Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep!

So would you like to make your own little hanging Easter birds? Then read on...

You will need a small square of felt (any colour), at least 6" (15 cm) square, some bondaweb, scraps of patterned fabrics in the colours you want your bird, some decorative thicker threads to make cords, a small scrap of yellow or orange felt, a small handful of toy stuffing and some beads for finishing off.

Cut the bondaweb to the same size as your piece of felt and iron it to the felt... Make sure the rough side of the bondaweb is facing down onto the felt or you will end up with a bit of a mess on your iron!

Peel away the paper backing...

Now cut your fabric scraps into different size squares and rectangles between 1" and 2" square, and begin to arrange them over the bondaweb side of the felt. Make sure the fabrics overlap slightly so that none of the felt is showing and don't worry about rough edges.

When you are happy with the arrangement, iron them in place to stick to them onto the felt.

Now it's time to stitch! Thread your sewing machine with a toning thread and start to stitch gently meandering rows of automatic patterns. If your machine doesn't have in built patterns, a zigzag stitch will work just fine. Keep the stitching going in one direction only... If it goes in all directions all over the surface it tends to look a bit of dog's dinner combined with all the patterned fabrics.

Keep going until the entire surface is covered with stitching.

Then change your thread colour and go over it all again, making sure any loose edges are stitched well down. And when you've done that, add another layer of stitch in a glittery or metallic thread to add a bit of sparkle to the surface. If you find it tricky to stitch with metallic threads try using a larger needle (size 100) and loosen the top tension on your machine slightly.

Now mark a 4" (10cm) circle on the back of your felt (I draw around a large mug)... Depending on the size of your felt you might fit in more than one circle and of course you can make different size birds by marking different size circles, but I find 4" is a good size.

Cut out your circle... Or circles...

Set your machine to a close zigzag (satin stitch) and zigzag around the circle, neatening the edges.
You could just stop now and have a fancy coaster or two... but if you are making birds...

Now you need to make the legs. You could use a ready made cord, or plait or twist together some pretty threads but I like to make a machine wrapped cord. Start with three or four pretty threads... About 18" (45cm) lengths of each.

Set the machine for free machine embroidery... Lower the feed dogs and put the embroidery foot on the machine. Choose the zigzag setting and holding your threads taut (this is important to stop the threads disappearing down the race) zigzag over the threads along their entire length.

Cut a small triangle from the scrap of yellow felt for the beak. I usually use a double piece and here I've stitched two bits together. Cut a 9" (20 cm) length of cord and fold it in half for the legs. And now you are ready to assemble your bird...

Fold your circle of fabric in half, tuck the beak under one end and start to stitch the two halves together, trapping the beak as you stitch. When you get half way round tuck the legs in place and stitch them into the seam too. I do this on the machine but you could oversew by hand. 

Stop when you get almost all the way round and put a small amount of stuffing inside the bird before finishing to stitch the two halves together.

Finish off your bird by stitching on a couple of beady eyes, add some larger beads or buttons onto the ends of the legs and stitch on another length of cord on it's back to hang the bird up with. I like to add a couple of bells too. I like to keep them quite simple but you could customise your birds with tail feathers, wings and all manner of decorations. 
Have fun! And do share your results... I'd love to see them!

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Rest and Relaxation

So many of you in recent comments have wished me time for a bit of rest and relaxation over the past few weeks... You really are a very kind and concerned group of readers. But in truth, I find it quite hard to do rest. As I finish a busy period of teaching, I fill my time with other things, but maybe that is a form of rest. There has been time to do gardening, more time for reading and best of all for me, lots of time for cooking too... All of which I find relaxing. So when I say I don't do rest, I guess I mean I don't do sitting around doing nothing!

This weekend has been a particular relaxing weekend, despite having put in many hours working in the kitchen. It all started with friends suggesting we went to see The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel... And me coming up with the idea of a curry evening to follow.

We went to see the film on Saturday afternoon... How decadent was that... Cinema in the middle of the day! That's pretty relaxing in my book! It was lovely, colourful and full of fun and laugh out loud moments. A feel good movie with the added benefit of Richard Gere! I'm now going to make a confession... If I had to choose a one all time favourite film of all the wonderful films I've seen it would be An Officer and a Gentleman. I know... It is sentimental tosh... But sentimental tosh with Richard Gere in that uniform on a motorbike. I just love it... So now you know my guilty secret! 

