27 February 2006

Talk at the British Library

The British Library is just round the corner from work - it's so easy to drop in to an event, and at the moment there's an exhibition called "Beautiful Minds" about Nobel prize winners (which I haven't seen). In connection with this, they've got scientists etc doing talks, and this is Kathy Sykes, whose academic and popularising concern is making science accessible. Her (physics) PhD was on PHB, a biodegradable plastic obtained from the "fat" in bacteria. It raised a lot of ethical issues: "How can people trust scientists if they won't talk about ethics," she asked. Indeed. The discussion touched on creativity, explaining science to "naive" adults, researchers vs educationalists in academia, and politicians.

Her first impression of science? Her father was a physicist; her mother knew about atoms, and that's how it started, a question to her mother and an explanation that aroused her curiosity.

16 February 2006

April showers

In February! The hailstorm was brief, but saves me watering the windowboxes this week. Within minutes the sky was clear, the black clouds heading off southeast.

15 February 2006


Oma and her sisters - Dora, Anna, Margarete. The shadow is the photographer. This was taken just before we left Germany. Oma was 66. Though she never went back, she spent a lot of time looking at her collection of photographs.


Oma's wedding. She (Margarete Friedrich) was born in 1888 - June 28. Don't know when Opa (Martin Schleicher) was born. The three girls are her sisters Dora, Leni, and Anna. Her Mother, Luise, is on the left. Opa's parents, Katarine and Nikolaus, are on either side of the couple. Others, from left to right, are Emma Niebling, Johann Niebling, Frau Bargon and her sister Paula Kohl, Baerbel Seifert (sister of Johann Niebling), Peter Seifert. Peter was Martins best friend, and Buergermeister of Gersfeld until the Nazis came to power.

Blue bag, red bag

Gabrielle shared her pattern for a zip-top bag with the members of the UKSewing group. I made it slightly deeper, in a remnant of corduroy found at John Lewis (cost, £2.71), a recycled zip, and lining left over from the coat. What makes the difference with the bag is that it's got quilt wadding under the fabric. And a stiffener in the bottom. Turned out the corduroy was stretch cord. Because of what this does to the handles, I call this my bungie bag.

Another remnant - this one cost £5 - and a brand new zip - and voila, another bag. This one is wider, to show off the pattern.
The zips need a pull - plenty of decorative/imaginative possibilities here. And the inside needs lots of pockets --

Ghastly sweater?

A "bargain" in Whistles sale! Sleeves and back are orange, fronts are brown, embroidery is fuchsia, pink, brown, cream. Sounds ghastly, indeed; looks unpromising in this scan; but it works, in a decidedly boho way, when worn. Maybe not such a bargain - this embroidery is hand done, and the worker no doubt got paid very little. But that little may have made a big difference to the worker's family. This ethical debate has raged elsewhere.

06 February 2006

Chinese poetry

During February, Chinese Poems on the Underground is a counterpart to British poems on the Shanghai Metro. Four poems appear - by Anonymous, 1st century AD; Li Bai (AD 701-761); Po-Chu-i (AD 772-846); and Lu Xun (1881-1936). Posters were available at the British Library's evening of Chinese poetry. I'll put them up in the hall, eventually.

Qu Lei Lei, an artist who's been living in London for the past 20 years and did the calligraphy on the posters, whizzed through 4000 years of Chinese writing in about 15 minutes, but could obviously have gone on much longer. This is an early example of official script - very clear quality of line.This example is later, expressive of the character of the writer. Possibly this was the one who changed sides to preserve his life, and rose to a high position under the new emperor. The music included cello solo from the film Hidden Dragon, Crouching Tiger, and Benjamin Britten's Songs from the Chinese (tenor accompanied by guitar), as well as an arrangement for guitar of "Yi Dance", originally for pipa, played by Xuefei Yang: The pleated fabric of her trousers brought to mind the folds in the dresses of Tang ladies -- and when she lifted her foot to keep time in some parts of the piece, it looked like she might be wearing their shoes with the turned-up toes:
Taking Leave of a Friend - by Li Bai

(translated by Ezra Pound - of whom Piers Plowright, one of the readers, said: he didn't know much Chinese, but he had an instinct for getting the meaning)

Blue mountains to the north of the walls,
White river winding about them;
Here we must make separation
And go out through a thousand miles of dead grass.

