Sunday, 29 December 2013

The satisfaction of finishing

I would hate for you to think I've spent the last few days lolling on a sofa eating chocolates. Obviously there has been a certain amount of that going on, it is Christmas after all, but I've also made my New Year resolutions a little early and top of the list is my intention to get stuff finished. The barn owl panel has occupied me for a couple of days and here's where he's at now.

While the paint was drying on him I started the underpainting on the woodpecker.

As you can see he has no visible means of support yet but will hopefully sprout legs and feet sometime tomorrow! These two paintings will complete  the bird collection for the time being. I'm hoping Jamie at Fingerprint fabric will print them as soon as the holidays are over, then I'm moving onto stretched canvas panels and a brand new subject!

Thanks for checking in on me! Bye for now, Linda

Sunday, 22 December 2013


I was really happy to receive a photo of this glorious piece of stitching this week.

Muriel is a very talented lady who has already taken Creative Quiltmaking with us and is currently working her way through Creative Sketchbooks as well as being a member of DMTV - some people are gluttons for punishment aren't they? She was as inspired as I was by the Banjara exhibit at Festival of Quilts last summer and after seeing my Banjara style project on DMTV felt compelled to create this beautiful little quilt. Wonderful work Muriel!

On a more frivolous note, I've had a really satisfying day today! First of all Waitrose delivered the Christmas provisions 10 minutes after the allotted time - this meant they gave me a complimentary box of Thornton's chocolates as compensation. I don't normally buy chocolate so that was a result - I hope they'll be late every time I order. Now I know some of you hang on my every culinary word as I am considered something of a goddess in the kitchen. I think I may have surpassed myself tonight! I have invented a delicious aperitif. Please don't judge me - it is after all a holiday and a time for relaxation. If you are feeling adventurous you may like to give it a try and if it sounds familiar and you've been drinking it for years please don't tell me - you'll only spoil my sense of achievement!

I've called it Solstice in honour of the day.
One part gin. I favour Bombay Sapphire but you may have other ideas.
One part Dubonnet. Now I realise that you have to be a woman of a certain age to even know what this is. I understand that, mixed with gin, it was the preferred tipple of the Queen Mother and indeed of our own dear Queen. Who can argue with that?
Clementine juice to taste - I used three.

Place a generous quantity of ice in a jug. Pour over the gin, the Dubonnet and the clementine juice. Stir and allow to stand for a minute or two before pouring the chilled mix into a glass. You may like to decorate the edge of your glass with a spiral of completely pointless but rather pretty clementine peel. I think this is best sipped whilst prone on a sofa watching the final of Strictly Come Dancing on a winter solstice evening but I suspect it will prove to be quite acceptable at any time! Who knows, with all that fruit it might even count as one of your five a day. Not that I'm suggesting you have five of them of course, nor that you polish off a box of chocolates at the same time.

Today hasn't been all about self indulgence - I did spend some time painting the barn owl. He's looking OK I think but I want to give him a lot more detail before I show him to you. (Come to think of it painting is another of my indulgences - who am I trying to kid?) I've also prepared a panel in readiness for the final piece in the current bird series. I know lots of people don't share my enthusiasm for birds so I'm going to tackle something completely different next. Can't quite make up my mind what it will be yet but I'm working on it!

Thanks for dropping by. I hope you all enjoy a peaceful and happy Christmas. From tomorrow the days start to grow longer - hurray, we can begin to look forward to spring! Bye for now - Linda

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Nothing new under the sun!

Well, we finally remembered where we'd stashed the Christmas decorations! How difficult can it be I ask myself? It's the same every year. It's a long, long time since Twelfth night and somehow the box always finds itself somewhere different. The first thing I do is to plug the lights in to see if they still work and then hold my breath to see if they still work once they are festooned across the branches. Next the box gets upended and emptied out on the floor. In a desperate attempt to keep to a colour scheme we've got a number of bought baubles but mostly we've made Christmas decorations ever since the children were small and no matter how battered they may look it's a family tradition that every single one has to go on the tree. So, now the tree is up and dressed to thrill and even the Father Christmas that our Bengal cat Toby savaged last year is there for all to see despite the gaping hole in his wadding beard. I have to say Amelie was no help at all this year. Seems she can take the baubles off just as fast as we can put them on. Most of the ones on the lower branches are made of fabric so no harm done!

