Monday, 15 October 2018

I'm Fine - Here and Now in October!

We were out on Saturday night to another fabulous village event - a fund raiser for the local branch of the NSPCC where my friend Sarah was performing with her stage partner Ros as the totally brilliant Pulsatillas. On arrival Sarah greeted me and asked how I was. "I'm fine" was my reply and Sarah laughed... "Really? We've got a song about that tonight". And it's true isn't it. How often do we say we are fine when actually we are struggling with something or another. To be honest it has been a long time since I've been absolutely fine. Some of the things that are going on I have written about here over the year, other things not and if you ask me I'll say I'm fine. Because that is what we do. But I heard something else on Saturday. One of the customers in the cafe left us with a little quotation:
"Always be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle" attributed to Plato
And I thought that is true too... so be kind because behind the words "I'm fine" there might be all sorts of struggles going on.

Which is by way of an introduction to a post about finding some mindfulness and meditation in our day to day life which came about from reading a lovely blog called Dolly Henry from where I found a  "Here and Now" link up from Say! Little Hen. I'm not sure I'll manage to join in every month but it seemed a good way to stop and reflect on what is good now and then!

Loving// this new little book from Beth Kempton. Last year everything was about Hygge but I suspect it won't be long before we are all talking about Wabi Sabi, a Japanese concept that is about appreciating simple beauty in the world around us, appreciating the passage of time and imperfection as well appreciating the here and now. Or at least that is my interpretation which is rather apt  for this post. I'm certainly appreciating the feel of this beautiful little book in my hand.

Eating// far too many of these little raspberry Friands. Similar to a French Financier, they are a little cake popular in Australia and New Zealand made from almonds, egg whites, butter and icing sugar. They are easy to make and easy to eat with lovely light fruity centres and slightly crispy edges. And they are rather delicious!

Feeling// cosy indoors on a second day of continuous rain. We didn't get a weekend walk yesterday, only the usual dog walks but made the most of being indoors, catching up with jobs around the house

Making// a scarf. Having a day at home meant I was able to finish this scarf which I have been making for far too long. It was meant as a birthday present for my daughter-in-law except her birthday was in September... the beginning of September! Fortunately she is lovely and pointed out it had been far too warm for wearing a scarf yet so it would be perfect timing for when it was finished. Despite looking very complicated it is just a simple repeating pattern of decreases and increases in garter stitch but using two different colour balls of variegated yarn. You can find the free pattern here. I'm on the look out for something else to knit now that evenings are drawing in.

Thinking// of new ways to generate income from my creative work, which doesn't actually feel very mindful or "here and now" just stressful. I seem to have totally bombed with the patterns for my embroidery hoops and have only made two sales. Maybe they are too expensive... but I did a lot of price comparison beforehand... or maybe they are not what people want or like, who knows? But they haven't been a success story. Megan from Dolly Henry made the point that the pressure from trying to generate an income from creative work and constantly coming up with new ideas is actually enormous.

Dreaming// about a holiday and being able to generate enough income to go away next year... either that or hope the house finally sells! I'm not complaining - we had a glorious couple days in Elafonisos for my Son's wedding this summer but it has been three years since our last proper holiday together. It would be good just to get away for a break.
But do you know what... I'm fine!

Linking up with Sarah for October's Here and Now

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Embroidery Hoop Pictures

In my last post I mentioned that during the week when I'm not actually teaching I'm concentrating on doing other art type business related activities and in particular writing tutorials for my Etsy shop. Lately I have been working on the instructions for four seasonal embroidery hoops. I've been drawing out patterns, stitching and photographing each stage as I go. Then it's a case of putting it all together and writing step by step instructions. I do actually enjoy the process but it is rather painstakingly laborious... and I find myself getting impatient to get them finished!

This little fox was finished a couple of weeks ago but I wanted to have all four ready before putting him in the shop. But now after several weeks I have finally finished all four of my seasonal embroidery hoops. Four little applique pictures that look equally at home sitting on a shelf as they do hanging on the wall.

I've listed them as individual tutorials that come as downloadable PDFs complete with full size patterns but they are also available as a set of all four at 25% discount on the individual pattern prices.

And if stitching your own pictures isn't your thing I will also be selling the original artworks.So far only Mr Fox is listed but the others will follow in due course.

Do you have a favourite? I thought mine was the spring bunnies but I'm rather taken with Mr. Fox lately...  maybe it's due to the change in seasons. Of course, Winter would make a lovely Christmas decoration too!

You can find them all here in my Etsy shop!

Tomorrow it will be a different sort of work as I will be at the Knitting and Stitching show at Alexandra Palace sitting on the Missenden School of Creative Arts stand. Come and say hello if you are passing!

