Monday, 29 March 2010


Hello again one and all, I do hope you are all fresh as a daisy after the weekend? I think I mentioned I was looking forward to an exciting day on Saturday, a day I booked before Christmas and so off I set, over to Battersea to the studios of cake decorator to the stars, Peggy Porschen.

Funnily enough, I have passed many times (on the way to my sewing machine shop) the building in which Peggy's studios are situated and to be honest, lamented that yet another gorgeous Victorian school building has been converted into residential/business use. However, when I heard Peggy's studio was there, I was intrigued to have a nosey! It's a big complex and the building below is the one opposite to where Peggy's studio is situated.

And here is where Peggy's wonderful cakes and cookies are created...

It is a lovely bright, white, modern space inside, where Peggy's "Easter Treats Masterclass" shall take place. Peggy's courses are always booked up as soon as they appear on her website so I was so thrilled to get a place, I had been trying for some time.

We are group of 8 which is a good size and allows us all plenty of attention and the ability to see exactly what is going on as Peggy demonstrates. A couple of the ladies had come specially from Switzerland for the course. More excitingly, who did I happen to be sitting next to but Jane Brocket of "The Gentle Art of Domesticity" fame, whose new book on quilts I had only bought the day before. It's a small world!

I loved the floral photos Peggy had stuck up. When I asked her, she said they are for inspiration for making sugarpaste flowers - as well as being very pretty, of course. Peggy was marvellous, very personable and with perfect English (she is German), she was hands on every minute of the course.

Some of Peggy's creations flanked the doors...

This one is actually a fake cake! It was made for display at somebody's wedding and is waiting to be collected. The mind boggles at how many hours that must have taken.

There is a little corner set up with goodies to buy including Peggy's fab books. I am ogling the pink Kitchenaid mixer!

Time to get to work. As you may know if you have been reading my blog before, I have done a couple of one-day cake courses before and I have had to provide all my own equipment and cakes for those. The joy of Saturday's course is that all we needed was an apron and the rest was provided.

We begin by making piping bags from greaseproof paper. As would be the case throughout the day, Peggy made it look so easy and I pretty much felt like a 3 year old on the Krypton Factor trying to get the hang of it! We then mix some icing to the required consistency and have a go at piping. Eeek! This is MUCH harder than it looks!

However, we progress to colouring some icing and pipe outlines on the cookies. We then proceed to "flood" the centres (ie. fill them in) with icing of the same colour in a runnier consistency. The icing is provided for us in squeezy bottles which was a pleasure, mixing the icing to the right consistency is an art in itself. Peggy shares with us the secret to the lovely dotty effect you see on the bunny.

Once the biscuits have dried, Peggy shows us how to ice details on to the cookies. Ha, things just got trickier! She has a fantastically steady hands and her cookies look amazing!

Time to move on from the cookies to make daisy cupcakes. We knead some flower paste and set to cutting out the daisy shapes with a plunger cutter, which not only cuts out the shape but leaves a pattern on the flower petals, too.

We also make the centres and pop the flowers into an artist's palette to allow them to dry (I had a dodgy palette and my flowers were squashed!)

Time now to learn about fondant icing, you know the sort, the lovely, shiny, colourful stuff on Fondant Fancies. Gorgeously spring-coloured fondant icing is warmed up for us to use and Peggy demonstrates the technique of double-dipping the cupcakes.

Errrm, this is not so easy to get the tops all smooth!

All too soon, it is 4 pm and the day comes to a close. What a throroughly enjoyable (rather demanding!) day. Peggy happily signs my book. The cookies you can see in front of Peggy are the ones she iced (so tempting to suggest they are mine!)

Luckily, I am on a direct rail line to Clapham Junction so I am home (in torrential rain) within the hour and find to my delight that Mr HenHouse has been at it in the kitchen, too! This cheese and cider bread is baked by Leakers Bakery in Bridport and is famed - they are always sold out early on Saturday morning. The recipe recently appeared in one of the local freebie magazines we pick up when at the cottage, which Mr HenHouse kept a hold of. Now I have my very own baker!

And what did I bring home?

Daisy dot cupcakes...

Sadly, they moved around in the box on the way home and stuck to each other so they look a little the worse for wear.

The do taste yummy though!

And the cookies...

These were fun to do and the gingerbread ones taste delicious (have yet to taste the vanilla ones).

