Thursday, 30 June 2011

To be a farmer's wife

If you have come looking for my midsummer giveaway, you will find it in the post below - you have until the beginning of next week to enter.

It may not have escaped your notice that a certain Farmer's Wife quilt has become all the go in Blogland, and having seen the most wonderful quilt blocks being created by Dragonfly, Leila, Nicky, Angela, and some others I can't quite remember (prompt me if you can), I have decided to take the plunge and am now in proud possession of the book.

Being of a thrifty turn, I did not buy it myself, but it so happened that it was our wedding anniversary, and I bought the Head Chef a card with a most poignant quotation, guaranteed to bring a tear to the eye. We have an agreement not to buy each other cards and wasteful consumerist tat on our anniversary, so  such a card elevated me to a moral high ground (which is a most satisfying place to be, as I constantly remind my offspring) from which I could broadly hint as to the sort of present which would be an exceedingly acceptable reciprocation (I also sent him a clickable link and held his hand while he navigated the darkest reaches of the Amazon website).

A present from my dear Head Chef
And lo and behold! (yes, once again life is full of surprises) what did I find but a nice little parcel arriving post haste at my cottage door. The Head Chef knows me so well and judges my taste so exactly, that it was the perfect appreciation for a loyal wife of so many years, who is so devoted to her lord and master and panders to his every whim in a sweet and complaisant tone. Whether she exists or not is another, more metaphysical question, and one to which I cannot imagine the answer ...

As to the book itself, I can highly recommend it. It is the sort of craft book which I love, being more than a mere set of instructions: there is as much to read and look at and think about as to do. This, for example, is why I enjoy Jane Brocket's books The Gentle Art of Knitting and The Gentle Art of Quilt-Making: they are a visual feast, and encourage one to think about the why of a craft as well as the how, and lead you to exercise your own creativity and explore colour and form, whatever your level of technical skill. Books like this demonstrate that a high level of technical expertise is not a prerequisite for producing a meaningful and beautiful piece of work, and manage to appeal to readers of all skill levels. (And what's more, there is so much to read, to look at, and to enjoy, that you needn't feel guilty if you don't actually get round to making any of the projects.)

But not only have I read and enjoyed The Farmer's Wife Sampler Quilt book, I have made my first two blocks. The book has patterns and templates for 111 blocks (included on a CD so you don't have to draw them out yourself), and if you make all of them you will have enough for a king-size bed quilt, but you don't have to be daunted by that number. The smallest quilt, which is 57 x 67in (around 1.5 x 1.7m), takes only 55, thus is much less of an undertaking, and will produce more of a sofa-sized quilt for snuggling up by the fire (rather appealing to me, chilly soul that I am).

The blocks take inspiration from and have been designed to accompany a series of letters from farmer's wives from the 1920s, entries in a Farmer's Wife magazine competition, and are a wonderful piece of social and domestic history, giving a window into the world of country women in the early part of the twentieth century, how their lives had changed and were changing, as they talk about their lives, reminisce about the past, and hope for the future.

I have been pondering my approach to this project, and how I will use this book to produce my own quilt. The notion of a farmer's wife quilt is one with which I can connect: I am the granddaughter, daughter, and mother of farmers, the wife of a smallholder, and have also worked and work on the land myself. I am a countrywoman at heart, leading a country life and want this quilt to be pieced out of my own memory and experience, so a big part of it will be made from stash, those leftovers from other projects which carry memories of their own. For my first blocks I was also able to use some of the fabric that Leila so kindly gave me as part of the Sew Mama Sew giveaway.

It could be difficult with a project like this to ensure that the colours work, because it seems to me that it is not one that I would buy coordinating fabrics for at the outset, but I think it is important to have some unifying theme or idea that will tie the quilt together metaphorically, if not visually. For me, I think it will be the colours of the natural world around me - which gives a pretty big palette to work with if I look closely.

The first block I stitched was block 2, Autumn Tints: I have used the colours of autumn. The circles in the centre squares talk to me of sunset and sunrise, the large, low westering sun and the harvest moon (and I deliberately did not fussy cut so they would be partial, sinking over the horizon). There are little red berries to harvest, the colours of fruit and wheat, sky and earth, all mellow and red and gold.

