Monday 24 December 2018

Merry Christmas 2018

Merry Christmas to all blog readers and commenters (who celebrate this festive season).

As has become my Christmas tradition, I again quote from one of my favourite Christmas carols, "It came upon the midnight clear" written by Edmund Sears in 1849. 

"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." 
 To end on a positive, I again quote from Desiderata (a 1927 prose poem by Max Ehrmann):
"...And whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy."
(Photos are of some of our decorations - some quite a few years old now...)
I hope we all have a peaceful New Year.

Thursday 20 December 2018

Christmas reading 2018

I wrote about my favourite Christmas reading back in December 2010 (you can read the post here).  They are: The Wind in the Willows, Little Women, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Children of Green Knowe, The Pickwick Papers and A Christmas Carol.While I have revisited some of these books so far this December (The Children of Green Knowe and A Christmas Carol), I have added another to the list. This is The Box of Delights by John Masefield (those of you of a certain age will remember the BBC dramatisation with what was then cutting edge animation).  I may also sneak in A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley as the story includes some wonderful descriptions of Christmas feasts and entertainment.
I really enjoy revisiting these books and in fact,  I get a great deal of pleasure re-reading many of my books.  I am quite a quick reader, which means that sometime I miss things the first time round.  I do view my books as old friends, ready to welcome me back in, no matter how long I have been away.

Thursday 13 December 2018

Winter plants

 I was continuing the rather time consuming job of insulating my many pots and tubs today.  I have left it a bit late this year because up to now, the weather has been reasonably mild. However, it is definitely colder this week and the forecast said there might be snow at the weekend, so I thought I should get a few more done today.  I managed about six before I got too cold.  While I was having a wander, I noticed some winter plants flowering.  Above is the winter honeysuckle, a shrubby and rather untidy plant, but I forgive it everything when it's in flower.  The flowers, though small, smell beautifully of lily of the valley, particularly when the sun is on them.
 This one is flowering a little earlier than usual, as it is normally January and February.
 My camellia 'Yoimachi' (which I bought last year) is flowering away too.  The flowers are white with a pink flush and lovely yellowy-orange stamens.
 The buds have that same flush of pink too.
They are so pretty and brightened up a grey December day.

Friday 7 December 2018

Creative things...

Recently, both Chris and I have been involved with creative things. For Chris' birthday, I made him the card above.  I do like stamping and die cutting (and knowing it's the only one in the world like that!)
 Chris was a workshop leader for the Drama students at the University where we work recently, where he presented a whirlwind guide to puppets. He had asked if I could make him some 'bunraku' style puppets for the students to use.  These are puppets which are manipulated by a group or team of puppeteers and each movement has to be carefully considered.  I managed to make enough for the group to use and Chris said they had really enjoyed using them and were surprised at how difficult it was.
 Chris excelled himself with this apple and quince pie which we took to Mum's when we went for Sunday lunch.  It was delicious and the quince, while not necessarily identifiable itself, really enhanced the apple flavour. Yum!
 I made myself a bookmark, using stamps and stencils.  It needs a nice blue ribbon to finish it off though...
Here's someone who has not been creative at all, but he contributes a lot to our household in his own way.  He does choose the most uncomfortable places to sleep though!

