charles de lint

The last few weeks I’ve been re-reading some of my favourite books by the author Charles de Lint.  He’s a fantasy writer but it’s not dwarves, barbarians, metal bikini clad hotties, elves or hobbity quests….he’s most popularly known now for his “urban fantasy” books set in the made up city of Newford……

Some years ago a customer came into the shop where I was working at the time and was all pleased because he had just found a Charles de Lint book in a charity shop.  I said I’d never heard of him and he was “ohhh try this, I think you’d like it”…I kept the book for a while and then realised I’d had it for nearly a year and hadn’t even read the first page, so that evening when I went to bed I opened the book and some hours later looked up to find it was about 2 in the morning and I had been absolutely spellbound…that book was Memory and Dream and remains my favourite book by him (maybe because it was my first, but also because it is just a wonderful read )….it’s about a young artist called Isabelle who learns how to make her paintings come alive… various points in the book her paintings are described so incredibly that I find I can close my eyes and see them.  I’ve now re read this book so many times that my copy barely holds itself together but if I was going to be on a desert island I’d definitely want to take this book.

There are a whole series of his books set in Newford and the same group of characters crop up in them, I think everyone’s favourite being Jilly Coppercorn, there are three books written about her (The Onion Girl, Widdershins and Promises to Keep) but I would recommend trying those later, partly because I think it’s better to have read more about the character of Jilly beforehand, and also she is older in two of them so it fits the time line of the books better.  Memory and Dream is a really good place to start, other ones to try are “Someplace to be Flying”, “Trader” and “Forests of the Heart”…..

Other characters who turn up in various stories include Geordie Riddle (he’s a musician) his brother Christy (a writer), Sophie and Wendy (friends of Jilly…. in fact there are very few people in Newford that Jilly doesn’t seem to know) Joseph Crazy Dog (he’s part canid and corbae and is just one of a group of characters who fit in with Native American mythological characters) and Cerin and Meran Kelledy (musicians) who first start out in one of his more traditional fantasy stories.

There are a few short story collections about Newford as well as various novels, my favourite of these being “Tapping the Dream Tree”.

jonathan carroll

As well as Charles de Lint, I also like Jonathan Carroll, again, he’s more of a contemporary fantasy writer…….he is a wonderfully descriptive writer and I don’t think I’ve ever nodded off whilest reading any of his books…… I guess my favourites by him are what are called “The Answered Prayers Sextet” and include Sleeping in Flame, Bones of the Moon, Bones of the Moon and what is possibly my favourite book by him …Outside the Dog Museum.

Like the Charles de Lint book, these stores have a few characters in them who cross over from other books, sometimes only briefly, other times staying in the story longer…possibly the best character is the wonderful shaman called Venasque who makes the best sandwiches ever and who lives with a pig and a dog and can teach you to fly (but only if you need to know how…and really, most people don’t need to)……

Where as the Charles de Lint books have more of a happier ending (not “happy ever afters” like in fairy tales but where you can imagine how peoples stories and lives can continue…..) the Jonathan Carroll stories tend to be more…disruptive. They don’t have comfortable endings or even are themselves always comfortable reading…. some of the images from White Apples stayed with me for ages (think I slept with the bed side light on that night….not because the book was scary but more because the imagery was just so uncomfortable and weird…. it’s an amazing story, maybe I shouldn’t have been reading it just before bed….

His collection of short stories called “The Panic Hand” is one of the best short story collections I’ve read….unsettling would be a good way to describe his stories, weird and odd and beautiful things happen in them (my favourite short story by him is called “Mr Fiddlehead” which is about a woman falling in love with her best friends invisible friend from childhood, who, when the friend has marriage problems appears as a gorgeous grown man who eats plum stones, makes gold jewellery and can only keep around if the friend remains unhappy, so between them they wonder what would make her the most unhappy, something horrible happening to her husband or perhaps to one of her children ……it’s so chillingly awful and made my eyes grow huge reading it.

wuthering heights

Another favourite book I like to read each year is Wuthering Heights* (I’ve still to see a film or adaptation that does this story justice)…’s a perfect book for reading when Summer has changed into Autumn, and the nights grow shorter, when the weather becomes wild, wet and windy….. sometimes I bundle up and sit and read a few chapters outside on a park bench…once my nose and fingertips are numb I go to my favourite coffee shop and have a big latte or a hot chocolate to recover from my “extreme reading” experience….

