Monday, 8 October 2018

Christmas Crackers

Things have gone Christmas crackers in my little stitchscape world as I stitch up a storm of Christmas decorations ready for the various festive shows and events I am attending in November/December time. You can never start this too early, and I have plans to stitch even more things before these events, although only have about four weeks left until the next (big!) one.
These decorations are made in 10cm (4") embroidery hoops and I did make several of them last year, a couple of which still remain. As I am also teaching classes on these little beauties, I made several examples of layouts which I have now stitched, and then I discovered a little stash of hoops which I am also stitching up. In total I shall have about 20 finished pieces hopefully by the end of the week adding all of them together.

I am feeling particularly chuffed this evening as I have sat myself down today and finished two! The one pictured here which is my new favourite with it's scandi style bird print and bronze snowflakes, and also the similarly coloured one that is pictured in the top photo as unfinished. The lovely navy blue and bronze is an interesting colour choice for Christmas decorations but I think they look really modern, and I love the sweet little bird print on this fabric. The metallic bronze DMC thread is an exact match for the bronze on the fabric print and I am really pleased with how different they look as I'm hoping there will be something for everyone's Christmas style.

Metallic thread can be a nightmare to work with though! Even though I cut shorter lengths and try to be very smooth in the way I work with it, the threads get tangled up around each other or catch and stretch then split into the various different fibres that make up the thread composition. You end up with a fluffy mess at the end of each thread length, but as long as none of this appears on the front- and you cover up the back- no one will know!

These are the ones from this year's little collection so far (apart from this evening's final finish) and I really like the variety of colours. It turns out that I have a lot more Christmas themed fabrics than I thought I did as all sorts of things turned up when I raided my stash. I have found more glittery, metallic yarns that I can use as well so I am having great fun adding sparkles to these pieces.
I was discussing them with someone the other day, saying how they are more whimsical pieces than any sort of landscape, but she assured me that the landscape element was still visible within them, and that many of them could still be deemed as a landscape with trees and foreground, with sparkly snow and flakes coming down and settling on the floor.

The basic structure and composition of them is the same in each one with four layers of fabric cut and stitched on top of each other. The focus for me here is how the colours of the layers work together, and I occasionally fussy-cut around a particular aspect of the fabric pattern, such as a big snowflake or Christmas tree which then also enhances the piece and creatures an area of interest.

Once the stitching on the front is down, the pieces are reset in their hoops and the backs drawn up with circular running stitch. A circle of felt is whip stitched to the drawn up fabric at the back, leaving a lovely neat finish ready for displaying.
I have four left to finish in this little batch, two very red themed ones, one a more traditional green and red, and one a slightly more unusual muted green and reddish one (you can see what I mean in the top image). I shall see when I've finished them how I feel about stitching some more, but my fingers may need a break for a few days afterwards as my fingertips currently have holes in them!!

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Shropshire Holiday:: Days 6 - 8

Day Six::

We travelled the furthest distance from our holiday home we'd been all week in our quest for Roman remains! The City of Chester started out as a Roman fort known as Castra Deva, 'the military camp on the River Dee' and there are still a surprising amount of remains visible around the city. We walked the entire circle of Roman walls encompassing the city centre (apart from a section being renovated which meant we had to follow the diversion route in place), which takes you past the race track, through the high street, past the cathedral, over the canal.... it's a really interesting route to follow with information points dotted along it.
You can also visit the largest amphitheatre in England (although there isn't a lot to show for it now) as well as several other sites and museums. I didn't take very many photos on my camera as we were doing a spot of shopping, drinking coffee, eating lunch and just meandering through the town which has very pretty, antiquated buildings- lots of them Tudor looking- all sort of lopsided and un-centred. If you want to go shopping in lots of posh shops this is a good place to go! All the high brow, big brand names were there.

Day Seven::

Old Oswestry Hill Fort is one of Britain's best preserved hill forts with the ditches and ramparts clearly visible (although personally I think it could do with some lawn-mowing and trimming to make them easier to see). All around the fort site are lumps and bumps in the fields which could be signs of previous settlements- where's Time Team when you need them? There isn't much here other than these huge earthworks as there isn't anything in the flat space at the top where the occupation would have been, but it seems a popular spot for dog walking!

