Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Another Charlotte Bartlett quilt

Over the last week I've been hopping between working on this English paper piecing project and an enormous Charlotte Bartlett quilt that I'm making as a Christmas gift for my parents. You might remember my first Charlotte quilt, which I named after a character in an E.M. Forster novel for the reasons shared in this post, when I found the piecing for the original snowball quilt (intended as a huge quilt for our back garden) that I was making so stultifyingly dull, that I decided to make it far smaller…perhaps not allowing all the members of the family to sit on it at the same time! Anyone who's read the book or watched the film of A Room with a View, may instantly understand why a quilt that was too small for everyone to sit on may take on such a name, but for those that haven't, do go and read my original post and you can add the phrase 'For goodness sake, don't be such a Charlotte Bartlett about it' to your own lexicon, for times when you're faced with a whiff of martyrdom!

Anyway, the name now seems doubly appropriate in its nod to martyrdom, as I decided to make this quilt in full knowledge of how much I'd not enjoyed the piecing work involved in its creation last time and it's just as unpleasant as I'd remembered it to be! I know some people find chain piecing soothing and meditative. I wish I was like them, but even with episode after episode of The Good Wife playing on my laptop in the background (it's an American legal drama and truly wonderful), I still don't find it restful. However, I'm spurred on by the fact that over the last few years, whenever my father has caught sight of my Charlotte Bartlett garden quilt, he's said how much he loves it, so I really have wanted to make him a similar one. My mother also adores the colour blue and I think will really love how exuberant Kaffe Fassett and Philip Jacobs prints tend to be, so I'm hoping it will be a perfect joint present. These are the blues that I chose for the quilt.

This is the original quilt. It's traditionally called a 'snowball quilt' because of the tiny pieces sewn to the corner of each square, which, when sewn together, create a sense of a quilt full of round balls, although my version doesn't make this so apparent, as I haven't chosen to use a particularly contrasting print.

You can see a photo of it in its early stages, below. This is the first time I've used my new design wall properly - I've had an EPP stuck up there with pins until now as, with the papers still in place, English paper piecing projects don't cling to the design wall in the same way that fabric does. But goodness, it's exciting stuff to see fabric just 'sticking' to the wall unsecured by anything other than its own desire to cling to a piece of flannelette!

This was my paltry dusting of completed snowballs last week…I now have a pile akin to Helvellyn, which is moderately satisfying, but I will be aiming for Everest proportions over the coming week, before sewing them all together. I have a tendency to over-cautiousness and in the past when I've chain pieced things, I've still felt the need to take back-stitches at the start and end of each line of stitching, even though the seams will be secured properly later by sewing across them. However, a quick discussion on Instagram about this gave the confidence to dispense with this, although I've still decreased my stitch length a little to make the stitches harder to work their own way out…just in case some of them are particularly wilful in wanting to make a bid for freedom.

I did look through a big pile of quilting books before deciding to torture myself with the Charlotte Bartlett quilt again, but nothing else offered quite the flow and wildness that I think my father really loved about the original quilt. I could possibly have done just simple patchwork square but, quite inexplicably, I felt mean to take away the tiny corner stubs, just in case that was the thing he'd liked about it. I had an idea that it may have actually been the occasional snippets of black that he loved, so I've been careful to pick some blue prints that also have a bit of black in them.

And because I know that some of you come here just for the dog photos (that may not actually be true, I just like posting them), here's a photo from a few weeks ago when we went for our annual walk with some of Nell's brother's and sisters.

After a dry summer, everywhere suddenly seems to have turned to mud. A week after this photo was taken, my husband injured his leg playing football and so I've been in charge of all of her walks each week (I usually only did three or four, either with friends or with my husband or children). It's been an odd experience to suddenly be on full-time dog-walking duty when, until getting Nell, I was something of a mud-phobic creature. I've been for lots of lovely walks with friends and my father and, for the first time ever, I found myself walking through the woods alone (not out of a newfound braveness, but rather sheer frustration at how dull it is to be confined to walks in more public places). I know lots of women who do this, but I wasn't one of them, so I'm happy to add it to my mental list of 'trying new things', which I started over the summer when I climbed up some high scaffolding (with a really awful fear of heights) and sewed with some purple fabric after years of avoiding the colour.

What are you working on this week? And have you added anything to your own list of 'trying new things'?

Florence x

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Our evening meals

This is a slight detour from sewing, but as all sewists have to eat, I thought you might be interested in hearing about something we've been enjoying for much of this year. Up until April, we were in one of those slumps where I found myself cooking a rotation of the same meals every evening, either because I hadn't had the time to go out and buy any interesting ingredients or because I didn't have the time to research recipes in advance of actually cooking the meal. It went something like: pasta with tomato sauce with vegetables; gnocchi with a blue cheese sauce and asparagus; pasta with pesto and vegetables; jacket potatoes with grated cheese and vegetables…and over…and over. Everyone in our house quite likes these things, but it wasn't particularly exciting to be eating them in rotation every week. I actually really love cooking things from scratch…there's just a slight planning issue sometimes. Anyway, eight months ago, that changed when we discovered Hello Fresh. Each week they deliver all the ingredients I'll need to make three meals with full colour recipe cards for each. The quality of the ingredients is fantastic and the recipes are wholesome, hearty, unpretentious, but really, really good. 