If you watched The Great British Sewing Bee on TV this week you'll have seen Stuart make a pod shaped fabric bauble. I hope no one thought it was a new idea - mine have to be the best part of 25 years old. Laura tells me you can now buy a kit to make them - I can't believe it! We made ours at the young quilters' group I used to run with scraps of fabric, cereal box packaging and a smidge of glue!

We have the leaf shaped ones which open to hold a special treasure or chocolate and are decorated with couched gold thread and a dangly bell.

And pyramid shaped versions which have 3 triangular sides set onto a triangular base.

As well as Baby Block cubes which are just 6 little squares.

All of them have been made by covering cornflake packet cardboard shapes with Christmas prints. The fabric was cut a bit bigger than the card and the excess fabric glued to the wrong side of the card shape before the right sides were oversewn together. The ones meant to hold a treasure had a similar but slightly smaller fabric covered shape attached to the inside as a lining. They've survived many Christmases and will no doubt come out again for many years to come. That's what family tradition is about isn't it - simple things with happy memories.

Hope you are enjoying your preparations as much as we are. Thanks for dropping by - Linda

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Birds on the brain

Just in case you thought I'd finished with the bird theme......

This fluffy young starling I've shown you before is almost done. I've used iridescent acrylic paint to capture the sheen on his head and neck feathers. I think he needs even more v shaped patterning on his body before I'm finished completely. You might think of starlings as black but in truth he's ridiculously shiny and colourful.

And today I blocked in the outline of a barn owl. Hopefully I'll find a bit of time tomorrow to get started on the bird itself. They are becoming increasingly scarce - we used to see one every evening as the light faded. In fact he was such a regular visitor we used to invite friends to come and share the spectacle as he flew silently patrolling the fields that surround our house. It was a privilege to be so close to an unbelievably beautiful creature - we'd sit in the garden with a glass of wine on summer evenings waiting his arrival. Although we hear owls calling to each other almost every night here sightings of this particular breed are rare now.

I usually resort to photographs in books as inspiration for my bird paintings but I have no excuse for painting poorly observed feet after finding a dead blackbird in the garden this afternoon. There wasn't a mark on him so I've no idea how he met his doom but I've taken lots of my own photos for future reference. I was sad to see him but it's not often that you have the opportunity to look so closely, so of course I made the most of it.

I'm not the only one with birds on the brain - Thanks to Susan for sharing her sketch of a kingfisher with me! Lovely drawing Susan!

Coincidentally, I spotted one myself only yesterday. Laura now lives by a small river and a flash of brilliant blue and rust shot right over my head as I approached the house. I'll be looking out for it every day from now on.

She's moved to a picture postcard village with nature on the doorstep. This is the view from the front of the house. When I want a break from birds maybe I'll look to more of the locals for future inspiration! These young guys were turned out into the field of kale this week and seemed very disgruntled at its bitter taste.

They are Holstein crossed with Belgian Blues if you're interested! This one posed for the camera before moving off the explore his new surroundings. There's an electric fence which seemed to come as something of a surprise to them - don't think it will take long for them to learn that lesson!

Although I'm currently loving my painting I've not abandoned sewing altogether! This afternoon I added a patchwork frame to one of the bird panels in my Fingerprint fabric range and machine quilted it with a gorgeous variegated Madeira cotton thread. I plan to add some painted details then I'll let you see how it turns out.

