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March 2009
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Simply abstract


By Joshua

It's funny how the first time we pick up a pencil we are abstract artists. Then somewhere around the age of 3 we start to form images from our own observation, though these images are usually still imagined. We draw what a dog looks like, without actually looking at it; or a house, or our family. Usually the sun will be hanging out in the corner somewhere.

Maybe our early abstract images aren't meant to be abstract at all. They're the presumed scribbles of an untrained hand that grips a marker awkwardly. But maybe that very young person sees a dog, or a house or his family with a sun hanging in the corner of his picture.

I like to introduce abstract art to my class of 5 and 6 year olds by showing them the art of the Russian painter, Wassily Kandinsky, often called the father of abstract. I show them the progression of his work. Earlier, colourful Post-Impressionist pieces like this, and this; through to art with less distinguishable features like this.

Lastly I show them his vibrant pieces with harder edges and a lot of geometric forms and we look at how Kandinsky used bright colours and contrasts throughout his career. 

The fact that the same artist has painted the two images below astonishes them. The fact that they can make this kind of art too delights them.


"Murnau: Top of the Johannisstrasse" and "On White II" both by Kandinsky

This is how we make our Kandinsky inspired pictures.

Supplies: Water based paint, card stock, geometric shapes cut from cereal boxes, a pencil, large and small brushes


1. The children choose from a variety of shapes then trace around them on to card stock.

We choose four or five because more shapes will take longer than we have during our class time.


By Angus

2.Then the shapes are laid out so they overlap to create interesting combinations. (You can see the shapes here on a painting by Angus. He chose eight shapes and ran out of time but I like the combination of lines and blocks of colour as it is, also very Kandinsky.)


By Tilly

3. The shapes are then filled in with paint using bright colours and contrasting darks.


By Amy

The children did a brilliant job, they understood how to use light and dark colours for contrast and how to combine the shapes to create interest. Amazingly, this year most of my class is only five.

The children had limited time and they only had large round brushes because I couldn't locate the smaller ones. In the top picture by Joshua, the shapes disappeared due to the brushes, but he still had a lovely result due to his free use of colour.

We also had 30 in the class this week instead of 15 so they worked very independently!

A few notes:

  • I share this project because every child in my class enjoys it. Those that are afraid to draw as well as those that are confident with every task and medium. They enjoy the freedom of abstraction and the use of bold colours.
  • This project is fun for everyone to do anytime, children and adults alike and not just for school.
  • With more time children could create their own shapes to cut out for templates.
  • The bold colours of these pieces look especially good scanned and reduced for use as cards.
  • This site has a lot of information and links to original Kandinsky art.

I hope some of you try this one, you'll love it.

Best broccoli


I'm not sure if purple sprouting broccoli is available outside Europe, I know I'd never seen it here in the UK until five or six years ago. Apparently it was once the most common variety here in Britain but at some point the green type took over, no doubt commercial reasons involved.

Now it's very easy to get when it's in season, roughly January through spring. It has more flavour than the green stuff and we can't get enough of it. Most varieties of purple broccoli have long, slender stalks instead of one large crown. Everything is eaten on it, stalks, leaves and purple tops.

We get it at our local farm shop but any supermarket will now have it. We also get fresh asparagus at our local farm shop this time of year which is amazing freshly cut - we're going to try substituting purple broccoli in the following recipe with roasted asparagus too.

I found this dish in a magazine but I don't remember which one, cut it out without the details. I've altered it a bit and increased the amount, the original served two, this should serve four.

This is far and away my favourite pasta dish. Humble ingredients, but so, so scrummy.

About 750g purple sprouting broccoli (or green broccoli)
1 tbsp olive oil
50g unsalted butter
2 or 3 cloves of garlic chopped or crushed
Big pinch of dried chili crushed (I often use a teaspoon of chili paste instead)
Couple of good pinches of grated nutmeg (grate your own, it's worth it)
Few sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves only
4 anchovy fillets roughly chopped (you won't taste any fish, they will melt into the other ingredients)
300g (uncooked weight) orecchiette pasta, penne would work too
50g - 75g fresh Parmesan, grated

Trim just the ends off the purple sprouting broccoli (If using green broccoli trim the stalk and cut into bite-size pieces.) Heat the oil and butter in a wide-bottomed pan or wok (one that has a lid) and when it's sizzling, put in the garlic, thyme, nutmeg and chili. After a minute or so add the broccoli and anchovies. Splash a few tablespoons of water over the ingredients and a little salt and cover, cooking on a low heat for 10 mins or so.

Cook the pasta al dente style, drain it and return it to the pot. Add the broccoli mixture toss it through then do the same with the Parmesan.

Sorry I have no lovely photos to show you, I won't mess around with photography when this dish is ready, can't wait to eat it.


Although I'm cooking purple, today I'm feeling blue from head to toe. I'm only just managing to get it in on Wednesday to take part in Fi's www.

Wednesday here is sunny, hope yours is too :)

We love holidays


Gracie has sidled up next to me in my sewing room a lot over this holiday. Yesterday she created this mermaid picture, apparently they're teenage mermaids. Slow to develop I'd say, no need for bikini tops or the usual scallop shells covering them.


The warmer weather has meant mostly outdoor play during this Easter break, which I must say has been much nicer than last years April snow. That's wild garlic growing under the tree there, you can just see some of it starting to flower right underneath Gracie. It grows throughout the woods around our area followed by bluebells which will be out soon. You cook the leaves of wild garlic, not the bulb - it's milder but tasty.


Lovely Nanou recently asked if my children sew. They've done embroidery for a while now and have both dabbled with machine sewing but this week Gracie made her first skirt. She chose the fabric, then designed and made this skirt herself. I helped her cut it out because we made up the pattern according to her design and used no template.

