Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Slugs detest limewash paint - yippee!

Had to show y'all my King Kong strawberries!

and a 360 degree view from Pocket Handkerchief in August


As ambitious as it sounds, here's a Bougainvillea in full flower, loving the incandescent light radiating in the evenings from the corner location of the sunbaked fence.

I bought this plant to remind us of the Caribbean, its so pretty...

I painted limewash on my raised beds.  Slugs detest lime and wont walk across it...

Before I go, here's an image that will be very interesting to those interested in the probable cultural evolution of some of  the more complex embroidery stitches?  On the left hand side of the image below you can see a Viking chain made of coiled gold.  When I first saw this image, I was searching for something completely unrelated to needlework, and yet on seeing it I could hardly believe my luck and quickly made the necessary visual connections.  Its my personal view that the chain is formed by Plaited Braid Stitch, made on a stick for support.  I hope to devote an entire post to this hypothesis soon...

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Hello reader,

Well this is going to be one of these really speedy posts due to better weather, a zillion things to do, new bags and ancient history. 

After what happened to me earlier in the year, discussed in previous post, I've been different.  You know good 'different'.  

So there I was tending to my darling plants:

My fig is starting to grow figs:

My strawberries are still pumping out fruit.  They were a little quiet earlier in the year, then I realised they needed diluted white vinegar each time I water them.  In fact all my fruit bushes need acidic water.  Especially the blackberries, which have turned out to be delicious this year.  As they're thornless they're never that sweet, but cooked they're sensational.  Acidic plants grow where there's a lot of rain, whereas alkaline plants grow where there's hardly any rain.  Its funny to think rain is thought of as producing 'sour' soil, when its described so often as sweet rain.  Well, from what I've discovered, where there're a lot of rain, there's also a lot of algae and its the algae rotting that produces the acidic content.   

My Mother's hydrangea are still looking perky.  Not my favourite plant, by any means, but good 'fillers' in any patch.

And my pelargoniums are sprouting more blooms and less leaf, thanks to a tip I learned recently that if you want more flowers, take out large leaves once a week, so that all parts of the plant can receive sunlight, water just inside the rim of the pot, not the plant itself, and constrict the roots so they produce more flowers by planting them in small pots arranged within a big pot.  

Alas, I had to pull out this darling thing, only because its going to turn into a tree and I don't really have room for (big-ass) trees. Such a shame, I felt dreadful about the whole thing.  It was a gift from someone that obviously hadn't seen my 'pocket handkerchief garden'.  

It took quite a while to pull it up, very hot work I can tell you. Afterwards I took it to the dump and placed it in the corner there where a lot of people leave their pre-loved plants.  I also had to get rid of my dwarf palm tree this year because it fell prey to Spider Mite.  I think those creatures were residing in the bark when I bought the thing.  

Then I saw this ancient Minoan Snake Goddess and was transported!

Its a long story, but basically I visited the British Museum wanting to see some Neolithic Jomon pottery.  I saw some really fine pieces with jagged edges which to my mind represent the teeth of now extinct animals.  Its funny how the further you go back in time, the more you can visually understand what you're supposed to be looking at.

So this snake Goddess hit me like a thunderbolt.  She's not in the Museum I visited but she's in a new book I came across in the Museum Bookshop, aka the place where you end up really poor!  

What an arresting image!  All an artist ever wants to do is create the elusive 'arresting image', as we're told in art school, and this is certainly it.  Perhaps because I now get to keep my own 'curves' (!), her bodice region seems to me such an amazing statement of triumph and defiance!

But more than that, its her face, the way she's staring back at us and making us feel 'different'.  This is not the classical sweet demur image of chocolate-box-femininity, this woman is someone who makes you feel humbled before her, someone to revere.  Not in the first flush of youth either...hehehe.

At first I thought she was made of ivory, because clearly she's trying to resemble that precious material.  But actually it turns out she's made of clay and covered in plaster in a process called 'faience'.  

