Thursday, 29 May 2008

Mustard mummy

Back in March my sister had given me some of these mustard Amy Butler prints, because she knew that I loved them...but any sewing activity with them has been slow in coming as I couldn't decide quite what to make with them. Then I saw that Laurie had made a delicious version of the Sophia bag with hers and I suddenly felt much more inspired (although sadly not inspired to make a Sophia bag, as although I have the pattern, feedback seems to be that it is a little more 'involved' than my patience will cope with). So I made a summer version of the sling bag that I have made so many times before. I love this bag - I love that it only has one strap so it never falls off my shoulder, and I also love that it sits under my arm so perfectly that it becomes self-closing, dispensing with the need for fastenings.

As you may have spotted, Laurie's lovely creation wasn't the sole inspiration for making a bag from this fabric - acquiring a mustardy-coloured skirt had something to do with it too...I am wary though, for one doesn't like to be too matchy-matchy in one's accessories...do you think it is permissible to wear them together or should they be taken out on strict wardrobe rotation?

These pictures are courtesy of my lovely little zebra-girl who photographs me displaying my creations with such wonderful humour. Oh no, she will squeal looking onto the display, that one is so blurry, let me take another. I've cut your head off, she will warble delightedly before calling Dinosaur-boy over to look. I love that when I upload these photos most of them are of a blurred me bent double with laughter.

We are now half-way through our week off and it's going far too fast. We have been swimming, gone to craft-activity groups held at the library, have a sleepover planned for tonight, and yesterday visited our local ceramics studio with Grandmama. It was the first time that I've dared to take Dinosaur-boy along with us, as his attention span for painting and drawing has always been fleeting. But he surprised me by spending a whole hour daubing his rabbity egg-cup. He was so proud of his work that I can't wait to see it looking shiny and glazed with an egg sat in it. Zebra-girl painted a cupcake pot with smarties on top.

We arrived horribly late for our session though and although we were told that it didn't matter and that we should take our time, I rushed my coaster as I had no idea that Dinosaur-boy would sit happily for so long. I had taken along some Heather Bailey fabric for inspiration, but wish that I had spent longer marking out the pattern first as it lacks the clean lines that makes her print so pleasing...

I do love these colours together though, so I'm still excited to see what it looks like once it's been fired.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Living in colour

When my mother used to tell me stories about her own childhood, the mental images that accompanied those stories were always in black and white. I had seen photographs from when she was small and instead of surmising that colour film had yet to be invented or become mainstream, I just unthinkingly assumed that everything was actually black, white and shades of grey in those days. I remember the occasion when she told me a story about a brightly-coloured item of clothing that she'd been wearing and it suddenly clicked that they must have actually had colour! And although the obvious fact of this revelation has remained with me, a little of my misconception must have lingered in part, for when at the weekend my mother-in-law showed me some embroidered table cloths made by her own grandmother, I was struck by a disbelief that something made over 100 years ago could be quite so vividly coloured.

This butterfly is a very small part of the tablecloth. It is absolutely beautiful and so perfectly made. As I was photographing it, Zebra-girl came outside and looked at the work and as she touched the butterfly's wings I told her how old they were and that it was her great, great, grandmother who had made it. Wow, she said. Quite! She was amazed...but I should add that she clearly thought it perfectly normal that they had coloured things a century ago...thank goodness.

We went on a long walk over the weekend and came across this tree house high up in a tree. It was very professionally made and too good not to investigate further, though unfortunately my ballet shoes have suffered for my adventures.

