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Monthly Archives: January 2012

Learning to quilt and resurrecting an old friend

In January 2010 a magazine series was published on how to crochet.  I bought the first few copies and now I can crochet quite competently.  In January 2011 there was a series produced by the same publishers on how to knit, and after buying the first few, I realised that I am far too cack handed for knitting- it clearly requires some mystical skill which I simply do not possess.  This year, to my delight, it happens to be quilting, a skill which I admired for a long time if only because of the wonderful and striking effect it produces.  I love these magazine series, because you can just buy the first few which will give you enough tuition to then go off on your own.  I’ve never bought a complete series, simply because it would be far too expensive and you then end up making  a blanket or some such which comes to a total cost of roughly £140 if you bought the magazine every week until it finished.

So here I go again, a new year and a new skill to teach myself and best of all this one allows me to resurrect a long dormant and neglected friend-

My boyfriend bought this for my birthday last year and after a brief excited flurry of sewing some curtains (as seen on the right of the photo) the poor thing has been sat on the desk gathering dust which is a crying shame since it really is a very nifty machine.  So I’ve decided to use my sewing machine to do my quilting even though you can hand sew the patches.  My hand sewing is fit only for mending, at best.  I hope that alongside learning to quilt, my confidence with the sewing machine will increase.  I still don’t trust myself to thread the machine from memory so I had to dig out the instructions and I’m sure that someday, somehow I will break it. Thankfully it wasn’t today.

So after dutifully cutting out and pinning my fabric squares as per instructions, I nervously sat down and machine stitched them together – then realising that the printed fabric was upside down on one piece.  So after carefully unpicking it, I went over it again and success!  Huzzah!

And finally after sewing everything to everything else, I now have this-

It’s not perfect (the seams don’t meet perfectly in the middle), but I’m far from a perfectionist.  I’m just happy to have learnt something and produced something new.

Another upside to this type of weekly magazine is that I now can’t wait for the next one.  It’s important to always have something to look forward to and for some its their summer holiday and for me it’s my next quilt square.

First Homemake of the Year

It can only be bread.  On opening the bread bin yesterday morning I found only the white processed stuff and so rather than head out and buy some I decided to make some.  Bread isn’t generally a quick thing and although I mixed up the dough at about 11am I didn’t bake it until gone 5pm.  It is utterly worth the wait though and I have to say that this batch was one of if not my best yet.

Making bread is a process that is entirely in the hands and not at all in the head.  You can sense at the kneading stage whether or not it’s going to be a good loaf, by the way the dough yields (or doesn’t) to your hands, or the feel of the surface of the dough.  It’s heartening to have at least a few certain successes with bread making, because if nothing else, it gives you a reference point for all future mixes.  I don’t have a standard recipe per se.  I always seem to have numerous bags of flour, some fuller than others, so I empty bags into the scales until I have a kilo (2.2lbs in old money) of flour and tip it onto the work surface.  Then add 3.5 tsp salt, 1 tsp of sugar and two of those packets of quick acting dried yeast.  As for water, there never seems to be a set amount to use and my guess is this is because all flours absorb different amounts of water, so I keep a large jug of blood temperature water to hand and add a little at a time until I have a slightly sticky dough.  I used to mix up the dough in a bowl until I found that working with it just on a work surface gave me far better control over the consistency.  Again, bread is made by the hands and not the head.

I put my bread dough in a large oiled bowl and then put the bowl inside my bread black binbag as apparently the black of the bag absorbs more heat and helps the dough rise.  Seems to work!

I prove and knock back the dough about three times, which is why it takes so long from start to finish.  It’s not a problem though because you don’t have to stand over it.  I’m all for slow cooking and baking in all its forms and I love recipes that take very little time and attention to prepare and bread is a perfect example of this.  After proving, shape the loaves and leave to rise for twenty minutes or so.  I then sprinkle with seeds and slash the tops as this seems to help the loaves rise when in the oven.

For the first ten minutes of baking I set the oven to the highest temperature it will go as this gives the raw dough a final ‘spring’ before turning it down to bake the loaves all the way through.  After about half an hour, I got these beauties from the oven-

There is a rule that warm bread is for tearing and cooled bread is for slicing, but I simply cannot resist a slice of warm, freshly baked bread.  So with careful slicing and an oven glove, flaunting the rules yields wonderful results-

Rather pleased to say the least.

Giving Up the New in a New Year

Last new year I made a resolution to cut back on the number of newly made finished products I purchased and opt for handmade and secondhand instead.  It didn’t go too badly, but in order to achieve this I found I needed new things in order to produce handmade items in particular.  Over the course of that year I acquired most of the necessary tools, a sewing machine and a candle making kit, for example.  Now that I have these at my disposal, I feel I can renew this resolution in earnest and intend to use this blog to catalogue and record my efforts.  I’m not going to the extent of blowing glass for my own vase or building furniture, mostly because my home is already adequately furnished, but it does need finishing touches and it is these I want to create.  I’m also a baker, mostly of cakes, but this year I want to try producing most of my own bread.  To get the bread one truly desires is no easy task.  It’s a skill that takes time and effort to even approximate mastery and my own experiments have taught me that no two loaves are ever the same.

All in all I like to make all sorts of things and I hope to look back on this blog next new year with great pride.