Sunday, 19 December 2010

going crackers

Whilst the snow has been a huge inconvenience (I can't get my car out in the week before Christmas....) it has also allowed me a lot more creative time. I had all these ideas floating around in my head I wasn't too sure when I was actually going to make anything.

Time at home is one thing I have plenty of at the moment and as we are all slightly feeling the effects of being stuck in for 4 days I've been creating the things on my 'to make' list in a desperate attempt to occupy the children so we don't all end up 'going crackers'.

I picked up some cracker 'innards' in the Hobbycraft sale last year and we've been collecting loo rolls for ages with a view to making our own crackers, but I never really thought it would happen. Unable to get out and buy some glamorous new paper we've had to improvise and raid the cupboards to see what we could find. An old Financial Times provided a great base wrap and then we selected bits of black, white and silver paper before decorating our own crackers. I then secretly stuffed them with the obligatory bad joke, hat and tacky toy.

We haven't been able to get out and buy a Christmas Tree so, again, we've improvised and have a rather odd, branchless tree from the garden strewn with a set of lights which are far too small and dense for our tree. Lying precariously on the few branches that do exist are our crackers. This really will be a Christmas that we'll remember!

whoppee! cushion

Every time we have to give the great grandparents a present its a photo in a frame. Whilst I know they love having endless photos of their great grandchildren around their house I feel that it slightly lacks originality 7 years on. So this Christmas I decided to give the photo a little twist using one of my favourite tricks, transfer paper.

It's the same stuff I use for the letters on my bunting, and I promised to share the secret. It's really easy to use, just so long as you remember that you need to make writing and pictures into mirror images before you print otherwise you'll end up with everything back to front. I use T-shirt transfer paper. You create your image or text on the computer, print it onto the transfer paper then iron the transfer on to your fabric and voila.

Whilst I was already pleased with how the photo came out on this lovely tumbled linen I got from Sarah I was even more pleased with my appliqued label that I put on the back of the cushion to give it that added personal touch. I typed my Christmas message onto some calico before stitching it onto the cushion, but wasn't entirely sure if it would work. Using a reinforcement as my template I hand stitched a hole and then the thread through the label and I was thrilled by the rather naive result. I don't know why I just find it strangely satisfying.

Lets hope the grandparents do to!

Monday, 13 December 2010

a partridge in a pear tree

I love to make my own Christmas cards. Don't ask me why. Since there are so many other things to do at this time of year it would be much easier to pop to the shops and buy myself a load but this year I really couldn't pass up the opportunity to use my new Partridge stamp, from one of our favourite shops, Paper Source (will they ever reach the UK?).

Then I remembered that I also have a lovely pear stamp and the theme was obvious. The great thing about rubber stamps is that the results are better if they aren't perfect so for a short while I roped in the children. We did have a production line going; one child gluing the graph paper trees, two stamping, but as I realised we needed far more cards than I originally thought they got bored.

I couldn't resist finishing them off with a little machine stitching. Sewing on paper is another thing Sarah introduced me to and I seize every opportunity to have a go. Like a lot of my work it was quite an organic process, I never really know what I'm going to end up with until I've finished. As our shelves are fast filling up with red and silver cards I was pleased with the fresh and untraditional colours.

I must admit having made them, written them, stamped them etc I was pleased to see the back of them all when I dropped them into the post box last night!

christmas stocking workshop

I can't believe that another week has flown by. The weather has returned to its usual winter damp, greyness yet this time last week the conditions were amazing.

It was cold and bleak, treacherously icy and yet crisp, white and beautiful with Minchinhampton Common shrouded in thick, mysterious, fog (causing a slight problem for people coming to our workshops since they couldn't see to read the signposts). Heavy frost had completely covered the branches of the trees and they looked like something out of Narnia. It couldn't have been a more appropriate setting for our Christmas Stocking Workshop.

Despite the conditions everyone did manage to make it and they were welcomed in to home baked cookies and fresh coffee before sitting down to start a busy day of sewing. Sarah took centre stage sharing her expert knowledge and demonstrating some machine and hand stitching techniques, applique, covering seams, making pockets (the list goes on).

Through the morning everyone had the chance to try out their own stitches, and to create their own samplers, while Sarah wandered round sharing ideas and giving any help that was required. Since, again, french knots seem to cause a problem for a lot of people this was of great benefit!

While Sarah is the one with the know how I scurry around supplying cups of tea or coffee, cakes and biscuits and of course lunch. Since we both enjoy food as much as we enjoy creating we feel that the enjoyment of our courses can only be enhanced by the provision of plentiful, edible goodies!

The most popular part of the day seems to be the hunting through our scrap baskets; selecting colours, textures, trimmings and ribbons and pulling together ideas. People do enjoy a good rummage, but there is also immense satisfaction as an idea comes together.

