Thursday, 28 February 2013

UFO or not UFO

Since finishing Chickpea's quilt, I've been sifting through my fabric stash auditioning candidates for various projects I have in mind. I usually pride myself on not having lots of UFOs (UnFinished Objects) and try to finish one project before I start the next. That's probably why I produced so little while I was working on Chickpea's quilt.

However, as I worked my way through the stash, fabric by fabric, I came across various samples and blocks and I started thinking - when is a UFO not a UFO? Some of them were produced in workshops with no intention of them ever becoming Finished Objects. However, having found them, a few will be repurposed as I've thought of a use for them. Does that mean they're now a UFO? Or are they a WIP (Work in Progress)?

I know, I know. You're reading this and thinking, never mind all that, just show me the quilts! OK, here's a selection of what I uncovered and an idea of their intended fate!

Offset log cabin

The sample at the beginning was produced in a workshop. Some of the other ladies in my group used theirs as the front of a bag but I'm not really into patchwork bags so I think this will stay in the drawer unless you have any suggestions?

Mini Landscape

I made this at one of the monthly meetings of my quilt group. The centre is foundation-pieced and was completed during the meeting. The borders were added at home and then it was sandwiched and machine-quilted. All it needs now is the finishing touch of some machine embroidery though I'll have to practice first as I've forgotten what we were shown.

Wonky star

The star was begun on a workshop day a few years ago and was a real pig to put together. There are a lot of seams and bias joins, hardly any of the seams match and the star sticks up in the middle. I struggled on and added the applique but then it was abandoned because I couldn't decide what to do next and was running short of the fabric. However, as soon as I saw it, I realised it will be perfect for improving my machine quilting so I'm going to put on a border and use it as a training piece. I started work on the border at the weekend.


These were part of a project in a magazine but I realised after a while that the colour combination just wasn't working - too many tones and shades (though funnily enough it doesn't look too bad in this photo!). Before I came across the wonky star, I thought I might add triangles onto the side of each block to create larger squares with the pinwheels on their point in the middle. I think I'll still do that and use it as another practice piece for machine quilting.

Country not Christmas

I'm rather ashamed of this one and not just because of the terrible piecing on my block (mine is the one on top). My group held a block in a bag project in which we were all given an identical bag with a number on the front. Into the bag went a block of our own design in our chosen colours. The bag was swapped at each meeting and another block added. When 9 had been completed, we were given the bag back to take away and make up the blocks into a quilt. As you can see from the photo, mine is a rather post-modern deconstructed design ;-) I really do need to finish this one but I feel uninspired on how to bring such a disparate range of blocks and fabrics together. I think this will be going back into the drawer a while longer.

And that's your lot, well as much as I'm admitting to anyway! Of course this doesn't include all the fabrics bought for projects yet (or never) to be started. But that's a tale for another time :-)

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Mystery man

Isn't it amazing the things you stumble across? I took a short cut up a side street in Preston and noticed this head sticking out of the side of a disused building. Totally intrigued, I've been doing some detective work trying to find out more.

At first sight, I thought he looked a bit like a monk and discovered that the street, Marsh Lane, used to be called Friars Lane and had been the site of a monastery founded in 1220. In fact, it leads off a street called Friargate.

But what was the meaning of the symbols?

More detective work and a visit to the local history section in the library and I had my answer*. The head is thought to be William Caxton, the first English printer, born c.1422. The symbols are in fact the trademark he used on his printings. However, the building used to belong to William Kilner Ltd, glass and china merchants (I wonder if they were related to the Kilners of Kilner jar fame?).

So how did William Caxton end up on the building of a china merchant? You can tell from the way the symbols are cut off that the head wasn't there originally and photos of the building from the early 1900s confirm it. At the end of the street is a bookshop though the buildings are separate - could there be a link? Lots of questions still to be answered but my curiosity has been satisfied for the time being - a mystery for another time.

What's less of a mystery is how beautiful this crocus is. There are a few flowering in the garden at the moment but this is by far my favourite.

I'm on my own for the next few days as Chickpea has gone to stay with her boyfriend. It was his birthday yesterday and the three of us, my parents and his parents went to Frankie & Benny's last night to celebrate.

Today has flown by in a blur of housework, quilting and baking. I have a new member of staff starting tomorrow and have organised coffee and cakes in the morning to meet the team. These ginger muffins are my contribution and are from Delia Smith's recipe for a tray bake. I've only iced half of them (with lemon icing) in case some prefer their muffins plain.

