Saturday, 25 December 2010

One of my favourite carols

Part of "The Virgin adoring the child" by Pietro Perugino
So, as it is Christmas Day (and a very Happy Christmas to you), I felt it appropriate to share with you a small part of one of my favourite carols, "It came upon the midnight clear". This is a relatively recent favourite for me, but one which I feel has an enormous relevance and resonance for us today.

"Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man at war with man, hears not
The love song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing."

If only we could hush the noise.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Sparkling frost

Braving the minus temperatures in the mornings to put the bird food out, I can't help noticing how beautiful the frost makes things look. Yes, it is literally freezing and not nice to have to spend much time outside, but the odd few minutes is all you need. The flowerheads on Hydrangea Arborescens Annabelle looked magical, outlined with the frost, with the muted colours highlighted and enlivened.
I am sure that I am not alone in wondering whether any of my plants in pots have survived this awful weather. I did insulate most of them, but I have a feeling that this will not have been enough. I would be sorry to lose those large plants which I have nurtured and grown on, but until Spring, I won't know how many have succumbed. There is a positive, in that there will be more spaces in which to put new plants, but this is not much of a consolation. I'll just have to wait and see. Patience, patience, patience.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Pink hearts

These photos show a present for my god-daughter in Canada. She is getting very grown up now and so I hope she will like this decoration. She used to like pink a lot, so I am hoping she hasn't grown out of that yet! The heart has two different shades of pink with an angelina fibre heart stitched onto the centre of each side. The photos really don't capture the lovely sparkle of the angelina, but the effect was very pleasing.

I have emailed her mother, giving instructions that she is not to let her see it on here, but somehow I doubt she would be that interested in the mundane ramblings of her godmother anyway. Once it finally reaches Canada (the way the weather is going here, it might just get there by her birthday in May), I hope she will like it. Fingers crossed!

Monday, 13 December 2010

Clogs and folk dances

Got their clogs on ... (left to right) Tiny Taylor, Laura Connolly and Fiona Bradshaw perform clog dancing in Newcastle. Photograph: Stuart Wood/BBC
Clog dancing - not my usual train of thought for my blog. However, I was totally transfixed by the programme on BBC4 last Friday night; 'Come Clog Dancing', where Charles Hazlewood, the noted conductor, attempted to get a flash mob style clog dance together in Newcastle. The dancing was fantastic, the music infectious and it was a real feel-good programme that made me itch to join in! However, having attempted tap dancing in the past and finding that I could either manage feet or arms, but not together, I know that it is much harder than it looks. There were professional dancers as well as novices and the end result was great. The programme also featured various other dancers and was a real revelation. The Guardian review can be found here .

Following on from that, today I watched a programme celebrating folk dances from around England - 'Still Folk Dancing after all these Years' - where two clog dancing and folk singing sisters went around England during the summer months, following various folk dance festivals. This was fascinating and shows that despite pressures to ignore our heritage, thanks to some groups, it is still live and kicking (or should that be dancing?), and long may it continue to do so. A link to a review is here:

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Finished felt piece

Hoorah! I have finally finished this sunset felt piece. It has been hanging around for ages and then I added some embroidery and stopped. I wasn't sure how much more to do, so it got left on the side, until I saw it again last week and finally got it sorted. Knowing when to stop with embellishments is the most difficult thing, I think, but hopefully I have got it right this time.
The piece is based on a really dramatic sunset I saw earlier in the year, with fiery oranges and yellows contrasting with gray and black clouds. Nature is a constant inspiration...

Saturday, 4 December 2010

At Home with the Georgians

(Photo courtesy of BBC)
I enjoyed the first episode of the new series 'At home with the Georgians' presented by Professor Amanda Vickery. It gave an insight, through predominantly male diaries, of the way the home was thought of as an important part of attracting a wife. Yes, Professor Vickery used a style that would appeal to most viewers, for instance describing a particular woman as a cross between Margaret Thatcher and Nigella Lawson(!) However, this was an enjoyable and informative hour and, as I am particularly interested in social history, a perfect programme for me. My heart went out to one lady who was living with her wealthy brother and was regarded as a hanger-on, dependent on him for everything. She had just her cat for comfort and kept to her room most of the time. Her diary entries were very poignant.
My one niggle was when Professor Vickery found a portrait of one of her 'heroes' and was less than impressed with his jowly appearance (although I am surprised she didn't comment that the portrait showed a wealthy middle-aged man, rather than the young man she had imagined from his letters). I felt this to be a very emotional (and I have to say, female) reaction and I hadn't expected this in a balanced analysis, but I suppose as presenter, having lived with the diaries during her research, perhaps it was a genuine disappointment to her.
I have read a couple of reviews of the programme, one good, one less so, but isn't that always the way? I found it to be a fascinating programme, allowing lost voices from the past to be heard. I look forward to the next two in the series.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Christmas reading

