Colourful reads to inspire and the lure of gold sequins…….

uppercase machine

 

One of the most inspirational magazines I’ve bought of late has been Uppercase issue 22 (I get mine from Housekeeping, they run an excellent mail order service and are very lovely)….although it came out late Summer I’ve only just bought it, and I’m glad I waited…it was just the thing to brighten up some of the overcast gloomy days over the holidays……this issue celebrates colour and is full of articles about people who use a lot of colour in their work or surround themselves in colour in their lives.  I’m currently saving up for issue 24 which is centred around patchwork and quilting…..generally I’m not fussed by quilting and patchwork magazines (prefering to do my own thing, and take inspiration where I find it) but I’m really looking forward so much to see the Uppercase take on patchwork (there have been some proper eye treat pieces to tease on Janine’s blog)

 

knitsonik book

 

This book was a post Christmas treat…..I’m not a fancy schmancy knitter (if you keep quiet and don’t talk to me, I can just about concentrate enough to knit a dishcloth or a simple scarf…) though there was a bit of air punching joy in the Summer when I followed one of Maria’s you-tube tutorials and actually managed to do some lacy knitting, it’s very exciting to create holes in your knitting on purpose rather than by accident…..however, actually learning to knit properly is one of my “resolutions” for this year…..it’s been on my “I want to be able to” list for a while and after reading about this book on some of my favourite blogs (here, here, here and here….) I kind of fell in love with it………even if I wasn’t interested in learning how to knit then this book is just brilliant.  (it’s the sort of book you just want to hold and hug everytime you pick it up)

Felicity’s writing is so nice and friendly, but also stays clear without waffling…and it’s proper jam packed full of the most beautiful pictures highlighting colourful compositions, whether it’s an old factory, some sloes, fruit cake, a biscuit tin….Felicity not only sees inspiration in colour everywhere, but she then shows how to manage and break down those colours into a project.  Her method of working could easily be used in designing a patchwork quilt.  Like I say, I’m not a very good knitter, and very often when I look at knitting books I’m left feeling….”I’ll never be able to do that” however this book isn’t like that at all, it really does make me want to just pick up some needles and get knitting……

 

bird tapestry 001

 

Felicity’s book reminded me somewhat of this lovely needlepoint picture my mum bought me for Christmas last year, I love old needlepoint pictures and this one was re-strung and displayed proudly on the wall above the sofa within minutes of it coming home…..we have a little cherry tree in our garden, and although it’s blossoms are a gorgeous deep red, it’s always filled with blue tits so this picture really made me smile when I saw it in an antique shop….those colourful little birds are a very familiar and comforting sight…..

 

springtime inspired 002

 

Inspired by the picture and by the blue tits in our garden, I went on to crochet these hexagon flowers for my grannies paperweight blanket….after reading Felicity’s book I’m thinking how nice a couple would have looked if I’d picked out the pale pink of the blossoms rather than concentrate on the colour of the birds and leaves…….

 

newest selection

 

I love working with colour, the more colours I can add to a project the happier I seem to be……these are some of my blocks for “dear ethel” and there wasn’t really a point of inspiration or reference when it came to choosing colours or blocks….I pretty much went with which blocks I liked and which I thought wouldn’t be too stressful to sew (each block is 6 1/2 inches wide so they are quite small),and then as this is a quilt for me, I just wanted to use all my favourite fabrics, some of which are only tiny scraps but as the pieces of patchwork are so small then the fabrics can still be used rather than be wasted.

 

sketchbook and patchwork 006

 

Some of the blocks were painted up before I began sewing them, partly this was trying out how some colours sat better together than other, and although this works fine for plain colours, it’s not always the best way with prints, I didn’t really take into account how some prints have tiny flecks of colour in them which can compliment or sit unpleasantly with other fabrics….so some blocks were un-picked and re-used with other fabrics.

While reading Felicity’s book I thought a lot about my “dear ethel” patchwork….how I came to some of my colour choices and how my environment and items in my studio quietly played a part in some of those combinations…….

