Saturday, 22 April 2017

Lewes In Spring

I spent my last day of freedom holiday wandering around one of my most favourite places in the entire world; Lewes. It's a little historic town in East Sussex on the way through to Brighton and boasts its own castle, ruined Priory, brewery, medieval highstreet and courthouse. Higgledy-piggledy lanes run all over the place- it's like a rabbit warren- and you could pop up anywhere! I have a little route that I like to walk which encompasses all of my favourite parts. You get off the bus at the bottom of the highstreet, then walk up the incredibly steep hill, turning the corner through the old market place and into The Needlemakers to wander around the sweet and quirky artisan shops. Coming out again you continue upwards through a series of narrow streets until you reach the top of a hill overlooking a fabulous view, turn left down a cobbled street and under the gatehouse of Lewes Castle. If you look to your right you can see the Castle itself perched on the top of its own extra hill.

Continuing down past the castle walls you pop out onto the top of Lewes highstreet where Cafe Nero provides lunch and coffee to go. Diving down yet another narrow side road, the path drops steeply down and brings you out opposite the entrance to Southover Grange Gardens- my all-time special place (especially for recovery after the dentist). In October (after the dentist) the Dahlias are out in full force which is simply beautiful, but in April...! The Tulips! Oh the Tulips! It is definitely the season, what with Standen's Tulip festival at the beginning of the week and Southover's Tulip garden at the end- Tulip heaven!

This (above) was my view whilst I sat on a warm bench in the sunshine and ate my egg sandwiches and drank my coffee. The smell was incredible and the colour was a feast for the eyes!

Did you know that Queen Elizabeth herself has planted some of the trees here? She came in 1951 when she was still just a Princess, and there is an inscription on a stone somewhere commemorating the event. The beautiful walls and arches which help to divide the space into separate gardens are often ones that have been 'borrowed' from the nearby priory after it was demolished. I wonder where they would have been situated when they were with their original buildings? The stories that they could tell!

This beautiful border with white and pink Clematises (Clemati?) on the walls and red and yellow Tulips in the flowerbed is where the Dahlias will be in a few months time. It's rather nice to see how these beds evolve over the year and the different flowers that take each other's places.

This golden field of Tulips was astounding! The regimental design of the box hedging barely contains the colour and exuberance of these fabulous flowers! This is what gardening is all about! I don't know I would have the patience to plant all of these bulbs and trim the hedges to their sharp points though, but I can appreciate the effect (and wish that I had a gardener to do it for me).

This tulip is the Cruella Deville of tulips. It can't decide if it should be a red one or a yellow one, so just went with both! Why not?

Once all of the different gardens have been wandered around and appreciated; the rose garden, the heather bed, the Winterbourne River culvert, the natural garden and the meadow, you can sneak out of a side gate in the far corner of the gardens, turn right and walk past the flint embossed Trinity Church then turn left and walk under the railway bridge and left again into the grounds of The Priory of St. Pancras. They renovated these ruins several years ago, adding steps and information boards, and they hold quite a few events here now which is rather nice. Barely any of the original Priory remains, the chaps who were ordered to pull it down by Henry VIII did a rather thorough job, getting right into the foundations and bringing down whole walls. Lots of these stones have been used to build newer buildings throughout Lewes so there are bits of the Priory all over the place.
This is the last proper stop before returning to the bus stop; walking through Convent Field past the Lewes football club, over the bridge of the train station and along another side road until you reach the bottom of the highstreet once more. A fabulous day adding to the brilliant layers of fond memories of this place and reaffirming my love of Lewes.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Bluebell Stitchery

Everywhere I go at the moment there are Bluebells! Peeping out from behind trees, carpeting woodland floors or nestled together in clumps under hedgerows. It has given me a mass of inspiration for a new stitchscape- I'm thinking, silver birch trees, bold blue print fabrics at the forefront fading out to green towards the 'back' of the forest and changing into pale blue for the sky with lots of blue bullion knots and long beads at the front, dappled lighting and green skinny ribbons and tapestry yarns imitating the long spindly leaves. (Not much to pack into a 20cm round hoop!)

The Mother keeps commenting on how early everything is out at the moment. Surely Bluebells are a May thing? Weirdly in our garden, the purple Bluebells were all out first, ages and ages ago, then the blue Bluebells followed later. We have a natural (abandoned to fend for itself) patch at the bottom of our garden where they are all a pale lilac colour, not a blue one in sight!

So, seeing as how I've been on holiday this week, I thought there wasn't a better time to get cracking on this new stitchscape idea and started cutting up some layers!

I really like making trees although this is the first time I have put together different coloured branches like this. Usually my trees are long strips which go straight up through the piece but this time I have wiggles and branches to play with. I'm not sure yet how I'm going to embellish the little twig branches in- should I attempt green leaves?

So far it's going really well but I admit I spent all day Tuesday stitching and watching Midsomer Murders. It would be fabulous if that could be my life! Just sewing and watching DVDs or listening to the radio, or sitting in the garden listening to the birds... I would be able to complete my stitchscapes in half the time they take me now when I have to work in the stitchery sessions around daily work and commuting life.

I really liked following the lighter spots in the above blue print fabric and translating them into chunky french knots. If you look from quite far away you almost don't notice that they are 3D and the texture comes as a slight surprise as they blend in so well. In the last stitchscape (Flowing River) I worked little circles of satin stitch into the green spot fabric I used and I really loved the effect this created. The best part about making lots of stitchscapes is that they feed into one another and whilst it is nice to try and find different techniques for the same fabric to see how far you can push it, it is also nice to revisit a technique that has worked well, so I have made the same satin stitch again in the Bluebell stitchscape. They still remind me of little molehill mountains far off in the distance.


