Thursday, 28 November 2013

Showered with luxury

We've almost cleared all signs of the previous owners of the house now.  Sounds harsh I know, but they were a bit hippyish and did things 'on the cheap', for example, using bubble wrap and polystyrene sheets to 'insulate' beneather the floorboards!  Obviously, they weren't too worried about the fire hazard that it posed.

Old shower curtain
One small trace of them is the shower curtain in our en suite.  It is quite a nice one really, with blue sea shells printed all over it.  However, trying to get the stains out of the bottom of it is getting more and more difficult now.  Added to that, it doesn't match the colour scheme.  I was thrilled when I spotted a teal shower curtain in Ikea that went beautifully with our tiles and paintwork, but when I got it home it was too short.   I've since discovered that it is ludicrously difficult to get shower curtains longer than 180cm.
So, I decided that I'd have to make one instead.  Worst comes to the worst, I'd buy some plasticy material for a lining and choose some nice fabric for the outside and make both myself.  But on a recent visit to stay with DS I was browsing through her Next and La Redoute catalogues when I spotted a plain, white shower curtain in the La Redoute catalogue that was 200cm long!!!!!  RESULT!  And it was under a tenner.

New shower curtain
I've had samples of various teal fabrics from John Lewis and the first one to arrive was the one we both liked best.  It is a simple stripe - fairly wide stripes in white and teal with a slightly satin finish.  Perfetto!  Added to that, by the time I got around to buying the fabric, it was less than half price in the sale too.  :-)

And now that I'm a curtain expert (!), it wasn't too time consuming and fiddly to make the outer curtain myself.  I thought that it would be a good excuse to take any frustration or whatever out on bashing the eyelets into place, but I failed abysmally, so I had to ask DF for help!  So now we'll have to look particularly smart when we take a shower!!! ;-)

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Commission update - church banner 2 - Party Time!

Our church's bicentenial celebrations are almost upon us and thankfully I was able to complete my part in the preparations in time - JUST.

Unfortunately I was rather jinxed after starting this project.  I was firstly hit by lack of motivation - we'd had rather a hectic first half to the year and despite all my good intentions, I think I just ran out of steam for a bit and needed to take a break.  Then I got back into the swing of things and it was going well.  The end was in sight, when my mother was suddenly taken seriously ill.  We rushed down to see her and I (dutifully) took my embroidery with me.  But I just didn't have the energy to concentrate on it with the worry of Mam's condition.  Thankfully, everyone at church was aware of the situation and understood that it wasn't high on my priority list.  I did actually do some whilst sitting at Mam's bedside a couple of times and I only had 5 letters left to embroider .... when I ran out of thread!  Dad and I traipsed around all the craft shops in town to get more, but not one had any in stock in the right colour.  So, we all had to wait whilst we waited for my online order to arrive, and when it did, it was all out to finish before my train back to London.

So here it is in all its glory and ready to party this weekend!

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Lacking motivation

I've been feeling guilty.  Very guilty in fact.  Guilty for not posting more regularly, guilty for not getting through my embroidery/sewing etc tasks more efficiently, guilty that it has taken me so long to catch up on chores, guilty for enjoying the heat wave instead of getting on with stuff,.... guilty about EVERYTHING.

But, following a 'bit' of a crisis in the family, everything has been put in perspective and I think, maybe, hopefully, I'm beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel again.  And with a bit of luck that will bring new-found energy and enthusiasm to get back on track (and get posting again!).

When asked how he coped with completing UFOs or difficult projects, Kaffe Fassett said he used the 'F-word' and the 'C-word' - I'm not sure what you're thinking, but he meant 'focus' and 'concentration'! Do they work for you?  How do you cope when you hit a slump, or feel overwhelmed by stuff? 

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

House tour - part 1

You're all probably sick of hearing about our various renovations at home and after spotting something on another blog, I thought I might show you 'around' a bit and let you see the before and after of our home.  There is still plenty to do and things will probably change again in places, but at least then you'll have an idea of how far we've come and how far we still have to go!

So, to start, some background.

We've been living here for a little over three years now.  It had previously been a family home for about 20 years and we get the impression that the family always struggled to have enough money to invest in the house.  That has had its pros and cons for us.  The pros being that there are some nice original features in the house - bare floor boards, some coving/plaster work, original doors, stained glass, fire places.  The cons have been - out-dated wiring, windows and heating, shoddy work throughout, wear and tear showing its affect.

