Sunday, 20 April 2014

Baking, a day out and a bit of sewing

My younger daughter took great pains to find me a present that matches the kitchen tiles beautifully
.

She tells me however that there's nothing more disappointing than opening a tin so clearly marked 'cake' to find it empty!


Knowing the family will all be together for an Easter egg hunt tomorrow, I've been baking all morning.


Hopefully the spiced raisin muffins, flapjacks and jam tarts will keep her happy!



Although we've been busy, it's not been all work lately. He who gardens and I did take Amelie for a visit to Attingham Park just over the border in Shropshire last week and this week we went to Hanbury Hall. She wasn't too impressed with the cultural side of things but she loved the chickens and bee hives in the walled garden.


The formal gardens are immaculate. We saw 2 volunteers walking around with hoes at the ready but I'd defy anyone to find a weed and how on earth do they clip those hedges so perfectly?


Inside the house the rooms are kept quite dark to preserve the treasures so it's hard to see the paintings as well as you may want to. Despite the gloom, these on the staircase are difficult to miss.


The strange brick and stone structure at the front of the house is of course a helpful step up when mounting your horse.


Sadly our transport back to the car park was more prosaic.


In between domestic chores and gadding about the countryside I have found time for a bit of stitching. Here's a detail of a Goldfinch panel I've made using bonded appliqué with free motion quilting. He'll appear alongside a Kingfisher in an upcoming DMTV video soon. Seems I can't get birds out of my system just yet! Some of you must love them too as I've already sold 4 of the 8 paintings I've made recently. Thank you so much for the compliment - it's lovely to know someone likes your work enough to want to live with it!

Talk to you soon - Linda x

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Bird paintings

I promised to put proper photos of my bird paintings on the blog a couple of weeks ago and today I've finally got around to it! They are all on wooden panels and the photos show the complete painting as well as a detail and a side view to show the depth of the panel sides. The birds were displayed alongside the digitally printed fabrics at a recent show at the National Exhibition Centre but now the show is over I've made them available on the Paintings for Sale page. Please email me if you'd like more information or if you're interested to buy one.


This is a colourful Chaffinch - one of my favourite garden birds. He's one of the 8 birds I've painted for this series so far but I haven't got the bird theme out of my system just yet. At the show I was asked for a Robin and a Kingfisher so I've added them to the 'to do' list. In the meantime,  yesterday I started a Goldfinch appliqué and Laura and I have plans for a collaborative quilt too! I'll let you see progress on that front as soon as it takes shape.

Talk to you again soon - Linda


Sunday, 6 April 2014

Bread

It's been another busy week but I always find the time to make bread. I have to now, we're so spoiled by homemade, unless we're on holiday in France, we don't enjoy shop bought much anymore. As promised here's the recipe I use for everyday loaves;

500g strong white bread flour
12g dried instant yeast
2 teaspoons salt
300g tepid water
40g olive oil

If I'm in a hurry or feeling lazy I use a stand mixer but the recipe works just as well by hand. Put the flour into the mixing bowl and add the salt to one side and the yeast to the other. When you are ready to begin, stir the dry ingredients together and then pour in the liquid. Mix for a minute with the paddle attachment (or your hands). The dough will be a sticky mass at this point but scrape it all off the paddle and attach the dough hook. Knead for 6 minutes on a low to medium speed (or until it feels smooth and elastic in your hands). If I'm making the bread by hand I like to stretch it in an arc so that it falls back on itself trapping air at every stretch. Just lift one end and flip it back over itself. Although it is quite wet when you start kneading it will firm up and become very elastic.


After kneading, divide the dough into two on an oiled surface. (I never flour the worktop because that alters the balance of the mix and makes the bread dry). If you have a bread cutter that's perfect but otherwise use a sharp knife.

Put the dough balls into clean, lightly oiled bowls and cover with a smooth cloth or oiled cling film. Leave to rest in a warm place.


After an hour has passed the dough should have doubled in size and look like this.
Turn the dough onto the oiled worktop and knock it back gently. Then shape into a ball by folding the edges of the dough into the middle rotating the dough ball as you do so. Turn the ball over and smooth the top by stretching it gently towards the base of the ball with your hands. Place the dough onto a baking sheet with the smooth side up.


As you can see from the picture above, I often double the quantities and make four small loaves at a time and I always sprinkle a generous amount of semolina on the tray - it prevents the dough from sticking and helps give a nice crust.


Cover the dough with a smooth cloth again and leave it to prove for about an hour in a warm room. When it has roughly doubled in size again I make a slash with a very sharp blade, paint the tops gently with milk and sprinkle on some sesame seeds. The trays go into a very hot oven - Gas Mark 8 or equivalent. As soon as I close the oven door I turn the heat down to Gas 7 and set the timer for 25 minutes. After just 5 minutes in the oven I rotate the trays 180 degrees and switch the one that has been on the top shelf with the one on the lower shelf. You may not have to do this but I know my oven and it's essential for me to get an even bake! I will check it again after a few minutes to see if I need to rotate the trays once more.


Here's the finished result. It seems as though it's very time consuming and of course bread making does take time but you don't have to be watching it at every step. Make sure you have a timer with you and you can be busy about your business most of the time while the dough does its own thing!

I think I've read every book there is on bread making and my recipe is cannibalised from all that I've read and tried. It works for me and I hope you'll enjoy having a go too.

Thanks for reading this even if your not interested in baking. I'll be back soon with proper work!

Linda x





Tuesday, 25 March 2014

What a week!

