Friday, 26 January 2018

Pig of a day.

Yesterday was buttermaking.

I only bought 8 litres of cream, it's gone up from 1.99 to 2.59 per litre in my nearest Costco - a huge percentage hike.

I did two batches in the butter churn,  and it was very easy. Less mess than BBC (before butter churn) and, because I can do 4l at a time,  fewer receptacles dirtied holding butter.  The clean up was faster too,  and I think I'd be happy to do 12l another time.

Today was pig butchery.   Shirley raised Gloucester Old Spot x Wild Boar this time,  although I doubt we'll be able to tell the difference.  She got us to consider making bacon again,  we haven't done this for a long time.  She uses a wet cure (we've previously only done a dry cure) and she suggested trying Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's ham cure.  That's what we're doing - or we will be tomorrow afternoon.  A small ham,  lots of loin bacon,  and some lardons.   

DH also wanted to make portk pie again,  so we've put aside a kilo of shoulder for that.  He bought some cure that has Nitrite in,  which will make the meat pink instead of grey.  It will be interesting to see how it works.

We're making a lot of sausages too, and have bought a couple of new seasonings to try.   The sausage stuff is all minced up and chilling in the fridge.  Tomorrow afternoon.

We've also got a couple of small belly joints,   some pieces to bash for Schnitzel,  a tenderloin,   and lots of diced pork and minced pork.  And the trotters.  And stock, which is pressure cooking as I type.  And lots of lard.

DH made trotter stock the other day from all the trotters we had piled up in the freezer, ready for his pork pie.

Apart from the inevitable disagreements, it's been a good day.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018


I completed the (short) name banner yesterday evening.

I think it took about 15 mins per letter, on average, and that doesn't count the time taken to wind a 2 bobbins with matching thread, or loading the designs on to Monster.

First, I have to cut and hoop stabiliser, making sure it is drum tight.  I use clear vinyl, because it gives the neatest edge once removed.   The hoop goes on Monster, and she stitches out a placement outline.   I use this to  find just the right bit of the fabric for that particular letter:  I wanted to ensure I had as much insect as possible showing for each letter, and that ALL the insects appeared somewhere. It's a bit wasteful on fabric, but the end result makes it worthwhile.

The fabric is cut out, and then I place it on the
hoop, wiggling it around to get the best placement.  It's secured with masking tape. Then I repeat for the backing fabric (The backing fabric I chose for this project requires less faffing about).

The hoop goes back on Monster, and she sews 2 layers of securing stitch.   Hoop comes off again so I can trim the fabric on both sides, getting as close as possible to the stitching to avoid sticky-out threads later. I have to be very careful that I don't pull the stabiliser at all, because this would reposition it. (Ask me how I know!)

Now the rest of the stitching takes place. A foundation layer goes on, and then the beautiful (and thread heavy)  satin stitch for the edging.  

Next,  it stitches 2 different layers of "bean stitching" to give (a) a neat edge and (b) to secure the satin stitching to help prevent it fraying over time.

Finally Monster sews the eyelets: outline sttch, , foundation, satin, bean stitching.

Now I have to unhoop, and carefully extract the letter from the stabiliser - I don't want to pull the edges.  I trim the edges for loose threads, and cut off any untrimmed jump stitches.  I make holes in the eyelets, and tidy those up. 

When all the letters are ready, I thread them on to the ribbon, allowing plenty of ribbon at each end
Yesterday's 4 letter name (and the 2 stars I added because a 4 letter name is a bit short for a banner) required 31,617 stitches. 

Because I used the same thread for the bobbin as well,  this means I used a little under half a reel of thread.   The fabric (for both sides in total) was probably a fat quarter's worth;  there was quite a lot of vinyl stabiliser - I couldn't use the small hoop because it's impossible to get the scissors in to trim the fabric.     The ribbon was 48 inches long, so about 1.25m or so.

I can see why people charge £4 or more a letter! 

I'm not getting paid for this,  instead I've asked for a donation to the fund to help a local lad who has severe physical disabilities and is need of some particular equipment.

I hope she likes it.

I'm really happy with how it turned out.   After my previous,  unsuccesful (read: disastrous) attempt at using vinyl stabiliser on Monster, I had given up on ever being able to do this sort of thing again. 

I'm hoping that my new clamp frame will work for this, which would make the process a little quicker and, maybe, use less stabiliser.

We'll see.  