To follow Julie Andrews'/Maria's example, let's start at the beginning.

We fell for the house as soon as we saw it and could see the potential in it, and thankfully the vendors needed a quick sell, so we jumped at the chance of such a spacious house within our price-range.  We lined up some builders to start work as soon as we completed and moved into temporary accommodation whilst they were hard at work.

They rewired:

Knocked two rooms into one:

Knocked a new door-way between the living room and dining room:

Refashioned the en-suite bathroom:

Fitted a new kitchen:

And filled the garden with rubble:

Monday, 15 July 2013

Commission update - church banner

This year marks the 200th anniversary of my church in Cardiff.  The church has organised a number of activities to mark the occasion and amongst them is a banner made by members of the church.
Now, as I don't live in Cardiff anymore, I'm not entirely sure how it all came about, but my understanding is that one of the younger members of the church is a budding designer and she designed the banner. Someone has prepared the banner by cutting all the pieces out and applying them with a fusing material (eg bondaweb) to the backing fabric and then it has been passed around a number of members to embellish/sew around the edges.
When the idea was originally mooted, I showed an interest and was told I could probably be responsible for a motif on the banner, eg the cross.  However, the design doesn't include anything like that and I have now been asked to embroider a verse to go beneath the appliqued design.  The chosen verse is part of verse 4 of Psalm 100:
"Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise"
I thought I'd take the opportunity to do some goldwork again, although it has been a very long time since I last had a go.  Then, when I saw the applique design I decided against that idea and was stumped for a while as I wasn't sure goldwork would suit it.  I then came up with the idea of doing the lettering in blackwork, outlined simply and emphasising certain words with a bit of gold. However, once I got down to it and measured out the space I had and found a nice, clear font (with a bit of help from a colleague in the graphic design team - thank you George!) I altered the idea slightly.  I did like the idea of keeping it fairly graphic and simple, in keeping with the applique design, and decided to stick with the principle of black lettering.
After a bit of rummaging about, I realised that I still had some fabric left over from my first attempt at goldwork (back at school).  I'd made an ecclesiastical stole for my uncle's ordination. As I knew that the fabric held up well to heavy stitching etc it would be just the ticket.  And thankfully, there was more than enough of it left.
You may recall that last spring I attended a Royal School of Needlework course, so I'm going to try to follow a similar style for my lettering.   I've bought the perle thread, found my old stash of Japanese gold thread, purl and gold kid, found my course notes and embroidery stitch reference book, so I'm good to go. The fabric has been 'strengthened' with a calico backing and I've even invested in some charcoal sticks that I can ground down to make my own 'pouncing powder' to 'prick and pounce' the design onto the fabric. So now, everything else is on the back burner so I can concentrate on this for the next month or so.
Here is my progress so far - slower than I'd have liked unfortunately.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Royal School of Needlework - update

At the end of March I promised to let you know how I got on at the Royal School of Needlework on my 'Introduction to Embroidery' course, and here it is (finally).
Initially, I was a little disappointed as I'd interpreted the title differently and was expecting to have a little bit of everything else they offer, a sort of 'taster course'.  But the 'Introduction' is really that - and introduction to a few of the 'traditional' embroidery stitches like you may have learned at school or from your grandmother, such as chain stitch, back-stitch, french knots etc.
We were a group of seven, smaller than usual for RSN courses aparently (usually about 12), as this was an additional date, but in my opinion, the size of the group was just right as we all had the opportunity for some one-to-one and were all able to ask questions.  Our tutor, Heather, was lovely.  She is a freelance embroiderer - lucky lady! and regular tutor at RSN.  At the beginning of the day we all introduced ourselves and gave a little of our 'embroidery background'.  I was a little surprised that I was the only Friend of RSN on the course and also the only one who'd done much embroidery, although quite a few had done a little with their grandmothers when they were small.
We were all given a kit for a 'leaf' motif with each leaf being done in a different stitch and Heather demonstrated each different stitch by starting one of us off while the rest of us gathered round to watch.  As the day progressed and some of us stitched at a different pace, she showed us in smaller groups as we became ready to move on.  We had a tea-break mid-morning and were able to take a quick look at some of the school's library and their complete range of both DMC and Anchor threads and at lunchtime we were taken to the RSN shop ("child" and "sweet shop" are the words that spring to mind!) to pay for our supplies (and anything else that took our fancy, which was quite a lot really, but I managed to resist and 'only' bought 7 skeins of DMC and a pair of super-duper embroidery scissors so that my beloved Swiss army knife can retire).


