Taking stock of a wild pantry…..

an overhead canopy of sloes

Each time we head out for a walk we never fail to appreciate how lucky we are to live where we do, we’re just a couple of miles from the city centre so while we’re never far away from fantastic coffee, we’re only just minutes away from walks where you feel you must be right in the the heart of the countryside….shady lanes, wild flower filled pastures and hedgerows fair brimming with berries and fruit.

It’s taken about a year or so of walking out and looking around me, little notebook often in my pocket to jot down where particular fruits and berries are…..some things are really only noticeable at a particular time of the year (elderflower has a very short season, easily identifiable in May and June…by September any flower heads not picked become dark jewelled clusters of berries…but if you’re out walking say in March or November, unless you’re good at identifying bare branches, it’s hard to tell what’s there.)

I don’t get tired of looking, I’m happy to just amble along and check how what I’m starting to think of as a wild pantry is coming along, what’s nearly ready to pick, what still needs a few weeks..and most importantly, what can I make with my hedgerow harvest.

sloes still tinged with green rather than being that glorious deep blue

Stepping out on Thursday it wasn’t long before the notebook was out and I was jotting down new finds of sloes.  It’s too early to pick them yet, and they’re a bit hard to see at the moment.  Generally they’re best picked when there’s been a good frost (though it’s been so chilly here in the evenings that the thought of a frost doesn’t seem laughable) though I think as long as they are that lovely dark and deep prussian blue a couple of nights in the freezer will make up for a proper lack of cold.  For now though the berries are a beautiful bluey green.

The blackthorn trees are always the most gnarliest old things you’ve ever seen, and you have to avoid long sharp thorns when you pick the sloes (the thorns used to be used for needles and I’ve seen some beautiful ones for sale which I’ve dropped hints about regarding birthday presents)…but a few sips of a nice sloe vodka or gin on a cold winter night will make any “foraging mis-adventures” tales to laugh about. (though the time I stepped in fox poo after jumping back from being stung by a clump of nettles which I’d landed in after trying to avoid being face to face with a huge spider in a blackberry bush when I was trying to de-tangle myself still needs a few years to go for me to find it as amusing as everyone else….)

delicious and sweet mirabelle plums

Searching for sloes you need to look up…but the first sign you’re near a mirabelle plum tree will often be a few squashed fruit on the ground underneath the tree…look up and you’ll find a bounty of small wild plums nestling in a cascade of green above you.

The mirabelles start off a very greeny yellow, they won’t be ripe yet and if you’re tempted to taste one you’ll pull a face as they’re very tart.  If the weather is good they’ll ripen before you know it, turning through deeper yellow, a lovely amber orange, rosey blush and then a gorgeous deep red.  You can pick them before they’re fully red all over if you want to use them for jams and tarts and brandy, but if you want to eat them as they are then I’d wait til they were ripe as they can’t be beat then for taste.

mirabelle plums growing just round the corner

We’re very fortunate because when the houses here were built (most of the village was built in the sixties and seventies I think) a lot of fruit trees were planted at the same time. There’s also lots of common owned land and pockets of green behind some properties where the wild trees have flourished.

These mirabelle plums are one such find…..last year wasn’t such a great harvest but the year before was fantastic.  They cook beautifully in pies and crumbles , and make a lovely jam which is so good on big doorsteps of toast on a wet and dreary Autumn morning.  Mirabelle plums are also a very good choice for making plum brandy.

red blushed and ripening mirabelle plums

We’ve got a couple of decent sized trees just round the corner from where we live, and then there are a couple more group of trees a bit further up.  In all there are about 30 or so plum trees scattered around the village but some are near the road, it’s not ever that busy but it’s harder to pick when you are trying not to step out off the verge.  So I prefer to pick form the more sheltered spots.

One tree that often eludes me even though right now the branches are bowed with fruit is on an uphill so they are that much harder to pick, even with my old man’s walking stick (it looks a bit odd to take out on a walk but it’s my secret weapon in being able to reach some of those high up branches) it’s tricky if I’m out by myself.  And while I do like going out for a walk by myself, foraging is always much more fun when there’s two as someone can hold the branch down and the other of you can pick.

green walnuts

Nope they’re not apples (which my beloved one thought the other day) but gorgeous green walnuts.

There’s a huge tree very near to home which no-one else seems to have taken note of so I’m thinking to pick them to pickle…..to me pickled walnuts seem like something old men eat sitting outside country pubs with their plough-mans and a beer, but when I mentioned them yesterday I had a couple of less wrinkly and aged friends say they were particular to them so I’m thinking perhaps to pickle some as gifts for Christmas and the Winter Sostice.

just waiting to be pickled

As well as pickling, walnuts apparently make for a nice liquor but as we’re already planning on sloe vodka and blackberry brandy again, perhaps I’ll pass on the liquor this year.