Thanks for visiting. Hope you'll come back soon! Linda

Monday, 25 November 2013

I sense a crack in the space time continuum

Sorry about the title. I suppose that's what happens when you watch too much Doctor Who. He/it's been going for 50 years believe it or not. I was but a slip of a girl when it started but I do remember my little brother hiding behind the sofa when the scary bits came on. I was 12 and grown up enough to help get the Christmas presents ready for the younger children who still ' believed'. My parents had bought a big, plastic dalek for my brother. It was big enough for him to get into and walk around the house, wiggling the sink plunger thingy at the front, talking in a strange alien voice and crashing into the furniture. He declared it his best present ever. In those distant days I thought my mom and dad knew everything there was to know. Whatever problem we children had they could sort it out. Whatever question I had they knew exactly what to say. I know now how lucky I was to have such a solid family around me. How comforting it was to have them to rely on. When did all that change? When did the balance shift? Mom, now 85, saves all her official letters for me these days. She gives me all the forms that need filling in, me who has hardly ever filled in a form in my life. I'm been married to an accountant for almost 40 years, why on earth would I fill forms in for goodness sake! I am torn between feeling flattered that she thinks I know what to do and bewildered that I'm the one supposed to have the answers these days. It's not just the older generation looking to me for answers either. I pity poor Laura when she asks me for advice about babies. I seem to have forgotten everything I ever knew. I can't remember when a baby gets their teeth, speaks their first words or begins to walk. Was it so long ago I can't recall or have I blanked it all from my memory because I was so useless at the time? I recently found the baby book you're supposed to keep all this information in. It was for my younger daughter and yes, there were a few entries. It records the dates of her immunisations and mentions that she had half a banana at 4 months. Beyond that momentous occasion there's nothing. Was I so overwhelmed by the responsibilities of motherhood that I had no time to write a brief note or didn't we feed her again after that? I don't think we were so neglectful that we left our children to forage for themselves but who knows? It's a miracle they have turned out as well as they have!

This all sounds very self obsessed. I suspect the introspection has been brought on because I'm now a grandmother. There's a new innocent and trusting little soul relying not just her mom and dad but her wider family too. She's the most precious gift and I can't begin to explain how much we love her but it's unsettling when you realise you are now the grown up and everyone expects you to act like one!

Sunday, 24 November 2013

My new favourite

I've spent a few happy hours painting in the studio today and I hoped you might like to see how my woodpecker is coming along. I'm toying with the idea of including a tasty looking beetle on the tree trunk but that might test my abilities too far!

One more session to work on the feet and add a few shadows then he'll be ready to be scanned and digitally printed to add to my range of bird panels at Fingerprint He's my current favourite but I suppose that's always the way isn't it? The latest one is always the best. Perhaps I have to believe practise is making, if not perfect, at least better!

Just a quick post this Sunday evening - have to get dinner on the table and out of the way before the Strictly results programme comes on!! That's Saturday and Sunday nights' viewing taken care of till Christmas. What a glamourous life I do lead!

Thanks for reading - talk to you again soon - Linda

Friday, 22 November 2013

Bright moments in the gloomy days of Autumn

I love it when I see how students interpret our Creative Sketchbooks course to create wonderful sketchbook pages of their own.

Pam kindly agreed to let me show you a few of her pages - aren't they great? Such painterly use of colour. It's a joy to see these on a dull November day.

And gorgeous cut outs Pam - thanks for sharing!

We also loved these from Chantal;

Wonderful combination of techniques.

And striking use of print!

Students often tell us that they've never done anything like this before so that makes their pages even more special. I've tried something for the first time this week too - I've downloaded a digital dress pattern.

Now I know that might sound easy but who'd have thought it would take 25 sheets of A4 to print out a simple dress and shrug?? I must be even bigger than I thought! Here they are like a giant zigsaw puzzle waiting to be taped together. It's supposed to be suitable for a novice dressmaker - I'll let you see if it turns out OK when I get it sewn up. I never quite trust the sizing but if I'm lucky it might fit somebody in the family!!

You may have seen in our newsletter this week that I've moved on to painting woodpeckers. This little fellow is in his very early stages but already I'm liking his sleek shape. Some of the red underpainting will remain on his head but I've yet to add the green, black and white of his body. The red band on the left will become the tree trunk he's clinging to so I'd better give him some feet pretty soon! I'll be adding the woodpecker and a starling to the range of prints that Jamie has made for me at Fingerprint fabrics. I'm having fun with these and can't wait to get back to the painting tomorrow. The bird pincushions have proved to be very popular as Christmas gifts and I've made so many over the past week I'll soon be able to make them up in my sleep!

Thanks for dropping by - I look forward to having you keep me company again soon. Bye for now, Linda

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

A passion for Pansy and all things red

I've been deciding what to paint next once I've finished with the garden bird theme. I've been a bit mad and ordered twenty new canvasses so I have to hope the painting bug won't abandon me just yet. I also bought two ridiculously small paintbrushes. I never thought I'd ever use anything so fiddly but they should be just what I need for all the fine feathery detail. Normally Laura and I paint with big brushes and always recommend students do likewise to free them up from the terror that grips when faced with a blank sheet of paper. Rules are there to be tested so I'll see what happens when I try them out!

