Saturday, 31 August 2013

Homely comforts

I've not posted for a while. It seems to me that the less I do the more difficult it is for me to get on and do the things that I need to. The irony of a suburban Leeds life. We've just been to France for an adventure holiday. Well, it was adventurous to see how we'd get on in a motorhome driving across France. On the whole it was really successful. I was blown away with the Channel Tunnel; the simplicity and organisation of it was really marvellous. I was also really taken with France and the big wide empty roads compared with the race tracks back home.

And the bread..... Oh my, can people in France produce the most gorgeous croissants, baguettes, pain au raisin. I'm not sure show they do it but a nice piece of baguette, slathered in butter and my favourite jam (apricot, seeing as you are asking) is enough to set you up for the longest of days. I've got my artisan bread making course coming up in October, so hopefully I will find out how it's done. I'll report back with pictures too!!

Part of the travelling away is the loveliness of returning home. I always feel the desire to be home as I head up the M1 especially as I reach Sheffield. It feels like proper Yorkshire then. I really missed my own bed, jeez there's nothing like the comfort of your own mattress and the feel of your own sheets. I was also pining for some traditional English grub too. I'd made some steak and ale pies before I went, gave one to a friend and froze one ready for our return. I use my Mum's recipe with Old Peculier ale to add richness to the gravy. I cheat and use pre made flaky pastry but in all honesty it takes so good and I don't know anyone who makes their own flaky pastry. I also craved something chocolatey so had a search and made some salted caramel brownies adapted from Paul A Young's recipe. Here it is. Be warned, it is really rich and definitely not slimming but for a slice of something indulgent and moreish, it can't be beaten.

Salted Caramel Brownies
For the caramel
75g white caster sugar
50ml double cream
10g unsalted butter
A pinch of sea salt

For the brownie
100g unsalted butter
150g caster sugar
100g light brown sugar
75g golden syrup
275g quality 70% dark chocolate
4 eggs
70g plain flour
Handful of chocolate for the top (I used white chocolate)

Start with the caramel. Tip the sugar into a large pan and heat. As the sugar starts to liquefy bring the dry sugar into the wet areas until it is all melted. Keep heating until it is a pale golden colour, take off the heat add the cream slowly and beat in. Add the butter and salt and keep whisking. Leave to cool.

Preheat oven to 160C/325F and line a Swiss roll tin with greaseproof paper. In another pan add the butter, sugars and syrup until melted. Take off the heat, add the chocolate and stir while it melts. Beat in the whisked eggs and mix in the flour. Pour into the tin.

Add the caramel and swirl it on top. Add extra chocolate chunks if you have them. Cook for approximately 20 mins. Serve hot or cold. Can be frozen but keeps well in airtight container.

Let me know what you think.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

A lifetime of learning.....

Crikey riley, if you'd told me that at sixteen I'd have thought "yeah right..." or something similar. I was so glad to leave secondary school and make proper choices about the courses I wanted to study. then after that I did feel a little bit like I was on a massive wheel where it was easier to carry on than 'jump off' and get a real job.

But eventually 'the ride' comes to an end and there is someone there telling you that you now have to contribute to society and become one of the employed. For a while I'd had enough learning, which is ironic since I am a teacher. I tried to go on as many courses as I could but not to really advance my knowledge and understanding but to get a day out of the classroom and enjoy a nice lunch. OK, judge me, I'm an evil person, aren't I?

I've been studying quite a bit over the past few years. This has been to gain a deeper understanding of a number of developmental disorders for personal and professional reasons. It was blinking hard work too. There were many times when I wanted to boot the computer on many a late night when I couldn't find the necessary files for my e-learning. E-learning. The very word makes me bilious. My learning style is not best when:
a) it's past 9pm
b) everybody in the street is probably asleep
c) I have no one to talk to
d) YouTube beckons me like a Dickensian orphan in the snow on Christmas Eve.