Neolithic plaster is an amazing substance and the Minoans were incredibly creative with it, not only using it to make waterproof coatings on baths and cisterns but also as an artistic patina in which to carve into.  

I don't know if I've set myself an impossible task, but I think I would like to reproduce this figurine?  I have three really good images of the artefact, displaying different angles, front, back and side to work from.  When I found the side image, I realised I could do it.  

My first thought was to draw or paint her, but as I peered more closely, I realised all the evidence is there from which to really learn e.g. "To copy, is to understand".  

Comments most welcome.

P.S.  I'm going back to sewing the Victorian Couple soon, as everything is a lot less busy now and I hope to take the piece on holiday with me.

Monday, 24 July 2017

And it rained and rained from page 47 to page 122!

What a lot of rain we've been having in dear old Blighty!

One of my favourite things in life is walking in the rain, for a long, long way, with no one else about.  

However, as this last torrential downpour has cost me an urgent guttering repair and plenty of droopy flowers, I thought I'd post this short video of one of my favourite plants.  Its called a Lythrum Salicaria, or Purple Loosestrife and I tell you what, no matter how hard it rains, as soon as it stops, the very second that it stops, these darling little fat chaps fly in a straight path towards it and get back to work...


Its a controversial plant in many parts of the world, as its invasive in wetlands but as a pollinator, to my mind there is nothing out there that comes close to it.  Because of this, I make sure its well watered and fed, in fact I go one further and I even cook this plant soup!  Haha, I know that sounds hysterical, but I do.  

Reason was I noticed it really likes a drink of old, green rainwater.  I gave it clear rainwater and it didn't do so well.  So I realised it was actually the algae in the old rainwater that it likes, the greener the better.  

So then I experimented with some other plants and I noticed the older the plant, in terms of evolution, the more they love algae in the water.  

Well it turns out Algae is packed full of pectin and its actually the pectin that transforms plants, because it provides building blocks for new growth, flowers and fruit etc etc.  

So then I decided to make pectin soup.  I basically save all my apple, orange, banana and lime peel, chop it up and throw it all in a large stock pot, with a little vinegar and a crushed eggshell and cover with water and cook after a rolling boil on low simmer for about 40 minutes.  

The end result looks like this:

Then I dilute it and give it to the plants.  They all love it but the fruit bushes adore it!  

Well, apart from that, I decided to alter my aprons, all 3 of them.  I really cannot stand having an apron round the back of my neck, so have decided to change them all to cross back, Amish style, like this one:

This way, none of the fastenings will be too tight.  I tire very quickly of tight fitting aprons.  I also don't like thick aprons, but the pattern on my thickest apron is so cute I'll live with it.  

Here is the first apron to be altered:

Because after all, you do need a good apron when you cook goodies like these....alas, they ripened too early, so they're a little sharp and have to be cooked.

Well, have to dash off now and stir something hot...

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Bet you wondered where I disappeared to?

Hi everyone

Well, its certainly been a very eventful 6 months.  I've had not one, but two top drawer health scares in 6 months, which is quite something.  Obviously I'm very pleased to say both turned out fine, but I have spent hours in hospital waiting rooms and long days and nights, over many months, tormented by thoughts of my own mortality.  I look back now and realise I was actually living in a sort of parallel universe for most of it?  Weird really did, get weirder??

And now, as if it was all almost imaginary, I'm back in reality, in the moment, in the throes of survival, work, relationships, responsibilities and basically real life again....?

Healing is a very mysterious thing, to be sure.   Its much stranger than we will ever know.  They tell you to be positive, well you know what, I found this time that trying to relax and stay positive was actually making me feel worse and as if I was hiding from reality - as it was then...

In fact I only started to really 'heal' when I resigned myself to the idea of my number being well and truly up and analysing how much of a mess I was leaving behind me?

I feel I have been on this incredible journey, or wasn't a rollercoaster, it was more like floating in space, or at sea, being away from things that make you comfortable and somehow floating into the unknown???