I came across two exciting things on the Internet at the end of last week: the first of which has been added as a high-priority item to my Amazon wishlist, for in October (what more Autumn goodness could a girl wish for?) the much talked about Marie Claire Idees will be publishing a book of 45 bag patterns: Simply Irresistible Bags: 45 Designs for Going Out, Looking Chic, and Shopping Green. Could there be a more exciting publication? From the preview pictures, of which there are quite a few, it looks like it will be quite wonderful. The second piece of excitement was slightly more of an anti-climax once I realised the event was further away than I wished to travel, but I thought I'd mention it just in case anyone else is in the vicinity who might wish to go: I read on the wonderful Five Valleys Fabric website that they will be hosting a visit from Amy Butler herself, where she will be presenting and talking about her new Midwest Modern collection. In some ways it is a complete relief that this event is out of range, for it is never a nice vision to have of oneself fawning hopelessly over someone, which is what would inevitably be the case if I were to meet Ms Butler. Instead I shall hope that someone else goes and subjects themself to that and is good enough to blog about it afterwards. Oh to be cool as a cucumber around those I admire. Which reminds me of one of my favourite sibling anecdotes: at a book launch for a very serious and incredibly famous and well-respected author, my sister, Laura, presented him with a copy of his book that she hoped he might sign. What would you like me to write in it, he asked. She thought for a moment and then replied: I wonder if you wouldn't mind writing 'For Laura, with thanks for the inspiration'.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Additions to my corner...

Today I finally got around to putting up my wall-hung thread rack. It has taken me a long time to hunt down some mirror plates small enough to mount it with...you wouldn't think they were that hard to come by, but they have proved to be most elusive. I finally found them in a wonderful little independent hardware shop that gave them to me completely free, as I realised I'd put all my change into a parking meter and they didn't take credit cards...so kind!

I'm sure you can imagine quite how much fun, and how entirely satisfying it was to load up the rack and fiddle around with colour order. My dream is for one day each spool of thread to have a bobbin sitting beneath it loaded with the corresponding colour...can you imagine how dreamy that arrangement would make the prospect of threading up one's machine! A few threads already have their partners...I am so excited about my next use of those ones.

I had been thinking about moving my sewing space into the playroom once Dinosaur-boy goes to school in September, but actually I think I like it where I am in the corner of our bedroom: I have a fantastic view, inpromptu visitors don't have to see mid-project room-devastation and I don't have that horrible 'last one up the stairs' feeling if I work late at night. I've realised I just need my space to be a little better organised. I want to make a pincushion that velcros onto my machine to try and encourage myself not to just hurl pins into the air as I've finished with them, I would like to wall-mount a little pot for scissors, seam-ripper and mini-ruler, as well as a little pot where I can put stray threads. All of these things will mean that I spend less time looking for things that I have only just put down and will hopefully mean less time is spent clearing up each night.

So here is what my little corner looks like now:

I am simply loving looking in the mirror from this angle for double-bobbin fun! Heaven.

I must also tell you about a new fabric marker that I have come across recently (finding the perfect one is something of an obsession of mine). This one is made by Sewline and is apparently of 'Japanese selection'...I don't know why, but it felt like that might have been written on there as a marketing ploy to make it seem a little 'cooler'...it worked, I wanted one desperately!

Anyway, this particular propelling pencil is supplied with specially formulated ceramic leads and produces the finest and clearest of lines on fabric, which you can then erase with the little rubber on the end or with a damp cloth. I have (of course) had my pencil filled with pink leads, but I believe it can be filled with things slightly less fluffy. I bought my own locally, but a quick search on the Internet tells me that they can be found here (I've never ordered from this company though, so have no idea what their service is like).

On a slightly different note, lets talk about vignetting. I am being driven to distraction by it...I had never really noticed it as a phenomenon before (and still don't when my photos are large) but while Ian's been working on creating my little shop a lot of my photos have had to be reduced down to thumbnail size and then it really is noticeable. Reading about it on the Internet just confuses me and launches me into a land of camera technicality that I don't feel mentally-equipt to enter. If you happen to be in possession of the non-technical solution, then please do tell (most especially if one must eat chocolate to make it work).

Wishing you all happy weekends...another bank holiday. Yipee! And then a whole lovely week with the little Teacakes free from their educational pods, I can't wait.

