Friday 31 October 2014

Five... or Four on Friday

There I was, all set to do a "Five on Friday" post and then I realised I only really had four photos and I couldn't think of a fifth thing to write about anyway... so in trail blazing style I bring you "Four on Friday"
1. A Pear and Ginger cake
This was my first effort to recreate the Sticky Pear and Ginger cake I had on holiday. I sort of combined a sticky toffee pudding base with an upside down pear cake. My first mistake was to use a springform pan... The sticky bit of the upside down bit leaked all over my oven. I hate cleaning the oven! Despite this the cake tastes good but it's not the same as the one I had at the weekend so it's back to the drawing board.
2. A Spiced Apple cake

My Mum came for lunch on Wednesday and she can't stand ginger, so I made another cake... this time it was an apple traybake. It was good... but now my Mum and visiting sons have gone and we are left with two large cakes, just the two of us here all weekend and a backside that seems to be expanding at an alarming rate. Definitely no cake next week so my pear and ginger experiments will have to wait until I have shrunk.
3. A Cushion

My friend commissioned me to make this cushion weeks ago but I was having a bit of a mental block over the design. Then suddenly I knew what I wanted to do and so yesterday I got started... plenty of time as we weren't we were meeting for lunch until today. I got it finished 15 minutes before I was due to leave the house this morning only to discover that the buttons wouldn't go through the buttonholes... which is why there is no photo of the back. Solution... Quickly pack sewing kit and fabric in handbag, buy new self cover buttons on the way and sit sewing on new buttons whilst eating lunch... no problemo! My friend loved it, thank goodness!
4. Pumpkins
We don't really celebrate Halloween but I love carved pumkins, so these two chaps are on my doorstep this evening to welcome any little visitors... only one or two so far which means I'll have a bucketful of chocolate buttons left if no-one else turns up, which is not helpful for my expanding backside!

Happy Halloween everyone... and happy weekend!

Monday 27 October 2014

Fresh Air and Food

In the past two and a half years, for various reasons too mundane to bore you with, we have managed a total of only three days holiday, when we went to Bruges to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary. So it was with great excitment that we ventured on a two hour drive north to Holt on the north Norfolk coast on Friday, to stay at Blackbird cottage for three nights.
It was such a beautiful, cosy and well equiped cottage I think I could have quite happily moved in!

We spent our days outdoors walking... from Cley to Salthouse and back to Blakeney

mostly along beautiful deserted beaches in warm October sunshine.

Miles and miles of shingle and sand...

We also walked around the grounds of Holkham Hall where we saw the most maginicent deer herds.

And after all that walking, we worked up amazing appetites! We had fabulous local fish, cheese and bread... not to mention some amazing Norfolk ice cream but probably my favourite meal was at Wiveton Hall Cafe.
 After a morning in the fresh air we sat outside on the jolly painted furniture where we ate the most fabulous crab sandwiches  accompanied by homemade lemonade... it was up there with one of my best meals ever!

We also had some wonderful cake that I didn't photograph but you can be sure that once I work out how to recreate the amazing sticky pear and ginger cake I will share the recipe with you!
We've come home happy and refreshed and determined to make time for more long weekends away. We've no great desire to travel to anywhere hot or exotic but the chance for a few days of fresh air, good food and a comfortable cottage where we can come back to rest, read and drink a glass of wine or two... that will do the trick!

Wednesday 22 October 2014

A Midweek Miscellany

 Sarah's blog post today was titled "Midweek miscellany" and it seemed the perfect title for the random stuff happening round here this week.
When our dog died a couple of years ago, I needed something to replace my twice daily walks. Getting another dog was not practical (although I would love another one) so instead, I joined our local health spa/gym, where not only can I take any of the classes on offer - I do Pilates a couple of times a week, but I can also swim in a fabulous 25m pool that is always virtually empty. Those of us who swim regularly complain that it's busy when there are more than five people swimming... and then after we can use the sauna or steam room and shower with all towels and toiletries provided... not bad for less that £10 a week! But I digress...
The purpose of telling you this is that about a month ago I noticed a heavily laden "pear" tree in the grounds. I was tempted to help myself but thought better of it, so when after my swim on Monday morning I bumped into the gardener and asked him were they pears or quinces I was delighted when he told me they were quinces and I could help myself! Unfortunately there weren't many fruit left that were still good and these three were all I came away with... not enough to make quince jelly like Christina,  as I'd hoped.