Months ago we trawled through the gig list of our local live music venue and bought tickets for some of our favourite artists. Since then we've enjoyed some great evenings entertained by the likes of Eric Bibb and Paul Jones' Blues Band. It was only when I checked my diary that it dawned on me that we also had tickets for the 19th March. Now a Wednesday night is not usually a big night for us but arrrggghhh this was set up day for Fashion, Embroidery and Stitch at the National Exhibition Centre. What terrible timing. I was running around trying to keep up with an energetic toddler all day and after a long day loading, unloading and building the display, to say nothing about the tedious motorway journey home, 'he who gardens' would be ready for a beer and a lie down! The last thing either of us would want is a night on the town. I nearly called the whole thing off but seems we oldies are made of stern stuff and so after a quick wash and brush up off we went. How glad I am that we made the effort!


We were first introduced to Harry Manx's music by our Canadian friend Catherine but this was the first time we'd seen him live. He was spectacular even if it made for a late night. He even came over for a chat and to sign our poster which will now grace the wall of fame (or as he called it, the wall of shame!) in my studio!


It felt as though my head had barely touched the pillow before we had to be up and off to the show. Laura had done her usual brilliant job of displaying the quilts and fabrics despite not feeling 100%. The quilts look pretty eye catching don't they? I probably shouldn't say that myself though.


You probably recognise a lot of the stuff here if you're a DMTV viewer or follow our blogs. At the opposite end of the stand the original painted bird panels were displayed on the wall alongside the fabrics Jamie and Laura digitally printed from them. Now that the show is over I'll be putting the panels up for sale here on the blog. You'll see them as soon as I can get around to it but I just need to photograph them properly first.


I didn't have much time off the stand to take a lot of photos of the show but I passed the display of costumes from Les Mis on the way in and out each day! Love that Russell Crowe coat!! Laura has posted lots more pics over on her blog if you'd like to see more.

No time to sit back and relax now the show is over - as ever we have lots to do so I'll go and make a start now.

Thanks for reading - talk again soon, Love Linda

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Back in the land of the living

I haven't had much to say of late. My excuse for being so quiet is that I've been laid low with a nasty winter virus. It's beyond a joke now - after three weeks I've definitely had enough! There's never a good time to be ill but this timing really is rubbish as we are so busy. Tomorrow we're setting up our stand at Fashion, Embroidery and Stitch. I use the term 'we' in the royal sense if you know what I mean. I shall actually stay home with Amelie while the rest of the family do all the hauling and hammering! It's not that I'm lazy - honest. Children aren't allowed in the halls for reasons of health and safety so the two of us will have a lovely day at home and then I shall simply swan into the show on Thursday to find everything looking beautiful!


Our fun and games tomorrow might include making crocodiles out of soft dough! We did have several different colours when we started a few days ago but it's all beginning to look pretty murky now. Those eyes won't stay white for long!

Although I won't be there with them I have been thinking of the family. My contribution to the exertions of set up day are largely culinary. I'm sure they will enjoy their lunch tomorrow even if they don't have time to eat till the stand is built and they're on their way home.


These are still hot, just out of the oven tonight and the whole house smells fantastic. I think I've finally perfected the recipe after much fiddling and modification of ingredients and timing. If anyone is interested I'm happy to share - just leave a comment and I'll let you have the details.


I love it when DMTV viewers tell me they've been inspired to have a go at one of our projects so I was very pleased to receive this photo from Barbara recently. What a beautiful job she's made of the embroidered and painted panel - thanks for letting us see it Barbara.

Tonight's post has to be short as we have an early start in the morning. I promise not to leave it so long again.

Thanks for visiting - Linda





Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Stitching frenzy

I never do anything by halves and quilting is no exception. I can't help having an obsessive streak and once I start stitching by hand I find it hard to stop. Just one more shape, one more length of thread and then I'll put it away and go cook dinner or go to bed or whatever - or maybe I'll just do a little bit more to see what that different thread colour looks like ..........


I'm liking how the white Madeira Lana thread is bringing a spark of life to the dark areas of the print. I hadn't planned to use so much white but it's turning out to be the best choice. Makes me think of the froth and foam of the Breton seaspray in bright sunlight.


The sandy coloured thread is much more discreet in the low-key areas.


I've applied a short Hemingway quote to the top of the quilt using painted Bondaweb. I'm looking forward to wrapping each of the letter shapes with more hand stitch but all the background will be free motion, machine quilted.


I have a deadline to meet with this quilt so it's a good job I'm enjoying the quilting however, the lovely sunshine did manage to prise me away from my stitching and out of the house for a brief walk today. This little casualty caught my eye and came home with me to be arranged less than elegantly in a milk bottle.


There are strict rules about picking wild flowers but I don't think that anyone will notice the loss of one tiny broken snowdrop when the banks of the lanes are clothed so generously!

Thanks for dropping by - Linda


Saturday, 22 February 2014

Making progress

After a great day printing in the studio this week I've layered up the Breton boat fabric and started the quilting. It's exciting to block print onto an existing image as you never quite know how it will turn out. I've used one of my favourite traditional designs, Storm at Sea - seemed an appropriate choice for my boat and beach theme!  I've kept the paint layer delicate so not to completely obliterate what lies beneath. The hand of the fabric is also far nicer if the added paint is not too heavy.


It's amazing how a bit of stitch transforms everything isn't it? What was a floppy, thin fabric is suddenly looking like it might one day be a quilt! I'm working this by hand using Madeira Lana threads and although I've only just begun, already I can see how the quilting is adding definition to the shapes and introducing a pleasing surface texture. Just a matter of making time now!


I know it's a bit of a cliche but everyone says how quickly children grow up don't they? How can it be that our darling baby grandchild is already striding off into the garden seeking adventure? If you're a doting grandma like me and you haven't seen the latest photos of Amelie on Laura's blog you might like to take a quick visit. It can't only be me who thinks she's adorable!


Just a short post today as I would rather be stitching than sitting at a computer - I'm sure you understand that feeling! Talk to you again soon, Linda