Monday, 19 May 2008

Birthday goodness

Saturday found us celebrating my father's 60th birthday. My mother had booked a dining room at one of our favourite places (a lovely boutique hotel) and they had created a wonderful menu for him full of his favourite foods (which happen to be some of mine too!). We had the most lovely day, made all the better for the presence of my childhood friend, Rhiannon, who came over from Australia. Sometimes the children and I lie in bed at the weekends and I tell them Florence & Rhiannon stories, which they love, simply because I was never naughtier than when I was in the company of Rhiannon. Their eyes become as big as saucers as they hear how as four-year-olds we painted bookshelves with a mixture of orange juice and talcum powder, and then as seven-year-olds how we sprayed our hair green and and were made to stand in the shower for an hour afterwards in a fruitless attempt by our parents to try and de-green us. The little Teacakes worriedly asked me if they might keep their bikes hidden in the garage during her visit, imaging that the person they had heard so much about might still be of the bike-stealing ilk...they completely failed to grasp that she was the same age as me, and had grown up too. Although Rhiannon's sense of fun is still so strong, that I'm quite sure she could convince me to do awful things even now...so perhaps it is for the good that our time together tends to be short.

Towards the end of last week I was busy sewing. Each morning when my father wakes he spends time doing various exercises on something approximating, but a little thicker than, a yoga-mat...but my mother had reported that it currently had him leaping around rather more energetically than he intended, as the material of the mat seemed to be giving him small electric shocks! So my plan was to make a cover for his mat. I ordered an over-sized black and white floral print into my local fabric shop and then set to work....but best-laid plans rarely go smoothly...I realised (through my own gymnastic experimentation) that the cover slipped slightly when in use and that when you rolled it up post-exercise it started bunching horribly...so my only option was to quilt the cover to the mat. My sewing desk had to be moved into the middle of the room to accommodate the unwieldy mat and my machine groaned and chomped as I made unreasonable requests of it. But somehow, as ever, it amazes me with what it can do (oh how I love my wonderful machine), and although I would have planned many aspects of it differently had I known of the many problems I would find in the making of it, it was a project just about rescued from the edge. By the time I finished it I was too exhausted to photograph it....so you will have to imagine it.

The little Teacakes did lots of lovely drawings on some fabric for me, so that I might sew over their lines and then turn the canvas into a tissue-box cover. It was relatively easy to make as it follows the same principles that one might use for making a doorstop (of which I have made many!).

Dinosaur-boy drew this rocket....

and flower....

While Zebra-girl had to be encouraged to make her drawings less intricate, for I had only a few hours to make it before it needed to be wrapped...after several failed attempts at simplicity she came up with this cat.

And wrote the message that appears on the top of the box:

As anyone who is a regular reader of this blog may recall, Mr Teacakes is normally in charge of cake-making in our house, but he had so many other things to do last week that I decided to hand the decoration over to the little Teacakes. Faced with bowls of milk & white chocolate-covered raisins, glace cherries and silver balls they discussed their design (I had expected them to just randomly put them on) and then very carefully executed it doing half the cake each and meeting in the middle.

I love these candles, which I found in Paperchase...they also sell the ones that my mother bought to go on the cake at the top of this post.

As for my 30th birthday I took the whole week for my celebrations, for his 60th, my father has, quite rightly, planned an entire year of fun. I do hope he has the most lovely time. x

Friday, 16 May 2008

Home alone...Mr Teacakes goes wild

Over the last couple of weeks we have been keeping our freezer stocked with lollies made from fresh orange juice. They are such a healthy treat for the children to eat in the sunshine...and me too. As I sat eating mine the children filled my lap up with flowers that had fallen onto the grass, disturbed from their branches by Mr Teacakes' vigorous lawn-mowing activities. Mr Teacakes has been up to other things too...left to his own devices for an hour, while I popped to the shops, I came home to find that he had cut our buddleia down to a stump...when earlier that day it had been nearly 7ft tall. I was more than a little surprised as it is not his normal way to set himself to work in the garden unprompted. I thought you would like it, he said to my grumpy face. Then I saw that the branches from the buddleia lay in a pile at the bottom of the garden, carefully stripped of their leaves and I knew then that the real reason he had taken the axe to it was that he had been filled with ideas to repurpose it! It is beyond my comprehension how he could do this...but he is forgiven because he has created something even more lovely than the buddleia ever was. At the bottom of the garden, between two trees, he has weaved branches together and bound them with twine to create a den for the children. They have swept its floor and and sit on chairs waiting for animal visitors to arrive, inspired by reading Shirley Hughes' Sally's Secret which we got out from the library on our most recent visit.

