Friday, 3 July 2015

Lost in Bristol*

I might have a long term plan to cut back on various committments but it certainly hasn't started this week. On Wednesday it was our last meeting of Spectrum. I suppose it was a fairly relaxed day but a little odd in that any mention of the fact that this was our last meeting was mostly avoided... a bit of an elephant in the room really! The saving grace was that one of our members, Gill had a rather special birthday which provided a distraction, and obviously there was a cake... I can't let a birthday pass without baking a cake.  Although I do think I should have let the opportunity to eat chocolate dipped strawberries for breakfast pass me by!
 
 
Gradually everyone left and made their way home and I got in the car to drive all the way to Bristol, where I was giving a talk to The Bristol Quilters. I arrived in good time and thought I was doing well navigating my way through the Bristol streets at rush hour, without the benefit of a satnav... I have never got around to getting one. Then I realised I had made a wrong turn. I stopped, consulted my map and was working out where to go next when my phone rang and it was Jacob with a minor drama... Me: "I'm lost in Bristol, stopped on a busy road, I've got 20 minutes to find this hall... sorry can't deal with this right now!" A couple of U-turns later, I arrived at what I thought was the venue but the hall had a completely different name. I asked someone who didn't know... had a wander down the street and finally returned to spot several ladies of a certain age arriving at the hall. I had arrived!
 
 Jacob's problem had resolved, at least for the time being and I unpacked the contents of my car ready for my talk.


 
I talk about the various things that inspire my work and alway bring along my "wig of cakes". At the point where I asked if there was anyone in the room who would like to model it for me, all 70+ women in the audience fell silent! So there was only one thing for it... and of course the moment it was on my head someone whipped out a camera!
 
I stayed with their chairman and the next morning followed her to a different venue where I was to be teaching a workshop... except we managed to lose each other on the way. And this time I didn't know where I was going so couldn't even look it up on the map. I took a guess at a junction and there was a hilarious moment when we passed each other going in opposite directions. Stephanie made some wild hand gestures that I took to mean I should turn around which I did, by which time she had disappearred again. She'd meant for me to stay put while she turned round because I was actually headed the right way. Eventually when I found her phone number on a scrap of paper at the bottom of my bag we were reunited and we got to the venue in plenty of time where I had a lovely day teaching ten ladies how to create newspaper backgrounds on fabric and then adding applique to the surface.
 
 
These are just a few of their finished pieces.
 


 
Most tried to tie in their newspaper headlines with their appliqued images and as ever the variety and skill was a delight.





 
It was a lovely workshop and I managed to find my way out of Bristol and back home without too much incident. And having had such a fun time I wondered whether my decision to cut back on my teaching has been a bit hasty... although a three hour journey home on motorways followed by all the unpacking of bags confirmed I've made the right decision.
 
* I owe the title of this blog post to my friend Anna who came up with it as I was recounting these stories to her this afternoon. We got together to be photographed for the local rag to advertise our forthcoming Open Studios. If you live in or near Cambridgeshire, full details can be found here:

Monday, 29 June 2015

All Change

Isn't it amazing how taking a simple decision can make such a difference. Nothing major or life changing is about to happen anytime soon but the knowledge that I have taken steps to make changes in the future has completely altered the way I feel. There's a definite spring in my step!
 
Though saying that, there has been one pretty big change over the last week and Joe (son no. three) has moved out. Long time readers will know that he has moved away twice before in the past seven years. Latterly he was in New Zealand but for the past three years he has been back home with us. However, on Friday he got the keys to his new flat.
 
 
He has been begging and borrowing furniture wherever he can and aquired these two kitchen chairs. They were already painted green but looked a bit sparse so I spruced them up for him with a couple of cushions. He's not gone far away, just to our nearest town and it hasn't really registered that he's gone yet. To be fair he was hardly ever here when he did live with us so it will probably be a while before we notice a difference... The biggest change will be in my food bill!
 
 
I'm going to have to get used to cooking less... Joe has always had a healthy appetite to put it mildly! I did makesome peanut cookies over the weekend though.

 
Then, yesterday Joe popped back to pick up some things he'd forgotten and the first thing he did was help himself to a couple of cookies! Maybe I won't notice he's gone after all!