Later, I'll be enjoying a spot of knitting and reading. Hope you enjoy what's left of the weekend. x

(*Thank you to Aidan Turner-Bishop's book 'A walk round the block'.)

Wednesday, 20 February 2013


What a beautiful couple of days we had last weekend! Wasn't it great to finally see some sunshine after endless days of grey? With the forecast promising fine weather, I was absolutely determined to get outside for some fresh air so, on Sunday, we headed off to one of our favourite places, Tatton Park. And we chose a good day to go as it coincided with their annual Scarecrow Festival. Unlike this guy though, we did change out of our pyjamas first!

The theme for the festival was recycling and all the scarecrows in the kitchen garden were made out of a different material. They also had a fun fact and a word to look for in the wordsearch sheet you were given at the entrance. This is Seedy who is embracing the season's high-shine fashion trend. The birds sitting on the wall behind him certainly seemed to approve.

Miss Potter favoured mismatched prints in lovely ice cream shades.

A different Miss Potter came to mind in another part of the garden. Tatton are having a year of Beatrix Potter events and we spotted Mr McGregor trying to scare away Peter and his friends. He's behind you!

Further round, Jeremy Fisher was trying his luck in the pond.

There were other scarecrows to be found in the rest of the gardens. We loved this energetic woman who looked like she was throwing some shapes on the dance floor! Her partner's style, however, could better be described as dad dancing. (Don't they look spookily like real people in costume?)

And who knew that scarecrows were so sporty?

We also found time to admire the gardens themselves and the little details around each corner. The heart shaped metal is part of a boot scraper. The others are all from stone benches.

In the Tower Garden, a fairytale came to mind. Rapunzel, Rapunzel, shimmy down the drain pipe! I don't know if they ever open up the tower to visitors but there's apparently a water supply and fireplace in there.

In the Orangery and Fernery, we appreciated the exotic plants and the warmth. The plant at bottom right is an elephant foot yam though we thought it looked more like a tortoise. 

And to finish, if you ever wondered what I look like...

A pretty good representation, I thought! The hair is definitely along the right lines!

There were other scarecrow events happening around the rest of the park, including children's activities at the farm and it's on until Sunday 24th if you fancy a visit.

We just enjoyed being out in the fresh air and sunshine though the festival was an added bonus. Let's hope this weekend brings more of the same!

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Lemon bakewell & 'the package'

When I opened the Christmas present from my friend, I felt completely overwhelmed by her generosity. She had bought us a £50 theatre voucher from the Gift for Two range that you find in high street stores. For someone who loves theatre, this was the perfect gift. Last weekend, Chickpea and I excitedly looked through the list of shows at the eligible theatres, picked out our favourite, the date and even the seats. I then phoned the special hotline number to book it. First obstacle, the show was not part of 'the package'. They sent us a list and it became apparent that only a small selection of  shows was part of 'the package'. Not only that but (second obstacle) only a small selection of dates for each show was part of 'the package', hardly any of them on a weekend. The final obstacle came when, having finally managed to decide on a show from the limited selection and on a date when I could get a day off work, we couldn't even have the seats I'd picked out as, you guessed it, they were not part of this pesky package!

I'm sure we'll have a wonderful time seeing The Mousetrap in Liverpool in April. However, it could have been a much less frustrating experience. If you're thinking of buying one of these gifts, please just be aware of its limitations.  

Anyway, after these frustrations, what else was there to do but bake cakes? With most of the jar of lemon curd left over from the pancakes, I decided to make lemon bakewell tart. The recipe doesn't give the ingredients for the pastry so I had to find another source and ended up using the one in The Great British Bake Off: How to Bake. I was clearly having one of those days though as the pastry didn't go according to plan and I just couldn't get it to roll out large enough to fit my rectangular tin without cracking. Aagh!

After a short break for foot stamping and cursing a rethink, I substituted a smaller square tin. However, I still had lots of pastry left so decided to make individual tarts like those in the Bake Off book. I used my largest cookie cutter to make circles, and rolled them out a little bit more so they would line the bottom and sides of each hole of a silicone muffin tin.

When the pastry came out of the oven from blind baking, the ones in the muffin tin looked far better so I filled those first and used the leftover mixture for the square tin.

And here they are! The individual tarts came out beautifully and slid out of the silicone tin with ease and no sign of a soggy bottom! They tasted pretty good too, particularly when served with the remains of the lemon curd creme fraiche - yum!

And the square tin? Well, the tart came out and, again, no soggy bottom. There were a few moments while trimming off the excess pastry around the top when I felt like I was part of a Carry On film. As I hacked and sawed at the pastry, bits flew off ricocheting into other bits, travelling all over the worktop, me and the floor! Despite that, it was equally as delicious. A bit on the flat side because I'd used most of the filling for the individual tarts but this seemed to give it a chewy texture with a crisp top.