Monday, 8 October 2018


Hello... anybody out there?

My last blog post seems to have gone out into a black hole. Having written a long review of what I had been reading lately and then only receiving two comments, I came to the conclusion that either it was totally uninteresting or possibly I had offended in my opinions (it wouldn't be the first time). Then I wondered were people put off by me slipping in another little mention of my India trip (Did you see what I did there?) But no, when I checked the stats it would seem hardly anyone even read my post. So I am consoling myself  in the knowledge that you have all been away doing something fabulous all weekend that has meant no time for reading blogs... so please don't burst my bubble and tell me you just weren't interested!

Our weekends have taken on a rather nice routine lately in a concerted effort not to let all days drift into one. With both of us at home for a large amount of the time is is easy for each day to seem the same as the last and there is a temptation to carry on with work related stuff seven days a week. Monday to Friday I am trying to concentrate on work related activities around teaching and making art but for the past few weekends we have perused the guide books and have taken ourselves off for longer than usual walks, exploring different neighbourhood areas.

The dog is especially pleased with this new routine with lots of new places to sniff and explore.

Yesterday we discovered Houghton House, the ruins of a 17th century mansion that was built as a hunting lodge in 1615 for Mary, Countess of Pembroke. With loggias possibly designed by Inigo Jones, it commands impressive views over the Bedfordshire countryside.

We also walked through an ancient wood where we literally were fighting our way through overgrown brambles... until we spotted a pathway only a couple of yards to our left that had been cleared for a mountain bike race. Funnily enough the walk became much easier after that!

We have walked across meadows, around lakes and along river banks enjoying spotting the various wildlife. We nearly always manage a church or two for a wander around as well. Last week we found a palace in Buckden that had been home to former Bishops of Lincoln. Five of them were buried in the churchyard

But the work life balance isn't going to always be divided so neatly between the weekdays and weekends as I have just started a part time job in a little cafe to supplement the household income. I did five hours on Saturday, wiping tables, operating the till and serving food and coffee after which I came home and pretty much didn't move until I crept into an early bed... shocking...9.30 pm on a Saturday night! I'm hoping the exhaustion induced inertia won't last as I get used to it. I managed to go in and help out for a couple of hours again yesterday before we went out for our walk and I was fine, so maybe I was just extra tired the day before.

It is a very pretty place to work as you can see and friendly too. I was also given barista training last week and was probably a little too excited at my first attempt at latte art. Especially as I think it is all a bit of nonsense really... Who cares what it looks like as long as it tastes okay... but that's just between you and me, okay!

This might just be the limit of my barista skills... could it be another 60 x 60 maybe? Which would mean I only have to do one more new thing to get to number 60 before I begin my 100 count down!

So what did you get up to this weekend?

Thursday, 4 October 2018

A Book or Two

Although I have a long reading wish list, I'm trying to read some of the books I have around the house or those I pick up in charity shops rather than buying more new books. A few years ago I discovered the writer Douglas Kennedy with his book State of the Union. It was an easy and engaging read and I was especially intrigued by Kennedy's ability to write so well from the female perspective. I then picked up his short novel The Dead Heart which I found totally gripping. It's a fast paced, gruesome thriller, interspersed with humour, set in the Australian outback. It's a real page turner. On the back of those two books I received a pile of Douglas Kennedy books one Christmas. I think I probably read a couple of them which were not great but entertaining. So when I picked up The Woman in the Fifth I hoped it might be okay. Unfortunately I thought it was awful! Moderately entertaining to start with, it is an easy, although somewhat far fetched read, telling the story of American Harry Ricks who arrives in Paris having run away from a failed marriage and a scandal that ruined his career. With no money and nowhere to live, Harry unwittingly falls in with the city’s underclass. When he meets and falls in love with a mysterious woman it looks like his future might improve. The plot thickens and the mysteries deepen and then about 75 pages from the end it feels as though Kennedy couldn't work out how to tie up all the loose ends (Spoiler alert... but I don't care if it prevents anyone else wasting several hours reading this nonsense) so he explains everything by making the woman a ghost, without so much as a previous hint at anything supernatural, which was complete and utter nonsense. What a waste of reading time!

Fortunately I found the next book I picked up was far more entertaining. I have read Any Human Heart by William Boyd which I really enjoyed, so when I spotted  Waiting for Sunrise from the same author in the charity shop I thought it was worth picking up. And it didn't disappoint. I found the main character Lysander Rief, very similar to the hapless anti hero Logan Mountstuart of Any Human Heart, and it also has the same easy flowing style, but the story was very different charting Lysander's life from Vienna to London via the battlefields of France during wartime Europe, as he gets embroiled in a life of sex, scandal and spies!

