Friday, 24 April 2015

So many Stitches, so little time

I'm still here, just slaving away at a hot sewing machine that has been going like the clappers. Millions, I kid you not, of stitches already done... And many millions more to do. I'm on a deadline and wondering why I always leave things until the last minute. I won't change now... after all, nothing makes me more productive than last minute panic!

So if you'll excuse me, I'm off to see if I can fit in a couple of hours of stitching before I have to leave for another weekend teaching at Missenden Abbey.
I'll see you again when I come up for air... Have a good weekend!

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Sunshine, Cowslips and Pheasants!

My daily walks are still being tackled with great gusto and enthusiasm, a phenomenom which owes much to the glorious weather we've had this week. Let's see if I am still as enthusiastic if I wake up to wind and rain one morning! The landscape may be flat in the part of the country where I live (not good training for a Coast to Coast hike) but it is still beautiful. I've been accompanied every day by the song of skylarks who soar in the big skies we have in East Anglia and this week I spotted a hare, sitting statuesque at the edge of a field before bounding away.
There are also cowslips everywhere in our village, lining the paths and covering the meadows.

There are so many that one or two have self seeded in our garden.

My walks have also inspired my stitching this week and I've made these two cushions.

A couple of rather funny looking pheasants

These are going to another home but I fancy making some for myself, although that is not likely to happen soon...

My short break from work is over and already I'm planning and getting ready for another two back to back weekends away teaching at Missenden Abbey and I've several pieces of work to complete for an exhibition at the end of next month... better crack on!

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Keep on Walking

For years I was a runner. It was such a huge part of my life that I would define myself as a runner. Several times a week, wherever I happened to be I would go out for a run. I loved that feeling of escape, of being outdoors just me and the elements. And I was addicted to the buzz that came after a run. Plus there was that wonderful bonus of being able to eat whatever I liked and stay thin... I like food almost as much as I liked running! I was never particularly good or fast but enjoyed taking part in races. Mostly they were local and fairly short, 10k but I also have a few half marathons under my belt... and two London Marathons too. This is me wet and bedraggled, with my arm in plaster (broken whilst roller skating six weeks before!) crossing the finish line... seventeen years ago!
But unfortunately osteoarthritis in both knees put paid to my running days. I hated not being able to run and although I walked the dog every day it never provided the same buzz or feeling of achievement. And then when the dog died three years ago even walking stopped being a regular part of my life despite a couple of organised walks. But I have recently rediscovered the joy of regular walking.
By gradually increasing the distances I walk my knees seem to be okay... most of the time... and my long time ambition of completing the Coast to Coast walk actually seems to be something I might actually achieve rather than just being a dream. I've bought a couple of books of local walks and I plan to work my way through as many of them as possible. I like the idea of "being in training" and having something to aim for and realise that is what I've missed about my running days. I thrive on targets, goals and challenges. But I've also discovered that unlike running, when I'm out for a walk I have time to observe what is around me and it has made me want to learn more about local flora and fauna... something I know very little about. I can see this becoming a new obsession!

And when I'm not actually walking I have been reading about other people's long distance walks and I have just started Walking Home by Simon Armitage which is very entertaining. All of which, along with gardening and teaching this week, explains why I've not had much time for blogging! And I'm not the only one... Annie has been turning her thoughts to reading about walks too!
I had to laugh... whilst typing up this post, Joe, who usually plays football on a Saturday but doesn't have a game today decided he would go for a run instead. I've just opened the door to him on his return to be met with the words... "That was horrible". Just as well we don't all enjoy the same things I suppose!

Saturday, 4 April 2015

The Year in Books - April

March was a good month for reading. I started with my Year in Books choice for March which was The Foundling Boy by Michel Deon, also our village book club choice for this month. I didn't dislike it but it left me feeling rather indifferent and unimpressed. I just didn't care enough about what happened to the characters. I was also left feeling, as I often find with translations, that there was something lacking. Perhaps if I could have read it in French it might have been different... But I can't... My poor O level French would definitely not be good enough!

Next, I read The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Initially this irritated me as it is written in the form of diary entries and it felt all a little pathetic, self pitying and self obsessed. But once I got into the story I couldn't put it down. A real page turning thriller.

