Sunday, 31 July 2016

Afternoon Tea

It's been a very relaxing Sunday, pootling around in the garden, working on my current stitchscape, popping round to my Grandmother's house to wander around her garden, and an afternoon tea to top it all off!

The garden is looking particularly lovely and colourful at the moment. We have sunflowers in the garden that are truly enormous!!! Some of them are just about reaching the bedroom windows now and still haven't flowered so could go higher.

We specially planted some 'Bee' sections in the garden this year as we do love our Bees, using some mixed seed sachets designed to attract the bumbly little creatures. Some of the flowers I don't recognise, but we have a lot of Borage, Cornflowers and Californian Poppies, along with other Poppy-esque flowers and some fluffy purple things that look amazing.
There are also a lot of Geraniums as Dad really likes them, and Fuchsias as they were on offer in a garden centre a couple of months ago. Many of these have really taken off and produced all manner of flouncy, voluminous flowers with brilliantly coloured petal skirts.

As well as attracting many species of Bee, we also have a lot of Butterflies enjoying the fine weather and abundance of flowers. It's nice to be able to provide a garden like this for them.

My afternoon tea was at Ashdown Park Hotel & Country Club, and was a belated birthday present from myself and another friend gifted to two of our friends (I must remember to give more presents that I can benefit from myself). The setting was absolutely delightful, we were seated quite informally on squashy sofas around low tables and the cake stand ceremoniously brought in after a lot of faffing with teapots and strainers and hot or cold milk jugs. I could get used to having a posh afternoon tea on a regular basis.

The whole experience, my first at a posh hotel, was very sweet, and we pretended to be posh whilst nibbling on our crustless finger sandwiches, tasting the orange cheesecake square or mini fruit tartlet, spreading the cream and jam onto our scones and having the Cornwall versus Devon debate for the umpteenth time.

Having completely stuffed ourselves with cakes we had a quick wander outside, walking down to the pond and standing on the jetty watching the fish swim rather hopefully underneath us.

It is a very pretty place to go and have afternoon tea, especially when the sun is shining. There were quite a few parties going on in various areas of the grounds, and you can hold weddings here in their little chapel. I especially enjoyed leaving past the row of Hydrangea bushes on our way to the car park, such a glorious sight!

Saturday, 30 July 2016


I finished my little stitchscape last night, deciding I had done enough to it. That's the thing with these little inspired pieces, you have to stop before it becomes too cluttered, even if there are more things that you could do to it, eg: more French knots along every fabric edge, more flowers in different colours using picot stitch, darker blues for accent....

I quite enjoy the scrappy look it has to it. There are areas of intense tiny stitches, thickly layered and textured, and other areas which are unrefined, with raw edges, a single flat layer. Sometimes I have used the pattern on the fabric to dictate what I should do to it, marking circles with French knots, following lines with single straight stitches or filling in a small pattern with little seed stitches.

Having enjoyed this first little piece so much, I have started on another one in the same size (using a 15cm hoop), but am experimenting with brighter colours. My subconscious appears to be leading me towards a sunset piece with dark silhouettes, but my fingers are working out their own path so we will see what happens.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Inspired Stitches

Yesterday I started a little hoop of stitches. Just a simple thing, nothing planned in my head; picking up fabrics from my scrap bag and stitching them on top of each other. The colours reminded me of a grassy hill covered in flowers so out came the embroidery threads and little bullion knot flowers started to form.

I think this was a project I needed. Something mindless, that made me happy. It's not perfect, and I won't worry if fabrics start to fray or if a stitch doesn't end up in an exact position, or if a colour slightly clashes. A colleague at work today asked me if I had been inspired by my visit to Kew Gardens at the weekend and I guess I was. The abundance of colours and textures clicked with my creative brain and formed a subconscious need for translation onto fabric- don't you love it when that happens?

I don't even know when it will end to be honest. Probably when I get tired of endless embroidered knots, or when it feels right to stop. For now it is just refreshing doing something different and doing something I love.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Kew Gardens

I had the most amazing day out today with some great friends as a belated birthday trip. We travelled up to Kew Gardens in London, which houses the most fantastic Victorian greenhouses, full to bursting with exotic plants. My goodness the heat and humidity in those great glass houses- quite incredible.

Possibly the most iconic greenhouse is the Palm House and it was the first one we came across in our wanderings. It was fascinating to see the trees and plants for things that we eat or use on a daily basis- raffia, wicker, vanilla, ginger, bananas, cocoa... You don't really think about where they come from or what it looks like originally. There were lots of plants in there too that had great medicinal properties, although I don't remember their names.

