Wednesday 29 January 2014

The Evolution of a Moth

Ever since I first saw the wonderful moth sculptures created by Mister Finch I knew I wanted to make something featuring moths.
I didn't really know what I wanted to do... except I did know that I didn't want to recreate moths like Mister Finch... they had to be my own take on the theme. Then I saw these fabulous screen printed cashmere moth patches made by Stella Neptune and I decided I would like to embroider some little moth patches to cover up the moths holes in one of my favourite jumpers.

But once again I didn't just want to copy these moths. The idea stayed mulling around but not actually going anywhere until I spotted some more moths... this time some on some rather exquisite enamelled jewellery featuring a variety of bugs in the Anthropologie cataloge

And I especially loved their little floral wings which weren't that far removed from the original Mr Finch designs. And that is how I came to start embroiderering some little moths.

But like many other projects they were cast aside half finished because there were more pressing things to do. But this week I've been finishing off an article about stitching miniature pictures in free machine embroidery and I remembered the moths which were a perfect example of the technique. So today they were retrieved from under a pile of other unfinished projects and I finally finished them.*

I've just got to get around to stitching them on my jumper now. They remind me of the embroiderered patches we used to stitch on our jeans in the 1970s... or was that only me?

And all this whilst getting to learn how to use my new smartphone, making pantomime costumes (there will be more about that another time soon) and baking another carrot cake... early night for me tonight I think... I'm pooped!!!
* Just to say these were created with free machine embroidery - I don't own an embroidery machine!

Sunday 26 January 2014

Missenden Abbey

Missenden Abbey is a 12th century Augustinian Abbey founded in 1133. After the dissolution of the monastaries, Henry VIII gave the Abbey to his daughter Princess Elizabeth after which it was passed through various families as a private residence.
Through the years it underwent many changes and rebuilds...

until in 1946 the Carrington family sold the Abbey to Buckinghamshire County Council as an adult education centre.

After a major fire in 1985 the building was gutted and restored to its former splendor which included vaulted rooms, a ceremonial staircase, stained glass and ornate plasterwork, all of which were recreated with the aim of following the architectural traditions of the original building.

What I especially love are the stained glass windows which both respect the tradition of the building yet are also totally contemporary in their design.

This weekend the sunlight on Saturday was throwing the most wonderful reflections through the windows onto the walls and plasterwork...

which seemed totally fitting for a weekend when the focus of my teaching was colour.

It was the third weekend meeting of my City and Guilds class. We painted, dyed fabrics, stitched and immersed ourselves in colour...

and I reflected on how lucky I am to work in such a beautiful environment with such a fabulous group of ladies. It doesn't really feel like work.
I'll be teaching another Summer School this year and there will be a new level 3 C & G group starting in October. Please do get in touch if you are interested.

Friday 24 January 2014


After weeks of throwing around ideas, it came like a shock in the middle of the night when I realised what I wanted to do... literally in the middle of the night!
Amazingly the idea was still there when I woke up this morning so I set about making some samples...

Experiencing the frustration of not quite being able to make the ideas in my head translate into reality...

And then the sadness of knowing I was going to have to stop sampling and put it all aside until Monday because I'm away teaching all weekend

But most of all happy that ideas are starting to flow again and I'm actually doing something about it...

Because it has felt like a long time!

These were another middle of the night idea... but perhaps not my finest moment.

I'd say watch this space but of course it might not work, I might bin the lot and then go back to the drawing board. But I'll be sure to show you if it does work. Must go.. still got to pack my overnight bag. Have a great weekend!

Wednesday 22 January 2014

My "To Do" List

  1. Finish work for exhibition
  2. Prepare work for submission for another exhibition
  3. Finish writing article and take relevant photographs
  4. Make samples for workshop in February.
  5. Write the Embroiderer's Guild Branch newsletter and send to members.*
  6. Pack bags ready for weekend away teaching at Missenden.
Do you want to know what I actually did...?

  1. Baked carrot cake
  2. Took photographs of carrot cake
  3. Ate carrot cake
  4. Blogged about carrot cake.
Ah well... there's tomorrow I suppose.
* I did actually get the newsletter done after I'd made the cake... I was feeling guilty!

Monday 20 January 2014

A Year in Books :: January

I belong to two very different book clubs. The first dates back quite a few years and when we first used to meet, we all read the same book and then got together in each others homes over some nibbles and a glass of wine to chat about the book. Gradually as the nibbles and wine grew into three course meals and several glasses the books and the discussions diminished. We no longer all read the same books but instead meet to eat and chat and we bring along books to swap... which suits us all just fine.
But I found I missed the discussions so a couple of years ago I joined another club. We meet every month at the local pub and have a different book each month, suggested by different members. The books vary enormously and we have fiction, biography, non-fiction, light reads and heavy going stuff. I don't always enjoy every book and I don't always get through every book but I do enjoy the discussion. I also like that it makes me read things I might not have otherwise considered and sometimes I am pleasantly surprised. We've just met to discuss January's book "Significant Sisters". It documents the lives of eight women who played a significant part in the feminist movement which I felt could have been really fascinating yet Margaret Forster made it deadly dull!