 

scarf

 

There wasn’t really a lot of careful planning when I made my granny scare scarf…. I just wanted it to be bright bright bright and just used up tapestry wool pretty much willy nilly as it came out of the bag…..I tried to work two rounds with colours that blended or were similar in tone before joining with the third colour….and although there wasn’t a huge amount of un-ravelling, I suppose I was particular about where each square was placed.

 

stretchy

 

When it came to making the grannies paperweight blanket (it’s comfi-ness being demonstrated by the blanket inspector himself) I spent quite a lot of time planning a colour scheme (this in part went out the window) but after making up a few hexagon flowers I began to see which worked and which jarred…..

 

crochet colourwork 005

 

Using wool rather than acrylic yarn meant the colours blended into each other really well, especially when they were of similar tone or hue, however painting up a few combinations at the start helped me understand better how certain colours really sat well with others, and where others worked in my head, in reality they didn’t look so good.

Also painting up different combinations meant I learnt to work outside my comfort zone, and where there are more of certain combinations (oooh orange and blue I do love you) I also used colours I’d always thought weren’t so great, but now find myself liking….I’d never thought I really liked purple but find myself wearing today burgundy leggings, a byzantium purple thermal vest (I dyed it using a Dylon machine wash and it came out very well) and an aubergine floral dress…. I also found this with the patchwork for “dear ethel” ….slowly fabrics I’d initially overlooked began to creep in and now I couldn’t imagine them not being used.

 

scarf with cardigan

 

Certainly using more colour in my patchwork and crochet has made me want to reflect that in my wardrobe…a few years ago I was a head to toe in black girl but now most of the black has gone to charity shops and instead I open the door to rainbow hues (in proper Richard Of York Gained Battle In Vain order….which probably is a bit special or odd but it works for me)

There’s a wonderful interview with Jessi Arrington in the Uppercase magazine, (this is a link to her Ted talk which will get you wanting to wear something bright and colourful)……one of her universal truths is “gold sequins go with everything”, and as I get older I find myself agreeing…..oh for a pair of gold sequined sneakers.

Once upon a time………..

The blue book

 

A couple of weeks ago I found this lovely copy of Andrew Lang’s The Blue Fairy Book in a charity shop and as if by magic it seemed to find it’s way home with me……I’ve got more fairy tale and folk story books than you can shake a stick at but they have been my favourite stories to lose myself in since I was a little girl and first learnt to read.

Once upon a time……when you open a book and it starts with those four magical words you just know you are going to be swept up in a story of wishes and wonderful things, dark woods and gingerbread houses….

I’ve been wanting to write a little bit about my love of these stories for a while, and it seems suitable to do so now that the weather has become cold and the nights dark…these are the books I reach out for to read when I go to bed and can huddle down under a mass of quilts and crocheted blankets.

 

United Kingdom folk stories

 

Even now I’m all grown up I still love them….my favourites being the Charles Perrault ones (Beauty and the Beast and Red Riding Hood), old English stories such as Mister Fox (he certainly isn’t the same fantastic gentleman written about by Roald Dahl) and Kate Crackernuts and wonderfully rich tales from Russia, which include Vasilisa The Beautiful  (Baba Yaga and her walking house are in this story.)

Something I particularly like about the English folk tales is that there is a old earthiness about the stories, and often they use snippets of old dialect or words that have fell out of common usage.  A lot of the stories collected by Katharine Briggs and Ruth L. Tongue are good examples of this.  They are as comforting and familiar to me as a saggy and worn cardigan, and at this time of year are as satisfying as a rooty casserole and fat steamed dumplings.

