Friday, 30 May 2014

Two Halves

Friday evening.  I do love a Friday evening.  Well, if I am honest, I love certain Friday evenings.  The ones where I am sat in queues on the M25, M3 and A303 as we head West are not that thrilling; it is the thought of what lies ahead the following day that keeps me going.  Waking up in that dinky little thatched cottage, Gertrude Jekyll roses blooming round the eyebrow window, the promise of a day vintage treasure seeking in Bridders.  That's what it is.

Friday evenings like todays,  I'm rather fond of: a lazy slide into the weekend, maybe Mr HenHouse will get home on time, gentle sunshine on the lawn outside, the birds singing in the trees and the promise of a glass of something chilled.  Monty Don on BBC 2 and I'm happy.

It's been a busy old time of late.  Splitting our time between life in the city and life in the country.  One is filled with crafty times, lots of lovely fabric, rippling yarn and Liberty lawn on tiles or on patchwork bags.  I'm glossing over all the mundane chores that tend to get in the way from time to time.  The rooms are large, the ceilings high.  The stairs with their 140 year old treads exposed while waiting new carpet a lot more vertiginous than their country counterparts which wind their way up, hidden behind a centuries old oak-planked door with its iron latch.  One hundred and forty miles away, there are country pubs high on hills in country parks to be discovered, beautiful old china and textiles to be rescued and rooms with centuries old wooden beams and doorways of decidedly dinky proportions to navigate.  Not forgetting lots and lots of delicious clean fresh air to breathe deeply in.

Life is not always that clear cut though, and I am very glad of it.  There's a definite cross-over between the two rather different styles of our lives.  Here in the city, I have surrounded myself with constant reminders of the country: my roses are blooming oh so early and I am happy to bring little bouquets indoors where I watch their petals open then fall.  They might grace the table I set for a quaint afternoon tea with friends met through the marvellous world of t'internet.  How very old meets modern.  My city sitting room is home to two  stunning wing chairs; bought at a West Country car boot sale for ten pounds and reupholstered by a clever lady in Dorset.  From Somerset to Dorset to London, they have a tale to tell.

In my crafting, I am reminded of my Somerset cottage garden: in the vintage-inspired fabrics that make up my patchwork quilts strewn with daisies and roses; the Liberty Tana lawn tiles I make for my bathroom, a riot of 1930's flowers; and my beloved posies crafted from felt just like they did in the 1940s. Charlie Boy reclines on cushions made with fabric bursting with blooms, squirrelled away on foraging trips in the West. I think he's dreaming of all those green fields, of doormice and birds in the trees.  I think I'll join him, along with my glass of something chilled.

Enjoy the weekend (as Monty says). Xxx

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

The Land of Smiles

Having left booking a holiday rather late this year, and deciding on a change of direction, we packed our bags and headed East, to the Far East, for a two week break over the Easter hols.

We were pleased to see our hotel after a long time travelling and not disappointed by the traditional architecture.

Everywhere we looked there were elephants.  Not real ones (though these were often seen wandering along the sides of the roads).  A helpful IGer mentioned to me that elephants are thought to bring good luck and are often traditionally placed in doorways, such as this one, for good fortune.  There were always beautiful flower displays everywhere.  Orchids are the carnations of Thailand and frangipani is my personal favourite.

While we were there, the country celebrated SongKran or Thai New Year and the hotel built a little shrine.  The tradition is for people to throw water at each other (quite welcome given the temperature!) and also flour (not so welcome!)

Our villa was pretty sublime, to be honest.  Plenty of space and most importantly, air conditioning!

How could one forget the outdoor bathtub?

By day, we took the opportunity to relax and leave all our troubles behind.  The swimming pools kept a certain Munchkin happy.  There's those elephants again.

The other half and I were to be found sipping the odd cocktail and catching up on the reading pile from time to time.

When I go on a relaxing holiday to a gorgeous exotic destination though, I am generally there for one main reason.  That's the beach.  This one didn't disappoint.  Mile upon mile of powdery sand and remarkably warm water, so warm it was like stepping into a bath tub.  Bliss.  Uncrowded too.  It was ticking all the right boxes.

