Thursday, 11 December 2014

For the love of sprouts

A bit of a bonus blog today! Not the ultimate flapjack, more the ultimate sprout...

I'm on a mission to convert all sprout-haters with this dish, which we've enjoyed (hugely) for lunch this week. It's so good, we had it twice!

1. Get over-excited in the vegetable aisle and grab a very large bag of Brussels sprouts. I had 750g here, and that fed two of us twice - serves four, indeed!

2. Make sure you have enough cold, cooked rice for however many you are feeding. I use brown basmati and use a handful dry per person. Add cold water to a thumbnail's depth, slap a lid on, bring to a boil then simmer for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave to steam, for at least 10 minutes. Either eat straight away or cool quickly and store in the fridge.

2. Gently cook a little tub of pancetta cubes in a large non-stick pan or wok until they release their own fat. When the fat is melted, add a small, chopped onion and soften it in the fat. If you are after a vegetarian option, you could cook a chopped red pepper with the onion, in a tablespoon or so of olive oil until they are lightly caramelised.

3. While the pancetta and onion are doing their thing (or before you start if you are hyper-organised) trim off the outer leaves then shred the sprouts really finely; I use a big, sharp knife to do this but I suppose you could use a food processor (a knife is slower but easier to clean!)

4. Add a teaspoon or so of frozen chopped red chilli, or a pinch of chilli flakes, or one small finely chopped red chilli to the pan, cook for a few minutes, then add the sprouts.

5. Turn up the heat and keep everything moving about so it cooks but doesn't burn. You can add a tablespoon of oil (olive oil or coconut) or a knob of butter if it looks a bit dry. Keep cooking until the sprouts are cooked, no longer squeaky raw, but not too charred.

6. Add the grated zest of half or a whole lemon (for two or four people, respectively) then add the rice and keep stirring and flipping until it is heated through.

7. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and a twist of black pepper, then take off the heat and quickly stir through grated Parmesan - 15g for two people, 30g for four. Serve immediately and enjoy!

I defy anyone to hate sprouts after eating them this way. I can't abide soggy boiled sprouts, but I could eat them like this every day.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Teaching Tuesday: Grand Designs and Endless Vistas

If you recall, last week we were stitching imaginary landscapes with lots of lovely textured stitching. This week, I can reveal what we've been working towards!

We started off by playing a quick game of landscape consequences. I trialed the idea at home, with Mr Gonecycling and the Girl, and to be honest while it was helpful in establishing that it could work as a fun exercise to generate ideas for landscapes, the ideas that came out of it from the pair of them were VERY disturbing. Girl drew a giant standing on top of a hill shouting "World domination!" and Mr G drew some bleak blank-windowed concrete bunkers and observation towers surrounded by razor wire...

The ladies in class created altogether more pleasing and bucolic landscapes and vistas:

although where the penguins came from we're not sure (look closely...)

The grand plan for all of this was to attempt a series of "endless landscapes". There was an article about this in Stitches magazine (no 78 Aug/Sept 2012) and I even managed to hunt down a set of cards. There are 24 cards altogether, and they say that they can be arranged in 1,686,553,615,927,922,354,187,720 combinations "including the permutations that only use 23 cards, 22 cards and so on". I haven't tried this nor counted them.

So we took our trusty template (much simplified from the Stitches article), had a "discussion" about whether I'd drawn the lines in the right place (!) and set about blocking out the colours and shapes of our landscapes. We started to stitch from the sky then coming forwards ie the furthest hills were stitched first, as the details in the foreground need to be appliqued and stitched over the background.

Here is how we started off:

These are my fabrics, roughly positioned - I love this arrangement but stupidly didn't take the backing paper off my Bondaweb rectangle before I started to play, so I had to move them all in order to fuse them in place...doh!

As you can see, the template is very simple. We decided that as long as the horizons matched up at either edge, all would be well. We added a few extra lines between the horizon and the first landscape line, as it was pointed out that features of a landscape are further together when further away...We also decided against an urban landscape, as the softer contours of a natural landscape are "easier" to stitch :) Oh yes, one final decision - the time of day to be roughly midday, so we wouldn't end up with random sunsets or sunrises or three suns!

