Sunday, 9 April 2017

Painting With My Needle

For several years now I have been an avid admirer of Caroline Zoob’s beautiful creations. I had visited her stall at the Country Living Fair on a couple of occasions; purchasing her Faded Flowers fabric and lovely little handmade paper bags.

However, it was Caroline’s embroidery work that really inspired me and impelled me to pick up a needle and thread and start sewing. 

During the renovation of La Petite Maison, my sewing machine had whirred endlessly as I devoted my time to sewing length after length of floral linen curtain drapes, tablecloths and cushions. Now that these were all complete, I was at last ready to turn my attention to finer, more detailed and less exhausting sewing.

Closely studying Caroline’s book (The Hand-stitched Home), I began by embroidering little key fob heart on scraps of linen. Immediately I became hooked! Instinctively I remembered some of the embroidery stitches taught at school, but aside from the basics, I found that I was just letting my needle do what felt right.

My collection of embroidered hearts and pictures grew,

 but even with more practice, I felt they still lacked the finesse of Caroline’s exquisite sewing.

So upon discovering that Caroline was now holding embroidery workshops, I was determined to attend one to progress my technique. This week I realised that goal and on Tuesday, accompanied by Laura we set out to Bramley in Surrey for a “Painting with Your Needle” workshop.

Miranda’s light and airy garden room provided a spacious workspace for the eight of us.

The table was covered with boxes of threads, fabrics and most excitingly – samples of Caroline’s work.


I loved the embroidered wildflower meadow

and the still to be completed country scene.

Caroline wore a beautiful apron;
 that she had made from a vintage linen curtain, 

boldly embroidered with bees, butterflies, ladybirds, cobwebs and wildflowers.

During the introductions and as we all got to know each other, Caroline asked if any of us had embroidered before. Laura and I exchanged looks, 

(my latest heart embroidery)

but I was a bit bashful at showing the others any pictures of my work – feeling rather inadequate after seeing Caroline’s stunning embroideries.

We spent most of the morning learning the basic stitches – it was the first time I had embroidered using an embroidery hoop and it definitely helped to improve the neatness of my work. After a delicious lunch, (I must get the recipe for those vegetable pasties); Caroline showed us the technique for embroidering a wildflower meadow, including the use of paint.

She demonstrated the fishbone stitch on Laura’s sampler,

adding in more grasses and daisies.

My wildflower meadow was rather on the petite side and could definitely do with a lot more work - (looking rather pathetic compared to my previous embroidery attempts), but most importantly, I spent the time watching Caroline sewing so that I learnt several techniques that I hope will add that extra bit of texture and definition to my next embroidery projects.
It was a lovely day; Caroline Zoob is an excellent tutor; so talented and such a nice lady – Laura and I both enjoyed ourselves and came away full of ideas and inspiration. I cannot wait to begin my next embroidery to put into practice what I have learnt. I am sure there is a lot more that I could learn from Caroline, so I will continue to follow her on Instagram and eagerly await any future book releases.
Thank you for your encouragement and help Caroline and also to Miranda for your hospitality. 

(My handmade embroidered embroidery bag)


Thursday, 6 April 2017

Soaping for Self

The accelerating pace of life has made it difficult to find the time and energy to do the more enjoyable activities. Working full-time and other demands coupled with the now diagnosed fibromyalgia have made me feel like I am swimming against a rip tide.
The ghastly left arm pain that hindered me last year vanished as suddenly as it arrived…… and transferred into my right arm. Actually, there was an overlap where both arms and shoulders hurt so much that I did not know what to do with myself. Thankfully, the pain in my left arm disappeared but unfortunately, the intensity of the pain in my right arm doubled, so that I lose hours of valuable sleep at night as I toss and turn, trying to find a position where the pain will subside. 

Day to day tasks are a nightmare to perform; even filling the kettle is a struggle, and as for using the computer, well that is definitely an endurance test! I find myself filled with despair as I think of my poor neglected allotment and wonder how (and if?) I will ever be able to return it to the aesthetically pleasing, productive plot it was a few years ago.

The Doctor looked at me over his glasses as he offered me strong painkillers, which in ten years time will have rotted my insides and contributed further to enriching the pharmaceutical company. Another alternative option on offer was a drug that will suppress the pain messages sent to the brain - as if my brain is not already struggling to process information through the brain fog that comes through the tiredness and fibromyalgia symptoms.
However recently something happened that forced me to push myself through the pain and tiredness and spur me into action.
For the past ten years I have had a continual supply of my own lovely (even though I say so myself) handmade natural, herbal soap and although I had to defer soaping for craft fairs, while I endeavoured to get my life sorted out, I still had an ample supply of stock for personal use. Until now that is! My stock has not been replenished and if I didn’t act soon, I would find myself in a position where I would have to purchase some (worst case scenario) commercially produced soap. Well! That totally goes against the grain!
Therefore, I gritted my teeth, and focussed upon forgetting about the pain whilst I gathered up all my soap making equipment.

Things did not auger well in the beginning. My digital scales remained unresponsive and new batteries failed to produce even a flicker on the screen.

