Thursday, 28 July 2011

A Day of Sewing

Yesterday I spent the day at my niece's house, helping her learn to use her new sewing machine.
Grandma bought Keri-Anne a lovely sewing machine as a birthday present, as she has wanted to make clothes for herself and the babies, for a long time.
I bought her a couple of excellent sewing books as well, so she was well equipped with information and tools, but not with experience! Sometimes you just can't learn something from a book - you have to have someone there to show you and help you make sense of it all.
So, we got out the books and sewing equipment, went to buy a piece of suitable fabric and settled down for a day's stitching.
Big Girl was at nursery, but Little Girl was supervising....
though it was a busy day at the office... lots to do!  When she was tired of her job, Little Girl (who is, after all, only 4 months old) had a nice break, lying on her play mat and playing with her toys, then watching her favourite "Baby TV" channel for a little while, before having a snack and a hard-earned snooze.
We traced, prepared and cut out our pattern, then cut it out of the fabric.  Then we got the sewing machine out of its box and set it up, learning the names of the various parts, checking tensions, stitch lengths, needle size etc.  We wound a bobbin with white cotton and threaded up the machine.  Then Keri-Anne stitched her First Seam!
The machine has a handy storage box, which slides on and off, doubling as a "flat bed" for straight seams, but allowing you to have a "free arm" setting on the machine as well.  It's such a clever idea.  All the bits and pieces - like bobbins, spare needles, screw-driver, stitch unpicker, spool holders etc - are held in the box and kept with the machine. 
But you can still get the leg of those bloomers round the base of the machine, so you can stitch the hem and add elasticated thread along the bottom! 
(I actually covet this sewing machine - it has more features than mine and is super-nice! It also weighs about half mine, which would make it much easier to lift onto my table/desk... Still, mine is a Family Heirloom, so I am happy to have it and I don't use it enough - currently at least - to give me an excuse to waste money on a new replacement.)
By the time Big Girl was home from nursery and I had to go home, we had got a long way.  This picture shows the little bloomers before the elastic was stitched round the legs, or the casing was pinned, ready for the elastic at the waist.  That was the situation when I went home.  Keri-Anne had a good, clear set of instructions in her book, which she could follow to complete the bloomers during the evening.
And She Did!
Her Big Girl wore her lovely new bloomers today - don't they look fab?

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Slouchy Day...

This afternoon, we have mostly been Slouching!

Slouching at my computer... blogging and updating my Shop...
Slouching in the messy bedroom...
Slouching on the door mat...
Slouchy guitar...

It's nice to just relax for a while and "do nothing"...

See you all tomorrow - with photos of what I'm working on (when I'm not slouching!)...

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Today We Made This!

Another item crossed off the To-Do List!

After months - more months than I care to count - the horrible, messy gap, between my bedroom wardrobes and the wall, has been tidied!

Woo-Hoo! HANDLES on my Wardrobe doors!  I only bought these about 18 months ago, when the wardrobes were assembled... until today, I have been opening the doors with a small screw that was screwed in on one door, where the handle was "going to go", then putting my hand round the left-hand door to open that from indside.  Now I can just Open the Doors!

So, back to the Mess Corner... I moved all the boxes of stuff, putting them on the bed or in the corner by the other window.  Then we cleaned up all the dust bunnies (wow they were breeding in that corner!), then got the toolbox out.  And assembled this:
See, in the corner there?  This is actually two 40cm wide, deep bookcase units.  We assembled both, leaving one without its back panels, then fixed them together, one in front ot the other, using "repair brackets" on the sides ( long metal strips with 4 screws, placed along the sides and screwed into the fixed shelf in the middle and the panel on the top). 

This has made a deep, 6ft tall unit.  As you can see, we've put the tv in there - until now, it has sat on top of a chest of drawers, looking big, black and untidy!  I have put some of the "junk" away and used the basked on the 2nd shelf up to hold videos for me to watch in bed sometimes.  Behind this basket is stuff we rarely use. 

