Monday, 29 August 2016

Sunset Mountains

What gorgeous weather we have had lately!! With the exception of yesterday which was a bit drab, dismal and wet- it had to be as we were having a family party outside, the weather was not on our side! The majority of weather has been fabulously hot and sunny, although has anyone else been noticing that the nights are drawing in faster and faster? A reminder that we are in fact in late Summer, and on the downwards slope to Winter.

Blue skies keep me cheerful, and I am working on a commission which I'm sure the commissioner won't mind me showing you. My brief for this stitchscape was 'sunset', 'mountains' and 'flowers'. So far I have the mountains finished and am well on the way to finishing the sunset, then it's all about the flowers which will spring up in the foreground to add some hot, summery colour to the misty blues.

I am still really loving these stitches and finding new ways to follow the fabrics and see where it leads me. This one is being done in a 20cm hoop so is one of my larger ones- I just couldn't fit all these glorious colours in a smaller hoop! I will show you the finished piece soon hopefully and you can let me know what you think.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Carnival Craft Day

At the weekend I organised a big craft day for all of our Rainbows, Brownies, Guides, Senior Section, Leaders, Parents....everybody really to come and help decorate and get things ready for our Carnival float. The actual Carnival is at the beginning of September and we will have to dress the float on the day but such a lot of effort and preparation has to go into it beforehand that it was all hands on deck!

Our theme is Jungle & Rainforest Explorers as that gave us lots of lovely crafting ideas and I have been chief organiser (not a responsibility to be taken lightly!) so my Guides have been working on little bits here and there through the last term. This was a big jump forward though and I am very impressed with the work the girls (and parents) did on the day.

I got to our hall very early and spent some time carefully drawing out our big animals. We have a Slow Loris, a Chameleon and a Poison Dart Frog, as well as a very dramatic, frothing waterfall (it's nearly two metres high!)! The girls did such a good job painting these, there are several carefully considered layers- base colour paints, then slightly more detailed colours and shades going in, and final textures being added at the end (like spots and fur). It was a good thing that the day was relatively warm and the paint dried quickly.

We made an army of paper plate monkeys, lots of toilet roll tube binoculars were decorated in the latest trendy binocular colours, leaves were cut and painted, bamboo sliced into wrapping paper tubes and letters coloured in.

We've a way to go to pull all of these components together but I really think our float will be a triumph this year!!!

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Lavender Mountains

Light is a funny thing isn't it? We all know about the importance of good lighting to take photographs, and I really wish I was better at knowing how to set the aperture or whatnot on my camera to help it focus in slightly dingy lighting. The evening light to me is lovely and golden, but the camera interprets it as a blue light, casting a cold haze on things I want to photograph.
It feels like it should stay light as boy(!) wasn't it HOT today? This morning we woke up to a land of fog with a valiant sun trying to penetrate through the layers of grey mist, and it was quite chilly really; then I spent the rest of the day in a well air conditioned office, finally emerging at 5pm into what has clearly become the tropics. Quite astounding.

Hopefully it will start to cool off a bit more before bedtime, I prefer it to be cold in the room so I can snuggle under the duvet. For now though I'm quite content to sit in the garden in the last rays of sunshine, reading a magazine.

I've had to pop inside to grab the laptop though and update you on my latest stitchscape adventure. I think some of you may have seen snippets of my Mountain-scape on my Facebook page as I took it with me on holiday. This one seemed to take a long time to complete but it was probably because I had to keep putting it down to do holiday type things, It was very enjoyable though and used all of my favourite techniques.

I have to admit that I love bullion knot reed flowers, they add such a great dimension and sense of foreground to these pieces. There are a lot of bullion knots hidden around in this embroidery; smuggled in with a copious amount of French knots for texture, lined up along the edge of a fabric mountain to suggest bushes, or laid out to suggest rocks and roots.

I also found a great trick whilst I was at university of joining dots together on a polka dot pattern. It creates a fantastic all over texture and completely changes the appearance of the fabric as the dots disappeared into the thread holes. Here I've filled some in with a random pattern to suggest bushes and areas of flowers or perhaps sunshine. How would you interpret it?
Overall I try to go quite organically with how I feel about each fabric, following outlines of batik dyes, picking up colours in floral patterns, little seed stitches to help disguise and tone a busy small print; whatever floats my boat at that moment.

And also, whilst we are on the subject of finished stitchscapes, just before my holiday, I finished my Lavender Fields stitchscape. I wasn't so sure about this one if you'll remember, I mentioned my unease in this post here. Having removed a bad colour choice and started working on a different part of the design, gradually working my way back to the problem area, I feel a little happier with it. It's all a learning curve I suppose, and I would probably try this idea again, just not in the same way.

I've also experimented with a new size. The ones I have previously worked on; Kew Stitchscape and Sunset & Seaside Stitchscapes, along with the Lavender Fields are all done in a 15cm (6inch) hoop so they are relatively small. My Mountains Stitchscape was done in a 20cm (8 inch) hoop so is quite a lot bigger. I'm not sure which one I prefer, what do you think?

