Thursday, 19 April 2018

Since Last Week...

My weekend away teaching went well and it was good to be back at Missenden Abbey again. I miss being there on a regular basis but the new School of Creative Arts seems to be going well and there were lots of people and a good variety of classes on offer.

I arrived on Saturday morning to beautiful sunshine and it was actually warm enough to sit outside with a cuppa before teaching began. Not a bad place to be going to work!

I had seven very enthusiastic ladies in my class who all worked hard to translate their landscape inspirations into textured textile pieces. Despite a wide range of experience from beginner up, they all produced a picture of which to be proud. Most are not quite finished but still looking good, every single one.

Back home I've struggled with headaches, blurry vision and queasiness all week, something I get about three or four times a year, usually lasting several days at a time. Never bad enough to incapacitate me (although I had to lie down this morning for a while) but enough to make me feel less than 100%. I think they are probably a migraine and the sensible thing would be to stay away from the screen and sewing machine etc and rest, but then sensible was never my strong point - too much to do, too little time.

The cupboard clearing has been limited to the airing cupboard, prompted by our shower pump (housed in the airing cupboard) packing up. As it is the original pump we assumed it had died but it turned out to be a blown fuse. At least the bed linens and towels were sorted out. I won't embarrass myself by telling you how many duvet sets are going to the charity shop, but lets just say it's been a long time since anyone had Mickey Mouse bed linen in this house!

Finally this week winter seems to have left us and we have by-passed spring and launched straight  into summer. It won't last I'm sure, but it was a good excuse to do some much needed work in the garden yesterday, plus it was a break from the sewing machine and screens. My head felt slightly better as a result although I walked over to book club last night and it although it was a fun evening, there was so much noise and laughter, my head was pounding again by the time I walked the mile home. Our book was The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, a fictional diary of an 83 year old in a care home, which was met with mixed reviews. Some people found it really sad and depressing whilst others thought it was hilarious. I found it a mix of the two but enjoyed it nevertheless. The idea of having an "Old but Not Dead" club for a select group of the care home residents really appealed to me... old people going out having fun and eating and drinking. My sort of club!

I had one portrait left to do for my 'critical mass', each one stitched on a normal domestic sewing machine I might add. I don't have an embroidery machine! I had hoped I might get to twenty five but sixteen will have to do. I managed to finish it yesterday morning but it was a struggle with my funny eyes and flashing lights. I wasn't sure it was as good as some of the others as a result but the family recognised Johnny Cash... can you spot him?

And my exciting news is that next week these will all be on display at Art Van Go in Knebworth - probably the closest I'll ever get to having a solo exhibition. I might sneak that one in as a sixty by sixty! I won't bore you with sixteen individual photographs but here they all are...

They are all fairly random choices based on their distinctive characteristics if I'm honest. The whole point is that they are recognisable. The first one came about because I was researching tattoos for something else entirely. I found a picture of a Amy Winehouse tattoo complete with roses which fitted the bill, so stitched that. But when it was complete I abandoned my original idea and mounted the embroidery in a hoop instead, which I quite liked.

Then David Bowie died and as a long time fan I decided to stitch him, closely followed by Prince. At this point Stewart named them my 'Dead Singers' so Freddie Mercury followed but was never finished. The roses stuck as a sort of signature.

They were then abandoned for eighteen months but at the beginning of this year in an effort to finish things off I got Freddie finished and just carried on making them. I'm not superstitious but it was with a bit of trepidation that I stitched my first couple of portraits of people still living. As far as I know they are still well! Have you got a favourite... I'd love to know?

So that's my week since last time really. Still no more waistcoats done but they are on the list for next week. I would like to be out in the garden again today but I need to accompany my Mum to hospital this afternoon. This evening we are off to see Westwood at our local Picture Palace and then tomorrow morning I am off to Coventry for another weekend of teaching. I'm hoping the head feels better by then.
I hope you've had a good week!

Thursday, 12 April 2018

So Much Stuff, So Little TIme

For some years now we have known that we should downsize and find a new home with fewer rooms and a smaller garden. But whenever we start to think about it seriously we can't quite manage to do anything about it. We are lucky to have a beautiful house with lots of space, I have the perfect kitchen, a dedicated studio and the garden is spacious, backing onto open fields. I have lived here for twenty eight years, my children all grew up here and so there feels like a lot of emotional investment has gone into this house. It is the longest I have lived anywhere - almost half my life. Plus we love the village and village life and have many friends here, so we would be loathed to move away from the area. But the time has finally come when we really do need to make the move and so very slowly we are starting to make lists of things we need to do, whilst keeping an eye on any suitable properties that might be coming on the market in our area.