And here is where we have got to by the end of term:


Morag, again...






I think you'll agree, they look stunning! More than anything, we are all amazed that my Grand Designs have worked and they all match up (there were doubts that we would pull it off...) and I think we can conclude that we have achieved! Hooray.

Some of the above are not quite finished, and there are others still to be completed. However, we had a bit of a "do" for our last Wednesday class ie we didn't have one - when I went to collect the key for the village hall, the "key lady" had gone out for the evening! So no class, and no stitching, but a nice cup of tea at Christine's house. Needless to say we are in a new venue from January!*

* details of all classes are on my website. If you are local to Uckfield and would like to join us - we'd love to have you!

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Teaching Tuesday - texture!

Phew, what a couple of weeks. Last I looked it was half-term - what happened?!

Without further ado (and there has been much ado around here - but that's for another post) here is some much-promised texture - and there's a lot of it, so take notes!

(if you think you've seen this before, that's because I posted the pic in October when I finished it!)

This piece is stitched with standard free motion machine embroidery, no funny business, and the texture is purely from the textured threads and fibres that I have couched down. The orange leaves are stitched by hand, but everything else is machine stitch. Just shows what you can do with a stash of thick and hairy threads and wools! 

Teaching point 1: when you couch down hairy things that are likely to get caught up in the foot, use a cocktail stick NOT your fingers to hold it down, and maybe stitch backwards so the prongs of your embroidery foot don't get caught up in the fibres.

Teaching point 2: automatic/programmed patterned stitches such as the blind hemming stitch are brilliant for couching - they hold things down,  but don't knock back the texture. Obviously, you wouldn't free motion stitch this - raise those teeth back up again and put the normal presser foot back on.

One of my favourite bits is the hedgerow in the middle - I rediscovered free-motion sideways zigzag and it was just perfect for adding this line of sticky twiggyness.

3. Sideways zigzag: set your machine for free motion stitching as usual, but instead of running stitch, select zigzag - with a nice wide zig (or zag!). You also need a very firm fabric base or fabric in a tight hoop for this one. When you stitch, remember you are still in control of the direction of the stitch, but the needle will be jumping from left to right. Move the fabric gently from left to right, so the lines go sideways and not up and down. Be very careful not to move the fabric too fast, as the large sideways movement makes it more likely that you will bend the needle (and then it will inevitably hit the needleplate and break).

Di demonstrates the effect beautifully here:

and you can see how (a) it can be used for colour mixing, (b) how much the fabric puckers - it really does need to be drum tight.

Right! Next!

You may also have seen this picture before, on my Facebook page. This is stitched almost entirely UPSIDE DOWN. Carol Naylor is an absolute superstar at this, and one of my textile heroes! 

This is called cable stitch. To do it, you wind a thick, smooth thread onto your bobbin, and then adjust (loosen) the bobbin tension to allow the thread to flow smoothly. I will say no more, other than all machines are different, but some are better than others than this...cough Bernina cough...

Perle threads are brilliant, as are crochet cottons and stranded cottons. Just nothing knobbly or too thick. The above piece features rainbow sock wool, and let's just say that I was pushing it to get away with that...And don't forget that you will be stitching upside down, so you need to mark where you want the thick cable stitch to be - so you do this by roughly stitching the outline of the various shapes first, before turning the fabric over. 

Here's what the troops have been doing with cable stitch practice:

(the green  thread)

(the blue thread)

(the pink thread)

And finally for today, we have also been playing with whip stitch and feather stitch. No thick threads here, normal sewing threads. To stitch these:

4. Whip stitch: tighten the top tension on your machine, and stitch (free motion) really fast! If you are lucky the bobbin thread will pull up through the fabric and "whip" over the top thread to create a raised line. You may need to loosen the bobbin thread a tad to get it to whip up, but you may get away with it. Again, all  machines are different...