But despite reading regularly, I still have piles of books all over the house as well as dozens on my Kindle that I just don't get around to reading. So when I heard about Laura's New Year intention (so much better that a resolution) over on Circle of Pine Trees, to read a book each month and document it on her blog as a Year in Books I thought I would join in. And what is lovely about this is that you can follow the links on her post to everyone else who is joining in... which means if every you are short of ideas of what to read there will be plenty of inspiration.

Before Christmas Gill passed these two Peter May books onto me. I don't usually pick crime thrillers but these were so good that I read them both in quick succession. They are set on the Isle of Lewis and are incredibly atmospheric - they made me want to visit the Hebrides!

So for January I am going to read the third book in the Lewis trilogy The Chess Men... and when I come back in February to tell you what I'm reading then I'll let you know if it was as good as the other two!

Friday 17 January 2014

Pink Posset and Pistachios

There were a number of blood oranges in my veg box last week. I always find them rather alarming when cutting into them and they tend to spurt red juice everywhere... well all over the work surface, down my front and on my new oven gloves to be precise. I wasn't wearing oven gloves to cut the oranges by the way I just hadn't hung them up... that'll teach me!
Anyway, as the family decided they were a little on the sharp side I decided I needed to find a way of using them. Now after the event, I'm thinking marmalade but at the time I didn't think marmalade but more posset. Although after my last posset post I'm loathed to call it that as the name seemed to put people off!

So I made some "Blood Orange Posset Creams".
I followed the same recipe as before but added the juice of two oranges... which I then discovered is the same as Raymond Blanc's recipe. However it tasted a little bit too sweet so I added the juice of a lemon too (what does Raymond Blanc know?)*

I'd put them in the fridge to set where they caused much concern. They were such an awful artificial pink colour that Joe thought I'd dropped my standards and I'd made Angel Delight... as if!!!* But once they were taken out and decorated with some segments of orange...

and accompanied by more pistachio shortbread, they passed muster and were devoured with relish... despite appearances. And very good they were too!

Which brings me to the point of this post (does there need to be a point?)... to give you the shortbread recipe which I promise will be one of the best you have tasted!
Pistachio Shortbread
200g plain flour
225g unsalted butter, softened
125g caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla paste
150g ground almonds
50g unsalted pistachios, chopped 
Cream together the butter and sugar. Gradually work in the vanilla, flour and almonds, adding the pistachios as the mixture starts to hold together. This can be done in a food processor (or a shiny new red mixer!) but be careful not to overwork the dough, adding the pistachios at the end as they can become oily if ground too fine. Wrap the dough in cling film and rest in the fridge for about 30 minutes... don't skip this step! Heat the oven to 180 deg C. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured board, to about 7 mm thick and cut out biscuit shapes. Place onto cookie sheets lined with baking parchment leaving plenty of space around each biscuit as they do spread. Prick lightly with a fork and bake for 15 -18 mins until just starting to colour. Sprinkle with caster sugar and allow to cool for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack. Store in an airtight container... or eat but they do make about 24 biscuits so that might be too much in one go.

I've got a weekend of family here for lunch, more arriving for dinner, birthday cake and rehearsals for me (more about that another time). Hope your weekend is good!

* I should say that in the interest of accuracy and avoidance of law suits that Raymond Blanc actually knows quite a bit about cooking and Angel Delight contains no artificial colours.. Phew!

Tuesday 14 January 2014

Bring me Sunshine

I was recently passed a sunshine award from Judith who is a talented artist and illustrator from Ballymena. I was honoured and flattered to be picked out by Judith but as ever these awards come with rules and those who know me from old will also know that I don't do rules. However as I've already obeyed rule number one to link back to the blogger who nominated me, I thought I might as well play along a little bit...
Rule no. 2 is to answer some questions set by the person who nominated me. I've done the "five/seven/ten random facts about me" several times before but I don't think I've ever answered specific questions so here goes...
1. Pizza or Chinese?
Has to be pizza, preferable thin, crispy, simple and eaten outdoors in the sunshine in Italy... failing that, homemade with a beetroot and goat cheese topping.

2. Train or Bus?
I do get the park and ride bus if I go into Cambridge but other than that I can't really remember the last proper bus ride I went on so I think it has to be the train. I relish that uninterrupted time to read or knit.