Behind the basket at the bottom are some photograph albums, that we want to keep, but don't look at very often.  They were in a book-case once, but we got rid of the bookcases when we moved house, so they've cluttered up the bedroom floor, in a large cardboard box.  No More Box!

The square basket is still empty, but I will tidy things into it tomorrow.  There's another box of stuff behind that embroidered cushion - but this seems a good place to store the cushion when it's not being used. It hides the junk behind it and keeps it out of the way!

The top shelf will hold another box of stuff, when I have organised it.  Meanwhile I don't want to just dump junk on it, or I'll never tidy it up again!  And on top, there are some Ikea bags, hiding away behind a gorgeous turquoise coloured box.  The box contained a present, sent to my friend by her stepmother.  It came from Fortnum and Mason (ooooo!) and has nothing in it just now, except packing chips.  I will empty out the chips and I think it can be storage for something special - perhaps scarves and belts.
So, a neater corner now.  The bedroom really is almost tidied and "finished".  The junk is gradually being cleared away - it's only taken us 2 years!!

And this evening I am ... rather tired, I think I could say! Early night for me tonight.  Tomorrow I must organise some stuff, ready for when we go away on holiday soon - book-binding things have to be organised well in advance, so my shop doesn't collapse while I'm away!  

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Wednesday Worktable 20th July - Saying "Thank You"

I am pleased with the results of my work over the last two days, so here are the Books I made, for J. to give to some of his teachers, as "Thank You" gifts:
The Teachers' Thank-You Gifts

For the French teacher - a pair of pocket notebooks / mini-journals, covered with bright paper and decorated with contrast ribbon ties.
For the Maths teacher - A rather funky notebook, filled with a rainbow of coloured sheets.  Decorated with turquoise stitching and a bright yellow and pink tassel.
The Science teacher's a trendy chap, so we chose some "cool" paper to make the covers for this pair of pocket notebooks!
The English teacher's gift is a notebook/sketchbook, covered with Indian paper and filled with hand-made cotton paper.  It is decorated with a silk edging, contrast stitching and a hand-made silk tassel.
For the Form Tutor, a cheerful sunflower-design fabric cover, with bright orange paper lining.  Filled with smooth white note paper.  The book has contrast stitching, a black silk edging and matching hand-made silk tassel. 

Finally, a book for J's guitar teacher.  It has a cover of chocolate brown art paper, with decorative scrapbook paper laid on top, then a cotton bookcloth edging, contrast linen stitching and a hand-made cotton and linen tassel. Inside, the pages alternate between plain notepaper and sheets of music paper.

We wrapped these in colourful tissue papers, tied them with ribbon and added the matching gift tags, which J. carefully wrote out for each teacher.  We really hope they like them - makes a change to soap, flowers or chocolates anyway! 

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Bookbinding Workshop Day

Yesterday I taught my first ever Bookbinding workshop.  The two sock-pet workshops I taught before, were for children, but this was a course at my local sewing & patchwork shop, for adults.

I spent much of this week getting my stuff together, making notes, preparing paper-packs for the students and making some "props" for teaching (such as a "paper sizes" chart, samples of different papers and cards for students to see/feel,  books at different stages of binding, so I could demonstrate techniques etc).

I didn't think I was nervous, but I must have been, because I couldn't sleep properly for several nights and was so jumpy and tired.  That didn't help my preparations much and I managed to forget a couple of things yesterday - my crop-a-dile hole punch and a pile of book-binding books - and make a few errors too (though the students said they liked to see how I put right my mistakes, so they knew what to do when they made them!!).  Nothing major though and it all went pretty smoothly on the whole.

I had five students in total and it was a nice, relaxed and friendly atmosphere.  I'm quite glad I didn't have a lot of students to start off with, although it did reduce my course fee and the possible sales for the shop too (obviously they hope the students will buy some of their equipment/supplies from the shop, or there isn't much point in hosting a course, especially as they passed on most of the course fees to me).  I hope they felt it was worthwhile and will let me tutor there again.   The students all said they had had a nice time and enjoyed themselves. 