 

European Tales

 

One of the things I love about these type of tales are the magical qualities or just wonderfully described clothing or cloth that often plays a central role in the tale…..without her red cape, Red Riding Hood would have been a quite ordinary little girl on her way to grandmothers house, the princess in The Princess and the pea would probably have slept just as poorly on just the one mattress and eiderdown (instead of the umpteen mentioned) Cinderella has her wonderful dresses…like the stars, like the moon, like the sun…and let’s not forget those glass slippers, then there are shirts knitted from nettles, magical boots, Catskin’s furs, hair combs and bodices laced too tight……

 

Annointed tales

 

I didn’t really understand the significance of spinning flax into gold in the Rumplestiltskin story until quite recently, I watched one of the brilliant “farm programmes” * with Ruth Goodman (possibly the most wonderful tv historian I can think of…she’s so lovely and enthusiastic, I could happily watch her all day.  She truly makes the past come alive with it’s richness of smells and sounds and tastes), the flax is beaten so the outside husk drops off, and eventually as the flax is whipped/beaten the fibres break down and it looks like beautiful long blonde hair.  It really does look like golden strands and it doesn’t take much to imagine it being real gold.

Another story that I’ve always loved and which makes my fingers tingle somewhat in sympathy is The Wild Swans by Hans Christian Anderson (it’s one of the few stories by him I really care for) poor princess Elisa has to gather nettles and knit (or spin) them into shirts which will transform her brothers back into boy after they’ve been turned into swans.  In the story poor Elisa has blistered sore fingers and hands from handling the nettles….Actually this isn’t all just story, nettles really can be made into cloth. (in the New Year I’m planning to make a shirt out of nettle cloth, with embroidered nettle stems and leaves and the odd lone feather as a nod to this fairy tale)

 

The Far East

 

Along with the European stories with their deep dark woods, and brave youngest sons or daughters, I also like reading tales and legends from China and Japan and who could forget the wonderful 1001 nights with Scheherazade telling the Sultan all those fantastic stories….(many of these are rather eye opening and I don’t think they’ll ever be made into a panto!)

Some years ago I watched a television adaptation called Arabian Nights…..Mili Avital was Scheherazade, Rufus Sewell was Ali Baba, and John Leguizamo was the most magnificent genie of the lamp you’ve ever seen….there were some lovely details in it, in the Aladdin story, Aladdin (played by Jason Scott Lee) finds a hidden terracotta army deep in a cave underground, it was really scary and brilliant and very good to watch.

 

Virago

 

Back in the very early nineties, Virago published a wonderful couple of fairy tale collections compiled by Angela Carter…these are more suitable for a grown up reader (and they are now available in one beautiful hardback with gorgeous woodcut illustrations).  They also published a book about witches which is great to read and the rather saucy and utterly brilliant “Erotic Myths and Legends”…..some of the stories in there made me laugh out loud, and others are somewhat more racy and made me reach for a fan!

 

Academic

 

I also enjoy reading about what makes these stories resonate and speak to us, Marie Lousie von Franz was a Jungian psychologist and she wrote a series of books connecting the psychological wisdom of fairy tales to everyday life (and it’s chores and repetitions).  She’s a favourite author and I particularly like her Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales and The Interpretation of Fairy Tales.

Another book I like is called Women who run with the Wolves by Clarrisa Pinkola Estes.

 

Familiar but with a twist

 

As well as traditional version of these tales I also like reading newer versions…there is a wonderful collection of Angela Carter stories called The Bloody Chamber (there is a short story in there called A Company of Wolves and this was the basis for the beautiful and slightly gothic eighties film directed by Neil Jordan….I first saw this when I was a teenager and have loved it ever since…..and it taught me to always be wary of men whose eyebrows meet in the middle.)

Jane Yolen edited a wonderful series of books that are all re-workings of tradtional fairy and folk tales…..again I think these are more suitable for a grown up reader.