Whatever I make though the green hulls are notoriously stain inducing so I’ll be wearing a pair of marigolds when I pick them.

In the past I’ve picked up green walnuts in churchyards and have used them to dye fabric for a quilt.  The walnuts hold so much dye that you don’t need to use a mordant, though they are really stinky when you start to simmer them.  They make for a lovely dark brown colour, which is even darker if you’re dying wool rather than cotton cloth.  If you’re interested in natural dyes then I’d suggest one of the many books written about the subject by Jenny Dean.)

I’m actually planning to make a wild food trail/map for me and my boyfriend.  I’m forever making notes and observations where some of our favourite wild foods are to be found in a scrappy and pocket squished notebook and I’ve included sorrel, wild chamomile and water mint (the best mint for cocktails) as well as berries, apples and other fruit.  Half of me thinks it’s something that could be worked in cloth, embroidering little fruits and berries and plants over a large map of the area…I’d like to make a table cloth, something we could use but then I know myself all too well and worry that it would be just another un-finished item to lurk in the back of my wardrobe, so for now it will be drawn and then if I can get a few more things finished from the sewing pile then perhaps I’ll dig out an old sheet and get embroidering.

Panibois and proving bowls…..both beautiful and useful.

variations on a simple loaf

We’ve just bought a whole load of flour from Shipton Mill (since baking all our own bread I’ve found it more convenient to buy our flour by the sack and Shipton Mill is our preferred miller) and we decided to buy some of these lovely little wooden baking moulds.  Several times when I’ve seen pictures of wooden proving baskets on other blogs or on Instagram pages, I’ve noticed comments asking if you bake the bread in the wooden ringed bowls….you don’t.  But you can use these lovely wooden baskets in your oven to bake bread.

If you read my blog you’ll know when I make bread the finished loaf isn’t always too pretty, they tend to be rather rustic, Venus of Willendorf style loaves, the sort of loaf served up in the kitchen of Cold Comfort Farm….over the past year or so I’ve found eating bread (or any carbs really) tends to play havoc with my tummy and general well being so although I bake bread a couple of times a weeks it’s only for my boyfriend, inevitably I’ve become a hoarder of recipes to use up old bread.  I’ve tried making smaller loaves but they never come out so well as the big ones, so we thought these wooden “tins” would be handy for making smaller sized loaves and also would allow me to bake two different tasting breads at once.

You get 5 re-usable moulds (they look rather like strawberry punnets if you’re old enough to remember pick your own farms) and you buy the parchment inserts separately.  It says to use the inserts once but I think you could get away with using them a couple of times to be honest.

I suspect my boyfriend bought these really because they looked so cute but like the wooden proving bowls I’ve bought from Shipton Mill in the past (I have a large oval one and an extra large round one) these are fast becoming part of my bread making routine.  (They also make me feel like I’m doing something all special and fancy when in fact I’m just making bread for toast and sandwiches)

I can’t help thinking of the William Morris quote about only having useful and beautiful things in your home…I’m the first to admit I have a whole load of clutter but I think Mister Morris would heartily approve of these wooden “tins”…especially if he got to taste some of the bread inside.

seeds and spelt loaf

To first try out the “tins” I just made up our regular bread recipe using the sourdough starter, then once the sponge was made and was good and bubbly, I divided it into two and made one loaf using spelt and bread flour with a handful of mixed seeds thrown in for taste and texture.

While I was kneading that loaf I added some extra sugar to the sponge, sprinkled over a few strands of saffron and soaked some raisins in a little tea (the advantage of making tea in a pot is that there’s always a dribble of tea ready to soak fruit for cake or bread).  Along with the raisins I also added in some mixed spice and a dessert spoon of sticky mixed peel.

I allowed both loaves to prove in separate bowls before gently knocking them back and placing them in the lined wooden moulds.  Gave them about 40 more minutes to rise a second time before turning on the oven and then let them bake for about 15 or so minutes less than the big loaves.

Both got the boyfriends seal of approval (both were eaten within a matter of days) and I think he rather liked having a fancy fruity loaf for breakfast toast and then the plainer seed loaf for lunchtime sandwiches.

