Monday, December 28, 2009

The Craft Cartel and the felt vagina

My favourite blog title so far....absolutely loving The Craft Cartel. Their slogan being "For crafty types who don't dig rose-scented doilies- celebrating all that is irreverant, iconic, kitschy, delightfully offensive and made lovingly by hand".

Anyone that has the motivation to craft a vagina... I am a fan of.

check it out.

Christian Marclay vs. David Hockney

Sitting in bed doing a bit of internet exploring it one of my great pleasures- primarily because it is the only warm place in an otherwise unheated house in mid-winter. Anyway, this morning I found an awesome post by Marcela Fae on the work of Christian Marclay, an American visual artist and composer based out of New York. A few years ago he did these great pieces stitching together old vinyl record covers.

They reminded me a lot of the joiners/photo-collages that Hockney did in the early 1980s to which I have developed a small obsession with.

above: David Hockney, My Mother, Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire, 1982

Sunday, December 27, 2009

How to make a canvas apron in 10 steps

I decided to make as many Christmas presents as possible this year. I wanted to give people something homemade, something useful and something personal. After much consideration I decided on personalised aprons. They are really quite straight forward and perfect if you are still getting to grips with how your sewing machine works- as I am.

Below is a step-by-step guide to making one. All you need is the following:
  • a 35 inch (89cm) x 33 inch (84cm) square(ish) piece of cotton canvas or cotton drill (I chose a very durable heavyweight cotton, with the idea that it would last a lifetime, but feel free to use a more flexible lightweight cotton)
  • 100 inches (254cm) of 1 inch wide ribbon (a 26 inch piece for the neck strap, 2 x 37 inch pieces for the waist straps)
  • 136 (345cm) of 2 inch wide ribbon for trimming.
  • reel of thread the same colour as the ribbon
Step one:
measure out the square of cotton canvas according to the measurements below (click on the image to enlarge) or cut around an existing apron that you like the shape of. If you are using the measurements here, be sure to fold the material in half prior to cutting the top corners so the curves are the same both sides. Place this to one side.

Step two:
Get your roll of 2 inch wide ribbon, and peg one end of it to the end of an ironing board (having some tension in the ribbon will make ironing it in half much easier). Fold in half (width ways) and iron flat. Be sure not to have the heat too high if the ribbon is synthetic, plenty of steam should do the trick. Ironing the ribbon will make trimming the apron much easier.

The finished product
Step three:
Cut the 2 inch wide ribbon in to 6 pieces- of lengths corresponding with the edges of the apron. I would highly recommend leaving an inch extra at each end (particularly on the top curved corners which require a deceptive amount of ribbon).

Step four:
Cut the 1 inch wide ribbon (for the neck and waist straps) in to 3 pieces (
a 26 inch piece for the neck strap, 2 x 37 inch pieces for the waist straps)

Step five:
The 2 inch wide ribbon should fold nicely around the edge of your canvas material. Pin the bottom edge in place (roughly). You do not need to leave any overlap on this edge as the side edge trimmings will go over the bottom corners (neatly folded).

Step six:
Sew this bottom edge trimming on staying as close to the edge of the ribbon as you dare whilst making sure you are not missing the side underneath with your thread. I usually leave 3mm buffer to be sure. A simple straight, medium length stitch is all you need for attaching the trimming.

Step seven:
Sew one of the side edge trimmings on. You must start at the bottom edge (on the corner that you have just sewn), but this time you must fold over the ribbon by 3/4 inch or so to stop the end fraying. This will hopefully make the corner much neater. Remember that there is likely a front and back to the canvas, so if you have to make one side neater than the other make sure you choose the front. Continue this around the edges, folding over the corners where necessary.

Step eight:
Now the apron should be the correct shape and fully trimmed. It is best to do any personalisation now (before attaching the neck and waist straps) as you do not want to inadvertently sew the neck strap to the back of the apron with about 500 stitches. I learned this the heard way.

First you want to mark out the letters lightly in pencil. I recommend marking two lines to indicate the top and bottom of the letters, and work between these. I used the width of a ruler for this.

To embroider with a regular sewing machine, you can set the stitch pattern to 'zig-zag' with and a very short (but not non -existent) length. You must test the stitch on a scrap of material
first (perhaps from the top corners that were cut off earlier) and adjust as necessary.

You will quickly realise that straight lines are far easier than curved, but with practise you will be able to deal with curves (again, use the scrap material). I found that lifting the foot of the sewing machine and carefully repositioning the needle produced much better results than attempting to do the curve in one go.

To avoid constantly starting and stopping, you can do all the horizontal lines first without cutting the thread. Then cut and do the vertical/horizontal sections.