Ok, new scales will be required, but for now I would have to make do with an old-fashioned set and a bit of “guesstimation”. I reasoned that cold process soap making is on old traditional method invented long before the invention of digital scales, and as the intended batch of soap was for personal use, there would be no harm done.
I had unearthed a large tin of unopened olive oil and just as I finished pouring the oil into the other base oils, I noticed the expiry date on the tin. Bother! A month out of date! Too late now. I would have to proceed and hope that there was a bit of leeway before the oil turned rancid. Anyway – I reasoned that it was not as though I was intending to eat the soap and again as it was for personal use it would not matter unduly. After all, even if this batch of soap was a disaster, the process of making it should inspire me to revive my soaping again.
Oils heating gently, I looked for my thermometer. Oh No! MISSING! Now that was a problem. Ignoring my aching arm, I hunted high and low – I could overlook the lack of digital scales and also the out of date olive oil, but I really needed my thermometer. For a while, it seemed as though I would have to use more guess work and that this batch of soap really was doomed to fail. Eventually however, after a few frustrated mutterings, I unearthed the thermometer from where I had put it in “a safe place” and resumed the process.
For a while, everything went smoothly and I found the familiar soap making process relaxing and therapeutic; that was, until I combined the oils and lye and switched on the hand blender. My right arm gave an immediate burning throb of painful protest as the blender started whirring.
I was so close to completing this batch of soap that I refused to surrender now - so holding the blender in my left hand, in quick bursts I blended the soap mixture, waiting with bated breath to see if it would thicken.
Happily, in a very short time the mixture began to resemble custard and to trace. I had chosen a simple Provence recipe with Lavender and Clary Sage Essential Oils, half of which had ground lavender added to the mixture and the other half plain.
Despite all the hiccups, the soap looked and smelled good. I covered the moulds with a towel and left them to insulate for 24 hours, with delicious scents of lavender and sage pervading the room.
The next day I removed the soaps from the moulds. Hooray! It had worked and the soap was a success. 

After cutting and leaving them to cure, I decorated a few, as I would normally do for the fairs and for orders. 

Decorated soaps always look good placed in the bathroom or en-suite for guests to use.

Despite the mishaps in production the soaps turned out well, and shortly after this I made another batch - happily without any issues. Personal stocks replenished I am suddenly eager to start soaping again. 


(PS I wrote this post a few weeks ago, but accidentally and most annoyingly somehow managed to delete all the photos I had taken!)

Monday, 6 February 2017

A Wintery Day

Surely everyone is aware of the 
divine pleasures which attend a
wintery fireside; candles at four
o'clock, warm hearthrugs, tea, a
fair tea-maker, shutters closed,
curtains flowing in ample
draperies to the floor, whilst the
wind and rain are raging audibly 

January has gone and February is already upon us.

A cold, wet blustery day - where there is nothing else to do, but light the stove, listen to the wind shriek outside and watch the rain hurl fat wet raindrops against the window and cause wide ripples in the pond.

An excuse to pick up needle and thread and by the warmth of the stove create pictures with my needle, without feeling guilty that there is much that I should be doing outside.

As the light faded and the hours slipped away; memories of summer and the garden  

were woven in thread

and transferred to linen.

Not a bad way to spend a cold, soggy and grey afternoon!


Thursday, 8 December 2016

Soaps and Roses - A Case of Stolen Identity?

Life has been extremely hectic recently at La Petite Maison. For the moment Soaping has fallen off the list of priorities. 

However I do intend to resume Soaping, Sewing, Sowing and Growing in the New Year when life should at last hopefully have settled down to a more relaxing pace. (Does it ever?) Several exciting new ideas are already underway.

I have a love / hate relationship with technology and the internet. I am inspired by the multitude of other talented artists and creators sharing their creations on-line, whilst at the same time struggling to persevere through hateful hacking and malware threats, (a major factor in my recent on-line absence).

I know that many of the photos of my soaps have been pinned and also put on other websites. Happily in the cases that I am aware of they have been credited back to this site. 

I was however a little bit bemused to discover recently that another Soaps and Roses has suddenly sprung up on-line with a launch imminent. (Coincidence perhaps?)

It is of course always a risk when putting creations and ideas on-line that someone will copy them - (should one feel flattered or irritated?) Soaps and Roses is my original idea and my creations are my own! The Original "Soaps and Roses" is not on Facebook or other social media sites, so for anyone viewing this site, please do not confuse this Soaps and Roses Blog with any other site with the same name.

I shall be back soon to share some new soaps and sewing creations with you! I hope also to put some of these on my Etsy shop so that it will be possible at last to purchase on-line from The Original Soaps and Roses!

In the meantime;

 Season's Greetings and a Happy New Year to all.


Monday, 24 October 2016

The Black Cat

Black cat, cross my path
Good fortune bring to home and hearth
When I am away from home
Bring me luck wherever I roam

- Old English Charm
As the year slips by, the garden has taken on a colourful autumnal hue

as red, gold and yellow leaves;

 deep red crab apples

  and pink Rowan berries decorate the trees in a seasonal display.
The nights are drawing in and the bright sunny skies during the day make way for clear starlit skies at night. 