When you try to explain the story it sounds like the characters are all a bit crazy….certainly Kathy is what my nanny would have called “highly strung” and as for Heathcliff, my head shakes as I hear him described as a great romantic from literature, he beats up his wife, hangs a dog in a fit of temper, is abusive and violent to pretty much all those around him, he kidnaps a child and forces her into marriage with his sickly son, who he then basically leaves to die…….he’s just terrible…..but on the page…..on the page he’s mesmerising, he sweeps you up along with his Kathy, wild passions and embraces……(perhaps this is why books are so wonderful, our mind allows us to filter out that we don’t like so much in a character, it’s not so easy when it is staring at us on screen……) for me it is Hareton Earnshaw who captured my heart the very first time I read the book, one of my favourite passages is when Catherine Linton (Kathy’s daughter by her husband Edgar) puts some primroses into Hareton’s porridge, and he eats them so as not to let Heathcliff know and make him lose his temper.

*as much as I love love love this book….when I hear those words it’s not Emily Bronte’s book I first think of but the Kate Bush song which has to be my all time favourite song in the world…..if I was on a desert island then that would be the record I’d save from the tides… soon as it starts I’m covered in goosebumps and end up singing along to it, and doing a little Kate Bush-esque dance if there is no one watching!

love and kisses


I’m still all enamoured and head over heals with the V and A fabric (it’s made by Rowan fabrics) and thought it was the perfect choice to use in this block.

The tiny blue flowers in both prints make me think of forget me nots which I thought was most apt for a block called Love and Kisses.  Although it didn’t really matter which way up the deeper red fabric was placed, the striped print looked best running from top to bottom, so when I pieced the patchwork together I made sure no pieces were accidentally sewn horizontally.


state fair


This coraly green combination is called State Fair, it’s another nine patch block and was pieced in sections, mainly working on the diagonal…sometimes it’s a bit like putting together the pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, it’s easier to make small sections before fitting them together.

The green floral print is a Lecien fabric and is….one of my favourites, it’s a slightly heavier weight to sew but the quality of the Lecien fabrics is so good this isn’t a problem.

Think I’ve now sewn 112 mini blocks for “dear ethel“……just nine more to go………

autumn leaves 1


I never mind the couple of miles walk into the city, this time of year I like it more than usual…the sides of the pavement are piled with fallen Autumn leaves, and there colours are beautiful and bright…..ochres and fawn, soft mushroomy colours interspersed with flamey reds and oranges, golds and saffron…..


autumn leaves 2


It’s been sunny and warm this week so the leaves are faded and are soft hues rather than breathtakingly bright….but no rain means the leaves are crisp and crunchy underfoot….there’s something about piles of leaves that I can’t resist, needing to stand on them to feel and hear them scrunch underfoot….it’s something I’ve never grown out of liking, so even when I was little, and then went through the sulking goth years, the trying to be cool fashion student, days where the world is grey and hearts are broken……..I’ve always been unable to resist the appeal and charm of kicking around a pile of leaves……it’s even better if you have a friend to do it with.


autumn leaves 3


The brown and orangey hues are a constant source of delight, even though I know Summer is ending and there won’t be many days left before I’ll be draped and cocooned in scarves and mitten, right now I’m enjoying seeing different colours after the lush green of Summer.

Back home, I’m being drawn to embroidery threads and wool in shades and hues that reflect the colours I’m seeing when I’m out walking…….




Other delights nestling amongst the fallen leaves are fat round conkers, gleaming and bright, my pockets get filled as I take them home (in part because our cat loves to play with them, but also I’ve been told that spiders don’t like conkers….I’m not sure if this is true but as I’m not a fat of anything with so many legs I’m happy to try anything)……




And I noticed this fern growing out of a wall on my last walk, I thought the combination of such a bright green against the bluey grey wall looked magnificent.

five spot


I’ve just finished piecing another three blocks for dear ethel….this is a nine patch block called “five spot”……the floral print is one I’ve had for ages and is a favourite (and yes I say that about nearly all the fabrics in “dear ethel” but that is really what I wanted it made up of…small pieces of favourite fabrics left over from other quilts…with a few newer fabrics that make my heart sing popped in for good measure)…and I love the yellow fabric too, it makes me think so much of warm summer afternoons when the air is filled with the soft drone of bees and I’m eating lemon curd and cream covered scones on the back doorstep.


aunt dinah


Another nine patch block (most of the blocks for dear ethel are based on nine patches (they seemed to suit the size I was working to better than the four patch, though there are a few of those included along the way)…this one is called Aunt Dinah (wasn’t Dinah a cat in Alice in Wonderland?) anyway the golden yellow is a Lecien print from there folklore collection (definitely one of my new favourite fabrics) and the peacock feather fabric is a tana lawn cotton, it’s quite old and was picked up in a bundle of other old fabrics from a junk shop in the city.  There wasn’t enough to do much with it (I’ve got plans at some point to incorporate some into a bib on a dress) but thought it worked well with the Lecien print.

