Sunday, October 29, 2017

Mr and Mrs Shoestring See The World (Part One)

Mr Shoestring and I have recently been on holiday.  Well, actually it wasn't so much a holiday as a whistle stop tour of some of the things we have always wanted to see in England, Wales, Scotland, and then with a lightning investigation of Hong Kong on our way home.  We are both making heavy weather of recovering from jet lag and adjusting to life in what apparently is the "real world", but we surely did have a great time and didn't waste a precious second of our three week trip.

Ever since I was a child and saw the 1960s television series The Prisoner, where The Village was set in Portmeirion, it has been my dream (one of many, of course) to visit Portmeirion.  It seemed to me to be a magical place and as well as reading about it I have collected the distinctive pottery, and tried to influence my children to watch the original series, despite the fact that they are living in a more worldly age and are mystified by the large clear plastic bouncing balls which came bouncing down to prevent escape from the village in the television series.  I read that quite a few others have been similarly captivated, including George Harrison who visited but was prevented by his minders from staying in his preferred cottage lest he become a little bit intoxicated and fall off the low balcony, and Jules Holland, who loved the "pink house" and used it as an inspiration for his London recording studio.

In case you haven't heard of Portmeirion, it was the work of Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, who started developing the village in 1925, and I suppose you would describe it as a giant folly.  He was not a qualified architect, having abandoned his studies early on in his training, but did practice as one all the same.  I think he started off reasonably small, using architectural salvage materials to recreate something which looked like a village on the Amalfi coast, and over time developed the wonderful township cradled on the side of a hill beside the sea, and also the impressive gardens beyond.  At this time grand estates were being sold off and dismantled because of the cost of maintaining and repairing them, death duties and lack of cheap domestic staff, and so people who knew him would offer him things which would otherwise have been destroyed or left to crumble, and he kept the ruins until such time as he knew exactly where to place them sympathetically and how to use them.  What I admire most about the whole endeavour is that I think for most people it would be easy to be discouraged and give up on such a whimsical yet ambitious project, but he obviously just kept working away at it, and once he reached a certain stage others must have been impressed and begun to see the charm and attraction of such a place.

Here are some of the photos we took on the day we visited.  It was a cool grey day in October and threatening rain, but luckily it meant that possibly there were less visitors than usual (and definitely less than in the summer season), and we had a chance to enjoy the vistas uninterrupted.  The next day there was heavy rain and we were fortunate to have visited on the day we did.  I've tried to restrain myself and only put a few photos here of the many we took, but I think you will be able to see the clever way he has used different materials, including local ones.  The chess board was not part of the village but has been recently added in reference to The Prisoner, and it looks completely at home.  Every year people who are obsessively interested in The Prisoner visit for a festival and having been such a devotee of Art Deco Weekend in Napier, I can completely understand that.  In the village there has been a clever use of trompe l'oeil effects which you can only discern if you look carefully.  Some of the windows are just painted on, complete with lace curtains, and some of the statuary at the end of vistas is just cut outs cunningly painted to resemble verdigris.  Clever, very clever, and all in keeping with the light hearted approach of the whole place.  It was a wonderful experience and I am happy to say that the teapot I bought there actually made it all the way home without any damage.

Speaking of which, the op shops were just wonderful and another time I will have to show you some of the treasures we found.

 The pink house much admired by Jules Holland

 Looking down over the village from the gardens on the hillside.  There are a lot of plantings of rhododendrons and it must be a magnificent sight in the spring time. 

 The steam train which travels along by the sea in Porthmadog, the village where we stayed
 Very picturesque setting at Porthmadog
One of the characteristic stone cottages which were dotted about the surrounding countryside, and which we would have dearly loved to venture inside.  

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Winter Frolics

Another winter art deco weekend has been and gone and I think it would have to be one of the best ever.  (Oh wait, have I said that before perhaps?)  We were a small contingent, but it was a wonderful chance to catch up with The Squire and His Good Lady Wife, The Dancing Queen and her Consort, and the Southern Sisters.  It was touch and go as to whether we would arrive in Napier because of extreme weather conditions which meant the roads were all closed between Napier and pretty much anywhere else.  We got as far as Taupo and waited (im)patiently for weather updates, but not a moment was wasted because we had an opportunity to pay extra close attention to all the op shops and relish the Thai chicken curry we always buy at Replete Cafe.  Eventually we got word that the road was once again open and we set off, slightly more cautiously than usual.  It was a very pretty trip because of all the beautiful white snow on the pasture and forestry.  When we travel in February the ground is parched and the hills are usually brown-tops and withered, but this was so picturesque and it was hard to believe it was the same landscape.  We made it Napier in time for the opening event and to catch up with all the fellow deco-phytes and of course there was a lot to discuss.  The Southern Sisters had wonderful costumes as per usual and these always have to be discussed in great detail.  They are very much better at "authentic" than I am and instead of having an array of altered op shop dresses, they actually make their own garments and are now even particular about having the correct petticoats underneath as these make the garments sit so much better.  I must do better.  I had been pleased with these authentic buttons I found in Taupo and thought it would be sufficient to put then onto a purchased dress, but I now see I was completely mistaken and that the bar has been raised higher.