When I could tear myself away from my English Paper Piecing, you would probably find me over at the massage huts.  Thai massage is not like any I have experienced before, it really is quite strong and is about pressure points and strong movements to stimulate the mind.  It's not relaxing in the way that a strokey soothing Swedish massage is.  That said, it is really rather wonderful for loosening you up.  Oh and for having a little chuckle whilst watching the main lady giving Mr HenHouse a "strong" massage which left his eyes watering!  At £6 for an hour, we went back most days.

We made friends with a very cute little ginger cat in our resort.  He really was the noisiest little cat I've ever met!  We could hear him from far away and we only had to mimic his miaow and he would come running.

Unfortunately, he did have rather bad fleas and was in the sort of condition you come to expect from the stray cats you meet on foreign holidays.  He loved the ham and chicken we possibly managed to sneak from the buffet! He was very sweet and friendly, lots of people in the resort befriended him and he really took a shine to the Munchkin.  Awww, cute little ginge.

The holiday wasn't completely about laziness.  We did manage to lever ourselves off our sunbeds to visit the local market.  This is an experience not to be missed, I find, for getting a local flavour.  The stalls with meat and fish were best avoided unless you had a peg for your nose!

The flowers, however, were stunning, made up into pretty garlands, just 25p to buy.  The jasmine smelled divine.

We found another furry friend in the medicine stall.  Purrrrr.  This one was clearly a pet, in really good condition and quite fat for a Thai cat!

After a spot of shopping, we bought ourselves a veritable banquet of food from the stalls and repaired to the local sand-floored bar.  The food was cooked fresh in front of you, everything from spring rolls, to breadcrumbed king prawns and spicy kebabs, and unbelievably cheap, just about everything was 10p or 20p.  You might be thinking this was a bit dodgy but our rep had assured us that food standards were high and as a person with possibly the dickiest tummy in the world, I was absolutely fine.

The drinks were also very cheap.  From a stall in the market, you would pay just under £1 for a beer and 30p for a bottle of water or a soft drink.  In a bar, it was a little more but that night, our drinks and food cost us less than £10 for the three of us.  It really is so very cheap in Thailand, incredible value compared with other far flung destinations like the Caribbean.

The transport was interesting too!  There were tuk-tuks and golf carts to take us round the resort, it was really too hot to walk very far (truly), and the taxis for longer trips were rather whacky affairs, basically a transit-type van with an open back with bench seats along the sides.  Fabulous built-in air conditioning but it's fair to say, this is a place where health and safety has not gone mad!  A taxi to the local market was £5 (about a 20 minute trip) and you could easily share with other people and split the cost as the taxis took up to twelve.

We went on a classic day trip to the Khao Sok National Park.  First, we went to ride on an elephant.  I've done this before in the North of Thailand and felt it was a better experience as it was in a more natural jungly environment but it was good for the Munchkin to see a real live elephant other than in a zoo.

Later, we went to feed the monkeys which was good fun.  They're remarkably clever and very fast, one swiped the whole bag of peanuts the Munchkin had bought to feed them and ran off!

Finally, we went in a canoe down a river which was a very pleasant way to spend the afternoon and our guide pointed out some interesting wildlife including a python (this was very exciting, I've never seen such an amazing snake in its own habitat) and even picked us fruit from the trees.

By night, we could be found in one of the hotel's bars which were very stylishly decorated.  It remained very hot in the evenings and extremely humid.  The temperature was topping out at about 35 degrees in the day (hot, hot, hot!) and was still about 26 at night.  Phew.

There was absolutely no evening entertainment which suited us just fine.  We either played Yahtzee or bingo before having lots of lovely early nights.

Of course, all too soon, it was time to wave goodbye to the Land of Smiles and head back to good old Blighty, utterly refreshed and relaxed.  The Munchkin's handiwork...

We absolutely loved our trip to Khao Lak and would certainly love to return to Thailand if we get the chance.  But for now, we're looking forward to the great British Summer!

Wednesday, 7 May 2014


So as I mentioned, we had a little trip over to the Far East over Easter which was very lovely indeed (and very hot!)  We had a much-needed relaxing few weeks but I was, as you may imagine, ever so glad to be back in my beloved Den!