At the same time I also picked up The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel from the same charity shop. I enjoyed the film so was looking forward to reading the book especially since the news that I could be going to India next year. The book isn't quite the same as the film - the basic premise of a retirement home for the elderly is still there and the characters names are the same but that is where the similarity ends. The actual characters and the story line is totally different, so although it is still  enjoyable I'm finding it difficult to remove myself from the mental image of the film as I read.

I thought it was worth reading though to get me in the right frame of mind for my Indian holiday with Colouricious Holidays next year, although it hasn't really conjured up the atmosphere of India I had expected. I'm looking forward to experiencing it first hand for myself instead. If you fancy joining me you can find all the information right here if you click on the link below. It would be so much fun to have blog readers join me on this trip.

Monday, 1 October 2018

Talking About Words

Well that was a longer than intended break from my blog for no reason other than I seem to run out of time each day. I've been busy this past month following the 100 day goal with The Business Bakery, trying to build up my on line shop and increase sales for my little art business. I have been developing several more on line tutorials, which I will be back to tell you about soon, so there has been plenty of writing, plenty of words but just not here.

I have also been off with my girls to give some talks recently. I have given talks to groups for several years now. Once upon a time  I wouldn't have ever dreamt I would be doing something like standing up talking about what I do in front of an audience  yet it has become one of the favourite parts of my work.

I am always convinced beforehand that no one will want to listen to me and I'll bore the pants off everyone, sending them all to sleep. Actually, given that my audience consists largely of women of a certain age, and we are mostly in darkened rooms in the early evening, invariably there is at least one person who nods off half way through which sends me into panic mode. Never mind all those who remain awake and listening... I rush through my talk fixating on the snoozing individual... thankfully no-one has ever started snoring yet... praying they don't fall off their chair... convinced I must be totally boring, yet still I love it. I love the buzz and the adrenaline rush... and if I'm honest I love that feeling of holding an audience captive, even if they are asleep!

I do sometimes have a problem with words though and can be mid sentence knowing exactly what I want to say when the correct word hovers just out of reach... and I have been known to use a completely wrong word on more than one occasion. (Frequently if I'm honest!) The same goes for common phrases or idioms too. I get them muddled up, confused or only half finished. Only the other day I was talking about our estate agents and the progress (or lack of) on our house sale (not during one of my talks I hasten to add) and I wanted to say they had taken their finger off the button... or possibly they had taken the pot off the boil. But instead what came out was they had taken their finger off the boil! Fortunately most people are too polite to laugh out loud and point out the error of my ways.

I might be a bit worried about this tendency if I hadn't done it all my life. And it's not just me as the youngest two sons also have funny ways with words. Joe would always invent words as a child (and still does). He would combine words together or completely make up new words that were often hilariously funny and usually much better, more descriptive and oddly more appropriate than the original words. Of course at the time I always thought I would remember them but I don't and now wish that I had written them down. And Jacob, being on the autistic spectrum always struggled with phrases and idioms. Try explaining "it's raining cats and dogs" to a four year old who takes everything literally. As a result he would often come up with his own off the wall made up versions. 

As well as writing tutorials and talking to embroidery or quilting groups, I have also designed and stitched some cards that I've had printed so that other people can write their own words.

Despite being able to stand up and talk about myself and my work for nearly an hour it's the self promotion part of running my business that I find the hardest, but I guess there's not a lot of point in getting cards printed if I'm not going to let people know where they can buy them... which is here since you ask!

Written words, spoken words, made up words and even the wrong words at the wrong time... I actually enjoy them all. And if you belong to a group who would like to hear me talk then please do get in touch and I'll visit you with my girls and my incorrect words.

My talk is all about stories... the stories of women's lives and the artwork that they have inspired... and words of course. How are you with words?

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

A Book Tutorial

Long time readers will know that as well as a bit of embroidery I also like to dabble with some book making. Over the summer I taught a one day class making these pretty little albums and afterwards I was asked if  I could produce an on line tutorial. I'd like to tell you I had made a wonderful video that you could follow step by step but I haven't! I have however spent hours analysing, photographing, drawing and writing the whole process out step by step to make a downloadable fully illustrated PDF that is now available to buy from my Etsy shop. I will say now that I didn't invent this book structure but I learned how to do it from a fabulous print maker and teacher called Heather Power. I don't know whether Heather invented it or whether she learned it from someone else, but it was part of a weekend bookmaking with Heather and I was never given any notes, so the tutorial is all my own work.

But before I possibly tempt you to buy yourself a copy, I thought I would do a free tutorial here for a simple variation of a pamphlet book, that is one of my favourite little books to make.

