Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Four eeks and a holiday

Last week we went to France. We had to. We hadn’t had a break since August (Christmas and all it’s attendant busy-ness doesn’t count) and I thought my head would explode if I didn’t. Stop. Doing.

Bliss. A few days doing not very much of anything, except eating croissants and macaroons (not together)

drinking the local wine (rude not to) and taking hundreds of photos.

The dog even tried out his new chariot in anger. Well, more in anxiety than anger although it did get a bit toothy at one point. Kind of his own wine tour of Burgundy, if you like, but with an extra h in it.

We stayed in a medieval village, all crumbling yellow stone walls and roses and irises everywhere. I have a thing for iron railings and stone carvings, and have to snap them, much to the Child’s chagrin. Almost as bad as my seaweed photography habit.

There was a private pool we could visit too, but ‘twas a bit nippy...

I came back with my husband’s cold, which quite frankly we would have happily not re-imported, so had some more enforced down-time for the rest of half-term. I did catch up with some light reading and even managed to pootle up to London to see the PRISM exhibition in it’s new venue. And my head is finally clearer (if not my nose – TMI?).

So now it’s onwards, the last big push before the summer! Armed with my clear head and new inspiration I need to tackle some biggies before I can rest again: I’ve got my first ever talk to a quilting group next week (eek!), my first ever article for an e-magazine to write (double eek!!), Art Trail in the middle of July, and the prep for my first ever Missenden Abbey summer school (triple eek!!!) – all to be fitted in-between invigilating exams at the school.

We’re also nearly a “go” on our elaborate plans to create a bespoke studio space for me: I’m definitely feeling like I need my own space to contain all these spinning plates; the corner of the dining room just isn’t up to the job anymore! But it does involve doing this (quadruple eek…)

(That red line is a hole in the wall, or will be...and yes yes, hopefully it will  have straight edges!!)

I did promise pics of finished student work from last term (which is fabulous) but that will have to be next time. That'll do for now!

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Running to keep up

This blog is a very good indicator of the state of my mind. I've been absent from my blog for a long while, but here in spirit. Similarly I have felt all year that I am absent from my own life: full of intention, meeting all my obligations, but not actually there in person to experience or enjoy it. Making any sense?!

I take random photos of things I'm doing, such as making date flapjacks 

with the full intention of blogging about them.

Here is lemon posset, this weekend's offering. So easy to make:

And here is Janet Crowther next to her fabulous work at the Ramster exhibition:

What a dark horse, not telling us she'd entered it!!

I have so many projects on the go I can't keep up with them. Here is the beginning of a secret project, deadline for June, when I'll show you more (admittedly not very exciting here!)

The classes finish this week, so I'll be able to share their fantastic work soon. And we have a mini class exhibition/open day in June (still to be arranged, no. 492 on the to-do list) so more photos then.

 Exam season is also upon us, and as I am now one of the senior exam bods, I am a bit preoccupied with that. I do get to boss other invigilators about, but the pressure is on me to make sure all is proper and correct. As I am usually given the smaller exam rooms but the naughtier students, this all feels a bit precarious at times! Sometimes the time drags, but sometimes it is lovely to have the headspace. The only problem is, I can think about all the other things I need to do, but not be able to do any of them!

I promise to be back at the end of this week with more pics of student stitchery. If not, know that I am here in spirit!

Friday, 24 April 2015

Ready-made projects

A while back a group of us planned a biggy "proper" exhibition, in a gallery and everything, and I started a series of work based on one of my husband's poems. Well then the others got cold feet, so we cancelled and my work was put in a box file and shelved.

Fast forward and I actually have three exhibitions coming up this year, with an urgent need for new work! And one of them (thankfully the last one, in November) is at the gallery we pulled out of previously. So after musing about what to start, but needing to start something, I pulled down my box file and just look what I found:

Sketchbook pages ready to be stitched and bound

Painted papers for collaging ideas


Musings on imagery and symbolism


Pattern pieces organised in folders

Bags of threads, fibres and fabrics

Tentative samples

Love this bit...on water soluble, but not yet dissolved.