I know that it is a bit early for proper Christmas reading, but what with all the snow and freezing temperatures, my 'inner child' has been quietly nudging me to re-read various excerpts from some of my favourite books, both childhood and beyond. So, I gave in to temptation and have been re-acquainting myself with Mole and Badger's cosy warm homes; Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy's heroic breakfast donations; Christmas parties at Dingley Dell with Mr Pickwick; Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy in Narnia and Tolly's adventures at Green Knowe. Each is like an old friend who doesn't criticise you for not visiting as often as you should, but welcomes you wholeheartedly and makes you feel as though you have never been away.
Of course, the quintessential Christmas story has to be 'A Christmas Carol' which I have read this morning. The book is so much better than any adaptation for TV or film, no matter how good they are. It has a wonderful humour to it as well as amazing descriptions of a Victorian Christmas at Fezziwig's and nephew Fred's house. There are mouth watering descriptions of Victorian shops, overflowing with succulent fruit and treats - how can the reader not be drawn in? The redemption of Scrooge is the central theme, naturally, and Dickens lays before his reader the whole of Scrooge's life, explaining what led him to become the miserly old skinflint and how this cold veneer was eventually shattered. In this freezing snowy weather, what could be better than to allow these stories to send you a warm glow?

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Snow, snow, snow!

Like just about everyone else in Britain at the moment, we have had a load of snow. In fact, in the seventeen years we have lived here, this is the worst it has been. Although it is very beautiful to look at, it causes havoc when people have to get to places and farm animals can't be having a great time either. The garden looked very different this morning and I didn't recognise my plants at all. I am going to find a good book to read, get the fire lit and make myself a cup of tea. Depending on how lazy I feel, I may even do some embroidery. I shall admire the landscape from inside...

Friday, 26 November 2010


I am currently enjoying reading 'Katherine' by Anya Seton, a novel based on the life of Katherine Swnford. Having read a factual biography of Katherine not so long ago, I was discussing her life with a work colleague, who later presented me with this book as a gift (what a lovely surprise!) Having spent the last couple of months with my head inside 'The Seven Basic Plots', (which, though incredibly interesting and fascinating, has needed lots of concentration and thought), it is a pleasant change to just enjoy a story. The character of Katherine in the novel is captivating, (although it always helps if the heroine is beautiful - naturally) and of course, her counterpart, John of Gaunt, is portrayed as the equivalent of Rhett Butler - suitably heroic but with a dash of darker characteristics. It is the perfect book to be reading at this time of year, when it is dark at 4.00pm. An open fire, good book and some chocolate are the perfect antidote to the cold (and my favourite way to spend an afternoon or evening).

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Embroidery stitches

Above is my other latest purchase in the book department and it is a fantastic resource. It shows an amazing number of embroidery stitches with step by step instructions and includes embroidery as well as tapestry stitches. I am particular interested in 'seeding stitch' and in different stitches that I can use for plant forms. It is a really inspirational book to dip into and has given me lots of ideas for embellishing my felt work. Now I need to sit down (with no other distractions) and finish off those pieces. Once they are complete, I can start on some new pieces.

On a totally unrelated matter, this morning I noticed that the ice on top of the car had formed into the most incredible swirling patterns. Why is it that I never have my camera with me when I need it? As the cold icy and snowy weather is due to continue into next week, hopefully all is not lost and I may be able to take some photos tomorrow.
(Photo from

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Angelina again...

