Archive for January, 2014

fibre tagging

DSC_0005-001DSC_0021-001So these are the bedizeners I have been making over the last week, about 3 dozen, which makes a feast of colour and tiny details that get quite overpowering when they’re all laid out on my photography ‘tray’ (an A2 corkboard with black handmade paper laid on top.)

By the way, laying them out is a good idea if you want to keep an eye on colour balance – it doesn’t really matter, as I will be tying these to railings and trees individually, but if they were all being hung from one tree, just like decorating a Christmas tree, total randomness can look less than pleasing!

I discovered I had made nearly everything in shades of blue (leftovers from all the watery blocks on the chiropractor’s quilt) or purple and oranges (C& G Machine Embroidery colour palette) so I stretched myself and deliberately made some pink and green ones, and some black and greys.

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I’ve also made hearts, some from complex cloth, which is where you lay out scraps of cloth and stitch them to a backing cloth, (like quilting without the wadding we assume for modern quilting.) I use ribbons, lace, leftover fabric, sweet wrappers, anything that will hold up to the task I intend the cloth to manage.

The slitheriest and most swearingest part was stitching silk taffeta ribbon to satin blanket ribbon…I set myself a target of 100 metres of thread in an ornamental stitch and by the end I was getting the hang of not twisting the ribbon as it unrolled…Β  πŸ˜‰

I then arm-knitted massive chain from this (like fingerknitting, but huuuge!) and as everything is so slippery, the next stage is stitching hearts to the links to keep them in position…

DSC_0052Of course, the ‘more is more’ school of embellishment means that some at least of these complex cloth hearts are being edged with beads and sequins, photos of that stage to follow πŸ˜‰

Another set of hearts are knitted and some have a crochet edging. As my hands hurt horribly if I knit more than 2 a day of these small hearts, my lovely Mahjongettes have stepped into the breach. Gold star goes to Elizabeth, who has taken yarn home with her to do more (I so owe her cake!) and the moss stitch hearts are hers, with edging by PoetrySue. Eleanor stuck to garter stitch and had fun mixing ribbons in and making faces over my texture yarns. The results are very pleasing!

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And of course, all those ribbons and threads and glittery bits and rustly wrappers are very attractive to Nonie…

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fibromyalgia, the mirror

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I am making the kind of art that makes me the most happy at the moment, making beauty from discards and gifting it as street art…this is so lucky, as I have just finished my first 6 monthly review for ATOS assessment form. 6 months goes really fast, it felt like forever when I won my appeal to be put in the non-work group for ESA, but it has flown. Having the recognition of the organisers of an exhibition in London, being invited to show more than I originally submitted is very validating, and when I have also been listing my increasing health problems on a form for someone paid a bonus to discount that and ignore my distressing history and try and force me to let go of my right to welfare support after paying into a National Insurance scheme… it has been a life saver.

I have felt angry and annoyed and stressed and belittled, but I have not felt suicidal. When I had to fight for a year to get my Disability Living Allowance re-instated in 2005, I felt suicidal almost weekly, I felt sick with fear every time another letter dropped through the box, it was a very heavy burden to carry through the first year of my marriage. Without Andy’s support I would never have made it. How do people manage with no partner, no family of choice or origin, no outlet for their skills and energy? No validation of their worth to those around them?

And this is why I am so angry about the refusal of the mainstream media to carry the news of just how many people commit suicide within 6 weeks of being refused their benefits. (yes “theirs”, if a doctor signed them on the sick and they paid N.I, a private insurance company would be in court for refusing to pay the promised benefits, why isn’t the Government?)

We know it’s over a thousand in 9 months, but the Government then instructed the records to be closed, even to Freedom of Information requests. How scared are they? How big is this dirty secret? How will people feel when they realize this was the boiled-frog syndrome moment for those not using the benefit system? How did ordinary Germans go along so willingly with Nazi atrocities? By believing propaganda, by letting themselves be divided to rule…

We must stand together.

We must look in the mirror and like what we see.