The second is block 4, Basket Weave. Here I was inspired by the mixtures of green and gold just beginning to appear in the lanes and fields about me.

 The beginning of end-of-season senescence is present even in midsummer as the peas start to desiccate, some of the earliest leaves begin to yellow, and the green wheat takes on a golden tinge.

The lightest fabric has a trellis reminiscent of baskets, and is full of memory as I used it in a summer frock for a little princess who is growing up fast, and all three capture this sense of summer on the turn: they have flowers and green leaves, as well as the golden tints which hint at the harvest to come.

And that I think is enough for one day - just notice the difference in appearance between the blocks set square and on point - something to remember when piecing, as they will be on point in the quilt. And I love the look of the hand pieced blocks - something imposed on me by the continued absence of my much-missed Rose, but I think in keeping with the feeling of this quilt. Surely memories must always be stitched in by hand ...?

Monday, 27 June 2011

Midsummer giveaway

Well, I know it is just after midsummer, but I am running a little behind myself at the moment. Actually, I am most often running a little behind myself, but today I have caught up, and I have six lovely presents to give away, courtesy of the kind people at Search Press, and bunting is the theme.

Now, some of my most loyal, longstanding readers (do I have any, I wonder?) may remember that I have a penchant for jolly bunting about the place, but the thrifty bunting that I made here is now looking a little tired, as you can see.

Tired bunting

So Kate Haxell's book Twenty to Make: Bunting and Pennants is just the book I needed to help me along my way. At a very reasonable price, this little book packs in a lot of ideas for bunting of all shapes and sizes, and for different situations.

Before I was so miserably parted from my dear Rose, I had time to rustle up some felt bunting to jolly up my kitchen window. The pattern in the book was for mini bunting suitable for a child's room, for example, but I sized it up as I am on the verge of my second childhood, I think.  The felt came from Paper and String, where Sarah does a huge range of colours, and even with making large flags, each one could be cut from a 4in/10cm square, which Sarah sells nice little multicoloured stacks of (preposition at the end of a sentence, whatever next?)

Happy kitchen window

The motivational prints were made to order from Pie Foundry. The left hand one is for the Head Chef (Don't do it tomorrow, do it today) and the right hand one for me (Be the change you want to see) - which tells you much about us; exactly what, I will leave you to puzzle out.

But back to the bunting. Princess Bunchy, as is her wont, has put in an order for some Flower Power Bunting and chosen a selection of fabrics.

Nice and easy instructions
I have found lots of ideas in the book for bunting to enhance our luxury shed, and generally to prettify my life (nearly a split infinitive, but not quite, I held back). And yes, this is a wonderful way to use up those orts and scraps of fabric in your stash, making it a Very Thrifty purchase. So all in all, a jolly nice little book, full of jolly nice bunting.


And six of you can have a bunting book of your very own, thanks to those nice people at Search Press. 'How may I get my mitts on one?' I hear you saying, 'She witters on and takes an age to get to the nitty gritty ...'.

So here it is - three simple steps to enter the giveaway: please read the rubric carefully, and remember to turn over the page. 

1. You need to be a Follower of my blog - so run along and sign up if you aren't one already.

2. Visit the Search Press website which is packed full of enticing crafty books (and free patterns, too), and find a book which you think is the bees' knees (metaphorically speaking, of course) and should be on everyone's wishlist.

3. Come back and tell me about it via the Comments box.

Please, please ensure that you are contactable via your comment - if you don't have your email in your profile, put it in your comment, otherwise you cannot win. If you never win giveaways and no one ever responds to your comments, chances are you are a 'no-reply blogger' - read this post by Victoria to remedy it, or click on the No Reply button in my sidebar to find out more.

I will leave this giveaway open for about a week, and so will be looking for a pleasant dog or a passing stranger next Monday or Tuesday to help me with the draw. There will be six winners of the bunting and pennants book to be announced, so the odds must be pretty good. Bonne chance!