Do the vertical sections first without cutting the thread to save time.

then do the horizontal sections

Step nine:
Hem the neck and waist straps by 3/4 inch or so then attach them to the corners on the back side of the apron (leaving the front nice and neat). These are going to be tugged at over the years so you will need to do a fairly thorough job. I did a 'Z' patten, using the reverse mode for the diagonal.

Step ten:
Trim off all the bits of thread and admire your handiwork.

Best of luck.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

I see! you saw me sew...

I recently bought my first sewing machine. It was sold to me by a friend, Alix Pietrafesa (who makes some beautiful clothes- click here), who was moving to Hong Kong and was selling a bunch of her stuff. Despite being a bargain- it's great to finally own one myself.

It regularly amuses me to see my friends' reactions when they hear that not only can I use a sewing machine but I have just bought one! I recently spent 5 minutes attempting to convince someone I wasn't lying. Admittedly, I can't deny that stereotypically it is the tool of middle aged mothers, making curtains or costumes for their 5 year old's nativity play but I wish this wasn't the case as I feel a lot of people are really missing out. I was only lucky enough to learn how to use one because I was a windsurfing instructor in Greece and helped out mending sails on an industrial sail repair machine when it wasn't windy.
I have made a couple of great costumes over the summer with it. The first was for Winterwell festival, where the theme was 'outer space'. I made a Ziggy Stardust inspired silver lycra body suit and accompanying space gilet... and yes- that is my brother behind me in a full silver lycra gimp suit.
The next was for a UV party that Harty, a good friend was having at his house. I bought a few sheets of UV material from Soho and made another lycra number- but this time with a cape. I like capes.

under UV light the costume really comes into it's own.

Today I used some of the spare UV fabric along with some offcuts from Peter Jones' fabric department to make an ipod case for a friend whose current one is looking a bit worse for wear. My favourite part is the hole I made for the earphone jack. My sewing machine has this great feature where it will sew perfect button holes for you- you just slot the button in question into a little holder and press the foot pedal. It was one of the most satisfying feelings seeing it work it's magic. My next project is to make a shirt. A big step up from an ipod case.... hmmm- we shall see.

the ipod case buttoned shut.
the case open- I used a 30 year old popper as the fastening mechanism. It is amazing what you find at the bottom of the sewing box. I think they were my granny's.
a close up of the popper and earphone jack button hole.

another close up of the button hole.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Portrait of a boy fishing

I was in Dorset this past weekend and saw this boy fishing off Swanage pier with a friend. They were really excited that they had just caught a fish and were taking photos of each other holding it with their camera-phones. I asked if he minded me taking a photograph and he just turned, held the fish up and stared through the camera. I like this photo. Click on it to make it bigger.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Vegetable protection and South London squirrel stew

I have recently been battling nature to keep my vegetable garden (which is coming along nicely) safe from a variety of predators. The birds ate a fair few seeds after I originally sowed them but this is somewhat expected. What I didn't count on were the squirrels and foxes digging up (and leaving!) many of the carrots, onions and lettuce.

Something had to be done. I looked into buying a fruit cage style cover for the whole plot but the prices seemed on the steep side, so, having a bit of time on my hands I took the opportunity to make one.

The whole structure can be assembled and disassembled since I used nuts and bolts for the vast majority of the joinery- which means it can come with me when I move house- whenever that may be. The netting I got from Harrod Horticultural, a company that initially seemed to be promising but turned out to be rather disorganised (I once spent 36 minutes on hold to their customer service dept. when I finally gave up and called their sales telephone they answered in under 5 seconds!). In short, I would recommend looking around for alternative suppliers if you are considering making one yourself, but if all else fails make sure you order the netting about 2 weeks in advance as it takes them a while to deliver it.

The wood was purchased from Travis Perkins, but while I was there I noticed that there was an amazing amount of wood they were throwing away because of faults that would not cause too much of a problem to a structure like this. Unfortunately, it was too late for us but in the future I would try my luck in their skip first. Just make sure you ask for their permission first.

The only problem with this is that the cage doesn't cover the cherry tree. For that I have been using the air rifle. Which brings me on to the second half of this post- South London squirrel stew.

I shot a squirrel that was helping himself to one too many cherries and decided that I would see how it tasted. After all, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is full of praise for the way the squirrel tastes a and couldn't understand why more people don't eat it.

Feeling confident after paunching the hare earlier in the month and after a quick refresher by HF-W's amazing River Cottage book, I set about gutting it. I warn you, some of the photos below might not be to everyone's taste so if you are eating I suggest giving this a read later.

After the success of the hare, I got Brownie and a somewhat hesitant Cowie around again and we essentially made a slow cooked "squirrel au vin" (or more technically ├ęcureuil au vin). Here are a few photos of the gutting and cooking process (the more squeamish of you may not want to scroll down):

an incision was made up the belly of the squirrel exposing its guts.

the guts were removed and carefully slicing with a sharp knife between the meat and the skin the legs were exposed.

the head and feet were chopped off leaving a rather neat carcass.

