Sunday, 14 October 2012

peacock feathers

Sometime in the late eighties I bought a 120cm square of Liberty fine wool in William Morris’s peacock feather design. I fringed the edges and gave it to my mother for Christmas as a shawl. When my mother died in February 1992 it came back to me along with her snow-grey wool coat. I wore them together and they warmed and comforted me through the rest of that sad, cold winter.

The years passed and the coat went to a charity shop and the shawl into a drawer.

A couple of years ago I visited the Welsh Quilt Centre in Lampeter, where there was an exhibition showcasing Victorian quilts made from Indian Paisley shawls. I came home inspired and rooted around to find whether I still had that shawl. After a few disappointing experiments of adding other fabrics to the Liberty square I eventually decided just to use the one piece of fabric, but to make it into a scarf that I could wear again.

I cut it in half and rejoined it to make a longer shape, then folded and seamed that long piece. I could have stopped there with a long scarf, but I still had the quilting idea in mind so decided simply to stitch the entire surface kantha-style. I used a variety of different hand embroidery threads in shades of blue and grey. It took a long time, but I am finally done – and wearing it.

I'm not sure what my mother would have thought of the process - she was an elegant woman and quite particular about the way clothes should be worn.  I'm happy, though, to have another turn at wearing something to remind me of her as she was before illness robbed her of speech and personality.

Friday, 12 October 2012

squeeze them till the pips squeak

I noticed recently that Carluccio's were heavily promoting their own brand lemon oil (made by crushing whole lemons with the oil) and it reminded me that I hadn't made any lemon and rosemary flavoured oil for a while.  The version I make comes from a Good Housekeeping recipe from a few years back and is very simply made.

On Wednesday I assembled the ingredients: 2 litres of extra virgin olive oil, four sturdy sprigs of rosemary from the garden, the finely peeled outer skin of two lemons and a few juniper berries. (Plus a few sterilised bottles). Ideally the lemon peel should be a single long curl that can be wrapped spirally around the sprig of rosemary and inserted into the bottle, but this is easier said than done; the lemon peel sometimes breaks off before you want it to and even when you do get a long strip and wrap it carefully inserting it into the bottle then causes a collapse!  I have, in the past, achieved a couple of specimens with the perfect appearance, but not on this occasion.  They still look pretty though and after a week or two for the flavours to develop this oil will be delicious for dipping and drizzling (at a fraction of the cost of commercially prepared flavoured oil).

Having bottled up my oil I was left with two juicy lemons in the fridge shivering in their underwear.  I know, from sad experience, that they won't last very long in that condition; mould will soon attack.  So yesterday, inspired by my friend G, I decided that lemon curd had to be made.  The recipe I found on the BBC website specified four lemons (juice and zest).  I decided that three and a half lemons, two of which had already been plundered for their zest, would have to do. 
I hadn't made lemon curd for years and it really is remarkably easy.  The whole process probably only took just over half an hour.  Unless you are making it as gifts this really isn't worth making in huge batches as the presence of eggs and butter mean that it won't keep for more than a month or two.

Not content with two uses for my lemons, I bagged up the squeezed shells and popped them in the freezer.  I will thaw out a few next time I'm roasting a chicken.  They still retain enough juiciness to anoint the chicken flesh and I tuck one into the body cavity and leave another to roast in the tin, giving a delicious lemony tang to the finished chicken. (Or maybe try Sara's lovely idea for Gin and Tonic Marmalade.)

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

jewel quilt

For several years I have been planning to make a silk quilt, using all the bits and pieces of fabric I had gathered over the years. Some were pieces of clothing, others scraps of sari silk or just pretty fabrics that had taken my fancy and most were acquired during the years when I was doing the City & Guilds Creative Embroidery courses.

The original idea was for an exotic, voluptuous bed quilt made from quite large squares. In the event it turned out quite a bit smaller. Cutting silk is a tricky, inexact process - even with a ruler and a rotary cutter. The flimsier fabrics needed to be mounted on fine iron-on interfacing, partly to stabilise them and partly to render them opaque; the prospect of being able to see the details of the quilt wadding through the top fabric was not attractive. In the end the squares were much smaller than originally envisaged because when it came to cutting up old skirts and finding large enough areas on pieces of fabric that had already been cut for other uses that was what was practical.

By the time I’d cut and assembled enough for this modest 135cm x 66cm quilt I’d had quite enough and just decided to go for it. The finished squares are 9cm x 9cm. It was pieced together by machine and I quilted it by hand with a slightly sparkly machine embroidery thread.

Being a slightly eccentric size means that I have no immediate use or function for it; something that makes me feel slightly uncomfortable. I imagine it could be used as a decorative runner at the end of a bed (though it doesn’t fit my decorative style) or as a wall hanging. Maybe the colours will appeal to one of our magpie grand-daughters.

While I was planning and making this I thought of it as my “silk quilt”, but while it was in progress the people who saw it unfailingly used the words “jewel colours” so the “jewel quilt” is what it has become.

NOTE:  the colours of my photographs are quite annoyingly inaccurate, particularly for the fabric of the outer border and backing, which is in reality a deep purple colour, rather than navy blue.