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Soul Searching

The pictures will probably appear to have nothing to do with the words in this post but I promise it will all make sense by the time you get to the end... assuming you get that far.
 
I mentioned in my last post there has been some soul searching going on. In truth is has been going on for quite some time, on and off for years as some of my poor friends will tell you, but it has reached a climax over the past few weeks.
 
 
For a while I have been feeling a certain amount of discontent. It comes and it goes and just when I think I've sorted it all out, it rears its head again. I'm mostly fairly happy, cheerful and easy going. I'm easily pleased and my needs are few and simple... yet for a long time something has felt out of kilter. And I know it has to do with work.

 
But I couldn't quite fathom exactly what was wrong... I love machine embroidery, I quite like making things to sell and I really do love teaching. Encouraging others to learn a new skill, the interaction with students, passing on knowledge... I've done it one way or another for most of my working life. And I hope it doesn't sound immodest to say I think I'm quite good at it most of the time. It's both fun and satisfying.

 
But recently I've felt my enthusiasm for teaching waning. The constant packing and unpacking of bags, lugging them and a sewing machine in and out of the car, driving miles, constantly making samples rather than making work for me, the endless mess... it is making me tired. I still love that interaction in the classroom but all the other stuff that is dragging me down.
 
But I've held back from cutting back my teaching hours because if I'm not teaching then what else would I do?  I know I would miss the interaction. I've often thought I'd like to find a way to combine my other love - baking - with sewing but because I couldn't think how to do that I've not done anything. And the discontent continues.

 
But a combination of recent events have forced me to rethink. I reaslised with another birthday approaching soon if I don't do something to change my situation now I probably never will. So I've signed up to a course called Do What You Love for Life... and already only one week in I'm starting to look at things with  different eyes... And I feel it's okay to make changes even if I don't know what else I might do or where it might lead.
 
 Then this week I was forced into a situation where I needed to consider the future of a group that I have mentored for several years. It has been a really difficult and sad decision but I have decided that staying with Spectrum is no longer a viable option for me. But in doing that, It has made me realise that ultimately I would like to step back from all my teaching commitments.

 
Before I get inudated with emails from current students, (or Missenden Abbey adult learning!) I have no intention of giving up my City and Guilds teaching any time soon... current students and those signed up for forthcoming courses need not panic! But I have decided not to take on anything new for Guilds etc. I will obviously work all those dates I have booked over the next couple of years but after that... who knows...  it almost feels like a beginning of an adventure.

 
And what has all this got to do with the photos... well not a lot really, except on Saturday I was teaching at the Cambridge Branch of the Embroiderers' Guild where I really did have a lovely day. Nine friendly ladies who enthusiastically learned how to turn the plastic net bags that contain fruit, into stylish little book jackets. And when I put photos onto my Facebook page there were several requests for a tutorial. So today I have been busy writing, editing and adding to a workshop that I originally wrote for Workshop on the Web and it is now available in my Etsy shop. Instructions include how to make the fabric, how to turn it into a book jacket, or how to make it into a little flower brooch. But if you want to make the bodice you'll have to work that out for yourself!
 
Maybe the future will be digital teaching... who knows?

Friday, 19 June 2015

Five on Friday... From my kitchen

After such a hectic and emotional weekend I have found some peaceful down time in my kitchen this week... so joining in with Amy and Five on Friday I bring you five of the the more photogenic things I have produced... not that the fishcakes or pasta bake etc. were particularly ugly... I just didn't take any photos!
 
1. Elderflower Cordial
 
 
On Monday I went foraging for elderflowers which seem to be particularly abundant in our village this year, which is probably a good thing as everyone I speak to seems to be making cordial this year.
 
 
This resulted in four bottles of rather delicious cordial... almost worth falling over in the hedgerow and twisting my knee for! A sight to behold, but fortunately the pain was relatively shortlived and my knee seems back to normal (which is never great in the first place!)
 
2. Elderflower Cupcakes

 
The cordial inspired a batch of elderflower cupcakes. No time to share the recipe right now but it is a plan to update this blog at some point and add some recipe pages. Don't hold your breath!
 