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Giving and receiving

One of the loveliest things about the Land of Blog is the continual circulation of gifts. You might remember that I sent out a couple of little parcels as part of the Sew Mama Sew giveaway, and Karen very kindly returned the compliment by sending me some of her beautiful cards, and a lovely fat quarter, all tied up with ribbon. Don't you just love the one with the giant cat feet?

And if you would like a set for yourself, they are available in her shop here, together with some of her wonderful handmade goodies (I have a hankering for the tea cosy).

As well as sending out two giveaway prizes, I was also lucky enough to be the recipient of two myself - that certainly is a circulation of blessings.

Andrea sent me this dear little purse, together with two fat quarters. It has taken up residence in my lovely new bag - Andrea's little zip bag is so sweet and just the right size for the essential on the job maintenance paint required by a woman of a certain age (I have to leave the cement mixer at home, it won't quite fit in).

Andrea has lots more lovely confections in her shop, and I have just seen on her blog that she has a special holiday discount code which you will find here. (The vintage style bag is on my Etsy wishlist, which seems to be growing at an alarming rate.)

And to cap it all, a little parcel came chuntering up my lane from Leila at Where the Orchids Grow, full of fabric goodness.

There was a beautiful tea towel and pot holder - just look at that immaculate stitching! Leila has a shop here, and has a 20% off summer sale on at the moment, so hurry along.

And here for your delectation is a picture of the wonderful array of fabric scraps which accompanied them.

And now I hear you saying, what are you going to do with all that fabric? Fear not - much as I love folding and arranging it all, I have determined on my course. The Farmer's Wife book is in my possession and I am not letting the grass grow under my feet:  I have already started on my way, and I will be reporting in with progress very soon.

I seem to have gone on too long, and real life is beckoning - I promise that my very next blog post will be the giveaway, so hope to see you then.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Weekend amusements: what to do with a fat quarter

A little while ago I promised to post a quick and easy idea for something to make with a fat quarter, and as I sit here mourning the continued absence of my dear Rose, who is awaiting a part for her bobbin winder, I thought that I could spend my Saturday afternoon doing some imaginary sewing, just so that you can spend a spare half hour doing some actual stitching.

Basket liners galore and an orphan

I often find that I have a superfluity of fat quarters in my stash, as it is all too tempting to buy a little piece of a particularly nice fabric, and then find that it is rather small to do anything with, and the leftovers from dressmaking also tend to be little more than fat quarter size.

So what to do with those little bits of fabric: you could try this pattern and make a nice little bag like I did here, or you could try this pattern which is great fun (I was lucky to be in on the testing, and will show you the results another time), or you could buy this book which is all the rage in Blogland (yes, I admit it, I have succumbed and am already planning to be virtuous and use up my stash, of course, and there will be no special fabric purchases (well, not many, anyway)).

Or you could be thrift personified and make my handy-dandy basket liner and use up one of those fat quarters lurking guiltily in your stash. It's a nifty way of turning a square into a circle, and a very simple way to line baskets of all shapes without going to the trouble of paper patterns and stitching curves.

First take your basket - mine was a pretty standard bread basket approximately 34in/86cm in diameter, and 8in/20cm high (9in/23cm if you allow for the overlap), as you see in the picture. It doesn't matter if it is a bit smaller as the effect will just be more gathered.

Cut the fat quarter in half, crossways, at right angles to the selvedge. This gives you two rectangles approximately 9in/23cm high and 22in/56cm across.

Put the two pieces of fabric right sides together and stitch 1/2in/1cm seams along the short edges, which will make a tube ....

... which will look like this.

Pink the seams to avoid fraying ... and the top and bottom raw edges.

Iron the side seams open.

Fold the top and bottom raw edges over 1/2in/1cm and iron down.

Create a casing by stitching all the way round close to the raw edge, leaving a small gap of around 1in/2.5cm between starting and finishing, so that you can insert elastic or ribbon for gathering.

For a permanent gather you can use elastic, but this makes the gather permanent, and the liner not so easy to iron if you wash it.