Thursday 29 November 2018

Permission to play - Art Journal

I follow a very enthusiastic and colourful American mixed media artist called Carolyn Dube.  Her blog is here .  I noticed that she had a free tutorial (Permission to Play) in five parts on making an art journal using cardboard, paint, stamps, stencils, inks and whatever other art equipment you have lying about.  I looked at the introductory video and thought it looked really interesting and fun.  It has proved to be just that.  I am nowhere near finished but I am thoroughly enjoying the whole process.  She has a encouraged me to use my supplies that I had been hoarding (I had been a bit precious about many of my supplies for most of my hobbies, only wanting to use my best stuff for the perfect project - which seldom came along, if I am honest) and apply anything I want. If something isn't quite right, she calls it an OOPS (Outstanding Opportunity Presenting Suddenly) and reminds you that you can always add more until you are happy.  
I have been working away when I can, using stamps I have never used before, or have just got and loving every minute.  The second page in the photo above was a big OOPS when I painted it at first and I didn't like it at all, but I gessoed over the offending colours and then stamped and painted and it is much better now.
 The other good thing is that it is just cardboard which would end up in the recycling bin, so it really doesn't matter if it all goes wrong anyway.  The second page from the right above has my Blockwallah tree stamps on it.  They have been sitting patiently in a drawer for ages, so it is lovely to use them.
Carolyn has also sent some colourful patterned papers to use which can be ripped, cut up, collaged as you wish.  I used them on several pages.
As you can see, there is a long way to go yet.  The pages all need some colour and then there are stencils to add on top, and whatever else takes my fancy.  There's no right or wrong and this in itself is very freeing.  If your inner critic starts nagging, you also have permission to remind it that this is play.  If you are into mixed media and have paints, stamps, stencils and other art equipment, then I would definitely recommend this workshop (did I mention that it's free?)  If you are a facebook user, there is a facebook page linked to the workshop where you can see other journals.
I am really enjoying this and will post about progress again soon.

Thursday 22 November 2018

In the garden with the hydrangeas (and a rose)

I had a quick wander round the garden with my camera on a nice sunny-ish day.  The hydrangea above (Coco) still thinks it's summer and is flowering.
Whereas the hydrangea here (Merveille Sanguine) is sure it is autumn and has turned beautiful shades of red.
 My latest hydrangea (Magical Revolution Blue) has turned green with touches of purple.  I really like this plant which is compact and pretty.
 If you part the flower heads, there are still some touches of blue.
Rosa Mundi's leaves had turned a lovely buttery yellow which is lighting up this part of the garden.  I am enjoying the autumn colour while I can as I don't know how much longer it will last.

Tuesday 20 November 2018

Rainbows and tulips

There was a beautiful rainbow the other day and I just managed to catch it.
All too soon it melted away.
I finally got round to planting my new tulips last weekend.  It took me a while as I had to empty the pots of the summer plants, redistribute the compost and then fill the pots again.  I had Queen of Night, Ronaldo, my favourite Ballerina and a new variety to me called Danceline (they are the big bulbs in the paper bag).
Here's Danceline  (photo from the W. Hyde website, which is where I bought mine from).
This is Ronaldo from my garden a few years ago (with Princess Irene).
Here's Ballerina, again from a year or two ago, because last year the bulbs didn't flower at all (I blame the really cold weather we had in late February).  I have put Ballerina and Ronaldo together this time as I think the colours work together well.  It was a lovely sunny day and I always feel that planting bulbs is a positive thing to do - to look forward to Spring.

Thursday 15 November 2018

Birthday makes

It was my colleague, Leanne's, birthday last week so I had a lovely time making her cards and gifts.  I used stencils, stamps and dies to make her card (of course, I had to make an envelope as well).
 The inside was decorated with star stencils and little star die cuts.
She has asked for some jewellery - a brown macrame bracelet - this has mookite, tiger's eye, botswana agate and coffee striped agate in it.  (Apologies for the photography as my camera does not like low light levels and in future, I must remember to  use a lamp as well as the main light). The tiger's eye has some lovely colours in it, caramels and toffee, but the photograph is not doing it justice.
 The other thing she wanted was an anklet with black stones.  I made this one using black agate beads and silver plated findings. 
All hell would have broken loose if I hadn't made the traditional 'Russian Roulette Revels Cake' (my go to chocolate cake recipe) with chocolate fudge icing and those innocent looking Revels chocolates.  Yes, I did get a coffee one again - ugh!  Leanne was really pleased with the gifts and the cake.

