Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Lavender Mountains

Light is a funny thing isn't it? We all know about the importance of good lighting to take photographs, and I really wish I was better at knowing how to set the aperture or whatnot on my camera to help it focus in slightly dingy lighting. The evening light to me is lovely and golden, but the camera interprets it as a blue light, casting a cold haze on things I want to photograph.
It feels like it should stay light as boy(!) wasn't it HOT today? This morning we woke up to a land of fog with a valiant sun trying to penetrate through the layers of grey mist, and it was quite chilly really; then I spent the rest of the day in a well air conditioned office, finally emerging at 5pm into what has clearly become the tropics. Quite astounding.

Hopefully it will start to cool off a bit more before bedtime, I prefer it to be cold in the room so I can snuggle under the duvet. For now though I'm quite content to sit in the garden in the last rays of sunshine, reading a magazine.

I've had to pop inside to grab the laptop though and update you on my latest stitchscape adventure. I think some of you may have seen snippets of my Mountain-scape on my Facebook page as I took it with me on holiday. This one seemed to take a long time to complete but it was probably because I had to keep putting it down to do holiday type things, It was very enjoyable though and used all of my favourite techniques.

I have to admit that I love bullion knot reed flowers, they add such a great dimension and sense of foreground to these pieces. There are a lot of bullion knots hidden around in this embroidery; smuggled in with a copious amount of French knots for texture, lined up along the edge of a fabric mountain to suggest bushes, or laid out to suggest rocks and roots.

I also found a great trick whilst I was at university of joining dots together on a polka dot pattern. It creates a fantastic all over texture and completely changes the appearance of the fabric as the dots disappeared into the thread holes. Here I've filled some in with a random pattern to suggest bushes and areas of flowers or perhaps sunshine. How would you interpret it?
Overall I try to go quite organically with how I feel about each fabric, following outlines of batik dyes, picking up colours in floral patterns, little seed stitches to help disguise and tone a busy small print; whatever floats my boat at that moment.

And also, whilst we are on the subject of finished stitchscapes, just before my holiday, I finished my Lavender Fields stitchscape. I wasn't so sure about this one if you'll remember, I mentioned my unease in this post here. Having removed a bad colour choice and started working on a different part of the design, gradually working my way back to the problem area, I feel a little happier with it. It's all a learning curve I suppose, and I would probably try this idea again, just not in the same way.

I've also experimented with a new size. The ones I have previously worked on; Kew Stitchscape and Sunset & Seaside Stitchscapes, along with the Lavender Fields are all done in a 15cm (6inch) hoop so they are relatively small. My Mountains Stitchscape was done in a 20cm (8 inch) hoop so is quite a lot bigger. I'm not sure which one I prefer, what do you think?

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Elvis Goes To Oxford

Elvis naturally came with us on our family holiday, and managed to wangle his way into several photographs of his favourite spots! Such a cheeky hamster. Here he is at Blenheim Palace...

...and above; enjoying the sights of Oxford. We even had a cheeky selfie together, say cheese!

And making friends with statuesque ladies at Basildon Park. I think Elvis enjoyed the holiday just as much as we did!

Basildon Park

Our final day of holiday was spent at Basildon Park, a National Trust house and garden that is often used as a setting for filming period TV shows and films, such as Pride & Prejudice, Downton Abbey, Dorian Gray and Marie-Antionette. It's current restored state is, in most parts, thanks to it's last owners before the NT, Lord and Lady Iliffe. The house had been badly damaged during the war and also passed from owner to owner, with each one seemingly taking fixtures and fittings at whim before selling it on. One chap even tried to strip it down and sell it to the Americans.

It was revamped and redecorated to it's former shining glory but with more modern home comforts such as central heating and a modern kitchen, and, in the 1950s, enjoyed playing host to many posh parties hosted by the Iliffe's. Eventually they passed it on to the National Trust, on the condition that nothing was touched and the spirit of it being a family home remained. They themselves continued to live in a small area of the house, the sitting room of which you can see as Lady Iliffe left it, and had the best of both worlds as they were allowed to continue using the dining room in the main house to entertain guests when it was closed to the public (which was more often than it is now).

