Sunday, 20 August 2017

Sweet Sweet Summer

Oooh, lots more goings on in the Studio again yesterday. Those who follow me on Facebook will know all about my free giveaway which ended on Friday 19th August. I decided to say thank you for all of the lovely comments, and the support, given to me online by my lovely followers during the release of my Stitchscapes, and chose a 12" Bluebell Woods print as my giveaway prize. The winner was pulled out of a box by my Grandmother yesterday and the print will be winging its way in the post to Mexico next week. All the way to Mexico! I hope it arrives safely.

I also took delivery of and packaged up some new prints and greetings cards. These little cards were among them, as well as my Winter Kisses Stitchscape which will hopefully be part of a Christmas range of cards and prints that I'm planning on. You can have your very own set of these cards, which are 15cm square (so could also be used as a framed print itself once the card has been sent), through my Etsy shop, along with all of the other goodies you can find there.

My Winterberry Stitchscape was mounted ready for framing. I'm currently out of frames in this size though so it will have to wait until I've re-stocked. For now it has joined the others on my fabulous studio shelves and looks quite contented next to the Winter Kisses Stitchscape.

This morning I have started something quite new and exciting. It's a plan that has been churning around in the ol' brain for a little while, and I have been collecting bits and bobs for it for a couple of months. I was going to leave the plan as a surprise but thought it might be interesting for you folks to see how it develops, so I'm telling you now instead! I am working on turning this jumble of fabrics into a kit, so that you can create your very own little Stitchscape!! It's in the early stages of development, and I'm scribbling lots of notes on pieces of paper trying to figure out sizes and costs, and what to include in the kit, but I think I have the basics mapped out.

It is only a little diddy Stitchscape, in a 15cm hoop, but there is a lovely range of fabrics to play with and I should be able to include my favourite and signature stitches in here for you to have a go at. I always encourage individual ideas, so if you would prefer to use a different stitch, or swap around the stitches to different layers then I'm all for it! The fabrics will be cut into strips for you to trim to size and shape (I have made templates of the shapes I've cut if you prefer to stick to the pattern), and if you wanted to mix and match then that's also totally fine! The world is your oyster, and the hoop is your playground.

I have already titled this one as 'Summer Sweet', as it is so cute and diddy and summery. Those rich green fields and that blue, blue sky smiling over the happy nodding flowers in the foreground. Depending on how popular these kits prove to be, I may have to substitute some of these fabrics for new ones, but will always make sure that they are suitable and easy to work within the kit formula.
So, all I have to do now is to find matching threads and count exactly how much of each colour I use, think carefully about my stitches, make an initial set of instructions and ask The Mother to test run the kit to make sure it's perfect, tie it all together with a bow and set it free on the wide world! I will of course, let you know as soon as it is ready. So what do you think? Can you see yourself creating your very own Summer Sweet Stitchscape?

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Winterberry Stitchscape

I'll be honest, I'm not so sure about this stitchscape.
It had to happen and will probably happen again, but as there is no forward planning with these stitchscapes, no designing or composition sketches, each 'scape is a bit of a whim and a prayer. The general theme is something I will probably be inspired to do beforehand, and I do keep a list of keywords as they pop in to my brain with things like; blue hills, green trees, dark woodland, purple mist, sand(?).... Fabrics are chosen based on the theme and roughly cut and tacked down, I like to keep things fresh and not too overworked- or at least, I try to.

I'm not quite sure what it is that doesn't gel for me here, as there are many parts about it that I think have really worked well. I love the little french knots in the bark, and the tiny straight stitch fir leaves with the satin stitch berries. My thought is that perhaps there are too many patterns at the bottom of the piece which are crowding for attention, or that the tree is the wrong shape... I could speculate on and on, but it all boils down to something not working for me- not that I'm saying it can't work for you.

I am very much enjoying the red beads nestled amongst the giant french knots. As in previous stitchscapes, I have used some leftover Stylecraft Special DK acrylic yarn from my stash. These create such lovely, chunky knots but are devils to pull through the fabric due to the bulk at the eye of the needle. There is a lot of focus on french knots in this piece, but, as I'm being so honest in this post, I did consider giving up halfway through the top white layer which is made up of hundreds of single twist knots. The idea behind these, aside from the interesting texture, is that I think they look like snow! Do you think so? Just the thing for a seasonal winter themed 'scape. They took for-ever though!

The other part I really like, and will probably do again is the detached chain stitches grouped together with the french knots and red beads. It adds to the green of the piece and makes the tree appear more like an evergreen I think. Oooh, perhaps I could do an autumnal tree and overlay lots of these little detached chain stitches in various shades of orange and yellow!!! That could look fab!

