Tuesday, January 31, 2012

On Converting UFOs

What have I been working on ??!!  Finishing UFOs (UnFinished Objects), and particularly some quilts I have in the works.  One has been assembled in patchwork for nearly 2 years, but not completed.  Another is a more contemporary project, started a few weeks ago.  But needed for a gift in a few months (and must post before I next travel for work, so I have one month to complete it).  And the latest one feels like a new project, but in fact was originally commenced over 6 months ago, and not progressed past cutting out stage !  And there are some painting projects too.  Though painting is tougher to move forward at the moment, as I still have no studio space here.  (yet, but happy to report this is being worked on).  No wonder I am feeling  my creativity a bit challenged--with all these half-baked projects loitering about, clogging the flow of new ideas and getting in the way of moving things forward.

So, a week and a bit ago, I pulled these three textile projects out and considered what to do with them.  In fact, I found a fourth project, that has been integrated into one of the three featured ones, a bit of patchwork I have used to help create backing for one of the quilts.  I also had to buy some batting and additional fabric for borders, backings, and bindings.  That is now done for the first two quilts.  And happy to report they are put together and now only need the machine quilting I will be doing in February (hey, that's tomorrow !) and also bindings to finish them off.

Yesterday and today I have been working on the third UFO, which I thought was a simple quilt of large  (6.5") squares of various blue and green Kaffe Fasset fabrics.  I have not yet done a KF fabric quilt, so this was to be a journey into that space.  I do love his designs and his fabrics are really gorgeous.  And squares could not be easier, so I wonder what was holding me back.   So I rearranged the cut out squares into piles of like fabric prints and then cut each of the squares in half.  When done, I had a lot of triangles.  Somehow this is more appealing at the moment.  I have not done any work with triangles in a while, and it seems a good choice.  Last night I started laying the triangles out to see how to arrange them.

This morning I started stitching the triangles into squares.  Each got pressed and the corners trimmed neatly.  How silly does that sound, they were squares to start with ! But now they are in squares made up each of two triangles, one predominantly green and the other with blue or purple, or a combination there of.   And a very small few (only 3) with one side of coral red.  Once I stitched most of the triangles into their initial square arrangements, I started to play with how to arrange them (see photo above).  The prints are so vivid in colour and pattern, I favoured a simple composition, with green triangles on the lower right of each square.   I spent quite a while working out the number of rows, columns, and also the arrangement to suit...laying the squares out on the top of the bed.  Eventually I settled for 99 squares, arranged in a 9 by 11 overall arrangement.  I arranged the colour pattern to be set diagonally from left to right.

One of the things to work out and decide was where to put the small coral triangles.  In the top photo you can see a couple.  Their purpose was to liven up the composition, and help carry the eye across it.    I had a play with their positioning.  I also experimented with the composition with out them, but it was much better with the accents of coral.  I liked it enough to make up 2 more squares with coral triangles.

I also was contemplating whether to add a second accent colour--mango orange.  I folded a piece of fabric that colour into a triangle and placed it on the composition and decided to give it a go (and I made up a square with one triangle that colour).  I think they add real sparkle and an element of surprise that I like.  In the end I liked it so much, I added one more coral triangle and two more mango hued ones.  Seven accents in total.

Working out which accent to put where required some experimentation, and swapping fabric squares into different positions.  I am now half way through assembling this composition into a stitched whole.  6 columns done, 5 to go.  Ideally I need to finish before bedtime, so I get all the pieces in exactly the right places.  I took a break after getting two sewn in the wrong order (I ripped that seam out and did it again, correctly).  Also, the cats have been annoying me this afternoon, jumping onto the bed and when they do, messing up the carefully set out arrangement and order of the triangles yet to be stitched into rows and columns.  They just won't leave it alone !

Three cats on a hot day, but just cannot keep away
 from a quilt spread out on the floor.
Comparing the larger photo with the ones above it, the differences are quite subtle.  But little things can really make or break the composition.  That's what composing is about (right ?!)

Pookie on the bright UFO quilt #1
Just above, right and below:  here is what my helpers do when I am working on quilting compositions !  They are "assisting" on UFOs 2 and 1 (sequentially) in these pics.

Cameo of Pookie, he loves this quilt
(and it sure is a nice background for his good looks)

Monday, January 23, 2012

In The Jars

My debut Jam Making project is now in the bag, or perhaps better to say it's in the jars !  The project was bold and ambitious, using the ancient looking (and quite rusty) very vintage Fowlers Vacola steriliser pan and assorted accessories that I found at an op shop (second hand, thrift shop) for $10 on Saturday (see previous post, just below).  With quite a few bowls of ripe fruit sitting on the kitchen island, I needed to make some swift decisions on how to use fruit.

I chose red plums for the jam making, because they were just so good, with ruby red flesh and I had enough of them to make up a batch of jam.  The recipe called for 2 kilos of fruit, and I weighed it out, finding that 53 of the plums would do the job.  I spent the evening Saturday halving then stoning plums and cutting up the fruit.  That took nearly 2 hours, including clean up.  I had very stained finger tips !  Then mixing it with 1.25 kilos of sugar, to sit overnight (covered, at room temperature).  Had to split this into two bowls, because even my largest bowls could not hold all that much cut up plums and sugar.