So I improvised and made a quince, apple and blueberry crumble cake. (Nigel Slater's Gooseberry crumble cake without the gooseberries)
Rather good with cream or warm with ice cream... although I'm not entirely sure I can taste the quince!
Yesterday I taught my last class for a couple of weeks which means I've got some time to catch up with some of my own work. Today I got started on a very long overdue commission.

And I also delivered another one... made for a very special little boy who is football crazy! Not at all my usual subject matter but I really loved making this.

I've also found time to make some more of these flower brooches for another project I'm hoping to finish in the next couple of weeks. It's amazing how much I can get done when I'm not preparing for classes.

I've also got another weekend away coming up... but no teaching this time... more about that next week, when no doubt I'll be back with more miscellany!
I was writing this post whilst trying to watch the wonderful Grayson Perry on TV last night, that is mostly just writing when the adverts came on, so there is a good chance it is even more random and miscellaneous than I intended!

Sunday 19 October 2014

Still busy...

I knew that teaching two City and Guilds classes would keep me busy but I don't think I was prepared for just how busy two consecutive weekends at Missenden Abbey would actually be... all that packing and unpacking of bags has kept me so occupied I've not blogged for over a week! Not that I have had time to do very much that seems worth blogging about. So instead this is a picture heavy post of just a fraction of my C & G students' work.
When I do posts of my students' work I never get as many comments as with some other posts so maybe they are not so popular... but my students do like to see their work pictured here and they also like to receive your feedback just as much as I do, so please do let them know if you like what they've done!
Last weekend I had my year two students back after the summer break and was delighted to see some of the projects they had completed. Linda has finished this stunning wall hanging and Mara has made this fabulous little stitched and knitted wire vase complete with flowers.

Linda made this corsage for her knitted wire sample...

Jane made a whole range of beautiful book covers just because she could... not even part of the course!

And Mara completed this stunning Indian inspired bag to show a range of automatic stitch patterns.

Fast forward to this weekend, where twelve new students were ready to embark on their two year City & Guilds journey. The standard of work after just two days has already been amazing, so I can't wait to see what they will be doing after their summer break next year.

Stitching in progress from Claire and Shirley...

and Penny.

And little finished landscape samples from Penny...




and Chris (we have two ladies called Chris!)

And just to show you it's not just been students' work around here in the past week.. a little lace bag sample that I made for Tuesday's machine embroidery class.

And some poppies as well as daisies.

There were also some peanut butter caramel brownies... but we ate them... yes all 24 of them... and I didn't think that the crumbs left in the cake tin looked all that photogenic!

Thursday 9 October 2014

Chasing my Tail

As always, as we enter autumn there are suddenly not enough hours in the day and I find myself chasing my tail, constantly playing catch up.
My weekly machine embroidery classes are now well under way for this term, and despite the fact that I've planned all activities for the whole ten weeks I still found myself making these little samples on Monday... for our class on Tuesday.

And have I made next week's sample yet... don't be silly... that's next Monday's job!
Yesterday I was in London all day for the opening of the Knitting and Stitching show at Alexandra Palace. This is the first time I've been there as an exhibitor but before I did my stewarding stint I had time for some browsing. There was a little bit of shopping too...

I've stocked up on sock yarn for some planned presents and I couldn't resist this little Mahliqa brooch kit

Which knitted up in a couple of hours whilst I watched telly last night.
There were also many lovely things to look at in the various exhibitions but I find I no longer have the desire to take photographs or make endless notes so I can't tell you much of what I saw. I just enjoyed looking and absorbing. I did spend some time talking to a lovely lady called Catherina von Isenberg whose whimsical dreamlike work really appealed to me.

And then of course, I spent time stewarding the Prism exhibition Coded:Decoded. I was really pleased with the way the dolls were displayed and received some positive feedback which was nice. And also very nice is that one of them has sold!

And just by chance, the Missenden Abbey stand has both my pieces from the first part of the Coded:Decoded exhibiton on display too.