Anyway... I digress! After the film it was back to our house for the curry evening. Well, more of an Indian inspired menu than actual curries. I made deep fried spicy fish to start. There was then a version of sag aloo with kale rather than spinach...

Tandoori style chicken, spicy lamb kebabs, herb coated paneer all with various chutneys and raita... But I was far too busy to remember to take photos! I made naan bread too...

But the highlight of the evening for me was dessert. Over the week I experimented with ice cream flavours and came up with three Indian inspired ice creams.... An orange and cardamom gelato, a mango and coconut ice and a pistachio kulfi.

And today has been another relaxing day... A morning spent cooking resulting in a family lunch that involved cake... Followed by a very blustery walk!

So that's my weekend of rest and relaxation... Friends and family, a good film, long walks and lots of good food to share that has given me hours of pleasure in the kitchen. And what's more, there are plenty of leftovers for supper followed by Poldark this evening... can't be bad! What is your perfect way to rest and relax?
After all that excitment I nearly forgot... After a bit of random selecting of names, Christina has won one of my little birds. I'm not making any promises, but if I get time I'll do a tutorial so you can all make one should you choose.

Friday, 27 March 2015

A Fabulous Five on Friday

This week I thought I would share five finished projects from my year two City and Guilds students, with whom I was working last weekend. They are nearly at the end of their course and have all worked so hard to produce some amazing items.

1. Ann made this beautiful lace bag using a set of vintage handles that she picked up at a bring and buy sale. The body of the bag combines bought lace combined with free machine embroidery.

2. Scilla spent hours designing and constructing this wonderful tea light lantern which has been stitched onto a dissolvable fabric in order to construct the lace like panels. When she started the course, one of Scilla's ambitions was to be able to design her own projects and she has achieved this with considerable skill and flourish.

3. Tracey devised her own method of stitching onto tin foil to create the amazing panels on her bag. The design is based on tree bark and she has called it "No more tears" in memory of her Mum.

4. Each student has to complete one project using the automatic patterns on their machines and Jane has constructed this fabulous elegant cushion from woven strips of silk. It takes a lot of skill to make something look so simple and elegant as this.

5. Last but not least, Anne made this fun and quirky fish box with three separate compartments, which also uses the automatic patterns on her machine.

I love to see how each student progresses through the course and develops their own individual style. Fantastic work ladies!

Joining in with Amy for Five on Friday.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Spring has sprung!

Having spent two back to back weekends away teaching I find it always takes a few days to get back to normal... Whatever normal may be! I'd still not finished unpacking all my teaching stuff from the weekend before I was packing another bag ready for class on Tuesday. As it was the last class this term there were some treats too...

It has become something of a tradition that I bring cake at the end of term, so these little Easter cupcakes seemed to fit nicely with our end of term project... Little quirky spring birds.

These were some of the birds finished by my students yesterday. 
Today I've still not unpacked those bags but managed to spend a few hours pottering in the garden doing some much needed tidying up out there instead.  Much nicer tidying in the garden than in the house! And despite the threat of a cold wet weekend to come there is a feeling of spring in the air.

I think the little birds look quite at home in amongst the spring blossom!

As I've ended up making a few of these I thought I could give one away. Leave me a comment by Sunday and one of these little chaps could be flying your way in time for Easter.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Five on Friday...

From my kitchen over the past couple of weeks there have been....

1. Chocolate coffee fudge cake bites
From the Comic Relief Bake Off book. A bit like brownies but not quite as good according to my team of tasters. Not that they lasted very long!
2. Florentines
Taken as a gift to a friend. Recipe was from Nigella Lawson's Demestic Goddess book.

3. Mixed seed loaf
Just to show it is not all cake in this house a mixed seed loaf, that has become the only bread I bake lately. It has a tablespoon of honey in it which gives a subtle sweetness. But having watched the BBC programme last night about sugar, which seems to be the latest evil in our diets, I'm thinking I ought to start monitoring our sugar consumption!
4. Cabbage and Rice salad
A rather fabulous winter salad made with cabbage, walnuts, dried cranberries and red camargue rice with a nutty tahini dressing. See... I can do healthy! The recipe was in April's Good Food magazine.
5. Flapjacks
And because I was feeling so virtuous after all that salad... Flapjacks. I'm constantly on the quest for a perfect flapjack and will tweak and play around with recipes ad infinitum. These were pretty good but you've got to keep trying haven't you? But all that sugar again...