Having investigated, in a very small way, the way Angelina works, I decided I needed some guidance on the subject, to know just what can be done with it. Trawling through various websites, I found only one book - 'Between the sheets with Angelina' - (rather a tongue-in-cheek title, I thought) so ordered it. I wasn't disappointed as it has lots of ideas and examples of exciting things Angelina fibres can be used for, from embossing to adding to scarves, the list is wide and varied. I think I need to keep the 'less is more' mantra in my head when I use it though, as it would be very easy to get carried away and it would then lose its impact and would detract from the felt. I have just ordered some more Angelina in 'Forest Blaze' and 'Peacock' as I felt these colours would work well with my felt landscape pieces. Now to do some more experimenting.
(Photo from

Friday, 19 November 2010

More on Angelina

Here are my first rather tentative experiments using Angelina fibres in various different colours. The camera does not really do them justice as they are a lot more reflective and sparkly than they appear. I combined a few different colours to see what the effects would be and then cut into a piece to investigate various shapes and cut lines. I can see possibilities within my felt making as I can apply pieces and attach them with embroidery as well as trapping fibres during the felt making process. I also tried to punch shapes out, but that wasn't quite so successful, as the end result didn't have the clean edges I was hoping for. I am going to have a lot of fun experimenting!

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Hello to Angelina

I was busy doing my ironing and happened to be watching QVC crafting one Tuesday, when the presenter demonstrated Angelina fusible fibres. I had never heard of them before and was intrigued. She laid various strands of the fibres in between some non stick parchment paper and ironed over the top for all of three seconds or so. The fibres bonded together to create a fabric with lots of sparkle! This material can be sewn into, stamped on etc. and I could see huge potential for embellishing my felt work. The fibres stick to each other and not to any background fabric so could be placed and secured with wool in a felt piece.
I started to investigate via the internet and ordered a selection of colours so that I can experiment. I am looking forward to finding out what can be done with this material. It has been around for a few years and seems to have originated in America, as so many of the crafting materials do. I'll post some of my experiments onto my blog and you can watch my progress...

Monday, 15 November 2010

Craft Fairs and websites

I went to two little craft fairs last weekend and there was a lot of interest in my felt landscape images as well as the hears and stars. People wanted to know all about the inspiration and the felt making process and were extremely complimentary about the work.
However, encouraging people to buy something was a little more of a challenge! I did get one commission for a twilight felt piece and I sold a few of the hearts and stars, so more than covered my costs.
I shall have a think about next year - perhaps I should spread my wings and take part in larger craft fairs and set up a shop on folksy. I have also been rethinking the website and have come up with a layout I hope will work. Now I just need Chris to get it all up and running for me! No pressure there, Chris!

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

A Little Treasure

Chris and I enjoy pottering round little antique shops when we have the time, and we did just that recently. There was a pile of original art work on the floor, in a bit of a muddle, and we spent quite some time looking through it and sorting it out into better order. Amongst the endless life drawings (we came to the conclusion that the owner of the work may have been an art tutor and had kept his students' drawings), there were several watercolours that caught our eye. There was a variety of skill on show from lots of different artists and we saw the above little sketch and both really liked it. It reminds me of a snowy day and is very atmospheric. It is quite small - 16.5 cm x 12cm approximately.
We don't know who painted it as it has no name or date, but it is going to have a new lease of life in our house, once we have had it framed. You never know what you are going to find in an antique shop - sometimes nothing, sometimes lots of things you would like, but can't afford, and just occasionally, a little treasure.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Fabulous Fireworks!

As we live near the local football ground, we are treated to a free show of the City Council's Firework 'Spectacular' each year around 5th November, and this year, it was held last night. I like to try to challenge myself and my camera and see whether I can capture any of the explosion of colour.

I was really pleased with these photos - for a little 'point and click' digital camera, I think it has done a really good job.

All I have done to the photos is to crop them down using Photoshop; other than that, they are as the camera took them.

These last two really show the explosion of the fireworks and the bright colours.

I particularly like the red firework to the right of this image and I think it is quite amazing that photography can capture and hold that split second. Fireworks are one of the most ephemeral of things - they last for such a short time, but we can now relive the moment. Where would we be without photography?

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Flowers to lift the spirits

I was out in the garden this morning and noticed this little Dianthus 'Moulin Rouge', which had put out three gorgeously scented flowers - even at this time of year and with the weather closing in a bit. I decided to cut them and bring them inside to help to lift the spirits. Yes, it is Autumn and yes, the weather will get worse before it gets better, but nature still has the odd surprise up her sleeve to make you stop and think "Wow!"
Long may that continue!