I am loving being on holiday! Especially when the weather is so agreeable and obliging- days like this are not to be wasted and yesterday The Mother, The Brother and I packed a little picnic (egg and ham wraps) and journeyed off to Standen House & Garden in East Grinstead, West Sussex. We had heard through the grapevine, that some of the work by the very talented designer/maker, Kaffe Fassett was being exhibited there, and as the interior of the house is well known for its use of William Morris designs in its furnishings- it was a combination not to be missed! What we hadn't realised, and was a fabulous bonus, was that they are getting ready for a tulip festival which starts next week, and the gardens are completely covered in the most fantastic display of every kind of tulip imaginable!

Every part of the garden had some kind of tulip border, tulip pot, tulip field or tulip flower bed, which combined with the usual and more permanent flowers, like the wall of Wisteria, made for an exceptional display of colour and design! Chelsea eat your heart out! Apparently around 10,000 bulbs were planted in preparation for this festival, although as most of the flowers seem to have bloomed already- there may be none left by the time the actual festival time rolls around.

The house itself is relatively new and modern in the grand scheme of things, with building work starting in 1891 and finishing three years later. It was commissioned by The Beale family, headed by James Beale who was a highly succesful solicitor from Birmingham, along with his wife and seven children. They moved from Birmingham to London so that James could manage the London office of Beale & Co, a family firm specialising in railway work. The Beales were an interesting family who travelled widely and had a very strong interest in Arts and Sciences, employing the architect Philip Webb who was a leading figure in the Arts and Crafts movement, to design and head up the project for a comfortable country home.

According to the National Trust website, 'Standen was designed to look as though it has always been here- almost as if it has 'grown' out of the rock face and is a part of the landscape, however the land that Standen now stands upon was originally made up of three farms: Stone, Hollybush and Standen.' These buildings have been incorporated into the design of the new house, which was fully modernised for the time, complete with central heating and electricity. We especially loved the conservatory room which was full of orchids, cacti, palms and other strange looking plants. It's probably a room that I would spend a lot of time in if I lived here; imagine all of the windows wide open, looking out to the lawn beyond, hearing the birds chirping in the trees. Blissful.

The house is stuffed full of William Morris designs, some of which I recognised immediately, and others that I needed a bit of a gentle reminder of their names. I learnt a little fact about the beautiful bedspread in the bottom left and centre images of the above montage; it is the William Morris 'Acanthus' design, and was supposedly hand stitched by his younger daughter, May, as a commission for a wedding present. It disappeared for a time but after about a hundred years locked away in a trunk, it was anonymously donated to Standen in the 1990s on the condition that it would always be on display; beautiful isn't it?

An artist who is often linked to William Morris in terms of inspiration and use of colour is Kaffe Fassett, and it was an absolute joy to be able to see some of his work up close and personal at the exhibition and throughout the house. The colours are astounding and the large quilts which are hanging on the walls are breathtaking in their complicated simplicity. It's amazing to see the individual stitches in the tapestry cushions and and panels, and see the little blemishes in the stitching on the quilts. The Mother was gleefully pointing out areas of machine stitch where the lines had come out from 'in the ditch' and made a little wobble- tiny imperfections that get lost in the bigger picture but show the hand crafted element up close. Nothing hand made should be absolutely perfect in my opinion, there should always be a little something to make it unique.

The colours outside reflect the colours within, I imagine Kaffe would be totally inspired by the glorious tulips covering pretty much every surface. As we are only just out of Easter, there was still an Easter themed trail to follow, in the shape of these cute little crochet bunnies. We didn't find them all- there were seven in total- but we did quite well. Poor things were mostly strapped to various trees- do you think they look like an Attic 24 pattern?

 In the Upper Garden (which was surrounded by fantastic views across Weir Wood reservoir and Ashdown Forest) there was a sweet little hut designed by Will Shannon. Nicknamed 'Bothy', it's a tiny little space just big enough for a cabin bed, chair and log burner. The walls are covered in an open weave woollen fabric which keeps the space feeling very warm and compliments the beautiful mottled stained glass in the large window and also in the door. I could definitely do with one of these in the back garden!

The views really are incredible, and there is a walkway and viewing platform that curls away from the house to take full advantage of the area.

Who needs trips to the tulip fields in Holland when you can achieve the same effect in the back garden of a country manor house?!

If you are in the area, I would thoroughly recommend you visit Standen, stat! Such a fabulous combination of arts and crafts, nature and nurture- I think the Beale family would be proud of how it has evolved.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Display Crochet

I've finished another display garment for work. This time a Stylecraft pattern, number 9294 in the beautiful Batik DK Storm (1913). I really liked working with this yarn, it was soft and pliable and was a beautiful colour. It's a blended yarn, 20% wool and 80% acrylic and you can feel the difference from a 100% acrylic yarn (although in my humble opinion, Stylecraft do the nicest 100% acrylic yarn in Special DK).

I'm not really a jumper person but the decorative pattern is very pretty. It was nice to work up, although I will admit that I frogged and re-hooked the sleeves several times. There was just something about the sleeve part of the pattern that I couldn't get my head around. I think I got there in the end and it was a relief to be stitching the pieces together.

The photos aren't fantastic but if this pattern speaks to you then I've photographed the details you will need below so you can track it down. There is also a version without the sleeves if you would rather, haha.

After finishing the above jumper I kind of threw it stroppily at the lady who runs the yarn department and said I was never doing a garment again. In return she just kind of stared at me and sheepishly handed me another parcel with the below pattern and yarn with a desperate kind of plea. So I guess it starts again!