Tuesday, 24 May 2011

A Day to Remember

Hello readers, hope you've had a good weekend, can you believe we're in the last week of May already. We're freshly returned from the country, taking a sneaky extra first day of the week off. You'll see why!

We've been spending a lot of our time at our little country bolthole recently. After owning the cottage for nearly four years, there were things we wanted to do, improvements to make and certainly a rather weedy garden to deal with. Happily, I can say we are on top of the garden and it's looking pretty.

We all painted the shed and arbour in this fetching "willow" green and then Mr HenHouse hung up a few enamel signs and some lovely vintage oil lamps. I even made some curtains for the shed!

So yesterday, the Munchkin had a reprieve and was granted an extra day off school. We'd been asked to don our finest vintage clothing...

..because Bill the photographer was with us for the day, along with a team for a photoshoot at our cottage.

I'd been doing my thing in the kitchen to keep us all well fuelled. Diets were out for the day!

Indeed, we have worked really hard over the last few weekends, so it was lovely when yesterday finally arrived and we could just relax.

I am really proud of our cottage and the little home we have made there, largely on a thrifty and homemade shoestring. Yesterday, it was looking its very best, I think.

We were pleased to complete our main renovation just in time, our bathroom is currently our little pride and joy. This had been fairly newly fitted when we bought the cottage but the tiles in particular were not to my liking (brown?) It was hard to justify changing them, though. Hearing that the cottage would be featured in a fab interiors mag, was the impetus we needed to treat ourselves to some new tiles, ones after which I had long lusted. Of course, we ended up hanging the odd new shelf, pictures and adding some accessories. My favourite part.

The cottage is going to be featured in the "vintage special" edition of one of my fave mags so the tiles we chose (handmade in Cornwall by Welbeck Tiles) fitted the bill perfectly, along with all our vintage thrifty treasures, including our railway posters, some books with fabulous covers and the ship in a bottle which we found in a collectables shop in Bridport last week.

Mr HenHouse has done a brilliant job of handling these special tiles, I'm going to enjoy my bath times so much more from now on.

It was a very trying day, weather-wise, dull and blustery with little sunshine and later on rain, and I take my hat off to the photographer who took some fantastic shots whilst I was happy-snapping with my old camera. I'll mention when the magazine is out in a few months, in case you fancy seeing some really good shots rather than my amateur ones!

The icing on the cake was that my sister and her husband dropped by on their way down to Devon so we had a good old natter and the cakes certainly weren't wasted!

Friday, 20 May 2011

Dresden Time

I haven't forgotten (of course not), in fact I have been looking forward very much to sharing the finished Dresden Plate quilt with you. It was a brilliantly enjoyable quilt to make from start to finish.

I was admiring my neighbour Jane's garden and asked her if I might borrow it for a little photo session. She thought I was a bit batty but hey ho! Her garden looks beautiful. Her little cottage is attached to ours, it's single storey and it is thought that it was once the pound for the animals (it is believed our cottage was once part of a farmhouse, built circa 1500-1550). She has really made something of both the house and garden in the long time she has lived there. I do enjoy her garden rather vicariously.

Anyhow, back to the Dresden. Here it is! I used plain white cotton for the background, plain delphinium blue for the sashing (both quilting weight cotton from my local shop), and Amy Butler solids in pink for the corner stones. The much-desired yellow for the flower centres came from The Cotton Patch.

The plates are made with my beloved 1930s/'40s reproduction prints. I used 55 different designs! Golly, from where did those all come? I buy these mainly from America (Fat Quarter Shop, Calico Cottage Quilt Shop) and also the fairs and quilt shops I visit here in Blighty. My sister buys me a fair few on her travels too.

The quilt is entirely machine pieced, appliqued (using a tiny blanket stitch) and quilted. I love the look of hand pieced quilts, I just don't have the patience! I did spend a while on the quilting: outlining a quarter of an inch inside each block, round each Dresden Plate, round each central yellow circle and finally in a cross through each pink cornerstone. Not as easy as straight forward ditch quilting (not that I am saying that's easy to do perfectly) but I like the effect and am getting better the more I practise, of course.

To keep with the traditional feel, it is backed with the same white cotton and I used the delphinium blue for binding. I have washed it already and it has gone deliciously crumply!

It hasn't eclipsed the spiderweb quilt as my favourite but I am very pleased with it.

Might I just say a very heartfelt thank you to the many of you who took the time to leave a comment or email me following my nan's death recently. I did enjoy sharing all of your own reminisces about your grandmothers and it's clear we all agree, they always have a special place in our hearts.

