Sunday, September 21, 2014

Garden Envy

This week I called in to see my mum on the way to Shoestring Cottage and I couldn't quite suppress a teeny tiny attack of that old foe of all gardeners, Garden Envy.  Of course I wouldn't like to visit my mum's garden and find the spring growth infested with white fly and aphids but ... there are always things to be seen in other people's gardens which one might wish to have for one's own!  For instance, my garden is so microscopic that there isn't space for areas with different types of plantings, because it can be seen almost all at once.  Because Bobby has a villa the front of her garden is very traditional and pretty and just what one would hope for in a charming old well established garden

 But around the back there are areas with a definite subtropical feel, you could wouldn't be much surprised to see some monkeys or brightly coloured parrots in the upper reaches of the trees sometimes.

And then my spring blossoms look so sharp and garish compared to some of these more subtle beauties.

 The latest addition to the garden, a sumptuous apricot and pink shaded magnolia the likes of which I have never seen before.  (I think she would suspect me though if it mysteriously vanished one day.)
And a new camellia called Pink Lace, enormous blossoms and so tenderly shaded.

 No space at my place for a darling little gazebo draped with climbing roses,

 and my cats never pose obligingly either.

But we have to suppress these feelings in our gardening bosoms and press on and make the most of what we have or we would give up the fight altogether, so I tried to look for positives in my patch despite the fact that the flowers have to grow cheek by jowl with the vegetables because space is so short.  I will just call it companion planting and pretend that silver beet and parsley benefit from the close proximity of bluebells.  

 And this subtropical beauty did survive the frosts of winter and is putting on a very brave show already.
The miniature cyclamen are multiplying too.  
The lilies are forging ahead but I am a bit concerned about this one which seems to have some kind of mutant flower stem growing, perhaps two stems have fused together because it looks as though there will be one bumper crop of flowers on one single stem - as long as the slugs and snails don't triumph, of course.

We discovered a new op shop this weekend and I have added two more priceless treasures to my art collection.  (I am thinking of leaving it to the country as a national treasure when I die, I am sure the curator of the national art gallery will be overjoyed.)  

This reminds me of summer holidays on the Coromandel peninsula, the sun bleached grass in the foreground and the coast are just perfect.  It was $3.00 which seems a fair price considering there was no frame. 

I thought this one had some kind of interesting seedheads growing in the foreground but eventually realised that it had pieces of tissue paper stuck all over it, which I have picked off as much as possible but still a few remain.  $3.00 also and no frame, tsk tsk tsk.  

Bobby was having another one of her seasonal fevers where she feels the need to divest herself of possessions and I was the grateful recipient of a dainty little white chair which is very useful in the bathroom at Shoestring Cottage. (Looking at this picture I realise she also donated the vanity, which was immediately painted white, and the wooden screen which may well become white any day now too).  

I have heard from the Southern Sisters that they have been living the art deco life down there, and have completed replica nurses' uniforms from World War I for an event they are attending.  This of course had the effect of focusing the little grey cells (as beloved Hercule Poirot would say) once more upon the need to get up to speed for art deco weekend next year and not let time go past without making any effort, which is what usually happens.  I dragged out these likely contenders which will hopefully be able to be modified and fit for purpose. 

This dress is silk so should be comfortable for summer deco.  I very much like the slightly drab deco colours of the fabric.  When I located it languishing and unloved I also bought the scarf draped around the neckline, which hopefully can be used to make some kind of floating panels for the back or some other deco accouterments.  

This combo has a distinctly Miss Marple feel about it and I realised afterwards that it has no suitable hat, which could prove to be a big challenge.  As The Dancing Queen has frequently remarked, and as the Southern Sisters may well agree, the hat and accessories can make or break your outfit so I had better get to work in this.  A natural coloured straw with some lavender blooms on it might be just the ticket - just a question of finding such a thing, of course.  

 Here is a detail of the crochet in the jacket, which features a very tricky interlocking circle design.
 And I can just picture Miss Marple in a floral print along these lines.  