Lovely treats have arrived through my door this week. Firstly this wonderful package of fabrics from Helen, who had offered to send me some Minkee so that I might sample its softness. I was surprised and delighted to find that she had kindly filled the envelope with other fabric treats too. I was indescribably excited by the apple and pear print as it is something I have always coveted in other peoples sewing projects...so to have some of my own! It will definitely become part of an applique I think.

The Minkee is just as soft as Helen had said it was and Zebra-girl has quite fallen in love with it...so perhaps it will end up being turned into a polar bear for her to snuggle with.

Another surprise came from my father. Wonderful vintage pinking shears, still in their box.

I have never had a pair, so to have such special ones is quite wonderful. Amazingly, they cut perfectly and are completely free of rust. I love that he goes ferreting out these little treasures for me on his bargain hunting expeditions - they are always things that I really want. It is his 60th birthday today so I have been busy sewing for the last couple of days in preparation...the results of which I'll post up once he's actually unwrapped them.

And finally I thought I'd show you this little ladybird that I made for one of Zebra-girl's friends. I had been going to make her one of Molly Chicken's little Mousey and his Bed lovelies, but I know that this little girl really loves ladybirds, so I thought I'd create my own Ladybird in a Leaf for her.

A couple of days later as she sat on the sofa with Zebra-girl waiting for me to put a video on for them, she told me, completely unprompted, how much she'd liked it and that she'd taken it on a day out with her. I was so pleased and touched that she'd thought to tell me.

Wishing you all a lovely weekend. x

Thursday, 8 May 2008

She's talking about that baby again!

Permission to speak about the carved baby in my side bar just one more time? For I have the most lovely story relating to it. For those of you who have missed any mention of it here in the past, on the outer ring of Trafalgar Square there is a church called St-Martin-in-the-Fields, raised far up above the road by a long flight of shallow steps. On a tall stone plinth before the church doors there is a baby carved from stone, smooth and quite perfect, attached by it's umbilical cord to the ground that it lies on, which is, by contrast, rough and coarse. The baby is archetypal, with rounded cheeks, slightly curled toes, small clenched fists, and a wonderful plumpness to its small body. It is so perfect to me that I had never questioned how it had got there, who might have carved its little limbs, or when it might have been installed. It was just there. I have become quite attached to it and rarely visit London without also going to spend a couple of minutes marvelling at its loveliness. So you can perhaps imagine how utterly delighted and surprised I was to receive an email out of the blue from Rachel, saying that she had come to my blog as a reader of Raspberry (who had very kindly linked to me that day in her post) and that as she had scrolled down my blog she had thought it fabulous to come across a picture of the baby in my sidebar...as it was in fact her own husband, Mike, who had carved it. She included a link to her husband, Mike Chapman's, own website, which is home to even more sculpted wonderfulness. Do go and have a look...as his work is, in my opinion, just so very beautiful and I have found it fascinating reading the words that accompany the photography of his work. It also tells of a summer school that Mike runs so that he might pass some of his skills on to others...again, finding this out was a complete delight and I am quite sure that at some point in the next couple of years we will try to book Ian into this, as it is something that he would love to do.

Perhaps it's not comprehensible how excited I was to receive this email unless you too have fallen in love with this baby, but it was one of those moments when my heart felt like it was about to burst with happiness, for if I ever had thought about who might have created the infant (for some reason, I hadn't, perhaps because it looks so perfect that the idea that it had been chiseled away and formed by human hand seems quite absurd) I would probably have guessed that it was carved hundreds of years ago by a team of men....so to find that it was one man, very much alive, with the most perfectly lovely wife who reads craft blogs...well, I was stunned.

