Wednesday, 14 February 2018

75% pieced

That title only means something to a quilter I think!

The Spring Quilt is 75% pieced, although not 75% done - there are trillions of leaves and flowers to do.
This is the third quadrant.
 Sugar Bowl - I think I might replace the palest green - it looked better in artificial light.
Twin Star - I love this one with its use of my precious and dwindling supply of Nancy Halvorsen fabrics. This will be a lesson in sewing bias seams carefully - every week a technique to master!
Personally I am happy to cut and sew triangles rather than use the method of sewing squares together and then cutting.
Marking the seams is a pain and the seams pull a little, but it is a simpler way for beginners.
 Double Anchor - simple and crisp
Granny's choice - this was a difficult one to work out the pattern - don't think my head was in the right place on Sunday morning! I originally tried it out with a Quarter Square Triangle Unit which would have been a better fit (the squares version was a bit small- not sure why as the seams were accurate). I thought the squares version looked neater though. I'll put a 'scant 1/4" seam' in the instructions.
I have the instructions to write for two blocks for this week's class and the leaves and vines to prepare the Quarter Three. I'm still appliquéing the leaves on the first half though. So little time.....

I pootle about in the early mornings with pattern designs and I have done the last four blocks
I start by building the individual units. I use millimetre units to build the block - so a 4" block would be 40mm (it fits on the page!). So this Goose Tracks Block has four background squares of 40mm (cut 4 1/2" squares) and so on. Then I type out the measurements and make the block up. Finally I compile the instructions with step-by-step pictures.  I have been building a Library of pictures which break down the instructions into their component parts so that I don't have to start from scratch each time.  These are called assets and you can just see some of the triangle assets on the right hand side of the picture. It takes quite a while to put together the instructions.  Especially before I realised I could create my own 'assets'.  I've been making other assets to use for my designs - buttons and embroidery stitches. I find it totally absorbing. You can get quilt design programmes (I had one ages ago) which are really good if you are just making quilts yourself but no good for creating instructions and putting patterns together for sale.  The programme is designed for illustrators and is really powerful. I am all self taught here and have wonderful moments of epiphany when I discover how to do new things! 

Baking this week - Cappuccino Cupcakes.
I had a long discussion with myself about butter versus margarine which involved a lot of 'Googling'. The origins of margarine are pretty grim reading. 

Butter makes the cakes heavier and more dense but very tasty. I always used to use butter because the margarines and spreads used to have horrendous things in them and don't get me started on 'spreads'! My father used to trawl the fridge and throw away anything with hydrogenated fats decades before the general public were alerted to the dangers. We very, very rarely ate fried food and the oil went in the bin after it had been used as it had undergone molecular changes during the heating process. I suppose we were lucky that my father knew about these things - although he always explained things in great detail.  The laws of physics are hard for little children to understand, but I am so grateful he made our lives the richer by being curious about everything! Things did sink in even though our  eyes became glazed and our little bodies fidgeted. I hope I have carried this curiosity on to my children and grandchildren although my understanding of things is feeble in comparison with my father's. It is a source of great regret that he did not live long enough to see his grandchildren grown into men and have their own families. For them as well, not to have known such an incredible person. Such is life.

To get back to the subject in hand!  These cupcakes were made with margarine and the icing with butter, which sets much harder (especially in the winter). The only time I use margarine is in baking and I always read the list of ingredients first. I might have a little experiment with oil in baking - that has nothing added.

Max stayed on Saturday again - he is much better now although his ear is still not recovered. His grommet dropped out. Steph rescued it to show to the doctor.
He lives in his own little world and every little engagement with his eyes is a joy.  They are becoming more frequent - little steps, big blessings.  He's a such happy little boy and although his condition isolates him in many ways he is very loving and that is so precious.

So now the housework is calling, in particular the bathroom. Oh joy.  