3. Stairs or Lift?
Always the stairs if possible. Don't like waiting for lifts and don't like being in them!
4. Cooking or Washing up?
I think you all know the answer to that... cooking wins everytime. We have a rule in our house that whoever cooks does not have to wash up. I think I might have made that rule up... and that is one rule I'm happy to keep!
5. Luxury Cruise or Camping?
Neither! The idea of being stuck on a ship, luxury or otherwise would be my idea of hell not a holiday. I've only done it once, in February 1982 when I was a young teacher. Three of us took 30 year ten pupils on an educational cruise around the Mediterranean on the HMS Uganda. I suppose that might indeed sound like hell but to be fair at the time I really enjoyed it, we visited some amazing places and it certainly beat being stuck in a North London classroom teaching for two weeks (apart from the day when we were stuck at sea and all the children were seasick) but I wouldn't choose to do it again. And camping... I probably could enjoy it, but it was the only type of holiday we ever had when I was a child... and it always rained, so after a particulary soggy camping trip in North Wales when I was fourteen, I swore I would never do it again and I haven't. If you forced me to choose it would be camping  rather than cruising... but somewhere warm and dry.

So those are my answers. Rule no. 3 says to nominate eleven more bloggers to receive the award but that is where I am not playing. (To be fair I have received this award in the past in my early days of blogging and may have played along then.)  But you can play along if you like. What would be your answers to the questions ?

Sunday 12 January 2014


When Iz mentioned that she was going to make a lemon posset it got me thinking. You know what it is like when you blog... you constantly take photographs of stuff thinking that it will make the start of a good blog post and half the time you never get around to it and the photos get forgotten about and the blog post never happens. Well at least that is what happens to me. So Iz's post reminded me of photos I'd taken between Christmas and New Year that were still languishing on my camera... of posset! Isn't that a great word!
Posset Pot - V& A
I knew that posset was an old British recipe but I didn't know very much about it and was fascinated to find that originally it was a hot drink of curdled milk and ale popular from Medieval times through to the nineteenth century when it was considered a remedy for minor ailments. It was also known as poshotte or poshote. Lady Macbeth used "drugg'd possets" to knock out Duncan's guards. Which is a far cry from today's version which is a citrus fool/mousse type of dessert.

And if you have never made or tasted a posset then you really must... it is the most utterly divine concoction... citrussy, sweet and creamy and what's more it is the easiest and quickest dessert you could ever make. You can make it with any citrus fruit but my favourite is Lemon and Lime

Lemon and Lime Posset
600ml double cream
150g caster sugar
Zest and juice of 1 lemon and 2 limes
Put the cream and sugar in a saucepan over a low heat and bring to the boil. Simmer for three minutes, remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Whisk in the citrus juices and zest. Pour through a fine sieve and and then pour into six to eight serving glasses. Refrigerate for three hours before serving with pistachio shortbread... but that's a recipe for another time!

Saturday 11 January 2014

Pixie People

When Gill and I visited the Selvedge Winter Fair we were rather taken by the beautiful dolls created by Sarah Strachan. As well as dolls, Sarah had some rather cute Pixies which she was also selling as kits. We immediately thought that these would be a fun activity for our Young Embroiderers. I bought a kit and on my return home made up one of the Pixies from the kit. I have to say it took me back a few years when I remembered making yarn wrapped pipe cleaner dolls like this when I was about ten years old (before you say it... a very, very long time ago!)
But I knew that all of our Young Embroiderers would want to put their own stamp on the Pixie design so I made a couple of variations to kick start their ideas... Pierre the onion seller...

And a pretty fairy called Posie.

But I needn't have worried about kick starting their ideas because as expected they each came up with wonderful original ideas of their own. What follows is a rather picture heavy post with all sorts of characters from our girls and the helpers... because I couldn't leave any of them out! It has become a bit of a joke that we have almost as many helpers as girls these days because everyone wants to come and join in. And because the girls are all so clever the helpers don't really have much helping to do and get to make their own stuff!

Bluebell made a fairy and then a baby in his colourful onesie.

Hannah made this super Guardsman and Policeman.

Jemima made this very elegant looking couple.

The wild and colourful character below is from Ann.

And this one in the purple hat is from Sophia.

It was Neve's first time at YE and she made this super pair of pixies...

The long legged beauty below is from Gill... just like her really!

Francesca made a witch with a pet dog.

Pam made a very elegant fairy with a pink punk hair do.

Sue made this chap with his oversized beret...

and then went on to make this fabulous witch.

Eve and Kathleen made this gorgeous fairy...

And Ruby who was also at her first meeting made this lovely family. I love that baby's face!

Neve also made a third member to her pixie family too.

Jemima also got busy with a third character and came up with this pirate.

And whilst all this was going on I managed to make this rather dubious character... I was going to say don't ask what breed he is but on reflection you might be wondering what species.

As always another fabulous day with the Young Embroiderers!