There is something so lovely about the roughness of the earth that this perfect child comes out of, as if to say that no matter what the state of our world, each child is born into it perfect and unblemished, and the fact that this is set in stone is, to me, emblematic of the certainty that this will always be. What reassurance of goodness this sculpture provides. Rachel told me that the sculpture is in fact named The Christ Child, which was created for the Millennium to celebrate the birth of Christ...which somehow threw me for a moment as, not having a faith myself, I had never imbued the baby with any religious associations...but actually, like all art works, I think any viewer will give it their own meaning and so although I'm now mindful (and I can't write that word now without smiling for, following my best-loved words giveaway, I know that it is one of Robyn's favourites) that it was created with a particular representation in mind, to me it will always more strongly hold an element of both of my own children in it, as well as the lovely innocence of infants...I love to think of it lying safely on its stony bed, blissfully unperturbed by the drunken revellers that carouse below it around Trafalgar Square on a Friday night.

I was quite fascinated by what Rachel's house must be like, as my first thought was that it must be so strange (although obviously very normal if you're Rachel!) to live with someone capable of creating things quite so extraordinarily beautiful all over your home...so of course I asked her, and it does indeed sound like their house is full of special things, (such as a stone mouse carved running up their fireplace), but actually I've come to realise that Rachel is more than capable of her own lovely creations...and I'm left convinced that if she ever chose to start a craft blog it would be full of the most wonderful things.

I think to me the coincidence of Rachel seeing her husband's work on my blog represents how far-reaching and extraordinary blogging can be...even with a relatively small readership, so many different sorts of people will pass by the pages...and ultimately the world seems very small.

I have a photo of the stone baby tucked into the frame of my mirror, next to another baby that has also become special to me. When I was a couple of months pregnant with Dinosaur-boy my sister sent me this postcard of a painting by Blaise Smith that she'd seen at the National Portrait Gallery as part of the 2003 BP Portrait Award exhibition. I adored the colours in the painting and propped it up on our bedroom fireplace in the house where we lived at that time, purely because I liked the way it looked...but a couple of months later I found that I felt incapable of taking the postcard down; I had looked at this baby each day and become more familiar with its face, the folds of the blanket that it lay beneath and most especially had come to treasure the pose of its hands, so much so, that it seemed to have come to represent the baby growing in my own ever-expanding middle.

The reassurance of seeing this baby each day, sleeping beneath an identical checked wool blanket to the one that was folded in my airing cupboard, was great. It is only more recently, that a very dear friend walked into our room and looked at the pictures propped in the mirror frame, and commented, horrified, that the baby's slightly grey, lifeless skin made it appear to be dead...I can see exactly what she means, but to me it is a happy contented picture, proving as I had said earlier, that every person will view an artwork differently. For me this baby sleeping so sweetly has become so muddled with my memories of Dinosaur-boy sleeping in his crib that it is as much one of his childhood photographs as any that actually picture his true self.

And while I'm on the subject of babies...I've just read Lisa's latest Craft Boom post where she interviews Amy Butler and have seen that her next book is focused around patterns for mother and child 0-12 months..,what an incredibly powerful incentive to have more babies...but no, I will buy it in September when it is published and make things instead for the lovely babies of friends.

I also must say that my sister has drawn it to my attention that I have recently only blogged once in two weeks...sometimes real life crashes in to such an extent that blogging temporarily takes a back seat...but I feel I ought to apologise for the huge amount of unanswered emails and messages (currently over 300) and the fact that I haven't commented for so long on so many of my favourite blogs. I am delighted by every single one of the comments that people are kind enough to take the time to leave, and I have enjoyed catching up with so many of the wonderful blogs that are my daily reads on Bloglines...but time feels sparse at the moment and my mind is elsewhere, so I hope you won't mind if I am temporarily a little un-interactive!