Fibromyalgia is a mirror for me: I see what is truly necessary to me more clearly than ever before in my life, because when I mess up, the cost is very high. Equally, because life is increasingly limited, I can tell very easily what makes a satisfying life, what generates stress, what makes me sick to my stomach… and the thought of the MPs in Parliament getting Β£400 for lunch, saying working families must queue for support at a food bank truly does. As people are pointing out, how much housing benefit goes to benefit claimants and how much goes to landlords? 100% goes to private landlords getting super rich off people terrified to complain when there is mould growing on the walls, getting sick from damp, while their landlords build another heated stable for their horses… (interesting conversation with my landlord the other day –Β  I am his only tenant on benefits, I am the ‘deserving disabled’ mascot and to be fair, even he was genuinely horrified when I explained that using a rollator, paying for a homehelp, being on tablets galore with a therapist specializing in trauma recovery and a GP who understands fibromyalgia, in no way guarantees any support from the benefits system…I just hope I didn’t give him any ideas about evicting me…)

However hard daily tasks are for me, I must still try and make art or risk losing my ability to cope with the stress levels of my situation. I am very lucky – I have skills and talents and interests and many lovely and diverse friends who help me in many ways, including keeping me amused πŸ˜‰ Humour is a life saver too! If I made art on a tablet though, perhaps given to me by caring relatives or bought by a charity, I would be under suspicion, how have I come by such an expensive item? Welfare News Service reports some people are being investigated for just such a thing…but at the same time people on benefits have to have internet to access services and apply for jobs… we are moving into a world of double think and distrust and it all needs to be wiped away.

Look in the mirror: you see a human

Every human deserves support to stay alive in a caring and compassionate society

Every human deserves to express themselves and make a contribution to the greater community and be respected for that and not be made to feel suicidal for having become ill, disabled, and in need of support

When you hear the ignorant spouting rubbish about scroungers, ask them if they pay NI (National Insurance contributions) and ask what would happen if they were in a car accident and needed a wheelchair and time off work and how if it turned out they had irreparable spine damage would they like to still be considered human and be paid the benefits of the insurance scheme and use the services of the fantastic National Health Service? or would they like to be treated as human waste and spat at and have their windows stoned and be shouted at in the street as greedy, feckless scroungers? Hmm?

Dr Seuss: Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.

Be a human, respect other humans’ needs, protect and support other humans’ right to dignity in life and death.

waste not, want not: sewing room snippets

I’ve had the loveliest evening, listening to a favourite band with interesting lyrics, while making miniature bunting/ yarn tags/ fibre art tags.

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Now, I’m using tags in the graffiti sense, a street artist leaving art that has a strong flavour /signature/ handle that others recognise. These are the first pieces of dozens, maybe hundreds I will be making for an event next month in London.

However, they are very easy and pleasing to do, and you can adapt the technique to make your own festive bunting/ tree decorations/ or even tags for gifts to crafty friends. The best thing is, they CAN be made entirely from leftovers, in fact, they are richer and more interesting if they are! Just like a patchwork quilt where you can look back and see a favourite shirt, summer dress, band Tshirt…twice the happiness!

How do I acquire all these snippets? Basically, whenever I make anything, instead of sweeping the snips and trimmings into the bin, I save them in a clear plastic bag. At a sew or knit event, I’ve been known to sweep up everyone’s snips! Some ofΒ  Truly Hooked’s yarn trimmings are in this batch, I am not a great one for pink πŸ˜‰

Then, when I need a variety of materials and really don’t want to cut into a block of fabric, out come the bags. Seeing what I have available, pulling out particularly appealing pieces and mixing and matching makes the wheels start turning, and then I might seek out some larger remnants or a particular yarn…It’s a really great way to gently ease back into making if you’re unsure what to do next or feeling blocked or downhearted, the variety of colours and textures is like a salve to bruised feelings πŸ˜‰

DSC_0012-001So, what have we here? Chopped off bits of felting, leftover machine cords, trimming edges on something in yellow gingham (I am sooo drawing a blank on what THAT was!!) a couple of inches of rust ribbon, a bit of rainbow chiffon with automatic stitch patterns to embellish…hmmm….

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Punchinello (the plastic foil sequins are punched out of) can be torn in half, if you start at a corner and work slowly, and then it’s much more bendy, which helps. You can see a seam edge from a charity shop blouse lovely Robyn gifted me, mmm, patterned kingfisher/ teal shiny satin! by cutting very close to the seam I got the most remnant for use, but also created an interesting ‘string’. There is a theory of proportions, called the Golden Mean, the human eye likes things to be divided by thirds, so because the white stitching makes a third of the strip, it looks very pleasing. Otherwise I could make it work by having one third and two thirds of a piece of fabric either side of an interesting line of stitching. Sometimes you can make something jump out by breaking this rule, it snags the eye, it all depends what effect you want whether it’s ‘right’ or not!