Thursday, 19 May 2011


Monday was a beautiful day here in the capital. With the Munchkin away all week on a school residential trip, I was able to head off into the West End without worrying about being back for the school run. I returned home and set about watering the garden which had gone a tad neglected whilst we'd been away over the weekend.

I realised with delight that my roses were looking superb. I couldn't resist the impulse; I dashed back into the house and clutched up my scissors and off I went. The roses are at the wonderful stage where they are plentiful enough that I can cut a good amount to enjoy indoors without feeling I am spoiling the look of the bush in the garden.

This show-stopper is in our front garden and was already here when we moved into the HenHouse. It could be Ferdinand Pichard, it could be Rosa Mundi but it's certainly superb.

I have to confess that although I have planted twelve roses since we came here, probably my most favourite is this one, which was already in place and which produces the most stunning blooms over the arbour every year with no help whatsoever. And its scent is heaven.

I can't tell you what pleasure I derived from picking and arranging these roses.

"Mmm, pwetty roses."

I collected up a motley selection of vintage vases found at boot sales over the years, and loosely arranged them, managing to fill four containers.

I've been in need of a little cheer of late. Sadly, my beautiful nan recently passed away and yesterday I had the unenviable task of travelling to North Wales to attend the funeral and deliver the eulogy which I had been asked to write.

It was very simple, for my nan lived a beautifully simple life and my memories of her were innocent and joyful. Might I share a passage of the eulogy with you, in memory of this very special lady.

Nan enjoyed her garden which always looked a treat and also the birds which came to feed there. I remember she would talk to the blackbird and looked forward to his daily visits. She loved simple flowers: daffodils, bluebells and roses. Her front garden had a row of lovely hybrid tea roses. In what was such a beautiful simple gesture, as we were about to leave, she would take up her scissors and snip off some of her finest buds. She’d wrap the stems with foil and then put a frilly paper doily round the base before handing them to me. She gave me the love of roses that I have today and I still think of her when I plant and pick roses from my own garden.

I am glad you are now at peace Nan, though life is so much the emptier for your passing.

Monday, 16 May 2011

An Ordinarily Fantastic Weekend

Yes, indeedy, that's what we had over the last few days! I do hope you did too. We're spending a lot of time at our cottage in Somerset at the moment as some exciting plans are afoot there. More of those next week! Last weekend, we worked away like troopers such that we felt we deserved a day out in our beloved Bridport on Saturday. We were so lucky as it was a beautiful day and I can't think of anywhere I love more. I woke up at about 6am and couldn't go back to sleep, I was so excited!

By now, you're probably thinking I'm a little nuts, a bit like the folks standing in that queue in the photo above. I cracked up when I got home last night and saw this photo, all those bemused expressions: "Why is that mad girl taking our photo?" My early wake-up meant that we were in Bridport before 9am and so I was able to join the queue of eager West Country beavers wanting to get into the W.I. Market. Once I'd taken their photo, that is.

Yes, the market is that good. Lemon curd, knitted socks and mouthwatering scones aside, there is simply no better place to buy plants. We've been putting in some hard work in the cottage's front garden recently (along with a local couple who have helped us, thank goodness says my old back) and the reward: plant shopping. Golly, I love it! At this market, you can get all sorts of veg plants, annuals, bunches of pretty garden flowers and what I am usually after, fabby herbaceous perennials, divided from somebody's (no doubt stunning) country garden. All much cheaper and often in better condition those at than your local garden centre. All the sorts of plants your granny would have had.

After I'd swooped up all the best plants and we'd trooped back to the car and made it look like a mobile nursery, we headed to the charity shop, this time we were actually taking donations in! Of course, you wouldn't have expected me to come out empty handed?

That big beautiful crochet blanky at the front (there were four, I was restrained, no?) had to come home to grace the Munchkin's teepee. When I mentioned to the shop assistant that this was its intended purpose, she bought one herself for her grandchildren!

It seems all cowboys need a sausage sandwich before saddling up and getting out on the range!

Good job the Munchkin fuelled up, as little did he know that exciting shed-painting-times were ahead of him once back at the cottage. There's nothing wrong with a bit of child labour, I say. Be gone, nasty orange-y shed.

He obviously doesn't take after his shirker of a Dad who's busy watching the birds (the feathered kind).

Mr HenHouse has clearly found himself a new furry friend.

Only joking! There's no way I could call my man a shirker and after working hard in the office all week and a few well-earned pints of Bridport's finest cider to restore the equilibrium, he got straight back to our indoors project. A little taster for now...