There are three layers of thread edging the tree trunks; a pale one at the bottom with two strands, then a four stranded golden layer and a two strand dark layer over the top. You can create a corded effect if you whip stitch in different directions. So to create this look, the first two layers are whip stitched with the needle going under the original back stitch line from the direction of the trunk, outwards. The dark layer is then whipped around the threads from the outside of the trunk, towards the centre.

It does look very festive, and the colours look great together with the golden brown (like pine cones), red, green and white. Moda are very good at putting together a charm pack, which is what this stitchscape is named after. Gosh I love fabric patterns, and fabric, and colour, and DMC threads, and stitches!! Can you tell? The stitch list in this embroidery is; straight stitch, satin stitch, back stitch, whip stitch, seed stitch, detached chain, french knots, star stitch, bullion knots, running stitch, fly stitch and cross stitch.
So the question is, is it worth my looking into turning it into, dare I say it, Christmas cards? Or do you feel the same way as me with the slightly underwhelmed feeling? It would be interesting to know.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Studio Saturday

I am still absolutely loving playing with my new camera! It makes me feel very grown up to be swanning around the garden with a camera that properly clicks in a true, camera-sounding way, casually remarking on the different settings required due to the light and the fact that an overcast day is so much better for diffused light when taking photographs.
Today is, of course, studio Saturday! It has been a bit of a relief if I'm honest to get back to some sort of studio routine as the last couple of weekends have been bonkers! Having my very own space to spread out (as far as I can considering it's not a big space!) and store my own things without anyone else touching them or having to move to get the washing out or dinner on the table, is such a pleasure. It's like a weight is lifted off my shoulders whenever I walk through the door and see all of my stitchscapes lined up on their shelves or displayed in their crates. My little oasis of calm.

And of course, as I tell you nearly every time I mention the studio, the garden surrounding it is just as lovely- and a great excuse to whip out the new camera, did I mention I have a new camera? I am astounded by the detail you can get with this little gadget, and thrilled with how it captures colour, which is an essential part of life for me.

There were a few new treasures to put in the studio this morning too- these little ceramic Welsh Leeks, bought from Waddesdon Manor, which make me smile every time I see them, some postcards for the pin board of inspiration on the wall, and some acorns (which I forgot to photograph) to fill one of my little ceramic leaf bowls.

It was most industrious all in all. I mounted and framed my Blush Sunset stitchscape (pictured below), framed my Winter Kisses stitchscape, photographed several original pieces ready to be made into prints and greetings cards, photographed some framed originals which are now listed in my Etsy shop (click here to go there) along with sets of greetings cards, also now listed.
This afternoon has been spent uploading and editing and all sorts of computer related activities necessary to keep my little shop going. I have also decided to launch a free giveaway of one of my Bluebell Woods 12" art prints, which you can enter over on my Facebook page (click here). So it is all going on!

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Flying By

I don't know where this year has gone, I really don't! Summer appears to be over for us Englishers- although to me it seems as if places like Spain and Italy have pretty much stolen our sunshine as the last week or so has been cold and miserable. I could even see my breath misting in front of me whilst waiting at the bus stop one morning, and it is noticeable how dark it is getting earlier in the evenings. Perhaps we will get some late summer sunshine in the next couple of weeks?

Things have been rather hectic over the last couple of weeks what with one thing or another. These fabulous panoramic views are from a picnic had on Saturday on our way home from Waddesdon Manor. We stopped off at another National Trust site called Box Hill, based on this viewpoint over the North Downs, as a place to stop and have a picnic tea. Considering the downpours and thunder storms we'd had during the day, it's amazing how clear the sky was!

Dinosaurs came to the town where I work this week. They are motion-sensored and moved and roared and blinked and everything! It was very exciting!

A hugely exciting thing for me was the arrival of a new camera!! I've plumped for a Nikon DSLR camera which came with a fabulous carry case, an extra lens, memory card, cleaning equipment.... the full works! I've been testing out the various controls and buttons and gadgets to see what I can do- do you think you notice a change in the quality of the photos? The images on the new Nikon start with the blue sky above and the below photos are mainly my testing out the various zooms in the garden.

We have such a beautiful Sunflower patch. Well, we have two patches actually but this is one of them. The poor things are looking slightly battered now as we have been experiencing a brisk breeze (which translates into 'it's been bloomin' windy!') which has caused them to bend and sway like little ballerinas. We tend not to buy special seeds for the Sunflowers, rather, Dad goes around underneath the sunflower bird feeders and picks out the little shoots, collecting them together and planting them all out in a little Sunflower nursery. It's very sweet, but definitely pays off when it produces such glorious sunny heads.