It was hard people, I mean really really hard and it had to be kept private, totally private, or else I would never have coped.

Finally, I was given the all clear.  Well that makes you numb, then confused, then a bit angry, then very very relieved.

But the really weird thing was, after I was given the all clear, I noticed a very strange feeling came over me.

Basically I've lost a great deal of fear?

This has translated into all kinds of weird and wonderful escapades, where to put it succinctly, I now trust my instincts much more than I used to and this has altered my approach with just about everything.  This really is a new beginning for me now...

One of the really strange things that's happened is I've gone to look for things and found evidence of so much indecision?  So many things mixed in with ideas that should have been about something else?

So the operative word now is purge, and I'm certainly purging!  Huge chunks of detritus are just flying out of the door.  Things I've held on to for so long and realised they were in fact a waste of time all along.  The feeling of letting things go, of streamlining my life, of having a clearer direction, are all the result of this strange dissipation of long held notions of fear.

Anyway, enough about being a mere mortal, here's something I made a while back.  I remember I wasn't feeling terribly optimistic at the time, as a family member was becoming unwell and I needed something to take my mind off things, that wasn't too demanding.

What's interesting about this little appliqu├ęd bird is I used Egyptian applique technique, as seen on YouTube.  Its a great way of applying complex shapes and I'll talk about that more next time.

Here are my ripening blackberries, don't they look promising...

Here is an image of textile blackberries from the Restoration mirror at Salisbury Museum I told you about last time...yum yum

I'll leave you with a picture of a rose I grew... remember folks, art only ever imitates nature...nature is The Queen!

Monday, 12 June 2017

Salisbury Museum - June 2017

I've wanted to visit this particular museum for some considerable time, as you'll be able to see from the next few posts, its well worth a visit and I've promised myself to return...

I'll start with the needlework images.  In this first batch they're all from the same mirror.  I believe this design was originally sold in kit form, from house to house, where the supplier would also provide the threads you would need.  

If you Google 'Restoration Embroidered Mirror' you'll see many more, especially if you refine the search to only 'Images', at the top there.  

This typical design incorporates a huge variety of stitches.  The piece doesn't cover the period that I'm most interested in, as I prefer to see needlework from roughly 30 years or more earlier. 

Its my personal observation with these mirrors, that not all the examples of Cloth Stitch, which is a lacemaking stitch, were made especially for the piece, but in my view, collaged from samples.  I could be wrong, but scale, apart from anything else, seems to be the giveaway?  Comments most welcome.  

However, apart from the odd piece of collaged fabric, the rest still needed an incredible amount of work to stitch and then put together and must have taken years by a single stitcher, or perhaps less if there were say 3 or 4 sisters working on it together?  

The colour is obviously very faded, which is a shame, but at least it must have been displayed and enjoyed over the years, instead of put away, never to be seen again, as can so often happen to heirloom pieces.   

I decided to leave the image below in its original orientation, to preserve the detail.

There are more in this series, but I'm exhausted at the present time, so will have to grab some zeds...

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Salisbury Museum was Incredible - Highly recommend Wessex Gallery

Since returning from our holiday in Cornwall, I've been inundated with 'stuff', you know the kind, the kind that keeps coming at you, no matter how much you want to avoid it or get rid of it quickly, including having to finally succumb to massive operating system upgrades.

I've taken lots of pictures recently, as promised but I ran out of battery in the museum and had to switch to iphone.  Then realised I should have just used the iphone, but at that time, I knew my operating system needed replacing, so several pages later reader, I'm now in the process of drafting a museum post.

But for now I send you something really special.  Everyone knows I practice organic gardening, permaculture, make my own compost and compost tea etc, well here is a picture of my lawn, as it is now, two months after applying Alfalfa Meal natural fertiliser, then spiking the lawn, then applying compost tea with a watering can, after dividing the lawn into 4 with markers.  Should mention I also rolled the grass, back in March, after the frost.  You only need to do a light rolling, they say.  I went over mine twice, with a three quarters filled roller.