To get round this I just use string in the bottom casing - thread it through, pull tight ...

and tie in a bow underneath ...

... and a pretty ribbon in the top casing. These can be removed for washing and ironing.

So there you are - half an hour's fun and prettification of a boring basket.

Squared the circle

I, of course, am machine-less, and can only dream of such things, but I have found solace in sock knitting for an orphan.

Lonely orphan and friend in the making

Have a good weekend - and come back for my giveaway early next week: six, yes, six prizes to be won!

Thursday, 16 June 2011

The granny fashionista steps out again

It may be June, but it is certainly not flaming here in the far south-east, and yes, I am wearing a vest today, and had a hottie in bed last night (Amy has just told me that  in America this means something quite different from hot water bottle, but I do mean hot water bottle, and not the Head Chef, nice as he is). However, you will see from the picture that I did find a summer frock opportunity a week or so ago, and you never know, I might even get to wear it again before winter.

Soft focus (recommended for granny fashion shoots)
This frock is not just granny fashion style, I think it is actually old enough to have belonged to your granny - I suspect this dress is just as old as me.

The arms are a trick of the light

I saw it hanging in a charity shop, and something about the fabric and pattern spoke to me across the rails - it just had an air of difference which stood out amongst the mediocrity. In fact, this dress called me in from the street, where I was supposed to be meeting my dear mamma outside the optician's (it was all right, I didn't lose her - when she saw that I was not waiting for her by the door, she just headed for the nearest charity shop, reasoning that it was the place I was most likely to be, and she was right).

So I tried on this frock (how did it make it to an anonymous high street shop - why was it not diverted to the vintage market?) which is made of an interesting textile called Dicell KN Celanese Acetate - just look at the label, it has vintage written all over it.

This is a label from my childhood - wonderfully vague washing instructions, with no buckets to be seen. A mild, warm wash just sounds so cosy ...

And how we have grown since then - the shop had labelled it size 12 in accordance with the label, but just look at those measurements - bust 34in, hips 36in. That's me, and I am a standard size 10 now.

Which might be why this frock had not flown off the rail before I strolled in to take it home; it was also very tight round the arms on me, which I put down to my arms fattening with age, and my dear mamma pointed out that the neckline was a tad high. But I did not care - this floral frock was waiting for me, and I was not going to let it down.

But let it down I did - at home, when I was gingerly ironing the creases from the Celanese acetate (perhaps my wash was not mild enough), I suddenly noticed a different colour stitching on the shoulder seam. Very bravely I attacked these interlopers with a seam ripper, and lo and behold! (there's a lot of that in my life) the armholes increased in size and the neckline dropped down. The first lady owner must have had tiny arms and a short body, and perhaps she never really felt at home in this frock, because it has a never-worn air.

Skipping granny fashionista - mind the uneven surface

Which proves that this dress was just waiting for me and my long body and fat arms to skip happily about the garden in it.

And now I would like some help from you. I am not sure when this dress was made but I suspect the early sixties - do you have any idea? The construction is a simple shift, with a single bust dart on either side. I think it must come after the full-skirted numbers of the 1950s, and before the very minis of the mid and late 1960s (which I remember). But you may know better, and any suggestions will be most gratefully received.

Hectoring headless granny fashionista

And finally, I will get on to What I Learn, which is what my science teacher used to make us write at the end of the experiment: (a) I now know why models are so young (so they don't have fat arms and wrinkly hands), and (b) if you want to be a granny fashion model, your photographer must either be shorter than you, or if he is taller, make him crouch down, otherwise not only will your arms look fat, so will your ankles, and the general effect will be of the sack of potatoes kind, and (c) chop your head off as this will avoid all sorts of double chins, bags under the eyes, wrinkles and generally less than fetching expressions, which of course are all a trick of the light, because you don't really look like that. No, surely not?

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

The empty nest flies across the ocean

After my exciting day yesterday, which you can read about here, I also had an exciting homecoming - all in all it was a bit of a day for a quiet country mouse, and I felt overcome by it all - and I think you might have done, too, if you had come home to this.