 I found this fabric and thought it had a deco feel, so I'm going to try to unearth a genuine pattern and sew something for next summer deco.  

 Also I had a piece of beautiful silk (on the left above) which could be handy for trimming the blue dress (in the middle) and would go perfectly with the blouse on the right too.  Food for thought, and part of the fun of deco is coming home afterwards full of good ideas for next time, after consulting everybody about their latest finds and makes.  It is hats which really interested me this time though, and I have been trying to find a millinery course so as to learn the art, but it is proving extremely difficult.

While we were in the op shops I found two more landscapes for my ever-expanding art collection.  They are hung on the walls at Shoestring Cottage now and I couldn't get very good pictures of them to show you because the walls are almost full and they are very high up, so even when I stood on a chair it was difficult to get a good picture.  You get the general idea though.  Now that I look again, I can see quite a bit more space where I could squeeze in a few more so the chase isn't over yet.

This one is of Lake Wakatipu, which we already have one painting of.  It's hard to know how to hang them, sometimes we hung them by subject in the past (for instance, pictures with bridges in them), or by colour families, or style of painting.  Mr Shoestring is very obliging and nimbly scrambles up and down each time there are more to add, though he and I sometimes disagree about the best configuration.  (I have my suspicions that his approach is along the lines of hanging them as quickly as possible so that he can get on with other things.  You would think that with such priceless works of art he would take more care, but no, it's all very slipshod and thoughtless if he's not in the right frame of mind.)  I'm thinking of leaving my collection to the nation, I feel sure such a bequest would be received rapturously.

Another thing which I have been rounding up has been damask table cloths, and I recently added two more to my collection.  They are such beautiful quality and it is interesting to note the change of style over time.  Early ones are more finely representational of flowers and ferns whereas the later ones are more simply woven with less detail in the scenes represented, but they are usually in excellent condition because they have been treasured by their owners and brought out for "best", plus they are durable and well made.  It seems sad that most people don't use them now, because the snowy whiteness sets off the look of a colourful meal set out temptingly.  Also they are simple to launder.  The last two I bought I was dubious about because they were rather discoloured, but they came up beautifully (apart from one small rust mark) after a bit of a soak.  

Still looking for things to fill up the shadow box in the sewing room, I was intrigued by this tiny piece of coal carved into a "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" trio of monkeys.  It is so cleverly done and must have been painstakingly slow to do I think.

After coming back from winter deco the days seemed to drag on interminably wintery, with rain and more rain.  Though the shortest day has past it seemed as though we weren't making much progress towards spring.  This weekend we have had two beautiful clear sunny days at last, though it has been very cold and frosty overnight at Shoestring.  I just had to reward myself by having a go at a scrap quilt which took my fancy.  It uses up all the 5" charm squares I have bought over the years so there is no guilt attached, apart from the fact that I should be beavering away on the stack of unfinished quilts I vowed to complete, of course.  But it's been so much fun to cut the squares into quarters and then put them together with contrasting but sympathetic other pieces, it's quite addictive.  I have in mind a solid buttery yellow homespun for the blocks in between the little four patch blocks; I seem to have a craving for warm yellow sunshine shades and I think it must be as a result of the long dreary grey winter.

Mr Shoestring is particularly susceptible to the lure of books (possibly because you can just chuck them into a bookcase and don't have the bother of finding picture hooks and hanging them up), and he treated himself to this lovely set which he found at the Sally Army.  

 He has also been very much enjoying his Medical Counsellor from 1955, though I think it may be doing him more harm than good.  Some of the subjects covered are rather gruesome but it has to be said that everything is covered from what to do for flat feet through to intestinal obstruction, including along the way hysteria, epilepsy, paranoia and varicose veins.

 "To close the day with a happy heart, and to find sleep and rest with a peaceful mind, these are two of the greatest blessings that help to maintain health and happiness."
Evidently it's also important to wear plenty of lipstick to bed and have one's hair set in perfect pincurls to ensure adequate rest.  

But it really is such a beautiful volume, even the edges of the paper are covered with a beautiful marbled pattern.  Well worth a quick skim through though deeper study could result in the certainty that you had contracted every disease known to humankind.

My reading finds were along different lines, I collected together all these Agatha Christies so I can finally come to grips with her.  I have to admit I selected according to the covers rather than the contents, so I might not have got the best of the large selection in the op shop, but it was a good start anyway.