As everyone is encouraged to move at their own speed not everyone went home with a finished Stocking, but for those that didn't finish everything needed to complete the project at home was provided in the file, along with handy tips and notes to help them on their way.

Do you know what I think people enjoy most about these days? The opportunity to spend guilt free, uninterrupted time doing something you enjoy. Add in a few new sewing tricks and the realisation that you can achieve masses in a day and that feeling is fantastic. And in the run up to Christmas such an opportunity is a real treat.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

katie bonas furniture

 local lovely lady Katie Bonas is having an open day to celebrate the launch of her new website . Katie is an expert in the field of painted  vintage furniture and specializes in creating bespoke pieces for her discerning cotswold customer base. she sometimes uses my fabric too!!

anyway katies open day features her own lovely furniture alongside charlotte macey textiles, lolly and boo, amy jane interiors, and myself (ghastly weather and sickly children permitting!) details below for any of you local ladies ...
Launch Open Day - please join me for mulled wine and mince pies to celebrate the launch of my new website on Thursday 9th December from 11am - 3pm at the The Old Plumbers Shop, Yanworth, Nr Cheltenham, GL54 3LQ. Several other local designer-makers will also be joining me, so it's the perfect opportunity for a spot more Christmas shopping!

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

the arrival of advent

This year November seems to have been a particularly hectic month for both Sarah and me, thankfully things have quietened down (for me at least) and I'm looking forward to having the chance to be a bit more creative in the run up to Christmas.

The first opportunity presented itself last night. I always find myself on the evening of 30th November exhausted having spent the day wrapping presents, baking cakes, making special breakfast, packed lunch and supper all in celebration of boy's birthday. And then I have to stay up late making an advent calendar for the children (of course I'm not quite organised enough to have done it in advance).

It's a tradition that started before children. I used to make hubby one, always steering well clear of chocolate (they are on a par with party bags in my view!). Despite the fact my children have personalised, chocolate calendars from Grandparents and tasteful, glitter-covered, traditional ones from Godparents I still have to make them one from me. I try to make something that develops into something else as we count down the days.

This year I've gone a bit mad with paper. I was trying to save a few pennies, trying to think of a theme that I could follow through all over Christmas and yet still had a traditional and decorative feel and to be honest, I am just a sucker for paper. Plus I had to find a use for the delicious green velvet ribbon I bought at great expense in Anthropologie the last time I was in London.

It's not like I need justification for owning it but this year I've certainly made the most of my label cutter, each day directing the children in what to make. I've provided scissors, needle and thread and buttons and bells. Old sheets of music, graph paper and pages from ancient books have been presented in glissine bags to help the children create a bird or a snowflake, a bell or a leaf to hang in place of the label they've removed. Hopefully by Christmas Eve we'll have a whole seasonal garland hanging above the roaring fire.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

heirloom treasures workshop

I'm sitting down with a large glass of wine feeling exhausted and elated by our first workshop.

Our aim was to give everyone an enjoyable, inspiring day in a relaxed atmosphere with plenty of good food as sustenance while they learnt how to make their own heirloom treasure. The morning was spent with Sarah giving ideas on design and colour palettes before she showed everyone some hand embroidery stitches and demonstrated machine techniques which they could practice before lunch. A large cookie jar was placed on the table and I scurried around ensuring everyone had plenty of tea and coffee to keep them going.

After a simple, warming lunch of Tuscan Butter Bean soup and fresh baked foccaccia everyone had the chance to design their own heirloom treasure, have a good rummage through our scrap boxes and put into practice the techniques they learnt this morning.

While Sarah and I have quite a distinct style we did not want the course to be to prescriptive, encouraging people to experiment. It was very interesting to see what different ideas and approaches came from the days work and standard of the work produced. It is amazing what you can achieve in a day, especially when you have a bit of direction, an expert (Sarah) at your finger tips and uninterrupted time.

By the end of the day some people were able to take home a finished piece. Others went home with folders bulging with samples and all they needed to finish their projects at home (with the instructions to send us a picture of the completed product in due course!). But hopefully everyone went home inspired, with new found confidence in their sewing abilities, and a warm glow.

Thank you everyone who joined us, and for all the positive feedback. We're really looking forward to our Christmas Stocking workshop on December 6th, with plans for more in 2011.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

liberty birds

Those of you who have been following the blog for a while will know that both Sarah and I have a thing about birds.

I also have a thing about Liberty Tana Lawn. It all stems from the Liberty Gift vouchers my Scottish Grandparents used to send me for Christmas. Whilst there was a small Liberty haberdashers in Bath what I really enjoyed was visiting the original shop. Although we had beautiful tana lawn smocked dresses handmade by my mother, they were for parties. For going UP to London we would wear our kilts (with their homemade calico bodices).