First on the list is a serious declutter. There is twenty eight years worth of stuff in my cupboards! Bit by bit I am going through boxes and wardrobes, clearing shelves and cupboards, wondering why I've hung on to so much. There have been numerous trips to the charity shop and the local dump. Of course this has also turned up half finished projects and things put aside for when I get the time to do something about them. One of those things I have been meaning to do for ages was to make seat covers for a pair of cheap Ikea stools. And in clearing out I also found the perfect bag of left over yarn with which to do it.

And so of course, instead of doing all the things I really should be doing,  I found a a mandala pattern by Annemarie Huijser featured in Mollie Makes  (because I had been sorting and throwing out old magazines) and I set to work. The pattern didn't make a large enough circle so I improvised until it was the right size.

I admit there was some unravelling and rejigging to make it fit properly but I'm happy with the result.

Of course, this is only one stool covered and there isn't enough yarn to make a second matching cover but I'm ignoring that and just enjoying my one pretty stool!

Which is just as well as I don't need the distraction of another crochet project when there really is still much to be done in the clearing of this house and I should also be getting on making wedding waistcoats. Although before the wedding there is going to be a mini exhibition of my portraits in a week or so (all will be revealed soon) so I'm also madly stitching these in an effort to have a critical mass to put on show.

So far I have done fourteen little free machined portraits mounted into 5" hoops.

They are quite addictive and as I work each one, I think of another I could do.

But as well as all that, I'm also away teaching for the next two weekends so there are bags to be packed and materials to be prepared.

No time at all for writing blogposts really!

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Salty, Sweet & Herby

I drafted this post about a year ago - well I uploaded photos, but for one reason or another that was as far as I got and it sat there unfinished. Then the wild garlic season passed and it no longer seemed relevant, so I forgot all about it. But as the wild garlic season is once again upon us and as it is a while since I wrote about anything food related, I decided to find this abandonded draft.

I was given this bunch of wild garlic by Helen when I took a bread making class with her last year. We used wild garlic pesto in some of the fabulous Italian breads that we made and I was bemoaning the fact that we didn't seem to have any grow near us. Although Helen was not willing to divulge her secret location for her harvest she did give me a huge bunch to take home.

Back home I made it up into a large quantity of pesto - some was used to make savoury pastry appetisers, some was stirred through pasta and the rest was put into the freezer. Easy to make and so delicious. If only I could find an abundant local source, although I'm reliably informed that Waitrose will deliver which rather seems to defeat the purpose of foraging.

Easy Wild Garlic Pesto

In a food processor whizz up 100g leaves (I added some rocket to my wild garlic), 50g pine nuts, 2 garlic cloves, zest of a lemon and 200g olive oil. Stir in 50g Parmigiano Reggiano and season with salt and pepper.

The beauty of a recipe like this is that you can substitute different leaves, oil, nuts and cheese depending on what you have to hand and get fabulous but different results each time. And so much nicer than anything you can buy

Another quick but tasty snack of which we we are rather fond are Rosemary Spiced nuts. We first tasted them with pre-dinner drinks at the Cambridge Cookery School Cafe and they were so good I researched several recipes and had numerous trial runs until I came up with something similar... sweet, salty and very addictive.

Rosemary Spiced Nuts.

Mix together 1.5 Tablespoons oil or melted butter, 1 Tablespoon nigella seeds, 1 Tablespoon of honey or brown sugar, half a teaspoon of sea salt, half a teaspoon black pepper, half a teaspoon of cayenne pepper and 1 Tablespoon of chopped fresh rosemary. To this mixture add 230g of nuts (I like a mix of cashews and almonds) and stir well. Spread onto a baking sheet and roast in a pre-heated oven 170 deg C (150 fan) 325 deg F for 17-20 minutes, giving them the occasional stir. Leave to cool, stirring now and then to break them up, and store in an air tight jar... although to be honest ours never get to the storage stage.

Perfect with a gin and tonic!