The recipes are often quite involved, but it's this that means that somehow on a Wednesday evening when I've worked all day, got soaked on the school run, helped with homework and am trying to work my way through a washing mountain and would normally decide that some pasta, a jar of sauce and vegetables would suffice, instead I find myself whipping up something like a huge cauliflower and lentil dahl or Lebanese sweet potato wraps, without all the stress of planning or shopping for it. 

The recipes usually take between 35 to 50 minutes to make and I tend to put on a podcast while I'm cooking - it's a really lovely way to relax at the end of the day. It's completely transformed our week and I no longer have the guilt that I was beginning to suffer in feeling that my children would grow up not remembering me cooking particularly varied or interesting things for them (because a few years ago I did used to seem to have time and inclination to cook a lot more) or ceasing to being willing to try new things because they'd got out of the habit of it - I really minded about that idea. 

I have to confess that I don't actually eat many of the Hello Fresh meals myself as I have so many allergies and food intolerances - everything from gluten, to onions and garlic and a myriad of other common ingredients - that it's really rare that a recipe excludes all the things that I can't eat, but it's reignited my joy in cooking for others and the other three members of the family are really enjoying sampling all these new dishes each week. 

Hello Fresh don't really give you a huge amount of autonomy over what you cook each week. We order the vegetarian box for four people, but other than that, we don't get a say in what arrives. I quite like the surprise factor of this, although it does mean that I occasionally have to substitute something - for example, my daughter feels smoked paprika gives things a meaty flavour so I'll switch it for regular paprika from my own spice drawer and we always substitute any rare tofu appearances with some halloumi from our own fridge. 

I'd initially thought I'd want more than three meals a week, but actually it's perfect. We have one night a week where too many people are out to justify using one of the recipes and we also have an amazing local pizza restaurant that we tend to collect pizzas from on Friday nights and then the weekends tend to offer more time for planning out my own recipes anyway. I'd also thought it would be too expensive, but actually, what used to happen was that we'd dash out to the shops constantly to buy a few random bits and pieces and come back with far more than we'd intended to buy (often disparate items, that didn't really make a meal). I think our overall food bill is actually far lower now than it used to be. 

I really love how excited everyone is when the week's recipe cards are unpacked. At the sight of an enormous salad there are often sighs of disappointment, but it's been these dishes where everyone has usually said: I really wasn't looking forward to this one, but it's amazing! 

The fact that we've been getting Hello Fresh boxes each week for eight months now should be a good indication that I think it's a brilliant service, however, just to maintain balance, I thought I should also share the things I'm less keen on: very occasionally, an ingredient has been missing from our box - it's never caused a big problem as I've normally found something in the cupboard that I can substitute it for; you need absolutely massive pans and serving dishes to carry off Hello Fresh recipes with ease - the portions are invariably huge and often provide leftovers for the next day, which is brilliant, but you will need big pans; over the summer they changed over to new eco-insulation bags for the cold items (if you're out, the delivery company will leave the box somewhere safe for you, so the food really needs to stay cold all day in the summer). The eco bags drive me slightly loopy as they're huge and sometimes it feels as though they've wrapped one block of cheese up in the wool of an entire sheep to protect it properly, which even though it's an eco bag, feels slightly wasteful - I'm hoping this is a seasonal thing and that they'll go back to standard insulation now the weather has cooled. 

Anyway, if you'd like to try your own Hello Fresh box, you can get £20 off your first order by quoting my referral code GALEFS. When you get £20 off your order, Hello Fresh give me £12 off my next box as a thank you for referring someone (this is standard for all their customers - this isn't anything related to my blog and this isn't a sponsored post - I'm writing it because I love their service and after eight months of using it every week I feel really happy to recommend them here), so if you'd rather this didn't happen, but still want to try a box, just omit the code. 
    Florence x

    Ps. And if you do use the code: Cheers! We might end up cooking the very same thing one night next week. Freaky. 