All in all, it was a wonderful day and if you are interested in this sort of thing, I would definitely recommend a course with Peggy.

(Yes, the Easter decorations are out in force in the HenHouse.)

Friday, 26 March 2010

Quilts Galore

It was another exciting day for the sister and I today, dear readers, as off we popped back into London for another eagerly anticipated event in our social calendar!

We arrived early (for us) at the Victoria and Albert Museum to visit the current Quilts exhibition.

Entry to the exhibition is by timed ticket which can be bought on the day and whilst entry to the museum and the majority of the exhibits is free, there is a charge of £10 to visit the Quilts exhibition. Sadly, no photography is allowed. We were given a little booklet on our entry to the exhibition and I have taken a few snaps for you of its content.

The very first thing you see straight in front of you is this bed with its rather spectacular hangings and coverlet, made circa 1730-1750. It is patchworked in the "shell" pattern rather splendidly.

The exhibition is arranged as a series of rooms. Broadly speaking, you start at the earliest quilts and progress through to the current ones. However, the quilts are also arranged in broad themes such as "Meeting the Past", "Virtue and Virtuosity" and "Making a Living" so there are a few modern quilts mixed in with the older ones at the start of the exhibition.

Our thoughts on the exhibition are these: overall, we enjoyed the exhibition and we were glad we went as we are, obviously, fairly quilt mad! There are a lot of very old quilts and these are often very beautiful, tell interesting stories of times gone by and feature some amazing handiwork not often seen now which is a privilege to behold. However, we pretty much disliked all of the modern quilts. There was a good section on Durham quilts, most of which were on loan from Beamish, the quilting was stunning, and some interesting quilts produced during the war (one using a blackout curtain as a backing with granny's garden hexagons on top, one made as a charity quilt by Americans for homeless Britons using my fave sort of flowery prints of the era, tied with bright red wool/thread). There was an interesting quilt accompanied by a video, which was recently made by prisoners at HMP Wandsworth. The story of how the men found a purpose and pleasure in quilting was most revealing. BUT my dear readers, there were some shockers!

Some of the modern ones were just, quite frankly, bizarre, made out of very weird materials and rather gloomy in colour with boring quilting. We were also a bit bemused by the declarations by the modern day makers that there were "deep" meanings behind their quilts. Whilst personal thoughts and messages have long been reflected in quilts, for example the historical quilts often reflected thoughts on politics and war in a broad pictorial sense, or celebrated births and marriages, they were generally made as a pleasurable pastime and indeed there were several cute children's cot quilts. The "modern messages" all seemed either contrived or distasteful. There was a bizarre offering by Tracy Emin, the main hanging on the bed emblazoned with the words "weird sex". Make of that what you will. And let's not mention the horrid Grayson Perry quilt featuring unborn foetuses!

The one major exception, in my opinion, was the lovely "Liberty Jack" quilt which took a traditional Union Jack as the design for each block, each being made in a different colour palette of Liberty Tana lawn fabrics. I hope you can make it out on the postcard below.

I realise that art is a very subjective matter so I am only offering my opinion on the exhibition and will be interested to read what others think but really, if that is the face of modern quilting! Where were the stunning quilts of the 1930's, the lovely feedsacks? Where was Kaffe Fassett? I just don't think the modern quilts represented what the majority of us normal folks are making and enjoying, it was just too "arty farty" for my liking. We overheard many mutters which declared that many visitors to the exhibition agreed with us. There were audible groans when people approached the strange modern quilts and we actually overheard someone wondering where Kaffe's quilt was and indeed, his was the book everyone was reaching for in the book shop!

Ah, steam safely let off, let's indulge in a little retail therapy shall we then? Who can that be, not buying more fabric after the last two days, surely? Do Virgin Trains charge excess baggage?

Here in the bookshop, as you can see, there was plenty of the "limited edition" quilting fabric available, though you might like to note that it is more expensive than it is in Liberty, (£10 per metre in Liberty and £11.50 at the V&A). There were some items for sale made from these fabrics, lavender sacks and the like, and the usual notepads, pens and magnets adorned with quilt patterns.

There was a reasonable selection of quilting books (there could have been more).

All "quilted out", we follow our noses to the cafe for lunch. The V&A really is the most stunning building, those Victorians knew how to do a job well, and we admire it as we go along our way.