We were glad to escape the heat of the Palm house and wandered out into the open, the humid day suddenly seeming quite cool for a while in comparison. We meandered past the Pagoda and zenned through the zen garden (channelling inner energies and trying out meditative states of being). Elvis came out to see what all of the 'ooooming' and 'aaaahing' was about as we attempted levitation next to the carefully raked gravel.

We climbed the hundred or so steps up to the treetop walkway, which genuinely swayed quite a lot! It was a trifle worrying although great fun to be wandering around at the same height as the tops of these trees. Kew is right underneath the flight path for Heathrow so we were suddenly very close to the underbelly of some of these enormous planes coming in to land.

We stopped and had a picnic lunch in this very scenic spot next to the lake that is in the centre of the gardens. There were a couple of clutches of the sweetest fluffy ducklings, all paddling madly about in the water and cheeping loudly at each other.

We stopped to admire the red bricks of Kew Palace, although didn't go in. Instead we were drawn to a rather interesting looking ice cream stand which appeared to have dry ice floating from it. The ice cream was being made to order, with pick and mix flavours, using liquid nitrogen to freeze the ingredients. You could actually watch the milk, flavourings and nitrogen being added and slowly solidifying before your very eyes! It tasted delicious as well!! Mine was a combination of chocolate brownie, mint extract and dark chocolate- it tasted a bit like an After Eight chocolate.

We wandered down the Broad Walk which was a feast for the eyes with magical colours and floral textures on either side, alternating between hot oranges and pinks to cooler blues and purples and back again as you walked down it.

One of the installations at Kew is The Hive, a fantastic 17 metre high metal structure that has been designed to look, sound and smell like a hive would. There are lights inside that are linked to the vibrations in a real life hive and turn on when the sensors are triggered. There are speakers inside that give the droning and humming sound you would hear and it is just generally a very cool experience indeed.

In the Princess of Wales Conservatory we were having another hot flush with the humidity that the plants require to flourish. The colours inside were amazing, lush greens, hot pinks, electric blues, deep crimsons, soft pinks, sparkling yellows. Every colour was represented inside there. At times we really felt like rainforest explorers, pushing aside tendrils dripping from the ceiling, brushing past leaves about the same size as a trolley and stepping over squat little plants spilling onto the paths.

The Alpine House and gardens were very pretty, with lots of rockery space and waterfalls. It was very pleasant to hear the quiet roar of the water spilling over the rocks. There were more plants that I recognised here as ones we could grow in our own gardens.

The Waterlily House is definitely one of my favourites. It's incredible to think that those massive pads (that look like enormous pie dishes) are all part of one plant. When I was here last time it was actually flowering and the horticulturalists at Kew were filming the lily flowering as it was such a rare event. This time there were just the lilypads but there were other plants and things to see and admire, like the giant gourds hanging from the roof and the reflections in the specially dyed black water.
It was a most fantastic birthday day out, ended with a cream tea at the Kew Greenhouse Cafe (not part of Kew Gardens, it's a little cafe on the route back to the train station). I can't wait to revisit!

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Little Cacti

This morning I finally got around to doing something that I have thought about since the moment I saw it on the shelf- the free embroidery kit on the front of Issue 68 of Mollie Makes magazine. I only buy this magazine now if there is a project that really speaks to me. I used to buy it religiously every month but it started leaning more towards fashion and accessory projects, or paper craft and I really only have time for little projects that I can do on the go and have no real purpose other than being fun or pretty. A bit like these miniature embroideries!

I finally decided to get it out of the packet and work on these today, and I'm so pleased I did. They are really quick to make and such fun! The fabric, threads, hoops and a needle are all provided, although I confess I used my own needles. The fabric wasn't quite big enough to properly fit my smallest hoop so I stitched lengths of scrap calico around it to make the fabric base bigger- this is a great tip if you have a small piece of fabric or want to stitch in just one corner but can't get close enough. Lay the edges of the top fabric over a scrap material, making the total fabric shape as large as you need to centralise the part you want and work a quick running stitch to secure. Once you are finished stitching, you can simply remove the tacking stitches and be left with your finished piece. Be careful that you don't stitch through the scrap fabric though.

The templates for the cacti are provided but I found that they were larger than the circle of the hoop so drew my own based on their template. I played around with strands of thread, sometimes using three strands sometimes only one, to get different thicknesses in the stitches.

The stitches I used were back stitch, french knots, bullion knots, fly stitch and long stitches.

Once my little cacti were stitched, I cut them out in large circles and placed the wooden circle at the back, working a running stitch around the edge of the fabric and pulling to form a tight pocket around the wooden circle. A circle of white felt was glued to the back to hide the rough edges and then the embroideries were pushed into the frames!

They are so cute and tiny- real palm sized embroideries. A fabulous sunshiney morning well spent!