At the time I also happened to be reading a blog that pointed me to another blog, which led me on to another as they do, and I finished up on Molly Wizenberg's blog Orangette. Molly is a talented food writer and on the strength of what I read on her blog I ordered her book Delancey, which is a memoir peppered with recipes. I loved it! I loved the easy frank style of writing and I liked the sound of the recipes too... the type of food I like to cook... and probably the type of book I would like to write too if I were ever to write a book... which is unlikely!
Of course, I couldn't read a book like this and not make something from it and although you may not think so from the photo... I didn't think to take it until we'd made a serious dent in the dish... this Vietnamese noodle salad was amazing, with fragrant fresh flavours and wonderful crunchy vegetables. So amazing I made it again the following day and could quite happily have this for lunch every single day and not get tired of it. Although, even though they enjoyed it, I'm not sure everyone around here was quite so enamoured with that idea!

I enjoyed Delancey so much that I also ordered Molly's first book A Homemade Life, which I remember seeing doing the rounds on blogs years ago... but I'm a bit slow to catch on! It is another memoir but with loads of recipes and I enjoyed it every bit as much as Delancey. And naturally I had to make something from this book too so in order to use up a load of egg whites (the result of all the ice cream last week) I made coconut macaroons. I wish you could smell the wonderful vanilla scent as I took these out of the oven.

I followed the recipe and added a chocolate ganache coating and although they tasted pretty good (Crunchy on the outside with a sweet soft centre) I'm not sure they looked so pretty with a large dollop of chocolate on top and my inclination would be to either leave them plain or just pipe a couple of lines of chocolate over the top.

I've also been browsing through these guides this month too... whilst hatching a plan. It may not come to anything given the problem of finding enough free time combined with my dodgy knees but it is something I have wanted to do for years. I'll be sure to let you know if it comes to anything!

And so after all that I've come to my Year in books choice for April - Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I'm just a few chapters in and already finding it hard to put down.

Which is okay, because having spent most of yesterday baking and cooking for the family, the rest of this holiday weekend is looking pretty free so I'm hoping to get in plenty of walking, gardening and reading. Which is just as well as Gone Girl isn't the only book sitting on the pile beside my bed!

Wishing you all a very happy and relaxing Easter too!
Joining in with Laura of  Circle of Pine Trees and The Year in Books

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep!

So would you like to make your own little hanging Easter birds? Then read on...

You will need a small square of felt (any colour), at least 6" (15 cm) square, some bondaweb, scraps of patterned fabrics in the colours you want your bird, some decorative thicker threads to make cords, a small scrap of yellow or orange felt, a small handful of toy stuffing and some beads for finishing off.

Cut the bondaweb to the same size as your piece of felt and iron it to the felt... Make sure the rough side of the bondaweb is facing down onto the felt or you will end up with a bit of a mess on your iron!

Peel away the paper backing...

Now cut your fabric scraps into different size squares and rectangles between 1" and 2" square, and begin to arrange them over the bondaweb side of the felt. Make sure the fabrics overlap slightly so that none of the felt is showing and don't worry about rough edges.

When you are happy with the arrangement, iron them in place to stick to them onto the felt.

Now it's time to stitch! Thread your sewing machine with a toning thread and start to stitch gently meandering rows of automatic patterns. If your machine doesn't have in built patterns, a zigzag stitch will work just fine. Keep the stitching going in one direction only... If it goes in all directions all over the surface it tends to look a bit of dog's dinner combined with all the patterned fabrics.

Keep going until the entire surface is covered with stitching.

Then change your thread colour and go over it all again, making sure any loose edges are stitched well down. And when you've done that, add another layer of stitch in a glittery or metallic thread to add a bit of sparkle to the surface. If you find it tricky to stitch with metallic threads try using a larger needle (size 100) and loosen the top tension on your machine slightly.

Now mark a 4" (10cm) circle on the back of your felt (I draw around a large mug)... Depending on the size of your felt you might fit in more than one circle and of course you can make different size birds by marking different size circles, but I find 4" is a good size.

Cut out your circle... Or circles...

Set your machine to a close zigzag (satin stitch) and zigzag around the circle, neatening the edges.
You could just stop now and have a fancy coaster or two... but if you are making birds...

Now you need to make the legs. You could use a ready made cord, or plait or twist together some pretty threads but I like to make a machine wrapped cord. Start with three or four pretty threads... About 18" (45cm) lengths of each.

Set the machine for free machine embroidery... Lower the feed dogs and put the embroidery foot on the machine. Choose the zigzag setting and holding your threads taut (this is important to stop the threads disappearing down the race) zigzag over the threads along their entire length.