Of course, there was no way I was going to be able to go without my crafty fix for fifteen days.  You may, or may not, remember that I have an English Paper Piecing project on the go which I started a "few" years ago now and which I always take on holiday with me.   I just about managed to summon up the energy!

I wasn't very productive this year but I did have a little pile of blocks to show for my efforts upon my return.  I think I now have thirty or so blocks so another few years and errm, I may be getting there.

I had reason to keep going with the EPP when I got back home and that was because I was due to teach a workshop in the very same subject three days later.  I had in my file of stashed away projects, a pin cushion pattern which used some paper pieced hexys on the top so I thought I would give that a go, show my students you don't just have to make quilts.  

However, it turned out to be incredibly large, that would certainly have been one whopping great pin cushion, and I actually loved it as it was, nor did I need another pin cushion, so I binned the idea (for now) and have kept my first hexy rosette as it is.  I now want to make a whole quilt.  Hmm, I need another hand piecing project like a hole in the head!

Late the night before the workshop, I had been inspired by a project on Katy's blog I'm a Ginger Monkey which used a pretty piece of EPP hexys on the lid of a Kilner jar (Mason jar for my American friends).  So I sat until very late and pieced together pretty vintage scraps to make a similar jar.

Next morning, I was up bright and breezy, it was a lovely sunny day in London and as the boys headed off for a jolly on the steam railway, I set off for the other side of London.  I took with me some English Paper Pieced goodies so I could set up a (hopefully) inspiring display for the workshop attendees.  The fabulous Tikki Patchwork shop in Kew was my destination, owned by the lovely and accomplished Tiina.  It's set in a decidedly pretty part of West London and I stopped to admire the florist shop on the corner and well, I couldn't resist a snap of my chair!

If you thought that looked ok, just wait until you see how fabulous it is inside the shop!

This is but one wall. 

Tiina is a lady after my own heart, super organised and her shop testifies to that.  She is also a fan of the very lovely reproduction fabrics I too adore (as well as a healthy dose of modern blenders) so I was pretty much spoiled for the day.

I set up a little display down in the teaching room.  I cannot take credit for the large honeycomb quilt which was already handily hanging on the wall.

It was a lovely day, so nice to sit and sew and watch new people find a love for patchwork.  I got home to a nice quiet, empty house so rewarded my efforts with a sit down with the new magazines which had arrived in the post and a spot of refreshment.

Oh and before I forget, the Kilner jar project you can see (just about) in the corner of this pic, here.  I bought my jar from John Lewis, they had several sizes but all had the same lid dimension which was really too small to do justice to the patchwork.  I ended up having to cut off just about all the outer ring I'd so lovingly sewn on.  Hmmm.  I will keep my beady eye out for better jars as it's a cute idea and one which would be great for gifts I think, as you could personalise the contents inside the jar.

Other things that have been keeping me busy this week or so, is bag making.  Tiina has asked me before to run a workshop to make my patchwork bags.  You know the ones.

I thought I should therefore reacquaint myself with making them and write out a proper pattern and materials list and so on.  Out came the rotary cutter and the 1930's style fabrics.

Jenny Janome and I were happy to be getting to know one another once more.

A day or so later, I had prototype number one in my chosen shades of red and aqua.

Although I love the leatherette handles on my own first two bags, they are really quite pricey to buy (the flowery Clover ones are about £16, the tan ones were much cheaper from the Festival of Quilts but still about £10).  This adds so much on to the cost of producing things, something which I have to be very aware of when making things to sell, (the other materials for this bag add up to about £20) and they are also quite time consuming and fiddly to sew on.  Tiina had some good quality thick cotton webbing in stock so I played around with machine stitching some handles of my own.  I think they've turned out really well.

It was soon joined by a pink and blue friend.  Can't choose which I like most to be honest.

However, on my way out to teach patchwork and quilting last night, I did think that the red and aqua one would go nicely with my outfit.  Tempting!

I'm keeping hold of them for the time being as samples for my bag workshop.  I haven't yet any dates (in case you're interested in joining us) but do keep an eye out here or on Tikki's website as we'd love to see you there.  (I will be selling some bags like these through my shop in the near future, just in case you were wondering!)

For now, the collection continues to grow.  

I'm thinking maybe a Liberty Tana Lawn version next...