We made two kinds of books:

6"x4" notebooks, with fabric covers
8"x6" sketchbooks/journals, with soft covers made of fabric, stiffened with card and lined with art paper.

These are what my clever students made:

Pair of 6"x4" notebooks and 8"x6" notebook, made by Bridget
Matching notebook and sketchbook, made by Linda

Notebook and sketchbook, made by Nicolette

Matching London notebook and sketchbook, made by (Mr) Sam
Notebook and sketchbook, made by Sarah

We spent a fair bit of time on the basic techniques for making bookcloth and dealing with paper-grain, folding, cutting etc. in order to make the first notebook.  I was a bit worried that we wouldn't have time to finish the stab-stitch binding on the sketchbooks, but everyone got to a point that they were happy with and the books all looked great.  I was quite proud of them all!

I think it was a success, on the whole and I'm thinking hard about what to offer for the "follow-up" (which they seemed to expect)! 

I was at Scrap Club today.  It was nice to go and chat, relax and just do my own projects for a bit. The last few weeks have been so hectic.  I was working on "teacher presents" and cards, as well as completing a scrap page - which I will post soon.

Off to bed now, after a successful weekend! :-)

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Master Chef?

Yesterday evening, I helped DS do a "dry run" of his Cookery Assessment for today.  He was given two sheets of paper, set out with spaces for his ingredients, utensils, safety considerations and method; he had to make an item of food in class today and present it to the teacher.

J. decided to make Salmon Fishcakes and to accompany these with mashed potatoes and carrots.  Sounds straightforward, but he is still only 13, doesn't really like to cook and hadn't made these before.  The only "plus" that I could think of, was that he likes salmon fishcakes! 

I said he could make these, but only if he made them at home first.  I didn't want to just give him a recipe and leave him to sink or swim! 

So we spent two hours in the kitchen, getting out ingredients - writing it down as we went, peeling potatoes and carrot - writing it down, cooking the potatoes, salmon and carrots - writing it all down...

It was very hard work.  DS got super-stressed (as he tends to do).  I did my best not to get cross (because I hate to see him upset and it makes me grumpy!).   I managed to be patient, not too bossy (!), help him to understand what he needed to do and why (like why we put a little egg in with the salmon and mashed-up potatoes). 

He learned a lot - how to prepare boiled potatoes and carrots, how to make fresh breadcrumbs in the blender (how to operate the blender in fact!), how to make fresh mashed potato properly, how to make the fishcakes so that they didn't fall apart when being cooked.... lots of stuff. 

This was the result:

Didn't he present it nicely?  And it tasted great - really very nice indeed! 

This morning we were in the kitchen early, getting the ingredients together for today's Assessment.  J. was calm, relaxed and really quite confident.  It really was worth doing it all at home first, to make sure he understood the process.

The "Dry Run" and J's hard work all paid off.  The Cookery teacher had asked three other teachers to come in and assess/judge the children's food. 

J's Salmon Fishcakes, with Mashed Potato and Carrots came FIRST!  He was congratulated and given a round of applause.  A girl in his group made Raspberry and Chocolate Tart, which was judged the best dessert. 

I am really proud of my son today! He doesn't like to cook, but he came up with this idea himself, he cooked it and presented it so beautifully and his efforts were given their just reward.  He's a little star!

* * *

Just in case you fancy having a go yourself, here is our recipe:

Lizzie and J's Salmon Fishcakes, with Mashed Potato and Carrot.

For each fishcake with mash you need:

1 Large potato (think medium-sized baking potato)
1 small Salmon Fillet
1 Carrot

You also need :

Cooking oil (we used sunflower oil)
1 Slice Bread for breadcrumbs (will make enough for about 4 fishcakes)
Herbs (we used dried mixed herbs, plus dried basil)
Salt & pepper, plus any other seasoning you fancy (spice?)
1 beaten egg (or two if making 4 or more fishcakes)
A little milk

Peel the potato and scrape/peel the carrots.  Cut the potato up into small pieces and boil until soft.  Slice the carrots (J. likes long slices, as you can see!), then steam over the potato pan (or place in the pan to boil for about 5-8 minutes).  Drain the vegetables and set aside to keep warm.