This is definitely a block for Autumn, golden and copper, it’s afternoons spent in tea shops with plates of toasted tea cakes and cinnamon butter, a fat teapot on the table, steam gently filling the air as you pour out a cup of tea…..


new album


Lastly this block is called “new album”, it’s also called Cedars of Lebanon which I think is just one of the most beautiful names……maybe on reflection I should have made it using shades of green……anyway I like the mix of oranges and red with the tiny blue blossoms peeping through…..the pale orangey floral print was in the same junk shop bundle as the peacock fabric…there was a fair amount of this, enough I think for a blouse at least (I’m imagining tiny fabric covered buttons and pin tucks down the front).

I love reading the names of blocks, it’s funny how some seem to have as many names as you could imagine and then others just have the one….many blocks have the same name, other-times it’s just the one block (such as Cedars of Lebanon)……by changing the placement of light and dark fabrics the block changes name (a good example of this is “square and points” and “evening star”.  Where “square and points” is generally a dark print on a lighter background, “evening star” (also known as “cluster of stars” ) is the same block but this time it’s a light star on a dark background.

The names are almost like a secret language, a special code….like hidden meanings in bunches of posies, or semaphore hidden in an exotic dance (a reference there to the brilliant “2 Sisters – Super Spy graphic novel by Matt Kindt)…….a new quilt is tickling at the edge of my mind, for now it’s just a few scribbles, and hastily scrawled notes in the margins of a sketchbook.



Now the weather is slowly changing, Summer is coming to a close (though this week we’ve been having some truly magnificent September sunshine which is much appreciated) and Autumn is definitely making herself known……leaves on the ground are scrunchy, crisp and crunchy, fantastic oranges and yellows and rich browns……best of all are the mushrooms peeping up through the woody covering….. I think these ones look fantastic, their gills are so defined, and look so mushroomy.

Many look more like something wonderous and magickal you’d expect to see on the work table of Mister Finch than that growing quietly under plum trees and hedgerows…..


mushroom 1


This one is a poisonous one and is a Deathcap (Amanita phalloides) ……… it’s a sickly green shade and although it isn’t pretty it looked stunning growing under the hedgerow.


mushroom 2


In fact there were a couple growing, they looked amazing, that yellowy green was actually quite intense under the light of the trees and looked really eerie and definitely wasn’t something you’d want to be eating.  But there was something quite captivating about their elegant shape and that slightly sickly green..


mushroom 3


I’m always amazed at how the woody floor changes within a couple of days….earlier in the week there was nothing and now it seems every few steps there are new fungi and mushrooms pushing up through mulch and leaves….. I love their shape and colour though am not confident enough to pick any for cooking……I’d rather enjoy their beauty as they grow (though mushrooms are a favourite food and I could happily eat them round the clock)


mushroom 4


And it’s not just under shaded canopies of trees and under hedges, even in the open on the verges into the city, masses of mushrooms are growing, maybe because we’d had a little rain the day before but the grass was full of soft shades of brown, umber, fawn, chamoisee, buff and camel, taupe, tawny and sienna……weird shapes growing, stretching upwards out of the green.


mushroom 5


These look like something Gaudi could have designed, in their cluster they look so architectural….. they were a beautiful soft velvety brown with speckled tops…the verge was covered in them.





square and star


I’ve finished piecing three more little blocks for “dear ethel“…. these ones are all named with squares and stars in mind…. this block is called “Square and star” and uses a beautiful red V and A print from Rowan fabrics, it’s a new favourite and I’m hoping at some point to be able to make a frock using this fabric…I think it’s just gorgeous…..this block is a four patch block (meaning it divides into four blocks though actually it’s more of a 4 x 4 block being worked over 16 small sections).  I really like how the fabrics compliment each other with their leafy patterns.


amish star


Using the Rowan fabric again, this time I’ve mixed it in with the golden “my folklore” collection print from Lecien…..this block is called “Amish Star”, it’s a nine patch block (meaning the design of it is worked over nine blocks)….I like how the central star radiates outwards.  Although both fabrics seem a whole world apart in print, both are floral are I think blend together beautifully.  Mustardy gold and red is a definite favourite combination of colours.


garden square


And the last block in this little group is called “Garden Square”…it’s another nine patch block and uses a mix of prints and fabrics.  I kept to one colour and played around with shades and hues….initially I tried using four very different colours but it looked a bit garish and felt the blues worked better.  I thought the tiny animal print helped bring the blues together (even though I have this print in blue, I just thought it looked fresher using the creamy white)




We’ve just got home after going for a Sunday afternoon stroll….the weather was perfect, sunny and bright, not too hot, just glorious.  We had a basket and were picking blackberries for a pudding (I’m trying out a blackberry clafoutis for tonight’s tea) when all of a sudden I realised part of the blackberry bush to where I was standing was making a noise…I stepped back and realised I was face to face with this little fellow, who was fair stuffing his face with blackberries…..he was so content and paid no heed at all to us.  We decided to move on and leave the rest of the berries to him.




