Friday 26 April 2013

Cake Testing

I may not have been driving around all over the place this week but there has still been a hive of activity in my kitchen as I've been testing the merits of different vanilla sponges and working out the logistics of constructing celebration cakes.
I was asked to make two special birthday cakes this week, both based on a vanilla sponge... in the end I opted for a classic Victoria sponge recipe.

The first was an owl for a fiftieth birthday celebration.

My brief was an owl cake with eyelashes. I didn't ask questions... I just made the cake.

The second was a much larger more complicated affair. An eighteenth birthday cake and the recipient was very specific about colours and design. It also has to feed twenty four and withstand the journey to Manchester this evening. It's huge!

I was way out of my comfort zone with this. By the end of the day yesterday I felt as though I was coated in fact my whole kitchen was coated in sugar. Sarah hasn't seen it yet so fingers crossed.*

And while these cakes were being baked and constructed I was also trying to work out the logistics for assembling these crochet cakes.

So far, four cakes and four slightly different patterns but I think I've found the one that works best.

There's been cupcakes, muffins and cookies too... consumed by family and friends. Next week I think I'll be ready to leave my kitchen and head back out on the road again!
* She has just collected the cake and loves it... Phew!

Thursday 25 April 2013

Fresh Air

This morning I went for a walk across the fields to the neighbouring village to buy a newspaper and some eggs (the last of our chickens died last week after just a few lonely weeks on her own)
And I realised that since our dog died in November I have not actually ventured out our back gate across the fields even once and it felt good to be doing something that used to be a daily part of my life.

I realised that I missed being out every morning and seeing the seasons change. I didn't even know that the cowslips were out.

I still get up early, but instead of donning wellies and grabbing the dog's lead, I pick up a kit bag and a swimsuit and head for the gym. I enjoy my swim and Pilates classes but it's not the same as getting that daily dose of fresh air.

I've not even ventured into the garden every day since we lost the chicken and look at all the flowers that have sprung up whilst I wasn't looking.

I think I even miss the cold, wet, muddy walks...

Although that is easy to say when the sun is shining!

I've resolved not to leave it five months before I venture across the fields again!

Sunday 21 April 2013

Here, There and Everywhere!

In a crazy week where I've travelled from one Embroiderer's Guild branch in Peterborough to another near Canterbury there's hardly been time for my feet to touch the ground, never mind thinking about a blog post.
I've started another six week course teaching basic book making techniques which has got me exploring new book structures.

I've had friends round for a morning of stitching and we've contemplated the best way to display this wig, not using the polystyrene wig stand... still not resolved! (answers on a postcard???)

I've done lots of cooking including cheesecakes of both the savoury and sweet variety.

These were for a supper at my branch of the Embroiderer's Guild and involved me driving around half of North Hertfordshire with a boot full of food... very long story... I couldn't attend the supper so planned to deliver the food to the venue where I would leave it in the fridge. But the venue was locked, I didn't have keys, I couldn't locate anyone with keys, so I drove back home and after a zillion phone calls finally tracked down someone who could take the food for me which involved another drive... but it all turned out well in the end and apparently the evening was a success. I was a little sad at missing the supper and talk...

But not too sad... because I was at the O2 Arena with my Mum, Stewart, my brother and his wife to see Il Divo with Katherine Jenkins. It was our Christmas present from Mum and they were wonderful. Really superb and it was worth not getting to bed until 2 am!

Even though I then had to get up, load my car full of my work and drive to Canterbury the following morning to give a talk to the North Kent branch of the Embroiderer's Guild. But the sixty or so ladies who attended the talk were very warm and welcoming and gave me such an enthusiastic response to my talk that I felt like I was running on adrenaline all day! Just as well really.

And this morning I've been off to deliver some work for this exhibition "Threads Galore" which opens in Letchworth on 8th May.

I'm especially excited because ten of my Young Embroiderers will be exhibiting along with the older members which is a fabulous opportunity for them.
Now finally, I'm sat down with my feet up and a cuppa whilst I contemplate what's in store for next week. Not quite so much driving around all over the place, thank goodness!

Monday 15 April 2013

Off my Needles

A  couple of weeks ago I shared this shawl... that was still on my needles.
Well it is now off my needles, blocked and has hardly left my neck.

I love it! So much so that I'm almost sad that it has warmed up over the past couple of days... almost but not quite!

I've also really enjoyed knitting it too and will almost certainly knit this pattern again. I could have cosy scarves in all sorts of lovely colours


Saturday 13 April 2013

Beautiful Braids

I'm going to have to put aside my sketchbook play for a while and get down to the business of some "real" work, which today meant teaching at the Peterborough branch of the Embroiderer's Guild. Except of course it doesn't really feel like work to spend the day with a lovely group of ladies doing what I enjoy.
We were making a variety of braids on the sewing machine, using different types of threads. Although these can be used in numerous ways, by using dissolvable fabrics we turned the braids into beaded bracelets.