The rose garden at the back of the house was one of my favourite areas. beautiful roses, sweet peas and agapanthuses cluster together in a medley of pastel colours and just beyond them is the most incredible view over trees and fields. It was quite the best place.

So our mini holiday came to an end; three days steeped in history and architectural sights, combined with a copious amount of coffee and beautiful weather. Quite the best sort of break away.

Saturday, 20 August 2016


The second day of our mini holiday involved wandering around the City of Oxford. The hotel was very near to the River Thames and we followed the tow path into the centre, past the university cricket pitches (each university seems to have it's own one) and the boat club houses and pretty canal boats. Oxford has been used in many films and TV programs- most notably for me is the detective series Inspector Morse, and later Lewis, a spin off of Morse. I love both programs and so strangely recognised several areas of Oxford purely from them being featured in the series', especially University College with the large grass court in the centre.

It is known as 'City of the Dreaming Spires', and the architecture is really lovely, with lots of quaint carvings, grotesques, gargoyles, flowers, patterns and shields in every nook and cranny. Famous buildings you may have heard of include the Bodleian Library, the Ashmolean Museum, The Radcliffe Camera (below) and Christ Church Cathedral.

You can actually climb the tower of the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin- be warned that the only way up and down it is an incredibly narrow spiral staircase- which gives you the most spectacular view over the city. It has four sides to it and on the first side as you come out of the staircase you are directly facing the Radcliffe Camera, with the University College on the right.

I was especially pleased to see some very lovely yarn-bombing around the Radcliffe Camera, provided by the Oxford Drunken Knitwits (I also love the name!). If you are a lover of community action and yarn-bombing then their details are on the link on their name and I have also included the photo of their donation details should you feel so inclined (centre of above montage). The whole yarn bombing consisted of long strings of crocheted and knitted flowers entwined around the fence circling the RC, in lots of different colours and styles. My favourite was the little bee though, such a happy face!

Another textile link is through William Morris, one of the greatest English designers of the Arts and Crafts Movement (and dare I say, one of the greatest designers ever?). His designs are still highly sought after and cherished. We sell his fabric and wallpaper designs at work through the company, Sanderson, and interestingly they have just revamped some of his most successful designs and given them a modern twist, creating a collection called Pure Morris- but that's another story. His wife, Jane Morris, who was a renowned embroiderer in her own right was born in Oxford and I presume they met whilst William was studying theology at Oxford University.

We wandered pretty much all day; stopping for a fantastic lunch and several stops for coffee, paused to reflect underneath The Bridge of Sighs (above montage, middle left and bottom right) which joins two parts of Hertford College together, and popped into lots of shops as The Mother and I were on the hunt for badges for our camp blankets, eventually finding ourselves at the back of Oxford Castle along the river.

The evening was spent back along the river where we had walked past the boat club houses earlier that day on our way into town. The river had been transformed from the sleepy, quiet place of the morning to a bustling, fast paced metropolis full of puffing rowers whizzing across the surface of the water, cycling coaches chasing after them along the tow path shouting instructions through megaphones; joggers, dog walkers, general passers by, narrowboats, river patrols....it was all going on and quite fascinating. We had bought a picnic tea in a local supermarket and sat chatting companionably to a couple of ducks who came to say hello, eating our tea and observing the local life until the sun started to set. People are really very fit in Oxford, we were quite breathless watching them all!

The walk back to the hotel took us through golden fields with horses and geese (can you see them in the brown circle in the photo above?) nibbling on the grasses. It was a very nice end to the day.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Blenheim Palace

Hello!! We are back from our little family jaunt up Oxford way, having had a great time and some truly brilliant weather! The whole family had managed to get this week off of work with the idea of having a proper holiday but The Brother's A Level results came out today so we had to plan to be back for then (all good results- huzzah!). Instead we had a mini holiday which was rather nice and on the first day we sauntered up to Blenheim Palace as it was somewhere The Sister has nagged us about going to for several years.