Lastly, and this isn’t a book but it’s so so so a thousand times fantastic, and just perfect to watch now the nights are dark and it’s cold outside, and if it’s a bit early still for watching Christmas movies…..There was a wonderful series on television years ago called The Storyteller.  It was made by Jim Henson and it is just so ….ohhhI’m almost lost for words because it’s totally and utterly brilliant.  If you’ve not seen it then pop to your library or just buy it, you won’t be disappointed.  (we watched it at home, me, my sisters, my dad….my mum was probably in the kitchen getting tea ready….but we all loved it) It’s a marvellous collection of an assortment of European folk stories with a cast that is sure to make you smile….Sean Bean (before he was Ned “Winter is coming”Stark), Jane Horrocks, French and Saunders, Steven Mackintosh (one of my all time favourite actors), Miranda Richardson, Jonathan Pryce, James Wilby……and not forgetting John Hurt as the narrator (when he becomes a hare it makes me laugh and breaks my heart both at the same time).  The stories told are both familiar and slightly different, the costumes are beautiful …and the narrators dog does somewhat steal the scenes he’s in.  Their version of a Cinderella story (in this it’s called Sapsorrow and in English folk tales it’s known at Catskin) never fails to make me get a tingly nose and a bit weapy…her dresses are just amazing.

It captures the essence and how we imagine these tales to look so perfectly…..it’s both the magic of a fairy tale and the magic that was Jim Henson.

 

 

Mellowed Autumn pastures……

autumnal a

 

The gilding of the Indian Summer mellowed the pastures far and wide,

The russet woods stood ripe to be stripped, but yet were full of leaf,

The purple of heath-bloom, faded but not withered, tinged the hills….

Fieldhead gardens bore the seal of gentle decay;…..

Its time of flowers and even fruit was over.

(Charlotte Bronte)

 

One of my favourite books is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, but until last year I’d never read any of her other books I’d never read any of her other books but then I was killing time in a charity shop before I caught the bus home and saw a copy of Shirley so bought it and began reading it (missed the bus as I’d gone for a coffee while I read….) It wasn’t as easy to get as caught up in the story as some stories but once I’d got a few chapters in I really enjoyed it…a lot of it is to do with weavers who break the big looms in a factory and the effects that has on a community.  Some of the plot was a bit confusing so I found myself going back to re-read some passages….I think I prefer Jane Eyre but Shirley is a lot more humorous than I was expecting it to be… there is one bit where a young boy gets caught with load of food by his brother (they don’t get on so this causes a bit of a hoo hah) when he is supposed to be poorly, it’s so funny……..and there are some beautifully touching scenes.

The lines above are from the novel and as I re-read them it reminded me so much of my most recent walks over the marshes where the cows are pastured. We’ve had a glorious Indian summer (looking out of my window now and the garden is ablaze in bright sunlight)…but the weather has turned, it’s much chillier and a lot of the hedgerow berries are coming now to an end.

 

autumn detail

 

But as Sunday was fine and dry, we went out for a ramble over the fields…..we managed to pick some of the last of this years blackberries, just enough to put with some apples to make a couple of small pies for the Arpette….(it’s been a bumper crop and we’ve already eaten more blackberry crumbles than I can remember, and the kitchen cupboards are full of pots of jam.

Along with blackberry foraging, I took some cuttings to make another Autumnal and seasonal letter…… I’m hoping to make a whole alphabet over the course of the next 12 months….. this is a mix of dry sorrel seed (tall red seed heads that seem to resist any but the strongest breeze), turkey oak leaves (and it’s tentacled mossy acorn cup), rose hips and dandelion heads…….

 

autumn close up

 

I also picked some Alder, it’s covered in tiny little cones and also catkins at the same time…….there are also some red blackberries and haw thorn berries, sloes and dried oak leaves ……

 

autumnal detail

 

A sprig of ragwort, Ivy leaves with it’s fat green berries, tiny purple thistle flowers and an angelica seed head.

Dearest Jane………………

dear jane

 

Of all the authors that I adore…first amongst them is my most beloved Jane Austen.

For years growing up I tried and tried with her books (I didn’t actually study any of them while I was at school) but whenever I had tried reading them, I found I just couldn’t get in to them…and then, when I was in my very late twenties (so late I think I was more like 31) I tried Sense and Sensibility and fell head over heels in love with her writing and the wonderful Elinor Dashwood….. actually in all the Jane Austen books it’s the women I love more than the men, even the silly Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey wins me over more than the hero Henry Tilney.