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Scandinavian inspired felt

I have been busy making some more stock for the upcoming small craft fairs I'm going to. Last year, the white stars with red embroidery sold well, so I have made a few more, adding gingham ribbon instead of the satin one I usually use. I like the Scandinavian influence and am considering doing some plain red with white embroidery too. I hope they will prove popular!

Monday, 1 November 2010

Autumn descends...gently

As I had a wander around the garden yesterday, I noticed how gently autumn has descended on the plants. There are still colours to be seen, but in the fading leaves and flowerheads. Rich shades of red, orange, yellow, russet and brown are dominant, but there are still some flashes of brighter colour as a final fanfare.

Hydrangea Arborescens Annabelle, gracefully turning to brown

Rich chocolate and yellow from the leaves of Magnolia 'Susan'

Jewel shades in the leaves of a Blueberry

A flash of brilliant fuchsia pink in the rose leaves of 'John Paul II'
Although it is sad to think that the garden is getting ready to hibernate for a few months, the wonderful thing about gardening is the promise of next year. And there are still some beautiful colours to enjoy before Winter comes.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Autumn Sunrise

I was up early enough on Friday to catch the beautiful colours across the sky as the sun rose. My initial thought was to capture it for a future felt interpretation, but I love the mixture of colours anyway. Living in a city, I often feel that I don't get the opportunity to take photos of sunrise and sunset and I envy people who can look out of their windows and see the amazing colour changes. I had to take this out of the loft window, and even then, I needed to do a bit of cropping to remove house roofs. It was worth it though.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

My PeaceFelt gift to America

Above is the sunset felt I made as my PeaceFelt gift to send to America. I sent it at the end of September but have only just heard that it arrived safely (the email got lost in the ether!). The recipient said she loved it and was going to get it framed. I sent it without fixings so that she had the flexibility to use it or display it as she wished. I incorporated lots of gorgeous rich colours of merino wool and then highlighted some of the areas using silk threads. I am so pleased that she likes it. PeaceFelt was a great thing to be involved with and now I have two contacts in America who share my interest in and love of felt making.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Another Commission

I was chatting to a colleague at work last week about felt making and showed her a couple of examples of the work I do. She particularly liked the piece above, and has commissioned me to make her one. We both agreed that felt is a wonderful medium to work in as you can do so much with it, and even though I am going to copy the piece, it will be different and therefore, original. It is always nice to find someone who shares an interest.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Latest Felt piece - Apple Blossom

Here is my latest felt piece, inspired by a photo I took at Barnsdale Gardens last Spring. It is a view through the apple blossom and did remind me of an Impressionist painting or a Van Gogh, which I think I said at the time. However, I finally got round to creating a piece of felt using it as inspiration. It took quite a while to do the main blending for the background, as I wanted to get the right shade of blue. I then took my time in creating the blossom and leaves, including a small amount of silk fibre on some of the blossom. This photo shows it before felting, in all its fluffy glory.
Here is the 'after felting' photo and I am absolutely delighted with the finished product. It reminds me of a Japanese painting and it has turned out exactly as I hoped it would. This is not always the case with felt making, as the felting process often changes the image slightly. This was an experiment (as first attempts often are) and I shall keep it as the one to work from (if anyone wants to commission one in the future, that is), but also because I am so pleased with it!

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Butterfly on the ivy

Once the sun had come out this morning, following a misty autumnal start to the day, I notices lots of insects visiting the ivy flowers on the wall. I was really pleased to catch this butterfly ( I think it is a Red Admiral) enjoying the nectar and the sunshine. The sky really was this blue too.

It really was one of those moments that makes you glad to be alive!

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Felt workshop

Yesterday, I taught my first felt workshop at the school where I used to work, to two classes of four and five year old children. I was part of their 'Traditional Craft Day' and while I was felting with one class, a local baker was making bread with the other.

As this was my first ever workshop experience, I wasn't sure whether I had got it right. I intended that each child should make two squares of felt, one to be applied to a larger piece and one as an individual piece.
The children enjoyed creating their squares and decorating them, and they all had a turn at rolling the felt during the fulling process. I was really thrilled with the end results. Felt making is a very forgiving processes and even a beginner can produce some fantastic results.

I am suffering a little today through - partly with aching shoulders and upper arms from all the rolling and partly with an aching back from bending over the very low tables. Still, I think the end results justify a bit of aching today! I like the individuality of each design and the vibrant colours are very eye catching.
(However, I'm not sure I shall be doing any more workshops as it took quite a while to get organised for this one, and I now have to replenish my wool supplies! It was a good experience though.)