I have pancakes left over from yesterday so I will feast on the delights of pancakes with lemon and sugar for a nutritious lunch... I might make a vegetable soup to stop my halo from tarnishing. Oh I forgot - that ship sailed long ago!

My love to you all on Valentine's Day. 

Until next time. xx

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Getting into the Swing of Spring

I know it may be a bit premature with a cold week ahead but I'm starting to feel that enthusiasm that comes with Spring. I'm noticing the lengthening days. I feel like doing things outside inside of hibernating under a quilt. And of course the Spring Quilt is coming along apace.

Blocks 5-8 are now completed. I'm so glad I went with the pastel colours. It feels delicate and new - just like a spring bud!
These are the Valentine Heart and the Tea Leaf Block.

I decided to make the blocks really simple - based mainly on nine patch blocks with basket type blocks in the corners. So far there is a basket of grapes, a tea leaf (we drink lots of tea at the class) and the next ones are in the planning stage. Sugar Bowl will be the next corner block, but I haven't decided on the last one yet.

I managed to get the lemon curd done ready for some Viennese Whirls. Yum.  Homemade Lemon Curd is one of the great delicacies of all time.
Vienesse Whirls filled with buttercream (with a couple of teaspoons of lemon curd added) - a centre of sharp sweet lemon curd oozes out when you bite into them - I'm making your mouth water aren't I?

Grate rind from 4 lemons then squeeze juice. (5 lemons if they are small)
200g caster sugar
100g butter cut into cubes
3 eggs and 1 egg yolk
(you can add two teaspoons of cornflour  at the melting stage if you are worried it will not set properly)
Melt the sugar, butter and lemon juice & rind in a bowl over a pan of simmering water.  Lightly whisk eggs yolks and and sieve into the melted mixture. Stir gently until thickened.  Pour into clean jars and store in the 'fridge.  They won't last long!
These are ex- Nutella glasses which handily come with a little snap-on top. If you are going to give away as gifts or store for more than a week (like that will happen!) you should sterilise the jars.

You can make a lovely cake using a Victoria Sandwich recipe with a big dollop of lemon curd added to the mix. Sandwich together with lemon curd (and cream or buttercream if you are feeling indulgent). I'll dig out my recipe given to me by an 80-year old baker from the WI some 35 years ago when I used to bake for the WI market in Durham. It was the most delicious cake I had ever tasted and that is going some, as my mother was a great baker, so too was my maternal grandmother - her bread was out of this world. Actually I have a lot to thank my Grandmas for.  My paternal grandmother was from Belgium and, along with her twin sister, worked at Harrods making silk and satin underwear by hand for bespoke orders.  She died when I was thirteen so, sadly,  never knew how much hand stitching would come to mean in my life. Her father was a baker in a village in Belgium. It's all in the genes!

Max stayed at the weekend.
He's still not very well and had rather a restless night. Steph took him to the doctor on Monday afternoon - poor little mite had a burst eardrum. He's had problems with his ears since he was tiny.  He had grommets fitted but I'm guessing they must have fallen out.
He likes to have his rabbit on top of his head  (as you do) I saw him last night and he is much better - all smiles and jumping around again, thank goodness.  He'll be back this weekend so I get to have lots of cuddles - I love it so much - two year old's cuddles are the best thing in the world! I have to stop myself nibbling him to bits though. They lose patience with that when they get older.

So until next time - be safe and well.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Feeling Chipper Again

I'm sitting here drinking my morning coffee and feeling so grateful that I'm back to my normal self. Ready for the world and all it has in store for me. I can't believe January is nearly over already though. The spring quilt is coming on nicely.  It took a while for it to develop in my head but it's there now.

This is a quarter of it done with some more blocks at the cutting stage. More vines and flowers to add too - a gentle evening job I think.

This is a screen shot of the first eight blocks.  I'll be getting down to cutting some more later. I get up far earlier than I need to but I love to spend quiet time making instructions after I've showered and had breakfast and before I leave for work.

Later in the day......