5. Feather stitch: Exactly the same, but try and get even more thread to whip up (you will almost certainly have to loosen the bobbin now) and work in circular and wiggly movements - as you turn the corner or go round in circles, the top thread pulls itself into a tight circle, and creates a ring of lovely feathery bits with the bobbin thread.

just look at that bush on the left, fantastic feathering! And those whip stitch crop lines...

And the grey line of feather stitch, below the blue...

There are many, many more photos of other works in progress that I could show you - but I'll save them for next week when I can reveal what we've been working towards. Yes, it involves landscapes, and yes, it was ambitious, but I think we might have pulled it off! Fingers crossed!

Monday, 1 December 2014

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Monday's Madness

This is my dresser. I am very pleased. I have removed the peg basket, assorted coasters, the basket of ithings and catalogues, quotes for double glazing, a pebble, and several tea light holders. It is uncluttered and lovely. Still decluttering, and loving the sense of calm from having a tidy and clear space...

This, however, is my desk.

Ha! It is less than 6ft from the dresser!!

I will return tomorrow with some embroidery, luckily not by me (how?! I can barely see my machine for the encroaching tide of mess!) but by my lovely students. Until then x

PS I will explain about the little silver cup on the dresser too...

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Teaching Tuesday: adding a bit of sparkle

As the festive season gallops up on us, perhaps it's time to consider adding a bit of sparkle to our work!

Sequins and beads, stitched by machine - because I can, and because I'm too lazy to do them by hand :). 
I could have stitched the buttons by machine too, but that would involve changing the presser foot...

NB This is all free-machining - teeth down, embroidery foot on

To stitch sequins, take it nice and slowly and don't be afraid to use the fly-wheel to lower the needle into position to take one stitch. When using the fly-wheel, make sure you only EVER turn it towards you, never backwards. So to get the needle back up, either use the foot pedal if your machine will do one stitch at a time, or keep turning the fly-wheel FORWARDS.

When the needle has taken a stitch through the sequin, shuffle the embroidery forward a bit so that the next stitch is off the edge, back into the fabric.

Now. Stitching beads.

First and most important - and do NOT skip this step! You need to check that your machine needle fits through the hole in the bead. You may need to downsize your needle. I routinely use a 90, so I will go down to an 80, and sometimes even a 70.

And I know it's tedious, but it's best to check every individual bead even if they all came from the same pack. Sometimes there are irregularities.

The process is exactly the same as for sequins, but this time you are stitching through the hole in the bead. Take your time, use the fly-wheel to position the needle, and as long as you have checked your beads first, all should be well. The beads cannot fall into the machine race as the fabric is there to stop it (do one bead at a time, just in case they run away). 

When you have taken the stitch through the centre of the bead, move away from the bead and stitch into the fabric. At this point, pay attention to where the back of your embroidery foot is - even though it usually sits slightly above the surface of the fabric, it still exerts enough pressure to smash a bead. I either stitch without a foot altogether, or move BACKWARDS away from the bead.

The worst that can happen is you break a bead. Actually, the worst that can happen is that you break a needle, but you would have to be stitching hard and fast to do that and hit a previously stitched bead. I can't rule it out as anything is possible!

So - my preferred method is:

1. Check the bead/needle first
2. Use the fly-wheel to position the needle just inside the bead (this also stops the bead running away)
3. Use my foot pedal to take ONE stitch, down and up
4. Move the embroidery towards me a smidge, so the foot effectively moves backwards away from the bead
5. Take a stitch into the fabric, making sure I don't skim the edge of the bead
6. Stitch my way to where I want the next bead, paying close attention to previously stitched beads so that I don't hit them with the needle or the foot.

You could also add a bit of sparkle by using some foil - just sayin'

I know my students want me to put their work up on here, so next week, we'll take a look at their landscapes and textured stitching, and we'll talk whip stitch and feather stitch. There's been some lovely stuff taking shape in the practice pieces, but this week we are starting an ambitious three-week project to bring it all together...

Meanwhile, here are a "few" finished pieces:

These are all by Fiona, who had to miss the last half-term to recuperate from an operation, but being Fiona she couldn't just stop and watch daytime TV, she stitched all of these instead! 