Patchwork, pockets and double blast when it all goes wrong…………

Over the past month or so I’ve been busy sewing together lots of small hexagons using the English Paper Piecing method, this has kept me well and truly out of mischief as it’s not the fastest sewing in the world, but it’s nicely portable… sitting on the back door step with a pot of tea one side and a basket full of little hexagons to sew together the other is a perfect way to spend a Summery afternoon…and if Bernard comes along and stretches out over my feet, well so much the better.

The only downside to these little hexagons is that they’re mightily addictive and as I’d already sewn bunting with them, and a notebook/ringbinder cover ,pincushions and numerous cushions I was wondering what else to make when a little light bulb switched on overhead and I thought to make a big tote style bag for when I go into town and get our vegetables.

At this point I think I’d better say what the bag looked like in my head and what it looked like in reality was very very different….”dream” bag looked beautiful and wafted granny chic goodness…the bag I made looked too fussy and made me want to cry because I’d spent so long making it…..even when I showed my boyfriend I could tell from his expression he didn’t know whether to laugh or to console my tears…..anyway, the bag is now about halfway through being un-picked and before you say “but it looks fine” in real life I think you’d be mumbling to yourself “goodness if I say I like it she might gift it to me and then she’d expect me to use it…I think I should have used the patchwork to make a granny style knitting bag, and a large piece of the patchwork is proving to be salvageable.

So what went wrong….I think I tried to do too much with something that was already a bit fussy.  A couple of years back I bought some old dresser cloths from a car boot that were a bit tatty and stained in the middle but which had beautifully crocheted lace edges, I’d cut out the offending middle but had kept the crocheted lace.  In my head this was going to look really delicate as a side detail, the lace peeking out between the two sides…..on a pin cushion or needle case, maybe even a book cover it would look really good, but it was too much on the bag…then I cornered in the bottom of the bag so it would have a deep gusset (shudder…I just hate that word) and instead of looking all neat like other bags I’ve made, it just looked bulky because of the crocheted edging hunching all up underneath.

Anyway, I did want to just show how I did a couple of things that I’ll use again but for different projects….

sewing on vintage trimming

First up is sewing along the vintage crochet trim….from sewing the cushions I had a pretty good idea of where I needed to sew along the hexagon edges to join them, (sadly you do get a bit of wastage when you sew squares out of hexagons)….I cut the linen that the crocheted trim was worked on to about 1/4 of an inch and then used this as a guide to pin then tack into place the trimming…I didn’t want any of the linen itself to poke out between the side, but only the crochet lace.  When the patchwork was turned over this gave a nice straight line that was good to have when I sewed the two sides of the bag together.

And while this really was too much on a bag, I think it would look nice on the side of a much smaller project.

fold over twice and pin down before sewing

In the big bag I use at the moment I am forever having to rummage around in the bottom of my bag for a pen or for my phone, for the “dream bag” I thought I’d be all fancy and make a pocket with an elasticated top to hold small things that would be nice and near to hand.

My pocket shape was pretty generously cut, about 10 inches or so across, then I folded over about a 1/2 inch and then another 1/2 so the raw edge was tucked right under in the middle.  A few pins to keep all in place and then sew along both the top then bottom edge of the seam.

thread through and secure elastic

I find this to be the easiest way to sew in elastic…

Don’t cut the elastic, just use it as is straight off the cardboard….poke the elastic through the seam until it pops it’s head out the other end and then pin it in place.

Sew over the end a few times on the sewing machine.

gather along elastic then secure end

Now gather the fabric along the elastic, runching it up until the top[ of the pocket is as wide as you’d like it to be.  I left mine about 61/2 inches wide.  Pin the elastic through the fabric at the end and then sew over the edge a few times so that the elastic is held nice and secure in place.

Now you can trim the reel of elastic away.

fold edges over and pin before tacking

Pin the raw edges of the pocket over, about 1/2 an inch.  I prefer to tack or baste the pocket, press the seam then pin it into place on my bag.  I find this makes the pocket edge look a bit neater.

Sewing the elastic in while it’s still on it’s cardboard reel seems a bit odd at first but I now find it a lot less fiddly and also you end up using only the amount of elastic you need.

finished bag

And this was the finished bag……it’s not the worse thing I’ve ever made but it really didn’t come out how I wanted it to so I was rather disappointed.  (I think my boyfriend felt the time wasted on it could have been spent more wisely on doing house work!)

It’s not the end of the world, as I say I can still use most of the patchwork and the un-picked pieces can be made into another bag, it’s just double blast annoying as I spent quite a lot of time pfaffing and fannying around getting it all right only for it to look rather pants.