Because I have lots of interesting snippets, I can work quite fast, the trouble I have is not getting out everything in the studio πŸ˜‰Β  oh, i have a button somewhere that would be just right, or where is that ladder yarn I was using the other day? Staaaaaaaaaaap! Challenging myself to work as much as possible from the one bag really helps πŸ˜‰

DSC_0028Making a series is good, I get quicker and quicker and then I can string them together by stitching them onto a machine cord or a piece of braid or a ribbon and voila! I have bunting πŸ™‚ Well worth a try, and good fun to do when you are going on holiday and can’t take much with you. Coming to a tree or a railing near you soon, yours or mine?

Complex cloth is good for using up leftover scraps or strips of fabric and ribbon. I used Thorntons choccie wrappers, they are plastic/foil and I need to make some waterproof embellishers too. Cut a 6″ or 20cm square of backing cloth, I used umbrella fabric someone gave me. Pin the wrappers along the fold line so you can stitch anchors in the strong sections – put the needle down first, then sew slowly, with strong thread, using a wider zigzag so the strain is spread across the fragile plastic/foil. Unpin everything, and pick a pattern stitch you like and can curve with, in a contrasting colour. Again, needle down first, start slowly and set the pattern stitch to be wider than usual. Draw lines of stitch to please you, but also anchor your scraps. This is easy for quilters, but just keep it simple and slow, and even beginners can get it right πŸ™‚

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Now cut out the shape of your bunting – draw on the back if it helps – and save the scraps! This is a double winning technique!

Here are my hearts, and you can see a pile of scraps to the side – they can be used in the tags or as dolly bunting or as spacers between bigger bunting shapes πŸ™‚

Again, very simple, very pleasing, and a great way to make something fromwhat would otherwise go in the bin, to landfill. Zero waste rocks!

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food bank protein bars: sweet and savoury recipes

I have been feeling very upset about the huge rise in people needing to use foodbanks in Britain. There is so much being kept out of the regular news –Β  http://welfarenewsservice.com/disabled-man-found-fit-work-killed-sickness-benefits-stopped/Β  [Β Β ‘This article was written by Steven Preece and first published by the Welfare News Service on 26/12/13 and has been reproduced here with permission’] WNS are great and keep reporting what the papers barely touch, including that within 6 weeks of having their benefits stopped, so many disabled people are killing themselves, well over a thousand in 2013, as the bedroom tax has made a bad situation worse.

The more upset I get, the more pain I feel, that’s the way fibromyalgia works sadly, so please understand I am not glossing over this situation when I say I am choosing to make myself feel better by doing what I can: finding a candle to light in the darkness.

I have made a test batch of high protein, delicious protein bars (taste like ordinary flapjack/yummy cake) but will release energy in stages – sugar rush, then fruit, nuts and oats…to get a child through to their free lunch or an adult from one shift to the next.

They’re also great for us pain and fatigue peeps! I’ve been having one 80g slice for breakfast and it keeps me full for at least 4 hours. Of course I’m not doing heavy labouring, but even so, pretty good… It’s like having a small bowl of VERY rich muesli πŸ˜‰

I’ve also made a savoury version, more like a scone, but again with a much higher protein count, with grated cheese or finely chopped nuts. I’ll add some more photos when the chili nuts come next week and I make the next batch.

Now I’m on disability benefits so can’t afford to spend a lot on ingredients, so how can I use my catering skills not just to adapt a recipe, but to exploit my knowledge of how nonsensical best before dates often are, and use completely safe, but supposedly out of date ingredients from my online bargain store?

I’ve marked AF next to an ingredient if I got it cheaper than normal, and my costings are based on being able to get similar bargains fairly regularly.

My Approved Foods challenge: vegan suet is 5 bags @ 180g for Β£1!

Savoury Scones

DSC_009012oz S R flourΒ Β Β Β Β Β  6oz/18og suet AF

2oz/50g sunflower seeds AF

6oz grated cheese or 150g FINELY chopped chili or dry roasted peanuts AF

black pepper, mustard to taste eg 1/2 to 1 TEAspoon

sea salt (if no salt with the nuts) AF

10fl oz/ half pint of cold water

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Mix the dry ingredients, including the suet, with your well washed hands or a fork. Add most of the water and stir gently with a dinner/table knife. The aim is to make a soft dough, that holds its shape but is NOT sticky, so if necessary add the last bit of water very slowly. One fist of dough makes 2 scones. If you look at the photo, you can see I haven’t needed to use any flour to make the dough workable.