Having more energy has made me feel more energised if that makes sense. The fridge was a bit of a disgrace so I had a big sort and clean - not too much in the way of unrecognisable I'm pleased to say. There were some vegetables a bit past their best so I made some soup, Sweet potato, red peppers, onion, carrots and chilli - quite sweet but the chilli gives it a nice warm kick - two bowls for our tea and a pot to take to work tomorrow.

I'd planned some lasagne and chicken fajitas so I set that all away too.

I use chicken thighs which are much juicer than breast meat - cut into strips they cook really fast.
What better thing in life is there than golden bubbling cheese? With the left over bolognese mixture I added spinach and some pasta for some more 'Will Boxes'.  He can heat the chicken and put them in some wraps for his lunch.
A little sprinkle of parmesan only adds a few calories but makes all the difference. Oh and whilst the oven was on,  I roasted a joint of lamb I bought last night.
I'm not that keen on lamb but Will loves it so I thought I'd slice it up so that he can use it for sandwiches or I can make the Sunday Lunch without having loads of pans to wash. I'll make some gravy with the juices and then there will be just the vegetables to cook fresh.

So now, just after 4pm I'm just having a cup of tea and then I'll get going with some lemon curd which I need for the little viennese whirls I'm going to make for the class tomorrow.  Then I think I will settle down with some sewing. The ironing may or may not get done.

It has suddenly gone very dark - I'll just go and check to see if the sheets are dry yet.  Its been a marvellous drying day today - bright sunshine and very windy. Double pegs required!

Phew it's a bit nippy out there! They weren't quite dry but there's no warmth out there now - the sun is just dipping behind the trees.

The weather has been strange this past week with all sorts - snow, wind, rain and bright sunny - even 'warm' days all the the space of a week. Some of the sunsets have been spectacular - this is over the course of twenty minutes one evening

Light is a wonderful thing!

John has been poorly and finally had to give in and take a day off work this week.  He's been nursing a virus for more than a week but I got a call on Sunday to ask if I'd have Max who had kept him up for hours on Saturday night. I collected him and we helped Will feed the hens and kick a ball around the garden. Max is a terrible sleeper and they often   nearly always have broken nights - not good for their own health as bodies repair and renew during the night. I said I would have him every Saturday night until they get a bit pulled round.  John works far too hard and I think he is beginning to realise that it can't be sustained.

Max is two and a half and is in the process of being diagnosed for autism. I don't think they have any doubts, they are just working out the level. He is charming, loving and extremely hard work. We just need to share it out more! Of course the work comes with plenty of cuddles.
 He's got lovely wavy blond hair and I hate it when he has just been cut!
He's playing tickle tickle with Will, who grabs his hand and he goes into peals of laughter. He doesn't have as many melt-downs as he used to have - long may that continue, especially when Steph takes him out to the park and he doesn't want to come home! He goes to nursery three mornings a week and Steph takes him to a little group another morning.  He could easily sit in his own little world for hours but I think the social contact has helped him a lot. He doesn't make much eye-contact but when he does it is such a joyful moment.

So I better get going or the lemon curd will be courtesy of Sainsbury's and I'll have a big pile of unused lemons.....

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Lost weeks

I felt a bit duff on New Year's Day - just put it down to the to and fro of the Christmas season. But Oh boy was I wrong. The Flu - first time since I was a teenager and that was some decades ago! I felt so poorly I could have literally given up the ghost.  Here we are three weeks into the New Year and I feel as weak as a kitten. Still coughing but so much better. So much better.  It has given me a real fright.  I've always had good health and could shake off minor ailments without a thought. Not that I really suffered with anything apart from the odd dicky tummy or runny nose. Now I realise how lucky I have been with my health.  Not that I didn't appreciate it before but I don't want to feel like that again - ever!

I've picked up things listlessly and put them down again. A couple of rows of crochet. A few stitches on the quilt. But now I am ready to face the world and want to catch up with what I've missed. Although I am still lacking in energy, I want to get going and put the beginning of 2018 into the bin. Consequently I have very little to tell you since the last post. But onward and upward Biggles!