It’s been a bit slow but now it’s all go in the garden……………

french beans

Apart from the raspberries which have been fruiting like crazy and some wild strawberries which the birds have over looked, everything else in the garden has been a bit on the slow side.  In part this can be blamed on the new cats next door, they’ve been digging things up or laying on freshly planted seedlings and squashing them beyond all recovery so lettuces and beans have been re-planted a few times, and then when we caged off the mange tout and broad beans we did such a good job of keeping them secure we couldn’t get in to weed them properly (though two surprise guest potato plants have appeared so it’s not all bad news)…we bought some bean seedlings from a local garden centre and though neither of us are big fans of runner beans, we both love green beans and fancy French beans.

When I moved house some years ago I left behind a whole load of beautiful hazel bean supports I’d coppiced from the bottom of my garden (they had beans growing up them which meant I couldn’t really remove them) so we’ve only got canes (I’m sort of wondering whether to buy some nice ones for the boyfriend for Christmas though think they’d be the very devil to wrap up but then they’d keep him guessing what he had..maybe he’d think I’d gone and bought him a fishing pole or something…)

We’ve had our broad beans (the whole harvest was an embarrassing half a dozen beans) and have had a scant handful or so of the french beans though there are more on their way. Speaking to friends who have an allotment down the road, all the old boys who have plots plant their broad beans in the Winter, 2nd or 3rd week of December when it’s good and cold, and I have an inkling that’s when my dad used to plant his, so that’ll be the plan for this year then hopefully next year I’ll be writing to say I’ve got broad beans coming out of my ears.

tomato plants in the glasshouse

Along with the beans we also bought some tomato plants.  In the past I’ve grown my own from seed but then ended up with so many I was putting them in pots outside the house with a sign saying “help yourself”…we just thought it would be easier to buy some this year as the tomatoes didn’t do too well last Summer, I’m not sure what variety these ones are, I often buy Gardeners Choice as they tend to be pretty abundant croppers.  I think these are are a cherry plum variety.

A couple of Summers ago a rogue tomato plant grew up amongst the raspberries and it was incredible, we had so many tomatoes off it, they were lovely with a proper tomatoey flavour, not too sweet and just gorgeous with a little cheese on a pizza, but just as good eaten as they were, all warm from the sun outdoors.  I like growing things I can just pop into my mouth and eat as I’m working outside, helps while away the time spent weeding.

We’ve not got a fancy glass house, just a plastic covered frame against the back of the garage wall, but it’s giving the plants more protection than not as everything in there seems to be coming along pretty good.  At the bottom lives a big fat toad which is gobblng up all the slugs and snails that are tempted inside…yesterday morning I felt something wet and moving on my foot and when I looked down it was toady, crawling over my foot.  It wasn’t really un-pleasant, just a tad damp. He’s lived in the garden a past few years, each Summer he gets a bit bigger and he’s now about the size of a man’s fist.  We used to get a lot of frogs but we don’t see so many of those anymore but toady is a regular Summer visitor, we often see him crawling around in the evening if we’re watering and Bernard knows all too well to leave him be.

seedlings in the glasshouse

Other bits in the glasshouse include a few trays of seedlings we’ve grown ourselves, sweetpeas (most have been planted out and I’m just waiting for it to stop raining to plant these ones out) and a couple of trays of hollyhocks.  One tray was from a bought packet, and the other tray which I planted later was from a few dry heads a lovely old chap down the road gave me.  His hollyhocks are huge, and are the most beautiful and gentle tea stained pink, all vintagey soft and English cottage garden.  Although I love hollyhocks I’m super picky about the colours, while I’m happy to use bright colours in my patchwork and embroidery, I prefer my garden to be somewhat muted.  So when I’m choosing hollyhocks I stay away from fabulous fuscia pinks and instead I like pale transulent pinks, almost browny beige, yellow and that gorgeous blacky red.

I’ve also got some pots of basil at the back (much more intense in scent than the shop bought stuff) and I’ve planted some of the seeds I got last year from the cat mint and rabbit’s tobacco (lavender)…..there’s some tiny sprouts coming up but of which they are I’m none too sure since I scattered half the tray in one then half in the other but then forgot which half was what.

wild starwberries growing where they will

The wild strawberries actually do do very well for us, they tend to grow happiest when they are just left alone, and the ones that appear through cracks in the patio or along the steps are the ones with the sweetest fruits.  Mostly the berries are over looked by the birds, they tend to make bee lines for the larger fruits in the cultivated varieties.  The little berries never fail to lift my spirits when I’ve spent an hour or so kneeling on the patio weeding out sprigs of grass or tiny plants that have self seeded under the bird table….