Cut a small triangle from the scrap of yellow felt for the beak. I usually use a double piece and here I've stitched two bits together. Cut a 9" (20 cm) length of cord and fold it in half for the legs. And now you are ready to assemble your bird...

Fold your circle of fabric in half, tuck the beak under one end and start to stitch the two halves together, trapping the beak as you stitch. When you get half way round tuck the legs in place and stitch them into the seam too. I do this on the machine but you could oversew by hand. 

Stop when you get almost all the way round and put a small amount of stuffing inside the bird before finishing to stitch the two halves together.

Finish off your bird by stitching on a couple of beady eyes, add some larger beads or buttons onto the ends of the legs and stitch on another length of cord on it's back to hang the bird up with. I like to add a couple of bells too. I like to keep them quite simple but you could customise your birds with tail feathers, wings and all manner of decorations. 
Have fun! And do share your results... I'd love to see them!

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Rest and Relaxation

So many of you in recent comments have wished me time for a bit of rest and relaxation over the past few weeks... You really are a very kind and concerned group of readers. But in truth, I find it quite hard to do rest. As I finish a busy period of teaching, I fill my time with other things, but maybe that is a form of rest. There has been time to do gardening, more time for reading and best of all for me, lots of time for cooking too... All of which I find relaxing. So when I say I don't do rest, I guess I mean I don't do sitting around doing nothing!

This weekend has been a particular relaxing weekend, despite having put in many hours working in the kitchen. It all started with friends suggesting we went to see The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel... And me coming up with the idea of a curry evening to follow.

We went to see the film on Saturday afternoon... How decadent was that... Cinema in the middle of the day! That's pretty relaxing in my book! It was lovely, colourful and full of fun and laugh out loud moments. A feel good movie with the added benefit of Richard Gere! I'm now going to make a confession... If I had to choose a one all time favourite film of all the wonderful films I've seen it would be An Officer and a Gentleman. I know... It is sentimental tosh... But sentimental tosh with Richard Gere in that uniform on a motorbike. I just love it... So now you know my guilty secret! 

Anyway... I digress! After the film it was back to our house for the curry evening. Well, more of an Indian inspired menu than actual curries. I made deep fried spicy fish to start. There was then a version of sag aloo with kale rather than spinach...

Tandoori style chicken, spicy lamb kebabs, herb coated paneer all with various chutneys and raita... But I was far too busy to remember to take photos! I made naan bread too...

But the highlight of the evening for me was dessert. Over the week I experimented with ice cream flavours and came up with three Indian inspired ice creams.... An orange and cardamom gelato, a mango and coconut ice and a pistachio kulfi.

And today has been another relaxing day... A morning spent cooking resulting in a family lunch that involved cake... Followed by a very blustery walk!

So that's my weekend of rest and relaxation... Friends and family, a good film, long walks and lots of good food to share that has given me hours of pleasure in the kitchen. And what's more, there are plenty of leftovers for supper followed by Poldark this evening... can't be bad! What is your perfect way to rest and relax?
After all that excitment I nearly forgot... After a bit of random selecting of names, Christina has won one of my little birds. I'm not making any promises, but if I get time I'll do a tutorial so you can all make one should you choose.

Friday, 27 March 2015

A Fabulous Five on Friday

This week I thought I would share five finished projects from my year two City and Guilds students, with whom I was working last weekend. They are nearly at the end of their course and have all worked so hard to produce some amazing items.

1. Ann made this beautiful lace bag using a set of vintage handles that she picked up at a bring and buy sale. The body of the bag combines bought lace combined with free machine embroidery.

2. Scilla spent hours designing and constructing this wonderful tea light lantern which has been stitched onto a dissolvable fabric in order to construct the lace like panels. When she started the course, one of Scilla's ambitions was to be able to design her own projects and she has achieved this with considerable skill and flourish.

3. Tracey devised her own method of stitching onto tin foil to create the amazing panels on her bag. The design is based on tree bark and she has called it "No more tears" in memory of her Mum.

4. Each student has to complete one project using the automatic patterns on their machines and Jane has constructed this fabulous elegant cushion from woven strips of silk. It takes a lot of skill to make something look so simple and elegant as this.

5. Last but not least, Anne made this fun and quirky fish box with three separate compartments, which also uses the automatic patterns on her machine.

I love to see how each student progresses through the course and develops their own individual style. Fantastic work ladies!

Joining in with Amy for Five on Friday.