So I've been working on the first block of our new Spring Quilt as You Go. This is called Grape Basket.
The quilt will be four blocks of four separated by appliquéd vines and leaves. I'm still undecided about whether to use pastel spring colours or raid my stash of richer colours.  I know I have enough of the richer colours (ha! slight understatement) but I think I have enough of the spring colours too. Actually come to think of it I have another plan for the richer colours, so there - that's the decision made.

Another block added today - Hole in the Barn Door. So this is the basis of the new quilt.  With the turquoise sashing. I'm not doing Quilt as you Go for this although it's designed to be done that way as the ladies requested.  I personally don't like the back of QAYG designs or the drape with its tendency  to fall into the component squares and shapes. Obviously it's a bit more difficult to handle, especially if you don't use a hoop to quilt.

We had chocolate caramel core cupcakes at the class this week. Very sweet!
Will has been cooking too - in batches which go in the freezer.
I've got some broth and some Boeuf Bourguignon on the go at the moment.  Will is  at Alex's (and has been to Alex's Dad's house in Southampton this weekend.)  They are back in Lancashire but he has to make the trip over the A66 tonight and it has been snowing here this afternoon for about an hour (maybe an inch or so) but seems to have stopped. I'll be keeping an eye on the travel sites to make sure his route is open.

John and Steph went out for a meal last night so I was baby-sitting.  They are so good that it is never a chore. Ben was happily playing on the iPad and Max was running round in circles when I got there.  I get loads of cuddles because they are so affectionate. We all went up to bed at the same time (although I wasn't staying) Max wasn't sleepy but Ben went straight off.  Daddy and Mammy got back at 10pm and Daddy carried him back to his own bed. Bad planning there as I had a bagful of crochet which was not touched,  but then I can crochet when they're all grown can't I? I left him cuddling Max down.  They weren't very impressed with the restaurant but appreciated the time out.

So now I am going to appliqué the leaves and stems and maybe prepare a few little flowers.  There's not much ironing to do, for which I'm grateful!  I'll put the hens to bed for the night as soon as it is dark and then cuddle down with some crochet in front of the fire.  The satellite signal is going a bit haywire so I'm glad I've got stuff recorded.  Until next time - much love to you all.

Monday, 1 January 2018

Kicking back - looking forward

I had a lovely day on Saturday quilting at the Sit and Sew at High Street Quilting.  I took my first UFO which will be going as a Quilts for Comfort Quilt.  Love this quilt design. But then I love rainbow things.
We had a quick tour of the new shop - a bit of a wreck at the moment but sooo much potential. It's very exciting.  There are some 'before' pictures on the link above.  Hilary thinks she should be in sometime in February.

I have completed six of the ten rows of the hourglass quilt and hoped to get a bit more done yesterday but Ben came for New Year's Eve and New Year's Night as his Mammy is poorly.  Max has a chest infection and his Daddy is busy making sure they are both ok. Ben is playing with Will at the moment.   We were going for a walk to the local woods yesterday to do some bug hunting as the weather was bright, cold and sunny, but I think the lure of Will's computer was more appealing. We made pizza last night - Cheetzo flavour (Chorizo)
I've been busy sorting out a design for a Spring Quilt as You Go for my Thursday night quilt class
I start off compiling the main size of the quilt and then work on individual parts of the design.  Then I go on to drawing out the different elements and making initial measurements and fabric requirements.  The pattern is written last and if I haven't already made the quilt I try to keep one step ahead of the class to test for errors!  This will have 15 blocks separated by panels of flower and leaf vines.  The class will quilt each block and each vine panel separately and then join them all together at the end.  It's a long task for them so I'll need to intersperse a few other projects.  I have a bag and wall hanging in mind at the moment.  I'm not sure whether to do different pieced blocks (they are just coloured on the diagram at the moment) or a mixture of pieced and appliquéd blocks or a single design. - Might leave it up to them, but as I am making it myself as well I'll have to sort something out!  I think the design will change a few times before it reaches the class.