And while I'm talking recipes, five or six years ago I posted a recipe for bread pudding (probably the last time I made it) and I think it must be my most viewed blog post ever. New comments are always popping up as someone else discovers it. Obviously the tag 'bread pudding' must get put into search engines on a regular basis... or something like that, not that I claim to understand!

Sunday, 1 April 2018

A Good Friday

After our Day That Almost Was, we managed to reschedule the two experiences that never happened and on Friday we headed off to London once again in search of thrills and excitement! First stop was Blackfriars station for the start of a Shakespeare in the City tour, this time with plenty of time to spare... enough spare time to sneak in a little coffee and pastry too as it happens!

We were the only two people booked on the tour, but our initial reservations that it could be a bit awkward were soon dispelled once our knowledgeable guide Declan took us off on our own personal guided walk around the City streets. We visited little known alleys and squares, hidden churches and the sites of two of Shakespeare's houses as well as the Blackfriars Theatre, discovering more about the man and his writing. Declan, a former actor, also treated us to excerpts from some of Shakespeare's speeches which brought the tour alive. Despite the increasingly persistent rain the time passed quickly as were kept entertained and informed.  I can appreciate that these type of tours are probably aimed at foreign tourists but as a Londoner I found it a fascinating way to learn more about my home city and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it.

By the end of the tour we were cold, damp and ready for lunch, so on Declan's recommendation we headed back to The Blackfriar pub, a small, wedge shaped Art Nouveau building that stands on the site of a Dominican friary. Outside the building is adorned with mosaics and metalwork signs.

We ventured in from the almost deserted streets to find the pub packed full with people, no surprise really considering the fabulous atmosphere, friendly service and amazing decor of mosaic, sculpture and light hearted reliefs designed by several artists including  Henry Poole, a committed member of the Arts and Crafts movement.

And what's more the lunch was to be recommended too!

Eventually we had to leave the warm convivial atmosphere and venture back out into London's rain soaked streets, where not only was the rain getting heavier but the wind was picking up too! Next stop was Embankment pier... for a high speed Thames RIB experience.

When we were last booked on this, on a clear bright afternoon, it was cancelled the previous day as there were only two of us booked. On Friday, however, in the most appalling weather conditions the tour went ahead with... you've guessed it, only two of us booked. But we are hardy souls so duly got kitted up in the heavy duty waterproofs that were provided.

And then it was all aboard our RIB. Should I have been worried about the name of the boat?

The trip started sedately enough with a tour of riverside sights as we headed first of all up past Parliament and then downstream but once we were beyond Tower Bridge, the engine was revved up and we were treated to a thrilling high speed ride around the docklands area to the accompaniment of Don't Stop Me Now... travelling at the speed of light! (Might be a slight exaggeration!)

We got absolutely soaked, shaken up and rattled about but it was brilliant fun and I loved it!

Aterwards, in search of some warmth we quickly got out of the rain and spent an hour or so wandering around the National Portrait Gallery enjoying the portraits while we dried off before heading home. So our day that never happened, did happen after all and I've ticked off another couple of sixty by sixty experiences, although with still ten more to go before July I think I'm running out of time. All suggestions for cheap new experiences are most welcome!

The rest of the weekend so far has been low key and quiet but with regular top ups of chocolate.
I hope your Easter weekend has been good too.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Working Away

Working away and travelling for work is not always as exciting and glamorous as it might sound but I quite enjoy going off to different places to teach, especially when I get a chance to explore and learn more about my surroundings. It would have been easy to have written off my recent trip around the M25, knowing I was staying in a Premier Inn located literally yards away from the M20 near Maidstone.

But after depositing my bags on Thusday evening, I went out for a wander in the opposite direction to the motorway and strolled along the River Medway. It was a beautiful evening and surprisingly peaceful with just boats, walkers and wildlife.

I made an unexpected discovery and spied this castle on the opposite bank

Back at the hotel I was spotted by one of the ladies on my course who just happened to recognise me (the trappings of fame you know!) who asked if I wanted to join her and her sister for dinner and so I spent a very enjoyable evening in their company.

Up early the next day we headed a few miles up the road to Aylesford Priory, a beautiful and fascinating venue, still a working Carmelite priory and shrine, where our two day workshop was being held. The room was well lit and cosy, the lunches were good, there was time for a wander around the grounds and a visit to the pottery. The twelve ladies on my course worked hard on their textured landscapes producing these wonderful pieces of work. They are all yet to be finished off but they will have some lovely results when they are done.