She wanted a skirt with no gathering but I explained a zip wasn't best for her first go. We settled on gathering at the back keeping the front flatter. We did this by making the front panel of the skirt smaller in width then the back panel. Then we stitched down the elastic by the side seams to keep most of the gathered fabric at the back.

I had better pictures showing off her design but she wanted this photo.


Also during this holiday Tristan made this cushion for me and hubby. He wanted to embroider a heart with "Mummy + Daddy" in the centre but after completing the heart he decided it was finished. He then made an envelope style cushion using his embroidered panel of linen and was extremely proud of his results (and so was mummy.) 

While they both like to sew they wouldn't choose to do it all the time, but I love to indulge them whenever the mood hits!

Favourite seasonal recipe coming soon.

Hex therapy


Just hanging around a corner of my sewing room, some hexagon hearts. The one on the right is now on it's way to a very nice person on another continent. The bird on the right Tristan made from his own drawing when he was seven. The little chicks are a couple from dozens I made years ago to hang on a branch for Easter and the little heart at the left is from mollychicken.


Nothing like a little hand stitching to clear away the cobwebs and put the mind on hold. Stitching up hexagons is so relaxing, I'm loving using up scraps, scraps I have no shortage of.


These are the beginnings of the heart above. I found out the hard way that the dark thread I used to tack with was polyester. My scalding little iron that I keep in my sewing room melted the thread leaving a number of dark lines melted into this patchwork piece of sunshine. Grrrr.

I embroidered over them to cover up the scars (click on the top photo to enlarge it and see.) There are so many good hexagon piecing (English paper piecing) tutorials there's no need for another, but here are a few tips you might not find elsewhere.

  1. Firstly my hard earned tip, use cotton thread to baste the hexagon around each paper
  2. Use a basting thread that's easy to see and therefore easier take out later.
  3. While basting each hexagon take a quick measurement of each side to make sure your shapes are uniform.
  4. Use a fine needle to piece the shapes together, it's easier to pick up smaller bits of the fabric for less noticeable stitches.
  5. Use neutral colour thread to stitch the hexagons together, not light and not dark - I usually use a tan colour (it looks lighter in this picture.)
Also, I just use a hexagon template I made myself (I've never found pre-cut hexagons here in the UK.) These hexagons are on the small side and I'll happily email it to anyone who wants it.

And I don't use rotary cutters, just normal scissors on fabric pieces grabbed from a scrap bag. I place a paper hexagon in the centre of a scrap and clip around it about 1/4 inch larger than the paper shape. Quick and easy.

Here are a couple of hexagon or "English paper piecing" tutorials to check out, a hexagon pieced table mat from CraftStylish and a detailed paper-piecing "how-to" from Sunshine Creations. These are two different techniques but both very good and simple to master. And here's a lovely Flickr group full of hexagons too.

Easter Past to Easter Present


When I was little Easter was just as big as Christmas and I loved the entire celebration. We had a whole host of traditions for the spring holiday.

We decorated hard-boiled eggs with the usual dye but also one raw egg that was decorated just for dad, he always cracked it open on his hairless head. Year-after-year he feigned surprise.

New Easter dresses and shiny patent shoes for my sister and I. We'd wear them to the long Easter mass where we could always count on our eldest brother Michael fainting from the heat of an over crowded church - Michael always knows how to liven things up.

Big, juicy strawberries and making Easter baskets from the strawberry containers even though we knew we'd get special big baskets from the Easter bunny.

Waking up to big baskets from the Easter bunny on Easter morning and wondering just how he could fill them using paws, certainly one needed opposable thumbs for the job. The baskets always contained a large chocolate bunny and bunny's ears would stay intact for about twenty seconds.

If we were traveling to a cousin's house we would look for the Easter bunny on the whole journey, always certain we saw his huge cotton tail disappearing behind a tree.

A big egg hunt (usually with many cousins) followed by a large meal (usually ham) and the making of many deviled eggs using the treasure acquired on the hunt.

Dad and uncles with Coors in-hand giving hints on where to look for eggs.

All-in-all, pretty fantastic.

This year I brought a couple very important traditions from the US to the UK (no not the Coors.) Good old Paas egg dye which you can't get in the UK because dying eggs is not a tradition here (I've tried natural dyes but for me they just aren't as satisfying.)

I also brought strawberry baskets. When I told my mother I'd like to take them back with me she just smiled and cleaned the baskets for me. Strawberry baskets are also not available here, instead strawberries come in big plastic containers with lids.

So this morning Tristan and Gracie got busy.

Gracie is colouring spots on an egg to resist the dye.

Here's the dye resisting.

Tristan is making a start on a basket.

We all had so much fun I can't believe it's the first year I managed to get these supplies over here. Now I'm going to have to try and find a special plate for deviled eggs, my mom used to have one, her deviled eggs are the best.

Here's her recipe:
Cut hard-boiled eggs in half lengthwise (best if you take the shells off first,) pop out the yolks and mix the yolks with some mayo a little mustard and a dash of celery salt. Scoop spoonfuls of the yolk mixture back into the egg halves then sprinkle a little paprika on each one.

Best wishes to everyone for a lovely holiday weekend. No matter how you celebrate, I hope yours is sunny!

Fun-loving farewell

Going home was good, but then it's always good to be with the family no matter what the occasion. We had three days of togetherness: laughing, crying and remembering the joy that was our uncle, father, brother, dad and grandfather.

Uncle Don squeezed so much into his 64 years, more than most people could even dream of. Many, many people turned out to share their memories of him and every story shared was about fun because that simple three letter word described him best, just so "fun."

The photo above is from a trip home when I was pregnant with Tris, we were comparing bumps, mine was 7 months, his was a little longer in the making ;)

Thank you for all the lovely comments while I was away.