I really love the above picture! Such detail in the little water droplets. Swoon!

My stitchscape minis are coming on rather slowly. I've put this hoop down temporarily as I'm trying to crack on with my Winterberry Stitchscape which is progressing even slower as it's only being worked on during commuting and lunchtime hours, both of which have been interrupted with various things. Currently I only have a couple more layers left to do on that one and then the overlaying details, so I might be able to get back to these minis over the weekend. For now though I have four completely finished and a fifth with just the remaining branches to go until it's completion- so I'm over half way through the hoop! It will be an exciting moment to get the card backings stitched on and the little individual minis cut out and packaged.

Although they are all very similar, I've been trying to give them all their own little unique features. Generally it's the different combinations that make them look different, even though the fabrics are being treated in the same way. There are a lot of bullion knot flowers going in at the fronts of these bare, wintry trees, but I've added some fly stitches in a darker pink tone to these knots to give it a different look.

The branches are so sweet. They are made with roughly grouped straight stitches to create the branches, finished with the skinniest of little branches (using a single strand of embroidery floss)- kind of like the ones you'd use to make Snowman arms. There are no leaves on these twigs as the stitchscapes are 'set' in the deepest of Winter seasons....which doesn't explain the flowers, but perhaps they are just hardy ones?

Monday was The Mother's actual big birthday, but we had a family party on the Sunday and invited our closest relatives for a slap-up buffet tea with a selection of handmade scones and fruit tarts, along with a double tiered chocolate birthday cake complete with sparklers. We decorated the sitting room with bunting, dangly things and balloons, and the kitchen was decorated with streamers and some more dangly things- most of which are still up because The Mother likes the look of festivity (and it drags her birthday out even longer...). All of the presents went down really well and consequently there has been lots of playing with new toys all week!

I'm hoping to get back into the studio this weekend as I haven't had a proper studio Saturday for several weeks! Perhaps I might be able to finish my Winterberry stitchscape in time to mount that one up and show you the completed  piece. For now though, it is most definitely bedtime, so I will leave you with these rather cool photos which were taken whilst testing out my new toy on the moon!

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Waddesdon Manor

This weekend is The Mother's birthday weekend. Basically this means that the actual event isn't until Monday but she is using it as an excuse to have an event nearly every day up until then, and has been since Thursday. Yesterday she wanted to go to Waddesdon Manor, a place we had passed coming back from holiday last year, but never made it past the car park as you have to have timed tickets into the house and there is a coach from the car park to the main buildings- the estate is gigantinormous!!! This time we had planned ahead so it was an early start for the two hour drive to Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire.

From the car park, there are two coach stops. The first is the main house and the second is a little further down the road to the stables which house restaurants, cafes, an ice cream/waffle parlour and an animal arts exhibition. You can get a glimpse of how grand the big house is going to be from the stables, which in themselves are enormous and ornate, with intricate carvings and lots of windows. There aren't any horses there now though, and little trace that we could see of there ever being horses living there, other than the wide arched doors and water trough at one end.

After having a quick wander around and a cup of coffee, we made the (quite steep) journey up to the big house just in time for the rain to come pouring down and us to enter the hall for our timed tickets. They are quite strict about the way you enter the Manor; you cannot take any drinks in with you unless they are buried at the bottom of your bag and you promise faithfully not to retrieve them, you cannot wear any heeled shoes (with heels narrower than a postage stamp), you can only take in small bags and they must be held in front of you- but you can take photos- without flash. Which is brilliant for a blogger like me!

As is my custom when visiting interesting places, let me give you a little bit of history about the estate. Waddesdon was built by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild between 1874 and 1885 as a stage setting for his lavish parties and as a background to display his enormous and varied collection of arts and possessions. The building is in the style of a French Renaissance chateau, right down to the detailing of rooms decorated with wall panels taken from Parisian houses of the 1700s. 
As the house was built and furnished almost in one go, there aren't so many pieces that have been handed down through the generations; each item has been carefully selected as the best of the best, the highest quality. There are numerous paintings of beautiful women, many of them actresses, throughout the rooms, along with chandeliers dripping thousands of glass pieces hanging from nearly every ceiling; and flowers, clocks, vases, carvings, decorative screens, amusing statues and engraved glass everywhere you look.