And so the message for today? All's well that ends well :-)

Hope you're having a lovely weekend. We're have a day out tomorrow and I can't wait! Hopefully I'll get some good photos and will share later in the week. x

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Heart quilt

What else for Valentine's Day but hearts? You may have noticed that there is no Mr Home Jules so there'll be no lovey-dovey time for me today. I will receive a gift though as my Dad always gives flowers to his three girls (me, Mum and Chickpea). And Chickpea is madly in love so there'll be hormones a-plenty in the house.

So, anyway, in honour of the occasion, I thought I'd share this heart quilt which is the first one I made for Chickpea and the first 'large' quilt I made. In truth it's not even single bed size but it seemed large when all I'd made before were small wallhangings.

Like the hexagon quilt, I appliqued the hearts onto squares and then joined them together on the sewing machine.

The cable quilting was all done by hand in different coloured threads: pink, yellow, blue and green. It was the first time I'd ever done hand-quilting and when I proudly showed the finished quilt to my group, one of the ladies looked at my quilting and remarked that maybe she should use such big stitches in future. The cheek! I was pretty annoyed as you can well imagine! Luckily the other ladies were lovely and complimented me on how neat and even the stitches were: just the kind of encouragement a beginner is looking for.

And this is the finished quilt. As you can see I did a bunting-style border which I still really like though, if you snuggle under it, the triangles do tend to flop on your face!

Hope you all have a lovely day. x

PS I apologise for the photos - the light this weekend has been terrible for photographing anything but especially quilts :-(

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Crepes & galettes

I've had this scrap of paper for almost 25 years. It was given to me by a man whilst I was inter-railing around northern France and Belgium with a friend before starting the second year of our French degree. I have no memory of why a total stranger gave me a recipe for pancakes but, he did, and I've kept it all these years.

For those of you who don't read French, this is what he wrote:

Oil: 3 soup spoons
Milk: 1/2 litre
Sugar: 1 soup spoon
Flour: 250g
Eggs: 3 eggs
Butter: 1 packet
Vanilla: 1 (packet? soup spoon?)
Water: 1/4 litre at the end (if too thick)

Put in the flour and add the milk little by little.
then the rest.

I can only guess that we were eating pancakes at the time or were talking about them. Pancake restaurants or 'Creperies' are very common in France. The first time I ate in one was aged 17 during an exchange visit to Angers organised by my college. It seemed very exotic at the time (the '80s) and particularly because it served savoury pancakes: up to this point, I'd only ever eaten pancakes with a sweet filling. It was also the first time I'd tried chantilly cream (whipped cream flavoured with vanilla and sugar). Yes, I had a very sheltered  childhood!

Of course, all of this is just a preamble to talking about the pancakes we've been eating for Pancake Day. Finding this recipe brought back memories of being in France eating both savoury and sweet, so I decided to make both. Though, as it's my yoga class tonight, we had them over the last couple of weekends instead. 

First up, savoury. In France, these are known as galettes and are made with buckwheat flour. This isn't the easiest ingredient to find so wholemeal flour would probably do just fine (I managed to track some down in Waitrose). But which recipe? The one in The Little Paris Kitchen only uses flour and water (which sounds like rations!) but all of the others I looked at included eggs and butter. I played safe and went with the majority, using a recipe adapted from one of my all-time favourite cookbooks, Diana Henry's Roast figs, Sugar snow, worth buying just for the photography alone. I halved the recipe and omitted the plain flour, so this is the version I used:

125g buckwheat flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg
150ml milk
50ml water
Knob of butter, melted

I did end up adding extra water after the mixture had stood for a while as it was pretty thick - Diana says this is normal though.

Cheese and ham are the most common fillings but I wanted something more interesting and went with chicken, bacon, leeks and sweetcorn in a cheese sauce. And, as is traditional in Brittany, served with a glass of cider. The filling was delicious, not sure about the galettes. I think I should have browned them a bit longer although they did taste cooked. Very filling: we ended up leaving half.

For the sweet pancake, or crepe, I planned to use the recipe provided by my French stranger. However, the thought of using a whole packet of butter put me off! So, in the end, I went with a standard recipe:

110g plain flour
1 egg
150ml milk
large knob of butter, melted

Usually I just eat mine with lemon juice and sugar but, this time, I decided to try something different. I couldn't decide between two fillings so did both. The first was creme fraiche and lemon curd and, once rolled, the pancake was drizzled with homemade limoncello (from Sophie Grigson's Sunshine Food). Oh, so so good! Lemon is one of my absolute favourite flavours.