If I had to really chose, then my favourite book by her would be Persuasion, the main character of Jane Elliot is just so beautifully written, if I could have any friend from literature then it would be her (hmmm along with Luna Lovegood from Harry Potter and perhaps Jilly Coppercorn from the Charles de Lint books)…poor Jane Elliot, her family are truly truly awful…really horrible. There is a television version with Anthony Stuart Head (Giles from Buffy) and he’s pretty good as her pompous snobby father, but he is even worse in the book, and her sisters make me laugh out loud every time I read about them.

One of the things I love about Jane Austen is she wrote about some of the most bitchily horrible women possible, I think you’d have to go a long way to read about someone worse than Fanny Dashwood and her mother Mrs Ferrars (Sense and Sensibility), Caroline Bingley and Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Pride and Prejudice) and Aunt Norris (Mansfield Park)………even Elizabeth Bennet’s mother in Pride and Prejudice is pretty terrible and comes out with the most dreadful things…she’s not bitch, just head shakingly terrible.

Jane Austen is an incredibly humorous writer, there are huge passages in many of her books that make me laugh out loud with huge guffaws……and then there are passages which are so full of sadness and despair that I end up with tears running down my face and feeling my heart will break for the distress these characters are feeling.

 

jane austen

 

A very close second to Persuasion would be Sense and Sensibility, each time I read it I end up sobbing  my heart out for the frustrations of poor Elinor Dashwood, and like Jane Elliot, she has a difficult family to deal with (to be fair her family is actually a lot nicer but causes her upsets for different reasons)…..the things Mrs Ferrars (her brother’s mother-in-law) says to her are just incredibly rude and horrible and each time I read them I’d love to reach into the book and slap her face because she is so so horrid. But it is Lucy Steele who I probably get more cross with when I’m reading it, when she has her “little confidences” with Elinor, I hate her, she’s just awful…….

Apart from some wonderfully written dreadful females, Jane Austen writes wonderful dialogue and very female situations, each book has made me both laugh out loud and wipe my eyes, but also make my heart ache for the characters.  If you’ve not read any Jane Austen then Sense and Sensibility is a great first book to try.

BBC produces, in my opinion, the very best adaptations of her books, their Sense and Sensibilty with Hattie Morahan as Elinor Dashwood was so good, the scene at the end where she is wearing a pinny and baking makes my eyes tear up just thinking about it….. the costumes and scenery and wonderful acting make it a total treat for the eyes. (there is also a small posh and podgy child, dressed in velvet stuffing his face with chips which is so funny)

BBC also filmed an adaptation of Emma with Jonny Lee Miller as George Knightley and  Romola Garai  as Emma (she was perfect, exactly as I had imagined her when I’d read it) and Tamsin Greig was Miss Bates who is one of my most favourite characters of all time (maybe because she reminds me a lot of myself….I am a great chatterer of nonsense and such like)……

I never get bored of reading Jane Austen, I was a long time coming to her but now I can’t imagine a life without her books.

 

 

 

 

sitting down with a few good books…..

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…..at 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)…..it’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…..as 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!

Inspired by Edith Holden

 

When I was growing up we had a lovely book at home called “The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady ” (it was incredibly popular in the seventies and eighties here in the UK, and I don’t think there was a home in the country that didn’t have  a copy)… it was full of beautifully painted nature sketches, notes and observations by Edith Holden.

I recently bought the companion book to “The Country Diary” called  “The Nature Notes of an Edwardian Lady”, and as I was looking through it I became aware of how many of the plants around where I live now are different to where I grew up….I grew up in a village surrounded by common land, covered with Gorse and Broom, and a variety of trees….. there was one river running through the village but it wasn’t in an area where I played, that was on the heathland amongst Heather and Gorse bushes.  Generally it was the same as it had been in my dad’s day, he was born there and grew up there with his brothers, I’ve never thought about this before but I probably made secret dens in the same places him and his friends had done, maybe even climbed some of the same old trees.