It was yet another weekend of torrential rain at Shoestring Cottage so I could turn these problems over in my mind and not feel badly to be indoors - this was the third rainy weekend in a row so there must surely be some respite soon!  

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Comforting Distractions

Try as I might to complete the quilt I have been toiling away on for so long in the weekends, it just refuses to reach an end.  (Still thinking of calling it The Infinity Quilt if and when the happy day does arrive that it is finished!)  I suspect a lot of other quilters are probably in the same boat as I am - whichever is their latest project, is also their greatest, and their favourite!

The new red toned quilt which I only started to use up leftovers is threatening to take over my life.  It was originally going to consist of random hexies just put together into rows to create some curtain tie backs; then there were so many hexagons that I figured I might as well make some cushions as well, and good grief so many suitable fabrics came to hand that it seemed sensible to make a rosy toned theme to fit in with all the other similar shades in the bedroom at Shoestring Cottage.  (Mr Shoestring is very indulgent in this matter and seems not to mind that his sleeping accommodations resemble a rose bedecked bower, what an accommodating creature he can be.)

After stringing together rows and rows of these random pinkies I saw somewhere a quilt which tugged at my heartstrings - hexagons of course, but set together in a different way with alternating rows of different blocks.  I can't remember whether it was in a book or a magazine and I only have a slightly blurry photo on my phone to guide my progress and give me some idea how to set them all together.  (I was possibly shaking slightly with excitement when I took the picture.)  Here are a few of my blocks laid out on the floor to give you a rough approximation of the end result.

This particular quilt ticks all the boxes for me and it took me a while to figure out why it is so enjoyable to make.  Now I think I have solved the mystery.

1.  It involves hand piecing - perfect
2.  It uses hexagons - for some reason I can't go far past them
3.  It includes a wide variety of patterns and is reasonably accommodating about different shades
4.  Instead of just one kind of block there are different blocks, so if you get tired of one you can have a rest and make some of the other sort for a while.

Of course no project ever comes together without a hitch and this one has been no exception.  I never stop to estimate how many of each block will be needed, I just get started and keep on going.  Too tedious otherwise and hampers the excitement and enjoyment.  Consequently I fear I made too many of these blocks

in comparison to this one

so now I am having to try to balance the numbers out.  But what a great project it has been so far.  I have stitched away in the car, on the bus (much to the alarm of one fellow passenger - I suspect he didn't trust my skills with the needle and feared for his eyeball, oh ye of little faith) and at every spare moment as long as it wasn't positively dangerous.  Now I am thinking that the original (somewhat boring) rows of random pinks I created could go round the edges, or perhaps I could use some toning fabric for borders.  The possibilities are endless and many a happy daydream has been had turning the possibilities over in the mind's eye.  I could end up with pot holders and bunting made from leftover hexagons at this rate.

I have a friend (Ma'am) who has recently discovered the joys of hand piecing and I feel almost envious of her to have recently come to this wonderful activity - she is only sad that it took her so long to find her way down the hexagon path and into earthly paradise, she thinks of the years before stitching and wishes she had entered the portal into piecing earlier, but at least she got there in the end so her life wasn't wasted.  Her first quilt she has named La Marquee because (much like me), she started out with no particular plan and it has taken shape all by itself but seems to be breaking free of any boundaries she tries to impose in order to "square it off", hence a rather random and wandering shape which will need to be brought under control at some stage.  Either that or she will indeed have a gorgeous hand stitched pavilion to sit under if things really do get out of hand.

In between frenzied bouts of stitching though, it is so enjoyable to get lost in dreaming about some other project and a book or magazine can be a wonderful distraction (and time waster it has to be admitted).  My current favourite is this embroidery book, The Maison Sajou Sewing Book (and I heartily recommend it to you.

It has a wide variety of tempting projects including this running rabbit - don't you feel the motion and it is composed of straight stitches!

Then there are these wonderful vegetable table napkins, once again using very simple stitches.  I think a natural coloured linen with drawn thread work around the edges would make this project even more special - and woe betide any poor unsuspecting guest who stained them!  You could easily add extra veges to suit your own taste after finishing a couple, the stitching looks remarkably straightforward.  

