Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Wildflower Meadows

For the past few months - an unforeseen intensive work project has consumed my time since I last wrote a post on my blog.  During the day my brain cells frazzle and my eyes sting with the glare of the computer screen, but in the evenings I have logged off my PC and spent several sunny hours walking and absorbing the beauty of my natural surroundings.

Although I live on the outskirts of a city, I am fortunate to be surrounded by a beautiful regional park that is designated an Area of Outstanding Beauty. A short walk away from my home is the canal which runs parallel to the river and leads to the Rose Gardens.
This summer, it has become an evening routine to take a stroll along the towpath running alongside the canal and the river.

In the evening sun, the impressionistic reflections of the old stone bridge over the river merge with the leafy trees.

Walking in such peaceful scenic countryside, it is possible to switch off to the modern day world; connecting with nature and reality - being free from life lived and controlled through phones and screens; and where madness now seems to prevail.
Wildlife abounds on the canal – moorhens, greebs and mallards materialise from the reeds at the riverbank leading their broods of ducklings downstream, the parents fussing as they gather them together again when their fluffy off-spring break away from the orderly procession.
There may no longer be any barges sailing between the locks, instead stately swans glide majestically along the canal towards the river, ignoring the squabbling broods of ducklings.
Swifts and swallows swoop low over the water, crisscrossing from the fields and meadows on the opposite side.
Occasionally I have seen a Kingfisher perched on a low overhanging branch above the river, poised to dive.
Fish (brown trout) create ripples as they break the surface of the water jumping for flies.
Before it can become too idyllic – it is impossible to forget the hordes of viciously biting midges that relish feasting upon any skin they detect even if it is covered up with clothing, thus inflicting misery upon me, (not only on my evening strolls but also recently ruining my enjoyment of the allotment).

En-route to the Rose Gardens, trees overhang the canal creating deep shadowy reflections and a stillness on the deep water beneath the high sandstone bridge.

Hidden in a clearing in the woodland near the stone bridge, the lock-keepers cottage pervades a sense of mystery and of a dwelling that time forgot.

Since becoming captivated by embroidery, I have become obsessed with capturing images of wildflowers. 

Cow Parsley, Lady’s Smock and other wildflowers grow in abundance at the side of the path. As I walk, creative thoughts flow of how I can transpose the images onto linen with thread.

One evening our route deviated away from the river and we walked through the rose gardens

On this occasion it was not the old-fashioned pink roses that caught my eye, but the surprise addition of a wildflower walk.

Poppies swayed in the gentle breeze,

 a splash of colour amongst the soft tones of the cornflowers.

As usual, I got carried away with snapping images of flowers, floating and dancing; a rainbow of colours.

I will leave you here to wander through the meadows.....

I hope you enjoyed your walk.

So many flowers.... when will I have time to embroider them all?


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!