This is virtually a kit! All I need to do is remember how I was going to get all these ideas to work together....and decide on a scale.....and actually start....again

Why is it that we get so far with things, and then just as they reach the point where they could be finished, or we reach that breakthrough moment, we shelve them? Anyone else find this?

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Soapy Stevens

Hello again! It's been a while, and as usual I've been busy, and taking photos the while, always with the intention of writing a blog post - but not actually writing it! (When I was in college, I used to think about writing or phoning home, and then when I did, Mother would say she had been thinking about it too - and writing letters in her head but never sitting down to put them on paper and post them. Actually, we're both the same now, and it's 24 years later!)

At the start of the holidays we had The Girls for a sleepover and a climbing party, to celebrate Girl's 14th birthday.

Then it was the exhibition in Seaford with my usual last-minute flurries of preparation. We had nearly 600 visitors in all, and everyone sold something - hooray! It was utterly lovely to spend time just sitting, either in the gallery or on the beach, without the guilt that I should be "doing" something.

Since the exhibition finished I've caught up on some gardening, and even done a bit of dressmaking. Remember when I made a sort of sack? This time I've made a voluminous blouse. My reasoning being the Japanese models in my dress books are so slight and willowy, I need to scale up and cut out a 12 not a 10. And then my seam allowances are probably a bit off too, so I keep ending up with large, shapeless bags. Comfy, but definitely bags! Just as well I don't teach dressmaking...

In news of sourdough, I have well and truly got this nailed, I can tell you. Look at that:

And the "crumb" shot:

And how about hot cross buns from the excess starter?! Genius! Ok, they were ready at 10pm on Easter Sunday so a little more work may be needed on the timings, but they were utterly delicious for breakfast!

And today yesterday I finally got round to making a batch of seaweed soap, something I've been meaning to do since last August. The packets of dried seaweed from the French health food shop have been sitting there waiting patiently, but I admit I chucked away my hand collected and "home dried" (ie laid out on a bin bag in the sun until crispy) seaweeds from the beach. 

It was all a bit of a palaver, involving multitudinous implements, pans and items of protective clothing, but the smell lingering in the house now is amazing, and no! It's not what you think! I used sweet geranium, bergamot and patchouli essential oils (and a touch of green clay). I can't wait until the four weeks is up and I can try it! 

* Two Way Stretch, 1960, starring Peter Sellers, Bernard Cribbins et al

Friday, 20 March 2015

Fifty on Friday

Five? Pah!

I've been so unbelievably slack with posting pictures of the amazing work happening in class, so now I'm going to have to pay for it with a massive post to show what we've been doing! Brace yourselves...

First, way back in January, we indulged in my favourite stitchy exercise - strips of texture, sari silks and wot-not. These were then embellished with metal bits and pieces, in the following weeks, as we got more confident stitching on metal:

(Our first experiments with metal were simple samplers, of "foot-on" stitching then free-machining, posted way back here).

Then we played around with positive/negative images, which is REALLY HARD to do with metal, as it is a pig to cut intricate shapes without shredding your hands unless you have a fancy die-cutting device! We had some good results using chocolate wrappers and foil from dark chocolate bars, which seemed to please the troops (can't think why...)

Using the same shapes, we experimented with distressed kunin felt motifs on foiled or metal backgrounds (and there is a rogue fish there, not on metal, but fun nevertheless!):

And then another one of my favourites: since half-term we have been stitching metal with a water-soluble fabric backing. This allows separate pieces to be linked with stitch, which I then chose to weave into, after the backing was dissolved away:

You can also stitch fringes and decorative edges, as the fabric supports the stitch until you dissolve it. And for the really brave, you can incorporate beads, sequins and washers as embellishments to your fringes and edges - stitching directly into them with the sewing machine needle (you may well need to change to a thinner needle first, and perhaps remove the foot!).

Top picture here is the intrepid Jill, bravely stitching away into metal and beads, without a presser foot:

Then for the all-important embellishments, we've had a go at making beads with metal shim and wire. Our favourites were the beaded wire tangles!