There were five leaves in the original kit - one each for chain stitch, fly stitch, blanket and slip stitch, Van Dyke stitch and threaded back stitch - with some goldwork couching and french knots to boot.  Three of us got a bit enthusiastic and used the 'prick and pounce' method to add an extra leaf to our design and we chose to try trellis stitch (which I finished at home).

It was a brilliant day.  I was so enthusiastic and excited about my embroidery at the end of it and I can't wait to go back again and try another.  I think the natural follow-on would be crewel work, and I am tempted, but I really fancy blackwork.  It was the first time I'd actually be taught embroidery, as I'm self-taught really and it was such a privilege being taught by such an expert.  It was wonderful being surrounded by examples of fantastic embroidery too (some of Heather's and some apprentice pieces).  At the end of the day Heather also took us to see an amazing embroidered screen (middle row, right in link) in an adjacent room.  It is about 6 feet high and was completely covered in beatiful crewel work (loads of trellis stitch and millions of french knots, which actually looked like velvet or chenille). Being inside Hampton Court Palace was fantastic too, and although you couldn't really tell from the room we were in - climbing up the old stairs and peering out of the window at the Palace gardens made the day all the more special.  I wonder what Cardinal Wolsey, Henry VIII etc would think of us all wandering around 'their' palace in our modern get-up and picnicking on their lawn?!

Crafty Easter - sheltering from the snow

Earlier in the year, I was chatting over a cuppa with a friend who has two kids.  One of them is DH's godson, so we try to see them fairly regularly.  Anyhow, we were talking about this blog and she asked if she could bring the kids over sometime to do some crafts together and we set a date for yesterday.

In the meantime, I've been roaming Pinterest for ideas that are suitable for early primary school aged kids - and found loads (along with plenty that would be a bit adventurous for that age-group).  If you are on Pinterest you can see some of my favourites. Then it was 'just' a matter of choosing which ones to concentrate on with them.

A couple of years ago I spent some time teaching at a small primary school and near Easter as part of my German lessons with the juniors, we talked about German Easter traditions, which includes dying/painting blown eggs.  I haven't done it since and it was pretty successful (if a bit smelly with boiled eggs and vinegar in a fairly small classroom!).
This is the outcome 

I thought we might give it another go.  I've found various methods for dying - natural and using food colouring (I don't think I realised how much you need to get vibrant colours when we made the ones above) and also found that it is possible to get white eggs (ie eggs with white shells) at M&S.  I chose the lightest brown ones I could find for the classroom session above, which obviously affects the shade of the finished egg.  Still looking back at the photo a couple of years on, they look pretty good, even though I say so myself

To save a bit of time, I blew some eggs ahead of time.  It is possible to get 'egg blowing kits', but the ones I found online cost more to post than the cost of the kit.  However, there is such a thing as a nasal aspirator (lovely!) for babies that can be used instead, but none of the branches of Boots I went to had them in stock.  Instead I resorted to the old-fashioned method of huffing and puffing and exhausting my poor cheeks.  The only 'downside' is that DH and I have had to use up the extruded egg in various things - pancakes, cakes, scrambled eggs, omelette .... our systems will be totally eggs-austed!!!

However, our 5 and 6 year old friends had different ideas and got stuck straight in with paint, glue, glitter and tissue paper (I think I over planned and forgot that kids need to let THEIR creativity run wild, not mine!)
In egg-cup: 5-year old's 1st attempt
In box - clockwise from top right 6-year old's 1st, Mummy's creation, 6-year old's 2nd,
5 year-old's 2nd, DH's 'creation' (with help from kids!), mine

We had great fun and made a huge mess (there is still glitter everywhere)!  But that is half the fun isn't it?  And we even got DH to join in!!!
The proud artists with the cake we decorated for tea

Long time - long list

The more observant amongst you may have noticed that I posted an empty post with this title yesterday.  It seems that Blogger wasn't letting me play, so I ended up with an empty post after spending some time writing and rewriting my post!  Grrrr!