The harvest moon has become a witching moon as it bathes the garden in a pool of white light.

Cobwebs stretch between the Verbena, 

sparkling and shimmering in the early mornings.
I have however detected a change of ambience in the garden recently. 

Freddie’s languid blissful life at the side of the trough was apparently short lived and he is still missing - now sadly presumed dead.

Other happenings alerted me to disturbances in the garden – such as pots knocked over on to their side. I sensed that something had changed.

Then..... Evie – my little friendly garden companion also disappeared; very concerning considering the terrible incident that occurred last year.

Evie has been part of the garden since my arrival at La Petite Maison; her sweet little presence bringing as much life to the garden as do the birds, bees and butterflies. 

Like me she is a herb lover and indulges herself by sniffing delicately at the cat mint before rolling around in a state of escatsy, (a Freudian typo which should read ecstasy!)

She is a talking cat and converses freely to me in rather human sounding mews.
In Feng Shui cats are drawn to harmony. Therefore a happy cat is the sign of a happy, harmonious home. So when she was no longer there, following faithfully at my heels, watching my activities

 and catnapping on the lawn as I worked close by in the flower beds, I missed her dreadfully and worried as to what had happened.
Enlightenment came one lunchtime, when a black shadow crossed the lawn

 and slipped stealthily down the lavender and nepeta lined path towards the back door.  

The shadow materialised into a lithe young black cat nonchalantly making its way along the path, before coolly and calmly stopping to sit on the top step staring audaciously at me as I stood at the back door.

The green eyes held my gaze challengingly. The cat showed no fear and did not attempt either to run or to come closer. This cat was a stranger to me - I had never seen it before, although I was acquainted with most of the cats in the area – none of whom with the exception of Evie show any real interest in me and use the garden only as a short cut to get to where they are going.
As it sat motionless on the step, I realised it was staring me out, but when I made a move towards it, the cat silently slipped by me and melted away along the side of the house before vanishing under the hedge.
I saw the cat again several times over the next few days; again it made no attempt to befriend me and stayed slightly elusively out of reach, just staring intently at me as though attempting to read my thoughts.

On one occasion as I looked out of window, I found the cat peering into the newly constructed pond (inspired by Charleston, although not yet finished) in the front garden.

 Slowly it stepped on to the granite rock that is submerged just below the water as a stepping stone for any unfortunate creature that accidentally falls into the pond.

Cautiously it lapped at the water and

for a moment perched gracefully on the rock with all four paws in the water,

and then slowly pivoted and climbed out of the pond.

From a neighbouring garden I heard the faint sound of a woman's voice calling 'Belle..." The cats ears pricked up and I voiced the thought aloud as to whether the cat could in actual fact really be called Beltane! The cat turned it's head at the sound of the word and intently fixed almond shaped green eyes upon me.

Of course a more obvious name for this cat would naturally be Salem.
Here in the UK, as in Australia and other parts of the world where black is a protective colour, black cats are though to be lucky. It is believed that their colour gives them the power to ward off negative forces. So any superstition of black cats and bad luck did not bother me.

However what did bother me was that there was still no sign of Evie. 

A full week went passed after I had last seen her, until late one afternoon when I caught a glimpse of her in the front garden. 

Relieved and overjoyed I called to her. Quite unlike her normal happy self, she was as nervous as a kitten and shied away from me, tongue-tied and not uttering any of her usual chatty little mews. Eventually, after a lot of coaxing she came close and I was able to pick her up, stroking her soft fur and cuddling her.
I carried her to the summer house where she has spent many happy hours sleeping or curled up in the dry as she watched the raindrops fall with a splash into the pond.
For a few minutes she sat on my lap and then…. her manner changed, she froze for a moment before jumping off my knee, ears back and on high alert. A sleek black shadow emerged at the side of the summer house.
Evie hunched down outside the summer house and began to make a noise like an old barn door creaking in the wind.
I waved my hands ineffectively at the black cat. It ignored me and walked elegantly along the top of the trellis; executed a neat pirouette and returning to the top of the fence dropped lightly to the ground below and began to circle Evie. I watched semi-hypnotised as the cat silently approached us. I clapped my hands in an attempt to break the spell, but suddenly the cat sprang like a panther and chased Evie across the garden and around the house.
Running after them, I found Evie crouched beneath a car parked on the opposite side of the road. As I called to her from the bottom of the drive and attempted to coax her out, I was aware of a presence immediately behind me. It was the black cat – staring at me. It remained beside me and made no attempt to leave the driveway to pursue Evie.

My intuition tells me that this cat is on a mission. It is intent on driving Evie away and moving into the garden in her place.

What to do? I cannot drive cats away if they choose to come to me; it is just not in my nature, but I simply cannot have Evie driven out and the tranquillity of the garden disturbed. I have a feeling too that this back cat may know something about poor missing Freddie!!!!