Sunday, 14 August 2016

Summer Holiday Crafting

I thought I would have hours and hours to spend on crafting this summer. I was going to make four new cushions on my sewing machine with fabric from vintage sheets, I was going to make a macrame plant hanger, I was going to sort through my fabric stash and start making hexies for a quilt....not a chance. But I did manage to renovate a mid-century plant stand, and I will show you that soon.

I have been working on items I already started, crafts which - once planned - require nothing of me, but just offer hours of relaxation. And isn't that just when crafting or making something is at it's absolute best; when, once the thought and planning is done, you just have the pure pleasure of building something beautiful with your hands while your brain wanders from here to there and your state of mind goes from overflowing and frantic to calm and quiet.

I have worked a little more on this cross stitch sampler (available from here), completing two more motifs. 

You can get a sense of the overall balance of colour and pattern here. I am taking this on holiday with me and am looking forward to lots of time with this sampler, with a cold drink next to me, maybe a bowl of olives, while John cooks dinner on the barbecue and the children amuse themselves for hours on end and don't need endless applications of suncream (let have my dream).

I am also working a little on Angus's blanket, here and there. I am starting to feel a little more warmth towards it now, perhaps because it's starting to grow a little.

It is about the length of a scarf, a very wide scarf. I keep wrapping it around my neck, and it gave me an idea for something I'd like to crochet myself this autumn; a very long, very wide woollen scarf in the granny stripe stitch or something similar, very soft and drapey, the sort of thing you can envelop yourself in and wrap around your neck at least twice, and in shades of grey with maybe a little colour. It needs to be really good wool, soft and with a beautiful, subtle depth of colour, and of course I would need a lot of yarn for something so big, so I reckon this would be an indulgent kind of scarf to crochet myself, something quite luxurious. I don't know if I'll do it yet. 

The other project I am working on is a crocheted bag to hold my yoga mat. With chunky yarn and a 10 mm hook this has been a speedy and enjoyable project.

I wanted to address your wonderful response to my post In need of inspiration last month. I moaned about how nothing was grabbing me, craft wise, and how I was stuck in a rut, and you all came to my rescue with so many excellent ideas. I've tried to summarise them here. 

:: Crocheting clothes and bags. Yes, this is something I really want to do. I've made a poncho, but I think my skill level is up to something like a sweater now, and I even have a couple of patterns put aside. I daydreamed about making a cotton sweater this summer but it's too late now, but I definitely want to hook myself a pair of socks and a new hat this autumn, and maybe a bag too.

:: Sewing clothes. I really would like to think that making some simple machine sewn clothes isn't totally an out of reach dream for me. Especially dresses. Being tall, I have a long torso and often find that the waist on shop-bought dresses sits one or two inches higher than I would want it too - being able to create some simple shift style dresses which take into account my shape would be wonderful. Also, embroidering clothes - it never occurred to me to do this, great idea!

:: Patchwork. I loved that so many of you said "you have to try patchwork!" with so much enthusiasm. Whether it's hand or machine sewn, English Paper Piecing, applique, embroidering on the squares, hexies, diamonds, there is defintely something here for me, I just need to figure out what. It would combine my love of hand sewing with my passion for making things for our home. (I really love the idea of making a memory quilt of special items of clothing, but think I really should have started this a long time ago, given that my wedding dress went to the charity shop when we moved, and I gave away most of Bella and Angus's baby things.)

:: Sashiko quilting. Thank you to the person who told me about this. It's a Japanese craft of stitching a repeating pattern with white cotton onto indigo dyed fabric, traditionally to repair or reinforce worn clothing, but now as a decorative craft too. I just adore the look and simple aesthetic of this craft. There is so much scope here, particularly when I think about denim, but I don't know yet what to do with it all my ideas.

:: Items for the home. So many possibilities. Cushions came up a lot - they are a versatile item and with quilting, tapestry, canvas work or crochet there are lots of options, although I think John might argue the need for more cushions in our house, we do have quite a few already. Also, table runners or table cloths and dish cloths - all very practical but open to all kinds of crafty ideas.