Thankfully I have now got a little space to do a bit of learning for my 'creative soul'. In the past these have taken the form of screen printing at Factory 4 (now Inc.. Workshop) and with the lovely Karen at Blueberry Park who passed on her wisdom at screen printing onto fabric. I have also learnt how to make lampshades, gadget cases, snap frame purses and am lining up a more advanced screen printing course as well as a self-chosen birthday present making croissants, pain au chocolat and pastries in Slaithwaite.

Here's the link if you fancy it.
Looks good, doesn't it?

Someone was asking a question the other day along the lines of, 'if you could do a craft workshop anywhere, where would it be?' It was something like that or they may have phrased it more succinctly. I'd love to visit Lotta Jansdotter in New York as I could combine it with a nice little shopping trip, maybe catch a show and have some nice food. What's not to like?
Here are the details...looks ace n'est pas?

I'm going to do it one day. I love Lotta's designs. They are simple, fresh and unique. I have several of her books. I am also a great fan of Skinny LaMinx in South Africa. Oh, why can't they live on the 64 bus route? Heather's designs are again deceptively simple and full of colour. She has even opened a bricks and mortar shop. How I'd love to go.

And just one more per favor? I'd love to go and have a look at the HQ of Spoonflower who manufacture fabric, wallpaper and decals from the designs that anyone can upload. No one needs to be there. I can go on my own in the middle of the night, turn on the machinery and have a play. No harm done....

But they're in America too, so I may be gone some time. Infact if I'm found in there in the middle of the night, I may be gone longer than I had anticipated.....

Here's the wondrous links for some of the workshops I've attended:

Karen at

Abi at

I'm off on my holidays!!! Hurrah, 10 days in a motorhome travelling around Paris and France; wish me luck!!!!

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Where, oh where, oh where...........................?

I hope that I may have tempted some of you to have a go at screen printing if you haven't already. Some of you may have screen printed in the past at school or college and may have not tried it for ages. Either way, it's amazing to see that there are lots of facilities across the country that allow you to 'have a go', whether that be with running workshops or providing open access studio space. This means that you pay a nominal charge, possibly annually or by the hour and you can use their facilities. This is great because some of the machinery needed is not only expensive but also very large and so prohibits most people from having a studio at home. I can but dream though.......

I know of three open access studios within the Yorkshire area. The one I use is called Inc. Workshop although it used to be called Factory 4. It seems to have undergone a rebranding and hence a new name. I started with attending a course there and then joined to be able to use the facilities to create my own cards and posters.

They are not only devoted to screen printing but also offer woodwork, jewellery making, picture framing and upholstery. It is a non threatening place to use top quality equipment but also you can be guided through the process by people like Phil and Gina so don't worry you don't need to be Andy Warhol to go down there!

 There are also two other studios which I know about but haven't used personally although I hear very good things about. There is the West Yorkshire Print Workshop in Mirfield which offers a tremendous amount of facilities and studio space.

and for those nearer to the capital of Yorkshire there is Bar Lane Studios in York
If you're a member there, I'd love to hear about what you do. 

I can't always get to the studio and sometimes I don't need to use the large exposure unit as pictured above. I wanted to find a solution so that I could print to a high enough standard at home without the need to load all of my stuff into the red box (Emily's affectionate name for our car) and go into the studio. There fore I purchased some screen printing clamps from eBay and a large piece of wood from B&Q and created my own printing bed. I use some acetate to help with the registration and some tape to mark out the positioning of my paper/card.


So above you can see the clamps and the squeegees. But a slight warning. It can become very addictive and you will become the trawler of eBay for cheap screens and even websites such as Wicked Printing Stuff who sell all sorts of goodies related to printing. Don't say you haven't been warned!


 If you've had a go at screen printing or are an accomplished printer then I'd love to see what you have created. If you have a studio at home I'd also like to see how you have this set up; you're so lucky if you do!!