There are four paintings already printed to fabric and made up as pincushions and another four in the pipeline. I had a message from someone who said she couldn't bear to stick pins in bird pincushions but you'll notice we couldn't either - we're such softies the pins only go around the birds!
Seeking a new theme to work with I've been looking at my photo collection and having realised that I take more photos of this Forest Pansy in our garden than of anything else I'm wondering if the garden could provide yet more inspiration. This time showing my obsessive passion for all things red.

We bought the tree after seeing lots of them in a fabulous garden in Brittany. It looks wonderful for much of the year but now that the cold weather has arrived these last few forlorn leaves hang like red silk handkerchiefs. I worry about it surviving through the winter and compared to other plants it's a late starter so I am always relieved to see the buds burst in May.

Even the fallen leaves stop me in my tracks. How's this for a beaded treasure? It's no wonder I am inspired by nature when I have all these beautiful things right outside my window.

I must have inherited this love of colour from my mother - she knew I'd love the Cotinus she gave me for my birthday. It's settled in well and glows like a beacon. He who gardens tells me I can't have everything red but it's always the colour that draws me. This is going to be spectacular when it gets bigger.

Despite my advancing years usually I don't 'do' purple like the other old ladies but on a shrub it looks good doesn't it? It's a variety of Callicarpa if you're interested. The berries are such a surprising colour against the bare twigs and it makes a change from red although I guess purple does belong to the red colour 'family'.

It's definitely a good year for berries. Decorating the house for Christmas should be easy this year.

Now for something completely different - I get lots of emails about my baking. The cold weather has driven me back into the warm kitchen - no hardship there then! Today's loaf is Paul Hollywood's easy white loaf and I have to admit, in the interests of research I've already sampled the crust and yes, it does taste as good as it looks. All we need now is the spicy pumpkin soup - roll on lunchtime!

Talk to you again soon - thanks for visiting. Linda

Thursday, 7 November 2013

All the birds

I'm really excited that the first of my garden bird paintings are now available as little pincushions in the boutique section at Fingerprint Fabric. They might be just the thing you're looking for to give a friend at Christmas. Or better still as a treat for yourself!

Larger cushions will also be added to the store just as soon as I can get them ready!

I'm not the only one who's been busy painting - after weeks of anticipation my painting from the PenPal painting challenge arrived this week. I had no idea what to expect but this certainly brought a smile to my face on a wintry English morning. The panel is only 4 inches square but it has great impact and you can almost feel the heat of the sun!

My thanks go to Derek in Australia. He tells me he likes my sparrow painting too - what a relief that is!

Now before I can allow myself to get back to my stitching I have to finish tackling the last of the chilli mountain.

It's salsa season here without a doubt and much as I'm a fan I'm not talking Strictly Come Dancing!

Amazingly for the first week of November we are still picking fresh coriander. We've not had a frost yet and the coriander has self sown making us almost self sufficient for the salsa recipe I found on the internet. I've made masses but luckily this stuff freezes so we'll have enough to keep us going all winter.

Thanks for dropping by. I really do appreciate you taking the time - Linda

Saturday, 2 November 2013

One thing leads to another.......

My design wall is starting to look like an aviary.

The bird panels I've painted have been digitized, given decorative borders and text, and printed onto cotton fabric by Laura and Jamie.

Each of the designs has been printed in three different sizes so they'll be perfect as large cushions, mini cushions and pincushions too. I've also asked for them to be printed onto gorgeous velvet - can't wait to see how they look! Of  course if I was sensible and had any sense of restraint I'd make these up before doing any more painting. Needless to say, patience isn't one of my virtues so here's the next bird almost finished. This time it's a starling and he just needs one more session to add all his lovely iridescent pattern.

I had no idea when I started painting all the birds I see in my garden that it would lead to a fabric range at Fingerprint but I'm loving these and hope they'll be very popular. I've been bitten by the bug and just ordered masses more panels and some new brushes!

Looks like I might be busy painting and quilting cushions for the rest of the weekend. Hope yours is productive too.