:: Christmas. Practically my favourite crafting theme ever. Decorations, a Christmas tree skirt, stockings - I really want to do all of these things. Especially the tree skirt.

You suggested Ravelry as a resource. I do browse this site sometimes, but find the scale of it and the number of patterns overwhelming. Also, Little box of Crochet. I didn't know anything about this until recently; it's a lovely idea, but currently there are no boxes available.

Anyway, THANK YOU for your ideas and enthusiasm and support and for just being good people.

I will be away from here for a couple for a few weeks but I'll be back soon, and hopefully with lots of sunny holiday photos to bore you with. 

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Sun and Roses

We spent last Saturday at Mottisfont, a National Trust property near Romsey in Hampshire. We last visited it between Christmas and New Year (and I wrote a little about it here) and while it was still beautiful in the middle of winter, I did very much want to return in the summer for two reasons; to see the roses, and to visit the Beatrix Potter exhibition. Neither disappointed. 

The weather was perfect, somewhere in the mid-twenties/high seventies, so hot enough to feel like summer but not so hot that we were all wilting. We took a picnic and spent the day with my parents and my sister and her family.  I think all National Trust properties are lovely but there is something about Mottisfont that I like very much; it's small enough to see easily but big enough to spend a day exploring should you want to, rolling grounds lead down to a river, the walled garden is stunning (I do love a walled garden), and there are excellent trails and features for children to enjoy. Almost everything in the house can be touched and handled, and you never see a sign saying "keep off the grass" (unlike Hever Castle...). 

In conjunction with the art exhibition in the house, there was a charming Beatrix Potter trail that lead all around the grounds. You collect a map and pencil at the entrance and work your way around the twenty of so hidden doors, finding various things at each one; a clue to a puzzle you complete at the end, a challenge, a lovely display, Mr McGregor's Garden, a game - at each one something to do or find or enjoy. 

I don't think we finished the whole trail but it is a enchanting way to connect the exhibition indoors - which was very good but photography not allowed - with the landscape outside. 

And then the roses. You could smell them before you could see them and they were just beautiful. I know nothing about rose varieties but I know that I like the way they smell.

There was a little ice cream stand at the entrance to the walled gardens and they were selling, among other things, rose flavoured ice cream. It tastes like Turkish Delight, floral and sweet and utterly delicious. Rose ice cream in the rose garden, that might be a highlight of the whole holiday.

Do any of you know the children's book The High Street by Alice Melvin? It's a favourite of mine and Bella's (she still asks me to read it to her sometimes) and it's about a girl called Sally and her shopping list, and all the interesting people and things she sees on her local high street. The final item on Sally's list is yellow roses, but the florist doesn't have any, and she's sad until she walks into the park on her way home and sees an enormous yellow climbing rose, just covering the entire walls of the park. She can still enjoy them even though she can't take one home. It's the loveliest book, I can't recommend it enough. Anyway, this spectacular pink climbing rose reminded Bella and I of that straight away.

It was pretty hot inside the walled gardens, sheltered as they are from the breeze, and absolutely humming with bees and butterflies.

The scent of lavender here was everywhere. Many of the bushes had already bloomed and their flowers were brown and dry, but still full of that intoxicating smell. 

We walked down to the river in search of some shade and cooler temperatures. 

We were looking for the wonderful Wild Play Area, where children can paddle, pump and play with water. We did this in December with our wellies on, but it was even more fun in the summer, even if we did forget a towel to dry off wet feet. 

As I write this it's cool and grey, and my feet were so cold in my flip flops that I had to dig out my slippers. It doesn't feel very summery and I'm glad of my cup of tea. It's distinctly chilly in the mornings and evenings at the moment and, what with the blackberries appearing in the hedgerows, I'm reminded that we are now in late summer, and about to turn the page into autumn. We are soon to have our holiday (I've checked and the weather in the Loire is currently around 30°C, ie. total bliss) and of course I don't want to wish away the summer, but I won't pretend I'm not looking forward to the changing of the seasons. Even with the inevitable return to school and work, I love the way summer slips away and autumn emerges.