Now I live near a small wood which used to be a chalk quarry, and a wide expanse of marshland….so, inspired by Edith Holden, I’m trying to learn the names and be able to identify the different plants and trees growing near my home.

 

book

 

In my bag I now keep this little gem, it’s one of the nicest pocket sized books to take out on a walk.  The illustrations inside are drawn and are a mix of  pen and ink, and watercolour…it’s not perfect but it feels nice and isn’t too overwhelming with a thousand and one different species… it just lists the most common plants..  to the side is a little sprig of blue Tufted Vetch.

I’ve folded a couple of sheets of blotting paper to keep in the back so if I see something I’m not really sure of and there is plenty of it growing I can press it to identify when I get home.

I’ve also got Cassell’s Wild Flowers of Britain and Northern Europe as another reference book, but that’s a weighty old tome and stays at home….

 

wild flowers in jam jar

 

These are my pickings from Monday’s walk….. all of these grow abundantly on the Marshes…

The white tufty plant is Meadowsweet (butterflies love it)….the thistle is Brown Knapweed….the parsley at the front with white blossom is Hedge Parsley…..the short fluffy purple is Water Mint (which apparently is good in cocktails*)….and the taller purple  plant which looks a bit red nettle-esque is Marsh Wound Wart.

 

wild flowers in jar

 

And in the second jam jar we have Purple Loosestrife (the tall purple plant)…..more Water Mint (the short fluffy lilacy plant)…..the medium pinky purple plant is Rosebay Willowherb (the marshes are so full of this…it looks gorgeous)…. and there’s also an Ash leaf and Elder leaf in there as well.

 

* in the Summer our favourite evening beverage is a glass of Orchard Mist….

(we prefer it with strawberries rather than raspberries, and we don’t use apple juice, just the Pomona Cider Brandy and lemonade….. delicious)

 

 

 

 

Weekend reading……

book reading 005

 

Some years ago I saw and fell in love with the cloth bound classics that had the most beautiful covers designed  by Coralie Bickford-Smith…. each year (generally at birthdays and Christmas) I acquire a few more to add to my collection.  Last year I had some proper whopper sized volumes to read and I’ve only just finished them.  I’d never read The Count of Monte Cristo before and it was just brilliant… it kept me completely gripped pretty much from the start and I just loved it.   Emma is one of my favourite books (I know she is supposed to make your head shake with some of the things that she does but I can’t help liking her…..) Mr Knightley is such a wonderful character and I think Mrs Elton is one of the most awful women I have read in a book…

 

books 003

 

Some of my favourite covers in the  series so far include Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice….. and the beautiful The Hound of the Baskervilles.  It’s such a subtle reference to a character in the story.

 

 

books 005

 

I also really like the parrot cover to Treasure Island and the knitting on A Tale of Two Cities makes me shudder and get goosebumps… it’s such an awful reference to Madame Defarge and the women who sat knitting below the guillotine, both in colour and the embossing of the knitting design.

 

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So as I’d finished the books in the pile by the bed, I finally treated myself to The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.   Because her books are such a wonderful treat I was trying to make reading it last a couple of weeks, thinking that I’d maybe read a dozen or so pages each night….. however like her other two books I’m finding myself wholly captivated and drawn in to the story…. I’m just over half way through and don’t want to do anything except tuck myself into an armchair, drink cups of tea and lose myself in her words…..

My favourite quilting resource books…don’t judge that book by its cover

After showing pictures and writing about how I made the quilt for Olive,  I thought I’d write a piece about which quilt reference books I turn to all the time.  They’re the quilting books I’d take if I ended up on that island in  Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs (in the program you can only take one book, but I’m greedy and would need these four for sure)…..I’m hoping there would be a supply of fabric and chocolate.

 

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First up is “Patchwork” by the Grand Dame of patchwork and quilting Averil Colby.  This is the one quilting book I really wouldn’t want to be without.  It is incredibly informative, it covers a good and thorough history of patchwork and although the illustrations inside are mostly black and white (and are often drawn)  it still manages to be inspiring.  This is a book more about patchwork rather than quilting. It covers a lot of the basics about good, simple design of the patchwork. If you are at all interested in making a quilt by hand then I’d really suggest a look at this book.  My own copy is very precious to me because my dad bought it for me.  The book was written in the fifties but in my opinion, what Mrs Coleby wrote then  is still as important today.