Once inside the flagship London store I was in my element. I loved the heavy timber beams and the atrium where you could look upwards and see everything on offer in the amazing emporium. I spent my vouchers on stuffed frogs and dogs, pin cushions, little photo frames, big photo frames - and they all had one thing in common. Everything I ever bought was Liberty Print tana lawn.

The nostalgic familiarity of these prints are what encouraged me to make my covered buttons and lavender cushions that I sell at fairs and I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised to find that other people have the same affiliation with these prints as I do.

One such person is Kathy Hutton, I met her at a fair and instantly fell in love with her work. The combination of familiar tana lawn prints, birds, washing lines and screen printing is a killer for me!

Monday, 15 November 2010

butternut squash and chestnut soup

Today was a beautiful winters day. We woke up to a hard frost which thawed into a glorious, crisp, clear, sunny day. Perfect for striding across the common rather than shopping in Sainsburys! This sign that winter is truly on its way led me into the kitchen at lunchtime to make one of my favourite soups. It has such a thick, velvety texture its irresistible and now I've enough to last me a couple more frosty days.

To make:

Soften 1 medium onion in a pan

Add a peeled and diced butternut squash, pour over some water (enough to soften the squash in but not too much water as the texture is part of the appeal of this soup) salt, pepper, some herbs and a stock cube

Add the secret weapon, a can of Merchant Gourmet's pureed chestnuts (available in most supermarkets). Bring to the boil and let bubble gently till the squash has cooked, then whizz in the blitzer to make smooth.

This is how I make it as hubby is vegetarian, then I add bits of bacon and pumpkin seeds as decoration. For those who do appreciate the flavour of meat, add some lardons when you are frying the onions it makes the soup taste even better

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

petit pomanders

It's fairly hectic in the Pope household at the moment, along with the flurry of daily school activities in the run up to Christmas Sarah & I also have a couple of Christmas Fairs next week and then our much anticipated workshops. And whilst I feel like I've been working flat out my 'To-do' list is increasing by the minute. So it's probably not surprising that yesterday afternoon I decided to forget it all for a while and sat down with the baby to make some pomanders for Christmas.
I love the traditional colours and themes of Christmas but I also enjoy going mad and we've loads of bright coloured baubles that I tie to the tree with contrasting ribbons. I thought that this year it may be nice to go kind of 'citrus & neon'-ish in the kitchen (I wonder what colour theorists would say about such a combination in a room that you eat in). And while Christmas is still a while away pomanders are good to make in advance and hide away in a cool dark place to bring out again when it's time to decorate. Typically they are made with oranges, but I used clementines (which are really easy for little hands to push cloves into) and limes (which are really hard and I had to use a cocktail stick to help me). The fruit should shrink as it dries out so you need to leave a bit of a gap in between the cloves to allow for this. Tied with ribbon (secured with a pin) these should look lovely in a months time.

Fingers crossed!

Thursday, 4 November 2010

turning toile on its head

I had been looking for a pretty toile de jouy design to add to my fabric and wallpaper range for ages. So I thought I would ask an expert! the lovely Donna Flower came up trumps as always and found me a section of an old 18th century french wallpaper, so with some tweeking, rejigging and expert redrawing (not by me - people are not my strong point - they always come out looking like gnomes!) here are teh colourways of my new jardin toile.
It is a very beautiful design, there are none of the grizzly hunting scenes or ugly bits which often appear in traditional toiles, however when you look closely there is alot going on. I kept looking for an interesting garden name to call it based on some kind of pleasure garden- (there seems to be quite a bit of flirtation going on in the design!) however, when i started the business I swore to myself i wouldn't give any of my designs impossible to pronounce names, because it causes all manner of difficulties for customers and sales people alike, so even though 'tuileries' and 'medici' (well i couldn't call it 'boboli' toile could I!!) were strong contenders, I think I will keep it simple, unless any of you dear readers can come up with a better suggestion.....

Friday, 29 October 2010

the world in miniature

I have always had a thing about tiny things! And as a child I really loved playing with the Dolls House my parents made me for my 10th birthday. In fact, it wasn't so much the playing with I enjoyed, as the Interior Decorating. Now that I have daughter's of my own I'm desperate to get my old Doll's House out, redecorate and 'modernise' the whole thing. Unfortunately I think I have to wait a couple of years before the girls will truly appreciate this. However a really good friend of mine, with the same obsession, is much braver than me and has decided to give her 2 year old daughter her childhood Doll's House (more for mother's benefit I'm sure!). Anyway. old habits die hard and I was quick to volunteer some Interior Decorating help. Whilst I've no idea of the size or style of the house I offered some fabric scraps, and then an idea developed.