Thank you for your very kind comments on our kitchen-dining room. I'm really glad you all like it. I have appreciated your comments and interest so much throughout the whole building process - it really was like you were all cheering us on - and it was nice to be able to share the finished room with you. 

Monday, 8 August 2016

Room Tour: The Kitchen-Dining Room

Hello lovelies! I hope you're all well. Thank you for your recent comments - I'm glad so many of you are also enjoying Stranger Things. We've had such a nice few days here; a day out to Mottisfont on Saturday, where the gardens were just so beautiful (I took a million pictures and will do a post about it soon) and yesterday and today we stayed at home, or very near home, pottering quite happily, running the odd errand. I did all my washing today. All of it, five loads, one right after other. The basket was totally empty (for about an hour, anyway), and I did all the ironing too, used up every last coat hanger in the house. I know. Let me just bask in that feeling for a moment... I also spent yesterday binge reading so many blogs and it was wonderful. The rest of this week will be more of the same I hope, doing jobs, staying home, visiting family, blog reading, getting ready for our holiday. 


I thought it was about time I shared some photos of our finished kitchen/dining room with you. A while ago, I showed you our newly fitted kitchen, but the dining end of the room remained bare and unfinished. We've been working hard on this over the last few weeks and it's pretty much finished now, and in constant use.

That big grey expanse of wall has slowly and carefully been decorated with some framed pictures and prints. The family gallery wall has gone but all four of those images refer to places we've been (honeymoon, wedding anniversary trip, family holiday) and so they remain personal to us.

I'm still not sure about the coastal print on the left - I think the colours are a bit cold for the grey wall. I'd like to make a woven wall hanging from yarn scraps, full of cream, pink, mustard and teal. I think it would look amazing against the grey.

I especially love my little copper hanging planter - it adds a bit of warmth and colour to an empty corner by the door to the living room.

A few weeks ago, John and my Dad spent a day putting up some shelves to hold all our cookery books. We used to have a tall, thin IKEA bookcase here but it never looked right against the off-kilter angle of the chimney breast it leaned against. These shelves are built so that the width of each one follows the line of the asymmetrical chimney breast and it just looks a million times better. (Also - my Dad and John were brilliant and very patient when it came to interpreting my "ideas" into something that could actually be attached to a wall.)

Cookery books were dusted and sorted. This took a long time because I kept sitting down on the floor and reading them.

But look at what they built! Isn't it the most gorgeous thing you've ever seen? Every time I walk past this it makes me smile. I love having our cookery books in the kitchen again. I've mentioned before how much we use them, how frequently they are consulted and read. 

I organised them by colour, for no good practical reason but it just makes me happy.

It's funny to think there used to be a wall there.

This is the view out towards the garden. Those patio doors are open most of the time and access to the garden is easy, which is handy when you're carrying plates of food.

It is a lovely bright space benefiting from lots of natural light, and it's where I spend pretty much all my time during the day. The table is always in use, usually filled with a laptop, pens and paper, homework, magazines, cups of coffee, Lego, Hama beads. Sometimes we even use it to eat. But this is what we wanted so much, one room not just for cooking and eating, but for hanging out all together, warm and busy.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Mud Flats, Pubs and Castles

I really thought I'd have loads more time for blogging this summer, but so far that's not happening. I will persevere. We've been really busy catching up with friends and this week and it's been lovely.  Old friends from university and from Leeds came down to stay with us and it was so good to see them, to catch up, to eat and drink much too much, to stay up too late.

Some highlights:

:: Langstone Harbour, where the blackberries were flowering and it won't be long before we're picking them.

:: The Bishop's Palace Gardens in Chichester, which were looking sensational in full bloom. 

(I was quite taken with this type of hydreangea, below, which I believe is called  Annabelle.)

:: Emsworth Harbour, for more walks at low tide. Our friends commented on the smell of the mud flats when the tide is out, which is kind of a salty, sulphorous smell. I love it, but apparently not everyone does. 

:: Bosham, again. In the rain this time, but that didn't deter us, and made stopping in the pub for a drink all the more enjoyable.

:: A wet and windy (but also strangely mild) beach walk, followed by an excellent pub lunch.

:: A trip to Hever Castle while staying with my friend Abigail. 