There was furthermore no skiving to go to the pub for lunch. Instead, we feasted outdoors on fine West Country produce: pork pie, cheeses, ham, Leaker's infamous cheese and cider bread and not forgetting pickled onions, on which the Munchkin lost his second "fang" in two weeks!

Me? Well I've been busy too, of course! At the cottage, it's been all hard graft in the garden but at home in the week, I was able to indulge my main love and get on with some patchworking, to make some new cushions for the window seat in the sitting room.

They're simple enough but that's the way I like it best. Let the vintage fabrics do the talking.

There's a mixture of lovely 1940's and 1950's flowery cottons, bits from vintage aprons (which were already stained or holey), bits from embroidered cloths (ditto) and even a bit of applique and embroidery with some hearts.

Mostly, the patches are single 5" squares but I added in a few four-patches for a bit of interest. The front is tied using prettily coloured perle cottons onto some leftover quilt batting.

But what about the quilt? The Dresden plate? Oh yes, it's finished, long since and awaiting it's ta-dah moment. Might you join me please next time?

(P.S. I am still stuck with the "old" camera while the better one is being fixed so please bear with me on the photography front!)

Monday, 9 May 2011

Dresden Progress

So the Dresden plate quilt has moved upstairs. Time to test sew a mini sandwich made from the same materials as the quilt to make sure the stitch is just right...

Oooh, exciting!!!

Thursday, 5 May 2011

What I'm Up To

As I posted last time, we enjoyed a jolly day trip on the railway on Saturday (thanks so much for your interesting comments and reminisces, especially yours, Frances. Who knows what might have been?) On Sunday, wild horses were not keeping me away from a car boot sale. We tried a new one and it was a little disappointing in terms of finds but was in a pretty location in Kent in Farmer Tripes' field (I kid you not), so the surrounding greenery and sunny weather sort of made up for the rest. I did not come away empty handed though, of course not! And I only spent a few pounds.

Home came some groovy '60s towelling which will make something funky for our seaside-themed bathroom at the cottage, some pretty buttons and lace, some rather fetching coasters hand embroidered with hyacinths and last but not least, another slightly bizarre doll. Just the way I like 'em, the more "characterful" the better!

Meanwhile, much as the long weekend was wonderful, by Tuesday when the boys went off to work and school, I was fairly gagging to get in my Den and get down to some serious crafty business.

However, I think I had forgotten that this sewing lark can be quite hard work (when you're used to lying down doing nothing for two weeks) and after cutting out what felt like a zillion blades, I just about mustered up enough energy to sort them into colour piles. Ooooh pretty.

Where quilts are concerned, my favourites are always those which come from the 1930s and '40s. I love the colours and the patterns. I also love the way they always use a lot of plain white muslin which only seems to enhance the candy colours more. Despite all this, I have never made such a quilt myself. I have books about them, I have cooed over them at exhibitions and fairs, and it's fair to say I now have quite a respectable stash of both original vintage fabrics and reproductions. For this project, I decided to finally make something both with a 1930's flavour and using exclusively reproduction fabrics from that period. My favourite design? Well, it has to be the Dresden plate.

So that's what all those blades were for! I'm aiming for a smallish quilt to go over the back of the sofa at the cottage. So I have made 12 Dresden plates, each with 20 blades. Following on from the photo of the blades, I took the scissors to them to slightly round the top edges. I can also tell you that I used a nifty gadget for cutting out the blades, a special wedge-shaped Darlene Zimmerman-designed ruler which makes cutting the blades much easier than using a template. I think I'd have lost the will to live if I'd used a template!

Today, I have been busily appliqueing the plates onto their backing squares of plain white cotton. Traditionally, one might have hand sewed all these plates to their squares (or even a large single sheet of muslin) but I went for the machine applique option, using the blanket stitch available on my machine. I remember using this stitch for the first time and thinking how fantastic it is! It makes really tiny tight stitches so they will be nice and secure, and it makes them really fast! I already have a hand sewing project on the go which I started on holiday (more of that soon), so I didn't want to start another here.

Whilst I was taking these snaps, these cushions lounging on the guest room bed behind me caught my eye and I couldn't resist a photo of what is clearly a signature colour palette!

So, a few plates remain to be appliqued then I've got to get down to the serious decision, what colour to use for the sashing? The Munchkin and I made a detour after school to the fabric shop. I'm pretty much set (???) on the darkish delphinium blue on top but I couldn't help picking up a metre of the paler blue. The green and pink, the quintessential colours of the period I think, I already had in my stash. Sadly/annoyingly, the shop didn't have the perfect yellow which I wanted to use for the centres of my plates so it may have to be something else. Pink? Or a trip to another shop?!

Decisions, decisions...