The next morning, I tipped the bowls into a large stock pot, to begin cooking it.  Ian helped me clean the steriliser pot.  I had all the bottles washed and rinsed and ready to get sterilised, along with lids and rings.  Because the steriliser was so old, it was a bit rusty inside, even after Ian scrubbed it with steel wool and then rinsed it.  We decided we would need a second cleaner boiling water rinse stage for the sterilised bottles, so we prepared a second large pan to boil water in for this.  I also prepared a couple baking trays with clean utensils:  tongs, spoons, ladles, large spoons.  Plus a pile of clean tea towels and bar mops.  And I popped some small china saucers into the freezer for testing jam setting later on.  Ian brought  in the big steriliser pot and also brought in water to fill it, in a garden watering can.  It took 2 and a half to fill to the right level.  And we started the stove under it, because he said it would take nearly an hour to bring to boil (and that was about right).  Before it boiled, I put in the jars.  They would need 10 minutes in boiling water to sterilise.

I got the fruit and sugar going in the stock pot, bringing it to a boil too.  Tipped in some fresh lemon juice.  By this time it was a stunning deep red colour and the kitchen smelled wonderful.  And simmered/boiled it to setting point.    Along the way, it reduced in the pan a bit, and still looked great.   I continued to "skim" foam off the surface.  That and some of the jam syrup got sampled and tasked very good.  It took much longer than I thought it would to get to a setting point.  The recipe suggested at least 25 minutes.  But setting stage did not seem to be approached until after 45 at least.  I am a novice at the various methods to test setting and my old thermometer did not seem to be accurate (it wasn't right at boiling water temp, so why would it be right at jam setting temp ?).  So I used the cold dishes out of the freezer.  Eventually decided to call it done.   And in turn one by one, like recommended in the guide on preserving, took the jars our of their soiling water bath, we rinsed them in the second boiling water bath, and they dried in a second (held by tongs) and we filled them.  I used a ladle, but can see why I will want a wide neck funnel instead.  The ladle was an awkward way to do this, but it did work.  Each jar was sealed up with a lid and then a ring, and set back in the boiling water bath.  They got "processed" for 5 minutes, which is the time called for by the definitive guide on food preserving, the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning.  (link takes you to the first guide, but there are several volumes and excellent guidance throughout about how to preserve or can food safely).  We filled four 500 ml bottles and half of one more with the jam, which we will use right away.

Eventually, when the jars cooled enough to remove from the hot water, they cooled and each lid "popped" as the jar sealed.  When they cooled completely, I put small labels on them.  Kim's Red Plum Jam.  With bottling date and also a use by/best before date of 6 months hence.   By evening, I was not sure if the jam had set, but the part full jar in the fridge seemed to have congealed and glommed up in a way one expects proper jam to behave.  So common sense around here declared the batch good.

But, really, one must try the jam to know for sure.  So this morning, Ian got up and tried it on his toast.  And said it was very very good, maybe the best jam he had ever had--very sweet praise indeed.  Even though jam is not exactly on my current diet regime, I had a small piece of toast and a small bit of the red plum jam on it, to try it too.  And it was Really Good !!  Wow !

So, we are declaring victory here, this first batch of jam has been very successful.  I am not sure it will last until end of July though ;)

PS:  I have promised Ian that I will procure a proper modern stainless steel pan and put a rack in bottom for my jar sterilising and jam processing--before the next batch gets under way.   The old rusty and green vintage one will become a prop in one of my interior styling vignettes...

Saturday, January 21, 2012

When Life Gives You Peaches....

Happy New Year 2012.  Gosh, January is more than half gone.  And summer  is lovely and warm.  Just this week friends Chris & Julie  offered us some gorgeous fruit off their backyard fruit trees.  Peaches, white nectarines, and beautiful small plums with deep ruby red flesh.  At home, I piled the fruit up in bowls and then stepped back to admire it.  Looks so abundant, having all this stunning fruit.

So what to do with it ?!  Ian and I have already been eating the previous batch we got.  This time we have more, and it seems a pity not to do something fun with it.  I have a small book with jam and jelly recipes I bought last winter and also had some cute mason jars with red gingham pattern lids.  So I thought, why not make jam.

But it is easier said than done.  One needs a lot of other tools and supplies to make jam properly.  I did some research on the net, finding excellent resources about how to preserve jam safely.  And on checking our kitchen, was a bit sad to realise we did not have a big enough pot for me to "process" the filled jam jars in a boiling water bath (which is part of how to ensure you don't create bacteria and toxins).  I found some online, but did not think I would get them fast enough for this batch of fruit.

But today, I stopped at a second hand "op shop" on my way from the farmers market.  And behold, I encountered an old metal jam processing pot with lots of accessories.  Tag on top said "$10 for the lot".  Done, I took it and packed it into the car, finished my errands and brought it all home.

So now decisions to be made, what sort of jam to make ?  By midday I settled on plum.  I need to prepare the fruit and sugar, which mulls together overnight, and tomorrow morning I make the jam.  And sterilise bottles and lids, then fill them.  And process them.

Today I made a peach flaugnarde cake, much like the plum one I did at Christmas.  And, I remembered to dust it with icing sugar while warm this time.   It looks amazing and the whole kitchen smells divine.  The kitchen in this old house of ours loves being such a productive and working kitchen too.  I can just feel it !