Wishing you all a lovely weekend in the sunshine.

Florence x

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Meeting the people in my laptop...

On Saturday I spent the day in London with Joanne (Today we are...), Helen (Angharad) and Lisa (U-handbag). How odd it was to walk into Le Pain Quotidien, and on seeing them gathered around a table, to instantly feel as though I were meeting with old friends, rather than new. After a leisurely breakfast we walked a little way down the street to Liberty, and as we oohed and ahhed over things I was struck by quite how much fun and how very 'right' it is to go haberdashery shopping with others so equally obsessed by buttons and fabrics...it is also interesting to see which fabric bolts others are drawn to...we all seemed to have slightly different tastes and requirements for different projects...but we all ended up buying many of the same buttons.

I bought Zebra-girl and Dinosaur-boy an enormous glassy heart-shaped button each, that sparkle in the most gaudy and unsubtle way. They have been so well-loved since my home-coming that they have worn away much of the silver backing...the result of being clasped tightly in sweaty little palms.

After Liberty we went to The Cloth House (where all the above photos were taken), where they have the most wonderful washing line window-display. Inside I found this shoe last...I had only mentioned to Joanne five minutes earlier (on seeing the most exquisite and exorbitantly priced example in Liberty) how much I was coveting one, so imagine my delight when I saw a hamper laden with them, beneath a handwritten sign saying that one could be mine for only £5! Lisa may well remember my delight, for I very nearly up-ended her in my dash to rummage in the basket!

I wonder though, after wishing for a wooden last for well over a year, what I might actually do with it in reality. I had imagined that it may look nice by the fireplace...but actually it just looks a bit strange; as though a one-legged friend may have come to visit and left a vital bit of his walking apparatus on the hearth.

It seemed like we were shopping for quite some time...but when I looked at my watch I realised that we had dispensed with that activity fairly rapidly and instead wisely spent nearly the entire afternoon in Patisserie Valerie, where there were so many wonderful delights to choose from, that I became quite paralysed by indecision and in the end settled for a chocolate mouse that I had felt fairly ambivalent about. Happily though, my mouse exceeded all possible expectations...it was smooth, thick and quite exceptionally delicious, although requesting it was less enjoyable. Opening my mouth and uttering the words 'I'd like a chocolate mouse please' without snorting with laughter, as our lovely waiter, Adrian, jotted down our order (whom we became quite fascinated and thrilled by over the course of our prolonged visit) was trickier than you might first think. He delighted me by offering me a fork to eat my mouse with though. I declined. By the time we stood up to leave my face was aching from having laughed so much.

In the evening we wandered over to Waterstones 5th View Bar in Piccadilly where we chose to sample some of the drinks from their extensive cocktail menu, although unfortunately I was still nursing a hangover from the previous night so I was a little unadventurous in my ordering. Then suddenly it was very late and we all had to get back to our homes...as we were walking through Trafalgar Square, Lisa and Joanne remembered the wonderful carved baby that I mention in my sidebar (eyes right)....I was so pleased. I hadn't had time to go and visit it in the morning and it feels odd to be near without doing so. After admiring its lovely little stone form we saw that the doors were still open to St Martins...and so took the opportunity to go and gaze at its old pews and wonderful ceilings...we pondered on what paint they might have used to make it appear to look both so white, and so warm.

On the train home I tried to keep myself from sleeping by reading an article about Dolly Parton printed in the weekend newspaper, but I only succeeded in reading the same line over and over again, punctuated by 2-second naps. It was only a fear of what a night spent at the end of the train line might hold that kept me partially awake.

In the morning Zebra-girl and Dinosaur-boy, sparkly buttons in hand, wanted to see pictures from our day...but I realised that I had hardly any that included Helen, Lisa or Joanne...which is what they wanted to see (not more of Mummy's boring still-life-of-a-button shots)...how awful, this means we will have to recreate the whole day at some point.....more cake, more fabrics, more chatting, more giggling! It will be hellish.