Tuesday, 16 April 2013

there must be a better way!

I have spent the day crawling around on the dining room floor trying to pin together the three layers of my quilt. 

This is my least favourite stage of quilt making.  To start with it is always difficult to find a large enough space to spread out the whole fabric. Then getting the fabric completely flat and wrinkle-free on each successive layer is a difficult and deeply frustrating process.  Several times I had to completely lift the top fabric and start again because as I spread it out I found that it was extending past the edge of the backing fabric.  Once satisfied with the layering I then needed to pin the three layers together.  Overall it is a very physical and actually quite painful process – despite the use of that cushion, my knees will take a while to recover!
The remarkable Lucy Boston (who wrote the Green Knowe children's books) was still making quilts into her eighties, hand-quilting them at ten stitches per inch, so how did she manage the layering process?  I can’t imagine many octogenarians being able to scramble around on their knees as I was today.  If there are any quilt-makers out there who can give me some advice, I shall be glad to hear it.

Monday, 25 March 2013

two exhibitions

On Saturday we took our weekend visitors to two local exhibitions.

First up: Drawn at the RWA. The added frisson here was that my talented husband had had a piece of work selected!
Yes that is a red dot! (picture credit Steve Broadway)
It’s a really lovely exhibition showcasing the skill which is the foundation of artistic practice. For me the striking thing about the show is the sheer diversity of artistic expression. I was intrigued by the contrast between artists who employ a few spare lines and those whose pleasure is to render what they see in minute detail. To quote the RWA’s press release: “Far from being a traditional drawing show, works included vary hugely in materials, subject, and style. From iPad life drawings to chalk drawn directly on the RWA gallery floors, from embroidered drawings to flocked screenprints, the works push boundaries, taking drawing to new heights.”  Drawn runs until 2 June and I recommend a visit. 

After a civilised break for coffee, we made our way just down the road to Bristol City Museum where, tucked away on the top floor at the back of the building, is a small but delightful exhibition entitled “Stitching and Thinking”. Starting with samplers of darning and mending from the museum collection, this show then moves on to examine ideas of mending and repair – from the straightforward repair of stitched artefacts to the more costly business of repairing broken hearts.

(Picture credit: Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery)
The discipline of limiting the colour palette to white cloth and red stitching creates a simple and poignant overall effect, which makes it a very appropriate companion to the largely monochrome exhibition of drawing at RWA. There are only a couple more weeks of this lovely exhibition and I’m hoping to get to the final gallery talk on 3 April.

lucky me!

Receiving this bundle of tea-time goodies in the post on Friday morning got the weekend off to a very good start!  I was lucky enough to win Liz's giveaway to celebrate her blog's fifth birthday.  When I first came across the concept of blogging I thought that it seemed a bit egotistical like writing a personal diary with publication in mind.  But I've come to see it in quite a different light.  My own tentative steps into the blogging world were also about five years ago and although I'm by no means prolific and haven't got a vast throng of readers, I've discovered a lovely world of shared interests, supportive online communities, plenty of fun and masses of information and inspiration.  Thanks, Liz!

Sadly the light wasn't good enough to make a decent photograph.  No snow here to intensify the light; just wall-to-wall grey.  That didn't stop us from having an excellent weekend with visiting friends - food, natter, mooching around galleries and shops, reminiscing, laughing, a brisk cold walk round the harbourside, more food; the best kind of weekend.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

getting shirty (work in progress)

At the back end of last year I had an idea for a quilt.  I was inspired by Morwhenna Woolcock’s lovely screen-printed bags made from recycled men’s shirts and by the memory of a quilt I had seen in a book many years ago.  So I put out a call to the men in my family for their cast off shirts and I also went hunting in charity shops.  Charity shop shirts are surprisingly expensive when all you’re planning to do with them is chop them up!  I asked a couple of times whether they had a stash of shirts that weren’t good enough to go out on the racks, but I always seemed to have turned up the day after the ragman had been!   It’s ironic that buying brand new fabric might have been less expensive, but the important point about this project is to re-use and at least my money was ending up with a charity.

Last week it seemed like time to make some progress, so I set about cutting up my pile of old shirts (“pre-loved” as the saying goes!).  It felt almost sacrilegious; men’s shirts – even the cheap and cheerful brands – are amazingly well-made and constructed to last.  I chopped off cuffs, collars, yokes, button bands and ended up with rectangles of cotton, polycotton and linen from backs, fronts and sleeves and a whole tangle of discarded pieces.  Surely there’s something I can still do with those!

A little bit of play with my harvested fabrics made me realise that the lovely blues and greys of my chosen shirts were a little bit pale and bland when viewed en masse, so I had another shopping session and came back with a couple of shirts that had red in the pattern. This was better, but still worryingly dull. I like borders on quilts, they provide a sort of frame for the patchwork within, but I had been hoping that this could be a really simple quilt just pieced together in large pieces, with maybe a bit of contrast colour in the binding. However, as I laid out the pieces and looked at them it came to me that one of the reasons that traditional quilts often have a contrasting inner border is that if a quilt is draped over a bed the binding is largely invisible.

Fortunately this was design on the hoof and I pieced together an inner square and Ruth’s fabric stash yielded some plain red fabric. It’s fantastic what a splash of contrasting colour can do to bring the whole thing together and give it a bit of excitement. I'll try to bring some decent photos to the blog when I've finished it. I've left some pockets in place (for little notes or treasures) and it's going to have quite a few buttons added as the quilt "ties".

Thursday, 21 February 2013

are handkerchiefs disgusting?