So, here goes again.

As I was trying to sort through my published posts to get them a bit more organised (more to come on this I hope) I realised that it had been a while since I last wrote something.  Despite my crafting activities continuing, things have been a bit full on and as a result I haven't got around to posting about it.  Again, more to come on my latest crafting activities soon.

So, in the meantime, I'm resorting to an old favourite - my reading update.  I thought the list might be longer, but it isn't too bad and I enjoyed myself along the way.
Anne Frank's diary - This doesn't really need any explanation.  I decided to re-read it after our visit to Amsterdam and the Secret Annexe in November.  More on my impressions as I re-read it.
The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien (I re-read this before seeing the film.  I last read it with my class in my primary school way back when and remember that we based our class assembly on an extract where my friend Alex and I 'played' the sun rising and setting!  As a consolation, we got to say the prayers as we hadn't had any lines to say!  I'm quite glad I re-read it, if for no other reason than I was able to pick a good time to nip out to the loo during one of the long added sections in the film!)
Wessex Tales - Thomas Hardy (I'm a bit of a TH fan, so it was nice to revisit his works with this collection of short stories)
The Phantom - Jo Nesbø (having joined the Nordic noire band wagon, read the Millennium trilogy and some Wallander books, I thought I'd give this Scandinavian author a go.  Didn't really do it for me though)
Heartbreak Hotel - Deborah Moggach (the author of Best Exotic Marigold Hotel sets this story in mid-Wales - quite freaky really, as DH, parents in law and I came up with the idea of something similar set in Wales along with quirky characters after we saw the film - she must be telepathic)
Hanas Gwanas - Bethan Gwanas (BG is a Welsh writer and TV presenter and this is her autobiography.  Both hilarious and moving in turn)
Dyddiadur Gbara - Bethan Gwanas (I then went on a bit of a 'Bethan-fest'.  This is her diary of two years spent in Nigeria doing VSO after graduating)
Yn ôl i Gbara - Bethan Gwanas (in this volume she revisits Nigeria 20-odd years later and chronicles her impressions/emosions - quite moving)
Byd Bethan - Bethan Gwanas (earlier in her career BG spent time writing a column for a Welsh newspaper and this volume is a selection of those articles)
Mwy o Fyd Bethan - Bethan Gwanas (a further collection of articles written for the newspaper - both volumes are amusing and insightful, depending on her topic at the time)
Ar y Lein Eto Fyth - Bethan Gwanas (During her TV career she has made 3 series following a 'line' around the world.  The first followed latitude 55 degrees north, the second went through the poles and this one follows the equator.  I love her travel writing and I wish there was more of it in Welsh.)
My name is Red - Orhan Pamuk (in honour of our holiday in Turkey earlier this year I read this historical novel by Turkey's first Nobel prize-winner)
Istanbul - Anthology (again, in honour of our holiday - before the riots! - and a nice way of revisiting a fascinating city after our return)
Death comes to Pemberley - P. D. James (after some fairly serious books, a bit of light relief.  I'm a PDJ and Jane Austen fan, so this was a must really)
Life of Pi - Yann Martel (now reading this after being mesmerised by the film, I'll let you know how I get on at some point in the future)

So, what are you reading?  Do you have any recommendations for me?  Have you read any of the above and if so, what did you make of them?  I'd love to hear your comments.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Friday, 28 June 2013

Kaffe in Colour

I had a lovely relaxing and interesting evening at the London Fashion and Textile Museum last night.  As part of the Kaffe Fassett exhibition there, the master himself was giving a talk about colour.  The room was packed (mainly with women!) and he showed us a stunning slideshow of photos of his work, photos he and his colleague have taken, images they've found in books, on their travels, that have been sent to them .... and spoke about what inspires him, how he uses some images he's taken as inspiration for various pieces of work.

It was an absolute delight and a lovely way to finish my working week!

We then had the added treat of being able to wander around the exhibition again.  I was quite pleased to have the opportunity to take some photos, as you may remember that last time I was there my camera battery had died.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Dedicated followers of fashion

My visit recently to a fashion exhibition and a gift from MIL and DNc inspired me to write about my small collection of fashion prints.