And as usual when I teach a workshop, I worked on my own picture alongside those in class so I could demonstrate each technique as we progressed and I finished up with a rather unseasonal autumn landscape.

So although I've been away working it was in many ways not like work at all and the break from the routine at home was welcome. A change is as good as a rest as they say. Although it was still good to be back home with a glass of wine by the fire on Saturday evening!

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Since Last Time...

  • Three friends and I co-hosted a charity supper for over forty people on St. Patrick's Day . A lovely village event where we provided a three course supper for a nominal amount to cover costs and then people gave donations. We were raising money for CALM - a small charity that specifical works with young men to help prevent suicide, which happens to be the biggest killer of men under 45. It's a cause that feels close to home at the moment so I was delighted that we raised over £500. I made paper flowers to decorate the tables!

  • I dressed up for the event... it would have been rude not to really! Anyone who knows me also knows I don't need much excuse to dress up... I've done it a previous incarnations of these charity suppers... There was the Scandi supper and the recent 1960s event too!
  • I made several loaves of soda bread which we served with soup. There was a beef and Guinness stew which was served with colcannon and then we finished off with chocolate Guinness cake. I think I may have over catered... we're still eating the cake!
  • There has been more dress making. I volunteered to make waistcoats for the groom and his six groomsmen (two of whom are actually women) for son no. 2's wedding. I have finished one... just six more to go! It's okay I have until July!
  • I made cakes for my machine embroidery class as it was the last class this term. Of course there were several left over which means we are now eating left over cupcakes as well as Guinness cake.
  • Today I've been trying on dresses for the forthcoming weddings (all three of them) but I was horrified by my pale and lumpy reflection in the changing room mirrors and thought that I looked awful in everything I tried on. Please don't mention all the cake I've eaten this week, I need you to be kind to me. It probably didn't help that I couldn't be bothered to take my Doc Marten style boots off and had my trousers round my ankles. Add to that mental picture if you will as the first dress I put on made my now very scruffy hair (having missed my hair cut due to the snow two weeks ago) go static and stick to my head and stick up in equal measures. I probably could have done with putting on some make up and shaving my legs too... but minor details. Needless to say I have come home without a dress although Jacob did remind me I have a very fetching "sheep" onesie that would cover me up.
  • This afternoon I have been packing my bags for a couple of days away, teaching the ladies of Maidstone how to make little textured landscapes on Friday and Saturday. I might have also been drinking tea and eating cake in an attempt to cheer myself up after the abortive dress purchasing mission this morning. Like that's going to help!

Whatever your plans are for this weekend... I hope it's a good one!

Monday, 12 March 2018

A New Coat

Before I tell you about my new dressing gown coat, I must thank everyone who left a message of support either in the comments or via email etc. after my last post. Knowing there are so many people thinking of us and giving words of support really does make a difference. I don't really like to focus on the rubbish stuff on my blog but once in a while it doesn't hurt to remember life isn't always a bundle of fun and we all have difficult times to bear now and then. But today this little online space will go back to being a place of creative escapism. Do you remember the expensive wool fabric that I bought way back in October? Bought entirely on a whim with the idea I would make a coat.

I loved that fabric so much I couldn't bear to to cut into it (translated as I spent so much on that fabric I didn't dare cut into it)

It is a very easy and simple pattern so I decided to adapt it ever so slightly to give it a little more interest and I added some sleeve turn ups and pocket flaps... nothing too adventerous. But still I didn't cut into the fabric!

But eventually I was brave and cut it out... ignoring the advice of more experienced dressmakers that I should consider a toile. But I have made Sew Me Something patterns before and I know they fit me well... so I threw caution to the wind!

It stitched up in no time at all as there was no need to finish off the seams and I even added some double rows of topstitching as well as some home made Yorkshire buttons on the pockets

All finished, I tried it on and it fitted well, the shoulders were in the right place, the sleeves were the right length but somehow it felt wrong. More like a dressing gown than a coat! And so it hung on the outside of my wardrobe door for two months reminding me I had made a ridiculously expensive dressing gown.

Until Saturday, when I had an unexpected trip to Covent Garden to teach a rag rug class and I decided to throw caution to the wind and wear my dressing gown to London. And amazingly no one stared at me on the train as though I was rather odd (I didn't wear my slippers and nightie... just saying) and in the end I decided I quite like my new coat

I might even wear it again!