3. Chocolate Cupcakes
 
 
4. Sticky Toffee and Salted Caramel Cupcakes

 
Okay... I appreciate I'm stretching the whole Five on Friday thing with three different lots of cupcakes but Mr. Fan my Flame had a birthday and wanted to take cakes into the office... so this was them. Three dozen cakes taken in on Wednesday morning... not many brought home Wednesday evening!
 
5. Strawberry Jam
 
 
I often make jam* but can't remember when I last made strawberry jam. But the strawberries were on offer and I fancied making some. That was despite the twenty seven* or so jars of jam and marmalade in the cupboard from last year. It's about enjoying the process right?
 
There has also been lots of walking, meeting up with friends and a bit of soul searching but if I told you all about that it wouldn't be five on Friday, so it will keep for another time. Have a lovely weekend... I'm teaching again tomorrow but I've got a day off on Sunday!
 
Joining in with Amy for Five on Friday

Sunday, 14 June 2015

A Rollercoaster!

Where do I start... do I do a blog post about the final Missenden weekend for my students? Or should I tell you all about the wonderful wedding celebrations first? Or perhaps I should combine both in one long wonderful post because it has certainly been one long wonderful weekend with a rollercoaster of emotions.
 
It started Friday afternoon on arriving at Missenden Abbey. I always try to fit in a walk before heading to the classroom for the evening and as it was our last weekend together after two fabulous years, a few of my students decided to join me. No sooner had we gathered to set off, the rain started! We weren't to be deterred and eventually the rain stopped, our jackets came off and we posed for photos... just to show what a great time we were having despite our very soggy feet!
 

 
Friday evening and Saturday morning were a flurry of activity of setting up exhibitions, meeting with the external verifier, signing off work and greeting visitors. Then at lunchtime on Saturday I did I bit of a Cinderella impersonation with a quick change into my posh frock before heading off to London... no pumpkin carriage  just the Bakerloo and Picadilly lines, but I did bump into my Prince Charming when I got to South Kensington!
 
 
And these four young men... All four sons in suits must be a first!
 
 
It was a wonderful afternoon and evening celebrating the wedding of James and Lizzie. Lots of friends, family, laughter, good food, great speeches and a glass of wine or two!
 
 
But just like Cinderella I left before the witching hour... or at least before the last train back to Great Missenden where perhaps I should show you the final exhibitions of my lovely year two students who passed their City & Guilds level 3 with flying colours!

 
A striking display from Jane
 
 
Terrific work from Anne... the wall hanging is inspired by the buildings of Dubai

 
Lovely colour co-ordinated display from Wendy.
 
 
Beautiful work from Ann
 
 
Really fabulous work from Tracey who has come so far in the work she has produced over the past couple of years.
 
 
Wonderful work from Linda who has also made amazing progress from starting as a beginner in machine embroidery.

 
Stunning work from Mara... more on that in a minute...

 
And last but not least an amazing display from Scilla.
 
And if all that wasn't enough I also had the news that one of my students, Mara had been nominated for a City & Guilds medal of excellence.

 
Each and every student has produced several pieces of work that might be considered for medals of excellence but every single piece of Mara's work has been of an exceptional standard and her accompanying written work also reflects that excellence with everything beautifully and clearly presented. There is still much hard work ahead, mostly for Mara, who will now have to put together a presentation for City and Guilds... but very exciting times too!
 
 
And now after a weekend of rollercoaster emotions of ever increasing highs, I'm winding down with a glass of rather good whisky and a slice of birthday cake... because today also happens to be Joe's 26th birthday (Third photo down, second son on the left!)
 
 
So... happy birthday Joe, well done C & G students... especially Mara and huge congratulations to James and Lizzie, wishing you a very happy life together.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

A Missenden sandwich!

I was quite convinced on June 1st when I'd written my last blog post that this was it... a return to regular blogging for the month of June. I had various ideas floating around of riveting topics that would keep you fascinated and entertained. But alas, eight days later and all the floaty ideas have remained just that and not an single entertaining thought has entered my head. I still have my muddle brain!
 
 
To be fair, at the moment I am sandwiched between two City and Guilds teaching weekends at Missenden Abbey which are always pretty frantic and rule out almost anything much else. Days are spent writing lists, preparing and packing, followed by unpacking and then more preparing and packing. These are the final weekends of the current academic year and we always have exhibitions of the students' work at Missenden. Last weekend was the turn of my first years and here you can see much of their design work on colour.
 