Almost until I left school, I was determined to study fashion or textiles in some shape or form.  Unfortunately, the choice of A level course that my textiles teacher made showed up her weaknesses and although it was great for me, this led to us not getting on.  I stuck it out, but along with a lovely trip to Germany to practice my German before my exams, I changed my mind in the upper sixth and opted for languages instead.  I'm glad I studied German, but am still fascinated by textiles and fashion (particularly historical).

Anyway, way back then, I bought myself a fashion plate from the 1850/60s - crinolines to those of you who aren't familiar with fashion history.  Then, on a school art trip to Paris, I bought myself another two from a book seller on the banks of the Seine.  They're double sided (obviously from a book originally) and are from the early 19th century (Empire lines, Jane Austen etc) - this was one of the periods I concentrated on for my A level course (along with the Edwardian/turn of 19th to 20th centuries and the 1960s, and also the designers Worth, Schiaparelli and Laura Ashley).  I also found some fashion plate style cushions in Past Times ages ago and had them as scatter cushions on my bed for years.

My first fashion plate
The two from Paris
Fast forward to married life and visits to my in-laws in East Anglia.  My MIL and I have quite a few interests in common and she has a fabulous collection of fashion plates that range from the late 18th century to the 1940s.  She has them all framed and hanging in her 'dressing room' - the smallest spare bedroom.  I absolutely adore them and drool everytime I see them.  When we moved into our house, she very kindly gave me 5 to add to my three and I now have them displayed together on the landing.

The collection to date
Well, the other day, DH visited his brother and came home with a present that MIL and our 2 and a half year old DNc bought for me - another Victorian fashion plate!  They went on a shopping trip together and visited MIL's favourite print shop.  There the owner placed a selection of prints on the floor for DNc to choose from and this was what she opted for!

The latest addition to the collection

Monday, 3 June 2013

A sight for sore eyes

I had a highly enjoyable day out with friends on Saturday.  We'd arranged it ages ago - thanks to the most organised of the three of us - but it came around really suddenly.

It started with an unexpected military escort!  I had plenty of time for once, so I thought that I'd get off the tube one stop early and walk through Green Park to the Queen's Gallery instead of going to Victoria and walking along a load of grey streets.  However, that was a really bad idea as Saturday was the Queen's Coronation celebrations and all the Piccadilly Cowboys (or the Royal Horse Guards as I believe they are called officially) were lined up in their finery outside Buckingham Palace and it was impossible to cross the Mall from Green Park to the Queen's Gallery.

So, after a brisk walk around the boudary of the Queen's back garden I met my friends outside the gallery to see In Fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion.  It is mainly paintings from the Royal Collection, but there are also some beautiful examples of items of clothing from the period and the whole exhibition clarifies and explains the fashions, they whys and wherefores etc of Court clothing.  The Queen's Gallery isn't a huge gallery and I could quite happily have seen twice the amount that was on show.  Nevertheless, we spent a few delightful hours looking at wonderful paintings and drooling over amazing needlework ranging from Cavallier lace collars to Henrietta Maria's hand embroidered (tiny) slippers to coats of armour.  My favourite item, I think, was a stunning lady's waistcoat embroidered with scrolling leaves and roses, rosehips, bluebells, periwinkles and other beautiful flora and fauna. The condition was fantastic and the needlework was outstanding.  There was a short film included in the audio guide to the type of embroidery on this waistcoat and the professional embroideress giving the demonstration said that she couldn't do that type of work under the conditions of that period full time!  I just HAD to buy myself the exhibition catalogue to drool over in my own time, along with a spoof 'Vogue' magazine, called 'Robe' - hilarious.

The young Elizabeth I
Charles II in his first 'grown up' suit - with his siblings
Amazing detail by Rembrandt
After a civilised lunch in St. James' Park we headed south to Bermondsey to the Museum of Fashion and Textiles to see the Kaffe Fassett exhibition.  I've a couple of his books (Glorious Needlepoint to name one), so it was fabulous to see his work, including many of the items from his books.  I must admit that I'd 'lost touch' with his work recently and hadn't realised that he'd branched out into quilting too.  I'm not a great knitter, so this was a real treat for me.  As you can imagine, if you're familiar with his work, it was a riot of colour and bold in all senses of the word.  Unfortunately, my camera battery had died by then, so I've only some poor quality mobile phone photos for you.