The place is absolutely vast(!) at over 2000 acres of parkland, with a Palace that could probably fit our house in it hundreds of times over. The park was designed by Lancelot 'Capability' Brown, whose name gets bandied about a lot if you are a serious National Trust goer like us (Blenheim Palace is not National Trust however). It was gifted to the 1st Duke of Marlborough as a ruined manor house and grounds by Queen Anne, to say thank you for his victories over the French, and in the grounds there is even a Column of Victory depicting him as a Roman General. The house was rebuilt on a monumental scale over the years and the wealth was continually squandered and rebuilt through the different Dukes of Marlborough.
Another interesting fact about Blenheim is that Winston Churchill was born here in 1874, and later proposed to his wife, Clementine, in the grounds in 1908. When he died in 1965, he was brought back to the area and buried in the nearby town of Bladon.

The Palace is still lived in by Dukes of Marlborough, I think we are on the 11th one now, and when it isn't crawling with tourists snapping as many photos as they can, it is still pretty much an enormous family home- albeit stuffed to bursting with family heirlooms, carvings, paintings, excess furniture, cabinets of china, and a rather spectacular holographic historical section depicting the Marlborough's building Blenheim (complete with a naked King's mistress).

The gardens are also really lovely, and I especially enjoyed the water terraces which have a very Italian feel. The furthest pond in the above photo is even a smaller copy of the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) which is in the Piazza Navona in Rome. It was a strange sense of déjá vu looking at it as I saw the original fountain whilst in Rome in June! (Blog post about it here.)

It is a real day out going to the Palace as there is so much to see and do. Once the Palace has been viewed from both inside and out, you can catch Winston the mini train to the Pleasure Gardens and continue exploring. The gardens aren't actually very far away, they are probably a 15 minute walk from the Palace, but it's more fun to catch a train.

Our main reason for going there was to see the Butterfly house!!! How I love these places, although you tend to get rather hot and sticky (it's always a relief to leave them in the end). This house had Zebra Finches as well as Butterflies which added an extra cute element as they were snuggled up together and snooozing in the branches.

At this end of the property there is also a fun section for kids, complete with miniature village, a maze, adventure park, cafe and garden museum. Once you are done, you can catch Winston back to the Palace!

'Capability' Brown really knew how to make an impressive garden. This lake used to be a little stream before he got his hands on it. Now it is full of honking wildlife, has an island in the middle, an enormous bridge across the centre and curls halfway around the house before continuing onwards. Dad was on the bridge with his binoculars staring out at the little island which had at least one Herons nest on it complete with fluffy chicks. The bridge appears to be about halfway between the Palace and the Column of Victory although we didn't walk up that far as we had to leave to find our hotel. It leaves a lasting impression on you though! A brilliant place to visit.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Undoing Lavender Fields

I'm feeling in a purple frame of mind at the moment. Many of the flowers in the garden are different shades of purple and they're so pretty. Walking along the path in the front garden we have to brush past a very enthusiastic Lavender bush which releases the most beautiful scent and a cloud of drunken Bees every single time. One of the ladies I work with brought an enormous bag of Lavender into my office at the beginning of the week and the fumes(!) I can't even describe to you they were so heady. We did eventually have to remove the bag into a better ventilated space as it started to get a little Lavender-hazy in there but it did smell lovely.

It's of little wonder to me then that this inspiration has filtered down and onto my hoop, as my latest stitchscape is based around the view of a Lavender field. As I mentioned in my previous post though I am struggling slightly with this one which I think is down to some colour choices as I can pin point the moment I stopped loving the embroidery.

With this piece I started with my tree, following the lines of a beautiful batik fabric to create texture in the bark and following it up with my customary French knots and Bullion knots. The sky filled in partway through the tree as I wanted to try and blend the background into the foreground and create a slight breezy movement. The rows of Lavender are being created with Bullion knots and I think it is the citrus green colour that has caused me to pause and reevaluate this piece. I shall cut it out and see what I can do to rectify it.

Green is such an important colour I think, and one wrong colour choice really throws out an entire piece. I shall have to go shopping for some new green threads to try and get the right shades. What do you think?