In the summer I visited the wonderful shop RE (A fab shop hidden behind a petrol station in Corbridge, Northumberland. It really warrants a post of its own) and here I found these wonderful tiny french labels, about the size of a finger nail. I couldn't resist buying them even though I had no idea what I could use them for, in fact I loved them so much I had to buy Sarah some too. The thought then occurred to me that if I made a load of miniature brown parcels then I could use the labels on them.

I find it so exciting when an idea comes together, I decided that I would send not only mini rolls of fabric, with tiny brown luggage labels but a whole set of bedding too. The children happened to be playing together happily (doesn't always happen) and I sat at the sewing machine and made a tiny mattress and pillow.

I love the cotton sheets and pillow case that I edged, using an embroidery setting on my machine, and then I wrapped them up with ribbon and this tiny antique flower, and the blanket is made out of an old jumper. And then I couldn't resist making a set of 3 books to go by the bedside, Tiny Tim, Tom Thumb and Mini Mouse (well I wanted Thumbelina but my writing really wouldn't go small enough).

Thursday, 28 October 2010

trick or treat

I apologise for slightly changing the calming, serene tone of Sarah's recent posts but with Halloween just a few days away our house is going ghoulie mad! Back from a few sunny, relaxing days in Cornwall this morning we were stuck at home in the pouring rain. Thankfully I'd spied some creepy, chocolate fingers in the super market a while ago and, a few match boxes later I had a Halloween project.

Expecting the normal visit of Trick or Treaters on Sunday evening we have made some Trick or Treat boxes. Each visiting spook can choose their own box and discover for themselves what lies inside. The lucky ones will walk away with a chocolate finger, the unlucky ones will be subjected to an old joke - you know the one, where you put a hole in the bottom of the match box tray and stick your own (blood covered) finger through it.

A practical joke that is, according to Boy, 'awesome'.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

pink pasta

My great friend Heather from eggs, cream, honey posted a fabulous recipe for chocolate, beetroot, loaf cake, and it put me in mind about what an underrated vegetable the humble beetroot is. It was sarah ravens garden book that got me back into beetroot, childhood memories of ghastly vinegared stuff staining the plate and the palate had rather put me off. Anyway my kids are very keen on gino de campo's recipe for beetroot potato cakes with smoked salmon (though they like a fried egg on the  top in place of, or as well  of the salmon), and i am very keen on htem roasted with garlic and olive oil, then blitzed with greek yoghurt and feta for a vivid dip. But quite the most exciting thing we've done recently is PINK PASTA!!
Miss B and I made a basic pasta dough - I can't give you quantities just mix 2 eggs and tipo 00  flour till the consistancy is right, it should be firm and elastic, then add some pureed roasted beetroot and knead it in. It is gloriously streakily fuchsia coloured to start with, then softens to a beautiful deep pink. ~(I know the pasta machine ids the least used kitchen gadget - but it does keep children amused for a considerable time as it has all the requisite qualities for an afternnon in the school hols - messy, creative and edible!)
keep pushing it through the pasta machine till it feels right. we turned ours in to taglietelle, which was very popular for a girly tea!

Sunday, 24 October 2010

magazines and weekend reading

I am having an issue with magazines at the moment, I subscribe to various interiors glossies for work, but lately I have been finding them piling up without even opening them, partly this is due to time constraints - there never seems to be a minute free to sit and look at a magazine, but partly it is a lack of excitement. I am really fed up with seeing the same old same olds in every magazine. It would appear that if you pay for advertising then that also gets you oodles of editorial, whilst the concept irritates me I camn understand it, however it means every magazine is full of the same stuff. I want to see newness and quirkyness, i want to see British designers, and graduates who are just starting out being given some press, but most of all I want to see some variety, I really really don't want to see the same fabrics and wallapers from Sanderson, Designers Guild, Harlequin and Romo in every feature in every magazine. I am aware I am ranting now, but it has resulted in me cancelling my subscriptions! - the exceptions being Country Living because they often champion the smaller companies and use some quirkier suppliers for features, and selvedge because it is always beautiful.

 ANYWAY.... I was thrilled this week when an email plopped into my inbox from a lovely lady called lynda felton, with a link to a new online magazine  called COVET GARDEN. Every page is a joy, its an inspiring interiors read. Lynda kindly has allowed me to reproduce some of their fab photos here.
 You can subscribe (free) online here and each month you will receive an e-issue.

 Now i am happy to lose my subscription to the standard magazines becauser i think what is happening online is far, far more exciting. (while I am waxing lyrical about good online magazines SMALL magazine is another beauty that we have featured here before and also free subscription)