So here it is:

In a word: lush!

See folks, Believe in Better and it CAN be done!

Next time I'll show you pictures of pre-Beaker people hand-axes, that are circa 480,000 years old, found around the Stonehenge area. Only goes to show just how long people have been making stuff and making it always as well as they possibly can, given their circumstances.  

IMO, its only when you make stuff you truly connect with all of mankind.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Woodgrain almost complete and the piano has a leg!

I was working in the glorious sunshine today.  Amazing what you can see when that particular lightbulb shines on your work.  Wish I could sew outside more, but such is life, work and responsibilities...

I decided the circular part of the piano leg needed to be different and chose Bokhara Couching.  Its so similar to Stem Stitch, it felt very natural getting it down.  I finished the circumference in Chain Stitch.  I think I chose Bokhara Couching because somewhere in the back of my mind I knew the stitch would pop the fabric outwards, to give it a naturally convex form.

My only concern about this piano's wood patina now is that, because the leg is distinct from the rest of the piano, it looks to me as if I've possibly tipped the scales somewhat, and the whole effect could be a tad more Regency than Victorian?  I decided I'm OK with that though, as this family looks like they have old money and they probably inherited the piano...

I just wanted to explain, as Stitchin Fingers is, alas no more, and all my recent stuff was on there, I started to really study the Bayeux Tapestry a few years ago and I was particularly struck by how much they did on that piece with Stem Stitch.  

Since then I've been obsessed with this stitch and realised through closer and closer observation that it follows on directly from working with Satin Stitch and Long & Short Stitch, in that they can all turn into each other, especially if you really want stitch direction to follow form.

By that I mean if you look at say old Chinese embroideries, you can see this association all the time.  However, the only English book that I've come across that acknowledges the close relationship between these three stitches is Erica Wilson's Embroidery Book, you know that huge thick one that's out in paperback. I find that book to be an indispensable item, if you ask me.

Here's what I mean:

I completed this last year.  Its a pattern available on the internet for free of French Vintage Monogramming.  It shows all the ways I found I could work Stem Stitch e.g. packing it either in parallel lines or in a single long line, or just to fill a section.  It just depends at what angle you hold the needle and where you go back to take the next stitch.  

Here's a close up:

So what I found was to fill a shape where you follow the contour of the shape, the stitches can pack down and form an incredibly thick and even texture.  If you ask me, it suits a lot of natural forms more than say Long & Short Stitch, because you don't have radial symmetry considerations.  More about that in a future post...

Instead what you do is make parallel lines and from what I can see from vintage pieces, it produces a less bulky finish.  It also opens up the different ways you can fill shapes and this makes the fall of lights on a piece particularly striking.  What I adore about this way of working, is that you can create a flourish, an accent or curlicue, with a lot more ease because one merges into the other...  The piece pictured above isn't perfect, I had the clock against me, but it was a lot of fun to sew, and it has gone down well with the recipient!

 Going back to the woodgrain.  This is the effect I was after.  Very dramatic walnut patina.  Scaling it down has been a challenge but I'm not finished yet...Not sure they've made pianos out of walnut ever? but that's not the point, kind of thing.  

It was nice to sew in the garden I created, today.  It took me 3 years to complete all told, and part of the fun was taking delivery of that sundial patio and damaging my back for an incredible 18 months. 

I don't care, it was all worth it.  The very exciting thing is its all organic and I follow Permaculture gardening techniques.  I make my own compost tea, I use dried blood, wood chips, volcanic ash, wood ash, human urine (you read that right!) and seaweed etc etc to fertilize everything.  

And would you look at it, we've hardly had any rain and yet my lawn looks really lush don't you think?  I used sulphate of iron and alfalfa meal on it this year.  What a difference!  Most people tend to treat their lawn as a kind of outdoor rug, stamp on it and mow it and that's it.  People completely forget the roots of each blade of grass needs oxygen too!   