And along the way, there have been some wonderful creations, and more are still works-in-progress:

Looking back at that lot, I think we deserve a holiday!

Monday, 9 March 2015

My second favourite pastime

This post was going to be a sharing post with loads of photos of students' work. But seeing as my husband has "borrowed" my laptop for the day, and uploading and formatting photos takes forever on the ithing, perhaps tomorrow....it could be a Teaching Tuesday post.

Meanwhile, back at today, I am indulging in my love/hate/favourite/detested pastime: a spot of procrastination! On the surface, I am having a lovely time. I'm now winding up threads and stranded cottons. 

I rescued this lot from the bin early this morning, having chucked them out late last night as I couldn't be bothered to sort them.

I had already sorted this lot, while watching a telly programme about wolves...I know I will always associate these threads with wolves and buffalo now...that's how my brain seems to work (I listen to a lot of Radio 4 while I work and cook,  and can always remember what I was listening to when I look back at finished work, or my stash of marmalade...)

Yesterday I sorted all these drawers of thicker threads, sari silks and rainbow-dyed wools. I've acquired the Girl's old bedside drawers, so three more drawers for my stuff! And with a lot of thread and fabric being decluttered and charity shopped, those drawers are wonderfully organised and uncluttered. Fabulous stuff.

But underneath, deep down, I know I shouldn't be doing this. I should be designing and stitching. I have an exhibition over Easter, and as my husband keeps insensitively pointing out "before we know it, it will be (Girl's) birthday and the end of term". YES I KNOW! 

Funnily enough, I've just read a fantastic book about procrastination, the best one I've ever found. Apparently the three reasons we procrastinate are: feeling (or fearing being) overwhelmed, fear of failure, and fear of not finishing. I know the strategies suggested will work, it all makes so much sense - and yes, I am fully aware that I am choosing not to implement them right now! But I will, when I've finished winding my threads....

Monday, 2 March 2015


It's been a while, hasn't it?! I have been busy doing all sorts of things, not least decorating the Girl's bedroom a calming shade of duck egg blue:

Just before that, I also won my local Embroiderers' Guild branch "purple" competition with my purple circle, inspired by aboriginal designs, and completed at the very last minute (as usual, but I may have hit upon a system to stop myself doing that again...it's early days...)

But there's more! The second most exciting thing: my sourdough experiments are working! I've got my pot of starter (nicknamed "bubbles") on the go, and I've dabbled and experimented, and yes, I think I'm there. I've made round things, lumpy things, dubious things where I tried using ordinary flour instead of bread flour, and I'm now experimenting with one of those silicon rugby-ball shaped devices from a certain kitchenware company based in Cumbria. It's all working so well we've bought a new toaster, and I've gone from eschewing all things wheaty* to eating sandwiches and toast like the good ol' days.

Here are a couple of loaves on their final rise:

and out of the oven:

But the eagle-eyed readers will notice I said second-most-exciting! Because the FIRST most exciting thing, the biggest and most important triumph of recent weeks, has been the discovery that all that excess starter that you are told to "discard" can be kept in a tub in the fridge, and then - miracle of miracles - become CRUMPETS!!! Who knew?!

Crumpet rings warming up on the griddle:

Pot of saved starter, being sticky:

Crumpet rings duly filled and cooking gently, with some already out of their rings:

Some crumpets are now ready to be flipped over:

Those that weren't eaten straight away are cooling:

And the best thing is, it is SO easy! A teaspoon of salt and sugar, a dash of bicarb, and Bob's your uncle. Nice.

* I have a (possibly half-baked!) idea that my family history of bowel cancer may be linked to diet. There's a lot of dubious science out there on the "dangers" of gluten, but there does seem to be a consensus that wheat has changed in the last 50 years, and food sensitivities, particularly to gluten, are on the increase. The family risk for cancer may be just chance or bad luck but it is definitely something to ponder. "People" say fermented and soaked grains, especially old varieties of wheat like spelt, are supposed to be kinder to our bodies. Sourdough is a fermented food, so also good for general gut health. Apparently. Worth a go? Tastes good, crumpets as by-product - can't go wrong!


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