Friday, 25 April 2014

Times they are a changing

We've gradually been reducing our student numbers over the last couple of years as other things take up an increasing amount of our time. We still offer two courses as self-guided learning but, as many of you know, after 14 years online we no longer offer City & Guilds' qualifications and the very last students will be finishing in the near future. We're sad in many ways but life moves on and there are new challenges to look forward to. Of course we'll miss seeing the wonderful work our students produce - like that of Jo who finished Creative Quiltmaking with us recently.

Jo's final assessment pieces effectively combined many of the techniques she sampled during the course to result in two lovely quilts. Many congratulations Jo - I hope you enjoyed your time with us!

So, with fewer and fewer students on the books, what you may ask are we doing with all our free time?

If I said we'd taken up juggling you'd probably think I was being flippant but that's exactly how it feels most days. We're currently keeping several balls in the air and doing our best not to drop a single one. Somehow I don't think we'll ever be idle or indeed bored. I did threaten retirement again the other day but the words were not received sympathetically! Good to be needed when others of a similar age are already out to grass isn't it?

Linda x

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


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