After walking round the edge of the pasture, we went through a swing gate and walked along this little shaded piece of lane….lane is probably too fancy a word, it’s just a path, dappled in sunlight, trees and bushes meet overhead…’s so quiet then whoosh a train goes by.   The train track runs along the back of the left side hedge.


shady tree


The right side is full of trees in shade, from the corner of my eye I see small birds flitting among the undergrowth…..




The canopy overhead breaks open and when we turn round there is this lovely metal curved arch, honeysuckle grows up one side, the other side is covered with fat blackberries (which soon find a home in my tummy)…I love the glint of metal amongst the green.




Squatting down to look at other plants we find these fat round mushrooms, I have no idea what they are, they look like fat bird eggs because they are speckled….they nestle in amongst delicate yarrow leaves which look like dainty green feathers.




We walked along the river path which meanders and twists, we came round the corner and found our way today blocked by a small herd of cows.  Oddly I was just about to say “ohh, do you think cows ever get up this high” (the path overlooks the marshes by a good few feet) so we turned back and chose a different route….




Walking back from the cows I noticed these wild hops growing by the side of the path…not enough to brew a beer I’m afraid…they had a soft sweet smell.




Part of the pathway behind the train track… was filled with sunlight and shadows….the bushes on one side are full of dark fat sloes…think it’s going to be a good year for those as well as the blackberries.




We came across this great chap, I love gnarly trees and this one looks splendid…I think the twisted turning trunk is amazing, it’s like super fancy cable knitting.




We walked a slightly different way home, a path that’s normally boggy was dry enough to walk on, and we found loads more sloes and blackberries….I think how the trees and bushes meet up over our heads looks wonderful, the sunlight is dappled and the trees and leaves form beautiful shadows.




Thick green moss grows on the trees, it’s so soft and springy to the the touch.  The most gorgeous intense green…..I love it….I always have to touch it because it feels so nice and velvety.




And more mushrooms, like a fat cluster of brown hen eggs.  Their caps are a beautiful fawn colour, a warmer brown on top.  The colours now, at the end of Summer, and the very start of Autumn are possibly my favourite hues….. flame and fire of fallen leaves and the soft,warm brown of mushrooms, combined with bright red and the deep, dark purples of hedgerow berries.

little bridge


Another marshy meander….this is a slightly quicker route to the blackberries…..the pasture was a tad squishy underfoot as we’d had a lot of rain, and it was a bit churned up from whwere the cows had been……but it’s still passable, another month or so and this will be a strictly wellies only route….when it rained so much at the start of the year this meadow was completely under water ……….. I love this little bridge, it’s a bit of a tight fit at the other end!


purple loosestrife


The purple loosestrife is still blossoming, it grows here in great swathes, colouring the meadows a gorgeous byzantine purple.


tufted vetch


And the tufted vetch shows no sign of slowing up either, it’s almost as abundant here as the bluebells I saw in the woods back at Easter.

This is probably my favourite of the wild flowers, actually I like all the vetches but the tufted vetch is my favourite soft hue, I ove how the tendrils curl in the the air and their delicate leaves float and tremble at the slightest of breezes.


walking through the rushes


Walking home I come through the rushes, a walkway has been cleared so the rushes and reeds constantly rustle either side…..the reeds and rushes grow really tall, over 6 ft so you are quite enclosed as you are walking along.




The reeds sway and rustle in the breeze……


reeds and meadowsweet


Amongst the reeds the meadowsweet grows taller than out on the more open pastures and marshes…….every so often I saw dragonflies and damselflies perched on a white frothy flowerhead.