Meanwhile,  fry the salmon fillets in a little oil, until just cooked (they will be cooked a little more once they are in the fishcakes).  Place on a plate and remove any skin.  Break the salmon into flakes or smallish pieces.

Take around half the potato and put into a bowl, mash (but not too mashed - a few small lumps are fine), then add the flaked salmon, herbs and seasoning, plus a little beaten egg to bind it, then mash together gently.  If you prefer a smooth filling for your fishcakes, pop it all in the blender and blend it on "pulse" a few times, until you are happy with the texture (remember that over-blending cooked potato results in a sort-of gluey-stuff which is not very nice and doesn't hold its shape well either!).

To make the fishcakes, take a portion of the mixture, using two dessert spoons or floured hands and shape it into a patty.  Place it on the plate and dab beaten egg on the top (you won't be able to paint it on, as the mashed potato will stick to the brush, so just dab it over).

Season the breadcrumbs with herbs then sprinkle a layer of breadcrumbs over the fishcake, gently pushing it with a fork, to make sure it all sticks. 

Use the fork to help you scoop up the patty in a curved hand, then turn it over.  Apply egg and breadcrumbs to the other side.

Repeat until you have all your patties ready  (we made one large fishcake each, but you can make them more dainty if you prefer - however they stay together better if they are not too thin).

Fry the fishcakes gently, turning carefully with a fish-slice or spatula, once they are brown on the base. 

Mash the remaining potato, adding a blob of butter and dash of milk, plus any seasoning you like.
Make a layer of potato on the plate, then place the sliced carrot around this, or next to it, as you fancy.

Place your fishcake carefully on top, then garnish with salad (or serve with a side-salad). 

Serve with mayonnaise (J. added a little basil pesto sauce to his mayonnaise, which tasted really good).


*  *  *

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Oxford Once Again - A Whistle-stop Tour in Pictures

Hello all!  If you've been reading my blog since last year, you may remember this post, from last July, when I took J. and his friend G. to Oxford for a day trip. 

The school had another training day on 1st July - they do so on the first Friday and Monday of every July - so we decided another day trip was in order.  After a bit of umm-ing and errr-ing, we decided to go to Oxford again, as there were things that we hadn't had time to do before.

J. invited a friend, this time it was his pal, M.  As before, we left the car at the Park & Ride and went into the City on the bus - top deck this time, which was fun, as I could see all the lovely old houses and some of their gardens too. 

The bus still stops in Magdalen Street, so we explored the Martyrs' Memorial again:

M. hadn't see this before, so it was interesting to him...
..and of course, if you take two 13-year-olds anywhere, there has to be some larking about!
Then it was off to My Favourite Cafe, for Breakfast No.2, since we had left home at 8am.
Waiting patiently for breakfast - 13-year-old style!
As usual, breakfast was well worth the wait!

We then went down to Broad Street and headed for the world-famous Bodleian Library.
View onto Broad Street from the end of Turl Street, showing Blackwell's Music book shop and Balliol College.
This photo shows some of the lovely old buildings on Broad Street, including the Sheldonian Theatre, on the right and one of the Blackwells' Book Shops on the left (under scaffolding just now though).
The very old building nearest to us is part of Trinity College.
The Sheldonian Theatre building, through the gate.

Couldn't resist taking a snap of this gorgeous old door (a gateway really!).  Lots of the old college buildings have doors similar to this, with various coats of arms relating to the college's history, benefactors etc.
This is Oxford's famous "Bridge of Sighs" - it connects two of the buildings of Hertford College, across New College Lane.  It really was modelled on an original Venetian brige (though not, apparently, the real "Bridge of Sighs").  A slight incongruity, perhaps a bit cheesy in a 1920's sort of way, but somehow it works all the same.  This view was from Catte Street, where the entrance is for the Bodleian.