But if you think of your lawn as a giant plant that loves acidic conditions e.g. iron and rainwater, then you are working with nature, instead of against it.  There is nothing more elemental and necessary to your spiritual being than to take your shoes and tights off and walk on soft green grass in Summer.  It connects you with nature and the seasons again, in a way that a book or a film never will.  Its something about the positive ions and electrical charges within nature that feed up into our metabolism e.g. mitochondria. Mitochondria are much older than our cell nuclei, mitochondria contain our very first genetic material, they are as ancient as the earth itself...! 

My raised beds are strictly Acid, Neutral, Chalk loving and Cretaceous Period.  I have 12 flower beds all told.  My hands look a lot more bashed up, but I honestly think organic gardening is like magic, lots of flowers, fruit and lush growth....real magic!

I also use oxygenated water - and you can see my two solar powered pumps in this picture - worm castings and nitrogen fixing plants to boost growth.  The plants are very happy and what's more, the birds are even happier.  

I have 2 families of black birds, lots of sparrows, a robin or two and I saw the goldfinch pair the other day.  I give my birds organic oats daily, chopped grapes during the breeding season and whole sunflower seeds etc.  

By leaving my compost heap uncovered, they feast on the most enormous worms.  Worms also love oats, but I buy them the cheaper type.  

Next time I'll post pictures of my Worm City, its very successful. Worm castings are like 10,000 times more fertile than packets of NPK fertiliser, which as you know, is derived from fossil fuel.  

Organic gardening is the best thing, especially as I can make really rich compost in days, not months!   Considering we are up a high hill, in an exposed area, I have managed to combat all that wind and produce plants that are very strong and happy.  To sum it up, I think growing organically means you have growth that is less woody and more lush...  

The organic garden idea was after visiting the ancient city of Pompeii, because on the way there I saw that the valley of Vesuvius is so incredibly lush, and its all due to Volcanic Ash.   

Our guide explained to us, the beauty and fertility in that region is so incredible that the residents in the path of the volcano have actually been given money to move to a safer place, but as its so incredibly green there, they choose to stay....

As soon as I got home, I went to our equivalent of Home Depot and bought a large bag of Volcanic Ash and have never looked back...   

Our last trips have been at sea.  Here's a quick sketch I did one day of a storm out there between the Caribbean Ocean and the Atlantic. It was very exciting. After seeing much of the world, I reckon the Caribbean has to be the best place to go.  I discovered it when my back was at its worst and had the extremely therapeutic experience of swimming in an ocean that was as warm as bathwater!  My aching back recovered greatly in the Caribbean ocean, mainly on the second trip there, where I stayed in the water for an hour at a time, just floating and treading water.  Somehow out there, through a series of aerobic moves, my back found its alignment again and then after that my pelvis did the same.  

For those of you that haven't been, believe it or not, a Caribbean holiday is not as expensive as you might think and its a whole lot cheaper still if, you don't drink alcohol...

Here are those buttercups again, but this time a much clearer image. This one was taken on my iphone and I think shows up well what I was aiming for e.g. to sew much more lifelike buttercups than the usual types you see.   This type of needlework has always been on my to do list, but what I found was Japanese embroidery books - of which there are many - particularly recreate the delicacy and ephemeral beauty of flora and fauna.  They are very clever books indeed.  Even if the entire book is in Japanese, the clear diagrams and key mean you can work out the rest.  Notice also in their embroidery vocabulary, they use Twisted Chain Stitch for stems of wildflowers etc.  Texture and delicacy are achieved with great skill in their interpretation of embroidery language.  

Oh well, I have to go now...

P.S.  I did say my posts would be shorter, sorry about the loquacity of this one, but its a round up and more than likely the last I can do for about 2 weeks, as I'm off to wild and rugged Celtic Cornwall...lots of piccies...lots of Celtic references next time people and if I can, hopefully I'm going to visit the Shaftesbury Museum, famous for its archeological exhibits...yum yum