    Tuesday, 11 November 2014

    Links to good things

    Last week, in the midst of painting the hall, stairs and landing, I also filled in a small chunk of missing plaster that was knocked out when we had a new kitchen installed about six years ago. The hole was about two inches square, half an inch deep and sat just above the wooden worktop upstand. Sometimes I would put things in front of it, so that I could pretend it wasn't there, but mostly those things got moved by my family, not realising that the recycling pot had been strategically placed, and so most days when I cooked, I noticed it and minded about it. At first, when I was happily pottering around in a new kitchen, my thought was optimistically always, I must fill in that hole tomorrow…but gradually, over six years, that thought turned to wondering what would propel me into action to fill it and whether it would always be like that, until perhaps we were struck by a mad flurry of efficiency if we came to sell the house. I felt slightly envious of the people who would live here next who would never have to see the bit of missing plaster. It's odd how these things which would take five minutes to fix, can sit there for years, making you feel guilty and slightly exhausted on a low-level each time you catch sight of them. Anyway, now that it's finally done, I can report that there are seemingly few things that could make you feel quite so victorious and jubilant than checking something off a mental To Do list that's been nagging at you each time you've caught sight of it for over half a decade…I'm not sure quite why I'm sharing this with you, other than to say that if you have your own metaphorical missing chunk of plaster that will take five minutes to put right, I'd implore you to stop reading and go and tend to it (and then report back once it's done - I'd love to hear what yours was. Next on my own list of 'Things that I am Really Going to Do this Week!' is gluing the small air vent grill, that sits at the bottom of our chimney breast, onto the wall, so that it doesn't fall out every time we open or close our bedroom door!)

    Anyway, I thought you might enjoy a bullet-pointed list of interesting things from around the internet. Bullet-pointed, because that seems an appropriate medium of conveying information for someone who is so ultra efficient…or at least the best course of action for one who still has slightly painty fingers and needs to go and declog them at the earliest opportunity, rather than think about breaking up paragraphs nicely.

    • I've been meaning to tell you about Lysa Flower since May, so the fact that she's appearing in this blog post now, whilst belated, at least means that I can say that I'm sharing her work quicker than I can fill a hole in the kitchen wall. If you haven't discovered Lysa Flower's work yourself already, I think you'll love it. Lysa creates beautiful drawings of people's fabric stashes or favourite pieces of haberdashery. Rendered in coloured pencil on a plywood base, there's something I find just incredibly lovely about Lysa's drawings.

      When I asked Lysa why she first decided to draw on wood, here's what she said: Hmm, why did I settle on wood? All this started with drawing dresses but they were on paper. It seemed no matter how I framed them they wouldn't lay flat. I had seen these wood canvases at the art supply store and thought I'd give it a go. I was really happy with the results and felt it kept everything fresh and clean looking. However my main goal was for it to look modern. Lysa is happy to take on commissions, so do get in touch if you fancy having a part of your own stash captured on wood before you cut into it. Lysa also collaborates with Warp and Weft, where she's been sharing a free downloadable calendar image for each month this year. I adore October, featuring Elizabeth Olwen's Wild Wood line for Cloud9.
    • Co-incidentally, fabric distributors, Hantex, sent a delicious bundle of Wild Wood to me recently, which was very lovely as it's been one of the collections that I've been most excited about this year - you can find their list of UK stockists for this line here and scroll up and down admiring the real fabric and the Lysa's drawing of the real fabric as many times as you'd like (that's exactly what I've been doing while writing this post, anyway).
    • I have no idea what the recipe details are, as they're in Japanese, but I've fallen in love with these adorable biscuits and the step photos look easy enough to follow to achieve the same thing with your own recipe. 
    • If you love seeing all the photos from Quilt Market where designers unveil their much anticipated new fabric collections to the industry and retailers, Abby Glassenberg has written a well-researched and eye-opening article about how this works from a designer's point of view and just how little money, and quite how much hard work, can be involved in the process. It's a really interesting post and the comments are well worth reading too. 
    • One of my lovely sponsors, Elephant in my Handbag, is offering a 10% discount on your first order with them, using the code 'Flossie' at the checkout. You can find the code on their button in my right hand sidebar too, if you ever want to click directly through. 
    • Have you watched this wonderful three-minute video about how the thousands of ceramic poppies were made which have been placed around the Tower of London to remember each soldier who died? It's really worth watching. 
    • I've really enjoyed reading the Motherhood Around the World series on the Cup of Jo blog. Each post featured an in-depth interview with an American mother who had emigrated to a different country and shared her thoughts on the cultural differences that exist in raising children in her new home. In the final post, the tables were turned and Joanna interviewed nine mums who'd moved to the States from elsewhere to hear what their take on the differences were too. The interviews are fascinating reading - I loved every single one of them. 
    As always, if you have any interesting links of your own, please do share them in the comments. And thanks to my sister, Laura, who prompted this post - after an unplanned three week hiatus - with the text: When the devil are you going to blog again? I miss you! xxx. (We had actually been speaking on the phone, texting and even seen each other in person the week before, so it was a doubly sweet text).

    Florence x
    A few of the books/products that I link to on Amazon from my blog contain affiliate links and very occasionally, I'll mention a product that I've been given free of charge. I choose the things that I recommend carefully and my priority is to only share things that I love.