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Elvis Goes To Oxford

Elvis naturally came with us on our family holiday, and managed to wangle his way into several photographs of his favourite spots! Such a cheeky hamster. Here he is at Blenheim Palace...

...and above; enjoying the sights of Oxford. We even had a cheeky selfie together, say cheese!

And making friends with statuesque ladies at Basildon Park. I think Elvis enjoyed the holiday just as much as we did!

Basildon Park

Our final day of holiday was spent at Basildon Park, a National Trust house and garden that is often used as a setting for filming period TV shows and films, such as Pride & Prejudice, Downton Abbey, Dorian Gray and Marie-Antionette. It's current restored state is, in most parts, thanks to it's last owners before the NT, Lord and Lady Iliffe. The house had been badly damaged during the war and also passed from owner to owner, with each one seemingly taking fixtures and fittings at whim before selling it on. One chap even tried to strip it down and sell it to the Americans.

It was revamped and redecorated to it's former shining glory but with more modern home comforts such as central heating and a modern kitchen, and, in the 1950s, enjoyed playing host to many posh parties hosted by the Iliffe's. Eventually they passed it on to the National Trust, on the condition that nothing was touched and the spirit of it being a family home remained. They themselves continued to live in a small area of the house, the sitting room of which you can see as Lady Iliffe left it, and had the best of both worlds as they were allowed to continue using the dining room in the main house to entertain guests when it was closed to the public (which was more often than it is now).

The rose garden at the back of the house was one of my favourite areas. beautiful roses, sweet peas and agapanthuses cluster together in a medley of pastel colours and just beyond them is the most incredible view over trees and fields. It was quite the best place.

So our mini holiday came to an end; three days steeped in history and architectural sights, combined with a copious amount of coffee and beautiful weather. Quite the best sort of break away.

Saturday, 20 August 2016


The second day of our mini holiday involved wandering around the City of Oxford. The hotel was very near to the River Thames and we followed the tow path into the centre, past the university cricket pitches (each university seems to have it's own one) and the boat club houses and pretty canal boats. Oxford has been used in many films and TV programs- most notably for me is the detective series Inspector Morse, and later Lewis, a spin off of Morse. I love both programs and so strangely recognised several areas of Oxford purely from them being featured in the series', especially University College with the large grass court in the centre.

It is known as 'City of the Dreaming Spires', and the architecture is really lovely, with lots of quaint carvings, grotesques, gargoyles, flowers, patterns and shields in every nook and cranny. Famous buildings you may have heard of include the Bodleian Library, the Ashmolean Museum, The Radcliffe Camera (below) and Christ Church Cathedral.

You can actually climb the tower of the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin- be warned that the only way up and down it is an incredibly narrow spiral staircase- which gives you the most spectacular view over the city. It has four sides to it and on the first side as you come out of the staircase you are directly facing the Radcliffe Camera, with the University College on the right.

I was especially pleased to see some very lovely yarn-bombing around the Radcliffe Camera, provided by the Oxford Drunken Knitwits (I also love the name!). If you are a lover of community action and yarn-bombing then their details are on the link on their name and I have also included the photo of their donation details should you feel so inclined (centre of above montage). The whole yarn bombing consisted of long strings of crocheted and knitted flowers entwined around the fence circling the RC, in lots of different colours and styles. My favourite was the little bee though, such a happy face!

Another textile link is through William Morris, one of the greatest English designers of the Arts and Crafts Movement (and dare I say, one of the greatest designers ever?). His designs are still highly sought after and cherished. We sell his fabric and wallpaper designs at work through the company, Sanderson, and interestingly they have just revamped some of his most successful designs and given them a modern twist, creating a collection called Pure Morris- but that's another story. His wife, Jane Morris, who was a renowned embroiderer in her own right was born in Oxford and I presume they met whilst William was studying theology at Oxford University.

We wandered pretty much all day; stopping for a fantastic lunch and several stops for coffee, paused to reflect underneath The Bridge of Sighs (above montage, middle left and bottom right) which joins two parts of Hertford College together, and popped into lots of shops as The Mother and I were on the hunt for badges for our camp blankets, eventually finding ourselves at the back of Oxford Castle along the river.

The evening was spent back along the river where we had walked past the boat club houses earlier that day on our way into town. The river had been transformed from the sleepy, quiet place of the morning to a bustling, fast paced metropolis full of puffing rowers whizzing across the surface of the water, cycling coaches chasing after them along the tow path shouting instructions through megaphones; joggers, dog walkers, general passers by, narrowboats, river was all going on and quite fascinating. We had bought a picnic tea in a local supermarket and sat chatting companionably to a couple of ducks who came to say hello, eating our tea and observing the local life until the sun started to set. People are really very fit in Oxford, we were quite breathless watching them all!

The walk back to the hotel took us through golden fields with horses and geese (can you see them in the brown circle in the photo above?) nibbling on the grasses. It was a very nice end to the day.