My embroidered diary of our holiday in France is back from the framers, a whole week earlier than expected and now sitting on the mantel.
I am very happy with it. It's not technically perfect and I have a few issues with the composition, but this is just me being my perfectionist self. Overall, I love the look and feel of it, I loved every second I spent stitching it, and most importantly it's full of good memories of our holiday in Brittany.
I thought you may like to know a little more about how I made it and what I decided to include.
I hadn't really thought about the composition before we left for our holiday. I just took a piece of white cotton fabric with me and my bag or embroidery threads, and it was only on the second day, when I finally felt like I had a moment to stop and think, that I sat down and sketched out a rough grid. Twelve squares for twelve days, drawn roughly with a fading ink pen.
There was no plan beyond that, I just tried to go with what we'd done that day and keep it as free and spontaneous as possible. I generally decided what to sew at the end of the day and started it on the next, as I liked to plan it in the daytime when my brain was awake and the light was good. Some days I spent an hour sewing, others three or four. It totally depended on the detail of what I was sewing, and how much time I had to stitch that day. I got more done on rainy days than sunny ones!
Day one was easy, a Tricolore flag, the same as the one that flew on our ferry, to celebrate our arrival in France. With most of the motifs I drew straight onto the fabric with the pen and stitched straight over the top.
I don't think we did anything in particular on our second day beyond an enormous supermarket shop, but I do remember enjoying my first long, leisurely lunch of bread, cheese and salad.
On the third day I stitched a Breton style top. This classic design is for sale everywhere - cheap versions in the markets and pricier ones in the boutiques - and it's worn widely by all kinds of people, not just the tourists like me.
It seems like every day is market day in France and I did love wandering around them, browsing the stalls. Below I decided to sew a fruit stall using lots of tiny French knots. You can see that I got quite carried away here and enjoyed choosing the colours and adding details like leaves, and this section took quite a while.
On the fifth day I chose one of the oyster shells I'd picked up on my morning run on the beach. I didn't feel confident drawing this shape straight onto the fabric so I sketched onto paper first then, when I felt happy with the shape, traced it onto the cotton with the fading ink pen. Oysters are a huge part of the Brittany fishing industry and are in fishmongers, supermarkets and restaurants. I didn't try one. I've never tried one. I am probably missing out but something about them, I don't know...they just don't appeal. I like the shape of the shells though.
The sixth day, Friday, it poured with rain all day long and so we explored the nearby walled town of Vannes with it's Medieval streets and prettily painted timbered buildings. This was another day which took a long time to sew, and I got quite carried away adding things like shutters, window boxes and balconies.
Agapanthus is so widely grown in Brittany, in both public and private gardens, down the sides of roads, on roundabouts, and sold in the markets too. It's not a flower I'd really noticed or considered before, but I associate it with this area now.
Day 8, a Sunday, was a beach day.
As was the following day, the one really hot day we had there, and we all bought ice creams and ate them as we walked down to the beach. The shop, called l'Igloo, had a selection of flavours that was almost overwhelming, there were so many to choose from, but I chose violet. It tasted of parma violet sweets, which I think you either like or you don't. I love them.
On our tenth day we took a boat to the Ile des Moines, in the Gulf of Morbihan. This isn't the grubby old tub we chugged along in, this is a much prettier boat I snapped from the deck. (I think a little artistic license is acceptable...)
I honestly can't remember what we did on the eleventh day, and it was probably nothing remarkable, but we certainly drank some of the local cider. Brittany is known for it's apple production and cider and Calvados (apple brandy) are sold everywhere. You can't really tell but that "cidre" lettering involved only one strand of thread and was very fiddly.
And finally the white and black Gwenn-ha-du which is the Breton flag. In Brittany the sense of local pride and identity is strong, and this flag is printed on bottles and packets in shops, hung outside houses and in towns, displayed on street signs, sold on postcards.
This is what the back of the piece looks like. I know some people get hung up on what the reverse of an embroidery looks like, how tidy it is. As you can see this is a mess, but I don't care, it's like a deconstructed, slightly abstract version of the tidy front.
Sometimes I think my favourite part is the fruit stall, but then I think no, it's the ice cream, or the boat, or the agapanthus. I can never decide. I love the beach scene too. Maybe my favourite part is the Breton sweater, I like it's shape and simplicity. I don't know. I would love to know if you have a day or motif you particularly like.