Shape into 12 large rounds (like scones!) or make oblongs and space well apart on greased baking trays, dab tops with a drip of water (or milk or egg)

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Bake for 30 min at gas 5/ 200 c / in a warm – hot oven until crisp and golden brown. If necessary turn upside down afterΒ  20 mins (my oven’s fan is very iffy!)

If you make a cup soup or hot marmite, you can balance the scone over it or dunkΒ  to warm the scone, so someone in fuel poverty can get a hearty snack with one mug of hot water πŸ™‚

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PAN SOUP: CARROT AND CUMIN

I also made a carrot and cumin soup, very simple, just well fried onions and 2 green peppers, add 1 litre of boiling water with 2 veggie stock cubes or 1 TABLEspoon of Marmite/Vecon, then 1 kg of half price carrots, topped, tailed and cut into chunks. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 30 minutes. I whizz my soup with a blender stick, but you can chop the carrots smaller and skip that! This made 6 medium to large bowls, so multiply out as necessary πŸ˜‰

I added black pepper, sea salt, mustard and 1 TEAspoon of cumin seeds for flavour (and cumin is good for boosting immune system) but you could use any herbs you like πŸ˜‰

if you’re worried your child might not like it, well, Emilia’s Finn liked both

DSC_0055-001soup and scone πŸ™‚

There were smiles from another visitor too, who took home two scones for another day πŸ˜‰ I suggested toasting or warming them, as we had them warm from the oven, which made them extra yummy πŸ˜‰ You can even fry them, like a stovey/ hash brown.

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Easy Flapjack

flapjack can be shaped to ‘breakfast bars’ and make a very nutritious snack/ meal if you use lots of nuts and dried fruits (rich in minerals as well as sweet!) Mountaineers use Trail mix, so think how much energy dried fruit, nuts and seeds have in πŸ™‚

375 g/ 120z vegan margarine gently melted on a low heat with

250g/ 8oz brown sugar and 100g golden syrup

until they bubble

I added:

125g/40zΒ  deluxe fruit and nuts, (walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds finely chopped in a whizzer) AF

[but 100g salted peanuts, 1 TABLEspoon each of peanut butter and lemonjuice is a great variation and cheaper] AF

then 500g/ 1lb oats/oatmeal/ flapjack kits AF

stir until stiff, being careful to not let the ground nuts burn onto the pan base!

Turn out into a large foil case or 2 swiss roll tins and press down well with the back of the wooden spoon.

Bake at 200 c/ gas 5 for 10 mins, then turn tin/s round and bake for another 10 -15 mins until it is dark golden brown.

Leave to cool in the trays! When completely cool turn onto a chopping board and cut into bars, 5 cm/2″ wide. If they are crumbly, cut them into 8cm squares instead and add more golden syrup or less raisins etc next time.

I once baked and sold 800 flapjack slices as a fundraiser on a stall at North Shields Fish Quay Festival! Oh my! Today my hand is really cramped after making one foil tray!

But they taste very good, Elizabeth enjoyed her slice and said what a difference the ground nuts make πŸ˜‰ and I have had plenty for visitors over New Year as well as my breakfasts πŸ™‚

I am going to keep one of each for as long as it takes to go mouldy so I can put a use-by date on for the food bank. To be honest I’ve never seen mouldy flapjack, too much sugar and fat, it’s a descendant of pemmican and other foods stored by encasing in fat with sugar. The scones I think will be fine for a week, they have sea salt in, but they will get drier – one good reason to use suet rather than margarine, suet pastries are moister, not just because they’re often steamed, but the way the fat is isolated within the flour.. read some Heston Blumenthal for the science πŸ˜‰

Altogether, I’m very pleased with my experiment, and the tasters agree, challenge MET! There was no indication that discount ingredients had been used, but the batches costed out at roughly half to a third price because margarine is so dear now (particularly vegan) and dried fruit and nuts and even oats are a lot dearer (agrochemicals as well as delivery costs go up when oil prices rise…)

Savoury Scones – 12 large scones Β£1.60/ 13.3p, say 15p each inc gas and they have protein in and are MUCH more satisfying than a bread roll

Flapjack – 14 large bars (80 – 100g, over twice the size of an ordinary breakfast bar)

Β£3.20/ 23p, say 25p each once wrapped and labelled, at cheaper than the price of a 40g bar…with protein in…

For Β£5 I can give 26 high protein meal replacements, well worth it?

And because they look and taste like a treat, I hope people will use and enjoy them, and feel a little more cared for, instead of being kicked when they are down πŸ˜‰