They also go very well in a lemonade/Pomona (Apple Brandy) cocktail that my boyfriend makes…living so close to the marshes it’s a 15 minute trip* to grab a handful of water mint to make it taste even better.

Foraging for fruit and a Cherry Ripple Ice Cream……

cherry harvest

Not far from where we live, just round the corner really, there’s half a dozen or so wild cherry trees and over the past few weeks when I’ve walked back from popping down to the shops I’ve stopped and picked a handful or so to eat.  There’s never been that many all ripe at once, or if there have been they’ve been too high up and only reachable if you are a bird or a squirrel.

But the week before last I noticed a whole load of dark coloured cherries all squished on the ground, and when I looked up I saw one tree that I’d have thought would have been picked clean was absolutely laden and the cherries were all ripe.  I quickly nipped home and returned with a couple of big plastic tubs and picked as many as I could reach, which wasn’t all that easy as the tree is on a bit of a slope so every time I stretched up I kept running back down the hill, no doubt I provided plenty of entertainment to anyone watching and i had a couple of dog walkers ask me what I was doing and what was I planning to make.  I’ve only ever seen one other couple pick the cherries near here so i guess people don’t realize what they are or that they’re edible…..the wild cherries aren’t as fat and plump as the ones we’ve been buying from the fruit stall on the market, but they were so good to eat, slightly tarter and very juicy.

This Summer I’ve been playing around trying out various ice cream recipes and although I don’t need to ask my boyfriend his favourite flavour (chocolate every time) I prefer a really fruity ice, but the older I get the more fussy I’ve become, even some of the posh ice creams in the shops are full of ingredients I wasn’t expecting to find so I don’t begrudge the time spent making a custard* for the ice cream base as I know I’m going to have a delicious pudding come evening.

Possibly the recipe I’ve had the best results with so far involves making a custard with full fat milk and egg yokes and adding some whipped cream.  Chocolate or a fruit puree can be added after the dessert has begun to set.  I don’t think home made ice cream keeps particularly well, so I only make enough to last us a couple of nights but I’ve made up lots of little pots of fruit puree and have those crammed in the freezer all ready to use for pudding nights.

The foraged cherries were made into a very grown up tasting Cherry Ripple ice cream, some puree was put in the freezer and some I ate with yoghurt for a rather indulgent breakfast the next day though I think it would have been very nice on warm brioche or croissants.

Cherry Ripple Ice cream

Ice-cream

500ml full fat milk

4 egg yolks

150 g caster sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

300 ml double cream

Puree

Cherries

caster sugar

(I used 750g or so cherries and to that used 150g sugar but it depends on how sweet or tart your fruit is and also on your own preference)

To make

Pour the milk into a heavy based saucepan and add about half the sugar.  Stir all the while with a wooden spoon and scald the milk.

Whisk the egg yolks with the remaining half of the sugar until the yolks become pale and creamy.

While the egg mixture is being whisked pour in a little of the hot milk.  Keep whisking a nd slowly add a little more and so on until all the milk is added.

Wash the pan and then add the eggy milk back in and on a very low heat make the custard.

Stir all the while with a wooden spoon until the milk begins to coat the back of the spoon.  Once the custard has began to form, turn off the heat and then keep stirring until the custard thickens up a bit more.  (you can do this with the bowl set in a sink with cold water if you’re worried about the custard curdling)

Place in a metal bowl and set to one side.

Now whisk the cream until it’s soft and billowy.  Add to the custard in spoonfuls and stir through.  Cover with clingfilm and place in the freezer.

Rinse the cherries and tumble them in to a large saucepan, add a little water and cover with some sugar.  Bring to a gentle simmer and allow them to soften and cook for about 10 minutes or so.  Once the cherries are all soft and falling away from their stones, place them in a large sieve and press them though so you get a lovely fruity puree.

(You may find it a bit easier to sieve a couple of desert spoons full at a time as it is a bit hard going, but I’m sure this does wonders for wobbly under arms)

After an hour, take the metal bowl out of the freezer, and give the custard a good mix with either a fork or a whisk.  Cover and put back for another hour.  Repeat a couple more times until the mixture has began to firm up some.

When the custard seems like it’s a good way on the way to becoming ice cream, scoop out deep groves through the dessert and fill them with the fruity puree.  Ripple it though the rest of the ice with a spoon but don’t over do it.

Cover with fresh cling film and leave to set for another 3 hours or so.

When it’s properly set, place it in the fridge about 20/30 minutes before you want to serve, this will mean the ice cream is easy to scoop out and is a nice texture for eating.

