Saturday, 27 January 2018

Lots of #inthehoop's

I took four #inthehoop projects on holiday with me, and managed to finish two, nearly three of them. Another hoop I started before I went away and left at home, completing it the weekend I arrived back again- which means I have four to show you today! Such a lot of catching up to do.

I love the bottom layer of this hoop, it feels really nice under your fingertips as I have filled all of the petals with satin stitch in a thread that closely matches the colour underneath. As the print had patches of light and dark within the petals I have tried to copy this too which has worked really nicely. Rather than fill in the areas of gold ink (this is one of my lovely, gold tipped Japanese print fabrics) I have left them be which creates a really interesting raised appearance- had to be careful not to go over the lines!

The other colours of the chosen fabrics have also worked really well with my main print. I love the blues and zesty greens with the purple and yellow which show up so well on the back of the piece.

This has a kind of watery sunset thing going on. I wanted to hint at an ocean sunset where the orange of the sky was reflected in the water, done through mixing my layers of orange and blue together. There are a lot of spotted fabrics going on here so I think if I were going to try the same thing again I'd get more linear prints to help with the idea of waves.

It's quite a simple piece, no special stitches or special layouts, and didn't take me that long to do but the colours really make it work. I have used satin stitch, running stitch, french knots, bullion knots, seed stitch, whip stitch and cross stitch, and that's it apart from the little beads. The fabric I started with for this piece is the sunset coloured fabric at the top, and I've highlighted areas where the wash changes colour using a multicolour single strand of DMC embroidery thread which matched perfectly! I will definitely use this combination again.

This little one took longer to finish because of the tiny little details within it. I've got whip stitch, detached chain stitch, french knots, running stitch, bullion knots, back stitch, vertical whip stitch, seed stitch, straight stitch, couching, cross stitch and a kind of rough satin stitch. The trees are outlined with my own braid made from several lengths of the DMC embroidery thread used to stitch the texture onto the bark (following the pattern of a bark print fabric). I have tried to bring in a little bit of perspective by making the central tree with wider braid and the tree 'behind it' with a thinner braid.

There is a lot of whip stitch in this piece. The little leafy print at the bottom has whip stitch stems and a double whip stitch top, the top grey layer also has a whip stitch top; some of the lines in the bark are whipped and the knot in the tree has whip stitch to help create the circle. My dark green layer has the whip stitch going vertically across my running stitch which is a technique I love to use as it reminds me of furrows in fields.

The bottom layer has two different multicoloured green threads which brings unexpected changes in colour throughout. The stems are one selection of colour and the detached chain stitch leaves are another. Aren't they sweet?

Now this little stitchscape has been done for a kit design and I have counted each strand of thread used, made notes about the stitches and drawn templates of the fabric strips. Interestingly, there is a real mix of threads in this piece as I got muddled up with a thread order and ended up with boxes of DMC Cotón Pearl threads rather than DMC Cotton Mouline Stranded threads. The challenge has been to combine this with my existing collection of DMC Mouline and Anchor stranded threads but I think it has worked really well.

I have also used a rather interesting jute ribbon which arrives all tightly woven but can be stretched and teased out to create different widths, it really adds a bit of unexpected interest here and provides a barrier for my meadow field. The fabric used at the bottom is the blue version of the yellow print I've used in my Summer Sweet kit, but I loved it so much I decided it was OK to use the same print again. I deliberately didn't look at my Summer Sweet kit to see how I had approached this design before so I may have done a few things differently, or some things in the same way.

So in this piece we have whip stitch, running stitch, cross stitch, french knots, bullion knots, straight stitch, couching, detached chain stitch and satin stitch. Varied but still nice and easy. I don't currently have a deadline for getting these kits out as I still have to write up the instructions and put it all together, but I am hoping it will be over the next few weeks and of course you shall be the first to know!

Friday, 26 January 2018

Reykjavik Holiday: Days 3 - 5

Hallgrimskirkja Church. Rather impressive isn't it? It really looms up at you with those wings shooting off to the side like a rocket about to launch. The simple, clean lines of the architecture are very typical of Iceland, there is nothing overly fancy or ornate with twirls and swirls, but simple, understated outlines that are like a breath of fresh air. The inside follows the same idea and although the windows aren't painted or stained, the sun streaming through them gives an ambiance all on its own.
Our third day in Reykjavik was a little more relaxed and slow paced after the excitement of the previous two days and we wandered around the town exploring the shopping streets, popping in to tourist shops searching for the perfect postcard and exclaiming over the street art (it cannot be called graffiti!).