 Here's my shop if you want to have a look at some of the things I've printed or sewn.
Have a good day; we've got a rabbit in our living room so I'm scared to go in there. Hence wating for good old Johnny H to come home "Jjjjjjjjjoooooooohhhhhhhnnnnnnnnn!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Creativity and all that gubbins...

I was updating my Etsy shop the other day. I haven't used it for quite some time and there is now a section where you have to tell potential customers about yourself. This can be quite cringy but I decided to have a little think about creativity. (I really did)! Jeremy Vine has been discussing the notion of what makes us human recently on his afternoon show on BBC radio 2. I only ever seemed to hear the trails for this show and never the actual discussion itself but it did leave me asking myself what the very nature of being human is. I came up with the notions of compassion, charity, a sense of spirituality, mortality and the desire for creativity.

It was the creativity bit that I was really thinking about when I was updating my Etsy page. My little girl, Emily, wants to be a writer. She loves words and the stories that can be conveyed. I hope this enthusiasm lasts. I have acquired this creativity bug. I'm not sure when it arrived but like a lot of people, I was taught to knit by my Mum who patiently used to pick up my stitches when I didn't have a clue how to resurrect my struggling creation. I still don't know how to pick up stitches and so knitting for me is a bit like tightrope walking without a net. How I miss my Mum!!! I also remember those knitting dolly 'toys' whereby you made a long, thin knitted 'sausage' but also remember that no one really had a clue what to do with the 'sausage' after it had been created. Any ideas on a postcard.... (or post me a link below)!

I now have a love of cooking, sewing and screen printing which I mentioned earlier. I started off my screen printing obsession with the purchase of a gocco from Japan. Infact, I loved it so much I couldn't bring myself to use it for ages. I'd take it religiously out of the box, look at all the components and then put it away again, waiting for a special day when it would be the right time to start the gocco printing.
I sold it in the end because I couldn't master the technique to produce quality prints. I was quite happy to let it go to someone else who could maybe create masterpieces. I then moved on to screen printing using large aluminium screens. Apparently whenever I say 'screen printing' I move my hands down as if I am pulling a screen. I hadn't really noticed until it was pointed out by my friend, Suzanne, from work!! I was trying to explain to another friend what screen printing actually is and to be honest I don't think I was very clear at I thought I'd have a go now with the help of some pictures.

Obviously there needs to be a screen involved with different mesh according to the detail required in the final print. The higher the mesh count the more detail the finished image will have. The screen is then covered in certain areas to allow the ink/paint to go through in the area left unblocked. This can be done using several different methods.

One method is to paint the mesh in the areas you don't want the ink to pass through. This way the area left unpainted is the image which will go onto the paper, card or fabric.
This is good for large images and is great as it is easy to create at home.

Another method is to use a paper stencil. Again, this is more difficult if the pattern or image is intricate but is great in that it can easily be completed at home. The stencil is not permanent yet weakens every time an print is made.
It is fastened to the back of the screen and then ink applied to the other side and the squeegee dragged across the screen.

My favourite method is to use photo emulsion. A screen is coated with the emulsion; this needs to be done in a dark area as it is light sensitive. This is then left to dry and then you use light to expose an image onto the screen to make a stencil. The photo emulsion hardens where light hits it and will wash away where light doesn't hit it (leaving an image behind).
The image is placed on the light exposure unit with the coated screen on top. This is the 'set' by allowing light to be directed onto the screen.
Here the light exposure unit is being used to 'set' the image onto the screen.

The screen is then blasted with pressurised water to remove the emulsion and leave the stencil on the screen.

A squeegee is then used to drag the paint across the screen and print the image.

 Here's my set up at home so that I don't have to go to the studio every time.