*probably the easiest ice cream I’ve ever made used a tub of ready made custard (it was a proper posh one so really had very little other than eggs, milk and vanilla in it) and a tub of cream.  I just emptied the custard in to a bowl, whipped the cream and slowly stirred it in and then put it in the freezer, taking it out every hour or so for the first few hours.  Then I made some deep groves through the semi set dessert and filled them with a home made lemon curd, slowly rippled it through and then popped it back in the freezer.  I took it out of the freezer and placed it in the fridge for 20-30 minutes before eating….eye closingly delicious and too easy for words.

Paul Newman’s baby blues, sprouts, peas and lemon sorbet yellow…..

tapestry wool

Some while ago, when I was working on the star quilts for Miss Peggy and Pearl, I was asked about how I make my colour choices, picking out particular colours and teaming them together in unusual combinations….at the time I said I’d be writing a post about it.  I got about half way through writing one then realized that what I thought was going to be quite a simple piece really was becoming a bit of an epic post so I’ve taken my notes and have tried to break down and show how I work and chose my colours and team ups across the mediums I work in which is fabric, embroidery and crochet.

embroidery silk strands

I love using as much colour as possible in my work and although there are pairings that I’m not so fond of, colours that I’ll shy away from, on the whole I’m happy to use what ever is going…it’s a bit different when I’m using fabric as I prefer to use prints rather than a plain solid so other factors like print design then begin to creep in, but for the most part if I can put in a little bit of every colour under the sun then I’m happy.

To begin with I think it always helps to have a bit of a basic understanding of how colours work, even if later on you throw “the rules” out of the window, then it still helps to know what is being thrown out…..I find having a sketchbook for colour notes and playing really helpful, it doesn’t have to be huge, but I like them big enough that I can work bigger than just thumbnail sized swatches of colour.

I generally start any colour sketchbook with some colour wheels over the first few pages in a variety of mediums (colouring pencil and paint, snippets of fabric or tufts of yarn)

The first three colours to consider are what are called the Primary colours….these are red, yellow and blue.  They’re the most simple and basic colours and you can’t make them by mixing other colours together.

mrs millers favourite

Red is always a hot colour, whether it’s chilli red or cherry, fire engine bright, post box red.

soporific blues

Soft and soporific blue…never a warm tone but always cooling. (just the memory of a walk amongst the bluebells in April can cool me down and help me sleep in August when the nights are too hot and sticky…)

Ultramarine, and icy, sometimes almost grey…Prussian and inky and Paul Newman’s baby blues…..

yellow buttons

Sunshiny and bright, golden and mustard, most mellow and lemon sorbet tasting yellow.

The next colours are the secondary colours.

From mixing two of the three Primary colours together you create the secondary colours…..(I think they make the happiest albeit safest) pairings when you team them up with either of the two colours that make them.

green moss on wall

Yellow and Blue together make green…fresh and vibrant, forest pine and leafy glade, sprouts and peas, the smell of a greenhouse on a warm Summer’s day….

little blocks 005

Blue and red together create purple…….mauve and violet, lavender meadows and blackberry crumbles, wild violets and shiny aubergines.

orange tapestry wool

Red and yellow makes orange….. the brightest fruitiest hue, to soft coral and peachy, apricot tones, amber and persimmon, tangerine and henna.

cats and quilts 003

Caramel, ochre, chocolate, mocha, chestnut and sienna, mushroom tones all velvey soft……Brown is a composite or neutral colour…it’s made by mixing the primary colours together.

It can be thought of as being a bit drab or boring and although it’s not a colour I tend to go for straight away when I’m making any wardrobe choices, I’m quite happy using it in crochet (blends of a range of brown shades or mixed in with blue, pink, orange or yellow look particularly good)

nine patch star patchwork block

Pink is a bit of a where did that come from colour, it’s actually a red tint although it’s often seen as a colour in it’s own right, and I know some people really don’t like it but I don’t have any of their qualms (pink and yellow is a particular favourite combination that I find myself using and wearing time and time again).

Before I finish off this first post regarding how I use colour, I just wanted to mention what I have found to be two excellent resources for super good reading regarding colour.

Firstly is the always inspiring Uppercase magazine, in particular issue 22, it’s full of beautifully illustrated interviews and essays about colour.  Visually this issue is a real treat, and the magazine reads like a rainbow….. (if you’re like me and live in the UK then you can buy it mail order from Housekeeping)

Secondly is the utterly brilliant Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook by Felicity Ford.  It’s an excellent book about looking at where to get your initial colour inspiration from and how to translate it into a workable project. I’ve wrote about it before but I love it so much and it’s such a great book I hope you’ll excuse me repeating myself.   Although this book is probably of more help to knitters, I’ve still found it riveting to read and it’s made me really think about where my colour choices come from and how I can make them even better.