I'll have to pace myself to make sure I do some UFO work too. So little time! It's very frustrating because I never really feel like sewing after a long day at work but I can't afford not to work.  Apart from running out of backing fabric and wadding I've got enough fabric to last a hundred years or so. Not to mention wool and craft paint...... Trouble is I'm still in Christmas design mode - it's not the same when you do things out of season.

However it's New Year's Day and I'm looking forward to all the lovely things 2018 has to offer.  I wish you all a good year.


Wednesday, 27 December 2017

No Spring Chicken

Most people, when they hurt their back, apply heat, Deep Heat, wheat packs, warm baths etc, but although that gives temporary relief it is entirely the wrong thing to do.  ICE ICE ICE.
At the beginning of December I repainted my kitchen. I could get a decorator in. Yes I should get a decorator in, but I don't. Last time I had a decorator in, and any time before that I am disappointed with the results. Paint splashed, surfaces not prepared, shock/horror bubbles in the wallpaper.  So up and down the ladders I went, taking down and washing venetian blinds, washing ceilings, prepping, glossing, rollering.    To cut a long story short after four days of slog I have a lovely bright fresh kitchen. And a bad back. I can't remember a specific incident where I felt something go, but for three weeks I have been suffering, cursing my lack of healing, popping pills, wearing ice-packs and having treatment for a trapped sciatic nerve.  John reckons I did too much, I think I did twist something at some point, but whatever caused the pain,  I am no spring chicken and I don't recover as quickly.  It's quite (very) depressing knowing that you are probably past doing some things but I can't give in gracefully.  Luckily I work in a back pain clinic - treatments, proper chairs with support, plentiful supplies of ice. Apart from extending my holiday by two days, I haven't lost any time at work.

These past few days over Christmas have been great.  I operate a no-fuss Christmas. Everything was prepared on Sunday. No over the top, just in case a hoard of locusts descends, purchases. Just what we needed for three days. Not sure if my plate proportions match the perfect proportion of vegetables to meat on this one....
It's taken some years to learn this approach but it works.  I have nothing to throw away at the end of it. I boned a turkey and stuffed and rolled it,  so a perfect carving joint. Lovely cold turkey sandwiches and bubble and squeak for Boxing Day. It's all gone now, apart from some Christmas pud, which, martyr that I am, I will finish.

We went to John's on Christmas morning to deliver the presents. I gave money this year for their savings.  They have so many toys. I can feel a soap-box moment coming on so I'll stop there.  Suffice it to say it was nice to get back to the calm of my little house! I loved my time with young children and the excitement of Christmas but I get very frustrated with the Spendfest that Christmas has become.

I spent Christmas night preparing and stitching a lovely heart ornament from a kit that I bought at Harrogate in November.  Its about 7" high and part of a series of wonderful designs from Mandy Shaw
 It has inspired me for all sorts of designs.
I finished it on Boxing Day, listening to the start of the Stephen Fry's 79 hour reading of the complete tales of Sherlock Holmes. That won't be a binge-listen though! is really good value for me. I read about 40-50 books on my Kindle every year and some paperbacks that people lend me. The audible books are for car journeys to work and when I'm stitching and want something other than silence.
This is from Alex, who has similar reading tastes. It's about Rene Descartes, bit sad though. Paperbacks tend to come from Alex or Karin. On my Kindle I'm reading Dark Skies by LJ Ross

This has kept me going through some of the sleepless nights I've had because of the back problem. Gosh I do so hate not being a spring chicken. Did I mention that already?

2018 is going to be the year of finishing more than I start. (Karin said, yeah right, when I told her - she knows me so well!)  I've lots of ideas buzzing around my head for projects for my classes in 2018, but I must finish some of the UFOs lying around too. I must.