But anything by the wonderful Cecile Franconie (see her wonderful blog with knitting, crocheting and embroidery) is great for whiling away a week or two

 And in the magazine department I can't go past Quiltmania, always something new fresh and inspirational.  I think the stationer gets tired of me pacing about and poring through the selection, waiting for the blessed day when the new edition arrives.

So if for any reason you can't be stitching, you can be reading/dreaming/planning stitching and that is almost as good as the real thing.  

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Springtime Capers

This weekend Los Valentinos came to stay overnight at Shoestring Cottage and they were very tolerant of the overstuffed rooms and the fact that every flat surface was covered in the sorts of things which warm the cockles of my heart (oh, and Mr Shoestring's too of course).  Senora Valentino is a magpie, so could understand our malady, but Senor Valentino is not - he told me in all seriousness that his idea of a collection is having one of something - and where is the fun in that?  Although to be fair, the thing he is searching out presently is an ocean going yacht and I suppose one of those would be enough for most people - cold wet and uncomfortable, give me a cosy room with a few needles, some fabrics and lots of luxurious threads to play with any day!

On Sunday the weather was heavenly and Mr Shoestring and I ventured forth like a couple of moles emerging from a period underground, enjoying ourselves very much even though we were only engaged in mundane gardening chores.  The flowers had the saturated acid colourations of early spring and it was worth having a good close look at them emerging and promising a beautiful summer to come.

 Even the discarded hyacinths from last year consented to put on a bit of a show - in fact I think the sparser blossoms in the second season are more appealing and dainty.

 And the same for the tulips too.  

The fig is already showing its fruits, which seemed a bit odd considering they burst forth fully formed but in miniature from the bare winter stems until I remembered that the "fruit" of a fig is actually its flower.

The birds on the birdhouse roof were giving Mr Shoestring a few concerns because he thought they were attacking the wood, until he realised that they were in fact trying to clean the residue off their beaks after consuming the left over "birdforte" from last week which had become rather sticky and must have been like candy floss or toffee for them.  (Isn't it lucky that they have no teeth and therefore don't need to worry about cavities?)

All this abundance and fruitfulness made me want to go indoors and unearth favourite pieces of fabric which I have saved for a long time, waiting for inspiration to strike.  (I only have a very small amount of the fabric to use so will have to be very careful how I cut it and put it together again but I can't wait to get started.  Shame I have that self-imposed ban on starting any more quilts until the 15 or so which are awaiting completion are dealt with.)

I also dragged out a barely started piece of canvaswork which was brought to mind by the polyanthus in the garden.  It is an Elizabeth Bradley design and it will make a beautiful long bolster for in the sewing room when it is complete, having two potted polyanthus beside one another.

But the embroidery which seemed to best suit the mood in the garden was this scruffy old object which was put away ages ago, but which makes an excellent portable project and is good for using up odds and ends of embroidery cottons, especially if you have been given leftovers after some major project.  

It's great fun to do because you can put all sorts of unexpected colours together, the more the better, for an eye wateringly bright effect.  

Here you can see the string stitching which is the base for the overstitching, it is so simple to do but really satisfying.

And now it's time to go and rest the poor tired back and dream of projects to come.  Happy stitching, gardening or whatever happens to keep you awake at night planning and scheming!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Make Do And Mend

I had such big plans for the weekend.  I had scrounged three big bags of coffee grounds from the coffee shop at work and I had been fantasising all week about spreading them around the garden and making the worms squirm with delight.  (Tragic what a gardener is reduced to in the pathetic desire to be in the garden, I know.)  But alas, it was not to be.  Ever the optimist I had ignored the weather forecast and it did indeed come to pass that there was a howling wind blowing all weekend and it wasn't worth poking a nose outdoors for more than a moment.

There was nothing for it but to hunker down indoors and in trying to make a virtue out of necessity I resolved to tackle some of the less than enticing jobs which I am so good at putting to one side.  I had bought a sweater from an op shop ages ago because I liked the colours in it and it was a pretty pattern with almost a fair isle feel to it, woolen and very warm.