Every summer the kids and I spend a few nights with Abigail and her family while John is working, and I really cherish that time to catch up in an unhurried way. Bella and Angus get on well with her two girls and we get to spend a lot of time talking and laughing. 

Hever is more of a house than a castle (Angus was really disappointed) but the grounds are beautiful and the two mazes - one yew and one water - are wonderful.

It was really good to get home last night though, to unpack and put the house back to normal. A night in front of the tv, just John and I (watching Stranger Things, which is creepy and excellent, and nostalgic too, full of 80's references, I can't recommend it highly enough - is anyone else watching it?) and everyone sleeping where they normally sleep, not on a airbed or in a different room. Today has been spent in a bustle of pre-holiday chores and admin. Bike racks have been chosen and purchased (yawn), holiday insurance sorted and car breakdown cover "upgraded" to include Europe. Honestly, the amount of stuff you have to take with you to drive in France is bewildering. I am writing lists, it's the only way to cope. But all this preparation does add to the feeling of a forthcoming holiday - there are craft projects to choose, books to select - and I'm enjoying the feeling of anticipation. 

Saturday, 30 July 2016

The first week of the holidays

So far, so good, I would say. No dramas, no big days out, just gentle pottering around the house one day alternated with short trips to places nearby the next. We've seen friends and family, visited parks, had some nice walks, eaten a cream tea. My diary and days are full.

The cream tea was enjoyed with my sister and her girls at a local farm which is opposite my maternal grandparents' old house. It was a place we used to visit with them every time we stayed when we were little; we used to take apples and carrots for the horses and would be allowed to look around the farm - even watching the birth of a calf once. We looked at their old house as we walked down the lane, talked about them. Happy, happy memories, made sweeter by time and nostalgia, and a growing realisation as I get older of how precious childhood it, and how lucky I am to have had the childhood that I did. Anyway, it's still a working farm and now has it's own tea shop and line of homemade ice cream. The milk in the jug had an actual film of cream on the top. It was all delicious. 

Bella and Angus are settling down into the longer, freer days of the school holidays and are getting better at amusing themselves. And when they're not, and I really need to get on with something, there is the iPad or tv. It's all fine. It's all about balance.

Last Sunday we had a lovely walk around Bosham, a favourite place of mine, and a picnic lunch.

I remember it as sunnier than these pictures suggest, but even on overcast days, when the tide is out and the mud flats exposed, it has so much charm. I love this place, all these villages around Chichester harbour, with their flint buildings and old cottages.

Plus the houses and gardens are so pretty here, especially right now.

Our own hollyhocks are looking sensational, I have to say.

They are about 7 feet tall and I've had to tie them to canes to stop them leaning, but they look wonderful in their position at the back of a deep border, against the fence. I wish I had more.

The other main activity in our garden right now is this. The net has been angled so that stray balls - and there are many - hit the walls and windows at the back of the house, not the hollyhocks (can you imagine?!). My windows are covered in the marks left by a muddy football, but watching Angus play from the kitchen window makes me very happy indeed. 

Our home days have been spent doing housework, cooking and completing little jobs here and there. I found some felt balls I used to have strung up in our old house in Leeds, and re-threaded them to hang on the mantel. I like the colour they bring to the room. 

The dining room end of the kitchen/diner is now finished and I've had fun arranging books, pictures and hanging planters. I will show it all to you soon. 

I made pesto yesterday. I bought three basil plants from Aldi about a month ago and left them in pots on the kitchen windowsill, watering them every couple of days.

They went crazy and grew like mad, resulting in a lot of fresh pesto. We had some last night with tagliatelle and it was delicious. Plus, that green! 

The weather has turned cooler and overcast over the last few days. I hope that's not summer over with. I was just starting to get used to the warm days. We have house guests arriving today for a couple of nights, and when they go, more come. I will just have time to change the sheets on the spare bed! Then the kids and I will go to London to a few days to stay with my friend Abigail. It's all go, but in a nice way.

I hope you are all well and enjoying the holidays. Thank you so much for your comments, they do mean a great deal to me. I am looking forward to some quiet time at home again soon to catch up with all your summer goings-on.