I'm off now to heat up a nutritious lunch of Christmas pudding. Waste not want not, and,  come to think, it's finishing something I've started. Ha!

Saturday, 23 December 2017

New stocking designs

I was asked to make two elf stockings for a friend's first grandchild, one for home and one for the said grandparents (the same baby as the rather bright baby quilt I made a little while ago).  They wanted them the same but different.
I enjoyed doing a slightly different design - most of mine have snowmen and trees and Father Christmas designs.  Not sure about the name, but I know that's a matter of personal preference.

However when my Best Friend became a grandmother for the first time on 16th December and sent me a picture of the minutes old baby Harry with his little Christmas Pudding hat,  I knew exactly what design I wanted and spent a happy afternoon drawing out the design and cutting out and fusing the pieces.
I put it in the post straight away in the hope that they will get it in time for Christmas.
He was supposed to be born between Christmas and New Year but she was induced three weeks early because of some problem with her gall bladder. Mother and baby doing well and home safe now.

Talking of snowmen......

Making marshmallow snowmen heads for melted snowman cupcakes.
Vanilla cupcakes with marshmallow and cream cheese frosting and little chocolate twig arms. Last week we had cupcake trees, decorated with little jelly pieces
A little less topping in the New Year will be the order of the day I think.  January - the month of diets and resolutions.

As you do when there is limited time I decided to make some little stockings for people at work, seeing as this is my first Christmas at the Clinic. I love doing these little ones, which are about eight inches high.
People are always very appreciative of the work you put in to these but I am always taken aback by the monetary value they place on these things. (They often say I should sell them).  We are so used to paying Far East prices for inferior goods that we have no real idea of the value of domestically produced items.  For a full sized stocking I use half a metre of fabric, plus the decoration fabric, fusible web, wadding, buttons, thread and ribbon. They take about six hours to make, very often more.  Claire from work thought I could sell one for "at least £10". That is no bad reflection on Claire, it's just what we are used to.  £10 wouldn't even cover the materials!  When you figure in the amount of time for even designing some of the images, selling them doesn't make sense.  (Some of the above designs are from Nancy Halvorsen - a designer that has inspired me for many years)

Talking about value and cost, I bought some cheese for John - Cuddy's Cave from the Cheese Farm at Blagdon in Northumberland.  It's locally made, absolutely delicious and in comparison with supermarkets, pretty expensive. I was indirectly criticised for buying it "you need to take out a mortgage".  We expect to pay so little for our food. We get rubbish - tasteless, uniform mass produced junk. I won't buy it. Period.  With my farming background I get really annoyed that we are content to buy a cheap chicken, or cheap tasteless cheese but are happy to pay the same amount for a sweet, salty, fatty burger with little thought about the production methods, or the effects on our health and the environment.  The chicken I buy costs about £7-8 but tastes gorgeous, makes Sunday lunch, sandwiches, chicken stir fry and broth. I don't waste any of it, I can't afford to and it makes me appreciate it more and I don't need to smother it in salt and other flavourings.  I actually don't spend any more on my weekly shop because of it. My mother's friend had a very apt saying - "I can't afford to buy cheap things"

Off my soap box now.

I've been making little stars for the tree - I love how quickly these come together. 
I made a little kit (enough for two stars) as a gift for the ladies at the quilt class. I enjoy the simplicity of the Scandi colours. Not to climb on my soapbox again - but who thought pink and turquoise represented Christmas?  

I have been sitting typing here, in the morning dark (yippee we have passed the Winter Solstice), watched the sky change from pinks and azure to a bright fresh blue with the sun beaming down on a crisp winter day. I think it's about time I did some wrapping of presents, maybe with a little mince pie and a cup of hot coffee.  Just to leave you with a picture of Ben's first Nativity Play - his class were Stars.
Watching him sing 'When Santa got stuck up the chimney' took me back a quarter of a century. Ben and John - two of my bright stars. How lucky I am.

Merry Christmas everyone.