Mind like a floating wide cloud,
Sunset like the parting of old acquaintances
Who bow over their clasped hands at a distance.
Our horses neigh to each other as we are departing.

03 February 2006

Button box

These are just the bigger buttons, one of several tins full. Some of these buttons come from a collection found in a charity shop; they might date to the 30s and 40s.

2006 annual snowstorm reunion

Meeting for a drink after work turned into monthly meetings at each others' homes. We started calling ourselves the senoritas after a particularly memorable evening at Mary's shortly after her return from Mexico, when she started the evening with margaritas. Followed by rather a lot of wine...

Three years ago it snowed on the day of our January meeting but we thought nothing of it and the evening passed pleasantly. When Julia phoned to check where her taxi might be, she was told he'd be along in about two hours - because of the snow. So Linda offered to drive Julia and Mary to the tube station, but as they got to Highgate Hill and saw the cars sliding all over the place it was obvious that this was not a good idea. They turned round and went to Linda's and stayed there overnight - she's always prepared for the unexpected!

This year, Mary emailed earlier in the day to say it was snowing in Oxford -- but only a flake or two fell in London. The menu was a salad with roasted almonds and quails' eggs; the roast squash, feta, and rocket penne; and a spanish almond cake, served with creme fraiche; then, chocolates. The weather remained cold, but dry.
Preheat oven to 200C(400F). Place cubes of butternut squash (recipe said 1.2kg but just under 1kg made lots) in a roasting tin with 1 tsp (or more) fresh rosemary, 4 cloves crushed garlic, 1 Tbsp olive oil ; toss to coat. Bake for 30 min, or until squash is soft and golden. Season.

Meanwhile, cook 500g penne until al dente. Drain, return to the pan and stir in 20g butter. Keep warm.

Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat; add 1 large red onion, sliced, and cook for 3-5 minutes, then add 1 Tbsp honey and ook for 2 mins or until the onion starts to caramelise. Add 1/2 cup (125ml) chicken or veg stock and simmer gently for 5-7 min or until reduced slightly.

Add the roast squash to the onion mixture, stir to combine, then add to the pasta with 200g feta, crumbled, and 100g resh rocket leaves. Toss to combine and season to taste. Garnish with shaved parmesan.

01 February 2006

Circle game

Below, in lurid closeup, is the (stalled, unfinished) outcome of the "playground for stitches" workshop last month. We cut shapes out of two layers of fabric, then cut them and interchanged the pieces; laid them on a background, and started handstitching with embroidery threads. Okay, I have three fabrics ... it did look perfectly fine with just the dark and the light green, but I'd brought along the medium green and decided to break away from the instructions. Adding the stitches was fun, something to do while watching telly - and it did change the look of the piece considerably - but I'm tempted to say the whole thing is pointless.

This is definitely not a direction I want to go. Too chaotic, without careful choices of stitch and colours. And I did find that "more is better" - add enough, and it starts to harmonise. The principle of repetitive cumulation.

What surprised me was the way the largescale dark print and the light green (a splodgy background printed with tiny gold spirals) could work together. These were "any old" fabrics grabbed from the drawer - those lists of materials to bring to the workshop are frustratingly open to a wide range of interpretation. By now I'm getting used to the challenge and surprises arising from never having brought quite the right thing.So rather than put a nice neat narrow ribbon round my "baseball" to finish it off, I'm going to recycle bits of it as greeting cards -- some day.

However the overlapping areas of fabric, and the idea of interchange (like in central asian felt rugs) did inspire me, so I used the same fabrics and took this idea forward in another exercise. There was enough fabric for four circles - which became six moons rising over the mountain landscape.

In my enthusiasm to finish the exercise I didn't really consider the scientific principles of the dark and light sides of the moon, but that adds a certain enigma (perhaps). It's pinned up on the wall, for now, to torment me. The "japanese feel" of the piece ties in with the current large project, the quilt using japanese fabric.
The quilting was done in long wavy lines, with the straight-stitch foot on the machine. Easier than free-motion quilting, in many ways: fewer options for which direction to go next; machine takes care of stitch length; ease of moving fabric through the machine. It makes a nice dense (or even stiff) fabric. I also like the way the lines make for "flow."