The down side was that its last owner must have enthusiastically tossed it into the washing machine and it was virtually felted.  I always intended to convert it into a cardigan style by cutting down the centre and putting a curve onto the bottom edge, so this I did.  It was surprisingly forgiving - after cutting ruthlessly (heart in throat) the edges just needed to be turned under and hand sewn into place.
Never one to underplay a theme, I think I will wear it with this cosy soft old woolen jacket and possibly add some medal type brooches and maybe my "For King and Country" medal also.
The next job which needed tackling (and had been deferred for years too) was the remaking of two needlepoint cushions.  I was never completely happy with them.  At the time I made them I couldn't find any suitable cording to go round the edges, so had to be content with fashioning some out of skeins of embroidery cotton.  The resultant cord was very thin and skimpy looking and over time had become snagged and was coming off in places.  

Luckily at Aaron's Emporium last time we were in Napier I finally found the perfect trim after years of forays into haberdashery departments, and so reasonably priced.  (If you are ever in Napier make sure not to pass up a visit to this heaven on earth for thrifty crafters.)  After deconstructing the cushions and replacing the worn velvet backing with some moss green cotton velvet (old curtains from an op shop, a great find) the cushions looked better than they had in their first incarnation and will be set to sit in the newly pretty sewing room for a very long time.  

Of course the most tiresome job of all was the never ending "finishing" of the quilt which will not be completed.  This weekend I at last finished all the quilting.  (Every time I thought it was done I would find another area which still needed to be quilted.)  
 I don't know what I was thinking when I decided to try a new technique for the edge, whereby extra hexagons are put on right sides together all the way around the outside, then turned under

 like so, and stitched into place.  It looks rather pretty but involves making a whole lot more hexies just when you are heartily sick of the whole project and desperate to press on with the next thing.

I am happy to report though that there are only about 16 more needed to be stitched into place before I can begin the arduous task of taking out their papers, turning them under and finishing off the edges.  I will hopefully be done before I die.

Outside there are signs of spring and it is a bumper season for the magnolias which were only babies last year.
Even indoors the plants are showing willing to come to the party and get ready for the warmer weather.

The birds were all looking very sorry for themselves but fortunately for them my mum had had a baking disaster and she gave me a rock hard "panforte" which had turned into toffee after a bit of a problem with the mixing and cooking.  Bobby has always been a good cook and enthusiastic creator of new dishes, but baking has never been her thing.  (She explains it in this way.  If you do baking people will only devour it all immediately, and then you are back to where you started.  I can see where she is coming from with that, I have to say.)  But now that she has joined a gardening circle she tells me she couldn't bear the shameful stigma (only imagined I feel sure) of having to take her offerings along on a plastic plate so as not to have to collect it and take her baking home again, in fact seeming to have more on the plate than when she arrived.  So she is trying to master baking sweet delights and not with entirely perfect results.  It broke her heart to see the panforte (or birdforte as Mr Shoestring insisted on calling it) come out rock hard and she assured me that her (superior) birds would not eat it, because they were spoilt with all the other bird delicacies she lavishes upon them.  The birds at Shoestring are an altogether more rough and ready flock and were only too happy to feast on burnt offerings.  Though it did seem as though they could only persevere for a short time before they had to fly off and let their beaks recover.  

And on the culinary front I have to also admit that I have a great admiration for Pierre La Poste's crabapple jelly.  In his job he gets out and about and being a great forager his hawk eye is always peeled for likely wild crops to harvest.  He saw a laden crabapple and made his first ever crabapple jelly and treated us to a jar - it was heavenly!  It looked like a jewel and tasted like sunshine.  I had to admit to him that the only time I ever attempted to make crabapple jelly it came out like rubber, and I never had the heart to attempt it again so I was mightily impressed at this natural talent he displays.  I think I must take after my mum in the sweet delights department, sadly.  How lucky that there are others in the world who have a light hand and a natural talent and are prepared to share the fruits of their labours.