Now you might think me mad for taking photos of the rooms in which you can eat your nice (but rather expensive) lunch, but have a look...

My favourite is the Morris (as in William Morris) room.

Oh golly, eating at home will never be the same again!

Am-a-zing, aren't they?

Now what is this on the way out? Oh, it's another shop!

Here, there is an eye-catching section dedicated to fashion and in particular, that marvellous British brand responsible for the stunning frocks of the 1940's and '50's, Horrockses.

And there in the display cabinet (making it a trifle hard to photograph with my diddy camera), is a beautiful original Horrockses' dress (in fact there are two of them, one on either side of the entrance to the shop).

Two books came home with the Hen today. I am having a book fest at the moment, it always seems to be the case that books I want appear in clusters. Do you find that?

I was thrilled to find the new Jane Brocket book, "The Gentle Art of Quilt-Making". I've had it on pre-order from Amazon who are now telling me it is unobtainable so I impatiently bought one there and then instead. Oh, but it promises to be a treat - and a half.

I haven't had a chance for a proper look yet, I am saving it and savouring the prospect of it, for after dinner but it looks simply beautiful.

We'll revisit this book for a little review another time, perhaps?

Ooh yes!

I also HAD to buy the book about Horrockses. It is toooo lovely for words.

As you will know from my purchase at the CL Fair on Wednesday, I am a vintage dress lover so this book was a must-buy, covering my favourite period of the 1940's and '50's.

More of that another time too, when it has been properly digested over the weekend. (There will be an exhibition devoted to Horrockses at the Fashion and Textile Museum starting 9 July. One for the diary.)

I didn't buy these fabrics today, I bought them from Liberty a while back, but thought you might like to see a few of the limited edition fabrics produced by them in conjunction with the V&A.

Phew! I hope you have enjoyed the reports of our trips this week, we are a bit tired but sated, I think. How can I confess that I also have a VERY exciting day lined up tomorrow too. I hope you will join me to read about that soon. A heartfelt thanks to my commenters on the CL post, I did really appreciate your thanks because creating posts like these is a pretty time-consuming job, to be honest! With that, I am going to wave toodle-loo to my sister (until our next get-together in May for a rather special flower show) and go and prepare my Friday night vodka and tonic. Why is it that it always tastes the best of the whole week? Have a lovely weekend, please...

Edit: Bizarrely enough, I received a message from somebody at the V&A stating that they and Liberty both charge the same, £11.50 per metre for the fabric. All I can say is that when I bought the fabric in Liberty about a month ago, it was definitely £10 per metre but maybe they have now changed the price?

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Wowzers Trousers!

Phew, yesterday was quite a day, my dear readers! It was a day the sister and I had eagerly anticipated, the day of the Spring Country Living Fair. We are lucky enough to receive some complimentary tickets from friend and stall holder Kathy who makes the most beautiful jewellery so we gathered together our tickets, a couple of little things Del and I had made to say thank you to Kathy and my customer Louise's patchwork cushion cover and off we set. We never did see Louise to effect a hand-over but I'm sure the cover enjoyed its trip to the Fair and back.

First however, we thought we'd really "go for it" and having heard rumours of a quilt extravaganza at Liberty, thought we'd better take a look and report back for you all. Quilty Pleasures, I like it. (Sorry about the fuzziness, I had swapped back to my little camera for the day and failed to realise I had the flash turned off. Oops!)

Now before we rush off upstairs to the third floor, venue of all things quilty, we were stopped in our tracks by the window displays outside.

Yes, that is a quilt...

More quilty goodness...

How splendid - a Liberty wedding cake!

Oh errmm...

In we go then. If you have been to Liberty or seen any of my previous posts (I am a not an infrequent visitor to Liberty, it has to be said,) you will know Liberty is the most beautiful store in the world inside and is arrange in the manner of galleried landings around a central atrium.

As you can see, quilts had been suspended into the atrium.

This one had clearly taken a lot of work and would take a fair few of your hard earned pennies to buy.

My favourite was this Dresden Plate quilt made with the most gorgeous 1930's fabrics. Oooooh yummy!

I must show you these. Yes, these are old (vintage?) hankies which are held within an embroidery loop and have a smattering of embroidered words on them. Would you like to buy one? No, I thought not. But if you did, you would need £150 to do so. Loud exclamations all round?!