 
A few members of the class have also finished their first assessment project which is a wall hanging and as ever I am amazed at the variety and ingenuity, especially when you consider some of these students were beginners in machine embroidery at the start of the course.
 
 
Penny's beautiful tree showing the root system and rock strata below ground


 
Judith's striking map like hanging based on her daily walks and inspired by the work of Alicia Merret.
 

 
Chris's town scene... deceptively simple yet very effective.

 
A beautiful five part hanging based on the beach from Judy


 
And glorious colours based on Northern Lights from Diane.
 
And this coming weekend there will be more wonderful things on display from my second year students who are finishing their course... Saturday from 11am until 4 pm if you are in the area! Just to complicate matters, not only am I at Missenden this weekend teaching but I'm also taking a few hours off to head into London on Saturday afternoon and evening for  my stepson James and his wife Lizzie's wedding celebrations. Although they had a quiet and private ceremony in Venice in February, on Saturday we are having the full works with all the family at Imperial College where they were both students. I had my nails done today as I thought my usual look of nails and fingers stained with dye and paint probably wouldn't look so good with my new frock!
 
 
So if you come back next week there could be lots more photos of wonderful machine embroidery... and possibly a wedding pic or two as well!
 
All the other fascinating stuff will just have to wait!

Monday, 1 June 2015

The Year in Books - June

As predicted my Year in Books choice for May, The Narrow Road to the Deep North was not an easy, nor comfortable read. It feels wrong to say I enjoyed it when much of the subject matter was so harrowing but I found it engaging and a good read.


I knew very little about the Burma Death Railway and found the descriptions of the conditions and the suffering absolutely horrific. But this is not just a story about war and death but is also a powerful love story. But so sad too... Have a box of tissues at the ready!
 

When I finished I decided I needed a little light relief and picked up the latest novel from David Nicholls when I was at the supermarket. Us.  As I thought, it had a much lighter feel about it and made me laugh out loud on several occasions. It tells the story of Douglas and Connie who have been married twenty years. When Connie announces she thinks that their marriage is over Douglas attempts to win her back. Despite the comic veneer this is a moving and poignant story and at times incredibly insightful. I really enjoyed it despite at times recognising members of my family, and possibly myself, within these pages, which was just a little disconcerting!
 

And so to June... gosh, the months seem to whizz past. This month I am reading Nora Webster by Colm Toibin, which I am already enjoying. Especially with afternoon tea and date slice! This is something I haven't made in years and I don't know what made me think of it now but I'm glad I did. It does taste good! It is a recipe adapted from an old Cranks cookbook. Do you remember Cranks? I first discovered Cranks when I was working in London in the late 1970s and was toying with vegetarianism. They were very much part of the wholefood movement with wholewheat flour, raw sugar and plenty of pulses, beans and sandle wearing hippies. Not a bit like vegetarian food today with its flavourful Middle Eastern influences but good at the time and I loved their salads.  It is years since I've used the cookbook but it still contains some favourites like this date slice.
 
 
This is my version of Date Slice

350g dates
110g oats
125g plain white flour
100g wholewheat S.R. Flour
75g soft brown sugar
150g unsalted butter

Heat the oven to 100 deg C and great and line a tin approx 25cm x 20 cm.
Chop the dates and combine in a saucepan with 6 tablespoons (90ml) of water and heat gently, stirring until you get a thick soft mixture.
In another pan, melt the sugar and butter together until melted and then stir in the flours and oats until combined into a crumble mixture.
Spread half the crumble mixture in the bottom of the tin and press down. Cover with the dates and finish with a final layer of oats. Bake for 20 minutes. Allow to cool in the tin and then cut into slices.
Enjoy with a good book and a cup of tea!
This also works well with apricots... and I'm thinking of trying it with dried figs too. A sort of posh version of fig roll biscuits.


Speaking of apricots I also made a Tarte aux Abricot to take to friends last night. It looked good, tasted good... But the middle was a soggy mess so I need to work on that one before I go sharing recipes... or taking it to friends again! My brain is obviously still in a muddle! 
What are you reading or eating?

Joining in with Laura from A Circle of Pine Trees for The Year in Books