 

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Another golden oldie (first written in 1949) is “The Standard Book of Quilt Making and Collecting” by Marguerite Ickis.  All the illustrations inside are black and white, but it has very clear and precise instructions for how to make a whole range of patchwork tops.  It is a little more dated than the Averil Colby book but again is full of practical instructions and advice.  There is a nice selection of different blocks towards the back of the book, along with some good quilt care and advice.

What I like about these older books is that the quilts that are in them have not been sewn with a whole heap of equipment, just a few basic items.  Although quilting has long been thought of as a thrifty hobby, it often can become very expensive.  A lot of the more modern equipment does only need to be purchased the once so things like rotary cutters, plastic rulers etc can be put on birthday present wish lists, but I think it’s nice to go back to basics every once in a while.

 

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And here is the new love of my life…check out this bad boy…. “5,500 Quilt Block Designs” by Maggie Malone.  Now who would have thought that there were that many quilt block designs in the world?  Actually they are the patchwork block designs rather than the quilting, but anyway…this book is absolutely flipping fantastic.  I first saw it at my local library and pretty much fell head over heels in love.  Inside there are patterns for thousands of patchwork block patterns, and I’ve been using this as a resource for my Dear Jane inspired quilt.  Some of the blocks are of course very similar to each other, but it shows how a block can alter in appearance just with changing corner squares into triangles for example.   A couple of on-line reviews for this book complained that it doesn’t explain how you put the blocks together and while I appreciate that for beginners this could be a problem, for anyone who has done a couple of hours of patchwork then this shouldn’t be beyond them.

This is such an amazing book, it really can be used in so many ways, from making a quilt with just one block repeated time and time again, to choosing blocks for a traditional sampler quilt.  There is a great section on hexagons so if you want to paper piece a hexagon quilt there are loads of variations here so your quilt would really stand out from the rest.  The book is divided into sections of how many patches a block has (or can be divided into) and this really does help in placing blocks together.  I could talk about how brilliant this book is (being a hefty tome it can even be used to help keep “bingo wings” at bay) check it out form your local library.

I had to order my copy second hand on-line and it wasn’t cheap however it ended up being a birthday present from my mum so now I have fantastic quilt reference books from both my mum and dad.

 

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Lastly but by no means least (how could any collection of quilting books not include one by  the doyenne of quilting) “The Essential Quilter” by Barbara Chainey.  The quilting really does take centre stage in this book, which personally I think seems to get overlooked with a lot of the modern quilt books.  I know each to their own, and it is all personal preference but if you would like to learn how to make a quilt just that little bit more special then have a read of this lady.  There are some lovely clear instructions on how to hand quilt and some fantastic advice on designing your quilting (not the patchwork).  Some of the quilts photographed do look a bit dated due to fabrics used (we’re talking the nineties here!!) but the advice, techniques and know-how is as relevant as today.

I’ve got a whole shelf full of other quilting books and many of them are very very good, but these are the four that I turn to time and time again, for good, practical advice that is explained thoroughly and thoughtfully these ladies will not let you down.

I know a lovely lady that had some “art classes” not so long ago, and the first lesson or so covered  what I would call basic art exercises (the sort of thing you do the first few weeks of any foundation art course) looking at primary and secondary colours, changing their tones with grey, trying out different media…charcoal, chalks etc… and then she stopped because I think she thought she was going to be taught, straight in, how to “paint a picture” without learning any of the basics that support the know-how in painting that picture.  For me the above quilt books are full of examples that support making a quilt that is going to hold up over time.  Good design principles, thoughtful planning etc.  They may not, at first look, seem the most glamorous and exciting quilting books (I know a couple certainly won’t be the most colourful)  but the writing and advice given are going to be some of the very best.