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...