Stitchwort sparkles and the scent of honeysuckle in the morning……

the palest most delicate wisp of petal

It’s been too warm to wander off very far this past week so walks have been short ones before the day has really started…..the grass is damp and dewy and the morning is still rubbing sleep out of it’s eyes, but it’s the best time to get out of the house and head off over the marshes, walking slowly back along the lane behind our home.  The trees either side almost touch overhead so it’s nice and shady and the sunlight casts flickering patterns on the ground.

We’ve been noticing scatterings of bright red poppies over the last few weeks but I particularly liked this very pale pink poppy…..it’s rose tinged petals were so delicate, almost translucent.

marshmallow

Just round the corner from our house there’s a huge clump of mallow growing and turning the corner to see them in the sunshine they’re a proper treat to see….bright mauve flecked with a deeper almost Imperial purple.

Most mornings when I walk past them the air is filled with fat bees, tumbling and rolling over the flowers, clambering out from between petals all pollen dusty and golden.

marshmallow by the shed

The mallow is growing by a neighbours’ shed which is a bit tumble downy, last Autumn I took some pictures of a bright red creeper which was growing here so it’s nice that it’s also home to another burst of intense colour.

Even though it’s a wild flower and grows somewhat higgledy piggledy, I think it’s still a somewhat grand and stately plant (maybe it has posh relatives somewhere along the line….) I like it when the mallows grow really super tall like hollyhocks.

honeysuckle

Walking home along the back of the golf course means I pass by this little metal archway, I have no idea where it’s come from, how long it’s been here….but every year it gets covered in the most sweet smelling honeysuckle which is visited by butterflies and an assortment of softly buzzing bees.

The hedgerows along here are good for foraging, in a month or so the hedges will be full of jewel bright blackberries.  Come September and I’ll be picking crab apples and sloes (I’d like to make some crab apple jellies for winter gravies and am already noting where I’m seeing the biggest apple trees.)

honeysuckle growing up over the metal archway

It’s nice to look at either side of and it’s one of the “markers” we notice every time we come out this way for a walk…right now the honeysuckle smells so lovely, very scented and if I close my eyes I’m taken back to my Nanny’s bathroom when she used to use a talc by Yardley that smelt just the same.

wild roses

The wild roses are also doing well this year, these ones didn’t seem particularly perfumed so to appreciate them I had to stick my nose right into the flower, all too late seeing and then not quite managing to avoid the vicious clump of nettles that are growing all around the bushes.

starlight speckles of stitchwort

In the pastures the grasses are waist height and I can never resist running my hands and fingers through them as I walk by, allowing the grass heads to bunch up and pull off from the stem before I scatter a thousand seeds up in to the air…the motion of the seeds makes me think of when Bernard is helping me with my knitting, stitches un-ravelling everywhere…..even the dainty stitchwort is growing high and seems to sparkle in the sunshine like tiny stars.

When I’m sketching and jotting down new embroidery ideas I keep coming back to the stitchwort, everything seems to look better with a handful of small white petals flickering around the designs edge.

first sighting this year of tufted vetch

And I saw the first of this year’s tufted vetch, the intense blue of a bluebell, trailing up other plants with delicate twirling tendrils….along with the ragged robin it’s one of my favourite wild flowers, finding it amongst the grass makes me happy each Summer when it appears for just a few months.

Summer is properly here now and the wild flowers are changing, forget me nots have all been forgotten and even the yellow rattle isn’t quite as bright as a week or two ago, flashes of mauve appear further back, orchids and some straggly ragged robin.  But as one flower fades another seems to appear to take it’s place and I’m starting to see the first of the rose bay willow herb and now I’m watching out for the water mint which goes very well in cocktails and cordials.

a garden of soft and soporific blue………..

lavender hued rosemary blossoms

Sadly these soft dreamy inducing hues are now but a distant memory, a struggling to remember dream when the garden was gentle and blue….while the rosemary flowers  last they’re gathered to use in the kitchen, delicate tasting  blossoms are picked and scattered over warm pasta dishes and salads… each year I think about making biscuits (and always forget) …..now the rosemary is bare for another year but on hot days there’s almost a haze of scent around it…pungent and strongly perfumed oils fill the garden from one, not even particularly large, little bush.