Linking up with Amy for Five on Friday.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Knitting Mitts

Thank you so much for the kind words and messages about the wall hanging left in the comments on my last post. I have tried to say thank you to as many of you as possible, but some of you are no-reply bloggers and I still can't get my head around replying in the comment box... So THANK YOU!. It has made me realise that although it is not my usual style, I am starting to appreciate the quilt. And I hope by the time I attend the launch part next month I will at least, have come to like it a little bit! That is if I can attend the party... They are having to change the date because it clashes with a day I'm teaching.

I would like to tell you that since its delivery I have done all sorts of lovely leisurely things but no. I'm teaching again this coming weekend and two consecutive weekends away with another teaching day in between is just a recipe for packing and unpacking and putting stuff away... And I haven't even put everything away since last weekend yet! So with absolutely nothing to say for myself, rather than go another week and a bit without blogging, I'll just show you some knitting I've finished over the past couple of weeks.

Yes, I know, just as we are coming into spring and hopefully some warmer weather, I have made three pairs of mitts. At least I'll be well prepared for next winter.

I'd been hankering after some green mitts for a while... I know... They are magenta... I'm not colour blind! It is just that the pattern I had picked... Fetching Mitts... Required Aran weight yarn and Alison of the fabulous company Yarnscape, who was at Textiles in Focus last month didn't have Aran weight in green when I was there. So I bought "Blackcurrant" instead and knitted these up in a couple of evenings. But having made these I decided it would be easy enough to adapt the pattern for the green (Sherwood) double knitting weight wool that I also happened to buy!

I didn't have to make them any wider, but added an extra row of cables to make them longer.

Then at this point, my Mum saw what I was knitting and declared she would like some mitts too. This time I bought the recommended Debbie Bliss cashmerino Aran, made them longer on the wrist and hand because Mum has got big hands... And a third pair were made!

I still have enough green yarn to make another pair but think I'm all mittened out for now!

I'm in need of a new knitting project... Or perhaps I should just finish off an old one... Or two!

Or better still, unpack some of the bags I keep tripping over when I go into my studio!

Thursday, 12 March 2015


Well hello... Yet again I've been gone a while being busy with other things but it has been a good week. The sun has shone, I've dried washing outside, planted up some pots with primroses, been for walks... But best of all I have finished my big commission which feels like it has been hanging over me for weeks... Literally... it is a very large wall hanging!

Back at the end of November, I met with some of the residents of Edward House, a residential home in Cambridge. The ladies, whose ages ranged from 87 to 101 chatted to me about their memories and my brief was to convert them into a wall hanging. It was very exciting!

I knew I wanted it to be a type of quilt with a lot of text... I was inspired by Tracey Emin's blankets.... But without the profanities! I decided to use old table cloths as my background and started with a memory from Bernice, who at 101 remembered her Dad giving her 2d to clean his boots when she was a girl.

Several of the women remembered having to wear Liberty bodices... Some with suspenders attached to hold up their woollen stockings.

We spoke about playground games, shopping, washing, rationing.... So much that it was a problem knowing what to include and what to leave out.
But it has taken so much longer than I anticipated and over the past couple of months I've come to really dislike it. I'm not sure why really.. it's not my usual colour palette nor really my style. Also because it is mostly linen it looks awfully creased and crumpled... although it's not nearly as bad as it looks in the photos! Everytime I thought it might be nice to spend some time in the garden or read a magazine or something similar, I've had to stop and think no, better spend another hour or so on the quilt. It has taken hours and hours, so instead of feeling like a pleasure it has become a chore. 

I kept thinking that if I had the time and money I would have liked to have started all over again... although I'm not sure what I would have done instead!

But on Tuesday I finally finished it and this afternoon with anticipation and a certain amount of anxiety and dread, I delivered it to Edward House... I was convinced they wouldn't like it either.

But the staff and ladies absolutely loved it... they loved the colours and the details and I got a spontaneous round of applause! I still don't like it but it was huge relief to hear their excitement. Especially hearing the ladies as they were reading out parts that they remembered. And Bernice was especially excited to see it today as it was her 102nd birthday!

And it is also a huge relief to have it out of my house allowing me to get on with some other things

Although not until after this weekend... I'm off teaching at Missenden Abbey again tomorrow. Bad planning to be teaching over the weekend on Mother's Day but never mind. Hope you have a lovely weekend... And if you are a Mum, hope you get thoroughly spoiled.