The second filling came from the Telegraph Weekend supplement this Saturday and was Nutella, banana and crumbled Crunchie bar. The pancake went in the oven like this for a few minutes until the Crunchie started to melt and was then rolled up. I came out of the kitchen to catch Chickpea licking her plate clean so it's pretty safe to say this combination was a success!

I think the sweet pancakes won hands down and we'll definitely be trying both flavours again. Will you being having pancakes today? Sweet or savoury? And what's your favourite filling? I'll be at yoga trying to work off some of the calories consumed eating these!

PS Thank you all so much for the lovely comments about my quilt. It really does mean a lot to me and makes my day! x

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Buttons and blooms

When I started this quilt back in February 2005, I had no idea it would be a full 8 years later before the final stitches would go in! Not that it's actually taken 8 years of stitching as, for most of that time, it sat in a corner waiting for me to regain the enthusiasm to pick it up. But eventually, pick it up I did, and today it gets its  moment of glory.

Other than the pink sashing, plain calico and backing, all the fabrics were from my stash. I started this quilt as a way to use up all the small floral fabrics I bought when I first started quilting. Of course, the problem with doing scrap quilts is that you only use scraps so I still have lots of fabric left.

I also wanted something I could sew in front of the TV - I find it really hard to sit passively staring at a box and like to have something crafty in my hands. The design was inspired by a lady from my quilt group who had appliqued hexagon flowers onto her quilt. It seemed a better option than an all-over hexagon pattern as it required a heck of a lot less hexagons!

The flowers were made using the English paper-piecing method where you cut out the shape, cover it in fabric and then stitch the shapes together. The paper is usually only removed when all sides of the shape have been surrounded.

The quilting is very simple and is a combination of hand and machine. The sashing was machine-quilted in the ditch. For me, there's really no point hand quilting this part as you don't see the stitches anyway. I prefer to save the hand quilting for where it will be most effective - in this case, a double layer around each flower and a single layer around the hexagons in the border. To be honest I think it could do with more quilting but I so wanted to finish it that this will have to do.

Buttons were sewn in the middle of each flower for extra texture and colour. Some were from my stash and Mum's button tin and some were purchased over the last year. I laid the quilt out on the floor to decide where to place the buttons and then photographed each flower as a reminder.

Finally, the last button was stitched in place...

Ta-dah! During the 8 years it took to make this quilt, I fell in and out of love with it several times. I'm glad to say that I'm currently in a love phase! More importantly, Chickpea loves it too which is just as well as the quilt was made for her. She also chose its name which will go on a label on the back. I liked 'Buttons and Blooms' but she prefers 'Chickpea's Flower Garden', and I do mean Chickpea rather than her real name.

So, what's next on the quilting front? Well, as mentioned, I still have lots of scraps left and I really want to practice machine quilting, so I'm going to make a very simple quilt and have a go at covering it in fancy patterns. There's also the matter of this year's Bolton Quilters Challenge. And the fabrics I've been collecting for something bold and contemporary. And about a hundred more ideas swirling around in my head! So many quilts, so little time...

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Paper white

I've been playing with my glass vase and pebbles again to create a flower display. And pretending that spring is here by bringing flowers and bulbs into the house. The idea isn't mine though - I saw it in issue 3 of The Simple Things - but as soon as I saw it I wanted to have a go.

It couldn't be simpler. Buy a pot of bulbs and grow on until they're well established: I chose Narcissus 'Paper White'. Rinse off the compost and put the bulbs into the bottom of a plain glass vase. I added glass pebbles in the bottom for extra interest and to stop the bulbs sitting in the water. There were enough bulbs for two vases though I think the straight-sided one worked best by keeping the leaves more upright.

I wondered how the bulbs would react to being out of compost but it didn't seem to have affected them as, before long, the flowers started to emerge.

Is there anything more exciting than watching flowers slowly emerge from their bud cocoon and slowly unfurl? The anticipation of wondering what the blooms will look like?

And the pleasure when they're revealed in all their glory. And the perfume that meets you when you walk into the room.

This one sat in the window in the stairwell where I've loved looking through the glass at the tangle of roots. I think the bulbs got enough light, though they do seem rather leggy. Maybe they're this tall naturally? As soon as they've finished flowering I'll put them in the garden to gather strength for next year.

And these beauties were in the bargain bin at the supermarket:  a snip at £1.89. Who could resist? Definitely not me!