The squirrel was then boned.

... and fried briefly with butter in a hot pan.

some onions, bacon, mushrooms and garlic was also browned and then stewed for a few hours with the meat in red wine.

The meat was still a little tough but very enjoyable. If I am honest it's taste was rather overpowered by the other ingredients and the wine. Still, the result was one less squirrel eating my cherries and a very cheap enjoyable meal. Perhaps I will wait until Autumn before cooking squirrel again once they have had a chance to fatten up over the summer. I will keep you informed.

Hare- three ways

During my last visit to Rhoscolyn, Anglesey, I managed to bag a hare with my recently acquired air rifle. Nick kindly instructed me on how to skin, paunch (gut) and joint it but I knew immediately who would be up for cooking it- Browny, one half of the previously mentioned Around Britain with a Paunch (a rather appropriate name for this post).

the hare in question

the hare once jointed

Having spent the morning at Rosie's Deli Cafe's book launch, we picked up a few ingredients from Brixton market and headed back to work out what we were going to do with the animal. After many interesting suggestions from Brownie's twitter followers, we decided to cook it three ways- the front legs and lower back (I am sure there is a more technical term for this... anyone?) were used for some hare pate. The back legs (about 60% of the meat) were used to make a slow cooked ragout and the saddle (supposedly the most tender meat) was reserved for the BBQ.

The pate was a fairly simple recipe adapted from this recipe:

  • The front legs and rear saddle of the hare cut into pieces.
  • 50g butter
  • 1 parsley sprig
  • 1 thyme sprig
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 peppercorns
  • salt
  • stock or water
  • 2 oz (50 g) mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 thick slice of bread, soaked in milk
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 6 tablespoons brandy or Madeira
  • pepper

1. Melt some of the butter in a frying pan and fry the hare pieces until they are lightly browned on all sides.

2. Transfer them to a saucepan, packing them in closely. Add the parsley, thyme, 2 of the bay leaves, the peppercorns and salt and just cover with stock or water.

3. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 2 to 3 hours or until the hare is very tender.

4. Drain the hare, reserving the liquid, and take the meat from the bones. Chop the meat. Strain the liquid.

5. Melt the remaining butter in the frying pan and fry the mushrooms for 3 minutes. Add to the hare meat.

6. Squeeze the slice of bread to remove the excess milk and add to the mixture. Mince or blend to a smooth puree.

7. Moisten the puree with a little of the reserved liquid, then beat in the remaining butter, the egg yolks, the brandy or Madeira, salt and pepper.

8. Put the remaining bay leaf in the bottom of a pate dish and spoon in the hare mixture.

9. Smooth the top, then cover and steam for 3 hours.

The ragout recipe was adapted from Thomasina Miers recipe and involved:

  • Olive oil, for browning
  • 500g hare meat
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, cut into small cubes
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 x 400g tin of plum tomatoes
  • A couple of sprigs of thyme
  • A few bay leaves
  • A pinch of allspice
  • A pinch of sugar
  • 300ml red wine
  • A square or two of dark chocolate or 1 tablespoon redcurrant jelly (we used both)
  • Salt and pepper

1.Heat a little oil in a heavy-bottomed pan over a medium heat and when it is smoking hot add a third of the meat.

2.Brown the meat on all sides and season with salt and pepper before removing and reserve.

3.Repeat with more batches until all the meat is browned.

4.Heat some more oil and add the onion and carrots. Cook for 5–10 minutes, stirring from time to time so that the vegetables don’t colour.

5.When the onion is translucent, add the garlic, and after a couple of minutes the tomatoes, herbs, allspice, sugar and wine.

6.Add the hare and simmer for a few hours. 10 minutes before serving add the chocolate and/or redcurrant jelly.

The final dish. Served on tagliatelle with pan-fried tomatoes on the side.

The BBQ'd saddle of the hare involved the following:
  • 1 saddle of hare
  • parsley
  • chives
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • olive oil
  • 6 juniper berries
  • 1 garlic clove
Essentially all one has to do is create pockets either side of the spine with a sharp knife. Into those pockets go stuff the remaining ingredients, which marinate for a few hours. The joint is then tightly wrapped in tin foil and place on the BBQ until nearly cooked- the last few minutes are done without the foil. Ideally the BBQ should not be too hot as the longer this takes to cook the more tender the meat should be.

all the ingredients at the ready

It was generally accepted that the ragout was the best of the three. I think this was due to the slower cooking (4-5 hours) making the meat far more tender than the saddle (45 mins). However, the pate was a perfect starter, great to serve on lightly toasted home-made bread.