After the odd essential purchase in Liberty (actually, I only bought a ball of wool but if Adele's husband Barry is reading this, you should know she was much worse).

Off we trot to Islington then (no, let's not dwell on all that lovely new fabric in John Lewis on the way. Ahem.)

Ooooh, hooray, here we are!

There is always a beautiful display just inside the entrance to the Fair and this season's did not disappoint. It was absolutely gorgeously planted, all snakeshead fritillaries, narcissi and the cutest bellis daisies.

To set the scene for you, (you are pretending you're there, aren't you?), this is the view looking down from the first floor to the ground floor. There are only a few stalls on the ground floor, though they do tend to be the big ones, the rest of the floor is taken up by the design centre.

Moving up, this is the view looking down from the top (second floor) balcony to the first floor. The first floor is fairly jam packed with stalls and there are yet more stalls around the edges of the upper balcony level (along with the essential cafe).

A spot of shopping then? There was loads to photograph; you get the feeling some people are more happy to be photographed than others so I gauge my requests for photos accordingly (nobody likes to be turned down!) Sometimes it was too busy to snap, other times I was too busy shopping to snap!

Here is Caroline Zoob's stall, always on the ground floor just as you enter the hall. I guess she has "made it" in Country Living circles.

It is always prettily displayed and there is the inevitable gaggle of people round it. The prices for the vintage items can be a little scary, though.

Here is Jan Constantine's stall. Is it getting a bit predictable now, this range? Very colourful, none the less.

Moving up to the first floor, I am entranced by the David Austin Roses stand which displays the most breathtakingly beautiful English Roses. I am a big fan of these, we have lots of their rose bushes in our gardens and when I've been very good (or he's been very bad?!) Mr HenHouse sometimes has their cut rose bouquets delivered to me.

There were beautiful floral displays everywhere. We thought the simple jugs of Spring flowers on Susie Watson's stall were lovely.

Of course, most of the stalls' displays focussed on Spring with its beautiful sugary pastel colours and flowers. This stall always has pretty displays and a smattering of the covetable Greengate.

We both bought a couple of things from the lovely stall, "Marti" which had purely vintage items, mainly with a garden theme.

We were pleased to note that there were a lot more stalls displaying vintage items at this Fair. There was the inevitable smattering of stalls selling the same old polka dotty, flowery repro stuff you see everywhere (which I find a tad disappointing). There are a lot of clothes which I can only personally describe as "sloaney"; cashmere wraps, very weird kaftan-esque numbers, those lace-edged stretchy pointelle cardis and lots of tweed. There are a lot of jewellery stalls at which my eyes simply boggle; I am lucky because I can stick to Kathy's jewellery stall which is exactly my cup of tea and displays neither too much nor too little in a beautiful style (whilst also offering the opportunity for a good natter, of course).

My favourite stall? Well Acorn & Will's is certainly a contender. We're always assured of another friendly natter here as Daniella is a fellow Vintage & Handmade Fair girl. Oooh, it was so gorgeous. I had to treat myself to a vintage pinny for my collection and a cushion cover as I loved the fabric so much. If you have seen the poster for the Country Living Spring Fair (have a look at the photo above of the billboard at the entrance to the Fair), then I can tell you that it is Daniella's cushion which takes pride of place in the photo on it.

Nearly hometime and we find a gem of a stand up on the top floor, Vintage Ribbon. We chat with the friendly ladies on the stall and yes I am right, their vintage eiderdowns and quilts featured recently in BBC Homes & Antiques magazine. I fall instantly in deep love with the most stunning dress hanging on display and eventually, it has to come home with me. It will never ever fit me, not even if I were to revert to my slim days (oh that would be lovely, somebody wave their magic wand please), as it was made for those petite ladies of the 1950's but I just want to hang it on my wall and swoon over it daily. And I will!

I take a few snaps to share with you...

They had another beautiful dress, this one from the 1930's in the most gorgeous, dainty floral chiffon fabric.

Well, my dear people, that is it for this year's Spring Fair. Finally, I have to confess that I would rather have liked to bring this home with me if only my arms weren't already so full. This little beauty was outside (along with a delectable gypsy caravan) and as we giggled away, we could have been spending even before we got into the Fair!

So what do I have to show for my day? My beautiful dress (the photo does not do this justice)...

My lovely fabric cushion from Acorn & Will...

..and lots of other bits 'n' pieces besides!