Bye for now,

Thursday, 24 October 2013

And here's the next one!

The sun is out, the sky is blue and I've had a lovely few hours in my workroom this afternoon.

Painting this sparrow for the PenPal painting challenge recently gave me the bird painting bug!

So I've now finished a wren.....

And a chaffinch.........

A hungry blackbird.............

And I'm well on the way with this blue tit who just needs his final details to be added. Sorry about the reflection - as you can probably see, the paint is still wet on this one!

At least I can work with both hands - unlike Laura who has certain impediments to painting these days. Nothing stops her though, even when Amelie has to be in on the act!!

Thanks for dropping by again. Talk to you soon, Linda

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Seeking perfection

Oh well, maybe perfection's a bit strong - I'll settle for improvement though.

I think I may have a new obsession! Not content with my regular everyday bread recipe I'm experimenting with as many different ones as I can find. You know how you start to get blase and don't actually follow the recipe as carefully you used to? Little discrepancies creep in and the results can be variable. This loaf turned out rather well and was voted the best of the week. Sad to say I used a recipe from a TV chef I can't stand. I won't mention any names but you may recognise who I mean when I tell you he loves himself and his twinkly blue eyes too much for my liking and he's very fond of hair gel! That aside I shall be repeating this recipe again in today's breadmaking session.

It's been a week of tying up loose ends. I finished the jacket for Amelie and as you can see it was a hit with her. It's turned out a bit bigger than I expected - a danger of not making a tension square beforehand! Do as I say not what I do dear readers! Never mind, it should keep her warm all winter until she grows into those long sleeves.

I also finished the machine quilting and attached the binding and sleeve to this piece which has been hanging around for far too long. Now it's ready for some hand stitching to slightly fragment the text and provide a bit more texture to the surface of the quilt. The picture shows just a section but I'll let you see the whole thing when it's done.

This week members of DMTV will have seen how I made this blackbird painting with acrylic paint onto a wooden panel. It's the latest addition to my new project - I'm well on the way to recording all the different birds I see in my garden.

Imagine how thrilled I was to to see how DMTV member Sally in Tasmania used the same medium and techniques to produce her own beautiful bird panel. Well done Sally - I love it!

I'll write again soon - thanks for dropping by - Linda

Friday, 11 October 2013

Another good reason why I'll never be thin!

The apple crop is plentiful but the fruit are small this year.

There are so many lying on the ground it's an ankle breaking trip hazard going to feed the chickens. I hate waste and so I feel guilty every time I see them even though I know the birds will love them as it gets colder. The windfalls attract fieldfares and redwings amongst others - I don't suppose we'd ever see these birds if it weren't for the fallen fruit. Note to self! I hadn't thought to add fieldfares and redwings  to my list of garden birds I plan to paint. I completely forgot about them because they are shy visitors who only appear for a short time. This list is getting longer and longer . What about the cuckoos and the herons? Oh dear - looks as though I'll have to buy more panels!

The little wren fits nicely on a six inch wooden panel but I'm using larger ones for the bigger birds.

Unable to ignore the guilt any longer I did pick a few eaters from the tree nearest the house - the one that makes me most guilty as it's the one I pass most often.

A little while later and we have Tarte Tatin for pudding! Wonder why caramelised apples always taste so much better than just apples? I don't suppose we can justify these as one of our five a day can we? Just to pile on the calories - it goes without saying there has to be creme fraiche!

The cooler weather and darker evenings have made me start knitting again. Here's Amelie in my latest effort. If only she would sit still long enough for you to see it! Sorry about the blur - that's my favourite chapatti roller she's brandishing wildly. Who needs a drum kit when you have a mixing bowl and a rolling pin?

I've made this bolero with the lovely curved back several times before but this time I've crocheted short sleeves for a change. It's lovely to make baby things because they are finished before you have time to get bored. This was one of Laura's hand dyed merino and cashmere yarns and a joy to work with.

Once I get into knitting mode I can't stop - I've already made a start on the next project. It's a lovely cardigan in indigo blue tweed yarn. This is aran weight so will grow very quickly. The weekend weather is looking a bit dodgy so there may well be plenty of time to get it finished!

Thanks for dropping by - talk again soon, Linda