It would be really interesting to see some of the structures put back into this space to make it clearer what life would have been like to actually live up here. Once we'd done a quick lap of the site and discussed what the many lumps and bumps may have been in the surrounding countryside, we hopped back into the car and moved on to our next destination.

Next stop was Whittington Castle which is looked by the community and is free to enter but you have to pass the guard swans before you can get in. We still had quite a bit of duck food left so were happy to offer it up to the inhabitants as payment. Swans are a bit bullyish when it comes to feeding them food. They don't actually want to eat it themselves but they don't particularly want anyone else to have it so we had to keep circling around to avoid them and their nippy ways.

The castle was originally completely surrounded by water, with various parts of the castle on different islands which could be retreated to and cut off if they were invaded. All that's left are a couple of pools of water and a partial moat at the front of the castle by the gate towers but it would probably have looked quite lovely (like an English Venice) with a garden on one island, buildings on another island, gate towers and defensive buildings on another island....

(Headless swans in the moat!)

Since our day was spent mostly on the outskirts of Oswestry, we thought we would re-visit the town itself (we'd been there on a previous day for the market) and wandered around the church, popped in to the visitor's centre, Poundland.... I didn't take very many photos on my camera during this though.

Day Eight::

Our going home day! We'd packed the night before, had our last fire in the fire pit and used up all of the wood, said our goodbyes to the temperamental freezer, ate leftover apple and pear crumble for breakfast and tumbled into the car.
As with our journey on the way up, we had planned a place to visit on the way home again to break up the journey, and went to Coughton Court, a National Trust owned Tudor house with a really fabulous garden!

The inside of the house was very impressive and it has several royal connections through the Throckmorton family. Bess Throckmorton was Lady-in-Waiting to Queen Elizabeth I and secret wife of Sir Walter Raleigh, both of whom were sent to the Tower of London by the Queen when this little fact was discovered. Raleigh was later beheaded in 1618. In one of the towers of the house is the gruesome sight of a head in a red bag on a chair (not a real head) which stems from rumours that Bess supposedly carried his embalmed head around with her in a red leather sack. Lovely!
There is also a rather large connection to Guy Fawkes and the gunpowder plot, when Catholic plotters attempted to assassinate King James I by blowing up Parliament in 1605. Robert Catesby and Francis Tresham were nephews of Thomas Throckmorton, and Robert and Thomas Wintour were also related to the Throckmorton family. All four were heavily involved in the plotting of the assassination, and there is an extended family tree exhibited in one of the rooms at Coughton showing how many other members of the family were involved in the plot and subsequently executed, either caught at the time or tracked down later. It's nearly all of the men in the family at the time!
Arms, ammunition and horses were stored in the grounds waiting for the uprising that was supposed to follow a successful assassination of James I and his government, but instead it was in the gatehouse that the family and their associates received word of the failure....and their doom. Dun, dun, duuuuuuun!!!!! 

What's really interesting is that you can get up onto the roof of the court! The grounds stretch out around you and you can clearly see the two churches in the grounds, the catholic one much bigger and more impressive, built after you were allowed to be openly catholic again. There is a priest hole on one of the towers which, when discovered, still had a pillow, blanket, tapestry and leather altar hidden away in it!

The gardens are particularly lovely and include a walled garden, lake, knot garden, vegetable garden, orchard and bog garden. The walled garden was opened by Alan Titchmarsh! There are areas focusing on different colours and different themes which give the impression of different rooms. You enter and leave under a walkway of grapes dripping from the vines, into a larger space which splits off into pathways dotted with roses and archways, hops growing up one support and wisteria up the next.

One particular section had a long strip of grass up the centre and a purple and pink coloured flowerbed stretching the length of the right hand side.

On the other side was a hot flower bed with yellows, orange and red flowers. It was spectacular!

It was such a lovely place to stop off and finish our week away. My camera is stuffed full of photos of the gardens and all of the flowers- very inspirational for colour combinations for my stitchscapes!
I hope that you have enjoyed travelling along with me on our little holiday!