The photos below are just a small selection of the huge amount of work produced in just six hours.

There were yards and yards of braid... someone suggested they would make very snazzy shoelaces!

And most ladies made a bracelet too... decorated with a wonderful selection of beads and sequins. I do love a bit of bling!

Not everyone got around to dissolving away the background fabric (Which is why some look like they are stitched onto plastic)

But most people finished something to take home.

And just to show that it wasn't necessary to make a bracelet, Pam created this fabulous piece of fabric constructed from braids which I believe is destined to be a book cover... I'll have to watch Pam's blog to see the finished result!

Thank you ladies of Peterborough... it has been a lovely day.
And should you be interested I'll be teaching this again on 29th June at Art and Stitch.
Got to get my thinking cap on now as we are off to a village quiz night... don't want to end up with the dunce's cap!

Tuesday 9 April 2013

Frivolous Fun

I promised you frivolity in my next post.
You can decide for yourself if what I've been doing is frivolous but it has certainly been fun.
Working in my Frida Kahlo sketchbook, I've returned to paper cuts. I'd forgotten how much I liked them.

Stencilled with some coloured paints they produce another interesting page underneath

Turn the page over and stencil with black paint and it gives a totally different image.

And another page to work on underneath. Interesting left black and white... or painted with coloured inks.

Best of all I like the 3 D effect of looking through the paper cuts... on the black side...

and on the coloured side.

None of this is perfect... the paint has run, there are slodges and smudges but it doesn't matter. The point of the sketchbook is to play with ideas... have fun... be frivolous... and let ideas flow.

Which is exactly what has happened as I start to translate the ideas into fabric and thread and I know what I want to make for Frida

I'd forgotten how good it feel to immerse myself in ideas and I want to keep the momentum going. Unfortunately I've got some Schemes of Work to produce pretty soon for some upcoming City & Guilds classes... I think my dealine was the end of March! Ooops!

Sunday 7 April 2013

Craft and Creativity

We were back in London at the V & A again on Friday to see a screening of Alan Yentob's 1974 film Cracked Actor (Which ironically had been shown the previous night on BBC 1 on Imagine... so you can still catch it on i Player should you wish), followed by a question and answer session with Alan Yentob. It was an excellent eveing and we also managed to whizz around the Bowie exhibition again which was a bonus. It raised lots of questions about creativity and art among other things.
Mercury Rising Four panel lacquered teak screen with white gold detail, Sophie Coryndon
Which was interesting because before heading to the V & A we had popped in to Somerset House where for just three days there was an exhibition about craftsmanship, Crafted, featuring a variety of crafts of the most amazing standard ranging from watch making to knitting and glass blowing to silver smithing. I spoke for a while to the incredibly talented Sophie Coryndon who was working on gilded inlays on lacquered wood. I asked where she had learned such skills and her answer really resonated with me. She said she had been to Art college where she felt she had learned nothing of use. She said it was all far too conceptual and this was confirmed for her when a fellow student, for her final year degree show, had dipped the heads of Barbie dolls into toffee sauce. Despite this, Sophie finished her degree but then went on to learn the skills that she now employs through apprenticeships.

I know I made the right decision when I decided not to continue my Master of Art degree and one of the reasons I didn't want to continue (there were others) was that I found it too conceptual. As I listened to other students explain why they were doing what they were doing I felt like I was in a scene from the Emperor's New Clothes. I felt as though I didn't belong. I'm sure it meant something to the individuals involved, and I don't mean to put that down, but it really was not for me.

I've nothing against concepts or meanings in art and have produced my own work that has meaning beyond the purely visual, but for me art still has to be something beautiful. Not a very fashionable idea I know!

That beauty does not have to be a "pretty" type of beauty but rather an attraction that makes someone want to look or listen or find out more. And it has to be well crafted with skill.

Ridiculous I know, but since leaving the MA I have struggled to find concepts and meaning in my own work, believing that without something deep and meaningful behind what I'm doing that it is just a waste of time. How very silly of me given that was the very reason I gave it up!

Suddenly like a light coming on I realise that none of that matters. As long as what I do is done with integrity and done well... that is what is really important.

And I think that applies whether one is writing and performing some of the most iconic songs of the twentieth century, creating beautiful lacquered screens, baking cakes and desserts for friends, knitting garments, painting pictures, making sculpture etc.... or even dabbling with a bit of embroidery. Unfortunately I can't quite apply this thinking to toffee dipped Barbie dolls!

This weekend I have created a gluten free chocolate cake decorated with chocolate ganache and chocolate ribbons, baked a ginger and lime pie... and several individual sized versions, made a batch of lemon macaroons and have continued to play with ideas inspired by Frida.

And instead of feeling frustrated and disatisfied with my weekend's achievements which seems to have become the norm over recent months... it just feels good. I just want to make beautiful things! 

Well, that was all a bit deep for a Sunday evening... I'll be back with some frivolity next week! Far more me!