And here's some of the prints created in the studio and at home.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Holidays ahead and screen printing

Well I have finally finished for the holidays. I had a few reports to 'tidy up' which seemed to take me forever but I now feel that I'm on my holidays and looking forward to taking some me time to catch up with a few friends and get a little bit creative. I was chatting to someone once (they'll remain nameless) who has a very utilitarian view of life and she said that everybody should aim to do a maths degree. I was a little bit shocked especially as we'd been talking about the film 'Shine' with Geoffrey Rush and the creative struggle that David Helfgott had endured. It leads onto my musings about art and design and what they are and the importance of them. At a very cynical level you could argue that art is  unnecessary and in some ways it doesn't perform the same function as registering a company for VAT or writing some school reports  but it's what makes us human, the desire for self-expression, beauty and to design and to create.  They found artwork in the cave paintings of the most primitive of our ancestors, didn't they? And the more you look the more you see design at a basic level everywhere from the design in our clothes to the packaging of our cereal to the more sophisticated aspirational Mac book air that my little Emily covets. It's blinking everywhere. It amazes me whenever I go to the National Gallery in London that people have the tremendous ability that they do but also that you can go and see the most extraordinary art collection in the world for free!! (Actually they suggest a donation which I do give but in theory you aren't obliged to).

A couple of years ago I was trying to think of a present that I might like for Christmas and I decided that I would like to do a workshop in screen printing. It seemed like the perfect present i.e. learning a new skill and let's face it you do get to the point where you have most of the material things you want. So Johnny H bought me a course of six screen printing lessons at Factory Four in Leeds under the guidance of the lovely Gina. They've since rebranded and it's called Inc. Workshop but they still offer courses in screen printing as well as furniture restoration, picture framing and they've even  got a laser cutter which sounds like another potential course at some point.
Here's a picture of the very place and if you live in the Yorkshire area then do have a look at their website; it's a really encouraging place where you can develop any latent ability you have.

Inc. Workshop also offers the opportunity for a really reasonable yearly membership where you can pay hourly to use the facilities.

So I trotted along in a cold January, met some really nice people and learnt how to prepare a screen with photo emulsion; use the light exposure unit to 'burn a screen' i.e. fix an image on the screen; how to use a squeegee and transfer my chosen image onto paper, card and fabric.
And it really is enthralling, fun and life affirming. So much so that I've set up my little shop on folksy (please have a butcher's!! - click the link at the side) and got loads of screens and a few squeegies and a load of gorgeous ink. By the way the cheapest place I've found for ink is
System 3 seems to be the best, cheap isn't always cheerful especially when it comes to acrylic ink. So I treated myself to loads of ink and have a screen printing table that I set up and use the workshop for the light exposure unit. I'd love to have one of these at home but they cost several thousand pounds and we don't have anywhere big enough to store it.

By the way, if you want some tuition then I can heartily recommend the lovely Karen Lewis from Blueberry Park. Karen is a designer maker with a penchant for screen printing. She screen prints her own fabric and makes really gorgeous things from it; e.g pencil cases, pouches, quilts, lampshades, infact anything!! She sells her stuff here

But if that wasn't enough, she also runs workshops on the stencil method of screen printing and how to print on textiles. I thoroughly recommend it.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

This is my first entry on my blog which will be the musings of a crafty teacher living in Yorkshire trying to earn a crust teaching students with dyslexia as well as finding the times to make my little heart flutter creating things. I am passionate about design and love to create anything from a tray bake, large family cake to textile products and screen printed posters and cards. I have also dabbled in making roman blinds and love knitting although I question the accuracy of my knitted products!! I also love shrink plastic and cooking a good old curry with proper spices (sorry Lloyd Grosman, you're not fooling anyone).
The picture above shows one of my handmade phone sleeves which I have just started making. I love fabrics and can spend many a long hour perusing the online shops. The sleeve above is made from Amy Butler fabric with the interior from Karen Lewis from Blueberry Park. My creations are on sale at my online shop which is found at: Go and have a look and send me a message to say hello if you've got the time.