The Rothschild's hosted many parties for royalty, celebrities and high status families, and as such needed a lot of china sets! Several of them are on display on one of the upper floors (which you reach by going up fantastic swirling spiral staircases), from the smallest egg cup to the largest soup tureen. All parts of the vast collections have been preserved very well, and this is a continuing theme at Waddesdon- started by Alice de Rotheschild, the youngest sister of Baron Ferdinand. As the Baron died childless (his wife, Evelina, died in childbirth a year after they were married), he left the estate to Alice who had often acted as his hostess and regarded herself as the protector of Ferdinand's inheritance. She established ''Miss Alice's Rules' which are guidelines for the care and preservation of the collections which even today form the foundation for those of the National Trust.'

The Mother and I were particularly interested in these beautiful embroidered panels which must have been at least a couple of metres tall. They appeared to have been created almost entirely from different coloured bugle beads, all hand stitched with thin strands of thread couched around them for the outlines. To preserve the pieces from little sticky hands, there is a thin layer of netting across the fronts of them, but you can still get close enough to view the finer details. Such fine, intricate needlework! I couldn't even begin to think how long one panel must have taken to make, let alone the five in the room!

It had just about stopped raining for a few minutes by the time we exited the Manor (by way of the gift shop- love a good postcard!) and we wandered back down towards the stables for some lunch before returning to meander through the gardens and to see the aviary.

The aviary was build by Baron Ferdinand in 1889, in a similar style to that of trelliswork pavillions designed for gardens in Versailles, and is an absolute 'must-see' in the gardens (as it was during his time at Waddesdon). They still carry out important conservation breeding projects here as all of their birds are on the endangered species list in some way or another. Walking up around the corner to the aviary, you can hear the birds before you can see them! Lots of twittering and chirping and singing going on from nearly all of the different species hiding within the beautifully ornate cages. There are about 10 different sections in total, but it has been presented almost as one continuous line, with a beautiful covered section in the middle with a fern encrusted water feature as its centrepiece. One of the birds, the Rothschild's Mynah, is named after the second Lord Rothschild, Walter (1868-1937) 'a famous zoologist who formed the largest collection of animal and bird specimens in private hands. He displayed these in a purpose-built museum on his estate at Tring (still open today). The Rothschild mynah (Leucopsar rothershildi), a snowy white bird with a startling blue eye mask native to Bali, was named for him. Waddesdon's mascot for family activities is Mini the Mynah.'
I just about managed to catch a photo of one of these special birds, which is on the top row, second in from the right in the above montage.

Also at Waddesdon (I'm starting to sound like a tourist brochure now), you can visit the wine cellars and have a go at tasting some of the wine as the Manor represents the sole UK distribution for all Rothschild family wineries- of which there are many. I'm not a fantastic wine buff, but perhaps some of you may recognise Chateau Mouton Rothschild, or Chateau Lafite Rothschild? Essentially it boils down to lots of different types of wines being made in various Rothschild-owned vineyards, and there are around 136 different ones you can buy at Waddesdon. That's a lot of wine! The cellars are also still used by the current Lord Rothschild, who can send down for as much as he likes from his collection which houses about 13,700 bottles!

There aren't extensive formal gardens here, unlike some of the more English style country houses which have various different types of garden, some formal, some less so, some completely wild. There is one big arranged flower bed and water feature at the back of the house, stepping down onto a patio overlooking a lovely grassy area with trees and a view. This particular garden is called the Parterre, and all of the reception rooms and main bedrooms look out over it as the highlight of the formal garden, more recently restored in 1994 by Beth Rothschild (hurrah for the Beth's!). 

It is breathtaking to look at- the colours are insanely bright and bold in their swirling cross pattern. The tiered beds hold a fabulous display of different coloured plants which are re-planted twice a year, with a new design each time, and using around 110,000 individual plants!! I particularly like the hot pink colour against the cool marble of the statues dotted around- it reminds me very much of my holiday to Rome where the lighter stone buildings would often have pots of hot pink flowers on the walls, or the Spanish Steps leading up from the Piazza di Spagna which usually house a pot of bright Azaleas on each step.

You could probably visit this place over and over and still find artifacts of interest that you missed the visit before, there is just so much to look at and absorb. I would love to live closer to be able to see how the formal garden changes over the seasons and to observe the songbirds- without the pouring rain. Still, this is why I like to take so many photographs during my visits to places. You can spend a long time looking around a room, and think you have seen everything, but when you come home and put the photographs on a computer, it is like you are re-seeing everything, and notice little details you missed the first time around. And, the best part about being a blogger, is that you create a visual, online diary that you can return to over and over again!