The other book I have very much enjoyed recently and thoroughly recommend if you are interested in domestic history is this one:

I was so taken with it that I scoured the shops for every copy I could find and pressed them upon my girlfriends, whether they were interested or not.  It really did cover the 20th century very well and brought back a lot of memories of my own nana's button jar.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Weekend Splendours

After a very long break from the op shops and markets it was very exciting to go back to the Matamata monthly markets again this weekend.  The number of stalls was limited because it was a rather miserable Waikato morning with a lot of fog which almost felt like a gentle rain, but for a person starved of marketing for a while there was something to be explored on almost every stall.  To make it even more enjoyable I had the companionship of my sister, which was good in many ways but also it has to be said that we can be a bad influence on one another, urging purchases and searching out treasure for each other.  Still, what a lot of fun we had though.  Both of us bought one of these birdy soap dishes.  My sister assured me that hers was the more attractive and that mine had too much eye makeup on, but I suspect they were identical.  

 I was thrilled to buy my first piece of uranium glass (though I forgot to get up in the night to check if it was glowing in the dark.  I have a lot of green depression glass but no other pieces of uranium glass.  

This little dish isn't a very useful size for many things but it served well when I scooped up all the pieces of jewellery which were scattered about the cottage and in danger of being forgotten and left behind when winter deco comes around.  

My sister has had a passion recently for buying old pieces of silver and she was kind enough to  point out this pretty little silver spoon to me. 

It will go nicely with the sugar bowl and creamer she gave me last Christmas and I think the pearly handle sets off the spoon beautifully.  

She also urged me to buy this hydrangea vase, using that old tactic, "If you don't get it, I will", which technique always has an energising effect on dithering shoppers.  

I found one more landscape painting to add to my ever-growing collection.  I do think it would be better if artists left the people out and stuck to the landscapes if painting people isn't their forte, but on the other hand for the outlay of $8 a person can't be too choosy.  I love the way the people who work in opportunity shops work out the pricing on paintings.  There are several ways of doing it, but the way this one was priced was by the shop ladies comparing it with another painting, which they thought was a) nicer, b), larger and c) had a prettier (more opulent looking) frame, and as that one was priced at $20 they felt it was fair to offer mine for $8.  Another charming thing about these people who do such a wonderful job of manning charity stores is the way they feel compelled to pass judgement on your taste.  Fortunately they are approving more often than not but it can be a bit disconcerting when they look askance at your choices and ask you pointedly what on earth you intend doing with your new treasure. Sometimes it's hard to justify just what it is that you like about an object which obviously has no redeeming features in their eyes.  If you are feeling particularly weak that day and not able to explain yourself you can almost feel like saying that on second thoughts you were mad to even consider such a foolish purchase, and put it back on the shelf.  

A large part of the rest of the weekend, I am ashamed to report, was spent on cutting up hundreds more one inch hexagons from the large containers I have full of scraps.  I only got them down from the high cupboard in the hopes of finding a scrap of one particular fabric I had a hankering for, but then I got started cutting just a few hexagons, and before I knew it I had made a terrible mess all over the floor and spent a long time snipping away.  The worst thing is that these tiny hexagons aren't destined for any project in particular, they are only cut up like this as a way of using the tiny scraps left over from other projects.  I tack them onto papers while passing time and I'm sure they will eventually be put to some good purpose.  At least, I fervently hope so because I shudder to think how much time I have spent on them.  It is gratifying to use up the last of a piece of fabric though, and to think that if you live to be about 150 you might one day have no more scraps left. I had been planning to keep them all in the bewitching May Belle Lingerie box given to me by The Duchess of Ringloes but there are so many of them now that I may have to resort to a more utilitarian and much less pretty container.  

I did manage to drag myself out into the garden for a brief weeding session and was surprised to find this shard of pottery in a part of the garden where I have been lavishing compost and coffee grounds for ages.  

It was just below the surface when I stuck my trowel in to remove a particularly obstinate weed and I can't fathom how it came to be there.  I used to find old pieces of pottery at Shoestring Cottage but this piece surely would have bee dug up before, it's as though things gradually work their way to the surface somehow.  

Now that Big Red and Large Blue are out of the way I am going to try to finish the chicken quilt.  Madame Canuck kindly gave me a piece which will be good as part of the backing.  She and I were talking about the strange bits and pieces of fabric we end up with.  This piece is not something she would have chosen for herself because though she likes chickens well enough, not in quilting fabrics, but I was only too happy to accept her kind donation.  Part of the enjoyment for me in creating these projects is looking at the various pieces and remembering where they came from, especially if they have been a gift or a remnant from some favourite sewing project.  

I loved the chickens in this quilt when I started making it, best be hurrying along now before I fall out of love with them as can sometimes happen.  I am still particularly pleased with the chicken wire fabric used to space out the blocks and I was thrown into a panic when I took the quilt out to work on it and couldn't find any more of it.  That's the problem with these long drawn out projects but in the end the chicken wire hexagons were located, just as well or it would have been a very unusual looking quilt.  Here's hoping your week was a great one with lots of the things which make you happy.