spring cheats

P1280141Spring has most definitely sprung since my last post. And when away from my desk I have been enjoying the few bulbs I managed to plant last autumn — though I must confess that these grape hyacinths, like the Narcissus in this post, are something of a cheat.

About a month ago I bought a tray of potted bulbs going cheap at the market, the green shoots were just up, and I planted them in a trough. Since then I’ve been digging them up, a clump at a time, and bringing them into the house to enjoy whilst working.

Even though the weather has been fine their growth is fairly slow outside, but once in the house you can almost see their stalks moving as they take off. I’m quite enjoying this slightly cheaty approach to gardening — more on the path of least resistance for gardeners soon.

done!

P1280058A few weeks ago I finished Martha’s quilt. But work, the garden and a lot of DIY have meant that I’ve had no time to blog about it (or anything else, for that matter).

P1280054But here it is. And it was a doddle to make. I say that not as someone who lives to sew, but as someone who is largely ill at ease with a sewing machine. I made it over the course of about three days, working at it as time allowed.

Having all the fabrics washed, ironed and ready to go certainly speeded things up. As did the new approach to cutting …

P1280053thirty minutes with the rotary cutter and the pieces were ready. The random layout took another half an hour and by the end of Sunday afternoon I had finished the central patchwork panel. I added the borders that evening, and the next day I made the back panel and pinned the layers together.

P1280057The actual quilting took an afternoon and evening — I used a long needle in order to load as many stitches as I could — and then the final edging, with the tiny eye-straining stitches was the work of another evening in front of the television.

The finished quilt is a little smaller than a single bed and is the perfect size to wrap around a small child — by which I mean a nine-year-old like Martha, who is not especially tall for her age. She likes to ‘wear’ it to watch telly, and has it on her bed as well.

quiltThe whole thing was a real pleasure to make. Style-wise it’s quite a step away from the rather washed-out vintage fabrics of the first two quilts, and far brighter than the quilt I made at Jane Brocket’s workshop at Ray Stitch.

I feel I’ve come a long way: I really must emphasise that I am not a natural at this. Sewing is NOT my forte. I am confounded by patterns; all fingers and thumbs when cutting and pinning. And so, for all would-be quilters out there, I say in all honesty: if I can make a quilt then you can too. Just don’t kill the fun of it by getting hung up on it being right. And maybe begin by mucking about with a bunch of clothes you are planning to give to charity, that way there’ll be no heartache if it all goes wrong.

it’s raining again …

… but there’s an upside to the relentless rain: the garden is looking lush and green.

P1270693Or at least it looks lush and green from a distance. Closer inspection, conducted yesterday when the sun made a brief appearance, revealed that there is much work to be done.

P1270694And last Autumn’s uncharacteristically restrained bulb order hasn’t helped. Back in November I was delighted by the speed with which I was able to plant my bulbs, but now I am filled with regret. I watch and wait over one wine crate filled with tulips — Attila — and an old wash tub filled with ranunculus*, all the while wishing I’d planted more.

P1270709Yesterday afternoon I spotted pots of  Narcissus ‘Tete-a-Tete’ in M&S (£1 a pot) and I decided a little set-dressing was in order. I bought as many as I could carry and decided to concentrate my efforts on the part of the garden I can see from the kitchen.

The rest of the garden will have to wait until the weather has improved. For now I have a bit of instant Spring —meteorologically-speaking it is Spring, but half the time it still feels like winter — in the form of bright narcissus against clouds of Clematis armandii.

*at least I think it’s a tub of ranunculus — note-keeping is not my strong point. I do remember ordering some, I think I planted them here…

wardrobe mistress

P1270630I have always adored fabric and I am particularly fascinated by patchwork quilts. I enjoy the way that unexpected pairings — acid yellow florals with vibrant pink checks, for example — can be made to work so harmoniously alongside one another, despite the fact that in any other context the designs would clash horribly.

P1270628I love the texture of quilts, the little ridges and troughs made by the stitching which binds the patchwork top to the wadding and the back like a sandwich. I like the fact that quilts are both things of beauty and also wonderfully practical — works of art even, that can be pressed into service on beds and around bodies.

Patchwork quilts are also a sort of emergency service for fabrics which would otherwise be destined for the scrap heap: fabrics ruined by inexpert hands taking scissors along the wrong path in a pattern, clothes past their prime or scraps left over from other projects.

P1270640So far I have muddled and botched my way through the making of two largish quilts, both are in the photo above and I’ve blogged about them here and here.

The recipients, my daughters, were delighted with them despite the shoddy finishing. I, however, have always felt slightly dissatisfied with my efforts. It’s not that I don’t like them, but more that they weren’t quite what I wanted them to be. And I realised that I was limited both by my skill (lack of) and my mindset: I panic as my scissors bite into a piece of fabric knowing that cloth, unlike yarn, is altered irreparably when it is cut. Knit something horrible and you can unravel it; make something ill-advised with a length of lovely cloth and you have ruined your lovely cloth.