Monday, 10 November 2014

Messing about on Monday

Hello again, and sorry for the lack of a post on Friday. Five on Friday will have to be Messing About on Monday!

The easiest way to see what I've been up to in the past week is to look back through my iThing photos...

1. I needed a profile photo of myself (tell you why soon, promise). Had to stand in the woods at the weekend trying to take a selfie as the Others were less than helpful, and were more interested in climbing trees and chasing the Whippet around. I absolutely detest having my photo taken, but I managed to get a half decent one in the end!

2. I finally finished my Seascapes with Knots. Again, more on this soon! 

3. Since blogging about how I work in the dining room and don't have a proper studio, I've thrown a few paddies and got very cross about the lack of space to create, so Grand Plans have been hatched. The short version is, we are moving the Girl into the upstairs office, moving Himself into the summer house, moving the midlife crisis trains into the garage, and ultimately moving me into the Girl's old room. 

However, the long version is (deep breath) we replace the outdated double glazing so we can redecorate, we empty the loft so we can move my foil stash out of the summer house, we empty the garage - including selling four bikes and buying one - so we can move the trains out of the little summer house and into the garage (either that or tear the summer house down and build a bigger one to house a desk AND trains), we declutter the Girl so we can move her, we declutter me so we can move me (ah, there's the rub), we declutter Himself so we can move him, and we move the broadband router so that the Internet reaches the little summer house.

I've moved the router, done the loft, and we did half the garage and got quotes for double glazing (yikes). Also two full carloads to the tip, and numerous bootloads to the charity shops. Feels good, very very good. But oh boy, we've only just scraped the surface. This is a project that will run and run!

4. I have also moved the foil, and if you would like to buy yourself some bargain transfer foil (use with Bondaweb, loads of videos on YouTube) then please visit my foil Facebook page here!

5. I've nominated myself to make some bunting for Newtown Arts. How did that happen??! I'm going for paper, for now, as we need a quick and colourful fix and I've just downsized my fabric stash! Doh!  Here's the start:

This is just a mock-up of how the letters might look. I haven't decided what to use for them yet - cotton? felt? paper? I will stitch things somewhere along the way, it won't all be glue!

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Teaching Tuesday: fancyschmanzy cutaways and design transfer

Better late than never, here we are! Yes, it is still Tuesday - just. 

In the week before half-term we were constructing backgrounds by free-machining scraps of fabric onto calico (we used Bondaweb to stick them down first). Some people were more pernickity than others in arranging their "scraps"!

Christine Libby

And some people used neutral fabrics and painted them after stitching:


Then we embroidered something over the top, as it were. 

Some people went for an applique, making it up as they went along carefully designing something first, then piecing it together and stitching it onto the background.



Other people tried a bit of design transfer and a cutaway technique to create their embroideries.

First, stitch your background (as above).

Secondly, design something to stitch...we were inspired by the wonderful Angie Lewin.


Thirdly, pin a piece of sheer fabric - organza is good - onto your background. Make sure the pins are just around the edge.

 Is this you, Lyndsay?!

Fourthly, turn your work over and pin a tracing of your design onto the back. You can trace onto tissue paper, you can use tracing paper, a photocopy or even a design drawn on the back of a (paper) envelope! I just drew straight onto the stabiliser backing.


My design, drawn and stitched on the reverse

Fifthly (!) make sure you have a wonderful thread in the BOBBIN and a toning thread on top, and stitch - upside down - following the lines of your design. Finger's crossed your bobbin tension is set perfectly (we'll be talking tension soon).


When you have finished stitching, you can tear away the excess paper from the back, turn your work over, and CAREFULLY snip away the excess organza with some very sharp scissors.


I made a mistake here - the little details should have been stitched after I cut away the organza. I think I will regret that as it means more fiddly cutting away...

To make sure nothing comes undone where it shouldn't, I tend to stitch a double line of tiny stitches, and I don't cut the organza right up tight to the stitching - I leave a millimetre or two!

Here is Carole adding some detail to the top surface. Unfortunately, I don't seem to have a photo of the finished piece - but it was wonderful! Next time. So meanwhile, here is mine:

Ta da!