It's a bit difficult to see quite how large it is from the photo - if I were the sensible sort I would have put a pound coin in for scale, but I think you have all realized now that I am not nearly sensible enough, and if you haven't noticed, why thank you most kindly.

Ginormous parcel
I was sitting most quietly in front of Hermione's sister, tip tapping away about the excitement of spending part of yesterday afternoon on a sofa next to a famous gardener, when the Head Chef staggered in under the weight of the most enormous air mail parcel that I have ever received.

(It was so gigantic that Posty Wayne had to leave a little note on a smaller envelope saying that a very big package was hiding in the blue wheely bin, awaiting my innocent return.)

Well, you could have knocked me down with a feather when I saw this - but you can see that I truly sensed its magnificence by the fact that I stopped to take a photo. It was so beautifully wrapped that I felt that I must record such a parcel for posterity.

And what treasures did that ginormous parcel hold? you may be asking - and well may you ask. Just sit yourself down, or hold onto something quite stable first, while I explain all.

My beautiful new summer bag

The lovely Janet at The Empty Nest emailed me recently to say that I had won her giveaway of a bag and some fabric.

This is the bag - which is just the loveliest thing (I had been looking for a summer bag, and lo and behold! a most beautiful one turns up in the post) - and this is the fabric.

Heaps ...

I opened that bag and the cornucopia of fabric gorgeousness which came tumbling out in yards and half yards quite took my breath away (yes, again - it was a very overcoming day). I was so touched by Janet's generosity and kindness in sending this huge bundle of textile goodness across the seas that really words failed me (and you probably have realized by now, even if you are still under the impression that I am sensible, that I am rarely lost for words).

and heaps ...

So once again a most ginormous thank you to Janet from the very bottom of my welly boots, and I also recommend that you go and look at her lovely blog, where she makes things and restores and repaints furniture as well, all recorded in beautifully photographed detail - and maybe you can also tell her what a kind and generous person she is, too.

... and heaps of lovely fabric

Tuesday, 14 June 2011


Inspiration is what I found today - of the sharp intake of breath kind, the joy of discovering somewhere totally in tune with your sensibilities, a place full of a dynamic creativity in action.

Avert your eyes from the boards

And where did you find this, you may ask? Well, today I was privileged enough to pay a visit to Great Dixter, which is one of the most wonderful gardens I have ever seen, surrounding a mellow old timbered house, that has the qualities of somewhere out of a tale of history and mystery.

A few pots by the door

Not only did I find inspiration in the magnificent creativity of the planting and the surprising and magical juxtapositions to be found in the series of yew-enclosed gardens, but I was also lucky enough to spend some time sitting on the sofa in the soft, ochre light of a cavernous drawing room listening to Fergus Garrett, the head gardener, explain his vision for Great Dixter, and his philosophy of gardening.

In spite of his busy schedule Fergus was charming and welcoming, and interested in permaculture to boot, which must be a good thing, and in a short time I learned a lot from him about establishing and managing a meadow, too. The meadows at Great Dixter are a sight to behold, even this late in the season, the long borders are breathtaking, and the compost heaps quite magnificent.

A happy place to work it must be: one lady told us that she had been there for 35 years! The house and garden are suffused with the spirit of the late Christopher Lloyd, whose renown as gardener and writer does not need rehearsing, and remain true to his memory without being preserved in aspic.

I was given Christopher Lloyd's book, Gardener Cook, some years ago: it is a lovely book which led us through our earliest days of growing our own food, a combination of commonsense gardening advice and simple, delicious recipes for dishes made with the produce of your garden - and my outing today has inspired me to read it again and try out some more of those recipes.

Patchwork of pink and yellow: you could do this at home

And looking at the wonderful combinations of colours and flowers and foliage in Fergus Garrett's plantings has inspired me to be even more adventurous in my own little patch, and given me confidence in what I have done already. Not to mention the fact that yellow rattle is what I need to primp my meadow to perfection.

So if you were considering a day out, one at Great Dixter is well worth the journey - you will be sure to find pleasure, and inspiration, as well as ideas achievable in the smallest of plots and on the smallest of scales.

A front door to aspire to


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