In a recent bedroom clear-out I came across a pile of my Mum and Dad’s old handkerchiefs (yes, I know, weird what we keep!) and they got me thinking.

Some time ago I read a post on a message board decrying what the writer considered the disgusting habit of using a tissue to blow one’s nose and then putting it back in a pocket, or even (horror!) re-using it. There is a current infection control campaign to “Catch it. Bin it. Kill it”, which is encouraging us to carry tissues so that we can catch a sneeze in a tissue and then dispose of it. But where? If you’re on a bus or out in the street, where is the vile object to be deposited? I also find that carrying a number of tissues in a bag results in a horrible papery mess that’s no use for anything. Googling the slogan “coughs and sneezes spread diseases” led to some funny public information films from the 1940s encouraging that generation to catch their sneezes in a handkerchief.

As someone who grew up in a less wasteful and possibly less hygiene-obsessed age, I was taught to use my cotton handkerchief at one corner first, so that it could be used more than once. And (unless I actually had a cold) it was expected to last all day. “Have you got a clean hankie?” was my mother’s invariable farewell call as I left the house. Since those days I have, like most of the rest of the population, taken to using tissues and my mother would be ashamed of me because I often forget to supply myself with one before going out.

I was really interested, therefore, to find a tutorial for hand-hemmed hankies on a craft blog and comments which make it clear that some people do still use them, either for preference or on “green” anti-waste grounds. Since then I’ve been going out with a cotton hankie in my pocket. Whether I’ll be organised enough to keep on top of the laundry is another matter.

What do you think?  Handkerchiefs:  disgusting or green?  (Before someone else suggests it I realise that green and disgusting is also an option!)

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

happy soup

Some left over roasted beetroot and butternut squash made the basis of a lovely colourful soup to brighten a grey day.

I just added chicken stock and a couple of chopped potatoes, bubbled it for twenty minutes and whizzed with the hand blender. The addition of a dollop of creme fraiche and some bread and cheese made a cheering lunch for three.

Monday, 18 February 2013


Well, at the weekend my sister finally made her twice-postponed Christmas/New Year Visit. I was beginning to think it was going to be the subject of perpetual rearrangement until next Christmas. January/February also had other postponed visits because of bad weather and illness, so I was beginning to feel a bit jinxed.

Fortunately we were able to assemble the local family for an evening gathering on Friday when we all ate together early enough to accommodate small children’s bedtimes. We also exchanged some belated Christmas presents, which felt very strange! 

On Saturday we went shopping! Not a particularly favourite activity for either of us, but Sheila needed some office clothes and a second opinion, so off we went. We got that sorted reasonably painlessly and met up with Steve for a snack lunch at the lovely refurbished Bristol Guild Cafe.

Next stop was a bit of culture at the Museum where it was the last weekend of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition. Footsore by now, we trudged home for tea, cake and quantities more food.

Sunday with visitors always means some kind of walk. So we headed off to Leigh Woods for a wander and even saw a bit of sunshine and blue sky.

It was a very good weekend, so I woke this morning feeling a little more optimistic about the eventual arrival of Spring and the prospect of more trips and visits.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

marmalade (again)

It’s that time of year again; the internet is awash with marmalade posts. So here’s my annual update on the marmalade ritual. In fact I am a little late to the party – largely because the 28 jars I made last year did, in fact, last a full year and we’re only just on the last one!

I didn’t have the energy for another marathon session, so bought a modest bag of Seville oranges from our local greengrocer. We had a similar number in the freezer from 12 months ago and they combined to produce about 1500g. I also had quite a number of lemon “shells” in the freezer, which I save after squeezing as described in this post last year, so they were included in the mix as well.

I noticed that a friend had used Nigella Lawson’s recipe*, which involves boiling the fruit whole.  As I had frozen fruit which would certainly be rather soft and squashy by the time it thawed out, this seemed to be a method that would embrace that characteristic rather than make a problem of it. I found that it worked pretty well. Once the oranges have been cooked and sliced open, it’s very easy to scoop the flesh and pips out leaving softened peel which is easy to chop finely for inclusion in the marmalade.

I used “jam sugar” with added pectin rather than the usual granulated and it reached setting point quite quickly. (The sugar also has added citric acid, so the remainder was delicious on our Shrove Tuesday pancakes!)

Ta dah! Another lovely addition to the store cupboard. Whoever invented marmalade was a genius. I know that my husband will be quietly twitching about the skew-whiffy labels, but  hey – he gets to eat the gorgeous stuff.

*(Having just gone back to that recipe to put the link in, I discover that it's not actually a Nigella recipe, but one posted on her community boards by someone under the alias "chocolate nemesis" so the credit should go to him/her). 

Sunday, 20 January 2013

snow motion

Hurrah! I can get around in the snow again.

I’ve never been a huge lover of the snow. As a child obviously I found it quite exciting and did my fair share of snowman building, snowball throwing and tobogganing if there was the opportunity. Equally, I had never had any special dread of snow, until I had a fall three years ago which led to a twisted ankle and badly bruised ribs.

That experience left me feeling fearful of going out if there was snow or ice underfoot. I wasn’t happy with the sense of being housebound and dependent on other people for supplies. It felt like old age a little bit too soon. So when I saw a headline back in early December about the “coldest week for decades” (which turned out to be nonsense) we decided to buy some shoe spikes. This weekend has been our first opportunity to try them out and I’m very pleased indeed. Confidence returned.

Apparently they’re among “the top ten gifts for older people”, but I’m happy to see that Charlotte who is perfectly young and fit was looking for her "yaktrax" before going for a walk with the dog.