Thursday 1 November 2018

Painting using the gelli plate...and more cards

 I was watching a video on Youtube about 'Painterly Layers' on a gelli plate, so thought I should have a go as I really liked the effect.  I discovered a few things:
1.   You need to be quite fast (especially if your acrylic paint dries quickly) and can't take too long with each layer - don't let the paper stick to the plate either (!)
2.   Using a heavy body acrylic paint is probably the best for this technique.
3.   Use light colours working through to darker colours (which is a good thing to remember with any gelli layer prints).
4.   I like bright colours best for this technique (although more muted colours would give a different feeling so perhaps I should try them too).
The paints I used were Pebeo studio acrylics, some with iridescent or metallic sheen to them.  While these are lovely paints, they were a bit too transparent for this technique and also dried too quickly.
However, I was quite pleased with some of the results.  Even the ghost prints were interesting.
 This one was an improvement - I added a magenta to the final layer which worked better.
This one was my favourite as I had covered the plate with pattern and colour. The colours weren't quite so transparent and I do like the mix of yellow, orange, pink and blue.  I have some System Three acrylics which are heavy body paints, so I shall give them a go next. 
 I have also been making some cards - the one above was for my sister and turned out pretty much how it looked in my head.
This was for a colleague at work who kindly bought me some fleece tops for felting.  It was nice to be able to give it to her the next day.

Thursday 25 October 2018

Needle and Thread workshop - Free Motion Quilting for the Terrified with Stuart Hillard

Last Sunday I took part in a workshop at Needle and Thread Workshops, which is in a lovely rural location just outside Lincoln.   The workshops are held in a converted barn and all materials, equipment and food are provided.  'Free Motion Quilting for the Terrified' was led by Stuart Hillard.  The photo below and biography are from the website.
"Stuart Hillard 
Expect lots of fun, expertise and super stitching know-how on any workshop with Stuart Hillard!  Stuart is a professional quilt designer, make and teacher with over 20 years' experience and hundreds of quilts under his belt.  More than fifty of his designs have been published in national and international magazines and he is a monthly columnist for Popular Patchwork Magazine, Essentials Magazine and Sew Magazine and published author.  A semi-finalist on the first series of The Great British Sewing Bee in 2013, global ambassador for Handi-Quilter, ambassador for Coats Crafts/Rowan/FreeSpirit Fabrics and regular guest on Create and Craft TV."
I watched Stuart on the Great British Sewing Bee and also on Create and Craft, so knew that he would be lovely, funny and patient...and he was.  He brought some of his beautiful quilts with him...
They are stunning...
You can't see the quilting very easily but it adds complementary patterns to the quilts.  This hexagon quilt is made from material designed by Stuart (I have some of this too, but it probably won't be made into a quilt!                                      
What were we aiming for?  Here is Stuart's sampler of nine quilting patterns, although there are more than nine ideas there.
We started with a ripple pattern, getting a feel for the machine and trying to control the stitch length.  This was something I struggled with and my stitch length was far from consistent; however, Stuart said it was all about practise.  This was only the second time I had ever tried free motion stitching, so I couldn't expect miracles (although a little part of me did!)  The cake was very welcome and was a yummy lemon one.  We stitched for about 15 minutes at a time, which Stuart said was the most you should stitch for without a little break.  He was full of hints and tips, recommendations for materials and needles.
Here's my ripple attempt.  The other ladies (and it was all ladies) in the group were all more experienced in quilt making than me and had all made quilts before.  
Then it was time to start the sampler.  Stuart showed us how to stitch the patterns first and then we went off to have a go.
   Gradually, the patterns started to build up.
Some were more tricky than others.         
This was the last pattern we attempted, called peacock feathers. Although I still struggled with a consistent stitch length, I really liked the end result.
 Here's the whole thing.  There are some unfinished sections where I ran out of time before we started the next pattern.  Homework, I think!
Here's a plan of the whole thing which I drew today, just to give an idea of what it should have looked like and also to remind me about the unfinished sections.
It was an intense day, but one I enjoyed.  The organiser, Sally, was very welcoming and Jan provided delicious refreshments and a lovely lunch (jacket potato, lots of salads, cheese, tuna followed by caramelised apple tart).
I have gained a lot of confidence about giving it a go and although I don't think I shall be quilting, I may well be able to use some of the patterns in free motion embroidery onto my felt.  I will keep an eye on the website and look out for a free motion embroidery workshop.  There are lots of ideas swirling around in my brain!