In short, I’d reached a dead end.

P1270322So earlier this month I went along to Ray Stitch, one of the capital’s loveliest fabric and haberdashery shops, for a quilt workshop with Jane Brocket.

P1270319I decided to treat myself to the course when I realised that my jealously guarded stash of fabric (a mix of pieces I’ve bought, been given and salvaged from favourite clothes), was in danger of simply mouldering away in a cupboard.

The workshop was based around the Wardrobe Quilt in her latest book Quilt Me!, in which different weights of fabric (old shirts, skirts and jackets) had been repurposed as a stylish and durable quilt. This really appealed to me as it would tackle one of the biggest growth areas in my stash — old clothes I no longer wear, or which the girls have out-grown, but I can’t quite part with.

I had assumed that using different fabric weights was a complete no-no in quilting terms. Yet pairing tweeds with cotton, wool with corduroy, makes complete sense when you consider how one might put together an outfit. True, stitching velvet to cotton and cotton to tweed is not always easy, but visually it’s worth the effort.

P1270312Jane Brocket is a great debunker and has a wonderfully straightforward approach to quilting, which really boils down to whether or not you want to get it made: aim for perfection, she says, and you may never get round to cutting out your pieces let alone sewing them together; aim to get it done, rules be damned, and you’ll have a passable quilt top by the end of the afternoon. Which is pretty much what everyone on the course had achieved by the end of the day.

It transpired that we all shared the same apprehension about quilts, chiefly the idea that there were rules, and more than that, rulers, to contend with. But Jane introduced us to the idea of slicing a ten inch strip across each of our chosen fabrics (selvedge to selvedge) and then cutting these strips into random or even widths, depending on our personal preference.

P1270311By the end of half an hour (or less — so helpful to have a proper lesson on how to use a rotary cutter) we all had five or six piles of ten or more strips or squares with which to play around with. And it was amazing just how quickly our schemes established themselves.

P1270313This was nothing short of a Eureka moment for me. My fabrics included an old Liberty shirt, some tweed, a strip of velvet from some old curtains and a couple of cottons I’d acquired over the years. And I bought the yellow Charley Harper fabric at Ray Stitch as I realised I needed something bright to give it a bit of a lift.

P1270625Last night, three weeks after cutting the first pieces out, I finished hand stitching the back of the binding. I even mitred the corners! Something I really felt was way beyond my capabilities. But again, having someone demonstrate what is actually an incredibly simple, if fiddly, technique, made an enormous difference. Thank you Jane!

And a huge thanks too, to Rachel Hart at Ray Stitch who provided us with sewing machines, the run of the basement of her fantastic shop and a delicious lunch. My fellow course mates were lovely too, and it was inspiring to see what they were working on. I really wish I’d taken more photographs, but we were hard at it all day, and there just wasn’t time. 

behind the lens

James Balston and I have had a busy couple of weeks both shooting house features and also nosing around houses taking recce shots for future stories. I couldn’t help noticing that James has a uncanny ability to coordinate his wardrobe to suit the locations we visited.

P1270222:2First, in a wonderfully quirky house in Montpelier, I was struck by the way James’s green velvet jacket looked so good against the olive green walls and the flash of lime on the lampshade in the background.

P1270330Later, at our shoot in Peckham, James’s outfit managed to work well, with a slight adjustment, in two very different rooms. Above, in a very dark sitting room and below, in a bathroom —practically in the bath. Impressive.

IMG_2663I don’t think any of my clothes matched anything at all. I’ve clearly got to up my game.

You can see more of James’s work here, including some of the houses we’ve worked on together. I am planning to get my work archive on here soon, but need to freshen up the look of the blog first, I think.

anemones

P1270360This time last year these anemones were flowering in my garden. Planted in an old wine box, their jewel-bright flowers provided an exotic splash of colour throughout the winter (first appearing in October 2012 and valiantly doing their thing until mid-March 2013).

They haven’t returned this year, but I’m not too disappointed. Much as I love Anemone coronaria De Caen — the sooty stamen, which look like someone’s been at them with the mascara, and the soft, velvety petals which come in such glorious colours * — I always felt they looked somewhat incongruous in the garden. I’ve decided I prefer these anemones in the vase, which is fortunate as the florists are filled with them at this time of year. That’s not to say that I won’t be tempted to buy more corms later this year though.

P1270359The deep violet blue flowers above (my favourites, I think) were at my parents’ house in London this weekend, and the ones below are here in Bristol.

P1270370I bought this bunch last week when the buds were still so tightly closed that I had no idea which colour/s would be waiting for me on my return. I got a nice surprise yesterday: a blowsy explosion in my favourite jug which, by chance, suits them perfectly.

For some wonderfully detailed, highly magnified photographs of individual flowers click HERE— it’s amazing what a google search can lead you too.