lead by "Nick the Greek", an actor neither of us had heard of, as it mostly sounded like a film promotional tour for said Nick. Instead we swapped it for a Jack the Ripper tour of Whitechapel and a Shakespeare tour of the city (to be taken next year).

I guess in my head I imagined walking through deserted dark and foggy cobbled Alleys but of course London isn't like that anymore... it is all slick modern office buildings and streets full of after work revellers. Standing in a modern square in front of a high rise building listening to Friday night sirens and being told this was the spot where victim no. 2 was found wasn't quite so atmospheric as I'd hoped. But nonetheless, our guide Paul was very knowledgeable and entertaining and walked us through what was in the 1880s a very poor run down area of London.

He had plenty of gruesome photos to illustrate his stories and we stood outside some old pubs where the victims had been drinking on the evenings they were killed. And of course we were treated to Paul's theory as to the identy of Jack the Ripper... but I can't disclose that of course! All in all it was an entertaining and fun way to spend a couple of hours on a Friday night.

Now if you'll excuse me I'm off to get my senior railcard before my next trip into London!

Friday, 10 November 2017

A Great Escape

Alas my blog has been neglected again but I have an excuse because I have been away. I escaped for a weekend! Back in February, Fiona, the sister of my friend Alison, hatched a plan for Alison's 50th birthday... for sixteen of Alison's friends to go away together for a weekend. For four months (until the actual birthday) we plotted and planned and kept it a secret from Alison. And then since June we have plotted and planned with Alison. Sixteen women all in planning mode... I'll say no more! But it all worked brilliantly and on Friday afternoon/evening we all rocked up to this fabulous farmhouse half way between Stratford upon Avon and Henley in Arden.

The views across rolling countryside were beautiful.

The planning mostly focused on food and drink and for our first evening together we had an amazing spread to which everyone contributed. Somehow it all came together and we feasted and drank, chatted and laughed as we all got to know each other. And as if by magic it all got cleared up and put away... never underestimate the organisational capability of a group of women!

There was of course a belated birthday cake made by Fiona... although there was so much food we didn't actually get to eat it until after we got home, but it was worth the wait.

On Saturday we ventured into Stratford where we split into teams and took part in a Trivia Trail. It was great fun and took us on a whirlwind tourist tour of Shakespeare's Stratford where we learned lots of interesting facts about Shakespeare and his family. This is my team all set to go. We ended up coming second but as there were only three teams that wasn't quite so impressive as it sounds.

There was also time to browse the shops where spotting tastless tourist tat seemed to be a thing... the Shakespeare rubber duck probably got the prize for that.

Saturday evening meant more food and drink together and we had caterers bring in a fabulous three course meal, which included all the setting up and clearing away. Such a treat!

After that you would think we couldn't eat another thing but here we all are queuing patiently for our cooked breakfast on Sunday morning. All that fresh air and laughter burns a lot of calories you know!

Some of our party had to leave on Sunday due to work commitments etc but the rest of us drove to Henley in Arden where we took advantage of the fine weather to do a five mile walk... followed by more cake and hot chocolate of course!

The walk along the canal was particularly exciting for me as I spotted my first ever Kingfisher. Well to be absolutely honest I spotted a flash of bright blue skimming across the surface of the water but the others assured me it was a Kingfisher. As it was a first for me I'm wondering if that counts as a sixty by sixty. (I'm getting desperate now!)

Back at the farmhouse a few of us braved the hot tub fortified by gin and tonics... do not be fooled, the air temperature was about 4 deg C by now! Thinking about it, that is another first for me... I'm really clocking up those sixty by sixties now!

Later that evening cosy in our pyjamas and slippers, we had a wonderful supper of the leftover food. (Why do leftovers taste so good!) Then being as it was bonfire night we watched a neighbour's fireworks display and then had our own sparklers in the garden. There may have been some gin fuelled singing (this of all things!) and dancing in the garden in pyjamas with our sparklers but I won't name any names!

It was a fantastic weekend with so many wonderful memories, spent with friends both old and new. I can't remember when I laughed (or ate) so much. Thank you all xx

(Thank you too for all the photos I've pinched to write this post!)

Wednesday, 1 November 2017


Where shall I start today?
I have ideas for posts about cake (of course), about rag rugs, social media, family... I could go on. But the chance of actually getting around to all of them as individual posts is pretty remote so I bring you a jumble of my past week instead. Shall we start with cake?

I dithered and dallied with the technical bake from the Bake Off semi final... could I really be bothered with all those ingredients, all those different steps, all that time? But in the end I caved in and made Les Miserables. They were a complete faff from start to end. So many pans, so much mess and I still can't make a proper Swiss buttercream, I didn't temper my chocolate and I certainly wasn't going to cut raspberries in half. Why would you? I guess they looked okayish, although more like sandwiches than cake, but I thought they were overly sweet and sickly and most of them ended up being binned... the ones that Stewart didn't manage to eat that is.

Last night I went to watch the final of the Bake Off with other members of the Cambridge Clandestine Cake Club at a rather nice establishment called the Grain and Hop Store. We had to bring along our signature bake so I brought along a gluten free chocolate and almond cake. It wasn't this particular one as it was too dark to photograph the one I made, but it was pretty much like this minus the strawberries. All the cake that was brought along was delicious... not a Miserable in sight! I may have had several portions of cake for my dinner! I managed not to hear the Bake Off winner in advance, as leaked by Prue Leith on Twitter yesterday, but pretty much guessed it would be Sophie. Now I'm dithering about whether to apply for next year?

I have also been busy trying to get one of my Textile Art newsletters out. Having dithered for ages about whether to send one, I had one all ready to go last Friday and then my laptop died. I had wanted to promote my rag rug wreath course that I'll be teaching at Missenden in a couple of weeks. But the newsletter didn't go and the course was cancelled... that was until I posted a photo of a second wreath in a different colourway on social media and got several enquiries about the course... it seems that blue and silver was a popular choice!  And so it is now back on again because the lovely people at Missenden School of Creative Arts have decided to take a gamble and run the course even if we don't get enough people. Fingers crossed that we do to make the gamble pay off!


I always dither when I send out newsletters mostly because without fail within an hour or so of sending it I get at least half a dozen people unsubscribe. It is swings and roundabouts because I pick up at least as many new subscribers over the weeks between sending them out but it still fills me with doubts... have I said something wrong, am I boring, do people just hate my work? In my heart I know it is nonsense because I can't please everyone all of the time but it doesn't stop me wanting to! Anyway my laptop was fixed and the newsletter went out, I have had seven people unsubsrcibe (only one of whom I actual know... that bugs me!) but I've also had interest in a course, two orders of my DVD (which is on sale at only £5 + pp) and an absolutely lovely email from a lady called Barbara who reads this blog... Hello Barbara! So it was definitely worth sending it and should you want to receive the occasional newsletter from me too, you can subscribe via the button on the sidebar... as long as you promise not to unsubscribe straight away!