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Keeping my hand in

I'm mostly  keeping up with my 'resolution' of trying to do something sewing/embroidery related every day.  Well. I am if I take an average.  And if I'm a bit loose in my definition of something sewing/embroidery related.

I've done some more card. The first was using some super sparkly vinyl:
The other was a simple appliqué, for a guitar-playing friend:

I've also agreed to do a name banner for another friend.   I had to do some tests on my machine as she didn't accept vinyl as a stabiliser last time I tried.

Firstly, I had to try winding a metal Brother bobbin on my Janome machine.  It wasn't great, but I managed it in the end.   Banners are seen from both sides,  so I can't have white/black bobbin thread (which are the colours of thread on the prewounds I use).  I need to actually load a bobbin with matching thread.  Fortunately, I had purchased some proper Briethr metal bobbins, exactly for this sort of eventuality,  a few weeks ago.

 The real testing though was how to actually stabilise the letters.    On my previous, single needle, machine it was easy. I just hooped some clear vinyl, and off we went. Vinyl works really well for banners - it's impossible to get cutaway or tearaway off the sides completely.  Soluble stabiliser is a bit of a pain on letters.

I tried hooping vinyl the other day - I was trying to make a little gift card holder - and it was hopeless.  The machine just chewed up the vinyl, spat it out, and complained about the vinyl bits in the bobbin case.    I thought that maybe soluble stabiliser would work.

The test turned into several tests.  The first was a letter using soluble stabiliser, using an EZ Frame.  This was OK, but the top right corner was rubbish.   The fabric also wrinkled when I used a damp cotton bud to dissolve the stabiliser round the edge, and then pressed the finished product.  Not great.
The second attempt was vinyl stabiliser, in a normal hoop, with the hoop just the size of the design.  That was OK, but it was impossible to get scissors in to trim closely enough before the satin stitch round the edges,  so it looked a bit scrappy off the machine.

The third attempt was the same as above, but I attempted to cut the shape beforehand.  That was a disaster.

Until my new clamp frame arrives from the US, the best way is vinyl, properly hooped... but I need to try it in a larger hoop to give me more room (with the risk that it doesn't hold the vinyl tightly enough, and I end up with another dodgy top.

On the plus side,  I took the time to use vinyl-in-a-hoop to stitch the letters of the name, without fabric.  This means I can move them over fabric to find exactly the right bit of fabric for each letter.

I've agreed to do the banner anyway now, as I know I'll be able to do it - I just need to sort out the best method.


It was my sister in law's 60th birthday yesterday,  and my brother had arranged for them to go on a breadmaking course near me.     They've recently got a breadmaker, and have been enjoying making their own bread, so he thought (correctly) that J might like to try real home made bread.    I rarely make bread by hand anymore (I use a breadmaker to make bread,  or to make dough for hand finishing,  and a mixer to make bread for pizza and nans and other flat breads),  but it sounded interesting.

We went to the Willow Micro Bakery  What a fab day it was! 

It was a basic course, so we made white bread, wholemeal bread, soda bread,  and Nicky demostrated sourdough and proper rye breads.   

DH and I chose to make slighly different loaves to each other, so we could compare and contrast.  For example, I made a 100% white loaf,  he made 50/50 with Kamut (Khorasan) flour.     I made 100% wholemeal,  he did a 50/50 with some specialst italian malt flour.

Soda bread I've made many times before, but I learned that I handle the mixture too much.   The textur of the stuff we made on the course was better than I make normally.

It was interesting to use fresh yeast. I haven't done that for many years. 

And it was very interesting to learn about shaping the loaves - how to do it properly to make sure the tension is right to give a good crust.

While we were there we were talking about using mixers and bread makers.  Nicky was completely unsnobby about breadmakers,  which was good.   We discussed the merits of various mixers.  She's gettting a specialised mixer soon, and I asked if it was going to be an Ankarsum Assistent.   It kneads using rollers, which is the closest a machine can get to replicating hand kneading.  It also has a different roller for making sourdsough and rye breads.
Pic from John Norman's blog

I found one of the  blog entries from my on-line friend, John Norman, to show her a picture.   She's getting a bigger version, but it's the same sort of thing.

I read John's various entries again, and semi seriously considered buying one.   But I just don't make dough in large enough quantities to make it worthwhile.  But you could make large batches and freeze them ready for baking..... the little voice in my head whispered.

And I replied How about we see if actually bother to make, shape and freeze large batches first?  Then I'll think about getting one.