To make one of these little books, perfect for notes and quick sketches  you will need:
Sheets of cartridge paper for the pages - enough to make 4-8 sheets 10cm x 20 cm (4" x 8")
A piece of water colour paper or light card 10.5cm x 25cm (4.5" x 10")
Some decorative paper (optional)
A craft knife, a metal ruler, a tapestry (blunt) needle, strong thread, a glue stick, a map pin and an old tea towel

First of all tear your cartridge paper into the correct size for the pages. I do this against a metal ruler and prefer to tear rather than cut as it gives a deckled edge to the pages. It doesn't matter so much then if they don't quite line up.

Then fold each in half and make two nests of 2-4 pages, depending on the thickness of your paper. These 'nests' or groups of pages are called signatures.

Now take your water colour paper or card for the cover and fold this in half too. Measure 2cm (1") in from the folded edge and fold the cover back on itself.

Do this on both sides so you end up with a W effect, as shown in the photo.

Now take your two signatures and put one into each fold of the W as shown.

You then want to fold the covers out flat whilst keeping the fold of the signatures tucked against the folds of the covers as shown...  this is the stage where I realised having a different colour cover might have been useful for the sake of the photos. But I'm not doing it again!

Hopefully the diagram will make it seem clearer (The shaded bit is the cover)

You are now going to stitch the two signatures and the cover together in one quick manoeuvre along the fold using a simple pamphlet stitch.

Along the fold mark three dots, one in the centre and two either side an equal distance apart from the centre. Using a map pin and with the whole thing resting on an old tea towel push holes where you have made the dots.

Thread a rounded needle with about 40cm (16") of strong thread and take it through the centre hole, leaving a tail of thread for tying off later. On the other side take the thread up and through the top hole.

Now take it straight back down to the bottom hole, missing the middle hole.

And finally back through the middle hole coming out on the other side of  the long stitch that runs down the centre.

You should have two ends either side of the central long stitch, which you can now tie off and trim.

The diagram shows the order of stitching... in the centre, down to one end, back to the other end and then back out the centre.

All you need to do now is fold your covers back to the outside and you should have a neat little two signature pamphlet book!

I then decorated the cover with nine little squares of wrapping paper. You may have noticed the first book had little squares from the inside of envelopes. But of course you can decorate it any way you like or use coloured or patterned card for the cover. If you make one I'd love to see how it turns out!

And should you wish to make a slightly more complicated book the twenty page fully illustrated tutorial is available from my etsy shop here. And thank you to Catriona for testing this for me. Her response was "Very clear instructions... the pattern is a winner" so I hope that might encourage you to give it a try.

And something I forgot to mention the other day... I will be making one of these books for every single person who comes along on my block printing India trip with me next year. A little gift from me to say thank you and to hopefully inspire some sketches while we are there!

Sunday, 16 September 2018

The Story of a Bun

In all the years I've lived in the Cambridge area until recently I had never eaten a legendary Fitzbillie's Chelsea Bun. These sticky fruit buns were created and first eaten at The Bun House in Chelsea in the eighteenth century but they have become synonymous with Fitzbillies restaurant in Cambridge. So in the interest of crossing another sixty by sixty off my list I thought it was about time I tried one.

Maybe it was because I kept hearing how amazing they are but on trying the real thing I was actually just a little bit disappointed.  Now don't get me wrong, it was good, but not as good as I thought they would be. They were just a bit too dry despite the sticky topping (I wondered as it was a Sunday if they were possibly a day old?) and there wasn't enough spicy flavour for my taste.

So given that on the Great British Bake Off last week (despite my growing disappointment with the show I can't resist watching) the contestants were asked to make Chelsea buns I couldn't resist the challenge.

I brought out my trusty mixer to knead up some dough and decided to go with an almond and cherry theme, soaking dried and glace cherries in some Cointreau with a few drops of almond essence. I would have preferred Amaretto for extra almond flavour but I didn't have any!

When the dough had risen it was knocked back and rolled out before spreading it with melted butter, a mix of ground almonds and sugar as well as the drained fruit.

It then was rolled up like a Swiss roll and then allowed to rise again.

The recipe that I was using as a guide suggested making a sticky glaze that was added just before baking but I think I would add a glaze after the buns are cooked if I made them again. I also think I would find a bigger tin because my buns were starting to make a bid for freedom!

But despite being rather misshapen and a little too crisp on top, they were very soft and pillowy inside with a good almond and cherry flavour. Definitely worth making again to perfect the recipe!

And although it feels like sacrilege to say so.. I preferred them to the Fitzbillies buns!

Only two more 60 x 60 things to go before I start my 100 challenge!