From wandering up the hill we then wandered down again to the water's edge. Reykjavik has a little cove or bay and on the opposite side is a rather lovely white mountain which you could often see peeking between rows of houses as you walk through the town. It was fascinating to see the different weathers and cloud formations around the peaks. On this particular day there were a couple of grey cloud stripes which look almost as if somebody has tried to rub the image out with a grubby rubber, leaving a grey streaky mark behind.

Gazing out across the water is The Sun Voyager, a sculpture by Jón Gunnar Arnson which is described as a dreamboat, or an ode to the sun. You could stand for hours at the bay watching the water ripple through- then again, it was freezing cold so perhaps ten minutes or so would do.

Also along the water is the Harpa conference hall and conference centre, a vast building built with a glass shell like a honeycomb that lit up at night time and defied the usual conventions for how a building should look. During the hours of darkness, each window would light up and flash at different times to create patterns scrolling across the walls, it was utterly fascinating! At the front are decorative pools of water which steam gently in the sunshine. We assumed that the water would be hot for it to steam so, however after I tentatively stuck a finger in, we discovered that actually the water was pretty cold, just a lot warmer than the ambient temperature of about -6°C.

After a full day's relaxation (including lots of stitchscaping- more of which I will show you in another post), we decided to venture further afield on the fourth day and hopped on the hop-on-hop-off bus which delivers you to all of the main sites in Reykjavik. Our first stop was the Perlan museum- to see the ice cave, and the view! You have to pay an additional fee to go out onto the balcony at the top of the building, but it is well worth the extra krona as you can go out as much as you like, and you get a fabulous view over the city in all directions. We went out twice, the first time just before the sun came up and then again (after a delicious salted caramel tart in the cafe) just as it appeared over the hills. The lighting in this country is incredible, I cannot describe to you how beautiful it was, just have to hope that these photos convey it.

The museum also has hidden depths- a man made ice cave in the basement!! The temperature is -15°C down there and you are taken around by a very knowledgeable tour guide who tells you that the ice came from one of the glaciers and has layers of volcanic ash running through it which can tell you how many times the volcanoes erupted depending on how deep the stripes are within the compacted ice.

Back on the bus, we hopped off near Reykjavik Zoo and Botanical Gardens which were particularly hilarious due to the lack of anything in them! Clearly this was not the time to go but we ploughed on regardless.

Once entering the zoo we were given a map telling us where all of the animals were, and we found ourselves gazing across empty fields of undisturbed snow, which gradually sent us into near hysteria as each enclosure was as empty as the next. Eventually we managed to track down the elusive creatures who were mainly hiding in little huts (probably very sensible), and said hello to the Icelandic farmland animals; sheep, goats, horses, chickens, turkeys and cows, the Icelandic pets; rabbits, guinea pigs, doves and budgerigars, and to the exotic animals; stick insects, frogs, iguanas, terrapins and bugs. My favourite were the seals playing and snoozing in their pool, and the Arctic foxes who looked very pretty all dusted with snow. With the additional sleepy reindeer and an eagle, that pretty much sums up all of the animals in the zoo!

After that we hopped back on the bus and made our way homeward. We had already decided where we wanted to eat out that evening as one of the resturants was offering a Nordic set menu of fish soup starter (poured at the table from copper saucepans), either a main dish of fish or beautifully tender lamb on mushroom risotto and a dessert of love balls.... I still don't really know what love balls are. They were a little bit like a deep fried sponge with raisins in, service with strawberries and the local skyr which was partially frozen. Utterly delicious!! All of the food in Iceland was tasty and seemed pretty designer- from the crepes which were stuffed full of ingredients and paired with different flavours of ice cream, the oreo cheesecake (which totally defeated me!) and the humble bread and butter (again, served in copper saucepans! So chic.).

Our final morning was spent wandering around the town again (of course including a trip to the crepe cafe), and this time taking the lift right to the top of Hallgrimskirkja Church just as the sun was coming up. There are about two hours of half light at either end of the day and this was enough to bring out the twinkly lights that adorn the trees and houses, sparkling right out to the distance like little glow flies. I popped my zoom lens on the camera and we zoomed right in to see some of the prettiest buildings in Reykjavik.