The Hallowed Portal.... Entrance to the Bodleian Library quadrangle.
This is that entrance from the other side, within the quadrangle. The small doors all lead to different parts of the Library.  The one to the right is actually the entrance to the Shop.
Each doorway has a hand-painted sign, in Latin, telling you what is inside.

I can't show you photos from the inside of the Library buildings, as we were not allowed to take any.  There is currently an exhibition about the creation of the King James Bible, which was wonderful and fascinating.  Amazing ancient books, with original translations of the Bible in Latin, Greek & Hebrew, wonderful books of notes, copies of  manuscripts - even one by Handel - bibles that dated from the same period, but were from Europe.  All kinds of gorgeous books - and you know how I love Books!

They also had video screens, with a commentary, which the boys were able to sit at and listen to through head-phones - kept them busy, gave them some interesting history, stopped them being bored - Result!

In fact, we only went into the Exhibition Room and the shop, since you can only go into the library buildings themselves with a special pass (for students and College Members), or as part of a guided tour.  The tour would have taken an hour and we would have had to wait some time before it started.  We didn't think we could manage all that, so we just enjoyed what we could do, then went on to the Ashmolean Museum.
Main entrance of the Ashmolean Museum.

Last time we were in Oxford, we went to the museum in the afternoon and really felt a bit weary.  We decided it would be better to see the museum in the morning this time, so put aside the slot before our lunch (being suitably fortified by the New Cafe's excellent breakfast!).

M. is interested in ancient history, so that is where we decided to look.  It interests J.also, so that was a good choice.  Sadly, the Egyptian rooms were closed for a refurbishment, which was a little bit disappointing, but we went round the collections from the rest of the Ancient world - Knossoss, Crete, Cyprus, Middle-East and Far East, Greece and Rome etc. 

It was all very interesting and some of the stuff was amazing.  We all enjoyed it and I think allotting a set amount of time and choosing just one area of the museum was a very good idea.  This time, there were no sore feet, tired backs, head aches or grumps!
We had intended to eat pizza at a restaurant near the Castle, but when we came upon a Nandos chicken restaurant, we couldn't resist!  We had such a lovely lunch and were glad we went there.
How cool is this? Hundreds of Nandos' Sauce Bottles, arranged as a long sweep of lights!  We tried to calculate how many there were - about 500-600.
Of course, when you're a boy in a restaurant, who is allowed to get his own drink; well, you have to experiment with mixtures.... Fizzy-pop Science - who knew you could get education from a soda machine!
Last treat of the day - I had bought tickets for the Castle - they offer tours called "Oxford Castle Unlocked" - it was a prison for some time. Now it's a Hotel!
We were able to climb to the top of that tall, square tower, from which we had views like this!  The building on the right, with the arched windows, is the new part of the hotel.  It has a roof-terrace garden - very nice!
And the boys climbed all the steep steps to the top of the old Castle Mound - I stayed below, to "supervise"!

Then it was back to the bus stop.  As happened last time, the bus stopped just as we arrived. I was so tired I just got on and went upstairs after the boys. It was only once I'd settled in my seat (with a sigh of relief) and the bus was on the way back to the car park, that I realised I had "queue-jumped", by not going all the way to the bus stop... Oops! I am sure there were a number of people who were rather cross with me - sorry folks, I plead stupidity (or just plain exhaustion!).

The drive home went very well and we were back at 5:30pm, so M. was able to come in for a while and have a snack, before J. walked home with him. 

Yesterday the school was also closed.  J. and M. had hatched a plan for their day, which involved playing lots of computer games, larking around and generally enjoying themselves at M's house.  J. came back with a box of chocolates and a "thank you" card for me - M's obviously well trained, but how nice of him (and his mum)!

So, that was a little history of our fab day out in Oxford.  I took lots more photos, but I thought you could only stand a limited number, before you began to die of boredom.  Hope I managed to get the balance about right - thanks for reading!   


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