The rushes move and sway, the noise is reminiscent of dry finger tips being brushed together….they  remind me of horse tails and of wild manes being tossed, perhaps this is where stories of kelpies and horse sprites on marshes and riversides originate from…


reeds in the breeze


Sunlight flickers on the reeds, rushes and sedges as they dance in the breeze…keeping time to air, filled with the sound of grasshoppers and crickets.



ragged robin posy


After going for numerous rambles and walks over the marshes this Summer, I am now pleased to say I can happily identify at least 15 varieties of wild flower growing on the marshes near my home….some I’ve known since I was knee high to a grass hopper (I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know what a forget-me-not was…..but being able to spot water mint and apple mint, red shank and sneezewort has all been learnt this Summer….  favourites include ragged robin, it’s petals are like tiny torn remnants of fabric, apple mint and water mint smell so lovely and clean…..rose bay willow herb has a lovely almost tongue twisting name……


vetch posy


The marshes and pastures are covered with mints, glorious golden meadow buttercups (taller and more willowy than the ones we used to get grow up in our lawn) marsh woundwort looks like a dead nettle, red shank is more like a licorice allsort, its lozenge shape covered with tiny uncurled petals….and then there is the beautiful tufted vetch…it’s beautiful dreamy blue is the same soft hue of a bluebell, and it’s tiny curling tendrils and delicate floating leaves makes it possibly my favourite of favourites.

Tiny vases of these flowers have been adorning my work table over the Summer (I’m always careful what and where I pick them, a flower here, a flower there, never more than one stem at a time, and then only if there is lots growing)….the colours appear in patchwork, and embroidery, tiny brightly hued stitches of colour appear combined in unusual combinations, plant names are remembered and inspire patterns and new pieces……..

Because of all the rain we’ve had lately, the marshes are already getting a bit boggy and squelchy underfoot….I guess another few weeks and I’m going to have to change some of my short cuts and cut throughs…and then in the Winter some walks are near impassable, pastures disappearing under water for months at a time.




And it’s not just wild flowers with peculiar names….someone has been earning himself a few new ones……..maybe it is the change in weather but he’s been waking us up in the night, mostly just for a tummy rub before he’ll eat a 2 o’clock snack, then he’s up on the bed, suffling about like a little hedgehog, before he settles down, wanting coasing and fussing…..then we are lullabyed by a deep, sonorous snore.  Because he’s been awake in the night, he gets super sleepy in the day time, and will happily curl up in some rather odd spots and cat nap…..I was trying to sort out my sewing table, cleared everything, went to make a pot of tea, only to return to find some “illegal parking” had been taken place…..ended up sewing round him as he seemed too content to be be moved.






flying crow


Here are the latest of the hand-pieced mini blocks for “dear ethel”….. this block is called Flying Crow, it’s come out a bit pinker than I had originally planned, in my head I saw it as more purple and dark…however these fabrics seemed to work a lot better together and also when I laid them out around some other blocks I’d pieced, the dark colours just looked all gloomy and wrong…..the pink polka dot fabric started out as a rather odd shaped top from the car boot (I probably only paid pence for it)…I washed it and then cut off all the seams so I could use the fabric as it was a nice quality.  I’ve used it a few times in the “dear ethel” patchwork top as it’s a fabric I’m very fond of.


king's crown


This block is called King’s Crown and I’ve used a mix of green, sea greeny turquoisey (definitely it’s official name!) and a tiny little purple print (which was a tatty old dolls dress from the car boot…it was a bit of a shame to cut it up as it had all been hand stitched but it was torn so didn’t truly feel terrible)….I started out just using blues and green for this block but they weren’t really working (actually I’m sure they looked fine as I’ve used that combination lots already…I probably just wasn’t in a “bluey green” mood) but then when I played around with adding a little (royal?) purple then the block seemed to look much better.


newest selection


And this is the latest round up of the blocks pieced for “dear ethel“…. I’ve now sewn 105 little 6 inch blocks……I’m trying to sort out some wall space out so I can tape them up to photograph (my “design board” such as it is, really only sits 12 comfortably)

I feel a bit sad that I’ve made so many blocks already as this has been such a lovely project for me to make (re-reading that makes me laugh because it sounds like I’ve almost finished…you’d think all I had left to do was sew down that last side of binding to hear me talk)….but sorting out through my favourite fabrics, emptying out scrap boxes trying to find last tiny precious scraps to use in something I know I’m going to treasure for the rest of my life (if our house ever catches fire, Bernard will be tucked under one arm, and this will be under the other, with the granny’s paperweight blanket wrapped around my shoulders like a big old shawl….), and carefully looking through hundreds and hundreds (actually thousands) of blocks has been all part of my quilt making…sort of like “the making of, or behind the scenes, how did they do that kind of thing which you get on “collector edition” dvds….once the last block has been pieced, I’ve still got plain coloured fabrics to chose for the binding, and also a border (I’m thinking Flying Geese) so the patchwork piecing still has a way to go….


Please click if you'd like to follow my blog

Follow on
ella gordon

textile maker


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 111 other followers