That, I suspect, is the end of that.

The story of John's initial purchase is here    He occasionally writes about it in his blog.     A recently entryy, 3 and a half years on from his initial purchase,  shows just what a master he has become


Wednesday, 17 January 2018


My Aunt died last April.  The inquest is next month.  The hospital has admitted it's their fault she died.

The coroner has asked my cousin to write a family statement about my Aunt's health and lifestyle.

I've started trying to jot down some thoughts and to organise them.  I've also been through my notes written at the time.

I can't stop crying. 

Friday, 12 January 2018


Izzy went into a bit of a decline just before Christmas,  same as the previous year. 

Once again, we discussed whether it was time to put her to sleep, but we decided to wait and see - mail because of  how she flourished again last year.

We had out monthly vet appointment just after New Year.  To our surprise, she'd gained weight.  Not very much,  but any gain is good.    We talked to the Vet about how stiff she'd been, and  commented on how it had been the same the previous year.     He was happy with how she was.

And she perked up a bit after her B12 injection.   She showed a renewed appetite.  She got a bit playful.  She got Interested in Things.   She did a lot more jumping up and jumping down,  aided by the small stools or steps we have at strategic points.

And she's started going out.  Initially she would go outside when we went outside,  but we've actually seen her use the cat flap to go out a couple of times!

Still cold

My cold continues.

I've completed Small Person's card.  I can't show you the inside because it has lots of photos, but this is the outside:

I've also made her leggings out of some specially purchased posh fabric.  All the learnings from the various inexpensive-fabric pairs went into making these, I hope they fit.

I've been making headway in my fabric clearing/sorting/tidying.  All the outstanding stuff was piled on the guest bed,  and I've now cleared the guest bed.  Admittedly, part of it was cleared to a pile in another room , so I can't put my hand on my heart and say it's all done. But this pile is neat, and is just fabric.

I really have done loads.  Stuff has been sorted and boxed. Drawers have been organised. Cupboards rearranged.    Stuff has even been thrown away (we have a textile recycling service, so that's helpful).
I also gave a huge bag of stretch jersey to our local AmDram group's seamstress.


Sunday, 7 January 2018


I'm full of cold, and it's making me very sluggish.

It's a nuisance because I've been making headway with the clearing.  Really.  Fabric has been boxed up,  and I've even been to Ikea to buy additional storage (in and out without looking around at anything else).

I've been doing at least one creative thing a day,  and I've realised we might need to trim the sewing desk so I can park the embroidery monster against the wall.  That is a huge undertaking though,  the desktop is 40mm thick, 900mm deep, layered bamboo.  It weighs a ton,  was a nightmare to et in position,  and it is currently beautifully finished.  In truth it's a crime to consider cutting it.... but I don't think there is a sensible alternative.

In considering the implications of  'trimming' the desk,  I ended up pulling out more stuff to sort. The workspace looks a lot worse than it did before I started clearing up, and the guest bed is buried under piles of stuff.    Matters were not helped by me dropping a drawer of thread spools; the shock of landing caused the golf tees to snap off, and I ended up with an unholy mess of thread , tees, and lumps of glue.  Parts of the mess are now in the kitchen, waiting for me to re-glue the tees.

On the creative side,  I've decided how I am going to make my next duvet-cover-with-insert.  I did a mock up with some scrap fabric,  I rethreaded and tested the coverstitch machine (which is when I sent the embroidery thread toppling over),  and I've washed and done the initial press of the bits to do it.  It's a big job and I need a clear head and space to do it.  Right now, I have neither.

I've also made some birthday cards....

I've made a card for Small Person as well, but I haven't finished it yet. The posh fabric for her birthday leggings has arrived and I've washed it.    I'm trying to decide whether to attempt some leggings for my granddaughter, who is a similar age. I bought some posh fabric to do some for her, but I really need to do a test pair first.  I could ask her mum to measure her.... but that sets up expectations that I might not be able to meet.

I've attempted to design a 60th card for my Sister In Law (SIL), which I'll stitch out in the next week.

I've also had some complete failures, which made me want to give up on the whole embroidery thing.  I think it was the then-impending cold making me feel sorry for myself.  I was trying to do a simple gift card holder, to hold an "IOU" for a brthday present for my daughter in law (DIL).   After the 3rd attempt  I gave up  and wrote a note and put it in her card.

Onward and upward.