Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Time to shake my conifers

Coming towards the end of February is making me feel that time is passing so quickly this year. I can hardly believe that we are nearly into the third month. I know perceptions of time change as you get older but it still comes as a shock. Does time pass more quickly when you’re busy and we are all running around so much that we don’t take time to breath? It seems like old hat to say this but what is the answer? I can’t say I don’t take time for myself because I do - uninterrupted time spent drawing and stitching and even watching television.

As the nights get lighter I’ll be tempted out into the wilderness that is my garden, although at the moment the only fruitful job is to shake the snow from my trees and shrubs

That is not a black and white picture!
 This is my car yesterday - half swept of snow. but the roads were clear.
This was the scene last night - snow going sideways. It took me two hours to get home. It looks like a sprinkling of snow on top of the car but it was actually hail stones that had stuck to the roof.  They had come down so hard that we had to shout to be heard over the noise of ice hitting the car. The A1(M) was at a near standstill and the cars were having to take turns going down a particularly steep section. I am so glad it is my day off today.  I live at the top of a particularly steep hill and no traffic is going by so I'm guessing the road has been closed.

There are some however who love the snow
 Ben on his way to school yesterday. It's shut today and his cousin Grace is coming round to play.
Max loves the snow and Steph had a hard time getting him back in the house.  Ben gave him chicken pox - he has a big blister next to his eye and loads on his body. Ben is recovering now, just a bit scabby!

Will had to walk to work today. He has a BMW which are notorious for being bad in the snow.

So today I'm stitching, strangely enough.
I made an egg cosy at the weekend, this was a tester for the size and today I'm going to make some more with other designs on.
First tracing the designs on to fusible web - I love this stuff and buy it in 5m rolls! My favourite is Heat'N'Bond.
 A little embroidery and cutting out the lining
Trimming away the excess wadding helps the shape. So now on to a little duckling, an egg and maybe some bunting.

I decided to make some more brownies this week for class. Coconut flour brownies won the day with teaspoons of Biscoff. I think I prefer the caramel rather than the Biscoff.
They were incredibly rich - from a lovely book which should really be on the banned list!
I'm having a chocolate free March so I'll either have to bake alternatives or not eat the things I've made. Should be the latter shouldn't it? Perhaps I should put chocolate in every week.

I was asked if I could bring a flower pattern to make for a WI event (?) I remembered the fabric one I made at the Crafts House.  Sandra gave us a wooden pattern and we cut out three papers (and then fabric ones). 
I used some gorgeous liberty fabric given to me by Karen (thank you!).
I cut out petals and stitched them together, adding a little shading to the edges with an ink pad. 
Finally I added a button to the centre and crinkled the petals for a natural look.  I used No Sew fusible web so the petals have some stability.  I don't know whether to take a crocheted flower as well although it is a patchwork and quilting class not a crochet class!
Made from yarn from Toft Alpaca yarn, bought at a wool fair a few years ago. Unfortunately the moths got at the scarf I made. I've got cedar wood in my pure wool stash now.
This one is from linen yarn from Quince and Co.
It became part of some curtain tiebacks but I also made a dress from the same yarn for a knitted rabbit.
The pattern is from Little Cotton Rabbits. She has lovely, lovely patterns and a blog (see my side bar)

Well, after a brief lull the snow is falling again so I'm going to do a few chores and then settle down for a quiet day making egg cosies and stitching down some leaves on my Spring Quilt.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

So many leaves

A little clutter of pieces cut and ready to sew.  I seemed to make an awful hash of cutting one of the blocks - the bouquet of flowers.  I don't know what I was thinking but I certainly wasn't concentrating! 
So - clearing the decks a bit, the last quarter of the quilt is ready to be sewn
It's so important to test the blocks before I print them out.  I often find silly mistakes which slip through the design and print process.
So this is the last quarter pieced.  The little vine is not sewn down but needs to be in place before the next leaf panel is sew on.
So now there are  42 more leaves to make - slight groan. I'm not sure how to treat the centre - should it have a little group of flowers to connect the vines? I'll get the leaves on first.  Then the flowers. I haven't decided whether to put another vine border on yet. 
The quilt is 62" square now but I feel it could do with some more on the length, but not the width. Possibly a panel of little blocks and vines would look good.  I'll have a play on the computer first. After the leaves and flowers are sew on though!  

I was looking through my old posts and realised there was one that was still in the draft box.  It is out of date now but I thought I'd put a couple of the pictures on. Both photos have rather gorgeous subjects!
Will and Alex just about to go to a wedding party in Northumberland, looking very smart.
and carrot cake - moist and spicy, nestled in the tin ready to go to work. I don't often use nuts, but you can't make authentic carrot cake without nuts can you?

Anyhoo. Something with less sugar.

A neighbour gave us some kale this weekend - a rather large branch.  Scruffy the Rabbit likes kale, but so do we! Alex and I had some kale crisps - torn into little pieces, sprinkled with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, baked in a medium hot oven for a few minutes - yum.  The difference in time between crispy and burnt is very small so it's important to keep any eye on it, or you have kale cinders.  I like kale cut into little ribbons and added to stews and soups too.  I find it a bit strong for eating as a stand-alone vegetable - unless it's cavalo nero, which is not quite so bitter.  I like to juice it too with apples and cucumber.
So - back to sugar. I made an experimental brownie this week with 'biscuit butter' - like peanut butter but made with caramelised biscuits instead of peanuts.  I think I baked it a bit too long because it wasn't quite a fudgey as it should have been.  Full of butter and chic chips it's not for the faint-hearted. I might make another batch for the ladies at the class. Although the coconut flout brownie is excellent too. Decisions, decisions.  if you want the recipe: - for European tastes it's probably better to leave the cinnamon out or use half a teaspoon. I sometimes use cups and sometimes convert to grams - for instance 6 tablespoons of butter is 85g and it's much easier to weigh it than scoop it in and out of a tablespoon measure! I used my set of cup measures for the rest of the ingredients though.

As Easter approaches a girl's thoughts turn, naturally,  to quilted egg cosies.  I'm experimenting with some designs on the computer first - learning to 'paint' with my design programme - the first attempt at making a plaid is a bit rough to say the least but it's coming on. I'm quite proud of my bunny drawing though.

This wasn't done on the drawing tablet - just the track pad on the lap-top.  I class Wednesdays as my creative day off, so this afternoon will be spent on making leaves and maybe tonight playing with plaids on the computer.

Until next time...

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.