When it all gets too much Bernard (and now Bob from next door) will inevitably wriggle themselves underneath and flop out in the shade it gives…the patio feels cool beneath it and they’ll happily nap together out there all morning.

purple blossoms on the catnip

The first of the Summer catnip has been harvested and I’m keeping my fingers crossed no-one will nibble the new growth so I’ll be able to cut more in September….we used to have a nice big patch under our window which the bees loved however it suddenly disappeared and I’m suspecting Bob knows something about it.

I love the scent of fresh catnip…(and while I’ll put my hand up to being a crazy cat lady I’m not that crazy…it’s much more heady than the horrible old dry stuff sold in pet shops, the smell is quite herby, a bit like a mint crossed with oregano…….it’s a nice smell dad smell and one that is always hard to place…)  It can have a bit of a soporifc effect on people and in the past I’ve used a little in a herbal sachet to have under my pillow ….though not such a good idea if you have a cat that is effected by “nip”.

forget me not flowers

Even the little forget-me-nots have gone, it’s too hot for them now and they’ve wilted quicker than I have, but within another few weeks they’ll appear again, it’s a very rare Summer when they appear just the once.

At the start of each Summer we get a blanket of blue all along the sides of the steps, poking up between cracks in the path and patio, softening edges like an artists thumb smear of pastel.

I took the pictures a few weeks ago now as I had some ideas for more botancial embroideries but I got all distracted and head turned by a work basket full of hexagons so these have been sitting all forgotten about, however when it’s all hot and sticky, too sunny and bright like today, then it’s nice to look at them and think of cooler hued blossoms.

soporific blues

Seeing this little assortment of blue threads yesterday in one of Norwich’s many junkety/antique/you never know quite what you’ll find in there shops, made me smile as they reminded me of the above forgotten flowers and embroidery intentions….. though the shades themselves are very different to what we had in the garden, I couldn’t resist buying them as the colours made happy and my heart leap…also they were £1 for the lot and you can’t get a lot cheaper than that….some of the heavier threads are really more suited to use for embroidery…and even if it’s a bit on the thick side to get through the fabric it’ll look wonderful whipped through some herringbone stitches on a border.

Too many colours and too many textures….too much for some but perfect for me.

using a light weight interface on the back of silky fabrics

In between feasting on home-made ice-creams and sorbets  (all in an attempt to keep cool rather than me being a greedy pig), I’ve been sewing more little hexagons together for another cushion (though I’m also thinking about making a new bag using any which are leftover)…I found up another scrap bag which was home to some pieces of blanket silk, soft subtle shades which had originally been used to trim the edges of vintage blankets which I’d cut off when I was using the wool fabric for Christmas stockings and hot water bottles…

Rather than throw pieces away I’d just been tucking them away (for a rainy day or for when you never know when they might come in handy)…I tried making them into hexagons because the different coloured silk were a beautiful vintage palette, however the silk was quite fragile and started to split and tear as I began to join it…..I’m not one for giving up that easily though so bought a piece of a medium weight iron on interfacing and carefully positioned all the cut silks shapes onto the Vilene and just pressed them together with a low set iron…..the hexagons are a little puffy but I quite like the effect, and it means I can use up pieces that would otherwise have been made into stuffings (which was a shame to do when the fabric was so pretty).

mixing prints and fabric textures and weights

This new piece of patchwork is a proper old jumble of fabrics, no end of different patterns, prints, colours and then there are the different textures, lightweight tweeds, barkcloth, cotton, silks and satins, soft feeling chintzes and brushed cottons…

My favourite part of the day is first light, sewing when it’s early, when the shade and sunshine is dappled and dancing over my work table…sometimes I’m joined by Bernard, other times himself is still asleep and he’s all sprawled out on the bed, faintly snoring and wiggling his paws while he dreams.

a complete jumble of textures and prints

I love how this patchwork of hexagons is coming together, I know it’s not for everyone, too many colours, too many textures, too much of everything…and then the time…hand sewing is always a bit slow…it’s not a fast way of working, even though the hexagons are reasonably haphazard where they fall, some are moved along, nudged over to where they shine and sparkle a little bit brighter.

It’s fun to play, tipping out a work basket full of fabric wrapped papers and spreading them out over the carpet….it reminds me of rainy afternoons when me and my sisters were small and we’d set out a huge jigsaw puzzle on the table or carpet, it would keep us quiet for hours on end….I’m very aware of when I’m hand sewing I’m less talky, concentrating on the stitching rather than chitter chatter and nonsense …(I’m the first to admit I’m no Jane Austen heroine but instead know myself to be Miss Bates)…..