And today, I'm trying to catch up with various chores because tomorrow I'm actually off to Missenden Abbey teaching for the weekend... the first of two consecutive weekends
In the middle of all this I gave a talk to a quilting group on Tuesday evening who had requested something new, as a couple of their members had already heard my usual talk. I loosely based it on the idea that I have more hours in the day than everyone else... inspired by those of you who often comment saying exactly that! Of course I told them it was an illusion (which it is!) but I do have certain tricks like writing endless "to do" lists, getting up early, having a husband who does his own ironing and multi-tasking... like knitting whilst I watch telly or in fact composing a brand new talk whilst driving to the gym that morning... and they thought I was joking!
Talking of which... "Write blog post" can now be crossed off my list for today which means I can no longer put off the next item... "clean bathroom". See you soon when I next come up for air!

Monday 6 October 2014

The Year in Books :: October

I loved my Year in Books choice for September - The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I've read a lot of reviews that suggested it was too long and drawn out but it kept me gripped throughout. It tells the story of Theo Decker, who at the age of thirteen, escapes a major catastrophe that kills his mother and tears his life apart. I loved the theme that a single incident can totally alter the path our lives take. It is well written and the characters are absorbing and believable.
Although it wasn't a quick read... at over 850 pages it is a long book...  I still managed to finish it in a couple of weeks so was looking for something else and I'd remembered that I'd downloaded Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty to my Kindle. I thought it was brilliant! It's a psychological thriller full of adultery, sex and murder, combined with a courtroom drama that twisted and turned constantly... and I couldn't put it down. Anyone read anything else by this author?

Next I thought I'd get ahead of myself and read the village book club choice for this month - Oryx and Crake by Margaret Attwood. This one I hated! It tells of a post apocalyptic world that was just too depressing and plausible for words. I felt no empathy for the main protagonist Jimmy or Snowman and just felt utterly miserable the whole time I was reading it. In fact I'm surprised that I even finished it... but I did, so at least I can report back when the book club meet next week! It will be interesting to see what everyone else thought. There seems to be enough misery in the world without reading fictional accounts of how bad it really could be.

I then picked up one of those self help books that promises to change your life forever! The Life Changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo. For most of my adult life I've hung onto the belief that if only I could de-clutter properly, get rid of the junk, clear some space then life would be so much easier. If only... and I'm not the only one, am I!

Although this book does have some pretty weird ideas... like talking to your possesions... there is still a lot  that makes sense. The basic idea is that you discard anything that does not bring joy to your life... some really major throwing out is called for. The author has her own method for going about this and claims it needs to be done in the right order and in one fell swoop... which in the case of the average size house should take about six months. She claims that most "decluttering ideas" bring only a temporary solution... sounds a bit like most diets really... and what is called for is a change of life style. As you can see the major declutter I did over the summer in my studio was indeed only temporary and already my desk is buried so I'm willing to give it a try. I've already cleared two big bags for the charity shop but I'll report back in six months!

So now I've to choose another book for The Year in Books for October and my choice this month is Longbourn by Jo Baker (another village book club choice) which tells the story of Pride and Prejudice from the servants' viewpoint.

I did think I might reread Pride and Prejudice again first just to refresh my memory... but on second thoughts I might just look out that BBC adaptation which suddenly seems infinitely preferable...

Have you read anything good lately?
Joining in the Year in Books with Laura at Circle of Pine Trees.

Thursday 2 October 2014

Bags of Style

Do you remember the crazy collaged bags I was making earlier this year?

I made four in quick succession but then got distracted by other projects...

However, my students and ex-students have been busy making their own versions.

First of all Brenda sent me a photo of her fabulous blue bag, covered in wonderful flowers.

Then in my class this week, I noticed Linda was using her bag... I love the black and red combination but then I'm biased as these are the colours of the bag I use.

Jan has made this beautiful green bag...

And Ann has used the collaged fabric technique to make her own style bag using some old wooden handles. I love the richness of this fabric... it makes me think of Mary Poppins' carpet bag!

The pattern is still available in my etsy shop if you would like to make your own bag... and if you do, or already have made one... please send me a photo!