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Gardening again

I was buying compost at the weekend and couldn't resist these rather fabulous tulips. I have planted them in two tubs, with some violas on top and am looking forward to seeing them in the Spring.

While in the garden, I took some photos of the lovely Miscanthus Sinensis Kleine Fontane which has now got white fluffy seedheads. They looked particularly silvery when the sun caught them, but by the time I had my camera, the sun had disappeared.
Aster Ericoides has been flowering for a while now and is smothered in flowers. I put a photo of it on my Blog a week or two ago and said I was relieved it was flowering before the cold weather started. Since then , it has been looking beautiful and is a joy to look at.

What a good value plant!

Monday, 11 October 2010


Over the weekend, I re-discovered my collection of Rossini tapes. I know that audio tapes are now a bit archaic, what with MP3 players and phone downloads etc. but I dug out my trusty Walkman and have really enjoyed becoming re-acquainted with Rossini. He writes beautiful melodies and amazing arias that require tremendous technical ability as well as flair and musicality from the singer.
I have a few tapes and CDs of Cecilia Bartoli who is well known for her Rossini interpretations and I love listening to her beautiful voice. (In the past, I have found watching her perform a little off-putting as during the aria, she pulled some rather interesting faces that distracted me from the music, but there is no doubting her talent.) So, just listening to her is much better for me.
My favourite Rossini opera is definitely 'La Cenerentola' (Cinderella). I saw it when I was eighteen and it made a huge impact on me. It helped that it had a familiar story and characters, although there is a Fairy Godfather, the ugly sisters have a bad father rather than mother, and the glass slipper is replaced by a pair of bracelets (apparently because the opera-goers and officials of the time would have been distressed by the sight of an unshod female foot!) It also has some gorgeous arias and a wonderful, complicated piece for seven singers which calls for precision as it has tongue-twisting words throughout. Cenerentola's final aria 'Non piu mesta' is a real showstopper, which starts simply and then repeats with more variations, becoming a total coloratura tour de force. I love it! This is a link to a film version of Cenerentola with Frederica von Stade in the main role. I love this film too!

Thursday, 7 October 2010

My PeaceFelt Gift 2010

Here are photos of the PeaceFelt gift I received from America - the maker describes it as a 'Peace Vessel'. She explained that it was made using a wool jumper which was felted in the washing machine and then moulded into the bowl shape. She has added all kinds of textures to the felt, such as thread, yarn, gold thread and gold material.

She has then embellished the surface even more by sewing on buttons, beads and pieces of semi-precious stones. I love the colours she has used and all the different textures really appeal to me.
A close up of the surface texture reveals the gold material and some of the beads and yarns she has added.
I shall put a photo of my gift onto my blog once I know it has safely arrived. I think PeaceFelt is a great idea and I shall be getting involved again next year. Who knows where in the world I shall be sending a piece of felt to?

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Display stands

The photo above shows the display stand I bought from eBay, which I think works well for the little hearts. We did try the big hearts on it too, but they rather dwarfed it, so we decided against adding them. At that point, I was wondering what I could use for them.
I was wandering about in town last week and happened to visit several charity shops ( as I like doing when I have the time). The candle stands caught my eye and I thought they were big enough to display the large hearts. They even echoed the scroll work on the little stand and as they were an absolute bargain (£1.50 for the pair), I snapped them up. I'm really pleased with the result and can use the candle stand part to put a price tag, or some other information. When I was teaching, one of my colleagues used to say that people who worked with children were excellent at finding alternative uses for things - I'm glad to say that I haven't lost that skill!

Monday, 4 October 2010

Terracotta pot (part 2)

Last Saturday, I finally managed to plant my bulbs and plant some bare root oriental poppies (ordered back in July and which arrived yesterday) in the garden. I decided to plant only the muscari latifolium bulbs in this lovely terracotta pot, as the depth of soil wouldn't have been enough for the narcissus. Still, it should look lovely in the Spring with a mass of blue flowers spilling out of it. I did put three viola plants in the top which look very pretty, but which had been attacked by slugs and snails who are enjoying all the wet weather we've been having lately. There is a real change in the garden now - autumn is definitely here.