We said our final goodbyes to the beautiful birds that look like a cross between a Robin and a Thrush - I have been reliably informed that they are Red Wings who thrive in Iceland but can be seen in some parts of England and Scotland. We also mosied down to the water once more to see what was happening across the bay, no clouds this time, just a glorious reflection on the water. So pretty. We stayed a little while here watching the geese and other water birds bringing up crabs to have as a spiky snack before we grabbed our belongings and souvenirs and headed out to the coach to take us back to the airport.
I would really love to go back to Iceland again in the summer time and experience it without all of the snow. I imagine it would be a very different place indeed- especially as they would then have barely any darkness! The total opposite of now. Perhaps I have inspired you to visit there yourselves? I would thoroughly recommend it!

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Reykjavik Holiday: Days 1 & 2

Honestly my friends, you are very lucky I came back from my beautiful holiday to Reykjavik in Iceland. Have you ever been? It's so beautiful there- especially with the snow. Apparently there was a big snowstorm the day before we arrived so when we did arrive, it was just as the sun was coming up, and the snow was freshly laid and sparkly. The view from the plane was pretty spectacular coming in. 
The first day was a very long one, having got up at 4am to get to the airport. We flew in to Keflavik and took a coach ride to Reykjavik before checking in to our hotel and going through the usual hotel routines- open all drawers and cupboards, turn kettle on, have first mug of instant coffee (or tea in my friend's case), work out the Wifi... Does anyone else do that? It's almost like a holiday ritual. 
We had been booked on a Northern Lights tour that evening, and were picked up at 9pm along with all of the other well wrapped tourists. It's not guaranteed that you will see the lights so we were very lucky! After about an hour of waiting, things began to happen in the black, starry sky and we saw the lights!!

Funnily enough, they look absolutely nothing like these photos. The cool thing (or one of many cool things) is that the brilliant colour you see in these images only appears through a camera lens. In real life they are more of a light greenish, tinged white, moving cloud. The colour is where the solar wind reacts with the oxygen and nitrogen in the sky- if I remember rightly- but the intense colour only comes through the camera.

The lights are a little unpredictable and may not appear for very long. These lasted about twenty minutes and by the time we had journeyed back to the hotel it was 2am! 22 hours up and about!

The following day was stuffed full of amazing sights and long coach journeys. We were up relatively early considering our previous long day. First stop Thingvellir National Park, an area of outstanding beauty! The sun is visible from about 11am - 3pm so by the time we got anywhere the sun was coming up which made for the most amazing lighting. It never really got high up in the sky so there was always a kind of golden glow. At some points on the journey here, all we could see was white snow. The population of Iceland is less than the population of Manchester so I'm told, and there are just miles of un-populated, snow covered land stretching in all directions.

See how beautiful it is? The frozen lakes, snow dusted evergreen trees, sweet little houses and a picture perfect chapel. It was like constantly gazing into a postcard. Of course, what you can't see is the bitter wind and freezing temperatures. I wore two hats, two scarfs, two pairs of socks, thermal shirts and leggings, was super cold!

Second stop, the Geyser geothermal area, complete with bubbling hot springs and the very active Strokkur, the most active geyser in Iceland. It shoots water up nearly every ten minutes, which involves quite funny scenes of tourists all standing frozen around the spout hole with their cameras and phones poised and ready. It's a surprise every time it explodes!

And third stop, Gullfoss waterfall. By this point it was about 3.30pm so the sun had set, but there are approximately two hours of twilight either side of sunrise and sunset so it doesn't get dark straight away. There were some amazing sunrises this holiday.

So much water!! We didn't stay all that long at the waterfall because it was super cold by this point and we couldn't get much closer than this. Impressive though huh?
The way home was a little stressful as the weather had turned nasty over the roads back to Reykjavik. We were about an hour and a half away in the countryside and although the weather wasn't obviously awful where we were, the two main roads back into the city had been closed by the time we reached them. It's part of a preventative system they have to avoid accidents and allow for the roads to reopen as soon as the weather has cleared up. This left us with the third, loooong way around which was also still a little iffy. One coach had already got in trouble and slid off the road (no one was hurt and other coaches rescued the passengers- they all pull together in times of need), and the smaller cars were sliding around all over the shop. It took us 4 hours to get back to the hotel, so much excitement.

Do join me again for my next post about the remaining holiday days!